Sunday, February 12, 2012

Happy 203rd Birthday, Charles Darwin!

It is instructive to look at the work of Darwin, and recognize that careful observation, interpretation and analysis form the basis of his body of work -- ideas which are still relevant to the science of Biology and all the disciplines that stem from it.

There have been many detractors, particularly in education, in the presentation and teaching of the science of evolutionary biology. The most famous of these cases perhaps being the "Scopes Monkey Trial" of 1925, and the more recent case of the Dover School Board provide an overview of how thinking on evolution has progressed. Interestingly, I know of no equivalent attempts in Canada to mandate the exclusive teaching of a creationist perspective.

In more recent times, mainstream religious institutions, including such entities as the Roman Catholic Church, have incorporated Darwinian ideas of biological evolution into their belief structures. But there are still some holdouts, as this critique makes clear:
"...the list of churches that have signed up for Evolution Weekend are mainly theologically liberal churches, and I added, with an inordinate number of women clergy. The particular Sacramento-area church the writer reported on has a woman pastor—who obviously doesn’t understand the difference between operational (observational) science and historical science. When clergy like this make the comment “science and faith,” they really mean that “biological, geological, and cosmological evolutionary belief” is supposedly compatible with God’s Word. "

The condemnation is clear -- only "theologically liberal" churches would advocate any co-existence with what I would call the real world. And of those churches, it is the women clergy who are at fault, presumably because they don't conform to the patriarchal model that the author of this piece would like to be the universal norm. The "Evolution Weekend" reference is to an event which encourages religious institutions to discuss the co-existence of faith and science on the weekend closest to February 12. The fact that I find this ironic will undoubtedly cause the creationist author of the critique to insist that I burn in hell.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Groundhog Day reprised

Last year, Groundhog Day was cloudy and the ground was snow covered. This year, the ground is not but the day is just as gray.

Where the heck did the idea of predicting weather based on a groundhog's shadow come from?

The first major snow storm of the winter (at least here in Toronto) happened earlier in the week, dropping around 5cm of snow through the course of an evening. Within 24 hours, 8C temperatures and rain had melted or washed it away. Halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, it seems unlikely that we will get the 6 weeks of killing cold that we need to keep down insect and other pests, so this will likely be an interesting summer.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Internet Freedom - the SOPA/PIPA protest

Six days ago, over 115,000 websites including Google, Wikipedia, Freethoughtblogs, Craigslist, and many other popular websites "went dark" -- effectively went on strike -- for a 24 hour period to protest the SOPA and PIPA legislation that is being considered by the American government.

We are all connected, and what happens in America affects all of us, as law professor and copyright expert Michael Geist pointed out on his blog, in an article entitled Why Canadians Should Participate in the SOPA/PIPA Protest. From Professor Geist's article:
"...millions of Canadians rely on the legitimate sites that are affected by the legislation. Whether creating a Wikipedia entry, posting a comment on Reddit, running a WordPress blog, participating in an open source software project, or reading a posting on BoingBoing, the lifeblood of the Internet is a direct target of SOPA. If Canadians remain silent, they may ultimately find the sites and services they rely upon silenced by this legislation."

Writer, consultant, and teacher Clay Shirky explains why this legislation is a bad idea even for Americans:

[Thanks to Lorna for pointing out this video]

The day of protest on January 18, 2012 was mildly inconvenient for me, but annoying to many others. That annoyance translated into political action which raised the awareness of American lawmakers and caused the SOPA and PIPA legislation to be withdrawn. But the final point raised by Clay Shirky in the video is still valid -- there will be other attempts in the future to censor and regulate the internet.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Gung Hei Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year 4710 - The Year of the Dragon

It is still January 23 -- first day of the Chinese lunar New Year -- as I type these words, so I haven't missed out on my chance to wish a Happy New Year to all of you -- may this Year of the Dragon be a year of prosperity and good health!

Note - the Dragon image above is from the Facebook gallery of Mr. John Wu of Manhattan, Kansas, USA.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Happy Solstice Aftermath

As I write these words, it is barely within 12 days after the solstice, and we are definitely within the 12 days of Christmas, so it is technically still the holiday season. That means I can legitimately wish family, friends, customers, and colleagues a somewhat belated best of the season, and the year to come.

For my father-in-law, a man who believes (notwithstanding the cultural dominance of Christmas celebration in Canada) that there is a "war on Christmas" (presumably an action like the "war on the automobile" that the current mayor of Toronto claims to have ended), a hearty "Season's Greetings".

Monday, November 07, 2011

Nuhan Seto - 1917 to 2011

My grandmother passed away on November 3rd. She had been in Toronto with us for as long as I have been here, which is 39 years. By the time she was found in her bed by my aunt, she had been gone for a few hours, having slipped away peacefully and painlessly.

There was a funeral visitation on Sunday, and the funeral itself was held earlier today.

Being known as the family photographer (which is to say, the annoying guy in everybody's face with a camera at every family event), I was tapped to provide photos. And I discovered that this is hard. I have photos taken at many family events. The digital archive goes back to 2000. But none of the photos I took at each family event were taken with the thought that the person I was photographing might not be alive later.

Especially so with grandma -- for 39 years, I have thought of her as akin to a force of nature.

Between me and my cousins, we came up with more than a 120 images, some of which were scans of very old photographs -- a family treasure trove which was passed to me for further scans.

Two of us spoke at the funeral earlier today: my cousin Wayne and myself. Wayne read a presentation from his sister, my cousin Anne, who lives in Mauritius. This is what Wayne read:

“le fabuleux destin de (the fabulous destiny of) Grandmere Seto”
(by anne sujo - copyright 2011)

Family and friends, we are gathered here today to pay our last respects and commemorate the passing of a very important person in our lives.

It is with immense sadness and pride that I share with you some of my thoughts and memories of our great Grandma Seto. For, there is no other word that comes to mind, other than “greatness” that can describe her person.

Had Grandma Seto lived to her next birthday in January 2012, she would have reached her full
95 years. She was indeed someone, who lived her life to the fullest and enjoyed the company and love of her late husband, our Grandpa Seto (who passed away just over 10 years ago), her 3 children, Bik Sim, Wai Yu and Wai Man - and not to mention, 11 grandchildren, the spouses of her children and grandchildren, as well as 11 great-grandchildren. What can be more “great” than that? We can therefore, say that Grandma Seto was truly blessed to be so well surrounded by such a close-knit family as ours - Family, the “glue” that holds everything together.

Not only was Grandma Seto strong physically, but also mentally and spiritually. Nothing seemed to bring her down or get in her way. Not even the fact that she was hard of hearing or probably considered “too old” - When Grandma Seto had a yearning for a bit of harmless gambling and her sons were too busy to take her to the horseraces, well, her little legs would literally speedwalk her to the bus stop, and she would actually hitch a ride all the way to the Niagara Casino! Talk about fiesty and fast! I’ve never seen anyone her age who could walk so fast! So, my dear cousins, I guess we can say we certainly inherited some mighty genes!

Hardworking and loyal – she was a devoted mother, wife, grandmother and great-grandmother in many ways. Alongside her late husband, Grandma Seto was one of the pillars in the restaurant business that the two of them led for many years until their retirement. We will never forget the traditional Christmas dinner gatherings that were always held there – the late night majong, the food, the warmth, the joy and laughter. The restaurant has long closed down, but the spirit of family gathering and warmth still remains.

Generosity - another one of Grandma Seto’s many traits - whether towards her family or close friends, she would always put others before her first.

My visual memory of Grandma Seto will always be one that is positive and happy. Her physical and mental strength was evident in the way she spoke and moved about. She had a smile so bright that would stretch from ear to ear. And the twinkle in her eye showed that she was not only very alert and independent, but also very strong-willed.

The sudden passing of Grandma Seto has left a void in many of our lives and we will surely miss her. However, I believe that she has passed to us many of her qualities, and through us, her “greatness” will continue to live on.

Let us be comforted by the image of both Grandma and Grandpa Seto, now reunited in love, happiness, peace and harmony. May she forever rest in peace – God bless us all.

I spoke last. My presentation had been in the back of my mind, percolating, since Thursday night, and finally written down in first draft format by 3:30am on Monday morning. This is the edited, final version of the eulogy that I read:

I met my grandmother, Nuhan Seto, for the first time here in Toronto in 1972. I was a couple of months from turning 14 – she had already marked a half century in Canada’s Centenniel year and had added five more birthdays since.

We didn’t have a lot in common – I was her eldest grandchild, the son of her daughter Bik Sim, the boy whose only life experience to that point was northern British Columbia; she the woman whose life had begun in post Manchu China, changed through marriage, motherhood, the rise of the People’s Republic, changed again through immigration to Central America, changed yet again through immigration to Canada. But over the next 39 years, I grew to love and respect my grandmother for who she was and what she represented. She was a simple, straightforward person who wanted the best for her family. And for me, she was a link to our family’s past.

As I think about my grandma’s life, I see three important lessons.

The most important lesson is that change is not only inevitable, but it is accelerating. In China in 1917 after the fall of the Manchu dynasty, the term “women’s rights” would have been met with blank stares. In Canada, there might have been outright scorn, since the right to vote for women was only a year old, and there was active resistance to this new fangled notion. Today, it would be foolhardy to suggest to any women in this room, Chinese Canadian or otherwise, that they cannot have full participation in our increasingly globalized society.

Since 1917, change has been the most important aspect of life. Think about race relations, gender roles, technology, medicine and any number of other things that matter. Now compare them between 1917 and today, 95 years later. The changes in knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and capabilities are a part of our world and touch the lives of all of those that my grandma cared about..

But Grandma was a conservative –she may have disapproved of many or most of these changes – especially anything that she might have considered non-traditional. But I have first hand evidence that Grandma was able to accept new things that affected the lives and happiness of members of her family, in her acceptance of my own non-traditional choice in the creation of my own family.

My son Corwin is 12, a bit younger than me when I first met grandma. But like all of his cousins, great grandmother has been part of his life since he was born. And when I asked him yesterday how he would remember her, he said “Great grandma always had a smile for me. She has never frowned at me.”

While that may be true for her great grandchildren, there are others who have felt grandma’s displeasure in a more direct way. The episode of the thief on the street has become a family legend. In the early 1990s, my grandma, who was then in her 70s was walking home one day through Kensington market. As she walked, someone snatched her necklace, breaking the chain, and ran away. Grandma immediately took off after the thief, shouting imprecations, with cane upraised, intending mayhem and retribution. The thief escaped, which on the whole was fortunate, both for the thief and for the rest of us – it would have been difficult explaining to the relevant judicial authorities why he had been beaten to a pulp.

That winter, or perhaps during a winter soon after, my very non-traditional wife Jill recalls walking with grandma after a family gathering, and having her come up to a snow bank. Jill was concerned about getting grandma safely over the snow bank, but grandma solved the problem by hopping over it like a young girl.

So the second lesson of my grandma’s life is that obstacles can be surmounted with grace and style. The third important lesson is that courage is important, but dignity is not necessarily so, particularly if you are chasing down injustice.

Our fleeting lives are like flames in a brief interval wedged between the eternity of the past and the abyss of the future. If we are lucky, our way through the darkness is lit by the lives of those close to us, as we in turn light the way for those to come. In this room, in this city, on this planet, there are 25 direct descendants of my grandmother – children, grandchildren, great grandchildren – all of whose lives were directly affected by the actions and choices made by my grandmother, the light of her life spilling across generations to help show us the road leading forward.

Her light is gone now, but while it was here, it shone on many people. Because of my grandmother, all of our lives shine a little brighter.

by Do-Ming Lum
copyright 2011

Sunday, August 28, 2011

He Said/She Said

Too darned long since I have updated the blog. But the real world will have this tendency to intrude and change our plans. I was going to write about the death of a friend, and spring, and starting a new contract, and the annual trip to Temagami. And maybe I yet will.

In the meantime, I am happy to report that we went to a party yesterday, and while I was clueless, Jill suspected and was not altogether surprised when the Giant Squid and his Beloved Unicorn Girl (aka Peter Watts and Caitlin Sweet) announced that they had been married at City Hall on the 19th, and that we were all there to help them celebrate.

We were treated to an audio recording of their vows (click here for a transcript of Peter's, and here for a transcript of Caitlin's). How cool is it when your friends' wedding vows begin
We come here today in defiance of biological reality.

And for anyone who knows Peter, is there any surprise at all that "the Officiant seemed quite disapproving of the whole thing"?

Congrats, you guys! Hope you have a wonderful life together!