Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Off To Camp

Tomorrow morning I leave with my son for Scout camp at the H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation in Iconium, MO.

I'll be back July 7th, and resume blogging. Until then, may the Lord be with you.

Tag, I'm It!

I was tagged by the proprietor of Kairos Blog for "Five Things I Dig About Jesus" -- Accordingly, here they are. I have not looked at anyone else's list, so there may be overlap with others. Or not.
  1. He saves us in spite of our lack of merit and our own efforts.
  2. He paid my account in full.
  3. He forgave me, and then said "Go and sin no more" -- and when I continue to sin, he continues to forgive me when I confess and turn away from sin.
  4. He shows the world a better way -- forgiveness instead of revenge; love instead of hate.
  5. He calls us to live in this world, but to behave as citizens of Heaven. (to be sheep, rather than goats)
Kairos got to me just in time, as my next post will make clear -- So I think I will decline to tag anyone else for now.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Time for blogosphere to get real about church and state | Tech news blog - CNET

Time for blogosphere to get real about church and state | Tech news blog - CNET
"As they are wont to say back where I grew up, Chas Edwards is a stand-up guy. Full disclosure: Chas is a former CNET colleague who left the company more than a year ago to become the publisher of Federated Media, which has become ground zero in the storm over 'conversational media.'

So it is that Chas has now published his thoughts on the affair under the heading 'Does relevant advertising mean selling out?'

But first a brief recap: On Friday, Valleywag reported about a site tied to a Microsoft ad campaign where several online publishers and venture capitalists lent their support to Microsoft's 'People-Ready' advertising slogan...."
Well, this brief excerpt should make it clear that this is not really about the First Amendment. But is is a good metaphor for the somewhat cozy relationship between the computer companies and the writers and users who evangelize for them. Of course it has nothing to do with the extended loans of equipment that keep appearing on their front porches. ...

I have been a reader of computer trade and hobbyist magazines for nearly 30 years, and this is something that has been known for most of that time. Jerry Pournelle, who wrote for Byte Magazine, occasionally found it advisable to remind his readers that he did get the use of a lot of cutting edge merchandise (like those new-fangled 5 megabyte hard drives, and 5 1/4 inch floppies that were starting to supplant the 8 inch floppies).

Bloggers need to be scrupulous about disclosure, especially when it may call their objectivity into question.

For the record, no computer or software company has ever offered me hardware or software. Darn it.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Brave New Salvation | Christianity Today

Brave New Salvation | Christianity Today:
"On April 21, 2447, the death of a 143-year-old woman hailed a new era. Lungs of people everywhere swelled with relief. Impeccability had dawned.

The deceased, Rosa Pecadorita, a coca grower in a remote village in the Andes mountains, was widely believed to have been the last living sinner. As the obituary in The Global Times put it, she was 'the last remaining human whose genes had not been therapeutically adjusted to prevent her from engaging in behaviors that the Global Referendum of 2304 deemed harmful to society and which the treaty that ended the Great Wars of Religion of 2105-2304 classified as sins.'"
This article was in the June 2007 print edition of Christianity Today, and was posted on the CT website a day or so ago.

The matter-of-fact sort of way this article is written reminds me of the phrase "banality of evil", coined by Hannah Arendt in 1963. This phrase first appeared in the context of Arendt's book on Adolph Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem, and refered to the fact that most of the actions of the Third Reich were carried out by ordinary people who considered what they were doing to be proper and natural.

Christianity Today has collated links to recent articles dealing with bioethics on their web site. It may be worthwhile to look some of these over.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

TCS Daily - Will a Disruptive Technology Mothball Therapeutic Cloning?

TCS Daily - Will a Disruptive Technology Mothball Therapeutic Cloning?:
"The global grandees of therapeutic cloning recently gathered in sun-soaked Cairns, the gateway to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, for their annual conference. They have serious strategic issues to deal with along with their scientific papers and posters: persuading governments to open their wallets, ensuring that the Bush Administration's restrictions on their work are lifted, allaying the public's qualms about creating embryos solely for research.

But hovering over the buzz of morning coffee has been a dark cloud: as governments everywhere promote it, is therapeutic cloning going to be mothballed before it has produced a single cure?

Only a few days ago an article in the leading journal Nature brought amazing news. A Japanese team at Kyoto University has discovered how to reprogram skin cells so that they 'dedifferentiate' into the equivalent of an embryonic stem cell. From this they can be morphed, theoretically, into any cell in the body, a property called pluripotency. It could be the Holy Grail of stem cell science: a technique that is both feasible and unambiguously ethical."
First, a "disruptive technology" is one that supplants an existing technology. One good example of such technology is digital photography, which over the last ten years has made significant inroads into roll film sales.

This article quotes researchers who are both excited about the possibility of non-embryonic stem cell research and those who dismiss it as a waste of time. Some, like Lawrence Goldstein, the former head of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, call it "quixotic" and said "If there are scientists who morally oppose [embryonic] stem cell research and want to devote their energies to uncovering alternatives, that's fine, but in no way, shape, or form should we ask the scientific community and patient community to wait to see if these new alternatives will work."

Others, like
Hans Schöler, a German stem cell expert, say that this is a significant break-through, and is as exciting as Dolly, the first cloned sheep.

What seems clear is that mnay in the stem cell community seem a little threatened by these developments, and I can understand that, even if I don't agree with them on their activities. As a possible disruptive technology, these new developments have the potential to render much existing stem cell research irrelevant.

It also seems that many many in the stem cell research community are conflicted by their research. They have to balance on one hand the ethical implications of what they do, and on the other hand the real benefits that can be achieved from such research. Moral dilemmas are not fun to deal with, and it seems that much of the excitement in and out of the scientific community is due to the potential resolution of at least one dilemma dealing with technology.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Earthquake Sets Back Solomon Islands Bible Project -

Earthquake Sets Back Solomon Islands Bible Project -
"It took Richmond theology student Alpheaus Zobule nearly a decade to make the New Testament available to the people of the tiny South Pacific island where he grew up. But in one April day, a magnitude 8.1 earthquake dealt his work a powerful blow.

Zobule, a 38-year-old son of subsistence farmers from the Solomon Islands, came to the United States in his 20s and earned master's degrees in linguistics and theology, all so he could find a way to make the Bible available to fellow islanders, whose language had no written form."
Back in January, 2007 I blogged on an earlier story by Michelle Boorstein on Alpheaus Zobule's remarkable quest to make the Scriptures available to a society that had no written language.

The April 2, 2007 earthquake that hit the Solomon Islands destroyed much of Zobule's library and resources he was using for Biblical translation as well as stocks of printed copies. These Bibles printed in the Lungga language served a dual purpose -- to teach the people to read and write in their oral language, and to teach them about the Lord.

The extent of the loss is not fully known, due to the remoteness of the islands, but donations are starting to pour in. The article provides information on how to assist in rebuilding this ministry.

The Christian Century: Untribal God

The Christian Century: Untribal God:
"The Second Inaugural contains Lincoln's notable words about the war: 'Both sides read the same Bible,' Lincoln said, 'pray to the same God and each invokes His aid against the other. . . . The prayers of both could not be answered: that of neither has been answered fully.' White says that Lincoln was 'inveighing against a tribal God' who would take the side of one part against the other, 'and building a case for an inclusive God.'"
I saw this linked today in Presbyweb and was intrigued enough to follow the link and read the entire article. It's fairly short and is a history of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address and the relationship Lincoln had with the Presbyterian Church leading up to that speech.

While I agree with John M. Buchanan's assessment of the importance of Lincoln's speeches and the Second Inaugural in particular, I find his favorable citation of Ronald C. White's statement that Lincoln was "inveighing against a tribal God ... and building a case for an inclusive God" to be questionable. I do not think this was what Lincoln was attempting to do. Our 16th president seems to have had no difficulty with the idea that God knew right from wrong. It was just figuring out which side that was that was the problem.

An important clue is found in a hand-written note Lincoln wrote in 1862, probably just before the battle of Antietam. His secretary, John Hay, found it as he was packing Lincoln's effects following his assassination. Hay titled it "Mediation on the Divine Will", and its themes were incorporated into the Second Inaugural Address delivered in March of 1865:
"The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party--and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect his purpose. I am almost ready to say this is probably true--that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere quiet power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds."
Lincoln showed a great deal of humility, wisdom, and discernment in trying to determine the will of God. God could not be for and against slavery; he had to be one or the other. God is not neutral on moral issues. We may not see things as clearly as we might; Lincoln knew that and was willing to concede that he might misconstrue the will of God in whole or in part.

Friday, June 15, 2007

College of Liberal Arts (UT) - Losing My Faith

College of Liberal Arts (UT( - Losing My Faith:
"AUSTIN, Texas -June 6, 2007- College graduates are more likely to maintain their religious beliefs and practices than those who never attend college, new research at The University of Texas at Austin has found.

The findings are detailed in a study titled 'Losing My Religion' in the June issue of the journal Social Forces.

Researchers found four-year college students and college graduates are the least likely to curb church attendance, to say religion is less important in their lives, or to completely disassociate from religion. Young adults who do not pursue a college degree are the most likely to abandon their faith. ..."
This certainly flies in the face of "conventional wisdom." You can read Losing My Faith in pdf format by clicking the link.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

How Harry Potter really ends. - By Dan Kois - Slate Magazine

How Harry Potter really ends. - By Dan Kois - Slate Magazine:
"Harry walked into the Three Broomsticks and took a seat in a booth near the back. Who were all the people in here tonight? They looked familiar, but Harry didn't know any of them. Was that Dolores Umbridge? No, just some woman in a hideous cardigan.

None of these diners knew yet that Voldemort was dead—not by Harry's hand, but killed instead by Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnegan, who'd happened upon He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named outside of London. They'd cursed him from behind and watched as the Knight Bus ran over his head with a horrible crunching sound. ..."
OK. Who has too much time on their hands? This guy, who wrote this hilarious parody of an ending for the final Harry Potter Book? Or me for surfing the web and running across this?

CRC lifts barrier to female ministers -

CRC lifts barrier to female ministers -
"GRAND RAPIDS -- History came quietly to the Christian Reformed Church on Tuesday night, but progress remains to be made.

That was the feeling of longtime advocates of women's ordination who watched the CRC Synod remove the word 'male' from its requirements for church office.

After 37 years of back-and-forth struggle, delegates opened the way for women to become ministers in any of the CRC's 1,000-plus churches. If other proposed changes are approved as expected today, women also will be able to serve as delegates to the Synod for the first time. ..."
I saw this article linked yesterday in the Kruse Kronicle.

According to an article in today's Christian Post, women who are selected as delegates to Synod will be seated next year:
"... After debates broke out last year over the restriction of women from serving as synodical deputies (synod representatives) delegates at Synod 2007 – the eight-day meeting of the church's broadest assembly – decided to open for the first time the way for women to be delegates to next year's synod.

"Let’s take note, pause and reflect,” said Rev. Bruce Persenaire from Classis (regional assembly) Central California, according to CRC Communications. “We will now be seating women delegates."

The vote followed Tuesday's decision to remove the word "male" as a requirement for holding ecclesiastical office in the church and to allow women to be ordained as ministers, elders, deacons or ministry associates. In an effort to maintain unity in the church body by respecting the convictions of those who believe the Bible prohibits women serving as office bearers, synod representatives also decided to allow classes (regional assemblies) to set restrictions on women serving as delegates to classis meetings. ..."

One issue that this raises for the PC(USA) is that there have been few reformed denominations that recognize that both women and men are called to ministries in the Church. Many have therefore predicted that there would not be a mass exodus of Presbyterians as a result of real and imagined shortcomings of the PC(USA). This move by the Christian Reformed Church may have an effect on that dynamic.

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church has had "local option" for a few years now, but it is generally noted that few congregations have exercised that option. I suspect that the PC(USA) congregations that have already been dismissed to the EPC have more than doubled the number of ordained women in that denomination.

The Christian Reformed Church seems to have adopted "local option" as well, so its effect on any exodus from the PC(USA) may be minimal. In any case this is a positive move and I wish the CRC well as they embark on this path.

Monday, June 11, 2007 Hollywood idealism, in brief Hollywood idealism, in brief
"Ah, Hollywood.

It is good when the rich, the powerful and the attractive decide to do some good in the world.

But there is a part of me that wants to ask a question. It is very, very good that the horrors of Darfur in the western Sudan are attracting so much attention. Any good that can be done there must be done.

However, I have to admit that, as I read this page one piece (“Hollywood Stars Find an Audience For Social Causes”) in The Washington Post, I could not help but ask a question or two or three. Where were all these people a decade ago, while thousands were being massacred in South Sudan? Was that even larger and more hellish confict not as worthy? Or was there something wrong with that political and social cause, some reason that it was harder to embrace? ..."

Terry Mattingly askes some pointed questions here -- ones that deserve answers.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

TCS Daily - Journalists, You're in the Army Now

TCS Daily - Journalists, You're in the Army Now:
"The days of the independent, neutral war correspondent, objectively reporting from a war's front lines, are quickly coming to an end. In the future, a war correspondent will either effectively be a soldier for one faction of a conflict, or he will literally not survive in the war zone.

In today's media age, the requirement for combatants to shape perceptions about the nature of a conflict, and the necessity of denying that ability to the enemy, are more crucial than firepower and logistics, the traditional measures of battlefield dominance. Successful media operations energize a faction's supporters and demoralize its enemies. When effective, this is more important than squadrons of fighter-bombers or train-loads of assault rifles. Whether they like or not, journalists are in the army now."
An interesting article... Since March 2003, 181 journalists have been killed in Iraq, a significant number of which are Iraqi employees of major news outlets. Much has been written (with a certain amount of justification) about journalists being part of the stories they cover. In Iraq, it may be the only way to survive outside of being embedded with a US unit, which is not necessarily an option open to the journalists most at risk in Iraq.

We have already seen how the traditional rules governing the conduct of war (see the Hague and Geneva Conventions) are changing. Are journalists now "legitimate" targets? Who is next? Medical personnel?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

June 6, 1944

This photograph, courtesy of Wikipedia, was taken by a member of the US military as part of his official duties. As such, it is in the public domain.

Let's take the time to remember the courage of the men who landed in the Battle of Normandy this day 63 years ago.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Hitchens vs Hitchens | the Daily Mail

Hitchens vs Hitchens | the Daily Mail:
"Am I my brother’s reviewer? A word of explanation is needed here. Some of you may know that I have a brother, Christopher, who disagrees with me about almost everything.

Some of those who read his books and articles also know that I exist, though they often dislike me if so. But in general we inhabit separate worlds – in more ways than one.

He is of the Left, lives in the United States and recently became an American citizen. I am of the Right and, after some years in Russia and America, live in the heart of England. Occasionally we clash in public.

We disagreed about the Iraq War – he was for it, I was against it. Despite the occasional temptation, I have never reviewed any of his books until today.

But now, in God Is Not Great, he has written about religion itself, attacking it as a stupid delusion.

This case, I feel, needs an answer. ..."
Well, count me among those who was not aware that Christopher Hitchens had a brother. Christopher Hitchens, the Slate columnist, has been fairly well-known to me for as long as I've been reading Slate.

Peter Hitchens has shown in this article that his writing skills are no less than his brother's, and his review of his brother's book exposes its weaknesses as well as its strengths. As for Peter Hitchen's qualifications to review his brother's book, his own assessment is this: "And I am no less qualified to defend God than Christopher is to attack him, neither of us being experts on the subject." Fair enough.

If you are looking for an ugly catfight between two siblings, don't bother with following the above link. Peter Hitchens is not attacking anyone here. What he is exposing are the inadequacies of human thought to provide a strong moral framework for the world. While not endorsing a literal interpretation of the story of Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, he suggests that when human arrogance wins, then evil tends to follow. In the Serpent's words, "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:5)

According to Peter Hitchens:
"Take the enticing satanic advice, and you arrive, quite quickly, at revolutionary terror, at the invention of the atom bomb, at the torture chamber and the building of concentration camps for those unteachable morons who do not share your vision of a just world."
Hyperbole? A cursory reading of 20th century history suggests otherwise. And the 21st century shows little sign of having learned any lessons from previous centuries.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Does Virtual Reality Need a Sheriff? -

Does Virtual Reality Need a Sheriff? -
"Earlier this year, one animated character in Second Life, a popular online fantasy world, allegedly raped another character.

Some Internet bloggers dismissed the simulated attack as nothing more than digital fiction. But police in Belgium, according to newspapers there, opened an investigation into whether a crime had been committed. No one has yet been charged.

Then last month, authorities in Germany announced that they were looking into a separate incident involving virtual abuse in Second Life after receiving pictures of an animated child character engaging in simulated sex with an animated adult figure. Though both characters were created by adults, the activity could run afoul of German laws against child pornography, prosecutors said."
The very existence of such online games suggests a view of reality that is somewhat skewed to begin with. But while many virtual activities cross well into the area of poor taste, it seems that people are taking things just a bit too seriously here.

In a shrewd (?) move, the nation of Sweden has opened an embassy in Second Life. While this virtual "embassy" does not provide services that real embassies do, they point to information in the real world:
"STOCKHOLM - Sweden became the first country on Wednesday to open an embassy in the virtual world Second Life.

Created to promote the nordic state’s image and culture, the embassy does not offer any real or virtual consular services but provides information on its real world counterparts."
Personally, I have enough of a challenge living in the real world. Virtual worlds just don't attract me, but they obviously attract a large number of people.

Next thing you know, governments will find ways of taxing virtual assets.