A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for November 2009

[META] Blogroll Expansion

We’ve two new blogs up on the blogroll, Globe and Mail technology columnist Matthew Ingram’s appropriately named mathewingram.com/work, and the business writer Stephen Baker’s The Numerati. Enjoy!

Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2009 at 10:02 am

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[PHOTO] Lunar nova

Walking along Bloor Street West past the University of Toronto on the night of Nuit Blanche last month, I looked up and saw the Moon through the clouds, shining ever brighter as it expanded from a single point. Stella Nova.

Lunar nova (1)
Originally uploaded by

Lunar nova (2)
Originally uploaded by

Lunar nova (3)
Originally uploaded by

The University of Toronto Admission Center‘s crenellated tower is visible at the bottom of the third one.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 29, 2009 at 9:45 pm

[FORUM] How religious can you be, and how are you religious?

The question of my relationship to religion–should I have one? what sort of ethics should undergird it? how postmodern can religiosity be while still being religious–has been perplexing me of late. One thing that get me thinking about the issue is a 1986 song by XTC, “Dear God”, that I’ve been thinking about lately.

I’m not thinking of XTC, really, since Andy Partridge annoys me, but of the Sarah McLachlan cover version that demonstrates that she’s damn good when she has bite.

The song’s lyrics make the case that God’s complicity in human suffering and humanity’s many divergent and conflictual perceptions of God make the idea of God untenable.

I hope you got the letter, and…
I pray you can make it better down here.
I don’t mean a big reduction in the price of beer
But all the people that you made in your image, see
Them starving on their feet ’cause they don’t get
Enough to eat from God, I can’t believe in you

Dear God, sorry to disturb you, but… I feel that I should be heard
Loud and clear. We all need a big reduction in amount of tears
And all the people that you made in your image, see them fighting
In the street ’cause they can’t make opinions meet about God,
I can’t believe in you

Did you make disease, and the diamond blue? Did you make
Mankind after we made you? And the devil too!

I don’t know if you noticed, but… your name is on
A lot of quotes in this book, and us crazy humans wrote it, you
Should take a look, and all the people that you made in your
Image still believing that junk is true. Well I know it ain’t, and
So do you, dear God, I can’t believe in I don’t believe in

If a God does exist, that God would be the God of Depeche Mode’s 1984 “Blasphemous Rumours”

People who know me have noted that I’ve quoted the chorus “I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours/but I think that God’s got a sick sense of humour,/and when I die, I expect to find Him laughing” any number of times. It’s a horrifying image, the sort of thing that makes you wish that humans really could go through a technological singularity if only to give us a chance at deposing such a tyrant.

Thankfully, the “Dear God” argument is risible. In a universe with free will (I chose to believe in that or a close simulacrum thereof, many-worlds interpretation or not), there’s no reason why bad things can’t happen without the explicit direction of God (assuming for the sake of this argument that the Christian trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost really is what’s up/out/thataway there). The argument that I first ran into in Paradise Lost, that compelling people to believe strips their humanity from them, makes perfect sense to me: everyone knows how I like my Ernest Renan, and it’s not a stretch at all to go from there to the idea that a religion like any other philosophy has to be actively chosen and embraced, in a daily even hourly referendum, if it’s to be meaningful. That said, religious or philosophical systems which discriminate against people who don’t belong to the community–who, to name an extreme example, could countenance punishing Cacique Haguey for refusing to accept the religion of the people who massacred his?–makes me wish, again, for a technological singularity that would let such a system be dealt with accordingly.

All this brings me to my concern. My relationship to the Anglo-Catholic tradition of Toronto’s St. Thomas’s over the past few months has been motivated by desires to approach the institution and the religion sincerely: I’ve taken my lesson from Emma Bovary’s deathbed impression of the incense of her last rites as nice. But what is sincerity? I think that the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” could make a great hymn (“I shouted out,/Who killed the Kennedys?/When after all/It was you and me”) and perceive Jésus de Montréal as one of the most compelling religious dramas ever made. My approach to religion–to this particular religion–has been driven by my desire to active choose something, but how many choices can I make before I make too many?

All this brings me to the [FORUM] question of the day. Are you at all inclined towards religion, or were you? How do you approach your particular denomination? How many specific choices have you made, to embrace one element of your faith or to embrace an idiosyncrasy? What is an idiosyncrasy for you? My apologies if this [FORUM] post is confused somehow, but then I’m confused so I’m not sure whether I can help out on this front.


Written by Randy McDonald

November 29, 2009 at 6:27 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] You know my Flickr account is “rfmcdpei,” right?

What the subject line says.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 29, 2009 at 12:04 am

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[FORUM] Can anyone suggest some good Facebook or Livejournal photo forums?

I clearly need to master–well, acquire–knowledge of the techniques, and picking up best practice online is as good a way as any to do that so long as it’s not the only way.


Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2009 at 11:43 pm

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[FORUM] What new art would you like to pick up?

People who read this blog have probably noticed that I like writing, and research, quite a bit. It’s my raison d’être, I suppose, the thing that took me through my educational career, the structure that helped carry me and guide me when I needed to be carried and guided. The art of written language is fun: why not indulge in it?

There are other arts. At intervals when the long long grayness let up, I’d a passing interest in other arts. From Grades 4 to 6, I played music, violin for three and then recorder for one year. I took part in UPEI’s debating society for several years. I own an untouched calligraphy set. Most recently, a few years ago I bought a sketch book and some pencil crayons with the intent of doing something. Why not do something? bitterlawngnome asked me almost five years ago? Why not indeed.

Photography has become my new art. It operates as a sort of art therapy for me, helping me frame and phrase the things I see around me, giving me another way to communicate my environment in its various glories. It’s an enjoyable art, something that’s respected despite its ongoing assimilation into the realm of digital imagery. I don’t think I’ll ever become more than a talented amateur, but who knows?

That’s my experience. All of my readers have their own passions re: the arts, I’m sure. What new arts would you like to pick up? I’ve been thinking myself of opening up that calligraphy set, and not only because I’d like to improve upon the handwriting that deteriorated so very badly once I began my university career.


Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2009 at 2:38 pm

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[PHOTO] Same Royal Ontario Museum lion, different takes

Two stone lions, originally from a 17th century Beijing palace, guard the Royal Ontario Museum‘s rotunda facing Queen’s Park.

I took two photos of the southerly lion, using different settings for each. The first photo shows what the lion looks like in the 11:30 light, but the second looks more vibrant. Which do you prefer? and why?

One take on a ROM lion …
Originally uploaded by

… and another take on the same ROM lion
Originally uploaded by

Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2009 at 12:12 pm