& occasionally about other things, too...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

& Just a little bit of madness...

As I said, I didn't win any prize; but got this certificate. I could've done better, but what the heck. I'll try this year again.


The citation reads: Official Survivor of the 32nd Annual International 3-Day Novel Contest Mayank Bhatt displayed courage, bravery, stamina, creativity, persistence, risk-taking, literary fortitude and just a little bit of madness by completing an entire novel over the September 2009 Labour Day long weekend.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

3-Day Novel Contest winner

And, by the way, I didn't win. Nothing unusual.

SNOWMEN by MARK SEDORE

Charles Perth intends to be the first person to walk alone across the North Pole, bisecting the Arctic Circle between Canada and Russia. He leaves behind the woman he loves—knowing he can never see her again even if he makes it to the other side. During his journey, Charles is confronted by the extreme climate, dangerous predators and constant blinding summer sun of the Arctic, now permanently frozen due to a drastic global climate shift. Charles is also subject to the intentional malevolence of his unstable and resentful brother who, from thousands of kilometres away, has the resources and knowledge to make the solo expedition difficult, or even deadly. If Charles is to succeed—or survive—he must overcome exhaustion, starvation, sabotage and despair, and find in himself the strength and will to beat his brother at his own game.

Snowmen will be released by 3-Day Books in August 2010, and will be distributed by Arsenal Pulp Press (via Consortium in the U.S. and Jaguar in Canada). ISBN 978-1-55152-366-8, $14.95 CAD/USD, 5×7.25 quality paperback, 176 pp.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Sedore, winner of the 32nd Annual International 3-Day Novel Contest, is a professional writer and graduate student living in Toronto. His previous entries to the 3-Day Novel Contest have won honourable mention and second place. Snowmen will be his first published novel.

Mark came up with the idea for Snowmen while visiting Whitehorse over the 2008 winter holiday. As with his previous contest entries, he approached the event without a formal outline—as an experienced graduate student he has produced many, many outlines and essays, and he prefers to approach the contest in a different way. (”I think it’s important to keep surprising yourself,” he says.) But unlike his previous attempts, in which he tackled the 3-Day Novel Contest alone, this time he teamed up with a small group of friends and fellow entrants to write and suffer together. He left his wife behind to travel with them to Perth, Ontario, where they holed up in a friend’s house to write without distractions over the Labour Day long weekend.

Mark has an MA in Political Science from the University of Toronto and is finishing a second in Communication and Culture from York and Ryerson universities. He has worked as a writer for the City of Toronto, has produced a zine on Scouting, and ran for Toronto City Council at the age of 22 (and was “flatteringly defeated by eight other candidates”). Mark currently works full-time at the University of Toronto as a writer in the President’s Office and part-time as a supervisor at Massey Hall.

Image: http://www.3daynovel.com/2010/01/25/presenting-the-winner-of-the-32nd-annual-international-3-day-novel-contest/

For more information contact: Melissa Edwards, Managing Editor at info@3daynovel.com


Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Fair Country

The other day, I had an interesting conversation with my son. He was working on a history project about Quebec, and he made – what to me was a startling statement.

He said, “The shops in Montreal have signage in French to preserve Quebec's unique culture and heritage.”

I asked him what he felt about the controversy in Mumbai that all the cabbies should know Marathi.

“That’s wrong,” he replied.

I said I didn’t see any difference in Quebecers’ insistence on French and the chauvinist elements in Mumbai insisting on the blanket usage of Marathi.

I asked him if one is right, how can the other be wrong?

He said that in Quebec it’s the law.

I asked, whether a wrong act become right if it becomes a law?

“I don’t know,” he shrugged.

He lost interest in the conversation because he wanted to play Farmville on facebook.

Che’s 12. A typical response to something that he doesn’t want to get involved with is, “Whatever,” followed by a shrug.

As I read John Ralston Saul’s A Fair Country I was reminded of this conversation I had with Che.

In the final chapter of the book A Circle of Fairness, Saul explains Quebec’s concept of interculturalisme. He says, “I am more comfortable using the term interculturalisme than multiculturalism to describe how Canada works. It isn’t quite right, but it comes close.”

He quotes from a report by Gerard Bouchard and Charles Taylor about the ethos of Quebec. “The wisest and most effective method of dealing with cultural differences is not to hide them but to show them.”

“A particular responsibility falls upon the ethno-cultural majority to build relationships with immigrants.”

“And how are immigrants to be dealt with? On the basis of ‘four civic virtues.’ Equite – equity or fairness; welcome, getting to know the other, moderation and wisdom; patience. After all, such great changes of life require time in order to be digested by all sides.”

The book raises several questions that are at the core of Canada’s identity and nationhood. Of course, many of the issues raised would be contentious to most Canadians and don’t have the same resonance to a newcomer.

At one level, I found Saul’s interpretation of the Canadian way an attempt at romanticising the non-Western forms of civilisation and society formation.

Yet his interpretation explains so many present dilemmas of the western world that are (surprisingly) absent in Canada – issues of identity, the existence of the ‘other’ in a society of multiple minorities.

Canadians believe in fairness and inclusion; even if on occasions, Canada seemingly doesn’t.

Check Maher Arar's new venture Prism.

Image: Maher Arar: http://thewe.cc/thewei/images2/aljazeerah_inf_nov2003_images/a30.jpg

Sunday, January 17, 2010

TiEQuest

TiEQuest is an annual business venture competition held in Toronto to encourage entrepreneurship, engage emerging entrepreneurial talent and to foster the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Founded in 2005, the mission of TiEQuest is to connect entrepreneurs with angel investors, venture capitalists and fund managers.TiEQuest attracts over 200 entrepreneurs every year.

The contestants include existing and emerging entrepreneurs, patent holders and/or applicants, university students and alumni across North America. TiEQuest offers over $150,000 in prizes to the winners.

To encourage participation of youth,TiEQuest offers the New Entrepreneur Prize to the best student team. In addition, the top teams also have an opportunity to win up to $1,000,000 investment from sponsors.

TiEQuest has over 25 success stories , where the contestants were able to take their business idea to successful enterprises, which have obtained financing, signed partnerships, acquired customers and generated revenues.

The contestants see value in participating in the competition as it offers networking opportunities with leading entrepreneurs and investors, recognition with investment, legal and accounting firms, opportunity to practice the process of pitching their venture to investors, and opportunity to turn an innovative idea into a real businesses.

TiEQuest is different from other business plan competitions as it offers mentoring to the contestants. We connect contestants with industry experts, successful entrepreneurs and professional advisors.

As mentors, TiE charter members introduce contacts and insights on where to go. TiEQuest enhances the opportunity for obtaining financing.

We have 30+ venture capitalists, angel investors, fund managers and other business leaders acts as judges. The participants get an opportunity to present to the investors. In addition, the sponsoring funds offer expression of interest to the topteams.

The competition is designed to go through multiple stages to helppolish business idea and promote networking opportunities.

The judging criteria include value proposition, marketability, viability, management strengths and investibility.

TiEQuest is organized by TiE Toronto, a chapter of global, not-for-profit network of entrepreneurs and professionals dedicated to the advancement of entrepreneurship. TiE provides a platform for mentoring, networking and education.

TiE's mission is to foster and advance entrepreneurship across the globe. Its principle objective is to provide a platform on which people with entrepreneurial spirit and those interested in economic value creation can come together to share ideas.

TiE endeavors to cultivate and nurture the ecosystems of entrepreneurship as it sees this to be the single most powerful instrument of prosperity.

TiE was founded in 1992 in Silicon Valley by a group of successful entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and senior professionals with roots in the Indus region. There are currently more than 16,000 members and over 2,500 charter members in 53 chapters across the globe.

TiE charter members comprise of leading entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, fund managers, CXOs and professionals advisors.

TiE regular members are aspiring entrepreneurs and professionals. Dedicated to the virtuous cycle of wealth creation and giving back to the community, TiE's focus is on generating and nurturing the next generation of entrepreneurs. TiEQuest 2010 is now accepting applications.

Visit www.tiequest.org for details.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Of Hockey and Hijab

I don’t consider myself religious, although I’ve begun to shy away from describing myself as an atheist; agnostic perhaps better describes me and millions of others who don’t quite belong to the category of true believers (of any religion) and clearly abhor secular determinism as an idea of the past.

Secularism like democracy is a constantly evolving concept that takes different forms in different regions of the world. There is no right fix that can possibly be applied to everyone. As Sheema Khan explains, “To you your way, to me mine.”

In 1988, Sheema Khan “got religion” seemingly an affliction that turned this average Canadian Muslism of South Asian origin into a hijab wearing Woman in Muslim Dress (WMD).

Although everyone she knew didn’t react in quite the same way George Bush reacted when he heard that Saddam Hussein had WMD, they still couldn't figure what had gotten into her. They sympathised with her condition because they were convinced she was “brain-washed” and that she “had no choice.”

On the contrary, it was a personal decision that emerged from within as she tried to fill a spiritual void by relying on faith.

Khan explains she found secularism dissatisfying. “Many of us have experienced a purely secular outlook and found it to be thoroughly unsatisfying, for it fails to address the dynamic of one’s spiritual core. That inner voice, hidden to all except to the One who created it and who alone can respond.”

Of Hockey and Hijab Reflections of a Canadian Muslim Woman (TSAR Books) is a slim yet important contribution in understanding the Muslim mind.

Khan is a feisty, fearless woman and clearly a product of the Western society. She’s a patent agent in Ottawa, holds a doctorate from Harvard.

As with any one who has spent some time at such institutions, she’s intelligent and articulate; they inculcate everyone at Harvard with these qualities. Khan also has qualities that aren’t taught at Harvard: deep-rooted compassion, tolerance, empathy, understanding, patience – qualities that come from contemplation and looking inwards.

The essays in Hockey and Hijab touch upon several issues that are constantly being debated in today’s newspapers across the world.

They deal with the idea of Islam in a frank and non-didactic manner. Khan handles a range of topics right from global issues such the ‘clash of civilisations’ to Canadian controversies such as the horrific treatment meted out to some Muslims by the Canadian establishment.

In discussing all these issues, she adopts a candid yet non-confrontational style. While upholding the values espoused in Islam, she doesn’t mince words in focusing on the ills that beset her religion.

Khan’s style opens doors because her writing is sincere and straight from the heart. She doesn’t want you to change your views; all she expects is that you open your mind and free it of preconceived notions about her religion.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Empire of Illusion

Empire of Illusion The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle written by Chris Hedges is an ominous and disturbing book.

Written and published in the wake of the global financial meltdown following the collapse of the housing market in the United States, the book portrays a grim picture of a country that has been – and remains – an epitome of many values that symbolise humankind’s progress towards a just and equitable society.


Values such as democracy, human rights, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of choice, the spirit of free enterprise that enables progress of both the society and the individual.


Hedges, a senior fellow of The Nation Institute and a Pulitzer Prize winning author, analyses what he perceives to be an irreversible decay in the American society. He does this by examining four issues that are at the core of any civilisation – literacy, love, wisdom and happiness.


Hedges says that in today’s United States, these have turned into illusions. Instead of literacy, there’s illusion of literacy, love, etc. He weaves this sullen mosaic into the concluding chapter – the Illusion of America.


To say that Hedges is scathing would be an understatement. He is a relentless advocate of change. He seeks nothing short of a complete disbanding of the deep-rooted culture of corporatism. He marshals his arguments as any brave lawyer would, unflinchingly focusing on the ills of the American society. What makes the book such an interesting read is that he does this with a passion that only a journalist is capable of achieving.


In Illusion of Love, the graphic description of the physical and mental abuse woman actors in pornographic movies are subjected to is so nauseous it is difficult to read those passages in the book without taking a break, and taking a deep breath.


However, to invoke disgust is only a minor part of the author’s purpose. Hedges then connects the dots to devastating effect. He makes us realise that what may seem as individual or institutional aberrations are actually symptoms of a deep-rooted malaise that bests the American society.


He says, “The Abu Ghraib images that were released, and the hundreds more disturbing images that remain classified, could be stills from porn films. These images speak of porn, professional wrestling, realty television, music videos, and the corporate culture. It is the language of absolute control, total domination, racial hatred, fetishistic images of slavery, and humiliating submission. It is a world without pity. It is about reducing other human beings to commodities, to objects. It is a reflection of the sickness of gonzo porn.”


Hedges says that functional illiteracy is epidemic in North America. In itself, this may perhaps not be alarming; after all, there is rampant illiteracy in the developing world. But what worries Hedges is that, “...not since the Soviet and fascist dictatorships, and perhaps the brutal authoritarian control of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, has the content of information been as skillfully and ruthlessly controlled and manipulated. Propaganda has become a substitute for ideas and ideology. Knowledge is confused with how we are made to feel. Commercial brands are mistaken for expression of individuality. And in this precipitous decline of values and literacy, among those who cannot read and those who have given up reading, fertile ground for a new totalitarianism is being seeded.”


Continued below in the next entry.


Image: www.booklounge.ca

Empire of Illusion-2

Continued from above.

In Illusion of Wisdom, Hedges discusses the tight grip corporate culture has over higher education in the United States – a trend that is followed worldwide as worthy of emulation. An unsettling example of this corporate-academia relationship is a deal between University of California-Berkeley and British Petroleum for $500 million. BP gets access to the university’s researchers and technological capacity, “built by decades of public investment,” to investigate biofuels at a new Energy Biosciences Institute.

Hedges talks to Henry Giroux, professor of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Canada. Giroux, a “vocal critic(s) of the corporate state and the systematic destruction of American education...was driven...to the margins of academia in the United States.” He came to Canada in 2004.

Giroux prognostications are grim. He says, “The emergence of what Eisenhower had called the military-industrial-academic complex had secured a grip on higher education that may have exceeded even what he had anticipated and most feared. Universities, in general, especially following the events of 9/11, were under assault by Christan nationalists, reactionary neoconservatives, and market fundamentalists for allegedly representing the weak link in the war on terrorism.” An offshoot of this process – students willingly debate Darfur, but not Iraq, Afghanistan or US militarization.

Hedges also analyses the regimentation of the working class by multinationals such as Toyota. These corporations introduce compulsory experiments in positive psychology to ‘alleviate’ the soul-crushing life the working class population endures as a direct outcome of having to work in an environment that seeks complete subjugation and conformity.

Hedges says, “The primary teaching of this (positive psychology) movement , which reflects in the ideology of the corporate state, is that fulfillment is to be found in complete and total social conformity, a conformity that all totalitarian and authoritarian structures seek to impose on those they dominate. Its false promise of harmony and happiness only increases internal anxiety and feelings of inadequacy.”

The final chapter in the book Illusion of America is written with passion and conviction that stems from anger and helplessness. Hedges arguments inexorably lead to a damning conclusion – the American society (and perhaps by extension Western civilisation) is about to disintegrate. “Cultures that cannot distinguish between illusion and reality die. The dying gasps of all empires...have been characterized by a disconnect between the elites and reality. The elites were blinded by absurd fantasies of omnipotence and power that doomed their civilisations. We have been steadily impoverished by our own power elites – legally, economically, and politically.”

His conclusion: “America’s most dangerous enemies are not Islamic radicals but those who sold us the perverted ideology of free-market capitalism and globalization. They have dynamited the foundation of our society.”

While I was reading this book, two important events occurred in China and India.

In China, a literary critic, Liu Xiaobo, who asked for increased freedoms in China and end of Communist party dominance, was jailed for 11 years.

In India, ND Tiwari, an 86-year-old politican, who had “served” the country in important positions for almost 50 years, was caught on camera attempting to have sex with multiple women, some of whom could be younger than his grand daughters.

These two economies (civilisations, even) are touted as torchbearers of a paradigm change that will take our world to a different kind of progress. They supposedly represent different, 'humane' values than the materialistic West.

I wondered whether the malaise that Hedges so eloquently and forcefully describes in his masterly work is restricted only to America or the West.

Image: http://macleans.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/090728_book.jpg