Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bible Defense: Everybody Likes Pi

Today's Bible Defense article was inspired by a comment on my explanation of the birds and the bats. In the comments on that article, someone with the handle Evil Bender posted this:

Of course, one could ask why God would have the Hebrews using a word that groups animals by flight, not by relationship. Surely he could have given them a better understanding of nature?

That the Creator of the Universe would conflate bats with birds (while apparently excluding flightless birds) does not help your case for infallibility.

Nor does the fact that pi is not equal to 3, nor that the gospels disagree about the event leading up to Jesus' death.

And that's without even getting into different lineages, iron chariots, and heaps of other biblical contradictions.
First of all, I'd like to thank E.B. for making a polite, thoughtful contribution to the discussion. All too often this sort of thing turns into a flamewar, consisting of nothing more than name-calling substituting for argument. E.B. has not done that, and I certainly don't intend to either.

Before we get into the meat of this new entry, I'd like to reiterate the point I wanted to make about bats and birds: there was no need for God to explain that bats aren't birds, since the ancient Hebrew word translated as "birds", 'owph, does not mean "birds" in the modern sense. It would have been completely nonsensical for the Bible to stop at that point to explain that bats are not birds, since in the original language "birds", in the sense of the category as it now exists, was never used. If the word "birds" is a problem, then forget that it's there, and mentally insert the word 'owph at that point.

In short, "birds" is an imperfect translation of the original word, which in no way meant or implied that only feathered egg-laying animals were intended. There's no need to defend the idea that the Bible calls bats "birds", because it doesn't. It calls them 'owph, which they are, and we translated it imperfectly.

Put another way: "That the Creator of the Universe would conflate bats with birds..." He didn't. Those who don't understand that 'owph does not mean "bird" did.

I don't know how to put it any more clearly.

However, E.B. raised another point that I'd like to address: the value of pi. His other alleged discrepancies fall into the category of "stuff I haven't researched or thought about enough to discuss intelligently". Maybe some other time.

Many people over the years have argued that the Bible says that pi is equal to three, based on this passage, I Kings 7:23 (repeated in II Chron. 4:2):
He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure around it.
Before we get into why this passage does not say that pi is equal to three (and why some people think it does, in case you've put all that stuff from geometry class behind you), let's talk about some of what those things mean.

Ritual washing was a huge issue for the priests of ancient Israel. There are many passages, especially in Leviticus, that go into great detail explaining exactly when and how priests are to wash before carrying out their duties. Most of the explanations boil down to cleanliness being a symbol of holiness; it would be an insult to God to appear for His service looking anything less than one's best. The phrase "cleanliness is next to Godliness" does not appear in the Bible, but it's easy to see how people make that logical leap.

The principle still holds today. Nobody wants to show up for a job interview, or the first meeting with the parents of someone they're dating, with a stain on their shirt or a milk mustache. It would be embarrassing to appear before someone whose approval you seek without cleaning yourself up.

The Old Testament rules of washing served a health purpose, as well. The priests handled food that was offered as sacrifice - which was then eaten. Long before humans understood germ theory and bacteria, God was promoting safe food handling techniques.

"The Sea" was a large basin, put inside the temple for the priests to use for washing. I don't know if they actually got right into it and bathed, but it was certainly large enough for them to do so. It was pretty much a huge bowl of water.

So, how huge? Most of us don't know offhand what a "cubit" is, so that "Sea" might only be big enough to dip a Star Wars figure's head.

It turns out that a cubit is about 18 inches. We'll be coming back to that "about". So, this basin was about (there's that word again) 15 feet across, 7 and 1/2 feet high, and 30 feet around. That should explain why it got named the Sea (a term that appears several more times, capitalized as a proper noun, in the Bible).

Overall, though, you don't need to worry about what a "cubit" is. The conversion of cubits to metric or imperial measurements isn't the issue - the ratio between the distance across the Sea and the distance around it are what matter.

So, then, this passage seems to say that the Sea was 30 cubits around and 10 cubits across. In geometric terms, it had a circumference of 30 cubits, and a diameter of 10 cubits. But wait. The formula for the circumference of a circle is pi times the diameter. Pi is an irrational number (that is, it has an infinite, nonrepeating series of digits after the decimal place) a little larger than 3. It's been calculated out to thousands of places beyond the decimal, but most people are content to use the very reasonable approximation of 3.14159 in its place. Some use 3.14, but they're just lazy.

If we use the stated diameter of 10 cubits and multiply by pi the way the nuns back in parochial school taught us, we find that the circumference should be 31.4159 cubits, not 30. Conversely, if we start with the circumference of 30 cubits and divide to find the diameter, we find that it should be about 9.5493 cubits, not 10. So what's going on here?

To be fair, most people attacking the Bible over this aren't seriously suggesting that Bible believers think pi is precisely equal to 3. There's an urban myth that state legislatures have in recent years tried to pass legislation forcing pi to equal 3 on Biblical grounds, but it isn't true (which I didn't realize until researching this article).

Instead, those people are usually using this passage to "prove" that the Bible is unreliable on factual matters, usually to bolster their skepticism on other Biblical issues. See, for example, this article. The endgame argument tends to run along the lines of, "How come you understand that pi doesn't equal three even though the Bible says it does, but you still believe in the Virgin Birth just because the Bible says so?" For "Virgin Birth", feel free to substitute "global flood", "resurrection", "seven-day creation", any miracle, or anything else the Bible records that runs contrary to our everyday experience and modern, scientifically enlightened popular belief.

No matter what you substitute, the underlying claim is the same: the Bible cannot be trusted on factual, scientifically measurable matters. When the Bible and modern science conflict, the Bible is to be rejected. Refuting that argument in its entirety is well beyond the scope of this article (and probably beyond the scope of my knowledge and writing skills). However, we'll carry on with our look at pi, which may also chip away a bit at the argument outlined above.

The argument is that the Bible herein proves itself inaccurate and unreliable by stating that pi is equal to three. The implication of the argument is that the Bible is therefore untrustworthy in its entirety. I will not be addressing the implication (beyond to say that it requires a leap in logic which would bear further examination before acceptance), but I see three immediate responses to the argument about pi. Once again, in researching this article I found that others have made these same points before me. No matter.

These three offered responses are not mutually exclusive. The truth may lie in some combination of them, or indeed in some possibility I have not considered. I would only have people think before rejecting the Bible, and hopefully this helps.

First, the numbers indicated in the passage - ten cubits across, thirty cubits around - may well be approximations. This passage is a description meant to convey a visual image to the reader, not an engineer's blueprint. There is a large bookshelf a few feet to my left.If I say that it is five feet wide and six feet high, I would consider that sufficient to give you an impression of its size. I would not feel I had been proven a liar if you were to take a tape measure to it and find that it is in fact exactly 4 feet, 10 and a quarter inches wide and 6 feet, 2 inches high. This is the argument you will find in the notes of most study Bibles and commentaries - the numbers given here are rounded approximations.

A variation of this is closely enough related that I will treat it under the same heading. A good explanation of this variation can be found on this page at Purplemath, which also covers what I'll be coming up to shortly as number two.

There was no standardized definition of a "cubit". The word itself means an approximation, based on the length of a man's forearm from elbow to fingertip. As you can imagine, this isn't the same for all men. The cubits of the circumference may not have been precisely identical to the cubits of the diameter. Due to the rounding / approximation issue, this doesn't really matter, but I thought it worth noting.

Second, the measurement of 10 cubits "from rim to rim" could well be a measurement of the external diameter - that is, from the outside edge of one side of the basin to the outside edge of the other. As noted earlier, that would describe a circle with a circumference of 31.4159 cubits. (As earlier, don't get hung up on the units - the mathematical ratios are what matter.)

However, this huge bowl could not have had zero thickness, and certainly not negative thickness. Perhaps the 30 cubit measurement of the circumference was taken around the inside. Purplemath again does a terrific job with this argument, complete with diagrams, explaining that a second mold would be required for the inside of this basin, and that the 30 cubit measurement could have described that smaller mold.

A circumference of 30 cubits indicates a diameter of 9.4593 cubits. That leaves a discrepancy of .5407 cubits, or about 9.7 inches, to account for the thickness of the rim. Divide that in two for the two sides when measuring across, and you wind up with the brass walls of the Sea being 4.95 inches thick.

And, hey, what's this we read about the Sea in I Kings 7:26?
It was a handbreadth in thickness...
A "handbreadth" is another of those Biblical-era ad hoc units of measurement, and means pretty much exactly what it says: the width of a hand. The almost-five inches we calculated is a bit on the high side from what most study Bibles and commentaries say (although my own hand is considerably wider than the three inches they suggest, and I'm not a real big guy), but not unbelievably out of line. Besides, the rounding / approximation issue I described in my first response easily allows for that rim to come down (or go up...) by an inch or two. Assuming that's logistically feasible, of course. Not being an engineer, I don't know how thin those brass walls could get before giving out under the weight of all that water.

Once again, those who attack the Bible haven't read a few verses down from the verse they're basing their argument on....

On to my third possible response. To assume that a stated circumference of 30 units and a distance across of 10 units proves a mathematical contradiction is to assume that the object being measured is a perfect circle. I'll ignore the fact that physical reality contains no perfect circles, and no straight lines, for the sake of this argument. I like philosophy as much as the next guy, but I'm not going to use that kind of esoteric argument to try to get out of this. By "perfect circle", we mean one that is close enough to perfectly circular to treat it as such for all intents and purposes.

However, we have no reason to believe that the Sea was a perfect circle. "Circular", yes, meaning round, but once again we have to remember that this description was written to evoke a visual image of size (and therefore grandeur) and was not an engineering blueprint. It could just as well have been described as "immense, thirty cubits around".

I did some online research about the measurements. This reminds me why I love the Internet. Not so many years ago I would have pondered this for a few seconds, thought perhaps I should go digging through some geometry books sometime, shrugged, and forgotten all about it. Thanks to Google I was able to find some ellipse calculators and try out some numbers.

To get what I'm saying about the possible shape of the Sea, pick up a fairly rigid round plastic cup, and look at at from directly above. The mouth of the cup should look like a circle. Now, with your hands as close to the base as feasible, squeeze the cup until the mouth begins to distend slightly. The mouth will now be elliptical, but I wouldn't be shocked if someone was still willing to describe it as "circular".

That's what I'm saying about the Sea. It could have been slightly elliptical, and the 10 cubit measurement could have been taken across a wider section (in geometric terms, closer to parallel with the major focus than the minor). For that matter, the measurement across may not have been taken directly across the centre point, again affecting the results.

I found an ellipse calculator on, and plugged some numbers into Calculator Two. If you enter a major axis of 10 and a minor axis of 9.08, you'll get a perimeter of 30.035 (remember, units don't matter, only ratios). Then, you can put those same numbers into the ellipse generator at to see how close to a circle the results look. You'll find that "circular" is a fair description for purposes of the layman.

Feel free to play with those numbers - by adjusting the axes, you can get very close to a perimeter of 30 while the resulting figure looks very much like a circle. Remember too that the sheer size of the Sea would make a slight deviation from circular even less noticeable.

I wound up playing with those ellipse pages far longer than I should have. At least it wasn't as bad as that cursed online Spirograph simulator that held me in its grip many moons past. I almost wound up getting an intervention over that thing. But I digress.

While researching this article, I was pleased to see some sites where these (or similar) arguments were accepted to debunk the "the Bible says pi is three" trope. The "Atheism FAQ" at this site is a good example. Often people on one side or another of a debate, and I'm including my allies in this, are only too willing to throw any accusations they can find against the wall and see what sticks. Consider the 2008 presidential election campaign, when Democratic supporters were openly encouraging the spread of rumours that they knew to be false about Sarah Palin; as long as it made voters question her, the ends justified the means.

I don't like to see bad arguments getting used by either side of a debate, and the best way to prevent that is to police your own side. It's good to see anyone saying to their allies, "That argument has been refuted. Let's stop trying to use it and move to stronger ones."

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my yellow Orks. I usually ran these guys as Mad Boyz.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Reading Log - Essential Spider-Man Volume 4

I never intended, and still don't intend, to write Reading Log entries for most of the comics that I read. However, I'll be making exceptions here and there for trade paperback collections and graphic novels, especially if I have something to say about them. Essential Amazing Spider-Man Volume 4 is one of those. It's officially, "Essential Spider-Man Volume 4" but I'm making the distinction because there have been Essential volumes for other Spider-titles since this line started, and there may be others in the future.

My copy of Essential Amazing Spider-Man Volume 4 turns out to be the "second edition", according to the indicia (that's the tiny print at the front with publisher info, for those of you who aren't publishing geeks). It collects issues 66 though 89 plus Annual # 5, all from the late sixties.

I normally wouldn't care about it being a "second edition". I'm a reader, not a collector, and couldn't care less about things like first printings and limited editions. Books that enter my house generally won't be leaving until an estate sale that's hopefully far in the future, so I don't care what they're "worth". However, it turns out that my copies of Volumes 1 to 3 of this series, that I kept from back in the days when I ran a comic shop, are first editions (and first printings). Volume 3, first edition, collected Amazing Spider-Man issues 44 to 68 with no annuals. Volume 2, first edition, included annuals 2 and 3.

See the problem? Volume 4, second edition, doesn't pick up where Volume 3, first edition, left off. The new trade dress - translation from industry jargon: "how the outside of the book looks" - doesn't bother me. At least they didn't print the title upside down on the spine (i.e., reading from bottom to top when the book is placed on a shelf) the way they did on Volume 1, first edition.

I also don't mind the overlap. Three issues (66, 67, and 68) appear in both books. However, the change of contents from first to second edition results in my missing Annual 4, which must have appeared in the second edition of Volume 3. If Marvel thinks I'm going to repurchase the new edition of Volume 3 to get that issue, all I can say is "go fish." That's what torrented scans are for. I'll continue to pick up Essential volumes, but I won't be buying any doubles for one or two "new" stories.

This book is also noteworthy for its poor manufacturing. I don't expect leatherbound archival quality for the $17 (U.S.) / $27.25 (Canadian) cover price, which I didn't pay anyway thanks to the miracle of online discounts, but the pages of this thing came unglued from the spine before I finished reading it. The re-gluing I gave it seems to have held, though, so no harm done.

On to the actual content. By the era represented in this volume, Spidey's storytelling engine was pretty well established. I don't think these issues introduce any new characters or concepts that have "mattered" in the long run. Contrast this with the first two Spidey volumes, where it seems like almost every issue introduced a character, gadget, or plot point that still features in Spider-Man comics, cartoons, merchandise, and movies to this day, over forty years later.

However, the work here is definitely solid. Many of these stories are far less remembered now than those groundbreaking early issues, so in their own way they may seem fresher to the reader. Every Spider-Man fan remembers the Lizard's origin, but how many remember the time that the Human Torch showed up to help Spider-Man stop him, and Spidey had to keep trying to stop the Torch from simply frying the Lizard to a shriveled crisp?

That storyline, incidentally, started in Amazing Spider-Man # 76, which holds a special place for me because for many years it was the oldest issue of ASM that I owned. I started reading ASM when I was a very young child, and kept most of the issues I ever got, although they were much-loved and therefore pretty battered by the time adolescence rolled around. I began reading around issue 180. Those first issues I ever got were included in Essential Amazing Spider-Man Volume 8, which I snapped up the first time I saw it. Nothing else sells comics like nostalgia, unfortunately for the comics industry.

For the next fifteen years or so, I grabbed every Amazing Spider-Man back issue I could find (and afford). This was before the Internet, and I didn't often patronize mail-order dealers, so I was limited to what I could find in comic shops and used bookstores (remember when they all carried comics? For that matter, remember when there were used bookstores in pretty much every town?). I eventually had an unbroken run from issues 167 to around 325, with a good handful of earlier issues, but never owned an issue earlier than # 76. My run of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man, was complete from issue 1 to issue 152, and I was only a few issues away from a complete set of the 150-issue run of Marvel Team-Up, almost all of which featured Spider-Man.

I wandered off from comics altogether around 1990, and only read a few issues from then to when I opened a comic shop a few years later. But that's another story that may or may not get told here someday.

All for now. Here's a picture of my Ork army. This is the start of a picture series, albeit maybe a very short one. I had intended to write an entry explaining these pictures when I posted the first of them, but decided otherwise, mainly because I'm low on pictures. Maybe that'll be my next post. Probably not.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Celebrity News

Now there's a title you never expected to see on this blog. Don't worry, I haven't suddenly developed an interest in manufactured pop stars climbing out of limos sans underwear, or who wore what, who wore who, or what wore who to self-congratulatory awards ceremonies. I just don't feel like writing a major treatise on anything tonight, and there are actually a few celebrity stories floating around that interest me. I'll be keeping these brief by my standards, but some heavily slanted commentary is a given.

David Letterman has reportedly married his longtime girlfriend and the mother of his child. (No, he's not a polygamist, they're the same woman.)

I was a huge Letterman fan for many years. I once went about seven years (from junior high to university) without missing a night. No, not an episode, a night. Including reruns. This was not healthy. Granted, I often set the VCR to tape it, went to bed, and watched it the next day, but that's still a lot of hours.

I'm glad he finally took this step. He often joked that having been married once before "was plenty", but I really expected him to do the right thing after his son was born, right around the same time as mine.

Here's the commentary for this one: I highly recommend marriage, to put it mildly, for anyone who's ready for it. And if somebody is ready to shack up and play house, they're ready for marriage. Common-law "arrangements" are disrespectful to both parties involved, and downright irresponsible once children are involved. I'm happy to see Letterman and his wife setting things right.

I could rant on this topic much longer, and probably will one day (it's on the list), but let's move on.

In other marriage news, Eddie Van Halen is also engaged. That fact isn't as interesting to me, though, as what Eddie said in this interview about his planned nuptials: "My brother is going to marry us. He can actually legally marry us. He’s an ordained minister. Reverend Al."

I'd love to think that Alex Van Halen has actually become a Christian - or, at least, a public one, since I've never heard him say that he isn't already. I'd love to think that he was honestly saved and went through the training to become a legitimate minister of the Gospel. I'd love to think that about any of the members of Van Halen, or pretty much anyone else for that matter.

Why, though, do I suspect that Alex Van Halen's "ministerial credentials" were obtained through a website that will certify anyone as an ordained minister (or locksmith, or dietitian) for fifty bucks?

In other self-destructive musician news, Steven Page has left Barenaked Ladies. I'm disappointed by this, first because BNL was one of the newest bands that interested me. I haven't enjoyed one of their albums all the way through since Born On A Pirate Ship, but each album since had at least a couple of good tracks, which isn't a bad batting average.

When BNL first showed up, I thought they were a novelty act. All I heard were the "big singles" - mostly If I Had $1000000, which was omnipresent. Then one day I decided to listen to Gordon, their first major release, all the way through, and was blown away. These guys were actually good, far better than the funny singles had indicated. I loved the thoughtful songs, often featuring lyrics that bordered on self-loathing, like Wrap Your Arms Around Me and The Flag.

They really hit their stride with the next two albums, Maybe You Should Drive and Born On A Pirate Ship. Of course, being more intelligent, these albums didn't sell nearly as well as Gordon. The band was considered a one-hit wonder novelty act for a while. I loved both of these albums, and Page's contributions both as writer and vocalist were big reasons why. Great Provider, "A", I Know, and I Live With It Every Day are masterpieces, and Page's vocal on Break Your Heart is one of my favourite performances.

The bloom came off the rose for me with Stunt. They had finally made a comeback, largely by breaking through in the United States, but the songs just weren't as good as the old ones. There were still highlights, like One Week and Call And Answer, but the album as a whole was weaker than the last two. It's all been downhill from there, as each album since has had fewer tracks that appealed to me.

I wasn't surprised to read later that Page had suffered from depression and substance abuse through the nineties. In retrospect, it was all there in the lyrics. Like John Lennon, Page seemed to use the recording studio as a confessional.

I was still disappointed to see later that Page had separated from his wife and been arrested on drug charges. It seemed like he was destined to become a Behind The Music cautionary tale. Seeing now that he's out of the group doesn't lessen those fears. Over the past few years, Page has lost his wife and his band, and obviously fallen prey to a worsening drug problem. I worry that he's adrift. A lot of his identity would have to have been wrapped up in his marriage and his career with BNL.

I hope this all ends well for him. I don't want to see a news story (it wouldn't make the front page, but it would be on the Net, and it would make the back pages of the papers here in Canada) that starts, "Steven Page, former singer with "If I Had $1000000" band Barenaked Ladies, was found...."

Linking this to the last story, several years back I felt the same trepidation for Eddie Van Halen. His marriage ended, he had medical problems, and the band that had been his life for decades was in shambles. He seems to have made it through and turned things around. I hope Page can do the same.

In other Canadian news, I am pleased to note that zombie guru George Romero has reportedly become a Canadian citizen.

As a zombie movie loving Canuck, I would like to welcome Mr. Romero to our chilly nation, and urge him to get to work on several more films whose titles end with "Of The Dead", toot-de-freakin'-sweet (that's how we talk up here - he'll need to know that).

It's nice to see Canadian immigration officials make a good decision. I'm not sure how George was allowed in, what with having no terrorism or prostitution charges (that I know of) on his record, but I'm glad they didn't apply those usual admission standards to him.

While I'm in this neighbourhood, I'd like to take a moment to encourage Canadian border agents to stand by another good call and keep terrorist cheerleader George Galloway out of Canada. He's making thinly veiled threats to just show up at the border trying to bluster his way in and dare them to arrest him.

If he does, call his bluff. Arrest him and any members of his entourage who want to press the matter (giving them each an opportunity to back off), and "extraordinary rendition" their butts off to a prison in one of those countries that Galloway likes so much more than Western democracies. I hear Syrian prisons are as far from nice as you can get at this time of year. Or any time, for that matter.

Confiscate all their luggage, of course. Anything that's nice and looks like it might fit can be given to George Romero as a welcoming present.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of the train station platform from which we watched a parade of huge terrifying electric fish. That's my son standing right-of-centre (genetics win out!) in shorts and blue T-shirt.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


First off, yes, I normally like to give my posts "cute" titles. Usually too cute by 40% or so. I can understand why Jerry Seinfeld forbade his writers from giving episodes funny titles. It really does distract from working on the content. Truth be told, I've actually got a couple of titles that I'd like to use, but for which I can't come up with any article ideas, not that lack of ideas always stops me from posting.

If I gave this one a cute title, it would probably have to be "I Watched The Watchmen." Thus I would have appeared to join the thousands of hacks who think that level of triteness is funny. Sure, it would mean that I could write for Entertainment Weekly or pretty much any regional newscast, but I'd be forced to abandon the shred of self-respect I sometimes manage to feign.

On to the point. This week my wife and I went to see Watchmen. Not long ago she had asked if I wanted to go see it, and I answered unequivocally, unhesitatingly, and negatively. It was only after reading several thoughtful reviews and discussions that I decided I would be willing to lay down the eighteen dollars for two tickets.

My belief before the reviews started coming out was that Watchmen was essentially unfilmable. The content is so wed to the comics medium that I thought any adaptation doomed to failure. I only half-jokingly suggested that it would probably work about as well as an attempt to make a movie adaptation of a Beatles album.

From this point forward, there will be spoilers, and not just for Watchmen. I discourage you from reading the rest of this article if you plan to read any books, watch any movies or television shows, attend any plays, or listen to any limericks in the future.

Once we paid our ridiculous admission price (it always occurs to me that I could buy the DVD for what it costs us to go to a movie, and that way we wouldn't have to watch it with chattering teenagers), I wandered the lobby a bit and saw the Watchmen movie poster for the first time. What an awful poster. If I had never heard of Watchmen, there's no way I would go to the movie after seeing that poster. It looks like a really bad X-Men knockoff.

Actually, it looks like the promo / first issue cover shot of every Image Comics team book of the nineties, with a group of grimacing people posing and trying to look tough. The standard checklist of characters was used. Mysterious Guy With Full Face Mask, Guy With Gun, Cowled Batman Knockoff, Creepy Glowing Floaty Guy, and Girl With Way More Skin Exposed Than Most Of The Guys were all present and accounted for. Definitely a vintage Image-style shot, which takes us full circle to "really bad X-Men knockoff."

However, that poster also probably fools innocent passersby into expecting a standard super-hero move, which pleases me very much. I'll come back to that.

We settled into our seats, and after I loudly complained all through a commercial, we got some previews. Apparently there's a new Star Trek movie coming out. I need to get in touch with the marketing people at Paramount, because I have a perfect advertising tagline for it:

Star Trek.
If You Care, You're Probably A Virgin.

The next preview was for Mall Cop II. Oh, wait, sorry, it was Seth Rogan's new movie about a mall cop. Observe and Detain or something. I don't remember the title and really couldn't be bothered to look it up. It's ostensibly a comedy, and looks freaking hilarious.

Oh, don't get me wrong, it looks painfully awful. However, I could enjoy it immensely if I watched it with the mindset that it was a grand perverse experiment in uncomedy, in the tradition of Andy Kaufman seeing how long an audience would tolerate him reading The Great Gatsby onstage.

This movie looks like the filmmakers deliberately set up premises that could have led to humourous punchlines, then willfully subverted them by not only not delivering, but by actually veering off in the least funny direction possible. If I watched the movie with that mindset, I'd probably laugh the whole way through it because of the sheer audacity of the experiment and consider everyone involved to be comic geniuses.

On to Watchmen. I'll start with the bottom line. I thought it was very good. If I hadn't read the book, I'd probably think it was great.

I'm not much of a movie reviewer. I'm more of a movie discusser.

The director, Zack Snyder, has been saying on his promo tour that people should watch the movie before reading the book. He's right. Since I'm a longtime comics geek, I'm deeply familiar with the source material and carried a lot of backstory into the theatre. My wife just read the book over the past couple of weeks in preparation for the movie, partly at my suggestion; that may have been a mistake.

Watchmen is definitely not for everyone. It's absolutely not for the kiddies - there's a lot of graphic violence, including an onscreen rape attempt that should make you wince at the very least, visible nipplage, both covered and uncovered (some of the movie takes place in cold locales), and some sex - consensual this time - that's surprisingly vigorous for an R-rated studio release. Oh, yeah, I almost forgot - a big blue computer-generated nuclear penis gets lots of screen time.

A more important warning is called for over the entire movie's tone. It's very, very dark, and unrelentingly bleak. This movie is a study of what it means to be human, and so it takes a long hard look at human nature. The picture isn't pretty. Lord of the Flies is just the tip of the iceberg. Once those kids grow up they can start into the real savagery.

This movie is brutal and unflinching. It amuses me to think of people going in expecting a Spider-Man type feelgood movie and coming out completely shellshocked. Too bad they hadn't waited to release it during summer blockbuster season so that even more innocent passersby could walk by the theatre, think from the poster that they were in for a popcorn movie with plenty of explosions but no ideas, and get completely suckerpunched.

The casting was quite good. There were a few actors in the cast who couldn't quite keep up with the others, and one bit player whose performance I didn't buy at all, but I don't want to dwell too much on the negatives. The big positive was that the actor playing Nite Owl was perfect. That said, a few casting notes are in order.

They didn't go with huge names for the cast. There are a few people in this that you'll recognize, but no budget-busting stunt casting. I generally prefer it that way. I also love to see Matt Frewer, a favourite of mine since his short-lived sitcom, Doctor Doctor, getting work.

I found that a couple of the cast reminded me too much of bigger names. The actor playing Ozymandias constantly reminded me of Seth Green. Not a problem, normally, since I enjoy Seth Green's work. However, Ozymandias represents the pinnacle of human physical and metal perfection. Seth Green strikes me as a very sharp-witted guy, but when I think "perfect human being", he just doesn't come to mind.

Also, the actor playing the Comedian was a dead ringer for Robert Downey Jr., so much that I kept forgetting it wasn't him. This is entirely subjective, of course - I've talked to other viewers who didn't see it at all - but it seemed pretty obvious to me. Again, I like Downey, and he could have capably played the role, so it wasn't a problem.

There were other performance issues that I can't really lay at the feet of the actors - the director, and possibly other people on the production side, have to share the blame. For instance, I found it distracting that Seth Green's - sorry, Ozymandias' - accent came and went at random.

Speaking of things that came and went... boy, there's no delicate way to get into this, so I'll just dive in. When Silk Spectre / Laurie was in costume or civilian clothes, she appeared to, shall we say, amply fill out the top half of her outfit. She wore a low-cut formal outfit for an early dinner scene, and was in danger of spilling out of it at any second. However, when the same character appeared topless later in the movie, well, they weren't so much there anymore. When she got dressed again, they were back. Don't get me wrong, at no point was there anything wrong with the lady's build, but there sure seemed to be some garment-based enhancement going on when she was dressed.

Toward the end of the movie, there's a scene where the character is wearing a snug sweater and appears to have gained twenty pounds, all just a few inches south of her shoulders, since we last saw her in costume. The poor actress then had to deliver a most unfortunate line: "There's something I have to get off my chest." Yeah, I'd guess four inches and two cup sizes worth of padding. That line was the funniest thing by far in the movie (which contains very few laughs, even for cynics).

While we're in that area, Silk Spectre's costume appears to be skintight vinyl, and she doesn't seem to wear anything underneath (at least on the upper half of her body). Chafing must be an issue.

Anyway, let's move on. I apologize for the last three paragraphs, but I'm a guy. I notice these things.

Of course, being a good comics geek, I'm unhappy with some of the changes that were made from the original comics. The first example isn't even an objective change - it's just something done differently than I would have wanted. Jackie Earle Haley does a fine job as Rorschach, but he doesn't deliver some of his lines the way I "hear" them when reading the book. He's too aggressive. In the movie, Rorschach growls and barks many of his lines. Many of his sentences would, if transcribed, end with exclamation points to demonstrate his anger. In the book, at least inside my head, Rorschach delivers virtually all of his speech in a monotone, completely devoid of any affect or emotion.

The best example is when Nite Owl / Dan asked what ever happened to their old partnership. In the movie, Rorschach snaps, "You quit!" An accusation with a definite exclamation point, meant to sting. In the book, the same words are delivered with a period. No emotion, simple statement of fact. Rorschach is not hurt by his old partner's abandonment; he's incapable of feeling anything, for good or bad. This is more devastating in its way, as Dan is again confronted with the fact that he can no longer relate to his former friend. There may not even be anything left inside him to relate to. Another character later mentions, in the book version, that Rorschach's lack of vocal modulation makes her uncomfortable. Having him occasionally raise his voice to make a point misses the point altogether.

That's a change or a different interpretation, though, not necessarily a mistake. At least the filmmakers resisted the temptation to make the line, "Never disposed of sewage with toilet before" into a joke. That line is faithfully delivered with no intonation, so it doesn't come off as a standard Hollywood one-liner. Few filmmakers would have shown that restraint.

Most of the movie used the original comics as a script, with the panels as storyboard. However, there were three changes to the dialogue that really stood out to me, and not in a good way. In all three cases, the original dialogue was better.

First, when Rorshach is telling the psychiatrist about when he made the change from being Walter Kovacs to being only Rorschach, right after killing the kidnapper. In the book he says, "It was Kovacs who closed his eyes. It was Rorschach who opened them again." It's much less poetic in the movie; something along the lines of "Kovacs died that day."

Second, when the thug reaches through the bars of Rorschach's cell and asks, "What have you got?" The response is one of my favourite lines in the book: "Your hands. My perspective." In the movie, it becomes "Your hands. My pleasure." I understand that it saves the average movie viewer from loudly asking what "perspective" means, but it's far weaker dialogue, and borderline nonsensical. He "has his pleasure?" What?

Third, a minor change that harms the flow of a moment. After Veidt explains his plan to Dan and Rorschach and they state the cliche that they'll never let him get away with it, in the book he says, "I did it thirty-five minutes ago." This is one of the great moments in fiction, as the "villain explains his plans, including possible points of failure, to the heroes so they can escape and foil him" trope gets the upset it deserves. Despite what every James Bond movie has taught us, few people would ever be that stupid.

In the movie, a subtle change is made, to "I triggered it thirty-five minutes ago." To my ears, that word change hinders the effectiveness of the sentence. I realize the irony in my preferring a simpler, more succinct wording, but there are times when that's the best way to generate emotional impact. This was one of them. Exact wording matters. It's not unusual for me to spend several minutes deliberating over a word choice before moving on, often while re-reading an article before posting. My wife has often heard, "Which word is funnier in this sentence?" For the sentence under discussion, neither word was funny, but "did" was far better.

Now let's move on to non-dialogue changes. Again, these are not errors, but changes that interested me. The removal of the squid didn't, so unlike far too many nerds I won't be complaining about that.

The ending actually improved on one aspect of the book. In the book, no entirely satisfactory reason is given for Dr. Manhattan deciding to leave Earth. He's bored, and it's shown that he's satisfied that Laurie has moved on from him, but he doesn't really need to leave. The movie gives him a good reason.

The group was never called the "Watchmen" in the book. The reader was left to figure out for themselves the relevance of the question "Who watches the watchmen?" However, as already noted, the average moviegoer is considerably dumber than the average reader. Filmmakers don't have the luxury of assuming that their audience will be capable of thought. So, in order to pacify the masses, things need to be spelled out in movies that the author of a book can leave unsaid. For instance, who the "Watchmen" are.

Second, another removal of subtlety. In the movie, we actually see Roschach looming over Big Picture in the washroom. The book handles the same events more discreetly, and far more effectively.

Snyder also had to change how Rorschach killed the kidnapper. This change was mostly forced upon him. Going with the original method from the book would have lead to charges of ripping off a Mad Max movie, or, far worse, one of the interminable Saw movies. Showing Ozymandias watching a Mad Max movie later on was a nice touch.

The movie indulged one bit of comic book nonsense: the idea that a little domino mask would protect someone's secret identity. Think about it for a second: would you fail to recognize one of your friends if they showed up with a raccoon band around their eyes? The book dismissed this. When Dan and Laurie arrive at the prison, they're able to identify Rorschach by his posture and gait, even though they've never seen him without his mask. That's the way it would actually work. There's more to recognizing other people than their facial features. If you can recognize anyone you know while walking up behind them, before you can see their face, then that person would not be able to fool you by putting on a mask.

Yes, Lois Lane and Commissioner Gordon were idiots.

Believe it or not, this movie actually contains some good theology. Even before seeing it, I had been thinking about an article on "Dr. Manhattan as sermon illustration", based solely on the book. I may still write that up, since I haven't touched on what it would have said in this entry. This one is going to be long enough before it's over.

The foundational fact of Christianity, and one that is largely denied in the modern world, is that we are sinners. Every one of us is prone to commit acts of unspeakable evil when our innermost natures are allowed to run free. The western decline of Christianity is directly due to the rejection of this truth. Until someone realizes and understands that they are a sinner, they will never accept their need for a Saviour.

North American and European society have for some time now rejected this idea in favour of a vague notion that man can create his own utopia. Evil is an aberration, and if everyone would only embrace their inner wonderfulness and chant "Yes we can!", we could solve every problem and create paradise on Earth, and cancer would go away and leave us all alone to sing Kumbayah.

That's a nice idea. It's the foundational belief of what's normally described as "liberalism" these days, and it's certainly what the public educational system seeks to teach our children. The problem is that it has absolutely no basis in reality. Human beings are inherently prone to selfishness, to greed, to violence, to hatred. If you want to fight against those tendencies, which are inherent but not irresistible, you must first acknowledge that they exist. To fail to do so is to lose the battle before it begins.

Watchmen understands this. The Comedian, standing in the middle of a bloody urban battlefield, joyfully proclaims it the realization of the American Dream. Rorschach explains that God can't be blamed for atrocities, because people gleefully perpetrate them quite without His help. The characters largely agree on the fallen nature of man.

They're correct. Human nature is dark, evil, and awful. God offers a way out, and most people reject it then think themselves enlightened for doing so. This is the Gospel. Watchmen is a deeply theological film. I am tempted to call it a deeply Christian film.

Watchmen works on several levels. It is a murder mystery, action movie, sociopolitical commentary, and character study (these are without exception broken people). However, the level that most interests me is its examination of human nature.

The three main characters in the story (as I see it) are Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, and Ozymandias. Each of them in their own way rejects their membership in mankind, losing sight of or actively abandoning their own humanity. They each move to a different level.

Rorschach sets himself below society, living in the gutters and peering into the darkest corners to hunt down murderers. He interacts with society on the micro level, intimately punishing individual criminals and avenging their insignificant (to larger society) victims. He looks into the world from underneath.

Ozymandias sets himself above the masses, proclaiming himself worthy to sacrifice others for the greater good. He looks down on the world from above. He is the inevitable product of a society that preaches self-esteem to its young. The problem is that the self-esteem taught is usually not tied in any way to merit. Veidt / Ozymandias actually is smart, strong, and capable. His self-image would be fine without any pushing. When someone is capable of actual accomplishment, they don't need constant reassurance. Heaping praise on such an individual results in what we see here - a narcissistic and arrogant god complex.

Dr. Manhattan's separation from humanity is obvious and explicit. He exists on a quantum level, seeing human beings as collections of atoms. At one point he openly states that to him, a living person is no different from a dead one - they're both just arrangements of molecules.

However, before the story ends, all three have made contact with their former selves. Veidt points out that Dr. Manhattan still feels far more human than he even realizes; Veidt manipulated him into washing his hands of Earth. It is significant that Rorschach removes his mask at the end, choosing to die as Walter Kovacs, the man Rorschach had already buried long ago.

Ozymandias himself is a trickier case. I think he was telling the truth when he expressed empathy for his victims ("I've made myself feel every death..."). Others (including my wife) contend that this statement was just more manipulation and he didn't mean a word of it. I think he meant it, but that he has become so detached that his empathy doesn't run very deep. He detached not by choice but because he needed to in order to carry out his plan, which, remember, he sees as necessary to save the world. He honestly sees himself as a hero. A saviour.

The book does a better job of expressing the moral ambiguity of Veidt's actions. He's a more straightforward villain in the movie, not least because his "badness" is telegraphed from early on. I've read online stories of Watchmen newbies spotting him as the villain from his first appearance, standing in front of a nightclub looking arrogant. I believe them. Personally, I probably would have figured it out at his attempted assassination if I hadn't already known. The book shows him as a much nobler, much nicer person, and so it's far more shocking when his plan is revealed.

Anyway, that's probably enough for now. I recommend Watchmen to anyone who hasn't experienced it yet. See the movie first, then read the book, or the movie will suffer by comparison. Be forewarned: both the book and the movie require the audience to think. Hopefully that's a plus, not a minus, to anyone reading this, but I think it explains the movie's sharp second-week dropoff at the box office.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a receptacle for soiled linens.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The True Identity Of Jack The Ripper

Here's what my brain did to me today.

The identity of the Whitechapel murderer, popularly known as Jack the Ripper, has been a mystery for over a century. Many have tried over the years to prove that one suspect or another was secretly Mad Jack, the sociopathic killer. No one has ever conclusively proven their case.

Until now.

The true identity of Jack the Ripper was, in fact: Muppeteer Jim Henson.

It seems obvious now that it's been pointed out, doesn't it? I bet you feel really stupid and inadequate for not having realized it sooner. Suddenly, life makes sense.

What better cover for a methodical serial killer than to become a beloved family entertainer? No one ever suspects the guy with his arm up Kermit the Frog. Being born decades after the Whitechapel murders was a masterstroke of misdirection. Very clever, Mr. Henson! But not quite clever enough.

Consider: not a single prostitute murder in the Whitechapel district has been attributed to Jack the Ripper since Jim Henson passed away in 1990. There are also no published memoirs of Victorian-era prostitutes recounting tales of meeting Jim Henson. This can only mean that he left no witnesses. Not a single Victorian-era prostitute saw Jim Henson's bearded face and lived to tell the tale.

When this theory occurred to me, I first considered Walt Disney as the possible culprit. I was forced to abandon that path of thought because it hit a little too close to home. I'm really not sure about old Walt.

I have developed an elegant proof of this theorem, but unfortunately this Internet is too small to contain it.

Oh, all right, I'll try to cover the high points. You should be able to fill in the details for yourself. Suffice it for the moment to say that an irrefutable mathematical proof of my theorem exists, wherein we begin by letting X = "Jim Henson" and Y = "Jack The Ripper". Before long, X equals Y. It all hinges on the remainder left when 5 disemboweled Victorian prostitutes are divided by "Gavin McLeod".

As opposed, I suppose, to being divided by the Ripper's sharp instruments.

I would have liked to include some diagrams to support my theory, diagrams being an excellent way to sanitize complex mathematical concepts for the consumption of the unwashed masses. Maybe some pie charts. Everybody likes pie charts. But thinking about that got me to thinking about pie, so I went and looked in the kitchen only to find no pie, but I found some strawberry shortcake shells and some strawberries, but no whipped cream, but we had some whipped cream mix so I mixed that up and had a nice strawberry shortcake and by the time I was finished I had forgotten all about pie and Jim Henson being Jack the Ripper.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my son (at left, in camo in case his keenly honed survival instincts compel him to take cover in a wooded area of the mall), Pastor Derek and Homeschooler's daughter (in pink) and two innocent bystanders, mere moments before the situation turned ugly.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bible Defense: Of Birds And Bats (No Bees)

Truly, there is nothing new under the sun. The thesis of this article presented itself quite uninvited inside my skull not long ago, and I thought it original. However, while researching, I found that the exact same argument has already been made, probably more effectively (and certainly more maturely), by others. We'll come back to that.

But, onward. I'll pretend for the moment that you haven't heard this before from anyone else- after all, a few hours ago, I hadn't.

Bible bashers like to seize on any supposed contradiction they can find in Scripture and use it to attack Christianity. If you're lucky, these issues will be presented in a calm and rational manner, leading to a stimulating discussion.

Usually though, they're phrased more like, "Silly Christians! The Bible is megadumb! NARF!" The attacker usually doesn't understand the alleged contradiction and couldn't cite the Biblical reference, but they're pretty sure that they heard about it from Christopher Hitchens or Michael Moore or George Carlin or somebody who must be right or they wouldn't be famous.

Today's example of an attack from the uninformed (or simply question from the curious): why does the Bible say that bats are birds? Does that prove the Bible can't be trusted? Leviticus 11:13-19 is a list of "unclean birds" that the Israelites were not to eat (NIV, emphasis added):

These are the birds you are to detest and not eat because they are detestable: the eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, the red kite, any kind of black kite, any kind of raven, the horned owl, the screech owl, the gull, any kind of hawk, the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey, the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat.
Sure enough, there's the bat, large as life and twice as ugly, clearly listed as a bird. No question about it.

Here are some reactions to this, found with a really quick and superficial peruse of the web. The first few words of each are linked to the source. Unlinked entries are from the same page as the one before. Spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and grammar errors are presented as found, despite how it pains me to repeat them (but some PG-13 language redacted):

The Bible says that bats are birds but we all know they are mammals...? ... why should I believe anything the Bible says?

Why the bible says that bats are birds?

wasnt the bible the so called "word of God" didnt he know that bats are different from birds when he created them?

Bats are birds to the biblical God.

I realize that the Bible says that bats are birds, but they're not-- they're mammals. Yes, that's right: something in the Bible is wrong! Sorry to p*** on your parade.

The creator of the universe and all living things surely must know that a bat is not a bird, no matter what label the two are given. So how is the Bible the voice of God here?

Still, if it was the infallible word of your imaginary friend, he would tell them it was not a bird.

Your sky-buddy would have planned for the future if he knew everything... Oh, and existed.

I mean, come on, he's supposed to be all-knowing, right? Scientists aren't out to refute an old collection of fairy tales; they are out to pursue knowledge. Your pretend god would have found a way to plan for the change in the bat's classification.

God would have known that bats are not birds, and that flight does not make something a bird. He would have known about flightless birds. He would have known bats are much more closely related to rats than to birds, and would not have made Himself look foolish by having his scribes record incorrect information.

The God you claim wrote the Bible could have ensured these details were correct. That He didn’t means either a) the Bible was not inspired by God, b) it may have been inspired by God, but it was written by humans and so cannot be expected to be correct in matters of science which they were unaware, or c) God did not intend it to be correct on matters of science, and wrote it as a spiritual guide, so we should not expect it to be correct where spiritual things are not concerned.

I realize that was a lot (and I actually cut it down significantly before posting), but I wanted to make sure that a good sampling of ignorance and arrogance was provided.

I am not, nor have I ever been, an ornithologist. My interest in bird species begins at "which ones scatter my garbage all over the street if I set it out on the curb the night before" and ends at "which ones taste good fried". Sadly, there's no overlap between those two groups.

My understanding, limited though it is, is that bats are not classified as birds in the modern taxonomy. However, whether that means that this Biblical passage contains an actual error depends entirely on the meaning of the word "bird". More specifically, it hinges on the definition of the ancient Hebrew word that our modern Bibles translate as "bird".

Interestingly, I didn't find an actual scientific definition of the word "bird". Wikipedia says, "Birds (class Aves) are winged, bipedal, endothermic (warm-blooded), vertebrate animals that lay eggs." Other sources seem to indicate that feathers are the key. My favourite tongue-in-cheek attempt came from a fellow named David Marjanovic, who wrote, "The definition of 'bird' is 'I know it when I see it'...I don't think there is, or should be, a scientific definition of 'bird'."

All the proposed definitions agree, though, that bats are not "birds", and I've never met anyone who claimed otherwise. Of course, I've only been around since sometime in the twentieth century. Had I lived a few thousand years ago in the ancient near east, the story may have been quite different.

The Hebrew word here translated "bird" is 'owph. That word in no way means "bird according to the scientific concept of same that will be in place by the dawn of the twenty-first century." In fact, it means something very close to "non-insect flying creature." Bats are not birds, but bats most certainly are 'owph.

Some modern Bibles, especially those of the study / reference variety, will contain a note to this effect. They are correct. The translators had a choice: either use a much less concise phrase, or go with the single word that all readers will understand and that mostly fits the bill. I consider it unfortunate that they made the choice they did, because it leads to nonsensical responses like those I quoted above.

It simply is not logically valid to attempt to apply a modern taxonomic definition to an English translation of an ancient Hebrew word, then cry Biblical error when it doesn't fit.

That said, I'd like to credit some of the places where I found this addressed and answered well. I stumbled across these while looking for either definitions of "bird" or non-Christian (and in some cases downright anti-Christian) reponses, not knowing how unoriginal my idea really was. Note that some of the attack quotes above come from comments on these sites. I didn't read everything written by the authors of these sites, so this is not necessarily a blanket endorsement, although I suspect it easily could be:

"Bat Mobile" by James Patrick Holding, on the page. - Bats

"Of Bats And Birds" on Vox Veritatis.

Hopefully this information will come in handy if you're ever accosted by someone wanting to argue about the birds and the bats. You may choose not to debate. However, if you decide to engage, you are now armed with a cluestick to brandish. Wield it well. A good whack with a cluestick sometimes yields wonders.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of something else my wife made. I have no comprehension whatsoever of how fuzzy string gets turned into this sort of thing. I suspect witchcraft is involved.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Canadian Immigration Policy

I've written twice before about Robert Dziekanski's death. Time for round three, as we briefly look at the results of a Canadian opinion survey on the matter:

61 per cent of those surveyed felt the officers used excessive force when they confronted Dziekanski and stunned him several times with a Taser.
Apparently 39 percent of those surveyed think that "holding a stapler while foreign" is an offense deserving of death. I've heard of people getting pulled over for "driving while black", but this is a new one on me.

Toronto terror suspect Mahmoud Jaballah taught the children of Ahmed Khadr in Pakistan, says a new document from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that closely links Jaballah to a Canadian clan known for its terrorist ties...

The federal government has been trying to deport Jaballah, based on CSIS allegations he is senior member of the Egyptian terrorist allegation Al Jihad - a charge he denies... He is one of five foreign-born terror suspects whom the government is trying to deport.
For the record, here's Canada's apparent immigration policy: Senior member of an Islamic terrorist organization? Come on in! Stay as long as you like!

Polish man coming to stay with his mother? Please wait here for nine hours while we frustrate you with bureaucratic incompetence (which is awfully close to redundant). A group of large men with Tasers will be along to shock you senseless at the first available opportunity. And, yes, Canada has public health care, but that would only help you if we bothered checking your vital signs after knocking you unconscious. Needless to say, we won't be doing that.

But don't worry! After we kill you, an inquiry will be held!

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of more stuff my wife made. These were for Pastor Derek and Homeschooler's daughter.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Quick Notes

Another assortment of quickies in lieu of a longer, better thought-out entry. I like doing these because they make me feel like Andy Rooney.

I've been quiet lately for two main reasons. First, there's a big project going on at work, and staff were offered two hours of daily voluntary overtime. There weren't many of us who accepted, and even fewer who did more than a handful of days. I've stayed for the extra time almost every day since late January.

You wouldn't think that a mere two hours added to the end of the work day would have such an impact, but it definitely has. I haven't even mustered up the energy to do my tax return yet. Since I'm expecting a sizable refund, that's saying something.

The second main reason for my radio silence: Gamehouse Sudoku. I normally play level 8, and my average time is about four minutes. I thought that the Automarks would make me lazy and actually atrophy any Sudoku skill I once had, but they only remove some of the grunt work. You still have to do your own thinking, which is the fun part anyway.

Rebelangel has been posting lots of interesting stuff lately, trying to make up for the days she missed during her recent computer problems, and get back on track for her Blog 365 target. When there's nothing going on here, check over there. (When there is, check over there afterward anyway.) I'd be posting comments on some of her articles if I didn't have so many important video games to play. Maybe once the overtime wraps up (supposedly soon).

Pastor Derek and Homeschooler's newborn twin boys are still in the hospital. This article has an update and some new pictures. Poor Henry looks so sad in the first and last pictures. He looks like he's far more aware of his discomfort than he should be at this age. Those are spookily wise eyes.

On to less personal stuff.

The attorney representing child-killer Christopher Pauchay (remember him?) says that he was "surprised by the judge's assessment that Pauchay lacks insight into his behaviour."

Over fifty criminal convictions and decision-making skills that led him to carry his daughters outside in a blizzard to freeze in a snowbank, and his attorney is "surprised" by a suggestion that Pauchay might not think too much about his actions.

Maybe an IQ test should have been administered before the bar exam.

The pictures I post here should start looking much better. I use Irfanview for most of my digital image manipulation, and recommend it highly. As I demonstrate on a regular basis, I'm not much of a photographer. My shots tend to come out with a yellowish tint. I've played with the colour balancing tools in Irfanview (Image - Enhance Colours), but all I've ever managed was to replace the yellow tint with a red or blue tint.

The other day, just for the heck of it, I clicked the Auto Adjust Colours option in that menu for the first time.

Wow! Never again will I mess around with manual colour balancing. With a single click, that button makes my shots look clear, colourful and vibrant. I'm tempted to repost some of my old shots with that option applied, especially the pictures of my wife's crafts. She does much better work than you would think from looking at my washed-out pictures.

My local supermarket has Pringles on sale for $1.99 a can. The regular price, plainly visible on the sign announcing the sale, is "2 for $4.00."

I thought this was entertainingly idiotic and/or idiotically entertaining until I thought it over. You may laugh at a savings of a single penny, but think of the big picture: if you bought a million cans, you would save $10,000. When's the last time you had an opportunity to save that kind of money by buying vaguely potato-based snack foods?

I may need to rent a storage space.

There are currently nine books in my "finished reading this - now write a Reading Log entry" pile. I finished some of them as long ago as last summer. I may not remember much about them now. I've also bought five more books in the last couple of weeks, all of which will join that pile soon enough.

My MP3 player, which I listen to much of the day at work, has had Bob Dylan's Infidels album on it for a couple of weeks now. Since I normally rotate its contents every day (usually two albums / concerts daily), that means it's holding my interest pretty effectively. I had never heard it before. A friend at work is a big Dylan fan, and after we discussed the three "born again" albums, he brought it in for me. I may write an entry on it in the future. I already have draft notes.

Today's other selection was "Beatle Mash" by "The Liverpool Kids", a no-budget and no-name exploitation released circa 1964 to cash in on Beatlemania. It's not awful, but it's certainly not memorable. Generic early sixties R&B, with one Beatles cover (She Loves You) and one "original" that's such a knockoff of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" that the producers would surely have been sued for plagiarism if the album had been noticed at the time. It's a closer copy than "My Sweet Lord" is of "He's So Fine" - and that's pretty darn close. This album won't be held over.

In the mid-eighties, the writers of Spider-Man comics did a storyline that tied into the much-maligned Secret Wars II (which rocked my barely-pubescent world, despite being sheer crap in retrospect). The Beyonder turned an entire Manhattan office building, and all its contents, to solid gold.

Hijinks ensued as Spidey had to rescue its occupants and neighbours (a solid gold building apparently cannot support its own weight; I'm sure the writers had engineers check all the math), the Kingpin tried to steal it, and finally the government stepped in to confiscate it and get rid of it (I don't remember how, and I'm not subjecting myself to re-reading a Secret Wars II tie-in).

The writers showed some real economic insight here. It was explained that the sudden ex nihilo introduction of all that gold would destabilize the world metals markets, and ultimately the entire global economy. You can't just suddenly flood the market with a previously scarce commodity without doing far more harm than good. An inflationary spiral, followed quickly by economic chaos and collapse, invariably ensues.

This goes for a government introducing large amounts of previously nonexistent currency into the economy, whether by actually printing bills (remember Germans needing wheelbarrows of cash to buy bread under Hitler's economic stimulus package?), or by giving large amounts of money that only exists as numbers on a screen (most "money" doesn't physically exist anymore, it's all abstract) to... well, anyone.

How sad is it that Spider-Man writers of the mid-eighties were smarter economists than anyone in the Obama administration?

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my son doing his absolute best to hold still. Check out that sharply-defined colour!

Friday, March 6, 2009

He'd Also Like A Pony

So this guy, Christopher Pauchay, drank himself incoherent one night and decided to go visit his sister. Not that unusual a story so far, at least in my hometown.

The first complication is that there was a snowstorm going on, and the temperature was around minus 50 degrees Celsius with the windchill. For those of you more accustomed to the Fahrenheit scale, that converts to "incredibly freaking cold."

Still, his sister's place was nearby, and surely he could coast that far without even feeling the cold with that much alcohol in his system.

Then comes the second complication: Chris was watching the kids that night.

This is about to get really awful. You are warned.

Having been left in charge of his two daughters (aged 15 months and a little over three years, respectively), he at least knew better than to leave them home alone. So, he did what I'm sure every parent has done at one time or another: he picked them up, one in each arm, dressed only in diapers and t-shirts, and carried them out into a blizzard in the middle of the night.

In his drunken stupor, he didn't get far. He was found the next morning, frostbitten and probably still feeling the booze, on a neighbour's front step. His daughters weren't with him, and it was several more hours before he told anyone that he had brought them outside. Of course, they were found frozen to death in the snow.

At this point, the story is sickening and tragic. What came afterward compounds the outrage.

The guy was charged, as well he should have been. To his credit, he entered a guilty plea. However, before the a real judge decided on his sentence, he got to have a "sentencing circle". I've written about these mockeries of the criminal justice system before.

Let's look at some highlights from that process:

Pauchay's lawyer, Ron Piche, (asked) for a conditional sentence.
A "conditional sentence" means no jail time. Probation and community service, maybe a little house arrest. Why stop there? Why not nominate him for the Order of Canada? The precedent of giving it to child-killers has already been set.
The mother of the two girls, Tracey Jimmy...told the circle she believes Pauchay is a good man. Ms. Jimmy said she knew when she met Pauchay that he would be the father of her children.
But not for long.
She cried as she talked about how her third child -- the one she was pregnant with at the time of Kaydance and Santana's deaths -- was taken away after an incident eight months ago that resulted in assault charges and a restraining order against Pauchay.
This doesn't sound like he's learned much about parenting. Hopefully this child gets far, far away before Daddy comes back to leave her somewhere to die.
The group (of sentencing circle participants) recommended Pauchay take drug and alcohol treatment and assist elders with cultural and spiritual activities. None of the recommendations involves sending him to jail.

The punchline to all this hand-wringing is that the guy already has what you could call a history with the law. He is, as they say, "known to the police" in his area. To the tune of over 50 (yes, fifty, ten times five) criminal convictions.

I don't even understand how someone can ever be out of prison with that kind of record. Sure, even the best of us invariably winds up with a handful of convictions on our rap sheet, but when you're at two score and ten, it's time for society to send you to the showers.

Oh, wait. He was walking (or, more accurately, staggering) around free for the same reason that he got a "sentencing circle", instead of a judge immediately bringing the hammer down - the colour of his skin:
The Criminal Code also dictates that a judge should take into account the special circumstances of aboriginal offenders, regardless of whether they partake in sentencing circles.
I've written about this before, but it bears repeating until it changes: the Canadian government assumes that Aboriginals cannot be held responsible for their actions. Our legislators think that they aren't as civilized, aren't as smart, and just aren't as capable of understanding right and wrong as us white folks. I didn't think anyone would ever seriously compliment someone else by saying, "That's mighty white of you!", but considering things like this, it wouldn't surprise me coming from a Canadian Member of Parliament.

The bigotry of low expectations (there's nothing "soft" about it) kept this man out of prison, and his two children are dead because of it. All the "progressives" who think that they're being enlightened and generous (and how condescending is that?) by having legal exemptions carved out for minorities have the blood of those girls on their hands.

Now for the final insult to the memory of those two girls. Their Daddy just got his sentence for killing them.

Three years. Three stinking, lousy years.

That's less than the lifetime of his oldest daughter. Far too short in both cases.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of the two children this S.O.B. killed. Man, was I ever tempted to write out that abbreviation.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Painting Testimonial Pictures, Oh, Uh-Uh-Oh

Things aren't looking good at the hearing into Robert Dziekanski's death after being Tasered at the Vancouver airport. More specifically, the testimony of the police officers involved seems to be unravelling more and more each day. I can only think of a few reasons why people would lie so blatantly, and most of them revolve around them being completely and utterly busted for having done something wrong.

This story claims that there are at least six definite discrepancies between the story told by the police officers and what can plainly be seen on the tape. Please note that I'm not necessarily agreeing or disagreeing with that claim, having neither listened to all the testimony nor (full disclosure time) given the video more than a cursory glance. I'm not a fan of snuff films. However, it seems like the kind of thing that would be pretty easy to fact-check before printing in a major newspaper.

One of the officers, Constable Kwesi Millington, has apparently at least developed the backbone to admit that he lied about several things:

Millington's testimony varied from what he told homicide investigators investigating Dziekanski's death. He told investigators in October 2007 that Dziekanski was yelling with the stapler held high before he was stunned. The officer also said Dziekanski was standing for the first three jolts, and that officers had to wrestle him to the ground.

After watching a bystander's video, Millington agreed Dziekanski might not have been yelling, but he insisted the man raised the stapler out of view of the camera. He conceded that Dziekanski was only standing for the first stun, and fell to the ground on his own.

A form that Millington was required to fill out because he deployed a Taser also included numerous errors, the inquiry heard. Millington wrote that Dziekanski was swinging the stapler "wildly" at the officers, but conceded in his testimony that didn't happen.
At the rate that these guys are backpedalling, we're probably going to find out that Dziekanski wasn't even in the airport. He was walking down the street in Krakow, minding his own business, when some RCMP officers came out of nowhere, Tasers aglow.

This, however, may have been the low point in Millington's testimony:
The officer also said he was trained that multiple stuns could be "hazardous" and should be avoided unless necessary, although he couldn't remember why more than one stun might be a bad idea.
If you can't remember why repeatedly running 50,000 volts through a human being is a bad idea without checking your notes, then a career in law enforcement may not be for you.

I really hate second-guessing police officers. I watched the entire Rodney King video several years ago, and have thought ever since that those guys got a bad rap. King was completely out of control, and kept getting back up and coming at them. The admittedly severe beating he was given, which was the only part of the tape most people saw or wanted to see, only came after several previous attempts to restrain him using more moderate force failed.

So far, my main concern about the Dziekanski case is that no one seems to have been interested in checking on him after he stopped moving. It seems to me that once somebody has been subdued to the point of unconsciousness, it falls upon the personnel present to, you know, make sure they're still breathing.

That may not be my main concern for much longer if the hearings keep going the way they have been. I'm just glad there was a camera around to keep these police officers from selling their fabricated story.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of giraffes sticking their heads out of the Ark at the Holy Land Experience. Sigh. And after they did so well on the scale model.