Saturday, January 31, 2009

Me Too! Me Too!

Somebody here in Canada who doesn't quite get the whole "freedom of speech" thing has filed a complaint against the owner of RightWingCanada... for daring to use Barack Hussein Obama's middle name.

Here's the e-mail that the silly person sent to the site's owner, with his misspelling of "derogatory" intact. Note the inclusion of his e-mail address, in case you'd care to exercise your freedom of expression in the direction of his inbox:

Your hateful blog
Mohammed al-Zahar
Wed, Jan 28, 2009 at 5:48 PM
Mr. Lawton:

I am writing today to inform you that as of 10:27am EST this morning, I have filed a claim against you under the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Among other hateful and inflammatory remarks made on your blog,, you referred to President Obama as "Barack Hussein Obama," citing that he is an Arab-American. This was made in a hateful and dirogatory manner, and such racist propaganda is forbidden under section 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

I hope that you go down in flames like your other Nazi friends.


First up, let me say for the record:

Barack HUSSEIN Obama.

Barack Obama's middle name is Hussein.

Hussein, Hussein, Hussein. That's Barack Obama's middle name, yes indeedy.

That doesn't mean anything. Even if he were of Arabic descent, and I don't know or care whether he is, so what? I've written before about how the actual racism lies in taking offense at a fact, not in the pointing out of the fact itself. To make this more clear, consider this hypothetical dialogue about my favourite whipping boys, the Freedonians:

"Did you know that (Public Figure X)'s family came from Freedonia?"

"HOW DARE YOU call (Public Figure X) one of those filthy Freedonians?!?"

Who's the racist in that scenario, kids?

I consider it a point of failure that no one has even hinted at filing a "Human Rights Commission" complaint against me yet. If it ever happens, my entire response at my hearing will be to read from a transcript of what Ezra Levant said at his. I could never top the absolute drubbing he gave them.

In a blatant attempt to rectify that, I'll be sending the following e-mail to Mohammed Al-Zahar ( right after I finish posting this (with hyperlinks spelled out to make it easier for him):

Dear Mr. Al-Zahar:

I am writing to express my gratitude to you and offer some assistance.

After about a year of regular blogging, I have yet to be the target of a Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) complaint. However, your complaint against Andrew Lawton of RightWingCanada has shown me the way.

Over the past twelve months I have reposted the Mohammed cartoons, explicitly stated that I support Israel (so much for the "Nazi" accusation - by the way, why throw random, arbitrary labels around? You may as well call Mr. Layton a "soccer referee", a "harmonica", or a "Wankel rotary engine" as a "Nazi"), and said many things that could easily be construed as derogatory to Islam. I'm not going to provide direct links for you, because I could use the hits. Feel free to browse the archives and take advantage of the search functions at to find all the evidence that you and your Orwellian Commission friends could ever hope for. I look forward to a traffic increase.

However, before today I never had the sheer audacity to publicly state Barack Hussein Obama's middle name. It never even occurred to me that doing so could offend anyone. I have now rectified that oversight, with premeditation and malice of forethought. Of course, use of his middle name means absolutely nothing, but based on your complaint it seems to be a line that must not be crossed.

I wish you good luck in your quest to erase the President's middle name from public discourse. To facilitate your task, I've prepared a list of some more entities who have had the nerve to use Barack Hussein Obama's middle name on their websites. They, of course, must all be shown their place. I look forward to seeing announcements of your CHRC complaints against each of them:

The New York Times
The Washington Post
The White House

Unless, of course, it turns out that you only drum up complaints against people you've already decided must be silenced.

I've already put this up on my blog. Come by and take a look, then peruse the archives. Be sure to bring your righteous indignation.

-Zirbert, The Irritable Saint (Make sure you spell it right when you file your complaint.)

Two other quick notes before we go:

It occurs to me to wonder whether Mohammed Al-Zahar ( was born in Canada. If not, then I suspect a one way boat or plane trip back to his homeland would place him in a more comfortable "intellectual" climate. If he was, then he's clearly the product of either an Islamic private school or a Canadian public school "education".

Second, if there were a prominent conservative whose middle name held negative connotations (say, "Rush Manson Limbaugh" or "Ann Hitler Coulter" or "Sarah Osama Palin"), do you suppose the media would apply the same "no fair using the middle name" rule?

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of some giant neon fish.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A True Story From One Of My Jobs

A few days ago everyone who works in my office got an e-mail from building administration: "If the fire alarm sounds within the next half hour, it will be a false alarm because they are working on it. You do not have to leave the building."

Whenever this happens, I wonder the same thing: what if there's really a fire during that half hour? I've never bothered asking this question to my supervisors. I already know what they'd answer: "Impossible. There are no fires scheduled for today." The sad part is that they wouldn't be joking.

Since that was so short, let's have something else before we go.

Last Monday marked the Chinese New Year, as we began the Year of the Ox. If past experience is any indication, I'll still be writing Year of the Chicken on my cheques for the next couple of weeks.

An old and obvious joke, yes, but the classics never go out of style. Although whenever I write a joke that I could imagine Jay Leno doing on the Tonight Show monologue, I feel dirty somehow, and not in a fun way.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of tourists walking around a whale.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Reading Log: The Serpent Said

Let it be known that this entry's title is an extremely obscure musical reference. I'd be surprised if anyone in the world would get it without Googling. Trust me, it's geeky - which makes it an excellent fit for this article.

I recently finished reading Monty Python Speaks, by David Morgan. Morgan winds up being more of an interviewer and editor than author per se on this book, because the vast majority of the text is direct transcripts of interviews with the surviving Pythons and various friends and colleagues. (As usual, I have plenty of other books that I read first backed up, but this one's overdue from the library.)

I've read several books on the Python crew before, besides watching all their TV show episodes, movies, and spin-off projects; listening to all the albums, interviews, and DVD commentaries; and, of course, memorizing pretty much the entire text of Just The Words, a complete collection of the TV show scripts. Finding that last book on the shelves of my local bookstore when I was a teenager was a Holy Grail moment (I really didn't mean to include that pun, but had very little choice). A few of my friends and I all bought copies, and held deeply nerdy memorization contests for weeks thereafter. My well-thumbed copy still sits just a few feet behind me, on an eye-level (when sitting in this chair) shelf for quick access,

That being the case, Monty Python Speaks didn't tell me a lot I hadn't already heard. I was expecting more about the other members not much liking Eric Idle; however, I'm actually starting to wonder whether that dislike has been exaggerated for comic effect. Idle himself certainly plays on his image of being vain, greedy, and selfish, so it may all be a joke. However, his well-attested falling out with Neil Innes over credit for and control of the Rutles seems to indicate that there may be some truth behind the barbs.

The only real surprise to me was Graham Chapman's status within the group. I'd long known that Chapman's alcoholism and unprofessionalism caused problems, especially during the making of the movies, but I didn't realize how bad it was. When John Cleese called Chapman a freeloader at his memorial service, I had assumed it was another joke, especially given the irreverent (to put it mildly) content of the rest of the "eulogy".

Upon reading this book, I think Cleese may have been more honest that we realized. It seems that there was an attitude in the group, especially from Cleese, Graham's writing partner, that Graham never quite pulled his weight. They're all quick to point out that he was prone to moments of genius - "Splunge!" is frequently cited as an example - but wasn't particularly disciplined or reliable about writing or performing.

Back to that memorial. In case you're not a complete geek and so don't know it, John Cleese got up at the memorial service for his dear friend Graham Chapman and presented the following eulogy. I've edited the naughty words - and the fact that there were naughty words to be edited should give you fair warning. Presented in its entirety, because it deserves to be:

Graham Chapman, co-author of the 'Parrot Sketch,' is no more.

He has ceased to be, bereft of life, he rests in peace, he has kicked the bucket, hopped the twig, bit the dust, snuffed it, breathed his last, and gone to meet the Great Head of Light Entertainment in the sky, and I guess that we're all thinking how sad it is that a man of such talent, such capability and kindness, of such intelligence should now be so suddenly spirited away at the age of only forty-eight, before he'd achieved many of the things of which he was capable, and before he'd had enough fun.

Well, I feel that I should say, "Nonsense. Good riddance to him, the freeloading b*st**d! I hope he fries. "

And the reason I think I should say this is, he would never forgive me if I didn't, if I threw away this opportunity to shock you all on his behalf. Anything for him but mindless good taste. I could hear him whispering in my ear last night as I was writing this:

"Alright, Cleese, you're very proud of being the first person to ever say 'shit' on television. If this service is really for me, just for starters, I want you to be the first person ever at a British memorial service to say 'f**k'!"

You see, the trouble is, I can't. If he were here with me now I would probably have the courage, because he always emboldened me. But the truth is, I lack his balls, his splendid defiance. And so I'll have to content myself instead with saying 'Betty Mardsen...'

But bolder and less inhibited spirits than me follow today. Jones and Idle, Gilliam and Palin. Heaven knows what the next hour will bring in Graham's name. Trousers dropping, blasphemers on pogo sticks, spectacular displays of high-speed farting, synchronised incest. One of the four is planning to stuff a dead ocelot and a 1922 Remington typewriter up his own arse to the sound of the second movement of Elgar's cello concerto. And that's in the first half.

Because you see, Gray would have wanted it this way. Really. Anything for him but mindless good taste. And that's what I'll always remember about him---apart, of course, from his Olympian extravagance. He was the prince of bad taste. He loved to shock. In fact, Gray, more than anyone I knew, embodied and symbolised all that was most offensive and juvenile in Monty Python. And his delight in shocking people led him on to greater and greater feats. I like to think of him as the pioneering beacon that beat the path along which fainter spirits could follow.

Some memories. I remember writing the undertaker speech with him, and him suggesting the punch line, 'All right, we'll eat her, but if you feel bad about it afterwards, we'll dig a grave and you can throw up into it.' I remember discovering in 1969, when we wrote every day at the flat where Connie Booth and I lived, that he'd recently discovered the game of printing four-letter words on neat little squares of paper, and then quietly placing them at strategic points around our flat, forcing Connie and me into frantic last minute paper chases whenever we were expecting important guests.

I remember him at BBC parties crawling around on all fours, rubbing himself affectionately against the legs of gray-suited executives, and delicately nibbling the more appetizing female calves. Mrs. Eric Morecambe remembers that too.

I remember his being invited to speak at the Oxford union, and entering the chamber dressed as a carrot---a full length orange tapering costume with a large, bright green sprig as a hat----and then, when his turn came to speak, refusing to do so. He just stood there, literally speechless, for twenty minutes, smiling beatifically. The only time in world history that a totally silent man has succeeded in inciting a riot.

I remember Graham receiving a Sun newspaper TV award from Reggie Maudling. Who else! And taking the trophy falling to the ground and crawling all the way back to his table, screaming loudly, as loudly as he could. And if you remember Gray, that was very loud indeed.

It is magnificent, isn't it? You see, the thing about shock... is not that it upsets some people, I think; I think that it gives others a momentary joy of liberation, as we realised in that instant that the social rules that constrict our lives so terribly are not actually very important.

Well, Gray can't do that for us anymore. He's gone. He is an ex-Chapman. All we have of him now is our memories. But it will be some time before they fade.

I first read this years ago, and going through it again today I still find it touching. What a wonderful thing to have friends who are willing to be this completely offensive and inappropriate on your behalf because they understand that you would have wanted it that way. I hereby formally request, to any of my real-life friends and family who may read this, that you feel free to make a complete mockery of my funeral when I go. I'll try to help by dying in some way that lends itself to plenty of cheap, obvious jokes.

I recently discovered that Youtube has video of Cleese presenting this eulogy. As promised, some of the other presenters later on were even worse. Do a Youtube search for "Graham Chapman Memorial", or start clicking on the suggested related videos, if you have a very black sense of humour and a few hours to kill.

My dear wife gave me a Monty Python DVD box set for Christmas - Monty Python's Holy Trinity. Holy Grail, Life of Brian, and Meaning of Life, each in two-disc special editions. Even better, of those six discs, my substantial Python DVD collection only contained three of them. I haven't broken the shrink-wrap on the box yet, only because when I do I may descend into a spiral of geek ecstasy from which it will take days to return. There's a four-day weekend coming up at Easter. That seems so completely inappropriate that I may have no choice but to go for it. I have a feeling Graham (and the other Pythons) would be pleased with that.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of some fake animals at the Holy Land Experience. Those sheep look suspiciously like they might live on a farm with a friend named Shaun.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Crossblogging And Comment Followups

Pure laziness on display today, as I get an entry out of copy-and-pasting what I wrote somewhere else. I'll also be responding to some comments, which means letting other people do some of the work.

First up, the crossblogging. I already dealt with this same issue, possibly raised by the same silly person, here back on January 20th. However, when Cassy Fiano wrote an entry about a site dedicated to thanking former President Bush for keeping America free from domestic terror attacks for over seven years, the same silly response got raised. Copy-and-pasted from her comments section, here we go. First, a response from "Baz":

The mission is accomplished? Complete? I did not know that.

Of course, you know that this a faulty syllogism anyway, the notion that he kept us safe. Like my cat keeps me safe from rhinos. No rhinos in my yard ever since I got my cat. That’s security.

Proximity does not prove, or even imply, cause. To suggest otherwise is magical thinking.
Then I replied (edited slightly to minimize my typos in the revised history books of the future):
Baz - I can’t be bothered to check whether you’re the same person who posted this exact analogy on the American Spectator site a few days ago, or just somebody who read it and thought it was clever enough to plagiarize. Either way, here’s how I responded to your idea on my blog, back on Tuesday:

“The lack of terrorist attacks means nothing; I haven’t had any problems with Rhinos in my yard ever since I brought my cat home. Therefore, my cat keeps Rhinos away? No.”

I trust I don’t need to point out the logical error in that spectacularly arrogant display of nitwittery.

The heck with it. I can’t resist dropping a hint: how many rhino attacks do you suppose this person’s yard suffered before the cat entered the scene?

One other question, in case you still don’t get it. Do you have rhinos skulking around your neighbourhood and openly plotting attacks, only to be repeatedly thwarted by your cat blowing up their headquarters and killing or capturing their ringleaders? If not, your analogy is even dumber than it looks at first.
Baz came back for another round:
Zirbert: My argument is straight out of Critical Thinking 101, *really* basic Junior High stuff. Faulty syllogism. Look. it. up. Your analogy is irrelevant and beside the point.
Glutton for frustration that I am, I responded:
Baz: You’re correct about the analogy being irrelevant. However, it’s yours, not mine. I made no analogy. I just pointed out the inability to see cause and effect inherent to yours.

Can you give an example of a situation where you *can* relate cause and effect? You apparently don’t think that increased security leads to fewer security problems.

Here’s a hint to get you started: do you brush your teeth? If so, why?

That's where things stand for now. Nobody else has posted a comment to that thread. Hopefully if anyone does, it won't be Baz, because I don't think I'd have the patience to try to explain his / her logical error any more clearly. By his / her - you know what? I'm going to assume that Baz is male so I can stop doing that. If I find out I'm incorrect, I'll switch, but for now: By his logic, armed guards on board armoured cars do nothing to prevent armoured car robberies. After all, my car has no armoured guards, but it's never once been robbed. The fact that no robbers have ever targeted my car, and would never have any interest in doing so, is completely beside the point.

A faulty syllogism would be something like, "Since Barack Obama became president, two of my son's front teeth have gotten loose. Therefore, Obama causes children's teeth to fall out." Understanding that the policies of the people in charge of national security did, in fact, have an effect on national security is about as far from being a faulty syllogism as you can get.

Now on to comments. I'll be replying to comments on my story about the night when I met a strangely combative fellow at the gas station.

TB (who has been a friend in real life for many years) said,
Here's the thing- you ARE a nerd.
Spoken like a gentleman, sir! (Note: this is to be read in imitation of John Cleese in the "Eric the Half A Bee" sketch, from the 1972 album "Monty Python's Previous Record". If you prefer, feel free to substitute a hearty "Agreed!", a la Terry Jones in the Wizzo Chocolate Factory sketch from "Live at the Hollywood Bowl", when told that one of his company's candies is particularly nasty.)(Good thing I'm not trying to argue your point. I wouldn't stand a chance.)
How many articles on computer repair and Magic have you posted here?
Computer Repair - 12.
Magic: The Gathering - 6.

If I had better interpersonal skills, I probably would have realized that your question was rhetorical. (If it makes anybody feel better, I more or less made up that first number.)
I bet that guy will be embarrassed when he reads about himself online.
This made me laugh. I'm not sure which word I find funniest - "online", or just "reads".

I actually wondered for a moment on my drive home that night, what story would the other guy be telling the next day? He was pretty much a jerk and (failed) bully. It would be tough to paint him as the hero of the incident, and everybody wants to be the hero in their own story.

Then my cynicism returned, and I realized that his version would be no problem. Here it is from his perspective (albeit with better grammar and an expanded vocabulary):

"I was sitting back, waiting to gas up my van. This one guy finished pumping his gas and went and paid, but when he came back he just started his car and sat there. After a while I went over and asked him if he was going to move or what. He was a real jerk, whining about not having enough room to get out. He was driving a little tiny wussmobile of a car, and my van was way back out of the way. He had all kinds of room, but I guess the little princess didn't think it was enough. I told him off, then backed up even further so the sissy had enough room to put a transport through. I guess that was finally enough space for him to get out without calling his Mommy to come steer for him, so he left. Jerk."

On to the comment from RebelAngel, who does not know me in real life, as evidenced by her opening:
What is it about your personal appearance that gives people the clue that you are a nerd, even while sitting in your car at the pump? Horn rimmed glasses? Pocket protector? Magic: The Gathering t-shirt?
Oh, where to begin. Would you like that alphabetically, or in order of importance?

I was wearing a coat, zipped all the way up, so he couldn't see what t-shirt I was wearing. For the record, though, Magic t-shirts are for newbies and poseurs. I'm old school. I'm more likely to wear a Netrunner t-shirt.

Sadly, the bit about owning - and wearing - a Netrunner t-shirt is true. Perhaps more sadly, I'm kidding about mocking Magic t-shirts. I've got a couple, and wear them regularly. All the gaming shirts are left from when I ran a comic and gaming shop, back in the nineties. Wizards of the Coast used to send them out free to store owners for promotional purposes. In retrospect, it's surprising they ever sent any that fit me. My weight has never gone over 145, which is about half an average comic shop employee over age twenty (to eliminate the skinny high school kids who work part time for store credit).

Anyway, to go back to your actual question: you'll just have to trust me when I say, "you'll just have to trust me."
I agree with you that a**hole would have been a more appropriate choice than nerd.
Thanks. So does my Mom.
I think you intimidated him, actually, and he tried to cover it up by blustering.
I really don't think so. I mean, I hope not. I wasn't trying to be intimidating, and it's safe to say that I'm usually not. I intentionally try to be pretty agreeable and non-confrontational when dealing with people outside my house. As far as depends on me, I try to get along with people. I'm like Rodney King without the crack pipe and baton scars.

There. I'm out of jokes about this stuff.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a scale model of Noah's Ark according to the dimensions specified in the Bible. You may notice that there are no trunks, tails, ears, or giraffe necks sticking out of it to comedic effect.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Separate But Equal (And Other Stuff)

There's lots of interesting stuff going on in the world. Too bad I don't have the time / energy / ambition to write more often.

Well, the "time" excuse is a complete cop-out, as it is for everybody who ever uses it. We all get the same 24 hours in each day, and make choices on how to spend them. To say that we don't have time for something - which I claim constantly - is simply to say that other things were more important to us.

I'm pleased to see that the Flagcounter over on the right reports that today I hit the 1000-Canadian-visitors mark. Traffic isn't what I'd hoped back when I launched this blog, but that's still not too bad. I also recently passed this blog's first anniversary (and my 200th post). I had considered doing something to commemorate the occasion, like maybe going over some old posts to discuss some favourites in a "director's commentary" type article, but.... I guess I didn't have time.

Posting may pick up over the next few days. I've got a few articles worth of material stockpiled, and rather than post a long hodgepodge, I intend to have smaller entries spread over several days. We'll see how it goes. We all know what "intentions" are worth. Anyway, on to the news:

The Canadian federal government (and provincial government of British Columbia) have taken a giant leap forward toward the widespread adoption of Sharia courts in Canada:

The Prince Rupert Aboriginal Justice Society has signed a formal partnership with both provincial and federal government agencies. Yesterday, the society signed a protocol agreement with a number of agencies, an official recognition of the alternative measures used to deal with offenders outside of provincial courtrooms. Those agencies include the Prince Rupert Detachment of the RCMP, the Attorney General of British Columbia, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Ministry of Children and Family Development, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Community Corrections, and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

The message is: everybody gets their own court. Aboriginal? Here's your sentencing circle. Muslims, step right this way for your Sharia court. Catholics, the Council of Bishops will determine your penance. Dungeons and Dragons players, remember that your Dungeon Master's decision is always final.

This is an obvious mockery of the notion of equal justice, and therefore a step toward anarchy. More disturbing, though, is the precedent set for Islamists who are pressing for Sharia courts in Canada.

Any movement away from the same justice system applying to all citizens plays right into their hands. The biggest problem is that they're the only large, organized group who acknowledge their intention to rule over the infidels, so there's very little organized resistance to their plans. They'll claim, of course, that Sharia court will only be used for Muslims who voluntarily submit to its authority. And that's exactly how it will be.

At first.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my son sitting in the parted Red Sea, courtesy of the Holy Land Experience.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day Hooptedoodle

Just a couple of quick thoughts on the inauguration of Barack Obama, who is doomed to disappoint the millions of people who are so caught up in his cult of personality that they seem to honestly expect him to solve every problem faced by the modern world. God help him (and I mean that literally, I don't toss that phrase around) when they realize he's only human.

First up, CNN sent me these two Breaking News Alert e-mails today, sixteen minutes apart:

-- The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States is under way.


-- Barack Obama has been sworn in as the nation's 44th president.

OK. It has been known for years that the inauguration of America's 44th president would take place on January 20, 2009. And we've known since early November that Obama would be that president.

By what possible measure in any possible universe do the two items I quoted (in their entirety) qualify as Breaking News? I'm expecting one in about nine hours that says "Sun rises on Eastern Seaboard of North America", followed closely by "Canadian temperatures dipped below freezing in January".

If for whatever reason Obama had not been sworn in as scheduled, that would have been Breaking News. Breaking News should always be reserved for unforeseen events. If I'm not surprised by it, then it doesn't qualify. "Long-scheduled and heavily publicized event proceeds exactly as planned" is not, was never, and can never be Breaking News.

Today at work I had to listen to a political conversation between woefully uninformed participants. It's a close-quarters cubicle farm, and I couldn't get my MP3 player's headphones on quickly enough to dodge it.

I actually heard this sentence spoken by someone comparing Obama to Bush: "I don't think Obama's as afraid to do the right thing" (as Bush).

If I had been drinking a beverage, it surely would have come squirting out of my nose. This allegation was so ridiculous that I considered going out to the local coffee shop, getting a drink, coming back in, and asking the speaker to repeat it for the express purpose of producing some nostril cappuccino. I'm sure that hearing someone say that sentence, without sarcasm, would have been just as funny the second time around.

Bush is far from perfect. I hope history will be written by people smart and mature enough to see that he did a good - not outstanding, but good - job. Most of his supposed "disasters" were not his fault. To wit: the economy is not the President's responsibility. Iraq's continuing instability is primarily the responsibility of its own people (whether the terrorists who perpetuate it or the average decent citizens who for whatever reason can't / don't put a stop to it). To blame Bush for Katrina is to suggest that he controls the weather. "Other countries" (read "Islamic theocracies and European socialists") not approving of American policies should taken as a compliment. And so on.

Worse, Bush doesn't get credit for the things that he's done very, very right. I actually saw a commenter on another site earlier today write, in response to the correct observation that Bush policies prevented further domestic terror attacks after 9/11, "The lack of terrorist attacks means nothing; I haven't had any problems with Rhinos in my yard ever since I brought my cat home. Therefore, my cat keeps Rhinos away? No."

I trust I don't need to point out the logical error in that spectacularly arrogant display of nitwittery.

The heck with it. I can't resist dropping a hint: how many rhino attacks do you suppose this person's yard suffered before the cat entered the scene?

Back to the point. Obama may or may not be willing to do what's right. At this point, we just don't know. All we've seen are speeches filled with vapid talk of hope and change, and a whole bunch of "present" votes.

Bush, on the other hand, is practically defined by his determination to do what is right regardless of the consequences to his popularity. His low approval ratings are there precisely because he is willing to make difficult decisions and see them through whether or not they're popular. It's easy, in the short term, to achieve mass popularity. Keep the bread and circuses coming, and promise plenty of free ice cream in the mail, and media sycophants will beat a path to your door. It's much harder to demonstrate the courage of your convictions, and to stand up for what is right even when those around you disagree. Sometimes that's what leadership requires.

I wouldn't argue that George W. Bush was the smartest president ever, or the best by pretty much any measure. However, there is absolutely no question that he is a man of principles, a man of integrity, and completely fearless in standing up for what he believes to be right. To suggest otherwise isn't so much insulting to him, as it is too absurd to even consider.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of the "iCoaster" we got our son for Christmas. Regular $90 at Wal-Mart, marked down to $50 when we bought it, and now down to $40. He loves it.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I Married A Concordance

For the past few weeks, every time I've started thinking about any topic the same Bible verse keeps coming up:

"I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?" - John 3:12 (NIV), spoken by Jesus.
I was vaguely aware of this verse for a long time; as I've mentioned, I first read through the entire Bible in my teens, a couple of decades ago, and have done so at least once a year since. However, this passage never quite made it to front-and-centre in my mind until now. Lately I keep finding myself in situations where that passage is relevant, even crucial. I take this as a sign that I'm supposed to learn something.

The worst part was that whenever it came up, I couldn't put my finger on its exact location. Knowing that a Biblical passage is "in there somewhere" is better than nothing, but for serious research or debate you need to be able to cite your source.

Worse, I only thought of the passage when I was in situations where I couldn't easily look it up. That is, when my Bible reference books and Internet connection (for were unavailable - usually when I was at my office. I searched the non-exhaustive concordance in the study Bible I keep at work, and asked any co-workers who I thought might know, but no luck. I even spent my breaks one day skimming the Gospels looking for it. I got all the way though Matthew and Mark and about halfway through Luke, which obviously didn't turn it up.

That same day, my wife and son met me at the local library after I got off work. I asked her if she could remember the passage, or even anything about its context. She thought for a brief moment, then said, "I'm pretty sure it's in John. Jesus was talking to Nicodemus." I immediately went and checked, and with that info I had it in about thirty seconds.

I told this story to some friends at church. My wife was promptly dubbed "a walking concordance". I've heard people dubbed far worse.

In other Sunday-type (churchy / Bible-y / Christiany) news , I'm going to be leading our mid-week Bible study group for the next few months. That's a big part of why I haven't been writing much on here recently. I've been putting my writing energy into preparing the material for those sessions. I may put it up here as well, especially since I found while preparing the material for the first session that I don't need to prepare much material for the sessions.

Don't worry. That'll make sense if and when I get around to telling the story.

It looks like the group will be spending 12 to 17 weeks (depending on how deep the group wants to go) on the topic I'm leading. It's a topic I haven't directly addressed on this blog yet, and I'm not getting into it just now. Suffice it to say that it's rather controversial, even within the Church. I'll be outing myself as holding a specific position soon enough, assuming I decide to put the stuff up here.

Oh, and that verse I talked about earlier is one of the main verses that I'll be emphasizing.

And in our final story for tonight, this week I listened to Bob Dylan's three albums from his "born again" period for the first time. I'm surprised by how good they are. Despite being a child of the sixties (despite that decade having ended before I was born) I've never been a big Dylan fan. I became somewhat familiar with him in the eighties, by which time his singing was mostly parody fodder.

Two things in particular impress me about these albums. First, they're very good musically. The songs are solid, the musicianship top-notch, and while Dylan's vocals are... distinctive, he's certainly not incoherent. The singing is more than passable.

Second, I had expected that the Christian messages would be fairly subdued and sanitized. I had heard Gotta Serve Somebody before, and figured that would be the most explicit he got. I was drastically wrong. The Gospel is front and centre on all three of these albums, presented without compromise or apology.

The real shame is that he backed off. I recently heard a Larry Norman concert where Larry talked between songs about fans wanting mainstream artists who are professing Christians to sing the Gospel. Larry said, accurately, "Bob Dylan did it, and we didn't like it. We told him to stop."

I've read a lot of Dylan interviews and articles over the years (that Rolling Stone subscription again), and he seems to have softened his positions. I hope he's retained his personal faith, although that's not the impression I get. I may add one of the many Dylan biographies to my ever-expanding "to read" stack of books, to find out more about this period in his life.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of something else that my wife, The Walking Concordance, made with woolly string and hooked sticks. It's much less yellow and more colourful in real life than it looks in this shot.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

This Too Will Change When I Am King

So Barack Obama has admitted that despite campaigning on a pledge to shut down the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention facility ASAP, it might not be a priority once he actually takes office. He's using the usual types of dimwitted political excuses, mumbling about the situation being more complicated than he had realized. This always translates to, "Turns out the people who were actually doing the job understood it better than I did. Oh, well, as long as the voters are as uninformed as me, I win!"

CNN is spinning furiously on the matter, with a current front-page headline reading "Obama will act fast to close Gitmo, sources say." As throughout the election, CNN has two journalistic priorities: making sure no one questions the infallibility of the Obamessiah, and making sure no one questions their objectivity.

Bill Clinton pulled a similar stunt sixteen years ago, and I've thought ever since that he owes George H.W. Bush the mother of all apologies. During the 1992 campaign, Clinton bashed Bush for expanding trade relations with China, citing China's atrocious human rights record. This is one of those rare occasions when I agree with Bill Clinton. China is run by thugs and barbarians, and we need to stop giving them money to use against their citizens.

Well, I need to revise that. I'd agree with Clinton on this point if he had actually meant it. Instead, once he took office, he adopted a policy of licking China's boots at every opportunity. He extended their Most Favored Nation trading status with the U.S., justifying it on the grounds of the situation having been more complicated than he had realized. I have a feeling that the menu at Denny's is too complicated for Bill Clinton to understand. I'm not questioning his intelligence, but his mental prioritization. If that Denny's menu had pictures of Catherine Bach circa 1980 (the only real Daisy Duke) on it, Clinton's cerebral cortex would be all over it.

Bill Clinton owed (and owes) G.H.W. Bush a large apology for continuing to do exactly what he'd condemned his opponent for. And in a few months, Obama will owe G.W. Bush a large apology for the same reason unless Guantanamo is closed. That's not the policy I would prefer, but it would show me a bit of integrity from Obama, which I haven't seen yet.

If I could reform the democratic system tomorrow (and I might), the first change I'd implement would be to require all candidates running for any public office to write and sign a list of their campaign promises. This written list would then be a contract. Once in office, the successful candidate would have one year to at least attempt to implement everything on their list. If they fail to do so, then a new election is held immediately.

The "at least attempt to" qualifier is there because in a system of checks and balances, the candidate may not (and should not) have carte blanche to do whatever they want. Therefore, a reasonable attempt to keep their promises, for example, by proposing a bill, even if that bill dies somewhere in the process, would suffice. Unfortunately, there would need to be some sort of bipartisan (or nonpartisan, if such a thing could exist) committee formed to determine what constitutes an honest attempt, but I think that adding one small component to the government bureaucracy would be a very small price to pay for being able to hold lying politicians accountable.

A candidate could easily avoid writing such a list under this system: just don't make any promises. A candidate could still spell out what they hoped to do, or what they would try to do - the only danger to them would come when they say, "If elected, I will." They could always decline to sign a binding position list. Of course, I would expect their opponent to get great mileage from their unwillingness to risk their position for their principles. "My opponent will not commit to action. How can you trust them about anything?"

I've had people hear this proposal and disagree with it because "then the candidates wouldn't promise anything."

I'm pretty sure that's exactly the point.

I try not to use the word "promise", or any other words that unconditionally commit me to an action, with my son unless I'm sure I can follow through. Politicians should show the electorate the same respect.

(Quick sidebar: the "When I Am King" in the subject implies that this change will come when the system of government in one or more nations is changed to monarchy with me at the top, meaning that "democratic reforms" won't actually work. Fear not. My last act as King, probably within hours of coronation, will be to abolish the monarchy and institute representational democracy.)

To her great credit, I can think of one politician who has shown the integrity to do this on her own. Sheila Copps, a former Canadian Member of Parliament, ran on a party platform of abolishing the GST (a federal tax that adds 7% to the price of most goods and services in Canada). She said publicly that she would resign if her party won and didn't follow through. They did, and then didn't. Jean Chretien, who wouldn't make my list of favourite Prime Ministers by any measurement, hauled out the usual line about the situation being more complicated than he had realized, and the tax stayed.

Ms. Copps showed a backbone and stood by her word. It may have taken a little prodding, but she resigned her seat and a by-election was held. Her constituents re-elected her despite the broken promise, which would always be a possibility under the system I propose. I don't agree with her on much of anything, but I respect her integrity.

If Guantanamo is still open when Saint Patrick's Day rolls around, we'll find out if Barack Obama is as much of a man as Sheila Copps.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture taken at a "peace" rally in San Francisco (surprise!). It should come as no shock that crazy people are often illiterate as well. Nice to see Mom teaching good old-fashioned values like Free Expression, Civic Awareness, and Kill The Jews to her younglings. Thanks to Zombietime, always a great place to go see some good crazy, for the picture.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Outmaneuvered II

My son often chooses not to listen. I know that may sound like crazy talk to any parents reading this, but it's true.

You can get right in his face, force him to make eye contact (which he strenuously avoids, but that's a topic for another day), and stress how important your next sentence will be, then say it, and almost invariably get the same response:


This is said in as disinterested a tone as possible, and sounds more like it should be spelled, "Wut?"

His hearing isn't the problem. If you're offering candy, he can hear a whisper from two doors down the street. It's purely a matter of him deciding that whatever you're saying isn't worth listening to, tuning out, then coming back in at the end when he realizes you expected a response. If you repeat yourself for him, he usually loses interest again after a few words and the cycle of "Wut?" repeats.

We're trying to break him of this tendency, and one of our strategies is to refuse to repeat ourselves, especially if whatever we said was to his benefit. For example, "After supper you can have some chocolate cake for dessert" will not get repeated when he tunes out around the second syllable of "supper" then expects you to go back over it.

The following conversation took place at supper a couple of nights ago. My wife had said something to him, which he ignored. After a few seconds he realized that there may have been something in it for him, so he asked for a repetition. She refused to give it to him, and we reminded him that we're not going to keep repeating things for him.

My wife: "You should have been listening the first time. I am not repeating myself."

Him: A pause, then, "What?"

Her: "I said, I'm not repeating myself."

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my son (and an unidentified innocent bystander) playing in the water park at Gatorland. This particular gator isn't so much real.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Your Kaffiyeh Is Showing

The province where I currently reside has two "major" newspapers. I read one of them on a more or less daily basis, because one of my co-workers brings her copy to the office with her.

My first stop each day is the letters to the editor section, where I go for what I call "my daily dose of crazy". There's usually at least one letter to the editor that seems to have been written by somebody who last contacted reality while Cheers was still on the air.

Today was a bumper crop. There was no garden-variety crazy on the menu, but we got a double dose of "kill the Jews in the name of tolerance."

The first letter argues that Israel's military action against Hamas is unjustified and disproportionate because the rockets that Hamas have been firing at them for months are neither powerful nor accurate.

If you agree with this opinion - in fact, if you see even a shred of validity in it - then I have a scenario for you. Suppose that somebody sat across the street from your home with a gun day after day, firing sporadically in the direction of your kids playing in the yard. Would you be OK with that, as long as they weren't a very good shot and only used small-calibre firearms?

Assuming that you're sane and so you answered in the negative, would you object to some people with uniforms and weapons showing up to deal with the situation? If more than one armed officer showed up, would you complain that the force was "disproportionate" because there's only one shooter?

A second letter on the same page said that "Israel has a right to exist, but not where it is". For those of you who don't recognize this type of argument, it's usually phrased as "there's nothing wrong with (insert the ethnic group of your choice here), but I wouldn't want my sister dating one."

That letter went on to say, "(The Jews) can never forgive Germany, because if they do, then they have to have a hard look at their own sins." Somebody's been reading The Protocols of the Elders of Zion again. Oh, well, at least they're reading. If they keep practicing they can work their way up to Mein Kampf someday. The writer went on to suggest that we "consider" proposing that a section of Germany be expropriated and given to the Jews as a new homeland.

These letters were printed without editorial comment. Most are. I can only remember one response they've printed offhand. I'm sure there have been others, but we always notice when it's our own ox being gored.

Several years ago, this same paper ran an editorial about how pro-lifers secretly (or not so secretly) like it whenever an abortionist is targeted with violence. The editor alluded to quiet celebrations being held whenever a doctor is killed. This is nonsense. A pro-lifer wrote a letter to correct this notion, accurately saying that no mainstream pro-life organization has ever condoned, encouraged, or celebrated violence of any kind. The paper ran a one-sentence rebuttal under that letter, saying something like "not openly encouraging violence isn't the same thing as opposing it."

That didn't even answer the point, but instead moved the goalposts. They accused pro-lifers of celebrating murder. When that notion was corrected, they said, "Yeah, but you don't say anything against it!" Not only is that not remotely true, but it wasn't what they said in the first place. If it had been, then perhaps the letter-writer would have answered that false claim instead of the one they actually made.

Apparently it's fine to rebut letters to the editor if they're from some pro-life extremist, but Allah forbid that we raise any doubts about the annihilation of the Jews.

Oh, wait. I just remembered. As a rule, pro-lifers don't set fire to newspaper offices when they get offended by editorials or cartoons. Maybe the real issue isn't just hypocrisy, but cowardly hypocrisy.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of the courtyard at the Holy Land Experience.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Odd Trip To The Gas Bar

This happened last night, not long after I posted the previous item. I went out to the local gas bar for a fillup. I wound up at the front pump in the lane furthest to the left. There's a curb alongside that lane, which was covered by a few inches of snow. I filled up, went inside and paid.

When I came back out, there was a van sitting across my exit, its nose pointing toward the lane to my right, which was fully occupied at the time. The van was diagonal across my lane, leaving me not quite enough room to get out. No problem, I thought, I was in no hurry. I got in, started my engine, and waited.

After a couple of minutes, the van shifted back and forth a few inches. It was on an incline, and it looked like the driver was driving a standard and moving a bit as he worked the clutch and brake. He shifted the van straight back a couple of feet, but it still wasn't far enough from the left-hand curb for me to get out.

The driver got out and walked over to my car. At this point I was starting to think that maybe he wanted into this lane, despite the fact that the nose of his van was pretty clearly pointed toward the lane on the other side of the pumps. I had already realized that he had no idea - or no concern - that he was blocking me in, but as noted, that didn't bother me.

He was heavyset and considerably older than me, but not a pension candidate yet - probably in his early fifties. Instead of walking to the driver's side of my car and knocking on the window, as I expected, he walked up the passenger side. Then, instead of knocking on the window on that side, he opened the door and got in. His feet were still on the ground outside but he was sitting on the seat, twisting around and leaning in (not so far as to seem threatening) to talk to me.

His tone wasn't friendly or cheerful, as I was expecting, but it wasn't angry either. "Excuse me," he said just a bit sharply, "but I'd like to get some gas here."

"No problem," I replied in a much more pleasant tone than his. "I just don't have room to get out around you. If you want this spot, back up a little so I can get through and it's all yours."

He hesitated, looked out at the gap between his van and the curb, and said, "You can get through there."

No, I couldn't. "There's a curb under that snow, and I'm not putting this car over it. Just move over a couple of feet and we'll be all set."

He paused again, longer this time, and restated: "You've got enough room to get through there."

I wasn't getting angry, and I'm pretty difficult to intimidate through strange or aggressive behaviour. It entertains me, which sometimes unfortunately leads me to encourage it. I was amused, if anything, but keeping an agreeable tone and expression. After all, at this point this was a simple friendly, if inexplicable, misunderstanding. I repeated, "I'm not putting my car over the curb that's under that snow."

He responded so quickly that he cut off my last word. He still didn't make any threatening gestures of any kind, and didn't raise his voice. "You're a f***ing nerd."

I consider myself reasonably verbally adept, but I have to admit that I don't keep a ready retort for that level of witty repartee loaded up and ready to go. I just raised my eyebrows and looked at him for a second, trying not to break into laughter at this outburst from a grown man. I'm not sure how he was interpreting my non-reaction, but he seemed to puff up a bit in triumph and said, "You heard me. You're a f***ing little nerd." He looked very pleased with himself. He then got out of my car, walked back to his van, and backed up out of the way. I pulled out around him and laughed all the way home.

This incident made me realize that I have no idea how to handle random, unprovoked and disproportionate, but essentially harmless hostility. Even thinking about it now, there's nothing that I wish I'd said to him. That's rare for me; I normally want to rescript every conversation I have ten minutes afterward.

A couple of minor ideas occurred to me. For example, shutting my engine off and walking over to the attendant's booth to purchase a snack after he backed up would have been fun. However, most of my ideas wouldn't have been particularly funny, wouldn't have gotten any point across to this guy, and might have provoked him to escalate the situation. I got no indication that he might be violent, but you never know. If I'd deliberately pushed his buttons, he might have decided that his extra hundred pounds over me counted for more than my being fifteen years younger and tried his luck. (He almost certainly would have been right about that.)

I guess this is my question to ponder for today: how do you handle random people who are disproportionately hostile for no apparent reason? Until I think of something better (read: funnier), I'll go with mocking them on the Internet.

Now that I've had a day to contemplate this encounter, I think I realize what's so funny about it. It's not really the inexplicable hostility demonstrated by my visitor (and, boy, what a joy he must be to live with). It's the sheer absurdity of a grown man going out of his way to call another grown man a "nerd."

"Nerd?" Really? That's the best you can do? Come on, at least call me an a**hole. I could respect that. "Nerd" just sounds like we're fourteen and you caught me sitting at your table in the cafeteria. I have a hunch this guy has some unresolved issues from adolescence. His high school sweetheart probably dumped him for a guy who's pulling down six figures now running a software company.

As I presented one of today's many workplace performances of this bit, one of my co-workers pointed out that "nerd" wasn't even appropriate to the situation. Perhaps he was just making an unrelated observation.

My wife said this reminded her of a scene in Footloose (which I've never seen) where somebody calls Kevin Bacon a "pansy", and he responds with incredulity: "Who says 'pansy' anymore?"

Personally, I think "pansy" is a perfectly good thing to call someone if the situation warrants. But then again, apparently I'm a huge nerd.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of the stuff my son got for Christmas, arranged differently than the first shot.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Another Reason Why People Don't Talk To Me

Today at work I handled some correspondence from a client in Germany. The envelope had a logo on it reading "Luftpost". That amused me in and of itself. It probably just means "air mail", but I prefer to think that it's the name of a courier company. Of course, I was then compelled to think of some marketing slogans for a courier company called Luftpost:

Your mail arrives at Blitzkreig speed!


Luftpost: The Final Solution for all your delivery needs!

I occasionally get a "tsk, tsk" and a head-shake for doing German / Nazi jokes. The way I see it, if you set out to commit genocide and darn near succeed, wiping out several million people and starting a World War in the process, you're fair game for some good-natured ribbing. People make O.J. Simpson jokes, after all, and he only killed two people.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of the stuff my son got for Christmas (closeup view of the ends of the boxes).

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Case In Point

I had been bouncing ideas around for my last entry, Five Tips For Bible Bashers, for a while when I saw something in a December 30 newspaper that exemplified what I intended to talk about. I figured it would be a perfect example. Then when I actually wrote and posted the article, I forgot to include it. That's OK, in retrospect; I think the original article was long enough, thanks.

As I've hopefully made clear by now, I like people to know what they're talking about if they're going to seriously discuss Biblical matters. That's why I was happy to see columnist Gwynne Dyer take Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to task for his (M.A.'s) statements about Jesus's political views. The first part is a quotation from the Iranian president's speech, and then Dyer's apt response:

"If Christ were on Earth today, undoubtedly He would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers. . . . He would hoist the banner of love and justice for humanity to oppose warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies the world over."

Really? Christ lived in the Roman Empire, the very epitome of a bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist power, and his own native land, Palestine, was under Roman occupation, but he didn't hoist the banner to oppose anything.

M.A. is trying to slyly insinuate that Jesus would be on Iran's side against the United States (and, presumably, Hamas' side versus Israel). Dyer, apparently having learned a thing or two about Jesus, knows better. That's good, and this is exactly the kind of rebuke to Biblical ignorance (again, in the non-pejorative sense) that I like to see.

However, Dyer then blows it big time a few paragraphs later, badly damaging his credibility (emphasis added):

Abraham and Muhammad were both prominent and powerful men. Christ was not. He was almost certainly illiterate, and he never showed the slightest interest in politics.

This set off all kinds of warning bells, and it took me about twenty seconds to look up this passage:

(Jesus) went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me..."

There are also many passages in the Gospels where Jesus responds to challenges with "Have you not read" or "it is written" - highly unlikely responses if He was illiterate. Consider too the fact that He was called Rabbi, a title which generally implies extensive learning. I could continue, but I hope the point is now made. It is easily demonstrated that there is no chance, based on the Gospels, that Jesus was illiterate.

Maybe basic research really is too much to ask. I don't mean to slam Dyer individually here - his carelessness is simply typical of the cheerful guessing that passes for commentary these days.

Here's all I ask, whether you're preaching from a pulpit or doing your worst to tear down the church from the outside: before you start expounding on "What would Jesus do", find out what He did.

Read it for yourself. Don't embarrass yourself with easily refuted claims. When that happens, it damages the credibility of everything else you say.

This warning is for myself at least as much as for anyone else.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of the stuff my son got for Christmas. So much for avoiding an orgy of materialism.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Five Tips For Bible Bashers

No matter which side of an issue I'm on, I don't like to see bad arguments getting used. On a daily basis I see and hear people attacking Christianity, often using very weak arguments.

Today's article is for those people. If you're a Bible basher, following this advice will help you make a better case against it. More to the point, ignoring this advice will make you look foolish to educated Christians (even though they may be too nice to say so). These tips are things that opponents of Christianity don't quite seem to understand.

I'll list the points first, then go into some detail on each one. I'll try to be relatively brief, but any returning readers will know that's not my strong suit. Each one of these points could probably have been a lengthy article of its own. I won't be linking to sources on everything, including many of the Biblical citations, but I'll provide them upon request - just ask in the comments. Each of these tips and examples is based on something I've actually heard or read used in argument, usually by an opponent of Biblical Christianity.

5 Tips For Bible Bashers

1. The Bible is divided into two major sections, called Testaments. There are important differences between them.

2. Nobody takes the entire Bible literally.

3. The Bible often doesn't say what you think it does.

4. Jesus Christ's main message for us was not "be nice."

5. The Bible explicitly says that you don't get it.

Now let's look at these in more detail.

1. The Bible is divided into two major sections, called Testaments. There are important differences between them.

In attempts to show contradictions in Scripture, or nowadays often in attempts to draw parallels between Biblical Christianity and Islam, people often pull passages randomly from both the Old and New Testaments (sometimes abbreviated OT and NT herein, when it doesn't do too much damage to the "feel" of the sentence). If you do that, here's something you should understand.

Although God does not change, how He interacts with humanity has. In phase one, recorded in what we now call the Old Testament, God took more of a tough-love approach to mankind. We were under the Law, and you either followed it or paid a price. God was not averse to bringing down the thwackhammer as needed. This was a violent period in history, as the nation of Israel was sometimes ordered to eliminate idolatry by eliminating the idolaters.

Everything changed when God took on human form, taking the name Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, the easy way to tell the two Testaments apart is that the OT is pre-Jesus, while the NT tells about Him and what happened in the wake of His life, death, and resurrection.

The OT Law was greatly modified by the NT, to put it gently. The physical (and often immediate) death sentence for most idolatry was rescinded. We went from being under Law to being recipients of grace. The mandated method of dealing with nonbelievers changed from execution to persuasion. So, yes, if you dig through the Old Testament, you can find passages where behaviour that appalls modern sensibilities is commended or even ordered by God.

However, what needs to be understood is that with the new Convenant between God and Man ("covenant" and "testament" mean pretty much the same thing, by the way), many aspects of the Old Testament Law were explicitly overturned. If you read the New Testament, you'll find many phrases like "You have heard it said that... but I say to you." These are passages where the Old Testament Law is explicitly being updated, almost always to a kinder, gentler philosophy.

Other aspects of the OT Law remain intact. In fact, the general rule is that if an OT doctrine isn't explicitly overturned in the New, then it remains in force. This is why it's silly to say, "If you're opposed to homosexual behaviour because the Bible says it's wrong, then you should be opposed to eating shellfish too! They're both forbidden in Leviticus!" Food laws were explicitly overturned in the NT. However, homosexual behaviour is specifically cited in the NT as still being prohibited (among many other sins).

Trying to demonstrate that the Bible contradicts itself by comparing an OT passage with one from the NT is a lot like saying that Star Wars contradicts itself because in one part Luke is a farmboy and in another he's a Jedi. All you're demonstrating is that you weren't paying attention when things changed.

2. Nobody takes the entire Bible literally.

Before my fellow Evangelicals get too upset, let me clarify that by saying this I am not denying the literal historicity of the Creation account, the global Flood, the Tower of Babel, Methuselah's 969 birthday cakes, Jonah's ordeal, the Virgin Birth, or any other event, person or place attested to in Scripture as history. I believe all of it.

However, that doesn't mean that every word in the entire Bible is to be taken literally. The Bible contains a variety of literary forms, including poetry, symbolism, and metaphor. Revelation and large swaths of the major prophetic books consist of descriptions of "visions". I don't claim to understand exactly what that means, but I'm quite confident in saying that the events described in those visions did not necessarily actually happen in the real world. Parables are fictional constructs, a close cousin to what we now call fables.

This may not seem like a major point, but it goes to demonstrate the ignorance (which I use here strictly in its non-pejorative sense, meaning "not knowing") of the many who claim that conservative Christians, Fundamentalists, etc., "take the whole Bible literally". I've heard claims that The Bible teaches that the Earth is flat (it doesn't, but we'll come back to that) based on the use of the phrase "four corners of the Earth". Nonsense. That's a common figure of speech meaning "all over the world", and it's somewhere between disingenuous and contemptible to insinuate otherwise.

The same is true for all the poetic language found in Scripture. Claiming that the entire Bible is to be taken literally is to say that somebody's kid sister may in fact be a wall (or door), and that intangible attributes sometimes walk around town hollering. Even Christians know better than that.

Nobody takes the whole Bible literally, but there are lots of people who take it all seriously. In fact, taking it seriously precludes taking it all literally. The historical narrative is true, but the poetry is poetry, the visions are visions, the metaphors are metaphors, and the parables are parables.

I probably should stop here to point out the folly of speaking in absolutes - "nobody takes the entire Bible literally". This is, of course, dangerous. No matter what position or practice is being described, using words like "nobody" or "everybody" may be technically too strong. It's a big strange world, and there's somebody out there to espouse every belief and carry on every obscure practice. If I say, "Nobody shoves jellybeans up their nose then swings lemurs around by the tail while whistling the theme song from Hill Street Blues", I can probably be proven wrong with a Google search (or a trip to News of the Weird). Do me a favour: if you know for a fact that I'm wrong about that example, don't tell me how you know.

So, when I say "nobody", feel free to mentally insert an "almost". All I can ever really say is that I've never met, or heard of, anybody who does it.

3. The Bible often doesn't say what you think it does.
"The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much that isn't so." - Ronald Reagan
The Bible does not say that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. It doesn't say that money is the root of all evil. It doesn't say that Adam and Eve bit into an apple. It doesn't say that Jesus was born in a stable, or that three wise men came to visit Him. It doesn't say that divorce is always forbidden. It doesn't say what ever happened to Joseph, or whether Jesus was single, married, or widowed. It doesn't say that Mary remained a virgin or physically ascended into Heaven. It doesn't say what Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was. It doesn't say that the Earth is flat. It doesn't call for persecution of the Jews. The "Footprints" poem and the Serenity Prayer aren't in there. It certainly doesn't say "cleanliness is next to Godliness".

These are matters that have somehow drifted into popular consciousness, when a little research would have shown that they're baseless.

Some other Biblical passages are present, but without context don't mean what critics (or people hoping to justify themselves) often assume. When Jesus said, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone," He followed it by admonishing the reprieved sinner to "go and sin no more." "In my Father's house there are many rooms" cannot be an endorsement of religious pluralism, since it's closely followed by "I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through me." "Taking the Lord's name in vain" doesn't only (or primarily) mean using God's name(s) as a swear word (although it encompasses that); it means claiming to speak on God's behalf or with God's authority when you don't know Him or His will. "Judge not" doesn't mean that we can't distinguish between good and evil; it means that we aren't in a position to decide who is going to Hell.

Still other passages seem straightforward on the surface, but deeper study into the original languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic in different books) reveal meanings that may not be expressed correctly in modern English translations. The commandment usually rendered "thou shalt not kill" would be better translated "thou shalt not commit murder for personal gain." One of the favourite passages of pro-abortionists is Exodus 21: 22-23, which says in the King James Version (KJV)(emphasis added):

If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life...

Many modern critics think that this passage means that the Bible doesn't hold the death of a preborn baby as equivalent to that of an adult. They rely on an interpretation (sadly supported by some weaker Bible translations) whereby "so that her fruit depart" means a miscarriage, and "yet no mischief follow" means, "as long as no further harm is done to the mother." By this interpretation, only the mother's death would count as a murder. The problem is, this interpretation is entirely unsupported by the original Hebrew. The phrase that the KJV renders "so that her fruit depart" means "goes into premature labour", with no connotation of miscarriage, and "yet no mischief follows" means, "if no lasting harm befalls the mother or the baby."

This passage, once you know what it actually says, is probably the single strongest anti-abortion passage in the Bible. It means that the baby is considered equal in moral stature to the mother, and that the baby's death is to be avenged, "life for life".

I'm not saying that discussion of the Bible should be left to the experts. I'm saying that if you really want to argue about it, make an effort to educate yourself.

4. Jesus Christ's main message for us was not "be nice."

I can't explain this any better than Ann Coulter already has (please note that this is not an endorsement of every theological statement that she's ever made, or of the other swipes she takes in here while making her theological point):

According to liberals, the message of Jesus, which somehow (Mel) Gibson missed, is something along the lines of "be nice to people" (which to them means "raise taxes on the productive").

You don't need a religion like Christianity, which is a rather large and complex endeavor, in order to flag that message. All you need is a moron driving around in a Volvo with a bumper sticker that says "be nice to people." Being nice to people is, in fact, one of the incidental tenets of Christianity (as opposed to other religions whose tenets are more along the lines of "kill everyone who doesn't smell bad and doesn't answer to the name Mohammed"). But to call it the "message" of Jesus requires ... well, the brain of Maureen Dowd.

In fact, Jesus' distinctive message was: People are sinful and need to be redeemed, and this is your lucky day because I'm here to redeem you even though you don't deserve it, and I have to get the crap kicked out of me to do it. That is the reason He is called "Christ the Redeemer" rather than "Christ the Moron Driving Around in a Volvo With a 'Be Nice to People' Bumper Sticker on It."

5. The Bible explicitly says that you don't get it. To the extent that you understand it, you fight against it and resent those who proclaim it. By "you", I mean those who attack, deny, distort, or simply ignore Scripture. I'll let the Bible speak for itself on this one. All quotations are from the New International Version (NIV):
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. - Proverbs 1:7
For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. - II Cor. 2:15-16
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. - I Cor. 1:17-27
The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish." - Isaiah 29:13-14
The LORD has brought over you a deep sleep: He has sealed your eyes (the prophets), he has covered your heads (the seers). - Isaiah 29:10
(Jesus) said, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, "though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand." - Luke 8:10
(The LORD) said, "Go and tell this people: "Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.' Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed." - Isaiah 6:9-10
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. - Romans 1:21
At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. - Luke 10:21
"He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'" - Luke 16:31
If a liar and deceiver comes and says, 'I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,' he would be just the prophet for this people! - Micah 2:11
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. - II Timothy 4:3
Jesus replied, "Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?" - Mark 12:24
(Paul) writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. - II Peter 3:16

If you've read all the way through this, hopefully you've realized that I'm not really interested in helping opponents of Biblical Christianity improve their attacks on Scripture. This article is being written for two audiences.

First, as I said at the outset, the "Bible bashers". If any of you have read this far, I hope you are starting to understand that many of those reasons you have for rejecting the Bible and opposing Christianity may not be as compelling as you thought. The fact that your opposition was foretold - that your arguments are as predictable as the output of a programmed computer - may shake your resolve, even if just a bit, and get you to start thinking.

I deliberately ratcheted my snark level down several notches from its usual height, in hopes of getting you to keep reading. Insulting and alienating you at the outset wouldn't have served any purpose, and it isn't what I want to do now.

I used to be on your side. I thought the Bible was full of contradictions and fairy tales, and thought myself quite clever, enlightened, and independent-minded for rejecting it.

Then I tried actually reading it.

Second, I wrote this for those on my current side of the fence: Christians who believe the Bible to be the Word of God and struggle to follow it. Some Bible-bashing arguments may ring true to you. Satan may sow seeds of doubt in you by putting clever words in someone's mouth (or keyboard) when you're in a vulnerable place. Don't let him shake you.

I promote what I call "spiritual self-defense". I'm a great believer in knowing the enemy's arguments and strategies, to defend against them. When I teach Sunday School classes, one of my main goals is to show how anti-Christian arguments can be answered. Not because I expect or even want every Christian to become confrontational, loudly countering every attack, but because I don't want those attacks to shake them. I want to help Christians put on the Armor of God. Hopefully this article gives some small amount of encouragement to somebody, somewhere.

I hold some hope that this will be the first article in a series. I had four more "tips" in my notes, but pared it down to the five I thought strongest, or at least the five that I most wanted to write up. If I can come up with some more, I may do a sequel. Suggestions, examples (including more for these five), and, yes, counterarguments, are welcome as always in the comments.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of our 2008 Christmas tree.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Shrek IV: Installing The Ogre

I just resolved another minor technology crisis. As I've done before, I decided to write it up in case anyone else has the same problem (or in case it happens to me again and I forget how I fixed it).

My son got Shrek's Carnival Craze Party Games for Christmas from his uncle. It's a DVD-Rom PC port of a console game. I haven't had enough interest in the game to play it much myself, so there will be no review forthcoming from me, although my son seems to quite enjoy it.

My role in the process was getting the game installed and running on one of our computers (Simeon). As experienced PC users know, getting new software working isn't always a matter of sticking the disc in and running the installer. This game was no exception to Murphy's Law.

The installer said that I needed DirectX 9.0c, and offered to install it for me. I already had DirectX 9.0c installed, and verified that with DXDiag, so I declined. The game seemed to install, but failed to run. I kept getting an error that a file named "d3dx9_37.dll" was missing.

Strike one for Activision, the game's publisher. My system met the requirements stated on the package, but the game didn't run out of the box.

I uninstalled, rebooted the PC, and reinstalled. This time I let the installer go ahead and install its DirectX version. That filename seemed pretty likely to be a DirectX component, and my system already contained plenty of files with similar names (just the number at the end was different), but not that one. When it finished, the exact same thing happened: "d3dx9_37.dll" was still missing.

Strike two for Activision. Their own installer didn't do the job.

I turned to Google for advice at this point. I found lots of sites offering free downloads of assorted malware packages named after that DLL file (security tip for the day: don't download system files from random websites, kids), but most discussions of the matter agreed that downloading the latest DirectX update straight from Microsoft is the way to go.

For various reasons, some of which may have to do with my Windows XP key and the word "activation", I don't tend to frequent Microsoft's website. Even assuming that I'm legit on all my software licencing, I don't like the steady intrusion into what I do with my PC that Microsoft and their pals so enjoy. Sony's rootkit debacle marked the end of my allowing any Sony product, hardware or software, into my home. Microsoft is one "phone home" applet from the same treatment. When - not if - I switch completely to Ubuntu for everyday use, the ultimate reason will be Microsoft's mistaken assumption that they, not I, own my computers.

The next thing I tried was browsing into the DirectX folder on the DVD itself and running the Setup.exe therein. Lo and behold, a different DirectX installer launched. I ran the Shrek game installer again, and this time everything worked fine. I'm tempted to call this strike three, since requesting DirectX installation from the main menu should have installed the same thing as the Setup in the subfolder, but I'm willing to let this one slide. Activision made it through - just barely.

This demonstrates two things for me. First, the primary advantage of consoles over PCs: in general, if you buy a game for your console, it just works. Console manufacturers are trying their hardest to eradicate this advantage with the recent spate of "basic" and "deluxe" versions of their machines, but they still hold an advantage over PCs.

Second, and closely related: Joe and Jane Average simply will not be able to get this game (or many others) working. When I think down the list of my friends, relatives, and acquaintances, very few of them would have been able to troubleshoot this problem and get the game working. In fact, pretty much the only ones who could have are those who have worked on computers for a living at some point. All the rest would have given up on it and either tried to return the game to the store as defective, or (more likely) put it on a shelf, never to be looked at again.

Wait, I forgot one other option: almost all of them would have wound up calling to ask me to come fix it.

This is why (a) I don't answer my phone, and (b) I encourage non-techies to buy consoles if they want to play games.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a waffle shaped like Mickey Mouse. I assume the restaurant's management pay proper tribute to Disney's legal department.