Saturday, December 24, 2005


Christmas Eve Wishes


Track Santa

Thanks to Blackfive for this link to NORAD. Watch closely as the combined air defense forces of the US and Canada guard St Nick on his annual sojourns.


Christmas Eve Humor


Comic Art

Merry Christmas From A Few Of My Friends


How's Your December Been?

It coulda been worse...

Dec 1: Blanch carcass from Thanksgiving turkey. Spray paint gold, turn upside down and use as a sleigh to hold Christmas cards.
Dec 2: Have Mormon Tabernacle Choir record outgoing Christmas message for
Dec 3: Using candlewick and handgilded miniature pine cones, fashion cat-o-nine tails, flog gardener.
Dec 4: repaint Sistine Chapel ceiling in ecru with mocha trim.
Dec 5: Get new eyeglasses. Grind lenses myself.
Dec. 6: fax family Christmas newsletter to Pulitzer committee for consideration.
Dec: 7: Debug Windows 95
Dec 10: Align carpets to adjust for curvature of the Earth.
Dec 11: Lay Feberge egg.
Dec 12: Take dog apart. Disinfect. Reassemble
Dec 13: Collect dentures. They make excellent pastry cutters, particularily for decorative pie crusts,
Dec 14: Install plumbing in gingerbread house.
Dec 15: Replace air in mini-van tires with Glade holiday scents in case tires are shot out at Mall
Dec 17: Child proof the Christmas tree with garland of razor wire
Dec 19 Adjust legs of chairs so each Christmas dinner guest will be the same height
Dec 20 Dip sheep and cows in egg whites and roll in confectioners sugar to add a festive sparkle to the pasture.
Dec 21 Drain city reservoir: refill with mulled cider, orange slices and cinnamon sticks.
Dec 22: float votive candles in toilet tank
Dec 23: seed clouds for a White Christmas
Dec 24: last minute shopping, thus making many people feel less inadequate than
they really are.
Dec 25: Bear son, Swaddle. Lay in color coordinated manger scented withhomemade potpourri
Dec 26 Organize spice racks by genus and phylum.
Dec. 27. Build snowman in exact likeness of God.
Dec 31 New Year?s Eve~ Give staff their resolutions. Camm friend in each time zone of the world as the clock striked midnight in that country.


All I Want For Christmas... The Incredible Hulk "Smashin' Spruce" Tree! I have no idea why they feel obligated to make fun of it.


Ask Santa... do almost anything. It's pretty cool!


Triple Bah Humbug

Santa told to sack his gas-emitting team of reindeer
REINDEER-drawn sleds have been slammed as environmentally unfriendly, because the carrot-munching animals produce the greenhouse gas methane in their wind.

Now Santa has been urged to ditch his sleigh team and start travelling on public transport to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.

It has been calculated that Santa's team of nine reindeer would emit methane with a global warming impact equivalent to more than 40,600 tonnes of greenhouse gases on the 122 million mile Christmas Eve dash to deliver presents around the world.

That would make his marathon sleigh ride almost as environmentally damaging as an aircraft, which would produce approximately 41,500 tonnes of on the Christmas Eve trip....

...The methane calculations were made by Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Tom Brake.
NOTE TO MR. BLAKE: Santa is fictious and you wasted a big piece of your salary doing this calculations on somethig that does not exist.

Somebody, please, get me Mr. Blake's address -- I wish to visit his office where I will fart until he is rendered inacapable of drawing a breath.

Friday, December 23, 2005


Christmas Quotes

The Thinklings look at Athanasius on the Incarnation.

Then there is this:
Luke 1:41-56 - And it came about that when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice, and said, "Blessed among women are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord."

And Mary said: "My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him. He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed. He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever."

And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.
Some things don't need any help from me.


Large Scale Experimentation

Back when the Soviet Union fell, the world found itself with a number of satellite states on its hands that essentially had a clear slate in terms of how to build a capitalist nation -- they did not have all that much in the way of their own government since they'd been run so tightly from Moscow. What a great place to try new ideas -- like say the flat tax.

The NYTimes ran a piece the other day looking at exactly that. Estonia, a new Blogotional fav since we were there last summer, adopted just such a tax back when it pulled itself together and seems to be succeeding quite nicely.
The subject was the flat tax, which Mr. Forbes never succeeded in selling in the United States. Here in the polar reaches of Europe it is an article of faith. Estonia became the first country to adopt it in 1994, as part of a broader strategy to transform itself from an obscure Soviet republic into a plugged-in member of the global information economy.

By all accounts, the plan is working. Estonia's economic growth was nearly 11 percent in the last quarter - the second fastest in Europe, after Latvia, and an increase more reminiscent of China or India than Germany or France.

People call this place E-stonia, and the cyber-intoxication is palpable in Tallinn's cafes and bars, which are universally equipped with wireless connections, and in local success stories like Skype, designed by Estonian developers and now offering free calls over the Internet to millions.
The article continues as a general examination of a genuine Post-Soviet success story. Maybe this explains the rather bumbling nature of my encounter with the tourist business there -- all the really good people find themselves busy in the tech business?

Whatever, it is a blessing to see a success break out from the communist thumb.


Speaking Of Quotes...

The other day Jollyblogger looked at our view of history and used a bunch of quotes from G.K Chesterton. Chesterton is my second favorite quotable -- my first when it comes to matters of faith, but in general matters no on can surpass Winston Churchill. Just cause they are fun, here's some favs:


This Is Irritating

I ran across this and it just irked me -- it's supposed to be one of those "cute" stories about Santa's journey

Feds Give Santa OK To Make Christmas Rounds

Why, you may ask, am I so irritated? SINCE WHEN DOES SANTA CLAUS NEED THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT'S PERMISSION!? When I was a kid the story was about them getting everyone out of Santa's way because he was the big cheese. My how times have changed, and not always for the better.


Truly Stuck On Stupid

Man Swims Icy Antarctic Waters to Set World Record

The telltale?
"As soon as I dived in, I had a screaming pain all over my body," he said in a statement from a Canadian-Norwegian expedition ship in the Antarctic seas.
Hint: "Screaming pain" means "Stop Doing That!"


Why They Don't Like Us Much - Christmas Edition

Why must we Christians take the joy out of everything? Don't get me wrong, Jesus really is better than Santa, but lighten up a little.


Friday Humor



How not to deal with Christmas


I Had No Idea Any Steakhouse Was That Old

Ice Age Footprints Said Found in Outback


Bah Humbug

Christmas trees banned in Burundi


When Arguing With A Fool...

...make sure he, or in this case she, is not similarly occupied -- or else this happens:

Star, Joy Wage 'Holy War' on 'The View'



Minister attacked over fish talks

Double-Mouthed Fish Pulled From Neb. Lake

There's nothing like a little double talk to get you in hot water.


Send Chocolate And Loose Fitting Clothing

Study Documents Menopause in Gorillas

Thursday, December 22, 2005



The Telegraph of London is rapidly becoming my favorite newspaper in the whole world. Consider this article in defense of Christmas by an atheist.
So, in common with many who have suffered from the secularisation of the European mind since the mid-19th century, I must make my way down the Cresta Run to the grave without the considerable comfort of religion. However, as I do so, I rejoice wholeheartedly as an atheist that I live in a Christian culture, and I know that, in that undeniably hypocritical act, I am not alone.
I love this one
They might merit some of our pity: if they shut themselves off from the Christian culture, whether from the beauty of the liturgy, the serenity of church music, or from admiring the reticulated tracery of an east window, then their lives can only be deeply impoverished.
This is telling
The modern Left exercises a militant anti-Christianity not so much because of a cultural cringe in the face of immigrant minorities, but because of its general wish to dismantle history. Once you have erased Christianity, you have erased (or at least made appear irrelevant) much of the past 1,400 years. "Modernisation" in all its political forms is about the tabula rasa, and there are few ways of creating one of those so effective as the destruction of the traditional faith.
And he concludes
All of us, whatever our faith or lack of it, should see in Christmas a reaffirmation of a way of life that a few others wish to destroy, and the wonder of our benign sense of atavism. Atheist, Muslim and Jew can be part of this civilised, free-thinking resistance movement. And perhaps, if enough of us express this feeling now, our political leaders will feel it safe to jump aboard the bandwagon, with their usual lack of shame, in time for next Christmas.
Here, here -- now, who in this country has the gumption to write something like that? I would, but I lack the credentials.


The Problem With Prophets

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal carried an extensive piece on the mission of the author of The Prayer of Jabez, Bruce Wilkinson, to Swaziland. (subscription required)

Essentially our Mr. Wilkinson, after making millions with his book and related media enterprises got "a word" to go help the poor starving Africans. He did a lot of good for a while, but then he got "a word" too far, ran afoul of the local government and stormed away in a huff. So much for the effectiveness of The Prayer of Jabez. Oh yeah, and so much for the credibility of Christian mission when the going gets tough and the missionaries run home.

This is a tremendous example of precisely the kind of thing that scares cessassionists to death. The problem with prophets is that they usually don't know where they end and God starts. How's that for blunt?

There is a reason, I think, that the gifts are not universally effective. It's just too easy to think the gifts are ours when they are really God's. Sometimes, I think that's why we don't always get the answers to prayer we want. God wants to remind us of just precisely who is in charge, and it ain't us.

This stuff is especially egregious because of the number of followers a guy like this accumulates and the disillusions that follow in the wake of such events.
Word of Mr. Wilkinson's decision slowly reached Swaziland, where it dismayed his followers. "I don't know how to handle this," said Rev. Zakes Nxumalo. "People won't understand; to them Bruce is everything," he added. "How can he leave everything in the middle of the road?" asked 22-year-old Gcina Mdluli, who has taken a vow of sexual abstinence and now volunteers full-time in Mr. Wilkinson's school anti-AIDS programs.
You see, "the prophet" not only confuses himself with God, often his followers do to. Actions like this creates such a spiritual turmoil in disciples that many, so many, end up cursing God and the church.
Mr. Wilkinson says that he blames neither God nor man. He says he weeps when he thinks of his disappointed acolytes, and is trying to come to grips with a miracle that didn't materialize despite his unceasing recitation of the Jabez prayer.
Mr. Wilkinson I would suggest to you that weeping is insufficient. At a minimum comfort is called for -- you are not in ministry for you, you are in ministry for your "acolytes" - your duty is to them. Get you butt back to Swaziland and get busy leading the congregation you have built. Leave the rest of it up to God.


Mathematical, Statistical, And Descriptive Models

I promised yesterday to look a little more at the "spectrum of science" from hard to soft.

What does science do? It observes, it organizes the observations it makes, then it attempts to explain it in such a way that the explanation can predict some related but unobserved behavior. This predictive explanation is known as a theory, or better "a model." Just like a model car helps you understand a real car by being smaller and more manageable, so a scientific model helps you understand whatever it is you are studying.

As I said, traditional physics stands at the very top of the heap of science because the models used are completely and thoroughly explanitory. Using the physical models of Newton, if I want to throw a rock to the moon I can calculate exactly how hard to throw it, when to release it, aimed where and I can tell you with whatever precision you desire exactly where that rock will be at any moment of its journey -- I can even tell you how big a dent it will make on the surface of the moon. That is a fully mathematical, fully deterministic scientific model or theory. This is the best science can do.

One the next level we have statistical models. Let's say I want to determine the time path and destination of a migrating goose. All I can do in this case is study a whole lot of geese. I gather a whole lot of data about where they start, how old they are, what the weather is like, whatever it is I think makes a difference in how the goose I am interested in migrates, and then I plug all that data into my magical statistical analysis. Once that is done I can predict, usually pretty well, how my goose of interest will act, but I have no genuine understanding of what makes the goose behave as he does. All I have really done is a highly sophisticated determination of probabilities.

The difference between a mathematical model and a statistical model is that while a statistical model is predictive it is not explanitory. A mathematical model not only tells me what will happen, but it tells me why and how it happens. I wish I could show this to you in more detail, but I would have to actually do the math and I am afraid I am losing too many of you as it is.

Before we move on to descriptive models, a side note about quantum mechanics. Many contend that the distinctions I lay out here have disappeared because quantum mechanics is statisitical in nature and not deterministic in the sense that traditional physics is. That is not entirely true. In terms of energy, quantum mechanics is competely determinitive, it is only probablisitic with regards to position of a quantum particle. This by the way happens because we cannot even say if a quantum particle really is a particle at all -- it lives in a neither world between matter and energy, so the very concept of location doesn't apply in the same sense that it does for say, a billiard ball.

While it is true Einstein said of quantum mechanics, "I don't think God would play dice with the universe" he was not imputing that quantum mechanics was a purely statistical model in the sense that the goose example above is. Again, I would have to do the math to demonstrate to you any better what I am saying here, but people that understand quantum mechanics as statitical in the same sense as the goose study have got to be laymen that have never actually done quantum mechanical calculations.

Finally, there are descriptive models. You do these every day. Say you have a computer problem. You note the problem appears when you have three specific programs running at the same time. When you are describing the problem to your IT guy, you will tell him, "Whenever I do this, this happens." You will have created a descriptive model in your mind of what is going on inside your computer, you will assume that running those three programs casues the problem. That's all a descriptive model is -- it is an attempt to describe in words what conditions lead to what occurences and take a stab at why that is the case.

Now, I picked this IT example because most of the time, the model you lay on your IT guy will be completely wrong -- that by the way, is why they usually look so disinterested when you are telling them your theory. Your computer does so many things all the time, most of which you have no idea about, that those background tasks are a far more likely source of your problem than those three programs.

Descriptive models are very useful tools, but they are also very limited and also often very wrong. In our example, it may be that those three programs overload a specific memory buffer because they compete for it when you are on the Internet, and the real problem is that your background program that always pings the atomic clock to set your computer clock (something you never see) is not properly getting off the internet. So, the problem is really in a program you never see run, you may not even know is on your computer. To form a good descriptive model, you have to make sure you are seeing everything that is going on, that's very hard to do in some circumstances.

Which brings me to evolution and Intelligent Design. Both are purely descriptive models. Consider this article

Life's ingredients seen in planet nursery

What's the article really say? Life is made up of carbon, hydrogen, a little oxygen, and a few other things, arranged in a very complex manner -- not unlike all the programs seen and unseen on your computer. So, what they are saying is if I put all the ingredients into a big bottle and shake it up, I should get life, which is kind of like saying if I get a Windows disk and a Microsoft Office disk and and I put them in a box with a bunch of electronic components I'll get a computer. Yeah, it's possible, it even makes something akin to sense, particularly based on the small amount of information available, and while I can call it a descriptive theory or model, because strictly it is -- it is not predictive or really explanitory and therefore barely useful.

Under such circumstances it is terribly difficult to say what is science and what is not. You can see, I hope, that in forming the descriptive model you have to make a lot of assumptions. Now then, if you want to call what you are doing "science" one of the assumptions you have to make is a lack of the supernatural. Why? Well, the supernatural is not observable, measurable, or ever predictable -- thus if something has a supernatural cause or component, you can never really explain it, so you have no hope of doing science on it.

But note carefully that the lack of a supernatural component is an assumption -- it is not a result of the investigation and observations. Evolution does not prove there is no God, it simply eliminates the possibility in order to call itself science.

Yesterday's post got a great comment from Joe Carter
I suspect that the problem started in the 1800s when the term "science" began to be applied to almost anything, including such unscientific concepts as Marxism. Perhaps we should stop referring to ID as science, and call it a form of philosophically guided inquiry into natural processes.
Joe's right -- as science accomplished much that prior to the 1800's would have been deemed "magic" more things wanted to be called "science" simply to garner that cachet. Thus many areas of study began to exclude the supernatural, not because the area of study demanded it, but because they wanted to to call themselves scientific.

However, I would take Joe's great suggestion a step further. Evolution isn't science either. It is labeled as such primarily because of it's exclusion of the supernatural, but remember that is presumed as opposed to arising out of the data.

You want to fix education in a way that it allows mention of God? Let's create some new categories -- it's not just science and humanities, there is a bunch of stuff in between. Let's teach the limitations of what we know as well as its extent. Let's distinguish what we learn from our studies from what we impose on our studies.

In my opinion the problem that Intelligent Design attempts to solve would be better solved by properly teaching evolution than tilting up another decriptive model of minimal usefulness, even if it has similar plausibility.


Illuminated Scripture


OK, Now I'm Hacked


Poison slick to reach Russian city 'in hours'

Toxic spill in second China river

Russian city pins hopes on dams as poison slick floats nearer

The original spill (first and third headlines) happened over Thanksgiving weekend! Accidents happen, but so do clean-ups, and none appears to be happening in this situation. Also, while one spill happens, another in such close temporal proximity begins to call into question just how "accidental" this really is - at a minimum negligence rears its head.

The technology exists, and in China, to at least significantly mitigate the damage these spills cause. This is the kind of stuff the UN really ought to be paying attention to instead of worrying about perhaps there might be global warming.


Great News!

Afghanistan parliament meets after 30 years


They Locked Me Up In A Room With My Conscience!

'Americans tortured me' - Saddam

This headline may be the best joke fodder in the history of headlines -- so there are a lot of options:


When Entering A Restricted Area

Please Show Proper ID

Even if you are a camel -- read it if you don't believe me.


Jazz Fan From The Lodge

Moose Captured After Son Plays Saxophone


What Not To Do In Japan

A Japanese man has died after being tackled by fellow train passengers who believed he had molested a woman during the morning rush hour.
Sure would be a lot of dead people in New York....


Why Clouds Don't Have Sore Joints

Creation of 'hot ice' could explain cloud formation puzzle


We Need More!

Chisholm sets out homeless target


He Was Rare

Milwaukee Man Stabbed With Meat Thermometer

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


There's Sin, and Then There Is ???

This post from Adrian Warnock in which he celebrates the fact that under-10-year-olds still believe in God set me to thinking. Adrian links to a newspaper article looking at the kid's lists "Most famous," etc.

Number 2 under "Worst Things In The World?" - Smoking. Now right on the heals of reading this -- I came accross this BBC piece:

Passive smoking 'blindness risk'

Sounds pretty bad, doesn't it? This raised the question in my mind, "Is smoking a sin?" Now, of course, such has been debated endlessly at Boar's Head Tavern and I don't really want to dip into the specifics -- rather I want to consider the generalized question of what is a sin, and are there behaviors that while inadvisable do not rise to the level of sin?

Almost any reasonable person is going to answer that last question in the affirmative. The question becomes what are those behaviors? Back into specifics when I want to look at generalities. What is gained by making those inadvisable behaviors appear sinful?

Well, of course, it tends to decrease the incidence of those behaviors -- but at what cost? Often at the cost of increasing what really is sinful behavior. Thus sex outside of the bounds of marriage increases while smoking decreases. Hmmm.

I think this has a serious deterimental effect on the gospel. Sin is our indicator of our need for God, and the salvation He offers. Thus, if our sin meter is broken we never realize how much we really need God.

Consider, not smoking is a relatively easy task to accomplish, especially compared to say, avoiding lust. Thus if we think smoking is more sinful than lust we are not as convicted of our need for God as we might otherwise be. I think you begin to see the problem here.

It's time for the church to once again put on it's thinking cap about ethics. We need to move past the theological maxim "all sin is the same" and re-develop a reasonable set of ethics. It really will be helpful for the advancement of the gospel.


Defining Science

As of yesterday morning, you can't teach Intelligent Design in some schools. Here's the ruling. (PDF) Hugh Hewitt points out that it really is the only viable decision under current law.
given the judge's explanation of his view of the "endorsement" test and the facts in the record, it is a reasonable result, just as the Ninth Circuit's first "pledge" case was a reasonable result given the "tests" under which the judges involved said they were working.
In an interestingly timed article, the NYTimes looked at "science fraud" in light of the revelations of cheating by the Korean scientist and stem cell work. Not related you say? - Right, neither was the "domestic spying" piece related to the Patriot Act vote.

One of the more interesting reads on the topic was Evangelical Outpost. Joe looks at the limits of "methodological naturalism." He uses a definition for this that is posited in a Scientific American piece in July of 2002. Here's the money quote Joe uses:
"Creation science" is a contradiction in terms. A central tenet of modern science is methodological naturalism--it seeks to explain the universe purely in terms of observed or testable natural mechanisms. Thus, physics describes the atomic nucleus with specific concepts governing matter and energy, and it tests those descriptions experimentally. Physicists introduce new particles, such as quarks, to flesh out their theories only when data show that the previous descriptions cannot adequately explain observed phenomena. The new particles do not have arbitrary properties, moreover--their definitions are tightly constrained, because the new particles must fit within the existing framework of physics.

In contrast, intelligent-design theorists invoke shadowy entities that conveniently have whatever unconstrained abilities are needed to solve the mystery at hand. Rather than expanding scientific inquiry, such answers shut it down. (How does one disprove the existence of omnipotent intelligences?)
Joe responds to this with an interesting thought experiment, but I have another problem with the quote.

Back when I was in undergrad school (Dinosaurs still wandered the earth and I had to walk to school, uphill, both ways, 20 miles, but that is a story for another time) I was awarded membership into the Sigma Xi honor fraternity for science. There was a huge debate over the inclusion of psychology majors in the awards -- there was a question as to whether psychology was a science. That may take some of you aback, but lets think about it.

"Science" is really a spectrum. We used to talk all the time about "hard" (physics and to some extent chemistry) and "soft" (everything else) science. But I think it useful to show the spectrum a little better.

Physics stands at the peak. It is a science of the absolutely measurable and the absolutely mathematically modelable. In fact, much of mathematics was invented precisely to do physics. Next comes chemistry, as time has progressed much of chemistry has become very hard, but its inception was purely descriptive - and a good deal of it remains that way.

What do I mean by "purely descriptive?" That means the science observes, records, catalogs, and predicts, but a lot of the time we just know that X will happen when you do Y because it always does - not because our model or theory tells us precisely what is going on -- which is the case with Newtonian physics.

After chemistry comes any number of descriptive or taxonomic sciences. These are sciences of pure observation, description and grouping - biology, zoology, geology.... Now, each of these, some more so than others are becoming harder. For example -- there are now a number of hard theories about fault mechanics in geology (they don't work very well, but they are out there) - so geology is not just about categorizing rocks anymore. But in the end, you develop "ideas" about what might happen next, but that doesn't advance to the level of model in the sense that it does in physics. Sometimes you do very advanced statistics which is very useful for predicting the next event, but that is still very different from a true mathematical model like comes from physics, it's just a very sophisticated calculation of the odds.

Finally, there are the behavioral sciences - sociology, psychology, etc. These are fields of study which may utilize the scientific method and do a lot of statistical study, but you will only every be able to make statistical predictions - human behavior is never predictable on an individual basis. Back in my school days, we hard scientists looked down our noses at these types as pretenders - hence the Sigma Xi debate.

These distinctions I have just described are largely disappearing. Some of this shift stems from the fact that quantum mechanics are highly statistical in nature, so the seeming pinnacle of physics starts to look an awful lot like behavioral science. (Of course, I can't observe the behavior of a single quantum particle like a can a single individual, but that discussion will take us too far afield) But more the shift stems from our desire to grant the less hard sciences the same level of certainty that we associate with physics, a certainty that simply isn't there.

Which takes me to the money quote from SA above. Note that the author tries to equate the certainty of a physics concept with the squishiness of a zoological model. Oops.

Consider what evolution really is -- it's an attempt to explain the taxonomy that we see in the life on the planet, and the fact that that taxonomy is not quite as discrete as we would like -- that it is in fact more spectrum than grouping. It is the application of the scientific method to that taxonomy in an effort to build a model - in other words it's pretty soft science.

One of the reasons physics can be a hard science is that "the system" is well defined with discrete boundaries for any particular problem. Thus methodological naturalism works really well, because we always define the system in the fully observable and natural world. The problems physics investigates are not subject to random deviations or any sort of individualistic behavior.

However, once we move into the softer sciences it becomes extremely difficult to draw those boundaries and define the system. In zoology how many variables does one include to determine which direction evolution will point? In geology, do you consider fault stresses only within 10 miles of the breakpoint, or 100? In the behavioral sciences how do you even begin to account for individually erratic beahvior? And then , returning to evolution, what about behavorial variables? Who mates with whom and why? The boundaries of the system are fuzzy at best in soft science. One must in fact impose upon the problem, particularly when there are behavioral variables, the assumption of purely observable and natural as opposed to having those boundaries arise naturally from the problem itself. Thus, evolution is "science" because an a priori decision was made about the supernatural interference not being involved as opposed to that conclusion arising naturally from the study itself.

Which leads me to what I really hate about all this discussion of Intelligent Design and evolution and everything else. Where you come down on the problem will always be a result of the pre-notions you carry with you into the discussion - always.

Which means Hugh is right not just from a legal viewpoint, but from a scientific one. You want to talk about God in public schools, don't try and do it by developing a new, soft "theory." Do it by addressing the notions that currently prevent it really, the poor court decisions regarding church/state, the prejudice against all things religious, and on the list goes.

BTW, if all this seems a little fuzzy to you, tune in tomorrow when I will post in more detail about mathematical, statistical and decriptive models.


Breaking Through Loneliness

The Constructive Curmudgeon had an interesting post on Christmas loneliness the other day.
The lonely are asked what their Christmas plans are. The reply is in so many words, "There are no special plans. We will just hunker down at home - alone, again; and wait for it to end."
I have some sympathy with this bit lonelinessess -- I lived alone for 20 years before I was married. Sometimes my wife and I choose to spend holidays, though never Christmas, alone and hunkered down -- usually from exhaustion.

But this I will say about all that time I spent alone all those years before marriage -- it was self-imposed. Oh, sometimes the invitations were sparse, but there was always something to do if I really wanted to. If I live in such isolation it is because I am putting me in front of everyone else.

Long ago, when I felt lonely, I learned to repeat this verse to myself.
Phil 2:3 - Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself;
The end to loneliness lies in the very idea of worrying about the other guy's loneliness more than my own -- because, trust me, there is someone more lonely than you out there.

Next time you are feeling lonely, don't wait for an invitation -- issue one.


Very Bah Humbug

An administrator at California State University, Sacramento has banned decorations pertaining to Christmas and the 4th of July, among other holidays, from her office because they represent "religious discrimination" and "ethnic insensitivity."

"Time has come to recognize that religious discrimination, as well as ethnic insensitivity to certain holidays, is forbidden," Patricia Sonntag, director of the Office of Services to Students with Disabilities, stated in the directive she e-mailed to members of her staff on Dec. 9.
Somehow I cannot help but believe that on Christmas Eve this woman will be visited by three ghosts. I hope they scare her to death.


Great Holiday Tribute

Mudville Gazette carries a letter from the father of one of the fallen:
We miss him so much. We hurt inside. But we burst with pride in our son and brother. His memory will not fade nor will our love for him. When Mike was just becoming a teenager, I tried to imagine what he would be one day. I often told people I wasn't sure where life would take him, but I knew he would do something different and be very well known in his chosen field. I never dreamed he would become an American Hero who would serve his country so well.
Read it all -- shed a tear -- Then thank the Lord we have such men and women and such families behind them.


Elton John Needs A Life

Elton John: Gays Need Global Equal Rights

Precisely what world government is going to supply those rights and how shall they enforce them? Note to Elton: Take a civics lesson.

Oh, and while we are taking civics lessons

Senators Want to Know Bush Wiretap Authority



The Best Of Pravda

Newspaper, Popular Mechanics, or Science Fiction? Consider these two top stories when I tuned in yesterday.

People of the future to live high in the sky with no natural world around them

Terrible mutations may turn humans into plants or animals

This story is actually terrifying:

Russia celebrates Putin's most important holiday

KGB, or the State Security Committee, was established in the USSR a year after Stalin's death
Renaming the KGB was an absolutely outrageous idea. It ruined an internationally-known brand name.
And while we are at it, let's revive the SS and Gestapo. The FSB as it is now known should have been dismantled, not merely renamed. This really isn't the slightest bit funny.

Finally, despite rumors to the contrary, this did not happen near Chernobyl

Male cat breast-feeds kittens

It actually happened at a plastic surgeon's in West Hollywood.


Note To Self...

No, really. With this little utility you can send an email to yourself sometime in the future.

Now, if I could just figure out how to send today's stock prices to myself about 3 years ago...


Not So Bah Humbug

Stars may seem like a harmless symbol of Christmas goodwill -- but in eastern Europe, if they're red, they may be anything but.

Hungarian shopper Istvan Hamza made a formal complaint to police that the star decorations in a record shop in the town of Szombathely were too much like the communist red star -- banned by law as a symbol of decades of dictatorship.
As someone who has travelled extensively in communist countries, I have to agree with this one. In the heyday of the Soviet Union or the PRC, you could not go more than a few steps without seeing the things. If I was Ms. Hamza, I wouldn't want anything even vaguely resembling them around either.


Try Looking For The Moose

Family Seeks Return of Missing Moose Head


Must Have Had A Heck Of A Power Source

Stone Tools Push Back Human Occupation of Northern Europe by 200,000 Years

I mean, it's not easy to push something through time, and with such crude materials technology no less.


But The SEC Is Always A Problem

More Often Than Not, Massive Galaxies Form by Mergers


The Children Are Usually Very Unhappy

When Humans and Chimps Split

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Looking In Scripture

In one of those wonderful juxtapositions, there were some interesting thoughts yesterday from different blogs on the same topic. In this case it was about how, and how not, to read scripture.

Transforming Sermons looked at a post from Jesus Creed
Why do we read the Bible? I?ll venture to guess here.

Our tendency is to go to the Bible for something new, to read it in the hope and expectation of a fresh discovery of something we did not know or had not heard or had completely forgotten.
While over at Boar's Head Tavern They looked at a - 3 - parter (at least so far) by Ysmarko looking into the American church in general and how we do theology. In part 3 Mark says
my untrained theological assumption: we develop theology based on what we want the theology to do for us.

what i mean is this: no theology is done in a complete vaccuum. it?s impossible not to bring our own cultural lenses to scripture and theological reflection.
We are all, to some extent reformationists -- even our Catholic brethren as their church has undergone huge change in the last centuries. Almost all of that change is based on new eyes looking at scripture in new ways. And, because we Protestants believe we should be constantly reforming, we want to continue that process -- but I wonder if that is what is really meant by "always reforming."

The Reformation contained a lot of "new" theology, no doubt. I use "new" in quotes because it was always there, even in Roman thought -- at it's heart the Reformation was not theological, but institutional. The instituions had gotten in the way of the theology and piled so much on top of it that it was no longer recognizable. From a theological perspective, the Reformation was more about rooting out the heart of theology than it was "new" theology.

Jesus Creed put it best in their concluding paragraph:
We read the Bible, in part I am suggesting, to hear something old so we'll learn how to live anew today.
We are enticed by the new and the "relevant" -- when we should be concentrating on the "how." I think we fail to realize how little theology would matter if we all lived like God's people. It's just less important that we understand the Trinity than it is that we live like God is our Father, Christ is our Savior, and the Holy Spirit is in us helping us.

In a sense theology is about us, it's not really about God. We can never really know God, we are finite and He is infinite. The Christian life is about letting go of self and giving in to God. That doesn't mean we don't want to study and learn, it just means we need to keep it all in perspective and priority.


What's The Beef?

Somethings should be intuitive, but when your judgement is clouded by political partisanship, or simple hatred, you tend to lose intuition. Such seems to be the case when it comes to the communication intereceptions authorized by the president. Blinded by what they perceive as an opportunity to "get over" on Bush, the radical right, the Dems and those even further left are ranting like we are all about to be banished to the gulag.

Last summer when cruising the Baltic with Hugh Hewitt, I wrote about one of the speeches Hugh gave and he linked to it and thanked me for saving him the trouble. It's time for him to return the favor. Hugh has done a marvelous job, as only a teacher of constitutional law could, of laying out how what the president has done is compeltely legal. He has done so in four parts.

Read it, learn.

The most egregious part of this as far as I am concerned is the willingness to make political hay out of security issues. "Politics end at the water's edge" is not a cliche, it's an important idea designed to protect all of us so we can play the political games another day.

There are a lot of people that want to kill us. I, for one, will allow NSA to listen to every telephone call I make if it will help make the country safer from terror.


My Favorite Ornaments

Rebecca is asking for favorite Christmas ornaments. I'm betting you're not surprized.


Make The Holiday Grand

I love to cook well. I love when people sit at my table and 'oh' and 'ah' and rave. I have already started cooking for Christmas. It's alwayd a balancing act, weighing freshness against spending the entire entertaining occassion cooking and serving. Over the years I have learned some techniques to "half-make" some dishes so they do not take so long the day of, but retain the freshness so necessary for fine dining.

I also think this is a great thing to do in church circles. I find little better to get to know the people of God than over a meal, particularly a meal at home. We do a "Table for Six" thing at church four times a year and I have a grand time trying out new stuff on my guests.

That's why this site - Foodieview -- that I got from Adrian Warnock is so much fun. It's easy to use, very diverse, and I know some of the recipes to be superb.

The name turns me off a bit because I have known some UK "foodies" that were real snobs. But then, who cares, I just won't ask them to dinner.

You know, sometimes it's fun to try something new for Christmas....


And It Says 'Leave Me Lay'

Extinct mammoth DNA decoded

Why is it we are working so hard to keep anything from becoming extinct, and at the same time trying so hard to 'revive' extinct species?


The Aussies Get It Right

Scotwise tells us
Prime Minister John Howard has said he wants to put Christ back into Christmas.

Mr Howard says he has contempt for those who downplay Christianity during the festive season, in case it offends those who are non-religious or are of other faiths.

He said blanding out religious symbols of Christmas showed intolerance. "You don't demonstrate tolerance towards minorities by apologising for your own heritage," Mr Howards told The Sunday Herald Sun.
What'd ya say President Bush? Time to follow Howard's lead? I hope so.


Alphabet Soup

There has been so much written about New Orleans lately in the negative that I thought as we arrive in the "N's" it might be good to talk about the good stuff. NOLA is, in my never to be humble opinion, the best restaurant town in the world -- and this is my personal fav -- Emeril's. Yeah, him, the "Bam" guy. One of the best meals of my entire life. Appetizer. Homemade andouille sausage with home made worstershire sauce, I can't tell you the rest, it'll make us both too hungry.

One of the other great things in NOLA is architecture. Some of it in very unusual places -- like the cemeteries. The same conditions that made it flood so bad mean they can't bury people, so they have these crypts.

This fence post is, if you look closely, corn -- its from a home in the Garden District. this is very special to my wife and I. The first conversation we ever had -- in the narthex at church -- was about my garden where I was growing corn

Of course, the French quarter is the French Quarter. I think everybody knows about, particularly at Mardi Gras time.

I like it in the quieter times -- that's when you can get a feel for how things used to be. Then you get a real feel for the old southern port. NOLA was unique, even for the south. The strong French and Carribean influences made it a very different place from the rest of the south.

And here jazz was born -- the great American music form. It permeates the entire city. These are "amatuers" on the streets, in fact here they are in Jackson Square, but these amatuers might turn up in a club after dark. That's quality street music.

Speaking of Jackson Square, I think I will leave you with a wonderful dusky view of the city's most recognizable landmark. New Orleans is a must on any travel list.


Bah, Humbug

Santas go on rampage in New Zealand


Get The Holiday Help You Need

Call the Pastoral Care Hotline. It's an MP3 -- give it a second to load and play.


Not Thieves, But Critics

This headline gets it all wrong

Thieves Steal Two-Ton Moore Sculpture

Look at the picture -- they weren't thieves, they were critics, doing a fine job too.


Not The Best Superhero Identity

Toilet paper avenger strikes Briscoe bathroom

Instead of a cape he has toilet paper stuck to his shoes...


You Know The One About The "Oo-Ee-Aah" Bird?

That's the one about the one-pound bird that lays a two-pound square egg and when she does she goes...Well, you get the picture. Kinda not a joke anymore:

Gippsland chook produces 'egg-streme' lay

I'm gonna leave that in it's completely indecipherable Aussie form just so you'll follow the link. Poor bird.


There Is Something Fishy About This Bit Of Vandalism

Big flap over sturgeon in hallway

Too bad it's not about salmon though.

Monday, December 19, 2005


The President's News Conference

Great Job! Just once I'd like to hear the press ask a question as opposed to make a point in the form of a question -- What is this "Jeopardy?"

Bush's direct defense of his electronic interception decisions and his barely veiled attack on the filibustering Dems were masterstrokes.

Keep it up W!


Christmas Refreshment

Imagine! -- reading a homily in a major metrpolitan newspaper. Well, that's what I found when I read the Telegraph of London yesterday. It was written by the newly crowned Archbishop of York - the second most powerful post in the Anglican church.
In that poignant portrait of a baby lying in a cattle drinking trough, we have a snapshot of the everlasting and all-powerful God, coming to visit us in clothes of powerlessness and humility. The picture has no caption, but speaks volumes: it tells us that God is approachable because He has made the first move; that He is so concerned for our eternal welfare He will pay this price to be alongside us and lead us to our ultimate destiny. What was true in Bethlehem then, is true now in Bristol, Brisbane, Barbados and the world over, until the end of time. Its significance knows no bounds.
What a wonderful annuciation of the Incarnation. But he doesn;t stop there, he describes quite well, Christ's ministry
The baby in the manger ended His life on a cross. Christmas endures beyond the actual season, because the baby grew up. He descended on the human scene with an uncompromising message of love. He must have been the only teacher who has practised what He preached without faltering or failing. People who came close to Him, except for those who shut their eyes and ears, found themselves close to God Himself. Most were very ordinary people - and not particularly good ones at that.
But he gives the punchline early in the piece when he establihses his thesis
We must not be taken in by the expression "the season of goodwill" - as though you only need be nice to your neighbour for a few days. Christmas is here to stay. It demonstrates God's persistence with the human race. Christ's presence with us is permanent even though He can no longer be seen. His resurrection from death is God's statement that He does not give up on us, even when our attention to Him is fickle and forgetful. The so-called "season" of goodwill is on offer until the end of time, not because we have adopted it, but because God wills it so.
Christmas is not upon us -- Christmas is always here because the Lord is always with us. That dear firends is Glad Tidings Of Great Joy.


Way To Go, George!

Saturday morning, the president finally did what I've been hoping he'd do for a long time -- He called the Dems bluff. His radio address was a stem-winder. Captain's Quarters live blogged it here. The news is that he called the Dems to task for the Patriot Act filibuster. But the big news is that he called the NYTimes bluff regarding his approval of "domestic" spying.

This whole thing is a blatant attempt by the Times to influence the vote on the Patriot Act. It is pure politics and it is reprehensible. Dadmanly has all the details so you can understand how insignificant the accusation really is.

There are two issues in this entire mess. One is the press so obvioulsy playing politics off the editorial page. It is no longer surprizing to see this, but this is so blatant that it sets a new standard. It really is time for our newspapers to declare their political points of view and let Americans choose who to read on that basis.

But secondly is what the Dems and their NYTimes cohorts have chosen to play politics over. The Dems are, politically speaking, in desperate need of a win. They sensed a softness on the issue of the Patriot Act, particularly with this bit of "journalism" in tow, and decided to strike, regardless of the consequences to national security or the lives of Americans. The Patriot Act was designed to help 9-11 from ever happening again, but now thanks to the Dems, if the Senate does not act next week, the door to that will again be wide open.

The President is banking on the American people being smart enough to know what matters and what doesn't. I hope he's right. I hope this is one of those issues that matters to the political classes but to Joe Six-Pack, our national security is paramount.

Call your Senator today -- Let them know you want the Patriot Act in place come January 1! Don't stop with your Senator, call 'em all - anyone with a "D" after their name. Tell them in no uncertain terms that if they play politics with our national security again, they will never see the inside of the Senate after the next election. Tell them they better be sure that they think the abrogation of civil rights they "see" endangered in the Patriot Act is worth the lives of thousands on American in another terrorist incident.

I missed the President's address to the nation Sunday night, but there is some good stuff from Captain's Quarters and especially Michelle Malkin. This was straight up on Iraq. Sounds like it went well -- but I wish the President would play as much hardball on this issue as he did Saturday on the Patriot Act.


How About That?!

The church still has heresy trials. (HT: Sheep's Crib) This is largely a procedural matter, and not a huge deal, but I see a couple of interesting points here.

I am struck by the huge bureacracy of Roman Catholicism that, like some dragon in a cave, simply must be fed. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. In this instance the bureacracy demands that a man have the word "heresy" attached to his name when he was acting purely from conscience and had resigned the church voluntarily. But on the other hand, heresy simple means "outside of doctrine" which is true in this case. The word is only loaded because of historical misconduct on the part of those charged with maintaining doctrine.

I also find it refreshing that in this age, when so many Protestant denominations concentrate on doctrinal diversity, the Romans are working to maintain doctrinal purity in some sense. The problem with doctrinal diversity, at least where it is today, is that it eventually dilutes doctrine to nothing. Doctrine does matter, or else the church becomes a thing unto itself.

I guess what I am saying is that I think the Roman Catholics could throw around the word heresy a little elss but most Protestant denomination could do it more.


Big Trouble In The Former Soviet

Two stories over the weekend. One story, as told by MSNBC

Blast rips through smelter at Russia nuke plant

and Pravda

Explosion occurs near St.Petersburg nuclear power plant

involves an explosion at a scrap metal recovery smelter next door to the nuke power plant that is the primary supplier of electricity to St.Petersburg. Smelting requires enormous amounts of electricity, so it makes sense to locate it close to a power plant and avoid trasnmission losses, but a nuke plant of Chernobyl design?

Neither article is clear as to the cause of the incident, but such things usually result from the introduction of highly volatile materials in large quanitities (like water?) into the molten metal mass, resulting in explosive vaporization.

The other story is in Chechnya
Prosecutors in Chechnya have opened a criminal investigation after finding "catastrophic" levels of radioactivity at a chemical factory in the republic.
In this case, the release appears to be the result of bombing during fighting in the area, and the criminal investigation is because of the potential theft of the materials for use by terrorists in dirty bombs. Not a pretty picture, is it.

What do these stories have in common? The haphazard and lackadasical standards of the Soviet Union in its construction and use of nuclear materials. The fact of the matter is the Sovs were in such a rush to be a nuclear power, both in weapons and peaceful uses that they never took the time to do it right. The result is nuclear pollution, or potential pollution on scales unimaginable elsewhere in the world.

Most of this by the way is not in Russia, but is in other states too poor to properly deal with it, particularly now that they no longer have the resources of the Soviet state. They also all have higher priorities because the danger is not immediate. To date, what efforts to help that have been made have often ended up in the pockets of corrupt locals.

If the UN wants a useful project, unlikily, but let's pretend, this would be a good one. They could begin by creating a catalog of nuclear sites in the former Soviet and rate them in accordance with current and potential future hazard levels. Believe it or not, there are places known to be worse than Chernobyl. There are, by the way, some private agencies trying to do this but, to date, their effect has been minimal.


Macedonian Memories

Believe it or not, my 1991 trip to the Soviet Union where I visited Chernobyl and was there for the failed coup attempt against Gorbachov may not be my most interesting overseas project. There is another one I did where I started in Yugoslavia and ended in Macedonia because Yugoslavia fell apart right under me. The people of the "Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia" (you can thank the Greeks for that quite unweildy name) are a wonderful people and it has been a struggling nation. Thay have seen ethnic strife and they were the argicultural center of Yugoslavia and when it split, they lacked a decent manufacturing base to make a real go of it. So this is good news:

Macedonia wins green light to be EU membership candidate

While I am not a big fan of the EU, the Macedonia situation can be helped immensely by such an alliance. I wish them well.


What A Great Way To Waste Time

Send the penguin flying....



And here I thought we had this global warming thing all figured out
Trees in the Amazon grow slower and are older than scientists thought, a discovery that has implications for computer models of climate change.
Seems like every week we find out something else we don't know about "climate change" and yet we want to completely reorganize world society based on it.

Speaking of not knowing - another good one is ozone. Cities suffer from way too much of it, hence smog, but the "ozone layer" was fading and we therefore had to do away with ODP's (ozone depleting pollutants) so 'splain this:
In addition to thin air and sub-zero temperatures, climbers scaling Mount Everest face another challenge. Mountains in the Tibetan plateau where Everest is located contains levels of ozone as high as that of heavily polluted cities.
Oh look -- a real pollution problem which will no doubt be cleaned up by the knowlegable engineers and scientists in the area - it's a contract I'd love to have.

Cheat Seeking Missles points out the real problem with environmentalism and FOXNews shows that sometimes, its more about the bureaucracy than the reality.

Finally, I am not sure there is a more dour, less happy bunch of people anywhere on the planet than environmentalists. Now I have proof. Bah -- Humbug


Air Force Humor

Too Funny


Oh No, There's No Disfunction In This Family

A 15-year-old boy allegedly killed his father, then set their home on fire because he was afraid his father would find out he was failing some classes, prosecutors said.
It's really not funny, that's one of the saddest things I have ever read. How do you reach out to someone like that?


There's Always A Bigger Fish

These photographs, showing a tiger shark caught at Tannum Beach, have been circulating Central Queensland's email community since November 23.

If you look closely, you'll see a small shark protruding from the larger creature's mouth.
Reminiscent of what movie?



Write Your Own Edge Of Taste Joke Here

US beef back in Japan after two years


I Thought Black Face Was Racist...

Black faces racketeering charge

...But I didn't think it was criminal!


Probably From Reading The Legacy Media Too Much

Dementia cases 'are set to soar'

Sunday, December 18, 2005


Asking The Wrong Question

For a while now Al Mohler has periodically looked at this piece from the Times Of London which claims that societies are worse off the more religious they are - The great mantra of the left. Here's Al's latest installment. Al's arguement all along has been the fact that correlation does not equal causation and the therefore the conclusions of the study are faulty. Agreed both here and here. But it there is another angle on this I want to take.

The measures of a better society used in the piece are things like murder, abortion, promiscuity and suicide. Are those accurate measures of the efficasiousness of a religion in a society? Is the state of a society a measure of a religion at all?

I think it is fair to say that from a religion's point of view, it does not exist to change or mold society. Indeed, religion is the source of ethics, and ethics play a huge role in how a society functions, but that is not the reason for the religion.

Religions are an organizational expression of a belief system -- that is to say they exist to protect what the adherents believe to be Truth, and generally a deific truth. Which is where studies like this start by asking the wrong questions.

The value of a religion cannot be measured by its societal effects, because that is not the goal the religion has set for itself. It is a by-product, but it is not the raison d'etre. You can only judge the value of a religion based on how well it reflects Truth. But you say, how can Truth be objectively measured -- it can't, and therein lies the issue.

I automatically reject any "objective" attempt to measure the value of a religion -- can't be done. So, how does one decide which religion to participate in, if any at all? By seeking Truth both objectively and subjectively. And therein lies the beauty, to my mind, of Christianity.

Christianity seeks to appeal to both. It is highly rational and highly mystical. That cannot be said about many religions.

This also says much about how I choose to practice my Christian faith. I must seek to nuture both the rational part of my faith and the mystical. I must read and I must meditate, I must study and I must pray - and in all I must submit to God.

My prayer this Sunday is for a full and complete faith. A faith grounded in reason, but celebrated in spirit. A faith based in the rational but transcending the physical.


And They Want Us To Leave?

Krauthammer had a piece Friday about what a nutcase the Iranian President is. It made Holy Coast a little nervous. Krauthammer's essential contention was that this guy may launch nukes at Isreal to fulfill Islamic prophecy concerning the end times.
So a Holocaust-denying, virulently anti-Semitic, aspiring genocidist, on the verge of acquiring weapons of the apocalypse, believes that the end is not only near, but nearer than the next American presidential election. (Pity the Democrats. They cannot catch a break.) This kind of man would have, to put it gently, less inhibition about starting Armageddon than a normal person. Indeed, with millennial bliss pending, he would have positive incentive to, as they say in Jewish eschatology, hasten the end.
Krauthammer is bemoaning the fact that The UN is likely to sleep through this -- I agree. But like Powerline's Paul Mingerhoff, I think it unlikely Isreal will do nothing. I must also agree with Paul that Krauthammer's mention of James Watt in the same breath, something which Powerline itself showed to be a wive's tale, is unfortunate, misguided and shows that even the good ones don't always get it right. (Note to Krauthammer - Read a few blogs!)

But there is something no one is mentioning -- how can anyone expect us to pull down in Iraq with something like this on the boiler and Iraq being the best possible staging area for operations in Iran? It is looking increasingly like military intervention is going to be necessary to bring Iran to heal. While Isreal is the natural candidate for that action, since they are the target, they are limited. Iran's nuclear program is not a single target, readily accessible by air as was Iraq'a Osirak. No, many of the targets may not be penetrable by air attack at all, save going nuclear. Therefore special forces strikes, or invasion may be required.

Isreal cannot accomplish either of those things without treading on a lot of toes --they would have to move through a bunch of Arab countries -- while we are knocking on the door. Even if all our military does is provide cover for Israeli operations -- our presence in the region and specifically in Iraq is of vital importance.

It is time people got a little far-sighted. The strategic value of a democratic and friendly Iraq is almost incalculable.


Sermons and Lessons


Jean-Nicholas Grou lived in France and Holland. He was a Jesuit priest who entered into a deeper life with God on a retreat in 1767 where he learned to live his life in the spirit of prayer and complete abandon to God's will. He spent most of his time writing and speaking on the subject of spiritual growth, particularly the practice of prayer.

The following passage comes from his famous work How to Pray. In it he urges us to look to God alone to teach us to pray. Grou calls us to abandon our many methods and focus upon the object of our prayer: God. Many times we struggle in prayer because our focus is on the act of praying, i.e., the proper methods, formulae, and words. Grou teaches us to pray in spirit and in truth- by letting our hearts, not our lips, do most of our praying. His writing is simple and precise, yet full of enthusiasm and warmth. When reading Grou one feels the presence of God in his words.


1. God Alone Teaches Us to Pray

One day the disciples said to Jesus Christ: "Lord, teach us to pray." It was the Holy Spirit who inspired them to make this request. The Holy Spirit convinced them of their inability to pray in their own strength, and he moved their hearts to draw near to Jesus Christ as the only Master who could teach them how they ought to pray It was then that Jesus taught them the Lord?s Prayer.

There is no Christian who is not in the same case as the disciples. Every Christian ought to say to the Savior as humbly as they: "Lord, teach us to pray." Ah! if we were only convinced of our ignorance and of our need of a Teacher like Jesus Christ! If we would only approach him with confidence, asking him to teach us himself and desiring to be taught by his grace how to converse with God! How soon we should be skilled in it and how many of its secrets we should discover! Do not let us say that we know how to pray the prayer they learned from him. We may know the words, but without grace we cannot understand the meaning and we cannot ask or receive what it expresses.

2. Who Prevents Us?

Who prevents us from receiving the gift of prayer? Can we doubt that Jesus Christ is willing to give it to us? But do we desire it? Do we ask it? Do we think we need it? How many Christians do not even know what it is? And how many others instead of desiring it are afraid of it because it would commit them to a new way of life?

We know by heart a few forms of prayer. We find others to choose from in books. This is where many people stop, and when they have read these or recited them by heart, they imagine that nothing else is required. How grievously we deceive ourselves! With all these forms, however beautiful the sentiments expressed, we do not know how to pray. Perhaps we are praying in our own way, but we are not praying in God's way Where is the woman whose chief prayer is to ask God to teach her how to pray?

God must teach us everything concerning the nature of prayer: its object, its characteristics, the disposition it requires, and the personal application we must make of it according to our needs. In the matter of prayer we are as ignorant of the theory as of the practice.

3. A Supernatural Act

We know in general that prayer is a religious act, but when it comes to praying we easily forget that it is a supernatural act which is therefore beyond our own strength and can only be performed by the inspiration and help of grace. As St. Paul says: "Not that we are competent to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God" (2 Cor. 3:5, NIV).

Do we have the feeling of our own insufficiency in our mind and in our heart? Are we conscious of it when we place ourselves in God's presence? Do we begin our prayers with this secret confession? I am not saying that we -~ must always vocally ask God's help, but such a request ought to be in our hearts and such an attitude should govern the whole course of our prayer.

But if we are to look for everything from God, all our good thoughts and feelings how is it that we are often so dull and indifferent, satisfied to say our prayers coldly and without any preparation? Why do others try so hard to inflame their imagination as if prayer depended on their own efforts, as if it were not necessary that God's action should govern and direct their prayer? Since prayer is a supernatural act, we must earnestly ask God to produce it in us, and then we must perform it tranquilly under his guidance. We must draw down divine grace by our favor and then we must cooperate with it without interfering with its effects. If God does not teach us, we shall never know thoroughly the nature of prayer.

4. A Wholly Spiritual Act

"God is a Spirit," said Jesus, "and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24, KJV). Prayer, then, is a wholly spiritual act, addressed to God who is the Supreme Spirit, the Spirit who sees all things and is present in all things. As St. Augustine says, God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. Knowing this is the essence of prayer. The posture of our body and the words we use have no significance in themselves and are only pleasing to God as they express the feelings of the heart. For it is the heart that prays, it is to the voice of the heart that God listens, and it is the heart that he answers. When we speak of the heart, we mean the most spiritual part of us. In the Scriptures, prayer is always ascribed to the heart, for it is the heart that God teaches and it is through the heart that he enlightens the mind.

5. From the Heart

If this is true, why do we pray so much with our lips and so little with our heart? Why in meditation do we work so hard in the search for considerations and use our wills so little to move them to acts of affections? Why do we not lay open our heart to God and beg him to put into it whatever is most pleasing to him? Who could call it a bad method if it springs from humility, from a deep sense of our own inability, and from a lively faith and trust in God? Such is the method suggested by the Holy Spirit to those souls who ask him to teach them how to pray

"But my heart says nothing to me when I am in the presence of God," you say. "In the silence I find nothing but emptiness, dryness, distractions. If I try to fix my mind, to arouse in myself some feelings of devotion, to drive off distracting thoughts, it is absolutely essential for me to use a prayer book." Your heart says nothing?! In so far as it is silent, you are not praying at all, but is it any less so when your mouth is uttering words? Do you not see that these fine feelings you borrow from books only affect your imagination? They are not your words, but someone else's, and they become yours only for the moment that you are reading them; once the book is closed, you are as dry and as cold as you were before. "Nevertheless," you say "I was praying while I was reciting or reading that set of words." So you think and you are satisfied, but is that God's point of view? Is God equally satisfied? What do your words matter to him, to him who only listens to the heart?

6. The Voice of the Heart

You ask me what this voice of the heart is. It is love which is the voice of the heart. Love God and you will always be speaking to him. The seed of love is growth in prayer. If you do not understand that, you have never yet either loved or prayed. Ask God to open your heart and kindle in it a spark of his love, and then you will begin to understand what praying means.

If it is the heart that prays, it is evident that sometimes, and even continuously it can pray by itself without any help from words, spoken or conceived. Here is something which few people understand and which some even entirely deny They insist that there must be definite and formal acts. They are mistaken, and God has not yet taught them how the heart prays. It is true that thoughts are formed in the mind before they are clothed in words. The proof of this is that we often search for the right word and reject one after another until we find the right one which expresses our thoughts accurately We need words to make ourselves intelligible to other people but not to the Spirit. It is the same with the feelings of the heart. The heart conceives feelings and adopts them without any need of resorting to words unless it wishes to communicate them to others or to make them clear to itself.

For God reads the secrets of the heart. God reads its most intimate feelings, even those which we are not aware of. And if these are feelings about God, how could he fail to see them, since it is God who plants them in us by his grace and helps our will to adopt them? It is not necessary to make use of formal acts to make ourselves heard by God. If we do make use of them in prayer, it is not so much for God?s sake as our own in that they help us to keep our attention fixed in his presence. Our weakness often calls for the help of such acts, but they are not of the essence of prayer.

7. The Prayer of Silence

Imagine a soul so closely united to God that it has no need of outward acts to remain attentive to the inward prayer. In these moments of silence and peace when it pays no heed to what is happening within itself, it prays and prays excellently, with a simple and direct prayer that God will understand perfectly by the action of grace. The heart will be full of aspirations towards God without any clear expression. Though they may elude our own consciousness, they will not escape the consciousness of God. This prayer, so empty of all images and perceptions, apparently so passive and yet so active, is, so far as the limitations of this life allow, pure adoration in spirit and in truth. It is adoration fully worthy of God in which the soul is united to him as its ground, the created intelligence to the uncreated, without anything but a very simple attention of the mind and an equally simple application of the will. This is what is called the prayer of silence, or of quiet, or of bare faith.

8. God Is Teaching Your Heart

If you feel any attraction for the simple and general prayer of which I have been speaking, do not reject it on the excuse that it has no definite aim and that you rise from your knees without having asked for anything. Let me say it again, you are mistaken. In reality, you have asked for everything, both for yourself and for those whom you love, and far more effectually than if you had made the detailed requests whose many words would only have exhausted you and hindered the action of God.

After this brief explanation, you must see that you have not until now understood what prayer really is. If, after reading this you are beginning to have a new understanding of prayer, thank God for it; for it is he who is teaching your heart and what I am writing here for your instruction comes from him.


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