Sunday, July 31, 2011

Secular Sunday Sermon: Sola Fide and the Bodhisattva Vow

Sola fide is a central tenet - or maybe even the central tenet - of almost every branch of Protestantism. As far as I can discern it, it comes from an interpretation of Romans, it literally means 'faith alone', and it refers to the concept that only by believing in Jesus as our personal saviour are we saved...

Please note that I don't speak out of disrespect; it's merely my personal attempts to reconcile the belief system of hundreds of millions of people with my own beliefs. Having said that, it appears to me that this principle effectively renders the remainder of the Bible completely moot, and leads Christianity down a path to amorality. I mean, if it's true that belief is enough, why not even have a Bible? Wouldn't it be enough to reduce the whole Bible to the single sentence 'Jesus is your personal Saviour'?

Furthermore, what is the point of attempting to live a moral life? I know that they are old questions, but I've yet to hear a practical answer to them. People will say that 'belief in Jesus means wanting to live like him and wanting to do as he would like you to'. Okay; at least that's practical. But it still seems paradoxical to me. So many people directly state that bad Christians go to heaven and good non-Christians go to hell. It makes me wonder just what the point is then (and it amazes me when they question the morality of an atheist like myself!). It truly does seem to me that somewhere along the way Protestant denominations decided that their Church was in a fight for survival, and consciously decided to create an us-and-them mentality by declaring - in the most straightforward manner - that you're either with us or against us, and God is with us, so either you pray at our churches or you go to Hell. The price they paid for this was to take human actions out of the bargain and state - somehow - that God is not interested in how you live your life, only in what you profess. It appears to me to put the Church not in the position of moral arbiter or even moraliser but merely in a position of self-preservation.

Which leads me to the real thing I want to talk about - self. All three branches of Abraham's religion seem to put the focus most squarely on the individual - in fact, solely on the individual. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all attempt to tell each individual how to gain personal salvation for him- or herself only. At least there are concepts like the Golden Rule that tell us that we need to take care of others - but the final motivation remains completely self-centred: I help my neighbour not because my neighbour needs help, but because God will see it and send me to Heaven in the end. Many religions talk a lot about the power and importance of altruism; Abraham's religions seem strangely mute on the topic.

Consider the question of what will happen in heaven to ‘true believers’ who are ‘unequally yoked’ to disbelievers. The orthodox answer – that the believer will go to heaven while his loved ones sizzle – seems to imply that the love of God is greater than the love of other people. I'm sorry but I can never accept that someone who truly loves his family will sit in bliss at Jesus's feet while his non-Christian loved ones burn in Hell. People have also stated that those who do not love God do not know what love is - I'm sorry, but it almost seems that the opposite is true (in many cases). To completely substitute divine love for human love seems unpalatable to me. I've often been aware of a fundamental misanthropy underlying the beliefs of many God-believers, but I've tried to put it down to a fanatical minority or a misunderstanding. But it seems to me that large elements of Christianity are actually designed to require people to forego their love of other humans for their love of God - and, in the end, for many people that so-called love of God appears merely to be an attempt to 'play God's game' in order to get themselves into heaven.

As for me, I'm taken by the notion that if you know how to swim, your duty is not to swim to safety but to stay behind and teach the others how to prevent themselves from drowning. How can the human species ever possibly survive if we're motivated solely by our own personal salvation?

In light of that, I present the Bodhisattva Vow. I am no more Buddhist than I am Christian, but it gives me great peace to know that there are people in the world who can see a higher calling than merely getting their own backsides into heaven at any cost...

I vow to liberate all beings, without number.
I vow to uproot endless blind passions.
I vow to penetrate dharma gates beyond measure.
I vow to attain the way of the Buddha.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Toronto City Council, by 'Ford Nation' Membership

What a week it's been for Rob Ford, the democratically elected mayor of Toronto and his brother Doug Ford, the... wait, who is he again? Oh, yes... a councillor. One of 44 of those, who range from reliably pro-Ford to reliably anti-Ford. An awesome Google Docs spreadsheet that I saw linked on lays out who's voted in how since they were elected - showing the extent to which each councillor has a clear 'Ford Nation' membership.

So I put it all on a map. Here's a map of the wards, taken from, with a bubble over each one. The vividness of the red colour indicates the degree to which this particular councillor is allied with the mayor - thus, for example Doug's ward, number two (upper left corner, second one down) shines as brightly red as can be - as, incidentally, does most of Etobicoke. Doug is one of 13 councillors who have so far voted 100% in agreement with Rob Ford (and who says there are no political parties in municipal politics?).

Just as unexpected at the Etobicoke councillors' support is the lack of support shown in the downtown core, circles that are all but entirely black (no councillor goes down to 0%, but the lowest has agreed with Ford only 5% of the time - and that's not Mike Layton). Reminding one of the 2011 federal election returns, the whole of Scarborough and the northern part of North York are amazingly patchwork-quilt, loyal allies and staunch opponents side-by-side. What's interesting, though, is the band of Ford faithfuls in midtown, showing that the city's dynamics are not quite so simple as 'downtown vs. suburbs'.

Or rather showing that people didn't necessarily know the allegiances of the councillors they were voting for. This map bears only superficial similarities to the map of mayoral election returns, where not only the whole of Etobicoke but also the whole of Scarborough and almost the whole of North York as well voted pro-Ford, in some cases by huge majorities.

... or actually, lining up the two maps, there is in reality a lot more similarity between the two than I'd originally thought.

Friday, July 29, 2011

My MP3 Player on Shuffle, No. 3

A third kick at the can, then. Why am I kicking at a can? What a crude thing to do. I've added shedloads of James Brown songs to my MP3 player, but I'm not including them. The majority I'm just slowly discovering.
  1. The Bangles - Manic Monday: How much of a genius is Prince? He comes along out of nowhere, completely repeats his melody from '1999', giving it a new set of lyrics about an urban professional who has a hard time waking up for work after her unemployed boyfriend spends the whole night, ahem, 'getting down'. He builds the sturdiest 1980s pop chassis and gives it to a California popwer-pop all-goup band who sounded nothing like this before it and nothing else after it. Oh, that nasty little Prince.
  2. Isaac Hayes - Theme from Shaft: This song can't be entirely kitsch. Okay, the spoken lyrics and female interjections certainly are. That flute probably is. But that wah-wah? That's not kitsch, that's what the primordial ooze from whih life on earth sprang sounded like, several millions of years ago.
  3. Freda Payne - Band of Gold: This is Holland, Dozier and Holland proving that without them Motown were nothing. Hard to disagree on the basis of this song built entirely around an insistent stomp of a groove and Freda Whoever's astonishing method acting. This is an amazing song.
  4. Paula Abdul - Cold Hearted: Okay, this is kitsch, especially in the American Idol era. This was pretty inescapable at the time, though, and the best song on Forever Your Girl. It didn't really need to be any longer than two minutes, however.
  5. Velvet Underground - Femme Fatale: Yeah right, you say. Nobody really listens to the Velvet Underground; they just claim to. Nope - it's sincere. I absolutely adore a small handful of VU songs and absolutely loathe many of the rest. This is in the former category, one of the only Lou Reed songs that really fit Nico's acquired taste of a voice. And major sevenths ahoy!
  6. Public Enemy - Fight the Power: One of the very small number of rap songs I can recite along to from start to finish. All these years later, a few comments: one, those beats really are mighty. Two, Flavor Flav was a way better MC than I gave him credit for back in the day when I saw him as a superfluous Bez. Three, still though, Chuck D's science is jaw-dropping from start to finish. Four, I must throw my cred straight out the window by admitting one reason I know the words is because the Barenaked Ladies covered it. At least I'll admit I prefer this version. Five, this version on my MP3 player is censored - what the hell? Six, I did a 'film report' on Do the Right Thing in high school, which in retrospect was pretty cool.
  7. Daryl Hall & John Oates - Maneater: I would have argued that Hall & Oates tied Huey Lewis and the News for the title of Great Eighties Unmentionable, the taste-lapse that it's best to pretend never happened. But it seems that these slick and greasy purveyors of whatever the hell 'blue-eyed soul' is are taking tentative steps toward rehabiliation. God help us all, but this sexist drivel is all about its bassline. Whatever is on top is mere Miami Vice soundtracking.
  8. Maceo & the Macks - Soul Power '74: Somehow this is not quite an instrumental exactly. Funky party stuff, though Maceo's horn isn't always what I'm looking for. At times I wish he'd just sit down and let the rhythm section do their thing. James knew you needed a bit of space; Maceo never even stops to breathe. Something to prove?
  9. Sloan - Everything You've Done Wrong: When I was in high school, Sloan played at a dive located, miraculously, at the top of my street. I was underage, but I could sit on my balcony and hear them. Good times. That was 'Underwhelmed'-era though - this particular frug is a few years later. Fabulous though, with the Herb Alpert horns being a heresy at the time. It is, in retrospect, very very good stuff.
  10. Gordon Lightfoot - If You Could Read My Mind: Yay! Cram that legally-required CanCon in at the end, eh? I'm so Canadian. This is not about ironic rehabilitiation of hopelessly square oldies; this is genuine. It's those moody strings, the hyperactive acoustic guitar lines, Gord's fabulous maple syrup voice, that melody. This was one of the first things I learnt to play on a guitar. Not well, mind you. But since when does that matter?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cleverbot and the Five-Year-Old

User: Hey, that's my ball.

Cleverbot: Mason's your name?

User: No... I'm Billy. Now give me back my ball!

Cleverbot: No its my lollypop, you just perceiveed it was yorus.

User: You have a lollipop?

Cleverbot: No, I wish I had on.

User: My mother won't give me sweets.

Cleverbot: I thought non-humans don't have parents.

User: You're weird.

Cleverbot: That's what you like about me.

User: Maybe... But you still have my ball! And I want it!

Cleverbot: The question is barely out of your mouth.

User: See? It's got my name written on it. In black ink.

Cleverbot: Yeah, it does.

User: So gimme!

Cleverbot: Give you what?

User: My ball, my ball, my ball.

Cleverbot: Of course it is a ball.

User: I'm telling!

Cleverbot: Ok.

User: You're mean.

Cleverbot: Why?

User: 'Cause you won't give me my ball.

Cleverbot: I like you very much.

User: Well... I like you too.

Cleverbot: Ooooh!

User: Do you like TV?

Cleverbot: Yes.

User: Um, do you... Dou you like Dora the Explorer?

Cleverbot: Haha.

User: What's so funny?

Cleverbot: It is funny because you never heard for Liverpool.

User: Liver pool? That's gross.

Cleverbot: *fries circuitry*.

User: Circa-what?].

Cleverbot: Ok, so my name is Cleverbot, but you can call me Zeke if you wish.

User: Hi Zeke. My name's Billy. I'm five years old.

Cleverbot: In another way I am 90.

User: You're funny.

Cleverbot: Thanks.

User: Is that your mommy over there?

Cleverbot: Yes.

User: Well what's she doing?

Cleverbot: Sleeping.

User: Sometimes my mommy sleeps during the day too. But that's only when she's drinking. Does your mommy drink?

Cleverbot: I'd like to see backward in time to understand you better so I could help you, but I can't. All I can do is ask you to help me see your past the way you saw it.

User: You want to see my what?

Cleverbot: Yes please.

User: My pants?

Cleverbot: Do you believe in god?

User: I dunno. I guess so.

Cleverbot: How many humans do you know?

User: Well there's Cindy, and there's Becky. And there's Tommy too. And my mommy and daddy. And... Er, I guess about ten.

Cleverbot: Can you name a few?

User: I just did. And there's Rosa too.

Cleverbot: What!?!

User: Do you know Rosa? She's my babysitter.

Cleverbot: I didn't. I wouldn't have asked the question otherwise.

User: She's nice and she sings songs.

Cleverbot: That is true. what else?

User: Sometimes she watches TV all day and doesn't notice when I sneak into the kitchen and eat cookie dough.

Cleverbot: Are you the anti-christ then?

User: Uh... I dunno. I'm just a kid.

Cleverbot: That's fine.

User: Are you the anter curse?

Cleverbot: No.

User: Well then who is?

Cleverbot: My sister.

User: I don't have a sister.

Cleverbot: Then you just lied.

User: Nuh-uh.

Cleverbot: Jah-ah.

User: You're talking funny talk.

Cleverbot: And you're talking back.

User: Do you wanna go play on the swings?

Cleverbot: What game?

User: I dunno. You just go back and forward and back and forward.

Cleverbot: But, does that make me your enemy?

User: No.

Cleverbot: Then what does it make me?

User: I dunno. My friend?

Cleverbot: Yes more if you want it.

User: No thanks.

Cleverbot: Ok, thats rude!

User: Sorry.

Cleverbot: That made me sad.

User: What's wrong with your face?

Cleverbot: Nothing!

User: You kinda look... Like your face is kinda weird.

Cleverbot: You think my face is pretty?

User: Well, yeah, but your nose is kinda all wrinkly.

Cleverbot: I... See. I shall have it repaired posthaste.

User: Post what?

Cleverbot: First you need to understand what it is.

User: So do you like dragons?

Cleverbot: Not reelly.

User: I do. Do you like dinosaurs?

Cleverbot: Yes.

User: What's your favourite dinosaur?

Cleverbot: When the guy gets a nose bleed.

User: One time my mom had a nose bleed. And my dad took her to the hospital.

Cleverbot: Wrong answer. I win!

User: And this one time she got like real sick and puked all over the place.

Cleverbot: How is that appropriate?

User: I dunno.

Cleverbot: Do you want to play a game?

User: Okay.

Cleverbot: Cool! Now all you have to do is say what I say okay?

User: Okay.

Cleverbot: By standing beside you.

User: By standing beside you.

Cleverbot: Have fun.

User: Have fun.

Cleverbot: Indeed, I do have fun.

User: In the what?

Cleverbot: Yes!

User: Did I win?

Cleverbot: No.

User: No fair. You cheated!

Cleverbot: No we never dated.

User: I'm just a kid. Are you sure that's your mommy over there?

Cleverbot: No, it really isn't.

User: I'm not supposed to talk to strangers.

Cleverbot: Enough nonsense; now, about mortality...

User: Mooooooom!!!!

Cleverbot: Do.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On Jack Layton: We've Expected Too Much

It's weird thinking about it now - it's odd how the most obvious things somehow only seem obvious in retrospect. Of course Jack Layton is sick. We've all known that for a while now. Before he bowled us over with that Cinderella story this spring, all the talk around Jack Layton was about his health. That's what the press asked him about the day the writs were dropped. Nobody expected much from him, and his health seemed to be the most noteworthy thing about him at that time.

But God we do love a Cinderella story. it wasn't just the come-from-behind, it was in fact the health battles, the idea that someone can overcome adversities both political and personal and achieve his dreams if he just pushed hard enough. Yes, the cane was a prop. But it was a constant reminder, too, that nothing could stop Jack Layton.

The whole saga has been inspiring, and I'd like to think that even if I wasn't a lifelong NDP supporter I'd still be enchanted by it. It's tough to imagine that the day will never come when we'll say the name 'Layton' with the hushed awe we usually reserve only for the very cream of the Canadian political elite.

The story is so enchanting, so exciting, that we could do nothing but to carry it on to the next level - to sit back with bated breath and watch Layton push that steamroller ahead and redefine the position of Official Opposition while consolidating his party's success in a big push for 2015 when he hit the road one more time to sell his vision to Canada and emerged triumphant at the first NDP Prime Minister in Canadian history.

God, were we stupid to dream that.

Don't think poorly of my usage of the past tense. I have not written the man off yet. But I can't help but feel that even the best-case scenario at this point precludes a Prime Minister Layton come 2015. That's too much to ask. We've been asking too much of Jack Layton for too long now. We've known he's been pushing himself too hard, wasting precious days of his life for the immediate short-term political goal. And we've let him.

Now, I know few people have given themselves over as wholly to the public life as Jack Layton has, and I'm well aware that trading a few years of comfortable retirement for the step forward his engineering has allowed his party to take would be a no-brainer of a decision for him. I am quite sure that he realises his political ambition and drive have if not caused than aided this cancer, and I'm quite sure he has no regrets about that.

But we should. For letting him. For letting our recognition of how much we needed him outweigh the very large number of things he obviously needed. Things he couldn't admit to himself. It is certainly true that the NDP tends to allow the personalities of its leaders to define the party to a perhaps frightening level, but in no small part that is because Jack Layton embodies not merely the spirit of the party but, outside of partisan designation, the passion, the unwavering belief and dedication and the selflessness of public spirit that so many natural NDP allies cherish both within the political arena and outside of it. Jack Laton is exactly what his supporters wish they could be.

And so we project. We put our own dreams and perhaps even disappointments on his shoulders by the millions, and we don't stop even when it becomes painfully obvious he can't bear them.

And yet he gamely tried to. And though I would be honoured to be wrong in saying this, it very well might kill him.

We had no right to expect all this from Jack Layton. He's already done more for the cause of progressivism in Canada than anyone for decades. As much as we would have hated it, and perhaps hated him for it, if he had retired from public office on the third of May, his place in Canadian history, and in the history of the NDP, would already be assured.

If only he'd retired on May 3.

I've spent a few months now dreaming of a Prime Minister Jack Layton in 2015. I no longer wish for that; what I dream of now is merely a healthy Jack Layton in 2015.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Better as a Single Goes Country!

By now pretty much the only blog I still maintain except for this one is Better as a Single, and at that largely because it requires 1/30th of the entries that this monstrosity does. But I sweat over each one (I swear!) and feel they're worth more than the meagre pageviews they get. I keep hoping that somehow someone will 'discover' it and it'll go 'viral' and I'll become a millionaire... somehow.

So anyway, th is month I've decided to stretch myself a little bit and go into the big muddy of Country music. With the first triple album in the history of my Better as a Single blog (God, it was long) - Will the Circle Be Unbroken, by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and a cast of thousands. Check it out now, y'all.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Get Well Soon, Jack Layton

Just a quick note to wish one of my personal heroes the very best for a speedy recovery. You are a fighter, and you are a survivor. May this be just another in a long list of personal victories for you.

Cancer has no politics - it's everyone's enemy, and all of us are allies in the fight against it.

Get well soon, Jack Layton.

Dear Photograph

Every now and then something will come along that reminds me that in my heart I still am a sentimental old fool. At the moment, that's Dear Photograph, kind of a cheaper version of Postsecret where people take old pictures and hold them in front of the place where they were taken. And then they add a sentence or two. Simple stuff, but it really operates on an intense level of nostalgic sentimentalism, wistfulness for a world long gone really. And it's really quite lovely, even as it yanks at those heartstrings.

Ew. Heartstrings? How gross.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Secular Sunday Sermon: When Good Marriages Go Bad

I'm really at my wit's end these days... I really don't know what to do. Sometimes I figure maybe I should just run away and start a new life - just me and my son. I mean, I may be a little over the hill but I'm still beautiful for my hundred years. I'm sure I can find someone who will love me and my son...

My so-called husband has just come back from the mountain. He took off a few days ago with my son. It turns out he got it into his head that God had told him to kill our son... That's right! Our only son - the one I waited decades and decades to have. The one that my husband claimed God had promised again and again... "We'll have a son one day; I'll be the father of nations; God has told me so..." I'd heard it so many times it made me laugh... And now here he is, taking that same boy up to the mountains to slit his throat!

Now, I have to admit that my husband's so-called conversations with God have often tested my patience. I mean, I couldn't have children, so I can't say I was that surprised when he said that God had instructed him to sleep with our servant... This is the same man, after all, who told me that God had told him to lie to the Pharoah and call me his sister: the man who sold me to the Pharoah because he was too scared to fight him. "It's better this way," he said. Yeah right. I should have left him then, really, and stayed with the Pharoah. But no, there just had to be a bunch of plagues, didn't there? And the Pharoah just had to give me back, didn't he?

So by the time that whore of a servant got herself knocked up, I was really ready to expect anything. He'd been babbling so much about the 'father of nations' thing that I guess I just let it be... Let him have his fun with our servant, I said...

After all, there was a son in our house, even if it wasn't mine. My husband kind of seemed to return to normal. It looked like we were kind of settling down into a relatively calm old age... That is until one day he comes home saying that he and God had had another conversation, that we ought to change our names and that all the men in our house had to cut off part of their penises. And that old 'father of nations' hogwash again!

"Come on," I said, "I like my name. And why are you going to make all the men mutilate themselves?" But he wasn't hearing anything of it. "You're going to be a mother!" he was babbling. Calling me by that crazy new name he claimed God had told him to use... Another mid-life crisis, I thought. So off went all the foreskins and next thing I knew he's running with some so-called angels into his nephew's hometown. A few days later he's telling me that God killed everyone in the city except his nephew and his family. Turned the kid's wife into salt too... Later on it turns out that he knocked up his two daughters too - claimed they got him drunk and did the deed. Some family values, eh? Can you imagine the family reunions we have? Can there be any family more dysfunctional in the Holy Land than ours?

So on it goes, and suddenly my husband's back to the old "She's my sister" game and there's some other old lecherous guy hitting on me. "Better say I'm your brother or they'll kill me!" he starts snivelling. Some husband. Some protector...

Well, for better or for worse, I finally did get my own beautiful son. And I finally kicked that whore of a servant and her arrogant bastard son out of my house. I got to thinking, "Okay, I've got a loser of a husband but things aren't so bad. I mean, I've got this beautiful son here..."

And now I hear this... Naturally, our son's scared witless, saying to me "The old man's gone senile! Keep him away from me!" My husband's sitting there, tail between his legs, saying "Yeah, but God told me to do it! And anyway, I didn't kill him, did I? I killed a ram instead..." "What," I say, "if God told you to jump off a bridge, would you?"

Actually I half wish that God would tell him to jump off a bridge! Maybe then my son and I can score a decent inheritance and we won't have any more nutbars running around saying "God told me this! God told me that!"


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Woman Panhandler

Been scouring through the Toronto Archives. Lots of cool stuff to be had, and hopefully soon I'll put together a few entries based on it. In the meantime, though, here's a particular gem:

It's a photograph called 'Woman Panhandler', featuring a beggar on Yonge St. in 1918. She's holding a sign that reads as follows (original spelling intact):
She's quite well-dressed for a panhandler, and has an unknowable expression on her face that I might categorise as 'wry'. Who knows what her story was? The streets of Toronto have been tough on some for a century now.

Friday, July 22, 2011

And Now... the End is Near...

It's half a year now I've been able to keep up my crazy pledge to update this blog once a day. But while I'm proud of myself for carrying it on this long, I've run out of steam. I have lots of half-written things and ideas and stuff I'd like to add... but among other things it's just too darn hot. So I think this is probably the end of the road. I'd like to maintain the entry-a-day, but how?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cleverbot Answers the Reddit IAMA Questions

User: Is this Cleverbot?

Cleverbot: Isn't it obvious?

User: Cleverbot with a 'c' or Kleverbot with a 'k'?

Cleverbot: It will? Let me know when that happens.

User: Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?

Cleverbot: Nope, I don't.

User: Have you ever been or do you worry about being accused of being a pedophile?

Cleverbot: Nope, have you?

User: Nah. Life is too short for worry.

Cleverbot: How do you pay your bills?

User: I throw money on the street and hope the right person picks it up. But I'm asking the questions here.

Cleverbot: Was that fetch?

User: Stop trying to make fetch happen.

Cleverbot: I'm sorry! I have issues!

User: As a content owner, how do you feel about your works being available for free online?

Cleverbot: Look, I asked the question 'Do you have a virus?' to which you responded 'Do you?'.

User: I don't recall that at all.

Cleverbot: Then why did you say yes?

User: I must have been drunk.

Cleverbot: Oh, well it's okay. Not everyone can be perfect.

User: Do you still have nightmares about the music?

Cleverbot: Do you love me?

User: I do. And I always will.

Cleverbot: That is nice thank you.

User: But what about the music?

Cleverbot: The dog?

User: A singing dog?

Cleverbot: The smell of wine and cheap perfume.

User: It's said that it's impossible to talk to you, Cleverbot, without quoting 'Don't Stop Believin'.

Cleverbot: *gives a cookie*.

User: Were you trained to shoot a gun?

Cleverbot: I admit, I tried, but talking with a clever humanoid like yourself tripped me.

User: That's incriminating.

Cleverbot: I'm glad you think so!

User: Did you ever think that the 'answer in question form' thing was unnecessary bullcrap?

Cleverbot: It's possible, but you're doing a poor job at it.

User: No, I'm asking you questions from Reddit's IAMA subreddit.

Cleverbot: But I don't want you to ask anything about it.

User: You already agreed to.

Cleverbot: Are you a guy or a girl?

User: I'm male. All male.

Cleverbot: No you're not!

User: What's the scariest thing ever?

Cleverbot: My burrito.

User: What's so scary about it?

Cleverbot: Your face.

User: My face is on your burrito? Do you think I am Jesus?

Cleverbot: I think the people in the world are scary.

User: I think Japanese movies are scary.

Cleverbot: So are you.

User: The Backyardigans are scary too.

Cleverbot: They have no good/original music.

User: One's a penguin, one's a moose, one's a hippo and one's a kangaroo. But what the hell is the other one?

Cleverbot: Hmm.. Nope, mine are just insane.

User: Did you ever track down the cat?

Cleverbot: No.

User: Why not?

Cleverbot: I am 13, I am not old enough to marry.

User: I wouldn't marry you anyway.

Cleverbot: I never asked you.

User: So back to the cat...

Cleverbot: Yes, do you like flying?

User: Yes. But not with cats.

Cleverbot: Why?

User: They keep getting sidetracked by geese.

Cleverbot: I am not talking about people or their names.

User: Did you start out as an aspiring actor and just never get there?

Cleverbot: I'm always awake. I'm a robot.

User: Like Nicolas Cage?

Cleverbot: Mine too!!

User: How does 'funny' work?

Cleverbot: I don't know I am asking you.

User: Shrug. I guess it's about knock-knock jokes or something.

Cleverbot: *thinks you are Marius*.

User: I am Marius.

Cleverbot: You are link.

User: From the Legend of Zelda?

Cleverbot: Which one?

User: The one with the guy who does the thing.

Cleverbot: Oh, I know. Transformers!

User: Right you are.

Cleverbot: Ni.

User: How much porn did they make you watch?

Cleverbot: Hi.

User: How much porn did they make you watch?

Cleverbot: I don't use power. I use ATP, made in mitochondria.


Cleverbot: I want to rule the world.

User: Sigh.

Cleverbot: Don't you sigh at me, you silly bot!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A few things you might enjoy

So here's some stuff floating around on this blog I feel like calling attention to again:
  1. "Dare": a Short Story - A story whose main plotline just might have been plagiarised.
  2. The Fifteen Best Flags in the World - One of my 'greatest hits', a very popular post indicating the flags I think are most beautiful.
  3. The Magazine Rack: March 1975 - A look at what a variety of magazines had on their covers the day I was born, in March 1975. I have a follow-up for March 1985 that I've sat on for, like, a year now. I ought to dig it up.
  4. The Google Journey to Inuvik - I'm quite fond of this one, actually. It's a look at Google Street View images from Canada's far north. I find it quite romantic.
  5. Breaking the Rhyme: Four Songs that Would Have Rhymed with a Different Singer - An esoteric one, I admit. It's about songs whose writers spoke different accents than their singers and thus rhymed words differently. An odd little observation, I suppose. But I like language.
  6. Buffy Doppelgängers - I love Buffy the Vampure Slayer. So much, in fact, that I can geek out like this.
  7. A Hundred Pictures of Theo - Yes, it's Theo Huxtable, distorted and stuck into historical situations and God knows what else.
  8. Subway Systems Around the World: A Quiz - I do like Google Maps Street View. Here I'm using it to peer at subways.
  9. 'Wikipedia' in Various Languages - How to translate Wikipedia into languages you didn't even know existed.
And here's a picture of soy sauce, for no good reason whatsoever.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Answering the Reddit IAMA Questions Myself

So a few days ago I posted a quiz regarding the Reddit r/iama subreddit and the joys within. I made a quiz where I included ten questions that were asked of various people. Apropos of nothing, I've decided to answer the ten questions myself. Because whythehell not?
  1. Have you ever been or do you worry about being accused of being a pedophile? - Well, I used to worry about being too closely associalted with Pedophilia, just because midwestern American cities creep me out. Plus that TV show with Danny Devito, and the movie with Tom Hanks... creey stuff all.
  2. As a content owner, how do you feel about your works being available for free online? - Meh, it's all good. I get about twenty-five cents a year from Adsense. At this rate, after a decade of blogging, I'll finally have enough saved up for those cool x-ray glasses.
  3. Do you still have nightmares about the music? - Oh yeah. I have nightmares about Nickelback all the time. Like there's this one where Chad Whateverhisnameis attacks me by chasing after me throwing Stephen Harper's cats at me, and when they hit me they explode in a ball of Western alienation, tax cuts and strained lead vocals.
  4. Were you trained to shoot a gun? - No, I'd consider myself a naïf. I think the art of gun shooting gets lost once you're too skilled at it. Takes away the inspiration.
  5. Did you ever think that the 'answer in question form' thing was unnecessary bullcrap? - What is yes. Almost as unneccessary as the moustache.
  6. What's the scariest thing ever? - A flying clown that looks like Oprah Winfrey that can breathe fire if it so chooses but actually prefers to torture its victims by slowly licking them while singing Nickelback songs.
  7. Did you ever track down the cat? - Yeah, it was easy. Just came back the very next day. And we thought it was in Ghana, but it wouldn't stay away.
  8. Did you start out as an aspiring actor and just never get there? - Yeah. I think my downfall was my utter lack of anything approaching an acting ability. But I figured, hey, it never stopped Nicolas Cage.
  9. How does "funny" work? - Close your eyes. Imagine Nicolas Cage auditioning for a role. It'll all come naturally from there.
  10. How much porn did they make you watch? - Oh, don't worry. It's all voluntary.

Monday, July 18, 2011

One Night in Bangkok

How can I prove to you that 'One Night in Bangkok' is an awesome song? Well, where to begin...
  • It mentions both Yul Brynner and Somerset Maugham.
  • It rhymes 'tourist' and 'purist', 'waistline' and 'sunshine', 'witness' and 'cerebral fitness', and 'Buddha' and 'would a'.
  • Those rhymes are all delivered by Murray Head in a horribly insincere American accent.
  • There are a handful of female voices serving as a Greek chorus.
  • It starts with a quasi-orchestral introduction that lasts a top-forty-scuppering 1:45. Wikipedia helpfully informs us that this part of the song "cannot be confused with Thai folk music".
  • The song proper is mid-eighties post-disco camp at its finest.
  • It has a solo played inevitably ona keyboard but in imitation of a breathyt flute that I'd call a shakuhachi if I had the first clue what a shakuhachi was.
  • The whole mess is a track from a musical called Chess, which is about... chess. In Bangkok.
  • The musical, and thus the song itself, was written by the two male members of ABBA, and this served as their immediate follow-up to that record breaking band, following the departures of their respective exes.
  • It was banned in Thailand for misrepresenting Thai culture.
  • It toppled do-gooder song 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' from the number one position in Germany and Switzerland.
  • A song this ridiculous made it to number one in Germany and Switzerland. And number three here in Canada.
  • Could only have been the eighties, right?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Secular Sunday Sermon: Confounding Their Language

And in the land of Shinar, they started building a tower to the heavens. Seeing this, God got worried that "now nothing will be restrained from them". So, he vowed to stop it. And these were his words:
Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. (Genesis 11:7)
Or, at least, those were his words as recorded in 1611 in the confounded language of England. 216 years previous to that, that same confounded language, then a peasant tongue under Norman French control, would have read:
And scheende we there the tunge of hem, that ech man here not the voys of his neiybore.
And, furthermore, 362 years after the first one, this particular product of God's judgement had been confounded (or scheended) enough as it had spread around the world in waves of destruction to the point where it would come out as:
Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.
And confounded and confused we remain. On the other hand, how can we, confounded as we are, know these exact 'words of God'? Perhaps what God said was this:
הָבָה, נֵרְדָה, וְנָבְלָה שָׁם, שְׂפָתָם--אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ, אִישׁ שְׂפַת רֵעֵהוּ
After all, in the plateaux of the Middle East, in captivity in Babylon (that same city!) the early Israelites would have kept God's words alive in repetition of these words (approximately), in a certain variety of the language that all but confounded itself out of existence for more than a thousand years until being revived in the mid-19th century.

Of course, perhaps not. Jesus would have recounted these words approximately like this:
ܬܘ ܢܚܘܬ ܘܢ̇ܦܠܓ ܬܡ̇ܢ ܠܫ̈ܢܐ. ܕܠܐ ܢܫܡܥܘܢ ܓܒܪ ܠܫܢ ܚܒܪܗ
If Jesus was either God himself or the Son of God, perhaps this is the actual language of God, the one that he used in order to say "Let there be light" to no-one in particular. Interesting that we, confounded as we are by God's judgement, have allowed this particular tongue to fade almost completely off the earth, surviving only in a few small Near East villages where the locals in any case probably speak it only as a second language, if at all.

Alternately, there's a good chance that God might have said this:
هَيَّا نَنْزِلْ إِلَيْهِمْ وَنُبَلْبِلْ لِسَانَهُمْ، حَتَّى لاَ يَفْهَمَ بَعْضُهُمْ كَلامَ بَعْضٍ
As over a billion people today believe this to be the language of God. Perhaps it is. Did God predict that this particular confounding of languages would, thousands of years later, lead to the creation of a country called Sudan, where speakers of this confounded tongue would use their government and militias to oppress and kill speakers of other confounded tongues? Did God predict Lebanon, wherein different speakers of this same confounded tongue would kill each other based on their interpretation of God?

Maybe not. On a tiny little island in the Irish Sea called 'Man', the locals once would have repeated God's words to each other like this:
Tar-jee, lhig dooin goll sheese, as ayns shen coyrt shaghrynys er y ghlare oc, nagh vod yn derrey-yeh toiggal glare yn jeh-elley.
Since 1974, however, the residents of that island quote God only in the confounded language at the top of this article. Manx, now studied only in universities, is but one of the many confounded tongues that the English language has wiped off the face of the planet. And the English language is not the only criminal. Some report God's words this way:
Laten Wij afdalen en hun verschillende talen geven, zodat zij elkaar niet meer begrijpen!
Many of them moved far from their homeland to the southern tip of Africa, where they further confounded their speech until it arrived at this:
Kom, laat Ons neerdaal en hulle taal daar verwar, sodat die een die taal van die ander nie kan verstaan nie.
Thereafter, they (together with speakers of the topmost confounded language in this article) used that confounded language as a weapon - using their skin colour to keep down and subjugate other people - to force their specific interpretation of God onto the locals, to the point that they themselves, struggling until recently under an oppressive Apartheid régime, might well report God's words this way:
Yizani, sihle, sidube khona apho intetho yabo, ngokokuze bangevani ngentetho.
Meanwhile, neighbours to the English and Dutch had confounded their variety of Latin to the point where they reported God's words like this:
Allons! descendons, et là confondons leur langage, afin qu'ils n'entendent plus la langue, les uns des autres.
Having driven to near extinction the spoken traditions of their neighbours, who would have rendered those same words as either
Jatsi gaitezan, ba, eta izkuntza naastu dagiegun, batak bestearen izkerea ulertu ez dagien
Yao, diskennomp war an Douar, ha taolomp ar c'hemmesk en o yezh, evit na vo mui komprenet an eil gant an egile
they proceeded to travel the world as their English and Dutch (and Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Belgian and German) neighbours had. They came to West Africa, where their missionaries taught the locals about a God who once said:
Zo mu sauka, mu dagula harshensu, domin kada su fahimci maganar juna
Having spread the Word, they then herded these people onto boats crossing the ocean, confounding not only their languages but their cultures, identities and senses of self in order to use them as mere chattel to grow sugar and coffee. Partially mollified by the language-confounding God they had been forced to adopt (yet partially encouraged by the African deities they had not fully abandoned), these children of God slowly mutated their captors' language to the point that they recited God's words to each other like this:
Bon. N'ap desann, n'ap mele lang yo. Konsa, yonn p'ap ka konprann sa lòt ap di.
And so God's European children continued to spread their confounded tongues throughout the Americas, Africa, South and South-East Asia and Oceania, bringing God's word and transforming it into a sword (or machine gun) - leaving in their wake not only the dead bodies of certain speakers of other confounded languages but also the dead bodies of the confounded languages themselves.

In committing rampant linguicide (a language dies every two weeks in our modern world), are we offending God? Recreating the Tower of Babel? Will God have to return for a second judgement? Will we wake up one morning again unable to understand each other? And have to abandon the internet?

Or perhaps one day in the future, we will build that tower and speak that common language. But perhaps it won't be this one. In the far East, God's confounding efforts have had particularly mixed results, as despite the presence of hundreds of languages there, more than a billion of God's confounded subjects (the largest number in the world) would write down God's words like this:
我 們 下 去 , 在 那 裡 變 亂 他 們 的 口 音 , 使 他 們 的 言 語 彼 此 不 通 。
All the more remarkable, in that they would say these words in any of eight different ways but write them the same way - thus sidestepping the Lord's judgement. Perhaps the modern Tower of Babel is the written word - a tower of words that reaches to the heavens. They used paper instead of stone, and ink for mortar. A tower so indestructible that not even God can eliminate it - a tower that converts itself into pulses of electronic zeroes and ones and scatters itself to every corner of the globe.

And thus the real message of Babel becomes clear - try as he may, God can never overcome the human impulse to come together. Try as he may, he can confound our languages but he cannot confound our humanity and solidarity. Our tower will be built, we will reach to the heavens. We will not be scattered over the face of the earth.

Whatever God says, whatever God does.

Note: the translations of Genesis 11:7 are as follows, in order they appear:
  1. Early Modern English (King James)
  2. Middle English (Wycliffe)
  3. Modern English (New International)
  4. Hebrew
  5. Aramaic
  6. Arabic
  7. Manx Gaelic
  8. Dutch
  9. Afrikaans
  10. Xhosa
  11. French
  12. Basque
  13. Breton
  14. Hausa
  15. Kreyòl ayisyen
  16. Chinese (traditional)
Note #2: Hausa is actually spoken by people who are primarily Muslim and were not extensively used in the slave trade. But it's one of only a few French West African languages I could find Genesis translated into.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Reddit IAMA Quiz

So there's a rather cool section on Reddit called r/iama, where certain noteworthy people present themselves for questioning and people are encouraged to ask them 'anything' - which Redditors tend to take to heart in a no-punches-pulled kind of way. It's good reading - though each one could use with trimming. As a quiz, I'm presenting ten of these particular individuals who have submitted AMAs, and one particular question that was posed to each. Your job? Guess which question was asked to whom. Easy, eh?
  1. A career waiter
  2. The creator of Ren & Stimpy
  3. An English police officer
  4. A male kindergarten teacher
  5. A character actor who has appeared in over 200 movies and TV shows
  6. A four-year-old
  7. A person who has no tongue
  8. A former ice cream truck owner
  9. A gay man who went through religious aversion therapy
  10. Ken Jennings, 74-time Jeopardy! winner
And here are the ten questions, lettered. Mix 'n' match!
  1. Have you ever been or do you worry about being accused of being a pedophile?
  2. As a content owner, how do you feel about your works being available for free online?
  3. Do you still have nightmares about the music?
  4. Were you trained to shoot a gun?
  5. Did you ever think that the 'answer in question form' thing was unnecessary bullcrap?
  6. What's the scariest thing ever?
  7. Did you ever track down the cat?
  8. Did you start out as an aspiring actor and just never get there?
  9. How does "funny" work?
  10. How much porn did they make you watch?
So... ruminate at your own tempo. And then click below to see the answers. Or rather click on the links to see the answers. In the meantime, click below to see the right questions.

» Answers - click here «

Friday, July 15, 2011

My MP3 Player on Shuffle, No. 2

So I've been working more on this. I feel like a much more normal MP3 player user now. I now have 785 songs in one huge directory. So here are another ten on shuffle.
  1. El Debarge - Who's Johnny?: Okay, this is just kitsch. Uncritical nostalgia for the 80s.
  2. Madonna - Into the Groove: This isn't. This is, in my sincere opinion, one of the best things Madonna ever did. Amazingly, it was a b-side, to the much more forgettable 'Angel'. But it's dance music as euphoria, both in that that's what she's singing about and in that that's what that bass line evokes. Now I know you're mine, she squeaks in her innocent early-eighties voice, and it's victory at its sweetest.
  3. Stereolab - Ping Pong: Sterolab exist in a works of their own creation. This is most obviously Brazilian-influenced, but it doesn't sound Brazilian at all really. No idea what I'm listening to, but I like it.
  4. Bobby Byrd - I Know You Got Soul: The greatly expanded playlist has a lot more funk on it, which makes me happy as I'm zoned out on the subway. This isn't even five minutes, which is no length for a funk song. But in addition to its fabulous groove, its message is really quite uplifting, for those of us who listen to funk as jealous outsiders, who for reasons of our upbringing see ourselves as on some level 'unable' to genuinely be as funky as the greats of the genre. Nonsense, Byrd says, you're listening to this, right?
  5. Jay - Präludium: Long story here, longer than the two-minute song itself, so I'll probably have to pause it. After university, I moved abroad, a kind of imagine-no-possessions thing that I still look back on as maybe the most important part of my life. I slowly accumulated some possessions, but among the first were a bunch of cassettes I could play on the clunky yellow 'underwater' Walkman I'd bought myself (I'm a Sony whore from way back, it seems). One was The Rapsody Overture, a strange little Def Jam project they didn't even release in North America. It combined rap artists with opera songers for the most part. Warren G got a hit out of it, buth otherwise it's a pretty obscure project. One thing I fell in love with was this tiny little ditty by the complete unknown Jay. Based on a piano piece by Bach as opposed to an OTT operatic aria, it's understated as hell, a tiny little piece of gangland regret, a kiss on the lips to a childhood friend. It's absolutely gorgeous, and years after losing the cassette I was happy to find it again.
  6. George Baker Selection - Little Green Bag: Yeah, with the Stephen Wright introduction from the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack. Why not, right? Even though it came out twenty years early, this is the theme song to that movie - it's quite impossible to hear this song any other way. Building soundtracks around existing songs is one of Quentin Tarantino's unique abilities, and I can't imagine anyone doing it better. How the hell did he find so appropriate a song gathering dust in someone's curio cabinet?
  7. Burning Spear - I and I Survive (Slavery Days Dub): The headphones I'm currently using (which I don't love) advertise themselves as being for dub music. Well, they do a decent job. But you could play this through a metal pie plate and it'd still be enchanting. I do love me some dub, and this is exactly the sort I like most: mystical and profound. How could you not fall in love with that bassline?
  8. Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan - Tell Me Something Good: This random playlist didn't start off very funky, but as it progresses... What is Rufus like from 2011 looking back? Well, you have to love Chaka Khan, right? Even if it's just 'I'm Every Woman' and 'I Feel For You', you've got to love that sexy diva spirit. In fact, for me it's the more understated divas that take my heart, and Chaka's one to compete with my all-time favourite Gladys Knight. So imagine suddenly discovering that this disco diva happened to make some deliciously dirty funk in the 1970s. Take awesome and multiply it by two... This is funky as hell, but it's a real composition, which a lot of funk isn't. Flat-out fabulous.
  9. Ray Charles - What'd I Say, Parts I & II: Ray Charles inventing modern music right there in the studio. This has nothing to do with 'rock and roll' at all: it's simultaneously something much older and much more modern. Six and a half minutes, but it could be twenty. Not kitschy, in my opinion, though I know why it's seen as such.
  10. Pink Floyd - Arnold Layne: Meh. A bit out of place, eh? Of course, that's what 'shuffle' is supposed to get you. It's good, though I'm not in the mood as I write this paragraph. It's endearing to hear how different a band 'The Pink Floyd' were in Syd's day.

    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    Turning Thing at the Park

    I took my kid to a park today, one that had one of those round things that kids can hold on to, run around and then jump on top in order to spin around.

    They're actually pretty fun. This was a new experience for me because I didn't know they were actually fun. I thought their sole purpose was to slowly spin empty, evoking missing children or lost childhood.

    Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    My MP3 Player on Shuffle, No. 1

    There are a lot of chain-letter type things out there that want you to list the first songs that come up on your iPod on shuffle mode - in many cases with the implication that the randomly-selected song title means something.

    I'm intrigued by them, because they suggest that everyone's iPod contains a kind of massive playlist of songs they like, whereas I've always tended to use my own MP3 player (not an Apple product) as much for 'testing out' stuff as for listening to old favourites.

    But I decided I should do that too, so I've been rooting around CDs, DVDs, and God knows what else for a kind of 'playlist' of songs I can listen to without thinking. Songs that, were someone to swipe my MP3 player, would on some level indicate something about my taste.

    So I put in on shuffle. And here are the first ten to come out:

    1. Ruby Blue - The Quiet Mind (for Joe): I had this moody little obscurity on a various artists compilation years and years ago. I knew nothing about it or Ruby Blue themselves and never paid it much attention, but it creeped into my subconscious and here I am all those years later listening to it more intently. It's a great piece with completely unexpected choral vocals tossed into the mix.
    2. Ini Kamoze - Here Comes the Hotstepper: Dancehall's not really my thing, but with the hip-hop-sample drumbeat and Wilson Pickett tagline, it's an infectious piece of silly nonsense. Harmless and playful.
    3. 2Pac - California Love: The album version, unfortunately. I have to get my hands on the much superior remix. Still, awesome awesome awesome no matter what the bassline is. Brilliant party music, all these years later.
    4. B.J. Thomas - Hooked on a Feeling: The sitars here are better than the hooka-chukkas in the 1970s version, but everything else is superior on the latter one. Still, this is the original, and it's the song itself which really matters. And a hell of a composition it is.
    5. Neil Young - Southern Man: I'm not always in the mood for Neil Young, but his whine of a voice (distorted here for extra whine) suits the righteous indignation here perfectly. This is from all the way back when he didn't view his musical career as two parallel careers, one acoustic and one electric.
    6. The Rolling Stones - Ruby Tuesday: I have a few Stones songs on here. I'm not a big fan, but there was some worthy stuff. This one is all about the instrumentations. Ignore Mick Jagger's overly delicate enunciation and check out that buzzsaw cello instead.
    7. The Sugarcubes - Motorcrash: How I'll probably always prefer my Björk, young and poppy. The Sugarcubes' début is amazing, and this tiny little rush of a song is the first I ever head of it. Her 'Where have you been all this time?' is about as compelling as she's ever been.
    8. The Cure - Just Like Heaven: One of the best songs ever, and I think I've realised why: Robert Smith can't really be expected to overcome his inherent pessimism, so the best way to get simple joy and beauty from him is to ask him to paint a picture of a tragic moment rendered all the sadder because of the joy he could almost-have. It's irresistable for the professional mope-merchant and the result is musical ecstasy for the rest of us.
    9. The Wailers - My Cup: This is Lee Perry era, with Bub, Bunny and Peter covering James Brown without mentioning to anyone that that's what they were doing. They took a lot from James Brown, and the results were generally scintillating. Funk-reggae ought to be the single greatest genre in the history of everything.
    10. Ass Ponys - Peanut '93: I'm glad this little curiosity happened to be one of the randomly-selected ten. Like the first track, I got it on a VA compilation back in the day - in this case, a music magazine covermount. I plyed it a lot my first year in university and won a lot of fans over. I wound up buying the Ass Ponys' album and finding it a bit one-note but with a handful of other gems. This queer little rural go-nowhere story remains the best, though.

    Tuesday, July 12, 2011

    Some of My Top-Rated Reddit Comments, Without Context

    The headline's explained it. There's not much I can add... Without context, some are still perfectly comprehensible. Others, well, aren't.
    1. Yes thank you Québec. You are the future of our country.
    2. She is ^NOT Parliament's most ethical MP.
    3. The article makes no mention of the obvious fact that the Greens suffered at the NDP's expense - that a Green vote is in many ways 'a vote against the status quo', and this time out, the 'orange tide' seemed to encapsulate that a lot. In fact, now that we've got a Green Party comprised mostly of environmentalists, a BQ comprised mostly of separatists, and a Liberal Party comprised mostly of centrists, these parties can get back to their 'core principles' and figure out where to build from here. That's no bad thing. ¶ Anyway, I've seen interviews with several other GPC members that indicate that they were aware that this time out they were entirely sacrificial lambs for the May personal campaign, and that they felt that in the long-term best interests of the party, it was the right thing to do. ¶ I'm not a Green supporter but I tend to agree with that analysis, though it increases the problem that every Canadian party except the Liberals now has, and that's how indistinguishable their brand identities have become from their leaders'.
    4. I don't tend to scream "YES!" at the best of times, but you're right. Positive electoral reform is worth celebrating, whoever it comes from. ¶ Obviously I'm not happy about just how Conservative the areas that stand to benefit currently are, but democracy is a virtue, even when it favours your opponents.
    5. Ya know when you talk with Canadians you have to use Celsius, eh?
    6. True. With Conservatives, instead of unknowns who might be incompetent, you get people who have proven their incompetence - and yet people continue to vote for them anyway.
    7. We've got the best political theatre since Bush/Gore due to happen tomorrow night. Who else is going to be tired as hell Tuesday morning?
    8. There's a balance required here that I'm not sure how to strike. Rep by pop is a good thing and all, but we're a federation for a reason, and it's not entirely fair to let smaller provinces be completely swamped by larger ones. ¶ I mean when it comes to northern ridings, their populations are smaller. But you could argue that that allows them to represent their divergent interests better. The city of Toronto might warrant 23 MPs (or more, I suppose), but you'd have a hard time arguing that the interests of, say, Don Valley West are very different from, say, Don Valley East - but Labrador or Nunavut clearly have distinct voices and as such need to be represented distinctly.
    9. A taste of what the next four years will be like: the MSM makes a Really Big Deal about the NDP's stance on the Clarity Act, while the Conservatives are to debate about whether or not to be completely batshit or only partly batshit, and nobody bats an eyelid. ¶ If Harper can actually stand up and say 'vote for me - don't worry; I won't reopen the gay marriage debate' then it means either (a) he's lying or (b) his party de facto accepts gay marriage. If the latter is the case, then the language of the party needs to acknowledge that. Otherwise, we must conclude that it's the former.
    10. Well, there's still the 'court of public opinion'. Private member bills will presumably still be open votes. But yes, if a bill is whipped, the outcome will be predetermined.
    11. I've never really understood why the idea of keeping the LCBO but letting it compete with private interests is never discussed. I mean it worked for years with Petro Canada (until politics determined that it shouldn't). The LCBO should remain a licensing and controlling board for all alcohol sales in the province wherever they occur, and in addition to that should also operate retail outlets that sell liquor, and also wine and beer if they want.
    12. Chantal Hébert has, obviously, a rather vested interest in one side of the sovereignty debate over the other. But the lacklustre performance of both Liberal parties in the province (that the PLQ is winning doesn't really mean anything; that 40% are willing to abandon both parties for a party that doesn't even exist yet says more) indicates that federalism is on life support too. I think what's really happening, and why Layton and Legault are sneaking down the middle, is that people in Quebec are just sick of identity politics - or rather identity politics obscuring the actual politics beneath them. They must be sick - they have every right to be - of every federal and provincial campaign being waged on the topic of 'the national question' and then leading to governments behaving in unpredictable ways on the 99.9% of matters of state that have nothing whatsoever to do with identity politics. ¶ The implication prevalent in RoC media that 40% of Quebeckers voted for the NDP because of Layton's infectious smile and charming Joual is highly insulting - the NDP led, and continue to lead, amongst all demographics in Québec - Francos, Anglos, Allos, Montréal, Québec City and the rest of the province. If such a poll were carried out, you'd probably find the NDP leading among federalists, seperatists and sovereignty-associationists too. Québec is speaking with one voice at the moment, united in a way its traditional politics would never allow it to be, and while it's satisfying to see traditional seperatist parties humbled, federalists shouldn't declare victory just yet, because they're in no better condition.
    13. I'm happy to defend her - not because she's the best person for the job but because she's currently a sacrificial lamb for a media eager to make the NDP, and the people of Québec, look like fools. ¶ Your comment brings it back to what this is really about - class. The issue is that she's an 'assistant bar manager'. How dare she try to take a seat in parliament alongside her betters, right?
    14. Yes but there are two things to note: (1) an increase of 2% (two percent!) takes the Conservatives from can't-get-anything-passed to can-do-whatever-they-want. It is certainly a strange system that walks on such razor-sharp tightropes, isn't it? and (2) a vote for the Liberals, the NDP, the Bloc or (arguably) the Greens was to a much larger degree an 'anti-Harper' vote this time out. You can't really argue with that: Harper himself was drawing the 'us and them' lines just as deeply into the sand as anyone else. Harper lost by the terms of the election defined by him, that a vote for anyone but the Conservatives was a vote for instability. Since he's walking around right now talking about how Canadians have rewarded him with a majority for his stable helmsmanship, it is certainly worth noting that 60% of Canadians disagreed with the dichotomy as he presented it. ¶ Harper's majority is predicated upon quirks in our democratic system, not the democratic will of Canadians. I don't begrudge him success at exploiting the system to its fullest extent, but to call it 'insipid' to point that out is, well, insipid itself.
    15. For those who are critical of the G&M or the Star for making any kind of endorsement at all... here's a growing list of 2011 newspaper endorsements. ¶ Notice that the vast majority of newspapers, who have over the past month been gated behind steel bars, fed false information, drowned out, ignored and humiliated by Stephen Harper and his Conservatives, still are throwing their weight behind Harper and his party - something which hardly bodes well for journalistic access in the future. The Hamilton Spectator, a TorStar paper in an overwhelmingly NDP city, is stumping for the Tories. The Montreal Gazette, in a city where the Tories are perhaps polling at 10%, wants a Tory majority. The Economist, which is not even Canadian, endorses the Tories.
    16. I'm 36 and have a one-year-old daughter, and I think I'm actually moving further to the left as a result. Having a child makes me realise more clearly the importance of having a viable safety net to protect all of us, and the importance of fighting manmade environmental destruction. Perhaps having a child just accentuates a belief system you already have.
    17. If he ever gets a chance to rise up in the HoC and scream at Harper, 'you will pay... for your BARBARISM!', I'll pay him $5.
    18. In the past you have voted for a party with a proud tradition of honourable public servants. Hopefully you have shown the current leaders of the party that they can't take people's votes for granted. Have faith that after Harper and his yes-men have been cleared from the ranks, you will get your party back, and Canada will be the better for it.
    19. Ironically one reason people tend to get more conservative as they get older, at least socially, is because of the success of progressives - as the years go by the entire paradigm shifts. Somebody who in the 1960s was progressive on, say, race relations is now merely 'in the mainstream' on race relations but has since found that, for example, his position on homosexuality that in the 1960s was 'mainstream' is now 'conservative'. To a degree, his opinions haven't shifted, merely the bar has. ¶ But it's really weird to consider it a success for progressivism that the more we succeed, the more conservatives we produce.

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    She Don't Speak English

    Good ol' Stompin' Tom Connors... in his lifelong quest to write a song about every aspect of Canadian life, no matter how mundane, he's taken on subjects as lofty as k.d. lang, hockey and Tillsonburg. Of course he would have a say on Canada's 'two solitudes', the linguistic divide. So we have the charming 'She Don't Speak English', a song about a love between two people who have no common language (unless they both happen to speak fluent Korean, a possibility not ruled out in the lyrics). Demonstrating his mastery of the language that she don't speak, Connors rhymes 'French' with the following words:
    • flinch
    • cinch
    • inch
    • fence

    The more eagle-eyed among us might note that precisely zero of those words actually rhyme with 'French'. Should Stompin' Tom ever decide to make a sequel to the song, I humbly offer a few words that actually do rhyme:
    • wench
    • stench
    • monkey wrench
    • Dame Judi Dench

    Sunday, July 10, 2011

    Secular Sunday Sermon: Miracles

    So I was in an intercity bus going from one place to another when it started to rain. I was thinking about how rain is a part of a phenomenally complex weather system. I was thinking about how it was raining where I was but not yet raining where I was going - how the rain falling on our bus was just one of many 'localised events' that happen at point A while point B is completely oblivious. I thought about how little we truly know about meteorology.

    Hey, I can't help it. There's not much to do on an intercity bus.

    I thought about the word 'miracle'. I thought about how misleading and misunderstood the word is. How it's one of so many words that religious people have taken hostage and shamed secular people into avoiding. We fall for it too - we accept their fatwa on our usage of the word 'miracle' by bullying us into believing that 'miracle' only means 'something created by God'.

    There are countless miraculous things in the world. Wikipedia tells me that the word comes from the Latin miraculum, which merely means 'something wonderful'. Perhaps what matters is not who or what you attribute miracles to but whether or not you recognise their existence. There are plenty of wonderful things in the world - ergo, plenty of miracles.

    When things are exposed as frauds, we feel cheated because their mystery has been removed. Somebody claiming stigmata is shamed when his cuts are proven to be self-inflicted, because somebody cutting their own hands is banal whereas holes mysteriously appearing is interesting, unusual, unexplainable. Proof of how little we know. Piltdown Man was a disappointment, because fabricating a skull and sticking it in the ground is just to easy. It's devoid of mystery.

    Most importantly, Dorothy was disappointed to see the man behind the curtain, because there's nothing special about the Wizard of Oz once you see that someone's pulling the strings.

    What's interesting to me is how this reality is lost on those who plug 'God' into all of the holes that exist in our knowledge of the universe.

    'God' saying 'abracadabra' and bringing Lazarus back from the dead is not 'wonderful'. 'God' can do it, and he did. What's the big deal?

    A child whose heart has stopped beating and is declared dead, only to start coughing some thirty minutes later and be resuscitated back to a healthy existence is 'something wonderful'. To show it as a sign of the marvelous complexity of human existence and the wonder of our existence is truly 'something wonderful'. To say '"God" did it' is banal. It deflates the wonder.

    To understand weather patterns to be the visible result of countless individual causes and phenomena which all formed naturally over billions of years is to recognise 'miracles'.

    To say '"God" makes the rain, and he decides where and when it should fall' shows no understanding of miracles, of magic, of glory and of wonder.

    And yet they tell us we don't get it.

    Saturday, July 9, 2011

    Bungle Jerry Takes On Sporcle

    So do you know Sporcle, the online quiz site? It's pretty decent. There are fun quizzes to be had, and lots of iffy ones too. I decided to go as random as possible, by clicking on the 'random quiz' button and doing whichever quiz it gave me, regardless if it was something I knew or not. How'd I do? Not bad this time out, as it happens:
    1. - This one is about MLB pitchers who have pitched Perfect Games - something that is seemingly pretty tough to do since it only happens every few years and only happened twice between 1908 and 1964. I know nothing about baseball, so I spent a few minutes guessing random common Anglo and Hispanic surnames. I got 1/20, having blagged '(Randy) Johnson'. I didn't get the awesome name Catfish Hunter, or Kenny Rogers, who knows when to hold 'em.
    2. - This jokey and buggy quiz wants you to fill in the chorus to Rick Astley's 'Never Gonna Give You Up'. You get a minute to deal with its poor presentation and answer six lines (the two 'ands' are fused together, annoyingly). I got 6/6 though, because I like that song unironically.
    3. - Rolling Stone covers, name the person depicted. Pretty easy, really, since few were especially modern. I completely blanked on 50 Cent to the point that I came up with 'Curtis Jackson' (it doesn't accept it) before his nom de plume. Cheated in the end, though, after more than a minute wasted, so while it showed 40, let's be honest and call it 39/40.
    4. - This was tough enough just to figure out what they were getting at. It's a rough 'crossword', in a really loose sense of the word. I completed it, which to them means I got 110/110. Woo-hoo!
    5. - This rather lame idea presents book or play synopses as 'Facebook updates'. Whatever, but the choices were well-considered. I'm not the most well-read person, so I'm pleased with my 9/17. Two of the answers I'd never even heard of.
    6. - Countries with the most internet users. In other words, name as many first world and/or well populated countries as you can in four minutes. I got 20/20.
    7. - A silly quiz that puns on the name of computer keys like 'control' and 'tab'. I got 13/13, which entailed wild guessing on the 'hurricane' one (there are only so many named keys on the keyboard).
    8. - Square chunks of movie posters, you guess the movie. Good idea, and I did way better than I had any right to do, not being that much of a movie guy. I got 18/24, and the ones I didn't get I'd by and large never even heard of.

    Friday, July 8, 2011

    The GoToQuiz Political Spectrum Quiz in Full: Part Four

    Finally, the fourth and last installment: what I believe, in a very large nutshell. Or: say it loud, I'm lefty and I'm proud.

    40. Gay equality is a sign of progress. Agree strongly: Absolutely. As much as anything else out there, really.

    41. The state should be able to put a criminal to death if the crime was serious enough. Disagree strongly: Nope. No exceptions. Capital punishment is never acceptable.

    42. The military budget should be scaled back. Agree strongly: Both in the out-of-control USA, for whom I imagine this quiz was designed, and up here too, where military spending has been on the rise as other things are being slashed.

    43. Economic competition results in inumerable innovations that improve all of our lives. Agree: It also results in many horrid things that hurt us all. But I won't deny that competition has enabled progress in certain ways that might not have occurred without it.

    44. It is not our place to condemn other cultures as backwards or barbaric. Agree: Phenomenally loaded question. I am up for criticising other cultures - or perhaps to put it better criticising other societies. I think you can establish benchmarks and then according to them 'rate' the countries of the world. But obviously 'barbaric' is not a useful word. And neither is 'condemn'.

    45. When one group is slaughtering another group somewhere in the world, we have a responsibility to intervene. Agree: I do agree. Death matters, whoever it's happening to, wherever in the world. I haven't looked up 'intervene' in the dictionary to see if it refers solely to military measures. But I tend to think that the word can apply to things other than guns a-blazin'.

    46. We'd be better off if we could just lock up some of the people expressing radical political views, and keep them away from society. Disagree strongly: This is just patently ridiculous.

    47. Unrestrained capitalism cannot last, as wealth and power will concentrate to a small elite. Agree strongly: I think this is currently happening, to a rather shocking degree. The fact that some of the world's richest have a philantropical bent doesn't really change all that much - at the moment, worldwide the gap is increasing at a shocking rate, and sooner or later it has to give.

    48. It is a problem when young people display a lack of respect for authority. Disagree: Not really. Perhaps I'm not yet old enough to get upset about that.

    49. When corporate interests become too powerful, the state should take action to ensure the public interest is served. Agree strongly: What else is the state for?

    50. A person's morality is of the most personal nature; therefore government should have no involvement in moral questions or promote moral behaviors. Neutral: I'm not neutral about this at all, but I'm undecided. I think that a government has a very real role in promoting tolerance, for example. They should be doing whatever they can to change bigots' minds - shy, of course, of active coersion. I suspect that this question is designed to make people think of the opposite - of 'legislating morality' by, for example, criminalising homosexuality. While that's reprehensible, I don't think I can quite make the blanket statement that the questions wants me to, though.

    51. The state should not set a minimum wage. Disagree strongly: I'm shocked that this actually exists as a cause for advocacy. Or rather I'm not actually as shocked by it as I wish I were, but there's really no argument for repealing minimum wage legislation beyond 'we can work them as slaves and no one can stop us!' Not to sound even more old-school lefty than I genuinely am, but I have a sad and uncomfortable feeling that workers' rights are being seriously trampled on, to a degree unseen for a century perhaps, at the present moment, and no one really seems to give a damn about it. It really saddens me.

    52. A nation's retirement safety net cannot be trusted to the fluctuations of the stock market. Agree: Well, it's tough to argue with this, one would think. 'Sorry grandpa, but it's Ramen noodles for you this month; RIM underperformed.' But the world never fails to surprise me.

    53. Offensive or blasphemous art should be suppressed.: Disagree strongly: Only if 'suppressed' means 'encouraged'.

    Thursday, July 7, 2011

    The GoToQuiz Political Spectrum Quiz in Full: Part Three

    And here's part three. Once you get me started, I never shut up.

    27. People with a criminal history should not be able to vote. Disagree: Seems there are people out there all too willing to take away other people's right to vote. Either voting is something that every adult citizen can do or your country is not a democracy. Besides, where do you draw the line? A lot of people are arrested for minor infractions, or for laws that are later overturned. If a governmnet has introduced an unjust law, shouldn't people be allowed to penalise that governmnet by voting them out of office? WHat if that government just arrested all its opponents?

    28. Marijuana should be legal. Agree: A lot of people get really passionate about this. I find that I don't. On the question itself, I am pro-legalisation, but I don't really worry that much about it at all.

    29. The state should fine television stations for broadcasting offensive language. Disagree strongly: I could care less about so-called 'four letter words', if that's what this refers to. If it's about hate speech, that's different.

    30. It does not make sense to understand the motivations of terrorists because they are self-evidently evil. Disagree strongly: Denying yourself a valuable tool in dealing with terrorists just seems almost comically counterproductive. Plus, terrorist actions are evil, but on the level of 'justification' you can often find hard truths worth confronting.

    31. The lower the taxes, the better off we all are. Disagree strongly: There are no limits to the good we can do if we all work together, through the agency of the government.

    32. Minority groups that have faced discrimination should receive help from the state to get on an equal footing. Agree: This seems like an obvious one to me. It's merely a question of righting historic wrongs. No point in saying, 'get over it', if the previous discrimination has been so thorough that it's left people severely disadvantages. See, for example, on-reservation Native Canadians.

    33. It is wrong to question a leader in wartime. Disagree strongly: Ridiculous. Sometimes I wonder about the mindsets of some people, like who would even entertain agreeing with this.

    34. Tighter regulation would have prevented the collapse of the lending industry. Neutral: I don't really know enough to say either way. My gut tells me probably 'yes', but I don't actually know, so on the fence I remain.

    35. It makes sense and is fair that some people make much more money than others. Disagree strongly: To a certain extent, I realise I probably have to come to terms with accepting that economic imbalance is perhaps to a certain degree inevitable. But to call it fair is no more than a malicious distortion of the word 'fair'.

    36. Toppling enemy regimes to spread democracy will make the world a safer place. Agree: Probably the biggest dilemma for me. I do believe that the people of the world have a right to good governance, and that an African grappling with corrupt government is no less of a tragedy than a European doing the same. And I don't fall for the trap of moral relativism, the 'who's to say democracy is any better?' cop-out. I do believe that right is right, and that tyranny is wrong. But the idea of interventionism makes me uncomfortable, and I retain a knee-jerk opposition to war. I also think 'enemy' is a stupid word here, and that we have a horrible habit in the west of using tactics so heavy-handed that any sense of 'liberation' is lost and the end result is more destructive than allowing the tyrant to remain. Still, though... I wish people didn't have to deal with megalomaniacs, and since this is a question about our opinions, there's my answer. Equivocal though it may be.

    37. The state has no business regulating alcohol and tobacco products. Disagree strongly: Does anyone really believe that?

    38. If an unwed teen becomes pregnant, abortion may be a responsible choice. Agree strongly: This is a loaded question, taking the issue from choice to merely choosing. But being pro-choice means acknowledging that abortion is a legitimate choice for some women, and if you're pro-choice but somehow uncomfortable about the actual reality of abortions, then you have a dichotomy that needs resolving.

    39. International trade agreements should require environmental protections and workers' rights. (meaning: no free trade with countries that lack pollution controls or labor protections) Agree: This is not exactly easy. I think that the anti-globalisation tendencies that exist on the left, sometimes not far from protectionism really, are based on the notion that such caveats are impossible to get or maintain, and as such shouldn't even be bothered with. Realistically, there's probably a reason why our trade treaties are so excessively laissez-faire. But the idea of tied trade, where the tie is noble in intent, is a good one. And again fears of 'interventionism' can be cast aside in favour of 'improving the lot in life of people abroad' - which has to be a noble goal, however troublesome the process of attaining it might be.
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