Friday, November 30, 2007

Global cellphone penetration reaches 50 pct | Technology, Media & Telecommunications |

Global cellphone penetration reaches 50 pct | Technology, Media & Telecommunications |
"HELSINKI, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Worldwide mobile telephone subscriptions reached 3.3 billion -- equivalent to half the global population -- on Thursday, 26 years after the first cellular network was launched, research firm Informa said.

Since the first Nordic Mobile Telephony (NMT) networks were switched on in 1981 in Saudi Arabia, Sweden and Norway, mobile phones have become the consumer electronics sector with the largest volume of sales in the world."
Hmmm. Good news? Bad news?

Of course, this does not mean that 50% of the population of the Earth has a cell phone. Some have more than one, or use a personal phone and a work phone. In fact, 59 countries have a penetration of over 100%, which means the average number of cellphones/user is greater than one.

Life has certainly changed on the past 25 years....

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Holiday wishes from the Hubble Space Telescope

Holiday wishes from the Hubble Space Telescope:
"Messier 74, also called NGC 628, is a stunning example of a 'grand-design' spiral galaxy that is viewed by Earth observers nearly face-on. Its perfectly symmetrical spiral arms emanate from the central nucleus and are dotted with clusters of young blue stars. ..."
32 million years ago the light from this galaxy began its journey to Earth. I am in awe of its beauty and its Creator.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration

Click the photo for more information. If you are on a broadband connection, give this link to a higher resolution image a try.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Don’t condemn Tony Blair for his Christian beliefs | Michael Gove - Times Online

Don’t condemn Tony Blair for his Christian beliefs | Michael Gove - Times Online:
"... It says something about the intellectual impoverishment of Christianity’s critics that they think a prime minister who believes in the Church’s teachings is one who “takes his orders from God”. Far from imbuing its believers with certainty about the wisdom, or morality, of their actions, Christianity invites its followers to scrutinise their consciences, recognise all the time that their motives may be mixed, their unaided reason faulty, their enterprises fallible. By guarding mankind against the temptations of a totally utilitarian world view, Christianity ensures that an alternative ethical tradition survives, which guarantees real pluralism in any major moral debate of our times.

The real nuttiness in our society is that an open commitment from a public figure to organised Christian religion is now seen as shameful, while every sort of faulty moral reasoning from other sources is accorded grave respect. It doesn’t need a prodigious level of sanity to see we’d be mad to make Christianity even more marginal than it is today. ..."
Michael Gove is a Member of Parliament from Surrey Heath and is reacting to the recent disclosure by Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, that he was and is a Christian and that it permeated his public and private life. Blair did not make his faith an issue, however, and there has been some controversy as to whether he was a "stealth" candidate who deceived his party and his constituents by not practicing his faith openly.

I appreciate Blair for acknowledging his faith and respect him for his decision to avoid making it a political issue. Evidently it is quite unacceptable to wear one's faith on one's sleeve in Great Britain, especially for a politician. Michael Gove has quite a way with words, and provides a good counterpoint in this debate.

I wish that our politicians had as clear an idea of what Christianity means in the public realm.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Columbia Missourian - Christian groups bring the Bible to thousands of countries through unconventional means

Columbia Missourian - Christian groups bring the Bible to thousands of countries through unconventional means:
"RONG DOMRIEX, Cambodia — Tel Im, a barefoot 13-year-old, sat cross-legged on a bamboo bench, eager for her reading lesson.

“Please turn to Lesson 33,” said a woman’s voice rising from a Sony cassette player powered by two wires clipped to a car battery. The tape was the closest thing to a school in this village shaded by banana trees, where water buffaloes meander in from the lime-green rice paddies.

Im and her classmates flipped to Page 134 for a passage from the New Testament.

“The title of this story is: ‘Jesus Was Crucified,’“ said the teacher on the tape, slowly pronouncing the words in Khmer, the local language, as the children followed along with their fingertips.

Six months ago, Im couldn’t read a word and had never heard of Jesus. Now, through a literacy program run by the local chapter of an international Bible group, she has a book — the Bible — that she can read, and she says she wants to become a Christian."
This story first appeared in the Washington Post, but I was unable to locate the original article.

The Bible has historically been a force for literacy in the world, and one of the first things that must happen is that the Scriptures need to be translated into the indigenous language. According to this article, there have been 600 new translations since the year 2000, resulting in potentially tens of millions more people being reached. An additional 1600 projects are underway.

Another aspect of this and similar initiatives is the diversity of ways in which the Scriptures are presented -- cassette tapes, CDs, MP3 players ("Bible Stick"), as well as downloading to the current generation of cell phones. The electronic media make it possible to get the Scriptures into countries where shipping crates of printed Bibles would be inconvenient, if not illegal.

With regard to Cambodia, where the predominant religion is Buddhism, the director of the National Buddhist Institute had this to say:
“For centuries and centuries we have been Buddhists.”

But, he added, people have a right to choose their religion, and the government is grateful for the medicine, food and manpower that Christian groups are bringing. As for the Christian literacy program, he said, “If Buddhists worry about it, they should teach children to read, too.”

Working with people and meeting their needs sends a powerful message, and it seems that many have become Christians through those who come to serve.

Friday, November 23, 2007

A review of the Beowulf Movie

We went to see Beowulf at one of our local theaters, and I can take a certain amount of pride in knowing that all three of us had already read the Beowulf epic in the Seamus Heaney translation. That having been noted, it really didn't help us much in viewing the movie, which used the familiar names but departed at many points from the original. Other than that is was a nice bit of escapism and the effects were awesome.

This was not a live-action film, but it would be inaccurate to refer to it simply as a cartoon. The animation and effects were of a quality that made one forget that this really wasn't actors on a sound stage. In addition, the digital rendering of the scenes made it possible to show angles and points of view that would be difficult, if not impossible for conventional cinematography. Imagine a spear being thrust toward you until all you see is the spearhead, and then the "camera" changes its point of view so you see the guard holding the spear, and the point just about touching Beowulf's eyes.

The film is violent and has a lot of gory images, and for this reason alone, you might want to get a babysitter for the youngsters. The sexuality is mostly innuendo, and involves anatomically correct outlines (for a Barbie doll), and about as much detail as a Barbie doll. Beowulf fights Grendel in the nude, and there always seems to be a strategically-placed plant or other object that keeps the visual effects in the PG-13 range. This is definitely not a family flick, but neither is it pornography.

On to the substance of the film. We all know that Grendel is Beowulf's first opponent. Grendel has a face only a mother could love, and oddly enough, that is a plot point in both the Old English epic and the 2007 film. How the two are connected are very different in the epic and the film. In the film the fight with the dragon is connected with the first two fights with Grendel and his mother -- a connection that is NOT made in the epic.

The film portrays Beowulf as a flawed character who ultimately redeems himself in the end. The Old English epic isn't much for character development. Beowulf is the hero, and that's all we need to know. In the film, Beowulf, having bested Grendel in a fair fight, felt the need to embellish the tale of his encounter with Grendel's mother. The lie he tells is actually closer to the original epic, than the "reality" of the film's depiction.

The ending is fairly satisfying, once you rid yourself of the expectation of conformity with the original epic, and overall, the film does a good job with internal consistency.

The Beowulf epic has many Christian elements interspersed with the Norse pantheon and the idea that a lone hero acting solely from internal motivations can save himself and his comrades. Personally, I would not call Beowulf a "Christian Epic", but I would recognize that it takes place in a milieu that is rapidly becoming Christian, and there are allusions to Christianity and Scripture in the original epic.

The film seemed to me to present a caricature of Christianity that, when juxtaposed with the heroic Danes and Geats, leaves the impression that things would be been far better without the Christians. Since the film writers chose to add specific events that were not a part of the original, I have to suspect that this was just a bit gratuitous.

I recommend this film highly for the effects and not so highly for the adaptation of the original source.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving 2007

What shall I render to my God
For all His mercy’s store?
I’ll take the gifts He hath bestowed,
And humbly ask for more.

The sacred cup of saving grace
I will with thanks receive,
And all His promises embrace,
And to His glory live.

My vows I will to His great Name
Before His people pay,
And all I have, and all I am,
Upon His altar lay.

Thy lawful servant, Lord, I owe
To Thee whate’er is mine,
Born in Thy family below,
And by redemption thine.

Thy hands created me, Thy hands
From sin have set me free,
The mercy that hath loosed my bands
Hath bound me fast to Thee.

The God of all redeeming grace
My God I will proclaim,
Offer the sacrifice of praise,
And call upon His Name.

Praise Him, ye saints, the God of love,
Who hath my sins forgiven,
Till, gathered to the church above,
We sing the songs of Heaven.

-- Charles Wesley

Words from The Cyber Hymnal

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My Readability Level

I saw that Mike Kruse's blog was at a High School reading level, so I tried mine, using the same site.

This surprises me, as Mike's writing is quite rich in content.

cash advance

I suppose the take-home lesson is that reading level and content are two different things.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dolly creator Prof Ian Wilmut shuns cloning - Telegraph

Dolly creator Prof Ian Wilmut shuns cloning - Telegraph:
"The scientist who created Dolly the sheep, a breakthrough that provoked headlines around the world a decade ago, is to abandon the cloning technique he pioneered to create her.

Prof Ian Wilmut's decision to turn his back on 'therapeutic cloning', just days after US researchers announced a breakthrough in the cloning of primates, will send shockwaves through the scientific establishment.

He and his team made headlines around the world in 1997 when they unveiled Dolly, born July of the year before.

But now he has decided not to pursue a licence to clone human embryos, which he was awarded just two years ago, as part of a drive to find new treatments for the devastating degenerative condition, Motor Neuron disease.

Prof Wilmut, who works at Edinburgh University, believes a rival method pioneered in Japan has better potential for making human embryonic cells which can be used to grow a patient's own cells and tissues for a vast range of treatments, from treating strokes to heart attacks and Parkinson's, and will be less controversial than the Dolly method, known as "nuclear transfer."

His announcement could mark the beginning of the end for therapeutic cloning, on which tens of millions of pounds have been spent worldwide over the past decade. "
This is a fairly long article and goes into a lot of the science, ethics, and politics of stem cell research.

Wilmut's decision is based primarily on the value he sees in the Japanese research, which is achieving impressive results without the extra baggage of bioethics concerns that are being raised over techniques that require the creation and subsequent destruction of embryos.

The recent success in the cloning of primate embryos noted in the quotation above is characterized later in this article as requiring 304 eggs to get to a point where two stem cell lines were created -- and one of them had too many chromosomal abnormalities to be of any use. This is complicated by the fact that there is a great demand for human eggs to be used for fertility treatments, and this argues against such an inefficient process in view of such demand.

The Japanese successes in creating pluripotent stem cell lines from adult body cells seems to be a bit of a paradigm shift. For many years scientists had considered development and differentiation to be largely a one-way street. In other words a skin cell could not be expected to de-differentiate to the point where it could turn into other types of cells. We are now learning that this is, indeed, possible and this realization may result in lives being saved.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Postcard from San Diego: Fighting 'Bibliolatry' at the Evangelical Theological Society | Liveblog | Christianity Today

Postcard from San Diego: Fighting 'Bibliolatry' at the Evangelical Theological Society | Liveblog | Christianity Today:
"While the ballroom sessions of the first day of the Evangelical Theological Society meeting had more attendees, no session was as packed as J.P. Moreland’s “How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What Can Be Done About It.” While the average breakout session seems to be attended by fewer than 50 people, easily more than 200 packed the room to hear Moreland’s talk, with dozens standing and more listening outside the door.

It’s little wonder why so many people attended. ETS membership has only two doctrinal requirements: you must affirm the Trinity and the inerrancy of Scripture. The first part has not been controversial of late, but the second was the focus of the society’s recent fight over open theism and was named as a reason why Francis Beckwith could not remain as ETS president after his conversion to Roman Catholicism.

In short, to accuse evangelicals of over-commitment to the Bible at ETS would be like accusing environmentalists of talking too much about climate change at a Sierra Club meeting. But Moreland, who has gained some prominence as a philosopher and apologist, wasn’t pulling any punches. ..."
The title of this interesting blog posting by Ted Olsen from Christianity Today caught my eye. As a member of a denomination that has its roots in the Reformation, I know that Scripture is a key revelation of God. As an elder I have already publicly affirmed that I believe that "... the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments [are], by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God's Word to [me]."

So, having heard from a variety of sources in and out of the PC(USA) that the Scriptures are inherently the words of humans, and thus not to be taken as "gospel", I had to wonder if we were going to see a debate within evangelical circles as to whether or not the Scriptures are the standard that has brought the Church intact through nearly 2000 years of pressure and persecution. (I should note unequivocally that the PC(USA) in its confessions stands clearly with the Reformation, and thus I consider my denomination to be squarely within the Evangelical tradition.)

So what was Moreland driving at in his presentation? Well, he holds that there is truth to be learned outside Scripture (to indulge in, perhaps, an oversimplification. He makes a good case, using archaeology as a vehicle for showing how the Bible can point us in a particular direction, but the observations on the ground can add much to the accounts in Scripture. The point here is that one cannot limit oneself to searching for truth only in scripture, and I have to agree.

I also concede that there are difficult passages such as First Samuel 6:19, where different translations, using different textual sources come up with a different numbers. Did the Lord strike down 70 men or 50,070 men? Does it really make a difference theologically?

Olsen quotes Moreland as suggesting that, when faced with trying to engage secularism, evangelicals retreated into "private language games and increasingly detailed minutiae" instead of coming to grips with the world outside Scripture. This, in many ways, echoes Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, in which Noll details the rise and fall of intellectual evangelicism.

All in all, I don't see anything here that threatens a good reformed understanding of Scripture. The search for truth can take us down many roads, but the Scriptures remain the standard by which all truth is measured. I will still be suspicious of any purported truth that requires me to reject any portion of Scripture, but I will always be willing to engage in discussion about how to interpret Scripture.

And that is what sola scriptura means to me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Answering the Atheists | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Answering the Atheists | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction:
"Let's face it: Atheism is in. Not since Nietzsche have disbelievers enjoyed such a ready public reception to their godless message—and such near-miraculous royalties. But even that hasn't put them in a good mood. Snaps Christopher Hitchens, who wrote God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (although not, presumably, the pronouncements of atheists), 'Many of the teachings of Christianity are, as well as being incredible and mythical, immoral.' A feuding Richard Dawkins suggests that believers 'just shut up.' Apparently, they didn't get the tolerance memo. ..."
Stan Guthrie has written an engaging "Readers Digest Condensed" version of why he is a believer, drawing in many areas of his life and experience. The points Guthrie makes provide many useful tools for the apologetics toolbox. At the same time he demonstrates the fundamental untruth of the often-repeated assertion that believers are, at their core, irrational.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The church is flat

The church is flat:
"The world has changed. The old rules are out.

It was bad enough when the World Wide Web made it possible for the voices of peoples long silenced to broadcast their ideas – crazy and eccentric as many of them are – without having to raise thousands of dollars to self-publish or to convince an editor-publisher to invest the capital to do so. Standards of grammar and communication ethics went out the window.

Now it’s worse. Web 2.0, the second generation of Web development, has turned every computer into a publishing house, an editorial department, a photography studio, and a movement rabble-rouser.

The world really is flat, as Thomas Friedman proclaimed in his book by that title."
It's not that bad, Mr. Haberer -- There will always be a place for good editors, and you are among the best.

We have a diversity of voices in our denomination, but it hasn't been that long since most voices were effectively silenced; not through a concerted effort to stifle such voices, but simply because there was no way to get the word out effectively. Word trickled out slowly from General Assembly, and when the mainstream press reported it, it was often misleading. It was not unusual to hear what actually went on at a given GA weeks after the fact.

In the early 1990's email lists and web sites began to provide information as it happened. Still, though, the average person could only read email or navigate to a web site for information provided by others.

The 21st century has seen an explosion of technology that has empowered just about anyone with a laptop and an internet connection to publish views and reactions to what is going on in their local churches, and all the way up the hierarchy to Louisville.

Not all voices are equally useful. I read blogs and web sites on the right and the left of the PC(USA)that leave me wondering just what people are thinking of, when they use ridicule and hate speech against their fellow Christians. Thankfully there are only a very small number of such sites.

Most of the "ordinary" people provide useful perspectives and I value them. Check the sidebar for links to blogs that I try to read on a regular basis, both Presbyterian and other Christian offerings.

One thing that Jack Haberer did not touch on in his article today is the amazing access that people all over the country are able to get during the General Assembly. With streaming video and Les (the business tracking software) people all over the world can see what happens in real time. The PC(USA) deserves a great deal of praise for its providing the means for people in their communities to see how bills and overtures become church policy. It may be a little like watching sausage being made, but shining a light on the process really helps.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Associated Press: Leonardo Painting Has Coded 'Soundtrack'

The Associated Press: Leonardo Painting Has Coded 'Soundtrack':
"ROME (AP) — It's a new Da Vinci code, but this time it could be for real. An Italian musician and computer technician claims to have uncovered musical notes encoded in Leonardo Da Vinci's 'Last Supper,' raising the possibility that the Renaissance genius might have left behind a somber composition to accompany the scene depicted in the 15th-century wall painting."
I heard a snippet of the music on the news this evening. It certainly is musical, and it stretches my credulity to think it could nothing more than a coincidence. With what we know of Leonardo da Vinci, he certainly could have done this with the full realization that few people would even suspect it was there.

There is another story on the Discovery Channel website along with a video clip that has some more fascinating aspects of this unusual story.

Finally, for those who are into art, what is billed as the highest resolution digital image available anywhere depicts The Last Supper by da Vinci, courtesy of Haltadefinizione in Italy

Thursday, November 08, 2007

TCS Daily - The Free Clinic Movement

TCS Daily - The Free Clinic Movement:
"Warren County, Virginia, at the confluence of the North and South Forks of the Shenandoah River has neither the rolling hills of horse country nor the fertile plains of the Shenandoah Valley.

Of its 36,000 citizens, an estimated 6,000 are uninsured. Typically, when they get sick, the uninsured go to the emergency room, which is about the most inefficient and costly way of delivering primary medical care.

But, thanks to the initiative of some local Christians, the uninsured of Warren County can instead go to the St. Luke Community Clinic for free medical care. In FY 2006, 2,633 uninsured people did just that."
The Front Royal Presbyterian Church spearheaded the establishment of this particular clinic in 1996. Due to the scale of the job, the other churches in Front Royal were invited to join in the endeavor, and this clinic continues to serve the uninsured and underinsured of this community.

What struck me about this story is that the cost is not only minimal or free to the beneficiaries, but the St. Luke Community Clinic does not submit vouchers to the Federal Government, thus making it free to the taxpayer as well. Volunteer physicians, nurses, and other persons provide the services and various local agencies and organizations provide additional support.

What a ministry!

Michael Yon : Online Magazine » Blog Archive » Thanks and Praise

Michael Yon : Online Magazine » Blog Archive » Thanks and Praise:
"Thanks and Praise: I photographed men and women, both Christians and Muslims, placing a cross atop the St. John’s Church in Baghdad. They had taken the cross from storage and a man washed it before carrying it up to the dome."
This really needs no comment -- except to express the hope that this spirit of mutual forbearance and cooperation continues to thrive.

[posting was delayed pending confirmation of permission to use the photograph.]

Monday, November 05, 2007

Publishers See a Way to Track Their Content Across the Net - New York Times

Publishers See a Way to Track Their Content Across the Net - New York Times:
"Copyrighted work like a news article or a picture can hop between Web sites as easily as a cut-and-paste command. But more than ever, as that material finds new audiences, the original sources might not get the direct financial benefit — in fact, they might have little idea where their work has spread.

A young company called Attributor says it has an answer, and a number of big publishers of copyrighted material say Attributor just might be right.

The company has developed software that identifies an electronic “fingerprint” for a particular piece of material — an article, a picture, a video. Then it hunts down any place across the Web where a significant chunk of that work has been copied, with or without permission.

When the use is unauthorized, Attributor’s software can automatically send a message to the site’s operators, demanding a link back to the original publisher’s site, a share of revenue from any ads on the page, or a halt to the copying."
This was in today's online version of the New York Times and raises some interesting questions about how bloggers employ material on their sites.

First of all, the Fair Use Doctrine protects bloggers, journalists, teachers, and a variety of other users when they quote portions on another's work, which can consist of writing, sound recordings, or images. The relevant portion of Title 17 of the US Code, as provided by Cornell University Law School's web site reads as follows:

§ 107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—
  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

[web links were preserved, and go back to Cornell Law School's web site. In addition, I reformatted the bullet points, which had been trashed on copying and pasting]
According to the Wikipedia article on Fair Use, a general rule is that a quotation of 400 words or less is "fair use". But all this is subject to legal interpretation. Obviously quoting 400 words from a 400 word essay would be wholesale copying. Beyond that obvious case, it depends on which 400 words you extract.

We bloggers tend do a lot of quoting, and most of us ensure that sources are properly acknowledged and that links are provided to the original source. Personally, I strive to have more of my own commentary than quotations, but occasionally I will link to an article without comment. After all, my blog is primarily about my feelings, perspectives, and opinions. If you want a news aggregator, there are plenty of those around.

We'll see if this portends a crackdown on pesky bloggers, but I rather doubt it. Many newspapers, including the Washington Post and my hometown newspaper, the Columbia Tribune, link to bloggers who have commented on particular articles.

What kind of Muppet am I?


You Are Fozzie Bear

"Wocka! Wocka!"
You're the life of the party, and you love making people crack up.
If only your routine didn't always bomb!
You may find more groans than laughs, but always keep the jokes coming.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Images: Comet bursts into view | CNET

Images: Comet bursts into view | CNET
"Last week Comet Holmes was just another fuzzball you could only see with a telescope--until it suddenly brightened a million times in a few hours. Now, you can easily see it with the naked eye, it's still expanding, and it has even changed color. ..."

When Comet 17P/Holmes was first discovered in 1892, it showed a magnitude change much like its 2007 visit to our neighborhood. Its orbital period is roughly 6.9 years, so it evidently does not traverse a major part of our galaxy.

If you can find the Big Dipper, you should be able to find
Comet Holmes over the next week or so.

All-in-all, this has been a pretty good season for interesting astronomical observations.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Hubble sees the graceful dance of two interacting galaxies

Hubble sees the graceful dance of two interacting galaxies:
"A pair of galaxies, known collectively as Arp 87, is one of hundreds of interacting and merging galaxies known in our nearby Universe. Arp 87 was catalogued by astronomer Halton Arp in the 1960's. Arp’s Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies is a compilation of astronomical photographs using the Palomar 200-inch Hale and the 48-inch Samuel Oschin telescopes."
This is awesome. Go to the article for more images and explanation.