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Friday, 30 April 2010

Don't tread on Superman's cape!

Three Houston police officers have been restricted to desk duty after they followed a Chinese diplomat into the parking garage of the Chinese Consulate, arrested the man and injured him, the Houston mayor said.

Under international practise, the premises of foreign embassies and consulates are outside the jurisdiction of local law enforcement, and diplomats have legal immunity from arrest.

Houston police tried to stop a car that was missing a license plate, CBS News reported. When the car didn't stop, they pursued it into a garage. Police handcuffed and arrested the driver, injuring him, the report said. CBS News identified the official as Ben Ren Yu. The Houston consulate website lists a deputy consul-general, Yu Boren.

This is basically what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object. Mr. Yu thought himself and his vehicle to be above the law, which indeed they were--in theory. The police officers thought they had the power to pull over and question the driver of any car without proper proof of registration, which they did--in theory.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, both sides did their utmost to assert their rights: Mr. Yu in refusing to pull over, and the cops in pursing a subject into an internationally protected zone. The diplomat got treated like a common thug--nothing unusual about that, except that the cops made a serious mistake in thinking they could get away with it this time. Now they're waiting for the next shoe to drop while Mr. Yu recovers from his injuries.

There's a lesson to be learned in this: obey the guy with the gun: even if you think you're right and he's wrong, he still has the gun. Let him calm down first, and later you can sort things out. Otherwise, somebody's going to get hurt.

I think there's another lesson in this, for the cops. Guys: think about this. Every day the Texas Department of Corrections releases at least one convicted felon back onto the streets of Houston. Most days, several of them. So why be in such a rush to cuff everybody you think might have something to hide? Chances are they'll be back out on bail before your shift is over. Slow down and let the legal system work. If they deserve to be caught, they will, sooner or later. You don't have to be the one to do it. And don't feel bad about the ones that get away; sooner or later, they all do.

Crossing the Sahara still isn't easy--especially for a woman on a motorcycle

It's been over forty years since the first man crossed the Sahara Desert by motorcycle, but less than four years since this was finally done by a woman. And in both cases, the majority of their trip--and the majority of the hassle--involved transiting the country of Algeria.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Has Noah's Ark Been Discovered in Turkey?

I must confess, I was a bit excited to see video footage this week of a team of Chinese mountaineers descending into what they were pretty sure was the Ark of Noah. I couldn't understand the Chinese narration, but the 'clunk' of them knocking on wood deep inside a glacier was unmistakable.

Skeptics of the Bible have made no attempt to hide their disdain at the announcement of this discovery, and among media outlets it's pretty well universal. The most objective account I've found so far--and that's not necessarily saying much--was in today's Time Magazine. I quote as follows:
To a score of marching drums and pipes, we see the expedition trudge across a snowy expanse and up the mountain. They camp on a hilly bluff, the sun setting over the Anatolian hinterland below. Moments later, we've gone inside a dark cave and watch members of the expedition inspect what appears to be a solid wooden wall, entombed within layers of glacial ice and volcanic rock. A gnarled beam runs suspended from one part of the cavern to another. There's straw and bits of old rope on the ground; a structure is taking shape. What is it? According to the explorers, it's Noah's Ark, literally frozen in time.

This footage of the alleged discovery of the Biblical vessel, perched 4,000 m (more than 12,000 ft) up on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey, was first shown to journalists on Apr. 25 at a press conference in a fancy boutique hotel in Hong Kong. On hand were members of the team, composed largely of Hong Kong-based evangelicals, an art historian, and a handful of Turkish academics and government officials. They displayed specimens of objects recovered from the supposed Ark, which the team says they encountered in seven dismembered compartments within the mountain: on show are pieces of petrified wood allegedly carbon-dated at 4,800-years-old, a chunk of crystal and a cluster of seed-like pellets. "There is a tremendous amount of evidence that this structure is the Ark of Noah," said Gerrit Aalten, a Dutch researcher of Ark lore enlisted to evaluate the team's findings.

I'm not sure what a fancy boutique hotel is, but it apparently was mentioned to hint at an unscientific approach for which Ishaan Tharoor does fairly well to hide his disdain. At any rate, I willingly number myself among those who are excited by this find, but not because it validates any belief system I might have. I'm excited about it because, as someone whose belief system allows for things like Noah's Ark to exist, I find it fascinating that someone finally appears to have found it, and made it out alive with the video to prove it.

It's not that many people beforehand haven't claimed to have found the ark, or even to have walked inside it or actually taken pictures of it. But a strange fate has always befallen such exhibitions, or those who've made them: the film has been confiscated, or declared Top Secret, or lost in a landslide, or resulted in the photographer's untimely execution--et cetera. This time, the team (wisely, I think) waited until they had made three successful trips to the same artifact: apparently, the first time to find it, the second to enter it, and the third to return with video and Arktifacts. Then they waited for the results of their scientific testing to come back before finally revealing to the world what they had been doing for the past three years. And they still held back a little: the actual location is not being released, pending the area being put in a protective zone by either Turkey or the United Nations.

I'll leave the technical questions as to the validity of this discovery claim to others, although 'others' don't appear to be addressing the important questions right now. That, I'm sure, will come in time. What I'd like to address are the eschatological implications. As someone who has been an armchair Arkeologist for several decades, I believe I'm as qualified to address these as anybody.

First of all, I should point out that Christians--and I happen to be one--don't hold any sort of copyright on Noah's Ark. Yes, granted it is directly mentioned in our Scriptures, the New Testament--a total of four times, with another four references to Noah that don't specifically mention the ark. In fact, the flood of Noah was referred to very matter-of-factly as history by Jesus, Paul, and Peter. But that doesn't stop people who claim to be followers of Jesus from disbelieving that there ever was a worldwide flood survived only by Noah and his seven family members. Those who do believe this are usually termed 'fundamentalists', or at best 'evangelicals'.

But the main story of Noah and his ark is found in the Jewish Scriptures, the Torah--which is also holy to the Samaritan sect. Jewish tradition has embellished the biblical account with such details as that Adam's mummy was carried in the ark to divide the males on the one side from the females on the other side. Muslims, for their part, incorporate some of the biblical account into their Scriptures, but with many differences--such as that the Ark came down in territory closer to the Arab heartland than Armenia. But Christians don't have any unique beliefs about the Ark, so there's really no intrinsic reason why they should hold a corner on modern Arkeology.

There are several things that make this particular expedition so interesting. For one, it was the first to be undertaken with the cooperation and even presence of Turkish officials. For another, it was the first to make it back to the Ark site three years in succession. And lastly, it was the first to bring back still and video photos of the ark in situ.

I also think it rather interesting that it was not a team of Westerners who had the privilege of finally locating the ark's resting place right down to the longitudinal second. The first news of this groundbreaking geographical discovery came not in English, but Chinese. And as far as I know, this is the first time an Asian-only team has even searched Mt. Ararat for the ark.

Now, having noted what actually has happened, and what I find interesting about it, I'd like to engage in a little speculation. I should note once again that nothing in my belief system requires there to be any evidence of an ark on Mt. Ararat or any other mountain. At worst, discovery of a huge multi-chambered wooden structure that fits in with Islamic, Manichean, or Yezidi belief, but not the biblical account, would seriously shake my faith in the Bible, and would probably even be capable of overturning it. But finding what matches the biblical description (but not those of other religions), located where the Bible (but not other religions' scriptures) puts it, and in a position where it could not possibly have arrived short of a global flood, only confirms what I already believe. What follows, though, is at this point only theory.

I find two things about the account of the Ark in Genesis extremely interesting:

1) God told Noah to coat the Ark with pitch, both within and without.

2) The ark came down on what is now one of the highest mountains in the Middle East, at a latitude where it would be snow-covered year-round.

Both of these have worked to preserve the Ark for over 4000 years, and there's no reason why, under such conditions, it might not take another 4000 years for the glacier that entombs it to reach the base of the mountain. God seems to have intended both for the Ark to be preserved, and to keep it fairly inaccessible into the foreseeable future. That's why I'm so excited to be living at a time when, it appears, the Ark will finally be made accessible. Note that the GPS equipment necessary to pinpoint the Ark's changing location has only existed for a couple of decades, and the global rise in temperature over these same decades has made it finally possible to get down through the ice into the Ark itself. We do appear to be at some crucial juncture of history.

I should note at this time that Answers in Genesis has finally weighed in on the report. I'm a bit disappointed by their response:
Adding to our skepticism about the find is (as we have stated before) that the volcanic activity on the mountains of Ararat as well as several earthquakes make it doubtful that even parts of a wooden structure could have survived for over 4,300 years. Furthermore, much of the wood would have most likely been scavenged right after the Flood to erect forms of shelter and to build fires (in a cold mountainous region). Also, as we look at the photos of this latest proposed Ark, we do not see evidence of the wood being coated with pitch (as Genesis 6:14 indicates). Other items seen in the photos are suspicious-looking as well; we will have more to say about our doubts on Saturday’s posting.
AIG are buying right into the secular mindset on this, in my opinion. Of course the Ark could have survived for over 4300 years! A man entombed in an alpine glacier, along with his clothes, tools, and intestinal parasites, is said to have survived longer than that! And as for scavenging the Ark for building material, how ridiculous! The most sensible place to find shelter in the immediate aftermath of the Flood was on the Ark itself. And it would have been preposterous to go to all the work of ripping 60-foot beams of lumber off the ark to carry them off and build something with them far below the tree line. In the process of going forth and replenishing the earth, Noah and his descendants would have had no use for lumber; tents would have been more like it. If the mountainous region was indeed so cold and inhospitable, no one would have stayed near the ark; they would have sought lower altitude immediately.

April 30 Update
A couple of things have come out in the news that don't look so good for the Ark Discovery Story. First of all, Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister Ertugrul Gunay has announced an investigation. Apparently the whole search had been conducted without his permission. Secondly, it turns out that Hong Kong businessman Andrew Yuen Man-Fai was involved in the project. Since he owns a major interest in Hong Kong's full-size model of the Ark--a major tourist attraction--any excitement over this discovery could hardly fail to reward him financially, even if it turns out to have been nothing more than a publicity stunt.

Another update (I'm not editing anything above, just adding things as they come in)
It turns out that NAMI used a press conference to publicize their first visit to the Ark in 2007.

Here's an updated website that pretty much lays out the case for fraud. Not only is this yet another disappointment for those who thought the Ark had finally been found, but it's further fuel for the derision that is sure to greet any authentic discovery once it is made.

So, to answer once again the question of the title: No.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Plain Bread

Research on bread indicates that:

1. More than 98 percent of convicted felons are bread users.

2. Fully HALF of all children who grow up in bread-consuming households score below average on standardized tests.

3. In the 18th century, when virtually all bread was baked in the home, the average life expectancy was less than 50 years; infant mortality rates were unacceptably high; many women died in childbirth; and diseases such as typhoid, yellow fever, and influenza ravaged whole nations.

4. More than 70 percent of violent crimes are committed within 24 hours of eating bread.

5. Primitive tribal societies that do not eat bread exhibit a low incidence of cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, and osteoporosis.

6. Bread has been proven to be addictive. Subjects deprived of bread and given only water to eat begged for bread after as little as two days.

7. Bread is a choking hazard to children under the age of one.

8. Most American bread eaters are utterly unable to distinguish between significant scientific fact and meaningless statistical babbling.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

A Plea for Gender-Specific Translation

Those who have followed this blog know that it has been unrelenting at times in its criticism of perceived inconsistencies in the TNIV; perhaps to a slightly lesser degree of those in the NIV. Inasmuch as both of these translations are on the verge of obsolescence, I've expressed my hopes that whatever replaces them will be a truly gender-specific translation. To illustrate what I mean, let me give an example:
1 Corinthians 11:28.

But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.

But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.

That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup.

Notice that the first three versions use 'a man' and 'himself'. This despite there is absolutely no indication of gender in the original Greek, which reads anqrwpos eauton. anqrwpos is the word for human being (homo in Latin) and eauton is the singular reflexive pronoun, matching the masculine grammatical gender of anqrwpos.

The problem, of course, is that we don't really have a genderless way of saying this in English. We either have to go with the awkward, 'a person ought to examine himself or herself before he or she eats' or we have to change the translation. The NLT goes with the latter in neutering the construction, and in so doing changes it from third person to second. Actually, I can't say this isn't an acceptable translation, as it basically reflects colloquial speech. But what does the TNIV say?

We ought to examine ourselves before we eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

Ah, now the subject of the sentence has changed with the interjection of the first person. There is a clear difference in meaning between 'you ought to examine yourself' and 'we ought to examine ourselves'. This is no longer translation, nor even interpretation, but PC foolishness. The CBT has ghostwritten Paul into someone afraid of the word 'his'.

May I make a suggestion? Since the Greek does use the masculine gender, the reason being that the generic word for 'human' in Greek is masculine, would it not be most accurate to translate using an English generic word that also takes the masculine gender? I speak of the pronoun 'one'.

One ought to examine himself--and, in so doing, eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

This is a formally equivalent translation of the Greek, and equally as gender-specific. It makes perfect sense in English, and no one fluent in English is going to be fooled into thinking that there is a gender-specific reference only to men in this verse.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

U.S. shifts gears to tackle homespun terrorism

Just to show you how bad it has gotten in this country, I was surprised to find that such a headline actually referred to American Muslims, not American Christians:
DEARBORN, Michigan (Reuters) – At a recent congressional hearing on homespun terrorism, Indiana Representative Mark Souder tore into a little-known Los Angeles County sheriff named Lee Baca.

Souder, a Republican member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment, pointedly asked why Baca had attended several fund-raisers for an American Muslim group that some describe as a front for Hamas, which is designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization.

"The question is, at what point do you start giving legitimacy to groups who fund Hamas?" Souder said. He was referring to Baca's association with the Council On American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, which says it does not support terrorism.

Raising his voice and pointing his finger at the congressman, Baca exploded: "For you to associate me (with terrorism) somehow through some circuitous attack on CAIR is not only inappropriate, it is un-American."

In an interview with Reuters afterward, Baca said the congressman was playing politics. "Souder doesn't have a solution for dealing with extremism in the United States," he said. "I have a solution. I have a vision. I have relationships with the Muslim community and am working to make that vision a reality."

Thursday, 15 April 2010

'Lost girl' still in custody

This being Autism Awareness month and all, I've been following the story of Nadia Bloom, an adventuresome 11-year old who wandered into a Florida swamp last week and got lost. When she didn't turn up, her mom called the police.

Now, time there was when one of the jobs of a policeman was finding stray children. It kind of went along with firemen getting kittens out of trees. As recently as a couple of years ago, a boy I know got lost and his mom successfully got him back after involving a couple of small-town policemen in the search. OK, so he didn't think he was lost, but his mom sure did. I remember another case, in which this boy's father, as a child of about that age, was not lost but rather in hiding--which made it a bit harder to find him. That town being too small to have a police department, however, most of the searchers were ordinary citizens, although the local boy scout troop was called out for the search. He finally turned up, as his son did several decades later, in the most logical place to look--but in the panic of dealing with a missing person, it had been overlooked until last.

So I'm rather familiar with the concept of a missing child. But what doesn't mesh with my own experience is the heavy-handed manhunt that ensued after Tanya Bloom called 911. Troops in battle dress uniform, helicopters, armed officers on the lookout--it was as if a murderer had escaped from prison. Yet when she was found, it wasn't by the government agents, but by someone who knew and cared for Nadia: a man who says "The Lord led me to her."

The Lord's and Jim King's help may have been appreciated locating her, but at that point both of them became redundant, as Big Brother asserted his jurisdiction. Although Nadia was fully ambulatory, lucid, and in the process of rehydrating after four days without drinking water, she was ordered to stay put until a helicopter could arrive to spirit her away to a hospital, where a needle was shoved up her vein and drugs sent coursing through her blood.

Really, I'm sure an outpatient visit to her family doctor would have sufficed, but as of this writing she's yet to have been released to her family.

So far, everyone has been playing by the rules. Jim King, lest he become a suspect himself in her alleged abduction, dutifully handed his cell phone to her after calling in to report that he'd found her. The police investigators grudgingly admitted that she said nothing that would implicate him. Nadia, on her part, made no attempt to decline transport. Of course, she won't be paying the bill for her rescue, which I'm sure ran to several times more than her dad makes in a year. Her parents, on their part, are dutifully waiting to get their daughter back from Big Brother.

But what it they hadn't all been so cooperative? One need look no further than the sad case of Brad Horton to find out the danger of not playing along when the guys with the guns are out to get their man.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Tax evaders at work in Michigan?

Federal authorities are expected to review nearly three dozen guns found in a wooded area of Clare County in central Michigan.
Special Agent Donald Dawkins tells the Associated Press that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will inspect the weapons today.
Clare Sheriff's Department officials say a man on Tuesday found a rifle hidden under a log while cutting firewood in Freeman Township, about 110 miles north of Lansing. The man later found another 30 guns.
Police seized the weapons, then located three handguns in the same area.
Dawkins said nothing else was discovered.
No suspects have been identified. An investigation is ongoing.
There are several things wrong with this story. Let's see if we can list them.
1) It made the news. Now, why did this story, among the thousands of stories that day, make it all the way to the AP wire feed for national dissemination? There's something in physics known as The Observer Effect, which, applied to news dissemination, basically means that the very act of reporting on the news has an effect on what becomes news. Thus running a particular news story is the result of a conscious decision, one influenced by a desire to see a particular effect on those who read the news. So the question must be asked, "Why This Story?" Some of my readers will not be happy with the answer.

2) The only source for the story is a government official. Notice: the reporter did not physically see the guns. It did not personally speak to the anonymous person who allegedly found the guns. Rather, full faith and credit is given to Special Agent Donald Dawkins of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. In effect, the AP is acting as the press agent for the BATF, rather than independently investigating the story themselves.

3) Police seized the weapons. Why is the word 'seized' used here? It's a word that implies contraband or illicit possession. Did the police realize at the time that what they were doing was 'seizing' contraband? Why no word from the police in this story?

4) Police searched the area. What called for this massive allocation of public safety resources? Had the police received any information that would lead them to believe that these guns were about to be used in a crime or insurrection? Were any of the 31 guns seized loaded? Had they run registration checks on the serial numbers?

5) BATF is going to be looking at the weapons. Why? Well, the BATF's constitutional mandate is to ensure that federal taxes on alcohol, tobacco, and firearms are paid as due. They have congressional authority to arrest tax evaders and seize their illicitly held property. So apparently, the BATF has to physically inspect these guns to ascertain whether or not their taxes are paid in full. This could have been done by the police who seized them, but the BATF agents apparently need something to do to keep busy, when they're not releasing statements to the press. But why didn't the bored BATF agents conduct the search in the woods, if the police are too busy to be bothered by pursuing this case?

6) The wood-burner who reported finding the guns was not arrested. While this may not seem like a problem, the question has to be, "Why Not?" If possession of 31 guns is a crime, than the man from whom they were 'seized' should be arrested. But if hiding 34 guns in the woods isn't a crime, then there's nothing to investigate, except to find the rightful owner of these guns and return them to him.

Somehow, I don't think that if that does happen, we'll be reading about it from the AP.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Patricia St. John on the Gift of Tongues

We were waiting stationary at a busy crossroads a few miles north of Tarragona when there was a tremendous crash at the back of the car, jolting us forward and hurling us against the windscreen (it was before the days of seat belts). An enormous truck, whose owner had apparently fallen asleep, had rammed into the back of the car and cracked the Volkswagen engine in two. At first we were so thankful to discover that neither of us was hurt (although my arms and hands remained numb for several days) that we scarcely realized the predicament we were in.

The excitement and noise was indescribable. We were some way out of town, but crowds seemed to spring up from nowhere, quarrelling and arguing with Spanish heat. The police were screaming at the traffic jam, and the lorry driver seemed to be trying to turn our wheels. We discovered later that he wanted to prove that we were turning left and had not indicated. After a lot of wrangling and shouting, in the end a pick-up truck appeared and hoisted our car on top and took it to a garage in Tarragona, the nearest town.

We were taken in the truck and dumped on the pavement. It was quite dark now and starting to rain, and after ten o’clock at night. As we were nearing the end of our journey, we had very little money, and the campsite was far outside the town. Nor could we have carried our gear. We enquired about hotels, but were assured that every hotel was full, as it was a fiesta (a remarkably common occurrence in Spain). No one seemed to care, and we stood in the little street with our hand luggage and prayed. Just then a boy came up to us and said, ‘I think I know a house where you could sleep’.

He seemed like a small, bright-eyed angel, but as we followed, the streets became narrower and we began to wonder. We had obviously reached the poorer part of the town. He stopped at a tall house and beckoned us inside. He led us up a very dimly lighted stone staircase. By now we were definitely feeling scared. But he kept turning round and making encouraging noises. At last he knocked on a door.

An elderly woman opened it and after a few words of explanation she admitted us a little doubtfully into a small living room. We looked round. There were Spanish texts on the walls. We showed her our Bibles and within a couple of minutes we were all in each other’s arms. The bond of the love of Christ is seldom felt more strongly than when Christians meet in a strange land with little common language; it overrides all barriers. That night in that humble little home we instantly knew ourselves to be one in Christ Jesus.

In a city of over 60,000, there were just 60 Protestant Evangelical Christians, and she and her family were among them. They were kindness itself and though she could keep us for only one night, as her families were arriving next day, she took us to the church and we met with a little group. They escorted us and our belongings to a small chapel by the beach, not yet registered for use but containing a tiny kitchen and toilet and ample space to camp. It was quite luxurious, and we were detained for four days while the garage searched in vain for a Volkswagen engine, much hindered by two fiestas.

Then we gave up in despair and decided to travel on by train and leave the car to be picked up later when it had been mended.

Why? we wondered. Everything had gone so well. God’s guiding hand had been in evidence. Why should this delay have been allowed? We were almost at the end of our money. We had to go on the first morning to visit the British Consul, who could not speak one word of English. We needed funds sent out urgently from England. We needed to give a true account of the accident for insurance purposes.

It was here in that dingy office with a bored-looking Spanish official that I was given the gift of tongues. I knew very little Spanish, but I suddenly found that I could ask for what we wanted and give a lucid account of all that had happened. In spite of the lies told by the lorry driver, we were awarded full insurance costs six months later.