I had just left North American airspace when I realised. You see, when I find myself in the midst a long distance journey I become incredibly emotional. I’m not sure why exactly. Maybe it’s the thin, recycled air. Maybe it’s the persistent hiss of the jet engines. Maybe it’s the realisation, when looking out the window onto the earth and sea below, that I am truly an insignificant wee speck of matter inhabiting a tiny plot on a tiny planet within a tiny solar system within a relatively small galaxy within an unfathomably large and expanding universe.
But I find another theory yet more romantic. In even the recent past, travelling nearly 10,000 kilometres, across an ocean and then a continent, would take ages — months upon months. During that time, on top of the regular roller coaster of emotions during any given six-month period in life, travellers would face an even greater confrontation with their own mortality and the mortality of others. And I think when I find myself 10,979 metres in the air, travelling at 902 kilometres per hour, passing over the land and sea, in those 10-12 hours I experience just a small taste of the emotional stress of those who had to make the journey in weeks, months or even years. Whatever the cause, I always fall victim to this neurosis when I travel great distances. But this visit to the place of my birth featured more substance than I had expected.
I should’ve realised that things would be incredibly different. In the two and a half years since my previous visit, I was blessed with a niece and three new nephews. I wasn’t prepared for the pain of saying goodbye to them two weeks later, knowing that I won’t be around to share in those special early moments — whether that is first words, first steps or the first day of school. Will they remember me when they see me next time? I don’t even know when ‘next time’ will be. And alongside all of the other joys and sorrows that I missed in the last two and half years, I lost one of the most influential and important people in my life.
I’m a man who has been blessed with two amazing grandfathers. My mother’s father died in March 2010. He had been very influential in at least this last decade of my life. But before I converted to Christianity and sensed a calling to church ministry, my passions had been devoted to a good number of things attributed to my father’s father. And that’s not to say that since conversion my paternal grandfather has not been a continuous influence. He taught me countless things about life and virtue and filled me with the riches of wisdom and curiosity. But when my father’s father died in December 2012, in accordance with his wishes, no funeral was held. I was encouraged by my family to stay in Scotland.
In honesty, my grandfather’s passing probably came as a relief to some. His quality of life had been worsening steadily and he hardly resembled the man he was before Alzheimer’s set in. But even in the midst of his battle against that horrific disease, I saw definite glimpses of my stubborn, cheeky, but ultimately tenderhearted grandfather. In his pride, a younger version of my grandfather would have abhorred his state in the final years of his life. But that’s neither here nor there. It has happened as it has happened.
Although I haven’t lived with my parents for a decade, like any good and decent child, I’ve kept a fair number of my belongings, mostly books and vinyl records, at my parents’ house. This trip seemed as good a time as any to sort through what remained of my belongings in California. Very conveniently, my father had consolidated most of my things to a few boxes in the shed. Among these boxes was one full of my most treasured possessions — the things given to me by my grandfather. I had started the collection from before I can remember (with the help of my father, who had also passed things down to me). It went hand in hand with my obsession with spaceflight and aeronautics, all inspired by my grandfather. Pictures, technical manuals and diagrams, slide rulers, NASA Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle mission patches and memorabilia. I used to stare at these things for hours upon hours. And here they were again, just as magical as ever before. Well, almost.
When I was younger, if I had any questions I could just visit my grandfather. He was always up for talking with me, and not just about his work in the aerospace field. He taught me countless life lessons that remain with me to this day. During this visit to California, these scraps of paper and miscellaneous in a box took on new significance – they were my grandfather’s continued presence.
I arrived at LAX on the Monday. My time in California would be full of visits and wee travels. Saturday was booked for a visit to my aunt and uncle’s house for a gathering of some of the Smiths. My grandmother was there, visiting from Yucca Valley. My uncle had planned to take my grandmother home on the following Monday, but my father and I had planned on spending that day together and we both had the same thought — we wanted to spend our day with his mum and in the High Desert (and perhaps make a visit to Joshua Tree). When we got to my grandmother’s house on the Monday I had a close look around. It was the first time I had seen the place after my grandfather’s death. It had gone through some changes when his condition worsened and he required 24-hour care, necessitating relocation to a care home, but this was it — my grandfather was gone. At some point I had a frantic thought. There was a particular item that used to hang on the wall in my grandfather’s house. He had always told me it was his most prized possession, but I couldn’t find it. I asked my grandmother where it might be and she seemed to think that it had been given to my family. My father didn’t recall and being that I had been gone for two and a half years, I sure as hell didn’t have it.
This item was a strange thing – a plaque of wood with a small engraved brass plate beneath a block of translucent plastic, within which was found a piece of God-knows-what. My grandfather told me the short story behind the object numerous times and I wish so much that I had made a recording of his words, in his own voice with all of the proper details. But I’ll do my best to tell it as he told it.
But before we get into my grandfather’s story, some background is necessary. In the midst of the Cold War, on 4 October 1957, the USSR launched the first artificial Earth satellite, Sputnik 1. The Soviet Union launched their second Sputnik satellite, this time carrying a small dog called Laika, in November. It wasn’t until the end of the following January that the United States launched Explorer 1 in response. On 12 April 1961, the Soviets bested the Americans once again when they sent cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into space aboard Vostok 1. He spent 108 minutes in space, completing one orbit of the Earth. In May the Americans responded when they launched astronaut Alan Shepard into space aboard the Mercury 3 spacecraft dubbed Freedom 7. Astronaut Gus Grissom spent 15 minutes in space during the sub-orbital flight of Mercury 4 on 21 July 1961, but the Soviets answered with a second orbital flight manned by cosmonaut Gherman Titov on 6 August. It wasn’t until the third manned American Mercury mission sent astronaut John Glenn into space on 20 February 1962 that the United States was able to achieve Earth orbit. Astronaut Scott Carpenter repeated Glenn’s mission in May.
Although having trailed the Soviet Union for the first five years of what was named the ‘Space Race’, on 12 September 1962, the US President John F. Kennedy, whilst speaking at Rice University in Houston, Texas, announced,
We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
To journey to the Moon! An ambition in the minds of the earliest creatures capable of sight and cognition. A god, a disk, a face, a perfect celestial sphere!
In order to achieve this ambitious pledge, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) followed the success of the Mercury missions with the Gemini programme, which set out to test necessary steps in order to develop a mission capable to sending humans to the Moon, things like extra-vehicular activity (‘spacewalks’), longer duration flights and orbital rendezvous of two spacecraft.
As to be expected, the steps to get to the Moon were planned out meticulously. The successor to the Gemini programme, the Apollo programme, was designed to work through different phases, culminating in an eventual Moon landing. The basic steps were as follows:
1. Test out the manned Command/Service Module (CSM) in Earth orbit.
2. Test out the manned CSM in Moon orbit.
3. Test out the manned Lunar Module (LM) in Earth orbit.
4. Test out the manned LM in Moon orbit.
5. Land on the Moon.
Each successive stage couldn’t be completed until the previous stage had been tested thoroughly. The contract for the construction of the CSM was awarded to North American Aviation, the company for which my grandfather worked at the time. But due to design flaws (of which my grandfather played no part), what was the to be the first manned Apollo mission, Apollo 1, was destroyed on the platform during a launch simulation test on 27 January 1967, killing all three astronauts on board – Command Pilot Gus Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White and Pilot Roger Chaffee.
The Apollo 1 tragedy was a major setback for NASA and the Apollo programme, and in September 1967, North American Aviation merged with Rockwell Standard to form North American Rockwell. Following much grieving, drama and deliberation, the Apollo programme allowed to continue and my grandfather served as the Electrical Supervisor for the construction of the Command Module with North American Rockwell.
After a series of unmanned tests, the first manned Apollo mission, Apollo 7, finally took place between 11 and 22 October 1968. Much was riding on the success of Apollo 7 – the future of the Apollo programme and JFK’s pledge to reach the Moon before the end of the decade, the future of NASA, the future of North American Rockwell, as well as the Americans’ desire to reach the Moon before the Soviets.
Despite a lot of nerves, the mission went as planned and when the astronauts returned they held a meeting with the ground crew from North American Rockwell. Thus officially begins the wee story behind my grandfather’s most prized possession.
When in Earth orbit, a spacecraft and its contents experience weightlessness, and when there are bits leftover from the construction of the spacecraft they sometimes emerge from their nooks and crannies and can pose a threat or distraction to the astronauts inside.
During this meeting with the ground crew, Captain Wally Schirra, Commander of Apollo 7, produced a large box containing what he said were the bits found in the Command Module by the astronauts whilst in orbit. My grandfather and his co-workers held their heads in shame. I believe some expletives were uttered when he told the story.
Schirra opened the large box to reveal a slightly smaller box, to the slight relief of the ground crew. And that slightly smaller box contained yet an even smaller box. He proceeded to open the boxes like nesting dolls until the final box, a very small box containing seven small bits of rubbish. In the standards of air and spaceflight, Apollo 7 proved to be an exceptionally clean machine.
The Commander and crew felt the need to express his gratitude to my grandfather by suspending the wee bit of rubbish (some woven insulation from electrical wiring) in a block of translucent plastic mounted to a piece of wood with a brass plaque that reads:
THIS ARTICLE, FLOWN ON
APOLLO 7 OCTOBER 11-22, 1968,
IS PRESENTED TO
T. J. SMITH
CAPT. WALLY M. SCHIRRA
FOR THE CREW OF APOLLO 7
‘There are only seven of those in the world’, my grandfather would say. But where had his gone? I searched all over and asked everyone I could. My time in Los Angeles was winding down to a close. Resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t find the plaque, I packed up my box of space memorabilia and shipped it to my home in Glasgow.
As I was packing my clothes for the journey home, my father asked me, ‘What about this safe box?’ He was referring to a small army-green box that I had scoured the week previously. I supposed that I had spotted a few things that I would have liked to take with me back to Glasgow: some pictures of my grandfather with his crew for the Space Shuttle Main Engines, a certificate from Ian Ross, then Director of John Walker and Sons Ltd, Kilmarnock, commemorating my grandfather’s Hole-In-One from 28 April 1992, and a few other certificates of achievement from NASA and North American Rockwell. There was even a picture of the moment when Wally Schirra (looking well chuffed) gave my grandfather (looking well irritated) the small piece of wire insulation at that meeting. As I moved papers around I realised, there it was – the plaque. It was right under my nose the whole time, hidden between papers in this small army-green box in my father’s shed.
Below is, as it is with all opinion posts, an outline of my opinion on a particular topic. Please feel free to disagree or to challenge my views, but please also take the care to read all of what I have written. It is my sincere intention to be a loving, gracious, humble and devout follower of Jesus. Please forgive me when I fail at this.
Today a couple of minister friends of mine shared the same link on Facebook with the heading, ‘Dentist Says God Doesn’t Exist – Watch What His Patient Says…’ Normally I tend away from these sort of links (my criticisms in this post will probably reveal why that is the case), but for some reason today I decided to click. Here’s the clip:
I’m not sure how long this ‘God & the Dentist’ idea has been circulating (after a limited amount of research I’ve discovered several videos presenting the same argument), but this one was produced by a group called ‘cvcnow’ who on their YouTube account give this description:
cvcnow produce creative short films, designed to entertain and challenge your thinking about real life.
In amongst all the negativity we face online, we want to be that much needed positive presence online and bring a fresh new perspective on real life struggles – from forgiveness to suicide; we don’t shy away from the big issues.
They’ve got this written in their ‘about’ section on the cvcnow.com website:
All we want is to help you explore those unavoidable questions about life, the universe and everything in it.
After a wee bit of research I’ve discovered that cvcnow is a ‘brand’ under the umbrella of Christian Vision, ‘a UK-based international charity founded by Lord Edmiston in 1988.’ I have yet to watch all of the videos that they’ve produced (and I don’t see myself doing that any time soon), but from viewing this dentist video alone, something tells me that none of their videos will sit right with me. But why?
Before I explain why I see this sort of thinking as more of a foe than a friend, I want to say that this is no attack on any individuals who find this video inspirational. Please know that I am in no way doubting the faith, goodness or sincerity of anyone involved in cvcnow or Christian Vision, or even anyone who has enjoyed the video above or has passed it on to friends. I believe that the folk who produced this video are using their skills, passions and energies to do what they think is the most effective way to follow what they believe God wants for them. But with that being said, I think that most people (even people who commit acts of great evil) do the same. For example, I’m convinced that the Tories believe that society will best flourish under their policies whilst Labour politicians believe the same of their own policies (though, some might argue that New Labour’s policies are more Tory than Labour, but I digress…). I also want to express that I believe that God can use any means to reveal theological truth and convey religious experience (my PhD thesis approaches a small facet of that very belief), as in the old story in the Torah of the diviner Balaam who was intent on cursing the God of the Jews, but this very God corrected him via the mouth of a donkey. So yes, according to our mythology and tradition, God can speak through various means, but I’d rather be the prophet than the ass.
So what about this video do I find particularly offensive? Aside from the poor writing, poor acting, poor music, poor production and implausibility of the conversation? Let’s walk through the ‘script':
Dentist [after working on a patient's teeth]: OK, we’re done.
Patient: Yes, thank God for that.
P: What do you mean?
D: Who in this day and age still believes in God?
At this point it’s important to point out that I don’t know of any dentist, even a staunchly atheistic dentist, who would take issue with someone saying ‘Thank God’ in a situation like that. Many of my atheist friends say ‘Thank God’ as often as they say ‘Thank fuck’. The ‘God’ bit of ‘Thank God’ doesn’t necessarily carry much meaning. ‘Thank God’ is simply a colloquialism. But the writers of this piece needed to find a way to put God into a ‘real life’ situation, so we end up with a very rude dentist who decides to challenge his patient on a passing comment. And to answer this elitist dentist’s silly question, Who in this day and age still believes in God? — apparently some 5.8 billion of the 6.9 billion people in the world, or 84% of people. That in no way proves the legitimacy or truthfulness of belief in God, but at least demonstrates that, even ‘in this day and age’, belief in God isn’t exactly uncommon. So the patient decides to respond:
P: Well, I do. Why’s that?
D: Well, you obviously missed all the wars, uh, the devastation, the poverty…everything that goes wrong in this world.
P: Well, I don’t believe in dentists. If there are so many dentists in the world, then why do so many people have broken, infected and missing teeth?
Oh dear. Now, despite his unpleasant personality, I’m starting to side with the dentist. Whether or not a Christian will admit it, there is no simple answer to the problem of evil (expressed so eloquently by the dentist in his condescension: ‘Well, you obviously missed all the wars, uh, the devastation, the poverty…everything that goes wrong in this world.’). I have some views on how I might approach the problem of evil, but I don’t want to go there with this post. It’s also important to note that God has been used to justify a great many wars throughout history (even Bush and Blair claim to have prayed to God before the [misleading] war in Iraq). But that at which I want to get is what the patient has used to argue against non-belief – she has decided that she doesn’t believe in dentists. There are two major problems I have with her decision.
1) She has decided that she doesn’t believe in dentists. That’s a very difficult position to maintain when you’re sitting in the chair of a dentist‘s office after your dentist appointment and a dentist is standing right in front of you, speaking with you. If the Christian God was always so readily tangible the argument might stand up a wee bit better. But dentists do exist and her assertion that the lack of dental care in the world proves that dentist’s don’t exist is somehow akin to this dentist’s argument against the existence of God by way of the problem of evil is complete and utter nonsense. In the spirit of this unlikely exchange, this patient’s thanking of God after her dental procedure reveals that she believes that God was somehow present and responsible for the ending of the procedure. This can be seen as implying that God is capable of being present in many places at one time (omnipresence) and that is powerful enough to bring her through this dental challenge (omnipotence). The dentist argues that an ever present and all powerful God (who is also a good God [omnibenevolence]) cannot exist in light of the brokenness in the world. And whilst there are many different conceptions of God, these three things—presence, power and goodness—form part of the general understanding of the concept of ‘God’ in Western society. ‘Dentist’, on the other hand, does not carry the same weight. No one in their right mind believes dentists are omnipresent. No one in their right mind believes dentists are omnipotent. Some people believe that dentists are actually evil. So to argue that dentists, because of their lack of omnipresence and omnipotence (and to some people, their lack of omnibenevolence), do not exist, is quite silly.
2) She has decided that she doesn’t believe in dentists. I have argued against the concept that we ‘choose’ what we believe in other posts (particularly here in ‘Agnosticism in the Kingdom of God’, from 23 September 2011 and here in ‘Some thoughts on religion and its place in my life’, 9 May 2012), but I’ll attempt to reiterate and expand some of that argument here. In short, I don’t believe any of us choose what we believe and instead—based upon the information we store in our heads from our experiences—we ‘reason’ to what makes the most sense to us. It’s not Logic with a capital ‘L’, but it’s some type of existential logic.
For a friend of mine, Christianity made sense until something else—whether that is new information he learned or a new experience or series of experiences—led him to see his Christian belief system as illogical. I do think that we can cultivate a particular belief via manipulation (like any gay men who cultivate the unfortunate belief that their sexuality is a choice), but ultimately, I think belief is something that happens to us. This makes most sense in Christianity (as opposed to this idea that we choose our beliefs) because, alongside the broader Christian tradition, the Bible seems to express that faith/belief is a gift:
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.’ Matthew 16:13-17, NRSV
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9, NRSV
Even the account of St Paul’s conversion implies that faith is something that happened to Saul, not something he chose (see Acts 9). If the element of choice is ever involved in the Scripture, I believe it’s a matter of choosing between that which is in line with the values of the kingdom of God and that which is out of line with the values of the kingdom of God. As a result of acting upon belief, some people are commended by Christ:
As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ Then he shouted, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God. Luke 18:35-43, NRSV
There are many other similar passages in the Gospels (such as Matthew 9:22, Mark 5:34, Luke 7:50), but as is expressed in the Epistle of St James, faith/belief is a gift from God:
Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? James 2:5, NRSV
I didn’t choose to become a Christian. Perhaps every day I have the choice to follow either that which I conceive of as following Christ or that which I conceive of as not, but the conception of following Christ, being a Christian, believing in God — those things are part of my faith, and my faith is a free gift from God.
This is a good place to look at the concluding lines of the dialogue, which reveal what is perhaps the most important reason why I cannot stand by this video:
D: I can’t help people that don’t come to me to have their teeth fixed.
P: Exactly. It’s the same way with God. It’s a bit rich of us to expect God to help people who don’t come to him and instead insist on doing things their own way.
D: And how am I meant to come to God?
P: Just talk to him – he’s listening.
Here the patient tells the dentist that it’s unreasonable for us to expect God to help people who don’t come to him. Why would I have any problem with that? Being that we’ve just celebrated the Epiphany a few days ago, the doctrine of the incarnation weighs very heavily upon me. At the very heart of the Christian faith is the belief that God became human in Jesus. This divine mystery plants God in the midst of human existence, as a human. As quoted in the Gospel of St Matthew,
‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God is with us.’ Matthew 1:23 (cf. Isaiah 7:14), NRSV
Christianity rests on the belief that God is the one who comes to us: ‘But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8), ‘We love because he first loved us.’ (1 John 4:19). It is God’s initiative, God’s move that makes this happen. God is not sitting, twiddling her divine thumbs, waiting for us to turn up. God is here, in our midst. And yet, whilst I believe that this is true, the patient’s response to the dentist’s final question, ‘And how am I meant to come to God?’ Poses some other difficulties.
I do believe that God listens. I do believe that God cares. But as I have written in a previous post,
I don’t know why some people believe they’ve had a religious experience when they didn’t want one, whilst some people really want a religious experience and have yet to receive it. I don’t know why the universe is chaotic. I don’t know why such lovely people die of cancer. I don’t know why millions of people die of starvation and disease each year. I don’t know why, if a God exists, that God doesn’t just sort all this out this instant. These are difficult questions; questions that make the writing of some blog post seem absolutely meaningless. But even though I cannot give someone a life-changing religious experience, even though I cannot stop a tsunami, even though I cannot feed all who hunger and even though I cannot answer these questions in a neatly-packaged way, I know that this world and the people therein are beautiful and God has called me to give of myself for others in love, despite my lack of love and my lack of ability.
I know that this is not a resolution to the logical challenges facing Christians who maintain that God is omnipresent, omnipotent and omnibenevolent, but in light of the reality of suffering in our world, I believe that those who have faith should tread very lightly when arguing for God’s existence to those who—without us even being aware—have tried very hard to call out and listen for God. The video above seems to imply that God is just a phone call away, but it does not balance that belief out with the reality that billions of suffering people who have cried out for the aid of a higher power have not received the answer that we of faith so take for granted. For this reason, someone might see this video and be unnecessarily hurt. This is why this video rubs me the wrong way.
A life of belief in God is not always cushy. It’s never easy. The only concrete thing I believe with this regard is that, through Jesus, God empathises with human suffering and wants people who call themselves followers of Christ to help ease it. One way we can do that is to train up more dentists in order that they might ‘show the love of Christ by offering dental relief to those in need around the world.’
As you might have noticed, we have had a wee bit of a redesign here at Lost in the Cloud. But how you would have noticed, I am not sure, since any visits to this blog in the last year or two will have proven generally underwhelming (even more underwhelming than when we post more often). Thanks to Greg’s posts John Stump, composer of Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz and Moby Books Illustrated Classic Editions (both published in 2010), we still receive between 100 and 200 views on any given day. But those views are the result of a couple of brilliant niche subjects and not the steady traffic that results from consistent and thoughtful blogging, the initial challenge we set for ourselves here at LITC.
Granted, Greg and I are quite busy with relationships, our respective church ministries and life in general, but this is my formal recommitment to Lost in the Cloud and the first order of business was the redesign. It seems like the last design update was only a few months ago, but looking back at my records I realised that the blog hasn’t had any design changes since September 2011, which, in graphic designer terms, is ancient.
I’ve always aimed to make the aesthetic of the blog efficient, playful and thoughtful. Those values played a significant part in the inspiration for my original ‘yod cloud’ design back in 2004. Since those initial doodles I have employed the wee cloud in a large number of designs, including this painting with the full Tetragrammaton, the Hebrew name of God (יהוה or YHWH) which was commissioned for a church in 2006:
Later on in 2006 I was part of a mix CD club with Greg and some friends and for my round I decided to make a mix that was a playful reflection on the mythical history presented in the Christian Bible called Die Geschichte (The Recapitulation). This was when I discovered the versatility of the yod cloud design:
The playfulness of the design is made quite obvious in these illustrations and it was this yod cloud in the Transfiguration that most captured my imagination. I began to use it obsessively. I even designed a book stamp featuring it:
In 2007 I devised and led an art project made up of a group of university friends that formed a small orchestra and theatre/dance group and performed a theatrical and orchestral version of Sufjan Stevens’ ‘The Transfiguration’ at Biola University in La Mirada, California. The programmes featured the illustration from the Transfiguration above:
The iconic clouds played a very prominent role in the performance, adorning dancers as well as musicians. So two years later, when Greg and I were first inspired to start our own blog the name, taken directly from the coda of the song above, came rather quickly, and the yod cloud was sure to be a design feature. So here’s a wee walk-through of the header designs we’ve employed in the last four years.
Our first header was rather simple, featuring the yod cloud prominently:
As with many of my designs, looking at it now I see it as cluttered, boring and lazy, but I think we really liked it at the time. The second design was introduced in November 2010 and was nearly identical, but with a few changes:
One cloud was added and each cloud employed finer lines, which tidied up the look a wee bit. Also, the text was brought out to the foreground. Nothing too major until July 2011, when the third overhaul took place:
For some reason I went back to my early design days and employed a whole lot of drop shadow and opacity. Making two dimensional designs ‘appear’ to have three dimensions was all the rage. Not long after this design I realised that the white background was looking very boring, so in September 2011 I added the sea foam hue:
I would consider this a definite improvement, but it frightens me that I went more than two years without altering the design. That is a reflection of how much (or how little) attention I’ve paid to Lost in the Cloud, and for that I apologise (although I suspect that most folk pay no attention to the design and those that do probably never thought of our blog’s aesthetic as much to look at).
This leads me to the current design:
The Andersonian echoes should be screaming at you (though I assure you, it was subconscious). I’ve decided to really shake it all up. The hallmark yod cloud is there, but I’ve actually finally tailored it into a nice, clean, modern design. The hand-drawn element of the previous designs had its own charm, but I’m in the mood for this streamlined cloud. Flanking the redesigned cloud are navigatory motifs (left) and cloudy-scientific motifs (right). And yes, I think I just invented the word ‘navigatory’, but I’m pretty sure you know what I mean. We’ve got the text in a cleaner, modern typeface (the old stenciled typeface was really getting on my visual nerves) that stretches across the whole of the header and below it you may notice nine wee symbols. These are actually international weather office map code for describing different types of high clouds. Along with ditching multiple clouds and the old typeface, I also flattened everything. I think this might be related to the rekindling of my love for printed media and classic branding (see a series of redesigns of professional Scottish football badges I attempted over the last five months).
If you have stuck it through and are still reading this post, let me both apologise for my self indulgence and extend a hearty thank you to you! Greg and I are back to post more regularly and we hope it’s as exciting for you, our readers, as it is for us. And maybe I’ll finally get around to manufacturing some merchandise (like this yod cloud badge) for those eager to rep LITC…
This afternoon the Detroit Tigers will take on the New York Yankees at Comerica Park in Downtown Detroit. I know that some of you are thinking, ‘Oh no, another baseball post…’ But hear me out. A Tigers win in today’s game [UPDATE: The Tigers won!], which was originally scheduled for last night but was postponed due to adverse weather conditions, would seal a few things:
- The Tigers have stopped the Yankees in each of Detroit’s last three postseason appearances (2006, 2011 and 2012).
- The Yankees have been swept (losing a series with no wins) in a seven-game postseason series for the first time since their 1976 loss to the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series.
- The Motor City Kitties have won their eleventh American League pennant. (*For those of you who are not baseball fans, Major League Baseball is divided into two historic leagues: the American League [AL] and the National League [NL]. When a club wins the championship in either league they receive what is called ‘the pennant’.)
- The Tigs will compete in their eleventh World Series, hoping to earn their fifth World Series victory (1935, 1945, 1968, 1984 and 2012?).
Five out of eleven? Even if the Tigers make it to the World Series and even if they win they will still only have a 5/11 (.455) record when it comes to World Series appearances. The individual games (out of ten World Series) breaks down to 26 wins and 29 loses, or .473:
- 1907 – L 0-4 (Chicago Cubs)
- 1908 – L 1-4 (Chicago Cubs)
- 1909 – L 3-4 (Pittsburgh Pirates)
- 1934 – L 3-4 (St Louis Cardinals)
- 1935 – W 4-2 (Chicago Cubs)
- 1940 – L 3-4 (Cincinnati Reds)
- 1945 – W 4-3 (Chicago Cubs)
- 1968 – W 4-3 (St Louis Cardinals)
- 1984 – W 4-1 (San Diego Padres)
- 2006 – L 1-4 (St Louis Cardinals)
So the Tigers aren’t the strongest club as far as World Series victories are concerned. After a quick glance at their World Series opponents two stand out: the Chicago Cubs and the St Louis Cardinals. As can be seen above, the Tigers have faced the Cubs in four World Series, splitting their crowns 2-2 (although the Cubs have won more games in the four: 13 Cubs wins vs 9 Tigers wins). Unfortunately for Chicago, in their ten World Series appearances they have only won two: their 1907 and 1908 victories against the Tigers. In fact, the Cubs haven’t even been to a World Series since 1945. Poor lads.
So if we’re looking for an exciting, historical, cross-league rivalry for the Tigers (since AL clubs very seldom face NL clubs outwith the World Series), which is what I’ve decided that we’re doing now, then the Cards are a better candidate than the Cubbies. [Oddly enough, I referenced this rivalry in this tribute to Steve Jobs last October.] The Cardinals have only played the Tigers in three World Series, but we’re talking about a range from 1934 until 2006 – 72 years! And the Tigers are the underdogs, having only beaten the Cards once in three World Series. The Cards are the reigning World Series champions and rank number two (behind the Yankees) in most World Series appearances (18) and victories (11). AND there is a decent chance that 2012 will give us another Tigers-Cards World Series.
Of course, in baseball there’s no telling who will be going to the World Series until both leagues have awarded their pennants [UPDATE: The 2012 AL pennant belongs to the Tigers!]. The Tigers had a mediocre season, finishing with a .543 record, the lowest of any team in the postseason, even the wild card clubs! They’ve turned things around in the postseason, especially during this series against New York. But the Yankees have their southpaw ace CC Sabathia on the mound tonight. That being said, it should be a good match-up between CC and the Tigers’ ‘other ace’ (the ‘ace’ title being given to the venerable Justin Verlander), Max Scherzer. Scherzer has had a great season and a great postseason, so I have high hopes. [UPDATE: Scherzer and the Tigers defeated Sabathia and the Yankees 8-1.]
Whilst trying to avoid sounding like the Kitties have this one in the bag (OMG, TIGERS GONNAE GO TAE THE WORLD SERIES THIS YEAR!!! [UPDATE: Seriously.]), it will be a great challenge for the Yanks to pull out of this 0-3 deficit given the poor state of their would-be power hitters like Teixiera, Cano, Swisher, A-Rod and Granderson (the latter three will sit out today’s game) and without their injured captain Derek Jeter. (*On a side note, these four players have receive a combined $93.075 million salary this year, which accounts for nearly half of the entire Yankees payroll and is a higher figure than the entire payroll of 16 of the 30 Major League Baseball clubs.)
The Cardinals’ fight to clinch the NL pennant looks a wee bit more difficult. The Cards finished their season with the same mediocre Tigers record, .543. Unfortunately for the Cards, the NL Central Division also featured the Cincinnati Reds, who boasted the second-highest record in all of baseball this season. But the Cards won the wild card playoff game against the Atlanta Braves and went on to defeat the winningest team in baseball, the Washington Nationals (.605), in the best-of-five National League Division Series.
They’ve done well in their uphill battle, but the National League Championship Series between the Cards and the San Francisco Giants is looking even more competitive. The Cards are up two games to one, but who knows what will happen…
As far as any true rivalries go, it’s fair to say that the Cards have a much stronger World Series history than the Tigers. The Yankees seem like the natural cross-league rivals for the Cardinals (or any club, for that matter). As mentioned before, the Cards are second both in World Series appearances and victories to the Yankees. In addition to this, the Cards have played the Yanks in five of their 18 World Series appearances (1926, 1928, 1942, 1943 and 1964). Like the Tigers, the Boston Red Sox have faced the Cards in three World Series (1946, 1967 and 2004). But both the Yank and Sox rivalries with the Cards lack the longevity of the rivalry I’m proposing.
If both the Tigers and the Cardinals make it to the World Series we’ll be looking at their fourth meeting and an opportunity for the Tigers to level the score (2-2) in what would then be a World Series rivalry spanning 78 years. That would be a match-up for the ages. A less gentle man might propose that the Tigers rip the throats out of the Cardinals and make their children weep for generations. But that wouldn’t be very nice of me to write. So let’s go Tigers and let’s go Cardinals! (But mostly, let’s go Tigers!) [UPDATE: The San Francisco Giants beat the St Louis Cardinals in seven games to clinch the National League title and reach the World Series. This will be the first ever Tigers-Giants World Series meeting.]
[Updated on 24 October 2012.]
Last night I had the pleasure of viewing Tony Kaye’s third and most recent ‘talkie’, Detachment. The film was shot beautifully and acted brilliantly, and for those qualities alone it is worth seeing. But the content is yet more intriguing. Detachment follows a few weeks in the life of a substitute teacher Henry Barthes (Adrien Brody) as he takes up a temporary post at a New York state school in decline. But the film could take place in any school. In the New York Times review of the film from 15 March 2012, the film is ‘about the failing public-education system [in the United States].’ I would agree with this claim in part – yes, prominent in the film is this portrayal of the dysfunctional education system. But it’s so much more than that. I’d argue that the entirety of the film represents a microcosm of society at large.
This isn’t me dropping a shameful reference to my doctoral research, but I think a strong case could be made that Detachment is actually a parable. By this I mean that the film is using the raw material of every day life to tell a bigger, more disturbing yet more hopeful story. Just as Christ told parables the audience in the Gospels, the film is tied together by a loose narration from our Henry Barthes, with close-ups of his unkept face in a dark room (perhaps during a counselling session). We’ve got representatives from various levels of society and various levels of engagement with and detachment from their current situations. At the very heart of this parable is not ‘education’, for education is merely an outflowing of the deeper social illness. The parable takes society back to the most basic social framework, a framework we all encounter by virtue of being born – family.
To quote the oft-quoted Larkin poem, ‘This Be The Verse’, They fuck you up, your mum and dad. Most of the great conflicts in the film are rooted in family and parenting, just to name a few:
SPOILERS TO FOLLOW, SKIP TO THE NEXT SECTION TO AVOID THEM
a girl is expelled from the school after she threatened and spat upon Ms Madison (Christian Hendricks) and her similarly-tempered mother storms into the school hurling yet more abuse at the harmless Ms Madison.
Mr Wiatt (Tim Blake Nelson) takes up an odd stance at a school fence every afternoon hoping to be noticed by anyone as a result of being ignored constantly by his family members when he returns home from work every day.
Meredith (Betty Kaye, daughter of the director) is discouraged in her artistic endeavours and told that she ought to lose weight and conform to social norms by her father and ultimately decides to kill herself as a result of her extreme sense of rejection and isolation.
Erica’s (Sami Gayle) lifestyle as a teenage prostitute and her great distress when she is removed from Henry’s care by social workers.
During ‘parents’ night’ at the high school, virtually no parents show up, demonstrating a lack of both the parents’ concern for their children’s education and appreciation of the teachers.
And ultimately, Henry’s sense of detachment from being abandoned by his father as a toddler, losing his mother to a lethal combination of drugs and alcohol when he was a small child and caring for his dementia-stricken grandfather, whose abuse of Henry’s mother led to her substance abuse.
END OF SPOILERS
Like a parable, the characters are universal (as opposed to cliché) in order to open the eyes and ears of the audience to the deeper level of meaning. In addition to his ‘counselling session’ narrative, at different points in the film Henry also tells the audience (by way of telling his students) the root of these social ills, calling on his students to avoid the ‘ubiquitous assimilation’ of oppressive values being shoved down their throats by a constant barrage of bull shit that has not only broken into media and culture, but has also infiltrated the very fabric of their family lives.
During the opening sequence we are given a quotation from Camus’ The Stranger, concluding with ‘And never have I felt so deeply at one and the same time so detached from myself and so present in the world.’ Throughout the film Henry is challenged to break down his wall of ‘compassionate detachment’. The blurb from the official website states, ‘Kaye has molded a contemporary vision of people who become increasingly distant from others while still feeling the need to connect.’ Does that wall ever break down? Well I’m not going to include any more spoilers – you should see it for yourself.
The aforementioned New York Times review concludes with, ‘Is it really this bad? Or is “Detachment” a flashy educational horror movie masquerading as nightmarish reality?’ No, it’s not really this bad – it’s worse. As I mentioned before, I believe that the film is using the façade of the educational system (severely broken as a result of the deeper problem) to tell a bigger, more disturbing yet more hopeful story. In a recent Guardian interview, Kaye states, ‘We live, we go through these realms, we learn, we figure out where we went wrong. That’s what living is.’ Detachment won’t be tearing down the power structures built up in our society to control, but perhaps it can help inspire us to fight harder with all that we have in hopes that we might chip away at the foundations of such oppression.
It’s late at night here in Fife and I can’t sleep. So I do what many Western twenty-first-century twenty-somethings do – I end up on my computer, browsing the internet. Tonight I am especially glued to the computer with the Phillies-Cardinals game going on. If the Cards lose tonight they’re out of the playoffs, so I desperately want them to win in order to keep the prospect of a Cardinals-Tigers World Series alive. For those who are unaware, the World Series rivalry between the St Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers (my favourite team) spans nearly eighty years. The first time the two teams played each other in a World Series was in 1934, with the Cardinals taking the series in seven games. They met again in the 1968 World Series, which the Tigers won in seven. They last met in the 2006 World Series. After having defeated the Yankees and Athletics in the playoffs, the Tigers went on to lose the World Series to the Cards in five games. So in the [unlikely] event that both the Tigers and the Cardinals win their respective league titles and end up facing-off in the World Series, well, I will be an excited young man.
But the Major League Baseball 2011 postseason is not why I am compelled to share a few thoughts in a blog post. The answer to that ‘why’ is sitting right here in front of me…literally…on my lap. Yes, I am a ‘Mac user’, and tonight, as has been made clear from the incredible flood of identical status updates on Facebook (yes, I am a ‘Facebook user’), it was announced that Apple co-founder and former CEO, Steve Jobs has died at age 56.
Without a doubt Jobs’ death will be the talk of the town tomorrow. Whether you loved him, hated him or found yourself generally apathetic toward him, Jobs has had a significant role in the daily lives of a great many people over the last few decades. When I initially heard the news of his death I figured that enough people are writing about this, why make my own feeble attempt to eulogise, inadvertently adding to the cloud of ‘We’ve lost a visionary!’ chat? While I have admitted to being a ‘Mac user’ I have neither a literal nor figurative Apple tattoo. I am not especially wowed by Apple Keynote addresses. I certainly don’t trouble myself with the false ‘need’ to possess a wide array of Apple products. To be honest, it’s all very expensive and even if I had the money part of me doesn’t think that it would be especially responsible to indulge in consumer electronics. But I have owned several Apple products. As a child my family had an early Macintosh (we weren’t cutting edge or wealthy, but I’m pretty certain it wasn’t stolen either). All throughout my school years we used Macs in computer labs. I first learned computer programming on a Mac.
When I went to university I used my extra scholarship money to buy my first computer – a 12-inch iBook G4. A few years later that laptop’s display went kaput and I eventually upgraded to a black MacBook, the very MacBook that’s sitting on my lap now, four years after that purchase. A couple years ago a certain Greg gifted me with some money, in celebration of my birthday/embarking on my PhD, meant specifically to assist my purchase of an iPod. I only tell you this incredibly boring history of my Apple product experiences to highlight how my life actually is affected by the influence of Steve Jobs on a daily basis.
In a way I feel sort of dirty for thinking so much about this. Nearly one billion people in the world don’t have clean drinking water, let alone a computer, let alone an expensive Apple computer (granted, I’ve never owned the ‘high-end’ Apple products). It’s very evident to me that I should change my lifestyle, but I’m not going to pretend that I don’t make extensive use of my Apple products. My Macs have brought me through university degrees, have been the means of countless designs (like the designs you see here at LITC), blog posts (like this one), letters, mix CDs, recording songs, etc. I don’t necessarily need to do all of these things on a Mac, but I have a Mac so I do. And the iPod – unless I’m spending uninterrupted time with people it is a very common feature of my day. I estimate that I probably use my iPod for, on average, two hours a day. I don’t necessarily need to listen to music on an iPod, but I have an iPod so I do.
My point is not to make some profound argument about how the world would stop without Apple – it wouldn’t. My point is not even to make some profound argument about how my life would be drastically different without Apple – it probably wouldn’t. But the vision of Steve Jobs, a man who was genuinely passionate about innovation (and genuinely good at selling it), is the fuel behind the success of Apple, success that cannot be reduced to mere monetary units. The Jobs-led Apple set the bar for other manufacturers (yes, this is a mild endorsement of one aspect of a capitalistic system). Even though Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player, they dramatically changed the way that our society experiences recorded music. Aside from the technical innovations, Apple also brought a high aesthetic quality to the realm of electronics. Why can’t our electronics be both functional and pleasing to the eyes?
It’s quite depressing to think about reducing a human being to a brand. The media outlets will soon be publishing frightening news about how Apple’s success will decline because of Jobs’ death (which isn’t that frightening even if it was true). Part of me finds this sort of revolting – Steve Jobs was a man with his own unique personality that, in theory, extends beyond the confines of a business, even a business as large as Apple. But then another part of me realises that Apple was very much at the centre of Jobs’ life and he liked it that way. Apple was not merely a business venture, but an invaluable outlet for Jobs’ vision and self-expression.
Apple is not dead and will continue to produce excellent innovations, but I don’t think that trajectory could have been so successful without the creative leadership of Jobs.
Steve Jobs wasn’t my friend and I generally do not have a great deal of respect for large companies and their leaders, but all-in-all I think he might have been something like an artist, and a great artist at that. For someone I never knew and never followed with any sense of dedication, somehow I think I’ll miss Steve Jobs (or as I like to call him, ‘Esteban Trabajos’, with affection). Thanks for sharing so many good things with the world, Steve. We here at Lost in the Cloud salute you and will think of you as we experience the blessings of our MacBooks and iPods (and Greg as he uses his iPhone).
Cards won the game, by the way.