Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Saskatchewan

STATISTICS DON’T LIE

BUT HARDLY ANYONE UNDERSTANDS WHAT THEY SAY

Public opinion polls are not infallible. At best they give a snapshot of what people are thinking at the moment the polling agency spoke to them. At worst, the snapshot is poorly focussed and the results unreliable. Polling results are presented as being accurate within a certain range (±1.5% is about as good as it gets), 19 times our of 20. It is always possible that this poll is the one time out of twenty the sample was not representative and therefore the results are not to be trusted.

A provincial election took place here in Saskatchewan on Monday. A month ago, shortly after the election was called, a public opinion poll reported that support for the incumbent party was 27% higher than support for the main opposition party. Shortly before the election two other polls showed a difference of 18%, leading the opposition party to rejoice that it was on the verge of major gains. Now that the votes are in and counted we see that the incumbent party received 31% more votes than the opposition party (62% for the party in power, 31% for the main opposition party, the remainder split between an assortment of small parties).

What happened? I can’t answer for this particular case, but a lot of things can go wrong in gathering and interpreting statistics. For the results to be trustworthy one needs a sample that is representative and random and questions carefully designed to obtain a clear answer. The results need to be intelligently explained, something most media outlets don’t have the expertise to do.

There is a group of major polling companies in Canada whose results are generally reliable. They are Ipsos-Reid, Léger, Environics, EKOS and perhaps one or two others. The first Saskatchewan poll was produced by one of these companies. The two later polls were produced by smaller companies that do not have a history of producing remarkably reliable results. The stated confidence levels for these polls was ±3.9% and ±4.4%. Even with that generous margin of error, their predictions were far off the mark.

During a Saskatchewan election campaign 20 years ago, results of an opinion poll weree widely reported in the media shortly before the election. It was a poorly executed and poorly interpreted poll, but I believe it influenced the election results. One major flaw was that the results showed something like 35% of voters were undecided. This was compounded when those interpreting the results ignored that number, assuming that those people weren’t going to vote. This resulted in a definite edge for one party. But when you subtract a vary large group of respondents from the results, the margin of error balloons from ±1.5% to some stratospheric number.

That poll was an amateur effort by a small consulting company and should never have been published. In publishing those results the newspapers were showing that either they didn’t have a clue what they were doing, or they were deliberately interpreting the results to favour one party. Take your choice, I don’t know which it was.

Seldom Seen Saskatchewan fauna

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Image by Bernell MacDonald from Pixabay

I have hardly ever seen a live porcupine. They are nocturnal, reclusive and prefer wooded areas. We know they are around by the steady stream of dogs brought to veterinary clinics with their snouts full of quills. We occasionally see a porcupine lying by the side of the road, a result of trying to cross the road in the dark. They move slowly and wear no reflective gear. They never run from predators, their quills being an effective deterrent. Automobiles, however, do not know that and dogs appear to be slow learners.

The northern pocket gopher spends most of its life underground in its network of tunnels. We do not have moles in Saskatchewan, the mounds of soil that appear in fields, gardens and lawns are the work of this little guy. The underground activity of the northern pocket gopher provides ecological benefits to the soil, but at great inconvenience to farmers and homeowners. We only know of their presence by seeing fresh mounds of soil appear in our fields, gardens and lawns. And by the occasional one that falls victim to our nocturnal cats.

It took twelve years

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The photo is from Shutterstock, not from our garden, but we finally have a rhubarb plant worthy of the name.

We moved onto this yard in the fall of 2007. The house had been placed here a few years earlier and trees planted around it — poplar, caragana, lilac, Manitoba maple — the kind of trees that grow quickly and survive in our cold winters and dry summers. But there was no rhubarb, and a place can’t be called a home without a rhubarb plant or two in the backyard.

The next spring I bought a rhubarb plant at the Canadian Tire garden centre. I planted it in a back corner of the garden. It grew — but so did the trees. That poor rhubarb plant did it’s best, coming up every spring and trying to survive, but never amounted to much.  The trees shaded it and their roots sucked up the available moisture.

Last fall we prepared a new spot for it, in an open area far from the trees. I dug deep so as to get all the root and we transplanted it. This spring it rewarded us with prolific growth. This is what it had been waiting for all along.

Today we had rhubarb crisp for dinner dessert, and was it ever good! I’m not sure what variety this plant is, but it is the least astringent-tasting rhubarb that I have ever eaten. I wonder if I can find a second plant, so we can eat rhubarb all summer long in coming years?

Listen to the falling rain

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Image by Benjamin Nelan from Pixabay

In the nineteenth century an expedition was sent to survey the Canadian prairies to determine its suitability for agriculture. They reported that a large part of the prairies were far too arid to be farmed. That area is still known as the Palliser Triangle, after the leader of that expedition.

The Triangle has now been farmed for 100 years. In the 1930’s it seemed that the Palliser expedition was right. The rains all but ceased, nothing grew and the dust began to blow.
Farming methods have changed since then and this land produces good harvests in all but the driest years.

This year has been dry. The grain has germinated and is growing, but rain is needed. We had good rains here where I live ten days ago, but other areas received little or nothing. Days of heat and drying wind have depleted the moisture in the soil.

A light rain began at supper time and increased as the evening went on. The forecast says it will continue until dinner time tomorrow. This is what we call showers of blessing! Soon the growing crops will cover the soil and limit evaporation.

Here is a test for Christians: Do we rejoice when others get rain and we don’t?

Jesus said: But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

God is not a respecter of persons, and he does not want us to be either.

Another blind lady

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Rose Goodenough, widow of my cousin Ron, has written the history of her family and the community at Barrier Ford, Saskatchewan. Her parents were born in England, to families who lived comfortably, but were not wealthy. They thought to better their lot by coming to the Canadian prairies where free land was being offered.

Rose’s father, Fred Ham, was born in Devonshire in the 1880’s. He had rheumatic fever as a child, which damaged his heart. His parents were told that he would never be able to do heavy work. Nevertheless, he and his brothers came to Canada in 1910. Fred filed on a homestead at Barrier Ford in 1911 and worked hard all his life trying to make a living from the rocky soil in the bush country.

Eva Brown was born in London in 1890 with no vision in one eye and limited vision in the other. She received most of her education in a residential school for the blind, where she learned how to read and write with the braille system. She also learned to type, to weave and many other useful skills. Her mother, then a widow with two daughters, came to Canada in 1913.

In 1915 Fred and Eva married and this unlikely couple made a hard scrabble living, raised two children and came to love the country. By the time she married, Eva had 10% vision in one eye. Yet she managed to cook, sew, care for the two children and even milk their two cows.

I got to know Eva Ham in my childhood when we lived at Craik, Saskatchewan. Ron & Rose owned a grocery store and lived above the store. Rose’s Mom lived with them, having a couple of rooms of her own, including space for her loom. She was a sweet lady and got along well with my mother. I watched her read braille, write letters with a little frame and a punch to make the dots. I saw some of the letters she typed. Completely blind by that time, she said she could tell the difference between a window and a wall, she made very few mistakes when typing.

In 1954 she wrote an autobiographical sketch for a magazine for the blind. Here are a few excepts:

“I was almost eleven when I started to learn braille. Our teacher, a graduate of the Royal Normal College, was one of the finest Christian women I have ever known and had a lasting influence on us all. I had been rather spoiled at home and was not a ‘nice little girl.’ I remember my teacher calling me to her during the recess and kindly pointing out some of my shortcomings.”

After arriving in Saskatchewan: “Like all the English in those days, I had the notion there were no people as cultured as my countrymen. I felt myself superior to the neighbours who visited my uncle and I made up my mind to go home at the very first opportunity.”

Many years later: “Living in a mixed community, constantly coming into contact with people of different nationalities and creeds, has taught me that there are others just as cultivated as the English. I have learned to appreciate the views of different races and to acknowledge my own shortcomings. In my contacts with people I have found blindness to be an inconvenience and a handicap. Combined with deafness it is more serious – it is a double handicap. But even this double handicap can be overcome through developing patience and a good sense of humour, and through friendly co-operation with the many seeing and hearing friends who are always ready to lend a helping hand.”

The COVID conundrum

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Image by Sumanley xulx from Pixabay

Saskatchewan doesn’t have a huge population, perhaps we’re an anomaly in the big picture. The COVID infection rate is edging up to 0.05%, the death rate is 1 for every 200,000 people in the province.

The seasonal flu has infected far more people, the death rate is much higher — even if half of us got the flu shot. Nobody pays any attention to those numbers. I guess the seasonal flu is the devil we know.

Stores that have been closed will reopen on Tuesday. Monday is a holiday and it looks like a glorious long weekend coming up. Golf courses are open, fishing spots and parks are open, but not for barbecues and camping. Churches are still limited to 10 people.

Some businesses are doing well, such as the manufacturers of Plexiglas. The vet clinic where I go to do bookkeeping once a week is busier than it ever has been, even if they keep the door locked and let in only one client at a time.

Meanwhile the government keeps shoveling out money, a little more to seniors like my wife and I. And we keep on spending it — that’s the idea isn’t it, keep the wheels of the economy turning. I really do need new glasses and new orthotics.

What’s your guess on how things will look a year from now? Will we still think all this upheaval was necessary?  A friend today suggested that the government will raise the GST to 10%. Something like that will be necessary to fill the hole they have dug in the budget. To make it politically palatable I think they would call it an emergency measure and promise to reduce it by 1% per year until it is back down to 5%.

For folks outside of Canada, the GST is a Canada-wide value added tax on goods and services purchased by the consumer.

What will be the long-term damage to the health of people whose surgeries and other medical treatments have been cancelled during the crisis? What will be the emotional and spiritual consequences? Will children being home schooled for the first time do better or worse than they would have in a classroom?

The pandemic has given a tremendous boost to online shopping, I think that will be a permanent change in our shopping habits. A lot of people who have switched to working from home will never return to their office cubicle. We need to become more focused and effective in online missions.

What things will surprise us when we look back a year from now?

A flatlander looks at life

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I am a native of the Canadian prairies, like the young fella gazing across the plains in the picture above. We call him a gopher, technically he is a Richardson ground squirrel. When the government asked people to vote for an animal emblem for Saskatchewan, some folks suggested the gopher. He is kinda pesky, kinda cute and you just can’t get rid of him, much like the people of this province. For all folks try to get him out of the way, he just keeps popping up again.

The majority vote was for the white-tailed deer. He is just as picturesque and just as pesky. I’m sorry if I offend you Bambi lovers out there, but we look upon the deer as large cloven-hoofed rodents. Try to plant trees, bushes or a garden in rural Saskatchewan and you’ll soon find out why we are not so fond of deer.

I have travelled a little farther afield than the gopher. For the first ten years of my life my family liven in the hill country of southwestern Saskatchewan, the Missouri Coteau. Then we moved into the flatlands, where, when you left one town you could see the wooden grain elevator in the next town 15 km away.

There is more to the flatlands than meets the eye of someone just passing through. There are ravines and coulees meandering through this country, some of the coulees are a mile wide and have a little river wandering along the bottom.

In my adult years I have done farm work, managed one of those wooden country elevators, worked as a postal clerk and in quality assurance in an auto parts factory. In the process, I have lived in five provinces of Canada.

My father was descended from English Puritans who settled in Massachusetts in 1638. His mother was descended from a man who had been a swordsman in Napoleon’s army. My mother was of Dutch-German ancestry, her grandparents came to Manitoba from Ukraine in 1874. I figure my mixed ancestry makes me pretty much a typical Canadian. My father’s mother spoke French, but he never learned more than a few words. I have learned quite a bit more than that.

My parents were both religious people who were disappointed with the churches of their parents. They both longed for something better, without knowing exactly what that would look like. I didn’t know what I was looking for either when I became an adult, but my wife and I went on searching in a way that seemed haphazard, until we found a place where we could worship God in spirit and in truth and have fellowship with other believers.

We can see for miles and miles out here on the prairies. Perhaps that gives us a little different perspective than folks who spend most of their life in one little valley. Perhaps the variety of my life experiences and my spiritual searching give me a little different perspective than folks who have never ventured far from the beliefs their parents taught them.

This blog is an attempt to give you a few glimpses of the way I see things. Not everyone will agree with me and that’s OK. I just want to do my best to let you see what I see so you won’t think that I’m a little touched in the head for not seeing things exactly as you do.

(Note to readers: this is the first draft of the introduction to a book I am compiling from some of the posts that have appeared on this blog.)

Swan sightings

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Image by Detmold from Pixabay

There is a pond 15 km north of us, near Frontenace Road, where swans pause every spring on their northward migration. I saw a dozen there on Thursday, Chris saw 20 yesterday and today the number was up to 30.

I was disappointed when I looked on Pixabay for swan photos. They have very few photos of Trumpeter and Tundra Swans, but page after page of orange-billed swans. Those are Mute Swans, native to Europe and Africa and considered an invasive species in Canada. The swans in the photo above, with all black bills, are Trumpeter Swans. Tundra Swans, which we also see in our area, have black bills with orange close to the eyes.

The signs of spring

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I had some errands to do in Outlook this morning. There has been no highway maintenance this spring and the pavement is breaking up in many places. The Department of Highways has placed red diamond-shaped signs—like the one in the picture, but smaller—on the shoulder to mark these places. There are dozens of them between Delisle and Outlook, the two towns nearest to us.

On the positive side, with so little traffic on the highway, it is easier to dodge the potholes.

Only an empty box

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Agnes grew up 100 years ago on a farm in southwestern Saskatchewan. Her parents were members of a church which called itself Mennonite and worshipped in the German language. At home the family spoke a Low German dialect called Plautdietsch, and English.  There were 14 children in the family, spaced about two years apart. Agnes was number six.

The church claimed to hold to the original Mennonite faith. In her teens Agnes memorized a summary of the teachings of that faith, a German catechism which dated from 1792 and the bishop baptized her. She was the only one in her baptismal class to memorize the whole catechism, yet they were all baptized. The catechism said that they needed to be born again to become Christians and eligible for church membership, but the bishop said nothing of that.

Agnes was the last child in the family to learn German. As time went on, she realized the church had nothing for her younger siblings. Really, it had nothing for her. The catechism told of a faith that had once been, might yet be in some other place, but had died in this church. All that remained were traditions that could only be taught in the German language.

The church was like a box with ornate German lettering claiming to be the faithful remnant of the ancient Mennonite faith. But when Agnes had opened the box, she found it empty. So she threw it away. She remembered what the catechism said about Christian life, but did not found that life in the box.

Agnes was my mother; I am my mother’s son. That is why I have never found the “Mennonite culture” to be attractive. I didn’t want the box, I wanted to find the faith. In my adult years I searched for a place where the ancient Mennonite faith was still a living thing, not just words in the ai in a language I couldn’t understand. And I found it.

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