Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Watershed: 2004 U.S. Election

Well all is said and done, and I'm flabbergasted. I guess I just wasn't cynical enough, because the small mindedness, selfishness, and just plain stupidity on display in this election has totally caught me by surprise.

I'm not surprised or disgusted that Bush won. Disappointed and worried, yes, but my current ire towards the American public is based on something else.

Look at CNN's exit polls. Scroll down to "Most Important Issue".

What topped the list for Bush voters?

"moral issues"

Moral issues, apparently, exclude the anywhere from 14 000 to 100 000 dead Iraqi civilians.

That's right, folks. The most important issue in this election was whether or not fags get to marry. Totally pathetic, and excuse me while I write off social conservatives in the US as raving idiots.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Hazing, Dionysian Style

Hope nobody just ate.

I'm in an existentialism class, and we're studying Nietzsche. The Birth of Tragedy, to be exact.

Loft, the professor, was lecturing about the two driving forces of art - the Apollonian and the Dionysian. Apollonian is basically illusionary; it creates the impression of individuality. It is associated with reason.

Dionysian is the opposite, of course. It breaks down individuality, reducing everything to primordial irrationality. Dionysian art is basically music. Think of the dance floor, when it's really intense - everyone is grooving as one, you aren't thinking about anything. Nothing rational about it - it fully accepts the abject, the disgusting.

Loft was telling us about a Dionysian festival he once attended. He did his postgrad at a university in Brussels. This university doesn't have Frosh Week - it has a Frosh Month. It takes them about 2 months to stock the beer - he said he saw stacks of kegs bigger than houses.

You can imagine what the fourth week was like. Live bands playing everywhere, the entire student body drunk out of their minds.

And thus, the initiation rituals begin.

A group of students line. The first person slams back beers until they vomit. They vomit into a cup; then pass the cup to the person behind them, who drinks it. That person then vomits, and passes the cup to the person behind them, and so on. The last person in line then returns the cup to the first person, who drinks. The circle is complete; a Dionysian ritual that makes them all One.

I didn't have the heart to ask Loft if he was involved in that.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Gun Control 2

Note added August 2, 2005: The previous post had well over 50 responses attacking my position. I didn't get rid of them intentionally; switching blog templates deletes all your comments and I did not know this.

Eddddie, did you run and grab all your gun nut friends to come say hi?

Why do I feel the need to look over my shoulder?

Some of you really need to get back to sleeping with your cousins, and stop leaving posts repeating things said by other people, a million times over.

I come from a Northern Ontario hunting family. I spent my early years target shooting, shooting fowl, and hunting deer. It's not as if I've never handled a gun.

The biggest concern expressed here?

Basically, you like target shooting.

This is your concern.

Target shooting.

Sorry, but that's pathetically trivial, and should be the last priority when discussing guns.

Increase penalties for illegal gun use? Nice sounding, but deterrment really isn't that useful. Deterrment really only works if the punishment is swift, immediate and certain. Our justice system, which values due process, cannot offer these factors.

As for self defense, exactly how many rounds have any of you ever fired in self defense?

(Rabid bunnies don't count)

There's something none of you seem to be grasping about guns. Guns are very impersonal weapons. I can't believe you can't see a difference between a baseball bat and a gun; the psychology is very different. A gun is fired at a distance; the person feels removed and less responsible for the damaged inflicted. You don't have to be tough to fire a gun in anger. Melee weapons are an entirely different matter.

I can't believe all these comparisons to cars, of all things. One was developed and designed to kill, another obviously not. One is living up to it's original purpose when it kills, another kills almost entirely through accident.

Yes, guns are inanimate objects. But I think it's pretty clear that as a culture, we've proven that we can't handle the things responsible. Heck, I'd say as a species.

The Chinese had the right idea, you know. Fireworks. Much better use for gun powder.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Gun Control 1

Gun Control

Chris Rock once did a comedy sketch in which he suggests we drive the price of ammunition up, making guns an impractical weapon of choice for criminals.

I'm not sure how serious he was, but it strikes me as a great idea. Here's how we do it.

Make the manufacture of handguns, automatics and certain semiautomatics and their corresponding ammunition illegal.

Just the manufacture. Sale and ownership would remain legal.

Gun companies could continue to manufacture hunting rifles. They would have to downsize and there would be some resultant unemployment, but likely no more than a stand western country's economy could absorb.

The manufacture of handguns for police officers would be restricted to government contracts.

You want to own a handgun or two for home and personal defense? Fine, go ahead. You're not going to need more than a few rounds in an entire lifetime for that purpose. And practice sparingly.

You want to own an automatic rifle? You'd be a nut and need your head checked, but go head. Just remember that while you're yee-hawing and pretending to be Rambo, you might not be able to replace that ammo. Better keep it for when King George tries to take your rights away!

As for the thing about if guns are outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns, well, they'll have to check their ammo too. Certainly a black market for guns and ammunition would spring up, but can you imagine how fantastically expensive weapons suitable for use in crime would become?

Hunting rifles and their respective ammo would remain legal to manufacture. I'd like to see a street thug try to mug somebody with a .22? Or a gang try a drive by with a bolt action?

We could even abolish the gun registery, and not have to experiment with other forms of it.

So. Nobody would have their guns taken away. Some loss of jobs. Loss of fun at the target range. Gun crime would be reduced drastically, at least in the long term. Seems to me like every concern from the anti-gun control corner is addressed with this plan, with the exception of "fun at the range", which I think we can all agree is a minor, trivial issue, in the face of the enormous amount of suffering gun crime is responsible for, no?

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Missile Defense and Abortion

Something worth fighting over, and a touch of hypocrisy.

Well, I'm hoping the NDP sticks to their guns on the missile defense issue. The newspapers reported Jack Layton as saying it was non-neogotiable, but Joel tells me that Layton backtracked over the radio this morning. Which is a shame.

The last thing this stupid species needs is more guns, and the last thing we need to do is militarize space. Guns in space! Brilliant idea!

Come on, Layton. You know it's wrong. Stick to your principles! This is partly why I voted for you!

It's futile, I know. The Cons are eager to provide us with new ways and reasons to kill each other, and if the NDP don't support the Liberals, they will.

But this is something worth fighthing for, and it's worth losing for, too. Like the Flaming Lips song says, "To lose I could accept, but to surrender I just wept and regretted this moment."

The second issue is abortion. I've always considered myself pro-life. It seems clear to me that abortion is murder, from conception on. This seems like a settled issue, and yet there are people who ignore what seems to be a fairly simple issue.

To speak radically for a moment, doesn't it follow from this that all governments that legalize abortion - especially those that subsidize it - are responsible for more murders than all the middle eastern dictatorships combined?

And yet we point fingers at them, even to the point of invading them occasionally?

It baffles me that some pro-lifers will support various wars, most recently the war in Iraq. The popular justification for the invasion was Hussein's abuses of his people.

Well... if abortion is murder, than haven't the governments of the west vastly outpaced Hussien?

And yet he's the bad guy?

Eh. Joel clarified this issue for me last night. He said it's because none of us really care.

And he's right. I don't give a flying fuck about abortion, whatever medical facts are in my head.

So I guess that makes me pro-choice. That's what I'm going to call myself from now on.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Reviews of Collatoral, Alien vs. Predator and The Exorcist

Well, I've seen three movies this weekend, and all three need to be commented on. This is all spoiler free.

The first was Collatoral, on Friday night. I was blown away. Jamie Foxx dominated this flick, and Cruise kept up nicely. The dialogue and story were great, and the violence was keen.

The stuff I was most surprised about was the photograhy and the soundtrack. Both kept me thinking about my favourite movie from last year, Lost in Translation. Director Michael Mann did his best to make Los Angelas look ethereal and beautiful, and he mostly succeded. LiT's Sophia Coppola did a better job, (of course) but maybe Tokyo is just a better looking city than LA?

I haven't seen a movie with a such an effective soundtrack since LiT, either. Maybe Eternal Sunshine. Again, LiT wins out, but I still might have to buy the Collatoral album. An awesome range of music, and it enhanced the mood everytime.

I'm thinking that Collatoral is the second best movie I've seen so far this year, rating just behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The second movie was Alien vs. Predator, a movie in which the director probably fired every single person on the set who exhibited an ounce of imagination.

remember during the production stage, how the directer kept bragging about the intense buildup in the first part of the movie. It wasn't a mindless action movie, he said - there was a plot. Build up! Character development before the fighting!

Bollocks, the movie was painfully boring and stupid, right up to the moment when a Predator goes hand to hand with an Alien.

And even then... it was kind of like watching a WWF match.

The people who made this movie had no imagination, no love for these alien creatures. The Predator just kind of stalked about, though he did get some good slicing and dicing in.

The portrayal of the Aliens continued to evolve in this movie, thankfully. Now, they scamper about like insects. It was strange to watch them move in groups - it was like watching ants, maybe.

Remember the animatronic Alien Queen from Aliens? Well, she's back, she's CGI, and she's an Olympic Track star.

The humans were stupid, just stupid. The buildup didn't generate worthwhile characters or suspense, it was just made for a useless first act that could have been filled with Predators going Samurai on a pack of Aliens.

There were really only two scenes that I was actually excited in, and both, the Predator was showing off excellent fighting ability. The rest was very workmanlike, with no imagination at all.

I've been waiting for this movie since I saw the Alien skull in the Predator ship in Predator 2... was the wait worth it?

Sure, I guess. Predators still fought Aliens, and... well, now I want to see Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash. Bring it!

And the third movie, The Exorcist. Well, I keep reading about how scary it was... not terribly scary at all. Some shocking stuff, of course. The imfamous alternate use of a crucifix scene was strange to see. But scary? Eh. The skeptical priests investigating the possible possesion were all pretty cool, asking intelligent questions and generally being smart about it.

But scary? Eh. The Ring beats the pants off The Exorcist.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Kurt Vonnegut

I have fallen in love.

With a man.

But don't worry, I'm not gay.

At least, I don't think.

The object of my affections these days is Kurt Vonnegut. I've only had the fortune to read one of his novels, Breakfast of Champions. I've got a standard list of adjectives that I apply to works of art that I like, and this one fulfills them all. Funny, sad, wise, etc. Clicky the link, then read the book.

Otherwise, I've been thoroughly enjoying Vonnegut's essays written for the site In These Times. If you're looking for a standout example, check out Cold Turkey.

Notable excerpts.

But back to people, like Confucius and Jesus and my son the doctor, Mark, who’ve said how we could behave more humanely, and maybe make the world a less painful place. One of my favorites is Eugene Debs, from Terre Haute in my native state of Indiana. Get a load of this:

Eugene Debs, who died back in 1926, when I was only 4, ran 5 times as the Socialist Party candidate for president, winning 900,000 votes, 6 percent of the popular vote, in 1912, if you can imagine such a ballot. He had this to say while campaigning:

As long as there is a lower class, I am in it.
As long as there is a criminal element, I’m of it.
As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

Doesn’t anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great public schools or health insurance for all?

How about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. …

And so on.

Not exactly planks in a Republican platform. Not exactly Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney stuff.

For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.

“Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!

Read the rest of the essay. Make time for it.

And hey. If any Christians down in the US start a campaign to place the Beatitudes on government buildings, I'll support it.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The Village Review

There might be one or two very mild spoilers in this review of The Village. Very mild.

I'm having a hard time formulating an opinion about Sham... Shamalan... er, you know who I'm talking about. Night's new movie, The Village. My initial reaction was mostly positive, but I'm inclined to love everything the man does.

All I can say is this. The Sixth Sense left me deeply unsettled and Signs left me euphoric. Unbreakable took a little while to grow on me, but nowadays, my opinion of that movie is almost entirely positive.

So maybe The Village will need to grow on me. There's lots of good stuff that I remember - the romantic relationship that was sweet and entirely believable, and several rather scary scenes. The technical stuff was superb - great photography, etc.

Here's where the mild spoilers begin.

There's some bad stuff too, though. The dialogue could be termed atrocious, though many will forgive this for plot reasons. One character that is built up to be very sympathetic, and then essentially disappears from the movie. There is at least one plot point that is left dangling, for no apparent reason. And one character acts in a way that should be far beyond his capabilities, though perhaps there is a subtle plot explanation for this that I've missed.

So I'm not sure. I'll have to chew on it a bit more.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Augustine on Genesis

Well, I was going to write a post about the Genesis story of creation, but I thought, what the heck. Let St. Augustine do the talking for me.

"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field in which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although "'they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.'"

- St. Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim (The Literal Meaning of Genesis)

Monday, July 19, 2004

The Bounds of Credulity

When discussing the historical reliablity of the Bible, the first and most obvious issue revolves around the supernatural. Unfortunately, it can also be the most difficult issue to resolve; most of these supernatural events were small scale and would leave no traces behind in any extra-biblical sources. The Biblical literalist is armed with an airtight defense: "God did it". The strangest events - such as Joshua praying for the sun to stop - can be explained and defended from this position. God is God. He can stop the sun. Umm... Earth. I'm sure the perfectly inspired and totally inerrant author of Joshua meant to say "Joshua stopped the Earth" when he wrote Joshua stopped the sun. It's odd how human perspective could over ride the physical truth in a 100% divinely inspired document. But nevermind that.

There are, however, at least two (and possibly three) stories that completely stretch the bounds of credulity.

The most fun of these stories is Samson killing 1000 men with the jawbone of a donkey. Here's the NIV version.

So. Picture the situation. A supernaturally strong man. He was supposedly strong enough to knock down two pillars, destroying a large temple and killing himself the the process - so clearly he wasn't invulnerable.

There are two possible scenarios, one more belivable than the other. The first is a Neo/multiple Agent Smiths battle. In order for Samson to kill 1000 men without being injured, he would have to move like Keanu Reeves on meth. Didn't any Philistines bring along a bow? Or a slingshot? I figure after watching one guy kill 100 of my buddies, I'd start to think it was time to run away. How could one man lay hands on 1000 men, even if they couldn't fight him or hurt him? And how did the jawbone survive cracking 1000 skulls?

The second scenario relies on a dodgy interpretation of the text. It's possible that Samson killed these men over a long period - not in one single battle. This is a bit odd, however - notice that Samson is extremely thirsty afterwards, and asks for a miraculous source of water. This indicates the killings took place between two periods of rest. Also, Samson refers to it as a singular victory, not a series of them.

Maybe I'm not applying enough imagination to the story. Maybe Peter Jackson could come up with a plausible scenario?

The second story is even better. As far as I can see, it forever nails shut the coffin of literal Biblical relibility. This neat little story is Noah's Ark.

Samson's killing spree requires a cartoonish series of miracles; Noah's Ark requires a seemingly infinite number of extraordinary events that should leave one asking why God didn't use a more efficient method.

Why would God induce a catastrophic global flood, then remove all evidence of said flood, then alter the geological column to make it look like a flood was in fact impossible?

How did North American or African species get to Noah? Many of these species require specific enviroments and food. Certainly sloths in South America and koalas in Austrailia woudln't have survived the trip?

I've been told that the continents were not separated before the flood - that the flood itself began the breaking of the continents. Well, the Atlantic ocean is 1700 miles wide at its shortest point. Answers In places the flood at 2304 BC, which means the continents have had 4285 years to travel 1700 miles. The continents, apparently, could shatter any NASCAR record and still manage to stay intact.

Dinosaurs had to be onboard, too. And not dinosaur eggs - remember, Noah had to take male and female. He needed hatched specimens. Does anybody want to speculate on how Noah and sons would care for a 12 month old T-Rex?

Disease would be another problem. How many diseases can survive in a population of 8 for a full year? Would the measles have survived? I guess it's a good thing none of Noah's sons had chicken pox as children.

The number of miracles needed to make the story work is astounding. I advise everyone to look at this page, from Talk Origins. It's a huge archive of the seeminly endless problems with Noah's Ark and a global flood. The story is, in terms of a literal historical account, childishly absurd.

The third story is the Genesis creation itself, but I'm not going to get into that right now.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

3 Days, Three Concerts

3 Days, 3 Live Shows.

I suppose I should have posted this on Sunday or something, but I was just lazy.

Last week, I had the chance to see three concerts in three days. It made for an awesome weekend, and some of the most fun I've for as long as I can remember.

Thursday night, I saw Christopher at a local club, Call The Office. This was the 2nd time I've seen them live. Once the opening act - which consisted of a screaming high schooler - was over, the guys hit the stage and played some great music. The crowd size grew as they played. The Christopher song that qualifies as the most fun was an instrumental scottish reel, performed on a guitar.

If you want to hear some quality local music, look up Christopher, see when they're playing Call The Office next. And they've got a CD coming out sooner or later; I intend to buy it.

Friday night! Ah, Friday night. I saw my second Great Big Sea concert, and it was pure pleasure. The opening song, Beat The Drum, was a typical GBS crowd pleaser about how great it is to be "young and daring". The crowd, as seems to be usual, took a while to warm up. I think the turning point in the show was "Scolding Wife" - that's when the crowd really seemed to get into it.

The only regret of the night - it was too crowded. There was no room to dance, and what's a GBS concert without dancing?

Saturday night, I got my wish. Spirit of the West capped off the trinity of concerts with of all things a free show down at Harris Park. From the opening strains of "Political", I knew it was going to be a great show. They hit many of their crowd pleasers, like "Venice Is Sinking" and "This Old Sod".

Their newer material tends to be less popular with crowds; it's just not as much fun. Songs like "Be A Guy" didn't grab me at first, though the single from their newest album, "Small World", was a great rock tune.

Spirit of the West had the crowning moment of all three concerts, however. For their last song, they played "Home For A Rest." It begins with a soft instrumental of the chorus; anyone who had been sitting jumped up and ran to the front. The entire park belted out the lyrics to the chorus; then the band paused, we all took a deep breath, and the song really began. "Home" solidified its title as the most entertaining song ever written, hands down. By the third chorus, I had no breath to sing any longer. It was pure adrenaline.

So yeah, a great three days. Even if you didn't dance!

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

2004 Federal Election Aftermath

Well, it's a Liberal minority.

I'm happy with the results.

I know I've repeatedly said the Liberals have to go, but lately I've thought more about how much I don't want Conservative policies running the country. It was always a matter of choosing the lesser evil, and I'm going to decide that the Liberals are the lesser evil.

I just really didn't want to see Canada shift to the Right. That would have been depressing. And now with a Liberal minority, they'll have to work with the NDP. It doesn't sound terribly efficient, but it's better than giving the Cons a carte blanche.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

2004 Federal Election Preview

The Federal Election

Part 1: My Pet Issues and General Thoughts

I'll get into the specifics of the Conservative and NDP party platforms in two other posts.

Why won't I write about the Liberal platform? That's my first pet issue. The sponsership scandel. Estimates seem to vary, but the Conservative homepage puts the figure at $100 million stolen by the Liberal government. I consider this to be pretty much unforgivable. It's time for the Liberals to go.

Also connected to the Liberals is a need for parlimentary term limits. Individual MPs should not be allowed to think of their office as a gravy train, and no doubt many Liberal MPs feel this way (I'm looking at you, Sue Barnes! ) Any term limit I suggest here would be rather arbitrary, but 2 terms - 8 years - is surely enough for anyone.

When it comes to other domestic policies, I really believe that a simple left/right split is just another one of those false dichotomies that seem to be so popular with people. Example, when dealing with the poor. It's not a choice between a "hand out" or a "hand up". There needs to be a combination of the two.

Mike Harris' Conservative government in Ontario showed how to do it exactly wrong: they simply cut assistence. Everyone on assistence - able bodied single men to struggling single mothers - found themselves with drastically reduced income. The number of people on assistence did drop, but many others found themselves without a safety net and plunged into poverty.

People with conservative bents tend to use words like "lazy" an awful lot when discussing welfare; they create policies like Harris' that leave many without basic necessities - how exactly does a battered woman and her children leaving behind an abuser get by in a Conservative province? They don't, apparently.

Cutting assistence across the board was a truly disgusting thing for Harris to do. A better plan: discreet food and clothing stamps.

There's a huge amount of stigma attached to foodstamps. I can imagine the humiliation that even someone who genuinely requires assistence must feel when using a foodstamp. So change their look. Grocery and clothing stores have discreet gift certificates - so give food stamps that look like gift certificates. And it will cut out abuse of the system: no more buying beer and cigarettes. The clothing "certificates"

That's the "hand out" part of it. The other is providing free child care for single parents and income-based subsidies for other families so both parents can work. We also need to make the same kind of investment into education: interest free long term longs along with grants. Money should never be a barrier to an education.

Money shouldn't be a barrier, but intellect should be. High school grades should affect government loans and grants, as well as the kind of school a person is applying to. Depending on a person's aptitude, one could recieve better financial support to enter trade school, for example.

The homeless are also all too often ignored. It's easy to say "they want to be there". Heck, I even heard one person the other day talk about a story he heard; a journalist took a sleeping bag, spent a week on the street, made about $300 panhandling, then wrote about how the homeless don't have it so bad.

What a steaming pile of shit.

If this jackass journalist wanted to experience a real homeless person's life, they need to go back to their parents and asked to be physical and sexually abused a couple of times. To really get the effect, he needs to hold his head under water for about five minutes; the brain damage should mimic the mental difficulties many homeless have. Then the journalist could escape, and end up on the street with huge gaping emotional wounds. He could eat out of a dumpster for a while, and maybe earn $100 as a prostitute. Then he can go back to his cushy typewriter and write about how the homeless "choose their lives."

So what to do about them? I don't really know. I'm mostly trying to establish a principle here - that the dichotomy between left and right is a false one. We need to work together, find a way to harmonize the priorities valued by both.

Foreign policy is another important matter. Roles are changing in the world; the UN, the EU, NATO and the US are all on shifting ground these days. The biggest question for Canada seems to be the use of our military. How involved should we be?

I'd rather not see us ride the coat tails of the US. The US has a habit of placing a fine moral sheen on their wars, but I do think most people see right through that. Why would we want Canadian troops to follow the US into yet another quagmire-cum-crusade? Not to mention the dismal state our Armed Forces are in.

Canada doesn't need to provide security at Kabul's airport. Sorry, we just aren't needed there. Time to bring our troops home; reorganize the budget so they have proper living space and training equipment. Canada doesn't need to participate in anymore wars. All we need is a small force like JTF-2 to handle any of the small scale threats that might come our way.

The last thing we need is to pump cash into an army that will just act as offhand support for US troops in a fight that we won't profit much from.

Another foreign policy issue I'm concerned about is the apparent Conservative Party support for the Star Wars program. More weapons is the last thing humanity needs, and weapons in space is about the most obscene idea I've ever heard. No party or government that even suggests such a thing will ever have my support. That's a deal breaker for me, like abortion and gay marriage are for others.

I know that's all pretty scattershot, so I'll summarize it here. We need to stop worrying about what's conservative and what's liberal, and find what works to build a country we all want to live in. Some people need to drop their counter-productive, self-righteous ideas of "tough love" and others need to drop their bleeding heart hand outs.

Next post, I'll look at the Conservative website, and the post after that will be the NDP site. Then if it strikes me, I'll post my thoughts on the debate ----- which is tommorow night! Watch it! This means you!

Friday, May 28, 2004

Saved! Preview

Whoa, two posts in one day. But I have to snip this review of the new movie Saved! from the always wonderful It's about a Christian High School, and it sounds amazing on so many different levels.

“Saved! is like those monster vampire high school kind of movies, only here the monsters are Jesus-freak teenagers.” —producer Michael Stipe (of R.E.M. fame)

According to Hilary Faye, the only person attending American Eagle Christian High School who isn't a born-again Christian is Cassandra, a Jewish "bad-girl" whose immoral reputation ("She was a stripper before she started going here!") has been juicing up the school's gossip mill. Hilary brags that she'll be the one who finally converts Cassandra, and turns the girl's eternal destiny into a horse race. When she finally has the opportunity, she approaches the "task" of leading Cassandra to the Lord as a dentist would a root canal, fretting that she doesn’t have all her “gear” with her to do the job right. Cassandra, in response, taunts and ridicules Hilary by feigning the salvation experience, then telling her it "didn't take," and that she converted to Satanism the following day.

I can't wait to see that.

A slightly more subtle mockery is made of very young children accepting "Jesus into [their] hearts and getting saved." The same applies to God's divine plan for His children. Bible studies. Christian clubs. Prayer meetings. And Christian education. Christianese lingo—made to feel insincere—is trotted out at every turn ("Let's get our Christ on," "Let's kick it Jesus style," "Down with G.O.D.," "You're not born-agay, you're born again").

That's right. Let's get our Christ on. I love it.

Mary gets pregnant when she has sex with her boyfriend, Dean. (The camera focuses on the shaking bed.) Why does this young Christian virgin, committed to remaining pure until her wedding night, choose to consummate her affection for Dean? After Dean informs her that he’s gay, she takes it upon herself to win him back, finally concluding that the only way to straighten him out is to sacrifice her virginity "for the cause." (She tells her friends afterwards that Jesus told her to do it and that He promised he would restore her virginity if she did what He said.) Upon completion of the act, she rolls over in bed (showing moviegoers her—very thin—sports bra) and whispers, "Thank you Jesus." I should note that before going all the way with Dean, Mary tries to wake up his masculine attraction to women by making out with him and having him fondle her bikini-clad breasts (in-frame). [Spoiler Warning] Neither make-out sessions nor copulation work. Dean ends up “happily” dating another guy after meeting him at a Christian rehab facility known for its "degayification" processes.

Oh, that'll be classic.

A girl confesses to God that she "let that Promise Maker (a dig at Promise Keepers) touch me in the rectory." When Cassandra bares her breasts during the school chapel service, the camera glimpses skin. (There are no full-on shots.)

Quality. Pure... quality.

Challenging Faith

Sometimes it seems like porn has an unsung competitor for the most common theme on the internet. The darkhorse in that particular race is Christian apologetics. It's also quite the cottage industry in paper publishing circles.

Why the emphasis on "reasonable" faith? Isn't faith the "substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," and therefore beyond reason?

I suppose it is, in theory. But I don't think many westerners, including Christians, find that very satisfying. Hence, the 616 000 hits in a google search. We don't find it satisfying because of the fundemental basis for western culture - that the universe is a rational place. We expect rationale and logical thought to be accurate guides to truth; so when a concept is irrational, we suspect that it is incorrect.

When questioning the rationality of an individual's religious beliefs, I find there are a number of responses.

1) the person insists their beliefs are rationale. They cite historical sources to support the truth of events recorded in their sacred text. They attempt to use scientific language to argue that natural processes cannot account for the origin of matter or life, and therefore, God did it. Etc, etc. These statements may or may not be accurate. The point is, that they sincerely believe their beliefs are entirely rationale.

2) The religious person insists the unbeliever is spiritually, willfully blinded to the truth. The unbeliever is incapable, for whatever reason, of seeing how rationally true a particular faith is. I think this tends to be the second step in a lengthy discussion. It's hard to argue against; it's entirely possible that one has some kind of spiritual or subconscious block that limits their abilty to form proper conclusions. However, the religious seem to ignore the fact that this argument is a double edged sword - that maybe the religious people are the ones with the block.

Originally, I was going to build this post around a thread I started here. It's a science fiction author's forum; the author is a Mormon. There is a large number of Mormon members at the forum, so I started a thread with questions like "Why does the Book of Mormon say there were horses in the New World before Columbus?". Clearly, this is a huge issue for a Mormon attempting to maintain a rational faith.

There were two answers. First, some posters said that archeologists are willfully ignoring evidence for horses and a Jewish civilization in Mesoamerica in the first few centuries after Christ. The second answer was a moderator deleting the thread.

That is response #3. Ignoring challenges to the rationality of faith.

So three responses. Produce evidence, say the doubter is willful, or to ignore the question entirely. Sometimes you'll get all three responses from the same person.

This applies to everyone with strongly held beliefs about philosophy or religion, of course. Theists, atheists, agnostics, we all have these three responses.

I say all this because of something one of my Christian friends says a lot. Whenever we talk about the rationality of faith, he says there are two fundemental positions that will completely guide how you see the evidence. Either you believe in God, or you don't. This, he says, is the basic question of life.

I think he's pretty clearly wrong: the basic question of life is whether or not the universe is rationale. Western culture in general says it is, and eastern culture (think of zen koans here) says that isn't necassarily so.

If the universe is a rational place, let's act like it. We've got a criteria for truth that helps distinguish between competing ideas - rational thought. Let's use it.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

T.V. And Story Telling

(This post completely spoils the series finale of Angel)

Well, it's the end of an an era for these guys. But while they are talking about the end of their church, I'm going to talk about TV!

As a cultural medium, TV doesn't get much respect. It's the boob tube, the idiot box. I tend to think otherwise: I think TV is an incredible medium for both non-fiction (think journalism) and story telling. It's all in how the program is handled. Certainly TV has its fair share of stupid content; but really, how many books on the shelves at Chapters are worth reading?

I think fiction on TV is always best in an hour long serial. This allows the writers maybe 16 hours of screentime a year (not counting commercials) to tell a story.

It tends to be science-fiction/fantasy series that do the most to take advantage of all that screentime. Consider Babylon 5; an epic story that filled some 75 hours of screen time. The character and plot development possible in those 75 hours just isn't present in a 2.5 hour movie. Enemies became friends, friends became enemies. Cowards became heroes, murderous fools became religious leaders.

I want producers to take advantage of this more often. With so much screentime, so many amazing characters and stories can be told. Emotional weight be slowly built up over the years, slowly, carefully, and the viewer can enjoy an amazing payoff when the story concludes.

A fine example of a long buildup paying off: the series finale of Angel that aired last night. A series cut down in its prime but still given enough warning that the story could be concluded, the series ended in an unflinchingly courageous finale.

The thematic backbone of the last five years of Angel's run was summarized in the penultimate episdoe: evil exists not to be defeated, but to be faught. And the finale stayed true to that perfectly. Extraordinary sacrifices were made, and they gave evil a vicious kick to the nether regions. But evil wasn't vanquished or exiled, and the good guys didn't win. All they did was fight, and fight hard.

The final scene sees the four surviving members of the group in a dark alley, with the rain pouring down relentlessly. One is mortally wounded and soon to die. They stand quietly talking, and then the camera pans to their left. There is a huge demon army marching towards them, complete with dragon and a good dozen cave-troll like creatures.

Spike asks their leader Angel, "Anything in the way of a plan?" and Angel replies "I kind of want to slay the dragon." Angel picks up his sword, and calmly says "Let's go to work." The four heroes walk towards the army... and thus ends the series. They didn't win, they didn't vanquish evil, but they sure fought it. I wonder if a 2.5 hour film could have created a final scene with such resonance? I doubt it.

Let's hope there are more people like Joss Whedon and Michael Strazynski out there who will take advantage of all that screen time. The budgets might be lower and the glory not as great, but there are still amazing stories to be told.

So farewell to Angel. Like any good ending, it left me with fulfilled sense of meloncholy. It was a great ride while it lasted and I'll be able to watch it in re-runs, just like I can rent a movie again or pick up a book a dozen times, but I'll never be able to experience it again for the first time.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Christian Right Declares War On Homosexuals!

Sort of.

Let it never be said that the Left doesn't have its fair share of paranoia and persecution complexes. The normally erudite internet scholars over at Barbelith are going ballistic over this article.

As with most legislation, it's really difficult to find proper summaries, so I can't say that I really understand the bill. However, from the perspective of the news page, here is the main issue of concern: "If passed the bills would allow refusal of treatment for specific medical conditions that uniquely affect the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, including hormone therapy for transgender people and assisted reproduction for same-sex couples."

The link says the bill allows doctors to refuse specific kinds of non-emergency services.

I'm a card-carrying liberal, I voted Green in the last provincial election, and I'm all for gay marriage. But I'm siding with the "fundies" on this one.

I've got a lot of sincere, honest Christian friends who believe homosexuality is a sin. Now, I disagree with them when they argue against gay marriage - because that isn't any of their business. If two guys want to kiss each other, that doesn't affect them at all. They need to butt out.

It's entirely different for the state to tell a Christian that they have to directly assist somone commit what the Christian sees as a sin. Forcing a Christian doctor to assist someone change their sex is no better than forcing a Christian minister to perform a gay marriage. It is simply trading one form of discrimination for another.

The larger issue is one of medical ethics. Other bills like this have either recently passed or will soon be passed; they do things like protect doctors and nurses who refuse to perform or assist with abortions, or protect pharmacists who refuse to hand out morning after pills. These seem like perfectly reasonable protections.

It's all about personal principles. Everybody has to have them; they are our emotional skeletons. They hold us together. Without principles, you're an invertebrate. If a person's principles clash with those around them either on a small scale, friendship level or a large scale, societal level, that person has to decide how important those principles are - and whether or not to act on them.

Forcing medical personal to assist in an abortion or a sex change operation may very well clash with deeply held personal principles, and I'm not willing to force somone to choose between their principles and their job, in the context of elective procedures. It's simply wrong to force a doctor to perform an elective procedure they find morally offensive.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Young Man Syndrome

See: Jevant's and jagrant's archives.

Young man syndrome.

It's a syndrome I've been accused of having many times - usually after standing up for something I believe in - something that goes against the natural grain of either the largely superstitious human society that we live in today, or (more often and more simply) something that goes against the superstitious beliefs of my friends that I am currently associating with. I've been accused of "enjoying" the title, and even desiring to spread young man syndrome.

Young man syndrome is the tendency to reach a certain point in one's life, between 18-25, and begin re-evaluating one's beliefs. One will either drop their beliefs entirely, or devote themselves to this beliefs with renewed vigour (See jagrant's Exhibit B for a curious and unacknowledged anomoly).

*with arms wide open* If this makes me a victim of young man syndrome, then so be it. Why do I embrace this re-evaluation? I suppose it comes down to a belief in a set of core values that are unshakeable, and at the core of my very being.

Just like the people who were placed under house arrest for their study of the natural world many years ago.

It absolutely amazes me to see how consistant this is. Almost every single young person that I know eventually reaches a critical stage somewhere between the age of 18 and 25. They re-evaluate their life and their beliefs and either become fully committed to or walk away from critical thinking.

Usually it is critical thinking that is left behind. Hopefully, I shall never be there. But to the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for scientific thought, I salute and honour you. If the world had more people like you, this world would be turned upside down and we'd have flying cars. The last thing this world needs is more superstition. We need people to stand for what they believe in - no matter what the cost.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Inaugural Post

The inagural post on my new blog, complete with spelling mistake.