Saturday, May 31, 2008

Hail, Hail Freedonia (More Racism Stuff)

Time for a little more background on racism before I get into the Firearms Act issues.

First up, I was mistaken about a number when I started this series. Canada's Firearms Act has five provisions that only apply to aboriginal peoples, not four as I wrote last time. I'll discuss all five when I hit this topic in detail (soon).

Second, I forgot to make another general philosophical point about racism / prejudice: facts cannot be racist. Of course, the interpretation and analysis of those facts may be, but the facts themselves are morally neutral.

I'll give an example. Let's say that first-generation Freedonian immigrants make up five percent of the North American population. However, survey results show that they comprise sixty percent of the people who put the milk carton back in the refrigerator when it's almost empty, resulting in the next person who wants some milk slamming the carton against the top of the fridge when they pick it up.

There is no anti-Freedonian bias in reporting these two statistics, together or separately. And, yes, these facts taken together indicate that a randomly selected Freedonian is statistically much likelier to put the milk back empty than a randomly selected non-Freedonian. There is no Freedonianophobia involved here, just logic.

We can even speculate as to why this might be before getting into wrongful discrimination. We could examine aspects of Freedonian culture and environment, and even genetic factors that may be prevalent in Freedonia. Still no bias.

Of course, this can be taken into prejudicial territory. Assuming that any given Freedonian will be an empty-carton-putter-backer would be wrong. Assuming that they do it because they are somehow "inferior" would be wrong. (Side note, from Logic 101: "different" does not necessarily mean "inferior".)(Unpleasant realization that most people won't admit, from Logic 202: sometimes it does.) Suggesting that Freedonians be forbidden from buying milk in cartons as a preemptive measure would be wrong.

As long as we stay in the realm of empirical fact, though, or non-disparaging speculation as to root causes (with an eye to ameliorating them), then we are only being logical.

If only the people who demanded Lawrence Summers' head on a pike had been logical enough to understand this simple principle.

Incidentally, the quoted reaction of one of the critics to Summers' remarks, in the linked article, cracks me up: 'if she hadn't left, ''I would've either blacked out or thrown up." '

Bear in mind that this was in response to a completely non-offensive - to a rational person - question being raised. This lady was so deeply offended by Summers even noting that there are fewer female scientists than male that she had to leave before she became physically ill. She was so upset by her unfounded perception that he said something critical of women that she nearly fainted.

Think about that for a second, if your irony detector hasn't already overloaded.

If you still don't get it, imagine your reaction if a male scientist had said the exact same thing: that he was going to faint or vomit because someone suggested that men and women may be different.

No matter how modern and liberated and enlightened and politically correct and metrosexual-friendly you may be, you'd think that guy was a wuss.

So, anyway, my point is this: stating empirical differences between groups (always looking at the aggregate, as such things must) does not imply bias toward or against any member(s) of any of the groups under discussion. That's all I'm trying to say here.

Still to come: more institutionalized racism from the Canadian government!

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a chain-link fence in closeup, with some sort of large fowl (I think) beyond.

One Giant Leap For Comicsnerdkind

On Tuesday, May 27, 2008, a day that may very well live in some sort of minor shadow of a concept not entirely unlike infamy, Scott Adams managed to get words onto the comics page that I never thought would make it past an editor.

Dilbert described his co-workers as "a bunch of selfish tools." Given that editors and syndicates are normally extremely conservative in what they'll allow in the funnies (I remember Gary Larson writing that calling a character a "dork" stirred some controversy), I was quite surprised by this.

As long as the link works, you can read the strip in question by clicking here.

Oh, and if you want to read Dilbert on a daily basis, you should always go to The main Dilbert site has become a bloated, unwieldy mess. Adding the "/fast" at the end takes you to a page where you get exactly what you came for: the newest strip, no muss, no fuss. I don't know how long that site will archive them, but you've probably got at least a month or so before the link to the May 27 strip dies.

I'm surprised that I haven't seen any discussion of this anywhere else yet. I'm sure that someone, somewhere, will argue that this is the downfall of civilization.

Whatever other fallout may come from this strip, it's pretty well guaranteed to help Dilbert's popularity in Canada. Far more than a love of hockey or Tim Horton's, the prime defining characteristic of Canadians is an abiding belief that it's funny to refer to people as tools.

(Yes, I enjoy the irony that the joke in the previous paragraph comes in the middle of a series of posts about prejudice and stereotypes!)

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my shirttail.

Friday, May 30, 2008

I May Have A New Motto

So there's this commercial on the air these days for some fast food place. I don't even know which one. The commercial has some women out nightclubbing or somesuch, discussing the best tactics to attract eligible men.

One of the ladies reveals her secret: loading her purse with bacon cheeseburgers or a similar artery-clogging delicacy, on the premise that guys love bacon. Apparently the irresistible aroma of bacon is now the best way for a woman to get a man's attention.

I guess that makes it official: bacon is the new cleavage.

(By the way, I'm very pleased that at least as of earlier this evening, Google didn't report that phrase being used by anyone else!)

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my son on career day, trying out an apprenticeship as a graffiti vandal. Apparently the hooded sweatshirt is actually an official uniform for that line of work.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Racism Defined

A while back, I mentioned that I'd like to discuss the inherent racism of sections of Canada's firearms laws, most of which are enshrined as the Firearms Act. The Act was called Bill C-68 before it passed, but there are plenty of folks who don't seem to understand that a bill number is no longer used as the name after a bill passes into law and still call it that. Didn't Canadians watch Schoolhouse Rock?

I'm hoping to do that soon. This is a prologue. As regular readers have surely noticed, my more philosophical posts tend to be very long. I always like to lay down groundwork and establish context for more serious discussion topics.

In the service of a few interests (getting back on the blogging horse, making my posts more concise - i.e., shorter, etc.) I'm hoping to start doing most of that background work in separate posts. Maybe I'll even remember to start the major posts, wherein I actually get to my point, with "read this first" links to the earlier posts for anybody who found a specific post by way of a search engine or somesuch.

So, this is a background post to exposing the racist elements on Canada's Firearms Act. (Sneak preview: the Act contains five special provisions that apply only to Aboriginal peoples. Not only is that fact racist in and of itself, but three of the five provisions are horribly racist and should be offensive to anybody who wasn't raised by pre-political correctness John Wayne westerns.)

My operational definition of racism is based on that proffered by Mike Adams in a 2006 article of his, aptly titled A New Definition Of Racism:

Racism – is a pathological tendency to interject race into situations where it is not relevant, merely for personal gain.

And, of course, a racist can be defined as follows:

Racist – one who interjects race into situations where it is not relevant, merely for personal gain.

As is often the case, I agree with Dr. Adams' underlying concept, but have some quibbles with details of the presentation. I would remove the words "pathological" and "merely for personal gain" from his definition of racism and adjust the other wording slightly, winding up with this:

Racism is interjecting ethnicity into situations where it is not relevant.

That pretty much sums it up for me. If we're talking about a matter where the colour of someone's skin, or the country they came from, or the language they speak are not relevant factors, then it would be racist to inject those issues into the discussion as though they were.

I changed the word "race" to "ethnicity" in my definition because I think it's more accurate. As per Ken Ham's position, which I think I've mentioned before, all human beings are members of the human race. However, I will continue to use the word "racism", because "ethnicityism" is a bit cumbersome.

By this definition, anyone who supports Barack Obama solely or primarily because he's black is just as much a racist as someone who would not vote for him solely or primarily because he's black.

Similarly, anyone who supports Hillary Clinton solely or primarily because she's a woman is just as sexist as someone who would not vote for her solely or primarily because she's a woman. (To get my views on sexism, paste the text of this article into your favourite word processor - I'm partial to OpenOffice Writer - and do a find-and-replace, replacing "rac" with "sex". No warranty against unintended results expressed or implied.)

This type of position (voting for / against someone because of their pigmentation or genitalia, neither of which seem to be relevant factors in evaluating a political candidate) is called "identity politics", and it's stupid and destructive.

While I'm in this neighbourhood, making new friends by the second, I need to touch on so-called '"reverse discrimination".

This topic requires me up front to do something I hate to do: compromise on language. The word "discrimination" is not a pejorative. It has no negative denotation. "Discrimination" means "distinguishing between", or "telling apart". One of my favourite writers, P.J. O'Rourke, once wrote something to the effect that a person who failed to discriminate between a twenty-five year-old and a five-year-old would be insane in all circumstances and jailed in some.

However, for purposes of this topic, I have to acknowledge the popular (wrong) usage of the word "discrimination", with its negative connotations.

So, about "reverse discrimination". It doesn't exist.

There is only discrimination. Whether it is bias for or against any given person or group, it is nonetheless discrimination. I have a "rule of reversal" (which will be getting its own detailed writeup sometime; I've already done a partial draft), the main thrust of which is that if the reverse of a discriminatory policy would be wrong (i.e, instead of "only women are eligible for this award", we reverse it to either "only men are eligible" or "women are not eligible", which in this case have the same result), then the policy itself is wrong, for the same reasons that the reversal would be wrong.

So, "affirmative action", "employment equity" (the Canadian government's term for institutionalized and federally approved racism), and any other such ideas, are just as wrong and just as racist as their reversals would be.

Now, on to one other relatively quick note: when I was in university, I took a lot of seminar classes. These were classes where a small group of students basically sat around a table and discussed issues at great length, with the professor usually just serving as a guide to keep things relatively on topic. There would generally be assigned reading before each class, and a paper due on the topic, but most of the real rhetorical heavy lifting got done sitting around that table.

More than once I heard fellow students say that people who were members of a minority could not be racists.

This, of course, is clearly insane.

Moreover, these poor deluded vessels of political correctness felt that this extended to other forms of discrimination (again, in its pejorative sense). Women could not be guilty of sexism, non-Christians could not be guilty of religious discrimination, etc. Anyone who was in a minority (or perceived minority - check out a census for gender populations sometime) could effectively never be wrong.

It's a viewpoint that I can't really even debate. Someone whose logic is that poor will never understand any rational argument. I've often said that if Confucius and Homer Simpson have an argument, Homer will win every time. He simply won't understand anything his opponent says. You might as well try to knock down a brick wall with a Nerf bat. The only way Confucius can prevail is to walk away - and Homer will never understand that he lost.

Unfortunately, even some prominent public figures have made statements to this effect (Spike Lee, for example, has said that black people cannot be racists). Worse, they're sometimes taken seriously.

Interestingly, by the definition of racism I gave above, saying that black people cannot be racists is itself a racist statement. Since one's melanin levels have no bearing on what intellectual and philosophical positions they may hold, claiming that they do is an attempt to interject race where it is not relevant. I.e., racism.

So, there's some background. For another sneak preview of what's coming in the imminent exposé, consider this: does a firearm automatically become any safer or any more dangerous based on the ethnicity of the person holding it? If you said "no", then there are some legislators in Ottawa who disagree with you.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of another probably-blasphemous cartoon. The captions can be translated as: (Top) - "Believer wounded by nonbelievers." (Bottom) - "Nonbeliever wounded by believers."

Get Jeff Foxworthy On The Phone

I'll probably feel bad about this one later, but for now I'll go with it being funny.

It's been said that comedy equals tragedy plus time. I've heard that idea from different sources, but Internet consensus seems to give Carol Burnett the original credit.

I'll agree with that formula. I prefer to define the value of time as "1". Decide for yourself on the unit of measurement.

Anyway, here we go. My favourite line, the one that sums it all up, is bolded:

WINNIPEG - Police are citing alcohol consumption as a factor in a tragedy in which a woman allegedly killed her sister-in-law and injured two other family members by driving over them while they slept on the ground outside her home.

RCMP said several people were at the home in Berens River at the time of the incident Saturday afternoon, and they had been drinking.

"This is an event that involved a lot of alcohol consumption," Sgt. Line Karpish said Sunday. "There was a gathering at the house at the time of the incident."

While driving out of her yard in a Pontiac Tempest, the woman ran over the three people, RCMP said.

So many jokes, so little time or conscience. You'll be able to make up plenty of your own, I'm sure. Let's try swinging at a few softballs:

-If you've ever gotten really drunk and run over some relatives passed out on your front lawn, you may be a redneck.

- If you've ever gotten really drunk and passed out on the front lawn, then a drunk relative drove across the lawn and ran over you, you may be a redneck.

- In defense of the folks who were "sleeping" in the yard, that's where this family keeps most of their furniture.

- The driver had to use the Tempest, because she couldn't get either of the Gremlins down off their blocks.

I love that the story specifically names the model of car, as though it's relevant. The marketing folks at Pontiac must be thrilled. Sure, getting product placement in an A-list movie is one thing, but this is the sort of publicity that money just can't buy.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of something else that I find funny but that somebody, somewhere, will probably find a way to find offensive. Maybe even blasphemous. (I can hope.)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Null Modem Revisited

I'm back in business! Rueben and Simeon are safely behind the router (with thanks to the guy you know as Alex for the assist!), which is connected to the DSL modem, which is connected to the ankle bone, which is connected to the foot bone. Or something.

This doesn't mean that I've got anything else ready to post yet. Heck, all this networking and testing made me and my wife even skip playing Magic tonight for the first time in quite a while.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a cartoon that some people think is worth rioting and murdering over.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Null Modem

I didn't intentionally vanish from the blogosphere - my DSL modem, which had been getting wonky for quite a while, gave up the ghost earlier this week. I was only able to get online for a minute or two at a time. I could check my e-mail - barely - but any web-surfing or posting was out of the question.

That problem has now been (partially) solved. The nice folks at my ISP sent me a shiny new DSL modem, which has the added benefit of being much smaller, therefore taking up less desk space.

I was pleased that the folks on the tech support line didn't even argue with me. I told them that the modem was on the fritz, and they took my word for it. The lady I spoke to first took one token shot at getting me to run a bunch of tests I didn't need; however, as soon as I told her that I'm also behind a router, she abandoned the idea. She said "You'd have to disconnect your router and connect a PC directly to the modem for these, and you probably won't want to do that." Not in a negative tone, but in the tone of a doctor telling a patient that they probably won't want their leg amputated because of an ingrown toenail.

The "(partially)" qualifier in the paragraph before last is because I haven't hooked the router back up yet. Ironically, I'm now online by plugging a PC (Rueben) straight into the modem. The new modem appears to have the same default IP address as my router, so I'll need to tweak some settings to get things back to full normal.

The bad news, depending on your perspective, is that I did not use my enforced offline sabbatical to stockpile blog articles. There will be no deluge now that I'm back.

I note, however, that I've only been blogging since early this year, and I've posted over a hundred articles (this is # 103). That means that even if I stopped now, I'd still average about two articles a week for the entire year!

Anyway, I'm back, so there's reason to hope / fear that semi-regular posting will resume shortly.

Once I catch up on all my websites.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a cartoon that pretty much sums up the situation.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Walking Dead # 49 Review

Here there be spoylers. Thou hast been forewarned.

First up, the cover: a very nice shot of a determined-looking Carl leading Rick by the hand - but Rick's upper body is obscured in shadow. When this cover was teased a while back, many people figured it meant Rick would die, and Carl was leading Zombie Dad around. We've seen pet zombies in this book before (the Governor's daughter), and even tame companion zombies (Michonne's entourage when we first met her), so it isn't a huge stretch.

On the inside front cover, we get a great "previously", listing dead characters: "Tyreese is dead. Herschel is dead. Patricia is dead.", etc. The list of the dead includes Judy, Rick and Lori's newborn daughter, just to put the speculation to rest. The two survivors of last issue's prison attack, Rick and Carl, are noted, and the issue proper begins.

The issue starts with a small prologue. George A. Romero has touched on what happens to a zombie whose head is severed (as opposed to the brain being destroyed) - the head lives on, eyes darting and jaws snapping at anything that comes within reach. Kirkman apparently agrees.

Remember what happened to Tyreese a couple of issues back?


Anyway, Michonne comes along and puts an end to that unpleasantness. It's nice to see that she's clearly not going to vanish from the stage, as after doing what needs to be done, she begins following tracks leading away from the now-devastated prison compound. Hopefully she'll meet up with Rick and Carl - or, well, whoever's left - in the near future.

Oddly, after dealing with the Tyreese problem, she then dispatches another zombie by decapitation, presumably leaving its head lying there in a field trying to look around.

We then rejoin Rick and Carl, who obviously got away after the end of last issue. Carl, quite understandably, isn't dealing well with what happened. I've lost track of how old he is, but he's clearly being written as eight going on forty-six at this point. Kirkman is painting a compelling portrait of the effects of unthinkable trauma on a boy.

There's a scene where Rick asserts parental authority and demands Carl's gun. Carl protests but hands it over. The scene is made poignant by our realization that Rick is no longer in a position to take care of Carl, and if either is to survive their roles will need to reverse in the near future. Rick, missing a hand and with fresh gunshot wounds, had already shown signs of mental and emotional breakdown; even if this issue's ending is a tease (and I suspect it is), then he simply won't be capable of leadership - even of his own young son - for much longer.

Then comes a scene where I'm not sure what readers are supposed to think - Rick may have done something shocking (but understandable), or he may have simply intended to alleviate a problem. (I'm being as delicate as I can here, to minimize spoilage.) The glance toward Carl leads me to think the former was intended, but I could be wrong. Hopefully we'll find out next issue, but again, that would require that this issue's cliffhanger ending (yep, there's yet another big one) be a fakeout.

On to the extra stuff after the story. There's a nice long letters page, as usual, but this one is infested with people saying very silly things to the effect that Robert Kirkman is a racist because bad things have happened to minorities in this book. One particularly ignorant person (man, it's hard to keep this blog to PG-13 sometimes) actually says, in the middle of a ludicrous semi-literate rant, "...if Mr. Kirkman you haven't noticed we may be putting a person of color in office. What does that mean? It means you schmuck, that we are not stupid either."

I'm glad Kirkman didn't edit this letter to make it sound like it was written by a high school graduate. My preschool son handles punctuation better than this writer does.

Anyway, there are at least a few such letters this issue. I thought this topic had already been beaten to death in the Walking Dead letters pages, and I'm glad to see that Kirkman says he won't bother defending himself against this foolish charge anymore. Hopefully he'll also stop printing those letters. Yeah, letterhacks, we get it: you're determined to prove your racism by accusing Kirkman of being a racist.

Kirkman treats all his characters brutally. That's the kind of world they live in. He doesn't care about their skin colour, because the circumstances don't and the zombies most assuredly don't. By complaining about the fact that characters aren't handled with kid gloves due to their ethnicity, these writers are demonstrating that they're concerned with ethnicity where it isn't relevant. That, my friends, is a pretty good field example of racism.

Moving on. This is too big a topic for me to rant about just now. Besides, I've had a major essay on this exact topic partly written for weeks. One of these days I may finish it up and get it posted.

There's an ad for a really spiffy cast t-shirt at the back of the book. It looks really cool, even if a large percentage of the depicted cast got wiped out in recent issues. Well, Tyreese made a cameo this issue, but he won't be back again....

Finally, the next issue plug. Bannered "All alone now", the illustration shows Carl, alone, brandishing his gun against a surrounding horde of zombies. We've learned by now that the art teases are as misleading as the cliffhanger endings (and I love both), but maybe, just maybe, the twist here is that this issue's "cliffhanger" is exactly what it looks like, and the teased illustration is exactly what's going to happen.

I expect that if Carl is alone now, it won't be for long. Michonne is on her way. Besides, I doubt that Kirkman is going to leave just Carl from his original cast to start over with a fresh group. Carl and Michonne together, perhaps with some of the other prison refugees who are still unaccounted for, could easily form the nucleus of a new cast, though.

Anyway, I fully expect that Kirkman will surprise me. He has pretty much every issue so far. (For this issue, it would be with what Michonne does at the start, and what Rick may have done in the bathroom.)

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of another cartoon that some people think is worth rioting and murdering over. Man, some people just can't resist proving the point their opponents are making.

Creative Abandonment

My opinion of Creative Labs just got bumped down a notch.

Back in 1999, I bought a Sound Blaster Live sound card. It was the Value edition, but it had all the Live features that concerned me. I actually had to upgrade the rest of my PC to install this card. I didn't have a fast enough processor, which meant I needed a new motherboard, which meant I needed new RAM. It was all well worth it.

I love that card, and I still frequently refer to the rest of that PC being a life support system for it. I have absolutely no complaints about its performance, and have recommended Creative cards many, many times in the years since buying it.

When I put my new PC (Simeon) together last year, I didn't spring for a sound card for it. The motherboard offered onboard sound, and I didn't need advanced features (primarily Soundfonts, which are the main reason I like Creative cards). Simeon was intended as a video production and midrange gaming PC, not an audio workstation.

Rueben, my older PC with the Live card in it, is my audio workstation. It hosts the bulk of my music collection (or at least the portion that's not burned to DVDs), has a stereo hooked to its auxiliary input for vinyl and cassette rips, and has software like Audacity and PowerTracks Pro Audio installed.

One day recently, a friend (you've seen him before; he's known as Alex around these parts) told me that he had a spare Sound Blaster Live 5.1 card kicking around. No use at all to him anymore, so I could have it. I, of course, gratefully accepted. I figured it would beat the daylights out of Simeon's onboard sound, and would give me the option of doing heavier work with audio on either PC.

He gave me the card, but didn't know where the installation CD was. "No problem", said I, "I'll just go to Creative's website and download the software."

So I said, and so I eventually did. It took a while to get there, though.

On my first trip to Creative's site, I simply couldn't find the software for this card. All I saw was a page saying that the Live 5.1 is no longer supported, with an ad for a newer model I could buy instead. There was a pretty speech about how they don't support cards past a certain point.

I was quite annoyed. I understand them not continuing to develop new drivers and software for older models, but there is no excuse for the existing software and drivers being made unavailable. I have a really hard time believing that the server space and bandwidth for people downloading legacy software would be significant. If it proved to be so, then obviously the company should realize that they misjudged demand for the older product. They then should accept that people are rejecting the newer model and holding onto the older one, and ramp production and support back up (Microsoft, we're all looking at you).

Turns out my initial impression was mistaken. On another visit to the site (this time through the URL portal), I noticed, safely buried where it will almost never be spotted in the middle of a paragraph of text, a reference to support archives. I followed that almost-hidden link, poked around a little, and eventually found what I wanted.

If that archive hadn't existed at all, then this article would have been a complete slam of Creative and a recommendation that their products be avoided whenever possible. As it is, they still lose a notch or two in the support category. There's no reason why, when you follow the steps to identify your product off the main links on their site, you should be taken to a page that looks like you're being told to buy something or get lost. That process should take you to the product page in the "archives", without the middle step.

I don't understand the mentality that seems to be at work here. Somebody at Creative (probably a suit-wearer) seems to think that if customers don't think they can get drivers for older Creative hardware, they'll just go buy a new replacement Creative card. I guarantee you that if the drivers actually had been unavailable, any replacement card I bought would not have been from Creative, because I wouldn't trust them again.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a cartoon that got an editor fired. The text translates roughly to, "Don't be upset, Mohammed - we've all been in cartoons around here!"

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mass Transit Travel Tip

This is my one hundredth post! My comics background makes me wish it was a Double-Sized Spectacular, but such was not meant to be.

Quick tip for travelling on public transit: if you're like me (and in most ways I certainly hope you aren't, but I'm probably a bit closer to the mean on this), you don't really want a stranger sitting next to you on a bus or train if you can avoid it.

I've found a surefire way to dissuade potential seat-buddies: take a Bible out and hold it visibly on your lap. Don't open it just yet - you want people to be able to see the cover, so they're sure what it is.

In my experience, if you do this, anyone who willingly sits next to you and wants to chat will probably be someone you don't mind chatting with. Most people will dodge you like you're covered in live bees, and the hardy few who decide to sit next to you despite their misgivings will avoid conversation at all costs. That leaves a tiny fraction who will want to talk about your reading material because they're genuinely interested in it themselves. I've had some great conversations about all sorts of spiritual matters, with people from a variety of backgrounds, by doing this.

It doesn't work on airplanes, due to assigned seating, or if the vehicle is so full that someone has no choice but to sit next to you. In those cases, I usually make sure not to have my Bible on blatant display. There's no point in creeping out the neighbours if they have no other seat options.

I expect that the "holy books" of any religion would work just as well. I'd hesitate to try it with a Koran, though, unless you like the idea of being scrutinized by whatever security personnel your carrier has at its avail.

And on that note....

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a cartoon that some people think is worth rioting and murdering over.

Monday, May 12, 2008

If It's Monday This Must Be Mark Rosewater

First up, an explanation. I haven't been posting much, and the pace may not be picking up anytime real soon, for a few reasons. Number one, as I've already said, my wife (who has called herself "Mrs. Zirbert" on here, but I'm still rooting for "Zirbette") and I have been playing a lot of Magic. Frankly, I'd usually rather be doing that than sitting here typing.

Second, we've got a family situation on our plate. Nothing dire, but our son has some issues that need to be addressed. I'll be writing more about that at some point, hopefully before terribly long. Suffice it for now to say that there is no crisis, and his physical health is thankfully fine, but in the short-to-medium term the situation will require a great deal of my resources (time, energy). He, too, is more important to me than sitting here typing.

These issues are going to have a direct bearing on his imminent entry into some form of education. The Education Confrontation series will be continuing (I hope), but at this point I'll be writing with hindsight and some dramatic irony.

I will be continuing to post as often as I can. I've got lots of ideas backed up, a few of which are really burning a hole in my keyboard. I've got some stuff coming up that's probably going to really annoy Muslims, Vancouver police officers, Muslims, Law & Order fans, Muslims, "native rights" activists, Muslims, my former landlords, and Muslims. Declare your fatwa now and avoid the rush!

On to the second reason the Internet gives me not to hate Mondays. (Wow, that sentence was pretty awkward.) This will be one of the geeky ones. If you couldn't care less about Magic: The Gathering, just skip down to the picture now and save yourself.

I started playing Magic: The Gathering (just "Magic" herein) in the summer of 1994. Since the game was only introduced in 1993, I was a pretty early adopter.

I ran a comic and game shop in those days. Yes, I was King Of The Nerds over a very large radius.

Anyway, one day I was browsing through my gaming distributor's price lists and noticed something called "Magic: The Gathering Starter Deck" listed. I was very experimental with my ordering in those days. If it was cheap, I'd order one. This strategy led to my being stuck for a very long time with single copies of items nobody wanted.

The wholesale price on the "starter deck" - and I had no idea what that meant - was about five bucks. I ordered one.

I'd seen a few mentions of Magic in various trade publications, but hadn't paid much attention. It hadn't hit its stride yet, and I'd never had a single customer mention it. I certainly wasn't trying to find out "what the fuss was about", because I was unaware of any fuss.

My distributor sent me a box of 10 (or maybe 12, I don't remember what the box breakdown was) starter decks, billing me way more than five bucks. I was annoyed, and called my account representative.

They were amused by my annoyance. The account rep simply assured me that the box was a better idea than just one. I don't remember now if he offered me a money-back guarantee, but I suspect so. The distributor, Andromeda, was fantastic to deal with and later got torpedoed by industry events beyond their control. I lamented their loss for the rest of the the time I ran the store.

I was skeptical, but agreed to keep the entire box and give it a chance. The folks at Andromeda never steered me wrong, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt.

Of course, with ten or so of them, the other store staff and I decided there was no harm in cracking one starter deck open to see exactly what these things were. I also figured that having a deck open might help us sell the blasted things (that box of starter decks was probably the single most expensive invoice line our store had received to that point).

So we opened that starter, laid out the cards, and browsed the rulebook.

It took about ten minutes for the store employees to each use their employee discount to get decks of their own.

The store staff were instantly hooked. Then, with the full approval of management (me), everyone began playing Magic constantly in the store whenever possible (working in a comic and game shop is one of the best jobs in the world, if you can actually get paid a livable wage to do it). Every customer who walked in got to watch a game in progress, which is the single greatest Magic sales tool imaginable.

The game took off like wildfire. I think I got my new stock on Thursdays back then, although it may have been Wednesdays. By the Monday after that "unwanted" box had shown up, I was on the phone to Andromeda asking how many more boxes they could send me.

Not many, as it turned out. Magic went though some growing pains on the distribution side in those days (it was the Furby / Pokemon / Cabbage Patch Kid / Nintendo Wii of its time, albeit without quite the mainstream brand recognition). We would go weeks and sometimes months without being able to get any supply. Occasionally our suppliers (we branched out a bit from Andromeda, not without feeling some guilt) would allocate product to the extent that we would get only an individual deck or two, not a box. The irony of that, after how it began for us, was not lost on me.

My store started carrying Magic right around the same time that Legends, the third expansion set for the game, came out. We couldn't get so much as a single pack of it or of the next expansion, The Dark. We were too late. All the preorders had been allocated long before we got on board. A few years later we got in a single box of The Dark, which I acquired for $300 and sold off at $10 per pack. They flew off the shelves. The entire box was gone within days.

I was able to get Fallen Empires, which came out in late 1994. The day of its release was probably the single largest delivery (in dollars) that the store ever received; our initial order was 14 boxes, and we went though many more than that over the years to come. Fallen Empires was the first set where Wizards Of The Coast, the game's manufacturer, were able to try to meet the demand.

They overshot the mark, as it turned out, and Fallen Empires was readily available though wholesale channels for years afterward. I even had one supplier who, from 1995 until at least 1997, heavily discounted Fallen Empires from its original wholesale price and would give free shipping on any order where the customer would "take a box" of it.

I took advantage of that offer many, many times. Fallen Empires was a much-maligned set, but I like it to this day. Frequent commenter RebelAngel mentioned her love of Thrulls - they came from that set. I was never a big Thrull player, although I frequently used Breeding Pit (Minions of Leshrac need frequent feeding). Plus, there was one Mindstab Thrull whose art was the stuff of which nightmares are made. I called it "the Clive Barker Thrull" - it basically looks like a head with four arms growing out of it. It was drawn / painted by Mark Tedin, and if you feel like being creeped out you can see it by clicking here.

I was more of a Thallid guy. In fact, my wife is playing a Thallid deck now (amazingly, Time Spiral block brought them back). I also have many fond memories of Deep Spawn, Combat Medic, Farrel's Zealot, Night Soil, the "pump-knights", Goblin Grenade, and the "storage lands". Longtime Magic geeks will note that Hymn To Tourach isn't on my list; I've never much liked discard. I'm obsessed with card advantage, but I prefer to gain it by drawing cards myself and / or neutralizing my opponent's permanents. Discard just isn't as much fun.

The Thrulls didn't excite me as much as some of the other cards because it took me a very long time to warm up to any card using the word "sacrifice". I'm not alone; I remember the days when Atog was considered the most useless card ever printed. Then one day people started winning tournaments with it.

Anyway, Magic has been a big chunk of my leisure time ever since that day in mid-1994. I kept several decks' worth of cards when I finally left the comic and game business, and for a while there I'd nab the odd Ebay auction for a bulk card lot. Until late last year, though, my newest cards were from Odyssey, released in 2001.

Late last year my friends at Crave Manga started carrying Magic, and I started picking up packs of Time Spiral (all three sets from the block) and Lorwyn. My son showed an interest, and that's what eventually led to that recent post that made my mother cringe.

I never lost interest in Magic, I just lost opportunities to play. Growing up will do that to you. I should point out, though, that my age started with a three by the time the dropoff happened. Infer what you will about my maturity level.

I kept up two things: playing my beloved Magic computer game (the one from Microprose, where you can play against the PC using cards up to The Dark), and regularly reading the official Magic website:

Part of my gaming geekery is an abiding interest in game design. I'm not creative enough to come up with original games myself, but I constantly, when learning a new game, analyze its rules, usually finding holes to plug and tweaks to make the game more fun. I actually prefer to avoid house rules and play games as their designers intended whenever possible, but sometimes the original rules just don't work. To account for those cases, most of my board games have a sheet of house rules tucked inside the box, to be used only when necessary or when all players want to play with the variant rules tweaks for variety's sake. Risk, in particular, is very open to tweaking.

I also love behind-the-scenes talk from game designers. So, Mondays are brightened for me by new Making Magic columns from Mark Rosewater, Magic's head designer. He's an immensely creative guy, and you never know what you're going to get from one of his columns. You can be assured, though, that if you're interested at all in Magic (or game design in general), it'll be worth reading. They also tend to be pretty funny - he was a professional comedy writer for a while. If you're interested in candid behind-the-scenes gaming talk, you should make a point of plowing through his archives.

(Side note to RebelAngel: if by some ridiculous fluke you ever make it up this way, bring your Thrulls. Our Thallids will be ready.)

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a cartoon that some people think is worth rioting and murdering over. (Yep, I'm starting another series of themed pictures. Stay tuned for Maximum Jihad Provocation!)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Faith In Inhumanity

Just a link with some commentary this time out. The link is to an article on Cracked, which apparently is based on (and possibly still run by some of the same people for all I know) the magazine of the same name from a couple of decades back.

I never cared much for Cracked; it always struck me as an inferior knockoff of Mad magazine. Even when the legendary Don Martin jumped ship to them, Cracked just never seemed as funny as Mad.

Nowadays, of course, Mad magazine is a shadow of its former self. I'm pretty sure my sense of humour hasn't matured much since I was eleven, and I still find their older issues funny, so I'm reasonably confident that the magazine has changed. Going to glossy colour with corporate sponsorship (both of which are understandable as economic necessities) don't seem to have suited them.

Anyway, the Cracked website is one of the funniest places on the Net. Conservative Grapevine often links to their articles, but I frequently stop by the Cracked homepage to see what's going on even when CG hasn't pointed anything out lately.

One word of warning: the guys and gals at Cracked get a bit potty-mouthed at times, and the article I'm linking to is no exception. If some strong language (not a lot; we're not talking Tarantino levels) is a dealbreaker for you, then this article is not for you.

The article is titled 5 Psychological Experiments That Prove Humanity is Doomed (guess where you can click to go read it?). I loved it, although I prefer to think of it as "5 Psychological Experiments That Completely Justify My Cynicism."

I differentiate between cynicism and pessimism by using definitions of my own crafting: cynicism is a belief that people will, in the aggregate and over the long term, do wrong things given the opportunity. This worldview has been classically known as Original Sin, but has sadly fallen out of favour in the marketplace of ideas. Pity, because it's absolutely true. It's even verifiable on a scientific basis - it has great predictive value. Predict that people will eventually mess up anything that's going well, and vindication will be yours.

I do not consider myself a pessimist at all. My personal working definition of pessimism is a belief that God will do things that we see as bad. "That guy in the other lane is probably going to cut me off" = cynicism. "I'll probably get pancreatic cancer, despite having no identified risk factors" = pessimism.

The funniest thing to me about the linked article is that I was already very familiar with all five of the experiments, and have based much of my worldview since my teens on their findings. I knew number three as "audience inhibition effect", but other than that I've cited all five, by name, hundreds of times over the years. When I later became a Christian, I suddenly found that these experiments - and indeed, pretty much everything in the newspapers - made perfect sense. We are truly horrible creatures when we believe ourselves unfettered by a higher moral authority.

The article is split over two pages, with the first three experiments on page one with the top two on the second. My wife, after reading the first page, expressed surprise that a specific well-known experiment (Peter Gabriel has written at least two songs about it) wasn't on the list. I replied, "It'll be number one. And [name of number two] will be number two." Moving on to the second page, we found I was correct about both.

The article is well worth a read, especially if you're still clinging to a belief in the inherent goodness of humankind. (Note: I do not normally recommend reading Cracked for theological insights... although they have a couple of other articles that I may link to sometime that are strangely up that same alley.)

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my telephone, which is essentially decorative, and the bulletin board that hangs steadfast and sentrylike over it.

Monday, May 5, 2008

If It's Monday This Must Be Mike Adams

The Internet provides me with three reasons not to hate Mondays. Three of my favourite online columnists usually put up their new weekly posts on Monday. Two are very geeky, one isn't really geeky at all.

For today, I'm going to talk about the non-geeky one (so any non-geek readers who may have inadvertently stumbled upon this blog won't leave just yet): Mike Adams puts up his column on Townhall on Mondays. I've mentioned Dr. Adams here before. Since he's a former left-wing atheist, he's particularly adept at destroying their arguments. I don't always agree with everything he says, of course, and I sometimes find him overly confrontational, especially when answering his "hate mail". Those columns are funny at the time, but I find they leave a bitter aftertaste.

Today's column, though, is a solid home run about self-defense and liberal hypocrisy. Without even bothering to stop and fully formulate it, Dr. Adams gives a terrific definition of hypocrisy while discussing leftist university professors:

That means the professors are hypocrites – not because they fail to live up to the things they say but because they do not even believe them in the first place.

That's a great definition. If I may take the liberty of drawing it out more explicitly:

Hypocrisy is not about failing to live up to the principles you proclaim - it is about proclaiming principles in which you do not really believe to begin with.

To put it another way, failing to live up to what you state as the ideal does not make you a hypocrite, it makes you a human being.

The comments on today's column are great, too. My favourite quotes I've read there (so far, at least):

I was awakened by sounds of a neighbors property being broken into. I confronted the person and a hand to hand broke out for my handgun. The individual was not able to take my handgun but did end up in the hospital with serious injuries and arrested. I got a lecture for the police for not dispatching the thief because he went for my weapon.

You gotta love that. The cops chastised this guy for *not* just shooting the criminal and getting it over with.

This next one is actually quoting someone else on yet another blog:

"I always carry a gun, because policemen are too heavy and almost impossible to conceal."

Every time some fascist left wing nutjob (but I repeat myself) screams about how I should be barred from protecting myself from another of his fascist left wing nutjobs, and should have my guns taken away, I've always responded that I'd give up my guns if he puts a big sign in his front yard saying "This is a gun free home."

maybe i could take out a pistol and examine it and say, 'hey criminal, you think this could kill you in one shot? cuz i think it can.'

I can't endorse the spelling, grammar and punctuation of that one, but I sure do like the sentiment.

There are other comments to that thread with which I completely disagree, and some that are obvious trolls, but they still give me something to think about and /or laugh at.

I'll talk about my other two reasons for liking Mondays in cyberspace another time. For now, I have to stop typing. My wife has offered me something better to do for the rest of the evening (see previous entry).

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my ultra-sophisticated filing system for important papers. And an occasional glove.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Like Riding A Bike

If posting gets a bit light over the next few days, it's because a more fun use of my time has presented itself. My wife has finally agreed to do something that she hadn't done for me in a very long time.

Back before we were married she would do it all the time, with enthusiasm. Pretty much anytime I so much as suggested it, she was ready to go. She kept up the pace for quite a while after our wedding day, but it gradually tapered off. Down to once a week, then once a month, then... well, I honestly can't remember the last time before today. And it was certainly never her idea after those early days; she only occasionally halfheartedly agreed, when I asked her to participate.

I can't really blame her. Although she never came out and said so, I knew in my heart that she was just going through the motions for my benefit. I can't deny that, in general, it appeals more to men than to women. I think that a lot of women find it unsatisfying, undignified, and frankly a little demeaning.

She really seemed to enjoy it back in those earlier days, but if she grew tired of it, then I wouldn't want her doing it just for my sake. It's not nearly as enjoyable for either of us that way. While the idea of going out looking for someone else to do it tempted me from time to time, I never went through with it.

She recently offered, out of the blue, to give it another try. I was very pleased, and while she was a little out of practice at first, she's getting the hang of it again quickly. I'm sure that in no time she'll be as good at it as ever.

So, if I don't get much written over the next few evenings, it's because my dear wife has offered me a more enjoyable recreational activity for after the offspring are safely and soundly asleep.

We'll be sitting at the kitchen table playing Magic: The Gathering, which my wife hadn't wanted to play in quite a long time. She came along today and watched me teaching our son the basics of the game, helped him a little, and wound up interested in playing it again for the first time in several years.

What? What did you think I was talking about?

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my now-dead dog. This one was taken in 2005.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Why I Don't Watch CSI

I gave CSI a brief chance when it premiered, because at the time I was still watching a fair amount of TV and interested in police dramas. NYPD Blue is probably my favourite TV show ever (and the only one of which I taped every single episode), and I also loved Homicide and was a regular Law & Order viewer for many years (never again; more about that another time).

So I figured I'd give CSI a shot. I'm very interested in police procedures - John Douglas is one of my favourite authors, and I've read many other books on criminology and law enforcement over the years, as well as having received a (very) little formal training in related fields.

Unfortunately, CSI quickly lost my interest. Perhaps I could have enjoyed it if I had thought of it not as a police procedural drama but as an Airplane / Scary Movie / Meet the Spartans "wacky parody". The police work and forensics on the show were simply laughable.

There's one particularly egregious transgression that seems to recur every time I see a few minutes of a CSI episode (my wife still watches it, and I sometimes wander into the room long enough to watch for a couple of minutes, get disgusted, and walk back out), and has become a pet peeve of mine: the Magic Camera.

The Magic Camera shows up whenever the CSI crew have surveillance camera footage of a suspect. The scene always plays out the same way: the investigators are leaning over the shoulders of the Computer Geek, whose monitor displays a grainy low-resolution image. Someone asks, "can you enhance that?" The Geek smugly says, "Sure!", we hear the generic sound of fingers mashing on a keyboard (all TV shows use this sound, which sounds nothing like any sound anyone who actually uses a computer would recognize as typing), and the image miraculously comes into sharper focus. The Geek may even be able to rotate the picture to show a different angle.

(TV aficionados will realize that the Magic Camera showed up on another crime show this week, in an episode I unwisely tried to watch because I got lured in by the stunt casting. More about that another time as well, perhaps.)

This is, of course, absolutely ludicrous. I've been the Geek in a previous career incarnation. I was once seriously asked what I could do with surveillance camera footage that supposedly showed someone throwing a rock at a client's building. Turns out that although the live monitor feed from the cameras was a lovely 30-ish clear frames per second, all that was stored on the hard drive of this client's very expensive digital security camera system was one low-resolution JPG picture per second.

The small, fuzzy pictures that their security administrator showed me were of some young-looking people walking down the sidewalk in front of the building. In three sequential shots, one of them bent down as though picking something up from the ground, then stood and pulled his arm back as if to throw something, then had his arm back down as though following through after a throw. Note the "as thoughs". They would be significant if the matter went to court.

I asked the security administrator if they had any intermediate pictures, or any pictures establishing more clearly that this was someone picking something up and throwing it, or any eyewitnesses, or even any physical evidence (a broken window, a chipped brick, a rock on the lawn near the building). No to all.

She asked if these pictures were enough to take to the police - I laughed. There was absolutely no way we could even prove that anything was picked up or thrown, or identify the alleged thrower.

She asked if I could enhance the pictures. I laughed harder, and showed her what really happens if you zoom in on a grainy low-resolution still picture: you get a big, fuzzy, useless mosaic.

So, the Magic Camera on CSI amuses me, and makes me not want to watch their silly program. Making matters worse, it seems to appear every time I give the show even a very brief chance. I've seen the Geek get an image of the suspect from a reflection in someone else's eyeglasses, and even from a reflection in someone's eyeball. I've seen the Geek "enhance" a photo to prove exactly what object someone had hidden under their coat ("the Club") based on the visible bulges in their sleeves. (Some of the specific examples I remember may have been on other shows; I don't care. I know I've seen the Magic Camera on CSI more than once.)

Folks, if cameras or processing software like this existed in the real world, they would revolutionize the surveillance industry. They don't. I don't particularly care for the science fiction genre, but I like it even less when it's sold to me in the guise of a police procedural.

The other thing I find funny about CSI is a problem that also afflicted the character of Mulder on the X-Files: the Expert On Everything. It doesn't matter what obscure topic comes up, this character knows everything about it and can extensively quote from the leading texts in the field.

Grissom is, of course, the Expert On Everything for CSI. That tiny chunk of twisted metal found twenty yards from the victim's body? Clearly a link from a historically accurate chain mail shirt. To the Renaissance Fair, to question the only man on this side of the Mississippi who still hand-crafts mail armour! That inscrutable symbol at the bottom of a ransom note? Obviously a fragment of a hieroglyphic from 9th century B.C. Egypt, and I just happen to know that the nation's foremost archaeological authority is in town this week doing a lecture series!

Give me a freaking break.

My wife, who tries to my amusement to defend shows like this, has assured me that the two examples I've seen most recently - Grissom being an expert on bugs and roller coasters - were both established as hobbies for the character before the scenes I saw, in which his arcane knowledge in those fields was instrumental in solving the crime.

That doesn't help - it just means that it's lazy writing in a different direction. The Expert On Everything is normally a deus ex machina trotted out because a writer has been too clever for his own good and written himself (or herself) into a corner. "The only way the characters can solve this is if one of them is a previously unrevealed expert in the Russian aristocracy of the 18th century. OK, (closes eyes and throws a dart at a cast list) this one is!"

If characters have already been shown as having actual personal quirks (just like real people), it's just as lazy to contrive plots that play to those quirks. "Wow, Bob, since this crime could only have been solved by someone who knows every atomic weight in the periodic table to the third decimal position, it's lucky that we have you on our team! And that we mentioned your elemental obsession once back in season two!"

This, of course, gets old real quick. "That was, what, the third atomic-weight-based crime spree we've had in the last few years? Gee, Bob, it's, umm, getting luckier all the time that we have you on board, I guess!"

It also has the consequence of the writers randomly passing out quirky traits to characters, just to give them wiggle room for future episodes. "OK, I'm going to throw in a scene showing that this twenty year old rookie cop also has a doctorate in astrophysics and plays the hammer dulcimer. I'll come up with a plot to make those matter next season."

On a closely related note, didn't anybody else notice that when the X-Files premiered, Dana Scully was both a medical doctor and an FBI agent at twenty-five years old (or at least played by a twenty-five year old)? Or that Jill Hennessy was playing an assistant district attorney - not an entry-level position - on Law & Order when she was just about old enough to be graduating law school?

I'll finish with a quick aside to CSI: Miami (I never bothered with any other spinoff(s) that may have floated past). I gave it a chance because it premiered with two former cast members from my beloved NYPD Blue. One quickly vanished, but not before I had given up on the silly car-chase-and-explosion plots and terrible acting. Maybe they've had Magic Cameras and Experts On Everything too; I couldn't get past David Caruso as Batman long enough to find out.

So, as far as the CSI shows are concerned, I'll pass. If I want to see more realistic detective work and better acting, I'll watch some Scooby-Doo cartoons.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my now-dead dog. This one was taken in 2004.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Life Lesson From The Call Centre

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

This is another one from my days as an "information officer" in a government call centre. I spent about two years in that position, and it almost made me wish I was Catholic. Believing in the concept of penance would at least make me feel that job wasn't a total waste. Surely those years would make up for any sin I could ever possibly commit, before or after. This period was the only time I've ever said, or even thought, the words "I hate my job."

Anyway, this is the story of a back-to-back pair of conversations I had one day. Both were identical situations: a son, probably in his late thirties, was calling to report that his Dad had passed away, and wondering what to do in regards to our department. The requirements weren't onerous. Basically, when someone who was dealing with us passed away, we needed copies of their death certificate and will (which both of the deceased in these cases had - a person dying without a will complicated matters a bit, but not much). Once we had those, their executor could handle the remaining details, which could usually be dispensed with in a five-minute phone conversation.

The first son called, and I told him the requirements as I had done for hundreds of other callers in the same situation. He flipped out. He became very agitated and abusive, spewing profanities and raving about how difficult the department made things for surviving family members. He kept saying that "this is why people hate the government," repeating the words "red tape" and "making this so complicated". Remember, all I told him was that we needed the death certificate and will, which could be provided by fax (toll-free, even), and one more very brief phone conversation. When the conversation ended, the caller was sputtering with anger.

Immediately after that call, I got the second call with the exact same situation, but this caller was quite different. I said the exact same words to him, in the exact same tone. He kept thanking me profusely for laying everything out so clearly. At the end of the conversation, he thanked me one last time for being so helpful and making things so easy for him.

Remember, my words were the same both times, with the exception of a few quiet and gentle attempts to calm the first caller. I never returned his agitation; I was a veteran phone monkey by that time, so it took a lot more than that from a caller to provoke a reaction. Both of these men received the exact same information - the only differences came from their reactions.

I've never forgotten those calls, because I have no doubt which of these two men has a happier life. Given the choice - and make no mistake, to a great degree it is a choice - I would always want to be like the second man. He was pleasant, co-operative, and grateful for the assistance I offered. That's a far better way to go through life than the path chosen by the first caller.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my now-dead dog. This one was taken in 2003.