Controversial Christmas trees

I’m sick of Christmas being a source of controversy. Christmas is a big flippin’ deal in North America. But it isn’t all peace and joy, let me tell you.


Controversial Christmas tree #1

From the Globe and Mail, a story about a municipality who narrowly voted to put up an artificial tree:

While most cities have been oiling snowplows and constructing ice rinks in anticipation of winter, the politicians in one small Ontario town have dedicated themselves to resolving a historical debate that continues to polarize Canadians this time of year.

Artificial Christmas tree or real tree?

For more than a week, the councillors of Quinte West, a municipality east of Toronto, have wrestled with the question.

At Monday’s council meeting they were split, 6-6, until Mayor Bob Campney stepped in with the deciding vote for a fake tree.

The issue erupted last year when some councillors cut down a seven-metre pine and hauled it into town on a flat-bed truck.

Unfortunately, there was a municipal employee who was allergic to the tree. He tried to cope through the holidays with a swollen face, but was forced to buy medication and work outside the building. The municipality had to compensate him almost $2,000.

In the end, the mayor felt his compromise was sound.

“My feeling was, we can put up an artificial tree, a good tree, inside, and put a big real tree outside, and everyone going by can enjoy it.”

Councillor Fred Kuypers, who is in his eighth year as a councillor, says when the town decorates the tree outside, he’s boycotting the event.

“For me, the fun is gone.”

Controversial Christmas Tree #2

From CBC Nova Scotia, a story about Donnie Hatt, who regrets donating a 50-foot spruce tree to the City of Boston:

A spruce tree grower in Nova Scotia isn’t happy his Christmas tree has become a “holiday” tree.

bah-humbug.jpgEvery fall, the province sends a tree to Boston as a thank-you gift to that city for helping Halifax after the devastating explosion in 1917.

But Donnie Hatt, of Beech Hill, says he wouldn’t have sent his 36-year-old, 16-metre white spruce this year if he knew it would be called a “holiday” tree. In fact, he’d rather see it run through the wood chipper in his backyard. …

Officials with Boston’s parks department decided it would be less offensive to some people and generally more inclusive if the word “Christmas” was dropped.

“I think it’s a bunch of bullcrap,” Hatt is quoted as saying.

Sing it along with me, kids:  Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year!

It’s the hap – happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay, happy meetings
When friends come to call,
it’s the hap – happiest season of all.


Purgatory?! I thought I reserved a direct flight!!

The Dante’s Inferno Test has sent you to Purgatory!

I don’t often do these online tests, but I was drawn to this one because of the religious theme. When I looked at the questions, I thought they were interesting, too. Here are a few of the questions that leaped out at me for one reason or another.

Please select your gender.
(Only two options, male or female.) This one leaped out at me because I wonder how it’s relevant. Am I more likely to go straight to Paradise if, for example, I’m female? Or maybe the assumption is that God (like the Church) favours men!

Do you intentionally cause harm to yourself?
I wonder what prompted them to include this question. There’s a separate question on whether you’ve ever attempted suicide.

Have you ever taken pleasure in someone else’s misery?
Ooh, that’s a good one! Ever indulge in a little schadenfreude, folks? I like to think I’m a nice guy, but I had to answer Yes, given the word “ever”.

Have you ever engaged in oral or anal sex?
I don’t really see the point of the question. If I like oral sex, does that make me more lustful? I thought oral sex was virtually universal in our generation. How many people can honestly answer No, I wonder?

Would you sooner go without sex than go without good-tasting food?
Ooh, another good one! I scored “moderate” on the gluttonous scale, but “high” on the lustful scale. If I answered that question the other way, would those two scores reverse?

Have you ever intentionally given bad advice?
I guess I’m just not a devious person — I can’t imagine under what circumstances I would intentionally give bad advice to someone who trusted me.

Without further ado, here are my results:

Level Score
Purgatory (Repenting Believers) High
Level 1 – Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers) Moderate
Level 2 (Lustful) High
Level 3 (Gluttonous) Moderate
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious) Very Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy) Low
Level 6 – The City of Dis (Heretics) Very Low
Level 7 (Violent) Low
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers) Low
Level 9 – Cocytus (Treacherous) Low

Take the Dante’s Inferno Test

If any of the results are inaccurate, it would be the heretics scale. Very low? I don’t think they examined my unorthodox beliefs closely enough.

I think the results demonstrate that, on the whole, I’m a nice guy. But not good enough, apparently! How perfect does one have to be to make it to heaven without the stopover en route?

I’m sure it was that “lustful” rating that brought me up short of my destination. Suddenly I’m reminded of Father Guido Sarducci’s masturbation skit.

When cherished values come into conflict

Here’s a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada which I find interesting. It illustrates a point that arises occasionally in the context of public policy debates. The point is, cherished values come into conflict with each other from time to time.

People often get hold of a single truth (or value or principle) and attempt to elevate it above all others. Freedom of expression is a recurrent example, as in this case. According to the Globe and Mail:

The Supreme Court of Canada has rejected a Montreal strip club’s claim that it had a constitutional right to broadcast its music soundtracks onto the street outside to attract customers.

The Chateau du Sexe contended the city had violated the club’s freedom of expression by invoking a municipal bylaw intended to prevent public nuisances.

In a 6-1 decision, the court agreed the bylaw infringes on freedom of expression.

But it said the infringement is justified by the greater public good of fighting noise pollution.

Justice Ian Binnie, the only dissenter, contended that the bylaw is so broad it could be used to ban people from playing Mozart in their gardens.

He said the city should find a better way to control nuisance sounds and noise pollution.

In this case, two cherished values have come into conflict with each other:  (1) freedom of expression and (2) the prevention of unjustifiable noise pollution.

The same thing happens in the realm of religion sometimes. Here’s an example from the Hebrew scriptures. The Torah says, “Do no work on the seventh day of the week” (paraphrasing Exodus 20:10). The Torah also says, “a male child is to be circumcised on the eighth day” (paraphrasing Leviticus 12:2-3).

But what happens when the eighth day of a boy’s life coincides with the Sabbath (the seventh day of the week)? To uphold one of the commands is to violate the other.

In such cases, the rabbis ruled that the law of circumcision took priority:  “R. Jose says, ‘Great is circumcision since it overrides the stringent Sabbath'” (Mishnah Nedarim 3:11).

I don’t have a specific application in mind just now. But when I saw the report of the court decision, I thought I would blog on it for future reference. It is a straightforward example of an important concept.


Here’s an activity to consider next time you’re bored. Plug a few words into the Internet Anagram Server:  aka, “I, REARRANGEMENT SERVANT”.

(Hat tip, Web Junkie.)

Now we can all be as clever as a certain blogger whose blog name (TONER MISHAP) is an anagram of his user ID (Misanthrope).

Here are some of the anagrams I got when I entered “Simply Put”:

MY PULPITS (an interesting coincidence for a former preacher)
PITY SLUMP (when it has been a while since anyone took pity on you)
SLIPPY TUM (remember to warm the massage oil first)

and my personal favourite,


I don’t know that I’d want to use any of the above for my user ID — certainly not “LUMPY PITS”, for example — but “SLY IMP” is pretty good. (It’s an anagram of “Simply”.)

Try it out! I bet none of you can top “LUSTY PIMP”!

(btw:  “JACK AND ENID” is an anagram of “Dick and Jane”.)

Politics and image

It’s a truism: in the television era, politics is all about image.

Here’s a historic image from Canadian political history. The year was 1974, and Robert Stanfield was campaigning to become our Prime Minister.

CBC News remembers, “In the 1974 election, a photographer snapped a picture of Stanfield fumbling a football on an airport tarmac. It served to depict him as clumsy and inept, despite the fact he had been firing perfect spirals to a reporter for several minutes before the errant toss came his way.

“He once said if he walked on water, the next day’s headline would be, ‘Stanfield can’t swim.'”

Fairly or unfairly, this photograph was partly responsible for Stanfield’s defeat.
Pierre Trudeau, on the other hand, was supremely photogenic. This was particularly so when it came to television — moving images.

I was surprised, looking over a couple dozen still photos, to see that few of the images were striking. But Trudeau was transcendent when it came to television. He was always in motion:  often graceful, often dramatic, sometimes a clown, sometimes dandified; always compellingly watchable.

Canadians voted for Trudeau for complex reasons, but being telegenic certainly helped.

This is Bloc Québécois leader, Gilles Duceppe. CTV News explains, “During a tour of a cheese factory during the 1997 campaign, he donned a hairnet that looked laughably like a shower cap. The image was splashed over all the papers and made easy fodder for political cartoons.

“‘It took Gilles Duceppe a long time to shake off that shower cap thing,’ recalls political analyst L. Ian MacDonald. ‘I mean, it was just the right thing to do but it projected entirely the wrong image.'”

Visual images are so powerful, they have the potential to overwhelm a politician’s message; or, more accurately, to become the politician’s message. Stanfield was inept; Trudeau was charming, capable, intellectual; Duceppe had just fallen off a hay wagon.

Are judgements of this sort — judgements based on photographic images — ever fair?

Meet Stephen Harper, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, currently the official opposition. This photograph was on the front page of the Globe and Mail last week, and I found it very striking.

Harper has been criticized for always appearing angry. He’s trying to overcome that image:  see him smile? He’s really trying to smile, anyway; notice how far he has pulled up the corners of his mouth.

The smile is forced. Maybe you won’t see it this way, but my response is to cover the bottom half of his face to focus on the upper half. Are those eyes smiling?

I don’t think so. I think Harper’s eyes look wary and judgemental, even as the bottom half of his face is making an attempt to be warm and likeable.

It’s only a photographic image, but perhaps it conveys relevant information.

Maybe you can be hostile and still make a good Prime Minister. I don’t know. But I’ll tell you this:  Canadians can’t work up any enthusiasm for this particular politician. And I think the photograph illustrates why that’s so.

Mary P. writes book

You may already know that Mary P. is participating in National Novel Writing Month:  aka NaNoWriMo. The goal of the organization is to raise money to promote literacy. The goal of participants like Mary P. is to write a 50,000 word novel in one month.

How crazy is that?! Who can write at that pace?!

Mary P. can, that’s who. Pshaw!, it isn’t enough of a challenge for her! She reached 50,000 words today, only 21 days into the month!

Mary P. got this button at a local gathering of NaNoWriMo participants. She says it should read, “I write book” — singular: hence the title of my post.

I’m biased, of course, but I think the book is really good. Below I offer an excerpt to give you a taste of what she has achieved, at lightning speed.

It’s only a first draft, obviously … she couldn’t afford to spend any time polishing it. But that only makes the achievement more impressive. I bet you wouldn’t guess from the excerpt that this is a first draft, if I hadn’t already told you.

I am so impressed!

“You like the blues, don’t you?” Josee asked. Her voice permeates my sun-induced languor. She’s come over this gorgeous summer afternoon with a bag of hand-me-downs for my kids, but once the clothes have been sorted and set aside, the back yard with its sun and stunning view of the neighbour’s solid red brick wall beckons. My kids will be returning from their dad’s in the next hour or so, and Josee and I are spending some productive time soaking up the heat. I’m leaning back against the wall of the shed, my face tipped to the sun. She lays on her back beside me. A pitcher of ice water and two glasses sit on a tray between us.

“Love them. Why? Something you’d like to see?” One of the perks of single motherhood that I’d never considered was the weekends off. As a married parent, I’d never had a weekend off. Except when I worked my 8-2 shift at the drop-in tutoring centre on weekends, I was on board with the children. Often, it wasn’t their father who cared for them on these days, but a friend – very often Josee. Now, I had weekend afternoons and evenings entirely to myself, something I’d not had since the first child was born ten years ago. Not that I had actually done anything with a weekend evening yet.

“No, not me. But my friend Marc, you know him, the police officer? The one who was on that task force last year looking into runaway kids?”

“I’ve never met him, but you’ve mentioned him before. This is Marc whose wife runs that craft shop in the Glebe?”

“Marc whose wife left him three months ago, yeah, that’s the one.”

“Ah, geez, Josee. I’ve only been separated a couple of months. You’re not suggesting I want to be dating already? And some guy who’s on the rebound? Hell, I’m on the rebound! Nobody should be wanting to date me.”

“Are you, or are you not enjoying being single?”

“I am loving it! And I’m loving it, already, without dating.”

“So don’t think of it as a date. Just go down to Tucson’s on Saturday night to hear a group with someone else who likes your kind of music.”

“‘So don’t think of it as a date.’ How cliche is that? Next you’ll be telling me that as long as I pay my own way, it’s not a date.”

“Well, it’s not!”

“And if I pay my own way, I don’t have to sleep with him?”

“Get out of here. You don’t have to sleep with him even if he does pay.”

“That’s a relief. I thought you’d suddenly become an afficionado of that ‘Rules’ book.”

“No. Not that it says that, anyway, does it? All I’m saying is that you should just go because it would be a fun thing to do. That’s it, that’s all, end of story, no big agenda.”

“Is that how he’d be looking at it?”


“And you know this because…”

“Because I talked to him. Said I might know someone. Didn’t tell him who, and asked if he’d mind.”

“God, Josee, I feel like we’re in seventh grade here. Look, why don’t you give me his phone number.” She pulls a business card from her purse.

“He gave you his card??”

“Just in case. But he doesn’t know your name, I promise.”

I take the card without looking at it, slip it into the pocket of my shorts. “If I feel like it, I’ll call him; if I don’t, I’ll go by myself. I can have fun by myself, you know.”

“Yeah, I know, but sooner or later you’ll run out of batteries.” She grins wickedly as I snort.

“When that happens, maybe I’ll give Marc a call. Until then, things are working just fine for me.


Despite my show of reluctance, I did think about Josee’s suggestion. I’d been on my own for two months, and in that time I’d not gone out once. Not a single grown-up evening out. It probably was time I looked beyond the four walls of my home, comfortable though it was now. It probably was time I went out and did something frivolous, something fun, just for myself.

After dinner that evening, I finally remembered to take the slightly crumpled card out of my pocket, and glanced at the numbers on it. Business number, cell phone number, even a fax, if I decided to put myself out in writing. A man who wants to be accessible, at any rate. I set the card on the ledge beside the kitchen window, over the sink, in the stash of other business cards I’d accrued: The Faucet Man, Secondhand Appliance Source, Cheap and Skilful Drywaller, the Plumber who covers his butt, the Lady Chimneysweep, the Electrician who doesn’t hit on you….

Marc’s card nestled in with the other cards, a potential frivolity amongst necessities. Would I call him? Should I call him? Did I want to?

“Mummy! We’ve brushed our teeths!” Daniel’s voice echoes down the stairs. “We’re ready for our bedtime story!”

Saved by the bellow. “Okay, guys! I’m coming right up!”

I love our bedtime routines. Emma, having had her bath, story and snuggle an hour ago, sleeps peacefully. Her blond curls tumble across her pillow as I lean to kiss her chubby baby cheek.

Zoe and Daniel wait in Daniel’s room, snuggled side-by-side in his bed. After story time, Zoe will cross the landing to the bedroom she shares with Emma, but stories for the big kids take place in Daniel’s room, where we can talk softly and leave the light on without disturbing the baby.

They wriggle apart to make room for me. Daniel carefully pats the pillow into its place against the wall behind us, a cushioned backrest for the snuggling that accompanies all good stories. A child nuzzled under each arm, the book held in front, I open to tonight’s chapter, resume the lively story of the brave warrior mice and their struggles against the evil stoats.

My children are nestled warm against me, their breathing rhythmic and gentle, their hair soft against my cheek. I get so much satisfaction from their physical presence, the trust in me their closeness expresses. I am the centre of their worlds right now, as they are the centre of my larger world.

My larger world which includes Josee, the tutoring I do on weekends, the other children I care for during the week, and… What else does my world include? Phone calls to my sister, 500 miles away, each of us too involved with our small children – and, let’s face it, too financially strapped – to make the journey to visit very often. Shopping for groceries and necessities for the children. And that’s about it.

When is the last time I went out for a drink, or to a movie, just myself? My big indulgence for just me has been my weekly trips to the library — not the trips I make with the children, but the visit I make each Saturday in which I go nowhere near the children’s section — and the hours I read each evening. I am not about to apologize for being a bookworm. I love my evening spent curled in a quilt on the couch, safe and secure, reading, reading, reading.

Nor do I have a need for dozens of friends. One or two reliable, caring, accessible friends is all I have ever needed. Oh, and I can’t forget my two invisible friends – my Inner Cynic and my Inner Paragon. But still – three friends, two of them imaginary, and a pile of books is not much of a social life, is it? Josee is right: it’s time I made a move to expand my world a bit. I don’t know that I want or need to include Marc – or any other man – in it just now, but it’s high time, yes it is, it’s high time my world got a little bigger than my home, the library, and the damned grocery store!

“Mummy? Mummy, you’ve stopped reading!” Zoe’s voice interrupts my reverie. She and Daniel lean out a bit, look up at me in mild exasperation. “It’s not the end of the chapter yet.”

“Oops. Sorry, love. I got distracted. All right…ah…okay. Here we are.”


Friday morning. End of another week in daycare land. I wake before my alarm, and as I do every morning, indulge in the sensual luxury of a corner-to-corner, across-the-mattress stretch. No oppressive, unhappy man shares my bed, and my children now sleep contentedly in their own beds. All that lovely space, all for me! Will this ever become less than a delightful morning gift to myself, this wide, empty bed?

Freedom is made of such small things. A bed shared by no one who isn’t welcome. Well, shared by no one at all these days, truth be known, but this is my choice. The right to roll over and stretch to your heart’s content. Being able to turn on the light when you wake, rather than stumble in the dark. Getting to take the first shower. Having a morning cup of tea on my own. Solitude is not loneliness; it breathes life into me.

The letter carrier who went postaland The Israeli soldier who hesitated

In the past 36 hours, I’ve come across an exceptional number of interesting things in cyberspace. I’d like to call five items to your attention.

1. The letter carrier who went postal

This amusing tale is worth reading in its entirety. It comes from today’s Globe and Mail:

For reasons that are still not fully understood, a mail carrier in Montreal decided that instead of delivering the mail, he would hoard it at home. By the time Canada Post caught on, the carrier had stolen a whopping 75,000 pieces of mail over five years. …

On some days, the carrier would deliver the mail to one side of the street, but not the other. Other days, he wouldn’t deliver to homes on the second floor. Of the mail he stole, he opened only about 100 envelopes, mostly greeting cards containing cash or cheques. …

Most of the mail belonged to residents of the immigrant-heavy district of Park Extension. Yesterday, residents of the district’s De L’Épée Avenue opened the doors to their modest duplexes and grabbed hold of brick-sized bundles of mail, eyes wide.

— i.e., bundles of mail that the letter carrier had been hoarding for months or years, which are now being delivered to the startled householders.

2. The turtle who paints masterpieces

VirtuosoI like abstract art; Mary P. and I proudly display several pieces in our home. But I admit, some pieces could be the creation of a turtle.

According to, Koopa the turtle is developing quite a reputation. Paintings like Virtuoso (pictured) now hang in 46 of the US states.

The sale of Koopa’s art has raised over $9,000 for turtle rescue organizations. (hat tip Web junkie)

3. Surprise! European Muslims actively resist integration

I’ve just discovered Andrew Sullivan‘s blog. Sullivan writes very perceptively on how the USA is prosecuting the “war on terror”, among other subjects.

Today, he shares this quote from the Christian Science Monitor:

Millions of “French Muslims” don’t consider themselves French. A government report leaked last March depicted an increasingly two-track educational system: More and more Muslim students refuse to sing, dance, participate in sports, sketch a face, or play an instrument. They won’t draw a right angle (it looks like part of the Christian cross). They won’t read Voltaire and Rousseau (too antireligion), Cyrano de Bergerac (too racy), Madame Bovary (too pro-women), or Chrétien de Troyes (too chrétien). [Chrétien means Christian.] One school has separate toilets for “Muslims” and “Frenchmen”; another obeyed a Muslim leader’s call for separate locker rooms because “the circumcised should not have to undress alongside the impure.”

Sullivan comments:

This is not a case simply of an ethnic minority denied integration; it’s a case of a religious minority refusing integration, indeed attacking and denying the very values of secularism and liberalism upon which the West rests.

Who can disagree?

4. Burning Man photos

purple headBurning Man is an annual event wherein 25,000+ people travel to the Black Rock Desert to form an experi- mental community for one week. Participants are free to express themselves in ways that are outside the norms that apply elsewhere.

Carolyn was there this year and she has posted a couple dozen photos on her blog. Note:  I can’t link to the photos directly because each photo is a separate post. Click on the purple head photo, above, which will take you to the first set, then scroll down past the first few posts. Click here to view a second set of photos.

The event is intriguing, Carolyn’s photos capture its spirit, and it’s a lot of work to post this many photos! Go, enjoy!

5. An Israeli soldier hesitates … and makes the right decision

Ben Witherington is a Christian scholar who occasionally travels in Israel. On one of his visits, he hired a taxi for a week. Etan, the taxi driver, formerly was an Israeli soldier. Witherington comments, “He was not bitter, but there was a sadness about him, and he had had to grow up much too fast.”

On one occasion, Etan nearly made a deadly mistake that might have haunted him for the rest of his life:

Etan had fought at Jenin. Quietly, and with no vainglory at all, he told of the day that he was attacking a particular Palestinian house thought to harbor Hamas radicals. He had pulled out a grenade, and had pulled the pin almost entirely out when he remembered he had a duty to yell that there was an incoming explosive, in case there were innocents within who deserved a chance to get out of the way. He told me “but we had been fighting hard, and yet something made me put that pin back in the grenade and look inside the house first.”

Inside the house he found nothing but women and children who had been locked into the house by their own people so that they could claim the Israeli’s had commited a horrible atrocity at Jenin. It made him physically sick, and yet he was so thankful that something had stopped him from throwing that grenade. I had no doubt that “something” was God. Then he asked — what kind of people would do this to their own families in order to shame us before the world? It was a very good question and shows that the whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been complex with evil and good on both sides.

Later when Etan had gathered himself, he said to me — “I love my country and this is why I fight, but honestly, if someone would tell me there was a place for us Jews in the middle of a desert where everyone would leave us alone and no one else would claim the territory and we wouldn’t have to hurt anyone by mistake, I would move there today. It is not about living on this piece of dirt for me. It is about shalom.”

I was deeply moved by his testimony. He had grown up fast and hard as a teen in the Israeli army, and he had seen the worst that humanity can do, and yet there was still a little hopefulness left in him. The human spirit, created in God’s image is resilient, and I am thankful that Etan listened to that still small voice on that crucial day in Jenin. He said “If I had not stopped and looked on that day, I would never have slept again.”

It’s a hard thing to be a soldier with an actual conscience because all war is hell, and yet this story shows what a difference it can make in a case by case basis.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and pray for my new friend Etan.

For the record:  I believe, as Witherington believes, that it was the Spirit of God who prompted Etan to put that pin back into the grenade.

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