Friday, June 24, 2005

Baptism by... um... God?!

My evenings in the early portion of this week were taken up by Baptism preparation classes. I know, I know, but “We have, we will, we will,” should be taken seriously.

Last year, I was lucky to meet the one good Catholic priest. Father Roger is a man who is not ashamed to admit that he has had his crises of faith. He is also the most logical man I’ve ever met. (He argues canon law – he should probably know his stuff.)

I can’t say that I believe in God or that I want to convert to Catholism(wow!) but this guy makes me think and teaches me more and more every time I talk to him. He’s patient, he’s always thinking and he’s passionate without losing sight. The man can relate the lack of Catholic faith to The Exorcist. It still makes me wonder how but he appears to have gotten it right. He may believe different things than I do but I can’t fault his reasoning at any juncture. There’s no point when he’s talking that I could (not that I would) blurt out, “AHA! You’re WRONG! See? THERE IS NO GOD!”

Even if Catholicism is a fiction, it’s a very pleasant fiction – some guy died just so we’d be nicer to each other and have some place to go when we died. Yeah, it’s nice. Sure, there are evil things done in the name of Catholicism – Inquisition anyone? – but Father Roger is actually able to communicate the meaning behind what I’ve always seen as empty rituals. He’s always teaching and I guess that’s why we get along so well.

We decided to go to his parish after spending the weekend at the Engaged Encounter retreat. However, we just recently actually started going. I don’t have a problem raising my children as Catholics (leaving the door open for them to evaluate their own faith when they’re ready to do so) but I’m not going to push for going to church if it’s not a priority.

We ran across Father Roger at a recent Engaged Encounter weekend (we help out on the first night, showing people around, taking their bags to their rooms, etc.) It brought back a lot of memories from last year: The uncertainty, the insecurity (hey, I was surrounded by a whole passel of Catholics whose judgment I irrationally feared.) and a lot of learning. And he remembered us. It had been a year and 50-75 married couples later, but Father Roger remembered us. And he reminds me of my uncle Al, minus the blindness and alcoholism and plus a few inches and some ceremonial robes.

So, we spent a very warm couple of evenings, cooped up in a back room of St. Michael’s Resurrection Church, learning how we… ahem… We are of the Royal Priesthood of Jesus Christ (well, excepting yours truly, who has not been, and will not be Baptized) and it is our duty as priests to bolster the faith of our young ‘uns. At one point, Father Roger said, “And it is not we, the ordained priests who perform the Baptism. Who is it?” The room was dead. The silence stretched. I offered, “Um… God?”

“Good answer, Liam,” the holy man said, giving me a Fatherly pat on the shoulder (pun intended). “But that’s not the complete answer.
It turns out that we are the ones who perform the baptism by offering up our children in the service of Jesus. Wow. We gots us some wicked God-powers. With the exception of me.

It’s amazing how little you’re allowed to do as an unbaptized person in the Catholic church. But hey, they’ll take the baby.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Old Neighbour, New Neighbour

Growing up, one of the most vivid memories of my life is sprinting the half a block to my friend Rob's house. I would call him up, make some sketchy plans and be there before he hung up the phone. The hours we would spend at his place, making time machines (I still don't know how we would have gotten that flux capacitor to fit in the dishwasher - don't even get me started on 88 mph or 1.21 gigawatts.), jumping on the trampoline (though how we survived the orange death-trap, I'm not sure), playing Intellivision (my most memorable moment of this was when I got the house's high-score on Frog Bog - all five minutes of my glory), playing D&D (although I have NO idea how long it took to convince me that Cameron was not going to kill me if my elf ran out of HP - that's why they suggest the game for 10 and up) or playing cards in the camper - it was my second home, Mr. and Mrs. Leddy my second set of parents.

We also spent a great deal of time at my house, playing Intellivision, playing Nintendo, playing D&D, just sitting around talking (what can I say? I didn't have a dishwasher on my driveway or a trampoline in the back yard.) Growing up, Rob and I were inseperable.

Well, it turns out that my friend Rob just finalized the purchase of a condo in my complex. He'll actually be closer than he was before, even if we won't have all the time we had before to laze about. This also means that I'll get to keep a closer watch on my god-daughters, Aurora, Sydney and Giorgianna. I've been too absent from their lives and I miss them. Now I get to see them whenever I want to. "... and the Liam saw that this was good."

Welcome to the neighbourhood, Leddy family. (How would one pluralize Leddy? Leddy's? Leddies? Leddys? This is a question that has stymied me since Rob was Robbie and my dad was asking an 8-year-old about his love-life.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Wake-up Call

What does it take for a person to appreciate what they’ve got? In my case, it’s almost losing it. Or rather, the threat of losing it.

I received a call, this morning, from my wife. She sounded shaken. She sounded like she’d been crying. All she said was, “I called the doctor’s office. They say I should go to the hospital to get checked out. Can you come home?” ‘

Yesterday, we’d been a little worried because the baby hadn’t moved in a couple hours and that was during activity prime-time. We could normally forego the TV because the kid was more fun to watch in Kim’s tummy. I figured this was what it was about but the urgency in Kim’s voice made me realize just how shaken she was.

Breaking several traffic laws, my mind raced furiously. Unfortunately, it dwelled on all of the negative possible outcomes of this trip to the hospital. I made it home in record-time, sprinted up the stairs, collected my wife and drove to the hospital.

For once, there was no wait. The lady at the front desk called up to Obstetrics and, a few wrong-turns aside, we made it to the appropriate place.

Once Kim was hooked up to the fetal monitor, the tension just oozed out of the room. The baby’s heart was strong. And as a show of defiance (great, we’re gonna have a rebel-child), the very second the monitor was on, the littlest Johnstone decided to start a one-player soccer game in the womb.

Drained, relieved and newly-paranoid, I’ve learned my lesson: Nothing’s as scary as being a parent.

I find it a little weird that the perception is, nothing’s safer than the womb. After that, you’re exposed to all kinds of dangers. But you can’t tell how your baby’s doing so the anxiety is that much higher.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Father's Day

Ah, the great tradition of celebrating the contribution that fathers bring to the family unit. There are few greater things than Father’s day. The appreciation of a job well-done. The appreciation that one can show his own father. The emotional bonding that cannot help but bring a family closer together.

Oh yes, and the presents.

A hand-made card, a memo-holding bobble-headed mouse, a chain (not a “necklace”, but a “chain” according to Nicholas) and the crowning piece of booty (remember when that meant “treasure” and not “bum”?), a green-and-white bouncy ball. These were the gifts that I was given by my son and wife. My in-laws came over with a new mattress for Nick and they brought presents for me as well: a new hand-saw and a Dr. Phil book. The saw was given to me by my father-in-law. I don't know what the usual protocol is for fathers-in-law but it seems that Howard followed it to the letter. He handed me the saw, unwrapped and said, "Hey, you don't have one of these, do you?" No gloss, no wrapping, no fuss. I don’t know how I feel about Dr. Phil but the guy’s heart is in the right place. We’ll see what he has to say about putting “Family First”.

I was also treated (after an attempted knee-drop-wakeup-call from my son) to breakfast in bed. The breakfast was Mini Wheats, lemonade, coffee and chocolate-chip cookies. You can guess who decided on the menu. All of this was eaten as Nicholas jumped, rolled, ran and goofed around on the bed, beside, around and on top of me. Luckily, nothing was spilled and the day was enjoyed by all in the Edmonton Johnstone clan.

Some time ago, I read a book called “Lord of the Isles” by David Drake. I liked the book, although there were some problems with the writing. The second book in the series, the name of which I cannot recall, was, as far as I can remember, terrible. I think the name of the book was “Queen of Demons”. Regardless, I had a hard time getting even as far as I did into that book. I’ve never been one to give up easily, so I’m re-reading “Lord of the Isles” (is it “King of the Isles”?) to get my bearings for “Queen of Demons” (if that’s what it’s called.) I’ve owned the books for seven years, so I feel I owe it to them to get them read.

Speaking of outstanding books, I read “Voyage of the Jerle Shannara: Isle Witch” recently. Terry Brooks keeps churning them out and I keep reading them. I’ve owned this book since 1999 or 2000. I had a hard time getting into it when I first bought it but I finally made it a priority and enjoyed it.

I bought myself a PDA last week. I’m completely amazed at how easily a little piece of electronics can help me organize myself. I’ve got all of my appointments, my friends’ addresses, a budget, and even daily news on there. I know, I’m geeking out about something that everyone and their dogs has already heard about, learned about and done. I used to hate it when people would get so excited about something that I already had. “Did you know that I sent an email to someone in Australia?” “Yeah, so?” “I just thought that was so cool.” “And how does that pertain to our management class?” “I just thought it was cool.” “Die, bitch. It’s 8:00 in the morning and I’m learning the difference between click and double-click and I gotta hear you ramble on about your Australian e-adventure? DIE!” And yes, I realize that there are daytimers, contact lists and spreadsheets on desktop computers (and have been daytimers, spreadsheets and address books since about 1987 or so) but I’ve never been motivated to use them like I am now. (Well… that and my wife told me that if I bought it and didn’t use it she’d kick my ass)

All hail the Sony CLIÄ’, organizing Liam’s life since 06/13/2005!

Friday, June 17, 2005


That’s because we will not evolve until we get rid of TV.

I will grant that there are television shows that stimulate the mind, dazzle the imagination and inspire truly great things. There is also a whole lot of shit. Reality Television, to cite one example, is the technological equivalent of marijuana. It numbs you, makes you laugh at stupid shit and quite honestly, you’re dumber after it than you were before it.

Good TV, bad TV, great thought-provoking, imagination-dazzling, lights-out television – they all have one thing in common. They are all represented by the most inane, bottom-dwelling, lowest-common-denominator-catering ads out there.

This is the best thing I can say for advertising: At its best, advertising makes fun of itself because it knows it sucks. Ads with the bald Goodyear guy are funny but they’re still a waste of my time.

At their worst, ad are what are wrong with society, if I can say that without a white belt and pants hiked up to my armpits. They (ads, not my armpits) lay there, under the radar, shaping perceptions of perfection, feeding self-doubt, allowing people who are perfectly fine to believe that their lives are shit and that everything they want is a simple dye-job, mascara-shade, bottle-of-beer, pack-of-condoms or fast-food burger away.

Not only do these degrading and demoralizing ads shape people’s perceptions of themselves, they distort standards of beauty sought in OTHER people.

Want someone to love? If you’re anyone worth loving, you’d better want someone with a good rack, decent cleavage and rippling abs. We’ve become a bunch of people who care more for the shape of an ass than for the content of a person.

I’ll be the first person to admit that physical beauty is a good thing – I married the great beauty of my life – but our priorities as a whole are way-off.

Dark tan, bleach-blonde, rock-hard abs and tight buns are a necessity, you might be led to believe by the beer commercials, makeup commercials – pretty much anyone who sells something that will not sell itself.

I’m sure that most people will agree that there’s a whole lot of useless shit for sale out there. There’s shit you stick on your face to make you “pretty”. There’s shit you drink that makes you so stupid that you don’t know you’re too stupid to drive. There’s shit to eat that makes you really, really fat. These are just a few of the many pieces of shit that won’t sell themselves.

First, there’s makeup. On the surface, it looks like makeup sells itself. It seems to be a great way for someone to improve their self-image – and people should feel good about themselves. I agree with that one hundred percent. However, the way that makeup gets you to improve your self-image is by insinuating that you are less without it. Makeup insinuates itself into the mainstream of a young lady’s life through celebrities. Everyone wants to be famous, to generalize grossly. Girls see the grown-up famous people and want to be like them. They wear makeup. The girls on the makeup commercials look like (and often are) the same celebrities that attract the adoration of the young ladies in the first place. The smooth skin, the shaded eyes, the full, vibrant lips… You try telling your daughter that she can’t wear makeup when she sees Alicia Keyes out there pimping some cosmetic. I’ll admit that, to my eyes, makeup can improve someone’s looks – but that’s because I’ve been raised in a world where women wear makeup. Can I get a do-over? Regardless of, and probably blind to, the self-doubt that this creates in the fragile ego of the typical pre-teen/teenaged girl, not to mention the priorities it helps boys of the same age develop, cosmetic companies continue to hammer home the notion that makeup = fame and beauty. It’s all about the bottom-line.

Beer is another product that seems to sell itself. Many a teenaged boy cannot wait (and quite often does not wait) until he is eighteen and can have that first cherished sip of beer. The Old Man takes Sonny-Boy out for the first drink and tradition is preserved. It’s a rite of passage – a harmless way to let off steam after work. A large majority of beer companies’ work is done for them by “tradition”, “rites of passage” and “expectation”. All they have to do is steer you toward their beer. Enter the buxom women, bungling men, backyard barbecues, amazingly-smokeless bars where the women have an average weight of 92 lbs and none of them have their natural hair-colour. It’s very tempting. The ads play up the parties, the romantic possibilities, and camaraderie. They play down the hangovers (not completely, because it’s funny when someone else has a hangover). They don’t play alcoholism, fatal crashes caused by drunk-drivers or families torn apart at all. After all, life’s a party!

Fast food is really shit. You’d be better off drinking rat-poison than eating fast food. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. Okay, it’s total bull. Still, fast food is not healthy. It makes you fat and unhealthy. (Which would rather be? Fat or unhealthy? Later…) The big companies don’t want you to think about obesity or diabetes, though. They focus on heartstrings – a family doesn’t have time to eat at home – the fast-food joint around the corner is the perfect place! They target your kids (Fine, we’ll go! Just stop WHINING!) with toys, cartoons and sweets (like Hansel and Gretel, walking through the woods). They only have to get you in there a couple of times, since their food is physically addicting. Trust me – I know.

How do you sell something that’s useless?

1) You convince people that it’s cool. “See that car? The one that looks like a big fucking bubble? You see that shit? That’s some cool shit. That’s the brand-new Sssportero from CARnival. You’ll want to be the first on your block…” Granted, advertisers are better at being subtle, but then, I’m not trying to sell you anything… (unless you’re in the market for a crappy Nissan that hardly runs. It’s cool! Trust me.)
2) Convince people that they can’t function without it. “I don’t know how people LIVED before the Breakfastomatic. Scramble eggs? Who has the time? Eat bacon? I’m in a hurry. The Breakfastomatic purees the breakfast of your choice and injects it STRAIGHT INTO YOUR VEINS for a BREAKFASTOMATIC BURST OF ENERGY that lasts ALL DAY!” Infomercial heaven.
3) Convince people that they are shit and that their only shot at redemption is through whatever product you offer. “Oh NO! I have a little red PROTRUSION on my face! If Hunk Hunkerson sees it, he’ll just KNOW it’s full of pus – JUST LIKE MY SOUL! I’M NEVER GOING TO THE PROM! WAAAAA! Unless I cover it with Acne-A-Way Concealing Tape. Thanks, Acne-A-Way.” Another girl’s homecoming dreams just homecame true!
4) This is a special case – when you can’t convince someone they need your product, you can’t come up with a way to redeem your fallen consumers with it, and Goddamn it, it’s just not cool enough, use sex. Scantily-clad women, dark blue lighting, husky music, innuendo, and insinuation – all of these tools are invaluable toward the selling of the truly useless. “ ‘Why should I rent a limo? I’ve got a good car.’ ‘I’ll suck your dick. But I won’t – cuz that’d be prostitution and I’d go to jail. But I might. You’ll never know from the ad.’” It’s just THAT subtle.

Sex is truly mainstream in advertising. Need proof? In READER’S FUCKING DIGEST, one issue (I don’t have volume or issue numbers – but it’s got Nelson Mandela on the cover) has THREE (3) advertisements with topless women. One is sinking into a tub, advertising a contest or something. Another is a full shot of a woman’s torso, her arms covering up the unmentionables. I think they were selling soap. The last one had half of a woman’s breast exposed in profile, advertising a FUCKING MEDICAL ADHESIVE! I did not bother to count the number of cheesecake shots advertising other things.

I find it exceedingly ironic (or is it hypocritical) that the magazine that would print a quote to the effect of:

“The job of raising children has become much more difficult. In the past, we were expected to raise our children with the help of society. Now, we must raise them despite society.”

would have no problem displaying topless women to sell products.
The Evolution will not be televised.

(Giant disclaimer: I am not condemning Fast Food, beer or makeup. These are just examples of things that are advertised in a way that I believe is detrimental to viewers of television. I am also not trying to label anyone who drinks beer as a drunk, anyone who wears makeup as an insecure person who values only her looks, or anyone who eats fast food as a lard-ass. I am that lard-ass and I enjoy fast food. I will continue to eat it. Does that make me hypocritical? Nah, just a dumb lard-ass.)