Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy Merry New Christmas Year

I'm so confused! As I mentioned in my previous post, this is Christmas Part B for my household. (Getting divorced and establishing a blended family will do this to the holiday season.) Today is New Year's Eve, but my children opened their Christmas presents this morning.

We're driving to Peterborough tomorrow to celebrate — ummmm … I think it's still Christmas for a few days yet.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

What I did on my Christmas vacation

Readership is still light, but I feel like I'm overdue to post something. So, in keeping with the relaxed mood of the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, I offer you … What I did on my Christmas vacation.

I should start by admitting that I didn't do what I had planned to do, which was to read a 900-page theology tome by one of my favourite scholars. I know, that isn't your idea of a vacation activity, but I often read theology to relax. (Even late at night when I'm very tired, which may explain why I have some strange convictions.)

I got distracted by something of lesser significance. For some while, I've wanted to learn how to take music recorded in an analog format (on an audio cassette or vinyl LP) and convert it into digital information. Since my primary Christmas present was an iPod Mini (thank you very much, Mary P.!), I decided it was time to figure this process out.

Remember, I'm from a generation that didn't grow up with computers. In my high school, kids one year behind me had courses in how to use a computer. I missed it by one year … but actually, I didn't miss much. Some of you will find it absolutely incredible, but those kids learned to punch holes in pieces of cardboard:  that was how they fed program information into the computers!

(Go ahead, laugh at the inferior technology. As late as the 1980s, Russian cosmonauts were using that kind of computer, or something only marginally superior to it, to run their space program. They managed to build a space station with that technology. That and lots of duct tape, of course.)

I own Roxio software, and I use it to burn CDs. I was vaguely aware that it could also convert a signal from analog to digital, but I hadn't the foggiest notion how to achieve it. And the stumbling block was something ridiculously simple.

I understood that, somehow, I needed to feed the analog sound into the computer, but I didn't know how to do it. I had read that you must feed the signal directly into the computer's sound card. But I had this vague, unexamined notion that it required a special attachment.

During Christmas vacation, I turned to the fount of all computer wisdom:  Mary P.'s sixteen-year-old son, who is extraordinarily knowledgable even by the standards of his generation. He immediately pointed to a little hole in the back of the computer: "You plug the cable in there," he informed me.


The harder part was figuring out how to use the "Sound Editor" function in Roxio, because the instructions were utterly useless. I had to resort to a process of trial and error. But hey! — that's how men prefer to use technology anyway! Instruction manuals are for scrawny little girls, not for powerful grown men. Figuring it out was good for my ego, after the humiliation of not knowing about the "line in" hole in the back of our computer.

Three hours later, Mary P. asked me how the project was coming along. I triumphantly informed her that I had converted three entire songs from analog to digital — one per hour! This was a major turn on for her, let me assure you. Women find geeks sexy, however much they protest to the contrary.

I spent most of Monday and Tuesday converting even more songs to digital. For example, I had Sting's Nothing Like the Sun on audio cassette. I had Paul Simon's Graceland on audio cassette, too. (Graceland still holds up as an outstanding achievement, by the way; I recommend it very highly.)

Even more fun awaited me:  the Canadian Dedication Suite, performed live by Hugh Fraser and the Vancouver Ensemble of Jazz Improvisation. This is a live recording of a concert I attended this past summer at the Ottawa International Jazz Festival. The Suite was specially commissioned to celebrate the Jazz Festival's 25th anniversary. It was rebroadcast on a local FM station about a week later, and I recorded it. And now — ladies, try to restrain your ardor — I have converted it to a digital file and transferred it to my iPod.

In the best bootleg tradition, I had considered offering you a sample track, but the file is too big to upload to If you're curious, I can e-mail it to you. (The Canadian Dedication Suite isn't available on disc.)

It consists of two parts. The first 2:30 consists of the histrionics of the female vocalist. Shades of Yoko Ono / didgeridoo / Janis Joplin. (What?! You've never heard a vocalist mimic a didgeridoo before? Well, then, you haven't really lived, have you?!)

In the second part, the vocalist (I regret that I do not know her name) demonstrates that she can also sing, when VEJI launches into a great blues composition, "The Mother of Us All".

Alas, all good vacations must come to an end. Wednesday I was back at work, although "work" is an exaggeration; not much is happening in the office.

And actually, only the first part of my vacation is over. My kids are off school for another week, and I'll be taking them to visit my parents and two of my two sisters. Christmas Part B, as it were.

But it will be more hectic than the quiet days I enjoyed earlier this week, converting analog data into digital. Ooh, I feel so potent!

copyright © 2006, Stephen Peltz

Monday, December 26, 2005


Over at Ragged Glory, I explain the history of Chanukah in more detail than you may have seen before.

To my Jewish readers, Happy Chanukah!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

A Cradle in Bethlehem

UPDATE, 1:40 p.m.

49erdweet did an online search and found a downloadable version of the song (or at least an excerpt from it) by Sylvia, available here. (The actual Web site is here.)

Thanks, 49er; much appreciated!

The version I have — the only version I knew of until now — was recorded by Nat King Cole in 1960.

A Cradle In Bethlehem

Sing sweet and low your lullaby
'til angels say, "Amen"
A mother tonight
Is rocking a cradle in Bethlehem.

While wise men follow through the dark
A star that beckons them
A mother tonight
Is rocking a cradle in Bethlehem.

"A little child shall lead them,"
The prophet said of old
In storm and tempest, heed him
Until the bell is tolled.

Sing sweet and low your lullaby
'til angels say, "Amen"
A mother tonight
Is rocking a cradle in Bethlehem.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Refreshingly honest tech support

This amused me. I tried to access gmail, and got this message instead:
Gmail is temporarily unavailable. Cross your fingers and try again in a few minutes.
That kind of honesty is refreshing. No gobbledygook technical jargon, and no offer to send a message to gmail to alert them to the problem.

All that stuff is just smoke & mirrors, in my opinion. It's like the "door close" button in an elevator — there aren't any wires attached to it; it's there only for the placebo effect.

"Cross your fingers." There's an instruction I understand.

And it worked! I can access my inbox! How 'bout that.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The foster child:
an inspirational Christmas story

Two posts today. Below, see the post on homosexual civil partnerships in the UK. And, over at Ragged Glory, you'll find a short inspirational story written by yours truly.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Elton and David get married (sort of)

British law has been changed to allow gay couples to wed — sort of. The UK now recognizes homosexual civil partnerships. Guardian Unlimited explains:
Registering as a civil partnership gives same-sex couples new rights, meaning they will be entitled to the same tax, employment and some pension benefits as married heterosexual couples.
Elton John was the most prominent celebrity to get hitched yesterday. He "married" David Furnish, his (Canadian) partner for the past twelve years. A guest is quoted as saying, "There were tears. They kissed at the end. It was very, very happy. It was like any other couple getting married."

Some of Elton's fans were perhaps a little disappointed that he didn't dress more flamboyantly for the occasion.

I've been an Elton John fan for many years, but the story of a non-celebrity couple moved me more. Here is an excerpt from Jerome Farrell's first-person account:
My expectations of the register office at our local town hall were not high. Early in 2005, I sent an email to ask for some information. No reply. A month later, I sent another … and then another the following month.

By May, I was beginning to think I was being deliberately ignored, so I went there prepared to argue with what I feared might be homophobic staff. We had, after all, heard of some councils at best dragging their feet in the implementation of the new law.

But the council officer I spoke to was very apologetic — her senior colleague had been on long-term sick leave, and no one had been able to access her email for months. They had not yet been told what the procedures would be, but I could book a provisional date and contact them again in November. …

We have lived together for four years, and have been committed partners for six. We both had previous partners: Ray lived with Jeffrey for 21 years until he died in April 1995, aged 45. I met Steve in 1986 and he died in December 1995, shortly after his 40th birthday.

The loss of a partner is indescribable, but Ray and I are fortunate to have found, in each other, the source of another loving relationship. We hope to be able to share what may, if we are lucky, be the second half of our lives together.

December 21, when the first partnership ceremonies take place, is the day of the winter solstice — a symbolic turning point, with increasing light each day in the season to follow.

By sheer coincidence, it also happens to be the date on which Steve's funeral took place ten years ago. When I realised that this was the first date Ray and I could register our partnership, I went to think. We talked about it and concluded it would actually be entirely appropriate for us to book the register office for that day. …

The venue for our partnership ceremony reminds me of the petty inequalities the new law will eliminate. The day after Steve died, I went to the town hall to register his death. I explained to the registrar that I was Steve's partner and lived with him, but she informed me that only relatives could register a death.

A loophole was found — I was with Steve when he died in our home, and could register in that capacity with the words "present at the death" appearing after my name on the certificate to explain how I qualified as the person registering the information. Had I not been present when Steve died, his mother or sister (both of whom lived 150 miles away) would have had to register the death.
For Jerome and Ray, and Elton and David, the legal recognition of civil partnerships is a major step forward. But does the new law give true equality to homosexual couples? In Canada, we have eliminated even the semantic distinction:  gay couples can marry.

Guardian Unlimited sometimes placed the word in quotation marks, as here:
Sir Elton John and his partner, David Furnish, were "married" as the first same-sex civil partnership ceremonies took place in England and Wales today.
I hate to end this post on a negative note. But until those quotation marks can be struck out, the UK is still denying homosexuals full equality.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Snow removal

After a major snowfall like we had last week, snow plugs up the streets and seriously interferes with the day-to-day activities of the city. The municipality springs dramatically into action to remove the snow as quickly as possible.

First, the city notifies people not to park at the side of the road. Bleccch!, snow at the side of a busy road gets filthy in a hurry!

You may never have seen one of these before:  it's a sidewalk plow. People are expected to clear the snow from in front of their houses, but the municipality helps out for the sake of public safety.

Another view of the sidewalk plow. Isn't it cute?! I've always thought it would be a great job, to be the driver of such a machine.

This is a snow plow of a different magnitude. Nothing cute about this monster!

Eventually the two plows create a line of snow a foot or two away from the curb.

Now that the snow is in a nice, neat line, the snow-throwing machine comes along. (I have no idea what the machine is really called.) Note the gaping maw, which contains two screw-like thingies that turn in opposite directions to pull in the snow. (I hope I'm not overwhelming you with too much technical jargon.)

Here's a better look at the snow thrower in action, filling a truck to overflowing.

It takes a whole convoy of trucks to cart the snow away. When I took this photo, there was one truck beside the snow-throwing machine, and six more lined up behind it. They will transport the snow to a kind of dump.

The city of Toronto became the butt of a lot of jokes in 1999, when they had to call in the Canadian army to clear away their snow. Toronto is the city Canadians love to hate; this was too juicy an opportunity for people to pass it up.

But all the mockery was a bit of a cheap shot. This writer reports, "In 158 years of record-keeping, there's only been 41 times when Toronto was hit with more than 25 cm of snow in a 24-hour period."

On the east coast, they get a snowfall like that about twice a month, as near as I can figure. So Halifax is always prepared for it (sort of); and Toronto isn't.

Since Toronto is Canada's most important economic center, that much snow can have a real impact on the economy.

copyright © 2006, Stephen Peltz

Saturday, December 17, 2005

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

This is one night's snow fall. They don't call it the Great White North for nothin'!

Here comes Suzy Snowflake;
Soon you will hear her say,
"Come out ev'ryone and play with me;
I haven't long to stay.

I haven't long to stay?! The songwriter obviously didn't live in Ottawa.

Over on Ragged Glory, I've published a new post, "Mary's Song".

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Good news? For whom?

Is the Gospel good news? Yes: but perhaps not for everybody.

In my view, there is one group for whom the Gospel is not good news. See my explanation at Ragged Glory.

Full disclosure:  The post has a bit of an evangelistic thrust to it. I utilize a positive, Christmassy approach to the subject, but some of you may prefer to give this post a miss.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Community living vs. institutionalization

Canadians are still fumbling around, trying to decide how best to care for individuals who are mentally handicapped. A story in yesterday's Globe and Mail brought the issue to mind, but let me begin with a personal anecdote.

For four years in the late 1980s, I was the pastor of a small church in a rural setting. One day I received a phone call from the local undertaker to ask if I could perform a funeral service. The deceased was not a member of any local church; but that was the least significant detail of a terribly sad story.

Let's give him a name. He was, after all, a human being. Let's call him Greg.

Greg was mentally handicapped. His family decided that they couldn't care for him but, in those days, there was no institution dedicated to people with needs like his. So Greg was placed in the local "old age home".

And that is where he spent his entire life. No member of his family ever visited him. When he died, he did not have a single friend.

There were three people present at Greg's funeral:  the director of the funeral home, one of the staff from the seniors' residence, and me. The funeral director contacted Greg's cousin, the next of kin, but he declined the invitation to the service.

There were three people present at Greg's funeral, and we were all there in a professional capacity.

What a heartbreaking story. Jesus once spoke (compassionately) of "the least of these, my brethren". In my mind, Greg is the poster boy for that text.

Society still wrestles with this issue:  where shall we put individuals who are mentally handicapped, if their families cannot care for them?

The Globe and Mail story is the latest update on a conflict that has been playing itself out for years. The Government of Ontario plans to close three facilities that house about 1,000 severely developmentally disabled Ontarians. The government intends to move the residents into group homes and other community facilities, and shut down all three centres by 2009.

At least some family members vehemently oppose the plan. The individuals themselves presumably are not competent to express an opinion, even though the decision directly concerns them.

Let's begin by recognizing that these institutions are better than the situation Greg was stuck with. They were a progressive idea at the time. People like Greg at least get to live with their peers there. And that's where the rest of us make friends — from among our peers.

I'm familiar with one of the three institutions. It is a massive place, with its own bowling alley and indoor swimming pool, for example. The residents rarely need to leave the grounds, even for medical care. Doctors, dentists, and other medical professionals come to the facility as part of an interdisciplinary caregiving team.

But wait a minute. The residents rarely need to leave the grounds:  is this a good thing or a bad thing?

After I left pastoral ministry I spent six years working in group homes for mentally handicapped people. Long-time readers will remember a previous post in which I described a resident of one of those group homes, Bruce. Here's an anecdote from that post:
We purchased a wheelchair for Bruce for longer outings. On gorgeous summer days, when I just had to get outside, I would take him for a long walk through the neighborhood. Sometimes he would object by pulling off his shoe and wailing, but usually he quite enjoyed it. He would rest his head in one hand and growl contentedly, watching people wash their cars, or children playing.

Sometimes I would walk beside the wheelchair, pulling it along from the side to make eye contact with him. I would talk to him as we walked. He would grin with delight, maybe slap himself [for joy], and reach out one hand toward me in a gesture of affection.

Two boys came over to meet him on one memorable occasion. They asked me a few questions and looked at him with unabashed curiosity. Suddenly their eyes lit up and their jaws dropped open. "How does he do that?", one of them asked.

"Do what?", I said. They were plainly amazed, but I had no idea why.

"How does he turn his tongue completely upside down?!" These boys weren't put off by Bruce at all; on the contrary, they were deeply impressed by his novel talent.
The point is, it was good for Bruce to live in the community. It was good for him, and it was good for the neighbours, like these two boys.

But maybe community living isn't always the best arrangement. It is rarely a good idea to make one rule and apply it to everyone indiscriminately. Some people, who have severe physical handicaps, live in constant pain. Others, who have psychiatric disorders, may be a danger to themselves and others.

Remember, this process of emptying the institutions has been underway for years now. The Globe and Mail reports:
About 5,000 developmentally disabled Ontario residents have been moved from regional centres into community facilities and services over the past 25 years.

The 1,000 remaining at the three centres are among the oldest:  some are in their 60s, 70s and 80s. Others are profoundly low functioning, or without family members, or with serious behavioural problems. Many have lived in the facilities for 50 years or more.
Shouldn't the government evaluate these individuals as individuals? Who says that one solution is the best choice for everyone?

When I think about Greg, and Bruce, there's no question where my bias lies:  let's provide the necessary resources and get as many of these folks out into the community as we possibly can. For example, the first group home I worked at employed several staff with a nursing background, and they were competent to provide basic medical care in the home. In most cases, it is possible to provide care in the community.

But let's not assume it's true in every case. Let's not act out of a misguided sense of political correctness — as if to atone for past failures (which were legion).

Let's make community living our default option. But maybe the institutions also have a legitimate place in the continuum of care, in those exceptional instances when the default option isn't the best choice.

Still no word on the fate of the CPT captives

The latest information, from today's Globe and Mail, may be summarized as follows:
  • the Swords of Righteousness Brigade has not communicated with anyone since the deadline passed;
  • they probably never expected that the USA would comply with their excessive demands;
  • there is some evidence that the Canadians are being treated differently than the other captives (an American and a Briton).
Here's an excerpt from the article:
Three days past the deadline — and still no word from the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, the Islamic militant group in Iraq that kidnapped two Canadian peace activists, as well as an American and a Briton.

That's no surprise, security experts say. Iraqi hostage-takers operate under different rules than those in Mexico, Colombia or Guyana, for example.

In Latin America, kidnappers' primary goal is to make money. They negotiate for a ransom, and in the best-case scenario, the hostages are released.

In Iraq, most hostage-takers issue such unreasonable demands that there is no expectation they will actually be fulfilled. Instead, they are after notoriety — and the long-term goal of driving out the U.S.-led coalition forces and the private contractors who are rebuilding the country. It's a whole new kidnapping paradigm.

"Kidnapping, globally, is a big business. But not in Iraq. Don't expect to hear from the kidnappers because this isn't about negotiating," said Alan Bell, president of Globe Risk Holdings, who just returned from Baghdad where he is helping foreign governments and private companies develop security strategies. "The kidnap game in Iraq is hard to predict. They have no morals or scruples and death is meaningless."

The Swords of Righteousness Brigade said it would kill [the hostages] unless all 16,000 Iraqi prisoners held in British and American military prisons are released. The first deadline was last Thursday — 12 days after the four were abducted at gunpoint from the streets of Baghdad. The deadline was then extended until Saturday. The captors then broke off all communication — another standard tactic, which puts families through agony and places the governments of the captives' countries in a precarious position.

Many of those held hostage in Iraq are never heard from again. Rifat Mohammed Rifat, an Iraqi-born Canadian, was kidnapped in April of 2004 and is still missing. …

However, the fact that Mr. Loney and Mr. Sooden are Canadian may help them — if the videos released by their captors are any indication.

… In a later video, Mr. Loney, who grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and worked with Toronto's homeless, and Mr. Sooden, formerly of Montreal and now studying in New Zealand, appear with their hands and feet untied and are at a food-laden table. In contrast, Mr. Kember, a retired physics professor, and Mr. Fox, a Quaker from Virginia, appear blindfolded, with their hands chained together, dressed in orange jumpsuits — which, in the past, has been a prelude to death.
It's possible that the Canadians are being treated better because Canada did not participate in the invasion of Iraq, but that's just speculation. It certainly does not guarantee that the Canadians' lives will be spared.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Update on Christian Peacemaker Teams captives

(original story here)

It is now Sunday morning in Iraq. As of 3:13 p.m., the Globe and Mail reports that there is no new information on the fate of the four captive Christian Peacemaker Teams workers.

Top left:  American Tom Fox, 54
Top right:  British national Norman Kember, 74
Bottom left:  Canadian James Loney, 41
Bottom right:  Canadian Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32

Friday, December 09, 2005

But we can't go to church today - it's Christmas!

Some of the largest churches in the USA will be closed on a Sunday later this month. Why? Because that Sunday is December 25.

Full story at Ragged Glory.

No one ever said terrorism was rational

There are so many bad news stories out of Iraq that I tune most of them out. But this week I am paying attention. A previously unknown group calling itself the "Swords of Righteousness Brigade" is holding four men captive and threatening to execute them unless the USA frees Iraqi detainees.

Two of the men are Canadians. All four are associated with "Christian Peacemakers Teams", a Chicago- and Toronto-based organization backed by the Brethren, Quaker and Mennonite churches.

The irony — though irony is not an adequate word for this situation — is this. I would characterize Christian Peacemakers Teams as having an anti-American bias. According to the organization's own Web site:
CPT initiated a long-term presence in Iraq in October 2002, six months before the beginning of the U.S. led invasion in March of 2003. The primary focus of the team for eighteen months following the invasion was documenting and focusing attention on the issue of detainee abuses and basic legal and human rights being denied them.

Issues related to detainees remain but the current focus of the team has expanded to include efforts to end occupation and militarization of the country and to foster nonviolent and just alternatives for a free and independent Iraq.
In other words, the four captives are hostile to the American presence in Iraq. They made personal sacrifices to carry out "mission" work that ostensibly serves Iraqi interests. Despite that fact, they have been taken hostage by Islamic terrorists in a vain attempt to squeeze concessions out of the US government.

I saw a family member interviewed on CBC television Tuesday night. The family is clinging to the hope that the Swords of Righteousness Brigade will suddenly wake up to the fact that they're threatening to execute the wrong guys. And it's possible:  there are a couple of hopeful signs.

The first cause for hope is that Muslim leaders are among those speaking out in support of the captives. For example, according to the Globe and Mail:
In Britain, meanwhile, a Jordanian cleric jailed for links to al-Qaeda also called for the release of the hostages, saying they should not be held accountable for the policies of their governments.

"I, your brother Abu Qatada, ... beseech my brothers in the Swords of Truth in Iraq, who are imprisoning the four Christian peace activists, to release them in accordance with the fundamental principle of mercy of our faith," he said in an appeal aired on Arab television networks on Wednesday, according to a Reuters News Agency report.
(Prominent left-wing activists, including Norm Chomsky, have also called for the release of the four men. I'm sure the Swords of Righteousness Brigade is greatly impressed.)

The second cause for hope is that the execution has been delayed. The captors had scheduled the execution for Thursday, but postponed it for 48 hours.

Still, I fear the worst. It is a miscalculation to suppose that terrorists are rational people, who respect the fine distinction between "Westerners who support our people" and "Westerners who support the Americans".

The truth is — we have seen it demonstrated over and over again — that Islamic terrorists kill indiscriminately. They do not even avoid killing fellow Muslims, in brazen disregard of Islam's moral code.

Islamic terrorists do not regard people as human beings; they regard them as symbols. Executing four Westerners is a political statement. These four happen to be anti-American, but that's irrelevant.

The four men are:
  • James Loney, 41, from Sault. Ste. Marie, Ontario;
  • Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, from Montreal, Quebec;
  • Tom Fox, 54, American; and
  • Norman Kember, 74, British.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

December 8, 1980

season of glass
John Lennon's bloodstained glasses, photographed by Yoko Ono

update: a great Lennon quote from Rolling Stone:
"The hardest thing is facing yourself. It's easier to shout 'Revolution' and 'Power to the people' than it is to look at yourself and try to find out what's real inside of you and what isn't."
— from Lennon's final interview with Rolling Stone, after he had spent the past five years out of the music business, at home, parenting his son Sean.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Wikipedia warning

Wikipedia is an internet phenomenon, and deservedly so. In the past, encyclopedias took decades to write, they were limited in the number of subjects they could cover, and any given entry could go out of date immediately after the encyclopedia was published.

Wikipedia's unique approach is to allow anyone to publish or edit an entry. Thus Wikipedia has covered a vast range of topics in a hurry. Many of the articles are written by experts in the field, and the articles needn't go out of date since they can be revised as necessary.

Bloggers cite Wikipedia information all the time. But how trustworthy is it?

Let's just say that the Wikipedia approach can create problems. From today's Globe and Mail:
Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopedia that allows anyone to contribute articles, is tightening its rules for submitting entries following the disclosure that it ran a piece falsely implicating a man in the Kennedy assassinations.

Wikipedia will now require users to register before they can create articles, Jimmy Wales, founder of the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based website, said Monday.
Wikipedia contains a biography of John Seigenthaler Sr., who was the administrative assistant of Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early 1960s. The biography falsely claimed, "for a brief time, [Seigenthaler] was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both [President John F.], and his brother, Bobby." That information was available on the Web site for 132 days.

As mentioned above, Wikipedia will now require users to register before they can create articles. The founder hopes this will limit the number of entries being created:
"What we're hopeful to see is that by slowing that down to 1,500 a day from several thousand, the people who are monitoring this will have more ability to improve the quality," Wales said Monday. "In many cases the types of things we see going on are impulse vandalism."

Wikipedia visitors will still be able to edit content already posted without registering. It takes 15 to 20 seconds to create an account on the website, and an e-mail address is not required.

Seigenthaler, a former newspaper editor at the Tennessean in Nashville, Tenn., and founder of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, said that following his op-ed piece in USA Today the biography of him was changed to remove the false accusations.

But Seigenthaler said the current entry on Monday still got some facts wrong, apparently because volunteers are confusing him with his son, John Seigenthaler Jr., a journalist with NBC News.

Also disturbing is a section of his biography that tracks changes made to the article, Seigenthaler, Sr. said. Entries in that history section label him a "Nazi" and say other "really vicious, venomous, salacious homophobic things about me," he said.

Wales said those comments would be removed.
It's good to bear this example in mind. We ought to be aware by now that it's a mistake to assume something is true just because it's in print.

That said, I still think Wikipedia is an excellent resource:  more trustworthy than many other internet sources.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The separation of church and state

Over at Ragged Glory, I have posted the following question:  What do Americans mean when they refer to the separation of church and state? I can think of two ways that the phrase might be interpreted:
  1. US Presidents should make no reference whatsoever to God while speaking in their official capacity.
  2. It is OK for US Presidents to refer to God, but only in generic terms. They should not express a preference for any specific religion or understanding of God.
I am not an American, and I haven't studied the subject, so I am inviting you (even if you are not an American) to educate me.

What do you understand the phrase to mean?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Introvert / Extrovert: the difference is in your brain

Some time ago, I posted my thoughts on the misunderstood introvert. It seems to be a topic of widespread interest, since that post frequently shows up in my tracker stats.

This week I got a belated comment on the post from Nicole, who is studying clinical psychology at the graduate level in the midwestern USA. She added this insight to our earlier dialogue:
There is a theory that introversion/extroversion can be detected even before birth. Introverts tend to have a higher baseline state of arousal, therefore, it takes less to stimulate them.

Extroverts, conversely, have a lower baseline rate of arousal. Therefore, it takes more interaction to receive the same chemical/emotional feedback.

So, babies that are more active in the womb are correlated to extroversion.
And then Nicole returned with an update. Coincidentally, she had just discovered a newspaper article on this very topic. ("We all control the news, evidently", she commented.)

The article was originally published in USA Today. Here's an excerpt:
The attitude that there's something wrong with introverted people is widely shared in society, where fast talk and snap decisions are often valued over listening, deliberation and careful planning. Extroverts seem to rule the world or, at least, the USA, which hasn't elected an introverted president for three decades, since Jimmy Carter.

"The signals we get from the world agree that extroversion is valued," says Sanford Cohn, an associate professor in curriculum and instruction at Arizona State University.
I note, in passing, that I took the same position in my post: Western society rewards extroverts over introverts virtually every time. People respond to extroversion as a great virtue even if they haven't explicitly thought of it in those terms.

But let's move on and explore the new insight. It turns out that the distinction between introversion and extroversion is all in your head — but I mean this quite literally!
Introverted children enjoy the internal world of thoughts, feelings and fantasies, and there's a physiological reason for this. Researchers using brain scans have found introverts have more brain activity in general, and specifically in the frontal lobes. When these areas are activated, introverts are energized by retrieving long-term memories, problem solving, introspection, complex thinking and planning.

Extroverts enjoy the external world of things, people and activities. They have more activity in brain areas involved in processing the sensory information we're bombarded with daily. Because extroverts have less internally generated brain activity, they search for more external stimuli to energize them. [emphasis added]
How counterintuitive:  the flamboyant extrovert has lower levels of electrical activity in the brain; the quiet introvert has more!

The information explains why it is so difficult simply to will yourself to behave more like an extrovert (or more like an introvert), contrary to your innate tendency. It also confirms Nicole's observation: if the distinction is rooted in electrical activity in the brain, you are an introvert (or an extrovert) even while you are still in utero.


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Solution to the 4 INCH TONGUE Quiz

[Dec. 2 update]

Bill is right!

The message is on a church sign!

There is a secondary answer to the question, too. The sign is located in Australia.

I think that's significant. I assume that not even a clergyman can have missed the obvious sexual inuendo. And only in Australia could a church try to attract attention by posting such a raunchy message.

Never in Canada, that's for sure. Never, never, never!

Click on the photo, and it will take you to Chosha's blog. She posts four other church signs; the first one also utilizes a sexual inuendo. The signs are tacked on to the bottom of a meme post.

(the original post, minus the photo)

I lifted this photo from another blog, but I've edited it so that you can't see the name on the top half of the sign.

Where do you suppose the sign was located? Go ahead, guess. Tomorrow I'll provide a link to the blog where I got the photo.