Sunday, July 27, 2008

Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus! Thoughts on Whether the Internet is a Good Thing

It's a cephalod, it spends part of it's life cycle in trees in the Oregan rainforest, it's an endangered species, and over 90% of people who learned about it on the internet think it actually exists. A study at the University of Connecticut by Donald Leu, who researches literacy and technology, introduced 48 students to a website on the mythic Northwest Pacific Tree Octopus. Nearly 90% of the the 48 participants decided that the website was a reliable source of information and was not a joke, even though the site has links to conservation organaizations such as "greenpeas" and even though it offers the disclaimer that "This site is not associated with any school or educational organization,other than the Kelvinic University branch of the Wild Haggis Conservation Society."

Our house is currently embroiled in a larger debate on whether the internet is good for knowledge and cognition. My wife Kay is firmly in the camp of Nicholas Carr, whose piece "Is Google Making Us Stoopid?" appeared recently in Atlantic Magazine. “What the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation,” he wrote, confessing that he now found it difficult to read long books. A friend of mine who teaches history at a major Canadian university has made comments which seem to confirm Leu's study, and has to carefully restrict his students from using unauthorized internet sources in their papers.

Since I'm the glass is half full type, I'd like to believe the parent quoted in Motoko Rich's article in a recent New York Times, who argues that her kids reading something, even if online, is better than not reading at all. Perhaps the icon of literacy for the next generation will be the open laptop rather than the open book.

Read the whole article.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Minions of the Molemen - A Rugged Adventure

My wargaming chums in SW Ontario (lads, it grieves me to leave ye!) love a subgenre of wargaming called "pulp". Pulp games are based on the comics and penny novels of the 1930s, the era of serialized movie adventures, Dick Tracy and Indiana Jones (back when Harrison Ford was young and the whole Indy thing was fresh) - robots, mad scientists, private eyes and Nazis, and creatures as imagined by H.P. Lovecraft are all part and parcel of pulp.

The game described here happened in late June 2008 at RiCon, a gathering of maniacs, old and new friends, in the basement of the ever-hospitable Rich (Rico Da Barbarian) Brayton and his lovely family. The inspiration for the scenario is from the twisted but beautiful minds of Lorenzo Gionet and James Manto. The writeup below is James Manto's brilliant pen and the captions for the game photos are by Lorenzo. The figures are from their collection and include figs by Ironwind, Steve Barber, Bob Murch, RAFM and Moonstone. Buildings are either scratch built or from model railroad scenics, and the vehicles are from toy stores and flea markets all over SW Ontario. God knows how many players there were - dozens? It was like a Jimmy Cagney/Jackie Chan movie directed by James Woods and produced by James Woo.

Cue the saxophone background music and shot of a dark, rainslicked city street, before a gravelly voice begins the narration:

It started out as a straight forward job. And that's the way I like them. Straight forward and money in the bank. But it wasn't. The client was rich enough to send his lawyer into my office like an errand boy in a $200 suit.
"You Mallory?" the suit asks.

I pushed the brim of my fedora up off my eyes but didn't take my feet off my desk. Manners only go so far. Besides standing up would just show off how rumpled my $10 suit was. "Yeah, that's what it says on the door; 'J. Mallory-Private Investigations'.

"Can you be discreet? I represent a very wealthy man who doesn't want his problems getting into the papers."

"I wouldn't be in business if I had a loose mouth, would I? Now why don't you tell me those problems and I'll see if I can help."

So he did. The Old Man had a tear away daughter named Ursula.

She'd fallen in with a bad crowd; those Nazis you read about in the papers with that funny little guy on the newsreels. And I ain't talkin' about Charlie Chaplin. Seems Ursula liked wearing tight black uniforms and she and her new friends were fixing to head back to the Fatherland for a big party. I needed to get her back so her father could put her into a very expensive and very strict convent school. More uniforms but without the parades and torch lights in Nuremburg.

So I'd been on her tail all week and found out they were planning a rendezvous in old man Barratt's scrap yard. I got in my brown coupe and headed down to the rough part of town. While waiting at a stop sign I noticed the gals pull up in a car behind me. They were all blond and dressed in smart black caps with silver badges. I pulled over and let them get ahead of me, looking into the glove box so they wouldn't see my face. They passed and I pulled out behind them.

As I rounded the corner onto Second, things got complicated real fast. Something as big as a building had erupted through the pavement at the intersection of Second and Elm.

Funny little guys who weren't Nazis were coming out and heading into Barton's Warehouse. Some bald guy in a white coat seemed to be giving directions. Later, I found out that he was Professor Calvera, a renegade scientist from some government big brain outfit.

He'd built the big tunneling machine and found these little guys underground to do his dirty work.

A couple of Black Marias howled down the street but it didn't look like the police budget went to driving lessons. The first van ran over a citizen and then the second rear-ended the first.

Capt. Goodenough, already starting to froth, jumped out of the second van and charged the stiff with a traffic violation.

His boys in blue ran down the street towards the weird machine and smack into an ambush. Big Tony had some gunsels on the roofs to give security for the mole creatures.

Three cops went down and Goodenough started screaming for help."Send lawyers, guns and money! I've got rampaging Bolsheviks down here!"

Some help showed up, but not for Goodenough. A big shadow blotted out the sun. I cranked down the window and looked up, it was a big zeppelin with a red swastika on the tail, low over the junkyard!. Ropes were hanging from the gondola and soldiers dropped down them into the scrap yard.

As if that weren't enough people at the party, a Hughes flying boat started circling and tiny figures with jets of fire jumped from the side door. The fighting scientists of the Rocket Corps had arrived to foil Calvera.

Two of the Rocketeers flew over to the zeppelin, boarding the gondola, while the rest landed on a rooftop beside Tony's men. They must have convinced them of their patriotic duty, 'cause the gangsters started shooting at the zeppelin guys.

(Note - I was playing the Rocket Men and my experience of these games is that the first few teams on the field end up getting shot to bits by every one else. I therefore thought that a big federal cheque would help Big Tony see his way to defending the US against the evil Molemen, and that worked pretty well as a way not to have to take on the gangsters. My idea to board the Nazi airship while the Zeppelin Truppen were busy below almost worked. MP)

During all the chaos, dock worker Shorty Muqhabele lead his gang of wharf rats into the warehouse to try and grab some barrels of whiskey.

This incurred the wrath of local Tong boss, Ya Wang. The Tong boiled out of the Chinese restaurant waving cleavers and chopsticks. Others appeared on a roof top brandishing a different kind of chopper.

Danny, the plucky street kid who only had one mother and every guy in the gang for a dad took one Tong down a shot from his slingshot but the resulting hail of tommy gun fire cut him and several other wharf rats down. A wild fist fight with knives, swords and crow bars developed behind the warehouse with Shorty's crew getting the worst of it.

Around the Molemen's machine another big fight had developed. I'm pretty sure there hadn't been a bigger fight since the Civil War, or maybe the Christmas sale at Macey's. Rocketeers were trading blows with Zeppelin Truppen and Molemen. Gangsters and Marines from the Naval Base were wading in too.

Stray bullets into the scrap yard had activated some of the old robots dumped there after they had rampaged through downtown last year.

The walking ash cans started battering everything in sight and carried off a couple of nuns. Ilsa and her She Wolves tried to ram through the crowd but wrecked their car on the rubble. They all got out and started fighting with everyone around.

I spotted the wayward offspring Ursula and jumped from my coupe. Drawing my pair of .45s I snapped off a couple of shots at the he-Nazis to keep them down while I dealt with the females of the species. I grabbed Ursula and slapped Ilsa.
"You've been a very bad girl."

When she tried to break free I slapped her too and dragged her back to the coupe.

A couple of carloads of G-Men rounded the corner, they'd also been tailing the Nazi spies.

Seeing me with Ursula in her Sunday Going to a Whipping getup, one of the Feds took a shot at me. He was so close I felt the unburned powder whistle past my ear. Fortunately he missed. With my free hand I slugged him in the nose and pulled out my license. That didn't help much as the dame and I got hustled into the back of a Federal sedan to be taken downtown for a long uncomfortable night in the basement of the Federal building.

We were sitting in the back of the car watching while the G-Men and Marines busted up the last of the She-Wolves and spies. The surviving Zeppelin Truppen were hauled back to their airship along with a captured robot. Big Tony's men started to fade. They tried stealing the Marine's truck but wrecked it backing down the street. A bunch got gunned down by the Marines in retaliation, and the rest grabbed an unguarded Black Maria and sped away.

Calvera and his molemen seemed to do OK. One of the Rocketeers had been knocked down and I saw him carried off by the Molemen. They also grabbed Ilsa in passing as she fell back from a gun butt to the head, and I think they even got a nun, but I didn't tell the G-Men any of this. Ma Mallory didn't raise any kids goofy enough to volunteer information to the feds!

Calvera's machine, loaded with loot from the warehouse and prisoners withdrew back into it's tunnel. More sirens roared by as Detective Sergeant Crueller

and some motorcycle cops finally arrived to reinforce Goodenough. The motor cops didn't stop soon enough and wrecked themselves on the hole made by the tunneling machine. Crueller spent the rest of the day rounding up stray robots with some help from the Marines. Crueller was happy though, Goodenough had made such a mess of things that his political career was finished. Duke O'Rourke, that up and coming new reporter for the Pottersville Expositor was there to catch all the dirt for the Monday edition.

The Old Man's lawyer showed up to get Daddy's Little Girl out of trouble and back into pleated skirts pretty quick. He got me out too, eventually, and gave me a big bonus for all my troubles. I could have kissed the stack of dead presidents if my lips weren't swollen.

The End (Until the next sequel - there are rumours that the Corps of Rocketmen are planning to mount a subterranean expedition to pursue Calvera and the Molemen. Meanwhile, Dr. Calvera has Ilsa the Nazi she-wolf in his custody - who knows what bizarre genetic experiments he might contrive to breed an army of Nazi Molemen. One thing is for sure, you can read about it in the Pottersville Expositor).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What's At Stake at the Lambeth Conference

There's a lot of writing and blogging about the Lambeth Conference, the meeting of Bishops from across the Anglican Communion that happens every ten years. With many of the African and southern hemisphere bishops who represent the bulk of the Communion boycotting Lambeth following the GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem, and with conservative and liberal Anglicans unlikely to agree on the ordination and marriage of homosexuals, a split in the Anglican Church seems inevitable.

I recommend two pieces on what's at stake by Lambeth, the first by Jordan Hylden writing in the Catholic journal First Things, and the second by Ephraim Radner, a faculty member at my alma mater, Wycliffe College in Toronto (Radner was included in a recent ranking (!?!) of the top fifty most influential figures in the Anglican Church today.
Here's an excerpt from Hylden:

The Anglicans at Lambeth: What’s at Stake
By Jordan Hylden

Monday, July 14, 2008, 6:23 AM
Nearly six hundred purple-shirted Anglican bishops will gather this week in England for the Lambeth Conference, the decennial meeting of all the bishops in the global Anglican Communion. Of course, there would have been well over eight hundred, but for the fact that the bishops of five national Anglican provinces—about a quarter of Anglican bishops overall—decided to stay home.

That’s a sadness, for the average Anglican today (as Gregory Cameron has pointed out), is a black woman in Africa, under the age of thirty, who supports three children on a salary of two dollars a day and finds the story of her life written in the pages of the Old Testament. The average Anglican represented at Lambeth is more likely a white man from New Jersey with a three-car garage who supposes that the world in which he lives is described quite well by the pages of the New York Times.

Above all else, the Lambeth bishops must show themselves to be an effective instrument in service of the faith and unity of the Anglican Communion. Essentially, the bishops must give a clear articulation of their common mind on the issues that presently threaten the Anglican world with schism, and they must present a viable and biblically faithful way forward that can be pursued by the majority of Anglicans with vigor and conviction.

Read the whole article

And Radner:

The Moment We Face

1. Your responsibility is shaped, in part, by the times we are in. For we are facing the most perilous crisis in our life as a Communion and as members of it, that we have ever faced. To be sure, this is not the first major threat to our common Christian life as Anglicans. During the first half of the 17th century, the Great Migration saw thousands leave England, and effectively leave the Anglican church, for North America; the subsequent Civil War nearly destroyed for all time this tradition and her gifts, and despite emerging from this, the Anglican Church was long beset with exiles and schisms. These were first made international at the end of the 18th century, with the American Revolution and the Methodist divisions, and the 19th century also saw a long struggle, marked by anguish and departures, one however that was more than compensated by an unparalleled missionary outreach. For all that, nothing in the past compares with the sheer extent of the threat to Anglican existence that we now face, as the Communion looks into permanent and multiple fracture, and local churches do the same in the wake of already grievous divisions.

Read the whole article

Please pray for the Anglican Church and for its bishops meeting at Lambeth in the days to come, and for the future of this historic part of the Christian church, that it may continue to be able to do God's work in the world.


Cycling the Valley

One of the perks of being stranded here in Greenwood this week, while Kay is home preparing for our move (she has the hard job) is having time to tool around this part of the Annapolis Valley on Big Blue, my Canadian Tire $300 special. It's been a while since I cycled 35 miles in one day, but last Saturday was a superb day for an outing, and it was an excuse to eat ice cream along the way. Here's some shots of my trip.

Remember to click on any of the pictures for a larger view.

Nictaux Falls, not far from base camp, the Falcourt Inn:

Highway 10, the route south from Nictaux Falls, was a long climb up, but as I moved out of the valley there were some superb views, which the camera doesn't really do justice to:

One of the Valley's many Baptist churches, at Torbrook Mines - by far the most prominent denomination in these parts as far as I can tell.

I'm fairly certain this guy is not a native Nova Scotian:

Live music at Kingston's biggest annual event, the SteerBQ - I had images of a big cow on a spit (the original steer was cooked in a pit of coals years ago) but all I saw was a big collection of cookers at the fair grounds. I was too hot and sweaty to try the meat, but a home made vanilla milkshake hit the spot.

The Bayard Road bridge over the Annapolis River, around 6pm. There's something about the smell when you stand on one of these bridges, the creosote and sun-warmed wooden timbers mixing with the woods and the slight swampy scent of the slow moving water that all in all just smells like summer.

Sun, ice cream, breathtaking views, good live music, strange critters - not the Tour de France but a good day nevertheless.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

House Hunting Adventures

(Remember that any of the pictures below can be enlarged by clicking on them).

I've been offline for the last few weeks, mastering a military manoeuvre (man, I hate spelling that word!) called the House Hunting Trip. This is a perk of military service that gives you and your family a paid trip to the locale of your new assignment (posting in military parlance) to find a place to live. In our case that was purchasing a home of our own rather than rental accomodation in base quarters or "the Qs" as they're known locally.

Kay and I flew out to Halifax on July 3rd and proceeded by rental car to our destination, Canadian Forces Base Greenwood in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley. This was the first time in Atlantic Canada for both of us, and our first impressions were of a very diverse geology (the first bit north from the Halifax airport is reminiscent of the Canadian Shield/Muskoka region and then the Valley is totally different), friendly people, and relatively empty highways compared to Ontario. On nearing Greenwood, we were hailed on my cell phone by Padre Jack Barret, who is leaving the Greenwood chaplaincy team for a posting in his native Newfoundland. Jack has been my move sponsor (basically a move buddy/mentor) and has been a big help in getting us oriented to the area and the CF move system. When he heard we hadn't eaten, he insisted that we come to his house for burgers, even though it wasn't until 8pm when we reached him. Jack is an ex-sailor, a warm and wise guy, and in the days to come I realized he had great pastoral relationships with the staff at the base. He's a great example of the teamwork and camaraderie that I'm learning to appreciate in CF chaplaincy.

Over burgers at Jack's we met our realtor, Reg White, a guy with the personality of a Jack Russell terrier and the professionalism you'd expect of a CF Master Warrant Officer. Jack reminded us that we came prepared to work and based on our conversations with him before arrival we had ten houses to look at the next day. We made our way to our hotel feeling that we were in good hands.

Our hotel was (and nine days later, for me, still is) the Falcourt Inn, owned and operated by the Legard family. The Falcourt sits on a low ridge overlooking the Nictaux River, and the view from the front porch and dining room is quite lovely, as is the food.

The little meadow between the Falcourt and the river is home to a four Shetland ponies and a very assertive donkey, who were quite eager to come over and visit the first night that Kay and I went for a walk, no doubt expecting a treat. We got the hint, and the next time I visited them it was with a bag of carrots. We didn't ask permission of the owner, but the donkey promised that it would be our little secret.

Our first day with Reg White was a blur of eleven showings, one more than we planned on. After our experience of repeated showings of our London house since we went on the market on June 4th, we had considerable empathy for the owners of these eleven houses. Greenwood is a buyer's market at present, and almost all the houses we looked at were owned by military families who are moving on to a new posting. The military's relocation program will carry the interest payments for some time on an unsold house, but contrary to popular belief the military will not buy a house if a member is unable to sell it befor beginning a new posting. Reg told us that some of the houses we had looked at had been on the market for several months and the owners were getting anxious. I can relate, as our house in London still awaits its buyer.

Reg's biggest advice, given the dynamic of frequent (every 2-4 years) postings, was to look at a house in terms of its resale potential. The first day was a blur, and we saw many we liked but we ultimately ended up on what Reg called the cheapest house on the best street in a residential subdivision of Greenwood called Ravenswood. The area has a good mix of families so my son John, who is joining our family this summer, will have a good opportunity to make friends. The owners of the house had been on the market for three months. She is an Air Force officer posted to Ottawa and he is an Army sergeant, originally with 3RCR (no doubt explains the good feeling I had about this house and the immaculate condition we found it in) who is going to be a speaker and advocate for the CF's OSISS (Operational Stress Injury Support Services)program. They and their two daughters are clearly a loving and healthy family, and our negotiations with them were pleasant and positive.

So here's our new house, 1788 Cartier Court, Kingston, Nova Scotia, B0P 1R0, if you're wondering:

We made the original offer on Saturday, spent Sunday visiting St. Mark's protestant chapel on the base where I will preach and preside from time to time, and received a warm welcome from the small summer congregation there. We spent the afternoon driving north to visit the Atlantic Ocean, though this part of the valley does not have the choicest beaches for the Bay of Funday. We climbed out of the Valley and found ourselves on a small highway beginning at Margaretsville, which appeared to be a small collection of summer houses. From there we found our way to Morden and got out of the car to experience a wall of fog and a noticeable drop in air temperature, five degrees C at least. We had discovered the Atlantic.

Apparently the nice sand beaches are either further up or down the Bay of Fundy or on Nova Scotia's south shore. However, we agreed that it was pretty darn cool to be standing at the edge of an ocean, even if our summer clothes seemed suddenly inadequate for the chill. Here we are looking cool in both senses of the word.

Morden was originally known as French's Cross - this badly photographed monument tells a dismal story about the fate of some Acadians who fled to this part of the coast to escape deportation. No doubt they found this place more desolate than we did.

Monday and Tuesday were spent chasing various bits of paper and meeting with folks to get he home sale finalized. On the morning of Wednesday the 9th Kay got in the rental car to head back home to London for the next phase of our move, and I set off for work on my Canadian Tire bike, my mode of transporation for the next week until I head back as well for the move. Results of the House Huntin Trip - a new house in the bag, two mortgages (as someone said to me that week, when you use the word mortgage it should always be singular, not plural), a better sense of where we are going to be living, and the Atlantic Ocean discovered. Not a bad week.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bookworms Take Heart

Proof that all those years hiding out in the high school library was good for you.

Socially awkward? Hit the books

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

July 10, 2008 at 9:14 AM EDT

For a good chunk of the summer, 17-year-old Charlotte Spafford plans to hole up in her room so the words of author Toni Morrison can transport her deep into the American South. Not exactly a sure-fire way to enhance her teenage social life - or is it?

A group of Toronto researchers have compiled a body of evidence showing that bookworms have exceptionally strong people skills.

Their years of research - summed up in the current issue of New Scientist magazine - has shown readers of narrative fiction scored higher on tests of empathy and social acumen than those who read non-fiction texts. And follow-up research showed that reading fiction may help fine-tune these skills: People assigned to read a New Yorker short story did better on social reasoning tests than those who read an essay from the same magazine.

Read the Whole Article

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


Blog Archive