Friday, 26 August 2011

7 Quick Takes

1. I've been moving the last couple of days (and will still be in the midst of getting my stuff together in the coming days). If you've been noticing a marked absence in posting, this is partly why. I'm moving from a basement suite into an apartment of my own. This will be the first time I'll have my own place, no roommates, no housemates, no shared accom.

2. I have purchased and played Portal. I realize that I'm at least a half-decade behind on this, but I'm happy I finally did get caught up. I very much enjoyed it. Part of what interests me about it is that the game is (relatively) non-violent, at least in so far as you get shot at but you don't do any shooting. It's puzzle-based with a simple, stream-lined story. (In this case, I'd say it's simple in a good way.) Also, the gimmick the game is built around--that you can make linked portals on surfaces that you can travel through--is a lot of fun, in that it requires a slight tweak to your regular spacial reasoning.

And speaking of computer games, I think you might want to look at this trailer. The genre is squarely cyberpunk and has all of the conventions of it, but I'm interested in how it indicates a change in how computer games are marketed. I've fallen out of that world for a little while and I don't want to make unfair generalizations, but story and theme seem increasingly valued. Maybe Tycho at Penny Arcade exaggerates a little in his assessment of how philosophical this product is, but I think we are headed somewhere where his panygeric is not an exaggeration. (Though, given his writing style, I imagine he would up the ante as well and continue to overstate.) (And maybe he doesn't exaggerate. I've never played the game. And I may have unrealistically high expecations for theoretical questioning, since that is what my career seems to be right now.)

3. I visited a Buddhist temple. Not with the intent of converting, mind you, but of just looking and learning and (hopefully) taking photographs. However, no one there at the time was especially fluent in English, so my ability to learn things was a bit hampered by this (combined with my own lack of Mandarin, of course) and by the fact that I didn't really have any questions prepared, since I knew almost nothing about that temple before I visited. (I was lucky enough to see Pure Land displayed prominently somewhere, and to remember a little bit about the Pure Land sect from my RELS minor in undergrad.)

I was only allowed to take photographs of the exterior, but that's still pretty cool. The property is very beautiful, the interior more than the exterior, I think.

4. I have been going to David's Tea fairly often, equipping myself and my new crib, and trying new teas. I'm still a novice at this whole tea-drinking thing, and I've been meaning to find some new black teas--no fruit, no spices, no flowers--for first thing in the morning. I like the fancier teas later in the day, but first thing in the morning I like a straight black tea. Also, I got a kettle and a travel mug (with a built-in French press! what luxury!) that is wide enough for me to get my hand in to clean the bottom. This is always a problem for me with travel mugs.

Anyway, I like David's Tea because the staff are so extraordinarily friendly and helpful and chatty, and I am learning a lot about teas. Whenever I go in requesting one kind of tea, they show me others I might like based on that (and when I go back to try one of those, they show me more...).

5. At church I have been performing new liturgical roles. I am now trained to do pretty

much everything, liturgically speaking, with the exception of those things the priest does (of course). I imagine it's somewhat unorthodox for me to be doing them--I'm not even a diaconal assistant--but "somewhat unorthodox" is our modus operandi. However, as much as I am "good" at liturgy, I am increasingly reminded that no one is good at something they first start. I fumble as much as I did when I started being a server, and unfortunately those fumbles are bigger now. Still, everyone is quite nice about it.

6. I was reading Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet, which is very important and theoretically originary queer literary theory/queer theory without the literary, since Sedgwick is somewhat lauded for her ability to make bridges from text to politics/practice, a move that's difficult, controversial, and otherwise fraught. However, even though I enjoyed it a lot, I found that I stalled entirely at the beginning of the final chapter and simply haven't finished it. I need to move on. I've been trying to work with Precarious Life ("how mourning and violence might [...] inspire solidarity and a quest for global justice"), but I may need to read something lighter, at least until I'm finished moving. (I did want to finish it before classes began, though.)

7. For the last few weeks, we have had only one day of rain. The grass is dying here. This is so unlike Vancouver. It has also been less than excellent for purposes of photography, though I am finding that I can get some beautiful pictures of flowers in bright sunlight, even though it's usually the case that slightly overcast is all-around better for floral photography. If you can avoid the sunflares and the terribly inconsistent light levels, though, bold sunlight makes for bold colours.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Reasons to Have Hope

Browsing through this blog, you might get a sense that one of the things I struggle with is a poverty of hope. From time to time TED talks do give me a little bit of hope, but often that hope collapses either because I realize that it's too much optimism and not enough substance, or because I see that it solves one problem and seriously exacerbates another, worse problem, or because the next TED talk I watch seems to think that the solution involves simply fancier technology.

However, from time to time I see ones that, I think, might stick, because they show ways in which social interaction can be rearranged for substantial improvement along lines that are already working in other areas. The following three talks are excellent examples I've recently encountered.

The first two are both by Rory Sutherland, an ad man whose ideas really need to be taken up by advocacy and activism groups. (Talks 1 and 2) His big thing is that if we want to lose some of our materialist culture, we need to develop new senses of value, something that the advertising industry is expert at creating. In the second talk, he discusses how we're biased towards costly solutions when minor solutions are sometimes just as powerful.
The third is by Jane McGonigal, a video game designer who is working on harnessing the problem-solving skills of our young gamers for real-world problems. (Here's the link.) She discusses the difference between problem-solving in MMOs and the sort of problem-solving attitudes those same people have in real life, and also discusses how gamers have actual skills that non-gamers do not have. They are experts at those skills, and we need them.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Another Account of My Absence

G'day, all.

Welcome, if you're here from Unequally Yoked, where the guest post I wrote is now up. To be honest, I'm fairly sure I've made an embarassment of myself, but I suppose we'll have to wait and see what the response is. If you look through some recent posts, you'll see I've provided further positioning about religion in preparation for your arrival. I hope it's helpful or enlightening.

That guest post has reminded me that I haven't done a 7 Quick Takes in a little while, and those spare regular readers I have might be as interested in what's happening in my life more than in my theology/philosophy. (You know, friends and family.) So I figure I should give a run-down of what's been going on in (unusually) sunny Van. However, as it is not a Friday, I feel hesistant about actually writing a 7 Quick Takes today. I'm a genre nerd, after all. However, I will maintain the numbered and bolded list format. Hopefully it will be less of a sprawl that way, but, well, most of what I do resembles sprawling in one way or another, so don't get your hopes up.

1. Part of my absence has been related to Netflix, so I'll start with that. I watched a movie a while back that I would like to recommend called Arranged. Rochel and Nasiri (Orthodox Jewish and Muslim respectively) both start jobs at an elementary school, where the students and staff all assume that they could not get along. Ironically, it is this assumption that causes them to become friends and, together, approach their up-coming arranged marriages and their principal's attempts to "liberate" them. This is an excellent movie, one well worth watching. It has much to recommend it, but most of all it manages to show the downsides of controlling parents while still affirming traditional lifestyles. In particular, Rochel's experience at a contemporary party reflected my own experiences.

I might also recommend 7 Khoom Maaf (Seven Sins Forgiven), a Bollywood film about Susanna Anna-Marie Johannes, an Indian woman who tends to choose the wrong men and, after wedding them, murder them. It's actually a very good film about a very broken woman who seems propelled despite herself on a path of love and violence. A particular scene I found interesting involved two anatomically atypical men engaged in a fight (the pre-arranged sort, in a ring, with spectators) in which neither the spectators nor the camera saw them as anything but competent, dangerous combatants. Their anatomies/abilities aren't ever mentioned.

I have watched a lot more than this (X-Men, the final Harry Potter, Captain America, Cowboys and Aliens, The Rite, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, seasons 2-3 of Heroes), but these are the ones that seem to me worth mentioning.

2. I went to No. 5 Road in Richmond and took photos. No. 5 Road is known for the sheer number of churches, temples, mosques, gurdwaras positioned along it. It has the nickname "The Highway to Heaven" (which isn't really fair, I don't think, to those groups who don't have a concept of heaven). However, because the buildings are recessed on their properties, I didn't get as many nice photos as I would have liked. As a result of this, though, I have started a photo series I am calling The Architecture of Belief, adding to it photos of any house of worship I photograph. I'll add some of those here.
Since then, I have also visited a few labyrinths to photograph, including an abandoned one.

3. I've recently become aware of Gene Robinson and David Somerville. The latter, actually, I learned about when attending a requiem service for him. Ironic? And the former I stumbled on researching for a previous post, and have since listened to his talks on Youtube. His 2008 Creating Change speech is well worth it. (I'm not a big fan of the introduction, so don't let that turn you off of the speech.) This also marks my opinions rather entirely, I guess.

4. Volunteering at the Crane Production Facility is great. (Recap: I narrate selected texts into a computer program; Crane staff will then take my narration and others' narrations and composite them into an audio book for the text impaired.) I've read all sorts of interesting and challenging things, like Proust (that was ambitious!), the appendices of some book, and parts of David Suzuki's The Sacred Balance, an eco-activist book. Yo, American readers, do you guys know who Suzuki is? He's a big deal in Canada, but it's hard to tell how much the States is aware of our exports.

Anyway, Suzuki's book is interesting and fascinatingly composed (I like that kind of science writing a lot), but I do have one complaint: omitting the serial comma in complex lists is atrocious! It's impossible to read it aloud correctly the first time, since that comma is crucial for signalling that this is a new member you're coming upon and that you need to balance your voice accordingly. I had to re-do I don't know how many sentences due to this. Go Team Serial Comma!

5. I visited the Belkin Art Gallery. The current exhibit is Material Witness. Not all of it was my cup of tea, but I should say that I found Konrad Wendt's Gegenstand brilliant (it's a split log--one half is art, the other is firewood), and I loved Martha Wilson's Orchids.

6. I made revisions to a paper on religion and Asian Canadian identity that might get published at some point. I hate revisions (who doesn't?), but it certainly is a stronger paper for it. A book arrived in the university library between drafts, and the information in that book played a large role in those improvements. Funny how much timing has to do with this sort of thing.

7. I visited the Vancouver Art Gallery. The Surrealist exhibit was less interesting to me (though I found some of the philosophical ideas underpinning Surrealism quite interesting, and I found the cultural influences on it--West Coast culture, natural history museums, Freud, Greek myth--a fascinating blend). I did quite enjoy Ken Lum's work, though: his social criticism is sharp, but also quite fun in a lot of ways. His stuff has a quotidian or pop and low culture feel to it, what with 80s-style portraiture attached to billboard-style logos of the subject's names. He also plays a lot with mirrors, and I found his mirror maze a lot of fun. I'd never been in a mirror maze before.

That afternoon I also visited the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, which is small and out of the way, but worth the visit (if you like Haida art or art theory). I also paid $5 to hold an albino Burmese python named Buttercup and have my picture taken with her. She was a beautiful, heavy, strong animal. The feel of her muscles on my shoulders and neck was wonderful and somewhat disconcerting.

8. I've been apartment-hunting. If all goes well, I'll have a place by the middle of the month, which will give me two weeks to move from one to the other. Fingers crossed.

9. I finally made the trip down to Granville Island to walk around. It's a nice place, though much of its pleasure costs money. There's a lot to look at, though, especially if you are interested in the creation of urban spaces. Much of the area is situated underneath a bridge, so to see how that bridge is used in the definition of vertical space was interesting. There were also lots of wedding photo shoots around when I was visiting.

10. Church stuff: I am being trained for more liturgical responsibilities; specifically, I am being prepared for proto-deacon roles. This is quite unusual (or, you know, unorthodox), as I'm not a deacon or even a diaconal candidate. However, the goal (I think) is to have multiple able to perform all tasks (except the priestly ones, of course) so that liturgical assistants don't need to serve every day. The irony is that I serve almost every week (I haven't had a week without some responsibility since getting back to Vancouver in June), but this might ease off in September, when the other server will be able to come more often.

11. Books. I've not been reading as much as is my wont, but I'll mention Emma and The Epistemology of the Closet. Wikipedia should be able to help you out with both of those, but I'll mention that I found Emma quite slow at the outset and quite engaging at the end, and that I'm quite pleased with Epistemology, especially as the first Axiom that Sedgwick posits is that "People are different from each other." A passing familiarity with my previous posts will indicate how important this idea is to me.

Aaaaaaand I think that should do. There's been letter-writing and MOA-visiting and what have you in there, but I imagine that should satisfy the curiosities of those who care.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin