Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Thanksgiving memories

Seeing as so many of my American friends are blogging about Thanksgiving, I figured I didn't have to be deprived just because I'm Canadian.

I'm thinking back too many years to my first Thanksgiving after I left home. My roommate was out of town, so I decided that I - yes I - would host the family's Thanksgiving dinner. Seeing as the "family" in town was reduced to my grandmother and one aunt/uncle couple, this wasn't too intimidating a task. Except that I was 18 and making Thanksgiving turkey for my grandmother!

My kitchen was smaller than most walk-in closets nowadays, but I nonetheless produced the traditional feast, roast turkey with home-made stuffing and gravy being the requisite centrepiece. It got quiet during meal-time, always a good sign, and then my grandmother leaned back, heaved a great sigh of contentment, and pronounced her verdict.

"NOW you can get married."

Grandma's long gone, but she still makes me smile after all these years with that crack. Most especially because she wasn't trying to be funny.

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Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Live from the Twilight Zone

Code Name Nora
Life as it is really lived in a retirement home

Octogenarian Nora is blogging live from her senior citizens' home, dubbed the Twilight Zone by the inhabitants. It is sometimes poignant, sometimes hilarious, always interesting. Personally, I see the eventual makings of a book.

In the very youth-centered culture of the Internet, it is refreshing to hear a voice from another perspective, all the more so when that voice is so articulate and entertaining.

The blog is entitled Code Name Nora, and I do hope she's code naming all the other characters too. It gets pretty personal.

Hat tip to Annie at Ambivablog.

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Monday, 5 November 2007

Poor King Tut

First they take his skull and put it on public display. And then, to add insult to injury, Steve Martin cashes in on the event. OK, so maybe I have my chronology scrambled. Sue me. But Martin's hoary old favourite has found new relevancy with today's news. And it's still funny.

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Saturday, 3 November 2007

Skeleton in the Closet

Skeleton in the ClosetI wrote some time back about stick-thin models and the pressures upon them to conform to a morbidly unhealthy body ideal. But it is not only models and not only women who fall victim to the distorted thinking that leads to eating disorders and other forms of self-mutilation. Photographer Fritz Liedtke experienced it to a degree as a young man and has now mounted an exhibit, Skeleton in the Closet, dealing with the issue through photos and accompanying text.

From Jeffrey Overstreet's interview with Liedtke:
One of the surprising things about people struggling with eating disorders is that, often times, they believe so thoroughly in what they are telling themselves (that I’m fat, ugly, unworthy of love, need drugs to keep going), that nothing you can say will help them. They won’t hear you. I’ve sat face to face with these beautiful people who were headed for death, and could do little more than listen. Of course, my role as an artist and photojournalist was to listen and tell their story, not be their counselor. But the depth to which we are able, as humans, to deceive ourselves, is quite surprising sometimes.

Another thing I found interesting in the interview process was how much people would share with me. I would sit there and ask questions and listen, and people would start telling me things that they hadn’t told anyone else, not even their spouses. I felt like a priest in a confessional. Obviously, they wanted to get things off their chest (with some encouragement from me), and I was honored to be able to listen.

Even a small sampling of the pictures had me fighting tears. They are eloquent and disturbing.

You can find Jeffrey Overstreet's complete interview with Liedtke at The Eagle and Child.

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Sunday, 28 October 2007

"When you mix politics and religion, you get politics."

Republicans should read that and weep. I read it and rejoice.

It is Rev. Gene Carlson speaking, an aging conservative leader and pastor from Wichita, Kansas. According to a feature-length article in the New York Times Magazine by David D. Kirkpatrick, we are on the verge of a sea change in political thinking in evangelical circles.
"The religious right peaked a long time ago," [Carlson] added. "As a historical, sociological phenomenon, it has seen its heyday. Something new is coming."

I myself have been watching the very cozy relationship between the Republican Party and the so-called religious right with a great deal of squeamishness from my vantage point north of the 49th parallel. It was my opinion that when the church gets in bed with politics, she just gets screwed. Like in any bad relationship, there is a point where she has to realize that staying will only result in an ongoing erosion of independence and integrity. And it looks as if this realization is sinking in. Some of the old guard conservative religious leaders are being repudiated, others are changing their tune, and still others risk becoming irrelevant to their own constituency.

The new leaders are tired of being defined in terms of what they stand against instead of what they stand for, and while they have not dropped their opposition to gay marriage and abortion, they see a number of other issues that are just as important, while questioning whether the political road is the best one to follow to see the changes they desire.
"In the evangelical church in general there is kind of a push back against the Republican party and a feeling of being used by the Republican political machine," he continued. "There are going to be a lot of evangelicals willing to vote for a Democrat because there are 40 million people without health insurance and a Democrat is going to do something about that."

Democrats, on the other hand, should probably not read that and rejoice too loudly. While they are likely to benefit in the short term, it should be noted that millions of evangelical Americans are not turning in their Republican Party membership cards in exchange for Democratic Party ones. They are going independent.

High time, I say. No political party should ever believe they have any church in their pocket, and no church should ever allow itself to become the mouthpiece of a political organization. I do not mean for a minute that Christians should not speak out on political issues, but rather that they should maintain an independence of movement and thought. Christians who enter politics should remember where their highest loyalty lies (and I honestly salute those who have chosen to enter the fray) and not prostitute themselves for political gain.

This growing political sophistication of the American evangelical movement can only be a good thing, as I see it. And who knows, maybe it will help heal the destructive polarization that has characterized the American political discourse for too long now.

Read the whole article, it is fascinating.

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Saturday, 27 October 2007

Thursday Thirteen on Saturday - Opening Lines

I don't do memes. But I'm doing this one. Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, right? We all know that.

Here are thirteen opening lines from thirteen novels. Which ones can you guess? Correct answers will be inserted as they come in.

(Too late folks; it's over. I'm putting all the answers in now.)

1. "I've watched through his eyes, I've listened through his ears, and I tell you he's the one. Or at least as close as we're going to get."
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, guessed by Annie #2

2. "Matrimony was ordained, thirdly," said Jane Studdock to herself, "for the mutual society, help, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other."
That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis, guessed by Annie.

3. It came by mail, the old-fashioned way, since the Judge was almost eighty and distrusted modern devices.
The Summons by John Grisham, guessed by Anonymous (part way) and Annie #2.

4. No knowledge has come down of Joseph Knecht's origins.
The Glass Bead Game (Magister Ludi) by Hermann Hesse, guessed by Vomaxx at AW, who didn't turn up to put it in the comments here.

5. A squat grey building of only thirty-four storeys.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, guessed by Danika.

6. The news hit the British High Commission in Nairobi at nine-thirty on a Monday morning.
The Constant Gardener by John LeCarré, guessed by Eva.

7. The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-wracked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin, guessed by Poodlerat.

8. The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, guessed by Poodlerat.

9. My name is Perry L. Crandall and I am not retarded.
Lottery by Patricia Wood, guessed by Annie.

10. Brother Francis Gerard of Utah might never have discovered the blessed documents, had it not been for the pilgrim with girded loins who appeared during that young novice's Lenten fast in the desert.
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, guessed by Annie #2.
Follow this up with the second sentence, and I consider it one of the best openings I've ever read.
Never before had Brother Francis actually seen a pilgrim with girded loins, but that this one was the bona fide article he was convinced as soon as he had recovered from the spin-chilling effect of the pilgrim's advent on the far horizon, as a wiggling iota of black caught in a shimmering haze of heat.
Great voice, sense of place, unusual but effective description and a good sense of the dry but sympathetic humour that characterizes the book. By the end of this second sentence I was smitten.

11. Here was the least common denominator of nature, the skeleton requirements simply, of land and sky - Saskatchewan prairie.
Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O. Mitchell, guessed by the husband of Danika.

12. In the tombs of Kursi sits a man with his back to the sea.
Madman by Tracy Groot. Fantastic book, see my review in the previous post.

13. The cabin-passenger wrote in his diary a parody of Descartes: 'I feel discomfort, therefore I am alive,' then sat pen in hand with no more to record.
A Burnt-Out Case by Graham Greene. I was more than a little surprised that no one got this one.

And that's it for this time.

You can find the original here, but I found it through Superfast Reader. Oh, and Poodlerat has done one too.

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Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Paramilitary training in kindergarten

It happens in Bangladesh. And this man, Shoaib Choudhury, is begging people in the West to speak up against it, to kick up a stink, to tell one more person.

Regular readers of this blog might recall me talking about Choudhury about a year ago, when he was in prison in Bangladesh, having dared suggest that his country should recognize Israel. He is now free in the West because of political pressure but amazingly has every intention of returning to his country to face trial.

"Islam is not a bad religion," Choudhury said, "but it is now in the hands of criminals and terrorists." And silence, he said -- silence from the West -- is what they want. Silence about the 9,000 kindergarten Madrassas in Bangladesh that include paramilitary training in their curriculum. About the 64,000 Koranic madrassas, heavily funded by Saudi Arabia, that are not accountable to authorities, where hatred for Israel, Jews and Christians is built into the school day; about the way the most beautiful young women are selected, educated, trained, given every advantage -- then sent to the West, as terrorists, to await their orders to act.

Read about his recent meeting with high school students to motivate them to become activists at True Ancestor (hat tip to Amba at Ambivablog). Further references are provided there.

Tell one more person.

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Monday, 22 October 2007

Monkeys Cause the Death of a Delhi Politician

Monkeys in DelhiThis one was just too weird to let it slip by.

BBC reports that the deputy mayor of Delhi has died after falling from his balcony while fighting off an attack by monkeys. The city has long been infested by aggressive monkeys, to the point that the High Court ordered the city to address the problem.

This is not only strange, it is profoundly so. The intersection of politics, ecology, religion, and urban planning make it more than just another item in a Bizarre News feed.

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I actually won!

Last DragonJ.M. McDermott announced a poetry contest a couple of weeks back that intrigued me. The prize was an autographed ARC (Advance Reader's Copy) of his upcoming novel, Last Dragon.

Being a little dense sometimes, I thought the contest was to write a poem about his book and seeing as I hadn't read it, I didn't try. But the description of the book at Amazon looked so promising, I eventually decided to make a stab anyway. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. JM was nice enough to let me know I had misunderstood, that the poem was to be on the theme "last dragon", not on the book itself. My rather sorry little limerick had no chance. (You try converting advertising copy into poetry and see if YOU can do it!) So I tried again, even though there were barely 24 hours left before the contest closed.

The theme didn't seem to be too suited to limericks to me, so after considering the permissible forms I settled on a villanelle, a form of poetry that repeats two lines of a refrain at strictly specified intervals throughout. The most famous example is Dylan Thomas's iconic "Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night" with its haunting "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." It seemed to me to be ideally suited for a lament. Throw in the fact that it was probably a little easier than a sonnet or a sestina, and my choice was made.

I'm not claiming that my poem is destined to live forever in anthologies (it won't), but I was pleased enough with the result of my efforts to submit it, although another week to mull over the rough spots would have been nice. And J.M. was pleased enough to award it first place, throwing in some editorial comments for free.

I am tickled pink. I get to read the book before everybody else but the reviewers. I will post a review of my own when we get closer to the release date.

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Friday, 5 October 2007

Misheard Numa Numa Lyrics

This is not exactly new on YouTube, but it was new to me. I laughed myself silly. Hat tip to M G Tarquini.

Thumbs down on proportional representation

Ontario referendumIn the form that’s being proposed in the upcoming Ontario referendum, proportional representation is downright dangerous.

Please don't misunderstand me. I would really like to see a form of proportional representation in our legislatures. But not this one.

It is truly unfortunate that parties like the Green Party, with its support swinging between 7 and 12% of the popular vote are shut out of Queen's Park. That is too significant a proportion of the population to have its political views completely excluded from effective public discourse. And I do agree that remedying this situation would help reduce voter apathy. So it was with considerable interest and no little hope that I took a look at the system that is being proposed.

There are, in my view, two immense problems with proportional representation in its pure form.

First, it tends to create unstable governments, with constantly shifting coalitions and all-too-frequent elections. The virtual impossibility of a majority government also makes bold moves on the part of the government very difficult, for good or for ill. One word: Italy.

Second, and this is far more serious in my view, it tends to give disproportionate power to marginal parties. Ironic, that proportional representation should produce results as warped as the first-past-the-post system. Splinter groups holding one or two seats can effectively hold the balance of power and wield influence far beyond what their popular support would justify. One word: Israel.

A third, smaller problem, is the lack of accountability of members who are not directly answerable to a specific riding, but the proposal being made does address this issue to my (somewhat uneasy) satisfaction.

I personally prefer having a majority government, at least most of the time, although massive majorities are definitely not a good thing. A mixed system that would work to reduce massive majorities to something more humble would be a good thing.

But the proposed system would use the list members (the third of the House elected according to party affiliation rather than by riding) to top up each party's representation to make it approximately equal to its proportion of the popular vote.

That way be dragons. With only 3% needed to get a seat, all kinds of spliinter groups - some of them potentially very extreme - would spring up. I can only see this contributing to the radicalization of Canadian society. Stop and think about it for a moment. Political and religious extremists would suddenly find it worth their while to fom a party, making all kinds of incendiary statements and getting a dangerously powerful platform. It is not that hard to hijack the voice of a minority group and deliver it into the hands of its least responsible members. I am a Christian, an evangelical Christian, and I for one would not care to see the more extreme members of that community holding the balance of power. They would get the votes of more moderate evangelicals because they would be perceived as the only ones speaking in our name. The same could be said of any number of ethnic and/or religious groups, some of them rapidly increasing in number. I have no problem at all with any of them having a voice. I have a great deal of trouble with the most extreme elements having a disproportionate voice, to the point of being able to dictate policy. Think of the influence the Ultra-orthodox have had in Israel.

If they had proposed list members who would be chosen proportionately among themselves, moderating the first-past-the-post system without bringing it up to fully proportional representation, my conclusion would be different. As it stands, I find the MMP system being proposed to Ontario voters would change our diversity into Balkanization, and I just can't support that.

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Sunday, 23 September 2007

A Book on the Amish and Forgiveness

Amish GraceThere is a new book out on the Amish and their culture of forgiveness. Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy was written by three American professors who were much in demand for expert interviews after last year's school shooting in Pennsylvania. I can't recommend it at this point, seeing as I haven't read it yet, (and I doubt that traffic at this blog is sufficient to talk my way into a reviewer's copy) but it looks like a serious effort by people who know what they're talking about on a subject that's worth talking about.

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Gleanings from the blogosphere, Sept. 23

Weekend Fisher has a great post on the shortcomings of pop spirituality. It's so nice to hear someone saying out loud what I've been thinking for a long time.

David Akin, on his blog On the Hill, has been commenting quite a bit on Tom Flanagan's new book Harper's Team: Behind the Scenes in the Conservative Rise to Power. This, from Flanagan's "Ten Commandments of Conservative Campaigning" caught my eye:
4. Incrementalism: We have to be willing to make progress in small practical steps. Sweeping visions have a place in intellectual discussions, but they are toxic in practical politics.

I am so glad to see someone on the Canadian right finally articulating this. History teaches us that sweeping changes tend to get rapidly swept out the door. People resist large-scale change, viscerally and actively, unless their present reality is so dire they want out. Many good ideologies make no headway because their proponents perceive accepting incremental change as moral compromise. All or nothing usually leads to nothing.

Talk talk talk has on-the-fly notes about the Ontario political leaders' debate. Seeing as I missed it, this was helpful to me. A strong anti-McGuinty bias is quite obvious but I guess I can live with that. ;o)

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Friday, 14 September 2007

Really cool science news

For all you geeks and geek-wannabes (I guess I fit into the second category) with too little time to sift through the mountains of news coming out of the labs of the world, I have the perfect solution.


Edward Willett is a writer who wears many hats, among them science columnist. And he regularly shares his best findings on his blog. The latest offering: a laser thruster that could shorten a trip to Mars to under seven days. If it pans out, travel within the solar system suddenly becomes much more doable and our children will be telling their wide-eyed offspring, "When I was your age, there was no such thing as week-end trips to the Moon." (Mine were aghast to learn that I grew up without videos or microwaves, but that's another story.)

I thought I'd one-upped Ed a few days ago when I forwarded him a very cool story about the possibility of using seawater for fuel, but no. He'd seen the story and thought the technology was just too iffy at this point to post it. Ah well. Another day.

So check out his blog and subscribe if you like tales of the weird and the wonderful.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

The ultimate in true crime stories

The problem is, this one was marketed as fiction. It took the police in Poland all of four years to realize that Krystian Bala's 2003 novel bore an uncanny resemblance to an unsolved murder case dating from 2000, and realized that it was an only slightly fictionalized account of how the novelist murdered his wife's suspected lover.

He may be the first villain in history to get paid for his monologue.

For more details, click here,. Hat tip to Done With Mirrors for the more detailed story.

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Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Mother Teresa and her doubts

I have made no attempt to enter this debate mainly because I haven't paid enough attention to be able to make an intelligent comment. Not so Ambivablog. Annie Gottlieb has distilled some of the best commentary into one post that is well worth your while to read.

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The best way to successfully throw a surprise party is to do it four weeks early. That way the guest of honour is pretty well guaranteed not to suspect a thing. My hubby exploited the technique the other night to great effect. The only problem was, he told me what time the reservation was really for (for what I thought was going to be a romantic tete-a-tete) and then proceeded to get there in a circuitous route that had me fuming. I hate being late for things. Of course, he was deliberately stalling to make sure everyone else was there first... He didn't really mind, because that way he got to laugh at me for the whole evening. Men. Of course, I had to laugh at myself too.

One of my favourite cards was from my daughter. It was grey and bore in large letters the message: Rest in Peace. Inside it said, "Oopsie! Kinda got ahead of myself there. I mean, "Happy Birthday." I confess, I hooted.

So I'm officially fifty, even if I'm not. As the T-shirt I received stated so nicely: You're not getting older, you're increasing in value.

Better believe it baby!

(If I were a truly worthy blogger, I'd be using this as a springboard to some kind of profound social commentary. I am obviously not a truly worthy blogger.)

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Thursday, 30 August 2007

What kind of Canada?

There was a very disturbing article (in French) in LaPresse today about a priest come to visit immigrant workers who was chased off the FraiseBec farm in Ste-Anne-des-Plaines by the irate owner, Isabelle Charbonneau.

There are a couple of things very wrong with this picture.

First, immigrant workers are being held in unacceptable conditions. A landlord, as Father Clement Bolduc pointed out very reasonably, has no right to restrict the visitors of tenants. Mme Charbonneau claims she has a "responsibility" to "protect" her workers, who are mostly women. There was nothing in the situation that indicated that these women were in any danger whatsoever. Mme Charbonneau, who was physically present, was well placed to evaluate this herself. She had no legal right to evict the priest.

Second, this eviction was carried out with active help from the Terrebonne police. Since when do the police assist people in asserting authority to which they have no legal right, and which, even worse, is oppressive in nature?

There are too many cases of immigrant workers being exploited and oppressed in Canada. We do not need the police intervening on behalf of those who are taking advantage of them.

FraiseBec is apparently the largest strawberry producer in the country. I do believe I will be keeping an eye out for their produce, so that I can actively avoid it.

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Friday, 4 May 2007

What a hoot!

After checking out Ed Willett's blog and discovering that the white, American-Canadian, male science fiction writer took a Star Trek character test and came out as Uhura (!!!), I just had to take it myself.

Well, as far as psychological insight goes, this test is dead in the water, but it's a winner for entertainment value. When I saw my results, I just about fell off my chair laughing. For I am - wait for it...

Your results:

You are Will Riker

At times you are self-centered but you have many friends. You love many women, but the right woman could get you to settle down.

Will Riker - 60%
Geordi LaForge - 50%
Beverly Crusher - 50%
Deanna Troi - 50%
Uhura - 45%
James T. Kirk (Captain) - 45%
Data - 42%
Jean-Luc Picard - 40%
An Expendable Character (Redshirt) - 40%
Chekov - 35%
Spock - 34%
Mr. Scott - 30%
Mr. Sulu - 20%
Worf - 15%
Leonard McCoy (Bones) - 15%

Click here to take the Star Trek Personality Quiz

I must have some serious self-hatred thing going on, because Will Riker comes in second on my list of Star Trek characters I love to hate. I don't dare name the #1, because hard-core Trekkies would firebomb my house.

When I look at the darn thing again, I discover that of the top six in the list, four are characters I have a hard time liking... Yup, gotta be self-hatred. I mean, how could one possibly question the validity of an online quiz?

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Thursday, 3 May 2007

No offense, but...

There are two kinds of people who offend us. We should allow neither of them to succeed. (Please forgive me while I move into wise-old-sage mode. I'm just in the mood. And I'm almost 50, so I'm allowed.)

There are the people who really aren't looking to punch our buttons. Let's face it, they're usually just clueless. There's no point in getting angry with them. If you can enlighten them gently, do so. Otherwise, just forget it. Life is too short to waste getting angry at people for being socially inept. There's even less time to spend getting angry at people who have accidentally stumbled on one of our many buttons that we have studded our surroundings with so that anybody coming near will stumble across them. In that case, we should try disconnecting a few buttons.

And then there are the people who are just aching to get a rise out of us. Think about it; do you really want to reward them? 'Nuff said.

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