Friday, August 29, 2008

Adaptation

Blogging may be sparse from this part of the world wide web for now, but when I'm back I hope to get around to the following ideas:

- A three part commentary and proposal I want to throw around before potentially submitting to the Christian & Missionary Alliance in Canada regarding its recent "decision" on women in ministry.
- An addition to my list of "top 32" films of all time. As this was originally a way to celebrate my own birthday, I figure by the end of September I will need 33. (This apparent self-fascination doesn't bother anyone does it? I do intend it to be at least mildly interesting).
- Perhaps a new birthday list. Top 33 novels of all time? Albums? Songs? What do you think? I'd been toying with doing albums, but I think it may be too difficult.

Hopefully I'll have more time for these things in the coming weeks. For now, the following observations regarding relocation and adaptation to my new Albertan surroundings:

- U-Haul has a monopoly on affordable moving trucks from smaller centers---and knows it. Our recent addition to the prevalence of horror stories in dealing with this company forces me to invent a new verb: Anytime you get screwed over by a business, well, you've been uhauled.
- Leaving good friends is sometimes inevitable, but is still really stupid.
- A bike ride to the library across a city is considerably more tiring than a bike ride to the library across half a village. "Winded" is a bit of an understatement.
- The fact that the coffee at said library is both free and excellent may partially make up for this, but does not add any long-distance cycling stamina.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Olympic Highlights, Amazements, and a Lowlight

Well, the Olympics are pretty much over. Seeing as we were spending a lot of time in the house packing for our move this weekend we had the TV on a lot and caught a fair amount of the competition. Here are some notable moments:

Highlights:

- Michael Phelps ended up swimming to 8 golds and 7 World records. But back before his dominance became old hat we had gold medal #3, which was the 4x100m freestyle relay. With two of his swims as relays, Phelps knows he needs his team's help to make this incredible feat. He swims an amazing third leg but is behind the French swimmer when he hands control over to the anchor swimmer, Lezak. Lezak is still a half-body length behind with only half the pool left to swim, and the French swimmer mistakenly swims so close to the buoys that Lezak is able to draft on him, catch up, and pass him for the gold at, literally, the last second. Perhaps the most dramatic victory of the Olympic games.

- Usain Bolt is a phenom. This Jamaican sprinter broke the world record in the 100 meter dash, and was coasting the last 30 meters, pumping his arms in joy as he continued to tear away from the field. He danced his way around the victory lap in absolute joy, but took some heat for his sauntering finish. So in the 200 meter race he runs like the dickens all the way past the finish line, breaking another record and capturing another gold. The delight and exuberance of his victory dance is even more joyful. This guy is only in his early 20s and he coasted to the fastest sprint of all time. Who knows what he can do?

- We happened to catch the final lift by a German weight lifter whose wife had died recently. Before her death he had promised her he'd become a German citizen and win a gold medal at the Olympics. At the event, his competition was not making it easy for him. Sitting in second, having already lifted his personal best, he knew he had to lift more than he'd ever lifted in order to fulfill his vow; his life dream. Gone seem to be the day of stone-faced stoic tough guy weightlifters. The emotion in this final was palpable. And the jubilance and relief on this young man's face upon winning was a truly wonderful moment to witness. Lifting a picture of his wife up on the podium as he received his medal was a moving sight.

- Canada got rolling on medals on day eight. We needed a 100 pound female wrestler to break the ice for us. In our house we were very touched to watch her win, and to see how much it meant to her as she heard her own anthem with gold around her neck, and sang the final stanza while a tear slowly dripped down her cheek. I know, it sounds really typical and cheesy, but something about it seemed very genuine and beautiful.

Amazements:

- Gymnastics. More specifically, the Chinese men on the rings. Have you ever tried to do anything on the monkey-bars lately? With two boys under 6 I tend to spend a fair amount of time at the playground, and once in awhile try my hand doing chin-ups and rings. I can't believe what these guys can do. It is simply incredible.

- Triathalon. Running and biking long distances I can imagine. But swimming? Before running and biking? You've got to be kidding me.

- Ron McLean. I don't know if sportscasting realizes what it has here. He can spout of so many interesting anecdotes and athletic information in such a short span of time. Sure there are a few bad puns to put up with, but he is everything a sports anchor should be. When he went home because his mother passed away it was fairly clear right away that watching the Olympics was not going to be as enjoyable. Donovan Bailey was a delight to watch when he was on as well. I seriously think that the CBC should consider replacing Don Cherry with Bailey. I don't care if he likes or knows anything about hockey at all, I might watch it again.

Lowlights:

- The cute little girl who sings the Olympic anthem at the opening ceremonies turns out to be lip-syncing for the real little girl whose voice captivates the world. Apparently the real singer wasn't cute enough. It gave me pause. I don't want to make too much of it, but I did wonder what would come of this glimpse into communist China. Frankly, there were a lot of smiling faces amongst the Chinese, but moments like this one made one wonder how many were pasted on. In one sense I find communism attractive. Self gives for the group. But when it is forced, and the happy ones are the ones benefiting from the communism, there is an underlying dark cloud beneath the whole thing that a person just can't shake. Still, a fairly impressive showing put on by the city of Beijing, far as I could tell anyway.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I'll Pass on the Hockey Anthem Playlist

I am a considerable sports fan---I love football and soccer and have followed hockey here and there my whole life.

But the worst thing about sports is the music.

I have always been puzzled by the strange phenomenon of not enjoying 95% of the music being played at arenas and stadiums (at least not since the early 90s when I actually first listened to half of the stuff they are playing). I have never been sure if it is due to an international conspiracy of bad DJs, or what. Now I think I understand. Its the fans.

Tonight I listened to over a dozen entries in the Hockey Night in Canada Anthem Challenge. These are songs submitted by Canadian hockey fans, and can not be written off as the poor choices of a couple unfortunately-placed Guns 'n' Roses-loving studio executives. The only one I heard that was not tight-pants-and-greasy-mullet music was this one. Many of the comments on the songs are saying how "hockey" they are. Just when did Aerosmisth and Nickleback become synonymous with stacked pads, wrist shots, and cross-ice passes?

I'm not sure what a sports anthem ought to sound like, and I guess one can't expect too much from 10 second clips at a sporting event, where the goal is keep the tempo up. Still, I know I'm not liking what I'm hearing. If you are into this kind of music, that's fine. Just take this as the cathartic rant one of sport's disenfranchised minority.

Here's an idea: If I pay $40 to go to a sporting event, maybe I could get some kind of discount for having to hear "Sweet Child O' Mine?" How about some free popcorn (besides the stuff being spilled in my hair) for being forced to endure the whole first line of "Paradise City" in the time it takes to jab the frosted malt spoon in my ear?

I guess it is all just part of the experience. One time at a Riders' game I had a watermelon land on my head. It was a blessing in disguise, though, because for a minute I couldn't hear the Def Leppard.

Ah well, its good to be with the crowd. Long live sport. Let's just get some variety in the music, okay sports fans?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Life of Pi - Yann Martel

Life of Pi is a truly brilliant and thoroughly enjoyable novel. I do not read a lot of contemporary fiction---due to a leaning toward non-fiction and a fascination for the classics---but I am going to have to start. I think I underestimated the authors of today. I'd hate to be missing the future classics at their birth.

The Life of Pi is about a boy named Piscine Molitor, the son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry, India, who sets across the ocean with his family only to end up in---well, you have to read it to believe it. The first half of the book is about his childhood, and the rest is this almost mythological tale of his high-seas adventures.

Yann Martel exhibits an almost paradoxical writing style: It is matter-of-fact fantasty, it is playful and gripping, and is a brightfully told account of a devestating tale. I have since turned my summer-reading attention to The Kite Runner, a highly acclaimed novel in its own right---but have had a hard time shifting gears. Martel's book is so wonderful I just can't leave its world for another easily.

I kept waiting for the action in this novel to pick up, but by the time part one was over, I was sad to see it ending. Following young Pi around his father's zoo and through his spiritual journey into Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity (I told you it was a fantasy) was just mesmorizing. There are plenty of innocently provocative lines, such as the following, one of my favourites:

"I know zoos are no longer in people's good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both."

The reviews on the cover of Yann Martel's novel give it high praise. But this is usually the case on a book jacket isn't it? I'd also had this recommended to me by several people. But it just took me a while to get around to it. I am kicking myself for having waited so long. I haven't enjoyed fiction reading so thoroughly since Tolkein's Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis' space trilogy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Olympic Coverage and Chinese Taipei

Are you like me? Have you been watching the Olympics? It has been on at our house a lot. And one thing I've been intrigued about is the existence of this new country I'd never heard of before: Chinese Taipei. My curiousity was piqued when I saw the flag (seen at right). This flag is clearly a stop-gap measure to leave us focussed on the sports rather than the issue.

So I did a bit of digging. Which of course means that I googled it and spent ten minutes on Wikipedia. (There is a reason I was given a "research skills" award by my school you know! By the way, I don't have to capitalize Google when I use it as a verb, do I?) Here's what I found out:

Apparently there has been a long and heated rivalry between the island we know as Taiwan and the mainland region we know as China. Officially, the latter wishes to be known as the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the former as---here's where it gets interesting---the Republic of China (ROC). They like to go by Taiwan, as well. This is their actual flag below:

It turns out that in the 70s the ROC was actually trying to claim governance over the whole of China. If I'm gathering it right, the contention was that theirs was the rightful "heir" to Chinese governance and Taipei was the rightful capital. This idea was rejected by the PRC, and ultimately also by the United Nations, and it has led to decades of back and forth on the actual identity of each. Most of us are ignorant of this, and simply know them as China and Taiwan. There is good reason for this. Taiwan operates like a country of its own in almost every way, except that the People's Republic of China is able to assert authority over it by strong-arming it diplomatically.

Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia: "The PRC refuses to maintain diplomatic relations with any nation that recognizes the ROC, but does not object to nations conducting economic, cultural, and other such exchanges with Taiwan that do not imply diplomatic relation. Therefore, many nations that have diplomatic relations with Beijing maintain quasi-diplomatic offices in Taipei. . . .

The US, Canada, the UK, India and Japan have formally adopted the 'One China' policy, under which the People's Republic of China is theoretically the sole legitimate government of China. However, the United States and Japan acknowledge rather than recognize the PRC position that Taiwan is part of China. In the case of Canada and the UK, bilateral written agreements state that the two respective parties take note of Beijing's position but do not use the word support" (emphasis mine).

Officially the US and UK have stated that they wish for the PRC and ROC to resolve their differences peacefully, and by semantically skirting the issue they manage to stay relatively uninvolved. Interestingly, Vatican City is one of only 23 countries which officially recognizes the ROC. The others are all in Central America and Africa, and are likely able to do so because of their alignment with Catholocism, to which the PRC is already opposed anyway.

So there you have it. THAT is why in its coverage of the Olympics the CBC refers to Taiwan as Chinese Taipei. As Ron McLean said at the opening ceremonies, they do it "out of deference to China".

I don't want to pretend I know more than I do about this issue. Maybe the PRC or the ROC have a rightful claim. I don't konw. But what I do note is that our media, who are supposedly neutral observers, able to investigate and report freely, are joining the nations (who are probably right to stay out of it and be diplomatic) in skirting the issue, not reporting to us the facts, and simply going along with the economic powers-that-be. I've watched a lot of Olympics, and yet I had to go to Wikipedia to find out the truth. That's always a scary situation.

I don't want to overstate things though. The ROC has agreed to go with "Chinese Taipei" and to use this flag. The PRC actually wanted to call them "China's Taipei". But the ROC said they would immediately withdraw from the games publicly if this name was ever used at the games or on Chinese television.

By the way, Canada whoooped Taiwan in softball yesterday.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

As Easy As . . .

I haven't used my mountain bike very much in the last five years. In fact, when we lived in Manitoba and I was pastoring and raising two young children I don't think I rode it at all. When I pulled it out to ride to school here in Saskatchewan, the chain was rusty (from sitting outside for three solid years) and only one gear was operating.

A few weeks ago a guy in town tuned it up for me.

The other day I was riding it home from school with a huge bag of library books in my hand and a laptop bag on my back. Balance is difficult in such a scenario. On that occasion I survived.

But it turns out I have overestimated my abilities on a bike. At one point I cut under a tree and over a roots and thought I'd hop off the path into a ditch to save time.

I remember two things: As the nose of the bike dips below me, I am putting my arms out to brace my fall and "save some face". It was a success. Only minor scratches on my arm, and no damage to my head.

The second thing I remember, probably no more than a split-second later, is looking back and noticing that I am upside down looking up at my own body in the sky, which is entangled with a mountain bike that is flipping over me.

That's the part that hurt. The back of my leg is pretty sore for some reason.

Apparently, riding a bike again after all these years is not quite as easy as riding a bike.

Of Soapboxes and Condolences

Apparently a bunch of people from some "godhates_(fill in the blank)__" group in the States is coming up for the funeral of Tim McLean this weekend in Winnipeg. They are planning to hold up signs like the ones you see here.

These picketers will be using the notoriety and vulgarity of this young man's random and horrific death as a soapbox for their own message. Whatever you think of their message, this is a despicable move.

(Incidentally, while I would agree with this group about some of the things they oppose, it is amazing to me just how extremely I do not agree with the method of, nature of, or even the reason for their opposition. It truly boggles my mind. But we can talk about that another time.)

Fundamentalist "godhaters" (as I'll call them, purposefully tongue in cheek) are not the only ones to be so disrespectful, however. Apparently P.E.T.A. was going to run ads in newspapers using this event as an opportunity to raise awareness of cruelty to animals. This is extremely disgusting. Thank God the newspapers (far as I know) aren't running them.

The Canadian outcry against these picketers from the US has been one of disdain, and I think that this is by and large a very healthy disdain. A facebook group has started, and on it some 700 people have volunteered to go and make a human wall around the funeral to protect the family from such disrespect.

Good for them. I personally think the better strategy would be to completely and utterly ignore these activists, to the point of walking right past the screaming as if no one was there, but I am kind of too late to start my own facebook group on that idea. I just hope the drama does not escalate to the further embarassment of those actually there to grieve.

The way these activists are further victimizing the grieving family simply as a platform for their propaganda is a disrespect tantamount to violence.

However, I will say I'm a little intrigued at some of the disdain. One has to wonder how much of it is actual respect for the family and how much is simple Canadian self-righteousness over these fundamentalist Americans, or even how much of it is an act of intolerance for the things these activists stand for.

Its just something I wonder, picking up on the way some people talk. But I can't really be the judge of that. Nor do I want to turn this whole despicable side show into a soapbox of my own. I'm also going to try to remember this next time (if) I am ever asked to preach at a funeral. It is a delicate time. Not a time to avoid the issues staring us in the face as humans, but not a time to become inhumane in the process.

Fact is, this whole incident was deeply tragic and sad. Tim McLean was the victim of a random and horrific act. My condolences go out to his family. I really hope nobody does anything stupid at that funeral.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Some Pleasurable Turns of Phrase

This morning I was woken up by a crop-duster. Or at least that's the only explanation that I can come up with for the extremely loud back-and-forth of noise outside and the glimpse of a bi-plane which I caught on the horizon. It is still going as I write this. It is 7:30 am.

I will be moving back to the city by the end of the month.

Last night in a moment of idleness I grabbed a book by Dale Ahlquist that had been shelved for awhile , who was writing about the common sense and paradoxes of G.K. Chesterton. I had forgotten what an intellectual delight and dose of inspiration is good old Gilbert Keith. Here are a few zingers that had me simultaneously chuckling with pleasure and shaking my head to clear the cobwebs of thought.

Regarding reason, logic, faith, and all that, he wrote in The Daily News on June 22, 1907:
"You can never prove your first statement or it would not be your first statement."

Ahlquist summed this up further from a similar Daily News essay from 1905 with the statement: "You can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it." The astute among you will ask if that is a first statement or not. You will also be left thinking for awhile about what Chesterton has just so concisely and humorously put forward.

Here's another, regarding the arts, and specifically the paradox of an excellent story; which survives the test of time. He writes in the Illustrated London News on November 20, 1920:
"It has simplicity with a slight touch of strangeness . . . It is a tale just sufficiently imaginative to be worth telling, and yet immediately intelligible when told."

Or how about this one, from "Are the Artists Going Mad?", an essay written in Century Magazine in December of 1922:
"The notion that every generation proves the last generation worthless, and is in its turn proved worthless by the next generation, is an everlasting vision of worthlessness."

New Blogs

I am ruminating about what to say next. Still working on some of the previously hinted at ideas.

I have appreciated the interaction here on the last few posts. Although blogging is partly about just having a chance to articulate some stuff and have an entry point into the blogosphere, largely I'm here to interact, so I appreciate when people condescend to participate!

One thing I will mention today is that I have a few new links at right.

There are a couple blogs I ran across that seem to be by PhD students in theology who are way past my level. I'm trying to catch up. (They are the ones using other languages in their titles).

There are also some friend's blogs which I'll be checking on. Nathan Davies is a good photographer and I want to remember to watch what he does. So he's there. Jonathan (Deep and Shallow Thoughts) has been commenting, and so I want to see what he is up to. Patrick (Shadowland) is a seminary friend who left here and got a job (I'm so jealous!).

And I am super-excited that Matthew Wilkinson is back with a blog called "sinnersbleeders". I've trumpeted his music before and I also gravely miss his old website. I'm glad he is back, as I said on his site, to stretch my artistic awareness and interests, again.

And I check all the others daily as well. I think I have a short blogroll, compared to others, I don't know. I can't seem to extend my interest (or availability) much beyond people I know. I'm fine with that.

Anyways, thanks for meeting me here. Later, Jon.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Barenaked Ladies - Snacktime

I have to give a tip of my hat to a Canadian band who, all things considered, have offered up what has to be one of the best albums of the year. "Snacktime" is for children, but it has enough musical variety, creativity, melodies and harmonies to be a very enjoyable listen for parents as well. Not only that but the lyrics are clever and amusing enough to not be annoying when the kids sing them over and over at home. In fact, in our house I think the adults sing them more than the children.

The Barenaked Ladies (on this album it is pronounced Bah-REN-e-kad Lay-dEE-ess) have never been a favourite band of mine, but I've appreciated them from a distance. With this album I applaud them for giving families something to listen to besides cartoon characters, obvious "stop-drop-and-roll" lessons in song, and nursery rhymes. I don't think this album was a big risk for the band, since children's media is bound to make millions, but I am still impressed and grateful that they took the time to do such a good record. I actually kind of hope they go on tour.

Highlights on this album (for adult listneres at least) include "Pollywog in a Bog" (which sounds like something from the Beatle's "Yellow Submarine" phase, only less ridiculous and a bit more like reggae), "Eraser" (which is an enjoyable musical tribute to a fine school supply), "The Canadian Snack Time Trilogy" (complete with cameos from Gordon Downey, Janine Garafallo, and Sarah McLachlan) and "Here Come the Geese" (which has an epic tranquility to it that bests most anything you'd hear on top40 radio these days). Of the 24 songs, perhaps only the first gets painful to listen to. But can't that be said for most singles?

My kids' favourites include the Alphabet song (which uses "aisle", "bdellium", and "csar" instead of "apple", "ball", and "cat"), "Allergies", "Food Party" (my favourite guest at the party is "Bland"), and "I Don't Like" (which contains some very funny dialogue, including the line: "Give me a plate of salmon and a spinny-ride and I'm a happy man", among others). I don't mind these songs at all, and in fact find them a welcome distraction from all the serious things I tend to think about.

Perhaps most importantly, for a family that has done a lot of driving this summer, this album has not just "killed" time, but filled it with pleasant enjoyment that we could all share, at no one's expense.

So here's three cheers to the Lay-DEE-ess for being willing to be cheesy in places, but only in proper doses, and for mixing this with a whole lot of clever writing and interesting rather than downright boring and painful tunes. We are a family that doesn't really bother with children's music all that much, but thanks to my sister-in-law's gift, this one is right up there in the playlist.