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.

March 16, 2008

Quelle coincidence!

This from the Calgary Herald:

Several Muslims say their lives are at risk because they dared speak out in what has become an ongoing dispute in their community.

Yesterday, one of the people claiming to be victims of ongoing violent attacks, Dr. Iftikhar Ahmed, watched in horror as a car pulled up outside his Panatella Blvd. N.W. home and a man armed with a jerrycan and booze bottle got out, scaled the fence and set his home ablaze as seven children and three other adults slept. . . .

"Within two minutes, we had a big fire," he said.


Dr. Ahmed's wife is one of the three women who filed a human-rights complaint against Calgary imam Syed Soharwardy, alleging discrimination within the mosque. She also happens to be the second of the three whose property has been invaded by violent persons in recent weeks. The first was Robina Butt, who was supposedly assaulted and beaten in her own home by burka-wearing thugs.

The article also says:

Arson Det. Scott Sampson said the family was definitely targeted and the fire could easily have been deadly. . . .

Cops are investigating several other attacks against members of the Muslim community with the help of RCMP, Services Alberta and the National Security investigation section.

There's a well-known saying about two and two that applies here, I should think.

Meanwhile, the third complainant, Qasira Shaheen, might want to look into hiring a few heavies of her own to walk around with her - strictly as a prudent precaution, of course, because as I said awhile back, I'm sure it is nothing but the purest coincidence that these attacks are taking place.

(H/T: Ezra Levant and Jihad Watch.)

It's on

Jojo Ruba has confirmed (via mass email) that the abortion debate at York University between himself and Michael Payton has been rescheduled:

Event: Abortion - A Woman's Right or a Moral Wrong?
Day and Time: Tuesday, March 18th at 5:30-7:00pm
Location: Curtis Lecture Hall E, Keele Campus at York University; the building is by Scott Library

All the publicity over the YSF's 86ing of the original debate has surely earned them a greater audience, and I hope they're up to it.

Meanwhile, Jojo's colleague Stephanie Gray will apparently be debating here in Ottawa on Wednesday, at Carleton University. It's unfortunate that I'm otherwise occupied that evening (pesky Easter stuff!), because not only have I wanted to see her in action, but it, too, might be a significant event given the Carleton University Student Union (CUSA)'s attempt in 2006 to squelch the pro-life voice on campus.

Erratum: In my previous post on this topic, I called Kelly Holloway, Student Centre vice-chair at York, a "student blackshirt." I have since learned otherwise:

Kelly Holloway is a doctoral candidate at York University, studying women’s health care. She is a member of the International Socialists and active in the student, anti-war, and pro-choice movements. [Emphasis added]

[Source; H/T: Blazing Cat Fur.]

For the record, that makes Stalinism, not Fascism as originially implied, her particular brand of censorious totalitarianism. The Crusty Curmudgeon apologizes for the oversight, and will endeavour to keep its tinpot dictators straight in the future.

March 14, 2008

Global warming

Get yer snow here!

Here's what the house looked like after the huge mess of white stuff was shoveled off the roof. We had to dig ourselves a pathway to the door:

And here's what the road looked like. It snowed on Saturday, but the roads didn't get plowed until Wednesday; there was a constant pile of cars in the entrance to our little subdivision because drivers couldn't get their cars in and out of their own driveways. Normally, it shouldn't be a problem for two cars to pass each other:

Ottawa hasn't had this much snowfall since 1971. Somewhere in my parents' musty-dusty files is a picture of me as an infant in a carriage, while my dad shovels the driveway between huge walls of snow. This comes darn close. It's the most snow I can remember in my lifetime, and I come from the north.

March 13, 2008

When "pro-choice" isn't

My friend Jojo has, or used to have, a bumper sticker on the back of his car that read, "Some choices are wrong." He's mentioned that he sometimes gets some very dirty looks from passing motorists.

But for all their rhetoric about "a woman's right to choose," the ironic fact is that the so-called "pro-choice" camp also believes that some choices are wrong. The difference is, we pro-lifers are more up-front about it.

First the backlash, then the back-pedalling

A week ago, the Toronto Star published an article in which Kelly Holloway, York University student centre vice-chair and president of the grad students' association, defended her move to quash an abortion debate on campus last February 27:

Kelly Holloway did not mean to spark a debate on freedom of expression when she helped stifle an abortion debate on campus.

"I actually don't think this is very controversial," the graduate student at York University said of the decision to cancel a Feb. 28 event that would have shown graphic images of abortion and asked participants whether the procedure should be criminalized.

There is a saying that has been attributed to the late film critic Pauline Kael, on the occasion of the election of Richard Nixon to the White House. "I can't believe Nixon won," she supposedly said, "I don't know anybody who voted for him." Whether authentic or not, the point is that it is possible to surround yourself so completely with like-minded people, that the thought that someone might have a different mind on a subject is practically inconceivable.

Of course Little Miss Censorship didn't mean to spark a debate on freedom of speech. In the circles in which she walks, she is surrounded by people who don't believe any differently, so it is quite possible that she genuinely does not know that some of her intelligent, mature-minded schoolmates might actually have a varying opinion on the subject of abortion.

"Most people understand that every woman has the right to choose what she does with her own body and that moral considerations about abortion are a very personal matter for individuals to decide," said Holloway, who helped make the decision as vice-chair of the student centre where the debate was scheduled to be held.

This is, obviously, a prime example of the art of begging the question. Whether or not a fetus is part of a woman's "own body" is the very issue in question. Little Miss Censorship's assertion (which she and her echo chamber of friends and colleagues probably take for granted) assumes, without proof, that the unborn are not genetically distinct, living human organisms who happen to inhabit a uterus at the moment.

Establish what the unborn is, then we can know what rights a woman has regarding its disposition.

"The legal precedent in Canada is that abortion and those women who choose to have the medical procedure will not be criminalized," said Holloway, who is also president of the York University Graduate Students' Association.

It's worth pointing out, yet again, that the Morgentaler decision of 1988 sets no legal precedent. Moreover, the present legality of abortion on demand is due strictly to an absence of any law regulating the practice. This has happened, not because of any positive decision by judge or legislator, but because of a succession of spineless Parliaments (with one exception) that have failed to even attempt to draft any law regulating abortion - which that very same Supreme Court decision asserted was perfectly within Parliament's rights.

"So every York student has the right to make up their own mind and there is no need for an event, organized by anti-choice campaigners, that is disguised as a debate."

That's a hilarious bit of doublespeak that pretty much speaks for itself.

Holloway said banning discussions of the pros and cons of abortion was never the point. Her beef was with inviting the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, (CCBR) a Calgary-based pro-life group that compares abortion to genocide and pushes to make it illegal.

It's funny how this wasn't the argument she was using two weeks ago. Back then she was claiming that the abortion issue was not one that was up for debate, because debating the morality of abortion was the moral equivalent of debating the morality of wife-beating. Perhaps, in the meantime, she realized how foolish that sounded.

But if this is true, did either she, or the rest of the York Censorship Squad, ever try to raise their concern with Jojo? Did they ask him if he would limit himself to an oral presentation? I know that it is part of Jojo's standard routine to show abortion pictures during his opening statement, but his arguments don't hinge on them. I'm sure that if it meant the difference between a debate or no debate, he would have been willing to compromise. But I'll hazard a guess they never even bothered.

"They erected huge signs in full colour of fabricated fetuses alongside people dying in the Holocaust and also pictures of people being lynched," she said.

"So we set up a table outside of that display as the student union to encourage students to tell us what their reactions were so we could understand the effect it was having on students. We collected hundreds of statements from students who said they were upset, they were appalled, they were traumatized and they were worried about the fact that the student union hadn't taken responsibility to actually interfere in the matter."

Fabricated fetuses, eh? There's another assertion without evidence.

But so what? No one would seriously think that Steven Spielberg filmed actual disembowelled soldiers storming Normandy, yet his films such as Saving Private Ryan or Schindler's List are considered so notable for their realism that they warrant being broadcast, uncut, on network television or shown in schools for their educational value. Whether pictures of aborted fetuses are real or simulated is really beside the point. Are they an accurate representation of the real thing? (Perhaps Little Miss Censorship believes that aborted fetuses happily march out of the vagina all pink and clean and smiling.) If a picture of a simulated abortion is offensive, how much more offensive is a picture of a real abortion - and if a picture of an abortion is offensive, how much more is an actual abortion?

"Just like we would not sanction the use of student space to challenge whether black students should be able to attend university, or whether homosexuality should be illegal, we would not sanction this particular debate over whether or not women should be able to have a choice concerning their own bodies."

You really have to laugh. When the CCBR compares abortion with racism (i.e. lynching blacks), Little Miss Censorship and her friends are "appalled" and "traumatized." But when a representative of the CCBR wants to debate abortion on York campus, it's the moral equivalent of racism (i.e. debating segregation). Remember, Dear Reader, this logical powerhouse is a graduate student.

Choices are not made in a vacuum. Real choice requires that all the relevant questions and issues are available to be considered and evaluated. Uninformed choice is not real choice. By unilaterally pronouncing one side of a controversial issue to be out of bounds, Holloway and her merry band of student blackshirts prove themselves to be not pro-choice, but anti-choice.

Fortunately, the administration of York U. feels differently, and has rescheduled the debate for a time and place outside of the control of the blackshirts - who, by their actions, have probably guaranteed the debate a greater audience than it would have had if it had gone forward at the original time. Rumour has it the new date is March 19. Hopefully this will be confirmed soon by a more reliable source than a blog. And the editor-in-chief of York's student newspaper, the Excalibur, has offered both Jojo and his opponent Michael Payton space to present their views.

And on the legislative front

Meanwhile, the abortion advocates are all in a tizzy about Bill C-484, the so-called "Unborn Victims of Crime" bill. For example, Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada recently wrote, in a recent letter to the Ottawa Citizen, that "anti-abortion" advocates will "use the law as a foot-in-the-door to recriminalize abortion via future measures."

Abortion-rights advocates believe that women who are pregnant ought to be free to choose to terminate their pregnancy, and want the government to support that choice with the force of law. A consistent "pro-choice" position would argue that a pregnant woman ought to be free to choose to carry the baby to term, and want the government to support that choice with the force of law.

Put another way, if a woman chooses to have an abortion, there ought to be penalties for those who would forcefully deny her that right; if she chooses to have a baby, there ought also to be penalties for those who would forcefully deny her that right as well.

But, of course, no such symmetry exists in the mind of pro-choicers like Arthur. Even though C-484 is specifically worded to except abortion from its purview, she's worried that it will be a back door to restricting abortion. (Which, remember, is a perfectly valid legislative objective, according to R v. Morgentaler.) It's not about freedom of choice: it's about maximizing the opportunity for abortions on demand. I've said before that organizations like ARCC and CARAL are not "pro-choice," but pro-abortion. This is just another reason why.

(Incidentally, this isn't a pro-life or civil-liberties blog, all present appearances to the contrary. I just blog what's on my mind at any given time, and these issues just happen to be on the front burner these days.)

March 08, 2008

Saturday is cancelled

[Where's the driveway?]

I pretty much decided to stay home today.

Update: And so is Sunday, as the powers-that-be have apparently decided to declare a "snow day" for the church tomorrow. That's a first for me; I've seen occasional events cancelled, but never an entire Sunday. But as we inch toward a record winter snowfall in the nation's capital, that's probably not a bad idea.

March 05, 2008

Freedom of speech (just watch what you say)

Typically in Ottawa, the only feature-length documentaries that get screened in theatres are major releases by Michael Moore or his Canadian counterparts such as Mark Achbar (Manufacturing Consent, The Corporation), or whatever Left-oriented fare the local repertory theatres decide to play. It is rare for anything from the Right to get any exposure at all here. So last year the Free Thinking Film Society was formed to bring balance to the nation's capital by bringing in a fewfilms representing conservative and libertarian viewpoints. On February 18, I attended a screening of Evan Coyne Maloney's documentary Indoctrinate U. with my Left-leaning friend Iain, in the auditorium of the National Library and Archives building, just up the street from Parliament Hill. I don't know the capacity of the auditorium, but it probably has at least 200 seats, and I estimate attendance at about 90% full.

Movie Review
Indoctrinate U.
Directed by Evan Coyne Maloney
On the Fence Films, 2007
90 minutes

The movie was introduced by local media personality John Robson, who gave a brief talk about fighting political correctness. His advice: Be firm, but do it with a smile.

Indoctrinate U. begins, more or less, with the case of Steve Hinkle: a California Polytechnic student who, in late 2002, entered the school's multicultural centre to post a flyer advertising a lecture by black author Mason Weaver. The contents of the flier comprised the usual time-and-place info, a picture of Weaver, and the name of his book: It's OK to Leave the Plantation. A group of black students holding a Bible study in the room saw the flier and, offended by the use of the word "plantation," called the police. As a result, the school charged him with disrupting a campus event. Despite the Bible study not being an officially scheduled event by a recognized campus club, Weaver flyer complying with campus posting policies, and Hinkle not actually disruptinging anyone (by taking offense, the Bible students had effectively disrupted themselves), Hinkle was found guilty of this trumped-up charge and ordered to prepare a written apology. Hinkle stood his ground and refused - and, with a little legal action of his own, compelled the school to expunge the ersatz "offense" from his record.

Meanwhile, at the University of Tennessee, a Sikh libertarian student journalist, Suhkmani Singh Khalsi, penned an editorial criticizing the "Issues Committee" (responsible for inviting guest lecturers to campus) for their political one-sidedness. Upon reading the article, one member of the Committee emailed the others: "If you see one of those ragheads, shoot him right in the f---ing face." Unfortunately for him, the Committee's token conservative member, who had just resigned but not yet been removed from the distribution list, saw the email as well, and made it public. For this blatant anti-religious bigotry (let alone the death threat), the offender was not disciplined. (A year earlier, by contrast, UT had suspended an entire fraternity because some of its members made the harmless, albeit unwise, decision to attend aHallowe'en party dressed as the Jackson Five, complete with black makeup.)

At a community college in Florida, a Christian fellowship was refused permission to host a screening of The Passion of the Christ on the grounds that it was an R-rated movie and there were underage students on campus. But another club was able to to stage a skit titled "F---ing for Jesus," about a teenage girl who masturbated to images of Jesus, in a campus theatre.

And so on and so on. In the 1960s, points out Maloney, students fought for, and won, the right to dissent on campuses. He was himself the progeny of two of these protesters, who taught him the importance of free speech and thinking for himself. Yet, at some point, campuses stopped being centres of diverse opinion and started to become organs of intellectual conformity, governed by stifling regulations and "speech codes." At some schools, satirical criticism of the affirmative-action admissions policy (by holding a bake sale with discounts for visible minorities) is verboten. One school bans the use of the terms "boyfriend" and "girlfriend," mandating instead non-gender-specific terms like "partner." Another university bans "inappropriately directed laughter." At another institute of higher education, all courses must address issues of race, gender, and class - even classes in decorative horticulture.

It's not just university officials that enforce this code: student unions and clubs get in on the action too. Piles of conservative school newspapers are routinely stolen fromnews boxes and destroyed. Anti-military activists vandalize ROTC offices and disrupt a job fair (at which the Army is but one invited employer) to the point that the whole thing has to be shut down. You no longer need to actively incite hatred to get in trouble with the authorities: someone merely feeling offended (and therefore "harassed") by you suffices. Ask Steve Hinkle.

Indoctrinate U. consists almost entirely of interviews with staff, students, and administrators at American institutes of higher learning: large and small, public and private. What they all have in common is an institutional culture that pays lip service to "diversity," as long as it is diversity of skin colour, culture, or sexual preference, but seem to work actively to stifle diversity of opinion. Frustrated by being stonewalled by officials who refuse to even acknowledge his requests for appointments, he attempts to meet with them in person, cameraman in tow. One extra-bureaucratic nincompoop, we discover, is the person responsible for scheduling the university president's appointments, and therefore the one guilty of not returning Maloney's calls. Asked if he could make the appointment on the spot, the pointy-haired drone refuses and instructs him to telephone - and instead of accepting the obvious absurdity of inviting the phone call but refusing to answer the phone when it comes, he instructs his secretary to call security. At another school, when Maloney wanders into the Women's Centre and asks directions to its masculine-oriented counterpart, they look at him like he is crazy. And when he tries to register a complaint at the "diversity office" about this obvious discrimination? "Call security."

Indeed, bureaucrats dealing with uncomfortable questions by calling the campus police turns into a bit of a running gag throughout I U.. Maloney, to his credit, takes Robson's advice and resists firmly but pleasantly: he is respectful of authority, leaves when asked, and never gets arrested. In fact, his dealings with the cops are always more cordial than with the people who call them. Rather than wring his hands and preach, Maloney just lets the absurdity inherent in the situations speak for itself. That, and the fast-paced editing, make this a light and optimistic documentary.

The audio quality (as well as video quality, to a lesser extent) is somewhat uneven, particularly during interview segments, where the subject's microphone could have been better placed. Many interviewees sound very hollow, as if the conversation was taking place in a big, empty room. Also, while Maloney points out the disconnect between the free-speech movement of the '60s and the stifled-speech movement of the 2000s, a reason why the free-speech mavens of yesterday are now the speech-code enforcers of today would have added considerable value to Maloney's presentation. Iain, a bit of a political science wonk, wanted to see more theory, but I don't know what that would have contributed.

I attended university from 1989 to 1997. I tend to think of myself as part of the last non-politically-correct class to enter the institute, because 1989 was not exactly a good year for political incorrectness on campus. At Wilfrid Laurier University, a traditional panty raid got out of hand (and was subsequently banned). At Queen's University, some male students' satirical response to the Canadian Federation of Students' "No Means No" campaign against date rape, in which they hung banners reading "No Means More Beer" and similar parody slogans, aroused the ire of feminists. And, of course, it was the year of the Montreal Massacre. So with respect to gender issues, at least, in hindsight it was possible to see which way the wind would be blowing in a little while. But while I was once marked down for using the generic "he" in a paper (a heinous act for which I remain stubbornly unrepentant), there really wasn't an attempt while I was on campus to formulate or enforce the kind of totalitarian speech codes we see in Indoctrinate U. - and to equate hurt feelings on my part with an act of harassment on your part was practically unthinkable. The idea of the university campus as a "safe space" where particular orthodoxies are left unchallenged (such as the morality of abortion, as we have seen on the campuses of Carleton, Lakehead, York, and other institutions in recent years) was non-existent.

Evan Coyne Maloney's film is a warning: if the student champions of free speech can become the adult commissars of approved speech, what more will we see on campuses when today's student governments, already little Stalinists, take over administering the universities? Welcome to the new Dark Ages.

March 04, 2008

Congratulations . . .

to my friend Jojo on winning a debate at York University, about the morality of abortion on demand, last Thursday.

Too bad the debate never took place.

Jojo wins by default, simply because the student blackshirts of the York Federation of Students decided that they were the arbiters of the limit of free speech, and that holding this debate would be tantamount to debating the morality of wife-beating. (That is, unfortunately for the blackshirts, a very apt comparison, since the very issue in the abortion debate is the use of physical violence to cause harm to another human person.) An alternative location was quickly arranged, but the pro-choice debater, a member of a campus atheist club, apparently didn't want to darken the door of a Baptist church. (Maybe there was a lightning storm pending, or something.)

But get this: At the time of writing, the blackshirts' Web site has this button on their front page:

"Denial of Free Speech at McMaster"

It links to a letter of protest [PDF] that the students' union at McMaster University has banned the use of the term "Israeli Apartheid" on campus. This, we learn, is "a blatant violation of democratic freedoms of speech and dissent." "It is the position of the WFS and GSA," the letter continues, apparently completely missing any trace of irony that might happen to be present, "that universities are sites where discussions and debates about difficult geo-political questions should be promoted, not stifled."

Sure, as long as the "difficult geo-political question" is on the blackshirts' approved list of subjects up for debate.

Meanwhile, tonight Jojo is supposed to be debating the same topic at @#$%head University, whose own censorious student nitwits recently banned pro-life clubs from campus. It was his debate at Carleton U. that precipitated this whole debate there in late 2006. So his very presence on two campuses has already caused two student governments to collectively wet themselves - will he hit the trifecta tonight?

This also serves to remind me that I have yet to complete my review of Indoctrinate U., which was screened two weeks ago here in Ottawa. Patience, patience.