Weekly Meanderings, 27 January 2018

Weekly Meanderings, 27 January 2018 January 27, 2018

All hail to Kris and HT:JS for so many links sent this week!

That’s some serious birding!

Noah Strycker’s Birding Without Borders is a firsthand account of a serious case of birdmania. In 2015, at age 28, Strycker set out to see as many bird species as he could in a single calendar year. This feat of extreme birding is called a Big Year, and it can be pursued on the local, state, continental or global scale. Strycker’s goal was to be the first person to see more than half the world’s roughly 10,100 species of birds in one year. Starting in Antarctica on Jan. 1, Strycker took 112 plane flights and traveled through 41 countries on all continents to observe 6,042 species of birds, smashing the previous record of 4,341.

That’s some serious fishing!

An Arizona fisherman had an unexpected catch of the day this month when he reeled in a fish with human-like teeth.

Jeff Evans, who was fishing on the north side of Tucson’s Silverbell Lake on Jan. 12, told the Arizona Daily Star that the fish even tried to bite him a few times.

The creature was later identified as a pacu fish, native to South America and a relative of the piranha, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department in Tucson.

Game and Fish doesn’t stock waterways with pacu fish, according to spokesman Mark Hart. The ones that show up in community waters start out as pets that people dump into lakes once they get too big to manage, he said.

That’s some serious digging!

A prehistoric jawbone discovered in a cave in Israel has prompted scientists to rethink theories of how the earliest human pioneers came to populate the planet, suggesting that our ancestors left Africa far earlier than previously thought.

The fossil, dated to nearly 200,000 years ago, is almost twice as old as any previous Homo sapiens remains discovered outside Africa, where our species is thought to have originated.

Until recently, several converging lines of evidence – from fossils, genetics and archaeology – suggested that modern humans first dispersed from Africa into Eurasia about 60,000 years ago, quickly supplanting other early human species, such as Neanderthals and Denisovans, that they may have encountered along the way.

However, a series of recent discoveries, including a trove of 100,000 year-old human teeth found in a cave in China, have clouded this straightforward narrative. And the latest find, at the Misliya cave site in northern Israel, has added a new and unexpected twist.

“What Misliya tells us is that modern humans left Africa not 100,000 years ago, but 200,000 years ago,” said Prof Israel Hershkovitz, who led the work at Tel Aviv University. “This is a revolution in the way we understand the evolution of our own species.”

The find suggests that there were multiple waves of migration across Europe and Asia and could also mean that modern humans in the Middle East were mingling, and possibly mating, with other human species for tens of thousands of years.

“Misliya breaks the mould of existing scenarios for the timing of the first known Homo sapiens in these regions,” said Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London. “It’s important in removing a long-lasting constraint on our thinking.”

That’s some insane shopping! (Kris doesn’t approve of Nutella; I do.)

PARIS (AP) — Brawls have broken out in French supermarkets as shoppers scramble to get their hands on discounted jars of chocolate and hazelnut spread.

Chaotic scenes were filmed in several supermarkets across the country operated by the Intermarche chain, which offered massive discounts on jars of Nutella.

The promotion, launched on Thursday, reduced the price of more than a million 950-gram jars from 4.70 euros ($5.85) to 1.41 ($1.75).

In one video posted on Twitter, customers are seen shoving each other and shouting as they try to get as many jars as possible. According to Le Parisien newspaper, shoppers started to fight in the northern town of Ostricourt, prompting police to step in.

Margaret Wente regarding Justin Trudeau:

Justin Trudeau is the world’s biggest cheerleader for a diverse and inclusive society. Diversity is our strength, he repeats ad nauseam. Canada is strong because people of many diverse cultures, backgrounds and beliefs are welcome in our tolerant, multicultural country.

But Mr. Trudeau’s Canada evidently doesn’t include people such as Rosemary Redshaw.

Ms. Redshaw runs a small, mostly voluntary outfit called New Life Prison Ministries. It is a Christian organization that works with prison inmates and former inmates to get their lives back on track. It survives on faith and a shoestring. Until now, it has been eligible for a small federal grant to subsidize the cost of a summer intern. But this year, the application form added a new box to tick. In order to get the money, she must attest that she and her organization respect Canada’s charter rights, including “women’s rights and women’s reproductive rights.”

Ms. Redshaw couldn’t honestly tick the box, because she is pro-life. Her views on reproductive rights have no effect on the services provided by her organization. But never mind. She’s out of luck. So are hundreds of Bible camps, aid groups and other faith-based initiatives across the country. “Because of our commitment to the sanctity of life and to biblical teachings, our government is discriminating against us,” Brad Jones, pastor of the Woodgreen Presbyterian Church in Calgary, told the National Post.

Or, as Ms. Redshaw put it to me, “This government’s position is, ‘We’re open to everything except for the beliefs we don’t like.'”

J. Lee Grady:

Many leaders in today’s conservative political movement say yes. They believe we would spare the United States a lot of grief if we allowed more immigrants from, say, Norway (Trump suggested this in the DACA meeting)—since Norwegians supposedly wouldn’t bring any problems with them.

But that position in itself is selfish, cold-hearted and racist, whether any racist slurs or vulgar terms are attached. And it is 100 percent opposite to the values of Christianity—which calls us to love foreigners and to show compassion to the poor.

Many Christians say they support President Trump not because he always exhibits Christian character (he is certainly not a pastor) or because his speech is G-rated (we have examples to prove it isn’t) but because he stands for biblical policies. But in this case, I can’t be a faithful prophetic voice for God if I don’t wave a red flag and question President Trump’s ideals.

Having a closed-door policy toward poor foreigners is blatantly anti-Christian. So is showing favoritism toward the privileged. Let’s remember the principle of compassion that is so clearly outlined in Scripture…

David Masciotra:

Ralph Ellison wrote that one of his goals as an artist and novelist was to “endow inarticulate characters, scenes and social processes with eloquence.” The essentiality of eloquence is indisputable because the interests of art and democracy converge at the point of articulation. “The development of conscious, articulate citizens is an established goal of democracy,” Ellison explains, “and the creation of conscious, articulate characters is indispensable to the creation of resonant compositional centers through which an organic consistency can be achieved in the fashioning of fictional forms.” Literature is what Ellison calls a “symbolic action, a game of as if,” but, like politics at its best, it is also a “thrust toward the human ideal.” Eloquence expresses the ideal, while vulgarity violates it.

Most parents understand Ellison’s wisdom as part of their daily routine. I grew up in a middle class home in the suburbs. As a small child, I once called a classmate’s home on the proverbial “wrong side of the tracks” a “dump.” My mother and father came down on me with swift and severe punishment, making it clear that mockery of another person’s home was morally intolerable.

Now we have a president who talks that way, who not only speaks at the level of a fourth grader, as many linguists have claimed, but uses language that no good teacher would permit in a fourth grade classroom.

Eloquence was essential to the progression of American history, and, through various social and political crises, the maintenance of democracy. The Civil War had Abraham Lincoln. The Great Depression and World War II had Franklin Roosevelt. The civil rights movement had Martin Luther King. The Cold War had John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. All were superb speakers who used their words to rise to their respective moments, not to cuss out and demean those different from them.

The present crisis is not as immediate or potentially fatal as the ones above, but it is still urgent. It is the combination of widespread mistrust in public institutions, and the slow surrender of civil society in American discourse. Communication, especially in political debate, has become immature, mean-spirited, and shallow. Tantrums seem more prevalent than arguments.

In the role of leadership is a president whose language cannot possibly elevate the ceiling of human ambition; in fact, it can only cause a collapse. Much of the public seems fine with that.

Stephen McAlpine:

In the ancient world that the Israelites inhabited, work was your saviour.  If you worked you ate.

So when God commands Israel to rest on the Sabbath, to do no work, he is making a daring statement: “Your salvation shall be found in me and not in your labours.”

That is, after all, how Israel’s salvation was won. God saved them not because of their own work, or their own strength or goodness, but because of his work, strength and goodness.  Israel is to continue in the manner of their birth.  That’s the Deuteronomy account of the Sabbath.

And the Exodus account of Sabbath?  God rested from his labours.  What could an extra day’s work on creation not have achieved?  Just think how much more amazing it could have been if God had put in some overtime.  The colours could have been amped up!  Unicorns could have been created!

I jest, but this twin reality, God’s salvation work and God’s creation work is the template for the rest we encounter in the gospel of Jesus.  We read in Hebrews 4:9-10:

So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For whoever enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His.

Yet what happens when the transcendent falls off the map?  Rest falls off the map.  More importantly our salvation as people, and our creation as the people we think we ought to be – or at least what the images confronting us daily say  we ought to be -, are more frenetic, less restful, more urgent.

What is our saviour today?  It is politics surely. Our culture – in particular our political culture – is pushing for a secular form of transcendence to bring us what only God can, and in so doing announces itself as our saviour.  And its restless, relentless pursuit is wearing us out, grinding us down.  It is souring us and polarising us and we don’t know what to do about it.

Politics – as ultimate saviour – is like rust. It never sleeps – it never can. It keeps moving, keeps doing its thing, and like rust, keeps eating away at our social and communal foundations.

Politics is our salvation now.  If the political process grinds to a halt salvation is lost.  Left and Right.  Conservative and Progressive.  It’s a 24/7 social media feed.  Politics is always on.It has to be, because it is filling the void left by transcendence’s absence.

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