Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Oh du froehliche

A German boys' choir - the Regensburger Domspatzen - singing a cappella for Christmas Eve. This is one of my favourite German carols that doesn't get wide play in English. I'm not sure if it was originally written in German or not, but ever since my high school German teacher made us learn it and lead the school in singing it (speaking euphemistically) I've had a soft spot for it nonetheless.

The choir (the Regensburg Dome Sparrows) goes back more than a thousand years, which in itself inspires thoughts of eternity, doesn't it?

And I would like to wish all readers of this blog a very merry and blessed Christmas and a happy Chanukah season.

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Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Mary, Did You Know?

I came out of my cultural cave to discover this modern Christmas carol just recently, years after everybody else, apparently. I don't know the singer here either, but I very much like what I see. The simplicity of the music is a perfect foil for an acoustic guitar accompaniment and I have a long-established preference for alto voices. Kathy Mattea invests this with passion too, which counts a lot for me.

This carol struck me for another reason. I wrote a carol myself years ago with a similar theme, except I addressed the questions to Jesus, asking him if he told his mother.

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Monday, 22 December 2008

Joy to the World, Yes Sir!

Aretha Franklin puts the joy in "Joy to the World" Yes sir!

Ignore the inexplicable jingly bits at the beginning and end.

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For women writers or men in search of inspiration

Margaret WilkinsonMslexia, a British publication featuring female writers, is sponsoring a short-story contest (and in case you're in lack of inspiration, kickstarts your imagination with a number of interesting prompts.

Think of a true but unusual incident that once happened to you (or to someone you know) involving either: a stranger, a relative, a lover, a child, an animal (or pet), clothes, or money. Write notes about the incident answering these questions: Who? (Characters involved) What? (The action) When? (Time of year) Where? (Landscape) Background? (The news at the time.) Now ask yourself why it happened. This is the essence of the story. Now re-envision the incident, changing one element: the main character; his/her reaction; the climate; the outcome. Or simply transfer your memory to a time in the past (or future) that interests you.

Write in first person but from the point of view of a character very different to yourself: an old woman; a child; a pregnant woman; a new bride; a new groom; a jilted lover; a blind man. Choose one of the following titles: I Got Drunk in an Empty House or I Dug a Hole in the Back Garden. Don’t reveal who you are, but let your (new) identity inform your thoughts and actions as you explore this scenario and its possibilities for a short story.

Choose a seemingly minor reason to produce anxiety: an invitation to a party; running out of milk; a thunderstorm. Write in first person from the point of view of someone who is obsessing about this concern. As the writing progresses, see if you can raise your anxiety levels. Can this monologue build to a revelation? Is there a story emerging?

Find a news item that interests you. Identify a minor character in that story whose point of view you’d like to develop. (It could be someone very peripheral to the events, or someone not even mentioned but suggested by the events.) You might also like to adapt this technique by taking a minor character from a novel and making that person the main character of a new story.

Collect obits that interest you. Cut them up into discrete segments and combine segments from different lives into a single life story. Don’t worry about gender. Just combine the various incidents and achievements and then shape the character and decide on a gender.

There are even more prompts on the contest page. Even if you're not interested in entering the contest, the prompts are unusually good ones, at least in my opinion.

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Sunday, 21 December 2008

What Child is This?

Mahalia JacksonThis Elizabethan ballad has got to be one of the most-used tunes in the history of the English-speaking world, and for good reason. It's an enchanting melody and one that allows the singer to invest a lot of passion in it. Not surprising that it was pressed into service as a Christmas carol, because the best of these capture some of the deepest longings of the human heart.

For those of you who like smooth and modern, here is (yes again, Janna) Josh Groban.

And for those who want deep passion, here is the incomparable Mahalia Jackson. I still have this one on vinyl somewhere, because I couldn't bear to throw it away.

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Saturday, 20 December 2008

The Coventry Carol

We are leaving the Caribbean and heading for Renaissance England. I love this carol for its haunting beauty, its very unmodern harmonies, and for its counterweight to the sicky sweetness of so much of our contemporary Christmas celebrations. What other carol do you know of that tackles the Massacre of the Innocents? The darkness is held up to emphasize the brilliance of the light, which broke into a dark world with a much higher purpose than inspiring tinsel and candy canes.

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Friday, 19 December 2008

The Virgin Mary had a Baby Boy

Thank goodness for high school choir directors. They give you exposure to all kinds of things that you might have missed otherwise. And if I'd only heard Nat King Cole's version of this song, I'd never have learned to love it. His languid, white-washed version is a study in boredom.

If this one doesn't have an authentic calypso beat, it should not be allowed to see daylight. (I can't figure the graphics for this clip. Nothing to do with the song's lyrics, nothing to do with Island culture. Lazy.)

For an alternate, and rather entertaining version, go here. Seeing the outstanding prima donna from Down Under tackling this one with a group of red-robed, beruffled British choir boys is a lesson in cultural diversity all on its own. And they respected the essential nature of the song too, which was nice.

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Thursday, 18 December 2008

Il est né, le divin enfant

This is a very amateur videoclip of the North Chamber Singers doing one of my favourite French Christmas carols. Why would I choose this one over a more polished version? Well, first of all, they get the tempo right. When this one is done by choirs in French cathedrals, they drag it out at about half the speed, effectively killing it as far as I'm concerned, and turning it into something dirge-like. I used to link this one with Angels We Have Heard on High (another French carol) when I led worship in a little French church and we'd swap back and forth between the two, doing both of them with a lively, sprightly rhythm. Yes, there is a place for the solemn awe of "O Holy Night", but there is also a place for the bouncy joy that this little choir captured. And their English accents are so cute...

I have no idea where these kids are from or anything about their choir. I'm open to enlightenment.

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Wednesday, 17 December 2008

O Holy Night

Josh Groban's Christmas albumIt was Hallmark who killed Josh Groban for me. I was only vaguely aware that such a person existed (yes, I know. I live in a cave) but when the lady at the cash started hawking his Christmas CD, I said no politely, the way I almost always do when somebody at the cash hawks me something, and mentally scratched him off my list of people to be taken seriously.

I mean, it was Hallmark, for crying out loud. That's where I go for cards, not culture.

And then I started looking for Christmas carols on YouTube, and I kept running into him. And I listened. And I revised my opinion. So, for your edification and mine, I am going to let him sing one of my all-time favourite songs of any kind, right here on my blog.

While he may be making high school girls and their older sisters go moony-eyed all over the world, he really has a voice. And I very much appreciate the fact that he sings the song without trying to draw attention to himself. Many a famous voice has turned my stomach when I had to watch the antics of the singer, who may have been mouthing sublime lyrics, but was really singing "Look at me, look at me, look at meeeeeeeeeeeee." Humility on stage is such a rare virtue, and to me at least, a very endearing one.

O Holy Night is one of those songs that I can sing from deep, deep in my guts. "A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices." And the wonderful emphasis of faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall on your knees: a singer's dream.

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Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Sicilian mafia reeling

More good news.

Italian carabinieriRemember in the early 90s, when Italian judges who dared take on the Sicilian Mafia were being gunned down in the streets? The news then gave me a sick feeling in my stomach and I wondered how on earth the Mafia's stranglehold would ever be broken.

I wish I could say it is now extinct, but at least we can say it has fallen on very rough times, at least in Sicily. Italy made a wave of arrests today, depriving la Casa of most of its top leadership. Again.

Italy had to call in the army at one point, but with enough determination, even an organization with such deep roots can be dug out.

The rest of the world should sit up and take notice. A mafia don is not that much different from a warlord. Or a Mexican drug czar. But it takes a massive, sustained effort on the part of both government and the people.

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God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

With an African flavour.

The joyful rhythms of this fifteenth-century carol make it highly adaptable to many different styles, and probably account for its enduring popularity as much as the catchy tune. Any tune that has pleased people for centuries deserves all the attention it gets, as far as I'm concerned. This has always been one of my favourites, in whatever style it's been adapted to.

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Monday, 15 December 2008

Christmas has become a season of increasing frustration for me. It's taken me a number of years to appreciate precisely what was my favourite aspect of the celebrations and in the famous words of Joni Mitchell: "Don't it always seem to go, you don't know what you've got till it's gone."

Christmas used to be the only time of the year you could walk into a shopping mall or a grocery store and encounter truly sublime music. No longer. It's now interminable, tacky, overwrought Christmas pop. I swear, if I have to hear "Rock Around the Christmas Tree" one more time, I will scream. (That one is kind of cute, but one listen per annum is plenty.)

So as a public service, I am going to post a series of Christmas music videos, part of the playlist I've been compiling to console myself in the absence of my Christmas CD's which are far, far away. Warning: my tastes are eclectic, but all of these will share the characteristic of being explicitly religious. You don't have to be religious to enjoy them though. I like music that stands on its own. If you don't like today's offering, come back for tomorrow's. It will be something quite different.

Christmas at BaylorWe're starting off with a small a cappella choir singing "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" and "The Blessed Son of God." The first is from a beautiful old German hymn that is almost never done by pop singers, because the intricate interplay of voices is part of its charm. I guarantee you haven't heard this one ad nauseum in the shopping centres. More's the pity. I could hear this one many, many times before nausea set in.

From the "Christmas at Baylor" DVD.

In passing, if you like choral music, try to take in university concert choirs. There's nothing like a choir made up almost entirely of music majors.

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Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Evaluating the Compaq Presario CQ50

Compaq Presario CQ50-210USI got this little baby over a week ago, and have spent many, many hours on it since. If you're thinking of buying one, here is what I've liked and what I haven't. (Click on the picture for a product description.)

On the whole, I'm happy. I wanted a pretty basic machine, primarily for writing and web-surfing, so I was willing to go with a fairly stripped-down model. And it is stripped down. There is a DVD/CD drive, a built-in mike, and that's about it. I'll have to use CD's and USB keys for data transfer: the ports for other memory cards are not included in this model, although the space is there if you buy a more expensive model.

I've found the 2GB of RAM to be sufficient for my needs, and I can supplement it at any time with a flash drive, or upgrade later to 4GB.

Where I am less happy is with the tracking device. It has a touch pad with a scrolling zone which can be a bit problematic. It will sometimes click on an item all on its own, and the scrolling "bar" is quirky. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. This can sometimes depend on where in the document you're pointing when you try to use it, but not always. It's only caused me minor irritation, but I'm still thinking this should work better.

The lithium-ion battery only gives about two hours of working time, which disappoints me a little, but again, that will meet my needs most of the time. I won't often be using it for extended periods away from an electrical outlet. Your mileage may vary. It is very easy to swap out, if I were interested in buying an extra battery.

The case is a very classy-looking glossy black. It also shows every finger-print. A cloth is included for wiping them off, but it doesn't work that well. Fusspots should abstain.

I hope this will be of some use for people thinking of buying this laptop. Feel free to ask any other questions you might have.

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Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Becoming an organized writer

I don't know about you, but I have a love/hate relationship with organization. Sometimes I get it oh so right; at other times everything seems to fall apart.

Author Jeff AbbottAs a novice writer, I am slowly evolving a system that works for me, although I can't say I've arrived yet. Last week I stumbled across Jeff Abbott's blog, where he is tackling the whole question of organization for writers, and he's taking it way beyond the to outline or not to outline debate. This is a much more global question, encompassing the entire writing life and by extension, life management skills in general. Or at least that's where I think he's taking it.

I asked for and received a copy of Getting Things Done for my birthday, but have yet to implement it. I've stuck my nose in though, and it seems like his main ideas are what worked for me when I had my act together. Like having one central organizer where everything you have to remember is noted. Abbott, a bestselling author, says he breaks this rule a bit, in that he has two - one for writing and one for the rest of his life. So click on over and take a look, but before you go, tell me, how do you organize your writing and/or life? And how is that working for you? Anything you think you should be changing?

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Sunday, 7 December 2008

Ha! Yet more good news for your encouragement.

In a real-life scenario reminiscent of the movie Pay it Forward, secret Santas in disguise are descending on Kansas City and other locales, distributing $100 bills to people who are down on their luck. Their only request, that the recipients do something nice for someone else.

The Santas are honouring a legacy left by Kansas City businessman, Larry Stewart, who had been making the $100 giveaways for decades.
For the secret Santas, it's not about keeping Stewart's memory alive as much as the meaning behind his legacy.

"It's not about the man, it's not about the money, it's about the message," the Kansas City Santa said.

"Anyone can be a secret Santa with a kind word, gesture, a helping hand."

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Peaceful, orderly election in Africa

Election in GhanaSeeing as I'm on a bit of a good news roll right now, let's highlight today's election in Ghana. The fifth, peaceful orderly election in a row in that country. Turnout is expected to exceed the 85% achieved last time. (Yes, you read right. 85%)

Although my heart has frequently ached for Zimbabwe and Somalia, and some of the lesser known basket cases of Africa, Ghana shows us that Africans are quite capable of doing democracy right. And while we're at it, when is the last time you heard news about Gambia, Senegal, or Botswana? That's because they too, know how to do it right. And doing it right is so boring. Proof that boring can be very, very good.

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Saturday, 6 December 2008

Good news files: heroes among us

A man in Calgary braved smoke and flames to waken his neighbours in their burning house. Everyone escaped without injury and the Fire Department wants to nominate Sean Hoyle for a medal. You see? There still is good news out there.

Now somebody should tell those neighbours they should quit smoking...

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Friday, 5 December 2008

How did Harper miscalculate so badly?

Stephen Harper is known as an accomplished political strategist, his ability so great as to overcome an almost total lack of personal charisma and make of him the most formidable opponent on the Canadian political scene. I will confess to being highly amused at the way he ran circles around the opposition parties in his first mandate, taking maximum advantage of their aversion to a new election. The improbable knots they had to tie themselves into to avoid triggering election calls rivalled anything a Chinese circus can display. Petty of me, I know, but one has to admire talent when one sees it.

I had my thoughts on why his normal perspicacity had abandoned him, and then I stumbled across this article from the Globe and Mail which articulated very nicely what I had suspected.

It is one of the habits of truly great leaders to surround themselves with people who compensate for their own weaknesses. Harper might be forgiven for not recognizing his, because they have been very useful to him, particularly his ruthlessness and tendency to go for the jugular of his political foes. He over-reached a time or two in his first federal campaign, and learned to moderate the tendency a bit. But it remains a besetting sin for the Prime Minister, and one which he hasn't sufficiently guarded against.

What he desperately needs is a powerful advisor who lacks that trait, who is capable of respecting the opponent and who does not mistake political bluster and posturing for reality. And this, he does not have. Instead, he has Guy Giorno.

Stephen Harper and Guy GiornoCaught in a political echo chamber, he made the very dangerous mistake of underestimating the opposition, calculating that they would run away from a game of chicken. Not. This is what Michael Valpy and Daniel Leblanc said in their analysis:

... Mr. Harper's determination to destroy the Liberals borders on the pathological.

It has become a blind spot in his judgment, with no one in his office to put the brakes on his impulses.

His chief of staff, Guy Giorno – once chief of staff to Ontario Progressive Conservative premier Mike Harris and one of the icy architects of Mr. Harris's Common Sense Revolution – is not the ying to Mr. Harper's yang. Rather they are two yangs together.

Mr. Lyle recalled Friday the story told of Clifford Scotton, who was a key aide to Manitoba NDP premier Howard Pawley. Mr. Scotton's job was to say four words to Mr. Pawley whenever the need arose: “I think not, Howard.”

Mr. Giorno is not the Prime Minister's Clifford Scotton, said Mr. Lyle.

It sounds like Harper's advisors are politically inbred, with all the inherent weakness that implies. It's time for some fresh blood.

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The Canadian crisis for Americans

Neil MacdonaldSeeing as so many of my readers are Americans, I thought you'd appreciate this little article on our defused crisis from Neil Macdonald. Macdonald normally gets on my nerves, as his anti-Americanism is frequently painfully obvious. (Which made him the logical choice for the Washington correspondent, right?) He didn't do too badly here though, and there's enough humour to make it go down rather nicely. It's a couple of days old, so it doesn't take into account the actual decision made by the Governor General.

If anybody's interested, I might do a post someday on where that anti-American attitude comes from. I've never been a fan of bigotry of any sort, but sometimes you have to acknowledge the roots of an attitude, if you're going to understand it.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Michaëlle Jean proves her worth

Governor General of CanadaI'm so glad there was an adult in the house who sent the kids to their rooms to cool off. I sincerely hope that Prime Minister Harper has learned a valuable lesson on playing nicely with others, and that the other parties have time to see that manufacturing a crisis out of what is merely an unpleasant situation, at least here in Canada, does not win them points for audacity, but rather disdain for their presumption. At least that's the way the early polls are tilting. It's certainly the way I feel.

I'm not sure that it was necessary to suspend Parliament all the way till January 26th, but at least we are guaranteed not to have election lawn signs competing with Christmas lights this year.

Will the Liberals be able to hold their own party together until then, let alone their coalition? Early signs there are not encouraging for them. It only took a couple of hours after Parliament was suspended before Liberal MPs began breaking ranks. Scott Simms and Keith Martin are two other MPs questioning the wisdom of pursuing the coalition's agenda.

May cooler heads prevail. While I think that Stéphane Dion gets some unfair press too, it should be painfully clear that his leadership abilities just aren't up to snuff. This is not the hand I would want to see on the tiller right now.

And, if anybody from the Conservative party is listening, please cut the hyper-partisan swagger. That plays well only to hard-core supporters. The rest of us are sick to death of chest-thumping and spin doctors and arrogance. You'd be much more attractive without it.

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Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Surrealism in Ottawa

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen HarperI haven't commented on the shenanigans in Ottawa yet, because they struck me as so surreal that I couldn't believe it was anything more than hot air. I did comment on the Conservatives' ill-advised and quickly withdrawn proposal to cut public funding of political parties, but the possibility of changing governments mere weeks after an election seemed too preposterous to be real. I had trouble processing it. Surely this was just political posturing.

Well, now I've processed it. Trying to explain it to American friends has been challenging. A legal coup, stable instability, what do you call it? I'm having trouble finding any good guys in this story. They're all nuts.

First of all, I think the Liberals and the NDP are just plain wrong. The cautious, stay-the-course economic strategy of the Conservatives may not have been sexy, but given our position of relative economic strength, a very wise one. It's like steering on ice, the last thing you do is jerk the steering wheel around. Bringing down the government over this issue is insane, and could cost Canada dearly. (In passing, why do parties criticize each other most loudly about the things they're doing right? It makes me despair of ever seeing rationality in politics.) (OK, so I'm not that naive. I gave up on that years ago. But I keep trying anyway.)

Of course, it will likely backfire on the coalition in the long term if they actually take power. They will get blamed for the mess, and they will probably deserve some of that blame, although by no means all. I doubt this has occurred to them.

And it is really not clear to me just who the prime minister will be. Stephane Dion is a lame duck. Is he still planning on stepping down as Liberal leader, or will they relent in their desire to have his head on a platter after he engineers a successful power grab despite their worst showing at the polls ever?

It is also rather dishonest, given the Liberals' repeated election promises not to form a coalition with the NDP. I suspect it might take me more elections than I had foreseen before I'll be able to stomach voting Liberal again.

On the other hand, the Conservatives' stance of offended virginity is a bit much. And trying to turn this into a Canadian unity issue is disingenuous. The Bloc Quebecois is very pragmatic about all this and much too comfortable in Ottawa to seriously want separation. They'll support the coalition the same way they often supported the Conservatives, with no more negative impact on national unity. Trying to demonize them to score political points is arguably much more damaging.

And Ed Schreyer is unfortunately right. What the coalition is proposing is entirely legal and within the rules. While Jean may grant the Conservatives a brief prorogation of Parliament, ultimately the other parties are fully within their rights to bring down the government and propose themselves as an alternative and she should give them the chance to try. They are playing by the rules, much as it galls me to admit it. I think it's political insanity, and rather reprehensible, but they have the right to do it.

You know, I'd been telling people that I couldn't vote Liberal for a while because they had dug themselves such a deep hole that it would take a term or two or three before the Conservatives had dug themselves deeper. Well, the Conservatives were digging, all right, but now the Liberals have pulled out a shovel of honking big proportions. The only thing that could possibly redeem them is if they shock me with astonishingly adept governance. I'm not holding my breath.

And when I'm finished being really, really mad at the Liberals and the NDP I'm going to be furious with the Conservatives for bringing this on themselves with their partisan arrogance.

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Shame on Second Cup

It took a Facebook group advocating a boycott and an investigative report by CBC reporter Simon Gardner to get the head office of Second Cup to take employee complaints against a franchise owner seriously.

As a parent of a former employee, I know that the complaints are more than justified. The owner of the Bayshore Second Cup consistently underpaid employees, among other transgressions. No action was taken by Head Office until the whole situation hit the media. It is disheartening that employees are unable to get justice on their own merits, but at least something is finally being done.

It also mystifies me that business owners so frequently do not understand that treating employees - and customers and suppliers - honestly and considerately is good business. I know that this particular Second Cup lost a lot of business because of customer dissatisfaction. Only a prime location makes it a profitable venture. A survey taken of major Canadian businesses a number of years ago came to the conclusion that the most consistent factor for success was treating employees well. Happy employees are a fantastic asset to a business, something that this Second Cup owner completely fails to understand. Unfortunately the company itself has not been successful in creating an atmosphere where employees believe they have a viable recourse. It really is a shame, because on the whole, it's a decent coffee shop.

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Saturday, 29 November 2008

Ah victory

There is the normal partisan bluster, but the Conservatives are backing down. Public funding of the parties will continue.

In passing, somebody should put a muzzle on Pierre Poilievre. Pugnacious spin doctors probably come out somewhere below used car salesmen in the level of public respect they inspire. He is reputed to be a hard-working representative for his riding, and is pleasant enough in real life, but seems to believe that public obnoxiousness is a positive political trait. It isn't.

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Friday, 28 November 2008

Cynical political opportunism?

Finance minister delivers financial updateI'm not naive. I know that politicians can get petty. I know political parties can get petty. My persistent case of chronic idealism makes me keep thinking that every now and again politicians can surprise me and act for the common good, or in defense of principles, instead of merely jockeying for political advantage.

So I would really like it if the Conservatives backed away from their current fit of pettiness. The proposed cutting of public subsidies to political parties based on their share of the popular vote looks more like an attempt to kick the Liberal party while it's down than an attempt to save money.

Heaven knows I have been no fan of the Liberals in recent years, and I am still of the opinion that a few more years in the political wilderness would do them a world of good. They'd had a free ride into government for too many years and they stank to high heaven and it's going to take a while longer before the lingering stench has been washed away. But they did do a couple of really praiseworthy things while they were in government that strengthened popular democracy in this country. Drastically reducing the permissible size of political donations was one of them; its corollary of funding parties from the public purse was another. Both worked against their own partisan advantage, which is why it amazes me they ever did it at all, and I applaud them for it.

Now I would like to applaud the Conservatives for resisting the temptation to dismantle this excellent system. Why do I think it is excellent? Firstly, because it helps diminish the political power of deep pockets. Secondly, because it increases the financial viability of small parties. It might seem strange that I care about this, seeing as I almost never vote for them. But they have a very important contribution to make to political discourse, sometimes popularizing issues enough that the more powerful parties take notice. That alone would be sufficient cause. But they also help prevent a two-party system. The last few years of observing the American system have been enough to convince me that a two-party system breeds social polarization and blind partisanship. I don't want us to fall into the same cesspool.

Which is why I also fervently hope the Liberals will rise again, hopefully with a little less arrogance and a few more principles. A centrist party, flanked by viable opponents on each side seems to me to be a good recipe for moderation and stability. (OK, the NDP doesn't quite rank as viable, unfortunately, seeing as it tends to make the Liberals tilt more to the left to compensate for their weakness.) So please, let's not kick them too hard while they're down, however much they deserve to be down there.

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Sunday, 23 November 2008

Summer Breeze

My father-in-law's car radio is permanently set to a Golden Oldies station. I'm old enough that the songs often date from my childhood and teens. Most of the time, I cringe in embarrassment. I can't believe we listened to that!

But not today. This was the first big hit from Seals and Croft, a beautiful ode to everyday life, and part of the soundtrack of my teens.

ETA: Can you think of any other songs that celebrate contentment so beautifully? Extra points for anything post-70s.

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Friday, 21 November 2008

Sorry I've been AWOL. That old chronic fatigue thing decided to raise its ugly head and I've needed all my meager energy just to make sure the bills get paid and that there's food in the house. Anything else is extra.

Along with the writing I haven't been doing, and discovering that my crit group found my opening chapter very confusing (nothing like a good crit group to prevent you from making a fool of yourself), I have also been keeping a bit of an eye on the world, which hasn't helped much in lifting my spirits.

Zimbabwe continues to suffer in its Mugabe-created hell. When I think of the hope that they must have felt when he first came to power, my heart aches for them.

I continue to try to ignore what's going on in Russia, as the country cheerfully and willingly marches back to a totalitarian, belligerent dictatorship. It makes you wish Fukuyama had been right, although I never believed for a single second that he was. Equilibrium is something that humanity never lives in, just a point we pass through on our pendulum swings.

How long before somebody decides enough is enough and takes over Somalia?

On a lighter note, expose Americans to Canadian football long enough, and they will never go back...
But Haddox, and about a half-dozen of her Baltimore buddies, couldn't let go of their passion for high-scoring, wide-open Canadian football and have continued to get their fix by making Grey Cups trips an annual ritual.

What's on your mind lately?

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Poor Barack

Obama on Time Magazine coverSeriously, congratulations and all, Mr. Obama, but what a position to be in.

The victory was so complete, hopes are so high, the expectations are positively staggering. There is nowhere to go but down.

A couple of quick samples:

From the Associated Press:
Naming the staggering list of problems he inherits — two wars and "the worst financial crisis in a century," among them — Obama sought to restrain the soaring expectations of his supporters.

"We may not get there in one year or even in one term," he said. "But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you, we as a people will get there."

A tide of international goodwill came Obama's way on Wednesday morning, even as developments made clear how heavy a weight will soon be on his shoulders.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued a congratulatory telegram saying there is "solid positive potential" for the election to improve strained relations between Washington and Moscow, if Obama engages in constructive dialogue.

Yet he appeared to be deliberately provocative hours after the election with sharp criticism of the U.S. and his announcement that Russia will deploy missiles near NATO member Poland in response to U.S. missile defense plans.

Reaction in Africa:
Many Africans fervently hope his victory will mean more U.S. support for local development and an improvement in living conditions for the majority on the world's poorest continent.

"We trust that you will also make it the mission of your presidency to combat the scourge of poverty and disease everywhere," former South African President Nelson Mandela said.

South African Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu likened Obama's victory to his country's triumph over apartheid and Nigeria's President Umaru Yar'Adua said the result had "finally broken the greatest barrier of prejudice in human history."

Analysts have cautioned, however, that Obama may have little scope to bring tangible benefits to Africa, and that he does not have a strong track record of interest in the continent.

More international reaction:
Financial markets in Asia were higher Wednesday as traders were hopeful that Obama could successfully tackle the global economic crisis. But in Europe and later on Wall Street the main markets were down by at least 1 percent.


In an open letter to Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy offered "my warmest congratulations, and through me, those of the entire French people."

He said Obama's election raised in France, in Europe and around the world "an immense hope" and that the American people "had expressed with force their faith in progress and the future."

One CNN reader Toby Nevin wrote on a blog: "I stayed up through the night to watch from Paris. What a wonderful moment. It seems that the tide has turned from division and fear towards hope, responsibility and unity.

"Obama is a great leader for a United States of America that deserves him as a guide through these troubled times. Let us all remember our engagement to this spirit of positive change!"

There are, of course, many more moderate responses, noting the magnitude of the challenges Obama faces. And if he manages to rise to just some of the expectations, America will be well off.

And for the election-weary, the BBC offers this Not-the-election quiz. I managed not to be a total loser. Bet you can't do much better.

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Tuesday, 4 November 2008

What the Bible has to say about bloggers

A fool finds no pleasure in understanding
but delights in airing his own opinions.

Proverbs 18:2 (New International Version)

I, um, have no further opinion to air on that matter.


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Friday, 31 October 2008

Are Acer computers any good?

Acer laptopI'm considering buying a low-end Acer laptop. I want it mainly for writing and for websurfing, so I don't need a lot of bells and whistles. They have some pretty attractive prices, but from what I've been finding on the Internet, the company has very poor customer service, and their copmuters aren't the most robust.

Is that a fair assessment? Or are the whinings I've seen on the Internet the exception and not the rule? Does anybody have experience with their laptops? Should I run fast in the other direction, or buy one and expect good things?

ETA: We held off, and I ended up getting a Compaq Impresario even cheaper. Wish me luck.

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Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Quote of the day - cutting the national brain

AmbaAmba at AmbivaBlog has eloquently expressed the dangers of political polarization.
The Democrats are an American rival, not a stalking horse for a sinister foreign enemy. The tug-of-war and sometimes cooperation/compromise between liberalism and conservatism makes the country stronger; cutting the national brain down the middle and turning the two halves against each other is suicide. It really makes me angry that the people who claim to defend America most passionately are doing so much to rip it apart.

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Richard Dawkins is a religious fanatic

Richard DawkinsAnd in case you need convincing, he has now joined the ranks of those who condemn Harry Potter, without having read a word. He feels so strongly about the issue, he's stepping down from his position at Oxford to write a book about the pernicious and abusive nature of fantasy. Unless, of course, it's Pullman's Golden Compass, which he can't help loving because of its anti-religious slant.

To be fair to the professor, he says he's not sure about the pernicious influence of fantasy, but everything else he says in the article seems to indicate his mind is pretty well made up. He will, of course, "also set out to demolish the Judeo-Christian myth."

He was on a roll, and just couldn't stop at throwing rocks at fantasy:
Do not ever call a child a Muslim child or a Christian child – that is a form of child abuse because a young child is too young to know what its views are about the cosmos or morality.

It is evil to describe a child as a Muslim child or a Christian child. I think labelling children is child abuse and I think there is a very heavy issue, for example, about teaching about hell and torturing their minds with hell.

It's a form of child abuse, even worse than physical child abuse. I wouldn't want to teach a young child, a terrifyingly young child, about hell when he dies, as it's as bad as many forms of physical abuse.

(Note the emotive words: evil, abuse, torturing, terrifyingly. Makes me wonder how I survived my childhood. Also makes me wonder how he feels about teaching children about the danger of stepping in front of moving cars. That's pretty terrifying too. Is it abusive to make children fear the consequences? I can still remember pictures from those driver ed films.)

As far as I can tell, he fits the fill-in-the-blank template of a religious extremist. Anybody care to dispute it?

For what it's worth, I do think there is a profound difference between a convinced believer and a religious extremist.

Hat tip to Jeffrey Overstreet.

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Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Good Samaritan saves a woman's home

Tracy OrrWe need more good news in this world, right? Well, here it is. Tracy Orr sat crying at the back of a bank auction as her home was put up for sale. The stranger behind her bought it and is letting Orr buy it back.

Got any good news you want to share?

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Monday, 27 October 2008

13 signs that you might be left wing

...I stole this from the MySpace blog of a young man I know. It was meant as a joke, but it's almost too true to be funny. At least he is an equal-opportunity offender. Enjoy.


1. You believe that "having an open mind" means being pro-gay.
2. You believe the 9/11 attacks were entirely planned and staged by the Republican Party in order to justify an attack on Islam, and to get oil.
3. You think that eating meat is murder, but abortion is progress.
4. You think that 1 white person and 20 black people is diversity.
5. You think that all society's problems can be solved by throwing money at it, and at the same time, you believe that money is the cause of all society's problems.
6. You think that religion is the cause of all wars.
7. You believe that anyone who votes Republican (or Conservative) is a corrupt, close-minded, bigoted fascist.
8. You believe that the only real terrorists are American businessmen.
9. You believe that the official news story is bull crap, but the ramblings of a random anonymous blogger are absolute truth.
10. All your opinions come from Michael Moore, Bill Maher, and Al Franken.
11. You think breaking windows and flipping cars is a form of peaceful protest.
12. You believe that the Bible is hate literature.
13. Your mind is made up before you've heard the issue.


1. You believe that if you know one gay person, you have an open mind.
2. You believe that the 9/11 attacks were planned and supported by the entire Muslim world, because they all hate the freedom of sweet, innocent, flawless America.
3. You think that abortion is murder, but war is freedom.
4. You think that 20 white people, and 1 person who may have had a distant non-white ancestor is diversity.
5. You think that all society's problems can be solved as long as there is another country that can be blamed and invaded.
6. You think that all of society's problems are caused by immigrants.
7. You believe that anyone who votes Democrat is a tree-hugging, freedom-hating, terrorist-loving, communist that hates Jesus.
8. You believe that Jesus would vote Republican.
9. You believe that all terrorists are Muslim.
10. You think that universal health care is a form of communism.
11. All your opinions come from Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and Ann Coulter.
12. You think that the 9/11 attacks and Iraq are related.
13. Your mind is made up before you've heard the issue.

1. If anything on either one of these lists applies to you.

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Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Naomi Lakritz is my new hero

Naomi LakritzYou may recall that I raised my eyebrows a wee bit at the reaction of the Luther College gunman's parents, who wanted to reassure the world that their son was a good kid. I grumped a bit about the uselessness of a word that can expand to include almost any behaviour.

Naomi Lakritz grumped at greater length and brought up some excellent criticism of the modern tendency to excuse all and avoid hurting the self-esteem of our precious progeny, starting with this:
If the 16-year-old boy in Regina who took 300 students hostage this week and pointed a gun at the school's pastor is a good kid, what does a bad kid look like?

The day after the incident ended with the principal wrestling the gun away from the boy, and his subsequent arrest, lawyer Brad Tilling passed on a message from his parents: "They would like people to know that he is a good kid and obviously there was some difficulty the other day."

A "good kid?" An armed hostage-taking is "some difficulty?"

Read the whole thing. She wrote it a month ago, but I suspect it was available only to subscribers before now.

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Monday, 20 October 2008

W - a movie review

Josh Brolin as George W. BushMeh.

There are some good things to say about this movie and they center primarily around the performances. Josh Brolin worked very, very hard not only to nail George Bush, but to nail him at the different stages of his life and he did an incredibly good job of it. Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney never once made me think of Mr. Holland either. No warm fuzzies coming from him in this movie.

But these memorable performances are the only thing worth going to see in this movie. Only people who enjoy sneering at George Bush for its own sake will get much pleasure out of it, and even they will feel let down more than once, as the movie did try to go beyond caricature.

It didn't do a very good job though. For a George Bush-neutral like myself (I know, I'm a rare breed) it was a great let-down. The only "insights" into his character are furnished by scenes of private conversations that are pretty much by definition, fantasies of the screen writers.

Now, I'm a great fan of fantasy, but only when it is openly fantasy. There is an intellectual dishonesty about shaping a historical or contemporary figure according the whims of the shapers rather according to the rigours of actual evidence that troubles me immensely.

Unfortunately, such niceties have never troubled Oliver Stone.

The movie definitely doesn't hold up as a documentary (and it bothers me a lot to think that many movie-goers will see it as gospel truth when it is almost entirely fiction) and just as damning, it doesn't hold up all that well as a story. I got bored more than once, not able to discern a clear direction, other than the fact that George W. was constantly on the screen.

So, other than some fine acting, this movie was rather a disappointment. But not enough of a disappointment to get me really mad. It wasn't even good at being bad. Meh.
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Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Further evidence of my insanity

National Novel Writing MonthI should be finished the major revisions on my novel, In a Dry and Weary Land, by the middle of this month, so what better use would I have for my time than starting on a new one? With a big bang.

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, helped give me a little nudge three years ago, and a big boot in the butt two years ago. Without it, I doubt I ever would have become serious about writing. I also learned, the hard way, that I write much better with some planning and a good general idea of where I'm going. I've made friends going to the organized write-ins, which we decided to continue year-round.

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo started ten years ago. The challenge is to write a 50,000-word novel over the month of November. Prior research, plotting, outlining, all are allowed, but you can't start work on the actual writing until November 1st. If you do manage to crank out 50,000 words (they have a little upload program that will count your words), you win. All you win is bragging rights and perhaps a real sense of accomplishment. They have badges and widgets and participant profiles and forums and local events - a lot of pleasant kerfuffle. They also raise funds to sponsor libraries in the Third World. If you're interested in participating and/or donating, check out their website. A little good, clean insanity never hurt anybody.

I have never "won", but that doesn't matter. I have profited from my involvement, because I learned to write daily and to hold myself to it. Two years ago I was ecstatic to produce 36,000 words, about a third of what my novel would eventually become. This year I hope to get a good substantial start on the next one.

Wish me luck!

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Tuesday, 7 October 2008

No good deed goes unpunished

I got to experience it firsthand this spring. I stepped out into my tiny fenced-in back yard, which triggered a frantic rustling in the flower beds. And what to my wondering eye should appear...

Fledgling crow hiding in the garden
This young crow had fallen from the nest in the tree overhanging my yard and couldn't get out. It appeared to be fully fledged to my non-expert eyes, but was unable to get aloft. When I watched it from the inside, I saw that it could get only about a foot into the air.

Being tender-hearted and a soft touch, I decided to care for the thing. (I'd googled caring for crows as pets and quickly decided that was not something I wanted to get involved in.) So I fed the darn thing: oatmeal, fruits and veggies, bits of cheese, some canned meat. Being really bad at imaginative names, I called it Buddy. Trust me, Edgar Allen Crow has been used a million times.

Young crow eating
Buddy wasn't sure what to think of me. His experience told me I was beneficent, so he'd stay pretty calm when I was around.

Baby crow
Until his parents caught sight of me, and immediately raised a ruckus from the treetops to make your head hurt. "Run! Hide! Danger!" Confused, Buddy would comply and tuck himself under the leaves again. I gave up trying to make friends; the family interference was just too intense.

Buddy liked hanging out on my chair.

Crow poops on chair
And as you can see, hanging out was not the only thing he did on my chair. And on the table. And all over the patio. Now imagine this going on for four or five days.

I didn't take pictures. It was too discouraging. I stopped using the back yard. The chairs were too dirty to sit in. And, tender-hearted or no, when I came out one morning to feed him (her?) and discovered he'd flown the coop, I was thrilled. For me, not for the bird.

Maybe I should have called him Nevermore.

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Thursday, 2 October 2008

Late to the launch party

Freezing PointBut at least it's not over.

Karen Dionne, aunt to Melanie, an on-line friend of mine, is doing something unusual. Her debut thriller, Freezing Point, was released this week and to celebrate, she's having an online party. There are blurbs from other writers (including Lee Child), an audio excerpt, a video trailer, and plenty more.

While she hasn't figured out how to serve drinks over the Internet, there is plenty of party swag, including iceberg water, penguins from Penguin, and the BBC's great Planet Earth series on DVD. You have to leave a comment to enter the draw, which is not too high a hoop to jump through. And if you buy the book from her website, you'll get a signed copy.

I haven't read the book, at least not yet, but I thought the online party was intriguing enough it deserved a shout-out. You have until tomorrow to hustle over and leave your email address.

And to whet your appetite, here's a brief description of the book from Dionne's permanent website:
As he faces the frozen behemoth of a giant iceberg, environmental activist Ben Maki sees Earth’s future. Clean drinking water for millions, waiting to be tapped from the polar ice. The Soldyne Corporation backs Ben’s grand philanthropic vision for a better today—while making its own plans for a very profitable tomorrow.

Rebecca Sweet lives for the cause—an eco-terrorist who will do whatever she must to protect the earth. And Ben Maki’s ideas have set her on the path to war…

All of them will be drawn into a battle between hope and helplessness, power and pride. But they are about to discover that deep within the ice waits an enemy more deadly than any could imagine—an apocalyptic horror mankind may not survive.

This online launch is probably the wave of the future: cheaper, easier, more targeted than cost-ineffective book tours. What do you think? As a reader, do you go to launch parties? Would you want to? Or do you prefer this virtual format? If you're a writer, do you think you'll be following in Dionne's footsteps? Why or why not?

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Wednesday, 1 October 2008

The Golden Notebook - a book non-review

Golden Notebook - Doris LessingI give up. I'm sorry, I just can't take any more. I've made it all the way to page 345, but that's only a few pages past the half-way mark and I'm starting to cringe every time I see the cover of The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing.

I know. It's a classic. Lessing won the Nobel Prize for Literature, largely on the strength of The Golden Notebook but I am bored to tears by mid-century angst. If you like Samuel Beckett and would like to see him stretched out in really long paragraphs over really long scenes in really long chapters with interminable ruminations on the spiritual and intellectual bankruptcy of communism (hardly a hot topic anymore or anything of a surprise), and on the similar void at the heart of Western culture (ditto), and on what it means to be a woman, complete with scenes of washing between the legs, and - well, you get the idea. If this kind of stuff is your cup of tea, go for it. Maybe when this stuff was fresh and cutting edge the audacity of it might have made for exciting reading. But fifty years later, the ideas are stale and worked to death, and acknowledging the fact that women have periods and brains - both at the same time - is not likely to trigger a reaction beyond ho-hum.

In short, this is an Idea Novel that has not aged well. If you don't have any inherent enthusiasm for the ideas, the story is not going to carry the weight. For those who like to mock literary fiction, this will provide you with a lot of ammunition.

Kudos to Anna, the protagonist, for having the intellectual courage to face the reality of her life. It's unfortunate that a better vehicle couldn't be found for it. A compelling read this ain't.

The structure, which was hailed for its innovation, actually contributes to the book's failings, in my opinion. The story proper is interleaved with readings from Anna's four notebooks, corporately the golden notebook. This means that any time the story starts to achieve any momentum, it's cut short by a shift to a different notebook. You have to be a determined reader indeed to continue despite the deliberate alienation. I'm not determined enough. And this is as good an illustration as any of the fact that innovation in and of itself is not necessarily a plus.

I am, of course, a dissenting opinion. You won't have to google very hard to find many different people telling you why The Golden Notebook is a masterpiece. I'm not as old and crotchety as Lessing (there are probably still videoclips all over the Internet of her swearing in disgust when she found out she'd won the Nobel) but I'm too old and crotchety to waste my time on a book I'm not enjoying, neither for the ideas, nor for the art.

For the purposes of the 1% Challenge, I still intend to count this. I mean, I read an ordinary novel's worth... Graham Greene never needed 600+ pages to portray angst and disillusionment.

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Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Aftermath of Luther College incident

Police approach Luther CollegeToday's media offerings on the gunman incident at Luther College High School have mostly consisted of journalistic cud-chewing. However, I did find a couple of interesting things hinted at in today's CBC article.

Charges have been laid against the young offender, who obviously can't be named. True to form, his parents are shocked and say that their son is basically a good kid. Sometimes, the modern interpretation of "good" is so elastic that the word becomes essentially meaningless, seeing as it seems to exclude nothing. Granted, it's obvious the young fellow wanted to make a statement, rather than killing people, so he's not as bad as he could have been. But still... Not knowing enough about the whole situation, I won't say anything else. I know parents always want to believe the best of their children and it's pretty devastating when you are dramatically confronted with the proof you were wrong. Denial is perhaps necessary for emotional survival, at least in the short term.
Brad Tilling, the boy's lawyer, told reporters after the brief appearance that his client was calm and understood what was happening.

Tilling said the parents of the youth were shocked by the allegations against their son.

"They would like people to know that he is a good kid and obviously there was some difficulty the other day," Tilling said.

"There's apparently quite a story behind that," Tilling added and suggested that details would come at a later time.

"But basically they want people to know he's a good kid and this is an aberration," he concluded.

I have a hard time imagining a "story" that would justify the boy's behaviour.

The other thing that really caught my eye is that the College may have alerted the authorities in regard to this young fellow as early as last year.
Perlson (the College president) said the student was expelled last year, but declined to say why.

"I can tell you there was concern. And we expressed that concern to authorities."

Which raises the question: what concerns did they share with "authorities" and should the police have picked up on it? Or were they relatively inconsequential, putting the boy on a list with hundreds of others who seemed only likely to indulge in minor mischief? I'm not one of these people who expect authorities to have perfect foresight, but I'm also aware that they drop the ball sometimes, and the results can be fatal. I hope somebody is pressing the issue. If the boy had been intent on killing, things would have turned out very differently.

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Steampunk Festival

Heather over at The Galaxy Express has devoted this week to steampunk, in all its creaking glory.

I'm pointing this out mainly because The Galaxy Express is becoming a must-read for anyone interested in science fiction/fantasy. A lot of work goes into it, and the seriousness shows. So if speculative fiction is your thing, check it out.

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Tuesday, 23 September 2008

A nice clear explanation of the current financial crisis

Treasury SecretaryI found this layman's explanation of the upheaval on Wall Street in an off-topic section of a writer's forum. It's clear and written in non-technical language and presented in easy bite-size concepts so that non-economists can wrap their heads around it. I hope this fellow works as a technical writer or a journalist, because people who can explain things well are all too rare.

Some of the posts that followed were pretty good too, so click here if you want to read the whole thread.

And here is Chuck Colson's take on the moral and political aspects, complete with a bibliography of links at the bottom.

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Gunman in my alma mater [Updated 8:05]

Luther CollegeThis makes it all come home, doesn't it? In the most literal way. When a gunman holds the student body hostage in the gymnasium of the high school you went to, all those school shooting stories take on a whole new reality.

The news is just breaking, but it appears to have had a happy ending. The gunman was taken into custody and no shots were fired.

Some classic elements are present from what I can see. An unhappy former student. Male. Probably young, so the chances of me knowing him are more than remote.

I am so thankful no one was killed. My adolescent memories are already going to have to deal with the images of a gunman in the halls. Peopling them with corpses would be unbearable.

Police at Luther

Updates will follow if there's anything interesting.

If anybody from Regina has information that isn't hitting the national media, please let me know.

The gunman, still unnamed, is indeed young. He would have been part of the Grade 12 class had he still been attending Luther College High School. He approached the pastor leading the daily chapel service and required him at gunpoint to read a three-page letter. School officials managed to clear out most of the students, but the Grade 12 class remained. I'm having a hard time picturing how that went, but further reports should hopefully clear that up.

Reactions of students have been similar to mine: how could this happen here? A small, academically oriented, private school with church affiliations (not that you should conclude that the student body is particularly religious). It doesn't seem to fit. But then these things rarely do, do they? Both school officials and police are being very tight-lipped about the identity of the gunman and what exactly happened. Rumours say that there was perhaps some advance warning, that the gun was only an airgun and not a firearm. Is bullying the issue here?

The gunman had a pellet gun, not a real firearm. This has apparently been announced on the local radio in Regina.

From the comment trail on the CBC article:
Everyone... I was there. im a new student grade 9 in fact... we went into chapel like any other ordinary day when a guy came in. Blonde hair and a camo gun... a compact .22 or 355 magnum.. im not an expert so anyway... we were in the gym/chapel for about 40 minutes.... people were crying... we (me and my friends) thought this was a skit/drill.... Sadly, it was not... It was pure terror and fear... I can say one thing... i never felt so emotional about high-school shootings... But trust me. if it ever happens to you, you will be very scared.... the first thing i did when i was scared was turn my cell phone level to vibrate... i sent a text to my dad telling him there was a guy with a gun in the school... after, my mom called. i ducked behind a student and told my mom.... call the cops.... thaank her soul, she did... the cops were on their way.... Our principal, MR. Anderson taackled the gunman and we all ran out.... when we ran we all knew then it wasnt a drill... The police and swat were there.... and we ran to the daycare to escape the high-school... my parents later found me and about 30 - 1 hour after the incident. here i am typing... I want to get the word out... To everyone in highschool or not... please FEEL sorry for the victims... I never thought this would happen to me... Untill it did... I NOW know the feelings of people in High-school shootings..... MY feelings go out to them....

If youve read this I, Thank you...

The letter apparently contained a disjointed rant about the boy's expulsion last year.

One news report incorrectly identifies the school as Catholic. I guess the Chinese don't get the incongruity of a Catholic school named Luther.

The principal, Mark Anderson, intervened physically (either tackling him or just grabbing the gun, there are different reports) when he realized that the gun was not a firearm.

Another report:
The principal of the school says he wrestled away the gun from an angry youth who had barged into the school's chapel in the middle of morning prayer.

Luther College's Mark Anderson says he kept talking with the youth, who was holding the school's pastor at gunpoint and making him read a letter.

Anderson says he got close enough to see that the weapon was not a real handgun.

At that point, he grappled with the suspect and held him until police arrived and arrested him.

No shots were fired and no one was injured.

Police, who have a 16-year-old in custody, say the weapon was an air-driven pellet pistol.

Police, including a SWAT team, converged on the school after receiving calls about the incident.

More details:
While police set up outside the school, inside the gym, Luther's principal Mark Anderson noticed the weapon was not as serious as first thought, so he approached the suspect and tried talking him out of acting further.

Anderson said he got a hold of the boy, but the suspect wringled loose.

Other teachers closed around him and then the SWAT team members from the Regina Police Service took him into custody.

More than 400 students were in the gym when the boy first entered.

Anderson estimates about 250 were able to get out while he talked to the boy

And here's the bullying aspect:
Alex McNair, a student at the Luther College high school, said the gunman forced the pastor to read a letter about his expulsion. He said the letter was about how the gunman had been bullied.

More student testimonies here.

Further details from this afternoon's press conference. It includes praise for students and staff for keeping their composure and handling the situation well.

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Wednesday, 17 September 2008

The Walrus Diet

bathroom scalesIt's really very simple. If you can't get your hands on fresh walrus steak, you don't eat.

Why are you looking at me like that? It would work, wouldn't it?

Okay, maybe not. In all seriousness, I have decided to go against my principles and go on a diet. But my kind of diet. And I fully expect it to work.

Why are you looking at me like that? Yes, you heard me right. Dieting violates my principles. Primarily the principle of not banging my head against a cold, hard wall. Let's face it. 99% of the people I know and know of who go on diets, especially the ones who get spectacular results, pack it all back on in record time, with a few bonus pounds as a penalty for deluding themselves.

The reason for this is simple. They haven't learned to eat properly as a lifestyle. They have the discipline to deprive themselves for a time, but not enough to eat only what they need for the rest of their lives.

I, on the other hand, have the opposite problem. My weight has changed very little in the last twenty years. I'm really quite good at eating healthily and in reasonable amounts. What I'm really, really bad at is depriving myself long enough to take it off. Exercise isn't a good option for me because of my chronic fatigue. More than a certain amount of exertion and I am too tired to do anything else. And guess what? Then I tend to eat too much. So while I do try to get moderate amounts of exercise for other health reasons, I can't step it up enough to make a big difference in my weight. So what's a gal to do?

Enter the next important principle in why diets don't work. Dieters tend to plateau after about three weeks, even if they are following their diet religiously. The reason for this is simple too. The body gets the message that it's famine time and slows down the metabolism. You burn fewer calories and get kind of slow and stupid. The standard way around this - and it's a good way too - is to rev up the metabolism through exercise. Again, not a good choice for me.

But then I got to thinking. Another way to beat this problem would be to quit dieting before the three weeks are up. And to make very sure that I didn't gain the weight back. And to do this repeatedly. Diet a bit. Lose a little weight. Go back to normal eating.

Sounds like a plan to me. So for the first fifteen to twenty days of every month, I will diet. For the rest of the month dieting will be strictly verboten. So will putting the weight back on.

To implement this, I bought a decent scale. (Like the one in the picture, but round.) I'd been using my clothes to let me know if my weight was going up or down, but that's not very effective at monitoring day-to-day progress in increments smaller than 5-10 pounds. I needed mathematical accountability.

My diet plan? Well, it's very simple. I'm eating smaller amounts, less often. The small indulgences I normally permit myself are out, for the most part. I keep my mind busy with writing and the Internet (and I do them as far from the kitchen as possible) so I don't eat out of sheer distraction. I started a little late this month, but so far I've lost almost four pounds. (If you think I am going to tell you what the starting number was, you are out of your mind.) I'll take it up to the twentieth, and then I'll eat my normal way, keeping a daily eye on the scales to make sure I don't slide more than half a pound either way from my new weight. If I keep this up, a year from now I'll be forty to fifty pounds lighter.

If you want to try the Walrus Diet, any healthy dieting method at all should do the trick. Just don't go over twenty days at a time. If you do, let me know, and we'll do some commiserating.

I'll make the occasional update, either in the comment trail or in new posts so you can find out if the Walrus Diet actually works. And so I have the extra motivation of not making a fool of myself in public.

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