Saturday, December 31, 2005

Looking Back on 2005, Looking Ahead to 2006, and Such

At the moment, I am enjoying a rather uneventful New Year's Eve. It is just after 9:00 CST and both Ashlee and Meyer are sleeping. (At least two of the four cats are still awake.) Each December 31 I feel pressured to participate in a raucous countdown to the subsequent January 1. This evening the pressure has subsided, and I am content typing and watching the Twilight Zone marathon on Sci-Fi.

Philosophically, I don't think that New Year's Day is a terribly meaningful holiday. (Rivers, one of the cats who was still awake as of the first paragraph, is now asleep.) I had been mentally piecing together the "Scrambies Best of 2005 Awards," but decided that writing and formatting my list of winners (and reasons for selecting them) would cause me unnecessary stress on a holiday weekend. Still, here are some thoughts on the year that, in just over two-and-a-half hours, will have passed:

Were I to name a "Scrambies Person of the Year", I would have chosen either Beth Stroud (the lesbian United Methodist minister from Pennsylvania who was officially defrocked on Halloween) or Jon Stewart (the host of The Daily Show). Since the politics of The United Methodist Church (particularly regarding homosexuality) is a primary subject of this blog, Stroud would be a natural choice. I commend Jon Stewart for his irreverance, his candor, and his commitment to holding accountable our political and cultural leaders; and I have cited him several times on this blog.

As far as music is concerned, my "Scrambies Album of the Year" award would go to either I'm Wide Awake; It's Morning by Bright Eyes, Guero by Beck, or Be by Common. (Kanye West gets plenty of critical acclaim; I want to be sure that Kanye's buddy Common gets the love he deserves.) I also considered Jetpack's The Art of Building a Moat, but didn't know if I should give the award to an EP. "Scrambies Songs of the Year" honors would probably go to "Late" by Ben Folds, "Harvard Hands" by the Foxymorons, and "Oh Lately It's So Quiet" by OK Go.

I think that the best novel published in 2005 would either be Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down or Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling. The best novel I read in 2005 was Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife. I didn't read many non-fiction books that were published in 2005, but the best non-fiction book published in 2005 that I did read was Malcolm Gladwell's Blink. The best non-fiction book I read this year would have to be Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel.

Since I am raising a toddler, I don't get to see many movies. But the "Scrambies Movie of the Year" would either be Walk the Line or Fever Pitch. I also enjoyed each of the year's three blockbuster sci-fi/fantasy epics: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith, and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. All had their strengths, but Goblet of Fire was my favorite of the three.

My "Scrambies Athlete of the Year" award would have to go to tennis player Roger Federer; if you keep up with tennis, you know why. As an occasional cyclist who struggles to navigate the hills of Tennessee, I can appreciate Lance Armstrong's achievement (winning his seventh straight Tour de France). But Lance beat cancer to win his first Tour in 1999; he tied the record for Tour wins in 2003; and he broke the record in 2004. 2005 was just gravy. How many times can you award the same guy? Danica Patrick is also worthy of recognition, though it's hard to award an athlete who didn't win anything. Nonetheless, no woman has ever been so competitive against men in a major professional sport. While Danica often started races on the front row and sometimes finished in the top ten (pretty good for a rookie), the IRL circuit was dominated by Dan Wheldon. (Of course, no one would have heard of Wheldon if not for Danica Patrick.) I'd also like to recognize Robert Hudson, who was the point guard at Hillsboro High School here in Nashville before graduating this spring. (He is now playing at Emory and Henry University in Virginia.) Rob's story is so insprirational that it is worthy of a Disney movie.

That's all for now. Midnight is nearly two hours away. I may or may not make it. (After all, I have a radio show in the morning.)

Friday, December 30, 2005

Student Takes "Immersion Journalism" Class Very Seriously; Ends Up in Iraq


[Farris] Hassan's dangerous adventure . . . begins with a high school class on "immersion journalism" and one overly eager—or naively idealistic—student who's lucky to be alive after going way beyond what any teacher would ask. . . .

His class was assigned to choose an international topic and write editorials about it, Hassan said. He chose the Iraq war and decided to practice immersion journalism there . . . though he knows his school in no way endorses his travels.

This kid, who is only 16 and a junior in high school, left for Iraq without even telling his parents what he was doing. Sure, what he did was completely irresponsible; but in an age when many people who consider themselves journalists do their research and identify their sources without getting up from their cushy rolly-chairs (e.g. myself), Hassan's gusto and reckless commitment to his craft is admirable.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Original Rules of Basketball on Sale for $10 Million


Ian Naismith, the grandson of the man who came up with the idea for the game while working at a YMCA in Springfield, Mass., says the asking price is $10 million, or less under the right circumstances. . . .

Naismith hopes a corporation comes forward with a deal, which would include sponsorship of a two-year nationwide tour to display the rules in a 40-foot motor coach. Ultimately, Naismith hopes the rules will be put on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

"It's not an easy decision, but it's time," Naismith told The Kansas City Star. "They've been pretty much unseen for 110 years. There's no reason for them to be in a vault or anything like that for another 110 years."

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

"Making Love" in the TNIV

I obtained as a freebie at a recent Youth Specialties conference a copy of Today's New International Version (TNIV) of the Bible. The TNIV is a twenty-first century update of the quarter-century old New International Version (the best-selling Bible translation) and comes to us from the people at Zondervan and the International Bible Society.

Anyway, I found the TNIV's translation of the following verse interesting and a little off-putting:

Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her (1 Samuel 1:19, TNIV).

"Made love"? I'm not a Hebrew expert, but isn't "made love" a bit too colorful of a translation of a verb that the NRSV translates as "knew"? A form of the verb "to know" was also used by the gang rapists at Sodom (Genesis 19:5); fortunately, the TNIV translators here do not use "make love," but opt for "have sex with." After further analysis of the books of the Pentateuch and Deuteronomic history, I found that the more common verb for sex, which the NRSV translates as "to lay with," is translated in the TNIV as "to sleep with."

Personally, I have to side with the Sodomite rapists in the TNIV: "To have sex with" is a verb phrase that means what it says, makes sense to contemporary readers, and avoids icky and weak jargon (i.e. "to make love to" and "to sleep with," respectively). I appreciate the TNIV's efforts to eliminate the confusing and childish use of the verbs "to know" and "to lay with." But "making love" belongs in a contemporary paraphrase, not in a standard translation.

I Went Down the Street and Bought Me a Toilet

Every home I have ever lived in has come with at least one toilet. On only two occasions (prior to yesterday) has a home I was living in had a new toilet installed or an old one replaced. The summer after my sixth grade year, my parents added on to our house in Indianapolis. The addition included a second bathroom, which came with a toilet. The team that built the addition installed the toilet. Years later, shortly after Ashlee and I got married, one of the toilets in our old rental home in West Nashville stopped working. The handymen sent by the house's owners were unable to fix the problem, so they left and returned with a new toilet, which they promptly installed.

I guess I never gave much thought to where toilets come from. I suppose I assumed that only construction workers and plumbers had access to new toilets. I never considered the possibility that the average homeowner could just go to the store and buy a toilet.

A couple weeks ago we learned of a crack in the tank of one of our toilets. Within a few days, the crack grew and deepened until it went all the way through the wall of the tank. (We noticed this only after enough water had escaped through the crack to flood the small bathroom and part of the adjacent hallway.) Fortunately, there are two other toilets in our house. (I always thought that three toilets in a house the size of ours was excessive. But while dealing with the cracked tank, we had to temporarily put another of our toilets out of commission, for unrelated reasons. I now understand the benefit of three toilets.)

Yesterday, we finally decided to go toilet shopping; Ashlee, Meyer, and I started at the Home Depot down the street. I figured we would choose from a handful of floor models then arrange to have our commode of choice delivered to our home at a later date. So I was surprised to find dozens of toilets in boxes just sitting on the shelves. I also learned that the tank and the bowl of a toilet are sold separately. Who knew?

Once our family had identified the toilet that best met our needs, I simply loaded a tank and a matching bowl into our shopping cart and proceeded to checkout. Minutes later we were driving home with a new toilet in the back of our vehicle. Growing up I never imagined that I would one day walk out of a store carrying a brand new toilet; but maybe new and unforeseen experiences are what growing up is all about.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Correction: I Guess I Need to Be More Discriminating About What I Choose to Post

The same Massachusettes paper that recently broke the story about a UMASS Dartmouth student who was questioned by federal agents for requesting a certain edition of Mao Zedong's Little Red Book from the university library now reports that the story was just a hoax:

NEW BEDFORD -- The UMass Dartmouth student who claimed to have been visited by Homeland Security agents over his request for "The Little Red Book" by Mao Zedong has admitted to making up the entire story.

The 22-year-old student tearfully admitted he made the story up to his history professor, Dr. Brian Glyn Williams, and his parents, after being confronted with the inconsistencies in his account.

I feel like an idiot for citing the story in posts on December 17 and December 22. When I think about my first reaction to the story, I find it absurd that, as someone who cares deeply about civil liberties, I was so excited to report on an incident in which those liberties were apparently violated. As much as I wanted to voice my support for the student who was supposedly the subject of an NSA investigation, I considered the story first and foremost evidence to be used against the Bush administration, many of whose policies I have opposed.

So I apologize to the Bush administration, the NSA, and anyone else whose reputation I have participated in tarnishing by jumping on this story. (At the same time I recognize that few people consider this website a legitimate news source and that I lack the power and influence to truly tarnish any public figure's reputation.)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Innkeeper's Song

I wrote "The Innkeeper's Song" for an Advent service a couple weeks ago. I was hoping to record it before Christmas, but I haven't had time. (Maybe next year.) Anyway, since it's Christmas Eve, I figured I would at least give you the lyrics:

A travel-weary couple,
Worn out by their trip from the Galilee
He was old and rugged, and she was just a girl
In the latter stages of pregnancy

They asked me for a place to stay
Concerned about the child in the girl’s womb
But they’ll be sleeping with their donkey—it might get kind of funky
In the stable, ‘cause I’m all out of room

Little hamlet in Judea
What strange things we’ve seen tonight
While my inn is full of strangers . . .

The couple took my offer
And settled for a night with the friendly beasts
But while sleeping in the stable, the girl went into labor (no pause)
In the company of cattle and sheep

The child arrived that evening
While his family was lonely and lost
I glanced out through my window and watched them lay the infant
Down to fall asleep in a feeding trough

Little hamlet in Judea
What strange things we’ve seen tonight
In the stillness and the darkness
We have witnessed the birth of the light

Then out from the fields
Came a group of shepherds to see the child
Disheveled but excited, they loitered uninvited
The guests were getting restless—what’s happening outside?

And all that I could tell them:
There must be something special about this kid
He brings hope to the lowly; he challenges the holy
Maybe God can mend our broken world through him

Virginia Governor to Sign Order for New Evidence That Could Exonerate Convict Executed in 1992

This story was on Wolf Blitzer's The Situation Room. I haven't been able to find it elsewhere. From the transcript:

Up to the very last minute he was led to an electric chair, strapped in and executed, a death row inmate swore his innocence, once saying -- and let me quote -- "They are going to kill me, and I am innocent." Roger Keith Coleman was executed in Virginia in 1992. Now, there are new efforts to determine if the wrong man was put to death.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, an official in Governor Mark Warner's office insists the governor has not gone through a recent epiphany on capital punishment, even though last month he commuted the death sentence of one death row inmate and now he's about to make a move that could change the course of history and alter the death penalty debate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): An official in Virginia Governor Mark Warner's office confirms to CNN the governor is preparing to sign an order for new DNA tests that could exonerate a man executed in 1992.

If these tests are done and do exonerate Roger Coleman, death penalty opponents say it would be the first time an executed convict is scientifically proven innocent since the death penalty was reinstated in the U.S. in 1976. But officials in the governor's office stress the evidence could also further implicate Coleman in the crime.

Death penalty proponents commonly argue that, despite the exonerations of a significant number of wrongly convicted death row inmates (the number of exonerations being more than one-tenth the number of people actually executed), there is no evidence that a United State has executed someone who was innocent. Evidence that this has, in fact, happened would be tragic, but would also be instrumental in (hopefully) preventing similar tragedies in the future.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Meyer Is Blogging Again

Little Meyer reports that peppers and onions aren't apples and offers commentary on some of the pictures I've recently posted on Scrambies.

More Christmas Pictures

frogchickennativity.jpg: Meyer and his cousin, Morgan, as a chicken and frog with the other friendly beasts at the manger scene.

meyerxmas05.jpg: A picture of Meyer next to the Christmas tree (taken during the "Christmas Card Sessions").

Merry Christmas From the Tinleys

Most families get pictures of their kids with Santa Claus. With the true meaning of the season in mind, I (Ashlee wanted nothing to do with this) decided to get a picture of the kids with Jesus:

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Upon Further Review, I've Decided That the President Has Clearly Violated the Fourth Amendment

I've been thinking a lot about the President's authorization of warrantless "domestic spying," and I think I've reached a verdict.

Earlier this week, Bush defended the program by making two points:

1) The time it takes to obtain a warrant is time that we might not have. From

"We know that a two-minute phone conversation between somebody linked to al Qaeda here and an operative overseas could lead directly to the loss of thousands of lives," Bush said. "To save American lives, we must be able to act fast and to detect these conversations so we can prevent new attacks."

2) That this program is only used to spy on persons with suspected links to al Qaeda and is only used to monitor their conversations with persons in other countries. (I have in the back of my mind, however, the anecdotal but disturbing story of a Massachusettes college student who was accosted by the NSA for inquiring about a library book he needed for a paper. I do not know if this case is related to the "domestic spying program.")

Is cutting the courts out of the process so the president can authorize spying on U.S. citizens saving American lives? Maybe. Two questions need to be answered: Is the FISA court so slow in issuing warrants that the nation is put at risk? I see no indication that FISA was hindering national security, but there's a lot I don't know. On the other hand, are all cases of domestic spying worthy of obtaining a warrant?

Then again, maybe these questions are missing the point. Let us not forget the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution, the fourth amendment of which reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Spying on American citizens without first obtaining a warrant clearly violates the fourth amendment, and no president should get away with blatantly ignoring or dismissing our Constitution. We have a handful of fundamental liberties that, as our nation has affirmed over and again throughout its history, are worth giving our lives for. Freedom from unlawful search and seizure is one of them.

Update: MSNBC's Hardball has assembled a montage of incidents during the 2004 campaign when the President assured voters that wiretaps and similar tools would not be used in the absense of a court-issued warrant. (Video from Crooks and Liars.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Pat on the Back for the Bushies

While I still do not approve of how we got into Iraq and have several concerns about how we'll get out, I will nonetheless commend the Bush Administration for its work toward building democracy in Iraq. While last Thursday's elections were not without problems, they were in many ways successful and are cause for optimism.

Even anti-war folks, such as myself, can and should celebrate noticeable progress toward a free, sovereign, and self-policed Iraqi state. If the U.S. (along with our small band of allies) is able to build Iraq into a viable democracy, history may even forgive our sloppy and destructive means of doing so.

Pride Be Damned, Keep Artest

If the Pacers go ahead with plans to trade Ron Artest, they'll give up one of the league's best players with no hope of getting anything comparable in return. In recent days Artest has been contrite and repentent and has begged to return to the team. Still, star Jermaine O'Neal and general manager Donnie Walsh stubbornly insist that the team will be better off without the its troubled but talented best player. (Yes, I think that Artest is a better all-around player than O'Neal.)

Here's the problem: Following the now infamous brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills on November 19 of last year (as with other altercations involving Ron Artest), Artest was disciplined but not helped—not rehabilitated. He was never required to undergo anger management counseling. Out of concern for Artest (let alone for the Pacers organization and chances of winning a championship), Walsh should have encouraged or required his star defender to seek therapy. Frankly, I think what Ron Artest needs more than anything right now is psych meds. He is obviously mentally ill; and I think (based on my own limited experience with mental illness) that he could exorcise his demons if the proper pharmaceutical were prescribed.

I favor the Pacers keeping Ron Artest for the same reason I oppose the death penalty: I don't believe in giving up on people (especially people with extraordinary defensive skills who also average 20 points and 5 boards per game).

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Changing Face of Change

Legislation sent to the President late last week calls for a new series of dollar coins that will feature every American president (even Warren G. Harding). The series will begin in 2007, and four new coins will be issued each year. Legislators hope that Americans will use these coins instead of paper dollars, which have a shorter life-span and are therefore more expensive for the government to produce. The government last issued special dollar coins in 2000 with the Sacagawea dollar, a coin that (despite a nifty ad campaign featuring George Washington himself) never caught on.

I'm not sure why Congress thinks that the presidential dollars will succeed where other dollar coins have failed, especially at a time when fewer and fewer people carry cash in any form. Metal money is fast becoming irrelevant; Americans today prefer magnetic, or electronic, currency. And unremarkable past attempts at introducing dollar coins have shown that Americans, unlike Canadians, prefer a paper dollar.

Moreover, each of the 43-or-so coins in this series will feature a white guy; and some of these white guys already appear on U.S. currency. The Sacagawea dollar, despite being largely ignored, was refreshing in that it put a Native American woman on American money. Likewise, the Susan B. Anthony dollar, in addition to its hendecagonal design, was nice because it featured a leader of the women's suffrage movement. If we're going to issue new forms of cash, these forms need to be more diverse than the current crop of legal tender.

Like I said, several presidents, including Nashville's own Andrew "Trail of Tears" Jackson, already appear on American money. Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson each have a bill and a coin. Do we really need another monetary denomination bearing their likeness? If we must produce new forms of cash, why not a series of dollars featuring important American abolishionists and civil-rights leaders (such as Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Ella Baker, and Andrew Young)? or how about great American artists (such as Mark Twain, Georgia O'Keefe, and Fats Domino)?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

My Senator Disappoints Me Again (and I'm Not Talking About Lamar Alexander)

According to the AP, my senator, Dr. Bill Frist, has been paying a significant portion of the money raised by his AIDS charity, World of Hope, to members of his political inner circle, whom he is paying as consultants. The AP story breaks down the money this way:

World of Hope gave $3 million it raised to charitable AIDS causes, such as Africare and evangelical Christian groups with ties to Republicans - Franklin Graham's Samaritan Purse and the Rev. Luis Cortes' Esperanza USA, for example.

The rest of the money went to overhead. That included $456,125 in consulting fees to two firms run by Frist's longtime political fundraiser, Linus Catignani. One is jointly run by Linda Bond, the wife of Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo.

I hate to keep picking on Senator Frist, so I wish he would stop doing things that get on my nerves.

Today on Christian Dissent Live

Joey and I stumbled through the first hour, but the second hour was much smoother. Alex Wiesendenger, a Jesuit volunteer and assistant director with the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing (TCASK), gave an excellent interview explaining why he feels that opposing capital punishment is a matter of faith.

Cole is working on uploading the audio from a remote location; hopefully it will be up soon.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Tomorrow on Christian Dissent Live

Cole will be traveling all over the country attending family functions, so Joey and I will be on our own. Our guest (if we are not foiled by WRFN's equipment) will be Alex Weisendenger, a Jesuit activist with the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing (TCASK). Obviously, we'll be talking about capital punishment, but we have a host of other stories to discuss as well. Since this is the last show of the year (we'll be off on Christmas day), Joey and I will also be playing some of our favorite music from 2005.

Talk to you tomorrow morning.

Spying on Our Citizens Isn't Necessarily a Good Use of Resources

The President today acknowledged that he authorized the NSA's controversial eavesdropping program (from

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush acknowledged on Saturday that he authorized the National Security Agency "to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations" and said leaks to the media about the program were illegal.

Sources have told CNN that Bush signed a secret order in 2002 allowing the NSA to eavesdrop on Americans and others in the United States who are communicating with people overseas. The story was first reported Friday in The New York Times.

During an unusual live, on-camera version of his weekly radio address, Bush said such authorization is "fully consistent" with his "constitutional responsibilities and authorities.

This story out of Massachusettes, however, raises questions about how effectively the NSA is selecting its targets:

NEW BEDFORD -- A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."

Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.

The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Thank You for Being a Friend . . .

. . . Travel down the road and back again,
Your heart is true, you're a pal and a confidant,
And if you threw a party, and invited everyone you knew,
You would see the biggest gift would be from me,
And the card attached would say,
"Thank you for being a friend"

I've had the them from the Golden Girls stuck in my head all morning. It's driving me gonzo.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Highly Recommended: Guns, Germs, and Steel

Last week I finished reading Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond's 1997 Pulitzer-Prize winning book on why certain societies acquired certain advantages while their contemporaries did not. It is honestly one of the five best non-fiction books I have ever read. Diamond offers the following summary of the book in the Afterward of the 2003 edition:

My main conclusion was that societies developed differently on different continents because of differences in continental environments, not in human biology. Advanced technology, centralized political organization, and other features of complex societies could emerge only in dense sedentary populations capable of accumulating food surpluses―populations that depended for their food on the rise of agriculture that began around 8,500 b.c. But the domesticable wild plant and animal species essential for that rise of agriculture were distributed very unevenly over the continents. The most valuable domesticable wild species were concentrated in only nine small areas of the globe, which thus became the earliest homelands of agriculture. The original inhabitants of those homelands thereby gained a head start toward developing guns, germs, and steel. The languages and genes of those homeland inhabitants, as well as their livestock, crops, technologies, and writing systems, became dominant in the ancient and modern world. (pp. 426-427)

Diamond's book is a study of the intersection of anthropology, evolutionary biology, geography, geology, sociology, and history. If you have any interest in any of these subjects, I think you'll find Guns, Germs, and Steel a fascinating read.

Fear of Evolution Reaches Ridiculous Levels

Yesterday, Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum (which I only take seriously because several people give lots of money to it) issued a statement attacking the theory of evolution. The statement included the following "facts":

Some evolutionists who claim to be Christians — but also evolutionists who label themselves "theistic evolutionists" — argue that God could have used the evolutionary process hypothesized by Darwin to create the universe. But evolutionism reduces man to an animal. Theism, conversely presents man as made in the image of God. If man is an animal, but man is also made in the image of God, what does that make God?

A woman, perhaps? (Curiously, "woman" is never mentioned in the statement.) Anyway . . .

Evolutionists claim that their battle against creation-science is primarily a "scientific" issue, not a constitutional question. But our treasured U. S. Constitution is written by persons and for persons. If man is an animal, the Constitution was written by animals and for animals. This preposterous conclusion destroys the Constitution.

Actually, the logic behind the Eagle Forum's statement explains why I am a vegetarian: If man is an animal, and man eats animals, then animals are eating animals, and man is therefore a cannibal. If you don't want to be a cannibal, be a vegetarian.

But I Don't Want to Trade Ron Artest

As a Pacers fan of many years, I am distressed by reports that star forward Ron Artest will almost certainly be traded. Sure, Artest has asked to be traded and has insisted that the team would be better off without him. Some NBA analysts agree. I don't. Artest is the Pacers' best player, and, despite his past troubles, I truly believe that he is a good guy (albeit a good guy with some mental health issues).

Earlier this week, Artest said the following:

"Here, I think my past haunts me," Artest said. "I think they will be a better team without me."

I'm so demanding of the ball, it's not my fault," he said. "Every time somebody is on me, it's a mismatch. It messes up the offense. I like Coach (Carlisle) as a person but I don't like playing for Coach. I like my team, though."

Granted, I don't know Ron Artest personally, but these remarks sound to me like the words of someone who is suffering through a bout of depression―words that may be retracted or qualified when a person is thinking more clearly. I'm also not sure if Artest is wise to try to run from his demons instead of facing up to them. In terms of support during a difficult time, I cannot think of a more nurturing coach-executive combo than Rick Carlisle, Larry Bird, and Donnie Walsh.

Because of the perceived risk of taking on Artest, I'm not sure that the Pacers will be able to get equal value in return for their star. At best, they could get a smorgasboard of decent players who may or may not pan out. And without Artest, the Pacers' chances of going deep into the playoffs or winning a championship are very small.

So, Donnie and Larry, do whatever you can to keep Ron around for a while.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Christmas: A Great Time to Discuss the Legality and Morality of Underage Marriage

Warning: This may be my longest post ever.

Two headlines at yesterday caught my eye, especially since they both appeared on the same day:

Man Faces 50 Years for Sex With Bride, 14

Wife: Child Groom Is "No Victim"

The first story comes to us from the Great Plains, where a 22-year-old Nebraska man, Jon Bruning, impregnated a 14-year-old girl. With the permission of the girl's parents, the couple married in Kansas, because 14-year-olds are not allowed to marry in Nebraska. Bruning, as I understand it, was convicted not for marrying the girl, but for having sex with a minor prior to marrying her.

The second story is out of Atlanta, where 37-year-old Lisa Clark is being charged with child molestation after being impregnated by a 15-year-old boy, whom she later married. According to Clark, she had denied the boy's advances several times before agreeing to have sex with him. The article says, "Georgia law allows children of any age to marry -- without parental consent -- if the bride-to-be is pregnant. The law dates to the early 1960s and was written to discourage out-of-wedlock births."

To be clear, in both cases the legality of the marriage is not in question, at issue is the legality of sexual relations with a minor prior to marriage. At any rate, I think most of us would agree that, regardless of whether they have had sex, there is something morally wrong with a 37-year-old woman marrying a 15-year-old boy or an adult male marrying a 14-year-old girl. Though both children consented to the marriages, we know that they have not reached emotional or mental maturity and that they are prone to being taken advantage of. Differences in maturity, and thus power, make an equal, mutually beneficial partnership unlikely.

Still, Lisa Clark makes the following point in her defense:

She said the morality of their relationship was open to debate, noting that in the past it was common for 13-year-old girls to be given in marriage.

Let us then imagine that the couples in question did not have sex until after they married; does Clark then make a valid point? After all, our culture has more or less forgiven Jerry Lee Lewis.

Here's where Christmas comes in. Through teaching Sunday school and working on Sunday school curriculum, I have directly or indirectly taught several groups of teenagers that Mary was about their age when she learned she was pregnant and married Joseph. Bruce Chilton writes, "Miriam, Mary as we now know her, was some thirteen years old—the age Jewish maidens of that time married— when [she met] Jesus' father" (Rabbi Jesus, p. 6). Chilton describes "the widower Joseph" as "a journeyman . . . a roofer, stonemason, and rough carpenter" (p. 6). I quote Chilton because he offers a more detailed treatment of the Christmas story than most other "historical Jesus" scholars, but scholarly consensus says that Mary was in her early teens and Joseph was much older when the two were engaged.

Of course, for many years, humans (particularly girls) married as teenagers. Though my parents, like me, got married when both were 25, many of their peers were wed right out of high school. Weddings in which the bride and groom are both in their late twenties have only recently become common. This is in part due to the lengthening of adolescence. Chap Clark, a professor of youth, family, and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary, writes:

Adolescence, then, is a psychological, independent search for a unique identity or separateness, with the end goals being a certain knowledge of who one is in relation to others, a willingness to take responsibility for who one is becoming, and a realized commitment to live with others in community. (Hurt, p. 28)

Adolescence itself is a fairly new phenomenon. The word teenager, for example, was not coined until 1941. For much of human history, the transition from childhood to adulthood was immediate:

Before the Enlightenment, and certainly before the postwar creation of the "American teenager," identity meant social role . . . . Children gained their identities and their adulthood simultaneously; the self became established at whatever point youth assumed an economic role that contributed to the community, usually by marriage, entering a trade, or assuming responsibility for property upon the death of a parent.

But the Enlightenment's celebration of the individual gave rise to a new self-determinism. (Kenda Creasy Dean, Practicing Passion, p. 82)

Since adolescence has become a reality, it's duration has lengthened. Most people today do not truly become adults until they are in their mid or late twenties. On the other hand, Clark notes that "the age of puberty for girls has been slowly dropping, from 14.5 years old a century ago to as early as 12 years old today" (p. 28). So humans are reaching biological maturity (and thus the capacity to reproduce) earlier, but are reaching psychological, financial, and cultural maturity much later. If I am not mistaken, our brains reach full maturity somewhere in the middle—when we are in our early-to-mid twenties.

Even given the seemingly early (and earlier) age when we start puberty, Jared Diamond in Why Is Sex Fun? points out that we are unusual among other mammals because we are unable to reproduce until so late in life:

We do not protect ourselves against dangerous predators with our teeth and strong muscles, as do other prey animals, but, again, with our tools. Even to wield all those tools is completely beyond the manual dexterity of babies, and to make the tools is beyond the abilities of young children. Tool use and tool making are transmitted not just by imitation but by language, which takes over a decade for a child to master. (pp. 116-117)

In a sense, the idea that teens are too young to marry is a cultural construct. If we are able to have offspring at 14, why shouldn't we marry at 14, especially given the marriage practices of our ancestors? Well, humans are products of our cultures; and culture, not biology, has been largely responsible in recent centuries for our delayed adulthood. In some ways the evolution of culture is capricious (e.g. why do we all use QWERTY keyboards?*); in some ways it is crudely practical (e.g. why do we organize ourselves in self-governed nations?); in some ways it has in mind the best interests of individual persons (e.g. why do we consider running water and mechanical toilets in the home a necessity?).

I would argue that waiting to marry until we reach unusually old ages (our twenties) is cultural progress that favors individuals. We have come to recognize in recent years that biological maturity, mental maturity, and emotional maturity (at least in modern humans) are not congruent. (Sure, if you want to be picky, you could argue that mental and emotional maturity are themselves biological, but I'm not a scientist, so I'm not going there.) Thus the ability to reproduce does not automatically give one the tools to start and maintain a healthy family. We become sexual beings long before we learn how to be sexually responsible or before we fully understand the place of sexuality in our identities as whole persons.

Moreover, marriage today is less about reproduction and more about mutual love and support than it was in previous generations. As humans, we no longer have any pressure to sustain our population. God told Adam and Eve, "Be fruitful and multiply; and fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28). That task has been completed; the earth is full; we no longer have any need to start cranking out kids as soon as we are physically able to do so.

So postmodern 14 year-olds shouldn't be getting married. They are not ready emotionally and we don't need them to have children. Marital or sexual relationships between adults and teenagers cannot be equal partnerships; teens are still developing a sense of identity and have not had time to individuate. Adults, by contrast, often have reached a level of independence and autonomy that gives them power and advantage over any teens they might seduce. (One could, however, argue that Jon Bruning, the 22-year-old mentioned above, is not fully an adult. Still, he started having sex with the girl when she was 12 and he was 20, so I don't feel sorry for him.)

What does all this mean for Mary and Joseph? Well, any parallels between Mary's situation and a situation involving a teen today are anachronistic. Maturity is not only a biological reality, but also a cultural reality. Still, most pre-modern marriages would seem offensive and misogynist by today's standards. We should not condone these relationships, nor should we spend too much time condemning them; they were what they were.

As for Mary and Joseph, we really know very little about their marriage, certainly not enough to make judgments about mutual love and support or power dynamics. Joseph is last mentioned in the second chapter of Matthew and is mentioned only once in passing after the second chapter of Luke. He is mentioned twice in John (1:45 and 6:42), both times as Jesus' father, not as Mary's husband; and he is absent in Mark. In fact, the idea that Joseph was significantly older than Mary is not supported by any written evidence, but is based only on assumptions about first-century Jewish culture and Joseph's absence from stories about Jesus' adulthood. It would be unfair to compare Joseph to Lisa Clark or Jon Bruning.

Anyway, Merry Christmas and don't seduce teenagers. If you must get married to someone under the age of 18, make sure that you can play the piano while standing on the keys.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Death of Tookie Williams

Stanley "Tookie" Williams was poisoned to death earlier this morning at San Quentin. Without getting into the morality of state executions, I would like to ask death penalty supporters (and Californians for that matter):

How is California (or the U.S. or the world) better now that Tookie Williams is dead (as opposed to sitting in a jail cell)?

The coverage of this story yesterday evening was simply creepy. The ritualistic protocol for "execution eve" made me feel a great deal of sympathy for someone who was most likely a brutal murderer—sympathy I wouldn't have felt had Williams instead faced the prospect of dying in prison of natural causes in 2031. Last night Williams was taken through a series of rigidly scheduled procedures that would ultimately result in his scheduled death by poisoning. The thought of one knowing exactly when and how one will die just gives me the willies.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Wikipedia Abuse Will Not Go Unpunished

A fellow Nashvillian tries getting cute on the Internet's best source of information and gets caught.

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) -- A man who posted false information on an online encyclopedia linking a prominent journalist to the Kennedy assassinations says he was playing a trick on a co-worker.

Brian Chase, 38, ended up resigning from his job and apologizing to John Seigenthaler Sr., the former publisher of the Tennessean newspaper and founding editorial director of USA Today.

Chase's defense?

Chase said he didn't know the free Internet encyclopedia called Wikipedia was used as a serious reference tool.

Well, Wikipedia can only be used as a serious reference tool if the Wikipedia community can police goobers who post false information in our beloved open-source encyclopedia.

Audio of Yesterday's Christian Dissent Live

Here it is. Yesterday we learned that I am a wuss, that Cole is a prude, and that Joey is a plagiarist.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

ID With a Twist

This is interesting. Don Wise, a professor of geosciences at UMass-Amherst, advocates what he calls "incompetent design" theory. From Seed magazine: "Wise cites serious flaws in the systems of the human body as evidence that design in the universe exhibits not an obvious source of, but a sore lack of, intelligence."

Peace Prize Winner: "We Are in a Race Against Time"

U.N. nuclear inspector Mohammad ElBaradei told the world in his acceptance speech today that it needed to get rid of all nuclear weapons.


ElBaradei also said it was baffling that nuclear powers remained on "hair-trigger alert," ready to destroy other nations in minutes, so many years after the end of the Cold War caused many to hope the balance of terror would end.

"A good place to start would be for the nuclear weapons states to reduce the strategic role given to these weapons," he said. "Today, eight or nine countries continue to possess nuclear weapons. We still have 27,000 warheads in existence. To me, this is 27,000 too many."

I support efforts to prevent "rogue" states from obtaining or producing nuclear weapons. But I also feel that it is important that other countries, including the United States, set a timetable for eliminating their nuclear weapons. I think our efforts to stop nuclear proliferation will be more effective if we can demonstrate that we are abandoning our own nuclear weapons program. (Then again, I'm a wuss.)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Administration Throws Tantrums in Montreal

From Think Progress:

The American delegation staged a dramatic walkout last night in a bid to scuttle the entire U.N. climate change conference in Montreal.

The tantrum continues: “Bush-administration officials privately threatened organizers of the U.N. Climate Change Conference, telling them that any chance there might’ve been for the United States to sign on to the Kyoto global-warming protocol would be scuttled if they allowed Bill Clinton to speak at the gathering today in Montreal, according to a source involved with the negotiations who spoke to New York Magazine on condition of anonymity.”

I understand that the Kyoto Protocol has its problems, but the United States needs to take seriously the prospect of global climate change and efforts to more responsibly use the earth's natural resources. While I question whether a former president should speak at an international meeting in opposition to the policies of a sitting president, I like what Bubba had to say (from The New York Times:

Mr. Clinton said countries should pay less attention to establishing global targets for emissions and more to discrete initiatives to advance and disseminate technologies that could greatly reduce emissions in both rich and poor countries.

In a comment clearly directed at the Bush administration, he noted that the United States had adopted a precautionary approach to fighting terrorism. "There is no more important place in the world to apply the principle of precaution than the area of climate change," he said, generating waves of applause.

"I think it's crazy for us to play games with our children's future," Mr. Clinton said. "We know what's happening to the climate, we have a highly predictable set of consequences if we continue to pour greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and we know we have an alternative that will lead us to greater prosperity."

"United Methodists Find Spiritual Riches, Tools, in 'Narnia' "

The UM News service today published my article on how United Methodist congregations have responded to the Narnia fervor. Look for it in your conference newspapers.

How to Talk About the Federal Budget on Behalf of Your Denomination

Curiously, I'm now getting press releases from The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). According to the press release I received yesterday, the organization is upset that five mainline church leaders are attacking the 2006 Federal Budget on religious grounds:

Wrapping a quintessentially partisan political issue in the messianic language of Advent and Christmas, top officials of five mainline Protestant denominations have joined to urge Congress to “vote down the FY ’06 Federal Budget.” The five insist that “there should be no compromise” regarding proposed spending “cuts” that might save $35 billion to $50 billion over the next five years (out of federal spending totaling almost $14 trillion over the period). They “pray that Congress will use this Advent season for purposeful reflection and in so doing conclude that the compromises required are unfair.”

IRD Interim President Alan Wisdom commented: “This misuse of the Advent message to score political points is offensive. Nothing in the Gospel of Jesus Christ prescribes how one should vote on a complex document like the federal budget. These church officials, claiming to be ‘representing close to 20 million followers,’ never even bothered to consult those church members. The members would likely disagree on the federal budget. But the vast majority would agree that the good news of this season centers on the birth of Jesus Christ, not on government spending patterns.”

Among the five church leaders in question is Jim Winkler, General Secretary of The United Methodist Church's General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), a favorite target of IRD.

I actually agree with the IRD—kind of, a little bit, to a point. True, the Gospel doesn't include specific instructions on how to vote on federal budgets, nor do the official teachings (as far as I know) of any denomination. Still, a federal budget is a moral document that Christians should scrutinize.

Jesus made clear on many occasions that his followers have a duty to help the poor, feed the hungry, heal the sick, and so on. He did not, however, say anything about the government's role in all of this. Of course, Jesus lived in an insignificant colony of an enormous empire and had no political channels to work through. In the United States, by contrast, most of our political leaders (and citizens) claim to be followers of Christ. Our situation in the twenty-first century United States, I would suggest, is more analagous to that of ancient Israel and Judah during the time of the prophets. Isaiah, Micah, Amos, and others preached that God was indeed very concerned with how the governments of these nations treated their citizens. The prophets often named the poor treatment of the needy as a barrier separating the people of Israel and Judah from God.

So Christians should care about how our government treats and assists its most vulnerable citizens. Yet, Christians disagree as to how the government should go about helping needy Americans. Some would insist that government-sponsored social programs are ineffective and that the government should instead support private initiatives. Others feel that government social programs are necessary and instrumental to helping people become self-sufficient. (I use "self-sufficient" for lack of a better word. None of us is truly self-sufficient; and expecting anyone literally to be self-sufficient is unrealistic and unfair.) As for me, I think that the government has an important role to play in defeating poverty in this country and in insuring that all Americans have adequate healthcare, though government programs are not themselves wholly adequate. I support measures to reform social programs that are ineffective; and understand that more money does not always mean better results; but reject moves to cut such programs entirely. I also feel strongly that poverty and healthcare are issues that matter very much to Jesus.

Back to the church officials in question. I agree with IRD that it was irresponsible for Jim Winkler and other denominational representatives to publicly and pointedly attack the budget on behalf of the members of their churches. IRD also notes that these church leaders failed to provide an alternative vision for the federal budget. (As Jim Wallis would say, "Protest is good, but alternatives are better.")

Still, as I understand it, Jim Winkler, as General Secretary of the GBCS, has a responsibility to lobby the government on behalf of The United Methodist Church. Which raises a question that I have raised many times before: How does lobby on behalf of a denomination whose millions of members disagree on just about every major political issue? What can Winkler say safely and responsibly as a Christian, a United Methodist, and a leader in his denomination? Here are a few ideas:

  • "Our federal budget should reflect values that are both American and Christian such as freedom, justice, and compassion. We must make every effort to use our national resources in ways that uplift and support all of our citizens and not in ways that harm or oppress our citizens or other persons affected by American policies."

  • "Christians are obliged to assist those who are poor, sick, hungry, and oppressed. Our nation's Constitution says that we, as a country, shall "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, [and] promote the general Welfare." Christians who are true to their calling and Americans who are true to their identity must consider the needs of our nation's most vulnerable citizens when debating and voting on something as important as a federal budget. While many Americans and many Christians disagree on the most effective ways to help the poor, sick, hungry, and oppressed, we must all vow to keep these persons in our hearts and minds as we determine how to best use our national resources."

  • "United Methodists have long been advocates for social justice and institutional change. We have also long promoted personal responsibility. As we decide how to best serve our citizens and our world through our federal budget, we need to keep both of these things in mind. We must recongize that the government has a role to play in defeating poverty and assisting the poor, hungry, sick, and oppressed. But we must also realize that the government cannot by itself solve these problems. Government assistance programs must also hold people accountable for their actions and promote personal responsibility. We must lift up the strengths of competing ideologies for the good of all God's children."
  • Wednesday, December 07, 2005

    Will Christmas Holiday Cards Cost the White House Its Base?

    From WaPo:

    Many people are thrilled to get a White House Christmas card, no matter what the greeting inside. But some conservative Christians are reacting as if Bush stuck coal in their stockings.

    "This clearly demonstrates that the Bush administration has suffered a loss of will and that they have capitulated to the worst elements in our culture," said William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. . . .

    "It bothers me that the White House card leaves off any reference to Jesus, while we've got Ramadan celebrations in the White House," [American Family Association President Tim] Wildmon said. "What's going on there?"

    At the Catholic League, Donohue had just announced a boycott of the Lands' End catalogue when he received his White House holiday card. True, he said, the Bushes included a verse from Psalm 28, but Psalms are in the Old Testament and do not mention Jesus' birth.

    "They'd better address this, because they're no better than the retailers who have lost the will to say 'Merry Christmas,' " he said.

    Will the Fox News Pundits who have manufactured this "War on Christmas" attack the Bushes as vigorously as they have gone after Target?

    Elsewhere in the article, Bob Edgar―president of the National Council of Churches (NCC), United Methodist pastor, and former Christian Dissent Live guest―throws down his books and says, "Let's go then":

    "I think it's more important to put Christ back into our war planning than into our Christmas cards," said the council's general secretary, the Rev. Bob Edgar, a former Democratic congressman.

    While I agree with Edgar, I'm not sure what war planning has to do with any of this. I guess Edgar didn't want to pass up an opportunity to alienate the millions of members of NCC-affiliated congregations who oppose the war, in some cases for noble reasons (and in some cases out of fear that disagreeing with President Bush is somehow un-Christian). Then again, I'm glad that someone quoted in the article was wise enough to point out how this Christmas card debate is nothing more than a distraction from more pressing matters.

    If You Need a Place to Go, My Church Will Be Open on Christmas

    CNN reports that several megachurches around the country are closing for Christmas (which falls on a Sunday this year):

    Even though the holiday falls this year on a Sunday, when churches normally host thousands for worship, pastors are canceling services, anticipating low attendance on what they call a family day.

    This move echoes the trend of Christian bookstores opening on Sunday—such stores have tradionally closed on the sabbath in observance of the fourth commandment. It seems that Jesus is big business. For many Christian institutions, filling seats and bringing in revenue now appears to take precedent over Scripture and tradition.

    If you need a place to worship on Christmas day, my mainline, fairly liberal church will be open. We are a large church, but our campus lacks a Starbucks or a "jumbotron." Our worship style is very traditional, but I can guarantee that you will hear some great music.

    Tuesday, December 06, 2005

    The Tinley Family's First Full-Scale Evacuation, Part II

    Read part I here

    When we arrived at Mimi's house ("Mimi" is Meyer's name for Ashlee's mother), we started troubleshooting and called Nashville Gas. Despite instructions on Nashville Gas's website to take immediate action if the presence of carbon monoxide is suspected, the folks at the gas company weren't too concerned about the prospect of the air in our house being fatally poisonous. We were told to call back when we started experiencing clear symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning (burning eyes, nausea, headaches, and so on). The fact that we had a toddler and a fetus in our care didn't seem to make a difference to the gas people.

    We enlisted our friend Zach to do some web research and called other friends and family members to see if their carbon monoxide alarms had ever gone off, hoping that they would know what to do. Eventually, Ashlee and I returned home, leaving Meyer and the cats at Mimi's. (By this time, tensions were high between our cats and Mimi's cats.) Upon returning home, we went next door and spoke with our neighbor, Rob, who knows about this sort of thing. Rob came over with carbon monoxide sniffer and checked the vicinity of the alarm, the water heater, and the furnace for traces of the deadly, colorless, and odorless gas. His meter detected nothing.

    Rob and I then changed the battery in the CO detector (although Ashlee had changed the battery in recent months and the alarm gave no indication that the battery was low). Upon our changing the battery, the alarm stopped chirping. We felt pretty confident that there was no significant carbon monoxide presence in our house. Still we decided to call 862-8600 (the non-emergency equivalent of 911) and asked if someone could double-check our house with the heavy duty equipment.

    We made clear that our situation was not an emergency—we had evacuated the child and the animals, we had a place to stay, and we were fairly sure that we had a faulty alarm rather than a carbon monoxide problem. Nonetheless, ten minutes later a full-size fire engine arrived on our cul-de-sac with lights flashing. The firemen (since all the firepeople were men, I will forego gender-inclusive language) thoroughly scanned our house for CO and found nothing. They were very graceful, didn't treat us like idiots, and thanked us for being so cautious. God bless the fire department.

    By 7:45 (after a no-longer-boycotted Taco Bell dinner), Ashlee, Meyer, Baby #2, Reggie, Naomi, Rivers, Curtis, and I were again living in our home. (Unless one of them left us a present in the car, none of the cats had to "use the litterbox" during the entire three-hour period.) I was still a little nervous, but when I awoke this morning, everyone was still alive.

    The Death of Richard Rust

    An excellent piece from NPR's All Things Considered:

    December 5, 2005: Richard Rust died last year after he was detained by U.S. government agents -- not in a secret detention center in Iraq, but in a federal prison in Oakdale, La.

    Evidence suggests that Rust, an immigrant from Jamaica, is not the only immigrant detainee who has died recently after Homeland Security arrested them. NPR also looked into the deaths of three other detainees. In each case, witnesses charge that some immigrants died after guards and medical staff failed to give them proper medical care. The incidents raise a question: Is there a pattern of medical neglect in Homeland Security's detention centers?

    The Tinley Family's First Full-Scale Evacuation

    Yesterday afternoon at 4:45 CST our upstairs carbon monoxide alarm started chirping. The "alarm" light was flashing, signaling to us that we should "move to fresh air." Within ten minutes, the eight of us (myself, Ashlee, Meyer, the child inside Ashlee's belly, and the four cats) were in the gas guzzler on our way to Ashlee's mother's place.

    To entertain ourselves during the twelve-minute drive, we played a few rounds of "Name That Cat." You see, our feline family members are much more vocal when they are in a moving vehicle, so guessing which cat is speaking is a fun way to kill time. Reggie, who is normally mute, actually meows in a voice similar in pitch and inflection to Naomi's. (Naomi is Reggie's biological sister.) While deciding whether a sound is coming from Reggie or Naomi was challenging, Curtis's Name-That-Cat skills were lacking. His already high-decibal meow became an amplified howl when we put him in the car; so we had no trouble distinguishing between Curtis's yell and Rivers's mouse-like squeal.

    After Name That Cat Meyer decided to start playing "Kick the Cat." How many times could he put a boot to a kitty's head without leaving his car seat? The answer: several times, despite daddy's oft-repeated instructions: "No Meyer! Do not kick the kitties!"

    To be continued

    Monday, December 05, 2005

    Criminal Injustice: Judge Convicts Alleged Rape Victim for Filing False Report

    From Shakespeare's Sister:

    A 17-year-old girl went to police at the urging of her friends after she was allegedly gang-raped by three men, including her boyfriend. The men testified that the act was consensual. After reviewing all the information and statements, prosecutors decided they didn’t think they could prove a rape allegation, and so declined to prosecute the case.

    Instead, they prosecuted the victim for filing a false police report. Yesterday, she was found guilty.

    Kevin Hayden of The American Street knows the alleged victim well and attended the trial. His post is getting too much traffic to access right now, but it contains the following:

    I attended this trial.  It was especially interesting that the prosecutor kept referring to the three men involved as 'boys', when they were fully grown men.  The woman was 17.  —  The judge found inconsistencies in all of the stories, thus establishing reasonable doubt in every story.

    Rape victims already have to struggle with fear and shame when deciding whether to come forward about what has happened to them. Must they also worry about the possibility of being prosecuted?

    The Oregonian has more:
    Kevin Neely, spokesman for the Oregon Attorney General's Office, said it was rare for alleged sex crime victims to be charged much less convicted of filing a false police report.

    "Our concern is always with the underreporting of sexual assaults," he said, "not with false reporting. It's a safe bet that prosecutions for false reporting are rare."

    Audio of Today's Christian Dissent Live

    Here it is. Cole, Joey, and I are back together for the first time in weeks. (Well, due to some responsibilities at church, I cut out 30 minutes before the end of the show; and Joey's holiday work schedule didn't permit him to be in the studio, but he was able to join us by phone.) This week, we discussed the "Christmas"-vs-"holiday" controversy, capital punishment, and other current issues.

    Saturday, December 03, 2005

    Another Reason Why Race Is Still An Important Issue

    It's anecdotal, but disturbing nonetheless. From the St. Petersburg Times:

    TAMPA - GAF Materials Corp. is handing out gift cards from Target as a reward to select employees this holiday season. That's because Wal-Mart, the discount store that held the business for years, last week called sheriff's deputies to apprehend a GAF manager on a bogus bad check rap while he was trying to buy this year's gift card supply.

    "I keep going over and over the incident in my mind," said Reginald Pitts, the 34-year-old human resources manager for the roof material manufacturer's Tampa distribution center. "I cannot come up with any possible reason why I was treated like this except that I am black."

    Read more.

    Friday, December 02, 2005

    1,000th Person Executed This Morning

    At 2:15 a.m. EST Kenneth Lee Boyd (why do so many killers use their middle names?) was put to death by lethal injection at a North Carolina prison. With Boyd's execution, state and federal governments in the U.S. have fried or poisoned to death 1,000 people since capital punishment was reinstated in the seventies.

    I don't have time to offer commentary right now, but here are a few things to think about:

  • The United States is the only western nation that kills as a form of punishment

  • No evidence demonstrates that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime

  • Not to bring money into this, but the sometimes decades-long process of executing someone is very costly

  • New forensic technology has led to the exonerations of several death-row inmates in recent years

  • Decisions to sentence convicts to death as opposed to life imprisonment are capricious and inconsistent

  • Keep those on death row as well as the friends and families of murder victims in your prayers today.

    We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings. The United Methodist Church is deeply concerned about crime throughout the world and the value of any life taken by a murder or homicide. We believe all human life is sacred and created by God and therefore, we must see all human life as significant and valuable. When governments implement the death penalty (capital punishment), then the life of the convicted person is devalued and all possibility of change in that person's life ends. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that the possibility of reconciliation with Christ comes through repentance. This gift of reconciliation is offered to all individuals without exception and gives all life new dignity and sacredness. For this reason, we oppose the death penalty (capital punishment) and urge its elimination from all criminal codes.

    The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, 2004

    Thursday, December 01, 2005

    If You Aren't Moving Your Feet . . .

    . . . then you aren't dancing.

    Various and Sundry

    John Hall, a songwriter famous for writing the hits "Still the One" and "Dance With Me" for the band Orleans, was upset when Bush-Cheney used "Still the One" on the campaign trail. Now Hall is running for Congress in New York's 19th district. Why not? Sonny Bono was a songwriter-turned-congressman. (Of course, I'd take "Needles and Pins" and "I Got You Babe" over "Still the One" any day.)

    In other songwriter news, The Right Brothers, a pro-establishment country-rock duo comprised of two seasoned Nashville songwriters, have been in the news lately for their new single, "Bush Was Right." The song's lyrics are simplified GOP talking points arranged in the style of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire." A website called Right is leading an effort to get the video for "Bush Was Right" played on MTV's Total Request Live. As Keith Olberman points out, the video's inability to get on TRL will likely have little to do with politics.

    For reasons unrelated to the site's content, today I was directed to The Timothy Plan's website. The Timothy Plan seeks to offer investors a "biblical choice" by helping them avoid investing in companies "that are involved in practices contrary to Judeo-Christian principles." Contrary practices include "abortion, pörnography, anti-family entertainment, non-married lifestyles, alcohol, tobacco and gambling," but do not include low wages, poor working conditions, insufficient health benefits, or poor environmental stewardship. But alas, I've already discussed such matters at length here.

    Right now The White Stripes are performing on The Daily Show, the show's first musical guests. I'm not sure how I feel about music on The Daily Show (nor how I feel about the White Stripes), but I have to admit that I like what I've heard from Get Behind Me Satan, the band's newest album. As it were, the Stripes are the latest band to use piano as a primary instrument. Pianos and other keyboards are annoyingly popular in rock music right now. For the record, I was writing and playing piano-based rock songs with Pink Mongoose as early as 1997.

    Vanderbilt's men's basketball team improved to 5-0 last night with a last-second 76-75 victory over Oregon. If anyone has video, let me know.

    I'm done for the night.

    If You Want to Save Christmas, Start With Your Own Merchandise

    Fox News's Bill O'Reilly and John Gibson have been outspoken critics of retailers that say "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas" and of ad copy that talks about "holiday trees" instead of "Christmas trees." Apparently, O'Reilly and Gibson's employer, Fox News, is part of the problem. Media Matters has more:

    Despite O'Reilly's specific criticism of those who use the term "holiday tree" instead of "Christmas tree," an O'Reilly Factor ornament for sale at the Fox News store features this tagline: "Put your holiday tree in 'The No Spin Zone' with this silver glass 'O'Reilly Factor' ornament."

    (By contrast, NPR is selling at least four seasonal CDs with "Christmas" in their titles.)

    Update: Fox is now selling "Christmas" ornaments instead of "Holiday" ornaments.