Saturday, December 21, 2013

Just For The Record

The more I hear from him, the better I like him.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of the picture I already posted, because it bears repeating.

Friday, December 20, 2013

High Purr Bully, Not Hyper Bowl

Today I am a broken man.

My whole world has been shattered.

I thought nothing could shake my faith.

I just found out that Hall & Oates are being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I don't know if I can ever believe in anything again.

(I thought my whole world had been shattered once before. Turned out it was just the lens of my glasses.)

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of what I can't unsee when I look at the patio stones in my back yard.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Turns Out The Batusi Is Not The Sign For Anything

It's probably wrong that I think this is hilarious:

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - A man who provided sign language interpretation on stage for Nelson Mandela's memorial service, attended by scores of heads of state, was a "fake," the national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa said on Tuesday...sign language experts said the man was not signing in South African or American sign languages and could not have been signing in any other known sign language because there was no structure to his arm and hand movements.
I used to think finding stuff like this funny made me a jerk. Now I realize it's just a symptom of the underlying condition.

I need to update my will. I hereby request that at my funeral, somebody who doesn't know sign language should stand up at the front making random gestures as people speak. Rudeness is encouraged. If at all possible, work the Macarena in there somewhere.

We can only hope this episode inspires a new fad on Youtube: superimposing fake sign language interpreters at famous speeches. Imagine having someone standing to the side looking like they're playing charades and/or having a petit mal seizure (a fine line, that) as Reagan talks about tearing down this wall, or King talks about having a dream this afternoon (it's always a good idea to catch a nap before giving a big speech), or Obama lies through his teeth and says you can keep your plan if you like it, or Walter White proclaims himself The One Who Knocks. Internet, make this happen!

The Gettysburg address would be a good one, but for some reason I can't seem to find it on Youtube. With all those people gathered to hear the president's big speech, you'd think somebody would have brought a camcorder.

At first I assumed that this was a prank that got way out of hand. Maybe the guy was one of Johnny Knoxville's buddies, or one of Ashton Kutcher's Punk'd accomplices. Maybe the ghosts of Dick Clark and Ed McMahon are orchestrating bloopers and practical jokes from beyond the grave. The fake signer probably thought that surely somebody would call him out before the event actually got rolling. It wasn't until showtime that he finally decided between fake sign language and an homage to Garrett Morris's assistance for the hard of hearing.

Or maybe it was a wacky misunderstanding, like that time a cab driver got shanghaied into appearing on the BBC as a computer expert.

But no, turns out this isn't the fake signer's first time to the rodeo:

The man also did sign interpretation at an event last year that was attended by South African President Jacob Zuma, Druchen said. At that appearance, a deaf person in the audience videotaped the event and gave it to the federation for the deaf, which analyzed the video, prepared a report about it and a submitted a formal complaint.

Seriously, guys, checking references isn't a bad thing. Next time at least Google the name of your prospective hire.

At least this kind of thing is too ridiculous to be a widespread problem, or even a regional one.

Wait, what?
 Bogus sign language interpreters are a problem in South Africa, because people who know a few signs try to pass themselves off as interpreters, said Parkin, the principal of the school for the deaf. And those hiring them usually don't sign, so they have no idea that the people they are hiring cannot do the job, she said. "They advertise themselves as interpreters because they know 10 signs and they can make some quick money," said Parkin.
This reminds me of Marge Simpson's plan to give piano lessons despite not knowing how to play the piano: "I just have to stay one lesson ahead of the kid."

I have a nephew who lives in South Africa. I wonder if he can account for his whereabouts on Tuesday. Assuming he wasn't involved in this fiasco (which is probably the case, given that he's seven), I have a moneymaking suggestion for his future reference.

This situation has only gotten funnier / more disturbing as more information has come out:
The man accused of faking sign interpretation while standing alongside world leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama at Nelson Mandela's memorial service said Thursday he hallucinated that angels were entering the stadium, suffers from schizophrenia and has been violent in the past.

Thamsanqa Jantjie said in a 45-minute interview with The Associated Press that his hallucinations began while he was interpreting and that he tried not to panic because there were "armed policemen around me." He added that he was once hospitalized in a mental health facility for more than one year....

Asked how often he had become violent, he said "a lot" while declining to provide details. Jantjie said he was due on the day of the ceremony to get a regular six-month mental health checkup to determine whether the medication he takes was working, whether it needed to be changed or whether he needed to be kept at a mental health facility for treatment.... He said he has previously interpreted at many events without anyone complaining.


......... Anyway, that's a thing that happened.

As for Mandela himself, I have no opinion. I used to think he must have been a great hero, because Rolling Stone magazine said so. There were even songs about him, and surely bad people never have songs about them released on major labels. However, in accordance with 1 Corinthians 13:11, I've long since stopped blindly believing what the media tells me. The death of my former liberalism was the inevitable result.

My travels around the Net leave me unsure what to think of Mandela. Sorry, no links because I didn't keep track. However, you can probably type "Nelson Mandela" into a search engine as easily as I can, or even easier since you can just copy and paste it from where I just typed it. Looks to me like he was a communist sympathizer (at least), explicitly refused to renounce violence while in prison, and didn't even qualify for any sympathy from Amnesty International.

Standing up against Apartheid is certainly a huge point in his favour. He also seemed to keep things pretty peaceful once he was in power. If there was a lot of revenge-fueled racial violence in post-Apartheid South Africa, it's been kept pretty quiet (which is a distinct possibility).

However, Mandela was also a mover and shaker within the ANC, which has used some pretty questionable tactics over the years. I have a hard time endorsing the organization that invented necklacing. The enemy of my enemy can still be pretty reprehensible.

I was discussing this uncertainty with a friend who said, "You have to respect his spending 27 years in prison."

I replied, "Manson's been in longer than that. You may want to chose a different yardstick."

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of the patio stones in my back yard.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The One I Forgot To Title

This is a purely self-indulgent diary entry - but then, aren't they all? I have (hopefully) more interesting stuff in the pipeline, but I am, after all, so very lazy.

This is just an update on share ratios, as discussed a couple of entries back. Now I've really got to stop seeding some of the obsolete items, because I'm in desperate need of hard drive space. A few of these haven't shifted a single byte of data in weeks, so I'm going to nuke the files. Before I do, though, here's a list of my current seeding ratios for several torrents:

Ubuntu Studio 13.04                56.02
World English Audio Bible       46.04
AVLinux 6.01b                         37.73
AVLinux 6.0                             17.23
Ubuntu Studio 12.10                10.79
Gentoo Live 20121221              2.71
LibreOffice 3.6.4 installer           1.83
Deep Purple 2012 concert         0.54
LibreOffice 3.6.4 Help files         0.41
Paul McCartney 2013 concert   0.52

 These torrents represent a total of over 375 GB of data I've uploaded. I may not be able to code anything more complex than a Forge card, but this is one small way I can contribute to open source software.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of one of my co-workers dressed as a cowgirl. I don't know why either. She promised me severe bodily harm if this photo got distributed, so let's not tell her.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

This Is Not True At All

I turned on my TV the other day, and was shocked to see such a brazen display of bigotry, intolerance, and outright homophobia. I watched for almost twenty minutes and didn't see a single program about a married gay couple adopting a baby! Not one!

I refuse to sit quietly and subject myself to that sort of hatred.

And that's why I'm boycotting The Weather Channel.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my dog in the kitchen.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Saturday Night's All Right For Blogging

This is an experiment. Every day I have a pile of ideas to write about. My backlog of notes stretch back for years. Almost every day I intend to write, but don't. So today I'm going to start up this text file, add arbitrary bits to it throughout the day as the urge strikes, and post it late tonight. It may be a lot, or very little indeed. We'll see how it goes.

I've been filesharing since long before filesharing was a thing. It started with copying programs on cassette for my Commodore Vic 20. Then the Commodore 64, with its 1541 disc drive and a program called Fast Hack 'Em (itself copied, of course). Weird side note: I once got a new bank card with the randomly assigned PIN of 1541. I didn't change it, because it was so easy to remember. Every time I used that card, I just had to visualize putting it into a Commodore disc drive.

A little later, when my friends and I started getting seriously into music, we habitually took turns buying albums (cassettes at this point). Only one of us would buy any given album, then the others would run off copies.

Around 1986, we had just started getting into Genesis. We only knew the singles from Invisible Touch that got radio play and an hour's worth of videos that were on a two-part MuchMusic Spotlight, which I still have it on a VHS tape somewhere. I remember (future-)Pastor Derek and I deliberating over who would buy which of their albums. I picked Abacab first because it included Keep It Dark. I don't remember which one he got - I think it was Duke or A Trick Of The Tail. Either way, he got the better of that arrangement.

I also remember that no one wanted to buy Trespass. We had never heard of any of the songs on it, and there were only six tracks, so it had to be really short and therefore a ripoff, right?

We would learn.

Given this well-established propensity to piracy, I was all over Napster when it came along. I still have the issue of Maximum PC that included the client software on a bundled CD-ROM. Over the years, I went through many other alternatives. Usenet, BearShare, Kazaa, DC++, Shareaza, WinMX, and many others whose names I have forgotten have come and gone.

Nowadays, of course, torrents are the way to go. I used uTorrent when on Windows, and have settled on KTorrent here in Linuxland.

I've always practiced hit-and-run strategies for any files that a copyright holder might object to having passed around. That is to say, any commercially available material. My default settings in KTorrent are to stop seeding as soon as my download completes. Impolite, perhaps, but it's kept me out of court thus far.

When I have something that I can safely leave seeding, though, I happily do so. Free open source software, concert recordings (usually safe to share, although not always), and anything with explicit permission to distribute stays seeded. I leave my torrent software running most of the time, and I've managed to rack up some good share ratios. Here's what I'm currently seeding, with ratios as of this writing:

Ubuntu Studio 13.04                41.32
World English Audio Bible       36.01
AVLinux 6.01b                           17.35
AVLinux 6.0                                17.23
Ubuntu Studio 12.10                10.42
LibreOffice 3.6.4 installer        1.83
Deep Purple 2012 concert        0.54
LibreOffice 3.6.4 Help files      0.41
Paul McCartney 2013 concert   0.28

(Sorry the numbers don't line up all pretty. I could insert a table or play with the spacing, but that sounds like more work than not doing either of those.)

I'm especially impressed that the newer version of AVLinux moved ahead of the old version so quickly. I've been seeding version 6.0 for over 59 days (actual seeding time only), but 6.0b for only 13 days. I'll probably stop seeding the old versions of AVLinux and Ubuntu Studio pretty soon, if only to free up some hard drive space, since all the demand is obviously for the newer versions. I'm also pleased with the demand for the audio Bible, although of course I'd like it to be way out in first place.

Volumes have been written about Kermit Gosnell, with much wringing of hands from the pro-abortion side, alternatively claiming that he did nothing wrong or that he is an aberration, a stain on the fine profession of abortionist.

The simple truth about Gosnell is that he's nothing unusual. The babies he killed wound up no more dead than those killed by any smiling ghoul in a clean gown, working in a well-lit facility to terminate the pregnancies of women who don't even look pregnant yet.

The stage of gestation is not the issue, the killing is. The actions of every abortionist are as vile as those of Gosnell, and deserve the same condemnation.

My bit about my new saw includes one joke that pleases me far more than it should. I know it's poor form to laugh at your own jokes, but if I don't, who will?

Anyway, there's one joke in there that seems like an easy, stupid pun but which actually works on a whole other level. Which is still a stupid pun, but one that generally gets missed. I've gotten eye rolls from people around me when I pointed it out, which makes it no less entertaining to me.

I'm glad Dexter is wrapping up. I've had a complicated relationship with this show. I like the premise, and I like Michael C. Hall's acting, so I figured it was worth a shot. About a year ago I borrowed the first two seasons from a friend, and... obtained... the rest of the seasons (remember my first big topic today?).

Season 1 was awful. Around the time that Dexter found the doll parts in his freezer, I turned to my wife and said, "The killer's going to turn out to be somebody from his past that he doesn't know about. If it's his long-lost brother, I'm out."

A few episodes later, the killer was revealed as Dexter's long-lost brother, and I was out.

Oh, yeah: spoiler warning.

If only there were some way to go back up and insert that warning earlier. Ah, well, perhaps someday such technology will be within reach of the common man.

Anyway, I gave up. My wife persevered. She assured me that it got better after season 1, and I really enjoy Jimmy Smits's acting (he's why I started watching my all-time favourite show, NYPD Blue), so I decided to give it another chance, at least until Smits did his bit.

The writing still varied widely, but was good enough to keep me in. Barely. I loved the John Lithgow and Colin Hanks / Edward James Olmos seasons (the Hanks / Olmos twist is the only one in the entire series that I didn't see coming). However, I despise the "long lost relative" trope, and they've gone to that well twice.

I've long gotten the impression that Dexter has a senior writer or two with a lot of clout but no fresh ideas. They churn out the hackwork, and generally drag the show down to the lowest common denominator. However, the writing staff also includes at least one or two people with good ideas but little influence. They manage to slip some quality material past the guards here and there, but mostly get quashed. If those fresher voices had been louder,  the show could have been great.

They're three episodes into the final season, and I'm glad it's ending. I want to ride the show out to the end at this point, but I wish they were only doing six episodes. Everyone involved seems to be phoning it in this year.

This season seems like a Greatest Hits compilation, only in Dexter's case they're revisiting the worst aspects of the series. Deb being whiny, ineffectual, and so annoying that I spend every episode hoping someone - anyone - will kill her? Check. A serial killer expert shows up and makes Dexter nervous? Check. New character has extensive but never-before-hinted-at ties to Dexter's past? Check. Painfully bad dialogue, especially in Hall's narration? Check. Misuse of technical terminology by characters who are supposed to be experts and therefore know better (there's a difference between "psychopath" and "sociopath", and every time Vogel opens her mouth she proves she doesn't know it)? Check, Check, a thousand times Check.

Even the technical aspects of the show are getting lazy. Watch any scene with dialogue between two characters. Every time the camera angle switches, say from a front-angle two-shot to a shot over a character's shoulder, the actors' head positions jerk around wildly. They go from looking straight at one another to one looking down to either or both staring off into the distance with each new shot. Nobody involved could be bothered with little details like continuity between shots.

I can't imagine Bryan Cranston tolerating Breaking Bad sliding off a cliff this badly.

All dramatic writing is about getting from Point A to Point B. With Dexter, I often hate Point B (long lost relatives ahoy!), but how they get there can be interesting. On The Walking Dead, Point A and Point B are consistently good, but how they get there can be lazy. Case in point - everyone disagreeing with Dale about whether to kill a prisoner, even though several of the characters would clearly have sided with him. However, they needed to alienate Dale from everyone to make his death later in the episode all the more tear-jerking ("I never got to tell him... sniff..."). The characters get moved around like pieces on a chess board, characterization to this point be hanged.

Oh, yeah: spoiler warning.

The Walking Dead has gotten better on this score. I think the writers may have even realized their mistake. Glenn gave an out-of-nowhere speech in a later episode about how Dale had been right and he shouldn't have abandoned him like that. Well, yeah, Glenn, and you wouldn't have if your writers had been more conscientious.

For the ultimate in good writing, though, nothing beats Breaking Bad. Point A and Point B are both terrific, and how they get there is always compelling and unpredictable. I'm not glad that Breaking Bad is ending, but I am looking forward very much to seeing how they do it.

Helen Thomas, the terrorist-sympathizing former journalist, has passed away. The CNN Breaking News e-mail bulletin says, "Thomas retired in 2010 after she made controversial comments regarding Jewish people."

I guess you could say that. She accidentally let her anti-Semitism show in front of the camera, and "retired" a week later. If a public figure to the right of Mao had made those kinds of statements, they'd still be reviled and propped up as an example of the "racism of the right". But since Thomas was a credentialed (literally) leftist, it's a dog-bites-man story and the media lets one of their own "retire with dignity".

I've been listening to the new, complete audiobook version of World War Z by Max Brooks. It's pretty good, and the voice cast is top-notch. It probably works better as an audiobook than as a novel. One of my main criticisms is that the dialogue doesn't really offer different "voices" to each character, with little to distinguish them in terms of vocabulary or speaking style. Having different actors play each character ameliorates that problem, but doesn't solve it completely.

I will one day watch the movie, which by all accounts I've been able to take seriously appears to be a soulless Hollywoodized disaster, just out of geeky completionism. I certainly won't pay ten bucks to watch it in a big dark room with noisy texting strangers. I'll wait until the DVD rip hits the torrent sites is released and available at my local Blockbuster store.


I think they missed a bet with the World War Z adaptation. It should never have been a movie. It should have been a TV series. The self-contained episodic nature of the book would have made for a great series. Each episode could have had the interviewer going to speak to another survivor, switching to their story told in flashback as they spoke. Of course, you could have the interviewer's support staff, UN personnel, etc., as recurring characters. It would essentially be an anthology series with a stable framework. Although anthology series are a tough sell to an audience these days, I think the zombie / survival horror fanbase would be large enough to get the show off the ground.

Alas, what could have been.

I haven't finished the audiobook yet. If Brooks ever reveals what happened in North Korea, don't tell me. Everybody hates spoilers, right?


A woman in the U.S. found out that her unborn baby has down syndrome. Unwilling to raise the child (for the record, I have no problem whatsoever with her making this decision - giving a child up for adoption is always an option), she put the word out: if anyone would adopt the baby, they could have him or her. (I try to avoid referring to unborn children as "it", which concedes important linguistic ground to those who would deny the child's humanity.) If no prospective adoptive parents stepped up, she would have an abortion.

The plea went online, and over a thousand people volunteered.

I've frequently railed on the cognitive dissonance and refusal to accept facts that are inherent in the pro-abortion position. Can even this case make them finally pack in the ludicrous "who's going to raise all the unwanted babies" argument? Probably not, but I can hope and pray.

Parents are available for unwanted children. I have friends who waited years for adoption. We're a long, long way from running out of loving homes for any child who makes it through the gauntlet that the world offers those with doubts about having a baby.

There are no unwanted children. There are just a lot of people who project their own unwillingness to be a loving parent onto others.

I was almost in an adoption situation myself several years ago. My wife heard a woman say that she just found out she was pregnant, and wasn't happy about it. She wasn't seriously considering abortion, but was hesitant to raise the child herself and was musing about trying to find adoptive parents. My wife told me that she very nearly volunteered on the spot. She wasn't 100% sure I would agree, but knew that it was a pretty safe bet. She was right. I assured her that if she's ever in a situation like that again, she has carte blanche.

The pregnant woman wound up keeping the baby and raising her herself. They live in our neighbourhood, and that no-longer-baby goes to school with my son. Everything turned out OK, as it usually does.

There is no shortage of homes for "unwanted" children, at least in North American society.  I can't speak for the rest of the world, but last I heard international adoption was a thing that people do. Anyone who clings to the "all the unwanted children" argument is demonstrating that they're too ignorant (willingly or unwillingly) to take seriously in a discussion of life-and-death issues.

"You can't argue with results" is just a prettier way of saying "the ends justify the means."

"To each his own", depending on context, is usually just a prettier way of saying "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law."

I recently saw this listing on a classified ad site. I've touched up the grammar and punctuation, which were atrocious, partly because I couldn't stand them and partly to make tracing the post to its source (not the point) less likely:
$290.00 Crib Voucher for sale! You pick out the crib, and I'll buy it at the store for you (the voucher has my name on it). Reason for selling: I have no space for the crib at the moment. Selling it for $225 (brand new).
I can't come up with any theory for this that doesn't involve words to the effect of "The kid can sleep in a cardboard box. Mommy needs crack money!"

Can anybody else?

This has gone better than I had expected. I think I'll stop now.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of some of my PC Gamer magazine collection, rotated to maximize the nerdiness.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Reading Log: A Farewell To Ebert

I had already intended to write this entry well before Roger Ebert passed away. When he died, I figured that was the perfect time to finally get it written up and posted as something of a tribute. Several weeks stretching into months later, here it is. Such is my sense of time.

This entry is a Reading Log because the shelf full of books I've purchased and read but not yet written about includes a copy of Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook 2004. I don't know where or when I got it. Probably a library book sale several years ago. I've been putting adhesive labels with my name and date of purchase inside every book I've bought for quite some time now, and it doesn't have one. I also don't remember when I read it. I know that shelf includes books that I read at least as far back as early 2009.

So, yeah, I'm pretty far behind on Reading Logs.

I bought this book for two reasons. I like movies, and more importantly, I like books that are divided into lots of independent sections, so that they can be picked up and flipped open to a random page, read for a minute or two, then put down again. I read at a lot of times when most people don't. While eating, while brushing my teeth, while drying off after a shower, etc. Novels don't lend themselves to such segmented attention. Magazines, encyclopedia-style reference books, and anything with the words "bathroom reader" in the title work much better.

I have a few of Roger Ebert's books. Besides the Movie Yearbook 2004, I have the 1985 and 1991 editions of his Movie Home Companion, and a copy of The Great Movies. I read the 2004 book the same as all the others. I started by looking up my favourite movies, then some of my least favourite, then just by random reading. Each one also got at least one complete read-through.

I took particular interest in The Great Movies, reading through it and considering whether I wanted to see each of them (assuming I hadn't already). I did the same a while back with IMDB's top 100 rated movies. Those lists led me to a few films I was very glad to have watched (e.g., Network, Seven Samurai, Taxi Driver) and a few that made me want the three hours of my life back (e.g., Apocalypse Now - if you place any value on your limited time in this life, don't waste a moment of it on the extended "redux" edition).

On that note, it's a cultural wonder that we live in a time when pretty much any movie ever released (and a few that weren't) is available to me virtually immediately. It's a far cry from the days when I'd read about some obscure horror film in Fangoria and have to either scour independent video rental stores for it (chains were always a waste of time), mail-order it at exorbitant cost, or resign myself to doing without.

If it sets you at ease, feel free to assume that by availability I'm referring to such modernities as Netflix, video-on-demand, and hundreds of cable channels that cater to every taste. The facts that my fibre-op connection can pull down 700 megs of data in no time flat (9.5 MB/second sustained!) and that I've modded my Wii to include a video player that can stream files across my wireless network may have nothing to do with it.

I always enjoyed watching or reading Roger Ebert's movie reviews. I started watching him and Gene Siskel on PBS many years ago. They were on late Sunday nights, sometime either before or after Monty Python. I started watching just for the chance to see movie clips and previews, a rare treat in those days when the Internet was barely a gleam in Al Gore's eye. Before long I hoped every episode that Gene and Roger would argue, and finally started paying attention to the reviews themselves.

I'm usually not interested in whether a reviewer actually likes whatever it is they're reviewing. The key is why they did or didn't like it. The body of the review is far more important  than their final verdict, be it expressed in stars, points on a scale, or thumbs. It's always possible that a reviewer may have a general dislike of a genre or style that the reader will enjoy.

A former co-worker and I used to discuss movies, using one another's opinions as a guideline whether to see a given film. If he liked it, that was reason for me to avoid it, and vice versa. We reached this conclusion when I told him although I had liked 28 Weeks Later overall, I hated the incredibly stupid scene when a low-flying helicopter's blade was used as a zombie-decapitating weapon. His response: "That part sounds awesome!" At that moment, we both knew we had no common ground.

As for Ebert himself, I enjoyed his writing. The man definitely knew and loved film, and spoke with a great deal of authority in that realm. As a philosopher and theologian he made a great movie reviewer, but we'll come back to that. His website, which has lived on in his absence, was and is an excellent resource. I just went there to get affirmation of my suspicion that the movie adaptation of World War Z is an artless, souless chunk of commercially safe garbage, and was not disappointed. My favourite part of the site was always Movie Answer Man, which Ebert stopped doing over a year before his death and which seems to have died with him.

I don't think I would have liked Roger Ebert much on a personal level, and I'm quite sure he wouldn't have liked me, which does not reflect poorly on him. I found him arrogant, both when speaking of film, where he was an authority, and everything else, where he was not. He regularly condemned philosophical or religious certainty with absolute certainty, never seeming to notice the irony of that all-too-common position.

He was a good writer, though, and no matter how much I disagreed with his positions, the expression was consistently thought-provoking and worth reading. He would even engage his critics in the comments sections, not with shouting but with discussion of ideas. That's rare, and his loss brings the Internet's average level of discourse down a notch or three.

He had other very admirable qualities. He clearly loved his wife, and faced the adversities toward the end of his life with amazing dignity, grace, and humour.

I've read a lot of Ebert's writing, and the one non-movie article that best encapsulates what I've said about him is one written toward the end of his life: "How I am a Roman Catholic", in which he explains at length that, contrary to his claim, he wasn't. The quotations that follow come from that article.

Ebert liked the ritual and traditions of the Catholic church, and did a good job of internalizing some of the social and moral lessons that the nuns taught him in childhood. Some of those social lessons are dubious. I don't see where the Bible (as opposed to the Catholic church - feel free to mentally add "Roman" in front of "Catholic" for the remainder of this article) endorses labour unions. In fact, Matthew 20:1-15 undermines the rhetoric I've endured from labour unions to which I've been forced to belong (union shops where if you want to work, you have to sign the card). I'm rooting for right-to-work legislation in Canada. In Orwellian fashion, Canadian unions argue that such a law would infringe on the right of workers to organize, when in fact it would only give them the right not to.

But I digress. Back to Ebert's article.

So Ebert liked some aspects of the Roman Catholic church. He had the courage to profess an essentially pro-life position on abortion ("My choice is to not support abortion, except in cases of a clear-cut choice between the lives of the mother and child. A child conceived through incest or rape is innocent and deserves the right to be born."), but through some cognitive dissonance refused to admit it and follow through ("I support freedom of choice."). At other times he resorted to the standard squishy if-you-don't-like-abortion-don't-have-one position. One could reply, using precisely the same logic, that if you don't like abortionists being shot, then don't shoot them.

A textbook cafeteria Catholic, though, he rejected the position of the Church when it became personally convenient or trendy, notably on matters of sexual ethics ("Is homosexuality a sin? ... My feeling is that love between consenting adults is admirable. The commandment about not coveting thy neighbor's wife had more to do with concepts of property in Old Testament times...").

However, his original premise of explaining his Catholic status goes out the window near the end: "I consider myself Catholic, lock, stock and barrel, with this technical loophole: I cannot believe in God."


You simply don't get to call yourself a Catholic, or any other sort of Christian (of which Catholics are a subset), or any other sort of theist (of which Christians are a subset), if you cannot affirm a positive belief in God. Atheism or agnosticism place you outside these particular camps.

At this point, if this blog had more than five readers on a good day, I'd anticipate a reply in the comments accusing me of being "judgmental" (or maybe "judgemental"), probably quoting Matthew 7:1 out of context, thereby completely missing the point Jesus was making.

Observing that a person is not Catholic if they don't believe in God is no more judgmental than observing that a person is not a vegetarian if they have steak for supper twice a week. Enjoying the rituals and traditions doesn't make someone Catholic, any more than enjoying wearing white coats would make them a doctor. The word "Catholic" actually means something, and like any title, it comes with costs, responsibilities, and certain minimum requirements.

There are many reasons why I am not Catholic, most of which have to do with the elevation of human traditions to the level of doctrine. That said, even if I grew up in and still attended a Catholic church, I would understand that I do not get to apply the label to myself. I am not Catholic, and cannot be so unless I accept Catholic doctrine and teaching. The only reason to cling to an undeserved label or title is to cheapen and weaken said title, to damage its brand value.

Nancy Pelosi is a superb case in point, hiding behind the skirts of falsely claimed Catholicism while proclaiming abortion "sacred ground". And not just any abortion, although she likes 'em all, but late-term abortion, which makes even many pro-abortionists uncomfortable. The woman is either completely deluded, or deliberately slandering Catholicism.

But I digress. Back to Ebert.

He was a good writer and a fine film critic. I still read "his" website, but not nearly as often. Eventually I expect it'll become a website that I used to read.

Bonus fun fact: Blogger's spell checker sometimes flags the words "movie" and "movies" (but bafflingly, not always), which means there's a lot of red on my screen as I type this.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of something else my wife cooked and ate during her Year of Shrinking, during which she shed just shy of 100 pounds. I don't know why she photographed this, but there it was on the memory card.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

See Saw, Qtractor's a DAW

I bought a new saw. I hadn't intended to, but I was roaming the aisles at Canadian Tire and found a nice Mastercraft brand hand saw, regular price something around $15.00, on sale for $3.00. At that price, you may as well have one for every room of the house! I already had several hand saws, but they all represent the finest southeast Asian craftmanship that the dollar store carries.

It has teeth that are sharp-edged in both directions, so it cuts whether moving forward or back. The label says that it's an "aggressive" saw, but I find it evenly tempered.

You know that saying that when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail? Turns out that when all you have is a saw, everything looks like it needs amputation.

The dog is avoiding me today.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my son's science fair project. Note that the flowers are slightly different colours. That's transpiration, and transpiration is science.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Today We've Got Time For Tim Hortons

Friend o'this blog RebelAngel raised questions in a comment on my last entry that call for a substantial response, so here goes.

"Everyone from Canada talks about Tim Hortons. What are we talking about here? coffee shop? doughnuts? cafe? We will be in Canada in a few weeks and I wonder if I should pop in if we drive past one, just to complete the Canadian Experience. (Well, as complete as a Canadian Experience can be in late Spring rather than mid-Winter.)"
Tim Hortons is a coffee-and-doughnuts (or "donuts" if you're in a hurry) chain that's ubiquitous in Canada. It's pretty much impossible to be more than a five minute walk away from one unless you're at sea or hopelessly lost in the forest, and in the latter case, you'll probably still stumble across one shortly if you just keep moving in a straight line. Or just hold still for a minute, in which case a new Tim's (the usual affectionate diminutive - "Timmy's" is also acceptable) will probably get built around you.

Their omnipresence is similar to that of Starbucks in the U.S. of A. If you're driving more than six feet - sorry, 1.83 metres - in Canada, you will drive past one. In some urban areas (of which we do have a few up here), you can actually see more than one Tim's from a single vantage point. My impression is that Tim's is a bit downscale from Starbucks. I can't say for certain, because I've never actually patronized a Starbucks. I've seen a few from the periphery - they're located in some bookstores that somehow cling to life - but wasn't prepared to get any closer. I wasn't sure how the inhabitants would react to a visitor without a goatee, a MacBook, or the capacity to give two hoots what Oprah says about anything, so I thought it best not to upset their ecosystem.

Tim's is probably closer to Krispy Kreme, Dunkin' Donuts, or some other grammatically iffy fast-foodish establishment. Although they're trying to break into the pretentious market with cappuccino (you better believe I had to look up how to spell that), frappuccino, zappuccino, and schmappuccino - I may be misremembering some of those names - their main stock-in-trade is plain old coffee for a buck and change.

I'm told that their coffee is good. I couldn't say, having had my most recent cup a few decades ago when I was around eight years old. I also don't drink tea, and last tasted alcohol not long after my 19th birthday, over half my life ago. I stick to hot chocolate (which I get at Tim's once or twice a week), pop, milk, and juice. What I'm trying to say is that I don't drink like a grownup.

My Dad used to drink several cups of Tim's coffee each day. His office, like every office in Canada, was located in a building with a Tim's franchise on the first floor. He once told me that he got a headache if he didn't have a cup of their coffee by mid-morning; that would be my signal to never consider drinking another cup of the stuff. I think he's cut back somewhat but still indulges.

Some time ago I noticed that my local Tim's had several big signs up announcing that they now offered "steeped tea". This was apparently something that one was expected to care about, so I asked some tea-drinking colleagues what it might mean. Here's how that went:

"It means that your tea is already brewed and ready to drink when they give it to you."

Genuinely puzzled, I asked, "So what do you usually get when you order a regular, 'non-steeped' tea?"

"A cup of hot water and a teabag."

This seems to me like ordering a hamburger and receiving a live cow and a hammer. The entire point of going to a food service establishment is to avoid preparing my own food. If I have to contribute more to the process than shoveling the order into my gullet (and if the waitstaff would help with that, that would be just super), then I'll just stay home.

All of this is to say yes. If you're visiting Canada, a stop at Tim Hortons is pretty much mandatory. It's part of the quintessential Canadian experience. Visiting Canada without going to Tim Hortons would be like visiting New York without getting mugged. It would be like visiting France without surrendering. It would be like visiting Germany without rounding up any Jews.

If you think that was too far, you should hear the ones I decided actually were. Please feel free to add your own "It would be like visiting [X] without [Y]" jokes in the comments!

Oh, and RebelAngel - let me know if you're going to be anywhere way over on the right-hand side of the map. Probably not, unless you're very lost and/or hoping to find stray lobster. I'll warn you, they tend not to be found running wild, or even as roadkill.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of something else my wife prepared, photographed, and ate. It's important to get those steps in the right order. I say "prepared", rather than "cooked", because I'm not sure this was cooked. I'm also not sure whether it's solid, liquid, or some combination thereof. I frankly have no idea what it is. Anyway, she ate it.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Reading Log: Catching Up With Kafka

Hopefully I remember my login credentials for this blog, so this can actually get posted. I hadn't noticed passing the anniversary of my last post. My sense of time is such that my last post feels recent to me. Another gap may or may not happen again after this one. I have no specific intentions either way.

Before we get to the book, an update on my online activities. I'm wasting as much of my life on the Internet as ever, but I've been more a spectator than a participant of late. One of my everpresent goals has been to list (and maybe link) all the sites I read regularly, if only to have the list available when I'm away from my own computer. Being able to refer to a post here would be easier than trying to remember my bookmarks and recently visited history. Maybe someday. It's still on the list.

I still post to the Forge forums fairly often. Mostly bug reports or suggestions these days, since there are pretty much no cards left for me to script. All the easy stuff has been done. I could join the mad scramble to claim cards from new sets as they're released, but I'm lazy enough to sit back and let others do the work.

I also dip a toe in the waters of comments sections from time to time, usually during discussions about politics, religion, abortion - you know, light, fun stuff.

Most recently, I've spoken up to refute the claim that censorship comes largely from the right / conservative side of the political spectrum, and cited my Fallacy of Family principle to explain Senator Rob Portman's pathetic abandonment of what he claimed were his principles.

I also stepped into a discussion where a pro-abortion individual was arguing that abortion is an economic necessity, while simultaneously insinuating that pro-life conservatives are heartless greedmongers who only care about money. I sometimes wonder whether cognitive dissonance can actually become physically painful for pro-abortionists. Anyway, this compassionate friend of women and children was making the point that we need to exterminate as many young and/or poor mouths as possible, and that death is preferable to foster care because the latter is expensive. When they claimed that meant adoption also wasn't an option, I offered that adoption and foster care aren't the same thing. That's why there are two different terms for them and everything.

I've given up on commenting on CNN articles. I'm almost free of the temptation to even read those comment threads, and soon may quit bothering with the articles. CNN has gone completely off the rails. CNN always had a strong left bias, but over the past several months I've watched it slide into outright dementia. On any article that has anything to do with religion, politics, or moral issues (and on a lot of the articles that don't), the comments immediately get swamped with hate-filled rants condemning anything that doesn't agree with the poster's point of view, which is inevitably radically far-left and atheistic. Make a drinking game of it. Take a shot every time you see anyone to the right of Michael Moore called a fascist, or whenever you see a reference to an "invisible sky fairy" or "invisible pink unicorn". You'll be sloshed before you have to scroll the page down.

The sheer hatred flowing from those who profess tolerance is disconcerting, to say the least. A report of The Bible miniseries garnering high ratings devolves into paranoid fantasies of Christian theocracy. Responses to a fluff piece on Chris Tomlin's songwriting start with cries of "Stupid music for stupid people!" and go quickly downhill from there. Any voices of moderation even from reasonable leftists (yes, I gratefully affirm their existence) are shrieked into oblivion by the horde.

This is not all entirely the fault of CNN itself. Unless they wanted to moderate or censor their comments, there's little they can do about this Escape From New York, "it's the end of the month and the crazies are out of food" ecosystem.

However, one must wonder. Much more controversial topics are discussed all over the Internet with few mainstream sites being as hate-flooded as CNN. Why have so many trollish folk chosen CNN as the bridge under which to dwell?

I think it's their natural environment to some extent. Those of us on the right lean towards Fox and Sun News, not because they're perfect but because they're likelier to handle our views with some respect. Conservatives don't demand fawning agreement on every point, but it's nice to have a place to discuss mature matters in a mature way.

The hate-filled hew to CNN for the same reason. At some level, they're being fed there.

On to the book. This part may well be shorter than the preamble. Spoilers for Kafka ahead.

I finally got around to reading The Trial, by Franz Kafka. I bought this book in 2008, and wrote about doing so here. It took five years to reach the top of my reading pile, which isn't a bad turnaround time.

Over the years I've tried to make a point of reading as much oft-cited or so-considered "classic" literature as I can. Awareness of my own mortality has forced me to accept that I won't be able to read everything I'd like to before I die, since I want to read everything, so I'm trying to prioritize it a bit better. I'll probably never get around to War and Peace, but I may read about it on Wikipedia one of these days.

Some "classics" have been dealt with, as far as I'm concerned. I read enough Shakespeare and Bronte in high school to convince me that I never want to read any more, and I made repeated attempts at Moby Dick before accepting that it, not I, was the problem preventing me from making it more than a few chapters before abandonment.

As for Kafka, I had a vague notion that he wrote about surrealism and confusion, with characters turning into nonhuman forms and being frustrated by impenetrable bureaucracies. His recurring theme seemed to be people getting caught up helplessly in events beyond their control. It didn't sound like fun reading, but it sounded like thought-provoking, possibly important reading.

I also wanted to read Kafka to put an end to (one bit of) my own unearned smugness. Describing unpleasant situations as "Kafkaesque" has become a cliche. It's gotten to the point that when I hear some hipster in line at Tim Horton’s describe having to wait in line for more than thirty seconds as a Kafkaesque nightmare, I want to swat the jaunty cap off their head and ask whether they've ever actually read Kafka, or if they just heard a big impressive-sounding word and decided to throw it out there in case it might be appropriate. Not having read any Kafka myself would make doing so rather hypocritical.

Now I have licence.

The Trial certainly does portray confusion. The protagonist, Joseph K. (we never learn his last name), is inextricably caught up in a maze of oblique statements and undefined expectations. He is "arrested", though never never actually held in custody, and held over for trial, although he never actually sets foot, so far as the reader knows, in a courtroom. Throughout the story it seems that everyone knows all about this shadowy legal system, which is simultaneously evidently near-invisible and near-omnipotent. No one, including Joseph or the reader, ever knows what offense Joseph is even alleged to have committed, although everyone agrees that it's a very serious matter and his chances at trial aren't good.

The book ends with Joseph's sentence being carried out. He has evidently been found guilty, although once again it is never said so simply. He does not seem surprised by this, but only indignant at the abrupt nature of his (spoiler alert!) execution.

The entire book is a smoky labyrinth of people talking around facts, pontificating endlessly without conveying any actual information. The dialogue is completely unrealistic, but realism is not the point. Kafka is working in moods and metaphors, expressing that modern society, with its bureaucratic systems, has long since passed being too complex for the simple man to comprehend. Now it has become too much for even a worldly, sophisticated man like Joseph K., a multilingual, well-travelled, upwardly mobile banking executive, to grasp.

I didn't care at all for the writing style, but I assume that it was a deliberate decision on Kafka's part and respect his writing ability for it. As the book began to drag for me, I tried to fall back on a fiction-reading shortcut from my high-school days. When I get stuck slogging through material that doesn't merit my full attention (Bronte, I'm looking in your direction), I start reading only the first sentence of each paragraph. That first sentence usually contains the key information to carry the story along, and the rest is often just descriptive embellishment.

That doesn't work with The Trial. Perhaps to represent the impassive metaphoric wall that the legal system of the book presents to the characters, Kafka uses extraordinarily long paragraphs. Pages can go by without a paragraph break, with entire back-and-forth dialogues between characters contained between a single set of carriage returns. While technically incorrect by modern editorial standards, this style lets Kafka make the reader feel as trapped and overwhelmed as the characters. I must admit that by the end of the book, I was skimming long sections.

I don't regret having checked this book off my "someday" list, especially since it was such a short, quick read despite its density. however, I don't intend to seek out any more of Kafka's work. I'm considering watching either the 1993 or 1962 movie version of The Trial, but doubt I'll bother.

My edition of The Trial was a sort of director's cut, with deleted sections and notes. It was interesting to find that the book was not properly finished. At least one chapter abruptly stops with a note that Kafka's manuscript for that chapter ends there, obviously unresolved. Even the order of the chapters is uncertain, as Kafka wrote them in separate notebooks and gave the chapters titles but not numbers. The Trial was only published posthumously, and against Kafka's explicit request that his unpublished works be destroyed. Subsequent editors have disagreed about the best ordering of the chapters, which says much about the coherence of the narrative.

I think that although I'm glad to have finally read Kafka, I'm done with him. I've had Terry Gilliam's Brazil queued up to watch for a long time, and I fear I'm going to have the same feelings about it when I get around to it.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of something my wife cooked and ate. Over the last year she put in an amazing amount of hard work, and lost very close to a hundred pounds (which I never would have thought she had to spare). In the course of this she joined a weight-loss cult organization, and in the course of their activities she frequently contributed recipes and even photos of her food creations. This is one of them. As the reader may surmise, I'm not impressed with the organization, understanding that she was the one doing all the work. Their contribution was getting paid, rather handsomely at that, to weigh her each week. She's happy, though, and her efforts were very successful, so no lasting harm was done by their involvement. She's been invited as a featured speaker at an upcoming event of theirs, because she's a great "results not typical" success story. I'd love for her to get up and explain that the organization's contribution was negligible at best, but she's much nicer than I am.