A Perspective on Perspective

Some years ago, I purchased a wall map like the one shown here — a Gall-Peters Projection map. This is supposed to be an improvement on the standard Mercator Projection map that most of us are familiar with, in that it gives a more accurate depiction of the real estate occupied by third-world countries. I had no idea that Africa so so big.

Gall–Peters projection SW” by Strebe – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Of course, perspective is perspective. It’s always going to be coloured by someone’s point of view. A projection of a sphere onto a flat surface is going to entail some sort of distortion. It’s important to be aware of which distortion you are choosing, and it’s benefits and shortfalls.

In 2001 I taught English to (mostly) Korean kibbutz volunteers in Israel. (I had come to Israel to learn Hebrew, and they had come to learn English. Go figure.) One day, I drew a map on the board.

Sea of Japan Map en” by Sea of Japan Map.png: Chris 73 derivative work: Phoenix7777 (talk) – This file was derived from: Sea of Japan Map.png . Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I pointed out the Sea of Japan.

“That’s the Sea of Korea,” one of my students volunteered.

Well, how about that? “And here is Korea and here is Japan.”

This is where the students objected most vehemently. Korea could not possibly be that small compared to Japan. They were insistent. Which has me wondering to this day: Do Korean atlases depict Korea as bigger than Japan? Or is this just something Koreans seewhen the look at a map? But if that’s the case, why did they see my map any differently? Did I draw Japan out of proportion, somehow influenced by a bias of which I am unaware to this day?

We all have our biases. To suggest otherwise is like insisting that you don’t have an accent. (Because you do. Everyone does.) The value in learning about other points of view is to become aware of one’s own biases. Even if we retain our original point of view, we see it for what it is — a point of view.

And that in itself goes a long way to improving perspective.

Parahat B’Shalach Commentary

I’m experimenting with podcasting, and this is my first podcast. I have to admit, learning the technical aspects has been an adventure. I’m still in the learning-a-new-thing fog. I have plenty to learn.

Input from experienced podcasters would be appreciated.

Music credit: “Music for Manatees” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

Click here to listen.

A wee look at Ephesians 5:22-25

I was a reader at my sister’s wedding this week. The passages chosen were safe: 1 Corinthians 13 (the Love Chapter) and John 2:1-11 (the wedding at Cana). I am reminded of the less safe passage chosen at my own wedding: Ephesians 5:22-25 ff. Reportedly, the reader almost choked on the words:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…. (ESV)

It’s easy to see how this passage is the root of all patriarchy in our society, leading to subjugation of women, blah, blah, blah. With a little bit of investigation, it can been seen as otherwise.

First off, Ephesians was a work of Jewish literature long before it became part of the canon of Christian Scripture. Essential to the Jewish wedding is the Ketubah, or marriage contract, whereby the husband obligates himself to his wife (“Husbands love your wives….”) and the wife submits herself (places herself under) the contract. She is not obligated to love her husband. The Ketubah places all of the obligation on the husband. It’s his promise to her.

Of course, anyone who is committed to 21st Century North American egalitarianism is bound to be offended by the gender distinction, no matter how the roles are defined. However, it’s fun to imagine how this passage might be read in a society where the gender roles are reversed. The husband has to love his wife (no similar obligation on the part of the wife), he has to be willing to lay down his life for her, and she has to do what? Just accept that?

Okay, there’s that headship business, but otherwise, it’s easy to see how this passage is the root of all matriarchy in our society….

Call an infidel an infidel

A rather unimpressive letter has been published on the internet by “The Muslims of Ottawa-Gatineau” decrying “[t]he recent attacks in Ottawa and St-Jean-sur-Richelieu [which] have shocked and horrified Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast.” The identity of the author, and any indication as to how he/she/they might have the authority to speak on behalf of “Muslims of Ottawa-Gatineau” is conspicuously absent.

If the “Muslims of Ottawa-Gatineau” or any other group, religious or otherwise, wish to know who to totally dissociate themselves from an individual who claims to represent their ideology, they are going to have to be a good deal less diplomatic about it. Take, for example, the response of the Canadian Forces to the conviction of Russell Williams: His “uniform was burned and his medals were also later cut into pieces, his commission scroll (a document confirming his status as a serving officer) was shredded, and his Pathfinder was crushed and scrapped” (Wikipedia). The message was clear. “You are no longer one of us.”

So here is what I would really like to see from from the “Muslims of Ottawa-Gatineau.” (And let’s make it clear — I’m not picking on Muslims. The letter below could be easily modified by any group, religious or otherwise, who wish to show the world that anyone blowing themselves up in a crowded mall in the name of their deity or cause is actually a loose cannon without the support of the group.)

Dear Mr. Bin Laden (or other terrorist)

As (title of person with actual authority), in light of your resent actions, I regret to inform you of your excommunication. Your actions, which you claim to have taken on behalf of Islam have brought shame to our worldwide community, and are a disgrace to our God. You are no longer a Muslim. As such, you will be barred from the Hajj and attendance at any mosque. May God have mercy on your soul.

You are not a Muslim. In fact, your sin is multiplied by your message to the world that your despicable acts represent our God and our faith. Until your actions and your words show a complete repudiation of this message, you are to be regarded as an infidel by those who were once your family.

It is not heaven that awaits you for what you have done, but the fiery torments of hell. Until you submit yourself to God and his messenger, you are lost.

Signed (name of Muslim with actual clout)

A brief note about tea and surgery

The proper way to make tea is to pour boiling hot water onto the tea bag. Purists would assert that there is certainly a much more involved process, but this is the bare minimum.

On the other hand, when I had my surgery at VGH recently, I discovered that they serve tea in a most unorthodox manner. I was chowing through the most delicious cream of wheat the morning after my surgery when I turned to my tea. Then, I discovered, much to my shock and dismay, a cup of tepid water, and a dry tea bag on the side. I had to insert the bag into the cooled water and wait for my tea.

It is one of the miracles of modern medicine that they can remove a body part from one individual, attach it to another individual, and have it function in its new body.

Yet they can’t even make a decent cup of tea.


Donglegate: Adria Richards, Dongles and Burqas

The firing of Adria Richards this week has something to teach us about power, and how it can backfire.

Ms Richards took offence to some off-colour humour she overheard at a PyCon programming conference at Santa Clara California on Sunday. She photographed the perps, and posted the pics to twitter, along with her opinion of their conduct. The post cost one of the fellows his job, but not only his job, but Richards’ as well. Why?

I suspect that if a tech. company fires an employee for cutting up at a conference, it’s not so much because the executives don’t want employees with bad senses of humour. It has, I suspect, more to do with widgets — or, in this case, let’s say — dongles. A company is in the business of selling dongles, and they will enact policies that will increase dongle sales. Such policies make shareholders happy with their dongle shares and increase dongle dividends.

Now, if you get your picture posted to twitter for violating a conference code of conduct, you embarrass your employer, Dongle Corp. It’s not that Dongle Corp. can’t handle a few red faces, but when it affects their bottom line, without any return, you are now a liability,  rather than an asset. Bye bye.

So, that’s why the twittee might get fired, but why the twit? Why punish Richards for reporting the bad guys?

Because she didn’t just report them. She turned what should have ended with “Shush, guys!” into an international media event. There’s a principle in conflict resolution: resolve disputes at the lowest possible level. Or: don’t use a cannon when a fly swatter will do. You see that principle at work in Matthew 18. Paul also admonishes the Corinthians (1 Cor. 6:1-6) to resolve their disputes internally.

The company that I work for has a similar policy of conflict resolution, and so, I suspect, does Richards’ former employer. By going public so quickly with a dispute that could have been resolved at a much lower level, she gained them much undesired attention. She then became a liability. It isn’t that they think that a PyCon conference is an appropriate venue for dongle jokes. As CEO Jim Franklin wrote in the corporate blog, they had to act in “the overall best interests of SendGrid, its employees, and our customers.” In other words, the bottom line.

According to a really scary comic book I read when I was a kid, if you call upon a demon to perform your bidding, the demon might just stick around and cause you more trouble. Richards invoke the PyCon demons against her annoying neighbours, and got whacked real hard.

What does this have to do with burqas? Plenty. Whenever I hear the suggestions that burqas (those black full-body tents that some Islamic women wear) should become illegal, I always feel a little uneasy. Does it really empower women to counter an Islamic custom that says they must wear a burqa with a law that says they must not wear one? As distasteful as I find burqas — even more distasteful than dongle humour — do I really want my government to be able to legislate what my wife or I wear.

Every time we invoke power against our neighbour – whether they be the annoying dongle comedians sitting behind us, or speeder in the lane next to us — we give a foothold to that power. And sometimes the power that we wield can turn against us. Something to think about.

Adria Richards ran out into traffic to defend her right-of-way, and she got hit by a truck. Now has plenty of time to think about it.