Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sneaky hobbitses!

As you readers have seen, I get ticked off fairly often at a Certain Political Party. Here is another reason. Excerpts:
Earmarks are supposed to be included in the text of legislation. Instead, the Members have "airdropped," in Beltway parlance, a huge number of them into the conference report that accompanies the bill. And, to ensure that the money is spent on these dark-of-night additions, the Members have included language insisting that federal agencies do so.
Perhaps it would be less noticed if they did it in the daylight? No?
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats rode to the majority in 2006 in part on their pledge to reform runaway earmarking. They've since backtracked, instituting weak rules on transparency, and refusing a challenge to join Republicans in a one-year earmark moratorium.
(The Renaissance Biologist checks her watch and sips from a water bottle.) Now, what was that you were saying about McCain being too liberal to elect? When I last checked, his earmark total was nonexistent.

Friday, May 30, 2008

In defense of the President

Quit the Bush-bashing already. That is the point of this editorial by Thane Rosenbaum, reprimanding the Americans so quick to forget what hasn't happened. After September 11, 2001,

Each American city adopted its own visions of trauma. There were new categories of vulnerable public spaces. Our worst terrorism nightmares were projected onto local landmarks: Rodeo Drive, the Sears Tower, the French Quarter, River Walk, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Space Needle. Suddenly, living in rural, outlying areas seemed like a sensible lifestyle choice.

We all waited for terrorism's second shoe to drop, and, seven years later . . . nothing has happened.

And, of course, this had absolutely nothing to do with the President at that time or this. "Nothing has happened" in America, at least. In other important world cities the shoe has dropped often and severely. In delightful irony, Rosenbaum (who himself didn't vote for Bush, so the op-ed is even more impressive) continues:

...Here in America, however, the focus moved from concerns over counterterrorism measures and the abuse of presidential authority to the war in Iraq, the subprime mortgage crisis, the failing economy, the public meltdown of Britney Spears, and now, the presidential elections.

All this time Americans have been safe from suicide bombers, biological warfare and collapsing skyscrapers, while the rest of the world has been on red alert. And yet President Bush is regarded as the worst president in American history? Sorry, I must be missing something here.

Many people are missing something. Don't be one of them.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Whack-a-mole prevention

Urged on by fellow Lutheran bloggers Elephant's Child and Cheryl, to name only two, I present the link (spread it!) to Pastor Wilken's new show location, Pirate Christian Radio. The Synod can keep a good show off the air only for so long. Quoth the Child of the Pachyderm:
And all you fellow Lutheran bloggers, you know what to do. Link, link, linkety, link! Let's give this thing some Google-juice.
Steve Martin, I believe you're included as well...no pressure. :-) Thanks in advance to any bloggers who help.

Kanana et al.

Since my younger brother is still on the tail end of being home educated, my parents occasionally select solid literature for read-alouds. Our most recent pick, an adventure story (13 chapters) about a hero of the early Arabs, The Lance of Kanana. En route to finding more information about the character, I stumbled across this repository of classic children's literature. Browse it and bring back the old days (assuming your parents did, at one time or another, read aloud to you).

Overprotection

Or, as the title of the book review so aptly puts it: "Moppets With Helmets." Tony Woodlief critiques the book "A Nation of Wimps" by Hara Estroff Marano (what a mouthful!), who, in addition to speaking against "invasive parenting" in the common "helicopter-mom" sense, also lumps with that group "parents who don't send their children off to sleepaway summer camps...those nutty home-schoolers...women professionals who choose to be stay-at-home moms while their children are young and parents who prefer not to hand their infants over to a daycare center...cellphones, and globalization and American individualism."

In other words, "The problem is that Ms. Marano brings a bazooka to a skeet shoot."

Aside from that unfortunate 800-pound-gorilla-in-the-powder-room episode, the rest of the book, says Woodlief, builds its case excellently via statistics and anecdotes such as this one:
A Connecticut mother tells Ms. Marano that she is appalled by the parents she knows who have sent their 3-year-old "to an occupational therapist two times a week to work on scissor skills – for no discernible reason." But then the woman confesses that after her son's preschool teacher "said something about his fine motor skills," she took him to an occupational therapist "for an evaluation. I'm not proud of it."
Finally, and thankfully, Woodlief comes out in strong favor of homeschoolers:
In the how-things-used-to-be category, it is helpful for us to remember that Teddy Roosevelt, the quintessential American anti-wimp -- he once killed a mountain lion with a knife -- grew up enjoying a close relationship with his parents, including extended family vacations (no summer camp!), home schooling (call the teachers' union!) and close contact even after he left for college (cut the cord, Mrs. Roosevelt!). TR's own children suffered similar "overparenting," yet they went on to be war heroes and successful citizens. American history teems with similar examples.

He homeschools as well, blogging "about parenting and faith."

...My highly educated wife home-schools our four boys, for example, because she can accomplish in three hours what public schools need six to do poorly. Such efficiency gives our sons an extra three hours each day to build forts, go down to the creek in our backyard or give music recitals at a nursing home in town.

However, as statistics and families testify, one doesn't need a degree to parent or homeschool. The Puritans and other early Americans did it for generations before we got our college system rolling properly; look where we are now.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Polar politics

No, sorry, it's not about global warming. It's about two opposing items in today's WSJ concerning McCain in particular. The op-ed compares him with Obama, criticizing their collectivist emphasis, which suggests that McCain isn't "conservative enough" for quite a few people. On the other hand, the letter opines that the GOP is "too conservative" and needs to include people other than the vast Right Wing Conspiracy, a.k.a. "wingnuts" in some circles.

Oddly, I agree with both positions. On the anti-McCain side (although I will vote for him because he's better in many areas than the other candidates realistically running for President), I agree that collectivism should not be foremost on the nation's mind. Granted, "if we do not hang together, then we shall certainly hang separately," but the nation was founded on individual rights as one of its cornerstones. On the inclusive-of-all-degrees-of-conservatism side, I think that, like America as a whole, the GOP can and perhaps should be a melting pot. However, that doesn't make it necessarily homogeneous - just as all the ingredients of a soup, while being similar, do not intermingle; instead, they retain their individual facets of soup-ness (or conservatism, depending on the soup).

Go have some mixed leftovers and mull this over.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Summer preview

Some time ago, I said that there would soon be more emphasis on the "biologist" part of this blog. In addition to blogging the WSJ and/or academic papers this summer, I invite you to participate with me in my reading list:
  • From June 2 to about June 22, I will be reading and reacting to Unnatural Selection: The Promise and the Power of Human Gene Research by Lois Wingerson, (c) 1998. As the cover price is about $25, you might as well sit in the library to read it.
  • From June 30 to July 26, I switch gears somewhat to The Craft of Research by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams, (c) 1995 UC Press. It's very detailed and aimed at those especially fond of writing research (of which group I am one of the very few members) - this one is optional! :D
  • From July 28 to August 23 or so, we have yet another technical book, an apologetics classic: Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith by Josh McDowell, (c) 1979 CCC. If you've gone through all or part of this volume already, good for you! Offer salient comments and enrich the discussion.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Apt

This was brought to the front of my mind during dinner discussion today.

About a month ago, I traveled with my family downstate to accompany my younger brother and finish as an assistant coach for our math team, the state competition for which was held at a major university. During some of the downtime we had, I met up with an old friend and decided to check out a molecular biology etc. exhibit. In the same building of that exhibit were many fossils, all bearing plaques describing their supposed evolutionary relationships and the millions-of-years business necessarily accompanying that text. I'm not sure if it was accidental, but the poster on the entry doors gave a message so ironic that we laughed throughout the exhibit for which we had actually come.

The message? "Believe the impossible."

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Pentecost 2

Today's readings were Isaiah 49:8-16a, Psalm 62, Romans 1:8-17 (sermon text), and Matthew 6:24-34.
We don't want to stray from the chief article of faith, the Gospel, upon which the Church stands or falls: we are saved by faith alone. God freely gives His righteousness to us through Jesus Christ. Let us look carefully at verse 16 and not be ashamed of it. We should be ashamed, rather, of our sins that pile up before God's holy eyes. Because of these we would be forever condemned, were it not for the Gospel.

The law condemns, but the Gospel (the good news of Jesus Christ) sets free and gives life. Only the Gospel is God's power for salvation for those who believe.

Sometimes we are ashamed of the Gospel, for we sinfully place it among many other good news. We should ponder what damnation (opposite of salvation) means: eternal separation from God.

Today, in the Supper, though, we will be offered a foretaste of God's great gift! Be comforted - you are justified by God-given faith alone. God's righteousness, Luther realized, is His mercy because it comes from Christ. "From faith" - God's infinite faithfulness - "for faith" - to produce and mature faith in our hearts.

Do we consider how wonderful God has been to us? We have the Gospel - that is enough.
The Christian faith is, after all, exclusivist. Since the only hope and true good news is in our God, why not share it widely?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

War, peace, and surgery

My first article of choice today concerns a set of experiences that I am very thankful my parents didn't put me through (although they threatened to when I was exceptionally rebellious): the junior year of high school. Since I was home educated through 12th grade and attended community college simultaneously during my junior and senior year, I got a taste of the stress, but nowhere near the level of the young people featured. For that same reason, I hope the other 49 states stay saner than California. Excerpts below; bold parenthetical material mine.

[Eleventh-grader] Ms. Glickman typically wakes up at 6 to get ready for a school day that begins at 7:30 a.m. The night before, she packs her lunch -- usually a bottle of water, a ham-and-cheese sandwich, and a treat like Scooby-Doo fruit snacks. (Yikes! I usually took three times that much when spending 11 hours at community college. No wonder her stomach hurts!) The cafeteria at Farmington High School offers a wide selection of dishes. But Ms. Glickman's packed schedule doesn't have time for a sit-down lunch because one of her elective classes, chorus, meets at lunchtime. Her chorus teacher lets the kids quickly grab lunch out of paper bags in the back of class.

Hours of Homework

As she moves from class to class, the demands of being a junior pile up. Honors Spanish -- 30 minutes of homework a night. Advanced-placement English -- 30 to 90 minutes a night, depending on which books or documents the class is studying. Honors pre-calculus -- another hour of homework. Honors biology -- 30 minutes more. At the end of the day comes Ms. Glickman's favorite class and her toughest -- advanced-placement history, with two hours of homework a night, including reading and regular essays.

Total: an average of four-and-a-half to five-and-a-half hours of homework a night. (That's five classes, not counting electives.)

Another junior's brother "finds college less pressured than junior year of high school." Discussion starter: Do you readers have suggestions why this is the case? As a side note, Darth Kelvin (a former coworker) managed to have a 9pm bedtime and a 6am rising time - it shows what one can do with well-trained self-discipline.

Next on the list of great articles for today is a eulogy of a microsurgical pioneer, Harry J. Buncke. In particular, I found his technique of a toe-for-thumb substitution amusing (emphasis mine):

A British doctor who had studied microsurgery with Dr. Buncke performed the first human big-toe-to-thumb operation in 1968 on a cabinet maker who had an accident with a circular saw. But Dr. Buncke's first four attempts at repurposing toes as fingers ended in failure when the transferred digit died.

In 1972, Karl Tagler, a Redwood City, Calif., fireman, sliced off his thumb with an electric saw while building a house. After an operation to reattach the thumb failed, Dr. Buncke transplanted Mr. Tagler's big toe as a replacement.

Contacted at his rural California home, Mr. Tagler says that 36 years later, "the thumb works beautifully," and is almost unnoticeable, although "people will notice I have a stronger grip than some people." The fire department forced him to retire, but Mr. Tagler subsequently worked as a forest ranger and home builder, among other jobs.

As for me, I'm just glad to have a big toe that will turn out straighter and won't have to be used for a thumb after all the work the surgeons did straightening it Thursday!

Finally, here's a short op-ed concerning a topic of deep interest to Caoilfhionn, anti-antiwar protests. It speaks for itself.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Conservative values

These values today featured include (but are not limited to the *conservative* end of the political spectrum) religious faith, resiliency, love of old music (perhaps!), and conserving space.

  1. "The Faith of Flanders" - "the zealous cartoon character [from The Simpsons] has become one of the best-known evangelicals on America's small screen." Behold, he now has his own book: "Flanders' Book of Faith," authored by "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening. Given the typically crass humor and language of the show, I don't know whether I'll end up reading the book, but it sounds like an interesting read.
  2. "The Death of Conservatism is Greatly Exaggerated" - authored by no one else but Fred Thompson! He suggests a way to revive the spectrum of conservative values in America: Stand by your principles! Perhaps we can continue this trend.
    Conservatives should stay true to their principles and remember:

    - Congress cannot repeal the laws of economics. There are no short-term fixes without longer term consequences.

    - In a free and dynamic country with social mobility, there will be great opportunity but also economic disparity, especially if the country has liberal immigration policies and a high divorce rate.

    - An education system cannot overcome the breakdown of the family, and the social fabric that surrounds children daily.

    - Free markets, not an expanding and more powerful government, are the solution to today's problems. Many of these problems, such as health-care costs, energy dependency and the subprime mortgage crisis, were caused in large part by government policies.

  3. "That Melody Sounds Familiar" - this book review details how we came to love dead composers more (in general) than living ones. I, for one, would listen to WGUC all the time if I had the choice.
  4. "Ceilings Come Down to Earth" - this may not be uniquely "conservative," but why have a tall, double-high ceiling when you can have double the floor space instead?
I apologize for being somewhat random today. Perhaps it's the Vicodin (nowhere near Dr. House's habit!) for this.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Prayer requests

If you are a Christian reading this, I ask you to join me in praying about the following:
  • My aunt, S, is completing a round of whole-brain radiation for metastasized breast cancer that required a double mastectomy a few months ago. Her faith needs strengthening as well.
  • My brother, P, has been training in the Air Force for the past few months and is always increasing his flying and navigator's skills. Pray that he would be guided through life.
  • My friend, a.k.a. Darth Kelvin, at 10am CST, is taking his checkride exam on the continuing path to being a pilot. Pray for calmness and easy retrieval of knowledge.
  • This morning, at 11:30, I will be undergoing bunion surgery. Pray for effective surgery and a relatively uncomplicated recovery.
Updates:
  • Aunt S, according to her daughter's blog, received the last treatment yesterday!
  • Darth Kelvin's flight, for whatever reason, was postponed.
  • My surgery made my foot look, shall we say, really good. I'm on occasional Vicodin and quite a bit of ice. Another brother, C, is going out of his way to make me laugh.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

...Another forwarded email

My brother, C, subscribes to a daily emailing of jokes etc. from a G.P. Here is a particularly good set; I have a feeling it is from the Bulwer-Lytton competition (real home page here; some entries have been omitted because of inappropriate topics):

* His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like socks in a tumble dryer.

* She caught your eye like one of those pointy hook latches that used to dangle from doors and would fly up whenever you banged the door open again.

* The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.

* McMurphy fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a paper bag filled with vegetable soup.

* Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze.

* Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the centre.

* Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

* He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.

* The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

* Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left York at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Peterborough at 4:19p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

* The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the full stop after the Dr. on a Dr Pepper can.

* John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

* The thunder was ominous sounding, much like the sound of a thin sheet of metal being shaken backstage during the storm scene in a play.

* The red brick wall was the color of a brick-red crayon.

* Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long it had rusted shut.

* The door had been forced, as forced as the dialogue during the interview portion of Family Fortunes.

* Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

* The plan was simple, like my brother Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

* The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for while.

* He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

* Her artistic sense was exquisitely refined, like someone who can tell butter from "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter.

* She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

* It came down the stairs looking very much like something no one had ever seen before.

* The knife was as sharp as the tone used by Glenda Jackson MP in her first several points of parliamentary procedure made to Robin Cook MP, Leader of the House of Commons, in the House Judiciary Committee hearings on the suspension of Keith Vaz MP.

* The dandelion swayed in the gentle breeze like an oscillating electric fan set on medium.

* It was a working class tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with their power tools.

* He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a dustcart reversing.

* She was as easy as the Daily Star crossword.

* She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room-temperature British beef.

* She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.

* Her voice had that tense, grating quality, like a first-generation thermal paper fax machine that needed a band tightened.

* It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Lutheran blogs!

They have been piling up in my computer's bookmarks tab and/or in my blogroll, so below I offer a list of these blogs that explain and investigate the Lutheran confession etc. usually more eloquently than I.

A Round Unvarnished Tale - Cheryl blogs about life as well as having a comprehensive list of other Lutheran blogs on her sidebar.

Slice of Laodicea - not exclusively Lutheran, but compatible in many ways.

The Old Adam Lives! - Steve offers insightful comments on my favorite theological topics. I ran across his blog just yesterday.

The Elephant's Child - a "Martin Looper" (a.k.a. Lutheran homeschooler/blogger) who occasionally pops in at Cheryl's church.

The Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake - Evan (not Cheryl's son!) is serving in the military.

The World of Doorman-Priest - I disagree with him on several important points, but he is still a Lutheran. His posts are generally more philosophical than *pragmatic*.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Trinity Sunday follow-up, as promised

Some relevant paragraphs from Many Infallible Proofs by Henry M. Morris, (c) 1974:
The Tri-une God

...First, however, note that polytheism is not reasonable. If there is more than one God, then none of the "gods" can be either omnipotent or omnipresent, as we have seen [in the previous section] the true God must be....

What about dualism, the philosophy of two equal and competing gods, one good and one evil? In effect, this elevates Satan to the position he desires, equal with God. In this belief, Satan is equally eternal with God and is the same intrinsic type of being, except that in his moral attributes, he is the opposite of God....

Nevertheless, there can really be only one First Cause, as we have already seen. The same arguments that militate against polytheism likewise apply against dualism....

Therefore, neither polytheism nor pantheism nor dualism can meet the requirements for the First Cause. The latter must be One God, perfect in power and holiness, and none else. "I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God" (Isaiah 44:6).

How, then, can God be a trinity? To understand this, one must remember that this doctrine does not mean three gods. "Three gods" is as impossible and false a concept as any other form of polytheism. There can be only one God, and He is the great First Cause, the Author of all reality.

But if He exists only in His ineffable Unity, He could never be truly known...Yet, since He could not be frivolous in His creation, He must have a purpose therein and that purpose must be communicable. He must therefore somehow be seen and heard...He must paradoxically be both source and manifestation, both Father and Son.

Not only must the invisible and inaudible God be seen and heard objectively, however, He must also be experienced and understood subjectively...The activity of the Spirit is distinct from that of the Son and from that of the Father, and yet is indissolubly one with both....

The doctrine of the Trinity, rather than being unnatural and self-contradictory, is deeply implanted in the very nature of reality and in man's intuitive awareness of God...

The Witness of Creation

...Space is the invisible, omnipresent background of all things, everywhere displaying phenomena of Matter and/or Energy (which are inter-convertible) which are, in turn, experienced in Time. Just so, the Father is the invisible, omnipresent source of all being, manifest and declared by the eternal Word, the Son, who is, in turn, experienced in the Spirit....

...each of the three itself is the whole, and the universe is a true trinity, not a triad...

These remarkable relationships can be visualized by means of the diagram below:

First Dimension (Space identified) + Second Dimension (Space manifested) + Third Dimension (Space experienced) = SPACE (Universe conceived).

Energy (Matter generated) + Motion (Matter manifested) + Phenomena (Matter experienced) = MATTER (Universe manifested).

Future (Time originated) + Present (Time manifested) + Past (Time experienced) = TIME (Universe experienced).

SPACE + MATTER + TIME = UNIVERSE.
(All emphasis is in the original. Text was taken from pp. 104-110, and the chart spatially modified from p. 110)

Nashida Hakim, who has graciously invited me to contribute to her blog, is posting piecewise a paper about the Trinity. Go over and read the series ("Sura 112 and the Trinity, part _").

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Trinity Sunday

...a.k.a. a really great sermon on creation(ism)! Readings: Psalm 8, Genesis 1:1-2:4a (sermon text), Acts 2:14a, 22-36, and Matthew 28:16-20.
Finally - a sermon about the very beginning of things, even as the Te Deum speaks about the end.

We ought not to divide the Trinity so distinctively into three functions that we forget His oneness. Each member is involved in each function (creation, justification, and sanctification).

Day 1, light. "And it was good." This contradicts Greek philosophy, which claimed that matter was inherently evil, for God had said of all of Creation, "It is good." Sometimes this Greek idea creeps into Christianity, leading to an incorrect works-righteousness mentality. However, God renews our bodies.

Day 2, the expanse/firmament. During the Flood, this firmament was burst, breaking the protection from UV rays and the separation of the waters.

Day 3, dry land and plants. "And there was evening and there was morning" - does this really speak of six billion-year days? Why do we try to make God's inerrant Word fit into the mold of current science? If we allow any Scripture to be questioned, the rest of it becomes vulnerable.

Day 4, lights of the heavens.

Day 5, birds and sea creatures.

Day 6, humans, whom God ordained to have dominion over the rest of creation. God has placed us as stewards over every created thing.

"Let Us..." is another hint about the Trinity. "Our image..." - unfortunately, we have lost the image of the invisible God. In Christ, though, all mankind may regain this image, i.e. we become holy, for God holds none of our sins against us.

Day 7, God's rest. Let us enter it.
Our congregation also professed the Athanasian Creed today. Tomorrow I will try to post excerpts from one of my favorite books on the subject of the Trinity, among other things. In addition, I have been pestering G.H.F. for some time to author a guest post on a certain article investigating Luther's writings and position on the Genesis account.

Lessons from Issues 7: Where do we go from here?

Short answer: Away from the synodical/proverbial dog that bit us. Previous posts: parts 2, 3, 4, and 5. In two weeks you readers will enjoy a new Bible study or sampling thereof (two pastors + one cantor = possibly three diverse studies).

Scripture passages for today:
  • Matthew 16:13-20. Christ will build His church; He gave the Office of the Keys to His disciples.
  • Ephesians 1:15-23. Emphasizes the importance of knowing the truth of Christ's Word but with the added bonus of a promise that Christ is in charge of His church and is taking care of it.
Testimonies:
  • #466 - Rev. James May, recently *recalled* from West Africa for teaching doctrine consistent with God's Word.
  • #54 - a Rev. Ryan Fouts.
  • #766 - Janet Muth, cantor of a Houston, TX church.
  • #5641 - Tim Benecke, an elder in Cheryl's church.
  • #5706 - a Carrie Roberts, getting to the point. "Bring my Grandfathers [sic] church back, quit playing politics with God's Word."
Don't you hate it now that everything has become politicized?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The apple falls not far...

...a.k.a. follow-ups to the articles featured in these two posts. Emphasis in texts below is mine.

First, a response to the book review about "The Dumbest Generation." Writes Ethan H. in Glen Cove, NY:

...I am a recent college grad with a degree in philosophy, so I think I can offer an alternative reason besides temptation as to why my generation no longer studies the deeper question.

Unlike most of my generation, I actually read Kant when I went to college. I also read Hume, Descartes, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus, Adorno, Benjamin, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Emerson, Goethe, Marx, Parfit, Hemingway and Strauss en route to a B.A. in philosophy. I chose this major because I couldn't resist the lure of a "concerted study in the canonical texts" and of studying "deeper questions" in life and nature.

But what do I get for being a proud member of the "intellectual minority" of my generation? Long and stressful periods of unemployment and social alienation.

...We didn't neglect to study the "deeper questions" because we were somehow too busy distracting ourselves on Facebook, MySpace, GTA IV, Halo 3, or the Internet.

Too many of us realized that if we want to become adults in this society by getting a job and moving out, then a degree in the liberal arts isn't going to cut it. I learned this the hard way....post-graduate employment is unreasonably competitive, and if you aren't a finance or business management major and you are in the fight for a job in Manhattan, then be prepared for a career in waiting tables.

...[M]y generation's ignorance of Kant might seem shallow and distastefully arrogant, but it's important to realize that this comes as a rational response to societal pressures rather than from mere temptation. People who ask "deep questions" in school become ostracized and tread upon after they graduate.

Sounds like anti-intellectualism. Now what did I just read about the reasons America is falling behind in many areas of education? Here's a refreshing antidote, from Doug C. in Port Orchard, WA (who had been featured in the article): [I like that last phrase of the first paragraph. Disturbing to whom, I might ask? Why don't we have a nice debate about the evidence for Darwin's theory-cum-hypothesis?]

Your article...claims that I would "like a legal guarantee [so I] can teach as I see fit." Actually, I believe in teaching the prescribed curriculum, and I do so. But I don't think a teacher should be penalized for exploring required topics in greater depth, especially in cases where scientists have different views. One should have the freedom to pursue and teach all the evidence even if it leads to disturbing conclusions.

I teach students the evidence both for and against Darwin's theory, with the goal of fostering critical thinking, allowing them to arrive at informed conclusions. The core of evidence I teach that supports evolution is derived from fossil succession, anatomical and molecular homologies, natural selection-mutation, embryology, artificial selection and real-time observations from microbes and sickle-cell disease.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Good quote

Perhaps I need to rethink my definitions a bit:

“A debate is a conflict which clarifies a position. A dialogue is a conversation which compromises a position.”

–John E. Ashbrook, The New Neutralism II, P. 7

I know all of you, my blogging friends, love debates. Bring 'em on!

An ethics double take

You, dear readers, get today two relevant articles about ethics. In the first, advocating a market for organs (kidneys, not Hammonds), author Sally Satel takes a view different from my gut position on that topic. The second - all I need say about it is that it warns what NOT to do when blogging, among other things. Its topic is bodysnarking, a word so new that no one besides the WSJ has defined it yet.

Update: As of 6:20pm CST, Google has 1,120 hits for it. Word spreads fast.

Satel's points, examining Gavin Carney's position (bold comments mine):
  • "He would have the government repeal the ban on kidney sales so it can purchase and distribute organs to patients languishing on dialysis." A laudable goal. But at what cost?
  • "Because of the global organ shortage, thousands of patients die unnecessarily each year for want of a kidney." True.
  • "And because organ sales are illicit, corrupt brokers may deceive indigent donors about the nature of transplant surgery, cheat them of payment, and ignore their postsurgical needs and long-term complications." Also true, unfortunately.
  • "The only way out is to increase the supply of available kidneys – whether by a cash payment to potential donors or through some other form of compensation." I think the main problem I have with this - that donations should not necessarily be paid for - is, ironically, at odds with my worldview. I believe, based on faith and evidence, that man is inherently evil; therefore, altruism can only go so far, and not very far at that.
  • "But the prohibition policy urged on these countries [such as China, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Qatar] will only end up pushing organ markets further underground, or cause them to blossom elsewhere. World health authorities should direct their passion toward promoting a legal apparatus for exchange." This is the author's central point. (tongue-in-cheek alert) It certainly took her long enough to get here.
  • Misconception #1: the proposed system of paying donors (is that an oxymoron?) will replicate the evil side of capitalism. "[The] goal is a regulated, transparent regime backed by the rule of law and devoted to donor protection." Sure. But how do the relevant authorities plan to implement that?
  • #2: "Another misconception is that a compensation system inevitably preys on desperate people." Again, the authorities have a goal for that. Hm.
  • #3: "Would prospective donors lie about their health to be eligible for compensation?" Satel's answer? "An irrelevant worry in the context of regulated exchanges, since they would have to undergo rigorous medical testing over several months, which is the standard of care for altruistic donors."
  • The grand conclusion: "The way to stop illicit transactions – and the depredations of underground markets – is to sanction legal exchanges."
On its face, that last sentence sounds excellent. However, it brings to mind examples of moral decay in America and other countries - (snark mode alert) if you don't like something happening illegally, just pass a law making it legal! Whatever works is good!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

RINOs and chameleons

Today's WSJ has such a great quantity of good stuff...

A few months back, I asked No Compromises if RINOs are an endangered species. WSJ readers are asking the same question. One doesn't see DINOs nearly as often, at least in my part of the world. Perhaps they're extinct.

Jason Riley has a good idea, not to mention an intriguing explanation of the "melting pot" concept. The last two sentences made me laugh. Smart man.

Many people are, to understate, disappointed, confused, and exasperated by McCain and the GOP in general. Aurora gives one reason. Two more editorials (about health care and acting like Democrats) investigate the RINO/political chameleon phenomenon.

I mourn for my party, but rejoice in the members who try to reform it, particularly my American friends in the blogrolls at left.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Snippets and tidbits

There's so much good material today! However, since I have two finals and limited computer time, there won't be too much commentary from me today. Enjoy.

Something that Angel might like: how to avoid mindless eating. The essence: Savor your food, breathe between bites, and THINK about what you're eating.

A book review about illiterate teens; the book's title is, unflatteringly, The Dumbest Generation. How many teens can read that book? (*smirk*)

An editorial detailing how to help poor families. This is something we've been hearing for some time: end the marriage penalty, particularly for those living on welfare. Yes, I know, two incomes have much more leverage; therefore we *should* tax married couples more heavily. But which do you care about more: the family unit (arguably the basis of culture) or money?

Another editorial, talking about Wheaton College et al. It makes a case for more religious colleges, not just *neutral* ones that don't end up being neutral anyway.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The rich get richer

The above is the title of the Bible study begun today by our other Pastor. He previewed it at a youth Bible study yesterday, at which my younger brother brought me as a "special guest." Here are the notes, a mere sampling of what is to come (but I may not necessarily have notes):

John 3:16, a.k.a. "The Gospel in a nutshell." Context: Nicodemus, a Pharisee (very legalistic, law-guiders, keeping Judaism pure), fears talking to Jesus except at night. Topic: new birth, referring to Baptism (water + Spirit/Word).

Matthew 28:19-20, a.k.a. "The Great Commission."
  • "Obey" (NIV) is better translated as "observe" (NKJV) or "treasure" - all of Christ's gifts and teaching. Half isn't good enough.
  • "Disciples" - office of the ministry. Not "everyone a minister."
  • "but some doubted" - Greek omits "some." Each of us doubts.
  • Verse 18 - "Jesus" (human name) was given all authority. "Christ" (divine title) already had all the authority. This isn't about Jesus somehow "becoming" God (as is claimed by, for example, Jehovah's Witnesses). See also Philippians 2:9-11.
  • Verses 19-20a - "make disciples" is the main verb (one word in Greek); participles are going--baptizing--teaching. "In the name of ..." is therefore Baptismal because it gathers the baptized. See Hebrews 4:14-16.
Ephesians 2:8-9, a.k.a. "Grace through faith." Context: grace from our perspective. Dead people don't make themselves alive. Grace vs. death in trespasses. God's total action. Seated with Christ Jesus through Baptism means that there's no place for sin. Antecedent of "not of yourselves" is "faith" (refuting Baptist theology on that point).

Psalm 23. This is preceded by Psalm 22, the utter hopelessness of Jesus as He was forsaken temporarily by God. It is followed by Psalm 24, speaking of Christ the King of glory.

Lessons from Issues 6: God's truth in the public square

Previous posts in the series are here, here, here, and here. Bullets:
  • This brings in the concept of the left-hand kingdom (non-*church* issues) (LH).
  • Testimonies 1083, 2157, 2965, and 3084 from the petition, emphasize as well how applicable and relevant the pure Gospel is in all areas of life.
  • Says Uwe Siemon-Netto, writing:
    Is there something ultimate about the color of one's skin? Are guns in every hand, the electric chair, affirmative action, and the campaign finance reform issues linked to the Gospel? The answer is of course: No! Yet, Christian denominations often act as if they were, and this contributes to a monumental scandal in contemporary America...
  • There is the infinite "Kingdom to the Right," where God reveals Himself in Christ. This is the realm of the Gospel...
  • On the other hand, there is the secular and finite "Kingdom to the Left," of which Christ has said, "My kingship is not of this world" (John 18:36)...
  • [The governing authorities] are fallible, of course, and sometimes become outright evil. But in time God intervenes and puts things right again...[S]ecular issuses often dominate preaching and worship. Where this occurs, Christ's Kingdom does not radiate into the world. Instead, the world radiates into His realm and therefore pollutes it.
  • Comparison of major understandings of the right-hand kingdom (RH) versus LH:
  • Evangelical: The RH should be the LH; LH should listen to RH. Why is this bad? Answer: No one can understand or obey the Word except by faith. We are to be a "little flock."
  • Roman Catholic: "We are ruling the world, but the world just doesn't know it." True (partly!) - God is ruling the world. But the Church's job is NOT to get cuddly with LH.
  • Lutheran: If one's vocation requires action in LH (e.g. serving as an election judge), then do it. But don't mix LH with RH; don't let LH crowd out RH. The only power the Church has is that to forgive sins.
  • Romans 13:1-7 - classic. Related: Hebrews 1:3, Acts 5:29, and 1 Peter 2:17. Only understandable in terms of LH. God works behind the scenes, indirectly through rulers.
  • 2 Timothy 2:1-7 - details RH deeds (prayer) that influence LH.

Pentecost

Readings: Numbers 11:24-30, Acts 2:1-21 (sermon text), and John 7:37-39.
What was the purpose of Pentecost? Is it eclipsed by Mothers' Day (begun 1914) today? Not at all. Its purpose is that "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Who heard the Gospel that day? How did that miracle happen?

People were awestruck because uneducated Galileans were speaking the Gospel of Jesus Christ in each country's mother tongue. Peter explains what that miracle means, quoting Joel: The last piece of God's plan had been accomplished, and the last days were now upon the world. Now was the time God poured out His Spirit for the proclamation of the Gospel.

The first audience was diverse and eclectic (see the list of countries in verses 8-11), representing much of the known world. Babel was undone. The Gospel was proclaimed beyond the Roman Empire. God's kingdom is, after all, infinitely greater than any earthly kingdom. [This coincides well with today's Bible study.]

Note that, on the first Pentecost, the Gospel was proclaimed to Jews only. But it still made its way (e.g. Acts 13) to our pagan ancestors. And, if we call on the name of the Lord, we will be saved for certain. Follow in His footsteps. We have our only hope in Jesus Christ.
If you noticed that the notes were answering the questions in the opposite order they were asked, it's my pastor's fault. :D

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Two parts socialism

Since today is cleaning day (ick), here are summaries of two op-eds.

The first, written by an expatriate German (just as my mother used to be), explains what is behind Obama's too-good-to-be-true promises about health care and taxes.

What the author misses:
My grandma, who has worked in a post office all her life, enjoys her pension without having ever observed the stock market. Everyone who travels through the countryside can see thousands of windmills, but never a collapsed bridge. And the best: My mom, my friends and everyone around them have access to first-class medical services.
What Obama promises:
[A] $160 billion program for new green-collar jobs, a higher minimum wage, affordable health care for everybody, a massive investment in infrastructure and tax-free status for pensioners who make less than $50,000....with no tax increase for 95% of Americans.
Which makes me wonder: Who are the unlucky 5%? Here's the kicker: Costs to each individual include a 10%-of-salary pension *contribution* (matched by one's employer), a 7%-of-salary health insurance *contribution* (again, matched), and gasoline in excess of $8 per gallon, at least in Munich or Berlin. Germany chose big government years ago; now many "have learned to live with growth rates far behind and an unemployment rate far above the U.S." Therefore I ask: Do you want safety (provided by a socialist government, for example) or freedom? Which right was asserted in the Declaration of Independence?

The second amounts to a well-explained laundry list of an axis of sorts. Guess which candidate these people are aligning with?

"Ahmed Yousef, a ranking official of the Islamic terrorist organization Hamas..."
"Gleb Pavlovsky, a key adviser to both Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev..."
"Hugo Chávez, the radical socialist president of Venezuela, has...been busy lambasting John McCain..."
"North Korea's state-controlled newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, has [accused] Sen. McCain...of 'a bid to strangle it.'"
"And dictators like Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and North Korea's Kim Jong Il may believe it will be far easier to deal with an American president like Mr. Obama, who has pledged to talk with them no matter what they say or do."

(sigh) It could go on. I have a hunch that The Stiletto will speak much more on these topics before the election.

Friday, May 9, 2008

And they're good-looking, too!

No connection to Cheryl's post of the same title (but still - please listen to Trevor's piano piece. He's getting almost as good as his father!). My post is about mosquito fish. The gist, a la Book-a-Minute:
Tiny FISH eat dangerous BUGS but have some DRAWBACKS. Now for serious details:
  • Name: Gambusia affinis.
  • Pros: Eats mosquito larvae. Doesn't grow too large for swimming pools. Cleans water. Reproduces quickly to make many such small fish to eat more bug larvae. Cute. Environmentally friendly, aside from attracting birds and chewing on frogs.
  • Cons: Misunderstood by some homeowners. Birds eat fish and leave droppings. Fish eat pieces of endangered frog tadpoles, leaving said frogs about 30% smaller. Fish eat each other if there are no bug larvae around.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

It's time to commemorate...

...C. F. W. Walther, a Lutheran theologian who played a key role in founding the LCMS. The daily devotional Portals of Prayer sums it up well, so here is the text:
Eli was replaced as priest of Israel because he failed to discipline his sons. Samuel served in Eli's place, but Samuel's own sons failed. The true priest who acted according to God's heart is our great High Priest, Jesus Christ. He offered His blood in the heavenly sanctuary, establishing a new covenant (the New Testament) based on the grace of God. Jesus said, "It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher" (Matthew 10:25). Faithful priests reflect the life and teaching of their teacher, Jesus.

One such example from American history is Carl F. W. Walther (1822-87). He was a minister who came with other Germans to be part of a "Zion on the Mississippi," to preserve the Bible faith taught by Luther. Walther emerged as a leader, teaching the Church from God's Word and the Lutheran Confessions. In the following years, Walther organized Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, wrote extensively, won others to common faith and work, and served as president of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. This came from being "a faithful priest," a leader who knew the heart of Christ from the Word of God.

Prayer: Lord, give us leaders in the Church who fully and faithfully do Your will according to Your Word of Christ. Amen.
I bid all my Lutheran blogging (or non-blogging) friends a joyous C. F. W. Walther day.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Un-charismatic analysis of charisma

Behold, it is a great mystery. So saith Joseph Nye, Jr. in an op-ed today, analyzing the Obama phenomenon in particular while barely naming names. After asking whether "charisma originate[s] in the individual, in the followers, or in the situation," he explores some research behind it.

First: "Charisma proves surprisingly hard to identify in advance" - because, according to political consultant Dick Morris, it doesn't actually exist. It may be evanescent depending on the success of a given *charismatic* individual. As a result of this non-existence, so to speak, "charisma scales that predict votes...have not proven fruitful." In addition, it is often used after-the-fact. Proverbial nonexistence can lead to more unfortunate consequences: "In practice, the word charisma is a vague synonym for 'personal magnetism'" (emphasis added).

In the end, says Nye, it's all in the nonverbal communication. This *unscientific* (non-measurable, non-predictable) phenomenon of charisma may have more effect in elections than other, *scientific*, factors such as the strength of the economy. What does this mean? Answer: Science isn't everything.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Easter 7 (Confirmation)

Readings: Psalm 117, Acts 1:12-26, John 17:1-11, and 1 Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11 (sermon text).
Daunting and serious words from Peter, especially for our adult and adolescent confirmands. They know the faith; now they are invited to live in it, be it a fiery trial, as it were. Each day it becomes more difficult to live our faith safely and to worship God freely - our culture is ever less aligned with Christianity.

We are indeed in the world, but not of it. For this we suffer - we are to rejoice as we share in Christ's sufferings. (!) Why? Answer: It shows that we bear Christ's name on our hearts. Also rejoice when His glory is revealed. We are clothed in Christ's righteousness as with white robes. The confirmands are in white today to remind.

However, Peter warns, let us not suffer for doing evil. Example: we meddle in our own business (instead of letting God run our lives) and in others'. We are all evildoers. Nothing of our own is worthy to be offered to Christ. Instead, confess and be forgiven.

Judgment has begun at the household of God. Christ is returning! Our judgment: "I love you. You are judged forgiven and innocent." Suffer gloriously as a brother/sister of Christ. Entrust your soul to the faithful Creator because without Him nothing exists. Do some good through Him - turn the other cheek, humble yourself before God, don't mind giving your cloak away. Cast all your cares on God's infinitely large and strong shoulders. Be vigilant, for Satan prowls. Remain strong in the faith; let Christ dwell in you richly.

Lessons from Issues 5: Lutheran/scriptural distinctives

Previous posts in this study may be found here, here, and here. Another series of posts you may find interesting in conjunction with this are these three. Since I had to sing for the confirmation service and so had to choose between Bible study and warming up the voice, G.H.F. took notes. Sorry they're sparse.

  • Every doctrine of the Lutheran church is drawn from Scripture. Many have tried to refute the book of Concord but couldn't.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:20-26 (Christ-centered; cross-focused). Verse 22 - Greeks thought that the flesh was evil, so the resurrection was strange to them. See Acts 17. While they were more of an intellectual society, Hebrews were more emotional.
  • Ephesians 2:8-9 - the classic. Salvation by grace alone and through faith alone.
  • Romans 3:20-23 (law and gospel). Verse 20 - also note the third use of the law (third section, a.k.a. curb, mirror, and guide) when you are saved - what pleases God or does not please Him.
  • Romans 7:21-8:1 (sinner and saint). Note that Paul was still struggling with sin; some believe that this chapter was written before conversion (...). Roman Catholic/Evangelical position: You are saved, but show me your works. This confuses people about law vs. gospel. 8:1 - this is NOT an excuse to sin!
  • Christians need to struggle against sin, but know that it's a lifelong deal.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Science items

Three article synopses for you today! One: the Science Journal, dealing with language and the brain (something the wife of G.H.F. should find interesting, since her vocation is to work with dyslexic students); two: a survey of Americans' responses to, and critics' tactics against, the teaching of evolution in public schools; three: something on E. coli! What could be better?

One. Essentially, "[s]tudies of schoolchildren who read in varying alphabets and characters suggest that those who are dyslexic in one language, say Chinese or English, may not be in another, such as Italian." Why? The answer may lie partly in the extent of letter-sound correspondence. My guess is that close to zero literate Romans were dyslexic, since Latin is probably the most regular language in existence - one letter has at most two or three sounds. Also, according to Chinese researchers, "Arabic numerals of standard arithmetic -- used by readers of Chinese and English alike -- activate different brain regions depending on which of the two languages people had first learned to read" - likely due to the nature of the Chinese written language, with pictures versus letters.

Author Robert Lee Hotz helpfully provides links to several abstracts of journal articles etc. for further reading:
Two. Survey statistics: on the origins of life, a November 2004 Gallup poll found that 13% align with the statement that "Man developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms"; 38% believe that "Man developed over millions of years, but God guided the process"; 45% say that "God created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years." This does leave 4% unaccounted for, but the margin of error was +/- 3%.

Tactics: Introduce bills to allow/encourage teachers to critique, attack, or question evolution. The gist of the new bills: "Embrace lessons on evolution. In fact, insist students deserve to learn more -- including classes that probe the theory for weakness. They believe -- and their opponents agree -- that this approach will prove more acceptable to the public and harder to challenge in court." Evolutionists are predictably worried; see also this sampling of critiques and defenses of evolution.. "[A member] of the science-education group, regards the academic-freedom bills as a more serious threat to evolution education because they give teachers so much latitude." Yes. Sure. If evolution is really unassailable, why is it afraid to defend itself?

Three. In the style of Book-a-Minute:

Farmers try to KILL bacteria, and it is HARD. They may well FAIL, in addition to DESTROYING the wildlife.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Genetic testing, part 2

Part 1 here. Two great articles today, one from my gray-headed friend (G.H.F.) and the other from the WSJ's venerable pages. Summaries of each:

G.H.F.'s contribution: it appears that, as long as this act is around, the question of employers/insurance companies can't use one's genetic information against a person. There goes a whole ethical debate.

WSJ's contribution: Better genetic tests are those that test for individual genes or pairs thereof, combined with a high percentage of genetic cause (i.e. a gene that contributes something like 75% to a disease, while environmental factors would contribute the other 25% or so). Insurers will rarely pay for "unproven" tests. The article has a link list to sites explaining more about genetic testing: