Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Criminal Injustice

Georgia legislators are debating a bill that would make it easier for judges to issue a death sentence. Apparently, some members of the Georgia House are concerned that their state is not killing enough people. The AJC has details:

The bill, which was filed Friday, would give judges the discretion to impose the death sentence on nonunanimous jury verdicts in which at least nine jurors voted for execution.

That means verdicts of 9-3, 10-2 and 11-1 could lead to a death sentence. HB 185 does not change the requirement of a unanimous jury needed for conviction.

Prosecutors say the change will help them secure death penalty verdicts, which are increasingly difficult to get as questions mount over the imposition of capital punishment in the United States.

There are many reasons that securing death penalty verdicts is difficult, the foremost being that a human life is at stake. If the state insists on its right to kill its citizen, it needs to exercise restraint.

Hat tip: my sister Whitney of Georgia

Meanwhile in Tampa a rape victim, upon reporting being raped, was jailed on an old warrant related to a 2003 theft arrest. The unidentified woman claims that she had already paid restitution for that arrest, and she has no criminal record as an adult. Making matters worse, according to the AP:

While she was behind bars, a jail worker refused to give her a second dose of the morning-after contraceptive pill because of the worker's religious convictions, the college student's attorney said.

In the jail worker's defense, her lawyer says that she "is prohibited from giving inmates any medication without specific orders," and she claims to have never discussed religion with the rape victim.

I don't know if any one person can be held accountable here—the law enforcement personnel involved likely had limited powers, followed the rules, and did their jobs. But jailing a rape victim on the day she was raped for a minor crime she committed as a juvenile is inexcusable.

BREAKING: Kate Crawls!

Apologies for the poor lighting

Fast Version:

Real Time Version:

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Interfaith Delegation Meets With Rep. Goode Over Controversial Remarks

A group of Christian and Muslim religious leaders, headed by Vince Isner—formerly of the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church and currently of the National Council of Churches' Faithful America website—recently met with Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) regarding the congressman's recent controversial statement about Muslim Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and illegal immigration. Goode argued that "if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran." Of course, the only Muslim ever elected to Congress was born in the United States to American-born parents and was elected in a state with a moderate population of persons who entered the country illegally.

Anyway, though Goode stood by his statement, Isner reports that the Congressman was congenial, listened to each member of the delegation (despite leaving on the television in his office), and complimented Dr. Sayyid Syeed, National Director of the Islamic Society of North America (kind of). Goode even accepted an invitation to attend a Muslim service or gathering. Isner summarizes the experience:

Yes, it could have gone badly. But it didn’t. Instead, it became both a kind gesture and Holy moment, because Mr. Goode was sincere in his compliment, and, in Dr. Syeed’s wisdom, he – indeed all of us - understood that this is how seeds of understanding are planted. Despite years of Mr. Goode’s apparent preconceptions, misconceptions, misunderstandings, or whatever it is that causes barriers where bridges might otherwise be… despite these and even a blaring television overhead, they were no match for a chance to sit eyeball to eyeball with deep and loving people whose lives are a genuine expression of what they believe.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Vandy Cracks the Top 25

After defeating four ranked opponents, including two on the road, and beginning conference play 5-2 (the second best record in the league), Vanderbilt's men's basketball team made its way this week into the AP Top 25. The Commodores are #24 in the AP Poll and are only three spots out of a top 25 ranking in the ESPN/USA Today poll. The Vandy women are #15.

How Serious Is Global Warming?

A recent international report on climate change raises that question (from the AP):

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Later this week in Paris, climate scientists will issue a dire forecast for the planet that warns of slowly rising sea levels and higher temperatures.

But that may be the sugarcoated version.

Early and changeable drafts of their upcoming authoritative report on climate change foresee smaller sea level rises than were projected in 2001 in the last report. Many top U.S. scientists reject these rosier numbers.

Those calculations don't include the recent, and dramatic, melt-off of big ice sheets in two crucial locations:

They "don't take into account the gorillas -- Greenland and Antarctica," said Ohio State University earth sciences professor Lonnie Thompson, a polar ice specialist. "I think there are unpleasant surprises as we move into the 21st century."

I've been frightened by the disappearance of ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctic for a while, and I'm not sure why polar ice depletion doesn't get more attention.

Huge Ice Shelf Breaks Off in the Arctic (You Tube)
New Giant Iceberg Adrift Near Antarctica (CNN)

Graduate of Meyer's School Playing in the Super Bowl

I learned today that Chicago Bears starting linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer (pictured) is a graduate of Meyer's preschool. Hillenmeyer, who grew up in Nashville, stayed in town for college, starring at Vanderbilt.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Meyer Entertains Kate

Here's the latest Tinley family mini-movie:

You can see that Meyer's rendition of his favorite commercial has improved since we recorded this video back in September.

Friday Links: Mammoth Marsupials and Contrite Canadians

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Brother Entertains Sister

While You Tube is down, you'll have to watch the QuickTime version of the latest Tinley family production:

You'll notice that Meyer has improved his rendition of the Citi Identity Theft commercial featuring Darrell. (When You Tube is back up, I'll link to Meyer's previous rendition and to the commercial itself.)

Lizard Messiahs Born in Manchester, UK

Jesus wasn't the only one "born of a virgin." He must share that distinction with a litter of Komodo dragons born yesterday in a British zoo:

MANCHESTER, England (AP) -- A British zoo on Wednesday announced the virgin birth of five Komodo dragons, giving scientists new hope for the captive breeding of the endangered species.

In an evolutionary twist, the newborns' 8-year-old mother, Flora, shocked staff at Chester Zoo in northern England when she became pregnant without ever having a male partner or even being exposed to the opposite sex.

Asexual reproduction isn't unheard of among reptiles (remember Jurrasic Park?), so Jesus and the dragon quintet have company. Still, this is only the second documented case of virgin birth for the world's largest lizard species.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

High School Football Star Behind Bars for Consensual Sex With Another High Schooler

ESPN has the whole, tragic story:

There is a cardboard box in Genarlow Wilson's old bedroom. . . . It's filled with things he needed in his old life. Mostly, it's overflowing with recruiting letters, from schools big and small. A "Good luck on the SAT" postcard from the coaches at Columbia. From another Ivy League college, Brown, a note from the football coach: "You have been recommended to me as one of the top scholar-athletes in your area." . . .

Once, he was the homecoming king at Douglas County High. Now he's Georgia inmate No. 1187055, convicted of aggravated child molestation.

When he was a senior in high school, he received oral sex from a 10th grader. He was 17. She was 15. Everyone, including the girl and the prosecution, agreed she initiated the act. But because of an archaic Georgia law, it was a misdemeanor for teenagers less than three years apart to have sexual intercourse, but a felony for the same kids to have oral sex.

Wilson admits that he was far from perfect, and the hotel party where the so-called felony occurred was far from innocent. Still, he did nothing that deserves a minimum 10-year sentence—nothing that thousands of kids his age haven't done without legal consequences.

If you live in Geogia, contact your legislators and tell them to do something about this injustice.

Hebrew Professor Denied Tenure Because of Second X Chromosome

Rev. Wade Burleson, a Southern Baptist pastor, is raising awareness about the precarious professional situation of Dr. Sheri Klouda, a Hebrew professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (a school affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention). Klouda enjoyed a successful and fulfilling career at Southwestern, until the seminary hired President Paige Patterson in 2003. Patterson did not mask his desire to populate the faculty with "God-called men." Here's the short version of the story, according to Burleson:

In that June, 2004, precisely a year after Patterson had been appointed President of the school, Sheri was told that it was ‘the President’ who would never recommend her for tenure. Why? It had nothing to do with her professional performance or collegiality, but simply her gender. She would not be given tenure by the President, because she was the only female teaching biblical studies in the school of theology, and that was not the proper place for a woman. There were many qualified men that could fill that position and it was the President's desire to replace her. Southwestern would give her two to three years to find another position at a reputable school, but she was to do her best to find another position as quickly as possible.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Live Blogging the State of the Union

  • The President begins the address graciously, congratulating Speaker Pelosi and newly elected Democrats.

  • Balancing the budget is popular among members of Congress. The President has a lot to say about excessive spending, and I like what he has to say about earmarks. He doesn't mention that he has been largely responsible for recent over-spending.

  • I'm still not sold on "No Child Left Behind," but a thoughtful critique of the policy will require it's own post some other time.

  • The President is talking about healthcare: Good. He says, "The government has an obligation to the elderly, the disabled, and poor children." Poor adults are out of luck. In the President's defense, he is proposing 1) changing the tax code to benefit uninsured people and 2) authorizing grants for states that want to provide private healthcare for all of their citizens. Both proposals have pros and cons. I'm glad that he's trying.

  • I'm a fan of the President's guest worker program. I'm glad he's sticking to it. He also proposes dealing with persons who have entered the country illegally "without animosity and without amnesty." I'm not sure what that means, but it sounds centrist.

  • Hooray for solar and wind energy! Hooray for hybrids and diesel vehicles and bio-diesel fuels and ethanol. I'm still a little wary of "clean, safe nuclear energy," but I'm listening. If I heard correctly, the President wants to cut gasoline usage in half in 20 years. All good. "Doubling the strategic oil reserves" makes me nervous.

  • Whoa! Bush just mentioned the "serious challenge of global climate change" in the context of being good stewards of the environment.

  • Good rundown of foiled terrorist plots.

  • Bush is working hard to connect 9/11 to the current conflict in Iraq.

  • I really don't think the Bush administration should take credit for democratic reform in Lebanon. These reforms were largely a reaction to Syria's involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Kate's crying. Gotta go.

Love God's Way: Hate or Satire?

Drop by Love God's Way ministries, watch the video for "The Bible Says," and let me know what you think. The viciously anti-gay tune includes the lines "heaven has no back door" and "Jesus is the only man for me"; the chorus begins, "God hates a fag." Love God's Way founder Donnie Davies claims to have been down the "long, lonely, desolate road" of homosexuality. Presumably, he is no longer gay.

Though his song lyrics suggest otherwise, Davies says in his description of his CHOPS (Changing Homosexuals into Ordinary People) program that "God Loves You even if he hates your Homosexuality." The Love God's Way website also lists "gay bands" ("One of the most dangerous ways homosexuality invades family life is through popular music"), including many bands I love (such as Nirvana, The Velvet Underground, Depeche Mode, and Bright Eyes) and unlikely gay artists Jay-Z and Wu Tang's Ghostface Killah. Elton John is listed twice.

More on Davies (pictured): According to his MySpace page, he is a youth pastor. If his virulent anti-gay crusade is legit, I mourn for the young people in his fold.

Update: Darrin at Page 300 explains why he thinks that Love God's Way is an elaborate joke.

What Is PETA Doing?

I am a vegetarian who is concerned about animal rights, but I have trouble getting behind PETA. Continuing its use of curious tactics to draw attention to its cause, the organization is now circulating a nudie video on the Internet, featuring "a sultry vegan PETA member" who strips for the camera. Tacked on to the video are disturbing images of animal abuse (that the average viewer may or may not stick around to watch) that provide plenty of shock value on their own and would be more effective without the gimmick.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Let Bush Build His Library

I didn't vote for President Bush; I don't care for most of his policies; and I have little confidence in his leadership. But I can't support the effort by some of my fellow United Methodists to keep Southern Methodist University from hosting the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

The Bushes are United Methodists and Laura is an SMU grad. I understand that the Bush administration has not always acted in accordance with the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church, but I'm not about to say that the President isn't a "real United Methodist" or that a church-affiliated university should shun him. Bush will be responsible for raising money to build the library, and the Office of Presidential Libraries of the National Archives and Records Administration will be reponsible for maintaining the facility. SMU's investment in the project will be relatively small, considering that the university will have easy access to the embattled president's papers and will have the honor of being the only religiously affiliated school to host a presidential library. Three state universities are home to presidential libraries (University of Texas—Johnson; University of Michigan—Ford; Texas A&M—Bush I). Since the Presidential Libraries Act passed in 1955, building a library has become a perk of being elected to the nation's top office.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Patriotism Gone Awry

I'm watching the presentation of the colors during the singing of the National Anthem at the beginning of the Colts-Patriots game, and two things are striking me as funny:

1) The 50-yard-long American flag being presented isn't rectangular. It's in the shape of the continental United States (kind of like the picture to the right). This clearly violates the flag proportions specified in Executive Order 10834.

2) A flag cut to resemble the contiguous states necessarily leaves out Alaska and Hawaii. That ain't right. You might as well bring out a flag with 48 stars.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Weekend Links

Check the Hockey Standings

The Preds are leading the league in points. (Of course, they've played one more game than the Sabres, who are only one point behind.)

Space Is Still the Place

Did you think the Cold War was over? Think again (from the New York Times):

China successfully carried out its first test of an antisatellite weapon last week, signaling its resolve to play a major role in military space activities and bringing expressions of concern from Washington and other capitals, the Bush administration said yesterday.

Only two nations — the Soviet Union and the United States — have previously destroyed spacecraft in antisatellite tests, most recently the United States in the mid-1980s.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Rev. Rob Schenck Asks Whether Barak Obama Is a Real Christian?

Schenck, of Faith and Action, after exhaustive analysis, decides:

The fact is Barack Obama isn’t really different from other liberal Christians. And, as is so often the case with liberals, he condescendingly reaches down toward those considered his benighted hillbilly Evangelical cousins with a kind offer of enlightenment. He does it more smoothly, with a bit more panache, but he does it just the same.

Barack Obama is not an Evangelical Christian. Each of us must decide how much weight to give this fact as he continues to make the rounds in our churches, but we must keep it at the forefront of our minds.

Based on Schenck's definition of Evangelical Christianity, he is right to say that Obama does not meet that definition. Curiously, however, Schenck's piece is titled "Barak Obama: Sheep or Goat?"—a reference to Matthew 25:31-46, in which the Son of Man separates the nations "as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." Sheep, of course, go to heaven; goats go to hell.

Schenck suggests that Obama may be a goat because of his understanding of scriptural authority, uncertainty about certain beliefs, membership in a progressive congregation that has an "exclusive commitment to a cultural and national identity" (African American), and advocacy of same-sex unions. Jesus, by contrast, says that our identity as cloven-hoofed mammals is contingent on whether we have fed the hungry, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and imprisoned. Oddly, one's stance on gay marriage is not mentioned.

By Jesus' standards, Obama's membership in a congregation that "has welcomed gay members, done outreach to people living with AIDS and advocated progressive positions on many social issues" helps the senator earn sheep status.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Pacers Involved in Curious 8-Player Trade

From the AP:

The Pacers traded Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson to Golden State for forwards Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy in a large, bold deal to shake up two struggling teams.

The Pacers also sent guard Sarunas Jasikevicius and forward Josh Powell to the Warriors, who gave up forward Ike Diogu and guard Keith McLeod.

I'm happy to discard Stephen Jackson, but what the Pacers got in return does not justify trading Harrington and Jasikevicius. After spending much of last summer trying to woo Harrington back to Indiana, I don't understand why the Pacers turned around and traded him. And as much as I love Jamaal Tinsley (mainly because his name sounds like mine), in my opinion Jasikevicius is a better point guard with a brighter future.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Recommended: If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person

I recently stumbled on this little book by Philip Gully and James Mulholland (Harper San Francisco, 2003) that argues for a Christian theology of universal salvation and found it quite compelling. Gulley and Mulholland, a pair of Quakers with backgrounds in other Christian denominations, aim to make this understanding of God's grace accessible to the average North American Christian layperson. The authors avoid academic language, as well as the gender-inclusive language embraced by many mainline churches, and seem to have written the book for persons from a Evangelical Protestant background.

As a United Methodist, I can see the Wesleyan Quadrilateral taking shape in their work. (The Quadrilateral is a theological method teased from John Wesley's teachings that starts with a foundation of Scripture and applies reason, tradition, and experience.) Gulley and Mulholland's case for universal salvation is primarily scriptural, but reason and experience often "break the tie" where the Bible seems unclear or contradictory. The authors acknowledge Scriptures that suggest the salvation of the elect and the damnation of the many, but point out several other verses that reveal God's patience, persistence, and intention to bring all of the sheep into the fold.

Some readers who get on board with Gulley and Mulholland may jump off when they see themselves headed toward the authors' christology, which they might regard as heretical or non-Christian. Gully and Mulholland's understanding of Christ is similar to that of popular Christian writers Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. Borg and Crossan, however, explain themselves much more elegantly than Gulley and Mulholland.

Aside from the substandard treatment of Christ, the author have written a beautiful piece that (agree with it or not) God must find flattering. While Gulley and Mulholland call into question some Christian doctrines, one can't accuse them of underestimating God's love and grace. Telling how he came to embrace universal salvation, one of the authors (they speak as one voice) talks about his struggle with the question, "Why must some be damned?":

My search revealed two common justifications for the salvation of some and the damnation of many. The first suggested God doesn't want to save all his children. God could but chooses not to. God has favorites and saves only those who please him. The second admitted God wants to save all his children but reluctantly concluded God can't save all his children. God can't but wishes he could. God respects our freedom to reject his grace and doom ourselves to damnation.

Both explanations have problems. The first defends the power of God while diminishing God's affection. The second affirms God's love but reduces its power and reach. Both positions assume some will be damned. The first concludes this is God's will, that his judgment is beyond reproach even if it includes the eternal torment of his children. The second implies God's will is irrelevant, that we are the ones who control our destiny and determine God's attitude toward us.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Happy MLK Day!

On this day when we celebrate the life and work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we should take an honest look at the man whom I consider the greatest American ever to have lived.

First, we should remember that King was a great American, precisely because he effected significant cultural and political change using only those tools granted by the first amendement of the U.S. Constitution: speech, religion, the press, assembly, and petition. He practiced nonviolence and never resorted to malicious or dishonest tactics.

But in the relatively short period of time since Dr. King's death, we have turned him into someone much safer than he actually was. While he remained true to the rights guaranteed by the first amendment, King and the Civil Rights Movement distrupted life-as-usual, politics-as-usual, and faith-as-usual in the United States. King's efforts forced Americans to deal with issues of injustice and inequality immediately, without hesitation. Often, by forcing the hand of American culture and government, King and others in the movement knowingly put themselves at great risk.

His message was also much more radical than many people today realize. As a culture, we remember King as he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963 and turn him into someone who simply wanted a color-blind America. But Dr. King wanted much more. Michael Eric Dyson, a Baptist minister, professor at DePaul University, and scholar of race in American culture, writes in I May Not Get There With You:

We have sanitized [King's] ideas, ignoring his mistrust of white America, his commitment to black solidarity and advancement, and the radical message of his later life. Today right-wing conservatives can quote King's speeches in order to criticize affirmative action, while schoolchildren grow up learning only about the great pacifist, not the hard-nosed critic of economic injustice. . . .

King was attacked within the civil rights movement and beyond for his daring opposition to war. He broke with other leaders in a dramatic but heartfelt gesture of moral independence. . . . Martin Luther King, Jr. opposed the Vietnam War because he was a profound pacifist and proponent of nonviolence, because he was a Christian minister, and because he was, as noted Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel said ten days before his death, a "great spiritual leader."

On the other hand, because of King's undeniable greatness, America made him a saint within two decades of his death and relieved him all of his faults. As a nation, we do not recall that King's commitment to his family was sporadic at best, that he cheated on his wife, that he was wary of putting women in leadership roles in the movement, and that he was somewhat of a misogynist in general.

Now that I have two children, I think a lot about King and other great prophets and their family lives. For me, having small children has meant spending less time changing the world and more time changing diapers. I regret that, in the past few years, I've done little to raise a prophetic voice or get my hands dirty for the sake of equality and justice. Of course, neglectful parents are one cause of poverty and injustice (along with a host of other problems), and one should not underestimate the importance of strong family relationships.

King was a prophet, a great leader, and an American hero. We should celebrate his life and work, and we cannot credit enough the Civil Rights Movement for making the United States a better, more moral, nation. And while the folktale version of King that we have created may have a place in our society, we should not neglect to take an honest look at the real Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his great contributions in the struggle for equality, his radical message, and his shortcomings.

Recommended Listening: King's "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech, delivered the night before his death (You Tube).

Recommended Scripture for MLK Day: Isaiah 58:6-12.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Citibank Commercials, Playdough, and Computers

I hope God doesn't mind that I'm passing this on to you, but this was the first line of Meyer's bedtime prayer tonight:

God, thank you for all the people in our life and Citibank Commericals and Playdough® and Computers.

Sunday Links

Friday, January 12, 2007

This Is What We Do When Ashlee's at Work

We make pointless home movies:

Civil Rights Legend Calls Me Out

As a part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration at my workplace, my employer hosted a roundtable discussion/seminar on prophetic voice and speaking truth to power. Many Nashville-area prophets were in attendance as was esteemed civil rights leader and fellow United Methodist James Lawson, who would give the sermon at the worship service that followed. Among other accomplishments, Rev. Lawson organized the Nashville sit-ins of the early sixties and the sanitation workers strike that brought Martin Luther King, Jr. to Memphis, where he spent his final days. Lawson was also famously expelled from my alma mater, Vanderbilt Divinity School, for his civil rights activism. Many faculty left the school in protest after Lawson's expulsion. Ironically, Lawson now teaches at VDS.

Anyway, the seminar focused on speaking truth to power and prophetic voice, specifically with regard to the Iraq War and healthcare (two issues that King would no doubt be passionate about were he alive today). I made the point that, in my current ministry, I cannot simply take a stand on certain peace and justice issues. I must serve a denomination made up of people with very diverse opinions and whose official statements on touchy issues are often wishy-washy. If I advocate too strongly for a particular stance on an issue that United Methodists passionately disagree on, I push people away and risk losing my job. Some would say that my job requires me to sacrifice truth or compromise my values, but I don't see it that way. I think my job requires me to listen, to seek the counsel of others, and to direct people to the witness of Scripture and the church. From there, I encourage them to use discernment (both as individuals and in communities). I must also build a certain amount of trust with the people I serve. (I'd say more, but I like to keep work and blogging separate.)

Rev. Lawson disagreed. He didn't disagree during the seminar, but he repeated what I'd said during his sermon (in front of a much larger audience) and explained why I was wrong. He recalled church materials produced in the fifties and sixties that presented both sides of segregation and women's rights and allowed church members to discern which side was more in line with God's will. These materials essentially gave comfort to racist and sexist Christians; they presented a more godly, enlightened perspective, but didn't push it on anyone. In other words, James Lawson likened me to racist-enabling church publishers of yesteryear.

I see his point. And, when it comes to some issues—Darfur or materialism, for instance—I think that the church can and should say, "The Gospel is clear on this matter." But other issues are more complex, and I think that discernment in these matters is appropriate.

At any rate, I'm honored that a legend of the Civil Rights Movement dissed me in a public forum.

Is Anyone Paying Attention to MTSU's Women's Basketball Team?

They're 14-3 and ranked #21 in the country; they upset then #8 Georgia; in the season opener they came within four points of top-ranked Maryland (no one else has come closer); and they've beaten their last four opponents by an average of 32.25 points. If not for an early slip-up against a very average South Dakota State team, the Blue Raiders might be getting serious attention as a national power. Middle Tennesseans: Keep an eye on the MTSU women. This could be a special season for them.

Speaking of women's basketball, my Evansville Aces, at 12-4 and 4-1 in the Missouri Valley Conference, are also having a nice season.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Beckham Is Coming! Beckham Is Coming!

From ABC News:

Jan. 11, 2007 — International soccer superstar David Beckham is expected to come to America to play for a U.S. Major League Soccer team.

"I've played now for two of the biggest clubs in the world. I've played at the highest level for 15 years, and now I think I need another challenge," Beckham said.

OK, but why? Is this about endorsements? Does Beckham think he can get Americans over the age of 9 to care about soccer? Is he OK calling it "soccer"? Will he still play in Europe?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bush Admits Failure

And I commend him for doing so. In fact, I would say that the President gave a pretty good speech tonight, though I'm still not buying what he's selling. I like that he named specific mistakes that had been made in the past and specific tactics that he hopes will ultimately secure Baghdad. And I will give the President credit for giving a more engaging speech than Dick Durbin, who gave the official Democratic rebuttal. (But Durbin's approach to the war nonetheless makes a lot more sense to me than Bush's.)

On the other hand, I must take issue with some of what the President said:

  • I don't think the plan the President outlined constitutes a "new strategy" as the administration suggests. Maybe it's just a matter of semantics, but I think the President is only implementing new tactics to tweak the existing strategy.

  • Bush again implied that the Iraq War has something to do with 9/11. He needs to stop doing that.

  • The President's vague threats to Iran and Syria make me nervous. I'm not convinced that we have the available resources to even suggest militarily engaging Iraq's neighbors.

Presidents Carter and Clinton Announce New Baptist Conventions

From The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (thanks to my sister, Whitney, for the tip):

Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton announced in Atlanta on Tuesday the creation of a Baptist organization they said would counter what they say is a negative image of their faith.

The New Baptist Convention was announced at the Carter Center by representatives of about 40 moderate Baptist groups that have distanced themselves from the conservative Southern Baptist Convention. Carter and Clinton —- both Baptists —- said the New Baptist Convention will look for solutions to problems such as poverty and racism. Carter and Clinton said they want to counter concerns that Baptists have been "negative" and "exclusionary" and promised an inclusive organization willing to debate openly all issues.

I've known several Baptists, including some Southern Baptists, who have worn out their larynges explaining that they are "Baptists, but . . . ." So I understand the desire for new Baptist conventions. Still, I have two questions/concerns:

1) Is anyone else bothered that the New Baptist Convention is the brainchild of politicians? I know that Carter is a long-time Baptist Sunday school teacher and Clinton spent several years singing in Baptist choirs, and I understand that the former presidents' celebrity has the potential to bring more sheep into the fold. But, as someone who feels that certain religious groups (including the Southern Baptist Convention) have compromised their identity by aligning themselves too closely with one political party, I have to have reservations about a church body founded in part by two well-known partisan politicians.

2) What about the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship? The Cooperative Baptists are good people who have been doing the disgruntled-former-Southern-Baptist thing for 15 years. Where does the CBF fit into the New Baptist Convention?

Required Reading

Barbara Ehrenreich, author of must-reads Nickle and Dimed and Bait and Switch, weighs in on the $210 million severance package Home Depot gave ousted CEO Robert Nardelli. From Ehrenreich's blog at the Huffington Post:

Picture the board members sitting cross-legged on the floor in a circle, munching S'mores and giggling about how cleverly they've undermined the basis of our capitalist economy. Home Depot sales clerks get about $8-10 an hour for lifting heavy objects and running around the floor all day; the CEO gets a total of almost $300 million for sinking the stock. We're not talking about a rational system of rewards - just random acts of kindness, vast sums of money alighting when and where they will, generally in the outstretched hands of those who already have far too much.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

NASA Brings United States One Step Closer to the 20th Century

The headline at Yahoo! News says it all: NASA Finally Goes Metric (emphasis mine):

The agency has decided to use metric units for all operations on the lunar surface, according to a statement released today.

The change will standardize parts and tools. It means Russian wrenches could be used to fix an air leak in a U.S.-built habitat. It will also make communications easier, such as when determining how far to send a rover for a science project.

Map shows when different countries adopted the metric system. Green means a long time ago; red means recently; black means not yet. Click on it for the big version from Wikimedia Commons.

Curiously, prior to this announcement, NASA would use English units for some projects and metric units for others. At any rate, one can only hope that NASA's decision to go metric will inspire other government agencies to do the same. But when it comes to metrication, the United States must be careful. We don't want our non-metric friends, Liberia and Myanmar, to think we're abandoning them.

Hat tip: My sister Whitney.

Buckeyes Need to Drop

Ohio State looked good all year, but they were exposed last night. I don't know that I've ever seen such a heavily favored team play so poorly in a championship game. Some blame the 50 game layoff between the Buckeyes' final regular season game and the National Championship game, but Ohio State historically has an excellent record in games played after a layoff of forty or more games. (Take last year's Fiesta Bowl, for example.)

The college bowl season in general didn't bode well for the Buckeyes. Their two marquee wins this season came against Michigan (blown out by USC in the Rose Bowl) and Texas (almost defeated by 6-7 Iowa in the Alamo Bowl). Penn State, OSU's third-best regular season opponent, was impressive against Tennessee; but outside of the Nittany Lions and Wisconsin (which Ohio State didn't play this season), Big Ten Conference teams looked quite mediocre in their bowl games.

Florida obviously deserves the national title, but I don't think Ohio State should be an automatic #2 (even though they are #2 in both polls). I would put Louisville ahead of the Buckeyes and possibly LSU, USC, andor Boise State. Louisville, by the way, dropped in both polls despite easily winning the Orange Bowl and being a field goal shy of an undefeated season. Louisville also won the Big East, a conference that was 5-0 in bowl games and whose teams were a combined 37-8 against nonconference opponents. The Cardinals, for lack of a better saying, got hosed.

I grew up in Indiana, a fan of Big Ten athletics. In the time I've lived in Tennessee, I've gotten the impression that SEC football fans are full of themselves. But Florida proved last night to be significantly better than the Big Ten champion Buckeyes, and the Gators should be congratulated on an impressive win.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Something for the Cynics

From The Independent (UK):

Iraq's massive oil reserves, the third-largest in the world, are about to be thrown open for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies under a controversial law which is expected to come before the Iraqi parliament within days.

The US government has been involved in drawing up the law, a draft of which has been seen by The Independent on Sunday. It would give big oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalised in 1972.

Of course, the War in Iraq is all about eliminating WMDs and spreading democracy and stuff; the huge payoff for oil companies is just an unexpected side effect. Vice President Cheney, when he was running Halliburton, argued that oil companies needed greater access to cheap oil in the Middle East. What a coincidence that Cheney has played such an instrumental role in opening up Iraqi oil fields to western interests.

HuffPo Should Drop David Horton

Horton, an academic with a gozillion degrees in the arts and sciences and a Huffington Post blogger, boldly asserts that those who confess a belief in young-earth creationism should be denied their right to vote.

I have written at length, elsewhere on this blog, about the damage that fundamentalist religious beliefs about evolution do to attempts to save the environment, and indeed do to democracy itself. It seems to me, the more I think about it, that a belief in the biblical account(s) of creation, and an age of the world of 6000 years, reveal such a failure of intellect that people with such beliefs should not be able to vote in a democracy.

Trust me, I understand the dangers of fundamentalist religious belief, but suggesting that persons of a certain religious persuasion should surrender such a basic right is also dangerous. If Arianna is concerned about credibility, she needs to distance herself from contributors who use such irresponsible rhetoric.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Friday Links

Washing Out the Bowls

I wanted to use a clever play-on-words to title my look back on the college football bowl season, but the above title was the best I could come up with.

Now that all but two of the bowls have been played (the International Bowl is Saturday, the GMAC Bowl is Sunday, and the Tostitos National Championship Game does not have "bowl" in its name), I'd like to share my thoughts on the 2006-2007 bowl season:

  • Each year there are more bowls played after New Year's Day. Until recently, games were sometimes played on January 2, but never later. A few years back, a couple of the major bowls were moved to January 3, 4, or 5. This year, two otherwise overlooked bowls with MAC tie-ins will kick-off nearly a full week into January. As usual, two of the BCS bowls (this year, the Orange and the Sugar) were played after January 1, and we won't have a national champion until January 8. I say, if teams end up playing bowl games on MLK Day, the NCAA is no longer allowed to use the "we can't make the season that long" excuse when explaining why there isn't a playoff.

  • Notre Dame cleary demonstrated by its play on Wednesday that it had no business playing in the Sugar Bowl. But, unlike last season, this year #11 Notre Dame was the highest ranked team eligible for that final spot in a BCS bowl. Even without the large fan base and the special "Notre Dame rules," the Irish would have gotten that spot. #7 Wisconsin and #9 Auburn were ineligible because no conference can send more than two teams to BCS bowls.

  • Boise State head coach Chris Petersen's balls are so big that he should be checked for testicular cancer.

  • I like the idea of playing a bowl game in Canada, but Saturday's International Bowl needs to feature a better matchup than 8-4 Western Michigan vs. 7-5 Cincinnati. We could at least send our neighbors to the north the MAC champion and a #3 or #4 team from a BCS conference.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Read My Article in the Scene's "Annual Manual"

It's on continuing education opportunities for adults. If you're not thinking about taking any classes, it probably won't be very interesting. If you are, the article has some good information about what's offered around town.

Keith Ellison Plays a Trump Card

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), much criticized for his decision to take his oath of office using a Qur'an, has decided that the Qur'an used in the ceremony will be one belonging to founding father Thomas Jefferson. From The Washington Post:

"He wanted to use a Koran that was special," said Mark Dimunation, chief of the rare book and special collections division at the Library of Congress, who was contacted by the Minnesota Dem early in December. Dimunation, who grew up in Ellison's 5th District, was happy to help. . . .

Jefferson's copy is an English translation by George Sale published in the 1750s; it survived the 1851 fire that destroyed most of Jefferson's collection and has his customary initialing on the pages. This isn't the first historic book used for swearing-in ceremonies -- the Library has allowed VIPs to use rare Bibles for inaugurations and other special occasions.

Unfortunately, while Ellison's Qur'an of choice has patriotic origins, it is also an English translation, meaning that it lacks the divine nature of an Arabic version.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Perils of Being Catholic in Nebraska

An inquisition 10 years in the making. From the AP:

OMAHA, Nebraska: A Vatican official has upheld the 1996 mass excommunication of perhaps hundreds of people in the Lincoln Diocese affiliated with a church reform group and 10 other organizations the diocese considers anti-Catholic. . . .

In 1996, [Bishop Fabian] Bruskewitz ruled that membership in Call To Action and 10 other organizations was "perilous to the Catholic faith and most often is totally incompatible with the Catholic faith." The other groups cited include the abortion-rights groups Planned Parenthood and Catholics for a Free Choice, the Hemlock Society, which supports physician-assisted suicide, and several Masonic organizations. . . .

Under excommunication, Catholics cannot receive Holy Communion. They cannot be married or buried in the church. Excommunicated Catholics may be forgiven through the sacrament of confession or may be absolved in their dying hour by a priest.

I gather that Bruskewitz considers members of the targeted organizations unrepentant sinners. If one believes that the actions these organizations engage in are sinful (and one would have Catholic teaching on one's side), then I suppose he's right. According to my (albeit limited) understanding of Roman Catholic doctrine, unrepetant sinners should not partake in the Eucharist celebration. Thus, Canon Law seems to support Bruskewitz's decision, and the decision was rightly (in a legal sense) upheld by the Vatican.

But I have a few questions for Bruskewitz and those who support this move. First, is this move intended to remove unrepentant sinners from the communion or to quell dissent? Dissenting voices have played an important role in all Christian traditions throughout history and have led to many important changes in church doctrine and polity. Going to such lengths to silence such voices strikes me as desperate and despotic. Secondly, is the bishop treating all sinners equally? Are persons guilty of avarice or usury or gluttony who have no intention of changing their ways held to the same standards as those who advocate for reproductive choice or belong to masonic organizations?

More fundamentally, what is the role of grace (one of the most persistent and underlying themes throughout Scripture) in excommunication? Jesus obviously communed with many sinners—people who repented only after their Holy Communion with Christ. Moreover, people who act and think in ways contrary to church teaching aren't necessarily hoping to spite the church. Some are engaged in a careful process of spiritual discernment through which they are struggling with and praying about their beliefs and behaviors and how these differ from those of their mother faith tradition. Some largely agree with and uphold the tradition's doctrine and polity but disagree with the church on a handful of matters. Should these persons be pushed away from the church?

Related: "The New Inquisition" by Angela Bonavoglia (Huffington Post)