tremors???

•September 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

this explains the new title. . .

so, it occurred to me that no one is ever going to find my blog with a name like O, 加拿大!  rather than enjoy my clever title, with its pretty chinese characters [which means “o, jianada”–>canada], i have decided to use real english words.  not as pretty, but far more practical.  the new title, “tremors and chopsticks,” is designed to reveal a little about me.  the second part, chopsticks, is simple enough; it is evident from my posts thus far that i am a sinophile.  a sinophile is someone who has a particular appreciation for chinese culture [its languages, history, people, etc].  that is one of those things about myself that i am actively trying to explore here in toronto.

the first part is a reference to something that is becoming a bigger part of my life as the years go by.  i have a condition called ‘essential tremor’.  you can read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essential_tremor

my tremor began in my hands at some point while i was a teen [as far as i can recall], but it was only in 2003 [ i think] that i was diagnosed.  the tremor began, and is found primarily, in my hands.  however, in the last few years, it has spread to my head, my jaw, and my tongue.  in the last couple of months i have noticed a new kind of tremor in my fingers that shows itself when my arms are at my side and i try to bring my fingers towards the palms of my hands.  weird. . . things like holding a drink or writing a cheque can be quite difficult at times, especially if i am in public.  stress, lack of sleep, fatigue due to exertion and probably some other things, tend to make the tremor worse.  i take a beta-blocker known as propranolol in order to temporarily suppress the tremors.  it works fairly well for me, but can make my mouth dry.  the photo at the right shows the molecular structure of propranolol.

and there you have it –>tremors and chopsticks — yay!

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Jobs and Gay Marriage (via Texas Freedom Network)

•September 10, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Yeah, we know. What in the world does one have to do with the other? That's a good question for Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Here's what he said recently on the campaign trail (partial audio here): "There is still a land of opportunity, friends — it’s called Texas. We’re creating more jobs than any other state in the nation. … Would you rather live in a state like this, or in a state where a man can marry a man?" Seriously? That's the choice for voters … Read More

via Texas Freedom Network

the top 10 fallacies christians believe about atheists. . .

•September 7, 2010 • 1 Comment

wrote this some time ago; thought i’d put it here. . .

Here is a rant. It is very “ranty” because I am in a ranty mood–>you have been warned. . .

wow, that dawkins is one hella-militant SOB!

10. Atheists share a certain worldview.
Wrong–>
Atheism brings no values or paradiagms with it. Atheism is merely the absence of a belief in gods. Atheists may certainly have values and often have similar ideas. But there is no worldview that is intrinsic to Atheism. And you should be grateful for that, because we would have otherwise taken over the world by now and made you theists our slaves and your women our concubines. . . oops, sorry, I have been reading the Old Testament lately.

9. Atheists reject god so they can be free to sin.
Wrong–>
First of all, Atheists don’t “reject” god. We just don’t believe any gods exist. To say we “reject” god is like saying we reject someone because we are angry with them or dislike them for some reason. There is no god, so there is nothing for us to reject. If you haven’t made an offer on my house, have I rejected your offer? Of course not. Second, our lack of belief is not simply a ploy to justify our freedom. Atheists don’t sin [in any meaningful sense] any more than believers do, so there goes that motivation. Finally, not pretending to believe in something that our reason shows to be bullshit, and thereby not living a shallow hypocritical lifestyle, is morally superior to being a believer anyway. So I guess Atheists don’t believe in god in part because they are more ethical people and not in order to be free to sin. BOOAAA!!!

8. Atheists are unhappy people.
Wow
, so much idiocy packed into one small erroneous statement. . . First, the happiness of a person is probably not a good indicator of god’s existence [see George Bernard Shaw]. Second, I think Atheists tend to be more in tune with the crap that is happening in the world, so it may be that there are more Atheists that are saddened by the world, but just like any other people-group, Atheists come with a variety of “happy-levels”. Some of us are sad, most of us are average and some are those happy-all-the-time annoying fucktards that make you want to drown a puppy and give it to them for their birthday. Again, most of us are average in our happy-levels; though we’d be a lot happier if there weren’t so many damn religious nutters out there running around taking away human-rights and trying to tell us how to eat, drink, smoke and screw!

7. Atheists are immoral, selfish people.
Wrong–>
Atheists are underrepresented in prison, and give as much to those in need as believers [if not more]. Does that seem wrong to you believers? That’s because you are part of a system that invents completely arbitrary ideas about morality, encourages others to hide their shortcomings for fear of being judged “unholy” and counts giving money to your little social clubs as being selfless.

6. Atheists are communists.
Wrong–>
That’s like saying trumpet players are dumb [well maybe. . .]. Some atheists are communists, most are not. Some believers are communist as well–>see Acts 2 and 4 for some stuff that if adopted by a government would have believers screaming about the red threat. And more importantly, most believers can scarcely articulate what Communism is, let alone respond to it in a thinking manner. Though I am not a Communist, this is one of those things that pisses me off because I always hear arrogant religious nutters going on about Communism like it is the worst possible idea in the world. Last time I checked, Capitalism was pretty fucked up.

5. Atheists think they know god doesn’t exist.
Wrong–>
Any Atheist that agrees with you is also wrong. We simply cannot know that something does not exist unless we have a god-like way of knowing [which we do not]. We don’t believe in gods, but we acknowledge that we could be wrong. However, we see no positive reasons for accepting the idea that gods exist. Just like you see no positive reasons for accepting the idea that licking the inside of a cat’s colon would be a yummy experience. You never know, it might taste good–>but I don’t blame you for not joining the SCCL [Society of Cat Colon Lickers].

4. Atheists have faith just like believers do, but it is in the non-existence of god.
Wrong–>
With apologies to morons like Ray Comfort, this is one of those things that we always hear and it drives us bonkers. It does not take more faith to be an Atheist than to be a Christian unless the meaning of the word faith is “reason”. Saying that Atheism is a faith is like asking what gear my boots are in. Does that sound strange and confusing to you? Good! That’s how it sounds to us when you say we have faith that god doesn’t exist. Do you believe in purple leprechauns that live in your nose? No? How much faith do you exercise in order to not believe in them? Exactly!

3. Atheists believe in themselves and that’s a bad thing.
Wrong
mostly and a little bit right. Let’s look at the right part first: Atheists do believe in themselves to the extent that they cannot rely on a fairy sky-god to live their life for them. If I make a mistake, I cannot ask god to fix it, so I believe that it matters what I do. That’s a good thing. We realize that this is the only life we get and what we do matters because there is no one else waiting to swoop down and fix our problems. When we are at our best, that realization makes us work hard for what we want to achieve. More importantly, that realization makes us realists–>and that is a very good thing.
And now the aggravating wrong:
So often when believers make this claim they seem to envision that Atheists [especially those Humanist Atheists] ascribe almost supernatural powers to themselves. In other words, because Atheists don’t accept all the supernatural nonsense of gods, they must think they are all-capable. Nope, not even close. Most Atheists are probably able to see what they can do [because we don’t tend to believe in false guilt which can shackle a person and warp their sense of capability], but are also acutely aware of what they cannot do. Yes, we can make the world a better place than it is, but we cannot make this a utopian paradise, where all are loved, where all have full bellies and there is no hate. People will always be asshats, and anyone who thinks otherwise has created their own religion–>and that is not Atheism.

2. Atheists live empty, meaningless lives.
Wrong
, and only someone who has swallowed the god lie would ever think that. In other words that charge against Atheism only makes sense if you assume that meaning is an outside “objective” reality existing independently of us. We find our own meaning, and the fact that in 100 years we will no longer be here does not take away the validity of this present meaning. Think of it this way: Something to which I ascribe beauty does not become less beautiful to me when I realize that the universe does not consider beauty, does it? Of course not, and the same goes for meaning and purpose. My life has meaning and purpose because I find meaning and purpose in my life. That is a great and real purpose because I choose it. As I grow and change, so might my meaning and purpose. So I can contemplate my place in the world knowing both that the sky is the limit for me and that I need not waste time feeling guilty for not living up to an outsider’s idea about what my life should be. Now that is a beautiful thing indeed. . .

1. Atheists are part of a larger conspiracy involving Satan, the end times and the new world order.
Okay, you got us on this one
. Speaking for myself, Satan has told me that I can continue to kick bunnies, drown puppies and watch reruns of Laverne and Shirley as long as I keep advancing His kingdom. . . actually it would be sweet if life were so simple. When religious nutters envision this giant godless conspiracy, they really give Atheists too much credit [for once]. If only we were so organized–>you intellectually lazy folks would have completely lost the “culture war” eons ago. Nope, the boring truth of the matter is that to the extent that we are active, we are basically looking for equality and not oligarchy. Have your faith, have your mosques, prayers, bible studies and potluck dinners. Just stop disallowing others from enjoying the rights that you have taken for granted for so very long.

Those are the top 10 fallacies theists have about Atheists. Now stop being a dork and go mow your Atheist neighbour’s lawn!

can anyone help me understand my fascination with zhong hua [china]? [part IIIb]

•August 16, 2010 • Leave a Comment

mastering mandarin, otherwise known as “enjoying the state of confusion on people’s faces as you stutter about meeting someone’s grasshopper. . .” [part B]

ni hao!

the above is a typical chinese way of saying ‘hi’.  its literal meaning is “you good?”

in contrast to the complexity of its tones, chinese grammar is fairly simple. in fact, when you translate chinese phrases literally, you can be left with a somewhat crude impression of the language. unlike english, chinese lacks forms of inflection such as conjugation or declension. this can make chinese phrases sound a little strange to an english-speaker if they are rendered literally. the following are some examples of chinese with the idiomatic form of the english alongside each phrase:

i house inside = i am inside the house
by me driven car = the car that i drove

this makes the meaning of words in oral chinese even more context-sensitive than in english. remember our pinyin word ‘ma’? even with the different tones to distinguish what version of ‘ma’ you intend, there are still a number of possible meanings. let’s pick one tone and see what our options are. . . say the third tone.

ma’ with the third tone can mean:

  • the name of a river
  • a mammoth
  • agate [a type of stone]
  • a weight
  • a number
  • a yard
  • a pile
  • a stack
  • an ant
  • a horse

etc

so as you can see, context plays a greater role in chinese than in english. did he feed his horse or his ant in the field? despite what seems like a great potential for confusion, chinese speakers manage just fine with their fascinating language. that is, if they are from a similar part of china. funny enough, even within mandarin, there can be so many sub-dialects, that speakers may have trouble understanding each other.  my friend joyce lives in beijing, and says that if she drives 30 minutes out of beijing she can barely understand a word people are saying. beijing is a particularly interesting example, because it has its own dialect that can make its speakers sound like asian pirates. the “rrr” sound is often added to words. it is called the ‘beijing-accent’, and is mocked by people outside beijing.

imagine driving to ajax and not being able to understand english-speakers there due to their accent. i mean, i don’t understand anyone that lives in ajax, but it isn’t because of their regional dialect. . .


can anyone help me understand my fascination with zhong hua [china]? [part IIIa]

•August 2, 2010 • Leave a Comment

mastering mandarin, otherwise known as “enjoying the state of confusion on people’s faces as you stutter about meeting someone’s grasshopper. . .” [part A]

this is the chinese character for love.

“yo!”
“yo!”
“no, not yo. . . yo!”
“yo!”
“yo!”
“yo?”
“yes, very good! now say it again. . .”
“yo!”
“no, all wrong!”

the above is a real conversation i once had with my chinese friend named joyce. joyce lives in beijing, and we enjoy chatting on skype. i help her with her excellent english and she helps me with my awful mandarin. this particular dialogue came about as joyce was trying to get me to pronounce ‘peng you’ [the word for ‘friend’] properly.

i try to spend some time each day studying the mandarin dialect. it is a beautiful language, and i enjoy listening to chinese-language news shows just to hear the frenetic cadence of the newscasters as they report the day’s events. it is a challenging language for a person with a western ear, but when i catch a phrase that i understand i am thrilled. i frequently hear people complain about the sound of chinese people talking to each other. when you are not used to it, it can sound like a cacophonous noise, and can be irritating. but if you try to hear the tones that are used, you can begin to appreciate this graceful language that is incredibly ancient. being a tonal language, mandarin can be confusing because a word’s meaning is based on its tone. there are four tones in mandarin [not including the neutral tone]. the first tone is delivered in a high sing-song voice at a steady pitch. the 2nd tone starts in the middle-register and moves upwards. the third tone begins in the middle-register, then dips before rising fairly high. with this tone, there is often a break in the speaker’s voice as he or she dips the tone. the fourth tone is a short tone that begins high and moves downwards. it sounds somewhat similar to how you might yell a word like “no” at someone.

here is a good example of the challenge a student of mandarin faces. let’s take a simple word, ‘ma’.

depending on the tone, ‘ma’ can mean:
mom [1st tone]
leprosy [2nd tone]
ant [third tone]
grasshopper [fourth tone]
? [with the neutral tone, ‘ma’ is often put at the end of a sentence to indicate that it is a question]

you can imagine the potential for miscommunication if you accidentally called your mother a grasshopper [or a toad if you used a neutral tone]. in fact, there are a total of 23 meanings for what we would represent in pin-yin as ‘ma’. these words have their own symbols in chinese, but for the westerner it can be very confusing.

from time to time i encounter what, to me, is the ultimate inspiration: a westerner who is fluent in chinese. as i make my way around the vendors in chinatown [my favorite part of toronto naturally, and a short walk from home], i am always listening for the odd phrase that sounds familiar to me [though most chinese speakers in chinatown speak cantonese, a different dialect than mandarin]. but if i see, for example, a white person speaking fluently to a chinese person, i am completely fascinated. how did they learn to speak so well? was it hard for them? will i ever be fluent? it makes me want to spend all my time working on my tones and vocabulary.

unfortunately, despite my best intentions, i am often too shy to speak chinese to chinese people that i do not already know. and when i do, i tend to stutter terribly because i feel so self-conscious. the exception to this is when i am in the convenience store in the bottom of my condo. sean and may run the little store where you can get everything from toilet paper to bacon [if you don’t mind toronto convenience store prices]. as i walk in i always greet them with ‘zao shang hao!’ [good morning], or ‘wan shang hao!’ [good evening]. they always make a point of counting in mandarin when they give me my change, and give a friendly laugh and gentle correction when i say something wrong.

when i do manage to utter a phrase correctly, i feel like i have really achieved something. it is somewhat akin to nailing a tricky horn-passage in a symphony. as funny as it sounds, my favorite phrase is a simple question:

ni jiao shen me ming zi?

what is your name?. . .

and if you asked me that, my response would be, “wo jiao jc.”

i think you can figure it out.

can anyone help me understand my fascination with zhonghua [china]? [part II]

•July 28, 2010 • Leave a Comment

china and the aesthetic of ritual. . .

riding my motorcycle to ottawa for my cousin’s wedding was a great idea. walking around the open-air market in my full motorcycle gear on a hot august afternoon was not. as i struggled with the heatstroke that inevitably befalls anyone foolish enough to walk around with 20 pounds of cowhide, i noticed a small chinese store. with an eye on some beautiful dragon-themed tea cups, i made my way inside, being careful not to knock over the $200 teapots that were perched along a half-wall.

i spent some time admiring the different tea pot designs, and finally settled on a beautiful tea set that featured red dragons with a blue paper cut style background. to my partial delight and partial terror [i am shy around strangers], the owner of the small shop insisted on showing me the proper way to make tea. not only was it important to use the tea set in the correct manner, [one must first pour the tea into the ‘tall’ cup, cover it with the tea cup, and quickly flip it over so the tea can be enjoyed from the tea cup], it was critical to not completely boil the water. “most people drink their tea too hot,” he stammered in stilted english. he went on to explain that this can burn the tea leaves and spoil the flavour.

finally, it was time to drink the tea. as we sat on the floor, i struggled with flipping the tall cup over [i have a tremor in my hands and head]. but as tea dripped from my fingers and pooled on my bug-stained leather pants, i marveled at the chinese ability to find ritual in something as simple as a cup of tea. though this ‘proper’ method of making tea takes far longer than it takes to actually drink the ounce of tea that fits inside the tiny teacup, the ritual of it makes drinking chinese tea, the chinese way, less about ingesting not-quite steaming blandly-flavoured water, and more about finding the beauty, the aesthetic soul, that is hidden away in everyday life. . .

can anyone help me understand my fascination with zhonghua [china]? [part I]

•July 24, 2010 • Leave a Comment

zhong hua [pronounced jone-gooa sort of. . .]

the name  ‘china’ means central or middle kingdom. for years i have had a fascination with this oldest of civilizations, a fascination that has only deepened with time. i think it began when i was a music student at university.  i met a young lady who was a gifted harpist with whom i quickly became friends. we enjoyed sipping tea for hours as we discussed philosophy, art, etc.  i don’t think we talked about chinese stuff much, but she was my first chinese friend. she was super smart, and we were like best buddies.  she would always try to get me to help her tune her harp, and i would get her to bring me chocolate milk as payment for my services.

of course, i have to admit that i found her to be very beautiful. her almond-shaped eyes sizzled with a sensuality that belied her conservative dress and manner. but though i found her attractive, it never occurred to me to think of her as anything other than a good friend.

i remember being awestruck the first time i went to her house. here was a place that was unmistakably chinese. chinese art was everywhere, and the influence of feng shui and buddhism was obvious. her parents cooked us authentic chinese food, and they laughed when i asked about chicken balls. as i struggled with chopsticks for the first time [she graciously picked up the food i continuously dropped onto her living room floor], i was transfixed by a particular piece of artwork on the wall. the rich hue of scarlet and delicate calligraphy was both exotic and familiar. it was an aesthetic i instantly understood, and it felt like i had found a type of beauty that i had been missing all my life.and i suppose that is how my love-affair with the middle kingdom began. . .another chinese beauty. . .

 
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