And now . . . this – Sept. 20/10

September 20, 2010

Police in New Zealand burning off seized cannabis were left red-faced when a change in the wind sent smoke billowing over a primary school, it was reported Tuesday. . . .

It said St Joseph’s School principal Peter Knowles noticed the smoke on Friday morning and complained to police, who immediately extinguished the fire.

[Full Story]

In the meantime, however, the school’s music and art programs enjoyed a temporary surge in popularity.


SFFS Update: Week 1

September 11, 2010

After one week of science fiction-free reading: 20 chapters of Jane Eyre down, 18 to go; roughly halfway through by page count. I’m not as far behind as I thought, as the beginning of the week was slow reading, and I’ve picked up the pace considerably in the last couple of days.

Oh, yes, this is late Victorian literature, all right: it’s hip-deep in orphans. Not to mention wicked foster families, abusive schoolmasters, gruel, and innocent waifs dying of consumption. I would be rolling my eyes at the piles of clichés, if I didn’t know that books like Jane Eyre were the ones that started the clichés.

To this point, Jane has been sent to a charity school for orphaned girls. After finishing school she becomes employed by wealthy bachelor Mr. Rochester, serving as governess to his young ward Adele.

There’s a sort of love triangle, and a mystery: someone in the house tried to set fire to Rochester’s bed, and attacked one of his house-guests. Oh my. I hope there’s not a mad woman in the attic!


Step right up to the three-ring media circus

September 11, 2010

We have been held gripped in suspense as a saga unfolds in Gainesville, Florida. The story of Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center, has enthralled the media for the last several days, as he declared today, September 11, “International Burn a Koran Day” and threatened to do just that. Clergy, military commanders, diplomats, and heads of state have weighed in. I, personally, have been glued to the cable news networks as this international crisis unfolds.

Well, that last part is a lie. Actually, all I’ve done is read the periodic updates to the news story on the CBC Web site as the nefarious conflagration went back and forth like a ping-pong ball.

At first, it was on. Then it was off, because Jones had received assurances from the Ground Zero mosque imam that the location would be changed.

Then it was on again, because Jones decided the imam “clearly, clearly lied to us.” (No, really. Taqiyya, anyone?) He issued a two-hour ultimatum to the New York imam to contact him and set up a meeting to find a “peaceful solution” to this issue. Yes, that’s right: Jones demanded a meeting to negotiate a solution to a crisis he personally precipitated and could unilaterally call off.

Now, it’s off again, and apparently Jones took a night flight to New York to try and meet with the imam, Presumably, he is still seeking his “peaceful solution.”

Whatever. Jones has accomplished nothing of value. He has attracted attention to himself and his church, of course, although that hasn’t exactly been positive: their now-offline Web site affirmed support for hatemongering Westboro “Baptist” “Church” in Topeka, and (The Smoking Gun snagged a copy of their in-house school’s handbook, which is bizarre, to say the least. Jones’ stated intent gave the perpetually outraged “Arab Street” yet another excuse to seethe against the West and came within a hair’s breadth of causing an international incident. And, frankly, who told him that burning books would leave a positive impression with his audience?

Terry Jones has derelicted his duty as a minister of the Gospel. First, he has taken the name of God in vain. Each successive step in the last week’s flip-flop has supposedly been undertaken after prayer or hearing the voice of God. Sorry, but God is not that fickle. The Bible says that God has “no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:18); on the other hand, the same author does have something to say about double-minded and unstable men (1:8).

Second, Jones has given needless offense. Paul became “all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22) because he did not want to cause unnecessary offense to those whom he wished to reach with the Gospel. He respected their taboos; the Gospel itself was offense enough (1 Cor. 1:23). Iconoclasm in the Bible is neither used as a form of political protest, nor as a means of presenting the Gospel. When Paul visited Athens, though he was upset by the many idols in the city, he did not smash them. Rather, he used an idol dedicated to an unknown god as an object lesson, preaching to the Athenians about the true God whom they did not know.

Pastor Jones has squandered an opportunity to preach Jesus to Muslims. Instead of the decent man who treats them respectfully and answers their questions about his hope in the Prophet Jesus with confidence, now he will be the crazy old kook who tried to hold a mosque hostage by threatening to desecrate a book they deem holy. Worse, this has ramifications that go well beyond the city limits of Gainesville: world-wide protests have already happened by Muslims who don’t distinguish between the acts of a lone kook and those of the entire “Christian” West. Jones has probably made life much harder for Christian missionaries everywhere. For this act of supreme boneheadednes, I hereby award him the DIM BULB du jour.

A special 40-watt honour has to go to the media, who kept this circus running, until finally realizing yesterday that it was a non-story.

I like James White’s idea when this story first broke: instead of “Burn a Quran Day,” have “Read a Quran Day” – and having carefully read it, know better how to proclaim the Gospel of salvation to its followers who so desperately need to hear it. Let the only scandal be the scandal of the cross.


Margaret Atwood, censor

September 6, 2010

Political thick-headedness from someone who ought to know better:

Margaret Atwood is criticizing Stephen Harper over what she sees as his dictatorial approach to regulating the airwaves.

The literary icon has signed an online petition aimed at keeping a “Fox News North” channel off the air in Canada. But it’s not the idea of a right-wing television station she’s objecting to. Rather, the prolific and celebrated writer doesn’t like the Prime Minister’s style of governing.

“Of course Fox & Co. can set up a channel or whatever they want to do, if it’s legal etc.,” she told The Globe and Mail in an email. “But it shouldn’t happen this way. It’s like the head-of-census affair – gov’t direct meddling in affairs that are supposed to be arm’s length – so do what they say or they fire you.

“It’s part of the ‘I make the rules around here,’ Harper-is-a-king thing,” she wrote.

[Full Story]

On August 31, Atwood tweeted that she had signed a petition to the CRTC to disallow Sun Media a license for a new news channel: “Yikes! Canadians wld be forced to pay for this? Not!” As the Globe article indicates, her real motivation is ostensibly because she doesn’t like the process by which this channel is being imposed.

Fair enough. But the Web page the petition is on betrays a considerably different motivation: “Stop Fox News North,” it says. It calls Sun’s news station – which has yet to broadcast a single second of news – “American-style hate media,” “hate-filled propaganda,” and a “nightmare.” (Ironically this petition, circulated under the auspices of Avaaz.org, which was co-founded by MoveOn.org, the hard-left advocacy group that funds Democratic candidates in the United States, encourages the CRTC to “stand up for Canadian democratic traditions.”)

It appears that whatever Atwoods own motives may be for signing this petition, the motives of the petitioners themselves are quite different: censorship of opposing viewpoints. Atwood herself has been the target of censorship attempts: her fine novel The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the most frequently challenged books in American libraries. So why is she lending her good name to the efforts of Internet activists to censor opinions they don’t like? Worse, she’s a writer. Is a signature on an inflammatory Internet petition the most persuasive argument for her position that Atwood is capable of?

Fortunately, this is an Internet petition, so no one who matters will take notice.

By the way, to be consistent, Atwood must also support the privatization of the CBC, which all Canadians must pay for whether they want it or not. Correct?

Even prominent public intellectuals are not incapable of the occasional brain fart, so this particular controversy seemed like a good occasion to resurrect the DIM BULB du jour, awarded to those who are able to grab the public spotlight, then abuse the privilege by saying or doing something stupid.

Tell you what, Mags: I’m going to petition our public library to remove your books from the shelves. But it’s not the idea of feminist CanLit I’m objecting to. Rather, I don’t like your style of protesting.


Science Fiction-Free September VI, VII – oh, I’ve lost count

September 1, 2010

Every September for the last several years, I’ve self-imposed a moratorium on reading science fiction, my preferred genre for reading. This was originally a way to devote a month to reading literature that is somewhat different from my standard fare.

In recent years, it seems that I’ve gotten most of my content from podcasts rather than dead-tree books, so in a sense every month has effectively been science fiction-free, in the sense that it’s been entirely reading-free. I’m glad that since the beginning of this year that has begun to change: I’ve been intensely reading Isaac Asimov and Victor Hugo, for example. And I’m about due for my triannual rereading of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings – so if there’s ever a good time to revive SFFS, this is it.

Since I usually like to decide on a theme for the month, this year I’ve decided to go with “Unfinished Works” – that is, to concentrate on books that were required reading in some class, but which I never finished (and thus had to bluster my way through tests – usually successfully, if I may say so myself). The most famous required reading book that I never finished reading was The Catcher in the Rye. It is not on the list. I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole and a hazmat suit. J. D. Salinger died in January, and as far as I’m concerned his Rousseauean hippie swill can die with him. So for starters, my list will look like this:

  1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. In my last term of university, I took a course in late Victorian prose, specifically because I wanted to sit under Professor John North for one course before I graduated. Unfortunately, he fell ill a week into the course, which was then completed by another lecturer. Jane Eyre was the only book he lectured on that term. Not expecting to move on to the next work so quickly, I left the last hundred pages or so unread, and never got around to finishing. Despite Dr. North’s absence, I enjoyed the remainder of the course just fine, but the pace was a little faster than I was able to keep up with, so I left a lot of stuff half-read, for instance:
  2. Culture and Anarchy by Matthew Arnold. Finish it? Heck, I never even started it! All I know is that this work was responsible for popularizing the phrases “sweetness and light” and “Philistines.” 13 years later, it’s high time I got started.
  3. Unto This Last by John Ruskin. Like Jane Eyre, I read most of it but ran out of time to finish before the term ended. But I loved reading Ruskin’s prose, and I actually look forward to rereading this one.

My aim is to keep up a pace of one book per week, Sunday to Saturday (plus the three-day head start I have now). If there’s time left in the month after these three works, then I’ll see what I can add to the list. Between courses in modern literary criticism, contemporary rhetorical theory, and philosophy, there’s no shortage of abandoned literature. T. S. Eliot? Rolande Barthes? Karl Marx? The possibilities are endless.

Happy reading, all.