The Gulf oil spill in perspective

Paul Schwennesen puts the environmental disaster in perspective:

Picture your neighbor’s pool. Unless you live in Malibu, it’ll contain about 6,000 gallons. That’s the “Gulf” for purposes of discussion. Now go to your garage, get a quart of oil and pour it in when he’s not looking. Pretty good sense of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, right?

Nope, not even close. Put a drop of that oil onto a sheet of paper and carefully cut it in half. Now do it again and toss that quarter of a drop into the deep end. Even this quarter droplet (about the size of the comma in this sentence) is about 10% too large, but NOW you have a sense of what 4.9 million barrels of oil in the Gulf looks like.[1]

Now that we’ve grappled with the issue of scale, let’s look at the aftermath of this ‘catastrophe.’ According to the government scientists, seventy-five percent of that sliver of a droplet has now evaporated, been eaten by microbes, skimmed or burnt. (This estimate is in dispute, but every day the released oil is being reduced to get to that figure, if not beyond it.)

Now, you’re going to need to borrow your kid’s microscope for the rest of this exercise….

“Ah,” says the ecologist in you, “but oil is like poison to an ecosystem, and so any amount is disproportionately harmful.” Well, the science doesn’t agree, but let’s assume for the moment that you’re right. Ignoring that the vast majority of this poison-oil has already been happily consumed by portions of this delicate ecosystem, let’s pretend that oil is to the Gulf what botulinum toxin is to man (really bad news, as it’s the deadliest substance known). Distributed uniformly, oil would contaminate the water of the Gulf at a ratio of eight thousand millionths per gallon. If the same concentration of botulinum existed in your swimming pool, you could safely spend the day in it without a second thought.[2] Sure, oil is not distributed uniformly, but shrill cries about the “collapse” of the Gulf’s ecosystem imply that it effects are. It is indeed true that every action has reverberating ecological consequences, but if we delude ourselves into thinking this means disintegration then we risk making poor policy choices.

Please don’t misunderstand. I am firmly in the camp of those who think the Gulf ecosystem is a wonderful and valuable thing that we should never take for granted. Furthermore, it’s not my intention here to dismiss or minimize BP’s bungle. Neither am I suggesting cleanup shouldn’t continue with the utmost diligence. After all, “scale” matters not one whit if that sliver of oil washes into your crab pots. Legally, BP should be held to account for their negligence and must make whole anyone whose property or livelihood they have harmed.

But two lessons rise to the surface here. The first is to never underestimate the power of ecosystems to absorb shocks and adapt to change. While we should not treat Nature with reckless disregard, we should also not dishonor her by intimating that she stands in precarious balance, perennially on the brink of human-caused collapse. As ecology continues to develop as a science, I expect that it will be the extraordinary resilience of natural systems that will become the prevailing acknowledgment.

The second lesson is that we must demand a sense of perspective when dealing with issues of environmental concern. The natural inclination when faced with torrents of extremely focused media coverage is to extrapolate broadly to “the ecosystem” at large. Hysteria and fear do not make for good policy, however. An inability to properly understand ecological sensitivity leads to dire predictions which fuel misguided regulatory reaction.

via The Catastrophe That Wasn’t: The Gulf Oil Spill in Perspective — MasterResource.

HT:Joe Carter

Youth group madness

I was on Issues, Etc., yesterday. You can listen here. Somehow Todd Wilkens or Jeff Schwarz got ahold of a WORLD column I wrote way back in 2002. They seemed to think it is still relevant. Here it is:

Stupid church tricks

Many church youth groups are teaching young people exactly what they don’t need to learn | Gene Edward Veith

Four sets of parents are suing a church in Indiana for what happened at a New Year’s Eve lock-in. A youth leader chewed up a mixture of dog food, sardines, potted meat, sauerkraut, cottage cheese, and salsa, topped off with holiday eggnog. As if this spectacle were not disgusting enough (let the reader beware), he then spit out the mixture into a glass and encouraged the members of the youth group to drink it!

Some of those who did, of course, became sick, whereupon their parents sued the church. According to an Associated Press account, the youth pastor said that the “gross-out” game, called the Human Vegematic, was just for fun and that the church forced no one to participate. The lawsuit accused the adults in charge of pressuring 13- and 14-year-olds into activities that caused them physical and mental harm.

Such “gross-out” games have become a fad in youth ministry. Since adolescents are amused by bodily functions, crude behavior, and tastelessness—following the church-growth principle of giving people what they like as a way to entice them into the kingdom—many evangelical youth leaders think this is a way to reach young people.

The Source for Youth Ministry, a popular and widely used resource center, posts scores of games on its website, many of which were contributed by youth group leaders in the field.

There is Sanctuary Softball, which involves whacking a nerf ball in church, with home plate being the area of the altar, and running through the pews, as the fielders then try to hit the batter with the ball to make an out. Another fun activity is Seafood Catch, which involves putting minnows in the baptistry, then catching them by hand. (“Extra points for eating them after it is done.”)

Then there are games designed to appeal to adolescents’ hormones. These include kissing games like “Kiss the Wench.” “Leg Line Up” has girls feel boy’s legs to identify who is who. Some of them have odd homosexual subtexts, like “Pull Apart,” in which guys cling to each other, while girls try to pull them apart. Another has girls putting makeup on guys, leading to a drag beauty show. Then there is the embarrassingly Freudian “Baby Bottle Burp,” in which girls put a diaper (a towel) on a boy, then feed him a bottle of soda, and cradle him until he burps!

These are presented as just ordinary games, good ways to break the ice at youth group. But there is another category of “Sick and Twisted Games.” Many of these involve eating and drinking gross things, like at the Indiana church. (“Toothbrush Buffet” has youth group leaders brushing their teeth and spitting into a cup. Each then passes it along to the next in line, who uses what is in the cup to brush his teeth. The last one drinks down everyone’s spit.) Others are scatological, and are too repellent to describe.

What do teenagers learn from these youth group activities? Nothing of the Bible. Nothing of theology. Nothing of the cost of discipleship. But they do learn some lessons that they can carry with them the rest of their lives:

* Lose your inhibitions. Young people usually have inhibitions against doing anything too embarrassing or shameful. These exercises are designed to free people from such hangups. For some reason, post-Freudian psychologists—whose “sensitivity groups” are the model for these kinds of exercises—maintain that such inhibitions are bad. Christians, though, have always insisted that we need to feel inhibited about indulging in things for which we should feel ashamed. This is part of what we mean by developing a conscience.

Though being “gross” may not be sinful in itself, overcoming natural revulsions can only train a child to become uninhibited about more important things.

* Give in to peer pressure. Defenders of these kinds of activities maintain that they help create group unity. The way they work, though, is to overcome a teenager’s inhibitions with the greater desire to go along with the group. In other words, these exercises teach the teenager to give in to peer pressure. Instead, youth groups need to teach Christian teenagers not to go along with the crowd and to stand up against what their friends want them to do.

* Christianity is stupid. Status-conscious teenagers know that those who are so desperate to be liked that they will do anything to curry favor are impossible to respect. Young people may come to off-the-wall youth group meetings, but when they grow up, they will likely associate the church with other immature, juvenile phases of their lives, and Christianity will be something they will grow out of.

Teenagers get enough entertainment, psychology, and hedonism from their culture. They don’t need it from their church. What they need—and often yearn for—is God’s Word, catechesis, and spiritual formation.

via WORLD Magazine | Stupid church tricks | Gene Edward Veith | Aug 24, 02.

Am I right, or am I over-reacting?  What are your memories of church youth group?  Was it like this, or more helpful?  Did it help keep you in church and make you grow in your faith, or did it drive you away?

What kind of libertarian are you?

Christianity is  not the only belief system that divides itself up according to fine nuances of theology.  Virtually all religions do that.  And so do secular ideologies.  For example, the Wikipedia article on “Libertarianism” cites six varieties.  So if you are a libertarian, are you a libertarian conservative, a left-libertarian, a minarchist, an anarcho-capitalist, a geolibertarian, or (my favorite) a libertarian transhumanist?

Go here to see what each of those means: Libertarianism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Horror in Mexico

Mexican drug lords, having diversified into human smuggling, have committed a monstrous atrocity:

Gunmen from a drug cartel appear to have massacred 72 migrants from Central and South America who were on their way to the U.S., a grisly event that marks the single biggest killing in Mexico’s war on organized crime.

Mexican marines discovered the 72 bodies—58 men and 14 women —on Tuesday after the lone survivor of the massacre, a wounded migrant from Ecuador, stumbled into a Navy checkpoint the previous day and told of being shot on Monday at a nearby ranch, Mexican officials said on Wednesday.

When the marines went to investigate, they were met with a hail of gunfire from cartel gunmen holed up at the ranch, which sits 90 miles from the U.S. border. One marine and three alleged gunmen died during a two-hour battle, which ended when the gunmen fled in a fleet of SUVs, leaving behind a cache of weapons.

The Ecuadorean migrant told investigators that his captors identified themselves as members of the Zetas drug gang, said Vice Adm. Jose Luis Vergara, a spokesman for the Mexican navy.

An Ecuadorean citizen escaped from a remote ranch in eastern Mexico and stumbled wounded to a highway checkpoint, where he alerted Mexican Navy marines. One marine was killed in a firefight after marines went to investigate the ranch.

“This illustrates that organized crime has no limits or moral qualms about what they are prepared to do,” Alejandro Poire, head of the government’s national-security council, told a news conference.

The incident highlights the extent to which Mexican drug gangs, which used to focus exclusively on ferrying narcotics such as cocaine to the U.S., have diversified into other lucrative criminal activities such as human smuggling and extortion.

At the going rate of $5,000 to $7,000 charged by smugglers to cross the U.S. border, the 72 people represented about $500,000 to the drug gang, said Alberto Islas, a Mexico City-based security consultant. The gang may have simply killed the migrants after they refused to give them more money than they had already given them, he said.

Mexican officials said they didn’t know why the migrants—believed to be from El Salvador, Honduras, Ecuador and Brazil—were killed. Mexican newspapers, citing an unnamed federal official, speculated that the migrants were killed for either refusing to give the drug gang more money to cross the border, or for declining to join the gang’s criminal activities as drug couriers, gunmen or prostitutes.

via 72 Bodies Found in Rural Mexico –

“And then they are all mine”

Al Mohler, himself a seminary president, discusses the agenda of some college professors:

On many campuses, a significant number of faculty members are representatives of what has been called the “adversary culture.” They see their role as political and ideological, and they define their teaching role in these terms. Their agenda is nothing less than to separate students from their Christian beliefs and their intellectual and moral commitments.

A good many of these professors deny this agenda, but from time to time the mask is removed. Writing at the “University Diaries” column at the site, a professor of English revealed this agenda with amazing candor. Responding to an argument about the power of intellectual elites, this professor dropped any effort to hide the real agenda:

“We need to encourage everyone to be in college for as many years as they possibly can,” this professor wrote, “in the hope that somewhere along the line they might get some exposure to the world outside their town, and to moral ideas not exclusively derived from their parents’ religion. If they don’t get this in college, they’re not going to get it anywhere else.”

This professor minces no words. The college experience, the argument goes, is the best (and perhaps last) opportunity for someone to break students’ commitments to the moral convictions “derived from their parents’ religion.”

Similarly, writing in a Seattle newspaper, a teacher of English and college adviser at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois reveals this ideological agenda in even more shocking terms. Bill Savage reacts to the fact that the so-called conservative “red” states are “outbreeding” the “blue” states, which are more liberal in voting patterns. Identifying himself as a political liberal with no children of his own, Savage acknowledges that he and his fellow liberals have a lower fertility rate than conservatives. Nevertheless, he insists that educated urban liberals need not despair. He expresses confidence “that blue America’s Urban Archipelago can grow larger, more contiguous, and more politically powerful even without my offspring.” How?

“The children of red states will seek a higher education,” he explains, “and that education will very often happen in blue states or blue islands in red states. For the foreseeable future, loyal dittoheads will continue to drop off their children at the dorms. After a teary-eyed hug, Mom and Dad will drive their SUV off toward the nearest gas station, leaving their beloved progeny behind.”

Then what? He proudly claims: “And then they are all mine.”


Sarah Pulliam Bailey (a regular reader of this blog) has written a good article for Christianity Today on Dinesh D’Souza, a Catholic, assuming the presidency of the King’s College, an evangelical school.  (She quotes me in the article.)  Her interviews shed light on the issue that we discussed yesterday:

“I’m quite happy to acknowledge my Catholic background; at the same time, I’m very comfortable with Reformation theology,” D’Souza told Christianity Today. “I’m comfortable with the evangelical world. In a sense, I’m part of it.”

D’Souza’s wife, Dixie, is an evangelical, and the family has attended Calvary Chapel, a nondenominational evangelical church in San Diego, for the past 10 years. He has been invited to speak in several churches and colleges, including Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.

“I do not describe myself as Catholic today. But I don’t want to renounce it either because it’s an important part of my background. I’m an American citizen, but I wouldn’t reject the Indian label because it’s part of my heritage,” D’Souza said. “I say I have a Catholic origin or background. I say I’m a nondenominational Christian, and I’m comfortable with born-again.”

via Dinesh D’Souza to Lead NYC’s King’s College | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Lots of Christians go to “nondenominational” churches.  But these are independent evangelical institutions that, even though they don’t belong to a larger denominational organization, do have an implicit theology, usually of the Baptist variety.  But Mr. D’Souza is taking non-denominationalism to a new level.  This version embraces Catholicism as well as Protestantism in all of its varieties.  To what extent is this possible?

Presumably, a nondenominational Christian would hold whatever theological position he pleases, and his nondenominational congregation will not insist on theological unity.   An outgrowth of the parachurch mindset, nondenominationalism separates being a “Christian” from involvement in any particular church.  I think it is intrinsically Protestant, since, for Catholics, being a part of a particular institutional church body is crucial.  But still, I can see many Christians approaching their faith in this sense, adhering to C. S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity” and considering that enough.  Maybe it’s enough for a college.

Those of you in nondenominational churches, would you have room in your fellowship for the denomination known as Roman Catholic Church?  If not, wouldn’t the basis for that exclusion be that you hold to a particular theology and that you constitute a denomination after all?

At any rate, Mr. D’Souza sounds more like a former Catholic and an evangelical, after all, even if he hasn’t changed his church membership.