December 30, 2008

Lightning reviews

From time to time I want to start posting some "lightning reviews" of books I have read recently (and perhaps some other material I have viewed/heard, as well). This is a bit of a writing exercise, intended a) to get me to read more; b) to get me to blog more by actually writing something about everything I read; and c) to exercise my mental muscle by forcing me to say everything I want to in about 250 words and half an hour. So, with no further ado, here are the first three.

Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (Knopf, 2006)

Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were relatively unknown prior to the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, and even so it was the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen in 2000 that made them household names. Of course, it was the 9/11 attacks that turned them into Public Enemy #1 in the public consciousness. But few people probably know where these people came from, who could plan or execute such an audacious terrorist attack on the West.

The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright tracks the history of al-Qaeda, primarily through the intertwined stories of four people: bin Laden himself, of course, the son of a Yemeni construction mogul, who fought alongside the Mujahedeen and Afghanistan, but transferred his hatred from the Soviets to the U.S. after the Saudis permitted the latter to establish bases on their soil during the 1991 Gulf War; Ayman al-Zarqawi, medical doctor, co-conspirator in the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, and leader of the terrorist faction al-Jihad, which later merged with bin Laden's al-Qaeda; Prince Turki, the head of Saudi intelligence who had been a friend to bin Laden, but was later compelled to confiscate his passport and expel him from Saudi Arabia; and John O'Neill, the FBI special agent who fought tenaciously to get the Bureau to recognize the threat al-Qaeda posed, only to die in the destruction of the World Trade Center. Wright began researching The Looming Tower almost immediately after 9/11, and his narrative is woven together from hundreds of interviews conducted with many principal figures. This book is well worth reading for its insight into the principal newsmaker of our day.

Francis A. Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the 20th Century (IVP, 1970)

As influential as 20th-century theologian Francis Schaeffer is, it's easy to dismiss his cultural critique as dated. After all, not only did he die in 1984 - before most current university students were even born - but his peak period of influence was in the 1960s and early 1970s. He was writing about hippies, fercryinoutloud! But of course that would miss the extent to which Schaeffer's prophetic voice continues to be heard. Schaeffer sparked the evangelical Protestant concern with activism, particularly on the abortion issue, for example. His books remain in print, and his students, such as Os Guinness, continue to speak as he did.

And when you read the following, from The Church at the End of the 20th Century, you would think he had a contemporary student newspaper in front of him and was reading the headlines:

[The New Left] derives from what, as i said, Ginsberg pointed out: Someone needs to make the posters. . . . It explains the change in the campus revolution from Winsconsin and Columbia onwards. . . . One of the leaders of the Sorbonne revoluation spoke over the French radio. Another student called up on the phone and said, "Give me a chance to speak." But the answer was "No, just shut up - I'll never give you a chance to speak." The same thing is happening wherever the New Left takes over . Here is the complete opposite to the origianl Free Speech movement - a few hundred tell thousands they must be still. (p. 32)

Schaeffer sounds like he could be talking about Stalinist student unions and campus speech codes. He being dead yet speaketh, indeed.

Overall, The Church at the End of the 20th Century is an analysis of the church's response to the intellectual and social Zeitgeist of the late 20th century. The culture might have changed, but the issues are still the same. Well worth reading, but if you're unfamiliar with Schaeffer, I suggest reading two earlier books first, The God Who is There, and Escape from Reason, which lay down the philosophical and theologial framework for all his later writing.

Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (Harper Regency, 2000)

Chef Anthony Bourdain's book Kitchen Confidential might discourage you from ever wanting to eat out again, but it shouldn't. This tell-all memoir-cum-exposé of the food-service industry details Bourdain's career (often fueled by an excess of drugs and alcohol); a few tips on the things you need to cook like a pro or why you should never order the fish special on a Monday; and character sketches of some of the more colorful characters he has worked with. The oddest of these is "Adam Real-Last-Name-Unknown," an eccentric and highly litigious baker with a dubious immigration status and a preternatural flair for making delicious varieties of sourdough bread. A novelist couldn't invent characters like this. On the other hand, Scott Bryan, chef of the New York restaurant Veritas, is praised as an excellent chef and the consummate professional - a foil for the markedly wilder Bourdain.

If you've seen Bourdain's travelogue program No Reservations, then you know from his profanity-laced commentaries that he advocates for simple, unpretentious local fare prepared simply with regional ingredients. Conversely, in Kitchen Confidential he seems to have a speical hatred for the celebrity chef; one oblique reference to Emeril Lagasse labels him a "schlockmeister with a catchphrase and his own line of prepared seasonings." Bourdain is the anti-celebrity chef, albeit one with his own TV show. I wonder if he grasps the irony.

December 25, 2008

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light

For unto us a child is born,
unto us a son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called
Wonderful,
Counsellor,
The mighty God,
The everlasting Father,
The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

If you feel so inclined, why not sing along [PDF] courtesy of Kelvin Smith's UntraveledRoad Music Collection?

Merry Christmas, all.

December 22, 2008

This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper

Late last week, the newspaper headlines were trumpeting the coming of "Snowmageddon," purportedly the mother of all winter storms, which was set to hit Ottawa on Friday and Sunday. (I love the term "Snowmageddon," and have since tried to use it in at least on sentence daily.) This is the same winter storm that dumped snow on such unlikely places as California and Nevada and walloped Toronto early Friday morning.

Fortunately, for Ottawa's sake, it missed, and both storms, though blustery, were not enough to cause any serious hardship. Faithful Readers may remember my posting this picture back in March, after a record-breaking snowstorm shut the city down for a couple of days:

Imagine something like that, only without the snow, and you'll get an idea of the Snowstorm to End All Snowstorms. There was a lot of bluster, but not a lot of white stuff on the ground, and the roads were basically bare, at least in the centre.

My church choir presented its annual Christmas cantata this Friday and Sunday - the exact two days that we got the bad weather. Our choir director was worried when he heard the weather forecasts, because it was this time last year when the Sunday cantata was snowed out. He decided to present the same program this year because so many people never got a chance to hear it last year - including myself, as I wasn't at the Friday night performance. This year, nothing got canceled, and the cold and blowing snow wasn't enough to keep people away. (I really wouldn't want to practice the same program for a third consecutive year.)

Which isn't to say that the weather hasn't been nasty. It's been consistently about -15°C for the past week, and usually quite gusty. Thanks to the 12-day-old-and-counting bus strike, I need to walk a considerable distance to go about my usual daily business, and that often means a long walk home against the wind. Even a half-hour long hot shower isn't always enough to thaw me out afterwards.

So I'm really, really glad Snowmageddon fizzled. Hope you Nevadans enjoyed your winter wonderland while it lasted.

December 19, 2008

Majel Barrett Roddenberry, 1932-2008

"First Lady of Star Trek" Majel Barrett Roddenberry, widow of series creator Gene Roddenberry, has passed away at the age of 76, of complications due to leukemia.

In the original pilot of Star Trek, Barrett played "Number One," the emotionless second-in-command of the Enterprise. The network despised the character, and for the second pilot, much of her character was folded into that of Mr. Spock, who became the new first officer. Barrett herself was recast in a recurring role as Nurse Christine Chapel, who ironically harboured a secret crush on Spock. She was romantically involved with Gene Roddenberry at the time, and married him in 1969. In subsequent incarnations of Star Trek, she lent her voice to the shipboard computer, as well as a recurring role as Deanna Troi's mother on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. In one of Peter David's New Frontiers novels, he cracks a clever in-joke about the number of roles she played, which took me two reads before I caught it. I have heard that Barrett completed the voice work for the ship's computer for next year's new Star Trek movie, as well.

After Roddenberry's death, Barrett brought two of his further ideas to fruition as executive producer: Earth: Final Conflict (in which she also had a recurring role) and Andromeda, both of which, interestingly, were Canadian. Additionally, she made a significant guest appearance on "rival" series Babylon 5, as though to say it was all right for fans of Star Trek to like B5.

Science fiction has lost a treasure. Rest in peace, Mrs. Roddenberry.

December 18, 2008

Congrats . . .

. . . to Andrea Mrozek and team from ProWomanProLife for winning the "Best New Blog" category in the Canadian Blog Awards.

I first discovered this blog in March 2008, during the blowup at York University over the debate to be held on the legality of abortion. Since then it has become one of my must-read blogs, and has escaped mention on my blogroll only because I'm in the midst of an unnecessarily delayed facelift.

Based on the premise that the pro-life position is wholly compatible with women's rights, ProWomanProLife is an excellent and thoughtful contribution to the pro-life blogosphere, and everyone should read it.

December 17, 2008

The bus strike, 1 week in

Even though I rely on public transit to get around, I've said nothing about the bus driver strike that began at 12:01 am last Wednesday morning. I thought I'd sit tight and see what transpired.

Well, the first thing that transpired is that it turns out I don't rely on public transit to get around. At least, not much.

At the beginning of 2006, OC Transpo hiked the cash fares to $3.00, while increasing the cost of tickets and monthly passes by a considerably smaller percentage, to encourage people to use them. Then, this summer, citing increased fuel costs, they hiked the passes too. A monthly pass is supposed to be the economical choice for frequent riders, but now that's only true if you ride the bus for more than commuting back and forth to work every day; any less than that, and bus tickets (which also increased, but only a dime to $2.00 per regular fare) are your best bet.1 Additionally, a bus transfer entitles you to ride any route, in any direction, until it expires - there are no prohibitions on stopovers or return trips as there are with some cities' transit systems. It is perfectly possible, with some planning ahead, to go out, do your business, and return home on the same fare.

So, feeling that the municipal government was probably screwing me over, I stopped buying a monthly pass this April. I work at home, obviating the need for a daily commute. And within the hour that I consider a reasonable walking time, give or take a few minutes, I can reach:

  • half a dozen supermarkets
  • two branches of my bank
  • five branches of the public library, including the main branch
  • two university libraries
  • a hospital with emergency services
  • three malls
  • a Wal-Mart
  • downtown Ottawa
  • the Byward Market

My church is the only place I frequent that is outside of walking distance, and usually I can catch a ride with my roommate because he's also going. In addition to the fresh air and exercise (I'm sure I've shed a few pounds), doing my daily business on foot has been an opportunity to get out of the house and listen to music or podcasts free of the distractions of other housemates, the television, and so forth. By limiting bus use to long distance and bad weather, I cut my transportation bill in half or more. That extra 20 or so kilometers of walking each week has been nothing but an improvement to my quality of life.

Now, with the drivers on strike, I'm getting it from both ends. My understanding is that the one sticking point in the negotiations, over which neither side is willing to budge, is scheduling. (Gee, I wish I had a job where I could choose my own shifts.) So both sides are pretty much idiots. But even with no buses going anywhere, frankly, I haven't much noticed.2 Heck. Maybe when spring comes again and I've dropped a few more pounds and built up my leg muscles, I'll switch over to biking, which would extend my range four times or more. What have I got to lose?

Who knows, maybe more disaffected transit users will follow suit. Inevitably, some marketing drone will then realize that the only solution to plummeting ridership is to increase the fares yet again. Way to go, OC Transpo. Keep up the good work.

Footnotes

1 Harpernomics footnote: Admittedly, I have not calculated the advantage of using the passes when you factor in the tax break.

2I'm speaking only of my particular situation, of course; I realize not everyone is in the same situation as me.

December 16, 2008

Toys for Tyrants?

There are certain places around the world that I am convinced are loci of all sorts of foolishness. Berkeley, California comes to mind as the capital of hippy-dippy weirdness, as do Idaho and Michigan, home of various "militias" and "survivalists." Another such locus is Austin Texas. It earns its wings as a Nexus of Nuttiness for housing not one, but two high-profile nuts.

One nut is Texe Marrs, who never encountered anything that wasn't a grand conspiracy meant to usher in the New World OrderTM. (For example, Marrs has actually argued that vaccinations are a ruse to inject citizens with mind-control nanobots to be controlled by low-frequency transmissions from giant dish antennas disguised as World Cup soccer stadiums. No, you weren't dreaming that you read that.)

The other nut is, of course, talk-show host Alex Jones. Like Marrs, Jones is no stranger to the grand-scale conspiracy theories - he pretty much spearheads the whole 9/11 "truth" movement, after all - but if a Marrs theory is a buffet table of global intrigue, Jones seems to prefer his conspiracies portioned out in little snacks like dim sum.

Here is an example from Friday's program. Alex tries to reveal the true purpose of the Marines' Toys for Tots program, which is to "acclimate the public" to seeing armed soldiers in the streets of the New World OrderTM:

I have to hand it to the Marine sergeant he spoke to: despite all of Jones' attempts to bait him with multiple items of conspiracy wingnuttery, he didn't bite, and managed to plug Toys for Tots about four or five times. (Talk about keeping cool under fire!)

Jones' broader argument appears to be that frequent appearances of military personnel in uniform: in schools, at sporting events, doing Toys for Tots, and so forth, is nothing but a "brainwashing" campaign intended to get the public used to seeing the military in the streets. After the clip posted to YouTube, Jones intones, "The troops bring you toys," in a nasal, sarcastic tone, as though Marines had never collected toys for children before. Toys for Tots began in 1947 and went national a year later. The program has been going on for 60 years, so the claims made in the program that seeing uniformed military personnel in public is unusual, just don't hold water. They should be at least as familiar as a bell-ringing Sally Ann volunteer. Besides, who doesn't know at least one soldier?

Have a woo-woo Christmas and a whackadoo New Year.

December 15, 2008

And now . . . this - Dec. 15/08

Yet more gay penguins

Here's one from the you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me box. Remember the infamous gay penguins? Turns out that zoos worldwide are dens of homosexual iniquity. Here's another story from China, from a couple weeks ago:

A couple of gay penguins are attempting to steal eggs from straight birds in an effort to become "fathers", it has been reported.

The two penguins have started placing stones at the feet of parents before waddling away with their eggs, in a bid to hide their theft.

But the deception has been noticed by other penguins at the zoo, who have ostracised the gay couple from their group.

Homophobes!

Now keepers have decided to segregate the pair of three-year-old male birds to avoid disrupting the rest of the community during the hatching season. . . .

There are numerous examples of homosexuality in the animal kingdom, but gay penguins have captured the public's attention more than any other species.

[Full Story]

I don't know how many times I've seen appeals to animal behaviour as a moral justification for human homosexual behaviour. But I have yet to see anyone appeal to the animal kingdom to justify the ostracization of homosexuals. I wonder why?

My first thought reading this story was that this was going to result in some sort of protest. Yes indeed:

A pair of gay penguins thrown out of their zoo colony for repeatedly stealing eggs have been given some of their own to look after following a protest by animal rights groups.

Last month the birds were segregated after they were caught placing stones at the feet of parents before waddling away with their eggs.

But angry visitors to Polar Land in Harbin, northern China, complained it wasn't fair to stop the couple from becoming surrogate fathers and urged zoo bosses to give them a chance.

In response, zookeepers gave the pair two eggs laid by an inexperienced first-time mother.

[Full Story]

It's not fair! Civil rights for gay penguins! No justice, no peace! Spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody!

Socialist penguins. You gotta laugh.

Then one foggy nondenominational winter solstice festival eve, a traditional cultural icon came to say

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the political correct front:

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was almost grounded at Murrayville Elementary School this week after a parent complained about the classic Christmas song’s inclusion in her daughter’s upcoming kindergarten concert.

The objecting parent was upset about the words “Christmas” and “Santa” in the song, feeling that they carried religious overtones.

That prompted the song to be pulled from the upcoming holiday concert, which in turn upset more parents.

I guess that if you're miserable, the easiest thing to do is spread the misery around a bit.

I doubt there is a Christmas-themed song more secular than "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Well, maybe "Let It Snow." Fortunately, it appears that "school administrators and lawyers" agree, reinstating the song, albeit for a stupid reason: "it signifies just a day in time, Dec. 25, not the promotion of a religious symbol." Really. And just why is Dec. 25 special, anyway? How many festive songs are written in honour of June 23?

Anyway, this gets my vote for Happy Contradiction of the Day:

The mother, who is Jewish, said she was trying to have a Hanukkah song added to the musical lineup. . . .

“I don’t mind Christmas or anything Christmas-related at all, so long as you’re not imposing it on my child,” the objecting parent said Friday morning.

[Full Story]

Apparently, however, imposing a Hanukkah song on the goyim is A-OK in her book.

They're "holiday" lights, actually

And on the other side of the world, English culture continues to self-destruct:

A mum was told to take down her Christmas lights by a council worker in case they "offended" non-Christian neighbours.

Dorothy Glenn, 41, puts up hundreds of decorations, including a big tree and Santa, outside her home each year.

But she was "shocked and upset" when the housing official told her the festive display would offend Bengali and Chinese neighbours. . . .

South Tyneside Homes housing association apologised, insisting their worker's request did not reflect policy.

[Full Story]

Of course, that didn't stop the council droid from coming round in the first place and harassing innocent women.

Personally, I'd be more offended by the "hundreds of decorations" on grounds of taste rather than religion. Go ahead and wish me Merry Christmas. I'm not offended. And I will do likewise, because I don't care if it offends you. And to all a good night.

December 08, 2008

Book meme - the answers

As promised, here are the 10 books whose fifth-sentence-on-page-56 I posted on Saturday night, with a few comments.

  1. The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright. Probably the best book on the history of al-Qaeda leading up to 9/11.
  2. The Elements of Style by Strunk & White. Every writer should have a copy on his bookshelf (see hint #1).
  3. Sunshine Sketches of a Small Town by Stephen Leacock. This collection of short stories about the townsfolk of Mariposa, Ontario (see hint #4) is a classic of Canadian humour.
  4. Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis. Congrats Rebecca and Kim: you got the author right if not the specific volume.
  5. On Writing by Stephen King. He is my favourite fiction author (hint #3), so I thought it would be fun to cite one of his handful of non-fiction books.
  6. The Justification of God by John Piper, who is better known for popular books about desiring God than for exegetical commentaries like this one (hint #2).
  7. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling. And if you thought this was a dead giveaway, you should have seen the sentence in The Deathly Hallows . . .
  8. Perelandra, by C. S. Lewis, the sequel to Out of the Silent Planet (hint #5). That sentence doesn't really give anything away.
  9. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee & Stuart. A popular primer on biblical hermeneutics.
  10. The Ashes of Eden by William Shatner. Yes Dorothy, it is indeed a Star Trek novel, written by The Bill himself.

Well, that was fun. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a lot of books to put away.

December 06, 2008

A book meme! By gor, it's been awhile

Over at Rebecca Writes, I've been tagged with the latest meme to do the rounds. Here are the rules, which are admittedly rather odd:

Take ten books, and transcribe the fifth sentence from page fifty six.

In keeping with the 5, 56 thing, Make sure that at least five books are fiction, provide five hints, and pass the meme on to six other bloggers.

(Of course, in keeping with my usual habit, I won't subject anyone to a tag.  I like being a good sport about these memes, particularly if they're book-related, but generally by the time I get involved, the meme's been around the block a few times.)

So here's my list, in no particular order:

  1. While some eagerly talked about rebuilding, there were also intensive discussions among the prisoners about the dismaying fact that so many of them had been arrested, the movement so quickly betrayed.
  2. From the people comes political support or opposition; from the public comes artistic appreciation or commercial patronage.
  3. Then presently it came back and they sent another load, till pretty soon the decks began to thin out and everybody got impatient to be gone.
  4. He wanted men - any man, even Weston and Devine.
  5. The first two pieces I turned in had to do with a basketball game in which an LHS player broke the school scoring record.
  6. On the other side, one sees in the text a clear statement of "double predestination" of individuals to salvation or condemnation and claims that "the history of the exegesis of Rom 9 could be described as the history of attempts to escape this clear observation."
  7. It took him a little over ten minutes to track down everything he needed; at last he had managed to extract his Invisibility Cloak from under the bed, screwed the top back on his jar of Colour-Change ink and forced the lid of his trunk shut on his cauldron.
  8. And if you wished - if it were possible to wish - you could keep it there.
  9. Deissman himself considered all the Pauline Epistles as well as 2 and 3 John to be "real letters."
  10. McCoy couldn't tell if he had just been tricked into complimenting Spock.

And here are my hints (as difficult as it is to limit myself to just five!):

  1. If you know my profession, then you would understand why one of these books is on my bookshelf.
  2. One of my authors is popular especially amongst young Reformed people, but this book in particular was not written for a popular audience.
  3. One of the non-fiction books was written by my favourite fiction author.
  4. Mariposa.
  5. One of the fiction books is a sequel to another.

So there. Have fun! A couple of these are probably dead giveaways, but the rest should have you thumbing through your libraries looking for other hints. I'll post the answers in a day or so.

November 29, 2008

Why my alma mater is the University of Awesome

There aren't too many schools that can boast having arguably the world's most famous academic in residence. From yesterday's Daily Bulletin at the University of Waterloo:

Stephen Hawking of Cambridge University, probably the world's best-known physicist, has been named a "Distinguished Research Chair" at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and will be spending time in Waterloo regularly, with the first visit scheduled for next summer.

[Full Text]

Plus, he's been on Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Simpsons.

Cool news, and congrats to the Perimeter Institute, which is one of the many things that didn't exist on campus when I graduated in 1997. Almost makes me want to go back and study science. Almost.

November 27, 2008

This Christmas, give the gift of abortion

Planned Parenthood, possibly the world's most profitable non-profit organization, has come up with a brilliant new marketing strategy:

Planned Parenthood of Indiana has announced just in time for Christmas that it will begin selling gift certificates at its clinics and online, which can be used for all PP services, including payment for birth control, STD testing, and abortions.

The Planned Parenthood of Indiana website says the gift cards can be used for "services or the recipient’s choice of birth control method," and poses the question "Why not buy a loved one a gift this holiday season that they really need"?

[Full Story]

You have got to be kidding me. What bunch of drugged-out marketroids thought this was a good idea? And under what circumstances would such a "gift" ever be considered appropriate? "Say, why don't I drive you up to the clinic on the way to work so you can get tested for chlamydia? What's that, honey? Oh, no reason. Merry Christmas!"

(H/T: ProWomanProLife).

Meanwhile, over at the University of Calgary, Campus Pro-Life's Genocide Awareness Project display goes into its second day. So far, it looks like the university blinked.

November 26, 2008

Meanwhile, on a completely different university campus . . .

Over at the University of Calgary, the campus pro-life group is defying warnings that if they display their Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) signs, they risk sanctions including arrest or expulsion:

Just before the noon hour Wednesday, campus security took down the names and addresses of protestors and told them to turn their posters of the aborted fetuses inward, or face the consequences. But the display remained up and although police arrived, no arrests have been made.

[Full Story]

CUSA: The gift that just keeps on giving

Just when you think student governments couldn't get any stupider, the Carleton University Students Association (CUSA) steps up to the plate. This isn't my first time ranting about CUSA dimbulbery. But that was two years ago, and the nitwits who voted to ban political speech they didn't agree with are gone, replaced with a new generation of nitwits. It's just one more piece of evidence that Last Chance U.'s student body is indeed governed by people who couldn't get accepted to other universities.

Here's the idiocy du jour from the CUSA goofs, passed at a meeting Monday night:

Motion to Drop Shinerama Fundraising Campaign from Orientation Week

Whereas Orientation week strives to be inclusive [sic] as possible;

Whereas all orientees and volunteers should feel like their fundraising efforts will serve the their [sic] diverse communities;

And Whereas Cystic fibrosis has been recently revealed to only [sic] affect white people, and primarily men . . .

Be it resolved that the CUSA representatives on the incoming Orientation Supervisory Board work to select a new broad reaching [sic] charity for orientation week [sic].

Moved: Donnie Northrup
Seconded: Meera Chander

Yes, you read that right: CUSA has deep-sixed participation in the successful and popular annual Shinerama fundraising campaign, because cystic fibrosis isn't diverse enough. No, really.

The fact that the motion passed 17-2 isn't the most extraordinary thing about this. It's that Donnie Northrup, who is the science faculty representative, proposed it. You would think that a science student would have done a little science research: while CF is a genetic disorder that primarily affects Caucasians (not white people specifically), it can affect someone of any race, and both sexes are equally susceptible. Nonetheless, since apparently the wording of the motion could not be changed (CUSA apparently being ignorant of the concept of "amendment"), science student Northrup is now permanently on record for being scientifically ignorant.

Meanwhile, the hunt for a more inclusive disease is on. I'm guessing that Tay-Sachs disease, sickle-cell anemia, and breast cancer aren't on the short list.

October 15, 2008

Four More Years! More Or Less!

In my last post (which just goes to show how often I'm not blogging these days),I wrote:

I'm projecting a Conservative victory, though I'm not going to commit to predicting a minority or majority government at this stage.

Safe bet, I guess, because after the polls closed and the votes were counted, Stephen Harper and the conservatives had won a second term, albeit another minority government. However, they were only shy of the majority by about a dozen seats; possibly only another percent or two of the popular vote would have netted them that majority.

The Tories were the big winners last night, gaining 19 seats over the 2006 election; all but one incumbent cabinet minister were re-elected - including former Foreign Affairs minister Maxime Bernier, he of the loose lips and biker-chick girlfriend. The NDP also gained 8 seats.

On the other hand, the big losers were the Liberal Party; they lost the seats that the Tories and NDP gained. My hometown riding of Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing - Lester Pearson's old riding - has elected no one but Liberals since 1935. Last night, the NDP candidate upset that streak with nearly half the votes. I live in Ottawa South which I assumed was a safe riding for the Liberals, but if they can be upset in northern Ontario, then who knows what could have happened here. Needless to say, Stephane Dion will be polishing up his resume soon.

But the big, big loser this election was Elizabeth May and the Green Party. Despite all the moaning and legal threats to get May into the leaders' debates, the Greens failed to pick up a single seat, and lost the one seat they did have (one independent MP joined the Greens during the summer break and never actually sat in Parliament as a party member). Now we'll be listening to May whine about proportional representation until the next election. (There's a reason we use the first-past-the-post system, Liz: it makes you try harder.)

Because Canada now has fixed election dates, the next national election under normal circumstances would be October 16, 2012. Of course, the Prime Minister retains the power to request an election at any time, and in a minority-government situation, there is still the possibility of a no-confidence motion forcing one. Either way, the next few years are going to be fun.

September 07, 2008

It's on

It turns out that our neighbours to the south are not the only ones holding a national election this fall. When I went to church this morning, the street corners were unadorned; on the way back at noon, the campaign signs were already up. Prime Minister Stephen Harper took the walk across Sussex Drive to Rideau Hall and asked the Governor General to dissolve the 39th Parliament.

The current Conservative government was elected on January 23, 2006 and sworn in on February 6. This Parliament is the largest minority in the history of Canada, being short of a majority by 30 seats. Its term of office for 2 years and 214 days, making it also the longest serving minority government.1

Ironically, it was the Harper Conservatives who passed legislation last year to implement fixed election dates for national elections. Had the writ not been dropped, the next federal election would have been October 19, 2009. In effect, Mr. Harper has broken his own rule by calling for a federal election a year early. (Though if my understanding of the new system is correct, no rule was broken, really; this simply means that the next general election will be 4 years later on October 15, 2012, assuming nothing happens in the meantime to hasten it.)

Harper has demonstrated himself to be a canny politician. In 2006, the Canadian and American governments finally resolved a long-standing softwood-lumber trade dispute. They lowered the federal sales tax not once, but twice. The Prime Minister has especially showed his mettle in the last year: with the Opposition Liberal party reluctant to force an election, the Conservatives were able to pass a number of "confidence" bills that the Liberals opposed but could not defeat without forcing the government to resign: amongst them, passing the 2008 federal budget, and extending the current military mission in Afghanistan to 2011 (no later than 2009 was considered "non-negotiable" by Liberal leader Stéphane Dion). This strategy has shown up Dion as an ineffective leader and fomented dissent on Canada's political left between the Liberal and New Democratic Parties. On the other hand, there are also a handful of political scandals currently in the news that don't cast a positive light on the Tories, either.

So the next 30-odd days are going to be interesting. I'm projecting a Conservative victory, though I'm not going to commit to predicting a minority or majority government at this stage.

Meanwhile, I have to practice writing that little X within the circle.

Footnote

1 You win some, you lose some footnote: I'm not counting the 14th Parliament of William Lyon Mackenzie King (1922-25), which ran longer but was not consistently a minority.

September 06, 2008

And now . . . this - Sept. 6/08

See, I told you we're all gonna die

Scientists working on the world's biggest machine are being besieged by phone calls and e-mails from people who fear the world will end this Wednesday, when the gigantic atom smasher starts up.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, where particles will begin to circulate around its 27km circumference tunnel on September 10, will recreate energies not seen since the universe was very young, when particles smash together at near the speed of light.

The machine has been shadowed by internet-fuelled concerns that it will release energies so powerful that it will create a runaway black hole that will engulf the planet, or a "strangelet" particle that would transform earth into a lump of strange matter.

[Full Story]

On the one hand, I have to admit I've always wanted to see Switzerland. On the other, I was hoping to get there by a more scenic journey than being sucked through the earth's core.

However, we should remain hopeful that the LHC might help us discover the long-elusive cluon, leading us at last to a cure for human credulity.

August 08, 2008

08/08/08

WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE

There . . . it's out of my system.

That is all.

August 04, 2008

. . . and hello to all this

I blogged last week about the final services at my church's original building on Bank St. in not-so-beautiful downtown Ottawa and the satellite campus we have been using since 2003 to accommodate all our adherents. Yesterday, we held the inaugural service at the new Met. No longer will we need to distinguish between the Met@Bank and the Met@Carleton; after 5 years, we're back together again under one roof: just the Met.

Our service began, as it always does, with singing. I noted last week that the last hymn to be sung by the congregation in the original building was a medley of "Power in the Blood" and "Are You Washed in the Blood?" No less fitting was the first hymn sung in the new place: "Holy, Holy, Holy." This suited the morning's sermon, titled "When is a Building not a Building?" taken from Exodus 3, about Moses standing on holy ground.  It is not the soil Moses stood on (which was no different than the other soil around it) that made the ground holy, nor is it the bricks and mortar of a church building (which could have been used to build a mall or a condominium): it is that it was set apart for God and for his service. Later on in the Bible, of course, we see God setting aside not holy ground, but holy people. The church is, indeed, "more than a building."

Between services, I visited the spacious new library and then the second floor, where the space under the glass tower is a cafĂ© - not intended as a substitute for church services or other Sunday morning programs, but a place to meet on the way in or out and have some fellowship with other members or visitors. Our church being very missions-oriented, the proceeds from sales are apparently going to be directed toward local missions efforts. (I couldn't help feeling a little sorry for the proprietors of the Tim Hortons across the street from the old building, as I'm sure they got a lot of business from people ducking out for a large double-double between church and Sunday school!)  Even on the first day, the new building seemed very busy. Apparently there were over 2000 people who came out yesterday morning. I'm sure a good number of those were visitors.

It was my turn to operate the PowerPoint system for the evening service, so I got (almost) to be the first to play with the new toys.  The projection system consists of two huge projectors suspended from the ceiling. Each one apparently weighs about 80 pounds, so I'm thrilled that the days of lugging the projector in and out of storage are over.

My overall impression was that Day 1 went without a hitch. I'm probably wrong about that, but certainly there was nothing that would dampen the day for the average churchgoer.  Apparently there is a list of hundreds of little items needing attention that will be addressed and repaired in the coming months. But I don't think anyone's day was ruined by a malfunctioning water fountain or a cracked window.

To God be the glory - great things he hath done.

July 28, 2008

Goodbye to all that . . .

Yesterday was a bittersweet day: the last Sunday in my church's downtown building. The Metropolitan Bible Church (known affectionately by its members and adherents as "The Met") has been a downtown church since its founding in 1931.

The first Met originally met in the Imperial Theatre on Bank St. - the present-day Barrymore's - and moved into their own building, at the corner of Bank and Gladstone streets, in 1936. The look and feel of the building - both inside and out - is of an old theatre. This is intentional, as in the midst of the Great Depression, the banks wouldn't finance construction unless it could be converted to another use if the church folded.

It didn't fold. Instead, the Met continued to grow and grow. An "education wing" was added in 1967 to address the space needs for Sunday school classes. And even in the last few years, renovations continued to reconfigure the interior to accommodate something like 1,800 regular attendees in a building designed for about 700.

I first started attending the Met as a co-op student in Ottawa in 1995. I was part of Waterloo Christian Fellowship (Waterloo U.'s IVCF chapter) during my last few years of school, and this was the church I was told I ought to check out when I got to Ottawa. When I turned up at the largest church and congregation I had ever been in, practically the first person I encountered was another WCF member that I was vaguely acquainted with - and I have never been so happy to meet someone I had probably exchanged a dozen words with over the year! (Fortunately, we became fairly good friends, and when she later transfered from Waterloo to McMaster, she ended up living with my sister for a couple of years.) Back then the college and career group ranged from about 30-50 people, and it was easy to get to know almost everyone. Most of those folks are gone from the Met, many married and raising families ow, but many are still in Ottawa, and it's good to run into them on occasion. Naturally, when I moved permanently to Ottawa in 1998 to work, it was a no-brainer that I would come back to the Met. Ten years later, I have no regrets.

According to the Ottawa Citizen, the last morning service was packed out. I wasn't there. In 2003, as a temporary measure to reduce some of the crowding at the Bank St. church, we started renting the Alumni Theatre on Carleton University campus as a satellite church, with the morning sermons couriered over from Bank St. on videotape. This was intended as a temporary measure until a new building could be readied. During the fall and winter I sing in the choir, so I have gone downtown, but in the summer when there is no choir, it was always easier to attend the Carleton venue. "Met@Carleton" has ministered to students for 5 years, and although the Met will continue to have a presence on campus thanks to the chaplaincy office, this was also the final Sunday service to be held there.

After the service, we held an informal picnic by Hartwell's Locks on the Rideau Canal, just off-campus. This flight of two locks lifts boats over 20 feet in about 30 minutes, and it was a busy Sunday for boaters. Most of the locks on the Rideau Canal, including Hartwell's, are still entirely hand-operated. Even though I've lived in Ottawa for over 10 years, I've never watched them in use, so I stayed long enough to watch a few power boaters travelling in both directions before going home.

I did go back to Bank St. for the evening service, however. We had a brief *cough* sharing time for people who wanted to testify to what the Met has meant to them. Our pastor gave a brief Bible lesson, based on Hebrews 13:7-8, reminding us that church leaders may come and go; addresses may change; we may do things a little differently than we used to; but even though we are moving to a new building, we still worship the same Jesus: "the same yesterday and today and forever." Then we closed with communion, and the last song to be sung at 453 Bank St. was a fitting medley of "Power in the Blood" and "Are You Washed in the Blood?"

In a few years, the corner of Bank and Gladstone will be condominiums, albeit with the original façade intact, the Met being a heritage building. And while it's sad to move away from a comfortable, familiar building that has shone God's light in downtown Ottawa for nearly 80 years, with the way the city is growing it won't be long until Ottawa's southern suburbs look an awful lot like downtown.

Church will be meeting again next week. As our building campaign motto has said all along, it's "more than a building."

I don't think I know her, but Gen of Confessions from a Road Less Travelled posts her own reminiscences of the Met.

(H/T: CT Moore, whose photo I borrowed. I hope he doesn't mind my linking to it!)

July 23, 2008

Worst phishing scam ever!

Got this message in my inbox yesterday:

This is to formally notify you that we are presently working on the Carleton webmail, and this can close your webmail account with Carleton completely.

To avoid this, please send your surname and password to Carleton Webmail Care on: carletonwebmailcare@webmail.co.za

Please do this, so that your Carleton webmail Account can be protected from being close.

Your immediate response is highly needed.

PLEASE PROTECT YOUR CARLETON WEBMAIL ACCOUNT FROM BEING CLOSED.

Regards,
Customer Care Service.

Hy-larious.

  • It was apparently sent from a Verizon emall account named "CARLETON WEBMAIL CARE," but the supposed sender's initials and last name appear in he email address proper.
  • IT admins at Carleton University don't need to send admin messages from Verizon accounts.
  • Verizon doesn't even operate in Canada.
  • The Reply-To: address in the headers is to a webmail account in South Africa (the same one that appears in the message body). I'm pretty sure that if Carleton doesn't need Verizon for email access, they definitely don't need the equivalent of a South African Hotmail account.
  • Although my email account at the National Capital FreeNet is based at Carleton  University (where the mail servers are housed), I don't have a "Carleton webmail account."
  • Admin-type broadcast messages typically tell you why, when, and how long they plan to "work on" the system, so that people who rely on the service have prior warning, e.g. "The Network Gods will be performing scheduled maintenance to the webmail server on Friday, July 25 at 5 pm. This software upgrade is expected to last for about two hours. During this time, your account will not be accessible. We apologize for the inconvenience."
  • Thanks to such routine precautions as redundant systems and regular backups, the possibility of my account being "closed" "completely" due to "work" is basically nil.
  • Obviously, in the unlikely event of an unintentional hosing of the mail server, the powers-that-be do not need my "surname and password" in order to restore the system from a previous backup.
  • While IT professionals are not always the most literate folks, I've never seen a broadcast message so poorly written. I don't want my account protected from being "close." I like it nearby, where it belongs.
  • A large Canadian university doesn't have "Customer Care Service."

So, needless to say, I wasn't particularly fooled. This was a more transparent attempt to phish for my personal info than the usual bank/eBay/PayPal scams you see, and those are pretty obvious too.

But unless it's a coincidence that someone else was running a more sophisticated phishing scam at the same time, someone was fooled:

The e-mail system at an Ottawa university was crippled this week by cyber criminals who tricked a user into providing access to a university e-mail account.

The system at Carleton University is now back to normal, Ralph Michaelis, the chief information officer at the university's department of computing and communications services, said Wednesday.

Earlier in the week, the criminals used a university e-mail account to send out tens of thousands of spam e-mails, clogging the system and forcing users to wait up to five minutes to send or receive e-mail, Michaelis said.

Which only goes to show that there's no trick in the book so old that it won't catch a new fish.

July 09, 2008

And now . . . this - July 9/08

Stupid poetic justice!

A desperate five-day search for a 9-year-old boy abducted by his father in Southern California ended in Mexico, where the man died after being hit by a bus and the boy was found safe across town, authorities said Monday.

[Full Story]

The Proverbial Bus solves the Problem of Evil. This has to be the Christian apologist's biggest fantasy.

Here we go again, part 6.022x1023

John Ganster has watched cars creep, crawl and park in front of his East Dallas stone company as their occupants try to catch a glimpse of a granite slab stained with what some think is an image of Jesus. . . .

At first, no one at the company noticed the image, Mr. Ganster said. Then a customer called and asked about buying the "Jesus slab," a 1,000-pound hunk of granite that comes from Brazil.

[Jesus rock]

Uh-oh. It looks to me like he's about to stick that shiv into the giant skull on the left.

And now for some completely bad hermeneutics.

The stone had been in the company's Tulsa, Okla., store. It was moved to the Dallas office in December, after builders in the Tulsa area kept passing on it because of cosmetic imperfections.

"That's kind of ironic," Mr. Ganster said. "Christ said that he would build his church on the stone that the builders rejected."

[Full Story]

And that puddle on the floor is the puke my stomach rejected. Hey, I think I see an image of Jesus.

That's right, shoot the messenger

At least I'm glad to see that "human rights" kookery isn't limited to Canadian shores:

A Canton [Michigan] man is suing Zondervan Publishing and a Tennessee-based publisher, claiming their versions of the Bible that refer to homosexuality as a sin violate his constitutional rights and has caused him emotional pain and mental instability.

Mental instability, eh? This lawsuit is Exhibit A.

Bradley LaShawn Fowler, 39, is seeking $60 million from Zondervan, based in Cascade Township, and another $10 million from Thomas Nelson Publishing in the lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Fowler filed the suit against Zondervan on Monday, the same day U.S. District Judge Julian Abele Cook Jr. refused to appoint an attorney to represent him in his case against Thomas Nelson, a Tennessee publisher. Fowler filed a suit against Thomas Nelson in June. He is representing himself in both claims.

"The Court has some very genuine concerns about the nature and efficacy of these claims," the judge wrote.

[Full Story]

Translation: "'He's as fruity as a nutcake,' the judge wrote.'

(H/T: James White.)

July 04, 2008

And now . . . this - July 4/08

For some people, stealing traffic cones isn't enough of a challenge

A 42-year-old Ottawa man has been charged with the theft of 25 sewer grates in the Elmvale Acres area — some of the 150 catch basin covers that have gone missing around the city in the past month.

Tim Argiropoulos was arrested Thursday afternoon and is to appear in court on Aug. 11, Ottawa police said Friday.

[Full Story]

Under normal circumstances, the city of Ottawa loses a handful of sewer grates every month. A few is pranksters; 150 of the things is some sort of conspiracy. No doubt the dramatic rise in thefts is due to the current high price of metals. Meanwhile, thanks to dimbulbs like Argiropooulos, we all run the risk of stepping off the curb into a 10-foot hole.

Always look on the bright side of life

Thomas Beatie, the transgender man who made headlines as the so-called "pregnant man," gave birth Sunday to a healthy baby girl, ABC News has learned.

The birth, at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, Oregon, was natural, according to a source, who added that reports that Beatie had had a Caesarean section are false.

[Full Story]

At the risk of acquiring my very own Human Rights complaint for discriminating against the weird: "Thomas Beatie" is not a man, pregnant or otherwise. She is a woman whom an intensive regimen of hormones and surgery has messed up severely. Inevitably, this nonsense reminds me of this classic Monty Python scene from Life of Brian:

sigh . . . stupid world . . .

(H/T: Jill Stanek.)

The Order of Canada jumps the shark

While everyone else was enjoying the big street party yesterday, Canada bestowed its highest civilian honour, quietly and underhandedly, upon Dr. Henry Morgentaler, a Holocaust survivor who believes he should be able to kill as many unborn children as he wants, without legal consequences.

The motto of the Order of Canada is Desiderantes meliorem patriam ("They desire a better country").1 Has Morgentaler's legacy left us a better country? On the contrary, his advocacy has left Canadians polarized and divided over the abortion issue -  to say nothing of the thousands of unborn infants that he and his kind have enabled to be slaughtered for any reason or none. Abortion is so often (and falsely) assumed to be a fundamental human right, that the student Politburos at several Canadian universities have taken steps to officially stifle the real fundamental right of free speech of those students who oppose it. At the very least, causing roughly half of all Canadians to suddenly take offense hardly makes Canada a better place. If Morgentaler's crusade for abortion rights has left Canada a better country, the benefits are, at best, invisible and dubious.

On the other hand, Morgentaler's crusade certainly has benefited Morgentaler. Lest we forget the circumstances of his crusade, it was about his right to open a private, for-profit abortion clinic in 1969. He doesn't seem to be too poorly off. Notwithstanding all the empty platitudes about "safe, legal, and rare" that fall from the lips of abortion advocates, the last thing a professional abortionist would want is for business to be rare.

At every debate on abortion that I have attended, inevitably someone (whether the pro-abortion advocate or someone from the audience in the Q&A) will argue that since men can't get pregnant, their opinion on the abortion issue isn't worth much.  Of course, that argument only counts for men like Jojo Ruba or Scott Klusendorf, who are against abortion. When men are for abortion, like Dr. Morgentaler or the majority of Supreme Court judges who struck down the abortion law in 1988, they get honours, human rights awards, and honorary doctorates.

However, it's now official: The Order of Canada has jumped the shark. Like the Nobel Prize and the Academy Awards, it's no longer about celebrating excellence that all Canadians can be proud of: it's about being one more soapbox for the political hobby horses of the not-so-intelligentsia. Shameful.

Footnote

1 A motto, ironically, derived from the Bible: "But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one" (Heb. 11:16, emphasis added). As a general rule, the authors of the Bible frowned upon the mass murder of infants.

July 01, 2008

Canada Day, 2008

Today is Canada Day - more specifically, Canada's 141's birthday. (She doesn't look a day over 120 . . .)

It has been my practice, since my first Canada Day blogging in 2004, to tell the story of one Canadian patriotic song. This year, the song both isn't, and is, Canadian: "God Save the Queen."

This song is actually a British patriotic song. The author and composer are unknown. The phrase "God save the King" originated in the English Bible (specifically, the Coverdale Bible of 1535, though it was retained also in the King James Version). It was also employed as a naval watchword, the countersign to which was, "Long to reign over us."

The form we are familiar with originated in 1745, when it was sung in theatres (anyone else old enough to remember singing the national anthem at the movies?):

God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen.

"God Save the Queen" is the unofficial national anthem of England, its usage having been established by tradition rather than legislation. Similarly, here in Canada it is the unofficial "Royal Anthem," played in the presence of royalty or the Governor-General, but has no legal standing. When I was in elementary school, it was sung after "O Canada" during daily opening exercises.

Two other, more politically incorrect verses, are rarely sung today:

O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter thine enemies,
And make them fall:
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On thee our hopes we fix:
God save us all.

Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen.

Though it isn't a Canadian song, in a sense it is, since Canada is a constitutional monarchy, and the Queen of England is also our head of state, designated the Queen of Canada. While pro-royalty sentiment in Canada may not be what it is in London, or what it used to be, naturally Canadians wish Her Majesty well.

In Canada the anthem has an additional verse, though again it is almost never sung. Admittedly, the reference to the British Empire is rather obsolescent:

Our loved Dominion bless
With peace and happiness
From shore to shore;
And let our Empire be
Loyal, united, free
True to herself and Thee
God save the Queen.

"God Save the Queen" is, I"m sure, familiar to all natives of English-speaking countries. In the United States, the melody is used for "My Country, 'Tis of Thee." It is well known even outside the English-speaking world: the melody has been used in the past for the national anthems of Germany (Beethoven once composed a "theme and variations" on it), Switzerland, and Russia; and is still used as the anthem of Liechtenstein, as well as the royal anthem of Norway and Sweden. (Britannia certainly does rule the sound waves!) So it seems almost redundant to provide the usual link to the tune in MIDI format. Nonetheless, here it is.

Happy Birthday, Canada. And God save our gracious Queen.

Previous Canada Day songs:

May 05, 2008

Mangoes, mushrooms, muesli, and marmalade are murder; or, Who will weep for the Brussels sprout? or, Switzerland jumps the shark

On Friday I blogged about recent Swiss legislation that makes it animal abuse to house goldfish in a tank that is transparent all round or for small children to cuddle their guinea pigs excessively. This bit of nitwittery may be only the beginning.

Not to be outdone, the Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology has released a report titled "The Dignity of Living Beings With Regard to Plants" [PDF]. In this document, the Committee admits, right up front:

For some people, the question of whether the treatment or handling of plants requires moral justification is a meaningless one. The moral consideration of plants is considered to be senseless. Some people have warned that simply having this discussion at all is risible. In their view, the human treatment of plants is on morally neutral ground and therefore requires no justification. (4)

The committee was unanimous that it was immoral to harm plants arbitrarily. By arbitrary, they mean "without rational reason," for example:

An example of arbitrary treatment used in the discussion was the farmer who, after mowing the grass for his animals, decapitates flowers with his scythe on his way home without rational reason. However, at this point it remains unclear whether this action is condemned because it expresses a particular moral stance of the farmer towards other organisms or because something bad is being done to the flowers themselves. (9, emphasis in original)

Actually it remains unclear why this action is condemned at all. I have a certain amount of respect for God's creation: the plants and animals he made are "very good" (Gen. 1:31), and so I don't arbitrarily step on bugs that aren't pestering me, or peel the bark of birch trees if I can avoid it.  But I don't demand that others come to the same conclusions as I do, and I definitely draw the line at questioning the ethics of picking flowers or eating my spinach. Something has to be at the bottom of the food chain, after all.

The great majority of the ECNH members holds the opinion that prima facie we do not possess unrestricted power over plants. We may not use them just as we please, even if the plant community is not in danger, or if our actions do not endanger the species, or if we are not acting arbitrarily. A minority of the members is of the opinion that prima facie we may use plants as we please, as long as the plant community or the species is not in danger and we are not acting arbitrarily. (10, emphasis in original)

Spokesmen for the plant community were not available for comment, apparently.

This committee cannot even reach a consensus on whether plants are sentient or not (14). The country that gave us Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Bernoullis, and Johanna Spyri gave us this group of geniuses? They should be embarrassed. Al Mohler gets it right: "The very idea of 'plants rights' indicates a loss of cultural sanity." What comes next? The dignity of sand? The right of a lake not to have stones skipped across it?

(H/T: The Weekly Standard.)

May 02, 2008

And now . . . this - May 2/08

I've been too busy over the last couple of weeks for more than even sporadic blog reading, but you gotta break radio silence somehow.

It takes a village to raise a fish

And they say the Swiss obsession with rules and regulations is an unfair stereotype:

From guinea-pigs to budgerigars, any animal classified as a “social species” will be a victim of abuse if it does not cohabit, or at least have contact, with others of its own kind.

The new regulation stipulates that aquariums for pet fish should not be transparent on all sides and that owners must make sure that the natural cycle of day and night is maintained in terms of light. Goldfish are considered social animals, or Gruppentiere in German. . . .

The legislation even mentions the appropriate keeping of rhinoceroses, although it was not clear immediately how many, if any, were being kept as pets in Switzerland.

[Full Story]

That's it.I'm moving to Switzerland. I'm a social animal, and I need a beautiful blonde farm girl to bring me cheese. Anything else would be criminal.

No shortage of stupid criminals in the world

[A] 21-year-old North Texas man was arrested last week for trying to cash a $360 billion check, saying he wanted to start a record business, authorities said. Tellers at the Fort Worth bank were immediately suspicious — perhaps the 10 zeros on a personal check tipped them off, according to investigators.

[Charles Ray] Fuller, of suburban Crowley, was arrested on a forgery charge, police said. He was released after posting $3,750 bail.

"$3,750? No problem. Here, let me write you a cheque . . ."

In addition to forgery, Fuller was charged with unlawfully carrying a weapon and possessing marijuana, Fort Worth police Lt. Paul Henderson said.

[Full Story]

Sheesh! I'm beginning to wonder whether today's relative acceptability of pot smoking hasn't led to a bit of a brain-drain in the evil genius department.

April 16, 2008

Here we go again, part MCMLXXXIV

Fred notes the story of the hospital in Orlando, Florida where apparently a window was recently Jesified. He wants to know who you see in this image:

Image of Christ in glass

My vote goes to the Green Arrow:

The Green Arrow

On the brighter side, since it's a Seventh-day Adventist hospital, it's a fair guess that hordes of Roman Catholic faithful won't be inundating the prayer garden with candles and other Jesus Junk - what with Sunday worship being the Mark of the Beast, and all.

April 14, 2008

FridayMonday in the wild: April 14, 2008

Way back in time, about when I first hit my stride as a blogger, it was my weekly habit to post a weekly "Friday in the Wild," highlighting the best reading I had seen in the blogosphere in the previous seven days. I felt it was a good way to encourage others to read blogs I also found interesting, and it was a decent way to wrap up a week in case I didn't have anything to say over the weekend.  Now that I'm starting to get back into the habit of regular (or at least semi-regular) posting again, I think it's time to start this again. Only this time, I'm starting the week this way, rather than ending it. For now.

Some of these stories might be a little old by now, but who cares?

When I teach Sunday school, contextualizing means I take my passage and explain the historical, social, political, or literary circumstances that surround its writing: pointing out, for example, that to understand the book of Jeremiah properly, it is necessary to know the following:

  • Jeremiah's ministry was to Judah about 100 years after the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel.
  • In his lifetime, Judah had five kings, all of whom were deposed or destroyed by foreign powers.
  • Israel was then a vassal state of the declining empire of Assyria.
  • To counter the rising threat of the Babylonian empire, the Hebrews were forging political alliances with old enemies such as Egypt.
  • The patriotic Jeremiah saw, firsthand, the destruction of his nation at the hands of Babylon in 586 BC.

Contextualization also involves bridging the historical and cultural gap between his day and ours: what similar circumstances are there between 6th-century BC Judah and 21st-century Canada that make the ministry of the prophet relevant to us?

However, Phil Johnson points out that contextualization means something quite different in our postmodern age:

In the early 1970s, left-leaning missiologists made contextualization into a religious shibboleth. They also turned the dictionary definition of the word inside out. They weren't talking about studying or explaining biblical truth in its own context; instead, what they wanted to do was adapt and stylize religious ideas and symbols to fit into the cultural context of their target audience - namely oppressed and marginalized people groups.

It wasn't long before hip, young evangelicals discovered and embraced the basic concept, and then franchised it. Instead of targeting impoverished and downtrodden people, however, they turned contextualization into a tool for attracting Yuppies.

[Read Context and Contextualization]

While this article is somewhat older (there's no way I can claim something published nearly a month ago is a highlight of my week!), it was the start of a series on Acts 17: Paul's apologetic before the Areopagus in Athens. Today, Phil closed off the series with a post on "charitableness," the definition of which will look familiar to anyone who's had to endure the works of Brian McLaren and friends:

"Charitableness" (the postmodern substitute for charity) is something altogether different. It's a broad-minded, insouciantly tolerant, unrelenting goodwill toward practically every conceivable opinion. Its twin virtue - often labeled "epistemic humility' - is a cool refusal to hold any firm and settled convictions. These cardinal postmodern moral values are both seasoned with blithe indifference to the dangers of heresy.

[Read Paul and Charitableness]

You can also read the entire series in one fell swoop. Good stuff.

John Piper posted C. S. Lewis' five rules of writing for children. While I've never read this list, as a professional communicator I have always tried to achieve the same goals, though not always successfully.

Suzanne of Big Blue Wave comments on a recent challenge to pro-life bloggers by feminist bloggers opposing Bill C-484, to "[f]ind one reputatable [sic], established organization working against violence against women that publicly endorses this bill."  When I first heard of this, I saw it as a good example of the so-called No True Scotsman fallacy: the ones issuing the challenge are most likely the arbiters of what constitutes a "reputatable [sic], established organization."  Suzanne says as much herself:

This "dare" by the feminists is ideologically motivated. They're trying to pretend that the feminists who are dominant in among those who combat women's violence are the arbiters of what is and is not in the best interests of women.

[Read The Only People for Whom C-484 is About Abortion are Feminists]

The best reason to support C-484 is not that "reputatable [sic], established organizations" also support it; it's because in addition to the harm to her own person, an expectant mother who is assaulted until she miscarries, or murdered, loses something very valuable to her. The increased severity of the punishment ought to be proportional to the increased severity of the crime.

Finally, Jay at the venerable LTI Blog has this to say about the Robert Latimer case recently back in the news:

Mark [Pickup] published the trial evidence that Tracy was not miserable all of the time and actually enjoyed life as reported by her own mother in a communication book. This is the same mother that characterized her daughter’s life as torturous meaningless suffering at the trial of her husband. Mark reports that Robert Latimer considered poisoning Tracy or shooting her in the head before deciding to gas her to death during his two weeks of planning the murder. Finally, Mark expresses the “uncharitable” opinion that Tracy’s disabilities did not define her value as a human being and that her father was wrong to murder her. . . .

Hey Latimer-heads, Robert Latimer decided that Tracy’s life was not worth the trouble and pain her living caused him and he killed her. He murdered his daughter and that is not heroic. Murder is not mercy. If you are too morally confused to see that, then I pray that you never find yourself an expendable inconvenience in another’s eyes. You may suddenly see the inherent danger in the precedent Latimer is now trying to set.

[Read Undisputed Fact: Robert Latimer is a Murderer]

Mark Pickup's original post may be found at HumanLifeMatters for reference.

On the search engine front

Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it: Awhile back, I remarked that the weird search hits seemed to have disappeared.  I spoke too soon.  Here are some of the ways that people have found help (I hope) on this site, and if not, it's an opportunity to make snide remarks about them.

So until Friday (or maybe next Friday), Share and Enjoy.

April 09, 2008

And now . . . this - Apr. 9/08

Um . . . silence pollution?

A bill intended to protect blind people and other pedestrians from the dangers posed by quiet cars will be introduced Wednesday in Congress.

The measure would require the Transportation Department to establish safety standards for hybrids and other vehicles that make little discernible noise, including an audible means for alerting people that cars are nearby.

[Full Text]

Great! After 100 years of the automobile, we finally invent a silent car, and we're immediately forced by law to make it make loud "putt, putt" noises. Or maybe car owners should hire some sort of flagman, like the kind that had to walk in front of horseless carriages?

Everything's bigger in Texas

Booyah!

The brightest light on Earth now shines in a laboratory in Texas, one which will enable scientists to create a tabletop star. . . .

The laser is brighter than sunlight on the surface of the sun, but it only lasts for an instant, a 10th of a trillionth of a second (0.0000000000001 second). This is the key to the laser's power - it delivers modest energy in a microscopic unit of time.

[Full Text]

But avoid staring directly into the beam . . . unless you like watching your eyeballs evaporate and float away.

Yes, Arkansas . . . anyone surprised?

Arkansas' marriage-age crisis is over. A law that mistakenly allowed anyone - even toddlers - to marry with parental permission was repealed by a measure signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Mike Beebe, ending months of embarrassment for the state and confusion for county clerks.

Lawmakers didn't realize until after the end of last year's regular session that a law they approved, intended to establish 18 as the minimum age for marriage, instead removed the minimum age to marry entirely. An extraneous "not" in the bill allowed anyone who was not pregnant to marry at any age with permission.

The bill read: "In order for a person who is younger than eighteen (18) years of age and who is not pregnant to obtain a marriage license, the person must provide the county clerk with evidence of parental consent to the marriage."

[Full Text]

Yeah, I blew a lot of tests in school by forgetting the stupid minus sign, too. Hey, I'm an editor - let's discuss rates.

OK, one more. It's been awhile.

Good thing it wasn't a stoat

A New Zealand man has been accused of assault with prickly weapon - a hedgehog. Police allege that William Singalargh picked up the hedgehog and threw it several yards to hit a 15-year-old boy in the North Island east coast town of Whakatane on Feb. 9. . . .

Worst Ending Ever for a news story:

While using a hedgehog as a weapon in an assault is uncommon, Jenkins said, "People often get charged with assault for throwing things at other people."

[Full Text]

Yeah, words fail me too.

April 06, 2008

Charlton Heston (1923-2008)

No sooner do I finish writing about the anniversary of my favourite science-fiction movie, than to learn that the star of another favourite has passed away.

Charlton Heston starred in many great epics, SF and otherwise - including Bible epics such as The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur (for which he won the Best Actor Oscar for 1959), historical drama such as Khartoum, and lesser SF classics such as Soylent Green and The Omega Man (one of three film adaptations of Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend). In recent years my favourite film in which he appeared was Kenneth Branagh's incredible 1996 adaptation of Hamlet, in which Heston had a cameo as one of the players in the acting troupe.

But for me, the essential Charlton Heston role was as the misanthropic astronaut Taylor in 1968's Planet of the Apes.

In later years, Heston was probably better known for his conservative political activity, such as the presidency of the National Rifle Association, than his acting. Nonetheless, Hollywood has lost yet another of its legends. Rest in peace, Mr. Heston.

To infinity and beyond!

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the theatrical release of the seminal "quintessential good science-fiction movie," 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Director Stanley Kubrick collaborated with legendary SF novelist Arthur C. Clarke to create this film. Kubrick died in 2000, shortly after the completion of his final feature, Eyes Wide Shut. Sadly, Clarke, too, died only a few weeks ago, at the ripe old age of 90. Clarke was the last of the "Big Three" giants of SF, being predeceased by Robert A. Heinlein in 1988 and Isaac Asimov in 1992. (Understandably these were the first three SF authors I started reading as an early teen, as well.)

Viewers have been polarized by 2001, either finding it intensely profound or intensely boring. The latter find the plot boring or incomprehensible - primarily because the meaning of the action isn't spoon-fed to the audience, nor is it punctuated with violence or explosions. 2001 is one of those rare SF movies that simply requires you to think about what you are seeing. And in a sense the movie is less to be analyzed than simply experienced. Giant habitats float in space! Men walk on the ceiling! Spaceships fly to the farthest reaches of space! Like the Odyssey of Homer, 2001 is an epic that shows wonders and marvels its viewers have never seen.

2001 opens four million years in the past, with a tribe of cavemen who discover that a mysterious rectangular black monolith has been deposited in their midst. The seemingly intelligent monolith begins to teach them the use of tools, culminating in the tribe fighting off a rival tribe with bone clubs.

Flash forward to the year 2001, when American astronauts living on the moon discover another monolith buried 40 feet beneath the surface. When the sun's rays touch it for the first time, It transmits a radio signal to the planet Jupiter. An expedition, comprising astronauts David Bowman (Keir Dullea), Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood), and three scientists in hibernation, is sent to Jupiter on the spacecraft Discovery to investigate. En route, the ship's artificial intelligence, HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain), becomes erratic, then psychotic when Bowman and Poole consider shutting him down. When HAL kills Poole, Bowman is left to deal with the murderous computer and learn the connection between Jupiter and the monolith.

Or, as I like to encapsulate the plot in a nutshell: 2001 is the story of mankind's evolution being directed by god-like aliens, as told by an author who doesn't believe in God.

It is now 2008, of course, and I am sitting in my earthbound basement, typing this article up on my 2003-vintage desktop PC, which isn't feeling very conversational. (Fortunately, on the other hand, it isn't trying to kill me, either.) Needless to say, as a predictive work, 2001 wasn't particularly successful. For example:.

  • No doubt the future looked a lot brighter in 1968, when NASA was on the brink of putting men on the moon. Had the space program continued at the same fervent pace as it did during the height of the space race, we could well have had giant hotels in orbit and passenger flights to the moon by now. As it is, however, we haven't set foot on the moon in well over 30 years; indeed, we haven't even left low-earth orbit, and the closest we've come to orbiting Hiltons is the rotating crew of the International Space Station.
  • 2001 showed people in space solving the problem of zero gravity by walking on Velcro shoes that kept their feet on the floor (or walls or ceilings). Now that we actually have people living in space (albeit very few), as we've seen endless times on the news, zero gravity isn't a problem: astronauts have simply learned to float from place to place.
  • Kubrick and Clarke didn't foresee the microcomputer revolution or distributed networking. The computing paradigm of their day was timesharing on a powerful, central mainframe; hence HAL 9000 pervades Discovery and controls its every operation.
  • For that matter, they were over-optimistic about HAL's life cycle: he was supposedly brought online in 1992. How many 10-year-old computers are still state-of-the-art?
  • They didn't see the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War in the early 1990s, which rendered the political tension of 2001 obsolete.
  • How could they have predicted the bombing of Flight 103 over Lockerbie that ultimately led to the demise of Pan Am World Airlines, or the breakup of the telephone company in the early 1980s? Pan Am will never fly us into space; nor, when we get there, will we find a Bell video phone booth.

But even if 2001 failed as prediction, it is nonetheless prophetic. It seems to me that the primary theme of 2001 is not godlike aliens, or homicidal computers or even the Wonderful World of the Future. Rather, it is a warning about the dehumanizing effect of over-reliance on technology. The invisible aliens gave prehistoric man knowledge of tools so he could hunt for food; instead he learned to use it to kill other men. With HAL running Discovery, Bowman and Poole are practically only caretakers - indeed, since HAL is capable of carrying the mission out himself, they are redundant. The most "human" character is the machine, and it takes a fight for his own survival to break Bowman out of his complacency.

2001 stands as the milestone in cinematic science fiction. No more would space travel be attempted in unlikely chrome-plated rocket ships piloted by foil-clad spacemen armed with Art Deco ray guns. Alien beings weren't scaly, antennaed green monsters in foam suits anymore. Kubrick and Clarke went to great lengths to inject realism into the way their subject matter was portrayed. Douglas Trumbull's visual effects made their vision take shape; he later went on to make movie magic in other groundbreaking SF features such as Silent Running, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and, of course, Blade Runner.

I could say much more about 2001, but it will have to wait until later this year: I plan on blogging extensively on my list of favourite SF films - something I've been planning to do for many moons.

March 31, 2008

I love stats

Conventional wisdom says that links are the currency of the blogosphere.  Highly regarded sites such as the Truth Laid Bear Ecosystem, for example, rank blogs according to metrics such as page visits and inbound links. (I presently rank #10,826 which, considering there are millions of blogs out there, is in my opinion fairly respectable.)

I don't live by my stats - what I say or do on the blog depends on little more than what's on my mind that motivates me sufficiently to broadcast it to the world.  But I do like to know who is visiting, where they are coming from, and what draws them to the Curmudgeon, and thanks to tools like Sitemeter and Google Analytics, I can do that.

I've noticed that in recent months, the kinds of search engine "hits" that have brought people to this blog have largely stabilized. I wonder whether an extended hiatus from blogging has somehow cut down on some of the oddball searches I used to get? Anyway, it gives me an opportunity to take a look at the biggest reasons people visit here, as well as the pages they visit most (apart from the root page). So, just for fun, here are the top five:

  1. are matt stone and trey parker gay: Variations on this theme - I probably get half a dozen such searches daily - bring people to this page. In fact, I'm inexplicably the number one hit on the subject. Since I have made exactly two posts about Stone and Parker out of nearly 1,000 since 2003, the interest in this subject is disproportional to its relative importance to the blog overall. Moreover, the two posts were about South Park's treatment of Scientology.  Reading the excerpt of the page that Google provides, I can understand why people would want to look here. Something tells me I need to take some steps to "bury" this one.  Also, for the record: no, they aren't.
  2. God's perfect will: I'm a little more satisfied with this result, as variations on this search bring people to this page, a bit of theological exposition that I'm happy with.
  3. Gideon's fleece: Ditto this search and this page. Combined, this one and the above beat out #1.  Still, I'd like to find a way to bump them both up to the top.  The fact that people come to this blog looking for information on knowing and doing God's will is a motivation to continue to expound on that subject (as well as other theological topics in general). As I said, I don't live by my stats, but when I see someone responding to some of the better parts of the site, I want to do what I can to improve them.
  4. if you want to leave take good care: I don't know why, but it seems that two people a day stumble across me while searching for this line from Cat Stevens' song "Wild World," for which cruel, cruel fate has made me the top site out of more than three million hits. They find this page, which again isn't particularly important. This seems to be another one of those statistical anomalies that can't be helped. Well, I hope you find a lot of nice friends out there.
  5. life of pi analysis: Finally, people looking for information on, or an explanation of, Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi come looking, and find my review. I hope it is helpful; seeing these hits just keeps reminding me how much I enjoyed the novel (weird theme aside) and writing the article. Life of Pi seems to have some enduring popularity. And indeed, I've recently read some Canadian novels that I found very satisfying, whereas even 15 years ago I wouldn't give a book a second look at the library if it had a maple leaf on the spine. Maybe I should review more, if it encourages college students to read more closely.

So in a nutshell, people come to the Crusty Curmudgeon looking for celebrity gossip, helpful theology, and book reviews. Two out of three ain't bad, I guess.

Also fun are the searches I get where it's obvious someone is looking for me. Once in awhile I can even figure out who you are. Hello out there.  It's good to know friends and acquaintances are keeping in touch, albeit indirectly. Don't be strangers.