Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Day Of Auld Lang Syne

That's pretty much it for 2008. As usual, I finished off my annual reading through the Bible in the last few days - this year it was on December 29, to be exact.

I've done that every year since somewhere in my late teens, so for... well, a long time now. It's actually not difficult. Reading three chapters each day from Monday to Saturday and five chapters on Sunday will take you through in a year. That's not nearly as daunting as it sounds when you consider that many chapters, especially some of the Psalms, are quite short. Yes, some are quite long, too, but I'm trying to be encouraging here.

Of course, I don't necessarily read each chapter in order each year - in fact, I don't think I've ever done that. My program for the last year has been to follow the daily reading in the Our Daily Bread devotionals, published by Radio Bible Class. They're available online at the link, but I prefer the pocket-sized printed booklets. I read the entire chapter for the devotional passage, not just the indicated verses, and then the daily Bible-in-a-year reading (in years that they have it; some years they have another program).

Each year, I keep track of my reading using a checklist of all the chapters in the Bible. For the past couple of years I've been using the one available from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, available in PDF from this page. Be forewarned, it has an odd quirk - for some reason, it lists Isaiah chapters 51-56 twice. I didn't notice that last year, and wound up doubling my reading on those chapters (not that that's such a bad thing). I think that for 2009 I'll use the version available from the Navigators U.S. Metro Ministries of Detroit, available in PDF here (the Bible Reading Record link).

Whenever I read a chapter for any reason, I check it off. When I get to a crossed-off chapter in my Bible-in-a-year plan, I skip it as already done. Most years I wind up falling behind over the summer, and catching up in the fall or later. There have been a couple of years where I spent New Year's Eve reading Revelation or Ezekiel, which for some reason tends to often be the last book I have left to finish.

I don't mind spending New Year's Eve that way, since I don't like going out that night anyway. (Warning: topics may shift without notice!) As I've said before, my only concern with New Year's Eve is that it entails a slightly higher than normal chance of getting taken out by a drunk driver, making it an excellent evening to stay home and off the roads.

Which brings me to one last point about New Year's Eve / Day: resolutions. I don't make 'em, and generally don't believe 'em from other people.

Like everybody, I've got a mental "to do" list of things I'd like to accomplish before shuffling off this mortal coil, many of which have been nagging at me for years. Some will get done this year, many others won't. As always, the ones that don't will be skipped because other things, some foreseen and some not, take precedence. "Resolving" that this is the year for these lingering projects won't change that.

Many people make the type of resolution that I don't believe for a second, to quit some bad habit - smoking, drinking, overeating. I don't believe these for one simple reason. While I believe that people can make positive changes in these areas, if they really meant to do it, they wouldn't wait for a calendar page to turn. I never, for one second, believe anyone who says they're going to quit smoking at a specific future point. If they really meant to quit, they'd do it now, not later. I don't know who they expect to fool with the "I'll do it soon" routine. Probably themselves.

2009 looms. I'll try to do better, in as many ways as I can, in that year than I did in this one. No resolutions, though.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a bird. Although I got some nice shots of my family (most of which I won't be posting here), this may be my favourite picture from our recent vacation. It loses a lot by being resized. Click on it for the bigger version.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Karma - It's Not Just For Buddhists Anymore

Apparently karma works for silly converts to Islam, too.

So this Canadian woman watched a bunch of Muslims fly planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. You may have heard about that; it was one of the last times that the mainstream media actually acknowledged Muslim terrorism. She decided that the "pilots" and their friends were the good guys.

She decided that Osama Bin Laden was being blamed unjustly, although he bragged about his participation in some of his videos, and that Muslims were getting a bad rap. I could actually still sympathize with her at this point, to some degree. Bin Laden deserves a trial before his sentence is carried out, no matter how many public confessions he makes, and some people took their frustrations out on innocent Muslims in the wake of September 11th.

However, she went off the rails when she decided to show her solidarity by signing up. She converted to Islam, changed her name from Beverly Giesbrecht to Khadija Abdul Qahaar, put on a hijab, and started a website devoted to justifying terrorism in the name of Allah. If you have the stomach for it, she posted a horribly long and rambling explanation of her conversion. And if I can recognize it as long and rambling, imagine how bad it must be. My, Mr. Kettle, you're looking particularly black today.

By this point she had gone completely off the rails. I can understand her wanting to defend non-terrorist Muslims. However, a thinking person does not show solidarity with a group by changing their religion. A change of religion should only ever be made on the basis of having carefully considered the teachings of a faith and deciding that it contains more truth than your current belief system. I've done this myself, switching from agnostic secular humanism to Christianity several years ago.

A change of religion should never be based on silly external factors. This woman's "change in faith" is probably nothing more than wanting to get attention by aligning herself with a visible subculture. If it were the seventies, she would have gotten a mohawk and shoved a safety pin through her cheek.

You don't need to convert to someone else's religion to show solidarity. As an easy example, I support the Jewish people. So do most of the Christians I know. You don't have to look very hard to find "I Stand With Israel" banners on the websites of conservative Christian writers. I don't have one, but that's only because it's one of the many, many things I haven't gotten around to doing yet with this site. Somewhere down the road, this site will probably be covered in so many banners and sidebars that there'll be no room for content, which will at least remove the pressure to update.

In every case I've seen so far, whenever a conflict boiled down to the Jewish people against another group, I've been on the side of the Jewish people. I'll "see both sides" of the Palestinian issue when I start seeing lots of stories about Jews strapping dynamite around their waists and blowing themselves up in the middle of crowded Palestinian shopping malls.

Sidebar: I wish more mainstream journalists would understand this. As I write this, CNN has a front page story up about Israel firing rockets into Hamas-land. Surprisingly, they don't have any pictures of wounded children up (yet) and don't even mention puppy casualties. You have to read the story pretty carefully to see that this is a response to multiple attacks from Hamas against Israel over the past several weeks.

Funny, I don't remember seeing those attacks reported on CNN's front page. Although they might have been, and I didn't notice it - "Muslims perpetrate violence" is a pretty easy headline to skim over without taking note, on the level of "Sun expected to rise tomorrow".

I also notice that CNN is happy to report that Hamas accuses Israel of violating their ceasefire agreement - which expired on December 19 - with this attack. In similar news, the landlord of an apartment I moved out of in 1996 has accused me of violating our one-year lease by not continuing to pay rent for the twelve years since the lease ran out.

CNN's reporting of this accusation is being done only because, as they know full well, when people read or hear something on the news, they remember only a few bullet points afterward. Any denial of an accusation is usually forgotten, but the accusation itself lingers in the minds of the audience. Before long, when they hear the accusation again, all they remember is that they heard something about it before. Hmm, there must be something to that. After all, it keeps coming up.

It's a dirty pseudojournalistic trick intended to sow seeds in the minds of the audience, and it works. It's been so effectively used in American politics that large swaths of the electorate believe that there must be at least some substance to plenty of unfounded rumours, most of which, no doubt by sheer happenstance, favour the Democrats. Odd, that.

I won't go into examples, because this sidebar has gone on for too long already, but ask yourself: what's the first thing that comes to mind if I mention Sarah Palin's infant child? If it's that maybe Sarah's daughter is his actual mother, then congratulations: you're a mainstream media consumer.

End sidebar.

That said, I have no interest whatsoever in converting to Judaism. I do not agree with Jewish theology, but I respect them, consider them allies, and generally consider then the good guys in pretty much every conflict situation I've heard about. It would, however, be insulting to both my faith and theirs to show up at a synagogue and announce that I was switching over strictly as a protest against anti-Semitism.

Her reasons, though, are irrelevant. She signed up for a religion that says (or at least whose practitioners fervently believe) that she's worth less than a man, that her husband may beat her, that he may divorce her at will (although Canadian law already had that covered), that she should be punished for unchastity if raped, and that she shouldn't have been allowed any education. A woman voluntarily converting to Islam seems akin to a black American urging the return of slavery. I believe in freedom of religion, though, so that's all ultimately her business.

Then she decided that wasn't enough. She had to go over to Pakistan where she could get her hands dirty in the war against the infidels (that's me, and probably you, folks). Surely she would be welcomed, the Great White Goddess deigning to lead them to victory.


A B.C. woman...was kidnapped Tuesday along with her three local guides.

A Foreign Affairs spokeswoman confirmed a report in The Daily Times in Lahore that negotiations are continuing to free Khadija Abdul Qahaar, 52, formerly of West Vancouver.

She was seized at gunpoint on Tuesday while travelling to record video footage for a British journalist.
This, of course, is an awful situation that deserves to be taken seriously. And I will, in a moment. But first....


There. Just had to get that out of my system.

I love imagining the dialogue when she was captured:

"Wait! I'm here to help! I'm one of you!"

"Into the truck, western harlot!"

For her next trick she'll paint herself grey and strap a fin to her back, then swim with some sharks to see what happens.


On a more serious note, if this story is legitimate, I hope and pray - yes, literally - that this woman gets back home safely. And if she does, I hope that the first thing she does once she's back on Canadian soil is rip off the hijab, throw it to the ground, and tell everyone that she's back to being Beverly from now on. I hope this takes place in front of the reporters who will no doubt be waiting. They'll all bury the story, of course, but at least it might get leaked to blogs and Youtube.

You may have noticed the hedging in that last paragraph - "if this is legitimate". There's reason to believe it isn't.

First up, Giesbrecht (I prefer not to call her by her silly imaginary name) was shilling for cash on her website a few days before the alleged kidnapping. She wrote about how the situation in Pakistan was dire (gee, it's almost like going there was a stupid idea), and she needed buckets of cash to get out. Paypal cheerfully accepted. I'd have headed for the nearest embassy, personally, but soliciting difficult-to-trace donations with no accountability is always a good plan B.

Second, the whole thing may be a scam. Giesbrecht may be staging the whole thing in collusion with her jihadist pals, presumably in hopes of using her as a bargaining chip to negotiate a ransom of cash, the release of captured terrorists, or perhaps buckets of pungent filth for the jihadists to rub all over themselves in case their current layers start to wear thin. The fact that she was working for Al-Jazeera, who Al-Qeada apparently keep on speed dial to promote their latest video releases, doesn't exactly help her credibility.

If that's the case, I hope she realizes the mistake she's made before it's too late, and manages to actually escape her buddies. Terrorists, pretty much by definition, have no honour. Once they get what they want "in exchange for her", they're as likely to kill her as to carry out the fake release. Her only chance is if they figure she can help their propaganda campaign by coming home to gush about how well she was treated by her captors, praise be to Allah, and she doesn't blame them for being forced to use desperate tactics. The mainstream media will be thrilled to put that message on front pages everywhere.

In any case, this woman has made some extremely bad decisions with her life (I'm hoping for a last-minute Understatement of the Year award). Giving her the benefit of the doubt - it's a strange old world when the best-case scenario is that she was really kidnapped and is now a hostage in fear for her life - I hope she gets a chance to rectify some of them.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of alligators. Or maybe crocodiles. Perhaps even some sort of unholy genetic splice of the two - crocogators, and/or allodiles.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Good News For Pedophiles

Planned Parenthood, who are probably the most successful practitioners of genocide in all of history, have gotten busted a few times lately for violating actual laws (as opposed to violating basic principles of human decency, which is their raison d'etre). Don't bother checking your favourite mainstream news outlet for the stories; they were too busy polishing apples for Barack Obama for the last few months to bother working on any actual news, and would have wanted to cover this story up to spare their abortion-loving pals any embarrassment anyway.

Here's a summary of what happened (check out Lifenews stories like this one, this one, or this one for more detail). This played out twice, with only minor differences: a college age woman who looked younger went to a Planned Parenthood office. She told the staff that she was 15, and thought she was pregnant by her older boyfriend. In both cases, the ages given would make for clear-cut cases of statutory rape, which Planned Parenthood (and pretty much anyone else) is required by law to report to the police.

Instead, in both cases, PP (I'm tired of typing their full name) offered to help her solve her problems by (a) getting rid of the baby (of course), and (b) covering up the rape. Not only did they knowingly refuse to fulfill their legal obligations (PP staff acknowledged that the relationship was illegal), they explicitly advised the girl to lie to anyone else she told and enlist the rapist's help in procuring a surgical or chemical abortion (i.e., ask him to drive her to a clinic or obtain abortion pills for her).

In both cases, the young woman recorded the conversations, obtaining evidence that should be enough to have some people charged and a serious investigation begun into the conduct of this obviously criminal organization. Instead, it's all been brushed under the rug. Prosecutors in Indiana and North Carolina are apparently as gutless as mainstream journalists.

PP made a minor show of firing one of the employees who "counselled" the young woman, and we're all supposed to pretend that's enough. We're supposed to believe that these swine who believed themselves to be participating in ongoing child abuse - and were no doubt proud of it - were rogues, and their actions would never have been condoned by PP's higher-ups. Hogwash. Those clinic employees were doing exactly what they had been trained to do, and we all know it.

Here's the really good news for pedophiles, though. When asked why the case would not be pursued with an eye toward criminal charges, here's what the Indiana Department of Child Services had to say:

Steve Vaughn, director of the department, told the Indiana Daily Student newspaper that the agency will do nothing about the incident since a minor girl was not actually involved.

Got that? No actual minor involved means no charges.

That's amazingly good news for all those guys who thought they were arranging a "date" with a minor through an Internet chat room, but who learned when they showed up that they'd been chatting with an undercover cop or FBI agent. Until now, those people have been arrested and charged under various laws about child abuse and luring.

If I were one of their lawyers - well, first of all, I wouldn't be, because I still think their behaviour is reprehensible, but let's pretend. Start again.

If I were one of their lawyers, I'd be screaming from the rooftops that all charges against my client must immediately be dropped because there was never any actual minor involved. I would point to these cases as precedent, and send a nice thank-you note to Steve Vaughn's office.

That's how the rule of law works: if Planned Parenthood can get away with something, so can that creepy guy in the raincoat who's always hanging around Toys 'R' Us.


Enough rambling. Here's a picture of the lighthouse at the entrance to Sea World.

Friday, December 26, 2008

DVD Notes: NYPD Blue Season One

I just finished watching everything on the NYPD Blue Season One DVD set. Here are a few observations.

I'm not going to talk about the episodes themselves - this is my favourite series of all time, and by now most TV viewers already know whether they like it. Either way, I wouldn't argue with or try to convince anybody. I like it. If you don't, fine by me. I'm just here to discuss matters specific to this DVD set.

I really don't like the menus. First of all, they take too long to get through the video clips to the point where you actually start selecting something. Thankfully, pressing the Next button on the remote moves past the video and gets you to where you want to be. This could have been far worse. My son got the Wall-E DVD for Christmas, and I couldn't believe how much garbage we had to skip through to actually get to where we could start the movie. To Disney's credit - and I don't normally give them much - it was at least all skippable, one "feature" at a time

Each disc holds three or (usually) four episodes, and the "Select episode" screen is truly obnoxious. Instead of a nice clean move of the highlighted selection when you press the Up or Down button on your remote, a long horizontal bar that highlights the currently selected episode (and I didn't even realize that until the bar moved) slides, painfully slowly, up or down. It's so scratchy and glitchy looking that I thought I had a defective disc (or player read problems) when I first played disc one.

Then, the menu option to play the commentaries is in the wrong place. You select the episode, then go into Language options. Unless your commentary is in a foreign tongue, that's not where the option should be. Closed Captioning was also under Language. I've learned to expect DVD designers not to understand those simple matters, so I'm trained to look there by now, but it's still an irritation.

I watched all 22 episodes, then all six episodes with commentaries, this time with the closed captioning turned on and the commentary audio track playing. As always, I found myself frequently getting distracted by the subtitles and following the episode's storyline that way, and ignoring the commentary. That's partly because I'm easily distracted by reading material of any sort, and partly because the commentaries weren't that interesting. The only cast member present was Sharon Lawrence for one episode, and there were very few interesting stories from her or anyone else. I heard an awful lot about how "groundbreaking and revolutionary" this show was (not that I disagree), and not nearly enough about how difficult David Caruso was to work with.

A lot of people also talked about how new and different the handheld camera technique was at the time. There was some discussion among the crew as to whether they'd gone too far and would be annoying and / or nauseating the audience with the near-constant movement. The funny part of that to me now is that half the movies made in the last decade have had camera work by Parkinson's patients, as near as I can tell, and I usually hate it. I had blamed the Blair Witch Project for starting the trend, but perhaps my beloved Blue was the culprit. In any case, I'm not bothered by the camera work on Blue. I think they did it well, in contrast to the derivative hacks who strap the camera to a mechanical bull at the start of each shooting day. (Come on, you knew those mechanical bulls all went somewhere. They can't all be under an inch of dust in the back rooms of sleazy bars.)

The moving camera on NYPD Blue also provided one of my favourite jokes from Third Rock From The Sun. I wound up liking that show despite initial misgivings (I called it Alf II, which I did not intend as a compliment, for its first year), but only watched sometimes. In one episode, the characters visited a police station and Harry (the guy who never opened his eyes) started bobbing his head around like Stevie Wonder and said, "Hey, if you do this it looks like NYPD Blue!"

I was surprised that David Milch, the show's co-creator and primary writer, didn't have more interesting stories. He's normally a riveting, dynamic speaker. His commentary is fine, but doesn't pack the punch I was expecting. He delivered one of my favourite lines ever during an interview with Tom Snyder a while back. Milch was talking about his well-known struggles with substance abuse. During the interview, he said he had been clean and sober for a while. Snyder asked, "So those demons aren't here in the studio with you tonight?"

Milch replied, "No, but they're doing pushups out in the parking lot."

The other extras are far more interesting. There's an hour-long "Making of Season One" documentary that has lots of great interviews with cast and crew members. I would have liked to see more outtakes, but the documentary is still well worth seeing for even casual fans of the show. It's interesting to see Dennis Franz, Gordon Clapp, Gail O'Grady and Sharon Lawrence out of character, because they're all nearly unrecognizable if you've only ever seen them on the show. Franz looks the same physically, but the change in demeanour - he's actually (by all accounts and observations in these extras) a very pleasant and jovial guy - is so dramatic that you can tell with a glance whether or not he's in character as Sipowicz.

The documentary touches on the Caruso issue, but not in detail. The worst it gets is when Steven Bochco, the show's co-creator and executive producer, openly says that before season two began production he was explicitly stating in no uncertain terms that he wanted Caruso (who was still under contract) gone.

And if you're the prurient sort, the documentary has a segment on the show's nudity and sexual content, with a montage containing side-boob aplenty.

The much shorter "Cast Blotter" and "Love on NYPD Blue" features are also good. The first includes interviews and anecdotes about casting the actors for the show (Blue's casting director thought David Schimmer was destroying his career by following up a strong recurring role on NYPD Blue with some sitcom, which turned out to be Friends). The second covers not only onscreen romance between characters (yes, with more clips showing just how close the NYPD Blue camera could get to showing nipples) but also a real-life relationship (Amy Brenneman and director Brad Silberling) that started on the set and culminated in marriage and children.

The "Cast and Crew Bios" are standard text-on-the-screen, press-Next-for-the-next page stuff. Few will be interested, as usual for this sort of thing, but if you are (I am), be warned: the DVD designers, in their infinite wisdom, chose to frame much of the small text against light-coloured background photos. Prepare to try to read white letters against sightly off-white backgrounds.

Finally, even I lost interest in the "Script-to-Screen Comparison" feature and gave up on it. You get the standard onscreen text of the script, then you can click a button to see the scene as aired. I read and watched a few without finding any significant differences between the script and the final version. I may as well have just turned the closed captioning back on if I wanted to read the dialogue.

The 2003 DVDTalk review of this set said, "22 episodes, 6 commentaries, 90 minutes of featurettes, and a MSRP of $59.98 equals a must-have for ANY fan of 'NYPD Blue', or cop shows in general." While I might not agree with that bottom line (sixty bucks would be a lot for me to throw at DVDs), I found my copy at Wal-Mart for under twenty dollars. At that price, I grabbed it so fast that the box may have broken the sound barrier on its way into my cart. I later found seasons three and four on that same rack at similar prices, and bought them, but not as quickly, because Wal-Mart (or at least my local store) has never stocked season two.

While I'm on that theme, my local Wal-Mart had jack squat for TV season DVDs this year. For the last few years they had big displays, in several places around the store, of reasonably priced seasons (usually $20 or less) of pretty much everything you could think of. This year, if it wasn't Lost or Sex In The City, they didn't bother with it. They didn't even have Stargate or Buffy the Vampire Slayer (both shows with strong geek appeal, so my wife collects both), forcing me to come up with an alternate Christmas present idea. I finally went with the second X-Files movie. Yeah, I hear it was bad (I would never contemplate watching it myself, because, y'know, X-Files...), but it completes her collection.

There probably won't be another NYPD Blue Season DVD Notes entry on here for a while. I still don't have season two (although I taped the entire run, and digital copies are available if you know where to look), and while seasons three and four are on my shelf, season one sat there for over a year (possibly over two, I'm not sure) before the shrinkwrap even came off. Seasons five and up haven't been released on DVD yet, and I'm not holding my breath waiting for them.

That may be for the best. There's a strong inverse correlation between how much time I spend in front of the TV and how much I actually get posted here. It's not coincidence that I finished watching season one (i.e., stopped watching TV) and posted this on the same day. If I don't start watching something else, I may be back tomorrow.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of the castle at Disney World, just because I don't think this image is quite omnipresent enough. Hasn't it ever occurred to anybody to take a picture of this thing? ("This is my picture of Cinderella's castle! There are many like it but this one is mine!")

Saturday, December 20, 2008

How I Spent My Saturday Vacation

Sorry for the dearth of updates around these parts of late. I'm probably going to wind up with fewer posts this month than last month, and I was out of the country and offline for half of last month.

The doctor's being kind of hedgey now on whether I have (or had) pneumonia. All I know is that the cough is still hanging on after over a month. The antibiotics seemed to help, for the week that the prescription lasted. I also have some Coactifed that I'm supposed to take "when or as needed" to settle the cough down, but I've taken very few of them. They've got a narcotic component, and I'm not a big fan of anything that impairs my faculties. I outright refuse to take one if I'll be driving in the next twelve hours or so, and try to avoid taking them before or during work. Those two conditions cover pretty much all the time.

The most noticeable lasting effect of my cold (or whatever it is / was) besides the coughing is lethargy. I have several fairly substantial posts in various stages of draft, and ideas for a bunch more, but can't quite muster up the gumption to finish any of them. So, since this blog is a self-indulgent personal journal as much as anything else, here's how I spent the last 36 hours or so.

Not long after I got home from work yesterday, Dad came by to pick up my son. The grandparents offered to take him for the night so my wife and I could finish up our Christmas shopping. We were almost done anyway, but that let us finish it off.

After that, I laid down on the couch around 8:30. I woke up to see Jay Leno doing his monologue, which means it was 12:30 (I'm in the Atlantic time zone, as my membership in the New Brunswick Blogroll implies). My first priority was getting the TV switched over to Letterman ASAP. I once went about seven years (ages 14 to 21-ish) without missing a night of Letterman's show. Not an episode - a night. Including repeats. I got over that a long time ago.

After watching Jerry Seinfeld come out and do his bit, I went to bed. I had occasional coughing fits through the night, but eventually crashed out solidly and didn't get up until after noon.

This seems to have have helped my cold more than any of the medications. I feel better today than I have in several weeks. Over a dozen hours of sleep is a great healer.

Since my son was still with his grandparents and our errands were done, my wife and I spent the day defining the word "puttering". She crocheted and watched whatever happened to be on TV. I cleaned the basement up a little (although it still looks like it's been ransacked by a horde of barbarians), scanned a bunch of papers, and tagged a lot of audio files.

I listened to the last section of Ann Coulter's newest book, If Democrats Had Any Brains They'd Be Republicans. I love Coulter's books, but the audiobook seemed more like a disjointed series of one-liners than a cohesive work. Only at the end did I notice a credit for "abridgement"; if I'd realized it was abridged, I wouldn't have bothered listening in the first place.

I'm not a big fan of audiobooks in the first place. I like the idea, they just don't work for me. I get engrossed enough in books, including audiobooks, that I don't like doing anything mentally taxing at the same time. If I could devote the attention required to listen closely, then chances are I could be doing something more productive with that time, so I usually do that instead. That includes reading an actual book. I read much faster than an audiobook's narration, so I can plow through a print edition much faster than an audiobook.

I'll embrace audiobooks wholeheartedly if I ever have long stretches of time where I'm doing something relatively mindless - a long solitary commute, perhaps. For now I walk to work every day, only about ten minutes each way, and I'm never in a car by myself long enough to bother starting into an audiobook. They just don't fit into my lifestyle, such as it is, for the time being.

I also read some comics. I'm reading my way through a nearly complete collection of Knights of the Dinner Table comics. They're great stuff if you're at all into gaming. I've never been much of a role-player, but I play pretty much any other type of game whenever I get the chance, and I've spent lots of time hanging around role-players, so I think this book is terrific. If you aren't a gamer, let me assure you that the characters, situations and dialogue are eerily accurate. The guys who make the strip are gamers themselves, and have captured the culture very well.

I assembled and burned a mixed CD today. Dad called me a couple of days ago and asked me to put "John Lennon's 'So This is Christmas' " on a CD for Mom. Being a huge Beatles nerd I corrected him on the title, Happy Xmas (War Is Over), and asked if that was the only song she wanted.

"She wants some background music for Christmas dinner," he answered, "and that's the only song she mentioned. You could repeat it a couple of times if there's room on the CD."

Instead I assembled a full CD of Christmas music, putting the Lennon track first. When I started out I thought I'd have trouble filling an 80-minute disc. As it turned out, I had to edit ruthlessly to get most of the tracks I wanted. I started searching my collection and found entire Christmas albums by Ringo Starr, Phil Spector and associates (very few of whom he's since shot), City On A Hill, Steve Lukather, VeggieTales (two, actually), the Muppets (also two), the Chipmunks, Amy Grant, Barenaked Ladies, and several more. I also had a few various artists Christmas compilations, lots of classics like Bing Crosby's White Christmas, Chuck Berry's Merry Christmas Baby, and a whole lot more. The compilation turned out much better than I had expected, although I already handed it off and didn't save a copy of the final track listing. It ended with a choral recording of the Hallelujah Chorus.

I've identified prima facie evidence that most Christmas music isn't very good: nobody listens to it anytime except at Christmas. If we actually enjoyed it on its own merits, we'd be as likely to listen to it as anything else in our music collections, at any time. My wife argued against this theory by saying that since a lot of "Christmas" music is actually more about winter and snow in general, it just doesn't cross our minds during the rest of the year. To that I respond, people still listen to the Beach Boys in January.

I got a lot of scanning done today. I'm a pack rat, especially when it comes to documents. I still have all the financial records from the business I owned (and closed almost a decade ago), all of my tax returns and bank records ever, etc. A couple of years ago I embarked on a long-term project intended to cut down on my document retention: scanning and shredding. Every once in a while I grab a pile of papers, feed them through a scanner (these days that means my Kodak Easyshare 5100), then after the scans are verified and saved (with backups, of course), shred the originals. Today I scanned such irreplaceable documents as the records from my year as a life insurance agent (1998), my car registration from 2005, and my minutes from a Sunday School teachers meeting in 2005.

Yeah, it would be a real shame to lose any of that stuff. You never know when I might need it.

Oh, and I also prepared the one Christmas card it occurred to me to prepare. The future recipient is probably reading this. It hasn't been mailed yet because, since I never mail anything, I don't keep stamps on hand.

While engaging in all these other minor activities, after the Ann Coulter audiobook was done I listened to some more audio files for tagging purposes. One of my pet peeves about filesharing is that very few people tag their files well, so I almost always wind up redoing it. I'm really glad I eventually found MP3tag. I spent a whole lot of hours over several years manually tagging and naming each individual audio file in my collection before I stumbled across. Now I consider MP3tag indispensable; it's one of the first things I install whenever I reformat or set up a new PC. Anybody with a collection of more than a few audio files (it handles pretty much any format, not just MP3s) should check it out.

Today I listened to and tagged some Beatles bootleg stuff (documentary tracks from a "1978 Earth Day News" series, whatever that was) and a bunch of tracks from the Hanna-Barbera Cartoon Classics and Wacky Sounds box set. I'm into the third disc of the latter, which consists mostly of sound effects that will hurtle most listeners back into childhood. I'd love to see some sort of documentary showing exactly how they made some of those noises in the studio.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my son gazing into the aquarium. Beware doing so. Sometimes when you gaze into the aquarium, the aquarium gazes back into you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Male Mentality

Here's a transcript of a conversation I recently had with my son about the bedtime story he had selected. Looking at the cover of the book, I said, "I hope this story has monkeys in it." (It was a Clifford the Big Red Dog story which I already knew to be monkey-deficient.)

Him: "No, there are no monkeys in this story."

Me: "Too bad. Monkeys make any story better, don't they?"

Him: "No. Explosions."

The logical conclusion is that a book about exploding monkeys would be the most awesome bedtime story ever.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a topiary Mickey.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Choose Your Martha

My church, like many, has a sign out front with removable letters. A new message is posted regularly (I think weekly, but I don't always remember to check).

Most of the messages are a bit too cutesy for my liking ("God accepts knee-mail"), but I'm not the target audience. I'm there every week anyway. The signs are for the unchurched folks driving by, and if a message may work for them on any level (amusement, thought provocation, etc.), then I'm all for it. My personal favourite was "Sign broken - come inside for information."

Last week the sign said, "Have a Mary Christmas, not a Martha one."

That one's not bad. I thought at first that it might suffer a bit for requiring a certain level of Biblical literacy, but I found out otherwise at work on Friday. Some of my co-workers, who know I attend "that church with the funny signs", mentioned to me that they liked that one.

However, a bit of discussion showed that they didn't really get it.

They thought, reasonably enough, that "Mary" referred to the mother of Jesus. That's a reasonable assumption. A large majority of people in my area are nominally Roman Catholic. Most of them only attend church once or twice a year, and certainly haven't cracked the cover on a copy of the Catechism since they were thirteen (if then), but they hold dearly to that nominal tie. They're well trained in that when they hear the word "Mary" they automatically think of the mother of Jesus, usually adding a mental "hail" in front of it (although very few of them agree with or are even aware of the specifically Catholic Marian doctrines). Most of the women around here, especially if they were the firstborn girl in their family, have Mary as either their first or middle name. It doesn't matter which, since any of them who have Mary for their first name use their middle name on a day-to-day basis. That includes my wife. We'd been dating for quite a while before I found out that the name by which I knew her wasn't actually her first name.

The really interesting part came with their interpretation of "Martha". That had already been discussed and a consensus reached before I joined the conversation.

They thought that the sign was referring to Martha Stewart.

The great thing about this, the fact that shows the movement of the Holy Spirit, is that the sign actually works with that interpretation. Taken that way - and this is exactly how my co-workers took it - the sign meant, "Focus on Jesus this Christmas, instead of getting preoccupied with decorating, cooking and entertaining."

I commended my co-workers on their interpretive work, and endorsed that message. However, I also felt it important that they understand the original intention of the sign.

I took my Bible out of the backpack under my desk. This didn't startle anybody, because they already know it's always down there; I try not to pound it recklessly. I skimmed through until I found the relevant passage, Luke 10:38-42 (NIV):

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."
As I showed them this passage (it's short enough that no one objected to taking a look), it occurred to me that the point of the actual Scripture was exactly the same as the conclusion they had reached: focus on Jesus, not busywork. That's God's directing hand. They went down the wrong road, but wound up at the correct destination.

As a postscript, one of my co-workers asked how I found the passage so quickly (it took me maybe fifteen seconds of flipping). At first I just smiled and said, "Practice."

However, I then told them the real reason. I knew that passage was in Luke, because I remember Bruce Kuhn performing it when I saw him many years ago. Bruce is an actor who performs the Gospel of Luke as a one-man play. If you ever get a chance to see him do it, don't pass it up. I saw him over fifteen years ago, and it (obviously) still resonates with me today.

Knowing that it was in Luke and that it logically falls somewhere between the birth narrative and the Crucifixion was enough to narrow it down pretty closely. My Bible has pretty good section headings, so it was easy from there.

That lead to a couple of digressions. My co-workers were intrigued by the one-man play; they had no idea that the Gospel of Luke was composed as a letter between friends (and certainly didn't know who Theophilus was), so I got to present a little "Biblical composition and history" lesson.

Less encouraging was realizing, during my first attempts to explain who Mary and Martha were, that none of my co-workers had the slightest clue who Lazarus was. I certainly wouldn't expect Theophilus to be a household name, but I thought Lazarus was a pretty safe reference. Biblical literacy among the general public - even the at-least-nominally Christian public - is a thing of the past.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of alligators. I think. There may be a crocodile or two mixed in there as well.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Many Random Returns

Just to end the posting drought (I've got a few longer pieces in the works, but nothing ready), here are some random quick thoughts. There's no shortage of other sites talking about these things; do your own Googlin' for sources.


Widespread reports say that Michael Jackson has converted to Islam. Personally, I'll believe it when I see him fitting a dynamite vest on Blanket.


Some people are still whining about Omar Khadr not being back in Canada yet. Here's an idea: any Canadian who thinks he should be brought back should be required to have him living next door. Better yet, they can put the little darling up in their guest bedroom.

Until you're prepared to do one of those, shut up about bringing him back.


I read this on a page-a-day calendar that a guy in my office has:

Why is Christmas like a day at the office?

Because you do all the work and some fat guy in a suit gets the credit.


Another co-worker has this sign on top of her monitor:

and I'm not afraid to use them!

That sign moves her up six spots in my ranking of my co-workers, bringing her to number eleven. (It's a big office.)


My recovery from pneumonia is almost complete. There still seem to be one or two ravens left in my right lung, who occasionally try to peck their way out, but that's a definite improvement. I was pretty sure last week that the right side of my ribcage had been replaced with broken glass.

The best thing about this recovery is that my doctor had advised me to wash my hands a lot while I was sick. Now that I'm better, I can cut it out. That saves time in the men's room.

Between my vacation and the pneumonia, I just missed three entire weeks of work. That's my longest-ever stretch of absence. I wasn't even off that long when my son was born.


On December 1, CNN sent this to me as a Breaking News Alert:
The U.S. entered a recession in December 2007, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.
CNN guys? Something that happened a year ago is not, by any definition, Breaking News. Especially when that "something" is a set of arbitrary and subjective conditions having been met to claim that a vaguely defined intangible state has been entered.

While we're at it, which group of guys won any game of any sport does not qualify as Breaking News. Ever. Call a bowl as super as you like, it still won't matter.


I just got a new pair of boots. I note that here just so I can come back later and check how long they last. My footwear tends to develop holes, tears and general worn-out-ness very quickly. My wife once told me, "You're really hard on your shoes."

I replied, "How? What am I doing wrong? I put them on my feet and walk around."

She answered, "Well, you... ummm... never mind."

My Dad once had a pair of shoes fall apart after only a few days. He took them back to the store, where the clerk said, "Did you get them wet?" They weren't suede, or any other delicate material. Just normal shoes.

Dad replied, "Of course they got wet. I wore them the other day when it rained."

Clerk: "Oh, that explains it! You can't get shoes wet, or this happens to them!"

Needless to say, that shoe store hasn't gotten a lot of repeat business from my family.


My wife and I have been watching season 1 of NYPD Blue on DVD of late. Blue is my all-time favourite TV show. I have the entire run on tape, and three of the four released seasons on DVD (actually purchased, which is unusual for me).

I didn't watch the first season back when it originally aired. I came in when Jimmy Smits joined the cast, because I remembered and liked him from L.A. Law. I got to watch it from the beginning in reruns, several years later.

The main thing I notice from season 1 is that it was really The David Caruso Show. He was good as John Kelly, although I've never cared for any of his other work that I've seen. It's not surprising that he developed ego problems in that year, since the show was so blatantly trying to present him as the sole star.


I recently finished off a spindle of 100 DVD-roms. I opened it up and used the first one on August 26, 2007, so it lasted almost 15 months. That means I use one blank DVD about every 4.5 days. If you're affiliated with the RIAA or MPAA, feel free to assume that I'm obsessive-compulsive about backing up my e-mail and pictures.

There. I told you this one was going to be random.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of giraffes.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Politicalamity (It's - An - Ar - Chy...)

I'm out of the country for a few days, and Larry, Curly, and Moe stage a coup. Well, that's just perfect. I can't leave you kids alone for a minute, can I? This is why we can't have nice things. Do I even dare look at your rooms?

Make no mistake, this is an attempted coup. These chuckleheads are trying to overturn the results of a democratic election because they didn't get the results they feel they were entitled to. (It's also what my last post was really about, in case my mediocre satirical skills left that unclear.)

Hey, if any of our friends south of the Parallel still have some of those "Sore / Loserman" signs left in the garage from the 2000 tantrum election, send them up. We've got a new use for them.

I hope the Governor General either laughs at them and kicks them to the curb, or tells them to go ahead and force another election. We'll see then what the Canadian voters think of this grandstanding stunt.

The Coalition leaders claim this is all about Harper's failure to provide a plan to rescue the foundering economy. This is a lie on several levels.

First, the Canadian economy isn't in crisis. We didn't have terrible legislation passed in the mid-nineties forcing our banks to issue mortgages to people who clearly weren't capable of making their payments. That legislation is the root cause of the current American economic problems.

Incidentally, it was obvious to anyone with an IQ over room temperature that when the U.S. federal government gave a big bag of money to the banks, who each should have been allowed to stand or fall on their own, that other industries would soon come crying with caps in hand. Sure enough, the big three automakers now "need" a large taxpayer-funded bailout. The only question is who will be next in line, saying that their industry is too important to be allowed to fail and they need to be given enough public money to swim around in like Scrooge McDuck. I'd guess the airlines (again), big steel, or, just for the chutzpah factor, oil companies.

Second, Harper just gave a speech outlining his economic plans. These opposition party leaders all signed off on it with no objections, only to turn around a few days later and claim that our government needs to be overthrown on the basis of its contents.

Third, it's come out that this coup has been in the works since not long after the election, long before Harper ever gave that speech outlining his economic plans. There is nothing he could have said in that speech that would have made a difference.

The opposition putzes - sorry, make that "leaders" - have outlined a $30 billion "economic stimulus" package as part of their coup. This is nothing more than $30 billion of taxpayer money - that's my money, and yours too if you're a Canadian - being given to people who these Coalition boobs think will use it better that you and I would have. This is nothing other than forced redistribution of assets, AKA theft.

This is how I feel about all non-essential publicly funded programs or agencies, by the way. Take one of my favourite whipping boys, the CBC. I have nothing against the existence of a broadcasting network whose programs of are no interest to me. I just don't bother tuning in. If you find their programming worthwhile, then by all means enjoy.

However, where we run into a problem is when I have to pay for those shows, via my tax dollars, that you enjoy but I don't. Any argument in favour of public funding for the CBC boils down to "I like it, so you have to pay for it." This is selfish, unethical and immoral. Argue its educational value, its cultural value, whatever - I don't care. It's all "I like it, so you have to pay for it."

This is why I'll argue against the existence of the CBC, but not, say, MuchMusic (Canada's MTV wannabe), which I find to be a cesspool. As long as I'm not paying for it, and I can just turn it off in my household, then its mere existence is not an affront to me. If you like it, go ahead and pay for it, but leave me out of it. I'll do you the same courtesy by not forcing you to chip in on my NYPD Blue DVD box sets.

But back to this $30 billion. Here's a little tip for the three clowns who signed the coup statement (or people who don't see a problem with the American bailouts): there are private institutional investment bodies run by people who are much, much smarter than you. If pumping money into a sector / corporation / whatever was a worthwhile idea, i.e. if it would generate more revenue than the funds infused, then they would be doing it with their own money. If pumping money in isn't going to be profitable, then there's no "economic stimulus" involved, but just pouring cash into a bottomless pit.

There's a catch-22 here. The only logical conclusion is that the government should not be funding private industry. You can call it a bailout, you can call it "economic stimulus" - put whatever lipstick you want on that particular pig, it won't get any more attractive.

Those institutional investors have registered their opinion of this coup pretty clearly. On the day it was announced, the Canadian stock market plummeted.

Finally, the actual impetus for this coup attempt was nothing whatsoever to do with the Canadian economy at large. Yes, as previously noted, the plans were being drawn up not long after the election. However, the reason that the trigger actually got pulled was Harper's threat to cut off taxpayer funding to political parties. What a radical concept - having political parties funded by people who actually support them, rather than going through my pockets with a vacuum cleaner.

This is obviously the way it should be anyway. Once again, it's immoral and unethical to take my money by force (yes, by force - stop paying your taxes and see what happens) and give it to the separatists in the Bloc or the socialists in the NDP. It's just as wrong to take money from airheaded leftists like Heather Mallick and give it to Harper and company, and for the same reasons. If a political party can't survive by drumming up its own support, then let it die.

These things should not need to be explained to adults. It's wrong to take what doesn't belong to you. It's wrong to force people who don't share your political party's positions to pay for their promotion. It's wrong to force other people to pay for TV and radio shows just because you enjoy them.

On a side note, I'm entertained by the fact that in all this turmoil Jack Layton and the NDP are frequently referred to as "socialists", and nobody bats an eye or raises an objection. That's because they're socialists and everybody knows it. However, John McCain (and many conservatives) have been pilloried for calling Barack Obama a socialist for the same reason. I remember one interviewer asking McCain if he planned to apologize to Obama for using the word. You might as well apologize to a mackerel for calling it a fish.

Once again, Ezra Levant has what's probably the best analysis and commentary on this whole Coalition Coup situation. I am remiss in not having pointed out his return to regular blogging after having taken a short hiatus. He's back in business, and you really should be reading his site long before you read this one.

Time to turn off the joke machine for a second, because what I'm about to write is serious (I know it's hard to tell sometimes). For a long time now I've expected that I'll get a firearms licence and some nice noisy boomsticks somewhere down the line. Partly because the target shooting I did recently was so much fun, but also because I expect the sociopolitical situation in North America to deteriorate to the point where it would be irresponsible to not have some means of protecting one's family on hand.

Watching les Stooges Trois hold their little photo op session the other night, I turned to my wife and said, "I think it might be time for that firearms licence." I had always thought that the threat would come from Muslims, but it's starting to look like the Coalition of the Witless may be able to drum up some communist and / or separatist thugs to send around as cannon fodder.

Talking about firearms gives me a good segue to discussing what's going on down in the U.S. of A. Because I was there to keep an eye on things last week, things aren't quite as crazy there as in Canada, but they're still entertaining.

Firearms sales spiked when Obama was elected. There are only three reasons that I can see for an election triggering a rush on firearms.

First, if people think that the incoming government will move to ban firearms (or certain firearms) and they want to do their shopping while they still can. This is the weakest reason, since it presumes that some sort of grandfathering will be included in the ban to let them keep their new toys. That's not always a given.

Second, if people don't trust the new government to protect them from the bad guys. This is a much better reason, and probably the main reason for the American surge in firearms sales. Crackheads aren't less likely to bash your skull in, nor Muslims less likely to cut your throat, just because the new government is "sensitive to their feelings of cultural disenfranchisement".

Third, if people foresee a need to protect themselves from that new government itself. This probably isn't a huge factor down in the States, but it'll be a big one in Canada if this coup succeeds.

I see that Barack Obama has given the American people their April Fools day present early, by appointing Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State. Didn't the Democratic primaries make it clear that even leftist voters didn't want Hillary having any foreign policy influence?

As Obama correctly pointed out during their primary wars, Hillary is completely unqualified in the area of foreign policy. The closest she ever came to managing a crisis was being in the room when Bill's phone rang in the middle of the night. Maybe. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. For that matter, if having been with Bill Clinton when the phone rang about some midnight crisis was a qualification for a cabinet post, then there are probably a whole bunch of Hooters waitresses who would be eligible.

I have to wonder why, if you've decided to go with a Clinton in your cabinet, you'd take door number two. Bill may not be eligible, though, since he's a former president and Secretary of State is a line-of-succession position for the presidency.

I'm partial to the theory that Hillary herself started the rumours that she would be picked for the post. She had her acolytes bang that drum until it would have been awkward for Obama to not offer her the spot. The woman is, after all, composed of nothing but naked ambition. Sorry for mentioning "naked" in the same context as Hillary.

My apologies if this entry is a little more rambling and disjointed than usual. I'm medicated. I went to the doctor yesterday, and my cold turns out to be pneumonia (probably - we have to wait for lab results to confirm). This is a minor inconvenience. Any respiratory diagnosis that doesn't include the word "metastasis" goes in the win column in my books.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of an airplane, taken way too early in the morning through a window that reflected a lot more than I expected. That's right, kids, the vacation pictures have begun!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Big League Do-Overs

Meanwhile, in Canada, three hockey teams who were decisively eliminated during the quarterfinal round of last spring's Stanley Cup playoffs have formed a coalition and demanded that the cup be taken from champion Detroit Red Wings and given to them instead.

The three losing teams argue that if they had cherry-picked the best players from each of their teams and formed one "superteam", they probably would have defeated the Red Wings. Furthermore, they point out, their combined game attendance and goals scored for the year far surpass the totals for the Wings (although each team's separate total is considerably lower), making it clear that hockey fans prefer their coalition to the team that actually won.

They have asked the NHL Commissioner to strip the Red Wings of the cup and give it to them to share. They are ready to assume the championship duties of, I don't know, standing around the Cup for pictures and maybe drinking something out of it, effective immediately. (I did as much research as I'm willing to in this area by looking up who the actual 2008 champs were.)

The Commissioner's response should be issued later this week; petulant losers across the country wait with bated breath, hoping that their dream of prestige without actual accomplishment will finally come true.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a Ghost Bride.

Monday, December 1, 2008

I'm Back, And I'm Sick

I've returned safely from vacation. Unfortunately, I brought a really nasty cold back with me. It's making me wonder whether malaria is prevalent in Florida.

I'm planning on blogging my trip in some detail, probably on a basis of one daily longish entry per day of the trip. I took a lot of notes. Think of it as liveblogging with a time delay (mandated by the FCC ever since Sam Kinison and Richard Pryor liveblogged back in the eighties). Those entries will start whenever I finish writing them. I'd like to stick to the daily posting schedule, regardless of the delay time, so I'll wait until I've finished writing to make sure I don't slip and blow the schedule. I'll post other stuff in the meantime. Comics publishers, take note.

For the time being I'm staying home from work even longer than scheduled, subsisting on Buckley's (taken in carefully measured doses of One Swig, precisely every Whenever I Feel Like It), orange juice, and lots of various chicken-based soups. I find myself pining for the bar mitzvah I never had.

My son was sick for a long time before we even left, and is still showing symptoms. He seems to have been cursed with my constitution, so the slightest cold sets up shop in him for anything up to a couple of months.

Before we left, he got a prescription for a pretty potent cough medicine. I was at work when my wife gave him his first dose of it, and when I got home they were both frazzled. My wife studied veterinary medicine for a while, and knows how to administer oral medication to uncooperative farm animals. Turns out that the same techniques are effective with a five-year-old. He got his medicine, but it wasn't a peaceful scene.

After the ordeal, she asked him why he had been so difficult, since normally he takes medicine very easily. He pointed at the bottle, and said, "The label says it may cause drowsiness. It's daytime. I don't want to get sleepy!"

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of the moat project in my neighbourhood. On my monitor, this shot had a neat strobing effect on the bricks that I hope shows up in the posted copy. If not (and I don't think it will), then shake your head back and forth really fast while looking at it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Another Game I'll Probably Never Play

I picked up Trivial Pursuit, the Saturday Night Live DVD Edition, at a local dollar store (although it cost three dollars, constituting blatant false advertising). My wife, much to her credit, agreed to try it with me. That had no chance of being a fair match, since I watched SNL faithfully for over twenty years, whereas she only saw an occasional few minutes and was never a big fan.

The game seems fine for what it is, although it's far more difficult than I had expected. I guess if you want to write thousands of SNL questions, you have to start referencing some of the more obscure material. My wife and I played for about an hour, and Denny Dillon's name came up twice. That qualifies as getting obscure.

I'd definitely recommend the game to even casual SNL fans, if only for the player tokens, which are miniatures of popular characters. I can't even stomach most of the chosen characters (Mary Catherine Gallagher, Mango, Will Ferrell's cheerleader, etc.), but the inclusion of a land shark and Belushi's samurai make it worthwhile.

I had hoped to see the game going for decent prices on eBay, because that dollar store still has a big shelf full of them and I could have bought some for resale, but no such luck. Lots of people can't find bidders at ten dollars, and even some people who are willing to start at a buck aren't getting buyers. So much for that college fund idea.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a big ugly big. This picture was taken right after he and Godzilla flipped a coin for the right to crush Tokyo.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Where In The World Is Zirbert Sandiego

By the time you read this, I'll already be gone.

On vacation, that is!

Now I see why the Simpsons writers keep using that joke over and over. It's more fun when you're the one doing it.

Anyway, I'm on vacation in a undisclosed location. I'll talk about it when I get back. This post, and some other recent ones, and maybe some yet to come, you'll just have to wait and see, are being written in advance and posted using the Blogger post scheduling function. Hopefully it's working correctly.

I may be (and may have already been...) checking in here while away, but I didn't want to spend my vacation time hunched over a computer writing posts. See you soon with new stuff. And maybe even before that with more pre-written stuff...

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of something they did recently to an apartment building in my neighbourhood. I thought maybe they were putting in a moat, but to my disappointment they filled the trench back in a couple of days later. I had hoped for a drawbridge, and maybe some crocodiles.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lead Me Not Into Temptation

My son has an ear infection. Definitely not the first, and probably not the last. Saturday night I wound up visiting the emergency room at 11:00.

The antibiotic they gave him didn't soothe the pain he was in for long, so I wound up driving around at 4:00 Am looking for pediatric painkillers. I finally found an all-night gas station that had some children's Tylenol in a display behind the counter. After asking about it, I finally had to get the two clerks to hand it to me to read the box. Neither of them could confirm whether the words "pain relief" appeared on the packaging. Not a word of lie, I honestly think that both of them were illiterate.

The best part of this story, though, came when I went to the pharmacy the next day to get his prescription for Amoxycillin (a frequent guest in our home) filled. Here's the actual conversation I overheard between the two pharmacists. Or pharmacy technicians, or whatever - all I know is they took the little piece of paper away then brought me a bottle of medicine:

"This Amoxycillin smells so good. I could just drink the whole bottle."

"That would probably kill you. You're really allergic, right?"

"Yeah, but it smells so good."

"You probably shouldn't even be handling that."

For some reason, this pleased me for the rest of the day.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of something else my wife made out of fluffy string by using pointy sticks. She informed me after the last one of these I posted that the sticks are, in fact, hooked. Such subtle distinctions are lost on me.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reading Log: Sweet Thursday At The Movies

Sweet Thursday is the fourth of John Steinbeck's books that I've read, after Of Mice And Men, Cannery Row, and The Grapes Of Wrath (in that order). I haven't done a writeup yet on Grapes, but I own that one and Sweet Thursday is already overdue from the library, so it moves to the front of the line.

I've also watched the movie adaptation of Cannery Row, which is apparently being released on DVD soon. I'll be discussing it along with this book. You may be wondering why I'm lumping the movie Cannery Row in with the book Sweet Thursday; it's because, despite its title, the movie is actually an adaptation of the later book.

Fair warning: there will be spoilers from here on in. If you don't want to know what happened in a half-century-old book or its quarter-century-old movie adaptation, then get thee to a nunnery. Or at least quit reading this entry.

Sweet Thursday is a sequel to Cannery Row, set in the same place about a decade later. Some characters have gone, new ones have entered, and some have been through life-changing experiences. The gap between the books included World War II, and at least two characters from the first book have stories of their wartime military service told.

Sweet Thursday is much more linear and cohesive than Cannery Row. The first book was largely a series of related but independent scenes, many of which had little connection to each other and could have been told in a different order without harming the overall work. Sweet Thursday has a unifying plot.

The plot is a fairly clich├ęd and predictable love story, but it's well told. It's your standard boy-meets-girl. As per the formula, they take an instant dislike to one another, but you know all along that they'll wind up together in the end. The familiar plot can be excused, because it's pretty well established that there are really only so many plots in all of literature (and any other media). Complaining that a novel has a familiar plot would be like complaining that you don't like a new song because another songwriter already used D minor.

Sweet Thursday succeeds because the characters are as likable as the ones in Cannery Row (no surprise, since many of them are holdovers), the side stories are entertaining, and the whole book is quite funny. Cannery Row had a sense of resignation about it. This book, although it shares the same setting, has a sense of celebration.

From the introduction, in which some of the derelicts from Cannery Row break the fourth wall to discuss their misgivings about that book, it's clear that Steinbeck intends Sweet Thursday as a comedy. That introduction also made repeated use of the word "hooptedoodle", so you can blame Steinbeck for the titles of some of my recent posts. The comedy works, and there are two scenes, both near the end, that made me laugh out loud: when it becomes clear how Hazel intends to help Doc get Suzy's attention, and when we find out that Suzy can't drive (after she's already agreed to drive Doc's car on a long trip).

Sweet Thursday is light entertainment compared to the deeper themes of Steinbeck's other novels that I've read, but it works very well on that level. In those other books, Steinbeck wanted to make the reader think about the human condition. In this one, he wanted to lighten up and make the reader smile. It's a credit to his ability that he succeeds at both goals.

As for the movie, although it's called Cannery Row, as far as I could see it's based entirely on Sweet Thursday. The opening credits say that it was based on both books, but I can't remember a single line or scene that was specific to the first book. I can only assume that the studio considered Cannery Row to be the more marketable title. Perhaps they thought that a few literate moviegoers (they still existed back then) might pass on a movie called Sweet Thursday because, recognizing the title, they would think they had missed the first movie. Shades of "But I haven't even read Henry The Seventh yet!"

I would not recommend the movie, and I certainly wouldn't want anyone to judge the book (or any of Steinbeck's other work) based on this mediocre adaptation.

For starters, I didn't buy Nick Nolte as the intellectual Doc. Although a capable actor, he simply doesn't have the air of a genius. It's worth noting that in a monologue where Doc states his actual IQ score, the movie lowers it considerably from the book. The IMDB Trivia page for this movie speculates that the producers did this deliberately to avoid stretching the audience's credibility past the breaking point.

Nolte is too rugged and rough around the edges for Doc. He would have been perfect for Mack, though - in fact, when I first heard that Nolte was in the movie, I assumed that would be his role. Jeff Goldblum would have made a good Doc, I think. I also never pictured Doc as dressing like Indiana Jones.

It was cool to see Mrs. Roper as the brothel proprietor, though.

The movie moved both too quickly and too slowly. Perhaps it was a result of the compression necessary to turn a novel into a film (or in this case two novels, although as noted they dealt with that by ignoring the first one), but some of the character development seemed much too fast. In the book, I believed Suzy's acceptance of her new lot in life at the outset of the story. The movie had her making the transition from waiting tables to prostitution just a bit too quickly and smoothly for my way of thinking. Perhaps I travel in the wrong (or right) social circles, but that doesn't seem like a casual career switch to me.

However, the movie bogs down in other scenes. There are two in particular, neither of which have any basis in the book: an interminable and torturous dancing sequence, and a baseball game that seems to take longer than the actual pennant race.

The baseball game brings up another sore point for me with the movie: there was no need to add the silliness about having been a baseball player to Doc's backstory. The books had no hint of that, and it doesn't fit the character that Steinbeck created.

Worse, the filmmakers then used that nonsense to tie Doc's backstory to the backstory of the Seer in the most trite fashion imaginable. In the book, the Seer doesn't get or need an explanation; he just is. He exists and relates to the other characters entirely on his own terms. The movie takes away his mystery, destroying everything interesting about him in the process.

The other changes were a mixed bag. I can almost buy Mack being a boogie-woogie piano player, but I can't understand why the screenwriters decided to cut my favourite line of dialogue from the book, from very near the end:

She was headed for the door. She whirled and faced him. Her brows were straight and her mouth taut. Then she took a slow breath and her lips became full and turned up at the corners and her eyes shone with incredible excitement.

"Brother," said Suzy, "you got yourself a girl!"
Instead, the filmmakers chose to frame this scene just like the ending of almost every other romance movie ever made. Violin swells, a long wordless kiss, blah yadda blah, and roll credits. This movie would have been much better if the director had been willing to take some risks instead of using the same cookie-cutter as every other hack in Hollywood.

The bottom line is that I'd definitely recommend the book (as long as you read Cannery Row first, of course), but the movie is only for fans of mediocrity.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of the view from my bedroom window. How bad can life be?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Best Report Card Comment Ever

Courtesy of my son's gym teacher:

"He has difficulty moving his body through space safely and with control."

This demonstrates reason # 352 why I couldn't be a gym teacher. I would have cut to the chase and used the phrase "careens like a drunken pinball."

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my son about to careen down a slide like a drunken pinball.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Post-Election Hooptedoodle (U.S. Edition)

Got some more election / U.S.A. politics stuff to purge. This is a long one, so I might have gotten it all out of my system for a while. Or maybe not. We'll all find out together.

Just after the election, some of my co-workers were discussing what the future holds for Sarah Palin. "Rehab, probably," said one.

I asked them, more sharply than they expected, why they would say that. I added, "Just because you don't like her doesn't make her a junkie."

Taken aback, they stammered out something like "going to rehab doesn't mean you're a junkie" (Right. It means you sold the most Girl Scout cookies of anybody in your whole troop) and tried to get out of the conversation. I let it drop.

Thinking about it later, I tried to figure out why their remark, among all the ignorant leftist gloating that was going on in that room, was what I responded to. I think I've got it.

I wasn't being particularly protective of Palin. Worse things were said about her without my batting an eye. However, it frequently occurs to me that most of the people who call her stupid - the most common comment I heard about her during and after the election - are far less intelligent than she is.

I was being protective of comedy.

Good comedy tends to reside at one end of the spectrum or the other: either completely absurdist or shining a light on some truth. A "Palin in rehab" joke is neither. Because it is neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm, then it should not come out of anyone's mouth. Lukewarm comedy is lame and sad, although judging from talk show monologues it sells well.

Instead of suggesting that Palin will wind up in rehab, put a spin on it. I hear that her husband's been known to enjoy a few drinks; say that she'll be spending 2009 as his chauffeur because of his suspended driver's licence. Children of famous people are under even stranger pressures than most adolescents, and often make disastrously bad decisions about what to put into their bodies; say that she'll spend the next few years visiting the kids in rehab.

To say she'll be in rehab, with no context or justification of any kind, is offensive because it's so lazy. If you're going to make jokes about someone, put a modicum of effort into it.

Someone else came over to me the day after the election and, clearly hoping to gloat, asked what I thought of the results. I said, "What a horrible, humiliating night...for Obama."

Their eyebrows shot up, and they asked how I could possibly say that.

"Easy. After Bush's two terms, given his incredibly low approval ratings and popularity, the Democrats should have been able to nominate a lava lamp and get almost 500 electoral votes. Obama's under 400. His winning by that close a margin is like me playing one-on-one against Michael Jordan, and his winning by ten baskets to seven. Nobody expected me to win, but the fact that it was that close is embarrassing to him."

They blinked at me a few times, said, "You're unbelievable", walked away, and left me alone for the rest of the day. I call that a win.

It was clear by early 2006 at the latest that the Republicans had essentially no chance of winning the presidency in 2008. Being a Republican in 2008 was a lot like being a fan of a lousy sports team. Some years you take the pennant, and other years are "building years." That's fan-speak for "We fully expect to get the tar knocked out of us this season, and we're making our excuses now."

McCain had to have understood this. It speaks well of him that he agreed to be the one to jump under the bus. I keep trying to explain to "non-political" friends that he wasn't liked by the Republican base; they didn't want to waste a "good" candidate on the 2008 suicide run. Note that a common theme on conservative blogs on November 5 was "At least now we can go back to not liking McCain."

In a sense, this election was a no-win scenario for the American people. They had to choose between a RINO and an empty suit. The fact that McCain came as close to winning as he did shows that the American people as a whole were deeply ambivalent about Obama.

Vocabulary sidebar: despite how you hear it used all the time, "ambivalent" doesn't mean "indifferent." Far from it, in fact. It means something closer to "pulled in two directions simultaneously". The word is formed by joining "ambi-", meaning "both" (think "ambidextrous"), with "-valent", meaning movement. To be ambivalent about something means that you can see both sides of the matter, find aspects of each side attractive, and are torn between them. End sidebar.

As I've said before, America will survive this. Although if Obama is as soft on terrorism as it looks like he intends to be, some individual Americans may not. Ask the families of 3000 or so people who didn't come home from work on September 11, 2001 what happens when the administration doesn't stand up to terrorists (and, just in case you didn't read that last link, I'm not talking about the Bush administration here).

I hope and pray that nothing so awful happens to America again. One of the few consolations is that another attack would at least remind people that there are actual serious bad guys in the world, and they need to be dealt with. If 9/11 could make Dennis Miller accept that, then another attack might even jolt a few Code Pink members to sanity.

Incidentally, that "serious bad guys" bit in the last paragraph is how I explain terrorism and war to my young son. He understands it. Why don't some politicians?

The people who lost out the most in this election were the peaceful majority in Iraq. He already seems to be hedging, but if Obama carries out the plans he hinted at during the campaign, then he'll be abandoning them to slaughter. The power void left by a sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces guarantees that Iraqis will suffer a massacre the likes of which they haven't seen since... well, since Saddam was in power.

During the campaign McCain should have continually hammered on the theme of wanting to bring American troops home as soon as possible, but not at the expense of leaving innocent people to be slaughtered. That could easily have been explained to the American people, and would have resonated, but it needed to be explicitly laid out at every opportunity. Instead it was only mentioned occasionally, almost offhandedly.

If Iraq is abandoned, then several years from now the world may get a reminder that there is no enemy more bitter than a former friend. Remember when the U.S. stopped supporting the freedom fighters in Afghanistan, and one of them (a guy named Bin Laden) was a little miffed over getting dumped like a Hugh Hefner girlfriend on her thirtieth birthday? What ever happened to that guy, anyway? He probably calmed down once he had time to cool off and think it over, and never did anything drastic, right?

Hopefully this defeat will re-energize the conservative movement (not necessarily the Republican party, although right now they're the only viable national-level game in town). Take hope, Americans, and remember that four years of Carter wound up getting Reagan elected. I've seen a theory that America decides to elect an unabashed liberal every sixteen years - that may be how long it takes people to forget how idiotic and ineffective liberalism is - but I'm not sure that three times constitutes a cycle. Check back here in 2024.

I've often been asked why I'm so interested in American politics, especially since until the last couple of elections I had minimal interest in the politics of my own country (that has changed).

Imagine that you're at a boxing match. You have a choice: you can either watch the shadows of the boxers, or look up and see the actual action.

That's why I follow U.S. politics instead of Canada's.

Plus, American politics are far more entertaining. Polarization makes for good television. During an election cycle we get to watch heartless greedy Nazis versus mindless tree-hugging surrender monkey potheads, or so the media (including blogs of all stripes) would tell it.

In Canada, everybody's pretty much in the centre. By American standards even our "Conservative" party would only be considered slightly to the right (and I would debate even that). All our other national-level players are centrist or off to the left by varying degrees. In recent years some of the minor national parties have drifted steadily further left, which is fine with me. It means they fragment the liberal vote even more, giving me hope that one day an actual conservative party will come along to win elections while they squabble over the global warming acolytes. (As always when I'm writing about Canadian politics, whether the words "liberal" and "conservative" are capitalized is deliberate and significant.)

It's also indisputable that American policies affect Canada deeply - sometimes more than the policies of our own government. The U.S. is our largest trading partner, greatest ally (despite the efforts of Canadian liberals - including Liberals - to poison that relationship in recent years), and we share the longest undefended border in the world. That's something to be proud of and to attempt to preserve.

On a related note, a lot of Canadians think it's funny that some Americans don't know much trivia about our nation. Rick Mercer strolls around California with a microphone and proves that Americans don't know the capital city of Saskatchewan, and Canadians point and hoot.

I don't find that funny in the slightest, and I certainly don't find it insulting. You have 300 million people, we have 30 million. Your gross national product is measured in trillions, ours is measured in moose pelts. There's no reason for an elephant to care much about the flea on its backside. Why should the average American know, or care, about Canadian minutiae?

For my part, I like to wait until some yokel has just snorted Tim Hortons coffee out their nose because somebody in Burbank doesn't know how warm Yellowknife gets in July, then ask them to name the capital of West Virginia, or the third president of the United States, or the year that the Alamo fell. When (not if) they don't know, I say, "Wow. I guess you're as stupid as an American then, huh?"

One final note. I watched the 2006 disintegration of Cynthia McKinney with great amusement (although I don't know how far down she had to fall to reach the lowest pits of crazy). As soon as I saw that was running a feature on The Most Insane People Ever To Run For President, I knew she had to be there. I was not disappointed.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of former Democratic congresswoman, Green Party presidential nominee, and race-baiting, cop-slapping, raving loon Cynthia McKinney at her finest.