November 2008


The coming to power of Barack Obama is raising hopes of change and new directions in a wide variety of communities and among a wide variety of people. Among the hopeful are those who want Answers to the Big Questions, such as “What really happened at Roswell?” According to the London Telegraph:

Desperate to see the US emulate the British Government and disclose reported “contact” with UFOs, the enthusiasts have written to Mr Obama to ask that his administration comes clean about the contents of America’s “X-Files”.

They believe they have good prospects of success after public statements of support from both John Podesta, who is running Mr Obama’s White House transition team, and Bill Richardson, the Governor of New Mexico – a UFO sighting hotspot – who is expected to secure a cabinet post.

In the letter to Mr Obama, the Extraterrestrial Phenomenon Political Action Committee calls on the President-Elect to “end the six-decade truth embargo regarding an extraterrestrial presence engaging the human race”.

The group wants the incoming president to insist on a “full briefing from your military services and intelligence agencies regarding what they know” and to open congressional hearings “to take testimony from scores of government witnesses who have already come forward with extraordinary evidence and are prepared to testify under oath.”

The campaigners, who resent their common portrayal as nuts and conspiracy theorists, have high hopes of success due to their inside track with Mr Obama.

When he was the White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton, Mr Podesta led a project to declassify 800 million pages of intelligence documents. In a press conference, still available to watch on the YouTube website, Mr Podesta said: “It is time for the government to declassify records that are more than 25 years old and to provide scientists with data that will assist in determining the real nature of this phenomenon.”

Gov Richardson, a former presidential candidate and fellow UFO aficionado, has written a forward to a book on the so-called Roswell Incident in New Mexico, where campaigners believe an alien spacecraft crash landed near the town of Roswell in 1947 and that the corpses of humanoid aliens have been kept hidden under lock and key by the government.

He has called for full disclosure by the Pentagon of what really occurred and reiterated his belief that there had been a “cover-up” during a presidential debate last year.

Personally, I wish the UFOlogists well in their campaign to get at The Truth. With any luck at all, we’ll get an explanation for disco.

(Via Hot Air.)

I got my periodic e-mail from the National Council of Churches Eco-Justice unit this morning, and it directed me to a PDF that is headlined–I kid you not–“The Low Carbon 12 Days of Christmas.” Here are they’re suggestions for how you can Save the Planet™ this Christmas:

1. Send Electronic Christmas Cards: Sending your Christmas greetings electronically is good for Creation because it saves trees. If you want to send a personal Christmas greeting to close friends and family, use recycled paper to make your own Christmas Cards.

My wife makes all her own Christmas cards, which gives them a really nice personal touch. E-cards, not so much.

2. Make Your Own Decorations: This can become a wonderful family tradition. Use recycled materials or natural materials like pinecones, leaves, vines. Making your own Christmas wreath out of materials you collected is carbon neutral and positively fun!

These folks have clearly never messed with kudzu.

3. Buy a Living, Local Christmas Tree: Start a tradition of planting your Christmas tree in your yard or on your church grounds after Christmas. You can even put a message in a bottle underneath the tree thanking God for the year’s blessings. Your planted tree becomes a Christmas gift for creation and a living family memory for years to come!

Or even better, forgo one altogether and just leave the tree in its original ground, thus eliminating the carbon spewed forth to get it to wherever you buy them.

4. Use LED Christmas Lights: These lights use around 90% less energy than incandescent Christmas lights. Look for lights that are Energy Star approved. Remember to conserve energy and not to leave them on all day or overnight.

5. Do Your Christmas Shopping with Reusable Bags: Less plastic bags means less energy is used to produce them, and therefore less carbon is released into the atmosphere.

You never know which plastic bag it will be that will tip the earth’s atmosphere into doing an imitation of The Day After Tomorrow.

6. Give Responsibly: Buy gently used gifts like books and toys or nonmaterial gifts like a national parks pass or event tickets rather than products. If you are good at making crafts, consider making gifts for your loved ones.

I think the idea of giving national parks passes or events tickets is a marvelous idea. I can’t wait to hop in the SUV and drive to wherever it is that I’ll be able to use them.

7. If you buy traditional gifts, minimize your carbon foot print by purchasing Local and energy efficient gifts that are minimally packaged. Click http://www.nccecojustice.org/greengifts.htm for ideas.

8. Use Reusable or Recycled Gift Wrap: You will save energy by reducing the need to produce wrapping paper and help reduce global warming pollution.

You can probably count on one hand the number of carbon dioxide molecules you’ll keep out of the atmosphere by doing this. And it won’t matter, because the item that you don’t buy has already been produced, whether anyone buys it or not. In fact, you’ll keep a lot more CO2 out of the atmosphere if you just go ahead and die. But barring that drastic a contribution to the anti-global warming effort, you’ll feel better about yourself.

9. Practice Alternative Giving: Donate to a charity in a friend or family member’s name.

I don’t know anyone, even my liberal relatives, who appreciate this. It comes across as you using them to lower you tax bill.

10. Limit Your Travel: If you need to travel to be with family ride with other friends and family to reduce the per person carbon emissions or take the train. In general, driving results in fewer carbon emissions than flying, especially when driving a moderately fuel efficient vehicle at or below the speed limit with properly inflated tires.

As we all know, President-elect Obama said during the campaign that we could all Save the Planet™ by keeping our tires inflated. Pass it on.

11. Serve Local Food for Christmas Dinner: Consider serving a locally raised main course, but if a local ham or turkey is too pricey, serve a few side dishes made with local vegetables. This is a tasty way to reduce the number of miles food has to travel to get to your plate, which in turn helps reduce carbon emissions.

I wonder where the employees of the New York City-based EcoJustice Unit are going to get their locally raised ham or turkey and local vegetables? Is there something going on in Central Park that we don’t know about?

12. Remember Why We Celebrate! Christmas is a time to celebrate God’s gift of Jesus Christ, a savior who will bring peace to Earth (Luke 2: 11-14), through whom all things came into being (John 1:3) and through whom God reconciled all things (Colossians 1:19).

Amen.

All joking aside, I don’t have any objection to anyone doing any of this if it floats their boat. At the same time, this is “every little bit helps” thinking taken to a mindless extreme. The NCC buys the religion of global warming at least as fervently as it buys Christianity; I recognize that. But while doing this stuff may make you feel better, there’s no evidence whatsoever that any of it will make any difference at all to solving a problem that may not even exist. And of course the flip side of their suggestions is guilt–if you don’t take their suggestions, you’re a bad Christian, a planet killer, and probably a Republican to boot. I’m sorry, but I’m not buying it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go put up my artificial tree.

A Prayer of Praise and Thanksgiving

O my God,

Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects,

my heart admires, adores, loves Thee,

for my little vessel is as full as it can be,

and I would pour out all that fullness before Thee in ceaseless flow.

When I think upon and converse with Thee

ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up,

ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed,

ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart,

crowding into every moment of happiness.

I bless Thee for the soul Thou hast created,

for adorning it, sanctifying it, though it is fixed in barren soil;

for the body Thou hast given me,

for preserving its strength and vigor,

for providing senses to enjoy delights,

for the ease and freedom of my limbs,

for hands, eyes, ears that do Thy bidding;

for Thy royal bounty providing my daily support,

for a full table and overflowing cup,

for appetite, taste, sweetness,

for social joys of relatives and friends,

for ability to serve others,

for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities,

for a mind to care for my fellow-men,

for opportunities of spreading happiness around,

for loved ones in the joys of heaven,

for my own expectation of seeing Thee clearly.

I love Thee above the powers of language to express,

for what Thou art to Thy creatures.

Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity. Amen

–From The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

Writing propaganda news for an organization that is failing is hard, I’m sure. Still, I have to admit I got a laugh out of this item from the Episcopal News Service, which is entitled, “FORT WORTH: Three loyalist congregations merge”:

The red and gold banner was hand-made; the altar, a card table; the credence (side) table, a TV-tray and hymnals and prayer books were scarce as the Episcopal Church in Parker County met for its first Sunday worship on November 16 in an elementary school cafeteria.

It was one day after a majority of the diocese had voted to realign with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, but the worshippers from three congregations gathered to celebrate remaining with the Episcopal Church.

“I treasure the splendid diversity and tolerance of the Episcopal Church and how marvelously our liturgical life knits us together,” said [Victoria] Prescott, an attorney with the Securities and Exchange Commission in Fort Worth. “And I love the way we manage to combine our rich catholic heritage with an understanding that God’s revelation to us continues.”

The group, made up of worshippers formerly from St. Francis of Assisi, Willow Park; All Saints, Weatherford and Holy Apostles Church, chose the McCall Elementary School because “it is located in one of the fastest-growing areas of Texas and we do intend to reach out to the community,” said Prescott.

The Rev. John Keene, a retired priest who led the congregation’s worship, invited the congregation truly to engage all of the Bible. “When you regard the Bible, don’t ignore your queasiness or uncertainty if you run across something that puzzles you or bothers you. God has given you a mind and I ask you to use it. It’s when you start to get fundamentalist about it, that you have a problem.”

Yeah, nothing worse than getting all fundamentalist about the Bible, which is Episcospeak for actually taking it seriously and believing what it says. Anyway, the punchline is in this:

“I like being an Episcopalian,” said Victoria Prescott, who helped organize the gathering of about 20.

So, while the headline claims that “three loyalist congregations merged,” it turns out that this means that 6 or 7 people from each of these three churches got together to start one of which ECUSA will actually approve. The three congregations in question are still very much separate, but united by a common faith in Jesus Christ, and still very much alive and active in ministry. (Their average Sunday attendance ranges between 80 and 115.) Each suffered a regrettable (and small) loss as a result of their diocese’s departure from the Episcopal Church, though I expect that they may be able to make those losses and then some back without the monkey of ECUSA on their backs. In any case, I don’t think there’s any way, other than in the mind of a blind institutional loyalist, that one could say that anything has “merged” here, much less three churches.

But at least they aren’t fundamentalists.

I should have known that if I titled my previous post that way, something would come along in short order to make me eat my words. So without further ado, I give you Canada’s Carleton University Student Association, courtesy of a school newspaper, The Charlatan:

The Shinerama tradition of shining shoes, singing a song and chanting on the corner of Sunnyside and Bank for spare change has ended.

Carleton University Students’ Association’s (CUSA) orientation will no longer raise funds for cystic fibrosis, after a vote 17 to 2 at the Nov. 24 CUSA council meeting.

And why is that? The resolution that called for the change explains:

Motion to Drop Shinerama Fundraising Campaign from Orientation Week

Presentation Summary

Whereas Orientation week strives to be [as] inclusive as possible;

Whereas all orientees and volunteers should feel like their fundraising efforts will serve the their diverse communities;

And Whereas Cystic fibrosis has been recently revealed to only affect white people, and primarily men

Information Transfer

Be it resolved that: CUSA discontinue its support of this campaign

Be it Further Resolved that the CUSA representatives on the incoming Orientation Supervisory Board work to select a new broad reaching charity for orientation week.

Think about that. Someone actually had the chutzpah to introduce a proposal that a fund-raising for a charity stop, because the author thought that it benefited mostly white men. What’s more, it was proposed by the science faculty representative (who presumably ought to have known that CF, while not common in non-white populations, is not a “white disease”). All in the name of “diversity,” the god who is now worshiped on most university campuses throughout the West

Racism and sexism are alive and well, make no mistake about it. It’s just that they’ve gone uptown, and go by genteel names.

(Via Daimnation.)

Well, it’s early in the day, so I suppose anything is possible, but the staffer Jessalyn Pinneo of the Interfaith Alliance may have written the silliest thing I’ll read, not only today, but for a long time to come. Commenting on a Kathleen Parker column that essentially said that evangelical Christians shouldn’t live out their faith in the public square (apparently only liberal Christians are allowed to do that), Pinneo wrote:

Having large blocs of people with similar beliefs who vote together isn’t a bad thing – in fact, it’s one of the main ideas behind the democratic process. But having large blocs of people who think their common belief should be imposed by the government on everyone who doesn’t already agree with them is certainly not democracy, and is in fact the very antithesis of what the founders intended. [Emphasis in original.]

This is a genuinely extraordinary statement. If I don’t miss my guess, the election just concluded was, to at least some extent, about imposing beliefs on lots of people who don’t agree with them. Millions of people voted, whether consciously or not, for the Freedom of Choice Act, for federal funding of both abortion and embryonic stem-cell research, for a less confrontational approach to terrorism and terrorism-enabling states, for greater support of the United Nations, for massive spending on alternative energy and a refusal to expand domestic oil and natural gas production, for treating anthropogenic climate change as established fact, etc. Those are all debatable propositions, and many of them have a religious component, if one chooses to see them through that lens. (Ask Jim Wallis of Sojourners or Michael Kinnamon of the NCC whether he sees carbon output reduction or a greater role for the UN as merely matters of public policy and see what answers you get.) To think that elections aren’t about the majority imposing beliefs on a minority that disagrees kind of makes you wonder what the point of elections is. For that matter, why would people of like mind vote together if they didn’t think that it would make any difference to whether their beliefs got translated into public policy? I think it’s fair to say that anyone who could write something like that truly doesn’t understand what democracy is, or what it is for, but given the source, that really isn’t surprising.

The folks at the Interfaith Alliance and their co-ideologists on the religious left–many of whom are joyously looking forward to restaking their claim to influence in Washington with the arrival of the new administration–are consumed with the notion that the religious right is not only wrong about public policy questions, but that its very presence in the political arena is illegitimate. That’s an illiberal mindset that that suggests a strong authoritarian streak runs through the politically active religious left in this country. And they’re worried about a theocracy of the right?

UPDATE: Interfaith Alliance staffer Jessalyn Pinneo has left a comment that says that it was she, rather than the Rev. Welton Gaddy, who wrote the blog in question. And it turns out that her name was right at the top, which I completely missed (not the dumbest thing I’ve done today, unfortunately). I apologize for the error, appreciate her bringing my attention to the misinformation, and have corrected the post accordingly.

Well, that’s not quite accurate. But it does seem, according to an article in Discover, that in their efforts to avoid the “God hypothesis,” physicists are seriously considering the adoption of another faith-based model, called the multiverse. The idea is intriguing, and it is based on the growing acceptance of the concept of the “anthropic principle,” the idea that the physical properties of our universe are finely tuned in order to accommodate life. Author Tim Folger explains:

[E]verything…bears witness to an extraordinary fact about the universe: Its basic properties are uncannily suited for life. Tweak the laws of physics in just about any way and—in this universe, anyway—life as we know it would not exist.

Consider just two possible changes. Atoms consist of protons, neutrons, and electrons. If those protons were just 0.2 percent more massive than they actually are, they would be unstable and would decay into simpler particles. Atoms wouldn’t exist; neither would we. If gravity were slightly more powerful, the consequences would be nearly as grave. A beefed-up gravitational force would compress stars more tightly, making them smaller, hotter, and denser. Rather than surviving for billions of years, stars would burn through their fuel in a few million years, sputtering out long before life had a chance to evolve. There are many such examples of the universe’s life-friendly properties—so many, in fact, that physicists can’t dismiss them all as mere accidents.

Folger gives other examples as well, and in fact there are a host of such “coincidences.” I especially liked what two physicists said about “dark energy,” the mysterious, unseen energy that seems to be driving the accelerating expansion of the universe:

“If [dark energy] had been any bigger, there would have been enough repulsion from it to overwhelm the gravity that drew the galaxies together, drew the stars together, and drew Earth together,” Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind says. “It’s one of the greatest mysteries in physics. All we know is that if it were much bigger we wouldn’t be here to ask about it.”

Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, a physicist at the University of Texas, agrees. “This is the one fine-tuning that seems to be extreme, far beyond what you could imagine just having to accept as a mere accident,” he says.

Now, the problem with the anthropic principle is that it seems to demand what cosmologist Bernard Carr refers to as a “fine-tuner”–an intelligence that sets the physical constants of the universe up in such a way as to permit the existence of life. The alternative is the “multiverse,” the existence of an infinite number of universes, each of which has its own unique set of physical constants. It’s basically the old saw about monkeys and typewriters–if you set an infinite number of monkeys working randomly pressing keys on an infinite number of typewriters, eventually one of them will reproduce Hamlet. The theory is that through a process called “eternal chaotic inflation,” regions of the cosmos are constantly “budding off” and forming new universes that are physically different from the progenitor. If this happens enough over the course of countless years, eventually one of more universes will be formed that have the physical properties that will be congenial to life.

There’s a lot more in the article about string theory and related esoterica, but one physicist quoted by Folger seems to put his finger on the biggest problem with this idea (other than the matter of proof, which I’ll get to in a minute):

“If you allow yourself to hypothesize an almost unlimited portfolio of different worlds, you can explain anything,” says John Polkinghorne, formerly a theoretical particle physicist at Cambridge University and, for the past 26 years, an ordained Anglican priest. If a theory allows anything to be possible, it explains nothing; a theory of anything is not the same as a theory of everything, he adds.

In other words, this seems to be a way of having one’s cake and eating it, too. It sounds like a way to explain the anthropic nature of our universe, while preserving the entirely random nature of the cosmos by saying, “well, with enough time, it had to happen this way somewhere!” The problem, of course, is that it is entirely undemonstrable–there is no way to test it, certainly no way to repeat it, and no way to disprove it, either. If all the other universes have different physical properties than ours, they are by definition impervious to our observations or experiments, which of necessity must be based on the physical properties of this universe.  Folger mentions such ideas that scientists have come up with to provide indirect evidence, based on string theory (which to date has itself proved undemonstrable), but each, to this layman’s eye, seems to have the problem of unproven assusmptions–they only work as evidence of other universes if one assumes the existence of them.

It’s a fascinating subject, as a matter for scientific speculation, but the most interesting thing about it to me is the religious aspect (which is taken up in the last part of the article). In order to avoid concluding that intelligent design theorists may be on to something, scientists have come up with something that is far more esoteric, far less comprehensible, but every bit as unscientific as they claim intelligent design to be. Bernard Carr puts it succinctly when he says:

On the other hand, if there is no multiverse, where does that leave physicists? “If there is only one universe,” Carr says, “you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.”

The thing is, if you don’t want God, apparently what you’re left with is non-theistic religion, albeit with an abstruse scientific patina.

(Via Stand Firm through Townhall.com.)

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