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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy Early New Year!

The celebrating is over in Sydney (above), but there's plenty of time left on this side of the world.

SYDNEY knows how to turn on a shindig. And the city did not disappoint last night's New Year's Eve revellers, providing a fireworks display with an accent all its own - filled with splashes of magenta, lime and gold, and an excess of sound and light.

As many as 1 million Sydneysiders braved wind and (predicted) rain to welcome 2007. And, as usual, the Harbour Bridge was the hub of the extravaganza.

Someone even beats the Aussies to the new year, though, and it's not just New Zealand. The Chatham Islands are the very first inhabited territory to see sunrise each day. This community of about 700 people observes time 45 minutes ahead of New Zealand. The London Sunday Times sent a reporter there recently, and his account is an adventure at the edge of the world (one where he still manages to lose his luggage on a flight with only 12 passengers):
Chatham Island is the ultimate frontier: if the earth were flat, this would be the edge of it. In fact, it lies beyond the edge: at 44°00’S, 176°30’W, it rests within a kink of the International Date Line...

The greatest draw of Chatham Island is, ultimately, its geographical position. On my last day there, I woke up at dawn. It was a glorious occasion of pinkish clouds and birdsong. There may be six billion people on our planet, but at that moment, I was one of the first to see dawn.
Here's hoping that you and your loved ones have a memorable and rewarding 2007, even if it doesn't start for another 12 hours or so. Happy New Year! [Image source: Sydney Morning Herald]

Friday, December 29, 2006

The wrong other side of the world

Wow! Can you imagine what it must have felt like to realize this mistake?

A 21-year-old German tourist who wanted to visit his girlfriend in the Australian metropolis Sydney landed 13,000 kilometers (8,077 miles) away near Sidney, Montana, after mistyping his destination on a flight booking Web site.
It must be weird to arrive on the wrong side of the other side of the world. I assume the language barrier had to play a part in this error as it developed. It wouldn't be all that weird to land in America en route to Sydney from Europe. Sure, I'd notice something was wrong once I boarded a plane in Portland headed for Montana, but what about the German equivalent? If I were flying to a destination in Asia, I might not notice a problem (other than inconvenience) with stops in Frankfurt and Berlin. Like this traveler, I would know something was seriously wrong when boarding a prop plane for BFE, rural Germany, though.

As a side note, in my opinion this was a major missed public relations opportunity by the airline(s) in question. Carrying the traveler safely to Australia for free would have spawned some great goodwill and positive word of mouth. Whoops. The mayor of either Sidney or Sydney might have made a splash by granting him a key to the city, too. [Image source:]

Have a Nice Day?

Are you happy? According to this article from Slate, that question is harder to answer than you might think.

[W]hen you ask people how happy they are, the answer you get will depend on whether the sun is shining or whether they have just found a dime on the floor. ([Psychologist Norbert] Schwarz used to plant coins where people would find them.)

That just shows how vulnerable people's views of their own satisfaction with life are. Kahneman argues that measures of life satisfaction are based on heavily edited memories of actual experiences. People recall the peaks, gloss over the troughs, and are influenced by recent events, including sunshine and serendipitous dimes. The kind of person who says she is happy with her life, then, is the kind of person who is experiencing lots of intense, positive emotion, even if there is a lot of anxiety thrown in there, too. High-powered city types remember the excitement of the deal but forget the misery of the long commute.

This theory intrigues me. Is it a bad thing if it's true? It sounds like people tend to focus on the joys in life and dismiss their hardships as momentary. That seems like an honorable and practical way to live. Considering the impact of the sunshine and the coins (both temporary circumstances) on the way people answer, it sounds like many of us gauge our happiness by living in the moment.

One thing the article doesn't mention is what happens when people step in a mudpuddle or have their wallets stolen right before they're asked whether they're happy. If sunshine and coins lead to happiness, where to wet clothes and empty pockets lead?

While we're on the subject of happiness, did you know that this fellow owns the smiley face?

[Image source:]

Thursday, December 28, 2006

This plank's for me

I think Jim Wallis is on the right track in this recent blog post. Arrogance isn't a virtue, and it sure isn't easily avoided. I agree with Wallis that it ought to be a high priority for anyone looking to follow Christ and that it is sorely lacking in all of us.

Jesus being the Son of God does NOT mean that Christians are better, more right, more righteous, more moral, more blessed, more destined to win battles, or more suited to govern and decide political matters than non-Christians. Instead, believing that Jesus was the Son of God would better mean that people who claim to believe it ought to then live the way Jesus did and taught. And on that one, many of us Christians (who believe the right way) are in serious trouble when it comes to the way we live. Those who believe that Jesus was the Son of God should be the most loving, compassionate, forgiving, welcoming, peaceful, and hungry for justice people around—just like Jesus, right? Well, it's not always exactly so.

I'll never forget hearing Billy Graham, the world's greatest evangelist, the last time he spoke at Harvard. He preached at Harvard's Memorial Church (to a huge crowd of students who had slept out all night just to get a seat), and then to the prestigious JFK Forum at the Kennedy School of Government the next night. After giving a statesmanlike address at the Kennedy School, he turned to the audience for questions. All the Christian triumphalists had shown up for their man and their night at Harvard.

One young believer stood up and asked Dr. Graham, "Since Jesus said 'I am the way, the truth and the life, and no man cometh to the Father but by me,' doesn't that mean people from other religions—Jews and the rest- are going to hell?" Billy replied, "I'm sure glad that God is the judge of people's hearts and not me! And I trust God to decide those questions justly and mercifully." The student was disappointed and pressed further, "Well, what do you think God will decide?" Graham demurred, "Well, God doesn't really ask my advice on those matters." Another questioner started again, "Well, what about those who aren't even monotheists—like the Buddhists?" Graham, replied, "You know, I've been to some Buddhist countries, and so many of the people I met seem to live more like Jesus than too many Christians I've seen."
Regardless of the source, many religions and philosophies--including Christianity--support the wisdom that change should begin with the individual. In other words, when I get done removing the plank from my own eye, I'll be back to remove the speck from yours. Don't wait up. I'm bound to forget that promise on a regular basis, but here's hoping for more effort toward righting our own wrongs--rather than everyone else's--in the year ahead.

Stargazing by ZIP code

MIT student Ben Fry has developed a very cool ZIP code map that lets you view the area assigned to each number of your ZIP code (3-7-2-0-9, for example). It looks like a star-filled night sky shaped like the United States. Click once on the map and then type in your ZIP code one digit at a time and watch it zero in on your homebase. It won't reveal your rooftop or anything, but it is interesting to see how ZIP codes fit together. If you're looking for a little perspective, hit 372 (the Nashville area) and zoom in.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Beautiful sunset

The sunset tonight is gorgeous. I would have missed it if not for a coworker letting me know. Check it out, quickly, if you can.

No snooze for you!

This alarm clock is a hilarious--and possibly sad--commentary on our society. Equipped with its own wheels, Clocky flees your presence if you continue to hit the snooze bar in the morning. Yes, it will literally roll off of the nightstand (as long as said nightstand is two feet tall or less) and move around the room. I may have to buy one of these for my wife. :)

The alarm clock that runs away and hides when you don't wake up. Clocky gives you one chance to get up. But if you snooze, Clocky will jump off of your nightstand and wheel around your room looking for a place to hide. Clocky is kind of like a misbehaving pet, only he will get up at the right time.

When the alarm sounds, Clocky will start beeping. You can snooze once for your choosen (sic) number of snooze minutes and if you don't get up, Clocky will start beeping again and run away. If 0 was choosen (sic) as the snooze time, Clocky will run away as soon as the alarm sounds. He always starts by moving forward off of your nightstand. Then he will move around for 30 seconds in different directions.
Remember kids, clocky is not a toy. At least that's what its Web site says.

Nashville Mayor update

As I recently wrote, I think it's important to take time to learn about every candidate who is campaigning to be Nashville's next mayor.

Kenneth Eaton, a longtime Nashville businessman, is planning to officially announce his candidacy next month. Dave Pelton, a self-described energy and environmental policy expert, threw his hat in the ring earlier this fall. Both candidates' Web sites have more details about their platforms.

Respectful exploration

I believe forgiveness and humility grant us the freedom to be who we really are. If we can authentically lower our defenses and acknowledge other points of view, we have the opportunity to learn from each other and to grow as individuals.

This is not about surrendering one's beliefs in the face of another's. It's about peacefully engaging each other in dialogue instead of insisting that a single viewpoint is the only possible solution. It is an acknowledgment that no single person or organization has a stranglehold on wisdom.

I'm encouraged to see Lipscomb University exploring this path with their recently established Institute of Conflict Management. The organization discussed religious conflict earlier this fall and will focus on capital punishment in January. Here's an excerpt from today's Tennessean story about the institute:

Larry Bridgesmith [executive director for the institute] acknowledges that there is a risk that the conservative Christian university may alienate some members of its own community and others outside it by taking on such divisive issues. But, he said, if the institute is successful, it will be a good faith, respectful exploration of interests that all sides share and will help people deal better with conflict.
I think we could all benefit from an increased focus on "respectful exploration." Best wishes to Mr. Bridgesmith and this effort.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

True words

My last post reminded me of words I read earlier today on Nashville Is Talking. Thanks, Brittney, for an abridged version of what I just wrote. A similar idea communicated much more simply, succinctly and successfully:

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
What the Dalai Lama said with these words, the Amish and Immaculée Ilibagiza have said with their lives.

Radical forgiveness

Forgiveness and humility can change the world, if we let them. I'm grateful today to Tennessean reporter Anita Wadhwani, who pointed me to this Beliefnet article about radical forgiveness in a blog post. I am astonished by two acts of forgiveness listed there:

The Amish of Nickel Mines, Pa. — a pacifist religious community in rural Lancaster County who practice a simple farming life without modern conveniences much the same as their 17th century Swiss-German forbears — suffered a shocking intrusion into their world when a local milkman, Charles Roberts, invaded a one-room schoolhouse, shooting 10 young girls, leaving five of them dead. During the ordeal, one of the girls, 13-year-old Marian Fisher, offered to be killed first in hopes that the others would be spared. A Beliefnet member wrote of this event: “I cannot ignore this unbelievable act of love by a girl this young. In my mind, this little girl did no more or no less than Jesus did for us on the cross.” Within hours of the shooting, the families of the children not only expressed their forgiveness of the killer but reached out to his family, giving food and raising money for his wife and children.

In a Beliefnet video interview, Herman Bontrager, a spokesman for the Amish of Nickel Mines, explained, “The Amish believe that we must forgive because we ourselves need to be forgiven. [They're] trying to live the way Jesus lived. He turned the other cheek, he told us to love everybody, to love our enemies." A Beliefnet member noted, “The message of forgiveness, rather than vengeance, goes to the heart of how we should behave toward each other. This is an extreme example of how true faith and true forgiveness can be awe-inspiring. If the Amish can forgive the man who killed their children, how much more should the rest of us be able to forgive the petty hurts and perceived insults we receive each day?”
I think this is an extraordinary act of compassion, and I am challenged by it. As I look back at an argument I had with my wife yesterday and a months-long disagreement with another friend earlier this year, I am awestruck by this act of kindness.

Considering recent events on the global stage, I wonder what life might look like if we as Americans had responded this way after 9-11 or if either the Israelis or Palestinians had the courage and the humility to respond this way. I wonder how Congress would look.

I cannot help but think that this is how God hopes that we will act toward each other. I believe that he knows that we will struggle--and frequently fail--in this effort, but to our own misfortune. I think maybe God wants us to act this way because of how it will make us feel, liberated by compassion, and because of how this kind of action transforms lives. I would love to know how the Amish and the Roberts family are doing months after this horrible crime, and I can only believe that both parties must be better off for the mercy and generosity extended by this small community of people. This is the path we are meant to follow.

The story of Rwandan holocaust survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza is equally astounding. I hope that all of us can learn to model even a fraction of this level of humility and humanity.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!

I hope all of you have an excellent holiday, and here's my hope for every single one of us:

But he's already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It's quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don't take yourself too seriously — take God seriously. --Micah 6:8 (The Message)
God, thanks for everything. Please show mercy on all of us, no exceptions. Merry Christmas!!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

What to do when you screw up

The NHL suspended Nashville Predators forward Scott Nichol yesterday for nine games after Nichol blindsided another player, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Jaroslav Spacek, on Thursday night. Nichol retaliated after Spacek drove him into the goalpost late in the Sabres' lopsided 7-2 victory over the Preds.

I can understand Nichol's response after Spacek's dangerous play, one that could have injured Nichol. Even though fighting is still a significant element in the NHL, striking someone when they are defenseless is wrong. I wish Nichol would have gotten Spacek's attention first before engaging him, but I applaud Nichol for how he handled yesterday's decision by the league:

"First, I offer my apologies to Jaroslav Spacek and am thankful that he was not hurt," Nichol said. "I have great respect for the game and my fellow players, and in the heat of the moment (Thursday) night, I lost my cool and reacted emotionally to being fouled. I am not proud of my actions, but I take full responsibility and accept the consequences. "I also apologize to my teammates, coaches, the organization and Predators fans, and look forward to returning to action and helping my team."

Nichol took responsibility for his actions, acknowledged what he did wrong, and accepted his punishment. He didn't pass blame or try to justify his actions. He just said, "mea culpa," and let it go.

I think it's refreshing to see a public figure these days just admit what he did wrong and accept responsibility without reservation. We all make mistakes, but not everyone knows how to own them when they happen. In my opinion, being a class act does not mean living perfectly. It does mean doing the right thing even when it isn't easy.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Imbeciles and fools unite

I hope someone can appreciate the irony that I am linking to this Wall Street Journal editorial with this post. Read on if you are curious.

WSJ Assistant Editorial Features Editor Joseph Rago has strong criticisms for bloggers. We're bottom feeders, for one: (I suppose that's a harsher way of describing the Long Tail.)

The blogs are not as significant as their self-endeared curators would like to think. Journalism requires journalists, who are at least fitfully confronting the digital age. The bloggers, for their part, produce minimal reportage. Instead, they ride along with the MSM like remora fish on the bellies of sharks, picking at the scraps ... The larger problem with blogs, it seems to me, is quality. Most of them are pretty awful. Many, even some with large followings, are downright appalling.
Honestly, I think he's probably right. Meaningful content is a challenge for those of us who blog for enjoyment rather than for a living. So many blogs are created and then abandoned, and most of us (including me most of the time) are responding to news generated by the mainstream media, not sharing new information.

Rago playfully refers to bloggers as fools by quoting author Joseph Conrad. Blogs are, in his opinion and Conrad's words, "Written by fools to be read by imbeciles." I wonder if this is the whole truth, though. Will it always be this way? If blogging is peaking, as has been recently reported, will the cream rise to the surface of the crop? As Technorati has pointed out, "sheer dedication pays off over time" when it comes to blogging, and that may mean that blogging will improve as serious writers stick around and continue to get better at it. Let's hope so.

Don't get my hopes up

That's what I'm trying to tell myself after a conversation about the Tennessee General Assembly last night. A well-connected friend tells me that Lt. Governor John Wilder is more than likely to retain his Senate speaker post in January. Tennessean columnist Larry Daughtrey seems to agree.

In my friend's opinion, that may not be a bad thing because of the bipartisanship Wilder has maintained by granting Republicans committee chairmanships in the past. Ron Ramsey, the current Republican challenger, isn't known for building bridges to the other side. Maybe my friend is right, but I have a hard time hoping for Wilder to remain in office.

According to this friend, there are two senators who can land the 17 votes needed to serve as speaker: Wilder and Randy McNally, a Republican who is more moderate and bipartisan than Ramsey, from my limited understanding of the Hill. Here's hoping McNally gets a shot.

What about Joe Haynes, who is attempting to unseat Wilder as the Democratic opponent? Here's where things might get really messy. If Ramsey were to run against Haynes, a 16-16 tie might leave the current speaker, Wilder, to cast the deciding vote. Guess what happens if Wilder refuses to vote? He remains as speaker, leaving Haynes and Ramsey on the outside looking in. Yep, that's the Tennessee State Senate for you.

Fourth grade, with beer

"It's like fourth grade, with beer."

Someone used this phrase to describe adults playing kickball to me last night. I think that's a hilarious and accurate description. My last kickball game was surely in the 1980s, but I think it's great and quite amusing that kickball has been experiencing a resurgence over the past few years.

It's hilarious to me that there is a World Adult Kickball Association, but don't laugh too hard:

Whether it’s the game itself or the drinking, WAKA now has leagues in more than 20 states — from New Hampshire to New Mexico — with more than 20,000 players on 1,000 teams in 100 divisions. In the summer of 2005, the association even helped set up a league for Marines stationed in Fallujah — the Iraq Semper Fi Division...

And, as with any playground-style pursuit, kickball isn’t without its shouting matches. WAKA and DC Kickball, a smaller rival league, are currently caught up in a federal lawsuit, with WAKA charging the competition with copyright infringement (for using their rules) and defamation. WAKA is suing DC Kickball for more than a few weeks’ allowance — seeking $356,000 in compensatory and punitive damages...

WAKA held its ninth annual world championship, the Founders Cup, in Miami last July, and attracted more than 300 fans to most games.
I'm not sure why WAKA and DC Kickball haven't agreed to settle their differences on the field, but I guess it's really none of my business. The Nashville Sports League offers three separate divisions to help you with your kickball fix if you live here in town. The fellow who coined "fourth grade, with beer" was an NSL kickball veteran.

My memories of kickball are of being a pretty average player. I wasn't picked first, but I wasn't picked last. I remember demanding "re-rolls" when pitches weren't smooth enough--a common occurrence on our playground at school--and the rush of seeing the ball heading your way. It was a thrill to feel a kick send the ball rifling through the air. Those were the days. :)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Nashville's next mayor

I'm encouraged that the field of candidates to become Nashville's next mayor is growing. A few months ago, there were three declared candidates, none of whom appealed to me. Now there are five community leaders who have announced for the race that have a reasonable opportunity to win next August.

This is progress, in my opinion. Nashville has been blessed with two strong mayors over four terms, and I think that these two pairs of shoes will be hard--and essential--to fill well. Beginning with Phil Bredesen's election in 1991 and continuing to Bill Purcell's current tenure, Nashville has had visionary leadership that has been a major factor in its substantial growth and development and its maturation into a more progressive city. It is important to continue that pattern, if you ask me.

It really wasn't all that long ago that Nashville had a major deficit in leadership in the office of mayor. It is hard to imagine Bill Boner running the city I call home today, and thank goodness for that. (If you are interested in more information, follow the Bill Boner link and be sure to read the three paragraphs beginning with "In 1987, Nashville Mayor ...")

I have not made up my mind regarding my vote for mayor next summer, and I sincerely want to have an open mind in considering all five major candidates. I'm going to share my impressions thus far, candid and limited as they currently are, and see how they evolve as I continue to learn more in the months ahead. Here goes:

  • David Briley, Metro Council member and originally a vice-mayor candidate: a progressive thinker with good intentions, but is he ready?
  • Bob Clement, former U.S. congressman: a career politician and an underwhelming candidate, in my opinion
  • Karl Dean, who announced yesterday: innovative, compassionate and progressive thinker who needs to increase name recognition in a hurry. (Hint: Karl, you need a Web site!)
  • Buck Dozier, Metro Fire Chief: I think Buck is an honest and respectable person. I am concerned that he is too conservative for a Nashville that is much more diverse than it was 20 years ago. I do like his education proposal.
  • Howard Gentry, current Metro Vice-Mayor: Howard is a well-respected leader and, by all impressions, a good man. I personally think he is not the best candidate because he is too mild and may not be able to build consensus across the city. I would be happy to see Nashville with a mayor who is a minority, but I don't think Howard is that mayor.
Now is a great time to visit the Web sites above and learn more about each candidate. There will be plenty of news and debate to color your impressions later, but take the time to form your own before the volume rises next spring.

Update: Kenneth Eaton, a longtime Nashville businessman, will announce his candidacy for mayor next month. His Web site has more information. Dave Pelton, a self-described energy and environmental policy expert, is also running.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Wilder watch

Blogger Nathan Moore is reporting that Democrats in the Tennessee state Senate, including Senator Joe Haynes, may be working behind the scenes to defeat Lt. Governor John Wilder. From Moore's post, it appears that Haynes might be trying to convince party members to vote for Senator Ron Ramsey, Wilder's opponent for the speaker election.

I hope this rumor turns out to be true. As I've previously mentioned, I think Wilder is a poor choice for speaker, despite (in light of?) the fact that he has held this office for more than 35 years. My impressions are that he is nearly unintelligible when speaking on a regular basis and that he is focused almost exclusively in preserving his position and power, not on acting in the best interest of Tennesseans. I am admittedly not a fan of Senator Ramsey, either, but I would prefer to see him in the position over Wilder.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Hitting the ICE!

Carrie and I recently visited the ICE! exhibit at the Opryland Convention Center. It's a pretty amazing display of nearly two million pounds of ice meticulously carved into shapes, creatures and structures, including three ice slides, a train and a gingerbread house. (Yes, that's Carrie sliding down one of the ice slides above.) This exhibit is beautiful and, of course, very cold. The staff will provide you with a blue parka to wear, but you will also be wise to bundle up on your own. This is a fun outing to get you in the holiday spirit.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Office: So wrong, yet so right

The Office, one of my favorite shows, serves as a vicarious thrill for me because its characters do things week in and week out that no one under any circumstances should do. It's like watching a car accident where the collisions are purely emotional and psychological. I often find myself simultaneously laughing out loud and wincing in embarrassment over what, typically, Dwight Schrute or Michael Scott have done.

Last night was no exception. I thought "A Benihana Christmas, Parts 1 & 2" was an outstanding episode that featured plenty of "no, they didn't" hijinks:

  • Dwight arriving at work and planting a goose that he hit with a car on Pam's desk. Toby revealing that Dwight has previously brought waterfowl to the office.
  • Angela's draconian party planning committee. Who expels a coworker from a party planning meeting and tells her, to her face, that all of her ideas are terrible?
  • Michael photoshopping himself into a picture of his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend Carol and her ex-husband taking their kids on a ski trip and sending it out as their Christmas card.
  • Michael buying an all-inclusive vacation to Jamaica and trying to surprise Carol with it with two days notice, after previously prematurely proposing in public weeks earlier. Equally bad were his invitations to Pam and to Cindy. (You have to love that Cindy still takes the bike after ditching Michael.)
  • Jim (and this is for you, Katherine Coble) shooting down Pam's Christmas present to him, a weeks-in-the-making gag at Dwight's expense, by saying that he needs to be more mature in his new position at work.
  • Kevin's karaoke version of Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know." Ouch.
  • My personal favorite: Michael not being able to distinguish between the two Japanese waitresses that he and Andy spontaneously invite to the party. I laughed and cringed when Michael leaned in to hug Cindy and proceeded to draw a line on her arm with magic marker to identify her. Wow, that was so bad but good.
One thing I love about this show is how it deals with stereotypes. It stares them right in the face and makes fun of the people who take them seriously. The Japanese waitresses weren't the ones who looked foolish. It was Michael for not being able to tell them apart. Michael's ignorance and awkwardness in outing homosexual coworker Oscar in the season premiere were equally funny and painful at the same time.

Our Christmas presents from The Office last night were a pair of cliffhangers to keep us interested until the show returns in January: Did Michael invite Jan to Jamaica, and was that her accepting the invitation on the phone? Will Jim leave Karen and reach out to Pam? There's nothing like a little workplace drama, especially when it's not your own.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Blogosphere is falling

According to research company Gartner, Inc., as reported by the Associated Press, blogging is so 2006. Or, at least it will be soon:

Could blogging be near the peak of its popularity? The technology gurus at Gartner Inc. believe so. One of the research company's top 10 predictions for 2007 is that the number of bloggers will level off in the first half of next year at roughly 100 million worldwide.

The reason: Most people who would ever dabble with Web journals already have. Those who love it are committed to keeping it up, while others have gotten bored and moved on, said Daryl Plummer, chief Gartner fellow.

"A lot of people have been in and out of this thing," Plummer said. "Everyone thinks they have something to say, until they're put on stage and asked to say it."

I'm curious to see whether this pans out as Gartner expects, but they may well be right. As Technorati frequently reports, only a fraction of blogs are regularly updated. Technorati estimates that 55 percent of the 57-million-plus blogs it measures are "active," meaning that they have been updated within the past three months. I hardly consider one post within three months active. Only about three percent of blogs update daily, though that's a pretty high standard of activity. Weekly seems like a better balance to me, or at least monthly.

I think the point above about not having something to say is accurate. In searching for available blog names, I was amazed (and frustrated) by how many good names were taken by blogs that had not been updated in years. So many of them had one or just a few posts before the silence began.

I'm curious to see what this means for blogging in general. Even if the number of new blogs and bloggers plateaus as predicted, will blogging recede from our collective consciousness. It's awfully mainstream at this point. It seems like nearly everyone I know is at least familiar with blogging and have visited at least one or two. Many people I know are read blogs fairly often, so I don't know that the blogosphere is about to implode under its own weight or anything. Of course, Gartner isn't really predicting that, but their prognostications do leave me wondering where all of this is heading. I guess we'll see.

It's no musica...

... and I'm very relieved about that. I don't agree with Billy Graham on every spiritual issue, but I am glad that LifeWay decided to keep his likeness (above) clothed in the new statue unveiled yesterday downtown. I have to say that it does look very much like Graham, at the very least.

I honestly think this sculpture is pretty gaudy, though I am sure it is well-intentioned. Christianity places so much significance on humility and compassion--as does Graham--so it seems odd to me to create a colossal version of the beloved evangelist to tower over passersby for years to come. It seems a bit ironic, and almost intimidating, to me, and that really isn't Graham's nature, in my opinion. As I said above, there are plenty of things I don't agree with Graham on, but I do think he is a dedicated, sincere and kindhearted man. I'm not sure this attempt at tribute lives up to that legacy.

(For the record, I love that Musica is on Music Row, if for nothing else that it offends some local folks with sensibilities that may be a bit too conservative. I just don't want to see Billy Graham naked, and I think I'm in the majority on that issue.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Let's hope Wilder is wrong

According to the City Paper, Lieutenant Governor John Wilder claims he will be re-elected speaker of the state Senate in January. I hope he is wrong.

Wilder (D-Mason) has served as speaker of the Senate and therefore lieutenant governor since 1971, surviving attempts by both Republicans and Democrats to oust him. The most recent effort came in 2005 when, with the Republicans holding a 17-16 majority, the GOP tried to oust him, but two Republican senators crossed party lines and voted for Wilder.

In January, another vote can be held to elect the Senate speaker, and again the Republicans hold a 17-16 majority. One Republican who voted for Wilder in 2005, Sen. Mike Williams (R-Maynardville), remains noncommittal on whom he will support in January – Wilder or the Republican nominee, Senate Majority Leader Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville).
Senator Williams has every right to vote for whichever candidate he thinks is in the state's best interests, and I sincerely hope that he will not vote for Wilder on those grounds. As I've previously mentioned, in my opinion it is time for someone else to hold this important position. This is not a partisan issue for me: It's more important to me that the speaker be someone other than Wilder than anything else. I very much agree with Liz Garrigan's recent column on this subject.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Very well said...

... by News2 faith and ethics videojournalist Jamey Tucker:

But then again, there's nothing Christian or even religious about the Christmas tree. Is there? Its roots are in paganism. A tree is nothing more than a traditional Christmas symbol. Saying a Christmas tree represents the birth of Jesus is like saying a bunny represents the crucifixion.

I'm all for the public display of religious symbols. Faith is a fundamental part of our freedoms in America. Put up a menorrah. Put up a winter solstice plaque. Put up a Christmas tree. We shouldn't be offended by seeing these symbols.

I agree, and Jamey's words remind me of author Robert Fulghum's advice in his book All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned In Kindergarten:

Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don't take things that aren't yours. Say you are sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw some and paint and sing and dance and play and work everyday.

Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out in the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.

Thanks for the good reminder for all of us, Jamey, that maybe we shouldn't take things quite so seriously. (Psst...don't tell anyone that Fulghum is a Unitarian. That will really freak the War on Christmas crowd out. They love buying and reading his book until they discover the truth.)

Common sense 1, War on Christmas 0

The Christmas trees are back at the Seattle airport. I'm glad to see that cooler heads have prevailed in what had become a silly and sensationalized situation.

A key element in moving forward will be to work with [Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky] and other members of the community to develop a plan for next year's holiday decorations at the airport," the [Port of Seattle commission] statement said...

"We are not going to be the instrument by which the port holds Christmas hostage," [Bogomilsky's lawyer, Harvey Grad] said, emphasizing the rabbi never sought removal of the trees, but addition of the menorah.

The rabbi had received "all kinds of calls and emails," many of them "odious," Grad said, adding he was "trying to figure out how this is consistent with the spirit of Christmas."
I'm glad that everyone involved appears to have looked for a reasonable solution to this dilemma, even if it was a bit late in coming. I agree with Mr. Grad, too: Why are we so quick to defend Christmas and react in anger when it is "threatened," yet so quick to abandon the values (generosity, goodwill, hope and love) that it celebrates? Christmas is not a defenseless child, as Jesus was in the manger. It can be a reminder that we belong to something much greater than ourselves and that reaching out with compassion and kindness is the best way to live.

Who's helping who?

A few years ago, I heard a story on NPR entitled, "Volunteering on the wrong day." It explained how well-intentioned people inadvertently make the holidays tougher on nonprofit organizations, especially soup kitchens and homeless missions, by donating their time on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Instead of receiving much-needed help, the organizations have to try to find responsibilities for the volunteers because available hands heavily outweigh the amount of work to be done.

Jeffrey at The Gathering raised an interesting and related question recently: The Christmas Spirit--Why Not All Year? I don't know the answer, but I do think the challenge is for us as individuals to look for ways to help others out of sincere desire, not just because the calendar suggests that it's the right thing to do. Soup kitchens are often desperate for help and for financial support in July, not in December.

Many people remember people in need and good causes when the holiday season reminds us. There's nothing wrong with that, and I'm not suggesting we stop promoting that element of Christmas. Maybe the concept of Christmas in July, which is generally more punchline than passion, can teach us something: Help when the need is there, not when it's convenient.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Rabbi 1, Christmas 0

Uh oh. The War on Christmas, which had previously been thought to be retreating this year, is rearing its ugly head in the Pacific Northwest.

All nine Christmas trees have been removed from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport instead of adding a giant Jewish menorah to the holiday display as a rabbi had requested...

"We decided to take the trees down because we didn't want to be exclusive," said airport spokeswoman Terri-Ann Betancourt. "We're trying to be thoughtful and respectful, and will review policies after the first of the year."

Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky, who made his request weeks ago, said he was appalled by the decision. He had hired a lawyer and threatened to sue if the Port of Seattle didn't add the menorah next to the trees, which had been festooned with red ribbons and bows.

I personally think that this "War on Christmas" bit is quite silly. The overwhelming majority of our population claims Christianity as its faith with varying levels of devotion, and I see nothing wrong with acknowledging and respecting other traditions during what is intended to be a peaceful and warmhearted time of year.

This situation in particular seems like it could have easily been avoided. Why did Rabbi Bogomilsky resort to the threat of legal action? Surely a conversation could have been had in June--or in January 2007--about adding a menorah for the next holiday display. Would it have really hurt anything to go one more holiday season without a menorah when the airport has displayed only trees for decades?

Here's the sticking point that appears to have motivated the airport's decision to remove its trees: Its lawyers advised displaying symbols from various religions, not just Christianity and Judaism. I have no issue with that, but surely the airport could have agreed in writing to begin displaying symbols for other faiths starting with the 2007 holiday season and showcased only the trees and the menorah this time around.

This just seems to me like a lot of silliness, wasted anger and, worst of all, more fodder for the culture wars to me. Let the boycott on flying to Seattle begin! ;)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Plain English, please

I'm encouraged by the recent news that Washington state is mandating that all state agencies communicate in plain English. I have loved writing from an early age, and I think we as a society are sorely in need of simplifying how we communicate with each other in written form.

Talk to the public as you would talk to any other person--simply, and in plain language. In the 18 months since Gov. Christine Gregoire ordered all state agencies to adopt "plain talk" principles, more than 2,000 state employees have attended classes on writing letters, announcements and documents in everyday language. So words such as abeyance, cease and utilize are out, replaced by suspension, stop and use.

"Simple changes can have profound results," said Janet Shimabukuro, manager of the Washington Department of Revenue taxpayer services program. "Plain talk isn't only rewriting, it's rethinking your approach and really personalizing your message to the audience and to the reader."

[Gov.] Gregoire says it's "a long-overdue initiative, but it's bearing fruit ... When we just talk in a way that takes our language, government language, and throws it out, and talk in language everyone understands, we get a whole lot more done."
Legalese and "corporatespeak" have really hurt our ability to communicate with each other, in my opinion. I think these forms of writing have become popular, perhaps, because of a general lack of trust between the person or organization communicating and their intended audience. I'm concerned that we've generally become more focused on covering our own asses than on sharing our thoughts and ideas. I hope that can change.

Friday, December 08, 2006

CNET responds to Kim's death

I was glad to see this today. I have been very saddened by this story, and I know many others have, too.

No diving

No kidding. Great picture from the top of the Viridian. What a view. By the way, why is there water in the pool right now, 13 days before winter?

Please, please listen

These words are from today's Washington Post regarding the Iraq Study Group report. I admit that I am biased against President Bush at this point, but regardless I sincerely hope that he will listen to outside counsel regarding alternatives for Iraq.

There's only one reader who really counts, though, and I doubt he'll be impressed. The Decider isn't in the habit of letting mere facts get in the way of blind conviction...

The document concludes with 79 recommendations, most of which are eminently reasonable and none of which will get us out of Iraq overnight. The president will probably reject some out of hand -- talking directly with Syria and Iran, for example. And while it would be good if the president finally realized that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would lower the temperature throughout the Middle East, I'm pretty sure it will take more than a phone call to persuade the Israeli government to give up the Golan Heights.

[Group member Vernon] Jordan said that when the members of the panel met with Bush on Wednesday, the president's attitude was encouraging. "My mama used to say that a lot of people listen, but they don't hear," Jordan said. "Bush both listened and heard us."

I genuinely hope that the U.S. can made an authentic and innovative change in its Iraq strategy that will gradually and eventually lead to a safer, more prosperous and ultimately independent nation where Iraq now stands.

A little joy from copyranter

I just stumbled upon copyranter's blog tonight, and his stuff is cracking me up. Granted, given that he posts frequently on Gawker, I may be the last person on the Internet to have found his blog. That doesn't matter to me because his site is still hilarious. Yes, it appeals to my sandpaper-dry sense of humor, but here goes five things that nearly made me snort Coke (zero) tonight:

For the record, copyranter is the first person I am aware of who has referred to the Snuggle fabric softener bear as an "asswipe." That has to count for something.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Really helping the homeless

The Tennessean addressed the issue of homelessness downtown today in today's issue. Local blogger Kevin Barbieux responded with some words of wisdom:

"[T]hankfully, we all are quickly re-learning that harassing the homeless, shooing them away, or trying to sweep them under the proverbial rug, just doesn't get the results we want...

Hopefully, everyone will quickly get to the point of admitting that the best thing for everyone, the only true workable solution, is to give the services to the homeless that will actually lead to them getting off the streets and on to better lives.

The Rescue Mission has been on operation for more than 50 years, the Campus For Human Development for 20 years, and yet have we seen any real change in the homeless plight by these organizations? A new approach is needed, such as could become reality if the Nashville Homelessness Commission would actually achieve it's goals. The best hope for all concerned lies with the Commission. If somebody would light a fire under their collective rear-ends, we'd see some real and positive changes taking place."
I'm familiar with both the Mission and the Campus, and I think they do meaningful and important work. Kevin has a good point, though: There is still a sizable homeless population in Nashville that needs help despite all of this good work. My question to him and in general is what are these "real and positive changes" that are needed? Affordable housing often comes up quickly in discussions about the homeless, but what would that look like specifically? What specifics might help the problem that aren't currently in place?

The quote of the day, in my opinion, comes from guitar manufacturer George Gruhn, who is quoted in the Tennessean story: "When someone's sleeping at my back door and defecating there, do I like it? No." I'd have to agree with that.

Good cause, weird idea

In honor of World AIDS Day (December 1), someone created the wedding gown pictured above by stitching together 12,500 condoms. I'm glad my wife opted for something more traditional, but this is a very creative method for raising awareness of AIDS and its impact.

Here's a less dramatic means of raising awareness, sharing facts from the World AIDS Day web site:

Around forty million people are living with HIV throughout the world - and that number increases in every region every day. In the UK alone, more than 60,000 people are living with HIV and more than 7,000 more are diagnosed every year. Ignorance and prejudice are fuelling the spread of a preventable disease.

World AIDS Day, 1 December is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV and AIDS. This year, it's up to you, me and us to stop the spread of HIV and end prejudice.

Wikipedia has more information about the history of World AIDS Day, and the WAD site has ideas if you want to take action against AIDS.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

James Kim found dead

CNN reports that CNET executive James Kim has been found dead in the Oregon wilderness. This sounds like a horrible ordeal for the whole family and particularly for their two young daughters.

After leaving Portland on Interstate 5, search leaders said, the couple missed a turnoff that leads to the coast and took a wrong turn on a twisty mountain road they chose as an alternative. Authorities have said the couple fed their daughters baby food and crackers and used snow as water as they waited for help.

Kati Kim's mother, Sandy Fleming, told CNN that her daughter, who had been breast-feeding the younger child, breast-fed both the children after their food ran out. The adults also ate berries, police said. They used their car heater until they ran out of gas then burned tires to stay warm and attract attention.

My thoughts and sympathy go out to all of them.

Spam 2.0

Yikes. Spam volume has taken a nasty turn upward this year, according to the New York Times, because spammers have adopted a series of new tricks to foil filters. It's amazing that we receive any legitimate messages considering these details below:

Worldwide spam volumes have doubled from last year, according to Ironport, a spam filtering firm, and unsolicited junk mail now accounts for more than 9 of every 10 e-mail messages sent over the Internet...

“Imagine an archvillain who has a new thumbprint every time he puts his thumb down,” said Patrick Peterson, vice president for technology at Ironport. “They have taken away so many of the hooks we can use to look for spam.”

Sad news for Franklin Cinema

Franklin Cinema is scheduled to close at the end of this month, though there is a small chance it could still survive. I'm sad to see this beloved neighborhood cinema go, and I'll confess that I'm as guilty as the rest of us out there for neglecting it. I've only been to a movie there a few times, and I've opted for closer and fancier multiplexes instead.

“I really think that there’s not enough traffic to justify it operating as a cinema. It is very nostalgic, very heart-warming, everyone has stories from the Franklin Cinema, but what has happened is that the Cool Springs multiplexes have drawn most of the business from downtown Franklin. It just can’t compete with the digital, Dolby multi-screens playing 12 of the 15 latest movies,” [property owner Mark] Bloom said.
Unfortunately, I think Bloom is right.

End the Wilder era

This is by no means the first time, but I wholeheartedly agree with Scene editor Liz Garrigan that Tennessee's Lieutenant Governor John Wilder should be replaced when the General Assembly returns in January.

Last year, when a handful of state lawmakers were indicted on bribery and corruption charges, Wilder condemned not the behavior of profiteering and unscrupulous public officials but instead the federal government for offering “bait to get someone in jail.” His interest is with the small cadre of those who have embalmed him politically, not with the millions of Tennesseans who count on sound policy regarding health care, taxes and other state issues.

We frankly find it troubling that, during 35 years of power, Wilder has yet to risk his hide over any meaningful principle, issue or ideology. As a speaker with nothing worthwhile to say—and, we might add, a tenuous grasp on both standard methods of communication and basic English grammar—his greatest political accomplishment is self-preservation...

We’d urge party elders to try again in the upcoming legislative session. Keeping a cartoon character behind the Senate podium is a good way to get Tennessee on The Daily Show, but that’s about it.

Well said. Here's hoping Tennessee has a new speaker of the Senate in 2007.

Lost, Galactica to move

Lost is moving to 9 p.m. central time when it returns in February. This probably a good thing for ABC because it prevents direct competition with American Idol and because Lost's viewers have consistently abandoned whatever show follows it. I'd really rather watch it at 8, but I can live with this move.

Battlestar Galactica is moving to Sundays at 9 p.m. central beginning January 21. My wife and I at times have set our social lives around Friday nights for watching this outstanding show, so this is probably a good thing. I will not enjoy waiting until the end of the weekend for new episodes, but it will make Sunday nights that much more fun for me. I hope this is the right move for Galactica because I think it deserves a larger audience to match all of the critical acclaim it has received.

James Kim update

The search is continuing for CNET executive James Kim. My first thought, after reading that searchers had discovered a pair of Kim's pants, was the same one mentioned in this CNN story:

"[Finding the pair of pants] also could mean Kim suffered severe hypothermia, said Dr. Jon Jui, professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health and Science University. Jui said severe hypothermia causes people to become disoriented and have a false sense of warmth, which can lead to them disrobing."
I can say from personal experience that hypothermia is a wicked and brutal condition to be in. I hope that Kim, who was reportedly wearing jeans beneath the pants that were discovered, was trying to send a signal and not suffering from exposure.

Angel of the North

I think this statue is beautiful. It's called the Angel of the North, and it's located in Gateshead, England. Sculptor Antony Gormley created it, and it is as wide as the Statue of Liberty is tall. Wow. (Yes, that's a person sitting on one of the angel's feet.)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Searching for James Kim

Have you been keeping up with the search for missing CNET executive James Kim (Kim's blog)? I subscribe to CNET's RSS news feed, and I was surprised this week to see articles about a missing person. It turns out that Kim and his family got lost in the Oregon wilderness while hiking over the Thanksgiving weekend. His family has been found, but he is still somewhere in the woods.

Several years ago, I got lost in the woods with my brother and stepsister in East Tennessee. We went hiking a couple of hours before sunset and get disoriented taking an alternate route back to our starting point. We were missing for three or four hours, but it was an eerie and frightening feeling--both for us and the rest of our group who were trying to track us down. The sense of isolation and despair was very real even in just a short time, especially as night fell. We were fortunate to stumble upon a group of Boy Scouts who had made camp for the night deep in the woods, and they had flashlights and enough trail knowledge to get us back to where we parked.

Here's hoping Kim is discovered soon in good health, and that this turns out merely to be a scary and intriguing story his family tells every now and then.

Intent to engage

I'm of the opinion that there's little point to blogging (or any communication, really) unless you sincerely desire to engage an audience. I think that's why so many blogs, up to 97 percent according to a recent Technorati study, are abandoned. Blogging consistently takes a commitment, and I wonder if most people who start don't really realize that when they post their first message. (Granted, I'm a newbie, having only been posting on any blog since February and on this one since August. Hopefully I've passed the burnout threshold.)

I thought these words from U.K. newspaper The Guardian's Emily Bell hit the mark (thanks to Mark for the link):

Embracing a medium does not mean just copying a format, it means understanding the rules of engagement. Gordon Brown has what might be a blog, but which he hasn't updated since June 18. While this is pretty appalling in terms of reaching out to the blogging community, it does have a level of authenticity about it - it is clearly something he was made to do but abandoned when he went on his summer holidays and hasn't been back to since.

No doubt between now and the next election the increase in politicians blogging will be like lemmings falling off a cliff, but a word of advice if I may. Unless you have an inner blogger - don't bother.

I think what all of this goes back to is authenticity. People naturally crave what is genuine; we crave the truth. If someone isn't willing to put all of themselves into something they do, especially something intended for public consumption, why should anyone else pay attention?

Is God a delusion?

Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, participated in a debate recently on Irish Public Radio with David Quinn, a columnist at the Irish Independent. I've been intrigued--and concerned, honestly--about the subject of Dawkins' book, but I have not read it. I found a transcript of their debate online, and it's a great read if you're into pondering the nature of existence, morality and faith. (if you're not, it's probably boring as hell.) Here's a selection:

Quinn: Nothing exists unless you have an uncaused cause, and that uncaused cause, and that unmoved mover, is by definition, God.

Dawkins: You just defined God as that. You just defined the problem out of existence. That's no solution to the problem. You just evaded it.

Quinn: You can't answer the question where matter comes from, you as an atheist.

Dawkins: I can't, but science is working on it. You can't answer it either.

Quinn: It won't come up with an answer. And you invoked a "mystery argument" that you accuse religious believers of doing all of the time. You invoke it for the very first and most fundamental question about reality. You do not know where matter came from.

Dawkins: I don't know, science is working on it. Science is a progressive thing that is working on it. You don't know, but you claim that you do.

Quinn: I claim to know the probable answer.
The "unmoved mover" is an ancient concept. Dawkins' book is a modern challenge to the existence of God. Both arguments are strong, I think, and thought provoking. I've been doing a lot of thinking about this debate today and yesterday, and it raises a lot of questions for me. For instance, how did matter originate? Did it, or has it always been there? If it was created, how and who did it?

It's nearly impossible for me to even conceive of not existing, of there being a nothingness from everything else to spring from. It's also just as tough for me to imagine matter, the substance of the universe, never having been created but always existing. These are the kinds of questions that can make your brain hurt, but I think they are also an essential part of our humanity to ask.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Dare not to compare

Keeping up with the Joneses is an unrewarding pastime, according to Money magazine. I caught up on reading an article titled "Can money buy happiness?" from the magazine's August issue, and it was an insightful read. The article makes the point that the answer isn't as simple as we've all been taught to believe, but it still reinforces the common wisdom that wealth isn't a worthwhile end in itself. This point is what struck me most:

"[P]erhaps most tellingly, [happier people] aren't bothered by the successes of others. [Researcher Sonja] Lyubomirsky says that when she asked less happy people whom they compared themselves with, 'they went on and on.' She adds, 'The happy people didn't know what we were talking about.' They dare not to compare, thus short-circuiting invidious social comparisons."

I think this is far easier to say than to do, but it is nonetheless true. When we compare, we are looking to confirm that we are better than everyone else. It is an act of egotism purely driven by pride, and it is a waste. There is always someone better than us if we look hard enough, and often it is not a taxing search. Authentically forgetting oneself, not in the fake, creepy and self-effacing sort of way, paradoxically leads to more fulfillment, more happiness, than focusing on raising our state of being at all costs.

I'm essentially paraphrasing C.S. Lewis, not to mention many other scholars, here, but I think this is a lesson that is quite obvious to most of us yet easily ignored or forgotten (or both). This wasn't by design, but I suppose this is a good post for a Monday morning. Here comes the work week!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Say something when you talk to me

A blogging study published by Edelman Public Relations and Technorati within the past year, Public RelationSHIPS: Communications in the age of personal media, resonated with me when I read it today. It's interesting to me that the study came to the same conclusion that I did earlier this week (before I even read the study): Humility and honesty in communications are essential, and communications fail miserably when they are absent.

"The best preparation for spokespeople has been a 'message triangle' in which all questions can be worked back to a set of mutually supporting concepts, vetted in advance through focus groups or field research. This type of disciplined approach minimizes the chance of error. The tightly controlled approach is also based on periodic interaction with stakeholders, which caters to a company’s need to determine when that interaction begins and ends...

"Every consumer can tell the difference between an over-scripted spokesperson and one who is speaking from the heart. Empower companies to be human, which often means admitting error. Local executive teams should have more leeway to speak freely, without having to check every action with headquarters. Interaction should be continuous and conversation conducted according to stakeholder needs."
Put simply, we know when someone is blowing smoke, especially when they won't directly respond to a question. Transparency and honesty are becoming essential (and they should have been all along) in communications, and that's a big change for public figures. The best way to reach other people is to engage rather than to avoid.

I won't belabor this point because it's been well addressed earlier this fall, but Edelman's own staff members reinforced this point about openness and integrity in communications when they were exposed as secretly preparing a blog for Wal-Mart that was intended to appear independent.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Google Good News

Here's hoping that someday this image isn't even remotely funny (because it's all true).