Sunday, October 28, 2007

On a new reason to be overthinking things

And to think I always thought there there was nothing cleaner than a load of freshly-washed clothes...

Break out the disposable latex gloves and the whiskey and pass me the laundry basket -- I'm goin' in!

I. Am. Pack. Rat.

I dug out something this morning that I hadn't seen in fifteen years -- the small sketchbook that nudged me out of the world of stick figures for a nanosecond when I was living in Ottawa. At the time, I'd spent most of my life thinking of myself as completely incapable of putting pencil to paper to draw, or at least of having anything come out other than a mess of squiggles and blurs. It's what I'd been told to expect most of my kid-hood whenever a colour spilled out over a line, or when my Catechism class depictions of Christ on the cross came out too morbid. I think that I'm going to make it a point to spend at least an hour a day, when possible, either writing or otherwise putting pencil or pen to paper. It beats wasting an hour aimlessly surfing the internet, no?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Freedom

So, earlier this summer, I'd been having these gentle exchanges -- more like the gentle butting together of skulls -- with my mother concerning free will vs. predestination. We seemed to be at either extreme. Her take on it is that your entire life is mapped out for you before you're even born. We're just riding a strong current, where the best we can do is try to dog paddle our rafts along to try to minimize harm to ourselves and to others. Ultimately, however, any sort of control that isn't completely laughable is out of our hands. I told her this seemed to be a convenient way to absolve oneself of regret or accountability over having made bad decisions, and of the responsibility of making thoughtful choices.

My take on it: The things that happen to people don't ultimately define the course of their lives. Things can be triggers -- enormous triggers, sometimes -- but we can respond to them in any number of ways, even if some ways seem slight or more obvious than others. It's what you choose to do with things that fall in your path that has the greatest effect on your outcome. Sartre wrote that we're cursed with freedom. When you face it head-on, it can leave you with anything from butterflies in the pit of your belly to the sort of dread that makes you wish you hadn't gotten out from beneath the covers that morning. However, without freedom we'd be no better than things. We'd be the car waiting for the splat from the pigeon overhead.

I stumbled upon something today -- some author trying to sound profound. He put a bit of a spin on the whole Schoolhouse Rocks quip that ''knowledge is power'' by saying that knowledge isn't power -- it's freedom. Miles Davis, in fact, beat him to that particular punch a long time ago by saying that ''Knowledge is freedom; ignorance is slavery''. The thing is that although I really get what they're getting at, it seems that they're both missing the really important step in all of this. I mean, you can fill your head with anything, knowing information that only a handful of others know -- but it's all ultimately just so much useless junk unless you turn it into a tool. Mere knowledge feeds freedom, sure, but unless you use it to take action, it's just an accumulation of words and images sitting in your head. If you don't know what to do with it, you might as well not have it.

This afternoon's rambling session of Free Will 101 brought to you by the letter ''M''.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

They're Made Out of Meat

This very short science fiction story by award-winning writer Terry Bisson appeared in Omni in April of 1991. I've seen it make the rounds on various vegetarian websites over the years and have always gotten a kick out of it. The story was nominated for a Nebula the year it appeared in Omni.

Here's a snippet (or click here to read the entire story):

"They're made out of meat."

"Meat?"

"Meat. They're made out of meat."

"Meat?"

"There's no doubt about it. We picked up several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, and probed them all the way through. They're completely meat."

"That's impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars?"

"They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don't come from them. The signals come from machines."

"So who made the machines? That's who we want to contact."

"They made the machines. That's what I'm trying to tell you. Meat made the machines."

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Fredericton Critical Mass Event, October 19

My friend Ron and I ended up participating in a Critical Mass event on September 21, the day before World Car Free Day. It was my first time. I had heard about Critical Mass gatherings before, but had been unaware that anybody had ever held any in this city. Having spotted the odd poster or two around town in the days leading up to it, we joined up with a group of 30 or so cyclists (and one skateboarder!) in Officer's Square and by the time we hit the road, our numbers had grown to around 40. Participants ranged in age from infant to 60+, with our youngest actual cyclist perhaps four years old. We accommodated him quite happily, matching his speed as we made our way around the short planned loop between the downtown and university areas.

A cyclist approached us today at one of the local coffee shops after Ron noticed her putting a small flyer on his bike and hailed her. It looks like another event has been organized, this one to be held Friday, October 19. Everyone meets at 5 pm at Officer's Square. Ron asked her if the city or local police had been contacted this time to mark the event officially, or to perhaps provide the group with an escort (as the police customarily do during protests, marches and parades), she told us that the city has refused to do so, citing that they wish to avoid liability in case of accidents. I chuckled at the ridiculousness of the reason given; after all, aren't escorts usually provided to ensure safety?. The organizer did point out, however, that the city promised that the police would not interfere with the event (i.e. specifically that participants would not be given tickets for obstructing traffic) -- how generous of them!

Chatting with the folks who showed up for the last Critical Mass ride, I learned that those participating were there for a multitude of reasons, including (but not limited to) their wanting to highlight the need to lessen our reliance on fossil fuels, to promote physical fitness, and -- my main motivation -- to point out the absolutely pitiful bicycle-unfriendliness of this city. Between the lack of bike lanes and bike racks here, it makes cycling a risky inconvenience for most.

The organizers hope to make this a regular monthly event. Last month's was miserably under-promoted, so I hope the word gets out to more people this time around. So -- Officer's Square on Friday, October 19, at 5 pm. Bring your bikes, trikes, skateboards, roller-skates -- whatever works! Don't forget to wear your helmet!

Easily-pleased peaches

Things that were nice to rediscover today:

- Baby Brussels sprouts do NOT taste like old sneakers.
- Early 80s new wave (in this case, Ultravox) is still fun to dance to on a Saturday morning.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Free Popcorn!

There's a non-profit media arts collective in Montreal that calls itself "├╝berculture" that's kick-started a project called Cinema Politica, which they describe on their website as "a cross-Canada grassroots network of political cinema exhibition sites showcasing independent Canadian artists". Filmmaker/journalist Avi Lewis is quoted as calling it "a much-needed head-butt to the corporate movie machine".

For the past few weeks, while zipping around downtown on my bike, I've been seeing these posters up everywhere promoting various socio-political documentaries being screened at Conserver House on St. John St. on Friday evenings. I finally stopped and took note of the contact information and checked out the organizers' web page.

"Fredericton: Friday Night Docs" is the name of the weekly event. Donations are accepted in lieu of an actual admission, free popcorn is provided and after each documentary, discussion of the subject-matter covered is encouraged. I'm particularly excited about a screening of the documentary Earthlings they'll be holding on October 19. For anybody who's interested in viewing this documentary and who may be outside of the Fredericton area, it's available via Google Video. In a nutshell, it's about humanity's complete dependence on -- and disrespect of -- animals, through the "pet" and entertainment industries, through factory farming (and its fur and leather production by-products), as well as through animal testing in the name of science and / or medicine The documentary's official website has much more detailed information about it.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A few more from Upper Stone Ridge

I just wanted to throw this in here. I'm going to have to learn to compensate for my iMac's failing monitor when I edit photos in the future. What seem like deep and vivid colours to me on my screen seem a bit more faded than I would like from other computers. I think they're ok for now, though.

This one with the piece of farm equipment was taken somewhere between Keswick Ridge and Upper Stone Ridge. Even now with everything still snow-covered, I feel as if I was just out there and can't wait to find some new cycling companions to take more long trips starting this spring.

I'm toying with the idea of setting up a blog specifically to provide stories and photos of jaunts on the Trans Canada and NB Trails in the Fredericton region and quite possibly further out into the rest of the province. The blog could also be a means by which cyclists could provide others with much-needed feedback on the condition of certain stretches of trail. There's nothing like bouncing along with your cruiser for 20+ kilometers, only to find yourself facing a kilometer-long stretch of trail so ravaged by ATV use that you can barely navigate it without your teeth rattling. Maybe I'll stick to posting the odd photo and story about my own excursions right here, though, weaving in some good foraging info as the seasons change and I acquire more skills and knowledge about identifying and using wild edibles.

Monday, October 08, 2007

I'm an easy girl to please

Some of the things that made today sorta peachy:

- fennel seed (to put on a pita pizza!)
- listening to Yousef Lateef's The Last Savoy Sessions

A day trip out to Upper Stone Ridge

My friend Ron suggested that we suck it up and hit the trails for real this past weekend. The plan was to see if we could locate his old campsite of a few years ago -- something he'd set up beside a bonafide old hobo fire-pit, from the days when the trails were still lined with railroad tracks.

At first, the thought of taking my trusty city bike KevinSpacey out for a 90+ km round-trip spin in bear country sounded a little unappealing. My bike's been cursed with two flats already in the six or so months I've had it, and each time a tire's been changed, the poor thing's ended up having a sleepover in the bike shop to have its spokes trued. Add to this that the only semblance of shock absorption I get riding it comes from the padding-that-is-known-as-my-arse, and the idea just sounded a little out there. And at that point, I hadn't even been thinking of the possibility of running into bears.

So Saturday morning, I found myself heaping kibble into the cats' bowls and making sure they had clean boxes and plenty of water. I packed my bike tools, a few slices of leftover frozen pizza that would thaw along the way, a sweater, spare inner tube, a roll of toilet paper and a plastic bag for garbage to bring back. On my way to rendezvous with Ron at the coffee shop, I stopped off to buy a gigantic bottle of water and some trail mix. After greasing my chain a little and reviewing our travel plan, we were off.

A month earlier, we had cycled out to Keswick Ridge -- maybe a 20-22 km jaunt. I don't know if it ws the knowing that we had so much further to go, or if it was that my strength and endurance have really improved over the last few weeks, but it seemed that we arrived at the Keswick Ridge pee break spot a lot sooner this second time around. Our morning was off to a bad start, unfortunately, as the gas station's incredibly grumpy owner informed Ron that the restroom -- uh -- facilities were "out of service". I'd really hoped to check to see how its gruesome bathroom fly trap was holding out (the pic on the right is from the aforementioned Keswick Ridge biking trip). Alas! It wasn't meant to be, so we amscrayed to what Ron referred to as the Keswick Ridge Mall -- a collection of small buildings with similar siding -- to use the public restroom there.

It was a bright morning, and the breeze was just cool enough to be comfortable and its chill barely noticeable as we pedaled in the warm sun. I wished a few times that I'd brought a thermos of hot coffee, then realized that between its dehydrating effects and its diuretic effects that the cons would have soon outweighed any pros. I've gotta say, though, that one can never have too much water along when you're out in the middle of nowhere far away, even, from the handful of farmhouses that occasionally dot the sides of the trail out in bear country. And even then, those farmhouses usually have bear-sized barking dogs outside of them. And while we're on the topic of being grateful for small pleasures... I never dreamed that I'd feel such joy as I did when I looked over my shoulder and then down near the back of my rear wheel to see that two dogs that did end up chasing after us when we passed one of those farmhouses looked like furry barrels. Yay for canine obesity on the trails!

We paused for lunch where it seemed the autumn colours were brightest. It was decent timing, more or less. The gurgling Nashwaak, the obscenely vibrant autumn reds and yellows, the twittering of hundreds of birds (and even the distant buzzing of the damned ATVs that had made a good portion of our covered terrain so bumpy my head hurt) -- it all made for better eating than jostling elbows with fellow restaurant patrons, while listening to adult contemporary music being piped in via satellite over the sugary voice of the waitress trying to rush you on so that she can turn a table.

We never did manage to find the old campsite, but we definitely got a sweet amount of fresh air, got to spend the majority of an entire day on our bikes without having to dodge traffic (woot!) and burned about a zillion calories. I think that the worst part of the day for me, was in the knowing that almost a third of the way into October, chances to zip out past the poor pastured cows and partridges again will be scarce over the next several months. I'll (hopefully) be able to cram in a few more trips over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Roches - Tiny Toons

Boy, does this take me back a bunch of years! I first got hooked on the New Jersey trio of sisters known as The Roches sometime in the late eighties. Years later, I was at a friend's apartment when Tiny Tunes came on the telly and offered up this very same strange little gem.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Charles Mingus Sextet - Live in Norway, 1964 Part 3

That's Eric Dolphy wailing away there. This is just amazing stuff. Better than caffeine, even.