Tuesday, December 28, 2004

English blogging

Well so, does this have an English accent? It should, but maybe it will come through stronger if I spell British -- apologise, centre, colour. There! Now you've got it, right?

I'm in an internet cafe in London. This is the much-anticipated 2-week museum and theatre(!) tour, but it got off to a strange start, and I was forced to be much more adventurous than I really had in mind.

I don't know if I explained way back when I first mentioned it that I'm tagging along on a trip that was advertised at the University of Nevada at Reno, and which my metriculating sister instantly loved and talked my mom into. Two weeks in London, seeing many plays (including two Shakespeares and one Andrew Lloyd Weber) and museums (including the Tate and the British Museum). Since I was coming from Kansas City instead of Reno, I was the odd man out, but we made plans to link up once we got to the Queen's country.

As it turned out, I'm here and all of them are still there. Their flight was cancelled, for reasons still unclear, and they won't be here till Tuesday morning.

Now, I wasn't thinking of being intrepid. I was sort of looking forward to being on a packaged tour where I don't have to think. But of course, there was nothing for it. I found the one working ATM out of a bank of duds (hint: look for the long line), and I figured out how to take the tube (that's 'subway' to you colonials) to Paddington Station, which I expected to have a bear in galoshes on the sign. No such luck.

At Paddington Station, things took a decided uptick. I spied a confectionery (Grace's brain: "confectionery" from the root "confectioner" as in powdered sugar = shoppe dispensing sweets) and nearby a stand selling pasties ("pasties" does NOT probably mean the wardrobe of a stripper, but meat and potatoes in a pastry envelope). At that point, being in London all by myself just seemed kind of wonderful, as I sat out at a table watching the trains come and go. Americans have many great qualities, but I don't know how we can consider ourselves a civilized people as long as we don't get chocolate and meat pies right. Chocolate should be milky. Meat pies should be ... well, it's hard to describe exactly. The meat isn't what you would call grade A prime. When they call it steak they're either being whimsical or intentionally misleading. It's sort of like a pot roast that you put a lot of stuff in and serve up very hot so no one can quite tell how old it is. But that's part of its charm really. This was so hot that when I blew on it, it steamed up my glasses. I opted to share tidbits of the crust with a solitary pigeon that was tut-tutting about.

For all I know I was marked as a tourist for all of those actions. For all I know the locals were making the secret hand signal of tourist-disgust for my gaucherie in sitting at the table (the others were unoccupied) or eating the pasty the wrong end up. Maybe the pigeon is right now telling the other pigeons in a clipped David Niven accent that a horrid twit of a girl fed him on the platform against all convention and propriety.

But that's probably why I had to do that part by myself. I assume everyone will know I'm a tourist.The English can spot an American a mile off in the dead of night with one eye closed. When the group gets here tomorrow, the group leader -- who is a frequent traveller -- will try to keep us from standing out. When I come back to the British Isles in May, my husband will give be horrified if he thinks I'm giving away our terrible secret.

But what the heck. I'm American, and they know I'm American, and the meat pasty was really good.

Well, time to log off and try to pretend that I understand how the money works.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

The day after yesterday

I wonder if anyone is going to compare the Christmas earthquake -- the worst earthquake on earth in the last 40 years according to these reports -- to the terrible forebodings of "The Day After Tomorrow." Well, maybe, but not for awhile. For now, there's still so much work to be done.

The reports of the devastation are incredible. The death toll is estimated to be over 11,000, and that's not even to mention the greater numbers injured and displaced, and the property damage. So much damage, so many people. It makes you feel terrible that you don't have more funds at your disposal. I'm sure there'll be a collection at church today (I'm staying home today for reasons I'll explain elsewhere), but even all of us pooling our resources seem insignificant. It will undoubtedly come to light that mega-tons of supplies and millions (or billions?) of dollars for relief, services and aid are needed. If I were able to take every dollar I've ever earned in my life and every one I ever hope to earn and direct them toward this one cause, I doubt it would make any appreciable difference or keep many people from perishing for lack of medical attention, housing and supplies.

This is the terrible inheritance of the modern Christian. We're equipped, as all people in first-world countries are, with the incredible advances of mass communication which enable us to hear global news instantly. Consequently, we are aware of a much greater number of disasters from around the world. We also have the tremendous advantage of huge charitable organizations like the Red Cross, United Way and a plethora of others which send us constant appeals for donations. But in spite of having grown much bigger antennae to detect problems and much longer arms to reach out, we still only have one person's ability to pay for things, one person's lifetime to do them in. We're not permitted the indulgence of thinking that we have fixed something completely or permanently, because in the second it would take us to pat ourselves on the back, fresh reports have come in and fresh appeals have arrived.

It reminds me of my experience of giving this year, which in turn reminded me of something in a book I read. This year, Greg and I were blessed with an unexpected largesse -- money that came in from a joint property my family owned and which my mother decided to sell. I determined early that I would split up the tithe on that money and see where it could do the most good. In the course of things, I arrived December 23rd with $2500 left to spend when I happened across a story in the St. Joseph paper telling me that there were 203 families on their Adopt-a-family Christmas program who hadn't been adopted. Two hundred and three! My amount to give, which had seemed so enormous a minute before, seemed like nothing ... because it was. It would give every family about $12. In the end, I had to settle for giving to fewer families and hoping that I wouldn't be the only person moved to action by the news story. I may find out that they were all helped in the end. But then again, I might not.

It made me remember something in Catch-22. The protagonist (if you can have such a thing is a book as iconoclastic as Catch-22) named Yossarian is flying a mission when his plane is struck by flak and a crew-member named Snowden is hit. Yossarian goes back and sees Snowden on the floor of the plane talking almost incoherently about the cold and showing a bad, but not terrible, wound. Yossarian immediately begins medical care -- which is described in careful detail -- and quickly has the wound cleaned, stitched and treated. At which point Snowden mentions the cold again and indicates his side. Yossarian opens his jacket and sees for the first time that Snowden is, in fact, spilling out from a wound much bigger and completely past hope of treatment. I think in the book it's one of the many times that Yossarian goes insane. I believe that when he lands, he takes off all his clothes and climbs a tree and won't come down (but I could be remembering that wrong. It's been years since I read the book, and it's confusing enough to remember a week later, let alone years.).

That's the crux of our problem these days, and I suppose I don't need to just include Christians when I postulate that it's enough to make us insane. Our pain might be the more acute for having been directed by the Author and Perfector of our faith to give to the poor, but then it might be mitigated as well -- as my husband just now dropped by and sensibly reminded me -- by knowing that He never promised us we could solve all their problems. In fact, Jesus told us specifically that we would always have the poor with us. So when we give, we really have to give as if the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. If we insist on paying a lot of attention to our charitable giving, and being logical and sensible about it, we'll undoubtedly end up in the same place as many scientifically-minded people are -- not giving at all.

So maybe again, we do the right thing -- when we do the right thing -- not because we're made of better stuff than those around us who don't, or even because we love the Lord on Christmas Day enough to empty our wallet many times over for earthquake victims, but because we have been given the blessing (or curse) of sight in a blind world. And so we give, because the alternative is too terrible to contemplate.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Baby, it's cold outside

Well, if you live south of the Mason-Dixon line, your Gloat Meter should have gone off today. The daytime temperature here in the Kansas City area -- smack dab in the middle of the country if you're geographically-challenged -- was in the single digits. If you figure for wind chill and other variables, it's still in the single digits, but with that wicked minus sign in front of it.

I don't really want to know what the temperature is outside right now at 10:30 at night. Cold enough that when I take Clementine the hound out to take care of her business, she's downright brisk about it, not even caring to snuffle the ground to see if cats have been trespassing. And cold enough that cats don't trespass -- the most self-reliant cats-about-town haven't been abroad in weeks. Any of them lucky enough to possess a heater they can call their own doesn't budge from it.

If you're in one of those balmy southerly regions, I'll tell you that temperatures this low cut into you like a knife when you go out. When I was new enough to the Midwest not to understand the times that gloves aren't optional, I couldn't believe that by the time I had filled my tank at the gas station, the cold would've cut into my hands until they hurt as if I had punched through a window. You don't even realize as you walk that a lot of muscles are clenching in some primordial attempt to shield you from the elements, so that you become sore sometimes with the effort.

It all sounds very grim, and perhaps it is in a way. Ah, but what it means in such arctic conditions to be inside. What a blessed word that is -- inside. With the heater humming along and the Christmas tree lights making a cheerful reflection on the windows. With a dog in the next room warming the bed for me and a quiet, quiet street outside.

I just finished watching my favorite Christmas movie, the version of The Christmas Carol with George C. Scott. I'm not someone who gets tired of seeing movies that I really like over and over. I think I've liked something about every version I've seen -- including the Mr. Magoo one, which was the only one I knew about when I was a kid -- but for me all the elements come together the best in this one. They leave in most of the things I like and don't try to change the dialogue. Sorry, but there's no need to, not even after 140 (or whatever) years. I could certainly wish that Dickens hadn't started the tradition of venerating Christmas as a day and a state of mind without ever really mentioning why it's celebrated. But even that just seems like nit-picking right now. It's a fine thing to see it on Christmas Eve eve -- as fine as one of the cups of Christmas punch that they allude to and that I imagine must be spiced with oranges and cinnamon and served piping hot.

They make Scrooge's London look even more inhospitable outside than Kansas City, Missouri. But they make Christmas celebrating look every bit as warming to the soul as my toasty house and my blinking tree.

God bless us, every one.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

The horrors of humanity

This is the Sunday of the Ancestors in the Orthodox Church. This morning, we heard the geneology of Christ read from the book of Matthew. All those names -- Rahab, David, Zerubbabel, Zadok -- some of whose stories are known, some of whose names are at least mentioned elsewhere, some whom we know nothing about. And what about those we do know something about? It's not always a glowing picture: prostitutes, adulterers, murderers, liars, worshippers of Baal and other foreign gods. This is the lineage of Christ. When he emptied himself and took on the form of a servant, He became the descendant of sinners. It would be wonderful if every name read elicited only a glow of pride. There are certainly great heroes of the faith listed, but they all have their weaknesses as well. I heard a religious scholar recently remark that the Hebrew Bible is not the story of how people should be, but how they are. The divine condescension is our joy as we anticipate the Nativity, but the reality of what it means that the Son of God became one of us also has a sudden grittiness to me.

By now, I'm sure everyone has heard this absolutely horrible news. A woman is so desperate to have a child of her own after she miscarries that she comes into another woman's home on false pretences, murders her in cold blood and cuts the eight-month-old fetus (excuse me -- child) from her womb, which she then tries to pass off as her own. It's really too horrible to be believed. If I had read it in a book, I would've thought the author was going for a level of depravity that was more sensationalist that fact-based.

And it happened in Skidmore, a little town with a population of about 300 that's about two hours north of here. The town where the baby was taken was Malvern, KS -- another small town.

Human nature is such a funny thing. Why is it that when you read things like this, you almost immediately want to know where it happened, what kinds of people these were, did the victim act incautiously, as if any of these details can help you remove the circumstances from your world. What is it we want to hear? That it happened light years way away, in precisely the kind of environment and with the type of people that you have always wisely kept your distance from? That there is some snag in the system somewhere, and onces we address it with proper safeguards and new legislation, such things will never occur again? In spite of being jaded by hearing far too many graphic crime stories for our spiritual well-being, I suppose we can never help our automatic inclination to empathize and so, when that is too frightening, we have to immediately find the information that tells us that we have rendered ourselves inviolate and inaccessible to such evil.

The story in today's paper contained the kind of quote that you always hear from a neighbor or local resident in small town crimes. A woman in Malvern said, "you read about this kind of stuff, but it blows you away when it's here. This stuff is supposed to be in Los Angeles or New York." Perhaps in the light of such horror, these are the things that naturally occur to people to say, but I wince at them all the same. This is just the sort of attitude that country people are accused of -- bad things only happen in big cities, not out here where we're decent and upstanding. A Malvern man said, in answer to a question about the killer, "Do I hate her? If it happened anywhere else in the country, I'd hate her. But she's from here. I just feel nothing."

I haven't heard any quotes like that from the town of Skidmore, Missouri. But then, Skidmore may be something of a haunted town, if indeed the whole county isn't haunted. To a lot of residents, it may seem like the sudden media onslaught is deja vu.

In 1981, a reputed town bully named Ken Rex McElroy was shot to death in broad daylight on a main street in front of at least 40 people, all of whom professed complete ignorance as to the perpetrator of the crime. No one was ever charged. The incident became the subject of a best-selling book and a "60 Minutes" report.

And unfortunately, that isn't the only skeleton in the closet. The St. Joseph News-Press carried a short article of the bizarre crime history of Nodaway County. Here are a few examples:
* In 1972, a 15-year-old shot a family of four to death for no apparent reason.
* In 1994, a man was convicted of first-degree murder for running over his wife with a combine.
* In 2002, a 71-year-old man walked into an abbey and opened fire, killing two monks and wounding two before killing himself. No motive was ever discovered.
And I'm not including the rest, the organized crime hits and sex crimes and domestic abuse murders that have become all too common but still horrify us and make us wonder what demons enter into our fellow human beings.

These are terrible things to contemplate. And incomprehensible. And unanswerable. As such, perhaps I shouldn't be too harsh on the residents of these towns for not having more to say. I had been a little nonplussed with all the comments about how the baby needs to know she was loved, as if this in any way will be a comfort to this poor individual.

But what do I expect? We're only human, with a human capacity to process horror and grief and the realization of our fragile sense of our own safety and the rightness of things. Having a baby to focus on might take the sting out of it. Because such innocence and new life always symbolizes hope to us, Baby Victoria Jo Stinnen gives us a ray of light in the unbroken darkness of ruined and broken lives.

Out of the terror of our history, windows are broken when we least expect it. Sometimes without our ability to recognize them, they put the darkness to flight for a moment and enable us to see greater truths that we are too blind for most of the time.

Unto us, a Child is given ...

Thursday, December 16, 2004

St. Gregory of Nazianzus "On the Incarnation"

At a Serbian fest recently, I picked up a book of St. Gregory Nazianzus' poetry called On God and Man, and then, in the way we all have (I hope), congratulated myself on being the kind of person who picks up a book of the poetry of St. Gregory of Nazianzus and never got around to reading it. My guilt finally caught up with me today, and I opened it up at random to this poem called simply "On the Incarnation of Christ". I thought it was wonderful.

Foolish is he or she who does not worship the ever-existing Word of God, the Lord, as equally God with the supernal Father,
Foolish is he or she who does not worship the Word, the Lord, a human here appearing, as equally God with the heavenly Word.
The one divides the Word from the great Father, the other our human form and fleshiness from the Word.

Though being God, the Father's Word took on our human being,to mingle it with God, and be little amongst earthlings.
He is one God out of both, being so human as to make me God, instead of human.

Be merciful, O wounded one on high!
Let that much suffice you. What more have I to do with an ineffable mind and mixture?
Both are God, you mortals, be content with reason's limits.

If, then, I've won you over, much the better. But if you blacken the page
with many myriads of words,
come, and I'll inscribe these little verses upon tables with letters from my carving pen, which have no blackness in them.


Tuesday, December 14, 2004

$65,000 for a haunted cane?

No wait, it's even better than that. $65,000 for a possibly-haunted-but-probably-not cane. Since we had a good laugh about the visionary cheese sandwich that sold on ebay for $28,000, we might as well do the follow-up. And the seller is from Hobart, Indiana where I used to live. That doesn't really have any bearing on the story, but Hobart's a pretty small town, so it's just one of those weird Small World things.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Fools and foolishness

Touchstone mag features this excellent piece by the excellent Frederica Mathewes-Green entitled "Meet your Mocker" where she takes on the difficult subject about appropriate and inappropriate humor for a Christian. The whole article is a must-read, but the following graph ought to be printed out and made into a henna tattoo we can wear around:

When Jesus tells us not to even say "You fool!" to another, when he links malicious anger to the spirit of Murder, we glimpse the darker side of this pleasure. It is deliciously gratifying to see idiots roundly put down, but that sense of gratification is not really one of our better points. And maybe idiots deserve more mercy than that, since that company includes all of us sooner or later. I think of this whenever I hear a Christian smugly say that he or she does not "suffer fools gladly." Well, I think, Jesus suffers you.



Saturday, December 11, 2004

Shakers and movers

I just finished watching a Ken Burns documentary on the Shakers. I probably should be embarrassed about spending my Saturday night that way, but what the heck. Ken Burns -- who did the 11-episode about the Civil War in 1990 -- could make a good documentary about the history of Gruyere cheese, and all I knew about Shakers was (a) they're a religious movement, and (b) they're best known for their chairs. When you think about it, that's not much knowledge.

So now I know a little more. Here are the high points:
* As you probably could have guessed, "Shakers" is a nickname. The name of their religious movement is The United Church of Believers. They're a faction of Quakers and were called "Shaking Quakers" and then just "Shakers" because their worship included shaking dance moves.
* They were founded in the mid-18th century by Ann Lee (called Mother Ann Lee), a visionary. Their governing principles are of neatness, order, simplicity and industry. The reason that their chairs are so highly prized today -- as were, in their day, their seeds, architecture, home and farm innovations, and their woven cloth -- is because they held a belief that any single thing you did was to be done simply and without ornamentation but as close to perfection as possible, no matter how long it took.
* They also took a vow of celibacy, which left them more time and (according to the hypothesis of one commentator) more drive with which to build, farm and work.
* I don't know about that, but the celibacy is at least partly to blame for the fact that the Shakers are -- quite literally -- dying out. At its height in the 1800's there were 6,000 Shakers. Today there are 10.

So here was the part that made me want to blog about this. All the Shaker women they talked to looked to be in their 70s or 80s. When they were talking about the future of the movement, one of them said something like, "I am certain that the Shaker movement will come back again. This is God's work. How could anything that's God's work go away? Nothing any human being could ever do would make it go away."

This had a familiar ring to it. These are just the sorts of things that people at my old parish used to say, and they made me nuts then. I think it's part of the reason I decided to do a blog in the first place, because I wanted other Orthodox to know yes, sometimes churches die. (In the case of my old church, for those just tuning in, the priest left -- both the church and the priesthood -- and on any given Sunday, there are only 3-7 people to attend reader's services, if they are held. All feast days are neglected, the choir is non-existent, and there hasn't been a divine liturgy done there since July.) Yes, there is no certain contract with God that the church you grew up in will be there until you die, just because you want it to be.

The Orthodox Church universal has survived for roughly two millennia. If it can survive the fall of the Byzantine Empire and oppression by Romans, heretics, Turks, Mongols, Crusaders, Communists and anyone else with a sharp stick, it can survive just about anything.

But individual parish churches are not always so endowed with long-sightedness. I won't go again into the problems that sunk mine, but I will say that the attitude of a central group that this particular church was a birthright, an entitlement, is one of the things that ruined its ability to be the active, living organism that churches must be. It doesn't have to do with God not being good or provident or merciful. But when He can no longer be what we know Him to be -- vital, alive, creative, ever-changing and ever the same -- what is there left for Him to be?

I think the problem for the Shakers is that the vessel that they gave Him to inhabit was too small. God forbid that the same should turn out to be true about us.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Stupid Christmas presents

I apologize for not keeping up with my blogging more these days. I have been doing a lot of my gift-buying online, and having the time of my life.

Last Christmas, money was (in the words of the old 80's song) too tight to mention, so we tried to be brave little soldiers with bright, shiny eyes and say "God bless us, every one," around our tiny Christmas turkey. And while I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, there's nothing like following it up with a Christmas where we've got money (in the words of the Confucius) out the wazzoo to make a person giddy with the incredible happiness of giving. You get Scrooge-the-morning-after happy. I've gotten things for everyone. I bought money-holder cards for the trashmen. I'm contemplating a combination-species gift basket for my pet sitter and her dogs and cats. I've been going nuts.

But not so nuts that I haven't noticed that some of the offerings in the 584 catalogs that I have left in my house are really just utter crap. And I'd love to say that it's the chintzier catalogs that are the culprits here. But it's not even a close contest. Apparently, we are a country that is so rich that we're going to buy things that are just stupid.

Consider this item, for example: The Bow-Lingual Dog Translator. Now, for a measly $93 YOU can have the oratorio of your spaniel not only communicated to you no matter where you are, but interpreted for you. For example, as the helpful picture shows, your idle golden retriever looking off into the distance might have the words "Woof!" leap out of his head in a comical typeface. And where would YOU be? Would you be one of those hopeless dunces that wouldn't know what that meant in people-speak? Would you be one of those reprobates that missed the whole event because you were "away" at "work"? But this is the 21st century! We need no longer be missing critical information from our pets. Japanese technology has come to the rescue. I just want to know who did the translating, because anyone who thinks a dog means more than about four things when it barks has problems that will cost a lot more than $93 to fix.

Or, if you're going to be flying long distances, you'll want to get a couple of these Knee Defenders. If you've flown, you know exactly what they're talking about. You're already stuck in a tiny coccoon-like space where there isn't room to exhale -- and then the selfish pleasure-seeking lout in the seat in front of you reclines their @%#!!! seat. Since the seats only recline by about two inches, probably the only thing stupider than him doing it is you going quietly insane about it. But there you are. Such is the lot of an air-traveler. But no! If you only had your Knee Defenders with you, you could brace the suckers in at the tray table and grin like a troll when that crum tried to recline. Of course, you'd have to go through the flight with the tray table open, but really, is that such a price to pay for pure spite? Think of the look on their mawkish, bovine face when the damn seat won't go down. Omigosh! That'd be rich. (The instructions in the catalog say, "As a courtesy, let the person in that seat know they can ask you to remove or adjust Knee Defender when they're ready to recline." Um, yeah ... right.)

And really, there are too many things in the Sharper Image catalog to even know where to begin. Sharper Image has defined the goody bag for the well-heeled hypochondriac. More and more of the space that used to go to exercise machines for your car and other necessary items has had to go to magnetic healing devices, massagers for every possible place (including some I don't want to know about) and things to control negative ions. (And in case you're new to all this High Science, the negatively-charged ions are the ones you want. So negative, good. Postive, bad. ) Sharper Image has those bad old ions on the run, by golly. I typed "ion" into the search window, and it gave me five pages to choose from. Praise be! What a merry Yuletide I'll have if I can just cancel the effects of that nasty old fireplace with an ion-spewing fan with a thermostat, timer and remote control. (Page one -- $89.)

So my advice -- skip them all. Go to ebay. Type in any combination of words you want. You'll get 300 screens-full of possibilities, most at bargain prices, all with amusing typos and bad pictures. But cruise the catalogs anyway, just for the fun of it.

Merry, merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

You think we have partisan politics?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Pacify Muslims by dropping paper cranes on them

We could certainly learn a thing or two about keeping the peace from the honorable Buddhist kingdom of Thailand. When they start to have the kind of trouble with the Muslim population that has led to horrors worldwide, the premier Thaksin Shinawatra (you'll want to memorize that name -- it'll be on Jeopardy someday) wastes no time with acts of complicated diplomacy or messy police actions -- nope, he gets people folding origami cranes.

This is a front-page story in today's Wall St. Journal (again, a subscription-only thing so I can't link), but it should have come from a Dave Barry column. Apparently, Shinawatra has been sensing unrest in the Muslim-dominated southern provinces, where hundreds have died in violence that escalated after a brutal police crackdown on Muslim protesters resulted in 85 deaths, mostly through ill-treatment.

So, what to do? Wellllll, through the kind of enlightenment that would only come to most of us after a Nyquil enema, Shinawatra arrived at the absolutely wonderful idea of having the entire population fold paper cranes (which bring peace and hope to their beholders, according to Japanese tradition) for every man, woman and child in Thailand. That's 63,000,000 paper cranes.

And how to bestow these favorable tidings? Why, you take them up in planes and drop them out of bomb-bay doors on the unsuspecting heads of the southern Muslims, of course. After all, what could possibly soothe those jihad-invoking hotheads more than being pelted with 63 million pellets of carefully folded -- and altogether meaningless -- good will?

Well, not altogether meaningless. Actually, some Muslims are already offended by the gesture, since their religion considers representation of any created thing as idolotry.

As Dave Barry says, I am not making this up.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Two bantengs are better than one

I saw a clone today. I don't know how old it was -- the sign didn't say. But it was a healthy adult male and seemed to be enjoying his lot in life. I can't be sure about that last part, but he was chewing his cud as contentedly as all the bantengs.

This was at the San Diego zoo. I came up to an enclosure with a dozen or so bantengs -- wild cattle from Java -- and happened to read that one of the males was cloned from frozen cells they had of one born in the zoo in 1974.

Are you kidding me? I read it again. Yep, it's an experiment and he's the first successful clone at the San Diego Zoo, and, I think, the first banteng.

Am I the only one who thinks that's kind of amazing? Dolly the sheep -- the first cloned mammal -- was born in July of 1996. Now clones are commonplace enough that it's not a big deal.

I left the enclosure shaking my head. There seems like no chance that people in the current culture can possibly say that there are some lines we just shouldn't cross. Cloning proponents only see a bright shiny future ahead where everyone has a spare version of themselves chilling in the back like a pick-your-part auto/body shop. At least that's the way this article from Instapundit sees it. In it, the Speculist happily imagines the day "a few years from now" when he'll have a clone of himself developing:
It would be an amazing little bud of life, similar to (genetically identical to) the amazing little bud of life that eventually grew into me. But we have a different developmental path for this bud.
Chilling, no?
We aren't going to kill it; the whole idea is to produce a viable collection of ongoing cells. We will remove that part of it that makes it want to grow into a different person ... and otherwise, we will allow it to go on living indefinitely. If I am injured or get sick, part of this collection of cells will be reintroduced into the organism from which it came — that would be me — to help it recover. As I age, more of the cells might be introduced to help counteract the effects; still others might be put on a new developmental path towards being a finished "part": a heart or a set of lungs or a new pair of eyes.
I was sort of hoping he was kidding, but I don't think he was.
Each time one of these procedures was done, this living human tissue would grow into a human being. Why would anyone insist that it has to grow into a different human being? Says who? My twin brother can't demand that he has a right to exist. I never have to create a clone in the first place. And if I do create one, I assert that I have the right (before it grows into a separate and distinct human being) to decide that it will be me, rather than him, when it grows up.
Yep, no problem with playing God here.