Tuesday, March 30, 2010

America Politics, Religion, and the Crazy Right

Two pieces in today's New York Times caught my attention. Read this piece on the arrest of members of a Christian militia, the Hutaree, in Michigan, and the read this oped by David Rich which puts the anger of (white) people like the Hutarees in perspective. Chime in if you don't think Rich does a good job of connecting the dots.

Anglican Priest Barbie

My clergy friend Pastor Renee told me about Beauty Tips for Ministers,a blog by a Unitarian minister, PeaceBang, who believes that while clergy work from their hearts and souls, their physical appearance also matters. I enjoyed this recent post featuring the work of a US Episcopal priest, the Rev. Julie Blake, who has made a series of church vestments for Barbie. Here's a sample:

She does look fabulous, and I'll bet she does a great job with the BCP offices!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Aspiring Witches can Claim Tax Deductions

My seminary gave me tax receipts for my tuition payments, for which I was very grateful at the time. In that spirit, I am rather pleased to see that the Dutch government allows students at a witch school in the Netherlands to claim tax write-offs.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Different Kind of Power: A Sermon for Passion Sunday

Because of some changes to our preaching schedule at St. Mark's abd my being away on course in Feb-Mar, it seems like ages since I've preached last or posted a sermon here. This one is preached today at St. Mark's Protestant Chapel, CFB Greenwood, using the Year C lections for Passion Sunday. MP+

I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. (Ps 31:11)

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Lk 19:38). We heard that line from Luke’s gospel read outside this morning during out Liturgy of the Palms. Today our palm fronds, our readings, and our hymns, are all designed to take us back to that moment of seeming triumph and glory when Jesus rode into Jerusalem. Today our worship prompts us to ask a very simple question – what kind of king is Jesus? We need to ask this question, because our history suggests that we have a hard time understanding what real kingship and power are really all about.

Here’s a case in point from recent history. Generation Kill, an HBO series based on a book by Rolling Stone journalist Evan Wright, describes the entry of US Marines into Baghdad in 2003. The streets were full of Iraqis chanting “Bush, Bush, Bush”, and the Marines were asked if they had brought statues of their President so the people could put them where the statues of their former leader, Saddam Hussein, had stood. It was as if, after being ruled by strong men for so long, the people couldn't imagine any other kind of power, even though the Americans were talking about bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq. Within a week, however, the crowds had changed their opinions. The Americans were not prepared for the violence and looting that followed the fall of Baghdad, and there were too few of them. The US soldiers began to look weak, and they changed from liberators into targets. Crowds which once shouted “Bush, Bush, Bush!” now began to chant “Death to the USA”.

Two millennia separate the entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem and that of the US military into Baghdad, but both stories, and countless ones in between, but not much else had changed. Then as now, the people wanted a king, but they like the kind of king they got. Palm Sunday reminds us of how Jesus went from Hero to Zero because the crowds didn’t understand how God’s power really worked. That guy on the colt with the reputation for miracles may have reminded the people of Jerusalem of their scriptures’ prophecies of kings and messiahs (eg, Zechariah 9:9),2 but pretty soon he started to look weak and silly. Jesus had nothing to offer to get rid of the Romans. During his week in Jerusalem he hinted that he had power from heaven (Lk 20:1-19) but he didn’t spell it out directly. You all know what happened next. The man who entered Jerusalem in a manner reminiscent of Old Testament kings shambles out of Jerusalem under a cross, now reminiscent of another Old Testament figure, the object of scorn and horror mentioned by the Psalmist (Ps 31:11). So what kind of king is Jesus?

Let’s start with a very important point. In the whole story, Jesus never denies that he is a king. When the Pharisees tell him to order his disciples to stop saying that he’s a king, Jesus says it’s impossible: “I tell you, even if these were silent, the stones would shout out” (Lk 19:40). Earlier in his ministry, Jesus did not want people to call him king or Messiah, which is why he ordered witnesses to stay quiet about his miracles (Lk 8:56). Now that he’s reached Jerusalem, however, Jesus isn’t denying that he’s a king. So what’s changed?

The Methodist preacher and blogger Peter Woods makes an excellent point about this crucial moment in Luke’s gospel when Jesus reveals his kingship. In the three years previous, during his travels through Galilee and Samaria, Woods notes, Jesus has been living and teaching a kind of power that is very different from the power of Pilate, Herod, and the other earthly kings waiting for him in Jerusalem. In his deeds, his words, and his parables, Jesus has shown the kind of power that heals and restores the hopeless and the outcast back to their families and communities. Think of the prodigal son, for example, brought back to his father’s house. Jesus has forgiven sinners and adulterers, he has visited under the roof of tax collectors, he has healed lepers and raised the dead. His kingdom has no borders or walls, it is open to all who want a place in it. In all of his ministry Jesus has upheld the standard of his Father’s righteousness, as in his cleansing of the Temple during his final week in Jerusalem, but his power has not depended on anger and wrath. For the first time in its history, the world has seen in Jesus what a kingdom based on the love of God looks like, and the world rejects it.

The Psalmist writes, “I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me” (Ps 31:11). Scorn, shame, horror, dread. That’s all you would have seen following Jesus to the cross, if you had no idea what kind of king he really was. But this is a different kind of king, a king who calls us friends, a king who knows us and loves us despite our faults, a king who challenges us to love and to forgive others as he loves and forgives us. Let us go into this Holy Week resolved to follow our king from the glory of the Palms to the horror of the Cross. Let us try to understand the power of this king, so different from the powers that we know. This power comes from the wounded heart of the king who stretches out his arms on the cross to embrace the whole world. This power is poured out at great cost, and is freely given. This power will transform us, if we are brave enough to let it transform us. Its Holy Week. Our King is riding into Jerusalem. We know his true power. Lets follow our King.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Keeping Passover, Holy Week in the Field

In case you doubted the vast size and scale of the US military, this piece from the US Defence news will make you think again. Canadian Forces chaplains can only dream of an agency that would provide them with palm fronds while in the field or deployed. MP+

Agency Provides Meals, Supplies for Religious Observances
By Larry Levine
Defense Supply Center Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA, March 24, 2010 – The Defense Logistics Agency’s supply center here is ensuring servicemembers around the globe have Passover meals available for observance of the upcoming Jewish holiday and palm fronds for the upcoming Christian observance of Palm Sunday.

Defense Supply Center Philadelphia is ensuring servicemembers around the globe have Passover meals available for observance of the upcoming Jewish holiday. DoD photo

In addition to supplying all daily meals, the Defense Logistics Agency also ensures troops receive traditional holiday meals and necessary religious supplies.

“As with all our holiday or special-event meals, our personnel begin demand planning and contacting customers as well as potential suppliers several months in advance to ensure timely delivery,” said Ray Miller, subsistence deputy director. “Our planning for meals for this Passover holiday began back in November.”

Passover, the Jewish holiday commemorating the deliverance of the ancient Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, is observed from sundown March 29 to April 9 this year. Traditionally, many Jewish people refrain from eating many leavened baked goods, including bread and cakes, during Passover. Some also refrain from eating rice or legumes, including beans and peas, during Passover. This can be difficult for military members in remote locations.

The four different main courses of the special Passover meals are canned salmon, bone-in chicken, gefilte fish and beef stew, all certified Kosher for Passover. The meals also contain with other Passover extras such as matzo and macaroons. Each meal is in a chemically activated, self-heating package.

The 12-meal cases will be distributed to U.S. warfighters throughout the world. While most U.S.-based servicemembers will have access to regular dining facilities or other local options for their Seder meals, most of the domestically delivered meals will go to servicemembers on training missions.

The retail value of the 10,932 Passover meals provided this year is $141,988.46. This represents an increase by almost 30 percent from 2009, when 8,424 meals were provided.

In addition to food items, the agency’s clothing and textiles supply chain provides Passover Seder kits containing special prayer books and robes. The supply chain’s ecclesiastical branch provides Seder kits to chaplains and Jewish servicemembers in the field.

DLA also supplies Christian and Orthodox Christian celebrants of Palm Sunday with palm leaves. Palm Sunday is celebrated the Sunday before Easter, and it commemorates Jesus Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem, when palm fronds were strewn in front of him. Traditional services include a procession of members of the congregation carrying palms.

“Whether servicemembers are in the field or on training assignments away from the regular places they would celebrate, Jewish and Christian alike, we offer all the items needed to conduct their respective ceremonies,” said Maryann Bonk, an inventory management specialist in the clothing and textiles ecclesiastical branch.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Peter McKay Goes to Washington

Wow, my boss the Minister of Defense is in a Pentagon news piece and he's making it pretty explicit, if there was any doubt, that we're done with Afghanistan in 2011.

"By 2011, Canadian will have been in Afghanistan for 10 years," he said, adding that Canadian troops are without the restrictions that limit how some contributing countries' forces operate. "We plan to continue combat operations until mid-summer of 2011."

It was nice of Secretary Gates to say kind things not only about our involvement in Afghanistan but also about how Canada managed the Winter Olympics, especially considering how men's hockey turned out for his guys. If you want a more objective perspective on how the Afghan mission is going and you really want to get into weeds, try this.

I'm sure there's a funny caption for this picture, which appeared in the US DOD press piece, but I'm too tired to think of it. Thoughts?

Notable Quotable: Robert Wright on Christians Proselytizing Moslems

March 16, 2010, 10:00 pm
Christian Soldiers

"[Some American Christians are fostering religious strife abroad. They mean well, but the damage they’re doing can be seen all the way from Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims are killing each other, to Malaysia, where Muslims are trying to keep Christians from using the term “Allah” for God."

This article from the New York Times caught my attention because it speaks to an (often unspoken) quesion that my fellow CF chaplains and I struggle with when we speak about interfaith dialogue, namely, "Do we pray to one God with different names, or to different gods with different names?"

Whether Christians proselytizing Moslems by suggesting that Allah is the Judeo-Christian God is disrespectful and an unhelpful (in geopolitical terms, since it can lead to violence between Christians and Moslems and deepen Moslem suspicions of American motives) development or whether it is an evangelical imperative required by Christ's Great Commission is a whole debate in itself. Wright ends his piece by noting that there are some Christian leaders and theologians who disagree with the premise that God and Allah are different names for the one God.

"One of them, Ergun Caner, president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, in Lynchburg, Va., said in a recent podcast, “There’s nothing that the two gods — the god of the Koran and the god of scripture — have in common. Nothing.”

Well, to look at the bright side: Maybe that’s a basis for interfaith rapport; Caner can sit around with Malaysian Muslims and agree that they worship different gods.

Still, I like to think that their gods would beg to differ."

Which brings us back to interfaith dialogue. I'm defining dialogue here as a conversation whose goal is not proselytization, since I don't think (as we've all experienced on our doorsteps when religious salespeople visit us), a conversation intended to bring about conversion can really be called a dialogue. The Christian theologian and ethicist Stanley Hauerwas once said somewhere that if we can agree on nothing else, we should agree not to kill one another in the name of religion. I don't think it's setting the bar too low to say that if interfaith dialogue accomplishes nothing else, it is a success if it keeps us from killing one another.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Johanna Schneller on Why The Public Doesn't Go to Iraq War Films

Yesterday in the Globe and Mail Johanna Schneller raised some good points on why films on the Iraq war and related films on what, for a better term, we call the War on Terror, don't do well at the box office. A good case in point for this phenomenon is The Hurt Locker, which may be the lowest grossing film ever to have won the Oscars. She makes the simple but telling point that films about World War Two, even strange ones like Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, rely on the simple moral trope of "Allies good, Axis bad" and makes a more subtle but equally valid point, I think, about the moral chaos of films about the Iraq war. "Their stories are screaming bombs of chaos, mendacity, fear, misdirection, mismanagement, ugliness, shouting, grit, and the shattering of any illusions one may harbour about any possibility of world peace. The truer and more artful a film is about these wars, the harder it is to watch."

Having recently seen Hurt Locker as well as Generation Kill, HBO's excellent series on the first days of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, I agree. The false premise of that invasion (the missing WMDs), the descent into meaningless violence such as the Al-Muhmadiyah killings of 2006 make for preachy (Paul Greengrass' laboured new film Green Zone) and depressing films that take audiences too far from the now half-remembered moral clarity of the days immediately after 9-11.

Less obvious but just as relevant, I think, is that films about contemporary, assymetric, counter-insurgency warfare are almost doomed at the start to be confusing and tedious. Thus, you get some excellent documentaries (such as PBS' Frontline series) that explain how hard it is for NATO troops in some Afghan village to win hearts and minds and figure out who the bad guys are) but it's too complex and slow-moving a story for audiences conditioned to simplistic blockbusters to want to follow (and why, he wonders parenthetically, aren't there any movies about Afghanistan?).

Again, Scheller gets it right when she singles out the tight focus and suspense of Hurt Locker as the reason for that film's limited commercial success. "It's about one guy (a demolitions expert played by Jeremy Renner) doing one brave thing (defusing bombs). Its story - that to be a good, well-intentioned American soldier in these current wars requires that one be brave, short-sighted, and a little emotionally stunted - is palatable, but only just. About $15.7-million worth."

Wounded Warriors Conquer a Mountain Together

My friend Padre Kevin, who's out in CFB Shiloh with the infantry, God bless him, commented recently on how this blog focuses on wounded warriors. It's true that I'm fascinated by stories of how soldiers can recover from their injuries in battle and rise to new challenges. In doing so they become examples of how resiliency of spirit, the encouragement of loved ones and friends, and the best qualities of the military ethos can help help them, and us, soldier on in adversity.

The other day the US Defence Department news service profiled Lt. Col. Mark Hoffmeister, a US Army Ranger who, incidentally, shares the name of one of Canada's great WW2 Generals. Mark Hoffmeister was wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2007.

"After months of surgeries and rehabilitation, he found himself falling into a depression, he said.

“Being wounded was a significant experience,” Hoffmeister said. “It’s a major setback, and it’s pretty easy to succumb to your wounds and say, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”

Hoffmeister found himself in an unfamiliar situation: stuck at home with nothing to train for and nothing to do. He battled with post-traumatic stress and severe pain, and wasn’t sure if he’d ever be competitive again."

With the encouragment of his wife Gayle, a former Army nurse and fellow athlete, Mark started going back to the gym and in June of 2009 he and a team of five others, including three other wounded warriors, made an ascent of Mount McKinley, also called Denali. He admitted that this expedition took some nerve.

"After months of surgeries and recovery time to save his arm, he said, possibly losing his arm to frostbite on a mountain wasn’t at the top of the list of things he wanted to do.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a sense of doubt and fear about my own ability,” he said. “After having gone through a load of surgeries and rehab, doing this was a big risk. I was scared and intimidated, and didn’t know what I could do.”

Army Lt. Col. Marc Hoffmeister, top left; Army Spc. Dave Shebib, top right; retired Marine Capt. Jon Kuniholm, bottom left; and retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Nyman, bottom right, all wounded warriors were part of an expedition to climb Alaska's Mount McKinley, also known as Denali, the highest point in North America, in June 2009. Courtesy photo

A blog of their 2009 climb can be found here.
Hoffmeister is due to deploy again to Iraq this fall, and when he returns, he and his wife plan to be part of a team of veterans who will climb 22,000 feet up Cerro Aconcaqua in Argentina, the highest point in the Americas.

Hoffmeister said he hopes his team’s story inspires others. Their journey to 20,000 feet shows that any hardship or disability can be overcome through teamwork and determination, he said.

“We all deal with shared hardships, whether it’s long deployments or the fear of combat, and no one gets through it on their own,” he said. “They get through it by the strength of a team, knowing when people are weak and when they’re strong, and stepping up when you’re strong and accepting help when you’re weak. If you understand that psychology, you understand success.”

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A cool ebook discovery

During a rather random bit of googling yesterday around the subject of ebooks, I came across an application called Calibre, which is billed as "the one stop solution to all your ebook needs". Calibre is available as a free download from the developer's website, which includes a very helpful animation of its features.

In brief, Calibre allows you to take your collection of ebooks, which come in a variety of formats, convert them to other formats as required, and then download them to whatever handheld ereader device you are using. In my case, it allows me to take ebook content and install it on my iphone, once I downloaded a free ebook reader app, Stanza, from the App Store.

The really cool thing about Calibre is that it allows you to gather news content from the internet and then convert it into ebook format. This is done by directing Calibre to the website of a news organization and then telling it to gather all the RSS feeds on that organization's website using what Calibre calls a recipe. The html programming for writing a recipe is rather daunting ... well, to be truthful, it looks way over my head. However, the Calibre install comes with prewritten recipes for many news sources, including 200+ English language sources. Shortly after installing Calibre on my PC and Stanza on my iphone, I was able to gather the latest issue of the New Yorker and of the New York Review of Books into ebook format and can now read them on my iphone in a matter of minutes. That in itself is just too, too cool, considering that I would have to drive two hours to buy print copies of these two journals.

If you are a news junkie and you have an ebook reader, that feature of Calibre alone is worth a look.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Requiem for a Matelot

Some of the most inspiring and heroic things I've ever read come from the obituaries of the World War Two generation as they steadily recede into memory. Today the Globe and Mail printed the obituary of Arthur Taylor, a young Newfoundlander who was one of the few survivors of one of the most one-sided and gallant sea actions of that war.

In November, 1940, an allied convoy in the North Atlantic was attacked by the German surface raider Admiral Scheer. The escorting vessel, HMS Jervis Bay, was a converted ocean liner mounting a few ineffectual guns, but it held off the Scheer long enough to save the bulk of the convoy. The Jervis Bay was sunk and most of its crew, 190, were lost. In 2008, Taylor had a chance to sail on a Battle of the Atlantic commemorative trip with HMCS Sackville and had this to say about his experience.

"It was only a quick flash. I was just thinking about those who never made it back. Back then you just prayed and thanked God you were alive. That's the way it goes; you have to keep on living."

Rest eternal grant unto him, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon him.

New Technology Helps Wounded Soldiers Regain Eyesight

I was pleased to see a connection to the Lions Clubs International, a volunteer organization I belong to, in a story about a new technology that is helping wounded soldiers regain some of their lost eyesight. Gale Pollock is a retired US Army Major General and a Lion who works at the University of Pittsburgh's entre for Vision Restoration. Together with Marine Corporal Mike Jernigan, who lost his vision in Iraq, Pollock was demonstrating a technology called Brainport, a sensor array which allows nerve endings on the tongue to translate visual inputs into shapes and patterns that can be discerned by the brain.

This photo of Cpl. Jernigan is from an article on BrainPort from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Mike Jernigan has been mentioned in this blog before as a contributor to the New York Times' series, Home Fires, on the experiences of veterans after returning home.

BrainPort is a technology developed by Centre for Vision Restoration for the US Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM)and is being trialled by the British military as well after a visit by the UK's Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Health) to Gale Pollock's Pittsburgh clinic. A British soldier, Craig Lundburg, also tried the device and described it this way.

"I could feel with my tongue that the first letter was an 'A', and then I moved onto the next one. It was amazing. Then I walked down a corridor and I could make out the doorways, the walls and people coming towards me.

"It was the first time since Iraq that I had been able to do that. The equipment needs a lot of work, but it has got huge potential.

"I am a realist. I know this isn't going to give me my sight back, but it could be the next best thing," Mr Lundberg added.

"I will tell the doctors and the scientists straight what I think of the technology - I won't lie to them. But so far I am impressed."

THe complete UK MOD press release on this story can be found here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

US Courts Take PTSD Into Account When Sentencing Veterans

From yesterday's New York Times.

March 15, 2010
Defendants Fresh From War Find Service Counts in Court

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — When Judge Robert C. Chambers handed down Timothy Oldani’s federal sentence for selling stolen military equipment on eBay, he gave the former Marine a break.

In Iraq, Mr. Oldani had performed the jangling work of detonating improvised explosive devices and had seen six of his fellow Marines burned alive in an armored vehicle. He left the service with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress syndrome that, the judge concluded, had clouded his judgment. Under federal sentencing guidelines, the prison term could have been nearly five years; Judge Chambers decided on just five months, with three years of supervised release and treatment.

Many veterans like Mr. Oldani have returned from Afghanistan and Iraq burdened by post-traumatic stress, drug dependency and other problems. As veterans find themselves skirmishing with the law, judges are increasingly finding ways to provide them with a measure of leniency.

Read the whole piece here.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Maps You Won't See on Google

Curiously, I came across this image just after crossing into New Brunswick last night on my way home.

It's from a series of tongue-in-cheek takes on digital maps by Christopher Niemann, an artist whose work appears in the New Yorker among other places.

Here's another one, a plot summary of Casablanca:

By the way, the GIS app on my my iphone totally rocks - it got me to my brother's doorstep in Petawawa Thursday night.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Note to Taliban: Surrender Now

Because if you don't, these three soldiers are deploying next year and it'll be ugly, you know what I'm saying?

These three ladies are members of the Oklahoma National Guard's roller derby team, and their story is told here. And in case you're wondering, they say that all the hits and spills in roller derby are real.

If you want a further laugh at the Taliban's expense, check out Andy Borowtiz's humour piece in the latest New Yorker magazine on news that the Taliban are attempting to rebrand themselves.

Morphine May Reduce PTSD Risk, Study Shows

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2010 – Injured servicemembers who receive morphine during trauma care are about half as likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder as those who are not administered the drug, a Navy study has revealed.

The study found that the use of morphine directly after injury during resuscitation and early trauma care was associated with a reduced risk of PTSD, Troy Holbrook, one of the study’s authors, said. The study was conducted by researchers from the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego, and was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Jan. 14.

Researchers studied 696 injured servicemembers using data compiled from the Navy-Marine Corps Combat Trauma Registry Expeditionary Medical Encounter Database, Holbrook said. Among the patients studied, 243 received a diagnosis of PTSD and 453 did not. Of the patients who received a PTSD diagnosis, 61 percent had been administered morphine. Among those without PTSD, 76 percent had received morphine.

“This can be interpreted to mean that patients who receive morphine after serious injury, during acute trauma care and resuscitation, were about half as likely to develop PTSD compared to patients that did not receive morphine,” Holbrook explained.

Read the whole piece here.

First Reviews of "The Pacific" are Good

If you have HBO on your cable package, invite me over because I don't and I want to catch "The Pacific". I'll bring beer. Or maybe sake. Or both.

The Pacific is TV series from Steven Speilberg and Tom Hanks long-awaited by fans of their WW2 efforts, "Band of Brothers" and "Saving Private Ryan". "The Pacific" tells the story of US soldiers fighting the Japanese, and according to Spielberg the project was written by Pacific War vets who saw his previous films and wrote asking that he tell their story too.

From what I've heard of it, "The Pacific" decides to follow several well-known factual characters, including E.B. Sledge whose memoir, "With the Old Breed On Pelelieu and Okinawa" was described by literary scholar and WW2 vet Paul Fussell as a must-read book for any student of the experience of war.

I'm pleased that The Pacific is getting good reviews, if this one is any indication. Please post a reply here if you've seen it, and if you're watching it, remember, I'll bring the beer .. or sake ... or sushi.

More power to your ihpone

OK, now that I have my ebook reader (see previous post re my new iphone), I've discovered that the little thing is a beastly power hog. This piece from the New York Times has some handy hints on how to reduce your smartphone's power drain.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My ebook choice is made

Readers of Mad Padre (bless you!) will know that I've been struggling with making a choice about an ebook reader, and a number of you made some helpful decisions.

What settled the decision for me was the need to get a personal cell phone when I learned that I'd be spending a considerable amount of time this year away from home on military courses. So I looked at Apple's iphone and it was an easy choice.

Downloading apps on the iphone is quite easy, and I knew that Amazon had an app version of their Kindle ebook reader for the iphone. It took literally three minutes to get the app installed on my iphone, and then to use it to search Amazon's Kindle store. By chance I had just finished a short story by Ursula K. Leguin, and wanted to read more of her work, so my first ebook purchase was her short story "The Bones of the Earth", which cost a couple of bucks. I found the text easy to read, a crisp and elegant font on a clear, offwhite background. The pages can be thumbed easily, sliding from left to right or vice versa, and there is a navigation bar to allow you to jump around in the book, though that is taking some getting used to.

Today during a break in class I'm reading the New York Times daily email and there's a review of The Surrendered, a new book by Korean-American writer Chang-Rae Lee. The novel is partially set during the Korean War, which sounds interesting, so I check the Kindle store and it sells for $11.99 US as an ebook, compared to its print price of $26.95. Chapters, by comparison, lists it at $33.50 Cdn with an online price of $22.11. I chose to download a free sample, which appears to give a complete chapter, more than enough to make a purchase decision.

I love my iphone for its other functions as well, but I'm very happy with it's worth as an ebook reader, and from what I can see I like the economics of ebooks. It's worth mentioning in closing the article that appeared today in The Globe and Mail about the Canadian publishing industry's unease with Amazon wanting to open a distribution centre in this country. I love my local bookseller back in Greenwood, NS, and I'll continue to buy print books there, but in I can see myself reading more books off my iphone and fewer off the printed page. As more people catch on to ebooks (and I'm hardly an early adopter), I think the print distribution debate will soon be moot.

Two Veterans' Takes On The Hurt Locker

I was very pleased that The Hurt Locker won the Oscar for best picture. I thought it was a tight, well-made picture that deserved recognition. While I haven't been over there, it tracks with my understanding of what it's like in theatre and what the pressures are like on soldiers.

In its excellent and ongoing series on veterans and their lives, the New York Times offers two perspectives on The Hurt Locker from people who have been in the sandbox, as US soldiers call Iraq. One is from US Marine Michael Jernigan, who meditates on the dilemma of enjoying war movies as entertainment but struggles with the implications of the reality they represent. In the second piece, soldier turned poet Brian Turner suggests that the character of The Hurt Locker's adrenaline-addicted Explosive Ordanance Disposal expert, Staff Sgt. James, is a symbol of the psychic cost that America has paid for the last ten years of wars.

Preparing for a Soldier's Final Homecoming

It may seem like a gruesome subject, but spare a thought for the men and women who prepare their fallen comrades for their final journey home. This article by Elaine Wilson from the American Forces Press Service tells the touching story of the mortuary unit at Dover Air Force Base. I don't know details of the equivalent Canadian Forces unit or service, but I'm sure they exist and do just as good work. MP+

It’s a mission they will undertake with dignity, honor and respect in mind, and with only one acceptable goal: perfection.

“It’s a heavy toll our nation has paid on this, and these are the men and women who have borne the cost,” said Air Force Col. Robert H. Edmondson, the center’s commander. “We owe our best every time and in every way.”

Read the whole piece here.

Air Force Master Sgt. Tracy Bailey cleans a dog tag at the personal effects section of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center at Dover Air Force Base, Del., Feb. 25, 2010. It’s Bailey’s job to clean the personal belongings that arrive with a fallen servicemember’s remains. U.S. Air Force photo

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Notable Quotable: Craig Mod on ebooks

Craig Mod is a technology blogger quoted in the New York Times as saying “Print is dying. Digital is surging. Everyone is confused. Good riddance." As the NYT summarizes Mod, the real breakthrough will be when ebook platforms and readers get beyond the need to replicate the experience of reading and turning printec pages:

"For hundreds of years, we’ve been consuming information on static pages, and for the most part, this content has been presented with a beginning, middle and end. Nonlinear, digital platforms will prompt a new range of thinking about stories and how to tell them."

Meanwhile, in a piece that the NYT ran on Feb 28th, Motoko Rich reviewsthe economics of ebooks, and suggests that the current price point of an ebook, around $12.99, were to go any lower, it would undermine profitability of publishers as a whole.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Military Goats In the News

It's been a while since I've posted anything WRT a subject dear to a Mad Padre's heart, namely the military goat. This last Thursday, March 4, was St. David's day and in honour of the patron saint of Wales, the Second Battalion of The Royal Welsh Regiment paraded with their mascot Taffy, seen here.

Sounds like a pretty good day for the 2nd Welsh's padre: "'Gunfire' (a drink mixed of rum and tea), a parade, a church service (complete with Regimental Goat Major and goat), a rugby match and a leek-eating ceremony at Tidworth Camp". Where do I sign up?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Canadian Forces Decorations You Might Not Have Heard Of

I once heard a Canadian general say that one of the problems with the military is that we are obssessed with the "Three Ms" - Me, Money, and Medals. Typically soldiers are modest about their decorations (sometimes called gongs). My father, for example, was very self-deprecating about the Military Cross he won in Korea, implying that it was a PR effort for an obscure war when in fact "my CO chased me up the hill, the Chinese chased me back down, and my men followed me out of curiousity". Even so, soldiers are conscious of who wears what - medals say what you've done and where you've been. A collection of medals is known as a "rack" and male soldiers, as you can imagine, like to look at a nice rack.

Here's a collection of CF medals that don't exist but probably should. I can't take credit for it - if you've been in for a while, you'll have seen it around.

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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