Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Social Issue Voting Decisions. Today was an election day in Florida. The two major parties each had a primary in the US Senate race. At the county level, we voted on a new mayor, commissioners, and judges. If you were a Republican (which I am not) you also got to elect committee-persons.

Two Sundays ago, someone in the church office slipped into the bulletin a leaflet that gave information on whether people running for mayor and judge had the right views on abortion and homosexuality. The leaflet had been prepared by the local edition of the American Family Association. I knew a little about the mayoral candidates and more about the judicial candidates. Social issues aside, the best candidates either did not line up on the "right" side of the social issues or they refused to answer the questionnaire sent to them by the people who put together the leaflet.

People quote Luther as having said, "I would rather be ruled by a competent Turk than an incompetent Christian". Whether he actually said this or not, it is an arresting statement. I thought of it as I looked at the candidates who represented views on abortion and homosexuality with which I very strongly agree, but who otherwise are unqualified to hold the office to which they aspire. I did not vote for them. I voted for the (otherwise) better qualified candidates.

You could argue that the offices in question do not have much to do with the abortion and homosexual agendas. I don't think that's a winning argument. I decided that the issues of competency were more important that the social issues, even though the social agendas I oppose will to some extent be strengthened by the victory of the more competent candidates.

I don't think I made a mistake. I think the problem is that the socially conservative people who would make competent local politicians and judges simply do not come forward. It is not my fault that I vote the way I did, it is the fault of the Christian community or, if not their fault, simply a sign of its weakness in Miami-Dade County.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Swifties vs KerryAgain, taken from Mr. Tarranto's always interesting and entertaining blog: Best of the Web Today, August 23. (If you don't get it emailed to you every day, you're really missing out!)

The Book Kerry Doesn't Want You to Read
Well, so much for freedom of speech. Check out this report from the left-wing Webzine Salon:

The Kerry campaign has told Salon that the publisher of "Unfit for Command," the book that is at the center of the attack on Kerry's military record by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, is retailing a hoax and should consider withdrawing it from bookstores. "No publisher should want to be selling books with proven falsehoods in them, especially falsehoods that are meant to smear the military service of an American veteran," said Kerry campaign spokesman Chad Clanton. "If I were them, I'd be ducking under my desk wondering what to do. This is a serious problem."

Imagine the outcry if the Bush campaign were calling on Miramax to stop distributing "Fahrenheit 9/11," which really does have numerous proven falsehoods. By contrast, the Kerry campaign's claim of "proven falsehoods" in "Unfit for Command"--a book we got around to reading late last week--does not stand up, as we'll detail below.

The first thing that must be said is that by attacking co-author John O'Neill and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Kerry and his supporters have undermined the central rationale for Kerry's campaign--and this is true regardless of the truth or falsehood of the allegations in "Unfit for Command."

Kerry has based his entire campaign on the premise that he is fit to be president because he served in Vietnam. We've treated this as a running joke, and we doubt anyone disagrees that Kerry descended into self-parody when he opened his nomination speech last month by goofily saluting and declaring that he was "reporting for duty." But Kerry appears to be serious about this. He acts as if he really thinks that his Vietnam service is an answer to any objection anyone might have to his record--that it is sufficient to prove he is honest, strong, brave, decisive and wise about national defense.

The 250-plus men who make up Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, however, also served in Vietnam. Indeed, unlike Kerry, many served a full tour of duty there. If Kerry's backers can attack them as liars, Republican stooges and so forth, they can hardly expect that their candidate's Vietnam service will insulate him from criticism. Furthermore, since Kerry has made his Vietnam service the centerpiece of his campaign, it seems unreasonable for him to suggest that no one may question it.

"Unfit for Command" is divided into two sections. There are four chapters (2-5) on his Vietnam service and six (1 and 6-10) on his activities as an antiwar protester. The latter section is, on the whole, more persuasive, though there are a few tendentious spots. One of those is Chapter 9, "Kerry's Communist Honors," which makes much of the appearance of a photo of Kerry that appears in the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). According to the book, the Kerry photo is "in a hall dedicated to honoring war heroes who had helped the Vietnamese Communists win in their military struggle against the United States and later against the Chinese."

But a report last week in the New York Sun--hardly a pro-Kerry organ--offers a different view:

While the museum clearly honors opponents of the war from America and other countries, it is not clear that the photo of Mr. Kerry is part of that tribute. The picture of the senator hangs among a set of photos devoted to the restoration of diplomatic relations between America and Vietnam in the 1990s.

It was apparently taken as Mr. Kerry took part in a delegation President Clinton sent to Hanoi in 1993. Other photos nearby show visits during that period by former American officials who played key roles in the Vietnam War, including a Navy admiral who has since died, Elmo Zumwalt, and a defense secretary, Robert McNamara. A secretary of state during Mr. Clinton's term, Warren Christopher, is also shown meeting Vietnamese officials.

Still, for the most part O'Neill and co-author Jerome Corsi have Kerry dead to rights on his antiwar activities. He did accuse fellow servicemen of war crimes; he was a leader in Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a group headed by a fraudulent "veteran" who was a far-left ideologue; the North Vietnamese did use Kerry's public statements to demoralize American prisoners of war. All this has been widely reported in the past.

On the other hand, the chapters on Kerry's Vietnam service are inconclusive--with the exception of Kerry's Christmas-in-Cambodia yarn, from which he has backed away even though he once said it was "seared--seared--in me." O'Neill and Corsi quote various vets who served with Kerry and dispute his accounts of the events that led to his being awarded five medals (three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star). Others who were there, however, back Kerry's versions.

The Washington Post conducted an extensive investigation of the events of March 13, 1969, when Kerry won his Bronze Star and his third Purple Heart. "Based on more than two dozen interviews with former crewmates and officers who served with him, as well as research in the Naval Historical Center," the Post concluded that "both accounts contain significant flaws and factual errors":

On the core issue of whether Kerry was wounded under enemy fire, thereby qualifying for a third Purple Heart, the Navy records clearly favor Kerry. Several documents, including the after-action report and the Bronze Star citation for a Swift boat skipper who has accused Kerry of lying, refer to "all units" coming under "automatic and small-weapons fire."

The eyewitness accounts, on the other hand, are conflicting. Kerry's former crew members support his version, as does Rassmann, the Special Forces officer rescued from the river. But many of the other skippers and enlisted men who were on the river that day dispute Kerry's account.

The discrepancy between Larry Thurlow's Bronze Star citation and his claim now that there was no enemy fire--on which the Post reported last Thursday--is the entire basis of the Kerry campaign's claim that "Unfit for Command" contains "proven falsehoods." But Thurlow published a statement on the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth Web site in which he said he stands by his story, and he told USA Today that he "left Vietnam shortly after the incident and didn't read the citation until he was back home in Kansas a few months later. 'If being under fire is a requirement for getting that medal, then I didn't earn it,' he said." So this is not a "proven falsehood"; it is still in dispute.

Given that there are conflicting eyewitness accounts, what are we to make of all this? We'd suggest that a fair-minded observer would have to give Kerry the benefit of the doubt and regard his version (which is also the official version) as authoritative absent proof to the contrary. But Kerry's detractors deserve the benefit of the doubt too. Their version may be true, even if they can't prove it; or their memories may be sincere but faulty. This, by the way, is exactly the approach President Bush is taking. He has described Kerry's Vietnam service as "noble" but ignored Kerry's demands that he denounce the veterans who disagree.

What "Unfit for Comand" makes clear beyond dispute is that a great many Vietnam veterans deeply resent Kerry. No matter who is right about his activities in country, he gave them plenty of reason to do so with his behavior after returning to Vietnam. "When I fought in Vietnam and fought for my country, I didn't give up my right . . . to participate in the debate," Kerry said in April 2003. Indeed he didn't--but neither did the men who make up Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

You might also like to read Tarranto's continuing commentary on the kerfuffle here
New York Times Book Review of the 9-11 Report. Judge Posner, who teaches at the University of Chicago Law School when he is not sitting on the bench of the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit and writing books himself, gives this critique of the 9-11 Report. Both the book and the review are worth reading.
A Duke Sighting not likely to turn up in DU's alumni journal

This is from James Tarranto's Best of the Web Today on August 30th.

Not all anti-Bush protesters are here in New York. The New York Times reports that some 2,000 marched through Athens Friday to protest Colin Powell's planned Olympic visit. One of them was even an American:
Among those who joined in before the violence broke out was Andrea Murray, 22, who graduated from Duke University in North Carolina. She said she was looking for Athens' National Museum and instead found the demonstration.
"I found this and I thought, like wow! I am participating because I am American and I want Greeks to know that not all Americans are drones or idiots," Murray said.
Like wow! She's totally not a drone or idiot and stuff!

The Davdidson College students on their Classics Trip could not be reached for comment.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Guilty Pleasures Dept.: Kill Bill 1 and 2. What is one to make of this movie? (I use the singular, because it is one movie with two parts, not a movie and a sequel.) It is a pleasure to watch, it is fascinating. (Not that that justifies a Christian watching it - Satan can be fascinating and beautiful.) But what does one make of it - does it say anything?

I have read a couple of reviews. They talk about Tarantino's mastery of the medium, his homage to marital arts movies, and how one scene or another evokes scenes from movies past. Is that enough? Is mass market, guilty pleasure enough?

Certainly it is about revenge. In this case revenge will out. But Tarantino plays with us on that, when, at the end of the first half of the movie, he knocks out the moral justification for the particular revenge in question. We are left simply with an insatiate appetite for more violence against the bad guys.

And the irony of that, of course, is that our guy (our girl) is a bad guy, and I think easily the worst of the bunch. What makes her the "best" is that she is the most competent at her craft of killing and the most beautiful.

But what of her attempt to get out of her old life, doesn't she deserve some credit there? But Ben (Bill's brother) deserves more credit than she on that score. Where she confesses to Bill at the end that she would not have succeeded in her record-shop bid for rebirth, Ben succeeded in mapping out a path to some sort of redemption. Only B's re-entry into his life interrupted Ben's attempt at self-redemption.

Motherhood is big here. What an irony that it is. In a culture where abortion is one of the gateways to the good and stylish life, here an unborn baby killing supplies the moral cover for the first half of the movie and the mothering urge supplies the rest.

But if mother and daughter are unified at the end of the movie, at the beginning we have a murder where we are treated to a definite end to a mother-daughter relationship. Of all the murders in the film, in retrospect the first one becomes the most disturbing and gives the lie to any pretense that Tarantino has something positive to say even about motherhood.

Finally, there is the relationship between B and Bill. One last chance here, don't you think? At the end of the movie B has one last chance to look at herself as she is (she is full of truth serum), to make a decision not to kill, to take the risk that Bill is simply setting her up to murder her, to take the risk that he would turn her daughter into . . . someone just like her. No way.

I think the absence of grace in that movie (which the chief protagonist mentions from time to time) is, finally, what the movie is all about. I don't know if that was intentional, but at least we see what a world without it, a world at its most stylish, can look like.

PS Was Bill really such a bad shot? Was there grace at that point? It also seemed to be there at the hospital. If so, we know what Bill got for his attempt at grace and forgiveness.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

"Thirteen Bad Arguments for Same-Sex Marriage." This article from Christianity Today points to some studies that you probably won't learn about in the general media. One study conducted in Norway indicates that when a culture adopts same-sex marriage, heterosexual marriage fades away. Another study considers adoption of children by homosexuals and finds that the children in such families are more subject to molestation from other family members and more likely to have doubts about their own sexual identity than children with a mom and dad.

The article also mentions Andrew Sullivan. Those of us who read political blogs will recognize his name. He is a homosexual and a proponent of gay marriage. (And a Roman Catholic.) The article says that he concedes that infidelity is a characteristic of gay marriage. Rather than use that characteristic as an argument against gay marriage, the authors state that Sullivan believes that the concept of marriage should be modified to allow for infidelity generally, both for homosexuals and heterosexuals. Which brings us back to the Norway study, where, according to the CT article, heterosexual marriage has all but disappeared in one district where homosexual marriage is recognized.

Andrew Sullivan has posted several articles on gay marriage on his blog, and I do not find the arguments that the authors of the CT article says he makes, that if men in gay marriages can't always be monogamous, then the definition of marriage will just need to be changed. Sullivan does make the point that men seem to be less faithful than women, and points to the stability of lesbian marriage as a case in point. I have the sense that his sociology is mainly anecdotal, though, or that the studies may be "flawed" from the CT point of view. With heterosexual marriage having been a bulwark of Western Civilization for ages, it is, at the very least, outrageously risky to push this experiment on the majority in a matter of a couple of decades without giving it a hard, hard look.

(Of course, it is not a matter of cost versus benefit to "people of the Book". But the culture will not listen to scriptural based arguments against homosexualilty.)

As to the issue of homosexual adoption, one might ask why a study would be needed to show that molestation and identity issues become a problem. That would already seem predictable. But the article indicates that the promoters of "gay" adoption have come up with "studies" in support of the homosexual adoption, studies that show that they are good for children, but studies that, according to the authors of the article, are significantly flawed in their methodology. But I am not really sure that the idea of child molestation is all that robust on the social left or that the folks over there would mourn the erosion of the hard edges of sexual identity. So a study that shows increased molestation and identify problems may not be much of a problem to the proponents of gay marriage, except to the extent that the it disturbs the rest of us.

The State of Florida has a statute that forbids homosexual adoption. That law is under some pressure these days. The Florida Bar is divided into "sections" according to one's specialty, and there is a "Family Law" Section. There is a movement in that section to get the Bar behind repeal efforts. Membership in the American Bar Association, which has become significantly politicized over the past 25 years, is voluntary. But membership in the Florida Bar is mandatory for Florida lawyers. It will put Florida lawyers who oppose the gay agenda in a difficult position if the Florida Bar decides to lobby for repeal. The contingency still seems unlikely, but things can move quickly and negatively if we don't pay attention.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Don't label me.

Denzel Washington puts Meryl Streep and Katie Couric in their place in this transcript of a Today show interview. So very cool.
Hey Stoopid

Alice Cooper has some choice words for his fellow rockstars here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Duke U. Hosts "International Solidarity Movement". Duke is hosting a national conference of Palestinian Solidarity, which is part of the "International Solidarity Movement". This has generated quite a bit of controversy and Duke has seen fit to address that controversy on its website. My friend Bill, with whom my friendship began when we were both freshmen at Duke, alterted me to this controversy. His sources are that the group is an anti-Semitic hate group that supports the over-throw of Israel, not the more limited goals that the group's website describes. See, for example, this article.

On the other hand, I search the Palestinian Solidarity's website and see nothing that indicates any concern about the corruption and anti-democratic forces that have the Arab people who live around Israel in their grip, not to mention the methods of sending young people to their deaths as suicide bombers and killing countless more innocents.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Dove Avenue Recipes. A new blog will post recipes from the Dove Avenue kitchen and progeny of the Dove Avenue kitchen. The first post is Carol's spaghetti sauce.
Must we forgive everyone?

"No, I have no intention of forgiving everyone. Only those who have fallen. While the idol towers over us on his commanding eminence, his brow creased imperiously, smug and insensate, mutilating our lives--just let me have the heaviest stone! Or let a dozen of us seize a battering ram and knock him off his perch.

But once he is overthrown, once the first furrow of self-awareness runs over his face as he crashes to the ground--lay down your stones!

He is returning to humanity unaided.

Do not deny him this God-given way.

--The Gulag Archipelago Volume 3
A Movie Review: "Before Sunset". I am still reeling from "Before Sunset", a well-crafted, exceedingly attractive post-modern romance that takes place in Paris (of course) in almost real time. The movie consists mainly of a very intense conversation between two erstwhile lovers who rediscover each other after nearly a decade and take a walk together. The ending is perfect, and I laughed out loud: not because it was comical but because it was a great and wonderful relief from all of the tension that the movie's eighty minutes had so unexpectedly built up within me.

This has to be the date movie of the year, if not the decade.

Someday, I will sort out the moral implications of it (they really aren't that hard), but that's for another post. Right now, I am still enjoying "the moment". (Forgive me, Lord.)

Saturday, August 21, 2004

I've got to go with Mary on this one

The first 3 sentances in the preface to Trevor Hart's Regarding Karl Barth makes me wonder whether he had an editor because they are so convoluted which is surprising because I wouldn't expect such work from IVP, but it concerns me if Mary suffered for having worked in their editorial department.

"Some books are a long time in the writing. The origins of this particular volume lie some twenty years back in a lecture hall in Durham where a Professor of Divinity encouraged his first year students early in their studies to identify a prominent theologian whose writings they might use thenceforth as a sounding board on a wide range of theological questions. The names cast out like pearls included many notable British, European and American scholars who were familiar as yet only from reading lists hurriedly perused but largely unused."

To the credit of Hart's prose, "perused" and "unused" rhyme in the latter part of the last sentance.

Another View of the Iraq War. Is there a light at the end of this tunnel?

Friday, August 20, 2004

Grundig FR200 AM/FM/SW Radio. I bought this little radio at RadioShack this week. Totally cool. It has a rechargable battery that you power up by turning a crank 90 times, and it will play an hour and also power a little reading light. You can run it on three AA batteries if you want to, but why? Don't even put those batteries in it, so you can store the radio without having to worry about batteries in it that might leak.

It has AM, FM, and two short wave bands. The written instructions are very good. Its nearly all plastic and has the look and feel of a nice toy. But just using the little telescoping antenna, I was able to get European short-wave broadcasting stations right off the bat. It even has a fine tune feature. It weighs just 10 ounces. Its been reduced in price from $50 to $40. Read more about it here. We have put it with our camping/hurricane preparation stash.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Magazines and such things.

I have learned in my early days of teaching regular English that about all that most of my students will ever read outside of class is a magazine. I would like to collect a big stack of magazines--about cars, trucks, nascar, hunting, sports, cosmetology, photography, basically anything halfway decent and not the economist--to have and use in my classes at times, so they can perhaps learn how to read such things critically and carefully. But alas, I don't know where to begin to amass such a collection without having to buy so many myself. So, I ask you in the Stokes kith and kin community to help me figure out where and how to get such things.

In other sad news, The Atlantic has today restricted access to its website to subscribers only. If anyone would like to donate a subsrictiption to that magazine, that would be most welcome :)

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Canada's Short on Doctors. What if we had a health system and no doctors came. We run them off with malpractice judgments, Canada runs them off by fixing prices.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Canadian Health System Woes. Here is an article from a Canadian news source concerning the Canadian healthcare system. It describes survey results indicating dissatisfaction among Canadians.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

"Atomic Clock" on Sale. I usually work at the office on Saturday mornings. Its quiet, no one else is usually there, the telephone doesn't ring. I can sit and actually think. At the end of the morning, I reward myself with a trip to the RadioShack store on Flagler Street, across from Burdines. So I walked in yesterday.

When I go to a RadioShack, I usually go to the back half of the store, beyond the TV sets and stereos, to where the good stuff resides. I look for the little yellow price tags that they hang on things that the store is clearing out. One of those was hanging from an "Atomic Clock". It was marked down to $14.95 from somewhere above $25. I bought it. This is an amazing clock, and you should rush to RadioShack and get one.

An "Atomic Clock" looks like a regular wall clock. It does not explode, so there is nothing to fear. Instead, it keeps time by means of a built-in, tiny radio receiver linked to a micro-processor. The radio receiver picks up long-wave radio signals broadcast from WWVB a government radio station in Ft. Collins, CO. The Ft. Collins radio station is linked to the US National Institute of Standards and Technology, Time and Frequency Division in Boulder. At the institute, a "team of atomic physicists continually measures every second of every day to an accuracy of ten billions of a second per day. These physicists have created an international standard, measuring a second as 9,192,631,770 vibrations of a cesium 133 atom in a vacuum". The "atomic clock" is the device that does this measurement, not the thing now hanging from a wall in my house.

WWVB that broadcasts the time from the "atomic clock" several times a day on a long-wave frequency that can reach every part of the continental US. The receiver in my clock picks up the signal, and the microprocessor to which it is connected works the second, minute and hour hands to reset the clock. This happens usually at night, which is the most successful time of day for propagation. It happens automatically. All one has to do is put in a single AA battery (not supplied, of course) and hang the thing up.

Not only are cheap wall clocks made with this technology, there are wrist watches, nicer clocks, and other time keeping devices. A few months ago, we bought a new clock-radio-cd player for the kitchen. When we turned it on, it automatically set the clock because it had the same sort of radio receiver/microprocessor that my new all clock has.
Exporting Jobs, Importing Garlic. At a pot-luck luncheon at church today, after the worship service, I sat with a businessman, Hernan, who is married to our church secretary. He is a Chilean, now a US citizen, and very well educated. His wife is an Armenian, born and raised in the Bronx, whose parents' families fled from the Turkish persecution. (I think that only in Miami would you have lunch with such people at a Presbyterian Church. But I could be wrong.)

Hernan told me that his company is getting ready to import processed garlic from Argentina to the United States. What is interesting about the story is that the processing factory just moved, lock, stock and barrel, from Miami to a place near Buenos Aires where the garlic is grown. It literally moved. His company bought the factory from the local owner, disassembled it, transported it to the Port of Miami, and last week put it on the boat to South America. It is on its way there now. When the factory arrives, his company will put it back together again, next to the fields where the garlic is grown. The product of the factory will be shipped back to the US.

Hernan said that a California firm designed and manufactured the machinery in the factory. The local owner of the factory could not make a go of it, apparently, and put the factory up for sale. Hernan's company figured out that it could be successful only if it were located outside the US. The result of all of this, if the venture works, are new jobs in Argentina and cheaper garlic in the US. Cheaper garlic in the US may produce some jobs of its own in the food distribution and preparation business. It might win some more business for the California company that designed and made the machinery. I don't think we can say that Hernan's company actually exported jobs to Argentina, because the business in Miami was failing. It sounds like a win-win to me.

I am sure a "win-win" is not always so. But the story makes you want to stop and think about the negative rhetoric we sometimes hear about American businesses "exporting jobs abroad".

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Hearts of Stone. George Veith in the August 7 issue of World Magazine comments on the phenomenon of people who concede that life begins before birth but nevertheless support abortion. He describes a bizarre circumstance where a NY woman carrying triplets decides on a "selective reduction" procedure under which a physician aborts two of her three unborn children. The woman writes in the NY Times that she would have to give up her NY City apartment and shop at Cosco if she had all three children. If young, urban women are capable of killing their own young under these circumstances, think of the other dark things we must be capable of?
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. About 65 miles south of our home in Miami Springs, on the island of Key Largo, is John Pennekamp State Coral Reef Park. When our son, Walter, and his wife, Morgan, visited us this past week, we drove to the park to go snorkeling.

The island of Key Largo is one of the Florida Keys, and is the first shiny bead on a necklace of islands that sweeps off the peninsula, ending with Key West just 90 miles from Cuba. The park is on the Atlantic side of the island, immediately adjacent to Key Largo Coral Reef National Marine Sanctuary. The sanctuary covers approximately 178 nautical square miles of coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove swamps. The government established it to preserve a portion of the only living coral reef in the continental United States.

A concessionaire runs a number of activities at the park, and among them is snorkeling. (Canoing, kayaking, scuba diving, sailing and camping are other activities.) On the concessionaire's website, one can read about the snorkeling and even print out a coupon. We rented all the equipment we needed, and stepped aboard a flat-decked pontoon boat with several other families, and took a fifteen or twenty minute ride out to a particular reef called White Bank Dry Rocks.

Although Hurricane Charley was on his way up from Cuba, none of the winds had reached us by Wednesday morning as we anchored next to the reef and prepared to jump overboard. Walter and I had become SCUBA qualified while he was in the Boys Scouts in high school, but it was still a little intimidating to Carol and me as we looked down at the water, held our face masks to our face, and stepped out. But the water was pleasant and our buoyancy vests kept us afloat with no effort. We only needed to relax a little, stretch out face down, and look into another world.

It was simply beautiful, and so many fish! All kinds and colors. Despite living in Miami for most of my life, I am a novice at this, and I can't begin to name everything we saw. But there were grouper, snappper, angel-fish, barracuda (!), fish with bright colors, little ones, big ones, fat ones, skinny ones. All kinds of coral grew, and there were sea fans, sea urchins, and other living things: I often could not tell whether I was looking at flora or fauna. But it was all good. How can one look at all of this (a more appropriate verb would be "behold" all of this), and not ask how such beauty and complexity happened to be there. How could it be just a matter of chance? How could anyone think that?

The 90 minutes in the water went by fast, but for Carol and me, it was just enough.

When we returned to the mainland, we went into the Visitor's Center, where there are several aquaria that are very well maintained and documented. There we saw many of the varieties of coral, fish and other living creatures that we saw on the reef itself, and we were able to read about what we had seen. I asked one of the people behind the desk whether there was a biologist who maintained the aquaria, and I happened to ask that question to the biologist himself. He told me that he had retrieved all of the specimens in the tanks from the reefs in the park and that none of the specimens had been purchases. He said he was actually growing some very rare coral in several of the tanks. He hoped to get a license to restock some of the reefs with the coral he is able to grow.

One especially interesting tank had a green eel in it, about two feet long. On the eel was a colorful shrimp who walked up and down the eel's back, pausing now and then to pick at the eel with its long, thin legs. According to the written narrative adjacent to the tank, the shrimp was a "cleaner shrimp" and lives with the eel in a symbiotic relationship. The biologist told me that he had to dive deep to catch such a shrimp, and that he had caught several. He said that the one in the tank with the eel "put on the best show".

All of it was a great show.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Meningitis on Campus. The incidence of bacterial meningitis, a potentially disabling, even fatal disease, is significantly higher for college students living in dorms than in the general population. Here's an article about "vaccination parties" that parents are holding for their college bound children. Query whether Christians on campus ought to make addressing this health issue one of service to others. It would be refreshing to have Christians deal with a health issue that unifies people.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Toys Aren't Us? When my children were small and their cousins from New Port Richey would visit, my father would mark the occasion by taking them all to Toys R Us. The visit was like some sort of TV game show for kids, except that they had already won the prize. My dad would tell them they could buy anything they wanted. And they did. It exasperated the parents, but Dad's theory was that they would remember him when he was gone. That struck me as sad and mistaken, because they would remember him anyway. But to this day they remember those Saturday morning Toys R Us visits with "PahPah". So it seems sad to read that Toys R Us may be getting rid of their toy business, another victim of Wal-Mart. I don't know what Dad would think of Wal-Mart. But he would like the old guy who greets people when they walk in. He would want that job.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

"Hellboy", the Movie. I saw this on video the other night. Its one of those movies that don't qualify for a date-night event when you help occupy the middle aged couple category, so I hadn't seen it. I enjoyed it; I especially enjoyed the Hellboy character. He emerged into comic-book world well after I left it, so I don't know how he compares with the real thing (real thing?). But his movie version's refusal to take himself and most everything else in his world very seriously made him fun to watch.

The movie has a resurrection that got my attention. There was a resurrection in the first Matrix, as everyone will remember. So now there are two in recent movies that I can recall. (Anyone think of any others? Other than "the" Resurrection in the Passion, of course.)

As to the resurrections in Hellboy and the Matrix, "What", as they say, "is that all about?" Is it more post-modern stuff, where we refuse to acknowledge any certainty, even death? Is that "post-modern" or is it something more instinctive? "Hellboy", of course, is premised on another world being out there. The other world in Hellboy, however, is very dark, a sort of competitor, enemy world to ours, not the "real world" of Christianity of which ours is simply a shadow. But having such a dual world is an interesting advance on the closed, single world of naturalism.

I liked the resurrections in both Hellboy and the Matrix. In both cases, we have the surviving lover bringing the deceased lover back. Its all about love. In Hellboy, we have a defiant, male lover; in the Matrix we have a Madonna (Magdalene?) like, female lover in leather.

Another question: how do you deal with these kinds of movies and not be a Christian? What in the world are non-Christians doing with these images? What do they think about it? Is God putting these resurrections out there to prepare the viewers for the good news of "the" Resurrection? As He may have done with the cult of Mithras in the Greek world during Paul's ministry? Those resurrections could, at least, give us a predicate for talking to others about "the" Resurrection.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Should a Modern Woman seek an Evangelical Man as a Husband? A recent study refutes the idea that evangelical men tend to be authoritarian and oppressive to their wives and children. Quite the contrary. Brad Wilson reports in Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands that these men, at least the ones who are churchgoing, are more affectionate, that they spend more time with their children, and that they comprise the group with the smallest incidence of domestic violence in comparison with the rest of society. For the Christianity Today interview with Brad Wilson, a University of Virginia sociologist, go here.

Friday, August 06, 2004

The PCUSA: Sigh! A friend of mine, Bill Sussman, who knows me to be a Presbyterian, brought to my attention the resolution passed at the recent General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, USA, condemning Israel. My friend is the president of his Reformed congregation, and his Anti-Defamation League contacts had sent out a massive email about the action. As he has been needling me about my Christianity since we were in college and inviting me to come over to Moses' side, and as I have been trying to convert him for at least as long, I sent him a long email explaining how the General Assembly relates to the people in the pews (it doesn't). I also told him about the schism inside the denomination between the moderates and evangelicals on the one hand and, on the other, the people who support abortion, "gay rights", government control of everything important, people who believe that the story of Jesus was invented by "the early church", and who have fashioned a god in their own image, a god whom they reinvent as often as they do themselves. (Other than that, these are really great people.) My friend, Bill, conceded that there are such people on the Reformed side of Judaism.

There is a good article about what the PCUSA General Assembly did, critical of it but intelligently so, on the Christianity Today website here. It was written by a rabbi.

Jews like Bill and Christians like me have much more in common than the people on the other side of the divide in the PCUSA. The unfortunate thing is that the bureacracy of our denomination has so much control over the organization's organs on communication. On the other hand, the people in the pews have control over the purse strings, and at many churches in our denomination, including my church, we send not a penny to the national organization of the denomination that supports the bureaucracy.
A Pagan America. Harold O.J. Brown writes a very disturbing piece on where we are in America, using Roe v. Wade and Lawrence v. Texas as signposts.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Transexual Marriage in Florida. A Florida court of appeals very recently published an opinion involving the marriage of a transexual "man" to a woman. The "man" had been born a female, but had various kinds of drastic surgery, took male hormones, and was able to pass successfully as a man in "his" community. "He"participated in a marriage ceremony with a woman who had a child from a previous relationship. The "man" then adopted that child. Later, the woman was impregnated artificially. The "donor" of the sperm was the brother of the "man". She gave birth to a second child.

The "marriage" did not last and divorce proceedings commenced. Child custody questions arose. The mother wanted exclusive custody of the two children. She took the position that she and her spouse were not really married in the first place, because they both were females. She asked that the marriage be annulled and that the adoption be invalidated. That would have cut off any rights in the "man" to visit or have custody of the children. (Guess who gets damaged the most in all of this.)

The trial court rejected the wife's argument and ruled that the "man" was sufficiently male to make a valid marriage. The judge made a number of somewhat compelling findings that I will not describe here. But the court of appeals reversed the decision based on Florida's marriage protection law (the same sort of law that the social conservatives are trying to pass as a Constitutional amendment). They also cited Florida prohibition of homosexual adoption.

I am sure that the "man" will take the matter to our left-leaning Florida Supreme Court. The court of appeals said that this question is one for the legislature, not for the courts. Our Florida Supreme Court, in the "end of life" area, has said that it is the last word, not the legislature. This is the same Florida Supreme Court that rewrote Florida's election laws in such an intellectually dishonest way that the US Supreme Court felt it had to clean up the mess, itself creating its own mess on the national level. So it will be interesting to see what the Florida Supreme Court will do with this case.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

On the Perversity of Sin. Article on Planned Parenthood's "I Had an Abortion" T-shirts here.