Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Movie Review: Perfect Sense

This evening I watched a movie called Perfect Sense.  It came out last year and stars Ewan McGregor and that Bond chick from Casino Royale.

I wasn't expecting much, but I have to say that it was pretty interesting all the way through.  The main thing about it is that it's a rather unique twist (if there ever was one) on the whole world-infected-by-virus craze.  And, while they were at it, they threw a love story in there.

The love story is fine, but not the focus.  The focus is the curious diseases that keep popping up all over the place and, eventually, how they will effect society and, more close to home, their effect on the love story.  It was nice.

As usual, I'll give a little bit of a nudity warning.  Completely unnecessary nudity, but you know how those indy films are these days, right?

There is definitely a lot to unpack from this one.  I don't want to give it away, but the way that the movie unfolds is a very interesting look at fear, uncertainty, survival, and a swack of other stuff.  It's a twist on the expected.  I like movies that make me think about things I've thought about a million times before, but in a completely different light.

It's only 90 minutes as well, so it gets over itself nicely.  Lately, I've been trying to drag myself through 2 hour films and I am becoming more and more convinced that it can no longer be done.  That might have something to do with my drastically disappearing attention span.

In the end, it's not my favorite movie, but I am really glad that I took that time to watch it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Flickering Pixels: the medium is the message

Ever since buying a second-hand Kindle from my friend, I have been loading up that thing with as many books as I can.  As a result, I am often reading 3 or 4 books at a time.  Right now, I am making my way through:

Writing Fiction for Dummies

Sounds silly, but it's been great so far.  I am really learning a lot from it and how writing narrative fiction compares to and differs from writing screenplays.

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets

Ever since watching his show The Wire, I've wanted to read this one from David Simon, a former crime journalist from Baltimore.

I've barely into it, but it is pretty good.  Truthfully, it's kind of slow so far, and it's pretty much more of the same from the show.  In fact, I think that this book might have inspired Simon's 2 television series.  Nevertheless (!), it's still really interesting.

Flickering Pixels

This book, from Shane Hipps, is really interesting.  In fact, this is my second run through it.  One thing the Kindle does is tempt you into reading books multiple times.  I mean, they're all just sitting right there on the list!

Flickering Pixels is somewhat of a theory of a book.  The basic idea is that, throughout history, the way that we communicate has been changing over and over with the invention of new technology, and as a result, the way that we collect information has changed over and over as well.  In the end, one might be trying to communicate a certain message, but it is in fact the way that the message is being communicated that speaks the loudest to the listener.

An example:

I've noticed this to be true in pretty much every day I've been reading this book.  In fact, right now my boys are watching a DVD called 3,2,1 Penguins.  It is from the makers of Veggie Tales and it is just as much, if not more annoying that the little vegetables walking around.

The premise, as far as I can tell, involves 2 little kids helping a group of Space Penguins solve problems throughout the Galaxy.  Every show has a lesson, like how being envious is bad for your soul.  At the end of the show, the kids are back at their grandma's house.  They talk about the lesson of the day and pretty much confess that they learned it the hard way.  Then...

Their big, fat, probably diabetic grandma brings them a giant piece of cake to eat... in bed... right before bed!  Every freaking episode!

In the "envy" episode the little girl gets her cake and then starts to say, "Hey, his piece is bigger than..." then she stops herself, remembering the lesson.  The problem I have with this show is that the message of the episode is lost right at the end of it when the kids are busy chowing down cake.  The pieces of cake are the size of their heads!  Obviously, the Veggie Tale people want to shake off the image of healthy eating.  The best way to do that is to give your characters giant slabs of cake before bed.

Anyways, this is a small but relevant example of the medium (cartoon TV show with characters eating cake) is more powerful than the message (do not envy).

The TV itself is a medium that speaks louder than any message communicated from it.  The technology involves providing the viewer with what to see and think.  It dulls the imagination and, as most people would agree, is very addictive.  While our kid's minds and creative juices are developing, it is all too easy to just plop them down in front of some crappy show with some sort of 'moral message' to justify it.

I'm not saying that I will prohibit my kids from watching TV.  I think that the main thing is to be aware of the dangers of relying on it, and that the threat of addiction is always there.  It will effect you if you're not proactive in finding other ways of nurturing and building up your child's imagination.

Back the the book...

Hipps talks a lot about how the printing press changed the way we use our brains.  With it, people started to use the left side of their brain, the part that likes to organize and make logical sense of things.  Then, there was an overuse, and anything that wasn't in print was considered to be not quite right.  Then, later on when someone invented the camera, people started to use the right side of their brains.  Reading a book is one word at a time, page by page, where as looking at a photo requires taking in all of the information at once.  Thus, these two mediums involved using both sides of the brain.

His issue is that, as a society, we go through shifts in balance of the 2 ways of taking in information.  When you apply it to the bible, we find that we are very much 'left-brained' in the way that we share the message of the gospel.  The 4 spiritual laws is the example he gives.  A plus B plus C equals D.  Now, I don't think that he's saying that this method is totally wrong.  It seems to be that he wants to open up other ways of sharing that different people might be more receptive to

The 'flickering pixels' of TV are all around us:

People sit in giant office buildings, getting paid thousands of dollars to figure out a way to make you want to buy a vacuum.

The world tells us that they have developed way that we can be healthy by working out less.

The Tim Horton's radio commercials that I hear while listening to hockey games talk about "eating healthy" by ordering an egg white English muffin.

Facebook is a way to have shallow relationships with hundreds of friends.

And what about Blogs?  Well, I have to agree that blogs are a part of the shallow world of the Internet. As Hipps puts it, "The mind is the flat stone that skips along the surface of an infinite amount of information."  

I try to write things that would be interesting to people so that more people come and read them.  There is nothing wrong with that, it's just that it contributes to all of the other noise of people trying to get your attention.

While a book is often times 1000 pages of depth, a blog has a couple hundred words one day that are completely unrelated to the previous entry.  I am challenged to give this blog a little bit more of a direction.  Eventually,  I want it to go somewhere.  I would like to look back on it as progression and growth.  I want to be able to visually see differences between posts from 2008 and now.  That is the goal.

So, please be patient.  I want you to stay interested, and if at all possible, more interested in the things going on.  I will brainstorm.  Also, if you have any favorite posts or topics of mine that you like to read and want to read more of, then give me some feedback.  brettgitel@yahoo.com

In the meantime, I would suggest taking a look at the book.

EDIT:  The medium for me is a relatively quick read of a blog post.  The message is to encourage you to read more books and watch less TV.  What one came through for you?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


It has been a good month.  Outside, the weather is cold, but inside there is love in our hearts.  The city is full of smoke in the aftermath of New Year's Eve.  The trash from that night has been photographed and cataloged on my flickr page.  We live in the East end of town, and it is a pretty quiet neighbourhood this time of year.  A lot of families and students from the University have all gone back to their hometowns to celebrate the new year and to welcome each other in a  Spring Festival kind of way.

Spring Festival is a big deal here in China.  How many metric tonnes of sunflower seeds will be consumed this month?  How many hours of overtime will it take to transport everyone across the country and back?  How many drunk uncles will safely and peacefully fall asleep on the couch?  It is a crazy time.  We've just gotten through almost 24 hours of fireworks and firecrackers.  It hit a climax on New Year's eve at around 11:55pm.

As per usual, our tradition is to venture over to the Lete Youth Hostel, located on the 16th floor of a downtown building.  We partied with friends, set off some of our own fireworks, and to took in the spectacle of hundreds of faithful Chinese men and women who must spend thousands of dollars on fireworks.  For well over 30 minutes, the sky was full of light, bouncing in and out of the buildings and streets.

One rather experienced pyromaniac in our group successfully tossed a lit firecracker down onto the main road below us.  It fizzled and twirled like a tornado of sorts, and a taxi drove over it like it was an ordinary occurrence.

Miles, Jonas and a few other kids were able to stay up until midnight to take in the show, but their enthusiasm was waining.  I feel bad for keeping them up that late, but it's only once a year and I feel like it is one of those things that we can tell them about 10 years from now and they'll think of us as cooler parents for it.


On a completely different note, at the end of the great month of January there will be a new Leonard Cohen album available to us all.  At this moment, it is available for previewing at this site.

I would say that some of the songs seem to hit and others, for different reasons, seem to miss the mark.  It seems like a journey; like the album should be listened to in one straight sitting.  There is very little reason to dance to this record, so sitting is preferred and almost universally accepted.

While I'm talking about music, I would like to point out another record that is worth sitting through.  It's by a band called Gungor.  My wife has been listening to this music a lot and lately I have been "picking up what she's been putting down".  Take a look at this viddy to get an idea of how nice this music is to listen to and inspire.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dance Dance Brotherlution

I am blessed to have 2 little guys that love to dance. And, the thing about these guys is that they really know how to move.

Keep your eye on Jonas somewhere in the middle of the video. He has a little trouble with the flashlight.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Colour Contacts: the continuing saga

While visiting in Canada for a few weeks, I had kind of completely forgotten about the black contact lens trend here in Xining.  Then, I came back.

The trend has turned into a zombie-like epidemic.  It wouldn't bother me so much if I didn't have to live here and see them every day.  And, to tell you the truth, I have been able to tolerate the black contact lens.  However, as with most diseased fashion trends, there are new strains appearing here and there.  It is getting out of control.  I have yet to see red contacts, but I can imagine that they will eventually make an appearance by the time the weather warms up.

I am against this trend, and I don't want to see it spread to other parts of the world, though I am sure that I am too late.  In any event, I will continue to fight.  This is the hill that I have decided to die on.  Fight with me.

The latest issue for me is summed up in this article:

Here it is

Do not be deceived.  There is more to this trend than 'meets the eye';)  Seriously, this article fails to mention the most dangerous issues.  Forget eye irritation, forget that the junky product is still made in China, forget that you need to squirt a lot of eye drops down your ducts in order to survive the day.  The real dangers, in my opinion, are as follows:

1.  As the article mentions, the 'circle' contact lenses are slightly bigger than normal eyes.  The obvious problem with this, that the article fails to mention and everyone seems to be unaware of, is that having seemingly dilated eyes is NOT something nice to look at.  It could mean that you're high, it could mean that you've been spending too much time in your garage painting fence posts, it could mean that you've hit your head and are suffering from a concussion.  The last thing that most people will think is that you look much more beautiful than you would be without them.

I don't care if you hate the color of your eyes, covering them with fake colour is a bad idea.

2.  The latest 'strain' of this trend is that there are now different colours besides black and brown.  Take a look at this:

Now, I have sympathy for old people.  They have a lot of issues with their health.  One of those issues is something called glaucoma.  Glaucoma occurs when the optic nerve is damaged.  In many cases, the issue results in a milk-like color that covers the eye.

When I see a grandma that has trouble seeing, and I see that she has greyed over eye balls, I feel really bad for her.  When I see young Chinese women wearing glaucoma coloured contact lenses I also feel sorry for them, but for very different reasons.

3.  I think I've said it a lot already, but the 'the eye is the window to the soul'.  One of the first things that attracted me to my beautiful wife was her eyes.  Big, beautiful and blue.  Natural.  Exhibit A:

I understand that I am in a special situation where my wife is very good looking.  I also understand that a lot of Asians seem to be into trying to make themselves look like Caucasians.   In a strange twist to their struggle it is funny that a lot of white girls that I know think that Asian girls are the most beautiful girls in the world.  What does not work is trying to be something you are not.  If my wife got some sort of eye surgery to make them more Asian looking, I would be very upset.

With the contacts and the fake eyelashes and the white powder make-up, and the blond hair dye that turns their black hair orange, the actual person is completely covered and in disguise.  I find myself staring at these girls as I walk down the street.  I wonder if they think that I am impressed with their costumes.  I hope not.

The other thing to consider in all this is the lens less glasses trend.  I am sure that a lot of North Americans have seen this, especially with people stealing the 3D glasses from the movie theatre.  This trend is offensive to me.  I wear glasses and contact lenses because I NEED to wear them.  I am also bald.  To me, this is like someone with hair shaving the top of their head, then slicking a patch of some from the side over the top, walking around with a fake combover and trying to pass it off as a respectable look.

Would it be acceptable for me to roll around in a wheelchair as a fashion statement?  If I got some jewelry for my cell phone and plastered it all over a pair of crutches, would it be acceptable for me to limp around with those hip crutches?  Maybe.

I am in no way against people trying to make themselves look nice.  I just think that, as a society, we need to hold each other accountable to this kind of stuff.  I mean, the whole baggy pants trend seems to slowly be dying out thanks to the fact that most people realized that it was stupid and an improper way to utilize a perfectly good pair of pants.  Maybe these contact lenses will die out too.

The above article basically says that they, no matter what the trend is, follow it.  Instead, I would say something like "use your own judgement and find the trends that you think will help you look your naturally best."

Hey, I'm 30.  I'm not out there 'clubbing', or whatever it's called these days.  I'm not out on the prowl for someone to date.  Maybe younger guys are into this kind of trend.  If that's true, then that is weird.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Music Reviews to listen to

Hi kids!

If you haven't noticed, there are some tabs to click on up there ^.  To make things easier for everyone involved, except for maybe me, I have decided to post all of the reviews here on the home page first.  Then, later after you've all had a good read I will store them up there ^ so that you can look back on them with fond memories, if you'd like.


Today, I'd like us to dip our toes into something completely different.  Now, If you're like me, you don't always like the music player blasting into your ears.  Sometimes, when we have people over or when the kids just want to groove, we like to throw on some music that would be considered tame compared to the good ol' rock and roll.

So, I bring us to the latest thing that I've been listening to.

Washed Out's Life of Leisure

For starters, this song is nice.

The whole record is nice to have on in the background.  If you are a hipster I am told that this is the kind of music you should listen to these days.  I know, I know, it all changes so quickly that it's hard to keep up.  Their music is even featured on every one's favorite show Portlandia.

The one thing that I really like about this album is that it keeps the kids calm.  Miles likes listening to it while he's reading a book in the window seat.  Actually, he's bobbing his head right now.  They both like to dance around it it.

Give it a listen.

Now, if you've liked what you've heard so far, then I encourage you to push it a little further with this one.

Nicolas Jaar's Space is only noise

Once again, the focus of today's review is to find stuff that you can throw on while you're reading or doing the laundry or playing a game of scrabble, perhaps.

This is what would be called 'electronic music' or 'electronica' if you think that saying 'electronic music' takes too long.  I don't listen to too much of that kind of thing, but I like this.  It's obviously very experimental, but not enough to be just a bunch of noise thrown together.    Miles thinks that the noises are kind of cool.  I also understand that some of these songs are not as good as others.  Yet...

This is my favorite part thus far.

Is there even a little bit of Tom Waits in there?  Maybe on the track Too many kids finding rain in the dust?  No?  Okay... but, maybe?

Maybe it's not you're cup of tea.  I know that if my brother Bryce has made it this far in reading this post then we are witnessing miracles today, people!

If you've heard me out and you hate this stuff, then thanks anyways.  If you like what you're hearing then go ahead and look them up on emusic.com.  I have restarted our account.  It's $99 a year for what works out to 24 songs a month.   It's a pretty good place for finding new stuff that you might not regularly listen to.  I think that itunes costs $1.29 per song now.  No thanks!  I never would have thought that prices would have such a big influence in my musical tastes.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The New Year is here

A few things for you today:

While telling Miles that most cars use a lot of gas, he added that most cars also use coins. Tigers also use coins.

I had my first ever article will be published this month. It is a short piece for Geez Magazine about my apartment compost. Geez is a cool little Canadian magazine in print and online. Their tag line is "holy mischief in an age of fast faith". I suggest that you take a look at it and be sure to look for my little blurb in the next issue. Though, I think that it will only be in the print version. In that case, you might want to subscribe to it.

As all of North America settles back into normal life after the holidays, China is just starting to rev things up. Most of the students are leaving the University with little roller suitcases to migrate back to their home towns for about a month and a half. The University turns into a ghost town. I kind of like the break in the action and it just might motivate me enough to head out to the basketball courts for the first time in about 8 months.

Speaking of sporting events, a few of us foreigners have been making regular trips to the soccer field to play American football. I say 'American' because we use 4 downs and our salaries are grossly inflated.

A couple of the local guys want in on the action. They are also on the baseball team that a few of us are involved in. Something tells me that football might eventually be a bigger draw than the baseball team. Yet, I hope that they both flourish this Spring.


New Year's eve is on the 22nd, and the real highlight for for me is when the whole town lights up at midnight.

In Canada, there is a big firework show on New Year's in the middle of the city. In China, there are thousands of small firework displays all over the city. It's a sound and sight that cannot be duplicated without being in the real danger of being in a war zone. At least, that's how I imagine it.

I've been watching a lot of Ni Hao Kai Lan these days. In it, she makes up an annoying dragon dance. Lucky for you, I cannot find it to show it here. In any event...

Happy Year of the Dragon!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

And Then He Spoke

I am currently making my way through an amazing book. Actually, this is my second time through this particular book. It is called The Orthodox Heretic by Peter Rollins. It's a book made up of dozens of short stories, or tales, or maybe even parables in a few cases. I read one or two of them each sitting and then I think about them all day. You can get the Kindle edition for about 8 bucks.

The following story is inspired by a 'parable' from the book.


I opened my eyes, remembering that I need not close them in the first place. I had learned that rule in Sunday School and now I knew that it was just a rule to stop us from giggling. It's just a formality and, these many years later, has the opposite effect as I find that there are more distractions with them closed.

Now I'm praying for a sick friend. "Why is she sick?" I ask, lost in a mind of unanswered questions. These days I live in the continuous wonder of 'why'. The only way I can snap myself out of the wonder is to ask it.

Asking for keys to doors.

Praying for miracles to be normal.

My view of you to be something as beautiful as you seem to be.

My daily bread.

Suddenly, a noise shot out of the wall like a cannonball.

The door bell!

I remembered that I was to have a guest that morning. I moved my feet and crept to the door. I lifted the phone, clicked the 'open' button and listened. Someone was there, down below at the front door. He was humming. I heard the door open and close. He would be up to our floor shortly. Our building has super fast elevators.

Sure enough, there he was, knocking on the door like a pelican pecking on an annoyed turtle. I opened the door and smiled. He bowed, removed his hat, and greeted me with a beam. I reached out to shake his withered hand and he received mine as an old friend's. I took his hat, it's felt brim stuck to my fingers like sandpaper. I placed it on the hook and it sat there as master of the house.

His jacket drooped a little in the shoulders but it clung on faithfully. He slipped his shoes off and nestled them next to each other in the corner.

He took a seat at the table. His scent and his charm filled the room. I sat across from him and we sat in silence for what seemed like 3 weeks. Finally, I offered him some tea. Upon hearing these words, he spoke:

"The morning, soft and scandalous, aroused by the sun and the sound of the kettle's whisper.
It's curly lips, parched like a drunk, begging for one more taste."

I moved to the kitchen and moments later returned with 2 mugs of tea.

We sat, and sipped on the heat. It was strange. We sat there and stared at each other. At first I felt like I was imposing on his space, staring at him like a pillar of salt. But after a while, it was just normal; him looking into my eyes and mine having no other choice but to return the favor. From his watery blue, he looked at me like he was looking through me, only he wasn't looking through me at all because I felt his compassion resting on me. My breath left me for a moment and I lost his gaze. He smiled, sipped again and spoke:

"It's strange, the places that the mind can take you. It's almost as if it has a mind of it's own. You spend a lot of time lost in the mind. You're in there, like a moth, fluttering your wings on the walls. The mind is no place for the heart to dwell. The hurt and pain can't be reasoned with."

I froze. I understood what he saw when he looked into me.

"It burdens and haunts you. When you are of old age, it picks on you. It threatens to steal your loved ones and to set your house on fire; to strip you of your security. It tries to shame you like a holy one."

He continued:

"Security; that's a noble idea. In order to find Truth you must first seek it. And it is only when you continue to seek it, that you will find it. If you ever stop seeking you will never find it, even if you think you've found it."

His words flashed in front of me like a mirror and all I could see was me. That uneasy feeling of faith. Is faith really faith at all without doubt, without the very thing that forces you to call it faith and not truth or certainty? I'd wrestled with this all for so long, trying to find certainty and then testing the idea of life being okay without it.

"You're there right now. Lost, looking for the answer." he told me.

For a moment, I forgot where I was. Is there an answer for all of this mess? Is there really a reason for death and disease?

I returned to the moment and let go of my cup; it sitting there like a dead dog. My feet were flush with heat and my heart was hurting the way that it hurts.

This one who could creep into my soul stepped out for a moment to acknowledge the tears on my face.

"What I know," he continued, "is that there is a reason for it all. There is a reason why people die, and suffer through it. It all makes sense, when you look at it from where I'm sitting. I understand your desire to know."

My eyes perked up.

"There is a reason for the suffering and pain."

I knew it! I've seen his shadow on the locked doors. The veil. The hem of his garment. The faith. Why all the mystery, the sneaking around? Why the disease? Why the pain?!

"Why?" I asked.

I hadn't noticed until now, but his patience had grown over time. I could feel it like a blanket.

He moved his cup to the side and leaned in like he was going to tell me the secret. I looked around slowly and then leaned in as well, my chair creaking in anticipation.

There we were, sitting in silence, alone as any two people could be, telling secrets. Nose to nose. I could hear his breath forming at the back of his throat. For the moment his eyes were turned down, as though he was trying to translate his thought from a foreign language. He was trying to find a way to put it.

Finally, he looked up at me, his eyes reaching in. I flinched for a moment, but I held my ground and stared into the eclipse.

And then he spoke.

Monday, January 2, 2012


I've said it before, but now that I've figured out how to post videos onto these things I thought that I should share this with you.

It makes me laugh every time. This guy does it all.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Funk to get you out of the Funk

Now that it's January 2nd and you've already failed at half of your resolutions, it seems like a great time to pump up the jams. And pump up the jams we will!

Last time (click here), I left you moping in your bed, your eyes closed, yet with tears dripping out of them. You were hugging your blanky and snivelling into it. Your headphones were on, yet through them you could hear the faint sound of your mother knocking at the door with concern in the way that she gently rattled her fist on the wood. You ignored her and turned up the music. Wallowing in the sound of the dumps. There was weeping and perhaps, yes, just a little bit of teeth gnashing.

Here we are, half of your resolutions flushed down the toilet, but the glass is half-full, my friends. Today I bring you music to pick yourself up with and at tunes to dust yourself off with.

And hey, if you don't have any of these songs in your collection then get some of them.

Or, find songs in your collection that sound like these. If you can't find any, then get a new collection and cross off one of your resolutions!

Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels) - The Arcade Fire

Slow & Low - Beastie Boys

Sunken Waltz - Calexico

Tea for the Tillerman - Cat Stevens

Friday I'm in Love - The Cure

First Breath after Coma - Explosions in the Sky

The Yeah Yeah Yeah song - Flaming Lips

Sounds Like Hallelujah - The Head and the Heart

Face of the Earth - Joel Plaskett Emergency

In the Beginning - K'naan

Just Dance - Lady Gaga

I am John - Loney, Dear

Roll Away Your Stone - Mumford and Sons
This is the only song of these guys that I actually like.

The Laws have Changed - The New Pornographers

It's the Sun - Polyphonic Spree
Just listen to it once. Listening more will ruin it.

Life is a Highway - Rascal Flatts
Miles says that this one always cheers him up. I bare witness to that.

Inni Mer Syngur Vitleysingor - Sigur Ros

Dragon's Lair - Sunset Rubdown
One of my favorite songs.

Down in the Hole - Tom Waits

Fireworks - The Tragically Hip

New Theory - Washed Out

Baba O'Riley - The Who

Impossible Germany - Wilco

Of course, my definition of 'funk' might differ from yours. Nevertheless, these are the jams to raise your hands, the bees to weaken the knees, the boat to float that late night gloat, the sun to shine on the gloomy devine.

Happy 2012!