Thursday, February 28, 2008

Experts create new image of Bach | Science | Reuters

Experts create new image of Bach | Science | Reuters:
"BERLIN (Reuters) - Experts have digitally rebuilt the face of 18th century German composer Johann Sebastian Bach -- and say the results may surprise his fans.

Using his bones and computer modeling, they have come up with an image of a thick-set man with closely-shorn white hair.

The new Bach face, the creation of Scottish forensic anthropologist Caroline Wilkinson, will go on display at the Bachhaus museum in the eastern German town of Eisenach, Bach's birthplace, next month. ...
Johann Sebastian Bach's portraits show him in a wig, and that is how we "know" him. But these guys didn't live in their wigs. Put a powdered wig on this reconstruction to the right, and it would look plausible.

The image below is the iconic portrait painted in 1748 by Elias Gottlob Haussmann.

Click on the image for a larger version.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Researchers Find Way to Steal Encrypted Data - New York Times

Researchers Find Way to Steal Encrypted Data - New York Times:
"SAN FRANCISCO — A group led by a Princeton University computer security researcher has developed a simple method to steal encrypted information stored on computer hard disks.

The technique, which could undermine security software protecting critical data on computers, is as easy as chilling a computer memory chip with a blast of frigid air from a can of dust remover. Encryption software is widely used by companies and government agencies, notably in portable computers that are especially susceptible to theft."
As I tell people I work with, there is NO expectation of privacy in your email, online activities, and apparently now on your encrypted hard drive in your laptop.

A few things to note:
  • Physical access to a running or recently shutdown computer is required. The passphrases that encrypt and decrypt your data are maintained in unencrypted form in your computer's RAM. While this information is supposed to go away when the power us shut off, the contents of RAM may persist for a few seconds up to a few minutes. Chilling the RAM modules may extend this period to several hours.
  • Only a cold shutdown will cause the RAM to clear after a few minutes. Putting the computer into sleep mode keeps the contents of RAM intact. This is by design to permit the laptop to start up in seconds when the user wishes to resume work. How many people use sleep mode routinely? Personally, I don't, especially when traveling. And I require a password to resume work after sleep mode is exited.
  • If security tokens are kept on a USB drive or smartcard, and these are part of the security mechanism, then the techniques worked out by the Princeton computer scientists are not effective.
This is not simply an abstract issue for technogeeks. A friend of mine helps to support evangelism in a part of the world that is not openly identified. The indigenous Christians use laptops and email for communication, and encryption of sensitive data is part of their security strategy.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

NFL Reverses Call On Church Parties -

NFL Reverses Call On Church Parties - (Registration required):
"The NFL, which found itself on the receiving end of protests and controversy after it objected to churches showing the Super Bowl on big-screen televisions, has reversed course and will now permit the viewings.

In a letter to Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league would not object to 'live showings -- regardless of screen size -- of the Super Bowl' by religious organizations.

In response to questions from Hatch, Goodell said in the letter, dated Feb. 19, the NFL will implement the policy starting with next year's Super Bowl. ..."
A wise choice.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What President Am I?

I saw this over at The Kruse Kronicle. Mike is Eisenhower. So what was I to be?

Which Great US President Are You Most Like?
created with
You scored as Theodore Roosevelt

26th President, in office from 1901-1909
Born: 1858 Died: 1919

Theodore Roosevelt


Abraham Lincoln


George Washington


Ronald Reagan


Thomas Jefferson


Franklin Roosevelt


Dwight Eisenhower


Lyndon Johnson


John Kennedy


Harry Truman


Woodrow Wilson


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Father, Long Before Creation

Father, Long Before Creation

Father, long before creation
Thou hadst chosen us in love,
And that love so deep, so moving,
Draws us close to Christ above.
Still it keeps us, still it keeps us
Firmly fixed in Christ alone.

Though the world may change its fashion,
Yet our God is e'er the same;
His compassion and His covenant
Through all ages will remain.
God's own children, God's own children
Must forever praise His name.

God's compassion is my story,
Is my boasting all the day;
Mercy free and never failing
Moves my will, directs my way.
God so loved us, God so loved us
That His only Son He gave.

Loving Father now before Thee
We will ever praise Thy love,
And our songs will sound unceasing
'Til we reach our home above,
Giving glory, giving glory
To our God and to the Lamb.

This hymn is found in The Hymnbook (1955). The words are anonymous Chinese from about 1952 and translated by Francis P. Jones in 1953.

The tune, Miller Chapel (8. 7. 8. 7. 4. 4. 7), was written by David Hugh Jones in 1954. A google search on his name turns up not only that a person of that name was the choir director at Princeton Theological Seminary at that time, but also that there is a "Miller Chapel" on that campus, so I am pretty sure that is who it is.

The melody line is written in a pentatonic mode (it can be played using just the black keys on a piano), thus is neither major nor minor. It has a faintly oriental sound to it.

This hymn is one of the "sleepers" of the 1955 hymnal. It did not make it into subsequent Presbyterian hymnals, although it has been used by others with a different tune. Its words are full of meaning and it has a beautiful and haunting tune.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

In Memory of Franc

This afternoon Trinity Presbyterian Church celebrated the life of the Reverend Franc M. Guthrie, who had been a parish associate for our congregation since his retirement from full-time ministry in 1998. Judging from the number of people present, Franc touched many lives in many places over the nearly 50 years of his ministry.

When I first got to know Franc, he struck me as a genuinely nice person -- but there was something about him that put me off-balance. I finally figured it out. When he asked "How are you?" he actually paused and waited for me to answer.

All too many people in the world ask that question and just keep right on going. It just something to say, something to fill dead air. Not so with Franc. When he asked you how you were, he was willing to listen.

When my wife's mother was in a nursing home following her stroke, he visited her on more than one occasion and brought her communion. When she died, Franc came to our home and visited with us and prayed with us.

We join hundreds of people in thanking God for Franc's ministry among us and we will miss him.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Congratulations, Mike!

PC(USA) - Presbyterian News Service - Fort Worth elder elected chair of General Assembly Council:
"LOUISVILLE — Carol J. Adcock, an elder from Fort Worth, TX, was unanimously elected chair of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly Council (GAC) at a meeting here Feb. 13.

Adcock, a member of St. Stephen Presbyterian Church in Grace Presbytery, was elected chair on recommendation of the council’s nominating committee.

Michael W. Kruse, an elder from Kansas City, MO, was unanimously elected vice chair. He is a member of Ward Parkway Presbyterian Church in Heartland Presbytery. ..."
Mike Kruse, of the Kruse Kronicle, has been elected vice chair of the General Assembly Council.

The GAC made a fine choice here. Hopefully this won't put too many constraints on on his blogging activities....

More About the PJC Decisions

Bob Davis of Presbyblog has summarized yesterday's decisions of the PC(USA) Permanent Judicial Commission and provided useful links to the relevant PJC decisions.

"The decisions have been issued:

Buescher, et al v. Olympia Presbytery (218-09)

Bush, et al v. Pittsburgh Presbytery (218-10)

1st Presbyterian Church, Washington, et al v. Washington Presbytery (218-15)

Also released and relevant is Advisory Opinion #21 from the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly. ..."

Personally, I wish they would write those decisions in plain English rather than lawyer-speak, but at least there is an advisory opinion that provides the official version of events.

Bob Davis points out that decisions of the PJC are authoritative interpretations themselves.

Probably the most significant outcome of these three decisions of the PJC is that Constitutional requirements for ordination cannot be changed by an "authoritative interpretation" of a particular General Assembly. In fact, the PJC seems to have upheld the AI arising from the Peace, Unity, and Purity report and makes it clear that it did not set aside any requirements for ordination, nor did it provide a loophole that would permit such requirements to be ignored.

Another related aspect of all this was the rejection of enumerated lists of essentials that many presbyteries had published following GA217. The PJC considered these and other restatements of what the Book of Order already says to be redundant, unnecessary, and unconstitutional. The presbyteries in question had a reasonable belief that the authoritative interpretation would be used to do an end run around the Book of Order. Subsequent events bore this out. By issuing the three rulings together, the PJC upheld the Book of Order, thus demonstrating to the presbyteries that the various restatements of ordination requirements were unnecessary.

I hope that some trust is being restored in our denomination. These decisions are a positive development.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Presbyterian Outlook: Top court prohibits scrupling on fidelity-chastity

Presbyterian Outlook: Top court prohibits scrupling on fidelity-chastity:
"LOUISVILLE – The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) has ruled that candidates for ordination must comply with the sexual behavior standards of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), even if they disagree in conscience with them.

The GAPJC, in a landmark ruling dated Feb. 11 on a case from Pittsburgh presbytery, declared that the authoritative interpretation that the General Assembly approved in 2006 does not permit exceptions to the requirement in the PC(USA)’s ordination standards, which say that candidates must practice fidelity if they are married or chastity if they are single.

It described the “fidelity and chastity” provision as “a mandatory standard that cannot be waived.” And it upheld language from a prior Synod of the Trinity PJC ruling that made a distinction between allowing departures from the church’s standards related to belief – but not departures related to behavior."
This ruling is a long-awaited clarification of just how the Peace, Unity, and Purity report would be applied in the inevitable attempts to probe the boundaries.

My quick take on this is that the plain sense of the English language is to apply to how the Book of Order is applied to polity decisions. "Shall", "Should", and "May" mean very different things, and the Book of Order uses those words purposefully.

In this particular ruling the PJC clearly states that to change such provisions of the Book of Order will require a constitutional amendment, and not the "scrupling" that has been the object of a number of recent actions in presbyteries around the nation.

Hopefully this will allay some of the fears that the PUP authoritative interpretation would be employed as an end run around the Presbyterian Constitution.

The PJC has made a sensible decision and I hope it can serve to cool things down among those who are trying to leave the denomination as well as those who are trying to parse authoritative interpretations in such a way as to change the Constitution with submitting amendments to the Presbyteries for up-or-down votes.

NOTE: I first saw this a couple hours ago on the Presbyweb site, but no details were given. It seems that Hans Cornelder is in the hospital. I sure he could use our prayers.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

UCLA stem cell scientists reprogram human skin cells into embryonic stem cells

UCLA stem cell scientists reprogram human skin cells into embryonic stem cells:
"UCLA stem cell scientists have reprogrammed human skin cells into cells with the same unlimited properties as embryonic stem cells without using embryos or eggs.

Led by scientists Kathrin Plath and William Lowry, UCLA researchers used genetic alteration to turn back the clock on human skin cells and create cells that are nearly identical to human embryonic stem cells, which have the ability to become every cell type found in the human body. Four regulator genes were used to create the cells, called induced pluripotent stem cells or iPS cells.

The UCLA study confirms the work first reported in late November of researcher Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University and James Thompson at the University of Wisconsin. The UCLA research appears Feb. 11, 2008, in an early online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences.

The implications for disease treatment could be significant. Reprogramming adult stem cells into embryonic stem cells could generate a potentially limitless source of immune-compatible cells for tissue engineering and transplantation medicine. A patient’s skin cells, for example, could be reprogrammed into embryonic stem cells. Those embryonic stem cells could then be prodded into becoming various cells types – beta islet cells to treat diabetes, hematopoetic cells to create a new blood supply for a leukemia patient, motor neuron cells to treat Parkinson’s disease. ..."
It's good to see this kind of research producing results. There is much to do before this translates into effective therapy, but some major hurdles are being overcome. It wasn't that long ago that many researchers were claiming that it was impossible to do what is now being reported.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

This Samaritan Life | Christianity Today

This Samaritan Life | Christianity Today:
"... Gospel-writer Luke tells us of the Samaritan village that refused hospitality to Jesus and his followers. Why? Because they were Passover pilgrims headed for Jerusalem. Samaritans didn't like Jews doing their Jewish thing. James and John took the inhospitality for a religious affront; in fact, they were ready to firebomb the village (Luke 9:51–56). These groups had a familiarity that bred suspicion and mutual grudges.

So I sometimes find life in America. The problem is not that my religion is strange. The problem is that my religion is familiar. Like Samaritans and Jews, Christians and non-Christians have a partly shared worldview (our Western traditions, which include the Bible), a shared point of origin (Christendom), and well-defined points of contention (the exclusivity of Christ). We are familiar with what each other believes. We're suspicious of one another. So we start off with a grudge. ..."
Tim Stafford, a senior writer for Christianity Today, has written a good explanation of why Christians are the subject of much scorn and dislike, even in a nation that was founded by people who adhered to Christian principles.

He starts by reacting to a common belief that, metaphorically, we live in Babylon with all its attendant issues of just how we are to worship the Lord in a strange land. Tim Stafford suggest that, no, we live rather in Samaria. We live among people who have some knowledge of where we are coming from, and we have some knowledge of what drives them.

Without saying as much, Stafford provides evidence of what many conservatives have suspected for a long time -- that bigotry and discrimination directed against Christians (and specifically more conservative Christians) is acceptable in the larger society.

James and John were so indignant they wanted to carpet-bomb the hapless Samaritan village. I suppose it was not for nothing that Jesus called these two the "Sons of Thunder." But Jesus had a different approach -- walk to the next village and see how they were received. Jesus chose a way that was not quite a confrontational as his disciples might have preferred. Rather he chose to engage individual people, and some the the first converts were Samaritans.

Personally, I would take Tim Stafford's approach a little farther. Some of the most bitter attacks on Christians come not from secular society, but from within the Church. One does not need to look beyond the PC(USA) to see examples of what, in a secular context, would be described as "hate speech". It's something we need to work on.

A personal note: Reading Tim Stafford's writing is always a pleasure. I taught at Sterling College (Kansas) from 1977-1979 and the pastor at the Sterling Presbyterian Church was Tim's father, the late Chase Stafford, who in 1981 presided at my wife and my wedding. We had the opportunity to meet Tim while he was home for a visit. If memory serves, he was working with InterVarsity at the time.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Requiring Photo ID Has Little Effect on Voter Turnout, MU Study Finds | MU News Bureau

Requiring Photo ID Has Little Effect on Voter Turnout, MU Study Finds | MU News Bureau:
"COLUMBIA, Mo. – With the 2008 Presidential election less than a year away, many states are working to require photo identification from all voters in an attempt to curb illegal voting. Critics argue that the requirement is unconstitutional and will ultimately reduce participation in elections. However, a recent study of Indiana’s photo ID law, conducted by a University of Missouri professor, found that requiring identification doesn’t have much impact on voter turnout rates. ..."
This is actually from late last year, but it is timely as today is Super Tuesday and Fat Tuesday all rolled into one. Or as one radio personality has put it, Super Fat Tuesday.

The Supreme Court of the United States also has the Indiana voter ID law on its docket this year, and a ruling is expected before summer. The Indiana law is described by many as pretty strict in its application, so one would expect that if there are harmful effects, they would be evident in the elections since the law went into effect.

Jeffrey Milyo, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Missouri, has found in comparing the 2002 election with the 2006 election (both off-year elections) that the voter turnout did not vary significantly and in fact increased in some counties with high proportions of Democrats.

You can download the full text of The Effects of Photographic Identification on Voter Turnout in Indiana: A County Level Analysis from the University of Missouri.

My wife and I went out and voted early this morning. We showed our ID, signed the register, and chose which party's ballot we would use. The lines were not particularly long, the the ballots were pretty simple. There's a certain satisfaction in performing one of the most important duties of a citizen, even when the choices are not that exciting.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Richard Dawkins Calls Himself A "Cultural Christian" - News Bloggers

Richard Dawkins Calls Himself A "Cultural Christian" - News Bloggers:
"Asked by a British member of Parliament if he is one of those atheists who wants to get rid of Christian symbols especially during the Christmas season, atheist Richard Dawkins replied that he is not. Dawkins said that he himself sings Christmas carols and that he considers himself a 'cultural Christian.' Just as many Jews regard themselves as Jewish, defend Jewish interests and cherish Jewish culture while not participating in Jewish religious rituals, Dawkins says that he respects the fact that the history and traditions of the West are shaped by Christianity. Dawkins says he's not one of those who wants to purge the West of its Christian traditions. The main threat to Christian symbols, Dawkins argues, does not come from atheists like him but rather from Muslims and members of other faiths. ..."
Dinesh d'Souza, who has written a book titled What's So Great About Christianity, suggests that Dawkins might be coming to a realization that Christianity may be more of a force for good than a force for evil in the world. I'm not sure I buy into all of his analysis of Dawkins' motives, but he certainly makes some interesting points.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Finnish patient gets new jaw from own stem cells | Science | Reuters

Finnish patient gets new jaw from own stem cells | Science | Reuters:
"HELSINKI (Reuters) - Scientists in Finland said they had replaced a 65-year-old patient's upper jaw with a bone transplant cultivated from stem cells isolated from his own fatty tissue and grown inside his abdomen.

Researchers said on Friday the breakthrough opened up new ways to treat severe tissue damage and made the prospect of custom-made living spares parts for humans a step closer to reality. ..."
Another interesting story that suggests that conventional wisdom regarding embryonic stem cells is falling victim to scientific progress.

Proofs of concept are one thing, but actual results are even better. If science and technology can keep moving in this direction, in the not-too-distant future students may read about the ethical and moral debates surrounding the harvesting of embryos for stem cells and wonder what it was all about.

Friday, February 01, 2008

NFL Pulls Plug On Big-Screen Church Parties For Super Bowl -

NFL Pulls Plug On Big-Screen Church Parties For Super Bowl -
"For years, as many as 200 members of Immanuel Bible Church and their friends have gathered in the church's fellowship hall to watch the Super Bowl on its six-foot screen. The party featured hard hitting on the TV, plenty of food -- and prayer.

But this year, Immanuel's Super Bowl party is no more. After a crackdown by the National Football League on big-screen Super Bowl gatherings by churches, the Springfield church has sacked its event. Instead, church members will host parties in their homes.

Immanuel is among a number of churches in the Washington area and elsewhere that have been forced to use a new playbook to satisfy the NFL, which said that airing games at churches on large-screen TV sets violates the NFL copyright."
This is not exactly new, but the NFL is starting to get litigious about churches that host parties, many of which collect food for local food banks in association with the event. These "Souper Bowl" parties encourage each attendee to bring a food item for the needy, but do not charge any kind of admission.

The NFL is suffused with arrogance and greed from the players on up to those who breathe the rarefied air of the sky boxes. I can't see how even church groups numbered in the hundreds can cut into NFL profits. If nothing else, there are more warm bodies viewing the advertising.

Fortunately the ban extends only to television sets greater than 55 inches. I suppose this will have to be adjudicated, though. Are we talking nominal size or actual size? Do we use the diagonal measurement or the horizontal? What about digital versus analog?

If you use a digital projector, you'll just have to use the zoom feature to bring it in just under 55 inches or you may just receive a letter from the NFL.....

I don't have a dog in this fight (although, to be honest, it wouldn't bother me to see the Patriots get their 19th win this season). Beyond that, I think I will check in every so often to see the score, and ignore the game otherwise. Pretty much as I've been doing for several years now. When I go to a Super Bowl gathering it's for the friends, fellowship and food. The game is secondary.

Oh well. I'm starting off February in a rather curmudgeonly way. It must be the snowstorm.