Monday, July 30, 2007

Only true church?

If you came here looking for a souflĂ©e, you’ll only find a pound cake. Sitting next to me in preparation are the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Oxford Canadian Dictionary, two literary heavyweights. If I wanted light and fluffy I would have pulled out the Timmins Daily Press.The headlines shouted “Other churches ‘wounded’. Only true Church is Catholic.” The official uproar in the media was that Pope Benedict XVI and the wing of the Vatican he used to head, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had set ecumenism back at least half a century to before the Second Vatican Council. Protestants took it up as proof that Catholics are pompous elitists with no real love for God and His teachings. Some Protestant ministers even went so far as to falsely claim to their parishioners that the document stated that because Protestants were not part of the “true Church” they were not capable of salvation.

After being asked what I thought about this numerous times, I decided I should do what any responsible intellectual would do: go to the source. If I have learned anything in my short time here on Earth, it is that the media do a very poor job of reporting the news. It is all about snippets, quotations, and quick fixes. You cannot capture the subtle nuances of this document by reading the lay press. Do yourself a favor and, if you care about his issue at all, go read the English translation and form your own opinion.

Let us start by stating the obvious: nowhere in this document, unless it is contained in some hidden cipher box, does it state that members of churches outside of the Catholic church are incapable of salvation. That is an utterly false statement and I am perturbed that a minister of a church would make such a statement to his trusting parishioners. Talk about Ecumenical damage. Since it should be obvious to most Christians what it says about salvation in the Holy Bible (which, besides small differences in which books are included, is the same in Catholic and Protestant churches), I will quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church to clear this up, as this church’s teachings are what are being questioned. It states in the CCC that “Salvation comes from God alone.” The document does not state that God only exists in the Catholic church. As you will read later, it states quite the opposite.

Let’s see…what else did the media misrepresent? Oh, that the Pope said that all other churches besides the Catholic Church are not true churches and that they are wounded due to their shortcomings and failures. If you give due diligence to the subject, you will find this is also a false assertion. The Associated Press reported that the Vatican stated that “Christian denominations outside Roman Catholicism were either defective or not true churches”. It stated nothing of the sort. It is all about semantics and if we are so quick to fracture over semantics, than we have bigger problems.

The document states that “Christ ‘established here on earth’ only one Church and instituted it as a ‘visible and spiritual community’”, a Church that only exists in unbroken lineage from Christ’s chosen “rock”, Peter, to the current Pope in the Catholic church. The full complement of traditions and sacraments set into motion by Christ himself only exists in the Catholic church. The semantic disagreement comes in the form of the word “subsistence” which means the full “historical continuity and…permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ”. I do not think anyone would argue that notion. The Orthodox churches split from the original church first, followed by the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century. The Protestant church than went on to separate into over 1000 separate denominations. But the document still states that it is “possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them.(Emphases mine.)

It goes on to state that although churches and Communities outside of the Catholic Church are suffering “from defects, [they] are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact, the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation”

Maybe the biggest thorn in the side of Protestants everywhere is the response to the question as to why the Vatican refuses to use the word Church when referring to the Christian communities arising from the Protestant Reformation. The answer is very academic and quite devoid of insult. Basically, the Vatican just has a different interpretation of the meaning of the word church. The Oxford Canadian Dictionary says church can mean a building for public, usually Christian, worship, the body of all Christians, an organized Christian group, or an institutionalized religion as a political or social force. But it is just semantics people! The document nowhere states that this inability to call other Christian communities “churches” in any way takes away from the sanctity of their worship, the truth of their message, their worship of God, or their belief in and practice of the main tenets of the Christian faith.

Finally, the biggest problem I have with all of this is that much of the nuances of the original document have been lost in translation. As far as I know, most, if not all, official Vatican documents are published in Latin. So the official message from the church should be interpreted from the official text. When translating a dead language like Latin into a living language like English, you are going to distort meaning somewhere.

C.S. Morrissey, a Latin professor at Trinity Western University in Langley, BC, wrote a wonderful article in the Globe and Mail. It draws attention to the use of the words “wound” and “defect” in the lay press with regards to this document. (Don’t think I didn’t realize that I quoted “defect” above.) Morrissey goes so far as to say that this document ADVANCES ecumenism. Here’s how.

With regards to shortcomings of some Protestant Christian communities, the original Latin document uses the word defectus. It does not directly translate as wound. It is kind of like sacre bleu. It has no proper translation in English. It comes from deficio which connotes either a lack of something or a revolt. It officially means “to do less than one might”. Morrissey purports that its usage in this text is to denote the Protestant community’s rebellion from a healthy unity. The reason he believes this is a step forward from the Communionis notio released in 1992 under Pope John Paul II is that that text (apparently the Vatican essentially self-plagiarized themselves with this latest text) used the Latin word vulnus which literally means “wound”. Sounds a little more harsh than “to do less than one might”.

So there you have it. It was a bunch of nuanced theology oversimplified by the lay press. How many journalists that reported on this do you think actually read the document? What about the ministers making inflammatory statements about Catholics? How many of them considered any of which I have just put forth?

I came into Christianity from the outside; as a born-and-raised Atheist. I found Christ as a young man, and my parents, God bless them, were open-minded enough to allow me to believe whatever felt right to me. The Catholic church appealed to me for the very reason of subsistence; that unbroken line from Christ and the traditions and symbols carried on in every Mass that bring you back to the Last Supper; sit you at the Lord’s table and offer you a chance to share in Holy Communion with Him. Antonia’s World has a great list of the successors of Peter (the Popes) all the way from Peter to Benedict. Really cool. But I did not enter into it blindly. One summer I read the entirety of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to make sure I was not going to be part of a church that taught lessons with which I would fundamentally disagree.

But I will admit there are things about Protestantism that I feel capture a more intimate, personal relationship with Christ. Before Luther, only the educated elite and the clergy had access to the Holy Bible. But when Gutenberg made his printing press, it democratized literature, for the betterment of humanity. Suddenly every Joe Schmo and Martin Luther could get their hands on a Bible. And why not? The truest expression of God’s grace and love is in his Word. So I do daily devotionals, time to sit with the Holy Bible and study scripture. This is a decidedly un-Catholic thing to do, but I think it is something Protestants have right.

But why argue the finer points of religious practice? When it comes down to it, as Christians we all worship the same God, and we all believe in the same fundamental tenets of our faith (the Apostles’ Creed). What do you think God cares about more? That you belong to a certain church, or that you love Him with all your heart and speak his Word to the world every day through your thoughts, actions, and attitude?

PS-To anyone who is interested in learning more about Catholicism, check out a cool site called The Catholic Bridge that aims to clear up some misconceptions about the Catholic Church. It is aimed at evangelical Christians.

PPS-You think your doctor has a lot of letters at the end of his name? Check out the Pope’s official title:

Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Little drummer boy

It seems my tactic to play my music for Sacha while he was in the womb has paid off. Allow me to explain.

I am a huge drumming fan. I do not own a drum kit. I have never played on one for more than twenty minutes. I have never had any education on drumming techniques. But the music I listen to attests to my love for rhythm.

I love all percussive rhythm. I particularly enjoy anything with a tribal feel to it like the drumming of Igor Cavalera. I appreciate the classics like Keith Moon and Neil Peart, but they are not my favorite. I am an avid metal drumming fan. I love the long continuous strings of double bass, the unpredictable timing shifts, the ingenious cymbal play, the tom rolls. Besides Raymond Herrera and Cavalera, my favorite drummers include Lars Ulrich of Metallica, Mike Justian of Unearth, Matt Greiner of August Burns Red, Brent Duckett of Becoming the Archetype, and Andy Herrick of Chimaira

I find absolutely nothing wrong with metal. It is not evil nor satanic as some claim. There is a great deal of talent and the musical complexity is astounding, if you can only take the time to appreciate it.

Well, apparently Sacha appreciates it (although my wife remains a holdout). Tonight I was cooking dinner (I made fish molee, a traditional Indian dish, with fragrant rice and broccoli). I love to listen to music while I cook, and Sarah allows me to listen to whatever I want as I am preparing dinner.

Sarah was feeding Sacha while I cooked. During a steady rhythmic segment of an August Burns Red song, Sacha started moving his hand in perfect rhythm with the cymbal hits on the song. He was even aiming his hand in the direction in which one would think the cymbal may be. It was so uncanny that all Sarah and I could do was burst out laughing!

Apparently all of my air drumming sessions during Sarah’s pregnancy were visible in Sacha’s comfy abode. He’s got rhythm baby!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Familiar misery

Due to the goings on of a colleague, I pondered yesterday why people choose to stay in unhappy relationships. I’m not talking about physically or even emotionally abusive relationships, but just plain unhappy ones. The person in question has never uttered a positive word about her boyfriend or their future (while frequently uttering numerous negative words) but yet seems completely determined to stay with him for the rest of her life.

Why? I just do not get it. Why would someone resign themselves to a life of misery, disappointment, and could-have-beens?

One reason may be the human desire for familiarity. We are an animal of routine. We thrive on the familiar, the comfortable. It seems that we are more willing to live in familiar misery than to risk loneliness while we search for happiness. Or maybe miserable relationships are the only type we know. Maybe our role models for relationships were as such. But the few relationships you know do not constitute a substantial part of the whole.

These people also seem to ignore the following: for the most part, people do not change. And if they do, the motivation comes from within, not because their partner or friend drove them to change so that they would be more tolerable to them. You cannot just pick any human off the streets and then mold them into your soulmate. On the other hand, you cannot be too picky. When it is right, it will feel right, and you will be overcome with a tide of happiness so all-consuming that the little imperfections you witness in your partner will become characteristics to cherish.

Oh, and anyone that thinks getting married or having children will magically fix their relationship is a fool. Marriage is a serious commitment not to be entered into lightly. Divorce is not some easy exit if things do not work out. And kids. Good grief. Anyone who thinks kids make relationships easier doesn’t have any. Having children will challenge the strongest of relationships, let alone those struggling to stay afloat.

I did not have a girlfriend from grade 8 until I met my current wife in my first year of university. That was a full five years without a girlfriend. Sure, I was miserably lonely at times, but I knew that when the right one came along, it would all be worth it, and it was. But all along, I knew that no matter what, I would never settle for second best. I would not resign myself to a life of misery just to be with someone, anyone.

And fear not. That person with whom you can live a life of happiness is out there. But you will never find them if you stay trapped in a hopeless relationship. Have respect for yourself. You deserve better.

The only way to find happiness is to go looking for it and to not settle for anything less until you find it. It is out there. And when you find it, all your hard work will be duly rewarded. Trust me. I know from experience.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Another nail in the coffin

If you are not yet convinced by the evidence out there supporting the notion of human-influenced climate change, this is unlikely to sway you. It is interesting nonetheless.

In an e-publication ahead of print, Zhang et al. report in Nature that greenhouse gas emissions from humans have caused considerable changes in global precipitation patterns. Although previous research has proven the link between human activity and global warming, the same has not been shown for something so important as precipitation. And once again, the Africans are getting the shaft.

The largest increases in rainfall occurred in most of the northerly portion of the Northern Hemisphere, home to the majority of the wealthy western world. The Sahara took the biggest blow when it came to declining precipitation, and it is no surprise given the perpetual drought and famine witnessed in this area of the world.

Those least responsible are paying for our greed, grandiosity, and gluttonous consumption. But this report is unlikely to change that. In a world full of fundamental Creationists, evolution naysayers, and AIDS “reappraisers”, the usual suspects are likely to crawl out of the woodworks to protest this latest release as a left-wing conspiracy to thwart economic development and the “right” to build bigger houses and amass absurd abundance.

What a waist

I am an enthusiastic subscriber to evidence-based medicine alerts. Basically, I receive content alerts for all of the top medical journals and medical journal collation services that delve through all the crap out there to find the meat and potatoes. I often skim them and delete most of them, but once in a while I come across something that changes my professional practice. I never thought I’d come across something that would change my view on my personal practices.

An article was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine this month titled “Body mass index, waist circumference, and waist-hip ratio on the risk of total and type-specific stroke.” It outlines among other things that abdominal adiposity (spare-tire) is associated with an increased risk of total and ischemic stroke in men. Also, body mass index (BMI) was a risk factor for total and ischemic strokes in both men and women.

Is this an isolated study? No. It was massive. It followed roughly 50 000 people over 20 years to determine whether morphological features would correlate with stroke occurrence. It showed quite convincingly that being fat puts one at an increased risk of having a stroke, especially if that fat is concentrated around the midsection.

I may not look it to most people, but I have struggled with weight all my life. At my apex I was 222 lbs. That was in grade 11. Later that year I hit my nadir at 155 lbs, an unsustainable weight. As the years passed, I slowly crept back into the danger zone. I am now 195 lbs.

The real kicker is that most people tell me (at least to my face) that I do not look “fat” to them. Well, strokes can’t see people. They don’t care if I look fat, just if I AM fat. And according to all accurate clinical measures, I am.

The article mentioned above uses certain ranges as reference groups, basically, the group of people they label as having a risk of 1. Anyone outside of that has risks of 1.2, 1.5, etc. based on how far away from the reference values they fall. The reference values are as follows:

BMI: 18.5-24.9

Waist circumference: <86cm

Waist-to-Hip Ratio: <0.87

To calculate your BMI, go here. Keep in mind all of this only applies to men. Access the article for more information on specific risk factors for women. Well, in the words of a basketball that just got dunked, I’m hooped.

My BMI is 29.6. Even at the high end of the reference range, that means I need to lose 30lbs. However, this does not worry me as much as the waist circumference measures. My waist circumference is 95cm. That is a full 9 cm, almost 4 inches, out of range. If you had a big rubbery meter stick you could wrap it right around my big belly and barely overlap. Sad.

Why does waist circumference concern me and not BMI? Well, because simply put, BMI is a lousy way of determining whether you are fat or not. The lower end of the range is dangerously close to eating disorder territory. Even the upper range will be very difficult for me to attain. Overall, when it comes to how your body affects your risk of dying prematurely, it is not important whether or not you are fat, but if so, where your fat likes to spend its time. If you are moderately overweight, but all your fat is in your head (as I’ve been told from time to time mine is), you should be okay. But God forbid it migrates to the equator. For if that happens, you better take action.

This is not the only article that propounds the risks of abdominal adiposity. Welborn & Dhaliwal report in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition that based on known data, waist-to-hip ratio is the best predictor of all-cause mortality. Kuk et al. report in Obesity that abdominal fat is an independent predictor of all-cause mortality.

If that is not enough to scare the abdominal fat off of you, I don’t know what is. Since it increases all-cause mortality, I am prone to drive more carefully to avoid a fat-induced car crash. And maybe drive-by shooters see those of us with large spare tires as easier targets. I’m not sure, but no matter what, I’m freakin’ out.

So in true Tony style I have produced an Excel sheet and documented my current biometrics and those for which I strive. Hopefully biking to work will help me get there. If not all the way, I’ll have to cast a lousy-cook spell on my wife. Her culinary creations only serve to expand my girth. Wish me luck. I wish you the same if your fat cells share the centrist leanings of mine.

Sleeping beauty?

It was the weekend from hell. Never before have I been so unnerved by my child’s cries that I have had to take a time out. Allow me to explain.

Sacha is currently in the throes of the sequences stage. It is one of the developmental stages described in Hetty Vanderijt’s and Frans Plooij’s book The Wonder Weeks: How to Turn Your Baby’s 8 Great Fussy Phases into Magical Leaps Forward. Those crazy Dutch have warped conceptions of wonder and magic.

Our strategies for helping Sacha sleep were working quite beautifully. He had been getting mostly happy faces on his mommy’s sleep-rating chart. But the world came crashing down this week.

He has decided that he will only sleep if he is being held. That’s it. He could be completely comatose but as soon as he feels a slight descent toward the crib, he kicks into panic mode and sobs relentlessly until one of us picks him up.

Sarah and I have never been fans of Ferber. I cannot speak for Sarah, but I find it impossible to hold out against the torrent of tears rushing forth from my child. Not that people who choose to use cry-it-out (CIO) are destined for eternal damnation, but it is not for me, and it is certainly not for Sacha. He inherited my stubbornness, and the few times we resorted to CIO, we were treated to a perpetual sobfest that only exacerbated the problem.

Well, this weekend we bottomed out. After many fruitless attempts to transfer Sacha to his crib, we both threw our hands in the air and decided to Ferberize. Oh. My. Goodness.

What a disaster. Half an hour into the massacre I asked Sarah if she wished to continue. Being more steadfast than I, she responded affirmatively. “Well, then I have to go for a walk.”

That’s right. I did the Park-Shirley-Joseph circuit at 12:30 am. It is a different world that late at night, but it really helped me clear my head. And when I returned to my abode of expecting Armageddon, I was greeted instead by complete silence. Thank goodness.

The rest of the weekend has been a series of frustrations and triumphs. It culminated in us having to completely reevaluate our strategy; that is to say, to return to our old ways. Anytime he has some rough nights, I tend to abandon all tried and true methods for a quick fix. Luckily, the rational hand of my wife guides me toward sanity, and the infant sleep advice of my great mentor and friend Roland rings in my mind: “You can never spoil an infant.” How true, my friend, how true.

Friday, July 20, 2007

My new bike

I bought a sweet-ass bike today! You see, one of the glorious aspects of the Shoppers Drug Mart scholarship program is the signing bonus of $20 000 you receive in 3 installments. The wonder of a signing bonus is it is more or less fun money. So with that fun money, among other more sensible things, I went out and bought a bike. I bought the Trek 7.3 FX, what is considered a hybrid bike because it has the look of a mountain bike but the geometry, speed, and wheel shape of a road bike. Its purpose is commuting, which is what I bought it for, as I plan to bike to work every day. I can’t wait to get it. Then I’ll just have to spend a bit more money on some gear (rain gear, cuff straps, gloves, saddle bag, etc.) Wish me luck on my travels!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

And Tony wept

Although I must say I prefer the ritualistic nature of Catholic masses to the loosely defined structure of evangelical Protestant services, I have always found the latter to be remarkably moving. There certainly is a significant emotional aspect to these services and I experienced it today. During Jack’s dedication, I looked up at Brad and Julie and Jack, a young, beautiful family, surrounded by those who love them. Dr. Doug Arnold, a local physician and an elder at the church presided over the dedication. A father of four himself, he was clearly moved by the moment. Let us just say his words reflected his emotions. As I listened and watched, visions of Sacha as a newborn flashed in my head, followed by a series of events like him rocking in my arms in the dead of night, him running around the lawn butt naked, him reaching out for me when I come home from work, and him taking his first steps last week.

And Tony wept.

I was a mess. I couldn’t contain it. It was like at my sister’s wedding when my brother was wanting to hide his tears so badly he was physically trying to cram them back into his tear ducts. Get back in there. That was me.

So that I wouldn’t make a scene, Sarah sent me downstairs to get Sacha from the playroom. Perfect timing. He was in an emotional heap. Apparently he had just realized his parents were not there and he was playing with perfect strangers. Well, daddy to the rescue. We cried together for a few minutes, got mommy, and then went home for a well-deserved nap.

My little player

We were at the Timmins First Baptist Church this morning to attend the dedication of little baby Jack, our friends’ first. Sacha, of course, was quite uninterested in the proceedings. He was more concerned with the open windows in the back with the fancy opening devices. As he chatted with the window a little girl, probably 2 years old, approached. She reached out toward Sacha, clearly enthralled with this little boy drunk with happiness. Sacha flippantly looked back at her and brushed her off with the flick of a hand and went about his work. Not to be discouraged, the little girl made a second attempt. This time she went for broke, leaning forward to lay a big juicy one on Sacha’s cheek. He looked back at her, decided that what she was doing must not be allowed, and pushed her away. Not to be deterred, the little girl persevered and leaned in once again. As though to appease her, Sacha presented his right cheek, she laid a big juicy kiss on it. Another push, and back to the window. The little girl was clearly very pleased and Sacha could not have cared less. What a little player.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Common sense

My former boss and good friend, Shawn Cripps, had a wonderful saying. He’d say, “You know Tony, the funny thing about common sense is it’s not all that common.” I have certainly come across my share of boneheads in my life, or those booksmart kids that don’t have a shed of common sense. But when the absence of such a fundamental attribute in an entire society reaches epidemic proportions, one can only wonder.

Recent reading material has coalesced into a common theme on which I must comment. I recently finished the brilliant Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Yesterday I came across a great article on the Freakonomics Blog. And today I read a fascinating article by Doug Saunders, the greatest columnist at the Globe and Mail, on the sky high suicide rates among Indian farmers. How do these all come together?

In the Saunders article, the reasons for increased suicides among India’s cotton farmers are laid out. And it really comes down the loss of even a thread of common sense in Western agricultural policy. How do Western agricultural policymakers make decisions that cause absurd numbers of Indian farmers to off themselves by drinking bottles of pesticide? The Green Revolution occurred between 1940-1960 leading to huge increases in agricultural production. This was particularly important in developing countries where farmers could not produce enough food for their people. The problem with the whole concept behind the revolution is only now apparent.

In assuming not only that every successive generation of humans is smarter than those who came before them but that we, through the scientific method, can sufficiently reduce all complex natural processes into simplistic ones open to external manipulation, we open ourselves up to failure.

In order to achieve massive increases in agricultural yields, simplistic, but not holistic, farming practices were introduced. Farmers began purchasing hybrid cotton from Monsanto, one of the largest companies in the world. The beauty of hybrid cash crops from the companies standpoint is that they are genetically programmed to NOT reproduce. Now if that is not profit motive getting in the way of common sense, I don’t know what is. So yes, Indian farmers increased their yields. But now instead of keeping aside a portion of their previous year’s harvest to plant the next year, they have to buy new seed from an American agricultural corporation every single year. In order to cover the cost of this added expense they need to increase their yields further which means less labor intensive farming that ignores all natural processes and leads to soil destruction.

Not only have they bled the land for 40 years to push yields higher and higher, they are now producing more cotton than the market wants. It is similar to the situation described in Pollan’s book whereby the American corn farmer is producing more corn than the world needs. So the Americans have basically found a way to put corn in almost everything we consume to use up the excess and have encouraged further excess by subsidizing the costs of growing corn. A similar absurd situation exists in cotton production. Indian farmers can only compete with the highly subsidized American cotton industry if they continue to squeeze every last ounce of productivity out of their soil.

Where has this all led? A highly productive Indian textiles industry that creates thousands of jobs? Hardly. In fact, after forty years of artificial farming, and concurrent climatic catastrophes, the bad times have returned for the Indian cotton farmer. And now they are drinking themselves to death on bottles of pesticide, likely produced by the same companies that caused the problem in the first place.

Along comes Subhash Kuttall Sharma, a man who once took up the call of the Green Revolution and almost paid for it with his life. Saunders writes that Sharma nearly committed suicide during the Green Revolution after his crop yields tanked and he went bankrupt. This man was no idiot. He won awards for his superior crop production. But his practicing of overly simplistic agricultural practices eventually caught up to him.

Not to be defeated, he eschewed all this Western “knowledge” and went back to basics, back to common sense. As the owner of Polyface Farms does in Pollan’s book, Mr. Sharma now operates a labor-intensive but highly successful farm based on sustainable and sensible practices. Crop rotations; preserving monsoon rains in pits for use during droughts; animal waste as fertilizer. All traditional agricultural practices. The result: Mr. Sharma employs 45 labourers at his 20-hectare farm and made enough from this modestly sized farm that he is considered well-to-do in his town. So not only does he stimulate employment in the local economy, but he makes enough money to build a big house. That is a long way from almost offing himself.

And the secret to producing relative wealth off of only 50 acres of land (that is 20 hectares for those like me who find this a foreign unit of measurement)? “I’ve realized that sustainability and diversity are much more important than yield”. Go figure. Just like the people at the All England tennis club discovered the benefits of falconry, an ancient practice to keep pesky pigeons away, the ancient wisdom passed down by generations of farmers remains pertinent to this day.

Innovation is great, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Le Tour de Timmins

It seems a strange coincidence that the week I decided to start biking to work I turn on the TV and there is that most enigmatic of sporting events: Le Tour de France. First, let us discuss my newfound zealousness for biking to work. I got the idea awhile ago when my weight continued to creep up. Furthermore, gasoline hit $1.20 a litre. Both of these factors, environmental and personal health, conspired to encourage me to start biking to work. So I got together the necessary equipment and off I went. Turns out it takes me just as long to bike to work as it does to drive. Who would’ve thunk it. The only inconvenience is getting changed at work so that I do not smell like a neanderthal all day. But so far it is going pretty well. Now I just need a bike that is actually mine (I’m using my neighbor’s), one made for the streets, not the mountains, and some apparel that cuts my wind resistance, increases breathability, and protects me against the elements. Any tips would be welcome!

As for the Tour de France, I saw an article in the Globe last Saturday outlining the route map. The thought that someone could cover this 3500 km trail in 21 days without actually ceasing to live is astounding to someone. And the trail circulates through what is possibly the most beautiful country in the world: France. It covers the flat lands of Belgium, the beautiful countryside of Northeastern France, the crushing climbs of the Alps, the quaint locale of Mediterranean France, the Pyrenees, and then into the glorious city of Paris for the big finish on the Champs Elysees. The only thing I ever did on the Champs was walk for hours without wearing sunscreen, thus transforming myself into a crustacean whose legs go well with butter. All of this intrigued me, but I had never actually WATCHED the Tour de France. That would change this year thanks to Sacha waking up and interrupting our movie. Since it was Sarah’s turn to help him out, I flicked the channel and up came the TDF.

A former colleague of mine was an avid athlete, training for triathlons while raising twins and working full-time as a pharmacy manager. Every year in July he would avail me with stories about the Tour de France. Although I could see that it must be an interesting event, I could not get into it. It is the racing equivalent of cricket for me. I do not understand it. As a rule I find it difficult to become interested in something I do not understand. So, I employed Wikipedia to help me understand.

First of all, how do you win? Well, essentially, the less time it takes you to finish the race, the higher you finish. Pretty simple. But then there is the difference between a simple stage and an individual time trial. What about the fact that riders ride for teams? Does that mean anything? Do these guys make any money for winning and, if so, how much? What are these cars driving up next to the riders and what do they give the riders? What is this nonsense about sprinting bonuses and mountain points? And these ceremonial colored jerseys? The yellow jersey, the green jersey, the red and white jersey that looks like maple tree vomit. What do they mean? And what the HELL is a peloton?

If you want answers to these questions, check out the Wikipedia article. As for the peloton, let us clear up this ridiculous word right now. Peloton shares an etymological origin with the English word platoon, literally meaning ball, but used in reference to the group, pack, or bunch of riders that forms during a road bicycle race. While it would seem paradoxical that a bunch of guys trying to beat each other in a race would want to race in a group, there are certain advantages to it that can only be understood by reading this.

I think I may follow it this year. If nothing else it will give me encouragement in my own biking adventure. Besides, it is just astonishing to watch these guys drive at close to the Timmins municipal speed limit for hours at a time, over 21 days, through 3500 km of unforgiving terrain. It gives one greater appreciation for the miraculous nature of the human body.

Sunday, July 8, 2007


Sacha had his first of many graduations today. Well, I guess not really his first. He officially graduated from scraping his knuckles and knees to being a full-fledged upright H. sapiens. That’s right. Sacha took his first steps today! It was only 5 steps, but it was a momentous occasion. Sarah and I reacted so loudly that Sacha got scared and realized mommy was no longer holding him. He then plopped on his bum and proceeded to have a meltdown. But it was beautiful nonetheless.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Oratorial genius

It is no secret that I despise George Bush and everything he stands for and has done, but I could never voice my distaste in such an eloquent and masterful way as Keith Olbermann. Olbermann is a commentator on MSNBC’s Countdown. Thanks to Dr. Dawg I have witnessed one of the greatest speeches of my time. And I only hope that Mr. Olbermann’s call for Bush & Cheney to resign resonates throughout America so the American people can get back to being the stewards of democracy they once were. Check it out. You’ll be happy you did.

The great debate

As I sauntered into work 2 minutes late for the 1000th time yesterday, I pondered the reasons why this is such a common occurrence. Of course, being as my child barely sleeps (see my next entry), I savor every last minute of rest I can get. Therefore I frequently wake up JUST in time to get to work. This is where the debate emerges. When I sleep in, beyond the necessary minutiae of a morning routine there are two crucial tasks that must be completed: showering and eating. The crux of the question is, if you wake up so late that you have time to only do ONE of these things, which will you choose? I was decidedly outnumbered amongst my colleagues. You see, I love food, and I also consider breakfast to be an unmissable meal. Therefore, my thinking goes as such: as long as I showered the day before, I would rather eat breakfast than shower. Maybe it sounds disgusting to you, but I think a healthy, consistent diet, centered around a nutritious breakfast is worth having a bad hair day once in a while. Weigh in on the debate if you so wish!