Saturday, August 25, 2007

On Evolutionary Materialism, the Credibility of Mind and the binding nature of Morality

I have been heavily engaged in a discussion at UD, which started out on Darwin's 1861 remarks in a letter, in which he uses the term Intelligent Design or a near phrasing, in a humorous vein.

It unfortunately, and sadly (but then we are finite, fallible, fallen and too often ill-willed, desperately needing repentance, revival and reformation under God) soon deteriorated into a blog-quarrel.

I intervened at about 48 (starting from a recognition of how easy it is for us to all fall into moral failure . . .) on, when I saw that the above headlined issue was lurking in it. Since then there has been a very interesting exchange. [I have also had a side email exchange with one of the legions of the "banned from UD," which has a rather fast on the draw banning policy.]

Over the next week or so, due to business/ministry engagements, I will be incommunicado, do pardon. END

PS: I note with thanks that someone has stepped forward to make notes on Mr El Faisal's Boyne interviews, which aired a few days after the Dean side-swipe, and which are replete with typical Islamic apologetics/ polemical counter-Bible etc claims that would indeed confuse those who are not thoroughly grounded in basic Bible and well-grounded theology, e.g. regarding the Trinity (cf. also here) and the Incarnation, cf. here, here and here. In my experience, Paul will also come in for poorly founded but often persuasive rhetorical attacks. I intend to follow up in due course, especially on having in hand notes on the more theological interview, which may not have aired as yet. [Any volunteers to watch this and other key events and trends and make and pass on accurate notes . . . ?] My main discussion of Islam and its potential impacts on our region is here. Here is a discussion on the issue of Islam's claimed roots in Abraham, with a discussion on the modern history of Israel. This one here, on Dr Sultana Afroz's thesis that our African Ancestors were largely Muslims is also helpful, as is Prof Warner-Lewis' devastating article in response to Dr Afroz here. And, here is a declaration of principles and a call to action.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Full-frontal impact: Mexico and Belize

Sadly, after skirting several islands in the Caribbean, Dean has now strengthened to Category 5 (165 mph winds, gusts to 200 mph; according to Weather Underground this morning) and has had a direct impact on the Yucatan Peninsula, just north of Belize.

According to a current AP report:

The eye of the storm made landfall about 4:30 a.m. EDT near Majahual, a popular port with cruise liners located about 40 miles east-northeast of Chetumal and the Belize border, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Dean packed winds near 165 mph and was moving west-northwest near 20 mph across the Yucatan peninsula, on course to reach by Tuesday evening the southern Bay of Campeche, where state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos decided Monday to shut down production on the offshore rigs that extract most of the nation's oil . . .

Our prayers must go out to the people of Mexico and neighbouring Belize, and to those of Texas who are potentially threatened by its onward path. Later, we should reach out with help and comfort. (Perhaps, here, we can concentrate on northern Belize, given the vast difference in capacity between Mexico and Belize.) END

Some good news - relatively speaking -- from Mexico, courtesy MSNBC:
. . . The eye of the storm made landfall around 4:30 a.m. EDT [= Eastern Caribbean Time, or GMT - 4 hrs] near Majahual, a port popular with cruise liners and about 40 miles east-northeast of Chetumal and the Belize border, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Dean's path was a stroke of luck for Mexico: It made landfall in a sparsely populated coastline that had already been evacuated, skirting most of the major tourist resorts. The maximum sustained winds had dropped to 125 mph and the hurricane center predicted more weakening as it crosses the Yucatan . . . .

Dean was the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall since Hurricane Andrew in 1992 in South Florida, the [U.S. National] hurricane center said.

Thank God for small mercies . . .

PS: Many people, facing the raw impact and pain of tragedies or disasters, are understandably forced to ask "why?" Others, often see occasions of great disaster, as times to debate over perennial issues such as the problem of evil.

For the first, we need to reach out with comfort and prayer and help; they face a problem of distress and need to receive loving care.
And, that is part of our remit as those who serve God, to be his arms and hearts of loving care in a world that is not all that it was created to be, and which is under the process of redemption and restoration through Christ.

For the latter, they should first know that the deductive form of the problem of evil is -- after Plantinga's successful free-will defence -- an adequately answered objection to the God of the Bible.

(The inductive form of the problem remains as a challenge, but in the end such a question is an issue of seeking the best explanation across live option worldviews relative to what one experiences and understands. Thus, it too is more an issue for seeing the loving redeemer in action, and coming to trust him even where one cannot trace him, than of a matter of debate. So, let us postpone debates for a time, and simply reach out with prayer and comfort under the loving God who personally entered into our suffering so that he could draw the poison running in our veins into his, to give us his own pure health, freedom and purity. [For those who need to look at it seriously as an intellectual question, Campus Crusade's Leadership U has an excellent collection of resources here.])

Monday, August 20, 2007

The good news is: it's a side-swipe

Overnight, it has now become clear that Hurricane Dean in the end -- THANK GOD -- "only" side-swiped Jamaica, apparently curving a bit more to the West in so doing -- the Weather Underground satellite animation trended to Portland Point in southern Clarendon, on my take. Clarendon is Jamaica's physically largest parish.

("Semi-technical" note: Dean's track seemed to wobble between WNW and W, from out in the Atlantic on, indicating that the natural tendency to hook right for anything moving other than dead E or W in the Northern hemisphere -- an effect of so-called Coriolis Forces -- was being in part suppressed by steering forces, in this case the high pressure ridge to its north. BTW, there is a NOAA Mariners' 1-2-3 rule of thumb on hurricane track predictions: on days 1 to 3 out, the fan of likely deviations from the current track are 100, 200 and 300 nautical miles wide, which are about 1/5 bigger than statute miles. This is very useful for Cape Verde hurricanes, which tend to have a much more "predictable" track generally to W to WNW, hooking further as they reach either the NE Caribbean if they hit here, or towards the Gulf or Yucatan if they reach there, sometimes recurving all the way to the NE in the Gulf or in the US or off the E coast of the US. If the speed of advance is about 20 mph, that translates into roughly 500 miles per day, or about two days to cross the Caribbean from the EC to Jamaica. As a further, personal observation-based "rule," if hurricanes break into the region at about the level of Barbados, or if they have a very westerly track and break into the region a bit south of Antigua etc, they "often" seem to head Jamaica way -- in either case it seems the high Mountains of Hispaniola [?] and/or weather conditions to the north tend to steer them towards the S side of that Island, lining up Jamaica, the Caymans and Cuba as well as the Yucatan (which includes Belize). Hurricanes that go N of the region tend to head for the US E Coast and/or Bermuda. These are of course very rough personal impression pointers, and hurricanes are very hard to actually predict. Hurricanes that form in the W Caribbean off Honduras and Nicaragua etc, are far less predictable, from my impressions. I think the most notorious case in point in recent years was the zig-zagging Hurricane Gordon of 1994. That hurricane also underscores that it is not just wind that is damaging: rain and knock-on effects can be devastating too. In coastal areas, storm surges [up to 20+ feet with strong storms] and associated high sea waves that ride on the back of the surge [easily up to dozens of feet in some cases] have historically been major destroyers and killers too.)

Dr Jeff Masters of Weather Underground observed, as at 23:21 hrs GMT last evening [or 7:21 pm EC time or 6:21 pm Jamaica time]:
It could have been much worse, but it is very bad for Jamaica. Hurricane Dean's northern eyewall is just offshore the southern tip of Jamaica, bringing sustained Category 2 hurricane winds to southern Jamaica. A recent wind analysis prepared by NOAA's Hurricane Research Division (Figure 1) at 3:30pm EDT today shows winds of Category 1 strength (>65 knots, or 74 mph) already affecting the east end of the island. By extrapolating this wind field over the island to the west-northwest, in anticipation of Dean's track, it is apparent that perhaps 90% of the island will experience sustained winds of 74 mph or greater. At 4pm EDT, Kingston, on the southern side of the island, recorded sustained winds of 81 mph before the instrument failed. We can expect that the southern 1/3 of the island, including Kingston, will receive sustained winds of Category 2 strength--96 to 114 mph. Category 3 and higher winds will be confined to the southernmost 5% of the island, and it appears that the Category 4 winds will stay offshore. The portion of the island affected by the Category 3 winds is very sparsely populated.

Jamaica will probably suffer a billion dollars in damage from Dean, perhaps more. The high winds and rains of up to 20 inches will no doubt claim lives, though probably not nearly as many as the 45 who died during Hurricane Gilbert of 1988. Gilbert cut straight across Jamaica as a Category 3 hurricane with 125-130 mph winds, doing $4 billion in damage. Kingston measured sustained winds of 116 mph during Gilbert; I expect the top winds in Dean will be 10 mph slower than that. [NB: with a speed nearish to 100 mph and the physical science fact that power in the wind goes as the cube of wind speed, that makes for about 1/3 less destructive power, using the Taylor series expansion (for those who want to know where that comes from . . .). Of course, the official numbers on Gilbert were not necessarily the values experienced in particular sites, such as the Mona Campus where I was for Gilbert -- the winds as the eye turned were particularly impressive as I recall, perhaps in part due to funneling up the Hope river valley and rushing over the lip of the bluff.]
Now of course the Caymans are in the sights so to speak, and let us pray for God's protection there and onward in the Yucatan and Pinar del Rio Cuba, etc. AP/Yahoo adds to the above:
Authorities in the Cayman Islands imposed a curfew and evacuated tourists as the British territory braced for a brush Monday with Hurricane Dean, which has left a trail of destruction across the Caribbean killing at least eight people.

Dean was expected to pass to the south of the Caymans but the government said it still posed a "significant threat" to the islands. Forecasters said the islands could receive up to 12 inches of rain . . . .

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the first hurricane of the Atlantic season was a powerful Category 4 storm, and could reach the highest level — Category 5, with maximum winds greater than 155 mph — later Monday.

As of 2 a.m. EDT Monday, Dean was about 150 miles southeast of Grand Cayman and was traveling west at 20 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 150 mph, up from 145 mph Sunday.

Perhaps most interesting of all is Rev. Gerry Seale's Update 4, of Sunday morning, which notes:

Dr. Jeff Masters at asked this morning: “Can Jamaica pray away Hurricane Dean? The official forecast and nearly all of the computer models have put Jamaica in the bulls-eye for several days now. But hurricanes have a funny way of taking 11th-hour wobbles that spare the island a direct hit. Witness the remarkable turn Hurricane Ivan took in 2004, as it headed directly for the island with 145 mph winds. Ivan took a sudden turn 35 miles from the island, traced out an exact outline of the island's coast 35 miles offshore, then resumed its previous track. In the Jamaica Observer, Custos of Kingston , Reverend Carmen Stewart, contends that it was not the first time that prayers had influenced the turn of events when disaster faced Jamaica . "It has happened time and time again," Reverend Stewart says. "I know people have been praying and I don't see any other reason why it (the hurricane) would make such a drastic turn.... God hears prayer.” ”

Our resounding response is, “Yes, God can.” As we have been praying the projected path of Hurricane Dean has moved to the south of Jamaica . The island will still be in a very serious situation in the next few hours as the worse winds tend to be in the north eastern quadrant of the storm and this quadrant will be impacting Jamaica . Please continue to pray.

And though the damage and several deaths [up to eight it seems] is a tragedy, things could have been much, much worse. However, I am deeply concerned to note from the AP report, indicators that in Jamaica many people seemed to ignore credible warnings of the serious hazards they were running from Dean:
. . . The government [of Jamaica] set up more than 1,000 shelters in converted schools, churches and the indoor national sports arena. Authorities urged people to take cover from the storm, which had maximum sustained winds of 145 mph and could dump up to 20 inches of rain.

But only 47 shelters were occupied as the storm moved in, said Cecil Bailey of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management. More people trickled in later.

George Lee, mayor of the Portmore community near the Jamaican capital Kingston, said appeals to evacuate went unheeded. Some islanders said they were afraid for their belongings if they moved to shelters.

Property, though painful to lose, can be replaced. Lives cannot -- and of course our Lord warns us that it is no profit to gain the whole world but at the expense of losing one's soul. So, let us put this all into perspective.

May God grant us all his grace, and now it is time to move on to the disaster response, recovery and sustainable rebuilding phases in Jamaica and Hispaniola, as in the Eastern Caribbean. END

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Dean at the Door

Back in 1979, the Nation newspaper of Barbados had a headline, with an associated vivid front page satellite photo: David at the Door.

David went on to side-swipe Barbados, and gave Dominica a heavy, devastating, direct hit.

This morning, Dean is at Jamaica's door, and Accuweather forecasts that it is likely to closely side-swipe Jamaica's south coast. While that is better by far than a direct hit, it must be recognised that Dean has rapidly strengthened to Category 4 (which it apparently still holds as at 2 AM EDT, with (a) 145 mph winds, (b) lack of upper atmospheric wind shear and (c)surface water at 84 - 85 degrees Fahrenheit -- all favourable to strengthening or sustaining the current strength) and that even a side swipe of such a dangerous hurricane is potentially devastating if not utterly catastrophic.

Accuweather also adds:

Dean is being steered by a persistent mid to upper level ridge of high pressure to its north and this pattern should continue through early next week. An upper trough of low pressure shifted west across Florida Saturday morning and it continues to move quickly to the west toward the central Gulf of Mexico. This is allowing that persistent ridge of high pressure to also shift west and maintain itself to the north of Dean, so a track more to the west-northwest is favored through the weekend and early next week. This will bring Dean just to the south of Jamaica later Sunday and to the south of the Cayman Islands early Monday. It will then move across the Yucatan peninsula later Monday night into Tuesday. Latest Global models are trending south and that is supported by the strong upper level ridge that should maintain itself to the north of Dean. This would favor another landfall farther south into Mexico midweek which would be better news for the U.S.

Dean's central pressure dropped over 9 millibars Saturday evening and hurricane hunter aircraft found a double eye-wall structure so there is some indication of eye-wall replacement and that the winds could strengthen overnight possibly causing Dean to reach CAT 5 strength on Sunday. It is looking more and more likely that Dean will cause torrential and flooding rainfall, damaging and catastrophic winds, coastal flooding, and serious mudslides to the Island of Jamaica Sunday afternoon into Sunday night. Its interaction with Jamaica will disrupt the intensification process slightly, but by Monday, the hurricane will be over very warm water in the northwest Caribbean. Satellite and ocean sensors suggest the water over the western Caribbean is the warmest in the entire Atlantic Basin. The warm water is very deep, providing a lot of potential energy for Dean.
This is indeed truly one for prayer and also for organising support and relief from now. (It is also not without relevance to note that this disaster threat comes just over a week before a scheduled General Election August 27, which has potential to be of major, generational significance for government under God in Jamaica. A run-up that, sadly, has been marred by violence.)

Here in Montserrat, we were on the fringes of the storm-force effects on Friday, in a week where I confess I was busy on several major local and blog visit issues, leading to a week's pause on the blog.

To briefly summarise, we had minor damage consistent with my personal estimate that we saw gusts to 40 - 50 mph; e.g the house where we live in a downstairs apartment lost several asphalt shingles, and due to power poles going down and the like, we (as was true for many others) were without power for much of the day.

Farmers of course took losses, and we have yet to see the full reaction of the 208 million cubic metre volcanic dome that has been sitting there since April, to the rain that accompanied the storm. (BTW, we should note that over the past three weeks or so, evidence has emerged that points to a recharging magma chamber some 4 miles under the mountain, with an upsurge in sulphur dioxide emissions to at times over 3,000 tone per day [about 10 - 20 times what has been the usual case in recent months] and stretching of GPS survey lines indicative of a straining of the earth due to fresh magma in the chamber.)

The Rev'd Dr. Gerry Seale of the Evangelical Association of the Caribbean has compiled and circulated some important information on what Dean has already done, and what it may do. I take liberty to cite his newsletter, circulated Saturday morning:

Barbados: Relatively little damage with a few trees and utility poles across the road. These have already been dealt with and businesses re-opened yesterday, Friday.

St. Vincent: Relatively little damage with some coastal damage in the north of the island.

St. Lucia: Houses in the north of the island damaged. The roof of the pediatric ward of the hospital blown off, but patients were relocated prior to the roof coming off. Some coastal damage. One man lost his life while trying to save a cow being swept away by a swollen river. No reports yet of church buildings damaged.

Martinique: Pastor Jean-Marc Montout has reported “Numerous roofs are blown away, most of the trees are on the ground, and there is no water and no electricity. Of course the plantations (banana and sugar cane) are down.” There is a report of one person dying of a heart-attack during the hurricane but it is not as yet known if this was hurricane-related. I do not yet have specifics of any damage to church properties. Martinique , a French Department, was the worst affected among our group of islands.

Dominica: A number of homes were damaged. About 1,000 people were housed in some 100 shelters during the hurricane. Two persons lost their lives—an adult and a child—when a mud slide covered the house where they were sleeping. There is extensive damage to banana crops, the main agricultural product in Dominica . I have received a report of the roof of a church building in Battica having been blown off—this is a small pioneer congregation.

He adds the following very important urgent prayer requests and comments:

Hurricane Dean is strengthening and is on a course to pass over Jamaica , the Cayman Islands and the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Preparations are under way in all these places but there is not much that can be done in the face of a major category 5 hurricane (super typhoon). Please pray for God’s sovereign grace in each of these countries to protect our people.

Jamaica: In the last couple of years Jamaica faced two major hurricanes, including Hurricane Ivan. On both occasions the hurricanes were travelling straight at Jamaica and as God’s people interceded the hurricanes changed course and went around the island—one to the left and the other to the right. Let us petition God to do it again.

Cayman Islands: Hurricane Ivan devastated this small island community and they are still working to recover. Another battering by a major hurricane is almost unthinkable. Let us pray that God would graciously spare our people in the Caymans on this occasion.

Yucatan Peninsula : This part of Mexico is struck regularly by hurricanes, including several major hurricanes in recent years. While I do not have a lot of information on this peninsula I know that damage and death has been visited here by these hurricanes. Let us cover them in prayer for God’s protection.

Cuba: A northward turn and Dean will slam into Cuba . Cuba has the largest population of any island in the Caribbean—there are more people living in Cuba that in the whole English-speaking Caribbean . Let us watch and pray.

Haiti: Dean is not expected to hit Haiti head on. However, the hurricane is so large that the edges of the storm will pass over Haiti . Torrential rain will result in severe flooding and loss of hundreds of lives. Let us intercede for our Haitian people.

Gulf of Mexico: It is difficult to say where Dean will go after it crosses the Yucatan Peninsula and enters the Gulf of Mexico . It could turn left and hit Mexico , go straight on up into Texas or veer right and head for the Mississippi/Louisiana/Alabama coast. We pray.

The only thing that might at this stage reduce the effect of Hurricane Dean is if the winds in the upper atmosphere increase and take the top off Dean. The forecast is for these winds to remain very low and for a high pressure ridge to keep pushing Dean along to the West. Our God is able. Let’s talk to Him.

I am in touch with World Relief Corporation in the USA and we will be looking at ways in which we can respond in the days ahead. Pray for generous donors so we can be a real help to the most vulnerable and needy.

Pleas pass this prayer request on during the next 24 hours (10:00 a.m. August 18 to 10:00 a.m. August 19) so as to generate much prayer.

Let us pray, and let us act.

May God help us to understand, too, that we must adapt to the challenges in our environment, and should so far as we are able avoid putting ourselves in the path of unnecessary hazards, e.g. we should not denude hillsides [planting Vetiver or "Khus Khus" grass helps], we should not settle in flood plains or mangrove swamps [e.g. Portmore, Jamaica], and we must seek ways to help our poor to find a way that does not force them to settle and make their living in ways that worsen the dangers they face from potential natural disasters.

So, let us move our ways of life and development approaches to those that are more sustainable in light of the forces and challenges in our environment. END

Friday, August 10, 2007

Mat 24 watch, 31: Updates on Jamaica's El Faisal, as he embarks on a PR campaign

An alert reader -- thanks, Reader X -- notes that on Wednesday August 8th, El Faisal, the Jamaican-born, Saudi-educated Imam recently deported form Britain because of his conviction in open court on charges related to evidence of his promotion of terrorism in the UK, was interviewed on a morning TVJ programme in Jamaica.

He is apparently due to talk tomorrow, Aug 11th, at Jose Marti Secondary School on "Fifteen reasons why Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world"; of course, actually, over the past Century, that position has belonged consistently to the Christian faith.

Reported highlights of the interview include [with my comments in square brackets]:
--> "no other religion gives an explanation of God." [Of course, in Islam, God is, strictly speaking, inscrutable, and in the Christian Faith, Jesus, the Logos makes God known to us in fullness and grace!]

--> "Christianity blasphemes e.g. refering to Mary as Holy Mother of God." [This reflects Islam's misunderstanding of and hostility to the Eternal Sonship of Christ and his incarnation via virginal conception and birth; through Mohammed's confusion of authentic Christian teachings with distorted heresies current in Arabia, and also apparently with pagan myths of gods and their proclivities for pretty girls.]

--> ". . . arguing that women are treated well in his religion e.g. forced marraigae is not allowed altho' some do it." [A bit hard to defend not only in light of the recent case of the kidnapped professor in Gaza discussed on Monday, but also the notorious track record of the Taliban, and current goings on with the 21 surviving Korean Christian hostages (16 women, 5 men) who were in Afghanistan as volunteer health aid workers from a church group, when they were kidnapped. Two of their number, including their pastor, have already been murdered by their abductors.]

--> ". . . referring to the heathen, then quickly added that the heathen are the enemies (or words to that effect) of his religion. In other words he implied that he was not talking about everyone who are not part of his religion." [The Quran encisions two classes of outsiders, [1] People of the Book -- i.e of recognised religions such as Judaism and Christianity, who are subjected to Apartheid-like Dhimmitude under Islamist rule, and [2] "heathen" -- i.e everyone else, subject in principle tot he choice of conversion to Islam or being put to the sword.]

-> " . . . said he did not incite the London bomber as a taped Will was left in which the culprits referred to the system as the cause (my words)." [As linked above, according to a CNN report
made at the time of his trial, some of the tapes made by El Faisal in the UK, which were on sale and formed part of the evidence of his incitement to terrorism, include titles such as: " "Jihad," "No Peace with Jews" and "Them Versus Us"." According to the Guardian of the UK, these tapes played a central role in his trial, conviction, gaol term and subsequent deportation. Indeed this Guardian report noted that: "[An] Old Bailey jury found El-Faisal guilty of three charges relating to inciting racial hatred as well as three charges of soliciting murder. He was remanded in custody for sentencing on March 7. El-Faisal had denied five charges of soliciting the murder of non-believers, Jews, Americans and Hindus, and four charges relating to inciting racial hatred . . . " Indeed, the Sunday Times of London in 2006 "discovered that Hamid Ali, of the Al-Madina Masjid mosque in Tunstall Road, Beeston had described the bombers of 7/7, who killed 52 people in London Transport last year, as al-Faisal's "children"."]
In short, we are dealing with a clever, manipulative, misdirecting and misleading operator, here. It is therefore worth pausing to cite from one of those tapes, which according to the Guardian report just linked, has in it the counsel that:
. . . el-Faisal urged Muslim women to "bring up your male children in the jihad mentality."

"So when you buy your toys for your boys you buy tanks and guns and helicopter gunships and so forth. The way forward can never be the ballot. The way forward is the bullet."

"How wonderful it is to kill the Kuffar [i.e. unbeliever/ heathen].
You crawl on his back and while you push him down into hellfire you are going into paradise."

Another of his jihad tape contains the words: "So you go to India and if you see a Hindu walking down the road you are allowed to kill him and take his money, is that clear?" [According to another BBC report, they were sold "at specialist Islamic bookshops" (itself highly telling!) Emphases added.]
Immediately, one sees that for instance, when Mr El Faisal speaks of "heathen" he is referring to plundering and even murdering a whole class of people simply going about the ordinary affairs of life, not to active and specific enemies of Islam.

One therefore hopes that Mr Ian Boyne in his proposed TV interview next week, will hold Mr El Faisal closely to the credible facts, based on having dome serious research.

Otherwise, he will simply contribute to the ongoing naivete of the Caribbean in the face of radical Islamist ambitions and agendas. END

Monday, August 06, 2007

August Monday 2007 roundup . . .

Today is August Monday here in Montserrat, a day for celebration of the Emancipation of August 1st 1834. (It took four years of Apprenticeship before all former slaves across the Caribbean were fully free.)

Let us, first, therefore not forget the sacrifice of many here in the region and in the Britsh Isles and elsewhere, who took up a very unpopular cause because they were convinced it was right, and against all odds, won the day. And, let us reflect soberly on how we have used God's precious gift of freedom.

Now, too, I have been slowed down considerably by an ongoing engagement on a blog visit over at UD. While that has been happening, a lot of developments worthy of blogging have been piling up.

So let's just do some brief notes and links, not necessarily in any order of relative importance:

1] On breaking codes . . . Potter and Da Vinci

In the first of these two stories, Linda Harvey pointed out on July 18th, how the consistent characterisation of "Muggles" in the popular Harry Potter books as bullying, hypocritical, blundering oppressors of the magical, may well in context be read as indicting those of us who adhere to the West's Judaeo-Christian value system, as Pharisaical, party-spoiling hypocrites. [BTW, early reports are that the latest book to come out, is sharply darker in tone than previous books, and it seems that six of Potter's friends die at the hands of the evil Voldermort in the course of the book.]

A couple of weeks back now, Slavisa Pesci caused an online sensation by superposing the image of Da Vinci's The Last Supper with its mirror image. The claimed result was: "superimposing the "Last Supper" with its mirror-image throws up another picture containing a figure who looks like a Templar knight and another holding a small baby . . . . In the superimposed version, a figure on Christ's left appears to be cradling a baby in its arms, Pesci said, but he made no suggestion this could be Christ's child . . "

Given the widespread fascination with Mr Dan Brown's speculations, the resulting Internet stampede caused the relevant web sites to crash, and as of the last count my check on the images leads to a substitute page without the images. [Of course, Da Vinci was in no position to say anything of consequence on the history of the First Century, 1400+ years before his time.]

2] Worried about Second Hand Smoke? Try out Laser printers for a change . . .

It seems that some laser printers give off microparticles while printing. In offices that use split unit air conditioners -- which only recycle the air in teh room -- this can be a problem: " That laser printer sitting on your desk could be emitting high levels of potentially hazardous particles, according to a study published today. Some printers released almost as many ultra-fine particles as a smoldering cigarette, the study authors said . . . . The emissions varied widely among printers. Morawska and her colleagues classified 37 printers as non-emitters, eight as medium or low emitters, and 17 as high emitters. Among the machines that had no emissions were eight HP LaserJet 4050 series printers and four Ricoh Aficio models. High emitters included the HP LaserJet 1320 and 4250, which, when printing, increased the particle number in the air more than tenfold. The study did not consider variables such as printer age or cartridge type, leading to variations even among printers of the same model. The scientists noted that they found one HP LaserJet 5 to be a high emitter, while another was a non-emitter. Hewlett-Packard, maker of the LaserJet printers, responded that it tests all products for dust emissions and follows international health and safety requirements."

So if you print, it would be wise to prefer say an ink jet printer for most work, and to make sure to vent the air after heavy printing.

3] Spiritual suicide of the West Watch . . .

A recent poll has shown a dangerous spiritual trend in the USA, which through its media presence has a great impact in our region:
. . . Americans are growing progressively more skeptical of the existence of God and do not believe in other key principles taught in the Bible.

While the May Gallup Poll indicates that a large majority of Americans deem that there is a God (86 percent), that belief is shrinking (90 percent in May 2004).

Other findings in the poll indicate that many individuals' belief in God is tentative, since lesser percentages also express a belief in heaven (81 percent), in angels (75 percent), in the devil (70 percent) and in hell (69 percent).

The poll also found only 56 percent of respondents saying that religion was "very important" in their own lives. Twenty-six percent said religion was "fairly important," while 17 percent said it was "not very important." Remember, these are the same people that overwhelmingly said they believe in God.

These numbers indicate that while people may believe in God, they are not concurrently interested in applying godly principles to their lives. Also consider that in 1965, 70 percent of Americans said that religion was "very important" in their lives. That's a 14 percent decrease over the last four decades.

Of course, this is based on the precise pattern of apostasy shown in Romans 1 - 2: people who refuse to be thankful to God, and turn away from the evidence he has planted in our consciences and minds and the world around us that point clearly to him, will make up images that look like the various things in the world around us and convince themselves of the trustworthiness of stories they make up to substitute for and explain away the testimony of the evidence within and without that points to the true God. Thus, the recent popularity of amateurish and extremely militant books promoting atheism and attacking God, is neither hard to understand, nor in the end anything more than a reflection of the West's ongoing suicide.

We here in our region need to be very aware of this trend [tidal wave no 1 as I have sometimes called it], and we must prepare ourselves to respond vigorously.

Indeed, just the other day, I had two disturbing conversations here in Montserrat: one with a circle of young men who disdained the Bible, and another with an older lady who pointed out that many of the youngsters from this Island who fled to the UK following the onset of serious volcanic eruptions, were exposed to the taint of atheism there. Many have adopted atheism or agnosticism, and imagine that this is a well-founded worldview. [My ongoing exchange with a professor at UD as linked above is illuminating on that!]

4] Pray -- and act -- for the Suffering Church, 1:

Voice of the Martyrs, through a regular reader and email correspondent, reminds us of events in North Korea:
Son Jong Nam, a Christian in North Korea, has been held in a bleak, North Korean death row basement cell for more than a year. He has been sentenced to die by "public execution." He is charged with being a "national traitor" and "receiving Christianity." Mr. Son has already spent 3 years in prison and has gone through brutal tortures. Mr. Son's crime? Sharing his faith in the communist nation of North Korea.
We must realise that Communist persecution of the Christian Faith is not finished, and should pray for the suffering church under the Marxist Leninist boot-heel, not only in North Korea but in China and elsewhere including our very own sister Caribbean country of Cuba. One practical step might be to write a letter on behalf of Brother Son.

5] Pray and act, 2:

Over in Gaza, we see a worrying development for Christians and for women, one that as usual you will not see headlined in your usual media sources:

Hamas-linked militants kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam a female Christian professor in the Gaza Strip, according to the professor's family and officials from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah organization.

Hamas members denied the accusations, accusing rival Fatah of spreading lies even though the professor, Sana al-Sayegh of Gaza City's Palestine International University, has indicated she was converted against her will.

Sayegh, head of the university's Science and Technology Department, disappeared June 24, failing to show up at work where she serves as the Gaza Strip's only female doctorate in her field . . . . According to sources close to her family, about five days after she disappeared Sayegh caller her parents to say she was being held against her will in order to marry a Muslim man, who was also a professor at the university . . . .

A few days later, the family said it received a copy of a conversion document certifying Sayegh had become a Muslim. The document was signed by two witnesses, as required. One witness was Zaher Khail, president of the Palestine International University, who, according to Palestinian security officials is an Islamist close with Gaza-based terror groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Fatah officials say Khail assisted in kidnapping Sayegh, whose family stated she would "never" convert willingly to Islam. Fatah officials also accused Hamas leaders directly of overseeing Sayegh's "forced" conversion . . . . Sayegh yesterday [i.e. on Aug 4th] showed up to work at the university but has not been in touch with her parents. Sources close to her family and Fatah officials speculate she was threatened against contacting her family again. Calls by her family to Sayegh's new husband and his family were not returned.

Is this what "Islamic law/justice" and "Islamic values" mean? What it means for Hamas leaders to say: "Christians can continue living safely in the Gaza Strip only if they accept Islamic law, including a ban on alcohol and on women roaming publicly without proper head coverings"? And, where is the public outcry in the Middle East, in the wider Muslim world, not to mention, internationally? Also, let us not forget that to try to "de-convert" from Islam is to put one's life at risk.

Let us pray, and let us act, in this case, maybe we need to organise our own international petitions and initiatives, perhaps though communicating with the Barnabas Fund, as the churches of the descendants of slaves, concerned for freedom?

6] Part of why you won't hear about such things in your friendly local and international news . . .

Mark Steyn has alerted us to how even Cambridge University Press can be intimidated into backing away form speaking the truth on Islamism:

How will we lose the war against "radical Islam"? . . . .

The war will be lost incrementally because we are unable to reverse the ongoing radicalization of Muslim populations in South Asia, Indonesia, the Balkans, Western Europe and, yes, North America. And who's behind that radicalization? Who funds the mosques and Islamic centers that in the past 30 years have set up shop on just about every Main Street around the planet?

For the answer, let us turn to a fascinating book called "Alms for Jihad: Charity And Terrorism in the Islamic World," by J. Millard Burr, a former USAID relief coordinator, and the scholar Robert O Collins. Can't find it in your local Barnes & Noble? Never mind, let's go to Amazon. Everything's available there. And sure enough, you'll come through to the "Alms for Jihad" page and find a smattering of approving reviews from respectably torpid publications: "The most comprehensive look at the web of Islamic charities that have financed conflicts all around the world," according to Canada's Globe And Mail, which is like the New York Times but without the jokes.

Unfortunately, if you then try to buy "Alms for Jihad," you discover that the book is "Currently unavailable. We don't know when or if this item will be back in stock." Hang on, it was only published last year. At Amazon, items are either shipped within 24 hours or, if a little more specialized, within four to six weeks, but not many books from 2006 are entirely unavailable with no restock in sight.

Well, let us cross the ocean, thousands of miles from the Amazon warehouse, to the High Court in London. Last week, the Cambridge University Press agreed to recall all unsold copies of "Alms for Jihad" and pulp them. In addition, it has asked hundreds of libraries around the world to remove the volume from their shelves . . . .

As to whether allegations about support for terrorism by the sheikh and his "family, businesses and charities" are "entirely and manifestly false," the Cambridge University Press is going way further than the United States or most foreign governments would. Of his bank's funding of terrorism, Sheikh Mahfouz's lawyer has said: "Like upper management at any other major banking institution, Khalid Bin Mahfouz was not, of course, aware of every wire transfer moving through the bank. Had he known of any transfers that were going to fund al-Qaida or terrorism, he would not have permitted them." Sounds reasonable enough. Except that in this instance the Mahfouz bank was wiring money to the principal Mahfouz charity, the Muwafaq (or "Blessed Relief") Foundation, which in turn transferred them to Osama bin Laden.

In October 2001, the Treasury Department named Muwafaq as "an al-Qaida front that receives funding from wealthy Saudi businessmen" and its chairman as a "specially designated global terrorist." As the Treasury concluded, "Saudi businessmen have been transferring millions of dollars to bin Laden through Blessed Relief."

Indeed, this "charity" seems to have no other purpose than to fund jihad. It seeds Islamism wherever it operates. In Chechnya, it helped transform a reasonably conventional nationalist struggle into an outpost of the jihad. In the Balkans, it played a key role in replacing a traditionally moderate Islam with a form of Mitteleuropean Wahhabism. Pick a Muwafaq branch office almost anywhere on the planet and you get an interesting glimpse of the typical Saudi charity worker. The former head of its mission in Zagreb, Croatia, for example, is a guy called Ayadi Chafiq bin Muhammad. Well, he's called that most of the time. But he has at least four aliases and residences in at least three nations (Germany, Austria and Belgium). He was named as a bin Laden financier by the U.S. government and disappeared from the United Kingdom shortly after 9/11.
In short, with financial muscle like that, and with a little jurisdiction shopping, a lot can be supressed, thank you.

For the rest, it helps if you can appeal to the West's sense of guilt over its Imperialist past and loss of cultural confidence, the South's resentment over same, and the ignorance of most of the history of Islamist expansionism over the past 1400 years. Etc, etc, of course.

So let us become ever more aware of the ever-widening gap between what is headlined and what is credibly true and important enough for us to act on -- what news is supposedly about.

7] Mr Obama stumbles . . .

There has been a lot of breathless buzz and enthusiastic gushing over Mr Obama as an emerging Democratic party Presidential contender, both in the Black community in the USA and in our region.

Unfortunately, the thinness of his resume [as compared to say that of either Mr Powell or Ms Rice] is beginning to show. In commentator Barbara Simpson's unfortunately telling words:

[Mr Obama] declared he'd support increased U.S. military operations against al-Qaida in Afghanistan and, if Pakistan doesn't cooperate better with us on ridding itself of al-Qaida, we'll attack Pakistan and do it ourselves.

It seems no one briefed him that Pakistan is our ally, President Musharraf has a fragile hold on power and is fighting domestic battles against terrorists. We depend on Pakistani airspace, and Pakistan has a huge, well equipped, well-trained military.

Oh, and it has the bomb. That bomb.

It was clear: Sen. Obama was pleased with his toughness. Too bad he didn't realize how it illustrated his naivet̩ both in war strategy and diplomatic relations with allies Рto say nothing of his unawareness of the consequences of such poorly thought-out intentions. His venture into military operations and strategy wasn't well received and was quickly trounced. The violent, anti-American demonstrations in Pakistan and official Pakistani criticism of Obama's "irresponsible" words make that clear.


8] That bridge that fell . . .

It is a measure of how much we have progressed that a bridge collapse is big news: in C19, that -- sadly - was a regular an occurrence. The online AP report I clipped reminds me of the old engineering saying that "any structure will fail by its weakest mechanism -- usually the one no-one thought of beforehand":
Though inspections rate more than 70,000 bridges nationwide structurally deficient, a top transportation official Friday called the deadly failure of a Mississippi River bridge an "anomaly" and said motorists shouldn't fear for their safety [NB: much later in the article, the report notes: " A bridge is typically judged structurally deficient if heavy trucks are banned or there are other weight restrictions, if it needs immediate work to stay open or if it is closed. In any case, such a bridge is considered in need of substantial maintenance, rehabilitation or even replacement."] . . . .

The Minneapolis bridge was found structurally deficient in 1990. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, asked Friday whether she could be sure none of the other structurally deficient bridges are unsound, said there are no indications that substantive changes in bridge inspections are needed.

She added, "Obviously something happened here that none of us expected."

Repairing all spans rated structurally deficient would take at least a generation and cost more than $188 billion at least $9.4 billion a year over 20 years, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Those bridges carry an average of more than 300 million vehicles a day.

Rosenker said it's too soon to know if the Minnesota collapse could have been avoided: "This is an anomaly and we're going to try to find out why this is an anomaly and prevent that anomaly from ever happening again," he said on ABC's "Good Morning America" Friday . . . . .

In short, we are finite and fallible, so there is an inescapable element of risk in putting our lives into the hands of technology. But, the risk of not using technologies is even higher. So, we must learn and accept the price of progress and make prudent decisions -- including where we have to strike the financial balance relative to the clamour of a tidal wave of claims by various interests that would overwhelm any budget.

And, ambulance-chasing finger-pointing games don't help, once there is reason to believe that prudent policies were in place.

9] The fate of the Swiss Army Knife, under the WTO: Hecho en Chine?

I am an enthusiastic supporter of the classic Swiss Army knife, and own several of them up to an including the big camper. [If you see a leather cell-phone pouch on my belt, that's what is in it!]

I also own several "made in China" copies, which I view as more expendable. [They cost a lot less, and give enough performance for a lot of things. but, they don't measure up to the big boys from Victorinox or Wenger, nossiree!]

So, you will understand my closing off on the following note:
. . . the Swiss army knife, considered by millions around the world to be an indispensable tool, is in danger of losing its Swiss identity.

The Swiss army, which is to order a fresh batch of 65,000 of the pocket knives with new specifications, has caused nationwide consternation by declaring that under World Trade Organisation rules, the tendering process must be opened to companies worldwide because of the high value of the contract.

China, which has been producing pirate copies of the knife for years, is thought to have the best chance of winning the contract, which is estimated at 1.7m Swiss francs (£695,000), followed by Taiwan and Bulgaria.

The issue has become one of the hottest political topics of the summer, with far-right politicians saying that national pride is at stake.

"If the Swiss army knife no longer comes from Switzerland, then we might as well stop producing it altogether," said Thomas Fuchs, MP for the far-right Swiss People's party . . . .

The army is saying little, except that it is working on the technical specifications for the new product to make it suitable for modern soldiering, including a serrated blade with a locking mechanism, a saw, and a Phillips - crosshead - screwdriver. It should also have a case, allowing it to be attached to a belt.

Victorinox, the company that makes the knives, said it was confident it would win the bid on the combined factors of quality and cost.

The knife, which was first produced in Ibach in the canton of Schwyz in 1897, can be equipped with anything from a nail file and a tin opener to a fish-scaler and a USB stick, and features in the design collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

So, it looks like the Swiss Army's soldiers are suing only the more basic knives! (Even my EC$12.00 ~ US$ 4.00 made in China el cheapo has most of these things on it.)

But, the serrated locking blade sounds nice, and I would sure like to look at the civilian version when it comes out! END