Wednesday, September 29, 2010

40 Days is in full swing!

Had a tough day? Feeling a little blue? Want to have your spirits lifted? Then check out the Blog at 40 Days for Life! If you're not familiar with 40 Days for Life check out my earlier post. As of today we are eight days into the 40, and I'm reading stories like "Abortion Center Closes". Aside from the title story are the following:
A nurse walked out of the abortion center that is the site of one of the 40 Days for Life vigils in the El Paso area and gave her phone number to one of the prayer volunteers.
“Please help me find a new job,” she said. “I quit!”
... Over the weekend, [a man who just recently took a job as a security guard at a facility where a 40 Days for Life vigil is in progress] was approached by a young woman who had come for an abortion — and she’s pregnant with twins!
The abortion was her boyfriend’s idea — not hers. In fact, she didn’t want the abortion at all. But he was pressuring her, and she explained her situation to the guard.
His response: “Do what your heart tells you to do.”
That was amazing enough. But the guard then told the boyfriend that it was basically time to man-up and do the right thing. And, he added, if the boyfriend continued to threaten his girlfriend, she could press charges.
The young man broke down in tears and admitted he was wrong. The couple then left the abortion center.

and just two days ago, the post "44 Babies Saved". Some of the stories:
One young woman went into the Planned Parenthood center — and turned right around and left within 15 minutes. She spoke to one of the volunteers and followed her to the pro-life pregnancy center nearby, where she decided to keep her baby.
Later, a couple took information from a volunteer, but entered the Planned Parenthood building and stayed for hours. It didn’t look good. But finally they walked out — with huge smiles — and told the people praying they canceled the abortion.

With all the bad news we receive every day, take heart that there is are also good, courageous people in the world. If you'd like to help out, please consider joining 40 Days for Life. There's still plenty to be done.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Science? I think not!

My son came home on the second day of school with a science project assigned - to give a talk about "controversial science". Of course, I began salivating immediately, as we began to discuss ideas. In the course of our discussion, it became clear that this science teacher was promoting ideas that, while politically popular, were not supported by fact. My son said he was a bit confused because I exhibit some behaviors that would lead him to think I believed in the junk science, while in fact I oppose it. So I explained a whole lot of things to him, and thought I might do the same here.

For instance, I know that anthropogenic global warming er, I mean climate change um... anthropogenic global climate disruption is a load of hooey. If you look at actual scientific data (which is hard to find, by the way - our governments have done a good job of repressing it) there are two conclusions which can be drawn.

First, there is no data that supports the theory. There is no correlation in historical climate data between human influence and temperature. In fact, there is a strong correlation between solar activity and temperature. This makes sense when you think of the vast amount of energy delivered to Earth by the sun (174,000,000,000,000,000 or 174 petawatts) versus the minuscule changes in the greenhouse effect that humans have made. Even a tiny fluctuation in solar output has a large effect on our climate.

Secondly, there is no science involved. The climate models that have been publicized are computer simulations that are just plain wrong. The code that was published does not even properly handle historical data (e.g. if you plug in data up to 1950 it predicts we'll all die by now). Instead the authors have written the code to throw away the output of the model on historical data and simply output its input, so it appears to follow the Earth's actual climate to date. As Climategate has shown us, the "scientists" who promote the theory are biased and doing bad/no science, just politics.

On the other hand I do recycle, compost and try to reduce my energy consumption where possible. Why? Because of my faith. I want to be a good steward of the natural resources God has given me. Just because we are not going to die from melting glaciers in 10 years doesn't mean I should needlessly squander God's creation.

I read somewhere that Americans make up 5% of the Earth's population, but consume 25% of the available energy and raw materials. I believe that everyone should be able to live the best lifestyle possible, and in that regard it is up to those who have to at least allow for that possibility. That means either generating five times as much energy/pollution/waste/etc. or using 80% less of it ourselves.

Granted, not using a resource doesn't put it in the hands of someone else, but on the contrary, using a resource does keep it from someone else. In other words, I do not take the position "you must stop your CO2 emissions so that I can drive my SUV". I would rather say "I will forgo my SUV so that you can drive a car if you want." (guess where I stand on "cap and trade"?). I use this as an example not because I believe in global climate whatevertheyaresellingthisweek but because gasoline is a resource. I could say the same of paper, aluminum, steel, or any other thing I consume.

I bothers me when people I respect and consider intelligent, like Jeff Miller or Jimmy Akin post stories about how they are against "going green" or tweet that they are going to leave lights on or turn up the AC to protest those who conserve. I agree that too many people go too far, or push their own "too much of you, just enough of me" agenda, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for crunchy Catholics, or those of us who, like me, fall somewhere in the middle of things.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What is it with Obama and Embryonic Stem Cells?

As you may recall, back in August a federal judge blocked president Obama's expansion of Embryonic Stem Cell Research (ESCR). Which got me to thinking "why does Obama love embryonic stem cells?" Contrary to garbage "news" stories like "Science, not Politics" ESCR is 100% politics. If we look at the science, there is no reason to perform ESCR.

First off, ESCR does not work, for a very simple reason. In 1901 Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types, which was an important step in our understanding of the human immune system and tissue rejection. Today we can transplant major organs. But organ transplants are not "natural". The body naturally attacks tissue that does not belong there. Organ receivers have to take powerful drugs to suppress their immune systems. These drugs make the person susceptible to infections and have all sorts of other nasty effects. It's worth it, if you need a heart, though.

While not an entire organ, embryonic stem cells are similar in that they are tissue from another human's body, and the immune system reacts to it. Because of this, people treated with embryonic stem cells develop cancers and immune system problems.

Secondly, even if one solved the immune system problems, there is no need to use embryonic stem cells. Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (IpSC) have been proven to be identical in function to embryonic stem cells. The difference is that IpSCs are created without the destruction of human life.

Thirdly, why pour money into research that is decades away from solving a problem, when we have other avenues of research that are solving those problems today? Adult stem cell research has produced cures for over 70 diseases/conditions.

The current administration has done its best to confuse the issue in the public eye, and has reduced funding of adult stem cell research in order to put the money into ESCR. Quite frankly, I'm angry that my money is being thrown away and used to kill humans. Or to put it another way:
I have been told that I need to respect the opinion that human embryos are just a mere clump of cells and full of promise for cures.  Well, respect is a two way street.  If you want embryonic stem cell research, then you pay for it.
Don't make me, and millions of people like me who find research that relies on the destruction of human embryos morally reprehensible, support it with our tax dollars.   When you do, you are forcing your belief that a human embryo has no value on me.

But why? Why not fund adult stem cell research? IpSC research? Why must it e ESCR? I didn't have a good answer, until I read an interview with a former ESCR scientist, Theresa Deisher. Ms. Deisher says:
Embryonic stem cells have never been used in a viable treatment, despite research on animals going back to the late 1970s. On the other hand, research on adult stem cells began a decade later and has already led to many viable treatments.

Nonetheless, she says, human embryonic stem-cell research is more attractive commercially because the cells are patentable. A patent-owning drug company will be able to charge $50,000 to $500,000 per patient for individual treatments. “Adult stem-cell treatments are much more affordable, around $10,000, and without side effects.”
And it all makes sense. So perhaps, in addition to the ethical and scientific objections, we should ask why our president, who claims to want to reduce health care costs, uses federal dollars to fund research whose only goal is to allow drug companies to charge more for the same patient benefits.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

40 Days

This Wednesday, September 22nd, is the start of the next campaign of 40 Days for Life. Twice a year, for 40 consecutive days, a group of people (over 350,000) pray and fast, at home or at abortion clinics in all 50 states, plus several other countries. Our goal is ambitious - to end abortion.

I got involved in the movement last fall, following the example of an online friend. I had heard about it before but was uncertain, and a little scared. I had seen and heard reports of pro-life "extremists" as well as pro-choice "extremists" and thought it would be a horrible, stressful experience. However, as I discovered it is a beautiful way to do something positive, and help save lives.

You can sign up without any obligation other than moral support. Most of my support takes the form of prayer at home, although I do try to actually get to the clinic for at least an hour a week. Praying at the clinic is not hard at all. There is a wonderful group of people there, and you can pray alone or with others, or hold a sign, or have a conversation, or just be there. You don't have to do anything you don't want to do. Heck, you don't even have to be Christian, just pro-life.

It is a very positive experience. Not only are the people there friendly, but as cars pass and see our signs (the place we go to is on a busy road) there is a nearly constant stream of people tooting their horn and waving, cheering, giving us a thumb's up. Of course there are one or two cars in the hour I am there that shout something else (always the same thing, too), but there is an overwhelming amount of support that increases my faith in humanity.

Do I make a difference by going? Perhaps not me personally, but the group certainly does, I have seen people pull up to the clinic, approach some of the "40 days" people, thank them and leave. Did they change their minds, or did they just come back later? I don't know, but I can hope.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Interntional Observe the Moon Night

Saturday night, September 18th 2010 is the first ever "International Observe the Moon Night". This event, hosted by a consortium of lunar and planetary organizations, aims to get the public interested in space; specifically our nearest neighbor, the moon.

How can you get involved? There is a (pretty lame, I gotta say) map of events on the site. Hopefully there's one near you. But even if there isn't, the site has a download page with a map of the moon and other information. All you need are your eyes. If you would like to see more, a telescope isn't needed - a pair of binoculars will work wonderfully for lunar observing.

The best way to observe with binoculars, unless you have a tripod for astronomical viewing, is a lawn chair, preferably one that reclines. Pick a comfortable spot, sit back and enjoy. street lights or other lights in the area are not a problem, since the moon is so bright. Bracing your arms against the chair or your body will hold the binoculars steady, which will let you see much more detail, as well as being more comfortable.

As I mentioned, the moon is bright. Very bright. Unlike the sun, the moon is safe to look at through binoculars or a telescope, but if your eyes are used to the dark, the moon will appear startlingly bright. Remember to remain sitting for a minute or two after you finish observing in order to let your eyes adapt, or you are likely to trip over things in the dark.

Want even more fun? There is a photo contest too. If you have a "point and shoot" type of camera, you are probably limited to landscapes during the day or early evening. If you try to take a picture of the moon at night it will be all washed out because it is so bright compared the the sky.

If you want to try shooting a "close up" of the moon but don't have a telephoto lens, you can shoot a photo through the lens of a binocular. It is tricky though. You will need a tripod, because you won't be able to hold everything at once. After aiming the binoculars and locking the position on the tripod, put the camera up to one eyepiece and use the LCD screen to see what your camera sees. It may take some fussing to find the right spot to get a good image.

If your camera has any manual settings you can try more ambitious shots. Remember that the moon is a bright day lit object, even at night, so set your exposure accordingly. I would suggest starting with your camera's lowest ISO setting, and trying an exposure around 1/250 second at f/11 and experimenting with your camera's settings until you get something you like. Since the exposures will be short, you don't have to worry about a tripod. Here is a site that has some basic guidelines for lunar photography.

If you do observe the moon, please comment here and let me know how it was. I plan on observing from here. Clear skies!

Saturday, September 11, 2010


I have no dramatic stories of what happened to me or anyone else. I have no admonitions about our nation or others, no comparisons of religions or situations. I have no great words to give you on the anniversary of this event except to share a verse from a song we sang in church at a prayer service that week, that touched me.

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till nobler men keep once again
Thy whiter jubilee!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Things I'm glad I didn't invent

A while back I did a post on things I wish I'd thought of. Here's an idea I'm sorry anyone thought of. The idea is to make a "virtual speed bump" by making a drawing on the pavement that from a certain angle looks to the driver like an object. This has been done before, in Philadelphia, Pheonix and Peoria, and I'm told they are common in Europe.

However, drivers soon find the drawings more annoying than anything else, and ignore them over time. So Canada has come up with a twist. The drawing is designed to look like a child chasing a ball into the road. Shall we list some of the things likely to happen? Accidents as people stop short? Cars swerving off the road, or perhaps into cars or real people trying to avoid the child in the road.

Of course, according to David Duane of the BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation the fake girl should not cause accidents, stating:
"If a driver can’t respond to this appropriately, that person shouldn’t be driving….”

Riiiiight. What exactly is the appropriate response - drive slowly over what appears to be a child in the road? My psychic prediction: This won't end well.

Of course, perspective drawings on pavement can be used to good effect. Just ask Julian Beever! He does perspective chalk masterpieces on sidewalks, like the one below.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Burning Questions

There's been quite a lot of furor about Re. Terry Jones and his plans to burn the Koran on September 11. Thought I would weigh in on the issue. First off, this is getting way more press than it deserves. But given that, what should be done about it? In my opinion, nothing. Let me preface this by saying I don't agree with what he is doing. I think it is a disrespectful act and not going to accomplish any good.

However, Reverend Jones does have the constitutional right to burn any book he wants in protest. Our government doesn't (and shouldn't) have the power to stop him. I fully support that the government should stay out of it. But as in the issue of the Ground Zero Mosque having the right to do something doesn't make doing it right.

The ones who do have the power to stop this circus are the media. For all their hype about fair unbiased news you can bet that there will be video footage and it will be well publicized. Without media support Rev. Jones would be just another nut on the internet. What if news coverage were limited to one sentence in small print somewhere?

P.S This just in. A Communique from the Vatican states:
  "These deplorable acts of violence, in fact, cannot be counteracted by an outrageous and grave gesture against a book considered sacred by a religious community. Each religion, with its respective sacred books, places of worship and symbols, has the right to respect and protection. We are speaking about the respect to be accorded the dignity of the person who is an adherent of that religion and his/her free choice in religious matters.

  "The reflection which necessarily should be fostered on the occasion of the remembrance of 11 September would be, first of all, to offer our deep sentiments of solidarity with those who were struck by these horrendous terrorist attacks. To this feeling of solidarity we join our prayers for them and their loved ones who lost their lives.

  "Each religious leader and believer is also called to renew the firm condemnation of all forms of violence, in particular those committed in the name of religion. Pope John Paul II affirmed: 'Recourse to violence in the name of religious belief is a perversion of the very teachings of the major religions' (address to the new ambassador of Pakistan, 16 December 1999). His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI similarly expressed, 'violence as a response to offences can never be justified, for this type of response is incompatible with the sacred principles of religion' (address of His Holiness Benedict XVI, to the new ambassador of Morocco, 6 February 2006)".

Monday, September 6, 2010

When You're Holding a Hammer

No doubt many of you have heard of the high school football coach who was fired for sending an email with a link to this video:

I'm not going to comment on the song or the firing. There are so many stories of overreactions to thing in the news these days that it all sort of gets lost in the shuffle.

What it did make me think about was how the culture of death looks at every problem as having the same solution, for which I am coining the term CEASE (Contraception, Euthanasia, Abortion, Sterilization and Eugenics). Global warming climate change? CEASE will fix it. Bad economy? CEASE. Word hunger? CEASE. AIDS? CEASE. War? CEASE. Crime? CEASE. It sounds silly here, but you can find it proposed to every problem you can find in the news today. It is the cornerstone of the United Nations' mission, and the Obama administration.

That's my cynical thought for the day.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Mercenary Life

Sometimes people send me things. Sometimes they send them expecting a response that is not the response I give. That is apparently what happened today. A friend sent me an article about the heartbreak of making difficult medical decisions. The article, however, was so shocking I doubt I'll sleep at all tonight. If you dare, read "Would you get selective reduction?"

In brief, this is the story of a woman who wanted to have a second child at the age of 43 (she already had a three year old boy). Rather than having children "the old fashioned way", she and her husband skipped that after a few months and underwent fertility treatments. They wanted to try IVF, but the insurance wouldn't pay for it until they tried hormonal fertility treatments. Those treatments resulted in twins.
"But I really don't want twins," I said. "I already have a 3-year-old, and money is tight. One more is all we can handle."

...We took trips and found time for exercise and going to movies; we even had space in our two-bedroom apartment for guests. But at that moment, I didn't want to hear any of that. I'd always wanted two children, and I countered with my best argument: Preserving our lifestyle seemed like a self-centered reason to deprive our son of a sibling.

...I know it sounds selfish, but I wanted to protect the well-being of the people already in my life -- my son, my husband, and, yes, myself.
But of course, in the end depriving her son of a sibling is just what she would do. Although she wanted a second child, she didn't want a third, so she picked which one would be killed so that they wouldn't have to "change their lifestyle" more than they wanted to.

This story is so sad and chilling I don't know where to begin. It places technology, convenience and money above a human life. That's the sad part. The fact that it is presented in a matter-of-fact way as if to say that the choices being decided were of equal importance is chilling. The only bright light in this seems to the the comments, which (mostly) express disgust and dismay.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

God didn't do it!

According to Stephen Hawking God did not create the universe.
In "The Grand Design," co-authored with U.S. physicist Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking says a new series of theories made a creator of the universe redundant, according to the Times newspaper which published extracts on Thursday.
"Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist," Hawking writes.
"It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going."
 I can't help but think of the old joke:
One day a group of scientists got together and decided that man had come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked one scientist to go and tell Him that they were done with Him.

The scientist walked up to God and said, "God, we've decided that we no longer need you. We're to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don't you just go on and get lost."
God listened very patiently and kindly to the man and after the scientist was done talking, God said, "Very well, how about this, let's say we have a man making contest." To which the scientist replied, "OK, great!"
But God added, "Now, we're going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam."
The scientist said, "Sure, no problem" and bent down and grabbed himself a handful of dirt.
God just looked at him and said, "No, no, no. You go get your own dirt!"

Now, to be sure I don't peg my belief in God on what Stephen Hawking, or science in general, has to say. But his assertion that the "laws of physics" created the universe is like the old "back of a turtle" theory. Who made the laws of physics? It's another turtle!

Not only is what Hawking is hawking bad theology, it is also bad science. I would advise him to study Godel's incompleteness theorem, which proves mathematically that you can't even prove physics from physics, there has to be a basis of "faith" in any set of laws. The sad part is that a great scientific mind wastes its time trying to apply science to questions it doesn't address, instead of working on the many real questions it does.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Where has Mike been?

I know it's been a while. I've been on vacation in Yellowstone/Grand Teton National Parks. Sorry I didn't announce ahead of time, but I don't feel comfortable announcing on the Interwebs that my house is empty and ready for burgling.

It was an awesome vacation. If either of you readers are considering it, I would highly recommend it. We flew into Jackson Hole airport, rented n SUV and drove north, through the elk refuge and into Grand Teton National Park. If you enjoy fishing, boating, hiking, fantastic scenery and wildlife, Grand Teton is the place to be. There are a number of great places to stay, and the people were super nice. The weather was great too, with sunshine every day and daytime temperatures in the 70s (and nighttime temperatures in the 30s).

Yellowstone is, of course, the "first and best" national park. Established in 1872 it is literally the first national park in the world (according to the park rangers). There are a lot of different types of terrain in the park. In the southwest is the famous Old Faithful geyser basin, where steam and water shoot from the barren ground. The ground is level and paved walks or boardwalks make for easy viewing, but the sheer size of the geyser basin makes it a long day. The General Store has 16 delicious flavors of ice cream to cool off after that walk, and the Old Faithful Inn is a building that has to be seen. The lobby is simply amazing.

To the east of that is Yellowstone lake, the largest high altitude lake in North America (according to the park rangers). It is huge and beautiful (but chilly). Driving north we got to Hayden Valley, home to many of the parks 3500 bison. We continued on to the stunningly beautiful Yellowstone canyon and its waterfalls. Much of the canyon can be seen from the road or a very short walk. Being more adventurous, we walked the 328 steps down the trail 3/4 of the way down the waterfall for an even more gorgeous scene. Sadly, we had to walk back up the 328 steps.

Continuing on we reached Tower Roosevelt and Tower falls. Smaller than Yellowstone falls, but a shorter hike to the bottom. Heading west, we went to Mammoth Hot Springs, where water has created huge terraced structures of stone. Heading south brought us to Sheepeater cliff, which is a weird landscape of tumbled basalt columns. The cliff is named for the Shoshone, who made good use of the local big horn sheep. A short drive south brought us to Roaring Mountain, which is a hillside peppered with fumaroles (steam vents) that make a roaring sound.

Lastly, we visited Norris geyser basin. While not as famous as the Old Faithful basin, there are some beautiful colors and features to see, including Steamboat geyser, which I am told is the highest shooting geyser in the world. Of course, we didn't see it erupt, as it only erupts every one to fifty years, and the last eruption was in 2005. However, it did "spit" water as we watched, which was cool.

Of course we stopped at numerous roadside turnoffs to see other site, and wildlife. A couple of cool places were the Chapel of the Transfiguration and the Chapel of the Sacred Heart. These are both log buildings in Grand Teton Park, set in the mountains, with beautiful scenery all around. I wished I could have stayed for mass at the Chapel of the Sacred Heart, but we had a flight home, and had to get back to Jackson Hole.

Several of my experiences in the parks gave me ideas for future blog posts, which I will write as time permits. Hopefully that will be soon. I also have lots of photos, which I will eventually post for your viewing pleasure.