A practitioner examines the evolution of the urban sport/art/discipline called parkour
Jon LucasFamed traceur Daniel Ilabaca executes a cat balance
Pick the right time and day to approach the steps at the foot of Citadel Hill, Halifax’s central tourist site/fortress, and you will encounter a ragtag group of people behaving in a rather unusual way: balancing delicately on the railings, hanging off of the walls, leaping up over them from the sidewalk, and bantering on the hillside grass. If you are a casual passerby, you will most likely steer clear of this strange display. But if you have come to practice parkour, you will be greeted with hugs from everyone there.
Parkour, for those who have not yet heard of or seen it, is an urban lifestyle sport/art/discipline in which practitioners (called traceurs) train themselves to efficiently and gracefully climb, jump, vault, and crawl over whatever is in front of them. Not yet highly codified, it is often glossed as “the art of overcoming obstacles,” which allows for interpretations both literal and metaphorical. Parkour originated in the mid-’90s in France, but quickly caught on worldwide after videos of traceurs’ acrobatics began to circulate on YouTube soon after the site’s founding in 2005. The images that have come to characterize it for millions of viewers — shirtless men hurtling like renegade ninja from rooftop to rooftop, performing death-defying flips and high landings — belie a philosophical core that many practitioners hold dear: a focus on disciplined personal improvement, a rejection of showiness and competition, and a commitment to altruism and openness.
The Halifax traceurs are earnest followers of these values. Meets are always free to attend. Passers-by are given ample room to pass by, but whatever questions they have are answered with voracious enthusiasm and invitations to join. The more senior members encourage beginners to progress at their own pace, and take care to teach them strong fundamentals, like the basics of landing, to prevent injury. Flips and tricks are fun to try and in no way forbidden, but they’re seen as being risky and somewhat beside the central point; it doesn’t matter whether you’re working on a “lazy vault” or a “wall spin,” so long as you are moving, learning, and challenging yourself.
The group is populated by people of all ability levels and walks of life, with ages ranging from the teens to the sixties. Its members’ habit of hugging hellos and goodbyes is a local idiosyncrasy, but it seems a fitting practice for traceurs; like the whole activity of parkour, receiving welcoming hugs from mere acquaintances is a rewarding violation of some of the default boundaries of everyday urban life — boundaries which, on reflection, there is little excuse for us to consider ourselves bound by, except that everyone else seems to obey them. (more…)
“Writers are naturally drawn, chimpanzee-like, to the color and the music of this English idiom we are blessed to have inherited. When given the choice we will usually try to use the more vivid and tuneful among its words.” “Thomas Pynchon on plagiarism” (Letters of Note)
“Video Messages From Trapped Chilean Miners” by Alexei Barrionuevo and Robert Mackey (The Lede) The three-week-old rescue effort to reach miners who have been trapped in a collapsed shaft beneath Chile’s Atacama Desert is moving at the pace of a British Petroleum recovery effort: industry experts estimate it will take another three to four months of continuous drilling to reach the men. Rescuers, however, have managed to lower a miniature video camera through a four-inch feeding tube. On Thursday night, Chilean national television broadcast a video message recorded by the thirty-three miners to their loved ones. (more…)
“For all its problems, the first 10 years of the 21st century were in fact humanity’s finest, a time when more people lived better, longer, more peaceful, and more prosperous lives than ever before.” From a new Foreign Affairs article by economic development analyst Charles Kenny, spotted by Ronald Bailey at Hit & Run (“Best Decade Ever? Hell, Yeah!”).
“Antidepressant has ‘magic’ properties” by Bill Hathaway (Futurity) A team of researchers from Yale has discovered that ketamine — a.k.a. the party drug Special K — has “magic” properties. Am I the only one who thinks these geniuses could have saved themselves a lot of time and money if they had skipped the science and just asked high school kids for the score?
“Many people do fear change, and it’s often easier to hold onto what you have — even if you know it isn’t working — than to embrace new ideas. But beyond the scientific predictions, it’s getting more difficult every day to deny the very real and immediate impacts of climate change. Environmental damage from climate change is already killing 300,000 people a year, with an economic impact of $125 billion a year.” David Suzuki and Faisal Moola, “The Environmentalist as Caveman” (The Mark News) (more…)
In Vancouver, the host of past heartache, the author says goodbye to all that
I have been in Vancouver International Airport’s baggage claim area about a dozen times. Every time I stood waiting for my luggage to appear from a flight arriving from Toronto or Montreal, I had the same feeling — a toxic mixture of hopeless love and aching lust, peppered with a knowledge that I was both stupid and doomed.
About a dozen times I stood there waiting for the same someone “special” to meet me in arrivals. Every time I knew I was being an idiot, and every time I convinced myself otherwise. Vancouver has the distinct pleasure of being the city that hosted my youth’s most essential, reckless decision. As life choices go, it’s not the worst one a girl in her early twenties can make — I misguidedly followed a boy across the country. (I’m quite sure now he didn’t really want to be followed, but was much too nice to say so.) He had been offered a job on the Left Coast, and after suffering through a long-distance relationship and multiple flights back and forth, I decided enough was enough. After four years in Montreal, clutching my mostly useless bachelor’s degree, I sold my belongings and boarded a plane to Vancouver because of love. I had no apartment, no job, and no plans — just a romantic notion of “going westward as into the future.” What was worse was that, even after all those visits, I wasn’t even all that sure I liked Vancouver, and as the months passed I became quite sure I hated it. At the time, my wise and irritatingly rational scientist father told me that no matter what my experience on the West Coast became, I should stay a full 365 days to give it the proverbial chance. A year to a fresh graduate is an excruciatingly long time, but now that rain-soaked memory seems only like a blip on an otherwise expansive map.
I’d been blaming my failure in Vancouver on a lack of funds for as long as I can remember, but there had always been a small voice in my head that suggested I should look deeper. So after ten years away (and with a boatload of repressed regret), I have reluctantly come back, out of morbid curiosity, stubbornly trying to prove something, or kill something, or maybe just to satisfy my masochism. This time I’ve landed in YVR with a healthy credit limit and no need to shoplift. Again I am baggage claim, this time on business instead of (attempted) pleasure, yet still feeling that inexplicable stupid doom that comes from a relationship that will never work out. And let me just say, Vancouver on love and Vancouver on business are two very different places. (more…)
Recommended browsing for the weekend of August 14-15, culled from the blogroll
“The End-of-the-World Hotel” by Will Wlizlo | UTNE Reader
As we all know, the world is scheduled to end in 2012. Are you ready? The good people at Del Mar, California’s Vivos Group are here to help. For the low price of $50,000 per adult (kids cost half!), you can purchase a spot in a luxury, 200-person underground bunker — then safely ride out the mega-tsunamis and nuclear explosions that are surely coming our way.
“Lest we forget Omar Khadr” by Parker Donham | Contrarian
After eight years of incarceration, Omar Khadr — the only citizen of a Western democracy still in detention at Guantanamo Bay — is finally being subjected to the first war crimes prosecution of a child soldier in US military history. (Actually, the military is attempting to try Khadr: his lawyer collapsed on Thursday, and will soon be airlifted from Gitmo for medical treatment. Proceedings are now postponed for at least a month.) The UN and the American Civil Liberties Union have both warned that the mere fact of the trial’s existence sets a dangerous precedent.
“Poll: Majority of Americans Approve of Gay Marriage” by John Hudson | The Atlantic Wire
A recent CNN poll (PDF) asked 1,009 Americans: “Do you think gays and lesbians should have a constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law as valid?” Fifty-two percent of respondents answered yes (with a three-point margin of error), in stark contrast to the conventional wisdom that a majority of Americans disapprove of same-sex marriage. Hudson surveys the reactions of Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Beck, and other prominent pundits.
“Wyclef Jean Says Haitians ‘Don’t Need a Local President’” by Robert Mackey | The Lede
Musician and philanthropist Wyclef Jean has announced his intent to run for president of his native Haiti. In the Al Jazeera interview linked here, Jean argues that Haitians need a leader who can travel the world and solicit donations for the island’s post-earthquake rebuilding process. However, he may not meet the job’s eligibility requirements — and ex-Fugee Pras Michel, who is supporting a rival candidate, has allegedly called his former bandmate “the Haitian version of Sarah Palin.”
“NHL marketing — the female fan blunder” by Cassie McClellan | From The Rink
This week, the NHL released horrendously ugly, sparkly “champagne” jerseys for female fans of the game. (From the online sales copy: “Show off your feminine figure with a flirty side drawstring cinch.”) McClellan discusses this latest blunder, and other generally clueless attempts by the league to market hockey to women. (more…)
Simon Brault, vice chair of the Canada Council, discusses his book No Culture, No Future
Author photo by Maxime Cote. Courtesy Cormorant Books
When Simon Brault writes, “We cannot survive without a minimum of cultural expression,” he’s not spinning metaphor. The CEO of the National Theatre School and vice chair of the Canada Council is referring to the (often) ephemeral arts — song, dance, oral narrative — that have been produced in concentration and refugee camps. He’s paraphrasing a point made repeatedly by history: that human beings are compelled to create, even in conditions of absolute “chaos and… misery.”
Cultural expression is a need, Brault believes — one deemed fundamental enough to be declared a universal right in 1948. Yet sixty years later, this need is unmet among most Canadians. According to Brault, only 30 percent of us are actively “interested in or reached by” the arts. And, he continues, the cultivation of culturally engaged citizens remains a fledgling project in this country.
Like the excesses of our food system, allowed to spoil on shelves and in restaurant dumpsters, the talents of our artists and the potential for cultural creation “will be wasted,” according to Brault, “if the majority… are not interested in them or cannot access them.” He argues that larger segments of the Canadian population must be equipped with the tools to “decode” what is produced on our stages, in our museums, in the pages of our novels. (more…)
“California’s Gay Marriage Ban Overturned” by Jacob Sullum | Hit & Run
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker overturned California’s controversial Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that banned gay marriage in the state. “Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians,” Judge Walker wrote in his decision. “The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite sex couples.” Nonetheless, the ruling is certain to be appealed.
“New Orleans: A Timeline” | GOOD Blog
Floods, hurricanes, wars, oil spills — the Big Easy has had a hard life. This timeline, from GOOD magazine’s New Orleans issue, charts the city’s highs and lows.
“Despite Steroids, Does A-Rod Deserve to Make the Hall of Fame?” by Ray Gustini | The Atlantic Wire
This week, the New York Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez became the youngest player to join baseball’s 600-home run club. Such an accomplishment would typically guarantee a spot in the sport’s Hall of Fame, but Rodriguez is an admitted former steroid user, which casts a shadow on his career numbers. Will voters forgive and forget, or will they keep him out of Cooperstown forever? Gustini surveys the opinions of several well-known baseball scribes.
“Condé Nast to license magazine names for restaurants” by Jim Romenesko | Romenesko
Publishing giant Condé Nast has come up with a novel solution for declining revenues – loaning out the names of its famous magazine brands to international restaurant chains. I wonder what they’ll serve at The New Yorker Restaurant: poutine and burritos? No doubt the menu will feature impeccable writing and witty cartoons.
“Microscope a marvel for Third World countries” by Mike Williams | Futurity
For his senior design project, Rice University alumnus Andrew Miller created Global Focus, an inexpensive ($240 US), battery-powered microscope that performs as well as units that cost up to $40,000. Testing has shown that Miller’s device is 98.4 percent effective in diagnosing tuberculosis, a disease that still ravages developing countries. Given that an estimated 1.3 million people died from TB in 2008, there’s tremendous demand for diagnostic tools such as this. (more…)
Last week I saw Restrepo, the Sebastian Junger/Tim Hetherington fly-on-the-wall documentary about a US infantry unit stationed in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, a.k.a. “the most dangerous place on Earth.” Junger and Hetherington follow the troops as they exchange fire with and call in airstrikes on the omnipresent Taliban, try to justify civilian deaths (a.k.a. collateral damage) to the locals, and suffer tragic deaths themselves.
Desperate for any claim to accomplishment, the unit’s commanding officer talks proudly about OP Restrepo, the new outpost his men built on high ground less than a kilometre away from their main base, as a strategic masterstroke that changed the whole dynamic of the war in the valley. I almost believed him, too — until the punch line subtitle at the very end: The US Army withdrew from the Korengal Valley in April 2010.
Meanwhile, a shadowy and fascinating organization called Wikileaks, about which little is known other than that it is headed by a shadowy and fascinating Australian hacker named Julian Assange, has ignited a political firestorm by releasing more than 90,000 secret military documents from Afghanistan which reveal that, according to the Guardian, “coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in reported incidents, Taliban attacks have soared, and NATO commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency.” (more…)