Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Nehemiah Got It Right

Rebuilding Begins With Seeking Divine Wisdom

One of my favorite people in history is Nehemiah, the rebuilder of Jerusalem's walls after the return from captivity in Babylon and Persia. Today we face challenges, ironically from situations in Iraq and Iran, and Nehemiah is relevant as we face the challenge of the modern Middle-East.

May First is the National Day of Prayer and if you find the news and challenges of the day overwhelming you will find comfort in the life of Nehemiah. The task he faced was too big for him. The Jerusalem he loved was in dissaray and discouraged. The city was defensless from attack and had limited resources. How did Nehemiah begin to deal with the insurmountable obstacles he faced? He prayed first, then set to work, bringing order and security to a troubled people. He faced many difficulties and was viciously opposed, but he prevailed. In his story we may see a model for how to approach problems that is timeless.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"Imagine No Possessions..."

'Expelled' Movie Faces Lawsuit

The headline read: 'Expelled' Professor Talks; Movie Faces Lawsuit so I expected it was a challenge from the academic community. Turns out Yoko Ono is doing the suing. The movie uses a 'fair use' clip of John Lennon's song 'Imagine' as background in one scene. If you're not familiar with this song [and that I can't imagine], it portrays a very naturalistic and somewhat transcendent world view where the elimination of religion, states, possessions, etc. leads to a utopian harmony of mankind. The song begins: "Imagine there's no heaven..." and, you know I'm a huge Randy Alcorn fan, so I don't subscribe to the philosophy, but I like John Lennon's ability to write lyrics and he is a cultural icon. Actually, let me confess outright, I like the song. Still, it ceased to express my worldview after the afternoon of the fat buds. I really wish Yoko had left well enough alone.

Why Knowledge of the Divine Matters

Our Place and Purpose are Defined by It

I am listening to a series of messages by Ravi Zacharias, one of the great minds of our time. The message series is called Is There Meaning in Pain and Suffering and one of the reasons the series is so powerful is the panel discussion at the end. A leading scientist represents the atheistic perspective. A hindu scholar joins him as well. Such discussions, when carried on with integrity and mutual respect, are a valuable part of understanding the human experience.

Francis Collins, I feel, adds similar depth to our discussion of origins. Can you imagine peeking into the Divine's working drawings? Although Collins does not promote intelligent design he sees G-d's hand in things, perhaps more as architect and less as builder. The writings of C.S. Lewis influenced Collins who was not a believer earlier in his life, to come to faith. There is no testimony more powerful than that of the honest inquirer's.

Belief, or non-belief, colors our discussion of such matters as purpose, pain and suffering and even how should we live our lives.

Here be Dragons

Really old maps fascinate me. You see the well-rendered survey of known lands and the nebulous shapes of imagined and unexplored realms. I love how the old mapmakers would draw very imaginitive sea-serpents cavorting in the margins with the notation: "Here be dragons." So what has changed? We render well what we know and imagine what we don't. Yet navigation has always been a matter of life and death.

My son and several friends were venturing to New York City for New Year's eve in Times Square and I asked them if they needed any directions. The fellow in their group from Australia announced decisively "we've got GPS!" We didn't have that in the 1970's when I did the same trip.

I wonder if he was driving when the car, registered to me, went through an EZ-pass lane? I got the missed toll bill later? There is always a point where our knowledge is limited even though we see more than our forefathers. Knowledge should be freely sought, but we shall never come to a point where it will eclipse our need for faith and further exploration.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Tale of Two Mapmakers

The Shenandoah Valley was Home to Both

As a child, I was always fascinated by the Nineteenth Century maps drawn by Jedadiah Hotchkiss. The Civil War mapmaker provided detailed surveys of many places in the Valley and they were works of art. I drew a modern map that imitated Hotchkiss' style for Rob Hewitt's history of the Church in Rockingham County. Modern surveys allowed me to see fairly detailed massings of topography where Hotchkiss had simply placed ridge lines. Modern mapping methods have given us a greater knowledge of the physical features of our world but we produce few maps as beautiful and informative as those of Jedadiah Hotchkiss.

Francis Collins
Francis Collins

In our time, another Shenandoah Valley native has mapped the human genome. Francis Collins calls this complex code "The Language of G-d" and has authored a book by that name. Originally a chemist, Collins went on to study microbiology, fascinated by the complex nature of DNA. His boyhood was spent on a farm in the Valley and his mother homeschooled him up until the sixth grade. He was initially drawn to study chemistry at the University of Virginia and sought to avoid what he called "the messy field of biology." Collins wrote The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief and calls scientific discoveries an "opportunity to worship." Collins believes in a process of Theistic Evolution, where the process is divinely directed. Collins sees what amounts to the design documents for life in the DNA.

The work of Francis Collins holds great promise for understanding and conquering many of the diseases that trouble us. He is in every way a modern pioneer.

AT on Hazeltop

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

An Inconvenient Observation

The Order of the Universe is Problematic for Some

I saw 'Expelled' this past weekend and it was a pretty powerful documentary. G-d is getting some pretty bad press these days from esteemed writers such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. The Intelligent Design movement, though it is not specifically theistic, is uniformly vilified in the academy. Why is an inquiry into the observable order of the universe so dangerous, especially when open inquiry is such a cherished part of scientific investigation? Perhaps such 'open inquiry' inevitably leads to the 'wrong' conclusions.

Theodore Dalrymple writes in City Journal: "What the New Atheists are Missing." Himself a non-believer, he points to a time when a teacher's hypocrasy led him to question. Dalrymple does not, however, reject the realm of faith as a force in creating and ordering societies. He see's naturalistic explainations and philosophies quite insufficient for dealing with all of human existence. Richard Dawkins' assertions that religious education is tantamount to child abuse, for example seem to Dalrymple no more than the rebellious ranting of a child who's just learned that his parents are not perfect. All of us have experienced some sort of disillusionment in our youth. I remember a time when a nun of the 'Sisters of Mercy' punished me for some infraction I had not [at least in my recollection] committed. I too questioned a lot of things. The Cuban missle crisis fueled more unanswered anxiety as I careened into adolescence.

But something happened in my teenaged years that is etched firmly in my memory. It was a dark and stressful winter day when I decided to walk in the woods near Triadelphia Reservoir. Something spoke to me that afternoon that was more eloquent than the ranting of hormones and the perceived unfairness of life. The buds of the trees were growing fat. here was the hope of spring and new life. Clearly spring would come. The buds gave evidence of an event hoped for. They were indeed the substance of something yet unseen!

"For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:" -- Romans1:20 KJV

Holy writ makes the point that the order and beauty of the creation speaks eloquently of the creator. Thus Intelligent Design, though it merely points out the complex mechanisms of nature, leads one to seek the source of such wisdom. I look to that time in the trees as an affirmation of personal faith in a creator. Though at that point it was pretty detatched and intellectual at best.

"...for he that cometh to G-d must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligenly seek him." Hebrews 11:6b KJV

As a young adult I embraced faith in Christ as redeemer and rewarder. The journey of faith had begun with the fat buds years before though.Therefore I must conlude that those who consider the design of the universe dangerous information have good reason if they fear that others may follow the path I have walked. Dawkins would prefer me to credit space aliens with seeding life to this planet and thus push the hard questions of origin to another world.

Darwinism, in its purest form, rejects the idea that this world is some sort of intentional creation. Of course this leads to the rejection of theism and ultimately the rejection of certain absolutes. 'Expelled' takes a good look at 'eugenics' and how it is supported by a darwinian world view. In the first half of the Twentieth Century certain proponents of eugenics sought to speed evolution along by eliminating the reproduction of certain undesirable types of persons. The results were forced sterilization of the mentally ill and the holecaust. Contrast that movement with Dorethea Dix and others who, motivated by Christian faith, improved conditions for the mentally ill.

Alvin Schmidt makes a good case in his book 'Under the Influence' that faith is a builder of society rather than a force to destroy it. Dalrymple the non-believer would concur. Thus the danger of Intelligent Design leading to dangerous conclusions is much inflated. One might even conclude that the free discussion of order and design,wherever it is found, is wholesome. Certainly there is no basis for its exclusion from the academy.

The argument will no doubt be made: "what about the crusades, what about jihad, religion is dangerous?" Yes, it is certainly something that may be missused, but that must be countered with an honest look at how the so-called "good" science of evolution was the foundation of eugenics. Millions of people were killed in this misguided attempt to improve humanity. Ironically, such brilliant men as Albert Einstein met the criteria for elimination. We reduce the world to only naturalistic explainations at our own peril. The argument for open inquiry stands.

New Maple

"When through the woods,and forest glades I wander,
and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
when I look down,from lofty mountain grandeur,

and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze"
-- "How Great Thou Art" Verse 2

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Words to Consider

The Words of Darrell Scott, the father of Rachel Scott

His daughter was a victim of the Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colorado and Mr. Scott was invited to address the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee. What he said to our national leaders during this special session of Congress was painfully truthful.

They were not prepared for what he was to say, nor was it received well. It needs to be heard by every parent, every teacher, every politician, every sociologist, every psychologist, and every so-called expert! These courageous words spoken by Darrell Scott are powerful, penetrating, and deeply personal. There is no doubt that G-d sent this man as a voice crying in the wilderness. The following is a portion of the transcript:

'Since the dawn of creation there has been both good and evil in the hearts of men and women. We all contain the seeds of kindness or the seeds of violence. The death of my wonderful daughter, Rachel Joy Scott, and the deaths of that heroic teacher, and the other eleven children who died must not be in vain. Their blood cries out for answers.

'The first recorded act of violence was when Cain slew his brother Abel out in the field. The villain was not the club he used.. Neither was it the NCA, the National Club Association. The true killer was Cain, and the reason for the murder could only be found in Cain's heart.

'In the days that followed the Columbine tragedy, I was amazed at how quickly fingers began to be pointed at groups such as the NRA. I am not a member of the NRA I am not a hunter. I do not even own a gun. I am not here to represent or defend the NRA - because I don't believe that they are responsible for my daughter's death. Therefore I do not believe that they need to be defended. If I believed they had anything to do with R achel's murder I would be their strongest opponent.

I am here today to declare that Columbine was not just a tragedy -- it was a spiritual event that should be forcing us to look at where the real blame lies! Much of the blame lies here in this room. Much of the blame lies behind the pointing fingers of the accusers themselves. I wrote a poem just four nights ago that expresses my feelings best.

Your laws ignore our deepest needs,
Your words are empty air.
You've stripped away our heritage,
You've outlawed simple prayer.
Now gunshots fill our classrooms,
And precious children die.
You seek for answers everywhere,
And ask the question 'Why?'
You regulate restrictive laws,
Through legislative creed.
And yet you fail to understand,
That G-d is what we need!

'Men and women are three-part beings. We all consist of body, mind, and spirit. When we refuse to acknowledge a third part of our make-up, we create a void that allows evil, prejudice, and hatred to rush in and wreak havoc. Spiritual presences were present within our educational systems for most of our nation's history. Many of our major colleges began as theological seminaries. This is a historical fact. What has happened to us as a nation? We have refused to honor G-d, and in so doing, we open the doors to hatred and violence. And when something as terrible as Columbine's tragedy occurs -- politicians immediately look for a scapegoat such as the NRA. They immediately seek to pass more restrictive laws that contribute to erode away our personal and private liberties. We do not need more restrictive laws. Eric and Dylan would not have been stopped by metal detectors. No amount o f gun laws can stop someone who spends months planning this type of massacre. The real villain lies within our own hearts.

'As my son Craig lay under that table in the school library and saw his two friends murdered before his very eyes, he did not hesitate to pray in school. I defy any law or politician to deny him that right! I challenge every young person in America , and around the world, to realize that on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School prayer was brought back to our schools. Do not let the many prayers offered by those students be in vain. Dare to move into the new millennium wit h a sacred disregard for legislation that violates your G-d-given right to communicate with Him. To those of you who would point your finger at the NRA -- I give to you a sincere challenge. Dare to examine your own heart before casting the first stone!

My daughter's death will not be in vain! The young people of this country will not allow that to happen!'

As we remember Columbine and the Virginia Tech Community it is good to reflect on the words of Mr. Scott.

Monday, April 14, 2008

English Garden Villas

Sales Center Spotlight

Here is a really nice set of renderings for Kenridge, a community that features villas with really nice English gardens in place of the usual expanse of Kentucky 31 Fescue.




Watercolors of Kenridge.

The use of traditional renderings is very effective in conveying the romance of this special community.

Way Beyond a Living Legacy

Celebrating Franklin Graham

Really, he'd be amazing if he were not the son of the world famous evangelist! In the wake of natural disasters around the word such as Katrina and the Tsunami, He's been first on the ground with material and spiritual comfort more than a few times. Seeing the Sudanese government terrorize it's own citizens and destroying churches, Franklin Graham is ready to overcome evil with good by rebuilding what was destroyed.

Learn more at:

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

'Expelled' Opens April 18th

Is Legitimate Inquiry Supressed in Our Institutions?

Ben Stein looks at a subject which has long intrigued me, Intelligent Design and how it is often being denied a place at the table when it comes to serious discussions in our major institutions of higher learning and research. Expelled opens April 18th in theatres around the country.

Storms on Jupiter.

As an artist, it is important to learn observation skills when it comes to nature. the Fibbonacci Number Sequence is seen in the spiral of a galaxy, water going down a drain and the hair pattern on a child's head. Complex mechanisms exist in nature, such as the eye, for example. How could they evolve without some oversight as they would not function when not wholly complete.

This past weekend a man who is working on an assistive technology robot at Carnagie-Mellon showed us videos of his 'robot' attempting to grasp a doorknob and open it. Let's just say these researchers were well pleased when the robot hit the doorknob. They have a long way to go before it will open the doorknob. There's more to hand-eye coordination than you would imagine. Do you ever just stop and appreciate the well-tuned software that you've depended on all your life?

More important, do you think of what it might mean to have been so created? Stein's movie gives us a lot to think about.

Expelled Movie Website

Monday, April 7, 2008

Automotive Pioneers

Getting to the Future Too Soon Can Be Hazardous.

Three Headlights

Our Milestone Monday feature today will look at a couple of innovators in the Automobile Indusrtry. Preston Tucker and John Zachary De Lorean were not just slightly ahead of their time -- they anticipated automotive design features that would become commonplace five decades later.



In 1938 Norman Bel Geddes was envisioning the roads of the future for the New York World's Fair. In 1948 Preston Tucker built the car for them. A racing enthusiast from his youth, Tucker had contributed to the war effort by building an extremely fast armored combat car. The Army rejected it but the Navy was fascinated with the car's power operated gun turret. The Tucker Turret was used on PT boats, landingcraft and the B-17 and B-29 bombers.

After the war, Tucker purchased a large factory in Chicago, the Chicago Dodge Plant, with the intention of building a modern automobile. The Tucker Torpedo incorporated many features that were to become commonplace in automobiles a half-century later. The car had three front headlights and the center light was connected to the steering linkage to track the car's turning. BMW would later re-introduce this tracking feature on their cars. Tuckers also were designed to use fuel injection, disc brakes, a rear engine,cone-of-vision instrument placement and a padded dashboard. The aerodynamic styling was but one of the many innovations Tucker borrowed from aviation technology.

Like today's Prius, the car was beyond the range of most of the day's shops to service. Tucker made the engine easy to drop and envisioned a 'swap' system to allow proper servicing. To raise capital, Tucker pre-sold accessories for the planned car. This creative financing, and the fact that he did not install a lot of automation led United States Attorney Otto Kerner to seek a fraud indictment against Tucker. The charge was made that Tucker never intended to actually produce a car! In 1948 some 37 cars were actually built in a prototype fashion. The entire production of Tuckers would consist of fifty cars!

The trial bankrupted the company and shuttered the factory, but when it went to the jury in 1950 Tucker and his executives were quickly and clearly acquitted. Otto Kerner, who had so aggressively dogged Tucker on fraud charges, would become the first Federal apellate judge in history to be imprisoned. The charge -- stock fraud! A 1988 movie was made of Tucker's life: Tucker, The Man and His Dream.

De Lorean
John De Lorean with his distinctive automobile.

John De Lorean was a more recent maverick of the auto industry. His distinctive gull-wing doors were to become automotive legend as well. Unfortunately De Lorean was to have legal troubles as well. De Lorean was an innovator who envisioned monorail systems for the medians of interstate highways among other things.

I've read articles where the author declares these men 'failures' and heartily disagree with that assessment. Both men brought cutting-edge technology to the point of production and, while they may not have benefitted financially, they certainly influenced their respective industries. Risk, by it's very nature, is risky.

Special thanks to the Tucker Club of America website for historical background for this article. This Open Letter from Preston Tucker is well worth reading as well.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Delusions of Virtue

Theodore Dalrymple is one of my favorite writers. As I was ruminating over the ethical considerations of some fictitious situations a very real one was brought to mind by This Article in City Journal. Not unlike Marty McFly, we see real-life persons trying to reinvent the past to favor their perception of their own virtue. Dalrymple states: "...the human mind is a subtle instrument, quite capable of uttering untruths by mechanisms other than lying. Sometimes we cannot distinguish among the possibilities." Thus he makes a case that people who might claim to have been named for a famous mountaineer before he ever scaled Everest, or inventing the internet must be seen in light of the modern concept of 'virtue.' Dr. Dalrymple describes what he calls the "...modern psychopathological symptom: The Delusion of Honesty. A delusional belief is impervious to reason or evidence. In societies like Britain and the United States, once steeped in Judeo-Christian culture, such convictions become common when a belief in Original Sin finds itself replaced by a belief in Original Virtue—particularly one’s own." Now that's profound!

Does such a world, in fact, look ever increasingly for mathematical models [such as Google algorithms] to assure that everyone's self-held belief directed actions don't collide. Sort of like a moral sequence of traffic signals. In the end, a post-Christian society such as Europe must discard the notion of some overall guiding virtue for a pragmatic set of traffic rules.

No doubt, many 'reworkings' of the past to favor one's own view of virtue are harmless. Still the Marxist assigns himself virtue but see's the entreprenuer throughout history as an evil force to be reckoned with. The 'movers and shakers' are his 'oppressors.' This is where reinvention of the past becomes very dark as a science. At some point a broad-brush judgement will impune everyone who is not like me. The Marxist may try to re-write the algorithm to always distrust the entrepenuer, whom he sees as an 'exploiter,' forgetting that it was risk-takers like Edison who brought us modern convenience which we all take for granted. The concept of 'Original Virtue' seems to have many exceptions!

Biff Tannen Take Note!

Google Australia Beta Tests 'Future Search'

New Google Program Lets You See Results of Tomorrow's Game.

This is too good! Never mind that I had good intentions of posting one little snippet about 'Custom Time.' Now we learn that the Google Team 'Down Under' have come up with a way to Search the Future. Really saves on the stress and hazard of time travel! Don't miss the Press Release.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Ethical Considerations of 'Custom Time' III


By now this thread of thought has grown to encompass both the manipulation of date stamps and check dates to the abuse of time in fictitious situations. The operative word is manipulation, and clearly 'Custom Time' is designed to allow an individual to manipulate a situation so that 1. His recipient does not know he sent the email later than stated and 2. Gives him priviledge to some information [the lateness] that his recipient does not. Thus the time travel movies with the sports almanac and the knowledge of future business trends create a similar pattern.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Ethical Considerations of 'Custom Time' II

"Back to the Future" Got it Right

Does anyone else remember those old Back to the Future movies with Michael J. Fox? The movies revolved around a DeLorean that had been converted into a time machine.

Biff Tannen, the movie's villian, manages to get his hands on a sports almanac from the 21st Century and you don't have to use too much imagination to figure out what he does with it. Tannen makes a fortune betting on sports events and builds a giant casino, complete with cheezy museum devoted to the "Life of Biff Tannen," the man who has an uncanny gift for picking winners.

USS Nimitz
USS Nimitz, Photo courtesy United States Navy

But, so far, is Biff Tannen really much different from Mr. Owens in The Final Countdown where the aircraft carrier Nimitz is transported back to Pearl Harbor in history [right as Japanese planes roar in to attack] and back to modern times again. Mr. Owens gets "left behind" when the ship returns to the 20th Century and you see him meeting the ship at the end of the movie, stepping out of a large black car. Presumably Mr. Owens played the stock market very well having come from the 20th Century.

Here, I might add, who wouldn't have used such information for gain. I mean, who hasn't dated a check a bit earlier at least once in his life to "look" timely.

Biff Tanner clearly uses his new-found fortune to manipulate the lives of others. Mr. Owens appears to have restrained himself and while enriching himself caused no one else any harm. Who wouldn't want to own Mr. Owens' stock portfolio?

Both movies do a great job of examining the ethical considerations of altering history and are worth mentioning in light of any attempt to "bend time."

Special thanks to: Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies Website written by M. Joseph Young.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Ethical Considerations of 'Custom Time'

"There is a moral hidden in a laugh, be wise and take the grain but leave the chaff." -- Chaucer

Last April Fool's day it was "Paper Email." Now its "Custom Time." You can send your email so it arrives on time even if you are up to four years late. Actually I must confess to having discovered Custom Time about four years ago when I screwed up the time/date settings in my computer and sent several emails in 1904!

I had to tell some people to look way way back in their inbox for some things I sent that morning!

Scripture calls our Creator the "High and Lofty One, Who inhabits Eternity." G-d can handle the responsibility of being outside of the constraints of time. For humans, time is a factor that helps us. It keeps us honest. I give you the quote from the "Investment Banker" on the Google spoof site:

"I used to be an honest person; but now I don't have to be. It's just so much easier this way. I've gained a lot of productivity by not having to think about doing the 'right' thing."

Wow, that's profound. Time, it would seem, is just one tool in our healthy quest for mutual accountability. What's really amazing and profound though is the "equation" that Google provides as logic for allowing users ten time-altered emails apiece! As you know, Googe uses a "secret" algorithm to assign "trust rakings" to various websites. Most of the time it works really well and makes Google the great tool that it is. Occasionallly mathematical models fail or can be hacked by what are known as "black hat" techniques so that bad content rises over good. That is why webmaster "terms of service" are necessary. I never knew an April Fools joke would contain so much wisdom!