I am pleased to welcome you to my personal blog, which I started in March 2009. I first became interested in blogging about five years ago, using old "blogger.com", which was cumbersome to use and I never mastered. About a year ago I discovered that Google had bought "blogger.com" and had revised it considerably, making it fun to use, so much so that I have devised at least 15 blogs on various subjects and frequently add posts and Gadgets to them.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wilkes County's woods are full of hunters, but many deer are hiding in city backyards

[This post is from the News-Reporter.]

By KIP BURKE news editor

With all the deer hunters in the woods right now, I think I've found what they're looking for - I know where a bunch of the deer went.

They're in my yard. With more than a million whitetail deer in Georgia, and more than
million public acres on which to hunt in the state, how come a dozen deer - make that 14
are browsing my back yard right now? I mean, my garden's done for the season, so they have to settle for the usual fall buffet of acorns and grass. But it's hunting season, and I guess that makes my little in-town acre suddenly a deer magnet.

Now, we've had a good-sized deer herd living in the Grove for generations, and about half the deer I'm seeing today grew up right here. I recognize two young eight-point bucks as the fawns I've watched grow from two years ago, and their mama, plus two yearlings and another doe that have been around forever.

But the other six or eight deer seem to be strangers. I can tell them from the usual family group because they're a lot more twitchy. They don't ignore our smell and presence like the deer who have grown up seeing and smelling us since birth.

I'm not saying these Grove deer are tame by any means, they're just accustomed to us. When I walk out the door, they give me a wary glance and may shy back a few feet if I make a sudden noise, but they've figured out I'm not a threat and they don't run away. When I'm working in the garden, I've had them quietly wander up behind me, browsing within 30 feet, aware of me but not concerned.

Hunters come from all over to hunt Wilkes County's woods every year, and that drives some deer into the relative safety of the city, where they seem to know they can't be shot at. They can, however, be hit by cars and trucks, and that happens a lot this time of year. It seems like a dozen deer-car wrecks have happened this week alone all around the county, and in the city. That's one reason I appreciate hunters who come from all over the South to try to harvest our abundant deer - each one taken is one we don't have to dodge on the highway.

So far, I haven't hit a deer in my 12 years here, but I can't brag. Soon after we moved here, I nailed a loose 1,200-pound Angus bull with my wife's minivan, and terminally tenderizing a love-struck young bull makes up for dodging a lot of deer. And I have recently come way too close to hitting a buck with my motorcycle, a collision that would have been pretty unpleasant for both of us.

For that reason, I wish all you deer hunters, local and visiting, good luck and good hunting. Despite my back yard full, there's plenty to go around, and you know that monster buck is out there just waiting for y'all. Harvest all you can, because we sure don't want to thump any more of them with our vehicles.

Around here, whether it's bow, muzzle-loader, or rifle season, it's always chrome bumper season, and I'm pretty sure they can't all hide in my yard.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rules for Presidents


Blogger Donald Sensing has a fascinating analysis of President Obama's war against Fox News. He describes the effort as "directly out of the Saul Alinsky playbook." Alinsky was the author of "Rules for Radicals," bible of left-wing community organizers. One of his rules, or "power tactics": "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it." Sensing analyzes how Obama is carrying out this advice:

Pick the target. Do not make the mistake of thinking that FoxNews Channel is the actual target. The bullseye target of this campaign is all the public media. FNC's role in this much broader attack is the next two precepts.
Freeze it. This does not mean to shock the target into inactivity, but to fix a certain perception about the target in the minds of the broader community, in this case the media figures in general and the minds of the community (in this case, the whole nation is the community) as a whole.
The White House strategy here is twofold. First, to freeze FNC away from being thought of as just one of the universe of media outlets. White House Communications Director Anita Dunn opened this volley by declaring that FNC is not really a news organization, but the propaganda arm of the Republican party. . . .
Personalize it. Attacking FNC puts a face, a personal identity on the White House's enemy, but also serves to obscure the larger identity of the enemy. FNC is separated from the rest of the "real" media and personalized as a partisan, ideological arm of the president's political opposition. The White House wants the other media to think that its fight is with FoxNews exclusively, hoping they won't see that the real fight is with all media.
The other media may expect to be flattered as "real" reporters and news organizations who are actually the ones being "fair and balanced." The more a [sic] White House reporters and editors toe the White House line, the greater access they will be granted, especially to power figures such as Rahm Emmanuel, David Axelrod and, ultimately, Barack Obama himself, whom we may expect to give a one-on-one interview with the biggest suckup reporter gaining Dunn's favor. Reporters who don't fall into place will discover they are being frozen out of access and will have to rely exclusively on press briefer Robert Gibbs, which is the kiss of death to a White House reporter.
Polarize it. The White House wants to set up an us-v-them dynamic among the White House press pool. Hence, "White House Urges Other Networks to Disregard Fox News."
Sensing, who wrote this on Tuesday, observed, "So far, though, it's thankfully not working." That same day, as the New York Times reports, the White House escalated its effort--and the other networks sided with Fox:

In a sign of discomfort with the White House stance, Fox's television news competitors refused to go along with a Treasury Department effort on Tuesday to exclude Fox from a round of interviews with the executive-pay czar Kenneth R. Feinberg that was to be conducted with a "pool" camera crew shared by all the networks.
The Hill reports that in an interview aired yesterday, NBC's Savannah Guthrie asked the president, "Do you think it's appropriate for the White House to say what is and what is not a news organization?"

Obama dodged the question: "I think the American people are a lot more interested in what we're doing to create jobs and how we're handling the situation in Afghanistan."

"Fair enough," Guthrie replied, "but your advisers raised this issue."

Obama: "We no, the--I think that what our advisers have simply said is that we are going to take media as it comes, and if media is operating basically as a talk-radio format, then that's one thing, and if it's operating as a--as a news outlet, then that's another. But it's not something I'm losing a lot of sleep over."

The quality of the president's slumber is no one's business but his and Mrs. Obama's, but the president's protestations of disinterest in this question are belied by this detail from the Times:

Speaking privately at the White House on Monday with a group of mostly liberal columnists and commentators, including Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann of MSNBC and Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich and Bob Herbert of The New York Times, Mr. Obama himself gave vent to sentiments about the network, according to people briefed on the conversation.
MediaBistro has a complete list of attendees at the meeting, and it includes nonpartisan journalists such as Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal and Gwen Ifill of PBS. If Obama thinks they belong in the same category as MSNBC ranter Keith Olbermann, one cannot take seriously his drawing a distinction between talk radio and news outlets.

It's hard to see any way in which the White House's war on Fox makes sense. The aim of the effort seems to be to contain the political damage from stories like the Van Jones and Acorn scandals, which Fox reported well ahead of most media outlets, by encouraging journalists at those outlets to think of Fox as illegitimate.

But that is their natural inclination anyway; it is the reason Fox was out in front on those stories. Other news organizations were embarrassed to be so badly scooped--and rightly so, because it exposed them as, at best, lacking a nose for news and, at worst, being in the tank for the Obama White House. The role of Obama courtier may suit Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow just fine, but for any real journalist, being blessed as "legitimate" by a powerful politician is a challenge to prove one's independence.

Further, it diminishes the president for him to act as media critic. As Obama himself suggested in trying to dodge Savannah Guthrie's question, why isn't he concentrating on the economy, Afghanistan and other matters that are actually part of his job? Eric Burns of MediaMutters.org makes the point, hilariously if unwittingly, in a Puffington Host post:

The issue is not whether it was a good idea politically for the White House to say that the emperor has no clothes. The issue is that the emperor actually has no clothes. In other words, the administration's comments about Fox News aren't the story. Fox News is the story.
In Burns's rendition of "The Emperor's New Clothes," the president of the United States is cast in the role of the innocent child who isn't afraid to observe that the emperor is naked. That seems to get the fable exactly backward. Of course, for a professional ankle-biter like Burns, Fox News is the emperor--i.e., a vastly more powerful and important institution than MediaMutters. But it doesn't seem to occur to Burns that he diminishes the president by bringing him down to his own level--perhaps because the president has been so busy diminishing himself of late.

Which brings us back to Alinsky, and this quote from the "Rules for Radicals" prologue:

What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.
For an example of how the Have-Nots are capitalizing on Alinsky's insights, read our Weekend Interview with Andrew Breitbart, the Internet entrepreneur who masterminded the publicity campaign that made the Acorn scandal into a story the media couldn't ignore.

But Alinskyite tactics are of no use to Obama. As president of the United States, he is the ultimate Have. Maybe he is wearing an exquisite suit of clothes, but Obama doesn't seem to have a clue that he is the emperor.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Two Rival Religions?

[This post is from Albert Mohler's blog.]

Posted: Monday, July 13, 2009 at 5:06 am ET
On November 3, 1921, J. Gresham Machen presented an address entitled, "Liberalism or Christianity?" In that famous address, later expanded into the book, Christianity & Liberalism, Machen argued that evangelical Christianity and its liberal rival were, in effect, two very different religions.

Machen's argument became one of the issues of controversy in the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversies of the 1920s and beyond. By any measure, Machen was absolutely right--the movement that styled itself as liberal Christianity was eviscerating the central doctrines of the Christian faith while continuing to claim Christianity as "a way of life" and a system of meaning.

"The chief modern rival of Christianity is 'liberalism,'" Machen asserted. "Modern liberalism, then, has lost sight of the two great presuppositions of the Christian message--the living God and the fact of sin," he argued. "The liberal doctrine of God and the liberal doctrine of man are both diametrically opposite to the Christian view. But the divergence concerns not only the presuppositions of the message, but also the message itself."

Howard P. Kainz, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Marquette University, offers a similar argument--warning that it is now modern secular liberalism which poses as the great rival to orthodox Christianity.

Observing the basic divide in the American culture, Kainz notes: "Most of the heat of battle occurs where traditional religious believers clash with certain liberals who are religiously committed to secular liberalism."

Kainz offers a crucial insight here, suggesting that one of the most important factors in the nation's cultural divide is that persons on both sides are deeply committed to their own creeds and worldviews--even if on one side those creeds are secular.

"This explains why talking about abortion or same-sex 'marriage,' for example, with certain liberals is usually futile. It is like trying to persuade a committed Muslim to accept Christ. Because his religion forbids it, he can only do so by converting from Islam to Christianity; he cannot accept Christ as long as he remains firmly committed to Islam. So it is with firmly committed liberals: Their 'religion' forbids any concessions to the 'conservative' agenda, and as long as they remain committed to their secular ideology, it is futile to hope for such concessions from them."

Kainz's argument bears similarities not only to J. Gresham Machen's observations about the theological scene, but also to Thomas Sowell's understanding of the larger culture. As Sowell argued in A Conflict of Visions, the basic ideological divide of our times is between those who hold a "constrained vision" over those who hold an "unconstrained vision." Both worldviews are, in the actual operations of life, reduced to certain "gut feelings" that operate much like religious convictions.

Kainz concedes that some will resist his designation of secularism as a religion. "Religion in the most common and usual sense connotes dedication to a supreme being or beings," he acknowledges. Nevertheless, "especially in the last few centuries, 'religion' has taken on the additional connotations of dedication to abstract principles or ideals rather than a personal being," he insists. Kainz dates the rise of this secular religion to the French Enlightenment and its idolatrous worship of Reason.

Looking back over the last century, Kainz argues that Marxism and ideological Liberalism have functioned as religious systems for millions of individuals. Looking specifically at Marxism, Kainz argues that the Marxist religion had dogmas, canonical scriptures, priests, theologians, ritualistic observances, parochial congregations, heresies, hagiography, and even an eschatology. Marxism's dogmas were its core teachings, including economic determinism and the "dictatorship of the proletariat." Its canonical scriptures included the writings of Marx, Lenin, and Mao Tse Tung. Its priests were those guardians of Marxist purity who functioned as the ideological theorists of the movement. Its ritualistic observances included actions ranging from workers' strikes to mass rallies. The eschatology of Marxism was to be realized in the appearance of "Communist man" and the new age of Marxist utopia.

Similarly, Kainz argues that modern secular liberalism includes its own dogmas. Among these are the beliefs "that mankind must overcome religious superstition by means of Reason; that empirical science can and will eventually answer all the questions about the world and human values that were formerly referred to traditional religion or theology; and that the human race, by constantly invalidating and disregarding hampering traditions, can and will achieve perfectibility."

Kainz also argues that contemporary liberalism has borrowed selectively from the New Testament, turning Jesus' admonition to "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's," as a foundation for "absolute secularism," enshrined in the language of a wall separating church and state. Thus, "religion [is] reduced to something purely private."

Secular liberalism also identifies certain sins such as "homophobia" and sexism. As Kainz sees it, the secular scriptures fall into two broad categories: "Darwinist and scientistic writings championing materialist and naturalistic explanations for everything, including morals; and feminist writings exposing the 'evil' of patriarchy and tracing male exploitation of females throughout history up to the present."

The priests and priestesses of secular liberalism constitute its "sacerdotal elite" and tend to be intellectuals who can present liberal values in the public square. Congregations where secular liberals gather include organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the National Organization of Women, and similar bodies. These groups "help supply a sense of affiliation and commonality for the religiously liberal."

The rites and rituals of secular liberalism include "gay pride" parades and pro-abortion rallies. Interestingly, the eschatology of this movement is, Kainz argues, the distillation of pragmatism. "In the estimation of the religiously liberal," Kainz asserts, "all lifestyles and all moralities can approximate this goal, as long as the proscribed illiberal 'sins' are avoided."

Kainz readily admits that not all liberals are committed to this religious vision of liberalism. As he sees it, "There are many people working for social justice, human rights, international solidarity, and other causes commonly regarded as liberal without a deep ideological commitment." His point is that conservatives may find common cause and common ground with these non-religiously committed liberals.

"For many 'moderate' liberals, liberalism is a political perspective, not a core ideology," he observes. "In the culture war it is important for Christians to distinguish between the religiously committed liberal and the moderate liberal. For one thing, Christians should not be surprised when they find no common ground with the former. They may form occasional, even if temporary, alliances with the latter."

Kainz's article "Liberalism as Religion: The Culture War Is Between Religious Believer on Both Sides," appears in the May 2006 edition of Touchstone magazine. His analysis is genuinely helpful in understanding the clash of positions, policies, convictions, and visions that mark our contemporary scene.

Though Kainz does not develop this point, all persons are, in their own way, deeply committed to their own worldview. There is no intellectual possibility of absolute value neutrality--not among human beings, anyway.

The conception of our current cultural conflict as a struggle between two rival religions is instructive and humbling. At the political level, this assessment should serve as a warning that our current ideological divides are not likely to disappear anytime soon. At the far deeper level of theological analysis, this argument serves to remind Christians that evangelism remains central to our mission and purpose. Those who aim at the merely political are missing the forest for the trees, and confusing the temporal for the eternal.


This article was first published May 26, 2006. During the month of July, I will be posting new articles and also featuring some articles from the archives I hope you will find helpful. This month requires a different schedule as I spend time with family and do groundwork on upcoming articles, messages, books, and projects. My normal schedule for new articles will resume as August begins.

© 2009, All rights reserved, www.AlbertMohler.com

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The B25 Bomber and the Doolittle Raid

This morning I receved an email containing an autobiographical sketch
of the life of the late Edgar McElroy, some of which I've quoted below.
This is the only first-person account of the Doolittle I've read and I
found it very interesting. I've also included information about the B25
from Wikipedia and elsewhere.

"I was raised in Ennis, Texas the youngest of five children, son of Harry
and Jennie McElroy. Folks say that I was the quiet one. We lived
at 609 North Dallas Street attended the Presbyterian Church. ...

I graduated on July 11, 1941. I was now a real, honest-to-goodnesssome of
Army Air Corps pilot. Two days later, I married "Aggie" in Reno ,
Nevada . We were starting a new life together and were very happy.
I received my orders tog report to Pendleton , Oregon and join the
17th Bomb Group. Neither of us had traveled much before, and the
drive north through the Cascade Range of the Sierra Nevada 's was
interesting and beautiful. ....

After we got settled in Columbus [Columbia, SC], my squadron commander called us
all together. He told us that an awfully hazardous mission was
being planned, and then he asked for volunteers. There were some
of the guys that did not step forward, but I was one of the ones
that did. My co-pilot was shocked. He said "You can't volunteer,
Mac! You're married, and you and Aggie are expecting a baby soon.
Don't do it!" I told him that "I got into the Air Force to do what
I can, and Aggie understands how I feel. The war won't be easy for
any of us." ....

Within a few days of returning to our base in Florida we were
abruptly told to pack our things. After just three weeks of
practice, we were on our way. This was it. It was time to go. It
was the middle of March 1942, and I was 30 years old....

After having our plane serviced, we flew on to Alameda Naval Air
Station in Oakland . As I came in for final approach, we saw it! I
excitedly called the rest of the crew to take a look. There below
us was a huge aircraft carrier. It was the USS Hornet, and it
looked so gigantic! Man, I had never even seen a carrier until
this moment. There were already two B-25s parked on the flight
deck. Now we knew! My heart was racing, and I thought about how
puny my plane would look on board this mighty ship. As soon as we
landed and taxied off the runway, a jeep pulled in front of me
with a big "Follow Me" sign on the back. We followed it straight
up to the wharf, alongside the towering Hornet. All five of us
were looking up and just in awe, scarcely believing the size of
this thing. As we left the plane, there was already a Navy work
crew swarming around attaching cables to the lifting rings on top
of the wings and the fuselage. ...

I was reading through the April 18th day plan of the
Hornet, and there was a message in it which said, "From the Hornet
to the Army - Good luck, good hunting, and God bless you." I still
had a large lump in my throat from reading this, when all of a
sudden, the intercom blared, "General Quarters, General Quarters,
All hands man your battle stations! Army pilots, man your
planes!!!" There was instant reaction from everyone in the room
and food trays went crashing to the floor. I ran down to my room
jumping through the hatches along the way, grabbed my bag, and ran
as fast as I could go to the flight deck. I met with my crew at
the plane, my heart was pounding. Someone said, "What's going
on?" The word was that the Enterprise had spotted an enemy
trawler. It had been sunk, but it had transmitted radio messages.
We had been found out! ...

We continued inching forward, careful to keep my left main wheel and
my nose wheel on the white guidelines that had been painted on the
deck for us. Get off a little bit too far left and we go off the
edge of the deck. A little too far to the right and our wing-tip
will smack the island of the ship. With the best seat on the
ship, we watched Lt. Bower take off in plane number 12, and I
taxied up to the starting line, put on my the brakes and looked
down to my left. My main wheel was right on the line. Applied
more power to the engines, and I turned my complete attention to
the deck officer on my left, who was circling his paddles. Now my
adrenaline was really pumping! We went to full power, and the
noise and vibration inside the plane went way up. He circled the
paddles furiously while watching forward for the pitch of the
deck. Then he dropped them, and I said, "Here We Go!" I released
the brakes and we started rolling forward, and as I looked down
the flight-deck you could see straight down into the angry
churning water. As we slowly gained speed, the deck gradually
began to pitch back up. I pulled up and our plane slowly strained
up and away from the ship. There was a big cheer and whoops from
the crew, but I just felt relieved and muttered to myself, "Boy,
that was short!"....

When we were close enough, I pulled up to 1300 feet and opened the
bomb doors. There were furious black bursts of anti-aircraft fire
all around us, but I flew straight on through them, spotting our
target, the torpedo works and the dry-docks. I saw a big ship in
the dry-dock just as we flew over it. Those flak bursts were
really getting close and bouncing us around, when I heard
Bourgeois shouting, "Bombs Away!" I couldn't see it, but Williams
had a bird's eye view from the back and he shouted jubilantly, "We
got an aircraft carrier! The whole dock is burning!" I started
turning to the south and strained my neck to look back and at
that moment saw a large crane blow up and start falling over!...
Take that! There was loud yelling and clapping each other on the
back. We were all just ecstatic, and still alive! But there wasn't
much time to celebrate. We had to get out of here and fast! When
we were some thirty miles out to sea, we took one last look back
at our target, and could still see huge billows of black smoke.
Up until now, we had been flying for Uncle Sam, but now we were
flying for ourselves. ....

Looking for my flashlight, I groped through my bag with my right
hand, finally pulled it out and shined it down toward the ground,
which I still could not see. Finally I picked up a glimmer of
water and thought I was landing in a lake. We're too far inland
for this to be ocean. I hope! I relaxed my legs a little, thinking
I was about to splash into water and would have to swim out, and
then bang. I jolted suddenly and crashed over onto my side. Lying
there in just a few inches of water, I raised my head and put my
hands down into thick mud. It was rice paddy! There was a burning
pain, as if someone had stuck a knife in my stomach. I must have
torn a muscle or broke something...

Well, the five of us eventually made it out of China with the help
of the local Chinese people and the Catholic missions along the
way. They were all very good to us, and later they were made to
pay terribly for it, so we found out afterwards. For a couple of
weeks we traveled across country. Strafed a couple of times by
enemy planes, we kept on moving, by foot, by pony, by car, by
train, and by airplane. But we finally made it to India...
Edgar "Mac" Mc Elroy, Lt. Col., U.S.A.F. (Ret.) passed away at
his residence in Lubbock , Texas early on the morning of Friday,
April 4, 2003.]

The B-25 first gained fame as the bomber used in the 18 April 1942 Doolittle Raid, in which sixteen B-25Bs led by the legendary Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, attacked mainland Japan four months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The mission gave a much-needed lift in spirits to the Americans, and alarmed the Japanese who believed their home islands were inviolable by enemy troops. While the amount of actual damage done was relatively minor, it forced the Japanese to divert troops for the home defense for the remainder of the war. The raiders took off from the carrier USS Hornet and successfully bombed Tokyo and four other Japanese cities without loss. However, 15 subsequently crash-landed en route to recovery fields in Eastern China. These losses were the result of the task force being spotted by Japanese fishing vessels forcing the bombers to take off 170 mi (270 km) early, fuel exhaustion, stormy nighttime conditions with zero visibility, and lack of electronic homing aids at the recovery bases. Only one landed intact; it came down in the Soviet Union, where its five-man crew was interned and the aircraft confiscated. Of the 80 aircrew, 69 survived their historic mission and eventually made it back to American lines.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Not Wanting to Let Go

I recently came across the above picture (which I am sure many of you have seen already) of Paige Bennethum standing in formation with her father, pleading with him not to leave. Her father, Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Brett Bennethum was preparing to leave on a year -long deployment to Iraq.

Last week I attended the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting and Exposition and had the opportunity to sit in on the Military Family Forums. On the final day, the topic for the forum focused on the effects of extended deployments on Soldiers, families and especially the children.

The Army psychiatrist, Col. Kris Peterson discussed with Army Spouses and support groups the seriousness of repeated, lengthy deployments and the effects they are having on children.

For example, he noted that yearly mental health visits for children under the age of 15 have increased from 800,000 in 2003 to 1.6 million in 2008. One out of three school-age children are at risk for psychological problems and about 30 percent of children have significantly increased anxiety.

In an effort to deal with that trend and provide a central place for Army children to get mental and physical help, Peterson and other experts at Madigan developed the Military Child and Adolescent Center of Excellence in Fort Lewis, Washington.

The team consists of pediatricians, psychologists, social workers and child and adolescent psychiatrists whom are looking at the latest research and strategically planning the way forward for caring for Army children in addition to sifting through existing programs to find what actually works.

Many times when we think about the U.S. Army we tend to focus just on the Soldiers. We must remember that there are children all over the country like Paige Bennethum whose father or mother is/will be deployed overseas for months at a time. These deployments obviously have a great effect on the children and that is why the U.S. Army is working hard to create and development programs and centers that will assist families through those difficult times.

Military families, we want to hear from you. Let us know what you think can be done to assist families in times of deployments. Children; share your stories of how you deal with a loved one being deployed.

Posted byashmccallinAUSA, Army Family, Army NewsAUSA, Col. Kris Peterson, Military Child and Adolescent Center of Excellence, Military Families, Paige Bennethum, Staff Sgt. Brett Bennethum

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mel Blackaby: from pioneer missions to megachurch pastor

[This post is from the Christian Index.]

By J. Gerald Harris, Editor
Published September 24, 2009

I never envisioned myself living in Georgia or becoming pastor of First Baptist Church of Jonesboro. All I could see was the vast need for pastors and church leaders in Canada,” proclaimed Mel Blackaby.

Even though Blackaby did not anticipate coming to the Bible Belt to pastor a megachurch he is now firmly entrenched in his role as pastor of the Clayton County church.

The Jonesboro pastor continued, “
When I went to Bow Valley Baptist Church in Cochrane, Alberta, Canada they had one resume. I had one church in the states that contacted me that had 400 resumes.

“I was happy serving the church in Cochrane and planned to spend my life in a pioneer missions area, but God began speaking to me about coming to the South. God seemed to bless the prayer conferences and the revivals I preached in the South, but no one was asking me to come pastor their church.

“However, during that time God was preparing me to come to pastor a church somewhere in the southern states. He Italicwas teaching me to walk by faith and shaping my pastor’s heart. Eight large churches contacted me during that time, but my impression of a megachurch was mostly negative and I perceived that the pastor of such a church was mostly a corporate executive. I could never see myself as a CEO, but as only a pastor.”

Gerald Harris/Index:
Pastor Mel Blackaby, left, and Minister of Music Rick Stone take delight in serving together at First Baptist Church, Jonesboro. Blackaby joined the church as pastor in June 2008.
First Baptist Jonesboro extended a call to Blackaby in June of 2008 and he officially began serving as pastor on Aug. 1.

Blackaby admitted, “
I had to move from a pioneer mission mindset to a megachurch mindset. I have always believed that Christ was the head of the church and wanted to find out His plan for our church rather than just launch my own agenda. I wanted to find out what He was doing and just partner with Him in His divine plan.”

Mel is the son of Henry and Marilyn Blackaby and one of five grown children, all of whom are engaged in a full-time ministry. The Jonesboro pastor was born in California while his father was a student at Golden Gate Seminary. He became a Christian at age nine during the time his father was pastor of a church in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Blackaby recalled, “
As a child I didn’t know any other Christians in school and when I visited my friends’ homes I noticed the difference in their homes and my home. There was cursing and drinking and I realized the difference Christ can make in one’s home. That, more than anything else, prompted me to put my faith and trust in the Lord.

“As a teenager I never saw myself as a leader and struggled with how God could use my life,” Blackaby admitted. “At the same time I sensed God was calling me to serve Him, but I had some personal dreams I wanted to pursue. Since our family was involved in pioneer missions we were poor. I wanted to get out, make some money, travel, and see the world.

“It got to the place that every time I read my Bible I felt guilty, so I quit reading the Bible. I also didn’t feel like praying, so I quit that as well.

“I had started my studies as a physical education major in the university, but dropped out of school to go to northern Alberta to work in a lumber camp. I was making a lot of money, but the work I was doing was very dangerous.

One day I was in the process of cutting down a large tree. When the tree fell, the bottom of this tree swung around and crushed my leg. As I lay there in that snow bank with a shattered femur, the Lord spoke to my heart and said, ‘If you are not going to be of any use to me on this earth, then you have no reason to live and I can take your life any time I wish.’

“In three months the Lord took away my entire identity. I lost my ability to play sports. I lost my girlfriend. I lost my job and my ability to make money. I even lost my driver’s license, because the police came and took it away due to my reckless driving record. So at 20 years of age I didn’t know who I was. I knew I needed to change.

From that moment Mel Blackaby resolved to die to self and follow the Lord.

After recuperating from his accident Blackaby decided to leave Canada, move to Abilene, Texas, and enroll in Hardin-Simmons University. Upon graduating with a major in history he married the former Gina Merriam, a young lady he had met in Canada. Gina had served on a mission team in Vancouver for six months as a part of the Home Mission Board’s ministry during the 1986 Exposition.

After her mission endeavor in British Columbia Gina moved back to her home state of California where she and Mel maintained a long-distance relationship.

Blackaby explained, “Gina was being taught “Experiencing God” at the same time Dad was writing it. I met her as I was leaving Canada to go to Texas. The longer I was in Texas the more I realized the girl I had met in Canada before I left for college was the girl I was destined to marry.

“She called me every Wednesday night and I called her every Saturday night. I would run the guys out of my dorm room, cut down the lights, light a candle, and we would have our date over the phone.

“Gina took a train from California to Vancouver to spend Christmas with our family in 1987. One evening I took her to the top of a tall building where they had a revolving restaurant. You could see the whole city from that vantage point and there I proposed marriage to her. We were both 22 years old and had no idea what we were doing, but we believed it was of the Lord.”

Upon graduating from Hardin-Simmons Mel and Gina were married and moved to Fort Worth, Texas for the purpose of furthering his education at Southwestern Seminary.

Today the Blackabys have three children: Christa, 15; Stephen, 13; and Sarah, 11. They keep a busy schedule, but love traveling, sports, and riding horses. Mel also has a Harley Davidson and enjoys riding his ‘bike’ with Bubba Cathy, fellow church member and senior vice president of Chick-fil-A.

Since arriving in Jonesboro Blackaby has been slow to make dramatic changes, but wanted to involve all the church in having a time of significant prayer. He remarked,
We typically schedule people out of prayer meeting. Many churches have a prayer meeting on Wednesday night, but most of the church family is engaged in other activities during the prayer time.”

To remedy that problem Blackaby has turned the Sunday evening worship service into a Fresh Encounter Prayer Service. As a result the people involved in corporate prayer has grown from 100 to 1,000.

Blackaby testified, “This is unifying the church. All ages are coming and praying together. I have heard parents say that their children’s prayer lives are much improved. We are also seeing a lot of prayers answered.

“There is also a didactic element to this prayer time because people are learning to pray. We are also crying out to God each week for revival. We know that God is up to something.

“I think people here in the South are beginning to become desperate for God. We can no longer be comfortable in our faith here in the Bible Belt. We must cry out to God for His intervention.

God will give us a measure of success here when we can see that our people are having a growing hunger to know Christ. Then they will have a desire to obey Him; and He can use them in greater service.”

Mel Blackaby is a prolific writer and has several books to his credit. He has also partnered with his dad in writing several books including the 2009 publication “Experiencing the Spirit: The Power of Pentecost Everyday.” You can hear Mel Blackaby in the Speechless Conference in Toccoa in October.

The younger Blackaby recently told his father, who is also a member at Jonesboro’s First Baptist Church, “
Dad, you ought to give me more respect now that I am your pastor.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Burke Love at first sight really happened to me and I had no clue what a hoot it would be By KIP BURKE news editor of The News-Reporter, Washington, GA.

When I was a young man, I really didn't believe there was any such thing as love at first sight - until it happened to me, 24 years ago this week.
After all, it had taken me some time to fall in love with my dear wife, and even longer for her to fall for me. But here I was, my heart overwhelmed with love at the first sight of my first-born son, Philip. I could never have imagined how quickly this red-faced, 9-pound wiggling baby boy could steal my heart so completely, but he did, nor could I have imagined what an absolute hoot life as his father would be.
As I held him for the first time, marveling at all the muscles and lungs and mouth working so vigorously, I had no idea of all the places we'd go, the things we'd do, or the fun we'd have, but I just knew in my deepest knower that I'd never ever felt a love this absolute or this instant, clear down to my toes.
There was so much I didn't know yet, but it didn't matter. You were ours and that's all we needed.
Philip was born at the Naval Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, and we really didn't expect to be transferred five times in five years, but that's how it worked out. He learned to walk in Michigan, learned how to be a big brother in Guam, learned how to avoid cheek-pinching girls in Italy, and learned to love climbing to the treetops in Virginia.
As he wiggled and cooed in my arms, I had only the slightest clue how much fun I would have with him and his brother Charlie as they grew. I didn't yet realize that exploring the world from a boy's point of view was just about the finest recreation a man can have, or that we'd spend hours on the floor with Matchbox cars and GI Joes, and long fun days hiking and sledding and riding bikes. I didn't know then, but it was sure fun finding out.
As Margie began her recovery and I fed my boy his first water bottle, I looked at his tiny fingers and hands and had only the slightest clue how wonderful it would feel every time his little arms would go around my neck, how special each and every snoogle, tickle and kiss would be. I never would have expected that now I'd look back and miss so badly those little boys and their hugs and whispers, and treasure all those sweet memories like a rich man counts his gold.
I had no clue, either, how much it would hurt to leave when duty called, to see all the tears I caused and couldn't fix, and I had no idea I'd up and leave the Navy when I realized that these boys deserved my devotion more than the Department of Defense did.
I hadn't thought, either, that one day they'd both be full-grown men, broad of shoulder and smile, each his own man with his own mind but bearing my DNA so clearly it's both an honor for me and a little scary for us all.
And now, 24 years since I first fell in love at first sight, there's still so much I don't know, and it still doesn't matter. You are ours and that's still all we need. Happy Birthday, son.

Reader Comments
Posted By anncooper (6/8/2009 2:43 AM EDT):

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Another great article. Thanks

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Abortion and the American Conscience

[This post is from Albert Mohler's blog.]

Posted: Thursday, October 08, 2009 at 4:11 pm ET
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America has been at war over abortion for the last four decades. When the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe v. Wade, the court's majority attempted to put an end to the abortion question. To the contrary, that decision both enlarged and revealed the great moral divide that runs through the center of our culture.
Most Americans seem completely unaware of the actual contours of the abortion debate as it emerged in the early 1970s. In 1973, the primary opposition to abortion on demand came from the Roman Catholic Church. Evangelicals -- representative of the larger American culture -- were largely out of the debate. At that time, a majority of evangelicals seemed to see abortion as a largely Catholic issue. It took the shock of Roe v. Wade and the reality of abortion on demand to awaken the Evangelical conscience.
Roe v. Wade was championed as one of the great victories achieved by the feminist movement. The leaders of that movement claimed -- and continue to claim -- that the availability of abortion on demand is necessary in order for women to be equal with men with respect to the absence of pregnancy as an obstacle to career advancement. Furthermore, the moral logic of Roe v. Wade was a thunderous affirmation of the ideal of personal autonomy that had already taken hold of the American mind. As the decision made all too clear, rights talk had displaced what had been seen as the higher concern of right versus wrong.
Also missing from our contemporary cultural memory is the fact that many Republicans, as well as Democrats welcomed Roe v. Wade as the next step in a necessary process of liberating human beings from prior constraints. Yet, we now know that even more was at stake.
Tapes recently released by the Nixon Presidential Library reveal that President Richard M. Nixon, who had been considered generally opposed to abortion, told aides on January 23, 1973 (the day after the decision was handed down) that abortion was justified in certain cases, such as interracial pregnancies.
"There are times when abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white," said Nixon. President Nixon's words, chilling as they are, are also a general reflection of the moral logic shared by millions of Americans in that day.
As a matter of fact, one of the dirty secrets of the abortion rights movement is that its earliest momentum was driven by a concern that was deeply racial. Leaders such as Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, argued quite openly that abortion and other means of birth control were necessary in order to limit the number of undesirable children. As she made clear, the least desirable children were those born to certain ethnically and racially defined families. Sanger, along with so many other "progressive" figures of the day, promoted the agenda of the eugenics movement --- more children from the "fit" and less from the "unfit."
President Nixon, speaking off-the-cuff about the Roe v. Wade decision handed down just the day before, did register his concern that the open availability of abortion would lead to sexual permissiveness and a further breakdown of the family. Nevertheless, he carefully carved out an exception for interracial pregnancies.
Nixon's comment, made almost 40 years ago, was strangely and creepily echoed in comments recently made by Supreme Court associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In an interview published in The New York Times Magazine, Justice Ginsburg made her absolute support of abortion on demand unconditionally clear. She tied her support for abortion to the larger feminist agenda and lamented the passage of the Hyde Amendment which excludes the use of Medicaid for abortions. The Supreme Court upheld the Hyde amendment in 1980, surprising Ginsburg, who commented:
"Frankly I had thought at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion."
Justice Ginsburg's comments were made in the context of comments about her hopes for feminism and her anticipation of being joined at the court by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, then about to begin confirmation hearings. The larger context of Justice Ginsburg's comments do not provide much assistance in understanding whether she was speaking of her own personal convictions or describing what was being thought by others at the time.
Of greatest importance is the fact that Justice Ginsburg's comments reveal the racial, economic, and ethnic discrimination that was at the very heart of the push for abortion on demand throughout much of the 20th century. Also revealed is Justice Ginsburg's virtually unrestricted support for a woman's right to an abortion. In the interview, she goes so far as to lament the fact that the language of Roe v. Wadementioned abortion is a decision made by the woman and her physician. As Justice Ginsburg told The New York Times, "So the view you get is the tall doctor and the little woman who needs him."
The American conscience remains deeply divided over the question of abortion. Tragically, we have never experienced a sustained, reasonable, and honest discussion about abortion in the society at large. One step toward the recovery of an ethic of life would be an honest discussion about the actual agenda behind the push for abortion on demand. Proponents of abortion rights do everything they can to hide the ugliness of the agenda behind the comments made by President Nixon and Justice Ginsburg.  Nevertheless, the truth has a way of working itself into view.
Just take a good look at the comments made by the late President and the current Justice. Furthermore, ask yourself why there is such racial disparity in abortion. Those comments turn more chilling by the day.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

MG Scales in a recent speech on the dharma of warriors

MG Scales in a recent speech on the dharma of warriors

Posted by Ken Long on September 30, 2009

1 Votes
Subject: Speech by Major General Robert Scales USA (Ret) at Truman Library, September 12, 2009

Mr. Skelton, Mr Cleaver, distinguished guests and, most importantly, fellow veterans. What a great thrill it is see my comrades in arms assembled here so many years after we shared our experiences in war.

Let me give you the bottom line up front: I’m proud I served in Vietnam. Like you I didn’t kill innocents, I killed the enemy; I didn’t fight for big oil or for some lame conspiracy. I fought for a country I believed in and for the buddies who kept me alive. Like you I was troubled that, unlike my father, I didn’t come back to a grateful nation. It took a generation and another war, Desert Storm, for the nation to come back to me.

Also like you I remember the war being 99 percent boredom and one percent pure abject terror. But not all my memories of Vietnam are terrible. There were times when I enjoyed my service in combat. Such sentiment must seem strange to a society today that has, thanks to our superb volunteer military, been completely insulated from war. If they thought about Vietnam at all our fellow citizens would imagine that fifty years would have been sufficient to erase this unpleasant war from our conscientiousness. Looking over this assembly it’s obvious that the memory lingers, and those of us who fought in that war remember.

The question is why? If this war was so terrible why are we here? It’s my privilege today to try to answer that question not only for you, brother veterans, but maybe for a wider audience for whom, fifty years on, Vietnam is as strangely distant as World War One was to our generation.

Vietnam is seared in our memory for the same reason that wars have lingered in the minds of soldiers for as long as wars have been fought. From Marathon to Mosul young men and now women have marched off to war to learn that the cold fear of violent death and the prospects of killing another human being heighten the senses and sear these experiences deeply and irrevocably into our souls and linger in the back recesses of our minds.

After Vietnam we may have gone on to thrilling lives or dull; we might have found love or loneliness, success or failure. But our experiences have stayed with us in brilliant Technicolor and with a clarity undiminished by time. For what ever primal reason war heightens the senses. When in combat we see sharper, hear more clearly and develop a sixth sense about everything around us.

Remember the sights? I recall sitting in the jungle one bright moonlit night marveling on the beauty of Vietnam. How lush and green it was; how attractive and gentle the people, how stoic and unmoved they were amid the chaos that surrounded them.

Do you remember the sounds? Where else could you stand outside a bunker and listen to the cacophonous mix of Jimmy Hendrix, Merle Haggard and Jefferson Airplane? Or how about the sounds of incoming? Remember it wasn’t a boom like in the movies but a horrifying noise like a passing train followed by a crack and the whistle of flying fragments.

Remember the smells? The sharpness of cordite, the choking stench of rotting jungle and the tragic sweet smell of enemy dead.

I remember the touch, the wet, sticky sensation when I touched one of my wounded soldiers one last time before the medevac rushed him forever from our presence but not from my memory, and the guilt I felt realizing that his pain was caused by my inattention and my lack of experience. Even taste is a sense that brings back memories. Remember the end of the day after the log bird flew away leaving mail, C rations and warm beer? Only the first sergeant had sufficient gravitas to be allowed to turn the C ration cases over so that all of us could reach in and pull out a box on the unlabeled side hoping that it wasn’t going to be ham and lima beans again.

Look, forty years on I can forgive the guy who put powder in our ammunition so foul that it caused our M-16s to jam. I’m OK with helicopters that arrived late. I’m over artillery landing too close and the occasional canceled air strike. But I will never forgive the Pentagon bureaucrat who in an incredibly lame moment thought that a soldier would open a can of that green, greasy, gelatinous goo called ham and lima beans and actually eat it.

But to paraphrase that iconic war hero of our generation, Forrest Gump, life is like a case of C Rations, you never know what you’re going to get because for every box of ham and lima beans there was that rapturous moment when you would turn over the box and discover the bacchanalian joy of peaches and pound cake. It’s all a metaphor for the surreal nature of that war and its small pleasures… .those who have never known war cannot believe that anyone can find joy in hot beer and cold pound cake. But we can.

Another reason why Vietnam remains in our consciousness is that the experience has made us better. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing for war as a self improvement course. And I realize that war’s trauma has damaged many of our fellow veterans physically, psychologically and morally. But recent research on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by behavioral scientists has unearthed a phenomenon familiar to most veterans: that the trauma of war strengthens rather than weakens us (They call it Post Traumatic Growth). We know that a near death experience makes us better leaders by increasing our self reliance, resilience, self image, confidence and ability to deal with adversity. Combat veterans tend to approach the future wiser, more spiritual and content with an amplified appreciation for life. We know this is true. It’s nice to see that the human scientists now agree.

I’m proud that our service left a legacy that has made today’s military better. Sadly Americans too often prefer to fight wars with technology. Our experience in Vietnam taught the nation the lesson that war is inherently a human not a technological endeavor. Our experience is a distant whisper in the ear of today’s technology wizards that firepower is not sufficient to win, that the enemy has a vote, that the object of war should not be to kill the enemy but to win the trust and allegiance of the people and that the ultimate weapon in this kind or war is a superbly trained, motivated, and equipped soldier who is tightly bonded to his buddies and who trusts his leaders.

I’ve visited our young men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan several times. On each visit I’ve seen first hand the strong connection between our war and theirs. These are worthy warriors who operate in a manner remarkably reminiscent of the way we fought so many years ago. The similarities are surreal. Close your eyes for a moment and it all comes rushing back. In Afghanistan I watched soldiers from my old unit, the 101st Airborne Division, as they conducted daily patrols from firebases constructed and manned in a manner virtually the same as those we occupied and fought from so many years ago. Every day these sky soldiers trudge outside the wire and climb across impossible terrain with the purpose as one sergeant put it – to kill the bad guys, protect the good guys and bring home as many of my soldiers as I can. Your legacy is alive and well. You should be proud.

The timeless connection between our generation and theirs can be seen in the unity and fighting spirit of our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Again and again, I get asked the same old question from folks who watch soldiers in action on television: why is their morale so high? Don’t they know the American people are getting fed up with these wars? Don’t they know Afghanistan is going badly? Often they come to me incredulous about what they perceive as a misspent sense of patriotism and loyalty.

I tell them time and again what every one of you sitting here today, those of you who have seen the face of war, understand: it’s not really about loyalty. It’s not about a belief in some abstract notion concerning war aims or national strategy. It’s not even about winning or losing. On those lonely firebases as we dug through C ration boxes and drank hot beer we didn’t argue the righteousness of our cause or ponder the latest pronouncements from McNamara or Nixon or Ho Chi Minh for that matter. Some of us might have trusted our leaders or maybe not. We might have been well informed and passionate about the protests at home or maybe not. We might have groused about the rich and privileged who found a way to avoid service but we probably didn’t. We might have volunteered for the war to stop the spread of global communism or maybe we just had a failing semester and got swept up in the draft.

In war young soldiers think about their buddies. They talk about families, wives and girlfriends and relate to each other through very personal confessions. For the most part the military we served with in Vietnam did not come from the social elite. We didn’t have Harvard degrees or the pedigree of political bluebloods. We were in large measure volunteers and draftees from middle and lower class America. Just as in Iraq today we came from every corner of our country to meet in a beautiful yet harsh and forbidding place, a place that we’ve seen and experienced but can never explain adequately to those who were never there.

Soldiers suffer, fight and occasionally die for each other. It’s as simple as that. What brought us to fight in the jungle was no different than the motive force that compels young soldiers today to kick open a door in Ramadi with the expectation that what lies on the other side is either an innocent huddling with a child in her arms or a fanatic insurgent yearning to buy his ticket to eternity by killing the infidel. No difference. Patriotism and a paycheck may get a soldier into the military but fear of letting his buddies down gets a soldier to do something that might just as well get him killed.

What makes a person successful in America today is a far cry from what would have made him a success in the minds of those assembled here today. Big bucks gained in law or real estate, or big deals closed on the stock market made some of our countrymen rich. But as they have grown older they now realize that they have no buddies. There is no one who they are willing to die for or who is willing to die for them. William Manchester served as a Marine in the Pacific during World War II and put the sentiment precisely right when he wrote: “Any man in combat who lacks comrades who will die for him, or for whom he is willing to die is not a man at all. He is truly damned.”

The Anglo Saxon heritage of buddy loyalty is long and frightfully won. Almost six hundred years ago the English king, Henry V, waited on a cold and muddy battlefield to face a French army many times his size. Shakespeare captured the ethos of that moment in his play Henry V. To be sure Shakespeare wasn’t there but he was there in spirit because he understood the emotions that gripped and the bonds that brought together both king and soldier. Henry didn’t talk about national strategy. He didn’t try to justify faulty intelligence or ill formed command decisions that put his soldiers at such a terrible disadvantage. Instead, he talked about what made English soldiers fight and what in all probably would allow them to prevail the next day against terrible odds. Remember this is a monarch talking to his men:

This story shall the good man teach his son; And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by, From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered- We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition; And gentlemen in England now-a-bed Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

You all here assembled inherit the spirit of St Crispin’s day. You know and understand the strength of comfort that those whom you protect, those in America now abed, will never know. You have lived a life of self awareness and personal satisfaction that those who watched you from afar in this country who hold their manhood cheap can only envy.

I don’t care whether America honors or even remembers the good service we performed in Vietnam. It doesn’t bother me that war is an image that America would rather ignore. It’s enough for me to have the privilege to be among you. It’s sufficient to talk to each of you about things we have seen and kinships we have shared in the tough and heartless crucible of war.

Some day we will all join those who are serving so gallantly now and have preceded us on battlefields from Gettysburg to Wanat. We will gather inside a firebase to open a case of C rations with every box peaches and pound cake. We will join with a band of brothers to recount the experience of serving something greater than ourselves. I believe in my very soul that the almightily reserves a corner of heaven, probably around a perpetual campfire where some day we can meet and embrace all of the band of brothers throughout the ages to tell our stories while envious standers-by watch and wonder how horrific and incendiary the crucible of violence must have been to bring such a disparate assemblage so close to the hand of God.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Not all garbage ends up at the dump. A river, sewer or beach can't catch everything the rain washes away, either. In fact, Earth's largest landfill isn't on land at all.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch stretches for hundreds of miles across the North Pacific Ocean, forming a nebulous, floating junk yard on the high seas. It's the poster child for a worldwide problem: plastic that begins in human hands yet ends up in the ocean, often inside animals' stomachs or around their necks. This marine debris has quickly sloshed into the public spotlight this year, thanks to growing media coverage and to teams of scientists who visited the North Pacific last month to study plastic pollution in action.

What's it made of?
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has sometimes been described as a "trash island," but that's a misconception, says Holly Bamford, director of NOAA's Marine Debris Program. If only things were that simple.

"We could just go out there and scoop up an island," Bamford says. "If it was one big mass, it would make our jobs a whole lot easier."

Instead, it's like a galaxy of garbage, populated by billions of smaller trash islands that may be hidden underwater or spread out over many miles. That can make it maddeningly difficult to study — Bamford says we still don't know how big the garbage patch is, despite the oft-cited claim that it's as big as Texas.

"You see these quotes that it's the size of Texas, then it's the size of France, and I even heard one description of it as a continent," she says. "That alone should lend some concern that there's not consistency in our idea of its size. It's these hot spots, not one big mass. Maybe if you added them all up it's the size of Texas, but we still don't know. It could be bigger than Texas."

Unlike most other trash, plastic isn't biodegradable — i.e., the microbes that break down other substances don't recognize plastic as food, leaving it to float there forever. Sunlight does eventually "photodegrade" the bonds in plastic polymers, reducing it to smaller and smaller pieces, but that just makes matters worse. The plastic still never goes away; it just becomes microscopic and may be eaten by tiny marine organisms, entering the food chain.

About 80 percent of debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from land, much of which is plastic bags, bottles and various other consumer products. Free-floating fishing nets make up another 10 percent of all marine litter, or about 705,000 tons, according to U.N. estimates. The rest comes largely from recreational boaters, offshore oil rigs and large cargo ships, which drop about 10,000 steel containers into the sea each year full of things like hockey pads, computer monitors, resin pellets and LEGO octopuses. But despite such diversity — and plenty of metal, glass and rubber in the garbage patch — the majority of material is still plastic, since most everything else sinks or biodegrades before it gets there.

How is it formed?
Earth has five or six major oceanic gyres — huge spirals of seawater formed by colliding currents — but one of the largest is the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, filling most of the space between Japan and California. The upper part of this gyre, a few hundred miles north of Hawaii, is where warm water from the South Pacific crashes into cooler water from the north. Known as the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone, this is also where the trash collects.

Bamford refers to the convergence zone as a "trash superhighway" because it ferries plastic rubbish along an elongated, east-west corridor that links two spinning eddies known as the Eastern Garbage Patch and the Western Garbage Patch. The whole system collectively makes up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

It may take several years for debris to reach this area, depending where it's coming from. Plastic can be washed from the interiors of continents to the sea via sewers, streams and rivers, or it might simply wash away from the coast. Either way, it can be a six- or seven-year journey before it's spinning around in the garbage patch. On the other hand, fishing nets and steel containers are often dropped right in with the rest of the trash.

What's the problem?
Marine debris threatens environmental health in several ways. Here are the main ones:

• Entanglement: The growing number of abandoned plastic fishing nets is one of the greatest dangers from marine debris, Bamford says. The nets entangle sealssea turtles and other animals in a phenomenon known as "ghost fishing," often drowning them. With more fishermen from developing countries now using plastic for its low cost and high durability, many abandoned nets can continue fishing on their own for months or years. One of the most controversial types are bottom-set gill nets, which are buoyed by floats and anchored to the sea floor, sometimes stretching for thousands of feet.

Virtually any marine life can be endangered by plastic, but sea turtles seem especially susceptible. In addition to being entangled by fishing nets, they often swallow plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish, their main prey. They can also get caught up in a variety of other objects, such as this snapping turtle that grew up constricted by a plastic ring around its body.

 Small surface debris: Plastic resin pellets are another common piece of marine debris; the tiny, industrial-use granules are shipped in bulk around the world, melted down at manufacturing sites and remolded into commercial plastics. Being so small and plentiful, they can easily get lost along the way, washing through the watershed with other plastics and into the sea. They tend to float there and eventually photodegrade, but that takes many years. In the meantime, they wreak havoc with sea birds such as the short-tailed albatross.

Albatross parents leave their chicks on land in Pacific islands to go scour the ocean surface for food, namely protein-rich fish eggs. These are small dots bobbing just below the surface, and look unfortunately similar to resin pellets. Well-meaning albatrosses scoop up these pellets — along with other floating trash such as cigarette lighters — and return to feed the indigestible plastic to their chicks, which eventually die of starvation or ruptured organs. Decaying albatross chicks are frequently found with stomachs full of plastic debris (see photo above).

• Photodegradation: As sunlight breaks down floating debris, the surface water thickens with suspended plastic bits. This is bad for a couple of reasons. First, Bamford says, is plastic's "inherent toxicity": It often contains colorants and chemicals like bisphenol-A (PDF), which studies have linked to various environmental and health problems, and these toxins may leach out into the seawater. Plastic has also been shown to absorb pre-existing organic pollutants like PCBs from the surrounding seawater, which can enter the food chain — along with BPA and other inherent toxins — if the plastic bits are accidentally ingested by marine life.

What can we do?
The discoverer of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,Capt. Charles Moore, once said a cleanup effort "would bankrupt any country and kill wildlife in the nets as it went."

"He makes a really good point there," Bamford says. "It's very difficult."

Still, NOAA conducts flyovers to study the garbage patch, and two research teams sailed there this summer to collect debris and water samples. Scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography held a press conference in August after returning from their three-week voyage, telling reporters they were shocked at the amount of trash they found — large items as well as a vast underwater haze of photodegraded plastic flakes. They're now analyzing their samples to determine how all that plastic interacts with the marine environment.

Meanwhile, the international Project Kaisei team also spent August in the garbage patch, studying its contents in hopes of eventually recycling them or turning them into fuel. And "adventure ecologist" David de Rothschild is pushing onward with his plans to sail around the garbage patch in a boat made entirely of recycled plastics, despite someconstruction troubles. His journey is intended to highlight the connection between plastic trash on land and plastic trash at sea.

Ultimately, more plastic recycling and increased use of biodegradable materials is the best hope for controlling the garbage patch, Bamford says, but that's an uphill battle.

"We need to turn off the taps at the source. We need to educate people on the proper disposal of things that do not break up, like plastics," she says. "Opportunities for recycling have to increase, but, you know, some people buy three bottles of water a day. As a society, we have to get better at reusing what we buy."

Editor's note: This article has been updated from its original version, which first appeared June 9, 2009.

Photos courtesy NOAA