July 24, 2014

History Of The Donner Party: A Tragedy Of The Sierra By Charles F. McGlashan (Book Review)

This is a review of the non-fiction book History of the Donner Party: a Tragedy in the Sierra by Charles F. McGlashan. The book was first published in 1880. The one reviewed below is the 2004 edition. This edition contained an introduction by John P. Langellier.

The tragic story of the Donner Party is one that will without a doubt make anyone's blood curdle. Comparing it to a horror story would be a gross understatement. Not only did the events truly happen, they were events that are too dark and often unimaginable. We are talking about men sawing off the limbs of their dead compatriots just so they can seek nourishment and not end up with the same fate. We are talking about mothers watching helplessly as their young children freeze if not starve to death. We are talking about human corpses lying about in the snow inside and outside of hastily-built cabins deep in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Such is the tragic story of the Donner Party. It's considered as among the darkest tragedies in Californian history and western migration in general.

In April of 1846, the Donner Party left Springfield, Illinois for a journey that will take them to California. They were joined by more wagons along the way. All in all, the travelers numbered to ninety-two. Only forty-eight of them made it to California. The other forty-two perished along the way. Most of those who perished died from starvation and sickness when the party got stranded deep in the Sierra Nevada mountains. If not for the noble and heroic acts of four relief parties who came to rescue the stranded emigrants, all of them may have perished in the cold snow.

James and Margret Reed, members of the Donner Party
In History of the Donner Party: a Tragedy in the Sierra, author Charles F. McGlashan presents the story of the doomed Donner Party in vivid detail. To make the accounts as complete and accurate as possible, McGlashan interviewed some of the survivors as well as pored over their letters and diaries. He also gleaned over newspaper and journal articles published after the events in the Sierra. Many of these are included in the book.

Needless to say, this is not a book intended for the weak of heart. It's rife with accounts of cannibalism, unimaginable suffering and death. But if you are a history nut, it might be of great interest to you. The events surrounding the Donner Party are very important parts of California's early history. These events embody the difficulties that pioneers had to endure during their westward journeys.

Aside from its historical significance, there's a lot more that can be gleaned from the book. Survival. Heroism. Morality. Religion. McGlashan's History of the Donner Party touched on all of these things. And then some.

July 20, 2014

How Far Will you Go To Escape The Undertaker's Measuring Tape?

Here is a very well-made short animated film about a town of God-fearing folks and the length of where they would go to escape the clutches of death. It's a nice study of religious people and of religion itself.

June 29, 2014

An Eye-Opening BBC Documentary On Depression

It can paralyze you. It makes you want to just disappear and exist in isolation. It makes you hate the things that you used to love. It grips you and slowly crushes you to the point where you can't take it any longer and start thinking of the quickest and easiest escape.

It's terrifying. It's suffocating. And no one is immune. That's depression. As someone who has been struggling with it (although not as severe) since I don't know when, depression is like a thousand bees following you wherever you go and whoever you are with, stinging you and making sure that the poison keeps on running in your veins.

If the effects of depression on a person aren't enough, there's the fact that most people don't understand it and the struggle that sufferers go through. Depressed people are often tagged as weak. This adds to the already mounting pressure that the depressed person is going through.

This documentary produced by the BBC which went in-depth to unravel depression is something that should be widely seen. People who have no inkling as to the effects of depression on people can learn a lot from it. For folks such as myself who go through bouts of depression on a regular basis, it serves almost like a respite. There's something soothing in seeing people struggle through something that you've been and continue to go through.

June 10, 2014

Unafraid Of The Dark: A Fitting Last Episode To A Magnificent Series

I'm a science junkie. So along with millions of science nuts, I mourned the 13th and final episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey which aired June 8 on the National Geographic Channel. The sadder part is that we might not see a second season. So for now, it's goodbye Neil deGrasse Tyson. At least as far as his being presenter of the show is concerned.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is a follow-up to the 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage which was presented and narrated by the late and great Carl Sagan. It also ran with 13 episodes which Neil deGrasse Tyson and company decided to stick to in their follow-up.
Carrying the title Unafraid of the Dark, the last episode tackled cosmic rays, dark matter, dark energy, and interstellar travel. The best part of the episode was the ending when Neil deGrasse Tyson ran the now famous "Sagan message". It can be recalled that in the first episode of the series, Tyson concluded it by recalling how Carl Sagan inspired him as a young kid to pursue astronomy and astrophysics.

Here's the "Sagan message" in full:

"From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known." 

- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1997 reprint, pp. xv–xvi

May 21, 2014

Dark Eyes By Half Moon Run (Album Review)

Released in 2012, Dark Eyes is Half Moon Run's debut studio album. Given the impressive eleven tracks in the album, you would think that the Canadian indie rock group would be massively popular right now. But such is not the case. The band is only known to the most enthusiastic fans of indie rock and indie folk music. This however doesn't take away the fact that the band is among the best in the genres they belong to. They're good. Really good. Give Dark Eyes a listen and you'll see why. That is of course if your taste in music runs in their field or near it.

It's a brilliant first album. Personal favorite tracks of mine are Nerve (an almost perfect fusion of rock and folk), Unofferable (the build-up from a slow start to a rousing majority reminds me of Damien Rice plus the harmonica segment is pure awesome), and Call Me In The Afternoon (probably the song with the fastest pace in the album).

If you love music by the likes of Ben Howard, Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers, Damien Rice, The Killers, Coldplay, or Edward Sharpe, you should check out songs by Half Moon Run. They all run in the same vein. There are differences of course but they all belong to the same family tree.

Half Moon Run is composed of Devon Portielje, Dylan Phillips, Conner Molander, and Isaac Symonds.