Friday’s Mixed Nuts: 5 links I care to share


1. I woke-up this morning to a world slightly different than it was when I went to bed. I did not follow the #Brexit referendum until its very last weeks. I watched John Oliver, he seemed to support the “stay” vote. Lately, I have taken an interest in the geo-political history of the First World War and it has made me aware that history unfolds in haphazard ways. In the early weeks of the first World War, many moments presented as forks in the road where the course of history could have gone either way. Our present-day way of life hinges in many ways on split seconds, swing decisions, rolls of dice, made by military and political leaders long before we were born. The Brexit vote was history unfolding itself in its usual, random, way. In that sense, I am curious to see where this most recent turn takes us. I hope to live long enough to see how it will eventually fit in the bigger picture of the rise and fall of Western Civilization. That said, I have enjoyed watching my friends and acquaintances on the progressive left wake-up with a hangover this morning. Progressives have been pretending that the rise of populist nationalism across the world is the realm of a few unenlightened minds. It’s been a fun zinger-fest on Twitter, sharing John Oliver on Facebook, I have enjoyed it tremendously while nationalists everywhere are counting their chips. And Donald Trump, what fun it has been to watch a few unenlightened knuckledraggers propel him this close to the White House. Populist nationalism. It’s a real thing and it’s starting to call some serious shots.

When you get tired of having your opinion handed to you by humorists — who are very funny, don’t get me wrong, but stuff’s about to get real here — you might find this breakdown of Trump supporters interesting.

2. Speaking of getting stuff wrong, I was listening to a podcast interview with star rock climber Alex Honnold where he spoke about fear and assessing risks. It takes someone who lives with life-threatening danger to avoid platitudes about ignoring fear, I liked that. I believe that fear and doubts are important sources of information that should be honoured rather than ignored: there is a darn good reason why you are afraid of swimming with sharks, know what I mean? At some point in the interview, Honnold answers a question about his spirituality and religious beliefs. Raised in a nominal Catholic household, Honnold remembered never believing in any of that stuff. Even now, he added, he is dumbfounded that grown-ups believe in what are essentially fairy tales. When I heard his comment I had to chuckle because whether or not you accept the existence of God, it’s impossible to deny that religious belief has been part of the human experience since, well, the human experience started. Of course, the reality of religious belief does not prove the existence of anything but it takes some gall to overlook how some very intelligent grown-ups — Aquinas, Augustine, Teresa of Avila come to mind — have explained their belief in fairy tales. It’s one thing to know how Christopher Hitchens explains religious belief but the real test of atheism should be to go beyond atheist writers and read how Aquinas explains it too. It would be like saying “That gravity thing — it made no sense to me as a child and now that I am an adult who is thoroughly uneducated in matters of physics, it still makes no sense to me. I can’t understand how anyone believes in that stuff.” Or “I don’t care what Newton and Einstein have written about gravity, I read Aristotle on gravity and he’s pretty smart.”

Imagine my delight later last week upon stumbling on this excellent piece shared by journalist Andrew Coyne via Twitter. We were wrong abut gravity for thousands of years, what might we be wrong about today? It’s a fun question to ask.

3. Speaking of things that change, one of my favorite things to observe in my fellow humans is how quickly those who reject religion build new churches in their lives, whether it’s jogging, nutrition, politics, I’m sure you can come up with a few more if you look around for a hot second. I find that it speaks to a fundamental human need for absolutes, even when the absolute is that there be no absolutes. There is a drive toward moralistic thinking, clear definitions of right and wrong, that is wired-in human nature. This disquisition on food and sex speaks to our changing morality, or as they say “The more it changes, the more it stays the same.”

4. If all this is too much to bear, I strongly recommend knitting something. Knitting something is always a good bet. This Tulip Tank Top by Purl Soho hit all my buttons until I tried to order the Euroflax yarn required for this pattern. At $26 a skein, requiring 3-4 skeins for my 39 inches of chest circumference, it seems like a bit of a luxury. If you want to buy the yarn, I’ll knit it for you. How’s that?

5. If knitting something is not for you, there is always this fragrant, beautiful cake. In French but learning news words never killed anyone. To serve with tea and eat in one sitting.

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Friday’s Mixed Nuts: 5 links I clicked (and so should you)


    1. I have a songwriting hobby, and by this I mean that I am completely obsessed with the songwriting creative process. I am a writer who is also a musician but I do not have a good-enough grip of music to set words to melody. I am fascinated by the ability of those who can write a 4-minute story that sometimes rhymes and touches million of people’s hearts. Nothing cracks me open like a good song. Should it come as a surprise then that one of my favourite podcasts is Sodajerker on Songwriting?I was especially thrilled with their interview with Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the songwriting husband/wife team behind the Frozen powerhouse. In the podcast, they discuss the back-and-forth with the scriptwriters and how their songs changed the nature of the characters of Elsa and Anna. I doubt that the movie would have enjoyed its lasting success had the two princesses remained what they were meant to be in the original script. It was also a geeky treat to learn that in Life is an open door Anna and Hans never sing in harmony. We knew that right? But it was done on purpose! This is how gifted songwriters can build a story with details that you hear without hearing. Magical! You can hear the full interview here. A note for parents: the podcast is slapped with the “explicit” rating because Robert Lopez explains how the rhythm pattern for a certain song came from the title of a porno videotape he saw on a friend’s shelf one day. The title is quite crude. If you listen in the car with children there might be a 30-seconds of awkwardness. Forewarned is forearmed.
    * BONUS FREE NUT: If you were a teenager in the 80’s or 90’s, the podcast interview with Glen Ballard will be a giant, crimped, glitzy treat. Listen to it — and its accompanying Spotify playlist — here .

    2. Speaking of Glen Ballard, he happened to write Man in the Mirror for Michael Jackson, a song which message is always on point. You’ll notice some interesting footage in the music video from the rescue of baby Jessica McClure in 1987, a toddler who had fallen down a well on her family’s property. She was rescued after 58 hours of harrowing work by paramedics and mining engineers. That was back in the days when criticism was directed at the media circus rather than the grieving parents; and the heroes of the story were given more attention than what the parents should have done to avoid the tragedy. Fancy that…

    3. Speaking of songwriting, the Canadian political class deemed it desirable to re-write the Canadian National Anthem to replace “in all thy sons’command” by the gender-neutral “all of us command.” Now, I have to declare myself as one of those bleeding hearts liberals who believes that language and culture walk in lockstep; but I also want to declare myself as one of those hardened conservatives who don’t think our historical heritage should be re-written, warts and all. There is always room for adding diverse voices and clearer context to our history. As Dan Carlin puts it — pardon my shameless paraphrase — it’s as if history had a CNN and a Fox News but only the CNN version of everything had survived. History always benefits from a diversity of sources, it gives it colour and texture. Perspective doesn’t right wrongs but it puts them in context. History never exactly repeats itself: the lessons are in the nuances, in how humanity faced want, pain and desperation, how it failed and how it succeeded. Stripping history of its offensive bits is tantamount to spitting upwind: it only feels good for a second. On the other hand, our National Anthem is not merely a piece of historical artifact: it lives in our schools, our churches, our sports halls and institutions. We are not rewriting history as much as making our anthem more representative of our culture as we sign it every day. How do you feel about changing the words to our National Anthem? Are we shaping culture to make it more just or are we rewriting history? Andrew Coyne explains here how the meaning of words can change even when the words stay the same.

    4. Speaking of writing, I started writing a novel set in the intersecting worlds of healthcare, law and biomedical ethics, in other words my academic background. One day I decided to stop joking that my Master’s degree’s specialization in biomedical ethics had been a waste of time and the next day the idea had come to me. For two years while at McGill University I was a fly on the wall in paediatric and neonatal intensive care units where I learned more than I ever expected about humanity, tragedy and what’s found in the space between the two. My novel is written from the bedside of a critically ill infant and explores the evolving relationships between the infant’s family, his medical caregivers and a cast of lawyers and administrators who are drawn into the medical decision-making process. I love how this poem communicates the chasm of perception that often exists between patients and their caregivers. It touched me in a profound way. To read and let sink-in.

    5. If writing never amounts to anything, I could become an astronaut. I have the right blood pressure.

Mass shootings: Prayers and policy changes are not mutually exclusive


You need the prayers because you need the prayerful.

My Twitter and Facebook feeds are overrun — with good reason — by commentary about the Orlando shooting massacre. This is neither surprising nor troubling. What did take me by surprise is the outrage and exasperation aimed at those who wish to #prayforOrlando. “Keep your prayers” they say “we need policy change, not magical thinking.” The sentiment was clearly expressed by this illustration by Wendy MacNaughton, posted by the Brain Pickings Twitter feed:

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Prayer and policy change are mutually exclusive, or so it seems. I don’t know how to segue gracefully into what I have to say so let me lumber into it: Isn’t it “interesting” that the people who are quick to tell believers to shove their prayers where the sun don’t shine are the same ones who are pleading through hashtags and social media posts to “stay strong” , “stand up with” and sending equally magical “healing vibes” and “positive thoughts” to the latest site of terrorist horror as if those could patch-up bullet holes and solve hatred any better than prayers could. We’re content to wring our hands over Trump’s tweets and telling Republican politicians to stuff their prayers where they keep their broomsticks and feel like we’ve done something for the cause when really, all we’ve done is dig ourselves deeper into the silos of intolerance where hatred is hatched.

You know what? Telling believers to shove it with their magical thinking is on the same spectrum of bigotry as religious fanaticism. Different ends, same spectrum. Whether you hate believers or unbelievers, you still hate. You still show an unwillingness to understand, to empathize, to hold hands and find common ground. Across the spectrum we prefer seeing things in the isolation that leaves room for feeling good and justified about our own biases and inconsistencies. To this one it’s about Islamic extremism; to this one it’s about homophobia; to this one it’s about mental illness; to this one it’s about gun control; to this one it’s about Western imperialism; religious right, intolerant left; to everyone it’s about something else than whichever hand they have in maintaining the status quo. This is why we can’t affect the policy change we so dearly need. Policy change requires common ground and common ground is hard to find around the navel area.

We’re all mad here Alice.

Friday’s Mixed Nuts: 5 links I clicked this week (and so should you)


Every week I will try to post 5 links I clicked and wish you would too. I take suggestions for free.

  1. Sometimes you come across a figure from history that really makes an impact on your life. Major Dick Winters, Second World War Veteran and the subject of the 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers, is one of these characters. Stories of exceptional leadership and courage leave their mark on the minds of young men such as my son, who watched the miniseries as a teenager, joined the Army Reserves at age 16 and is currently studying to become a military officer. One of the greatest things about Winters is that the person overshadows the TV character. I chuckled when I read about how he played chicken with Tom Hanks over cursing in the miniseries. It may sound like an issue of little consequence but self-discipline and dignity repose on the myriad little things that lay the foundation on which the greater things repose. Read more life advice from Major Dick Winters in this post from The Art of Manliness.
  2. If reading the article about Major Winters made you want to read his book but you don’t know when you’ll have the time to do it — if ever — I strongly recommend listening to podcast #17 from Jocko Willinks (also available on iTunes) where he reviews the book, reads extensive excerpts and offers his commentary about leadership, courage and physical fitness. Bonus link, for those who are curious about Jocko Willinks, his life and creds, here is one of his few interviews from the Tim Ferriss podcast.
  3. Listening about Major Winters reminded me how much periods of conflict in history can teach us about the extremes of human vice and virtue. Extended periods of peace and affluence such as we have been knowing in Canada numbs us to what we — as a human race — are able to do, the good, the bad and the ugly. If, like me, you are looking at improving your history game, I recommend subscribing to the Hardcore History podcast by Dan Carlin. I am currently listening to the Prophets of Doom podcast (all 4 hours of it, I spend a lot of time in the car…). At the beginning of the podcast Dan Carlin says that he will probably offend both believers and unbelievers and apologizes for it. I’ll have to take his word on the unbelievers front although I can’t see how this podcast could be taken as anything but a vindication of Christopher Hitchen’s thesis that belief in a supreme being is a totalitarian belief that destroys individual freedom. From a Catholic perspective however, I observed that while Carlin goes to great pains to explain that his aim is to expose how thin the veneer of civility resting on our advanced civilization really is and not argue against religious belief, he consistently confuses Catholics behaving badly with “the Catholic Church”, a mistake he does not extend the reformers, whose murderous preachers and prophets are not confused with the Reformation itself. This may sound like an irrelevant distinction but for Catholics it’s an important one. The tenets of our faith are clearly laid out in the magisterium of the Catholic Church. It should be easy to sparse out the difference between what the Church believes and what failed humans make of it. And yet, every day, Catholics and non-Catholics alike mistake the two. Still, you should subscribe to Hardcore History because it’s a fascinating, engaging and well-produced romp through our stories.
  4. One of the issues that Dan Carlin exposes in the Prophets of Doom podcast — and I can’t find where in the 4 hour opus, you’ll have to forgive my shameless paraphrasing — is the explosive cocktail born out of alienation, religious fanaticism and what happens when you dilute an established and stable society with newcomers who neither share its culture or religion. If this bell rings uncannily familiar — as it would to anyone acquainted with the Swedish town of Molndal — it may be time to listen (again) to the last installment of the Munk debates on the global refugee crisis. History may not exactly repeat itself as the poet noted, but it sure rhymes a lot.
  5. Finally, if all this military and history stuff seems heavy, you might need to listen to this TED-like talk by satirist Pat Kelly of CBC This is That fame. #12 will blow your mind!

***BONUS FREE NUT!

6. I bought two pairs of Roots 2-Stripe Tribe Sandals, one to replace the pair of knock-off Birks I wore indoors and fell off my foot one sad morning and another one to wear outside because they are so amazing. You can take my word for it: Roots will not be sending me 11 pairs of 2-Stripe Tribe sandals for raving about them. “Comfortable insole with memory foam padding covered in suede” are not only the operative words here, they are the understatement of the century. This is like hugging your feet with clouds. Clouds with Cherubim, singing sweet nothings in four-part harmony to your tootsies.  Currently on sale, by the way.

 

You don’t have to be on all the time


I was listening to the CBC Radio: Spark podcast on the effects of parental use of technology on children. This hit close to home. I use my iPhone for everything — from reading and writing to looking up recipes, words and maps, taking pictures, recording voice memos, shooting and editing my YouTube videos, communicating with my parents, husband and children, checking the weather, traffic, the news, streaming music and podcasts, look-up knitting patterns, get calendar reminders, learning Spanish on Duolingo, Netflix & Chillaxing, I must forgetting some — often fielding accusations from my children of being “always stuck to my phone”. My technology use is mostly family-related, serving their needs more than mine but appearances don’t lie: I use my phone a lot. I also remember how lonely, isolated and depressed I was before being able to connect to friends via social media. The podcast didn’t make any earth-shattering revelations for anyone who is aware that young children need their parents to be emotionally engaged. Whether you are distracted by your work, your book, your latest fling or the money you just don’t have, the question is not whether being tethered to your phone is harmful but whether it is harmful in different or more severe ways than everything else going on in your life. The study discussed in the podcast points to a shrinking attention span for children when their parents’ attention wanders.

Where the podcast rubbed my buttons the wrong way was with this quote:

“I see parents mindlessly pushing their kid on a swing while looking at their phone”

To be fair, the message was not that it is wrong to check your phone at the park but that your device should not prevent you from engaging in the normal activities of parenting such as the park. The image of the parent revelling in every ounce of childhood is one that won’t die. Once you are done cooking, cleaning, shopping, organizing, cuddling, control-towering, time-managing, refereeing and driving, you should also make a public display of gleeful cheer-leading while your children ask you for the 12 millionth time to look at them climb the slide backward for the 20 millionth time. I’m sorry but no. There is a surface covered in expensive, obsessively safe, kinetically-correct, expert-approved, City-stamped, edible, equipment right here. It has been designed to foster cooperative play with other children who are, conveniently, here at the same time you are, doing exactly the same thing you are. I gave you a bunch of siblings and believe me, it’s not because I like hospital food. So don’t mind me while I sit my ass down on this bench right here and check my phone while you have fun.

You don't have to be on all the time