Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Short, Sweet, and Bitterly True

If we actually find advanced life on another planet, will they be as obsessed with their own genitals as we are?

Albert Brooks, commenting on American culture, particularly as it is protrayed in movies today, and how this has damaged America's image in the Muslim world. Well, I thought it was both funny, and true - -and wanted to share it with y'all. (Read the full article here.)

Thanks to Little Green Footballs for the link.

Some News Items of Interest

New Orleans Violence During Katrina Exaggerated
Apparently, the social collapse among New Orleanians awaiting evacuation from the Louisiana Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center during the flooding following Hurricane Katrina's passage through the central Gulf Coast was vastly over-reported. This is the conclusion of two reporters for the Seattle Times. While it si true that there was a degree of violence, and certainly a great deal of looting, the "crime wave" of armed gangs, and rapes and murders was nothing compared to the "storm surge" of media reports that have given an ugly image of the citizens of that city across the country and around the world. One example: It was reported that there were as many as 200 bodies in the Superdome; the actual count was -- six. Of these, four died from natural causes, one died as the result of an overdose, and one fell or jumped in what may have been a suicide attempt. A similar "return to reality" is found with the initially-reported numbers at the Convention Center. (You should follow the link and check out the article.)

Commentary: Much has been made of the "racism" that is supposedly pervasive in our society, based upon the reports that came as we sat (helplessly) and watched the flooding of an American city, and the desperation of those who sought to escape from the terrible conditions this caused. I don't know about anyone else, but the main thing on my mind as I watched the reports was, "What would I do if my family and I were in similar circumstances?" Did anyone think, or know anyone who actually said, that "those people" -- and, for those of you who aren't "plugged in", that's a code phrase for the minority group that you disdain -- "those people" deserved what happened to them? I know that there are some on the "Christian right" who saw the devastation as "God's punishment" for the sins of New Orleans, such as the "gay celebration parade" that was scheduled to take place shortly after the storm hit. (It did, in fact, occur -- just on a much smaller scale than in the past.) I would suggest that these folks haven't got a clue about God; or else God wanted innocent people with absolutely no connection to the event in question to suffer as well -- I guess, to underline and highlight the infamy of these "perverts." Nah...

It seems to me that, if anyone should be questioned about "racism" in these reports, it is the reporters! After all, they seem to tbe the ones who took unsubstantiated (or undersubtantiated) information and broadcast it as "fact." Can't always believe what ya read in the papers, or see on the tube...

Micropower Generation Gets Renewed Attention
Let me call to your attention two reports by the BBC on an avenue of power generation that, to me, holds some potential for making a transition away from the fossil-fuel-based energy economy of today. The first is entitled, "Microgrids as Peer-to-Peer Energy" (think of it as the "Napster" of the energy world -- talk about your "power user!"); while the second is, "Turn Your Home into a Mini Power Station." The first looks at some theoretical aspects; while the second is a down-to-earth examination of some practical (and not-so-practical) alternatives that are available to the "average" homeowner today. Oh, the costs are reported in pounds sterling; but if you're so inclined, you can do the conversions: 1 pound sterling = 1.7666 U.S. dollars.

Ah, the sweet scent of vindication. Back in the late 1970's, as a graduate student in an Environmental Studies program at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville (not the party school - that was in Carbondale!), I read extensively into the concept of community-based, small-scale power generation as a way to effectively utilize alternative sources of power in order to go "off the grid" by making power locally. As a Research Analyst for the Arizona State Senate in the early 1980's, I tried to find someone among the senators who would introduce legislation to allow communities to organize themselves into "special districts" that could issue bonds for the purpose of small-scale power generation and distribution -- something that could be applied within a single residential subdivision, or commercial cluster, or industrial park. No one was interested. There was, during that time, one homebuilder in the greater Phoenix area - John F. Long -- who actually tried to interest homebuyers into some ways his designers developed to conserve energy, but no one was interested -- at least, not in numbers sufficient to make the project viable.

Anyone agree with me that it's time to re-visit the subject?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

An Inspiring Tale in Katrina's Wake

The following was posted to the "Orthodox-Convert" list at Yahoo.com earlier today. I think it's worthy of repeating here.

I just returned from New Jersey. While en route there, I was stuck in traffic on Interstate 81, just below the Virginia state line, (Bristol, Tennessee), due to a traffic accident with a fatality involved. This accident involved a tanker truck hauling a hazardous material load that developed a leak, which meant that we weren't going anywhere for several hours.

After being told by the Tennessee state troopers that we would be sitting still until the clean-up was completed, I set my brakes on the truck and got our to stretch my legs. Other truck drivers did the same, and at one point there were 5 of us standing there by my truck, complaining.

Sitting right beside me in the left lane, were two elderly people in a Silverado pick up truck, which was loaded quite well. The man, (Joe), lowered his window and asked what was going on regarding the traffic situation.

Soon we were all talking with this couple. I mentioned that if I had known about this, I would have bought something to drink (water), for I was becoming thirsty. The lady, Anna, said that they had plenty of water, and sodas in the cooler in the bed of the truck, and offered everyone present something. While she was back there, she said that she had plenty of tuna salad made up, and asked if we would be interested in
a sandwich.

After some urging from Joe, we agreed to a sandwich. While Anna was making the sandwiches on the tailgate of the truck, she was singing like a songbird. To be close to 70, (I guess), she had a remarkable voice.

When she finished making the sandwiches, and putting everything up, Joe raised the tailgate of the truck to close it. I noticed a Mississippi license plate on it. I inquired as to what part of Mississippi they were from. Joe said Biloxi. Knowing that Biloxi had been ravaged also by Hurricane Katrina, I asked if they sustained any damage. Joe said that they lost everything but what they had on and what was in the pickup.

All of us drivers tried unsuccessfully to pay them for their drinks and the sandwiches. They would have nothing to do with it. Joe said that their son was living around Harrisonburg, Virginia and that they were going there. He was in the real estate business and that there was a home that became open, and that they were going to start all over there. Staring over at their age would not be easy.

I will soon be 48 years old, and I have say that I have never eaten a tuna sandwich with side orders of reality and humility. These people lost everything except the pictures, important documents, and some clothes. Joe had managed to get their antique heirloom grandfathers clock into the bed of the truck and Anna got her china and silverware, but that was all. These wonderful people lost practically everything
they owned and still would not accept any money for their food and drinks. Joe said that "it was better to give than it is to receive."

They sought refuge behind a block wall that he had built years ago, and they watched their belongings and their home disappear in the winds of Hurricane Katrina. Joe said that during all this he had one hand holding onto Anna and the other holding on to God. Their truck and themselves came out of Katrina unscathed.

As I stated before, Anna was singing a song while making the sandwiches.
The song is titled "I know who holds tomorrow," an old gospel song. She knew every word, and was quite a gifted singer of it. Have you ever heard it? The chorus of this song is, " Many things, about tomorrow, I don't seem to understand. But I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand."

There is no doubt, in my mind, who was holding both their hands. I know there have been many, many emails that have circulated over the years about things that will touch your heart, but this one I personally was involved in.

Forget all of the politics that the news is striving on, and think about people just like Joe and Anna. If you can, help out with the victims relief funds.

If you cannot, at least offer a prayer for everyone.

I know that these two elderly people got to this old boy. I will always remember them. Joe and Anna, if by some strange way you, or someone you know gets this, and shows it to you, God Bless you!

Mike Dowdy Hartselle, Alabama

I certainly hope the story is true... And let us pray that no additional stories along these lines will have to be told by refugees from Hurricane Rita...

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Overturning the Gospels

Melinda Henneberger of Newsweek magazine has an article at the MSNBC website with the title, Overturning the Gospels. It's worth reading. Using the response to Hurricane Katrina as a springboard, she takes a good look at Protestant Christianity in the US today -- and she's pretty much on the money in her analysis. Now, I think her conclusions lean toward the left -- the best we could say would be that these have a "social Gospel" element to them -- but she's not wrong, and that's something we need to be aware of, and thinking about.

Boy Brains, Girl Brains

That's the title of another Newsweek article found at the MSNBC website. Reporter Peg Tyre details the approach being taken to increase test scores at an elementary school in Owensboro, Kentucky: classrooms segregated by gender. (The article notes that this same approach is being taken at about 150 schools nationwide.) The basis for this action, once considered "discriminatory?" Tests of brain function have suggested that boys don't think the same way girls do -- and that both boys and girls learn better if they are in a classroom environment that respects these differences.

Some of the differences are in the material realm. For example, the article points out that boys don't see or hear as well as girls do; so boys will do better in a classroom that is brightly lit, and where the teacher talks at a higher volume. On the other hand, girls tend to develop their social skills at an earlier age, and so do better in a "networking" setting; while boys, who are more competitive, do better when challenged with a contest-like approach to testing.

Not everyone agrees that this approach is valid. (We're not surprised, of course.) But it seems to me that, in the background of the objections raised by the program's detractors in the article, one can hear a faint whisper of desperation -- if the evidence continues to support the improvement of test scores, and research continues to delineate differences between men and women, what will happen to all the "politically correct" changes that have taken place over the last 20 years? What if the difference between men and women is more than just an "accident of external plumbing," as I heard so often while I was in seminary, one of only a handful of holdouts against the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church?

Of course, the differences are deep and profound. Please note that the differences do not in ANY way confer a superiority on one gender, or an inferiority on another. Men and woomen are different because they were created that way; and the differences are meant to be complementary, not antagonistic. Where these have become antagonistic, it is because of our fallen nature and our sins.

These differences have implications for many issues in the public arena of ideas today. We need to be aware of these developments, and be prepared to deal with those who will one day challenge the Orthodox Church's understanding of men and women, and how we constitute the Church, the Body of Christ.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Judge John Roberts Should Be Confirmed

OK, I confess: I'm a political junkie. I've spent far more time over the past two days watching the confirmation hearings for Judge John Roberts, nominated by President Bush to be the 17th Chief Justice of the United States, than I'd care to admit. (In fact, the hearings are continuing right now, and I'm kinda in a hurry to get back to the TV screen, in case I'm missing anything...)

A number of the senators on the Judiciary Committee, before whom Judge Roberts is appearing, have attempted to paint the Judge into a corner, hoping to force him to reveal his thoughts about certain issues that clearly are of significance to the questioner, including the Judge's views on abortion and the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision of the Supreme Court, and aspects of the laws regarding civil rights. One Senator, Joseph Biden, Democratic Senator from the state of Delaware was often, in my opinion, downright rude, accusing Judge Roberts of filibustering, of giving misleading answers (translation: the answers weren't what Sen, Biden wanted to hear), of not answering the questions, even of engaging in a "Kabuki dance" before the committee. Many of the senators from the Democratic Party made extensive use of memoranda wriiten by Judge Roberts while he was working in various capacities for the Reagan Administration in the early to middle 1980's. I thought, "Gee, I wish I could go and quickly find statements uttered by folks such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California back in that time period," and question them about the positions they held then. Even more -- I don't know the right word to use here: disgusting? appalling? nauseating? -- was the spectacle of people such as Sen. Biden, who was shown a number of times to have plagiarized the works of others in speeches and even college assignemts, and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), who, as some of you may know, was responsible for the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, who drowned in a car that was driven by Sen. Kennedy at Chappaquiddick in June, 1969, lecturing Judge Roberts on the "people's right to know" his views and feelings on a number of issues.

Through all that I have seen, Judge Roberts kept his cool, even when he "spanked" Sen. Biden (finally!) at the end of the second round of questions put by the Senator this morning -- respectfully, coolly, calmly, yet directly and forcefully -- saying, quite plainly for all to hear that his personal views and beliefs do not enter into his functioning as a judge -- as Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) later described it, the personal opinions and beliefs of Judge Roberts are "irrelevant" to the process whereby a judicial decision is achieved. Judge Roberts has been very articulate, and the caution he shows in giving his response is undoubtedly indicative of the caution and care with which he crafts his decisions, and will continue to do so when he is confirmed as the next Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. These qualities alone, regardless of his political, religious, or cultural beliefs, make him in my mind, eminently qualified for the position to which he has been nominated.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bishop Alexander (Mileant) has Reposed

The Lord bless you.

It is with deep and profound sadness that the following information is

Vladika Alexander (Mileant), Bishop of Buenos Aires and South America,
and founder of the Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission, reposed peacefully
at 11:36 p.m. on 30 August/12 September 2005, after his heroic battle
against cancer. It is worth noting that this is also the day on which
the Church celebrates the translation of the relics of St. Alexander
Nevsky, the patron of Bp. Alexander.

A pannikhida for Bp. Alexander will be served at Holy Trinity CHurch
in Oxnard (which was his "home" church while he continued his secular
empolyment at JPL)at 7 pm; and his body will be brought to that church
on Thursday. Abp. Kyrill will preside at the Divine Liturgy and
funeral service in Oxnard on Friday. Bp. Alexander will be buried at
Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville.

A pannikhida for Bp. Alexander will be served at our parish tomorrow
(Wednesday) following the molieben at 6 pm.

Please pray for the soul of this departed servant of God.

"In a blessed falling asleep, grant, O Lord, eternal rest unto Thy departed servant, Bishop Alexander, and make his memory to be eternal."

Friday, September 02, 2005

Flashes of Outrage

I probably shouldn't post these thoughts...

Anti-War Mom Glad She Didn't Talk with President
A few days ago, Cindy Sheehan, who has been camped in Crawford, Texas, outside the ranch of President Bush to protest the war in Iraq, in which her son was killed, said that she was glad the President didn't meet with her. “I look back on it, and I am very, very, very grateful he did not meet with me, because we have sparked and galvanized the peace movement,” Sheehan told The Associated Press. “If he’d met with me, then I would have gone home, and it would have ended there.”

Ignoring the fact that a number of senior officials from the Bush Administration did meet with her... What do these people want? Others are criticizing President Bush for being on vacation -- as if the President of the United States can ever truly go on vacation. As Buckaroo Banzai said, "Remember, no matter where you go, there you are." And just who does Jesse Jackson, Jr., think he is? What qualifications does he have, apart from having chosen to be born of a celebrity father, to allow him to be given a public forum to criticize the President about the situation in the Gulf Coast? (Sorry, just because he's a member of Congress isn't enough...) I dunno, maybe it's just me, getting cranky in my old age.

Racism and Disaster Relief
Apparently, Jesse Sr. thinks that racism is at the root of the problems in New Orleans. "Many black people feel that their race, their property conditions and their voting patterns have been a factor in the response," Jackson said after meeting with Louisiana officials Thursday. "I'm not saying that myself, but what's self-evident is that you have many poor people without a way out."

He is not alone in thinking this way, or saying such things. Here are a few quotes:
"If you know that terror is approaching in terms of hurricanes, and you've already seen the damage they've done in Florida and elsewhere, what in God's name were you thinking? I think a lot of it has to do with race and class. The people affected were largely poor people. Poor, black people."
The Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.
"No one would have checked on a lot of the black people in these parishes while the sun shined. So am I surprised that no one has come to help us now? No."
Mayor Milton D. Tutwiler of Wistonville, Miss.

There's no denying that many of the poor in New Orleans, and in every major city, are minorities -- in New Orleans, they are black. There's no denying that their circumstances are pitiable; and even more so, with the floodwaters driving them from their homes, and into desperate conditions. But surely our leaders, including those who speak (or purport to do so) on behalf of the poor and the minorities have enough intelligence to look at the situation, and realize that what can be done is being done? How does one go about bringing in the supplies of food and water and other necessities when the transportation modes into the city are disrupted? How do rescue workers go about their business when they are being shot at? How do buses get loaded when they are being rushed by the desperate? How do soldiers and police restore and maintain order? The doctors and nurses and EMT's, the soldiers, the policemen, all need to be brought to the area -- and that takes time. There must be resources put in place for them -- food and water and supplies -- or else they simply add to the problem. All this takes time -- we have to have patienbce. Yes, it's hard to say that when people are sufferin and starving and dying -- but explain to me, if you can, how being critical of those who are leading the relief efforts helps the situation? Explain to me what more the President might have done to address the situation? We don't have transporter beams to move people and supplies from place to place, after all! Oh, and please explain to me how it is that the relief workers and those seeking to restore order are attending to everyone who comes to them as best they can? Last time I looked, the police and the soldiers and the medical people and ther private citizens out with their fishing boats to bring in survivors were black, and white, and hispanic, and you name it -- and they were risking themselves to help those in need on rooftops and treetops and in attics to get to shelter and safety. Are there racists among us? Yes, of all colors. Each of us must confront, and confess, and repent of our sins. But let's not confuse a lack of information, and an inability to coordinate communications, and transportation problems, with racism -- please!

California State Senate Approves Same-Sex Marriage Proposal
By a vote of 21-15, the California State Senate approved a bill that would allow same-sex marriages in that state. By so doing, they become the first legislative body in the nation to approve such a measure. The bill now goes to the California Assembly, whcih voted down a similar proposal back in June. The bill would change the definition of marriage to speak of a union between two people, rather than a man and a woman.

As Yogi Berra is reported to have said, "It ain't over until it's over." Oh, "over" in this context is usually defined as "getting what I want." This issue is not going to go away...

Please forgive me, a sinner - and please pray for me...

Suffering and God

Hurricane Katrina

It was truly an incredible storm: barely at hurricane strength, and that only just before coming ashore for the first time on the east coast of Florida, Katrina crossed the Florida peninsula and entered the Gulf of Mexico, where, drawing energy from the warm waters of that shallow sea, it grew into a Category 5 hurricane. Only a puff of dry air from onshore just as it approached Louisiana kept it from coming onshore directly over New Orleans; and reduced it to a Category 4 storm, with wind speeds a bit lower, and a landfall to the east. Even so, Katrina’s hurricane-strength winds extended more than 120 miles from the center of the storm, and tropical storm-strength winds extended as much as 230 miles from the center. This added to the swath of destruction, from New Orleans to the Florida panhandle. It caused the 30-foot high storm surge that was so devastating to Biloxi and Mobile and Gulfport and even Pensacola, as well as the smaller cities and towns along the Gulf Coast. Katrina spawned countless tornadoes, which are believed to have contributed to the destruction in Biloxi; and which destroyed homes, businesses, and farms in Georgia, and in Tennessee. Eleven deaths were attributed to Katrina in her passage of Florida. It is still too soon to have any idea of how many people have died in the Gulf Coast region; estimates for New Orleans alone could run into the thousands.

The Human Dimension

Our actions also contributed to the impacts of the storm. We’re the ones who built a city that is, for the most part, lower than the water surrounding it. We’re the ones who built on the coastal wetlands that once helped absorb the storm surge, protecting those who lived further inland. We’re the ones who, lulled perhaps into a false sense of security from “riding out” earlier storms, or just complacent, or yes, even just too lazy to pack up, did not heed the calls for evacuation. And now, human nature continues to add to the depths of the disaster, as looting and shootings and robberies and rapes take place among people who are desperate, and, yes, selfish. (I know how to recognize these things because all of them are true about me, to one degree or another.) The vast majority of people are doing their best to cope, I’m sure – and I thank God that my family is not there, that I am not there. (I also thank God that the members of my extended family who do live in the area south and east of New Orleans all left before Katrina arrived, and are safe, although they do not know when they will be able to return to their homes and businesses.) If my children were sick, or hungry, I’m sure I’d want someone to help. But I don’t understand the anger that is being shown on the cable news reports; I don’t understand the people who blame the government, and blame us, for the consequences they face. I don’t understand breaking into a store and stealing clothing, or guns, or television sets, or computers. Food and water? Yes. It’s not right, but it is understandable; it can be forgiven. But the rest? I don’t get it.

Suffering and God

Part of me wants to say more: but the dimensions of the catastrophe are so overwhelming that words fail. However, one more aspect needs to be mentioned here, and I will try to take a run at grasping it: How could God have allowed this to happen? (This is not my question; but I know many people are asking it.)

I don’t think at all that this is God’s “wrath” or “punishment” for the wild revels that are part of the “Mardi Gras” celebrations in New Orleans, or for allowing a “Gay Pride” festival, as some have suggested. Others say that this is God’s way of expressing His disapproval for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; or for U.S. support for Israel. Are these people serious? If they are, they don’t understand God at all!

Some have said that disasters of this sort are permitted by God – and this is a key distinction: permitted, not caused – to wake us up from the delusion that the good things we enjoy, both tangible (the food and other material abundance we have access to) and intangible (such as freedom) are the result of our own labors and wisdom alone, and not gifts from God. I’m much closer to this point of view; I think this is much closer to what the Orthodox Church and faith teaches and believes. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Because none of us is good, really – that’s one part of the puzzle. This calls to mind a passage from the Gospel according to St. Luke:

There were present at that season some that told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. (KJV; Luke 13:1-5)

We are all sinners; those who are now dealing directly with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and those of us who find the impacts come from secondary causes. Their suffering is undoubtedly greater than mine. My family is safe; my home is intact; our stores are still open, and fully stocked. Our city functions; and most everyone here isn’t suffering. It may be trite to say it, but, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” I don’t know what I would be thinking or feeling or saying or doing if our home was gone; or if we were faced with the prospect of living in a shelter for months or years; or if my children or wife were sick, and left outside in the heat and the rain and the cold of night, because there was no shelter for us – no food, no water, no medicine, no sanitary facilities. As to my sins, I probably deserve to suffer more than those who are suffering. We must all repent; we must all reach out to do what we can, directly and indirectly, to help those in need, who, like us, are bearers of the likeness of God, made in His image – for, inasmuch as we do it for the least of these, we have rendered that love and care and consideration to our Lord.

We live in a fallen world. The potential for wickedness is found in us all. This is another reason why the good sometimes suffer – to remind us of the depths to which we may plunge, if we do not have a standard by which to live, if we have no morality except the law of the jungle – which, tragically, we see in operation in New Orleans right now. I can’t help but think of the countless New Martyrs of Russia, who, while on their way to the camps, or while in the camps or in prison, were starved, and forced to endure exposure to the heat and the cold and the rain and the snow. Parents watching their children die because there was no food to give them; children watching their parents die as mother and father had given up their food ration to save their children – the list goes on and on. I hope I could endure in patience and peace; and I know I need to be at work at the task of doing my part towards my transformation from who I am to the person I should be to faithfully reveal the presence of Christ in our midst. I am not that person; may God help me, and help us all, to become more Christ-like.

What made it possible for the saints to endure torture and imprisonment and beatings and starving – made it possible for them to sing hymns joyfully while caged up, or on their way to their death? It is this quality which separates us from the acts of desperation that we are driven to when we have no hope within us, no faith, no trust, that there is a life beyond this fleshly, material world. Lord, have mercy, and grant to us all to see Thee in Thy glory, and to know Thy love and mercy; so that the trials and tribulations being faced today, great and small, individually and as a society, may lead us ever closer to Thee, and to life without end in Thy kingdom!