A one-time school project gone terribly, terribly wrong.

17 April 2005

I've had a thought

Don't look that way, it happens once in a while.

My thought is this: In many places around the world, there are Christmas performances of Handel's Messiah done as a sing-along.

With the advent of such frontier media as podcasting and audioblogs, why not organize some sort of online sing-along Messiah?

I mention this because if I do it, I'll need from now until Christmas to master the technology.

But it's a thought.

Have I mentioned that I hate cats?

Well, maybe not hate them. But I'm definitely not a "pet person", and I find it odd that so many people want to enjoy the luxury of wasting huge amounts of their disposable income on birds, cats, and dogs--or baby seals for that matter. Not that I'm opposed. Baby seals have their uses.

In the case of cats, their attitude toward their support providers and demonstrated level of gratitude are well known. A cat will eat all you provide, but in return it will not fetch a stick; nor in fact do anything at all. In fact most of the things it will fetch you don't want to know about. Owners sometimes mistake a cat's calculating squint for a a look of love. In fact, the cat is calculating how many days it could live on your carcass if you dropped dead, providing it saved the juicy bits for later.

Nonetheless, the SO has managed to acquire two. Perhaps they were infesting the apartment when she moved in? But they have to eat something; I sleep with goggles on.

So having done nothing physical today beyond make pancakes, I trotted out to our local pet store. There I purchased the food that they are allowed to eat (one of them has allergies, apparently. Can a cat have an allergy to cats?)

I made arrangements to pre-pay for a large bag at $40 or so, and picked up the regular size of bag, which runs $15. I paid my $44 and walked out.

. . . about ten feet. I looked slightly more carefully at my reiceipt. In the excitement of totting up my bill for the special-order bag, the salesgirl had forgotten to charge me for the one under my arm.

I considered the fact that for an admixture of dead horse, miscellaneous chicken parts, duck (!) and assorted grains I was considering returning to be billed roughly about the same as mid-grade hamburger.

Then I turned and walked doggedly away. Screw 'em if they can't keep track of their inventory.

Okay, okay. I went back and paid for it. My honour, cheap and grubby though it occasionally is, is worth a good deal more than fifteen bucks.

16 April 2005

I have unpopular positions

I first ran into this while defending the late Pope John Paul II. The person with whom I was having the dialogue clearly felt, as does Christopher Hitchens, that the legacy of the late pontiff was less positive than the glowing eulogies in the various dailies would have us believe.

True, the Pope opposed birth control in Africa at a time when a few words on the topic might have saved lives that are now forfeit due to AIDS. He refused to back down on the teachings of the Church on various sundry other sexual matters—masturbation, fornication, homosexuality, the list goes on. He received in audience some people who were to say the least morally touchy, and canonized fascists.

To which it is necessary to say “Yeah, so?”

Since I left the church when I discovered sex (and the fact that the cool people weren’t as devout as I was, let’s be honest, but mostly sex) and have since had a lot of time to reflect on the choices I made and my reasons for making them, I feel I’m qualified to comment.

The Pope is not the Supreme Commander in the Catholic Church. This may surprise people. But not only is he technically not in charge, he is the heir to the pronouncements of a hundred popes before him. And most of those guys were positively medieval in their thinking (even when it was avant-garde to be medieval).

At the heart of this is the fundamental flaw, as some see it, in Church thinking, subscribed to in greater or lesser degree by all religions: The Holy Mother Church is infallible. Not only can God never make a mistake, but since His chosen servant on Earth, the Pope, is directed by Him, neither can he. If you follow.

Don’t make that noise. If theological contortion disgusts you I invite you to consider the way Muslims and Jews deal with the financial charges that are a necessary part of borrowing and lending in the modern business world, all without quite calling it “interest”, and without violating the strictures of their several faiths on usury.

Anyway, back to our muttons : This doctrine of infallibility means that Church reform is a slow process, occasionally requiring some serious parsing and theological wrangling in order to drag the thinking forward. During Vatican II there were enormous fights about whether, for example, priests should be allowed to marry (some already were and are—such as in the Greek Orthodox tradition). Marrying on the part of priests had first been banned around AD 900, and such is the weight of theological argument, tradition, and precedent that here we are 1100 years later and nothing has changed.

And the Second Vatican Council, including the most modern-minded Catholic prelates of 1962-65, didn’t change it. They managed to get masses said in the vernacular, instead of Latin. But even that was regarded as heresy by some.

So the Pope, whoever he may be (and one thing I know of popes is that the next one is unlikely to be a woman, see the paragraphs above for why) inherits the burden of two thousand years of history which has undergone formatting and formalisation at a glacial rate, hardening the doctrine into something like granite and backed by a dogma that says that even popes who sat by as the Holocaust raged didn’t make any mistakes ‘cos it was really God doing it.

I came the long way around to show that all JPII did was back up his beliefs. Yeah, condoms would have saved lives in the AIDS epidemic. So would strict obedience to chastity outside marriage.

“Oh come on,” quoth my reader “that’s just unreasonable—it’s too much to expect from people”. This is a very North American illusion. Many mystics of Eastern traditions are held celibate, and the scandals that plagued the Catholic Church in the US and Canada don’t seem to have erupted in say, the Philippines—possibly the largest Catholic country on Earth. How many Buddhist monks have been indicted?

Once again, to my point: The Pope was backing up what he believed, and what the Church required of believers. Non-believers were free to use as many condoms as they liked. I’d bet that there aren’t many cases of AIDS among virgins.

Consider homosexuality, another topic of contention. The Church’s position is a thorny one: Essentially the dogma on this says that God creates gay men and women, but that they aren’t allowed to have sex with one another (you know what I mean). The Pope spoke on a number of occasions on homosexuality, and roundly condemned changing civil law to keep up with modern thought on the subject.

Well, duh. But a number of countries, especially “modern” and civilised ones, brought forward legal reforms anyway. And hopefully ours will shortly be giving gays the same freedom to marry enjoyed by, for example, all races, creeds, and colours except gay people.

So yeah, the Pope, out of personal persuasion and organizational fossilization, supported positions that many modern, hip young thinkers, including me, thought were out-of-date.

Dammit, that was his job.

He also supported heroism, constancy, justice (as he understood it), faithfulness and peace.

Outmoded concepts, all.

 In related research: You have to love and respect a journal where the advertisement at the top reads “Imagine: No more heartbreak with women, ever . . .” and “Men: Don’t chase women, attract them”. There’s more funny adverts on the left and right. But especially on the Right, it appears. Note: the ads vary, and if you're really eager to see it you might have to refresh the page a time or a dozen.

 Another late-breaking sport of the willful ignorant.

 Hmm. Did you know that MS-Word’s spell-check dislikes the word “quoth”?

 The Hebrew word for usury is “neshek”—“a bite”. The Spanish word used in Mexico and other countries to describe bribes paid to officials is “la mordita”—“the bite”. Just an observation that themes abound in human thinking.

 Gotta love this.

02 April 2005

Here’s Something I’ve Actually Wanted to Talk About

As opposed to the death of the Pope, the death of Terri Shiavo, and the many deaths of the Doctor.

Is it just me, or is this blog a little morbid lately?

So today I’d like to change the tone, and lightly consider the death of the human race.

It’s coming. Most species don’t clock up a million years, and we’ve been around at least a couple of hundred thou—or four thousand if you’re faith-based and ignorant of science. But if you’re in the latter category then 1) you’ve probably already stopped reading and 2) you likely believe we’re in the Last Days anyway, and you can’t wait. Well here's some good news for you:

The United Nations took delivery last week of a report from a worldwide committee of 1300 or so respected scientists who have said, in essence, that unless we make some changes, the human race is going to be faced with severe habitat pressure due to the rate at which we’re changing our planet.

Case in point: the report says fish stocks are past the tipping point, and that some fisheries will never recover.

"Yeah, yeah" sayeth the reader "We've heard it all before."

Okay, but they're predicting this in about fifty years. It's one thing to be living off our grandkids' inheritance, it's another to think that this is going to be happening just as they shove me into the nursing home.

But I refrained from blogging on this, as I wanted to see what the main media outlets thought first, then what other bloggers were writing about it.

The mainstream commercial media channels have more-or-less ignored it. I don't see it anywhere on Fox--certainly nothing in their rather useless search engine.

How about at Global Media? To cover the bases thoroughly (For regular Fox viewers, this means "in the manner of a responsible writer") I tried searching under several terms: "UN", "report", "ecosystem", and "millenium ecosystem assessment"

The BBC article is linked above. CBC's is here. Since the report was released on the 31st, I can only assume that the Murdoch clan and the Aspers have decided to ignore it entirely.

There doesn't seem to have been a lot of fanfare even in the blogosphere. There seems to be a slight trend toward labelling the report as a load of codswallop. Some bloggers seem particularly critical, as noted here at MSN's Slate.

The Slate article doesn't seem to link to anyone who supports the report. Is it only because all the bloggers chosen to be linked to think of themselves as conservatives and live in the US? And if so, why hasn't Slate linked to the other side, at all?

Liberty Corner speciously links to the famous bet between Julian Simon and Paul Erlich. Note in the linked article that Simon "claimed natural resources were infinite". Um--does anyone really believe that?

Simon bet on the side of technological innovation and humankind's creativity, and he won. But the new report says we're straining those qualities. There will be improvements over the next half-century. But can we bet the future against the chance we'll find a way to vitiate what we've been doing up until now?

The worst thing about this sort of nonsense is that it's just a way of saying "why can't I go on doing what's most comfortable for me?" Not one person with an opinion has actually dissected the material of the report. They stick their fingers in their ears and shout "lalalalala". This related piece from the Cato Institute (whose opinions I sometimes agree with) actually sidesteps the issues it raises. Was the world more crowded in 2000? Less polluted? I dunno.

Doctor Sanity says "there are issues and challenges we humans must deal with as conservators of our planet. But . . ."

And as Orson Welles was fond of saying: "It's a big butt."

So lemme see if I've got this, Doc. You agree there are things we need to fix. But when a panel of 1300 tells you what some of those things are you say "Well, I don't want to fix those things! Pick something else"?

It disturbs me to think that so many people would take four years of research by 1300 scientists, and condemn it as junk without even considering the summary. Doctor Santy said he couldn't find the report online. Here it is, Doc. Just Google "millenium ecosystem assessment". Or find the website here.

What does this all mean for Metro? Well when scientists and economists tell me something, I try to listen and evaluate. I haven't read the report, and I must confess that being as it's a huge one I'll probably stick to the summary.

But most importantly: What exactly is wrong with making a few changes? Are we afraid that reforming our behaviour towards the environment will make the price of gas go over a buck a litre?

Too late.

Are we so self-satisfied and comfortable that we can't bear to think of using our cars 10% less, for example? Does walking hold such horror?

Me, I figure the granola-heads are probably closer to the truth than the people who believe that we must continue doing things the same old way. Notice that on that page the act of drilling for oil is equated with saving the refuge. What was the problem with leaving it protected in the first place? Except of course that you couldn't get oil out of it.

I feel strongly, as a fiscal and environmental conservative and social-program supporter, that we as a whole need to make some smart, easy decisions before they become, difficult, painful ones.

To the horror of those who see the UN as a constraint on their power, I support the idea of dealing with natural resources as a global issue rather than national and political. Management of resources must cross borders. And we as individuals have a duty--consider it a Christian duty, a duty to one's fellow man, or to one's kids--to steward our resources to the best of our ability.

And we can do better than this.

"Critical thinking" from a man who believes a big man in the sky made the world. He may be right, but his writing shows no true critical thinking, just love of his own positions. Like me. But I'm a blogger, it's expected. Oh--and I can actually think critically. Like now.

The David Suzuki Foundation--where actual scientists with real degrees consider that there might truly be ways we can do better.

The other side of the argument.

While researching career possibilities in writing I found Checkmate. The language of their "newsletter" speaks for itself. Suzuki's writing is respectful and doesn't usually deride or insult anyone. Even were I receptive to the idea that, say, global warming was junk science (and on the evidence so far I'm fairly convinced it's not), the vituperative discussion here would turn me right off.

01 April 2005

I Had Plans for Today

A little story I cooked up about the Pope's "miraculous" recovery, some comments about a "long-haired hippy" who gatecrashed the hospital. Altogether the stuff that would get me excommunicated if I ever decide to return to the Catholic Church.

But when I tried to post it, I got an error message saying "Javascript error" etc. Twice.

Perhaps it's the hand of a god at work?

So I'll leave you the shorter of the two articles:

In other news, US President George Bush has stepped down, admitting that his comment on the Schiavo case—that "The strong have a duty to protect the weak in a civilised world"—was "simply too ironic."

John Paul II, whatever might be said of him, was a hell of a good Pope, and a great man, though some people may not wish to admit it. I wish I were more like him than I am. And though I truly believe he should have stepped aside a decade ago, I've been glad to have him around.

Perhaps he'll be here for a little longer.

It's obvious the writer of the article at Yahoo isn't a Catholic. This serious and dramatic occasion deserves better than the "isn't this cute--my what those Cat-a-licks get up to!" tone of the piece. Most of us in the world have only known one Pope, barring the lamented John Paul I, and no other human has his influence in the world.

As I've said before, critiques of his "intolerant attitude" towards homosexuality, birth control, and other issues are unfair. He has a role and a job in the world: to stand for the Holy Mother Church in all its dealings with the outside world. To stand for what the Church (not necessarily he himself) believes, and to chart the course that that Church is to follow.

In a tumultuous world, he did a good job of keeping 'er steady.