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Sunday, July 31, 2005

Things I'm thankful for, 3

Taxes. (I'm not wanting to be thankful for more of them, but being taxed proves that someone thinks I have resources, and tax money provides some types of protection, infrastructure, and support for me, my family, and the community.)
Romans 13:7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (ESV)

Spam. (I'm not asking for more, but getting spam proves that someone out there can communicate with me.)

Weeds. (I'm not asking for more, but having them proves that things can grow, and being able to spot them means that I have some measure of intelligence. Being able to get rid of them means that I have some manual dexterity or ingenuity.)

I'm also thankful for chocolate, jicama, bananas, grapes, melons, applesauce, carrots, and lots of other plant foods.

Ice cream, whipped topping, pudding and yogurt, frozen and otherwise.

TV (at least some of the time), basketball, good roads, dependable city workers that remove trash and recyclables, repair water lines, and the like.

Health insurance (would that everybody in the US had it!) and medical personnel that usually seem to really want to fix problems.

Teeth, air conditioning, grass, ball point pens, checks, church, and electricity.

Eyes, vision, my opthalmologist, and people who make bifocals.

And, of course, I am, I hope, not thankful in the abstract, but thankful to God.

See previous posts, here and here, on this subject. I'm trying to be thankful for some things that I take for granted too much. I am also thankful for you, the reader.

(Addendum, November 20, 2006) See also some future posts (Thanks, Blogger!) on my gratitude for over a year of blogging, and for Carbon atoms. I also thank Rebecca for suggesting that November be a month of blogger gratitude emphasis. Here's another post (by me) on something I'm thankful for.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Sunspots 18

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

An article in the July 30, 2005 Kansas City Star states that the Harry Potter books are being accepted as not a threat by some evangelicals. Here's a quote "[Connie] Neal noted that Rowling has said she is a Christian who attends church." I accessed this article by using Google News, searching for "Harry Potter." The Star credits an author from the Dallas Morning News, so that newspaper probably has the same article. Some of the article seems to be based on "What Christians Think About Harry Potter," in the Jan-Feb issue of Faith Today.

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Why we don't notice it when we blink.

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Article in Harper's on how, as a nation, we are supposedly the most Christian, but our behavior is largely un-Christian. (article excerpt only, but there's enough there to make the point)

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Article in The New Atlantis exploring the ins and outs of video games in depth, including the implications of inventing or adopting new identities when playing. The average game-player is not a pimply adolescent, and some thinkers believe that some games are as artistically creative as great literature. (The author is not so positive)

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"New knowledge is never neutral; it is always a way of being in the world, a way of seeing our condition, a way of seeking truth, happiness, and virtue. Genetics is no exception, and genetic knowledge will never eradicate or eliminate those perplexities of life that require the kind of wisdom that no material science can ever offer." From another article in The New Atlantis, "The Real Meaning of Genetics"

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The same issue of The New Atlantis has an obituary appreciation for Star Trek and Star Wars.

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After checking Project Gutenberg almost daily for a few months, I finally realized that, in addition to books in text format, some with pictures, they have a few audio books, a few motion pictures, some data, including contents of human chromosomes and values of square roots, and some still pictures.

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This week's Christian Carnival has not been posted yet. It will appear, God willing, at Dunmoose the Ageless on Wednesday. I am posting this edition of Sunspots before the CC appears, in case a reader is interested in Harry Potter, and in case the news article disappears, or is no longer so easily accessible through Google News. I'll probably post another edition on Wednesday.

Thanks for reading.

Emergent Properties & Animal Behavior

In a recent post, I wrote about Heinrich's The Thermal Warriors, which is about the difficulty of coping with being cold-blooded, and the marvelous ways insects cope. To quote myself:

Although it's not at all the theme of the book, I guess that, for the sake of some readers, I need to discuss this marvelousness a little. It seems to me that there are three possibilities:

Marvelous mechanisms in biology are solely the result of chance.
Marvelous mechanisms in biology were created specially in each species, or in organisms that gave rise to families or genera of species that mostly have these mechanisms.
The capacity to change over time so as to develop marvelous mechanisms was part of the way the universe was created.

Let me consider these three possibilities a little further. In yesterday's post, I introduced the idea of emergent properties. The third possibility, if true, would be an example of this.

There are a number of theories of origins. This is not the time or place to consider all of them in depth, but I'll do a shallow consideration of some of them here.

Young-earth creationists would say that the second possibility must have been what really happened. God hard-wired some insects to behave in marvelous ways, either individually, or as social insects, to cope with the effects of temperature. Intelligent Design advocates would say this about some marvelous mechanisms, perhaps including these coping mechanisms. These groups may be right about this.

However, there are other thinkers, who also reject naturalism--the idea that there is no purpose to the universe, and no God--and who hold that there are emergent properties, built in to living things, or even into atoms, by an intelligent God. They might say, for example, that God planned and built Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen atoms so that they would form carbohydrates. They would also say that God planned living things so that they would use natural selection as a mechanism to cope with various aspects of their environment. Insects that began to act in certain ways had an advantage over those that didn't, and they produced more offspring.

Which is right? Hebrews 11:3, (By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which appear, ASV) as I understand it, says that we know about origins by faith. I don't believe it is possible to prove, or disprove, any of the three possibilities scientifically. I reject the first one, because my faith in God demands that I do.

God was capable of creating termites, say, with the ability to construct air-conditioning systems right out of the egg, and did so. If that is what happened, some species of termites had this ability immediately.

God was also capable of creating termites, or pre-termites, that were selected for this behavior. If that is what happened, some species gradually developed this ability. Which is correct? I don't know. However, as I see it, either of these shows an omniscient, omnipotent God at work.

Col 1:16 for in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him; 17 and he is before all things, and in him all things consist. (ASV. Other versions use different words for the last idea, such as the NLT's "he holds all creation together." As I understand it, they all imply that Christ is active in the universe now, in the present.)

The Bible seems to teach us that God did not just create the universe, and go off and leave it. Colossians 1:16-17 is evidence against that. So are at least the miracles of original creation; of the delivery of the Israelites from Egypt; of the incarnation, life, teaching, ministry and resurrection of Christ; and of the growth of the church--God seems to have intervened directly in events in what was, for humans, real time. Other events called miracles may have been the result of direct intervention at the time, or of pre-planning on God's part. Creating termites with air-conditioning ability would have been a miracle. So would creating organisms that could evolve into such termites.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Emergent Properties & Computer Consciousness

Emergent properties come about when lower-level structures create higher-level structures with properties additional to those of the lower-level structure. (If that made sense to you, you are probably a genius!) Here's the Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article on emergent properties. Here's the Wikipedia's article. The Wikipedia uses the shape and behavior of flocks of birds as an example. The flock has properties that individual birds do not. Probably the most common use of the term is to explain consciousness*. Some people believe self-consciousness simply arises, as a new property, when you connect a lot of neurons.

In a recent post, I discussed a book by Bernd Heinrich, which was about how insects cope with being cold-blooded. Some of the behavior exhibited by social insects, namely bees, ants, wasps, and especially termites, is remarkable. They cooperatively construct elaborate and effective ventilation and air-conditioning systems.

Heinrich, and most scientists, agree that there seem to be emergent properties in such behaviors. However, I am not aware of any scientists who believe that social insects have a single controlling intellect, somehow guiding the behavior of each worker. Rather:

Many of the bee's responses are shaped by social needs, and in that sense the colony is like a machine, or "superorganism," with different parts that contribute to the functioning of the whole. Although this analogy acknowledges the obvious, it is not generally useful in specifying how coordination is achieved. It does not reveal how the individuals react, or why they react, in the way that we know how the various organ systems are controlled to produce an overall effect in an individual organism. Ultimately, the functioning of the whole can only be understood by dissecting it and learning how, when, why, and to what the individuals respond. Bernd Heinrich, The Thermal Warriors: Strategies of Insect Survival. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, p. 180)

I was a little surprised to note Heinrich's use of "superorganism." There were, decades ago, influential thinkers who believed that there was, somehow, a collective consciousness in colonies of social insects, especially in African termites. Maurice Maeterlinck, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911, was one such. (See here, for an interesting complication to this.) J. R. R. Tolkien was not a scientist, of course, but this passage illustrates the idea:

As when death smites the swollen brooding thing that inhabits their crawling hill and holds them all in sway, ants will wander witless and purposeless and then feebly die, so the creatures of Sauron, orc or troll or beast spell-enslaved, ran hither and thither mindless; and some slew themselves, or cast themselves in pits, or fled wailing back to hide in holes and dark lightless places far from hope. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1963, p. 227.

Scientists of today would almost all agree with Heinrich: "Ultimately, the functioning of the whole can only be understood by dissecting it and learning how, when, why, and to what the individuals respond." Natural selection, in other words, operates at the level of the individual. There is no "swollen brooding thing" in an ant or termite colony. The colony doesn't become self-aware as more individuals are added. At least we don't think it does.

As I noted above, there are important current thinkers who believe that self-consciousness is an emergent property of intelligent animals. That is, simply having all those connections in the brain is enough to cause consciousness to appear. Perhaps they are right. We have not reached general agreement on what self-consciousness is, and how it comes about. Most Christians suppose that consciousness was somehow imparted to humans, as part of the image of God, but I don't think that we have any better idea than anyone else how to explain what it is and how it works, nor can we prove that, say, dolphins or gorillas do not have self-consciousness. It is possible that, indeed, I am self-conscious because I have more connections than some threshold. That could be God's mechanism for putting self-consciousness in humans, just as DNA is His mechanism for passing on characteristics.

There are important current thinkers who believe that computers now have, or soon will have, consciousness as an emergent property. Kevin Kelly, in an important article on the state of the Internet, 10 years after the Netscape initial stock offering, seems to be one such example:

When we post and then tag pictures on the community photo album Flickr, we are teaching the Machine [The global Internet] to give names to images. The thickening links between caption and picture form a neural net that can learn. Think of the 100 billion times per day humans click on a Web page as a way of teaching the Machine what we think is important. Each time we forge a link between words, we teach it an idea. Wikipedia encourages its citizen authors to link each fact in an article to a reference citation. Over time, a Wikipedia article becomes totally underlined in blue as ideas are cross-referenced. That massive cross-referencing is how brains think and remember. It is how neural nets answer questions. It is how our global skin of neurons will adapt autonomously and acquire a higher level of knowledge.

The human brain has no department full of programming cells that configure the mind. Rather, brain cells program themselves simply by being used. Likewise, our questions program the Machine to answer questions. We think we are merely wasting time when we surf mindlessly or blog an item, but each time we click a link we strengthen a node somewhere in the Web OS, thereby programming the Machine by using it.
Kevin Kelly, "We Are the Web", Wired, July 27, 2005.

I don't think it is possible to disprove this notion, for one thing because we don't have a good handle on what self-consciousness is, but it is certainly possible to doubt it. I seriously question whether, if I added more and more RAM to our family computer, it would eventually become self-aware. So do others, of differing religious and philosophical beliefs. Adding more and more bricks to a building doesn't make it self-aware. I haven't heard anyone propose that the global phone system, with its myriad connections, is self-aware.

Perhaps the time will come when computers are allowed to vote, or to join a church, or when they will inspire evangelization. (How would one become a missionary to computers?) I don't think it is here yet, and am not certain that it ever will be. If it ever does occur, it won't be a surprise to God.

*In this post, I am supposing that "consciousness" is the same thing as self-consciousness, or self-awareness. That's probably being a little too loose with words.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The War of the Worlds

My wife and I went to see the new film version of The War of the Worlds yesterday. It was a gripping experience. The rating was PG-13, but both of us wondered why it wasn't R, because of the violence. Most of the violence was a campaign of extermination, by aliens, zapping people, buildings, infrastructure, airplanes, you name it. There were only two examples of a human killing another, and the one involving a main character directly took place off screen. Above all, it was loud. There were very few quiet moments during the entire length. Something was crashing, exploding, etc., almost all the time. Sometimes it was difficult or impossible to hear the dialogue. (See here for Christianity Today's review of the film.)

There is a Wikipedia article on H. G. Wells, the author of the novel, and one on the novel, itself. The book, originally published in 1898, is available from Project Gutenberg. An audio version is also available from that organization. Orson Welles spearheaded a radio broadcast of the novel that caused a panic on Halloween, 1938, as many listeners thought they were hearing news, not drama.

Tom Cruise, who starred, was excellent. He has (rightly, I believe) been criticized quite a bit for some of his non-scripted pronouncements in the past few weeks, but, in this case, he portrayed a selfish, egotistical male, trying, apparently for the first time, to seriously take responsibility for his children, to perfection. This attempt by Cruise was the most positive aspect of the movie. How many parents, male and female, are really disconnected from their own kids? How many of us, whatever age, parents or children, are too self-centered to really care for anyone but ourselves? Too many by far. If it takes a disaster to change such attitudes, the disaster will probably have been worth it.

The story departed somewhat from H. G. Wells' plot. For example, in the book, it was clear that the aliens were Martians. This movie did not indicate their origin. In the book, the narrator is grateful to God for his survival:

Whatever destruction was done, the hand of the destroyer was stayed. All the gaunt wrecks, the blackened skeletons of houses that stared so dismally at the sunlit grass of the hill, would presently be echoing with the hammers of the restorers and ringing with the tapping of their trowels. At the thought Iextended my hands towards the sky and began thanking God. (From Gutenberg e-text)

Neither Cruise's character, nor, as I recall, anyone else, expressed any such sentiments in the movie.

In the original novel, the aliens are finally destroyed because they don't have immunity to our microbes, not by humans--we are almost powerless against them. The movie used Wells' idea:

For so it had come about, as indeed I and many men might have foreseen had not terror and disaster blinded our minds. These germs of disease have taken toll of humanity since the beginning of things--taken toll of our prehuman ancestors since life began here. But by virtue of this natural selection of our kind we have developed resisting power; to no germs do we succumb without a struggle, and to many--those that cause putrefaction in dead matter, for instance--our living frames are altogether immune. But there are no bacteria in Mars, and directly these invaders arrived, directly they drank and fed, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow. Already when I watched them they were irrevocably doomed, dying and rotting even as they went to and fro. It was inevitable. By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is his against all comers; it would still be his were the Martians ten times as mighty as they are. For neither do men live nor die in vain. (From Gutenberg e-text, unpaged. This passage, or one very similar to it, was read aloud at the end of the film.)

My wife asked how intelligent aliens could have overlooked microbes in their invasion planning, which is a good question. Never having been an alien, I'm not sure, but I suppose that the potential of microbes to invade and kill would, indeed, be easy to overlook, since we have been selected to resist most of the ones we have, and have learned to avoid, or destroy, many of those we aren't particularly resistant to. Even among humans, exposure to a new microbe, one that a particular population hasn't experienced before, is the most dangerous kind of exposure. The ending is at least somewhat plausible.

One sobering thought that came to me was the question of how, in the case of a real disaster, survivors might find each other. This fictional invasion destroyed most of our infrastructure, including phone networks. Landmarks were destroyed. The same could happen with a hurricane, an earthquake, a tsunami, a war, or a terrorist attack. Communication and transportation might become very primitive. A place where we had agreed to meet might be gone entirely, or very dangerous, for many reasons, or it might just be impossible to get there at all, or at the same time others did.

There may be many disasters left to befall the world, or even to me, before Christ's return. I should plan for them, I suppose, but should also realize that, whatever plans I make, they will probably be inadequate, and I am ultimately dependent on the Great Planner for survival.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Sunspots 17

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

There are hints of a possible connection between obesity and brain function.

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In The Philosopher's Magazine, a discussion of the right to life as an entitlement of whales.

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Screwtape, C. S. Lewis's fictional devil, has written a letter about how to tempt Christians who blog. (If you haven't read The Screwtape Letters, you should, and the Enemy is God.) At least one Screwtape essay by Lewis has been posted (possibly in violation of copyright).

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Interview with the producer of the current Battlestar Galactica, on the religious beliefs of the Cylons.

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Sara Christensen announces her first pregnancy.

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Speaking of pregnancy, Louise Joy Brown was born on July 25, 1978. She is the world's first so-called test tube baby.

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The most recent update of my page on the science and ethics of stem cells involved checking all the links. As of July 26, 2005, they all worked. I remain grateful to the former student, now graduated, who worked with me on this. I don't generally identify others, unless they have identified themselves, in this blog. My page, giving links to free computer resources of many types, including graphics, alternatives to Office, and others, was redone similarly on July 16th.

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Google lets you personalize a Google homepage for yourself, adding URLs, and content from various sources. I haven't figured out if there's a simple way to sort the URLs I added, and I haven't checked to see if I can enter any HTML into such a homepage. It's in Beta.

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Flickr now allows you to pick a more or less sensible URL for your photos, and your profile. This is my photo URL: The Flickr profile URL is established at the same time, so mine is now:

My profile indicates that two individuals I do not know, one from the Netherlands, and one from Japan, were kind enough to reciprocate when I added them to my photo contacts. Both of them have some excellent photos of plants and arthropods. Five individuals I do know have also reciprocated in this way. Thanks, friends! It's good to see your Flickr icons, all of which, like mine, are a thumbnail of your heads. I'm looking forward to seeing more photos from you!

We plan to do some serious travel next month, and I will probably not blog, but will post photos.

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Jason has recently been posting about useful or interesting Internet goodies.

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This week's Christian Carnival is here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Thermal Warriors by Bernd Heinrich

Heinrich is a noted scientist-writer, who has written several books. His Bumblebee Economics was a National Book Award nominee. His biography is interesting. He was born in Europe. He has been an exceptionally good long-distance runner. He observes animal behavior in the wild.

In The Thermal Warriors: Strategies of Insect Survival, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), he writes about the ways in which insects cope with being cold-blooded, or unable to internally regulate their temperatures. There are biological functions that don't work when the body is too cold, or too hot. The act of flying, which many insects do, requires a certain temperature to be possible. On the other hand, flying causes the release of heat, which can be just as deadly, or more so, than being too cold. Much of the behavior of insects is directly related to being cold-blooded, says Heinrich.

There are an abundance of mechanisms found in insects for such coping, and, no doubt, Heinrich (who has done much of this research himself) and others have only begun to find these mechanisms. The ones we have found are marvelous, indeed.

Although it's not at all the theme of the book, I guess that, for the sake of some readers, I need to discuss this marvelousness a little. It seems to me that there are three possibilities:
Marvelous mechanisms in biology are solely the result of chance.
Marvelous mechanisms in biology were created specially in each species, or in organisms that gave rise to families or genera of species that mostly have these mechanisms.
The capacity to change over time so as to develop marvelous mechanisms was part of the way the universe was created.

The first possibility is called naturalism. The second and third require some supernatural action. I don't think it is possible to prove, or disprove, any of these three (see Hebrews 11:3), but a person who believes that there is no such thing as an important supernatural entity is going to go with the first, and one who does so believe is going to go with either the second or third. This is not the place for a lengthy discussion of origins. (See here for a longer discussion.)

Although it's a good book, I wouldn't recommend The Thermal Warriors as much as several of Heinrich's other works, and the main reason is that he spends quite a bit of time discussing many different mechanisms of coping with being cold-blooded. Some of his other works would probably more interesting to most people.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Stiff by Mary Roach

Many readers and reviewers, including one of my daughters, have praised Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach (Norton: New York, 2000). Add me to that list.

Stiff is about dead people, and some of the things we do to them, or used to do to them. Roach is both humorous and respectful, which is a measure of her ability as a writer--to do both is difficult.

There are those who will disagree with me, who feel that to do anything other than bury or cremate the dead is disrespectful. That includes, I suspect, writing about them. Many people will find this book disrespectful. There is nothing amusing about being dead, they will say. Ah, but there is. Being dead is absurd. It's the silliest situation you'll find yourself in. Your limbs are floppy and uncooperative. Your mouth hangs open. Being dead is unsightly and stinky and embarrassing, and there's . . . [nothing] to be done about it. (p. 11)

Roach considers the emotional effects of dealing with cadavers. For example:

The contradictions and counterintuitions of the beating-heart cadaver can exact an emotional toll on the intensive care unit . . . staff, who must, in the days preceding the harvest, not only think of patients like H as living beings, but treat and care for them that way as well. The cadaver must be monitored around the clock and "life-saving" interventions undertaken on its behalf. Since the brain can no longer regulate blood pressure or the levels of hormones and their release into the blood stream, these things must be done by ICU staff, in order to keep the organs from degrading. Observed a group of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine physicians in a New England Journal of Medicine article . . . : "Intensive care unit personnel may feel confused about having to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on a patient who has been declared dead, whereas a 'do not resuscitate' order has been written for a living patient in the next bed." (p. 170)

Roach says little about religion, and seems to put forth no particular religious viewpoint. She is generally respectful, and occasionally humorous, about religion. She does point out that the Catholic church accepts the concept of brain death, and organ transplantation, but holds that death occurs when the soul leaves the body, not when the soul leaves the brain. (p. 216)

The things we do include using cadavers, not only in medical school gross anatomy classes, but in training surgeons, testing footwear for protection against land mines, making cars and planes safer, studying decay patterns for use in solving crimes, donating organs, and many other uses. Roach has investigated thoroughly, consulting experts, observing procedures, and tracking rumors. Her investigations included looking into dissolving bodies, and composting, as alternatives to burial or cremation. Both methods show promise as respectful, inexpensive, and environmentally benign, but culturally, we aren't ready for either on a large scale. Roach didn't write much about cremation or burial, except to note that cremation releases mercury into the air, from dental fillings.

It is hard to think of anyone who wouldn't be interested in this book--all of us, unless Christ returns soon, are going to die.

Roach concludes by indicating that she would like to donate her cadaver for use in training, but that her husband, like too many of the rest of us, is too squeamish to allow this, and he will have to make the final decision, if he outlives her.

The acknowledgements include many living people. They also include the cadavers Roach observed in her research, as they were designated by investigators using them, including H, who donated organs.

I agree with Roach--dead humans should be treated with respect, but this does not prevent us from using them to gain knowledge.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Give Me Your Heart


Words: Eliza E. Hewitt, 1898.

Music: William J. Kirkpatrick

“Give Me thy heart,” says the Father above—
No gift so precious to Him as our love;
Softly He whispers wherever thou art,
“Gratefully trust Me and give Me thy heart.”


“Give Me thy heart, give me thy heart”—
Hear the soft whisper, wherever thou art;
From this dark world He would draw thee apart,
Speaking so tenderly, “Give Me thy heart.”

“Give Me thy heart,” says the Savior of men,
Calling in mercy again and again;
“Trust in Me only, I’ll never depart—
Have I not died for thee? Give Me thy heart.”


“Give Me thy heart,” says the Spirit divine;
“All that thou hast to My keeping resign;
Grace more abounding is Mine to impart—
Make full surrender and give Me thy heart.”


Information from the Cyber Hymnal.

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P. S. posted July 24th, afternoon.

"Don't you mind him," said Puddleglum. "There are no accidents." C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair, New York: Macmillan, 1953, p. 131.

Our pastor's sermon this morning, a few hours after I posted the hymn above, was based on Matthew 6:20 "for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also." (ASV) He spoke of Livingstone, whose physical heart remains buried in Africa, because that is where his heart, in the other sense, was. "'He who is over all' decreed that while his heart should lie in a leafy forest, in such a spot as he loved, his bones should repose in a great Christian temple . . ." (The Project Gutenberg eBook of the Personal Life of David Livingstone, by W. Garden Blaikie, 1880.)

I have notes of a previous sermon on this passage, in 1996, by our pastor, in which he said that your heart has to do with:
1) what you value the most
2) what you would hate to lose most
3) what your thoughts turn to most
4) what affords you the greatest pleasure

I hope my answer is "pleasing Christ."

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

More on Flickr and Blogrolls

Brandy has implemented two Flickr features that I haven't yet, but which strike me as cool.

1) She has included an animated badge, which is a random presentation of combinations of thumbnails of the photos she has stored in Flickr. You'll see this at the left. You have to be a Flickr member, and have photos stored, to do this. If you are, click on the "What is this?" at the bottom of her badge.

2) In this post, she has her name spelled with Flickr photos. You can click on the "Spell with Flickr" link she has provided, and try it yourself, using other letters. If you don't like the photo for, say, a W, you can click on the letter, and Flickr will substitute another photo for you. You don't have to be a Flickr member to do this. Numbers, and some punctuation (at least the ! and the ?) are supported. There may be a length limit.

I have discovered something I didn't know. My Flickr photos weren't coming up in photo searches. I finally e-mailed Flickr tech support, and they responded quickly, and told me that the problem was that I had included some non-photographic material, namely two charts and two line drawings. Flickr restricted my entire account, so that no one could find one of my photos by searching for a keyword, because Flickr wants to major on photos, and most searchers expect to find photos when they search, not charts, line drawings, or textual material. I have changed this, and presumably my account status will be changed.

I have seldom used my own blogroll, but just did, and I'm glad I recently added Brandy to it. I use Bloglines to subscribe to RSS feeds, including blogs. Bloglines went down for maintenance. I used my own blog's (I can remember that URL--so far) blogroll to get to Brandy's blog, which URL I didn't remember.

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October 6, 2012: After a flurry of spam comments on this post, I am no longer allowing comments on it. In the remote chance that you want to comment on it, please pick another post, and indicate that you really wanted to comment on this one. Thanks.

P. S. I now use Google Reader, rather than Bloglines. I do have a blog roll in my blog. Brandy is no longer an active blogger, as far as I know. Sorry about that.

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Bioethics of C. S. Lewis

I'm tooting my own horn here, and also that of C. S. Lewis, which deserves it more, but doesn't need it. Besides, he's dead.

While on sabbatical at Bryan College from my appointment at Southern Wesleyan University, I attended the annual meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation, an association of scientists who are Christian. In conjunction with that meeting, I presented a paper, "A World is Not Made to Last Forever: The Bioethics of C. S. Lewis," which was subsequently published in the Journal of the ASA, now known as Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. Whoever controls the posting for this article cannot be convinced that my name is LaBar--a different spelling is given. I did write it, though.

Since the ASA has copyright, I am not posting the article, just this reference to it.

By bioethics, I meant both medical and environmental applied ethics. I wrote about Lewis' views, as I understood them from his writing, on what makes something a person, contraception, treatment of animals, and other issues. References are given to both fictional and apologetical writing by Lewis.

Lewis wasn't God, but his views were, and are, influential.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

I'm not Andy Rooney, but . . .

Andy Rooney usually complains about something. My response, as a very occasional viewer, is that I should have thought of that first. Well, here I am, a poor imitation. I don't expect any pay for this.

Why are there "Sports Bars?" A Sports Bar is an oxymoron--as I understand it, the people in Sports Bars just sit there, watch TV, and drink.

Did you ever think that golf is the only sport where the spectators don't usually sit down, and often have to move? Shouldn't hockey, tennis, basketball, or football fans have to stand and move, too?

Why do mail carriers in the US sit on the wrong side of their vehicles?

Why do people in mall or big store parking lots just sort of shove their carts into the corral, rather than pushing them in and telescoping them, so that they occupy as little space as possible? (Or not even use the cart corral, sometimes when it's close?)

Why do auto mechanics adjust the driver's seat, even to move a car less than 20 feet? Why can't they just let it be? (They also often change the radio station.)

Why is a law designed to let the authorities look into people's affairs with less restrictions than usual called "The Patriot Act?"

Why are so many school kids in the US above average, or special, according to the bumper stickers of their parents?

Why do news broadcasts spend so much time telling us what they're going to tell us, and so little telling us? (Exceptions: NPR and PBS--usually)

Why do a couple of people bitten by sharks get national coverage, when hundreds or thousands killed by drunken drivers, speeding drivers, or drivers with no driver's license make just local news, if that?

Why do US freeways have speed limits for trucks that are 10 or 15 mph slower than for cars? Such limits don't seem to ever be enforced.

Why is a US hospital emergency room so called? It should be a 24-hour care room, or health triage room, or health care room for people who don't have health insurance. And let's not even start on why we don't have universal coverage . . .

Why do we spend so much for US hospitals, and so little for schools? The hospitals are continuously under construction, and the technology is up-to-date. The schools are falling down, and many classrooms are technological disaster areas--if the Taliban had done this to us, we'd be sending in the troops.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Sunspots 16

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

A report in Nature, about a planet in a system with three suns.

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Article in Slate by a writer being trained in the techniques used in cloning, and how difficult they are. (The training session used rodent eggs)

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One blogger's take on the 15 most important science fiction works of the last 50 or so years.

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Brandy has changed her blog's appearance, in a couple of interesting ways.

She has been doing a study on the Names of God. She also e-mailed me about Science Devotions, a page of over 30 devotionals (sample: Viscosity, based on Psalm 22:14) from GospelCom. I intend to work through these. She has also mentioned the Bible Toolbar for Firefox, which searches Bible Gateway.

Thanks, Brandy!

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Article about the law and accessing a Wi-Fi network without authorization. At least one person has been arrested for doing this.

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Christian Apologetics Manifesto: Seventeen Theses, is good stuff. Like many of mine, longer than the average post.

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Truth and Blogging is a cautionary post from under the acacias.

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The Art of Science Competition Gallery has some awesome photos. They include a view of a Fallopian Tube from within a uterus, crystals, astronomical subjects, and much more.

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Science Magazine is not usually freely available on-line, but quite a bit of the 125th anniversary issue is. It features 125 questions that might be answered over the next 25 years, with 25 of these emphasized. They include "What is the Biological Basis of Human Consciousness?" "How Did Cooperative Behavior Evolve?" and 23 more. Each article is about a page long, written so that a reasonably intelligent non-specialist, or non-scientist, can understand the issues.

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Alister McGrath has an essay in Science and Spirit, on how science led him to Christianity. Quote, on Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene: "Atheism seemed to be tacked on with intellectual Velcro rather than demanded by the scientific evidence Dawkins assembled."

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About's Christianity: General page has acquired a new Guide. I personally appreciated the work of the former one, but the new person is, shall we say, more evangelical, hence probably more useful to some of my readers. The page does have an RSS feed. Warning: About puts up lots of ads.

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A Slate writer suggests that the old-fashioned periodic table is in the process of being replaced by this spiral one.

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This week's Christian Carnival is probably going to be late. I usually post Sunspots when I have publication information. Not this week. I'll probably post a link to the Christian Carnival when it is ready.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Martin LaBar and the Half-Recycled Blog Post

I haven't read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince yet, and don't expect to until the paperback comes out, or the local library finally gets to my name (the 52nd one, at the moment) on the request list.

There is some controversy in the blogosphere over whether the new pope (before he became pope) condemned Harry Potter or not. Jeffrey Overstreet has commentary on that at Christianity Today's Reel News. The current complaints against the books seem to mostly come from here.

I'm not convinced that the Rowling books are strictly tools of the devil*, and, more importantly, neither is everyone else. See here for an older post giving links on this topic.

Christianity Today has posted a chapter of John Granger's Looking for God in Harry Potter. (Granger thinks He can be found there.) The chapter is about the use of animals as symbols in Christianity, and in the Harry Potter books.

Beliefnet has a thought-provoking post on prophecy and Harry Potter, in particular, on how you might act if someone had prophesied about what you are supposed to do.

*A lot of things, including, say, blogging, if it prevents me from doing something else I should be doing, can be a tool of the devil.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Scientists on Stamps

I discovered that the US Postal Service released a set of 37-cent stamps honoring four US scientists in May of 2005. (See here for picture, which may be enlarged, and press release, which includes brief biographies of each.)

The four are Richard P. Feynman, Josiah Willard Gibbs, Barbara McClintock and John von Neumann. All four deserve honor. Feynman and McClintock won Nobel prizes. Gibbs was before the Nobel prize era. von Neumann's field was not covered by the Nobels. He did win an Enrico Fermi award.

Other U. S. scientists deserve a stamp, too. Here's my short list:

George Washington Carver (He had a coin made in his honor, also two stamps and a ship.)
Eugene Odum
James D. Watson (his most important discovery was made while he was in the UK)
Thomas Hunt Morgan
Rachel Carson
Linus Pauling
Joseph Henry
Edward Osborne Wilson

Who have I missed? Who is on the list who shouldn't be?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Prayer in the New Testament

My church, other churches I visit, and I, myself, don't pray according to the New Testament pattern. What is that pattern? Praying for other Christians.

I did a search for the word "pray," using the Bible Gateway, and the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. The KJV uses outdated language, but is in the public domain, so that I can include it on this page without violating copyright. A search for the word, "pray," without specifying whole words only, also returns such words as "prayer" and "praying." I searched the New Testament from Romans through Revelation, because I supposed that these 22 books give the best possible picture of the New Testament church. There were 59 occurrences of "pray," or a word containing it, in these books.

The churches that I attend spend most of their prayer time on people who are sick. I don't believe that there is anything wrong with that, but praying for the sick is not the emphasis of the New Testament. Of the 59 occasions mentioned above, only 4 seemed to be references to praying for the sick, and some of these were not certain, as they used the word "afflicted," which may refer to spiritual or other problems. (Please don't take the numbers given in this document as absolute. Using another version might have given a different count, and others might correctly interpret a meaning, where I have not.)

So, what did the New Testament church pray for? (Prayer, here, has the narrow meaning of supplication, or petition--asking for things. There should be other types of prayer, including confession, thanksgiving, and adoration.) Surely, if not for the sick, they must have prayed for non-believers to come to belief? Sorry, but that's not true. There are three references to praying for a brother (already a believer) who has sinned. The only clear reference to praying for someone to come to belief is this: Romans 10:1: Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. This is Paul's heart cry for his fellow Jews.

Perhaps the greatest mass conversion of unbelievers in history took place in conjunction with Pentecost. Although it is possible that the 120 disciples, meeting as described in Acts 1-2, were praying for non-believers, there's no evidence of that. It's hard to believe that they were praying for each of the 3,000 or so who came to belief, since this was a diverse group, people from several different racial and ethnic types, even speaking languages that the 120 didn't know. But the 120, especially Peter, were transformed, as a result of drawing aside and praying, and as a result of the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had told them to wait for the "promise of the Father," the infilling of the Holy Spirit, so presumably that's what they were mostly praying for.

So, what did the New Testament church really pray for? In two words, the answer is "each other."

In a number of places, Paul wrote that he prayed for other Christians, beginning with Romans 1:9: For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers. He described himself as Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; (Ephesians 6:18) and that he was constantly in prayer for the believers he had won to Christ: 2 Timothy 1:3: I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day;
Paul also wrote that Epaphras prayed for other Christians: Colossians 4:12: Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.
There are several other indications that Paul prayed for other Christians. Here are some of the things Paul prayed for, and, I believe, I should, also:

That other Christians don't sin: 2 Corinthians 13:7: Now I pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest, though we be as reprobates.
The wording in the NIV for the last portion suggests that Paul wanted to be sure the the Corinthian church knew that his motive was not so that he, the founder of the church, would look good, but that they should not sin, just because God doesn't want Christians to sin. All Christians are subject to temptation--Christ Himself was--so can sin. We shouldn't.

That the love of other Christians may increase: Philippians 1:9: And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;
And not just random love, but love guided by the Holy Spirit--Christ-filled love. According to C. S. Lewis, there are four types of love, corresponding to four different words in the Greek. The kind of love we should mostly pray for is the agape (agaph) love described in I Corinthians 13.

That other Christians might know God's will: Colossians 1:9: For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;
I suppose that this should be prayer for God's will for the life of the individual I am praying for, and also prayer for God's will generally--where does God want to work at this time, and how?

That other Christians might be sanctified: 1 Thessalonians 5:23: And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Merriam-Webster OnLine indicates that being sanctified means being set apart, and also free from sin. That should be me: set apart for God's use, and, so that God can use me, free from sin.

That other Christians may be worthy of God's calling: 2 Thessalonians 1:11:Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power:
How can we, imperfect, human, sinners that we are, be worthy of God's call on our lives? Obviously not at all, in our own strength. No wonder Paul prays for the Thessalonians, not exactly that they be worthy, but that they be counted as if they were. Here he also prays that these other Christians may do God's work.

That other Christians may effectively communicate God's message: 2 Thessalonians 3:1: Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you:
God wants His message to be communicated effectively. He wants us to pray that that will be so. God could have chosen to work without us (and sometimes He does) but He usually chooses to work through us. Prayer of this type is, apparently, a necessary part of God's plan to spread the gospel. If we do that, sinners will be saved.

In the letters of the New Testament, the readers were asked, and expected, to pray for Christians who were leaders. Here are some examples:
Romans 15:30: Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me;
2 Corinthians 1:11: Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.
Colossians 4:3: Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds:
1 Thessalonians 5:25: Brethren, pray for us.
Hebrews 13:18: Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.

And then, of course, we have the best example possible, namely Jesus Christ. One of His most important prayers is recorded in John 17. The heart of that prayer is verses 9 - 18:
9 I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.
10 And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.
11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.
12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.
13 And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.
14 I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
15 I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.
16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.
18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.

Christ's prayer was that Christians will be sent out into the needy world around us, and kept from the evil in that world.

Clearly, praying for other Christians is very important. I wish that I had done more of it, and that other Christians had prayed more for me. What should I pray for other Christians? What I should pray for them is that they become, or remain, pure in an impure world, and that their ministry be effective. I believe that these are the main things that the New Testament teaches that Christians ought to ask God for. (I should also thank God for them in my prayers.) This does not rule out praying for my own needs, and those of others, be they believers or not, but, it seems, if we place most of our prayer efforts on praying for other Christians to be pure and effective, God's kingdom can advance as it should, and many of the other things will take care of themselves.
For a much more thorough treatment of this subject, including scripture, see New Testament Verses on Prayer. It was published by Stand to Reason.

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My wife found a typo on July 25th, which I corrected. Thanks, and sorry.

I have also posted a list of places in Acts where a group of the members of the early church prayed together.

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On October 20, 2010, I found a typographical error, and corrected it.

I also noted, in reviewing the scripture used in this post, that there doesn't seem to be an example of prayer that Christians will have sufficient funds for their ministry.

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On March 7, 2013, I added the fifth paragraph, on Pentecost.

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On May 3, 2014, I posted this related bible study, on things that the New Testament says are in God's will, so that we can pray for them with confidence.
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On July 25, 2018, I re-did the search for the word, "prayer," and variants thereof, using the Blue Letter Bible, and the New International Version New Testament. This returned 72 uses of "pray" in the NIV NT, in 68 verses, plus 32 of "prayer," 21 of "prayed," 24 of "praying," and 3 of "prays." My search showed me that only 1 John 1:2, Acts 28:8, and James 5:14-16 mention praying for the sick.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Stratford, Ontario

My wife and I found Stratford, Ontario, by accident. We celebrated our 25th anniversary, some years ago, with a trip to New Brunswick. On the way back to Michigan, we drove into Stratford, looking for a night's lodging. The next day, we discovered that Stratford is a beautiful city in the summer, with flowers everywhere, and is also home to the Stratford Festival. At the time, we supposed that this, whatever it was, was a week or so of Shakespeare. It actually lasts from April through November, and includes a dozen or so plays, some by Shakespeare, some not. We went back later, with our younger daughter, and saw Camelot for the first time there. Our older daughter and son-in-law joined us for Fiddler on the Roof another year. All of us, except our grandson, had been there at least once before 2005. Now he has, too.

Some of you may have seen Renaissance Man, a movie in which Danny DeVito builds character in some army recruits by teaching them Shakespeare. Part of the movie is a visit to the Stratford Festival.

There's a lot more to Stratford than plays.

There are backstage tours and play-related seminars. There are art shows. There are flowers. Stratford, and other towns in the area, have hanging baskets on their downtown streets. Homes apparently vie with each other to have the most beautiful outdoor displays. One of our Bed & Breakfasts, the Avon and John, has outstanding grounds. (There's a small picture of them on the web page. If you go there, don't forget that prices are in Canadian money.) There's a park, a mile or so long, along the Avon River, flowing through the city, which can be walked. One year we walked it two or three days. That was the year we saw Victor Garber walking along, too. There are swans, ducks of various types, geese, and seagulls, some of these with young, swimming in, flying over, and begging along the River. There are many restaurants, bookstores, and shops in the downtown area, which is within walking distance of many B&Bs, as are the three theaters. There are three ice cream shops within a couple of blocks. Did I mention that there are flowers?

There are scenic towns nearby, too. I'll mention just one, St. Mary's.

We enjoyed Stratford, and hope to visit yet again. Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Travel Summary: Ohio, Michigan, Ontario

Lest there be any doubt, I claim no expertise in all of the areas listed in the title. All I can write about is my own experience.

My wife and I travelled to this area, and within it, for a few days in late June and early July. (We have done this several times previously) The previous post indicates the reasons. We are grateful to God for safety, and enjoyed our travel. Near Knoxville, TN, a pickup truck lost a clothes dryer in the freeway. A larger truck swerved to avoid hitting it, and came into our lane. I was able to avoid a collision. I don't know if everyone suddenly confronted with that clothes dryer in the road was also able to. I hope so.

Four generations
This is me, my mother, holding our grandson, and his mother, taken in my mother's house in Michigan. I don't recall what he was looking at.

My only other post on travel was on a much more limited scale.

Ontario is large
A word about Ontario. Probably most of my few readers are US citizens, and from the South, and have little experience with this Canadian Province. Ontario is large. It is adjacent to much of New York State, and continues along, and above, the US border all the way West to Minnesota. Its area is not as great as that of Alaska, but it is roughly ten times as large as Ohio, for example. Ontario borders on all of the Great Lakes except Lake Michigan. Toronto, the largest Canadian city, and Ottawa, the Canadian capital, are in Ontario. It's big, and has a lot of variety.

Travelling to Canada
US residents travelling to Canada should take birth certificates or passports (within a year or so, passports may be required--they aren't now) for re-entry into the US. US customs apparently looks at documentation for all persons entering the country. Canadian customs asks questions, but, in our experience, doesn't usually require documentation. Generally, transportation of alcoholic beverages, firearms, and live plants across the border are restricted, and you may be asked about these and other items in your possession when you cross, in either direction, or about what you have purchased. Under some circumstances, you can get a refund on tax on purchases in Canada when crossing back into the US.

It's probably a good idea to have your auto insurance company give you documentation of coverage for Canada before driving there. Ours, at least, will do so, free. I don't know what happens if you need to see a doctor in Canada.

Much of Ohio and Michigan, and the area of Toronto adjacent to the lower part of Michigan, are flat.

The Interstate highway system requires traffic exchanges, so that one road can go over or under the Interstate. In order to do this, it was necessary to create artifical hills. Often, this also resulted in the creation of artificial lakes and ponds, from which the hills were dug. You can see many of these in Michigan and Ohio (and elsewhere). I suppose that ecologists have studied these artificial bodies of water. If not, someone should. Many of them are beautiful. You can often see that they are used for fishing or swimming. The fish, if any, must have been introduced by humans on purpose.

To us, at least, flatness makes it harder to stay alert when driving.

The flatness of the land is advantageous to farmers, making plowing, planting, harvesting and cultivation easier. The soil in this area is usually good. There's a lot of farmland.

I was struck by the prevalence of members of the pea and grass families. We saw many fields, but only a few of these had crops other than corn, wheat (both grasses) alfalfa, and soybeans (both peas). My wife thinks she saw sugar cane growing near Findlay, Ohio, and is probably correct in her diagnosis, but sugar cane, too, is a grass. We did see a field of asparagus near Stratford, ON, but much of this area of North American is planted in grasses and peas.

Many flowers, as well as trees and animals, are found throughout much of North America. We hear mourning doves here in South Carolina, and have heard them in California. They are found in Michigan and Ontario, too. So are flowers, such as Queen Anne's lace and trumpet vine. Biology doesn't usually follow political boundaries, and, if it does, it's becaus the boundaries follow features of the land and water.

There are many homes that are a century or so old in towns and farms in Ohio and Michigan. Often these have character and are quite attractive.

Farmhouses and houses in towns in this section of Canada tend to be two or three stories tall, and brick veneered. Canadian homes and towns use flowers a lot. Canadian towns are, to us, more attractive than most small towns in the US. They don't seem as likely to have ugly areas.

Fast Food
Tim Horton's is apparently the most popular fast food chain in Eastern Canada. (There are nearly 1400 in Ontario, including four in Stratford, a town of about 30,000. There are some in the US) They are open around the clock, and serve coffee, muffins and doughnuts, cookies, sandwiches, salads and soup, as well as other items. They have more items than, say, McDonald's.

Thanks for reading. I expect to post about Stratford, ON, next.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Travel Hiatus over

In my last post, I declared a travel hiatus.

For the present, that hiatus is over.

Brothers, Mother and cake
My brothers, my mother, and I, July 05

(A larger version of the above picture is available to Flickr members--click on it, and select the larger size--or from me, if you ask for it. Flickr membership is free)

One of my brothers suggested, many months ago, that my parents' descendants get together in the area of my mother's home, in Southern Michigan, over the July 4th weekend. It was a good idea--thanks! One reason was to celebrate our mother's 95th birthday, which was actually two months earlier.

My mother, my three brothers and their wives, and eight of our ten combined children, most of them with spouses, plus our grandson, who is my mother's only great-grandchild, and some cousins, were able to get together for meals, showing slides, church--the three brothers present sung together, and fireworks. There were other activities. Our daughters, for example, decided to go canoeing with one of my brothers and one of our sons-in-laws. It was our younger daughters' first canoe trip, and, among other things, she and my brother overturned, and she lost her glasses. These were replaced the next day, and she seemed to enjoy the experience.

My wife took her turn in being responsible for a meal, and she and I and our offspring shopped for it. I bought some jicama, which I introduced to a brother, a sister-in-law, and my mother, while I was preparing it as a salad ingredient. They all said, as did the Wikipedia, that it was like apple in texture. Another brother, who has lived in Venezuela and Costa Rica for extended periods, was already familiar with it. The meal, of course, was excellent, and not because of the jicama, as were the other meals we had together.

My wife, our daughters and one son-in-law, and our grandson, then drove to Stratford, Ontario, where we met our other son-in-law, who had been unable to attend the gathering in Michigan. Our second son-in-laws' brother and his girlfriend, and his parents, were also in Stratford. We enjoyed five nights together with various combinations of extended family.

We are now back at home, where we expect to stay for several days. There is to be more travel later.

One comment on lodging: Our daughters are big fans of Bed and Breakfast lodgings. My wife and I had never, until this trip, experienced such. Like most things, they have plusses and minuses. Speaking from our meager experience, namely five different rooms in three B&B's in two municipalities, in two countries, one plus is breakfast. One minus is, so far, Internet access. There was none available in these establishments, not even dial-up. (My wife would say that this is also a plus!)

One of my funniest (to me, anyway, and I can say this, because I didn't write most of it) posts was an attempt to find out, from my ISP, if I could access the Internet from Stratford, Ontario. Yes, I did, but from the excellent connection available in the Stratford Public Library, not directly through my ISP, because of lack of connection in the B&Bs.

God willing, I will post about travel to the area in general, and Stratford as a travel destination, soon, then will return to more usual fare--books I have read, etc.

Thanks for reading.