Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Browsing blogsphere today I am experiencing overload regarding the Tsunami tragedy in East Asia and the issue of the strategy to impose pseudo-science Intelligence Design by right wingers in our public schools.

I have nothing intelligent to add to the tsunami discussions. My view of the world remains unaffected by tragedy. Pain and sorrow are as much a part of life as is joy and happiness. Tragedies like this affect much more now that I have kids and I can't imagine being in that region of the world and experiencing what parents and kids are experiencing today.

I just realized that the discussion about the tsunami and the issues of the creation, evolution and design are all part of the same overarching discussion, which is, what is God's relationship with the world? With the tsunami, it is more about how does God allow this to happen if he is in control. With science, it is where does God fit in and as much as believers attribute the wonders of creation to God, how does he get off not shouldering the blame for the whole boat-load of crap that came with such a beautiful world?

I for one do not absolve God and let him of the hook and that's healthy. Quite frankly, beginning with the Garden of Eden and Orginal Sin, he "screwed everything up
" and we should be frank about it. That said, my experience is that the context for evil and crap in the world is not closed-in but open and I find that being angry and blaming God helps me experience him and determine that there are more chapters and a final chapter that diminishings the depth of the sorrow of the world. Death is pain only because if there is joy beyond, we do not see it. But what if there is unspeakable joy beyond this horizon? and I believe there is, then what?

I think the concept of heaven is the lynch pin here. We often stand in a closed horizon thinking of our earthly lives as our true lives in which once it is ended, then we are trapped in a joyful but restricted heaven. I've always believed that heaven will not differ from the earth: we will work, write, play, produce, do commerce, interact, etc just like we do on earth, but in a way that is truly meaningful. Heaven is not being trapped staring at God for eternity and praising his beauty. The same God who made and blessed our earthly lives is the same God in heaven and out lives will be similar but fuller.

If then heaven is not an end but a beginning of a fuller life in which we will still have hobbies and interests, friends and family, and if this life is, as I think it is, only a seed to determine the capacity for that which is to come, then tragedies are not the final word. I think we should embrace the sorrow and pain and blame God if we must, as humans, someone must take the blame, but we must try to remember that God and his horizons are open and he is a final chapter to true life and fullness.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Talmida of Lesser of two Weevils has provided the answer to my "dolphin" quandry:

Ono, I found your answer! My friend Simon the polyglot found me the Greek word here."kêtos , eos, to,

A. any sea-monster or huge fish, delphinas te kunas te kai ei pothi meizon helêisi kêtos Od.12.97 , cf. 5.421, Il.20.147, Mosch.2.116; of seals, Od.4.446,452; of the monster to which Andromeda was exposed, E.Fr.121, cf. Ar.Nu.556, Th.1033; of the tunny, Archestr. Fr.34.3.
2. in Natural History, of the spouting cetacea, [p. 950] Arist.HA566b2, PA669a8, 697a16.
II. name of a constellation, Arat.354, Eudox. ap. Hipparch.1.2.20."
So "any sea monster or huge fish". Some people translate it "whale", some "dolphin".

Sunday, December 26, 2004

For those of you ignorant people who had no idea that dolphins were a staple of 4th century BC Jewish life, I offer you debate-ending biblical proof from Daniel 3.

77 You springs, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
78 Seas and rivers, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
79 You dolphins and all water creatures, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. (New American Bible)

Here's how the 1611 King James Version translates it:

57: O ye whales, and all that move in the waters, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

I am not a Greek or Hebrew scholar by any stretch of the imagination, so I tread lightly. But what were the New American Bible translators thinking here? We in the 20th century are quite aware that Dolphins and whales are in the same biological family, but I don't think Daniel's buddies, even though they were geniuses by all accounts, were aware of that fact.

If in fact they were aware of the the dolphin-whale affinity, it may offer one of the first and irrefutable evidences of time travel. This calls for further investigation, until then, I urge you to cross out "dolphin" in your NABs and enter in "whale."

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Dances with Wolves . . . For Real

Washington Post: At the Wolf's Door

At the Wolf's Door
With a Dog To Break The Ice, A Couple Moves In Next To Some Really Wild Neighbors
By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 23, 2004; Page C01

On a trackless, nameless part of the Canadian Yukon a pack of wolves crossed a frozen river on the last day of May. Above them flew a flock of ravens, dreaming of carrion. Behind them ran a mixed-blood husky leashed to a middle-aged man and woman.

The wolves fanned out and crossed the thin, late-season ice without incident. Not so the homocanid pack, which took it single-file. The woman, Helen Thayer, suddenly found herself in frigid water, struggling to keep from being swept under the jagged edge of a hole she'd made in the ice.

With help from her husband and a trekking pole, she got to the river's edge. There, a strange thing happened:

As she shivered uncontrollably and changed into dry clothes, four ravens landed on the ground. They walked in a circle, no farther away than six feet, cawing softly. Although for weeks they had tormented the dog, dive-bombing and stealing his kibble, they neither bothered him nor were chased off. After 10 minutes, they flew to the top of a spruce tree and squawked.

Five wolves appeared on the far shore. A black one, the pack's alpha male, howled what seemed to be a confirmatory message. Then the ravens flew across the river and, with the wolves running below, disappeared into the woods.

"We really became one big happy family -- us, the wolves and the ravens," Thayer says as she recounts the story. "They did seem to be concerned about us."

Living with wolves. It's a goal with a strangely powerful pull, given that they're not remotely close relatives and they avoid human contact at almost any cost.

Perhaps it's the capacity for intelligence, sociableness and violence so like our own that draws us to wolves. Perhaps it's the scary omniscience of an animal that sees but is not seen. (Ask a child which picture in "The Polar Express" is most memorable and you're likely to be told it's the one of the passing train drawn from the wolf's view.) Or perhaps it's just that wolves are the wild version of the animals we know best, dogs.

For whatever reason, from the Romulus-and-Remus myth to the Arctic Gothic tales of Jack London to the confabulations of Farley Mowat, something about Canis lupus strikes a deep and atavistic chord in the human heart.

For Helen Thayer, the possibility of communing with wolves drew her into the harsh taiga of the Yukon Territory and the harsher ice pack of the Beaufort Sea for the better part of a year. It was one of a long string of astonishing adventures.

Thayer, 67, was in Washington recently to lecture at the National Geographic Society about living with wolves. "Three Among the Wolves," the account of the experience she, husband Bill, a retired helicopter pilot, and their dog, Charlie, had in 1994 was published earlier this year.

Thayer is an explorer-naturalist of a breed that in the modern age is more threatened than wolves. She is not a millionaire, an academic, a government scientist or the sponsored face of a large corporation. In the beginning, she wasn't even a writer. Instead, she's a self-taught, self-financed and self-effacing woman whose chief interest in life has been to do difficult and interesting things. Her adventures are a mixture of climb-it-because-it's-there feats of endurance and quasi-scientific efforts to satisfy her own curiosity.

In person, she is stocky, grandmotherly and confident in her intuition (which she says the wolves helped refine). Sitting in the lobby of a downtown hotel as men wheeling suitcases come and go, she observes: "People are so tense here. They really need vacations."

Her husband, 78, was back home in Washington state's North Cascades taking care of three new dogs ("We're up to our knees in beagles") and various barnyard animals. She wonders aloud whether she is dressed well enough for this Washington, noting that in hers "you turn up for dinner in your fleece vest. Here you turn up in your black suit, of which I don't have a single one."

Her fleece vest -- bright red, its nap virginal -- is beautiful, though. It's accessorized with a single enamel pin on the collar. It's from the Explorers Club, whose headquarters is in New York.

"They didn't use to let women in," she says without any edge in her voice. She was admitted in 1989. She got her invitation a year after she became the first woman to walk and ski solo to the magnetic north pole. She was 50 at the time, an ex-champion discus thrower, luge racer and climber looking for new challenges. That trip was the subject of her first book, "Polar Dream." She and her husband repeated the feat in 1992 as a way of celebrating their 30th anniversary.

In 1995 they paddled and walked 1,200 miles down the Irixana and Jaquare rivers in the Amazon rain forest, gathering information on traditional healing and medicine. In 1996, she became the first documented modern woman to walk the 2,400-mile camel route across the Sahara. In 1997, when she was 60, she took a 550-mile solo walk in Antarctica. In their last big expedition, she and Bill walked across the Gobi Desert in 2001 -- 1,500 miles in 66 days. They almost died of thirst, surviving only by desalinating water from otherwise toxic sinkholes.

Helen Thayer was born in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1937, the only child of a couple who had a 10,000-acre sheep and cattle ranch. Her parents were athletic -- her mother a champion tennis player, her father a fair soccer player. She helped with chores and kept 25 chickens herself. New Zealand is a famously do-it-yourself culture. She designed and made her own wedding dress.

"I just had a wonderful childhood. I don't know how it could have been any better."

As a girl she ascended Mount Egmont (now Mount Taranaki), a dormant, ice-capped volcano 8,261 feet high, wearing crampons and roped to a line of climbers. It made an impression.

"It was a big climb for a 9-year-old. It sort of sealed my lifestyle as an outdoor person."

As it turned out, she was in the right place. Lesley "Dan" Bryant, the mountaineer largely responsible for turning the attention of New Zealand climbers to Mount Everest, was headmaster of her high school. She took climbing lessons from Edmund Hillary and went on trips to New Zealand's Southern Alps with him and other instructors, including George Lowe, who was on the support team when Hillary and Tenzing Norgay summited Everest in 1953.

Throughout her childhood, she admired her parents' ability to set goals, make detailed plans and be persistent. ("I was a strange teenager. I wanted to be just like them.") She now has a business, Adventure Classroom, in which she gives motivational talks to schoolchildren. There are three things she wants her listeners to remember: Reach high, plan for success, don't quit.

A year after graduating from college in Auckland, where she studied laboratory medicine, she married an American helicopter pilot, Bill Thayer, who was in New Zealand doing agricultural spraying. They decided early on not to have children. His job was dangerous, and she had ambitions as an athlete and mountain climber. Neither career seemed a terribly good pairing with parenthood.

In 1961 they moved to Guatemala for four years. Bill worked as an aerial sprayer of bananas and cotton and Helen spent much of her time throwing the discus.

She had competed in the Commonwealth Games for the New Zealand national team; in Guatemala she competed for that country in the Caribbean games. When she and Bill moved to the United States in 1965, she was for a time the third-best female discus thrower here, with a personal best of 204 feet when the world record for women was about 212.

She quit the discus in the early 1970s and took up luge. Strong legs on a compact 5-foot-2 frame, combined with a certain fearlessness, made this a logical next event. In 1975 she was U.S. women's champion. But she eventually quit that sport, too, fearing a crash might injure her so badly she wouldn't be able to mountain-climb. (In 1999 she was one of 25 sportswomen of the 20th century honored at a reception in the Clinton White House.)

After Guatemala, she and her husband moved to Washington state, where they owned and ran a dairy farm with 100 registered Holsteins. They sold it five years later -- "It was all work and it just barely paid the bills" -- and moved onto a smaller piece of land that over the years has accommodated dogs, cats, sheep, goats and alpacas. Her husband went back to flying and Thayer taught skiing in the winter and worked part time in a hospital laboratory.

Seeking new challenges at a stage in life when endurance rather than peak performance was likely to be her strong suit, she got the idea of becoming the first woman to reach the magnetic north pole in a solo, unsupported assault. Her success -- after 364 miles, hauling a sled loaded with supplies -- laid the groundwork for much of what's happened since.

She became a writer and a public speaker. She also got interested in polar ecology, particularly wolves and bears. She was interested in what appeared to be voluntary food-sharing -- altruism, in a word -- among Arctic species. She wanted to get a closer look at wolves on their home turf.

Bill Thayer shared her interest in wolf behavior, and by this time had become an enthusiastic participant in his wife's adventures. He says he never felt dragged along. Decades before he'd given up a safe and predictable job as a fireman on the Santa Fe Railroad to become a pilot.

"I was someone who wanted to see the other side of the mountain, too," he says.

The problem with the wolf project was that the animals are extremely humanophobic. A brief sighting is considered a success. Prolonged, up-close observation is virtually unheard of. But the couple had what they thought was a possible key to the lupine kingdom -- their dog Charlie.

A husky mix with a gray wolf great-grandparent, he'd been offered to Helen by Inuit who feared she couldn't survive her solo polar trek without a dog to sniff out polar bears. The two bonded during that expedition; she believes Charlie saved her life at least once.

The couple learned of the existence of a wolf pack whose den was in the Yukon Territory about 250 miles north of Dawson. They set out to find it in the spring of 1994.

In a kind of controlled "Call of the Wild," Charlie got progressively more wolflike over the six-day hike to the wolves' territory as he and they exchanged sightings and howls, and detected each other's urine scent-markings. When they got to the den, the Thayers were a bit like grandparents who don't speak the local language. They turned to Charlie and said, in essence: "You know a little wolf -- go find out what's happening."

The outcome of that suggestion was far from certain.

"Quite often wolves just kill the dogs if they come around," says wolf biologist L. David Mech. "That would be the usual thing. But of course there are exceptions to that."

Mech, 67, has worked for the U.S. Geological Survey since 1969, and has been an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota since 1973. He has written nine books, most of them on wolves, and for many years has observed wolves on treeless and nearly peopleless Ellesmere Island in northernmost Canada. His sojourns, however, have been far shorter than the Thayers' months-long stay. In fact, he thinks they hold the record.

For whatever reason, there was rapprochement this time. It may have helped that the interlopers showed impeccable manners, crouching low and averting their eyes to avoid highly threatening pupil-lock at crucial moments of confrontation. Boundaries were as sharply drawn as between the Koreas (although the Thayers could have done without the dog's scent-marking of the tent). Charlie, meanwhile, showed that he was the alpha of the homocanids -- holding his tail erect and baring his teeth at times -- which seemed to impress the wolves. Over a summer, camped just a hundred feet from the pack's den, they became the weird but increasingly lovable neighbors.

Like many orthodox naturalists, they declined initially to name the nine wolves they observed, not wanting to humanize them. But this became burdensome for efficient note-taking, so they were soon talking about Alpha and Mother (the breeding pair); Beta, the graybeard teacher; Denali, the male hunt leader; Yukon and Klondike, yearlings; and Omega, the lowest-status animal, whose role was to be picked on and yet still fully participate in pack activities.

Over the course of the May-to-October sojourn (interrupted by two short resupply trips) Bill, Helen and Charlie witnessed most of the essential pack activities.

They saw them leave to hunt and come back with prodigious amounts of food -- great bloody quarters of moose and sheep. (This refuted Farley Mowat's discredited observation that northern wolves survive mostly on a diet of rodents.) They saw the wolves share food with ravens, which might have functioned as hunting scouts. And like first-time grandparents, they were thrilled to finally see the year's two pups let out of the den and introduced to the neighborhood four weeks after birth.

There were tears all around when winter finally came and it was time to part.

"With the wolves watching, we left the meadow we had called home for almost six months, and the wild family we had become a part of. As we stepped across the stream, we saw Mother and the pups sitting dejectedly on our tent's spot. The teenagers, who had now grown into two elegant young adults, gathered near Mother and the pups. They all gave a mournful howl," she writes in "Three Among the Wolves."

The Thayers subsequently went 150 miles farther north into the high arctic, trekking across the treacherous Beaufort Sea in late winter as the ice started to move. They observed wolves following -- and scavenging from -- polar bears far out on the ice pack. Charlie was again a lifesaver.

He smelled or sensed polar bears long before they were visible. One time, leashed, he drove a bear away. Both Bill and Helen carried cut-down 12-gauge shotguns loaded with slugs, which they never had to use. Nevertheless, "it's a comfort," she says unsentimentally. Equally important, the dog was able to smell open water -- and keep his human charges from it -- during a harrowing, fogged-in breakup of the ice. (Charlie died last year at what Thayer believes was age 23.)

On both the tundra and the ice they saw (as they'd hoped) wolves sharing carcasses with other animals -- polar bears, grizzlies, ravens and foxes. They also saw what they believe was an adult wolf teaching two young ones how to look up and find an airplane when they hear an engine drone -- an insight learned from what the Thayers believe was the loss of pack members from aerial hunters. What isn't clear, though, is whether these and other observations have added to our knowledge of wolf biology.

The Thayers don't publish in peer-reviewed journals. Their descriptions, while carefully made, are not systematic in a scientific sense. Mech, for one, is disinclined to see in several species' serial feeding on a carcass the shared knowledge that they're all in it together.

"If there is high motivation to eat, the wolves would defend the carcass," he says. "But if they have already eaten, there is less motivation to fight the bear. They both end up feeding on it, but grudgingly."

Thayer's own observations suggest that boundary-drawing, rather than togetherness, is the rule in wolf culture.

In her book she describes a scene in which one of the wolf pups breached the urine-marked line between the pack's den and the trio's campsite. He wandered over to the dozing Charlie, tugged at his fur and tried to engage the dog in play. Charlie got up and gently nosed the pup to the edge of his territory, where the little one was handed off to the waiting Alpha.

Good fences make good neighbors, even when the fences are made of bodily fluids.

Monday, December 20, 2004

I'm working on a secret technological device called the Memory Port. They way it works is that you can download your memory anagrams into this port to clear out intellectual space for whatever purpose and then when you are done, you can retrieve your memory.

The catch is this should only be used in the event of a memory upgrade, so that the retrievel yeilds a net gain of intellectual brain power, and second catch is that your upgrade algorithms must contain knowledge of the retrieval process, or you won't remember just how to retrieve your memories stored in the port.

I have included fail safes to prevent these things from happening, but one cannot be to careful. I should have a beta version ready soon and then the big roll out will be in March 2005.

You can order your memory port now for only 2 easy payments of $7.95, but wait, if you act now, you can get, not just the memory port, but three additions memory algorithms and free psychological profile. Don't delay!

Thursday, December 16, 2004


What herb are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Via Tushnet's blog

Interesting and somewhat funny article on civil war soldier food.

"A New England soldier advised that the crackers be soaked in coffee first -- some said six weeks was long enough -- and then laid on a plate, taking care not to shake the worms out. 'They eat better than they look,' he said, 'and are so much clear gain in the way of fresh meat.' "

Remind me never to complain about stale ritz crackers again. Now for the main course:

History You Can't Always Sink Your Teeth Into

Thursday, December 16, 2004; Page SM05

I have always wondered whether hardtack, the food staple that Union soldiers called jawbreakers and worm castles, was really all that bad. Historian William C. "Jack" Davis has tried to answer that question in two books on what Civil War soldiers ate and what they had to say about it.

Hardtack, a tough, flat, bland cracker, was often cursed. It became the subject of poems and songs. On a long march, it was often the only food available.

The three-inch squares, turned out by the millions under government contract at assorted bakeries, were made of flour, water and salt. Some of the men tried to alter their rock-hard consistency by smashing them with rifle butts and mixing in river water to make a mush. If a frying pan was available, the mush could be cooked into a lumpy pancake. If not, it was dropped directly on campfire coals.

For dessert, hardtack was sometimes crumbled with brown sugar and hot water. If whiskey was available, that was added. The resulting dish was called a pudding.

The cracker appears to have earned the name "hardtack" during the Civil War, but the military staple had been around for many years. In earlier wars, it was called "hard bread" and "army bread."

Hardtack often arrived at a Union camp riddled with worms if it had been carelessly stored. Davis said it was often left out in the open in huge piles, where flies and other insects would lay eggs. By the time a soldier got his allotment, chances were good that it was wormy.

Davis, in his 2003 book, "A Taste for War: A Culinary History of the Blue and the Gray," relates several accounts of soldiers and their encounters with worm-ridden food.

"A New England soldier advised that the crackers be soaked in coffee first -- some said six weeks was long enough -- and then laid on a plate, taking care not to shake the worms out. 'They eat better than they look,' he said, 'and are so much clear gain in the way of fresh meat.' "

During the siege of Richmond, some soldiers who cracked the hardtack open to find it teeming with worms were disgusted and threw the crackers into the bottom of the earthen trenches they occupied. An officer of the day yelled at the men, asking whether they hadn't been told repeatedly not to throw the hardtack into the trenches.

Back came the reply, "We've thrown it out two or three times, sir, but it crawls back."

In an earlier book by Davis, "Civil War Cookbook," reissued by Running Press last year, hardtack and other camp fare are illustrated with studio-quality pictures that make army cooking look appealing. But Davis's research in both books makes it clear that sanitation was generally disregarded, and that solders pressed into duty as camp cooks often prepared inedible food that led to severe intestinal illness.

At the time, most American men weren't supposed to know about cooking. When the war ended, few who had learned to cook ever did so again.

In "A Taste for War," Davis includes a recipe for hardtack.

"Mix 5 cups of flour to 1 cup of water containing a 1/2-tablespoon of salt. Knead into a dough and roll out to 3/8-inch thickness. Cut into approximately 3-inch squares and pierce each with a fork or ice pick several times. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 30 minutes or until slightly brown."

I made a batch to see how bad is bad. I used what I had on hand: Gold Medal all-purpose flour, Food Lion iodized salt and well water. Mixing was the easy part. The kneading took about 20 minutes, with repeated folding and pressing until it all clung together.

Lacking a bread board, I used a counter top sprinkled with flour.

I didn't have a rolling pin, so a bottle of California cabernet sauvignon was substituted.

I cut the oddly shaped, rolled dough into a square and then cut that into three-inch pieces. Each got pricked with a fork several times.

Thirty minutes was about right. Fresh from the oven, it was easily broken and tasted warm and bland.

An hour later, I couldn't break it, and the taste was cold and bland.

As tasters, dogs are usually a good panel. The German shepherd in my household sniffed a cracker, quickly turned her head away and moved toward the door. The Newfoundland tried to look interested. He gummed it and then spat it on the floor.

However, I am inspired and plan to make up several more batches as a special Christmas gift, concealed in colorful holiday cookie tins, for friends who share my enthusiasm for the Civil War.

Linda Wheeler can be reached at 540-465-8934 or cwwheel@shentel.net.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Now that the election is over, President Bush's finger remains stuck in the Cheney position towards Catholics. Check out this column by conservative Robert Novak:

White House snubs European friend

December 13, 2004


Rocco Buttiglione, the internationally esteemed Italian philosopher and statesman, visited Washington last week. Doors were opened to this Italian Cabinet member and devout Catholic as a courageous exemplar of conservative Western ideals against the European Union's leftist ruling establishment. But one door was closed to Buttiglione. It was George W. Bush's door.

Displaying arrogance, ignorance or both, the Bush White House refused to grant one of America's best friends in hostile Western Europe an appointment with President Bush or a senior aide. There was no pretense of an overly tight schedule. It was just plain ''no!'' Tim Goeglein, Bush's staff liaison with Catholics, told Buttiglione's entourage there was nothing he could do. Father Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, based in Grand Rapids, Mich. (sponsoring the visit), informed the White House the snub was ''politically imprudent'' and ''morally revolting.''

While this conduct contradicts Bush's campaign posture, there is no mystery about what is going on. The re-elected president is offering a hand in friendship to ''Old Europe,'' at the cost of alienating the traditional Catholic constituency so avidly courted the past four years. Never having to worry about running again, Bush can give the back of his hand to Buttiglione, just as the leftist-dominated, anti-American EU refused to seat him as a commissioner.

For an old reporter, this incident brings back memories of nearly 30 years ago, when President Gerald R. Ford snubbed Russian novelist and dissenter Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the symbol of resistance to Soviet tyranny. Then, as now, the White House did not deign to explain itself, but everyone knew Ford stayed away from Solzhenitsyn because Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev warned that detente was at risk.

The usually helpful Goeglein told me brusquely he could say nothing. Press secretary Scott McClellan said the Italian's treatment ''should not be viewed as a sign of disrespect. The president had a heavy schedule, and it is rare when he meets with a minister separate from a prime minister.'' Sen. Rick Santorum, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, is seen as a rock by fellow Catholics. An Acton Institute award to Buttiglione was presented in Santorum's Capitol Hill office last week with the senator present. But when I sought Santorum's comment about the White House snub, a staffer said he could not be reached.

The guess among well-placed administration sources is that Bush has no idea who Rocco Buttiglione is. The decision to shut him out appears likely to have come not from the White House political office, but from the National Security Council staff and the State Department, where the warmth toward the EU approaches John Kerry's.

Although Bush likely could plead ignorance of Buttiglione (a defense denied Ford in explaining his treatment of Solzhenitsyn), that would not be an appealing posture for the president. Catholics all over the world know Buttiglione and recognize him as a figure of towering rectitude, whose treatment by the dominant European left is a global outrage. The EU parliament refused to accept him as justice minister on the 25-member European Commission, and his name was withdrawn.

The only constitutional reasons for rejecting Buttiglione would have been incompetence or immorality, and neither charge applied. He told me last week that he failed the EU test on four grounds: He serves in the Cabinet of conservative Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi; he is a traditional Catholic; he follows the course of conservative Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he is a friend of the United States (called a ''crypto-American'' inside the EU). ''Any one of these would be enough to reject me,'' he said.

It is hard to tell whether anti-Americanism or anti-Catholicism runs deeper in Europe's corridors of power. In The Weekly Standard, Christopher Caldwell wrote that what was done to Buttiglione looked ''like a bunch of progressives gathering round the dead horse that is European Christianity and giving it a few joyous kicks.'' At the Vatican, Cardinal Renato Martino called the EU parliament's interrogation of Buttiglione a ''secular inquisition.'' The White House last week gave its tacit approval.

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Sunday, December 12, 2004

Trying to Crack An Icy Mystery: Cryogenetic Secrets May Aid Organ Transplants
By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 12, 2004; Page C01

This is the way a wood frog freezes:

First, as the temperature drops below 32 degrees, ice crystals start to form just beneath the frog's skin. The normally pliant and slimy amphibian becomes -- for lack of a better word -- slushy.

Then, if the mercury continues to fall, ice races inward through the frog's arteries and veins. Its heart and brain stop working, and its eyes freeze to a ghostly white.

"Imagine an ice cube. Paint it green," and you've got the wood frog in winter, said Ken Storey, a professor at Carleton University in Ontario. The frog is solid to the touch and makes a mini-thud when dropped.

But it is not dead. When a thaw comes, the frog is able to melt back into its normal state over a period of several hours, restart its heart and hop away, unscathed.

This amazing process of reanimation -- repeated every winter in the woods of Maryland, Virginia and the District -- is being examined by scientists hoping to learn the secrets of the frog and other animals that freeze solid.

The hope is that these apparent Lazarus routines can yield clues for improving human medicine, including better preservation of organs on their way to transplant patients.

"Here's an amphibian that has solved the problem of cryo-preserving its organs -- all of them, simultaneously," said Jon Costanzo, a professor of zoology at Miami University in Ohio. "And we haven't been able to do that with one [human organ]."

The Washington region is actually home to several species of what scientists call "freeze-tolerant" animals. One is the wood frog, a two-inch-long creature with a call like a quack, which lives in woods from Georgia to Alaska.

Other local species -- spring peeper and the gray tree frog, as well as a few kinds of caterpillars and the babies of the painted turtle -- can freeze but lose the ability as they age.

Scientists say these animals' freezing abilities are just extreme reactions to a problem that all mid-Atlantic animals face: periodic blasts of winter cold. Human retirees head to Florida, Chesapeake Bay crabs bury themselves in the mud and most frog species hide out deep underground or underwater.

But not the freezing frogs. Instead, buried just a few inches under dirt and leaves, they welcome the chill. When the soil starts freezing -- even if it falls just a couple of degrees below 32 -- so do the frogs.

The result is something like the frozen gray tree frog that Professor Jack R. Layne Jr. held in his hand this week in a lab at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania.

Instead of its normal grayish-green, the frog had turned almost purple, its limbs and head stuck in contortions. It looked for all the world like a practical joke: an ice cube made to resemble a frog.

"You can see that it's quite solidly frozen," Layne said. "They kind of turn bluish."

The frogs can survive this process, in which as much as 65 percent of their body water freezes, because their cells are protected by a kind of natural antifreeze.

Scientists say that, before winter comes, the frogs eat ravenously, storing a starch in their livers. A freeze triggers their bodies to convert the starch into other compounds, most often glucose, or blood sugar. The frogs become, in essence, extremely diabetic.

The glucose lowers the freezing temperature of water inside the frogs' cells, and because of this, the cells stay liquid, even as ice fills the space around them. This is crucial: If the water inside the cells froze, scientists say, the jagged ice crystals would destroy everything inside, killing the frog.

It's very hard to find frogs frozen like this in the wild, because they're hidden underground. At the Patuxent Research Refuge, a 12,750-acre forest near Laurel, wildlife biologist Robin E. Jung of the U.S. Geological Survey, said she occasionally gets lucky and finds wood frogs hunkered down for winter.

"Just like" -- she stiffened like she'd been shot with a super-villain's ice ray -- "freezing."

In this area, cold snaps usually aren't long enough to keep the frogs frozen for more than a few days. But wood frogs live as far north as Canada and Alaska, and in those places they can freeze for months, scientists said.

Medical researchers say they hope to copy these long-term freezing abilities to add hours or even days to the time that human organs can be preserved.

Now, after organs are removed from a donor, they are packed in a special solution and kept on ice. But they can't be frozen because of the damage that ice crystals would do to the cells. Without freezing, the shelf life of these organs can be as much as 48 hours for a kidney and as little as four hours for a heart.

If organs could be preserved longer, it would allow more time for locating an organ recipient and setting up the transplant operation, said Jimmy A. Light, head of transplantation at Washington Hospital Center.

"It would allow you to have a more prepared patient," Light said. "Now, it's kind of like a fire drill. The bell rings, the clock ticks and you've got to get going."

In one experiment, University of California professor Boris Rubinsky removed a rat's liver and filled it with glycerol, hoping the chemical would act as glucose does in wood frogs.

The experiment worked: The liver was frozen, then thawed and transplanted successfully into another rat, Rubinsky said.

Other researchers have turned to arctic fish, which manufacture special chemicals to keep from freezing even as the water around them falls below 32 degrees.

Using fish proteins made in a lab, scientists have managed to preserve a pig's heart at subfreezing temperatures for 24 hours, then transplant it into another pig.

Scientists say they don't see any immediate potential for putting an entire human body in a science fiction-style deep freeze; the frogs, after all, don't stay frozen forever.

But just freezing and thawing one human organ would be a major breakthrough.

"If we can translate that into a human heart, then we'll do very well," Rubinsky said.

Now, even as researchers try to copy the frog's techniques, the freezing amphibians still haven't given up all their secrets.

Their ability to thaw puzzles scientists, who are trying to crack the process and pinpoint the trigger that restarts the frog's heart.

Whatever it is, Storey said, "it's not magic. It's physical chemistry."

Video of a wood frog thawing out from a frozen state is available on The Washington Post Web site at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/mmedia/nation/120904-12v.htm.

"The widening rift between Washington and Moscow represents a dramatic deterioration in ties since Bush first met Putin in 2001 and famously declared that he had looked into the former KGB officer's soul and found a friend."

"Advisers said Bush no longer harbors illusions about Putin's soul."

From WaPo

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Hey! For Christmas you can buy my novel, Table of the Lord, for both yourself and others on your Christmans list. It would make a wonderful addition to your book collection. I guarantee that you will find it interesting or . . . you can indulge yourself in an ice fudge ripple with mocha chunks and peppermint. My novel is a touch complicated, but very accessible. Get it, read it, like it.

And please, restrict your buying choices to royalty generating brand new copies.

One of my favorite commercials is the one where this guy is a radio talk show host and he has a really desparate urge to use the facilities. At the same time some guy, "Dave," calls in, a droner, and he starts going on about his problems. In the meantime someone hands over Pepto bismol or something to the talk show host who scampers to use the facilities. The next scene then is the talk show host returning from his ordeal obviously feeling much lighter and less stressed. Smiling he dons the headset and sits down as Dave is finishing up the following sentence:

Dave:" . . . so do you think it was alright to invite my mom along to the honeymoon."

"Dave, absolutely!"

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

"May I have a tofu sandwich with a sprig of brussel sprouts and a light butternut mayonnaise spread"

Hal Lindsey a fundamentalist "prophecy expert" predicted the Rapture by 1988 in his book, The Late Great Planet Earth. Well, he was obviously left behind and his has been pretty snarky ever since.

God warned: "Therefore thus says the Lord God: 'Surely I have spoken in My burning jealousy against the rest of the nations and against all Edom [Arabs], who took MY LAND to themselves as a possession, with whole-hearted joy and spiteful minds, in order to plunder its open country ... But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to MY PEOPLE ISRAEL, for they are about to come.'" (Ezekiel 36: 5, 8 NKJ)

The man has a show on the Christian network, TBN--talk about the love of Christ shining through, yikes. If that is the love of Christ, I shudder . . . This man is critically unhappy.

"O, God, if there is a God, save my soul, if I have a soul!"

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Interesting article from the Washington Post: "Preaching by Committee

More Pastors Use Group Approach, Multimedia Presentation

By Lila Arzua
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 5, 2004; Page C01

Many worshipers see it as the loneliest part of a minister's job: crafting a sermon alone, in the wee hours, the only aids a Bible and some reference books before presenting the fully formed product to the congregation the next day.

But increasingly, that view of sermon-writing is outdated. At a growing number of churches, the pastor's message is the painstaking work of a committee -- a panel of church staff and congregants who meet weekly to suggest sermon topics, critique the minister's prose and examine how his or her preaching will mesh with other elements of the service.

One goal of these worship-planning teams is to ensure that the minister's words will resonate with all segments of a demographically diverse congregation. Often, the team's job is to turn the sermon into a multimedia experience, with specialists in music, drama and video technology making contributions that become just as important as the pastor's writing.

"It's happening more and more as they will all bring different gifts to the table," said Randel Everett, president of the John Leland Center for Theological Studies, a Baptist-affiliated seminary in Arlington.

Everett compares the trend to the way that TV programs built around a lead character gradually have been replaced by shows with ensemble casts. He said that he has noticed the movement toward collaborative sermons for more than a decade but that it has become prevalent in the last three years.

At Purcellville Baptist Church in Loudoun County, the Rev. David Janney meets with a worship committee for several hours every Wednesday afternoon to discuss his sermon. Janney typically shows them a draft 11 days before he plans to deliver it. The group of about eight people, which includes other clergy, administrators and one elder, also decides on sermon topics, selecting them several months in advance.

At a recent meeting, Janney made a number of changes at the committee's suggestion. His sermon's focus was to urge families to stay together and engage in as many joint activities as possible. "If you don't spend time with them, they won't spend time with you," he had written.

Membership coordinator Dania O'Connor recommended starting the sentence, "When we don't spend time with them," to acknowledge that everyone -- even the pastor -- sometimes fails to set aside enough time for family. Others agreed that that wording sounded less judgmental.

Music director Brian Bush suggested that Janney talk about "second chances" -- how people can reconnect with their estranged parents and children. So the pastor added about seven minutes of comments on that theme and truncated another section.

"You've made it a much more powerful message just by your feedback," Janney told the group.

The church started using the new system in the fall. Janney said he was inspired by a video he saw in September at an interdenominational conference for pastors and church staff members, which showed a pastor brainstorming ideas for his sermon with a "creative team." Officials at that church, Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Tex., said they produced the video in response to inquiries from other houses of worship interested in learning about a collaborative system.

Janney said he had realized over the summer that he needed to make changes in his approach to his sermons, sensing that they tended to drag and that the response from the congregation was often weak. "If you come out of the service and say that the sermon was wise and informative but you didn't sense the Spirit's power, then we failed on Sunday," he said.

The new system has been popular with the congregation, which has responded positively to the group approach and views it as a sign that the church's leadership cares about everyone's issues and concerns, Janney said.

Want reform in the Catholic Church? This would be a great way to start. At first, when I saw the headline, I dismissed the whole thing as silly, but as I read, I began to appreciate what was going on. As long as the committee is non-binding, it would be excellent to have a priest or deacon meet with a committee to evaluate and discuss homiliess.

A criticism that comes up later is that the pastors' have the specialized training that may get pushed to the side. Fair enough, nonetheless, the input is invaluable. As for the idea of reform and this committee thing, if it was instituted on hierarchy-wide basis, it wouldn't work. Why? Because the hierarchy has the Un-Midas touch, everything they touch turns to stone. But if a priest did this of his own accord on a parish basis, we just might have a revival on our hands . . . but I'm not holding my breath.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

"Hark the Herald sing
Glory to the new born Monarch
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and _____ reconciled (Memo: need more pleasant word than "sinners")
. . .
. . .
Pleased as human with human to dwell
Jesus our Emmanuel(le)
Hark the Herald Angels sing
Glory to the new born Monarch."

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

WaPo:Seeking A Share Of Power In Charles:Blacks Growing In Numbers as County Changes

Interesting article about Charles County in Southern Maryland and the African American presence. I live in Charles County and as a recent 5 year transplant, it is of interest to me. One thing I have always maintained about Southern Maryland is that it is the Southern part of Maryland, geographically and culturally. It really isn't a suburb of DC, it is its own region.

The article points out a few things:

Charles's black population grew 25 percent from 2000 to 2003 -- the largest such gain for any county in Maryland -- and now accounts for 30 percent of county residents. It is a major part of Charles's transformation from rural crossroads to fast-growing outer-rim suburb... Recent census figures confirm that the demographic trend that started in the 1990s continues to change the face of Charles County. African Americans, many from Prince George's County and the District, accounted for 65 percent of the county's 12,000 new residents from 2000 through 2003.

Many of the newcomers are professional families, demographers said. More than half of Charles County's black households have incomes above $50,000, and nearly 70 percent are married couples with children, according to the 2000 Census.

"I think many upwardly mobile African Americans are moving to Charles to avoid poverty issues and problems with schools," said George Grier, an independent demographer in Bethesda. "They want bigger houses, they want better neighborhoods, they want good schools, like any population of middle-class people."

Image: Afro-American Heritage Society & Cultural Center in LaPlata, MD (County seat for Charles County)

Now here's the chilling part:

Some attribute the lack of black participation to lingering racial tensions. As recently as 1994, the Ku Klux Klan rallied on the courthouse steps in La Plata. On Thanksgiving 1999, an anonymous flier calling on "White Brothers & Sisters of Charles County" to kill blacks was distributed across Waldorf, the northern section of the county that is the center of the African American population. "No more [racial epithet] in Charles County!!!!!!" it read.

For older African Americans, segregation in Charles is a vivid memory . Margie Posey, 69, remembers being blocked from the front door of restaurants and "white-only" restrooms as a little girl. The school bus rumbled past her family's home in Malcolm but didn't pick up black children, so she walked four miles to sit on a soda crate in her one-room segregated school.

"Things haven't changed that much here. I see them kind of going backwards," said Posey, the first African American to be elected to the Indian Head Town Council.

The problem with racism issues in a community is that you just never know to whom you are speaking. You could be joking with someone in the grocery store and not realize that they are Klan. My experience in the area, however, has been great. I do realize that it is part of the south and we definitely see our share of Confederate items here and on many young people! A white girl once came up to me and said, "Sir do you have a dollar for us poor White kids?" One of her three friends with her, all boys, had a confederate visor.

It's weird, but I prefer the overt racism to the subtle kind, the we're-not-racist-we're-enlightened-North East-liberals kind. When it's out in the open, at least the problem is identified, when it is under the radar, it is like boils that keep poping up and all you can do is slap a bandaid on it because it is down right impossible to pin down the "cause."

All that said, I enjoy Southern Maryland, and people are good folks around here. There's always the ugly underbelly, but then again, is any place free of undesireable droppings?