Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Return of the Railfan

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged about my hobby of railfanning – mainly because there has been so much else going on. But warmer weather is perfect for being outside and watching trains!

When I first got interested in trains, it was geared more towards the locomotives. I would watch for the locos, writing down their road numbers, and then seeing if I saw any of them again on a later date. Once the engines passed, I moved on, not really showing an interest in the rolling stock (the cars). Yesterday on my lunch break, I got to talking with another guy watching the trains and learned quite a bit about the cars, their numbering, their loads, etc. So now, instead of leaving after I’ve seen the locos, I watch all the cars, trying to identify their loads and then later doing some research as to what the cargo might be used for. It’s really quite fascinating to see how many different industries can be represented in one consist.

I will usually try to write down the time I see the train, the direction it’s heading, the loco type & road number, and any information on the rolling stock. Let me give an example. Today, at 12:25 p.m., an eastbound train past by, headed up by #’s 9317 & 9226 (both D940CW or Dash-9 for short). Among the cargo was a grain car, a tank car for latex, treated railroad ties (the wooden beams that go under the rails) and a tank of sulfuric acid. The treated RR ties were most likely coming from Koppler, Inc in Roanoke County. Yesterday I saw a load of untreated ones going in the opposite direction, most likely to the same Koppler plant to be treated.

There was also a tanker car of sulfuric acid. According to Wikipedia, “sulfuric acid is produced in greater amounts than any other chemical besides water.” Its uses include ore processing, fertilizer manufacturing, oil refining, wastewater processing, and chemical synthesis. Here’s where another interesting bit about railfanning comes in. Each and every car has its own identification number, or reporting mark, similar to the road numbers on locomotives and are assigned by the Association of American Railroads (AAR). These numbers indicate who owns the car. If the last letter in the series of letters is an “X,” this indicates a privately owned car. For example, the ID on this tanker car of sulfuric acid was GCTX 413208. A quick Google search helped me to find out that this car is owned by the General Chemical Corporation. So any car with the letters “GCTX” is owned by the General Chemical Corporation. Wikipedia has a list of all AAR reporting marks here: A Google search on GCC reveals that they are “among the largest North American suppliers of sulfuric acid” and that they have a terminal in Covington, Virginia, which is probably where the tank (most likely an empty one) was headed.

All that info from one day’s railfanning. Fascinating stuff.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Good news and bad news

By now, everybody not living under a rock has heard about the tragedy at Virginia Tech, has seen the photos of the victims being carried out, and has the home-made video of the killer spewing his hatred on pretty much anything and everything. Virtually every media outlet has offered up memorials to the victims and their families. I pray that God will use this tragedy to bring people closer to himself, that they will be comforted during their time of sorrow.

Amidst this horrible news, a piece of incredibly good news occurred that got lost in the VT coverage. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the nationwide ban on the abortion procedure called Dilation and Extraction, or more commonly known as “partial birth abortion.” In a 5-4 decision, the justices determined that the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act doesn’t violate a woman’s “constitutional right to abortion.”

(**Caution: the following is somewhat graphic and extremely disturbing in nature. If you can read this without being affected, you might want to check your pulse.**)

A partial birth abortion is one in which a baby (yes, it is a baby, not just some blob/fetus) is partially brought into this world, with the exception of its head, thus circumventing the “legal” definition of a “person” being one who has taken a breath of air. With the baby still inside the mother, the doctor slides a pair of scissors up the baby’s spine until it comes into contact with the base of the skull, at which point the doctor pierces the skull, widens the hole, and then uses a suction catheter to literally suck out all the contents of the baby’s skull. The baby’s body is then pulled entirely from the mother’s body and disposed of.

The reasoning behind the justices’ decision was that opponents of the act had not shown that such a procedure would be necessary for the health and wellbeing of the mother. Additionally, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said that the procedure “had a disturbing similarity to the killing of a newborn infant.” While the decision does not prevent the immoral act of abortion, it does prevent using this horrific method, reducing the pain that a baby would endure. This ruling is certainly a huge step in the right direction of protecting the lives of unborn children across our nation.

Of course, there are still the groups that cry out saying that “politicians are playing doctor” and that it “flies in the face of…the best interest of women’s health and safety.” It sickens me that some groups will fight tooth & nail to prevent the inhumane treatment of animals who are on their way to the slaughterhouse (such as packing them in to trucks and not being given enough room, etc), yet don’t care one bit about the excruciating pain a baby goes through during a partial-birth abortion. There is so much talk about a woman’s “right to choose” that the baby’s right to life is overlooked. The right-to-choose side will most often present abortion as a means of saving a mother when the procedure will save the mother, or perhaps when a woman is impregnated due to rape. However, studies have shown that the vast majority of abortions are not for health reasons or for rape, but rather for social reasons (i.e., an unwed mother or an unwanted pregnancy.)

I applaud the Justices for their decision and look forward to the day when the despicable act of abortion is outlawed entirely. This week definitely had good news amidst the bad.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Jesus tomb film scholars backtrack

In what is sure to be a "titanic" blow to James Cameron's assertions that he has found the family tomb of Jesus Christ, several scholars are now backtracking on their claims that this tomb was "undeniably" the burial site of Jesus.

The Jerusalem Post has this article ( with the details. Here are a few excerpts:

"Several prominent scholars who were interviewed in a bitterly contested documentary that suggests that Jesus and his family members were buried in a nondescript ancient Jerusalem burial cave have now revised their conclusions, including the statistician who claimed that the odds were 600:1 in favor of the tomb being the family burial cave of Jesus of Nazareth, a new study on the fallout from the popular documentary shows.

The dramatic clarifications, compiled by epigrapher Stephen Pfann of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem in a paper titled "Cracks in the Foundation: How the Lost Tomb of Jesus story is losing its scholarly support," come two months after the screening of The Lost Tomb of Christ that attracted widespread public interest, despite the concomitant scholarly ridicule.

The film, made by Oscar-winning director James Cameron and Emmy-winning Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, prompted major criticism from both a leading Israeli archeologist involved in the original dig at the site as well as Christian leaders, who were angered over the documentary's contradictions of main tenets of Christianity.

But now, even some of the scholars who were interviewed for and appeared in the film are questioning some of its basic claims.

The most startling change of opinion featured in the 16-page paper is that of University of Toronto statistician Professor Andrey Feuerverger, who stated those 600 to one odds in the film. Feuerverger now says that these referred to the probability of a cluster of such names appearing together.

The film argues that 10 ancient ossuaries - burial boxes used to store bones - that were discovered in Talpiot in 1980 contained the bones of Jesus and his family. The filmmakers attempt to explain some of the inscriptions on the ossuaries by suggesting that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and that the couple had a son, Judah.

One of the ossuaries bears an inscription reading "Yeshua son of Yehosef" or "Jesus son of Joseph;" a second reads "Mary;" a third is a Greek inscription apparently read by one scholar as "Mary Magdalene;" while a fourth bears the inscription, "Judah, son of Jesus." The inscriptions are in Hebrew or Aramaic, except for the one in Greek.

But Shimon Gibson, who was part of the team that excavated the tomb two and half decades ago and who appeared in the film, is quoted in Pfann's report as saying he doubted the site was the tomb of Jesus and his family.

In the film, renowned epigrapher Prof. Frank Moore Cross, professor emeritus of Hebrew and oriental languages at Harvard University, is seen reading one of the ossuaries and stating that he has "no real doubt" that it reads "Jesus son of Joseph." But according to Pfann, Cross said in an e-mail that he was skeptical about the film's claims, not because of a misreading of the ossuary, but because of the ubiquity of Biblical names in that period in Jerusalem.

"It has been reckoned that 25 percent of feminine names in this period were Maria/Miriam, etc. - that is, variants of 'Mary.' So the cited statistics are unpersuasive..." Cross is quoted as saying.

The paper also notes that DNA scientist Dr. Carney Matheson, who supervised DNA testing carried out for the film from the supposed Jesus and Mary Magdalene ossuaries, and who said in the documentary that "these two individuals, if they were unrelated, would most likely be husband and wife," later said that "the only conclusions we made were that these two sets were not maternally related. To me, it sounds like absolutely nothing."

You have to wonder if James Cameron is starting to have a sinking feeling right about now. Looks like his claims have pretty much hit an iceberg.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Immanuel, God With Us

There is very little that can rival a children's choir. Put several dozen children's choirs in the beautiful Chester Cathedral singing Michael Card's "Immanuel" and you are left breathless. The sound, the vocals, and most of all the truth behind the words are awe-inspiring. Watch the video here:

If you're unable to see the video, here are the words (but, really, watch the video!)

A sign shall be given
A virgin will conceive
A human baby bearing
Undiminished deity
The glory of the nations
A light for all to see
That hope for all who will embrace
His warm reality

Our God is with us
And if God is with us
Who could stand against us
Our God is with us

For all those who live in the shadow of death
A glorious light has dawned
For all those who stumble in the darkness
Behold your light has come

Our God is with us
And if God is with us
Who could stand against us
Our God is with us

So what will be your answer?
Will you hear the call?
Of Him who did not spare His son
But gave him for us all
On earth there is no power
There is no depth or height
That could ever separate us
From the love of God in Christ

Our God is with us
And if God is with us
Who could stand against us
Our God is with us

Our God is with us
And if God is with us
Who could stand against us
Our God is with us