From Yahoo News: Polar bears destroy BBC documentary cameras.
Eurypterids in the petting zoo? — Eurypterids—the giant, scorpion-like arthropods of Ordovician to Devonian seas and lakes—may not have been the terrors of the waters that most have assumed. From FoxNews: Ancient 8-Foot Sea Scorpions Probably Were Pussycats. Some may have been vegetarians or scavengers, though the researchers acknowledge that species other than the ones they studied may have been predators.
Gasoline prices — From CNNMoney.com: $5 for a gallon of gasoline in 2012.
The former president of Shell Oil, John Hofmeister, says Americans could be paying $5 for a gallon of gasoline by 2012. In an interview with Platt’s Energy Week television, Hofmeister predicted gasoline prices will spike as the global demand for oil increases.
HT: Geology News
Voyager 1 at edge of solar system — It is amazing to me that we are still in contact with the Voyager 1 probe, which is now 17.4 billion kilometers from the sun. From NASA:
December 13, 2010: The 33-year odyssey of NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has reached a distant point at the edge of our solar system where there is no outward motion of solar wind.
Now hurtling toward interstellar space some 17.4 billion kilometers (10.8 billion miles) from the sun, Voyager 1 has crossed into an area where the velocity of the hot ionized gas, or plasma, emanating directly outward from the sun has slowed to zero. Scientists suspect the solar wind has been turned sideways by the pressure from the interstellar wind in the region between stars.
The event is a major milestone in Voyager 1’s passage through the heliosheath, the turbulent outer shell of the sun’s sphere of influence, and the spacecraft’s upcoming departure from our solar system.”
Praying for my children — I’m moving towards using prayer books rather than spontaneous prayers. I find that this helps me to concentrate better, and tends to be much richer in the use of Scripture than when I pray on my own. Here’s an example of a Scripture-saturated prayer for one’s children from a book I don’t have called Starck’s Prayer Book:
“Heavenly Father, immediately after their natural birth, I placed them into the arms of Your mercy in Holy Baptism. Behold, I now do the same in my prayer. Bless my children. Attend them in their going out and their coming in. Keep them in Your holy fear, that they may never burden their consciences with sins or offend You, or worst of all, fall from Your grace. Give them believing, humble, obedient, and godly hearts, that, like the child Jesus, they may increase in stature, wisdom and favor with God and men. Imprint on their hearts the image of Jesus in order that they may always keep, until their blessed end, a gracious God and an unstained conscience. Let my children be devout in their prayers, well-grounded in their Christian faith, steadfast and zealous in worship, chaste in their living, godly in their conversation, so that by their words and actions they may give offense to no one and thus bring upon themselves a fearful judgment. Preserve them from temptations and evil company. By Your Holy Spirit keep them constantly in mind of Your holy presence, that they remember that You are with them at home and away, in their room, by day and by night, in the company of others and when they are alone. Let Your holy angels be with them when they go out and when they come in. Let Your angels guard them when they travel. Give them Your holy angels as their companions. By their aid rescue them from dangers, as You did with Lot. Let them, like Jacob, live under the angels’ watchful care.”
My children were baptized at ages ranging from 6 to 17, so I would have to modify the first part a bit.
Christian martyrs— From the LA Times: Iraq’s War on Christians.
When America intervened to overthrow Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s Christians — mostly Chaldeans and Assyrians — numbered about 1.4 million, or about 3% of the population. Over the last seven years, more than half have fled the country and, as the New York Times reported this week, a wave of targeted killings — including the Oct. 31 slaying of 51 worshipers and two priests during Mass at one of Baghdad’s largest churches — has sent many more Christians fleeing. Despite Prime Minister Nouri Maliki promises to increase security, many believe the Christians are being targeted not only by Al Qaeda in Iraq, which has instructed its fighters “to kill Christians wherever they can reach them,” but also by complicit elements within the government’s security services.
Similar stories have come out in recent weeks from other parts of the world. For example, Christmas weekend violence kills 38 in Nigeria.
Tertullian (~160-220 AD) was the first to say, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” While it is true that the church can grow and thrive under intense persecution—such as under the Romans of Tertullian’s time or China in the twentieth century—persecution can also drive the church to extinction. Picture Turkey (Ephesians, Galatians, the seven churches of Revelation 2-3) or most of North Africa.
Montana still under 1,000,000 — According to U.S. Census results, the population of Montana for 2010 was 989,415. When you drive across the state, it is hard to tell where they all are. There is still a whole lot of emptiness, which is the way it should be. From the Billings Gazette: Census: Montana population grows 9.7 percent.
I didn’t get as much reading done in 2010 as I did in 2009, but that reflects the stage of life I’m in. Here are the books I finished this year:
- The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton — Walton makes the case for a “cosmic temple inauguration” view of Genesis one. A lot of interesting material, but he doesn’t make a convincing case, and not too many Old Testament scholars seem to accept his hypothesis. The greatest value of this book was the reinforcement of how very different the Old Testament Hebrew culture and world view was from our own.
- Luther for Armchair Theologians by Steven Paulson — I have described myself for several years as an Evangelical Christian who leans more toward Luther than Calvin. Paulson gives a good overview of Lutheran theology.
- The Reason for God by Timothy Keller — A better book on apologetics for our time than Mere Christianity. I’m teaching through this book in adult Sunday School right now.
- The Gods of War by Meic Pearce — The subtitle is “Is religion the primary cause of violent conflict?” Pearce argues that the two main causes of war are greed and culture (I would have said greed and fear). Religion often intensifies the cultural causes of war, but is only part of a complex picture, and can have a positive influence as well. This book counters the secularist argument that religion is the main cause of war, but also is sobering to me as a Christian as I reflect on our own less-than-perfect history.
- The New Atheists by Greg Koukl — Short, but a good introduction to the logical fallacies that plague the new atheists such as Dawkins and Hitchens.
- Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer — This was my second time through this classic on how to live as the body of Christ.
- A Declaration of Energy Independence by Jay Hakes — Our dependence on overseas oil is a grave threat to our national security, economy, and the environment. As a nation, we’ve had our heads buried in the sand for the past 30 years.
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis — This is probably my fourth or fifth time through The Chronicles of Narnia. It is just as good each time, and always better than the movie versions.
- Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis — I haven’t seen the movie yet.
- The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein
I have a number of books that I read significant portions of, but didn’t finish:
- Science & Faith: Friends or Foes? by C. John Collins — He makes a good case for the “analogical days” interpretation of Genesis One.
- The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns — Stearns is president of World Vision, an Evangelical Christian relief and development organization. I have some hesitations about the title, but this is an excellent book about global poverty and what we as Christians should and could do about it.
- The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
- Biblical Eldership by Strauch — A good book on being a church elder, but it could have been about a third the length and said the same thing.
- The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright — A big book. I might not finish it in 2011 either.
- The Green Bible — NRSV with introductory essays and green letters for verses relating to the creation and environment (some of them are a bit of a stretch). I won’t use the NRSV on a regular basis, but read the introductory essays.
- The Spirituality of the Cross by Gene Edward Veith
- The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel
- Crunchy Cons by Rod Dreher — This book comes close to defining where I am at politically. I had two posts about Crunchy Cons this year: A Crunchy Con Manifesto and Crunchy Con Environmentalism.
- Understanding Non-Christian Religions by Josh McDowell and Don Stewart
- The Devil We Know by Robert Baer — Subtitle: “Dealing with the new Iranian superpower.”
- Mapping Forestry edited by Peter Eredics — Using GIS for forestry applications.
- ARC Hydro by David Maidment — GIS for surface water resources.
Grace and Peace
Many make a New Year’s resolution to read the Bible more consistently than they have in the past, and many don’t stick to that resolution.
Here’s what works for me. Rather than using a reading schedule, with a daily listing of what chapters to read, I usually use a Bible reading checklist:
It has all sixty-six books of the Bible with their chapters. I mark off each chapter as I read.
This system gives me greater flexibility than a schedule does, yet still helps me to reach my reading goals. This year I plan on reading the New Testament (probably twice), as well as reading the middle to late historical books (Judges through Esther) and the prophets (Isaiah through Malachi). Two advantages of this system over using a schedule is that I can vary my pace, and don’t get frustrated if I get behind in a reading schedule.
The checklist has two pages; I like to print it on two sides on heavy paper, fold it, and stick it in my Bible. The document is in “Landscape” orientation, but may print in “Portrait” orientation for you. You can change that in the “print setup.” Sorry, I’m not sure how to fix it on my end using Excel 2007.
Feel free to download and print this for yourself and pass it on to others:
My hope and prayer is to encourage you to be in the Word in 2011, and that you would know our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ better because of it.
Grace and Peace
P.S. Here are some good Bible reading schedules if you prefer that over using a checklist:
In the beginning… — Blogger Joe Carter (at FirstThings.com) finds Stephen Hawking’s cosmology as expressed in The Grand Design to be a bit “drab and nonspecific.” Carter rewrites Hawkings to make it a little more of a “creation story for young atheistic materialists.”
In the beginning was Nothing, and Nothing created Everything. When Nothing decided to create Everything, she filled a tiny dot with Time, Chance, and Everything and had it expand. The expansion spread Everything into Everywhere carrying Time and Chance with it to keep it company. The three stretched out together leaving bits of themselves wherever they went. One of those places was the planet Earth.
Read the rest at When Nothing Created Everything.
Submerged paradise? — The Persian Gulf basin was above sea level until about 8000 years ago, and there is growing evidence that humans lived there in a well-watered plain.
And it would have been an ideal refuge from the harsh deserts surrounding it, with fresh water supplied by the Tigris, Euphrates, Karun and Wadi Baton Rivers, as well as by upwelling springs, Rose said. And during the last ice age when conditions were at their driest, this basin would’ve been at its largest.
Hmmm. Four rivers, including the Tigris and Euphrates. A refuge from the surrounding wild. Sounds almost Edenic.
The article is Lost Civilization May Have Existed Beneath the Persian Gulf at LiveScience.com.
Diamond world — AOL News reports Scientists Say Planet May Have Mountains of Diamonds.
WASP-12b, a gas giant about 871 light-years from Earth, seems to have an unusually large amount of carbon in its atmosphere. Diamonds form when carbon is compressed at extremely high temperatures. The high amount of carbon in the planet’s atmosphere suggests that its solid core could be full of diamonds, rather than the silicon- and oxygen-rich materials on Earth.
Not all are convinced:
“The findings are interesting, but are based on just four data points,” O’Toole said, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “I would proceed with caution.”
NASA’s Astrobiology Magazine also reports on WASP-12b:
It’s possible that WASP-12b might harbor graphite, diamond, or even a more exotic form of carbon in its interior, beneath its gaseous layers.
My two-cents worth: I don’t think I would want to live on a planet called WASP-12b.
Ekalaka to Alzada highway — This news is a couple months old now, but I’m sure most of you missed it. From the Billings Gazette: A dream for decades, road from Ekalaka to Alzada is paved at last.
Residents of this remote town in southeastern Montana have lost one of their main claims to distinction, but don’t look for any of them to mourn the loss. When the first layer of asphalt was laid down last week on the only remaining stretch of gravel on Highway 323 between Ekalaka and Alzada, Ekalaka could no longer bill itself as the only county seat in the United States that didn’t have a paved road running through it.
My dad was born in Ekalaka.
Unabomber land for sale in Montana — One and a half acres on forested land near Lincoln, Montana, no cabin, no utilities. Was $154,500, now $69,500. The land isn’t worth nearly that much on the market, but it was where anti-technology letter bomber Ted Kaczynski lived his secluded life. From Yahoo! News/AP: Unabomber’s Montana land for sale; ‘very secluded’
Kaczynski is serving a life sentence for killing three people and injuring 23 during a nationwide bombing spree between 1978 and 1995. The Harvard-trained mathematician railed against the effects of advanced technology and led authorities on the nation’s longest and costliest manhunt before his brother tipped off law enforcement in 1996.
Kayaker eaten by a crocodile — We have talked about taking up kayaking as a family. Nothing exotic or wild; paddling around a mountain lake would be just fine with us. We will stay away from crocodile-infested waters in the Congo. From Yahoo! News/AP: Kayaker presumed dead after Congo crocodile attack. Hendrik Coetzee’s last entry on his blog (The Great White Explorer) was called “Feelings: do they make you soft?” and ended with “I would never live a better day.”
Camel crushes congregants — I don’t think live camels in church is a really good idea. Watch Camel Falls Into Crowd on YouTube.
I’ve got about thirty tabs open in my browser with items I want to blog about. So many tabs, so little time.
Grace and Peace
A few items of interest (to me at least):
Ark Encounter — Answers in Genesis is planning a $150 million Noah’s Ark tourist attraction in northern Kentucky, complete with a full-scale Noah’s Ark. Local businesses and politicians (the governor of Kentucky was at the announcement) will love this, as it will likely bring in a large amount of cash to the area. Young-Earth creationist Todd Wood commented: “What do I think? Personally, I don’t really care. I can easily think of dozens hundreds thousands of more important projects to spend $150 million on, but it’s not my money.”
King James Bible UK commemorative coin — The United Kingdom will issue a 2-pound circulating coin in 2011 commemorating the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible. The text on the coin is from John 1:1 — “In the beginning was the Word.” HT: World Coin News
Another date-setter to completely ignore — In regards to his future return to Earth, Jesus said, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matt 24:36 ESV). Harold Camping and Family Radio, however, know better than Jesus. According to wecanknow.com, “the date of the rapture of believers will take place on May 21, 2011” and “God will destroy this world on October 21, 2011.” Camping teaches that all churches are apostate and that people should leave their churches and listen to his radio stations instead. Goofy. Cultic.
Bonhoeffer at FoxNews.com — Excerpts from two chapters of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas are available from FoxNews.com. The chapters are entitled “Nazi Theology” and “The End of Germany.” Good reading.
EPA at 40 — The Evangelical Ecologist writes about the EPA at Middle Age – How’s Our Biggest Baby Boomer Doing?
At its worse, EPA has the potential to become the upper left hook of the socialist nanny state.
And I hope she and her successors succeed. Because when EPA’s at its best – when its rules are crafted and enforced and moderated in the open and in full dialogue with industry and our elected representatives – the Agency is an enabler for enormously positive change.
Students’ religious freedom — Montana Valedictorian Wins Religious Free Speech Case
In 2008, Butte High School officials required Renee Griffith and other outstanding students to turn in their speeches for review prior to graduation. The Court assessed Griffith’s rights were violated when school administrators told Griffith she couldn’t mention God or Jesus in her valedictorian speech.
She refused to make the changes, was prohibited from giving her speech, and was in fact barred from participating at all in her graduation ceremony.
On Nov. 29, the Montana Supreme Court confirmed Griffith had the right to mention her God under both the U.S. and Montana constitutions.
Grace and Peace
News of surprising biochemistry: Thriving on Arsenic (NASA Astrobiology Magazine)
NASA microbiologist Felisa Wolfe-Simon has discovered bacteria that apparently can use arsenic in its DNA in place of phosphorus. Most biochemistry can be done with six elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur (CHONPS). Smaller amounts of a variety of other elements are also necessary to varying degrees depending on the organism, such as sodium, calcium, iron, and magnesium. Arsenic is similar enough to phosphorus (same column in the periodic table, Figure 1) that within these bacteria it may be able to play the same role.
From the Astrobiology Magazine article:
The recent discovery by Felisa Wolfe-Simon of an organism that can utilize arsenic in place of phosphorus, however, has demonstrated that life is still capable of surprising us in fundamental ways. The results of her research were published December 2 on Science Express and subsequently in the journal Science.
The organism in question is a bacterium, GFAJ-1, cultured by Wolfe-Simon from sediments she and her colleagues collected along the shore of Mono Lake, California. Mono Lake is hypersaline and highly alkaline. It also has one of the highest natural concentrations of arsenic in the world.
On the tree of life, according to the results of 16S rRNA sequencing, the rod-shaped GFAJ-1 nestles in among other salt-loving bacteria in the genus Halomonas. Many of these bacteria are known to be able to tolerate high levels of arsenic.
But Wolfe-Simon found that GFAJ-1 can go a step further. When starved of phosphorus, it can instead incorporate arsenic into its DNA, and continue growing as though nothing remarkable had happened.
“So far we’ve showed that it can do it in DNA, but it looks like it can do it in a whole lot of other biomolecules” as well, says Wolfe-Simon, a NASA research fellow in residence at the USGS in Menlo Park, California.
The article describes the methods used to purify the DNA, to ensure that the arsenic was truly incorporated into the structure of the DNA rather that being associated with other molecules. Not all, however, are convinced.
But Steven Benner, a distinguished fellow at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainesville, FL, remains skeptical. If you “replace all the phosphates by arsenates,” in the backbone of DNA, he says, “every bond in that chain is going to hydrolyze [react with water and fall apart] with a half-life on the order of minutes, say 10 minutes.” So “if there is an arsenate equivalent of DNA in that bug, it has to be seriously stabilized” by some as-yet-unknown mechanism.
Benner suggests that perhaps the trace contaminants in the growth medium Wolf-Simon uses in her lab cultures are sufficient to supply the phosphorus needed for the cells’ DNA. He thinks it’s more likely that arsenic is being used elsewhere in the cells, in lipids for example. “Arsenate in lipids would be stable,” he says, and would “not fall apart in water.” What appears in Wolfe-Simon’s gel-purified extraction to be arsenate DNA, he says, may actually be DNA containing a standard phosphate-based backbone, but with arsenate associated with it in some unidentified way.
Microbiologists over the past few decades have discovered bacteria and archaea in increasingly hostile places, such as hot springs and deep in Earth’s crust. This has spurred on the hope that other worlds (e.g. Mars, Titan) also have places that would be suitable for bacterial life. The possibility of bacteria that can live with a chemical foundation other than CHONPS indicates that life might thrive in places where we otherwise would not have expected it to.
This discovery may not completely redefine life as we know it, but it does (if proven to be true) add one more bizarre thing that life can do.
Grace and Peace