Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Crazy But Hopeful Year: 2014

Each year seems to flash by quicker than the one preceding it, but still is packed full of events: horrible, hopeful, or just plain weird. 2014 was no exception, containing all of the above, with some change for the better.

The year that marked the centennial of the start of the First World War thankfully did not provide a repeat, but it did have its share of real instability and grotesque violence. Tensions in Ukraine escalated on the world stage as Russia used its forces to execute its claim on the region of Crimea.

Violence on several fronts marked the year in the Middle East. The rise of the "Islamic State" (or ISIS or ISIL or whatever it was called week-to-week) in Iraq and Syria brought unspeakable crimes against Christians, Jews, Yazidis and others, including other Muslims who did not join the IS in its bizarre beliefs and barbaric actions. Meanwhile, tensions flared up in Gaza as Hamas went on a violent offensive and Israel took decisive measures to neutralize the Hamas actions. Meanwhile, Iran continues to lurk in the background to strengthen its dominance in the region.

Disease became as threatening as war during the year as the Ebola virus surged in Africa, bringing fears of a worldwide epidemic. Rapid implementation of counter-measures and the introduction of new, untested therapies helped to diminish the threat by late in the year, though the suffering in Africa and the continued risk of disease spread mandate continued attention and vigilance.

The United States saw a rise in tensions as incidents of violence between young black males and police in Ferguson, MO, NYC and other cities inflamed issues of police use of force v. incitement of unrest exploiting emotions over tragic but sometimes explainable confrontations between citizens and police.

The Mid-term Elections proceeded peacefully after months of shrill and often expensive campaigns. The foreign crises spinning out of control, a growing list of abuses and scandals (NSA, IRS, Benghazi, executive orders, etc.) and the accelerating debacle of Obamacare led to Republican victories across the nation that gave the GOP control of the US Senate and increased margins in the House. Equally significant were shifts in the states, including Republicans winning governor seats in usually strong Democratic states like Maryland, Illinois and Massachusetts. With President Obama finishing his second term in the White House, the stage is being set for heated battles for the 2016 presidential nomination in both parties. The 2016 election will be decisive as to what vision for America prevails for the foreseeable future.

Humanity continued its slow but steady push to explore and move into the universe, even with a couple of notable setbacks. Mars received two new robotic visitors this year, from NASA and from India. Meanwhile, India also advanced by using its first test of its heavy lift launch vehicle to also test fly a model re-entry capsule that could become India's first human carrying space vehicle in coming years. Meanwhile, NASA successfully took its Orion human exploration vehicle out on its first uncrewed trial run and Russia tested a heavy lift version of its new generation of rockets as the year came to a close. The explosion of the Antares rocket and the tragic loss of SpaceShipTwo with one of its crew are reminders that there is sometimes a steep price to be paid in expanding a frontier. The two companies, Orbital and Virgin, are already working on their paths to recovery of their space ventures.

As the Earth completes another revolution of the Sun, we say farewell to 2014 and ask God's blessings as we enter the new year of  2015, whatever it brings.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Have a Holy and Merry Christmas!

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus
that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment,
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth
to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem,
because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
"Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger."
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
"Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

Luke 2:1-14

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Hanukkah and Our Attitude about the Future

(This is a post I originally made in 2003 and feel is worth repeating each year, especially in light of some very dark anti-human views of the future vs. ongoing and emerging developments that can provide resources for future generations.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin has a provocative column in WorldNetDaily on a message of Hanukkah that is relevant to people of all faiths. He shows examples, ancient and modern, of how a pessimistic Malthusian worldview has been repeatedly disproved by the Creator's providence of material resources and the ingenuity to utilize them to provide for the future. Rabbi Lapin says:
It only seemed that we lacked sufficient copper, whale oil or wood. In reality, our God-given ingenuity developed exciting new technology that eliminated our need for each commodity just as it was becoming scarce.

Hanukkah's miracle was that, day after day, the Temple's menorah just kept on burning in spite of an apparent shortage of fuel - a metaphor, surely, for all apparent shortages that can be overcome with faith. Hanukkah invites us all to express gratitude to the Creator whose beneficence is boundless. It stimulates discussions that can spur our spiritual growth. It reminds us that with His gift of creativity, challenges become optimistic opportunities to partner with God in creatively solving all material shortage.