Posted Sun May 29th, 2005 - 6:00pm by
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Posted Mon May 30th, 2005 - 12:17pm by
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Summer Reading List
I'm pulling my summer reading list
together -- and hoping that I can get through these titles by
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
Van Til's Aplogetics
Greg L. Bahnsen
Church Without Walls
Hitchhiker - A Biography of Douglas Adams
To be continued..... :)
Posted Tue May 31st, 2005 - 12:45pm by
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My Right Hand
After nearly 30 years of
struggling to play guitar
with short, brittle nails -- I was introduced --by my
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 |
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
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,
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."
Posted Mon May 30th, 2005 - 7:45pm by
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Purgatory without end
The Economist print edition
Why is America still so prone to wars of
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
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
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
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
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
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
Posted Mon May 30th, 2005 - 12:45pm by
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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
to 99% food grade ingredients !
is NOT a petrochemical (PVA-poly vinyl acrylic
plastic) stretched across your wall.
wall finish does NOT contain the same toxic
ingredients in what the paint industry calls paint.
breathe the volatile organic carbons from painted wall
Isn’t breathing it the same as eating it?
consider a gallon of our wall finish 12 pounds of
vanilla truffles, it’s delicious!
The roar of the greasepaint, the
smell of the liturgy
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
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,
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
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.
Posted Sat May 28th, 2005 - 11:00am by
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Guitarist Domenic Troiano dies
- 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."
Posted Fri May 27th, 2005 - 11:00am by
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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.
- 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.
Posted Thu May 26th, 2005 - 11:50pm by
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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:
Posted Thu May 26th, 2005 - 10:20am by
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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
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
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
. . .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.
Shame on Us
2004, the human rights of ordinary men, women and children were
disregarded and grossly abused in every corner of the globe. The
Report 2005, covering 149 countries, is a detailed picture of
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
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.
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.
Posted Wed May 25th, 2005 - 11:32pm by
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Christian group ends boycott of Disney
MISS. - A Christian pressure group has ended its nine-year boycott
of the Walt Disney Co., saying there are more pressing matters to deal
"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
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
"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:
Posted Tue May 24th, 2005 - 11:25pm by
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Red Dragon Torch Kit
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.
Posted Mon May 23rd, 2005 - 9:02m by
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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
Posted Sat May 21st, 2005 - 9:06m by
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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
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
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.”
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"?
Posted Fri May 20th, 2005 - 9:33m by
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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,
Read the rest of this article at
Posted Wed May 18th, 2005 - 9:10am by
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Return of the axis of evil
The Economist (print edition)
An embarrassment for George Bush, and a test for his critics
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...
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Posted Mon May 16th, 2005 - 12:01pm by
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By Robert S. McNamara
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
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Posted Thu May 12th, 2005 - 6:01pm by
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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
Posted Wed May 11th, 2005 - 12:38pm by
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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.
Posted Wed May 11th, 2005 - 9:15am by
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When Sheep Squabble
Dealing With Conflict in the Smaller Church
By Glenn C. Daman |
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
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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Posted Tue May 10th, 2005 - 9:13am by
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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
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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Posted Mon May 9th, 2005 - 3:27pm by
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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
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
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
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
Posted Thu May 5th, 2005 - 9:02am by
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Stations of the Cross
evangelical Christians are creating an alternative universe of
By Mariah Blake |
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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Posted Tue May 3rd, 2005 - 12:47pm by
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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
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
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."
Posted Mon May 2nd, 2005 - 11:47pm by
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
''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
Jonathan Dee is a novelist and a contributing writer for the
magazine. His last feature article was about the activist Reverend
Posted Sun May 1st, 2005 - 11:32pm by
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