Friday, February 29, 2008

Educational parallels

...can only go so far. In an interesting article (W1) today, Ellen Gamerman contrasts the Finnish educational method (which has several cool similarities to homeschooling) with the U.S. method. Here, according to the article, are components of the Finnish strategy that makes their children the world's brightest overall (at least by one standard, the PISA test):

  • "[A] relaxed, back-to-basics approach" - a hallmark (usually) of homeschooling.
  • This happens to include "no sports teams, marching bands or prom." What's that I've been hearing about the poor homeschooled kiddies having a lack of socializing opportunities? hm?
  • "Finnish educators believe they get better overall results by concentrating on weaker students rather than by pushing gifted students ahead of everyone else. The idea is that bright students can help average ones without harming their own progress." My family, at least, used this technique - the older teach the younger what Mom or Dad has taught; sometimes an astute younger sibling can teach something to an older one.
  • "[Physics] class starts when everyone quiets down. Teachers and students address each other by first names. About the only classroom rules are no cellphones, no iPods and no hats." No distractions. The "first names" part depends on the family; mine didn't.
  • "Finnish teachers pick books and customize lessons as they shape students to national standards." Or, with homeschooling, to the parents' standards. :-)
  • "One explanation for the Finns' success is their love of reading. Parents of newborns receive a government-paid gift pack that includes a picture book." I do take issue with the government handing out goodies--granted, the people of Finland have high taxes that pay for this sort of thing, but...where in the Constitution does it say that one of the government's jobs is to give people free stuff?
  • "Finnish students have little angstata -- or teen angst -- about getting into the best university, and no worries about paying for it. College is free." Again, a result of high taxes.
  • "Once school starts, the Finns are more self-reliant...young Finns do much more on their own. At the Ymmersta School in a nearby Helsinki suburb, some first-grade students trudge to school through a stand of evergreens in near darkness. At lunch, they pick out their own meals...There is no Internet filter in the school library. They can walk in their socks during class, but at home even the very young are expected to lace up their own skates or put on their own skis."
    That, I believe, is among the top three factors of my homeschooling experience that eased my transition to college.
  • Maybe this is a little too relaxed: "During a recent afternoon in one of [a teacher's] school's advanced math courses, a high-school boy fell asleep at his desk. The teacher didn't disturb him, instead calling on others."

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Interesting medical miracle

From Yahoo! News: in a weird-sounding operation I've never heard of before (but, oddly enough, it makes sense to me), a tooth has been transformed into a working cornea for an Irishman.

The technique, pioneered in Italy in the 1960s, involves creating a support for an artificial cornea from the patient's own tooth and the surrounding bone.

The procedure used on [the Irish patient] McNichol involved his son Robert, 23, donating a tooth, its root and part of the jaw.

McNichol's right eye socket was rebuilt, part of the tooth inserted and a lens inserted in a hole drilled in the tooth.

The first operation lasted ten hours and the second five hours.

"It is pretty heavy going," McNichol said. "There was a 65 percent chance of me getting any sight.

"Now I have enough sight for me to get around and I can watch television. I have come out from complete darkness to be able to do simple things," McNichol said.

Isn't it amazing that some parts of the body can be used in this way to fix other parts?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Psalm 32

I found this heartening today, as always. ESV. Source.

1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

6 Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you
at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him.
7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9 Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.

10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
11 Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

Germy hands

This letter (A15) cracked me up. What a lighthearted attitude! Writes Timothy A. in Riverwoods, IL:
The human body was never designed to be germ free, and it never has been throughout history ("Restroom D├ęcor: Germy Doorknobs Inspire Inventors," page one, Feb. 15). Wash your hands, but then grab that door knob with confidence. Take your chances with the rest of us. No one dies here folks, and your immune system will thank you later.
That's all too true. While it is disgusting to think of people wiping but forgetting to wash their hands, one is inclined to doubt. I usually use a sleeve or part of a shirt anyway, simply because I, like (hopefully!) all grown persons, am not in the habit of gumming a piece of cloth, be it a shirt or security blanket. ;-)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Custom-fit drugs?

On page B1: an informative article by Keith J. Winstein about carcinogenic mutations, cancer drugs, and techniques of DNA deciphering. Here, in abbreviated form, are the good, the bad, and the ugly:

  • The good: Our knowledge is increasing concerning locations of genes, sequences of mutated genes, and so on. "[A] new wave of medical studies using cheaper ways of reading DNA...[revealed that] four patients with a rare and deadly lung-sac cancer...had between two and six genes that had mutated, when compared with healthy cells from the same patient. Such mutations are thought to be causes of cancer. But every patient's tumor had a different group of mutated genes, and no gene was mutated in more than one patient." Granted, that's a mix of bad and ugly too--will this mean hundreds of different drugs for very specific types of patients?
  • This leads into the ugly money issues: "In the study, it cost more than $100,000 per patient to read out a tumor's genes and compare them with healthy cells from the same person -- and that was using newer, cheaper methods of DNA reading...similar technology [might] bring the cost to around $12,000 per patient, the authors of the study say." However, that technology hasn't been "proven," per se.
  • Another technique that could be used in the future (so it still sounds a little sci-fi, though I believe it would be possible eventually) would be to "input the DNA code of an undesirable gene and buy a chemical that can "silence," or neuter it, in a test tube. Several companies are working on such "gene silencing" techniques -- also called RNA interference."

Monday, February 25, 2008

No more salt?

Now that would be a welcome development--in my city of residence, we've had about 50" of snow this season, with 6-12" more scheduled over the next day or two.

A front-page article today describes how a certain inventor tries to develop non-solid alternatives to the ordinary, corrosive, plant-choking, ineffective-below-17-degrees rock salt. Named Steve Bytnar, this man in Colorado has so far concocted "a line of glass jars containing a colorful array of liquids," mostly with secret recipes. Known ingredients include "molasses, corn syrup, beet juice...residue from rum distillation...residue from ethanol distillation" and others (some less smelly!). Bytnar's final product so far: a liquid de-icer named Apex.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Lent 3: the Samaritan woman

Today's readings were Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-8, and John 4:5-26, which was the sermon text.
Today, Jesus dialogs with a Samaritan woman--or does He? Taken from context, verse 23 seems to support pan-religion of some sort. (Riiight.) But take it in context--it clearly demonstrates that Jesus has been God from eternity (1:1), now become human flesh too. He is the fullness of God--the true Temple, the High Priest, the Sacrifice--He is also the Bridegroom, we (the Church) His bride.

Jesus came to save the lost, to convert them to Himself. Not mere "interfaith dialogs." He surprises the Samaritan woman on several fronts. She initially understood His message about water to fit her own interests. Then she tried to change the subject when Jesus brought up her sin (tsk, tsk! so impolite!). Next, He talks about worshiping the Father in spirit (the Holy Spirit, as evidenced elsewhere) and truth (Christ Himself).

Worship = Christ gives us His gifts and we give Him praise with His words back to Him. Jesus the Truth --> worship is in spirit and Truth. Behold the Christ, God's Anointed, the Lamb of God.

Jeremiah session 7

The pastoral mix-up has been resolved! This week we covered chapters 13-18. Bullet notes:

  • 13:1-11--the soiled-loincloth action prophecy. Linen = priestly (pure) material that became ruined here (cf. Exodus 19:5-6 and 1 Peter 2:9-10). In Jesus Christ, we are the new Israel--but it's still easy to become unfaithful.
  • 13:12-14--jars of wine (representing drunkenness). See Rom. 1:24-32--God gave them over to their own desires.
  • 13:15-27--humbling Israel (still applies to today with us). Tragedy: "the Lord's flock" juxtaposed with prophecy of impending exile. It's the result of Israel's Baal worship (degeneration: compare with Lord of the Flies.)
  • 14:10--shocking and terrible! We want God to forget our sins--but here He is fed up with 900 years' sinfulness.
  • 15:1-2--continued awfulness. Compare Revelation 6; also Luke 16:19-31.
  • 15:10-21--a complaint. Chapter 19 is worse. Verse 16--see Psalm 1 ("law" = Torah, the totality of God's Word).
  • 16:1-13--judgment on Israel. Why? Sin.
  • 16:14-21--restoration; some brought back.
  • 17:1ff--Israel's hearts had sin engraved on them with (poetically) iron/diamond.
  • 17:19-27--compare Pharisees and letter-of-the-law hypocrisy.
  • 18:1ff--clay and potter. God, the Potter, decided to start over with Israel, His unfaithful and stubborn clay.
  • 18:23--contrast Psalm 51:1-2.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Gene police

The WSJ (Gautam Naik, A1) ran an interesting story on Britain's use of DNA samples in solving crime. KG at Crusader Rabbit beat them to it. Apparently, law enforcement in the UK use "familial searching" to narrow down possible candidates for a crime at which a DNA sample was collected. Sounds legit and beneficial, no? There's a but, though; it lies in a comparison between the US's and the UK's methods of collection...

The method, briefly:
In doing a standard genetic match, U.K. scientists look at 20 alleles [forms of genes] along a string of DNA. If a match is found for all 20 alleles for a pair of DNA profiles, there's virtually no doubt that both DNA samples come from the same person -- unless the samples come from identical twins. Near matches of only 17, 18 or 19 alleles may indicate a close blood relative.
As of now, the US collects DNA only (overwhelmingly) from convicted criminals and, if from not-convicted individuals, destroys the sample if a person is acquitted. This works out to about 2% of the population (5.6 million profiles). The UK, though, keeps every sample it gets, coming out to about 8% (4.2 million in England/Wales). Here (emphasis mine):
Anyone arrested -- including for minor offenses -- must provide a DNA sample, which stays in the database permanently, even if the person is acquitted. About a quarter of the profiles are of minors, some as young as 10.
The kicker, which worries me:
The U.S. is now considering following Britain's lead...

[Eleven] states have passed laws to allow DNA samples to be taken from people who have been arrested but may not have been convicted. The Department of Justice separately is finalizing rules permitting genetic profiles to be collected from anyone arrested by federal authorities. And in March, the FBI will host a symposium to discuss the merits of familial searching. One speaker is Tony Lake, chairman of the U.K.'s national DNA board.
Conflict of interest? No? Granted, there's at least one benefit:
A familial search looks for a near match, rather than an identical match. A near match may indicate that the sample in the database is that of a close blood relative, who can then help lead police to the actual perpetrator.
DNA profiling brings up other concerns as well, mostly ethical:

Civil-liberties groups oppose the rapid expansion of DNA databases, arguing that they risk placing sensitive personal information in the hands of the government...Leaked data, for example, could be used to deny insurance coverage or employment to people identified as being at risk for a genetic disease.

Forensic experts say such fears are overblown because databases hold only a tiny fraction of a person's DNA makeup. The information is stored as a series of numbers converted from a physical DNA sample.

Critics also say some research techniques pose ethical problems. They say a DNA-based "ethnic inference" test can provide uncertain predictions about the race of potential suspects that may mislead the police or reinforce existing prejudices...

...Alec Jeffreys, who invented the technique of genetic profiling in 1984, has questioned the need to retain DNA profiles of innocent people. He says the DNA database was originally set up only for convicted criminals...

A law as flexible as this worries me as well:
...Police were initially required [in 1995] to destroy DNA samples and profiles if a suspect's charges were dropped or if the person was acquitted. But that requirement was eliminated in 2001. Three years later, police were allowed to take DNA from anyone they arrested.
And is this nitpicking? You tell me whether it sounds like a nanny state or not:
Now, U.K. police are seeking powers to let them take DNA samples from people who are charged with minor infractions like speeding or littering...A senior appellate judge, as well as former prime minister Tony Blair, have called for the database to ultimately include DNA profiles of every U.K. resident.
Granted, they have successfully used familial searching to convict about 20 criminals. Does the end really justify the means?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Mutual monogamy? Surely you jest!

Here's something interesting (W11, author Christine Rosen) about paternity testing (something in which I am quite interested as a soon-to-be-official biologist) and cultural norms (is anyone not angry about them?). Rosen begins:

The cultural stereotype of infidelity is well entrenched: The lousy, cheating husband...in made-for-TV movies.

There's a but, as usually happens.

Yet the problem of female infidelity is equally serious, particularly when it results in the birth of a child. When a woman strays, how can a man know if the child is really his?
Rosen clarifies that ""paternal discrepancy" is the official term for a situation where a man is unknowingly raising another man's child." Unfortunately, it doesn't get much press unless that press is accompanied by paparazzi--Anna Nicole Smith's infant, for instance. According to "a 2005 article in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health," total daddy-dunno hovers around 4% in the large handful of countries/subcontinents participating. Not too bad, but one would hope that it would drop to a whole lot less (you know us, moral *prudes*, advocating things like absolute morals, fidelity,...).

What's the cost of all this? Well, with a grand total of 310,490 people buying paternity tests in 2001, and with an OTC option for $29.99 + $119 fees, that works out to about $46,259,905.10 plus tax. Then, for some, are court-ordered ones that can extract up to a trifling $500 from one's pocket. Concerning the ethics of the testing practice, Rosen (an ethicist herself) writes (bold parenthetical material mine):

There are some questions raised by paternity testing that even the most devoted ethicists (and marriage counselors) might have trouble answering. These tests are really tests of trust...they make it very easy, perhaps too easy, to indulge our doubts about our significant others.

Perhaps the growing interest in paternity testing reveals a broader cultural anxiety about fidelity in contemporary society, an anxiety exacerbated by the fact that an increasing number of parents bear and rear children outside the institution of marriage. (Hmm, did I just read that correctly? That doing marital activities without marriage perhaps causes stress?) Adam Phillips, a British psychotherapist who has published a book of pithy observations on monogamy, writes: "Not everyone believes in monogamy, but everyone lives as though they do. . . . Believing in monogamy, in other words, is not unlike believing in God." (Interesting observation, that one!)...New technologies might help us discover infidelity with more accuracy and convenience, but they are unlikely to solve the more vexing and timeless dilemma of why we stray.

And for that, we have (drum roll)...morals! Rules! Not living exactly as we please, because it might harm us! Shocking!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Heparin history

I found this article (A1) and the accompanying pictures quite interesting from a biological standpoint, if not political or otherwise. The two media detail how China goes about producing its half of the world's heparin. The process, briefly, involves

  • "wring[ing] pulp from pig intestines, then heat[ing] it in concrete vats." This sounds quite gross; in most Chinese factories, it is. (That, by the way, is part of the concern about the lack of regulation in those same factories; four Americans have reportedly died due to faulty or contaminated heparin from China.)
  • Next, adding resin "to extract heparin from the pulp."
  • Then, adding salt water to separate the resin-heparin mixture, which leads to a salt-water-heparin solution.
  • Finally, adding alcohol to remove the salt water. Then, since alcohol is more volatile, it is dried carefully...voila! Raw heparin!
Why are we concerned about this? Answer: likely due to lax regulation, intestines used may contain pathogens for such porcine maladies as blue-ear disease. Those several rinsings described above are geared toward removing as many bacteria, viruses, and other microbes as possible, but as far as keeping track of individual pigs, forget it. Why? "[S]laughterhouse records aren't detailed enough."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Concerning atheism

I read Psalm 42 today; here is the encouraging text. Source.

1 As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
3 My tears have been my food day and night,
while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation
6 and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.
8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
9 I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”
11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

Intelligent criticism...or not

Today's op-ed (article here) hits it right on. President Bush the Younger has been one of the more-criticized presidents; author William McGurn summarizes the chief criticisms (mostly by the press, commented upon by liberal bloggers) and (gasp!) their common unfoundedness.

  • First: the Bush tax cuts.
In the first three years of his administration, the president signed into law a series of tax cuts. They helped families...small businesses...put the death tax on the road to extinction.

Critics attacked on all fronts. The tax cuts were unfair because they only helped the rich. They would blow out the deficit, and do nothing for the economy. And when the economy began to improve, the focus shifted to a "jobless recovery."

We now know that "jobless recovery" in fact produced the longest period of consecutive job growth in our history. We now know that the tax cuts that were supposed to blow a hole in the federal budget deficit actually contributed to economic growth that has in turn yielded record tax revenues. As for unfairness, we also know that if the Democrats have their way and allow the Bush tax cuts to expire, a family of four with $60,000 in earnings in 2007 would see their taxes go up by about $1,800. So who's being stubborn?

  • Second: ESC research (for some background on the science of this, browse my posts on stem cells).
In July 2001, Mr. Bush announced a reasonable compromise. The solution was that the federal government would support embryonic stem cell research, but would not support the creation of life just to destroy it.

For more than six years, the critics have reacted by suggesting America was regressing into a new Dark Ages...The science reporter for ABC News put it this way: "We talk to a lot of scientists who believe nothing will change until the next inauguration in 2009."

Well, we didn't have to wait until 2009 for something to change. Last November, scientists discovered a way to reprogram adult skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells. In other words, we now have the potential to cultivate adult cells with the same pluripotent qualities that make embryonic cells so valuable -- and without having to destroy human life. That sure sounds like a welcome development. So let me ask: How many stories or editorials have you read giving the president his due?

  • And finally: Iraq. Yes, the surge IS working...see below.
...For a man said to resist unpleasant truths, the president acted boldly...Granted, it would have been better had it come earlier. But it was a tough thing to do, he did it -- and he did it knowing full well that the critics would jump all over him.

...A cable TV host went on a rant declaring "the plan fails militarily, the plan fails symbolically, the plan fails politically." Columnists and commentators either hedged their bets or predicted disaster ahead, with allusions to Vietnam sprinkled in for good measure.

Yet the surge went ahead. In Anbar Province, Marines were sent in to take advantage of a popular Sunni revolt against al Qaeda -- and by April the capital city of Ramadi was being taken back from the terrorists. By September, U.S. and Iraqi forces were clearing out Baquba, a one-time al Qaeda town in Diyala Province. And though Gen. David Petraeus says that the gains can still be reversed, sectarian killings are down, civilian deaths are down, and the people of Baghdad are getting a taste of normal life. Surely the president deserves a little credit here.

Hmmm...he can't do anything right, eh? Riiight.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Encouragement

I've been going through my blogroll, visiting blogs I don't go to as often as I should. Just now I picked up a gem over at Wolf Howling. The author links to the source article; both are a pleasant read. I'll let GW be eloquent; I need not say more.

Jeremiah session 6

Our other pastor taught the class today; whereas we had finished chapter 12 last week with pastor 1, today we mysteriously began with chapter 19 with pastor 2. Anyway, the bullets:

  • Ch. 19--one of Jeremiah's action prophecies (used by other prophets), the breaking of the useless flask. Why physical objects? Answer: God gave us our senses and created the world; He works along with and through His creation. God's promise, attached to a physical action or object, saves.
  • Valley of Topheth/Son of Hinnom = used by practitioners of Baal's cult-religion. For sacrificing children by fire.
  • Compare Jer. 19:7 with Rev. 19:17-21--carrion. Siege effect.
  • Distinguishing false prophets: (1) does their prophecy agree with the rest of God's known word? & (2) does it come true?
  • 20:1--the first Passhur (the second is in 21:1), a priest, should have supported Jeremiah but didn't. Prophecy: he would die in Babylon.
  • 20:7-18--cf. Job 3. Get out the Kleenex. Because Jeremiah had to proclaim mostly law, his ministry was even less popular than that of the average prophet. This section also demonstrates the divine inspiration of the Bible; if men edited the book, why would they keep the main character's complaints against God? his negative feelings?
  • But Jeremiah will go on prophesying--but a little afraid for his skin. Verses 14-18: cursing his birth--BUT he never gives up his faith.

Lent 2: Nicodemus

Today's readings were Psalm 121, Genesis 12:1-9, Romans 4:1-8 + 13-17, and John 3:1-17 (the sermon text).
There is no halfway with Jesus, as Nicodemus mistakenly hoped. All depends solely on God's grace.

Nicodemus acknowledged Jesus' miracles but not His full divinity. He came at night because he feared persecution by fellow Pharisees, political zealots as well as the ruling religious party (analogous to today's Democratic party in terms of ideals). The conversation that night seems almost like two monologues--natural religion ("must! appease! God!") versus true religion (we are dead and blind in our sin; only God can save us from it by His own grace). Nicodemus took the words "born again" differently than we do now. His reply was exactly what Jesus wanted; it clearly shows that coming to God by oneself is utterly impossible.

How do we come? God draws us "by water and the Spirit" (only one "of" --> the two are connected), i.e. Baptism. We don't know how it works; God does. Rejoice in this salvation that comes to us without our decision! Yet Nicodemus didn't understand even the earthly analogy about wind. He did, however, end up believing in Christ--read about his role after the Crucifixion. Realize that Jesus is your Savior--and you have eternal life.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Civics test

A well-read friend, GHF, sent me a link to an American civic literacy quiz; he scored 58 out of 60 (I told you he was well-read!). I just finished taking it; even though I recently reviewed U.S. history to Reconstruction, I got a miserable (by homeschool standards :D) 45/60, or 75%. Keep in mind that the vast majority of American college students aren't doing too well either.

Take it for yourself; review beforehand if you want; but no peeking during the test! Comment with your score too; see if you can beat the college graduates.

Update 11/22/08: I took it again; this time it has 33 questions, out of which I answered 29 correctly = 87.88%. A significant improvement. :) November's average was about 77%.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Genetics politicized

No Compromise asked me to post on this article (slight language warning partway down) concerning the connections between the Clinton family, agribusiness, and unfair aspects of genetic engineering. In accord with my policy of avoiding ad-hominems, I will concentrate on the ethics of the situation, not the people. Below is the gist of the article's main content, an open letter from a former Hillary supporter.

  • According to News Hour, the large corporation Monsanto deceived uneducated Indian farmers into purchasing genetically engineered (Bt) seeds while not providing for access to the proper conditions (namely, "expensive fertilizer and pesticides (Monsanto, again) and irrigation"). The resulting debt was compounded by Monsanto having patented the genes in question.
  • The Clintons' connection to this company was through the Rose Law Firm, where Bill had hiring clout. Corruption was also involved (elaborated upon in the letter).
  • Through hiring practices, Monsanto personnel came to hold posts in the FDA (not a good sign!).
  • Concerning a bovine growth hormone (rBGH, reportedly associated with "bovine illness and death"), ethical missteps included lack of both warnings and milk labels, intimidation of non-complying farmers, and dubious changes in organic-food standards (see reason 6 in the letter).
  • Besides similar missteps in foodstuffs like cottonseed oil, grains, meats, poultry, and milk, the letter notes issues with feeding growth hormones to cows that wouldn't show external signs of mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephaly, or BSE) until after the "useful lifespan" of the animal, thus resulting in unwittingly spreading the pathogen that causes it to the general population.
  • Here is one telling paragraph (quotes in the original):
Terminator genes, developed by DP&L, a Rose Firm client, prevent seeds from “working” after only one season. Farmers “must” repurchase (patents and suing not certain enough control, it seems). Those “killing” genes pose the apocalyptic risk of breaking out into nature. Natural seeds could fail, too. Nature could fail.
  • Remaining problems the letter mentions: child labor (compounded with long-term exposure to pesticides) and numerous diseases associated with effects of ingested growth hormones (breast cancer, kidney toxicity, and liver toxicity, among others).

Good reading

Today's op-ed page contained a very interesting editorial concerning radical Islam vs. free speech. For a series of excellent elaborations on this topic, check out these posts from Aurora. I need say no more.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Religion politicized

Re this editorial (subscription required), a slew of letters (A15) has come in, arguing all sides of the issue of what the role of religion is in selecting a President. A sampling:

  • R. S. in Sandy, Utah, says that Mormons "espouse traditional values" and "center their lives in faith and family"; that Americans or political parties would discriminate on the basis of religion surprises him. "I want a color-blind, tolerant, inclusive party that will work for conservative principles. (Somehow that sounds like a contradiction in terms.) However, they can't pay clergymen to preach venom-filled sermons...The party I want would rise up in indignation at...thinly veiled bigotry..." His next words ring like a threat: "Just imagine the next 20 years of presidential elections with Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Nevada and California dependably in the Democrat column."
  • Says Rev. Richard J. Neuhaus, Editor in Chief of First Things, NY: "[We] should not underestimate the number of people who would not vote for a Mormon for president. Nor, I wrote, should we arrogantly dismiss these people as bigots." (That sounds even more inclusive!)
  • Robert G. in Boston is even more vehement than R. S., slamming "the strident and intolerant extreme right wing of the Republican Party." (That may exist, but the adjective load is quite heavy.)
  • H. L. in Oakland, CA, seems decidedly in favor of substituting "rationality" for religions including Mormonism, evangelical Christianity, and Islam which, one would presume, are by that logic irrational: "All of these people have highly irrational (one might say delusional) and often dangerous ideas that shape their views on morality and the nature of the world and could adversely influence their ability to lead a nation." (Two out of three ain't bad.)
  • Gordon H. in Lexington, KY, appeals to statistics: "Comparing the 21% of respondents who were "very uncomfortable" with a Mormon presidential candidate with the 20% who felt the same way about an evangelical candidate, I wonder if the story really is more about religion in politics than about the Latter-day Saints."
  • Declan M. in Phoenix expresses my views beautifully (emphasis mine):
Mr. Romney's campaign had many problems that had nothing to do with his religion. However, those of us who questioned his credentials because of his faith didn't do so from bigotry. We did it because he belongs to an organization that turns its back on science, history and common sense. We did it because someone whose world view is based on willful ignorance, self-delusion and the repression of women doesn't deserve to be our president.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Water everywhere

...is good for you. According to this blurb (and others--plenty of research has been done about this and related topics), drinking diet soda vs. regular to help oneself lose weight has a high likelihood of backfiring. Why I am happy:
  • I prefer mostly water; on the rare occasion I have soda, it's the full version or bust.
  • Thanks to an aversion (of unknown origin--but I'm extremely thankful for it!) to certain sweeteners, diet/zero-calorie leaves a bad taste.
So go grab a water bottle, fill it with ice-cold H2O (the body's act of heating the water to 98 degrees burns a fair amount of calories too), and sip away.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Another irony

Read the tragic yet ironic story here; I couldn't put it any better. (What exactly is it with people failing to apply what they learn to their own lives?)

Methuselah?

...here we come? According to United Press International, there's one less thing obstructing the path between your current self and the glorious age of 100: chronic disease. The explanation:
The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found delaying chronic diseases (now, wouldn't that be nice!) until age of 85 helps people reach 100 but almost one-third of those studied lived past age 97 even though they had developed a chronic condition before the age of 85.
On the one hand, that's nowhere close to the 969 I had hoped. On the other, our atmosphere is worse than at the time of our favorite long-lived Bible character.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Bicultural vs. safe?

On the topic of assimilation, integrating a guest culture into a host culture, etc., are a group of letters (A17, subscription required) and a few miscellaneous posts from bloggers in Australia and elsewhere (one from MK, another from Aurora). Below I have reprinted excellent excerpts from several letters.

Gayla M. in Ft. Collins, CO, supporting biculturalism:
...Respect for another's culture is a two-way street.

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves if the underlying motivation of our most recent worries about immigration is respect for the law of the land or fear of those who appear in some way to be different from us. If it is the former, we should either enforce the law consistently and justly or change the laws to adapt...If it is the latter, then we should at least admit to our hypocrisy.

Jessee R. in Pulaski, VA, about the original article: [emphasis mine]

Your article portrays the current illegal immigration problem as just another chapter in the long-running immigration issue in this country, as though there were no difference between the millions of illegal immigrants who have come in recent years and the millions of legal immigrants who have come in previously in the country's history. The issue is different now. They are here illegally.

And finally, Patricia M. in Sun Lakes, AZ, echoing Jessee:

It isn't legal immigration that Arizonans have an issue with. The problem is with those who come across the border illegally, taking jobs, expecting everyone from employers to store clerks to accommodate their refusal to learn English and imposing strains on public schools, the welfare system, health care and law enforcement.

I won't try to change your views on this, and I admit that, technically, the first Europeans on U.S. soil were "illegal" too, but we should not let ourselves be overly taken advantage of. There are legal venues to become a citizen. They're put in place because they work.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Jeremiah session 5

Here again, for your continued edification and study of the Law, Gospel, and Prophets, are my bulleted notes from today's Bible study.
  • God the Righteous Judge--key to understanding the Scriptures.
  • 5:1--"justice" as in 2nd Table (Commandments 4-10, love your neighbor as yourself).
  • 5:4--the justice of God = ? See below for elaboration.
  • 5:28--human justice is ultimately unjust.
  • 7:5--faith --> love, pity for the weak, and JUSTICE.
  • 9:24--boast only in faith--be pleased that God gives it to us. Know God: chesed (Hebrew for steadfast love), JUSTICE (judging rightly), and righteousness (perfection). How can God have chesed and justice simultaneously? Answer: What happened on the Cross? Righteousness makes the other two work.
  • 10:24--think about this. Is Jeremiah too proud of himself? Look at the context: he kept preaching God's word. He is laying hold to his child-of-God status.
  • "Nice" isn't a synonym for "Christian." What is, though: "law and gospel."
  • The Righteous Judge throughout the Scriptures: Gen. 18:25 (Sodom and Gomorrah); Ps. 7:11 (you can't conceptualize God's indignation away, especially by human reasoning); Is. 11:4 (judgment must accompany forgiveness); Is. 16:5 ("hastening righteousness"); Rom. 3:21 (God's righteous, through faith, not of the law, the righteousness by which God counts us sinless! It flowed from the Cross to us! See Rom. 5:18 too); Rev. 19:11 (at the world's end, there are no more second chances).
  • Christ went through the whole suffering of the cross--being 100% divine, He could atone; being 100% human, He could die.
  • There is still time to believe. Though many won't believe, keep telling them anyway.

Lent 1: Christ's temptation

The sermon text today was Matthew 4:1-11; the other readings were Genesis 3:1-21, Romans 5:12-19, and Psalm 32.
"Please don't tempt me"--we frequently say this, with various shades of meaning. Ultimately, temptation means anything leading us away from Christ our salvation. In today's reading, Christ is tempted for us; on that day, eternity hung in the balance. Jesus became incarnate so that, as the second Adam, He might conquer the curse brought through the first Adam.

Christ fasts first: 40 days to represent Israel's (who failed) 40 years being tested in the wilderness. So Satan's first temptation aimed at this hunger--but Jesus was aware of His substitutionary responsibility and countered with the Word.

Next: the ultimate miracle opportunity--jumping dramatically from the Temple. Satan misused Scripture; Jesus countered again.

Satan's final try: to get Jesus to worship him. But Christ knew that His glory is heavenly, not earthly. He goes on the offensive, ordering the tempter to begone.

Through all these, He consciously let Himself be tempted, so that He might win for us. We can stand before neither Satan nor God--but Jesus, compassionately, has given Himself for our deliverance. Glorify God incarnate for taking our place! In temptation, remember who you are and whose you are. Hebrews 4--He is our great High Priest, tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

HIV transmission

These new findings about HIV transmission, in my view, provide even more evidence that purity is (Biblically, obviously) the way to go. Apparently mothers, either through breast-feeding or by pre-chewing food for their infants, have transmitted the virus. Granted, the vast majority of evidence so far says that HIV isn't present in saliva, but there are these things called *capillaries* and *absorbent mucous membranes* in the mouth. What, really, is so bad about abstaining from kissing as well as other, more dangerous, activities before marriage?

Update 2/12/08: Hoosier Army Mom also blogged about this.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The miracle of instinct

Today's Science Journal (B1, subscription required) concerns monarch butterflies, migration, and "the molecular biology of time and travel." Behold the wonder:

In a majestic seasonal rite, a new generation of monarchs flies to Mexico every fall from summer breeding grounds in Canada. This past year, they formed a billowing wind-borne quilt of 55 million or more.

Now, in the depth of winter, the monarchs can sense spring. By March, they will be returning north. Unlike most migrating birds, fish or mammals, however, none of these individual insects will ever complete their species' entire 4,000-mile annual journey. These northward-bound butterflies will get only as far as the U.S. Gulf Coast, where they will lay eggs and die. Their descendants must finish the trip.

"With the Monarch butterfly, it is a multigenerational round-trip," said research biologist Richard Holland at England's University of Leeds. "It is the grandchildren or great-grandchildren who make it back to where the adults started the year before."

Sounds like instinct, doesn't it? Yet, according to neurobiologist Steven Reppert, this phenomenon may have more of a genetic basis than previously thought.

Seeking the secret of time and the butterfly, Dr. Reppert and his colleagues studied rhythmic molecular changes in the four brain cells that serve as the monarch's timing device. He discovered that two similar light-sensitive genes drive the clockworks. The first, common to plants and insects, is sensitive to blue light and appears to synchronize the cells to cycles of light and darkness.

The second gene "stunned" the scientists, Dr. Reppert said, because it so closely resembled one previously found only in humans and other mammals. It doesn't respond to light directly but, when triggered, makes a rising amount of protein that measures the passage of time since it was last activated.

The question now is, would those genes function the same if they were in connection to something other than a living organism? That question, depending on the answer, could either help to explain Darwinian evolution's requirement of abiogenesis or provide more evidence against it. To my evolutionist reader(s): If there is a satisfactory answer to that question, please link to a source explaining it or else explain it yourself. To my creationist readers: Keep up the good fight.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday

Tonight's readings were Joel 2:12-19; Acts 2:14-21, 36-41 (sermon text), and Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.
Lent makes the Gospel even sweeter for us. This year, we focus on several conversion characters from the Scriptures. This evening, we have 3000! The occasion: Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks--all the men were in the temple, in accordance with the Law (so the "3000 converted" may have included an additional 3000 women).

Peter took this opportunity to, by the Holy Spirit, preach the Law. BUT after that he preached the Gospel, when the people repented. The Law: these Jews had killed Jesus Christ, God incarnate, as did each of us. However, this was according to God's definite plan (v. 23). The people "were cut to the heart"--but the only thing they could do was repent. From this Peter went on to tell them what they could receive: Jesus Christ, Son of God, the generous, merciful Judge. Finally, Peter instructed these heads of households to be baptized with their households.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Pathogen opera

A friend sent me this item about something that works even better than antibiotics: pure physics! Since viruses aren't "alive" as far as we know, one can't technically "kill" them.
All objects have resonant frequencies at which they naturally oscillate. Pluck a guitar string and it will vibrate at a resonant frequency.

But resonating can get out of control. A famous example is the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which warped and finally collapsed in 1940 due to a wind that rocked the bridge back and forth at one of its resonant frequencies.

Viruses are susceptible to the same kind of mechanical excitation. An experimental group led by K. T. Tsen from Arizona State University have recently shown that pulses of laser light can induce destructive vibrations in virus shells.

"The idea is that the time that the pulse is on is about a quarter of a period of a vibration," [Otto] Sankey said. "Like pushing a child on a swing from rest, one impulsive push gets the virus shaking."

That the virus isn't made up of just one type of atom does complicate things. But that is what computers are for.

MRSA diagnostics

As I mentioned in a previous post, scientists are very eager to develop tests that detect MRSA faster. It looks like there may be some coming up after all (D1, subscription required). Surveyed in the article are three types of tests; here they are in order of increasing quickness (but not necessarily easiness, reliability, or price):

  1. Cell culture--grow the cells in a Petri dish, look at them under a microscope. Length: a matter of days. Easiness: if you can handle a cotton swab without putting it in your ear, you can do this. Reliability: only for those organisms that can be cultured--there's a good chance that we can culture only about 2% (some say more) of the bacteria we know about; some just don't grow outside their native environs. Price: very cheap, as long as you have a decent microscope and a bit of agar.
  2. Looking at molecules--take some DNA from the patient's sputum (or whatever the organism is likely to inhabit), compare it with DNA from known bugs, make a diagnosis. Length: several hours. Easiness: difficult because of the technology involved. Reliability: "Able to detect specific strains of organisms, so treatment options are more effective." 'Nuff said. Price: Very 'spensive.
  3. Immunoassay--test for antibodies. Length: minutes, usually. Easiness: It's in home pregnancy tests, among other things, so 'even a woman can do it.' Reliability: "Generally not as sensitive as DNA-based tests." Price: fairly cheap.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Equality...rights...

Maybe this isn't the face of the *true* Islam. But check out these posts anyway:

This post from Crusader Rabbit critiques Britain's continuing acceptance of certain groups' exercise of polygamy.

This post from Velvet Hammer details the increasing dhimmitude of the U.S., namely certain taxi drivers' demands for foot baths.

Added 2/5/08: This post from ibn Misr lists typical 'debate' tactics that Muslims commonly use.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Siberian Lutherans

Today in Bible study, in place of Jeremiah, we heard a visiting Lutheran bishop for whom our church had donated money to help build a church. Some factoids from his slide show:

  • 6th cent. original church in Kiev. 988: "Baptism of Russia."
  • Majorities--Lutheran and Russian Orthodox--rights (schools, hospitals). That changed during the Russian Revolution because communism can't coexist with Christianity. 360K Christian clergy/laity killed in 1st 4 years. 1941--last Lutheran pastor killed.
  • Churches are concentrated in southern Russia, with some at each E/W end.
  • Transportation, in decreasing order of frequency: horse, car/train, plane.
  • Most congregations don't have their own, nor permanent, buildings.
  • Common ministry: caring for the deaf. Use sign language for confession and absolution, sharing the Gospel, etc.
  • Rampant alcoholism --> people steal car parts for money. Rampant TB too.
  • Neighbors may love you, but they love your property more...
  • Chapel--bedroom-size! (~10' x 14')
  • Some regions--Buddhism is the government-supported religion.
  • Cities--bricks from churches used for monuments of Lenin.
  • Parasails but no instructors (one church youth group) --> sent several children to heaven :-/ (dark Russian humor...).
  • Angela Merkel visited a government-supported Lutheran church build for historical value.
  • The church (a former apartment building) we paid for is in process of being remodeled.

Book meme

I have been tagged by Cheryl, a friend and occasional reader (I hope!). She runs an excellent literary/homeschooling/Lutheran blog. The instructions:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

The nearest book (by about 2"--my computer desk is messy): The Holy Bible, NIV (small print, no less).

The text:
"'Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams, you may eat any that have fins and scales. But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales--whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water--you are to detest. And since you are to detest them, you must not eat their meat and you must detest their carcasses...'"
Two interesting things about it: it is from Leviticus 11:9-11 (mmm, clean and unclean food) and it still has excellent health value for us today (as is to be expected--God's word never stops its benefits). Now for the tags (you can post your results in the comments section if you like, if you deem a meme post too frivolous for your blog. It's fine either way): MK, No Compromise, Tammi, Ms. Green, and Angel.

9 February update: Panday (a.k.a. Stephen Renico) thought he had "dodged the bullet. :-)" Not anymore! Tagged him!

Transfiguration Sunday

Today's sermon text, breaking from Isaiah, was 2 Peter 1:16-21.

Peter reminds the persecuted Christians that he was an eyewitness to Christ's glorification at the Transfiguration. Yet he also mentions something surer (!) than personal experience: the prophets' testimony about Christ. Facts vs. emotions--difficult in our current romantic (i.e. emotion-based) era. It surprises us.

Context of this reading: Peter encourages the church to several noteworthy things, especially faith, knowledge (Christianity is fact-based--it strengthens our faith), virtue (conforming to a set of eternal principles--the word is used only here in the Bible. Our standard is the 10 Commandments; our essence is Christ), and godliness (combats the godlessness of Peter's age and our age. We ought to reflect Christ by the clean robes He has put on us).

Peter reminds us that Christianity is not based on man-made myths. You don't risk your life for a myth. Two things in the Bible confirm God's glory, His truth: eyewitness accounts and a sure prophetic word. No one ever just made up true prophecy--it was revealed from God through the Holy Spirit.

Don't use the word "interpretation" loosely anymore--"understanding" works. The word "own" comes from the Greek idios, from which we get the word idiot. Idiots create their own religions. God creates the one true religion, revealed here in Christ, God incarnate.

Because God is pleased with His beloved Son, He is pleased with us as well. Be sure of this; even when you don't "feel" that God loves you, He still does. This is the essence of the Gospel: the Father loves us for Christ's sake.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Too good to be true?

According to this op-ed (A11, subscription NOT required), the angry-liberal mindset is fading from popularity. I'm very glad. According to author Dan Gerstein,
...[V]oters of both races were quietly resolving the pre-eminent conflict of the party's present -- between the politics of hope and the politics of Kos. (That being the Daily Kos, the nation's most influential liberal blog and the left's poster child for partisan pugnacity.) [Emphasis in original]
As to whether John Edwards' dropout from the race was partially due to a certain video of him combing his hair:
This conflict is not about ideology but about style. The truth is, over the past several years Democrats have bridged or buried most of the major issue splits that hobbled the party in the past, as evidenced by the absence of big policy debates in this campaign. That's left us to stew, particularly in the wake of John Kerry's embittering loss in 2004, over how we fight the other side. There is a clear generational split.
Aww, I thought it would be about mousse, not fists! Oh well. To summarize neatly, a candidate with a "hope" message (i.e. Obama) is, according to Gerstein, more likely to win than a "Kossack." Yep, that's his term for it. Best wishes for those voting on Super Tuesday!

Friday, February 1, 2008

How to stop global warming!

"Can artificial glaciers help compensate for the disappearance of naturally forming ones?" asks The Informed Reader (B3), scooping Feb. 2 New Scientist. The answer:

...According to legends, villagers in the Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountain ranges spanning the India-Pakistan border areas have been building artificial glaciers for centuries -- even using one to stop the advance of Gengis Khan in the 13th century. The artificial versions are far smaller than regular glaciers but can reach 800 feet in length. Usually, the glaciers are built in rocky areas 14,800 feet above sea level. Villagers pack ice and snow in the shadows of boulders. When winter arrives, snow bridges the areas between the ice and, over a few years, forms into a self-sustaining glacier.

...which essentially guarantees a steadier source of water.

Still, scientists have yet to systematically establish whether the intentionally assembled ice masses are behind those higher water flows. Ingvar Tveiten of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences thinks that glaciers would have formed anyway in such prime ice-forming locations. But other scientists believe that villagers' efforts have increased the stock of ice around them.

Good science, looking at both sides. This stuff is pretty interesting--why don't you try making a little glacier in a nook near your house. Call me in a few months.