Monday, December 31, 2007

The Grid

Over at No Compromise I discovered her post about a very helpful document: code name The Grid (PDF file; needs Adobe Acrobat Reader to view). Since the news about Huckabee has turned less than pristine, I need this myself. Take her up on it--spread the word in the blogosphere.

Strange human quirks (ongoing)

The links in this post are similar to the "Strange creature links" but are separate because...humans...actually...have...more...dignity than animals. Some might poke fun at surgeons too.

12/31/07: This poor child was born as a sort of incomplete Siamese twin. Her "parasitic twin" joined to her at the pelvis but had no head, leading to an uncanny resemblance to Vishnu.

Next: something you never want to happen, especially if you have a brain issue. These surgeons treated the wrong side of a patient's brain. With gamma radiation, no less! The unfortunate chap/chapess seems to be okay...for now.

1/1/2008: These people...well, I don't know what they were thinking. Trying to sell your kid...for 30 pieces of paper money, no less!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Islam and the EU

I found an interesting article about the increasingly close relationship ("strife" in theory, but perhaps not for long) between Islam and the (sub)continent of Europe. Aurora (article here) posted it, quoting Battle for Britain (article here). Read and ponder.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas 1

I went to the Saturday evening service; the text was Isaiah 63:7-14. Unfortunately, there will be no Bible study tomorrow.

Theme: Christ in "exile" to Egypt, being hidden/protected from Herod by God. Previous chapter (62): God the bloody warrior, coming out of Edom, having put an end to the evil one. But where will we stand in the end? What about me? Turn to 63:7 for the answer; He is faithful (so "recount [His] steadfast love"), even if we are faithless. He doesn't write us out of His last will and testament, all because of this steadfast love. So next time, when you're in trouble, first recount your sins, then confess them, then RECOUNT HIS STEADFAST LOVE.

Look at verses 8 and 9. The marvel of the Incarnation, Jesus' life, His suffering, His death. And further: God, like a father (for He is!), carries us gently, over and through life's hardships. Yet we rebel. God is angered and grieved at this--if we persist in sin, not taking confession seriously, His wrath will come upon us at judgment.

Yet again--Isaiah reminds us to recount. Lay out your sins, then remind God how loving He is. God Himself will forgive and guide us (v. 13). Purpose: to make for Himself "a glorious name" (v. 14). Later: a new heaven and earth. He hasn't given up on us! We have His promise.

Eek! That's so revolting! Part 2

Not only do we have antimicrobial house products, but you can also get workout clothes (subscription required) that slay the beasties exercising with you. Reed Albergotti (W1) documents the new products.

  • "Outdoor apparel makers began addressing the problem [of stinky clothes] back in the 1990s. Among the earliest was Polartec, of Lawrence, Mass., which in 1991 began spraying synthetic-fiber underwear with Tryclosan [sic], an ingredient that has been used in antibacterial soap. More recently, Polartec and others have introduced fabrics treated with silver, whose bacteria-killing properties have given it wide use it medical and military markets." However, since any silver runoff will likely pollute, companies move on.
  • The new products aren't just fabrics with antibiotics sprayed on, either. The human race has now advanced to using "organic-based sources." Not to disparage or anything, but I thought that antimicrobials were organic. Like penicillin from the mold. Oh well.
  • Before we get on to the good stuff, here's a throwback to the good old days of soap and water: "Some people think washing clothes in hot water and detergent immediately after working out is just as effective as the new treatments at killing bacteria and eliminating smell. "Just don't throw it in the hamper," says Kay Obendorf, a textile chemist at Cornell University. The sooner clothes are washed, the better, because bacteria begins [sic] to multiply after a few hours."
All right--here are the touted "organic-based sources" you'll be shelling (no pun intended) out paper-based money for if you're a workout type.

  • Silver ions. These have been used in other products too.
  • Bamboo charcoal. Evidently it's much better than ordinary charcoal.
  • Coconut charcoal. Better than bamboo?
  • Crab shells! Or, at least, a derivative of an amino acid therein. (Chitin charcoal?)
  • Merino wool. This apparently lasts the longest--and you don't even have to spray!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Who really owns the land?

WORLD Magazine, in this issue's Quick Takes, published something that made me think immediately of Elijah and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:20-40). "Cry aloud...perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened" (27). Emphasis mine.

To solve a 20-year-old property dispute, an Indian judge is reaching out to a pair of Hindu gods. After having legal, mailed summons returned to him, Judge Sunil Kumar Singh put advertisements in local newspapers ordering the two Hindu deities—Ram and Hanuman— to appear in court personally to help determine ownership of a 1.4-acre plot in the eastern state of Jharkhand where temples to the two gods are located. Community leaders insist the land belongs directly to the two popular gods, but a temple priest claims the land belongs to him. Should the gods not make the hearing, the court will likely grant the land to the priest.

Man proposes...but will the *gods* dispose?

Dire predictions

In today's WSJ is a pair of articles about...global warming! The first, on B1, by Robert Lee Hotz, details how one is supposed to track carbon and why we can't find so much of it. The second, technically not an article, is a group of two letters (A11).

Gist of the first: Some carbon produced by mankind's existence "seeps into soil, vegetation and the oceans, where it can't affect climate so immediately." However, wildfires and droughts prevent some of this carbon uptake, resulting in great confusion:

"A quarter of all the CO2 that is emitted is going somewhere, and we don't know where," said David Crisp at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he is senior scientist for the $270 million Orbiting Carbon Observatory, set for launch next December. "That raises a lot of red flags."

Because of the problem of 'missing' CO2, scientists have been scrutinizing our entire continent to find out just where all the carbon is going, using an online system called, not surprisingly, CarbonTracker. Not only do we now have that huge system to deal with, we have an even more time-consuming (energy-consuming? Hypocrite!) system [emphasis added]:

NASA and the Japanese Space Agency expect to launch satellites next year to track global CO2 concentrations almost half a million times a day, in a more precise diagnosis of this planetary carbon catch-and-release system.

Lastly, all the wildfires are evidently starting a cycle of more CO2-less herbage-less CO2 trapped... But read on--the letters show a somewhat altered perspective. Emphasis mine.

Says geologist M. A. Kaufman in Spokane Valley, Wash.:

If one wants to join the crowd promoting carbon dioxide-caused global warming...delving into geological history doesn't promote the cause well. Historically, high CO2 levels have been a symptom of warming, not a cause.

There have been periods when atmospheric CO2 levels were up to 16 times what they are now, periods characterized not by warming but by glaciation.

Yes, you might have to go back 650,000 years to match our current atmospheric CO2 level, but you only have to go back to the Medieval Warming period that occurred from the 10th into the 14th century to find an intense global-warming episode. This was immediately followed by drastic cooling of the Little Ice Age.

Neither of these events was caused by variations in CO2 levels, but were most likely the result of variations in solar irradiance caused by changes in the sun's magnetic field.

Richard M. of Oakland, CA, hearkens back to when Time foretold global cooling (*gasp*)...

We should fear cooling, not warming. A warmer earth would be good for humans today, as it was 1,000 years ago. However, even more we should fear the unscientific hysteria that attributes all change to humans. Yes, we are putting a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere, but no, this has nothing to do with the modest warming we are currently experiencing. The Little Ice Age has come to an end all of its own accord, and humans should be glad.

I won't add any more.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

We see through a bulb darkly

On the debate between fluorescent and incandescent light bulbs: two letters (subscription required) on A9 of today's WSJ. Both condemn Congress as silly for promoting the former; each comes from a different standpoint.

Writes Roger B. in Tucson, Ariz.:

...Congress has now dictated phasing out the incandescent bulb starting in 2012. Think of the hardships and costs that law will force on the public. Ponder your current incandescent bulb usages that do not readily adapt to compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) or others.

Incandescent bulbs can operate on low voltages such as three volts (flashlights) and 12 volts (autos) but compact CFLs cannot. No more flashlights...no more power-on and indicator lights on your auto dashboard and your large and small (coffeemaker, iron) home appliances...no more holiday lights such as on Christmas trees and outdoor decorations. What would you use for bicycle head and tail-lights? How about roadside distress and warning lights that plug into cigarette lighters or dashboard power sockets? Also mood lighting for parts of your home and some commercial establishments, since CFLs do not readily adapt to dimming...

While some of the above uses are for convenience, others are for safety and life-saving reasons. Although decades in the future scientists may develop other sources of light, in the near term we do not have reasonable replacements for most of the above uses.

Quoth Charles G. Battig, M.D. in Charlottesville, Va.:

Reflecting upon the editorial "Dim Bulbs" I feel that a more illuminating title would have been "Dim Wits."

Does Congress understand that their beloved compact fluorescent light bulbs are miniature toxic bundles of mercury just waiting to pollute your local land fill? Does the public understand that their conventional light dimmers do not work with these bulbs? Just read the warning labels on the package.

Practicality, utility, toxicity. Personally, I figure that if Edison invented the incandescent, it can't be all that bad...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Stopped?! Global warming?

On B8 today: The Informed Reader scoops the Dec. 19 New Statesman with a topic too good to pass up. You guessed it: global warming!

"Has global warming stopped?" is the momentous question that David Whitehouse asks in the "generally left-leaning British weekly." Although "the amount of [greenhouse] gases...has been increasing steadily for decades," the theoretically corresponding temperature increase has, according to government statistics of the US and UK...not occurred. Yes, since 2001 the temperature has held steady. Funny thing, 2001 was when Bush took office, wasn't it? Must dismiss that, though...correlation doesn't imply causation. Oh well.

And there have been the predictable negative comments on this research, one being that the stabilization has only been six years long so far. They conveniently don't mention that the major temperature rise happened from 1980 to 1998, "only" 18 years. Go figure.

Behold the FairTax

On page A10 of today's WSJ is an editorial about the FairTax by one of its proponents, Leo Linbeck. He seeks to debunk misconceptions about this proposal (which, by the way, Huckabee supports).

  • Contrary to "one assertion," the tax did not begin "as a project of the Church of Scientology at a time when it was seeking tax-exempt status." Rather, "a handful of business leaders" researched the market for over ten years.
  • The tax will "remove significant price disadvantages suffered by American producers competing with tax-free imports." That would be something nice to see.
  • Also, "it would not hit the poorest Americans the hardest" because it "calls for sending every American a 'prebate' check to offset the cost of the national sales taxes by those living in poverty." Admittedly, this does remind me of a previous editorial complaint that getting the proposal passed has about as much chance as Christmas more than once a year. Not to mention tracking every American down to sent the check. Problems: the homeless and those who are census jumpers (haven't heard of any so far, but you never know!).
  • The rate is 23% when calculated "inclusively, as are income tax rates." However, it is closer to 30% if one calculates it like a retail tax. Makes you want to brush up on your algebra, doesn't it...
  • Here's real cause for rejoicing: "The FairTax eliminates all loopholes, gimmicks, exemptions and deductions from the federal tax system...It's no surprise, then, to see that vested interests have argued against the FairTax..."
Here's wishing for Christmas to happen again!

Update: Three mutually contradictory follow-up letters to the editor may be found here (subscription required, as usual).

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Eve!

The text for tonight (Candlelight Communion, 11pm) was Isaiah 9:2-7, another famous prophecy.

Jesus, the Light of the world, shatters the darkness of sin! This is no generic spirituality. In reality, the darkness goes a lot deeper than our personal flaws. A lot deeper. We are worthy only of hell in our sinful state. But the very Son of God brings light into our hearts, destroying darkness.

The original context of these words, their fulfillment in the Gospels, is the people of Galilee. Here, the northern ten tribes were obliterated--only Judah had a remnant (Joseph and Mary were part of this, looking at their lineage). War (the second motif) has been won; the victor divided the spoils--the Messiah broke the rod of Israel's and our oppressors, the largest of whom is Satan. Jesus has shattered him! There is no more guilt-burden of the law! Its back is broken.

All war garments rolled in blood, burned in the fire. The boots Israel heard in the distance, burned as fuel. Now comes the beautiful prophecy: the Child, the Son, given to us, is Jesus. Our Commander-in-chief--a child!? The government of the Church--and of the universe--is on His shoulder. Heed His word every day of the year. Glorify the Might God who died for us and rose again. His kingdom will be eternal, just, and righteous. Since all of our works together could not pay for one sin, the "glorious exchange" (Luther) occurs--our sin is replaced by the gift of His righteousness. How? Answer: zeal (power mixed with love).

Monday, December 24, 2007

"In hoc anno Domini..."

On page A10 of today's WSJ: a lovely editorial that, although it has been reprinted every year since 1949, I have not noticed. I'm still trying to figure out why. Several noteworthy features of it include:
  • It was written in 1949! by Vermont Royster. Go figure. Must be classic.
  • The title is entirely in Latin. For you readers not familiar with Vicipaedia, I heartily recommend this surprisingly understandable Wikipedia site, entirely in Latin. The title of the editorial, for those confused, means "In this year of our Lord."
  • This editorial uses a multitude of Scriptural verses, phrases, and allusions generally not found in today's Bible-illiterate culture. I will excerpt as many of these as I notice. Feel free to comment on ones I missed.
And now come the verses.
  • "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." This, from Matthew 22:21, is quoted in contrast to the portrayal of Tiberius Caesar's rampant oppression, taxes, and so on.
  • "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Again, this quotation of Matthew 25:40 contrasts Christ's kingdom with Caesar's earthly one.
  • "So the light came into the world and the men who lived in darkness were afraid..." Here Royster takes John 1:5 and tweaks it to fit the theme of Caesar-versus-God.
  • "...the truth did set man free, although the men of darkness were offended and they tried to put out the light." In the following paragraph, Royster finishes the quote more properly.
  • "Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you, for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth." From John 12:35, and true in any situation.
  • ..."[men] would think only of what they should eat and what they should wear..." Here is the central problem of society, that of mankind forgetting God and pursuing material possessions. Based on Matthew 6:25.
  • "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." Even in here, Galatians 5:1, I sense a wee bit of anti-governmentism, given the context of the entire article. Paul was most certainly not preaching rebellion to Caesar; as earlier, His kingdom is not of this world.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Failing science!?

I found something near to the heart of Vere Loqui and repulsive to his critics: an inconvenient article about the perpetual ID-versus-Darwinian-evolution debate. Enjoy the back-and-forth.

Running for president

No, I'm not. But I simply have a word to share about the madly jockeying presidential candidates: the story of Cincinnatus.

This Roman began as a humble farmer. Then he was ASKED to take office. He didn't want to, but accepted it as a duty (campaign contributions, anyone?), and ruled no longer than he had to. And now he's famous for it.

Although he sympathized with the plebeians (poor class), he did put down a revolt by them. That sounds like national sympathy to me, not party sympathy.

Traditions of Christmas, part 1

A special, two-part (hopefully!) Bible study for this season.

  1. Advent wreath. Symbolizes eternity (circle) and strength (evergreen tree survives winter). Ps. 90:1-2, 1 Tim. 1:17, John 1:1-5. Tertullian (3rd c. A.D.) criticized because of the wreath's secular roots. (Then again, the Cross has Roman--crucifixion--roots, too.) Increasing lights through Advent--John 8:12ff. Three blue/purple candles = hope/penitence/royalty; one pink = based on gaudete ("rejoice"--Phil. 4:4-7) from 3rd-week Introit. One variation (not ours): prophet's candle = hope; Bethlehem candle = humility ("of the least of the tribes"); shepherds' candle = joy at the message; angels' candle = peace on earth!
  2. Christmas tree. German pagan roots--Boniface chopped down the Oak of Thor; a fir tree grew in the roots. Evergreen characteristics--life (eventually in heaven). John 5:24. Luther added lights/candles = Christ as the light of the world (John 8:12 again). Fundamentalist criticism is based on Jer. 10:1-5 (decorating trees FOR IDOLS with shiny stuff).
A quote from Boniface:

"This humble tree's wood is used to build your homes: let Christ be at the centre [sic] of your households. Its leaves remain evergreen in the darkest days: let Christ be your constant light. Its boughs reach out to embrace and its top points to heaven: let Christ be your Comfort and Guide."

Next week: The Twelve Days of Christmas; The Christmas Star.

Advent 4

Almost Christmas! The reading for today was Isaiah 7:10-17.

The famous Immanuel prophecy (a case of double fulfillment): Jesus is God-with-us (7:14; fulfilled in Matt. 1:18-25). First fulfillment: to Ahaz, of the house of David (v. 13). He was one of the first kings of Judah to be an unfaithful servant; he gave himself totally to idols, even Molech (made his own son pass through the fire--!); he changed God's altar into a pagan one. He received the promise unfaithfully, while we receive it faithfully--even though our culture is just about as bad as his. He didn't believe that God is that powerful; Isaiah warned him that he was wearying God.

There is no middle ground. Either you are faithful or an idolater. Buying Christmas trees does not make it really Christmas--you must have CHRIST. Skeptics scoff--"there's no such thing as prophecy," etc. But from the textual and historical evidence, we know otherwise. Immanuel will shatter all the nations. We are gathered here because of Him--our hope is the same as Isaiah's and Matthew's. Be comforted. The Son of David is faithful.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Varied links

On my previous post about the Cuban blogger: several Iraqis are doing something equally brave (hat tip: Cao).

On a certain debate about DDT: three links (here and here and here - HT Cao).

To be continued...

A blogger of enormous fortitude

On the front page (A1) of today's WSJ: an article about a very brave blogger. Specifically, a Yoani Sanchez in Havana. It makes at least this blogger very thankful to have such things as...
  • freedom to blog: "To get around Cuba's restrictions on Web access, the waif-like 32-year-old posed as a tourist to slip into an Internet cafe...which normally bar Cubans."
  • more unrestricted Internet time: "Once inside the cafe, she attached a flash memory drive to the hotel computer and, in quick, intense movements, uploaded her material. Time matters: The $3 she paid for a half-hour is nearly a week's wages for many Cubans."
  • a safe location: "While there are plenty of bloggers who dish out harsh opinions on Mr. Castro, most do so from the cozy confines of Miami. Ms. Sanchez is one of the few who do so from Havana." In the thick of things, she is.
  • freedom of speech in general: "The problem is, saying what you think in Cuba can be dangerous...Instead [of saying "Fidel Castro" in public], they silently pantomime stroking a beard when referring to their leader."
  • a URL (the WSJ provides hers: Generacion Y).
  • the ability to blog from home: "She uses only public Internet sites, instead of trying to set up an illegal Internet link from home, as some Cubans do."
  • even more freedom of speech in various kinds of media: "She confines her writing to the Web. Critiques published on paper are considered propaganda, while the Internet is a gray area."
Very, very brave. Let us be very, very thankful for the freedoms we have here.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Oddity

From Oddees (a blog about randomly odd top-ten lists of everything conceivable) I stumbled upon the "10 Most Bizarre Scientific Papers." In particular: this one about the supposed causal link between country music (second in my heart to classical/church music) and suicide. Accompanying it is the notoriously Photoshopped pic of President Bush plus a guitar, superimposed on a weeping Katrina victim. Read, weep, and enjoy.

Irradiation

Responding to a WSJ blurb (Dec. 19) about the U.S.'s attempts to safely reduce occurrences of E. coli in meat, Ralph W., M.D., writes a letter supporting irradiation. And no, it doesn't make the food radioactive AT ALL, contrary to urban legend and/or popular belief. In particular:

"Irradiation of the final product with Cobalt 60 or Cesium 137 is safe, effective and economical. It kills the bacteria and does no harm to the food. The process was approved by government regulators years ago but never widely used because of irrational fears of adverse effects..."

If you take an undergrad microbiology course, you will learn this, as I did. Shame on me for not thinking of it immediately when I read the article!

Oops! There goes my tree!

A.k.a. Confessions of a Suburban Tree Owner.

On page W14 of today's WSJ is a cautionary article about trees and the over-aggressive pruning thereof. Sad to say, even I, who avidly climbed trees as a child, am guilty of some of the "unkindest cuts" presented below (table in the article).
  • Hatracking = "Lopping off major structural branches to reduce the overall size." Guilty, especially with our two overgrown apple trees in the back yard.
  • Topping = "Cutting the main upright stem of a tree to prevent it from growing taller." Iffy; I have snipped the tallest tips of a front-yard maple. Does that count?
  • Flush cutting = "Trimming a limb too close to the main trunk, which leaves the tree more susceptible to insects and disease." Very Guilty, again with the apple trees. Mostly it's been limited to suckers, but the occasional larger limb has been sacrificed.
  • Tipping = "Trimming off the tips of branches to shape the tree." This is the first mentioned that doesn't kill the poor plant. Iffy; the apple trees to look nicer round, don't they?
  • Lion tailing = "Cutting off all of the inner lateral branches along a single branch but leaving a small cluster at the end to create the appearance of a bushy tail." Not Guilty! This one's just plain weird.
You readers may say, "What in the world is the purpose of that post??" It's biology!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Midweek vespers homily

Yesterday evening, the text being Isaiah 8:11-22, especially vv. 16-17, I heard another excellent homily. Here are the notes:

"Make way for a God who is hiding" = Advent in a nutshell. In the reading, because Israel used "mediums and necromancers"--signs from the dead--God hid Himself from them. We do, too: we trust in our possessions. However, we ought to turn to the true signs in God's Word (chs. 7, 9, 11, 53) for the real truth. It has promise enough for us.

"To the teaching [Torah] and to the testimony [lit. to repeat]!" We're doing this tonight--letting God's Word fill our imaginations, rather than our own thoughts. [The music for the service included six songs from the Taize community.]

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Seasonal (in)sanity

On the front page today (A1): an article about Christmas pageants and their perils. Normally I wouldn't post on this, except that several blogging cohorts have done posts exploring a slightly different aspect of this topic (Aurora: here and here. The Stiletto: here. MK: here.) The article, by Dionne Searcey, explores a sadly-funny aspect of this season: beasts conspiring (?) against us to ruin live Nativity displays. Some examples:
  • In NJ, at Fellowship Baptist Church: "Mary and Joseph were headed for Bethlehem when the donkey hauling the Virgin spooked, bucked her and bolted. Joseph frantically jumped on the donkey's hind end but fell off and got caught in the reins. The creature kept going, dragging Joseph behind for several hundred feet before it finally settled down."
  • "At First United Methodist Church in Tuckerton, N.J., two years ago a camel noticed that the thatched roof used to create the stable setting was made of tasty evergreen branches. It ate nearly the entire roof." [Mmm, mmm, good!]
  • "[A pastor] was a victim of a sheep gone wild one year at Fellowship Baptist's living nativity, which still features a small flock of the wooly mammals. [One might question the wisdom of this...] He tried to stop the fleeing sheep by squeezing it between his legs and ended up going for a ride, backward, before falling off."
  • On disturbing the flock: "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Santa Margarita, Calif., has banned infants over 4 months old from acting as the Baby Jesus character. "Too wiggly," says a church spokeswoman." [Yes, the LDS accepts Jesus' humanity, but little else...]
Kinda makes you wonder how much you'll enjoy Christmas this year.

Unclear division

Andrew M., a law/business professor at UIUC (happens to be the alma mater, present or future, of all three of my brothers), writes a letter to the editor (A19) blaming, shall we say, unconventional forces for the polarity of this and past elections. Emphasis mine.

Gerald Seib [in an editorial a few days ago] writes that the U.S. has two major political parties for "a reason" and that reason is because Americans are split over the role of government...Nonsense. We have two major political parties because the Republicans and Democrats have entrenched themselves through campaign finance laws that favor incumbents, ballot-access laws that put huge hurdles in front of new parties and independents, and pork-barrel politics [aargh! Pearls before swine!] that allow incumbents to finance goodies for favored interests from the public till. Americans aren't divided on issues like subsidies for sugar, Bridges to Nowhere, or the rest of the spending that comes from treating taxpayers like an all-you-can-eat pork BBQ restaurant. We just rarely get to vote for anyone willing to cut government down to size.

That may be true. As my readers will testify, neither party is wholly perfect, even in its *idealized* state. However, ever thinking of the flip side, perhaps the "campaign finance laws" favor incumbents for the sake of stability. Think about this question: Is a long regime under a bad government worse or better than a revolution instituting a good government? (Examples: Iraq, France during the Glorious Revolution, ______.)

Distractions

The Informed Reader (B10, WSJ) scoops the Dec. 15 New Scientist on something all students/workers can relate to: whether having a certain number of distractions could actually boost concentration. Bracketed material mine.

For people who find it difficult to concentrate at work, some scientists suggest the problem is too few distractions [!!], not too many.

Scientists used to think that the act of concentrating itself might screen out distractions. But researchers such as Nilli Lavie at University College London [the sun truly never sets on the British Empire--always coming up with bright new ideas] believe that making a deliberate effort to concentrate isn't enough to filter out irrelevant information.

Instead, the brain becomes more engaged in tasks as the visual demands of the problem increase and effectively block additional stimuli. In practical terms, the research could be used to improve children's textbooks [or some certain college textbooks I can think of: for instance, the calculus text my father used when HE was in high school], or to add textured backgrounds or moving images to enhance dull slide presentations. [Or you could just have more interesting content?]

Interesting, no?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Weird link

A friend sent me this link (language warning) to analyze. Given its polarity, I'd rather not--just setting myself up for a slew of comments to moderate over finals week. Check it out and see whether or not you agree with the guy's logic (which, in its barest form, I do).

Advent 3

Today's text was Isaiah 35:1-10.

Today's reading is toward the end of the Law-word (chs. 1-39; the Gospel-word is chs. 40-66). But there are tastes of the other in each. Today: a breath of fresh air. Verses 1 and 2--the wilderness doesn't bloom! God makes it do so. It makes full sense only after Christ's second coming (our current lives are a dreary wilderness). After this age passes away, we believers will live in the flourishing new heavens and new earth.

Why Lebanon and Sharon? Both areas are/were idyllic, the pinnacle of beauty. Cedars, mountains (snow-capped, of course). Now the focus shifts to "weak hands...feeble knees...an anxious heart." Hope! Be strong, fear not. The reason: "Behold, your God will come" to save! Odd pairing of vengeance/recompense with salvation. The reason: judgment always accompanies salvation. God saves the humble but punishes those who oppose Him.

Jesus told John's followers to tell him what they saw (vv. 5-6). This is proof of His deity--healing the believing. All of our sicknesses (ch. 52). Relief for our earthly life ("burning sand") is found in the pool of Christ, the Word of God.

Verse 8--"the Way of Holiness." The highway to heaven is Jesus Christ. Read ch. 34--much judgment pertaining to the highway. Against the Edomites, brethren of Jacob. Why? They resisted the Israelites crossing into their heritage; they resisted God and His will. God made the highway anyway. He makes clean all who walk on it--even if they are fools (!). (We, who sin, are fools.)

Treasures of Lutheranism: a testimony

All right, I used the word "testimony." Oh well. We digressed a bit this week (yesterday); the one speaker (a.k.a. educated layman) I had time to listen to spoke on a touchstone of theology: the Lord's Supper.

Mystagogy is the entry into the mysteries of Christ, the means of grace (Word and Sacraments). Christ Jesus says, "Take, eat, drink." Christ comes to us in the Supper. Study the Words of Institution (verba); the Supper is neither a show nor a reenactment nor our work--it is Christ, forgiving sins in the consumption of the elements, a local, saving, real Presence.

Preparing for the Sacrament: sermon (Rom. 10:17); self-examination, clinging to Christ's Word.

Approaching the altar: there is no greater privilege. The Gospel motivates reverence.

Life-changing: it is the highlight of the week. Christ serves us Himself (heavenly nourishment) and mediates for us.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Keeling-Over Curve

Today's Science Journal (B1, WSJ) offers more evidence (?) for global warming...
  • On the high mountains of Hawaii are sensors keeping track of CO2 in the atmosphere; the series of readings have been going on for 50 years. All the while, the graph of them (called the Keeling Curve, after a Charles D. Keeling) has been going up. In fact, the levels are at a 650,000-year high.
(Really? And we're absolutely certain of our calculated CO2 levels from bubbles in Arctic ice for the time before we knew about gases and things? But I digress.)
    • Says atmospheric chemist Pieter Tans: "When you look at it, it is shocking how overwhelming the human influence has been on the atmosphere." Indeed, according to the record, "Fifteen of the past 20 years rank among the warmest years on record." The oceans and forests no longer soak up as much CO2 as we thought they would...
    I am truly SHOCKED! Humans actually presuming to "be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen. 1:28, NIV). Who says that the Biblical mandate has ever been revoked? Fine. Reduce emissions. But no excuses for a baby tax from this. Nor Kyoto.

    Thursday, December 13, 2007

    Relaxed-fit genes

    A pair of articles appeared in today's WSJ. The first: The Informed Reader (B5) scoops Dec. 12 NPR (National Public Radio) on the ethics of using DNA as evidence at a crime scene. The second: questions by Gautam Naik (D1) about genetic testing. This pair, coincidentally, comes as I gear up for spring semester, when I will be taking biomedical ethics and a genetics class. Ah, biology!

    The Informed Reader:
    • "In one prominent case, Seattle police connected John Athan to a rape and murder committed more than 20 years ago through saliva left on an envelope. A majority of justices on the Washington-state Supreme Court ruled that the collection method, which involved a ruse set up by police, was acceptable, though the dissenting minority noted that DNA contains "the most intimate details" about a person." Yes, it does. That's why it makes sense to some people that using DNA would be equivalent to identity theft.
    • "A distinction needs to be drawn, [critics] say, between cross-matching DNA with samples in a criminal database, and more invasive steps such as using recovered DNA to establish family connections or medical problems." Good point. See the next article in this post for more on the medical-problems part.
    • "DNA-technology consultant Chris Asplen, a former director of the National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence, created by the Justice Department, says using familial DNA matches doesn't violate privacy any more than connecting people through their last name." Then again, given the commonness of such surnames as Smith, Patel (in India[?], at least), etc., using DNA would be a much more precise way to match people.
    Health Journal:
    • Warning:"Many of the claims that accompany [genetic] tests are not fully supported by science." That happens when money-making tries to mix with medicine, no?
    • Case in point: "Some companies test for traits such as a "sweet tooth gene," and then sell tailored supplements to hasten weight loss." Just remember that nurture, not just nature, has a large part in this and other traits.
    • Naik explains the complicating part: "For instance, some of the most popular tests claim to identify a person's risk of getting a common ailment such as heart disease or diabetes. The roots of these conditions often lie in multiple genes [nature], many of which scientists think haven't even been discovered yet. Lifestyle factors [nurture!] -- such as diet and exercise -- can have an impact on risk, too. A person may also carry several other genes whose workings counteract the ill-effects of the gene being tested for."
    • Quoth Stuart Hogarth, a fellow at the Institute for Science and Society at the University of Nottingham, England: "Commercialization of genetics tests at this stage is premature." You bet it's premature! Maybe in a few years...
    So just leave your genes alone for now. If your bloodline has survived for a couple hundred generations, it should have little problem with a few more.

    Wednesday, December 12, 2007

    Faithlings

    The Informed Reader (B12, WSJ) does another blurb, this one based on an article in the December Seed, about the search for alien life. You guessed it--scientists are still unwilling to believe that God created Earth to be inhabited and that the other planets are, well, dead. Quoth I snarkily: "But...but...that's pseudoscience...must not let beliefs interfere with the pursuit of knowledge..."
    If aliens are out there, how should Earthlings go about getting in touch with them?

    The question has provoked arcane but furious debate among scientists searching for extraterrestrials. Because scientists haven't picked up signs of alien life near Earth [whew! At least they admit that!], the debate is essentially philosophical, revolving around such issues as who rightly speaks for humanity and whether humans want to draw the attention of possibly hostile life forms.

    A dispute erupted recently among scientists over an effort to draft a protocol for messages going from Earth into space, reports David Grinspoon in Seed, a science magazine. Several scientists who believe that governments and other scientists should be consulted prior to any space-bound communications resigned in protest from a prominent study group on extraterrestrial intelligence.

    Meanwhile, the search for intelligent life in the universe continues. A few astronomers have sent signals to distant stars since the 1970s, but the first aren't expected to reach their destinations for decades.

    A "protocol for messages." Hmm. Does this refer to the multilingual "Greetings from Earth!" messages that have been sent previously? Why would we ever assume that aliens have a language even remotely similar to ours? Are they our *evolutionary ancestors*?

    Strange creature links (ongoing)

    I'll add to this post whenever I discover news of some extinct or otherwise weird animal of interest, so keep checking it!

    First: an extinct "tank-like mammal" (Yahoo! News).

    Second (12/13/07): a very large dinosaur (Eurekalert). A snarky quote from the person who sent this to me: "To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days
    the earth was divided, and his brother's name was Joktan. (Gen 10:25)
    Ooooh, drastic climate change and the world survived..."

    Third (12/17/07): the world's largest rat/smallest marsupial (thanks, MK!).

    Fourth (1/31/08): another rat-like creature (Yahoo! News), the elephant-shrew. A quote I can't resist: "Ironically, recent molecular tests showed that they are more closely related to elephants than to shrews, being members of a mammal group called Afrotheria, which evolved in Africa more than 100 million years ago." Cough. As I have said before, common design does not necessarily imply common descent. At the risk of being labeled ID (versus creationist), I put forth the politically incorrect proposition that this phenomenon implies a common Designer.

    Tuesday, December 11, 2007

    Flight 93 memorial updates

    The blogburst continues. Look here and here for the latest.

    20 December update: New posts about it here and here. The trackback is here. Slight language warning.

    1 January '08 update: New post about it here. Trackback here.

    9 January update: New posts about it here and here. Trackbacks here and here, respectively.

    22 January update: New posts about it here and here (trackback).

    30 January update: New posts about it here (trackback) and here (trackback).

    13 February update: New posts about it here and here.

    20 February update: New post about it here.

    27 February update: New post about it here.

    12 March update: New post about it here.

    19 March update: New post about it here.

    26 March update: New post about it here.

    8 April update: New post about it here.

    16 April update: New post about it here.

    23 April update: New post about it here.

    30 April update: New post about it here.

    4 May surprise update! Short-notice post here.

    7 May update: New post about it here.

    14 May update: New post about it here.

    21 May update: New post about it here.

    28 May update: New post about it here.

    4 June update: New post about it here.

    11 June update: New post about it here.

    18 June update: New post about it here.

    24 June: Here is the email link, to which addresses to send the below letter, with your name at the bottom:

    To the Flight 93 Memorial Project (and copied to the Pennsylvania press):

    Please answer a simple question. WHO is being depicted as “breaking the circle”?

    The current Park Service website says that the path of Flight 93 breaks the circle. This is exactly how architect Paul Murdoch described his original Crescent of Embrace design. Flight 93 breaks the circle and turns it into this giant crescent that just happens to point to Mecca. The unbroken part of the circle (the crescent) remains exactly as it was. It is still an Islamic shaped crescent, still pointing to Mecca.

    Don’t tell me that “Flight 93” breaks the circle. This is not a memorial to inanimate objects. The story of Flight 93 is a story of human action.

    And don’t tell me that the passengers and crew are in any way responsible for breaking the circle. The circle is a symbol of peace and harmony. It is not the passengers and crew who broke the peace. It was the TERRORISTS.

    That is the ONLY logical interpretation. Your planned memorial depicts the terrorists smashing our peaceful circle and turning it into a giant Mecca-oriented crescent. A more blatant depiction of al Qaeda victory is impossible to imagine.

    But let’s hear YOUR explanation. Who do YOU think is being depicted as breaking the circle?

    Hopefully the press will follow up, and ask Memorial Project officials what answer they are giving to this damning question.

    Sincerely,

    [Your name]

    25 June update: here.

    2 July update: here.

    9 July update: here.

    16 July update: here.

    23 July update: here.

    30 July update: here.

    6 August update: here.

    13 August update: here.

    20 August update: here.

    27 August update: here.

    3 September update: here.

    8 September update: here.

    17 September update: here.

    24 September update: here.

    1 October update: here.

    15 October update: here.

    3 November update: here.

    12 November update: here.

    26 November update: here.

    11 December update: here.

    27 December update: here.

    15 January 2009 update: here.

    29 January update: here.

    12 February update: here.

    26 February update: here.

    12 March update: here.

    31 March update: here.

    21 April update: here.

    8 May update: here.

    22 May update: here.

    5 June update: here.

    17 June update: here.

    21 June update: here.

    10 July update: here.

    28 July update: here.

    12 September update: here.

    22 October update: here.

    14 March 2010 update: here.

    15 April update: here.

    29 June update: here.

    20 July update: here.
    2 September update: here.
    8 September update: here.

    Mmm, mmm, good!

    ...for the bacteriophilic, at least! The latest on probiotics from AP (WSJ, A23):

    CHICAGO -- Bugs in baby food? Microbes in your milkshake? This isn't the latest tainted-food scare -- it is a growing trend in foods designed to boost health, not make you sick.

    These products contain probiotics, or "friendly" bacteria similar to those found in the human digestive system. There are supplement pills, yogurts, smoothies, snack bars and cereals, even baby formula and chocolate.

    The foods are spreading on grocery-store shelves and dairy cases. They come with vague claims of "regulating your digestive health" or "strengthening your body's defenses."

    Experts say probiotics, popular in Europe, Asia and South America, are generally safe, and in some cases might be helpful. It is a hot new area, reflecting a growing interest in how naturally occurring intestinal bacteria affect health. Scientists will discuss advances this week at a U.S. National Institutes of Health conference.

    This year, more than 150 probiotic and prebiotic foods were introduced in the U.S.

    Given that only about 3% of ALL bacteria/viruses/miscellaneous other microbiota discovered in the past century or two are dangerous to humans, this should not surprise anyone. Each of us is living in a sea of bacteria etc. There are more bugs in your mouth than there are people in the world! (this will be even more true if the enviro-Nazis have their way: see here and here and here and here)

    Weather vs. piety!?

    They're really using global warming to explain everything these days! (Vere Loqui's take on it here.) Today's Informed Reader (B7) scoops Dec. 10's The New Republic on how global warming is...wait, don't tell me!...fueling religious battles! And it wasn't happening during the rise of Islam? Hm? Here it is... [emphasis mine]

    Global warming threatens to make hotter some of the world's most heated religious arguments, says Philip Jenkins in the New Republic.

    The band of countries that span or come close to the equator stands out for its multitude of ethnic and religious conflicts. It also [correlation implies causation?] is a region that will be increasingly vulnerable to devastating droughts over the next 50 years, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Fights over scarcer arable land and water are likely to take a religious hue, with minorities likely to bear the brunt of the burden, says Mr. Jenkins, a professor of religious studies at Penn State. Those minorities include Muslims in Uganda and Kenya and Coptic Christians in Egypt. Already, climate change seems to have fed the conflict in Darfur, where the battle between rival Muslim factions has its roots in prolonged drought, says Mr. Jenkins.

    Climate has been a factor in religious strife stretching back more than a millennium. The crop shortages that resulted from the so-called Little Ice Age that began in the late 13th century underlay some of the subsequent period's religious persecution, including witchcraft trials and pogroms on Jews. Resource shortages in the Middle East provoked violence against Christian minorities. This past suggests that the scarcity brought about by warmer temperatures will make it hard for religious minorities to survive, and prompt splinter groups to seek out more sympathetic nations.

    At the same time, says Mr. Jenkins, the plight of Christian minorities could fuel the growing interest among Christian conservatives in the U.S. in environmental issues.

    Told you so!

    Monday, December 10, 2007

    The virus is in the details

    Huckabee is at risk (A10) of a virus common to all politicians: scrutiny of his record. Laura Meckler reports that "[h]undreds of Republicans arriving to hear Mike Huckabee speak this weekend were greeted by a man in prison stripes with a rubber mask and this sign: 'Hey Mike, Thanks for the Pardon.'" Technically it was a parole. Et cetera.

    This coincides with his 2-1 lead over Romney in IA (Newsweek poll). Re the AIDS kerfuffle:

    And yesterday, he expressed little remorse for positions he took in 1991 regarding AIDS, including his view that AIDS patients should be isolated. At the time, it was known that HIV wasn't transmittable through casual contact.

    In a questionnaire submitted to the Associated Press when he was running for Senate in 1992, Mr. Huckabee also opposed greater federal funding for AIDS research and called homosexuality "an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle."

    Yeah, that stuff about "sinful" will get him loads of flak with libs, all right. Lastly, while protected by his "anti-Romney" popularity, he "risks being seen as a flip-flopper." I wonder why?...

    Sunday, December 9, 2007

    The meaning of Christmas

    Read this post (hat tip: Coram Deo) while planning your Christmas cards. More than a little sobering. I'm sure all of us can think of a good long list of people to share this with.

    Advent 2

    Today's text was Isaiah 11:1-10.

    Isaiah here (and elsewhere--chs. 7-12) prophesies of Jesus Christ. This text dates ca. 735-733 B.C.--a mere decade before the fall of Israel; after 586 B.C., the whole kingdom certainly looked like a stump. The Messiah is like no other earthly king; His kingdom is like no other earthly kingdom, as shown by the reading. Not just a "nice" king, but Savior of the world!

    Sevenfold Spirit--v. 2. "Fear of the LORD" = proper respect for the almighty God. By Is. 9 we are sure that Jesus is God. Liberation theology (that God prefers the poor because they are poor) is a misunderstanding of God's orders to defend the oppressed OF THE FAITHFUL. Isaiah condemns the materialism and injustice exhibited chiefly by the rich in Judah and Israel.

    Do not remain in sin, for Christ will judge with fairness. His kingdom (vv. 6-9) will be one of peace and perfection. Let it bring joy and wonder to your life. But it'll be in the new heavens and earth, not in this present world. Best: we'll see God face to face! Saving knowledge of Christ (v. 10) has spread throughout the world, but right now it is imperfect. Later it will be complete and perfect. God will be glorified because of His banner, Christ Jesus. Gather around Him in Communion--a foretaste of the glorious feast to come. Rest in Him.

    Treasures of Lutheranism in denominational context, part II

    As promised, here is the continuation of this particular study.
    • Treasure 4. Piety (how the Christian life is expressed). Freedom in the Gospel but constant confession of sin and reception of forgiveness. Strong liturgical emphasis leading to reverence. Not pietism (i.e. trusting in works, contrary to profession of faith). High church ("smells and bells" and ritual-heavy) vs. low church (e.g. American Evangelicalism--only after the 1940s or 50s). "Non-church" (low-ritual) churches are popular... Ephesians 5:21ff--submitting to one another (= piety) plus fear of God (= true focus; NOT ME-CENTERED, a.k.a. *contemporary*). Contrast traditional RC with Amer. Evang. in terms of the number of 1st-person pronouns used. God's primary relationship to us: Judge. Secondary: Friend. Reverent piety isn't living in fear--but we still confess sin. Apart from the Gospel, we have/are nothing. Have Law--or else, "freedom from what?" Prayer--some places may actually be inappropriate to pray in. Just keep worshiping...
    • Treasure 5. Law and Gospel (Sola Fides--Eph. 2:8-9). Scripture properly divided by law and Gospel. Salvation is by grace through faith. Take them together. God condemns sin--yet He forgives sin! RC adds works and purgatory...a constant state of fear. But we're already God's children!
    We should finish this up next week. Two more treasures to go...

    Saturday, December 8, 2007

    Attempts at resurrection

    "First it killed the Romans, and now it's killing me."

    On a topic dear to my heart (W12): a double book review of works about Latin! Michael Poliakoff takes a decidedly kinder stance toward Ad Infinitum by Nicholas Ostler (at $27.95, it wouldn't make a bad Christmas present!) than toward Carpe Diem by Harry Mount. Hopefully, at least one of them will prevent translation abominations like this one (thanks, Vere Loqui!).

    Concerning Ad Infinitum: The expression "sic transit gloria mundi" pretty much sums up the book, according to Poliakoff. However, this is questionable--high-school Latin scholars are "holding steady" at 175,000 for 15 years and counting (albeit far from 900K in 1934). "In short, the Renaissance is not yet in sight [so maybe I am destined to be extinct?], but neither are we living in the Dark Ages." Here's one item I hadn't known: The word "'glamour' derives from 'grammar.'" That in itself might popularize the language a bit...

    Carpe Diem, on the other hand, is much "cheerier" and "assumes that [readers] are barbarians [rather than dignified Roman citizens]." Poliakoff opines that Mount does not grasp the full impact of "his quotation from William Hazlitt: 'The study of Classics teaches us to believe that there is something really great and excellent in the world...'" Among other things, the book includes a "tasteless description" of, shall we say, the immoral behavior of a Latin teacher; "doesn't to a lot to raise" standards in British schools; and leaves much description of characters such as Marcus Aurelius to be desired.

    Latin is not for the wimpy. Be smart! Read dead languages! Join the few, the proud, the brave. (Oops...just borrowed/spoofed the Army slogan. But the strength of the will is the same either way.) Check out the best website I know of so far of this now-living language.

    Friday, December 7, 2007

    Of kangaroos and cows

    To put it bluntly: kangaroo farts could ease global warming. According to the article, "Thanks to special bacteria in their stomachs, kangaroo flatulence contains no methane and scientists want to transfer that bacteria to cattle and sheep who emit large quantities of the harmful gas." Mmm...tasty! (Aurora, have you heard of this yet?) It solves this dilemma, apparently:

    "Fourteen per cent of emissions from all sources in Australia is from enteric methane from cattle and sheep,'' said Athol Klieve, a senior research scientist with the Queensland Government.

    "And if you look at another country such as New Zealand, which has got a much higher agricultural base, they're actually up around 50 per cent,'' he said...

    Even farmers who laugh at the idea of environmentally friendly kangaroo farts say that's nothing to joke about, particularly given the devastating drought Australia is suffering.

    "In a tight year like a drought situation, 15 per cent would be a considerable sum,'' said farmer Michael Mitton.

    However...

    But it will take researchers at least three years to isolate the bacteria, before they can even start to develop a way of transferring it to cattle and sheep.

    Here's a solution: Forget about patriotism, just eat the animal already!

    Another group of scientists, meanwhile, has suggested Australians should farm fewer cattle and sheep and just eat more kangaroos.

    The idea is controversial, but about 20 per cent of health-conscious Australians are believed to eat the national symbol already.

    "It's low in fat, it's got high protein levels it's very clean in the sense that basically it's the ultimate free range animal,'' said Peter Ampt of the University of New South Wales's institute of environmental studies.

    "It doesn't get drenched, it doesn't get vaccinated, it utilises food right across the landscape, it moves around to where the food is good, so yes, it's a good food.''

    It might take a while for kangaroos to become popular barbecue fare, but with concern over global warming growing in the world's driest inhabited continent, Australians could soon be ready to try almost anything to cut emissions.

    A brand-new conservatism?

    On A16 of today's WSJ is yet another negative editorial on Huckabee. The sticking point: Is he really as conservative as possible? Some points:
    • During last Monday's press conference in IA, his speech "sounds great, explains little." So he's borrowing from the Democrats' playbook? Isn't that *illegal*?
    • His definition of conservatism "has morphed to include tax hiking, protectionism, corporate scolding and an unserious approach to foreign policy." Protectionism I don't mind, as long as it's in moderation. Same with taxes--just give us a good reason (or several) why you need more revenue. The "little people" definitely applaud the third part--and some businesses may very well need some "scolding." As for foreign policy, as long as he doesn't pull out and does be consistent, it's all right by me.
    • "When he can get away with it, Mr. Huckabee is vague...It's when he's pressed for details that things get dodgy." That's a very legitimate concern. How, though, can you expect only the Republicans to provide both sides of an issue while allowing liberals the same *privilege* that you deny your own candidate?
    • "The chances of actually [implementing the "fair tax," abolishing the IRS, and repealing the 16th Amendment] are about as likely as Christmas three times a year." Perhaps another analogy would be in order, seeing as Thanksgiving and Halloween, not to mention Easter, are monetarily identical to Christmas these days--but that's another story.
    • Re his "checkered tax past," he replied, "Most everyone who has ever governed [has one]"--even Reagan. Again, why aren't we holding Congress to the same level of fiscal responsibility?
    Not a bad editorial at all. But, as Aurora has reminded all of us, why expect a perfect candidate? If we do have one, why are there no editorials about him? Are there any Thompson supporters on the WSJ staff, perhaps? Choose the least of a host of evils.

    Stem cell hope, part II

    Progress has been made with the altered adult stem cells! Gautam Naik reports (B6) that, at least in mice, scientists have "successfully treat[ed] a version of sickle-cell anemia in the animals." This is only the first step in the vital experimental confirmation of the research. Still, we still must deal with "potentially dangerous viruses" that would be used to bring in the new genes. Also, "complex ailments such as Parkinson's will probably be far harder to treat, even in mice." Bring it on!

    Stop the "Memorial" Update

    You may have noticed the blogroll at left titled "Stop the 'Memorial.'" I have been asked by the blogger coordinating this to digg (link to?) the weekly post. You can find it here. If you want to participate after reading the post, you can email the blogger, Cao, at caoilfhionn1 at gmail dot com.

    Thursday, December 6, 2007

    Maybe all the rich people are snapping them up!

    On the subject of $100 laptops--the brainchild of a Nicholas Negroponte--for the poor children over in Africa, here are excerpts from a series of follow-up letters to a recent WSJ article. (My blogging friend Victoria has an interesting post about it here.) It's a good idea...but is capitalism taking its course, or not?
    • "Mr. Negroponte should feel proud of his achievement. He humbled Microsoft into creating a $3 version of Windows and Office. This is great news for the Third World." - Mark T. in Seattle, chiding him for his "misguided" "anger at Intel and Microsoft."
    • Chides Richard W. in Denver: "The headline on your story might lead readers to believe that companies such as Intel and Microsoft teamed up to kill the project for nefarious, money-grubbing motives. In fact, the $100 product developed by the One Laptop Per Child project was ill-conceived...Other companies came up with better products that are meeting the needs of people in developing countries and elsewhere, and I suspect their profit margins -- if any -- are razor thin."
    • Says Mary R. in Shreveport, LA: "Mr. Negroponte seems to have succeeded admirably in making computers available to students in the Third World, just not in the way he originally planned. Capitalism can sometimes surprise us. Perhaps Mr. Negroponte should now pull back and do just enough to keep the competition alive."
    I guess that answers the question about capitalism, then. It always has two sides and usually works for good...eventually.

    Really? We came out of the sea?

    The Informed Reader (B8) scoops the Dec. 8 New Scientist. It appears that we have yet another evolutionary cousin...

    Do dolphins have culture?

    A pair of scientists say new findings that document male Amazon river dolphins carrying objects such as weeds or sticks in a bid to lure female mates is evidence of behavior once believed to be exclusive to primates.

    While definitions of culture among animals vary, scientists generally label culture as behavior spread through social learning rather than by genes or ecology. Object-carrying by dolphins suggests a form of sexual display normally found only in humans and chimps, says Tony Martin, one of the scientists who studied river dolphins in the Brazilian Amazon.

    Well, what did you expect? Either it's common ancestry or a common Designer.

    Wednesday, December 5, 2007

    Never quite right, right?

    Today's Review and Outlook (A24) makes the claim that Huckabee is more "paradox" than "Republican." Why, whatever for?
    • He is anti-abortion. Check. GOP-welcome.
    • In addition, "religious voters like his purity on same-sex marriage, creationism and so forth." Why not? Check.
    • "Some say Mr. Huckabee is the tribune of the "religious left," and that strikes us as about right. He exhibits protectionist instincts, distancing himself from Nafta [sic] and saying he would insist on penalties and barriers to countries that don't support his conception of "fair trade." He delivers populist sermons against income inequality, but in favor of farm subsidies and an expanded government role in health care. He regularly knocks Wall Street, and he borrows from the Democratic playbook with digs at "the rich." " Paradox. It might help if he defined "his conception of 'fair trade,'" went a little easier on the farm-subsidies part (The Stiletto has posts about this here and here), and could strike a balance (is that possible?) between poor and rich.
    • Re the "fair tax": "Their concept is to junk the federal tax code -- payroll, income, corporate, Social Security, everything -- and substitute a 23% national retail sales tax on nearly all goods and services. But...the rate is closer to 30% when it's calculated like any other sales tax, with the levy on top of the price. State sales levies would go on top of that." That might not be such a bad idea after all...tax consumption rather than earnings. Do not muzzle the ox while he is treading out the grain, anyone?
    • However, there is a flip side: "The plan would require repealing the Sixteenth Amendment that allowed a federal income tax, and the chances of that happening are approximately zero. The political risk, given the nature of government, is that we'd end up with both an income tax and a national sales tax. Europe, here we come." The chance equals zero most likely because of (1) the actual U.S. budget (fiscal responsibility...) and (2) PORK. Also, who wants to be like Europe? Overrun by Islam? Socialist health care? Not to mention, a tax that high would be quite difficult to enforce.
    • America is apparently unprepared: "In the American system, such a radical change as the fair tax is possible only in a crisis, and we aren't living in one now."
    • The editors' view: "Mr. Huckabee nonetheless writes that "when" his reform is enacted, "it will be like waving a magic wand releasing us from pain and unfairness." That glib naivete should provide some indication of how seriously the former Governor has thought through the political and policy complications of his biggest idea -- and also explain why, until recently, Mr. Huckabee was considered an implausible candidate."
    Oh well. If all of Huckabee's conservative critics know so well why he is unqualified, why don't they run for President?

    Treasures of the deep?

    The Informed Reader (B12) scoops Dec. 20's New York Review of Books.

    Writes professor Tim Flannery:

    Scientists know more about the surface of the moon than about life on the ocean floor...much of [ocean life] is threatened by the persistent notion that such distant zones are largely empty and have little connection to human activity.

    Humans have bombarded the depths for years with chemical weapons, industrial waste, sewage and sunken ships . Meanwhile, trawling has brought some deep-sea creatures to the dinner table. "Like the sump of an engine, the deep is where much of the muck accumulates...But unlike a sump, the pollutants of the deep don't stay there."

    What goes down, comes up, I guess. Why don't people just eat normal fish? Shallow-water ones?

    Tuesday, December 4, 2007

    "Drink your milk" applies to everyone

    On page D1 of today's WSJ, Jacob Goldstein reminds us that boys should drink milk too. Why? Men over 50 have, on average, a 25% chance of developing osteoporosis (granted, women's risk is double that). Some risk factors: increased age, lighter weight, "history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease" (COPD, for you acronym-happy readers), and "smoking and excessive drinking." Also, certain cancer-treating drugs (e.g. Lupron for prostate cancer) that block hormones do damage to one's bones.

    Getting enough calcium and vitamin D helps. And exercise during childhood and adolescence, while the skeleton is still growing, builds bone. That's important because it helps raise the so-called peak bone mass reached during young adulthood, before the long-term decline in bone mass begins. "The less you start with, the less you're going to end up with when you're really at the age when osteoporosis risk is very important," says Eric Orwoll of Oregon Health & Science University, who is conducting a long-term study of osteoporosis in men.

    Staying fit into old age is also important; it means stronger muscles and better coordination and balance, all of which help avoid falls, a key trigger for fractures in the elderly.

    There is some evidence that the type of exercise -- weight-bearing, versus non-weight-bearing -- can make a difference for bones. For example, some research suggests competitive cyclists, who spend hours a week on their bicycles but little time running or jumping, may tend to have weaker bones than runners...

    Some experts nevertheless say that the more important point is simply to exercise. "I have not been convinced that the tiny increase in bone density [from weight-bearing exercise] is really that critical," Dr. [Ethel] Siris says. "If my patients say, 'I don't enjoy weight-bearing exercise, should I swim?' I say, 'Yes.' "

    Monday, December 3, 2007

    Inconvenienced yet again!

    Today's Review and Outlook (A20) made me smile. The U.S. is actually doing something right? You must be joking! But here it is... [emphasis mine]

    Thousands of government officials, diplomats, NGO folks and journalists are in Bali this week for the United Nations' global warming powwow. While they try to outline an even tougher set of restrictions on so-called greenhouse gases to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, we'll venture that little will be said about America's record on curbing emissions without such caps. It's too big an embarrassment to the assembled worthies...

    Output of all greenhouse gases was down 1.5% last year. All this while the American economy grew by 2.9%...

    Critics immediately pointed to the Energy Department's acknowledgment that the reductions were in part due to higher energy prices and favorable weather. But greater use of lower-carbon energy sources, including natural gas, also played a big role...

    We refer back to 2000 instead of 1990 because the real agenda of those who blame America's role in global warming seems to be to blame President Bush for not signing Kyoto. It's true that U.S. emissions have grown more than Europe's since 1990, but how can this Administration be held responsible for what happened on Al Gore's watch?...

    Making 178 lists, checking them twice

    The Informed Reader (B11) scoops Dec. 10's The New Yorker. The topic: Checklists for pilots are standard, so why not for surgeons as well? Saith surgeon Atul Gawande:
    • "A decade ago, Israeli scientists calculated that an average patient on life support required 178 individual actions a day -- ranging from administering drugs to suctioning the lungs. On top of those procedures, doctors and nurses have to figure out how to cure the patient." Yikes! No wonder we're in a shortage of health care personnel--the ICU patients need everybody the hospital has.
    • "The medical community has responded to complexity by increasing doctors' level of specialization." Wouldn't this be akin to having a chief navigator, assistant navigator, instrument expert, and communications expert, all in the same cockpit?
    • "Critical care has become its own field. Yet intensive care's complexity might have reached the level that not even those experts might be capable of tracking all its moving parts"--a very dire prediction, indeed.
    • "Tens of thousands of checklists would be necessary to cover the needs of every combination of medical problems." Yes? Couldn't we just train tens of thousands of specialists? *wink*
    • "Yet [the] lists have proved powerful when applied to basic procedures, mostly through avoiding the one tiny slip that can make all the difference." Potentially one would need 178 lists...ah well. It's no worse than rushing and making mistakes.
    • "A test at hospitals that belong to the Michigan Health and Hospital Association found that enforcing a checklist of anti-infection measures cut the infection rate at intensive-care units by 66%." Two thirds. Wow.
    • And the clincher: "Had a drug or device saved as many lives as [the] checklist, it would be universally adopted." Ha! Sounds like a good analogy, no?

    Sunday, December 2, 2007

    Treasures of Lutheranism in denominational context, part I

    My 100th post! The Bible study today (for the catechumens) was just as good as the sermon and explains nicely why I am a Lutheran.

    You don't know something until you can distinguish it from something else. "Battle of [for?] the Bible" (1970s) = arguments whether the Bible is verbally inspired and inerrant, or not. Remember: the original manuscripts were inspired, and the ones we have today are NOT corrupted, just copied doggone well.

    Liberal theologians disregard smaller miracles (like Jonah and the large fish--not a whale!) while claiming belief in the most incredible miracle: Jesus, virgin-born, dying for the sins of the world.

    Treasure 1: Scripture truth. The Bible is verbally inspired (see above) and inerrant. Words carry truth, not "impact," "emotion," etc. Modern culture does not accept this. 2 Peter 1:21.

    Treasure 2: Christocentrism. Scripture, doctrine, and life are all centered around Christ. 1 Cor. 1:23. Worship none other. Not generic spirituality. More key than the glory of God. Neither is the Bible about good parenting, say. ("10 Steps To ...")

    Treasure 3: Sacramental. Sacraments forgive sins (e.g. 1 Peter 3:21). Body and blood of Christ are truly present in the Lord's Supper. American Evangelicals say that sacraments turn people off... Liberal Lutherans are ritual-heavy because it's the only thing they have left.

    More next week!

    Advent 1

    My church is beginning an 8-week sermon emphasis on Isaiah. This will span Advent (first Sunday of that season today!), Christmas, and Epiphany. The sermon text was Isaiah 2:1-5 (which, coincidentally--or not--I just studied in LifeLight).

    Isaiah has been called the 5th Gospel--so much prophecy and encouragement. Three themes in chapter 2: (1) All nations will flow to the LORD's mountain. (2) Nations will not have war anymore (eventually). (3) Walk in the LORD's light.

    Verse 1--Isaiah saw the word of the Lord, probably in a vision. "Concerning Judah and Jerusalem." We need to know our faith history. N.B.--ca. 1000 BC, Israel envies the other nations that have kings. God gave them kings, all right--warning them about the negatives. One century later, civil war splits the nation. After the northern tribes fall (722 BC), Isaiah prophesies. Around 500 BC, the remnant returns.

    God's greatest trait is His mercy--but it didn't pay dividends with His people. His patience is running out. Seek His face. Judah fell too (586 BC), but not completely.

    Theme 1. Mountain = Mt. Zion, Jerusalem. God's house. Also remember Calvary, a little hill on the mount--v. 2 fulfilled. 3rd mountain = the new Jerusalem.

    Theme 2. Verse 4 is carved in the UN building--WRONG USE! Don't hold your breath--the Book says that only the next world will have no war. "Word of judgment"--at Calvary, an odd kind of justice. We go free while Christ bore the penalty.

    Theme 3. Know His word, that He is the true God. Walk not "in quarreling and jealousy" (Rom 13:13, but in forgiveness in Christ.

    The forgiveness of sins is truly central.

    Saturday, December 1, 2007

    Arrestniks

    Time for a second human-rights post: A13 by Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion.

    Kasparov was jailed in Russia this past week for "disobeying the orders of a police officer" at a Moscow rally. You guessed it--he is a PIG (politically incorrect guy/Garry). As is typical in Russia:
    • His charge was added after the fact by a Moscow district court.
    • The KGB was after him--"we could all hear "make sure you get Kasparov" on their walkie-talkies."
    • He and his cohorts enjoyed no right to his lawyer, nor true justice--rather "telephone justice" (mishearing the judge, eh?). The trial was a brilliant one-side play.
    • He had to "receive food packages from home" rather than eat jail food--and this was only in response to "growing external pressure."
    • Even his release "was handled illegally. Instead of letting me out...into the crowd of media and supporters...I was secretly taken to the police station...a colonel's automobile all the way to my home."
    • And, of course, his cell was only 120 square feet--maybe the size of my bedroom, but not large enough for normal life.
    Staged elections. Staged trials. No wonder Tchaikovsky is so popular. Sorry. Must not put good music and bad country in same sentence ever again.

    Eeek! That's so revolting!

    "For the microbe-phobic": a WSJ article (W7) about "Debugging the House." June Fletcher surveys several newfangled ways to kill the microorganisms threatening to kill you while you party. As usual, several of these items risk drug resistance - triclosan, in particular. Here are some fun/weird facts about these five innovations ('but microbiologists have known about these for years!' I say)...
    • Silver ions--used in SilverClene24 (promoted on "a "Brady Bunch" spoof called ThatsRevolting.com") to disrupt bacterial "metabolism and reproductive capabilities." Even though it kills MRSA, it doesn't kill others such as the tuberculosis beastie.
    • Copper oxide--the "oxide" part makes it much more effective. Do you want to buy a "copper-oxide-infused Cupron bed linens" set? Pricey like silver. Good against viruses, fungi, and "many antibiotic-resistant bugs." It damages the cell wall and prevents multiplication (but what about division? asks the mathematician).
    • Steam--good old steam. Think of it as killing tiny, malicious vegetables. Whirlpool has made a steam washer--but you need several minutes of sustained high temperatures.
    • Triclosan--this antibiotic is already in oodles of stuff: dish soap, anything with Microban (e.g. an Amana washer, a Rubbermaid high chair [!], Westpoint towels, a new "Bissel Healthy Home Vacuum"). So far, resistance has shown up only in lab tests, but it never hurts to under-use this. Find plain old soap and water. Your parents ate off of germy high chairs and are (hopefully) none the worse for it.
    • UV light--in a Hammacher Schlemmer wand. This is essentially instant skin/DNA cancer for microbes. Be careful not to look at the light or shine it on yourself.
    Or you could just ignore all this stuff and observe simple cleanliness methods. Besides, like worms and beetles in applesauce, bugs add protein :D. Bad germs are like Republican goofs--they get all the coverage, while the good ones/deeds get relegated to page 19.