Friday, December 30, 2005

Alaska: still to nowhere and beyond

"Alaskans can't look back at 2005 without recalling those bridges, which are known across the country as the 'bridges to nowhere.' Alaskans know them differently, of course, and here in Anchorage, one of them could span the Knik Arm and open new development opportunities.

"In late July, it was touted as the highlight of Rep. Don Young's 30-plus years in Congress. And his highway bill passed."

"The massive bill had $231 million earmarked for the Knik Arm crossing and $223 million for a Ketchikan bridge to connect the city to the airport. The delegation had something to cheer about."

"Two weeks later, President Bush signed the bill into law, and the $286 billion seems to be enough to make everyone happy. But that was before Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast and money was needed for reconstruction. And then the Iraq war continued to drag on, accruing a tab worth billions more."

"'Creating and repairing a vital interstate bridge now in Louisiana used by thousands and thousands and thousands of drivers every year, hundreds of thousands of drivers, should be a higher priority than constructing two massive and expensive bridges of dubious value and little merit,' said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma. Stevens fought back, with theatrics that include an impassioned threat to resign if the money is taken away."

"While the battle raged in Washington, D.C., back home, the Government Hill neighborhood had a fight of its own. 'It basically rips a big gash right through the middle of the neighborhood,' said Stephanie Kesler, Government Hill community council. The federal government wanted the road to the Knik Arm bridge to dissect the neighborhood. 'It's sort of like the condemned man meeting with the firing squad to discuss which ammunition's going to be used,' said Kesler.

"Meanwhile in D.C., the delegation settled for a compromise: the state gets the money, but the specific earmarks for the bridges were removed."

"Stevens didn't have to resign, and as the year came to a close, Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski planned to fully fund both bridges. 'I am proposing we spend the maximum allowed,' said Murkowski."

From a previous post:

"The first bridge would connect Ketchikan, a fishing village of 8,900 to an island with 50 residents and a small airport, even though a ferry runs every 15 minutes. According to USA Today, this boondoggle will be nearly as long as the Golden Gate and higher than the Brooklyn Bridge."

"The second bridge would connect Anchorage to a network of swamps and an 'ice' burg with one resident."

The article concluded: "The start of construction is still in the unforeseen future, but Alaska has made its first down payment, showing the rest of the country that with power, influence and tenacity, we can make it to nowhere and beyond."

More surprising than 'little green men'

"A 16-year-old from Florida who traveled to Iraq on his own without telling his parents has left the country and is on his way home, the U.S. Embassy's consul general said Friday." ...

"His ride at Baghdad International Airport, arranged by the family friends in Lebanon, dropped him off at an international hotel where Americans were staying.

"He says he only strayed far from that hotel once, in search of food. He walked into a nearby shop and asked for a menu. When no menu appeared, he pulled out his Arabic phrase book, and after fumbling around found the word 'menu.' The stand didn't have one. Then a worker tried to read some of the English phrases.

"'And I'm like, "Well, I should probably be going." It was not a safe place. The way they were looking at me kind of freaked me out,' he said.

"It was mid-afternoon on Tuesday, after his second night in Baghdad, that he sought out editors at AP and announced he was in Iraq to do research and humanitarian work.

"AP staffers had never seen an unaccompanied teenage American walk into their war zone office. ('I would have been less surprised if little green men had walked in,' said editor Patrick Quinn.)" ...

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Clinton's Guantanamo

"The last several weeks have provided much giddy vindication for Democratic critics of the Bush administration, with the president now squarely on the defensive for his aggressive anti-terrorism policies."

"But Democrats, who've grown ever bolder in their attacks against what they consider a lawless executive branch, shouldn't saddle up their high horses just yet—at least when it comes to condemning the abuse of prisoners on Guantanamo."

"We sometimes forget that during the Clinton presidency, the United States ran an extralegal detention camp on Guantanamo—and went to federal court to defend its right to do so. The camp during the Clinton years was by no means the nightmarish operation it is now; certainly, there weren't allegations of torture.

"But Guantanamo under Clinton produced its own share of suffering and abuses—and perhaps most important for today, the court decision that shut it down was eventually wiped off the books, thanks to legal maneuvers by the Clinton Justice Department." ...

Friday, December 23, 2005

Google Zeigeists: 2005 and You

This week Google released a couple Zeitgeists.

The 2005 Year-End Zeitgeist shows "a few key events and phenoms to study, and predictably found the patterns to be amusing or bemusing, challenging or heartening—kind of like the year itself."

The other zeitgeist is a new feature in Google's Search History (which now appears to be rolled into Personalized Search): Trends. It "gives you a look at a list of your top searches and clicks and other info about your search activity."

It's quite interesting. It shows you're top searches, sites, and clicks. Then it breaks down your Google search activity into monthly and daily intervals. There it can show you your top queries, sites and hours when you search in any given month or day of the week.

Apparently I'm most likely to search for things on Thursdays. Also, 9pm is my most active searching hour. Most of my searching is between 7pm and midnight, and the second most active block is from 9am to noon.

Lastly, they have an intriguing feature at the end that tells me, "People with searches similar to yours also searched for:
  1. george washington
  2. current events
  3. huffington post
  4. maths games
  5. wtop
  6. the meaning of christmas
  7. one solitary life
  8. austin news

1 Chronicles 12: "Now these were the numbers of the divisions that were equipped for war, and came to David at Hebron to turn over the kingdom of Saul to him, according to the word of the Lord: ... of the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, their chiefs were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their command."

Obama shuns limelight, builds record

"He has checked his star power on the national stage by delving into a few carefully hand-picked issues—most with bipartisan overtones and centrist rhetoric such as the federal government's response to Katrina."

"But Obama hasn't shied away from the national stage completely.

"For starters, he has served as a money magnet for his party and for himself, easily raising loads of campaign cash for Senate Democrats, filling the coffers of his own political action committee and parlaying his new celebrity into a $1.9 million book contract."

"All this, Obama says, has been done with little effort on his part; he estimated he has spent about two hours a week on fundraising, a fraction of the hours other lawmakers put in working the phones."

"He chose a half-dozen or so mostly noncontroversial topics on which to carve a niche. And on those issues—which range from the government's preparedness for avian flu to destroying weapons stockpiles in the former Soviet Union—he has mostly crafted a moderate stance, often working closely with a Republican colleague.

"He went to Russia and the Ukraine with Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., to inspect weapons storage sites. He teamed up with Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., to offer a 'sensible center' proposal on the divisive issue of immigration reform."

"Obama said his interests converged with those of Coburn, the conservative Republican. 'Tom and I may not agree how money should always be spent, but we can agree that money should not be wasted,' he said."

"Obama's approach has mostly earned him rave reviews—from Republicans and Democrats alike—who say he is an open-minded, deliberative lawmaker.

"Coburn called him a 'phenomenal young man who will go to great heights.'"

"Ronald Walters, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, ... sees Obama as part of a 'new generation' of African-American leaders who are 'less strident, less demanding, less militant.'" ...

Thursday, December 22, 2005

From a baby girl to her mommy: beware the monster

Mommy,

I am in Heaven now, sitting on Jesus' lap. He loves me and cries with me; for my heart has been broken. I so wanted to be your little girl. I don't quite understand what has happened.

I was so excited when I began realizing my existance. I was in a dark, yet comfortable place. I saw I had fingers and toes. I was pretty far along in my developing, yet not near ready to leave my surroundings. I spent most of my time thinking or sleeping.

Even from my earliest days, I felt a special bonding between you and me. Sometimes I heard you crying and I cried with you. Sometimes you would yell or scream, then cry. I heard Daddy yelling back. I was sad, and hoped you would be better soon. I wondered why you cried so much.

One day you cried almost all of the day. I hurt for you. I couldn't imagine why you were so unhappy. That same day, the most horrible thing happened. A very mean monster came into that warm, comfortable place I was in.

I was so scared, I began screaming, but you never once tried to help me. Maybe you never heard me. The monster got closer and closer as I was screaming and screaming, "Mommy, Mommy, help me please; Mommy, help me."

Complete terror is all I felt. I screamed and screamed until I thought I couldn't anymore. Then the monster started ripping my arms off. It hurt so bad; the pain I can never explain. It didn't stop. Oh, how I begged it to stop. I screamed in horror as it ripped my leg off.

Though I was in such complete pain, I was dying. I knew I would never see your face or hear you say how much you love me. I wanted to make all your tears go away. I had so many plans to make you happy.

Now I couldn't; all my dreams were shattered. Though I was in utter pain and horror, I felt the pain of my heart breaking, above all. I wanted more than anything to be your daughter. No use now, for I was dying a painful death.

I could only imagine the terrible things that they had done to you. I wanted to tell you that I love you before I was gone, but I didn't know the words you could understand.

And soon, I no longer had the breath to say them; I was dead. I felt myself rising. I was being carried by a huge angel into a big beautiful place. I was still crying, but the physical pain was gone.

The angel took me to Jesus and set me on His lap. He said He loved me, and He was my Father. Then I was happy. I asked Him what the thing was that killed me.

He answered, "Abortion. I am sorry, my child; for I know how it feels." I don't know what abortion is; I guess that's the name of the monster. I'm writing to say that I love you and to tell you how much I wanted to be your little girl. I tried very hard to live. I wanted to live. I had the will, but I couldn't; the monster was too powerful. It sucked my arms and legs off and finally got all of me. It was impossible to live.

I just wanted you to know I tried to stay with you. I didn't want to die. Also, Mommy, please watch out for that abortion monster. Mommy, I love you and I would hate for you to go through the kind of pain I did. Please be careful.

Love,
Your Baby Girl

Proverbs 6: These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:
  1. A proud look,
  2. A lying tongue,
  3. Hands that shed innocent blood,
  4. A heart that devises wicked plans,
  5. Feet that are swift in running to evil,
  6. A false witness who speaks lies, And
  7. one who sows discord among brethren.

Luke: Original Christmas in Context

"In the Gospel of Luke, we learn that 'Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.' [Luke 2:1]"

"Luke is the only Gospel writer who links his testimony to political events of the day. And he shows how Joseph, in obedience to Caesar's command, returned with his expectant wife to the city of his ancestor, King David.

FRC: "As we labor here in the capital of the most powerful nation on earth, we frequently remind ourselves of this truth: the power we think we see being wielded in Washington, for good or for evil, is not the final word, it is only passing. God's plans and purposes may not be seen or understood, but they will be accomplished.

"We invite all those who hold office in this great marble city, this modern day Rome, to consider this great truth recorded in Scripture." ...

Our Culture of Distraction

"Personal computers, cell phones and high-speed Internet are considered essential to getting by for millions of Americans who are showing early signs of addiction to the next wave of high-tech toys, an AP-Ipsos poll found."

"The bill for being thoroughly plugged in to entertainment and communications runs more than $200 a month for a third of the households in this country. Four in 10 spend between $100 and $150 a month, according to the poll of 1,006 adults taken December 13-15."

"Almost half of personal computer owners say they can't imagine life without their computers. About as many cell phone owners say the same thing about their portable phones.

"The intense loyalty to high-speed Internet is a sign that people are getting hooked on newer technology. Almost four in 10 people with high-speed Internet say they consider it essential. About two in 10 feel that way about their DVD players, digital cable and CD players.

"'Our culture is about distraction, numbing oneself,' said David Greenfield, a Connecticut psychologist who specializes in high-tech issues. 'There is no self-reflection, no sitting still. It's absolutely exhausting.'" ...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Brits: What's Easter?

"43% of people in Britain in a recent poll couldn't say what Easter celebrated. Among the young—apart from those in faith schools—that number must be considerably higher."

"Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?" ...

"And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission."

"For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

"We love Him because He first loved us."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

China: Christians cannot help with AIDS

"Just weeks after President Bush returned from his Asia trip, Chinese Communist authorities have arrested 29 Christians for holding what Beijing calls 'an illegal religious gathering.' The arrested Christians are leaders in China's House Church movement.

House Churches are genuine Christian churches that are not under the control of the atheist government. The China Aid Association, a supportive group, reports that the Chinese Christians were meeting to coordinate efforts to help the large number of Chinese people recently infected with AIDS.

"China's deplorable record on religious persecution will be addressed, once again, in the U.S. State Department Report on international religious freedom. That report will be released today. FRC's Human Rights Counsel, Bill Saunders, will attend the press conference.

"Meanwhile, Christians around the world are protesting the Chinese government's cruel repression. U.S. Christians can write to:

Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong
Embassy of the People's Republic of China
2300 Connecticut Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20008

"You can inform yourself of the threats to religious liberty in China and elsewhere by referring to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. And, please, pray for our persecuted brethren in China!" ...

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Electricity, the aging benevolent dictator

"The U.S. power grid got little attention until the blackout of August 2003, which started when a few power lines in Ohio sagged into trees and shorted, cascading into an outage across an eight-state area of the northeastern United States, affecting 50 million residents. The blackout exposed the grid's vulnerability to negligence, accidental failures and terrorist attack.

"Like other metropolitan areas, the Washington region relies on a mixture of electric power that is either produced nearby or imported from more distant power plants over the Eastern Interconnection, the grid of high-voltage transmission lines stretching from the Atlantic coast to the Rockies."

The "56-year-old power plant on the Potomac River in Alexandria" about which this article begins is across the street from my apartment. Apparently, "since the Truman administration, the plant has been the principal source of electricity for downtown Washington," DC.

Besides being well-written and authored by Peter Behr who is "researching a book on the nation's electricity grid," I have grown to find this topic especially fascinating for a couple reasons.

For some reason, when people think about "electricity," they think it's about as interesting as economics, or congressional budgets. The truth is, all those topics are actually very interesting and of great consequence. They fail to capture the public's imagination or even attention because of their transparency.

Electricity is invisible. It's a means to an end. We have no idea how much we really use it or need it, until it's gone. What's a matter for nothing short of fervent prayer is what life is like when there is no power—when the lights don't come on; when the food in the fridge goes bad; when you can't see until morning; when your relationships with people around you change dramatically.

We've seen previews of how unraveled our society can become with grid failures and hurricanes. We run our own lives on electricity, and also every bit of structure that holds American civilization together today is inextricably sustained by electricity.

Without electricity, these United States would be little more than a third world country. We couldn't even hold 18th Century America status—then they actually knew how to live without electricity. Today, without electricity we have virtually no law enforcement.

All of our communication systems run on electricity. All of our physical mobility systems run on gas which is refined, pumped, and completely dependent on electricity. We've seen how people in every corner of society react when placed in such circumstances so extremely different than our normal operations.

As Behr points out, "business as usual doesn't assure that plants will be built where they're needed for secure electricity. There is no natural constituency for preventing a disaster that hasn't happened." Of all the pressure groups in Washington, none are advocating exclusively for better and more electricity.

The problem, politically speaking, is there's no controversy. Everyone agrees we need electricity. We haven't had an insurmountable hiccup in our electricity supply.

For those with the foresight to see the problem, the situation waiting to happen and the dramatic consequences to unfold, we can encourage our leaders to invest in infrastructure, pray about what we can do today for the future, and then prepare for what we can do once the inevitable chaos follows.

The other fascinating thing about electricity is Joy at Work is all about the way AES generated power under the leadership of Dennis Bakke. And Power Trip is all about corruption, assassination, and street-rioting over electricity in Georgia (the country).

Thursday, December 8, 2005

A Republican leading with moral authority

"The leader of the House Republican Study Committee, a group of 107 conservatives, says he has no intention of seeking the majority leader post in the House of Representatives should his party call for new elections to permanently replace Rep. Tom DeLay.

"But Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.) also wouldn't rule out the possibility, telling Human Events today: 'I'm not calling for leadership elections, and I have no intention, at this time, of seeking a leadership position in the Republican majority.'"

"Pence relayed the story of how he became chairman of the Republican Study Committee, suggesting he would need to make sure he was able to serve God and his values regardless of his future role."

"'I did not seek to become chairman of the Republican Study Committee,' he told Human Events. 'When I was approached a year and a half ago by the board of founders to be appointed to that role, there were a few other members who were interested in doing it. And I felt very strongly that the only circumstance under which I would accept that would be if we reformed the bylaws of the Republican Study Committee to embrace free elections within the caucus.

"'And we went through about a two-month period of negotiations, which included some of my colleagues saying, "We'll just appoint somebody who is willing to accept appointment." And I said, "Do that, that's fine." But I was not willing to accept the leadership of that caucus under circumstances that would not give me the moral authority to lead that caucus,' he added. 'And you can imagine how humbled and surprised I was when we did have elections, and the floor was open for nominations, and I was elected unanimously.'"

"'I really believe some of the progress we've made this year is a direct result of how I came to this position. I can say very sincerely that I do not feel called in my heart to seek any greater role in the Republican majority. But I also believe that my life is not my own. And that the Lord put me in this position to serve him and to serve the values I came here to advance. And however long I get to be in Congress—I will always evaluate my circumstances to determine whether with integrity I can serve him and serve those values. But that being said, I have no intention at this time of seeking a leadership position. And I am not calling for leadership elections.'" ...

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

NTM Appeals Venezuelan Expulsion

"US Evangelic[al] mission New Tribes Tuesday files an action with the Supreme Tribunal of Justice seeking annulment of Interior and Justice Ministry resolution 427 revoking the group's 50-year-old permit to operate in Venezuelan indigenous areas.

An impasse between New Tribes and the Venezuelan government emerged last April, when President Hugo Chavez ordered an investigation into the activities of the group in indigenous zones in the country for their alleged involvement in illegal mining activities and espionage for the US Central Intelligence Agency.

Marcos Brito, a director of New Tribes Mission in Venezuela, said there is no evidence supporting such claims against the religious group, adding that their members continue working as usual, because they were given a 90-day term to leave the country." ...

Saturday, December 3, 2005

High Return, Few Investing

John 4/Mike and Sus Schmitt:

"The fields are white for harvest." (35)

"He who reaps receives wages for eternal life." (36)

"The harvest is truly plentiful but the laborers are few." (37)

"Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest." (38)

Matthew 9, Luke 10

Primary Qualification: No qualifications

Steve Brown: "There's another reason I'm big on the Church … and it is the fact that when I'm a part of the Church, I'm a part of a club where the members are as bad, as sinful, as prideful and as screwed up as I am.

"And not only that, I'm a member of an organization where the charter states that the only qualification for membership is that the member not be qualified. Now, that's a club I can enthusiastically support."

NTM: Forced to sell to the opposition

"A half century of precious memories are attached to the land. Missionary children grew up there. Missionaries are buried there. Numerous work teams from churches labored to build homes, classrooms and dorms there. It's hard to lose such a place, but that's what's happening.

"NTM has exhausted all efforts to retain the property at Tamatama, the former school for missionary children. The Venezuelan government owns the land, but the buildings and systems on the property belong to New Tribes Mission. NTM Venezuela leaders intended to give the buildings to the tribal people living adjacent to the school, but have been informed that such a transfer can't be made.

"They have been told of a law that requires NTM to sell the buildings for at least 25 percent of the market value. Since the tribal people don't have access to such a sum, NTM is being forced to sell the buildings to those who have opposed the mission's activities.

"While missionaries are disappointed in the developments taking place in Venezuela, their greatest concern continues to be for the tribal people. They are the real losers in this contest between governments and ideologies." ...

Thursday, December 1, 2005

Blogging before the Internet

"Electronic communities existed before internetworking.

"For example the AP wire was, in effect, similar to a large chat room where there were 'wire fights' and electronic conversations.

"Another pre-digital electronic community Amateur (or 'ham') radio allowed individuals who set up their own broadcast equipment to communicate with others directly. Ham radio also had logs called 'glogs' that were personal diaries made using wearable computers in the early 1980s." ...

Bush Administration: Koran, yes; Bible, no

"A former Pakistani businessman and accused al-Qaida operative held two years at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has sued to get a copy of the King James Bible.

"Saifullah Paracha, 58, said he is entitled to a copy of the Bible, a scripture accepted by Islam, in addition to the Koran, which is available to Guantanamo detainees.

"In response to his Washington suit, U.S. officials said some books are withheld because they could 'incite' inmates." ...