Monday, February 27, 2006

Canada's Winter Olympics champion

The Canadian team won 24 medals at the 2006 Winter Olympic games. This positioned them in third place (as decided by the most total medals, not by the most gold medals) behind Germany (29) and the USA (25).

Coming in only one medal behind the USA is pretty impressive, since the USA has ten times our population. Of course, we have ten times as much winter!

Cindy Klassen was the big story for Canada.


She brought home five speed skating medals: one gold (1,500 metre long-track speed skating); two silver (1,000 metres and women's team pursuit); and two bronze (3,000 metres and 5,000 metres).

Five races, five medals. Klassen is the first woman ever to win five long-track medals at one Olympic games. It is also the most medals ever won by a Canadian at a single Olympic games.

Klassen had a bronze in the games at Salt Lake city, so her lifetime total is six medals.

It was fitting that one of our female athletes should dominate. Canada sent fewer women than men to the games, but the women won 16 medals to the men's 8.

Many countries provide less funding for their female athletes than for their male athletes. Canada doesn't take sex into account in determining levels of funding, and it seems to have paid off in Turin.

24 is the most medals Canada has ever won at an Olympic games, far more than our previous record of 17 at Salt Lake City.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

How do you spell p-r-o-d-i-g-y?

There's a great story in today's Globe and Mail about an 11-year-old spelling champion. 2½ years ago, she spoke no English — only Chinese and French. But now she will represent her school in the regional spelling championship, which may catapult her into a national competition.

How is this possible? Who learns not only to speak English, but to spell it in only 2½ years?! It is truly extraordinary, according to Jack Chambers, a sociolinguist at the University of Toronto:
[Mr. Chambers] points out that learning a language and becoming a good speller are different things.

"Everybody knows children have a God-given ability for mastering language that gets lost somewhere around puberty," he says. "But spelling is not something that's a gift; it's an acquisition. It's something we have to learn, and it's a lot more like learning how to play chess than learning how to speak."
Wenyi Yin's first language is Mandarin. She was born in Changchun, a city in northeastern China, in 1994.
When she was 5, her parents moved the family to Belgium, where her father, a chemical engineer, earned his doctorate, and where French is spoken at school.

"We couldn't speak French," says her father, Zhihui Yin. "Suddenly, in eight or nine months, she spoke fluent French." In 2003, Mr. Yin finished his studies. He and his wife, Yajie, decided to move to Canada, where Mr. Yin found a research position at the University of Toronto.

When they left Belgium, her father says, Wenyi's English vocabulary consisted of two words: "Okay and bye-bye, and that's it."
The family had only two months to adjust before the school year would begin. They exposed Wenyi to as much English as they could. But
the morning announcements, in English, were lost on the nine-year-old as she settled into her seat at Huron Street Public School in Toronto.

"When they said, 'Please stand up for O Canada,' I didn't know what to do," she says now. …

Wenyi was in good company at Huron; about one-third of the 430 students have a first language other than English. She was matched with another Mandarin-speaking student, who served as a mentor.

While she initially appeared shy and quiet, Wenyi was soaking up words like a sponge. When her parents would bring home a fresh batch of books from the library, thinking they would keep her busy for a week, she'd take them back after a few hours and ask for more.

"I remember I learned English, the everyday words, in three months I guess," she says. "I just listened to other people say it, and it just registered in my head. It just started building up, bit by bit."
This is already amazing by me. I've studied French and New Testament Greek, but frankly I'm terrible at learning a second language. I am awestruck by the rest of Wenyi's story:
One morning last fall, her ears pricked up during morning announcements. "Do you like to S-P-E-L-L?" Samantha Berman, a Grade 5 teacher, asked over the PA system. "Is spell check a superfluous tool for you? Do you like competition?"

Yes, Wenyi thought. She liked words — all of them, she says — so she made her way to Room 13 for the inaugural meeting of the school's CanSpell Club on Oct. 3.

The club's 11 members, from Grades 4, 5 and 6, met once a week. Using the CanSpell study list, they would fill their 45-minute lunch break with word games, crossword puzzles and forays into the dictionary to find the words' origins and definitions — words like 'Lilliputian' and 'oxytocia' and 'hydrangea.'

At their first bee on Jan. 26, in front of their classmates, the competitors dropped off, one by one, as they worked through a list of about 50 words. When her last opponent flubbed 'attuned,' Wenyi got it right, then coasted to victory on a gimme. "It was so easy," she says. "It was 'helmet'."

This month, she advanced another step by winning a written bee, overseen by Ms. Berman. That win assured Wenyi's role as Huron's representative at the regionals on March 5. She will face spellers from 73 other Toronto schools in a showdown at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, one of 14 regional bees to be held across the country.

The winner and runner-up from each regional contest will advance to the CanWest CanSpell National Spelling Bee in Ottawa on April 5.
OK, Wenyi has a way to go before we can declare her a national champion. But obviously she has an extraordinary aptitude for language. I am so impressed!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Eternal torment: the NT texts considered

Over at Ragged Glory, I explore a topic that is sure to win over many friends for me:  hell.

The traditional position of the Church understands hell as a place where God will torment the wicked eternally. In the post, I lay out a case for annihilationism:  an alternative view which holds that the wicked will be punished only for a period of time proportional to the nature and frequency of their sins.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Candy coated coffee beans

My favourite coffee shop occasionally gives out free samples of candy coated coffee beans. I like the concept, but I've always been a little wary of them. I'm sensitive to caffeine, and Mary P. has this disturbing story she likes to tell.

It's a true story, about a woman who ended up in the emergency ward at her local hospital with a dangerously high heart rate. She was eating candy coated coffee beans like they were — well, like they were candy. She didn't realize just how much caffeine they actually contain.

So I have been looking at these appealing treats a little suspiciously and wondering:  just how much caffeine do they contain? The sales staff in the coffee shop weren't able to tell me.

The answer is this:  a small serving (28 grams = 1 oz.) contains nearly twice as much caffeine as a regular cup of coffee.

type serving caffeine
drip 250ml = 8oz 115-175mg
espresso 30ml = 1oz 100mg
candy coated beans 28g 226mg

Some comments are in order. First, the amount of caffeine in a cup of java varies depending on how strong the brew is. That's why the amount of caffeine in drip coffee is presented as a range, 115-175mg.

Second, you may be surprised to see that a serving of espresso has less caffeine than a serving of drip coffee. Why? Espresso is served in much smaller amounts, as you can see from the table. It is also brewed more quickly (30 seconds instead of ~6 minutes), so less caffeine is extracted — see below.

Third, as I've already stated, a serving of candy coated coffee beans contains nearly twice as much caffeine as a regular cup of coffee. Bear that in mind, and save yourself a trip to emergency.

I know there are a lot of coffee lovers out there. Here, for your amusement, is a little bonus information.

Espresso myths exposed!
  1. Myth:  Espresso carries more of a caffeine jolt than regular brewed coffee.

    False:  Espresso is brewed from Arabica beans, which have a richer taste and a lower caffeine content than the less prized (and less expensive) Robusta beans. Because a cup of espresso takes no more than 30 seconds to brew, less caffeine is extracted than in drip coffee — which takes anywhere from 5 to 7 minutes.

  2. Myth:  Bigger is better.

    False:  Large cups don't do espresso justice. The proper portion of espresso is one ounce, and the cup should be very small so that it holds the heat. Thick china cups are preferred. Large cups dissipate the heat and the crema (foam) which carries the aroma in a fine cup of espresso.

    [An aside: Speaking as a vertically-challenged man, I feel compelled to point out that this "bigger is better" business is always a myth — in whatever context it arises. So to speak.]

  3. Myth:  Put your coffee for espresso in the freezer for freshness.

    False:  Freezing the coffee coagulates the natural oils contained in the bean. In an espresso, those oils emulsify producing the wonderful body of this special cup of coffee.
I apologize if that last sentence sounds like a bit of a sales pitch. In fact, it is:  the Web site is hosted by Illy coffee.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
copyright © 2006, Stephen Peltz

Monday, February 20, 2006

Tolerance is not enough

Tony Blair's government recently failed to pass a controversial piece of legislation, the Racial and Religious Hatred bill. A watered down version of the bill is likely to be introduced in its stead:
The new offence is designed to stop hatred being whipped up against people because of their religion — not just their race. …

Sikhs and Jews already have full protection from incitement because the courts regard them as distinct races. But Christians, Muslims and others have not been given the same protection because they do not constitute a single ethnic block.
Presumably the government expected Christians to support the bill, but it was opposed by groups including the Seventh Day Adventists and an unlikely alliance of humanists, secularists, evangelical Christians, and even some Muslims. The latter group of strange bedfellows, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph, worried that the bill would undermine free speech:
"A free society must have the scope to debate, criticise, proselytise, insult and even to ridicule belief and religious practices in order to ensure that there is full scope — short of violence or inciting violence or other criminal offences — to tackle these issues." …

The signatories to the letter include two Muslims, Dr Ghyasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament, and Manzoor Moghal, of the Muslim Forum.

Their views contrast with the stance of the Muslim Council of Britain, widely seen as the country's most representative Muslim body, which is supportive of the new legislation.
The Church of England supported the legislation, but Dr. N.T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham, opposed it. Wright is a clergyman and a New Testament scholar who makes a lot of waves. (If you do a blog search on Tom Wright you'll get more than 17,000 hits.)

On February 9, Wright addressed the House of Lords on the theme, "Moral Climate Change and Freedom of Speech". Here are some excerpts (the full text is available here):
What we face, my Lords, is "moral climate change", comparable to other forms of climate change and equally dangerous. The 1960s and 1970s swept away the old moral certainties, and anyone who tries to reassert them risks being mocked as an ignoramus or scorned as a hypocrite.

But since then we’ve learned that you can’t run the world as a hippy commune. Getting rid of the old moralities hasn’t made us happier or safer. We have discovered that we do indeed need some guidelines if chaos is not to come again. …
This uncertainty, my Lords, has produced our current nightmare, the invention of new quasi-moralities out of bits and pieces of moral rhetoric. … But it isn’t just the invention of new moralities that should concern us, my Lords. It is the attempt to enforce them — to enforce, that is, newly invented standards which are in some cases the exact opposite of the old ones.

How else can we explain the ejection of a heckler from a party conference for questioning the government’s stance on Iraq, or the attempted silencing of protests on the same subject in Parliament Square? How else can we explain the anxiety not only of religious leaders but also of comedians when faced with that dangerously vague and insidious Religious Hatred legislation? How else can we explain the police investigation of religious leaders such as my Right Reverend colleague the Bishop of Chester, or the Chair of the Muslim Council of Great Britain, for making moderate and considered statements about homosexual practice?

And since the crimes in question have to do, not with actions but with ideas and beliefs, what we are seeing is thought crime. People in my diocese have told me that they are now afraid to speak their minds in the pub on some major contemporary issues for fear of being reported, investigated, and perhaps charged.

My Lords, I did not think I would see such a thing in this country in my lifetime. All that such a situation can achieve is to add another new fear to those which minorities already experience. The word for such a state of affairs is "tyranny":  sudden moral climate change, enforced by thought police. …

Part of the problem of "freedom of speech" is that it tends to be the media who are most in favour of it — though they themselves often cheerfully censor information that cuts against editorial policy. Freedom of speech, my Lords, is useless if it is only selectively enjoyed, and if it is not combined with appropriate responsibility.

If "freedom of speech" is to be rehabilitiated as a useful concept, it needs to be set within a larger context of social and cultural wisdom. …

"Tolerance" is not the point. My Lords, I can "tolerate" someone standing on the other side of the street. I don’t need to engage with them.

"Tolerance" … is a parody of something deeper, richer and more costly, for which we must work: a genuine and reciprocal freedom, a freedom properly contextualised within a wise responsibility, freedom not to be gratuitously rude or offensive, especially to those who are already in danger on the margins of society.

It is a freedom to speak the truth as we see it while simultaneously listening to the truth as others see it, and to work forwards from there. …

My Lords, it is precisely that sort of wise, responsible freedom which is at risk if you’re afraid that honestly held beliefs, clearly and respectfully expressed, are likely to get you into trouble with the law.
Wright makes a lot of provocative points here. I singled out just one in the title of this post:  tolerance is not enough.

Wright suggests that tolerance is a cheap virtue. We need to do more than tolerate those who are different from us:  we need to engage them in dialogue.

Hence the importance of free speech. When people are free to express their ideas, conventional views get held up to critical scrutiny. We learn from one another, and we make intellectual and moral progress.

That's why Wright opposed the Racial and Religious Hatred bill. It is impossible to engage others in dialogue if you're afraid that you'll be arrested if you speak your mind.

On the other hand, free speech is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Thus Wright is critical of the way free speech is currently exercised in our society. He says that free speech must be exercised responsibly; it is useless if it is only selectively enjoyed; it must be set within a larger context of social and cultural wisdom; it is a freedom not to be gratuitously rude or offensive.

Wright doesn't say so, but I suspect those cartoons that denigrated Muhammad and Islam are in the background here. Did the cartoons promote dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims? Did they cause us to think twice about our conventional understanding of Islam, or did they merely reinforce the sterotypical view? Did they contribute to the human race's intellectual and moral progress?

We are grappling with complex and incendiary issues here. Governments and news media act irresponsibly when they make simplistic, expedient gestures.

In the current geopolitical climate, moving forward is like hiking on uneven terrain:  with each and every step, we must be extremely careful about where we set our feet.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
copyright © 2006, Stephen Peltz

Saturday, February 18, 2006

... to reconcile to himself all things

Over at Ragged Glory, I ask about universalism.

Traditional Christian teaching says that many (presumably the majority) of human beings will ultimately be damned. But some Christians resist that conclusion: they argue in favour of universalism, the belief that every human being ultimately will be saved.

The biblical case for universalism is stronger than most Christians realize. We're used to hearing that unbelievers will spend eternity in hell — so used to it that we bleep right over a series of New Testament passages that appear to say just the opposite.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Olympic-calibre sportsmanship

From Wednesday's Ottawa Citizen:
In an act of pure sportsmanship, the head of the top cross-country ski team in the world sacrificed an Olympic medal for his own country by handing Canadian skier Sara Renner a pole after hers broke during a race yesterday.

The move by Bjornar Hakensmoen, the chief of the Norwegian cross-country ski federation, meant that Ms. Renner and Beckie Scott were able to keep up in the women's team sprint and capture the silver, while the Norwegians came in fourth.
The Canadian team was in second place when Ms. Renner's pole broke. The race was a relay where one skier does a 1.1-kilometre loop, then tags their partner, who races the same loop. They repeat the process three times.

Ms. Renner was skiing her third lap. When the pole broke, two other skiers quickly passed her:
"I don't even know what happened," a grinning Renner of Canmore, Alta., said after earning Canada's third medal of the Games.

"I just knew that all of a sudden I was kind of paddling with one arm.

"I didn't panic. I think a Norwegian gave me a new pole. It was a man's pole and it was really long. I was able to make it without losing too much time. It's not the best thing to happen, but at the same time, you can't give up."
Returning to the first article:
Over the remaining 400 metres of the lap, Ms. Renner managed to almost catch up to her Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian peers. By the time she tagged Ms. Scott, 31, of Vermilion, Alta., the Canadians were only two seconds behind third-place Norway with two exchanges remaining.

Without receiving the pole from Mr. Hakensmoen, Ms. Renner would have laboured into the exchange area, and Ms. Scott would have had a Herculean task to catch the top three skiers.
Mr. Hakensmoen made light of his decision:
"This is a small, small thing," he said, humbly. "Hopefully, she's happy."

… "It's for the good of the sport. We need to help each other.

"We have a policy in the Norwegian cross-country ski program that, if a skier from another country needs equipment, we have to help. … It doesn't matter (that Norway finished fourth). We need to compete on a fair course. The skiers need two skis and two poles and that must be the right way."
Good for him, being modest about it. But it was an olympic-calibre act of sportsmanship.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The most Jewish of the Gospels

Over at Ragged Glory, I have been exploring the question, Are Christians required to obey the law of Moses? I have argued that Paul's answer to the question is, No — Christians are not under the law.

In my current post, I shift our attention to the Gospel According to Matthew.

Matthew is the most Jewish of the Gospels. A close examination suggests that Matthew and his readers continued to obey the law of Moses:  specifically, the laws distinguishing clean from unclean foods and the Sabbath laws. Matthew and his community also continued standard Jewish practices such as almsgiving, fasting, and worship in the Temple.

I believe this issue illustrates the extent to which Christians may legitimately diverge from one another in doctrine and in practice. Logically, there is a limit to how far we can stray from the "norm" and still call ourselves Christians. But I think our tendency is to draw that line too soon. Even within the pages of the New Testament, diverse doctrines and practices are represented.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Muhammad cartoons:
How Jews and Muslims in Canada have responded

First, the statement of the Canadian Jewish Congress:
TORONTO – Canadian Jewish Congress National President Ed Morgan made the following statement regarding the controversial publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in newspapers in a number of countries including Canada:

"We are saddened by a situation that has gotten entirely out of hand. The decision by all those who chose to publish the cartoons is inexcusably provocative, insensitive and disrespectful of Muslim believers. At the same time, we strongly denounce the verbally and physically violent reaction to their publication by so many of those same believers.

"We commend Canada’s Muslim community for the civility with which it has protested and those media who have decided not to republish the cartoons. We regret that there are some in the media and elsewhere who have taken the misguided step of using these cartoons as a means to defend freedom of expression.

"We join those Muslims and non-Muslims who have been appalled by the response to the publication of the cartoons and condemn those groups and regimes that have fanned the flames for their own political ends. We stand in solidarity with the Danish people whose institutions are being attacked and whose products are being boycotted, and with whom we have a special historic connection. We remember with gratitude the exceptional role Denmark played in rescuing its Jewish citizens from the Holocaust.

"Freedom of expression and the protection of vulnerable minorities from group vilification are fundamental values of a secular, pluralistic democracy. These two values must be delicately balanced against one another. We hope that that calm re-establishes itself so that this issue can be discussed in an atmosphere of mutual respect, without intimidation."
Meanwhile, according to the Globe and Mail, a magazine which publishes out of Calgary, Alberta, will publish the cartoons today. For emphasis, allow me to repeat the relevant part of the CJC's statement:  "We regret that there are some in the media and elsewhere who have taken the misguided step of using these cartoons as a means to defend freedom of expression."

Second, let's have a look at the response of the Canadian Islamic Congress. The quote comes from another Globe and Mail article, entitled "Why the global rage hasn't engulfed Canada":
Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, said violent demonstrations simply aren't a fit with the Canadian Muslim community — which, because of Canada's immigration requirements, he said, is the most highly educated Muslim community in the world.

"They would find legal and peaceful means of protest far more productive," said the imam and professor at the University of Waterloo. "With demonstrations, you cannot have full control over who does what."

His organization, the largest Muslim umbrella group in Canada, has actively discouraged demonstrations over the cartoons and has spoken publicly against the violent protests.
The Globe and Mail also quotes Tarek Fatah, a leader of the Muslim Canadian Congress. Mr. Fatah makes a point that, in my view, penetrates to the heart of the matter:  that moderate Muslims must take "ownership of the word Muslim."

Mr. Fatah believes that has happened in Canada:  that moderate Muslims have mobilized to ensure that their voice gets heard, not the voice of the extremist minority.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

How to enrage your enemies and alienate your allies

The USA has a lock on the gold medal for meddling. I suppose it's a natural consequence of being the most powerful nation on earth; every nation that has ever found itself in that position has succumbed to the temptation of coercing other nations into doing their bidding.

From the print edition of Saturday's Globe and Mail (emphasis added):
The 45-year-old U.S. embargo on trade, travel and investment dealings with Cuba is an anachronistic leftover of the Cold War that should have been lifted years ago. Instead, the Bush administration has turned more aggressive in enforcing the ban, to the point that it is demanding once more that the foreign subsidiaries of American companies obey U.S. regulations, even when they contravene the laws of the countries in which they are operating.

Such was the case last Friday when the Hotel Maria Isabel Sheraton in Mexico City tossed 16 Cuban officials out of ther luxury rooms and seized their deposit. …

The Cuban trade delegation had been invited to a conference with U.S. energy executives in Mexico City. The sponsor was the U.S-Cuba Trade Association, a Washington-based lobby that seeks to foster business opportunities between Cuba and the United States, which do exist despite the embargo.

When the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control, which enforces the Cuban rules, got wind of the public meeting, a phone call was placed to … Sheraton's corporate parent. Not wishing to run afoul of U.S. authorities, the company ordered the eviction. But in doing so, the hotel embarrassed the Mexican government and likely violated Mexican law. …

Nothing was happening in Mexico City that could have hurt U.S. national interests. Indeed, the trade association said it was scrupulously obeying U.S. rules.

The Bush administration has relied on two pieces of legislation, the 1996 Helms-Burton Act … and the Trading with the Enemy Act, which dates back to the First World War, to intimidate U.S. and foreign companies trying to do business with Cuba.
Canadian companies have also been faulted for "trading with the enemy". The U.S. government has threatened to seize the assets of Canadian companies doing business with Cuba.

To be blunt about it, the Bush administration should f*ck *ff. Message to George Dubya:  you are not the President of Canada. And frankly, you're running your own country into the ground, so we'd prefer to chart our own course.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
copyright © 2006, Stephen Peltz

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Off to Vancouver

I'm leaving early tomorrow morning to spend three days in Vancouver.

Tonight, I managed to publish a new post on Ragged Glory:  "Rightly dividing the law of Moses", the follow-up to my earlier discussion of whether Christians are bound by the Ten Commandments.

See you Saturday!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Eight steps to perfection

Chosha has tagged me to post on the meme, "8 points that my perfect partner would have."

Generally, I don't do meme posts; in fact, this will be the first one I've ever done. But it's a worthy theme, especially since Mary P. lifted it out of the theoretical realm and enabled me to experience it in my daily life.

My perfect partner:

1. Would have a mind of her own.

I need my partner to be an intellectual peer to me, not an adoring audience. (Not that any woman has ever had the bad judgment to throw herself down at my feet in adoration.)

Early in our relationship, I said to Mary P., "I like the fact that you have strong convictions of your own." To my surprise, she froze like a deer in the headlights. She was afraid, based on previous experience, that the comment was a criticism — prelude to a conflict.

But I sincerely meant it as a compliment. I don't want Mary P. (or commenters on my blog, for that matter) just to parrot my opinions. I want a partner:  someone who challenges me, corrects me, and supplies what I lack.

2. Would be a skilled conversationalist.

As I once explained in a post, For the love of dialogue:

Early in our relationship, Mary P. and I came up with a simile. "When we talk," one of us said, "it's like we're building with bricks: I lay a brick, you lay a brick, I lay one, you lay one …. The finished structure is something neither one of us could have built on our own."

That constructive approach to dialogue is the cornerstone of our relationship. (That, and the extraordinary physical magnetism between us.)

3. Would value intimacy as much as I do.

As I explained in one of my posts on introversion, I believe introverts have a paradoxical need for intimacy. Introverts may seem self-contained, but that is an illusion:

Introverts need fewer relationships than extroverts, but they desire a profound degree of intimacy in the relationships they do form.

The primary person to whom I look to satisfy my need for intimacy is Mary P. — to the point where she sometimes feels slightly suffocated. But we both have a high need for intimacy, so most of the time we're in sync here.

4. Would approach conflict the same way I do.

I hate unresolved conflict. I need intimacy, and unresolved conflict creates tension and erects barriers between people.

Mary P. and I both feel compelled to work through a conflict until it is thoroughly resolved, so no residual resentment remains. Once in a while this gets silly:  we take a conflict that wasn't that significant in the first place and we agonize over it. In those instances, we just need retreat to our separate activities for a while. The insignificance of the issue will be obvious when we gain some perspective on it.

But I'd rather err in being overzealous about resolving conflict, if the alternative is to routinely let conflicts linger, unaddressed.

I should add that "working through a conflict" doesn't mean yelling at or insulting each other, or dredging up every disappointment we've caused each other since our first meeting. Mary P. likes to say that conflict can be constructive. That's a paradoxical statement, but it's true.

5. Would understand the principle of reciprocity.

"What goes around, comes around", people say. Oh really? — not in this world! In my experience, most relationships are lopsided. One person gives more; the other person takes more.

When I call Mary P. my partner, I mean that it's a relationship of equals. Sometimes I'm emotionally needy, and she plays the supportive role. Sometimes she's emotionally needy, and I play the supportive role.

This principle should apply in every area of a relationship. Domestic tasks, for example. And sex.

(With the guys, I have to be a little bit blunt here — female readers should skip down to the next paragraph. Guys:  it isn't time to roll over and go to sleep until both of you have experienced the fireworks. And — how can I say this delicately? — the act that gets you there probably won't be enough to get her there. Experiment, be open to direction, figure out how to achieve results.)

6. Would possess prominent maternal characteristics.

See how this little child is snuggling up to Mary P.? (Actually, I had to edit the child's face out of the photo for reasons of confidentiality. But take my word for it, the little hand you see is attached to a little girl.)

Dads always want Mary P. to care for their child, because her maternal qualifications are self-evident. And let's face it:  even grown men like to be babied sometimes.

7. Would enjoy the company of children.

This is a variation on point 6, the one about maternal qualities. (You thought I meant something else, you sick, sick people.) I have children from a previous marriage. Back when Mary P. and I first linked up, when my children were young, I can't imagine that any woman who didn't enjoy the company of children would have had anything to do with me.

And of course, my children are still part of my life. We've got a bunch of years ahead of us before they reach adulthood.

8. Would be independently wealthy.

My perfect partner would have enough money to make me a kept man. I could quit my job and write full time, until I could make a decent living at it.

(Oh well, 7 out of 8 isn't bad.)

Bonus alternative:  Would play the piano.


In lieu of number 8, I'll accept an ability to play the piano. I love to putz around the house while Mary P. provides live music in the background. It is positively delightful!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There are other things I could add to the list. My perfect partner:
  • would continually seek to enrich herself intellectually, and to develop in terms of character;
  • would be a believer, or at least take some pleasure in my obsessive interest in theology;
  • would provide me with a steady supply of chocolate.
But enough already! I've already got a partner who is perfect for me!

Be my Valentine, Mary P.!


~~~~~~~~~~~~~
copyright © 2006, Stephen Peltz

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Inciting Muslims to violence

The only way to make any kind of progress in this war against terrorists who blow up trains and buses and knock down buildings is to have the rest of the Muslim world onside. … We need their help.

(Peter Zimonjic, Saturday's Ottawa Citizen)

Anger among Muslims, precipitated by twelve Muhammad cartoons, is increasing daily. The cartoons were first printed in Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper. Guardian Unlimited explains how this crisis was set in motion:
Jyllands-Posten took up the case of a Danish author who could find no one to illustrate a book about the prophet Muhammad. The paper, presenting this as a case of self-censorship, asked 12 illustrators for depictions of the prophet, and the one that has caused immense offence shows the prophet wearing a turban that conceals a fizzing bomb.
This is the cartoon that has caused the most offence, except I am not showing Muhammad's face. Displaying any likeness of Muhammad or one of the other prophets — even a respectful likeness — is offensive to Muslims.

Jyllands-Posten argued that the cartoons were published in defense of freedom of expression. In solidarity with Jyllands-Posten, newspapers in Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands subsequently published at least one of the images. In England, the BBC showed the images in one of its broadcasts.

Yesterday was designated a "day of anger" in the Muslim world. Today, the Globe and Mail reports that protesters have set fire to the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Syria. So far, no one has been killed in response to the cartoons.

I say, a pox on both their houses. I'm scanning the horizon, looking for good guys, but there are none in sight.

It's fair to say that the Muslim response is ironic. My interpretation of the turban cartoon is this. Muhammad represents all of Islam. The turban with the lit fuse represents violence, including terrorism. The message is, Islam is a violent religion. And the Muslim response is? — violence, or at least the threat of violence.

In England, according to the Ottawa Citizen, protesters repeatedly shouted, "U.K. you must pay; 7/7 is on its way" — a threat to carry out more bombings, like those on London's public transit system on July 7, 2005. The response appears to confirm the message of the cartoon, that Islam is a violent religion.

There's also a double standard at play here. Jack provided a link to this cartoon. (Click on it to see the whole series of similar cartoons, taken from Arab media.) Tom Gross explains, the cartoon depicts Ariel Sharon "watching on the sidelines as an Israeli plane crashes into New York’s World Trade Center. … This cartoon restates the widely held myth in the Arab world that Israel and the Jews were responsible for the 9/11 attacks."

A reasonable person might ask:  If it's OK for Arab media to publish antisemitic cartoons, why isn't it OK for Jyllands-Posten to print derogatory cartoons of Muhammad?

Jack points out that Jews are fed a constant diet of this sort of abuse, and they do not respond by setting fire to Arab embassies.

But I also object to the editorial decision of Jyllands-Posten and the other European media who subsequently published the cartoons. The media must have foreseen the risk. By publishing the cartoons they knowingly incited Muslims to violence.

For surely the cartoons are gratuitously offensive. The issue was, no one would illustrate a book on Muhammad. What sort of illustrations did the author have in mind? Was he looking for cartoon caricatures, defaming Muhammad and Islam? Presumably not.

Jyllands-Posten wanted to make the point, We believe it's OK to draw a picture of Muhammad to illustrate a book on Islam. Is that the point they actually made? Obviously they went much further than that.

Finally, I want to return to the quote at the top of this post. I have argued, on previous occasions, that a war is being waged for the soul of Islam. The behaviour of many Muslims suggests that Islam is a peaceful religion. The behaviour of many other Muslims suggests that Islam is a violent religion.

Which is the true Islam? That will be determined by which group of Muslims prevails in the struggle to define it.

We in the West must do everything in our power to help the peaceable Muslims prevail. The stakes are enormously high; it is no exaggeration to say that world peace hangs in the balance. Everybody in the West needs to keep that agenda in mind and act in concert to promote the cause of peace.

Jyllands-Posten and the other European media have made a serious error of judgment. They have increased support for the violent strain of Islam:  and that is contrary to the interests of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

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copyright © 2006, Stephen Peltz

Friday, February 03, 2006

Christian Peacemaker Team hostages still alive

Here's an update on a story I brought to your attention on December 9. It appears that the four Christian Peacemaker Team hostages were still alive as of January 21. The Globe and Mail reports, a video aired on the al-Jazeera network
showed the four CPT volunteers — Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Sooden, 32, together with Briton Norman Kember, 74, and American Tom Fox, 54 — standing against a white wall in a dark room, wearing ordinary clothing rather than the orange jumpsuits captives sometimes wear on such videotapes. They looked thin but otherwise healthy. …

Accompanying the video, dated Jan. 21, was the reiterated demand that, unless all Iraqi prisoners are set free, the four will be killed, al-Jazeera said.

The same demand was made a few weeks ago, when Dec. 10 was set as the deadline. Saturday's broadcast marked the first time since then that word has surfaced of the four men, who were abducted Nov. 26.

"The group … said it was giving a last chance for its demands to be met," al-Jazeera reported.
The four men are representative of many other men and women who are being held hostage in Iraq. Hostages sometimes vanish after an initial burst of publicity, so that it is impossible to know for certain whether they are alive or dead. But whenever I have information to share with you, I'll post it.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Using church bulletins to turn a profit for Disney

Christianity Today has published an article about the commercialization of the Chronicles of Narnia:
With the film release of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, The Chronicles of Narnia has become a blockbuster franchise with numerous products and corporate tie-ins (McDonald's, General Mills, Virgin Atlantic, Oral-B, and Kodak, to name a few).
There's even a public relations site, NarniaResources.com, "intended to mobilize the church to consume and market the movie (à la The Passion of the Christ)." Here's a quote from the Free Downloads page:
Download the official The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe promotional materials via Adobe Acrobat [PDF] to your computer, and print/use as needed. Materials include: movie posters, postcards, bulletin inserts, flyers, etc.
Note the reference to bulletin inserts. Disney is inviting your church to promote their movie when people arrive to worship. And Disney fully expects churches to leap at the opportunity.

I think you can argue this issue either way. On the one hand, the movie presents an opportunity to talk to people about Jesus Christ. (I make some of the biblical content of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe explicit here.) Churches are always seeking a bridge to the unchurched community. The Narnia movie, like The Passion of the Christ before it, can serve as just such a bridge.

But Professor E.J. Park, the author of the Christianity Today article, thinks churches should hesitate before embracing Disney's agenda:
In an age in which any notable spiritual movement immediately begets a plethora of associated products (calendars, Bible covers, journals, T-shirts), the logic and form of commercialism demand our critical attention, not merely our easy acceptance. … When is it a problem to turn certain ideas or realities into merchandise? …

The typical responses to these questions focus on the explicit messages of the products. As long as the content is deemed acceptable, merchandising is viewed as a win-win situation. …

Will our sense of Aslan change if Narnia is offered as a Happy Meal at McDonald's? Will a White Witch vanilla milkshake appropriately capture the spirit of the original work? Has hearing Aslan speak through the voice of Liam Neeson stripped the lion of his mystery?

Unsurprisingly, the primary concern for Christians has been keeping intact the notion of Aslan as a Christ-figure. Any regard for the consequences of transforming Narnia into forms of merchandise is deflected by the assurance that the message of Aslan will not be compromised.
I should make my bias clear up front. I have serious reservations about capitalism. Yes, it works better than any other economic system if your goal is to increase productivity and generate wealth. (That is the goal of an economic system, right?) But it does so by appealing to base aspects of human nature.

Materialism, acquisitiveness, greed, status symbols, conspicuous consumption, the use of means both fair and foul to advance beyond your competitors — principles such as these drive capitalism and make it a "better" economic system than socialism or communism. But surely those principles conflict with Christian values:
"Be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (Jesus, Luke 12:15)

There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:34-35)
Despite my reservations about capitalism, I'm of two minds about this issue. I don't know that the commercialization of Narnia and Aslan is necessarily a bad thing. After all, in the final analysis, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is just a story. And if it's a story that makes people think about spiritual things, why wouldn't Christians promote the movie?

But, like Professor Park, I am uncomfortable with the ease with which Christians slip into the commercial paradigm, like it's a comfy sweater.

Is it OK to use church bulletins to make money for Disney? Let's not duck our heads in the sand here, that's what we're being asked to do. When Professor Park speaks of a "win-win" scenario, this is what he means:  the Church "wins" by exploiting this bridge into the unchurched community, while Disney wins by turning a big fat profit on the movie and all its associated merchandise.

Surely the Church should have some qualms about this — no?

At first I intended to publish this post on Ragged Glory; but, on second thought, I wanted to invite Christians and non-Christians to engage with each other on this issue. Perhaps I'm guilty of airing the Church's dirty laundry in public, but I am greatly interested in the potential for a cross-cultural dialogue here.

(hat tip, Primal Subversion)

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copyright © 2006, Stephen Peltz

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. I sometimes take the liberty of inserting paragraph breaks where I deem them appropriate.