Friday, December 02, 2005

Lions and Tigers and Cats, Oh My!

I've spent quite a bit of time recently thinking about the ways in which we classify things and describe the world around us. For instance, the various classifications we use to label books and movies and other stories: Romance, Western, Science Fiction, and the like. I'll have more on that subject in an upcoming blog (hopefully). What I'm interested in now is the classification of animals, specifically, the classification of animals in terms of a creationist world view, and even more specifically, cats.

In creationist terms, a baramin is a "created kind". When God created the animals, he told them to reproduce "after their kind". Therefore, a baramin would be all the animals decended from that original created pair. All bears, therefore, would be descended from one original bear pair; all elephants would be descended form one original elephant pair. Classification of animals should therefore be easy: all animals descended from an original created pair would be one baramin.

In practice, however, it's not so simple to tell which animals are descended from the same pair. Just as different human family groups have developed different skin colours and such since Creation and the Flood, animals have also developed certain family differences. Take the dog family, for instance: the Chihuahua and the St. Bernard are very much different in size, colouration, and just about everything else, but they are still both dogs. If it were not for the size difference, they could mate and produce offspring. Wolves and coyotes have also been known to mate with dogs and produce offspring, meaning that wolves, coyotes, and dogs were all descended from one wolfish-doggish animal pair, making them all part of the same baramin or kind.

The easiest way to tell if two animals are part of the same baramin is if they can hybridize or mate and produce offspring. However, the opposite is not true: just because two animals can't mate, doesn't mean they're not both descended from one original pair.

Which brings me back to cats. Last weekend I went home to visit my parents, and came back with a box full of cards, each card having a different animal on the front, and a whole bunch of facts about that animal on the back. I was looking through the cat section, and sorting them. There are two main divisions of the cat family: the big cats like the lion and the tiger, etc., and the small cats, like the house cat and the ocelot and others. I knew that the four main big cats (lion, tiger, leopard and jaguar) could all interbreed -- you always hear about ligers and tigons and such. That meant they were all the same baramin, descended from one ancestral pair. But what about domestic cats? It seemed strange that they should seem so similar and yet not be related. And yet I had heard somewhere that they weren't. I decided to find out.

I went to the Internet (the repository of all knowledge known to man, if you can figure out the right search words) and looked around for hybridization experiments involving cats. The first thing I found was that my vague memory was correct: there had never been a successful interbreeding between a domestic cat and a big cat such as a lion or a leopard. There were, however, some other interesting hybridizations: a mountain lion (or cougar or puma or whatever you want to call it) had successfully interbred with an ocelot, which is a much smaller cat. And a leopard had successfully interbred with a mountain lion. This made me think: if a mountain lion and a ocelot are from the same baramin, and a mountian lion and a leopard are from the same baramin, doesn't that mean that the leopard and the ocelot are also from the same baramin, even though they can no longer interbreed? And if so, what other animals has an ocelot been able to interbreed with?

Long story short, I came up with the following sequence:

The lion, tiger, jaguar, and leopard are all able to interbreed.
The leopard has been bred with the mountain lion.
The mountain lion has been bred with the ocelot.
The ocelot has been bred with the margay.
The margay has been bred with the domestic cat!

This means that, when God created the world, he made one pair of cats. After the flood, this one species/baramin split off into many different groups and many different sizes.

It also means that, when your cute little pet cat prowls around looking for all the world like a miniature tiger, you're not all that far off the mark.

More information on creation biology can be found at Answers in Genesis and the Baraminology Study Group. That second website I just found today; it has some very interesting articles on this very topic.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Familial Links

Some of you reading this blog may know my brother, Benjamin. The one who can draw like a banshee. Actually, I don't know how well banshees can draw. Probably not very well. But never mind, you know who I'm talking about. What some of you may not know is that he has a blog, in which he showcases many of his nifty drawings. You should check it out, if you haven't already, and if you're not uninterested: .

Also, my other brother Jeremiah has a blog too: . His blog features colourful, rambling narratives about his new life in Alberta. Did I mention that he's Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce for Crossfields, Alberta? I probably did. I can't get over how awesome that is.

As far as I know, my other brother Caleb doesn't have a blog. If he does, he sure didn't tell me. I don't think Mom has a blog, either. I would be very surprised if Dad had a blog.

Bruce Willis has a blog. But he doesn't say much on it.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Free Will and Chaos Theory

Predestination, foreknowledge, and free will.

These are subjects I've spent a lot of time thinking about. In fact, I've come to regard free will as my "signature" topic of contemplation, since so much of my theological inquiry centres around it. It's a vast and fascinating subject.

So anyway, one night just before I fell asleep I turned the light back on and jotted down a few notes. I had been wondering how exactly it is that God works in our lives. How involved is God? Does he directly control every aspect of every thing that ever occurs (the hyper-Calvinist position)? Or did he wind the world up at Creation, then sit back to let the world run itself (the Deist position)? When a tsunami or a hurricane or an earthquake hits and people die, is it because God steered that disaster to that particular city, or is it just a random result of the natural effects God set in place?

Well, to start off with, it seemed pretty clear to me that God doesn't directly control our choices. God, being omnipotent, is able to make whatever he desires come to pass. Since, according to the Bible, God "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1Tim 2:4)," and since this is manifestly not the case, God must be allowing us to make our own choices in this area, choices which might conflict with what God wants. It also seems reasonable to me that if God is allowing us to make our own decisions in this most important of areas, then he probably is allowing us to make our own decisions in the rest of our lives, as well.

Why, you might ask? If you'll allow a bit of a digression from the main topic; even though I have no real proof on the matter, the most reasonable explanation it seems to me is this: without real choice, there cannot be real love or loyalty. A robot who cannot choose is not loyal, it is simply programmed to obey. The world was created to further God's glory, and clearly it is more glorious to be worshipped by people who do so willingly, than by a bunch of puppets on strings.

So how, then, does God work his will in our world, if he can't (or rather won't) force us to do things? That he does, in fact, work his will in our world is obvious: beyond the fact that we haven't all killed each other yet, the Bible says that "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." That's Romans 8:28 -- I know there's more verses that could demonstrate this point, but I'd rather not spend half an hour looking for them, and I'm pretty sure people (most Christians, anyway, I don't care what you other guys think about this topic) will agree on this one. God's will is done on Earth, but how can that be when so many people won't go along, and God won't force them to go along?

I think the answer is a combination of things, really. First and foremost is God's knowledge. He knows every thing that has been, is, will be, could have been, could be now, and could be in the future. He knows every possible thing about every possible thing. Therefore, God knows exactly what we will choose to do in any given situation, and why we will choose that. He knows all the factors that led up to that choice. He knows what events will result in what choices, and can work to create the events that will lead to the choices he wants. It's chaos theory: a butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo creates a chain reaction that results in a thunderstorm in New York that would not otherwise have happened, and all that. The only difference is, God knows what will cause what, and how it's all connected.

Not that God can always get the choices he wants. Since we do have free will, we can still decide to do whatever we want, despite God's best efforts. We mess up the whole cause-and-effect chain. God influences us, pleads with us, pushes us, disciplines us, all the things one might do to try to move a stubborn donkey, but there are certain people who simply will not obey God's will. And sometimes, even events themselves might conspire to frustrate God's will: if person A absolutely won't do action B, and action B is the only thing which could influence person C enough to accept God's dearly bought rescue from death, then person C is doomed.

And that's where we as Christians come in. We are person A. Our purpose here on Earth is to act as God's agents and assist in creating the situations and factors which will lead to life-saving choices by those still headed to Hell. When we do what God does want us to do, we fit like a piece of a puzzle into the grand scheme of things, bringing about chain reactions that affect the world in ways we can't imagine, but which God has carefully mapped out. When we do what God does not want us to do, then God can't use us in the way he would like, and those chain reactions we would have created will not take place. Maybe God can get person D to do action E for the same effect as us doing action B, but then again, maybe person D won't do it either, or maybe he's not as good at it as we might be. God created each of us for a purpose, and he has an ideal plan in mind for each of us that would result in the maximum possible good being done in the world. Each time we stray from God's purpose for us, and do something against his will, we take away from God's ideal plan, and God is forced to compensate with something less effective (after all, if his backup plan was more effective, then it wouldn't be a backup plan, now would it?).

Therefore, it is our duty as Christians, as God's agents in this world, to seek out God's will and perform it to the best of our abilities. We're not perfect, and we'll probably never be able to live up to God's ideal plan for our lives, but every step closer we get to his ideal plan, the more effective we will be as tools in God's arsenal. The more we obey God in every situation, the more we can be used in carrying out God's plan. The soldier who carries out his superior's orders swiftly and eagerly is quickly promoted up the ranks. Likewise, the better we carry out God's will, the more important the tasks we will be assigned. Why was Moses chosen to lead the Israelites, and not Jim-Bob the scribe? Because God knew that Moses would be more faithful in every situation than Jim-Bob would, and therefore more effective in carrying out God's plan.

Our actions are not inconsequential. If a butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo can cause a thunderstorm in New York, then how much more can be caused by a Christian who obeys God's will?

God will do his part. We just have to do ours.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Speaking of Residual Images....

Today, somehow, I ended up at, reading the article on Jesus. They had a few images of Jesus on the side, old paintings and such. It got me thinking: we obviously don't know what Jesus looked like. However, when we look at a painting of Jesus, we immediately recognise who it is. That means we all have a mental picture inside our heads of what Jesus looks like, collected over the years from various paintings and the like. I wondered what that might look like, exactly, a composite of all these different paintings of Christ. Fortunately, I have both the technology and the ability to construct such a composite. So I did.

I scrounged sixteen different images of the Christ from the Internet, from the traditional icon-type images, to the modern effeminate European type images, one from the Renaissance, and some assorted others. Using a morphing program (called, for reasons I have never fully been able to discern, "Abrosoft FantaMorph") I began combining pairs of pictures, and then combined those combined images with the other combined images, and so on. The result was quite effective, and I was surprised with how well it turned out.

So without further ado, here is the final composite image:

And here is a mosaic showing all the different source pictures I used, alongside the result:

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Residual Self-Image

Y'know, there's something I realised the other day when looking at a picture of myself. I perceive myself exactly backwards to how other people perceive me. My self-image is based on what I see in the mirror, but the mirror is backwards to reality. What I see in the mirror as being to my left, other people see as being to their right, and vice versa. When I part my hair on what in the mirror seems to be the left, other people see it on the right. All this time, when I've looked in the mirror and raised an eyebrow, it's been the wrong eyebrow. It's a very disconcerting thing to realise.

I think this is part of the reason why seeing yourself in a photograph or a home video always seems slightly strange. We're used to seeing ourselves in the mirror, so when we see ourselves in the way that other people do, the two images don't quite match.

It seems like such an obvious thing. I can't believe I didn't realise until now.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Information and Words: Mind and Spirit

A few weeks ago at Sonlife Bible Camp, I gave a message on the power and nature of words. Obviously, due to the constraints of time and the fact that I was speaking to a mixed audience of junior high kids as well as adults, I couldn't go as in-depth as might have been possible. The subject of words as the material manifestations of thought is one which reaches into a great many areas, and I could probably have done every message of the whole camp on one aspect or another of the subject. Fortunately, this being my blog, I can go as in-depth and super-long as I want. So that's what I'm going to do.

But first, a brief summary for those few of the people who will read this who weren't at Sonlife Bible Camp 2005. In my message, I made the case that words not only express our thoughts and ideas, but they make them real and bring them into the physical realm around us where other people can observe and be affected by them. A thought exists within your head and can be altered or taken back at whim, but a spoken word has left your mind and entered the world, where it cannot be taken back. It becomes a thing separate from you, though still being an expression of who you are. Additionally, in the ancient world in which the Biblical writers lived, your words were not considered to be seperate or distinct from your thoughts -- one's words were the completion and manifestation of one's thoughts, and a thought that was not spoken or acted upon was regarded as incomplete (in much the same way that a spirit without a body is incomplete, a subject which I will be getting into here shortly).

In my message, I mainly focused on words and the external side of things. Here I intend to focus on the interal side, on the thoughts and emotions that give rise to words, that is to say, on the mind and spirit of man.

There are people in this world who think that physical reality, the material things we can see and touch, is all that exists. They're known as "materialists". They deny the existence of spirits, or God, insisting that since we cannot test these things scientifically, they do not exist. They believe that when a man dies, his brain shuts down and he as a person ceases to exist. To them, a man is just a bunch of flesh collected together in a certain way, and thoughts are just electrical signals in the brain. However, this is clearly and easily proven wrong.

Information is one thing which clearly exists, but is not part of physical reality. Information has no mass or energy. It cannot be measured by any physical instrument. Yet, its existence is obvious. Language, for instance, is a symbolic code, a method of transmitting information. The symbols of language are, obviously, physical things: written words are bits of ink on paper, spoken words are soundwaves travelling through the air. However, the information transmitted by these symbols is distinct and separate from the symbols themselves. To quote a physicist (Dr. John Baumgardner, PhD):

"The meaning or message does not depend on whether it is represented as sound waves in the air or as ink patterns on paper or as alignment of magnetic domains on a floppy disk or as voltage patterns in a transistor network. The message that a person has won the $100,000,000 lottery is the same whether that person receives the information by someone speaking at his door or by telephone or by mail or on television or over the internet."

Information doesn't come out of nowhere, of course. Mashing a bunch of random keys on your keyboard doesn't result in information, it results in gibberish (like: "oejvivbjdhsye"). Symbols are meaningless physical entities if they haven't been assigned some information to symbolise: the power of words lies in what they mean, not how they sound. Physical symbols don't create information, they merely represent it. Furthermore, material objects can't generate non-material information, just like non-material information can't generate a material object. Physical things are generated by other physical things, and non-physical things are generated by non-physical things. A tree can't create a poem any more than a poem can create a tree. Trees come from acorns, and poems come from the minds of poets. But wait, says the materialist, isn't the poet's brain a physical thing? However, note that I didn't say his "brain" -- I said his "mind".

Our brain is rather like a computer. The synapses and grey matter are the hardware. However, to say that the mind is the same thing as the brain is like saying that computer software is the same thing as computer hardware. Our brain stores our mind, certainly, but only in the same way a computer hard-drive stores videogames.

Consider this: if the mind were the same as the brain, they would do the same things, right? My mind thinks. My brain electrically fires its synapses. Those are not the same thing -- the firing of the synapses may cause thought, but it's not thought itself. Similarly, my mind feels joy. My brain releases chemicals. Outside of the brain, those chemicals don't have anything to do with joy, so clearly joy and chemicals are not the same thing. The chemicals may theoretically cause joy, but there is no physical thing in my brain I can point to and say "this is joy".

So clearly, the mind is not a physical thing, any more than software or language. They exist in another form of reality, different and seperate from physical reality. If our thoughts and memories are like computer files (a text file or an image file, say), then our minds are like computer programs, which take input from the outside and generate those files.

So what happens when we die? Do we just cease to exist like the materialist would say?

Well, when a computer dies (say you pull a Brodie and throw it out the window or something ;) ), what happens to the information stored on it? Well, the magnetic ones and zeros are disrupted, but those are just the symbols representing the information. If I write you a letter, and somebody burns it before you read it, does the message of that letter just cease to exist? Of course not, if my memory is good enough I can just write up an identical letter with the same message. The message clearly still exists, it's just symbolised in a different physical form now. The information is still "out there" somewhere, it's just that without a letter or speech or some other representation in the physical world, it can't be accessed by anyone in the physical world.

When we die, all that happens is that our physical form is destroyed. As we saw, we are not the same thing as our physical form. My brain may store my thoughts and personality, but my thoughts and personality are not part of my brain. The synapses of my brain are merely the physical symbols representing who I am.

What is it like without a body? It's hard to tell. Conciousness and awareness is pretty clearly part of our non-material mind, but without the mechancial parts of our brain (our hardware), it's difficult to say how well our minds would work. How well does software work without hardware? Theoretically, there should be nothing to stop it from functioning. All the necessary information is still there, all that's missing is the physical hardware that connects it to material reality. I've done a bit of programming myself, so I know that it's technically possible to write down a computer program on a piece of paper and run through it in your mind. The computer hardware is not, strictly speaking, necessary. Certain things wouldn't be functional, mind you -- like if a program executes a function that draws something on the screen, it'd obviously need a screen (hardware) to do that. Similarly, our mind without our bodies wouldn't be able to do certain things -- it'd be rather like being asleep, really. When you're asleep, certain bodily functions are shut down and can't be accessed. Actually, the best representation of what a non-material existence might be like, I think, is our dreams. Our dreams exist wholly within the confines of our non-material minds, there are no physical realities to deal with. An existance without a body might be something like a dream, insubstantial and transient, shifting back and forth between conciousness and unconciousness.

So, if we can reason all that philosophically, how does it all compare to what the Bible says about the subject?

Well, the Hebrew word for "Spirit" is ruwach, and the Greek is pneuma. Both actually mean "breath" or "wind", and only mean "the life force of an intelligent being" by implication or metaphor. Mind you, the ancient Hebrews and Greeks didn't exactly have a whole lot of words to choose from to refer to non-material things, so "breath" or "wind" is a pretty good choice. From what we've deduced above, ruwach and pneuma would refer to the mind, the intangible part of us where thoughts and memories exist.

The Hebrew word we translate soul, on the other hand, is actually nephesh, a word which can mean "living, breathing creature", "life/vitality", "man/person", "body", or "mind". It seems to refer to a living creature as a whole, body and mind. We tend to use it as a synonym for "spirit", but it's not, really. It seems to refer more to the concept of "life" as opposed to "death" or "non-life" (such as a rock or something), rather than the non-material portion of our being.

The Bible often refers to death in terms of sleep: Deuteronomy 31:16a: "And the LORD said to Moses: "You are going to rest with your fathers...", Daniel 12:2: "Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt," and of course 1st Corinthians 15:51: "Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—"

However, there are many verses that refer to the dead as being concious: the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, for example. A passage from Isaiah (chapter 14) says:
9 The grave below is all astir
to meet you at your coming;
it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you—
all those who were leaders in the world;
it makes them rise from their thrones—
all those who were kings over the nations.

10 They will all respond,
they will say to you,
"You also have become weak, as we are;
you have become like us."

Especially interesting is the line in verse 9: " rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you". The word translated "rouses" is the Hebrew uwr, which means "to open the eyes," i.e., "to wake up".

On the whole, the picture painted is one where the dead are in a dream-like state, listless and weak and mostly asleep, but still capable of conciousness and speech. It's a state that seems like a logical consequence of a mind separated from the machinery necessary to run it.

As you can see, the subject of information and how it interacts with material reality (through words and the like) is a pretty far-ranging subject. I haven't explored all avenues of thought on this subject, but I'm pretty sure I'm just scratching the surface here. The nature of free will and Jesus as the Word of God are two topics that come to mind. I'm hoping to write about those things in the future, we'll see how it goes. Until then, biblical apologist J.P. Holding has an interesting set of articles on Jesus as God's Wisdom, which has bearing on this topic.

If you have thoughts or comments on this stuff, don't be afraid to click on the "comments" link below this paragraph. Feedback is the fuel which keeps me writing. Anyway, I hope all this rambling theoretical stuff has been somehow useful to you.

Friday, July 01, 2005


I was at the house of some friends -- the brothers Hay -- earlier this evening, watching a movie with the gang, and got home at about one o'clock in the morning. The night was so nice that before I got to the entrance of my apartment I had decided to go for a walk, as I am wont to occasionally do late at night. I ended up in the local memorial park, wandering along under the darkened trees, ignoring the glare of the streetlamps as best I could. Following the path there I came to the small clearing where stood a monument to our town's fallen soldiers of wars past, a great stone obelisk rising from the neatly mowed grass. Under the list of the names of the fallen, a sheathed bronze sword appeared to have been sunk into the stone, symbolizing the end of war.

I've seen it before, of course, but this time I saw it differently, somehow. The pillar seemed like a link to the past, a link to the days gone by when those who went before us came home from a war across the sea. It seemed so strange, here in a peaceful garden in peaceful times, that nearly a hundred years ago, and again sixty years ago, the young men of our little town were not going to parties and getting drunk and sleeping around like they do today, like young men have done throughout history. Instead, they were boarding trains bound for distant lands, boarding ships to cross an ocean, many of them never to return. They weren't mythical heroes of a golden age; they were no different from anyone alive today. Just kids, from our little town, going to wars unlike any that had been fought before or have been fought since.

I've often wondered what people will think of us a few thousand years from now. Lately I've been reading about the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians, some of the first civilizations this side of the Flood. What little we know about them comes from the few things that have survived the thousands of years since they walked the earth: clay tablets, broken pottery, stone monuments. From these bits and pieces we've puzzled together a picture of how they lived: short, hard lives, constantly at war, their civilizations always on the brink of anarchy. The strong took from the weak, ruling with an iron fist, beating dissent back with a merciless whip. Wars were fought at the whims of the rulers, for greed and glory and power. The monuments we find were erected in honour of these men's victories, describing in flowery language the power and fame of the victors, showing how their enemies bowed in terror before them. Their legacy is a ruthless one, without mercy or sympathy.

So how then will we be remembered? We know so much about the ancients because they used clay tablets for their writing, but we use nothing so permanent. Things like paper and parchment rarely survive to be dug up by archaeologists, much less computer hard drives and the electronic media. All that will be left of us will be the things of metal and stone -- our roads and our cars and the basements of our homes. The only words that will survive the eons will be those engraved in the rocks, like the one standing in that little park down the street. Only this time, it won't be a list of enemies defeated by a boastful king that is uncovered by the archaeologist's brush. It will instead be the bronze blade of war, sunk with finality into the stone, under these words:


When our descendants, far removed in ages yet to come, look back at us and wonder what we were like... I think they will wonder not at our great power and technology, but our great compassion and humility. For all our flaws and failings, I am glad I was born into this society and not another.

Thursday, June 30, 2005


Though there are many reasons for my lack of bloggage, the most recent has been my sudden obsession with pre-Sumerian civilization in Mesopotamia and the ancient Near East. I've been trying to piece together a comprehensive picture of the history of the time, by reading whatever archaeological articles I can on the Internet. It has consumed my every non-working waking hour, and some of my non-waking ones as well, due to some rather strange dreams.

Anyway, to ensure this blog doesn't fall into obscurity (well, fall further into obscurity), here is a link to a little text game I heartily reccomend: Photopia. It really blurs the line between written fiction and interactive game -- it's like participating in an extremely well-written book. It's definately one of the cooler things I've discovered in my Internet meanderings.

Well, back to my armchair archaeology...

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Tails of Work

Well, I told myself I wouldn't do this, but here I am: writing a personal blog about how crappy my day was. Seriously, this has just been one weird and crappy day.

Ok, to start off with, I slept through my alarm and was fifteen minutes late for work. That meant I had to skip breakfast and such in my insane rush to get ready quickly so I wasn't later than I already was. My boss apparently was having a pretty bad day too, because he was pretty pissed. This isn't the first time I've been late, though I'd been getting better at it lately. Anyway, that pretty much soured my mood for what was gonna happen later.

The night before I'd had some sort of disturbing dream, though I don't remember exactly what it was about. Something about being chased by werewolves, I think. It left me with a weird feeling, though, like everything was surreal and nothing was normal. Mix in a splitting headache (part of the reason I slept in was because I couldn't get to sleep due to this cold or heatstroke or whatever it is), and I was pretty much disoriented, though of course not to the point where I would have a clean concience about going home sick for the day. Just enough to make everything suck.

So that was my mental state when I got called up to pack for the second customer of the day. It was this really obnoxious lady who's been in before, the type who seems to think that the grocery staff are her own personal servants, there to wait on her hand and foot. Of course we have to be polite to her, right, seeing as she's a customer, but it's not easy. So I wheel her groceries out on the cart into the parking lot, expecting her to go to her car like usual. But instead, she walks to the other side of the parking lot and keeps going. There's no cars anywhere near here, so I kind of stopped and asked her where she was going. She got all haughty about it, saying how we shouldn't advertise a service if we didn't intend to follow through with it, and a bunch of other stuff I didn't quite catch. I don't know what service she was thinking of, since we only take groceries out to people's cars in the parking lot, not halfway across town, and we certainly don't advertise that service, we just do it. I didn't tell her any of that though, trying to be polite, so I just apologised a lot and said we weren't allowed to take the carts out of the parking lot. Long story short, we came back inside the store and she demanded to talk to the manager. Once Larry got there I explained the situation to him, and then let him handle it. I think she ended up getting her groceries delivered, or something.

Anyway, I noticed when I came back into the store that the weird feeling from before came back, almost as soon as I walked through the door. I wondered if there was something to do with the air, or the smell or something, so I kinda kept track. I noticed that whenever I walked outside, the feeling subsided, so I started wondering if there was some sort of fumes in the building or something coming through the vents. However, it wasn't constant in the store, either, sort of coming and going at random intervals.

It wasn't until about two hours later that I figured out what was happening. I was stacking a pallet of soup cans when my supervisor, I'll call him "Ed" here on the Internet, walked by, and I suddenly had a wave of dizziness/lightheadedness, and my head hurt like crazy. At first I thought I was maybe somehow alergic to his cologne or something, but I'd never heard of an allergy that felt like that, and I hadn't noticed any cologne smell. But when he came back, the same thing happened. It was the weirdest thing. I started wondering if I was having some sort of nervous breakdown or something.

Anyway, he came by again and started talking to me, but I could barely tell what he was saying at this point, because I couldn't seem to focus on anything. I was getting quite dizzy at this point. And, as if to loosen my grip on reality even further, I started getting this really extreme feeling of deja-vu, like I'd done this exact thing somewhere before.

Then I remembered: it was in that dream! I had been doing this exact thing, and feeling this exact thing, in that dream! That was quite possibly the most bizzare realisation of my life up until that point. All of a sudden, everything started clicking into place, and I started remembering other parts of the dream. And then I remembered the most terrifying part of the dream --

Ed was a werewolf!

I must have said it out loud or something, because I noticed that everybody there was kina looking at me with this weird expression on their faces. But that wasn't the weirdest part. That came when I looked at Ed and realised that he was turning into a werewolf in front of my eyes! It was the most terrifying thing I've ever seen, and I don't scare easily. There was this fur sprouting from everywhere, and his eyes had turned a sickly yellow colour. His face was actually shifting and changing shape, making these little crackling and popping noises. He snarled and lunged at me, but it was like playing a video game for the second time, because all of this had happened exactly this way in the dream. I'm not even sure if I was in control of my own actions, because I dodged out of the way just in time, and kicked him in the side. He came after me, snarling and knocking over displays, but I didn't run. Maybe having seen it all happen before in the dream gave me a kind of surreal confidence, but running away just didn't even occur to me. We fought, man against werewolf, fist against claw. He was several times bigger and stronger than me, but my foreknowledge of his actions gave me an edge, so that we were about evenly matched. I don't know how long we fought, but it seemed like forever.

And that was when the leprechauns showed up. Hundreds of them, charging in formation, spilling in through the automatic doors and rapelling down from the ceiling on tiny little leprechaun ropes. They leaped on the werewolf, attacking him with leprechaun swords, swarming him like a colony of crazed Irish ants. There attacks seemed like they must be nothing more than pinpricks, but the werewolf reeled under their assault. He swatted at them desparately, sending dozens of them flying, but for every leprechaun that fell, twenty of his bretheren were there to replace him.

It looked like the leprechauns were about to win, when the werewolf managed to catch one of them in its mouth and eat it. Suddenly, the werewolf's strength had increased seven-fold! It began to tear into the leprechauns, throwing them and clawing them and generally destroying them. The leprechauns started to retreat, and the werewolf charged, straight at an attractive female co-worker of mine. I had no choice but to act. I grabbed a nearby can of beef consommé, and hurled it at him with all my might. It struck him in the back of the head, which I later learned was his one weak spot where he was vulnerable. He crumpled to the ground, and exploded in a flash of light and a puff of smoke. The werewolf was gone.

Immediately, the leprechauns shouted with joy, and somehow they managed to lift me up on their shoulders and carry me around in victory. Their cheiftan later told me that the werewolf had been plaguing the local leprechaun tribe for a hundred years, using the magical properties of stewed leprechaun to keep himself alive for all these years. It had been prophecied that one day, one of the "Big People" would step forward to be the champion of the leprechauns, and rid the world of their tormentor. Apparently, that's me. They say I'm now entitled to half of all the leprechaun gold they own, which I guess isn't that bad.

So in the end, it wasn't that crappy of a day after all. I still have that soup can, sitting on my coffe table right now. It's in pretty good shape, considering. I, on the other hand, did have to go to the hospital for stitches, and apparently I'm gonna have a pretty nifty scar over my left eye. Not to mention the fact that all the broken ribs are going to make it difficult to go to sleep tonight.

I just hope I don't sleep in tomorrow, too.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Jungle Quest!

One day there was a monkey. That monkey had a banana. But not just any banana, this was a special magic golden banana. It had the power to control the weather. The monkey had found this banana lying around in some old abandoned Aztec temple. Of course, by "found" I mean "stole" and by "lying around" I mean "carefully tagged and secured in an archaeologist's backpack". Also, the monkey was named Jules.

When the archaeologist discovered that the magical golden banana was missing, he became wroth. He searched around for the culprit, and quickly discovered that it was Jules who had stolen his banana. The archaeologist -- who was of course named Bill -- pursued Jules and attempted to kill him with a twelve-gauge shotgun. No, I don't know why he just happened to have a twelve-gauge shotgun. Maybe he was afraid of elephant attacks or something. Mind you, there are no elephants in Central America. But the archaeologist didn't know that. He was an archaeologist, not a botanist.

Anyway, Bill shot Jules and retrieved his golden banana. Bill was haunted for the rest of his life by nightmares of Jules' ghost. However, Bill didn't care since he now had the power to control the weather. He became rich and powerful and eventually he became King of Paraguay in an unrelated adventure. He had seven wives and a hundred and twenty-three children and eventually died at the ripe old age of ninety-three. He was mourned by everyone in his kingdom.

Meanwhile, Jules didn't actually die from getting shot, as it was just a flesh wound. Jules went on to be the sidekick of a small English boy named Eugene who had a series of heartwarming adventures involving smugglers and counterfitters and the occasional pirate. However, since that fateful day in that temple, Jules has always walked with a limp. Also, he has never been able to do a cartwheel since then.

Jules currently lives in Wisconsin with his wife, Chee-chee, and three children. He now writes Hollywood movie scripts for a living, along with a thousand other monkeys in a room with a thousand typewriters. Jules' random typewriter attacks were responsible for the movies "Funky Monky" and "the Aviator". His enjoys stamp collecting, birdwatching, and a good pipe of Old Toby. He also has a gambling problem and is no longer legally allowed to enter Las Vegas. He is also barred from a small town in Idaho for unspecified reasons.

Monday, May 30, 2005


Does anyone know a quick cure for writer's block? If I stop writing alltogether, how will I ever finish my novel?


Monday, May 09, 2005

A Story Is Born: An Inside Look at the Process of Plotting

Part of the reason I started this blog was because I wanted exercise. Writing exercise, that is. Writing is like any other skill, if you leave it for too long, it atrophies. A short story now and then, I thought, would keep me in shape. The problem is inspiration. I've never been very good at coming up with new ideas. Once I have an idea, sure, I can shape it and expand on it, but coming up with that original kernel of an idea is very hard.

To that end, I've decided to try something different. Using Merriam-Webster Online's random word display, I'm going to attempt to create a story based entirely on random words. Plot, characters, everything: any time I'm stumped for what to write, I'll use the first random word I get to provide direction.

Ok, first things first, I need a basic story idea. What will the story be about? Random word: "heart". Heart, hmm. Makes me think of love and sentiment, but that's too vague. Heart surgery! The story will be about a heart surgeon! Wait -- a heart surgeon who falls in love!

Ok, now for the heart surgeon himself, what is he like? Random word: "originate". Originate? That's a tough one. Originate -- maybe he originated heart surgery? Hm. No, I don't actually know who invented heart surgery or how they did it. Something else. What's the etymology of the word? Derived from Latin originem, meaning beginning, source, or birth. Birth. Hmm. He's also an obstetrician? Interesting, but I need more. Another random word: "Baron". Ooh, now there's an interesting one. Baron von Liechtenstein, heart surgeon and obstetrician! He'd have to be pretty smart, to be both kinds of doctor. Crazy German royalty who decided to play around being a doctor? I can go with that.

Now, the female lead. Random word: "flow". Hrm. Flow, like a river. Perhaps she's a riverboat operator, like a steamboat. That kinda sets the period: Mark Twain's era. Interesting. Another random word: "trickster". Ooh, nice. She's some kind of scam artist, piloting a riverboat and scamming people out of their money. But how? Maybe she has a gang of miscreants who pretend to board the boat and rob the passengers, and then they split the loot. But wait, a female riverboat captain in the 1800s? Not likely. She must play the part of a wealthy widower who owns the boat, which means she must have a captain for the boat. He seems like a major character, let's see what he's like.

Random word: "deep". How appropriate for a riverboat captain. All wise and philosophical. But why would he be working with ruffians like these? A random word will tell me: "possible". Possible? Oh, that's a lot of help. Maybe... ooh! Maybe he thinks it's "possible" that he's this trickster woman's father! But he doesn't know for sure, so he doesn't say anything.

Ok, so we've got a crazy German heart surgeon -- actually, wait, now that the story is occurring in the 1800s, it does seem more possible for him to have invented heart surgery, rather than being an obstetrician. Good. I didn't want to have to write about someone giving birth anyway. But... arrg. I can't let it go to waste. There'll have to be a birth involved somewhere.

Ok, yeah, so we've got a crazy German Baron-Doctor, a trickster riverboat owner woman (who I think I'll name "Floe", after the word that inspired her), and a wise old riverboat captain. I think it seems pretty obvious that the Baron-Doctor is going to be a passenger on this steamboat. That means there needs to be other passengers. We'll have a young couple about to have a baby, that'll give us our birth scene. They need to be filled out some more.

Random Word: "reconsider". Well, it looks like our young couple will be having doubts about their marriage. But why? Random word: "bad". One of them is bad. Bad how? Random word: "eager". Eager? Ummm... a bad kind of eagerness. Overeagerness, I guess. Overeagerness for what? Random word: "rarefied." Rarefied? Give me a break here, Mr. Webster! You're making it really hard! Ok, rarefied. Means "of, relating to, or interesting to a select group." A select group, eh? Like, some sort of elite thing. Like a club. What sorts of elite clubs did they have back then? Masons -- too elaborate. Um... a bird-watching society. Yes, I like that. He's obsessed with bird-watching, and wants to see enough different kinds of birds to get into this elite bird-watching club. I like it.

Ok, but what about her (and why did I automatically assume that the overeager one was the guy?)? Oh well, random word: "immoral". Ouch. That poor kid. Immoral -- maybe this bird-watching guy is rich, and she just married him for his money? And now this baby is putting a crimp in her plans, and she's getting sick of his incessant bird-watching. This works. One more word, though, to fill her out: "haunting". Well, I don't want this to be a ghost story, so some other kind of haunting -- she's being followed? "Haunted" by some mysterious pursuer? Aha! Perhaps a former victim who's back for revenge!

Man, the women in this story are not coming off well...

Ok, I think I need one more character to round things out here, some sort of ship-mate. Random word: terror. Oooh. He's a spineless little coward who's terrified of everything. And one more word: "beauty". Hmm. Note it's not "beautiful", but "beauty". Maybe he's obsessed with beauty and beautiful things? Like a pack rat -- he likes shiny things. But also, perhaps he's obsessed with one of the women -- the riverboat captain, perhaps. That makes for an interesting love triangle.

Ok, I think we've got enough here to start a story, but it looks like a rather long one. Several chapter's worth, anyway -- too long for a single post. It's getting rather late, and I have to work tomorrow, so I think I'll work on the story tomorrow, maybe. Now that I have all this plotting done, it should be easy.

Here's hoping!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Emotions II

Today at work I was contemplating various things as I carried peoples' groceries out for them, and some more things occurred to me regarding emotions. In specific, regarding Sadness.

Previously, I talked about Anger and Fear, and how they are natural responses to pain. Fear is the instinct to run away from the source of pain, and Anger is the instinct to fight and destroy the source of pain. They're our psyche's immediate response to pain and danger.

Once the source of the pain has been dealt with, however (that is, to use our grizzly bear metaphor, once the bear has either been chased away or eluded somehow), what we're left with is the pain of the wounds we received in the conflict. Perhaps the grizzly bear has left claw-marks on our shoulder, or the schoolyard bully's taunting has left us feeling insecure. Sadness is our response to that pain. It only occurs once the adrenaline of Fear or Anger has subsided, and we're left to deal with the aftermath.

There are two main reactions that I can think of to the emotion of Sadness. The first reaction is to hide; to find a secluded corner somewhere and nurse our wounds, away from people and all possible sources of further pain. This can sometimes result in Depression. The second reaction is to seek help, to go to those we trust for consolation and comfort. Tears and crying are a part of that second reaction, they're our automatic signal system that says "Hey! I'm hurt, I need help!" Both reactions serve a purpose: to help us heal our wounds and ease our pain.

Of course, it's the second reaction that is usually the most helpful. Any time we shed tears over a thing, it's usually a pretty good sign that we should be talking to someone about it. Of course, for us Christians, there is always someone nearby we can turn to in moments of sadness or anguish -- Jesus.

Now, we know that God is all-powerful, so there is nothing in this world or any other that can possibly cause him pain directly. And yet, we read in the Bible that God feels sorrow, sadness, and even anger at times. It seems contradictory, but it's not. If I am standing in front of an angry grizzly bear, confident in my knowledge that I am stronger than the bear and it cannot hurt me, I can still feel fear if I notice that a small child has wandered into the bear's path, and anger if the bear harms him, and sadness if he's hurt. They're sympathetic emotions, felt on behalf of someone you love and care about. In fact, one might say that the definition of love is when you feel emotions on someone else's behalf as strongly as or stronger than you do yourself. This is why God gets angry, or feels sadness; he loves us, and feels for us.

I dunno, it's just something that occurred to me.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


What are emotions? We all have them, but how often do we really think about them? I've often wondered about them myself, things like "Why is sadness unpleasant?," and "Why should certain things cause me to be happy?" Somewhere in the midst of all those questions, I came to some conclusions. I'll share some of them here. Why? Because I can.

So, emotions. I've come to the conclusion that emotions are basically our instinctive responses to things that happen to us. Something good happens, we feel good. Something bad happens, we feel bad. I suspect they were given to us by God to help us survive in this world; to give us a basic sense of what we should and shouldn't do. If we're afraid of the giant bear standing in front of us, we're less likely to go up to it and try to hug it (which would probably be detrimental to our health). Likewise, if we feel happy when we're with friends, we will try to hang out with them more, which also helps us survive. Of course, there's more to emotions than just survival, but that's the part I want to focus on at the moment.

For today's blog, I want to focus in particular on fear and anger. I've been hearing a lot about these two lately, for some reason, and so I've been thinking about them a lot. This is what I think:

It seems to me that fear and anger are flip sides of the same coin. They're our natural reaction to pain and danger, part of our "fight or flight" instinct. When we're confronted with pain and danger (such as the giant rabid grizzly bear I mentioned earlier), we basically have two options: run away, taking yourself away from the danger; or stand and fight, and take the danger away from you (by killing the bear with your pocketknife and making him into a rug, perhaps). Of course, these actions are the result of the emotions that spring up within you as a response to the danger: fear makes you run away, anger makes you stand and fight.

That's all well and good when we're talking about enormous hungry bears with a taste for human flesh. The problem is, with us human beings, not all pain and danger is the physical sort. Things get way more complicated when we're talking about emotional pain and distress. If you get angry and kill your boss and make him into a nice rug, you'll probably go to jail for the rest of your life (or, in Canada, 2 or 3 years with parole). If you are afraid of the school bully and run away from him, he'll just come after you again later and taunt you some more.

So we repress our emotions. We pretend we aren't afraid. We seal the anger inside. We try to deal with the problem as best we can, but meanwhile the bottled up emotions eat away at us and make us miserable. Fear becomes cowardice, and anger becomes hate. People tend to think anger is better than fear, and I think this is because anger tends to result in a more permanent solution -- if you run away, the danger is still out there and could come get you again. If you kill the danger, or at least make it afraid of you, it's dealt with for good. But in reality, when talking about emotional pain and danger anyway, both options have equally bad ends. The fear or the anger consumes our lives, isolating us, distorting how we look at things. No matter which emotional response to pain we choose, it makes our life worse.

There is a third option, though. Strength. Although anger seems stronger than fear, both are born out of weakness. If you are stronger than the grizzly bear, the bear poses no threat to you. You have no reason to be either afraid or angry. In fact, if you're stronger than the bear, and fear or anger are not clouding your perceptions, all of a sudden you have time to see why it is that the bear is angry. Perhaps the bear stepped on a thorn, or a bear trap. If the bear's worst attack cannot hurt you, you are no longer primarily concerned about your own welfare, and you can begin to feel other emotions about the bear: sympathy, caring, perhaps love. You could even help the bear remove the thorn or the trap or whatever. (Just a note for those who aren't paying attention: the bear is a metaphor for people in our lives who hurt us emotionally).

Of course, no human being is actually stronger than a bear. No normal human being will not be hurt by the barbs and betrayals of our fellow humans. There's always something stronger than us, something that can hurt us. In fact, there's only one person in all of existence big enough to feel no fear or anger as a result of pain.


So, in the end, it all ties neatly back to my previous blog post about growth and destruction (I swear, I didn't plan it that way). We need God; we need to rely on his strength to see us through. When your eyes are on God, and it's his strength you're relying on and not your own, all of a sudden all of those things which looked so big and scary are now small and harmless. You can start to focus on what's important, rather than yourself and your emotions.

Friday, April 22, 2005

A Quote

I discovered this quote quite a while ago, and then recently rediscovered it lurking within my "Cool Quotes" file. It basically sums up my feelings about history and modernism:

"Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else. And what a person thinks on his own without being stimulated by the thoughts and experiences of other people is even in the best case rather paltry and monotonous. There are only a few enlightened people with a lucid mind and style and with good taste within a century. What has been preserved of their work belongs among the most precious possessions of mankind. We owe it to a few writers of antiquity (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) that the people in the Middle Ages could slowly extricate themselves from the superstitions and ignorance that had darkened life for more than half a millennium. Nothing is more needed to overcome the modernist's snobbishness."
--Albert Einstein, 1954

Monday, April 18, 2005

Growth and Destruction

Trials don't build you -- God does.

I've heard many people, when referring to the pains and trials and obstacles of life, say that God has allowed this bad thing to happen so that they might grow as a Christian. Adversity builds character, they say, so God allows his children to be attacked and injured by the world and the devil in order to grow stronger and more Christ-like. It's a nice enough sentiment, because it makes sense of the senseless violence and pain we see around us, and in our own lives.

The problem is that it's not true.

The Enemy's attacks are designed to destroy us, not build us. He seeks out our weakest points and attacks them mercilessly in an effort to make us ineffective. Left to ourselves, without the help of God, we would (and do) quickly fall under the onslaught. There would be no building of character or increase of Christ-likeness. We would simply crash and burn.

It is depending on God and overcoming those attacks that builds us up and strengthens us. It's not that God sends trials to strengthen us, but that God strengthens us so we can overcome trials, through things like the Bible, prayer, and fellowship with other Christians. It's just that it usually takes a trial or two to realise we need to depend on God and let him help.

To demonstrate with an example: the first two fingers on my right hand have thick calluses on them from playing bass guitar. The skin there is very thick, to protect my fingers from injury on the strings of the guitar. The strings themselves don't make my finger skin stronger, they tear at it and weaken it. It's my body that responds to the attacks and strengthens itself in that area. Trials force us to rely on God, and the more we do that, the stronger we grow.

The pain and anguish of trials and difficulties could be avoided if we trusted and grew in Christ beforehand. Not that there would be no trials, mind you, we would just be prepared for them and they wouldn't be a big deal to us. It's like the difference between a regular guy fighting some thug with a knife, and a black belt in karate doing the same. The first fight is extremely difficult and painful. The second can hardly even be called a fight. Has the guy with the black belt become that good at fighting by being beat up by thugs with knives for days on end? Of course not, the only thing that results from getting beat up by a thug with a knife is a lot of pain. No, Mr. Black Belt got where he is by studying and practicing and training in a dojo somewhere. Similarly, we don't grow as Christians by getting beat up by the attacks of the enemy and the world. We grow as Christians by studying the Bible, practicing our faith in prayer and worship, and training with our fellow Christians.

Will our lives be perfect and utterly free of difficult experiences when we grow more like Christ? No. There are some things even a black belt has difficulty with. However, we do have one advantage over our black-belted friend: the black belt's skill is based in his own ability, and his abilities are finite. There are some things he just cannot do, and some fights he simply cannot win, no matter how much he trains. We, on the other hand, do not rely on our own ability, but God's. With God, there is nothing he cannot do, and no fight he cannot win. The more we rely on him, the stronger we will grow, and there is no upper limit on that.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

I Am Canadian

In 1914, World War One broke out with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, while he was touring the neighboring country of Serbia. He was first in the line of succession for the rulership of the Austrian/Hungarian empire. In response to his assassination, Austria's Kaiser issued an ultimatum to Serbia. Serbia agreed to all but two of their demands; primarily they balked at the placement of Austrian troops within Serbia. War loomed, and the Serbians allied with Russia for protection. In response, Austria allied with Germany and called the Russians' bluff, invading Serbia. But the Russians didn't back down, a decision that would cost the Czars millions of Russian lives and after the war resulted in a communist revolution that brought an end to their reign.

Since France had a treaty with the Russians, they were forced to go to war when Germany attacked Russia. The Germans struck back at France, marching through Belgium on their way. The Belgians weren't pleased with this, and they went to war with Germany too. Since England had a treaty with Belgium, England was also dragged into it, along with her colonies -- in particular, Canada.

Twenty years earlier, in 1894, one William "Billy" Barker was born in Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada. Son of a blacksmith, he grew up on the farm, horseback riding and shooting and bird-hunting, unwittingly building the skills that would serve him well in the coming war. When England declared war on Germany, Billy joined the waves of young men who signed up to fight for King and Empire. After a year's worth of training, he arrived in Europe as a machine gunner. It didn't take long, though, before he decided that the filth and gruesome horror of trench warfare wasn't for him. He signed up for the Royal Flying Corps, as an observer, which meant that he sat in the second seat of a biplane and took reconnaisance photos, not to mention manning the guns. This was an entirely new concept, and Billy and his comrades were pioneers in the field.

For about a year, Billy flew reconnaisance missions as an observer in relative peace. Then in July, 1916, the British and French launched the ill-fated offensive of the Somme. It was an utter disaster, resulting in the loss of 58,000 British troops on the first day of battle alone. In the sky, Billy was in the thick of it, downing two German Roland scouts and taking a piece of shrapnel in the leg. After that battle, in late September, he earned a Military Cross when he and his pilot fought off two German Albatros planes and still managed to complete their photography mission.

In November, Billy applied for pilot training, and by January, he was back at the front, this time flying his own plane. It wasn't long before he was promoted to Captain, in charge of 'C' Flight in the No. 15 Squadron. Two months later in March, he earned another promotion and a bar to his Military cross for a dangerous recon mission that he managed to pull off despite damage to his airplane.

In August, a wound to the head took him off the front lines. While he was recovering he was given the job of instructor, where he first flew the legendary Sopwith Camel. He returned to the front in October, and within a week he had shot down three Albatros scouts.

Meanwhile, as the war had raged, other powers had been dragged into it. The Ottoman Empire joined the Austrian side, hoping to get a piece of Russian land for itself. Italy, Japan, and America joined the British and French, each one for their own purposes.

Italy had suffered a defeat at the hands of the Austrians in the battle of Caporetto, and the French and British each rushed in four airplane squadrons to help. Billy Barker was among them. Rather than recon, his job this time was to protect the recon planes, shoot down observation balloons, and keep the Austrian planes on their side of the front while making incursions into enemy territory of his own.

On Christmas day of that year, Billy and his buddy (and fellow Canadian) Steve Hudson decided to throw a little Christmas party for the enemy. They snuck out and dropped a mocking holiday greeting at their foes' airfield, along with lots of machine gun fire and two twenty-pound bombs. The Austrians were pissed off at this breach of the usual unnofficial Christmas truce and retaliated the next day, hoping to catch the British off guard. It probably wasn't a good idea to fly planes hungover and/or still drunk, though, and Barker and the British tore them apart, destroying twelve German planes.

Throughout their time in Italy, Bill Barker and Steve Hudson became reknowned "Balloon Busters", between them destroying at least nine enemy hot-air balloons used for observation. Billy shot down two in December. In January, he and Steve took off on a "practice flight". Somehow they managed to find and destroy two kite balloons during their practice. Later, in February, they informed their superiors that they were off to "test guns". During this "gun testing" they just "happened" to come accross five more enemy balloons, and shot them all down.

Billy had many more adventures during the war, with a total of 46 downed enemy aircraft to his credit, but it was his final one that was his greatest. Two months before the end of the war, Billy was reassigned to head up a fighter pilot school in England. He took two weeks' leave, and then requested permission to go to the front before he started teaching, to "familiarize himself with the latest German tactics and newest aircraft capabilities". Permission was not only granted, but he was also given one of the new Sopwith Snipes, the most advanced fighter plane in the skies at the time. He destroyed three German planes, and then was ordered to return to England and get to the teaching he was trying to avoid.

On the morning of Oct. 27, 1918, Billy Barker climbed into his Sopwith Snipe to return to England. He climbed up to 15,000 feet and, flying over enemy territory, encountered a German Rumpler two-seater. The German gunner managed to keep him at bay for a while, so he backed off to 200 feet and picked him off at long range before swooping in and finishing it. In his concentration on taking down this one last German plane, he failed to notice the German Fokker fighterplane sneaking up behind him. A blast of machine gun fire shattered his right thigh, causing him to faint from the pain. Barker's Snipe went into a spinning dive, plunging 2,000 feet, still pursued by the Fokker. He managed to regain conciousness and pull out of the dive, somehow dodging the pursuing plane's machine gun fire. He turned to meet his attacker, and destroyed him in a hail of bullets.

As Barker desperately turned back toward friendly territory, he was pounced on by a patrol of Fokker and Albatros biplanes. Guns opened up from all directions, but somehow he managed to shoot down three enemy planes in rapid succession. Another bullet struck his other leg in the exchange, rendering him unable to operate his rudder control pedals. He fainted from the pain again, plunging downward once more.

The blast of fresh air revived him, and he leveled out to find himself in the middle of a group of at least sixty enemy fighter planes. As they all opened fire, he pulled himself into a tight turn and blasted away at anything that crossed his sights. Another Fokker fell from the sky, but Barker was hit in the left elbow. He fainted again, and streaked downwards another 5,000 feet before coming to. To his dismay, he was still surrounded by Fokkers on every side.

Wounded, losing blood, barely able to maintain conciousness, and with only one operational limb, Barker knew he was done for. Determined to take one last enemy plane with him, he laid on the machine guns and charged at one of the Fokkers, determined to ram it out of the sky with his dying breath. He was still firing when to his utter surprise the enemy plane disintegrated. A bullet punched through his gas tank, but miraculously it did not start on fire. Coming up on the ground now, Billy switched over to his reserve tank and tried to steer his plane in for a crash landing. As he hit the ground, he skidded sideways and flipped over, coming to rest in a cloud of dust and smoke. Scottish Highland troops, who had witness the epic aerial battle, rushed to the scene and pulled him out. They were amazed that he was still alive.

Barker lay in the hospital in Rouen for two weeks after this, unconcious. He received telegrams from King George V, the Prince of Wales, fellow ace Billy Bishop, and many others. He also received the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

After the war, Billy Barker returned to Canada and co-founded a short-lived air transport company with fellow air ace Billy Bishop, the man who shot down the Red Baron. The duo tended to cause havoc; among other things they caused a stampede with their low-flying aerobatics at the Canadian National Exhibition, and had to pay heavy reparations to a woman who miscarried in the ensuing near-riot. The following year, he helped found the Royal Canadian Air Force, serving as its first director, and flying for a time in Iraq and Palestine. Later, he left the military, and became President of the Fairchild Aviation Company of Canada.

Lt. Col. William "Billy" Barker died in 1930, test flying a new Fairchild two-seater outside Ottawa. He was buried in Toronto with full military honours.

This is the sort of Canadian history we were never taught in school.

Billy Barker

Monday, April 11, 2005


As you may have noted, I now have a blog. I have hopped onto the proverbial bandwagon. But that begs the question: what is a bandwagon? Why do people jump on them?

The word "bandwagon" is derived from two words: "band" and "wagon". "Band" derives from the Old French word "bande", probably derived from the Primitive Germanic word "bindan", which means "to bind or tie", and probably referred to a band of cloth worn by a group of soldiers or others, for identification purposes. From there, by 1660, it came to refer to any closely knit group, and in particular a group of musicians.

"Wagon" derives from Middle Dutch "wagen", from Primitive Germanic "
wagnaz", and ultimately from Primitive Indo-European "wegh", which means "to carry" or "to move". The English word for a wheeled vehicle was originally "wain", but after we borrowed "wagen" from Flemish immigrants and Dutch traders, "wain" sort of fell by the wayside.

The term "band-wagon" itself comes from 1855, and was coined by the Americans to refer to the wagon the band played on in a circus parade. Since they also used band-wagons in political victory celebrations, it wasn't long until Theodore Roosevelt used the term in 1899 to refer to people who jumped "on the band-wagon" in an attempt to ride the coattails of a venture that looked likely to succeed.

So that's what I, having been convinced by certain friends, am doing. Everybody and his dog seems to have a blog now, so it seemed appropriate that I should too. I figure this way, I can ramble on about things no-one cares about, and no-one can stop me! Muahahaha!

Anyway, welcome. I guess.

Wild Waters

The rising black waters rushed under the wooden bridge, a relentless flow that could pull a man under and drag him to his doom. Above, the midnight stars were obscured by the ever-present streetlights, glaring into every dark corner, driving back the gentle peace of the night in favour of a harsh artificial day. I stood there on the footbridge, leaning on the rail, trying to ignore the lights and the crowded buildings that encroached upon this small sanctuary of green life and water. The rising spring flood seemed to make a silent mockery of all that man had built about them. Buildings, fences, bridges, roads, all would fall if they stood in the path of the uncaring waters.

There was something wild about it, something yet untamed by the tiny creatures that claim dominance of this planet. A hint of a great untapped power dwelling just under the surface, greater forces which could in an instant destroy a thousand years of man's achievement. Compared to those terrors of nature, this was but a trickle, a drop, but even this could claim a my life without a moment's notice, were I not careful to stay clear. And yet this great, monstrous, beautiful beast is viewed by most as an inconvenience, a distraction.

The world's people, those who were now tucked safely in their beds, hiding from anything wild or unknown or frightening, would wake up the next day worrying about work, or finances, or complaining about their hangover and their petty problems. They would go about their lives as they had every day before, oblivous to all but their own tiny universes, oblivious to the enormity of the world around them. None would pause to consider the beauty of the light striking a tree that certain way, or the pleasant odour of the spring rain, and few would spare the sunset's fires a second glance. Their only concern would be this afternoon's business meeting, or that bit of gossip they heard about someone they hardly know, or their plans for getting drunk and even more oblivious to everything that weekend.

Here, next to the black torrents seething under the surface of the swollen stream, such things seem small and petty. If mankind's greatest achievements cannot match that of a small creek barely large enough to have a name, then what chance have the shallow concerns of society? And if we are so small before the hugeness of nature, then what are we before God, who created it all?