May 31, 2009

Tiller the Killer killed in Kansas

Notorious Kansas late-term abortionist, George Tiller aka "Tiller the Killer," has been shot and killed:

Media outlets are reporting that late-term abortion doctor George Tiller has been shot and killed at his church in Wichita, Kan.

Anonymous police sources told The Wichita Eagle and other media that the 67-year-old doctor was killed Sunday morning at Reformation Lutheran Church. . . .

Tiller has been among the few U.S. physicians performing late-term abortions. His clinic has repeatedly been the site of protests for about two decades and he was shot and wounded by a protester in 1993.

[Full Story]

This kind of story must come with this disclaimer: I do not condone, nor will I ever condone, "pro-life" individuals acting against abortion activists with violence - much less lethal force. In this I stand with the mainstream of the pro-life movement. This kind of vigilantism is inconsistent with a pro-life philosophy that opposes the unjustified taking of human life. As anti-abortion as such a person may be, he cannot consistently call himself pro-life. Moreover, it is inconsistent with my convictions as a Christian: God has given the civil government the authority and tools to administer justice. He has not given them to the church or to private individuals. Such people are typically said to be taking the law into their own hands, but by disobeying the commandments of God and the law of the state, they are really engaged in lawlessness. I hope the authorities in Wichita find and make an example of the perpetrator, so that like-minded individuals will also fear.

That being said, I shed not a single tear for the demise of Tiller. This man provided thousands of abortions, and is especially known for carrying out late-term ones, even only a day before the due date. He made his livelihood dealing out violence and death against unborn human lives he thought were worthless. It therefore comes as no surprise that someone out there, in turn, believed Tiller's life was worthless. Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword, as Jesus said. If vigilante violence is the means God used to remove him from this world, that is his prerogative. Whatever justice George Tiller has escaped in this life for his the shedding of innocent blood, he shall not escape in the next.

Good riddance.

Update (3:45 pm): Police have arrested a suspect.

Update (June 1, 7:00 am:) The suspect is Scott Roeder, 51, of Kansas City. He has been charged with first-degree murder and is being held without bail in Wichita.

May 21, 2009

And now . . . this - May 21/09

British science comes through again

An appeals court in Britain said Wednesday that Procter and Gamble's snack treat Pringles were, technically, potato chips and subject to sales tax. . . .

Foods are rarely subject to sales tax in Britain, but potato chips happen to be singled out as an exception.

[Full Story]

It's good to know that the Royal Society isn't letting the Britons down. Well, except maybe in mathematics:

The court heard arguments on whether or not Pringles, made 42 percent from potato and 33 percent from fat and flour, contained enough "potatoness," to be considered a potato chip, or crisp.

42 percent potato, and 33 percent flour and fat. So what's that last 25%? Love?

May 15, 2009

How stupid do you have to be to fall for this?

Yet another transparent phishing scam trying to reveal my userid and password under the guise of protecting me from "spam":

From: <>
Reply-To: techdept@info.It
Date: 04:39 AM
To: ..@...

Dear User

Your email account has been used to send numerous Spam mails recently from a foreign IP. As a result, the has received advice to suspend your account. However, you might not be the one promoting this Spam, as your email account might have been compromised. To protect your account from sending spam mails, you are to confirm your true ownership of this account by providing your original Username (*******) and Password (*******) as a reply to this message. On receipt of the requested information, the "" web email support shall block your account from Spam.

Failure to do this will violate the email terms & conditions. This will render your account inactive.

NOTE: You will be send a password reset message in next seven (7) working days after undergoing this process for security reasons.

Thanks for using

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(c) 2009 Carleton University, All rights reserved

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  1. If you're going to pretend to be the Carleton "helpdesk," then it helps not to reveal your real email address in the From: line. That is, assuming you really are Robert Maguire, which is doubtful.
  2. Along the same lines, don't advertise your own ISP in the signature line. Helpdesk techs typically have more meaningful sigs: you know, along the lines of "Robert Maguire, Carleton Help Desk, 613-555-1212 x1234,"
  3. If I have an account with a domain name, chances are I'm a student or an employee. It's a school, not a service provider. You don't have to thank me for "using" it; it's part of the job description.
  4. Coincidentally, I am neither student nor employee: I use the National Capital FreeNet, whose email services are hosted by the university, and my normal email address happens to have an alias that does end in However, if there were a problem with the account, I'd hear from the NCF people, not the Carleton people. Do your homework, "Robert."
  5. If I'm dealing with an I/T administrator in Ottawa, why is the Reply-To: address in Italy?
  6. For that matter, why is the Carleton University email server being "powered" by an ISP in Ireland?
  7. If there is a problem with my account, why has this message apparently been sent to a gibberish email addresss like "..@..." instead of me, directly? That isn't even a proper email address.
  8. And if you know that my account has been compromised by spammers, why can't you address me as "Scott" or "Mr. McClare"?
  9. Why does "Robert" need me to confirm my userid? He sent me the email because my account had been used to send spam; wouldn't that mean he already knows it?
  10. How does telling him my password protect me from spam? If someone has compromised my account by determining my password somehow, then shouldn't he be telling me to change the password?
  11. If the problem is that my account has been compromised, haven't you just invited the spammer to "confirm" for me if he happens to read this first?
  12. My username and password are not "*******" - that's just how I would look if I typed them at a login prompt. In fact, that's only half true: my userid would look something like "ransom," but let's not split hairs.
  13. If my account is insecure, why are you waiting an arbitrary "seven (7) working days" to tell me to reset my password? Heck, I'll do that right now.
  14. If you are a Carleton University email administrator, couldn't you tell from the system logs that my account was being compromised from a foreign IP, and take steps to block it?

Seriously. This particular scam is second only to this one in singularly failing to convince me to surrender my private information. You people just aren't trying. Unfortunately, I know that enough people fall for this, that you don't have to.

(This blog post has been provided as a public service to the spammers, phishers, and identity thieves from the law-abiding Internet community, in the hopes that you may learn therefrom how to deceive us more effectively. Please, try harder. Thank you.)

May 12, 2009

Sacra Eloquia redivivus

I haven't posted there for a long time - close to 4 years - but I recently decided enough was enough, gritted my feet, and decided to finish my series on Galatians that I started back in 2004. Earlier this afternoon, I posted part 9: Sarah and Hagar, on Gal. 4:21-5:1. This is a tricky part of the letter, but it was a lot of fun.

My original posting frequency was weekly, but that was back when I was working with a lot of pre-existing materials. In actuality it takes probably about 20 hours to prepare a post like that, and that actually worked out to be about 5 weeks of spare moments a couple times a week. Hopefully I'll be able to pick up the pace, as I want to finish the thing in my lifetime.

But now that I've reached Chapter 5, I'm on the home stretch! Woo!

May 11, 2009

On the Starship Enterprise, under Captain Kirk

I, and my soon-to-be-former roommate, went to see a Saturday matinee showing of J. .J. Abrams' "re-imagined" Star Trek. It has been seven years since a big-budget, big-screen Trek feature (the merely OK Star Trek: Nemesis), and with the cancellation of Enterprise in 2005, it's been 4 years almost to the day since any form of Federation-themed entertainment graced our screens. So Star Trek (no number, no fancy subtitle) could have gone either way: a good remake, or a very tired sequel/prequel.

Thankfully, it was the former. In a word: Star Trek rocked.

In the teaser, the Federation starship U.S.S. Kelvin encounters a rift in space, from which a gigantic, menacing vessel emerges. The Kelvin is no match for its weapons, and the captain, a Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana, Hulk), demands that the Federation ship's captain, be sent aboard his own ship. Before leaving, however, he puts his first officer, George Kirk, in command and orders him to evacuate the Kelvin. However, when Nero kills his captain, Kirk sacrifices his own life by ramming Nero's ship with the Kelvin to give the evacuating shuttlecraft time to escape. One one of the shuttlecraft, Kirk's wife gives birth to their son: James Tiberius Kirk.

Meanwhile on the planet Vulcan, a young Spock lashes out against three Vulcan bullies who taunt him about his mixed Vulcan/human heritage. His father, Sarek, tells him that he must choose his own destiny. The adult Spock (Zachary Quinto, Heroes) later turns down an appointment to the Vulcan Science Academy - an unprecedented move - in favour of joining Starfleet.

Back in Iowa, James Kirk (Chris Pine) has grown up to become a reckless young man without a father. When he flirts with Uhura (Zoe Saldana), a Starfleet cadet, he gets into a bar brawl with several other cadets. This catches the attention of Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), who knew and admired George Kirk, and challenges the younger Kirk to join Starfleet and follow in his father's footsteps: he could be an officer in four years. Kirk initially brushes him off, but then changes his mind: "I'll do it in three," he tells Pike, as he boards the shuttle for Starfleet Academy. En route he makes a new friend: a doctor named Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban, Lord of the Rings): "All I've got left is my bones," he remarks ruefully about his recent divorce.

Three years later, Kirk takes so-called "Kobayashi Maru" test, a "no-win" simulation intended to test command officers' reaction to certain death. Kirk, nonetheless, wins quite handily. As fans of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan already know, he had reprogrammed the scenario to make it winnable. In the older movie, this earned him a commendation for original thinking; this time, it earns him academic suspension. However, his hearing is interrupted by a distress call from Vulcan: a rift has opened over the planet. Starfleet hastily deploys the cadets to starships to mount a rescue mission. Though on suspension and not assigned, Kirk stows away aboard the newly completed U.S.S. Enterprise with McCoy's help. En route to Vulcan he realizes that the rift is the same as the one that had resulted in his father's death. Despite being a stowaway, he manages to convince Captain Pike and First Officer Spock that they are heading into a trap.

I have never seen anything created by J. J. Abrams before.1 I have yet to see Cloverfield, for example, or a single episode of Felicity or Alias. Indeed, while I had no interest in Lost initially, by the time I found out that it was exactly the kind of show I would have enjoyed, it was so far along that it was pointless to try and pick it up, and this remains my greatest television-related regret. So I didn't know what to expect from him here, except for a vague idea that he had a strong cult following and did slightly weird science fiction.

I'm glad I wasn't disappointed. "Re-imagination" can be a bit of a hit-and-miss prospect (hit: Battlestar Galactica; miss: Planet of the Apes). CSI recently had a fun episode about a filmmaker who was murdered, apparently, because his remix of a Star Trek-like cult series enraged the drooling fanboys. Star Trek is one of the hits.

The single best thing about Star Trek is Zachary Quinto as Spock. I have enjoyed his performance as the villain Sylar on Heroes, and couldn't help noticing his resemblance to a younger Leonard Nimoy the first time I saw production stills of him in costume. The producers couldn't have cast a better choice. While we meet Kirk's father and family first, the centre of this movie's plot is actually Spock and the conflicts that drive him: the tension between his emotional human and stoic Vulcan heritage, the contempt of the Vulcans for his humanity, and his relationship with Amanda, his human mother (Winona Ryder). Karl Urban is also good as McCoy: he gets DeForrest Kelley's mannerisms down pat. I almost didn't recognize him as Eomer from The Two Towers and The Return of the King, and so I wouldn't otherwise have realized he was a New Zealander instead of an American. Chris Pine is good as Kirk, but overall a weaker portrayal - despite a striking resemblance to a younger William Shatner, including his cool T. J. Hooker hair.

As a "reboot" to the Trek franchise, Star Trek is largely self-contained: while it helps to be a Trekkie, on the macro level it doesn't presuppose prior knowledge of what came before. You'll be able to appreciate it on its own merits if you are at least vaguely familiar with what Star Trek is all about. Nonetheless, it's full of sly references to the TV shows and earlier movies, mainly classic lines spoken in new contexts. For example, when Kirk takes his third attempt at the Kobayashi Maru test, he nonchalantly crunches an apple as he aces the "no-win" scenario. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the older Kirk was eating an appleas he recounted the story. "I don't believe in the no-win scenario," both Kirks say. Apart from George Kirk's sacrifice at the beginning, the first character to die in a dramatic fashion is, predictably, wearing a red suit. Abrams and crew could have followed the lead of many recent moviemakers, and produced a parody that deconstructs and subverts the source material, but instead he decided to make a movie that respects, rather than mocks, older fans. He has retained the spirit of the original series, while taking itself far less seriously than many of the older Star Trek movies. If anything, it feels like a fan film with a feature film budget: a movie made not merely for Trek fans, but by them as well.2

Finally, there's the redesigned Enterprise. Reading through the blogosphere or Trek-related forums, there's a real love-hate relationship with this new "refit." Put me down on the "love" side. It largely retains the kitchy, 60s look and feel from the original series, but combines it with the more "organic" look of TNG-era starships, as well as the sort of minute detail a modern audience, accustomed to complex CGI models, would expect. It's an F-86 Sabre to the movie Enterprise's F-18. One nerdly little detail I spotted and appreciated: the ship's phasers on the movie-era Enterprise were small bumps on the hull; here, the modellers have retained that feature, but it is obvious that the bumps are tiny spherical turrets. The interior of the ship is bright and slightly psychedelic; the design was clearly inspired by other classic SF such as 2001. I'm sure the droolingest of fanboys still hate it, but I'm sold.

The biggest weakness of Star Trek is its major plot device: Time travel, again? It seems that whenever Trek writers are looking for a plot, they settle on a time-travel one. Voyager was especially guilty of this - it always gave the writers an excuse to push the infamous Voyager Reset Button. To the credit of Abrams et al, the time travel is what sets up the story and not a major plot point; nor (without giving anything away) does the climax just nullify the events of two hours (yes, I'm looking at you, Year of Hell parts I and II) - and, of course, it is a handy excuse for Leonard Nimoy to put in an appearance as Future Spock. So I didn't mind it as much, but I do think that if Abrams had wanted to "reboot" the Trek franchise and change around a few of its premises, he could have just done it without trying to shoehorn it into the existing continuity. It worked for Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

There is a popular notion of an "odd-number curse": that the even-numbered Star Trek movie sequels are pretty good, while odd-numbered Star Trek movies are awful. I personally think this is over-simplified even if it is true in a very general sense. But this being the eleventh film made so far, it breaks the curse definitively. Somewhere on my list of Things To Blog this year is a rundown of all my favourite SF movies of the last several decades. I've been mulling over this list for several years, but have only begun thinking about the 2000s as the decade started to come to a close. I generally prefer original works to remakes, but nonetheless Star Trek is now in the running for my consideration. It's that good. If you like good action movies that don't take themselves too seriously, if you like science fiction, and especially if you like Star Trek, you owe it to yourself to see this movie.


1 Putting my footnote in my mouth: Not entirely true, as I realized during writing. I have seen 1992's Mel Gibson flick Forever Young, which Abrams wrote and produced, and 1998's Michael Bay explosion-fest Armageddon, for which he co-wrote the screenplay. The former was a long time ago and I had no idea who J. J. Abrams was; and his involvement in the latter was fairly minor. Oh, and Mission Impossible: III, though it was so forgettable I had in fact almost forgotten that someone had loaned me the DVD. Still, in the interests of accuracy in media, full disclosure, and all that.

2 Walk-on footnote: I didn't spot him myself, but Star Trek's fanboy credentials are solidified by a cameo by fan filmmaker James Cawley, as a Starfleet officer. Cawley is a Trek collector and creator of the well-received Star Trek: The New Voyages (aka Star Trek: Phase II) fan series, and has built a highly accurate $100,000 bridge set on his property. The makers of Enterprise borrowed parts of it for the "A Mirror Darkly" two-parter. Oddly enough, Cawley's day job is Elvis impersonator. Go figure.