Friday, April 11, 2008

Global Warming Two-Step

A couple of things have, as they say, crossed my desk today.

But first: we need a new term for the position that yes, there may be global warming but no, it is probably not PRIMARILY caused by human dissipate activity. Yes, there is human dissipate activity on a widespread, sinful, and absolutely astounding scale. No it is not even close to the main cause for global climate change. Hmmmm.

How about: Scientific Skepticism?

Nigel Lawson, former Secretary of State for Energy and Chancellor of the Exchequer (No, really.) has this to say in a new book entitled An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming:
So the new religion of global warming, however convenient it may be to the politicians, is not as harmless as it may appear at first sight. Indeed, the more one examines it, the more it resembles a Da Vinci Code of environmentalism. It is a great story, and a phenomenal best-seller. It contains a grain of truth--and a mountain of nonsense. And that nonsense could be very damaging indeed. We appear to have entered a new age of unreason, which threatens to be as economically harmful as it is profoundly disquieting. It is from this, above all, that we really do need to save the planet.

I also received today a DVD put out by the Idea Channel entitled Unstoppable Solar Cycles, The Real Story of Greenland. (The video arrived attached to the latest issue of National Review magazine, should you like to obtain a copy yourself). The gist of the video is that Greenland was once a green and lush farming island. It was actually greenland. And when the climate began to grow colder and the animals died and the people died, the survivors wondered if there was something they had done to cause God to make Greenland into a frozen arctic. Here we are today, wondering if "there is something we've done" to cause the earth to heat up or--twenty years ago--to cool down. And here we are today, beginning to speak in almost religious language about our effect on the planet.
The cold coast of Greenland is barren and bare;
No seedtime or harvest is ever known there.
and the birds here swing sweetly in mountain or dale.
But there's no bird in Greenland to sing to the whale.

Farewell To Tarwathie

See? Even popular folk songs testify to the wretched conditions on Greenland. What happened?

Two scientists are interviewed in the video, Dr. Willie Soon, an astrophysicist with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and Dr. David Legates with the Center for Climate Research at the University of Delaware. Both make the same general point: the forces at work to cause climate change are so enormous, so overwhelming, that to point to man as a main cause is laughable. The primary cause?

Legate: "The sun is the key ingredient to climate."
Soon: "The sun in terms of its light energy output is probably the only true external driver of the earth climate system, because there are no other forces on earth that will supply that amount of energy..."
They ask the question: what comes first, temperature change, or a rise in carbon dioxide? They answer, that always earth's temperature rises first--sometimes hundreds of years before a rise in CO2. The question becomes, what is the driver and what the effect? They argue that it is likely the impact of solar change on earth's climate that puts us through these 1500 year cycles of cooling and heating.
Dr. Soon: "Most of us still have that nagging question in us, you know. Yes we have emitted all this carbon dioxide. Are we really really melting all the ice cap? Or is it something even more powerful than that, I mean meaning that could it be even the sun which is doing it?"

At the end of a long, cold winter, I am of the mind that we really don't know what impact our profligate lives have on climate change. We have become homocentric in our paranoia.

Strange Asian Photos

This is one of the milder ones
from a weblog referred to me by Colin
the son with a special taste for the out-of-the-ordinary.

His email referencing this was entitled
"Normal Around Here"

Ah, Seoul.

The Crucible of Rome and Jerusalem

The Arch of Constantine in Rome

I'm reading book reviews today.

This one, JEWS AS THE ROMANS SAW THEM, by Robert Louis Wilken, reviews a book by Martin Goodman entitled ROME AND JERUSALEM, THE CLASH OF ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS , in the latest issue of First Things.

It occurs to me that as inheritors of western Christian civilisation, we also inherit this "clash" that took place a few millenium ago. It was in the crucible of Roman occupied Jerusalem that Jesus Christ was slain, after undergoing a hearing carried out by a Roman proconsul goaded on by a Jewish mob.

This is the strange past that we are a part of; we can't escape it. Can we learn anything from it?

Wilken has this to say:
"Romans and Jews had different conceptions of what the state is for. For the Romans, the state was res publica, public business, a coming together of people united for common good, with freedom for political activity. But, for the Jews, 'neither individual liberty nor the popular mandate of a majority vote carried the same weight' as it did for the Greeks and Romans. The Jews had no formal public assemblies to match those of Rome. 'Our lawgiver,' wrote Josephus, was 'not attracted to these forms of polity' but 'places of sovereignty and authority in the hands of God.'"
In America, we are about balancing these two ideas of public life. While Luther was careful to rightly divide public life into two kingdoms, he also carefully noted that both kingdoms--the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of the world--were under the Creator's divine jurisdiction and jurisprudence. Modern America seems to have been headed toward the Roman way of understanding "public business" i.e, no religion in the public square. That's for the private lives of its citizens if they so choose. Freedom from religion seems to be a trend.

Of course, American Christianity, such as it is, doesn't generally acknowledge an idea of two kingdoms as a way of understanding how to be in the world but not of the world.

Nevertheless. Christianity has a way of pushing back just when you think it is dead. Christians as individuals in vocation have time and again brought faith and the moral law back into the public square, where it is always an uninvited guest.

Wilken's essay points out that, for a time, the relationship between Jews and Romans reached a kind of equilibrium. The Jews were ferocious for their religious beliefs and practices, and the Roman rulers learned eventually to set aside the set of standards they imposed upon those they conquered, allowing the Jews to worship their God in their single temple, and not imposing the worship of the Roman gods upon them. In so doing, it helped keep the peace--Constantine's great agenda--and made the Jews a kind of "society within a society", a characteristic they have always maintained as long as they remained "religious".

But this was always an uneasy truce, and did not last. By the time of Christ, the hardest job in the empire was being a Roman ruler of the Jews. Pilate had no end of trouble, and the mess the various Herods made of things predates but matches anything the Grimm brothers (or even the Coen brothers!) ever came up with. The uneasy truce between Roman conquerer and Jewish subject was broken many times, culminating perhaps in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and the years following that.

Well, many a year has gone by. The ancient clash may just be a dim memory and have no bearing after two thousand years. Nevertheless, I think we aren't as far away from the conflicts in culture and beliefs that consumed the ancient Jews and Romans as we may think. The culture and values of Americans today is seeming more and more like that of ancient Rome. I feel that slow, inevitable slide into ostrogothic post-empire creeping up on us.

But I could be wrong.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Doolittle Raiders

WAR II did not start well. 1941 was a period of constant loss and withdrawal. The Phillipines Islands were lost, and thousands of American soldiers taken captive, making the famous Bataan March that killed so many thousands of them.

Jimmy Doolittle's famous Tokyo Raid using B-25's in April 1942 did little to hurt the Japanese war effort, but did great things to American morale. It was one of the earliest positive stories of the war.

The bombardier for flight 16 of the raid was Jacob DeShazer. After delivering their bombs, with four other crewmen he bailed out. Two were executed. The others spent the rest of the war in a miserable Japanese prisoner of war camp. During this time DeShazer got his hands on a Bible and was able to keep it for about three weeks. He wrote, "I eagerly began to read its pages. I discovered that God had given me new spiritual eyes and that when I looked at the enemy officers and guards who had starved and beaten my companions and me so cruelly, I found my bitter hatred for them changed to loving pity."

After the war, DeShazer spent his life doing missionary work--in Japan. One who he introduced to Christ was Mitsuo Fuchida, the lead pilot in the Pearl Harbor attack.

Jacob DeShazer, aged 95, has died in Salem Oregon.


FEAR, incarnate.

Say hello to Phobos, the inner of Mars' two moons. This photo was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter late last month. It is either a mere, large hunk of floating rock, or something created in my third grade ceramics class. It does look a bit familiar, so...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Do You Speak Meme?

I don't. But that didn't stop me from taking Wired's nerd vocabulary test.

If you want to figure out the difference between, say, The Long Boom and The Long Tail, go here and take the quiz.

I think I figured them all out, using something called common sense and a general understanding of the English language.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The No Inklings Book Club, Once Again

Another Thursday night, another Club du Livre at Grace Lutheran. Robin and Scott and I arrived early for Vespers, glorying once again in the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (we use the deplorable WELS hymnal at our current church). Having been duly refreshed with a salutary Word, we gathered downstairs in time to welcome the pizza delivery guy, always a popular dude.

So. Pizza, cokes, some incidental grapes to decorate our plates, and off we went. The first order of business once plates are piled high is to talk politics, led by the ever inventive Tim Gies, whose specialty is to back candidates no one has ever heard of. And since this is perhaps the most entertaining election year in some time for us crusty old conservatives, it took some time and not a little gleeful schadenfreude to work our way through the political scenery.

Our new book is CPH's latest offering: WOMEN PASTORS? The first really funny tale is that Robin was seen reading it while waiting for Deb at our chiropractor's office. Our Buddhist, Lesbian Chiropractor's office. I'd love to have been a fly on the wall of that woman's thought processes.

But I digress. We worked our way thesis by thesis through a Bo Giertz essay which attempted to lay the groundwork for a rational, Confessional Lutheran discussion of the issue. And much of the essay is quite good, laying a foundation of real, honest commitment to studying and listening to God's Word.

The difficulty when opening a study on such a complex topic is this: There is a strong tendency to look for proof-texts to support one's position. This is nice when it works and follows good hermeneutical principles, but it can also grossly skew a topical study.

What gets lost when staring at the tree is the forest, so to speak. Scripture is not written as a series of proof-texts, like a scientific study. The forest is more than individual trees. There is a complex web of relationship uniting scripture which in my experience takes a long time and much study to appreciate. There is the working of the Holy Spirit; the fact that hearing and reading scripture is a means of grace. When you say that God's Word does what it says, you've said a lot.

This has to be emphasized when a bunch of yoakum lay guys (plus my daughter and Millie)(plus the very astute Pastor Gullixson, who earns his stripes, believe me!) sit down to discuss theology. It takes time to hear the whole counsel of God. It is amazing how many sources within scripture will weigh in on a particular topic, however subtly. Things aren't always as they initially seem.

On the way home, Scott and I discussed this. If we agree that church polity is not the same as worldly polity, then we have to understand how difficult it will always be for those initially entering the church to have the ears to discern the differences. We have to assume that worldly assumptions will be part of their baggage, and catechize accordingly. This is impossible in drive-by situations, of which there are so many in the current culture. Who has time to sit still and grant the Holy Spirit space to discern for us the often subtle, always essential, articles of faith?

Well. Some progress was made. Some problems identified. And we'll be with this topic for the rest of the year, so I'm sure you'll be reading more about it here, again.

In the end, the Glass Nickel pizza was filling, and the fellowship , as always, gratifying.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Storm Season


It is a peculiar statistic that the social class known as the "Working Poor" give more to charity as a percentage of their income than either the middle class or the rich.

NRO has an article speculating about the rich, and why giving "as a percentage of income", is often so low. The two examples given are Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, and Dick and Lynn Cheney.

Ok. A little quiz: Given the public persona of these two couples, just guess who gives a whopping bunch more of their income than the other? The Obamas, or the Cheneys? You'd have to say Obama, of course.

But you'd be wrong. Until 2005, when his book sales took off, the Obamas were flunkies in the Charity class, according to their recently released tax records. OTOH, in 2006 the Cheneys gave a whopping 78% of their earnings, 6.9 million dollars. *

The NRO article is very fair and understanding of the Obamas. But what can you say of the Cheneys, who to my knowledge have been one of the classiest couples in modern day politics? Given the degree to which Dick Cheney has been lambasted in the press and among libs regarding his government service, who'd have guessed?

Here's my thought on all of this: When I think about getting rich--winning the lottery or inheriting fifty million from an aunt I clearly know nothing about--my daydreams center around giving it away: to my friends, to struggling organizations; to my favorite pastors; to the Voice of the Martyrs, etc. Well, yes, a few vacations do play into the scenario. But what the Cheneys do on an annual basis would play a large part in what would give me great satisfaction in being RICH!

The Cheney's made their money years ago. I know Dick made huge amounts bailing out Halliburton, and Lynn was doing very well for herself for many years as well. So it ought to be easy for them to direct large percentages of their current income to charity. The point is: they actually do it, unlike many of their fellow Riche. I think it is a great witness.

The most interesting and controversial point in the NRO article is the theory that liberals are so committed to charity as a function of law and government that they do not make personal giving a priority. It is some sort of disconnect for them. Why give in private dribs and drabs when we could have a system for giving in the form of government largesse? In contrast, the Cheneys hold that it is personal charity that makes the world go round. This is a bit too philosophical for my taste actually. I think giving charitably has to do with how you are raised. If the clear example hasn't been given, then it is harder to be oriented to giving away the money you earn.

The other interesting point is that the most charitable, as a percentage of income, are the working poor. Why the working poor? Is there a lowered sense of needing things--new things, shiny things, expensive shiny things? Is there a deeper awareness of need? Remember how invisible the poor are in America. Anyone can dress reasonably well without it costing much of anything. The poor know the poor; they socialize with the poor. So they are aware of real needs. Is awareness enough to explain their heightened level or charity? What else would motivate them more than other demographic groups?

*I'm taking the stats from the NRO article; they aren't fact-checked.