Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Blogger Robots Accuse Me of Spamming

All of a sudden I have to enter a word verification code every time I post something because "Blogger's spam-prevention robots have detected that your blog has characteristics of a spam blog." I'm a little embarrassed. According to Blogger, spam blogs "can be recognized by their irrelevant, repetitive, or nonsensical text, along with a large number of links, usually all pointing to a single site." I'd like to think that this definition in no way describes my blog, but I could be missing something. Maybe it's time to finally switch over to the Word Press blog.

More on DePauw University's Socially Awkward Sorority Scandal

Yesterday I discussed this story (NYT) about the Delta Zeta sorority expelling 23 women from its DePauw University chapter seemingly because of their weight, race, and social awkwardness. DePauw's president and the school's Greek community has been outspoken in its support of the former women of Delta Zeta.

My sister Whitney, a DePauw grad, argues that Delta Zeta officials are only partly to blame:

I agree that what the national chapter of DZ did was awful, and that these sorts of practices should be exposed and hopefully ceased.

However, what bothers me is that what [really] caused DZ (and [Whitney's sorority] AOPi) to go under probably won't be addressed in Greek circles. I just know that right now all the other fraternities and soroities at DPU are saying what DZ did was wrong, awful, etc. However, as they say that, they're responsible for DZ losing numbers, thereby causing nationals to come in.

From what I read, DZ was "blackballed" from greek life just like AOPi was. They were no longer invited to parties, their philanthropic fundraisers were no longer supported by other Greek organizations, and they weren't invited to participate in many Greek events. Why were DZ and AOPi blackballed—because they weren't "face" houses. I can guarantee you that during Rush the Rush counselors were telling some women that is wasn't "cool" to join DZ, just as they told them that about AOPi when I was there. I remember frats being told they weren't to have anything to do with AOPi, just because of what we looked like. Yet, these same fraternities offered their sympathy and outrage when we were shut down.

Though DZ's national organization was thoughtless and just plain cruel, the culture of DePauw doesn't accept sororities that don't fit the beautiful, popular image.

Meyer and Kate Sing a Duet

My kids perform together for the first time:

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I'm Tired of Hearing About Al Gore

A few points:

  • To Gore's detractors: Obsessing over how much energy the former Vice President uses may prove that he's a hypocrite, but it does nothing to discredit his argument.

  • To Gore's supporters: Dude uses too much energy. Don't make excuses for him.

  • An Inconvenient Truth is worth renting if you haven't already seen it. Agree with him or not, Al makes a clear and compelling case that global warming is a problem that requires immediate action. Even if you hate Al Gore, I think the movie makes for a good discussion starter. (And the 2007 Al is a lot more dynamic and interesting than the 2000 Al.)

  • No one should ever win an Oscar for taping a PowerPoint® presentation.

Sorority Boots 23 Women From Depauw University Chapter, Possibly Because of Race, Weight, and "Social Awkwardness"

From the New York Times regarding my sister's alma mater, DePauw University, a prestigious United Methodist liberal arts school in Indiana:

GREENCASTLE, Ind. — When a psychology professor at DePauw University here surveyed students, they described one sorority as a group of “daddy’s little princesses” and another as “offbeat hippies.” The sisters of Delta Zeta were seen as “socially awkward.”

Worried that a negative stereotype of the sorority was contributing to a decline in membership that had left its Greek-columned house here half empty, Delta Zeta’s national officers interviewed 35 DePauw members in November, quizzing them about their dedication to recruitment. They judged 23 of the women insufficiently committed and later told them to vacate the sorority house.

The 23 members included every woman who was overweight. They also included the only black, Korean and Vietnamese members. The dozen students allowed to stay were slender and popular with fraternity men — conventionally pretty women the sorority hoped could attract new recruits. Six of the 12 were so infuriated they quit.

It gets better:

A few days after the interviews, national representatives took over the house to hold a recruiting event. They asked most members to stay upstairs in their rooms. To welcome freshmen downstairs, they assembled a team that included several of the women eventually asked to stay in the sorority, along with some slender women invited from the sorority’s chapter at Indiana University, Ms. Holloway said.

This (coupled with my own social awkwardness) is why I never rushed a fraternity. My sister, however, was part of DePauw's bustling Greek community. Her sorority (AOπ) also dissolved its DePauw chapter, albeit more gracefully and with less bigotry.

Like a good United Methodists (or a good person who runs an institution tenuously associated with The United Methodist Church), University president Robert G. Bottoms has "issued a two-page letter of reprimand to the sorority," defending DePauw's former women of Delta Zeta. I suspect that sorority officials will spend more time making cracks about the president's last name than evaluating the content of his letter.

Tuesday Evening Links

Feeling Guilty About My Pacman Confession

Last week I wrote:

I confess that I want to see Pacman Jones exonerated in the courts of law and public opinion because I want him on the field in a Titans uniform in September. . . . I'm ashamed to say that my desire to see my team win has trumped my desire to see justice served.

The latter sentence ended up on the News 2 Blog Round-Up.

While I was trying to be honest about my feelings toward the Pacman situation, I was also trying to be provocative and draw attention to myself. In so doing, I fear that I made light of a serious situation and was insincere and disrespectful toward the victims of the Las Vegas shooting and their families. (I know, no one involved reads this blog or has any idea who I am, but still.)

Yes, whenever I hear discussions about the Titans getting rid of Pacman, I can't help but think: "Hold on. Before we do anything rash, let's ask ourselves who'll be our starting corners and who'll be our primary punt returner when the 2007 season begins." But Pacman's involvement in the Las Vegas incident (and many other previous incidents) needs to be taken very seriously. And, depending on what we learn, the Titans, the league, and the legal system should take appropriate disciplinary action.

Christian Right Formally Unhappy With Field of Presidential Candidates

From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24 — A group of influential Christian conservatives and their allies emerged from a private meeting at a Florida resort this month dissatisfied with the Republican presidential field and uncertain where to turn.

The event was a meeting of the Council for National Policy, a secretive club whose few hundred members include Dr. James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family, the Rev. Jerry Falwell of Liberty University and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. Although little known outside the conservative movement, the council has become a pivotal stop for Republican presidential primary hopefuls, including George W. Bush on the eve of his 1999 primary campaign.

Unhappy though Dobson and company may be, traditionally moderate Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney have been desperately courting their favor. Frankly, McCain's pandering to Falwell, Dobson, and others will keep me from voting for the Arizona senator were he to be the Republican nominee next year. (Until recently, I would have given McCain serious consideration.)

As I've said before, we need to assess how much influence James Dobson and friends actually have. I'm confident that they don't represent the views of most Christians, and I doubt that they even represent the views of most Republican Christians.

Monday, February 26, 2007

New Book Uncovers Hockey League Comprised of Children of Runaway Slaves

This is fascinating. George and Darril Fosty's new book Black Ice chronicles the Colored Hockey League, which was formed in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1895 and lasted until 1925. (I wish I would have known about the CHL when I was in Halifax a few years ago.) Nova Scotia was the final destination of many persons who had escaped from slavery in the American south through the Underground Railroad. Many of the players in the CHL were descendents of these runaway slaves. The league was confined to Canada's maritime provices—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island—but, according to the book's authors, can be credited for the invention of the slap shot and turning hockey into a gritty, fast-paced sport. Much of the league's historical records were lost when the Canadian government dissolved Africville, a predominantly black community in Halifax, in the 1960s. You can order the book here. Unfortunately, I'll probably have to wait for the paperback.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Medieval Mosques Illusrate Muslim Mathematical Mastery

Something for math dorks. My sister pointed me to this story from Reuters:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Magnificently sophisticated geometric patterns in medieval Islamic architecture indicate their designers achieved a mathematical breakthrough 500 years earlier than Western scholars, scientists said on Thursday.

By the 15th century, decorative tile patterns on these masterpieces of Islamic architecture reached such complexity that a small number boasted what seem to be "quasicrystalline" designs, Harvard University's Peter Lu and Princeton University's Paul Steinhardt wrote in the journal Science.

More on quasicrystals.

Friday, February 23, 2007

I Was on TV!

Check out this week's Nashville Is Talking blog round-up on News 2 (Nashville's ABC affiliate):

Why I Want to Believe That Pacman Is a Good Guy Despite Overwhelming Evidence to the Contrary

I confess that I want to see Pacman Jones exonerated in the courts of law and public opinion because I want him on the field in a Titans uniform in September. I'm willing to dismiss the disturbing account of strip club owner Robert Susner; I'm willing to overlook all of the other ugly incidents that Pacman has been involved in; I just want to see number 32 covering Marvin Harrison in the fall.

Pacman may be the Titans' best and most versatile player. He's an outstanding punt returner; he's improved significantly as the team's top corner; and he's been effective as an occasional offensive weapon/decoy. The Titans have a real shot at the playoffs next season—I'm worried that their chances won't be nearly as good if Pacman isn't anchoring a secondary that has struggled mightily in recent years.

There you have it. I'm ashamed to say that my desire to see my team win has trumped my desire to see justice served. Sorry.

Jam-Master Kate

TCASK Write-a-thon to Stop Executions March 1

Next Thursday, March 1, TCASK is hosting a write-a-thon to abolish the death penalty at Fido in Hillsboro Village. March 1—and I was not aware of this until I got the TCASK release—is International Death Penalty Abolition Day. (It's also my sister and mother-in-law's birthday.)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

In the World of Sports

Gonzales Chooses Odd Venue to Discuss Religious Freedoms

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was in the Music City earlier this week to talk about a "renewed push to protect religious freedoms." Curiously, Gonzales chose to discuss the administration's efforts to address religious discrimination at a gathering of Southern Baptists.

The Southern Baptist Convention is the country's largest Protestant denomination and arguably the nation's most powerful religious body. The President and other high ranking adminstration officials have addressed the SBC's annual meetings. (By contrast, the President has not addressed national gatherings of his own denomination, the United Methodist Church, which happens to be the second largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.) Essentially, the administration decided to tell an already powerful, influential, and well-connected faith community, "Don't worry, we're looking out for you." In my opinion, this message would have been more pertinent were it delivered to a gathering of Latter-Day Saints, Muslims, or better yet representatives of many faith traditions.

Pacman Situation Is Getting Bad

ESPN radio's Mike & Mike this morning began the segment on Pacman Jones by saying, "If you have kids in the car, you probably want to change the station and come back in about ten minutes." The pair then discussed the disturbing allegations of a Las Vegas club owner which place Jones at the center of a series of violent events following Sunday's NBA All-Star Game. Pacman's lawyer, of course, denies these accusations.

Pacman, in my opinion, is the Titans best player, and (probably for that reason) I've been willing to give him second, third, and eighteenth chances. But if any of the club owner's allegations are true, Pacman's gotta go. Even if this incident doesn't land him in jail, he needs to get away from the game, the money, and the spotlight and get his life together.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Teens Beating, Killing Homeless People for Sport

This is just sick. From CNN:

The 15-year-old and his friends were taunting the homeless man [Rex Baum, pictured] -- throwing sticks and leaves -- after having a couple of beers with him. . . .

They hurled anything they could find -- rocks, bricks, even Baum's barbecue grill -- and pounded the 49-year-old with a pipe and with the baseball bat he kept at his campsite for protection.

[One of the teens] smeared his own feces on Baum's face before cutting him with a knife "to see if he was alive," Moore said.

After destroying Baum's camp, the boys left the homeless man -- head wedged in his own grill -- under a piece of plastic where they hoped the "animals would eat" him.

Then, Moore says, they took off to grab a bite at McDonald's.

Sadly, this isn't an isolated incident.

Indulge in These Links Tonight, for Tomorrow Begins the Fast

Guidelines for Storming the Court or Field in College Sports

The SEC released a statement yesterday confirming that the conference did in fact fine Vanderbilt $25,000 for "allowing students to storm the court" after Saturday's upset win against top-ranked Florida. (You may recall that the SEC similarly fined Tennessee last season after fans ran onto the court following a win over then second-ranked Florida.)

On one hand, universities and athletic conferences should be concerned about the safety of players, coaches, officials, and fans when hundreds of people rush onto a basketball court or football field. And certainly college students have taken this celebratory practice too far in recent years, tearing down goal posts and hugging and tackling one another at half court in response to rather insignificant wins. In 2005, for instance, students at Kansas set a record for goalposts torn down; two of the wins that brought down the goalposts were against Missouri and Iowa State—not exactly football powerhouses. And this isn't the first fine for Vandy. The school was punished in 2005 when students stormed the basketball court after a 2005 NIT win over Wichita State. Really.

On the other hand, rushing onto the playing surface after a big win is a college tradition (and it makes for great SportsCenter footage). The NCAA just needs some guidelines that specify when storming the court or field is OK. Allow me to suggest the following:

  • Outside of Division I-A (or, as it is now known, "Division I Bowl Subdivision") football, rankings in college sports are insignificant for determining championships; often the rankings don't even give an accurate listing of the best teams. But the polls aren't entirely useless. They let casual fans know what teams are perceived to be the best—they tell casual fans what teams to get excited about. I propose that we use the major rankings (the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls) to determine when storming the field of play after a game is appropriate.

  • If the home team is ranked in the top 10, storming the field of play is not appropriate. An exception could be made for a top 10 team that beats a rival for the first time in 10 or more contests, but only if that rival is ranked in the top 5 and higher than the home team.

  • If the home team is ranked 11–25, fans may only storm the field of play following a victory over a team ranked #1 in one or both of the two polls. The only exception would involve defeating a rival ranked in the top 10 after a drought of 10 or more contests.

  • If the home team is not ranked, fans may storm the field of play following a victory over a team ranked in the top 10 or over any ranked conference opponent after a drought of 10 or more contests.

  • An unranked team that does not belong to the ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big Twelve, Pac 10, or SEC may storm the field of play following a victory over a ranked team from one of these conferences. In football, this rule would include a victory over a ranked Notre Dame or Boise State squad. In men's basketball, the rule would include victories over a ranked Gonzaga team or any ranked team from the Missouri Valley, Mountain West, or Atlantic 10 conferences, Conference USA, the MAC, or the WAC, if this team has received at least three consecutive NCAA tournament bids and has spent at least one week in each of two consecutive years in the Top 25. Similar exceptions would be made for teams such as Old Dominion and Louisiana Tech in women's basketball, Ivy League schools in lacrosse, and so forth.

  • All of the above rules are null and/or void if the host venue is not filled to at least two-thirds of capacity. If a game isn't important enough to fill two-thirds of a stadium or arena, students do not have the right to storm the field of play.

  • Fans should never storm the field of play following an ice hockey contest.

I hope this helps.

Pictured: University of North Carolina students storm the court following a victory over Duke in 2003, a rare occasion when such a reaction would have been justified according to the rules above.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Losing Faith in Democracy

One of the perks of living in the United States is having the right to mock your own government. In an age of multiple C-SPAN channels, You Tube, and a host of political bloggers devoted to pointing out the missteps of our elected leaders, lampooning the powers that be is easier and more popular than ever.

Of course, everyone does and says stupid things; public officials have the misfortune of having many of their words and actions taped and transcribed. Still, even allowing for the occasional embarrassing comment, the words and behaviors of some elected leaders lead me to ask whether these officials are fit to represent thousands of citizens in the halls of government.

Much has been made of Tennessee state Rep. Stacey Campfield's recent introduction of a bill that would require that death certificates be given to aborted fetuses/babies. I personally think this bill is flawed—in part because I favor efforts to reduce the number of abortions in our state and country and feel that this bill would only serve to villainize women who have abortions without providing viable alternatives to abortion. What bothers me possibly more than the content of the bill is Rep. Campfield's reaction to his critics on his blog. (Also disturbing is this correspondance between Campfield and a constituent.) I appreciate that Camp keeps a blog to keep his constituents abreast of what he's up to and what's happening on the hill; but Campfield doesn't seem nearly as interested in public service as he does in drawing attention to himself. (Witness his attempt to join Tennessee's Congressional Black Caucus back in 2005.) Much has also been made of the numerous grammar and spelling errors in the representative's writing. One should not judge Campfield's policies through the lens of his writing ability, but he owes it to the people he represents to proofread public statements before publishing them.

Stacey Campfield is by no means the only state legislator who has trouble presenting himself with elegance and humility. Recently, Massachusetts State Senator Scott Brown took on some of his teenage critics by showing up at a school convocation and embarrassing them in front of their peers:

WRENTHAM, Mass. --A state senator and father of a former American Idol finalist read profanity-laced criticism posted online about him and his family in a talk to high school students in his district about his opposition to gay marriage.

Sen. Scott Brown, R-Wrentham, defended his use of foul language during an assembly at King Philip Regional High School on Thursday by saying he was only repeating what had been written about him. The comments were posted on a page dedicated to a pro-gay rights history teacher at the school. . . .

Witnesses said Brown read the comments verbatim in front of about 80 sophomores, even naming the students who wrote them in some cases.

I understand that some of the students' online rants were defamatory and offensive. Their parents should probably ground them from the Internet for a while. But, as a state senator, Brown really should have acted as an adult in this situation instead of being more brash and immature than the young people who had attacked him.

I can understand how a state legislator could let pride get the best of him now and then; I don't at all understand this memo, which lawmakers from several states have been circulating. The memo, crafed by the Fair Education Foundation (a group that is apparently well connected), not only challenges teaching evolution, but also challenges teaching that the earth revolves around the sun. Moreover, the memo asserts that the wide acceptance of evolution and a moving earth is the result of a Jewish conspiracy. Many lawmakers whose names have been tied to the memo have come forward to denounce them. Still, I'm bothered that this organization (with a Time Cube-esque website that seeks to discredit Newton and Einstein as well as Copernicus and Darwin) can so easily get its message through to people in power.

At the national level, Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Virginia) is at it again. Goode gave a passionate speech on the house floor warning of an imminent Islamic takeover of the United States if we do not send more troops to Iraq. He predicts that pulling out of Iraq would result in our money bearing the slogan "In Muhammad We Trust," which probably isn't true. If anything, when we're living under the green flag of Islam, our money will read "In Allah We Trust." But since Allah is just the Arabic word for God, our new leaders will probably stick with "In God We Trust" until they force all of us to speak and read Arabic.

All this is to say that I think that we, as a people, need to put more thought into who represents us. We need leaders who can think critically, communicate clearly and graciously, and listen intently, and who can make sure they know what they're talking about. We need representatives who serve their constituents and not a party, ideology, or small group of donors and influencers.

The Tinleys, as M&Ms®

From left to right: Meyer, Josh, Ashlee, Kate

Try it yourself at

Friday, February 16, 2007

Up in the Middle of the Night, Thinking About Race in America

Summary: As our culture heals from racism toward African Americans, racism toward our nation's largest minority has never been worse.

I fell asleep early last night while getting Meyer to bed and woke up around 2:30 a.m. I'm finding that the only remotely worthwhile television at this hour is MSNBC's primetime line-up, which the network is rerunning for the third or fourth time.

Anyway, Hardball last night decided to spend a few minutes on the tired and ridiculous debate over whether Barack Obama is actually black. This led to a brief discussion of whether our nation is ready for a black president—a discussion that contrasted the increasing number of high-ranking African Americans in the cabinet and the military with the still paltry number of blacks (five) to have won statewide election (as a governor or U.S. senator).

Like most discussions of this sort, this five-minute segment on Hardball draws attention to how far we've come with regard to race in America, how we continue making progress, and how far we still have to go. As a country we recently watched black head coaches on the sidelines at the Super Bowl (even though black coaches went head-to-head in the NBA finals over 30 years ago); though it was just a football game, the Super Bowl was another example of our society zapping a ghost of its past with the positron ion stream of progress.

Racism toward African Americans is sadly still a reality in the United States, but the progress we have made and continue to make is undeniable. But I have trouble celebrating how far we've come with regard to black-white relations when I witness growing hatred toward the country's largest minority, Hispanics.

The Klu Klux Klan is experiencing a resurgance, largely because of negative attitudes towards Latino immigrants (many of whom, granted, have entered the country illegally). A recent AP report says, "Last May in Alabama, an anti-immigration rally included slogans such as, 'Let's get rid of the Mexicans!' according to the document, titled 'Ku Klux Klan Rebounds.' " The article also notes a rise in hate crimes targeting Latinos and quotes Lisa Navarrete, a vice president at the National Council of La Raza (a Latino civil rights and advocacy group), who says, "I've been doing [Hispanic advocacy work] for a long, long time and the atmosphere has never been as poisonous as it has been in the last few years." As a society, we seem reluctant to embrace the accomplishments of Hispanics—we'd rather inquire about their residential status and grasp of the English language.

An aside: When I was a child, Sesame Street introduced me to its Hispanic cast members (as I recall, Maria is Puerto Rican, making her a U.S. citizen) and taught me some basic Spanish. Now, when I watch the show with my kids, I can't help but wonder, Are other parents getting made about this?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Thursday Links

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

10,000 Days Ago Today

September 29, 1979: Francisco Macías Nguema (pictured), despotic president of Equatorial Guinea, was executed after having been found guilty of genocide weeks earlier. The execution had to be carried out by Morroccan soliders because Equatoguinean troops believed Macías Nguema to have magical powers.

Meyer Performs on His New PA

Meyer picks up the microphone and does a memorable rendition of one of his favorites.

Money Spent on Presidential Campaigns Is Offensive

All Things Considered on NPR this week is doing a series on the ever increasing sums of money spent on presidential campaigns in this country. (Check out Monday's segment and Tuesday's.) The main idea of this series is that candidates will need to raise $100 million by the end of this year to be considered a serious contender in the primary election.

While candidates certainly have the right to raise these ridiculous sums of money and donors certainly have the right to give their money to these campaigns, the money now raised and spent on presidential races is problematic for two reasons:

  • It undermines democracy. While I have enough faith in the American voter to believe that he or she seriously considers experience, leadership ability, and approach to major issues when casting a vote in a primary or general election, the money now required to get one's face and message before voters shuts out otherwise qualified candidates. The pool of realistic contenders is determined, not by candidates' ability to perform the duties of the office, but by their fundraising savvy.

  • It is immoral. Up to a point, spending money on a campaign for public office is spending money on democracy. As a nation, we passed that point a long time ago. The billions spent on advertising of all types in this country is disturbing, but most marketing efforts are at least tied to products that are tied to jobs and the economy in general. Much of the money spent on presidential and other major political campaigns is vanity money. Thirty-second TV, radio, and Internet spots are not conducive to constructive political debate. These ads put image above substance and focus the public's attention on incomplete truths and unfair attacks. Bumper stickers, yard signs, and web banners say little or nothing about key issues or a candidate's ability to lead. I would say that the campaign methods that potentially make the greatest contribution to public discourse are blogging and podcasting, both of which are, by any standard, inexpensive. The amount of money poured into political ads that do not elevate the level of discourse or help citizens make an informed decision in the voting booth is sickening. Much of it, in my opinion, is money wasted that could be much better spent.

I wonder how many candidates in the next twenty months will spend upwards of $100 million. Obviously, all but one of them will lose. $100 million is a lot of money. Here are some other ways to spend all that cash:

  • Buy 10 million mosquito nets to prevent malaria in developing African nations through Nothing But Nets.

  • Purchase 400,000 water buffaloes (pictured) for poor agricultural families in South Asia through Heifer International. (Price includes delivery and training for the family that receives the buffalo.)

  • Pay for 2,222,222 flood buckets for families cleaning up after a flood or hurricane through UMCOR.

Alas, we could save the world if could keep campaign spending under control.

Monday, February 12, 2007

State Republicans Are on the Right Track With Food Tax Elimination

Republicans in the state legislature have introduced a plan to eliminate the sales tax on food in Tennessee by 2018. In my opinion such action is long overdue, but as usual there's a catch. Backers of the plan have not proposed an alternative revenue stream.

Tennessee has possibly the country's most regressive system of taxation. Our mammoth sales tax, which is on average the nation's highest, is only slightly lower for groceries. Sales taxes, particularly those on necessary items, disproportionately target lower income persons and families.

Tennessee currently has a budget surplus, and Governor Bredesen (who opposes eliminating the food tax) has proposed tripling the cigarette tax. Both could soften the blow of losing hundreds of millions of dollars by phasing out sales taxes on food. But Bredesen would prefer this extra revenue be spent on much needed pre-kindergarten programs.

I agree with both the governor and the Republicans. We need to get rid of taxes on food and invest in early childhood education. Maybe we need to explore different revenue streams. I know that many Tennesseans, particularly talk-radio listeners, are philosophically opposed to a state income tax, but a graduated income tax is in my opinion the most just means of taxation. If Tennessee were to implement a graduated income tax, lower the state sales tax, and eliminate taxes on food and non-prescription drugs, most Tennesseans would pay less in taxes, but the state would generate more revenue.

Related: Back in 2002 I wrote this article on tax reform for the Nashville Scene. I like to think that it gives a good overview of the different perspectives on taxation in the Volunteer State.

Child Soldiers: What a Sick World We Live In has an excellent, though horribly depressing, piece on children who are kidnapped (or recruited after seeing their parents killed), brainwashed, and turned into killers:
There is no escape for what the United Nations and human rights groups estimate are 250,000 child soldiers today. These children, some as young as 8, become fighters, sex slaves, spies and even human shields.

The article gives some specific examples of this sad and digusting reality:

One girl, Angela, 12, told Human Rights Watch she was told to shoot a friend when she joined Colombia's FARC guerrillas.

"I closed my eyes and fired the gun, but I didn't hit her. So I shot again," she said. "I had to bury her and put dirt on top of her. The commander said, 'You'll have to do this many more times, and you'll have to learn not to cry.' "

An indictment against Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo asserts that one of his commanders threatened to shoot a 13-year-old girl unless she tied the testicles of a prisoner with wire. She complied and the captive died.

Indoctrinating children into a life of torture and violence may be worse than killing them. If they are ever rescued and restored, the wounds that they have suffered and inflicted will haunt them for the rest of their lives. In the meantime they will risk their lives to maim and murder their peers and supposed enemies.

On its surface the situation seems hopeless, and in reality the average person can do little to put an end to this exploitation. But the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers has some resources and suggestions for taking action. And we can all pray that God's grace might be at work in the lives of the world's child soldiers.

Kid's Heart Stops Beating for 4 Days Then Starts Again

From the AP::

NEW YORK (AP) -- Daniel Walker was on his final lap jogging in his high school gym class when he collapsed, his flawed heart giving out on him.

More than four days later, his heart at a standstill, kept alive by a bypass machine, it began beating again. The 17-year-old's parents called it divine intervention. His physicians were no less amazed.

"I've been a surgeon for 10 years, and this is probably one of the most incredible things I've ever seen," said Dr. Abeel Mangi, one of Walker's cardiac surgeons at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Columbia.

A miracle for sure. But whenever a person miraculously or uncannily recovers from a near fatal illness or injury, I can't help but wonder, Why that person? Why was he or she saved from an otherwise deadly medical condition when so many others don't make it? I dealt with related questions abou divine intervention in this post on intercessory prayer from April 2006.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Friday Links

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Amaechi Comes Out, Leaves Unanswered Questions About Gay Athletes in Major Sports

Former NBA journeyman John Amaechi has announced, very publically, that he is gay. Amaechi starred on an otherwise average Penn State team in college; then signed with the Orlando Magic as an undrafted free agent. He played five solid seasons in the league before returning home to England and becoming a television personality. He will formally discuss his sexuality Sunday on ESPN's Outside the Lines; his book Man in the Middle comes out next week.

Amaechi recalls becoming more comfortable with his sexual orientation when he was with the Utah Jazz, though only a couple teammates were aware that he was gay. In the wake of the former player's revelation, reaction around the league has been mixed. (Commissioner David Stern said, "We have a very diverse league. The question at the NBA is always, 'Have you got game?' That's it, end of inquiry.") According to, about 60% of NBA players say that they would accept an openly gay teammate.

Amaechi isn't the first former player from a major American team sport to come out. Actually, he's the sixth. Other notable openly gay former jocks include baseball player Billy Bean (currently a personality on GSN) and NFL running back David Kopay. Still, no homosexual athlete in a major team sport has been open about his sexuality while he was playing. (I say "he" because homosexuality doesn't carry the same stigma in women's athletics.) ESPN the Magazine's LZ Granderson calls out closeted athletes and tells them to "man up." He adds:

Closeted athletes are miserable.

They have thoughts of suicide, they can't perform as well as they'd like, they live in constant anxiety of being found out, and while their heterosexual teammates are out chasing skirts during road trips, they stay locked up in their hotel rooms afraid to make eye contact with anyone because the bellhop's gaydar may go off. . . .

An athlete in 2007 who stays in the closet during his playing days does more to support homophobia in sports than coming out after retirement does to combat it.

Kenyan Bishop Has Bone to Pick With Turkana Boy

From The East African Standard:

Kenya's world-class collection of hominid bones - primates belonging to a family of which the modern human being is the only species still in existence - is at the centre of a silent but intense war being waged by a section of the evangelical churches. . . .

Bishop Boniface Adoyo of Nairobi Pentecostal Church (NPC), Christ is the Answer Ministries, is championing the 'hide-the-fossils' campaign, which has left scientists and historians perplexed.

Later this year the National Museum of Kenya will undergo a major renovation and will include the "Origin of Man" gallery, which is the source of the controversy. The gallery will display "Turkana Boy," a nearly complete homo erectus skeleton. Adoyo and some other religious leaders fear that the exhibit promotes Darwinian evolution and is an affront to a biblical view of creation. What isn't clear is whether Apoyo and company are protesting how the museum is displaying Turkana Boy or that the museum is displaying Turkana Boy. The existence of the skeleton is not in doubt. An effective protest, in my view, must explain how Turkana Boy fits into the bishop's understanding of biblical creationism. (According to the AP, "Bishop Adoyo believes the world was created 12,000 years ago, with man appearing 6,000 years later. He says each biblical day was equivalent to 1,000 Earth years.")

The East African Standard piece thankfully includes what other Christian voices have to say about the exhibit:

[Dr Wilson Chiko] says churches should busy themselves in evangelising to the youth and children, and pursuing social justice, instead of worrying about hominids.

"We need serious evangelisation and expansion of Christianity to new frontiers. Fighting skeletons will not help much. What are we going to replace the hominids with to demonstrate the biblical values?" he asks. . . .

Catholic Archbishop Ndingi Mwana'a Nzeki says history should be respected. "I have not been informed of the impending campaign, but history should be respected. We cannot run away from it," Ndingi says.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

UFOs: Time Travelers, not Space Travelers

The Anderson Cooper blog (which isn't written by Anderson himself) features a post about recent UFO sightings in North Carolina and Hawaii. Pictures and video of the craft have surfaced; and as you can see from the image on the right, you can't just write this off as a meteor, weather balloon, flashlight, lens flare, or smudge. This is the real deal.

But this flying saucer did not fly across the galaxy to get here. We know of several extrasolar planets, and I believe that humankind is not the universe's soul intelligent species. But I'm not convinced that any race of beings has the lifespan or patience to travel to earth from a neighboring star system. Rather, unidentified flying objects are time crafts that have come from the future. If time travelers from the distant future will ever decide to visit our era, then they already have. While these temporal voyagers will no doubt be cautious, the earliest time machines will likely be bulkier and more difficult to hide than their successors. So I'd imagine that we've seen a few and mistaken them for alien craft.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

10,000 Days Ago Today

I hope that this will become a recurring Josh feature

September 22, 1979: The South Atlantic Flash was detected by the U.S. Vela satellite near the Prince Edward Islands in the southern Indian Ocean. (I'm not sure why it's called the South Atlantic Flash.) The flash was thought to be the result of nuclear weapons test by either Israel or South Africa. Much information about the incident remains classified.

Turner Capitulates; America Loses

Turner Broadcasting yesterday accepted responsibility for the Mooninite scare and agreed to pay $2 million in compensation, thereby emboldening terrorists. I, for one, do not think that the citizens of this proud country should live in fear of cartoon characters and simple electronic devices.

Tuesday Morning Links

Income Inequality: What's the Problem? What's the Solution?

NPR is doing an excellent series on the widening gap between the super-wealthy and everyone else. Income inequality has become enough of a problem that even President Bush has expressed concern about the disparity between the haves and have-nots:

Incomes on the middle rungs of the economic ladder have stagnated, despite strong economic growth and strong productivity growth, while most of the rewards of the strong economy have gone to the wealthiest Americans. Their incomes have exploded.

One recent study shows that Americans on the top rung of the income ladder, the top 1 percent, now command nearly 20 percent of the nation's income. That's more than twice the share that group received three decades ago.

Free enterprise has been generally positive for our country, but when capitalism is left unchecked, the privileged few who control much of the wealth keep as much as they can for themselves. Economist and B-list Hollywood celeb Ben Stein, generally a proponent of the free market, fears that we are headed for oligarchy—a warning I normally associate with the likes of Howard Zinn and Kevin Phillips:

"If management and the top dogs on Wall Street are just going to continue to be able to get whatever they want," he says, "then this will become not a democracy any longer, but an oligarchy where a very few, very rich people call all the shots."

"We're way down the road to that happening already," he says.

What is the solution? (Call me a pinko commie liberal, but I've always liked the idea of a maximum wage.) The NPR piece offers the following:

But finding ways to close the income gap that don't undermine the economy will be a challenge. Already, the Congress has passed legislation boosting the minimum wage. Most economists suggest that is more symbolic than significant.

Other ideas include restraining CEO pay, strengthening unions, making health care accessible to all and increasing grants to low-income college students. Some Democrats suggest those things could be paid for by allowing President Bush's tax cuts for wealthy Americans to expire in 2010.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Family Pictures

I haven't posted any in a while:

Did You Know?

That the first outbreak of the Ebola virus took place on the day I was born? The outbreak occurred in Yambuku, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo).

Friday, February 02, 2007

Friday Links

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Bredesen Declares Moratorium on Executions!

Until May anyway.


Governor Phil Bredesen suspended all executions in Tennessee until May 2nd today while a full overhaul of execution procedure’s is conducted. The Governor’s decision will spare the lives of E. J. Harbison, Daryl Holton, Abu Samad, and Pervis Payne, who were all scheduled for execution in the next three months.

I gather from the TCASK website that the Governor's decision may have something to do with the potential of a botched execution. Again, from TCASK:

The lethal injection procedure utilized by Tennessee involves a three drug cocktail similar to that used in most other states. The first drug, thiopental, is meant to anesthetize the inmate. The second drug, pavulon, paralyzes the nervous system, and a dose of potassium chloride causes cardiac arrest. However, thiopental is an extremely unstable anesthetic, and potassium chloride has been described by some experts as causing the maximum amount of pain to the cardiovascular system. Because the second drug, pavulon, paralyzes the inmate, it is highly possible that a condemned person would feel all the effects of the potassium chloride, while being unable to speak or move. Pavulon has been banned for veterinary procedures.

Issuing a moratorium is a positive move on Bredesen's part, but I'll hold my applause until I know more about why the Governor made this decision and what he hopes to learn about capital punishment between now and May.

One week after the moratorium concludes (unless Bredesen extends it), Phillip Workman (pictured) is scheduled to be executed. Questions remain about whether Workman was given a fair trial, and federal courts have, one more than one occasion, issued stays of execution:

Philip Workman was convicted of the murder of a police officer, Lieutenant Ronald Oliver, during a robbery of a Memphis restaurant in 1981. Lt Oliver and two other officers were first to arrive at the scene. As Workman (who has never denied the robbery) fled, shots were fired and Lt Oliver was killed by a single bullet. At the trial, the two police officers testified that they had not fired their weapons, but admitted that they had not seen Workman shoot Oliver. An alleged eyewitness, Harold Davis, said that he was standing 10 feet (three meters) away and saw Workman shoot the officer. The defense lawyers conducted no forensic or ballistics analysis and did not investigate Harold Davis.

Since the trial, however, Harold Davis has retracted his testimony, saying he lied. No one, including police officers and civilians, saw Davis at the scene and his car was not where he claimed to have parked it. An eyewitness has come forward to say that at least one of the other officers fired his gun. This is corroborated by the first police reports, which stated that officers were firing. Medical experts have stated that the fatal wound, to a degree of medical certainty, was not caused by Workman's bullet, raising the possibility that Lt Oliver was killed by a shot fired by one of the other officers.

Five jurors from the original trial have signed affidavits that they would not have voted for a first-degree murder conviction, let alone the death sentence, if they had been presented with this evidence. Two state Supreme Court judges have suggested that clemency is merited in Workman's case.

You can e-mail the Governor at to offer your thoughts on the moratorium, the Workman case, and capital punishment in general.