Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Unblog For December 29, 2008

When I read and reviewed the atheist manifestos of Dawkins and Harris as well as Hitchins screed I didn't receive any hate mail from anyone identifying themselves as Christian while all three of those writers go to great length to assure readers of the never ending stream of hatred directed at them by Christians. But review one book from a Christian perspective and I have been inundated with hate mail. Wow.

There is always intolerance on all sides of an issue whether one claims a Christian banner or a secular one and one of my next book reviews will reveal hatred and intolerance by atheists that is every bit as vicious and prevalent as those they claim comes from those who claim the mantle of Christ. Probably even more so. I do not hear Christians calling for atheists to be put to death yet the 'rational' Sam Harris advocates exactly that for those who believe in God.

Intolerance and ill-will is intolerance and ill-will no matter who espouses it nor what their intellectual credentials are. A pox on all your houses. If your creed or intellectual belief lead you into the area of hatred and targeted intolerance than stay away from me. I don't associate with those who cannot get their head out of their rectum.

Christmas here was busy and challenging. Tess brother and nephew arrived on the 23rd requiring a trip to the next city to pick them up. Naturally it was a lousy day with heavy snow making the 75 mile trip up and back to the airport interesting to say the least. Our Christmas was divided between Tess`house, my parents house, and my sisters place with me sometimes trying to attend to several holiday events at once. Mario and Roy were scheduled to return to Vancouver on the 26th. Tess and her Mom set out with me to drive them the 75 miles north to the airport they had flown into. The weather began to deteriorate as soon as we hit the road and soon became acutely dangerous as a blizzard blew in and we were driving in a near whiteout. We called the airline and they insisted the flight would land and would be on time and with Mario needing to get back to work and to prepare for another flight out on vacation on the 30th, we struggled on. We had barely gotten past the halfway point when the airline sent a text advising the flight was cancelled.

As dangerous as the highway was it was better to go on at that point. After a nearly 3 hour drive for a 75 mile trip we made it to the city and got hotel rooms for the night at a resort casino. Fortunately the hotel was close to a bookstore that was open on Boxing Day and in the storm. I grabbed a couple of books and after we ate and while the Asian crowd hit the casino, I read.

The next morning we were up early and, with the weather cleared, we were off to the airport where we were told there were no seats available until January 1 as they were all booked. The Air Canada attendant was quite snooty and kept telling Roy and Mario it was their fault for not having re-booked as soon as the flight had been cancelled. At that point I stepped in and in my calm, rational manner screamed, "How could they re-book when Air Canada hasn`t answered a phone in 16 hours?" It wasn't helpful.

To be fair, the entire air baggage system had gone down across Canada and that, combined with extremely bad weather, had resulted in many, many flight cancellations. That did not excuse Air Canada from not answering their phones for hours, however. Since I was not flying they couldn`t threaten to ban me from flying and my temper finally brought a senior official who managed to find two seats the next day on a competitors airline and leaving from our own city so it was back in the car and back home.

The next day we finally got everyone on their way, cleaned the house, and have spent the last couple of days trying to simply rest and relax.
Sometimes Christmases are just too much work!

Daughter Christina is off for a couple of weeks. As a teacher she gets the same Christmas break as the kids. A well deserved one at that. Tomorrow night I have been invited to a `sleepover`at my daughters house out on the farm.
In their main room, a kitchen, dining room, and sitting area is a picture window and a nook. They have placed armchairs on both sides of this nook and a futon against the window. Bookshelves line the wall and the wood stove keeps everything at a cozy temperature. Among their real presents I got Ace and Chris a basket full of various teas, biscuits, cookies and treats to enjoy in the evening as they sit in their cozy little nook. They spend most of their evenings their as there is no television reception where they are and Chris refuses to get a satellite. So while the kids sit in the living room watching DVD`s, Chris and Ace sit in their cozy nook overlooking the snow covered fields and read their evenings away.

I have been invited out to a dinner and an evening enjoying their reading nook. I am looking forward to it!

(Originally posted to Multiply December 29, 2008)


Christmas 2008

(Originally posted to Multiply December 29, 2008)

Christmas Eve 2008

For 30 years or more my sister has had a Christmas Eve dinner and birthday party for me. This year she is doing Christmas dinner as Mom is just too old for that task now. Doing the Christmas dinner was enough and so for the first time in years I had no birthday 'party.'

Mom cooked a quick pot of chili and made a birthday cake for me and for my son-in-law Ace who has the same Christmas Eve birthday. It was a really nice evening.

After I went to Tess' house where a full scale Filpino party was in progress. Doesn't anyone stay home on Christmas Eve anymore?

(Originally posted to Multiply December 26, 2008)

A Charlie Brown Christmas

(Originally posted to Multiply December 24, 2008)

2008 Filipino Christmas Party

(Originally posted to Multiply December 22, 2008)

Book Review: The Nightmare Years

Genre: History
Author: William L. Shirer
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

There was a time, not so long ago, when being a journalist was considered reputable and journalists were diligent in being impartial and reporting just the facts. William L. Shirer was one of the greats along with Edward R. Murrow and many others.

Journalists are not historians, it is said, and Shirer's classic work, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is often panned by historians themselves it was, for a very long time, the only in depth treatise of that turbulent period of history and there is little to fault it.

The Nightmare Years is Shirer's account of his years as a journalist in pre World War II Europe and the horrors he saw and reported in those early years of the Third Reich. It is also an account of his life at that time, often a personal memoir.

While developing my web site of the Einsatzgruppen I read thousands and thousands of pages of history books until the written word of the horrors of the holocaust literally made me weep. I eventually had to stop work on the site and have barely touched it in a long, long time. Such was the depth of the horror that touched my soul. I am a bit of a history nut and I love reading history but have not been able to do so since developing that site. Volumes purchased sit here unread.

Yet I have been able, once again, to read Shirer's account of the early years and perhaps it will allow me a gentle road back into reading a genre that I enjoy.

World War II history is not for everyone, I know, yet Shirer's account is an interesting one and one that is still worth reading, his 'voice' still worth hearing.

Amazon says,
"Shirer, who has witnessed much history in the making, rehashes too much of it in this graceless, humorless third and final installment of memoirs. More interesting is the personal material. His career as a radio commentator ended when CBS fired him in 1947, and he reveals the dark role played by Edward R. Murrow. His account of the affair begins, "I've waited a long time to do this." Shirer describes the struggle to support his family during the McCarthy years, then his dramatic success as a bestselling author with the 1960 publication of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich . But his memoir also becomes an occasion to get back at publishers and reviewers who were not enthusiastic over his books; at length he recalls frustrating conferences with Alfred Knopf and others, reprints negative reviews and quibbles over them. He also takes the opportunity to defend his work against the disdain of historians who, he maintains, cannot accept his popularity."
(Originally posted to Multiply December 18, 2008)

A Five Dog Night

My oldest daughter Christina has three dogs. The S.P.C.A. has an adopt-a-pet program during the Christmas holidays so that pets can be taken into a home for a few days relieving S.P.C.A. staff and volunteers the task of looking after a great many animals over the holidays. Chris brought Hayden home for the holidays a couple of years ago and Hayden just stayed. He had found a family. Earlier this year Hayden was joined by Copper. Copper was an S.P.C.A. rescue dog who had been badly, badly abused and was to be put down but the staff wished to give him a little time in a situation where he would know love. He came to live with Chris and Ace joining Hayden. Copper is not doing well these days and his time is short but he finally came to know the love and kindness he needed all his life. Hayden and Copper were joined by a non-de script, mongrel puppy named Buddy. Buddy is a mammoth thing, a one man, or, as the case may be, a one dog wrecking crew.

Because Copper is so old and feeble, he has slept in the house since coming to live with my daughter and her family while Hayden and Buddy have, until recently, slept outside. Now that the deep cold has come they are allowed in at night and all three dogs sleep in the living room together although Copper is prone to wake up in the middle of the night and wander into Chris and Ace's bedroom.
Hayden, Copper, and Buddy are part of the menagerie of cats and horses and a lama as well as chickens and turkeys who live on Chris' farm.

They live in a remote rural area with only a few other houses on their road. In the country most animals, even if well treated, are not 'house' pets. They are provided with adequate housing to withstand the cold and expected to stay out. This includes the two dogs belonging to one of Chris' neighbors. These two often wander over to Chris' to play with Hayden, Copper, and Buddy.

The other night Hayden, Copper and Buddy were brought in for the night, fed, and had bedded down in their usual spots when there came a scratching at the door. Opening it, Chris found the two neighbor dogs. It was a cold, cold, night and they clearly wanted in and, amused, she allowed them in "for a moment." They promptly went to the living room, layed down with Chris' dogs, and went to sleep. Chris and Ace found this funny so she allowed them to stay the night. In the morning they wanted out and went to their home. The next night, promptly at bedtime, they were back and again came in to visit Chris' dogs and to spend the night. They have been back every night since. It appears better to sleep in the neighbor's living room warmed by a wood stove than in a cold doghouse and this pair have learned that they are welcome on cold night's at Chris' house.

Now, while amusing, I am sure most of you are shaking your heads and thinking, "Oh brother." That was my initial reaction as well but you know what? Dogs have feelings and preferences as well as humans do and these two are clearly expressing their desire for a warm night's sleep over a cold one. I am kind of proud of Chris and Ace that they have gentle hearts and express love and kindness to four footed friends.

The visiting dogs have no desire to live with them. They know they have a home and they return to it. They just want the warmth and the company at night and Chris is prepared to give it. My daughter is a softy. Surely she is accumulating good karma.

Speaking of dogs, at the end of her life my dog Kitten had developed a bit of a breathing problem and she huffed and puffed when climbing stairs. With her arthritic hips she had a peculiar gate as she climbed stairs as well. The huffing and puffing and the ragged walk made a distinctive sound. It was easy to tell when Kitten was coming up the stairs quite apart from the clicking of her nails. My father tells me that Kitten paid a 'visit' last night. He woke up hearing her huffing and puffing, her nails clicking, and her odd gate on the stairs. He says it gave him quite a start.

Well, who knows. Many would say he just woke up from a dream that Kitten was in. But you never know. Kitten was as attached to us as we were to her and perhaps her spirit paid a visit last night. I would like to think so anyway.

I saw my psychiatrist this morning. We had a small discussion. He said my depression was quite normal. That was qualified by his saying after that it was quite normal for me, anyway. I had been off my medication all summer as I got healthy, winter was a traditional time of depression for many like me as were the shorter hours of daylight this time of year. In addition he allowed that is I had been exercising as heavily as I had been and then had to reduce it suddenly because of the weather then the sudden decrease in endorphins would upset my system as well.

I told him that I thought I had been cured and he just shook his head and said, "No.' There is, of course, no cure for bipolar disorder although their is hope it 'eases' as I get older.

I did not want medication that would put weight back on which sent him to his manuals while he looked up likely drugs that might work to lift my mood without putting on pounds. In the end he selected one that I immediately dismissed for various reasons and we finally settled on one we could both agree to. Anyone who thinks psychiatry is an exact science is mistaken. The selection of anti-depressants is a guessing game anyway based on what has worked in the past, presenting symptoms, and a careful look into the Magic 8 Ball.

I will begin a new medication tomorrow and try it for a few weeks to see if it helps. If not, we go onto another one to try until we find one that lifts my mood. Then, once we find one that works, I am to go back on my lithium which I haven't taken in several months so I will not become manic during the anti-depressant therapy or after I recover.

Mania sucks every bit as much as depression but right now I just want to feel better and not be seeing "grey skies from now on."
It is a temptation when depressed to think that one's thinking has caused the depression when in reality it is the depression that has caused the disturbed, or, disturbing thoughts. I struggle to remember that and to pay the thoughts little attention. It is hard and harder still when within these thoughts there are kernels of truth that have always been hard to deal with and with an episode of depression become harder yet.

I cherish and value all of you who have expressed your care and concern. You do not know how much I treasure your warm wishes as I hurtle into the abyss. The ride is rough and dark and painful and bleak. At times it is near unbearable. Logging in here to your prayers and encouragement really helps. Thank you all.

(Originally posted to Multiply December 17, 2008)

Book Review: The Omnivore's Dilemma

Genre:  Health, Mind & Body
Author: Michael Pollan
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Emerson wrote, "You have just dined and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity."
This was a good, if very disturbing, read. I had to shut my mind off every time I ate after reading this. The following review by Lloyd Alter at Treehugger gets to the point.

"A joy of writing for TreeHugger is that one learns so much, about things we never thought much about before. This may make us a lousy book reviewer, because we are certainly not experts in the subjects of the books we are reading and tend to gush. We learned about peak oil from James Howard Kunstler; about global warming from Tim Flannery, and now about food from Michael Pollan, and true to form we gush again.

The Omnivore's dilemma is this: When you can eat just about anything nature has to offer, deciding what you should eat will inevitably stir anxiety. The Koala doesn't worry about food- he just chews eucalyptus leaves. Rats and humans have bigger issues. Pollan says that the way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world. He is no vegan, but is a cook and appalled by modern industrial food production, and how it separates us from the sources of our food. Pollan looks at the three principal food chains : Industrial, Organic and Hunter/Gatherer and has a meal from each.

If you eat industrially, you are made of corn. It holds together your McNuggets, it sweetens your soda pop, it fattens your meat, it is everywhere. You are also partially fossil fuel- the corn needs a lot of nitrogen and gets it from fertilizer instead of the soil, which used to get it from rotating crops. The corn is fed to cows who are designed to eat grass and get sick from it, so they are pumped with antibiotics. It is fed to us in many forms, because it is cheap- a dollar buys you 875 calories in soda pop but only 170 in fruit juice. The meal was a McDonalds, and was analyzed as almost entirely corn. He does not seem to have enjoyed it very much. For this reader, this section was by far the most shocking- industrial agriculture exposed as nothing but a giant yellow matrix.

Section Two covers the Organic industry, and is far more bucolic. Here, all is grass. Much of the chapter is spent on Joe Salatin's very doctrinaire and remarkable farm. However you will not find his foods in your Whole Foods- he only sells locally. The larger organic industry covers many different interpretations of organic, some of which are pretty borderline but all are better than anything from the corn economy. However the organic food industry is huge; transportation is a major cost. Pollan thinks that industrial organic is a contradiction in terms and is unsustainable, “floating on a stinking sea of petroleum”. We may all be eating the 100 mile diet soon, whether we want to or not. The meal sounded good, but a little heavy on the diesel fuel.

We won't go into the hunting and gathering Section in detail; this TreeHugger has never held a gun and doesn't get it. I do have to say that the meal sounded absolutely fabulous.

This TreeHugger has started feeling really guilty every time meat passes our lips- Elisa's lessons on Veganism impressed us. However after reading this book it is clear that we all have to change our eating habits-. Buying organic asparagus flown in from Argentina is no more morally defensible than eating a locally and sustainably raised cow. Finding my nearest farmers market has never seemed more important.

Michael Pollan is a fabulous writer. The Omnivore's Dilemmna is entertaining, funny and easy to read. I have read few books where I had such a good time learning so much.

(Originally posted to Multiply December 16, 2008)