Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

31 March 2004

The fearful responsibility of a teacher

Apparently Princeton has justified its hiring of Peter Singer by appealing to academic freedom. As a university instructor myself I would hardly be opposed to academic freedom. But when does freedom become mere licence? The mantra of academic freedom can be used to justify a multitude of sins.

Shortly after I began teaching, I had a jarring experience one day sitting at table in the cafeteria with several of my students. I have always immensely enjoyed my students, and even back then I sensed a considerable rapport with them. In the course of our conversation, one of them repeated back to me something I had mentioned in class as if it were gospel truth. As I recall, she didn't cite me as the source, but it had evidently become part of her -- and perhaps part of the very fabric of the cosmos as she was coming to understand it from her youthful vantage point. I found this jarring, because in an instant I understood the great influence teachers can have over their students -- for good or for ill. That night I had difficulty sleeping. I had the words of the apostle James running through my head: "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness" (James 3:1).

More than a decade and a half later, the emotional impact of this episode may have diminished, but I am still vividly aware of the fearful responsiblity given to those of us who teach. A winning personal style, a touch of humour and genuine expressions of care so easily translate into a deep bond of loyalty between students and professors. But join these positive qualities to a life philosophy rooted in what the Pope has labelled the culture of death, and the potential harm to such students is horrible to consider. Generations of ethicists will be produced whose consciences may have been muted by the diabolical teachings of someone under the guise of academic freedom.

But sometimes students are wiser than their professors. After all, Princeton Students Against Infanticide does not appear to enjoy the encouragement of the faculty or administration. For this student-led initiative we can rightly thank God.

In the meantime, academics best fulfil their weighty calling when they are aware of the impact they inevitably have in the lives of their students and are thus careful what they teach them. When they lose sight of this, it's time for them to go into another line of work.

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'Responsible government' in US?

President George W. Bush has reversed himself and will allow National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to testify before Congress. Might this be seen as a one-time-only imitation of our own daily question period here in Canada?

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How sweet it is

Congratulations are due to David Sweet, who won the Conservative nomination for the riding of Ancaster, Dundas, Flamborough and Westdale on monday evening. Our sympathies go out to John Bryden, who successfully finished off his own political career with great swiftness and dexterity.

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30 March 2004

Someone to steer clear of

During my Princeton visit I was happy not to see the notorious Peter Singer, who masquerades as an academic ethical philosopher. I might, however, have liked to meet with Princeton Students Against Infanticide. Ironically Prof. George, whom I did meet, reports that he and Singer are actually in agreement on a number of issues. Both believe that, if one countenances abortion, there is no logical reason to object to infanticide. Of course, the two differ on whether these are ethically permissible practices, with George objecting and Singer approving.

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America: good or bad?

What do young Canadians think about their southern neighbour? Here is a debate between our own Iakovos and Evghenis on the topic. Is it just possible that Canada and the United States are ordinary countries, sharing with all others in that they possess undoubted virtues and faults alike? Naturally people tend to have greater affection for their own country than for others. But occasionally we hear of people for whom, to coin a phrase, the grass appears to be greener on the other side of the fence.

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Another year

What's it like to be 49? I'll ask my parents. They were here first.

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29 March 2004

Sign of life?

There is methane on Mars.

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NATO enlargement

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia are now members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Is it time to admit Russia?

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New Jersey notes

During my visit to Princeton this past weekend, I stayed in nearby Hamilton, New Jersey. I wonder what would have happened at US customs if they had asked where I lived and where I was going and I had answered "Hamilton" to both. Confusion, at the very least.

The weather was lovely, with temperatures on friday and saturday as high as 20 degrees C. The crocuses were in bloom, and we even sat in an outdoor café on Nassau Street at one point.

The northern part of New Jersey was evidently part of Nieuw Nederland in the first part of the 17th century. That explains such names as Nassau in and around Princeton. In New Brunswick, where Rutgers University is located, the Reformed Church in America has a seminary, obviously a remnant of Dutch influence.

Railfans will be interested to know that there is a one-car electric train, or dinky, that runs between the Princeton campus and Princeton Junction, where it connects to the main passenger rail line between New York and Philadelphia. Service looks to be quite frequent.

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Two anniversaries

Almost exactly ten years ago I initiated an email correspondence with a professor of biblical studies at Wheaton College whom I had met nearly two years earlier through my sister. Both were members of First Presbyterian Church, Glen Ellyn, Illinois. To make a long story short, this woman became my beloved wife in 1996. So I suppose it's the tenth anniversary of the beginning of our courtship.

Tomorrow I will have attained the ripe old age of half a century less one year. If I live as long as my great-grandfather is reputed to have lived, perhaps I'll have another 61 years to go, should God permit.

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28 March 2004

Weekend at Princeton

I've just returned from two full days at the campuses of Princeton University and Princeton Seminary, where I spoke at the annual retreat of the Woodrow Wilson Graduate Christian Fellowship, an affiliate of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. The topic of the retreat was "Political Visions and Illusions," which just happens to be the title of my book. I was privileged to enjoy the generous hospitality of Jim and Jill McCullough. Jim is the leader of the fellowship and the one who arranged for me to come.

I arrived late thursday afternoon. On friday we toured the campus, which I had previously visited six years ago on the occasion of a conference marking the centenary of Abraham Kuyper's Stone Lectures, delivered at the seminary in 1898. In the late morning I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Prof. Robert George, a serious Catholic who teaches law in the political science department at the university. (While we were conversing with him at a local café, he received a phone call from Chuck Colson, of all people.)

In the afternoon I had the opportunity to meet and talk with two graduate students at nearby Rutgers University, Anil Jacob and Hank Suhr, whom I hope to keep in contact with. Hank had recently been at the Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh, where he met up with the group of students from Redeemer who attended this year.

The conference itself took place yesterday at the Nassau Christian Center, adjacent the university campus. It consisted of a mixture of small group discussions and plenary sessions at which I was, of course, the speaker. The students were mostly studying in the MPA programme at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Obviously they were an extremely bright and enthusiastic lot, and I enjoyed them immensely. The MPA is a two-year programme with a highly practical focus, including a summer internship overseas. I spoke with one student who had done her internship in East Timor, and another had visited east Africa.

My own talks were based on chapters 1 and 7-9 of my book. I spoke twice, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. It was an enjoyable experience all in all. I am glad to have been able to offer something to this great group of young people with so many gifts to be used in the service of God's kingdom.

I would like to have met Max Stackhouse and Hughes Oliphant Old at the seminary. But both were out of town. Some other time perhaps.

Now back down to earth. I've got a stack of papers waiting for me to grade.

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26 March 2004

Supportive thesis?

Could Gods That Fail: Modern Idolatry & Christian Mission, by Vinoth Ramachandra, fit in well with the thesis of Political Visions and Illusions?

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Clarke's charges

It's amazing how one man can cause so much turmoil for a sitting US president.

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25 March 2004

Trouble at Baylor

Roberto Rivera discusses the recent controversy engendered by an editorial in the student newspaper at Baylor University, whose president, Robert Sloan, has been trying to make the 159-year-old institution the world's largest christian university. Rivera's last paragraph would appear to indicate that he did not miss his calling when he decided not to teach undergraduates.

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Ending religious freedom?

Let's hope and pray that Richard Dawkins never gets into a position of political leadership. It wouldn't be the first time that supposed enlightenment had led to authoritarian, or even totalitarian, rule at the expense of believers in revealed religion.

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24 March 2004

Talks begin today

The four-party talks on Cyprus are set to begin today in the Swiss resort city of Bürgenstock. However, no movement is expected before the arrival of the Greek and Turkish prime ministers on sunday. Today's talks will involve the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot leaders, along with the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey proper.

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23 March 2004

Announcement made

"Salty Sea Covered Part of Mars: 'Excellent' Site to Search for Past Life." But no little green men. Too bad.

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Where are we going?

Here is Chuck Colson on "An Everlasting Playground: Understanding the Nature of Heaven." Many Christians have bought into one of two visions of the afterlife: the therapeutic heaven or the luxurious heaven. Colson argues, quite rightly, that these are defective. My question: what ever happened to the new earth, which scripture indicates is our ultimate destination? It seems odd that a reflection on the afterlife would neglect to mention it. Perhaps he needs to read this.

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Shift in priorities needed

Jan Peter Balkenende: "It is true that the United States spends more on defense than the countries of the European Union. But Europe is responsible for more than half of all government aid to developing countries. My own country [the Netherlands], for example, spends 0.8 percent of its gross domestic product on development cooperation." Perhaps it's time to balance things out a bit between the US and Europe: Europe needs to spend more on its own defence and the US needs to spend more on foreign aid.

Where does Canada fit in? My guess is that we are in the same boat with the Europeans on this.

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Red planet announcement due

"Major Mars revelation likely today." What could it be? Little green men?

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22 March 2004

The second commandment, again

Could it possibly be true that this venerable Children's Bible, used over the decades in so many Reformed households to teach children the faith, is in violation of the second commandment? Some would appear to think so.

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21 March 2004

Greek wannabes, revisited

One more Greek name for a student: Brian Dijkema is now Theodhoros Daekemides.

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The human side of railways

Much as I am finding MS Train Simulator fascinating, and as realistic as its virtual world appears to be, it is missing something rather crucial: people! Although I myself am the supposed driver of the locomotive, the passenger cars are empty, and the automobiles buzzing by on adjacent roadways are curiously bereft of drivers. This virtual world is, in short, an eerily lifeless world, perhaps rather like that left by the detonation of a neutron bomb: it kills people but leaves buildings standing. This is not to say Train Simulator is not enjoyable; it is indeed. It is hard to equal the vivid sensation of moving from one point to another at high speeds.

Yet many railfans focus rather excessively on equipment. Much as the readers of Playboy or Penthouse (sorry, guys, no links!) focus narrowly on the physical characteristics of the undressed females on their pages, those collecting books and magazines about trains tend to neglect the human side of the railways. Even those working for the railways developed an entire industrial subculture that became the stuff of legends and folk songs. (Think of "Casey Jones" or "I've Been Working on the Railroad.") The early history of post-confederation Canada itself was to no small extent the story of the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

For those old enough to remember, there was a palpable excitement in the air at a big-city railway terminal such as New York's Grand Central Station or Pennsylvania Station. The Chicago of my childhood had its Union Station, Northwestern Station, LaSalle Street Station, Dearborn Station, Grand Central Station and Central Station, all within a few city blocks of each other, with railways fanning out in all directions linking America's second city to the rest of the country and beyond. As children, two or three times a year my siblings and I would accompany my mother (and sometimes my father) to the LaSalle Street Station, famously overshadowed by the Chicago Board of Trade Building, where we would board a New York Central diesel-electric streamliner to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to visit my grandmother and other relatives. Everyone hurrying through these downtown terminal stations would have a story to tell: travelling to California on holiday, going to visit friends or relatives, picking up a loved one after a business trip, and so on. During the Second World War the railways were especially busy, with soldiers being transported to various and sundry places for purposes of national defence. How many couples would have kissed goodbye in those palatial and cavernous buildings, not knowing whether they would ever see each other again? These are poignant moments that I have come to attach to the last golden age of the railways, which extended into my own childhood, but not much beyond.

Grand Central Station, New York
Grand Central Station, New York


Airports are simply not the same. Air travel takes one to his or her destination fairly quickly. One hardly has time actually to settle into an airline trip, unless one is flying overseas. But part of the excitement of long distance rail travel comes from the sense of anticipation of a long journey, and hours ahead to fill with reading, eating in the dining car, enjoying a drink or two in the club car, taking in the scenery, and possibly retiring to sleeping quarters in a Pullman car. A transcontinental train was like a hotel or resort on wheels, where one could get a haircut or a three-course meal, enjoy conversation with newly-found friends, or even, like Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest, find romance.

There is, of course, no way a computer simulation could possibly replicate such an experience. So I'll enjoy it for what it is, despite its limitations, and be content to remember the real thing.

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20 March 2004

Conservative leadership race

Stephen Harper has won.

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Obscene theology?

Here is John Dominic Crossan on the theology behind The Passion of the Christ, as reported in monday's Hamilton Spectator:

It's a theory of divine violence. . . . It is a God that, rather than forgiving, punishes by taking it all out on his own beloved son. I find that theology obscene and would never want to worship such a God."

I fail to understand why I should find such expressions persuasive. There are two obvious difficulties here.

First, truth. To be sure, it is not uncommon for people to announce, in magisterial fashion, that they could never worship a god who would -- fill in the blanks -- save some people and not others. . . or send people to hell. . . or prohibit them from doing what they have a mind to do. If they were speaking only for themselves, then I suppose they would simply be expressing an honest sentiment, which is fine. But usually such statements are uttered in the expectation that they are of some significance for the rest of us as well. This is where they run into trouble. If God really is who he has revealed himself to be in Scripture and in Jesus Christ, then whether or not a Prof. Crossan is able to accept this is altogether beside the point. Truth is truth, whether we like it or not.

Second, forgiveness. Yes, God forgives. Scripture tells us so repeatedly. We are in turn told to forgive as God forgives us. But if forgiveness is not anchored in the shed blood of Jesus Christ, it lacks foundation. If we try to make forgiveness a substitute for God's judgement, then we do not grasp genuine forgiveness, which degenerates into mere sentimentality and permissiveness. But God's judgement is the very source of forgiveness. Our fear of God and our trust in his redemption are not opposites: they are intimately connected. Sin is a serious matter. Deadly serious. In receiving redemption in Jesus Christ, we are freed from something genuinely fearsome and terrible. If Crossan is unable to accept the truth of the Father's relationship to the Son, then his talk of forgiveness rings hollow indeed.

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Balkenende's speech

Here is the text of the speech delivered by Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende at Princeton on 15 March.

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Prinses Juliana Louise Emma Marie Wilhelmina (1909-2004)

Queen Beatrix's mother, the former Queen Juliana of the Netherlands (reigned 1948-1980), has died at age 94.

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Good news from Iraq?

One year after the American-led coalition launched its attack on Iraq, Paul Marshall judges that things have gone reasonably well, all things considered.

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19 March 2004

The latest from Center

Here is the new Capital Commentary from the Center for Public Justice, written by an obscure political scientist at an equally obscure Canadian university, and dated 22 March:

Rebalancing NATO

The United Nations (UN) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have both been around for more than half a century. However, the latter has been much more successful than the former. Why? Although the UN has done good work, most notably through its special bodies, such as the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), it has been unsuccessful in establishing a global regime of collective security for its members.

By contrast, NATO has been one of the most successful international organizations ever. Established in 1949 to contain communism, it has now survived its former opponent by nearly a decade and a half. Yet far from outliving its usefulness, central and east European countries are clamoring to be admitted into the alliance. Why?

For more than half a century NATO has successfully created a secure space free from the scourge of warfare. It might now be said to be functioning primarily to keep its members from fighting each other, much as it prevented Greece and Turkey, which joined in 1952, from going to war on at least four occasions. The death of the Warsaw Pact in 1991 left a security vacuum that NATO would appear to be ideally positioned to fill. The lure of military protection as found in NATO is as strong as--and possibly stronger than--the lure of economic prosperity in the European Union.

The trouble with NATO, however, is that its zone of peace is an unbalanced one, based primarily on overwhelming American military dominance. This imbalance can be seen in two ways. First, as the US is by far the largest and wealthiest of the NATO members, it can afford a substantial military capacity in absolute terms that the others cannot. But second, even as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), military spending in the US is higher than that of most other members. According to the US defense department, in 2000 the US spent just short of 3 percent of its GDP on defense. Only Turkey and Greece, less prosperous countries, spent proportionately more, at 5.71 and 4.92 percent respectively. Other NATO members devoted a much smaller share of their resources to defense. Canada, for example, spent 1.17 percent. An increase of military expenditures closer to 3 percent of GDP by other NATO members might enhance the collective power of Europe and Canada vis-a-vis the US, for the net effect of the current low spending levels is to magnify further the American influence within the Atlantic alliance. Since 9/11 this influence has only increased, as US defense spending is now variously estimated to stand at between 3.2 and 5 percent of GDP.

Over the long term, it is in no one's interest to permit this imbalance within NATO. Last year's attack on Iraq has deepened the divisions within the alliance, as Europeans and Canadians alike have generally responded adversely to American defense policies under the current president. Yet without a commitment to augment their own military capabilities and thereby to carry their fair share of the burden of the common defense, these countries' governments are tacitly consenting to live under American protection and priorities. This is not good for these countries, whose legitimate interests deserve just treatment but are likely to be eclipsed in a US-dominated alliance. Nor will ordinary Americans, who are currently acquiescing in the efforts of their leaders to reorder the world, wish to send their own young men and women overseas to defend, say, Estonians and Hungarians, if the perceived interests of Americans are not obviously at stake.

NATO must be rebalanced to make it less American-dominated. Responsibly boosting defense expenditures by the other members of the alliance would be a start towards developing a more equitable zone of peace in Europe and North America.

--David T. Koyzis, Professor of Political Science, Redeemer University College (Ancaster, Ontario)

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What's next for Mel?

Could Mel Gibson become the next Cecil B. DeMille? Reports are coming in that his next project could be a cinematic rendition of the Maccabean revolt more than a century and a half before Christ. Might we be seeing a string of biblical epics under his direction?

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18 March 2004

Try to top this trip

Jakob Van Dorp describes his recent trip to Philadelphia and to Princeton, where he heard the Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende (who is said to bear an uncanny resemblance to Harry Potter), receive the Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life. I wish I had been there.

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Surprise change

This afternoon I received in change at the Redeemer cafeteria a United States steel penny minted in 1943, when copper was being reserved for the war effort. That's not something one sees everyday. Unfortunately it's not in the best of conditions, so I doubt it's worth much more than a red cent.

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Cyprus talks enter new stage

With not much time left, the Turkish and Greek prime ministers look set to enter the ongoing Cyprus talks on 28 March, the day of Turkish local elections. In the meantime the foreign ministers of the two countries will be chairing the negotiations. TRNC President Rauf Denktash is still dragging his feet and is threatening to boycott the process. The difference between his past and present behaviour is that he no longer has Ankara on side. Even his former sponsor is expressing impatience with him.

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Spain no longer target

One week after the deadly bombings in Madrid, "Islamist terror group 'calls truce' with Spain."

An Islamist group linked to al-Qaeda that claimed responsibility for last week's Madrid bombings has issued a statement calling a truce with Spain, adding weight to to fears that the Spanish election result is being viewed as a major triumph for Islamist groups opposed to US policy in the Middle East.

In a statement, obtained by two London-based Arabic language newspapers, the Abu Hafs al-Masri brigade claimed the attacks on Madrid represented a "victory" for the group.

"We gave the Spanish people a choice between war and peace, and they chose peace by electing the party that opposed the alliance with America in its war against Islam," the statement said.

If there was any doubt as to the terrorists' interpretation of last sunday's election results, this statement removes it. God help us.

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17 March 2004

A planetoid, not a planet

Uh oh. Pluto may be demoted. What next? Goofy? Mickey Mouse?

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Two ominous election results

Here is Russian journalist Yulia Latynina on sunday's elections in Russia and Spain, both of which she finds troubling, albeit for different reasons. First Spain:

The strategy unveiled by al-Qaida in Spain was as innovative as its destruction of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. In New York and Washington, Western civilization was attacked with the fruits of its own ingenuity, making clear that terrorists had no need for WMD. Why go to all the trouble of making bombs when all you have to do is hijack an airplane? In Spain, al-Qaida dealt Western society an even more horrifying blow: Not only the technological, but also the democratic infrastructure of Western society could be turned against it.

Then Russia:

The election in Russia was a different sort of tragedy. Democracy is a formal procedure whereby the candidate supported by the majority gets elected. But democracy also requires the separation of powers. In Russia no such separation exists any longer. The president has the executive, legislative and judicial branches under his thumb, as well as the fourth estate (or television, to be more precise).

Three cheers for Latynina and the opposition press corps. As long as she and others are able to say such things with impunity, Russia has not fully reverted to its old Soviet ways.

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16 March 2004

Vigilance in the face of terror

Appearances count for rather a lot when it comes to terrorism. Although Spaniards were already sceptical of their own government's participation in Bush's coalition of the willing, their repudiation of this government on the heals of last thursday's attack looks like an abject surrender. Here is commentary and analysis from something called (somewhat confusingly, at least for Canadians) New Democrats Online.

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This just in

"Georgia teetering on edge of civil war." I didn't know the earlier ones had actually ended.

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Een hollandse kosmos

. . . and beyond that lies the Oort Cloud. Heel mooi.

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Nether(landic) regions of the cosmos

Why do I find it vaguely comforting to know that our solar system is surrounded by something called the Kuiper Belt?

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15 March 2004

Another planet discovered?

NASA today announced the discovery of what may be a tenth planet in our solar system. They're naming it Sedna, after the Inuit goddess of the sea. It is slightly larger than Quaoar, another planet-like body discovered two years ago, and slightly smaller than Pluto, discovered in 1930.


NASA


All three are at the fringes of the solar system and may or may not be planets in the proper sense of the term. As the above illustration indicates, all are smaller than the moon, which is classed as a satellite rather than a planet.

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Response from Spanish ambassador

I received the following post this afternoon:

Dear Mr. Koyzis:

I wish to thank you sincerely for your kind words of sympathy in view of the horrendous terrorist attack that has affected all of Spain. Thank you, once again, for your solidarity and condolences which I have conveyed to my Government.

Affectionately,

José Ignacio Carbajal
Ambassador of Spain to Canada

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Holiday in sunny Canada

After being discussed two or three decades ago, it's back on the table: a possible union between Canada and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Snow birds will be ecstatic.

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A victory for terror

Sad to say, al-Qaeda's apparent plan has worked: "Spain to bring troops home from Iraq."

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Election results in two countries

Thursday's terror in Madrid has successfully brought down the government of Prime Minister José María Aznar's People's Party and put in its place the opposition Socialists. Voters evidently blamed Aznar for bringing Spain on side of the US-led coalition of the willing in Iraq, which apparently prompted the deadly bombing attack last week in the capital city. While one sympathizes with the Spanish people's grief and fear, and while there is reason to dispute Bush's foreign and defence policies, one can only regret that al-Qaeda seems now to be in the business of sabotaging the electoral process in democratic countries. This year sees a presidential election in the US. Will the organization now go after the big kid on the block? This is reason for continued vigilance.

In other developments, Russian President Vladimir Putin won re-election by a landslide in his country yesterday, to no one's surprise. Since coming to office four years ago, Putin has increasingly adopted the tactics of his Soviet-era predecessors to consolidate his power. This obviously does not bode well for Russian democracy.

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14 March 2004

The Passion and the second commandment

Among the more peculiar objections I've recently heard to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is that having a man portray Jesus is in violation of the second commandment. This objection could, of course, be levelled against all cinematic renditions of the gospels, including the famous Jesus film so championed by evangelicals and Franco Zeffirelli's reverent Jesus of Nazareth. It would also exclude all children's picture bible story books and virtually all sunday school curricula. Unfortunately this objection stands uncomfortably close to the ancient docetist heresy.

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Minor breakthrough in Cyprus?

It seems that Greek and Turkish Cypriot artists have come to agreement on a flag design for a reunified Cyprus. And what about a new national anthem? Perhaps my own submission still has a chance.

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13 March 2004

Runner's legacy

Andrew Vis writes with appreciation of the late Prof. H. Evan Runner, professor of philosophy at Calvin College.

Later: And now it's in the Crown.

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Condolences

Here is a copy of the email post I have sent to the Consul General of Spain in Toronto (cgspain{dot}toronto{at}mail{dot}mae{dot}es):

To the people of Spain:

I am certain I speak for all Canadians in expressing shock and sadness at the events of 11 March in your nation's capital city. Please accept our prayers and condolences. May the perpetrators of this crime be swiftly brought to justice.

Yours,

David T. Koyzis
Professor of Political Science
Redeemer University College


Others might wish to send similar posts to express solidarity with the Spanish people.

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Partisan politics and assigning responsibility

It seems that, just ahead of Spain's election tomorrow, its government prefers to assign responsibility for thursday's terrorist attack on ETA rather than al-Qaeda. If the latter is in fact responsible, this would call into question Madrid's support for the US-led war in Iraq. If ETA is to blame, the current government would be helped, since it has taken a tough line on the Basque terrorist organization. It is, of course, unlikely that investigators will find the answer before voters go to the polls.

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New strategy for Cyprus

After three weeks of negotiations with virtually no movement, the UN's Cyprus envoy, Alvaro de Soto, will be meeting separately with both sides in an intensive effort to secure an agreement ahead of the island's entry into the EU.

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12 March 2004

Timing coincidental?

The Madrid attack came exactly two and a half years, or 911 days, after September 11. Sounds like the work of al-Qaeda to me.

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Building your vocabulary

Paradigms, pl. n. for definition click here.

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Is it true?

Rumour has it that Gideon Strauss is a recovering vegetarian.

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Cyprus impasse

It appears that the Cyprus talks are effectively at an impasse, with the two sides able to agree only on a change of date for the forthcoming referendum on the agreement that they show little sign of reaching. If nothing comes of negotiations between the Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot sides, they will be joined by representatives of Greece and Turkey proper in Luzern, Switzerland. If an agreement is still not complete, UN Secretary General Kofi Anan will fill in the blanks. This will then go to the two Cypriot electorates on 20 April for their approval.

With the exception of the referendums, this all sounds reminiscent of the negotiations in Zürich and London that led to the failed Cyprus republic in 1960. One hopes that this time Cypriots as a whole will determine to make do with a less than perfect arrangement that might nevertheless be the best they can hope for.

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September 11 on March 11

Exactly two and a half years after al-Qaeda's attacks on New York and Washington, terrorists have struck the Spanish capital of Madrid. Is ETA or al-Qaeda responsible? Unknown at present. In the meantime pray for those affected by this attack. Is it appropriate to pray that the wicked will be punished? The authors of the Psalms would definitely say yes.

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11 March 2004

Ankara displeased over Orthodox move

The Turkish government is rather less than thrilled that the Ecumenical Patriarch has opened half of the positions on the Holy Synod, its ecclesiastical governing council, to non-Turkish citizens for the first time. In the old Ottoman days heads might have rolled. Now things are different. Why? "Turkey faces pressure from the European Union to expand the religious rights of minorities such as Greeks and implement other human rights improvements as part of its bid to join the bloc."

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The state as voluntary association

From the Acton Institute's website, here is a quotation from Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661): "Every man by nature is a freeman born; by nature no man cometh out of the womb under any civil subjection to king, prince, or judge." This is from question XIII of Lex Rex. On the face of it, and even after examining further the context in which this passage appears, I would conclude that it is not true. I appeal to my birth certificate as evidence to the contrary. As I was born in the United States, I was born a citizen of that country and as a subject to its government and laws.

The state is not a voluntary association. It is ordained by God to do justice, as Romans 13 affirms. The author of the Acton account argues that Rutherford believed this too. Yet he would appear to be putting the best face on what is essentially a voluntaristic, and thus defective, view of government.

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10 March 2004

Intriguing developments at Princeton

It seems there is a bit of a religious revival occurring at Princeton University, one of the American "ivy league" schools, which is creating something of a gulf between an increasingly believing student body and a more secular faculty. This made for fascinating dynamics in a recent on-campus panel discussion of Gibson's Passion.

I myself will be at Princeton in a few weeks to address an InterVarsity graduate student group there. I will undoubtedly be reporting on my visit after my return.

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Two kinds

There are two kinds of people in this world, those who divide everyone into two kinds and those who don't.

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09 March 2004

Transgressing created limits?

I must admit to being ambivalent about this development: New technique allows women to put fertility on hold." I can sympathize with married couples who struggle over infertility and desperately desire offspring. Yet is it really a good thing that, say, sixty-year-old women should be giving birth to children they may not live to see to adulthood? Are we in danger of transgressing a creational limitation? Have we thought carefully enough through the social implications of such a development? I doubt it.

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Tradition

According to Jaroslav Pelikan, tradition is the living faith of the dead, while traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Here is one person's intelligent reflections on this subject.

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08 March 2004

Violence against women

Today is International Women's Day. Accordingly, Amnesty International, the respected human rights organization, has launched a campaign to end violence against women. In alerting people to such issues as spousal abuse, rape, forced prostitution, and civilian casualties in wartime, AI has done us a service. However, there are two problems with this campaign.

First, it is based on the dubious assumption that somehow women are being singled out for acts of violence. Here is Jean Bethke Elshtain on the subject:

Eight years ago, I researched the issue of women as victims of crime. I learned that, on the best available evidence, the assertion that women are the principal victims of violent crime is false: The most vulnerable body to inhabit in America today, as it was when I conducted my research, is that of a young black male. As well, on the best available evidence, violence against women is not on a precipitous upsurge compared with other crimes. Yet popular perception, fueled by the victimization narrative, holds otherwise. As a result, women are more likely to think of themselves as crime victims. They have assumed an ideology of victimization that is startlingly out of proportion to the actual threat. The perception of "women as victims" goes beyond a deeply rooted belief that violence against women is skyrocketing; it holds that women are special targets of crime in general and of violent crime in particular. Yet the figures on this score have been remarkably consistent over the past decade: Most perpetrators of violent crimes are young males; most victims of violent crimes are young males similar in age and race to the perpetrators (Democracy on Trial, pp. 51-52).

Although Elshtain wrote this a decade ago, I would be very much surprised if things had changed in the meantime. Violent acts against women are to be deplored wherever and whenever they occur. But such violence is almost certainly part of a larger, longstanding pattern in which human beings prey on each other. It is but one more manifestation of the human condition after the fall into sin.

This brings us to the second problem, which is with the notion of ending violence outright. A campaign to end any social ill, whether it be alcoholism, prostitution, corporate greed, insider trading, shoplifting, racism, poverty, &c., is certain to meet with disappointment, because it does not take into account the reality of human sinfulness. To be sure, laws can be enacted to address such issues. If the social ill is caused by criminal acts, then those acts must be punished under the law when they occur. If the ills are deep-seated and are not related to criminal acts as such, e.g., racism and poverty, then they must be approached from several different angles, including, but not limited to, the political. Yet whichever category they fall into, it is utopian to expect that they will be elminated altogether. The most we can do is to work to moderate or weaken the effects of social ills, and to punish those who actually break the law, including those who abuse women. To expect any more is to expect too much.

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07 March 2004

Victory for Greece's NDP

Greece's Nea Demokratia (New Democracy Party) has defeated the Socialists in today's election. Unlike our own New Democratic Party, New Democracy is a small-c conservative party.

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Unlikely plotline

Theresa is a fan of The Magic School Bus videos and associated books. They are certainly educational, and Theresa has picked up an interest in the human body from at least one of them. But I'm still waiting for an episode in which Ms. Frizzle, teacher extraordinaire, is arrested on charges of child endangerment.

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Elections in Greece

Today is election day in Greece. Funny how politics in that country tends to stay within certain families. The names Papandreou and Karamanlis have been around for some time, beginning with George's grandfather, whose name was familiar in the 1950s and '60s, and Karamanlis' uncle, who picked the country back up again after the end of the dictatorship in 1974. Now some new faces are appearing, most notably a far-right figure, Giorgos Karatzaferis, leader of the LAOS (People's Orthodox Alert) party and counterpart to France's Jean-Marie Le Pen and his Front National. What does LAOS stand for? "'Our philosophy,' said Othon Floratos, the party's director-general, 'is deeply Orthodox Christian and Greek-centric. We remember our heroes.'"

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06 March 2004

Trains, trains, trains

I do not know much about computer games, and I generally avoid reading blogs that are heavily devoted to the subject. However, as a railfan, I've recently discovered one which is pretty nifty: Microsoft Train Simulator. Although the visuals are not exactly high resolution, it does an amazing job of putting one right inside the cab of several different kinds of locomotives, including steam, electric and diesel-electric. The routes are laid out in remarkable detail, even showing period automobiles, typical landscapes and buildings alongside the tracks. Six routes are included: the Marias Pass in Montana, Washington to Philadelphia, the Orient Express through the Austrian Alps, the Midland Railway in England between Carlisle and Settle, and two Japanese routes between Tokyo and Hakone, and between Yatsushiro and Yoshimatsu. One can choose a number of vantage points, both internal and external to the train, all controlled from the computer keyboard. My favourite internal view is of the club car on the Orient Express, complete with a smouldering cigarette, ceiling fans and background music.

If I could add some routes to a future edition, I would love to see:

(1) Twentieth Century Limited, New York Central's famous New York-Chicago train which ran between 1902 and 1967 (and featured in Alfred Hitchcock's great film, North by Northwest). I would choose the segment between Chicago and Elkhart, Indiana and set the action in 1948.

(2) Orient Express between Sofia, Bulgaria, and Constantinople, with the domes of Hagia Sophia in the background. I would choose 1910, when there was still a substantial Greek presence in The City and the Ottomans were still in charge.

(3) Chicago Aurora & Elgin, the electric interurban railroad that operated between 1902 and 1957 and went through my hometown of Wheaton, Illinois. I would choose 1951 as the year and cover the entire line, which is not very long.

(4) South Africa's famous Blue Train (die Bloutrein), running between Cape Town and Pretoria, perhaps around 1960 and covering the stretch from Cape Town that climbs the Hex River Pass. (No, I've not been there, but I have seen Great Railway Journeys of the World.)

(5) For Canadian content, either a Canadian Pacific transcontinental, somewhere in the Rockies, or Algoma Central's Agawa Canyon tour train northwards from Sault Sainte Marie. Time period negotiable, but the latter must be in September or October.

Labels:

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Gender differences

Coming soon. Not too long after my promised reflections on procrastination.

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Greek wannabes

I have been giving some of my students Greek names. (My wife Nancy I rechristened Anastasia, which means resurrection, some years ago.) John den Boer is of course Ioannis. Richard Greydanus I have renamed Vasilis, where the meanings of the two names are roughly equivalent. Graham Ware so likes his new monicker, Evghenis (Eugene), that he has put it at the top of his blog. As I always say, there are two kinds of people in the world, Greeks and those who wish to be Greeks.

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05 March 2004

No more Iraqs

The American-led war in Iraq may have been the last pre-emptive war, argues Stephen E. Meyer of the National Defense University in the latest Capital Commentary from the Center for Public Justice.

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04 March 2004

Rumour finally laid to rest

There is no truth to the rumour that, in between the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords, the eleven first ministers met at an automobile plant in Alliston, Ontario, to hammer out a new constitutional reform package known as the Honda Accord.

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03 March 2004

REC news

The Reformed Ecumenical Council, which unites some 10 million Reformed Christians around the world, publishes regular news reports from member churches. According to their latest, not everyone is happy with the forthcoming merger of the three Dutch churches into the Protestantse Kerk in Nederland. In both the Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk, the historic national church, and the smaller Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, there are groups with principial objections to the merger.

Further south, not all French citizens are pleased with the proposed law to ban headscarves in public buildings. In particular, Jean-Arnold de Clermont, President of the French Protestant Federation, has spoken out against the measure.

Finally, the Anglican Church in Uganda disinvited the Episcopal Church in the US from sending a representative to the installation of its new archbishop in January. The dividing issue is the recent approval of Eugene Robertson as the first openly homosexual bishop in the Episcopal Church.

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News (or no news) from Cyprus

The talks between the two communities in Cyprus to reunify the island continue, but thus far there have been no results, as indicated in this report in the EU Observer: "Greece: Cyprus talks could spill over after 1 May." One wonders whether this deadline is a realistic one. Moreover, there seems to be some disagreement between Romano Prodi, President of the EU Commission, and Pat Cox, President of the European Parliament, as to whether a solution to the Cyprus issue is a precondition for Turkish membership. They need to get their act together, or a settlement might not be forthcoming at all.

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Don't look at me

Although Mr. Joustra is certainly one of my students, I decline to take any responsibility for this.

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02 March 2004

Graduate studies

Here is an intriguing graduate programme offered by the J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. Political science students wishing to go on for further studies might wish to investigate this further. Although it is situated within the somewhat limiting framework of the church-state issue, the programme's description seems to have it encompassing more than this.

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Life on Mars?


Reuters


This report is from Reuters: "Mars Once 'Drenched with Water,' NASA Says." According to a related report,

NASA scientists say the robot hasn't found any direct traces of living organisms, but they say the findings suggest that if life had been present when the rocks were formed then the living conditions could have permitted an organism to flourish.

This is, of course, far from saying that life once existed on the red planet. I am not a biologist, but I can't help but wonder what mechanism these scientists would say played a role in producing life from nonlife on a planet having no contact with earth. As far as we know, life does not spontaneously generate from inert matter. Life doesn't simply arise when conditions are right. All the black soil in the world will not produce plants if no seeds or spores are present. If they are or once were present, where did they come from?

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Another review, an article and free publicity

Here is yet another review of my book in the new issue of Comment by Robert Brink. That same issue also carries my own article, "... of a number of things: Diversity in God's world."

While I'm at it, I should take this opportunity to thank my personal publicity agent for helping to ensure that my book sold out at the Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh last weekend.

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01 March 2004

St. David's Day

In the Greek Orthodox Church people generally celebrate the feast day of the saint for whom they were named rather than their own birthdays. If we followed this practice, today would be my name day. It is the feast day of St. David, the patron of and apostle to the Welsh.

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Book reviews

Two more reviews of Political Visions and Illusions have been published, one by Dan McKanan in the December 2003 issue of Catholic Library World, and another by Davide Bolognesi in Studi di teologia (2004), an Italian evangelical journal. From the latter I learned that I could be accurately described as dooyeweerdiano, presumably a good Italian adjective immediately understood by all speakers of the language! If the book is translated into Italian, then perhaps such terms as sussidiarietà, sovranità delle sfere and differenziazione delle responsabilità will enter ordinary discourse. One error in the review: Notre Dame is not a Jesuit university; it is affiliated with the Congregation of the Holy Cross. The rest of the review I'll need a dictionary to decypher.

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Canada's military

Working with Dutch-Canadians has made me aware of the contribution Canadian troops made to the liberation of the Netherlands from German occupation at the end of the Second World War. Unfortunately it is highly unlikely this country could mount even a fraction of this effort in a similar conflict. I have just finished reading J. L. Granatstein's Who Killed the Canadian Military? (HarperCollins, 2004), a damning indictment of successive governments extending from John Diefenbaker to Jean Chrétien. Each of these contributed in its own way to the decimation of Canada's military capability. Assuming the accuracy of Granatstein's account, it would seem that our politicians are guilty of almost criminal negligence in overcommitting our troops to trouble spots around the globe in the interest of making Canada appear to be a good international citizen while continually cutting back funding to the military. This amounts to sending our young men and women into exceedingly dangerous situations ill-equipped to carry out their duties or even to protect their own lives. Because Canada has one of the lowest military expenditures as proportion of GDP of any NATO member (Luxembourg excepted), Ottawa is no longer taken seriously within the NATO alliance. What is the answer? Granatstein argues, among other things:

We need a Prime Minister and government that will commit themselves to moving Canada from its annual 1.1 percent of GDP today towards defence spending of 2 to 2.5 percent of GDP, roughly the average expenditure of NATO nations (p. 230).

and:

We also need a government that does not overcommit its military, that is careful to weigh the benefits of participation against both Canada's interests and the military's capabilities. A government with good sense, in other words (p. 216).

As for the military itself, we need a force that is capable of fighting in a variety of situations, not just peacekeeping. Its troops must therefore be trained in such a way as to maximize their flexibility and multipurpose character. Granatstein admits that Canada is a small country with limited capabilities. But at the very least we must have sufficient power to co-operate with our allies in common enterprises.

I myself am not an expert in military matters, and for the most part I must admit to not having taken an active interest in the field. After all, as Bernard Crick puts it, war represents to no small extent a failure of normal politics. Political scientists naturally tend to gravitate towards those institutions, e.g., parliaments and electoral systems, that peacefully conciliate diversity and would keep people talking out their differences. Yet the state's very ability to carry out this sort of conciliatory activity depends on its monopoly over instruments of coercive power, including police and military power. As Dooyeweerd would put it, one must attend to the founding function of a communal entity before one can make sense of its leading function. Stripped of jargon, this means that sword power is a necessary precondition for doing public justice.

Granatstein does not strike me as a flaming militarist. He is not arguing for a bloated military establishment. Far from it. Yet we do need to have at least a credible, if small, military capacity. Otherwise we risk becoming little more than a protectorate of the United States, content to live under the American defensive umbrella and having little or no voice in the decisions made in Washington on our behalf.

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