Friday in the wild: January 30, 2009

January 30, 2009

Today is a good day to celebrate the unlamented passing of two of Ottawa’s most unsavoury characters.

First, the 52-day-old OC Transpo strike died yesterday when the city and the Amalgamated Transit Union came to a tentative agreement to go to binding arbitration without preconditions. The buses will start running again in a week and a half, though full service will not be restored for over two months. Both the union and Mayor Cueball seem to be declaring victory. A pox on both their houses, I say. I figured out how to get downtown in 45 minutes on foot, and it’s good exercise.

The second death is the Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition in Parliament. The Liberals will support this week’s budget upon certain conditions, which the Tories have agreed to. Once again, Prime Minister Harper played his hand brilliantly: now instead of plotting to take down the government, Jack Layton is complaining about his erstwhile Grit allies. Angry in the Great White North is, as usual, on the case, and provides this analysis:

On January 26, parliament reconvened and the Conservatives brought down the budget the next day. Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe immediately promised to vote it down and announced that they remained committed to installing the coalition as a government without an election.

But Michael Ignatieff abandoned the coalition, and decided to support the Tory budget with one mild amendment (the Conservatives have already announced that they will accept the amendment proposed), leaving Jack Layton sputtering. His coalition was now officially dead. . . .

Realistically, the coalition represented the only chance Jack Layton would ever have to sit on the government benches as a member of the NDP. Indeed, it might turn out that, looking back, we’ll recognize that this was the closest the NDP, as a party, ever got to being in government.

And Michael Ignatieff took that away – not just Jack Layton’s chance at power, but his place in history as well.

[Read Betrayal and Consequences: Jack Layton Versus Michael Ignatieff]

Looking for a name for your heavy-metal band, and want to know where you fit in the ecosystem? Via Comic vs. Audience, here’s a handy chart. (H/T: Boing Boing.)

I have always been fascinated with “cop talk” – the unnecessarily wordy way that police officers speak when they get on television (or in the stand). Turns out I’m not the only one: again via Boing Boing, I found this article from last March, about how “cop talk” can harm a cop’s credibility in court:

When you talk like that, you sound like somebody who’s full of himself or who’s trying to hide the truth in a mountain of syllables – both are stereotypes we do NOT need to be reinforcing with jurors. You don’t sound like a regular person the jury can relate to and identify with. So, when the defense attorney starts beating up on you the jury just sees two courtroom professionals – neither of which they can identify with (which means they can’t empathize with) – going at each other in some highfalutin’ word game that has little to do with them – or justice.

When asked what behaviors increase a witness’ credibility in court, jurors responded that “uses understandable language” is one of the most important. . . . That’s why we call it “straight talk.” This is the critical reason to quit talking funny in court – it hurts your credibility. Credibility is the degree to which the jury believes you – and that’s the one confrontation you must win in court.

[Read Cops Talk Funny]

Consternated that the ECT people have taken a year and a half to talk about the place of Mary in the church, David at Biblical Christianity offers up his succinct statement:

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a pivotal yet relatively minor figure in the New Testament, of no more ongoing direct personal impact on the lives of Christians than any other exemplary (yet flawed) redeemed sinner depicted in the Bible.

[Read Biblical Christianity Statement on Mary]

‘Nuff said.

John Updike, possibly one of the finest literary authors of the 20th century that I’ve never bothered to read, died this week. Ben at Faith and Theology wrote about Updike’s theological influences:

I was very sad to hear that one of my favourite contemporary novelists, John Updike, has died. Updike was deeply influenced by Kierkegaard and Karl Barth; he is the most theological novelist you’ll ever come across. In an early essay, he remarks that, at one time, Barth’s theology was the only thing supporting his life; he used to keep Barth’s Romans commentary beside his bed, to read a few pages at a time. Much of his fiction could be read as an extended reflection on Barth’s dictum: “here is no way from us to God . . . The god who stood at the end of some human way would not be God.”

[Read John Updike, 1932-2009: a glance at his theology]

Russell Moore, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as impressed:

I’ve read all Updike’s novels but the last one (a sequel to his Witches of Eastwick) and I always finish them with something of the same kind of sick fascination that the boy David would have seen the pigeons torn apart by gunfire. There’s something beautiful there, a spark of divine creativity, but something sad and pitiable as well. Updike, it seems to me, had a love/hate relationship with Jesus Christ.

Few novelists could illustrate the suffocation of upwardly mobile but spiritually rootless middle class America with more vivid imagery than Updike, especially in his series of four books on the life of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. Those books also lay out the problem of sin, guilt, and judgment better than many gospel tracts, except without the solution at the end.

[Read John Updike is Dead]

Justin Taylor linked to Updike’s rules for reviewing books. Good stuff – pity the commentds devolve into an argument about gender-neutral pronouns. Talk about missing the forest for the trees.

Finally, the Daily Bulletin announced a public lecture by free software guru Richard Stallman on campus yesterday, under the auspices of the Computer Science Club. In the Bulletin blurb is this sentence:

The free software movement developed the GNU operating system, a free Unix-like system often erroneously referred to as Linux.

Heh. Looks like RMS writes his own PR copy. Unlike the Free Software Foundation whose GNU/Hurd has been in development for nearly 20 years and still isn’t ready for prime time, Linus Torvalds actually succeeded in creating a free UNIX-like operating system that people actually use. Stallman wants to take credit for Torvald’s Linux kernel (produced independently of the FSF) because although it’s the one thing he never managed to release, it’s also the heart and soul of the whole system. I love Emacs and have been using it for years, Richard, but geez . . . someone beat you to it, you bitter old hippie, so quit whining.

Until next time, adieu.


Happy birthday, Mac

January 24, 2009

Today is the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the Apple Macintosh computer.

In the late 1970s, Apple was already a successful manufacturer of personal computers, thanks to the popularity of the venerable old Apple II. Co-founder Steve Jobs saw a prototype Xerox Alto computer, which used a mouse and graphical user interface (GUI) for its principal user input, instead of the typical keyboard and command line. during a 1979 tour of their PARC labs. Jobs decided that the GUI concept was the future of personal computing. In 1983, Apple released its own GUI-based computer, the Lisa. With a price tag of nearly $10,000 and stiff competition from the IBM PC, it was a commercial failure and the line was soon discontinued. But the Lisa was proof of concept for a GUI computer, and its successor, the Macintosh, revolutionized personal computing in 1984.

The first Macintosh had a whopping 128K of RAM, an 8 MHz Motorola 68000 microprocessor, a 9-inch, 512×342 black-and-white display, and a single 3½-inch floppy disk drive in an integrated case, along with a keyboard. Such luxuries as a hard disk drive or memory expansion slots came later. The original Mac’s specifications naturally seem tiny by today’s standards1, and in fact they were somewhat inferior to the IBM PCs already on the market at the time, which gave the Mac a bit of a reputation as a “toy.”

I used a Mac for the first time only a few months later, at a science fair in the spring of 1984. At the tender age of 13, my only computer experience had been with the command-line interface of the Commodore PET and 64. Not having to type commands to make things work was an alien experience. Nonetheless, mousing out some simple pictures in MacPaint was a completely intuitive activity; I thought the desktop, icons, and pointer of the GUI were completely self-explanatory.2 So it came as no surprise that other computer and software manufacturers soon wanted to get in on the GUI game, and it was only a few years before Microsoft Windows-based PCs began to dominate the personal computer market. Even the look and feel of Linux- or UNIX-based GUIs, such as GNOME or KDE, are evolved from the Mac’s look and feel, although the underlying X Window System developed separately.

My primary computer is a desktop PC running either Linux or Windows, but I do also own a Mac: a G3 iBook purchased in 2003. Here it is:

[Scott's lamented iBook]

As you can see, though, it needs a little maintenance.3 Anyone for tossed salad?


1 When I was your age footnote: By comparison, I am writing this post on a PC with a 2 GHz AMD Athlon microprocessor, 1.25 GB of RAM, a combined total of 200 GB of hard drive space, and a 22″ 1680×1050 widescreen display. Put another way: roughly 250 times the processor speed, 10,000 times the memory, half a million times the storage capacity, and 10 times the screen real estate (to say nothing of full 36-bit colour). And this computer is already 6 years old.

2 We don’t need no education footnote: Meanwhile, some smart-aleck teacher, watching over my shoulder, wisecracked that at last, a $3000 computer made it possible to draw like a 2-year-old.

3 If I had a hammer footnote: Believe it or not, that isn’t damage. Unfortunately, my beloved Mac recently fell victim to the infamous video card defect, and removing the hard drive to rescue needed data required nearly a complete dismantling of the laptop. Someday, hopefully, I’ll muster up the courage to reassemble it, then find out if I can still obtain replacement parts to get it working again.


This is the 1000th post published to the Crusty Curmudgeon. Fittingly, when I originally set this blog up in 2003, it was done on a Macintosh computer.

Pray for the Johnson family

January 24, 2009

Phil just let me know that [Phil’s mother] Donna Johnson now rejoices and beholds the face of her Savior, never again to know sorrow, or pain, or tears. Pray for her husband, and all those touched by her joyous heart, and now deprived of her for a time. We miss her, and we do grieve; but we do “not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Rest of the post here.

National what?

January 23, 2009

Friday in the wild: January 23, 2009

January 23, 2009

Some months ago, I switched my primary operating system from Windows XP to Ubuntu Linux. I had been wanting to do this for a while, but support for wireless networking in Linux has been somewhat limited. My ancient SMC USB adaptor is not supported, which was a show-stopper for the better part of a year. Finally, I broke down and bought a Zyxel USB dongle, which by contrast is so well supported by Linux that it was downloading pr0n and illegal MP3s while I still had my nose in the “Getting Started” booklet. Ironically, while the Internet works like a dream under Linux, it stopped working under Windows. I finally managed to troubleshoot the issue, but that meant spending the better part of last weekend performing some much-needed software downloads and maintenance. So this week’s Friday in the Wild covers the past two weeks of bloggy goodness.

Two weekends ago, a number of cities in Canada, most notably Montreal and Toronto, were home to some rather disgusting displays of anti-Semitism, in the form of pro-Hamas supporters waving swastikas around and the like. Ezra Levant applied the “broken-window theory” to explain why these public displays of bigotry are becoming more common in Canada:

Look at the faces of the young men (and some of the young women). They’re acting up. They’re in Canada, and they know it’s a tolerant, easy-going, multi-ethnic country. Most of them probably work or study in environments where there is some peer pressure to behave – to be polite; to be moderate; certainly to limit one’s expressions of bigotry, whether in the form of flying a terrorist flag, or in the form of calling for the death of a Jewish child.

But, together, in the face (literally, in the face!) of police, all of these socially transgressive behaviours are being tried out.

And there’s no push-back.

There’s no negative reaction.

[Read Applying the “broken windows” theory to anti-Semitic rallies]

Steve Camp has always been known for his vocal opposition to trite “Jesus is my boyfriend” praise songs. In a recent post he took on the trend of covering secular tunes as though they were addressed to Jesus:

Past secular hits are currently being sung to represent our Lord Jesus Christ; and they are nothing more than “God as my girlfriend songs.” Some examples are: “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”; “Free Ride”; “Love is the Answer”; “You Raise Me Up”; “Love Lifted Us Up Where We Belong”; “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You”; “Maybe I’m Amazed”; “Because You Loved Me”; “Everlasting Love”; “In The Air Tonight”; “I Want to Know What Love Is”; “I Believe I Can Fly”; etc. Parroting what one Christian radio network likes to say, “Boring, for the whole family.” Taking past secular hits and changing the original meaning of the song to now make it seem as if they’re about Jesus because a Christian happens to be singing it is ludicrous. It not only violates the “original intent” of the meaning of the song by its author; but it is just as foolish as if some CCM artist recorded a remake of the great Beatles classic, “Hey Jude”, and then tried to spiritually justify it by saying it is about the little epistle before the book of Revelation. Could you imagine if some secular artist took “Amazing Grace” and said it was about a female seductress? The Christian community would be up in arms… and rightly so. But why is Christian radio and the CBA (Christian Booksellers Assoc.) so accepting of these poorly done “covers” of classic pop hits passed off as legitimate representations of Christianity?

[Read Let the Redeemed People of God Say So – But Let It Be a New Song We Sing]

So I guess Steve wouldn’t be so fond of “You Spin Me Round Jesus.” As Hank Hill once said, this doesn’t make Christianity better, it makes rock and roll worse. (Rick Pino gets the awards for silliest hairstyle and the worst overuse of the phrase “in this place.”)

Jeremy Pierce at Parableman has an interesting analysis of the diversity of Barack Obama’s cabinet as compared to previous administrations’.

And speaking of the apotheosis inauguration of Barack Obama, David Heddle has a brief and interesting take on the new President’s do-over of the inaugural oath:

Should I ever become President, I would announce this: Because I am a Christian, I will not take the oath of office with one hand on the bible. The doctrine of my faith informs me that to do so is a meaningless gesture. Let my yes mean yes.

[Read Obama Does it Right]

Thanks to Good Brownie, I was directed to an article in the New York Times about Charles Schulz’ use of Beethoven in Peanuts:

When Schroeder pounded on his piano, his eyes clenched in a trance, the notes floating above his head were no random ink spots dropped into the key of G. Schulz carefully chose each snatch of music he drew and transcribed the notes from the score. More than an illustration, the music was a soundtrack to the strip, introducing the characters’ state of emotion, prompting one of them to ask a question or punctuating an interaction.

[Read Listening to Schroeder: “Peanuts” Scholars Find Messages in Cartoon’s Scores]

Beethoven is my favourite composer, too. If it weren’t for Schroeder and Peanuts (and to a lesser extent that “dunh-dunh-dunh-DUUNNHH” bit), that probably wouldn’t be the case.

Finally, Fred Sanders of The Scriptorium Daily reminds us that today is poet John Donne’s birthday (his 437th, to be precise). As Beethoven is my favourite composer, so Donne is my favourite poet – and, having once been told by one of my professors that I had no business being in an English degree program because of my antipathy toward poetry, that’s saying something. Fred notes that Donne was as gifted a preacher as he was a poet, and that the doctrine of the Trinity was central to his preaching. So, until next week, Faithful Reader, I’ll close this post with one of Donne’s best-known verses, Holy Sonnet XIV, which is a fusion of verse and Trinitarian theology:

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you

As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend

Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

I, like an usurped town, to another due,

Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end.

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,

But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,

But am betrothed unto your enemy:

Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

A threesome of thickheadedness

January 15, 2009

Three recent stories in the news have reminded me that I haven’t dished out the DIM BULB du jour in a dog’s age. So without further ado, here is today’s smorgasbord of stupidity.

Our first worthy recipient is chronic atheist agitator, Michael Newdow, who has once again attempted to banish God from the public square. His holy war against Publid Displays of Religion began in 2000, when he filed suit, supposedly on behalf of his daughter, to have the words “one nation under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. The suit was dismissed by the district court, but upon appeal the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the phrase was, indeed, unconstitutional. However, in 2004, the suit was again dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court: not only did Newdow lack standing because he did not have custody of his daughter, but the phrase “one nation under God” was constitutional on the basis that it was a secular slogan acknowledging national heritage. A second lawsuit arguing the same thing is currently in the court system.

In 2005, Newdow tried again, suing to have the motto “In God We Trust” removed from currency. He was, again, unsuccessful.

Following George W. Bush’s first inauguration in 2001, Newdow unsuccessfully filed suit in federal court because Franklin Graham’s invocation supposedly violated the separation of church and state. Now, he is trying that same stunt again:

President-elect Barack Obama wants to conclude his inaugural oath with the words “so help me God,” but a group of atheists is asking a federal judge to stop him.

California atheist Michael Newdow sued Chief Justice John Roberts in federal court for an injunction barring the use of those words in the inaugural oath. . . .

Named in Newdow’s lawsuit are Roberts; Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; and the two pastors invited to the event, the Rev. Rick Warren and the Rev. Joseph Lowery.

[Full Story]

He will, of course, fail yet again. One wonders how many times he has to sue and lose before a binding legal precedent gets set. For his grandstanding lawsuits attempting to impose his minority religious beliefs upon all Americans, Michael Newdow is awarded our first DIM BULB du jour.

Exhibit B in our parade of poppycock is Heath Campbell. You may remember his name from a few weeks ago because he raised a stink when the local ShopRite store refused to decorate a birthday cake for his son. After all, his son’s name is Adolf Hitler Campbell. His little sisters, incidentally, are named JoyceLynn Aryan Nation and HonzLynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell, respectively. Seriously. Nonetheless, Heath Campbell insists that he gave his son the name “Adolf Hitler” simply because “no one else in the world would have that name.” Suuure. (I think I’ll name my firstborn Michael Ignatieff Eats Babies For Satan McClare, just to make sure he’s never confused with anyone else.)

Now, the New Jersey division of Youth and Family Services has removed little Adolf, Aryan, and Hinler from the home; the parents are expected in court today. These cases are confidential and YFS is not forthcoming with the reason the kids have been taken away from their parents; however, YFS insists it isn’t because of their names. I would certainly hope that the government would have more justification than that to take children from their parents. However, I can’t help thinking that Heath Campbell’s acts of public stupidity got him some unwanted attention.

Our third and final distinguised award goes to André Cornellier, the seemingly mentally challenged president of Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 279, representing bus drivers, dispatchers, and mechanics employed by OC Transpo. The union has been on strike since December 10. They originally voted overwhelmingly in favour of striking, and last week voted 75% in favour of rejecting the latest contract offer by the city of Ottawa. At that time, despite the inconvenience of no public transit, it seemed as though public opinion was also largely sympathetic to the union.

However, it appears that Cornellier and the other Powers That Be in ATU 279 are working to erode what public support they have. The local colleges and universities have set up shuttle services, thus far at their own expense, to enable students to get to and from school. This service being quite expensive, the city has offered some emergency financial assistance to the schools. In response, the union has informed the schools that if they accept city money, it would be tantamount to accepting “scab labour.” Apparently, school bus drivers not employed by OC Transpo, driving students along routes not serviced by Transpo buses, now count as “replacement workers.” Ditto the Para Transpo service, used by the disabled: the service is to be expanded by the city for the duration of the strike, and because they might have used non-union drivers, the union has threatened to picket this service as well. In the meantime, an agreement has been reached between the city and the union that additional Para Transpo drivers will be members of the Para Transpo bargaining unit. This doesn’t change the fact that the threat was originally made.

Cornellier is a one-man PR nightmare for the ATU. He seems hell-bent on squandering whatever goodwill the union has gained. He certainly isn’t making any friends by threatening the daily lives of people who are already severely inconvenienced. I still think both sides are being idiots. But at least the city of Ottawa isn’t actively working to spread around the misery.

Ricardo Montalban (1920-2009)

January 15, 2009

Ricardo Montalban, the Mexican actor best known as Mr. Roarke on the TV show Fantasy Island, has died at the ripe old age of 88.

Although his most famous role was the genteel, white-suited overseer of Fantasy Island, Montalban had more than 160 roles in television and film, as well as being a memorable spokesman for Chrysler automobiles.

Of course, I was never into Fantasy Island, nor was I particularly interested in “soft Corinthian leather” at the tender age of four. For me, Montalban’s defining role was Khan Noonien Singh, Kirk’s wonderfully relentless, Moby Dick-citing nemesis in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Also in my library is a set of Planet of the Apes movies; he played circus owner Armando in the third and fourth.

Montalban was predeceased by his wife of 63 years (!), Georgiana Young de Montalban, in 2007. How many Hollywood figures can be said to be married to one woman, let alone for the equivalent of an entire lifetime? Rest in peace, Mr. Montalban.