June 02, 2017

And now . . . this - June 2/17

It's a gardener's worst nightmare: Animals or birds have destroyed your prize display.

That's precisely what the team at Memorial University's Botanical Garden discovered on May 18—a moose had eaten most of their Canada 150 tulips.

[Full Story]

I heartily endorse this heinous act of horticultural hijinks.

Do trees make a sound in the forest if no one is there to hear it?

Apparently so, and it's "Yes, yes, yes!"

"Trees are very social beings," says German forester Peter Wohlleben, "the parents, the 'mother trees' look after their offspring…they like to stand close together and cuddle." They also talk to each other, have sex, form friendships and feel physical pain, he told the Canadian documentary series "Intelligent Trees."

[Full Story]

June 01, 2017

And now . . . this - June 1/17

"Hold muh beer 'n' watch this, Jeb."

Idiot tests whether his steel-toed boot is bulletproof by shooting himself in the foot. (Warning: Result is not pretty.)

It's a good thing he didn't try to test his hard hat in a similar fashion, though I suspect it wouldn't be protecting anything important, anyway.

May 23, 2017

Roger Moore (1927-2017)

Sir Roger Moore has died at the age of 89.

Moore is best known for playing James Bond in seven films (more than anyone else) from 1973 to 1985. He is the oldest actor to have played the character, and of the six actors to have portrayed Bond, the first to pass away.

Compared to the more serious portrayal by his predecessor Sean Connery--and certainly in contrast with Ian Fleming's brooding, nihilistic secret agent--Moore's James Bond was suave and lighthearted, almost cartoonish. It wasn't the best period for Bond movies. But when Moore played Bond straight, as he did in Live and Let Die or For Your Eyes Only, he was very good indeed, and we can forgive him for Moonraker and Octopussy. Besides, if not for seeing Moonraker on TV as an eighth grader, I would never have sought out the novel, and James Bond may never have become one of my favourite literary characters. I recently finished reading straight through Fleming's Bond books for the third time.

Moore was also well known for his six-season run on television as the Saint, based on another literary favourite of mine, Leslie Charteris' Master criminal.

Goodbye, Mr. Bond.

May 22, 2017

On the appropriateness of appropriation

A week and a half ago, the editor of Write, the magazine of The Writers' Union of Canada (TWUC), has stepped down after an article he wrote generated numerous complaints. In this article, Hal Niedzviecki argued that there is no such thing as "cultural appropriation."

This generated numerous complaints from other members of TWUC, which was formed to "promote the rights, freedoms, and economic well-being of all writers," leading to a statement from the union in which they apologized "unequivocally," affirmed that the magazine exists to "offer space for honest and challenging discussion," and having been so challenged by Niedsviecki's editorial, bravely threw him under the bus.

I am not a reader of Write nor a member of TWUC. It is clear I could not be, given how they ignore their own mandate in favour of the intellectual Zeitgeist of the day, not to mention their apparent lack of a spine.

May 20, 2017

Don't believe the hype

In the spring of 1988, while in grade 12, I traveled to Calgary for a high-school band competition. To pass the time en route, in addition to the homework assignments for the days I was away, I had a reading list for the grade 13 English literature course. I would be taking the course the following year, but my then-girlfriend was enrolled in it, and she gave me the list of books (and my teachers were happy to loan me copies).

The required reading included Brave New World, The Stone Angel, and Cannery Row; optional books included Nineteen Eighty-Four, likely one or two titles that I have since forgotten, and, notably, two novels by Margaret Atwood: The Edible Woman and The Handmaid's Tale. The curriculum had a distinctly dystopian edge for some reason. Over the course of the trip, I devoured them all. I distinctly recall reading The Handmaid's Tale in one or two sittings on the return trip somewhere between Calgary and Winnipeg; in my mind, the novel still evokes memories of sunny prairies, grain elevators, and wheat fields seen from a train window, in stark contrast to the novel's actual, bleaker subject matter.

January 05, 2017

And now . . . this - Jan. 5/2017

The main takeaway from this article: The number of crazy, older single women in the world will soon precipitate a global cat shortage.

December 16, 2016

And now . . . this - Dec. 16/16

Many animals, including moose, have a natural need for salt in order to maintain good health and if there is no natural source available, they will search elsewhere for replenishment. . . .

While it is unclear exactly how many car-licking incidents have been reported in 2016, Alberta Parks says this is something that happens every year during the wintertime.

[Full Story]

Also not reported: the number of cars are spotted leaving Kananaskis at high speed with frozen moose tongues stuck to their bumpers.

Fa la la la la, la la la la

July 01, 2016

Our country reeks of trees

"Ah, trees, trees, and more trees. What a wonderfully green universe we live in, eh?"—Colonel O'Neill, Stargate SG-1

It is Canada Day once again. Today is Canada's 149th birthday, so there is but one more year the (presumably) big sesquicentennial celebration next summer.

I haven't been blogging recently—between a return to school and a change of employment, I found myself early on having little to say. At some point it became a challenge to see if I could go, say, six months without blogging. And so here we are. If nothing else, I'm not going to miss my annual tradition of posting a Canadian patriotic song each Canada Day.

This year, however, I'm feeling a little more frivolous than I usually do. This year's post came about mainly because at sometime on Thursday, the lyrics to the Anthem of the Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen came into my mind, and I couldn't get rid of them. (To their credit, they finally rid me of Styx' "Lorelei," an earworm I have been suffering for three days.)

So, it's kind of patriotic.

Additionally, it was co-authored by a Canadian: animator John M. Kricfalusi, who comes from Quebec. Kricfalusi is influenced by classic animation such as that of Tex Avery and Chuck Jones, and is best known for creating The Ren & Stimpy Show for Nickelodeon in the early 1990s. The Anthem of the Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen is the set piece of the second season's final episode.

The tune, of course, is that of the Royal Anthem, "God Save the Queen," but I imagine Kricfalusi's main inspiration was the American patriotic anthem "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" since it bears a closer lyrical relationship, most notably the wordplay in the first line.

As always, happy birthday, Canada.

Previous Canada Day songs:

December 25, 2015

The glory of the LORD shall be revealèd

Every Christmas, I make a point of listening to George Frideric Handel's great oratorio, Messiah. So do many people. If you live in a large enough city, you could potentially attend a performance several times each December. And because of Messiah's lengthy performance history (and Handel's habit of modifying the score to suit his performers), the variations are endless: modern or period instruments, professional or amateur soloists, mass choirs or small ensembles—to say nothing of the extensive catalogue of recordings! A more recent tradition is the "sing-along Messiah," in which the choir invites the audience to bring their own scores and sing with them. Paradoxically, this makes the oratorio one of Western art's highest achievements, as well as one of its most accessible.

Messiah is a Christmas institution. So it may come as a surprise to many that its first performance—a benefit in Dublin, Ireland, for the relief of prisoners' debt—took place in April, 1742. (The performance was a success, raising enough money to release 142 debtors from prison.) Its official debut in London took place the following March. Handel himself never had Messiah performed at Christmas; it was for the Easter season. Only the first of Messiah's three parts deals with the birth and ministry of Jesus, telling of the promise of judgment, redemption, and salvation through selected Old Testament passages as well as the birth narrative from the Gospel of Luke. Most of the best-known selections come from Part 1, likely because of its association with Christmas.

However, Part 2 tells of Christ's passion, his death and resurrection, his ascension into heaven, and his glorification. It continues by speaking of the beginning of the spread of the Gospel, and its rejection by the world. It culminates in the "Hallelujah" chorus, which declares the absolute sovereignty of God:

Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. (Revelation 16:9)

The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)

The words are so closely associated with the "Hallelujah" chorus that you probably think of the music while you're reading them. We hear this chorus every Christmas, but it rightly belongs to Easter! The meaning of Messiah is not "for unto us a child is born"; it's that He is "King of kings and Lord of lords." Hallelujah!

Finally, Part 3 promises eternal life, the Day of Judgment, and the final destruction of sin and death. The oratorio concludes with the exaltation of the Messiah:

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by his blood, to receive power, andriches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.

Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.

Amen. (cf. Revelation 5:9,12-14)

Even less commonly known, perhaps, is that Messiah is as much an apologetic work as it is an artistic one. The libretto (text) was composed by Charles Jennens, Handel's friend and frequent collaborator. Jennens was a devout Christian who was concerned about the rise in popularity of Deism amongst England's intelligentsia. Deism is a philosophical theism that rejects divine revelation as a source of knowledge, concluding that human reason alone is sufficient to establish the existence of a deity. When God created the universe, He established natural laws for its running, but He does not involve himself in its activity. Jennens' brother had lost his faith and committed suicide after corresponding with a Deist. Grieving for his brother, Jennens composed the libretto to Messiah as a response to Deism, compiling Scripture after Scripture from the King James Version of the Bible (paraphrasing here and there) to show that Christ was the promised Messiah and that God took an active interest in the redemption of the world. Jennens was reportedly less than satisfied with Handel's score (which he composed in less than a month), complaining that some parts were "far unworthy of Handel, but much more unworthy of the Messiah." The judgment of history has, perhaps, been more favourable.

My favourite selection from Messiah takes its text from Isaiah 40:5:

And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed; and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

The last phrase is drawn out in long, solemn notes that underscore its significance. It is immediately followed by a bass solo that thunders out: "Thus saith the LORD of hosts" (Haggai 2:6). Jennens draws out the story of Jesus almost entirely from the Old Testament, primarily the prophet Isaiah, drawing from the Gospels only for the annunciation of Jesus' birth to the shepherds by the angles (Luke 2:8-14). The Creator is no mere spectator, and this birth is no mere accident of history. The mouth of the Lord has spoken it; therefore, it has come to pass.

There is a strong relationship between good art and a good message. I have met many Christians who can appreciate many kinds of mediocre art as long as they mention Jesus enough times and are helpful for sharing the Gospel. Yet, in Messiah, a devout Lutheran composer has created one of the acknowledged masterpieces of the Western musical canon, listened to by millions every Christmas. Thanks to his friend, a devout Anglican with a concern for the spiritual state of England, those millions flock into auditoriums and churches willingly to hear the Gospel sung to them.

I wrote last Christmas about why the Incarnation is important. Only God, taking on true humanity, could atone for the sins of, and intercede for, the human race. Without that first Christmas, when "God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law" (Galatians 4:4), there would be no Easter—no cross to free us from the penalty of the law. But Charles Jennens and George Handel were right to focus on the work of Christ on the cross, and the blessings that result from it. Without the hope of Easter, there would be no joy at Christmas.