Greetings from 53.5° north. Another busy week with all of the COVID support work for the day job, interspersed with a few good rides, some good beer, and good music.
While I cannot, and will not, complain about my life, it is is remarkable how much it has shrunk. I went out today to buy a few groceries and it was the farthest I had been from my house in over a week, bike rides excepted. That might not seem like a big deal, but the grocery store is 1900 m from my house. I am reaching out virtually farther from my house to connect with others than I ever have, but more and more, I am not physically reaching out. I have to wonder if I will be able to connect in person if this continues for another year.
But then again, maybe connecting in person is not something that I really want to do. There was some nasty business years in the making at the US Capitol, and close to home there were pro-Trump rallies. I really do not understand this. Trump is American and we are Canadian. What will a protest in Red Deer, Calgary, or anywhere in Canada do to help support any attempts to overturn the US election? My guess is that those protests were less about Trump directly and more about white solidarity.
I will leave that discussion for now at least and post this image. Imagine being a black police officer looking at that mob.
It was a good week in the saddle. I cycled for 72 km this week, putting my monthly total at 101 km. More importantly, at least with respect to my virtual cross-Canada tour, I finished the leg from Vancouver to Kamploops. I have now cycled 863 km since I started keeping track in pursuit of the virtual tour.
Next up is Kamloops to Valemount. Just an FYI as it was news to me that it is "Valemount" and not "Valemont". This third leg will be 322 km and only has four segments. If you have driven this stretch of highway, you know there are very few towns and settlements along the way. Lots of great scenery, but that is it.
Some fun facts about Kamloops according to Wikipedia. The population of the census metropolitan area is over 100,000 people. The word Kamploops is the anglicized version of the Shuswap word "Tk'əmlúps", meaning "meeting of the waters". Kamloops is technically in a desert, and average temperatures for this time of year are just above freezing. The regional airport in Kamploops has the airport code of YKA.
The images below are the updated chart of the legs and segments to date, and a map view of the next leg to Valemount (with a U, remember that!).
The last few weeks have really seen me get into jazz. This week that trend continues with a bit of journey into swing and R&B.
The first find in the Music Finds playlist this week was the album "HH" from Lionel Loueke. HH is short for Hang Up Your Hang Ups. I assume that at least since Hang Up Your Hang Ups is the first song on the album. Loueke is a jazz guitarist from Benin and I love his style. The HH track I mentioned above, Cantaloupe Island, Watermelon Man and more are all really good songs. I added the songs and the album to my Tidal favorite list so looking forward to seeing more from him and seeing his music influence my feed.
The second find was the album with the journey into swing and R&B. "Last Man on Earth" by Big Boss Man is a fifteen-track album with great guitar, a bright horn section, vocals from multiple guest artists, and a nice clean percussion in the background. I favorited a third of the album so I will definitely be listening to more from Big Boss Man in the future. Note that this was a 2014 recording, so new to me but not new.
Two new beers this week, both from Alley Kat. First up and coming in as Beer #711 was the latest in their Dragon Double IPA series, the Loral Dragon. This one had a striking amber color and had a nice maltiness. I found the taste had a bit too much pepper in it which took away from the malt and the hops. Still pretty good stuff. (3.5 / 5)
The second beer and coming in as Beer #712 was their 2020 Holiday beer. This year Alley Kat brewed up a Milk Stout which was a nice change. There was a nice creaminess in this as you would expect from a milk stout but it could have used a bit more flavor. I compared it to the Situation Iconic Milk Stout which I rated at 4.0 out of 5 and this was close but not as good. As with the Loral, still pretty good stuff. (3.5 / 5)
I was going to catch up on a few words I have flagged in War and Peace, but I thought it would be appropriate to only have one word this week. If there was anything good out of the US Capitol Insurrection, it was that I learned a new word watching the news reports. Many of the media reports discussed how Trump had "fomented" the rioters. Apparently you can foment or ferment discord and rebellion, but you cannot forment it (with an r) as forment is not a word.
Greetings from 53.5° once again. What's new, you ask? I suppose anything that will get registered here is less new and more of an extension of previous weeks. But that is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when the country is in pandemic lock-down.
In addition, it is holiday time right now, or at least holiday-lite time. There is so much going on at work that I will get some time off, but certainly not the next two full weeks as I had hoped. While the amount of work is overwhelming, it is important work and keeping that in mind helps me get through the intense hours and multiple competing priorities.
Before I get into the regular sections, I want to highlight a podcast that helped me with understanding the appeal of Trump. The November 20 episode of On The Media from WNYC had a segment titled "The Ancient Heresy That Helps Us Understand QAnon". Having a roommate in university and a friend for the last twenty-five years who both studied religion in university gave me some awareness of Gnosticism. At a very high levels, gnostics value their own personal experience over the authority of experts and institutions.
You could listen to that segment, but it is likely that last sentence perfectly explains for you Trump and Trump's followers. My summary: Do not trust the experts (deep state) because only I (Trump) have the real knowledge. Search for the knowledge yourself and come to your own conclusions (flat earth, QAnon, etc.)
Call me a pessimist, but after listening to the segment and in particular the quote from the segment below, I do not think there is an easy path forward.
... when you take the red pill and you see the true nature of reality past the institutions and so on, that's an epiphany. I think, for those who really been red pilled, who have been born again into this Trumpian Gnosticism, there is no reason to let go. And anything that we would suggest as proof will become to them proof of our deception. And that makes for a dangerous situation that the best case scenario is going to simmer and simmer for a long time if it doesn't boil over. --Jeff Sharlet
With under a fortnight to go in 2020, I am doing what I can to get my reading total for the year over 50. I am confident I will hit 48 for sure, and 49 is looking pretty good. 50 or more will be tough though, especially if I have to work more than a day or two before New Year's.
Book #44 for 2020 was "The Better Mousetrap" by Tom Holt. Holt was an author I had no visibility on until this last year and we bought three or four of his books at used books stores and EPL book sales. The Better Mousetrap was an interesting book about two people drawn to each other, a magical world living out of view of most of the world, time travel, and insurance. It would be hard to give any sort of plot synopsis in under 250 words that would not spoil the book so I will not even try. I will just say that it was a good book and I am looking forward to diving into Holt's other books.
The weather was pretty good this week which allowed for some longer rides and faster times on those rides. I am still nowhere near the weekly distance of the most dedicated cyclists I know, but most of them these days are spending their saddle time indoors on Zwift and I am hammering out the kilometers through the snow and ice. I suppose I can claim a modicum of moral superiority for that fact, even though I know their fitness levels are way above mine.
I did make it to Hope in my cross-Canada virtual tour. According to Wikipedia, Hope is the easternmost point on what is called the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, which accounts for the average temperature this time of year being 3.5°C. It is also a meeting point, being the confluence of the Fraser and Coquihalla rivers, and the Coquihalla and Crowsnest highways. The Stó:lō First Nations peoples settled in that area between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago, and were nearly wiped-out by smallpox in 1782.
Here is an update of my progress chart for the virtual tour.
Work got in the way of diving into the Art Blakey album I had queued up in the Music Finds playlist for this week, but I did give the new album by Kid Cudi a few listens this week. It is pretty clear that "Man on the Moon III: The Chosen" is not my typical music. The picture on the home page of my Tidal app caught my attention and after reading Kid Cudi's bio, I thought I would give it a listen. There were a few songs that I did not like of course, but that is the same as on any album I listen to. Of the eighteen tracks, most were good and "Else's Baby Boy (flashback)" and "The Void" were particularly good. Some of the other songs were musically great even if I could not get into the lyrics. Standouts in that category include "Rockstar Knights" and "Sad People".
I am glad I dug into this album. I will seek out more albums by Kid Cudi and maybe the likes on the songs on this album will help suggest new albums and artists that are out of my regular rotation.
Just one new beer this week, although you could reasonably expect that I would have had more based on my last Visa bill.
Beer #705 was the Dandy Lager from Dandy Brewing out of Calgary. Dandy is a great brewery that has interesting and unique beers. I have checked in three from them so those are the only ones I have evidence for, but looking at their beer list it is clear I have had others that I have not checked in.
The Dandy lager was a bit hazier than expected for a lager, but quite good. A bit of citrus. Nice and crisp. Definitely worth having again. (3.75 / 5)
I dug into a new coffee this week, happily moving past the Salt Spring Metta Espresso that was thin and bland. The Cliff Hanger Espresso from Kicking Horse has a glossy, black bean and much more taste than the Metta. I am not super happy with the flavor though. The packaging mentions cocoa and fruit flavors and I think it is the cocoa that I am not fond of. A couple months ago, I mentioned the Old School Espresso from 49th Parallel and I indicated that I liked the cocoa flavor, so maybe it is not cocoa that is the problem, but the amount of cocoa in the flavor.
Also of note are the gloss on the beans. Like the 49th Parallel beans, the Cliff Hanger beans from Kicking Horse are quite glossy as compared to the matte finish of the Metta from Salt Spring. In addition, 16 grams of these beans completely fills my espresso portafilter and it took 18 grams with the Metta. I need to play with the amount of beans to grind because the Kicking Horse site suggests using 18 to 21 grams.
I will keep track of the next few coffees but I think I am settling on glossy beans with a bit of cocoa as components of the winning formula.
Two new words this week. I think we should all celebrate the winter solstice (tomorrow) but am willing to debate that suggestion.
[sab·bat | \ ˈsa-bət]
Greetings and welcome. My home at 53.5° north is surrounded by icy roads and sidewalks but for the most part the weather has been fairly nice. The ice coupled with my second flat tire in a month restricted my outdoor riding this week, and the short days as we approach solstice are not helping increase a desire to get outside. But in a week the days will start getting longer once again, so the worst is almost passed.
Not much else happened this week. There was a lot of talk in Alberta about the mockdown / lockdown restrictions, and I did try out one new beer. But alas, that is all I have to report this week. Let's talk about the COVID restrictions, and what one former Albertan thinks of our plans.
"The evidence is that there's no conflict between what's right for the economy, what's right for people's health … people in hospital don't spend money." --Stephen Duckett, former CEO of Alberta Health Services, and currently one of the architects of Australia's plan to reach zero COVID cases
When Alberta Health Services announced its first CEO, my boss looked across the table at me and arched his eyebrows, visually asking me if I had any idea who this Stephen Duckett was. I of course had no idea. The short and turbulent tenure of Duckett is probably worthy of a book in itself, so I will not get into that here. What I will say is that in the limited times I was in the same room has him, it was clear he was intelligent.
CBC interviewing Duckett about what is happening in Alberta is a bit of inspired journalism and clickbait all rolled together, but there is some merit in understanding what Duckett is saying. In essence, under a plan that he co-authored, the idea was to do a substantial and complete lockdown, "done once and done well" as Duckett said. The state of Victoria, which includes Melbourne and is home to 6.4 million people has not seen a single case his the end of October. Even at the peak, Victoria only saw 700 cases a day.
Looking at the most recent COVID stats for Alberta paints a much different number. A jurisdiction with a population of 4.3 million people registered over 10,000 new cases last week, so over 1,000 cases a day. Plus our numbers are going up drastically, including our hospitalization rates. The comparison is tainted by the difference in seasons of course, as Victoria is going into summer not winter, but even with that it seems that we had the wrong approach here in Alberta.
"It's an outdated view, of course, because we now know the evidence is pretty clear that the best public health outcome is also the best economic outcome." --Stephen Duckett
The argument the Alberta government espouses is that chasing a goal for zero COVID cases is illiberal and extreme. Premier Kenney has touted supported for Charter freedoms as a rationale for not forcing a complete lockdown and for waiting for the level of lockdown that he has implemented. So instead of three months of hard lockdown, we did what we could to keep the economy open. It is hard not to think that this government values dollars over lives.
I did not make it to Hope as I, pun intended, hoped I would. As I type this on Sunday morning, I am a moderate ride away from getting there and chances are I will be able to hammer through a stationary bike session later today to get it done. But for now, I made it about half way to Hope and have my sights set on Merritt.
I mentioned last week that I was looking forward to albums by Art Blakey and Brian Eno. Those two albums were the only entries in the Music Finds playlist of this week.
Eno's album "Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks" was from 1983 and the Extended Edition featured twenty-three tracks. It took me a while to get into it, but after the first three tracks I was really enjoying it. "Silver Morning" and Deep Blue Day" on Volume 1 and "The End of a Thin Cord" on Volume 2 were real standouts for me.
"Is it True 'Bout ..." is the sixth Art Blakey album I have listened to since the summer and this was much more to my liking that the last couple. The version of "Round About Midnight" was fantastic. Plus it had the 1'40" "theme song" and after hearing that on multiple albums, I have to smile when I hear that woman trying to whip up the crowd: "Art Blakey. ART Blakely. ART BLAKEY."
Just one new beer this week, another version of the Jelly King sour from Bellwoods Brewery. As I went into Untappd to check this new beer in, I realized I made a mistake. Back in October, I checked in the Jelly King sour, but as you can see from the picture, I checked in the Pink Guava version. I was not really a fan of that one and gave it a 2.75 / 5 rating.
Beer #704 was the normal Jelly King sour, and it was better for sure, but I still don't think it was as good as my Untappd connections stated. It could be that I am not into sours right now given the colder weather, or it could be that I am bored with grapefruit flavor. Either way, I only gave this a rating of 3.25 / 5.
Greetings from a snowed-in 53.5° north latitude. The snow fell hard on Friday night and then through Saturday. It was not a snowfall of record amounts, but the amount raised the question of whether or not it was a blizzard. A quick search on The Weather Network came up with this handy mnemonic of the 4-4-4 Rule. Winds over 40 km/hr, visibility less than 400 m, lasting for 4 or more hours. So yeah, we had our first blizzard of the season.
The other big news, arguably way bigger than a simple blizzard, was the US election. After waiting for votes to be counted in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Nevada, the election was finally called for Joe Biden. Now Biden might not be your guy, just as Trump might not be your guy. But regardless of who won, there are some really interesting and important concepts being discussed this week because of the election.
The first came on election night on the 538 election live blog. 538 contributor Julie Azari commented on how much energy was being expended in discussing the shortcomings and nuances of the US electoral college system, and how little was being discussed about the actual issues.
The other point that really stuck with me was the post from 538 Editor-in-Chief Nate Silver about the average voter versus the average reader of 538.
With a caution about stereotyping, I think the guy in the "BBQ, Beer, Freedom" shirt in this news clip pretty much sums up average. Don't believe me? Remember that in this election Donald Trump became just the second presidential candidate to receive over 70 million votes. Barack Obama won 69.5 million in 2008 which was the record until this year.
I have to say how much I admire the man in the purple polo shirt. Joe Gloria, the election registrar for Clark County, was holding a press conference when the "BBQ, Beer, Freedom" guy interrupted by yelling how Biden was stealing the election. Gloria calmly let the man yell, waited for him to leave, and then turned back to the reporters and said, "Where were we? What was the last question?" That is a real pro doing his job.
Switching gears, I had never heard of Eddie S. Glaude Jr. before election day, but this 2'58" speech from 2019 was in the feed of several people on Twitter during election day. Glaude's speech was so powerful and so passionate that I immediately proceeded to buy his latest book. Watch the whole clip and feel the pain in Glaude's words. That hatred that causes that level of pain is what Trump released in America.
There was not much else happening this week beyond some cycling, great music, and some new beers. I did a lot of reading, including Glaude's newest book mentioned above, but did not finish any books.
It was a pretty good week for cycling. I had three solid rides including one after work on Friday that beat the blizzard by a couple hours. I might hop on the stationary bike in the basement and crank out a couple more segments, but the image below charts my progress as of the time of writing (just after noon on Sunday).
I really enjoyed a number of songs I put into my latest Music Finds playlist. The latest album called "Arm in Arm" by Steep Canyon Rangers was enjoyable, with Sunny Days, A Body Like Yours, and Afterglow being really solid listens. I do not think it was as good as their 2015 album "Radio", but still worth a listen.
"Azymuth JID004" (JID standing for Jazz is Dead) has a song called "Friendship Samba" that popped up in my Tidal feed that I really enjoyed. I need to put the whole album in my playlist for next week. This album is an collaboration between a Brazilian jazz band nearly as old as me (Azymuth), A Tribe Called Quest's Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Adrian Younge, who is a composer, producer, and (wait for it) law professor. Some serious talent on this album.
I also gave "Existential Reckoning" a listen on a recommendation from a friend. Maynard James Keenan, front for Tool, put together Puscifer to explore his 'darker and more personal musings" according the artist bio on Tidal. I did not find the album to be my style, although I do admit "Apocalyptical" was pretty catchy, so maybe the entire album will grow on me after another listen through.
The best find for this week almost went to a cover of Leonard Cohen's "There is a War", done by Nathaniel Rateliff, Kevin Morby, and Sam Cohen (apparently no relation to Leonard). This cover has it all, from a great opening guitar note, scratchy solo vocals, and retro vocal harmonics in the chorus. Really great stuff, and easily my favorite single in recent weeks. With this single and his February 2020 release that I mentioned back in July, Rateliff might be my favorite artist of the year.
But even better than that was another release from Art Blakey. Earlier this week, I thought I should play that new release of material from 1959 that I also mentioned in July. I typed in "Art Blakey" into the search field in Tidal because I could not remember the name of the album (Just Coolin', as it turns out) and was excited and shocked to see five (FIVE!) more releases this year since "Just Coolin'" was released in July. I only had time to listen to to "Flapping Wings" but I will get to the rest later. Flapping Wings was great, and solidified Blakey in my mind as one of the greatest jazz drummers of all time.
I will not admit to day drinking due to the US election, but I will let you draw your own conclusions based on your experiences in the last week. Three news beers, and I was pretty happy with all three.
Beer #695 was the Leisure Lagoon Hazy Pale Ale from Coronado Brewing. A whole lotta grapefruit and pith. More translucent than hazy, as in not a lot of suspended particles. Very nice. (3.75 / 5)
Beer #696 was the Black Tusk Ale from Whistler Brewing Company. Whistler is pretty hit-and-miss for me, and actually more miss than hit. The first seven beers I checked in average slightly over 3.1 out of 5, which is significantly lower than my average of 3.2-ish. It was therefore a pleasant surprise that I liked the Black Tusk as much as I did. It was dark and malty, with a bit of bitterness in a good way. I might have rated it higher because I was excited to get back into the dark, heavy beers of winter, but this was still good even with that bias. (3.75 / 5)
Beer #697 and the final check-in for the week was the Pater Dubbel / Abbey Brown Ale from Corsendonk out of Belgium. This had big brown foam, with a bit of booziness in a good way. and a bit of caramel. Smooth and easy to drink even at that ABV. Good stuff. (3.75 / 5)
I am closing in on 700 check-ins on Untappd. As that is a fairly significant milestone, I think I will throw them a few bucks again to get the updated stats. It would be interesting to see how my average rating has fluctuated over the past five and a half years. My guess is that it has gone down, with my ranking of lagers going up over that same period. We will see how well that holds up under detailed scrutiny.
Just two new words this week. But after this week, I can tell you I am begging for a break from the news and politics in Canada and the US so that I can get back to reading more, and therefore finding more new words.
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.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. If my weeks had themes, this week's theme would have to be "The Triumph of the Introverts". I could see the struggle and the fatigue in the faces and hear in the voices of my friends and coworkers this last week. What seemed like a holiday a few weeks ago, a chance to hang out, try some new tech, ignore the commute, turned this last week into the slog of quarantine. The fact that we haven't hit the peak yet, that we have a significant amount of time before isolation ends, the fact that we should mentally prepare for another wave in the fall, has all taken its toll on those around me.
But not everyone is doing poorly. Some of us, the introverts especially, are faring much better. One might even argue that we were made for these times. If you have a deep-seated need to be in physical contact with someone, you are going to be in a much worse place right now than if connection via video conference is sufficient for you. Mental health issues will be paramount while and after we deal with the physical issues. I'll point out the same mental health support videos that I highlighted in last week's entry. Watch them for yourself and those close to you, and share those with others in case they might benefit as well. Even if you are doing better than most because of your innate personality and genetic makeup, it is highly unlikely that you are immune from mental health concerns. Take care of yourself.
There were a few other COVID-related items worth highlighting this week. The first was this combination sun hat and face shield. My spouse is looking seriously at getting one, but for some reason I just cannot take it seriously. The company selling these hats has various other "Health Protection" items for sale, but the main categories of their products on their web site include "Spring Fashion" and "Accessory and Beauty" so I can't help but feel that this is nothing more than a cash grab.
60 Minutes broadcast an interview with Peter Navarro, who US President Trump appointed to lead the initiative to distribute Personal Protective Equipment. Watch that interview for a quick lesson in deflection and redirection, and to see pushback in action instead of leadership. In the end though, 60 Minutes comes out on top with this interview with their mic-drop moment when they highlighted their previous reporting on pandemic response after Navarro openly challenged their role and leadership.
And speaking of a lack of leadership, take a read of this article and a look at the picture below to see what happens when poor leaders lead poorly. Note the vitriol of the Trump supporters with their MAGA hats and their "Don't Tread on Me" flags, all because of the American cellular-level need for loudly protecting personal freedoms, rekindling the "age-old U.S. debate over government regulation vs. personal liberty", fueled by a leader who just cannot lead.
There is more to life, well my life at least, than COVID, so let's talk about something else for a while, shall we?
Cybersecurity is important to everyone, and I would be remiss if I did not pass on this note about CIRA's new Internet protection service they call "Canadian Shield". CIRA touts their DNS privacy service, ransomware blocking, and pornography filtering service as "enterprise-grade protection for all Canadians". It is super easy to setup and free. If you are Canadian and don't already have access to a similar service or commercial offering, there is no reason why you shouldn't configure your home network using CIRA's Canadian Shield settings.
There was a lot of reading in my life this week, and I was able to finish one small book. Book #14 for 2020 was Susan Sontag's "Illness as Metaphor", the third book in our social science reading group hosted by Adam Greenfield. We only read excerpts of the first two books, but this week we read the whole book from Sontag. To be fair, it clocked in at a paltry 88 pages, but I will count it as a full book regardless.
There was a lot of very powerful language in this book; language that made me think about the social "value" of diseases, and how two diseases can be viewed so differently. A lot of the book is focused on tuberculosis, and early in the book, Sontag discusses how the consumption and wasting comes from TB has lead to the skinny mindset in the twentieth century.
Twentieth-century women's fashions (with their cult of thinness) are the last stronghold of the metaphors associated with the romanticizing of TB in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Sontag then contrasted the new waifish chic brought along by TB with how their male contemporaries stereotyped themselves.
Gradually, the tubercular look, which symbolized an appealing vulnerability, a superior sensitivity, became more and more the ideal look for women—while great men of the mid- and late nineteenth century grew fat, founded industrial empires, wrote hundreds of novels, made wars, and plundered continents.
I'm glad we read Sontag's book, but I couldn't help but feel it was dated. The book quotes Kafka a couple times as he ultimately died from TB in 1924. One quote from him from 1920 said that he had an illness of the mind that had moved to his body. Sontag's book was written in 1978, meaning there is a span of 58 years between his quote and Sontag's book. At present in 2020, there have been 41 years since Sontag wrote this book, which is getting close to the gap between Kafka and Sontag. Think how much has changed in collective thinking in those 41 years, and it seems that a 2020 Sontag book on the same topic would arrive at new conclusions.
It is unfortunate that Sontag passed away so many years ago, as it would be insightful to read a 2020 version with a new foreword by the author.
Lots of new words this week from a combination of War and Peace, The Count of Monte Cristo, Sontag's book discussed above, and a new science fiction book that I will hopefully be able to finish this week.
Greetings from an absolutely frigid 53.5° north latitude. We have entered into a cold weather stretch that is too cold to ride a bike in as the bike components themselves freeze. There isn't much to do but stay inside and read, which I did a lot of this week. The main accomplishment this week beyond getting back to work was to finish four books. So let's get into what I read and the other few interesting tidbits from this past week.
China's Influence on Canada:
There was a lot said in the media in 2019 about China and in particular about whether to allow Chinese made (and Chinese Communist Party-owned) Huawei telecommunications equipment into Canada. I commented in November and July on this site. The source of my commentary in July was an article from the MacDonald-Laurier Institute on some of the myths in the Huawei case, and they have continued to provide commentary in their December issue of their Inside Policy magazine. Inside Policy picks the Canadian Policymaker of the year, and this year they awarded the title to Xi Jinping, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In the eyes of the MacDonald-Laurier Institute, Xi's influence over Canadian politics in the last several years has been vast and sweeping, The article claims that Xi has forced Canada's hand in foreign policy more than any other leader, including the US President, and have caused our government to weaken our backing of international rule of law and human rights. If half of what said is true and not xenophobic fearmongering, then it is hard to ignore their claim. It is also hard to ignore the economic impact of such a large market, which is precisely why we find ourselves in this position.
If you need a more relatable analysis of the impact of Xi, the CCP, or Huawei, understand that Huawei continues to sponsor Hockey Night in Canada.
Moving on to better news, this week saw a series of books fall from the daunting heights of my Reading Pile and into the small but growing Read Pile. Four books were completed, with three of those having commenced in the waning days of 2019. Let's move on to the four.
The first book, Book #1 for 2020, was "The Reluctant Fundamentalist", by Mohsin Hamid. This was a unique book in that it portrayed one side of a conversation taking place over several hours in Lahore, Pakistan, between a Pakistani who used to live in America, and an American visiting Lahore. There was a small and ever-growing tension in the conversation cleverly built by subtle hints and comments. The reader was, or at least I was, constantly wondering what would happen between the two individuals. Would there be violence, or would the two find common ground and become if not friends, then at least companions?
I highly recommend this book if for no other reason than it challenged several stereotypes I have, some that I was conscious of, and others I was not. If you have read this novel, please reach out as I would love to discuss it with someone. I'll leave you with a wonderful quote from the novel. It wasn't particularly pertinent to the story or its underlying tension, but it struck me as I read it.
"Time only moves in one direction. Remember that. Things always change." --"The Reluctant Fundamentalist", by Mohsin Hamid
Book #2 for 2020 was "All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries" by Martha Wells. This was an extremely quick read, coming in at 140 small pages.
The protagonist and narrator is an augmented human designed to be an It instead of a Person, but it has decidedly human impulses and concerns. It was really enjoyable and thoroughly unique, and I definitely recommend it, especially in between larger or more emotionally demanding books.
Book #3 for 2020 was the second book in the Douglas Adams Hitchhiker's series, "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe". This was a second, or maybe third, reading for me, and this was one that I read with Daughter 1. Definitely funny, definitely quirky, definitely thought-provoking, but not quite as laugh-out-loud enjoyable as Hitchhiker's. Even so, well worth reading and sharing.
Last up for this week, Book #4 for 2020 was "The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library". This is one of the books up for a Young Reader's Choice Award at the local library system, and was written by one of the best Young Adult books I have read with my daughter's, that being Linda Bailey and "Seven Dead Pirates". I read Pirates before I started this site, so I unfortunately don't have anything to link to for that book, but I do suggest reading it. Anyway, back to Tiny Hero, this might seem like a trivial book to read even for Daughter 2, but it really was delightful. The characters were great, the story was believable as could be given that the tiny hero is in fact a green bug, and most importantly, the author's love for books and reading really shines through. We immediately grabbed one of the books discussed in Tiny Hero to be next in our readings - stay tuned next week to find out which one.
Just one new beer this week. Sea Change is a great local brewery and I have posted about a few of their beers in past months. This week I had The Wolf, which is their Pale Ale. It was pretty decent, but didn't have a ton of flavor. It did smell nice with a definite citrus punch to it. It wasn't up to par with some of their other offerings, but it was still good.
Surprisingly few words this week given that four books were crushed, but I suppose that it was easier reading this week than with finishing off something by Jared Diamond. Maybe more surprising is that very few of the words are from "War and Peace" or "The Count of Monte Cristo", which highlights that the hardest part of both novels is their size and not their required level of reading comprehension.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude in the land of the minority rule. It's a good thing that there was an election last week, or I would have almost nothing to write about. Lots of great things at work, but nothing that is relevant or appropriate for discussions in public.
Let's get on with it, shall we.
Fall Fundraiser 2019:
I'm proud to be on the Board for CKUA. I don't think I've mentioned my involvement with CKUA on this blog yet, which seems odd given how much work I do with the organization. CKUA is "Powered by People", which is the slogan they adopted for their fundraising efforts. That is their way of saying that they are donor-supported radio, and as a result, they rely on significant donations from listeners to keep the station on the air.
This weekend was the last two days of their 10-day Fall Fundraiser. They set a goal of $550,000 and instead of counting up towards the goal, they counted down towards $0. Over the course of the fundraiser, the announcers were saying "we have $X to go to meet our goal", and it was great to hear the numbers continually going down. I've listened to CKUA since the summer of 1989 and have been listening to their twice-a-year fundraisers for 22 years. This fundraiser was the most positive I can remember. Hats off to CKUA CEO Marc Carnes and the team at CKUA for a great fundraiser.
If you are a fan of music and want to support independent artists, give CKUA a try. If you can make it work financially, consider donating to CKUA to help keeping the station on the air.
Federal Election 2019:
The federal election finished pretty much as expected by the poll analytics site 338 Canada: a Liberal minority government, with a solid improvement from the Conservatives, and a huge jump from the Bloc.The NDP surged in the end but still ended up short of their previous results. As an aside, it is remarkable how much influence Jack Layton had on the NDP in the 2011 election. It is almost unfathomable that the NDP won 103 seats in 2011 when contrasted with their 24 seats this year.
The chart below shows how accurate 338 Canada was with their predictions. All of the parties were within the prediction range.
I was lucky to get any reading in this week, so the number of new words is understandably low.
你好, or in pinyin, nĭ hăo from 53.5° north latitude. It was a shortened work week due to the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday on Monday, but as we are fond of saying at work, that just means you have four days to get five days worth of work done. Much reading was done in spite of the busyness of work, resulting in one finished book and significant progress on another. Most other reading was related to politics, both due to the Canadian federal election tomorrow, and as a result of the impeachment discussions in the US. With all that is going on, there was only one new beer, and it was dealcoholized at that. A couple neat recipes to share from the Thanksgiving preparations, and a bunch of new words from all the reading.
Time to dig in to this week's leftovers!
I'm not going to jump in on the proceedings of the impeachment discussions south of the border with any personal diagnosis or assessment. I will however highlight articles and videos that I find interesting or helpful. I imagine there will be lots of good reading and watching in the upcoming weeks.
The video to share this week is from 60 Minutes. In it, Scott Pelley discusses covering the Clinton impeachment discussion and contrasts that to what is happening today with Trump. Being in my late 20s at the time, and given how the world reacted to women's allegations of rape, abuse, and harassment, I definitely saw what had happened with a different reaction than I would today. However, it was clear that Clinton lied under oath and there were consequences as a result. Today, perhaps, the consequences would be more severe but that is impossible to say for certain.
With Trump however, Pelley argues that this impeachment discussion is different and likely more important because while Clinton abused his power and relationship status with Monica Lewinsky, Trump appears to be manipulating global politics for his personal financial gain. Good stuff from 60 Minutes, and worth a few minutes of your time.
With just over 24 hours before the polls close on the federal election, it is shaping up to be an incredibly tight race. I reported a few times in the last several weeks about the projections coming from 338 Canada. Since July, the Liberals have seemingly gifted their rivals with the SNC-Lavalin scandal (that even has its own Wikipedia entry) and Trudeau's blackface revelations. However it seems clear that the Conservatives and NDP are unable to capitalize. The Liberals will almost certainly not have a majority government, which will be a huge - dare I say - black mark for Trudeau. But the Conservatives need to win 75 more seats this election to get a majority, and it is even more unlikely that that will happen. The trend lines for popular seat projections since August 25 are given below.
Looking at the graph, both the Liberals and Conservatives have dipped significantly. The benefactors are the NDP and Bloc. The uptick for both parties in the last three weeks is impressive, however the NDP are really only trending to be at par with their performance from 2015. One has to think that the NDP supporters want more from Jasmeet Singh than they received from Tom Mulcair.
The Bloc stand to gain two dozen seats this election, almost entirely from the Liberals, while reinforcing the message that the NDP surge in Quebec two elections ago was a forgettable blip in history.
A strong separatist party, a minority government, and a leading party plagued by scandal. This is a potent cocktail of uncertainty and drama that have many people interested, even outside of Canada. This CBC article discusses how foreign diplomats are scrambling to figure out how the NDP, Green, and Bloc could influence what a minority government would look like. Closer to home, Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid wrote this past week that the Bloc support for a Liberal minority government would likely mean stopping development for all pipelines and halting subsidies for oil and gas. Braid suggests the Bloc's plan is "anti-Alberta" and would "ruin Alberta". It is interesting to note that Braid suggests this might be retaliation for Alberta's lectures to "Quebec over pipelines and oil imports going back to ex-premier Alison Redford". Maybe we shouldn't have been such asses to the rest of the country when things were oh-so-good here in Wild Rose Country.
Thanksgiving means a big meal with friends, and that means a lot of cooking. Tradition in our house is to cook a big turkey for Thanksgiving using the method outlined by Cook's Illustrated several years ago. but we are leery about stuffing the cavity of the bird with bread due to the opportunity to have uneven cooking and the resultant risk of food poisoning. It is a shame though because a good stuffing is fantastic to eat. Over the years we have tried various ways compensate, but for the most part we ended up with soggy bread that didn't taste like the stuffing we loved.
This year, we tried something new. Earlier in the week we had tried a easy bread recipe made with nothing but self-rising flour and yogurt of all things. That recipe was used to make some great cheese twists.
For Thanksgiving, we used the same herb paste that went on the turkey instead of the cheese - fold, twist, bake, voilà! Now we can have something that has a great taste of bread flavored with the herb in a turkey without the heaviness caused by being soaked in turkey juices, and all without being a sodden mess when cooked separately. Plus, no risk of salmonella.
The other hit this past week was a Carrot Cake Oatmeal made with shredded carrots and raisins, and topped with toasted coconut. The oatmeal hater liked it, and the oatmeal lover thought it was still pretty good. So now four people will eat oatmeal instead of three.
Over a month ago, I wrote about "Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World", by Michael Harris. I was able to finally finish it this week, and as you can see from this picture, there were several ideas worth flagging in the book.
The first idea that jumped out at me was about how hard it is be alone. Humans are social animals and society is geared to treat us as outcasts or miscreants if we want to be alone. Harris commented that people are impaired for fifteen seconds after texting while driving, "but this deadly wandering is a small price to pay to a person fleeing their own loneliness". Endangering lives as a response to crushing loneliness is a sad testament to the society we have created.
A recent theme on this blog has been online interactions and the powerful addictions that online systems can create in our minds. Harris talks about some online gamers being so addicted to being online that they are unaware that they are not in fact actually really and truly building something. The point of the system they are engaged in is, depressingly, more system. The point of being online is being online. Even if solitude and quiet contemplation is not some miracle cure for what we need as humans in 2019, being online just because is definitely not a direction I want to pursue.
Another similarity drawn from Harris's book with Lanier's book on social media is how online recommendations have significant sway in all that we do online. In the same post mentioned above, I commented:
In one case, there are a million voices steering me toward something. In the other, there is only a single voice, but even that single voice is itself influenced by millions of other voices.
Harris asserts that this is problematic if we allow ourselves to believe that the system, the website, the algorithm can make better decisions than we can. An algorithm is unable to make a decision - it can only react to data in certain, predetermined ways. That is the exact definition of an algorithm.
a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.
Harris points out the danger in allowing us to believe that the machine or algorithm has a belief:
Nowhere is this creepier than the arena of taste. If we think that a computer program - so much more rational, so much better informed - believes one ting to be better than another, then the choices we make online about what books to read, what songs to listen to, what movies to watch become less independent and more manipulated. Suggestions on Netflix and iTunes and Amazon - all crowd-sourced and data-crunched - start to feel natural and neutral. If you believe a piece of technology can have a belief, then it's only a tiny step before you start to believe its belief is more important than your own.
As the book progressed, I found myself becoming depressed with some of the concepts. Harris begins to tackle how reading forces the brain to adapt and adopt and build new neural pathways that a non-reader will never have. However, he speculates that maybe solo reading is already obsolete. The fact that we are social animals as noted above might mean that reading moves from a solitary endeavor of one person locked into a book to a social exercise where we comment along the way with each other.
I find this a terrible prospect. The need for me to immerse myself in a book without distraction and without the need to interact with others is huge. Having to be with someone else and losing the ability to be alone would be a monumental loss to. Harris states that the "constant reader ... learns to hold opinions and ideas that are not their own" and that we not only discover new thoughts, but actually live them. Being constantly connected to our smartphones is "antithetical to deep reading", which is the ability to dig deep into what is being read and truly engage your brain in the material. Losing that skill would mean becoming just a another node in the hive.
There are benefits of course to the new technology. Harris points out that technology is allowing us to experiment with new types of storytelling that is impossible with the printed word. He goes on to say that "It was sixty years after Gutenberg built his printing press before anyone had the bright idea to number the page. Who know what social text innovations will be made in the decades to come?"
I highly recommend that you read this book. But don't get an ebook version. Find a nice quiet corner of the house or a park bench to sit down, by yourself, and read a physical copy of it. I think you will find the exercise well worth the time and effort.
Four new words this week. Three were from Solitude and one was from "The Silk Roads". That is proving to be a massive book to read, but with any luck I will finish it this week. Many more words have come from that book, I assure you.
moiling (present participle)
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. Fall has definitely arrived and with it, the first crash of the season. Too many leaves on the ground and if you ever ride in the fall, you will know how slippery a pile of wet leaves can be. Landing on the handlebar is apparently a good way to make it bend.
Still lots of time spent at work, so still not a lot going on beyond that. One book, a remarkable political scandal with a remarkable lack of impact, two new beers, and a handful of words.
To infinity and beyond!
Finishing that book brings my annual total to 41, and sets me on pace to read 55 books this year. My tally for 2018 was 34 books, and 40 books for 2017. So sitting here at the end of September, I have already read more books than I have in any other year.
As I type this, Canada is 22 days from the Federal Election. A couple weeks ago, I commented how the polls were shaping up to disappoint all parties, with the likely answer a minority government. The Liberals had the most to lose, I said, due to "Trudeau's inability to deliver and likely highlights his constant parade of gaffes". Well, they kept on coming.
Four weeks ago, the Liberals might not have had a clear road to majority, but surely the latest Liberal scandal must have erased even their hopes of a minority government, right? Maybe not, according to 338Canada and their article in Maclean's this week. Here is a side-by-side comparison of the 338Canada analysis from four weeks ago and this week.
Looking at that comparison, people that are going to vote for the Conservatives have already self-identified. The Liberals and even the Bloc are gaining ground at the expense of the NDP, and the Greens will still get their four seats, assuming we let them round up instead of down.
Twenty-two days to go. Lots could happen of course, but if the blackface / brownface issue is not big enough to sway the polls, I can only be very afraid of what it would take to actually make a difference.
Two new beers this week. The first was Baldwin Steam from Alley Kat. If you read this site at all, you know I drink a lot of different beers from Alley Kat. That is partly because they do good work, and partly because they are the closest brewery from my house. I like Alley Kat's regular beers, but I particularly like the variety they bring with their Dragon series of DIPAs, and the small batch Back Alley Brew series. My latest BAB was the Baldwin Steam, Lots of pine and a flavor that I couldn't place. The label talks about earthiness, so maybe that is it. If I am being honest, this one didn't do as much for me as some of their others, but it was still well put together.
The second was the Farm to Table Imperial from Russell Brewing. I don't have a lot of experience with Russell, but they seem to produce a solid line up. The Farm to Table had a lot of citrus from the hops, and was a high ABV beer, but there wasn't too much booziness so it was easy to drink. Good stuff. This one earned me Middle of the Road (Level 58) and The Great White North (Level 87) on Untappd.
Nine words this week, with one I know that I looked up before, and two that I really should have known. I will leave it to the reader to determine which words fit which category.
dossing (present participle)