December 17, 2013

Thank you for calling and sharing, and shall we take our next false prophet, please? (Harold Camping, 1921-2013)

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

- T. S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men"

Harold Camping, the discredited former radio preacher who doubled down on a false end-of-the-world prediction and lost, is dead.

[T]he California preacher who used his evangelical radio ministry and thousands of billboards to broadcast the end of the world and then gave up public prophecy when his date-specific doomsdays did not come to pass, has died at age 92.

Family Radio Network marketing manager Nina Romero said Harold Camping, a retired civil engineer who built a worldwide following for the nonprofit, Oakland-based ministry he founded in 1958, died at his home on Sunday. She said he had been hospitalized after falling.

[Full Story]

Most people's knowledge of Harold Camping and his nonsense probably doesn't go back much farther than 2010 or 2011, when his infamous prediction of the end of the world on May 21, 2011 became international news. As many date-setters are wont to do, when that prediction failed, he "discovered" an error in his calculations, and revised his prognostication for October 21 the same year. And yet, here we all still are.

I first became aware of Camping when I chanced to tune in Family Radio on my shortwave in 1992 or 1993. I listened to his "Open Forum" call-in show every now and then. Apart from hyper-Calvinist leanings and a tendency to prefer "spiritual" interpretations of the Bible to straighter literal ones, he was a voice of relative sanity on the madness that is Christian shortwave radio. However, he had recently published two books, Are You Ready? and 1994? in which he predicted the end of the world on or about September 6, 1994. This subject began to dominate his airtime. When the 1994 prediction also failed, declared an error in his calculations and revised it for one year later. (Two years later, I was still finding the odd copy of 1994? on Christian bookstore shelves!)

Camping's tendency toward allegorical theology and date-setting went back years earlier, though. In his 1970 book The Biblical Calendar of History, Camping asserted that the world was created in 11,013 BC, based on an unorthodox reading of the genealogy of Noah (which I discussed here). Camping subsequently claimed that exactly 13,000 years later, on May 21, 1988, the Church age came to an end. The Holy Spirit had departed all organized Christian churches, which were thereafter under God's wrath. Coincidentally—or perhaps not—this was about the same time that Camping was removed from teaching Sunday school at his Christian Reformed church because of his increasingly eccentric theology. He left that church altogether a few months later. Camping encouraged his listeners to leave their churches and form loose fellowships in which they listen to Family Radio instead (from which he also expelled all programming that supported the continuation of the church). In the early 2000s, between failed Rapture predictions, this was the teaching that Camping was most notorious for.

And then, some time in 2009, it came out that Camping was doing it again: he had announced that the end of the world would occur on May 21, 2011. This date is very significant because it comes exactly 23 years after May 21, 1988, as well as exactly 722,500 days after the Crucifixion on April 1, AD 33. 722,500 is the square of 5 × 10 × 17, which are (according to Camping) "enormously significant spiritual numbers." No, I don't get it either.

Predictably, as was the case in 1995, 1994, and 1988 (which, I have come to understand, was yet another possible date for the Rapture, if only Camping hadn't discovered it years after the fact), nothing happened. Camping had unambiguously left himself no way to weasel out of this prediction when it failed again, and so he became a laughingstock, both in the church and out. It didn't make matters much better when he tried to weasel out of it anyway, claiming that the May 21 event was "spiritual" and that the really-and-for-true end of the world was on October 21. Well, that wasn't true either. In the meantime, he also suffered a stroke that effectively ended his public ministry.

After October 21, 2011, Camping finally clued in that something was fundamentally wrong with his methods, and issued an apology before disappearing into a well-deserved obscurity. On the occasion of his death, however, Family Radio's note whitewashes the fact that he (and they) swindled his followers out of millions of dollars used to promote the apocalypse that never was. Many of these people sold possessions, quit their jobs, or went on the road for the sake of promoting Camping's message. I wonder where they ended up?

There's a reason that James said teachers needed to be careful about their teaching because they would incur a stricter judgment (Jas. 3:1). Harold Camping did not fight the good fight, and he abandoned the faith years ago for all manner of apostasy: for example, annihilationism, modalism, adoptionism, and hyper-Calvinism. His doctrine and date-setting led many Christians to follow him into the ditch, and drove Family Radio, a once-legitimate Christian ministry, into the ground. They still want to eulogize him. I think I'll take the advice of the Who, instead: let's forget him, better still.

September 30, 2013

Evil, therefore no God?

The next post in the Canadian Apologetics Coalition's "Contending for God" series is up.

Today, Colleen Hinkkala argues that God exists because objective morality does. This is the classic "argument from morality":

When we concede to [the] fact that true evil does exist, we are saying that evil is not just an idea, preference or type of event, but rather a real, objective phenomenon that is not based on emotion or choice. Something is evil (for example, pedophilia) whether Bob believes it to be so or not, and should therefore "ought not be." It is at this point that we give up our position when arguing against Gods existence in light of the obvious and present evil in the world, for you cannot have anything objective in a purely relative world.

What do I mean by relative world? If evolutionary theory is correct, morality is left up to each of us, and because we have markedly different thoughts and feelings about right and wrong, morality can change and become relative to the person, situation and context. The problem is, Bob and I do not agree on the rightness or wrongness of pedophilia. So who decides if it is right or wrong? Can it be both right and wrong at the same time? To a logical person, this makes no sense . . . of course something cannot be truly good and evil and the same time, but this is exactly what moral relativism (and consequently atheism) requires.

[Read Evil Exists, Therefore God Doesn't?]

Two more to go!

September 27, 2013

Friday in the wild (Contending for God remix): September 27, 2013

Howdy. This is a sort of "special edition" of Friday in the Wild—with a theme.

I recently became part of the blogging team of Canadian apologetics ministry Faith Beyond Belief. My contribution so far: a discussion of absolutist and incremental approaches to abortion legislation. New material is in the pipe, I promise! And some of it may be slightly reworked and reposted here if it is apropos.

FBB is part of the Canadian Apologetics Coalition of blogs, which is currently in the midst of a series titled "Contending for God." As David Haines puts it in his introduction to the series:

We will be looking at the question of whether or not God exists, and if God does exist, what are the implications for us humans?

Although I'm not taking part in the series personally, I can at least do my own small part to promote the series, by linking to and aggregating them. So, without further ado . . .

September 05, 2013

Science Fiction-Free September X (yes, X)

This September is another milestone: my tenth annual month-long moratorium on reading science fiction. Way back in 2004, I decided that I read way too much SF and needed to read more, well, not-SF—lest I contract some sort of literary scurvy or something. So I set aside September of every year to expand my reading horizons a bit, usually choosing books of a more literary character, often with some sort of theme for the month.

It seems a little strange to declare a moratorium this year on a genre that I actually haven't read much. My main reading "project" since last year has been to read through the books of Stephen King, so I've been feeding my head with horror or fantasy, at least.

My current book is East of Eden by John Steinbeck, so book one for September will be to finish it—no small feat since I've been bogged down in it for about two months now and am only about a quarter through. I haven't read any Steinbeck since having to read Cannery Row back in high school. He isn't a hard read, just slow going.

Book number two is another high-school assignment: Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. I recently watched Apocalypse Now, and felt inspired to read its source novel again and see if I like it any better at 42 instead of 19.

Book number three has yet to be determined, but it will be a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. I have often cited The Remains of the Day as my favourite novel. It's high time I read something else by the same author.

Finally, if time permits, I'm going to take another huge bite out of Les Miserables, which I have been working on since about 2010.

My success with these September reading programs has been hit and miss. Here's to success: I want to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy before the year is out, so I need as much time as I can get for such a long novel.

Ten years later . . .

Yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of the first post on the Crusty Curmudgeon. I'm posting less, and probably less interesting, but unlike the vast majority of blogs, arguably, I'm still kicking.

It's hard to say what the primary fuel is for the slowdown in posting frequency. First, I'd chalk it up to a change in employment back in 2006, which reduced the amount of free time I had for blogging, as well as the time for reading, listening, or viewing anything that I might be interested in writing about.

Second, there are a lot of different venues now for venting that weren't around in 2003. I used to "bank" two or three news articles that I wanted to comment on, for a single post. Now, I can just make an off-the-cuff comment on Twitter or Facebook. So it's less that I'm not saying as much, as that I'm spreading it out over multiple services.

Third, I'm just lazy. Why write a 1,200-word blog post when I can just sit back and watch a bad old monster movie?

Nonetheless: I'm still here, the Crusty Curmudgeon is still live, and I'm not going anywhere soon. In fact I've got a few lengthy things to put up before the end of the year. More than anything, I guess I'm surprised that the weblog has survived for this long, essentially unchanged in its format since the early 2000s. Who knows what the Crusty Curmudgeon will be in 2023?

July 01, 2013

Canada Day 2013: "Sing God save the land we love the best"

For the tenth time in this blog's history: Happy Canada Day!

Today is the 146th anniversary of Confederation, and, as usual, Canadians temporarily cast off their restraint and display unbridled patriotism. This is, of course, most evident here in the nation's capital, where the streets surrounding Parliament Hill become one very crowded block party for the day, culminating in a stage show and the annual 10 pm fireworks. The first Canada Day I attended, back in 1995, featured performances by Burton Cummings and Spirit of the West. This year, though, it's Carly Rae Jepsen and literally no one else I've ever heard of, so I think I'll skip the stage show (though I do have an invitation to see the fireworks from a well-situated downtown balcony).

This is also the 140th anniversary of Prince Edward Island, which joined Confederation on July 1, 1873—the eighth province or territory to do so. In honour of the anniversary, I devote this year's customary patriotic song to PEI's provincial hymn: "The Island Hymn."

This song dates back to 1908. The lyrics were written by Lucy Maud Montgomery, best known of course as the author of Anne of Green Gables, that quintessential Canadian redheaded orphan:

Fair Island of the sea,
We raise our song to thee,
The bright and blest;
Loyally now we stand
As brothers, hand in hand,
And sing God save the land
We love the best.

Upon our princely Isle
May kindest fortune smile
In coming years;
Peace and prosperity
In all her borders be,
From every evil free,
And weakling fears.

Prince Edward Isle, to thee
Our hearts shall faithful be
Where'er we dwell;
Forever may we stand
As brothers, hand in hand,
And sing God save the land
We love so well.

The music was composed by Lawrence Watson specifically for this hymn. I've heard one recording of "The Island Hymn," and in my opinion, the lyrics deserve better. In fact, when I first read the lyrics, I mentally matched them to "Olivet," the Lowell Mason tune to which "My Faith Looks Up to Thee" is usually sung. "The Island Hymn" was officially declared as PEI's provincial hymn in 2010.

2013 is also a sadder milestone, as it marks the passing of Stompin' Tom Connors at the ripe old age of 77 in March. Connors was a Canadian patriot, with many of his best-known songs referencing Canadian culture, history, or folklore. Appropriately for today, his first single, and arguably his best-known, was "Bud the Spud," a lighthearted ballad about a PEI potato trucker who raises the ire of the police.

This being my 10th Canada Day blog post, I thought it only fitting to go out with a twofer. Happy July 1, everyone.

Previous Canada Day songs:

June 30, 2013

Same-sex marriage and the church

One of the fundamental themes in the apologetics of Francis A. Schaeffer is the way that radical new ideas influence society. In his earliest books, such as Escape from Reason, he argues that as a general rule, ideas begin in the academy (particularly in the humanities, such as philosophy), then work their way out into the arts and music, and spread into the general public. Finally, they come into the church.

This is the stage that has now been reached on the gay-rights front, particularly on the issue of same-sex marriage and benefits. Even 20 years ago, the idea of two men or two women actually marrying would have been practically unthinkable. Now, it is generally accepted by nearly everyone that same-sex marriage is a Good Thing, while opposing it is "homophobic." Last week's U.S. Supreme Court decisions concerning the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8 essentially repudiated the traditional view of marriage as backwards and bigoted. By contrast, the time between the Emancipation Proclamation and the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which prohibited discrimination based upon skin colour) was just over a century. And that is for a cause that virtually all rational people today accept as a great good! The rapidity with which same-sex rights have been accepted is almost preternatural. (In my opinion, this is primarily due to a full-court press by the primary agenda-setters in the public mind—the media and the entertainment industry, who speak with a nearly unanimous voice in favour of gay rights, something that would not necessarily have been true for previous generations.)

Now, advocacy for same-sex marriages is finding its way into the churches. I don't mean merely the liberal churches, such as the United Church of Canada or the Episcopal Church, where no leftist cause célèbre ever went uncelebrated. We would expect that kind of thing from institutions who abandoned the faith for social activism ages ago. I mean evangelical churches, where the authority of God's word is still supposedly held in high regard. The official position of my own church, for example, is that marriage is an exclusive covenant relationship between one man and one woman. It is enshrined in the statement of faith. Nonetheless, I know of a handful of people within the church who are no longer convinced that the bible teaches this. Maybe some of them never were truly convinced.

For anyone who claims to believe in the authority of Scripture, this is simply untenable.

June 25, 2013

Richard Matheson (1926-2013)

I can't believe that it's been seven years since I first discovered the fiction of Richard Matheson, via the short story collection Duel (which I reviewed at the time). As I said back then:

Matheson seems to be almost unheard of these days, but in addition to "Duel," many of his novels have been adapted for film: A Stir of Echoes, What Dreams May Come, and The Shrinking Man, to name three. After reading Duel, I'm convinced to try out some of his longer fiction. But if you're looking for a good collection of tight short stories by an author you probably haven't read before, you can't go wrong with this book.

Richard Matheson passed away on Sunday at the age of 97.

His influence is arguably out of proportion to his name recognition, but if you've watched a lot of science-fiction or horror television or movies, you've probably seen something he wrote, which includes:

  • the screenplay for Duel, Stephen Spielberg's first feature-length film (and the short story on which it was based);
  • the classic Twilight Zone episodes "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" and "Little Girl Lost," as well as the episode "Steel" based on his short story of the same name (as was the 2011 movie Real Steel starring Hugh Jackman); and
  • the novel I am Legend, which has been adapted three times for the movies, as The Last Man on Earth (1964) starring Vincent Price, The Omega Man (1971) starring Charlton Heston, and I am Legend (2007), starring Will Smith;

Science fiction and horror literature has lost another of its greatest authors. The Golden Age continues to slowly diminish.

June 23, 2013

Superman Sunday: I'm flying north again

And we're back! It's been a long time since we did Superman Saturday (or Sunday), but with the recent release of Man of Steel, I felt sufficiently inspired to return to the series. Which, despite the dearth of posting, is actually pretty fun. (And I haven't seen the movie yet, BTW.)

We pick up the series with a new adventure. Indians! Lost explorers! Mystical powers! Treasure! Wait, have we seen this one before?

June 08, 2013

Death to Davros!

Whenever the current season of Doctor Who ends, I always feel a kind of withdrawal. I blame it on the peculiarities of British television scheduling: a long mid-season hiatus coupled with a smaller number of episodes per season.

Fortunately, there's no shortage of Doctor Who to be had in the meantime—the program has, after all, been broadcast (on and off) since 1963. So this year I've been feeding my hunger pangs with the old Fourth Doctor episodes, broadcast 1974–81. It's often said that a Doctor Who fan's favourite Doctor is always the first one they saw, and that's certainly true in my case (though David Tennant and Matt Smith did give Baker a run for his money!). I first discovered Doctor Who on Sunday afternoons on PBS, where the producers edited the episodes of each serial into a single program. Later, the same PBS station moved the Doctor to Saturday late-night. In the spirit of Serial Saturdays, watching Doctor Who was my weekend ritual from the age of about 13 to 20.

May 24, 2013

It's not the presence of evidence, it's the seriousness of the allegation

Here's the press conference I'd like to see Toronto mayor Rob Ford hold.

Rob Ford: Good morning. I would like to respond to the allegations made by Gawker and the Toronto Star about this video that has supposedly surfaced, showing me smoking crack. Before I begin, though, I have a quick question: Have any of you viewed this video?

Members of the press: [general murmuring that sounds like "No," "not really," etc.]

Ford: No, eh? Interesting. Has any legitimate news agency actually come into possession of this video?

Press: [more murmuring]

Ford: Really. How fascinating! Now, in this news article I just read on the CBC Web site, it says, "CBC has not seen the video and has been unable to verify its contents." In fact, every CBC news article has said that same thing. Is this true?

Some CBC reporters: ["Yes," "I guess so," etc.]

Ford: Well, then. It seems there's nothing to respond to, and I won't waste your time any more. If you'll excuse me, I've got mayoring to do. [exits]

I've got no particular opinion about Ford or his abilities as mayor. I don't live in Toronto, and I'll leave that to his voters. But, for the last week, this has been the most egregious case I have ever seen of the media manufacturing a news story out of thin air. The previous contender was "Rathergate" back in 2004. Arguably, that fictitious scandal had farther-reaching ramifications, but at least the perpetrators managed to publish their trumped-up evidence against George W. Bush.

By contrast, the allegations against Ford so far consist entirely of rumour. Smoke and mirrors. Of course, this hasn't stopped multiple commenters on the CBC site from calling for Ford to step down, because this made-up "scandal" has become a distraction to the running of the city. No, really. Well, I've never mistaken those who comment on for the swiftest people in the world.

This nonsense has gone on for a week. As I write this, there are no less than 13 links on the Toronto Star front page that mention the Ford scandal. So far, the incriminating video has yet to actually be made public, and it might not: the Star itself is reporting that Gawker's campaign to purchase the supposed video for $200,000 has a slight problem: they can't find the owner.

Who knew Somali drug dealers would be so hard to find? They're usually so reliable, but these days, it seems they're almost as elusive as journalistic standards. Congratulations to the Toronto Star and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: you're the latest joint recipients of the DIM BULB du jour. Shine it with pride, morons.

May 11, 2013

Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013)

Ray Harryhausen, the special-effects pioneer best known for stop-motion movie monsters, died this week at the ripe old age of 92.

Normally, on Saturdays, I would be blogging about old Superman radio shows. But Harryhausen is certainly within the spirit of Serial Saturdays. What weekend afternoon wouldn't be made better by a science-fiction double feature of Harryhausen's brilliant B-movies?

The first feature film with Harryhausen's effects that I saw was the redoubtable 1981 flick Clash of the Titans, his last film. However, my favourite of his is the alien-invasion movie Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, along with Dr. Cyclops, which I first saw in a university lecture hall in my first year in a course on science-fiction literature, of all places. Finally, my favourite scene of Harryhausen's is hands-down the skeleton battle from Jason and the Argonauts.

Ray Harryhausen's jerky stop-motion animation looks downright Stone Age next to today's digital animation. But it has what so much CGI really lacks: heart and charm. I'm not putting down digital effects in fact, after I finish writing this, I'm going to a friend's place to watch Captain America and The Avengers on his 3D TV. Unlike the digital action-fests we see today, though, which throw the resources of multiple effects companies and hundreds of employees at the visuals, Harryhausen's work was a true labour of love. Artists like him are few and far between now.

April 27, 2013

And now . . . this - Apr. 27/13 (the "Floridians putting the 'Duh' in 'Floriduh'" edition)

Man . . . there's got to be something in the water in Florida. And I'm guessing bath salts.

A Florida woman is accused of intentionally setting her car on fire at a gas station and then sitting in the middle of a Daytona Beach highway, claiming to be God.

All that's left of 29-year-old Alexandra Barnes' Scion is charred remains.

[Full Story]

So not only was she disappointed that the car was not consumed, but when Moses didn't show up it only added insult to injury.

To paraphrase Dire Straits, when two people say they're Jesus, one of 'em must be wrong . . .

University of Florida student Michael Joseph Silecchia was wandering around campus apartments when Gainesville police responded to a reports of a suspicious person.

When police arrived, Silecchia took his clothes off and said he was "God" and "straight," according to The Independent Florida Alligator. The student told officers, "Don’t cut my penis off," then changed his mind and said, "Cut my penis off," according to the police report.

[Full Story]

Well, it's like the old ad said: Sometimes you feel like a nut, and sometimes you don't.

Sheesh. 45 years after Woodstock, and some people still don't know not to take the brown acid.

April 18, 2013

Storm Thorgerson (1944-2013)

Last month was the 40th anniversary of the classic Pink Floyd album The Dark Side of the Moon. Today, Storm Thorgerson, the key figure of the graphic arts group Hipgnosis and the designer of Dark Side's iconic album cover, died at the ripe old age of 69.

Thorgerson was the designer of the majority of Pink Floyd's covers, but also designed the artwork for albums by Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Dream Theater, the Cult, and many others. Doing a quick count down the list in Wikipedia's entry on Thorgerson, I counted 19 albums that I owned featuring his artwork.

Thorgerson's designs were more than just something to make an album look attractive in the record store. They were an integral part of the experience. As often as not I would have the album in my lap as I listened.

Of course, with the shift from LPs to CDs and now downloadable music, the graphics have arguably become redundant. I wonder whether we will see the likes of another Storm Thorgerson again.

March 30, 2013

Superman Saturday: Intense, high explosive dynamite, pure dynamite

It is Easter weekend, but even if I get a four-day weekend, that doesn't mean Evil takes a holiday. Fortunately for Truth, Justice and the American way, neither does Superman. This week, we conclude the adventure of Buffalo Hills!

The story so far: Clark Kent has travelled to the Western state capital of Boulder City, to cover the unveiling ceremony of Buffalo Hills, a stand-in for Mount Rushmore. He is accompanied by naturalist and photographer Asa Hatch, who is also a freelance correspondent for the Daily Planet and friend of editor Perry White.

Pete Flores, a gangster that opposes the political reforms of state governor Al Carson, has already made several attempts on the life of Carson as well as an attempted shooting of Hatch. He tried to bomb Clark Kent's and Hatch's train while en route to Boulder City, but failed when his henchman was stopped by Superman. His inside man at the executive mansion, Carson's secretary Keegan, succeeded in having Hatch framed and jailed, although Clark evaded arrest. Later he turned himself in, hoping to break Hatch out, but instead became the cellmate of another of Flores' gang members, who revealed a plan to abduct and murder the governor.

As Superman, Clark broke out of jail and tried to warn the governor of the kidnapping plot, but had do knock him out and stuff him into his own closet, assuming his Superman persona and taking Carson's place in bed. As expected, Flores' goons broke into the mansion and, unaware that they had taken the wrong man, tried to kill Superman by throwing him off a bridge. Knowing that governor Carson was still in danger from Flores, Superman rushed back to the mansion only to find the closet empty . . .

March 27, 2013

Wednesday cruci-fiction

There are two constants on the fundamentalist liturgical calendar. One occurs in late October, as Hallowe'en approaches: the Annunciation of the Evils of Trick-or-Treating. The other takes place in the spring: the Epiphany of Good Wednesday.

Yes, Good Wednesday: the belief that Jesus' crucifixion had to take place on Wednesday, and not on Friday as tradition (read: Roman Catholic) has maintained.

I'll grant this: These folks take the authority of the Bible seriously, unlike, arguably, the majority of Christmas and Easter Christians who come to church a couple times a year to assuage whatever guilt they have, and can't be bothered to think these things through the other 363 days of the year. It seems to me, however, that the Wednesday crucifixion thing just doesn't work, and I think a better case can be made for the traditional view.

Some years ago, the only people you would have seen making this kind of argument were from Sabbatarian sects, such as the Seventh-day Adventists or the various groups that grew out of Herbert W. Armstrong's teachings. It's clear why they would advocate for a Wednesday crucifixion: they want to undermine the foundations of Sunday worship in favour of their Sabbatarian theology. Christians gather together on Sunday because that was the day Jesus rose from the dead. I don't see why any group of Sunday worshippers would want to copy their arguments, however; I guess it has something to do with a suspicion of all things Roman Catholic. Just because it's traditional doesn't necessarily make it wrong, and if our timeline of Holy Week is based more on some kind of "Romophobia" than exegesis, then we've started off on the wrong foot.

March 24, 2013

Shine on you crazy diamond

With all the posting I've been doing this year about the 30th anniversary of all the pop music released in 1983, I actually came close to forgetting that there are other musical milestones that I wanted to highlight as well. Fortunately, Google Calendar has reminders for that, and a couple days ago, one of them popped up to remind me:

March 24, 1973—40 years ago today—one of the most groundbreaking, influential, and best-selling rock albums of all time was released: Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon.

Palm Sunday

Zechariah (along with Haggai and Malachi) is one of the three post-exilic prophets of the nation of Israel. He ministered to the nation beginning around 520 BC, during the reign of Darius I and about 10 years after Cyrus the Great had permitted some of the Jews to return to Palestine, under the leadership of Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua, and begin to rebuild the Temple.

Zechariah came from a Levite family, and may have been a priest himself. Certainly, his concern for his nation is pastoral. The present problems within the nation are the focus of his ministry: the continuing work on rebuilding the Temple, the integrity of the leadership, and the moral state of the nation as a whole.

However, Zechariah is also concerned with the future. God is working out his sovereign plan with Israel—its deliverance and restoration—in the present as the nation rebuilds. But his work continues into the future, prominently carried out by his chosen servant, the Messiah.

March 23, 2013

Superman Saturday: Gonna make a jailbreak, oh how I wish that I could fly

Here we go again!

Clark Kent has accompanied naturalist and photographer Asa Hatch to a Western state to cover the unveiling of the Buffalo Hills national monument, a huge sculpture carved into the side of a mountain and commemmorating the American pioneers. However, the state's reformer governor, Alan Carson, has an enemy in Pete Flores, a gangster. A sniper in Flores' gang makes an attempt on Hatch's life in Metropolis, but fails, then dies when he shoots himself accidentally during a scuffle with Superman. Flores makes another attempt to kill Hatch and Clark Kent by having his goon Dutchy Ganz plant a bomb on their train car. Again, Superman foils the plot, finding the bomb just in time and throwing it safely away just before it explodes.

We pick up our story in Boulder City, the state capital, where Hatch and Clark have arrived . . .

March 22, 2013

High blood drumming on your skin it's so tight

Another week, another late entry to the 1983 in music series. At least this time I have an excuse: I spent a lot of my free time out of the house and wasn't able to sit down and blog. Stop complaining, it's free.

"Billie Jean" continued its domination of the Billboard Hot 100 on March 19, 1983. Meanwhile, a single from a band that would become one of the quintessential musical groups of the 1980s reached its peak on the chart. Kept from the top spot by both "Billie Jean" and Culture Club's "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me," the second single from their 1982 album Rio peaked at #3: "Hungry like the Wolf," by Duran Duran.

"Hungry Like the Wolf" comes close to being the definitive Duran Duran song. The lyrics are vaguely, er, suggestive of Little Red Riding Hood; the accompanying video is inspired by Indiana Jones. And none of it, in the end, actually gets around to meaning anything.

Duran Duran was one of my guilty pleasures back in my teens, as I discovered them as they were becoming unfashionable, so I listened in secret, for fear of the Jews. My earliest copy of Rio was on cassette, and that was how I heard the album for about 15 years before I bought the 2001 re-release on CD. Of course, the sound quality was far superior to my well-worn tape, but the first thing I actually noticed was that the CD cut of "Hungry Like the Wolf" was considerably shorter than I remembered—by nearly two minutes, in fact.

The Internet can tell you anything. It turns out that there were three versions of the album track: the original British LP track, the US album remix, which is half a minute longer, and the extended "Night Version," which is the one I had on cassette. The 2001 remaster uses the UK album version. I don't know if the Night Version has ever been released on CD. I'd love it if it were.

March 16, 2013

Superman Saturday: Someone put the word on you, and I hope my aim is true

I got my first feedback to this series last week from Faithful Reader Warren:

The thing that I always find fascinating about early Superman is that the villains are way more human than superhuman. The only one like that left anymore is Lex Luthor.

I've noted this as well, at least indirectly. Superman himself is more human back in the early years: he can't fly, he doesn't have special vision (like X-ray or heat), and while bullets will bounce off his skin, he's not invulnerable. (By contrast, on The Adventures of Superman radio program, he has been able to fly and see through solid objects right from the beginning.) Hence his foes have also been more human: gangsters, saboteurs, and various other ne'er-do-wells.

Superman's first recurring enemy in Action Comics was the Ultra-Humanite, a bald, mad-scientist type in a wheelchair: not only less than superhuman, but a damaged human at that. Ultra was designed to be the opposite of Superman; instead of a heroic strongman, he is a crippled criminal, albeit a superior intellect (which enabled him to escape death by transplanting his brain into another person's). Lex Luthor was introduced about a year later, and Ultra-Humanite was dropped from Superman's rogue's gallery, since Siegel and Shuster decided Superman didn't need two bald archenemies. Like the Ultra-Humanite, Luthor is a regular human being, though gifted with superior intellect, and motivated from time to time by world domination or revenge against Superman.

It wasn't until the late 1950s that Supe's more superhuman or non-human enemies began to show up in the comics, beginning with the Kryptonian android Brainiac in 1958, at the start of the "Silver Age" of comic books. Others soon followed, including the Kryptonite-powered Metallo and Bizarro Superman. (A notable exception is the magical supervillain Mister Mzyzptlk, who first appeared in the early 1940s.) At this time, Superman himself was also being written as an increasingly powerful hero. My personal theory is that this is a bit of a feedback loop: a more powerful Superman needs more powerful enemies to pose a credible challenge; conversely, more powerful enemies require greater powers to defeat. It's no wonder DC Comics tried to scale back Superman's abilities since the 1980s.

We, of course, have the ability just to travel back in time to a point where Golden Age Newbie Superman still punched out baddies. And so, without further ado, let us travel back to 1940, and a new Superman adventure . . .

March 13, 2013

Habemas popcorn

Delicious, buttery popcorn.

Oh, the drama. The suspense is killing me.

In other news, Marc Garneau has dropped out of the Liberal Party leadership race. Coincidence? We shall see.

March 12, 2013

Time for a 1983bie

I've been slack with the music over the last few weeks. Had a few other things on my mind, I guess. However, I did pretty much promise 52 tunes over 52 weeks, which means that tonight you get not one, not two, but three tunes from 1983 to make up for it. Huzzah!

Back when we last left this series, on February 19, the #1 song 30 years earlier was "Baby Come to Me," an R&B duet by Patti Austin and James Ingram. They held the top spot for two consecutive weeks.

Meanwhile, however, the first hit from a new British band was starting its rise up the charts. That song was "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me," from Kissing to be Clever, the debut album of Culture Club. After their first two singles failed to chart, this release became a global #1 hit, although it peaked at #2 on the Billboard chart in the U.S. The reggae-ish "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" thrust the New Wave band with their androgynous, cross-dressing front man Boy George into the mainstream.

After two weeks topping the charts, Austin and Ingram were displaced by another R&B hit. This one is likely more familiar: "Billie Jean," by the one and only Michael Jackson. Really, what more need be said?

"Billie Jean" spent 7 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100.

Journey were not exactly an 80s' band, as they arguably had their best success in the late 1970s. This is not to say they didn't have some major success in the 1980s; in fact, their best-known song, "Don't Stop Believin'" was a 1982 hit, and the 1983 album Frontiers was one of their highest charting. The lead single from Frontiers was the rocker "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)":

The video for "Separate Ways" has gained a reputation as one of the worst ever, particularly for the instrument miming and the dated fashion. Really, it just doesn't make any sense to me.

Thanks to the success of Frontiers, Journey became one of the few rock bands to have their own licensed arcade game. The background music during gameplay was a loop of "Separate Ways." Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Midway Games also manufactured the (considerably more successful) movie tie-in games Tron and Discs of Tron—and "Separate Ways" has a prominent place in the arcade scene in 2010's Tron: Legacy.

Habemas nopem

No Pope today, no Pope today
You can't choose Popes on Tuesday
No Pope today, no Pope today
You've gotta come back on Wednesday.

March 10, 2013

Superman Sunday: It's like a heatwave burning in my heart

When we last left our heroes: Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen are in the Southwest, investigating a series of mysterious plane crashes at Bridger Field. After being nearly shot down and mauled by a circus gorilla, they finally arrived at the airfield. There, they discover that the disasters are connected with a Professor Hagen, the circus' animal trainer. However, Bridger Field's head Ed Hamlin has just gotten a visit from his boss, who says a "visitor" is expected within 48 hours. Clark and Jimmy sneak onto the circus grounds, where they discover the underground hideout of Hagen and his henchman, the Russian strongman Fodor. Clark, as Superman, defeats Fodor, as he and Jimmy overhear a cryptic weather report come over Hagen's radio. . . .

March 03, 2013

Who in Xenu's name is FanBox, and why are they annoying me?

Over the last couple of weeks, I've frequently been getting emails from an outfit called "FanBox," claiming to be a "daily earnings statement" of an incrementally large sum from day to day. (It started at about $8.00 and currently stands at about $75.)

This just in: As I was writing this, I received a new "statement" to the tune of $82.21. Huzzah!

As these messages go, I've earned this wallet-bursting packet by "Boosting," i.e. funding other people's ads and getting money when they're clicked on.

Today, however, I received something a little more ominous: a "Courtesy notice" from "FanBox Customer Protection," informing me that:

I noticed that your FanBox account is not protected, despite your sizable earnings of $82.21.

I strongly recommend that you protect your funds by validating your account immediately. [link redacted]

If you need assistance, chat with a community expert.

-Maria Ashford, Customer Protection Team FanBox – Uplifting humanity by enabling opportunity

So, basically, I'm in danger of losing phantom money that I've earned for phantom services on a phantom FanBox account that I never created, but now need to "validate."

Amazingly, someone has to be falling for this stuff, if it's profitable enough for them to persistently send out all this spam. What really annoys me is that at some time I must have accidentally clicked on a link in an email I didn't realize was a spam message—something I'm usually very careful about, since this is exactly the sort of thing I don't want.


March 02, 2013

Superman Saturday: I hope the Russians love their children too

The story so far: Perry White has sent Clark Kent on assignment with Ed Hamlin of the National Air Service to Bridger Field, an airfield in the Southwest. His instructions are to investigate a number of mysterious and fatal transport plane crashes that have taken place in the past two weeks. As they fly their way west, they first discover that Jimmy Olsen has stowed away in Hamlin's plane; second, that another plane is following them, and trying to shoot them down. In the skirmish, Hamlin is seriously wounded by machine-gun fire.

As Superman, Clark successfully fends off their attackers, but their own plane is damaged. Clark manages to make an emergency landing alongside a railroad track, and they are picked up by a circus train en route to the Mexican town of Del Rio. However, the train's brakeman, Balto, is a suspicious figure in the pay of a Professor Hagen, the circus' animal handler—who is also behind the attack on Hamlin's plane and, presumably, the crashes at Bridger Field. (Note: In the previous instalment, I had called Hagen "Professor Egan," but these later episodes make it clear that he is in fact "Hagen." So, Professor Hagen he shall be henceforth.)

Acting on Hagen's instructions to get rid of Clark and Jimmy, Balto locks them in a car with an enraged gorilla. Jimmy escapes, and Clark/Superman fights the gorilla into submission, just before the train starts rolling again, leaving Jimmy behind. Clark also jumps train, hoping to find him in the desert . . .

February 22, 2013

F5 #4: Look! Up in the sky!

I've always been a big fan of comic books, which is kind of paradoxical, because I read relatively few of them (maybe a couple of dozen, tops) as a child, and my knowledge of comic-book superheroes came more from Saturday-morning cartoons than the pages of Action Comics or The Amazing Spider-Man. On the other hand, I did read a fair number of the kinds of comics that were published as books rather than magazines—such as Tintin or Asterix&mdash (both of which I also read in the original French in high school, as a way to improve my French comprehension)—and I got interested in graphic novels while I was in university.

Comic books were marketed to people of my age back when I was 10 or 11, and they are still marketed to people of my age today—that is to people who grew up reading them when I was young. The maturity and complexity of the stories has also increased proportionately. No matter where you go, they're still age-appropriate! (And even if they weren't, I've never been ashamed of reading well-written juvenile fiction, anyway.)

So, to close off this year's installment of F5, here are:

My Four Favourite . . . Comic Book Superheroes

  • Superman: The hands-down winner. But you've already probably figured that out from my regular Saturday posts. Superman is the prototypical superhero: the first, for example, to wear a fancy costume (modeled after a circus strongman's outfit) instead of the trenchcoat and mask worn by the other mystery men of the day. In fact, I actually prefer the Golden Age Superman somewhat, when his abilities were nowhere near the godlike powers he needs today to save the world from cosmic foes. There was a time when he beat up hoods instead of Darkseid.
  • Firestorm: A nuclear accident fused teenage jock Ronnie Raymond and nuclear physicist Martin Stein into a single entity, who is capable of re-organizing matter at the atomic level. Because Professor Stein was unconscious during the accident, he can only provide advice while Ronnie controls Firestorm's body. The high point of the series was the dialogue between them; humour was a major component of the comic despite its full title of The Fury of Firestorm. Different characters have joined or left the Firestorm persona as the comic series developed; I preferred the original lineup of Ronnie and Stein, though the current "New 52" team of Ronnie and Jason Rusch does have its moments. When I first read Firestorm back in the early 1980s, he didn't have a monthly title of his own: he was, in fact, the B story in . . .
  • The Flash: As a kid, the Scarlet Speedster was always my favourite "guest" superhero on The Super Friends. The Barry Allen version of the Flash is arguably the first superhero of the Silver Age, coming on the scene in the late 1950s. As a general rule, my favourite incarnation of any given hero is the one from the Silver Age (Superman excepted), and that's certainly true in this case, too. However, give Barry the costume of Jay Garrick's Golden-Age Flash, and you'd really have something.
  • Iron Man: Yes, although clearly I prefer DC superheroes, there is one Marvel character on the list: Tony Stark, billionaire playboy and genius inventor, who fights crime in a high-tech armour suit. I was almost entirely unfamiliar with Iron Man prior to the 2008 movie, which has since become one of my favourite superhero films. I'm looking forward to this year's Iron Man 3 if only because Shell-Head finally squares off against the most significant rogue in his gallery: the Mandarin.

And that is that for another February of Fridays. Until next year, we return to the blog's usual fare of stupid criminals, drunk moose, and monkeys. Heh.

February 21, 2013

Magic in the air

Late again! This is getting to be a habit.

Anyway, after one week back at the #1 slot on the Billboard Hot 100, Men at Work were knocked off the top by "Baby Come to Me," a duet by Patti Austin and James Ingram:

While I have heard this tune many times, it's not one that I have associated with the year 1983. It's just a pleasant R&B song. Enjoy.

February 20, 2013

Yay for scammers


Guy on phone with heavy Indian accent: Hello, this is Windows Operating System technical support. There is a problem with your computer.

Me: Oh, really.

Guy: [beat] Hello?

Me: Get lost. *click*

Let me note a few items of relevance to your friendly neighbourhood phishing scammer:

  1. There is no such thing as "Windows Operating System technical support." The company is Microsoft.
  2. Microsoft has no mechanism for detecting "problems" with every Windows-running PC in the world.
  3. Microsoft does not make unsolicited technical support calls.
  4. Even if they did, they don't have this number.
  5. The computer is a Macintosh.

If you get a phone call something like the above, don't do what they tell you. This scam has been doing the rounds for a couple of years. From what I've googled so far, they will attempt to give you instructions that would grant them remote access to your computer.

Sorry, Apu. Not this time.

February 16, 2013

F5 #3: In which I get needlessly commercial

When I do this F5 series, they have a general tendency to follow a recurring pattern: movies, music, books food, though perhaps not in that order. I'm pretty sure I've never just listed a bunch of addresses of a café chain for kicks, so this is perhaps one of the quirkiest things I've ever posted to the blog. But it's partly about food (and so it sticks to the pattern), and it's also about me (and so it sticks to the purpose).

I began drinking coffee in my late teens—perhaps around 17. (I'd already been drinking tea for a few years). Living in a small town with limited opportunities, my options were whatever I could make myself (usually instant) or what I could buy in a spare period from the school cafeteria, which, suprisingly, wasn't that bad. When I moved to the city for university, I was almost turned off coffee entirely, thanks to the horrible, tar-like substance dispensed by my residence's dining room. As a classmate once remarked to me, the real advantage of residence coffee was that you could drink a cup in the morning, and if you felt drowsy during class, just lick some off the roof of your mouth later.

In fairly short order, two things redeemed coffee for me: I discovered Tim Hortons coffee (unavailable to me in my teens), and also how to make my own coffee properly, out of ground beans. I soon wanted to try something other than the usual medium roast found in donut shops, or canned grounds from the supermarket. Also, the coffee shops around campus sold flavoured coffee, something not widely available in bean form outside of specialty shops. (But try and find raspberry chocolate or orange brandy coffee today!) So it's no surprise that I soon found myself shopping at Second Cup for my beans—and, when I wasn't living around the corner from one at school, frequently sitting in one.

So, without further ado, I present . . .

February 12, 2013

I got cat class and I got cat style

Toto's "Africa" stayed at the top of the Billboard chart for all of one week, before being upstaged—again—with "Down Under" by Men at Work on February 12, 1983. So while we're waiting for something new to come around. here's another 1983 gem from somewhere in the Top 10 this week: the rockabilly stylings of "Stray Cat Strut," by the Stray Cats.

Oh my . . . that hair . . .

February 09, 2013

Superman Saturday: Hero, lands the crippled airplane, solves great mysteries

When we last left our heroes, the program announcer was mispronouncing "Superman" as two words: "Super Man." As a new Superman adventure begins, he's still doing it. I think it's going to be some time before they get a new announcer that knows the right way to say the name of the most famous comic-book character in history. Meanwhile, however, sit back and enjoy . . .

February 08, 2013

F5 #2: Bond. James Bond.

I first discovered James Bond in grade 8, sometime in 1983–84. My first experience with Ian Fleming's quintessential Britisy superspy was an airing of Moonraker on TV. (Throughout the 1980s, ABC seemed to have a monopoly on broadcasting Bond films in prime-time, and showed one every couple of months.) Not very long afterward, I hit up the public library for Ian Fleming's novel. I was surprised—but not at all disappointed—to discover that Fleming's 1955 novel was quite a different animal from its 1979 filmed counterpart, which resembled it in name only.

The result, however, was that I fell in love with both Fleming's series of novels and the movies made from them. So, as my second instalment of this year's F5 series, and in light of the 50th anniversary movie Skyfall's release on home video this week, I present:

February 07, 2013

Some old forgotten words or ancient melodies

Whoops! Little bit late this week . . .

On February 5, 1983, Men at Work were knocked off the top of the Billboard Hot 100 after three weeks. The new #1 hit was the second single from Toto's 1982 album, Toto IV. Ironically, although the band won a Grammy for their first single, "Rosanna," it only reached #2; it was the follow-up single, "Africa, that became their first and only #1 song:

I've wondered for years what "Africa" was supposed to be about. Tonight I checked Wikipedia to see what it said. Basically, it's about someone trying to write a song about Africa who has never been there. Figures, really.

February 02, 2013

Superman Saturday: Smoke on the water, fire in the sky

Local racketeer Chip Donelli takes protection money from the businesses along Spruce St., including the candy store run by Jimmy Olsen's mother. Clark Kent, as Superman, has attempted to "explain" to Donelli that this kind of activity is frowned upon in polite society; however, so far the application of violence has failed to knock sense into him. In retaliation for Clark's interference, Donelli abducted Lois Lane and brought her to a remote cabin. The plucky girl reporter quickly escaped, with a briefcase containing the records of Donelli's racketeering.

Donelli hopes that a brush fire, set accidentally by his henchman, Spike, will take care of Lois and the incriminating briefcase. Meanwhile, Clark and Perry White search, not only for Lois, but for Jimmy, who has disappeared into the forest . . .

February 01, 2013

Son of F5 #1: Pop rocks!

It's February. February has four weeks. Therefore, February has four Fridays. Four, February, and Friday all start with F. Hence, it's time again to go overboard with the alliteration and announce Four February Fridays of Fabulous Frivolity the Fifth. F5 write specifically about myself, rather than my opinion about this or that: favourite books, movies, postal codes, and whatnot. This time round, instead of one topic per post, I've decided to take the "4" motif to another extreme, and list my Four Favourite . . . blank, filling in the blank with a different theme each week.

My first thought was to start off with an easy one: my Top 4 Favourite Podcasts. Then, I remembered that I did just that last year, and the list hasn't changed. Sigh. All the good ideas have already been taken.

My Four Favourite . . . Pop Albums of the 1980s

It's no secret amongst friends, family, or the Faithful Readers of this blog, that I love the music of the 80s. Heck, I'm blogging a year-long series on 1983's music alone.

  1. Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms: I wrote an extensive review of this amazing album on its 20th anniversary in 2005. My opinion hasn't changed. (Just to show how ever-changing the pop industry is: where I wrote "where will Britney or Justin be in 2025? Do we care?" how many readers forgot that Justin Bieber was as yet unheard-of?)
  2. Cyndi Lauper, She's So Unusual: The orange-haired, squeaky-voiced New Yorker's debut album is a quintessential part of the soundtrack to the 1980s. Lauper set a record when the first four singles from this album charted in the Billboard Top 5, and you have to be well into the second side (for all of you listening on an LP, as I did) before you hear something unfamiliar. In later years, I was surprised to find out how many of her signature tunes were actually rather obscure covers: "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," for example, was originally a punk song by the late Robert Hazard, sung from a male perspective, before Cyndi modified the lyrics and turned it into a kind of feminist pop anthem. (And, to give her credit for getting it past me for so long, I didn't grasp the meaning of "She Bop" until well into my 20s.)
  3. Tears for Fears, Songs from the Big Chair: My affection for this album has less to do with the quality of the music—which is good, and indeed is the reason I ever wanted the album in the first place—but the quality of the recording. Big Chair was an early full-digital recording. Despite the multilayered arrangements saturated in reverb, the mastering is crystal-clear, and the brighter sounds blast right off the disc. The most notable tracks are the singles "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and "Head Over Heels," as well as the non-single tracks "Working Hour" and "Listen"—the lead-out of the latter being particularly beautiful. You owe it to yourself to listen to this album in the dark, at high volume, with headphones.
  4. Bruce Springsteen, Born in the U.S.A.: I had a little trouble deciding on my fourth album, but if it comes down to the sheer volume of replays, then this one wins hands down. I wore the grooves off it: there's a permanent skip in "My Hometown." And, as I've noted in the past, I discovered Dire Straits when I mistook "Walk of Life" for "Glory Days," so I have Spirngsteen to thank for introducing me to my favourite music, sort of. Born in the U.S.A. was a stylistic departure from the Boss' previous work (especially the bleak Nebraska, its immediate predecessor), heavy on synthesizers, and featuring upbeat, anthemic songs rather than the more pessimistic fare of earlier albums. 30 years later, the title track is still a staple at Democratic political conventions—and still being mistaken for a patriotic anthem. Born in the U.S.A. was my favourite of Springsteen's albums, at least until I heard Born to Run.

I could go on; there are so many worthy contenders—Thomas Dolby's The Golden Age of Wireless, Phil Collins' No Jacket Required, Duran Duran's Rio and Seven and the Ragged Tiger, just to name a few. For picking favourite music, the 80s was a target-rich environment.

January 31, 2013

"Investigate some abortions as homicides"? Um, not exactly

I have just read what may very well be the most egregiously slanted writing on an abortion-related news story that I have ever seen—and that's saying something.

The headline on the CBC Web site reads: "Investigate some abortions as homicides, Tory MPs ask RCMP." Similar headlines have been published all over Canada, as Google News indicates, since the original story comes from the Canadian Press.

Here are the salient points from the CBC article:

Three Conservative MPs want the RCMP to investigate any abortions performed after 19 weeks in Canada as possible homicides.

The MPs from Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario make the request in a letter on House of Commons letterhead to RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson.

In the letter, the MPs say abortions performed at 20 weeks gestation or later breach Section 223a of the Criminal Code. . . . (emphasis added)

A longer version of the story from The Huffington Post includes:

In their letter, the MPs wrote that between 2000 and 2009 there were 491 abortions performed on Canadian women who were pregnant for longer than 19 weeks. They contend that at this stage of gestation, the abortions involved live babies.

"These are vulnerable, innocent children that homicide has been perpetrated on," Vellacott said Thursday from Ottawa.

The comments sections of the various papers make the predictable response the 3 MPs are morons, are trying to bring Canada back to the Stone Age, "My Body My Choice," yada yada yada. Many commenters claim that late-term abortions are illegal. In fact, there is no law whatsoever regulating abortions in Canada: they can be performed at any time, for any reason.

However, the CBC site did something that none of the other news outlets did that I saw: they included a copy of the actual letter. Addressed to RCMP commissioner Richard Paulson, and sent in the names of MPs Maurice Vellacott (using his letterhead), Leon Benoit, and Wladyslaw Lizon, the letter reads, in part:

Recent public reports have revealed the possibility of numerous breaches of the Criminal Code—to be specific, homicides—in Canada which need to be investigated.

These killings appear to have started out as attempted abortions, but the babies were born alive. At the blog, Run With Life, you will learn: "From 2000 to 2009 in Canada, there were 491 abortions, of 20 weeks gestation and greater, that resulted in live births. This means that the aborted child died after it was born. . . .

According to the Criminal Code, a child is considered to be a human being and a person after proceeding fully from the mother's womb, therefore, based on Section 223(2) of the Criminal Code, there should be 491 homicide investigations or prosecutions in connection with these deaths.

Nothing in the CBC's article mentions that the real thrust of Messrs. Vellacott, Benoit, and Lizon's letter is the alleged practice of allowing live human beings to die after they have been born and become a human being (by legal definition) during a failed abortion. Had the abortions been carried out successfully, and the fetuses died, they would have been perfectly legal. As it is, however, if these born human beings were allowed to die through neglect, then there are 491 cases of culpable homicide that ought to be investigated and, if necessary, charges filed.

And yet the CBC set the actual letter side-by-side with the slanted CP story, and never noticed the disconnect between claim and reality. Your tax dollars at work.

January 29, 2013

Those precious words keep me hangin' on

For the third week running, Men at Work's "Down Under" owned the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 on January 29, 1983.

Meanwhile, the latest single from Phil Collins was rising up the chart. On the 29th, it was at #11, and it would peak a week later at #10, although it had already been a #1 hit on the UK charts. It was Collins' cover of the Supremes' hit, "You Can't Hurry Love":

The video, though somewhat awkward in execution (this was after all, the early 80s, and music video production was still at the toddler stage), is great in concept. Collins can certainly channel his inner Diana Ross!

January 26, 2013

Superman Saturday: On the sidewalk, sunny morning, lies a body oozin' life

It has been several months—nearly a year, actually—since we last tuned in to The Adventures of Superman. So here I am, on this chilly January day, cappuccino by my side, to bring us up to speed before digging into the continuation of "Donelli's Protection Racket."

The story so far

Episode 1 of "Donelli's Protection Racket" marks the debut of Superman's pal, Jimmy Olsen, the Daily Planet's 14-year-old copy boy. Jimmy confides in Clark Kent that his mother's candy store is being shaken down by local racketeer, Chip1 Donelli, for protection money. After hiding in the store when Donelli's collector, Spike, arrives (and getting a punch on the jaw for his pains), Clark changes to Superman and follows Spike back to Donelli's hideout. Superman beats Donelli until he hands over all the protection money the Olsens have paid, then leaves.

In retaliation, Spike and another goon ambush the Olsens in a dark street after they close the store and go home. Superman arrives just in time to rescue them, As Clark, he promises to expose Donelli in the newspaper, and calls Lois Lane to sit with Mrs. Olsen, who passed out during the attack. After he leaves, Donelli calls the house posing as Clark, luring Lois and Jimmy out of the house . . .

Episode 29: Donelli's Protection Racket, Part 3 (1940/04/19)


Clark informs editor Perry White what is going on, and White heartily approves of his exposé on Donelli's extortion racket. Amusingly, he launches into a rather jingoistic tirade about how people like Donelli don't deserve to live in a democracy, and are more deserving of life under a dictator with concentration camps. You can almost hear "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" playing in the background if you listen closely enough. (Historically, of course, World War II had then been raging for nearly 8 months, and although the United States would not get directly involved in combat for another year and a half, clearly the scriptwriters had some strong opinions about Hitler and friends.)

Just then, Jimmy rushes in and reports that Lois Lane has been captured by Donelli's men, though he didn't fall for the ruse and escaped. Clark quickly makes himself scarce, and jumping out of a handy window (yay!), streaks away to Donelli's house to try and rescue Lois. In Donelli's office, he grabs an unfortunate goon and tries to beat Donelli's location out of him, but before he talks, the goon dives out a third-story window to his demise. Noticng a crowd gathering, Superman escapes out the back.

One of these days, I'm going to throw together a sort of damage tote board for Superman: running up his body count, number of crimes he commits, and so forth. When you were raised on the Silver Age or later incarnation of the character, it's quite surprising to hear these old programs and realize that Supe wasn't always the Big Blue Boy Scout. And, it bears repeating: This is a kids' program, too.

Clark reports back to Perry White that Lois wasn't at Donelli's hideout. "How do you know?" demands White? "I, uh, just have a hunch," Clark backtracks. Perry wants to notify the police, but Clark talks him out of it in case something bad happens to Lois. Why is it, again, that no one manages to catch on that Clark Kent is really Superman? Although later characterizations portray him as a super-genius, here he just doesn't seem all that swift. He's been on earth for all of two months (in radio time), during which he's obviously managed to get a job and forge an identity for himself, but he still can't lie too convincingly. (Kids' program, kids' program.) Fortunately for Clark's alibi, the phone rings. It's Chip Donelli calling for Clark: "Is this Clark Kent of the Daily Planet?" he asks. "No, this is Clark Kent of the Gotham Gazette. You must have dialed the wrong newspaper," Clark doesn't answer. Superman is surrounded by morons. That must be how he gets away with such a transparent disguise.

Donelli threatens harm to Lois if anything about him gets printed in the paper, then hangs up. White, eavesdropping on another phone, has traced the call to a drugstore in the town of Little Falls. Clark makes a move to leave, but White and Jimmy both insist on going as well, thus putting the kibosh on any immediate Super-escapades.

At midnight, in a forest cabin outside Little Falls, Donelli and Spike wonder what's happened to someone named Tony, who should have been with them by then. I guess Tony is the goon who took the swan dive into Donelli's driveway. "Maybe he had a flat," suggests Spike. Ha ha, macabre dramatic irony! They have Lois tied up in a back room, but Spike unwisely left a briefcase full of incriminating paperwork in the room with her. They discover that Lois has managed to escape out a window, and taken the briefcase with her. Spike accidentally knocks over a kerosene lantern, setting the cabin and the woods on fire.

Will Lois survive the fire with the incriminating briefcase?

Can Clark, Jimmy, and Perry White get to her in time?

Will we ever hear from Lois, or will she be in the third person for the entire serial?

The answers to these questions, and more, coming soon!

Episode 30: Donelli's Protection Racket, Part 4 (1940/04/22)


While their cabin and the surrounding woods burn, Donelli and Spike escape in their car. To make sure no one can put out the fire, which will destroy all the evidence of their crimes, Donelli has blocked the road with a large tree, booby-trapped with explosives. Then they are stopped by a tire blowout. At that moment, Perry White pulls up in his car (with Jimmy and Clark along for the ride) and asks directions to Little Falls. Donelli, recognizing Clark, decides to head back to Little Falls hoping to "knock off" the whole lot of them.

White and company pull up at a gas station to ask further directions, and the curmudgeonly attendant is able to give them the exact location of Donelli's cabin, inform them that the road is blocked, and confirm that Lois was with them (though they apparently left her behind at the cabin. Clark decides to walk to the cabin and rescue Lois, while White drives off to the nearest phone to call the police, and Jimmy stays at the gas station to watch the road in case Donelli and Spike come back. Clark instructs the gas curmudgeon to fire his gun into the air if Donelli's car comes back.

Clark changes to Superman and flies to Donelli's roadblock—a three-foot-diameter, 70-foot-long tree. Trying to throw it clear, he accidentally triggers Donelli's booby trap (which, fortuitously, throws the tree clear of the road).

As three gunshots boom out, Perry White pulls up in his car, and asks Clark (now back in his civvies) if he has seen Jimmy, who has left the gas station to follow Clark to the cabin. They realize that he has probably gotten lost in the woods, and with the fire spreading and Donelli on his way back, Perry and Clark start searching for him . . .

Will Perry and Clark rescue Jimmy in time?

Will Perry and Clark rescue Jimmy in time to rescue Lois?

Will Lois ever put in a personal appearance, or is "Donelli's Protection Racket" a juvenile fantasy adventure version of Waiting for Godot?

These two episodes present the Man of Steel at his most boneheaded since the North Star Mining Corporation story, in which he basically saved the day by accident. Most notably, he allows a goon to fall to his death rather than give up information that, as it happens, Perry White was able to get by tracing a phone call. Also, we are now four episodes into this serial—one hour of airtime, with commercials—and the co-star, Lois Lane, is still being only spoken of rather than heard, despite being a crucial part of the plot. I can only guess that Helen Choate, the actress who portrayed Lois for most of 1940, was on holidays that week.

Next week: The exciting story of Chip Donelli's protection racket concludes. Find out if Lois and Jimmy die!


1 Upon a repeat listening of this story, I'm becoming convinced that Donelli's actual first name (or nickname) is "Gyp," rather than "Chip." In the interests of political correctness, I'm going to stick with "Chip," for consistency. These Superman stories have enough bad ethnic stereotypes without adding to them. (Besides, "Roma" Donelli doesn't really have quite the same mellifluence.)

Is there a Bible study on, or something?

I just looked over my blog stats for the last month, and found, much to my surprise, that the most-viewed post on the site was this one.

If you don't want to click on the link, the basic gist of it is this: a quotation of Nehemiah 6:1–9, with a brief comment from me about its "certain amount of relevance to some Top News Stories."

That was August, 2005. More than seven years later, I have no clue which Top News Stories were current at the time, so I have no idea what this post meant—and, hence, even less of a clue why this relatively content- and context-free post would suddenly be so popular. I can only guess someone preached on Sanballat and Tobias. Hm.

January 24, 2013

And now . . . this - Jan. 24/12

"My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die."

The infamous line from "The Princess Bride" has been repeated the world over by fans of the cult classic but some Aussies on a Qantas flight on Sunday didn't appreciate the humor.

Wynand Mullins boarded his Sydney flight wearing a T-shirt with the movie quote and was asked to change his attire after his fellow passengers complained that they felt threatened.

[Full Story]

Unless they've got six fingers on their right hand, what's the problem?

And inside they have Richard the Lionheart, encased in carbonite

Lego has been accused of racism by the Turkish community over a Star Wars model that supposedly resembles one of Istanbul’s most revered mosques.

Austria’s Turkish community said the model was based on Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul and that the accompanying figures depicted Asians and Orientals as people with "deceitful and criminal personalities."

The Turkish Cultural Community of Austria released a statement calling for Lego to apologise for affronting religious and cultural feelings.

The anger was provoked by "Jabba’s Palace," a model of the home of Jabba the Hutt from Lego's Star Wars product range based on the blockbusting series of science fiction films.

[Full Story]

Yet one more item to add to the List of Things Offensive to Muslims, along with humorous drawings of the False Prophet Mohammed, ice cream, Nike shoes, Bluetooth, rape victims, cucumbers and tomatoes: Lego models of fictional buildings having a superficial resemblance to a church they stole from the Christians.

January 23, 2013

Carleton U.: where the stupid goes in before the student goes out

Oh, not again.

I have lost count of the number of times this has happened, but yet one more time, Last Chance U. has beclowned itself thanks to the authoritarian moonbattery of its student leadership.

Arun Smith isn't a member of the Carleton University Students' Association, but he could have been. Last year, the "seventh-year human rights student" ran for election to a councillor's seat from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS). In his candidacy video, he promised to create "inclusive, open spaces that are safe spaces, where every voice is empowered and every student's voice is heard."

Fast-forward to Monday, when the Carleton Students for Liberty erected a "free speech wall"—basically a freestanding plywood wall covered with paper—in the Unicentre to promote the free competetition of ideas.

Some time between November and Monday, Arun Smith must have had a change of heart about inclusiveness and hearing every student's voice, because he took it upon himself to destroy the wall, then boast about it in a ponderous manifesto on Facebook with the byline "Arun Séamus Surinder Smith." I'm guessing either that his parents didn't contemplate the implications of his given names' initials, or that they can see the future.

January 22, 2013

What do you want?

Men at Work's "Down Under" continued to top the Billboard hot 100 on January 22, 1983.

January 20, 1983 was the release date of Def Leppard's third album, Pyromania. This album, which made the hard-rock band into a household name, is 30 years old.

Personally, I don't feel that Pyromania is as accessible as its 1987 followup Hysteria, but it's still quite listenable. Of course, the best track on the album is "Rock of Ages."

This is the one time in your life that you will see bad hair, tight pants, Union Jack boxers, a giant glowing sword, and chess, all within 4 minutes. Unless you watch it twice.

And now . . . this - Jan. 23/12

A Canadian man who opened fire on a Philippine courtroom today — killing two and wounding another, before dying in the shooting violence — carried a Canadian passport but was born in the U.S., police say. . . .

Pope was in court to face illegal possession of firearms and other charges in central Cebu City, where he lived, when he pulled out a gun.

[Full Story]

The prosecution rests, Yeronner.

January 19, 2013

Enter: The Saint

As I mentioned on New Year's Eve, one of my better discoveries last year was The Saint. I was (vaguely) familiar with the old British TV series starring Roger Moore, having seen a few episodes now and then. But it wasn't until late last summer that I learned the Saint was a full-fledged media empire.

The Saint began as a series of novels and short stories by Chinese-British author Leslie Charteris, featuring his Robin Hood-like thief-detective, Simon Templar (aka the Saint). The first began with Enter—The Tiger!, published in 1928. Charteris wrote Saint stories until 1963, after which his name was used for many collaborations by multiple authors, until 1986. In the meantime, it spawned several movies, comic books, two TV series, and a radio serial.

Apart from the novels, it was the radio series that intrigued me most—especially after I discovered that amongst the several voice actors to play the debonair Saint was the legendary Vincent Price, somewhat before he became known for his roles in ironic horror movies. Mainly, though, what kept me interested was the dialogue. The writers have a certain flair for witty repartee, which is also the reason I'm such a big fan of the Coen brothers' films and Decoder Ring Theatre. Here is a wonderful bit of banter from an episode titled "Nineteen Santa Clauses" (which is dated in 1947, but I strongly suspect that not to be the case):

[The Saint is in his apartment, where he has changed into a Santa outfit for a charity event. His friend Louie the cabbie has come to pick him up. They are interrupted by a blonde with a gun.]

Blonde: Get in.

Louie: I'm already in!

Blonde: Back up.

Louie: Backin' up.

Blonde: Now reach, gents.

Saint: You know, that gun in her hand looks loaded.

Louie: Now that you mention—

Blonde: Reach!

Saint: For what?

Blonde: Uh, er, for the chandelier!

Saint: Can't.

Blonde: Why not?

Saint: No chandelier.

Blonde: Oh, a wise guy, huh?

Saint: If you're going to shoot me, I insist on knowing your name.

Blonde: Uh, just call me Sally.

Saint: Sally. And your last name?

Sally: Never mind that! How would you like to get plugged in the—in the—

Saint: Breadbasket?

Sally: Where?

Saint: Oh, let's pass lightly over that. I wouldn't like to get plugged anywhere!

Sally: Then shut up.

Saint: All right.

Sally: Where is it?

Saint: Uh, right down the hall, and—

Sally: Are you trying to be smart?

Saint: Not especially.

Sally: So it's gonna be like that, huh?

Saint: Like what?

Sally: Now you listen to me, Fats Boylen—

Saint: Huh?

Sally: Now you shut up, too.

Louie: I didn't say anything!

Sally: Well, shut up anyway.

Louie: I'm shuttin' up.

Sally: Uh—what was I saying?

Saint: You just finished calling me Fats Boylen.

Sally: That's right.

Saint: That's wrong. I'm not Fats Boylen.

Sally: Ha!

Saint: Well, it helps keep the conversation going, and—

Sally: Look, Fats, are you going to stop stalling and hand over the stuff, or will I have to shoot?

Saint: Since I am not Fats Boylen and I have no stuff to hand over, I'm afraid you'll have to shoot.

Louie: Mr. Templar! That could be fatal.

Sally: You keep quiet, punk.

Louie: Who's a punk?

Sally: You're a punk.

Louie: Mr. Templar, am I a punk?

Saint: Well, Sally is just a little confused this evening, Lou.

Louie: Confused or not, she shouldn't call me a—

Sally: [starts sobbing] Oh, shut up!

Louie: Well, you don't have to start bawling.

Sally: I am not bawling! I am . . . [trails off, bawling]

Saint: You were just about to shoot me.

Sally: Well, I know, but . . . then you'd bleed.

Saint: Oh, I'm sorry.

Sally: I can't stand the sight of blood.

Louie: Why dont you strangle him?

Saint: Louie, don't be unkind.

That stack of rapid-fire wordplay and double entendres takes place in just under two minutes.

All the known extant episodes of The Saint are available at the Internet Archive. Note that the collection includes repeat episodes, of which there are many, and as often as not under more than one title. Still, that leaves (by my estimation) about 30 distinct episodes of The Saint. Supposedly, some of the scripts were penned by Leslie Charteris himself, to take advantage of Vincent Price's particular talent.

Regular Saturday Serials will restart next Saturday, with the return of Superman.

January 15, 2013

He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich

Hall & Oates' "Maneater" was knocked out of the Billboard Hot 100's top spot, after four weeks, by a song that had been virtually ignored for more than a year.

Australian pop group Men at Work's "Down Under" had been released in Australia and New Zealand in late 1981. It came to North America a year later, where it became a #1 in Canada in October 1982—a relatively rare instance of Canadian precedence, for a non-Canadian single. A month later, Americans finally began to take notice, and "Down Under" began its climb up the Hot 100, reaching #1 on January 15, 1983.

This was the second hit for Men At Work, following "Who Can It Be Now" about six months earlier. Their album, Business as Usual, topped the album chart the same week, making Men at Work the only Australian band to have a #1 single and album simultaneously.

January 08, 2013

OK, to make up for missing last week

On January 1, 1983, the #2 single was the former #1 single that "Maneater" displaced: "Mickey," by Toni Basil, one of the great one-hit wonders of the 80s.

Until "Mickey," Basil was probably better known as a dancer and choreographer than a pop singer—the advantage being that, though nearly 40, she was still able to fit into her high-school cheerleader uniform for the video.

The best year ever

2013 is the 30th anniversary of . . . 1983.

And 1983 is, simply put, the best year ever for pop music. I intend to prove this over the next 52 Tuesdays. (Well, 51, anyway—while I was planning this project, I let the first Billboard chart of 1983, released on Jan. 1, skip by me. Holidays will do that.)

For most of 1983, I was 12 years old in grade 7 and 8, just starting to attend school dances, and just beginning to get interested in popular music. It would really be the summer of 1984 that I would receive the lethal dose of AM radio waves that turned me into who I am today, but at this point, I was starting out.

What I intend to do is post each Tuesday about the Billboard Hot 100 #1 hit on the chart released on the corresponding day back in 1983. Where a particular hit topped the chart for more than on week, I'll post about something interesting farther down the chart—or ignore Billboard entirely to showcase something else 1983-related that deserves attention.

1983 began with "Maneater," by the blue-eyed soul duo, Hall & Oates. Technically, I suppose this is a 1982 single, since it was originally released the previous October and hit #1 in late December. But it stayed there for the next four weeks, including the first two chart weeks of 1983. (So even if I did skip Jan. 1, you didn't miss anything.)

"Maneater" was Hall & Oates' fifth #1; their previous chart topper was "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" in 1981.

For a few years in the mid-80s, Boston talk-radio station WBZ used something that sounded suspiciously like "Maneater's" bass line as bumper music for their evening programming.