the Summer Reading List

I'm pulling my summer reading list together -- and hoping that I can get through these titles by mid-August:
Leadership Wisdom From the Monk Who Sold His Ferrari
Robin S. Sharma
Heavy Weather Sailing - 4th ed.
K. Arland Coles
The Annapolis Book of Seamanship
John Rousmaniere
Van Til's Aplogetics
Greg L. Bahnsen
Church Without Walls
Jim Petersen
Hitchhiker - A Biography of Douglas Adams
M.J. Simpson
To be continued.....   :)
clock Posted Tue May 31st, 2005 - 12:45pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


My Right Hand

After nearly 30 years of struggling to play guitar with short, brittle nails -- I was introduced --by my friend Bobby Carter (no relation) -- to a nail technician in south Texas, who changed this aspect of my guitar-playing life.  For the last three years I have experimented with both acrylics and U.V. gels, but have settled on a high quality acrylic nail overlays, and I have these applied on three fingers and one thumb nail once every eight weeks or so.  This has made a world of difference in my fingerstyle playing (despite the embarrassment of sitting in the nail salon once every couple of months!~).


Saw this story today on the NPR web site:


Tim Brookes, Telling the Story of the Guitar

Ned Wharton | NPR

Tim Brookes, a British expatriate living in Vermont, has mused on the air about cricket, swimming with sharks, king cakes and the mysteries of a snipe that flies over his country home. He's also a passionate and talented guitar player. And he's just published Guitar: An American Life, which he describes as part history and part love song.

Read an excerpt from the book:

Interlude: Nail Angst

Two weeks before a gig, I break a nail.

It's my strongest nail, the long finger of my right hand. For once my nails were just about perfect, but hubris caught up with me: I let them grow a fraction too long, and with every extra tenth of a millimeter, the nail dries out a little more and gets brittle. I'm taking the laundry out of the drier, the nail catches on the rim of the door, the top snaps clean off.

Players who use picks can use anything for a pick. According to Guitar Player, Chet Atkins used his index fingernail as a pick. Carl Perkins used a tooth from a comb. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top uses a quarter, or a peso. Jerry Garcia tucked his pick between his index finger and the stub of his second finger (his brother severed it with an axe when he was four) when he wanted to fingerpick. Dave "The Edge" Evans of U2 uses West German picks with dimples to help you grip them; he uses that end on the strings to produce "a certain rasping top end." John McLaughlin used to make his own picks out of plastic pie boxes that he cut up with wire cutters.

Playing with your nails probably gets the most natural sound, and the greatest range of sound, from a guitar, but in the end it all comes down to Mohr's scale of hardness: steel strings are harder than fingernails. No getting round it.

Some guitarists take silica supplements. Some take a megavitamin called Appearex, or Biotin, which helps with splitting and brittle nails, and also with bovine and equine hoof problems. Some use Ultra Nails Plus. A guitarist tells me he once asked the British fingerstyle wizard Martin Simpson how he kept his nails hard and Simpson whispered, "Superglue, mate."

I email Simpson to check.

"I did use super glue with tissue paper and baking powder, producing concrete nails[, but] I have for the last 15 years used acrylic nails from the beauty salon.... much better. Previous to all of this I used to just paint my nails with lots of polish, vanity mostly."

You learn to do things with your left hand. You pay extra care when opening the flap over your gas tank in cold weather. Almost everyone buffs constantly, like a nervous habit. Most of all, though, you just feel helpless, and ridiculous for spending so much time on something so damn stupid.

Ed Gerhard, a fine fingerstyle guitarist from New Hampshire, tells a joke that is the truest thing I heard in two years of asking people about the guitar: "You start off playing guitar to get chicks and end up talking with middle-aged men about your fingernails."

clock Posted Mon May 30th, 2005 - 7:45pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Purgatory without end

The Economist print edition

Why is America still so prone to wars of religion?

IN 1782, a French immigrant named Hector St John de Crèvecoeur predicted that America was destined to be a much more secular place than Europe. In America “religious indifference” was rapidly becoming the rule, and “the strict modes of Christianity as practised in Europe” were being lost. “Persecution, religious pride, the love of contradiction, are the food of what the world commonly calls religion,” he argued. In America, their absence meant that religious passion “burns away in the open air, and consumes without effect.”

Suffice to say that de Crèvecoeur has not found a place alongside Alexis de Tocqueville as an anatomist of the American soul. In Europe religion doesn't rise to the level of burning away “in the open air”; in fact, it barely smoulders. Most European politicians would rather talk about sexually transmitted diseases than their own faith in God. The hugely bulky European constitution doesn't mention Christianity.

America's policymakers, by contrast, don't seem to talk about anything else. Look at the issues that have dominated the past week: the Supreme Court's decision to take up an abortion case, George Bush's threat to veto a bill on stem cells, even the tortuous debate about filibusters. Religion is at the heart of each one. Or listen to the activists talk. From the left, Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party, warns that America risks being turned into a “theocracy where the highest powers tell us what to do”. Lou Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition, talks darkly of “the all-out assault on Christians being waged by our government, by America's educational institutions, by the media and throughout popular culture”.

Why are Americans so keen on arguing about religion? The answer is that America is simultaneously a highly religious culture and a highly secular one. The public square is all but naked when it comes to religion. Public schools cannot hold school prayers. Americans have taken to wishing each other the ghastly “Happy Holidays” rather than “Happy Christmas”. Step over the line dividing church from state and there are plenty of aggressive secular interest groups that will push you right back again.

But at the same time religion—and particularly de Crèvecoeur's “strict” religion—is thriving. In the 2004 presidential exit polls, most Americans described themselves as regular churchgoers. Only 10% admitted to having no religion. A higher proportion of Americans say they would be willing to vote for an openly gay presidential candidate (59%) than an openly atheist one (49%). Evangelical or “born-again” Christians make up a quarter of the population; and they are on the march.

In the wake of the creationist “Scopes monkey trial” in 1925, the evangelicals (though technically victorious) realised they had lost the PR battle, and retreated from American public life. Now they are popping up all over the place, from the bestseller lists to pop music. In the wake of Scopes, the Bible Belt (H. L. Mencken's tag) was seen as a home of hicks. Now evangelism is the religion of the upwardly mobile, of McMansions and office parks, with evangelicals almost drawing level with (traditionally upper-crust) Episcopalians in terms of wealth and education.

Over the past 25 years, these more confident evangelicals have become the most powerful voting block in the Republican Party. Now they want to redefine the boundaries of church and state to make more room for public displays of religiosity and for faith-based social policy, and to put the “culture of life” back at the heart of the American experiment.

For evangelicals all these positions are as mainstream as it comes. They point out that the banishment of religion from the public square is a recent development. You only have to go back to 1960 to find children praying in schools and Hollywood sentimentalising Christmas. They point out that Roe v Wade (1973), which protects abortion, was a wonky decision, based on a post-modern reading of the constitution; and that the revolution that removed religion from public life has led to social breakdown.

Yet for a growing number of secularists these positions are the very definition of extremism. School prayers are unAmerican. For them, Roe v Wade is up there with Brown v Board of Education in the pantheon of Supreme Court rulings. And they regard the past 40 years as a period of enlightenment, not breakdown. These secularists are as determined to preserve the status quo as the Christian conservatives are to reverse it—and they have made the Democratic Party their shield.

One party under God Which all suggests that America's religious wars are only going to intensify. Fourteen moderate senators averted a nuclear explosion over conservative judges this week; but explosions over the issues which made those judges controversial seem all but inevitable. Just wait for the next Supreme Court ruling on abortion. Or for the next vacancy on the court to open up.

The polarisation of politics along religious lines is deepening by the day. George Bush won eight out of ten “values voters” in the last election, and the identification of the Republican leadership with the religious right has tightened during the struggles over euthanasia and gay marriage. And there are also deeper reasons. The constitution's ban on Congress intervening in religion is vague enough for conservatives to say that this was just stopping an official state religion, and for secularists to say it set up a wall between religion and the state. Similarly, America's division of powers means that the courts are constantly being asked to give firm answers to profound questions such as when life begins and ends. Europeans fudge these issues, by leaving them more often to parliaments to find political compromises.

Forget today's crowing about the ceasefire in Congress. America's wars of religion will get a lot nastier before any long-lasting peace can be declared—if ever.

clock Posted Mon May 30th, 2005 - 12:45pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Organic Aroma-therapeutic Paint

Anna Sova Luxury Organics are safe for kids, pregnant ladies, and if you add a $9 bottle of Anna Sova Organic Aromatherapy to your room it will smell like fresh lemons, vanilla, orange and cloves, or sandalwood and spices — rather than headache-inducing chemicals.

From the
Anna Sova web site:

Up to 99% food grade ingredients !

This is NOT a petrochemical (PVA-poly vinyl acrylic plastic) stretched across your wall.

Our wall finish does NOT contain the same toxic ingredients in what the paint industry calls paint.

You breathe the volatile organic carbons from painted wall finish.

Isn’t breathing it the same as eating it?

Just consider a gallon of our wall finish 12 pounds of vanilla truffles, it’s delicious!

clock Posted Mon May 30th, 2005 - 12:17pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the liturgy

Last Sunday’s clown Eucharist at the Episcopal Church’s powerhouse congregation of Trinity Wall Street has miraculously eluded any coverage in The New York Times, though it picked up a squib in the Daily News. That paper’s headline made the inevitable reference to Judy Collins’ hit song: “Rev. sends in clowns to teach a lesson” (to which I feel compelled to add, “Don’t bother [maudlin pause] they’re here.”

Trinity Wall Street’s rector, the Rev. Dr. James Herbert Cooper, came prepared with theological reflections on living the clown life. “Clowns represent the underdog, the lowly, the remnant people. Their foolishness is a call to unpretentiousness,” Cooper said in the Daily News article. “As St. Paul said, ‘The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of the world.’”

The niche-market Downtown Express nabbed this remark by Cooper from Trinity Wall Street’s website: “In the clown, God has shot from his cannon for us a vivid symbol of divine foolishness.”

Hey, speak for yourself, brother.

If you’ve been eager to relive the days of Godspell, there’s a streaming video (requires Windows Media Player) of the clown Eucharist — every ostentatiously unpretentious minute of it — on Trinity’s website. (If you prefer the mime-only sermon, clown-walk here instead.)

clock Posted Sun May 29th, 2005 - 6:00pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Noodle Heads

The Economist

Noodling is a little akin to “tickling” salmon in Scottish burns, but a lot messier. The noodler, empty-handed and stripped to the waist, wades along riverbank hollows, rooting underwater with his hands. Finding a hole in the muck, he wiggles his fingers inside it, where they sometimes tempt the snapping jaws of a whiskered catfish, defending its brood. (Some suppose “noodlers” are named after this finger-waggling; others, many of them with scarred hands, admit it is slang for “idiot”.) Then the fight is on: a good noodler forces both hands down the fish's maw, wraps his legs around its tail and heaves the beast, which can weigh 50lbs (22.7kg), to the surface. Bloody but proud he stands, more Greek wrestler than aloof fly-fisherman.

Conservationists are not so keen. They fear the noodlers' taste for big, spawning specimens could harm catfish populations. Females can take seven years to reach sexual maturity. When a fisherman catches a 40lb catfish, he may be killing a 30-year-old animal. Noodlers reply that big catfish eat little catfish. But their real defence is that, given that you have to be a bit of a fool to try it, noodling is likely to remain a minority sport.

On June 1st, after fierce lobbying by a local group called Noodlers Anonymous, Missouri will open its first season of legal hand-fishing. But it will only be a six-week experiment. And of the three authorized rivers, only one is well suited to noodling. Registered noodlers are to file reports about their catch, which the state's Conservation Department will analyze, before loosening the rules further. One conservation official considers the season primarily as an opportunity to learn more about catfish, which are notoriously hard to count and study.

It should also reveal something about the noodlers. Some 467,000 Missourians hold licenses to catch catfish with hook and line. Of the 2,000 estimated to have noodled in Missouri's waters illegally, only 21 have applied for the new $7 hand-fishing permit. Whether they are untamed primitives, Greek wrestlers or just plain idiots, noodlers like to live dangerously.


clock Posted Sat May 28th, 2005 - 11:00am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Guitarist Domenic Troiano dies

CBC Arts

TORONTO - Veteran Canadian guitar player Domenic Troiano has died after a decade-long battle with cancer.

Troiano, who played in groups ranging from the Guess Who to Bush to the James Gang, was 59. He passed away late Wednesday.

"His absolute skill as a musician, certainly in the '60s, it was unsurpassed," long-time friend Larry LeBlanc, Billboard's Canada bureau chief, told the Canadian Press. "Everybody wanted to be Troiano."

Starting his career in the 1960s, Troiano carved out a reputation in musical circles as a musician's musician. He played in a long list of bands, including an early stint as a backup player for Ronnie Hawkins. He spent 1974-75 with the Guess Who and played for countless non-Canadian performers, including blues legend Etta James, Joe Cocker and Diana Ross.

"He could play anything. And he was so good at it," said Toronto broadcaster John Donabie, who interviewed Troiano in the 1960s when he was a member of the pioneering Canadian group the Mandala. Along with other members of that group, Troiano founded Bush, which released one album in 1970.

"Domenic Troiano lived for making music," said LeBlanc. His hits included Bush's I Can Hear You Calling.

Known to his friends as "Donnie," Troiano was born in Modugno, Italy, and became a naturalized Canadian in 1955. He spent the rest of his life in Toronto, except for a brief period in the 1970s when he called Los Angeles home.

In the 1980s, the prolific guitarist turned to composing for television programs like Night Heat, Hot Shots and Diamonds. He served as a producer for Moe Koffman and others, and in 1996 his skills as an axeman were recognized when he was made a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

Troiano's recent credits include doing the soundtrack for the video game Fahrenheit in 1995.

"Every guitar player in Canada knows of Domenic Troiano," said LeBlanc. "And most of the guitar players in Canada will sit back and pause a bit today."


clock Posted Fri May 27th, 2005 - 11:00am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


New U.S. ambassador to Canada confirmed

I remain delighted to have seen the back of Paul Cellucci, the inflammatory former U.S. ambassador to Canada.  I have high hopes for the new guy, and am very pleased (and relieved) that he can find Canada on a map.


CBC News

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of David Wilkins as ambassador to Canada on Thursday night. Wilkins, the former speaker of the South Carolina legislature, will replace Paul Cellucci who left Ottawa earlier this year. "I'm gratified and very appreciative," he said when told his nomination had been approved. On Wednesday, during the first day of his nomination hearings, Wilkins downplayed recent tensions between the two countries. "The ties that bind the United States and Canada are strong. We are neighbours with a shared common history fiercely devoted to liberty and independence," he said. Wilkins told the Senators that there were irritants between the two countries but that they could be worked out. He pointed to sore points like trade, security and border issues. And when asked about Ottawa's decision not to join the U.S. missile defence plan he used careful language. "Obviously the U.S. would have preferred ... for them to participate. By the same token we also understand it's their decision." It hasn't yet been announced when Wilkins will take up his duties in Ottawa.

clock Posted Thu May 26th, 2005 - 11:50pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


The skunk at the Darwinian garden party

I read this article and brief book review on GetReligion this morning, and found it to be interesting:


I missed a Boston Globe profile of science philosopher Michael Ruse at the beginning of this month, but Rich Poll’s Apologia Report has pointed it out. Ruse, a vigorous defender of evolution, distinguishes between evolution and evolutionism, and he criticizes fellow academicians who do not see the clash of worldviews behind the public debates.

Profile author Peter Dizikes of Arlington, Va., quotes generously from Ruse’s critics who believe he’s helping the Intelligent Design movement too much, but he doesn’t bother talking with any proponents of I.D. Dizikes mentions that Ruse edited a book with Intelligent Design proponent William Dembski, and that he entertains no hopes of persuading I.D. advocate Phillip E. Johnson’s mind. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what Dembski and Johnson think of Ruse’s work? The Washington Post certainly didn’t leave its readers guessing what Johnson’s critics think of him in its recent thoughtful profile.

Nevertheless, Dizikes provides an engaging portrait of a man who clearly enjoys being a contrarian:

In his latest book, “The Evolution-Creation Struggle,” published by Harvard University Press later this month, Ruse elaborates on a theme he has been developing in a career dating back to the 1960s: Evolution is controversial in large part, he theorizes, because its supporters have often presented it as the basis for self-sufficient philosophies of progress and materialism, which invariably wind up in competition with religion.

While scientists and creationists often square off over the scientific evidence for evolution, the source of the ongoing dispute is deeper. “This is not just a fight about dinosaurs or gaps in the fossil record,” says Ruse, speaking from his home in Florida. “This is a fight about different worldviews.”

. . .Virtually every prominent Darwinian in recent decades has eschewed social Darwinism, and most believe that evolution itself, while responsible for the increased complexity of organic forms over time, cannot be regarded as a linear process driving toward a particular endpoint. But Ruse asserts that popular contemporary biologists like Edward O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins have also exacerbated the divisions between evolutionists and creationists by directly challenging the validity of religious belief — Dawkins by repeatedly declaring his atheism (”faith,” he once wrote, “is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate”), and Wilson by describing his “search for objective reality” as a replacement for religious seeking.

All told, Ruse claims, loading values onto the platform of evolutionary science constitutes “evolutionism,” an outlook that goes far beyond the scientific acceptance of evolution as a means of explaining the origins and development of species. Provocatively, Ruse argues that evolutionism has often constituted a “religion” itself by offering “a world picture, a story of origins, and a special place for humans,” while its proponents have been “trying deliberately to do better than Christianity.”

To be sure, Ruse acknowledges, some biologists are religious, while a significant portion of religious believers are willing to accept the concept of evolution at least to some extent. But, he argues, the way evolutionists have often linked their science to progressive politics has, in recent decades, become anathema to many believers, especially fundamentalist Christians whose biblical literalism leads them to believe that worldly change will only arrive with the Second Coming. The advocates of evolution, Ruse argues, have thus been “competing for space in the hearts and minds” of many religious believers without even realizing it — much to the detriment of their cause.

clock Posted Thu May 26th, 2005 - 10:20am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Shame on Us

During 2004, the human rights of ordinary men, women and children were disregarded and grossly abused in every corner of the globe. The Amnesty International Report 2005, covering 149 countries, is a detailed picture of these abuses.

Economic interests, political hypocrisy and socially orchestrated discrimination continued to fan the flames of conflict around the world. The “war on terror” appeared more effective in eroding international human rights principles than in countering international “terrorism”. The millions of women who suffered gender-based violence in the home, in the community or in war zones were largely ignored. The economic, social and cultural rights of marginalized communities were almost entirely neglected.

This Amnesty International Report highlights the failure of national governments and international organizations to deal with human rights violations, and calls for greater international accountability.

The report also acknowledges the opportunities for positive change that emerged in 2004, often spearheaded by human rights activists and civil society groups. Calls to reform the UN human rights machinery grew in strength, and there were vibrant campaigns to make corporations more accountable, strengthen international justice, control the arms trade and stop violence against women.

Whether in a high profile conflict or a forgotten crisis, Amnesty International campaigns for justice and freedom for all and seeks to galvanize public support to build a better world.


See also:

Amnesty says world governments 'betraying promises on human rights'

 Amnesty International is calling the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay "the gulag of our time," a human rights failure, and says it should be closed.


While shocked at the various accounts of immoral actions by the U.S. government, I was saddened to see that Canada made Amnesty's report for our government's acquiescence to U.S. pressure regarding the way we handle refugee cases, and the alarming incidents where people have been knowingly handed over to countries that condone torture.  Also noted was our lack of intervention with regards to high incidents of violence against native women.


clock Posted Wed May 25th, 2005 - 11:32pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Christian group ends boycott of Disney

CBC Arts


TUPELO, MISS. - A Christian pressure group has ended its nine-year boycott of the Walt Disney Co., saying there are more pressing matters to deal with.

"We feel after nine years of boycotting Disney we have made our point," the head of the American Family Association, Tim Wildmon, said in a letter to members on the group's website.

The AFA had originally launched the campaign in 1996, saying the company was straying from the vision of founding father Walt Disney.

The organization objected to movies like 1995's Kids being made by Disney through its Miramax subsidiary, as well as the company's decision to grant benefits to the common-law spouses of homosexual employees. It also wanted to put an end to gay-themed events at Disney's parks.

"Boycotts have always been a last resort for us at AFA, and Disney's attitude, arrogance and embrace of the homosexual lifestyle gave us no choice but to advocate a boycott of the company these last few years," Wildmon added.

The AFA also cited a growing list of other concerns it wanted to address as impetus for letting Disney off the hook. Disney's perceived sins, it said, have become "lost among the other battles being fought on a crowded cultural battlefield."

There were other factors in the AFA's decision, including the early departure of Disney CEO Michael Eisner, which is planned for September – a year earlier than initially expected.

But the most important factor seems to be the coming Dec. 9 release of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – a big-screen adaptation of the Christian-themed C.S. Lewis classic. Disney has been aggressively promoting the film to the Christian community, in the same way Mel Gibson built an audience for The Passion.

"For AFA, the boycott of Disney is now a matter of personal conviction, rather than a matter of AFA ministry emphasis," Wildmon wrote. "We encourage people to continue boycotting if they believe that to be the right thing to do."

However, the AFA leader said he would still consider renewing the boycott in the future: "If, for example, Disney removed the clear Christian symbolism from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe film, then all bets would be off." Disney is "on probation," he added.

Apart from garnering headlines for the AFA, the boycott did not appear to have any measurable impact. Disney's earnings are up, as is attendance at its theme parks. It is also reporting strong performance from its film and television properties.

At the time the boycott was announced, many baffled observers pointed out that Disney is one of the most reliable producers of family entertainment in the world.

The AFA says it will now concentrate on opposing activist judges in the U.S., as well as stopping the same-sex marriage movement.


update Jun 1st, 2005:

clock Posted Tue May 24th, 2005 - 11:25pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Red Dragon Torch Kit

The latest edition of Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools has a review of a $60 propane-powered torch called the Red Dragon. The reviewer says it's great for killing weeds. You can just wave it across a weed and it discolors almost instantly (usually enough to kill it). However, that's not much fun. A few more seconds of flame will incinerate the weed completely. Yeah, the extra heat makes a huge difference. When lit, the torch produces a 2 foot long, 5 inch wide column of blue flame that sounds like a (quiet) jet engine. That said, the flame doesn't spread much, so it's fairly easy to control. Every pyro needs one.
Check it out.
clock Posted Mon May 23rd, 2005 - 9:02m by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Neuroscience of sarcasm

Israeli psychologists are dissecting the cognitive processes behind our recognition of sarcasm. In a new study, the Rambam Medical Center scientists determined that "getting" sarcasm is a complex series of neural events involving several regions of the brain. In order to identify those regions, the researchers tested people with damage to various parts of their brains. From the press release about the research results, published in the new issue of the journal Neuropsychology:

All participants listened to brief recorded stories, some sarcastic, some neutral, that had been taped by actors reading in a corresponding manner. Here is an example of sarcasm: “Joe came to work, and instead of beginning to work, he sat down to rest. His boss noticed his behavior and said, “Joe, don’t work too hard.” Meaning: “You’re a real slacker!” Here is a neutral example: “Joe came to work and immediately began to work. His boss noticed his behavior and said, “Joe, don’t work too hard!” Meaning: “You’re a hard worker!”

Following each story, researchers asked a factual question to check story comprehension and an attitude question to check comprehension of the speaker’s true meaning: Did the manager believe Joe was working hard? When participants answered got the fact right but the attitude wrong, they got an “error” score in identifying sarcasm....

Shamay-Tsoory says, “A lesion in each region in the network can impair sarcasm, because if someone has a problem understanding a social situation, he or she may fail to understand the literal language. Thus this study contributes to our understanding of the relation between language and social cognition.”

clock Posted Sat May 21st, 2005 - 9:06m by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Holding Wal-Mart Accountable

Poor Wal-Mart! On May 12, the retailer announced disappointing quarterly earnings, admitting that next quarter would probably fall below analysts' expectations as well. As a result, Wal-Mart's stock took yet another hit. Among other reasons, Wal-Mart blamed unseasonably cool weather--which makes no sense, given that Target did just fine. (Don't people also have to leave their houses to shop at Target?) Some retail experts now think that sex discrimination and other abuses may be beginning to affect consumers' shopping habits.

As if that weren't bad enough, Wal-Mart found yet another group of people to offend (besides women, immigrants, African-Americans, worldwide organized labor and small businesspeople). A full-page ad in the (Flagstaff) Arizona Daily Sun outraged Jewish groups with a 1933 photo showing Nazis burning books, outrageously implying that Wal-Mart critics were fascists, and trivializing the Holocaust. The ad, paid for by Wal-Mart and bearing the name of one of the many Wal-Mart-sponsored fake "community" groups, urged readers to vote "no" on a proposition that would limit the size of future Wal-Mart stores in the area. The text read, "Should we let government tell us what we can read? Of course not. So why should we allow local government to limit where we can shop?" A Wal-Mart spokeswoman told Bloomberg News that the company reviewed the ad but didn't realize the photo depicted Nazis. (Doh!) Wal-Mart has publicly apologized.

All of this should lend momentum to the anti-Wal-Mart forces. The company is vulnerable and the time to press for change is now, before Wal-Mart hires smarter flacks who can stop it from, almost compulsively, screwing up. Democracy for America, the PAC inspired by Howard Dean's presidential bid, is taking a poll: Should it mobilize its forces in the growing campaign to "hold Wal-Mart accountable"?

Vote here.


clock Posted Fri May 20th, 2005 - 9:33m by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Don't Blame Newsweek

Despite sloppiness, Newsweek didn't fabricate Koran story

By Molly Ivins, Working For Change

AUSTIN, Texas -- As Riley used to say on an ancient television sitcom, "This is a revoltin' development." There seems to be a bit of a campaign on the right to blame Newsweek for the anti-American riots in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other Islamic countries.

Uh, people, I hate to tell you this, but the story about Americans abusing the Koran in order to enrage prisoners has been out there for quite some time. The first mention I found of it is March 17, 2004, when the Independent of London interviewed the first British citizen released from Guantanamo Bay. The prisoner said he had been physically beaten but did not consider that as bad as the psychological torture, which he described extensively. Jamal al-Harith, a computer programmer from Manchester, said 70 percent of the inmates had gone on a hunger strike after a guard kicked a copy of the Koran. The strike was ended by force-feeding.

Then came the report, widely covered in American media last December, by the International Red Cross concerning torture at Gitmo. I wrote at the time: "In the name of Jesus Christ Almighty, why are people representing our government, paid by us, writing filth on the Korans of helpless prisoners? Is this American? Is this Christian? What are our moral values? Where are the clergymen on this? Speak up, speak out."


Read the rest of this article at

clock Posted Wed May 18th, 2005 - 9:10am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Return of the axis of evil

The Economist (print edition)

An embarrassment for George Bush, and a test for his critics

YOU do not hear George Bush talk much about the “axis of evil” these days. That is no surprise. Rather a lot has gone wrong in the three years since America's president told Congress that it would be catastrophic to allow Iraq, Iran or North Korea to acquire weapons of mass destruction. From the beginning, the melodramatic phrase never travelled well. And after the intelligence fiasco in Iraq, which was discovered after being invaded not to have any especially sinister weapons after all, Mr Bush cannot be eager to cry wolf again.

But despite the phrase, despite Iraq and despite the understandable desire of Mr Bush to change the subject, the fact remains that the wolves are indeed at the door. In the coming days or weeks, the world may face a double nuclear challenge from the axis's surviving members. From North Korea, which quit the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003, have come reports that the regime is preparing its first nuclear test. And Iran has just informed Britain, France and Germany that after six months during which it had suspended these activities, it will shortly resume converting yellowcake into the uranium-hexafluoride gas that can be enriched for a nuclear bomb. It would still be several years from making such a weapon, but it would be back on the way...

Read the rest here

clock Posted Mon May 16th, 2005 - 12:01pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Apocalypse Soon

By Robert S. McNamara | May/June 2005

Robert McNamara is worried. He knows how close we’ve come. His counsel helped the Kennedy administration avert nuclear catastrophe during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Today, he believes the United States must no longer rely on nuclear weapons as a foreign-policy tool. To do so is immoral, illegal, and dreadfully dangerous.


It is time—well past time, in my view—for the United States to cease its Cold War-style reliance on nuclear weapons as a foreign-policy tool. At the risk of appearing simplistic and provocative, I would characterize current U.S. nuclear weapons policy as immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary, and dreadfully dangerous. The risk of an accidental or inadvertent nuclear launch is unacceptably high. Far from reducing these risks, the Bush administration has signaled that it is committed to keeping the U.S. nuclear arsenal as a mainstay of its military power—a commitment that is simultaneously eroding the international norms that have limited the spread of nuclear weapons and fissile materials for 50 years. Much of the current U.S. nuclear policy has been in place since before I was secretary of defense, and it has only grown more dangerous and diplomatically destructive in the intervening years. Today, the United States has deployed approximately 4,500 strategic, offensive nuclear warheads. Russia has roughly 3,800. The strategic forces of Britain, France, and China are considerably smaller, with 200–400 nuclear weapons in each state’s arsenal. The new nuclear states of Pakistan and India have fewer than 100 weapons each. North Korea now claims to have developed nuclear weapons, and U.S. intelligence agencies estimate that Pyongyang has enough fissile material for 2–8 bombs.

How destructive are these weapons? The average U.S. warhead has a destructive power 20 times that of the Hiroshima bomb. Of the 8,000 active or operational U.S. warheads, 2,000 are on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched on 15 minutes’ warning. How are these weapons to be used? The United States has never endorsed the policy of “no first use,” not during my seven years as secretary or since. We have been and remain prepared to initiate the use of nuclear weapons—by the decision of one person, the president—against either a nuclear or nonnuclear enemy whenever we believe it is in our interest to do so. For decades, U.S. nuclear forces have been sufficiently strong to absorb a first strike and then inflict “unacceptable” damage on an opponent. This has been and (so long as we face a nuclear-armed, potential adversary) must continue to be the foundation of our nuclear deterrent...


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clock Posted Thu May 12th, 2005 - 6:01pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Launch Day!

Launch day is looming.
There is something allegorical between a long hard winter's end, and boats slowing waking to warmer breezes, gelcoat baths, and brightwork polishings...
Suffice to say that we will be on the lake within weeks, and not a moment too soon.
See: Boats on the Hard
clock Posted Wed May 11th, 2005 - 12:38pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Dark Blue M&M's

Assuaging my fears for the coming recession, rogue nations with nuclear arms, and other general anxieties -- I was delighted to discover this morning that I could buy single colour M&M's in five pound bags over the 'Net.
Colorworks M&M's
clock Posted Wed May 11th, 2005 - 9:15am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


When Sheep Squabble

Dealing With Conflict in the Smaller Church

By Glenn C. Daman | Enrichment Journal

The small church revolves around the close relationships formed within the congregation. Because of this, many believe that a small church is a place where deeply caring people who love one another and mutually support each other gather to worship, where conflicts are nonexistent, and where “never is heard a discouraging word.”

While this is true of many smaller congregations most of the time, it is not true of every congregation all the time. Conflict is a reality that confronts a congregation regardless of how loving and caring the people are. The difference between a loving congregation and one settling into patterns of warfare is not the amount of conflict or the intensity of conflict, but the way they respond to and resolve conflict.

Loving churches resolve conflict with minimal damage to long-term relationships. Warring congregations allow conflicts to fester and grow. They never seek resolution and often add new conflicts to their existing problems.

Since conflict is a reality pastors face in small-church ministry, they need to understand the dynamics of conflict within the small church and develop godly methods for resolving it. While conflict can affect a church of any size, when it arises in a small church it can devastate the spiritual well-being of the congregation and undermine its ministry for years to come...


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clock Posted Tue May 10th, 2005 - 9:13am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Garbage and Culture

From Humanities and Social Sciences Online:

The Transdisciplinary Journal of Emergence seeks papers that explore the dynamic relationship between garbage and culture. In what ways have different cultures responded to the accumulation of garbage? In what ways do cultures manage, recycle, reuse, or store it? 

Papers may address such topics as:

  • Perceptions of garbage

  • Rituals of waste disposal

  • Politics of producing/consuming/storing garbage Aesthetics of garbage and/or its management

  • Ideologies of recycling

  • Waste management policies

  • Production/consumption of green products

  • Literary representations of waste

  • Appropriations of waste spaces

  • Garbage and the sublime


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clock Posted Mon May 9th, 2005 - 3:27pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Bigfoot and Other Beasts

Bigfoot and other beasts: A field guide to unproven animals
CBC News Online | May 5, 2005

Cryptid: Any unknown living animal that is not currently recognized in the international zoological catalogues

Cryptozoology: The study of hidden animals

How is it possible for people to believe that we share the planet with huge creatures that have somehow managed to remain largely hidden for generations, despite intensive searches for the existence of even a single example?

Call it gullibility. Call it wishful thinking. Call it the desire for tourist dollars. But those sketchy eyewitness accounts from people who sound believable and those few fuzzy photos and jerky film clips have combined to create a critical mass of cosmic goo that has given a kind of life to some legendary inhabitants of land and sea.

These unknown beasts know no boundaries – ape-like hominids from North America, Asia and Africa; sea serpents from Scotland to Canada; giant snakes from South America – the list is long and colourful.

Believers point to the 20th-century discovery of such real creatures as the Komodo dragon monitor lizard or the Coelacanth, a two-metre long fish thought to have been extinct for millions of years, as proof that it is still possible for creatures to evade discovery in the modern world. But that, of course, does not constitute proof that all the beasts of myth and legend are real. Just how does one prove that something doesn’t exist? And so the search for that most elusive of quarries goes on.

Here then, a brief field guide to the most famous of the unproven, with special emphasis on Canada’s cryptids – the shy creatures that have engaged the public imagination despite (or perhaps because of) the skepticism and denials of the experts.


Throughout the last century, there have been many reported sightings in the Pacific Northwest of a tall, hairy, ape-like creature that walks on two legs. Some reports describe groups of Sasquatches foraging for berries, some say it knows how to swim, whistle, verbalize, even scream. Invariably, it is described as “shy.”

According to one account, the term “Sasquatch” comes from a Chehalis word meaning “wild man” and was coined by a teacher in British Columbia in the 1920s. The Sasquatch name is usually applied to sightings in Canada, especially B.C. – but Bigfoot/Sasquatch researchers often use the terms interchangeably.

Bigfoot researchers have analysed feces and hair samples supposedly left by the mysterious creatures. Giant footprints yield calculations about the creature’s weight and size (almost three metres tall and 150 to 325 km).

But a picture, as they say, is worth a thousand stories.

The most famous evidence cited by Sasquatch/Bigfoot believers is a 16-mm film shot in northern California in 1967. It shows a hairy, apelike creature (supposedly a female) walking across a field as she looks over her right shoulder. Believers insist their analysis proves it’s not a guy in a gorilla suit.

In April 2005, a car ferry operator in Norway House, Man., shot three minutes of video of a “big, black figure” moving on the opposite side of the river. He said the creature was massive. The video is, to say the least, indistinct.

Other jurisdictions claim their own versions of Bigfoot/Sasquatch. The Texas Bigfoot Research Center chronicles a history of sightings going back to 1924. And then there’s Momo, “Missouri Monster,” and the woman in Michigan who said her black eye was the product of an attack from a “huge, dark, hairy creature.”

Legends of Yeti (also known as the Abominable Snowman) have floated around the Himalayan villages of Nepal and Tibet for generations. Some sightings have the creature with dark hair, like the Bigfoot. Others describe a man-sized, reddish-brown creature. Yeti apparently like yak meat. Believers insist they’re really not that abominable.


The Loch Ness Monster supposedly swims in the inky depths of northern Scotland’s Loch Ness. The most famous “evidence” for her existence, a 1934 photo that shows a head and neck slicing through the dark waters, was later exposed as a hoax – a plastic and wood model built atop a toy submarine. Not to worry. There are other photos. And Nessie lives still, through tourist sightings and a vibrant Nessie industry that nourishes the legend and the many jobs it provides.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.


Ogopogo is a Nessie-like creature that lives in B.C.’s Lake Okanagan. The creature was supposedly first spotted by aboriginal residents in the 19th century. Variously described as a five-metre to 20-metre-long, greenish, snake-like creature, it is usually detected by its “humps” that break the water. It supposedly has a head like a horse or a goat. Some accounts have it with a beard. Skeptics scoff, saying people are just seeing an optical illusion caused by waves or wind effects or boat wakes. Ogopogo believers say hundreds of eyewitness accounts can’t be wrong.

Manipogo/Winnipogo/Igopogo/Sicopogo Name a deep, dark lake in Canada and chances are someone has seen something strange swimming in it. Western Canada has no fewer than 19 lakes with some kind of sea serpent dwelling therein. In central Saskatchewan, for instance, locals tell of something with the head of a seahorse that swims around Turtle Lake. It’s been called, simply, the Turtle Lake Monster.

Ogopogo’s famous moniker has, in fact, led to a school of similar names. Sicopogo lives in British Columbia’s Shuswap Lake. Ontario’s Lake Simcoe has been host to rare sightings of a large, sea lion-like creature that’s been dubbed Igopogo.

Manipogo has apparently made several appearances in Lake Manitoba. Winnipogo – you guessed it – prefers the waters of Manitoba’s Lake Winnipegosis.

And then there’s Memphre, the sea monster that has been spotted in Quebec’s Lake Memphramagog off and on for almost two centuries. It has been described as a dark animal, five to 15 metres in length, and is apparently a good swimmer.

Cadborosaurus (“Caddy” for short) is a flippered sea serpent that frequents the waters off B.C.’s Vancouver Island. It’s named after B.C.’s Cadboro Bay.


Kraken was a legendary sea monster of Newfoundland and Norwegian folklore. The myth terrified generations of mariners who heard tales of a giant creature with huge arms and tentacles that could embrace a ship and crush the hull. Before you scoff, some experts believe that what the sailors may have been seeing was a giant squid – a very real but rarely-seen marine creature that has arms up to 11 metres long.

In 1990, Canada Post issued a series of four stamps paying tribute to four of the country’s most persistent and best-known cryptids – the Kraken, Sasquatch, Ogopogo, and Loup Garou (the werewolf).


See the article here.

clock Posted Thu May 5th, 2005 - 9:02am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Stations of the Cross

How evangelical Christians are creating an alternative universe of faith-based news

By Mariah Blake | Columbia Journalism Review

It’s the first Tuesday of April. In Washington, D.C., the magnolia trees are blooming, tourists crowd the sidewalk cafés, and Congress has just returned from its spring recess. CBN News has chosen this time to unveil its new and greatly expanded Washington bureau in the Dupont Circle area, where many major networks have their local headquarters; the three-story brick fortress that houses the Washington operations of CBS News is less than a block away.

CBN’s new digs are abuzz with activity. The Republican Senator Trent Lott came by for an interview earlier in the day, as did Jim Towey, who directs the White House office of faith-based initiatives. Now Lee Webb, the CBN anchor in from Virginia, sits behind the desk in one of the studios preparing to deliver the network’s first half-hour nightly newscast from this gleaming set. Behind him is a floor-to-ceiling world map illuminated in violet and indigo and a screen emblazoned with CBN’s logo. At his side, just beyond the camera’s view, sits a squat pedestal that holds a battered American Standard Bible. Webb lowers his head and folds his hands. “Father, we are grateful for today’s program,” he says. “We pray for your blessing. We ask that what we’re about to do will bring honor to you.” Then the cameras roll.


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clock Posted Tue May 3rd, 2005 - 12:47pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Brand Canada -- No More

Canadian (U.S.) Club Whisky known to Canucks as 'CC' falls prey to the era of globalization

Naomi Powell | The Hamilton Spectator

First it was Tim Hortons. Then it was Molson. Now ownership of Canadian Club, the legendary whisky known to Canucks as "CC," is poised to go south of the border. Iconic Canadian brands -- the beers, double-doubles and rye whiskies that are the stuff of fierce national pride -- are being snatched up by foreign companies. And experts say we don't care -- as long as those brands maintain the appearance, if not the substance, of being Canadian.

"Welcome to the global marketplace," says Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at York University. "It doesn't matter who owns what." But in a country that has always fretted about distinguishing itself from the superpower next door, others say we should take more interest in who is controlling our national symbols. "In an era of globalization we don't debate that much anymore and maybe we should," says Richard Nimijean, a professor in the school of Canadian Studies at Carleton University. "The question is whether we should care about what this does to our sovereignty and identity."

Last week, Pernod Ricard of France announced a $14.4-billion bid to buy U.K.-based liquor producer Allied Domecq, the current owner of Canadian Club. The sale, which could be complete by early August, would see Canadian Club -- a brand advertised as "the Spirit of Canada" -- go to U.S.-based Fortune Brands in exchange for cash to support the deal. A second possible bidder emerged this week, when an American consortium made up of Constellation Brands, Brown-Forman and two private equity firms, the Blackstone Group and Lion Capital, announced plans to create a rival offer for Allied. Whoever wins ownership of the liquor giant, one thing is almost certain, control of CC will not return to Canadian hands anytime soon. Yet the first item of business for CC's new owners, experts predict, will be to maintain the whisky's identity as a "Canadian" product. "You don't buy a great Canadian, French or British brand in order to turn it into a generic brand," said Erik Gordon, a marketing professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "Unless you are stupid or clumsy, you don't mess with that." And while it might seem odd for an American company to market Canadiana to Canadians, it wouldn't be the first time. Consider Tim Hortons. The doughnut dynasty that opened its first outlet in Hamilton in 1964 was sold to Ohio-based Wendy's International Inc in 1995. Since then, hockey, tuques and general Canadian patriotism have continued to dominate its advertisements.

The recent "True Stories" campaign featured Canadian fiddler Natalie McMaster and Shorty Jenkins, an ice-maker for a curling club in Brockville, Ont. For the first eight years, Canadians seemed happy to leave the stewardship of Tim Hortons to the Wendy's crew. After all, in an era of global outsourcing, who knew who owned what anymore? Then came the great frozen dough fiasco of 2003, when Tim Hortons opted to increase efficiency by freezing doughnuts into uniform sizes and shapes. "Everybody went crazy," Gordon recalls. "They said 'oh that's what happens when you get bought by a big American company." What Gordon refers to as the "great Canadian angst" over American cultural imperialism had reared its ugly head.

It was the same uneasiness that flared up when Molson Inc. merged with American-brewer Adolph Coors Co. Many found it hard to accept that the company that gave us "Joe Canadian" -- the character whose patriotic rant became a credo for many beer-drinkers -- was partnering with an American corporation. "That's the paradoxical nature of Canadians," said Nimijean. "As we've become less distinct economically we sometimes feel this need to proclaim our Canadianness. I mean, it's not rational to argue that Canadian beer is better than American beer, but we do."

Perhaps sensing this volatility in its Canadian customers, Canadian Club has long employed a "director of brand heritage." Dan Tullio manages a 10-member team of tour guides and brand ambassadors whose sole responsibility is to protect the integrity and history of the brand. "When we're talking about whisky there has to be a story behind it," says Tullio. "Walker might have been American, but there is nothing more Canadian than Canadian Club." When it comes to Tim Hortons, a possible return to Canadian ownership could be on the horizon. Wall Street hedge fund manager William Ackman -- whose firm owns 9.3 per cent of Wendy's International -- said this week that he plans to push for a restructuring of the company. That could result in the Hortons business being spun off into an income trust that Yankees and Canucks alike could buy into.

And having a little more control over a national symbol might very well be a good thing -- depending on your point of view. "Some of these symbols are really important," says Nimijean. "And this matters in the sense that we are losing control of them and of our economy."


clock Posted Mon May 2nd, 2005 - 11:47pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


PlayStations of the Cross

by JONATHAN DEE | NY Times magazine, May 1, 2005

The Rev. Ralph Bagley is on a very 21st-century sort of mission: introducing the word of God into what he calls the ''dark Satanic arena'' of the video-game business. But he has an old-fashioned calling to back it up. ''I've always just loved video games,'' he says. ''I was one of the guys playing Pong. When I became a Christian in 1992, I still wanted to play, but it was hard when the best-quality games out there were Doom, Quake -- Satanic stuff, you know? Stuff that if I went to church on Sunday and came home and wanted to play a video game, I kind of felt a little bit guilty about it. I tried to find other games out there that were Christian, and there were none. Absolutely nothing. I'm the kind of guy that when I see something that's not being done, I want to do it myself.''

Bagley, an Oregon-based publisher of a Christian tabloid newspaper, had an idea for a game in which persecuted Christians are rescued from the catacombs of ancient Rome; after taking a class in early Christian history for accuracy's sake, he pitched the game to six different investors -- Christian and secular alike -- and they all turned him down flat.

So Bagley put his project on the proverbial shelf, and there it sat until the shootings at Columbine High School.

''Two of the investors that I had originally contacted, and they didn't know each other, called me back after Columbine,'' he told me recently, ''and said, Listen, you know, I've been hearing this stuff on the news'' -- much of the follow-up coverage focused on the teen killers' devotion to ''first-person shooter'' video games like Doom and Quake -- ''and now I kind of feel like maybe I should support this.'' With almost a million dollars in seed money, Bagley not only developed his ancient-Rome game, Catechumen -- an early term for a convert -- but also founded his own Christian game-development studio, which he named N'Lightning Software.

''We're going to hold the word of God up and illuminate the place,'' Bagley likes to say. ''We're taking the land back from Satan.''

It's a mission that's not always popular, either among secular gamers or among his fellow Christians. A great many people of faith believe the video-game business is so irredeemable that the best response is simply to bar the door. And beyond the violence and witchcraft, there are more subtle theological objections having to do with gaming's unprecedented exercise in creative decontrol and free will. As one essay in a Christian publication recently had it, ''In a virtual world, what happens when the bad guy wins?''

There are those who honor God by renouncing worldly things, and then there are those to whom the world itself, in all its aspects, is a battleground on which they are unwilling to cede any territory to God's opponents -- even the corrupt, disreputable, seemingly unsalvageable territory of the interactive-entertainment business. An evangelical Christian who talks about the demonization of video games is not necessarily employing a metaphor. In a scenario right out of a game itself, in a landscape where all hope of redemption seemed abandoned long ago, the soldiers of God are amassing.

''It didn't seem like a good idea,'' says Peter Fokos, a longtime game developer who mortgaged his house and liquidated his retirement fund to start his own Christian development studio, Digital Praise. ''But if you look at the Bible, a lot of things are like that. Not a good idea, but God wants you to do them anyway.''

f the notion of a market in faith-based video games seems unlikely, so too, 15 years ago, did the idea of Christian pop music as a moneymaking enterprise. Christian pop is now responsible for 7 percent of the total pop-music market, with more than 43 million albums sold last year -- not a niche but a major element in music-industry demographics. That's the example Christian game developers mean to follow. ''I kind of liken it to the westward expansion,'' Scott Wong, president of a Washington State company called Brethren Entertainment, told me. ''Just like you'd have the one pioneer who would go out ahead of the rest and be eaten by bears or killed by Indians or something, 10 or 15 years ago you'd see some music companies that would sprout up and then die off. They might have had something good, but at that point there wasn't any infrastructure to hold it up. Christian video games I think will follow the same track.''

Of course, there are differences. As Wong points out, any Christian can pick up a guitar and sing, but to make a decent video game for a PlayStation or an Xbox, you need anywhere from $3 million to $6 million. Still, consumers spent $2.9 billion last year just on software for video consoles. Seven percent of that would be a pretty good market, and Tom Bean, for one, says he thinks that the buyers are out there. Bean, a former mortgage banker and a member of the same church as Fokos, helped found Digital Praise two years ago in California's high-tech corridor with Fokos and Tom's older brother, Bill. Bill Bean, who left a software-sales job for this uncertain venture, describes it as his ''trip to Nineveh,'' a reference to the heathen city to which God ordered a reluctant Jonah. Tom prefers the Blues Brothers' credo: ''We're on a mission from God.''

The challenge for a company like Digital Praise is not just to compete for retail shelf space but to create a retail shelf where none previously existed. The three partners began by obtaining the license for a long-running Christian radio serial called ''Adventures in Odyssey,'' and in March they released their first two games based on it, aimed at players 8 and older. ''Odyssey'' is the name of an imaginary and ruthlessly idealized Midwestern town in which kids solve mysteries with the help of a kindly old local inventor and ice-cream-shop owner named Whit, who in his spare time is a consultant for the U.S. Department of Defense. The games are enjoyable but avoid any direct references to God, preferring to concentrate on virtues like ''trust.''

Can a message be so buried as to be functionally absent? An electrical engineer and gaming enthusiast named Tim Emmerich started a Christian Game Developers Conference three years ago in Portland; as attendance has tripled to about 100, the debate over how much religion to put in a religious game has grown quite lively. Some adopt what Emmerich calls the C.S. Lewis approach; others, like Bagley, take a more scriptural tack. N'Lightning's two games (its second release is Ominous Horizons, wherein a player is transported to 14th-century Germany in order to recover the original Gutenberg Bible, stolen by agents of the Devil) are among the most successful in the genre, with Catechumen having sold about 80,000 units to date. ''Each game is loaded with Scripture,'' Bagley said. ''They're not preachy games, but I believe the word of God gets into men's hearts and minds, and it doesn't return void.''

Then there is the question of violence, and its place not only in the gaming experience in general but in Christianity itself. Pat and Mackenzie Ponech, a father and son from Edmonton, Alberta, have built and distributed a game with the portentous title Eternal War: Shadows of Light. You play Eternal War in the role of an angel named Michael, called to Earth to intervene as a despairing teenager named John contemplates suicide. The intervention takes the form of a rather violent, though gore-free, battle with the demons in John's mind. It looks simultaneously like a homemade project (the on-screen text is riddled with misspellings) and a high-end console game -- in large part because the Ponechs, as a way of cutting costs, built Eternal War by adding their own characters to the basic framework, or ''game engine,'' of the phenomenally popular Quake, a perfectly legal act of appropriation. (Quake's original developers, in an act of cyberaltruism, declined to copyright the engine itself.) In fact, once you move past the text-only introduction, Eternal War is mostly an orgy of shooting and stabbing just like many secular games -- but toward, presumably, a different and better end.

Scott Wong, of Brethren, acknowledges that ''the actual act of pulling a trigger and hunting down something -- somebody might have a problem with that. I always tell people that if you want good drama, you have to have conflict -- without that, you can't make your point.''

The proper classification of Eternal War -- ''Christian first-person shooter'' -- seems almost comically counterintuitive. But since when do we equate religion with nonviolence? While most faith-based gamemakers draw the line at realistic gore (humans in one game, as they are dispatched from earth, literally see the light), you need not go as far back as the Bible to be reminded that Christianity does not shy away from violence if the goal, even in a fantasy context, is a righteous one. ''We've talked about the righteous anger, if you want to get into it,'' Pat Ponech says. ''In the Bible there were battles where, even myself reading through it, I think: Gee whiz, you go in and clean out an entire city, leaving no one alive, not even the animals?''

Bagley told me that N'Lightning ''didn't want to create a nonviolent game. That wasn't really my mission or my vision. Spiritual warfare -- that's the whole premise in both of our games. Some of these games, you've got Joseph herding some sheep into a little field and how many sheep can you put in the pen, you know? Sorry, that's not going to cut it in today's environment. Maybe for a 4-year-old, but not for the assistant pastor who wants to go home and play a cool game.''

There is, however, one vital element of the ''cool'' secular gaming experience that Christian developers say they will not embrace: the moral relativism embodied in the R.P.G., or role-playing game. In a game like World of Warcraft, the player is given the opportunity to experience the same virtual environment through the perspectives of a variety of different characters, some much less upright than others. The Christian gamers' position is that, while you may fight the Devil and lose, you may not fight as the Devil.

''There's this assumption when you have a Christian game that the developers are responsible for the experience that the player is having,'' Scott Wong says, ''that it's going to be a spiritually safe kind of experience. But getting into the head of the Devil . . . there would be upheaval, definitely.'' It's less a theological position than one about games and their slippery relationship to reality. ''Everyone heard about that J.F.K. game,'' Bill Bean says, referring to a game in which you can play as Lee Harvey Oswald, ''and now there's a new one, Narc, where in order to be more effective within the game you need to take crack . . . stuff like that. Or there are those racing games where at the end there's the scantily clad bikini gals jumping up and down, hooray for the winner. And then we're surprised when the kids who play these games have problems later on? It's like, let's start programming them for this stuff when they're 9 years old. People say that games don't affect what people do. Oh, really? Isn't marketing all about reintroducing subtle messages over and over again? Doesn't that compel people to do things?''

Whatever else divides them, the Christian gaming community is united in its focus on the next step: getting out of the relatively minor-league realm of the desktop computer and breaking into the high-profile, high-revenue world of console games -- PlayStation, Xbox, GameBoy. The obstacles are primarily, though not exclusively, financial. A company called NEI tried and failed to develop a faith-based Xbox game a few years ago; Micro Forte, a games developer based in Australia, has just announced plans to try one itself.

''You've got a development cost of $2.5 to $4 million,'' Bagley estimates, ''and then a marketing budget of about 150 percent of that. We've paid a $500,000 license fee just to use the game engine to develop it on. Right now there's no one in the Christian developer community, including myself, who can afford to do that.''

And so Bagley has turned the effort to develop a console game into a ministry in itself. In January he founded the Christian Game Developers Foundation to raise the seed money for the first high-end faith-based console video game, in connection with which he travels to megachurches across the country and asks the congregants, in effect, to finance a still-hypothetical Christian game on both ends -- first by subsidizing its development and then by buying it whenever it's released.

The response thus far, in donations of $20 and more, has been ''overwhelming,'' Bagley says. ''We were hoping to get 2 out of 10 people to donate; right now we're averaging 8 out of 10, and mainly it's women. Women are just more in tune with what their kids are doing.''

And once a game is developed -- then what? ''Same hurdles we faced on the PC side,'' Bagley says. ''A lot of retailers, especially your secular retailers like the Software Etc.'s and Wal-Marts and Kmarts and Targets and places like that, they have no idea how to market Christian games. What we need to do is create a Christian game section in all these retailers. You go into Wal-Mart, and there's a Christian music section. That's what I'm fighting for. I've been in discussions with Wal-Mart about that very thing, and I think we're probably going to get it done. Not in the next month or two, but eventually.

''Unfortunately there's a perception among the Christian development community that these guys are our enemy, but they're not,'' Bagley went on to say. ''They just want to sell units. And once we sit them down, I think they'll understand the numbers, because I know. I've already done it. This is not speculation. I've been out here doing this for five years now.''

Bagley claims that, once the financing is in place, the diverse group of Christian developers will allow their talent to be cherry-picked for the purpose of making one high-quality console game (''maybe Catechumen 2,'' he says). While this may come as news to some of his peers, it is true that all these companies make a great show of asserting that they are in no way competitive with one another -- a principle born not just in fellowship but in good business sense; the more viable Christian games hit the market, the less of an anomaly each individual one will be. Bagley gave the nascent Digital Praise his own customer list, while Digital Praise lends expertise and even the use of some of its facilities to Wong's Brethren Entertainment. ''We all look at it like we're working for the same conglomerate,'' Fokos says. ''Which is God.''

Still, together or separately, they are all diving into a business that's not simply worldly but somewhat ruthless, in which the trend is toward consolidation. Most small, independent-minded developers will most likely either be crushed underfoot or bought up by the big guys. Who, then, are the Christians' competitors? Certainly they do not lack for a sense of cultural opposition; whether it's real or the motivational product of a kind of persecution complex, time will tell. ''There seems to be a stigma about Christian content,'' Wong says. ''I think there's this perception in the United States, on the left you heard all these things even during the election -- 'I don't like this Christian agenda.' And we heard at the conference from some people who used to work at Nintendo, and they said that if a game had some reference to prayer or something like that, Nintendo would edit that out. Yet Breath of Fire II, which is a Nintendo game, says, 'Pray to god,' but that god happens to be a demon. There are these idols that are in there. But those elements are fine, for some reason. In a sense it's puzzling, but in another sense not so much, because these kinds of things happen so often when it comes to Christian issues. It takes a long time to overcome the stereotype.'' A Nintendo executive replies, ''We've chosen not to include any religious imagery in the games we make,'' while noting that Breath of Fire II was developed by a third party, not by Nintendo.

Fokos's view is more straightforward. ''Frankly,'' he says, ''Satan is our only competition. He's out to seduce the world. He's out to seduce our children. That's our challenge.''

According to Tom Bean, ''If we wanted to put out a console game that had a cross in it -- not that we do, that's not our goal -- that game would not go forward.'' Is he suggesting that console makers would edit the crosses out? ''We don't know that, because we haven't tried it,'' he maintains. ''But that's what we've been told.''

''It's amazing,'' Bill Bean adds, ''that you can have anything to do with the occult or any type of witchcraft or whatever in games, and that's cool,'' he told me. ''But if you bring a cross in it and you say, 'Christian,' then immediately it's no. It seems that there's a spiritual battle out there. The occult is part of Satan's network. And a lot of games today put all of the occult in an extremely positive light. It really seems that the area of games isn't Christ's territory. It's Satan's backyard. And we're trying to take some of that territory back.''

Pretty combative talk over what is, in the end, imaginary space; but the notion of the virtual environment as a contested religious space makes perfect sense, all the more so as the complexity of those virtual worlds more and more closely approximates that of our own. Most games contain no instructions and only the simplest prelude: you learn how to play by playing. You are faced with a seemingly opaque environment and a confusing, seemingly infinite range of choices. It's easy to despair. What draws us in is our faith in the unseen designer -- the certainty that somewhere within that baffling range of options a path has been laid out for us, and to stay in the game we have to find it.

Jonathan Dee is a novelist and a contributing writer for the magazine. His last feature article was about the activist Reverend Billy.


clock Posted Sun May 1st, 2005 - 11:32pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page