Sunday, January 28, 2007

Tolerance's fatal flaw

"Liberalism cannot be based on group rights because not all groups uphold liberal values."
Read this Francis Fukuyama essay from the Sunday Times on the hole in political theory that underlies liberal democracy, especially a liberal democracy where group interests have strong influence.

These words ought to rhyme

Aren't you glad you don't have to learn English?

Hometown Homegrown
Rhinestone Minestrone
Baseline Vaseline

Friday, January 26, 2007

Economic Impact Studies

We should be skeptical of “economic impact” studies that show the importance of the arts to a community. A study of this kind might show that an arts festival or new arts arena brings millions of dollars in economic value. But these studies typically treat arts expenditures as creating value out of nothing. Implicitly it is assumed that if the money had not been spent on the arts, no other economic or social values would have been produced. Again, the relevant comparison is whether an arts arena leads to more value than some alternative. When we look at economic impact studies for one industry at a time, they all appear to show high benefits. But this means that the net benefits of any single project are low, zero, or perhaps even negative on average. By investing in one good idea we are always forsaking another good idea. In essence those studies list gross benefits rather than net benefits. Furthermore, once an economic impact study is being done, the resources are likely no longer undervalued.

These wise words could apply to sports, arts, business, in short any government or private sector initiative. Source: Good and Plenty: The Creative Successes of American Arts Funding.

Not the same God

The atheist says, “I don't believe in God.” In truth, people of faith don't believe in the God the atheists reject, either.
Read the entire insightful essay titled "Religion and Politics" at this link.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Area Codes - for some reason, this is cool

Back in the day, 60 years ago to be more precise, someone came up with the idea of area codes. The phone system was organized by states and provinces, and each state or province was given area codes that were related to their population numbers. Jurisdictions that could be accommodated by just one area code had a zero as the middle digit. Jurisdictions that needed more than one area code had a one as the middle digit. No seven-digit phone numbers had either a one or a zero as the second digit, so it was unambiguous for the exchange equipment to distinguish an area code from a prefix for a local call.

Places with higher population densities got lower numbers in their area codes, based on the notion that people would be dialling those numbers more often, and a lower number would save time using the old rotary dials.

I just think that the system as conceived was a thoughtful solution. A tip of the Halfwise Hat to the creator of the North American Numbering Plan, at Bell Labs. True, with the proliferation of devices there is a forecast that we will need more digits in a decade or two, but this system has served us well and can grow into the future.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Colby Cosh on the GW Middle Ground

Consider how many non-catastrophist views are available to a person who is completely, utterly convinced that the Earth is warming.
  • He could conclude, for starters, that it is a good thing on balance; perhaps it's no coincidence that the Medieval Warm Period coincided with the intellectual and economic fertility of the High Middle Ages.
  • He could believe that it is bad for the world as a whole, but good for his own country, adopting a posture of personal or national selfishness.
  • He could look at the climate extremes in the European historical record, still clearly wider than those experienced by any living person, and deduce that mankind will adapt without large-scale organized effort.
  • He could foresee significant pan-global costs from warming, but believe that the available solutions are even more expensive, or that other threats are more urgent.

Full article link here

Friday, January 19, 2007

Oba-san the crook

Poor financial planning, inadequate pensions and a feeling of immunity to the law are driving Japan's swelling ranks of old people into a life of crime. According to the Tokyo-based National Police Agency, 10.9% of all crime recorded in Japan in 2005 was committed by people over the age of 65. Most incidents involved shoplifting, insurance fraud or minor scams. But the figures, released in early January, did not include arrests for injurious traffic accidents, most of which involve elderly drivers (particularly of taxis). With a quarter of Japan's population projected to be over 65 by 2014, the government is planning to unveil in March a series of proposals for beating the superannuated crime-wave.

News of Japan's criminal pensioners coincided with new statistics about its greying population. The Internal Affairs Ministry revealed in January that the proportion of citizens aged 20 had fallen to a record low of 1.09%.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A conservative (third party) opinion

“Conservatives don’t speak much of ‘ideals.’ They think, more modestly, in terms of norms, which are never perfectly realized, but only approximated by sinful man. Consider homosexuality. Whereas the liberal wants to impose ‘gay rights,’ by law and coercion, the conservative sees homosexuality as a defect, which to some extent can and must be tolerated, because it can’t be ‘eradicated,’ but it can’t rationally be exalted to the plane of normality; and he knows that all talk of ‘same-sex marriage’ is nonsense, like trying to breed calves from a pair of bulls. But to the liberal, the only issue is equal rights; human nature and normality have nothing to say to him. What the conservative sees as life’s mysteries, the liberal sees as mere irrationality.” —Joseph Sobran

Sunday, January 14, 2007

"Gay Rights" and the church

Our church, like many institutions, has been struggling with the question of what to do about openly gay congregants.

There are a lot of principles which seem to come into conflict with each other. Let me start this by saying that when God isn't black-and-white about something it probably means that we are supposed to live in the tension between principles and work out for ourselves where the boundaries are.

As more information comes available, the boundaries may move because our understanding of what causes certain things changes.

Here are some main theological points.
  • We are all victims of the fall of man, which separates us from God.
  • Everyone should have a chance to get to know God.
  • Sin is sin, and all sins are equal in God's eyes, albeit not in man's eyes.
  • Sexual fallenness and sexual sins are the hardest to talk about, and are described by the apostle Paul as being sins against the body, the temple of the Lord.
  • Marriage in a church is a church sacrament with scripturally defined rules.

And here are some political points.
  • The gay lobby has been the most successful and well-organized of any lobby, given the actual numbers of gay people in the population (no more than 4% of either gender).
  • No one likes to be "powered" by a well-organized lobby advocating for something that most find distasteful or offensive.
  • The angriest person in the room should not by default get their way simply because they are the angriest.

And some medical points.
  • Gays have health problems due to their choices about promiscuity, not due to their gayness.
  • AIDS is spread by behavioural choices, yet AIDS gets far more funding than diseases (eg breast cancer) which are a greater threat to the public health.
All of these taken together have me re-evaluating my position on whether gay people should have positions of authority in a church.

If we want someone to not be promiscuous, surely encouraging them to have a committed relationship is a good thing. If we reserve the word "marriage" for a man and a woman, then some other term for a same-sex union ought to be adopted. And we should encourage this union at least for public health reasons if nothing else.

As for church council members, what are we to do with people who would be on church council in spite of the fact that they are not presently married. They may be divorced for very good reasons. They may be living common-law, recognized by the government as the equivalent of married, even if they haven't been 'churched'. The sins they commit are equal to the sins committed by the married member of council who jumps over to some porn site or other from time to time, or who cheats on his income taxes, or who swears.

One older woman at our church described the struggle the church had 60 years ago, with whether to admit her father as a member. Not only was he Chinese, he smoked...AND he went to movies! Times change, and seeing these old conflicts through today's eyes reminds us that morality lives in context of the times, even while being rooted in scriptural principles.

So at this point my position seems to be changing. I would now come down as favoring a position of allowing gay people in a committed relationship to assume responsible positions in my church, eg Sunday School teachers or council members. I am against calling their relationships "marriages", but a blessing upon their union is desirable. I am against any political campaigning that homosexuality is desirable, but it needs to be seen as biologically influenced rather than purely a lifestyle choice.

This is more than an academic question. We recently had a gay member of our church offer to run for Council. It wasn't allowed. Now our church is in the throes of debating gay issues, and people on both sides of the question are leaving the church because they feel the wrong side is prevailing.

Sexuality should not be the litmus test for a person's spiritual bona fides. The desire to know God and to do his will is built into all of us, and due to our fallen nature all of us are going to fail in this mission, and fail often.

At the same time a politically organized group representing fewer than 4% of us should not be able to overturn societal institutions such as marriage and parental role models of both genders by driving everything to the lowest common denominator. I'm willing to move the boundary, but not abandon it to people whose political agenda has overwhelmed what's right for our society as a whole.

Yikes. I never thought I'd be writing this....

The Japanese term for "snot"

...translates literally as "nose butter"

A lovely image for your Sunday morning.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Ukrainian sushi

In Japan a few years ago, I experienced what must be the greatest sushi of all. "Kujira", ie whale meat. The crack cocaine of maguro-type sushi offerings. No wonder so many whales die in the name of 'research'.

But right here in the Halfwise household, I make Ukrainian sushi on special occasions. No, I am not Ukrainian. But a dab of wasabi on a Triscuit, topped by a slice of garlic sausage and some sushi ginger, is a fine snack indeed.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Monday, January 08, 2007

Operating speed

It's time for me to go back to the office, after a couple of welcome weeks off. I wonder how long it will take my brain to get up to operating speed?

Interesting book - The Power of Full Engagement. One of the points that the authors make is the importance of disengaging fully, with the analogy being that a good life is a series of sprints, not a marathon, and that we need time to recharge between sprints. I have found myself trudging rather than sprinting, and never properly disengaging.

It's a whole new year. I welcome those who have visited here for the first time in the past week or so. Please feel free to leave a comment and help to initiate dialogue in place of the solo pontificating that I am prone to.

Vacuuming the vacuums

What is with these bagless vacuum cleaners? They fill up really fast, and to empty them out you have to pour a bunch of crap into a garbage bag, spilling dirt if you're not super careful.

I end up using the big built-in vacuum to clean out the bagless ones. This isn't really a step forward, methinks.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Drum Circle

Here's what I learned at yesterday's inaugural drum circle.

First, it is not helpful to have a Yamaha drum machine along with all the traditional technology. The Yammy is filled with riffs and fills that, if selected by a curious operator fiddling with the selections as he plays, totally mess up the flow and change the mood, and not for the better. I eventually had to ask Chris (who was using the drum machine) to use his powers for good.

Someone needs to get each rhythm segment started. It's hard to know when to fade into the background when there are relatively few drummers around, though, because if everyone is following the leader then they all want to fade into the background too.

Claves are good leadership instruments because the sharp tap-tap sounds cut through everything. So is a big conga, or a big plastic tub thumped with a stick, because the sounds don't blend that well.

People seem to prefer playing skinned drums with their fingertips. This makes sense - lots of dexterity with only small muscles involved, and the drum amplifies the fingertip impact.

We hit a couple of moments when the beat took over. One woman said she "felt like howling" at one point. Bless her.

Less than a third of the gathered throng was interested in the drum circle. The rest stayed upstairs.

Lastly, and this may be obvious, but not everyone has a steady sense of rhythm. But everyone can participate and enjoy as long as the worst rhythm isn't coming from the most audible instruments.

Pets should be properly trained

Saturday, January 06, 2007

It's more than just language that is declining...

There's an item on the front page of the Globe and Mail, January 4, 2007 edition, about the birth of a grandson of the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Check the terminology used about the newborn's parents. A sentence from the article reads:
"Sacha Trudeau, in a telephone interview from his Montreal home, said he and his spouse, Zoe Bedos, 31, are just "thrilled." The two plan to be married this summer."
Interesting to note that in a major national newspaper, the term "spouse" is now being used to describe the human/biological relationship rather than the social/legal relationship and, by implication, is thus no longer deemed specific to the context of "traditional" marriage.

Personally, I have long favored the term "Pelvic Affiliate" for a live-in bedmate not deemed worthy of marriage. Sadly, this term has not caught the public's fancy.

Turkey-Free Zone 2.07

Tonight is the latest instalment in the almost annual Turkey-Free Zone event chez Halfwise. We began in 1997, with a post-Christmas potluck whose only requirement is that there be no turkey in the dishes.

Potluck parties have a different dynamic, because the food itself makes a subject of conversation and delight. It's easier on the hosts, of course, and it's full of surprises as new things arrive with each couple.

I bring in a couple of interesting libations to pour down people's throats. This year's finds including Monty Python Holy Grail Ale, and Peat Monster scotch.

This year features the first ever TFZ Drum Circle. I am really looking forward to that, having acquired numerous percussive things for this very purpose.

A full report will follow, tomorrow sometime. Hmmm, later rather than earlier, methinks.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Journey

By Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Clear your conscience while warming the earth

Given that reforestation has been shown to cause warmer temperatures, how exactly does this help anything?

Note: Please forgive their spelling mistakes (eg "breath" instead of "breathe" and "affectively" in place of "effectively"). In the world of "Carbon Footprint Offsets" spelling and science apparently come down simply to whatever feels right.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Clear some forests to cool the planet

This study showing that cutting down forests in high latitudes increases the albedo (reflectivity) of the earth, leading to dramatic cooling, is likely to cause some people to squirm, methinks. Reforestation of agricultural land leads to heating, the study demonstrates, at least in the Northern Hemisphere.

That's the second such study in the past 10 months. We reported on the earlier one here in March 2006.

Let there be light

I hate fluorescent light, especially in the house. I bet I'm not alone.

But I have to admit that what I hate specifically is the bluish, vaguely flickering kind of fluorescent light. The kitchen of the Brick Split House had such a fixture, which I finally got around to replacing yesterday due to its physical imperfections (the fixture itself was butt ugly, institutional and drab) as much as its luminiferous shortcomings. More to the point, the Better Halfwise didn't like it.

Due to my intrinsic laziness, i.e. not wanting to repaint the kitchen ceiling to correct a color mis-match behind the old 4 foot by 1 foot fluorescent fixture, I bought a new fluorescent fixture, even though I wanted the look of incandescent light. Buying a new fluorescent meant the chance to try out some new bulbs and
new ballasts.

A little research here led me to look for soft white bulbs as opposed to the daylight kind that were in the old fixture. And the new ballasts make a difference, too. Big difference, actually.

Apparently to make fluorescent bulbs look like incandescent light we want color temperature of around 3500 degrees K, rather than daylight which is 5000 - 6500 deg K. And we should go for high colour rendering, which makes things and people their real colour rather than some ghastly pallor.

Philips offers the soft white bulbs as well as the natural daylight variety, in addition to the traditional dingy garage / warehouse variety. They were in stock at Wal-Mart but only in 3 foot lengths, so I had to go to Home Depot. (By the way, when the prayer asks "Lead us not into temptation", it may well be referring to the power tool section of Home Depot.)

I put the old tubes down in the Big Basement Warehouse (motto: "For sure you have it! You just aren't sure where!") but in all likelihood they will make their way to the ReStore, which sells donated housing items, along with an old but unused pair of tubes that are still down there.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Theology of Global Warming

I believe that people are designed to seek God, but are easily distracted by gods, especially gods who are less demanding and intrusive.

My attention was drawn to comments on the theology of Global Warming in this post.

Mother Earth takes the place of God in the hearts of many environmentalists. She has none of those restrictive social and moral commandments, and a person can feel holier than his neighbor simply by buying a hybrid SUV or putting empty dog food cans into a recycle bin.

So we have the makings of a grand new spiritual movement, where we can individually be as horrible as we want to our fellow human beings (after all, there is no moral right and wrong), but can feel redemption through simple acts of contrition offered to Mother Nature. The moral vacuum has been filled with environmental dogmas.

Nirvana, in such a religion, is a planet where there is no human impact. Few people seem to grasp that that can only be a planet that is empty of humans.