27 January 2007

Critiques and Praise for President Bush

Congressman David Wu (D-OR) recently made what may be the funniest, geekiest, and most strangely accurate critique of the Bush administration. It was featured on the Jan. 20 broadcast of Wait Wait Don't Tell Me on NPR. According to Congressman Wu,...

...this is a real Klingon, and...
...this is a "faux-Klingon."

I must agree with his assertion that "Vulcan" is a poor description of the neo-conservative advisers in the White House, as the following exchange from "The Immunity Syndrome" indicates.

Spock: I've noticed that about your people, doctor; you find it easier to understand the death of one than the death of a million. You speak about the objective hardness of the Vulcan heart... yet how little room there seems to be in yours.

McCoy: 'Suffer the death of thy neighbor,' eh Spock? Now, you wouldn't wish that on us, would you?

Spock: It might have rendered your history a bit less bloody.

A harsher critique of the President was sent to me by an Italian friend. I don't agree with everything he says, but I think it is worth considering.

To be fair, I agree with President Bush on many important issues, at least in principle. I indicated this in an earlier entry on the issue of unborn children.

26 January 2007

InterVarsity's Twenty-First Student Missions Convention Highlights: Luke's edition

Prompted, more or less, by my new housemate Chris and his blog, I will share the parts of InterVarsity's Twenty-First Student Missions Convention that were most memorable to me. I echo all of the comments Chris made; his highlights were highlights for me as well, but I shall not be redundant.

Let me explain the daily schedule of the five-day convention. "Main sessions" were held on the morning and evening of each day; all convention delegates (approx. 22,000) gathered in the Edward Jones Dome (home field to the Saint Louis Rams) to worship, hear teaching, watch drama, and see video presentations. Late mornings were spent in large (approx. 1,000) group Bible studies. Each afternoon was devoted to smaller seminars; dozens were held at various locations near the dome. Convention delegates could choose which seminars (if any) to attend. I have divided my memories into three categories.

The Stunning

The drama team presented a play in several small scenes during the convention. The acting and writing were, in my opinion, fairly good. The two scenes shown on the morning of Dec. 28 were particularly powerful. The first was a dream sequence in which a student on a short term missions trip to Egypt encounters a group of African Christians about to embark on a trip to the United States.

Their leader states, in reference to the motto on US currency, "I believe America has forgotten how to trust God." They explain that the war in Iraq "has made made things very difficult for some Muslims, and it makes relationships between Muslims and Christians over here very difficult." "Your policies have made it very difficult for us, especially Christians, in our region." They are preparing to "go in front of the government of the US to get them to change their policies for the sake of" their people. This scene ends with one of the Africans asking, "have you and your friends spoken to your government?"

The second scene is an frank conversation between two young men repairing their bicycles. One is a Christian. The other is homosexual; he asks, "Why do Christians hate gays?" The Christian says that "the Bible isn't so much anti-gay as pro-sex." They do not offer an easy resolution, but they do honestly address tough questions.

Several video presentations from 2100 Productions, which "is InterVarsity's multimedia department," were interspersed among the speakers, dramatic presentations, and songs at the main sessions of the convention. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, the most stunning few minutes for me came during a video presentation about Christian Creation Care entitled "All Things." It acknowledged the existence of global warming without question and quoted harsh words from Ezekiel against those who do not care for the Creation, and my jaw dropped in astonishment.

The Annoying

Unlike Chris, I will share some parts of this convention that I did not like. Most memorably, two of the speakers seemed to condone a dismissive attitude toward mathematics.

Lisa Chinn is an InterVarsity staff member; she spoke to the main session on the evening of Dec. 30 on the topic of cross cultural missions. While telling the story of her life, she said, "In college I chose to major in foreign service because I heard that it only had one required math course."

Sharon Cohn, who is a lawyer for International Justice Mission, spoke to the main session on the evening of December 29. After telling the horrifying story of a girl named Elizabeth who was rescued from sexual slavery, she exhorted the delegates to "imaging what God might want" us to do about injustice. "Imagine how many more enemies injustice could have this evening."

I support IJM financially and with my prayers. Ms. Cohn is doing extremely laudable work, but she irked me when she told the delegates not to let their perceived smallness keep them from bravely following God's call for justice. She said, "Okay, so you don't know exactly what to do. There is so much...27,000,000 slaves...You are so small. Also, you might be failing calculus, but so what?"

So, I passed calculus. I could not do the work I am doing in Physics without passing calculus. You cannot present credible Christian apologetics to people like Carl Sagan or Richard Dawkins without passing calculus. You cannot achieve what Francis Collins has achieved if you choose a major because it has only one required math course. You cannot conceive, design, and build machines that use antimatter to kill cancer without passing calculus and many more advanced math courses. I wonder if you can be accepted into law school after failing calculus.

The Advertising

The convention partially compensated for the aforementioned negative attitudes towards mathematics by placing a greater emphasis on the value of a scholarly or professional calling than at the previous convention in 2003. One of the 16 seminar tracks was dedicated to "Academia & the Workplace." I attended as many seminars in this track as I could, and they encouraged me to pursue my vocation as a Christian scholar.

Chris made an advertisement at the end of his highlights, and so shall I. The Emerging Scholars Network, which presented several of the seminars, "is called to identify, encourage, and support the next generation of Christian scholars, at all stages of their academic careers, who seek to be a redeeming influence within higher education." Among other things, they want to encourage me and other Christians to pass calculus and our other required math courses on our way to becoming high-quality scholars and exemplary Christians. They support my vocation when many other Christian organizations and leaders do not. I am a member, and I ask all of the Christian scholars reading this to consider membership as well.

25 January 2007

"They Were Fruitful...", Part 2.2: Italiana (il brutto)

The second entry on my trip to Italy shall describe il brutto (the bad) parts of my trip. This entry should be short, since most of my experiences there were quite good.

Look closely at this image. You will notice a skull staring back at you. It apparently belongs to Saint Guido, and I photographed it in the Cathedral in Pisa. I realize that my aversion to parts of dead bodies is probably the result of Western culture not showing appropriate respect to the reality of death; I am working on that.

One of the annoying features of ancient city centers is the narrowness of the "streets." My experience leads me to call something this narrow an alley. They are easily passable on foot, but trying to drive on them in an automobile, like the one you can see behind the crowd of people in this photograph, is frustrating at best.

One piazza we visited in Lucca was overlooked by an Italian communist organization, which proudly displayed a photograph of Fidel Castro. By placing this photograph in this section, I am making a value judgement. Communism, at least in the form practiced by Castro and his Soviet supporters, is an ineffective and injurious system of government.

Even Biblical heroes sometimes do bad things. The most famous example is probably David's affair with Bathsheba and its aftermath. The example above shows Noah after the ark has landed; he is drunk. The keg of wine that he made and drank is featured prominently in the panel.

This self-portrait is not a good photograph of me. It was the last photograph I took in Italy, and it shows me shortly before going to sleep before the early morning bus ride back to Pisa. I was exhausted but very glad to have this experience.

My trip back home was successful, but the legs taking me from Pisa to London were rather stressful. First, my flight left Pisa at 6:55 AM which meant that I had to arrive when the airport opened at 5:30 AM, which meant that I had to catch a bus from Florence at 4:30 AM. I cannot remember if I set my alarm for 2 or 3 AM; in either case, it woke me up, and I showered, changed, and walked to the bus station.

After a brief bit of frustration during which the woman selling tickets realized that I did not speak Italian, I had a quite bus ride to the Pisa airport. In the check-in line, a woman began addressing me in Italian; again, I was flattered to know that I blended in so well that she did not realize I was a foreigner.

The flight from Pisa to London was quick and uneventful, but I knew I was about to face an error in my planning. When I had scheduled my flights, I had left only five hours between the scheduled landing of my flight from Pisa and the scheduled departure of my flight from London. However, I had to transfer airports again; the bus ride from Stansted to Gatwick was scheduled for 3 hours and 30 minutes, which left only 90 minutes to spare when I arrived at Gatwick. Any delay in my Pisa to London flight, the bus ride, or the security procedures at Gatwick could cost me a flight home. My fears were compounded by the tightened security that I knew would be in place following the terrorist plot uncovered six weeks earlier.

Much to my relief, my first flight and bus were on schedule, and I was able to pass through security quickly. As I was walking to the gate, a fellow American passenger informed me that the gate was "closing," so we both starting running through the airport to catch our flight. When we arrived at the gate, we found a line of approximately 50 to 100 people still waiting. Our running was unnecessary; apparently "closing" means something different in British airports than American ones.

The line split in two at the podum where we showed our boarding passes and ID to the security personell. I was in my half of the line for a few minutes before I realized why the line split. Due to the increased security, almost every passenger was given a pat search before boarding. One line was all men; the other was all women, so that passengers could be searched by members of their own gender. Ironically, in protecting against a terrorist attack, the British enforced a social separation that was probably a small part of the transformed world the terrorist were seeking to achieve by the attack.

24 January 2007

2007 Reading List

This is a list of books I plan to read in 2007.

23 January 2007

Can God have in his presence people who have done significantly more good than evil in their lives?

The question in the title was posed to me by a friend, who is a self-described "secular Jew," when I visited him during Christmas break. Let me first explain that "in his presence" means, for this discussion, living in the most intimate possible state with God for all eternity.

Three of us participated in this discussion; the other person is also a Christian alumnus of the University of Minnesota. We had a long discussion about my beliefs as a Christian and why I believe Christianity is the only true faith. He stated that he believes Christianity is a good way to live but not the only way to God. If God sits atop a metaphorical mountain, climbers can take many different paths up the mountain. He also believes that Christ's death, while not necessary for our forgiveness, "illuminated the path" of service and sacrifice that he wanted his disciples to follow.

I argued that God is not on top of a scalable mountain but on the other side of an impassible canyon, and Jesus Christ is the only bridge. In the course of our discussion, I asserted that Christ was the only bridge because we all have some sin in our lives (Rom 3:23), that God cannot tolerate any sin in his presence, and that only Christ's forgiveness can cleanse us of sin and allow us into his presence.

Our discussion resolved the various issues and controversies we had discussed into the single question that is the title of this post. If the answer is "no," then the question becomes, "Why cannot God tolerate sin?"

I would appreciate any answers you might have.

22 January 2007

The Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

At InterVarsity's Twenty-First Student Missions Convention, the most stunning few minutes for me came during a video presentation about Christian "Creation Care." Of all the great moments at this convention, this was the only one that made my jaw drop in astonishment. It acknowledged the existence of global warming without question and quoted harsh words from Ezekiel against those who do not care for the Creation. I even recognized a few images from An Inconvenient Truth! The image of Earth rising above the lunar horizon, the pictures of receding glaciers, and the simulation of a flooded Bangladesh were all featured in the documentary by Al Gore.

After settling back in Ohio, I discovered that evangelical Christians caring for our home planet seems to be a growing trend. I had heard about the Evangelical Environmental Network and What Would Jesus Drive, but they had appeared to be small operations with outdated websites. Now, a group of evangelical Christians and environmental scientists, including prominent members of the National Association for Evangelicals, have met in Georgia and issued an "Urgent Call to Action." The call addresses many environmental issues, "including climate change, habitat destruction, pollution, species extinction, the spread of human infectious diseases, and other dangers to the well-being of societies." More on this story is available from Fox News, CNN, and the NAE press release.

If you have read this far, you are probably wondering why I am writing this on the anniversary of the infamous U.S. Supreme Court Decision about abortion. I am opposed to the practice of abortion, and I have never said otherwise. As I man, I realize that I can never fully understand the pressures, emotions, and choices faced by a pregnant woman. I do understand that I was once a fetus, that I rejoice when friends of mine become pregnant, and I grieve when one of them has a miscarriage.

Opponents of abortion have frequently been accused of having misogynistic or oppressive motives. If I was so motivated, logically, I would also be opposed to increasing opportunities for women in Physics. This is not true; if it were, I would not admire Marie Curie or the value the contributions of present and future women in my field. As my colleagues, they can critique, reproduce, and refine my results into a more accurate description of the Universe, and vice versa. As my successors, they will be able to build on what this generation of scientists has discovered and understand more than we ever could. However, they will be able to do none of these things if their lives are terminated before they are born.

This post contains both of these issues today because they are united by my concern for the welfare of generations yet unborn.

21 January 2007

"They Were Fruitful...", Part 2.1.3: Italiana (Il buono)

The Holy Face

This section belongs with my description of Lucca in an earlier post, but I forgot to place it there. San Martino church houses the wooden sculpture of Jesus shown in the photograph at left, which is entitled Il Volto Santo (The Holy Face). According to legend, the body was carved by Nicodemus, and the face was carved by angels. Thus, it is the only work of art to show the true face of Christ.

Many relics have legends associated with them, but this image of Jesus is unlike any I had ever seen from Europe or America until recent decades. Jesus is not a Caucasian; here he is shown with dark skin and non-European facial features. In reality, Jesus was an ancient Jew. I was stunned to find this sculpture amidst many examples of the fair skinned tall man with beautiful hair often depicted in Western art.

Tourist in Florence

Florence is only an hour away from Pisa by train. The workshop ended Friday morning, and I took the train to Florence on Friday afternoon.

Thanks in part to the help of some friendly travelers whose native language was Spanish (they spoke enough English for us to communicate), I was able to find my way to the Ostello Archi
with little difficulty. The hostel is quite a unique place; most of the walls are covered with graffiti. Some of it is vulgar, but some is remarkably good.

The picture at left shows the view from my hostel window. It looks out over a narrow street within walking distance of the main attractions in the old city center. The interior of the room is shown below.

Here is the graffiti surrounding the door to the room in which I stayed. On the lower right in the photograph above, you can see the upper torso and head of a man in a drawing. Closer examination revealed that this is King David. In addition to visitors from many nations, the hostel was populated with several copies of sculptures, such as the one depicting the cute couple below at right.

My favorite piece of graffiti is the equation below. It is correct and relates five important constants in one equation.

The most imposing building in Florence is clearly the Cathedral shown above and at left. It is officially called Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, which means The Basilica of Our Lady of the Flower. "Our Lady" refers to the Virgin Mary, but I am not sure about the flower. Unofficially, it is often known simply as Il Duomo, which is, according to Wikipeida, "is a generic Italian term for a cathedral church."

One can enter the cathedral by purchasing a ticket or attending mass, since this is still a functioning Roman Catholic church. On Saturday evenings, a mass is held in English, and I was able to attend one while I was in Florence. The interior was as beautiful as the exterior but not very well lit. Of course, photography was prohibited during the mass, and I do not remember even bringing my camera along.

The mass began a few minutes late because the priest was stuck in traffic! When he arrived, we discovered that he was Mexican. He delivered a homily in English to a congregation in an Italian cathedral; this was a truly international experience. His homily was very good; he spoke about how the humanity of Jesus and the imperfections of his disciples lend credibility to the stories recorded in the four Gospels.

This is one of the bronze panels that constitute the side doors on the Cathedral baptistery. The doors are contain exquisite detail; the artist took decades to make them. As far as I can tell, this panel depicts the story of the woman caught in adultery.

As with the other cathedrals in Italy, most of the surface of the church is covered in artwork. Much of the art on the outside is not original; instead, it has replaced by copies and moved into the Duomo Museum to protect it from exposure to weather and pollution.

The beautiful and dazzlingly intricate bronze panel above was originally part of the bronze front doors on the baptistery. These doors consist of ten panels depicting stories from the Old Testament. The originals are under glass in the museum after a painstaking effort to restore them following damage suffered when Florence was flooded in 1966.

The panel above tells the story of Adam and Eve. On the lower left, God is forming Adam out of the ground. In the middle, near the bottom, Adam is asleep with his head laying on his arm. Angels are lifting Eve directly out of Adam's body to face God. Apparently, she came from one of the ribs in Adam's back; her feet may still be embedded in his body. Below, one of the panels from the Bell Tower depicts the creation of Eve in a similar way. This time, God is using one of Adam's front ribs, and most of her legs are still inside of his body.

I had never before seen the creation of Eve represented in this way. I had always imagined God removing the rib, taking it elsewhere, and forming Eve around it. I found this form quite beautiful and heartwarming. Eve's extraction in these images seems like a reversal of normal birth. Adam seems to be giving birth to a full-grown Eve.

Even the obscure Biblical character Jubal has a panel on the Bell tower.

As you may be able to tell from the couple in her right hand, this diamond-shaped panel represents Venus, the Roman goddess of love. A pagan goddess on the bell tower of a Christian cathedral may seem misplaced, but according to the signs posted throughout the museum, the inclusion of pagan and classical had a fascinating purpose.

The commissioners of this artwork took believed that all things could bring glory to God. Even the classical pagan myths could point people to the true God. I am not sure if I agree, but the panel below represents another such pointer; it is the personification of Astronomy.

They believed the observation and understanding nature, which developed into science, could also bring worship and glory to God. I pray that such sentiments would be more strongly present in the American Christian Church.

The art of music was also on display in the museum. This is an illuminated manuscript of sheet music. The text is in Latin, and the notes were written before musical clefs had been invented. I am not sure if I could play it.

Below is an example of a sculpture medium that was a bright departure from all others I had seen in Italy. The medium is terra cotta with an enamel glaze. The white enamel reflects much more light than marble, bronze, or wooden sculptures. It must have done much to brighten a church's interior before the introduction of electric lights.

The History of Science Museum in Florence continued the Galileo theme. The museum did not allow photography, and I could find no postcards of my favorite exhibits, so this image of the sign on the outside is the only image I have.

The museum is fairly large, but its two most prized artifacts belonged to Galileo. Both are held in elaborate cases. The first artifact is the primary lens of the telescope he used to discover the four largest moons of Jupiter; these were the first objects found that did not appear to orbit around Earth. It was a small lens not much larger than a US dollar coin, but with it, he made one of the most important discoveries in scientific history.

The second artifact is his right middle finger; it is held in a glass reliquary shaped like an egg. It is brown and extremely desiccated. Even science has its relics.

This is Santa Croce (Holy Cross) Cathedral. I could not back far enough away to capture the whole front of the building in one frame. This happened often on my trip; I hope to buy a wide angle lens if I ever return.

The stature at the lower left is of Dante, who wrote The Divine Comedy, part of which is his most famous work, The Inferno. He is one of many famous Italians honored in and around this imposing structure.

One section of the church is apparently where all good Italian physicists go when
they die. At left is the funerary monument of
Enrico Fermi. I think his body, and those of the physicists described below, is actually buried beneath the floor inside the cathedral. I know the photograph is a bit blurry, but no flash photography was allowed.

I realize that Leonardo Da Vinci is know more for his art than his scientific investigations, I think they do merit his grave's place along side many of the best scientists of any century. I did not realize his grave or Fermi's or Marconi's (see below) would be here. This was a very pleasant surprise.

Above, we have the grave of Marconi, inventor of the radio.

This magnificent funerary monument belongs to Galileo, whose body was transferred here from an obscure cemetery many decades after his death. You can see two of his major discoveries memorialized in the monument. The four moons of Jupiter are visible below his bust, and the sculpted woman on the right is holding a tablet depicting some of his discoveries regarding gravity. As I wrote to my adviser in a postcard, this is how I would like to be memorialized someday!

Symbolically located directly across the sanctuary from Galileo is the grave of the great Renaissance artist Michelangelo. According to one of the tour guides in the cathedral, he died the day that Galileo was born. Again, the arts and sciences can work together to glorify the Lord.

Above is the Brancacci Chapel, which is covered in murals depicting the life of St. Peter. These murals are remarkable because they were among the first to use the rules of perspective. They posses a depth and covey a sense of volume that I found in few other works I saw in Italy. This was the only good photograph I took because no flash was allowed.

The above mural, which is a photograph taken from the World Wide Web, shows Peter healing the sick with his shadow. Notice the way the lines are not parallel to the edges of the painting. They receed toward each other as such lines do in real life; this gives the illusion of depth, volume, and the third dimension that I mentioned earlier.

The Uffizi is the most famous museum in Florence. It contains a huge collection of artwork that was amassed by the ruling Medici family of Florence during the zenith of their power. No photography was allowed inside the Uffizi, so all the photographs below are courtesy of the World Wide Web. The photograph above shows the museum's courtyard, which is populated by street artists, statues, and street artists dressed like statues. I waited in line for about two hours before entering.

By the time I entered, only about two hours remained before the museum closed. I wish I would have had more time. The Uffizi is shaped like a U, with the courtyard inside the U. The interior consists two floors. Each has a single hallway lined with various rooms full of paintings and sculptures. Among them, as you can see above, were busts of ancient Roman emperors. The bust of Nero, of which I did not find a good picture, possessed a very smug smirk. You may think this is odd, but I was offended by that smirk and whispered to the bust, "You lost." The Christians he persecuted had taken over his capital city.

The Birth of Venus by Botticelli is the most famous painting in the Uffizi, and it was constantly surrounded by a crowd of about twenty people that briefly included me.

Adjacent to the Uffizi is the Piazza della Signoria, which is an outdoor gallery containing a mix of original and copied Renesiance and Classical sculpture. The photograph above shows most of the sculptures. I have saved some of them for a later post, and I have already shown one (the fountain of Neptune) in my post about Pluto.

The National Museum of the Bargello is not as well known as other attractions in Florence, but it contains some exquisit art. The photography rules changed from one part of the museum to another, so we will begin with my photographs.

The Bargello is a square building with a central courtyard. The walls of the courtyard are lined with coats of arms representing many of the ruling factions and families of Florence. A particularly colorful example is shown below. The courtyard also contains some of the museum's sculptures, including an odd one in the middle arch of the photograph above. It will appear in greater detail in a forthcoming post.

Another sculpture in the courtyard features Mary with a golden crown holding Jesus. She is flanked by two men; I am not sure who they are. I think the one on the right is Moses.

One of the features of Renessiance sculpture that repeatedly amazed me was their level of anatomical detail. For example, you can see the veins and tendons in this foot as clearly as you could see them in a live person. Of course, this person is a bit pale, but that is one limitation of working with marble. Despite that, the sculptor made this foot look almost alive.

Now we transition from my photographs to those from the web.

Above is a photograph of Michelangelo's Bacchus, who was the Roman god of wine, as you can probably tell by the grapes and goblet. He is missing pieces of his anatomy due to vandalism in centuries past.

The Bargello introduced me to the beauty of bronze sculpture. It seems to be better than stone at capturing the curves and softness of human skin and fat.

This is Donatello's David, which is the Bargello's star attraction. He is depicted here as a child, which may be more Biblically accurate than Michaelangelo's famous marble rendition. This is one of the most elegant sculptures I have ever seen. I feel obliged to point out that while David declined Saul's armor, I think he wore something besides a hat and boots when facing Golaith.

This is the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge across the Arno River that is a tourist attraction of its own. As you can see, a large number of shops are built into and hang off of the bridge. Most of them sell jewelery and gold.

My whirlwind tour of Florence ended when I boarded a bus from Florence back to the Pisa airport to catch the first of three flights that would take me back to California.

Before I departed, I placed my own piece of graffiti on the hostel walls. You can see it below accompanied by my signature and date. It is a more complete form of Einstein's most famous equation.

Farewell, Florence; you were beautful, and to God be the glory.

My Dating Personality?

I can't say that I recommend okcupid.com because I found some highly sinful material there, but I found the link to this dating personality test on the blog of a Christian friend of mine before I knew about the problems on the site. Despite the problems, this result seems surprisingly accurate.

The Slow Dancer
Deliberate Gentle Love Dreamer (DGLDm)

Steady, reliable, and cradling her tenderly. Take a deep breath, and let it out real easy...you are The Slow Dancer.

Your focus is love, not sex, and for your age, you have average experience. But you're a great, thoughtful guy, and your love life improves every year. There's also a powerful elimination process working in your favor: most Playboy types get stuck raising unwanted kids before you even begin settling down. The women left over will be hot and yours. Your ideal woman is someone intimate, intelligent, and very supportive.

Your exact opposite:
The Hornivore

Random Brutal Sex Master
While you're not exactly the life of the party, you do thrive in small groups of smart people. Your circle of friends is extra tight and it's HIGHLY likely they're just like you. You appreciate symmetry in relationships.

ALWAYS AVOID: The Battleaxe

CONSIDER: The Maid of Honor or The Sonnet