Ascension

Ascension is a new show that begins on the SyFy Channel on December 15: it tells the story of a multi-generation ship sent into space during the Kennedy administration as backup for the human race in case it destroyed itself in a nuclear war. I noticed today that the ship uses an Orion drive, which was a system actually under development at the time. Freeman Dyson was one of the physicists involved in the project. It would have used nuclear bombs as propulsion, dropping them and then riding the explosions. An enormous ship could be launched that way–as in the upcoming TV show.

Source: SyFy Channel

There is a nice article about Project Orion in Wikipedia.

And here is a brief video:

And here is a 58 minute video from the BBC about the project:

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One Day at a Time

My youngest daughter suffers from mental illness. This is akin to saying that I suffer from pollen allergies and asthma. My pollen allergies and asthma can be treated—and they are treated very, very effectively thanks to the medications that my allergist has prescribed for me. I pass through a year now with virtually no symptoms at all; during the spring my nose does not run, my eyes are not watery, and I do not sneeze. I breathe easily and freely; it is rare that I ever need to use my inhaler.

Mental illness is a chronic condition; like my allergies and asthma, there is no cure. But there are treatments. In the last month my daughter’s medication dosages have been adjusted; another medication was added. The results have been encouraging. Her reactions to life now are closer to those of a normal teenager. Not that teenage behavior is necessarily a wonderful thing, but it is much better than the insanity of out of control rage that result in property damage: smashed furniture, broken dishes, or holes kicked in the drywall. Over the last month we have seen anger—after all, teenagers do get mad on occasion—but outside of yelling or a slammed door, there has been no physical damage. She has not punched me, she has not broken windows.

Mostly, however, she has been remarkably pleasant—and almost normal. She remains incredibly immature, functioning on the emotional level of a thirteen year old rather than that of an eighteen year old. It remains unlikely that she will ever be able to drive a car; certainly at this point she has no license—not even a learner’s permit. The thought of her behind the wheel of a motor vehicle is terrifying.

Two additional changes have come in the past month. She has had a psychiatrist for several years now who has done wonders for her. But in addition to that, she has needed a psychologist or a therapist—someone to do counseling with her. This has been much more difficult to find than we would have expected. Most therapists have wanted to work with someone who has been traumatized in some way: rape, molestation, crime victim, post-traumatic stress, that sort of thing. Up until recently, we had not been able to find one that was equipped to deal with someone suffering from mental illness, specifically a mood disorder such as bi-polar.

Last month, however, we finally discovered a therapist for her, a psychologist, with whom she meets weekly. Thankfully, our daughter likes her. On top of the weekly visits, her psychologist hooked us up with a support group, a local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness—NAMI—which offers support for the caretakers of the mentally ill, as well as a separate support group for those who are mentally ill. Initially our daughter was reluctant to go—the first week she panicked and wanted to leave within the first five minutes. But the following week, we tried again. One of the people there had a puppy and that was enough to get her to stay. From that week on, she was comfortable with the group. Now she loves it and it seems to be helping her.

Meanwhile, my wife and I have attended the support group for caretakers and it has been good for us, if for no other reason than to understand that we are not alone in going through what we’ve gone through. Many of the people in our group have it far worse than us, with loved ones who have been repeatedly hospitalized, who have, as a consequence of their mental illness, used illicit drugs and been incarcerated for various reasons. We were thankful to learn that our daughter is actually doing remarkably well: she does not smoke or use alcohol, we have no trouble getting her to take her medications, and she has avoided doing anything that would get her arrested. So far she has even avoided bad relationships—though she does have trouble making and keeping friends. She has no ability to tell whether someone is actually a nice person. If someone smiles at her and talks to her, they are best friend forever—for a week or so, before they hurt her or abandon her.

To give you an idea of how she thinks: when she was about five or so we went to Victoria Island in British Columbia, Canada and visited Butchart Gardens (very beautiful and well worth the visit if you get the chance). We were there with friends with whom my wife had attended college. Our three daughters and their three children gamboled about the place happily. But at some point we realized that our youngest was no longer with the group off. We eventually found her in the caretaker’s office.

“What happened?” my wife asked her.

“I got lost. But strangers found me and brought me here.”

“Strangers?”

“Yes, a man and a woman. But they were good strangers.”

“How do you know?”

“I asked them. I asked, are you good strangers—and they said yes.”

“Don’t you think bad strangers might tell you that, too?”

“No. They were good strangers.”

At eighteen, her attitude toward the people she meets remains the same: open and trusting, despite everything.

So we live one day at a time. Today, things are good.

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Light of the World

Jesus shouted to the crowds, “If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me. For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken. I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.” (John 12:44–50(

Jesus made clear that his purpose as the Messiah was to save the world, rather than to judge it. This contrasted sharply with the expectations of the religious establishment and most of the people of Israel, including even Jesus’ disciples. They believed that the Messiah had come to set the world right by destroying the wicked. Indeed, the wicked can be destroyed by killing them, but Jesus intended to set the world right not by killing, but by transforming the wicked through the power of God’s forgiveness and redemption.

Judgment falls on people, not so much because Jesus is mad at them, but simply as a consequence of their rejection of the help that Jesus offers them. Like a man who drowned because he refused to wear his life jacket, so people are judged simply as a result of their own poor choices. God does not have to reach out and strike the unbeliever, the unbeliever walks into the pit of Hell all on his own, refusing to turn away from his impending doom despite all the pleading and every attempt that Jesus makes to convince him to turn around and go a different way.

Jesus words—his words of love and hope—can lead us away from impending doom. His voice calls out to us when we are on the wrong path, instructing us to take a different way and then telling us the route we should take and how to get to it. We can walk toward God’s kingdom instead of away from it.

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Poverty Never Goes Out of Style

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.

But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.

But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”

Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus. (John 12:1–11)

While Jesus visited the home of his friend Lazarus, his sister poured perfume on his feet and then wiped them with her hair. The incident resembles what happened in Simon the Leper’s home (Matthew 26:6-12; Mark 14:3-9). Luke relates the story of a “sinful” woman in a Pharisee’s house who did the same thing (Luke 7:38). Though there are similarities between all three stories, the differences between them are enough that most scholars assume that three different woman put perfume on Jesus at three different times.

Three hundred denarii amounted to about a year’s wage. But it would have aided three hundred poor people for only a day, or helped out just one poor person for a year. And afterward, they would still have been poor. Perhaps at that moment, focusing on Jesus who would die in less than a week was more important than focusing on the poor who would still be poor tomorrow.

Constantly second guessing our choices only leads to unnecessary guilt. We can only do so much. When we do a good thing, we shouldn’t worry about whether there might have been some other good thing we could have done instead. We should live our lives without regrets.

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Hayabusa 2

Source SPACE.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration.

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Thyatira

“To the angel of the church in Thyatira write,

“‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass:

“‘I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first. Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.

“‘Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. But hold fast what you have till I come. And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—

‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’—

as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.

“‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” (Revelation 2:18–29)

“Jezebel” was a symbolic name for a false prophet in Thyatira. The Old Testament Jezebel had taught the ancient Israelites to worship Asherah, a fertility goddess, by engaging in intercourse with her priestesses. Many scholars believe that this new Jezebel taught a form of Gnosticism: that the body and spirit were entirely separate, so what your body did had no effect on your spirit. The Greek version of Asherah was still worshipped in the Roman Empire.

Jesus therefore warned that those who committed “adultery” with Jezebel would die. In the Old Testament, the prophets used “adultery” to describe the worship of other gods in addition to Yahweh. Jezebel was mixing Christianity with Greek philosophy and Greek religion.

The beliefs and culture that we pick up from the society around us may not always be compatible with our worship of God. Sometimes following Jesus means saying no to the demands of our world.

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Blessed

“I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship. (Acts 20:29–38)

Paul alone gives us Jesus’ words that it is “more blessed” to give than to receive. Perhaps it is no surprise that those who have enough that they can afford to give it away are happier than those who are in need. Needy people, after all, are dissatisfied people. But there’s more to it than that. When we give, we are thinking about someone other than ourselves. By focusing on the needs of others, we shift our attention off our own problems. Loving others, doing for others, thinking about others can be very invigorating. How many times did Jesus and his disciples discover renewed strength as they reached out to the crowds, despite being worn out?

Blessing does not come from accumulating wealth, but rather from sharing it. Jesus’ words are a warning against becoming selfish. It is so easy for us to become locked up in our own concerns and to forget about the concerns of others. True happiness comes as we spend ourselves and our resources on those around us, learning to forget about ourselves in our concern for the needs of others. Somehow, in meeting the needs of other people, we will be surprised at how our own needs are also being met.

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Orion Test Flight: 12-04-2014

Source SPACE.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration.

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Going to the Moon

Source SPACE.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration.

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Thanksgiving Musings

The problem with Thanksgiving is that sometimes it is very hard to be thankful. There is an old hymn that begins “count your many blessings, name them one by one.” It is a song that comes to mind every year around this time as I start contemplating the upcoming feast, the time when we, as a nation, sit down and give thanks. Of all the holidays on the calendar, it is the one which is least commercialized. Its meaning and purpose have not been obscured by egg-hiding bunnies or rotund men in red suits who spend inordinate amounts of time with reindeer. There is no gift-giving, no expectation of cards, not much in the way of special decorations. Instead, it remains focused on its purpose: a time for people, for families, for individuals, to gather and give thanks around a meal that usually consists of turkey.

The holiday as such, is a North American one, as are the traditional foods consumed during it. In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in November. In the United States, it is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. Thanksgiving in the United States is traced to 1621, when, according to tradition, the Pilgrims celebrated a time of thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts following a good harvest thanks to some help from the Native Americans in the area.

From then until the Civil War, a day of thanksgiving was celebrated at different times and places across the United States until 1863. That was the year that Abraham Lincoln issued a presidential proclamation that the last Thursday of November should be set aside as a day of giving thanks. Of course, given that the southern states were in rebellion, they ignored Lincoln’s proclamation and the southern states would not join the nationwide Thanksgiving celebration until Reconstruction had ended in the 1870s.

On December 26, 1941—less than twenty days after the attack on Pearl Harbor—Franklin Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress that changed the national Thanksgiving date from the last Thursday to the fourth Thursday of November. It was hoped that an earlier celebration of the holiday might give the nation an economic boost by allowing more time for Christmas shopping.

For those who have experienced some loss over the previous year, for those who are undergoing crisis, whether sickness, economic or legal; for those soldiers who are battling on foreign soil, for those police and firefighters who work on that day to keep us safe, for those in retail who find themselves selling rather than buying, for those who are suffering separation from loved ones, and for those who are alone, it can be difficult to find reasons for giving thanks on the fourth Thursday of November.

That old hymn about counting blessings, however, was written not for those who are celebrating a windfall, a promotion, a new birth, a new marriage, or any of the manifold experiences that make thankfulness easy. The counting of blessings is like a root canal: the last thing we want to do.

When times are dark, we may relish the gloom. Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter once commented, “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” It is another way of thinking about the subject that the old hymn enjoins us.

But it is like pulling teeth to put into practice. In the 77th Psalm, the psalmist Asaph wrote that he cried out to God for help during a time of distress—and got nothing. No comfort came. He contemplated the silence of an unanswered prayer for deliverance, the misery that wouldn’t lift. He stumbled about, trying to figure out what to do when God was absent, when God wouldn’t answer, when there seemed no reason for hope, when there was nothing to be thankful for.

In the end, he settled on a glimmer: remembering how God had delivered in the past, how he had rescued others, how he had saved the nation from impossible suffering. That was the light he switched on, allowing him to peer past the gloom. He realized that sometimes deliverance is not a triumphant march through the Red Sea behind Moses; sometimes it is simply a crawl through the valley of death until we reach the other side.

There are always things to be thankful for, if we can only think to open our eyes and see what we usually overlook: modern medical science, hot and cold running water, a free society, a civilization where food is so abundant that obesity is the main health problem of the poor, rather than starvation; a smile, a hug, a kind word, a cup of water when we thirst, a moment of rest, a full night’s sleep.

If we suffer loss, we can be thankful we ever had something to lose. As Job said, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

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