Monday, December 31, 2007

Download Uproar: Record Industry Goes After Personal Use -

Download Uproar: Record Industry Goes After Personal Use -
"Despite more than 20,000 lawsuits filed against music fans in the years since they started finding free tunes online rather than buying CDs from record companies, the recording industry has utterly failed to halt the decline of the record album or the rise of digital music sharing.

Still, hardly a month goes by without a news release from the industry's lobby, the Recording Industry Association of America, touting a new wave of letters to college students and others demanding a settlement payment and threatening a legal battle.

Now, in an unusual case in which an Arizona recipient of an RIAA letter has fought back in court rather than write a check to avoid hefty legal fees, the industry is taking its argument against music sharing one step further: In legal documents in its federal case against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer."
Oh, for crying out loud!

Making a copy for personal use has been legal since the LP days, when it was routine for people to make a cassette tape and play it in lieu of playing the vinyl record. As things have moved into the digital age, the same understanding has continued. The iPod and other digital players have permitted people to carry around whole shelves worth of music wherever they go.

This technology is a great convenience for those who buy their music and make a copy for portable use. It is also a great convenience for those who steal music, but thus far, the courts seem to have been reluctant to hobble an entire industry simply because some (or even a majority) of its users are dishonest.

This article suggests that the RIAA has failed in every attempt thus far to reverse its declining revenues, and is now going after law-abiding citizens, when what it really needs to do is to radically change its business model. The idea of extracting a fee for every possible use of a recording just isn't going to cut it in the digital age.

Full Disclosure: Every bit of music that may or may not be on my iPod is backed up by a CD that I purchased and is sitting on my shelves. Stealing is wrong whether it takes place at gunpoint or at the click of a mouse.

A Promise Kept

Since my son -- now 15 -- was about 9, he has been asking to go hunting, and I told him to check back when he had taken the Missouri Hunter Safety Course. You have to be 11 to be certified, so this put off the day of reckoning for a couple years.

I last hunted when I lived in Kansas between 1977 and 1979. It was enjoyable, but I gravitated over the years to fishing, and specifically fly fishing. Hunting never lost its allure for me, but I just never got out to hunt. By the time my wife and I started raising a son, the time constraints just weren't conducive to getting out.

Well, when my son was 11, he took the hunter safety course, and we started shooting at target and trap ranges together. I started purchasing the annual hunting and fishing combination license, and even added the migratory waterfowl option a time or two. I still couldn't find the time, and I suspect that I was just a little daunted by passing on a tradition that I had never fully embraced. Over the past few years he dropped hints that some of his school buddies would let him come along when they went hunting with their dads, but I felt that I needed to be a part of this rite of passage.

As luck and timing would have it, a friend of many years who works for the Missouri Department of Conservation, and is a skilled sportsman offered to take my son and me out for some duck hunting. Saturday the 29th of December was the day we chose. Ordinarily it takes a crowbar to pry my son out of bed on a Saturday morning, but when he was awakened at 4:15, he got dressed and was ready to go. We met my friend at the headquarters of Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area near Columbia for the 5:00AM drawing for hunting locations. We we didn't draw a low enough number, so we went out to the Missouri River near the conservation area and tried to lure in some ducks. The river itself had a strong current, but wing dams had created a pretty quiet backwater, and we set up the decoys, and sat on overturned plastic buckets and waited for the sun to come up.

We saw plenty of ducks and geese, but most of them were flying high. Occasionally a solitary mallard or a pair of mallards came in close enough to take a quick look, but they moved on. We saw large numbers of seagulls, and couple herons working the river, and we heard crows. The closest we came to shooting was when a small flock of geese came overheard from behind, but shooting a goose in the butt is not a high percentage shot. Now if we had been facing away from the river....

Essentially, this was "catch and release" hunting. We saw plenty, but few came within range, and we chose to not take any marginal shots.

We did have a special treat about halfway through the morning. My son suddenly said "those are otters!" and we looked where he was pointing, and sure enough, there were a couple otters cavorting in the slow water. They came in and checked out the decoys, and we counted 4 of these beautiful creatures. One of them looked our way, and started snorting like a small pig. Soon they were all looking at us, and hissing and snorting, and after a few moments they swam off downstream.

Duck season ends New Years Day, and I told my boy if he wanted to get up a 4:00am again, we could try to draw a location within the conservation area. We'll see... The overnight low is forecast to be about 10 degrees with a high of 21.

This was an enjoyable morning. My son and I learned a bit about waterfowl hunting from an expert, and we had a great time. My promise of several years ago was kept, and if my son wants to continue, then this is something we can do together.

Monday, December 24, 2007

No Room in the What? | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

No Room in the What? | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction:
"I am here to tamper with a masterpiece, or better said, to share with you a rather different reading of Luke 2:1-7, one solidly grounded in the facts, but nowhere represented in Christmas carols and pageants. I must tell you that I have heard endless sermons on how there was 'no room in the inn' and how it was typical of a cold, fallen world to cast the holy family and Jesus out into the cold, and so on, often preached with great fervor but producing no ferment at all.

We've heard it countless times before. We've all been inoculated with a slight case of Christmas, preventing us from getting the real thing, or in this case, from reading these texts in a more historical way. The problem with the Christmas-pageant version is, this is not at all likely to be what Luke intends to tell us in this much beloved and belabored Christmas tale."
Ben Witherington provides a really interesting interpretation of on of the staples of the Christmas story. When one remembers all the sermons preached on how there was no room at the inn, and that the baby Jesus was born in a barn with all the animals and so forth, it is really difficult to even consider an alternative interpretation. You just don't mess with tradition. Or hymns. Or anything else that people have gotten used to.

But Ben Witherington makes a good case for Jesus being born not in a stranger's barn, but in the home of a kinsman (after all, Joseph had relatives in Bethlehem). Considering the architecture of the day, it would not be unexpected that the family's livestock would be located at the back of a house built onto a cave opening. If Joseph and Mary were late getting into town, then the guest rooms might have been taken already.

Why not? Certainly much of the "theology" that is portrayed by Christmas carols is a little suspect from the nature of the tree travelers who brought the gifts, to the timing of the event. This more modern discussion of the events does nothing to minimize the Incarnation. It really doesn't change on central fact of the birth of Jesus and that was it was to an ordinary woman who was chosen to be the human mother of the Son of God. And considering another interpretation of Scripture than what we all grew up with does not erase the wonder we feel at Christmas that God, in His love for us, would become flesh and live with us as a human.

We're here and safe

We left on Saturday to visit my parents in Houston, and what should have been an uneventful drive turned rather eventful.

We left Columbia expecting to get south of Oklahoma City before the expected bad weather hit southern Kansas and Oklahoma. That was not to be the case. Rain started in Kansas City, and by the time we got to Paola, it had turned to sleet. By Emporia, things were slow, but passable. As we moved southwest on the Kansas Turnpike, things went scary in a hurry. We were in the position of not being able to turn back, but at the same time not daring to stop. So we continued to Wichita, and got off due to stop-and-go traffic caused by a semi jackknifed about five miles down the turnpike.

Our intention was to find a motel, but Wichita had no vacancies at every place we looked. We decided to travel on a highway parallel to I-35 for a while and check out the towns just south of Wichita. Still no dice. I looked over toward the Turnpike and noticed that the traffic was moving again, and it was not closed as we had been led to believe, so we got on and headed into Oklahoma. We stopped at every interchange where we could see motels, and they were all full. Finally, we founf a room at Guthrie, OK, and settled into a much needed sleep. I had 12 hours behind the wheel, and that was quite enough. The road problems in Oklahoma were not blizzard conditions; they were black ice. I'm just VERY thankful we did not have to spend the night in the car at a truck stop.

Sunday morning (when we had hoped to be in northern Texas), we resumed our trip. The roads rapidly improved, and by the time we were south of Norman, OK things looked pretty good. We finally arrived in Houston around 6:00pm and are still here enjoying family.

Anyway, Merry Christmas to all of you!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Anatomy of a cosmic bird

Anatomy of a cosmic bird:
"Using ESO's Very Large Telescope, an international team of astronomers [1] has discovered a stunning rare case of a triple merger of galaxies. This system, which astronomers have dubbed 'The Bird' - albeit it also bears resemblance with a cosmic Tinker Bell - is composed of two massive spiral galaxies and a third irregular galaxy."
Tinker Bell works as a nickname. Who says astrophysicists have lost their child-like imaginations?

The original ESO press release has links to additional images and explanatory information.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Jesus ad angers church groups | The Daily Telegraph

Jesus ad angers church groups | The Daily Telegraph:
"CHRISTIAN leaders have branded a television commercial depicting the baby Jesus tossing gifts back at the three wise men as tacky and offensive.

The ad for electronic goods retailers Betta Electrical recreates the Christian nativity scene, showing three wise men offering gifts to baby Jesus as he lies in the manger.

The commercial, which has angered Anglican and Catholic leaders, shows Jesus throwing gifts out of the manger as the words 'Give a better gift' flash on the TV screen."
What can I say? This speaks for itself.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Austin Seminary, Mission Presbytery ask: What must we believe?

Presbyterian Outlook: Austin Seminary, Mission Presbytery ask: What must we believe?:
"A new issue has popped up in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Mission Presbytery recently: should a person have to confess to the belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in order to become a member of a church?

The issue arose when Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, joined St. Andrew’s Church in Austin, Texas, in 2005, and later declared in a published article that he does not believe in Jesus, or God, at all. When Mission Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry researched whether or not there are questions in the Book of Order on joining the membership of a church, they found such questions — at least as required in an explicit formula — are not there."
I will grant that a specific list of questions to be asked is not present, but the Book of Order IS explicit about what it takes to be a member of a Presbyterian Church:
"The incarnation of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives to the church not only its mission but also its understanding of membership. One becomes an active member of the church through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and acceptance of his Lordship in all of life. Baptism and a public profession of faith in Jesus as Lord are the visible signs of entrance into the active membership of the church."

Book of Order G-5.0101a
I don't see how this statement can be parsed in any way that permits an avowed atheist to gain membership to a Presbyterian church.

The last I heard of this particular embarrassment was that a higher judicatory directed the session of St. Andrews to drop Jensen from the active roll and leave him on the baptized member roll, since he was baptized as a child. I have not heard whether this order has been implemented or not.

People I know rather well had attended St. Andrews in Austin and figured out quickly that this was not where they were at, so they sought another congregation. In their years in Austin they learned that this particular church and minister had a reputation for such behavior.

Mission Presbytery (where this all transpired) has proposed an amendment to the Book of Order that would add questions to be asked of members:
Who is your Lord and Savior?
Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.

Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?
I do, by God’s grace.

Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, share in its worship and ministry through your prayers and gifts, your study and service, and so fulfill your calling to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?
I will, with God’s help.
Many congregations, including my own, already ask similar questions. They seem to be reasonable implementations of the requirements for membership as specified in G-5.0101a, and serve to underscore the the fact that membership is for the entire Church, much as ordination is for the whole Church.

In the my congregation, the first question (Who is your Lord and Savior?) is also asked of parents presenting their children for baptism, and it may be the only question asked of Presbyterians where a complete sentence is called for. The constitutional questions for ordination require a simple "I do" or "I will" as a response.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Big Chill: Ch-Ch-Chatting with the IT manager at the South Pole

The Big Chill: Ch-Ch-Chatting with the IT manager at the South Pole:
"From the start, Henry Malmgren was determined to get to the South Pole. After graduating from Texas Tech University in 1998 with a degree in MIS he applied for a job in the Antarctic every year before NSF contractor Raytheon finally hired him as a network engineer in 2001. Since then he has alternated between the Denver headquarters and the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, spending two summers and two winters there before finally working his way up to IT manager. Staying over is a commitment: Once the winter starts, there's no way to get in and out of the base until summer begins eight to nine months later. 'I thought I would just do this for a single season, but somehow it always seemed too easy to keep coming back,' he says."
A great interview here.... You'll also get a kick out of the accompanying slide show on what it is like at the South Pole.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

'Conspiracy' Resists Holiday Greed, Urges Giving | Liveblog | Christianity Today

'Conspiracy' Resists Holiday Greed, Urges Giving | Liveblog | Christianity Today:
"Pastors’ attempts to ward off the Christmas spirits of consumerism and busyness are so predictable, they’re easy to ignore. So many churches are looking for creative ways to reinvigorate members to take the energy they usually put into holiday-season spending and convert it into compassionate giving.

Such is the Advent Conspiracy, a self-described “emerging international movement” began in 2006 by Rick McKinley, senior pastor of Imago Dei Community, a 1,500-member emergent church in Portland, Ore. Sick of the de-emphasis on Christ during the weeks leading up to Christmas, McKinley challenged his congregation to give like God does."
I have, at times, been accused of developing a scaly green skin this time of year as I think of ways to suck the joy out of Christmas. A lot of it is the pressure to conform to the consumerism of the season, but I have to admit that all the pageantry, choir activities, holiday lunches and dinners take their toll as well. It's almost as if I dread the season -- not as much as I dread election years, but still I dread it.

Maybe the Imago Dei Community is on to something here. To give like God gives carries a lot of weight. It would mean giving without any expectation of a quid pro quo. It might mean anonymously giving a meal to a hungry man or giving a coat to a shivering woman. It might mean giving up everything to follow Jesus, even to the point of offering up one's very life.

On the same web page I found this story linked, there was another link to an article published in 1993 called Let the Pagans Have the Holiday. The author of this article suggested that, rather than trying to "take back" Christmas, we take back Easter before we turn our attention to the Nativity:
"...So let the pagans have Christmas as their most significant holiday. Easter is the central Christian holiday. And when we are known for our Easter, then we will have our Christmas back."
This too is thought-provoking, but I have to admit that my heart is with restoring Christmas to its proper place while trying at the same time to live as an "Easter Christian". And I really do enjoy the music of the season.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Colorado police seek links in shootings -

Colorado police seek links in shootings -
"COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (CNN) -- Police were searching a home near Englewood, Colorado, early Monday as they looked for clues in deadly attacks at religious institutions during the weekend.

The two shootings, the first at a Christian missionary center in Arvada and the second at a Colorado Springs megachurch, left a gunman and four victims dead and six wounded, authorities said.

Arvada Police Chief Don Wick said there is reason to believe the shootings are related."
News like this is horrifying at any time, let alone in a season where we eagerly anticipate the Prince of Peace.

An armed security guard ended the shooter's rampage, potentially saving many lives Sunday. Personally I am very conflicted about this. Armed guards at churches just don't quite seem right, yet the death toll could have been much higher if one were not present yesterday. The only thing we can do is leave it where it is -- in God's hands.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Researchers use new stem cell method to treat mice | Reuters

Researchers use new stem cell method to treat mice | Reuters:
"CHICAGO, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Using a new type of stem cells made from ordinary skin cells, U.S. researchers said on Thursday they treated mice with sickle cell anemia, proving in principle that such cells could be used as a therapy.

U.S. and Japanese researchers last month reported they had reprogrammed human skin cells into behaving like embryonic stem cells, the body's master cells. They call the cells induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells for short.

The Japanese team had previously done the reprogramming work in mouse skin cells.

A team at the Whitehead Institute of Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has now used the new cells to treat mice engineered to have sickle cell anemia, a disease of the blood caused by a defect in a single gene."
There is a lot of exciting news in the stem cell arena. To see some real progress in applying the newer, non-destructive stem cell research to a real medical problem is encouraging.

One thing that characterizes this debate more than any other debate I've seen is the discernment that goes into it. People see the medical problems and know that stem cell research can address such problems, but they are uncomfortable with the destruction of developing embryos in order to harvest pluripotent stem cells. The question is not "can we do it?" but "should we do it?" The newer research in "reprogramming" adult cells seems to be alleviating the bioethical concerns of many in and out of the scientific community.

It is encouraging that even while the debate was raging in the scientific and political realms, there were researchers who were willing and able to quietly continue their studies, even in the face of skepticism at the idea of reprogramming adult cells.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

Today is Saint Nicholas Day for those who recognize a differences between St. Nick and Santa Claus. This third century bishop had a reputation for anonymously giving gifts to the needy, as well as evangelizing in what is now Turkey.

Image from Wikipedia published under the Creative Commons License.

My family observed St. Nicholas Day a few times while we we living in Germany during the 1960s. We put our shoes outside our bedroom doors and the contents the next morning were generally eaten -- unless you were on the "naughty" list, in which case you got a lump of coal.

As you can see, the traditions are similar to the stockings hung on the mantel, and of course most people meld St Nicholas and Santa Claus into the same person.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Green Light for IFI - Prison Fellowship

A Green Light for IFI - Prison Fellowship:
"Just yesterday, we received some good news concerning the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, or IFI.

As you may know, IFI is an intensive and effective faith-based program for prisoners launched by Prison Fellowship 10 years ago. Several years ago, Barry Lynn and Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued IFI in Iowa, claiming it was unconstitutional. In June 2006, a federal judge agreed and ordered the program shut down—and for Prison Fellowship, which launched IFI, to repay the state of Iowa $1.5 million. Mind you, that is the money the state happily paid to IFI for running an effective program that reduces recidivism among prisoners.

Naturally, Prison Fellowship and IFI appealed. And the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has finally spoken. The three-judge panel, including former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, overturned major portions of Judge Pratt’s ruling."
This was mentioned on Presbyweb yesterday, and it caught my interest as it was a topic I had blogged about in the past.

The Washington Post had an article, Court: Prison Program Unconstitutional, that gave more details, but the headline was, shall we say, misleading.

THe Americans United for the Separation of Church and State's article, Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down Public Funding Of Evangelical Prison Program In Iowa, at least had a more accurate headline, although its spin was that this was going to bring such programs to a "screeching halt". Not quite...

These things seem to be true, according to the order of the 8th Circuit:
  • Direct aid to such programs is in violation of the Establishment Clause.
  • The program itself is NOT in violation of the Establishment Clause. It also seems from reading the ruling that the inmate's participation was entirely appropriate under the Free Exercise Clause.
  • Because clear value to the inmates and to society was demonstrated, the order for InnerChange Freedon Initiative (IFI) to repay 1.5 million dollars was vacated. Any amounts paid to IFI after June 2, 2006 (the date of the original ruling) are to be repaid (an amount the Washington Post said was $160,000).
In reading the order of the 8th Circuit, it seems to me that some aspects of the program were unduly harsh, but the court placed more emphasis on the fact that inmates volunteered to take part in the program.

Contrary to Americans United's opinion, this and similar programs are not at a screeching halt. In fact they continue under private funding.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals took note of the fact that this program has demonstrated that it works in reducing recidivism -- a claim that the various penal systems nationwide cannot make -- and perhaps this tipped the scales in their favor. Certainly repaying 1.5 million dollars for effective work performed under contract would have been a major cramp in their ministry.

This will clarify how such programs can operate, and hopefully more inmates can receive its benefit.

Monday, December 03, 2007

STLtoday - No charges in MySpace suicide case

STLtoday - No charges in MySpace suicide case:
"ST. CHARLES -- The St. Charles County prosecutor said this morning there will be no criminal charges filed in the case of the teenage girl who committed suicide after being bullied on the Internet.

County Prosecutor Jack Banas announced his decision at a news conference called to discuss the Megan Meier case. . Megan, 13, of Dardenne Prairie, hanged herself last year. Her parents said her suicide was the result of harassment via her My Space web page.

Her parents said an adult neighbor created a teenage boy who pretended to be interested in Megan before he began bullying her. The neighbors admitted to police that they created the account. ..."
I ordinarily don't weigh in on local or state controversies, but this is just over the top. For an adult to be involved in the cruelty just underscores the fact that there IS a dark side to the Internet, and we have seen it here in Missouri.

A new law in the Dardenne Prairie jurisdiction makes it a misdemeanor to engage in internet harassment. It may be a start, but it seems inadequate in this case. I suppose there will ultimately be an accounting for this, but it will be in a different jurisdiction....