Friday, 27 November 2009

Coffee Count

If you are interested in statistics, service industry business ventures, caffeine, coffee, or repetitive strain injury, this post is for you.

For those of you who don't already know, I work at a little Tim Horton's (I refuse to omit the apostrophe) in an Esso station early Friday mornings. This morning I was working the beverage station at the drive-thru and my coworker, Brenda, was managing the counter. An idea struck me like lightning. Well, ok, actually, this is something I've wanted to do since I started working at Timmy's two-and-a-half years ago, but never got around to doing. My idea? Count how many pots of coffee we make in one hour. Brenda was equally intrigued by the idea.

Here's how we set up the experiment:
1. For each pot of coffee made, make one tally mark with the grease pencil on the front of the cream dispenser.
2. Steeped tea counts separately. Decaf counts as coffee.
3. Count only pots made during the two peak morning hours, 7 a.m. - 9 a.m.

Keep in mind that this is a little Esso station that doesn't even serve soup or breakfast sandwiches and that generally runs out of bagels by ten in the morning.

Final count? 83 pots of coffee and 6 pots of steeped tea. Breakdown? 32 pots on drive-thru from 7 til 8, 23 pots on drive-thru from 8 til 9. 28 pots on counter total. That works out, between the two of us, to a pot of coffee every minute and twenty-four seconds.

It was a slow day. We plan to count again next week, as today's stats aren't indicative of the norm.

All this to say "society is full of caffeine junkies".

“I've come loaded with statistics, for I've noticed that a man can't prove anything without statistics.” Mark Twain

Monday, 23 November 2009

The Philosophizer

I was sitting in a beautiful conservatory at the university today, eating a healthy home-made lupper and attempting to prepare for my presentation on elective amputation, which was tonight. In that serene yet academic environment, my eyes wandered to a piece of ceiling overhang. And I thought, "Huh. If I were a ninja, how would I climb up there?"

And the thing that has me worried is that I couldn't concentrate on my project again until I had figured it out.

I'll point the route out to you if you ever come visit.

Oh, and speaking of elective amputation, I'm stumped for a quote with which to end this post. Does someone want to lend me a hand?

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Just for the Sake of Posting

I accidentally stumbled across the WikiHow page on hugging. It certainly provided me with the daily recommended dosage of laughter. I can't figure out if it was written by an utterly socially inept nerd who had to learn everything the hard way or by someone who understands that only these same nerds are likely to actually research how to hug someone. Though it seems a little cruel to describe how to perform a "lovers hug" when I seriously doubt these nerds would have a "lover" to try it on....

Yesterday the wind was insanely crazy. I'm glad that my psych classes are finally smaller in size. I'm loving helping out at the youth Bible study, and my Sunday School class is going pretty well, too. Tonight my sister and my dad and I are going to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra! I'm super stoked. For those of you who remember the movie of the house with insane Christmas lights synchronized to music that went around the Internet a few years ago - that's the kind of music the Trans-Siberian does. And I feel accomplished because I just wrote a good ten page paper in less than a day, already finished my lit review presentation, and am slowly running out of assignments. They're not gone yet, but I feel that the end is in sight.... maybe.

What a random post.

Oh, well.

From the hugging advice page:

"Do not confuse a friend hug with a lover hug. Things might get complicated and awkward."

And

"Avoid a hug with a running start unless the person being hugged is aware you are about to do so, if not, this may result in both of you falling over."

Sunday, 15 November 2009

An Evening of Fine Art and Gang Fights

Last Friday, for the first time in three years, I attended a dance performance. It was put on by Corps Bara, which is a youth dance theatre that I was a part of for many good years - about 11 or so. Yup, this was the 10th anniversary celebration, and yup, I was part of Corps Bara before it existed. I was there when it was still called Dance Choir.

Being the 10th anniversary and all, a bunch of alumni were invited to the event so I went. It was good to see people again. The dance teachers are just as I remember them... so much so that it felt like no time had elapsed at all since I last heard Karen deftly compose a speech on the spot to cover technical difficulties or buy time. And it was super great to catch up with Krista and Miss Sally. Yes, I still think of her as Miss Sally. She follows my blog, actually. That makes me happy. Hi Miss Sally! Or do you prefer just Sally now? :-D

Because this is a blog and not a personal diary, I think I shall offer my opinion on the show. There were many things with which I was impressed, and two things with which I was not. To save time, I shall make a list:

Things that impressed:
-Technique of dancers (especially the Juniors, who outperformed everyone, I think)
-Video presentation during dances
-Creative choreography
-Corps Bara gear for sale

Things that made me a little bit sad:
-Lack of dramatic element to dancing
-Lack of ministry focus

I feel I should expand on the last two points so that no one from Corps Bara thinks these are random or unfair judgements. In the past, despite a lower level of technical ability on the part of the dancers, the emotion behind there dances was intense. When there was a "storyline" to the dance, it felt like we were watching a story that was told through dance. When I watched the dances this time around, I was watching dancers who were trying to trying to tell a story. Maybe it's a small distinction in when typed, but it's no small difference when live.

There's just something about the chemistry of old match of dancers, maybe, but in Cleansing, for example, when Sarah would reach desperately for the water bowl, you could feel how desperate she was. You could see the pain in her face and there was no guesswork about what she was trying to portray. When she lingered in a pose, you didn't notice because the emotion was first, and the position was second. This time, when I watched Cleansing, though it was frighteningly beautiful technique-wise, the girl in Sarah's role lost me. I saw her reaching for the water bowl, but I didn't feel it. I looked at the position and said "That's a reaching pose. She must want the water."

I don't usually go on about emotion. I'm more of a brain person. But dance isn't about that. It's an art form, and isn't that what art is supposed to do? Evoke emotion? With dances like Cleansing or Her Last Prayer, the emotion really can't be sacrificed for the dancing. The old group of dancers I knew that used to perform them would really drive the emotion home, and that's the reason they were such powerful pieces.

My second disappointed was the lack of the ministry aspect. It's a Christian dance company, but I feel it's lost some of that. There was next to no mention of God or the ministry mandate during the whole evening, which saddened me a bit. It's actually one of the reasons I eventually left the company myself...

But all around, I greatly enjoyed the evening. I just had to get those two points off my chest, and if I also expand on the parts with which I was impressed, I fear nobody would read this. The lack of comments on my long Bonhoeffer post are evidence that this would be the case.

Anyhow, my sister and I got home that evening to have my mom tell us that she had just called 911. A gang a teenagers beat up a teen from another group and left him in the street. The police came and dealt with him and his friends (he was ok, and they went home in taxis). Then the other gang came back. We watched through the window as they shouted, broke glass beer bottles on the road and sidewalk, and randomly climbed in and out of their SUV. I was angry enough to want to call the cops again, but they weren't technically doing much. Eventually about ten or so of them squished into the vehicle and they left (driving drunk?)

It's so weird. We live in the suburbs. I've never seen anything like that in our neighbourhood before. It's too new and nice. Yet they were pretty much in our front yard. I hope this doesn't become more common.

But to close, my dance teachers taught me a lot over the years, and so I pass some of that advice on to you:

"Carla, if you want to meet guys, don't sit around on Friday nights knitting with your girlfriends, drinking margaritas, and watching Johnny Depp movies." Miss Sally and Amy

"Carla, you need to feel it from your SCAPULA!" Krista

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Not So Dismal

I feel I may have slightly misrepresented Bonhoeffer's views on my previous post. While I still stand by what I wrote, I'd like to clarify a few things.

My prior post was mainly focused on the doom and gloom of the human condition, but that is not quite true to Bonhoeffer's attitude and philosophy. He focused on the strength, not the weakness, of the human species, and on joy, gratitude, and fortitude instead of fatalism and resignation.

Perhaps I have incorrectly interpreted his meaning of the idea of "responsibility", but I believe he just considers it water under the bridge. That is to say, yes, the human sin problem is there, but God has that covered, so let's move on to other things.

When discussing responsible action, he says, "We must learn to act differently from those who always hesitate... we must be clear about what we want, we must ask whether we're up to it, and then we must do it with unshakable confidence. Then and only then can we also bear the consequences." Consequences, in this context, referring to the earthly consequences, of course. God will take care of the rest.

So while we do have to resign ourselves to God's grace, we are not to be ashamed that we behaved as responsibly as possible. We are called to behave as responsibly as possible.

Does that clear things up?

To close with a related line: "May God in his mercy lead us through these times; but above all, may he lead us to himself."

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Seven Paradigms

A little MCQ for you:

Which of the following was pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer doing while he wrote his book on ethics?

a) Planning to assassinate Hitler
b) Courting a girl twenty-odd years younger than he
c) Acting as a triple agent for a secret intelligence agency
d) All of the above

I think it's time for a long over due post on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. There's so much food for thought in his writing that's fueled my brain for a good while now. I need to at least start getting some of it out of my head and into the open.

Most of his ideas on ethics he discussed in a book cleverly entitled Ethics, but I haven't read that one yet, so I'm mainly going on what was in Letters and Papers from Prison. Still, I need to use a quote from Ethics to explain to the main concept behind his ethical decision making paradigm. As an aside, the book is unfinished because he was arrested by the SS and executed before he could finish.

The quote: "When a man takes guilt upon himself in responsibility, he imputes his guilt to himself and no one else. He answers for it...Before other men he is justified by dire necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience, but before God he hopes only for grace."

That is to say, his ethical theory can be summed up as such: Be responsible and pray to God for mercy.

When he was in prison, he wrote an essay on morality, and expounded on seven different ways people deal with ethics, and why they all end up swept off their feet. I'll run through them quickly.

1. The first group of people are the "reasonable people", of which I am one. Basically, reasonable people are those who try to be sensible and figure that everyone, when presented with the sensible thing to do, will also do it. The reason they eventually fail is because the world is not so sensible a place, and the irrationality of it all wears the person down, causing them either to give up or to be crushed by those opposing them. He describes them as having the "best intentions and a naive lack of realism."

2. The second group of people are the moral fanatics. Fanatics are single-minded and believe they can do battle with evil, but tend to attack the idea and forget the people behind the idea. In Bonhoeffer's words, "like a bull he rushes at the red cloak instead of the person holding it". They tire themselves out by chasing after non-essentials and are easily tripped up.

3. People of conscience live by - you guessed it - conscience. As soon as an ethical dilemma is posed, these people are hosed. "Evil approaches him in so many respectable and seductive disguises that his conscience becomes nervous and vacillating." At best they get by with a salved conscience, not a clean one, though a bad conscious is more honest and telling than a soothed one.

4. And then he describes those who just worry about their duty. These people do what they are told and put the responsibility on who told them to do it. It's not hard to see how duty can be twisted. Bonhoeffer warns, "The man of duty will in the end have to do his duty by the devil, too."

5. Those who most assert their freedom are very pragmatic. They are free of things they must do or may not do and so will sacrifice one principle to achieve something greater - a sort of "choose the lesser evil" approach. These people run into trouble because you cannot always tell what is worse. Bonhoeffer says this paradigm contains the "raw materials of tragedy."

6. The sixth group are those who retreat into their own sanctuary of virtuousness. The people in this group make little to no effort to better the world, but only try to keep their own hands clean. They have to shut their eyes to all the problems around them, and are tormented by all they leave undone. Eventually they are either torn apart by their distress or become "the most hypocritical of Pharisees."

7. The final option is really the only good option, he says. "Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God - the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life and answer to the question and call of God."

But how does that work? It sounds a lot being pragmatic to me - not all that different from those who assert their freedom. But he says here that you have to sacrifice your freedom. Actually, I can see the reasonable person and the person of conscience being closely related to the freedom fighter, as well. When push comes to shove, and there is no "good" option, people of conscience will take the path that makes them less afflicted by guilt, and the reasonable person will see that sometimes a trade-off is necessary, even though it speeds up the process of defeat. The paradox is the same for all of them. Is it possible that doing something wrong can ever be the right thing to do? By definition, no. But in effect, is this the case?

Maybe that's the difference. Perhaps responsible people are different not due to the actual actions they perform, but due to the way in which they claim the actions. A reasonable person, a person of conscience, and a freedom fighter all in the end say that they did the least objectionable thing possible at the time and so they should not be held accountable for the evil it involved. They say that it is in effect the right thing to do, even if it's technically wrong. The person who does it claims to be absolved.

The responsible person says that they did what was necessary (or best?) but that the evil is still their own. They are responsible for their actions (or inactions, as the case may be), and do not lay the blame on the people who created the hopeless situation for them. The severity of the crime is not lessened by the fact that it is the least poisonous of the options. In this understanding, doing something wrong is still bad, but may be ethically required. Which just sounds nuts.

It seems like a kind of fatalistic and angsty way of viewing things. I like the sound of "I did what I saw was best, and if God wants to punish me for it, so be it" as opposed to "I did what I saw was best and oh, God, please forgive me for it!" The former is so much more confident and "case closed" like, but it's also terrifying insomuch as we definitely make mistakes, and if we ask for God's judgement, we can be sure we're going to get it.

And yet, in a sense, being responsible for one's own actions also takes the responsibility off us. We know we're sinners, and we know we need mercy. We also know that God gives mercy to those who ask for it. Though we are responsible for our behaviour, God is responsible for our salvation. Perhaps this is what is meant by "freed from sin", which is a concept I've never quite understood to my liking. On the other hand, if we claim that we are not responsible for the evil we do, then we are claiming that we do not need mercy. And if we do not believe we need mercy, why would we ask for it? Though we may not acknowledge it, we are responsible for our own demise.

It doesn't seem fair that there may be no possible way to get out of a situation without condemning ourselves. Biblically, it seems there must be a way, seeing as how Christ managed. But barring a sudden endowment of the same power, wisdom, and foreknowledge that Christ possesses, it would be only blind, blundering luck that gets us through life unstained, and not our own cleverness. And we know that due to our sin nature, that's not going to happen.

Does Bonhoeffer's analysis of the situation make it impossible for someone to be morally excellent or praiseworthy? In comparison to God, clearly yes. It doesn't allow for even the hypothetical possibility. But as he states, we can be justified to our society and at peace with ourselves that we saw no better option. I see no reason to believe that we cannot be thought excellent by our society, though as soon as we believe ourselves to be excellent, we are in danger of condemning ourselves. And though the situation may sometimes prove (to us) to be a no-win circumstance, we are still called to, and able to, strive to be more like Christ. We are assured forgiveness, so there is no reason to wallow in misery over our inability. What is that verse? 2 Cor. 12:9 "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."

Not that this gives us leave to go around sinning in order that grace may multiply, of course. Not finding a way to get out of sinning and purposefully sinning are two different things entirely. We are still called to be the best we can be.

I guess this is a self-maintaining view of things, at any rate (I think I agree with it). After all, even if it's entirely wrong, then we accept responsibility for being wrong, and therefore are in a place to beg to God for mercy.

Although the movie Kingdom of Heaven and Dietrich Bonhoeffer aren't really on the same level, I really like this quote by King Baldwin IV:

"None of us chose our end really. A king may move a man, a father may claim a son. But remember that even when those who move you be kings or men of power, your soul is in your keeping alone. When you stand before God you cannot say 'but I was told by others to do thus' or that 'virtue was not convenient at the time'. This will not suffice. Remember that."

Oh, and the answer to the question at the start of the post is, of course, D.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Quotes of Classmates

I had a midterm today. I present you with a snippet of the conversation that followed during the hallway debriefing party we undergrads always hold with our classmates after a test:

Ryan: I was up until like four o'clock this morning studying.
Amanda: Amateur.
Esther: I studied until like two o'clock and then I woke up at four to keep going.
Ford: I don't even sleep. And if I do, I wrap my face in my textbook.

Maybe you had to be there. My class is full of interesting characters.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Victory

It's worth a passing mention that today is the court date for the students who were charged with "trespassing" on campus while they ran the pro-life display these past three semesters. Yet they are not at court today, because it was announced just a couple days ago that the crown dropped all charges against the students due to "insufficient evidence".

Haha! At least someone has some sense, though the university is bummed. I am feeling quite smug, even if I had nothing to do with the outcome. Yay free speech!

On a completely unrelated note, I had the misfortune to witness a couple of senior citizens making out on the C-train today. I am thoroughly disgusted and slightly disturbed.

“We tend to idealize tolerance, then wonder why we find ourselves infested with losers and nut cases.” Patrick Nielsen