reasons it would suck to grow up in Edmonton

It would not be unusual to go trick-or-treating in -8°C (17.6°F) weather. Your costume would be ruined what with long johns, a coat or snowpants involved. I'd feel more sorry for the little blighters if they weren't getting free candy.

(and yes, this is technically only reason it would suck, but I think some of the others are obvious and therefore need not be shared.)

Sure, I do Latin

This girl sitting next to me in class today has come back to library school after getting her PhD in English. I think it's a sad state of affairs when roughly nine years of schooling does not prepare to actually give back to society. However, that is not the point here. The point is that she and her ilk are the source of everything wrong with prescriptivists today. During the lecture, she leaned over to me and said, "I hate split infinitives." We were reading a strategic plan (yes, I do hate library school) that said something like "to successfully meet the needs of the community". As all actually educated (as opposed to degreed) people know, there is no real reason to not split infinitives in English. Thankfully, the stupid rule is appears to gradually be dying. My only wish would be for it to completely disappear. I want to not hear it any more. Sadly, if college professors continue to incorrectly teach this rule, their students will think they need to assiduously avoid it. And since this woman stands credentialed to teach English on a university level, she will force her students to blindly follow a obsolete rule.

All is lost. We are all going to painfully die. Or at least, our English will suffer.

the inconsolable

Like Borges, I have always figured "el Paraíso bajo la especie de una biblioteca". In my effort to make a little heaven on earth, I read quite a bit. Not so much recently, which I can't quite figure out, though I'm tenetively blaming school (despite lack of evidence that it really is what's keeping me busy). I just finished The Human Factor, my eleventh Graham Greene novel, last night. It was one of those experiences where you get to the end and keep flipping pages for the happy resolution, the glimpse into a life that does not end in naught but pain, anguish, and separation from loved ones. But, being a Graham Greene novel and not, say, a Jane Green novel, there was no missing section. Life really does suck. Oh, and I will die alone.

I recently had a realization that, despite my constant search for good lighthearted literary fare a la Sedaris, what I really go in for is the sort of fiction that leaves me drained emoitionally. That makes even the large bag of chocolate covered peanuts that has been my main source of nourishment this weekend look pointless (and all readers here are intimately aware of my sweetooth). And that generally confirms my bleak outlook on life, relationships and my prospects at happiness. Is this perverse?

I just really get off on the emptiness these novels leave inside of me. Though I guess it's not really stealing piece of my soul but perhaps removing some the clutter I accumulate by watching vapid tv, interacting with stupid people, and sitting through entire class sessions dedicated to "passion and leadership". There are times when the impact seems unmanageable. Like when I was reading Remains of the Day and had to actually set the book aside so I could literally curl up in a ball on my bed, moan and rock from side to side. It crucified me, much like the series finale of Six Feet Under. But all these experience have an element of the spiritual in it for me. Of course, being a total emotional masochist doesn't hurt.

All this might be a preamble to books that have crushed alea's soul (now if this isn't the strangest booktalk you've ever seen, I'll be surprised). Obviously not a comprehensive list here, but perhaps the highlights. Please note, there is no intended ranking scheme here.

  • Remains of the Day by Ishiguro
  • Atonement by McEwan
  • Jude the Obscure by Hardy
  • Talking it Over and Love, etc. by Barnes (and the first section of England, England)
  • Graham Greene's Catholic Quartet*: The Power and the glory, The End of the Affair, Brighton Rock, Heart of the Matter
  • The Bell by Murdoch
  • The Accidental by Smith
  • A Little Lower than the Angels by Sorensen (every Mormon should read this novel)

*anyone on the lookout for a good band name could do a lot worse than GGCQ.

nondenominational libraries

This last Saturday I was sitting at work, trying to find historical data on Alberta's unemployment rate for an im client(I was unsuccessful in the end, since StatsCan doesn't seem to want you to get free access to their Labour Force Survey. ugh.). To understand this story, you'll need to know that I work in an information commons (read, fancified computer lab). It's got one large room with loads of computers (200-something) and then a smaller room off one side that isn't really separate but it set off (imagine the shape of the state of Utah). From the desk, I cannot see into this smaller room. Also, the nature my work area means that people are allowed to talk (or as my boss would say "collaborate"), eat, play games or otherwise use the space as they see fit. All this background is essential to understanding what happens next.

This lady came up to the desk. I've seen her here before. She's what the politically correct would call a "nontraditional" or "returning" student. All my interactions with her have made me sense she's a bit off. Nothing serious, just slightly differently socialized than what I'm used to. At any rate, she comes up and says, "There's got to be a place on campus to pray. I mean, this area's meant to be nondenominational, right? I guess, what I mean is it appropriate for people to pray here?" I look up and her and try to figure out what she's getting at. Does she want me to give her the go-ahead to pray? directions to the on-campus chapel? I waited maybe five seconds. Fortunately, no immediate response caused her to state more clearly as she pointed to the smaller room, "there's a guy back there doing a Muslim prayer. Don't you think that's inappropriate? This isn't a church...or a Mosque. Will you come tell him to stop?"

At this point, my heart starts pounding. We have some crazies that frequent our area and spend all day wasting time online (or asking for help deleting the porn from their iPod*) and I initially thought one of these guys might be causing a problem. I get up and walk back to the area with her. I get back there and, of the fifteen computers, two are in use: hers and another guys. I don't see the guy she's complaining about at first because he's kneeling down. Then he stands up. He's being perfectly silent, and is way back up to one corner so as not to be near anybody else. It was here that I had to really, really refrain from bursting out with "are you serious?!" Because he was doing nothing that seemed inappropriate to me.

Here comes the uncomfortable part: how do you tell this woman that she's crazy without making it sound like that? Still a little flustered, I told her that it didn't seem inappropriate to me, that he'll probably be done in a moment anyway and that, if it really bothered her, she could move to another area (the place was not that crowded). She was displeased. She came back to "this isn't a mosque. I wouldn't go into a church and start using my computer." I repeated myself with a shrug and an apology. She countered, "I don't think I should have to move, I'm already booted up." Another noncommittal statement and shrug from me. Finally, she said, "fine, don't do anything. It's not right, though."

I went back to my desk, queasy and uncertain if I handled this patron correctly. I emailed my boss the situation and soon afterwards was off. On Monday, in class, my coworker who came after me told me that, as this lady was leaving, she returned to the desk. She again explained frustration with my response and asked, "are you going to bring this up at your next staff meeting? There ought to be a policy." She then proceeded to try and get my coworker (the daughter and sister of ministers) to agree that the guy was out of line. I guess this went on for a while, becoming increasingly racist. Her closing line was "Osama hasn't taken over yet, y'know."

This lady needs to chill out. He was well within his rights (note, he wasn't even Arab, he was Asian, so the anti-Arab comments are misguided at best and hopelessly ignorant at worst). I really think he chose the spot to be far away from others, to not draw attention to himself and to have a quieter venue for his brief religious devotion. It's sad that this lady didn't want to allow him his freedom. I wonder if there was another middle-aged woman with folded arms, bowed head and closed eyes in the area if she would have complained. Or if a young Jewish gentleman wearing a kipa and rocking rhythmically would have unsettled her so badly. I'm guessing not. But who knows, maybe she's rabidly opposed to invoking the almighty into any part of her computing experience.

*I'm not making this up. I was asked by one guy to help delete his iPorn, though he never mentioned that it was pornography...or acted uncomfortable when I saw what he had on his iPod.

well, does it?

So, I was doing some coursework for Instructional Strategies and was digging around in a periodical database. I came across this title:

"Instruction via chat reference: does co-browse help?"

I actually took the time to read this. It has nothing to do with my topic at hand. I'm just interested in its aboutness. You see, I work at a place that used to be part of the QuestionPoint 24/7 consortium. We dropped out in favour of IM reference, but were concerned over the loss of co-browsing. Co-browsing sucks. It's a situation in which the librarian taps in and partially takes over the patron's browser. The problems were numerous: notably that it rarely worked and the patron also had partial control meaning sometimes they would click somewhere they shouldn't.

I was never a fan of co-browsing and generally cannot say enough good about opting for IM (I could however, question the viability and effectiveness of synchronous electronic reference, but I feel that's a losing battle at this stage.) So I was curious what these people found. In brief, co-browsing was well-received, but did not impact the amount of instruction offered. (I just realized that "instruction" means something specific to librarians, but I don't feel like describing it here. Just insert what you think it means, you'll be pretty close). The article fails to address the staff end of things (i.e. how do staff feel about co-browsing?). I smell a follow-up article. I have fallen so very far. I'm actually taking LIS research seriously enough to question its assertions. It's all downhill from here.

If anyone else is interested, it's from the Reference Services Review, 2006, vol. 34, no. 3, 340-357.

buskers banging

Edmonton has some of the strangest buskers ever. And by strange I mean bad. I know because I have seen every single busker. There are five of them, plus or minus one crazy lady. This lady stands in light rail stations and sings. But she also sings on the trains, or when she's walking downtown, or in the lobby of the downtown library. I don't know for sure that she's after cash, but people drop coins if she's stationary. She's Chinese and is always "singing" tunes that are either in jibberish or Chinese (I can't tell). These are done in traditional East Asian pentatonic style. Imagine, if you will, Björk, but Chinese. Yes, it's that wacky. Yes, it's that annoying. Yes, it's that bad.

This lady's fellow countryman sits to play his Erhu. (As of yet they have not teamed up to busk). I'm not a particular fan of this music, but it's passable. His case is open and he also apparently sells burned cds of his own music. He has humbly called these "Songs of Paradise, vol. 1" and "Sounds of Paradise, vol. 2". Not sure who the marketer there is that didn't inform him that "song" and "sound" are not exactly equivalents. He seems to do well for himself.

There's this really tall, youngish lady who is surprisingly well-groomed for a busker. She plays the guitar and sings. Very traditional. She's the best musician of all the buskers.

There's another woman who plays the guitar and sings, but poorly. She sometimes mixes it up and goes out with a keyboard or a portable xylophone. She looks downtrodden, as all buskers really should. She also looks a little crazy in that sort of the-only-job-I-can-get-in-a-market-that-is-paying-nearly -twenty-bucks-an-hour-in-fast-food-is-creative-spectacle-based-begging way. Her hair is wild, her eyes don't quite seem to focus and her clothing is tattered. If she only had musical skills, she'd be the perfect busker.

I have saved my favourite street musician for last, though. He stands in his fur-trimmed elf vest and plays a tuba. Yep...full on tuba. I've never seen someone solo on a tuba for cash before. He's pretty good, though I must admit my tuba-judging skills are iffy. He's the only guy who I give money too. I feel he deserves it, for his quirkiness if nothing else.

In the Church, but not of the Church (part 2)

This other example is much more minor, but also fed my frustration with my meeting docket on Sunday. I'm feeling much less maligned by my ward today than I was yesterday. Because, apparently, my friends agree that it was lame. That's enough for me.

First of all, my ward has this great Sunday School teacher. He presents intelligently designed questions and troubles a lot of simple intrepretations that people give. He's not afraid of paradox or of bringing in non-LDS perspectives to bear on the lessons. For example, he started out his latest lesson by saying, "I recently watched the film version of Camelot. In it, there's this line 'the tormented quest for perfection'. What other examples do you guys know from literature or art or film that highlight the tormented quest for perfection?" This lead to summaries of GATTACA, an anime series, a group of WWII novels about a gunner and Martin Dressler (my contribution). He then goes into the lesson material, which focused on how, through the atonement of Christ, we can have a quest for perfection that is not only tormented. This is the sort of thing I like.

So, we're discussing Isaiah 52.7:

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!"

The discussion is pretty interesting and is going in all sorts of directions. People suggest that mountains are symbolic of holy places, that mountains provide perspective, that you cannot be a watchman on a plain and so on. Good stuff that highlight various meanings of the word choice. Then we talk about the feet and how feet are the humblest piece of man, but they're also the active component, that publishing peace is hard work and so on. I'm not sure I agree with these as reasons for Isaiah using them, but it's keeping the ball rolling.

One guy raises his hand and says, "We're missing the point. This verse is simple. It means stand in holy places. That's it."

The teacher is a little thrown off by this simplistic approach. The guy's tone of voice suggested that the rest of us were stupid for even suggesting that alternate readings were possible, let alone valuable. The teacher's response was, "well, then why didn't Isaiah just say that?"

Dude came back with the canned response, "scripture is given in parable so that only the in-tune understand and so you can learn more by each reading." Isn't this amazing? He failed to realize that his memorized response contradicted his previous comment. Astounding, really.

The teacher showed his politic side and moved on to another aspect of the lesson. I feel my rant from yesterday explains my frustrations.

In the Church, but not of the Church (part 1)

So, being an Elder means a couple of things in this church. You can confirm people members. You can serve a mission. You can be endowed. And, despite all efforts, you cannot for the life of you manage to bring a lesson manual to church. In our EQ this Sunday there were a total of four manuals (including the teacher). They were over 40 men present. What this means is that you get some sketchy interps of the lesson material and very few people to call the instructor out (because let's be honest, the kind of guy that bring a manual is not going to be a troublemaker). Unless he's me, of course. So, here's the quote in question:

If we had before us every revelation which God ever gave to man; if we had the Book of Enoch; if we had the untranslated plates before us in the English language; if we had the records of the Revelator St. John which are sealed up, and all other revelations, and they were piled up here a hundred feet high, the church and kingdom of God could not grow, in this or any other age of the world, without the living oracles of God.

The teacher dude summarizes this quote (without reading it aloud!) to mean that, without a prophet, men cannot know how to be saved. Now, I'm becoming well-known for my wacky (and probally incorrect/heretical) readings, but I feel like this guy is out to lunch. So I raise my hand and disagree. I read the quote aloud and then say, "it only says that the Kingdom won't grow, it never says you can't know how to be saved." He disagreed. He said something that didn't really answer my question about ordinances and how you need them. His rejoinder was lenghty.

I responded that I have no problem with needing ordinances, that's not what I'm arguing, I'm arguing that you can still know how to be saved. I thought, but did not say for fear of direct attack on my evidence that Catholics actually get what you have to do to be saved: take part in sacraments, live well and rely on God. They get it! (Well, for the most part. There are obviously problems with their system but they're pretty close.) As, in fact, do a lot of groups. I think the Buddhist that really strives to live the Eightfold Path to the best of her ability is on a pretty good track to salvation. Or the Moslem who practices the Five Pillars. Et cetera, et cetera.

Other classmates jumped in now and defended the ordinance argument, which as I said, was not in question. I'm all for ordinances and saving our dead and temples and having problems smoothed out in the Millenium and so on. I guess my point about how those on earth during the apostasty would be screwed out of salvation was taken in a very Mormon sense (they just need ordinances) and not in the sense I intended (that they were capable of attaining large chunks of gospel truth). And really the argument wasn't even about the doctrine/veracity of what was being presented (maybe you can't know salvation's story without a prophet. I doubt it, but give me a quote from the prophet on it and I'll consider it). The argument was over a misreading of the quote.

I think part of the problem is that we no longer have a sense of the "Kingdom of God" like Brother Woodruff would have. For him it was a temporal/spiritual construct that was designed to be actively built and gathered around the oracles of God. Today we talk more about a community of believers, the stakes of Zion and the progression of the work and not so much the Kingdom. We're no longer millenialists like we used to be.

The whole "discussion" bothered me for several reasons:
  • I was right but not recognized as such
  • people got caught up in the ordinance question, though that wasn't the issue
  • people acted like I didn't have a leg to stand on and needed to be told basic gospel principles that weren't really pertinent
  • people were not actually thinking about/engaging in the question, rather they gave canned answers
  • the discussion suggests a lack of faith in the belief that good is found in all systems of belief
  • it highlights the theological certitude that is the unfortunate result of thinking we have all truth

All these reasons add up to the one major reason why I hate Mormon meetings. We, as a people, have become theologically, spiritually and intellectually lazy in our discussion of the Gospel. The majority feels like we have the answers and they cannot change, so the same arguments and reasoning that you learned at age 12 is still valid at 22. We act like there are no legitimate questions to be raised, no issues to discuss, no possible alternate interpretations of a scripture, no areas where we can assert boldy "we don't know", no place for the inspiration of the spirit. We sit in Sunday School and Priesthood/Relief Society and hear the same lessons we've heard our whole lives. We should have questions, concerns, problems and honest confusion about some of this stuff. The Gospel is simple in application but deep in meaning. We approach it like 8th graders tackling The Scarlet Letter.

Church ought to provide the ideal environment for the doubters, for questioning, for admitting that something simply doesn't make sense to you. But most aren't going to church to learn. They're going to put on a good face and nod at the appropriate times. To build a community of believer (which I am form, though perhaps a larger community that doesn't exclude the doubters). And, in the case of singles wards, to nab a spouse (since marriage is a checkbox on the route to salvation).

These attitudes really, really pisses me off and I'm trying my best to let everyone in my ward know when I have questions, when I'm confused, when something may not be a simple as typically presented. Some people seem to enjoy this. The vast majority, though, just find me uncouth and therefore avoid me for these concerns or comments (like when I shared that testimony and testicle have the same root. There was a visible shudder).

I was already in an irritated mood, though, when this came up. Earlier someone had brought up the idea that "if the prophet says it, do it! then you'll know why." Problems here abound. Briefly: it "presupposes a spiritual laziness displeasing to God" (thanks, Alonzo Gaskill); it does not factor the role of the confirmation of the spirit into the mix; and it suggests that every time you try out council, you'll see why it was given (not so: we cannot see the end from the beginning like our Father in Heaven.) I had also raised my hand to ask why that's good advice since a gift or a prayer without real intent profiteth nothing (Moro. 7.6). The argument here was also silly and fruitless, apart from one guy who suggest a spectrum of intention.

To close this rant, two quotes. The first is the quote that we didn't get to in the EQ lesson but I wish we had. If I were the teacher, here's where the lesson would have centered. Props to WW on the phrasing "intelligent obedience".

It is necessary that all the members of the Church should exercise their powers of reason and reflection, and thoroughly understand why they take the course which God points out. Intelligent obedience on the part of His Saints is desired by our Father in Heaven. He has given us our agency to think and act for ourselves, on our own volition, to obtain a testimony for ourselves from Him concerning the truth of the principles which He teaches, and then be firm and unshaken in the performance of all which is necessary for salvation.

The second comes from Elder Widtsoe's Evidences & Reconciliations. Elder Widtsoe is my new Mormon hero. His life's goal was to show that rationality (i.e. science) and religion could work together. He argues this beautifully through several books, including E&R. This is from the 1960 version, page 16.

It is a paradox that men will gladly devote time every day for many years to learn a science or an art; yet will expect to win a knowledge of the gospel, which comprehends all sciences and arts, through perfunctory glances at books or occasional listening to sermons. The gospel should be studied more intensively than any school or college subject. They who pass opinion on the gospel without having given it intimate and careful study are not lovers of truth, and their opinions are worthless.

ugh. Snow?!

that is all.

Help wanted

Alberta is currently in the grips of a runaway economy. The surpluses are enormous. So big that earlier this year every Albertan (even infants if they were born before December 31st) got a $400 "prosperity check". One of the effects of this boom is that there simply are not enough workers for all the jobs. This is made abundantly clear by a fairly recent change to the minimum employment age. The government no longer requires permits for a company to hire 12-15 year olds. That's right. McDonalds is using preteens.

Somewhere, Lewis Hine is rolling over in his grave.

Who's church?

Bishop Edwin D. Woolley got into trouble with Brigham Young for building a really fancy social hall for his ward and renting it out to nonmembers for social purposes. When he confronted and chastised Woolley for this Brigham said, "Well, I suppoe you are going to go off and apostatize."

Woolley's response is wonderful. I think I should make a sampler with this exchange on it. He said, "No, I won't. If this were your church I might, but it's just as much mine as it is yours."

(This quote captions a chapter in Adventures of a Church Historian, which I am reading right now. This book is roiling all sorts of emotions in me, including a really, really strong desire to land a job with Church History. Hopefully I can trick them into finding me qualified come April.)

Please note

If you must go shopping on the Saturday previous to Thanksgiving, the grocery stores you visit will be out of the following items:

  • currants
  • lentils (all varieties)
  • cottage cheese
  • the cheap soy milk
  • the chewing gum you like (Extra spearmint)
  • rice in any amount other than 10 kilo bags
  • yeast

However, you will be pleasantly surprised to learn that there is more than enough:

  • turkey (breast and whole)
  • stuffing mix
  • canned pumpkin
  • prepared pumpkin pie
  • cranberries (dried, fresh or canned)

Le temps qui reste

I was beginning to feel like the battered wife of François Ozon. When we first got together we had some great times. Une Robe d’Été still makes me smile every time I see it. Sitcom is wacky, but good (what’s not to love about incest, giant rodents and multiple murder?). And, naturellement, there’s 8 Women which still stands as one of my favourite films ever. But then, there was Under the Sand which was just strange but not quirky/enjoyable strange. More like head scratching/foreigner-in-Tokyo strange. Criminal Lovers creeps me out to just think of it. Swimming Pool was completely incoherent and had more topless scenes than any film I have seen. Last year, he offered 5x2, which mostly left me cold despite horrific scenes of painful divorce and marriage-night rape. I cling to the old times, back when we got along, and continue to shell out money to see each of Ozon’s offerings in turn. Less than a year after his mathematically-titled feature, Ozon has produced another film, showing just how desperately he is reaching for the Joyce Carol Oates award for Prolificacy (film division).

His latest, however, did not disappoint in the slightest. This is a film of the man I fell in love with. Time to Leave tells the story of Romain, a photographer who is unexpectedly diagnosed with highly advanced cancer and, like so many baked goods, is given an expiration date. The terminal patient dealing with cancer is so over used that even to mock it is cliché. Audiences are groomed to expect one of three outcomes: a miraculous recovery, a majestic live reversal/dying that makes the transfiguration in A Christmas Carol seem about as life-altering as a haircut, or touching scenes of reconciliation with loved ones before fading away. Ozon shies away from all these and manages to make a moving film about a complete jerk who just happens to be dying.

Supposedly this film is the second in a proposed trilogy on the theme of mourning (the first is Under the Sand). Time to Leave asks the question, how do we mourn ourselves? I don’t know that it really gets around to answering this question, but it sure beautifully hovers around Romain and his final months. From visiting his grandmother one last time to breaking up with his boyfriend, the scenes don’t quite add up to a plot. Rather they accrete around Romain whose emotional deterioration mirrors his physical corrosion.

My love for this cinematic effort may lie partially in the fact that, faced with the same trouble as Romain, I would react in exactly the same way. I would also systematically burn all my bridges. Because, like Romain (and presumably Ozon), I believe that life is not a series of memories or even accomplishments. It is an unending series of failures and the regret they entail. L’enfer may be les autres, but la vie, c’est remords.

Weather whinge

It's happened. For the first time since moving back to Edmonton, I've stepped outside into 0° weather (that's Celsius. It sounds much more dramatic than 32° Fahrenheit). This betokens the coming of the end of my happiness. Well, not really. Last year, I became accustomed to -17° as a high (which is roughly 0° F). It wasn't pleasant to wear to five layers and a scarf and a hat and gloves, but I managed. I just wasn't expecting it to come back so soon.

What's really frustrating about this is that it's 0 at 6.45 (when I leave home) and 10 by 3 p.m. (when I go home). So, while I'm not too opposed to the layering approach (undershirt, button down, cardigan, coat). I only need those four layers for the first part of the day. And then I have to schlep them all back home. I'm resentful towards nature for this extra weight it forces me to carry around. Well, that and the fact that I've got a long, hard winter ahead of me.