Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Life Has Changed...

For a little over a year now, my son has been eligible to obtain his learner's permit. I took him down to the local office of the license bureau and he picked up a manual, and I decided to let him make the next move.

Two months to the day after his 16th birthday he requested that I drive him to take his written examination. He passed, and he obtained his permit. He was surprised that it only cost $3.50. I reminded him that once he gets his driver's license there are insurance implications simply because he will be a male driver under the age of 26.

We have six months minimum until he can take the driving test, so he have time to reflect on the financial impact of his becoming a driver. Of course he wants a 2009 Ford F-150 4x4 pickup. I suggested a used Dodge Neon. He said he wouldn't be seen driving one of those. I said he wouldn't be seen driving at all. Life's tough when you lack your own wheels and a bank balance to support that habit.

I think we'll need to start looking for another vehicle, though. We have a 2002 Ford Escape, and a 2006 F-150 and both of them have standard transmissions. One thing that we need to think about is our own physical limitations. I am just emerging from a period of time when I underwent foot surgery and was hampered in my abilities to use the clutch pedal on the Escape (but not the F-150). Since I am closer to 60 than to 50, I may go with an automatic transmission the next time we buy a new car.

Oh well. Pray for patience -- We'll need it!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Whooping crane count in Texas up to record 270 | Top stories | - Houston Chronicle

Whooping crane count in Texas up to record 270 | Top stories | - Houston Chronicle:
"LAMAR, Texas — The whooping crane population has set another record with 270 of the endangered birds wintering on the Texas Coastal Bend.

The birds in the world's only wild flock spend each winter in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas before returning to Canada and the Wood Buffalo National Park.

Tom Stehn, whooping crane coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the flock size is up four from last year. The worldwide population, which includes both wild and captive birds, stood at more than 500 in September. The low for the species was 15 in 1941. ..."
My earliest memories of the whooping crane were that the count was hovering around thirty. During the same time frame, the brown pelican was on the verge of extinction because DDT applications had weakened the shells of their eggs to the point where almost no young were being born.

The whooping crane and the brown pelican recoveries are two good examples of why environmental protection and mitigation are important.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Where is the Cyber Hymnal?

[UPDATE - 12/27/2008]
MB noted in the comments that the Cyber Hymnal is back. It's certainly good to see this important resource available again.

I ordinarily go to to look up the words to hymns, but that domain name seems to have been taken over by a company that offers vacations, insurance, online dating, and so on. I wonder if someone forgot to pay the registration for the name?

That would be too bad, since they have been around since the mid 1990s providing an excellent reference for those interested in hymns and their history.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas 2008

From time to time I offer up a hymn for reflection, and today I present O Little Town of Bethlehem, written in 1868 by the Reverend Phillips Brooks, an Episcopal priest from Philadelphia. He was inspired by a trip he took in 1865 to Bethlehem. The words below are from Wikipedia, and the fourth verse is one I have never seen:
O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee to-night.

O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth!
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace to men on earth.
For Christ is born of Mary,
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.

How silently, oh how silently,
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still
The dear Christ enters in.

Where children pure and happy
Pray to the blessed Child,
Where misery cries out to thee,
Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching
And faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
And Christmas comes once more.

O holy Child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Year that could be turning point on disease - Times Online

Year that could be turning point on disease - Times Online:
"A tissue reprogramming technique that promises an almost limitless source of stem cells without the need to destroy embryos has been named as the breakthrough of the year by the prestigious journal Science.

The method for turning back the clock on adult tissue, so it acquires the versatile properties of embryonic stem cells, heads a list of ten achievements that also includes the direct observation of planets orbiting distant stars, and cheaper and faster technologies for mapping the genetic code.

The stem-cell advance, made by separate teams in Japan and the United States, has excited scientists because it could lead to tissue therapies for diseases such as Parkinson’s and diabetes grown from a patient’s own skin. ..."
With all the recent buzz that the new administration will roll back stem cell restrictions, it seems that new discoveries will reduce or even eliminate the need to resort to harvesting embryos for stem cells. No less a respected scientific journal than Science has named this the breakthrough of the year, and the advantages lie not only in eliminating one of the significant bioethical barriers to using stem cells, but also the fact that by using a patient's own cells, the problem of tissue rejection is greatly reduced.

Searching for the Star of Bethlehem | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Searching for the Star of Bethlehem | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction:
"Using powerful computer software, an Australian astronomer says that he has re-created the night sky over Bethlehem in the year 2 B.C. and discovered a planetary conjunction that may have been the Star of Bethlehem that drew the Magi to worship the baby Jesus.

Astronomer Dave Reneke said the close proximity of Venus and Jupiter created a spectacle in the night sky just before the summer solstice that year. Britain's Telegraph newspaper reported that Reneke went so far as to suggest that perhaps Christmas should be celebrated on June 17 rather than December 25. An interesting idea, since the December Christmas celebration probably doesn't mark the true birth day of Jesus either. The December observance has its roots in a Roman celebration of the winter solstice."
Here is an interesting summary of various theories on what constituted the Star of Bethlehem. Since this was a physical phenomenon, it is certainly within the realm of science to propose possible explanations. Adding in historical references in the Gospels that constrain the actual year of the birth of Jesus to sometime before Herod the Great died in 4 B.C., there are a limited number of theories that actually fit the known facts. Read the full article for further information.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Majel Roddenberry, widow of 'Trek' creator, dies - Yahoo! News

Majel Roddenberry, widow of 'Trek' creator, dies - Yahoo! News:
"LOS ANGELES – Majel Barrett Roddenberry, 'Star Trek' creator Gene Roddenberry's widow who nurtured the legacy of the seminal science fiction TV series after his death, has died. She was 76. Roddenberry died of leukemia Thursday morning at her home in Bel-Air, said Sean Rossall, a family spokesman.

At Roddenberry's side were family friends and her son, Eugene Roddenberry Jr.

Roddenberry was involved in the 'Star Trek' universe for more than four decades. She played the dark-haired Number One in the original pilot but metamorphosed into the blond, miniskirted Nurse Christine Chapel in the original 1966-69 show. She had smaller roles in all five of its television successors and many of the 'Star Trek' movie incarnations, although she had little involvement in the productions. ..."
Majel Barrett (Roddenberry), while not a major actor in the Star Trek universe, was certainly a ubiquitous one. She was also the voice of the Enterprise's computer in most, if not all, the movies and television episodes.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Zimbabwe: The Nightmare Must End - TCS Daily

Zimbabwe: The Nightmare Must End - TCS Daily:
"It must end. Zimbabwe is a land devastated by disease, deprivation and despair. Once southern Africa's breadbasket, today it is a basket case. Robert Mugabe led the freedom movement against white minority rule. After coming to power in (1981) he was hailed by his people and neighbors as a liberator. But Mugabe's affection for privilege, position and power has driven him to cling to his presidency through brutal repression. ..."
Ambassador Richard Williamson, who is currently serving as a special envoy to Sudan gives us a sobering reminder that, even though Zimbabwe is off the front pages, the problems continue to mount in that country.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Politically correct Christmas carols censor 'king', 'son' and 'virgin' - Telegraph

Politically correct Christmas carols censor 'king', 'son' and 'virgin' - Telegraph:
"Enduring favourites such as Hark the Herald Angels Sing and God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen are being altered by clergy to make them more 'modern and inclusive'.

But churchgoers say there is no need to change the popular carols and complain that the result is a 'festive car crash' if not everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. ..."
I appreciate the imagery in "festive car crash". In church Sunday we sang a lot of carols as part of the children's Christmas Pageant. Many, if not most of those singing had their hymnals open, but did not look at the words. At least not until they hit one of the "corrected" lines when they momentarily appeared disoriented as they sang the words they knew while some around them were singing unfamiliar words.

I think it needs to be emphasized again: Leave the existing hymns alone. If you don't like them, write new ones.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Shift Happens

As in "paradigm shift"...

Here is a YouTube presentation that puts a lot of things related to the information explosion into perspective:

Monday, December 08, 2008

Deep and wide: Growing via evangelism?

Deep and wide: Growing via evangelism?:
"STONY POINT, N.Y. — Mainline Protestant denominations have been shrinking for the past 40 years because they’ve scaled back what they did so well for decades before: birthing babies. Growth surged during the baby boom of the 1950s, but when that faded so did membership.

In order to reverse that trend the other historic way — growing the church through evangelization — about 75 Presbyterians gathered 30 miles northwest of New York City Nov. 10-12 for the “Grow the Church Deep and Wide: Evangelism Consultation” at Stony Point Center. ..."
"The proclamation of the Gospel for the salvation of humankind" may be the first of the six Great Ends of the Church, but it has been one that has caused discomfort in more than a couple of the Presbyterian churches I have joined over the years. Many years ago the church where I currently hold membership dropped the traditional 'Evangelism Committee' and replaced it with the 'Outreach Committee' for reasons that are somewhat unclear to me, although the consensus is that the 'E' word carried too much baggage.

Jack Haberer's article in The Outlook gives a bit of the history of the problem and how it is being met today.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Bad back may stop cane toad invasion | Science | Reuters

Bad back may stop cane toad invasion | Science | Reuters:
"SYDNEY (Reuters) - It seems a bad back might be the only thing that can stop the relentless spread of Australia's poisonous cane toads, which are killing native animals as they hop across the nation, researchers say.

Australia's army couldn't stop the cane toads, which number around 200 million. Residents swinging golf clubs failed and so did a campaign to freeze them to death in refrigerators. ..."
Golf clubs, eh? Would you employ a wood or a wedge for this? The possibilities do not make for pleasant contemplation.

It seems that Australia has had more than its share of environmental disasters resulting from inadvertent (in this case) or deliberate introductions of exotic species to a continent with its own unique catalogue of flora and fauna.

What good news there may be is that they seem to be suffering skeletal problems due to inbreeding. They may eventually die out, but not before inflicting a lot more damage.