Wednesday, August 31, 2005


We spent most of the first ten years of our marriage on the Gulf Coast, including a short stay in Biloxi (Keesler AFB), four years at Panama City (Tyndall AFB), and following fourteen months in exile in central California (Modest0), another four years in Zachary, Louisiana, a few miles north of Baton Rouge.

Probably much more than my coworkers and neighbors, then, I have been riveted to the unfolding calamity of Hurricane Katrina. We still have friends throughout the region, some of whom are no doubt suffering at least the loss of power (speaking of coworkers, help is on the way). Even without the human connection, knowing the places which are now underwater or totally missing puts a different spin on the event. As I told a colleague this week, as much as I enjoyed our time in Louisiana, just this week I'm glad not to be there.

I have to add my respect to the efficient evacuation of New Orleans before the storm; frankly, I didn't expect so many in that brash and brazen city to exercise such discretion. Congratulations to not only the Diaspora but to the mayor and the governor for their leadership in this ... no doubt thousands are alive today who would have been drowned.

There's not much I can add to the story at this distance except to say (1) we're praying for you, and (2) here are the best sources of information I've found this week:

The Advocate (Baton Rouge) and WBRZ-TV2 - Reports are the major impacts are loss of power and addition of many, many refugees from New Orleans and surrounding parishes. I read that the schools in Baker and Zachary, almost alone in East Baton Rouge Parish, will be open today or this week. What amazes me is the repeat of Hurricane Andrew, which we rode out in Zachary in 1992; just like Katrina, the weather service seemed to take the attitude that a major storm hundreds of miles across would just shrivel like a salted slug when it touched the Mississippi delta. No need for alarm in Baton Rouge, shoot, it must be a hundred miles from Grand Isle.

Note for New Orleans forecasters: Please ask Charlotte N.C. about Hurricane Hugo, or Raleigh about Hurricane Fran, or for that matter, look at what Andrew did in Baton Rouge. I have a lot of respect for meteorologists, but I have to say it boggled me to read the dismissive predictions for this storm, so similar to the last ones. Obviously NWS offices differ from place to place.

The Times-Picayune (New Orleans) - publishing in pdf mode since evacuating their building near the Superdome. "Most of our readers are no longer here," some one commented, "but they can get to the Internet and they want to find out what's happening." We spent some time in New Orleans (how could you avoid it?) though not frequently. It sounds as though Jackson Square and the Cathedral fared better than they might have, though Antoine's lost part of a wall on the third floor. (For the record, we only splurged there twice, but it's one of those things like visiting the Opera in Vienna ... quintessential). While I don't know the Ninth Ward, which flooded first and worst, I do remember driving through the levees at different points, where they had pumping stations and flood gates alongside the road. I also remember the long bridges across Pontchartrain, including the I-10 span which is now destroyed.

The Sun Herald (Biloxi) - Biloxi is a narrow strip of land, and our apartment was just across US 90 from the beach, directly under the approach path for Keesler's runway. Every evening about sundown the daily medivac plane would fly over; our cat, Sugar, would sit in the bedroom window and watch it with interest. From reports, nearly everything from the CSX tracks on the south boundary of the base, to the water, is history. I'm waiting to hear if Jefferson Davis' home, Beauvoir, survived.

Update: No, it didn't. The Sun Herald reports: Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis home in Biloxi. The bottom floor of the library and the home itself were gutted. A Confederate flag, though, still draped over the arm of Davis' statue in the library. One of the surreal touches which these storms always seem to leave behind.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

On the road

ITEM: In Avery County, Three Mile Highway is 4.6 miles long.

It may be due to the settlement called ... Three Mile.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Traffic Control

This is the neatest traffic condition site I've seen. Worth exploring all the side streets, too. Nota bene the "Jam Factor" scales on major roadways.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Here's a test message sent from my cell phone.

Monday, August 22, 2005

That counts

My mother, a school librarian, had a book called The Ten Best Things About Barney, in which a little boy grieving over a dead pet is encouraged to list ten good things to remember the dog by. As these things do, the "Ten Good Things" has become a bit edgier in our family, usually applied to really unpleasant situations -- like the scene in "Young Frankenstein" when one grave robber tells the other it's a rotten, crummy job they have. The other demurs "It could be worse"; "How?"; "It could be rainin' !"

We had an opportunity to count blessings for real last night. We drove the usual Indy-start Sunday traffic up I-95 to church in Rocky Mount, parked, and took our seats. A friend who pulled in right after me tapped me on the shoulder and said I had a tire in the process of going flat. Since the service hadn't started yet, we slipped back out and found, yes, the valve stem had separated from the rim, and before my friend and I could pry off the hub cap, the tire was flat.

After a challenging sermon on diligence, several friends helped us change the tire (a lot of exercise on a 3/4 ton van, on a day which hit 105 earlier) and we drove home as night fell.

Now, what was blessed about that?

1. We didn't lose a front tire at 70 mph, surrounded by traffic.
2. We were able to determine what had failed
3. We found out early enough that we could repair it while it was daylight
4. It happened in the church parking lot rather than alongside a road
5. We were surrounded by friends with tools and willing hands.
6. We had the spare tire (being a full size truck tire, sometimes we don't have it on board)

That's just six, but the list can go on. Potential alternatives could have been a crash at highway speeds; going flat in one of the deserted places between Rocky Mount and Smithfield; having to change it alongside the road and in the dark, without help; and more.

So there are quite a few good things about a flat tire at church.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

A portable solution

The Wilson Daily News reported yesterday on the proposal to place toll booths every thirty miles along I-95.

Friend and JLF president John Hood likes the idea, but as the paper notes, "Hood said engineering concerns exist about retrofitting an existing highway for tolls. He said if a new road is built with tolls in mind, construction of the highway and its exit and entrance ramps reflect that purpose."

That may be, but then, you could also do what they do in China, and plop down one of these portable toll booths wherever you feel like it. If it doesn't work out like you want, just snatch it up and put it somewhere else.

For that matter, you can add and subtract them at will. Need more repair money between mile markers 121 and 138? Drop an extra booth or two. Traffic too fast between Fayetteville and Lumberton? Add more toll booths and slow it down. Business slow in Kenly? Put three or four between US 301 and US 264 at Wilson, and I'll bet commerce picks up ... along with the collective blood pressure.

And you're not even considering the possibilities along the secondary roads. What fun.

A simple rule

John Hood's comments about video games earlier this week were just a few days ahead of WPTF's Kevin Miller, who interviewed attorney Jack Thompson about his work against the increasing violence and prurient content of video games, and the BBC's story on the same subject.

We adopted a very simple rule with our boys some time ago, based on Proverbs 14:9 (Fools laugh at sin ...) -- whatever would not be permitted in reality, isn't permitted in fun, either. Sin is serious, play is practice for life, and we don't rehearse things which should require repentence.

Carried out consistently, this answers a lot of questions. Combat flight simulators are okay, because there is an honorable service to country; Grand Theft Auto is not. Leading armies into battle is okay -- the boys love the Civilization II and Age of Empires games -- but rapine and pillage are not. Historic simulations and "what if" scenarios that may be played out are educational, but when the secret code unleashes flying sports cars with machine guns to slaughter the knights of the Second Crusade -- you've just stepped out of bounds. It's even acceptable to be Pharoah of Egypt, but we draw the line at building his temples (Thou shalt have no other gods before Me; Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image ... )

This rule works on the computer or off -- for example, you're not allowed to pretend to shoot your brother, but both of you are allowed to shoot imaginary villains and invaders, in order to defend your home or country. To facilitate this, we require the boys to all be on the same "team" when pretending this way; it can't always be done in sports or some other games -- and sometimes we see hurt feelings and unchristian behavior as a consequence.

Some folks have looked at us a bit funny, finding that we allow toy guns but discipline the boys if they point them at each other. Sometimes it's a fine line, I freely admit. But part of being a man is knowing the proper boundaries of the use of force, and the proper application of doctrine and character to life -- requirements of the groups of men we call "governments", too. And I want my sons prepared for both roles.

Flat Earth

My review of Thomas Friedman's book on globalism in business, The World Is Flat , appears in the August issue of Carolina Journal, page 20.

RALEIGH -- Many of us have spoken with call-center operators in Bangalore, India, and would be only slightly surprised that Wal-Mart is China’s eighth largest trading partner — larger than most nations. I was surprised, though, to hear a Hispanic acquaintance worry over the impact that globalization was having on his friends’ businesses in Mexico. Thomas Friedman says our NAFTA partner hears the "giant sucking sound" in stereo.

Welcome to Thomas Friedman’s new book, The World Is Flat. In it, he posits three historic periods of global development — the age of discovery and colonization, followed by a period of business consolidation and growth across national boundaries, and now dawning on an age of information transfer and knowledge workers, spread out and settled in wherever an Internet connection can be made. As the traditional model of vertically integrated, heavily hierarchical corporations converts to a horizontal and collaborative network of contractors, partnerships, and offshore talent, Friedman says the world is flattening, and barriers to trade, culture, and thought are coming down. Not everyone likes it, though.

RTWT here.

For God's sake

There is a danger in reading too much into providential situations. The sky clears overhead in time for your parade, and you (properly) bless God, but don't recognize you may be participating in someone else's direct intervention. The blue sky was not about you at all, though you're welcome to enjoy it when it comes.

I was reading in Ezekiel recently and noticed, again, how directly he speaks to our generation. In chapter 20, the elders of Israel came to the prophet seeking a word from the Lord; His word, it seems, was "Go away".

"Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel and say to them, '"Have you come to ask of Me? As I live," says the Lord Jehovah, "I will not be inquired of by you."'" (20:3)

He then lays out the pattern of Israel's history -- God reveals Himself to Israel, who then ignores or repudiates His commandments, leading God to purpose judgment against them ... but repeatedly, to relent. Why?

"But I worked for My name's sake, that it should not be profaned before the nations among whom they were" (20:9, cf 20:14, 22)

This went on from 1447 B.C. to the 590's, when Ezekiel began his ministry.

The blow falls in verse 39 -- "'And you, O house of Israel,' so says the Lord Jehovah: 'Every man go and serve his idols, and do so from now on if you will not listen to Me. But never again defile My holy name with your gifts and your idols.'"

To be written off by the only Hope is a fearful thing.

We are fools to think that God's apparent mercy toward us in our rebellion is solely for our good. Here is God's own chosen nation, placing itself in opposition to Him time and again, and spared -- not because they are worth it, but because it would dishonor God's name in the sight of the world to do otherwise. Israel was not chosen because they were special, but the other way around. And their time eventually ran out.

We need to pay attention here, individually, corporately, nationally. Even in repentence, He reminds us of the same overriding fact:

"'And you shall know that I am the LORD when I have worked with you for My name's sake, not according to your wicked ways nor according to your corrupt doings, O house of Israel,' says the Lord Jehovah." (20:44)

It is a hallmark of His providence that any blessing bestowed is a matter of grace to the undeserving. Ultimately, it's not about us at all, ever; it's all about God, and His honor. For what, indeed, is the chief end of man?

Monday, August 08, 2005

Why, indeed

I was part of a conversation with the owner of a Christian bookstore catering to homeschoolers. In her area she meets a number of parents who come in looking for curriculum but specifying, very definitely, they do not want materials with a Christian flavor to them, and do not want their children exposed to Christian teaching.

She told me she is in business to serve whomever needs help, so she guides them to books which meet their specification. She mused, though, over how often these same parents will ask her, "Why is all the good stuff Christian?"

I read a similar comment online this weekend, where a mother in Arizona is starting a homeschool organization for Pagans. She mentions as part of her inspiration that she had attended a high school graduation presented by Arizona Families for Home Education, saying "the ceremony was beautiful and seeing so many homeschoolers graduate was amazing ..." (link here for attribution, not endorsement)

Why indeed. My friend's response about the benefit of starting with Truth as your foundation was said in love, and accurate. The question which came to my mind, though, was what prevents the same question from rising in relation to any other field -- art, music, engineering, medicine, literature. Why not?

Take it seriously

Ye who think of sin but lightly
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.

Mark the Sacrifice appointed,
See who bears the awful load;
'Tis the Word, the Lord's Anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.

-- Thomas Kelly (1769-1855)
"Stricken, smitten, and afflicted" (No. 192)
Tune: O Mein Jesu, Ich Muss Sterben
From the Geistliche Volkslieder

Friday, August 05, 2005

A policeman's lot is not an 'appy one

Shades of Raiders of the Lost Ark: Policemen in Michigan had to unholster a stun gun when a hit-and-run driver confronts them in medieval garb -- long sword and all.

Closer to home, a teenaged girl is in jail charged with aggravated (aggravating?) assault after spitting on a Cary, N.C. police officer.

And in St Petersburg, Florida, police chief Chuck Harmon says it was not a violation of policy for officers to handcuff a five-year-old schoolchild.

"This child needed some intervention, but I don't think it was by law enforcement," Harmon said, calling the handcuffing "premature."

We don't pay these guys enough for the nonsense they have to put up with.