Friday, 31 July 2009

7 Quick Takes (III)

1. We are in the midst of preparing for Heritage Day. By "we" here I mean my employers and I. Because of my place in the Park hierarchy, I manage to sidestep most of the drama (also called "hostility" by some) of the office girls. I run between them and the other guys who do the physical and maintenance stuff in the Park. That's not to say that there aren't things that irked me or that I thought might have prevented me from having to go in tomorrow (which I have to do), but overall it's fine. I am also less stressed about it this year than last year for a myriad of important reasons. Foremost of these is that I actually haven't been in the park all week, and I'm not the one on whom the responsibility lies.
As you can infer, I'm at the Heritage Park location and not at the Marine Park location, so I am getting to work with people other than the two I've mentioned before. I suppose I am getting to know them a little better.

2. My brother and I postponed seeing Harry Potter until tomorrow night. We both work tomorrow, but not Sunday (I better not be working Sunday), so tomorrow night makes more sense. I am excited, as I hear this is the best one yet. The trailers certainly look epic, but that doesn't necessarily mean much. The trailers always look better than the movie these days. Except for 300. I thought the movie was OK and the trailers awful. So that's the exception.

3. Speaking of 300 and of working at the Park, the forestry guys volunteering there make me look like an effeminate four-year old. I mean, these guys are built. This isn't something I usually worry too much about, but then I usually work in the summer, as opposed to paperwork. "Paperwork" is really something of a misnomer, as it doesn't seem to be actual work to me. (Apparantly, Pacific islanders have in the past thought that paperwork was a religious ritual, as it makes goods appear without any labour going into it.) So I'm getting soft. Not that I've ever been anything like these guys, real work or no.

4. I finished reading Many Waters by Madelaine L'Engle. I think it is my favourite of her books. That is not really fairly said, of course, as I have only read four in my life, and two recently. Still, I found this book quite enjoyable.
Oddly, however, it is filled with sexuality. No overt sexual scenes, but I still thought it was a bit overt for kids. Desire is dealt with frankly, and some characters are almost portrayed having sex (or portrayed as almost having sex, which is different). Also, everyone wore only loincloths. I just thought it odd for a kids' book. I thought The Amber Spyglass was shockingly implicit; I can think of why, compared to Many Waters. Regardless, the book has seraphim (which I've always found cool), takes place in Biblical times, and deals directly with complicated romantic relationships that include more than two people. There are also mammoths, unicorns, manticores, and griffins. And, for a fantasy, it is unique in being set in a single oasis community, and not traversing vast space (except for the first and last chapter, of course).
In sum, I liked it and suggest it to anyone who would read my blog. Eventually I will do a post of L'Engle's work.

5. On the topic of reading, I am struggling through 1 Chronicles. I do not want to say that any part of the Bible is boring, but gah! There are little gold flecks between the genealogies, of course. I found the name Hazzelelphoni, for instance, as well as such interesting things as how the priestly families guarded the tent (or tabernacle). It has also been helping somewhat as a refresher for the last several books; I've been ploughing through the OT to improve my "overhead view" of the history of Israel, making a cohesive story from Joshua to the prophets instead of a collection of episodes (which has been my usual interaction with the first Covenant). However, it's still hard to get even this from lists of names which are all very similar and often actually the same.

6. At Heritage Park we have a volunteer named Jens. He is from Germany, and has a degree in Industrial Engineering, with electives mainly in Electrical. Jens is a very friendly, funny guy, and is volunteering at the park until he gets a job as a way of staving off boredom. His English is quite good, though not perfect. He is quite tall and well-built, and has a gently teasing sense of humour. He's really a great guy, I think. Anyway, my co-workers have three times in the last day brought up the World Wars or Nazis casually in conversation around him. Maybe I'm just overly sensitive about this, but I thought it was generally polite not to mention anything like that around people from Germany. I knew guys in a history class who said that their German friends got uncomfortable if you mentioned Indiana Jones, so saying, "I felt like I was in the trenches in World War I," or (of some disobedient children), "At least they're not marching down the street yelling anti-Semetic slogans," seems like it might not be very polite.

7. I was accessioning drawers in the Miskanaw galley earlier this week, and I have no idea what half of these kitchen utensils are called. Some of these things I have used before and just never knew the name of (and often enough didn't realize I didn't know the name of), or didn't know the Nomenclature-ly official name of; other of these things I have frankly never seen.
Actually, to be fair I was inventorying most of these drawers and not properly accessioning them. It didn't make much difference, though, as far as naming them goes. Inventorying just winds up being less paperwork.

See the Quick Takes Queen.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Choosing Certainty Over Accuracy


Behavioural vs. Cognitive Approaches


More Trends in Modern Foolishness

I was thinking the other day about this, so let's give it a rant.

In my Religious Studies class this past school year I had cause to consider something I learned in my first year Psych 100 course, which in turn caused me to reflect upon general trends in the thinking of popular scientism. (If you've read my blog, I am sure you can already guess that I will be disagreeing with the trends in the thinking of popular scientism.) That's the background.

We read a book by Pascal Boyer (you'll have maybe read his name before in these posts) for my Interpretation of Religion course. In his book, Pascal Boyer claims that people worship statues of saints and pictures of religious people. To the argument that people are not worshiping but revering the statues, he says that there is no difference between worship and reverence (when the word is used in this sense). He says something along the lines of, "Imagine that you replaced the statue with a sign that says 'Pray.' People would be outraged/not think it's the same thing at all." Now, I'm not going to argue that no one worships statues of saints. That would be patently wrong. Some people expressly do. My point is this: Boyer is using a behaviouralist approach. He does not take into account the internal conditions of a person. Religious phenomenon (that is, religious belief and practice, not miracles) is measurable, he says, and what parts of it are not are irrelevant. Thus the internal emotional and intellectual state of the practitioner is irrelevant, except perhaps as it manifests in questionnaires. What is far more important to him is if people respond negatively to replacing a statue with a sign that says, "Pray," then Boyer assumes that they take the statue to be more than just a reminder to pray (which is what most people say it is, according to him).

The crux of the problem is the divide between behavioural psychology and cognitive psychology. Behavioural psychology essentially follows the idea that we cannot know what other people are thinking; we can only know what they are doing. So we learn about human 'psychology' through behaviour alone. We discuss behaviour alone. When we make models predicting behaviour, we do not even do so much as hypothesize or refer to thought processes. Rather, we say, "When this person experiences this stimulus, they produce this response." It is somewhat more complicated, of course, but they only care about behaviour. We cannot discuss thoughts.

Cognitive psychology disagrees. They say that thought processes are quite relevant and, while ultimately unknowably, are at least within range of an educated guess.

Behavioural psychologists are unwilling to make this guess, however. They are unwilling to sacrifice their certainty. They cannot be certain at all about thoughts, but they can measure behaviour and stimuli. They'll stick to their certainty, thanks, and look down on the cognitive psychologists for not doing so. The problem is that cognitive psychologists have proven that, in many cases, their models (thoughts and all) actually produce more accurate results. Behavioural psychology cannot predict certain behaviours that cognitive psychology can.

It's like there's a machine in a box. You stick an object on the conveyer belt, which takes the object to the machine. Then another conveyer belt brings out the object, which has been altered by the machine. Behaviouralists put objects on and try to find patterns with how they come out. Cognitive psychologists do the same thing, but also try to take stabs at how the machine inside operates. Their theories are obviously not certain at all, but often those theories are nonetheless better able to predict how a given object will look when it comes out of the box. Behavioural psychologists are unwilling to deal with the uncertainty, and so get poorer results.

The bottom line, then, is that behaviouralists choose certainty over accuracy. They cannot be certain about thoughts, so reject them from their models. In so doing, they lose accuracy. But it seems to be that their certainty hardly improves. Since we know that their theories are less able to predict phenomenon, I think we can safely say that they have even less certainty in the end. They may not takes guesses at things they cannot know; instead, they make firm theories that they can be certain are inadequate.

Boyer's statue problem is similar. He looks at the behaviour of someone worshipping a statue and someone revering a statue, and concludes that worshipping and revering are the same thing. This does not take into consideration the practitioner's subjective experience, and this could have drastic results for the rest of his theory (turns out it doesn't, but it could have).

Incidentally, I am have an interesting counter-example for Boyer. Say we remove the Mona Lisa and replace it with a sing that says, "Contemplate Renaissance ideals of beauty and gender." If people respond angerly and claim that it's not the same, does that mean they were worshipping the Mona Lisa? No. It means that the Mona Lisa is more than something that gives them instructions to perform a cognitive task, but gave them particular means to do so. Similarly, statues or icons do not only give us the instructions to perform a cognitive task (pray), but also remind us of assorted details concerning the saint or scenario presented, giving us aids to perform these tasks. We are experiential people, and sometimes we need images to help jog our emotions (to sympathy, to joy, to protectiveness, to thankfulness, to joviality). This is what icons do for some people; they rever the icons, which means in the Orthodox Church that the patrons respect the icons and use them as objects through which they can worship the Godhead.

Final note: I have noticed through conversations with the scientistically-minded that permeating the scientific culture is this idea that certainty is somehow an requirement or even ultimate end in knowledge. A lack of certainty gives some mathematical or scientific-type people anxiety crises or makes them uncomfortable with a particular field of thought. Sciences are "ranked" according to certainty (pure mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, sociology OR ...biology, geology, environmental sciences). Oddly, this places mathematics, which isn't actually a science at all, but rather pure rationalism (as opposed to empiricism, under which domain exists science), at the head of the list. There seems to be an idea that, if you are studying something for its own sake and not for its benefits, there is more value in studying something certain than uncertain. To me this seems ridiculous and actually awful. Consider first that much of physics--quantum and, especially, M-theory--is actually theoretically unverifiable, let alone practically unverifiable. Despite it's absolute "certainty," it can neither be proven nor disproven. Consider second that there is actually no reason whatsoever to prefer certainty (or, at least, none that I have heard). Why is uncertainty and ambiguity not something equally worth picking at? Why is knowledge that is certainty inherently more valuable than that which is uncertain? I cannot think of a reason. Perhaps it is more trustworthy, but that doesn't make it more relevant or interesting.

Anyway, that is my rant about behaviouralism vs. cognitivism, and they related topic of certainty.

Now, to bed.

Friday, 24 July 2009

7 Quick Takes (II)

1) I have either a cold or allergies. Maybe the lack of sleep has shot my immune system, meaning that my body cannot handle these allergens as well. Curse you, allergens!

2) I spent a lot of this week actually working. By this I mean painting, helping my supervisor with the bobcat & fork, hauling things, cleaning, etc. This coming week will also involve lots of real work, as we (the park) prepare for Heritage Day. I am sure I've mentioned Heritage Day before. Search for "festival" in my labels list, if you want more info. The point is, I am coming home dirty and sweaty more often than any other week this summer, and have gotten more of a tan than any other week this summer.

3) I think I have some workable story ideas, both for shorts and long-term... and this long term one might finally stick. My criterion are pretty much all covered, and I am actually interested in this project. Essentially, in writing this, I am rescuing a princess. That would be me, the author. Can you see how this is appealling.
(How is this possible, you ask? Maybe, one day, you'll know.)

4) Have I said this yet? The swallows have invaded the Marine Park. There are so many swallows. It's amazing. Have you heard swallowsong before? Or listened to it? They are vocal little creatures, with a number of interesting calls. Flying, they chirp, but when perched they give long, very watery chuckles and chirping/buzzing noises that sound vaguely like an alarm beep or a road duster scratch (speaking of which, those little brown grasshoppers I always think of as locusts but I think are more properly called road dusters are now out here in Fort Mac; they make me nostalgic). We are worried about bird droppings on our boats. The phony owls we put up are no good at all.

5) My brother made some excellent chicken tonight. My Dad had bought a lot of chicken breast some time ago. It is very good stuff. If you cook it for an hour from frozen, it comes out beautifully moist, cooked perfectly through, and tasting delicious. You don't even need to season it. When you're used to white meat being dry and flavourless, it's even better. That was the last breast, he cooked.

6) I have been reading Planet Narnia, a book of literary criticism that examines how C. S. Lewis used the nine Ptolemic planets as controlling but hidden symbols in the nine Narnia books. When I first encountered this idea on Wikipedia, I thought it was bunk from beginning to end (to paraphrase Polly in The Magician's Nephew). However, I am very nearly convinced of the Intentional Heresy, even; that is, that the nine planets are not only hidden in the books, but that Lewis meant to put them there. That they are hidden is part of the plan (the author of the book suggests that Lewis never meant them to be found, but only absorbed unconsciously). You'd have to read the book to get the whole argument; I can't exactly describe in a blurb what he argues in a full book, without making it seem silly. But I think the author does some very excellent work. And his work makes Lewis look like even more of a master at his craft, and his books as even more cohesive and wonderful.
If you are interested (or maybe even if you're not), I'll go into more detail about Ward's ideas of donegality in the Narnia books. I think donegality is my new favourite literary term, if not just plain new favourite word.

7) Today, after cashing my cheque (Woohoo!), I went and bought myself some oatmeal and raisin cookies from the little food vendor in the top of the River City Centre mall. I mentioned them before. These are seriously some of the best oatmeal cookies I have ever had--and if you knew how much I love oatmeal cookies, you'd understand the significance. I told the guy so as I bought them. I have taken to telling people when they provide good service. I did it the other day, too, when I found a place that sold pop for 22c less than any other place I've seen in town.

See the Quick Takes Queen.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

A Moment on Racism

(Alright, so it's well more than a moment.)

I'm going to spoil a story that I some day intend to write by telling you something I heard today. If you really care about not having this story spoiled, I suppose you oughn't read this.

Today during break my co-worker and I were in the galley where we usually take break when the supervisor comes in. We start chatting, and my co-worker, with his usually blithe unconcern for whoever we're having a conversation with, starts telling racist jokes. Not racist in a sort of silly sense that makes fun of racism more than a race, but the sort of joke which actually targets an individual. To his good luck, the supervisor finds it funny. The talk turns to race and to the degree to which affirmative action has gone too far, and my co-worker says something which comes off as more racist than anything anyone has said so far. (Incidentally, I am withholding names on purpose, not that who these people are couldn't be deduced by those in the know; I am not, however, being deliberately vague about what has been said. I actually cannot remember the jokes or the comments I'm alluding to.) The supervisor then said that he has no problem with Indians, Mexicans, etc., but... the most racist he has ever been was after 9/11. He does not trust Moslems. (That's how he pronounced it-- MAWS-lems.) Then he adds, "Not after what I've seen."

This struck an odd cord in me; what had he seen? Later on in the conversation he told us what he had seen to make his opinion of Muslim people change.

There was some preamble, but the brunt of the story is this: in the afternoon of September 11th, 2001, the streets of Fort McMurray were dead. He, knowing full well what the events of the morning were, happened to drive by the local mosque on an errand for his friend. Along the street next to the mosque, a half-dozen or so cabs were parked (as in many multicultural locations, taxis are often driven by people of some visible minority; I'm not sure why, come to think of it). In the soccer/picnic/recreation field behind the mosque were a half a dozen people, dressed in traditional Muslim clothing.

And they were celebrating.

Dancing, kissing, hugging, shaking one another's hands, pumping the air. Celebrating.

My supervisor told other anecdotal things afterwards which did not pertain much to the story or his feeling so much as allow him to vent some frustrations. His story is not actually what I am blogging about. I am more blogging about my reactions. At first I was skeptical that anything he saw that day would really be all that bad. His concerns about the events of the morning were colouring how he saw things for that afternoon. When I heard what he had seen, though, I was horrified. That there are people, living among us (that seems to be what angered him most), who would celebrate the deaths of thousands of presumably innocent people, is truly sickening. Of course, they may not have viewed these people as innocent...but in that case, who else do they think worthy of violent death? What are they celebrating?

Of course my supposedly rational, university trained, liberally biased, PC mechanism in my brain kicked in right away and said that what he saw was no reason to distrust all Muslim people. The rest of my brain agreed immediately. What I did feel, though, is an added sympathy toward someone who does harbour these feelings. I, after all, did not actually see people celebrating the deaths of people who could have including myself, or my loved ones. I was not in a moment of cultural shock and then witness to the depths of human depravity. Presumably particular chemical emotions flooded my supervisor's brain which are not flooding and have not flooded mine. I have not met a single Muslim person who was in any way hostile or unfriendly to me. Indeed, my interactions with Muslim people have been more uniformly positive than with almost any other religious or ethnic group, barring only Buddhists. My response to the Ontario Science Centre having a Muslim science exhibit thrilled me. I'm about as pro-Muslim as a normative Christocentric Christian can be (if you care what normative Christocentric salvation theory is, ask me). So of course I will respond with a sort of anti-racist response to his story... and recognition of the fact that my political correctness is, in this case at least, a knee-jerk response allows me to also recognise that if I were brought up in a different generation and saw different things, it wouldn't be. If I were in his shoes, I hope that I would not allow my experiences to negatively taint my perceptions of Muslim people; I hope this, but I know I would have to at the least fight myself to attain this fairness. I grew up pretty colour-blind, but that's easy to do when you can count all the non-white kids in your elementary school on one hand and you know them all by name. Going and putting it in practise in the multi-ethnic world can be harder if this is your situation, and having to deal with a mass of people who were all Muslim and who were all defined primarly by hatred in my mind would not be condusive to loving everyone equally.

To cut the rambling, I mean to say that, while I do not believe my supervisor is justified in mistrusting all Muslim people because of what he saw, I can approach understanding how he might respond that way. On the one hand this makes him fundamentally more human to me, which is important to me both as an author-aspiring and as a Christian. On the other hand, realizing I work with racists makes me uncomfortable, and the thin line between political correctness and bigotry is scary in itself.

As is, by the way, the fact that eight years ago there were at least two dozen people who were overjoyed by the news that terrorists had killed thousands of Americans--and these people lived here in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Home of the oil fields and largest distributer of oil to North America. One of the highest Canadian targets of terrorist attack. (I have heard that the 'sands and the bridge in town are on North America's top ten, but I'm not sure how true that is.)

Question: How does one love these people? How?

Tentative answer: Try to sympathize with them the way I sympathized with my supervisor?

(I had another rant to post today, but I forget what it is. Sorry. Was it something literary-theory-ish? I'm not sure.)

(I am labelling this with "hope" not because I feel hopeful, but because I need it.)

Sunday, 19 July 2009

The Weekend, Briefly

My legs are tired.

This basic fact leads me to consider that my job does not tax me physically. Most of the time I am not even standing any more. I sit at a table or a desk in whatever room I am processing. I must climb ladders and stairs to get from one boat to another, but this is not quite the same as walking around all day (as I did last summer) or standing all day (as I did in highschool summers and my first job here). No, I sit most of the time. Which perhaps makes days like today a bit more tiring. Or maybe it doesn't at all. Maybe days like today would always be tiring and I'd just be tired more often.

Today my brother and I did a lot of walking. We walked over to the apartment, because last night my brother had a flat and he was forced to park in the apartment space as he drove by. So moving became suddenly more difficult. We walked over. As he fiddled with the spare tire, which had become seized into place, I climbed up the stairs and started dismantling the bunkbed. This took a few hours. In fact, after a few hours we came home, had lunch, and then returned so I could finish it and Nick could fight with the tire some more.

I enjoyed taking the bed apart. First, it was real, honest work that I wasn't getting paid for. Whenever I wind up doing this, it makes me somewhat happy. Second, I got to play with power tools. The only way the joy of power tools would go away would be through injury or habituation. So far, I have avoided both. Third, I got to try to figure out how to disassemble something. It wasn't difficult (otherwise I'd enjoy it less), but it did take a little thinking sometimes. I had to do it all in the right order, see, and often had to do something which would be easy for two people by myself. So it wasn't bad. It just required standing up for a few hours straight, which I haven't done much this summer. Also, I walked and climbed a few stairs. Geez, I need to exercise more. I don't get nearly enough at work these days.

We also moved some stuff around in the apartment, too.

In other news...

I got some books from the library: a L'Engle book and some rather recent literary theory concerning Lewis' "Narniad" (as the author insists on calling it). I have way too many books out already, since I still have The Last Battle, since my brother's still picking away at it, a book of short stories by Thomas King that I've hardly dipped into, and a book about the science-religion interface, which I'm having trouble really engaging in.

I sat my brother down to watch Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium.

That is maybe it. More happened, I am sure, but I can't think of what. I had no epiphanies, nor can I think of any interesting news that I came across. Sorry.

Oh, wait. My brother and I did talk a bit about sin and morality. There might have been something there. I recalled that a prof I had once had said that, if Pascal Boyer is right and morality is biologically wired into us (ie. we have evolved to have some moral sense because groups who were 'moral' were selected for), then laws are unnecessary. Educating people to act according to these morals should be sufficient; it is, in fact, the laws and structures which drive us to be immoral. My concern with this is that Pascal himself, nor any 'evolutionary moralist,' would not claim that morality as we understand it is wired into us. A moral sense is, but not one that we might like. Our instinctive moral sense is fiercely xenophobic (or at least xen-apathetic). Selling armaments to someone overseas will not trip nearly as many instictive alarms as shoplifting, even though most philosophical moral systems would say it's worse. (We did talk, though, about how most forms of Christianity would state that no sin is worse than another, and I believe this generally. That has no bearing on the laws, though.) What this means is that people are far more likely to refrain from stealing even if there were no laws about it than they would be to refrain from selling arms, and yet the latter would be far more costly to society.
See, as I understand it, morality and law are more cousins than siblings--and they may not be first cousins, even. One has to do with cosmic truths and personal decisions, requiring it to be both all-encompassing and remarkably supple. The other has to do with streamlining a particular society at a particular time, requiring it to be fussy and particular, but not necessarily flexible, since it can be altered if need be. The law does not uphold morality. It cannot. The law ensures (or ought to ensure) that society runs in such a way that it doesn't self-destruct and that we are free to do the right thing morally. Of course, morals come into play when we construct the law. They must, because morals must govern our decisions and we must decide on our laws. But laws are not regulative encodements our morality. They are safeguards against societal chaos, and no more. Morals are safeguards against societal chaos, but also much more.

Anyway, if we relied only on our instictive morality (as opposed to true, cosmic morality), society would fall apart. So we need laws to protect society.

Well, that's it for me. I hope you all had good weekend.

Friday, 17 July 2009

7 Quick Takes (I)

Over at Conversion Diary, Jennifer Fulwiler does 7 Quick Takes on Fridays. I'm not promising I'll keep this up, but here's one for now (since stuff's happening).

1) We've moved. My Dad, brother, and I used to live in an apartment; now we live in a duplex a few blocks away. It means slightly earlier buses to get to work on time, but also less time to the grocery store (Safeway is literally across the street), less walking time coming home from the bus stop, and far fewer stairs. While the place still looks post-move (boxes, ad hoc furniture, disorder), it's getting more together as the days go by. There's still some stuff in the apartment, but not much: it looks more like some rooms with random stuff in the corners or boxes on the floor and not like somewhere someone has recently lived.
As you may know, in a few weeks time my mother and dog will be coming to join us out here.

2) I am getting to know a co-worker. By "a co-worker," I of course mean, "my only consistent co-worker." He is not someone I am used to socializing with. For instance, he is somewhat racist. This does not make him remotely out of place in Fort McMurray, nor does it make him out of place in the Maritime population of Fort McMurray. If you want to get on here, you just learn to deal with racism. It's not manifested in discrimination (that I've seen) so much as implicitly attributing a person's behaviour to their ethnicity/nationality. For instance, "That f**king Somalian just cut me off!" This is true of many people here. But back to my coworker. He also likes to talk a lot about music (about which I know too little to follow what he says) and events that take place in the bathroom (about which I have no interest whatsoever) and combat sports (about which I know too little to follow what he says) and movies and TV shows I haven't seen. However, we are on the same page when discussing animal behaviour, movies and TV shows I have seen, and (to some extent) theology. I'm not 100% on Calvinism or the difference between Calvinists and Armenians in the churches he attends, but I get the drift.
Virtually every workplace interaction is with the supervisor, who I don't find opens up much, except in anger (not at me, at people who aren't around), and with this co-worker. Whether I like him or not isn't something I've decided for myself, or even thought about. I don't think I can decide that in this circumstance. The case is simply that I'm getting to know him.

3) I am thinking that if I ever write something in the vein of the Narnia books, I want to include talking dinosaurs.

4) My father got my brother the movie Dragon Hunters for his birthday. It's made by a European studio, but is in English. Don't be surprised if you've never heard of it. Anyway, last night we watched this Dragon Hunters movie. I enjoyed it. The story is intriguing enough not to disappoint, but the true strength of the film is in its layout and environments. The character animation may have been a bit sub-par, but the backgrounds and the world concept were breath-taking. I think it was a solid movie, and I'd suggest you watch it--if you can find it.

5) While work is getting mind-numbing, I have increasingly found interest in the Nomenclaturcon. I have no idea why I am getting so fascinated by these lists of categorized objects. Perhaps it is a boredom-induced hypnosis. I want to write books where the title is the category and the chapters are all titled as objects from these lists. Ceremonial Artifact would be one novel, with chapter titles like "POLE, TOTEM" and "PYX" and "FONT, BAPTISMAL" and "BAG, TRICK-OR-TREAT." Protective and Regulative would have the chapters "BALLOT" and "NOOSE, HANGMAN'S" and "ALARM, SMOKE" and "BELT, CHASTITY" and "HANDCUFFS." I don't even want to think about Chemical Tools and Equipment. Half of those things sound like they come from an episode of Buck Rogers. Anyway, I feel vaguely like I'm in Gertrude Stein's worst nightmare: lists of objects she can't contort, but just stare with their naked, uninterpreted identities.

6) I had to dispose of some pornography today (speaking of naked identities). We found some on the boats, and I finally got around to asking the curator what I should do with it. On the one hand, there's the question of whether or not we should keep it or make it disappear. And if we do decide to keep it, there's the other hand, which is whether or not it's archives or artifact. If it counts as archives, then I send it off to a bunch of people who will be far more embarassed and offended by it than I will be. If it's an artifact, than I have to accession it. Well, I likely would never have to accession it. It's on the D250, in the cabins, and I may not ever get that far. But anyway, as we were discussing how I was to deal with assorted things I came across (post-it notes with tallies scribbled on them, cobbled-together operation manuals, etc.) I said to the curator, "I have a somewhat awkward question. What do I do with pornography?" Thankfully she didn't take that question out of context. She wasn't sure, so she promised to ask the executive director about that (I hadn't really wanted to ask the exec director or the archivists myself, as they're maybe more likely to be awkward about it than the curator would be).
Anyway, the word came down that I was to dispose of them. So that's done. It's just that it seems very weird to me. I had to handle pornography both in the variety store where I worked and at Roger's video, and it has never affected me. I have never responded with lust--at least not to these images--and it's getting to the point where I'm no longer disgusted or curious. It just seems very odd to me, that people desire looking at pornography. This likely makes me the odd one, though, at least among guys.
Anyway, I thought it was an interesting question: what do we do with pornography, at a museum? We can't display it, so is there any point in keeping it? Unless it was locally produced or featured an article about a person who lived in the area, it would be an artifact, not archives, so it's not even like it would be available for future research purposes. But it is part of our society, and future history. What do we do? Apparently, we make it disappear. My co-worker was then prompted to ask what other parts of history just conveniently 'disappear' in the same way that this part did. Which means, actually, that I took part in white-washing history. Huh.

7) There was a fire down the road from where I work. There's this trailer park along the river which is a disaster area. It's Fort McMurray's third world. The place has been condemned for months, but the tenants threw up a fit and got their notice extended by a few more weeks, so they can find places to live. The problem is that no one in that trailer park can likely afford anything else, so they'll never find another place to live. But the municipality cannot allow this trailer park to remain--it's a hazard. The place is literally falling apart. Across the front of one trailer is graffiti'd "The end is near", and under that, "here." Every trailer has at least one pile of garbage leaning against it, and that pile consists entirely of pieces of the trailer it is up against. It's a mess.
Anyway, my coworker came up to the wheelhouse where I'm currently sequestered to tell me to look out the window and call 911 (his phone died). There was a huge plume of smoke coming up from the trailer park. So I called and was put on hold. Of course tons of other people were also calling about the fire.
And then, later in the day, as we were headed to Heritage Park for payroll stuff, another plume of smoke rose from roughly the same area. I have to wonder where it was from.

So that's my Quick 7. Not so quick after all, I suppose.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Probable Silence

We are moving over the next few days, so I likely will not post until Thursday or later. Well, I often go almost a week without posting; I won't be publishing or reading comments in that time either, though.

Also, according to ClusterMaps, more people look at my blog in Toronto than in Fort McMurray...that means more people log onto to read my blog than I log on to update. That makes me happy.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Word, Awesome

I found an excellent word in the Nomenclaturcon. It is "sphygmomanometer." As I figure it, it's pronounced "sfig-mo-man-o-meet-er." I have no idea what it is. I could Wikipedia it, but that would surely lead to disappointment. It's unlikely that anything could exist which is as amusing as I find this word.

Also, I found this: "Chronograph, solar----use, SUNDIAL." Who sees a sundial and thinks, "That's a solar chronograph." Not even I would think that. Seriously.

Oooo! I found a flare gun (and flares) and work today! It's tres cool.


Edit: I looked at Wikipedia anyway. A sphygmomanometer is a blood pressure reader. The ones with the cuff that they use at the doctor's or the ones with the tube you use at the pharmacy.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Relationships in Joss Whedon's Media

Thanks to a shared directorship, I'll be able to combine two disparate discussions of media into one post!

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

It's "My Eyes," an oft-misnamed duet between Neil Patrick Harris' Billy/Dr. Horrible and Felicia Day's Penny. What fascinates me about this song, beyond my unfortunate inclination to narratives which include characters like Billy, is it's conflation of the personal and professional/ideological lives.

Billy sings of his frustrations with society and his pessimism about the problems ever resolving. He believes that the only way the world will ever be righted is if he becomes a terrorist and, through anarchy and the disruption of the status quo, comes to rule the world. Earlier he says, "The world's a mess and I just need to rule it." OK, so it's a bit overwrought, but he's an evil super-genuis with his own musical blog. What do you expect? The point is, his half of the song is lyrically about the disintegration of the world and how his frustration with it results in his increasing desire for control and his increasing ruthlessness.

Penny sings of her hope. She also sees the blemishes on the face of society: she sees (from personal experience, as she indicates later in "Penny's Song") how their city is broken and how the powerless are left unaided by the majority, who simply don't care. And yet, despite her own failures and despite the community of the lost among whom she now works, she is hopeful. She thinks she sees the possibility of good returning to the world. She thinks she sees the possibility for "some kind of harmony." This makes her happy, blissful, ecstatic.

While the video does to some extent underscore these differing views, what it primarily shows is a different source for their emotions: Penny's blooming relationship with Captain Hammer and Billy's resultant marginalization. As Billy sings of despair he is in the dark among the poor, yes, and as Penny sings of hope she is in a soup kitchen filled with caring people. But Billy is also looking in on the girl of his dreams as she dates his arch-nemesis, and Penny is with a man who is obviously interested in her romantically. Billy may say that he frustrated and increasinly "evil" because of the horrors of the modern world, but he sings "I cannot believe my eyes" while he's looking at Penny and Hammer dating. Penny may say that she is joyous about the possibility for redemption among the homeless, but she sings "I cannot believe my eyes" while she's looking at a man who is interested in her. The video emphasizes something totally different from the lyrics: their emotions are not solely a response to the social/political situation, but to their different inter-personal situations.

This conflation or conflict between personal and professional problems comes to a head in Billy's song "A New Day," where he thinks he finds a solution which simultaneously solve both his failure at love and his failure to enter the League. If you've seen the show's ending, I don't think I need to tell you how the theme of personal and professional lives resolves at the climax. if you haven't...get on it.

The fact that I get how Billy feels helps me enjoy it, too. There definitely was a time in which personal suffering, jealousy, and the desire for revenge were strong in me. I dealt with them differently than Billy, though, and think I am a better person for it.

Jon, this is for you: I think Morrison would have been interested in this dynamic in Dr. Horrible.

One rarely-discussed relationship on the TV series Firefly is that between Jayne Cobb and Shepherd Book. It's not one you would predict and doesn't often build into the plot much, so I haven't seen much chatter on IMDB or blogs or whatnot, and haven't discussed it much with friends. But it's an interesting one nonetheless.

Jayne Cobb is a tough and crude mercenary whose interests tend to stick to sex, violence, body-building, alcohol, money, and making fun of people he doesn't like. Shepherd Book is a quiet and philosophical missionary whose interests include, but are not restricted to, the human condition and soul, other people's problems, the benefits and faith, and gardening. You wouldn't peg them as buddies, but something about the two of them works. I think it's the frankness.

Jayne is the one who asks difficult and awkward questions of anyone, and while he might be asking it because he thinks it's funny to make you awkward, he also genuinely wants to know the answer (reminds me of some people I know). Book, like any good preacher, is willing to take the tough and awkward questions and answer them honestly. So there's the scene where the two of them are working on supper and Jayne's asking potentially embarassing questions about Book's sexuality--which Book answers with at least outward good humour.

Jayne's willingness to state his opinion and his straight-ahead practicality/physicality which cause him to make some philosophical claims which at first seem silly and confusing. Much of the time that's because it is simply idiocy he's spouting, but occasionally there's a nugget of truth to it. Book (again, like any good preacher) has a knack for finding that nugget of truth. Those simple but overlooked truths are sometimes very deeply hidden in what Jayne says, and, when they are there, Book finds them. So there's a scene where they discuss different people's reactions to death. Jayne is no more insensitive than ever, but Book makes do with what he gets and finds something profound anyway.

Then there's Book's past. The good Shepherd has some shady skills and knowledge in the weapons-use and criminal-endeavour department. Jayne's pointed questions often dig into this. It's frequently the outspoken mercenary who makes references to Book's mysteriousness: "One o' these days you're gonna tell us how a shepherd knows so much about crime."

Finally, they share an interest in body-building and doing physical labour. Perhaps they have different reasons for pursuing these activities, but I suspect much of it is the sheer pleasure in working your body (one I don't tap into enough, I'm afraid). This gives them an obvious activity and location to gravitate towards and build their relationship.

It's an interesting dynamic, I think, that indicates the screenwriter's interest in developing real characters. Sometimes it's difficult to see Jayne as anything but a cookie cut-out of a person, but moments like this indicate that there is something more going on inside that some what Neanderthalic skull of his. This somewhat dovetails with Whedon's ambiguous portrayal of religion and religiosity (at times Book is an excellent shepherd; at others, he's harldy a shepherd at all), but that's not something I'll get into right now. Also, it has a take-home message: sometimes you'll find friends in unlikely places and under unlikely faces.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Last Battle, Quantum of Solace, and Hair

I got The Last Battle from the library today. I also just finished reading it.

I know I had said that I would wait to get my hands on Prince Caspian and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe before starting the final of the series, but I am beginning to suspect that the library's collection is incomplete. There were no books there that I hadn't read recently, so picked up The Last Battle anyway.

Those books are way better when you're older. I had no idea. I won't try to spoil too much, but so much about that book was excellent. People have accused Lewis of anti-Semitism (Philip Pullman says he's "blatantly racist") and I can see that in this book. I must constantly remind people, though, that Lewis was writing from his time period. Lewis' treatment of particular Calormenes (if you've read and can recall The Last Battle, I'm thinking of Emeth here, among others) I think indicates that his understanding of Middle Eastern peoples was perhaps more liberal than some give him credit for, especially considering the culture Lewis came from.

Anyway, I would like to put parts of it on here, but, again, I don't want to spoil it for anyone. I think this one will be cinematic gold, though.

Oh, one final point (that is a bit of a spoiler, and likely full of Christianese; skip this paragraph if you like), relating to what Yolanda said in an earlier comment: I'm not sure how lost Susan is. At least, it seems to me that she might yet have a chance at redemption in England, if not Narnia. If you're out-right predestinationist (is that a word?), then you'll note that Susan has been to Narnia in the first place, so I am fairly sure she was called and therefore saved. If you do concede some sort of free will (or full-fledged free will), then she still has time to save herself, since England hasn't ended yet. In which case, I don't think Susan is utterly lost. She's a warning, though.

Anyway, I am really thinking of trying to see if I can get the whole collection somewhere. It would be worth it.

One can also borrow movies from the library, though only for a week. I borrowed Quantum of Solace and watched it today. Re-watching it indicated to me one of the things I liked about that movie. What I liked is that Bond had a chance to redeem himself, and took it. It gave at least a token concern to Bond as a character. As someone who's seen Bond as a legendary fiction since childhood--iconic on the level of Indiana Jones or Sherlock Holmes--this sort of thing deeply fascinates me. On second watching, I also still find the plot quite easy to follow. I'm not sure where people are getting confused. Perhaps it's a lack of familiarity with how plot moves in a 007 movie?

I got a haircut today. I'm not so sure I like it. It's a bit too long in the front.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Media-Related Tangent, Work Today, and Homeless Folks

First, quickly: I find this post on the use of new genres (specifically, Twitter) to extend narratives. I don't watch Mad Men, but I still find this interesting.

Actually, wait. This is worth a tangent. OK. I am sometimes annoyed and sometimes intrigued by what I think of as "supplimentary media" to movies, TV shows, etc. For instance, if I Twittered, I think I could follow Marten, Faye, Dora, and (most certainly) Hannelore. I would like to read more from Yelling About Music, but last I checked it had two posts from over a year ago. If I watched more TV and the characters had a blog, I'd read it. That seems cool to me. I'd love to see what Wanda or Brent from Corner Gas would blog about.

Further, I do like wikis based around fiction I watch/read. For instance, I don't know how much time I've wasted on the Narnia wiki or the Middle-Earth wiki when I was supposed to be studying or writing an essay. (Though it's funny to note that I'm rarely so much as inclined to go to those sites when I have nothing to procrastinate.) And I spent an inordinate amount of time reading a wiki for a series of graphic novels which don't exist.

I mean, I started making a blog-retelling of As You Like It. Obviously I like this stuff.

But, on the other hand, I tend to very much dislike it when these things become spoilers. That is, when we watched Cloverfield, Jon may remember that Teddy regaled us with stories and explanations about the monster's origin etc. and its connection to some fictional brand of newfangled beverage. What I disliked about this was that it utterly destroyed one of the most important parts of the movie: that you didn't know anything about the monster. What made it so terrifying (the monster, not the movie) was that it was alien. No one knew how to deal with it because no one knew what it was. Unless you read up on the on-line hype. Unless you followed fake news broadcasts and watched advertisements for the said newfangled beverage. Then you knew.

So what, you ask, is the problem with that? For those who are curious, the information is available; for those who prefer not knowing, it's not in the movie. Here, my friends, is the problem: people need to learn to deal with not knowing. This obsession with omniscience through science/scholarship/gossip/data collection is annoying and verging deeply into being unethical. This movie was an excellent step forward in it's deliberate holding back of critical information. It's a monster movie which doesn't explain where the monster came from, akin to Godzilla and all those zombie flicks. Except for the stupid "supplimentary media."

So, the primary benefits include the ability to create verisimilitude, generate interest, add nuance and more story, and experiment with genre. The primary disadvantage is the possibility of TMI and of overwhemling or distracting from the media itself.

OK, TANGENT OVER. (It's longer than the bulk of the post.)

Today I worked at Heritage Park instead of the Marine Park. I enjoy sometimes being able to go over there. Don't get me wrong: I have no problem with my two coworkers. It's just that it gets a bit . . . isolated. I like being able to work with other people for a while, you know? Also, I like being back in the Park without having to be there full-time.

Interesting thing I discovered yesterday, though. I found an old timesheet for someone working on those boats in a museum-like capacity back in 1999. Apparently, street people set fire to the lawn sometime in April of 1999. Crazy. I understand they were on a different lot back then, but there are nonetheless lots of homeless people moving around the Marine Park where it is now. I realized that for most of the day, the majority of people I see (if not interact with) are either dirt-poor or outright homeless. It's hard to have a heart for the homeless when you meet some of them. I gave a guy change for what I thought was bus fare. I asked him rhetorically (or so I thought), "Need it for the bus?" as I handed him some quarters. And he said, "No, I'm spending it on booze. I'll be honest." I forget what I said in response, but I kind of wanted to ask for the quarters back. I don't mind giving for bus fare; I don't care if you're homeless or not, I won't mind giving you a buck twenty-five for transportation. But I'm not a fan of giving money to supply some drunk with more drink.

I always feel like I have more to say on my blog whenever I do sit down to type, but can't remember it. Or, it doesn't seem important any more. I guess we'll see.

Oh, did I mention we're moving? Early this week. I'm looking forward to it, but it hasn't really sunk in yet. How often have I said that? It never sinks in.

Over and out,

English Clergyman.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Adventures in Accessioning

"Good evening, Accessioner."

This play on the Joker's characteristic line has been running through my head lately. I am accessioning on the CCGS Miskanaw now, which was at first a relief... now I'm not so sure. It's a very slow process, so I'll be in the same room for a very long time. I am certainly worried now that I will not get the boat accessioned in time for the projected public opening of the Miskanaw.

So what is accessioning, I can here you not asking. Well, it's an alchemical process whereby I take any random piece of junk, soak it in a beaker of oils and paperwork, mutter some incantatory numbers, and watch the junk become an artifact.

Or, more accurately, I paint a stripe of clear nail polish on an object, paint a stripe of white-out on top of the nail polish, write a serial number on the white-out and cover that with more nail polish. I then do paperwork describing and categorizing the object that is now labelled. Voila, I have made an artifact. Maybe not alchemy, but it's more fun to think of it that way. Otherwise it's just paperwork.

Also, the Nomenclature book has gaps. For instance, I cannot find anything resembling "POWER BAR" or "BAR, POWER" in there. Does anyone happen to know if there is another name for this object? Also, I have tons of little pieces of paper tacked to a bulletin board which are all under the category DOCUMENTARY ARTIFACT but seem to be lacking an object term. This is somewhat frustrating.


My adventures in the Lovecraftian universe are getting somewhat more interesting. I enjoyed "The Call of Cthulhu" and "The Colour of Outer Space" quite a bit. In these cases, his tendency to be hyperbolic and speak of "unknowable" secrets which will drive a person mad are more appropriate. Necromancy, for instance, doesn't have the same mind-blowing effect of applied non-Euclidean geometry, I think. If you don't believe me, read "The Call of Cthulhu" (at least juxtaposed to "The Festival"). And either I'm getting used to the adjective-compulsion, or he's getting to be a better writer.


Geez, that's about all I've got. What a dull day-to-day existence. Hmm, let's see. The dragonflies seem to be out. Oh! I got some more pictures of a tarsands beetle. They were quite good. I'll put them up on my bugs photo post.

Sunday, 5 July 2009


Do you remember the semi-colon post? I made a wordcloud of it on Wordle, which looks like this: Wordle: semicolon My brother pointed that the words are all slightly off horizontal. But, as it turns out, they aren't. They are perfectly horizontal. It's an optical illusion. Cool, eh?

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Lewis, Samuel, and the Nomenclaturcon

"This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very long important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our own world and the land of Narnia first began.
"In those days, Mr. Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street, and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road. In those days, if you were a boy you had to wear a stiff Eton collar every day, and schools were usually nastier than now. But meals were nicer; and as for sweets, I won't tell you how cheap and good they were, because it would only make your mouth water in vain. And in those days, there lived in London a girl called Polly Plummer."

So begins The Magician's Nephew, which I have taken out from the Fort McMurray Public Library. In the same trip I returned The Silver Chair. There do not appear to be all of the Narnia books in the library; either that, or they are so popular that not all of them are ever in at the same time. Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Last Battle were also there. I have read Voyage most recently of all of them, and in fact own a copy, so I didn't take it out. I am also waiting to have read all of them before reading The Last Battle, as it is the ultimate work. I want to work through them all, though, before reading any of the critical literature offered in the library: there is are three books, including the atheistical one subtitled "The Skeptic's Guide to Narnia," as well as the somewhat dubious criticism of Planet Narnia. I intend to read them all, though.

Once I have depleted the library's resources on Lewis, I will see what they have for Lloyd Alexander.


Well, I want to write something marvellous, as you all know, but haven't the guidedness of Jon Wong, nor the--what, insistence?--of Cait's project. This is an issue, obviously. I do not lack ideas so much as I lack ideas which interest me for any period of time. What fascinates me most daunts me most in execution. Also, I lack the time here in Fort McMurray for sustained creative endeavours. I work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, plus an hour and a half to two hours travel time, as well as either cooking supper and washing dishes each night. I am also the primary grocery-shopper for the current household. Once you calculate in eating, sleeping, Bible readings, etc., I have very little time to write, and what time I do have is often lost because someone else is using the computer or I am simply too lethargic or restless after a day's work and evening's supper-prep to try. So even if I am enthused about writing something, I can't get involved in it enough to have a sort of sticking power. It dies in the infant stage.

Of course there are weekends, but I find these don't work well for writing either: I build up so much pressure to write on the weekends, but then don't have time to anyway because I have to wash the dishes from the night before and run errands and do laundry and buy groceries and cook supper, all on one day. Even if I have an hour or two throughout the day during which I could write something, I feel so much stress about having to write something and having to enjoy my day off in prep for a week's worth upcoming that I feel too wretched to get anything done anyway.

So instead of worrying about it, I'm going to read imaginative fiction that I enjoyed in the past but that I don't particularly desire to copy, like the Narnia books or the Taran books. I don't see how I'm going to get out of this trap that I'm in, but I must push on anyway.

Well, it's one of those weekends I spoke of just now. The dishes are mouldering in the kitchen, so I ought to go do them soon. And then I need to buy groceries for supper. I will start cooking supper at 5:00 or so. Say I am back from grocery shopping by 3:00. Provided that Nick doesn't come home, that will give me roughly two hours in which I do have time to write if I can drive myself to do so. Alright. That is a plan, perhaps. But 3:00 might be optimistic, and I know I'll be sore tempted to play a computer game instead of writing.


I am currently reading from the Old Testament. That is an area I generally feel weak in, so I am giving it a quick run: roughly four chapters a day. I began in Joshua, and am now in 1 Samuel, having gone straight through Judges and Ruth.

One thing that strikes me about it (and my coworker Josh mentioned this as well) is how much of Judges could be made into a movie. Samuel also seems possible so far as well. The number of battles and speeches and political affairs is fascinating. The Bhagavad-Gita (a Hindu sacred text) has been made into Bollywood-style soap operas and is rerun daily in India; illiterate Hindus now have access to one of their texts through this medium, congregated daily in whichever village home has television access to watch their religious-cultural epic. The Old Testament (I man all of it, not just the Veggie Tales and time traveler "highlights") could also be adapted to such a model, it seems to me. Perhaps Biblical literacy would improve if this were done. It would be no adequate replacement for the textual version, of course, but it's something to think about.

I am having trouble in interpretation, though. I struggle to understand what I am supposed to get out of land divisions, for instance. I read them all, but I didn't really feel like I gained much insight. Also, it is difficult to not feel somewhat concerned by the massive genocides the Israelites committed. Wholesale slaughter tends to go against modern ethical norms: I frequently find myself asking (as I have before) how killing everyone in this village could be the will of God. I remind myself that complete understanding is impossible and that I oughtn't worry over it, but it still gnaws at me whenever I read these parts.


I am going to accession in the boats at the Marine Park after all. I now have myself a nice new (well, OK, used) Nomenclature book, which I often call the Nomeclaturcon or the Gnomenclature book. It feels like one of those magical books in a LeGuin novel, which contains the true name of everything in the world.

In actuality, the book contains the name and category of every object the Nomenclature Committee though a curator was likely to come across. When you accession an item, you must choose a name and category from the book. This makes things consistent across museums, easing loans and allowing new curators to go through their precedent's files without confusion. What you see when you open the book, though, is simple a list of names of objects. Hence the LeGuin reference.


Well, off to the dishes, I suppose.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

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