Daniel Pipes, Ph.D.

Page from Bible found at World Trade Center site--but what's the message?

FEBRUARY 25, 2002
DOES GOD STILL SPEAK today? John DOe and Michael Bellone believe He does.

Doe, an actor and a photographer claims he found a page from the Bible in the rubble of the World Trade Center that described a tower that reached into the heavens.

“After more than 93 days of fires, a skinny little frail page from the Bible survived. I find it quite unbelievable,” he told New York Post reporter Maria Alvarez whose story on this “shocking revelation of faith and hope” was reported in the February 11 edition of the newspaper.

Doe who was accompanied by Michael Bellone, a safety director with the New York City Fire Department found the page near the place where the south tower once stood. The page was from the book of Genesis and told of the account of the building of the Tower of Babel.

“It was amazing,” Bellone said. “We can’t rebuild fast enough. We can start all over again.”

While we can all relate to Mr. Bellone’s enthusiasm, his exegesis of scripture leaves much to be desired.

The story of the building of the Tower of Babel, recorded in Genesis chapter 11, occurred several millennia before Christ and sometime after Noah’s flood in an area called the Plains of Shinar, the region we know as Mesopotamia.

The whole earth spoke one language back then, and the nomads living in that region got together one day and said to each another, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."

But their motivation for building the tower was wrong. Instead of trusting God and his plans for their future, they built a structure that would literally “vault” them above the heavens and place them at a strategic vantage point where they thought they could establish themselves above both man and God. By building this monument to themselves, they reasoned they alone would control their destiny.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary notes that the purpose of the undertaking was twofold: “First, they wanted to assure themselves of the strength that comes from unity. The city and the tower would tie them into a solid group, so that they might be powerful-even without God's help. They said: ‘Lest we be scattered.’ On the other hand, they were determined to make themselves renowned, to make for themselves a name.”

“The sins of self-sufficiency and pride predominated in their thinking. They wanted to make sure that they would not be forgotten. The tower would hold them together and secure their names from oblivion. They defied God and set out to prove their towering structure would be a monument to their energy, daring, genius, and resources.”

The Bible goes on to say that God wasn’t amused with this at all. He “confused their language” and the people’s worst fears came upon them. God “scattered them over all the earth.”

When Doe found this portion of Scripture the New York Post reported he said it was “a sign from God that He is still watching over us.”

Doe is at least right about that. God is still watching over us, and is capable of speaking to us today-even through the rubble of what’s left of the Twin Towers.

The post-9-11 resurgence of God in America is good. And God’s voice is certainly discernable in the midst of all the cross talk and cacophony of life on planet earth in the 21st-century if we know how to listen for it. But upon hearing God's voice, it then behooves us to make an effort to rightly understand what he is trying to say in its proper context.

Even if that means we may not like the message he is trying to convey. 

Black water: Test results trickle in; researchers not yet drawing conclusions Wednesday, March 27, 2002

By CATHY ZOLLO, crzollo@naplesnews.com

The results are trickling in on black water samples sent far and wide for testing, but researchers are not yet drawing conclusions on its cause or on the effect it may have had on sea life in the waters off Southwest Florida and in the Keys.

Scientists will meet Thursday in St. Petersburg at the Florida Marine Research Institute, which is heading up the search for answers, to discuss their findings and draw some conclusions.

In the meantime, researchers from as far away as Fairfax County, Va., are looking into possible reasons for the phenomenon.

Robert Jonas, a microbiologist at George Mason University, has samples collected by Mote Marine Laboratory's Center for Tropical Research in the Keys and is trying to count bacteria.

Jonas wasn't sure yet if his samples would lend themselves to such testing because he has to be certain that bacteria weren't reproducing since they were collected.

"We have certain expectations about the number of bacteria in normal coastal ocean water," Jonas said. Good, clean ocean water has between 1 and 3 million bacteria. Elevated levels would be in the area of 10 times that, Jonas said.

And Dr. Larry Brand, professor of marine biology at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine at Atmospheric Science, said he heard about a routine sampling expedition that collected the black water in February.

Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration trip weren't aware of the phenomenon at the time they were sampling between Key West and the Ten Thousand Islands that hug Florida's southwest coast. They collected in areas on the fringe and the core of the water, according to later reports by fishermen. Brand's samples came from the edge.

Brand refused to speculate on what his findings might mean but said the samples had an odd array of organisms, including green algae that is not normally found in gulf water.

"There are a lot of surprising results people would not have expected," Brand said. "Generally, you see green algae under polluted conditions."

Brand cautioned that what appear to be differing reports may be different aspects of the same phenomenon.

"They appear to be contradictory, but they may not be," Brand said.

So far, researchers returning results to the marine research institute have found that the water has indications of large amounts of plant plankton and has no evidence of red tide, a naturally occurring algae that has plagued Florida's Gulf coast for years.

In the most recent status report on the event published by the marine research institute, Research Administrator Beverly Roberts still questions whether a red tide connection exists.

In the months leading up to and including the black water phenomenon that may have begun as early as November, red tide was rampant along the Southwest Florida coast, littering its beaches with dead fish and causing respiratory problems for residents and visitors.

Roberts noted that there were no dead fish associated with the black water, "but perhaps a relevant point is that fish kills were occurring when this phenomenon was being observed in January," she said in the report.

What researchers say repeatedly is that the event was an unusual and complex one.

Fishermen were the first to spot the black water that they said, at its worst, floated large gelatinous globs and had spider web-like filaments running through it.

They also noted an absence of game fish in normally rich waters, and fishermen are reporting the worst season for several different types of fish that they've seen in many years.

They'd spotted a huge mass of black water apparently devoid of fish just off Southwest Florida and moving slowly toward the Florida Keys. Satellite imagery from January and February shows the water mass was larger at some points in time than 730-square-mile Lake Okeechobee in central Florida and had its beginning as early as November.


Commercial fishermen demand answers to 'black water' mystery
Sunday, March 17, 2002 By CATHY ZOLLO, crzollo@naplesnews.com
Commercial fishermen along the Southwest Florida coast are reporting a massive dead zone that is almost devoid of marine life in an area of the Gulf of Mexico traditionally known as a rich fishing ground.

They've dubbed it black water, and they're demanding that local, state and national government agencies find out what's causing it.

Scientists who have heard of the phenomenon say they, too, need answers. "It's killed a lot of the bottom because recently a lot of little bottom plants are coming to the surface dead and rotten out in the Gulf," said Tim Daniels, 58, a Marathon Key fish-spotting pilot who has been flying over the Gulf for more than 20 years.

Like Daniels, fishermen with decades on the water say they've often seen red tide but they've never seen anything like this — it doesn't have a foul smell, it isn't red tide and it isn't oil. They describe it as viscous and slimy water with what looks like spider webs in it.

First sighted in January, the mass of black-colored water reached from 20 miles north of Marathon Key halfway to Naples. It stretched west almost 20 miles into the Gulf of Mexico. Fishermen don't know if it's moved in from the north or offshore or if it originated in the coastal waters off Southwest Florida. Though somewhat smaller now than descriptions from January, the mass of water that is still quite large is moving into the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Created by Congress in 1990, the 2,800-square-mile Sanctuary adjacent to the Keys is the largest coral reef in the United States. It includes the productive waters of Florida Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Part of the ecosystem is an extensive nursery, feeding and breeding ground that supports a variety of marine species and a multimillion-dollar fishing industry that brings in almost 20 million pounds of seafood each year.

Billy Causey, superintendent of the Sanctuary, told the Naples Daily News recently that there is real concern in the scientific community about the overall health of the Gulf. Causey said contributing to the problems afflicting the shallow body is global warming, extended periods when the Gulf waters aren't cooling in the winter, and the growing impact of human activity along coastlines.

"What we're seeing is part of a bigger picture," Causey said. "We're seeing accelerated problems around periods of elevated temperatures."

Those problems, beginning in the early 1980s, include more frequent and longer lasting coral bleaching events that by 1990 were affecting stouter coral reefs closer to shore and more adapted to wide temperature swings. "There are places that are still beautiful but the shallow reefs would make you cry," said Causey, a Keys diver since the 1950s.

Scientists with Mote Marine Laboratory based in Sarasota said they are aware of the black water phenomenon but hadn't yet been able to test water samples. Erich Bartels, staff biologist at the Lab's Center for Tropical Research in the Keys, said he'd only seen samples too old for testing that were brought in by crabbers. "If you held it up to the light, it had a blackish tint to it," he said. "...If you have black water, there is something going on. It's some kind of dead zone. We just don't know. We're trying to get samples."

Mote is willing to send out testing kits to fishermen who might encounter the black water zone, but Bartels said in the absence of a kit, fishermen could put a sample in a clean bottle and keep it in a cool, dark place until they could get it to a lab.

Karen Steidinger, senior biology research scientist for the Florida Marine Research Institute in St. Petersburg, said she hadn't yet heard about the phenomenon. She said there's a summer release of brown water from the Shark River about 35 miles south of Marco Island, but she doubted the black water was that. The description relayed to her from fishermen didn't allow her to speculate on a cause. Steidinger said samples of the water that had been properly handled would provide the best answer.

Black water surfaces

Daniels said he first noticed the black water when he went out in mid-January, ahead of kingfish season, to see what fishermen had in store for 2002. When he was flying over water that was 50 feet deep and north of the Keys, Daniels began to notice a change in the water color.

"I thought, 'What in the world is going on here?"' Daniels said. "I went out to the northwest and it was solid black. And I went to the west to get off of it — out to 70 or 80 feet of water north of the Marquesas (Islands) — and it was still there. I came back in and turned north of Key West and it went north. (More than) halfway to Naples from Key West, it was black across the whole place."

Although there are almost no fish in the zone, Daniels said, the few that fishermen found there — and other fish that entered the water — reacted strangely.

"You'd see them here and there, but they were jumping and running, not stopping — and acting different," Daniels said. "Like they didn't want to be there." Other pilots and fishermen report the same.

Mike Richardson, based out of Everglades City, has been fish-spotting for 25 of his 50 years and said next to the normally green water, the black water stands out like night versus day. He's quit flying over it. "There's no sense going into it," he said. "You can't see anything." He hasn't seen dead fish in the water, though there have been numerous large fish kills in recent months off Southwest Florida. Most, according to the Florida Marine Research Institute, have been attributed to red tide — a naturally occurring microscopic organism in the water.

Fishermen like Howie Grimm, 42, who has been in the business out of Everglades City since he was 15, insist the black water isn't red tide. "It's something totally different from anything I've seen," Grimm said. "We have to figure out what it is. There's no fish in it. It's like dead water." Richardson, too, has seen plenty of red tide, whose origins are still not fully understood by scientists.

"This is not like anything I've ever seen," he said.

When pilots from the air see boats move through a red tide zone, they often cut the reddish or brownish water to reveal green below. That doesn't occur in the black water. "This (dark) stuff goes all the way to the bottom," Richardson said. Boats that have 4 to 5 feet of hull below the surface cut through 35 to 40 feet of water and leave nothing but the same black water in their wakes. It's the same at depths of 15 feet, he said.

"It didn't matter where they ran through it, nothing left a trail," Richardson said.

Grimm has reported the phenomenon to officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but said he hasn't heard back yet. That it's affected the fishery, commercial fishermen have no doubt. "I've net-fished for mackerel all my life," Daniels said. "This is the first year that we haven't caught one Spanish mackerel in the Marathon area. They're not there."

The southeast corner of Florida Bay, an area flushed by Atlantic waters, is the only place fishermen are catching mackerel, and they're doing it with hooks and lines, he said.

Symptoms of a sick Gulf?

Along with the newly discovered black water and coral bleaching, there have been other problems with the Gulf that have been documented for years.  They include a New Jersey-sized dead zone coming off the Mississippi River outlet to the Gulf that consumes a larger area each summer. There are incidences of a contamination known as fibro papiloma in green turtles that live in Florida Bay. And now fishermen from Fort Myers Beach to the Keys wonder if there might be new problems to worry about.

They said there have been bigger fish kills that aren't making it onto government reports. The largest, many say, occurred late last year about 30 miles off Tampa Bay. It had shrimpers pulling up netloads of dead and decaying fish off the bottom, they said.

Some shrimpers based on Fort Myers Beach worry that a recent and unexplained slew of flesh-destroying infections they've seen among their number may be related to problems in the Gulf.

The infection is diagnosed as cellulitis in three of their medical reports. They say it begins with a blister on the skin but swells to a large nodule before it erupts and then spreads. It can only be treated with stout antibiotics. It was mentioned by fisherman David Wellsley on CenterPoint, a 7 a.m. Sunday radio talk show hosted by Gary Burris and Ralf Brooks on WNOG-AM 1200 and 1270. Dan Basta, director of the National Marine Sanctuary program, will be the guest today, along with pilot Daniels, discussing the black water phenomenon as well as other problems with the Gulf.

Two of the Fort Myers Beach fishermen who suffered the infections are Kevin Flanaghan, who nearly lost his foot, and Willie Sherwood. They work for different fleets; both run out of Fort Myers Beach. Both of them and others say there is fear among laborers in their line of work about the infection that seems to follow cuts doused with waters from the Gulf. Many report taking precautions such as bleaching their gear and washing up with heavy-duty anti-bacterial soap after pulling in their nets.

The fishermen contend it's a new phenomenon. But some boat owners and local health officials speculated that the fishermen's compromising way of life — the drinking, long-term exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays and weeks at sea when they are never dry — is the culprit for their infections. The men won't lie about their lifestyles. They admit living from paycheck to paycheck, partying and drinking — then cleaning up for the most part when they're at sea. They call it coming off the hill. They'll work for 20 days or more catching fish — and then spend the money they earn in a few days ashore. But they also say folks in their line of work have been doing that for decades without the fear of this sort of infection.

Ray Hoggard, 49, is among the many who say the infection is a hot topic. "It's common talk on the ship-to-ship radios," he said. A few times in recent weeks, boats have had to bring in for treatment some men who were stricken. "It's a hell of a coincidence or something's up," Hoggard said.

Grant Erickson, 48, owner of Fort Myers' Erickson and Jensen Seafood, has a fleet of eight boats. He said he, too, hadn't seen the likes of these infections in the business that his family has been in for a half-century. "It seems like there's something on the bottom ... these boats (nets) drag the bottom," he said. "I don't think it's the lifestyle of the fishermen that's changed. If anything it's better than years past. There's nothing new except the infections."

Dr. Mark Brown, an infectious disease specialist in Naples, said without seeing and testing the infections there is no way to identify the organism or organisms that caused them. He said the next logical step would be for someone to do an epidemiological study of the fishermen to compare them to a control group to find out what's causing the infections. Unless doctors are culturing the bug to see what it is, they may never find out, Brown said. "They need to find out if they all have the same bug," Brown said. "They're going to have to try harder to make a microbiological diagnosis of what germ is causing this. . . They may not even be looking."

Health officials from Lee County, where the affected fisherman are based, said they investigate any of more than 70 communicable diseases and any odd health-related occurrence. "We need to gather a lot of information," said Dr. Judith Hartner, director of the Lee County Health Department. "The first step is somebody needs to report it."

Three doctors who've seen the affected men said they didn't culture the organism that caused the infection. Brown said the symptoms of the infection — the swelling, fast pace and flesh-destroying nature as reported by the fishermen — sounds like Vibrio vulnificus, a common seagoing organism. However, he didn't speculate on why or if it might be on the rise among fishermen.

According to a Johns Hopkins University Web site, the bug frequents areas where the water temperature remains high throughout the year and are most abundant in summer. The infection progresses at a rapid pace and can be fatal. Hartner said her agency needs to answer a number of questions before deciding if the infections warrant investigation.

"Do the fishermen think it's unusual?" she asked. "If we do an investigation and we find out the cause, is there anything we can do to prevent it? We don't know that it's on the rise. It could be coincidence" Actors name has been changed to john doe