Thursday, April 30, 2009

Judgemental Bits Of Colourful Cardboard

Continuing the writeup on my latest order from Magic Arsenal, received late last summer. See the previous part for introductory blather.

This time we move on to the six Judgment repacks. The rares were Wormfang Behemoth, Telekenetic Bonds, Masked Gorgon, Ernham Djinn, Shaman's Trance, and Selfless Exorcist. I don't find any of them worth further discussion. They're mostly too narrow to interest me.

Of the 18 uncommons, I received copies of 10 different cards. There were three each of Infectious Rage and Aven Warcraft, and two each of four others. As usual, I found the uncommons more interesting than the rares. Anurid Swarmsnapper, Serene Sunset, and Swelter are very playable, and Infectious Rage looks like a blast. I love introducing potentially chaotic elements into games.

The commons were an even better group. I think this was part of the problem with the long-term image of Fallen Empires - the commons were just more fun than the rares and uncommons. With Magic card collation, players tend to wind up with all the commons they want from a set very quickly. After that point they keep buying packs for the uncommons and rares. When I worked in a game shop, I had several customers who would come in to buy a pack, open it, and set the commons aside without a glance to look at the uncommons and rare. Then they'd leave the store without even bothering to pick the commons back up off the counter (deliberately). They were about as valued as the wrapper the cards came in. Many others (including me) would happily give new players stacks of commons, for free, to get them started.

As good as that is strictly from a player's perspective, it's not so good from a buyer's perspective. The downside is that heavier buyers wind up disappointed with most of the packs they buy. If they don't care about the commons because they already have multiples of all of them, and the rares and uncommons are mediocre at best, then the fun quickly gets sucked out of buying more packs and they start to feel they've wasted their money.

This is not to pass, ummm, judgement on the quality of the rares and uncommons in Judgment as a whole. I'm only considering a small selection of the frankly less saleable cards. However, it gave me an excuse to tell the above stories about Fallen Empires and my game shop days.

I got six repacks, and received six copies of Toxic Stench (1B - Instant - Target nonblack creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn. Threshold - If seven or more cards are in your graveyard, instead destroy that creature. It can't be regenerated). That's right, it was in every pack. And it's not a very good card. In fact, it's almost strictly inferior to Terror (the only benefit is that this can hit artifact creatures), and only even gets close to par after you hit threshold. This card is bad.

I also got five copies of Wormfang Newt, and two to four copies of many others. Some of the commons that I can imagine adding to decks beyond a quick test are Spellgorger Barbarian, Goretusk Firebeast, Swirling Sandstorm, Cagemail (play it on your own walls!), Sudden Strength, and Folk Medicine. My inclination toward recursion also makes me like Battlefield Scrounger and Nantuko Tracer.

I also ordered a ten-pack of black rares. I was pleased with the assortment, because I actually want to build or adapt decks to include six of them: Nihilistic Glee, Living End, Stalking Bloodsucker, Lim-Dul The Necromancer, Final Punishment, and Vermiculos. There are three more that don't appeal as much to me, although I'll given them a shot in one deck or another: Curse of the Cabal, Strongarm Tactics, and Iname, Death Aspect.

I have no use whatsoever for the last one, Spoils of the Vault (B - Instant - Name a card. Reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal the named card, then put that card into your hand. Remove all other cards revealed this way from the game, and you lose 1 life for each of the removed cards). I have a very strong aversion to removing my own cards from the game, and so the prospect of losing life for the privilege of doing so appeals to me about as much as a root canal without benefit of anaesthetic. I understand the best use of this card, in a highly tuned combo deck containing four copies each of its critical cards, but that's not a deck I'd ever build, or want to.

This order included two more grab bags, one each of "Grab Bag #1" and "Grab Bag # 2". Those items don't seem to be offered anymore. Instead, Magic Arsenal seem to have replaced them with a wide selection of somewhat more targeted assortments (Standard, Extended, etc.).

Grab Bag #1 contained 23 cards. Two uncommons from Champions of Kamigawa (Oni Possession and Sideswipe), Raise Dead, and a bunch of white and blue filler. A few of the latter may not be commons (Phantasmal Forces, Wall of Air, Wall of Tears) but they're still indisputably filler.

The entire pack (which only cost $1.99) is redeemed, though, by a rare that I really like: Solarion. Doubling things is always fun, and big artifact creatures are always fun, so it's just a matter of figuring out which multi-colour deck to put this guy into. Now if I could just figure out what to do with three more copies of Circle of Protection: White.

Oh, well, I can always use more bookmarks. Or maybe proxies....

Grab Bag # 2 was $2.99 and contained 25 cards. 20 of those cards are non-noteworthy filler. These are all either commons or uncommons that aren't colour-coded as such (many of them predate colour-coded rarities) and don't stand out. I should note that this "filler" would be perfectly good stuff for newer players, or players who didn't have the luxury of getting pretty much any cards they wanted for the first six years that Magic was around. It just doesn't amount to a drop in the bucket of my collection.

I'm still happy with the pack, though, for those last five cards. Three of them are only commons, but they're commons from my "gap sets", and I like them. Spire Golem is my first artifact creature with Affinity, and Dimir Aqueduct is a land that makes more than one colour of mana. Those are almost always worth tossing into multicolour decks.

The third common I liked from this pack was Petravark. It would have been interesting enough on its own, but it's made more fun by the fact that one of the rares in the pack was its big brother, Petradon. I'll definitely be running these two together in a deck.

The last card in the pack is a legendary artifact, Krark's Thumb (2 - Legendary Artifact - If you would flip a coin, instead flip two coins and ignore one). It looks like fun, but I don't know if I can gather up enough coin-flip cards to build a deck around it. I've read that this card is legendary just so the rules team at Wizards didn't have to figure out what would happen if two were in play. That may have been a joke (which makes me think I probably read it in a Mark Rosewater article); it seems pretty straightforward to me. Since replacement effects, like this, only apply once, having two in play would mean that each coin-flip was replaced by flipping four coins and choosing one of the results, making coin-flip cards not much of a gamble.

Here's the logic: the single coin flip gets replaced by two coin flips, by one of the Krark's Thumbs. The second Thumb would then replace each of those two flips with two more, for a total of four. I *think* that's what would happen, anyway. Rules Gurus are welcome to post comments correcting me.

The final item in this order was an assortment of 200 commons from Onslaught, the next chronological set from the gap in my collection. Magic Arsenal offers these 200-commons assortments from lots of sets. My basis for choosing between repacks and 200-common assortments is pretty simple. For large sets, which usually contain 300 or more cards and so over 100 commons, I'll take the 200 commons. For small sets, the 200 commons would probably contain far too much duplication for my liking, so I'll pay a per-card premium to get some uncommons and rares mixed in.

I was pleased to see all but one of the common nonbasic land cycle included. I got 10 of these lands, each of which come into play tapped, make 1 mana of a given colour, and can be cycled at a cost of 1 mana of the colour they make. That makes them perfect for splashing into multicolour decks. If you only need one or two white mana, for instance, then once you already have them available, you can cycle the white-producing land (Secluded Steppe) using one of the white sources you already have in play. Trading a redundant land for a new card is a good deal.

Blue next, for the completely arbitrary reason that it's next in the pile. The most I got of any given blue card was four copies. I like Disruptive Pitmage, but only got one copy. Most of the others look like they have the potential to be fun, but nothing's jumping out at me as really good or really bad. Feel free to assume that a copy of that sentence could be appended to what I say about each of the other colours.

There was a lot more repetition in green. I got five copies of Crown of Vigor, six each of Barkhide Mauler and Leery Fogbeast, and a whopping eight Snarling Undoraks. As it turns out, I like Snarling Undorak, but I'm not sure I want to build two whole Beast decks to accommodate all eight copies. I also like Barkhide Mauler, although I suspect I'd always resist cycling it ("It's a big stompy creature! I can't just toss that away!"), and Crown of Vigor because I like building and playing tribal-themed decks. The only other green common that stands out to me as especially fun is Birchlore Rangers; I only got one copy.

Six copies of one white card (Crown of Awe), five copies each of five others, one to four of all the rest. Disciple of Grace (five copies) is nice, and a better use of cycling than Barkhide Mauler. While I'd always be tempted to hold a big creature for later during the early game, I'd cycle a little guy like this without hesitation once the board got beefy. Battlefield Medic (five copies) makes me nostalgic for my Fallen Empires buddy Combat Medic. Battlefield Medic is no Combat Medic, and for that reason alone I'll probably never include it in a deliberately designed deck. I'll make room for Confessor and Unified Strike in the right decks (discard and soldiers, respectively).

Red is more diverse, with only two cards represented by more than four copies: five Goblin Taskmasters, and eight Break Open. Break Open is probably the least appealing card in this assortment (although I like it more than Spoils Of The Vault). In a very morph-heavy environment it might be playable; at my "casual format" kitchen table, it would only be good if it were reuseable. Give it buyback, make it a cantrip, or make it an enchantment with an activation cost -although in the latter case I'd still probably need it to be a cantrip before I'd play it.

Despite the stack of Break Opens, the red cards as a whole look great. Lay Waste (only one copy) is good, Wave of Indifference is a cruel finisher, and I like Pinpoint Avalanche for the simple reason that it's an instant instead of a sorcery. I may need to build a goblin deck just to use the Taskmasters, Skirk Commando, and Sparksmith. Plus, Brightstone Ritual is just nuts (R - Instant - Add R to your mana pool for each Goblin in play). Unfortunately, I only got one each of the Sparksmith and Ritual.

Sparksmith is the kind of card I love: 1R - Creature - Goblin - 1/1 - T: Sparksmith deals X damage to target creature and X damage to you, where X is the number of Goblins in play. It introduces a potentially self-destructive element of anarchy to the board. I enjoy embarking on gambits where the result will either be victory or self-immolation. I'll be writing about my Warhammer 40,000 experience sometime; my fondest memories of that game involve the Splatta Kannon.

An ability like Sparksmith's will often be worth taking some damage for. You'll usually reserve it for some creature that's going to make your life miserable (or over), like a big flying creature you can't block. If you run the numbers, you'll often find that the damage is less than the troublesome creature would have done to you over the next turn or two. Consider a Sparksmith on the table with four goblin buddies and no flying allies, looking across the table at an oncoming Shivan Dragon. That dragon is going to hit for at least five damage, and probably more. Taking a single five-point penalty to get rid of it is a good investment. I find newer players tend to let the dragon hit once or twice before getting desperate enough to shoot it down at a cost of some more pain. That's certainly what I used to do, and it's a mathematical mistake.

Finally, black. There are only more than four copies of one black card in my assortment: six copies of Screeching Buzzard, which is good anyway. I like Disciple of Malice for the same reasons as Disciple of Grace (they're mirror images, or more accurately negatives, of each other). Nantuko Husk is like Fallen Angel's creepy little brother, and being a zombie is a nice bonus just because I like zombies. In general, not just in Magic. Syphon Mind and Haunted Cadaver will both go into my discard deck.

I don't like Wretched Anurid or Accursed Centaur, both for the same reason. I like playing with creatures. The anurid punishes me for doing so, and the 3/3 body just isn't big enough to offset the penalty.

I can't contrive many situations when I'd be happy to draw the centaur (B - Creature - Zombie Centaur - 2/2 - When Accursed Centaur comes into play, sacrifice a creature). His casting cost says to play him early. But you can't play him on turn one, and on turns two through (around) four you won't be willing to lose another creature, dropping behind in the arms race, for just a 2/2. Those stats don't make him one of the big boys. By the time you'd be willing to trade one of your little guys for a big one, 2/2 doesn't affect the board enough to bother. This strikes me as another bad card unless you're playing lots of creatures with potential drawbacks (like Lord of the Pit, Dormant Sliver, Minion of Leshrac, or - hey! Wretched Anurid) and you want to be able to remove one if it starts to turn on you.

That's all of this order, and I have no other orders planned for the foreseeable future. Next time I write about Magic, it'll probably either be about one of my decks, or about my game stats. I've actually recorded the results of all the games my wife and I have played over the last year or so, to see how the various decks perform against each other.

My son sometimes exhibits obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I have no idea where he gets them.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of Hostage Bunny. His captors are apparently trying to break him with psychological tactics. Here we see them carrying out a mock execution - death by apple-bonking. I fear this will not end well for Hostage Bunny.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Putting Tigers In Their Tanks

I know very little about the Tamil protests currently taking place in Toronto beyond the headlines and single paragraph summaries on news sites. I don't understand the issues or the situation in Sri Lanka, and have no particular intention of getting informed on the matters. The world is too big, and life too complex, to understand everything, and figuring out who the bad guys are in that mess just isn't going to make anywhere near the top of my priorities anytime soon.

That cheerfully admitted, the protests give me a good segue to talk about protests and demonstrations in general.

First up, I'm all for the right of people to freely assemble and engage in nonviolent demonstrations and protests. However, that doesn't always mean it's a good idea. Sometimes groups of which I'm a member hold public events like "Walk for Life" or other such parades. I agree with their goals, and sometimes even participate, but I'm often unsure that it does any good.

Do people change their minds on issues based on seeing a parade go by? I'm far likelier to be annoyed by any traffic interruption that may result and lose sympathy for the marching group. Maybe it's just a matter of letting people see that there's an organized movement on an issue, which may get them thinking about it, or even inspire them to join in if they already agree but weren't actively involved.

From the little I've bothered to read about the Tamil situation in Toronto, it seems well past "inconvenient" for anybody who's just trying to go about their business in the affected areas. I'd lose sympathy for the cause fast if I had to make my way through throngs of protesters to get to work, and even more so if they were aggressive or deliberately obstructive when I tried to pass.

Second, although I'm not sure who the bad guys are in Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers are considered a terrorist organization by the Canadian Government. That doesn't necessarily mean that they are. Just ask Maher Arar. (Although recent developments make me wonder whether the CIA knows things about him that the rest of us don't yet...)

However, the Canadian government's designation of the Tigers as a terrorist group may be a wisp of smoke that implies an underlying fire. I'll give CSIS the benefit of the doubt. So, here's a thought. There are probably a lot of people at these protests who are in Canada illegally, or on a temporary basis, or with credentials on which the ink is still wet. And here they are, taking part in a disruptive protest, largely in support of an identified terrorist organization. Apparently some Tiger fundraising has gone on, which is explicitly illegal. Is it just me, or is this an absolutely perfect opportunity for the guys at Customs and Immigration to practice their deportation skills? There must be cargo ships heading to Sri Lanka (or whatever other countries these protesters were born in). Load 'em up.

That, of course, assumes that the Tigers are the bad guys, that the protesters support the Tigers, etc. It may not apply in this specific situation. However, the principle holds. Where were INS personnel during all the illegal alien rallies in the States last year? There's no shame in shooting fish in a barrel if your problem is that the barrels are too full of fish.

Finally, some of the protesters have taken to hunger strikes.

I really don't get hunger strikes. Although you might not think so if you only know me from reading this blog (and maybe not even if you know me in real life), I actually have some compassion. I don't like people being victimized (really victimized, not made uncomfortable). If A is hurting B without a really good reason, and I can intervene to make them stop, I will. However, if B is deliberately hurting themselves, and they seem to be of sound mind otherwise, then I see no reason to be sympathetic.

I don't understand how "Do what I want or I'll hurt myself" is supposed to be persuasive. My answer is pretty much always going to be, "Ummm... go ahead." Not only does it not persuade, it hurts your cause by making you look childish. There's a very fine line between a protester on a hunger strike and a toddler threatening to hold their breath until they turn blue if they don't get a cookie right now. Threatening a hunger strike lets me file you under "Silly person, safe to ignore." Threatening others is reprehensible, but at least it gets you taken seriously. Holding yourself hostage just implies that you've seen Blazing Saddles.

As a punchline, the article I linked to above says that one of the hunger strikers was hospitalized after complaining of - wait for it - "stomach pains." What exactly did this genius think would happen after a few days without eating? I don't know who the good guys are in the Sri Lanka situation (assuming there are any), but I'm getting an idea who the smart guys are.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of Hostage Bunny in an undisclosed location.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Out Of A Closet

My fake Internet name is Zirbert, and I... am a creationist.

Time to actually go back and follow through on something I once mentioned. Sometimes this blog makes me feel like Chris Claremont. (Nerdly reference explanation for those with lives: Chris Claremont was a longtime writer of the Uncanny X-Men and related titles, and was notorious for setting up subplots then apparently getting bored with them or forgetting about them, leaving them dangling for years, or forever.)

Back in this entry, I mentioned that I would be leading a Bible study series on a controversial topic. I'm halfway through it by this point, and it's going quite well. The group is currently taking a break from my series to do the Fireproof series, after which we'll return to finish off this series before breaking for the summer.

My series is on creationism. Specifically, young-Earth creationism. It's based on the Answers With Ken Ham video series, from the people at Answers In Genesis. Each week we watch one of the videos, then discuss.

I was happy to find that the study guide, with discussion questions, and more importantly, the answer key for those questions (or suggested answers, in the case of the more thoughtful questions) were readily available from AIG's website.

When we started out, I assumed I'd be preparing my own discussion materials. I was ready to do that, but having something precooked to work with is a lot easier. In fact, for the first week, I had already prepared my own material before finding out about the AIG resources.

Here's the handout I prepared for the first week, when I gave a little background on the topic and we watched the first video, with URLs converted to links. The handout is pretty much about the background, not the video. Answers to the blanks and commentary follow.

Being a creationist is one of the two things that upsets nonbelievers the most. (The other is pointing out that atheists have no objective basis for _______________.)

Stockwell Day was publicly ridiculed. Also consider this 2008 quote: “I need to know if she really thinks dinosaurs were here 4000 years ago. That's an important - I want to know that, I really do, because she's going to have the nuclear codes. You know, I want to know if she thinks dinosaurs were here 4000 years ago... we can't, we can't have that.” -_____________, talking about ________________________.

A comment on my blog, in response to an article that wasn't even about creationism, said: “Do us all a favor, and home-school the kid so you can convince him the Earth is 6,000 years old and dinosaur bones are a trick the Devil played to make us believe in evolution.”

Even within the Church, many people will oppose creationism (or at least “young-earth creationism”). Many others just haven't thought about it, or may not think it matters.

These videos emphasize the importance of understanding your own ________________ (the way you look at the world and interpret evidence). Everyone has biases and preconceptions, and all evidence is interpreted within some framework.
“There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who don't.”
The three best-known major creationist ministries are:

• 1. Answers in Genesis – producers of these videos, publishers of Answers magazine and the Answers Research Journal (highly technical).

• 2. Creation Ministries International – publishers of Creation magazine and the Journal of Creation (highly technical). Producers of Creation Magazine Live, a video series that can be freely streamed or downloaded from their website.

• 3. Kent Hovind – excellent debater. Many books and videos produced, with explicit permission to copy freely.

(After watching the video) - Ken Ham talked about a person who told him that they're open to all points of view - except a point of view that says others are wrong. This is called ___________________. It's one of the most common worldviews / philosophies of life in the world today. It's also illogical and self-refuting.

Key Verses:

Genesis 1:1 (KJV): In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Psalm 11:3 (KJV): If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?

John 3:12 (NIV): I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?

The words to fill in the blanks are, in order: morality, Matt Damon, Sarah Palin, worldview, relativism.

This handout was, of course, just a framework for discussion. Whether I'm the teacher or a student, I always like to have a handout with some blanks to fill in. Reading and writing engage different parts of the brain than just listening, making it more likely that the material will be retained.

I wanted to open week one by discussing the controversial nature of the creationist position in modern society. There's no shortage of arrogant evolutionists who will happily name-call, ostracize, and generally abuse anyone who doesn't believe their religious orthodoxy - and yes, that's what it is - which states that their great-great-great-(insert several thousand "greats")-grandfather was slime on a rock.

In addition to the above, my two-page handout included a cartoon. Pretty much any handout I prepare does. I can generally find something to fit the subject. In this case, I used a Doonesbury, by Garry Trudeau, in which a doctor threatens to withhold treatment from a creationist patient. Of course, the doctor is meant to be an enlightened, intelligent man of science, and the patient a backwards fundamentalist who doesn't deserve to live. Ho, ho. Why, yes, letting people die because they don't share my religion is funny, isn't it, Mr. Trudeau? You can see the cartoon here.

Stockwell Day is a prominent Canadian politician. He's also an admitted Christian. A few years back some of his liberal (and Liberal) opponents decided it would be a good idea to make fun of that, making quips along the lines of "someone needs to explain to him that the Flintstones was not a documentary", and holding up toy dinosaurs as props at press conferences.

Interestingly, many of the opponents who were so threatened by him are professing Roman Catholics, but nobody made fun of their beliefs in a similar manner. I wonder why? It's not like it would be difficult. "Hey, here's a picture of an unbroken hymen! My opponent thinks Mary had one!"

Matt Damon's quote about Palin was included just because it demonstrates how low the secular world will sink to mock creationism, a belief that has negligible effect on day-to-day living and decision-making. Why would anyone care what Matt Freaking Damon thinks about complex political matters? However, since he was bashing the correct side, Damon's quote got media attention. Don't get me wrong, Damon may be a nice guy, and I hear he was OK in the Bourne movies (I haven't seen them), but I'll give heavier weight to the geopolitical opinions of someone who wasn't in a Jay and Silent Bob movie, thanks.

The classic "10 kinds of people" joke was included to illustrate the point that data (evidence, or symbols like "10") have meaning only within a framework. Change the framework, and the meaning of the data also changes. Your worldview is the framework you use. We all have one, and the better you understand yours, the better your thinking will be.

The "relativism" bit was included so I could tell the group a story (remember, these notes were just that, and were only a springboard) from my university days. One day I was sitting in a class, across the table from a relativist who had just proclaimed that all philosophical viewpoints are equally valid. "You're sure about that?" I asked.

"Yes," she replied confidently.

"OK, then, what do you do with my viewpoint, which is that your belief is self-refuting nonsense? If my viewpoint is valid, and you just said that it is, then your viewpoint is not."

I wish I could say that her brain fried like a computer that Captain Kirk told a paradox, but I don't remember her response. It may have involved shoving her stuff into her bookbag and stomping out of class, slamming the door behind her; I can remember a couple of other occasions when that was her answer to one of my questions. No one, including the professor, objected.

Time for my second confession (the first was the opening line of this entry), this one destined to upset the exact opposite group of people from the first: Although I'm unequivocally a creationist, I'm not nearly as convinced about the age of the Earth. Maybe it's only several thousand years old, maybe not. If I were to be convinced tomorrow that the Earth really is millions of years old (although I honestly can't think of anything that would convince me), it wouldn't disturb my belief system overmuch. I lean toward a young-Earth position, but not very strongly. Anyone who wants to argue with me about the age of the Earth, from either side, is bound for disappointment as I shrug and wander off.

Perhaps more about all of this another time, perhaps not. Unlike Claremont, I'm not actively looking to set up more threads to which I may never return.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of some computers that are in my kitchen, waiting for me to finish working on them.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Sorry I haven't been around much lately. I spent much of last week setting up a computer that I bought for my parents as an anniversary gift.

I could get a story or two from that experience, if I was hard up for material. Suffice it to say that if you're buying a computer from a reseller and it says that it comes with a Windows XP "COA" (that means certificate of authenticity, or in other words a legal XP licence), it may not have Windows preinstalled or an installation disc included. Then, when you ask the reseller about it, they may suggest that you "just go download a Windows CD off the Internet", and act surprised when you tell them that's illegal. They then might get a lot more cooperative when you mention that Microsoft's customer support operators were intrigued by their suggestion.

So, the XP snafu combined with my thinking for some reason that my parents' anniversary was a week later than it actually is led to my spending a few late nights watching installation progress bars creep across the screen.

And speaking of long marriages...

My wife and I recently watched Fireproof. If you've even heard of the movie, then I'm not really spoiling anything by telling you that there's a happy, marriage-affirming ending. Yes, you know how it will end pretty much from the start, but that's true of most stories in any medium. The interesting part is seeing how you get there.

This movie is far, far better than I thought it would be. It's genuinely funny in several spots (not just "for a Christian movie" funny), and not nearly as emotionally manipulative as most movies. It's definitely worth watching.

It stars Kirk Cameron. Move past that. He's actually a talented actor, despite being best known for having starred in one of the worst sitcoms ever. He's completely believable in this role, and it's clear from some of the outtakes, especially the "pranks" reel, that he doesn't bring any ego issues to the set.

Going into this movie I expected that the marital problems of the lead couple would be the man's fault. That's The Law of Modern Relationship Storytelling: if a relationship is unhappy, it's the man's fault. He's insensitive, he's distant, he's aloof, he's a workaholic, he's any of the other seventy or eighty other awful things that used to just be called "a man".

This movie holds true to that, but it's so well written, and Cameron is so good, that I bought it. The state of this marriage at the outset of the movie is his fault. An early scene showing the two bickering seemed at first to show that she was as bad as him, but as the movie progressed I realized that she had only become that way as a result of his behaviour over the years. Since I'm something of an antifeminist male chauvinist pig by the standards of modern society (again, what used to be called "a man" before the Great Castration), it's tough to sell me yet another relationship story wherein the poor set-upon heroine's suffering is entirely the fault of the brutish lout she had the misfortune to love, but this movie did it.

I'm not surprised that this movie wasn't a box office smash, but I'm certainly glad that the filmmakers didn't compromise. The Gospel is explicitly presented more than once, and Scripture is not only quoted, but shown onscreen. The people that made this movie clearly get the principle that if your relationship with God isn't what it should be, then it's easy for the rest of your life to follow into disarray. I studied psychology a couple of lifetimes ago, but abandoned it as a career option when I realized that. It's tough to make a living as a counsellor in the secular world when your first recommended treatment for almost any addiction, relationship problem, or emotional issue is Jesus. That's not always where the treatment ends, but for best results that's where it starts.

The reviews of this movie from the secular world were not kind. It has a 37% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and I read several of the reviews and comments. Interestingly, many of the negative reviews weren't really reviewing the movie so much as the worldview it presents and defends.

I especially enjoyed a comment on one site (unfortunately I read it over a week ago now, don't remember which one it was, and am not going trudging through again to find it) that said something to the effect that "the Bible goes on and on about wives being submissive, but doesn't say a single word about how husbands should act."

Really, now, it's in the next freaking paragraph. You probably don't even need to turn the page. How lazy, both physically and intellectually, do you need to be to remain that willfully ignorant?

Here's Ephesians 5:22-33, with some edits to tighten it up but leave the point intact. If you think I may have snipped out bits that talk about Christians wanting to set up theocracies and round homosexuals into work camps, click the link, or better yet crack open a dead-tree Bible, and read the full passage for yourself:

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy... husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church... each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Nope, nothing at all about husbands in the whole Bible. Yeesh.

In fact, to really get what that passage is saying, you need to back it up one more verse to include Ephesians 5:21:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Unfortunately, many Bibles have the text divided into thematic sections and leave that verse at the end of the preceding section. My current primary study Bible does, but has a footnote saying that this verse "goes equally well with both the preceding and the following sections, but it is especially basic to the following paragraphs." The editors correctly figured out that this verse should go at the start of the "marital obligations" part. It's an introduction to this new topic, not the conclusion of the previous one. So why didn't they put it there?

Verse 21 states that both the husband and the wife are to submit to one another. The following section, quoted earlier, expands on and clarifies that idea. You may still not agree, or not like it, but at least try to understand it. Husbands are actually called to greater responsibility and greater personal sacrifice. If you're offended by the idea that wives are to submit, with no reciprocal obligations from their husbands, then you're offended by an antibiblical idea and I agree with you.

Back to the movie.

Although this movie deals with deeply personal and mature issues, there's nothing in it that's inappropriate for children. The filmmakers were very careful in choosing the words and images used. I especially like how they handled a discussion of Cameron's character's web-surfing habits. Adults will understand exactly what they're talking about, and the implications of the argument, but it would all sail over the heads of young children.

I also liked the portrayals of the counsel offered by friends of the husband and wife, because they were so realistic. The man's friend advised him to smarten up and start being a better husband. The woman's friends squawk about how she should leave immediately, she'd be better off without him, etc. In my experience, this is how it works in real life. In general (maybe I should put those words in a large, all-caps, bold font for emphasis), the male idea of "supportive" involves urging and assisting people to do what is right even if it's painful, difficult, or not what they want to do. The female idea means, "whatever you say (or want) is right." The male concept is based on honour and duty, the female on emotion.

I said, "in general". The exceptions you know are exactly that.

Hmm. I hadn't expected this discussion of a movie to turn into a treatise on gender differences. Perhaps I should move on before this degenerates further.

The movie is not perfect. I would have cut the scene with the doofus talking to the mirror. On my first viewing, that scene seemed to go on forever. On a second look, it's actually quite short. The theory of relativity in regards to time ("One second with your hand on a hot stove lasts as long as an hour talking to a pretty girl") holds.

I would also have cut two stereotypes. Yes, stereotypes sometimes become stereotypes for a reason, but there's no need to encourage them.

First, early in the movie, one firefighter is dressed down for poor performance. He's later made the butt of a practical joke. He seems a bit slow. And, of course, he's overweight. There seems to be a shorthand in movies. If you want to show that a character is incompetent and probably not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, make them chubby. Too many casting directors think that "fat" equals "stupid".

While we're on the topic of practical jokes, although the mild one played on the slow character is a bit cruel, I have no problem with the harsher one played later on the mirror-talking doofus. It was a targeted attack on his raging ego. I like to see people being taken down a notch when it's called for, and this one was.

The second stereotype I would have avoided came from the two black nurses. I wish all black actresses would instantly reject any script that calls for them to raise an eyebrow and say "Mmmm-HMMM!" For that matter, if the casting sheet describes your character as "sassy", walk out of the audition and fire the agent who sent you.

In conclusion, Fireproof is well worth seeing, even if (maybe especially if) you have doubts about its "religious" content. Yes, it's predictable - you didn't really think they'd be divorced at the end, did you? However, it takes a few interesting twists, foils some expectations, and says several very interesting things along the way. And watch the extras, especially the Pranks section.

Enough rambling. Here's another picture of my dilapidated roof. Same board, opposite end.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Canada's Racist Firearms Act

The Firearms Act, the law that regulates just about everything to do with civilian firearm ownership in Canada, contains several clauses pertaining solely to aboriginal peoples. This is, of course, racist on its face. As a refresher, I define racism as interjecting ethnicity into situations where it is not relevant. Since freedom of expression is sacrosanct around here, you're free to disagree with that definition. If you choose to do so, I am in turn free not to care.

I explained that definition of racism in this post, way back in May of last year. In that post I also said that I intended to write this article "soon". That says much about my sense of time's passage.

It's unsurprising that this Canadian law contains provisions for specific people based on their genetic makeup. Canadians, being open-minded, liberal, well-meaning folks, frequently try to enshrine helpful exemptions for the "disadvantaged" in law. However, given the barely concealed contempt for aboriginals that Canadian legislators demonstrate as often as they get the opportunity (see this article for a horrifying example), it's also unsurprising that the "Aboriginal Adaptations" are offensive and insulting to aboriginal people.

There are five ways that the Firearms Act treats Aboriginals differently. I said four back in May 2008; I was mistaken. I've edited a correction into that article. Revising history is fun when you're the one who gets to do it. We have always been at war with Eurasia.

I need to say at the outset that I'm going to have trouble linking to original sources for these. The RCMP took over the Canadian Firearms Program a while back, and a lot of the web links have been redirected or just no longer exist. You can find most of this stuff - maybe all - if you dig through the RCMP's current Firearms Program info page for Aboriginals, especially the Fact Sheet, and this now largely obsolete PDF booklet on the Firearms Act that was prepared for distribution to aboriginal peoples. The quotations I provide below are from one of those sources.

Let's start by listing the five provisions, and explore them each afterward:

1. Service in a language other than English or French (i.e., a traditional aboriginal language).
2. Possession Only Licence eligibility without owning a firearm.
3. Minor's Licences for children under 12.
4. Safety training exemptions.
5. "Recommendation for approval."

1. Service in a language other than English or French (i.e., a traditional aboriginal language). Canada has two official languages: English and French. If you want to deal with the Canadian government in any way, you better know one of them. However, although no promises are made, the Canadian Firearms Program (CFP from here on, because I'm tired of typing it out) says in that PDF booklet that aboriginal people may be able to take the normally prerequisite firearms safety course in their own language.

I don't care about this one, and wouldn't care even if the CFP's language was stronger, using terms like "make every effort to accommodate". As long as no actual obligations are taken on by the CFP (or any other government agency) to provide service in languages other than English and French, I don't care if they have somebody at the office who happens to know another language and is willing to talk to citizens in it. Same goes for Chinese, Italian, or any other language. This one's boring, but since it exists I wanted to list it. Let's move on.

2. Possession Only Licence eligibility without owning a firearm. Here's where the Act gets a bit complicated. There are two kinds of firearms licences: Possession Only Licences (POLs), which let you keep any firearms you already have but not get any more, and Possession and Acquisition Licences (PALs), which let you keep what you have and get more.

A POL is normally only available to people who already own at least one firearm. In fact, a POL is not available at all anymore to anyone who doesn't already have one, because all firearms in Canada were supposed to have been registered by a deadline some years ago. The legal logic was that anyone who already owned firearms should have already had their licence by then, since you need a licence before you can register, so in theory on the registration deadline there was nobody left in Canada who owns a firearm but doesn't have a licence.

It also seems logical on its face that if you don't own a firearm, you don't need a POL. So, the law says that if you don't own a firearm, you can't have a POL.

Unless you're an aboriginal person. You see, the law figures that aboriginal people might have access to and want to use communally owned firearms. Davis (from Corner Gas) may not personally own a rifle, but his aboriginal community might have one that he wants to take out once a year or so to hunt. Perhaps the Canadian government figures that aboriginal society hasn't quite reached the level of the whole "private ownership of property" thing.

I actually don't have much problem with this adaptation, aside from the snarky aspersion in the previous sentence. I'd call this what it is: letting someone who doesn't own a firearm get a POL so they can borrow firearms that belong to someone else. Their band office, their neighbour, their cousin, whoever. The problem is that this option is not available to anyone who isn't aboriginal. If I want to get a POL just to borrow firearms, the CFP shuts the door in my face and tells me to get lost. It's a PAL, which means I have to take a safety course that isn't required for a POL, or I can go hunt ducks with a slingshot.

3. Minor's Licences for children under 12. Here's where things start to get really ugly. From that official RCMP - CFP info page I linked to above:

In most cases, the minimum age for obtaining a Minor’s Licence to borrow non-restricted rifles and shotguns is 12 years old. However, there is no minimum age for Aboriginal children who take part in the traditional hunting activities of their community.
Got that? Most kids have to be at least 12 to get a Minor's Licence (which allows them to borrow and use, but not take ownership of, firearms). Aboriginal kids have no minimum age limit.

Translation: "We wouldn't let prepubescent white children play with guns - their lives are valuable and filled with limitless potential. Aboriginal kids, on the other hand..."

Time to state a principle, while some readers are off looking up a phone number for the Human Rights Commission complaint hotline to file their complaints against me, thereby proving that irony is not dead.

I seriously doubt that any legislators consciously held that intention. Their intentions were probably good, although misguided and condescending. My interpretations are informed by my steadfast beliefs that (a) all human beings are created equal, with variations in skin colour ultimately being about as significant as those in hair colour, and should be treated as such under law; (b) failure to uphold such equal treatment is prima facie racism; (c) all human beings are inherently flawed and prone to doing wrong, stupid, and / or evil things. Yes, very much including me. This idea used to be called "original sin". These days it's called "nonconstructive thinking" by aromatherapy devotees and other deep thinkers.

So, while those legislators didn't set out to be vile racists, they crafted some vile, racist policies because they didn't agree with (a) and didn't think themselves subject to (c). Seeing it that way is all a matter of interpretation. As we'll be discussing more in future articles, the same facts can often be interpreted in very different ways depending on one's underlying beliefs, or worldview. Which interpretation is correct depends on which underlying worldview is correct. My worldview includes the three elements stated in the previous paragraph (with (c) as the foundational bedrock). I'm not aware of a single good argument against any of them. Your evaluation of any such arguments may vary depending on your worldview.

And yes, I'm deliberately presenting the most provocative interpretations I can here, to make the point. However, this is sincerely how I see it. Furthermore, I don't see any way you could cast these last three adaptations in a positive light, at least without tossing the three beliefs I outlined above.

4. Safety training exemptions. Time for another principle that really deserves its own entry. In fact, I started drafting one last June or so, and still have the first couple of paragraphs saved on my hard drive, but never finished it.

Here's the principle, stated very (probably overly) simply: when you see statements about (or references to) some identifiable group, try changing the identifiable group, preferably to its perceived opposite, and see if your feelings about the statement (or reference) change. It's easiest to do with gender or "black" and "white", but any group identifications work.

Some examples might help. Try reading a transcript of an interview with Al Sharpton or Spike Lee. Forget who the speaker is, and while reading switch "white" and "black". If it makes you really uncomfortable and sounds like a speech that could be given at a Klan rally to thunderous inbred applause, that means you get it.

Try these on for size: United Caucasian College Fund. Health clubs specifically forbidding women to join. An all-white awards ceremony instead of (or alongside) the NAACP awards. White Entertainment Television. Men's drinks half price at the local bar. "It's a white thing - you wouldn't understand." Stuff Asian People Like. "I accept this award on behalf of white men everywhere!"

Some of those may bother you more than others. Some may not bother you much at all. If none of them bother you, you probably should be bothered by that.

Which brings us to the problem with the safety training exemption idea. As noted earlier, you need safety training to get a PAL. However, one of the Aboriginal Adaptations exempts Aboriginals. It's not a rubber stamp - they still have to request and justify their exemption. However, the underlying logic is that using firearms is part of aboriginal culture. Put more bluntly, the assumption is that it's in their blood.

Let's do a little substitution. Instead of "Aboriginals generally know how to handle firearms - it's part of their culture", try, "Young urban black males don't need to take handgun training. It must be part of their culture. (After all, the statistics show that they already know how to use them.)"

This is how Canadian legislators think. People aren't individuals - they're only members of their group.

5. "Recommendation for approval." Pasted from the RCMP's site:
Background checks are performed to ensure that licence applicants are not likely to be a danger to themselves or to others. In some cases, the Chief Firearms Officer (CFO) may issue a licence but place conditions on the licence that would limit the licence holder’s ability to use a firearm.

Aboriginal persons who are concerned that they might be refused a licence or that conditions may be placed on their licence may ask an Elder or leader in their community to sign a declaration on form CAFC 1016 to confirm the importance of their being able to take part in traditional hunting activities of their community. The CFO must consider such recommendations from an Elder or leader before refusing or placing conditions on the licence of an Aboriginal person.
The Chief Firearms Officer is the government agent in charge of actually deciding yea or nay on any given person's firearms licence. If a person is refused, a cause must be given. It's usually because the applicant's history makes them look like a public safety risk: a criminal record, mental problems, substance abuse, a history of violence. A person whose application is refused has a right of appeal.

This "recommendation for approval" is nothing but a preemptive appeal. The nice folks who wrote this law figured that so many Aboriginals would be refused and wind up needing to appeal that they might as well just get the appeal started right off the bat. After all, everybody knows that Aboriginals all have criminal records, mental illnesses, and / or substance abuse problems, right?

It's part of their culture.

This is how Canadian legislators see Aboriginals.

I know I shouldn't have to close with a disclaimer, but I have visions of some of my statements in this article being taken out of context. So, for the record: there are passages in this article where I employ a literary technique known as "sarcasm". I am not saying that I want aboriginal children playing with guns, that all Aboriginals have criminal records, etc. I'm trying to make the point that the Firearms Act was apparently written by people who believe these sorts of things, consciously or not. Those legislators would no doubt disagree with my interpretations. I think they would do well to take a long hard looks inside themselves and at the Act before trying to argue the matter.

For that matter, where are the protests from aboriginal people?

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of part of the roof of my house. I'm currently wasting a lot of my time chasing contractors to come replace that board. That's a whole other article, maybe a series. I could try replacing it myself, but by the time I was finished my lack of any useful physical skills whatsoever would probably manifest as a large crater where my house used to be.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Tormented Bits Of Colourful Cardboard

Quite a while back, I placed another order with Magic Arsenal for a bunch of cards. I didn't write about that order before now because we took a Magic hiatus around my house starting late last summer so my wife could throw herself into a batch of crocheting projects, some of which you've seen here.

The crocheting has died down again, mainly because for the first time in recent memory none of our friends have babies either on the way or newly born (other than the ones who have already received a crocheted "welcoming present", of course, like Pastor Derek and Homeschooler's boys).

With no playing going on, I didn't want to spend too much time digging through those cards. Why torture yourself by browsing the candy store when you're on a diet? But play has now resumed, so these cards will soon be getting scattered and combined into new decks. Just in time, too - I'm down to only 16 ready-to-play decks on hand.

I wanted to write up what I got mainly to say what kind of stuff I got in the Magic Arsenal repacks and grab bags. Other people may be interested in that sort of thing before placing an order. I know from Google Analytics search term reports that last time I did this, I had people drop by for exactly that reason, using search terms like "Magic Arsenal repack contents". So this isn't entirely self-indulgent diary-keeping. Note the word "entirely".

Once again, I'll be talking about individual cards without doing Gatherer links for each. If I had done so, then each card name would have been a link, and you could have clicked on its name to have it pop up. That would have been nice, but this entry would have taken far, far longer to prepare by inserting all those links, so I took the easy way out.

Gatherer is an official online database of Magic card information, maintained by Wizards of the Coast themselves (the folks who make the game). To see the Gatherer entry for any card, go to this page and type the card's name into the search field. You'll see the card, along with its official wording (long story - most cards don't do quite exactly what they say anymore), rulings, what sets it's been in, and more. I'll provide the text for some noteworthy cards as we go.

First up, since the biggest limit on my deckbuilding was the number of basic land cards I owned, I got a pile more. 40 of each type except Islands - 60 of those. I like blue.

Then, since there were some cheap cards that I really like but didn't have multiple copies of, I got more: Soldevi Digger, Capsize, and Phyrexian Vault. All three feed my obsession with card advantage and recursion. The Capsize can get used turn after turn because of its buyback, the Vault lets me trade creatures who have outlived their usefulness (or who are about to die anyway) for a new card, and the Digger lets me re-churn my graveyard. All three fit my playing style perfectly, and I may well build a deck than contains the entire trio now that I have extra copies.

Capsize (1UU Instant, Buyback 3, Return target permanent to its owner's hand) is a card from the Tempest block, which came out while I was working at a comic and game store and playing dozens of games of Magic a week. It immediately became one of my favourite cards. However, I never bought or opened packs for myself, and even though Capsize was a common, nobody in my area would part with them. I only ever had one copy. With this order, I finally rectified that.

I also got two more Thorn Thallids; I had some, but they're badly beaten up. The same copies have been mainstays of my green decks since 1994, and I usually played unsleeved. The backs of those cards are now well into "marked" territory. Now that my wife plays Thallids, I figured I might as well replace my battered copies with fresh ones.

On a related note, I still play most of my cards unsleeved, but I occasionally used to crack open a pack of sleeves for myself back in the comic shop days, and still had some. I figured in the interest of being able to continue playing with these cards for many years to come (note: NOT to protect them to "maintain their value"), I got some more with this order. I got two packs of the "Player's Choice Holo-Blue Sleeves", which were under three bucks a pack. I got two because I don't generally build small enough decks for one pack to be of any use.

Despite their low price, these sleeves (which have now been playtested) are holding up well. The solid colour backs obscure the card back completely, allowing play with marked cards (or even proxies or tournament-illegal cards like collector's set editions) if you so choose. At my house we don't enforce the official tournament floor rules. Although even opaque sleeves wouldn't let you play a beat-up old card at a tournament, at our kitchen table it's no problem.

At this point, 3 of my 16 decks are sleeved, and those three were rather arbitrarily chosen. My wife's favourite deck, which gets the most play of any of them (I rotate around more), is not sleeved. She would find a sleeved deck harder to handle and shuffle, and I'm more concerned with making it easy for her to play than with protecting the cards.

The fronts of these new sleeves are treated with some sort of holographic process (hence the "holo", I guess), making all the card fronts sparkle like foils. While that's kind of neat, it has a side effect of sometimes making it hard to read cards from an angle. Actual foils inside one of these sleeves don't look any more impressive, not that I care about that anyway. Overall, I would recommend these sleeves to cost-conscious players, and will be adding a pack or two onto any of my future Magic Arsenal orders.

Enough about the stuff I specifically ordered; let's move on to the grab bags and repacks. As always, I love grab bags. Offer me a mixed lot at a really good price, and you can have my money. The fact that this is my second Magic Arsenal order containing grab bag assortments should speak for itself as to whether I was happy with the first batch. However, let's get into the contents.

My Magic card collection stopped cold when I stopped working in a game store, and didn't resume until I started buying Time Spiral packs many years later. I owned lots of cards from all sets up to and including Apocalypse, then not a single card from any set after that until Time Spiral. My first Magic Arsenal order changed that, getting me a bunch of Odyssey cards. There were a few strays from the sets in between in the grab bags from that first order, as well, but for the most part my collection still had a big gap between Odyssey and Time Spiral. Continuing the practice of working up chronologically, I got assortments from Torment, Judgment, and Onslaught this time out.

First up, the six repacks of Torment. This gave me a sampling from that set of 6 rares, 18 uncommons, and 66 commons, which I think is enough to get a feel for a small set. The 6 rares were Shambling Swarm, Turbulent Dreams, Hell-Bent Raider, Possessed Centaur, Possessed Aven, and Possessed Nomad. I kind of like that out of six rares I got three that are in the same cycle, and it's a pretty good cycle. I'll probably also play Shambling Swarm more than the obligatory one or two tryouts that the Raider and Dreams will get.

I'm not going to list all 18 uncommmons. There were two copies each of Pyromania, Hydromorph Gull, Hypochondria, Pardic Collaborator, and Dwell On The Past. All the other uncommons were single copies.

I love Dwell On The Past. It's a sorcery that lets you shuffle four cards from your graveyard into your library, for one green mana. Gaea's Blessing is an automatic inclusion in almost every green deck I build, but I don't have many copies and few people will trade them cheaply. Dwell On The Past is a worthy substitute, and next time I order cards I'll want more copies.

I thought Boneshard Slasher was terrible at first (1B - Creature - Horror - 1/1- Flying. Threshold - As long as seven or more cards are in your graveyard, Boneshard Slasher gets +2/+2 and has "When Boneshard Slasher becomes the target of a spell or ability, sacrifice it."). I'm not a big fan of creatures with the "skulking" drawback. However, considering that 1B is the standard cost for a 1/1 black flyer anyway, it's not a bad deal.

The only other uncommon I got that bears discussion is Flaming Gambit (XR - Instant - Flaming Gambit deals X damage to target player. That player may choose a creature he or she controls and have Flaming Gambit deal that damage to it instead. Flashback XRR). This may be the worst red X-damage card I've ever seen. If you got to choose the target creature when you cast it, it would be playable. As it is, it's an X-damage spell that might as well read, "Your opponent may sacrifice his most useless creature to prevent all damage this deals." The flashback cost is reasonable, but it doesn't elevate the card to useful status. This one goes straight into a binder, never to be seen again, after I go through the formality of including it in a deck for a one or two game test drive.

That brings us down to the commons. In the six packs, I got five copies of Frantic Purification, four copies of a few others, then one to three copies of the rest. The commons have lots of threshold, as expected, and the flashback costs are pretty reasonable. Branching into alternate flashback costs, rather than just mana (two mana and pay 3 life is a frequent cost) definitely made the mechanic more useful.

Wizards must have felt that red direct damage needed to be taken down a few pegs when this set was in development. Flaming Gambit was awful, and then I see Kamahl's Sledge at common (5RR - Sorcery - Kamahl's Sledge deals 4 damage to target creature. Threshold - If seven or more cards are in your graveyard, instead Kamahl's Sledge deals 4 damage to that creature and 4 damage to that creature's controller). 7 mana for a common is an odd strategy, and one that says, "We don't want people playing red in draft or sealed formats." It's not a terrible card once you reached Threshold, but until then it's overcosted and simply too expensive for many decks.

I'm stopping this part now. It's more than long enough already. I'll cover the rest of the cards I got in this order, with lots less backstory, in the near future. Probably not my next post - so it'll be safe for the non-Magic folks to return - but I'm going to start that writeup today, so it should be soon.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my black Orks.