Show Notes - Week of December 6, 2021
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude, where we are suffering with streets and sidewalks covered in ice after a freezing rain earlier this week.
This past week was busy with work, reading, and getting ready for the holiday season. The quick summary is two interesting articles to comment on, two books finished, two new beers, and five new words.
The first article was out of the National Post. Tristan Hopper wrote the article "Why this day, just 90 years ago, is Canada's real independence day", in reference to the Statute of Westminster which came into force December 11, 1931. The quick summary is that before 1931, the United Kingdom could overturn any law that was "repugnant" to English law. After the Statute of Westminster was enacted, Canada remained a constitutional monarchy with a Governor General, but we can pass our own laws and decide when we are at war, decisions we could not make independently before then. It is fascinating to know that even as tied to other countries we are in 2021, we had zero independence for the first sixty-four years of our existence as a nation.
The second article was from Slate, and it reframed Johnny Cash as an ally against racism and race-fueled violence. The article suggests that Cash's 1962 album, "Blood, Sweat and Tears" was not just a collection of stories about working men, but rather "a concept album about race in America, about the violent enforcement of racial hierarchies in America". If you read the album notes on Tidal for "Blood, Sweat and Tears", the author is solidly in the traditional camp, calling it an album "about the fables of the American working man". The Slate article busts that view apart, highlighting how Cash recorded songs about slavery, violence, and murder against black men.
I do not have a lot of experience with Johnny Cash's music, but I certainly have heard many of his songs. This article gave me a reason to really listen to his music, and to listen to it with a new perspective. If you are interested in understanding more about the messages in Cash's music, read the Slate article and listen to the album here.
It does not appear likely that I will hit 52 books this year, but if I finish a few books that I am part way through, I should be able to get into the mid-40s.
Book #40 for 2021 was "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak. This was an amazing book and is probably going to be my favorite book for 2021. I found it to be very emotional, especially near the end. The synopsis is that it is a story about a young girl living in World War II Germany, and all the struggles and issues that entails. I am really glad I read this book and will likely read it again in the future.
Book #41 for 2021 will most likely be the shortest book I read this year. "Fortunately, the Milk" by Neil Gaiman was a fantastical tale of the exploits of a father explaining why he was late returning home with some milk. Picking this book up made it clear it was going to be a quick read, but with the numerous illustrations by Skottie Young, it was even shorter than expected. The entertaining story reminded me of a fast-paced Willy Wonka story, but this is definitely a once-and-done book unless you have young children that are just graduating into chapter books.
Two new beers this week. First was the Wanderlust IPA from Breakside Brewery out of Portland. (3.75 / 5). Second was the Do Something Lager from Sea Change here in Edmonton. (3.5 / 5). This brings my total number of unique check-ins on Untappd to 838.
Five new words this week. The first two came from the seventh Harry Potter book that had a sentence that said "a baize in a budgerigar".
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude week that varied from highs of 22 °C to 9 °C. I suppose that should not be surprising given that we just entered May this weekend, but the variation is hard to deal with.
There were two interesting articles that I want to share before we get into the usual sections. One deals with the George Floyd murder trial, and the other deals with a Canadian Prime Minister that I honestly knew very little about before this week.
The murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020 was a reprehensible act. There is no question in my mind that Chauvin is guilty of murder and thankfully the jurors agreed. On April 20, 2020, Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all three counts.
60 Minutes interviewed the prosecution team for their show last week. The full clip is at both times sobering and heart-rending, but also hopeful. Maybe, just maybe, someone like Derek Chauvin in some other police force out there will realize that he cannot act with impunity, that he is supposed to respect and protect all lives and not just the lives of white people, and that there are real and significant consequences for all acts of police brutality.
"Was [racism] Mr. Chauvin's motive? Who knows? There weren't any explicit, overt statements made, but most people do have a hard time believing that this would've happened to the typical white citizen in the state of Minnesota." - Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell
The video and images from the murder are still hard to view, and hopefully they are always hard to view. George Floyd should not have died, should not have been murdered. If any good can come out of his death, I hope it is that this is the end, at least the beginning of the end, of systemic, institutionalized racism, whether that is against black people in America or Indigenous people in Canada.
Okay. Trying to ... move on? ... No, that is not what I mean. It is more like needing to continue to live without forgetting.
Switching gears, I now want to talk about a white, old, Canadian male who died nearly fifty years ago. Louis St. Laurent was Canada's twelfth Prime Minster, serving nearly nine years from 1948 to 1957. He was described as a strong Canadian nationalist and was by all accounts a very effective leader.
Not that I knew any of this about him, mind you. There is a Catholic high school named after him and I did not even realize who it referred to until this week. So yeah, some dude that I knew nothing about.
St. Laurent came to my attention this week when I read the March 2021 issue of "Inside Policy" from the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. The cover of the issue has a picture of St. Laurent with the words "The Legacy of Louis St. Laurent: When governments got things done". My immediate reaction was of scoffing indifference - here is another case of looking back at the past with a bias that everything was better before - but I read the article anyway thinking that this was going to be a series of potshots at Justin Trudeau, a leader that the Institute has made no secret of their dislike.
In contrast, the Institute extolled the virtues of St. Laurent. To wit:
On almost every issue it touched, [St. Laurent's] government modernized the idea of Canada, either in its support of new programs or in its international relations.
The list of accomplishments provided in the articles include: approving Canada's participation in NATO; recognizing the state of Israel; overseeing coordination with American air defence, which later resulted in NORAD; expansion of the shipways along the St. Lawrence; the Trans-Canada Highway; multiple radar lines including the Distant Early Warning system; the Canso Causeway; a pipeline from Alberta to central Canada; a push for the aerospace industry which resulted in the Avro Arrow; and, universal hospital insurance.
That is quite a list, by any measure. The Rt. Hon. Louis St. Laurent deserves more recognition that he currently has based on that list of accomplishments. I am sure he had flaws, but I could not find any online and none were referenced in his Wikipedia entry. There was an article by Conrad Black that said he had "never heard a negative, or even slightly disrespectful, comment, including from his opponents" about St. Laurent. Quite an individual, apparently.
I was able to finish two books this week and will likely finish a third this week but after I post the entry for this week.
Book #12 for 2021 was "But What If We're Wrong?" by Chuck Klosterman. This is a book of separate but connected essays around the theme that in the future people will look back at us and see our present / their past completely differently than we do. This makes sense when you think about how we in our present reflect on our past which is of course someone else's present. This book does a good job to blow up the idea that we know what is true, and what future people will think about our truths. There are a number of good points in the book, but the one about American football and team sports blew my mind.
"The first possibility is that football survives because of its explicit violence, and this this discomfiting detail ends up being its twisted salvation. The second possibility is that football will indeed disappear - but not just because of its brutality. It will disappear because all team sports are going to disappear, and football will merely be the first." --Chuck Klosterman, "But What If We're Wrong?"
I do not watch sports any more. I have watched two hockey games since the end of the 2012 NHL season (one of which I was in a bar celebrating a friend's birthday, and the other I was on a guys weekend in the mountains with a couple friends). I have watched a bit more baseball in that time period but not really much after the Cubs won the World Series in 2016. I stopped watching football (soccer) after Tottenham lost the Champions League to Liverpool in 2019.
I bring that up because I just assumed my lack of interest in sports was just something about me, but Klosterman made me think that maybe society at large will move away from watching team sports. Not everyone of course, especially in the case of American football as Klosterman sees it, but for the majority of people. It is nearly impossible to imagine our world without team sports, but that is the essence of Klosterman's book - what about the modern and present day will seem ridiculous in the future?
Give his book a read to see if there are any similar revelations for you.
Book #13 was "The Magnificent Monsters of Cedar Street" by Lauren Oliver. This was a book that I read with my younger daughter. There was a lot to like about this book in the early stages - an interesting premise, strong characters, funny monsters, and a compelling mystery. But like a lot of books it unfortunately hobbled to the conclusion. We were thirty-two pages from the end assuming it was the first in a series because there was no way it would be wrapped up that quickly. It was, but unfortunately not in a satisfying way. There were definitely some high points along the way, but not enough to be something I would consider "good". Not every book can be something to savor for all time, but I would rather read a marginal book than not read.
It has been quite a while since I last reviewed a coffee. This is because I purchased multiple bags of the previously reviewed beans and was going through them before trying something new. My most recent new coffee was the Ethical Bean Sweet Espresso. I was looking forward to this one as the company has a good story to tell and I quite like their decaf. Their espresso though was quite thin and did not have a lot of taste. I upped the amount of beans but that did not help much. I get more crema and taste from their decaf. You might not be able to tell from the picture, but the beans are very dry and brittle, which probably leads to the lack of crema.
I had two more beers from Cabin Brewing, the end of a four-pack sampler. Beer #755 was their Falling Skies Dark Sour with Apricots. The first taste of this was extremely sour, but I got used to it very quickly. I did not pick up much of the apricot flavor, which is too bad. In summary, a sour for the sake of being sour with an ingredient that did not add much to the beer. (3.0 / 5)
Beer #756 was their Morning Sun Farmhouse Ale / Saison. This was decent stuff. Refreshing and just carbonated enough to give a bit of a pop. Lots of mild fruit flavor and a nice aroma. (3.25 / 5)
(Note that I have recalibrated my beer numbers in this blog to align with what is on Untappd. If you recall, I mentioned last week that the numbers were out of sync between this blog and Untappd. I assume I just messed up somewhere on this blog since beer #700.)
Just two new words this week. The first one was from a "Choose Your Own Adventure" style rendition of Romeo and Juliet and was in the colophon. (Yes, I am the kind of person that reads the colophon.)
The denizens of 53.5° north latitude welcome you to the weekly blog. Or at least, I welcome you. It was a quiet week, with two new beers and one book finished. There was a lot of music listened to, but I want to get through it all one more time before I make any comments, so we will leave that for next week.
Let's get on with it, shall we?
Racism is ugly, dehumanizing, terrible. Reading about racism is difficult. Owning up to racist comments or actions is gut-wrenching. But talking about racism is absolutely necessary.
It is easy for us Canadians to talk about how terrible things are in the US, with their overtly racist President who presided over them for four years, and how many of their policies and actions are specifically designed to demean black people. So when I read this week's book, Book #3 for 2021, Professor Eddie S. Glaude Jr.'s "Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and its Urgent Lessons for our Own", I tried to reflect on what his book about America says about how Canada has historically, and presently, treats the Indigenous people.
Glaude talks about how the insistence of whites to be included in the future is ridiculous, given that they have never been EXcluded before. The insistence of expecting gratitude for providing rights and freedoms to black Americans is revolting, given that the black people should never have had those right and freedoms stripped from them in the first place. In Canada, this is reflected in how we have parceled out tiny bits of land for the Indigenous peoples and expected them to be happy that we gave them anything at all.
Glaude also talks about the need for truth and reconciliation, but how important it is that we know and speak the truth before we can reconcile. I was in my mid-thirties before I even HEARD the term "residential school", but at least in Canada we have started to speak the truth to what we have done. "Begin Again" highlights the lie and illusion of The American Dream and The Promised Land, both of which hide the truth of the racism in America.
The cries of "what about us" and "all lives matter" from whites underscores how distorted the racist view is. It is not that ONLY black lives matter, it is that THEY NEVER HAVE MATTERED in the eyes of so many people. The same could be true about how Indigenous people are viewed in Canada. As Glaude puts it:
... as if talking about a living wage and healthcare as a right, or affordable education, or equal pay for women, or equal rights for the LGBTQ community, or a fair criminal justice system, somehow excludes working-class white people.
Later in the book, Glaude discusses how Trump fits in to today's conversation about race and equality. The important point is that Trump "and his ideas are not exceptional." In other words, admit that America is racist. Admit that this hatred and demeaning of an entire population is a founding principle of America. Trump and "the people who support him are just the latest examples of the country's ongoing betrayal" of the promise of a true and equal democracy.
In Canada, the discussion a few years ago about what to do with the statues of Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, pointed out the brutality and cruelty of pretty much every white person in the mid 1800's. This article highlights some of the amazing and awful things done in the name of progress in Canada's earliest days. We are not much better than our neighbors to the south.
I encourage you to read this book, whether you are an American looking to understand your country, a Canadian looking to understand yours, or just someone trying to understand the world in order to start the work in building a better world.
Baldwin's words that Glaude used to title his book are the signal we need. It is not about looking in the past to demonize or glorify, but rather to look to the future and to Begin Again.
It was a decent week for riding. The time in the saddle is increasing, even as the distances decrease. Colder weather means slower speeds. Earlier this morning I went out for a one-hour ride in the -19° C weather and only averaged 15.7 km/hr due to the cold temperature. However, getting out a few times in the cold is more psychologically bolstering than it is a cardio boost.
I was able to complete the segment to Clearwater, B.C. Looking up interesting information on Wikipedia did not reveal too much, which is not surprising given the municipality only became official in 2007 and there are just over 2,000 people there. The one fact of note is that the hospital is named after John Sebastian Helmcken, a physician and politician that was key to negotiating British Columbia's entry into the Dominion of Canada in 1871.
Below is the updated image of my progress. I am unlikely to make it all the way to Blue River in this upcoming week, but Valemount (with a U) beckons in the distance.
Two new beers this week, one a pleasant surprise and one a disappointment. I will highlight the pleasant surprise first.
Beer #717 was the Lemon Lavender Radler from Yukon Brewing. Yukon is a brewery that I should pay more attention to. This radler was fantastic and I really, really liked it. It was sweet but not cloying, had nice citrus without the pith, and a smooth taste that was very refreshing. It was the highest rated beer in a long time. (4.0 / 5)
If I were asked to bet last week which beer I would like more before trying these, I would have swapped things around. Lemon and lavender does not sound that appealing to be honest, and the previous drinks from Fallentimber were all really good. Beer #718 was their Hopped Mead. I thought it tasted a bit burnt, and was not nearly as good as their other meads. I also realized that I have never checked in their Meadjito which is superb, so I will buy that again to grab a photo and a checkin. Not every product from a brewery, or in this case a meadery, is going to be perfect of course. One low rating should not take away from how good the rest of their product is. (3.0 / 5)
I will close out this week's entry with a few new words, most of which are from my ongoing catch-up of the words I flagged in 2020 as I read "War and Peace".
Show Notes - Week of October 12, 2020
Greetings from a slightly colder than usual 53.5° north latitude. It is not cold enough for the entire day to stay cold, but that is likely not far into the future. However, it is cold enough that bigger gloves or mitts are required for early morning rides. Riding at -5 C without good gloves or mitts is a very painful experience.
Beyond a few rides which I will give an update on below, a number of good listens and views, there was a great gaming experience this week, and two new beers. Let's jump in to the gaming story first.
If you look up role-playing on Wikipedia, the article branches into the various types of role-playing and then provides this definition for role-playing games, or RPGs:
A role-playing game is a game in which the participants assume the roles of characters and collaboratively create stories. Participants determine the actions of their characters based on their characterisation, and the actions succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines. Within the rules, they may improvise freely; their choices shape the direction and outcome of the games. --Wikipedia
The key concept is that the story is created collaboratively. The Game Master needs to be in charge at least to keep the game following within the prescribed rules, but the actual story that is created is the responsibility of everyone involved. As a GM, I think the key is to provide lots of options for the players and to be prepared enough to be flexible if the players do something unexpected. It is important to be prepared but to not let that preparation narrow your options. Having a series of encounters that your players must do in order at a prescribed time is a recipe for either frustrated players or for you to be unable to proceed because you are not prepared.
In our recent session this week, the party needed to travel and I had three potential encounters planned. The first one was with a travelling merchant. I knew there would be nothing exchanged beyond information, but I was hopeful that the players would engage as there was one bit of flavor and information I wanted to get across. The second encounter was completely optional and I tried to describe it in a way that they would not be forced to engage with it. They ended up doing what I hoped they would because I was able to give them a reward that will be useful. To that point in our session, we had two encounters that were engaging and I think memorable. I was struggling though because both encounters went exactly how I thought they would, and that made me feel like I was railroading them. In the parlance of the game designers I follow online, I felt like I was taking away player agency.
This concern of taking away player agency was weighing on me because the third encounter was one that regardless of how the rest of the session had gone I needed the players to have. This encounter was really like a Talking Notice Board that tells the players "You are hereby requested to go do such-and-such and then report over yonder." There is nothing wrong with this of course, as long as the players feel they can do something other than mindlessly follow the orders of the Talking Notice Board.
It might have been a reaction from the players against two encounters that they felt they had to engage with, but their reaction to the Talking Notice Board was one of sarcastic enthusiasm. "Yes, sir, right away sir." "We'll be sure to do that right away, nudge, nudge, wink, wink."
And so they did not report in. They might check in during the next session, but for this week, they completely ignored the "request". They instead went for a drink and a meal and then proceeded to find a room at the fleabag inn instead of the nice place I assumed they would stay at. This resulted in three fabulous role-playing sessions, one with each player. A new ally was found, a super reward was given to the party, and a really touching story was created.
I am really glad my first two encounters went the way they did, but I was prepared for the players to not engage with either. Our collective story would not have suffered if those encounters were ignored, but the world is more alive and the players have more knowledge about how to act and react as a result of both. However, when we look back at the game, we will see that the moments with the player agency at its most free were the ones that will have the most impact on the long-term story we are creating. That required preparation on my part, but in a much different way than the scripted set pieces I created.
The last thing I will say about our game is that in a three hour session I rolled dice exactly zero times. It was completely role-playing and I all I had to do was talk. And laugh, and smile, and have fun.
There were a few good music finds this week. The first album was Lucinda Williams' "Live @ The Fillmore", which was released in 2005, and was a recording from a 2003 concert. (It would be great to see a concert at The Fillmore!) (It would be great to see a show anywhere!). This album was 22 songs over two volumes and was filled with Williams' gravelly singing. Volume 2 was that the better of the two, in my opinion, with great versions of Atonement, Pineola, Righteously, and others. Her voice really shone on Volume 2.
Switching gears completely, the second album was Massenet's opera, Thaïs. I have switched my weekend radio listening recently, and am really enjoying getting back into "Saturday Afternoon at the Opera" on CBC. Host Ben Heppner does a great job of helping listeners like me understand the story and the music.
Last up this week was a single called "Who's Gonna Stop Me". This was a collaboration between Portugal, The Man, and Weird Al Yankovich. It was a good song, but I have to admit I probably listened to it much more intently just because of Weird Al's inclusion. I am not saying that it is not a good song, but I do feel I would have given it less of a listen if Weird Al was not part of it.
The other music item this week was a great interview on Tidal with Chuck D. This might have been the first interview I have seen with Chuck D. I enjoyed his stories especially the one about how Jam Master J convinced Chuck D to become a recording artist. The best part though were two quotes that really made me think.
The first quote was Chuck D quoting Bruce Lee.
"I cannot teach you. I can only help you explore yourself." --Chuck D quoting Bruce Lee
The insight in that quote is enormous. The power to change and to grow is in you and you alone. There is no magic potion or methodology or drug or app that can teach you to grow as a person if you do not want to grow.
The second quote was even more powerful, and I think this is something that I can empathize with and work to change, but I think it is impossible for me to really understand it being a white man. All I can do is listen and support.
If you black, it's the side you on versus the side that hates you. --Chuck D
Great stuff from a musical legend.
I closed off a couple segments on the way to Campbell River on my virtual cross-Canada tour. I need to pick up my pace a bit. At this rate, it will take me four years to finish the trek.
Two new beers this week. Both were good, but neither were great. Beer #691 was the Galactic Space Dragon IPA from Odin Brewery Company. This had some good pineapple citrus juiciness, not much hops, quite hazy. Tasty but would have liked more hops. (3.5 / 5)
Beer #692 was the Earl Grey Wheat from Collective Arts. I am a big fan of Collective Arts, so this one was a bit of a disappointment. This could have been a really interesting take on witbier but it was pretty bland. It was refreshing though, just nothing spectacular. (3.0 / 5)
Greetings once again from 53.5° north latitude. It was a quiet week, at least in terms of relevance to a weekly blog. Lots of reading but nothing finished, three new beers, and no new words.
Of more importance than anything else this week, there continues to be significant discussion about racism, injustice, and police violence. There was a really powerful op-ed in the last Saturday's LA Times written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, titled "Don’t understand the protests? What you’re seeing is people pushed to the edge". The imagery Abdul-Jabbar evokes is staggering. The massive pain and anger caused by not just (just, that's quite the word) a single death, but of generations of systemic racism. The disproportionate impact of COVID on black communities. The concerted efforts to stop black from voting.
Because you realize it’s not just a supposed “black criminal” who is targeted, it’s the whole spectrum of black faces from Yonkers to Yale.
That op-ed is not the only commentary we are receiving. Media organizations here at home are helping communicate that this isn't an issue just for the US to deal with; we have ample problems right here.
CKUA (Disclaimer: I serve on the CKUA Board) is supporting the black and indigenous communities on air. I heard Leeroy Stagger voice his support on his weekly show on Saturday, and on Tuesday CKUA paused their "online presence for the day so that meaningful real-world conversations can take place about race, unity and healing." The commercial radio stations are also contributing to the conversation with sixty second spots highlighting the importance of standing up and confronting racism and injustice and being an ally. (One I heard was unfortunately diminished in impact as it was followed by an ad for a windshield repair firm purporting that they provide an essential services during the pandemic. But it is a start.)
Is it possible that something will finally change? Have these issues finally reached enough minds and hearts to actually affect change. I hope so and will commit to doing more to help in any way I can, even if this isn't something that keeps its momentum.
The three beers I mentioned at the start of this entry are actually a beer and a cider from Collective Arts and a beer from a collaboration of two Alberta breweries.
From Collective Arts, I had their Local Press cider and their Audio / Visual Lager. The cider was crisp and clean cider and very easy drinking. (3.75 / 5) The lager was well put-together but wasn't particularly memorable. (3.25 / 5). Even with that last comment, I want to highlight how good a brewery Collective Arts is. I bought eight singles from Collective Arts at the start of this COVID era and am now finished the lot. I had a few misses, but for the most they were all very solid offerings. My ratings for those eight averaged over 3.6 out of 5, and overall the fourteen beers I have had of theirs average 3.7 out of 5. I would have to download the stats from Untappd and do some proper analysis, but from these numbers I am confident that Collective Arts is one of my top three brewers.
The other beer I tried this week was the Beautiful Apex Hermoso Mexican Hot Chocolate Stout collab between Apex Predator and Ol' Beautiful Brewing. I just couldn't get into this one. I don't think it was badly done, but it just wasn't my thing. (3.0 / 5) I know spicy chocolate is supposed to be a thing, but I have never liked it.