Tuesday, December 30, 2008

We're all gonna DIE!!!!

(ok, yes, eventually, but not from this. It just sounded like a good post header)

Yellowstone Earthquakes Under Supervolcano Caldera
by James Pethokoukis

The headline "Scientists track unusual earthquake swarm beneath Yellowstone" only means one thing to fans of the Discovery channel like myself: supervolcano. Here is what the earthquake center at the University of Utah had to say yesterday afternoon:

The University of Utah Seismograph Stations reports that a notable swarm of earthquakes has been underway since December 26 beneath Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park, three to six miles south-southeast of Fishing Bridge, Wyoming. This energetic sequence of events was most intense on December 27, when the largest number of events of magnitude 3 and larger occurred.

The largest of the earthquakes was a magnitude 3.9 (revised from magnitude 3.8) at 10:15 pm MST on Dec. 27. The sequence has included nine events of magnitude 3 to 3.9 and approximately 24 of magnitude 2 to 3 at the time of this release. A total of more than 250 events large enough to be located have occurred in this swarm. Reliable depths of the larger events are up to a few miles. Visitors and National Park Service (NPS) employees in the Yellowstone Lake area reported feeling the largest of these earthquakes.

Earthquakes are a common occurrence in the Yellowstone National Park area, an active volcanic-tectonic area averaging 1,000 to 2,000 earthquakes a year. Yellowstone's 10,000 geysers and hot springs are the result of this geologic activity. A summary of the Yellowstone's volcanic history is available on the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory web site (listed below).

This December 2008 earthquake sequence is the most intense in this area for some years and is centered on the east side of the Yellowstone caldera. Scientists can not identify any causative fault or other feature without further analysis. Seismologists continue to monitor and analyze the data and will issue new information if the situation warrants it.

The University of Utah operates a seismic network in Yellowstone National Park in conjunction with the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). These three institutions are partners in the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.

And what if the supervolcano blew? Kind of like if a giant rock hit the Earth. A planet killer. An extinction-level event. Let me quote the words of President Tom Beck (Morgan Freeman) in the comet-hitting-earth film Deep Impact:

Within a week, the skies will be dark with dust from the impact and they will stay dark for years. All plant life will be dead within weeks. Animal life within a few months. So that's it. Good luck to us all.

Such a scenario would be very bad for equity values and the outlook for the labor market.

HT: Google Trends

Monday, December 29, 2008

Music Monday - He Holds the Keys

John Owen, in his excellent book, The Mortification of Sin, says this of the struggle Christians face in the daily battle against sin.

Let, then, thy soul by faith be exercised with such thoughts and apprehensions as these: “I am a poor, weak creature; unstable as water, I cannot excel. This corruption is too hard for me, and is at the very door of ruining my soul; and what to do I know not. My soul is become as parched ground, and an habitation of dragons. I have made promises and broken them; vows and engagements have been as a thing of nought. Many persuasions have I had that I had got the victory and should be delivered, but I am deceived; so that I plainly see, that without some eminent succor and assistance, I am lost, and shall be prevailed on to an utter relinquishment of God. But yet, though this be my state and condition, let the hands that hang down be lifted up, and the feeble knees be strengthened. Behold, the Lord Christ, that hath all fullness of grace in his heart, all fullness of power in his hand, he is able to slay all these his enemies. There is sufficient provision in him for my relief and assistance. He can take my drooping, dying soul and make me more than a conqueror. ‘Why sayest thou, O my soul, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known, hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint,’ Is. 40:27-31."

Steve Green's song, "He Holds the Keys" says "Against the gates of hell I now resist, For the shackles that had torn my wrists Lay before me now upon the ground, To sin I am no longer bound For from death's barren womb, He heard my cry, And loosed the chains that bound me to a lie, For he holds the keys!" Listen and enjoy.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Great Conspiracy reviewed

I few days ago I wrote a review on Fox TV’s “Conspiracy: Did We Land on the Moon? I was also asked to review Barrie Zwicker’s “The Great Conspiracy: the 9/11 News Special You Never Saw.” In it, Zwicker attempts to show that the tragic events of 9/11 were, in fact, orchestrated by our very own government. This is my review.

In (mis)quoting Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “The greatest thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Zwicker opens with “Fear may be the greatest single motivator. It can serve us and it can save us, but ill-founded fear – that’s another story.”

And there, in the first 2 minutes of this “documentary” Zwicker has provided the irony of his own theories. In attempting to show that instead of fighting fear, “today’s leaders traffic in it, chiefly the fear of terrorism,” he simply creates another fear - the fear that our government is somehow duping us in order to gain further control over us.

First off, I have to really wonder about the validity of someone’s claims when they cannot even get one of the most well-known quotes of American history right in the first two minutes of their program. Roosevelt did not say “The greatest thing we have to fear is fear itself” but rather “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” A minor point you might say. But in saying the “greatest thing” it is implying there are other things to be feared, whereas Roosevelt gave only one thing to fear – fear itself. It makes me wonder that since Zwicker couldn’t even get this quote right, what other stuff has he completely missed or even made up? As the program continues, it seems this isn’t the only thing he’s embellished, misrepresented or fabricated.

There are a couple of things that Zwicker gets exactly correct right off the bat. It would seem that a person’s level of patriotism is directly correlated to that person’s level of support for our military endeavors or what our government deems best. I agree that this should not necessarily be the case. Someone can still be extremely patriotic and not agree with the reasons for our being in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. Secondly, there has indeed been an overuse of sensationalizing headlines or, as Zwicker puts it, “the promiscuous issuing of terror alerts.” I daresay these are used by media outlets solely for the purpose of selling newspapers or garnering higher ratings simply because bad news sells. However, the connection between these two things and a government conspiracy is shaky at best. A brief look at American history will show that both of these tactics have been used since the nation was first founded and probably even before then. This is certainly nothing new

What is the great conspiracy? According to Zwicker, it is the “fact” of “bloody terrorist events carried out, not by foreign, but by our governments to trick the public into supporting war and police state agendas,” namely as evidenced in the 9/11 tragedy. Since in conspiracy theories such as this, you’ll hear the term “police state” quite frequently, let’s pause for a minute and define what exactly is meant by the term. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a police state as “a state in which the government exercises rigid and repressive controls over the social, economic, and political life of the people, especially by means of a secret police force.” This is important to keep in mind.

Zwicker attempts to show how the U.S. has practiced its own version of terrorism in foreign nations for at least the past 50 years. He then goes back even further to Columbus’ conquests in 1492 to show that this American version of terror isn’t new. But here again, attempting to paint these accounts with the conspiracy brush, he ignores human tendencies when it comes to national governments. Why didn’t he go back to the Inquisition? Or the Crusades? Or any number of wars throughout the world’s history? Each and every one of these displayed the exact same human tendencies of conquest and the desire for national power. Were these some sort of conspiracy to gain a police state? He also points out that “on one side – ours – the use of terror either is not admitted or is simply defined as ‘not terror’ and the other side’s terror is defined as ‘the only kind of terror.’” In doing this, he seems to overlook not only motivations behind varying acts of terror, but seems to be lumping any act of national defense (of any sort) as an “act of terror.”

Next comes an historical misrepresentation from just before our involvement in WWII. No conspiracy theory is complete without some correlation to Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler and in this point, Zwicker does not disappoint. He recounts the burning of the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany in 1933 and how Hitler used the ensuing fear of communism to pass legislation in the German government “to counter the ‘ruthless confrontation of the Communist Party of Germany.” (Wikipedia) In showing how governments perform acts of terrorism on themselves Zwicker states that “The Nazis masterminded the torching of the Reichstag…one week before a national election. That they did so is historical fact.” This is where the misrepresentation comes in. A quick Google search will reveal that whether or not the Nazis themselves were involved is far from “historical fact” and is still a matter of some speculation. Yes, the Nazis certainly capitalized on the event, but to say that their involvement is “historical fact” is a gross misrepresentation of the truth. Yet Zwicker uses this to show the correlation between the Nazi government and the U.S. government, particularly in light of the 9/11 events. In the same manner as the Nazis, he alleges, “within hours of the planes crashing into the WTC, the Bush White House designates the alleged villains.”

Another claim made frequently by conspiracy theorists is that civil liberties have been reduced and dissent criminalized. But which civil liberties have been reduced has yet to be spelled out or detailed. Again, the ironic truth is that his dissenting “documentary” is still available for anyone to watch, conspiracy theory books are still available in bookstores, dissenting websites are still available, and authors of these works are not in jail. So much for a police state.

Zwicker makes what is perhaps the most ignorant statement when he says, “The designated scapegoats of 9/11 [the Muslim men] gained nothing positive from it.” Apparently, he is either completely ignorant of the teachings of radical Islam or is convinced that such a teaching is also a fabrication of the U.S. government. And here again, the non sequitur is made that whoever’s agenda benefits the most is obviously the cause of the event. But even this assumes all benefits are equal or at least of the same nature. These two issues alone – ignorance of Islamic teaching and non sequiturorial assumptions – are the basis for the entire “documentary.”

As another example of linking one thing with another when it doesn’t necessarily follow is the statistic he gives from a Canadian study. The poll says that 63% of Canadians think that “individuals within the U.S. government including the White House had prior knowledge of the plans for the events of September 11th, and failed to take proper action to stop them.” Having prior knowledge of an event and being an instigator of that event are two different and entirely separate things. This is evidenced by a statistic from the same study that was not cited: that only 16% of those surveyed thought the U.S. government was in some way “involved in the planning and execution of the events of September 11th.”

The list and Zwicker’s droning goes on and includes such “facts” that the U.S. government had a “secretly contrived” hand in the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, the attack on Pearl Harbor, etc. Zwicker doesn’t provide any evidence whatsoever for these mentioned and the evidence that he does attempt to show does not provide proof or evidence of any kind other than that the government could have done such and such. And since it has been done before (argues Zwicker), then obviously “it wouldn’t be a first” for the Bush administration to do so either.

Zwicker finally gets to the main point of the “documentary” in discussing the government’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. He quotes varying sources and documents, and includes an interview with Michael C. Ruppert, another conspiracy theorist, author and investigator. The ultimate motive behind the attacks is, of course, oil or the growing lack thereof. Once again, however, the problem with the so-called “evidence” and “facts” presented here is simply someone taking one thing said or done, reading into it their own preconceived notions of what actually happened, and presenting the results as “Here’s what actually happened!” However, this line of thinking takes a mistake and puts malice into the intents of those who made the mistake. It attempts to claim an inside scoop into what those who made the mistake were thinking, feeling, and wanting.

Zwicker questions what Bush knew and when he knew it. He begins with the classroom whisper in Bush’s ear that purportedly informed Bush of what was going on. Zwicker points out that this whisper came “20 minutes after the first aircraft smashed into the WTC, 18 minutes after CNN breaks into regular programming.” Later, in attempting to show that Bush knew about what was going on before he even got to the school, Zwicker quotes a report by ABC’s John Cochran in which Cochran claims to have asked Bush as he left his hotel, “Do you know what’s going on in New York?” to which Bush replies in the affirmative. Here’s the problem I have with that. Timelines put Bush leaving his hotel at approximately 8:30 a.m. The first plane did not hit the WTC until 8:46 a.m., a full 15 minutes later. How could the reporter know what had happened in New York before it had even happened? And once again, how could Zwicker possibly know Bush’s motives for continuing his visit with the school once Bush had been told? Is it possible that since at the time of Bush’s arrival at the school, only one plane had been crashed and the scope of the emergency was not yet known? And further, as the 9/11 Commission Report points out, when Bush was informed of the second plane, is it not feasible to think that Bush did indeed want to project a calm demeanor? The point is, we don’t know and thus cannot assign malicious intent, let alone some grand government scheme, from these and similar events. Zwicker also contends that Bush’s statement that he saw the first plane hit the WTC couldn’t have occurred (and he couldn’t have) unless government-operated cameras were set up so that he could watch. However, once again, this is attributed malice to a simple verbal mistake. It’s funny that even though the media loves to pick apart Bush’s statements that, quite honestly, are often filled with horrible verbiage, yet in this he is taken quite literally without any hint of the possibility that he misspoke.

In yet another misrepresentation, Zwicker quotes the 9/11 Commission Report saying, “The Commission imagines, page 39, that as late as 9:30, quote ‘no one in the (president’s) traveling party had any information…that other aircraft were hijacked or missing.’ Wrong! The Commission imagines that it can get away with such claims, even though millions of people saw T.V. news reports about the hijackings on CNN beginning at 8:48.” Zwicker would have us believe that the Commission is saying the President didn’t know about either of the first two plane crashes. But what does the report actually say and what timeframe were they talking about? In the report just a few paragraphs before the one Zwicker quotes, it clearly states that the president was told about the second plane. The “other aircraft” mentioned are NOT the first two planes as Zwicker would want us to believe as evidenced by his reference to CNN coverage of those two crashes, but rather the report’s focus is the remaining two aircraft, the first of which did not crash until 9:43. The report is clear on this and I have a hard time believing Zwicker did not read the few paragraphs that came before the quote. Yet he seemingly purposefully misleads by insisting the report is talking about the first two aircraft.

In the end, was there some incredible incompetence in how the events and subsequent investigations were handled? Absolutely. But does this incompetence necessarily require both a pre-existing knowledge and an active role in bringing the events about? Absolutely not! And here Zwicker fails miserably in trying to prove his theories.

Zwicker does end on a correct note and one worth repeating: “Upholding the U.S. Constitution obligates one to guard against enemies, foreign and domestic. The founders of the country included that for a good reason. They knew that for centuries, governments had turned toxic. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and not just from outside threats.”

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rick Warren, Websites, and Inaugurations, Oh my!

Much hoopla has been made already about the fact that Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the hugely popular “Purpose Driven” books, has accepted the invitation to give the invocation at President-Elect Obama’s inauguration. I’m not really interested in going into the why’s or why not’s of whether he should be offering the prayer. My opinion is that if someone is going to do it, why not a person with at least some evangelical leanings?

The latest development that has some evangelicals in an uproar is that the Saddleback website appears to have removed their page covering questions about creation, evolution, and homosexuality. This has been interpreted as Warren’s bowing to pressure in order to be more “politically correct” or perhaps “less offensive.” Those who already disagree with his accepting the invitation have latched onto this as further ammunition against the man.

Now, I’m not particularly a fan of Rick Warren and in all fairness I have yet to read any of his materials and so cannot offer an objective opinion on his beliefs. But, to borrow a Shakespearean phrase, methinks much ado is being made about nothing. Did Saddleback really remove any reference to their beliefs on these issues? A closer look will reveal the truth.

The page in question was the Small Group Information page, which previously had questions “taken from actual questions from Saddleback members and the resulting answers from Saddleback’s pastors.” While the contents of this page has been completely removed, a Google cache of the page can be found here. The questions/answers under scrutiny are #s 30 and 48. If you were to type in the same URL, you would see a page pretty much empty of content, except for side links of course. However, another page has appeared with a slightly different URL, but looking very similar.

At first glance, it would seem that the list is identical to the cached/removed page with the exception of the “offending” questions, but that is perhaps because we are specifically looking for these questions. Take another look at the two lists. You’ll notice that not only are they are vastly different in content, they are different in focus. Surprising to me is the fact that while the omission of the questions regarding homosexuality and creation are spotlighted, very little issue has been made about the omission of questions regarding communion, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, baptism, salvation, etc. Why are these far more important doctrinal issues ignored while the two hot topic items of creation and homosexuality focused on? As mentioned before, it also appears that the page in general has shifted the focus from general questions about Saddleback to more specific questions about Small Groups, which makes sense given that the page is about Small Groups.

But has the Saddleback website erased any reference to its stance on homosexuality and creation? No! A quick search of the website brings up this page answering the question “What does the Bible say about Homosexuality?” Another page from the Small Group Pastoral Care Resources addresses the issue in discussing sexual purity. Further, there are several pages dealing with the topic of creation and evolution in a manner that makes it evident what Saddleback’s position is. There are also pages dealing with questions on the Trinity, salvation, etc. on their Bible Q&A page.

While on the surface the changes might seem at the very least done in bad timing, we certainly don’t know the behind-the-scenes intentions of those responsible for the website. Perhaps this change was already in the works. We don’t know. As believers, let’s follow James’ advice: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19) and avoid the Christian tin foil hat.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fly me to the moon

I was asked to view a couple of programs and to write my thoughts on them. The first is Fox TV’s “Conspiracy: Did we Land on the Moon?” The other is “The Great Conspiracy” – a documentary focusing on the events surrounding the 9/11 tragedy. This review will focus on the first and at some time later I’ll try to review the second.

To begin with and to be fair, I am not a conspiracy theorist. I don’t own a tin foil hat. So I am already biased against any “factual” evidence or information that was presented in these documentaries. Also, there are many, many websites that have reviewed this program and conspiracy theory. One of which is of course, Snopes. Another site is Bad Astronomy (BA), which reviews the program in detail and which I have cited a couple of times.

The “Conspiracy: Did We Land on the Moon?” program examines whether or not NASA’s Apollo space program actually succeeded in putting a man on the moon. The program attempts to question the validity of the government’s claim that we did indeed land on the moon by presenting a number of “factual problems” that conspiracy theorists have with the evidence. The difficulty that I have with conspiracy theories such as these is that each claims to have an inside scoop on what really happened. They supposedly say that they simply want the viewer to decide for themselves, yet only show one side of the argument – theirs. There are so many factually incorrect statements or faulty assumptions made that to go over each of them would take too long and probably bore the reader. I’ll only touch on a few of them, but if you are interested further, I would highly recommend visiting the Bad Astronomy site above.

The main protagonist is a skeptical analyst and engineer named Bill Kaysing, who worked for Rocketdyne, the designing company of the Apollo rockets. His first comment arises from the many issues of the Apollo program “that led people to believe that we’re never going to make it to the moon.” Right off the bat, there are a couple of things worth noting. First, Kaysing is “regarded as the instigator of the moon hoax movement.” (Wikipedia) As such, the program cites him heavily. Second, although he is presented as an authority on the Apollo rockets, Kaysing was not actually employed by Rocketdyne during any of the Apollo space program’s manned flights. (He resigned in 1963 and the first manned flight was not until 1968.) Third, while he claims to have knowledge of this and other space programs by way of documents he was privy to, this was apparently not even sufficient concrete evidence for him because all he could lay claim to was “a hunch, an intuition, … a true conviction.” In my opinion, if someone has seen documented evidence that a hoax was being perpetrated, as Kaysing claims, that person shouldn’t have to rely on “a hunch.” Later in the program, Kaysing says (with dramatic music cueing in the background!) “What actually happened in my mind, during the 60’s, is they said if you can’t make it, fake it (emphasis added).” So Fox TV is here quoting a guy who relies heavily on hunches and his own interpretation (“What actually [?] happened in my mind [!]) of what may have happened.

Kaysing’s first real issues come when he’s watching video footage of the Apollo landing and realizes that there are no stars in any of the photographs, that the U.S. flag is waving in an atmosphere without air (i.e., a vacuum), and there is no blast crater underneath the Lunar Landing Module (LLM). I’ll only mention the bit about the stars by copying a quote from the BA site:

So why aren't they in the Apollo pictures? Pretend for a moment you are an astronaut on the surface of the Moon. You want to take a picture of your fellow space traveler. The Sun is low off the horizon, since all the lunar landings were done at local morning. How do you set your camera? The lunar landscape is brightly lit by the Sun, of course, and your friend is wearing a white spacesuit also brilliantly lit by the Sun. To take a picture of a bright object with a bright background, you need to set the exposure time to be fast, and close down the aperture setting too; that's like the pupil in your eye constricting to let less light in when you walk outside on a sunny day.

"So the picture you take is set for bright objects. Stars are faint objects! In the fast exposure, they simply do not have time to register on the film. It has nothing to do with the sky being black or the lack of air, it's just a matter of exposure time. If you were to go outside here on Earth on the darkest night imaginable and take a picture with the exact same camera settings the astronauts used, you won't see any stars!"

Perhaps the silliest part of the program is where similarities are drawn between the movie Capricorn One and the Apollo landings. Capricorn One was a movie about how NASA had to fake a landing on Mars. Fox TV’s program says “The Apollo footage is strikingly similar to the scenes in Capricorn One” even down to some of the dialogue (“the surface is fine and powdery…”) Wow, so the Apollo hoaxers copied the movie to make their fake moon landings, right? Well, um, no. See, Capricorn One wasn’t made until 1978, almost 10 years after the Apollo 11 landings. So is it any surprise that a movie being made about a hoax landing be patterned after a real landing to offer authenticity? That this correlation between the movie and the Apollo landing was even mentioned in the program is incredibly sensationalizing at best. Once again, a Kaysing interview is shown where his reasoning for claiming that the whole thing was a hoax was that NASA had the budget to pull it off (since their budget is obviously so much greater than a film producer), but didn’t have the technology for the real thing. However, even then, no factual evidence is even presented.

Coming a close second in silliness is the association with, you guessed it, Area 51. Did you know that Area 51 has hangers that look like movie studios? Never mind the fact that movie studios look like hangers. Did you know that in the desert around Area 51, there is sand very similar in texture to moon dust/sand? And (and I know this is hard to imagine), the desert is barren just like the moon, complete with craters! Why, even astronauts see the similarities! Yes, this is the kind of ridiculous associations made by these conspiracy theorists.

Unfortunately, the program along with the conspiracy theory is chock full of these astounding assumptions, all of which are necessary to uphold the absurd claims made by those who believe them. As noted by a NASA spokesman in the program, every single piece of evidence showing a moon landing must be refuted in order to allow the conspiracy theorists their day in the spotlight. However, all the theorists have is conjecture, presupposition, and a whole rocket load full of faulty assumptions. They even go so far as to claim that NASA purposefully murdered astronauts in order to keep the hoax a secret. As pointed out earlier, they “have a hunch” or present what happened “in their mind” or what "could/may have happened"– all this without one shred of evidence to support these hunches. Overall, this program, like the theory it is about, can have holes poked in it as easy as, well, as tin foil.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What to Expect When Your Wife’s Expecting

Guys, let’s face it. When it comes to pregnancy, labor and the whole birth process, we’re clueless. And we’re even more clueless about what actually happens on the day of delivery. You see, we’ve got it in our mind that things will work out pretty much how they do in the few movies we’ve watched about a couple having a baby. Your wife’s water might break or she might suddenly go into labor, you’ll rush her to the hospital speeding all the way, wheel her into the emergency room where the doctors and nurses will immediately take over, put you both in a room, a couple hours of intense “Push! Breathe! Push! Breathe!” later and you are now the proud parents of an adorable baby.

Needless to say, this is not reality. Not even close. Okay, maybe a little close, but not much.

In an effort to help my brother-in-law who is about to become a father for the first time, (or anyone else out there reading this) I would like to explain the process of delivery from a guy’s perspective. Some of the details may be different, but hopefully overall this will be of some help to you. (Ladies, no offense intended with anything here, but this post is not for you. Read at your own peril.) This will also be a rather long read, so buckle up.

Before we get to the trip to the hospital, let’s back up a few weeks. You may have noticed that your wife is cleaning like crazy or packing things for the baby every couple of days. This is her mothering instincts kicking into overdrive. See, for almost 9 months now, she’s been bonding with this little person inside her. She is way more aware that this is in fact, a person who will in just a short time be occupying your house and waking you up in the middle of the night. Plus, if she is anything like my wife, planning is simply her forte. Believe me, you’ll be glad she’s doing all this. She knows that the stork doesn’t leave the delivery sheet with you to wrap the baby up in for the trip home. Yep, the baby does need to clothes for the trip home. And diapers. And more clothes. And more diapers. (It’s absolutely amazing the amount of clothes and diapers a newborn can go through in a day!) But whatever you do, make sure you keep up with everything that is being packed. Make a list and tape it to the front door if you need to.

Okay, fast forward to the day of the hospital trip. Your wife is experiencing some pretty intense pain and you’re thanking God that he made you a guy. You have now reached a crucial point: do NOT argue with your wife about ANYTHING from this point on until you get back home with your baby!! You do and your wife may just be wishing that God DID make you a woman just so you could go through what she’s going through. As you head out to the car, it’s at this point where that list you made earlier comes in handy. Your wife may not be able to think straight about what needs to be brought, etc and it’s up to you to make sure you bring it. Diaper bag – check. Overnight bag – check. Your bag – che-what?

Yep, you need a bag too, albeit one not quite so packed as the other two since you’ll have the wonderful freedom of being able to leave the hospital anytime you want (theoretically speaking, of course). If you plan to stay with your wife and are able to, you’ll need some things like toothbrush, deodorant, etc. But (and here’s what they don’t tell you), you’ll need a book or something to do during your stay. You see, the whole process can be very quick and adrenaline-fueled. But more than likely, it will be slow. Painfully slow (just ask your wife). And boring. Yep, you read right – boring. (It’s at this point that any women still reading want to shoot me. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, ladies.) Well – I should say that it can get boring if your wife chooses to have an epidural. Otherwise, not so much, I’m sure. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Just note that you should take something to read and something to snack on as well.

Okay, you’ve got the bags, you’ve driven to the hospital, and you’ve made your way to the emergency room. Even though it’s quite obvious to you and everyone else in the waiting room why you are here, part of the Hippocratic Oath that all medical personnel are required to swear to makes them ask “Why are you here?” As much as you are tempted to say “Well, I’m having my tonsils out and my wife sitting here groaning in the wheelchair decided to come along and dramatize the pain I’m feeling” – don’t. You’ll have to fill out some forms, including your wife’s birthday, full name, SSN, etc. If you don’t know these things, start memorizing them NOW. Especially her birthday. Most definitely her birthday. Since your wife will be in a lot of pain, you’ll need to be on top of things in answering any questions you can.

Next comes triage. This is a special place with the French term that means “We’re going to ask you the same questions again.” Here’s where you’ll be asked about insurance, fill out some more forms, your wife gets to wear a shower curtain, and where the nurses will double check just to make sure that your wife really is having a baby. (As frustrating as this is, just keep remembering that it’s all part of the Hippocratic Oath. I’m sure of it.) Once they’ve verified that, yes, this is the real thing, you’ll be taken to a room and your assigned nurse will check on you every now and then. Here’s where the difficult part starts.

All this time, your wife will be in immense pain every few minutes. During this time, she might scream. She might yell. She might say some things that aren’t exactly loving. Although it will be very difficult, DO NOT TAKE ANY OF THIS PERSONALLY! Women in labor are very rarely in their right mind. But this isn’t something you should point out to her at this time - just be aware of it. Due to heavy breathing and the pain she is in, it will be very helpful to keep her supplied with water and ice chips. Also it helps to count the seconds of each contraction. When she has her contractions, both you and the nurse will more than likely be holding on to her legs to give her something to brace against. This might seem a little weird, but apparently it helps. This entire time, she needs you to be as encouraging as you can be.

There might come a point where your wife decides she’s had enough and wants to call in reinforcements, otherwise known as an epidural. This is a type of anesthesia that brings a huge amount of relief “by blocking the transmission of signals through nerves in or near the spinal cord” (thank you Wikipedia). Once administered, your wife will think this is the best drug ever created and wonder if it comes in prescription form. The tricky part is getting it in. More than likely, she’ll need to sit up on the edge of the bed and hold on to you while the doctor finds the right spot in her back and – whoa! that’s a huge needle!! The doctor will have what will probably be the longest needle you’ll ever see in your life and, yes, it’s going into your wife’s back. So, let’s back up a few minutes and say that if you have a problem with needles or even think you have a problem with needles, now is the time to say so. Picking you up off the floor is the last thing that’s needed right now. Good with needles? Okay. As your wife is holding on to you, you get the pleasure of seeing the longest needle you’ll ever see disappear into your wife’s spine. Once that is in place, your wife will not be in near as much pain even though the contractions are still going. Here’s where it could get boring. While you certainly want to help her in any way you can, the sense of urgency brought about by screams of pain is gone and you almost feel like you can relax a little. Good thing to because you might be there awhile. Waiting. And waiting. And then after that, you wait some more. So unless your wife objects, read a book or take a walk, or something.

Here’s where the details might vary from story to story. Some guys get the pleasure of seeing the baby born “naturally” (whatever that means). Or the doctor might conclude that a C-section is necessary. Since this last option was the route we took, it’s what I can describe. After getting suited up, you’ll get to wait outside the surgery room for what seems like an eternity while they get all situated inside with your wife. A nurse will come and bring you in, warning you not to touch a thing. The doctors are all huddled around this thing draped in a blue canopy – that’s when you realize that that’s your wife on the table. You get to sit at her head while listening to the soothing sounds of snipping, sucking and clinking of surgical tools. Once again, you thank God that you are not a woman. If your wife doesn’t feel particularly chatty, it’s because someone other than the baby is rummaging around inside her.

Then you hear a tiny cry and your heart melts. It has got to be one of the best sounds in the world. You’ve just heard your baby announcing herself to the world for the first time.

The nurse will bring your baby round to a warming bed thing (pardon the technical terminology) to clean the baby up. While the baby looks like a squinting, slimy piece of baloney, she is at the same time a beautiful site to behold. (As an aside, I would highly recommend bringing a camera into the surgery room.) There is one part that you as the father get to play in this whole process, should you choose to. Once they’ve got her all cleaned up, you get to take a pair of scissors and cut the umbilical chord. Personally, I can stand needles and blood and yelling, but cutting body parts just isn’t my thing. If you don’t feel like you can do it, no problem. The nurses will then weigh and measure her, wrap her up, and give her to you to hold for the first time. And your heart will melt again.

Meanwhile, your wife is still being rummaged around in, tugged, vacuumed and sewed back up. If she doesn’t want to talk or look at your baby just yet, it’s nothing personal and certainly nothing against your baby. She is simply trying desperately not to get sick from all the weirdness going on beneath the blue canopy. Once you’re out of surgery, believe me she will be more than happy to revel in this moment.

If you stay overnight at the hospital with your wife, it is perfectly okay to have the nurses take care of your baby in the nursery for a little while. You’ll be feeling tired and your wife will most certainly be feeling tired and need her rest. Don’t feel guilty when the nurses ask if the both of you would like to get some rest and have them take your baby for a little while. In fact, you may need to insist on it for your wife’s sake.

And now you have joined the elite ranks of dadhood. There will be many more lessons to learn, joys to share, butts to be wiped, and tiny fingers to kiss. Welcome to the best job in the world.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lamentations of the Father

Lamentations of the Father
By Ian Frazier

Laws of Forbidden Places

Of the beasts of the field, and of the fishes of the sea, and of all foods that are acceptable in my sight you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the hoofed animals, broiled or ground into burgers, you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the cloven-hoofed animal, plain or with cheese, you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the cereal grains, of the corn and of the wheat and of the oats, and of all the cereals that are of bright color and unknown provenance you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the quiescently frozen dessert and of all frozen after-meal treats you may eat, but absolutely not in the living room. Of the juices and other beverages, yes, even of those in sippy-cups, you may drink, but not in the living room, neither may you carry such therein. Indeed, when you reach the place where the living room carpet begins, of any food or beverage there you may not eat, neither may you drink. But if you are sick, and are lying down and watching something, then may you eat in the living room.

Laws When at Table

And if you are seated in your high chair, or in a chair such as a greater person might use, keep your legs and feet below you as they were. Neither raise up your knees, nor place your feet upon the table, for that is an abomination to me. Yes, even when you have an interesting bandage to show, your feet upon the table are an abomination, and worthy of rebuke.

Drink your milk as it is given you, neither use on it any utensils, nor fork, nor knife, nor spoon, for that is not what they are for; if you will dip your blocks in the milk, and lick it off, you will be sent away. When you have drunk, let the empty cup then remain upon the table, and do not bite it upon its edge and by your teeth hold it to your face in order to make noises in it sounding like a duck; for you will be sent away.

When you chew your food, keep your mouth closed until you have swallowed, and do not open it to show your brother or your sister what is within; I say to you, do not so, even if your brother or your sister has done the same to you. Eat your food only; do not eat that which is not food; neither seize the table between your jaws, nor use the raiment of the table to wipe your lips. I say again to you, do not touch it, but leave it as it is.

And though your stick of carrot does indeed resemble a marker, draw not with it upon the table, even in pretend, for we do not do that, that is why. And though the pieces of broccoli are very like small trees, do not stand them upright to make a forest, because we do not do that, that is why.

Sit just as I have told you, and do not lean to one side or the other, nor slide down until you are nearly slid away. Heed me; for if you sit like that, your hair will go into the syrup. And now behold, even as I have said, it has come to pass.

Laws Pertaining to Dessert

For we judge between the plate that is unclean and the plate that is clean, saying first, if the plate is clean, then you shall have dessert. But of the unclean plate, the laws are these: If you have eaten most of your meat, and two bites of your peas with each bite consisting of not less than three peas each, or in total six peas, eaten where I can see, and you have also eaten enough of your potatoes to fill two forks, both forkfuls eaten where I can see, then you shall have dessert.

But if you eat a lesser number of peas, and yet you eat the potatoes, still you shall not have dessert; and if you eat the peas, yet leave the potatoes uneaten, you shall not have dessert, no, not even a small portion thereof. And if you try to deceive by moving the potatoes or peas around with a fork, that it may appear you have eaten what you have not, you will fall into iniquity. And I will know, and you shall have no dessert.

On Screaming

Do not scream; for it is as if you scream all the time. If you are given a plate on which two foods you do not wish to touch each other are touching each other, your voice rises up even to the ceiling, while you point to the offense with the finger of your right hand; but I say to you, scream not, only remonstrate gently with the server, that the server may correct the fault.

Likewise if you receive a portion of fish from which every piece of herbal seasoning has not been scraped off, and the herbal seasoning is loathsome to you, and steeped in vileness, again I say, refrain from screaming. Though the vileness overwhelm you, and cause you a faint unto death, make not that sound from within your throat, neither cover your face, nor press your fingers to your nose. For even now I have made the fish as it should be; behold, I eat of it myself, yet do not die.

Concerning Face and Hands

Cast your countenance upward to the light, and lift your eyes to the hills, that I may more easily wash you off. For the stains are upon you; even to the very back of your head, there is rice thereon. And in the breast pocket of your garment, and upon the tie of your shoe, rice and other fragments are distributed in a manner wonderful to see. Only hold yourself still; hold still, I say. Give each finger in its turn for my examination thereof, and also each thumb. Lo, how iniquitous they appear. What I do is as it must be; and you shall not go hence until I have done.

Various Other Laws, Statutes, and Ordinances

Bite not, lest you be cast into quiet time. Neither drink of your own bath water, nor of bath water of any kind; nor rub your feet on bread, even if it be in the package; nor rub yourself against cars, nor against any building; nor eat sand.

Leave the cat alone, for what has the cat done, that you should so afflict it with tape? And hum not that humming in your nose as I read, nor stand between the light and the book. Indeed, you will drive me to madness. Nor forget what I said about the tape.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Music Monday - Christmas Music Redux

I like Christmas music probably about as much as your average guy does. I’m not the kind of person that wants to start playing it while everyone is setting up their stuff for Halloween and stop playing when we celebrate Memorial Day. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but in my opinion, there’s only so many different arrangements you can do (and listen to!) of Silver Bells, Silent Night & Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire. These get real old, real quick. My wife would probably call me a scrooge for this, but I’m glad that all radio stations don’t play Christmas music 24-7 during the month of December.

There is one exception, however – the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. If there was a radio station that played nothing but TSO year round, I would have it preset to my #1 station on my truck radio. Now, before you think that there is some hope for me after all, be warned that TSO is not exactly what you would call traditional. TSO is similar to the Mannheim Steamroller. Only on steroids. TSO is what you would get if you crossed Metalica and Nat King Cole. But even then, their style is as varied as it is non-traditional.

For example, in the beautifully stirring Christmas Canon (below) you have a simple orchestral piece set to Pachabel’s Canon accompanied by a children’s choir. If you can watch the video or listen to this piece without being touched, perhaps you should check your pulse.

Compare that with their "O Come All Ye Faithful/O Holy Night" arrangement (my absolute favorite of theirs) and you’re probably left wondering if this is the same group.

But even in this ramped up version of two beloved Christmas hymns, you are still left almost breathless at the beauty of the music. Even if the musicians didn’t intend on conveying this thought, in listening to this piece I’m left with the impression that perhaps in Heaven it wasn’t a “Silent Night” on that Christmas evening, but one of majestic triumph and celebration as the pivotal point of all history comes to fruition in the birth of Jesus Christ. As I listen to the first part of the song, I imagine the shepherds out in the fields, listening as the angel of God proclaims “I bring you good news!” Then the song builds as the entire angelic chorus join him in singing “Glory to God in the Highest!!” The song then reverts back to the shepherds immediately after the sky turns dark once again, the air still crackling with excitement, but the song now focuses once more on a bunch of lowly shepherds filled with nervous curiosity and brimming with the desire to go find the Messiah.

They have so many other original scores and arrangements of traditional songs too that run the entire spectrum of style. So if you’re into non-traditionally traditional music, you’ve got to check out the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Book Review – In His Steps

Rarely have I come across a book that I am so torn over as to how to rate it. Usually a book will be obviously good or bad, making the ultimate conclusion in rating it a fairly easy process. While a good book may have some detractors, overall the good outweighs the bad, with the reverse also being true of bad books. However, I’m having a hard time making such a distinction in reviewing Charles Sheldon’s classic, In His Steps. There are many good things about the book, but there are also many not-so-good things.

The book centers primarily on a few members of the affluent First Church of Raymond in the late19th century who have been faced with the question of how Jesus would act if He were in their place. (In His Steps can be credited with the origin of the popularized question of “What would Jesus do?” or WWJD). A call is made for volunteers to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” before making any decisions for one whole year. Among those who volunteer are the pastor, the local newspaper owner/editor, a gifted singer, a wealthy young woman, a writer, and an employee of the local railroad. The book follows their efforts during the course of the year as they attempt to live out their pledge of asking, “What would Jesus do?” This leads them to make decisions that aren’t the most popular or even understood by some family members and the general public. It also leads them to undertake a greater involvement in their city, both in evangelical outreaches and for the good of society in general.

For a book that was written over 100 years ago, it cuts to the heart of our current culture in the majority of the Western world of materialism and even more so among Christians. Perhaps the hardest hitting teaching comes towards the end of the book when the pastor asks a congregation, “How much is the Christianity of the age suffering for Him? Is it denying itself at the cost of ease, comfort, luxury, elegance of living? What does the age need more than personal sacrifice?....The Christianity that attempts to suffer by proxy is not the Christianity of Christ.” Here is found perhaps the main and best thrust of the entire book. The call to Christianity is a call to suffer for Christ. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35) The decision to follow Jesus, to do what He would do, is not played out in the characters’ lives as something that turns out rosy. One man loses his job and as a result, his wife becomes bitter toward him. The newspaper owner/editor watches his subscribers and advertisers leave in droves because of his decision not to allow certain kinds of content. Yet another turns down what some may consider the “opportunity of a lifetime” to serve in a more humble ministry. This is no health, wealth and prosperity gospel. Wearing a bracelet that says “WWJD?” simply won’t cut it. All through the book, the element of personal suffering and sacrifice is continually presented as the ultimate test of following Christ.

In His Steps gives an example of Christianity in action – how Christianity looks in the nitty-gritty, everyday stuff of life. The characters realize that Christianity is not simply an abstract idea, full of wise sayings and doctrines designed only to stimulate the intellect. Christianity is lived out Monday through Sunday. It’s not only making decisions based on what Jesus might do, but telling people the reasoning behind the decision. It’s getting involved in the community, reaching out to those in need, using the resources that we’ve been blessed with to help change a life. This is Christianity in action.

This brings me to the issues that have given me pause and not just a little concern. First, a few minor points. The writing style is very poor. Superlatives abound in the descriptions of the effects of various decisions. “For the first time ever…” or “he had never…” or “Nothing had ever…” or “Such a thing had never…” – these overused phrases become old and trite in their use. Additionally, the plot becomes rather predictable. However, that being said, this book is perhaps rarely read for its fictional and linguistic prowess.

While the characters in the narrative are seeking to follow Christ’s example, much of the decisions are based very much on personal interpretation with little to no Biblical basis for their reasoning. In one sense, the subjective nature of the question at hand makes the decision one that should be and can only be decided by the person ultimately responsible. In this, the author rightly puts great emphasis on prayer and the personal nature of the pledge. However, this lends somewhat of a relativistic mindset if the decision is not based on what Scripture says. For example, the newspaper editor decides that printing a Sunday edition is not what Jesus would do since Jesus would not publish something that caused a reader to read anything else but the Bible on Sunday. While to be commended for making such a difficult decision and following his conscious, this makes me wonder what in Scripture teaches such a notion that reading anything else but the Bible on Sunday is contrary to Christ’s teachings.

The biggest issue I have with the book is why the Christians go about seeking to follow Christ’s steps or do what Jesus would do. Set during the heyday of the Temperance Movement, much emphasis is placed on the poorer citizens of the city and the effect that alcohol played in many of the problems that class of society faced. Further, while there seems to be much emphasis on evangelization, the improvement of life in general for the class is seen as the ultimate end of this evangelization. Oddly enough, this message of “accept Christ and everything well get better” goes against the message for the upper class citizens that Christians must suffer. The gospel that is proclaimed in In His Steps is not a gospel that comes by means of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Instead, it is a gospel that points to Christ as the ultimate example of how to live and reform society, but not the source of the strength to bring about that reform. And Christ’s example in this case is to help the poor. Where a conflict arises is in dealing with the question, If helping the poor in bettering their society is what the gospel offers, how does this affect how the poor themselves live? This question is asked point blank of several of the pastors by a man out of work for many days and not one of them can provide an answer. One pastor ponders the question in his heart as

“a question that brings up the entire social problem in all its perplexing entanglement of human wrongs and its present condition contrary to every desire of God for a human being's welfare. Is there any condition more awful than for a man in good health, able and eager to work, with no means of honest livelihood unless he does work, actually unable to get anything to do, and driven to one of three things: begging or charity at the hands of friends or strangers, suicide or starvation?”

Nowhere in the book is a person’s sinful condition addressed, but only the social condition. When reform comes, it should not, it cannot come through the betterment of a person’s economic wellbeing. I’m not denying that we have a responsibility to minister to others, especially those in need. I think even my own tendency is to try to ignore others’ condition, like the condition of the man on the corner holding the sign. But in helping those in need, we should not do it simply for the sake of our own suffering nor in trying to help them make a better life for themselves. We should be pointing them to Christ, not as the example of who we are following, but as the source of the strength to do what we do, the source of the righteousness to overcome sin. Without Christ, without repentance, we can improve society to the last person but will not change the root of the problem and will find them just as bad as before. As John Owen so aptly puts it in The Mortification of Sin: “Poor soul! It is not thy sore finger but thy hectic fever that thou art to apply thyself to the consideration of. Thou settest thyself against a particular sin, and dost not consider that thou art nothing but sin.”

In His Steps is certainly a step in the right direction of encouraging believers to challenge the way we live and think and interact with the world around us. But the reader should always keep in mind that the gospel of Christ is not an example simply to be followed in order to better society, but rather the gospel is solely and completely about Christ Himself and the righteousness we have in Him. In following Him, a person’s social standing may not improve in the slightest, but his eternal standing in the sight of God will. And that’s what matters.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Porpoise-Driven Life

Coming soon to a bookstore near you, The Porpoise-Driven Life! It's the latest craze in Christian fad-dom!

HT: The Riddleblog

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Google Trends

I’ve discovered Google Hot Trends recently and must confess I’ve become a little addicted to it. Google Hot Trends allows you to see what people are searching for on any given day. How does it work? According to the “About Google Trends” page, “Rather than showing the most popular searches overall, which would always be generic terms like 'weather,' Hot Trends highlights searches that experience sudden surges in popularity, and updates that information hourly.”

With a listing of the 100 top searches on Google, you can get a rough idea of what’s going on in the news or what the hot topic is for the day. It’s really quite interesting to see what catches peoples’ curiosity (an ironic statement, I guess). For instance, let’s take a look at yesterday. I like to look at the previous day in order to have a full day’s worth of search data to peruse.

Any guesses on what the hot search item for Dec. 2, 2008 was? Perhaps some celebrities’ new hairdo (a la Katie Couric)? Nope. How about Obama’s cabinet member choices? Nope again.

Try Horatio Magellan.

Next question, who in the world is Horatio Magellan?!? And more importantly (at least, to an analyst like myself), what in the world would cause people to search for him? Ready for this?

Horatio Magellan is none other than the full name of that beloved, nautical commander of the sugar-laden seas, Cap’n Crunch. If his mother ever got angry with, she would apparently call out “Horatio Magellan Crunch!!” (he wasn’t Cap’n yet) Pretty cool name, if you ask me.

That brings us to the next question of what would cause people to search for the Cap’n’s full identity. Was it parents preparing to bring a lawsuit over nervous breakdowns due to cereal-induced, hyper active kids and needing to know who to cite? Give the answer in the form of a question and you’ll be spot on. What is Jeopardy? Correct! The answer on last night’s Final Jeopardy round quizzed the contestants on the full identity of the good Cap’n: “What cereal box spokesman has the first and middle names Horatio Magellan?"

There you have it, all courtesy of Google Trends. And just for grins and giggles, the #6 search was for the Fibonacci sequence. Google that for more information.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Evil Toy Elves

Sarah laughs at me because it seems that no matter where I walk, if it's dark I will invariably step on a toy of some variety. And if I'm trying to be especially quiet, the toy will of course be one that makes a loud noise of some sort. But it's not my fault. No really. See, there are these evil toy elves living in our house. And their sole purpose is to watch my every step, anticipating my path, and then, while giggling their gleefully wicked laughs, strategically place a toy right beneath my feet. I'll be walking along, innocently minding my own business and not a toy in sight. And before I know it, my foot comes down on a toy guitar where only seconds before was open floor space.

They're quick, these elves are. And quiet, too. I've never seen them yet. But I just know they're there, plotting my demise.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Audiobook Sale

Got this from ChristianAudio.com. Great deals here if you like audiobooks.


Happy Thanksgiving from your friends at christianaudio. We appreciate and value our listeners and do pray the audiobooks on christianaudio help you on the journey of faith in Christ.

We're writing to tell you about our best offer of the year - the semi-annual $9.49 Digital Download Sale! This offer is only available for a limited time, so act now! Your favorite authors, unabridged audiobooks, conferences, and lectures can now be purchased at HUGE SAVINGS.

The sale starts RIGHT NOW and ends at 11:59pm PST on December 1st. No coupon code is necessary, any digital download eligible for the sale is already discounted.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Music Monday - Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace is a song that has touched thousand of lives down through the years. In this song, Chris Tomlin adds a chorus between verses that simply adds to the power and message of this already-powerful hymn.

"But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness." (Ro. 6:17-18)

Friday, November 21, 2008

International Space Station fly-by

Last night, we were treated to a fly-by of the International Space Station, along with the space shuttle Endeavour docked to it (although we couldn’t really distinguish the two). I had read in the paper that it could be seen around 6:10 p.m. So right after dinner, I took Carlos out on the deck behind our house and told him that we should be able to see the space station go overhead. Sure enough, off to the southwest, we saw the fairly bright object making its way at approximately 17,200 mph through the sky toward the northeast. To add to the coolness factor, it appeared right between Jupiter and Venus. And I just found out today that yesterday was the ISS’s 10th birthday. Had I known that, perhaps we could have sung Happy Birthday to it. Of course, Carlos was all full of questions. What is the space station? How did it get up there? How big is it? Who drives it (that one was my favorite)? So we spent a little while watching youtube videos of a space shuttle launch and finding pictures of the space station. It was pretty cool and Carlos seemed really interested in learning more.

Here’s a few fascinating facts about the ISS:

-The ISS is the largest man-made object ever to orbit the Earth

-It has completed 57,309 orbits of the Earth or a distance of 1,432,725,000 miles (that's billion - it gets good gas mileage). As a comparison, that's roughly twice the distance from the Earth to Saturn.

-The space shuttle Endeavour, currently docked to the ISS, was the delivery vehicle of the first US component of the station.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gettysburg Address - 145 years ago today

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

"But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Obama Llama

Just had to post this. This is hilarious in an odd sort of way. Check out www.obamallama.org.

HT: Darrell

I am not Henry

Lately, I’ve been getting 120% [did you know that 62.3% of statistics are made up on the spot?] more spam addressed specifically to me. At least, it would be addressed to me if my name was Henry. Which it’s not, just for clarification. It never has been. This makes me wonder how on earth my e-mail got tied to Henry. Maybe this fellow Henry signed up on a web site somewhere that guaranteed all the spam he could ever want. When he put in his e-mail address, perhaps he mistyped it by one digit. And now I’m getting all the benefits that were guaranteed to be his.

Henry, if you’re reading this, I am very sorry for all the great deals you’ve been missing out on, all the long-lost Nigerian relatives wanting to contact you, the pills you can buy to make every possible aspect of your life better. Why, just today, you received an offer to work with Craigslist. Chance of lifetime and you never even knew about it. Tough break, man.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Music Monday - Held


That’s the question that comes to the lips of those going through terrible ordeals. Why this, Lord? We want to cling to Romans 8:28, but at the same time feel so incredibly fragile, numb and helpless. I think of my sister and her husband whose baby girl died from a rare disease only minutes after birth. I think of my own brother John who died in his early 20s, a man who was a friend to everyone and seemed so full of life. I think of my wife’s family going through the loss of her father, Larry, a man greatly admired, respected and loved.

Why? We aren’t promised answers, but we are promised comfort even in the middle of the painful trials and questions. This song is an excellent reminder what it means to be “Held.”

2 Cor. 1:3-5, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

Law & Order – Toddler Unit

Anybody who’s ever watched shows such as Law & Order or NCIS will inevitably come across the plot line where the main suspect gives himself away by revealing too much information. It usually goes something like this:


Detective: “Our forensic scientists can place you at the crime scene with 99.9% accuracy (plus or minus 3%, you know how statistics are). Do you really want to make us go through all that effort? We know you whacked Bobo the Clown.”

Suspect: “I didn’t do it! There was no way I could have wiped that smile off his face with a tennis racket”

Detective: “How did you know his smile was wiped off with a tennis racket? We never released that detail to the public! Gotcha!”

Suspect: “Oops.”

And chalk another one up for the good guys. (“*doink*doink*”)

So it also goes with getting a confession from my pint-sized offenders. Inevitably, the truth will come out and the suspect dealt with accordingly. Of course, the problem is that logic is often lost on the young and they continue to proclaim their innocence. To illustrate this, let’s go back to Saturday morning at the Escalera household.

We’ve just finished breakfast and the kiddos are playing hither, thither, and yon. As is her wont (can you tell I’m getting in my quota of old English verbiage today?), Natalie wanders into the kitchen area to see what I’m doing. I turn toward her just in time to see Jeremiah run full throttle into her, pushing her down. Not sure what the motive was, but he certainly had intent!

Immediately he knew he’d been caught red handed, but this didn’t stop him from denying all involvement.

Detective (me): “Jeremiah, go to the bathroom. You were unkind.

Suspect: “I didn’t push Natalie!! I didn’t push Natalie!!”

Detective: “Jeremiah, I didn’t say anything about pushing. How do you know that’s why you are in trouble?”

Suspect: “Oops.” (This is what I would have thought he’d say, at least. But as stated earlier, logic is lost on the young and he continued to proclaim his innocence.)

Sometimes, it’s really hard not to laugh at your children’s disobedience. Which is probably why they have those special mirrored windows in the interrogation rooms.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Funny

Presenting the next big hit in pop culture, I give you...

Hamster -- on a piano.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Death Before the Fall?

Here’s a question: is it possible that there was death before Adam’s disobedience and the Fall of man? Or more precisely, is it possible that there was plant and animal death before the Fall? This is something that I’ve been thinking about lately (one of those off the wall topics that just gets in your head, I guess.)

As with all things, let’s first look at a couple passages of Scripture that talk about death and the Fall:

Gen. 2:15-17 – “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Ro. 5:12 – “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

1 Cor. 15:21 – “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

I believe the Bible is crystal clear that there was not human death before the Fall of Adam, especially in light of Ro.5:12. To deny such, I believe, would be to alter how in Christ, we find the Second Adam reversing the effects of sin. But how does this relate to non-human death? Before we go on, let me say that I believe that there was animal and plant death before the Fall. I’ll try to explain why I believe this, but for a fuller discussion, I would highly recommend reading this Reasons To Believe article dealing with this very issue.

First, Ro. 5:12 is not dealing with death in general, but rather is talking very specifically about human death – “death spread to all men because all sinned.” Likewise, the passage in 1 Cor. 15 deals specifically with human death since it is humans (not animals, etc) that will be made alive through Christ. I am not aware of any Scripture that mandates a belief that there was no death at all before the Fall of Adam.

Second, I doubt that there are many, if any, who would deny that plants died before the Fall. After all, it was vegetation that God told Adam to eat! It’s fairly safe to say that plant life died before the Fall. Is it then a stretch to say that animals also could have died?

Perhaps one of the most compelling arguments is the physical make-up of the plants and animals themselves. There are thousands of examples I could think of but will only highlight one kind in general and three more specific examples. The first is what we know as omnivores in general – those animals who depend on other animals for sustenance. Think of the general make up of these animals, their bodies and their killing capabilities designed by God for a very specific purpose – their survival. A counter argument might be that God created them the way we know them now with the anticipation of the Fall’s affect on their diet. This is indeed a possible explanation. However, just as possible is that God made them exactly the way they are, diet and all. Further, there isn’t any Scriptural support to show that God changed their diets, but rather this view reads into Scripture the notion that animals did not die before the fall. Furthermore, many animals were made with very specific abilities to capture and extract nourishment from animals. Let’s look at some examples.

First up is the angler fish, a very ugly looking fellow that got plenty of notoriety from Finding Nemo. The angler fish is a deep sea fish with a very distinct mode of finding its dinner. It has a growth called the esca protruding above its eyes that emits a light that attracts dinner. When the unsuspecting morsel, captivated by the glowing light (“Oooh, pretty!”), happens to touch the esca, the fish’s jaws are triggered by automatic reflex, often enabling the fish to swallow its dinner whole (so much for chewing each bite.) God created this unique fish with the ability of having its dinner delivered to its front door step. If there was no animal death before the fall, what did this guy eat that would require a flashlight?

Second example is your average, every day spider. These guys take a lot of flak, mainly because they’re creepy and scary looking and leave those annoying spider webs all over the place. But what is the purpose of those spider webs except to catch its next meal? The spider spins the web, then hides. Along comes an unsuspecting fly and gets stuck in the web. The spider senses the impact and struggle by vibrations carried along the lines of the web. Soon, the spider is chomping down on a nice meal of fly soup. If there were no animal death before the fall, what purpose did the spider’s web serve?

Perhaps the most compelling example of these three is the beautiful and deadly Venus Flytrap. The VFT is very unique in that it’s a plant that eats animals. There are a couple of reasons that makes the VFT so compelling in this argument. The first is its habitat. The VFT is only found nitrogen-poor environments and because of this, it relies on the nutrients provided by animals that the soil does not provide. Quite simply, without killing animals, the plant could not survive. The second reason that makes this plant compelling is the method that is used to trap its dinner. On its leaves are tiny hinged hairs that, when triggered, causes the leaves to rapidly clamp shut around its prey. What’s so compelling about this is that the hair triggers must be contacted twice in succession in order to shut. This acts as a safeguard against wasting energy in trapping non-living things or even falling raindrops. So here we have a plant in its very design that requires animal death in order to sustain it.

Again, God could have indeed created each of these things not to need the sustenance they need now and to have created them with the special abilities knowing what was coming. To believe this requires that a great percentage of the Earth’s ecosystem was changed well after God’s creation work was complete. I believe that God could also have created them exactly as we know them now – perfect and ”very good.”

Monday, November 10, 2008

Music Monday - A Mighty Fortress

Although it's a week or so late, this seemed an appropriate music video for this week in honor of Reformation Day. Steve Green's performance is perhaps my all-time favorites of A Mighty Fortress. Listen and enjoy.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Don’t Keep Abortion in Politics

The streamers have been swept up. The balloons have been popped. The talking heads are still talking. The election season is over.

But what about the issues? Or, more pointedly, what about THE issue, the issue that is perhaps the one most brought up by conservatives during every election campaign? Yes, THAT issue.


For many voters, the issue of abortion was the single issue that drove them to vote one way or the other. There were no doubt other issues that the campaigns used to help sway voters into their camp; but without a doubt, the issue of abortion was perhaps the most polarizing.

And now that the elections are over, will this issue quietly fade into the background as it has seemingly done with past elections? I am saddened (and deeply convicted) that after all the efforts to put abortion in the spotlight in previous elections, it is then rarely seen until the next election season rolls around. When I stop and think about it, I have to ask myself, “Have all I done to help is talk about it in light of politics?” I don’t particularly care for the answer.

Abortion is not a solely a political issue. It’s not something we should get all riled up about only in trying to gain support for a candidate. Don’t get me wrong – much good or hurt can come about because of our political choices. But abortion is a 365-day a year issue. What are we doing to help?

Thankfully, there are indeed men and women who are actively working to fight with love and grace against abortion. These are the men and women of pregnancy centers around the nation who work to counsel those facing the decision of whether or not to have an abortion. Many of these centers lend support in providing necessities such as clothes, food, and diapers to those young women who make the choice not to terminate their pregnancy.

But most of the time, these are paid staff members of pregnancy centers and let’s face it, not everyone can be nor should be working in this capacity full time. Take heart, there is still plenty that can be done to lend hands and feet to your voice. Most, and I would daresay all pregnancy centers rely on contributions to keep the center running. And it's not only money that is needed. The clothes, food, diapers, etc. that are given out are a result of people donating these items to the center and without these donations, the centers are unable to provide this to young mothers. In the Roanoke area, the Blue Ridge Women’s Center does an excellent work in not only offering assistance to expectant mothers, but doing so in a manner that is honoring and glorifying to God. This is even evidenced in a recent column written by Shanna Flowers of The Roanoke Times. After visiting the center and meeting with the staff, she said, “I developed a new respect for at least a portion of a movement I had thought of as one-dimensional.” I would highly recommend reading the entire article.

The issue of abortion should not be dragged out only in election season. It should be constantly on our minds. But let’s not allow it to simply stay in our minds only to make an appearance during election season. Get it into your hands and feet. And even if the next four years turn worse for the cause of abortion, let’s support those on the front line all the more. Ask your local pregnancy center how you can help.