The Reaction of the Rich to the Notre Dame Fire Teaches Us a Lot About the World We Live In

Thursday, May 09, 2019

In an article written in the aftermath of the painful Notre Dame blaze, Carl Kinsella wonders — perhaps “questions” is a more cynical and correct term — how this kind of tragedy can pull such incredible monetary donations out of the pockets of billionaires:

Arnault is the CEO of LVMH, the world’s largest luxury-goods company. He is the richest person in Europe and the fourth-richest person in the world according to Forbes magazine, with a net worth of $91.3 billion, as of this month. Perhaps the best-known brand overseen by Arnault is Louis Vuitton. Handbags, suitcases, you know the ones.

By comparison, Pinault is worth a paltry €30billion. He’s more of a Gucci man, and he also owns Stade Rennais FC.

Between them, they have significantly more money than several European states — such as Croatia, Serbia, Slovakia or Slovenia. If you had €3,000 in your bank account right now and you donated a tenner to the restoration effort, you’d be giving proportionally the same amount as these two.

Something to think about.

I, too, found myself in awe of the kind of money thrown at the Notre Dame restoration effort. In just 48 hours, Paris had enough money to restore the church a few times over.

But I don’t agree with the solutions Carl is implying are needed in this quote:

If two men in a world of more than 7 billion people can provide €300million to restore Notre Dame, within six hours, then there is enough money in the world to feed every mouth, shelter every family and educate every child. The failure to do so is a matter of will, and a matter of system.

“And a matter of system.”

I was nodding with Carl until this point. “Will”, yes. “System”, no.

By stating the system has failed humanity implies, first, that the system did not create the incredible wealth from which these billionaires are able to donate, and second, that the system should be fixed to rectify the failure.

Both implications suggest Carl would prefer the financial capital be taken from these billionaires rather than given out of goodwill. I could be wrong, but that’s how I read it. Be it through taxation, forceable seizure, or whatever terminology deemed socially appropriate, when I read Carl’s words, I read a statement effectively blaming the wealthy for world poverty.

The system which created this enormous wealth is also largely responsible for decimating world poverty over the last 50 years. The system which created this enormous wealth has improved the standard of living for the middle class and working class, introduced technology to the masses at affordable prices, and broken down social barriers at a far greater pace than at any prior point in human history. World poverty has dropped a dramatic 26% since 1990.

That’s incredible. The system should be commended for it.

Obviously there are still problems today. Obviously there are further social barriers to tear down. And obviously there are still hungry mouths to feed. I promise, I am not suggesting otherwise.

But the system created this wealth in the first place. Were we to dramatically alter the system, the logical conclusion is that the wealth would not be generated, the cathedral would have burned, and we would be unable to rebuild it.

The other way to think about these massive financial donations is to consider the aspect from a religious and social angle. Our religious and social institutions are not teaching, and worse, not acting as proper stewards of the power of generosity and the impact of helping out a neighbor. Giving and entrusting your gifts to someone is one of the most powerful blessings in life. If you’re the recipient of a gift or a steward of a gift, there’s an inherent responsibility to handle the gift properly and use it for which it was intended.

It’s within the institution of giving that things have fallen apart. Not within our economic system.

The two viewpoints can be summed up as such:

  • It’s a shame our economic system does not take more from the wealthy and give more to the poor.
  • It’s a shame our religious systems have not taught the power of giving our wealth to those in need.

One is taxation. The other is gift.

I’ve seen a lot of people write cheques to pay both taxes and to give money to the church or those in need. I’ve never seen someone happily write a cheque to pay taxes. And I’ve never seen someone angry about giving money away.

There’s another stanza in Carl’s piece I wholeheartedly disagree with:

As is often the case, those nightmarishly frustrating contrarians were everywhere, taunting the mourners — remind everyone that the church was just bricks and mortar. Presumably these diehard deconstructionists also argue that art is “just paint on a canvas” and that their children are “just smaller people who look like me and live in my house.”

Notre Dame is just bricks and mortar. And no, art is not “just paint on a canvas” or whatever the second phrase means.

Notre Dame is a house of God. He lives everywhere, unconfined and transcendent. If we view Notre Dame as anything more than bricks and mortar, we walk the line of worshiping the building rather than God.

Are we to believe the entire building process was an act in sole servitude of art and historic timelessness? The entire building process was an act of worship. In many cases, the artwork housed inside Notre Dame was also completed as an act of worship. Those who built Notre Dame and created the artworks inside never lived to see the glory of their work. They knew this. Their work was for the glory of something greater than themselves.

Their work was worship.

Worship is not finite. It does not begin or end. It does not burn, or spoil, or ruin. Worship is an act, and how we worship has taken many different forms.

To a degree, I’d say the act of rebuilding Notre Dame will encompass the same spirit through which it was built. To a degree, I believe the rebuild will be done in worship.

But if the rebuild is done as an act of worship to the greatness of humanity and history — rather than God — then the point is missed.

It seemed fitting, in a way, that this tragedy happened during Holy Week. The fire was a reminder that, no matter how powerful, knowledgeable, educated, and wealthy we think we are, the forces of nature and the power of God are uncontrollable.

By the grace of God, nobody was seriously hurt.

By the grace of God, the fire did not destroy the great bell towers, the stained glass, or the homes around the cathedral.

By the grace of God, there is enough wealth in this world and enough heart still left to give some of the wealth generated to restore such a monument.

By the grace of God, we can rebuild the church, restore it to a level of former glory, and remember the act of rebuilding as a form of worship — a form of recognizing something greater than ourselves.

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An 81 Megapixel Image of the Moon Makes an Awesome Wallpaper

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The details of this 81 megapixel image of the moon is jaw-dropping — you can see everything.

Best of all, it works incredibly well as an iPhone or iPad wallpaper. The way it lights up the lock screen — especially on the iPhone — is stunning. In effect, it looks like the iPhone progressively lights up the screen, creating a fascinating effect with the lit moon that isn’t replicated the same in other types of images.

See for yourself: download the 81 megapixel photo, save it as your iPhone wallpaper, lock your iPhone, and then tap the screen (or hit the sleep/wake button). The effect is pretty neat.

Here’s the lock screen on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro:

I’m picky about my wallpapers. This is one of my favourite to date.

Some of My Best #ShotoniPhone Photos From 2018

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Shot on iPhone

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with what the iPhone can do, if you put your photographic mind to it.

I’m by no means a professional iPhone photographer, nor do I have a chance at winning Apple’s #shotoniphone campaign. There are some impressive works of art shot with the iPhone’s ever-improving camera, and the bar continues to get higher every year.

I admit to being a relative non-believer in the iPhone camera. I never publish iPhone photos, mostly for two reasons: I am horrible with the 28mm focal length and I generally haven’t liked the result of any edits I’ve made. I don’t like the in-camera processing, have very little use for the overall colour and look of iPhone photos, and find shooting with the iPhone an ergonomic nightmare (especially the larger XS Max).

For the sake of experiment, I jumped into Darkroom for iPhone and iPad to see if I could make something — anything — shot with my iPhone look reasonably good.

These are the results. They aren’t perfect. They aren’t amazing. And they look a lot like the photos shot with the Fuji back in September.

Coming out of the experiment, I think I’m going to give the iPhone camera another shot. My goal is to be more mindful of what I’m shooting with the iPhone, rather than use the iPhone for simple snapshots. And more than anything, I think I’m going to start sharing iPhone photos — I always vowed I’d only share photos shot with a real camera.

Well, the camera on the back iPhone is very, very real.

Just took me a while to realize it.

When to Put Money Into a Savings Account Rather Than an Investment Account

Thursday, January 17, 2019

This blog post sort of sell’s Wealthsimple’s “Smart Savings” account, but I still think the premise is sound. (In case you want to open a Wealthsimple account, here’s my referral link.)

In short, use a savings account to store your emergency fund and any cash you’ll need in the next three years. Absolutely perfect, sound rule of thumb.

Creating an emergency fund is tough and can take many years. Whether it takes 1 year or 10 years, the fallback confidence it provides is invaluable.

Something that’s worked really well for Jaclyn and I: We keep our emergency fund at a separate financial institution from our regular operating account and we don’t have a debit card to access the cash.

We physically have to go to the branch to withdraw the cash.

This extra step has been a great “barrier to entry” and really inhibits our ability to access the cash.

You could take it a step further and require dual signatures in order to withdraw cash, or you could keep the cash in a cash-only tax free savings account which requires 24 hours to withdraw funds.

Either way, the steps are simple:

  1. Create an emergency fund.
  2. Save it in a savings account and not in an investment account.
  3. Make it really hard to withdraw the cash.

I Used All the Best Stuff for a Week and It Nearly Broke Me

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

I have no use for Vox generally, but this fun article by Rebecca Jennings is worth pointing out. Jennings:

The premise was this: I would surround myself with the products whose entire raison d’être was being the best. The stuff that claimed it was “the only one you’ll ever need,” or “the last one you’ll ever have to buy.” These are companies that set out with the intention of disrupting entire retail categories through direct-to-consumer business models or millions of dollars in venture capital funding or flashy ads on public transportation (or all three), and who together have created an entirely new retail environment in which everything ends up looking exactly the same.

I’m going to take Jennings’ word on this: all these “best” products aren’t going to change your life or make your life noticeably better. I really like our Casper bed, but aside from the money saved, I fully believe a range of other mattresses would leave us with the same sleep quality.

I think it’s a given: experiences are worth your dollars more than any individual product.

But some products are better than others, and I think there are qualitative factors that are both difficult to measure and difficult to pinpoint in this conversation.

I think shoes are a great product to point at. You can spend $100 on a pair of dress shoes and have them in tatters after 20 or 30 wearings. Spend $250-$300 and you’ll be able to wear that pair of shoes for years — I just replaced the insoles of a pair of Boss shoes I bought 3 years ago, polished everything up, replaced the laces, and I felt like I was wearing a new pair of shoes. This doesn’t mention the ergonomic impact of wearing a well-made pair of shoes.

There are also factors like confidence, polish, impression, and more that impact your quality of life. You will notice the difference between a $600 sport coat and a $200 sport coat. And if not properly fitted, one will leave you with a headache at the end of the day and the other could leave you with a new acquaintance because of your dapper style.

I may be comparing apples to oranges — Jennings is clearly testing millennial-targeted products within a specific set of parameters.

But stuff can improve your life. Picking the right stuff and spending the right amount of money is what matters.

Variety’s Review of “Wonder”

Friday, January 11, 2019

Owen Glieberman:

Wonder” is a movie that belongs in their company. It’s a very tasteful heart-tugger — a drama of disarmingly level-headed empathy that glides along with wit, assurance, and grace, and has something touching and resonant to say about the current climate of American bullying. At the same time, the film never upsets the apple cart of conventionality. “Wonder” is an honest feel-good movie, but it lacks the pricklier edges of art.

Our entire family was sick this past weekend (by sick, I mean I didn’t get off the couch for 16 hours on Sunday), so we watched a bunch of critically-acclaimed films. “Wonder” was first on the list.

What caught our attention, first and foremost, was Wonder’s realness.

By no means can I claim experience as a classroom teacher, but I did spend six months student teaching before deciding the career path wasn’t for me. So many of the dynamics in Wonder tugged at those same heartstrings from my time in the classroom.

I’m not even sure young Julian understands what he’s doing in the film. He’s simply maintaining his coolness and his perch at the top of the hill. Yet, from our parental couch cushions, seeing the heavy damage the young bully is doing to both little Auggie and other bystanders is immediately evident.

It’s easy to leave Wonder with a scornful outlook on today’s young bullies in school. And it’s even easier to claim innocence, both for ourselves when we were in school as kids, and for our own children currently.

What makes me sorely afraid is how many of us — and by “us”, I mean all parents, everywhere — are more like Julian’s parents than we think. The actions of Julian’s parents are astoundingly awful in the film. Despicable. Jaw-dropping.

But what’s truly despicable is how normal those actions are in real life. Again, I’m not speaking from direct experience here, but I do believe this is tangentially related, my time as a hockey official and administrator has brought these types of actions out in the open, front and center. I’ve had phone calls from parents insisting it wasn’t their child’s fault they broke someone’s arm on the ice, it was the referee’s fault for not calling a penalty in the prior game. “How can you expect my son not to protect himself?” they’d say, after witnessing their son slash an opposing player in the head.

To this end, Wonder is one of the most realistic films I’ve seen in recent memory. I applaud Chbosky’s ability to spread our viewership around the circle, gaining insight into the lives not just of Auggie, but of those closest to him. And I applaud Chbosky’s keen ability to maintain the sharp edge of reality and exaggeration.

This film is a masterpiece and well worth your time.