December 21, 2011

365, err, 366 days and counting

This is it, people: The bona fide, for-real, I-mean-it-this-time Big One.

Today is December 21, 2011: exactly one year until the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar. This calendar starts measuring time at a mythical creation date of August 11, 3114 BC, upon the completion of 13 b'ak'tuns (1 b'ak'tun = 144,000 days, or roughly 394 years). Another 13 b'ak'tuns will be completed on December 21, 2012.

This is the date that has caused so much hysteria amongst the lunatic fringe and on late-night talk radio, such that it is popularly taken to be an end-of-the-world candidate (the premise of the Roland Emmerich explosion-fest 2012). In reality, it's just another example of fin-de-siecle hype of the same kind that plagued us a decade ago when the Western calendar rolled over to 2000. Somewhere out there, gullible people will believe that the Mayans had special insight into the future that other cultures (who managed not to go extinct) do not, or that freaky things happen every time someone's historic calendar resets to 0.

In 1982, a planetary alignment was supposed to trigger the "Jupiter Effect," in which the combined gravitational pull of the rest of the solar system was purportedly going to trigger earthquakes and other catastrophes. Apart from schoolkids running around at recess screaming "Doomsday!!!" nothing happened. In 1988, Edgar Whisenant published a book titled 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. When the Rapture failed to arrive on schedule, he followed it up with an updated 89 Reasons a year later, before fading into well-deserved obscurity. On New Year's Day, 2000, the Y2K bug was going to end civilization when all the computers were terminally confused by the two-digit date "00" and turned into bricks. Since the Millennium bug was caused by a known engineering oversight, it was easily prevented, and actual computer errors amounted to a minor inconvenience. Planet X was going to speed past Earth in 2004 and cause all sorts of mayhem. Not only did Planet X fail to appear, but it failed to exist. Harold Camping predicted the end of the world for September 1994, May 21 and October 21, 2011, with predictable results.

As for December 21, 2012, this, too, shall pass unremarkably. In the meantime, however, get ready to be inundated with all the mass panic you can stomach.

I wonder whether the Mayan calendar accounted for leap years? I'd hate for the world to end a day prematurely.

December 18, 2011

All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome

A lightning review of Under the Dome by Stephen King (New York: Gallery–Simon & Shuster, 2009). Trade paperback, 1074 pp.

Chester's Mill is a quaint little Maine town of 2,000 people just north of Castle Rock. Without warning, an impenetrable and invisible dome suddenly descends upon the town, trapping the locals inside (and causing the deaths of several). The dome admits air and water, but nothing else: food supplies are limited, and the only electricity comes from propane-powered generators. The crisis leaves used-car dealer and Second Selectman "Big Jim" Rennie without significant opposition in the town, and he makes a power play to consolidate his control, stacking the police force with his cronies, and hoarding what remains of the propane for the meth lab he runs behind the Christian radio station.

Meanwhile, the military is trying to solve the dome problem. They appoint Iraq veteran and fry cook Dale "Barbie" Barbara as their liaison, and put him in charge of Chester's Mill. He is also tasked with finding the source of the dome. Rennie, with his influence threatened by Barbie, frames him for a string of murders actually committed by himself and his son, Junior.

Under the Dome has Stephen King's usual archetypes, including the likeable take-charge everyman, corrupt officials, and well-rounded local colour. And with local druggies stockpiling weapons and explosives, you know that it will inevitably end poorly for the town. All in all, the novel is a worthy read from King, and not dissimilar to his early epic The Stand. However, the payoff at the end doesn't quite measure up to the 1,100-page buildup.

Incidentally, someone (connected to King, his publisher, or otherwise, I don't know) has put together a typical small-town Web site for Chester's Mill and some of the local businesses from the novel. Nice attention to detail, guys!

December 09, 2011

Earnestly contending for the doctrine of the omniimpotence of God

(Or, reason #2,827 why Molinism sucks.)

I saw this article from William Lane Craig excerpted first on Triablogue last week. In the intervening week, it's made the rounds around to the usual suspects in the blogosphere as well. So, as usual, I'm a little late to the game. Nonetheless.

Craig is a Molinist. Molinism is a philosophical attempt to reconcile the biblical truths of divine sovereignty and human moral agency. Not only is this an unnecessary exercise, it seems to me—if I believe in scriptural inerrancy, then I am bound to accept both, given that both are taught unambiguously in the Bible—but it simply isn't a very good one. Molinism claims that God knows what choices free creatures would make in any set of circumstances, and so, out of all the possible worlds, he created the one in which everyone freely made the moral choices that he wanted them to. Put another way: God (being a gentleman who would never barge in) must not affect the will of the creature directly, but he will herd the creature into the necessary circumstances to obtain the desired free-will choices.

That's some "freedom."

December 08, 2011

Nyuk nyuk nyet


December 06, 2011

The night Santa went crazy

Happy St. Nicholas Day.

St. Nicholas of Myra is the prototype St. Nick: a Byzantine bishop of the fourth century renowned for his generosity. In particular, he is known for his gift to the three daughters of a pious Christian man: impoverished, they were about to resort to prostitution to make ends meet. Nicholas, anonymously and under cover of night, threw three bags of gold through the family's window, one for each daughter to use as a dowry.

Acording to another, less well-known tradition, Nicholas was present at the Council of Nicæa, in AD 325. The council had met to deliberate the theology of Arius, an Egyptian heretic who taught that Christ was not equal in substance to the Father. Arius himself was present at the Council to defend his views. Supposedly, Nicholas—an ardent defender of the orthodox position that Christ was the eternal Son of God, of the same substance as the Father—became increasingly incensed as Arius continued to expound upon his heresy. Finally, he lost it completely and slapped Arius across the face.

For this offense to the dignity of Church proceedings—and for hulking out in front of Emperor Constantine, to boot—Nicholas was stripped of his rank and thrown in jail. Legend says he received a vision of Mary and Jesus, who vindicated him and restored to him the symbols of his office. When Constantine heard of this miracle, he formally reinstated him as bishop as well. Because of this, and other supposed miracles attributed to St. Nicholas of Myra, the traditional liturgical calendar celebrates his feast day today, December 6.

So, have a happy Slug a Heretic Day.

November 24, 2011

And now . . . this - Nov. 24/11

An Ottawa-area brewery will no longer deliver beer door-to-door after a complaint from another unnamed brewery, according to its Facebook page.

Steve Beauchesne, who co-owns Beau's All Natural Brewing Co. in Vankleek Hill, south of Ottawa, wrote a blog post Thursday detailing the shutdown. . . .

The original plan included a team effort with Operation Come Home, an agency that runs a resource and program centre for homeless youth, where at-risk youth would deliver the beer for a fee. That money would then go to a shelter.

[Full Story]

Not to malign Beau's, or their good intentions, but somehow it surprises me that no one put the brakes on this scheme because, "Hey, we're giving large quantities of alcohol to homeless kids," before a government agency intervened.

November 23, 2011

This is a test of the Emergency Blogging System

Had this been a real emergency, this post would have gone to Twitter, Facebook, and, hopefully, Google+ one way or another.

Do not panic. That is all.

November 11, 2011

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

I've commemorated Remembrance Day on and off on this blog, and although I've quoted parts of John McRae's poem—arguably one of the best known of all Canadian poems—I don't think I've just let it stand on its own. On this November 11, the first in 10 years on which Canada is not at war, it just seems fitting.

November 07, 2011

One word: Bwahahahaha!

Just received in my email:

Office Of The U.S. Secretary Of State
Committee On Foreign Payment
Resolution Panel On Payment
Washington Dc

Attention: Beneficiary

I wish to use this medium and my office to inform you that your CONTRACT/INHERITANCE Payment of USD10,500,000.00 only from CENTRAL BANK OF NIGERIA has been RELEASED and APPROVED for onward transfer to you via ATM CARD which you will use in withdrawing your funds in any ATM SERVICE MACHINE in any part of the world, but the maximum you can withdraw in a day is USD$10,000 Only.

The United States government has mandated the CENTRAL BANK OF NIGERIA, to send you the ATM CARD and PIN NUMBER. Therefore You are advised to contact the Head of ATM CARD Department of the CENTRAL BANK OF NIGERIA for further instructions on how to dispatch your ATM CARD to you. . . . .

Thanks for adhering strictly to these instruction and once again accept my congratulations.

Best Regards,
Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton

Well then. If Hillary Clinton herself (whose email address, it seems, is says I've got an ATM card worth 10.5 billion coming to me, who am I to argue?

Sometimes you just have to wonder about the average IQ of these Nigerian 419 scammers. Or, just as likely, the people who actually fall for this crap and keep them in business.

October 22, 2011

And tomorrow is Saturday

And, not surprisingly, still wrong.

October 21, 2011

It's Friday, Friday, all gonna die on Friday

It's October 21: the no-really-for-real End of the World as predicted by doomster Harold Camping and his Family Radio organization.

Anybody dead yet? I mean, other than those of you that an actuarial table could guess about?

Didn't think so.

Can't wait to find out what Camping, Family Radio, and their remaining followers—whom I presume to be fairly sparse by now—have to say this time. As I noted a few days ago, Camping's certainty about the end of the world appears to have waned somewhat, and his prognostications are filled with an increasing number of weasel words. The question remains, then: Will Camping finally admit that he was wrong, and repent of 20+ years of misleading Christians? Will he simply allow today to pass in silence? Or will he, once again, refuse to acknowledge his error, discover some new "truth" in the Bible that he has previously overlooked, and recalculate for yet another Judgment Day still in the future—which date, in all likelihood, he will not see from this side of eternity, thus saving himself a fourth round of embarrassment?

For the record, I wrote this on Oct. 19 and set it to post today, Friday, October 21. The world has not ended today, nor will it. In the 0.00000000000000001% chance that I'm mistaken, I'm willing to look very silly for eternity. I am just that confident. Chew it, false prophets.

October 09, 2011

Science-Fiction Free September VII update

Hadn't realized, until today, that I'd gotten lazy and let the end of September slip by. I'll frequently let the reading program slip into October, but generally by the end of September, I am thinking about how it all went.

To recap: Every September, I impose a personal moratorium on the reading of science-fiction books, because they are the mainstay of my reading habits for the rest of the year. It's an opportunity to broaden my horizons. This year, I decided to tackle a number of books that I had started at one point, but hadn't yet finished, in order:

  • Dead or Alive by Tom Clancy
  • Under the Dome by Stephen King
  • Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
  • Bleak House by Charles Dickens, time permitting

For the first week or so of September, I finished off the book I was reading: L. Ron Hubbard's wannabe epic cum Scientology allegory Mission Earth. Once that was out of the way, I hastily switched up the order, out of convenience: since Les Mis was on my PalmPilot, it was easier to carry to work and read than the three-inch-thick Clancy tome.

Guess what I'm still reading.

OK—I knew this book was long. I just didn't realize how long. How very freaking long. Its word count is somewhere in excess of half a million words. By way of comparison, the King James Version of the Bible is around 800,000 words. The whole Bible. Printed, Les Misérables comes in at something like 1400 pages.

I missed this fact of history because I never got to pick up and weigh a copy in my hand. I'm reading an electronic edition I downloaded from Project Gutenberg; it's no bigger than a fraction of the capacity of my Palm.

The upshot: I started this book at approximately 10% completed. On Friday, I passed the 38% mark. In other words, it's taken me the better part of a month to read one-quarter of it. At this rate, I'll be reading Hugo until Christmas.

You know the problem? It's all the diversions. Hugo was not content to tell the story of Jean Valjean's redemption and his flight from the monomanaical Inspector Javert against the backdrop of the June Rebellion of 1832. No, he has to spend entire books (Les Mis was published in five volumes, each subdivided into books and then chapters) on little literary excursions: for exampe, his (admittedly vivid) retelling of the Battle of Waterloo, the history of an ascetic religious order, and the life of a Parisian gamin (street urchin). I'm in the middle of this last excursus now, having just started Volume 3: Marius.

I mentioned back in September that I had read an abridged edition: that was about an inch and a half thick itself, and I think it did away with all these sidebar discussions. Back in 1862, Hugo and his publisher took part in what has been called the shortest correspondence in history. Hugo, wanting to know how his book was selling, telegraphed: "?" His publisher replied: "!"

Imagine how Les Misérables might have been different if his editor had seen the cinderblock-sized manuscript on his desk and telegraphed: "?!"

And now . . . this - Oct. 9/11

Anyone wanna buy a—Oh, never mind

A 50-foot-long bridge in western Pennsylvania has been stolen, and its owners say they're baffled by the crime and have no idea who took it. . . .

A state police report says the 20-foot-wide span in North Beaver Township went missing between Sept. 27 and Wednesday.

The bridge was made out of corrugated steel and valued at about $100,000. Thieves used a blowtorch to cut it apart, presumably to sell it for scrap metal.

[Full Story]

The most surprising thing in this story? They can't pin down the date of theft. That means it took them over a week to notice.

October 07, 2011

A parable, somewhat modernized

Jesus told them a parable, saying, "A company founded by a brilliant inventor produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do now, for the tech world will soon be clamouring for newer and better gadgets?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my offices and stores and build larger ones, with huge glass walls, and there I will sell wafer-thin laptops and smartphones and media players and tablet computers. And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have business plans laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry."'

"But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the wonderful tools you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God." (Luke 12: 16-21, very loosely paraphrased)

In no way is my gratitude for Steve Jobs' creativity diminished by his vaguely Eastern-ish spirituality.

Nonetheless: all the creative vision in the world will not pass muster before the Almighty on the day of reckoning. What does it profit a man if he changes the world but loses his own soul?

October 06, 2011

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

Arguably the greatest technology innovator of the 20th century (and one who will no doubt be remembered for his contributions to the 21st) has passed away: Steve Jobs, the visionary co-founder of Apple.

I'll admit up front that I've never been a hardcore Apple cultist. I used an Apple II computer in elementary school (along with Commodore PETs and C64s) and had an early look at the original Macintosh at a 1984 science fair. I wrote my first co-op education work report on a Mac SE as a first-year engineering student. I may even still have the diskette, though I don't know if I own any computer that can read it anymore—and I don't even remember what format the file was in. I used other Macs off and on throughout university, most notably at the school library where the entire catalogue system was migrated to Mac II's in about 1996. I use a current Intel Mac model at work, as well as my boss' iPhone, and I've had an iPod since 2007.

So Apple, though not my primary choice of platform, has been part of me since the beginning. For regular, everyday computer use, though, I'm still a regular user of Linux and Windows rather than OS X. That being said, when I bought my first copy of Windows 3.0 back in 1991, it was because it made a DOS PC work like a Macintosh. The influence of Steve Jobs lives on, even in his competitors' products.

October 05, 2011

Captain Camping rides again . . . probably

Yes, it's only 15 days left to the "This time I really, really mean it" Judgment Day on October 21. And Captain Camping isn't letting something silly like a debilitating stroke stop him from keeping on purveying his end-of-the-world heresy. In a recent audio message posted on the Family Radio, he said:

We would have not been able to be used of [God] to bring about the tremendous event that occurred on May 21 of this year, and, which probably will be finished out on October 21 that's coming very shortly. That looks like it will be, at this point, it looks like it will be the final end of everything.

We must believe that probably there will be no pain suffered by anyone because of their rebellion against God. This is very comforting to all of us because we all have children, and we have loved ones that are dear to us that we know are not saved, and yet we know that they'll quietly die, we can become more and more sure that they will quietly die and that will be the end of their story. Whereas the true believers will quietly receive the new heaven and the new earth. . . . [T]here's going to be no big display of any kind, the end is going to come very, very quietly, probably within the next month it will happen, that is, by October 21."


A few notes:

  • Harold Camping, you weren't used of God to bring about the "tremendous event" of May 21. There was no tremendous event on May 21.
  • That's an awful lot of weasel words: It "looks like" the end of the world will "probably" happen "within the next month." In fact, it's a far cry from the sloganeering that accompanied the "tremendous event" itself: "The Bible guarantees it!" trumpeted Captain Camping and his billboards. Doesn't sound like much of a "guarantee" this time around, does it?
  • No pain? Whatever happened to all the tremendous upheavals and earthquakes that were supposed to accompany judgment day? I would think those would cause a not inconsiderable amount of pain and suffering. Now it's just going to "quietly" happen with "no big display." I suspect that Captain Camping is still trying to weasel out of his inevitable failure: having predicted that no big signs will accompany the end of the world, therefore when no big signs occur on October 21, this will of course be proof that the end of the world has indeed happened. ("Spiritually," of course!)

Seriously . . . Harold Camping, you lying weasel, just shut up already. You're only making it worse for yourself.

September 25, 2011

And now . . . this - Sept. 25/11

Oh no! Moosaholism is becoming a major Scandinavian social ill:

A homeowner from Storebro in northern Kalmar County arrived home on Wednesday night to find his garden littered with bits of apple and other signs that an elk had been partying in his back yard, the local Ă–stran and Barometern newspapers reported. . . .

While police and the hunter failed to meet up with the prank-playing elk, they did eventually find the family's swing set, propped up in a tree deep in the woods about 500 metres from their home.

[Full Story]

Yeesh. They'll be driving drunk and trying to pick fights outside orchards, next.

September 22, 2011

Are the unborn "individuals"?

As is my occasional wont, I got into it again today with the usual crowd of pro-choice folks tweeting their bumper-sticker slogans on Twitter. Today, the argument was that the unborn are not "individuals," by virtue of the fact that they depend on the body of another human being to survive.

You'll note that this is a functionalist definition of the term. Functionalism defines a person (or a human being or individual, as the case may be) by their function or behaviour: in other words, how human you are depends on what you can do, not on who or what you are.

Contrast that with the primary definition of "individual" as given at "A single human being, as distinguished from a group." A fetus certainly does meet this definition: a DNA test would rule out her being one of her mother's body parts, for example.

Aha, my Twitter opponent countered, but what about twins, then? Identical twins have identical DNA. Was I arguing that they are not individuals?

First of all, this missed my point, which was that they are individuals with respect to their mother. Fetuses are not body parts. What they are in relation to each other, on the other hand, is beside the point. (And even the fact of identical DNA is not so cut and dried.)

But nonetheless, I decided to press this question just a little farther. What do you do with conjoined twins? Take, for example, the Hensel twins, who share several vital organs. Abigail and Brittany Hensel were not separated at birth because of the unlikelihood of one twin surviving. They are highly coordinated and have learned to walk, swim, drive a car, and even type, even though each twin controls one arm and one leg. They are absolutely dependent upon one another for survival.

Are they individuals, I asked? Repeatedly. I got a lot of filibustering and personal abuse. What I did not get, however, was an answer.

Despite the necessity of the Hensel twins' functioning together, they are individuals. They have different likes and dislikes. They have different tastes in clothing, such that their joined garments are specially tailored to express their individuality. They each had to earn their own driver's licenses. So despite their dependency on each other's bodies for survival, they are indisputably individuals. And that is according to a functionalist definition.

How human you are does not depend on how dependent you are on another human being. Abigail and Brittany Hensel are not each half-human or half-individual because they could not survive separately. And neither are the unborn because they cannot survive outside the womb. The facts of life simply do not square with glib pro-choice rhetoric.

September 12, 2011

And now . . . this - Sept. 12/11

Or . . . just eat less HP sauce

It has enlivened countless fry-ups and given a kick to many a plate of bangers and mash.

But yesterday HP Sauce fans complained that their favourite brand had been left tasting "bland" and "disgusting" after a cut in salt to meet health targets.

Hundreds of readers contacted Mail Online to say the sauce just isn’t what it used to be, saying they were simply sprinkling their own salt on top or switching to other brands.

[Full Story]

The situation is obviously dire. There's only one possible solution: more bergamot.

September 10, 2011

Superman Saturday: June is bustin' out all over

Dadadada-dada! Saturday!

We last left Superman waiting to learn the fate of an unidentified girl who had, in the course of a day, been trapped in a burning high-rise, then stabbed by two men posing as her relatives. Also, Superman did a number of things that were not very clever. Fear not, Faithful Reader, for the Man of Steel's bonehead streak continues this week as Clark Kent continues to investigate the . . .

Episode 12: North Star Mining Company (1940/03/08)


Despite being nearly burned alive and stabbed in a single day, the girl's injuries were light, and she is now well enough to grant Clark his long-delayed interview. And since the script now calls her by her name, June Anderson, I will do the same.

And now . . . this - Sept. 10/11

Hey, it's 11/10/09! (And had it occurred to me an hour ago, I would have written this post at 08:07. So I couldn't resist back-dating it.)

Back to basics

What does the phrase "drunk moose, monkeys, and stupid criminals" mean? It was the thought that ran through my head that day in 2003 when I decided to start a blog.

It was a dark, windy and rainy night when Per Johansson returned from work to his home in Saro just south of Gothenburg, Sweden.

"It was raining really bad. In the wind I heard something screaming with a very dark voice," Johansson told CNN. "At first I wondered if it was the crazy neighbors, but then I heard it again and went and checked. I saw something really big up in a tree in my neighbors' yard and it was a moose. It must have been drunk after eating fermented apples and as it was reaching out for more fruit it must have slipped and fallen into the tree."

[Full Story]

At last we have the answer to the age-old question: Can mooses climb trees? When they're really, really drunk, they can. Getting down . . . not so much.

"At first I wondered if it was the crazy neighbours." As they used to say on Tales of the Riverbank—that's another story.

Public nudity, the San Francisco treat

I'm having trouble deciding whether this is intentional, or Freudian. Nonetheless:

In the San Francisco Bay area where tolerance is king, it is a rare politician willing to clamp down on citizens who let it all hang out.

But San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener stepped into that position earlier this week when he introduced an ordinance that would require nudists to cover their seats in public places and wear clothes in restaurants. . . .

Wiener, who represents the Castro neighborhood, said he hears from merchants who fear the public displays may drive away customers, hurting the business' bottom lines. . . .

California does have legislation against indecent exposure. But the law is lenient enough that it has barely affected San Francisco's current coterie of flaunters.

[Full Story]

Some days, the jokes just write themselves.

September 04, 2011

Earl Grey: Now even more overpoweringly perfumey

Now, I like Earl Grey Tea— I have done since my second day of university when I bought a mug of boiling water and a bag of Bigelow's Earl Grey, without knowing what I was getting into. (And I was still a couple weeks away from knowing anything about Captain Picard or his hot beverage of choice.) My favourite brand of Earl Grey has always been Twinings, but if this is true, then I very well may end up looking for a new brand:

Charles Grey, the second Earl Grey, gave the world many things, notable among them the Reform Act of 1832, but most of us remember him as the man they named a kind of tea after. Earl Grey is a brilliant tea; even its name conjures up both class and softness (most teas taste like they should be called Baron Harsh), and its taste—bergamot, by and large—is unique yet not too disturbing for the British palate. . . .

Twinings' bizarre plan to change the flavour of Earl Grey seems a misguided one. It has added more lemon and more bergamot to make it even more "wonderful." Leaving aside the fact that only in the world of tea-producing have the words "more bergamot" and "wonderful" ever been combined, you do feel that they have, how can I put it, gone barmy.

[Full Story]

Also coming soon: New improved Guinness! Now with more melon flavour!

There's an apropos saying. It starts, "If it ain't broke . . ."

September 03, 2011

Superman Saturday: When we kiss, ooh baby, it's fire

After last week's triple feature, I return this week to the regular two-episode format and a new adventure for Superman: a tale of danger, intrigue, and frankly enough super-boneheadedness that I'm actually going to keep count as we go. Let's just say it's not Superman's finest hour.

When we last left our heroes, Clark Kent as Superman had just defeated the megalomaniacal Yellow Mask, by deliberately colliding a plane with his to prevent him from destroying the Daily Planet with atomic Science! Clark returns to work the next day, presumably to bask in adulation for saving everyone's lives. Immediately, a photographer named Mike rushes up and informs Clark and Perry White that the Sterling Building, one of Metropolis' largest, is on fire and there's a girl trapped on the 20th floor . . .

September 02, 2011

Friday night downtime

Now is the time on the Crusty Curmudgeon when we dance.

Friday in the wild: September 2, 2011

Ha! It's actually Friday this time. No unnecessary delays, no accidentally falling asleep at 8 pm, blog article unwritten. Nope . . . just doing what I set out to do. Such a refreshing change from the usual, which I like to call "failure."

If you've ever wanted to write a novel but didn't know where to begin, the Art of Manliness blog had what I think is a helpful article on how to begin:

Many men have dreamed of writing a novel. Perhaps you have been told by a teacher that you have a knack for writing. Maybe you’re an avid reader and you think you could do just as well as the authors of the books you enjoy. Or perhaps you see writing a book as a challenge for yourself.

The good thing is this: anyone can do it! Nothing is stopping you from firing up your laptop and hammering away to create the caper of the century. There is no barrier or cost to entry. All you need is paper, pen, and the will to succeed.

[Read How to Write a Novel]

I had intuited many of the same steps myself, in the past. Hasn't resulted in any novels, yet, though.

Over at the Gospel Coalition blog, Collin Hanson wrote an article about the death-but-not-death of postmodernism in the West:

Christians tend to think of postmodernism as a revolution in philosophy and ethics. This view of postmodernism—an all-encompassing, coherent alternative to the arrogant certainty of modernism—stands on shaky ground. Postmodernism has always been applied selectively and often resembles a hyper-modernism, not a radically new enterprise. Indeed, postmodernism can only be explained in relation to its predecessor. The postmodern schools of art and literature represented a scattered protest against the conventions of modernism. The London art exhibit’s curators explain:

The modernists wanted to open a window onto a new world. Postmodernism, by contrast, was more like a broken mirror, a reflecting surface made of many fragments. Its key principles were complexity and contradiction. It was meant to resist authority, yet over the course of two decades, from about 1970 to 1990, it became enmeshed in the very circuits of money and influence that it had initially sought to dismantle.

Here we see several key elements of what has led so many Christian observers to take notice of postmodernism. We have grown skeptical of grand theories that purport to explain the way things were, are, and will be. Unlike modern schools of thought—say, Marxism—we recognize the complexity of human motivations. We have learned to live with contradiction, to embrace paradox.

[Read Postmodernism: Dead but Not Gone]

Nathan Finn at the new blog Credo posted another good article on William Carey:

History influenced the missiology of Carey and his associates. Scholars argue that the Moravians, David Brainerd, and John Eliot were all taken into consideration when Carey, Joshua Marshman, and William Ward drew up their famous Serampore Form of Agreement. In other words, Carey and friends understood that there was nothing new under the sun and they wanted to learn from the successes and failures of missionaries who had gone before them. History was used in the service of cross-cultural evangelism and church-planting.

[Read William Carey's View of History]

Stuff Christians Like had a pretty funny article about sitting in church near someone who can sing. "Why aren't they in the choir?" Having an OK voice myself, I get this a fair bit. It's embarrassing. My singing isn't that good; that's why I bury it in the choir.

Finally, with communion coming up this Sunday, I really enjoyed what my pastor wrote on his blog this week, after finishing up radiation treatments (he's OK):

If you’ve never been through radiation treatments for cancer, the whole notion of ringing the bell may seem a bit strange. What could be so meaningful about clanging a steel triangle? When I was starting my treatments, I didn’t see loads of meaning in the ceremony. But by the time it was my turn to ring the bell, I could hardly wait.

The cancer patients at Radiation North will tell you there’s something very symbolic, almost sacramental, about ringing the bell. The music announces that radiation is finished. As you ring the bell you remember and you celebrate.

[Read The Bell and the Bread]

Until next week . . .

September 01, 2011

And now . . . this - Sept. 1/11

Enough is enough . . .

Never mind ants in your pants, what about snakes and tortoises?

That's what authorities at Miami's international airport said they found inside the trousers of a passenger as he tried to board a flight for Brazil.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration said the man had seven exotic snakes and three tortoises wrapped in nylon bags that had been stuffed into his pants.

[Full Story]

I've had it with these bleepity-bleep snakes in people's bleepity-bleep pants!

Well, come on, what did you expect me to say? But at least it wasn't monkeys.

Science-Fiction Free September VII, 2011

It's September 1 . . . and so it's time for the annual moratorium on reading science-fiction books. (Read that title again: "Science Fiction Free September Seven, Two Thousand Eleven." Just rolls right off the tongue. Plus, SFFS is a palindrome. What more could anyone ask?)

SFFS came about back in 2004, when (after keeping track of my reading for the previous year) I realized my literary input was woefully lacking in anything other than SF. I decided that I would set aside a month to read anything but SF (apart from finishing a book already in progress), and planned out a selection of works to read. That first experiment was a success, and it also led to my reading Yann Martel's Life of Pi—my review of which is still one of the most popular posts on the blog, at least according to the search engine hits I get. So SFFS was a success, and in subsequent years I would celebrate it with various themes: Canadian literature, Victorian literature, and so forth. I have two restrictions: no science fiction (and preferably no fantasy either), and it should be something I haven't read before (since the whole point, after all, was to broaden my horizons!).

Of course, success has been varied, and I don't think I've ever succeeded in reading everything I set out to. So this year, I'm setting my sights a little lower. I'm going to finish as many books as possible that I've started, before moving on to something else:

  • Dead or Alive, by Tom Clancy. This was given to me for Christmas. I finished about 3/4 of it by spring, then got caught up in some required reading and never got round to picking it up again.
  • Under the Dome, by Stephen King. Recently given to me by a friend as a "birthday" present (he didn't really know when my birthday was). For some reason, I have a real phobia about reading later Stephen King books. I have intended for years to read them all in order before starting on his newer books, but never got farther than Pet Sematary. The result is that with the exception of Dreamcatchers, I've never read any of King's books later than The Green Mile in 1996. And this is the guy I claim is my favourite author? Sheesh . . .
  • Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo. In a sense, I've both read this before and finished it—I was hospitalized for a week in 1996 and, with nothing better to do, read an abridged edition from the hospital library. (Frankly, it was the only book they had that I was even interested in, so I'm glad my stay wasn't longer.) However, I've not read the complete novel. I started it earlier this year and got as far as Hugo's description of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo.
  • Bleak House, by Charles Dickens. Actually, this will turn out to be a re-read, since I started it about 12 years ago and only got about five chapters in. Still, the story intrigued me enough.

So there you go. I think I'll actually post a progress indicator of sorts in the sidebar, too. Wish me luck!

August 27, 2011

Superman Saturday: Science! goes crash

Oh yes. It's Saturday, and that means it's time to sit back and appreciate all things old, cheesy, and low-budget. Real life took priority last weekend, but to make up for it, this week we have a Superman Saturday Triple Feature, comprising an entire story from the radio's Adventures of Superman.

In our last episode, Superman had just saved the Silver Clipper train from certain doom at the hands of the Wolfe and his henchman, Keno Carter. Now, back in Metropolis, Clark Kent has earned himself a permanent job with the Daily Planet thanks to his breaking the railroad sabotage story in his first week on the job - indeed, his first week on Earth!

However, instead of a shiny Employee of the Month plaque on the wall, Clark has earned himself an enemy and a bomb threat, from none other than the shadowy figure behind Keno and the Wolfe—the Yellow Mask! Since his plot was foiled by a reporter, he plans on taking his revenge in true super-villain style: blowing up the entire newspaper. By 6 o'clock the next evening, the Daily Planet building will be rubble . . .

August 20, 2011

Saturday in the wild: August 20, 2011

I must say, it has been an interesting week in the blogosphere - more than usual, even.

Timothy George wrote a piece about William Carey, whose 250th birthday was August 16 this year:

In those days, missions was a naughty word, something obsolescent, restricted to the days of the apostles long ago. But Carey read the Great Commission differently. "Go ye," he said, "means you and me, here and now." He challenged his fellow Baptists to respond to this call, to "expect great things from God, and attempt great things for God." The result was the first missionary society organized by evangelical Christians with the aim of carrying the Good News of Christ to all parts of the world.

[Read William Carey at 250]

It's sad (and a little ironic) that Carey's "Deathless Sermon" has not survived. Wouldn't you love to read the homily that touched off the modern foreign missionary movement? Carey is significant to me, for two reasons: the first adult Sunday school class I taught was on his life. (I also wrote the first iteration of Carey's entry on Wikipedia).

August 14, 2011

A milestone I missed

So it turns out this Friday was the 30th anniversary of the IBM Personal Computer, the prototype of the modern desktop PC that we all know and love.

Back then, an IBM 5150 computer came with an Intel 8088 CPU running at a whopping 4 MHz, two 5-1/4" floppy disk drives, no hard drive, and a 12" monochrome, 80x25-character monitor. Its base RAM was 16 KB. Yes . . . kilobytes. Graphics? Well, the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet made pie charts.

I actually used one of these in my first summer job, between high school and university. I was compiling survey results at my local public library, and had to switch between WordPerfect and Lotus. With two floppy disk drives, you had to boot the computer into DOS with one drive, then swap the PC-DOS disk for the WP or Lotus one. The other drive held the data floppy. It was a pain, but it was still a superior system to the Commodore 64 I used at home. Thirty years later, of course, the C64 still has nostalgia value. The IBM PC? Not so much - probably because we are still using the same machine today, though it has evolved subtly over the years, and is obviously orders of magnitude more powerful.

But, still - I do like to play a round or two of Sopwith every now and then . . .

Still not too late for some good summer reading

NPR has posted a reader-selected list of the 100 top science-fiction and fantasy books. Since a) it's been a long time since I posted a book list, and b) SF is my thing, here it is. What I've read, I've bolded, and added a few comments here and there.

  1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
  3. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card (most of 'em)
  4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert (most of 'em)
  5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
  6. 1984, by George Orwell
  7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
  8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov (and also the posthumous prequel series written by the "Killer B's": Benford, Brin, and Bear)
  9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (Required high-school reading, of course)
  10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
  11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
  12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
  13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
  14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson
  15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore (Does a comic book really belong on this list?)
  16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
  17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
  18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
  19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
  20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
  22. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
  23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King (Not yet, anyway. What kind of horrible Stephen King fan am I?)
  24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
  25. The Stand, by Stephen King (My favourite book by King.)
  26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
  27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
  28. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
  29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
  30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
  31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
  32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
  33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
  34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
  35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
  36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
  37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne
  38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys
  39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells
  40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
  41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings
  42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
  44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven (and the sequels)
  45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
  46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien (Half of it, at least.)
  47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White
  48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
  49. Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke
  50. Contact, by Carl Sagan (A rare case of a movie being better than its novel.)
  51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
  52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
  53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
  54. World War Z, by Max Brooks
  55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
  56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
  57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
  58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson
  59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Falling Free, at least.)
  60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett (I've read most of the Discworld series, but not this one in particular.)
  61. The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle (And its sequel, The Gripping Hand.)
  62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
  63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
  64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
  65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
  66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
  67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks
  68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard
  69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
  70. The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
  71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
  72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne (I may, someday, take an old co-worker's advice and do a Web page or blog series on Jules Verne's many bad endings to his novels.)
  73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
  74. Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
  75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
  76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
  77. The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
  78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
  79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
  80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
  81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
  82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
  83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks
  84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
  85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
  86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
  87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
  88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn (Interesting to see a tie-in to a movie franchise make the list - these three Star Wars novels really are that good.)
  89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
  90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
  91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
  92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
  93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
  94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov (as well as its numerous sequels)
  95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson (the first one)
  96. Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
  97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
  98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
  99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony (Well, I tried, once.)
  100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis (Of course!)

Out of 100, I've read 46. Interestingly, though science fiction is my preferred genre, I still haven't read a majority of books on the list. On the other hand, this is still the largest number of any top-100 list that I have read - part of the reason I impose a moratorium on SF every September, to broaden my horizons a bit.

Some notable omissions from the list, in my opinion: Frederik Pohl's Heechee Saga (Gateway and its sequels); Philip K. Dick novels other than Androids (for example, Valis or A Scanner Darkly); or Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy.

(H/T: Siris.)

August 13, 2011

Superman Saturday: Playing with the train set

This week on Serial Saturday, Superman wraps up his first radio adventure! So tie a red towel around your neck, grab a bowl of your favourite brand of whole-wheat cereal flakes, and tune in . . .

FridaySaturday in the wild: August 13, 2011

Haven't done this in a while. (Hey, any excuse to keep blogging.)

R. C. Sproul Jr. had an interesting take on the question of Norwegian mass-murder Anders Breivik's religion:

Do Christians commit murder? Of course they do Is there some magic number, somewhere between one and a hundred where we can draw a line? I think not. Christians do not, however, murder freely, continuously, without repentance. They do not give themselves over to their sins. If they do, they no longer commit such sins, but practice them, showing their profession to be less than credible. Remember that, quite apart from the reality that we are all guilty of unjustified anger against our brothers, it is likely that your church has a number of saints who have murdered - some aborting their babies, others encouraging their wives, daughters, girlfireds [sic] to abort their babies.

[Read Says Who?]

I might quibble with this or that in Sproul's details, but in the main I agree with him, and cringe a bit every time some murderer or radical is automatically disavowed by Christians. We are all, as Sproul says, sinners. If a regenerate person could commit, say, software piracy, assault, even adultery in a moment of weakness, then why couldn't he commit murder?

So, do I believe Breivik is actually a Christian? Nope. From what religious statements I've seen excerpted from the 1,500-page rant he called a "manifesto," he has cultural ties to the church and a vaguely deistic view of God. This isn't the "no true Scotsman" fallacy, where I pronounce Breivik an apostate based on my opinion of his performance evaluation. (And yes, I do agree with Sproul on the distinction between committing and practicing sins.) Breivik is not a Christian, because the religion he claims to hold is not Christianity.

August 11, 2011

Signs of the times

A hair-thin electronic patch that adheres to the skin like a temporary tattoo could transform medical sensing, computer gaming and even spy operations, according to a US study published Thursday.

The micro-electronics technology, called an epidermal electronic system (EES), was developed by an international team of researchers from the United States, China and Singapore, and is described in the journal Science. . . .

The wireless device is nearly weightless and requires so little power it can fuel itself with miniature solar collectors or by picking up stray or transmitted electromagnetic radiation, the study said.

Less than 50-microns thick - slightly thinner than a human hair - the devices are able to adhere to the skin without glue or sticky material.

[Full Story]

It's in Revelation, people!!

Finally, Science! has given us the ability to make a mark on the hand or forehead. The One World Government and cashless society so clearly spelled out in the book of Revelation is surely almost upon us. Indeed, prophecy is being fulfilled, in the very pages of our newspapers.

August 07, 2011

A pet peeve


[dons Grammar Nazi jackboots and Schirmmütze]

I must draw to your attention a new threat to the purity of our mother tongue: the unrestrained use of the term deconstruct, as seen, for example, in this review by Kevin DeYoung (which is pretty good, and you should read it anyway):

Evangelicals can make the mistake of thinking the Bible says everything about everything. They can also be guilty of majoring on the minors or forcing the Bible to address matters it never meant to address. Smith is right to deconstruct these tendencies.

Deconstruction is a form of literary theory, founded in the 1960s by Jacques Derrida, who famously wrote, "il n'y a pas de hors-texte" ("there is nothing outside the text"). He challenged the assumption that words have a stable reference point outside of other words (there is no objective link between a word and the object it symbolize). Words can only be defined with other words, which can only be defined with other words, and so on and so forth. Nor is there any such thing as authorial intent; that, too, lies outside the text. To deconstruct a text, then, is to abandon all assumptions about meaning, and construct new meanings through new coinages, wordplay, and so forth: finding conflicting meanings for the text and unraveling the points it purports to make.

When DeYoung points out a few inconsistencies in Christian Smith's arguments (e.g. that "biblicism" doesn't work because evangelicals can't agree on essentials, yet Christians ought to get together and agree on essentials), he is in fact deconstructing Smith's argument by exposing areas in which it is incoherent. However, when he concedes that "Smith is right to deconstruct" wacky Evangelical Bible-reading tendencies, it appears that he is using the term deconstruct in a different way. I haven't read the book, but from reading DeYoung's post, it doesn't appear to me that Smith is saying it's impossible to find the Evangelicals' meaning. It's implied that he does understand their meaning. He just finds it foolish.

When you are tempted to use deconstruct when you mean something like analyze, rebut, or criticize, please use another word: for example, analyze, rebut, or criticize.

That is all.

August 06, 2011

Superman Saturday: Superman's first challenge!

Where we last left our hero, he had just arrived on Earth after an unexpectedly long rocket ride from the doomed planet of Krypton. Despite being crammed into a toy rocket as an infant and adrift in space for 20-plus years, having no outside knowledge of Krypton or Earth, Superman arrives with fluency in English and a superhero costume in his size. Even with no money, no experience, no Social Security number and a suit he probably stole off a guy in an alley, he scores a job as a cub reporter for the Daily Planet.

Now, Superman-as-Clark-Kent is off on his first assignment: to cover the threats made against trains in the West, and specifically, the Silver Clipper, "crack train of the West Coast Railroad," which a shady figure named the Wolfe has warned will never reach Salt Lake City after departing Denver.

So put on your Superman Underoos and listen to . . .

Episode 3: Keno's Landslide (1940/02/16)

Listen! [MP3]

The airport being closed due to fog, and with only 24 hours before the Silver Clipper meets its doom, Clark Kent decides to skip the TSA groping and fly out West under his own power as Superman.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the Colorado wilderness, our villains are languishing in a cabin: Keno Carter, "gunman, gambler, bad man of the Southwest," and the "shadowy" Wolfe, Maker of Ominous Phone Calls. Keno has just planted explosives on the railway tracks in anticipation of another train, the Western Limited. While Keno is apparently OK with sabotaging the rail system, he balks at the deaths that blowing a train 300 feet down a cliff will cause. The Wolfe, however, is not so scrupulous, and he reminds Keno (in an effete Eastern accent) that his job is to obey orders. Aha - so the Wolfe gets his orders from even higher up.

Superman, who is also following the Western Limited from the air, spots Keno by the tracks. Somehow, he recognizes the gear in his hands as a charging battery for dynamite blasting - such gear apparently being rather common in Kryptonian rockets. Realizing he has to act quickly to save the train, he swoops down and boards as Clark Kent, intending to stall the train by being thrown off when the conductor finds out he has no ticket. Unfortunately, he overplays his hand: the conductor decides to give Clark the benefit of the doubt for the time being, lest he write a hit piece for the paper.

So Clark goes for plan B: he pulls the emergency brake cord. This is, of course, not legal. So far, in his short time on Earth, Superman has destroyed a trolley car, mugged a guy for his clothes, and now illegally stopped a train. Obviously, it's going to take some time for the Man of Steel to evolve into the big blue Boy Scout we all know and love.

Clark suggests that he deserves to be thrown off the train for his bad behaviour. The furious conductor threatens him with jail time. But then the dynamite goes off and drops 20 tons of rock onto the tracks, but thanks to Clark, the train is unharmed. In the general confusion, Clark slips away, changes to Superman, and clears away the rock.

In the meantime, Keno slips into the crowd and discovers that Clark Kent, reporter, is responsible for saving the train. Nonetheless, the Wolfe assures him, with 20 tons of rock on the tracks, the Western Limited isn't going anywhere soon. Of course, it leaves immediately. The Wolfe and Keno quickly run for their plane to get to Denver, continue with their nefarious plot, and take care of Kent.

All in all, this isn't a bad start for Superman's first real adventure. There's a credible challenge - saving trains is one of those things Superman does a lot of. And there's a decent antagonist, in the duo of the thuggish Keno and the ruthless Wolfe.

Mind you, I'm still going to have a bit of fun for the next little while wondering where Superman got a working knowledge of Earth culture.

How is the Wolfe going to deal with Clark Kent in Denver?

Who is the Wolfe getting his instructions from?

Will Superman straighten himself out, or continue his life of petty crime?

Don't miss . . .

Episode 4: Kent Captured by the Wolfe (1940/02/19)

Listen! [MP3]

Having arrived in Denver without further incident, Clark Kent files a story about the rockslide with the paper and pays a visit to the railroad's division superintendent. Meanwhile, the henchman Keno is down because he doesn't understand how the rockslide completely failed to stop the train. The Wolfe admonishes him for failing. When Keno insists he didn't fail, the Wolfe suggests that he should be committed along with the conductor of the Western Limited who insists that a man in a blue outfit had singlehandedly cleared away the rockslide and repaired the tracks. (Ha! Irony!)

The Wolfe has done some checking into Clark Kent, and is surprised that he got out West so quickly. "He musta flown," suggests Keno. (Irony!) Nonetheless, they want to know what the railroad is planning, so Keno is sent to the superintendent's office disguised as a messenger, to deliver a telegram and overhear as much of the conversation as he can.

In the district office, the railroad superintendent and Clark ruminate some about the rumours of a "Superman" that have circulated after the rockslide. Clark dismisses the rumours as fantasy (irony!). It's easy to forget that in Superman's earlier years, he was very much a "mystery man": a costumed vigilante who operated outside the law and in secret. (Remember in Episode 2 how he warned Jimmy and the Professor not to tell anyone about their rescue.) In 1940, Superman was treated as a sort of urban legend, and it would actually be several years before he "went public" and became such a visible symbol of Metropolis.

In his news story, Clark had hinted that he knew more of the story than he had reported. He knows that the bad guys are following him around Denver, and he intends to use himself as bait by making himself conspicuous. "Mild-mannered reporter." Riiiight. His friends, at least the ones who don't know his real identity, must think he wrestles grizzly bears made of piranhas, for fun. As we'll see in future episodes, it must be tough for Superman to pretend he's not Superman.

Now Keno arrives in his messenger outfit and leaves the Wolfe's telegram: a cryptic message, again threatening the Silver Clipper. Kent thinks that the telegram and messenger are faked, and it will also lead right back to the perpetrators. Just then, a phone call arrives: the Superintendent is shocked to learn that a locomotive and tender have vanished without a trace. The message is clear: the same fate will befall the Clipper.

Clark goes out to "hunt wolves," hops out a nearby window and, as Superman, follows Keno back to his hideout. Keno spots him outside the house (again dressed as Clark), and he and the Wolfe plot to capture Kent and drag him into the basement, where they have a steel vault to lock him in and plenty of "aids to conversation."

This episode was mainly filler, and the title pretty much gave away the ending.

What has happened to the missing engine?

How will Clark Kent face the Wolfe's torture?

Could I write that last question with a straight face?

Find out next week!

July 30, 2011

Introducing: Superman Saturdays

I've always loved Superman. It goes right back to my childhood, thanks to reruns of The New Adventures of Superman and (of course) the Super Friends on Saturday mornings. My small collection of comic books included a few Superman issues. I think that 1978's classic Superman: The Movie, starring the redoubtable Christopher Reeve, was the first live-action movie I saw on the big screen. And I was a fan of Smallville for at least the last five years of its 10-year run. (Never watched Lois & Clark more than a couple times, though.)

During my university years I became vaguely aware of an old-timey Superman radio serial, because of a midnight program on CBC titled Night Camp. (Night Camp was also my first experience with Ella Fitzgerald, incidentally - double plus!) However, I only recently discovered archives of the show on the Net; something like 1100 of 1400+ episodes are still extant. And so I became hooked on Superman in all forms of media: print, radio, television, and film.

Also growing up, Saturday afternoon was the day for old and bad movies, usually sponsored exclusively by a manufacturer of adjustable beds. This is how I discovered The Planet of the Apes and its various sequels, and of course Godzilla, my one guilty pleasure. Clearly, Saturday was the day set aside by God for relaxation and the enjoyment of B-grade entertainment.

The Adventures of Superman certainly fit that bill. They're wonderfully silly. They reflect an era when the Last Son of Krypton spent his non-working hours punching up crooks and rescuing fair maidens from burning buildings instead of the more epic challenges posed by villains like Doomsday and Darkseid.

Hence, "Superman Saturdays." In honour of wonderful silliness, I am devoting part of my weekend to the appreciation of pulp. From time to time it may be "Serial Saturday," if I feel like digressing. But for the most part, Superman - especially old-timey Superman - just never gets old.

So gather around your radio console with a tasty and nutritious bowl of Kellogg's Pep, and look! Up in the sky!

Episode 1: The Baby from Krypton (1940/02/12)

Listen! [MP3]

"Boys and girls! Your attention please! Presenting a new, exciting radio program, featuring the thrilling adventures of an amazing and incredible personality! Faster than an airplane! More powerful than a locomotive! Impervious to bullets!"
"Up in the sky, look!"
"It's a bird!"
"It's a plane!"
"And now, Superman. A being no larger than an ordinary man, but possessed of powers and abilities never before realized on Earth. Able to leap into the air an eighth of a mile at a single bound! Hurtle a 20-story building with ease! Race a high-powered bullet to its target! Lift tremendous weights and rend solid steel in his bare hands as though it were paper! Superman! A strange visitor from a distant planet! Champion of the oppressed! Physical marvel extraordinary who has sworn to devote his existence on Earth to helping those in need. As our story begins, we ask you to come with us on a far journey - a journey that takes us millions of miles from the Earth, where the planet Krypton burns like a green star in the endless heavens . . .

The planet Krypton is doomed - doomed, I tells you!

According to its chief scientist, Jor-El, possibly in as little as a week, Krypton will be drawn into the sun and torn apart. Their only hope is to evacuate the planet and settle the Kryptonians on Earth. This news does not go over well with the Kryptonian ruling council, which mocks Jor-El and dismisses his dire predictions. He announces that their blood is on their own hands; for his part, he will look out for himself and his family.

Returning home, Jor-El completes a prototype spaceship which he plans to fire at the Earth. If the test is successful, then he will build a bigger ship capable of carrying himself, his wife Lara, and their infant son Kal-El. Suddenly, huge subterranean earthquakes announce the imminent destruction of Krypton. Jor-El urges Lara to get into the prototype, but she insists instead on saving Kal-El. As Jor-El, Lara, and the rest of Krypton dies, the spaceship and its tiny occupant escape.

Superman debuted in Action Comics #1, which devotes a single page to his origin story, and a mere frame to his Kryptonian heritage: mentioning only that he was rescued from doom when his scientist father put him in a rocket and sent him to Earth. So this radio episode may very well be the first time that Superman's origin is explained in any great detail. In fact, it's very similar to the prologue of 1978's Superman: The Movie - it lacks only Marlon Brando as Jor-El, condemning General Zod to the Phantom Zone.

Krypton, we are informed, is "millions of miles away," and on the other side of the sun from the Earth. Apparently it's within our own solar system and visible by telescope. How Jor-El intended to see if his rocket test was successful is not explained in detail; does his "high-powered telescope" see through the sun?

Second, we learn that the Kryptonians are a race of supermen "advanced to the absolute peak of human perfection": to get somewhere, they need only step as far as they want, whereas we puny Earthlings can step three feet at the most. This premise is consistent with Superman's original origin story, but at odds with its later evolution, in which Superman's power comes from Earth's lighter gravity and the radiation of its yellow sun. Jor-El proposes evacuating the population of Krypton to Earth. Did the scriptwriters think through the implications of thousands or millions of Supermen immigrating to Earth?

I just have to keep reminding myself: This is a children's program. We're supposed to thrill to the amazing adventures of the Man of Tomorrow, not think too hard about it.

As a further point of interest, Lara was played by Agnes Moorehead, best known for her later role as Samantha's mother Endora on Bewitched.

Will baby Kal-El's rocket make it to Earth?

Or will this be the shortest radio serial in history?

Stay tuned for the next adventure!

Episode 2: Clark Kent, Reporter (1940/02/14)

Listen! [MP3]

Not surprisingly, the baby Kal-El's flight to Earth is successful, if a bit longer than anticipated: by the time he arrives on Earth, he's a grown man. Since Jor-El expected to watch the prototype rocket land on Earth through his high-powered telescope, he apparently expected the trip only to take a few minutes or hours. Instead, it took something like 20 years - by which time, both Jor-El and his telescope would have been clouds of superheated gas. So we'll have to chalk up the rocket test as a failure. Kal-El survives anyway. Luckily, he apparently has no need of food, air, or in-flight entertainment on his 20-year journey.

Arriving on Earth, then, the adult Kal-El emerges from the rocket and immediately flies away to explore, and ends up "hovering with his curious power" over a highway somewhere in Indiana. The prologue of the first episode had said only that he could leap an eighth of a mile into the air - again, consistent with the comics of the day. This Superman is capable of true flight, another apparent first for his radio incarnation, of which there were several, as we will see in the future.

Meanwhile, a local, identified only as "the Professor," is going into town: taking his son Jimmy to the fair on a trolley. While the motorman is getting a drink of water, the trolley begins to roll downhill, out of control. Fortunately, Superman swoops down from above, rips the roof off the trolley and pulls the Professor and Jimmy out before it crashes. Hang on - were we not told, in the first episode, that he can "hurtle a 20-story building with ease"? Was he unable to drag a mere cable car to a stop, or lift it off the tracks? Superman's career of gratuitous vandalism begins right from day one on Earth.

In return for the rescue, Superman requests that Jimmy and the Professor promise to keep their knowledge of him secret. (No doubt he waved the wreckage of the trolley under their noses.) He also asks for advice: he is a stranger to Earth, so how can he best learn about humanity? The Professor suggests that he get a job at a "great metropolitan daily" as a reporter. Jimmy adds that he can't get a job dressed in Superman's blue tights and cape, and suggests he take an Earth name: something nice and inconspicuous, say, "Clark Kent." Superman thanks them for their help, warns them again not to reveal his new identity (possibly adding, "You wouldn't want to meet with another unfortunate accident, would you?") and flies off.

This exchange raises a whole bunch of plot holes. Superman knows he comes from a planet that no longer exists. Yet he cannot remember his own name? How did he learn English? How does he know what a newspaper is, or what a reporter does? (I know, I know, it's a kid's show.)

At the Daily Planet, in the office of the editor, Perry White receives a phone tip on a story out West concerning railroad sabotage, in which a man named "the Wolfe" may be involved. Here we have two more radio firsts: in the comics, Clark Kent originally worked for the Daily Star, and his editor was George Taylor. Perry White would be introduced to Action Comics later in 1940.

White bemoans the fact that he is shorthanded whenever a big story breaks. Fortunately, Clark Kent has been been waiting around the Planet offices, hoping to talk to White about a job. Here, again, I pause and ask: Is he sitting around the city desk in his Superman jammies? If not, how did he acquire Earth clothing? Did he stroll into a menswear store in the aforementioned jammies and buy a suit? What did he pay with? Did he mug a helpless victim in a back alley and steal his clothes? (It's just a kid's show . . .)

Since Clark has no experience, White tries to brush him off. However, he gets a phone call from the Wolfe himself, threatening that something bad will happen to a train called the Silver Clipper en route to Denver. Clark uses his super-hearing to eavesdrop on White's phone call, pretending that he is familiar with the railway situation. Impressed, White decides to take a chance on him. He tells his secretary, Miss Smith, to get Clark a cash advance and plane tickets out West. However, the airport is closed down because of fog. Miss Smith leaves Kent to wait in an anteroom while she finds his cash. She warns him to stay away from the window, as it is 20 stories up.

Kent decides he can't wait, jumps out the window and flies away as Superman. Here, I gave a little silent cheer. Forget the legendary phone booth; Supe almost never used one anyway. The window trick has always been my personal favourite way that Clark Kent would quickly change to Superman. He jumped out of the Galaxy Building in the first Action Comic I ever read.

However, then Miss Smith returns, and sees the open window. Since no one saw Clark leave the anteroom, she assumes the worst. On that note, the episode ends.

Superman was played by the legendary Bud Collyer, already a major name in radio by the time he took this part. Collyer had a bit part in the first episode, but here he makes his debut as Clark Kent/Superman. He shows that he gets the dual identity: when he plays Clark Kent, he pitches his voice in a high tenor range, but when he changes to Superman, his voice drops considerably. You really can believe that Clark Kent and Superman are two different people. Of all the various incarnations of the character, only Collyer and Christopher Reeve played Superman's dual persona so well.

I've "complained" a bit about some of the plot holes, and I'll do so again, for a little while, at least. No doubt the producers wanted to get right into the adventures, without fiddling around too much with a plausible origin story for Superman. So now that Supe's somewhat awkward transiton to normal Earth life has been taken care of, let's just get on with beating up bad guys.

Will Superman arrive in time to save the Silver Clipper?

Did Jimmy enjoy the fair?

Will Clark Kent's repeated defenestrations force the Daily Planet to weld the windows shut?

Don't miss the next exciting installments!

July 18, 2011

I've something to see, can't help myself, it's a new religion

A few days ago I received the latest number of "The Riplinger Report," the occasional email newsletter of KJV-only spinmeister (meisteren?) G. A. Riplinger. The lead article was an announcement of "[o]ur new KJB evangelist, Stephen Shutt":

Our outreach is expanding with our radio show, hosted by KJB evangelist and missionary Stephen Shutt (who is married to our daughter Bryn Riplinger Shutt). . . .

Stephen worked in Christian radio for over three years and was functioning as the station's chief operator, when he left to serve the Lord as a KJB evangelist for us and a missionary for Bearing Precious Seed and Local Church Bible publishers of Lansing Michigan.

The last I heard, the evangel was still repentance and faith in the living Christ, who died and rose from the dead to redeem sinners. I've met plenty of KJV-onlyists over the years for whom the "perfectly preserved Word of God for the English-speaking peoples" was their first article of faith. But I think this the first time I've met someone who openly proclaimed himself an "evangelist" and a "missionary" for the cause. Riplinger has been grinding away at the same street organ for ages, and she's gone further and further off the rails with each book.

In any case, the "good news" of the King James Bible is not the Gospel of Christianity. It's a new religion. We could call it KJVanity. Chop off the first two letters, and it's not far off the mark.

Meanwhile, in the same newsletter, Riplinger promotes a petition "to alert publishers that we do not appreciate their tampering with the spelling and orthography of the KJB." Apparently, some publishers have taken it upon themselves to revise the text to Americanize or modernize the spelling. Horrors!

It's amusing. KJV-onlyists continually harp on the "copyright" bandwagon, asserting that God's Word should not be copyrighted, and the KJV (unlike the modern versions) carries no copyright, so it can be printed and distributed freely. Yet when a publisher actually treats the KJV like a public-domain document, suddenly Riplinger and her trained monkeys act like it should be copyrighted and they are the de facto copyright holders, dictating to editors what they may do with the text. You gotta laugh.

July 13, 2011

And now . . . this - Jul. 13/11

You know, for every intelligent and reasonable atheist, there are probably a dozen of this guy:

An Austrian atheist has won the right to be shown on his driving-licence photo wearing a pasta strainer as "religious headgear." . . .

Mr Alm said the sieve was a requirement of his religion, pastafarianism.

The Austrian authorities required him to obtain a doctor's certificate that he was "psychologically fit" to drive.

[Full Story]

I'm all for this, with one proviso: As the pasta strainer is now on record as a religious requirement, then Austrian authorities should require Alm to wear it while behind the wheel, and fine him if he's caught without it, as he would be if he did not wear required corrective lenses. If the state must recognize your public idiocy, then allow the state to enforce it.

(H/T: Casey.)

July 06, 2011

Dear "markshriv"

Thanks to your repeated spamming of my blog with John MacArthur-related comments having nothing to do with the subject matter of the posts, you are now officially persona non grata here.

Continue, and I will take the matter up with Blogger.

That is all.

July 01, 2011

Canada is . . . 144

Happy Birthday, Canada. Again. We made it through another year.

Canada Day 2011 is special, because for the second consecutive year, we have members of the royal family present. Prince William and his new wife Kate were in Ottawa today, delighting the usual crowds of tens of thousands. (We can forgive the silly hat. She's purty.)

My longstanding Canada Day tradition is to post a patriotic song. Apparently, Will has brought Kate to Canada to show off one of his favourite places. This seems like as fitting an excuse as any to show off this year's song. Given that it's being sung by a Kenya-born Englishman, I don't know whether it technically qualifies as "patriotic." But if Roger Whittaker can sing like this about the greatest country in the world, then how could you not bring your princess to see it?

Previous Canada Day songs:

June 13, 2011

Harold Camping suffers a stroke


Harold Camping, Family Radio evangelist whose prediction of a May 21, 2011 Rapture failed to materialize, has had a stroke, according to the Oakland Tribune.

A neighbor told the newspaper that Camping suffered a stroke Thursday and was experiencing slurred speech as a result.

[Full Story]

Obviously I'm not privy to Camping's medical history, but I have often wondered if Camping's slow and occasionally slurred speech wasn't caused by a prior stroke. So this news doesn't surprise me somehow.

Of course I don't wish evil on anyone, even false teachers. So I pray for Camping's recovery.

I do have to admit, though, that the little Scott demon on my right shoulder wants to see him live at least until Oct. 21 22.

June 06, 2011

Brigette DePape's 15 Minutes, 2011-11

So by now the entire country's seen the pictures of the idiot who decided to abuse her position as a Parliamentary page, causing an insignificant disruption in Friday's Throne Speech in Ottawa by holding up a "STOP HARPER" sign in the Senate chamber. She was, naturally, promptly removed and sacked:

Gomez and Morticia DePape, Brigette's parents, were unavailable for comment. However, her brother Pugsley informed this blog that he was happy that they would have more time now to build weapons of mass destruction together.

June 03, 2011

Jack Kevorkian, 1928-2011 (about time)

"Death Man is dead." - Vic Weems, Mystery Men

Serial killer-posing-as-medical-doctor Jack Kevorkian, who is believed to have assisted in over 100 suicides, died today, apparently of a pulmonary thrombosis while hospitalized for pneumonia and a kidney ailment.

Ironically, there was no other right-to-die advocate handy with a suicide machine.

Kevorkian once told Time that his medical specialty was death. Well, now he's had a chance to observe it firsthand. And made the world a better place by his leaving it.

May 31, 2011

And now . . . this - May 31/11

Yeah, this makes sense

The evacuation of a smoke-filled passenger train in a Hokkaido tunnel Friday night was delayed by a company requirement that fires be visually confirmed before action can be taken, it has been learned.

The accident occurred on the JR Sekisho Line of Hokkaido Railway Co. (JR Hokkaido) in Shimukappumura. After its fifth car derailed and apparently caught fire, the Super Ozora No. 14 express train made an emergency stop in the 685-meter-long Daiichi Niniu tunnel Friday night.

JR Hokkaido's operation manual requires that train staff visually confirm a fire before any steps can be taken, but the thick smoke that filed the train and tunnel prevented such confirmation.

[Full Story]

Yes, you're not seeing things. The explanation was that they couldn't confirm the existence of a fire because of the thick smoke.

I'm guessing that "where there's smoke, there's fire" doesn't have a Japanese equivalent . . .

May 21, 2011

It's time I had some time alone



So . . . anyone feel that earthquake?



May 20, 2011

Birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, boom!


 . . . DIE

Update: On last evening's Open Forum program, Harold Camping made his swan song. There will be no program tonight, as he will (understandably) be spending it with his loved ones. No doubt it's a few hours of respite before the arduous task of watching the Mother of All Rolling Earthquakes unfold on CNN. The Rapture will be televised, after all.

Whether Camping will return to the airwaves after his inevitable humiliation, however, remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, you might find it interesting to watch the YouTube videos of EzekielThirtyThree3, who has been documenting Harold Camping during these last few weeks of the world. The quality of the documentary is actually pretty good. But I can't decide whether he is sincerely chronicling the end of the through the eyes of its chief prophet, or if he's a disgruntled Family Radio employee documenting the last gasp of an old fool who didn't learn his lesson from his first failure in 1994. The over-the-top, dramatic low camera angles of Captain Camping preaching from a large pulpit look to me like some kind of Triumph of the Will pastiche.

May 19, 2011

May 18, 2011

May 17, 2011

May 16, 2011

World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed

I'm going to listen to Open Forum every day this week. It's bound to be quality entertainment . . .


THIS IS IT . . .

May 11, 2011

Six o'clock, TV hour, don't get caught in foreign towers

My friend Ian directed me to this TV news item that was broadcast only a few days ago.

So, Harold . . . we can know the day and the hour?

Captain Camping is hilariously specific: he says that Judgment Day will begin at 6 pm starting at the International Date Line.

Cool. So God's eschatological timetable respects modern time zones, including an imaginary (and completely arbitrary) line, devised because on a spinning globe, it has to be the next day somewhere. I guess that makes Sandford Fleming a prophet. Who knew?

It's a bit confusing what Captain Camping meant, though. Did he mean that the Rapture would occur all over the world at that time? In that case, it will be 2 a.m. in the morning on May 21 here in Ottawa (and the rest of Eastern Daylight Time), and we'll all miss it, unless we go barhopping and drink to the Millennium. Or did he mean that God will do the Wave across the globe, laying down earthquakes at 6 pm local time? That, at least, will make for 20 hours of interesting news before it's our turn.

If nothing else, it's clear that Camping is still making this garbage up as he goes along. Hilariously, he insisted that there is no possibility of being wrong this time. I wonder what he'll be saying on May 22?

Meanwhile, it's still


Captain Camping

May 08, 2011

Left of west and coming in a hurry with the Furies breathing down your neck

Can the
Camping Cultists
Climb Up from
Chaos and Confusion
of the
Certain Confutation
Captain Camping's
Calculator-Crazy Claptrap?

Find out in

13 days until May 21, 2011. That's a very unlucky number - for Harold Camping, the pretend prophet who just can't predict the end of the world right, even on the third try. On May 22, the world will see him for the fraud he is, when the Rapture fails to happen on schedule.

Tell you what, Harold. If you're so convinced of your numerological noodlings, write up a binding contract to sell me all the assets of Family Radio on May 22 for the sum of one dollar. If you really have the courage of your convictions, you already believe that you'll need neither the money nor the radio network. Right?

The fact that, so far as we know, no one has made such a deal yet, speaks volumes about Camping's honesty. I think that deep down inside, he knows better than to believe his own drivel.

May 03, 2011

A blogger's political dream

No, not a Conservative majority after 5 years of minority governments. (Though that's finally nice too.)

But given my choice of blog colours: How many people can honestly say that the entire country matches their drapes?

In one way or another, every party leader made history in last night's election:

  • Stephen Harper, for finally winning a clear majority in Parliament and for winning a third consecutive victory - a feat only accomplished by two other Conservatives before him, John A. Macdonald and John Diefenbaker.
  • Jack Layton, for finally propelling the NDP from Canada's perpetual also-ran party at the national level to a formidable opposition. And for turning the Bloc Quebecois into a big, smoking crater.
  • Michael Ignatieff, on the other hand, for not only losing his own seat, but reducing the Liberal Party to a mere 34 seats - the first time ever that the Liberals have not either been the government or the Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.
  • Elizabeth May, for finally succeeding in getting a Green Party candidate elected: specifically, herself. I guess I can't complain about the Greens being unelectable anymore. (Irrelevant is still on the table, however.)
  • And finally, Gilles Duceppe who, in addition to losing his own race, led the Bloquistes to a resounding defeat on the night that Quebecois decided they no longer wanted to be represented by a separatist party with no hope of gaining real power unless they allied themselves with federalists.

Ignatieff and Duceppe have both since announced their resignations as leaders of their respective parties. Like Paulie Gatto in The Godfather, we won't see them no more.