Friday, October 31, 2008

Trick Or Treat Tally

This year we got exactly nine trick-or-treaters at my house. One of those was the daughter of friends who specifically drove her over, well out of their own neighbourhood, so a more honest count would be eight "wanderers".

I note this solely because every year I try to remember how many we got last year, and how many we usually get, but never have a clue. By posting it here maybe I'll be able to find it when I start wondering next year.

For similar reasons, I note that last winter was extraordinarily harsh, and this summer was unrelentingly cold, grey and wet. It rained almost every day from mid-July to late August.

There. When I'm an old man waxing nostalgic about the winters, summers, and Hallowe'ens of yore, I'll have something to back me up.

(Update: I edited this column after posting it to change the number of trick-or-treaters from seven to nine. My wife tells me there were a couple that came and went without my even noticing later in the evening. Anyone who saved a copy of the original version of this article is now in possession of a surefire collector's item in the vein of one of those "Dewey Defeats Truman" newspapers.)

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a big ugly bug. To get a sense of scale, each of the rocks over which he's crawling is approximately the size of a Hyundai.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Let's Mock The News

In a new attempt to seize the coveted world championship belt for chutzpah, a convicted murderer is arguing that if only the police had caught him sooner, he would have received a lighter sentence.

Vito Rizzuto is suing the warden of his U. S. prison in a bid to shave more than two years from his sentence for three gangland murders.

Rizzuto, 62, named as the boss of the most powerful Mafia organization in Canada, says the way the U. S. Bureau of Prisons is calculating his sentence is unfair, violating his constitutional rights and robbing him of more than two years of freedom.

The Montrealer was sentenced last year to 10 years in prison for his role in the murder of three mob rivals in a Brooklyn social club back in 1981.

He now argues that he should be eligible to receive the far more generous parole allowances that were in place at the time his crime was committed instead of the harsher rules of today.

Apparently it's all the fault of the police. If they had brought him in sooner, then he could have taken advantage of the early bird discount. Too bad he wasn't tried and sentenced in Canada, where we have a Kill One, Kill One (Or Two, Or Three...) Free program.

Here's a tip for Mr. Rizzuto: if he wanted to be sentenced under the terms in place at the time he committed his murders, then he should have turned himself over to the police immediately. By eluding capture, he left himself eligible for whatever was in place at the time of his eventual arrest and conviction. I hope his claim gets laughed out of every courtroom available, and that each judge involved adds another year to his sentence just for the irony.

Here's a thought: since lying in court is itself a criminal offence - it's called "perjury", for those of you who remember the Clinton years and so had to live through that term being shamefully distorted - then perhaps an additional charge should be laid against some convicted criminals. If you entered a plea of "not guilty", then turned out to be guilty, then you lied to the court by definition. Tack on a perjury charge. If you plead "not guilty" to that one and are found guilty, lather, rinse, and repeat until you learn better.

Note for clarity: I'm not seriously suggesting that. I know it's hard to tell sometimes. I'm dead serious about Mr. Mobster serving as long as possible behind bars, though. He can walk around society as a free man again just as soon as his victims are able to do the same.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of something my wife did with some balls of yarn and pointy sticks. I am in awe of this ability.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Career-Altering Decisions

At my office, when someone dares to speak up about a bad decision made by management, it's described as "a career-altering decision". The term has become a reliably entertaining catchphrase. On a related note, I'm grateful and pleasantly surprised that they still employ me, since I'm not much more shy about expressing my positions in real life than I am when writing on this blog.

I fear that an Orlando reporter just made a career-altering decision. You can watch the hilarious video and read lots of great comments about it here.

I made the first link straight to a blog, because it's the source cited by the second link. The second link is there because I suspect that the video link in the original blog will be taken down shortly, because it's hosted by the TV station whose reporter dared commit heresy.

To summarize, a TV reporter asked Joe Biden some tough but fair questions. If similar questions were asked of a Republican candidate, no one would bat an eye, but you're simply not allowed to ask Democrats anything that strays from their talking points if you want to be (or remain) a professional journalist in America.

So far in this campaign, I'm aware of exactly two people having publicly asked the Democratic ticket candidates any tough questions: Barbara West and Joe the Plumber.

Sidebar on Joe The Plumber: it's simultaneously hilarious, depressing, and disgusting (which is incidentally my reaction to most of what I see in the world) to see the mainstream media's reaction to Joe's tough questions. The guy, an average - sorry - Joe, gets a few seconds of face time with a presidential contender, and dares to be blunt. The media, instead of discussing the actual question and its answer, attack him.

He doesn't really have the money to buy the company where he works. The company doesn't make as much as he said. He's not a licenced plumber. Heck, his name's even not really Joe.

Everybody who cares about those issues, listen closely. Maybe get up as close to your monitor screen as you can. Don't be afraid of leaving noseprints on the glass. They'll wipe right out.

None of that matters.

Whether he was actually describing his own personal situation, presenting a completely hypothetical scenario, or anywhere in between, makes no difference whatsoever. What matters is the content of the question, and more importantly the content of Obama's answer.

Can you imagine the mainstream media's reaction if someone asked McCain a tough question and the only response from the Republican machine was to dig into the questioner's background? "Never mind that! Answer the question!", in an endless loop.

Listening to the candidates speak late last week it occurred to me that you could have made a great drinking game out of taking a shot each time either of them invoked good old Joe.

Biblical sidebar-within-a-sidebar: Biblical scholars generally feel that the parables of Jesus often didn't refer to actual, literal individuals and events. Instead, they were deliberately designed to make philosophical points. It didn't matter whether the events had actually happened. His audience - then and now - understood that. Nobody yelled, "Hey, what was the address of that house built on sand? Why, I bet it never even existed, did it? You're a fraud, and nothing you say is worth responding to or thinking about!"

Yet the media cares deeply about Joe the Plumber's personal history. This may help explain the average mainstream journalist's disdain for Jesus.

/End Loop: Biblical Sidebar
//End Loop: Sidebar

Joe Biden's reply to a couple of hardball questions was fantastic. I loved seeing the frozen smile melt away as his composure began to crack. I especially enjoyed his parting shot, where he insinuated that anyone who wanted those sorts of questions answered has to be some right-wing extremist. Right, Joe. Anybody who recognizes socialism when it's staring them in the face is a fanatic. Certainly No True Scotsman would dream of asking such things. (I know it's actually more of an ad hominem response, but the Scotsman line rang funnier to my ears.)

Barbara West should probably start polishing her resume. Even though she's being backed by her station's news director, and may very well not have written (or possibly even wanted to ask) the questions, a sacrifice will need to be offered and she's the most visible candidate. The station is already under a Democratic embargo, at least until the Democrats get their panties unbunched. That could be a while.

If she's still on the air next time I visit Florida, I'll try to make a point of watching her station. Since it'll be later than tomorrow morning before I arrive, she'll probably be long gone. Hopefully everybody in that channel's broadcast range will take the opportunity to watch them now, before the inevitable neutering. Hearing leftist talking points challenged on the air would seem shocking at first, since we're all so unaccustomed to it, but it would be nice to have a chance to get used to it.

Enough rambling. Here's another picture from our our recent church-sponsored afternoon of trap shooting. This is a spent shell casing in the grass. It's the last of my pictures (that I'll be posting) from that afternoon.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sermon Notes - Faith Needs An Object

This may or may not be the beginning of another wildly irregular series. I've intended to do this for a while, but we all know how that goes.

I often take notes during sermons. Our brains are wired to better retain information that we process in multiple ways. Hearing, seeing, repeating, writing down - these are all different methods of processing, and each one that we apply helps us better retain the information.

This is not by any means to claim that I normally remember many details of any given sermon after a few weeks (or sometimes hours). That's OK. That's how it works, and everyone, even the pastors who pour their spirit into presenting the Word, know and accept that.

Some say that means that a sermon is a waste of time. If the listeners don't remember the three points afterward, then what good did it do?

To that I respond, what did you have for lunch on August 23, 2002? Oh, you don't remember? Then that meal couldn't have provided you with any nourishment.

That point (hopefully) addressed, I would like to retain more of the preaching that I hear. So note-taking it is, both for the mental processing factor and the fact that I can refer to them later to refresh my weak memory.

Sidebar to pastors: if it's at all feasible, hand out sermon outlines with blanks to be filled in. Make your sermon a congregation participation exercise. I know you want those sheep fed as well as possible - get them to chew on the Word a bit so it'll stay with them longer.

Wow, that metaphor took an ugly turn. Let's put a stop to this sidebar and move on.

I've intended for a while to start posting these sermon notes on here. That way I get to process them one more time, refreshing the lesson, and I get them recorded somewhere where I can refer to them in the future. I also dare hope that maybe something I write will strike a chord for a reader or two.

Full disclosure time - getting people to think about matters of importance, specifically matters of ultimate importance, is my actual Big Picture reason for writing this blog. Yes, I also use it as an outlet for all sorts of silliness, self-indulgence, and irrelevancy, but what I really want is to get wheels turning inside people's heads.

My sermon notes usually aren't substantial. Often just a sentence or two, enough to (hopefully) jog my memory when I look at them later on. Time to put the psych degree to use again: these "triggers" work as a mnemonic device because our recognition memory is better than our recall memory. A key word will often spark up the neurons that store the rest of the idea, when we never could have pulled it out of storage otherwise.

This is all background that I hopefully won't go over again. After this time, "Sermon Notes" entries should be short, sweet, and straight to the point (at least by my standards). Assuming I write any more of them, the little bit of material appearing after this bloated intro is more like what they should look like.

Note also that some of what I say below comes from my own reflection on the sermon, not necessarily from what the pastor explicitly said. If that's an issue anywhere along the line, questions are welcomed.

My pastor recently preached a sermon on the topic of "faith" as a word and a concept. I took away one key point: faith is only as good as its object.

Many, probably a large majority, will say that they "have faith". The question must always be asked: faith in what? Faith must have an object. Without an object, the word is meaningless. If a person's faith is in anything but the one true God, then it is tragically misplaced.

The pastor cited Augustine: "If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don't like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself." That quotation can be found here, in the midst of lots of other powerful thoughts. Go take a look - any one sentence on that page is worth hours of grappling. I've got a new bookmark.

I'd like to have a primary source citation on the Augustine quote, but I'm not a scholar of his works by any stretch and two minutes with Google didn't turn it up, so we're out of luck. If you can remedy that, please do so in the comments.

My pastor then expounded on the obvious ramifications and extended meaning of what Augustine said: if you pick and choose which parts of the Bible you believe, then you are not treating it seriously as the Word of God. That's your free choice to make, but it's hypocritical to cling to some teachings (like forgiveness for your sins) but reject others (like the Virgin Birth) that come from the same source.

There's what I retain from that sermon, a couple of months or so later. It may not seem like much, but I'm actually quite pleased with it. If each listener retained that much from each sermon, then a single small congregation could transform their entire community.

Enough rambling. Here's another picture from our our recent church-sponsored afternoon of trap shooting. This is the manual launcher for the clay "pigeons" we saw last time. We used a gas-powered launcher for most of our shots, but this was an alternatve.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Journalistic Racism

I've noticed a tendency for journalists to describe various policies - especially "conservative" ones - as racist, without seeming to notice that while the policy is racially neutral, their interpretation is itself quite racist. Other people do it too, but for today I'm picking on the journalists because they really ought to know better.

Unless a policy (which I mean here as any law, regulation, etc.) explicitly applies only (or differently) to members of specific ethnic groups, it is highly unlikely that the policy is itself racist.

I qualify that statement with "highly unlikely" to account for things like voting being restricted to landowners in the immediate wake of the Emancipation Proclamation, which in all probability had the intention (and effect) of blocking the recently freed slaves from full participation in democracy. I can think of other far more recent examples, but those are for another day.

However, the vast majority of policies that get interpreted as "racist" are not actually racist at all. Instead, the interpreter is projecting their own racism onto the framers of the policy.

For example, let's say that a new law were passed saying that a ten dollar per day fine would be levied on anyone who hadn't bathed in the last week. Rest assured that editorials and blogs would immediately present rants along the lines of "this law is clearly intended to discriminate against Freedonians, because everyone knows that their hygiene is questionable at best".

See the problem? More to the point, can you identify the actual bigot in this scenario? If so, you're a large step ahead of most journalists, editors, and Democrats.

I've seen this principle at work many times. One of the worst was a feature in the August 30, 2001 issue (number 876) of Rolling Stone. As previously noted, I was an RS subscriber a couple of lifetimes ago, casting the magazine aside when I learned what "critical thinking" meant (shades of I Corinthians 13:11).

That issue had a feature article on how many states have laws restricting the right of felons (including those who have completed their prison terms) to vote. Two explicit arguments were then made, both of which I find very funny. I sometimes wonder if articles like these are satire written by conservatives, because the liberal arguments presented are so spectacularly stupid:

1. Laws preventing felons from voting, or making it harder for them to do so, are racist against black people. Subtext: black people are criminals.

2. Laws preventing felons from voting, or making it harder for them to do so, skew the electoral system unfairly in favour of the Republican party. Subtext: the terms "Democrat" and "sociopathic criminal" are largely interchangeable.

The sad part is that most readers, through a combination of politically correct sensory bombardment and apathy, won't even notice the switch. Many readers will go away from the article thinking that the author actually had a valid point and that other people are the bigots. After all, "they wouldn't print it otherwise", right?

Serious articles like this make it tough for those of us who are out here occasionally trying to be funny. It's tough to top genuine moral ignorance combined with a complete lack of self-awareness.

This all comes up because of an article I just read. I'm not above discussing a seven year-old magazine and calling it topical - in fact, I may do a lot more of it here in the future - but not today.

From the opening of an opinion piece by Douglas Cuthand published on October 23:

The re-election of a Conservative minority government could have a serious impact on First Nations and aboriginal people through the party's promise to get tough on youth crime...
While the article is mostly about other issues concerning Canada in general and First Nations peoples in particular, Cuthand returns to the youth crime issue before it's over. He holds his position: that toughening up youth crime laws will be especially bad for aboriginal communities.

I'd have a lot more respect for this kind of writing if the authors had the guts to come out and explicitly say what they believe: that aboriginal youth are congenitally criminal, that the Democratic party is full of sociopaths, that Freedonians are naturally smelly.

Unless you're prepared to say that there's something about Ethnic Group X that makes them inherently and irresistibly more likely to violate Policy Y, then Policy Y is not racist. And if you're prepared to say that, then the Ethnic Group X Anti-Defamation Brigade's lawyer is on line one. Good luck. And remember, there is nothing "soft" about the bigotry of low expectations.

A look around the Web tells me that Douglas Cuthand is of aboriginal ancestry himself. That doesn't change anything. People can be prejudiced against members of groups to which they belong.

I'd also like to note that in some cases, there may indeed be social factors that lead to members of Group X tending to wind up on the wrong side of Policy Y. That's a separate discussion that can and should be held. However, insinuations that the policy is intended to "trap" Group X'ers (with the everpresent nod-and-a-wink corollary that that was exactly the plan all along) don't help.

In the interest of full disclosure: I wrote this article mostly as another excuse to slander Freedonians.

Enough rambling. Here's another picture from our our recent church-sponsored afternoon of trap shooting. This is a box full of the clay "pigeons" we were using as targets.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Post-Election Hooptedoodle

With thanks to John Steinbeck for contributing such a splendiferous word to the lexicon.

Once again I present some disjointed thoughts on Canada's recent federal election. SPOILER WARNING for those of you who haven't yet watched the election night coverage recorded on your Tivo.

I was very pleased with the election results. In fact, if I could have scripted my ideal outcome, it would have been pretty much what we got. I certainly didn't want any of the opposition parties in power. While I'm all for carpooling, the benefit of all those clowns being able to travel to Parliament Hill in one Volkswagen doesn't outweigh the damage they'd do to my country given the chance.

That said, I'm glad Harper only got a minority. I like minority governments for the exact reason that it's hard for them to do anything. As somebody said at some point in history, "That government is best which governs least." When it comes to domestic affairs, at least, I want the government feeble, inert, and afraid of displeasing the electorate.

Plus, there was a much-needed change in my own riding as the incumbent got turfed in favour of a longshot newcomer. The one I voted for, in fact, and I'd like to think that my vote made the difference. Although mathematically it didn't. I'm happy to report that my election night negativity on this score was unfounded.

Time for an I-Told-You-So dance. The new voter identification rules did indeed cause uninformed people to miss voting. I explained why that's a good thing back in that other post (I just linked to it a couple of lines back; do I need to draw a map?), and I stand by what I said then. News stories like this one and this one warm the cockles of my heart, and we all know that nobody likes cold heartcockles.

Here are my favourite quotations from those articles (one from each - I have the same journalistic ethics as CNN. I'll present two opinions from the exact same ideological position and call it balance, as long as they come from ostensibly different sources):

1. Someone who was trying to get young voters to show up described them as "People who are, like, the toughest demographic to get to come out and vote."

Yeah, like, they totally are, right? And, like, they need to know that, like, voting is groovy.

The kids still say "groovy", don't they?

Ahhh, whatta they know anyway. I just wish they'd stay off my lawn.

2. One of those aforementioned young voters, after being told to go home and get her ID: “This (is) ridiculous. If they wanted this information from me, they should have asked for it ahead of time.”

Yes, that's right. Maybe they should have run some newspaper, radio and television ads explaining the requirement. Maybe they should have had an entire section of the Elections Canada website devoted to explaining the remarkably simple concept. Maybe they should have even spelled it out on the voter information cards that were sent out to (I think) all registered voters a while before the election, then put up big signs about it at the polling station.

Note for non-Canadian readers, who may not catch the sarcasm: They did all that.

Apparently if you don't stop by this young lady's dorm room and tattoo a reminder across her lower back, she doesn't consider it advance notice.

By the way, I inserted that parenthetical "is" into her sentence to make it coherent. I really hope its absence was a typo in the original article. I give the educational system a lot of grief, but I'd like to think that college students don't really talk like Tonto.

My dream scenario for the next election is that each voter be required, on arrival at the polling station, to recite the lyrics to any one Elvis Costello song. Promote the rule heavily, including sending a copy of This Year's Model - with lyric insert - to all households with at least one registered voter. Those who show up at the polls saying they didn't know about it will be required to give their vote to someone who gets why radio stations don't like playing "Radio Radio".

Since my prediction for my own riding was thankfully wrong, and the Canadian election turned out as well as I could realistically have hoped (although an Ezra Levant write-in landslide - for every seat - would have been nice), then I'm actually daring to hold out hope for what happens in my big friendly neighbour to the south on November 4th.

McCain isn't perfect by any means, but come on. Obama? Really? An avowed communist whose own supporters unashamedly use the phrase "redistribution of wealth?" (Tip: although his supporters deny that he's a communist, the whole "redistribution of wealth" thing makes him one, no matter how much they try to weasel around it.)

Sarah Palin, on the other hand, I really like. I freely admit that she may lack some of characteristic slickness common among career politicians, but I consider that a point in her favour. The operational nuts and bolts can be learned pretty quickly. Character and integrity can't.

My real hope for the U.S. of A between now and their election is that a whole bunch of people in both parties wake up one morning, say "Wait a minute. We nominated these two? What were we thinking?" and start the whole process over from scratch. There's still plenty of time to hold primaries and a campaign of non-nauseating length, and the two new nominees could hardly be worse. A Palin / Joe The Plumber ticket would have me looking into immigration options. (Legal immigration only, of course.)

The Hey-Let's-Break-Up-The-Country Party got 50 seats. Oh, for the good old days when treason and sedition were rewarded with a noose, not a seat in Parliament.

More seriously, while I'm pretty much an absolutist for freedom of speech and would not advocate criminalizing any speech short of direct incitement of violence, how insane and selfish is it that people vote for a separatist party just because they think that party will extort more out of the rest of Canada for them?

The Bloc and their supporters remind me of the captured Russian sailors in The Hunt For Red October. They're on the deck of an American ship, watching depth charges go off. They cheer. "Yay! The captain is fighting the Americans!" I kept waiting for one of them to turn to another and say, "Umm, Boris... aren't we on one of the American ships we're rooting for him to sink?"

Now that the Liberal party has figured out exactly what most of Canada thinks of Stephane Dion, I've heard rumours of Justin Trudeau, son of longtime Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, stepping into the leadership void. If only the Liberals had noticed the leadership void in their party during the months leading up to the election, things might have gone differently.

The day after the election, some of my co-workers were speaking enthusiastically about Justin T. taking over the big chair. I offered, "By all means, he should. If we've learned nothing else from the Bush family, it's that being the son of a leader automatically qualifies you to be a great leader."

Disclaimer: despite that joke, I mean no disrespect to President Bush (either current or former). However, the people to whom I was speaking don't think very highly of "Dubya", so it was a cheap and easy way to make my point and I ran with it.

Lots of people think that there's some shady connection between Stephen Harper and American interests. I've heard tinfoil hat models talk about him being supported by everyone from the NRA to the aliens in Area 51 (and possibly Area 52, the even more secret one). These folks like to talk about foreign interference in Canadian elections being illegal, immoral, and a major contributor to childhood obesity. They would like Harper impeached (or perhaps exiled) based on their suspicions.

However, I haven't heard a word from any of those same folks about Michael Moore campaigning with and for the NDP. Odd, that. It's almost as though they apply different standards to candidates that they happen to like.

Harper may be cockier now. I hope so. I like my Prime Minister to have a little bit of swagger. It was Pierre Trudeau's one redeeming quality.

I just saw a newspaper editorial (in a dead-tree edition - sorry, no link) that called Harper's threats to make votes into confidence motions a "dirty trick". (A "confidence motion" is one that if voted down triggers a new election.)

What? That's the way the system is supposed to work. When that editor used the phrase "dirty trick", they demonstrated that they don't understand what at least one of those words means.

If I were in Harper's shoes, I'd immediately pick my pet issue that I thought would be toughest to get through Parliament, have a bill written up, and make it a confidence motion. Here's where we find out whether he's really serious about things like getting rid of firearm registration or revamping the Young Offenders Act. If he is, then they'll be on the agenda very soon, as confidence motions.

That's not a dirty trick, that's having the guts to call the opposition's bluff. "You don't like it? Then vote against it, and we'll see what the Canadian electorate thinks about it."

This is Harper's chance to show what he really wants to do. I expect the answer will be "not much".

Enough rambling. Here's another picture from our our recent church-sponsored afternoon of trap shooting. Once again, pastor on the left, attorney on the right.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Generosity With Other People's Money

I don't like being accosted for charitable donations. And whereas I'm an introverted, socially dysfunctional misanthrope, when I say "accosted" I pretty much mean "personally solicited".

I've noticed a trend recently in charitable fundraising efforts. Maybe it's not new, but I hadn't noticed it much before, and something about it didn't sit well. Today I realized why.

The trend is for businesses to try to guilt-trip their customers into supporting causes directly related to that business. Think supermarkets promoting food banks, or sporting goods and tire (if you catch my drift - especially you Canadians) stores urging people to donate to charities dedicated to helping underprivileged (meaning underfunded) kids get sports equipment.

Now, there's certainly nothing wrong with those causes, although I must admit that with people starving to death in the world, I have a hard time getting upset that some kids' parents can't afford goalie pads. Still, there are plenty of good causes, and everyone has their pet issues, so I try not to trivialize other people's concerns with "there are more important issues".

Anyway, toward the point. These businesses are attempting to motivate people, strictly through guilt (the omnipresent TV ads about the sporting goods charity are blatantly manipulative), to buy stuff from them and give it to charity. That sounds fine, at first. Any donated items need to be purchased somewhere along the line, so I can overlook the possibly self-serving charity selection.

However, I've just realized what puts it over the line. Let's take the campaign from the sporting goods / hardware chain urging people to buy and donate sports gear. We'll call the chain, oh, I don't know, National Carwheels (NC for short).

NC wants you to buy stuff from them, of course. Their contribution consists of paying for the charitable ad spots (which mention NC's name and display their logo prominently), and maybe serving as dropoff points or somesuch. That is, you can come into the store, buy something, and just... leave it there.

I don't expect NC to just donate all the needed equipment. I understand how business works, and that's just not feasible. However, I think that their current charity model, presenting themselves as some sort of partner with the donors, is a cynical sham.

If they really want to be a partner, and really be charitable, here's what they should do: offer to sell the donated items at wholesale. I don't expect them to give the stuff away, but selling it - for charity, remember - at full retail betrays their real motivation. The charity angle is just a sales promotion. Not that there's anything wrong with sales promotions, but it's a bit sickening to watch them get wrapped in claims of altruism.

Set up something whereby my $50 donation doesn't just get $50 retail worth of gear for underprivileged kids, but $50 wholesale. I don't know what NC's profit margins are, but I'm guessing that the difference would be significant.

If revealing wholesale pricing like that is too much exposure of privileged information, then give a discount that puts it somewhere in the middle. That could even be promoted as a "matching" program of sorts: "For every $100 donated, NC will provide an extra $20 worth of equipment!"

Again, note for the record that I have no problem with business trying to get some promotion out of their charitable activity. Just don't try to amass guilt sales while contributing essentially nothing. I can tell when it's something other than rain hitting my leg. As long as these businesses are making no sacrifice - not even a discount - then they're just trying to encourage generosity with other people's money.

Enough rambling. Here's another picture from our our recent church-sponsored afternoon of trap shooting.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Election Day In Canada

Today is Election Day here in Canada. I have a few disjointed thoughts in honour of the occasion.

First up, a quotation from former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker:

I am a Canadian,
a free Canadian,
free to speak without fear,
free to worship God in my own way,
free to stand for what I think right,
free to oppose what I believe wrong,
free to choose those who shall govern my country.
This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold
for myself and for all mankind.

This is being blogburst (blogbursted?) by many Canadian bloggers today. I found out about it from Kathy Shaidle's blog, where she added some great commentary:
Note to belligerent Muslims and other professional victim groups who are using the Human Rights Commissions to "oppose what they believe is wrong":

The operative word in that composition is "free". You are NOT FREE if you are using agents of the state, and other people's extorted tax dollars, to fight your foolish battles. When you do that, you are a PARASITE. Parasites are not free.

I'm no cheerleader for Stephen Harper, but the other candidates for Prime Minister are absolute jokes. Today someone told me that they think Stephen Harper "has a secret right-wing agenda". Apparently as soon as he gets his majority, Canada will be transformed into Ayn Rand's fantasyland. Ignoring their delusional paranoia, I replied, "As an actual conservative (I pronounce it with a small 'c'), I can only hope."

I see a lot of sites warning commenters not to post election results until after the official sanctioned time approved by Elections Canada. This makes me wish that I knew some election results now, so I could post them in deliberate defiance. I should just make some up.

Elections Canada has to understand that communication is now global and effectively instantaneous. There's no logistic way to prevent people in British Columbia from finding out what's happening in Newfoundland (hint: not much). Nor should there be. The breakdown of communication barriers is one of the wonders of the modern age. I consider the efforts of Luddites to hinder it not only futile but possibly immoral.

This just in - the Green Party has taken Prince Edward Island in a sweep! They got the support of all ninety-four eligible voters and most of the potatoes!

We now rejoin our regularly scheduled rant, already in progress.

This isn't even a matter of joining the twenty-first century; the technology was in place before the end of the twentieth. Why do so many insist on staying mired in the nineteenth?

Furthermore, if anyone in a western time zone would alter their vote in any way (including by choosing to vote or not vote at all, when they had previously intended to do otherwise) because of what they heard happened back east, then they shouldn't vote to begin with. If you're not informed, committed, and willing to stand behind your ballot, then do everyone a favour and stay home. There must be something good on MTV tonight to keep you amused.

Canada's voter identification rules changed this year. Now voters need to bring identification to the polling station. I don't have an opinion one way or the other about that requirement, but it may have a positive side effect. I heard speculation today that it'll cause some people to get frustrated and not vote when they show up at the polls without the required ID and get turned away. Instead of going home, getting what they need, and coming back, they'll stay home and pout. (Hey, is that The Real World?)

That suits me just fine. Once again, the people turned away would be the least informed voters. Uninformed people should at least be responsible enough to refrain from introducing noise into the system with their arbitrary ballots. If you vote based on which candidate seemed "nicest", which party your parents / grandparents / whoever has always voted for, or (for crying out loud) the information you gleaned from campaign ads and mainstream news coverage, then your staying home constitutes a public service. Take a small deduction on your next year's taxes and put in a note in your return saying "Zirbert said you could".

I voted right after work. According to the advance polls for my riding, it was probably a wasted effort. But then, that's exactly what the nice folks tabulating and reporting the poll results wanted me to think, so I'd stay home and not mess things up for the candidate they had pre-selected.

Remember what I said a few paragraphs back about not letting previously announced results sway your vote? It goes for advance polls, too. It's quite entertaining to watch the American media try to convince McCain supporters not to waste their time showing up in November. It's blatantly obvious, and the sad part is that it'll probably be effective.

Enough rambling. Here's another picture from our our recent church-sponsored afternoon of trap shooting.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Reading Log - Of Mice And Steinbeck

John Steinbeck and I go way back.

My parents were always very indulgent of my love of reading. When I was in elementary school, Mom and I would go to the mall almost every day after school, and almost every day she'd buy me a paperback. I would read it that evening, and be ready for another the next day. I went through almost everything published under the Dell imprint. It never occurred to me that Judy Blume's books were meant for girls, although it was several years later before I figured out what "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" was about.

I remember a big, unsorted bin of paperbacks in a local discount department store. They all had the same ugly, nondescript brown covers with swirling patterns. You had to read the title off the spine to tell them apart. I got several of them over the days and weeks that followed, but I only remember two of them, and only still have one.

The one I remember but no longer have was Jaws by Peter Benchley. The other, which I still have after all these years, is John Steinbeck's Of Mice And Men. I don't know exactly when I got it, but my paperback copy is a 60th printing (collector's edition!), with a note that the 59th printing was done the year I turned five.

Based on my memories of this book, I was probably around eight years old and in the third grade when I read it for the first time. I did a book report, possibly my first, on it while still in elementary school. I thought nothing of it at the time, but in retrospect that must have seemed a bit odd for my teacher when most of my classmates were probably writing reports on more Seussical works. I kept that report for many years after (I got a good mark and some surprised-sounding margin notes), but I think it's long gone now, probably lost in my post-idealism purge of all mementos of the public school system I grew to hate.

My other distinct early Of Mice And Men memory comes from my first few days in the fourth or fifth grade. The teacher tasked us with writing an essay on what the classroom would be like if we were in charge. As a budding nerd, I was mostly concerned with a well-stocked bookshelf. I specifically named Steinbeck as an author who would be well-represented. I remember exactly what the teacher wrote: "I'm impressed, especially with the fact that you like John Steinbeck." This pleased me immensely, because I still liked impressing teachers. That too would be lost before much longer.

From that early age I considered Steinbeck one of my favourite authors. That makes what I'm about to say all the more strange: almost thirty years passed before I actually read another of his books.

I'm not sure why. I've never stopped reading. I've slowed down from my childhood book-a-day habit, certainly, but I maintained a book a week for many years, and still manage several each year. However, my book purchases tend to be haphazard. I go to library book sales and load up my "To Read Someday" shelves, and when I finish one book I go to the shelves and grab another. I just never happened to find any Steinbeck under those circumstances, and I was too busy with the books I already had to go looking for him specifically.

That changed a little while back. I found some cheap Steinbeck volumes, added them to the collection, and eventually they worked their way to the top of the pile.

I started with Cannery Row, perhaps because it was closer in size to Of Mice And Men than The Grapes Of Wrath, which I (correctly) figured would represent a longer commitment.

Cannery Row has no overarching plot. It is about people, rather than events. There is no great conflict, except perhaps the universal conflict of people struggling against their own worst tendencies. The villains of the book, if there are any, are the classic Deadly Sins, with Greed and Sloth heading the pack. The characters know what they ought to do, but all too often find it more expedient to do something else.

The book is a series of vignettes of people living in a poor seaside neighbourhood. Most of the characters are drunken reprobates with the best of intentions. They are all well-drawn and very likable, and the reader quickly ends up caring what happens to each of them. Even the gang of bums who live in a shed and lie, steal, and brawl more out of habit than necessity come off as people you wouldn't mind knowing.

I was not disappointed. It was a quick, easy read and assured me that my childhood admiration of Steinbeck was not misplaced. Cannery Row spawned a sequel, Sweet Thursday, which I promptly borrowed from my library (where I was surprised to find an excellent Steinbeck selection) and a movie adaptation that reportedly combines elements from both books. The movie is evidently unavailable on DVD, but is readily available on AVI, if you know what I mean, so I'll be watching it as soon as I finish the second book. I've been making Sweet Thursday a pretty high priority, which is part of why I haven't written much here lately.

Enough rambling. We interrupt our regularly scheduled series of pictures from our recent church-sponsored afternoon of trap shooting to bring you something that's actually relevant to this post. Here's a blurry picture of my battered paperback copy of Of Mice And Men. Better focus would not have made the cover pattern any more attractive.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

This Is Not True At - Well, Maybe A Little.

Here's something that I like to do each year as the holidays approach. I've come to think of it as a yuletide tradition.

Any time you manage to get your hands on a child's letter to Santa (volunteering to empty the big bin at the mall is a good idea), give it back to them with "Return to Sender - Addressee Nonexistent" stamped on the envelope.

You'll cherish the memories for years to come!

Enough rambling. Here's another picture from our our recent church-sponsored afternoon of trap shooting.

Monday, October 6, 2008

King Of The Park

Last night's King Of The Hill was a pretty funny episode. Titled "Earthly Girls Are Easy", it mocked the environmentalist delusion that purchasing "carbon offsets" can compensate for rampant pollution.

For the blissfully unaware, "carbon offsets" are the Indulgences of the tree-hugger faith. (Incidentally, I'm disappointed that I'm not the first person to make that comparison, although I wrote the previous sentence before seeing the page I just linked to.) The idea is that as long as you pay a tax, presumably to be used toward good works, then your personal transgressions can be overlooked.

In practice, this means that as long as you bribe people in developing nations to stay agrarian (and starving), you don't have to forgo trips on your personal jet. As one might imagine, this "fine for me but not for thee, but here's some gold" approach is very popular among the hypocritical, selfish wealthy.

I enjoyed the episode, but something about it seemed a Toward the end, as Hank tried in vain to explain to a crowd of nitwits why offsets don't work, it struck me: this wasn't an episode of King Of The Hill.

It was an episode of South Park.

Mocking superficial celebrity trends, showing a protagonist trying in vain to explain the problem to dolts who couldn't care less - this is Parker and Stone's stock-in-trade. Hank Hill might as well have been Stan Marsh up on that stage.

Last night's Family Guy rang a little familiar, too. Jesus was established as a "regular guy" character, eventually having fame go to His head. At least He wasn't hosting a community access cable show.

Other cartoon producers seem to have a problem on their hands when they try to engage in social commentary. No matter what they try, South Park Already Did It.

And so we come full circle. I'm pretty sure this means Parker and Stone get the last laugh.

Enough rambling. Here's another picture from our our recent church-sponsored afternoon of trap shooting. The guy on the left is my pastor, and the guy on the right is my attorney.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Effective Talking Points

During every election season, each political party tries to get their "talking points" distributed as widely as they can. Once in a while a simple thought without context seems to capture the public imagination and become part of the vernacular, at least until the campaigns wrap up.

Canada's various opposition parties are currently trying to get people to unthinkingly parrot a factoid about the ruling Conservative party's proposed changes to the Young Offenders Act.

Here's the meme: whenever you're rattling off a list of Stephen Harper's sins (he's the leader of the Conservative party and Canada's current Prime Minister - noted for the benefit of my non-Canadian reader(s) ), be sure to mention something like, "he wants to put fourteen year-olds in prison for life."

This makes it sound like those fourteen year-olds are being randomly selected for incarceration, which conjures up an image I find amusing. Picture a dark van screeching to a halt near a group of teenagers walking down main street. Several large police officers, weapons raised, preferably in full riot gear because that makes it funnier, pour out. "You! Are you fourteen? Get in the van! I said get in the %^$&^$ van!"

Alas, the truth is far less dystopian. The actual proposal would simply make it easier to try young offenders as adults for serious crimes, including passing adult sentences in the case of a guilty verdict. This would mean, at its extremes, that some fourteen year-old murderers could be sentenced to life in prison.

This would be rare. It would require that the young defendant be found fit to stand trial as an adult, and there's no shortage of court-appointed psychiatrists willing to argue that little Billy is still too dumb to understand why he shouldn't have made the gun go boom.

However, it could happen, so there's a kernel of truth to the talking point. Stripping it of context and analysis, though, makes it sound much worse than the reality.

That's probably why it's so successful. I've seen or heard multiple references to Harper wanting to "lock children up for life" in letters to the editor, blog posts, and conversations pretty much every day for the last week.

It seems pretty simple to me. A fourteen year-old is generally capable of understanding right and wrong and the consequences of their actions. If a reasonably mature such person kills someone, then they should suffer the adult penalty for doing so, If they aren't, then they'll probably be identified as such during their interminable pre-trial psychological evaluations. Even then, they need to be kept away for a good long time.

If a dog has a history of unprovoked attacks, there are two possibilities. The first is that it's just vicious and needs to be put down. The second is that it's not capable of controlling itself (rabid, sick, or otherwise incapacitated) and needs to be put down.

I'm against capital punishment (although my internal poll results are 51-49 with a significant margin of error), so I'd substitute "put away where they can't hurt anybody ever again" for human beings, but the principle holds. I want fourteen year-old murderers locked up for a very, very long time. Life sentences for those cases wouldn't break my heart.

I'd happily flip this talking point on its head. Instead of "The Conservatives want to lock up fourteen year-olds for life", try something like "The opposition parties want teenage murderers to get off scott free after a couple of years." That sounds far worse to me, and I'm guessing to most people who think even a little bit. No, it's not entirely fair, but it's as fair as their version.

One other thought occurs to me. The whole idea of opposing stiffer penalties for juvenile offenders is that they aren't mature enough to take responsibility for their own actions. A while back, there was a lot of rumbling about the legal age of sexual consent in Canada. During that debate, there were those who wanted the age of consent set low. Fourteen was a pretty common suggestion.

The logic then was that fourteen year-olds are mature enough to take full responsibility for major life decisions and their possible consequences. I wonder if any of the same people who supported that are now arguing against these proposed changes to the Young Offenders Act. That would imply that people of certain ages are old enough to be sexually responsible, but not old enough to be held responsible for violent behaviour.

Oh, who am I kidding? I don't "wonder" that at all. I know full well that it's largely the same people, demonstrating their hypocrisy. Leftists are immune to irony.

Enough rambling. Here's another picture from our our recent church-sponsored afternoon of trap shooting.