This is a purely self-indulgent diary entry - but then, aren't they all? I have (hopefully) more interesting stuff in the pipeline, but I am, after all, so very lazy.
This is just an update on share ratios, as discussed a couple of entries back. Now I've really got to stop seeding some of the obsolete items, because I'm in desperate need of hard drive space. A few of these haven't shifted a single byte of data in weeks, so I'm going to nuke the files. Before I do, though, here's a list of my current seeding ratios for several torrents:
Ubuntu Studio 13.04 56.02
World English Audio Bible 46.04
AVLinux 6.01b 37.73
AVLinux 6.0 17.23
Ubuntu Studio 12.10 10.79
Gentoo Live 20121221 2.71
LibreOffice 3.6.4 installer 1.83
Deep Purple 2012 concert 0.54
LibreOffice 3.6.4 Help files 0.41
Paul McCartney 2013 concert 0.52
These torrents represent a total of over 375 GB of data I've uploaded. I may not be able to code anything more complex than a Forge card, but this is one small way I can contribute to open source software.
Enough rambling. Here's a picture of one of my co-workers dressed as a cowgirl. I don't know why either. She promised me severe bodily harm if this photo got distributed, so let's not tell her.
Friday, October 11, 2013
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
I turned on my TV the other day, and was shocked to see such a brazen display of bigotry, intolerance, and outright homophobia. I watched for almost twenty minutes and didn't see a single program about a married gay couple adopting a baby! Not one!
I refuse to sit quietly and subject myself to that sort of hatred.
And that's why I'm boycotting The Weather Channel.
Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my dog in the kitchen.
at 12:57 AM
Saturday, July 20, 2013
This is an experiment. Every day I have a pile of ideas to write about. My backlog of notes stretch back for years. Almost every day I intend to write, but don't. So today I'm going to start up this text file, add arbitrary bits to it throughout the day as the urge strikes, and post it late tonight. It may be a lot, or very little indeed. We'll see how it goes.
I've been filesharing since long before filesharing was a thing. It started with copying programs on cassette for my Commodore Vic 20. Then the Commodore 64, with its 1541 disc drive and a program called Fast Hack 'Em (itself copied, of course). Weird side note: I once got a new bank card with the randomly assigned PIN of 1541. I didn't change it, because it was so easy to remember. Every time I used that card, I just had to visualize putting it into a Commodore disc drive.
A little later, when my friends and I started getting seriously into music, we habitually took turns buying albums (cassettes at this point). Only one of us would buy any given album, then the others would run off copies.
Around 1986, we had just started getting into Genesis. We only knew the singles from Invisible Touch that got radio play and an hour's worth of videos that were on a two-part MuchMusic Spotlight, which I still have it on a VHS tape somewhere. I remember (future-)Pastor Derek and I deliberating over who would buy which of their albums. I picked Abacab first because it included Keep It Dark. I don't remember which one he got - I think it was Duke or A Trick Of The Tail. Either way, he got the better of that arrangement.
I also remember that no one wanted to buy Trespass. We had never heard of any of the songs on it, and there were only six tracks, so it had to be really short and therefore a ripoff, right?
We would learn.
Given this well-established propensity to piracy, I was all over Napster when it came along. I still have the issue of Maximum PC that included the client software on a bundled CD-ROM. Over the years, I went through many other alternatives. Usenet, BearShare, Kazaa, DC++, Shareaza, WinMX, and many others whose names I have forgotten have come and gone.
Nowadays, of course, torrents are the way to go. I used uTorrent when on Windows, and have settled on KTorrent here in Linuxland.
I've always practiced hit-and-run strategies for any files that a copyright holder might object to having passed around. That is to say, any commercially available material. My default settings in KTorrent are to stop seeding as soon as my download completes. Not courteous, perhaps, but it's kept me out of court thus far.
When I have something that I can safely leave seeding, though, I happily do so. Free open source software, concert recordings (usually safe to share, although not always), and anything with explicit permission to distribute stays seeded. I leave my torrent software running most of the time, and I've managed to rack up some good share ratios. Here's what I'm currently seeding, with ratios as of this writing:
Ubuntu Studio 13.04 41.32
World English Audio Bible 36.01
AVLinux 6.01b 17.35
AVLinux 6.0 17.23
Ubuntu Studio 12.10 10.42
LibreOffice 3.6.4 installer 1.83
Deep Purple 2012 concert 0.54
LibreOffice 3.6.4 Help files 0.41
Paul McCartney 2013 concert 0.28
(Sorry the numbers don't line up all pretty. I could insert a table or play with the spacing, but that sounds like more work than not doing either of those.)
I'm especially impressed that the newer version of AVLinux moved ahead of the old version so quickly. I've been seeding version 6.0 for over 59 days (actual seeding time only), but 6.0b for only 13 days. I'll probably stop seeding the old versions of AVLinux and Ubuntu Studio pretty soon, if only to free up some hard drive space, since all the demand is obviously for the newer versions. I'm also pleased with the demand for the audio Bible, although of course I'd like it to be way out in first place.
Volumes have been written about Kermit Gosnell, with much wringing of hands from the pro-abortion side, alternatively claiming that he did nothing wrong or that he is an aberration, a stain on the fine profession of abortionist.
The simple truth about Gosnell is that he's nothing unusual. The babies he killed wound up no more dead than those killed by any smiling ghoul in a clean gown, working in a well-lit facility to terminate the pregnancies of women who don't even look pregnant yet.
The stage of gestation is not the issue, the killing is. The actions of every abortionist are as vile as those of Gosnell, and deserve the same condemnation.
My bit about my new saw includes one joke that pleases me far more than it should. I know it's poor form to laugh at your own jokes, but if I don't, who will?
Anyway, there's one joke in there that seems like an easy, stupid, pun but which actually works on a whole other level. Which is still a stupid pun, but one that generally gets missed. I've gotten eye rolls from people around me when I pointed it out, which makes it no less entertaining to me.
I'm glad Dexter is wrapping up. I've had a complicated relationship with this show. I like the premise, and I like Michael C. Hall's acting, so I figured it was worth a shot. About a year ago I borrowed the first two seasons from a friend, and... obtained... the rest of the seasons (remember my first big topic today?).
Season 1 was awful. Around the time that Dexter found the doll parts in his freezer, I turned to my wife and said, "The killer's going to turn out to be somebody from his past that he doesn't know about. If it's his long-lost brother, I'm out."
A few episodes later, the killer was revealed as Dexter's long-lost brother, and I was out.
Oh, yeah: spoiler warning.
If only there were some way to go back up and insert that warning earlier. Ah, well, perhaps someday such technology will be within reach of the common man.
Anyway, I gave up. My wife persevered. She assured me that it got better after season 1, and I really enjoy Jimmy Smits's acting (he's why I started watching my all-time favourite show, NYPD Blue), so I decided to give it another chance, at least until Smits did his bit.
The writing still varied widely, but was good enough to keep me in. Barely. I loved the John Lithgow and Colin Hanks / Edward James Olmos seasons (the Hanks / Olmos twist is the only one in the entire series that I didn't see coming). However, I despise the "long lost relative" trope, and they've gone to that well twice.
I've long gotten the impression that Dexter has a senior writer or two with a lot of clout but no fresh ideas. They churn out the hackwork, and generally drag the show down to the lowest common denominator. However, the writing staff also includes at least one or two people with good ideas but little influence. They manage to slip some quality material past the guards here and there, but mostly get quashed. If those fresher voices had been louder, the show could have been great.
They're three episodes into the final season, and I'm glad it's ending. I want to ride the show out to the end at this point, but I wish they were only doing six episodes. Everyone involved seems to be phoning it in this year.
This season seems like a Greatest Hits compilation, only in Dexter's case they're revisiting the worst aspects of the series. Deb being whiny, ineffectual, and so annoying that I spend every episode hoping someone - anyone - will kill her? Check. A serial killer expert shows up and makes Dexter nervous? Check. New character has extensive but never-before-hinted-at ties to Dexter's past? Check. Painfully bad dialogue, especially in Hall's narration? Check. Misuse of technical terminology by characters who are supposed to be experts and therefore know better (there's a difference between "psychopath" and "sociopath", and every time Vogel opens her mouth she proves she doesn't know it)? Check, Check, a thousand times Check.
Even the technical aspects of the show are getting lazy. Watch any scene with dialogue between two characters. Every time the camera angle switches, say from a front-angle two-shot to a shot over a character's shoulder, the actors' head positions jerk around wildly. They go from looking straight at one another to one looking down to either or both staring off into the distance with each new shot. Nobody involved could be bothered with little details like continuity between shots.
I can't imagine Bryan Cranston tolerating Breaking Bad sliding off a cliff this badly.
All dramatic writing is about getting from Point A to Point B. With Dexter, I often hate Point B (long lost relatives ahoy!), but how they get there can be interesting. On The Walking Dead, Point A and Point B are consistently good, but how they get there can be lazy. Case in point - everyone disagreeing with Dale about whether to kill a prisoner, even though several of the characters would clearly have sided with him. However, they needed to alienate Dale from everyone to make his death later in the episode all the more tear-jerking ("I never got to tell him... sniff..."). The characters get moved around like pieces on a chess board, characterization to this point be hanged.
Oh, yeah: spoiler warning.
The Walking Dead has gotten better on this score. I think the writers may have even realized their mistake. Glenn gave an out-of-nowhere speech in a later episode about how Dale had been right and he shouldn't have abandoned him like that. Well, yeah, Glenn, and you wouldn't have if your writers had been more conscientious.
For the ultimate in good writing, though, nothing beats Breaking Bad. Point A and Point B are both terrific, and how they get there is always compelling and unpredictable. I'm not glad that Breaking Bad is ending, but I am looking forward very much to seeing how they do it.
Helen Thomas, the terrorist-sympathizing former journalist, has passed away. The CNN Breaking News e-mail bulletin says, "Thomas retired in 2010 after she made controversial comments regarding Jewish people."
I guess you could say that. She accidentally let her anti-Semitism show in front of the camera, and "retired" a week later. If a public figure to the right of Mao had made those kinds of statements, they'd still be reviled and propped up as an example of the "racism of the right". But since Thomas was a credentialed (literally) leftist, it's a dog-bites-man story and the media lets one of their own "retire with dignity".
I've been listening to the new, complete audiobook version of World War Z by Max Brooks. It's pretty good, and the voice cast is top-notch. It probably works better as an audiobook than as a novel. One of my main criticisms is that the dialogue doesn't really offer different "voices" to each character, with little to distinguish them in terms of vocabulary or speaking style. Having different actors play each character ameliorates that problem, but doesn't solve it completely.
I will one day watch the movie, which by all accounts I've been able to take seriously appears to be a soulless Hollywoodized disaster, just out of geeky completionism. I certainly won't pay ten bucks to watch it in a big dark room with noisy texting strangers. I'll wait until the DVD
I think they missed a bet with the World War Z adaptation. It should never have been a movie. It should have been a TV series. The self-contained episodic nature of the book would have made for a great series. Each episode could have had the interviewer going to speak to another survivor, switching to their story told in flashback as they spoke. Of course, you could have the interviewer's support staff, UN personnel, etc., as recurring characters. It would essentially be an anthology series with a stable framework. Although anthology series are a tough sell to an audience these days, I think the zombie / survival horror fanbase would be large enough to get the show off the ground.
Alas, what could have been.
I haven't finished the audiobook yet. If Brooks ever reveals what happened in North Korea, don't tell me. Everybody hates spoilers, right?
A woman in the U.S. found out that her unborn baby has down syndrome. Unwilling to raise the child (for the record, I have no problem whatsoever with her making this decision - giving a child up for adoption is always an option), she put the word out: if anyone would adopt the baby, they could have him or her. (I try to avoid referring to unborn children as "it", which concedes important linguistic ground to those who would deny the child's humanity.) If no prospective adoptive parents stepped up, she would have an abortion.
The plea went online, and over a thousand people volunteered.
I've frequently railed on the cognitive dissonance and refusal to accept facts that are inherent in the pro-abortion position. Can even this case make them finally pack in the ludicrous "who's going to raise all the unwanted babies" argument? Probably not, but I can hope and pray.
Parents are available for unwanted children. I have friends who waited years for adoption. We're a long, long way from running out of loving homes for any child who makes it through the gauntlet that the world offers those with doubts about having a baby.
There are no unwanted children. There are just a lot of people who project their own unwillingness to be a loving parent onto others.
I was almost in an adoption situation myself several years ago. My wife heard a woman say that she just found out she was pregnant, and wasn't happy about it. She wasn't seriously considering abortion, but was hesitant to raise the child herself and was musing about trying to find adoptive parents. My wife told me that she very nearly volunteered on the spot. She wasn't 100% sure I would agree, but knew that it was a pretty safe bet. She was right. I assured her that if she's ever in a situation like that again, she has carte blanche.
The pregnant woman wound up keeping the baby and raising her herself. They live in our neighbourhood, and that no-longer-baby goes to school with my son. Everything turned out OK, as it usually does.
There is no shortage of homes for "unwanted" children, at least in North American society. I can't speak for the rest of the world, but last I heard international adoption was a thing that people do. Anyone who clings to the "all the unwanted children" argument is demonstrating that they're too ignorant (willingly or unwillingly) to take seriously in a discussion of life-and-death issues.
"You can't argue with results" is just a prettier way of saying "the ends justify the means."
"To each his own", depending on context, is usually just a prettier way of saying "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law."
I recently saw this listing on a classified ad site. I've touched up the grammar and punctuation, which were atrocious, partly because I couldn't stand them and partly to make tracing the post to its source (not the point) less likely:
$290.00 Crib Voucher for sale! You pick out the crib, and I'll buy it at the store for you (the voucher has my name on it). Reason for selling: I have no space for the crib at the moment. Selling it for $225 (brand new).I can't come up with any theory for this that doesn't involve words to the effect of "The kid can sleep in a cardboard box. Mommy needs crack money!"
Can anybody else?
This has gone better than I had expected. I think I'll stop now.
Enough rambling. Here's a picture of some of my PC Gamer magazine collection, rotated to maximize the nerdiness.
Friday, June 21, 2013
I had already intended to write this entry well before Roger Ebert passed away. When he died, I figured that was the perfect time to finally get it written up and posted as something of a tribute. Several weeks stretching into months later, here it is. Such is my sense of time.
This entry is a Reading Log because the shelf full of books I've purchased and read but not yet written about includes a copy of Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook 2004. I don't know where or when I got it. Probably a library book sale several years ago. I've been putting adhesive labels with my name and date of purchase inside every book I've bought for quite some time now, and it doesn't have one. I also don't remember when I read it. I know that shelf includes books that I read at least as far back as early 2009.
So, yeah, I'm pretty far behind on Reading Logs.
I bought this book for two reasons. I like movies, and more importantly, I like books that are divided into lots of independent sections, so that they can be picked up and flipped open to a random page, read for a minute or two, then put down again. I read at a lot of times when most people don't. While eating, while brushing my teeth, while drying off after a shower, etc. Novels don't lend themselves to such segmented attention. Magazines, encyclopedia-style reference books, and anything with the words "bathroom reader" in the title work much better.
I have a few of Roger Ebert's books. Besides the Movie Yearbook 2004, I have the 1985 and 1991 editions of his Movie Home Companion, and a copy of The Great Movies. I read the 2004 book the same as all the others. I started by looking up my favourite movies, then some of my least favourite, then just by random reading. Each one also got at least one complete read-through.
I took particular interest in The Great Movies, reading through it and considering whether I wanted to see each of them (assuming I hadn't already). I did the same a while back with IMDB's top 100 rated movies. Those lists led me to a few films I was very glad to have watched (e.g., Network, Seven Samurai, Taxi Driver) and a few that made me want the three hours of my life back (e.g., Apocalypse Now - if you place any value on your limited time in this life, don't waste a moment of it on the extended "redux" edition).
On that note, it's a cultural wonder that we live in a time when pretty much any movie ever released (and a few that weren't) is available to me virtually immediately. It's a far cry from the days when I'd read about some obscure horror film in Fangoria and have to either scour independent video rental stores for it (chains were always a waste of time), mail-order it at exorbitant cost, or resign myself to doing without.
If it sets you at ease, feel free to assume that by availability I'm referring to such modernities as Netflix, video-on-demand, and hundreds of cable channels that cater to every taste. The facts that my fibre-op connection can pull down 700 megs of data in no time flat (9.5 MB/second sustained!) and that I've modded my Wii to include a video player that can stream files across my wireless network may have nothing to do with it.
I always enjoyed watching or reading Roger Ebert's movie reviews. I started watching him and Gene Siskel on PBS many years ago. They were on late Sunday nights, sometime either before or after Monty Python. I started watching just for the chance to see movie clips and previews, a rare treat in those days when the Internet was barely a gleam in Al Gore's eye. Before long I hoped every episode that Gene and Roger would argue, and finally started paying attention to the reviews themselves.
I'm usually not interested in whether a reviewer actually likes whatever it is they're reviewing. The key is why they did or didn't like it. The body of the review is far more important than their final verdict, be it expressed in stars, points on a scale, or thumbs. It's always possible that a reviewer may have a general dislike of a genre or style that the reader will enjoy.
A former co-worker and I used to discuss movies, using one another's opinions as a guideline whether to see a given film. If he liked it, that was reason for me to avoid it, and vice versa. We reached this conclusion when I told him although I had liked 28 Weeks Later overall, I hated the incredibly stupid scene when a low-flying helicopter's blade was used as a zombie-decapitating weapon. His response: "That part sounds awesome!" At that moment, we both knew we had no common ground.
As for Ebert himself, I enjoyed his writing. The man definitely knew and loved film, and spoke with a great deal of authority in that realm. As a philosopher and theologian he made a great movie reviewer, but we'll come back to that. His website, which has lived on in his absence, was and is an excellent resource. I just went there to get affirmation of my suspicion that the movie adaptation of World War Z is an artless, souless chunk of commercially safe garbage, and was not disappointed. My favourite part of the site was always Movie Answer Man, which Ebert stopped doing over a year before his death and which seems to have died with him.
I don't think I would have liked Roger Ebert much on a personal level, and I'm quite sure he wouldn't have liked me, which does not reflect poorly on him. I found him arrogant, both when speaking of film, where he was an authority, and everything else, where he was not. He regularly condemned philosophical or religious certainty with absolute certainty, never seeming to notice the irony of that all-too-common position.
He was a good writer, though, and no matter how much I disagreed with his positions, the expression was consistently thought-provoking and worth reading. He would even engage his critics in the comments sections, not with shouting but with discussion of ideas. That's rare, and his loss brings the Internet's average level of discourse down a notch or three.
He had other very admirable qualities. He clearly loved his wife, and faced the adversities toward the end of his life with amazing dignity, grace, and humour.
I've read a lot of Ebert's writing, and the one non-movie article that best encapsulates what I've said about him is one written toward the end of his life: "How I am a Roman Catholic", in which he explains at length that, contrary to his claim, he wasn't. The quotations that follow come from that article.
Ebert liked the ritual and traditions of the Catholic church, and did a good job of internalizing some of the social and moral lessons that the nuns taught him in childhood. Some of those social lessons are dubious. I don't see where the Bible (as opposed to the Catholic church - feel free to mentally add "Roman" in front of "Catholic" for the remainder of this article) endorses labour unions. In fact, Matthew 20:1-15 undermines the rhetoric I've endured from labour unions to which I've been forced to belong (union shops where if you want to work, you have to sign the card). I'm rooting for right-to-work legislation in Canada. In Orwellian fashion, Canadian unions argue that such a law would infringe on the right of workers to organize, when in fact it would only give them the right not to.
But I digress. Back to Ebert's article.
So Ebert liked some aspects of the Roman Catholic church. He had the courage to profess an essentially pro-life position on abortion ("My choice is to not support abortion, except in cases of a clear-cut choice between the lives of the mother and child. A child conceived through incest or rape is innocent and deserves the right to be born."), but through some cognitive dissonance refused to admit it and follow through ("I support freedom of choice."). At other times he resorted to the standard squishy if-you-don't-like-abortion-don't-have-one position. One could reply, using precisely the same logic, that if you don't like abortionists being shot, then don't shoot them.
A textbook cafeteria Catholic, though, he rejected the position of the Church when it became personally convenient or trendy, notably on matters of sexual ethics ("Is homosexuality a sin? ... My feeling is that love between consenting adults is admirable. The commandment about not coveting thy neighbor's wife had more to do with concepts of property in Old Testament times...").
However, his original premise of explaining his Catholic status goes out the window near the end: "I consider myself Catholic, lock, stock and barrel, with this technical loophole: I cannot believe in God."
You simply don't get to call yourself a Catholic, or any other sort of Christian (of which Catholics are a subset), or any other sort of theist (of which Christians are a subset), if you cannot affirm a positive belief in God. Atheism or agnosticism place you outside these particular camps.
At this point, if this blog had more than five readers on a good day, I'd anticipate a reply in the comments accusing me of being "judgmental" (or maybe "judgemental"), probably quoting Matthew 7:1 out of context, thereby completely missing the point Jesus was making.
Observing that a person is not Catholic if they don't believe in God is no more judgmental than observing that a person is not a vegetarian if they have steak for supper twice a week. Enjoying the rituals and traditions doesn't make someone Catholic, any more than enjoying wearing white coats would make them a doctor. The word "Catholic" actually means something, and like any title, it comes with costs, responsibilities, and certain minimum requirements.
There are many reasons why I am not Catholic, most of which have to do with the elevation of human traditions to the level of doctrine. That said, even if I grew up in and still attended a Catholic church, I would understand that I do not get to apply the label to myself. I am not Catholic, and cannot be so unless I accept Catholic doctrine and teaching. The only reason to cling to an undeserved label or title is to cheapen and weaken said title, to damage its brand value.
Nancy Pelosi is a superb case in point, hiding behind the skirts of falsely claimed Catholicism while proclaiming abortion "sacred ground". And not just any abortion, although she likes 'em all, but late-term abortion, which makes even many pro-abortionists uncomfortable. The woman is either completely deluded, or deliberately slandering Catholicism.
But I digress. Back to Ebert.
He was a good writer and a fine film critic. I still read "his" website, but not nearly as often. Eventually I expect it'll become a website that I used to read.
Bonus fun fact: Blogger's spell checker sometimes flags the words "movie" and "movies" (but bafflingly, not always), which means there's a lot of red on my screen as I type this.
Enough rambling. Here's a picture of something else my wife cooked and ate during her Year of Shrinking, during which she shed just shy of 100 pounds. I don't know why she photographed this, but there it was on the memory card.
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
I bought a new saw. I hadn't intended to, but I was roaming the aisles at Canadian Tire and found a nice Mastercraft brand hand saw, regular price something around $15.00, on sale for $3.00. At that price, you may as well have one for every room of the house! I already had several hand saws, but they all represent the finest southeast Asian craftmanship that the dollar store carries.
It has teeth that are sharp-edged in both directions, so it cuts whether moving forward or back. The label says that it's an "aggressive" saw, but I find it evenly tempered.
You know that saying that when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail? Turns out that when all you have is a saw, everything looks like it needs amputation.
The dog is avoiding me today.
Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my son's science fair project. Note that the flowers are slightly different colours. That's transpiration, and transpiration is science.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
Friend o'this blog RebelAngel raised questions in a comment on my last entry that call for a substantial response, so here goes.
"Everyone from Canada talks about Tim Hortons. What are we talking about here? coffee shop? doughnuts? cafe? We will be in Canada in a few weeks and I wonder if I should pop in if we drive past one, just to complete the Canadian Experience. (Well, as complete as a Canadian Experience can be in late Spring rather than mid-Winter.)"Tim Hortons is a coffee-and-doughnuts (or "donuts" if you're in a hurry) chain that's ubiquitous in Canada. It's pretty much impossible to be more than a five minute walk away from one unless you're at sea or hopelessly lost in the forest, and in the latter case, you'll probably still stumble across one shortly if you just keep moving in a straight line. Or just hold still for a minute, in which case a new Tim's (the usual affectionate diminutive - "Timmy's" is also acceptable) will probably get built around you.
Their omnipresence is similar to that of Starbucks in the U.S. of A. If you're driving more than six feet - sorry, 1.83 metres - in Canada, you will drive past one. In some urban areas (which of which we do have a few up here), you can actually see more than one Tim's from a single vantage point. My impression is that Tim's is a bit downscale from Starbucks. I can't say for certain, because I've never actually patronized a Starbucks. I've seen a few from the periphery - they're located in some bookstores that somehow cling to life - but wasn't prepared to get any closer. I wasn't sure how the inhabitants would react to a visitor without a goatee, a MacBook, or the capacity to give two hoots what Oprah says about anything, so I thought it best not to upset their ecosystem.
Tim's is probably closer to Krispy Kreme, Dunkin' Donuts, or some other grammatically iffy fast-foodish establishment. Although they're trying to break into the pretentious market with cappuccino (you better believe I had to look up how to spell that), frappuccino, zappuccino, and schmappuccino - I may be misremembering some of those names - their main stock-in-trade is plain old coffee for a buck and change.
I'm told that their coffee is good. I couldn't say, having had my most recent cup a few decades ago when I was around eight years old. I also don't drink tea, and last tasted alcohol not long after my 19th birthday, over half my life ago. I stick to hot chocolate (which I get at Tim's once or twice a week), pop, milk, and juice. What I'm trying to say is that I don't drink like a grownup.
My Dad used to drink several cups of Tim's coffee each day. His office, like every office in Canada, was located in a building with a Tim's franchise on the first floor. He once told me that he got a headache if he didn't have a cup of their coffee by mid-morning; that would be my signal to never consider drinking another cup of the stuff. I think he's cut back somewhat but still indulges.
Some time ago I noticed that my local Tim's had several big signs up announcing that they now offered "steeped tea". This was apparently something that one was expected to care about, so I asked some tea-drinking colleagues what it might mean. Here's how that went:
"It means that your tea is already brewed and ready to drink when they give it to you."
Genuinely puzzled, I asked, "So what do you usually get when you order a regular, 'non-steeped' tea?"
"A cup of hot water and a teabag."
This seems to me like ordering a hamburger and receiving a live cow and a hammer. The entire point of going to a food service establishment is to avoid preparing my own food. If I have to contribute more to the process than shoveling the order into my gullet (and if the waitstaff would help with that, that would be just super), then I'll just stay home.
All of this is to say yes. If you're visiting Canada, a stop at Tim Hortons is pretty much mandatory. It's part of the quintessential Canadian experience. Visiting Canada without going to Tim Hortons would be like visiting New York without getting mugged. It would be like visiting France without surrendering. It would be like visiting Germany without rounding up any Jews.
If you think that was too far, you should hear the ones I decided actually were. Please feel free to add your own "It would be like visiting [X] without [Y]" jokes in the comments!
Oh, and RebelAngel - let me know if you're going to be anywhere way over on the right-hand side of the map. Probably not, unless you're very lost and/or hoping to find stray lobster. I'll warn you, they tend not to be found running wild, or even as roadkill.
Enough rambling. Here's a picture of something else my wife prepared, photographed, and ate. It's important to get those steps in the right order. I say "prepared", rather than "cooked", because I'm not sure this was cooked. I'm also not sure whether it's solid, liquid, or some combination thereof. I frankly have no idea what it is. Anyway, she ate it.
Monday, April 1, 2013
Hopefully I remember my login credentials for this blog, so this can actually get posted. I hadn't noticed passing the anniversary of my last post. My sense of time is such that my last post feels recent to me. Another gap may or may not happen again after this one. I have no specific intentions either way.
Before we get to the book, an update on my online activities. I'm wasting as much of my life on the Internet as ever, but I've been more a spectator than a participant of late. One of my everpresent goals has been to list (and maybe link) all the sites I read regularly, if only to have the list available when I'm away from my own computer. Being able to refer to a post here would be easier than trying to remember my bookmarks and recently visited history. Maybe someday. It's still on the list.
I still post to the Forge forums fairly often. Mostly bug reports or suggestions these days, since there are pretty much no cards left for me to script. All the easy stuff has been done. I could join the mad scramble to claim cards from new sets as they're released, but I'm lazy enough to sit back and let others do the work.
I also dip a toe in the waters of comments sections from time to time, usually during discussions about politics, religion, abortion - you know, light, fun stuff.
Most recently, I've spoken up to refute the claim that censorship comes largely from the right / conservative side of the political spectrum, and cited my Fallacy of Family principle to explain Senator Rob Portman's pathetic abandonment of what he claimed were his principles.
I also stepped into a discussion where a pro-abortion individual was arguing that abortion is an economic necessity, while simultaneously insinuating that pro-life conservatives are heartless greedmongers who only care about money. I sometimes wonder whether cognitive dissonance can actually become physically painful for pro-abortionists. Anyway, this compassionate friend of women and children was making the point that we need to exterminate as many young and/or poor mouths as possible, and that death is preferable to foster care because the latter is expensive. When they claimed that meant adoption also wasn't an option, I offered that adoption and foster care aren't the same thing. That's why there are two different terms for them and everything.
I've given up on commenting on CNN articles. I'm almost free of the temptation to even read those comment threads, and soon may quit bothering with the articles. CNN has gone completely off the rails. CNN always had a strong left bias, but over the past several months I've watched it slide into outright dementia. On any article that has anything to do with religion, politics, or moral issues (and on a lot of the articles that don't), the comments immediately get swamped with hate-filled rants condemning anything that doesn't agree with the poster's point of view, which is inevitably radically far-left and atheistic. Make a drinking game of it. Take a shot every time you see anyone to the right of Michael Moore called a fascist, or whenever you see a reference to an "invisible sky fairy" or "invisible pink unicorn". You'll be sloshed before you have to scroll the page down.
The sheer hatred flowing from those who profess tolerance is disconcerting, to say the least. A report of The Bible miniseries garnering high ratings devolves into paranoid fantasies of Christian theocracy. Responses to a fluff piece on Chris Tomlin's songwriting start with cries of "Stupid music for stupid people!" and go quickly downhill from there. Any voices of moderation even from reasonable leftists (yes, I gratefully affirm their existence) are shrieked into oblivion by the horde.
This is not all entirely the fault of CNN itself. Unless they wanted to moderate or censor their comments, there's little they can do about this Escape From New York, "it's the end of the month and the crazies are out of food" ecosystem.
However, one must wonder. Much more controversial topics are discussed all over the Internet with few mainstream sites being as hate-flooded as CNN. Why have so many trollish folk chosen CNN as the bridge under which to dwell?
I think it's their natural environment to some extent. Those of us on the right lean towards Fox and Sun News, not because they're perfect but because they're likelier to handle our views with some respect. Conservatives don't demand fawning agreement on every point, but it's nice to have a place to discuss mature matters in a mature way.
The hate-filled hew to CNN for the same reason. At some level, they're being fed there.
On to the book. This part may well be shorter than the preamble. Spoilers for Kafka ahead.
I finally got around to reading The Trial, by Franz Kafka. I bought this book in 2008, and wrote about doing so here. It took five years to reach the top of my reading pile, which isn't a bad turnaround time.
Over the years I've tried to make a point of reading as much oft-cited or so-considered "classic" literature as I can. Awareness of my own mortality has forced me to accept that I won't be able to read everything I'd like to before I die, since I want to read everything, so I'm trying to prioritize it a bit better. I'll probably never get around to War and Peace, but I may read about it on Wikipedia one of these days.
Some "classics" have been dealt with, as far as I'm concerned. I read enough Shakespeare and Bronte in high school to convince me that I never want to read any more, and I made repeated attempts at Moby Dick before accepting that it, not I, was the problem preventing me from making it more than a few chapters before abandonment.
As for Kafka, I had a vague notion that he wrote about surrealism and confusion, with characters turning into nonhuman forms and being frustrated by impenetrable bureaucracies. His recurring theme seemed to be people getting caught up helplessly in events beyond their control. It didn't sound like fun reading, but it sounded like thought-provoking, possibly important reading.
I also wanted to read Kafka to put an end to (one bit of) my own unearned smugness. Describing unpleasant situations as "Kafkaesque" has become a cliche. It's gotten to the point that when I hear some hipster in line at Tim Horton’s describe having to wait in line for more than thirty seconds as a Kafkaesque nightmare, I want to swat the jaunty cap off their head and ask whether they've ever actually read Kafka, or if they just heard a big impressive-sounding word and decided to throw it out there in case it might be appropriate. Not having read any Kafka myself would make doing so rather hypocritical.
Now I have licence.
The Trial certainly does portray confusion. The protagonist, Joseph K. (we never learn his last name), is inextricably caught up in a maze of oblique statements and undefined expectations. He is "arrested", though never never actually held in custody, and held over for trial, although he never actually sets foot, so far as the reader knows, in a courtroom. Throughout the story it seems that everyone knows all about this shadowy legal system, which is simultaneously evidently near-invisible and near-omnipotent. No one, including Joseph or the reader, ever knows what offense Joseph is even alleged to have committed, although everyone agrees that it's a very serious matter and his chances at trial aren't good.
The book ends with Joseph's sentence being carried out. He has evidently been found guilty, although once again it is never said so simply. He does not seem surprised by this, but only indignant at the abrupt nature of his (spoiler alert!) execution.
The entire book is a smoky labyrinth of people talking around facts, pontificating endlessly without conveying any actual information. The dialogue is completely unrealistic, but realism is not the point. Kafka is working in moods and metaphors, expressing that modern society, with its bureaucratic systems, has long since passed being too complex for the simple man to comprehend. Now it has become too much for even a worldly, sophisticated man like Joseph K., a multilingual, well-travelled, upwardly mobile banking executive, to grasp.
I didn't care at all for the writing style, but I assume that it was a deliberate decision on Kafka's part and respect his writing ability for it. As the book began to drag for me, I tried to fall back on a fiction-reading shortcut from my high-school days. When I get stuck slogging through material that doesn't merit my full attention (Bronte, I'm looking in your direction), I start reading only the first sentence of each paragraph. That first sentence usually contains the key information to carry the story along, and the rest is often just descriptive embellishment.
That doesn't work with The Trial. Perhaps to represent the impassive metaphoric wall that the legal system of the book presents to the characters, Kafka uses extraordinarily long paragraphs. Pages can go by without a paragraph break, with entire back-and-forth dialogues between characters contained between a single set of carriage returns. While technically incorrect by modern editorial standards, this style lets Kafka make the reader feel as trapped and overwhelmed as the characters. I must admit that by the end of the book, I was skimming long sections.
I don't regret having checked this book off my "someday" list, especially since it was such a short, quick read despite its density. however, I don't intend to seek out any more of Kafka's work. I'm considering watching either the 1993 or 1962 movie version of The Trial, but doubt I'll bother.
My edition of The Trial was a sort of director's cut, with deleted sections and notes. It was interesting to find that the book was not properly finished. At least one chapter abruptly stops with a note that Kafka's manuscript for that chapter ends there, obviously unresolved. Even the order of the chapters is uncertain, as Kafka wrote them in separate notebooks and gave the chapters titles but not numbers. The Trial was only published posthumously, and against Kafka's explicit request that his unpublished works be destroyed. Subsequent editors have disagreed about the best ordering of the chapters, which says much about the coherence of the narrative.
I think that although I'm glad to have finally read Kafka, I'm done with him. I've had Terry Gilliam's Brazil queued up to watch for a long time, and I fear I'm going to have the same feelings about it when I get around to it.
Enough rambling. Here's a picture of something my wife cooked and ate. Over the last year she put in an amazing amount of hard work, and lost very close to a hundred pounds (which I never would have thought she had to spare). In the course of this she joined a weight-loss
cult organization, and in the course of their activities she frequently contributed recipes and even photos of her food creations. This is one of them. As the reader may surmise, I'm not impressed with the organization, understanding that she was the one doing all the work. Their contribution was getting paid, rather handsomely at that, to weigh her each week. She's happy, though, and her efforts were very successful, so no lasting harm was done by their involvement. She's been invited as a featured speaker at an upcoming event of theirs, because she's a great "results not typical" success story. I'd love for her to get up and explain that the organization's contribution was negligible at best, but she's much nicer than I am.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
I'll put my hatred of bullying, and contempt for the bullies themselves, up against anyone's. I have a visceral reaction to any abuse of power or authority.
This holds true whether we're talking about bullies on the playground, or anywhere else in life. Members of Parliament who intimate that objecting to their proposal implies you're in league with child pornographers, thuggish cops whose first interaction with a distraught foreigner is to taser him to death, teachers who run screeching to the police to arrest a man because his four-year-old daughter draws a picture of a gun, or people who think it's OK to kill babies in the name of convenience, and hey, it's not like they can fight back - they're all cut from the same cloth as playground tyrants, and I want them all knocked off their high horses. Hard.
However, as much as I deplore bullying in all its forms, I won't conform for the sake of an empty gesture.
Tomorrow is Pink Shirt Day, intended to demonstrate opposition to bullying. There will probably be millions of people, including lots of them at my son's school and my workplace, wearing pink shirts under the delusion that a momentary meaningless gesture of solidarity will dispel the satisfaction that bullies get from exercising brute force. Their intentions are good, but on Thursday they'll be dressing normally and the Nelsons of the world will resume business as usual.
This display will do nothing to dissuade bullies, mainly because bullies aren't very smart. If they were, they'd be far more frightened of possible consequences of their behaviour, like the school shooting currently playing out in Ohio. Interestingly, earlier today I saw reports saying that the (alleged...) shooter was a favourite target for his school's bullies. Those seem to have now been scrubbed offline.
That's the sole upside of school shootings: the hope that somewhere a bully will furrow their unibrow and wonder whether that little spaz they torment might do the same to them if pushed too far, and back off. I'd rather they back off out of personal growth, but in the interim fear will do. And no, that tiny upside doesn't mitigate the tragic downside.
Anti-bullying has entered the fashionable mainstream. That's only because now it's politically useful to some people to call attention to some of the victims. Kids have always been picked on by other kids. Some can take it, some can't (which is not meant to denigrate those who can't, because they shouldn't have to). The awkward kids, shy kids, tall kids, short kids, fat kids, smart kids, homely kids, and yes, those kids who don't conform to the mainstream stereotypes of masculinity or femininity, as the case may be, have always gotten picked on. The worst thing a kid can be in the eyes of other kids is different. And everybody tisked and muttered about how that shouldn't be, but it went on more or less unabated for millenia.
But now it's intolerable and the greatest scourge of our society because of the fashionable (take that as a pun if you like) victims.
"It gets better" is a message for all kids, not just those in trendy subcultures.
As for me, I will not be wearing a pink shirt tomorrow, partly because I don't own one but more because I'm largely immune to peer pressure. This is closely related to my near-total lack of social skills and inability to understand normal human interaction.
This immunity has some downsides. Sometimes it's wise to go with the herd, because there be tigers in the other direction. On the other hand, not caring (or often, even realizing) what everyone else is doing lets you skip over a lot of nonsense in life. I rather like it when I look at the magazines in the supermarket checkout aisle and don't recognize any of the people on the covers.
I'm actually hoping that one of our office cheerleaders calls me out tomorrow for not wanting to play this latest reindeer game. If and when they do, I'm going to make a loud spectacle out of asking them why they're singling me out for negative attention just because I don't conform to their expectations. I'll grow increasingly (mock-) distraught as I proclaim how much they're hurting my feelings by picking on me for dressing differently from them.
Then I'll abruptly shut off the histrionics and thank them, because I feed on irony. Their lack of self-awareness is like manna to me, the sweet nectar of paradise. I may lapse into a Montgomery Burns impression for this stage of the bit.
"But Z-Dog," you may interject at this point, "if you do this to some poor unsuspecting sap, won't that make you, kind of, well... a bully?"
To which I reply, "Don't call me Z-Dog. You sound like an idiot." Also, "Yes."
The best answer to bullying, unfortunately, is a bigger bully. We live in a fallen world, wherein every last member of the dominant species is corrupted by sin. The best of us isn't very good. The best we can ever hope for is that the bully at the top of the food chain is benevolent. This is why I'm quite content with America being the dominant world power for the last few decades. Yes, she occasionally throws her weight around, but virtually always with good intentions and often to good ends.
In summation, I hate bullying (but not the bullies themselves, a crucial distinction) of any sort as much as anyone, but I'm not interested in meaningless gestures that consist largely of leveraging peer pressure to force conformity, itself a concept dear to every bully's heart. I'll stick with knocking the feet out from under bullies at every opportunity, and encouraging others to do the same.
And I don't wait until the victims are a politically correct group.
Enough rambling. Here's a picture of round Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger dolls that look like they could be wadded into balls for easy storage. I call them Poohkemon.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Today the skies are bluer in Canada. The clouds are fluffier, puppies can resume wagging their tails, the flowers can bloom again (in a few months, one presumes), and the coffee at Tim Horton's tastes a little better. Our long national nightmare is over. Last night I learned that I've been living under the crushing thumb of tyranny for the last decade or so. My goodness, I had no idea. Forget minor inconveniences like ethnic cleansing in Darfur - after listening to last night's speeches, I now understand that firearm registration was the true injustice of our time. Who knew?
Before we continue, a couple of housekeeping items. First up, I've written about my position on firearm registration before, and it hasn't changed. I'm in favour of it, because I'm in favour of firearms licencing and there's no effective way to separate the two. I've explained that before, and won't be doing so again here. I'm not particularly enthusiastic about registration, but understand its necessity. Bear in mind that I like guns - rabidly, by Canadian standards. I have a firearms licence that I carry in my wallet at all times, because you never know when you might need it. I believe that an armed society is a polite society, understand that violent crime rates drop as concealed carry permit holders increase (and more importantly, why), and am generally as big an all-round supporter of the moral right of law-abiding citizens to bear arms as you're going to find. This makes me something of an enigma on firearms matters, with various aspects of my position outraging zealots on both sides. So be it.
I'll also give advance warning of some language in this article that's a little harsher than I usually use. I figured the joke was worth it, especially since there aren't many in this post. The harsh language is nothing you can't find in the King James Bible. Oh, and I engage in a little comic-strip cussing in point 12, in case that kind of thing is too intense for your sensibilities. Be forewarned.
On to the actual topic at hand.
Canada's Parliament last night voted to pass a bill to eliminate the requirement to register non-restricted firearms, which means most rifles and shotguns. That's fine. Politicians bicker and laws change all the time, and the logical or reasonable position doesn't always carry the day.
My problem isn't with the outcome of the vote, which barely merits a shrug. My problem is that I made the mistake of tuning in the Parliamentary access channel last night, and heard some of the speeches given before the vote. Some Tories (members of the Conservative party, my usual philosophical compatriots) spoke on why the long-gun registry needed to be eliminated, and I can't remember the last time I endured such a pathetic litany of hyperbole and lies.
As a firearms enthusiast, I've made a point of educating myself on Canada's firearms laws. For the most part, they're pretty straightforward. There are some complexities and a couple of jaw-dropping idiocies (mostly loopholes) buried deep in the annals of the Firearms Act. Honest, good-faith arguments can be made against parts of the Firearms Act, but that's not what happened last night. I hate seeing bad arguments used even when I agree with the speaker's point, so listening to sheer babble about a topic on which I'm ambivalent tends to push me toward the opposite side from the speaker.
There are real arguments to be made, using real facts and logic, against long gun registration. There's no need to engage in the time-honoured rhetorical technique of Making Crap Up, but that's precisely what the empty suit opponents of registration did last night. Let's enumerate the lies and absurdities for the sake of my mental organization, which needs all the help it can get.
1. I heard a member of Parliament complain that he knows someone who was never sent notification that it was time to re-register his long guns, and so he "became a criminal" without doing anything wrong. OK, without knowing anything else about this claim, let's play fact-and-logic-check.
Q: How often does a firearms owner have to re-register their non-restricted firearms?
A: Never. Registration is a one-time process, valid for life. As long as you do not allow your firearms licence to expire - which results, logically, in your registration certificate being invalidated - you never need to re-register non-restricted firearms. Oh, and letting your licence expire while you still own firearms will still be a federal offense, even after registration is gone.
Q. OK, so let's say I let my licence expire and will eventually need to re-register. Will someone let me know?
A. Yup. By the time your licence expires, you'll already have been sent at least two previous pieces of mail: a renewal notice, including the application form, followed by a reminder a few weeks later. If you ignore both of those - and again, remember that this part all remains the same under the new law - your licence will expire, and you'll later be sent a letter explaining that because your licence expired, you'll need to dispose of your firearms (unless you get a new one).
If you get your new licence, you may later get a letter explaining that you now need to re-register your firearms. This is the only way anybody ever gets asked to renew their non-restricted registrations. Note that it requires that they ignore both of the first two letters about their licence being about to expire. It requires deliberate, active, assertive stupidity, not just an oversight.
Q: What if the MP just misspoke, and it was the licence renewal that didn't get sent to the client? Wouldn't that mean that his not renewing, and later needing to re-register, wasn't his fault?
A: First of all, if the MP was talking about the licence renewal, then his story had no place in a discussion of registration. They're two different things, and until you understand that distinction you have absolutely nothing to add to a discussion of Canadian firearms laws. Especially since, "he said yet again", the licence requirement isn't changing under this new law.
Any reminder sent to me that something of mine is expiring is a courtesy, not a legal requirement. If I don't receive it, it's still on me to make sure I follow the procedure to stay valid. I know it's not considered cool these days to assume any sort of personal responsibility, but a few of us still do. We're like the people at the Renaissance Faire, pining for a different era.
Q: What if he moved since getting his licence? Then it's not his fault that he didn't get his renewal form, right?
A: I can't believe I have to address a question this stupid (especially since I'm the one asking it to maintain the Q&A format), but I've actually heard this argument.
When you move, it's your (here comes that word again) responsibility to notify anybody who needs to reach you. And, lookie here, when you get a firearms licence it explains right on the letter that comes with it that you MUST, by law, report any change of address within 30 days. Your driver's licence probably came with a similar letter. I know mine did. Try moving without notification, having your driver's licence expire as a result, and explaining to the next policeman who pulls you over that it's not your fault that you're driving without a valid licence, because the DMV should have been able to psychically sense that you had moved. Good luck with that.
2. Some MPs bloviated about long gun registration treating all firearm owners like criminals.
Then motor vehicle registration treats all drivers like criminals. Unless you stand in front of the DMV whining and waving a sign about that, shut up.
3. Several references were made to "law-abiding" people who refused to register their firearms out of principle.
If they own unregistered firearms, then they are, by definition, not law-abiding. By that standard, Al Capone was a law-abiding citizen who refused to declare some income on his tax returns out of principle. He was probably protesting the war in Iraq well in advance. He had a lot of foresight, that Capone.
4. The same doofus as in point 1 said that he knows people who wound up criminalized over typos in their address or phone number.
First up, name some names or you're making this up. Second, nonsense. To be "criminalized" implies that you were arrested, charged, tried, and convicted. Find me one person who now has a criminal record over a typo in their phone number.
5. The point was made that hunters shouldn't have to pay these outrageous registration fees.
Q: How much does it cost to register a firearm?
A: That would be zero dollars and zero cents. Free, gratis, thank you, come again.
Q: What about when I transfer the firearm to a new owner? There's a charge then, right?
Q: Ahhh, but I need a licence. Is that free?
A: Nope. $60 if applying for non-restricted firearms, $80 for restricted. Good for five years.
Q: Ha! Gotcha! Registration might be free and permanent, but if I need to renew my licence every five years, then I'll still have to pay -
A: Nothing. Renewals are free. You only pay for your first licence.
Q: Umm.... never mind.
A: Okey-dokey, then. Let's move on.
6. It was asserted that failure to file paperwork - for example, not registering a firearm - should not be a criminal matter.
Ahh, now we're getting somewhere. If you're arguing that an unregistered firearm should be treated as a much less dire matter than the Firearms Act allows, then we can find some common ground. Right now, you can theoretically go to jail for owning an unregistered non-restricted firearm. No one has, but the possibility is there. I'd have no objection to that being reduced to a fine with no criminal record, akin to a speeding ticket. If the firearm got used in a dangerous way, then that's a separate matter that can be addressed separately.
On the other hand, the "not bothering to file paperwork isn't a crime" argument may not carry much weight with, say, the Canada Revenue Agency, Internal Revenue Service, or Securities and Exchange Commission...
7. The Tories have long hammered on the program's cost overruns, and last night's speeches upheld that tradition.
No argument here. The program cost far more than it was initially expected to. Although the oft-quoted initial estimate of $2 million and final cost of $2 billion are both somewhere between guesses and outright fabrication, there's little doubt that the intial cost estimates were, shall we say, ludicrously optimistic.
However, that $2 billion, even if you believe that figure (which you maybe shouldn't), is over the 17 years since the Firearms Act was passed. Under $120 million per year. That's a rounding error in the federal budget. Besides, that money is spent and gone, and the fact that it was spent has nothing to do with whether firearm registration is intrinsically a good idea.
The question now is not "is long gun registration worth the money that was spent on it?" The relevant question now is whether it's worth the amount still being spent on it. The problem is that no one seems to know quite how much that is, beyond "not much".
Oh, and you don't get to complain about the cost of the program unless you also object to the fee waivers alluded to earlier. When the registration law first came into effect, firearms owners were supposed to pay for their registrations (a flat rate of $18, regardless of how many firearms) and licence renewals ($60 every five years). Spineless politicians decided to appease the scofflaws by waiving those fees, because we all know how well appeasement works. The waiver was originally temporary, of course, but it's been extended repeatedly, and there's no reason to believe that the fees will ever be reinstated.
8. I don't remember whether one of the MPs mentioned this - probably, it kind of blurred together after the first couple of hours - but an ongoing anti-registration theme is that registration is bad because, hackers. I know a Sun News correspondent claimed the other night that the RCMP has admitted that they don't know how many times the registry database has been hacked.
I've got a pretty good idea that, once again, that number is zero. I'm betting that if the Sun News guy actually bothered to ask the RCMP, the conversation went like this:
Sun News Guy: "How many times has the registry database been hacked?"
RCMP Guy: "None."
Sun News Guy: "How do you know?"
RCMP Guy: "The security logs don't show any unauthorized accesses, and there's never been any evidence of a breach. No unauthorized person has actually produced proof that they've gotten in, for example by posting something online that they could only have gotten by getting in."
Sun News Guy: "But what if the hacker was smart enough to get past your firewallmacallits without you even knowing, and they just never told anybody? Huh? What then? How would you know then, Mister Policeman?"
RCMP Guy: "I guess you have a point, kind of. Sort of like if I asked how you'd know if somebody broke into your house every night and replaced all your stuff with exact duplicates."
Sun News Guy: "Exactly! So you admit you don't know!"
More seriously, I used to work in IT. I know people who still do, and some of them work for government agencies. They get security bulletins about hacks and hack attempts. Some of them are in positions where they would definitely have heard about a major RCMP security breach. I've made the calls and asked. It has never happened, to the best of anyone's knowledge.
Oh, it's been claimed. A Canadian hacker website I used to read had a guy loudly announce, several years ago, that he had hacked into the registry. He said he'd post again soon explaining how, and proving it by presenting some of the data he'd accessed. He never came through with any such explanation or proof, and ignored questions about it afterward. He was lying.
When it comes to claims of the registry having been hacked, the correct response is Internet mainstay, "Pics or it didn't happen."
My personal info is in there - under my real name, even - and I couldn't care less.
And once again - it bears repeating, because so many people just don't get it - repealing gun registration and destroying the registration data doesn't get your name out of that RCMP database. As long as you have (or ever had) a licence, you're still in there. And you needed a licence to register. So, guess what, privacy freaks? This changes nothing.
9. Sing the chorus with me. Come on, we all heard it 736 times during these speeches, and continually from certain quarters over the last several years: "Criminals don't register their guns!"
The only problem is, sometimes they do. Criminals aren't your brightest specimens.
There have been lots of examples in the news over the years, for those who weren't blind to them. Here are three easy ones that spring to mind.
In Mayerthorpe, a couple of guys loaned James Roszko some registered guns and dropped him off to ambush and kill four RCMP officers. The presence of their guns led to their arrest and conviction as accomplices.
Guess how the police knew the guns weren't all Roszko's? Without registration, everyone would have assumed that all the guns at the scene were his, and there would have been no further investigation of them.
A smuggling ring was importing legal non-restricted receivers (actions - the actual workings of the firearm, that the barrel and stock attach to), then modifying them into illegal configurations by adding illegally smuggled short barrels, or illegally modifying the actions to fire as fully automatic. They were importing the receivers legally, registering them in the process.
When those illegally modified firearms started turning up at crime scenes, guess how the police were able to trace them to the initial importers?
Earlier this month, a gun store employee in British Columbia was arrested for embezzling firearms from his employer. He was transferring the firearm registrations from the business (which he was authorized to do as an employee) to himself, and taking the guns home for his collection, without paying for them of course. When the business owner figured out that a bunch of firearms were missing from his inventory, he called the police to investigate.
Guess how the police were able to figure out who the thief was and how many firearms they were looking for when they arrived with the arrest warrant?
There's a related issue in that sometimes formerly law-abiding people become criminals later. But we'll come back to that.
Of course, there is one element of truth in the constant bleating of "Criminals don't register!". Right, sometimes they don't. Habitually breaking the law, or at best picking and choosing which laws to follow, is pretty much a defining characteristic of criminals. Thinking that "criminals don't register!" is an argument against the idea of registration is like thinking that "Criminals still rob banks!" is an argument against anti-robbery laws. No. "Epic fail", as the kids say, and I could smack them in the back of the head every time they say it.
10. Let's move on to the related second mantra, heard again last night many times over: "Gun registration has never prevented a single crime!"
Good luck proving that negative.
I can easily disprove it logically, beyond any reasonable doubt. Before I do that, though, let's examine the logic of using that statement as an argument against gun registration. Once again, arguing against gun registration by claiming it doesn't stop criminals is a lot like arguing that laws against rape are pointless because rapists still commit rape.
The simple fact is that laws don't stop determined criminals. They deter casual offenders, give a legal means for penalties after the fact, and send messages about what we consider unacceptable as a society, but they do not stop determined criminals. This is true of any law.
This argument - "people are going to do it anyway, so legalizing it must the the right thing to do" - shows up all the time in discussions about drug laws, abortion, and firearms. It's mindless every single time. If you use it, please stop. If you know better than to use it, please mock those who don't until they stop. Even if you're on their side of the issue, shame them into using better arguments.
But let's move on to logical consideration of whether it can even possibly be true that long gun registration has never prevented a single crime.
First of all, we know it isn't true because of the examples I gave in the last point. Do you suppose that the firearm smugglers would have stopped on their own if the registry data hadn't gotten them busted? Or that the embezzling store employee was going to suddenly decide he had enough firearms in his basement?
Consider this scenario. Bubba the Good Ol' Boy registers his guns. He's an OK guy, maybe with a DUI or two, but not what you would call a career criminal. He would certainly never see himself as one. Bubba occasionally likes to shove the Missus around after a few beers. One particularly spirited Friday night, the cops get called. Eventually a judge decides that Bubba can't have guns anymore. The cops go by Bubba's trailer to collect them. His registration records tell them how many they're looking for. Without registration, they can only ask Bubba how many he has and take his word for it. If he "forgets" to mention that one 12-gauge in the crawlspace, well, too bad. Now Bubba has both a gun and a grudge.
Think this scenario is unrealistic, or too rare to consider? You're wrong. I was blessed to have grown up in a home that was nothing like Bubba's. However, I've known people who lived this sort of life. Bubba has kids all over, and some of them are friends of mine.
Now, do you really think that not one of any Bubba's family members, neighbours, or arresting officers have ever been spared a close encounter with a 12-gauge because the cops knew that it was there, and so they took it? The close encounter doesn't need to be someone actually getting killed. It can be as "minor" - the quotes really don't do the understatement justice - of Bubba reminding Missus Bubba that he's still got it handy in case she feels like getting mouthy again.
Prohibition orders, when a judge decides that a Bubba can't have guns anymore, simply cannot be enforced without registration. If the police don't know how many guns Bubba has, they can't be sure they got them all.
At this point, if you're reading this and thinking, "Nuh-unh! Bubba might have only registered some of his guns, so the cops don't know to take the unregistered ones", scroll back up and start re-reading at point 9. When you get back here, if you still don't get it, repeat until comprehension dawns.
Oh, and a fun response to this argument is that fire hydrants have never prevented a single house fire, ergo we should get rid of them. Just as hydrants prove their worth after a fire breaks out, firearm registration is far more useful as an investigative tool than as a preventative tool.
11. This relates to points 9 and 10. A nitwit MP from Manitoba said, and I quote (don't ask me how I can remember this verbatim, it's uncanny), "Criminals don't register their firearms." A minute or so later, after changing focus somewhat, he rather proudly announced, without a hint of irony, that he refused to register his own firearms.
Dude, you totally just called yourself a criminal. Explicitly.
That would be embarrassing to a person smart enough to be capable of self-reflection. Fortunately for you....
12. "Registration is always a precursor to confiscation." Again, I don't remember any specific MPs saying this last night (and if they did, I doubt they used the word "precursor"), but it's one of the standard Bad Arguments Against Gun Registration.
My reply to this is always the same. I've said it to so many people in so many situations over the last decade that I can say it all in one breath now. My wife calls it Standard Rant # 53.
My car is registered. My house is registered. My freaking dog is registered. In fact, I have to re-register the car and dog on a regular basis, and pay for the privilege. And yet, no one has ever once shown up to confiscate my car, my house, or my dog. Unless you stand outside the DMV whining about vehicle registration, shut the *&%^! up about the evils of firearm registration.
Yes, at some times, in some places, under some circumstances, registration of various things has lead to confiscation of some of those things, but it's certainly not a universal maxim.
This leads nicely into point
13. "Hitler liked gun registration."
Yup. He liked dogs, sunsets, walks on the beach, and tall men with straight teeth and a good sense of humour too. Your point?
Firearm registration has sometimes been used as a precursor to governments doing Very Bad Things. So have curfews and restrictions on speech that the ruling elite don't like. The (urban legendary) "fact" that Hitler made the trains run on time doesn't make adherence to transit schedules the work of Satan.
That's the end of my points. I could, believe it or not, write a lot more on this topic. I'm an obsessive geek who likes guns, so I know a lot about them and the laws pertaining to them. I could go on about legitimate arguments against firearm registration, why Canada's firearms law failed, and what gauge shotgun makes the loudest BOOM when I pull the trigger, but those are all for other days. On to the conclusion. You're welcome, dear reader.
These speeches were absolutely appalling. Not because I disagreed with the basic philosphical positions of the speakers, but because they were using criminally stupid arguments. The ignorance expressed should not have been tolerated in our national Chamber of Parliament. The speakers, legislators who have a moral duty to understand the facts pertaining to the subject of their voting, were wrong about basic, easily verifiable facts. The logic on display wouldn't pass muster in a kindergarten discussion of which Pokemon is most awesome. No one who actually knows anything about Canada's firearms laws would have been able to sit through those speeches without having their blood pressure raised enough to burst a few capillaries.
I have to wonder whether I was seeing the chicken or the egg. Were these Honourable Members just pandering to the assumed pre-existing ignorance of their viewers, or were they actively fueling it? Either way, was it inadvertent or deliberate? Did they honestly not know any better themselves?
Dear reader, if you want to know the truth about anything, please choose your sources wisely. Don't listen to the loudmouth at the barbershop, the sensationalist "reporter", or the pandering sycophant in the legislature. Certainly don't blindly trust some pseudonymous Canadian dork with a blog. Check facts. Go to original sources.
In the case of Canada's firearms laws, it's pretty easy. Although they aren't much help with statistics or philosophies behind the law, the folks at the Canadian Firearms Program have a toll-free line (1-800-731-4000) and a website complete with an e-mail contact form (www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/cfp). One call or e-mail to them from one of last night's speechmakers would have demolished the first point I railed against above.
For me, I have a set of rules for debating Canada's gun laws with someone who wants to argue (as opposed to actually discuss, and - gasp! - maybe learn something):
-If you don't know the difference between licencing and registration, don't waste my time.
-If you want to talk about the financial costs but don't know the price (to the applicant) of licence renewals and registrations, don't waste my time.
-If you think it's somebody else's fault that they couldn't reach you after you moved without telling them, don't waste my time.
-If you think it's anyone's responsibility but your own to keep track of when your licence (or anything else) expires, don't waste my time.
-If you think that firearm registration is an infringement of your rights but haven't a peep to say about car registration, don't waste my time.
-If you think that "criminals don't register" or "Hitler!" are arguments against the idea of firearm registration, don't waste my time.
-If you don't get that "law-abiding unlicenced (or, until this bill passes into law, unregistered) firearm owner" is an oxymoron, don't waste my time.
In all of these cases, check some facts and take a basic logic course, then get back to me. Heck, I'm quite willing to try explaining some of these things to someone who honestly just doesn't know. In fact, I just spent 23,000 or so words doing it.
Let's close, for real this time, with a tasteless joke.
Vic Toews is one of the head Tory cheerleaders against firearm registration, and I've seen him use all 13 of the silly arguments above at various times. As background, after voting to pass this bill to overturn this very mild form of gun control, letting people sell firearms into the criminal black market at will and effectively removing all gun control as I mentioned way back at the top, he and many other MPs attended a self-congratulatory cocktail party to celebrate. I like to imagine that his day planner looked like this:
6:00 PM - Vote to repeal gun control
7:00 PM - Piss on the graves of victims of gun violence
Enough rambling. Here's a picture, cribbed from the Web, that eloquently expresses some of my other feelings about firearms legislation. Three cheers for acknowledging the complexity of multifaceted issues!
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
I just read the Maclean's year-end "Newsmakers 2011" issue. It contains a series of articles about the supposedly most newsworthy people and events of the year. With this issue, we hit a new journalistic low.
It's a given that a few people on these annual "most intriguing", "most interesting", etc., lists will be women who are there solely because of who they slept with. However, this issue features Pippa Middleton - who is on the list not even because of who she slept with, but because of who her sister slept with.
At least her sister finally got a promotion this year, after eight years of casual / temporary status as the Royal Penis-Warmer. Pippa's most newsworthy activity appears to have been showing up at the wedding.
To be clear, this is not meant as personal criticism of Miss Middleton. She may be a very intelligent and capable person. She may be very accomplished in the field of whatever it is that she does. However, none of that makes her particularly newsworthy.
No, this is meant to mock the media, and by extension its audience - that's us, folks - for being overly concerned with her. She isn't the problem, the people giving her undue attention are the problem. There's no discernible reason for anyone to be talking about her in "news" articles or magazine profiles.
Or in blog posts, for that matter.
Although I accept that there is truly nothing new under the sun, I sometimes strive for some semblance of originality. A while back I scrapped a drafted article / joke because I had expected "penis-warmer" to be a something of a rare term, but Google told me otherwise. I was surprised, especially by how many of the results were product listings on eBay (with optional what cozy?!?).
That said, I have high hopes for the revised term used above, "Royal Penis-Warmer". As I write this, there are no Google hits for that phrase.
Soon there will be one.
The Walking Dead (the comic, not the TV show) has been disappointing me of late. I'm getting a little tired of the last page cliffhanger/shocker that completely fizzles and is completely forgotten about within the first three pages of the next issue. Kirkman's going to that well just a bit too often.
An occasional commenter here, TB, has a blog of his own now. If you think I'm cantankerous sometimes, you should buckle up, go over there, and take a look.
I'm still not writing much here lately, I know. I've been posting comments some other places, though, like the Forge forums, Comics I Don't Understand, and Slashdot. I can often be found in one of those places when I'm not doing much here.
I've also been known to show up in comment threads in places like Jim Shooter's blog, Roger Ebert's blog, Crime Justice & America, and Ken Levine's blog.
That last one is probably my favourite, because Ken Levine actually responded to one of my comments in a later post (the one I linked). In this culture, getting my (fake Internet) name mentioned by a guy who knows some famous people is better than money!
The Supercommittee failed to reach a budget deal. By most accounts, the Democrats on the committee refused to consider any proposal that included any spending cuts, and the Republicans refused to consider any tax increases. No shocker, really. But it gave us a great chance to play Mediawatch! Here's how to play:
Think about the blurbs you heard in the media about this. The headlines, the soundbites, the text crawls at the bottom of the screen, the snarky remarks from "unbiased journalists" and late-night comedians. Notice how many of them blame the stalemate entirely on the Republicans "refusing to compromise" and completely ignore the equal but opposite intransigence from the Democrat side.
Oh, sure, some of the long articles mentioned the Democrats' equal role in one of the "continued on page 26" paragraphs - we're just talking about the short versions that are all most people will perceive.
But remember, only Fox News is biased. Well, and Sun News if you're in Canada.
Here's the scary part of playing Mediawatch. Consider any newsworthy topic of which you have some deeper knowledge. Now consider how ridiculously distorted you find the media's reporting on the matter.
Now consider that most people don't have deeper knowledge of most topics, and all they know is what the media feeds them.
Now consider that that includes you. The media usually talks about subjects where you don't have any particular insight. It's statistically inevitable, just because of the sheer volume of information on the world. It's humanly impossible to know very much about very much.
And when out of one of your comfort zones - which is most of the time - you only know what they tell you, and then usually only what was in the headline, sound bite, or crawl across the bottom of the screen.
Notes for historical purposes:
We got six trick-or-treaters this year, and most of those were kids whose parents specifically drove them here because they know us.
We have no snow to speak of yet. We've had flurries, and a few times enough to cover the ground (barely), but it's all melted away again so far.
My son's current obsessions are Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Roblox.
I don't like bad arguments being used in support of positions with which I agree. To that end, I wish people who oppose capital punishment - as do I - would stop saying that it has no more deterrent value than life imprisonment.
The problem with arguing about the deterrent value of capital punishment is that there's a ridiculous time lapse between a criminal being sentenced to execution and that execution being carried out. The lapse is so long that a death sentence is effectively the same thing as a life sentence.
Oba Chandler was executed recently for a crime that was committed in 1989, and of which he was convicted in 1994. 17 years after conviction, 22 years after the crime. With gaps like that, of course there's no extra deterrent value involved. Criminals know full well that execution is not a credible or imminent threat. It's too remote to be taken into consideration.
I'd be interested in seeing statistics on how many criminals die of natural causes - e.g., old age - while on death row. I wouldn't be surprised if it's more than are actually executed.
In all but completely informal conversation, and sometimes even then, I'm a stickler for terminology. This is because correct use of terminology demonstrates comprehension of the subject. Incorrect use of terminology demonstrates the lack of same.
My wife and I started watching Breaking Bad a few weeks ago, from the first episode. It's great. We have only one episode left to watch - the fourth season finale, which is the last episode to date. We'll probably watch it tonight, then commence complaining until season five begins.
I like it because it's neither formulaic nor predictable. It took me many episodes to accept that I could almost never accurately predict what would happen next. Most TV shows and movies, including my nevertheless beloved Walking Dead (the TV show, not the comic), are predictable enough that at any point I can tell you more or less how any given scene will develop and/or resolve.
Not so Breaking Bad. It's a constant stream of nothing but curve balls. The writing is so good that I'm amazed that Vince Gilligan, the series creator, worked on the X-Files. I was not a fan of the latter show, to the point where I only made it all the way through one episode (the one Stephen King wrote). I thought the X-Files was trash, frankly, nothing more than rehashes of Scooby-Doo episodes, and it was painfully obvious that the writers had no idea how to resolve any of the longer story threads. I remained aware of the X-Files because my wife liked it (she has the entire series on DVD, and still re-watches them all from time to time), and because I worked in a comic shop in the late 90s.
The acting is also first-rate. When I first started watching Breaking Bad, I thought of Bryan Cranston as Hal, the goofy dad from Malcolm in the Middle. Hal is long, long gone now. There's not a trace of him in Cranston's performance by this point. It would be odd to go back and watch Malcolm reruns now, because I'll probably think of Cranston as Walter and wonder when somebody is finally going to drive that little punk Reese out into the desert and give him the bullet he deserves.
Giancarlo Esposito deserves every bit of praise he's gotten, too. He can express more with the slightest facial twitch than most Oscar winners manage in their entire career.
Enough rambling. Here's a picture of what it takes to get me to throw out a t-shirt. The last time I wore this shirt was to a Maplenoise show in September. It was in this condition by then. Partway through the concert, my wife suggested that I put my jacket back on. The shirt is solid black with orange and red letters - all of the light colour is a pillow I stuck in it to display the extent of its decrepitude. It's a Rez shirt, from the early 90s or so. The writing is (was) a Biblical reference ("For our God is a consuming fire, Hebrews 12:29"), written in the shape of a flame.