February 2010

Canada beat the USA in overtime to take the gold medal in hockey, their most treasured sport. This gives them 14 gold at these Winter Olympics, the most ever won by any country, and a huge turnaround after the disappointments of the Montreal and CalgaryOlympics when we didn’t win a single gold. This places us at the top of the standings, four gold medals ahead of the second place Germans and five more than the Americans.

Expectations were huge for Canada this time around, and they suffered at lot of negative criticism in the media for a slow start. But to their credit the Canadian athletes showed poise and persistence, and finished off the Games with a storybook ending that will be the fuel of Olympic lore for many years to come.

But what the Canadians showed on the ice or on the slopes was only part of the story. It is what happened in the stands and right across the country that was truly amazing. These Olympics seem to have galvanized the nation, and released a tremendous amount of positive energy about the things we love about our country. Other nations have noticed this outpouring of pride in our accomplishments and have been either envious or reproachful.

There is a sense that we have entered into something new as a nation, no longer willing to settle for second best. I hope that attitude persists after the euphoria of the Games has worn off. It suits us; it seems to fit Canada in a way that it hasn’t before. Perhaps because we are overseas and living in countries that have disturbing social problems that run to the root that we feel a sense of nostalgia for our home and native land. But Canada is a great nation, and we showed that to the world over the last two weeks. I feel very proud of my country this morning. Way to go, Canada.

I don’t know if the last post made it clear, but Pam is off again this week, this time in Thailand, where she will attend a conference and deliver a presentation on the work in Cambodia. She is also going to be doing some important newtworking among missionary colleagues to keep the lines of communication open. The conferencing and the networking are vital if the work of Christ is to remain connected to the people who need the services and support that these missionaries provide. Pam and I both know this. I have plenty to keep me busy in KL this coming week, and the phones in this part of the world have fabulous coverage and cheap service costs, so we are able to stay in touch with each other.

But I definitely feel the pressure of holding the fort when a crisis develops, as it did yesterday when we heard that Pam’s Dad had been taken to hospital having suffered a heart attack. Fortunately Pam’s brother Randy was home and got Dad to the hospital quickly. The emergency surgery was effective and the clot in an artery near the heart was removed in time. Dad is now on the road to recovery, although we are still waiting to hear if there has been damage to other organs.

For a while there it was touch and go acting as liason between Pam and her sister-in-law, Sylvia, as Pam was all for trying to get a flight out of Chiang Mai back to Toronto. But thanks to sms and skype I was able to get Pam some accurate information that allowed her to make an informed decision, and she has chosen to see the conference through, provided that Dad remains stable. I would ask for your prayers for Pam’s Dad that he would have a full recovery, and for Pam that she would have the peace of God this week as she serves Him in being an encouragement to others.

Pam and I have always had a bit of an unusual relationship. Although we had a few things in common – both our fathers were orphans, for example; both of us are extremely driven individuals – there are wide differences in our backgrounds. Pam was raised in a large, raucous family with a myriad of social connections in the boonies of south-western Ontario; I was raised in a small nuclear family with almost no social connection in the heart of Canada’s largest city. She gave her heart wholly to Christ when she was six, and has always lived a life of quiet devotion to Him, I accepted Christ when I was 27 and only after I had exhausted all other options.

We both shared a conviction that having children would be the most important thing we would ever undertake, and devoted ourselves to the task. Pam gave up her profession for five years to bear and raise them when we were young. We gave up our first house in the inflation crisis of the early 80s rather than have her go back to work. We read widely on childraising, and read constantly with our own children; exposing them to everything we could to expand their knowledge base at an early age.

We insisted on a proper bedtime each night, often giving up our social activities in the evening to do so. We refused to let them go to daycare, even after Pam went back to work, though it meant sometimes she would work all night and then take care of the children all day until I got home. When they were older and went to school, Pam would work evenings and nights when I could be home with them and slept days when they were at school.

It was an exhausting and sometimes alienating schedule. Because of our insistence on tithing, because we self-financed two years of overseas missionary work, because we opted to send our children to a Christian school, because we put aside a monthly amount for our children’s post secondary education, we were a lot poorer than many of our peers. To compensate we bought older houses that I would then spend years renovating. The renovations allowed me to be near to my children and be productive in the long hours that I would be looking after them while Pam was at work. Selling these renovated houses allowed us to provide a lifestyle for our children that was in no way inferior to that of their friends.

The egalitarian nature of our relationship did not go unnoticed by others. Pam came under scrutiny and criticism from her female peers for maintaining a profession instead of retiring to raise children. I was under constant pressure to ‘go out with the boys,’ something that my modified working/househusband role would not allow. The renovations, missionary service years and childraising responsibilities also meant that I had no opportunity to pursue any positions of added responsibility in my own profession. I remain what I was when I began this career 35 years ago, a simple classroom teacher.

As our eldest son pointed out in a recent blog (http://www.jonandnic.com/topics/faith-ministry/et-ducit-mundum-per-luce), the Lord’s purpose for our lives needs no special direction to maintain. Pam and I have simply done the things that lay before us to do, asking the Lord only to bless and correct us. This is what has led us, at our age, to Malaysia. This week Pam flies to Thailand for a conference on community health evangelism. She has just completed another level of training in that field, and just finished writing a 10,000 word proposal to the Dutch government for community health funding for Cambodia. I continue to be virtually her only financial support for all of this good work. Ours is an unusual commitment to Christ, and one that many do not understand, not even in our own church.

But we remain convinced that this is the path the Lord would have us walk. We are not especially strong Christians. We fight and complain, argue and grow frustrated. We question the Lord’s compassion and doubt our own decisions. But we remain committed to each other and to the Lord, and are doing all that we can with our limited resources to serve Him where he has called us, in the way that He appears to direct. If that makes us a little bit strange, then that must be what He intended.

Two years ago I went to Chiang Mai, Thailand and attended the Community Health Education Training of Trainers 1.  The CHE approach to community development was a concept that I had first heard of  in Cambodia and it fascinated me.  At that point, I took the training specifically to learn more about the strategy and the extensive library of educational materials that have been developed with the needs of the oral learner in mind.

Although several individuals in Malaysia have completed TOT1 and a number of organizations have begun using the CHE priniciples, that approach is fairly new here.

This past weekend I and five others were able to complete  TOT2.  It is normally done over five days but we did twelve hours each on Friday and Saturday and finished up with four hours on Sunday afternoon.  I thoroughly enjoyed the training and the opportunity to meet some very fine, committed Malaysians and hear about the projects they are involved with.  Programs represented are reaching out to street people, addicts, single parents, immigrants, youth and the aboriginal people of Malaysia with some very unique strategies.

With six of us now trained in Malaysia, we are hoping to be able to begin doing TOT1 sessions for local organizations and I  look forward to the opportunity to develop some new relationships in Malaysia.  This coming weekend I will go back to Thailand to attend the CHE SE Asia Consultation where each country will present on their own CHE projects, a great opportunity to meet some new people and to build some relationships for Project Hannah.

Before these Olympics started, the sporting braintrust in Canada addressed the issue of Canadian niceness. We are so nice, went the thinking, that we are reluctant to take first, often allowing our native courtesy get the better of us in sporting events, happily settling for second, or even better, fourth, so as not to spoil the day for others.

The new philosophy was going to be ‘Own the Podium,’ or in others words be proud of ourselves and our accomplishments, and don’t take a backseat. Obviously this has long been our attitude in our premier sport, hockey (or ice-hockey as the rest of the world sees it, although with all due respect to our winter deficient neighbours in the global community, that wussy thing you play with the curved sticks is for what Arnold Schwartzenager would call ‘girlie-men’). We don’t mind kicking butt there, and fully expect to win gold in both men’s and women’s hockey.

That new spirit can be seen all over Vancouver, from moguls to speed-skating. Our newest gold comes in the skeleton, Canada’s Jon Montgomery going flat out not just to place, but to win his event, doing so by the slimmest of margins. But slim margins are what the Olympics are all about, and I for one am happy to see this new Canadian attitude. It may not play well in the foreign media – England has been having a hissy fit, although now that they have won a medal themselves they may been in a little better mood – but it better fits with my image of Canada.

Traveling and living overseas gives you a whole new appreciation for your home country. There are some beautiful places in the world, but there are no better countries than the True North, Strong and Free. Wilfred Laurier once predicted that the 20th century belonged to Canada. He may have only been out by a hundred years. Our resources, both natural and human, place us in the forefront of nations. Our history – one of the most peaceful and compassionate nations on earth – and our geography give us huge natural advantage. Why shouldn’t we be proud of who we are as a people? Four gold? Come on Canada, let’s make it ten!

We have been watching a lot of the Olympics this time around, and it has been great to see. From the outstanding opening ceremonies (kd lang had us about in tears; what an electrifying rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Halleluyah) to the unheard of 18 to zero blowout of Slovakia by the women’s hockey team, it has been quite a show. I don’t know how it looks from home, but from over here it is a wonderful showcase of Canadian talent and character: we look pretty good in the eyes of other nations.

But it was the men’s moguls, and especially Alexandre Bilodeau’s gold medal run that had us cheering. Before he came down the hill Canadians were sitting one and two. Then Dale Begg-Smith, the reigning world champion came down and took first. The irony is that Begg-Smith is in fact Canadian, and this was his home hill. Recruited by Australia, who has a very agressive Olympic program, he was competing for Australia. Now we are sitting two and three. American Bryon Wilson was next up and his run was good enough for second spot. Now we are sitting 3 and 4 with two skiiers left to go.

Next up was Bilodeau, who tore down the hill in an astonishing speed, nailing two awesome jumps in perfect form, and clearly taking the lead. The gold was one competitor away from being ours for the first time on home soil, an historic accomplishment. Only one competitor, A French skiier remained, and he made a mess of his attempt, giving us the gold. In typical Canadian fashion, Bilodeau’s first gesture was not to roar out his victory, or even turn to the adulation of the crowd, but to slap the French competitor on the shoulder for his effort. I read later that Bilodeau left a promising career path to the NHL to remain close to his cerebral palsied brother. How utterly Canadian.

There are things more important than gold medals: character, compassion, care for others; these things count in a life; they count in our reputation among the countries of the world. I am very happy that we have finally won an well-deserved gold medal. But I am even happier about the way we won it.

Forty-two pages, 12,490 words. That’s how long Pam’s proposal was when it went ‘out the door’ at 7 pm last night. During the time it took to write those 42 pages, three months have gone by, along with three trips to Cambodia, a dozen conference calls to major stake holders, a hundred hours of research, and countless discussions and revisions. The document calls for the creation of an entire new team within the TWR office in Cambodia to deal with HIV/AIDs and the associated health and social issues. If approved it will provide funding for this team for three years.

My small role in all this work has been to edit the grammar and syntax and do some fact checking in some of the various UN documents that had to be referenced. Along the way Pam and I have both had to learn some new skills and extend others. I always tell my students that if what they hand in is the best they can do, then it isn’t good enough. The best you can do implies that you haven’t learned anything in the process of what you were doing. Instead you should aim to do more than you thought you were capable of. The doing of it should produce not just a new project, but new understanding, new skills. That is what this project has done for both of us.

To say that I am proud of Pam would be to belittle her. Being proud of her would imply that I already had the skills that she has just attained. That is not the case. She is doing things that I simply cannot do. She has a skillset that I will never have. It would be more honest to say that I am proud of myself for being part of the person she is becoming, for not getting in her way, for seeking to be what support I can. This proposal is something that I could never have written, and I am pleased to have had even a small part in its creation. I trust the Lord will bless its way through the many stages it must now go through before it can be funded.

I am also pleased with how this first part of the term has gone for me. I am teaching ENG 4U this term. This will be the fourth new English curriculum I have had to master since I got here. Each new curriculum has its own challenges, and of course there are no lessons in my computer to call up; they all have to be written from scratch. I have over two thousand documents – lesson, articles, slide shows – that I have written since I got here, and the number grows every day. I tell myself that there is going to come a point when everything I have to teach will all be written down and I will just have to call it up from some file. But I know that this is just a little white lie I comfort myself with from time to time. When that day comes, I will truly be ready to retire; for when there is nothing new to learn, there is nothing new to teach.

This week is the Chinese New Year break, an appropriate time for both of us to take a few days rest from what has been a very busy stretch for both of us. We plan on spending our days reading and watching the Olympics and maybe getting caught up on our sleep. We wish you all a Gong Xi Fa Cai and a prosperous and happy year of the tiger.

“Copenhagen was a disaster. That much is agreed. But the truth about what actually happened is in danger of being lost amid the spin and inevitable mutual recriminations. The truth is this: China wrecked the talks, intentionally humiliated Barack Obama, and insisted on an awful “deal” so western leaders would walk away carrying the blame.” So opined Mark Lynas, a journalist and environmental activist, writing in the Guardian. But Copenhagen was just the tip of the melting iceberg, to borrow a figure of speech. It has been followed by further embarrassing revelations that the predicted disappearance of Himalayan glaciers was based on contrived data.

Is all of this news necessarily a bad thing? I do not think so, and in fact I would argue that Copenhagen’s failure may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. It may in fact save the world from misdirecting billions of dollars that could be better spent on developing alternative energy sources. The current controversy goes deeper than a few errant emails or some hastily published reports that were not properly reviewed, but whether or not the evidence actually supports the thesis proposed. Some of the most solid (literally!) evidence does not.

These temperatures on display are taken from ice-core samples. They are not subject to the speculations of computer modelling, but are hard empirical data. Ice-core samples may not be the whole picture, but they are far more reliable than tree-rings, and go further back in time. Here is the famous ‘hockey stick’ graph (published first by Michael Mann, currently under investigation at Penn State for his part in the infamous CRU email fiasco) that was featured in Al Gore’s movie and slide show An Inconvenient Truth:

Certainly from this one graph it looks as if global warming is happening, doesn’t it? And for many people 1400 AD looks like an impressive starting point to consider. But 1400 AD is yesterday in terms of human history, and further look back reveals something quite different:

If we go back to 800 AD we can see clearly that the ‘hockey stick’ has been cherry picked to avoid what is called the Medieval Warming Period, a time in which Greenland lived up to its name and wine was cultivated in England. From this graph the present warming trend looks relatively insignificant, a full degree colder even at present from the highs of 1050 AD. However, the next graph is even more telling:

From this graph we can see that in 1200 BC, round about the time Athens was putting the boots to Troy, the world was much warmer than it is at present. Not only Greece, but Babylon, Egypt, China, India and Israel were all establishing or had established vibrant and growing cultures. It was certainly not a catastrophe, or anything near it, in fact it was a time of cultural flowering. Note too from this graph that the temperatures of the last 1,000 years, even including the last 30 years of warming – which incidentally have only produced a 0.3 degree rise in ice-core temperatures – are trending down, not up. We are still one degree colder than 1050 AD and 2 1/2 degrees colder than 1200 BC. Does this trend hold up the further back we go?

Yes, it does. Looking at the last 10,000 years, the temperature has been pretty consistently warmer than it is at present, and the ‘alarming’ rise in present temperatures disappears into insignificance. Even the rapid rise in temperatures can be seen as a normal pattern of development in the earth’s fluctuating temperature, and quite clearly not a result of anything that we are doing. But the truly sobering graph is the one that shows the last 50,000 years.

From this graph it is pointedly clear that the last 10,000 years on the planet, a period roughly coinciding with the earliest records of civilization on earth, are a rare and perhaps fleeting moment of warmth in an earth that had been chillingly void of heat for millennia. Readers will take from this what they may, but I think it is clear that the current flap over the doctoring of data over Global Warming may be seen in retrospect as a step away from a serious miscalculation of climate trends. No one shivering in Europe’s worst winter storms in decades is thinking of global warming at the moment, I assure you!

Canadian James Cameron gave up engineering in Ontario to drive a truck in L.A. so he could have a chance to flog his scripts and become a screen writer. That must have been a huge gamble. But nothing compared to the professional and financial risk he took by putting all of his eggs in a basket called Avatar and launching it into the ether.

Already the most successful movie maker in history – his previous blockbuster Titanic earned him $115 million – he staked it all and a whole lot more on Avatar, which cost $300 million to make. In the process he invented the cameras that allowed him to shoot in 2D and 3D simultaneously, technology that he is now in a position to lease out to others.

But Avatar is not all about technology. Like any good artisan, Cameron’s control over the process is so thorough that he doesn’t have to dwell on it or impress you with it. Throughout the entire film there was really only one object that was thrown “at” the audience (a gas canister). The rest of the 3D stuff is so organic and natural you almost don’t know that it is there. Cameron says of his own work, “My approach to 3-D is in a way quite conservative. We’re making a two-and-a-half-hour-plus film and I don’t want to assault the eye every five seconds. I want it to be comfortable. I want you to forget after a few minutes that you are really watching 3-D and just have it operate at a subliminal, subconscious level. That’s the key to great 3-D and it makes the audience feel like real participants in what’s going on.”

What is going on is hugely enjoyable. Cameron has a beautiful imagination, and he allows it free reign in this entrancing movie. I don’t think I have so willingly and wholeheartedly entered into a fantasy world since Dorothy landed in Oz, which incidentally is Cameron’s favourite movie. Yes, Avatar is derivative in that it relies on so much of what has gone before; we have seen the monster-men machines in Matrix and the mythological beasts in Narnia. But Cameron has taken all of these elements and woven them seamlessly into his vision of an alien world. You cannot escape the impression that with this film movie-making is evolving to a new level. This will be undoubtedly be the benchmark for all future blockbusters. Mr. Cameron, you are no longer in Kansas, or even Kapuskasing anymore!