September 14, 2007

And now . . . this - Sept. 14/07

If I Did This, Too

Here we go again:

NBC5 has learned that Las Vegas police are questioning O.J. Simpson Friday morning in connection with a burglary.

The Las Vegas NBC affiliate confirmed that Simpson is accused of breaking into a room at the Palace Station Casino sometime Thursday. . . .

Simpson's book, "If I Did It," hits store shelves Friday amid much controversy.

[Full Story]

Later, he promised to do all he could to find the real burglars.

(Sometimes the jokes just write themselves.)

September 01, 2007

Another blogging year begins

. . . more or less. My fourth blogiversary is Tuesday, and I can't help thinking that year 5 at least ought to try to be more productive than year 4. Looking over my archives, I realized that I skipped an entire month without posting once, and I don't think I've ever done that before.

There's a reason: I've spent as much time as possible out of the house this summer, and hence away from the computer. Moronic housemates had a lot to do with that, and I may have something to say on that subject in the next few days.

Another side effect is that the annual "rebranding" is held up and won't be ready to roll out by Tuesday. I already know what I want to do, so it's just a matter of implementing it, when I get the chance.

Anyway, even though I haven't been posting all that often lately, a few of my more recent posts have continued to generate comments, so I'm glad people are still reading. Thanks to all my patient readers out there who (I assume) keep expecting something new. I'm sometimes halted between two opinions: one, this is my blog and I'm entitled to post (or not) as I see fit; two, I've already set a standard, as it were, and people who read this blog sort of have a right to expect more of the same.

Finally, since I started this blog, this month has always been Science Fiction Free September: a month when I set aside my preference for SF and broaden my literary horizons a bit with a different genre. Not that I've read a whole lot of SF this year. In fact, I've tended in a big way toward non-fiction. But tradition is tradition. I've chosen this year to concentrate on one long book: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. I've started reading this 1200-page behemoth a couple of times - I even own a paperback copy - but have never finished, and it's high time I worked my way through it for real. In the off-chance I finish it sooner than anticipated, I'll play it by year. Heck, I have enough unfinished books on my list from past Science Fiction Free Septembers that I should have no problem making it through to October without my SF fix. (I am also open to suggestions.)

So until next time, true believers, I'll see you around the 'sphere.

July 23, 2007

God's plan and that "one person"

A few weeks ago, a reader named "Elaine" came across one of my entries in my occasional series about knowing and doing the will of God. She said, in the comments:

Hey, I don't know you, I just stumbled across your site looking for things on God's will. I have to say, though I'm far from an expert on the subject, that I believe absolutely that God has a specific plan for the lives of all his people. A specific vocation, spouse, ministry, location, etc. I don't think that "messing up" one of those would throw off the whole human race either, that's kind of limiting God, isn't it? Just because you, (to use your example) don't marry Alice, when that's what God had for you, doesn't mean that Alice's life is now thrown off from God's will and she will now recieve only God's "second best." God is bigger than that, it may not make sense to a finite mind, but I believe if Alice is listening to the Lord and following with all her heart, your decisions and actions aren't going to thwart God's plans for her.

I think many christians spend their whole lives going off track from what God wanted them to do, I think we constantly fall down on the job of evangelising and serving this world, but in the end, God's will will be done, regardless of what we did or didn't do in our lives. And if one person is truly following and obeying there's no fear of them falling out of his will by theirs or anyone elses mess ups.

That's just a thought, a long one I guess, kind of interested to know what your response is.

My original plan was to move on to application later, including marriage. So rather than "scoop" myself (and present part of my overall argument out of order), I'll touch on this one thing now, and maybe repeat it later if the situation warrants it.

Let me start, by the way, with a little aside. I despise trite, pious catchphrases such as "You're limiting God," "God is beyond logic," or "God is much bigger than our finite minds." That may be true; but be that as it may, as often as not the person saying it isn't trying to express any thought about God. Quite the opposite: he's trying to avoid dealing with any categorical statements about God.1

Suppose that it is true, as you say, that "God has a specific plan for the lives of all his people. A specific vocation, spouse, ministry, location, etc." If it is the case that God's "specific plan" is for me to marry my "specific spouse," Alice, then conversely it must be his plan for Alice to marry me, and for Betty not to marry me. So it only stands to reason that if I ignore Alice in favour of Betty, the following are also true:

  • I am missing God's plan for my life.
  • Betty is missing God's plan for her life.
  • Betty and I have caused Alice to miss God's plan for her life.

The same would hold true for vocation. If you refuse the "specific vocation" God intended, then not only you, but your potential employer, the guy he hired in your place, the employer whose offer you did accept, and the guy he should have hired instead of you, are all hosed.

In his book Finding the Will of God in a Crazy, Mixed-Up World, Tim LaHaye admits as much (answering the question, "Is it possible for others to cause me to miss God's perfect will?"):

That's a tough one! I'm inclined to think so, particularly for a married person. Your spouse may resist God's call on your life. Usually, however, God will change the person's mind in time for you to conform to His will. . . .

On the other hand, I know of two great Bible teachers whose wives fought them in every phase of their spiritual occupation. . . . It's difficult to judge whether these women kept their godly husbands from doing more than God's acceptable will. That's for Him to reveal at the Judgment.2

Decisions, particularly big, important decisions that involve other people, aren't made in isolation. Their effects ripple outward and involve other people in ways we might not have anticipated or intended. I think that LaHaye glosses over this implication of his theology, because he hasn't really thought through the logic of it.

The only alternative I can see is that for some people, God simply has no plan. He doesn't intend, or even care, that Alice marries me or someone else. And I don't think that squares with any orthodox Christian's theology.

So I don't find the idea that God has reserved just one person (job, location, etc.) for each of us, to be theologically tenable. It's not biblical: it's romantic sentimentality. At the very least, when Paul talks (in 1 Cor. 7) about the reasons and benefits of singleness and marriage, don't you think he might have mentioned this important fact?

Naturally I don't believe God has no plans for our lives. As I have written before, God's providential care extends throughout all creation, from the placement of the galaxies to each person's private thoughts and everything in between. And so married or not, if someone asks me if I'm right where God wants me to be, I can honestly - and confidently - say "Yes, I'm exactly where he put me."

Footnotes

1 Limited footnote: Indeed, little aggravates me more than being told I'm "limiting God," when as a Calvinist I am defending God's absolute freedom to do whatever he wants. It's evident these clichés just pour out of the mouth without first engaging the brain.

2 Tim LaHaye, Finding the Will of God in a Crazy, Mixed-Up World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989) 67-68.

July 01, 2007

Canada Day 2007

Once again, it's Canada Day, that day of the year when Canadians shed their normally reserved patriotism1, scour their wardrobes for something red, and overtly celebrate all things hoserish. (Surprisingly I have not a single article of red clothing, so I settled for showing my love of my country by having a large Timmy's double-double and listening to Rush.)

Today is Canada's 140th birthday. Like most Canada Days in Ottawa, it looked all day like it was on the verge of dumping a foot of rain. Unlike most, it didn't.

I believe this is the first time I have been in Ottawa on Canada Day on a Sunday. The last time July started on Sunday was 2001, but I think I was out of town that weekend. So it has been a fairly low-key day for me: I attended church, spent a little while downtown to take in the sights, watched some TV, and wrote this blog.

But the day started with a bang. Wanting to avoid heavy downtown traffic, crowds, and overfull buses, I decided to attend church at our satellite campus. Unfortunately, I discovered too late that the only short route to my bus stop had become a crime scene - it was blocked off with police tape thanks to a triple homicide. So I had to go well out of my way to get around it: what should have been a 5-minute walk took more than 10. Naturally, I missed the bus. So I opted to brave downtown and go to a later service, since I could at least get to it on time.

Every Canada Day, I like to write up a brief sketch of a Canadian patriotic song. I've been through our national anthem, a song that almost became it, and a song from Nova Scotia, where my family comes from. This year I've decided to do something a little closer to home.

In 1967, the government of Ontario wanted a catchy jingle to promote the province at Expo '67's Ontario Pavilion. They commissioned Richard Morris and Dolores Claman the lyrics and the score, respectively2. The outcome was "A Place to Stand, A Place to Grow":

Give us a place to stand and a place to grow
And call this land Ontario
A place to live for you and me
With hopes as high as the tallest tree

Give us a land of lakes and a land of snow
And we will build Ontario
A place to stand, a place to grow
Ontari-ari-ari-o!

While the "Ontari-ari-ari-o" chorus is decidedly corny, the song was surprisingly popular: as a 45 rpm record, it sold over 50,000 copies, and has been revived once or twice in recent years to promote Ontario tourism, which says something about its popularity. It has even been proposed as an official provincial anthem. Back in Grade 1, in the early 1970s, I was taught "A Place to Stand" in school. I'm sure, judging from the modified lyrics we learned, it was intended to teach a little bit of local geography as well as patriotism. The song is probably hard-wired into the mind of any Ontarian older than 35.

"A Place to Stand, A Place to Grow" was featured in the short film A Place to Stand, by Christopher Chapman. It is best known for its "multi-dynamic image technique" - a fancy word for multiple split screens all simultaneously showing different images. The film won the 1967 Oscar for Best Live Action (Short Subject). Steve McQueen was supposedly so fascinated with the technique that it was incorporated into his next film, The Thomas Crown Affair. Today the effect is an indispensible aspect of the style of 24. An excerpt from the film was used as a tourism commercial:

Previous Canada Days:

Footnotes

1 Overtime footnote: Apart from hockey playoff season, anyway.

2 Double overtime footnote: Claman's biggest claim to fame came later: she penned the other official Canadian anthem, the theme to Hockey Night in Canada.

June 26, 2007

But then again . . .

Perhaps I spoke too soon.

Once again I made one of my regular forays this evening to parts distant under the auspices of OC Transpo. Between where I live and the nearest bus stop is a large condominium complex with some pretty nice terraced garden beds. As I sauntered past one of them, something squeaking caught my attention. When I turned to look, I nearly jumped out of my skin.

Bloaty has a family.

Seeing one dead skunk in an urban environment is unusual. Seeing a live skunk is a real rarity. But seeing two . . . ? Yep, there were Mrs. Bloaty and Bloaty Jr., rooting around in the perennials. (Given that I'm not an expert at sexing skunks, I'm assuming it was Mrs. Bloaty.)

Last year, I might have occasionally seen a rabbit hopping around in the shrubbery. This summer it's not unusual to see two of them in the same night. They even chase each other around and get into fights. I've started calling the condo property "Australia." Next summer they are going to be hip-deep in bunnies and the high-rises are all going to sink into the giant network of rabbit holes. But now the skunks are moving in too; it's becoming a regular zoo.

It was bad enough coming across one dead skunk. I definitely don't want to cross paths with a family of freaked-out, live skunks.

Sigh.

The Great Roadkill Hostage Situation ends peacefully

So last night I was unfortunately compelled to take another trip up to the bus stop. Knowing that Bloaty the Roadkill Skunk (thank you Carla!) was lying by the side of the road destroying all that is good and healthy and wholesome about breathable air, I began making mental plans to find an alternate route downtown.

Happily, it appears that the city people donned their bright yellow PVC hazmat suits and carted Bloaty away. So hooray for that.

Interestingly, Bloaty's penultimate resting place is now marked by a small patch of dead grass. I knew skunks were noxious, but that strikes me as downright Lovecraftean.

June 24, 2007

I think I've discovered the worst smell in the world

As I was walking to the bus stop last night, I spotted a curious piece of roadkill. It looked like an enormous black squirrel that had been hit on the road, knocked flat on its back, and become quite bloated as it decomposed.  If that thing gets punctured, I thought to myself, this neighbourhood will be unlivable.

How mistaken I was.

When I walked past on my way to church this morning, I noticed that - for some reason I cannot adequately explain - someone actually approached this carcass and turned it over. It's not an obese squirrel; it's a skunk.

At 10 this morning, the dead skunk smell was noticeable from half a block away, and I could already feel my stomach starting to turn. When I came back in the early afternoon, it was still there and flies were starting to gather.  I breathed through my mouth the rest of the way home. If someone from the city doesn't dispose of Pepe le Pew by tomorrow, you won't be able to walk up the street without a gas mask.

That is all. I'm just testing out a new blogging client. Substantial posting should resume shortly.

June 10, 2007

Reclaiming History - holy moly!

A few days ago, Fred Butler posted a favourable impression of prosecuting attorney Vincent Bugliosi (best known as the prosecutor of Charles Manson and the author of the bestselling true-crime book Helter Skelter, based on the Manson murders), with respect to his newest book, Reclaiming History, about the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

At the time I had already placed a request for the book at the public library. It arrived (by surprise) yesterday, so I went to pick it up.

My first impression: This book is heavy. Anvil heavy. Family Bible heavy. New York City phone book heavy. I was reading it on the bus, and now my arms ache just from holding it up. It's oversized and still comes in at over 1500 pages - and if that isn't enough reading for you, it includes a CD-ROM just for the endnotes. When it gets published in paperback, I think they might have to do it in two or three volumes, because I don't think perfect binding is even physically capable of containing that many pages.

Anyway, I'm about 100 pages in, maybe a little more, and I'm quite enjoying it. Bugliosi makes no secret of his contempt for JFK conspiracy theories, and this new book purports to debunk them. A few years ago I was willing to entertain the possibility that JFK's death was not all it seemed. But then I read Gerald Posner's book Case Closed. No more. I'm fully convinced that John F. Kennedy died a meaningless death at the hand of Communist and general failure Lee Harvey Oswald. Interestingly, I've skimmed a few sections of Bugliosi's book, and it looks like he really doesn't like Posner, even though they reach the same conclusions.

I've never tackled 1500 pages before in three weeks. It'll be interesting to see if I can finish Bugliosi off before I have to hand the book off to the next borrower. I'd hate to have to read such fascinating subject matter in shifts.

June 09, 2007

Slow news day

Apparently nothing important happened yesterday. A bawling rich girl went to jail, and the news media jumped the shark.

Jay Leno summed it up nicely (and since NBC really doesn't like their clips being posted, enjoy it while you can:

In other news, shuttle Atlantis had a perfect launch last evening, the first one I had watched in ages. It still gives me a thrill to see one of those machines lift off. But does anyone else's heart still stop for a moment when ground control reports "go at throttle up"?

June 07, 2007

7 random facts

I bin tagged!

Yeah, it was a while ago that Julie tagged me with this blog meme:

Each player starts with 7 random facts/habits about themselves. People who are tagged need to write on their own blog about their seven things, as well as these rules. You need to choose 7 people to get tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them that they have been tagged and to read your blog!

I hope no one thinks I'm being a bad sport by not tagging seven people of my own, but it has been nearly a month. So here are my 7 random facts, which I am pretty sure I have never reavealed to anyone before, so consider it a world premiere.

  1. I prefer my video games 8-bit. Battlezone is still the best game ever made, bar none.
  2. I was a diehard Trekkie by the time I was 11 or 12, but without having ever seen a complete episode of Star Trek, or even most of them before 1 was 20. This was thanks to the short story adaptations by James Blish. The real thing didn't quite match up to my imagination.
  3. I have borrowed Larry Niven's A World Out of Time from the library four times, the latter three without realizing I had already read it once. Even so I still don't remember what it's about.
  4. I have been known on occasion to take a swig of Louisiana Hot Sauce from the bottle, though usually just to prove a point. Usually.
  5. My three biggest food weaknesses: Sour cream and onion potato chips, szegedi or gyulai sausage, and chicken wings.
  6. By my estimate I have listened to She's So Unusual by Cyndi Lauper at least 600 times, assuming at least twice a month and a lot more when the album was still current. "Time After Time" has been my favourite song since it reached #1 in 1984.
  7. When I first moved to Ottawa I bought a bicycle. I rode it home from downtown to Kanata, an approximate distance of 22 km. It was my first time on a bicycle in 4 years. I don't recommend it.

So there you go. Laugh. Enjoy.

June 06, 2007

And the Stanley Cup goes to . . . Disney

OK, I admit I'm hardly a hockey fan. It's something fun to watch with friends, or to go see live (if you can get - and afford - decent seats), but it's hardly something I usually go out of my way to watch. Especially with never-ending reruns of CSI that I haven't seen yet on every channel.

But there's something about it being the home team that makes even diehard hockey haters into temporary home-team cheerleaders. And I'm not a hater, just indifferent. Still, I felt pretty much the same way when I was living in Waterloo and the Jays cleaned up the World Series in 1992-93 (and then the 1994 baseball strike pretty much cooled my interest in baseball). Getting on the home-team bandwagon was the thing to do.

Oh well. That passed. Now that the Sens have lost the Stanley Cup to the Anaheim Ducks, a team named after, of all things, a Disney kids' movie, I can get off the bandwagon and back to my ordinary boring life. Also, the Sens won't be pre-empting Smallville anymore, at least until the fall.

June 05, 2007

I blew up the clinic real good

There is an informal group of anti-abortion advocates - really domestic terrorists - who have become disaffected with what they think is a lackluster response to the scourge of abortion by the mainstream pro-life movement. Calling themselves the Army of God, they consider themselves at war with the forces of evil, specifically the abortion industry. Infamous anti-abortion activists such as Paul Hill and clinic bomber Eric Rudolph have claimed to be members.

Movie Review
Soldiers in the Army of God
Directed by Marc Levin and Daphne Pinkerson
HBO, 2000
71 minutes

Soldiers in the Army of God is a 2000 HBO documentary directed by Marc Levin and Daphne Pinkerson, based on a February 1999 Esquire article titled "Neal Horsley and the Future of the Armed Abortion Conflict"1, by co-producer Daniel Voll. Like many of the documentaries I've viewed recently, this one is shot cinema verité-style: rather than editorializing, the creators just point the camera and let their subjects speak for themselves.

Neal Horsley is the webmaster of the radical anti-abortion Web site christiangallery.com. He and Jonathan O'Toole, a young radical anti-abortionist, also formerly maintained the Nuremberg Files, a Web page listing the names and addresses of abortionists and abortion-clinic employees. Any who were killed or maimed by anti-abortion violence were struck off the list.2 Horsley is additionally the founder of the Creator's Rights Party, an extremist political party advocating, amongst other things, Southern secession. En route to the White Rose Banquet - an annual gathering of the most radical of anti-abortionists - O'Toole remarks that if God told him to kill for the cause, he would kill.

Bob Lokey and Rev. Donald Spitz, webmaster of www.armyofgod.com.Bob Lokey lives in Alabama, where he has erected a giant, graphic anti-abortion billboard on his property. A trucker, he drives his rig to Washington D.C. to attend White Rose - as Lokey describes it, the "hardest core" of the pro-life movement. Though, he hastens to add, they are not hardcore enough for his liking. At the banquet he remarks to another attendee that he came hauling a load of ammonium nitrate; while he was sure it was purely for agricultural use, he expresses hope that there is an outside chance it might be used for something "non-agricultural." (Timothy McVeigh had an effective "non-agricultural" use for fertilizer.) And when Lokey starts talking to Neal Horsley about how he circumcised himself with a pocketknife, the weirdness factor shoots off the scale.

The centrepiece of Soldiers in the Army of God is a prison interview with convicted murderer Paul Hill, then biding his time on death row for the shooting of abortionist John Britton and a clinic escort in Pensacola in 1994. The documenters had already shown Hill, via the magic of home video, screaming "GOD! HATES! MURDERERS!" at the clinic. Now, awaiting execution, with a friendly grin on his face and no visible trace of remorse, he explains to the filmmakers how God told him to buy a gun and become a murderer. The irony of his situation must have escaped him.

Paul Hill Bad theology often begets worse theology. But for the Army of God, it also begets worse action. I don't even want to know what motivated Bob Lokey's self-circumcision; clearly he needs to read Paul's letter to the Galatians more closely. But nearly every major player in this documentary states, at some point, that if he felt God wanted him to kill for the sake of the unborn, he would kill. I've spoken at length elsewhere about why subjective feelings are a completely useless means of knowing God's will. God has made known how he feels about murder: what is so hard to understand about "Thou shalt not kill"? But a Paul Hill has a feeling that God wants him to blow away an abortionist, and that trumps all other considerations, including what God has actually revealed. The very assertion shuts down all arguments to the contrary. Bad theology begets bad consequences.4

Romans 13 reads:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. . . . for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. (Rom. 13:1,3-4)

God has given the sword to the civil government: that is, they are his ordained instruments of justice, authorized, if necessary, to kill lawbreakers. Notably, Paul does not say this power is granted to the Church or to individual Christians. Outside of individuals in civil or military service, or churches exercising discipline on its members, Christians are simply not given the authority to administer justice, execute wrongdoers, or wage war. Violent vigilantism, in short, is anti-Christian. This conduct is not even (as the cliché puts it) taking the law into one's own hands; it is lawlessness. I get no pleasure in seeing a professing Christian like Paul Hill executed, but he has received the due penalty for his act.

I've avoided, as much as possible, using the term pro-life to refer to members of the Army of God. They may be anti-abortion, but they are not pro-life. Their kind of activity is actually inconsistent with the pro-life philosophy: it is wrong to take the life of a human person without justification. Pro-lifers may disagree over the appropriateness of capital punishment, but no consistent pro-lifer can support private citizens deliberately destroying life or property.

There's no question where the filmmakers stand: the documentary concludes with a memorial service for Dr. David Gunn, another Pensacola abortionist shot to death in 1993. Ironically, however, in the end it's the hardcore anti-abortionists that have put forward a halfway cogent rationale for their position, however repugnant it is. By contrast, Gunn's supporters gather in a Unitarian church to sing touchy-feely protest hymns. The choice between toxic radicalism and vapid emotionalism is hardly useful.

Postscript (June 7): Looks like the Rev. Donald Spitz, webmaster of armyofgod.com, saw my review and linked to it. Looks like he was a little too enthusiastic, though: I guess he must have read it afterward, because there's nothing there now (but see the post slug for the evidence). D'oh!

Footnotes

1 Daniel Voll, "Neal Horsley and the Future of the Armed Abortion Conflict," Esquire, February 1999, 110-16, 118-19. The article is included on the DVD release.

2 404'd footnote: The Nuremberg Files were shut down by court order in 2002, although mirrors still exist internationally.

3 Dying in vein footnote: Hill was executed by lethal injection in 2003.

4 The sheep are scared footnote: And speaking of aberrant conduct, it's also worth noting that both Horsley and Lokey have served time; Horsley for drug dealing, Lokey for first-degree murder. Additionally, Horsley has admitted on more than one occasion that he engaged in bestiality as a youth, arguing that this is normal behaviour for rural Georgia. No, really.

May 07, 2007

And now . . . this - May 7, 2007

Tim Hortons is working for the Russkies!

A tale of paranoia run amok. Someday we'll look back at this and laugh.

Ah, heck, why wait?

An odd-looking Canadian quarter with a bright red flower was the culprit behind a false espionage warning from the U.S. Defense Department about mysterious coins with radio frequency transmitters, The Associated Press has learned.

The harmless "poppy quarter" was so unfamiliar to suspicious U.S. army contractors travelling in Canada that they filed confidential espionage accounts about them. The worried contractors described the coins as "filled with something man-made that looked like nano-technology," according to once-classified U.S. government reports and e-mails obtained by the AP.

The silver-coloured 25-cent piece features the red image of a poppy, Canada's flower of remembrance, inlaid over a maple leaf. The unorthodox quarter is identical to the coins pictured and described as suspicious in the contractors' accounts.

[Full Story]

Back in 2004, Tim Hortons outlets had the exclusive right to distribute these commemorative coins. Does this mean Canada's favourite donut chain is working to subvert American interests?

I just looked, and I've got two poppy quarters in my desk drawer. Hoo boy, I've got to be careful what I say now. And what about that pink-ribbon breast-cancer quarter from last year? Is it sending pictures of my decidedly untidy bedroom to CSIS?

Did it occur to these American contractors to just check with the mint, rather than subject their quarters to a battery of ridiculous tests? Nanotechnology indeed.

Meanwhile, in other coin news:

I'll have one $1,000,000 with pepperoni and extra cheese

Today's dubious achievement: Canada has minted the world's largest coin:

Got change for a million? Canada does: the world's biggest pure gold coin at 200 pounds.

Already, three buyers have shelled out for one of the 1 million Canadian dollar coins introduced last week.

The Royal Canadian mint made the coins, 20 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick , mostly to seize the bragging rights from Austria, which had the record with a 70-pound, 15-inch wide coin.

"They're not doing this because there is huge demand for 100-kilo gold coins," Bret Evans, editor of Canadian Coin News said Saturday. "They're doing it because it gives them some bragging rights in having the largest purest gold coin in the world."

[Full Story]

By my calculations, based on today's price of gold, the actual value of this "one million dollar" coin is actually $2,435,740.56 CDN. And you thought pennies were expensive to mint . . .

The problem with Jerry Falwell is . . .

. . . he can say pretty much whatever the heck he wants. All I ever hear anymore is:

Blah blah blah Tinky Winky is gay blah blah blah 9/11 is the lesbians' fault blah blah blah.

Not only has Jerry shot his bolt, credibility-wise, he's pretty much out of ammo at this point.

May 04, 2007

What arewere they thinking?

The way news travels through the blogosphere, this issue was basically resolved before I had a chance to finish my post. Nonetheless: Someone at Virgin Airlines had decided it might be a good idea to provide the 9/11 crockumentary Loose Change as in-flight entertainment.

Meanwhile, thanks to the threat of a major PR meltdown, it looks like the Virgin people have changed their minds:

We don’t show movies or documentaries that cause mass offence and there is a danger with this movie that viewers, although they have the choice over what to watch and when on our flights, may be offended.

Oh, gee, you think?

It only raises the question: What drunken, incompetent marketroid thought it might be a good idea to offer Loose Change in the first place?

  • Of course, Loose Change is a low-budget, intellectually dishonest fallacy-fest that makes a complete mockery of the very idea of critical thinking. As such it's hardly worthy of being disseminated any further.
  • I thought it was generally airline policy to avoid showing films featuring air disasters. Why would they offer a film about the hijacking and deliberate destruction of four passenger jets? Did Virgin Atlantic learn absolutely nothing when ridership plummeted after 9/11?
  • I wonder how the good people in Virgin's legal department would feel if American or United Airlines showed an infight movie implying they were complicit in mass murder?

I'm glad that the powers that be at Virgin Atlantic have changed their mind about this stupid decision. But they've earned themselves a DIM BULB du jour for having this ridiculous brain cramp to begin with.

(H/T: Screw Loose Change and Hot Air.)

May 03, 2007

And now . . . this - May 3, 2007

So much for this year's Sasquatch BBQ

Bigfoot, the legendary hairy man-like beast said to roam the wildernesses of North America, is not shy, merely so rare it risks extinction and should be protected as an endangered species.

So says Canadian MP Mike Lake who has called for Bigfoot to be protected under Canada's species at risk act, alongside Whooping Cranes, Blue Whales, and Red Mulberry trees.

"The debate over their (Bigfoot's) existence is moot in the circumstance of their tenuous hold on merely existing," reads a petition presented by Lake to parliament in March and due to be discussed next week.

"Therefore, the petitioners request the House of Commons to establish immediate, comprehensive legislation to affect immediate protection of Bigfoot," says the petition signed by almost 500 of Lake's constituents in Edmonton, Alberta.

[Full Story]

Prior to now, I always thought that establishing the existence of something was kind of a rerequisite to trying to legislate it. Apparently, I'm just stupid.

While he's at it, maybe Lake and Paul Hellyer can get together and pass a law banning extraterrestrials from mutilating cattle.

April 30, 2007

Pop (culture) quiz

I came across this quotation a few days ago. Pop quiz: who said it, and when?

Steel was terrific for tall buildings because it could withstand great lateral stresses as well as support great weights. Its weakness was that the heat of a fire could cause steel to buckle. American codes required that structural steel members be encased in concrete or some other fireproof material.

Who is it? A 9/11 "Truth" debunker, answering metallurgical genius and Truther convert Rosie O'Donnell's assertion that fire doesn't melt steel? (And how does the lovely and talented Ms. O'Donnell think steel is made anyway?) James and Pat at Screw Loose Change responding to Loose Change: This Time We Finally Got It Right Edition?

Nope.

Those words come from author and essayist Tom Wolfe, in his book From Bauhaus to Our House1 This book, a critique of the Modernist or "International Style" of architecture, was published in 1981.

What Wolfe is describing is the design of the Seagram Building at 375 Park Avenue in New York, built in 1958 and designed in the Modernist style by the German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, along with the American Philip Johnson. Believing in the dictum "less is more," Mies' original design was pure functionalism: the structural steel would be on display on the exterior of the building. (Modernists need nothing so "bourgeois" as ornamentation.) However, he found himself up against American building codes, which require that steel be encased in concrete or otherwise fireproofed. No matter, he concluded: encase the steel on the interior of the skyscraper, but "express" it on the exterior by attaching bronze I-beams carrying no load but imitating the concealed steel inside. (You might ask: Why does a purely functionalist structure require 3 million pounds of bronze decorative fake structure on the outside? Quiet, you.)2

To make a long story short: Fully 20 years before the destruction of the World Trade Center, the vulnerability of structural steel to fire was not up for debate.

Of course, these days, with our postmodern, question-all-authority Zeitgeist, even empirically provable facts such as fire wrecks steel buildings are questioned by porky chat-show hosts and black-T-shirted Twoofers who live in their parents' basements and have as much experience with metallurgy and civil engineering as I have exploring Mars.

There's a classic joke used to illustrate the difficulty of overcoming people's deeply held presuppositions. A man insists he is dead, despite the fact that he is walking, talking and breathing. His doctor convinces him (eventually) that dead men do not bleed, then takes a lancet and jabs him in the finger. The man stares at the blood welling up from his fingertip, and exclaims: "Holy moly! Dead men do bleed, after all!"

Yesterday, this happened. A tanker truck carries considerably less fuel than a Boeing 757, the crash didn't directly damage the bridge's structure, and it carried none of the load that the structure of a 110-story skyscraper does. Yet one good blaze weakened the structure enough to collapse two sections of the interchange.

It's a sign of the times that my first reaction, upon hearing this news yesterday, was to wonder how long it would be before the 9/11 Twoofers started claiming the MacArthur Maze bridge collapse was a government set-up. Answer: As usual, not very long.

Holy moly! Dead men do bleed, after all! Surely the truck was really a hologram and the bridge was actually destroyed with a missile. We anxiously wait for Spooked911 to build a model of the MacArthur Maze with chicken wire and cinder blocks, and demonstrate that it should be impervious to fire.

Incidentally, From Bauhaus to Our House was my first experience with Tom Wolfe, and I'm definitely going to be a repeat customer. The book is a polemic against the "glass boxes" of Modernist architecture and the religious fervour with which the various Modernist "compounds" defend their own version of architectural orthodoxy. (Generally speaking, they are all agreed that the "bourgeois," whatever that nebulous term happens to mean at the moment, is bad.) Why is it that America's modern skyscrapers, the most visible symbols of its technological and economic prowess, are homogenous, dull, bland cubes of steel and glass? Bauhaus was written too early for Postmodern architecture to have revived the idea of variety and individuality in landmark buildings, but Wolfe does cover such figures as Edward Durrell Stone, Eero Saarinen and to an extent Robert Venturi, forerunners of the Postmodern movement, whom he terms "apostates" from the Modernist compounds.

Wolfe spends several pages discussing the infamous Pruitt-Igoe project in St. Louis, widely regarded as the most colossal failure of public housing. Built in the mid-1950s, Pruitt-Igoe's 33 identical high-rise tenements were textbook Modernist: wide-open green areas, communal galleries, skip-stop elevators, and enclosed walkways. In the pie-in-the-sky theories of Modernist architects, these features were supposed to foster community. What they did was foster crime and vandalism, and it was only a few years before the project fell into disrepair and neglect. Finally the entire project was declared beyond redemption, and all the tenements were imploded between 1972 and 1976. It was the first Modernist structure to be intentionally demolished, leading some Postmodern architects to declare it the end of the Modernist era.

As a point of interest, the Pruitt-Igoe architect was Minoru Yamasaki, later the designer of the very Modernist World Trade Center. Cue the spooky music.

Footnotes

1 Tom Wolfe, From Bauhaus to Our House (New York: Farrar Strauss Giroux, 1981). The quotation is on p. 75.

2 No one who speaks German can be an evil man! footnote: Mies was also worried about the untidy appearance of the Seagram Building when its occupants tried to screen out the sun with window blinds. So he designed special blinds that had only three positions: open, closed, and halfway. Ironically, Mies left Germany because the Nazis didn't feel he was fascistic enough.

April 22, 2007

And now . . . this - Apr. 22, 2007

"Pleez let my son out of prisun. Signed, Timothy's Mom"

Officials released a prisoner from a state facility after receiving a phony fax that ordered the man be freed, and didn’t catch the mistake for nearly two weeks.

Timothy Rouse, 19, is charged with beating an elderly western Kentucky man and was at the Kentucky Correctional & Psychiatric Center in La Grange for a mental evaluation. He was released from that facility on April 6 after officials received the fake court order.

It contained grammatical errors, was not typed on letterhead and was faxed from a local grocery store. The fax falsely claimed that the Kentucky Supreme Court "demanded" Rouse be released. . . .

Prison officials did not notice that the fax came from the grocery store because policies in place did not require checking the source of a faxed order, said the LaGrange facility’s director, Greg Taylor.

"It’s not part of a routine check, but certainly, in hindsight, that would perhaps have caused somebody to ask a question," he said. He added that misspellings on orders are common.

[Full Story]

Duh!

It's a good thing there are people like Virginia Ramey, who pack .38s and know how to use them, to protect the good citizenry of Kentucky from the consequences of their bureaucrats' dimbulbery.

April 21, 2007

And now . . . this - Apr. 21, 2007

"Gun control" means a steady hand and aiming first

After confronting a man she said was stealing from her Kentucky farm, [1944 Miss America, Venus] Ramey pulled out a gun and shot out a tire on his truck so he couldn't leave, allowing police to arrest him and two others. . . .

She drove over to the building and blocked the truck sitting there.

When she asked a man what he was doing, he replied "scrapping," and said he would leave.

"I said, 'Oh, no you won't,' and I shot their tires so they couldn't leave," Ramey said.

She had to balance on her walking stick as she pulled out a snub-nosed .38-caliber handgun.

[Full Story]

Just the image of an 82-year-old lady leaning on a cane with one hand while blasting away with a .38 with the other, cracks me right up.

April 12, 2007

April 08, 2007

In Christ alone my hope is found

We proclaim that Christ has been raised from the dead.
So how can you say there is no resurrection of the dead?

If there is no resurrection of the dead,
then not even Christ has been raised.

If Christ has not been raised,
our message is meaningless.

If Christ has not been raised,
Your faith is fruitless.

We slander God by claiming he raised Christ,
because if there is no resurrection of the dead,
then Christ has not been raised either.

And if Christ has not been raised,
then your sins are not forgiven.

And if we placed our hope in Christ, and he has not been raised,
we are the most pathetic of people.

Why imitate his death, burial, and resurrection in baptism?
Why put our lives at risk every day?
Why face the lions in the arena?
Why live for anything but the pleasures of the now?

Wake up!

Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!

And therefore we are not pathetic,
and therefore our sins are forgiven,
and therefore our faith is fruitful,
and therefore our message is momentous.

And therefore we, too, will be raised.

A grain of wheat will not become a living plant unless it dies first,
and that is how it is with the resurrection of the dead.

What goes into the ground is perishable;
what comes out is imperishable.
The old body is natural;
the new body is spiritual.

The first man, Adam, was given life;
the second Adam, Christ, is the life-giver.
The first Adam was a natural man;
the second Adam is a spiritual man.
The first Adam came from the dust;
the second Adam came from heaven.
And today we bear the dusty image of the first Adam from earth,
but tomorrow we will bear the spiritual image of the second Adam from heaven.

When the Last Trumpet sounds,
the dead will be changed to the living,
the perishable to the imperishable,
and the mortal to the immortal.

Where is your victory, Death?
Christ is the victor.
Thanks be to God!

So stand firm!
Do the work of the Lord, knowing this,
that in him, your work is not in vain:

For he is risen indeed.

(An Easter meditation on 1 Corinthians 15, hastily and loosely paraphrased while listening to the gorgeous In Christ Alone by Margaret Becker, Máire Brennan, and Joanne Hogg. This chapter was expounded upon at a sunrise service this morning on Parliament Hill, and the rhetorician in me was struck by Paul's use of tropes, particularly antithesis and parallelism. I wanted to try and bring out the Apostle's powerful argument - for a powerful truth - with a little exaggeration and reorganization of his structure. If bad poetry isn't your cup of tea, be sure to read Rebecca on what the Resurrection means for believers.)

April 05, 2007

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!

"For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in." (Matt. 23:13)

KJV-only "street preachers," consumed with their hatred of James White, sabotage another effort to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Mormons. Read it and weep.

There aren't enough dim bulbs in the world to hand around . . .

April 03, 2007

The panda says NO!

The title of Lynne Truss' book Eats, Shoots & Leaves comes from an old joke - not referenced in the text but printed on the back cover - about a panda that walks into a bar and orders a meal, then pulls out a gun, fires two shots, and walks out. Asked why he did it, he shows the bartender a nature book, whose badly edited entry on the panda says it is a native of China that "eats, shoots and leaves." Rim shot. As soon as I read the following paragraph, I knew two things about this book: a) I was about to be subjected to a protracted vent about crimes against grammar, and b) I was going to have a lot of fun reading it:

I don't know how bad things are in America, but in the UK I cannot emphasise it enough: standards of punctuation are abysmal. Encouraged to conduct easy tests on television, I discovered to my horror that most British people truly do not know their apostrophe from their elbow. "I'm an Oxbridge intellectual," slurred a chap in Brighton, where we were asking passers-by to "pin the apostrophe on the sentence" for a harmless afternoon chat-show. He immediately placed an apostrophe (oh no!) in a possessive "its". The high-profile editor of a national newspaper made the same mistake on a morning show, scoring two correct points out of a possible seven. On a TV news bulletin, the results of a vox pop item were shown on screen under the heading "Grammer Test" - the spelling of which I assumed was a joke until I realised nobody in the studio was laughing. Meanwhile well-wishers sent hundreds of delightful/horrific examples of idiotic sign-writing, my current favourite being the roadside warning CHILDREN DRIVE SLOWLY - courtesy of the wonderful Shakespearean actor Timothy West. Evidently, this sign - inadvertently descriptive of the disappointing road speeds attainable by infants at the wheel - was eventually altered (but sadly not not improved) by the addition of a comma, becoming CHILDREN, DRIVE SLOWLY - a kindly exhortation, perhaps, which might even save lives among those self-same reckless juvenile road-users; but still not quite what the writer had in mind.1

Each chapter of Eats, Shoots & Leaves is devoted to one punctuation mark (or a few related ones). The lesson is served with a generous helping of snarky anecdotes. The best of these is about a teenage Truss tearing her new pen pal, the befreckled Kerry-Anne (who dotted her i's with little circles), a new orifice with a semicolon:

I replied to her childish letter on grown-up deckled green paper with a fountain pen. Whether I actually donned a velvet smoking jacket for the occasion I can't remember, but I know I deliberately dropped the word "desultory", and I think I may even have used some French. . . . The main reason I remember this shameful teenage epiphany, however, is that in my mission to blast little Kerry-Anne out of the water, I pulled out (literally) all the stops: I used a semicolon. "I watch television in a desultory kind of way; I find there is not much on," I wrote.2

Book Review
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
Lynne Truss
Gotham-Penguin, 2003
ISBN: 1-592-40203-8
209 pp.

But amidst all the biting wit, the book does give helpful, and largely unconfusing, guidance for good punctuation usage. Many of the examples form a running gag involving Starburst candies (Truss is amusingly resentful of their name change from Opal Fruit), and in the chapter on semicolons, several take a jab at Kerry-Anne and her freckles.

The one thing this book doesn't explain clearly is quotation marks. For some reason, Truss prefers North American-style inverted commas (double outside single), but British-style "logical" placement of other punctuation within them. Her explanation of logical punctuation didn't un-confuse me any more. I think I can see why the American edition was published with British spelling and typology instead of following the usual custom of converting it to American usage: one side of the Pond might completely miss the point!

My edition of Eats, Shoots & Leaves comes with a "Punctuation Repair Kit," consisting of a variety of punctuation-mark stickers, which pedantic vandals can use to correct local vendors' signage; and a handful of "The Panda Says NO!" stickers, which I assume are to cover up superfluous apostrophes when your grocer tries to sell you "apple's"3 at $1.49/lb. I wouldn't use them myself, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't be immensely satisfied to see that other grammar vigilantes have stuck them on signs all over town.

"Bad Comma", Louis Menand's peevish review of Eats, Shoots & Leaves in the New Yorker4 points out, in painstaking detail, numerous instances of punctuation at odds with Truss' rules. Perhaps the copyeditor should have paid closer attention to detail. However, it's nit-picky to place a serial comma (a stylistic preference that Truss doesn't like) on the same level as an apostrophe in a plural (an error). Truss is a curmudgeon, but she's not a pedant. Maybe the New Yorker prefers its grammar descriptive rather than prescriptive.

After finishing up Eats, Shoots & Leaves, I sought out Truss' followup, Talk to the Hand. In this book, she laments the death of common courtesy, in such ways as the lack of simple pleasantries (please and thank you); the breakdown of public and private spaces (leading to telemarketers intruding upon your dinner with obnoxious sales calls, or loud cellphone conversations on the bus about how many times and with whom and in what positions); the end of true customer service (so that customers must serve themselves by punching endless numbers into automated attendants); and the Universal Eff Off Reflex (because everyone has the right to do what he wants and to be free of criticism for doing it5, "Eff Off," or an equivalent hand signal, has become the expected response to any attempt to rebuke or correct loutish behaviour). It's an excellent read - in many ways more entertaining than the previous book - but here, Eats, Shoots & Leaves gets the nod simply for not merely pointing out what's wrong, but being helpful. I'd be happy enough to have both volumes on the bookshelf, but it's Truss' earlier book that I would include in the library I carry from workplace to workplace.

Footnotes

1 xx-xxi.

2 104-05.

3 Halal footnote: Or, more commonly around here, shawarma's.

4 Louis Menand, "Bad Comma: Lynne Truss's Strange Grammar," The New Yorker, 28 June 2004, 102-04.

5 Judge not, lest ye be judged footnote: I sometimes wonder if our prevailing non-judgmentalism ought not to be classified as a Christian heresy. After all, Jesus did say "judge not" (amongst other things), and it's probably the one thing in the Bible everyone knows . . .

March 11, 2007

Jack Chick and the Atonement

My last blog post was a pop quiz: Read this tract. What does it teach about the person and work of Christ? Do you agree? Why or why not?

It wasn't long before the Highland Host chimed in (followed up by Rebecca and others) with a well-nigh comprehensive list of bad theology:

In my judgement the tract teaches a woefully inadequate view. First of all it seems to put the initiative on man's part, not just in the application of salvation, but in its accomplishment. Psalm 14.2 is taken out of context and misapplied, suggesting that it was because some persons mourned over their sin (or would mourn) that the Father sent the Son. In fact the Psalm speaks in condemnation. There WERE none that did understand and seek God! No, 'They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.' But Chick suggests Psalm 14.3 is wrong!

Then the old and long-exploded 'ransom to Satan' theory of the atonement seems to be raised from the tomb of ages, Mark 10.45 being misapplied. In fact the ransom is paid to the Father as the Judge of all the earth.

The Gospel call is shown as being given by Jesus (not merely by His servants) equally to all, leaving the response therefore up to the sinner's 'free will'. There is no mention of sinners being drawn by the Father to Christ.

"Woefully inadequate" doesn't seem to adequately cover it. It's actually surprising how many ways you can go wrong in a 20-odd-panel, nearly wordless comic book!

But the Highland Host quickly hit upon the one thing that stuck out like a sore thumb when I first read the tract (as it did for others on the FFF. That is the view of the Atonement that this panel suggests:

[Jesus negotiating with Satan for souls]

This theory of the Atonement is known as the Ransom to Satan theory1, and was held by the majority of the early Church fathers (Gregory of Nazianzus and Athanasius being the notable exceptions).2 Its most prominent developers were Origen and Gregory of Nyssa. The gist of it is this: Satan has established himself as the ruler of this world, and as such he has legitimate rights over the souls of humanity. However, he agreed to release mankind from captivity if he was given the soul of Jesus as a ransom. (Ransom theorists lean heavily on Mark 10:45, which Chick quotes in this panel, and parallel passages in the other Gospels.) However, having gained the soul of Jesus, he discovered that he could not keep him. (In Gregory of Nyssa's version, Jesus' divinity was concealed from Satan, hidden in his human nature. In essence, God deceived Satan into accepting Jesus' human sacrifice before overpowering him with his divinity.)3

The Ransom theory has its problems: it seems to presuppose that Satan has a legitimate claim over the earth or its inhabitants, or that God actually owes him something. It involves God in trickery, which Gregory tries to mitigate by arguing that the deception had a noble purpose. Nonetheless, the theory held sway in the Church until the eleventh century, when Anselm of Canterbury argued against it, proposing instead the Satisfaction theory,4 which says that human sin offended God's honour, requiring satisfaction, which was then paid by Christ on the cross. The Satisfaction theory was further developed after the Reformation into the Penal Substitution theory, in which Christ's death satisfies the requirements of God's justice instead of his honour. Today the Penal Substitution theory is basically the dominant form in all major branches of Christendom, and only a few on the fringe (such as some Word of Faith types, and obviously Jack Chick) still believe in the Ransom to Satan theory.

Meanwhile, this frame:

[Satan and Jesus make their case]

appears to illustrate the hoary old chestnut about Jesus and Satan casting their vote and it being up to you to break the tie.

Jack Chick's material is rife with sloppy theology, false teaching, and goofy conspiracy theories, and that's bad enough. But can't the man get a basic "Jesus Saves" tract right without resorting to suborthodoxy?

Postscript: While I was writing this, another comment came in from Jane. She writes, concerning these two frames:

[Chained parents have a baby]

[Satan puts a noose on a toddler]

I noticed that Satan didn't have the rope on the child immediately. Hints of "age of accountability"?

I thought of something more serious, myself: a denial of original sin. Where there's smoke, there's fire. I'm willing to accept the possibility that I'm wrong.

Footnotes

1 All in the Footnote: No relation.

2 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 812.

3 The Footnotes of Narnia: This, incidentally, is the view of the Atonement that C. S. Lewis uses in the fictional setting of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where the White Witch claims that Edmund, as a traitor, is hers by right; Aslan surrenders himself to her in Edmund's place and is sacrificed on the Stone Table, but then hoodwinks her by rising from the dead. To be fair to Lewis, this is fiction; in Mere Christianity, on the other hand, he espouses something more akin to the "vicarious repentance" theory. Lewis' theology is a little mushy-headed in places.

4 See Anselm's Cur Deus Homo ("Why did God Become Man?").

March 06, 2007

Pop theology quiz (Chick Tracts get read!)

The good folks over at the Fighting Fundamental Forums directed my attention to Jack Chick's latest tract:

[Set Free!]

Read it. Then answer this question: What does it teach about the person and work of Christ? Do you agree? Why or why not?

Hint: Given her recent posts over at the BaptistBoard, I'll bet Rebecca gets it right away.

February 26, 2007

Playing rope-a-dope with the KJV-onlyists

Being somewhat fed up with the usual baseless accusations of "corruption" and "Bible correcting" from the KJV-only peanut gallery, I decided yesterday to ask a straightforward question on a forum I frequent: Where does the New International Version of the Bible teach falsehood?

24 hours later, the results are, shall we say, underwhelming.

I did get a lot of the usual chestnuts, though:

  • The NIV calls Joseph Jesus' "father." Well, he was Jesus' stepfather, wasn't he? Besides, so does the KJV several times, so by definition, it must be true.
  • The NIV omits the phrase "by his blood" in Colossians 1:14. I didn't ask what the NIV doesn't say, I asked what it does say that is false. Besides, those words are found elsewhere in the New Testament, so again, what the NIV says is true.
  • The NIV was translated by a lesbian. I didn't ask who translated it, I asked what it said that wasn't true.
  • The NIV is a dynamic translation. OK, but is the translation actually false?
  • The NIV denies the existence of hell in Psalm 9:17. No it doesn't, but on the other hand it makes the true statement that the wicked end up in the grave.

So far only two accusations of any real seriousness have been put forward. The first is that John 1:18 is anti-Trinitarian, but the accuser himself shows a substandard understanding of the Trinity when he denies that God the Father and God the Son can both be the one and only God (at one point he tries to compare the Godhead with a committee of Baptists).

The second is James' command to "confess your sins to one another" (Jas. 5:16 NIV), which supposedly leads to the Catholic confessional system, as opposed to the KJV's "faults." His theological argument is wanting, the distinction between "faults" and "sins" is pretty much non-existent, and in any case saying the Bible might be misunderstood is not the same as saying the Bible teaches something false.

The reason I decided to post this challenge is that I am getting sick and tired of being told that non-KJV-onlyists spread skepticism about the Bible because they cannot have absolute confidence in an inerrant translation. Since a large part of my teaching in church, when I do it, is to assure students that they can have confidence in the Bibles they carry (the vast majority of which are NIVs), naturally I want to be able to tell them where they can't trust their Bibles.

So far, no accusation against the NIV has withstood serious analysis. In fact, in asking for instances of falsehood, the KJV-onlyists have had to concede more truth! As a result, while the NIV isn't my translation of choice, I'm beginning to like it more and more. Thanks guys!

And now . . . this - Feb. 26, 2008

Here we go again, again

Cue the candles and kitsch:

When an image of the Virgin Mary appeared on one of their pizza pans on Ash Wednesday the dinner ladies at Pugh Elementary School in Houston knew that it had to be more than just the cheese and pepperoni talking. This had to be a message from God.

Guadalupe Rodriguez, 59, who had scrubbed at the greasy stain to no avail, hastened to the head teacher for a second opinion. Indeed, the principal confirmed, the school kitchens seemed to have been singled out for divine intervention.

[Full Story]

When I make pizza, I like a little extra virgin on the crust, but this is ridiculous.

February 23, 2007

And now . . . this - Feb. 23, 2008

Ha ha ha! "Art."

Performance artist Mark McGowan kicked off his bid to crawl for 72 hours across Manhattan dressed as the president, offering the opportunity to kick his backside.

The controversial artist from London began his odyssey from New York's Lincoln Centre wearing a rubber George Bush mask, a business suit, knee pads, work gloves and a sign stuck to his cushioned posterior reading simply: "Kick My Ass."

[Full Story]

Now come on. Is there any more useless human being on the face of the earth than a "performance artist"?

Meanwhile, posted today on his Web site:

i have been kicked in the ass continuously on the streets of new york.

i have also been confronted by very angry bush supporters who have literally scared me so much so [sic] that i have had to abandon doing it on the streets and i am now just crawling around the scope art fair as i fear for my life.

Yeah, well, so much for artistic integrity.

F5 #3: The grape

(Didn't get last week's installment in, thanks to a surprise visit from an old friend who was in town for the weekend. So if all goes well, today will be a twofer. Incidentally, this topic would have been last year's fourth F5 entry, so it's really late . . .)

It seems ironic to me that what is arguably my favourite libation today, was one of the last ones I learned to like. But it's true: when I first started to drink alcohol, I acquired a taste for beer right away, and spirits not long afterward. However, for years, wine was practically a closed book to me. It all tasted the same to me, and while I could (obviously) tell the difference between red and white, I wouldn't have known a Chardonnay from a Shiraz. On the other hand, thanks to a summer of restaurant experience, I knew the difference between a Burgundy and a Bordeaux, but only by the shape of the bottle, and the idea that there could even be a "white Burgundy" seemed like a contradiction in terms. In other words, apart from the occasional glass of Piat D'or with my folks at Christmas or Thanksgiving, I was a rank newbie to the world of wine.

Around 1999, for some reason I no longer remember, I made up my mind to learn something about wine. So I bought a couple of books and read them; then, a few days later, made a stop at the LCBO for a few bottles: as I recall, an Ontario Chardonnay, an Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, and a California white Zinfandel. And the rest is history.

February 16, 2007

Haven't done one of these in awhile

so I thought I'd break the streak:

You scored as Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica). You are leery of your surroundings, and with good reason. Anyone could be a cylon. But you have close friends and you know they would never hurt you. Now if only the damn XO would stop drinking.

Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica)

81%

Moya (Farscape)

69%

Babylon 5 (Babylon 5)

63%

SG-1 (Stargate)

63%

Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)

50%

Andromeda Ascendant (Andromeda)

50%

Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)

50%

Serenity (Firefly)

50%

Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix)

50%

Bebop (Cowboy Bebop)

31%

Enterprise D (Star Trek)

31%

FBI's X-Files Division (The X-Files)

19%

Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
created with QuizFarm.com

*sigh* I guess I'll fix the HTML later . . .

The le Carré curse

If you saw my reading habits, you wouldn't actually know that I enjoyed the spy novels of John le Carré.

I loved A Small Town in Germany.

I positively wolfed down The Spy Who Came In from the Cold and The Looking Glass War.

I gave away copies of The Tailor of Panama as gifts.

But then there was Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy . . .

It's not as if I didn't enjoy the novel; there's a good reason it's a classic of the spy genre. I've just never been able to get more than 100 or so pages in, before circumstances conspire to compel me to return the book.

As of today, having returned it, I've had to give up my fifth - count 'em, five - attempt. But I guess I'll try again in a couple months.

Sigh.

Godzilla redux

Fred Butler writes:

Scott McClare may appreciate this article if he hasn't already seen it: The Science of Godzilla. A dinosaur expert explores the possibility of what it would be like if Godzilla was real. Read the comments following the article, as well.

[Read The Science of Godzilla]

He's right: I hadn't seen it, and I did appreciate it. (Similarly, Terry Pratchett has a humorous discussion of the anatomy of dragons in one of the earlier Discworld novels.)

Fred mentions his fond memories of watching old Godzilla movies as a kid on Saturday afternoons. For me it was a lot more recently, and after midnight on Space, but same difference. He also made mention of the infamous "flight scene" from Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, quite possibly the craziest (and silliest) "power" that the Big G ever invented on the spur of the moment:

And why not close off with the rest of Godzilla's most embarrassing moments, married to a corny Internet meme?

February 15, 2007

Bruce Manning Metzger (1914-2007)

Sad news for the field of biblical textual studies:

Bruce Metzger, an expert on Greek biblical manuscripts, died Tuesday at the age of 93. The professor emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary died of natural causes.

Metzger was well known for his work in New Testament textual criticism. He served on the committee that produced the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament and wrote several books on textual criticism, including The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (1964, 1968, 1991) and Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: An Introduction to Palaeography (1981). The British Academy made him a corresponding fellow in 1978, an honor that few American scholars receive.

[Full Story]

Metzger literally wrote the book on the Greek text of the New Testament. I've never read his more technical material - and probably wouldn't understand it anyway - but I've profited from his more popular works on the text of the New Testament, such as the aforementioned Text of the New Testament. The Church has lost a treasure.

February 11, 2007

Blogging the Blogroll #3: Behind the Sofa

Yesterday's Doctor Who post meshes quite nicely with today's "Blogging the Blogroll" post. Almost as if I'd intended it that way. This procrastination thing is working for me. Heh.

Anyhow.

When I started hearing rumours about the New Who, I started hunting for information on the Net, as usual. The first site of note I reached was Outpost Gallifrey, probably the premiere Doctor Who site on the Web. Unfortunately, the site wasn't particularly easy to navigate around (though I did get stuck for a couple of hours reading the reviews of old Tom Baker serials).

Instead, I hit upon the good folks at Tachyon TV, particularly their blog Behind the Sofa - which at the time was named "Waiting for Christopher," in anticipation of Christopher Eccleston taking the reins as the ninth Doctor. Here I found the information I was hunting for, and once the program actually started airing, I kept reading just for the running reviews as the season progressed.

"Behind the Sofa" is the traditional position of the pre-adolescent Doctor Who fan, spooked by the sudden appearance of a Dalek or Rutan. It's a group blog, originally created with the intent of giving anyone posting privileges who was willing to write; as a result they have a fairly large core group of reviewers. One of their number had a prominent walk-on role in last season's "Rise of the Cybermen." When a series of Doctor Who or Torchwood is underway, the blog focuses on weekly reviews of current episodes; in between seasons - as now as we await the as-yet-unannounced debut of New Who's third season - they go into "Stripped Down" mode in which they review classic episodes on DVD. There's also a Tachyon TV podcast, generally providing "alternative" commentary to the DVDs. The whole thing is done with a healthy dose of humour and not a little irreverence; recently at a convention, sixth Doctor Colin Baker tore the Tachyon TV guys a new orifice over a satirical review of "The Twin Dilemma" in a fanzine they'd produced.

What can be better than a bunch of fans, writing about what they love without being excessively fawning? That's why Behind the Sofa is on my regular read list.

February 09, 2007

F5 #2: The Doctor

My first impression of Doctor Who was not a favourable one.

TV Ontario, the provincial public/educational channel, used to run episodes of the program on weeknights. Unfortunately, I don't think the editor who created their promo spots was a big fan. For some reason, they concentrated exclusively on scenes from the story "The Deadly Assassin." Now, I like "The Deadly Assassin" just fine; in fact, it's one of my favourites. But it contains a number of fantasy sequences which are somewhat surreal even in context - as isolated clips, it's downright weird. So as a ten-year-old, I wasn't the stereotypical kid hiding behind the sofa at the scary parts. I just didn't see the appeal of a show featuring samurais in spooky masks throwing people over cliffs.

Two things changed that.

First, I later discovered that the PBS station provided by our cable company ran Doctor Who stories in their entirety (i.e. the four or so serials spliced together into a single, two-hour-long program). I came across one of these accidentally one afternoon and, not realizing what it was at first, thought it was an enjoyable (if somewhat overly British) science-fiction movie of some kind. Of course, it wasn't long before I realized what I was watching. Second, two friends of mine in school were working on a class project of some kind: something about futurism in Doctor Who, focusing on programs that showed future humanity doing something halfway plausible, such as living on Pluto under an artificial sun (OK, halfway plausible to two twelve-year-olds, at least). Through them I was exposed to a few of the better Who serials that I hadn't yet seen on TV. So between these two influences, I decided (rather suddenly) to give Doctor Who a fair shake. And I'm glad I did, because in hindsight it's become my favourite television program.1

Lest I get ahead of myself: The basic premise of the program is that the Doctor (not "Dr. Who," which is the name of the program) is a renegade Time Lord, an alien who, having become tired of the apathy of his own people, stole a time machine called the TARDIS - which is much bigger on the inside than the outside and perpetually disguised as a British police call box, because the circuitry that is supposed to blend it in with its environment got stuck - and, together with a generally lovely-but-helpless-or-naïve female companion, travels throughout space and time righting wrongs, but as often as not rescuing Earth from the alien menace.

The program in its original incarnation ran from 1963-89. Because of the longevity of the program, it's not surprising that cast members come and go, including the show's star. When the original Doctor, William Hartnell, resigned after three years due to illness, the show's writers quickly came up with the explanation that Time Lords are capable of "regenerating" - that is, after suffering mortal injury, their bodies are capable of repairing themselves, but replacing their original appearance and personality with a new one. To date ten actors have played the part - seven in the show's original run, one for a TV movie made in 1996, and two for the new series in production since 2005. As with James Bond actors, every fan has a strong preference for one actor over the rest.

It's said that everyone's favourite Doctor is the one they saw first. That's certainly true in my case: I started watching the program when episodes featuring Tom Baker, the fourth Doctor, were airing in Canada. Baker, with his off-the-cuff humour, impossibly long scarf, and, when it was called for, dead seriousness, best captured the protagonist's character. (The rest of the first seven Doctors were, in order, too crusty, too clownish, too Earthbound, too excitable, too weird, and too cryptic.) In addition, Baker had the best stories: the first part of his tenure had a distinct Gothic-horror flavour reminiscent of old monster movies such as Frankenstein. In my opinion, it was also the latter part of his period and that of Peter Davison, his successor, in which Doctor Who did its best science fiction as well.

Doctor Who was cancelled in 1989 and remained off the air for about 16 years, not counting reruns - though in North America, networks like TVO and PBS stopped showing those in the early 90s, too). If it weren't for the magic of home video, I would have sorely missed the program. Naturally, I was ecstatic when the BBC brought the show back to life ("regenerated" it?) in 2005. New Who has the same humour, recurring villains, and overall cheesiness of the show's original incarnation, but in typical 21st-century fashion, it frequently ironically deconstructs the conventions of the old show. For example, the past Doctors' trademark eccentric costumes are gone; the Doctor's quirkiness comes through his character rather than his wardrobe. He has also become more of an antihero: instead of having carte blanche to come in and meddle whenever he pleases, in one recent episode Queen Victoria actually declared him an enemy of the state and set up the Torchwood Institute to defend the British Empire against alien menace including the Doctor. The writers have also begun to experiment with the contemporary SF fashion of having season-long plot arcs over and above each individual episodes. But despite the changes, it's still the same old Doctor Who, and I'm glad to say I get the same thrill watching David Tennant play the role today as I did with Tom Baker in 1980.

Footnotes

1 The Last, Best Footnote for Peace: Though Babylon 5 gives it a run for its money.

Blogging the Blogroll #2: La Shawn Barber's Corner

Somewhere in 2004, I heard a new word: Kwanzaa, the "black Christmas." I knew nothing about this (it's hardly celebrated by American blacks, and probably even less so in Canada), so I decided to do a little research. A search or two on Google eventually uncovered "Kwanzaa is for Pagans" by one La Shawn Barber.

That's the way I remember it, anyway. It could also very well be that I just followed a link from Michael King's blog, which I had blogrolled very early (and kept until he decided to give it up). Heh. Either way, La Shawn's article was both informative and well written, just the kind of thing I happened to be looking for.

La Shawn writes frequently on a variety of subjects, but is especially good in her critiques of affirmative action or race relations. She generally writes from the "wrong" side of the issue - if someone like, say, me were to do so, it wouldn't have half the credibility as it does coming from a black woman. Her recent series of posts on the so-called "Duke rape case," for example, have made for fascinating reading.

Additionally, of course, La Shawn is a Christian and Reformed; skin colour aside, that means she's family. And since we both have a degree in English and like Harry Potter, then we're sort of kindred spirits.

February 06, 2007

Blogging the Blogroll #1: Angry in the Great White North

About time I got started on this . . .

Somewhere in 2005, I decided that I needed more  Genuine Canadian Content™  in my blog diet. (I have a large collection of news-and-opinion-oriented blogs in my regular reading list, but for the most part they are American.) My method of searching them out wasn't fancy: I just Googled "canadian political blogs" or some such. And amongst the other blogs I came across was Steve Janke's Angry in the Great White North.

I believe the first post of Steve's that I read was in July '05, titled "Choices have consequences.", about an NDP MP and his wife who got the shock of their lives when they found out their Catholic parish would not marry them, because of his support for same-sex marriage and her abortion-rights advocacy. Here's the paragraph that hooked me:

I can't believe this person was labeled a "practising [sic] Catholic" in the article. Unless it was meant to suggest he needs more practise. A lot more practise.

One thing I like about Steve's approach to blogging political issues is that it's quite different from mine. I will note a news story, respond with "what an idiot" and a witty one-liner, and slap a light-bulb graphic on it. Steve takes the time and effort to research a story further. For example, at the time of writing, the most recent post on Angry is titled, "Is [independent MP] Garth Turner joining the Liberals?" Well, since that post was made at about noon today, it's been reported that Turner did, indeed, join the Liberal caucus. In the next few days, it's likely that there will be three or four additional posts about Garth Turner from various angles before Steve goes on to the next topic.

Of course, there are other good Canadian opinion blogs out there: Kate Werk's Small Dead Animals and Joel Johannesen's ProudToBeCanadian Blog are two more favourites. I don't like my opinion strictly one-sided, but up to now I haven't found a blog on the Left that isn't just dull or out to lunch and probably any other meal. (So if anyone has a reasonable suggestion to balance my reading, please feel free.) But for the most part, Steve Janke is my go-to guy for Canadian news and opinion. Being blogrolled means I hit Angry in the Great White North daily, and alphabetical order means I hit him first.

February 02, 2007

F5 #1: The Great Green One

I haven't a clue when (or why) I started liking giant-monster movies. As near as I can figure, it started with the stop-motion dinosaurs in the old Saturday-morning TV series Land of the Lost.

Anyway, the bottom line is that at some point in my childhood, I started getting cheap thrills from the illusion of very big monsters trashing some very small buildings, trains, and people. This has manifested itself in a number of ways: I like the original King Kong, especially the bits where the giant gorilla is chasing Carl Denham's crewmen through the jungle, or doing battle with a stegosaurus.

After awhile I discovered the classic stop-motion animation of Ray Harryhausen in movies such as Earth vs. the Flying Saucers or It Came from Beneath the Sea (and, as I discovered later, Harryhausen had actually worked on Kong). But my favourite genre of monster movie is the kind that comes from Japan: especially so if it features a 400-foot-tall, radioactive lizard.

"Godzilla" is a very bad transliteration of the Japanese name Gojira, which apparently comes from a combination of the words for gorilla and whale. Of course, Godzilla looks nothing like either a gorilla or a whale.

Anyone who has seen one of the many Godzilla sequels is well aware of their campy, often-unintentional comedic style. It certainly came as a surprise to me to discover that the first Godzilla, made in 1954, was not only quite serious, but quite dark - it is a bona fide horror movie (such as they were in that era). It's well known that Godzilla is an allegory for the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, as well as the relentless firebombing of Tokyo: Godzilla is a mutant dinosaur created by nuclear testing that wreaks havoc on Japan. In the end, a scientist has the ability to destroy the giant monster with an ultimate weapon, but he is very reluctant to make use of such a powerful destructive force.

The original Japanese cut of Godzilla (which I have not yet seen and was not available for North American viewing before 2004) is apparently quite dark and brooding, which is understandable given Japan's war-weariness less than 10 years after Hiroshima. However, the more familiar American cut is less so - after all, it was us Allies that were raining destruction down on Japan in the first place. In the American version, several minutes have been cut out and replaced with scenes of Raymond Burr as an American reporter caught in Japan as Godzilla begins his reign of terror. Burr never went to Japan, nor did he actually interact with any of the Japanese cast, although the clever editing does conceal the fact somewhat.

I guess that somewhere along the line, someone realized that such a sombre monster movie was a little ridiculous, and none of the sequels take themselves half as seriously. Godzilla himself plays varous roles, from an unstoppable, destructive force of nature, to a superhero, the defender of Japan, and the friend of microshorts-wearing schoolboys named Ken. The original series of movies got progressively sillier until Toho let the whole franchise lie fallow for about 10 years before rebooting the concept in the early 80s for another run.

No one is ever going to accuse Godzilla of being great cinema. Indeed, it seems to me that there is always one execrably bad special effect in each movie - so much so that I wonder whether it was done on purpose. In Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, for example, Godzilla does a victory jig after defeating the three-headed gold lamé dragon King Ghidorah for the first time. In another movie, he plays a game of ping-pong with a giant shrimp and a boulder. In yet another, he uses his atomic breath as a rocket to propel himself through the air.

But who watches Godzilla for intelligent plotting or expensive eye candy? The point is, a guy in a rubber lizard suit trashes remarkably detailed miniatures of Tokyo. He looks like he's having a ball doing it, and we have a ball watching it. Godzilla is Saturday-afternoon popcorn fare, not serious cinema.

So it's ironic that if it weren't for Godzilla, I probably never would have gained much of an interest in any other Japanese cinema. If not for the guy in the rubber suit, I wouldn't have paid any attention at all to the more serious films of Akira Kurosawa, whom I discovered for the first time about a year and a half ago.

So chalk up Godzilla and its many sequels as one of my "guilty pleasures." My favourite of the lot is probably the aforementioned Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, which has a lot of things going for it: King Ghidorah, the "victory jig," Nick Adams, silly dubbed English, and sillier alien costumes for the invaders from "Planet X."

One more thing: The Great Green One isn't actually green; he's grey.