Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

Bugs – It’s What’s for Dinner

May 13, 2014

I hope the world doesn’t come to this.  It would take a lot to make me vegetarian.  This might actually do it.  Read at your own risk.

Butterfly Update

March 29, 2014

We now have two chrysalis’ and nearly a third.  The kids report seeing one of the tiny new caterpillars, but I haven’t seen it yet.  Apparently it takes 9-14 days for butterflies to emerge from the cocoon, so sometime in the next few days or week, we’ll have butterflies to release!  

New fact learned – the chyrsalis is not something the butterflies spin around themselves, rather, it is what emerges from beneath their last skin shedding!  Fascinating!

A World of Mysteries

March 16, 2014

It’s sometimes amazing to think, in this age of hyperconnectivity, that there can be any more new mysteries to be had.  With GPS built into our underwear, Bluetooth in our coffee, and Lord only knows how many various entities collecting the details of our thoughts, purchases, and bowel movements, it’s hard to imagine that anyone could get away with anything for very long.

Especially if it involves hijacking a commercial airliner out of the sky.  It’s ironic but in the first 24 hours or so of the disappearance, I concluded that there was a good chance that the plane had been hijacked rather than crashed.  I presumed that a debris field would be spotted pretty quickly based on trajectory data, and if they hadn’t found it yet, then maybe there wasn’t a debris field at all.  
Of course this is based on a pathetic underestimate of the size of our planet and how a jungle or forest might conceal a massive plane crash even from the air.  
A hijacking creates a problem in the form of how to silence all of the communications and tracking devices involved, from the plane itself to passenger carry-on and checked luggage.  Is it possible to silence so many devices?  I suppose if you’re so far out of the way that there’s no coverage, that would solve a big part of the problem.
I sympathize for the families of those travelers.  Whether they are dead in a crash or now hostages or dead by other means is a mind-numbing loss.  But until we know what happened, it reminds me that this world is full of so many mysteries.  There is the capacity for so much we don’t know and can’t explain, so much that defies our carefully constructed reality where everything is neat and tidy and explainable.  It reminds me that a healthy sense of awe is important.  A healthy sense that things can and do happen without explanation – and not all of them terrible by a long shot.  
It’s a world big enough for awe, and for a healthy dose of fear.  A world big enough for God to be moving in it constantly, in the midst of joy and tragedy, waiting for the moment when a heart is opened, a mind is opened, and fear and awe can find a source and home that also gives peace.

An Inconvenient Truth?

December 1, 2013

I am distrustful of the rush to genetically modify more and more of our most basic food sources, assuming that we can perfectly understand all of the potential ramifications over the long term.  There seems so much to know, that recklessly insisting that such procedures cannot be harmful seems the height of dangerous arrogance.  

Yet so solidly is the scientific community apparently in favor of such tactics, that any suggestion that such practices may not be as safe as promised face a lot of scrutiny and nay-saying.  Witness a skirmish on this topic.  
A respected scientific journal has pulled -after outrage in the scientific community – the results of a study conducted by French researchers that suggests that at least one strain of genetically modified corn produces more numerous tumors and earlier mortality in lab rats.  Critics insist that the particular strain of lab rat chosen, and the small numbers of test cases, render the results inconclusive at best.  The authors of the study and report stand by their results.  
Of course a lot more is at risk than just academic credibility.  Genetically modified foods are big business.  Too big to fail?  Hmmm.  I find it interesting that the results are so widely panned, rather than spurring more rigorous scientific curiosity that is so frequently touted.  I guess that might depend on who is providing your research dollars and endowments and grants.  While it’s certainly possible that this study is flawed, some of the more obvious indicators of fraud or prejudice don’t appear to be at hand.  
Only time will tell, of course.  But by then, for more and more people, it will be far too late if the study results are vindicated.


September 29, 2013

“Let’s go to the beach!”

We cried.  And you smiled and 
Said with your mouth that you were happy to go
And your eyes did not move.

“Isn’t the water beautiful?”
We cried.  And you smiled and 
Said with your mouth that it was so very beautiful
And your eyes clouded in the bright summer sun.

“Come into the water with us!  The beautiful, cool water!”
We cried.  And you smiled and
Said that the water was beautiful indeed
With your toes tautly anchored in the shifting sand.

“Come ride the waves with us!”
We cried.  And you smiled and 
Said that you wanted to try
As you clutched yourself in the rising surf.

“The water is so very cold!”
You cried.  And we smiled at your winter-white skin 
Wondering why the water was so cold for you
Only for you.

“The water is so very cold!”
You cried.  And we smiled as you withdrew 
From the water’s embrace,
Retreating under t-shirts and sweaters and shorts and towels and sunglasses and hats
Far from the water’s edge.

Perhaps for you the water will always forever be cold.  
Perhaps for you the water will always be treacherous.

You flung yourself from your island home across the ocean
Gasping and panting for air on our shores, breathing language so different from your own.
Never far from the ocean that ravaged your own shores
And ravages them still in your dreams so that you fall asleep only with the light on.

Perhaps you will always be watching the ocean.
Perhaps you will always wonder when it will return for the rest of you.

Tech Tidbits

September 6, 2013

Would you give up legroom on your next flight for better wi-fi access?  Nearly 30% of respondents in a recent Honeywell survey indicated they would.  I think it’s interesting that people are willing to sacrifice their personal comfort and perhaps even their health in order to not have to go without Internet access for a few hours.  Interesting, and also scary.  Are we becoming completely unable to be alone?  To be quiet?  To strike up a conversation with someone we don’t know?  To read a book?

* * * * * 
If you spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen, as I have and still do to a great extent, you worry about your eyesight.  How do you ensure that your computer viewing skills are the least harmful to your peepers as possible?  According to this Wired article, make sure you have your screen positioned the right way, at the right brightness level, with the right type of contrast settings.  
* * * * * 
If you are prone to complaining about how far away your grocery store is, you might want to check out this probably pointless graph measuring distances between towns and grocery stores.  Because you have nothing better to be doing right now, right?
* * * * * 
Finally, if you worry (as I do) about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), then the idea that processed food providers should indicate when they utilize GMOs in their products might seem like a good idea.  This article argues the opposite.  
While I agree with many of the points the author makes (while still feeling that GMOs are on the whole something we don’t understand well enough to make so pervasive, so quickly), I think that some of the points are strained.  The GMO principle seems to give us convenience organisms, not just convenience food.  It allows us to shortcut issues that we might well want to take a look at.  How do we utilize our water resources?  How do we determine what sort of crops we ought to grow?  While I enjoy the wide diversity of products you can find in almost any market, is my personal thrill for food diversity enough reason to grow organisms that really aren’t suited well to a given environment?  If we dislike the idea that as Westerners and Americans we are self-centered, shouldn’t we examine this charge in light of creating GMOs to accommodate our preferences and budgets, particularly since these GMOs might not content themselves to remain restricted to particular fields or states or countries?  All of which raises the question of ownership – can Monsanto or another GMO business claim to ‘own’ the rights to GMO corn?  And how are those rights enforced, and at what costs, and to whom?  
All questions that this author chooses not to deal with, but all part and parcel of a concern over GMOs (which also includes concerns over their safety, regardless of what “several tests” claim to show).  

Book Review: The Natural Knowledge of God

August 7, 2013

The Natural Knowledge of God: In Christian Confession & Christian Witness

by:  Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR)
(available for free download here.)
If you’ve been wondering about the usefulness or even the appropriateness of natural law and natural theology in terms of evangelism, wonder no more.  At least, wonder no more if you can make it through a largely historical and philosophical treatment of the topic without falling asleep. 
The CTCR is an LCMS theological committee comprised of lay people, professors, and pastors.  They are tasked with the job of responding to requests for explanations and other, non-binding statements or approaches to various theological issues.  The CTCR does not set LCMS policy or doctrine, but offers lay people and ministers help in thinking through issues that are sometimes complex and highly charged either culturally or within our own ranks.
This latest release is a response to a request from the 2007 LCMS Synodical convention asking how natural law and natural theology might be helpful to congregations.  Natural law is the idea that creation is hard-wired in such a way that some things are true – and obviously true or self-evidentially true – without the explicit need of Scripture.  Examples would be that murder is wrong, or stealing is wrong, or saying bad things about an innocent person is wrong.  Each of these are dealt with through divine revelation in the Ten Commandments, but each is also a universally recognized truth, embraced even by cultures who have never encountered Christianity, Judaism, or the Bible.
Natural theology is the idea that people can gain a basic awareness of the existence of a god, and some inklings even as to the nature of that god simply through an awareness and appreciation of creation – the natural world.  While natural theology can’t lead someone to a specific awareness or understanding of the God of Scripture, and can’t be salvific because it cannot lead a person to knowledge or faith in Jesus Christ, it can be a helpful starting point in congregations.  
Various strains of Christianity have had warmer or cooler attitudes towards natural law and natural theology for a variety of reasons.  This particular document begins with an overview of Scriptural passages that speak on the topic, then traces the evolution of thought on these topics through the Confessions, Luther’s personal teachings/writings, and the dogmatic developments of the Lutheran theologians who followed Luther.  Then this document traces the interactions of natural law and natural theology with the philosophical world over time, showing the influences both positively and negatively of secular philosophy on the Christian understanding of natural law and natural theology.  Finally, the document concludes with some pointers about how these two concepts might be used effectively in starting conversations with people who don’t acknowledge the divine inspiration (and therefore unique reliability) of the Bible.  
Throughout, the document is careful to remind us that natural law and natural theology are not the same as faith in Jesus Christ.  Natural law and natural theology are never adequate in and of themselves, but only serve to move conversations or open conversations to the profession of the Gospel.  The Gospel alone saves, but natural law and natural theology are tools that God has built into creation to help us get to that proclamation with certain people.  
The bulk of the document is historical in nature, a who’s-who of Lutheran theologians and secular philosophers.  While it isn’t necessary to be a philosophy or history major, a basic familiarity with philosophy and Lutheran history will prove helpful.  You may walk away from this feeling as though you have just spent a few hours studying something you already knew, or you may walk away with a fresh perspective and appreciation for the possibility of utilizing natural law and natural theology in conversations with non-Christian friends.  
At the end of the day, if you understand that creation itself and we as God’s creatures are hard-wired in certain ways that lead us towards a divine, but recognize that such general revelation isn’t enough, there is still the necessity of proclaiming the Gospel, then you can probably bypass reading this, or at least bypass the first half of it and skip right to the application material.  If you want to know why it is we can say this, or how this point of view has ebbed and flowed over time, read the first half of the document.  

Stirred, Not Shaken

May 29, 2013

We’ve lived in California for six years now (as of July 4th).  In that time, there have been lots of earthquakes, but only one that I’ve really noticed.  That was several years ago in a large parking structure (the Disneyland parking structure, actually!).  That time, the car rocked as though the kids were romping around in the back seat.  I told them to calm down, then realized they weren’t in the car yet.  We hurriedly left the parking structure.  

This morning we had a more surprising earthquake experience.

I was wrapping up getting dressed for work this morning, about 7:45 AM, when the whole house shuddered as though it had been struck by something.  The noise was loud, and seemed loudest from upstairs.  I ran upstairs, praying that the bunk bed hadn’t somehow collapsed, and knowing that even if that had happened, it wouldn’t have made as big a noise as what we heard.  Everything was OK upstairs, though the kids were a little uneasy from the big noise.
Sure enough, scanning for news at work, the first reports started showing up around 8:30 AM.  There was an earthquake about 100 miles off-shore from Santa Barbara.  It was 4.6 on the Richter scale, but doesn’t appear to have caused any damage.  I was surprised with the briefness of it all.  There were no precursor rattlings or shakings that I noticed (and granted, I wasn’t fully awake yet).  Just a single, loud rattling that thundered through the whole house.   It was over about as quickly as it started.
I’m grateful that there doesn’t appear to be damage to the house.  Perhaps just as unsettling was to see in the newsfeed several other earthquakes that have struck the state recently that I hadn’t been aware of.  A good reminder of where we live and the particular danger we face here.  I’ll still take earthquakes over tornadoes or hurricanes, but I will probably change my mind pretty quickly if a big one ever strikes here.

Making a Mess of Things

January 2, 2013

The more we attempt to abstract cause and effect relationships from one another, the messier things get.  

As evidence, consider this interesting news report.  There are so many abstractions here that it’s somewhat dizzying.  
We have a same-sex couple (illegal in terms of marriage in Kansas), who are raising eight (8) adopted children between the ages of three and 25.  They’re attempting to live as a married couple in terms of their relationship to one another and the desire to raise children.  Except that it isn’t legal to do so there, and by pretending to do so, they throw the lives of these eight children into turmoil legally when the couple decides to separate.
We have this guy who donates sperm so that the couple can have a child.  The article implies that there is no further relationship than that.  It would be weird enough if this was a friend of one or both of the women, someone that they knew and trusted, someone that knew and trusted them.  That would be bizarre enough.  But the article implies this isn’t the case.  They guy just responded to a Craigslist ad.  No mention is made of whether or not the guy was compensated for his part, but they devised an arrangement intended to shield him from any legal links to the child.  Even though it is his child, they’re going to pretend that it isn’t.
It hurts my head.  I particularly find the comment towards the end of the article rather ironic.  One of the women states “I feel like the state of Kansas has made a mess out of this situation.”  Really?  Really it’s the state of Kansas’ fault?  Despite laws dictating marital relationships (which you ignored)?  Despite laws governing paternity (which you either ignored or never bothered to investigate)?  Despite the fact that even with eight adopted children, you and your partner decided to separate yet still somehow continue to co-raise?  
It’s a mess all right, but for once, I suspect that it isn’t the state’s fault.

Friday Fragments

December 14, 2012

Rather than a single unified theme today, here is a collection of stories I found interesting while trolling for blog-fodder this morning.

  • Here is a cool visualization of the evolution of IRS form 1040.  No, it hasn’t gotten any easier.
  • While I prefer the historicity of the real Monopoly game, it’s interesting to see how the basic board data can be reduced to largely colors and symbols.  
  • Living long and prospering (at least in terms of our health) may yet be in the realm of science fiction, according to this infographic and article.
  • Do you believe in global warming?  Apparently more of you do.  Is your beef (if you have one) with global warming as a phenomenon, or the alleged reasons for global warming?  This article makes a big deal of the fact that more people think that global warming is a real thing.  Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that we’ve only really been monitoring this seriously for 100 years.  Let’s ignore for the moment that scientists assure us that the earth has repeatedly gone through cycles of heating and cooling – sometimes to extremes.  I don’t know many people who would outright deny that temperatures have been getting warmer, though they might acknowledge that within the context of either of the two facts just mentioned.  But I do know people – myself included – who are not convinced (based on the two facts mentioned above) that mankind is the source of this warming and therefore the solution to it.  
Happy Friday, everyone!