Thursday, January 31, 2008

Defining Moments

We all have moments in our lives, often somewhere in childhood, that wind up influencing us the rest of the way. Here's one of mine.

It was in grade five or six, so I was probably right around ten years old. Our school held a sort of "academic olympics" - students were divided into teams to take part in various events like spelling bees, chess, and other ostensibly intellectual games. I was on the trivia team, playing Trivial Pursuit (or quite possibly a knockoff).

The word "team" is the problem here. Each answer the team gave had to be agreed on by the entire team by consensus. In the event of a stalemate, a majority vote would determine which answer the team would officially give.

Of course, in perfect dramatic fashion, it all came down to one final question. If my team got it right, we won and if not, then not. The question was: "What is your mother tongue"?

This is clearly not a valid question for this kind of game anyway, since the correct answer will vary. You might as well ask "What is your mother's maiden name?" But that's irrelevant here, especially since it doesn't matter in this case. The entire team was composed of WASPy unilingual English kids.

The answer, then, was obvious: English. My entire team disagreed. Everyone else figured that New Brunswick, where I lived at the time, was first colonized by the French. I have no idea (and less concern) now whether this is even true, having quite effectively blocked out the memory of my Social Studies classes, and I suspect that some Micmacs would dispute the point pretty vigourously anyway. In any event, it didn't matter for purposes of answering the question. I tried explaining what "mother tongue" means for a person, but to no avail. They were adamant that since the French colonized New Brunswick, French was the mother tongue of anyone living there. That was submitted as our answer, as per majority rule, and we lost.

It wasn't the losing that bothers me. I'm a gamer, and I'm always in it for the playing, not the winning. I don't mind losing, as long as the game itself is fun. It was why we lost. We lost because the majority would not listen to the one person involved who actually understood what the question meant and knew the right answer.

I was instantly galvanized into never again wanting to work with a group in the sense of trying to reach consensus, and into having no interest whatsoever in majority opinion. The average person doesn't even know enough about most things to know how little they know. This applies fully to me as well - get me out of the few topics I'm interested in, and I'll have no idea what I'm talking about. I try to defer to whoever I identify as the best-informed voice I'm hearing at the time, but I'm probably not much better than anyone else at (A) identifying that voice or (B) actually deferring instead of plowing ahead in cheerful ignorace. In (B), at least, I'm in good company (almost everybody).

This principle has guided me for my entire adult life. I can certainly work in groups, and have successfully done so many times, but whenever it's successful, it's because a simple principle has been applied: Let different people be in charge of different aspects of any project. Other people are always free to voice their opinions, but ultimately there must be one person who is in charge of any given area, in benevolent dictator fashion. Identify an expert - or at least someone with the enthusiasm and minimum requisite amount of knowledge - and let them be in charge. Give them the resources and support they need and get out of their way.

I also have it seared into me that majority opinion almost never matters. It's as good a system as we have for making corporate decisions (i.e., elections, referendums, etc.), but that's only by default. There's no other system that can survive in civil society, since any other system boils down to some people enforcing their will, for no clearly explicable reason other than "might makes right" - which it obviously doesn't - on others who have no recourse, and will lead inevitably over the long term to violent revolt. (Note that in my "teamwork" methodology above, no one is forced to be part of the team, even if that means quitting a job or dropping a class.)

Majority opinion has absolutely nothing to do with objective matters. The media loves to survey the uninformed on every topic under the sun, and none of it matters. Man-made global warming either is or is not happening, regardless of the results of the latest opinion polls. The economy either is or is not going into recession, regardless of the results of CNN's Quickvote.

Majority opinion also has nothing to do with morality. For example, pro-life and pro-abortion groups both love to report (spin) survey results to show that most people agree with their side. Why? None of it has the slightest impact on whether abortion is right or wrong. Solid majorities have been in favour of slavery at different times and in different societies. Anybody want to argue that that makes it OK? Or that, assuming that it is wrong, that it's only wrong because the majority says so (for now)?

It may give you - and me - a momentary warm fuzzy feeling to see people agreeing with us. Poll results may even give us hope that society is going the way we would like, or spur us to action by showing that it's headed for Hell in a handbasket. What majority opinion doesn't do, in almost all situations, is matter.

I like hearing other peoples' views. It often leads me to consider concepts that I hadn't, or to meditate on ideas I had given short shrift. It often teaches me something I didn't know (that's still a pretty huge set in the venn diagram of my mind). I sometimes wind up changing my mind, and other times continue to disagree, but hopefully with a better understanding of why. I will continue to listen and read widely, taking in as much as I can. I will continue to participate in public discourse. I will continue to associate with groups and teams for a wide variety of purposes, both personal and professional (even ranting ideologues gotta eat). What I will never again willingly do, though, is join (or remain in) a group where the truth can be overridden by the tyranny of the masses.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of the men's room wall in a local restaurant. This is painted right above the urinals (you can see the tops of them at the bottom of the photo).

A Theory

The entire province of Newfoundland shares the use of a single communal chicken.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my 2004 Christmas tree.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Another Reason Why People Don't Talk To Me

This is a conversation I recently had with a friend who was preparing for a visit to my place.

Him: "I have two betta fish. At least one of them will be coming with me."

Me: "So one might not be? Is it being left behind at home to punish it for misbehaviour?"

Him: (refusing to dignify this with an answer)

Me: "Oh, and just so you know, this is totally going into my blog."

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my 2003 Christmas tree.

A True Story From One Of My Jobs

Hey, kids! It's time for another True Story From One Of My Jobs!

This one's just a quickie. It goes back to when I was working in computer tech support for a large organization.

A middle manager-level person called me to their office, saying they had a problem. Seems their desk drawer was locked, and they had no idea what had happened to the key. They wanted to know if I could open it. Once I explained that my eerie magickal techie powers did not extend to being able to open locks at will, they asked if I "could maybe just break the lock somehow".

This person's salary was probably into six figures, or at least very close to it...

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my 2001 Christmas tree.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Jesus, Destroyer of Economies

Today we'll be talking about one of the miracles of Jesus - the Feeding of the Five Thousand. You probably already have at least a passing familiarity with this one. It's very well known, and even appears in most children's Bible storybooks. It's also the only miracle recounted in all four gospels - Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:32-44, Luke 9:10-17, and John 6:1-13. If you don't have a clue what it's all about, go read it (it's readily available online) and come on back. We're about to have a discussion.

Here's the question: what would Jesus' food duplication have done to the local economy? Do you suppose that local farmers, bakers, and fishermen were very happy to hear about this fellow passing out apparently unlimited free food from very small original amounts? Bear in mind that at the time, they would have had no way of knowing whether He was going to be doing this in a regular - or even ongoing - basis, or if He would be "expanding operations". What do you suppose Jesus would have responded to them?

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of some money.

A Quick Thought

So far, I've apparently been unable to say anything briefly on here. So I'll give it a shot with this:

Is it a bad sign if the character on M*A*S*H to whom you most relate is Major Winchester?

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my kitchen floor.

Monday, January 28, 2008

What's An "Irritable Saint"?

If you are a saint, God will continually upset your programme, and if you are wedded to your programme, you will become that most obnoxious creature under heaven, an irritable saint.

- Oswald Chambers
I read the quotation above many years ago, on the Reflections page of an issue of Christianity Today magazine. For those who aren't familiar with it, the Reflections page in each issue of CT is a compilation of short quotations from a wide variety of people, usually arranged around a theme. Each one is meant to affirm, encourage, or provoke thought.

This quote resonated with me. I've long since forgotten all the other quotes in that issue, and the vast majority of them in all the many issues I've read since (I've been a subscriber off and on, currently off), but never this one. I remember this one because I need this one.

A while later, I heard the song Breathe by the Newsboys, from the superb album Take Me To Your Leader:
Tuesday the third,
I'll call this entry "Mistake"
Cheap imitation
My life feels like a fake
A people person
Some days people annoy me
I'm growing edgy
Wednesday's title: "Avoid Me"

Breathe on me
Breathe oh Breath of God
Breathe on me
'Till my heart is new
Breathe on me
Breathe oh Breath of Life
Breathe on me
'Till I love like You do

Thursday, the fifth
I title "Drivers Beware"
Temperamental and I don't really care
I gave 'till I bled
You laughed when I fainted
Don't want to live this life
Bitter and tainted

(Repeat chorus)
The above is reprinted without permission of the copyright owners. I doubt the Newsboys are going to sue me over it, though, since I'm using it to testify that this song did to me exactly what they were hoping for: it convicted me.

This song became a recurring devotional for me. I still listen to it often - it's currently one of the tracks I carry on my jump drive for easy access. It's a great reminder that I, of all people, need to keep praying the chorus.

Time for a quick sidebar. What is a "saint"?

Fair warning time - my theology is really, really Protestant. Those of more universal creeds may disagree with me on this, and lots of other stuff that'll come up as I run out of surface-skimming topics to write about and begin digging a little deeper. I don't plan to set out to offend, but I'm not promising it'll never happen.

I am a saint.

So are plenty of my friends, and millions of other people worldwide. Including you, as far as I can know.

You see, scripturally, a saint is anyone who has accepted Christ as saviour and is trying to live for Him as best they can. Any and every professing, practicing Christian. Being a saint doesn't require passing any tests or performing any miracles, and it certainly doesn't depend on recognition from any ecclesiastical organization. Don't take my word for any of this. Check out I Samuel 2:9, Ephesians chapter 1, Philemon 1:4-7 (the chapter is unnecessary; if you don't know why, look it up and you'll see), and anywhere else the Bible uses the word saint (check out a concordance).

By calling myself a saint, I'm certainly not saying I'm perfect, particularly holy, or anything else positive. Just that I'm trying. That's all sainthood requires. When it comes to behaviour, I'm no saint (in the sense that phrase is normally, carelessly, tossed around). If there were an actual distinction to be made between sinner and saint purely on the basis of behaviour - or for that matter, thought or attitude - I would fall firmly in the sinner camp. Praise God that there is no such distinction. We are all sinners - the only difference is that the saints have repented and accepted the free redemption.

My "beloved sin", the one that keeps bobbing to the surface and making those around me question my sincerity, the one that I keep welcoming back, is irritability. In more theological terms, failure to love those around me as I have been called to do. I can be a royally cranky jerk. Out of the same mouth - mine - come both blessings and curses. My brothers, this should not be.

So, Oswald Chambers and the Newsboys speak to me. Or, more accurately, God uses them to speak to me.

This blog did not originally have a subtitle - it just said Zirbert across the top of the page. Then, very early on, I remembered that Chambers quote, and slapped myself in the forehead. "That would have made a much better blog title!" A few minutes later, another slap as I realized I could just add it on. Now I'm happy with it.

It also pleases me that I now come up on the first page of Google results for "Irritable saint" (yeah, I'm sure that gets searched a lot). I wonder if this post will make me the number one result....?

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of the light fixture in my hallway.

A True Story From One Of My Jobs

Hey, Kids! It's time for a True Story From One Of My Jobs!

We'll be going back a few years for this one, to a job I used to have but don't anymore. I worked in a small department that provided technical support to the rest of the operation. We got a call from a middle manager who had been asked by The Boss to provide some numbers. No problem. An important part of this middle manager's job was recording and analysing statistics for their department and providing all sorts of reports upon request from up the chain.

So, they did what they almost always did in these situations: called the support crew to come give them the numbers they needed. One of my colleagues - we'll call him Alex - agreed to go up and help them, mainly because he's much nicer and more patient than I am.

They needed to give The Boss the number of e-mails that come into a particular mailbox each month on average. Here's what took place:

Middle Manager: "The problem is, we don't have numbers broken down per month. We only have the annual total for each year."

(I'll give you all a minute to digest that.)

(There. Done?)

Alex, demonstrating remarkable restraint: "Well, just divide that by twelve, and you'll have the monthly average."

The grateful manager hauled out a pencil and paper and began dividing the year's total by 12, long-division style. Alex interceded and suggested that a calculator might be easier (and, although he's too tactful to say so, infinitely more likely to arrive at the correct answer). Then -

Middle Manager: "OK, that's the average for last year. Now how would we do that for the year before last?"

Alex, being kinder than me, didn't ask whether that year had more or fewer months to divide by.

We also realized, after he returned and told me this story, that he never explained why the annual totals had to be divided by twelve. I feel a sinking certainty that since that day, any time this manager has needed to calculate any average, they've divided whatever number they have to work with by twelve......

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my son's feet after a day of playing outside.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Sunday Poem

I think that I shall never see

A monkey quite as tall as me.

Unless, of course, it is an ape -

They come in every size and shape!

(TM) and (C) whatever my real name is, all rights reserved.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a dead dog's eye. (Taken well before she was dead.)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Free Speech In Canada

Let's jump right to the fun stuff - religion and politics. I'll write about the latest American Idol maybe next time.

Just kidding. Unless it's outright mockery, you can count on never seeing anything about American Idol on here. Unless I want to try getting some more search engine hits through gratuitous use of the phrase American Idol.

American Idol American Idol American Idol American Idol. There, that should do.

Today's topic is Free Speech in Canada. Yep, that's rapidly becoming an oxymoron. Although the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the closest thing Canada has to the American Constitution, only all soft and vague - you know, Canadian) supposedly protects freedom of speech, in practice courts have repeatedly ruled that "Charter Rights" are only protected as far as judges want them to be. In particular, if two rights are in conflict (or supposedly in conflict), the judge resolves it by doing whatever gets them accolades from the craziest leftists (i.e., a positive mention on the CBC).

Most of these conflicts (that I've noticed) have occurred when someone's freedom of expression runs into (or, again, supposedly runs into - I'll explain the qualifier shortly) someone else's freedom of religion. That is, when someone's religious sensibilities are offended by someone else's speech. The Canadian trend is to squash the speech to avoid hurt feelings.

The problem here is that there's no problem here. No one can or should have the right to never be offended. I'm a conservative Christian. I disagree with lots of what I see and hear in the course of a day. Sometimes I debate, sometimes I turn off the TV, sometimes I close the Firefox tab, sometimes I decide to stop buying a magazine, sometimes I just let things slide. Trying to get the State to shut the offender up never occurs to me, as it should never occur to any civilized person.

So, if you say something that offends my religious sensibilities, well, too bad for me. Luckily, I don't have to be your Best Friend Forever, so there's no real problem here. You aren't "violating my freedom of religion" if you say you don't believe in Christianity, or even if you say, as loudly and coarsely as you like, that you don't like Christians. I'll disagree with you, and I may or may not bother discussing it with you, but you can go ahead and say it. You may even have some good points to make, and I may wind up changing my mind about something as a result.

Now, if you're in my house, or commenting on my blog, then you may be invited to leave. Private property is the sanctum sanctorum. My home is the one place that I don't have to listen to dissent if I don't want to. Same goes for you - I won't drop by your house for an argument and expect to be invited to stay for supper.

In the public square, though, it's a whole different matter. We can both choose to say what we like, respond as we like, and - this is important - take our ball and go home whenever we like, leaving the other to continue to rant to an ever-dwindling audience.

There are plenty of folks in Canada who don't get this. Unfortunately, some of them are in positions of authority for some reason. I consider freedom of expression so critical, so integral to all other freedoms, that I don't think anyone who doesn't get it is qualified for any position of authority. That's OK, the world needs fry cooks, so there will always be a place for the NDP apparatchuk.

This lengthy preamble is all to say that you should go to Start with the What's This All About post if you're not already familiar with the situation, and get good and indignant. When you calm down enough, send him some money for his legal defence fund.

If you want to download a nice permanent copy of the first seven videos, check out this torrent:

Ezra Levant HRC Hearing Videos

Created and uploaded by a guy using the screen name Zirbert. Quel coincidence.

After watching these videos - and from here on I'll assume you have too - I want this guy put in charge of everything. I want his face on our currency. His verbal smackdown of a system that's gone completely off the rails is a thing of beauty to behold. I'd like to think that one day, kids in history class (if they still have time for those after spending most of the school year putting condoms on various produce) will be learning about Ezra Levant. I just hope they'll be learning about him as a hero, and not as an irritating minor bump on the slide to oblivion. I'm optimistic, but not overly so.

I also want these commissions gone. Not revamped, not reviewed, not overhauled - gone. We have civil courts for those very few cases where legal action is actually needed.

Specific to the Levant case, I would also like the plaintiffs deported back to whatever fascist theocracies they came from. They clearly liked the way things worked back there, and they just as clearly aren't prepared to come play with the big kids in the civilized world, so back they go. If any of them are Canadian-born citizens - well, first of all that would speak volumes about our educational system. We'd have nowhere to send them back to, but surely we could put them on a boat and let them browse the globe for a locale more hospitable to their delicate sensibilities. An occasional public beheading is a small price to pay in exchange for not having to hear a Jew disagree with you, right?

There are other affronts to free speech going on in Canada, and worse things happening on this issue elsewhere in the world, and I hope to address some of those in future posts.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a chain-link fence (in closeup).

Friday, January 25, 2008

Grandiose Opening

Welcome to the first real post!

This may well be one of the many, many blogs that's abandoned after a short time. I took a look around, and it seems like most people blog like celebrities get married. Kick the tires, try it out for a couple of weeks, realize that commitment and work are involved, and bail out. Some estimates are that 60% to 80% of blogs are abandoned within a month of creation. If you want to see the source data for that, do your own Googlin'.

I was forced to maintain a journal in high school, and hated it. Most of my entries consisted of expressing my hatred of the journal and casting aspersions on the credentials of the teachers who required it. By the time I got out, I had gotten used to it and kept it going for a little while. Then one day I noticed my latest volume on a shelf and picked it up to find that although I had never consciously stopped writing, I hadn't written an entry in some years.

Then I decided to convert it to a reading log. I always have at least one book on the go, and usually several. I maintained that for, oh, perhaps as long as several weeks. It's probably been over ten years since my last entry. I'm afraid to actually look. Besides, the book is way over there on the bookshelf on other side of the room.

I first got into / onto the Internet in 1994. I posted a lot to Usenet, always under my real name and with my real e-mail address attached, and did a lot of websurfing. It occurred to me then that it would be fun to start a webpage of my own, but I didn't have any single area I wanted to focus on. And, I figured, no one would ever be interested in a page that was frequently updated with small posts about whatever happened to be on the author's mind at the time. That sort of thing could never catch on.

I still don't know what I'll be writing about. Politics and religion, mainly, I expect. Those are about the only topics I can comfortably discuss, which means I'm completely socially dysfunctional in polite society.

So, who am I?

Who cares?


John Lennon and Yoko Ono occasionally made a good point. One of those rare occasions was their "bagism" phase, when they'd go onstage or show up for a press conference hidden in a huge opaque bag, arguing that the message was - or should be - more important than the messenger.

So, I'll be remaining anonymous. It's not like I'm Bruce Wayne over here; plenty of people who know me personally know (or soon will, 'cause I'll tell them) that this is my blog. I won't be advertising it, though, and one of my comment moderation rules will be to edit / delete any comment that uses my real name or other identifying info, on the off chance it ever happens.

I'll discuss my other comment moderation rules some other time, maybe. The short version is a quote (or perhaps paraphrase - I'm too lazy to check the original wording) of Sam Malone on the last episode of Cheers: "I am not your mother. This is not your home."

For now, my "about me" (the actual page for which I haven't bothered with - and may not bother with) is as follows: I'm a man living in Canada. I'm a husband and dad. I've had a few varied and interesting jobs, and I currently do office work that I enjoy but that would bore you if I were inclined to discuss it in detail, which I'm not. Religion - conservative Christian, Baptist tendencies. Politics - generally nonpartisan. My ideological positions tend to be libertarian informed by Christian morality. If I were American I'd be a Republican by default; whenever I take one of those "Which presidential candidate is most like you" quizzes, all I have in common with Hillary or Barack is that we're all carbon-based bipeds.

I'm a hardcore geek in the areas of comics and music, and lower-level geek in the areas of technology, gaming, and movies. Expect some "Worst. (Whatever). Ever." posts.

I am planning to eventually write extensively and narcissisticly (wow, that should make the spellchecker cramp up) about my own views, mainly in the aforementioned areas. Maybe if I'm cranky enough some readers will actually drop by.

I always try (but frequently fail; I'm no more consistently consistent than the people you know in real life, or, for that matter, you) to evaluate ideas and actions, not people. That is, while I may think someone's ideas are moronic and their actions are reprehensible, I hope to refrain from referring to them as a reprehensible moron. In churchgoing terms this is frequently described as "hating the sin but loving the sinner", and it's a grace of which I've needed to avail myself many times. Feel free to call me on it if/when I fail. I'm amused by rationalizations, including my own.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my hand and the back of a goat's head.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Test post

This is an initial test post, meant just to see how posting works. I would have deleted it afterward, but there's now a comment on it (yay!), so it stays. Keep reading up the page for more substantial stuff.

And welcome! Tell your friends! Make comments! Link! The more interest that's shown, the longer writing this stuff will keep my interest!