Non-profit of the Month: February 2010 - Search Dog Foundation

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Have been a supporter of the Search Dog Foundation since 2005.

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Why are search dogs needed?
After a disaster, when buildings have crumbled to the ground, dogs can search much more quickly and safely than people can. By training on simulated rubble piles where volunteer victims are hiding, the canines and their handlers prepare themselves to find people who would otherwise remain buried. A disaster search dog must learn to crawl through tunnels, walk up and down ladders, and walk on wobbly surfaces and over debris and rubble. The dog must be able to go in a direction that its handler has signaled and stop and wait for instructions.

See the video profiles of the work SDF is doing.

Newman's Own Foundation has offered a $100,000 challenge grant to SDF.

As such, I'm contributing this month to SDF and am encouraging RR readers to consider supporting them as well. Thanks!

Bookshelf: Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger dies at 91

American literary figure J. D. Salinger died several days ago.

I read his most famous book Catcher in the Rye when I turned 40.

I looked back in my blog archives for the impressions ...

October 24, 2003 excerpts:
A few months ago, I decided to revisit my "teenage" life by reading a book that is often on middle school reading lists, Catcher in the Rye. It wasn't on mine then. I wondered what my reaction would have been if it were. Reading it as a baby-boom/gen X young adult gave me a different perspective I'm sure. At one level, I could relate to Holden because I know from experience something about alienation because all my life I've resembled the "stereotypical shy scientist" nerd type. It took a long time to become at peace with who I am and even to celebrate who I am.

But Holden was stuck. The death of his brother and his isolation were like rip tides that pulled him out to sea. Reading the book's raw descriptions and dialog was heart breaking. I felt like I was watching a auto accident unfold in slow motion. I felt the pang of guilt like I was on the highway stopping to look at the traffic accident: you say, don't look, don't look, but you look.

But it was a picture of humanity and the downward spiral of a lost soul. We need to look at it in real life and in fiction so our hearts do not grow cold. Hopefully, we will be moved to compassion. There were two characters who seem to see through the fog and try to help him. Those in my mind were the "whispers of grace." Maybe they made a difference in what could have been a worse situation? I don't know. The story is told as is and that would be speculative. But I'd like to believe that mattered and that we can matter.

I referred to Catcher in the Rye again in the context of making some observations about Prayer for Owen Meany back in May 31, 2004 excerpt:
The book is a coming of age tale set in the North East and touches on the turmoil of the Vietnam war, friendship, family and matters of faith. I would imagine the book would invoke a mix of feelings from those who take Christian faith seriously as there is enough material here to encourage and enrage.

For me, I read the book amidst an interesting context as I read late last year Catcher in the Rye. The two books follow the life of unusual young men. In Catcher, it follows a very small slice of the young teens life while Owen Meany's story arc is longer. What was striking to me was the contrast in the two lives. In Rye, the character is detached from any anchor and the inevitable consequences ensue. In Meany, we have a character with such a sense of destiny it is on one hand frightening and also assuring. Most of us live within that vast middle ground of these two extremes and so for me to read these two tales back-to-back was jarring and made me ponder those issues of certainty in life.

In terms of religious faith, Owen Meany describes the practice of religion and discusses some theological issues in an matter-of-fact way. So often in pop culture, I'm thinking of movies and television in particular, faith is a non-entity. Given that so many Americans claim some measure of belief in god, it has always struck me as strange that god is usually only referred to as an expletive.

Irving's willingness to weave concerns about faith is refreshing. His treatment is at times irreverent and raises questions about having "faith in faith."

All in all an interesting read. It was a bit long; thus, my interest in the story would flag but as I neared the end, the various details that seemed so randomly tossed in began to come into play as the characters hurtled toward the stunning conclusion.

Politics: Giving credit where credit is due to President Obama

Am politically center-right but I strive not to be so partisan that I can't give credit when credit is due.

We are entering the second year of the 44th president's term of office, what are some things I think President Obama did well in year one?

(1) President Obama, Secretary Geithner and Fed Chief Bernanke had a tough job in the bank bailouts. From what I have read, they did about as good a job as you could under the circumstances. Government bailouts are generally things you try to avoid but in this case there was probably little option.

(2) Keeping Defense Secretary Gates. It would have been politically the easier thing to do to bring on board someone from your party to take over the Pentagon. However, because the US is engaged in two wars, continuity outweighed political considerations.

(3) Obama could have pulled out of Iraq really fast. He could have thrown in the towel on Afghanistan. The anti-war wing of his party would have wanted that. But the President looked at the situation, talked to the military people, consulted experts on the region and concluded that the two preferred options of his base would not be good for the USA or the region.

(4) His swift action in sending help to assist Haiti in their time of crisis.

(5) Support for basic research to strengthen one of the assets of the US economy.
Disclaimer: my salary is mostly funded by Federal grant money.

(6) After initially bungling the response to the controversy over the arrest of Prof. Gates, his call to have Prof. Gates and Officer Crowley over for a beer was admittedly symbolic and a bit of a photo op but it was the right signal to send. Race as an issue was helped by his election and will only continue to improve as we see each others as individuals and hear each other's stories.

Politics: SOTU 2010 Impressions

SOTU tend to be laundry lists and only a fraction of what is mentioned actually happens.

What we can gather is tone and direction ...

(1) It felt LONG - I started listening while driving home from work. I stopped at Ralphs and got back into the car and listened some more. I got home and listened some more.

(2) Did I hear nuclear energy, off-shore oil exploration, clean coal in addition to wind and solar? Good. Perhaps, there is a tack to the center of the political discussion here ...
For wonks ...

(3) The problem with the health care reform, according to President Obama, was we didn't explain it well enough. No, people didn't like it because they think the government will make a mess of it.
Items that could get worked on ...

(4) I'm tired of blame the banks. Fred Barnes put it this way:
True, they bear some blame. But there were other culprits, government ones. The trouble that started with a housing stampede prompted by the Federal Reserve’s low interest rates was compounded by the federal government’s pressure to provide loans for unworthy investors, and worsened by the packaging of these bad loans into securities marketed around the world. Banks erred, but so did government. But Obama chose to demonize banks. How can that help the economy?

(5) President Obama decries the attack politics of Washington. President Obama attacks on national television the US Supreme Court with the US Supreme Court sitting right in front of him. Disagree with the Court? You are entitled too. But the in your face attack was the very thing he claims is what's wrong with DC.
Law Professor Blogger rounds up comments about this ...

Team Obama has to decide: Carter or Clinton?

President Carter was known for his intellect and as such tried to do too much and was too confident in the rightness of his views and eventually wound up an ineffective one-term president.

President Clinton recognized that he had to tack back to the center and regained the initiative and gained two-terms.

Devotional Thoughts: See a stone in Zion

STONE and stones ...

As you come to him, the living Stone - rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him - you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:
"See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame."
Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
"The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone,"
"A stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall."
They stumble because they disobey the message - which is also what they were destined for.

This passage brought to mind when I was new in the faith. I remember pastor Dr. Lin taught us, as a Christian you are a "Christ Junior." My first reaction was that sounds strange. He would elaborate: since he was the ultimate prophet, priest and king, we are small prophets, priests and kings too.

He would explain what that should mean.

As a priest, we need to be praying for people and bringing them to God.

As a prophet, we need to be sharing God's message with people.

As a king, we need to be exerting rulership over the areas of life God has given us responsibility for.

And so in this passage in Peter, we get to see that Jesus is the STONE and we are living stones... stone and stone juniors!

What about THE STONE?

He is living. What a crazy metaphor, eh? Stones are as dead and inanimate as anything we know. And yet, Jesus is the LIVING stone. He is risen from the DEAD!

He is chosen and precious and the one who can be trusted!

What about us, the little stones?

We are living too! We were once dead but Jesus has given us life. So we too are living... living stones.

For what purpose?

built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ ...

Thus, as stone juniors, we are being built into collection of priest juniors.

This imagery must have been very encouraging for people in the congregations who heard this letter from Peter.

But aside from this positive image there is a parallel negative response.

Take a look again ...
As you come to him, the living Stone
... a chosen and precious cornerstone
......... you who believe
......... those who do not believe
... stone the builders rejected
A stone that causes men to stumble

The message of Jesus is a powerful message of life and hope. Yet, he was rejected in his time and his followers over the centuries since have been rejected.

In some cases, the adage, the biggest hinderance to Christianity has been Christians, applies. Sad to say, there is truth to that.

But is the message itself and Jesus himself a hinderance?

As beautiful a life and message that was and is, people stumble because of it.

Lord, have mercy. Help me be a priest that lifts up to you the needs of people around me. I pray for compassion for a chaplain intern as he stands alongside the person in the hospital bed and the family in the waiting room and shows the love of Christ. I pray for strength and wisdom for the doctors in Haiti who minister with their gift and training of medicine in the face of overwhelming need. I pray for us in the USA who have so much that we would give to help those who have so little. I pray for those who in the world who seek to destroy life for you ask us to pray for our enemies. May you break through the darkness that shrinks their hearts. And is it wrong for me to ask that if they do not turn, that the hammer of justice would fall upon them ending their ability to inflict evil and suffering? Lord have mercy. Amen

Non-profit of the Month: January 2010 - Any Reputable Organization Helping Haiti

The news from Haiti remains grim.

President Obama has mobilized the resources of the US Government to help and is to be applauded for the swiftness and scale of the effort.

When it comes to disaster relief, politics must always be set aside and indeed, Former President's Clinton and Bush have teamed up to spearhead efforts.

Here is one list of agencies on the ground in Haiti.

Hugh Hewitt offers his list of four organization on the ground in Haiti worthy of support.

Here is another list of groups working to assist Haiti.

Please give to any reputable organization you trust. When people need help, we need to step up to the plate and give.

President Bush put it simply, "The most effective way for Americans to help the people of Haiti is to contribute money. That money will go to organizations on the ground and will be -- who will be able to effectively spend it. I know a lot of people want to send blankets or water -- just send your cash. One of the things that the President and I will do is to make sure your money is spent wisely."

And so now, I will go to an organization I have supported on many occasions in the past, World Vision, to donate.

Find one you want to support and please do so!

Devotional Thoughts: Now that you have tasted that the Lord is good

I Peter 2:1-3 ...

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Sometimes, the Bible has complicated stuff.

Sometimes, it is as plain as day.

Don't need to over think this one, eh?

If we have truly tasted the Lord's goodness in our lives, we have no option but to make every effort to set aside the old ways and grow in the newness of life and salvation He has given us.

Pretty much everything I Peter has been saying thus far has been along these lines.

Lord, please work in my heart so that I would be your hands and feet in this world. Not only help me to set aside the old ways but make me bold and willing and empowered to live in a new way of love and reverence and alertness to what you are doing. Amen.

Politics: How much of what the TSA does is actually useless?

One wonders.

Here is an interesting item on where an Israeli security expert was interviewed.

It's mandatory that every passenger -- I don't care his religion or whatever he is -- every passenger has to be interviewed by security people who are qualified and well-trained, and are being tested all year long. I trained my guys and educated them, that every flight, for them, is the first flight. That every passenger is the first passenger. The fact that you had [safe flights] yesterday and last month means nothing. We are looking for the one who is coming to blow up our aircraft. If you do not look at each passenger, something is wrong with your system.
Look what happened, Richard Reid, the shoebomber, hid the explosives in his shoes. The result -- all of us have to take off our shoes when we come to the airport. The Nigerian guy hid his explosives in his underwear. The result -- everyone now will be seen naked. Is this the security system that we want?

Life: Are no right turn on red ticket traps?

I'd figure that in 99 of 100 intersections it is legal to turn right against a red light if it is safe.

But there are some intersections where you can't turn right on red.

I suppose there might be a safety reason for that restriction.

Or is it a great revenue source for the local municipality to have that?

Devotional Thoughts: love one another deeply from the heart

Coming up on the end of Chapter 1 of I Peter ...

The Bible does contain elements of "deep thought." But I think foremost there is a linkage between theology and living life.

Here in the latest part of chapter one is a very practical challenge:

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.

There is the truth of a holy God and what God has done in sending Jesus.

Then there is a response that is called for ... love.

This isn't intellectual rocket science!

But it does require a transformation ...

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever." And this is the word that was preached to you.

Do we naturally love without God changing us?

Parental love for children is real. The love of friends is real.

These are beautiful expressions of love and reflect God's desire for how we are to live.

But of course, we have a connection in both cases ... a family tie and some common ground that provides emotional affinity for our friends.

How hard is it love a stranger?

This is where the church as a community can rise or fall. The people listening to this letter from Peter might have some family ties to each other. Some might have friendship connections from daily life. But I would guess that some (many?) would be strangers to each other.

Will they live up to this call to love?

Will the common ground of wanting to follow Jesus connect them?

And, of course, will the call to love extend beyond their own church community?

Indeed, one can marshal evidence of how Christians have failed to love. All too true.

But one must also look at the schools, hospitals, orphanages, support groups and other things that people of faith have started.

And hopefully, my transformed life will be evidence that God is alive as well.

Lord, thank you for Jesus and the transformation he has brought. Help me to live out the command to love. Clear out the hardness of my heart and replace it with a new heart that sees with your eyes and hears with your ears. Amen.

Politics: Public option debate?

Labor Unions plan to fight for the public option found in the House bill which was a deal breaker to get to 60 in the Senate bill.

Politicians often speak out of both sides of their mouths so much that we are rarely outraged by the fact that they do.

The Public Option debate is one of those issues where they double talk all the time.

One on hand some believe the ideal system is a single national system like Canada or the UK thus substituting the current problems we have with a whole bunch of other ones. But since they know the US voters don't like a single national plan, they propose a public option that they say will be offered along with the private system hiding the fact that they could write the rules in such a way that the public option would eventually become the only option which is what they really want.

Further compounding the double speak is their assurances, contrary to their internal desire for a single system, they make that the public option would compete on an equal footing with private insurance plans to increase competition in the marketplace. Oh, the wonders of free market capitalism, they seem to support. But, of course, the only way a public option would compete on a truly equal footing is to configure it like a private insurance plan which it obviously can't be by definition!

A public option would have an implicit or explicit ability to receive taxpayer support. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae didn't have an explicit promise of taxpayer support but the people running them consciously or unconsciously knew they had a taxpayer safety net and acted accordingly playing a big part in the real estate loan bust-up. Imagine a similar entity for health care insurance?

I have also heard that the public option would be immune to lawsuits unlike private insurance. And of course, there are tons of regulations placed on private insurance. Some regulations make sense of course but it really isn't about making things better, its about the Federal Government picking winners and losers and gathering more power to itself.

So when you hear politicians make some claim about health reform ... you can figure in their heads and behind our backs they are saying something else.

Yep, how do we know politicians are lying ... their lips are moving.

How sad is that?

Science: Natural Obsessions and Naturally Obsessed

What is it like to be a molecular biology researcher?

Most movies have scientists in the form of the "mad scientist" or the "nerd scientist."

But what about a realistic portrait of the life of the average lab researcher?

When I was a graduate student, Natural Obsessions was the book that told the story of our profession.

For this generation, Naturally Obsessed is a one-hour documentary that attempts to capture the life of the lab. I hope to see it on Netflix at some point or if it gets shown on TV or some other venue.

The titles of the two works say it all.

To be a research scientist requires a certain level of smarts.

But a lot of people are smart and many even smarter who do other things and rightly so.

What lab research requires most is persistence and dogged determination that borders and crosses the line into obsession. It requires the willingness to try again an experiment a little differently. It requires the drive to look at the data that extra dozen times to find out what went wrong and what went right. It requires drawing up models to explain the data and then ruthlessly ripping it up for flaws. And after doing that going back to the data and trying another model that looks at the problem sideways.

No, there won't be a TV show called, LA Lab nor a soap opera called General Research Unit or Gray's Biology but our story is being told.

If you want to see if passion and reason can be combined, then talk to a research scientist.

Heading into the October international break

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