Monday, June 30, 2008

Musings on the Air India tragedy.

Being Canadian - well, being human - I have always felt the sadness and horror that has gone along with the Air India Flight 182 bombing that took more than 300 lives in 1985. I remember it surprisingly well; I guess I was just about 9 years old when it happened, before school was out. It's been especially intensified since there's never been any sort of satisfactory resolution to any of it; the families weren't even granted whatever little peace they might have found in the convictions of those behind it.

All of this was brought home in a big way, though, in the summer of 2005. I was sitting with the guy I was dating, at his kitchen table, reading a medical journal while he did chart notes. We were drinking coffee and lounging around on our day off together. It was bright and sunny, probably around 11 a.m., and I expect it was probably a Monday. Close to the 20th anniversary of the bombing.

I was reading The Lancet, I believe, when I came across an article about two doctors who had each lost much of their families aboard that plane. I spoke up, reading a passage of it to my boyfriend, and he stopped writing and looked up at me.

"Yeah. I read it." He said it so...flatly. I must have frowned or something, because instead of just going back to his work, he sighed and said, "I know both of those doctors. One's a really close friend, actually; she did some of her residency with me and Jim at Queens. Her sons were on that plane. They were young, too. Both of them under 16, if I'm remembering right."

Strangely, I only remember the name of the other doctor, the one my ex knows casually but hasn't seen for years; he called him Dr. Chandra. I wish I could remember the woman's name, though; her story was so much more personal to him, and because he knew her at the time this tragedy happened, he really put a face to it all for me. He clearly had a lot of respect for her, for carrying on in life all by herself, never remarrying, never having another child, and just throwing herself into medicine. Whenever I speak to him next, I'll have to ask him her name again, because I feel like I should spare her a thought, at the very least, every day when I'm feeling low or lost.

There was a documentary on CBC NewsWorld earlier about the tragedy, and god, it ripped my insides out. There were things I didn't know, or at the very least wasn't aware of all of the details, and a lot of it really shocked me. I did know that only one man, the man who built the bombs, has ever been or will ever be sentenced; the others were acquitted due to lack of evidence (or died before they could go to trial). What I didn't know was that a big part of this "lack of evidence" had to do with the Crown witnesses being murdered, or disappearing, or being put into relocation programs to save their lives.

And, of course, there's the added tragedy of just how long all of this took. The official inquiry didn't even begin until 2006. TWENTY-ONE YEARS LATER. How? How??? You can see what it's done to the surviving family members. It's etched into their faces forever.

I saw the woman - my ex's friend - but I missed catching her name. I didn't miss what she said, though. She was talking about how there is so much she still doesn't know how to process, like seeing their beds and knowing those people she loved will never sleep in them again, or reading recipes in her cookbook that she knows were their favourites, or smelling their clothes that still hang in their closets after all these years. And she said, "It's so full and yet so empty. What do you do with all of that?" I surprised myself by sobbing, out of nowhere. There was just something in her eyes that I felt, right through the TV screen.

ETA: Oh, my god - it just came to me out of nowhere. Her first name, anyway; I Googled her and now I know. It's Dr. Padmini Turlapati.

They also interviewed a woman who described how she was flying her father's body home on Canada Day, a week after the bombing. She said that the airline crew were trying to be celebratory, putting little maple leaf stickers on people's boarding passes and such, and this woman said she knew they couldn't know that this was the first father-daughter trip she'd ever taken...and that her father's body was being loaded into the cargo bay as she was shown to her seat. "The only time I ever flew with my dad," she said, "and he was already gone."

More sobbing from me. Because me and my Dad have never done anything like that together, and - fate willing - we will in only a few more months. God, how easy it is to forget what's important. To not know what you'll regret later.

It occurs to me now that maybe I have an answer to the question I ask so often: why do I seek out such horror? Why do I watch every documentary about every terrible thing that happens to people? Maybe it's because I want to be aware of what I stand to lose, and that I want to try to make the most of what I have while I still have it. And by that I mean everything: the friends in my life, my family, the health I do have, the freedoms I'm given just by being lucky enough to have been born in Canada, to have been born the "right" gender (meaning I feel right in my female body, when others suffer so much with their identities versus the hand dealt them by biology)... Everything. Even with the weight of the world on my shoulders sometimes, I am the luckiest goddamn person I know.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A little linkspam goes a long way.

David, I am here to announce that you are my 900th Facebook Wall post. The best part? It was part of what is truly the basis for our most intellectual exchanges, and reminiscent of the night we drove all over the city listening to NIN and quoting Elmer Fudd. "Wupert, you're pwastered!!"

The race to 1000 is on. I haven't a clue what to do to celebrate it when it happens, though. I shall have to think. To be sure, #666 would have been much more fun.

Now for some potentially interesting links:

I think I'll just not watch the news or read the 'net, like, ever again.

Ancient History: what passes for journalism, and how it affected me once upon a time...

I was reading back through old LiveJournal posts, looking for a particular link, and I happened across an entry from 2005 that brought back a whole lot of memories.

See, at the time, I was kinda-sorta romantically involved with my boss - a doctor - and he was dealing with a College of Physicians and Surgeons case that simply would not go away. Everyone who knew anything about the situation knew that the complainant was a lunatic, and while I'll grant that the doctor's judgment was lacking in a lot of respects, I cannot - even now, long after an unpleasant personal and professional breakup - tolerate reading the outright bullshit that one columnist was passing off as truth.

The "journalist"'s name is Mike Strobel, and somehow he still has his job at the Toronto Sun. I don't read his trashy paper any longer, but I see his name every so often when I'm surfing Canoe for entertainment news and the like. He's deplorable. I and my friends had already started taking issue with the biased and just plain BAD writing in which he'd been engaging, especially with respect to another doctor whose tawdry life story apparently made great copy (because, you know, exploiting the childhood sexual abuse a man suffered at the hands of his mother is oh, so tasteful!). But when the shit hit the fan, and Strobel turned his beady little eyes toward the man I called my friend, my lover, and my colleague, I went ballistic.

I found the letter I wrote to him, and thought it was worth reprinting here. It's from April 2005, and I think I ought to re-send it to his inbox every single day, just to piss him off.

From my LiveJournal (with a few identifying details - my own name and that of my beau, for example - redacted for privacy):

In case the guy was bored and hadn't been harassed in a while, I finally got around to sending a letter of my own to Jackass Mike Strobel. HW was kind enough to draw my attention to this article, his latest piece of crap. Here was my response:

Mr. Strobel:

The first time I recall reading an article penned by you was in January of this year. I'm sure I'd read others before, having spent much of my life in the GTA, but the articles you wrote about Dr. Kevin White, the London physician whose license was lost due to come rather shocking circumstances...? That seems as good a place as any for me to start.

Upon reading your coverage, I must admit, I was intrigued by the picture you were painting. Whatever issues I may have had with your almost insultingly informal writing style were set aside, for the moment, because I assumed (foolishly) that I was at least getting "the real story" about this doctor and his exploits. I posted links on my weblog, directing my readers and friends to your articles so they, too, could share in my surprise that such things were going on in the Ontario medical profession.

What struck me about my readers' responses, though, was not that they shared in my surprise about Dr. White's secrets and behaviour. Rather, they each commented first upon how skewed your perspective seemed, and how nobody felt like they were getting an actual story out of you. They all made mention of how biased you seemed, how willing you were to simply play up the salacious bits and never try to explain another side - or even indicate that there was another side. Surely there was. Dr. White's explanations were played down in your article, apparently for the sake of you making your piece into something funny or entertaining. I daresay the subject matter was not meant to be amusing for the public to read. (In my opinion, writing the article in such a way was almost as sick as what the doctor himself purportedly did.)

Let's fast forward a bit. Last month, you again had occasion to descend upon the College of Physicians and Surgeons to get another scoop. This time it was the case of Dr. L. I am actually very familiar with this case, and have been for the better part of four years now. I've heard all sides of it firsthand. I know what is fact and what is opinion. I know why Dr. L chose to submit the "agreed statement of facts" that he did. I know what the College and the lawyers agreed upon. I know what the accusers reneged. Having said all of that, then, I know that the article you wrote on March 25th was factually incorrect, and once again simply showed your penchant for crucifying doctors without ever giving any indication that there could be another side to a story.

It was then, reading your article about Dr. L, that I realized I couldn't possibly believe much of what you said about Dr. White. I know nothing of Dr. White; I have never met him and have not heard of him outside of your reporting. Even so, seeing how off-centre your storytelling (a more appropriate word, I think, than "reporting") was in terms of Dr. L's situation, there seems to be no way for the public to have any clue how close you've come to the truth with any of your other articles.

Yes, the College makes its own decisions. Yes, these men have to answer for whatever it is they may have done. No, we should not have to read one-sided, half-baked analyses of these stories. The public deserves a better view of things than that.

I'm now reading another piece you somehow slipped by your editor today. It's about Dr. DeLuco, and the "ménage à trois" about which you seemed to have so much fun writing over the past couple of days. Strangely enough, I had been reading the Sun last night and had come across the article about DeLuco's appearance at the College, and as I read all of the "ooh la la"s and so on, I found myself thinking, "Who on earth writes like this in a paper that's supposed to be several steps up from the National Enquirer?"

Sure enough, it was your article.

I'm cancelling my subscription to the Toronto Sun. I was disgusted enough by your coverage of the L case on a personal level, and how you gave no thought to the way a story is told and its effects on a person's family, friends and practice; now I'm left to doubt practically every word your editor allows into print. If the Sun ever chooses to begin actually reporting again, and giving a whole story without so much sensationalist garbage thrown in for fun, I may consider picking up another issue. Until then, I wouldn't lower myself to read the trash you churn out every day.


P.S. [a note to my LJ readers] I know at least a couple of you actually got responses to your emails to Mike Strobel. Thank you again for writing to him. And I'll be sure to let you know if I hear back myself.

I did, in fact, hear back from him - a smug little email that read something like, "Thank you, Ms. S. It's always nice to hear from my fans." I should have known.

In any case, let this be out there for all to see. The man still, inexplicably, has his job. Mike Strobel is a hack, and worse yet, he is a liar. Libel doesn't seem to faze him; no matter how many of us wrote to him or to his editor, to give them a chance to remedy his countless factual errors, he made no move to admit any error on his part or print any corrections. Keep that in mind the next time you're on a GO Train and you pick up a crumpled issue of The Toronto Sun. What you're reading really is the trash that it appears to be.