Paging Dr. Lam

Dr. Vincent Lam burst into bookstores across Canada in 2006 with his debut collection of short stories, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures. The series of connected tales about the trials and triumphs of medical students and doctors won the Giller Prize, Canada’s richest and most prestigious literary award. Lam, an emergency physician in Toronto, is now working on a novel. He spoke with The Varsity about his work and the challenge of multiple careers.

The Varsity: You’ve probably heard this question many times before, but how do you manage to be a doctor and a writer at the same time?

Vincent Lam: You know, it’s really quite busy. But emergency medicine is quite self-contained. […] You don’t take a lot of paperwork home with you, whereas in other specialties you do end up taking more home with you. The other thing that helps is that it’s shiftwork, so you often have shifts that start in the afternoon or evening, which means that you can write during the day.

TV: Do you find that being a doctor drains you emotionally or mentally in terms of writing?

VL: Well, there are different kinds of demands. I find that both medicine and writing are quite draining, actually. Medicine is much more external; medicine is all about taking care of other people’s problems and me using my professional skills to help people. Writing is very internal, and it has a lot to do with figuring out how I see the world, and me figuring out what I think about things, ultimately. And that’s draining in a different way. A lot of people ask me whether writing is a good break from medicine, and I wish it were, but actually it’s not, it’s actually a lot of work.

TV: I find it interesting that you say medicine is external and writing is internal. You’ve clearly successfully made the transfer from the external medical world into your writing in Bloodletting. How important is it for you to write about what you know, to take your environment and put it into your writing?

VL: It’s probably simpler in some ways to write about the environment that you know because you have access to all the details, and you understand how things work. Do I think that people should always write what they know? I’m not so sure. I think that it can be helpful, but depending on the kind of writer, and depending on the kind of book they want to write, it could be a help or a hindrance. It’s actually very important to distinguish between the world that one knows, and that being actually different from the fictional world. Most writers who write about the world that they know will tell you that as a writer you have to make a break. You have to be able to say, “You know what, even if such-and-such would be in the world that I know, that’s not what I’m doing in my fiction because it just doesn’t work as well in the fiction.”

TV: You’ve traveled Vietnam doing research for your upcoming novel Cholon, Near Forgotten. Why did you go, and was it difficult to find what you were looking for?

VL: Well, my own family background is the Chinese community of Vietnam, and so I’m very interested in that community. In a sense it’s very hard to find, because the era that I’m writing about, the community that I’m writing about, basically no longer exists. And this is not an uncommon problem for fiction writers, especially those who write historical fiction. You have to kind of deal with the shadows of the past.

TV: Who are some of your literary influences? Which authors influenced you at a young age when you decided to be a writer?

VL: Tough question, too many to list. I try to give a different answer every time. And so my influences today will be David Malouf and Michael Ondaatje. I probably decided I was going to be a writer when I read Hemingway. I was always amazed at how much I would know in something that he wrote without him having said it, which always seemed all the more vivid. I have to say I enjoy reading a lot of people whose styles are basically totally different than the voice I would ever use. And in some ways it’s probably because their voices are so different.

TV: You went to the creative writing summer program at U of T’s School of Continuing Studies. Did that kick-start your career, or did it simply polish your writing?

VL: I was early in working on this collection at the time. And it was encouraging just to meet other writers. Writing is quite lonely, so it was very encouraging just to know, “Okay, other people are out here doing this, and we’re all kind of struggling away, and that’s what one does.” I think most of the work, me as a writer, remains work alone. It’s just nice to know that there were other people out there who were doing the same thing, that I wasn’t just crazy.

TV: How has winning the Giller Prize changed your life and work, if at all?

VL: I’ve become far more busy doing readings, traveling, and speaking. And so the whole thing about writing being alone, there’s a certain border that gets blurred. Ultimately the writing is still alone, but I spend more time communicating about the books in a way that is public, in a way that is not alone.

TV: Has this infraction on your aloneness been a negative influence?

VL: I think there’s some, that as a writer I have to be careful to manage. At first I was very busy and saying “yes” to everything, and then I began to realize that meant there was less alone mental space, while also balancing a medical career and family life.

TV: Do you have any advice for students who want to be writers, or who are trying to decide between writing and a professional career?

VL: I would say that it’s not totally necessary to decide between them. Even before I went into medical school, what I said was I wanted to write and I wanted to do medicine, and a lot of people were skeptical. I don’t think that it’s necessary to feel that one has to be in place of the other. And I don’t think that I’m alone, you know. There are quite a number of doctor-writers, lawyerwriters, engineer-writers who are out there. If you scratch the surface you’ll find a lot of other things going on.

The tricky thing once you have a profession is that you do have the potential to earn a fair bit of money, in some professions, and so it can be very tempting to not do your art, and to make money. Actually, people who do have a profession should look on that as an opportunity to work less, earn a little bit less, and have time to consider art.

NHL rookie roundup

When the NHL returned after the lockout that wiped out the 2004-5 season, one of the most riveting storylines was the promise of a fierce battle for rookie of the year honours between two very highly touted prospects in Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, both of whom lived up to expectations. Last year, Russian phenom Evgeni Malkin was predicted to win the Calder Memorial Trophy before the season began, and eventually did take home the award. This season, however, there was no consensus favourite heading into the campaign and there still isn’t. With only a dozen or so games left in the regular season, this year’s race for the Calder Trophy is more wide open than it’s been in years. Here’s a look at who’s been turning heads this year.

Patrick Kane – RW, Chicago Blackhawks

When the Blackhawks chose Patrick Kane with the first overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, they knew they were getting a highly skilled forward with tremendous offensive potential. But few expected him to land a spot in the NHL so soon and make the transition so smoothly. Kane stands at only 5’10”, weighing a meager 163 lbs. Because of his diminutive stature, many observers doubted his ability to play at a high level before packing on a few pounds of muscle. Despite his size, Kane has been lighting the lamp regularly for the Blackhawks. He’s been a key cog in their offence all year long and he and fellow rookie Jonathan Toews have become the face of a resurgent Blackhawks franchise recovering from years of poor management under the ownership of the recently deceased Bill Wirtz. The right winger from Buffalo leads all rookies in scoring with 59 points and has held the lead most of the year.

Kane’s skill at handling the puck and setting up plays on the half boards has helped inject life into Chicago’s moribund power play, which was the worst in the league last year. His wizardry with the puck has also come in handy in shootouts, where he’s 5-for-7, leading all first year players in shootout goals and shooting percentage.

Kane had an incredible start to the season, and if NHL awards were handed out in December he’d be a lock for the Calder. But his production has slowed in recent months — perhaps he hasn’t become strong enough to endure the wear and tear that an 82-game NHL season brings — and he could relinquish the rookie scoring title before the end of the year. Kane’s -7 plus-minus rating is among the worst on his team and if his offensive output is not at the top of the heap, he’s not a well-rounded enough player to win the Calder Trophy.

Jonathan Toews – C, Chicago Blackhawks

Jonathan Toews led Team Canada in scoring at the 2007 world junior championships, almost singlehandedly carrying the team to the gold medal game with an impressive performance in Canada’s semifinal shootout win over the United States. He was once again selected to represent Canada at the IIHF men’s world championships and did not look out of place with seven points in nine games. He scored his first NHL goal on his first shot in his first game and registered a point in each of his next nine contests, the second-longest scoring streak to start an NHL career in league history. In short, Toews has proven that selecting him second overall in 2006 was a very wise decision.

The 19-year-old Chicago centre is fourth in rookie scoring and second in goals, despite having played only 51 games due to injury. While he’s been scoring at a higher pace than Kane, he’s easily the most well-rounded forward in this year’s crop of rookies. He plays in all situations and his 18:38 average ice time per game — thirdmost among Chicago forwards and second among rookie forwards — includes time on the power play and the penalty kill. His +9 plusminus ranking is sixth on his team. Known as being mature beyond his 19 years, Toews has also begun to showcase his leadership skills and many observers have him pegged as Chicago’s next captain. While Kane may be a fl ashier player, Toews has shown his potential as a franchise centre and proven to be a vital component of a young team on the rise. When he went down with a sprained knee in early January, the Blackhawks, who had assembled a 19-16-3 record to that point, fell into a 5-9-2 rut but have gone 9-4- 3 since his return. If he’d played a full season, Toews would almost undoubtedly be the leading Calder candidate this year, but thanks to injury he’ll be able to play 64 games at most. Will that be enough?

Nicklas Backstrom – C, Washington Capitals

Washington’s 2006 first-round pick (fourth overall) is having a terrific season centering the Capitals’ top line with Alexander Ovechkin, the NHL’s leader in both goals and points, on his left wing. A skilled passer and playmaker, Backstrom leads all rookies in assists and his 58 points trail only Kane among rookie scorers. Having Ovechkin, arguably the best left winger and most potent scoring threat in the game, on the receiving end of so many of Backstrom’s passes has undoubtedly helped him rack up 47 helpers, but it would be a mistake to suggest that Ovechkin’s skill alone is helping Backstrom pad his stats. Ovechkin’s production has surpassed last year’s totally with 16 games still left to play, thanks in part to the presence of a highly skilled pivot. Backstrom’s hockey sense, combined with Ovechkin’s scoring touch, have allowed Washington’s offence to terrorize the Eastern Conference all season. The young Swede’s addition to the powerplay has also helped improve the Caps’ record with the man advantage, ranked sixth this year after being seventhworst in the league last season. If Kane continues to cool off after such a hot start, Backstrom could win the rookie scoring race and capture the Calder in the process.

Peter Mueller – C/RW, Phoenix Coyotes

Another first-round draft pick from 2006 (eighth overall), Peter Mueller already has a rookie of the year award under his belt as a member of the WHL’s Everett Silvertips in 2006. With a knack for finding the back of a net and a powerful 6’2”, 205-lb frame, Mueller has the potential to be a potent offensive force for the Coyotes and has already started to show it — Mueller leads all first-year players with 21 goals. Although he initially entered the league as a centre, Mueller struggled at that position and head coach Wayne Gretzky moved him to right wing. Since then, he’s become an important part of a surprising young Coyotes team’s offence, seeing action on the top line with Shane Doan and Steven Reinprecht, and trailing only Doan and Radim Vrbata in goal scoring. His 47 points are good for third in the rookie scoring race and like Kane and Backstrom, Mueller has been a key component of a resurgent Coyotes powerplay.

While Mueller’s 21 goals are impressive for a rookie, he leads by a slim margin and could soon be overtaken by Toews, who has played fewer games but scored at a higher pace. Unless he goes on a tear in the Coyotes’ final push for a playoff spot, Mueller is probably a long shot to win the Calder but stands a good chance at being nominated.

Tobias Enstrom – D, Atlanta Thrashers

Tobias Enstrom is another product of an incredible 2003 draft class that produced such standout players as Dion Phaneuf, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Eric Staal, Thomas Vanek and Zach Parise. But unlike these young stars, Enstrom was not a highly touted first round pick but an undersized defenceman chosen by the Atlanta Thrashers in the eighth round (238th overall). Yet Enstrom could prove to be the Thrashers’ best acquisition that year (especially after trading away Braydon Coburn), if his rookie campaign is any indication. Although he will likely never be a hard-hitting, shut-down defenceman with his 5’10”, 175-lb frame, he’s shown a lot of offensive upside. Enstrom has emerged as a capable power-play quarterback, and leads first-year defenceman with 37 points (he’s seventh among all rookie skaters), good for 17th among all blueliners. By comparison, Kane’s 59 points put him only 36th among all forwards. The 23-year-old blueliner also logs a ton of minutes for Atlanta — his 24:37 leads rookie skaters. He’s 18th in the league in time on ice, which is surprising for such a young player. Enstrom’s -1 rating may not look great, but he plays on one of the worst teams in the league and spends a lot of time on the ice against the opposing team’s top forwards. While Enstrom’s 19 hits are nothing to write home about, his 92 blocked shots are third among rookie defencemen.

Historically, blueliners have not fared well in Calder Trophy voting. Only one of the last nine and two of the last 17 winners have been defencemen, likely because they take longer to develop into valuable NHL players. That being said, Enstrom has proven himself worthy of Calder consideration, although the fact that he’s a relatively unknown player in a weak hockey market may hurt his chances. Enstrem is definitely the dark horse of the lot.

UPass nears the end of the line

The fight is on. In one week students at UTSC will vote in a referendum that could implement the GTA’s first UPass with access to the TTC.

Coinciding with the Scarborough Campus Student Union’s executive elections, the vote will need a minimum of about 500 students to be considered valid, with full-time and part-time undergraduate students voting separately.

If the Yes vote is successful, the program would add $240 per term to each student’s mandatory fees— working out to $60 a month, or $480 for an academic year. While this is a 38 per cent savings over the current student Metropass price of about $97, students could not opt out of the UPass program, and the passes would be non-transferable.

Since a large number of the campus’s students commute from areas beyond the TTC, the UTSC proposal offers equivalent credit transfer options for Go Transit and York Regional Transit. For some, however, that still doesn’t justify the cost.

Fourth-year Neurology and Psychology student Vikky Leung expressed frustration at the idea that $60 would be enough to cover her monthly costs if she were to give up driving. Since Leung lives in Pickering, it would cost at least $96 for her to get a monthly student pass for the Go bus. Leung said one of the reasons why she became the leader of the official No Campaign was because people were unfairly assuming that, as a driver, she had the extra $480 needed to cover (the costs of) the UPASS for two semesters.

While many have argued that the current UPASS proposal is unfair to students who drive, walk, bike, or live on campus, supporters of the program argue the program would encourage more students to explore downtown.

Political Science student and Yes Campaign organizer Tiffany Gerris argues the program’s long term environmental benefits and future increases in service to the area are strong reasons for students to adopt the UPass. SCSU VP external Chris Smith also stressed the need for lower congestion and a decreased dependence on cars as community benefits to the program.

Campaigning from both sides of the debate is currently well underway following last Thurday’s town hall forum with Mayor David Miller, TTC Chair Adam Giambrone, and TTC Vice-Chair Joe Mihevc. Class talks are set to take place by members of the No Campaign and the TTC has already provided the Yes Campaign with about 40 buttons and 50 full-colour posters.

SCSU president Rob Wulkan points out that the program is a lot like the insurance model where everyone pays. “Some people will stand to benefit a lot, and some people won’t, it all depends on how much someone decides to use their benefits.” Wulkan said the vote will ultimately be decided based on cost versus choice—a decision between saving money or being able to choose different methods of transportation.

The referendum is set to take place next week at UTSC on March 19 and 20. Full-time and part-time undergraduate students will be able to vote in the Student Centre.

Zero wins, one promotion?

Football coach Steve Howlett is poised to add a few more zeros to his bottom line, and that’s not in reference to his overall record as head coach of the Varsity Blues. After five mostly unsuccessful seasons with the football program, during which the team has gone 0- 40, setting the all-time CIS record for consecutive games lost, the former U of T slot back could receive a pay raise and significant job security from U of T.

It’s a basic procedure for instructors at universities in Canada to be evaluated for promotion after five years. Under the parameters of the Policy and Procedures on Academic Appointments, Howlett is eligible for promotion to Senior Athletic Instructor.

The motion has come under intense criticism because of the football team’s well-documented struggles: “When I signed a contract it didn’t say I had to win so many games,” said Howlett. “I think I’m a great coach and not everyone has the perseverance and resilience like me.”

Howlett played for the Blues from 1983 and 1984, before graduating with a Sociology degree from Scarborough College in 1985. He was named football coach prior to the 2003 football season, after a stint serving as offensive coordinator for the now debunked Ottawa Renegades of the CFL.

In a memorandum posted throughout the Athletic Centre, Gretchen Kerr, associate dean of undergraduate education for the Faculty of Physical Education and Health, requested confidential letters of assessment regarding Howlett’s “teaching, coaching and creative professional achievement.”

The evaluation process will be conducted by a committee comprised of faculty members and administers who will then make a suggestion to be approved or denied by the head of the department.

Friday, March 14 is the deadline to submit letters of assessment regarding Steve Howlett to Kerr, at gretchen.kerr@utoronto.ca. A decision will be reached this spring.

Bill C-10 takes away artists’ fundamental rights argues ELAISHA STOKES

The Conservative Party’s Bill C-10 calls for further regulation of content in Canadian film and television productions, suggesting that if content is morally grey or “contrary to public policy,” then the tax credits necessary to fund the productions should be revoked. The religious right loves Bill C-10, praising its potential to correct the moral ruin that has befallen our country’s art in recent years. But independent film and television producers aren’t quite as thrilled, citing Bill C-10 as a limit to their fundamental rights and freedoms as artists. They question the qualifications of public bureaucrats to assess the quality or morality of a piece of art.

But here’s the bottom line: we already regulate the content of film and television in Canada. Federal funding bodies like Telefilm and the NFB receive and review pitches, allocating money based on the quality of the content. The cash rewarded by the Canadian Television Fund is entirely determined by broadcasters in advance based on content. Bureaucrats already control what we see on our airwaves, and based on audience turnout, they’re not doing a very good job.

Do we really want Canadian networks overflowing with lame ripoffs of American variety shows? The whole purpose of publicly funding our image arts industry is preservation of Canadian culture. In my mind, preserving culture is the job of citizens, not bureaucrats. The last time I checked, David Cronenberg, for all his amorality, received more international acclaim with more bums in seats than Ben Mulroney ever could. If we start regulating what makes content “moral,” where do we draw the line?

Migrating further into the regulation game will make Canada an international laughingstock. No other democratic nation in the world regulates their cultural sector so heavily. However, plenty of not-so-democratic nations do. Do we really want to draw further comparisons?

Moreover, you can kiss our runaway production industry goodbye. Technicians, gaffers, best boys, and everyone else who make movie magic a reality in Canada, rely on foreign productions for their bread and butter. The tax credit system in Canada has traditionally served as an inviting incentive for foreign productions, which infuse our economy with millions of dollars annually. If we regulate who qualifies for these credits based on content, we can kiss that industry, and the jobs it provides our economy, goodbye. It will disappear overnight.

If the Canadian government has such a strong desire for regulation, maybe they should start with the environment—seems far more critical to the voting public than messing with our public airwaves—and leave the art to the artists.

How do you feel about Steve Howlett, the Varsity Blues football coach with a record-losing streak, getting tenure at U of T?

Clockwise from top-left

Sasha , 3rd-year Art History: I don’t know anything about him myself, but based on the football team’s record, I don’t think its a good idea to give him tenure. If we’re going to promote him, what does he have to offer?

Cory , 4th-year Music: Yes, i think he should. I feel that for schools in Canada in general, football is not the goal. It shouldn’t be a concern for us whether or not the Blues win games.

Emily , 2nd-year History: No, I don’t think that he should get tenure. At this moment there is no reason to. The Blues just haven’t shown results on the field.

Stephanie , 4th-year Physical Ed: I have him as a teacher, actually. He may not be a good football coach, but he’s a really good, understanding, and knowledgeable professor. So yeah, I think he should be given tenure.

Taxpayer money shouldn’t support crude or disgusting attempts at ‘art’ says PETER O’HAGAN

The Canadian film community is in a tizzy these days over a proposed amendment to the Income Tax Act (Bill C-10) allowing the Heritage Minister, or a government committee, to deny tax credits to film-makers who want to produce movies that are “contrary to public policy.” Award-winning Canadian director Sarah Polley calls herself “terrified” and condemns the amendment as contrary to a “civilized nation.” Director David Cronenberg said it was a “direct attack on the Charter.” Producer Robert Lantos labelled those who favour the bill “barbarians.”

Such an overreaction, while predictable, is still ridiculous. The cries of “censorship” are entirely disconnected from reality, since the proposed amendment censors absolutely nothing. All it does is ask those who want to make films containing gratuitous violence, sex, or hatred to do so with their own money. This is hardly unreasonable, and is in keeping with the public interest.

The film industry will cry that such an amendment curtails freedom of expression. It does no such thing. People with an idea for a film have no inherent right to receive public funding for their artistic expression—it is a privilege meant to encourage Canadian film production. If the film meets the requirements (spelled out in considerable detail), then it qualifies for public support, since it is arguably in the public’s interest that Canadian artists be aided in their efforts to produce legitimately Canadian content.

But not every self-styled artist with an idea and a camera has a claim to public support. Sarah Polley commented that “Sex and violence are part of the world we live in. It’s the job of an artist to talk about the world we live in.” True enough, Ms. Polley, but this does not imply that every artist who wants to talk about it deserves a tax credit to do so, especially if the film itself is so bad that the only money it will make is due to said credit.

Further, it is patently obvious that some of the farces that go by the name of art (say, Young People Fucking) indulge the less salutary side of human emotion rather than engage in a worthwhile and actually Canadian fashion, with the real and challenging issues of sex, violence, and so on. The best art in the world deals with these issues but never descends to crude sensationalism or deliberately disgusting caricatures passed off as “freedom of expression.”

This discussion does not concern “freedom of expression,” or theories of art, or even censorship. It’s about what the Canadian government will and will not actively support. Canadian films that truly engage with Canadian concerns will always be of interest to the Canadian public. Fringe, borderline criminal or pornographic material is not “censored” —the government is simply saying that it has better things to support.

So, Ms. Polley, Mr. Cronenberg, and company, if you would like to see a movie that is blatantly offensive to others, why not dig into your own substantial pockets and finance them yourselves? Don’t ask the Canadian taxpayer to support any Jack or Jill who considers themselves an “artist.”

Chinese power: it’s all about context

It’s not unusual these days to equate China with the future. The country’s rise to power, depending on one’s viewpoint, brings either apocalypse or opportunity. It is hard to ignore that China wields the world’s largest standing army, or that its economic growth is astronomical. A recent increase of its military budget by 17.6 per cent has prompted two rival powers in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan and the U.S., to cry in alarm. There has been talk that this signals a transition to Chinese hegemony, replacing the U.S. as the world’s superpower.

China’s neighbours and the U.S. have reasonable fears of greater Chinese bellicosity. China possesses a terrible record on human rights and press freedoms. Its nonchalance when cooperating with terrorist-sponsoring states is also worrying.

But despite China’s growing presence, talk of superpower status is both premature and imprudent. One often forgets that China faces massive problems that are growing. Economically, it is pressed by issues of demographics and resources. Due to the onechild policy, there is a strong possibility that the next generation of Chinese labourers will not be large enough to replace the retiring generation preceding them, creating a top-heavy population. The Chinese Communist Party, in its constant attempt to maintain legitimacy within a one-party system, will find its ability to provide for the elderly severely challenged by a fall in tax revenues.

Energy is also a growing concern as the Chinese middle class expands both in its size and taste for a greater range of consumer goods. Cars, computers, televisions, air conditioning—all are required to fuel the next generation of young, modern Chinese. Such consumption does not seem sustainable. Demand outstrips supply in places such as Shanghai, where there are mandatory blackouts during summer nights. If China desires international legitimacy as a “world leader,” its current mode of operation—oil bought from countries with suspect human rights records like Venezuela and Sudan—is problematic. Moreover, China faces a diplomatic obstacle from pressures to reduce the carbon emissions caused by its economic growth.

A one-child policy poses problems for the ever-prized stability that the CCP perpetually seeks to maintain. In regions of the country difficult for the state bureaucracy to reach, infanticide of girls is common. For every 100 girls, there are 115 boys, who are often seen as future breadwinners. The implications for China’s social fabric are dire.

Moreover, it does not seem that China is inclined in its nature to overtake the United States. In many ways, China’s buying into the World Trade Organization and compliance with various international norms crafted by the U.S. indicate that it would rather work within the system than overthrow it. China also lacks a fundamental ideological challenge to the United States. Unlike America’s previous challengers, from Nazi Germany to Communist Russia, China does not possess a value system that would revolutionize the current system. Though the Communist Party is in power, it has long abandoned the red-book days of Mao, embracing various forms of ideological apostasies through capitalism.

What matters is context. Certainly there are problems that cannot be easily dismissed when it comes to growing Chinese military power. But there are far too many challenges for China to overcome before it grows to the hegemonic proportions that could devastate the interests of America and America’s western allies. For the visible future at least, matters of ideology, economy, stability, and demography stand in its way.