Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Genetic testing, part 1

Today's Personal Journal had an article about a rare anesthesia risk: malignant hyperthermia. Interestingly, this phenomenon is genetically based; since my current course load includes genetics and biomedical ethics, today I am afforded a good opportunity to explore aspects of both. First, some background on the tests available for determining whether an individual is prone to the condition (emphasis mine):
The most accurate test to determine predisposition to malignant hyperthermia is a specialized muscle biopsy that analyzes the response of a piece of muscle taken from the thigh to a triggering anesthetic. But it is available in only a handful of centers and can cost more than $6,000. A genetic test is available that can be performed on a blood sample, but its accuracy still needs to be improved...
Then, from Intervention and Reflection: Basic Issues in Medical Ethics, 8e (Robert Munson), a rundown of ethical issues pertaining to genetic testing in general (all emphasis mine):

  • "Rarely is the case that if a person carries a certain gene, she will invariably develop a genetic disease...single-gene disorders...account for only about 2 percent of genetic disorders." This could very well be the bane of many tests.
  • Autonomy: "We are torn between seeing the value of knowing and the comfort of not knowing," especially when there exists at the time no remedy.
  • Continuing the logic of the first quote, Munson contrasts "genetic predisposition" with a 100% probability of developing the disease - for example, xeroderma pigmentosum versus Huntington's disease.
  • The risk of discrimination is definite, particularly in the areas of employment, insurance, and the concept of human worth. Critics of testing who focus on the last category give several reasons: (1) "[W]hat condition is sufficiently serious to justify a decision to have an abortion (or, alternatively, avoid implanting an embryo with a certain gene?" (2) Testing with the aforementioned aim is "a form of discrimination against people with disabilities." (3) Lessening the number of disabled people in this fashion can have at least three consequences: (a) "those with the condition will have a smaller community," leading to more isolation; (b) "the group might lose much of its political influence"; and (c) "researchers will no longer be motivated to develop new drugs or treatments for the diseases or disabilities people now live with." Predictably, advocates respond.
In Munson's text are several readings exploring whether or not genetic testing or selection is a new form of eugenics. That topic will be in my next post.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Climate change costs ETC.

Yes, a big etc., literally. First op-ed here, the primary subject of this post. Etc. here, something Cheryl would definitely be interested in. Since finals are coming up, I will just excerpt a juicy paragraph from each.

CCC (math-heavy, yay!):

By the year 2050, the Census Bureau projects that our population will be around 420 million. This means per capita emissions will have to fall to about 2.5 tons in order to meet the goal of 80% reduction.

It is likely that U.S. per capita emissions were never that low – even back in colonial days when the only fuel we burned was wood. The only nations in the world today that emit at this low level are all poor developing nations, such as Belize, Mauritius, Jordan, Haiti and Somalia.

ETC (allusion-heavy):

The barking of these dogs as the caravan passes should be beneath a man who prefers to think himself cultivated. What do I care what they think, especially when I already know what they think? Like so many of the punditi of our day, they are all, as E. M. Forster termed it in his "Aspects of the Novel," "flat characters," by which he meant characters utterly predictable in their opinions, behavior, character – characters from whom one should expect no surprises.

See? It even has Latin in it!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Lessons from Issues 4: "True Piety Flows from Pure Doctrine"

Three more weeks to go! Previous "Lessons" are here and here.
  • Is teaching/theory (doctrine) different from/inferior to practice (works/piety)? Our culture's sole contribution to Western philosophy is pragmatism: truth is what works. In other words: "God, You're so impractical!" But guess what Scripture says? Love (works, piety) flows directly from doctrine. We can't take the pragmatism of science, lift it out, and apply it to God. See testimony #5002 on the petition.
  • Works do not produce faith; rather, faith produces works. Preach the Gospel (Christ's works); this leads to faith, which leads to our works (Christ in us).
  • Passages: Philippians 1:3-11; Ephesians 1:15-21 and 4:11-15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; Colossians 1:3-10; and 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
  • Also: John 1:9-13 (not us, but Him). Elsewhere, too, more emphasis is placed on KNOWING the truth of God's Word than on works.
  • Hand in hand: faith and love, doctrine and works.
  • God's will: that all come to know Christ.

Easter 6: defending the faith

Today's readings were Acts 17:16-31, 1 Peter 3:13-22 (sermon text), John 14:15-21, and Psalm 66.
Being ready to give a gentle, reverent answer when asked about our hope...Our adolescent catechumens are being questioned today about this faith.

Sanctify/set apart Christ as Lord in your heart; look not at your persecutors, but at your Savior and Lord. Our hope is grounded in Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, and returning. This is a sure thing. He will receive us to Himself.

"Who hopes in what he sees?" No one. Yet we know for certain that Christ's promise holds - He is about to come back for each of us believers. Our Savior is with us and has paid in full for our sins! Be able to tell others about it, even in our postmodern, relativist culture that believes in nothing and death. Compare Peter's and Paul's responses to their respective audiences. Be able to speak clearly concerning God's mysteries, our hope, with gentleness and reverence - no need to be a jerk (Philippians 4:5).
The catechumens mentioned above were questioned later that morning about general Bible knowledge, short-answer Catechism questions, more involved questions, and expounding a Bible passage in terms of law and gospel. IMO, my confirmation class was much less well-prepared. On the subject of apologetics in general, I recommend you read The Defense Never Rests by Craig Parton, who spoke at our church a few years back about it. Also see Cao's post today.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Tidbits

You know how, every so often, you think of a catchy phrase or comparison that you either don't write down or write it down and don't follow up? Here are a few I've heard and/or thought of:
  • During a Bible study recently, my mother noted how a verse would often "hit" her. This procured visions of baseball bats and also of verses "sticking." So...the Bible is like a porcupine. When God wills, a verse will come out and stick to you (sometimes painfully) and is hard to remove thereafter.
  • A question in that same Bible study asked, "What actions in your life are reflections of this sanctification?" The answers given by other members, all of a sudden, formed an acronym. I give you the Lutheran TULIP (nothing to do with the Calvinist TULIP): Thirst for the Word, Upholding the faith (apologetics), Love for others, Indignation at sin, and a thriving Prayer life. (Other tulips are welcome in the comments!)
  • According to some studies, the heritability of homosexuality is about 20%. Proponents love this statistic because it implies that, in some cases, one can claim s/he was "born that way." Since the phenomenon occupies such a small segment of the population, one could reasonably assume that it is caused at least in part by a mutation in whatever gene theoretically causes it (not that there is one). Allow me to make an analogy to another disease caused by a mutation plus environmental interaction: Marfan syndrome. Would a person born with the mutation simply say, "I was born that way. Why are you trying to hurt my self-esteem and be intolerant, when I can't change the way I was made?" No?
Two editorial notes:
  • Many of those who read my blog don't comment. That's fine; there's no requirement. But if comment moderation is deterring you, please don't worry about that. As of today, I have had to reject a grand total of three comments - one for profanity, the other two for ranting and going off on tangents that had absolutely nothing to do with the post. Three out of 321 total (yes, I'm a statistics freak too) is a badge of honor to my readers.
  • This summer, The Renaissance Biologist will try to become more of a Biologist. Post topics will shift accordingly.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Science tidbits

For you, dear readers, here are links to several articles I noticed during the past few days.

HT my literate, gray-headed friend who has contributed to several posts before, "Leading scientists tell politicians to stop interfering over ethics of embryo research." Essentially, these scientists want to do science only, without having such issues as ethics, morals, and *opinion* muck things up.

A preview of an article from New Scientist; this relates to that gray-headed friend, who broke both bones in his lower leg two days before Thanksgiving 2007 and is now transitioning from his cane. Hooray! If only we could have treated it that way...

I learned a little from this, too: a link-filled article from New Scientist. While I don't subscribe to that magazine for obvious reasons, I'll have to learn all about evolution in order to fulfill my career goals. (sighs) Goal: Learn now, refute later.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

In memoriam: Earth Day

From the venerable pages of the WSJ, an editorial by former Greenpeace leader Patrick Moore, on science vs. politics. Excerpts with emphasis and comments:
...the environmental movement is not always guided by science. As we celebrate Earth Day today, this is a good lesson to keep in mind.
Keep this in mind, you readers who have yet to take freshman composition. Your thesis should be clear, catchy, and relevant.

At first, many of the causes we championed, such as opposition to nuclear testing and protection of whales, stemmed from our scientific knowledge of nuclear physics and marine biology. But after six years as one of five directors of Greenpeace International, I observed that none of my fellow directors had any formal science education....

Bad sign, to say the least. Some science-y examples:

...Science shows that adding chlorine to drinking water was the biggest advance in the history of public health, virtually eradicating water-borne diseases such as cholera. And the majority of our pharmaceuticals are based on chlorine chemistry. Simply put, chlorine is essential for our health.

...Greenpeace...[has] opposed its use for more than 20 years.

Opposition to the use of chemicals such as chlorine is part of a broader hostility to the use of industrial chemicals. Rachel Carson's 1962 book, "Silent Spring," had a significant impact on many pioneers of the green movement. The book raised concerns, many rooted in science, about the risks and negative environmental impact associated with the overuse of chemicals. But the initial healthy skepticism hardened into a mindset that treats virtually all industrial use of chemicals with suspicion.

1. Chlorine. 2. Phthalates that, among other uses, occur in PVC, which is good for all sorts of things.

Greenpeace now has a new target called phthalates (pronounced thal-ates). These are chemical compounds that make plastics flexible. They are found in everything from hospital equipment such as IV bags and tubes, to children's toys and shower curtains. They are among the most practical chemical compounds in existence.

...These chemicals make easy targets since they are hard to understand and difficult to pronounce. Commonly used phthalates, such as diisononyl phthalate (DINP), have been used in everyday products for decades with no evidence of human harm. DINP is the primary plasticizer used in toys. It has been tested by multiple government and independent evaluators, and found to be safe.

Despite this, a political campaign that rejects science is pressuring companies and the public to reject the use of DINP....

...None of the potential replacement chemicals have been tested and found safe to the degree that DINP has. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recently cautioned, "If DINP is to be replaced in children's products . . . the potential risks of substitutes must be considered. Weaker or more brittle plastics might break and result in a choking hazard. Other plasticizers might not be as well studied as DINP."

For what purpose have Greenpeace et al. turned out like this? No answer? Hmm?

...This fear campaign merely distracts the public from real environmental threats.

We all have a responsibility to be environmental stewards. But that stewardship requires that science, not political agendas, drive our public policy.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Update

The venerable opinion/letter pages of the WSJ have been revamped. Although initially confusing, the revision is as welcome as the one making the entire op-ed page freely accessible. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Lessons from Issues 3: the contemporary evangelical compromise

We could use this to start a movement of WHJD ("What Has Jesus Done") bracelets, not WWJD...
  • Compromise: shift in focus from Biblical doctrine to relationships, dialogue, and emotion. Some churches even ban the seeker-quenching word "sin." This etc. causes doctrinal corruption as a side effect. See 1 Cor. 1:18-25. Don't water down the Gospel.
  • Solus Christus (Christ alone). Confessing and upholding this Christ means condemning such false Christs as the Psychotherapist, the Example (WWJD; pure law, really), the Giver of Health and Wealth, and the Lover (Luther's position: Mystical experience is just one more counterfeit "ladder to heaven"). The focus is off; therefore, these are false.
  • Matt. 10:34-36. Expect antagonism to preaching the true, whole Word.
  • Gal. 1:6-12. Judaizers added works to the Gospel; this led to impurity. Especially verse 10 condemns seeker-driven churches, for example.
  • Jude 3-4. We are "to contend for the faith that was once for all [refuting the Roman Catholic position that doctrine continues to be revealed] delivered to the saints."

Easter 5

Readings: Acts 6:1-9, 7:2a, 51-60; 1 Peter 2:2-10 (sermon text); John 14:1-14, and Psalm 146.
Three images: milk, stones, and royalty. The odd trio comes together under the theme of growing in Christ, a.k.a. mystagogy (learning the mysteries of Christ; being assimilated into His body).

MILK: We are to crave, like infants, the "pure spiritual milk." This also includes regularly receiving His body and blood. The objective: to grow into the righteous robe Christ gives to each believer. Have you tasted that the Lord is good? If so, don't stop feeding on the Word. Do we, like infants, refuse to stop crying until we are fed? We used to; do we now? Make the Word of God your highest priority.

STONES: What a contrast! - or not? Christ is the Cornerstone; He was rejected by men, but precious in God the Father's eyes. We are becoming like Him, becoming a precious stone, part of God's house, Christ being the foundation and cornerstone. Not one of us deserves this, yet God chose us. Peter backs up this idea with several quotes from the prophets (Isaiah and the Psalms). A secondary metaphor: rocks are not subjective or malleable; their truth does not depend on our opinion. If we reject Christ, He becomes a stumbling block - the fall is long, down to hell.

ROYALTY: Two races, the chosen and the unbelievers. How do we become royalty? Answer: We are adopted brothers and sisters of Christ the King; we are princes and princesses. But what exactly is a priest? Answer: One who offers sacrifices: not bloody animals, but rather ourselves; we offer ourselves to God and to our fellow man. Why? Answer: We are somebodies in Jesus Christ alone.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Guns and stingers and needles, oh my!

Today's op-ed page has an article on gun owners being more content than the average person; this is in sly rebuttal to Obama's comment about those same people becoming "bitter." Excerpts:
According to the 2006 General Social Survey, which has tracked gun ownership since 1973, 34% of American homes have guns in them. This statistic is sure to surprise many people...
It surprised me too. Then again, there's the media that will report such things as a fire breaking out in an apartment with all of two people in it, omitting stories about matters such as the above.
Who are all these gun owners? Are they the uneducated poor, left behind? It turns out they have the same level of formal education as nongun owners, on average. Furthermore, they earn 32% more per year than nonowners....

Nor are they "bitter." In 2006, 36% of gun owners said they were "very happy," while 9% were "not too happy." Meanwhile, only 30% of people without guns were very happy, and 16% were not too happy.

In 1996, gun owners spent about 15% less of their time than nonowners feeling "outraged at something somebody had done."...The data say that the people in the approximately 40 million American households with guns are generally happier than those people in households that don't have guns.

Why? Individualism has been proposed as an answer; whatever it is, "for many Americans, happiness often does indeed involve a warm gun."

Now for the "stingers and needles" part. I was pleasantly surprised over at Millard Fillmore's Bathtub (thanks, Ed!) by a post describing a meeting of arts/crafts and zoology. Very cool.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Earth-shattering events

One literally, one not. The first: the WSJ highlights some of the record-setting marathoners, including a...rather large man who, while running to lose weight, manages a time of over 9 hours, and a schoolteacher who runs after school hours. Unfortunately, the marathon has been long over by then, but a few of his comrades tough it out with him. Crusader Rabbit writes on another record-setter here (slight British-language alert! :D). For whatever reason, only the paper (not online) WSJ has the actual article.

The second: the magnitude 5.2 earthquake that took place near West Salem, IL very early this morning; the effects were felt as far as Milwaukee, WI, not to mention in my neighborhood around 4:30am, with a nice collection of rattling furniture, creaking windows, and healthy fear. Stories about it may be found here, here, here, here, and here.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Anatomy blog

Having taken two semesters of A&P a few years ago, I still get excited when I look at slides of various kinds of cells...a.k.a. hysterical over histology. Recently I stumbled upon Anatomy For Me, written by a "perpetual student who works nights in an ER." Warning for the queasy of heart: There are a few pictures of cat cadavers and that sort of thing, but not on the first page.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hilarity at the Synod's expense

From the same friend who brought you this and this, I bring you two more links of genuine LCMS satire that will bring tears of malicious laughter to the faces of even the stoniest promoter of pure doctrine and no secrecy. Enjoy; I need say no more.

Another forwarded email

From a friend known only as Darth Kelvin, have a laugh. Yes, it's not quite biblically correct...
In the beginning, God created heaven and earth.

Then God said, "Let there be light."

Shortly thereafter God was in receipt of a notice to show cause why he shouldn't be cited for failure to file an environmental impact statement. He was granted a temporary planning permit for the project, but was stymied by a Cease and Desist Order for the earthly part. At the hearing, God was asked why he began his earthly project in the first place.

He replied that he just liked to be creative.

Officials immediately demanded to know how the light would be made.

Would it require strip mining? What about thermal pollution?

God explained that the light would come from a huge ball of fire, and provisional approval was granted with the proviso that no smoke would result.

The authorities demanded the issuance of a building permit, and (to conserve energy) required that the light be left off half the time.

God agreed, saying he would call the light "Day" and the darkness "Night."

Officials replied that they were only interested in protecting the environment, not in semantics.

God said, "Let the earth bring forth green herb and such as many seed."

The EPA agreed, so long as only native seed was used.

Then God said, "Let waters bring forth creeping creatures having life; and the fowl that may fly over the earth."

Officials pointed out this would require approval from the Department of Game coordinated with the Heavenly Wildlife Federation and the Audubongelic Society.

Everything went along smoothly until God declared that he intended to complete the project in six days.

Officials informed God it would take at least 200 days to review his many waiver applications and environmental impact statements. After that there would have to be a public hearing, and then there would be a 10-12 month probationary period before....

At this point, God created Hell.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Nature's call

No, no, this isn't about potty training. It's about kindergarten in Germany - a new (old for some) custom is spreading of having school in the woods. Not only does this result in fewer sicknesses in the kiddies, but (theoretically) it makes them more relaxed in the long run. As my microbiology teacher used to say, if your children eat a teaspoon of dirt every day, they will be healthier.

Of course, the parents aren't always thrilled about these Waldkindergรคrten - the theme of rolling in mud occurs no fewer than four times in the article. Some other fun activities these kids do:
  • "Another [girl] made "chocolate-vanilla-strawberry-herbal pudding" by stirring mud with a twig." The "herbal" part is something I would expect to be in Germany.
  • "A boy named Ben wanted to know whether a North American visitor accompanying them was "a cowboy or an Indian.""
  • In an American version, things are quite similar. "Among the nature-based activities, children learn how to handle a real saw." Contrast this with a mother I knew who wouldn't let even her 12-year-old use a butter knife alone.
The principal of the U.S. Waldkindergarten has sharp words for today's school system:
Marsha Johnson launched Mother Earth kindergarten last fall to combat what she calls "early academic fatigue syndrome....We have 5-year-olds who are tired of going to school."
Now, tell me, could this have any connection with our schoolchildren peaking in science (or math, or...) in 4th grade, dropping to the middle in 8th, and not being able to get through college without remedial courses? At what age do they enter school? Three years old? What if we moved the school entry date ahead four to eight years (and yes, I have read research demonstrating that a great number of children are not ready for school-style work until that 7-11 year window)? Could that shift the "peak" grade ahead by that much? More on that, hopefully, in the future.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Another perspective

Concerning Issues, Etc., I just discovered a very well thought-out post about what is behind the issue. Go over and read it.

While we're on that topic, you may as well go to this blog, this post, and this post (thanks to a gray-haired friend with far too much computer time on his hands and the LCMS ever on his mind). As of 7:20pm today, the petition has 7079 signatures!

Easter 4: Good Shepherd Sunday

Readings: Acts 2:42-47, 1 Peter 2:19-25 (sermon text), John 10:1-10, and Psalm 23.
These Sundays, being in Eastertide, are when the newly baptized are customarily instructed in the normal Christian life. Today, Peter exhorts slaves; however, why would they be suffering (as they were) for doing the right thing (as they were)? Serve even the unjust masters? Yet it is a gracious thing - according to His mercy, God has caused our salvation. For this reason, some think that 1 Peter was a baptismal sermon.

Follow Christ's example; He died a slave's death in our place, so we should be willing to become lowly to serve others. Even under persecution for the faith, remember that you are walking in and protected by Christ's footsteps, by His sacrifice as a Shepherd. Rejoice in your Savior!
A thought I have increasingly often: Given the incalculable majesty of God, His infinite grace, and the unspeakable sacrifice of His Son, why do we try to put words to praising Him for this? Our language falls so far short that sometimes I am, quite literally, wordless when I think about these things. Perhaps silence is in order more than most think it is.

The importance of doctrinal truth (Issues, session 2)

Apparently, unbeknownst to me, we have switched from the middle of Jeremiah to a seven-session study on lessons learned from the Issues issue. Notes:

  • Our church is built on doctrine - there are other important themes (e.g. the Christian life), but the church should not be built on them because it detracts from Christ. If we lose pure doctrine, we lose the Church.
  • Style vs. substance? Ultimately, you can't separate them. Example: We're reverent in church because we're meeting face-to-face, so to speak, with the Holy One. The more informal one's worship, the more cheapened our relationship (child-and-father, not child-and-grandfather) with God becomes.
  • Are we a fad-driven church? Does Christ change? No and no. Is plain preaching of the Word impractical? Is preaching so outdated that we *must* resort to drama and rock bands? No and no. See 1 Cor. 1:25, 11:23 (institution of Lord's Supper is conservative, preserving what Christ taught, NOT inventing new things), Titus 1:9, Eph. 4:11-16, and Acts 20:25-32.
  • Teaching is at the same time positive (preserving correct doctrine) and negative (refuting and rebuking those who introduce false doctrine...ah, how politically incorrect!).

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The logic of opposites, part 3, I guess

My previous posts are here and here. In another op-ed today, Melik Kaylan writes about good news from Iraq. Emphasis mine except where noted.
The recent violence in Sadrist areas of Baghdad should not distract us from the big picture. The capital city of Iraq is immensely more at peace than it was a year ago.

This time last year, there were deep booms and the rattle of extended firefights from virtually all around the compass throughout the day and night. Such incidents are now a rare occurrence in a week.

"But we're losing the war! There can't be any good news from there! There can't be!" Sorry, war naysayers. Make way for this man:

...Ahmed Chalabi, the returned exile who is far more controversial abroad than at home...has stayed in Baghdad throughout the troubles, living in the Red Zone, touring the neighborhoods more than any Iraqi politician, and routinely incurring considerable risks. He could have lived safely abroad on his family wealth.

...Mr. Chalabi's unusual habit of direct contact with the populace made him the only realistic choice [to head the Popular Mobilization Committee (PMC)].

Chalabi has done much to increase the safety and comfort of residents; he tackles problems such as this one:

Much of the city's post-Saddam power supply was either hijacked or deliberately sabotaged, until [a committee] identified the problem. It demanded a military presence to protect substations, while arranging for the railways to transport diesel into the city. Electricity supply today is three hours on, three off, up from one hour a day last year.

That's quite an improvement! What an inspiration - do we work through hardships like these when we encounter them?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Money matters

A pair of op-eds today, one ironically hilarious and the other infuriating. Emphasis mine except where noted. Excerpts from the first:
We recently suggested that if Bill and Hillary Clinton are eager to pay more taxes, they should write a personal check to the U.S. Treasury to compensate for the lower tax rates they so frequently decry. And lo, here comes legislation to make it easier for the former first lady and other pseudo-populists to do just that.
Well, whaddaya know? We won't need those rose-colored glasses in a few years!

California Republican John Campbell yesterday introduced in the House his "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is Act," which would amend the tax code to allow individuals to make voluntary donations to the federal government above their normal tax liability....

Mr. Campbell says he has heard the "cries" of those wealthy Americans – Mrs. Clinton, Warren Buffett, Barbra Streisand – who reject the lower tax rates passed in 2001 and 2003 and complain that they and their fellow rich don't pay enough....His bill would give liberals a chance to salve their consciences without having to raise taxes on millions of Americans who already feel overtaxed as it is.

This does sound almost too good to be true...it has to be April 1 somewhere. However,

...last year [the government] received all of $2.6 million [from those donations]. Apparently even most liberals would rather keep their money, or bequeath their estates to charity rather than to the IRS.

Oh well. Here are bits from the second:

The unstated premise is that, with better government oversight, we would not be suffering today's bear market and financial chaos. Of course, during the previous outsized boom, no one was calling up his congressman to complain that home values were appreciating too quickly. Meanwhile, they drained that appreciation regularly through refinancings to pay for vacations, new cars and other pleasantries, all of which created the prosperity for which politicians were pleased to take credit.

(Insert a scream of rage here from me.)
Consequences not suffered from bad decisions lead to lessons not learned, which leads to bigger failings down the road. [emphasis in original]
How many times do we have to say that before people start learning it?
In one of this year's primary debates, Ron Paul said it is not the president's job to run the economy. I'd add that it is not the government's job either. It is each and every citizen's job to manage our own affairs, make our own decisions, bear the fruits or painful consequences and learn our lessons.
Ethan Penner (author of the second article) is a genius.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

For those who need alarm clocks...

...here is a synopsis of the best and brightest (literally!) of what's innovative in the alarm-clock world. What are these new, fun gadgets? They include
  • Runaway Alarm Clock ($49.95) by Hammacher Schlemmer. Having wheels, it "falls off the nightstand and rolls away after you hit the snooze button, so that you have to get out of bed to turn off the alarm." Unfortunately for the testers, it "crawled under our bed and was covered in dust bunnies by the time we pulled it out."

  • SunRise Alarm Clock Junior (a mere $70) by BioBrite. "The light slowly fades at night to lull children to sleep and then brightens in the morning. We found that it helped wake our four-year-old tester, who is typically slow to get up in the mornings." How nice!
  • And the most active one of all...or is it dangerous? Hammacher Schlemmer does it again with the Flying Alarm Clock, a comparative deal at $40. Beware of flying objects:
    It launches a rotor into the air when the alarm rings. The wailing does not stop until you get out of bed, pick up the rotor, and attach it to the alarm clock. We thought it was a bit frightening. The rotor, which flew so high that it hit the ceiling, seems like it could fall on you while you are sleeping.
Not that I need one myself...just enjoy keeping up with whatever wacky technology is out there.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The logic of opposites, part 2

You may find the first (related) part here. Today's op-ed is here; below are excerpts.
A useful measure of General David Petraeus's achievement is the turn in the political mood, even in the U.S. Congress. In September, Senators felt entitled to lecture, even berate, the Iraq commander. This time he was accorded more respect, no doubt because the surge is showing results even Democrats can no longer deny. Instead, they ignored them.
Maybe it's not quite "opposite." Perhaps this classic graphic would suit it better.

...Both high-profile terror attacks and civilian deaths, including those due to ethno-sectarian violence, are in decline. Half of Iraq's 18 provinces are under Iraqi control....Al Qaeda in Iraq has been greatly diminished because of "relentless pressure" and better counterinsurgency intelligence.

"No progress! No progress is being made! We do not see the evidence! Therefore it isn't true!"

The security situation remains unstable, partially because of the "destructive role Iran has played," and that "special groups" of Shiite extremists backed by Tehran constitute the most lethal threat to safety. The worst course for the U.S. would be to withdraw now, they said. As Mr. Crocker put it, pulling out would lead to suffering "on a scale far beyond what we have already seen. Spiraling conflict could draw in neighbors with devastating consequences for the region and the world."

Perhaps that's why a certain student association at my current school is apparently dwindling in numbers. Their message? Yank out the troops! NOW!

...Joe Lieberman described the approach of his former party as "hear no progress in Iraq, see no progress in Iraq, and most of all, speak of no progress in Iraq."

Well said.

...President Bush's worst mistakes in Iraq were due to standing by flawed strategies and old thinking. Democrats have now adopted that posture.

Does this seem like a case of "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" to you too?

Update 4/11/08: Check out this heartening op-ed about the surge.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The logic of opposites

Senators Lieberman and Graham have written an excellent editorial concerning the odd-sounding strategies of the war's opponents. A few excerpts (emphasis mine)...

The old strategy: insist that the surge couldn't possibly work.
As late as last September, advocates of retreat insisted that the surge would fail to bring about any meaningful reduction in violence in Iraq. MoveOn.org accused Gen. Petraeus of "cooking the books," while others claimed that his testimony, offering evidence of early progress, required "the willing suspension of disbelief."
That one fell apart. I wonder why?

No one can deny the dramatic improvements in security in Iraq achieved by Gen. Petraeus, the brave troops under his command, and the Iraqi Security Forces. From June 2007 through February 2008, deaths from ethno-sectarian violence in Baghdad have fallen approximately 90%. American casualties have also fallen sharply, down by 70%.

Al Qaeda in Iraq has been swept from its former strongholds in Anbar province and Baghdad. The liberation of these areas was made possible by the surge, which empowered Iraqi Muslims to reject the Islamist extremists who had previously terrorized them into submission. Any time Muslims take up arms against Osama bin Laden, his agents and sympathizers, the world is a safer place.

The second strategy isn't working either:

Antiwar forces last September...relentlessly hammer[ed] Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as hopelessly sectarian and unwilling to confront Iranian-backed Shiite militias. Here as well, however, the critics in Washington have been proven wrong.

...The Iraqi economy is growing at a brisk 7% and inflation is down dramatically.

Here's the kicker:

Unable to make the case that the surge has failed, antiwar forces have adopted a new set of talking points, emphasizing the "costs" of our involvement in Iraq, hoping to exploit Americans' current economic anxieties.

Today's antiwar politicians have effectively turned John F. Kennedy's inaugural address on its head, urging Americans to refuse to pay any price, or bear any burden, to assure the survival of liberty. This is wrong. The fact is that America's prosperity at home and security abroad are bound together. We will not fare well in a world in which al Qaeda and Iran can claim that they have defeated us in Iraq and are ascendant.

Need I say more? Twisting of history? Twisting of the present?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Easter 3: "Good News for Life"

This Sunday I was joined by Cheryl, The Elephant's Child, and Boots on the Ground. The guest pastor who conducted the Bible study also preached; the readings were Acts 2:14a, 36-41, 1 Peter 1:17-25 (the sermon text), and Luke 24:13-35.
This "good news" Peter and we talk about - do you ever pause and think about its utter goodness? Christ's life and resurrection speak to us, allowing us to love life from a unique perspective. Examine the Good News:
  1. It gives life. As in spring, we have been born again by the eternal, imperishable Word plus the visible water of Baptism. Jesus Christ covers us with holiness through the unholy cross.
  2. It speaks to the living of our lives. Peter exhorts us to be holy, like our holy Father. Hear the Good News, then do it - don't ignore it like it doesn't matter. We can make God-pleasing decisions only because the Spirit of Christ lives in us. Christ comes where we are. He has come into our filthy lives, on Golgotha where He atoned for us. And He will never die again. Yet our culture worships death - killing embryos, infants, and the old or suffering to *solve* problems. We should be speaking God's gift of life to them. Nearly 70% of those who undergo abortions are Christian. Brethren, this should not be so.
  3. It gives us a unique perspective on life. We are all handmade by God, bought by God, and held by God. What value this gives us! Though our abilities may decrease, our value doesn't - because God loves us. He loves you as well - that is the rounds of your value - what God has done for us.

"The handiwork of God"

We had yet another digression from normal Bible study this week, albeit with a much pleasanter topic. Around now, the Church celebrates the Annunciation of our Lord; in accordance with that theme, here is an excellent study on the whys of the Biblical pro-life position.

  • Isaiah 43:1 - God is the Creator of life.
  • Genesis 1:26-27 - humans were originally in God's likeness (elevated).
  • Genesis 9:6 - even after the Fall, human life is valuable.
  • Psalm 8:4-5a - man is only a little lower than the angels.
  • Genesis 2:7 - "hands-on." God formed and breathed into Adam - not done for any other created thing.
  • Genesis 2:22 - God made (lit. "built" - i.e. out of more structured materials) Eve.
  • Psalm 139:13-17 - God knit us (picture of intimate involvement).
  • Trophoblast cells (outside of the blastocyst, which leads to the placenta) come from Dad. :)
  • BEFORE God formed us in the womb, He knew us.
  • Consciousness isn't a criterion for value; God's care, however, is.
  • Ephesians 2:4-5 - "But God..." - contrasts our sin with His grace.
  • Jesus was also originally one cell (but probably only one pronucleus because there was no sperm); the miracle was at His conception. (A sign in Nazareth, not Bethlehem: "Here the Word became flesh.") Why did He have to do this? Answer: Psalm 51:5.
  • We also have value because God paid dearly to get us back; God created and redeemed us with His hands.
  • God holds our hands: Romans 6:4, Isaiah 42:5, 43:2.

Friday, April 4, 2008

'The time has come', the Walrus said...

'to talk of many things:'* - today it's homeschooling (a welcome slap on the wrist to the judges who made that...er...ill-advised ruling and the LCMS, featuring Rev./Pres. Kieschnick's letter (which those of you keeping up with the Issues, Etc. matter have probably already run into in your journeys around the blogosphere) and letters from other readers who do not share his sentiments.

Thus spake James M. in Scurry, TX (emphasis mine):

...[G]etting Big Brother's permission to instruct our own offspring can logically be followed by getting his permission to give birth to them ("Certifying Parents," Review & Outlook, March 22). The difference is one of degree, not principle.

Fortunately, thousands of American parents are still aware of a higher law than California's judicial dictators. "You shall teach [these words of Mine] to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up." (Deuteronomy 11:19).

Good for you, James! Now, here are samplings from the wide range of opinions regarding the present state of my synod (emphasis and bold parenthetical material mine):

From Kieschnick...nah, you can read his letter here or wherever you can find it on these blogs.

From Ed P. in Dearborn, MI:

The Church...is Christ's Church and any matter of the Church needs to be reviewed in the light of Scripture.

Who was just saying something about the kingdom of God having the purpose of making $$?

From Rev. Wayne W. Schwiesow, Pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Gordonville, Mo. and St. Paul Lutheran Church in Chaffee, Mo., a former guest and listener to the show:

While many publicly pretend that the divisions do not exist, as a pastor in the denomination and as a delegate to the 2007 LCMS Convention in Houston, I have observed these divisions firsthand and have been dismayed by them. Keep up the good work!

From Helen J. in Austin, TX, some particularly telling statistics:

In truth, the denomination had its most "unified" convention in years last summer because the opposition to the Rev. Gerald Kieschnick was simply kept from any meaningful participation. Mr. Kieschnick was re-elected by only 52% in spite of this control. "Missouri" is divided.

Yep, the kingdom of God is definitely supposed to be parallel to the USSR, Saudi Arabia, and all those wonderful countries where half the population essentially doesn't matter. (rolls eyes)

*(source)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Various and sundry religious items

Two topics today, one of them old (Aurora's article about that one here), so I shall leave reporting on it to her (actually, MK). The other one concerns Issues, Etc. Besides the WSJ editorial for which I am quite thankful, here's another article and a cartoon for you to enjoy.

School assignments are piling up a bit, so no commentary today.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Stating the obvious, part 1a

In response to Peter Hoekstra's editorial (which I blogged about here), readers have written several letters, excellent as always. Writes James B. in Dunedin, Fl.:
There is a claim, tacitly agreed to in parts of Europe, that Muslims have no right to defect from Islam but remain permanent subjects of Shariah law. Enlightened Muslims, such as Hirsi Ali, are, in this view, permanently bound by the views of Shariah.
Whereas Christianity accepts that some will fall away. He continues:

One way to anticipate the consequences...is to extrapolate this principle. Suppose, for example, the Roman Catholic Church, which considers anyone baptized Catholic to be forever a Catholic, should claim all such members subject to canon law....How receptive would the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark be to a second additional legal system...?

Ah, there's the famous mantra of religious tolerance again! John G. in Newton, Mass., makes what he terms a "footnote" (emphasis mine):

...I remember reading about [Muslim responses to the infamous cartoons] in a leading U.S. newspaper and looking for accompanying pictures of the offending cartoons. Incredibly, there were none, but as if to emphasize Mr. Hoekstra's point, albeit unintentionally, the paper printed, at the bottom of the piece, a reproduction of one of those art works offensive to Christians -- even though it was not a cartoon and had not the remotest connection with Denmark.

What irony! Finally, Lawrence B. in Centerville, OH, quotes the Quran ("But it's out of context! The glorious Quran guarantees women's rights! Behead him!" - sorry, can't resist parody.)

...The following is a paraphrase of the Koran 4.34: Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other. . . As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them, forsake them in beds apart, and beat them.

Chew on that for a while.