Monday, December 31, 2007

New Years Eve Alcohol Warnings

In Fairbanks, Alaska, it's illegal to serve liquor to a moose. By contrast, in Ohio it's legal to serve booze to a fish, but not if you get it drunk.

Ever since the repeal of Prohibition, alcohol laws in this country have been a bit nutty.

Take the business of bars. Some states mandate sitting, while others require standing at the bar to drink.

Texans may take up to but not more than three sips of beer while standing.

Some jurisdictions require the interior of public drinking establishments to be visible from the street; others specifically prohibit that.

In Iowa it's illegal to run a tab. And don't even think of having a drop after closing hours there - not even if you own the bar.

It's hard to imagine the incident that led to Iowa's law stating that if an employee pours water down the drain while a police officer is drinking at the bar, the water is considered an alcoholic beverage intended for unlawful purposes.

Bars and restaurants in North Dakota are forbidden to serve beer and pretzels at the same time.

Nebraska bars may not sell beer except when simultaneously brewing a kettle of soup.

If you skip the bar and head to a liquor store in Indiana, you won't find any soda or milk in the cooler. They may, however, sell warm soft drinks.

In California, no alcoholic beverages may be displayed within 5 feet of a cash register if the store sells both alcohol and motor fuel. Presumably so you don't confuse your Colt 45 with your 10W40.

Philosophical drinkers in Houston might ponder the fact that it's illegal to buy beer after midnight Sunday but perfectly all right any time Monday, which starts - that's right - right after midnight Sunday.

The law considers some things best left unsaid. Like the word refreshing, prohibited on any alcoholic beverage in the country.

The newsletters and ads of California producers may not list retailers or restaurants that sell their products.

In New York City, the word saloon is forbidden, a fact that restaurateur Michael O'Neil didn't realize until his sign was already up. Patrons now belly up to the bar of O'Neil's Baloon.

Legislators are adamant about protecting children under 21 from the demon rum. In Missouri, if your kid takes out the trash and it contains even one empty wine bottle, he can be charged with illegal possession of alcohol.

In Michigan, it's illegal for a youngster to give a grown-up a bottle of booze. Pretty lenient, considering that in Kentucky even an adult could spend five years in jail for sending a gift of beer, wine or spirits to a friend.

If the friend were in Texas, he might have a long wait, anyway, considering that delivery drivers carrying anything alcoholic must detour around the state's dry counties. Could this sort of clarity of thinking have anything to do with the fact that the entire Encyclopedia Britannica is banned in Texas because it contains a recipe for making beer that could be used at home?

If you decide to send your youngster on a semester abroad to absorb some foreign common sense, don't imagine he'll get a taste of wine in Bordeaux or beer at the Hoffbrau Haus. The Drug Free Schools and Campuses Act prohibits Americans under 21 from conforming to the drinking laws and customs of their host countries.

Enough to make you sit down on the curb and cry. Which is perfectly legal in St. Louis, as long as, while you're sitting there, you don't also drink beer from a bucket.

If you like this story, be glad you live in Colorado and not Maryland, as this reporter would be unlikely to pass that state's stringent requirements concerning wine writers. Not only are they restricted to three bottles per brand of product samples, but they must first be certified as experts by an agency of the state.

Rocky Mountain News Link

H/T Radley Balko

Also, check out his comments about the NBC show To Catch a Predator. According to a Rolling Stone article he cites, anti-predator stings involving decoys may actually outnumber crimes involving real victims.

Balko comments...

...there’s something sleazy, unfair, and itself exploitative about sending an attractive girl (who sometimes is of age, but poses as underage) out to tap those natural impulses, removing the social barriers to acting on them (by giving the targets anonymity, the promise of no-strings-attached sex, and massaging away their apprehension), pouncing on the weak-willed men, then raking in cash from advertisers while showing the whole thing on television.

Wish I'd said that...

"Gentleman-like behavior counts, no matter what the gender."

The Anchoress said that. Gender? Whom might she have in mind? He-he!

Excellent post, by the way. Go read the rest.

Top 10 Scientific Breakthroughs of 2007 -- Wired Magazine

Details at the link...

10. Transistors Get Way Smaller
9. Scientists Clone Rhesus Monkey to Produce Stem Cells
8. Planet Discovered That Could Harbor Life
7. Engineers Create Transparent Material as Strong as Steel
6. Soft Tissue from T. Rex Leg Bone Analyzed
5. Laboratory Mice Cured of Rett Syndrome
4. Enzymes Convert Any Blood Type to O
3. Mummified Dinosaur Excavated and Scanned
2. Chimpanzees Make Spears for Hunting
1. Researchers Turn Skin Cells to Stem Cells

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Connie Talbot Update

When I put up the Connie Talbot story I thought it was cute and wonderful. Simon Cowell, to his credit, knew at once that she was gifted and had the makings of a pop star. But there is so much talent around these days I didn't think much about it.

Unlike most posts, however, this one kept coming up in searches, so I got curious and checked out what she's been up to. It seems she's being professionally handled and has produced an album. Sure enough, her voice does have star qualities. I find it hard to believe a child this young can sing as she does. By the way, she's no longer six. Her birthday was November 30 and she's now seven!

Here is a link to her website.

And here is another video.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Long Term Care -- Ticking Bomb in Your Future

My ninety-year-old mother's fall on Thanksgiving Day underscored once again the importance of making plans for nursing home care. I'll try to keep it short, but here are some terms and concepts everyone should know.

Care giving

Getting older involves several stages of "care giving." That is the generic term used by professionals when referring to helping someone deal with the challenges of everyday living. It applies to disabled people generally, not just those who are aging. It may come from anyone. Care giving typically starts with spouses, children and other family members, and progresses to others outside the family. Neighbors, church members and other volunteers often help, followed by paid sources, often referred by social service professionals, working as aides, sitters or nurses.

Thousands of words can be written about care giving, but it all comes down to one reality: Care giving takes time, patience and energy, both physical and mental. A few individuals are gifted with an extraordinary drive to do care giving well, but I have met very few people who willingly do a good job, full-time, without being paid.

Write this down: Some people die quickly, but those who creep up on death a little at a time can expect to need full time care giving in a safe environment.

Lifestyle Stages

How long we remain in denial varies greatly from one person to another, but everyone can expect to move through one or more of the following stages as we age. They are loosely tied to what (again, called by the pros) is called ADL, the Activities of Daily Living. Getting dressed, eating, going to the bathroom...just the basics.

Independent Living

If you want an exercise in cognitive dissonance look what comes up when you Google "independent living" -- thousands of links referring to an infinite variety of ways that people reach the very edge of "independent." In fact, they have in common being more dependent than the norm, not less, requiring at least some recognition and accommodation for that dependency.

My work in a retirement community, together with a continuing education course at a local university, has given me a close look at this stage of living. There are specific and important details that go into the design and organizational structure of an independent living environment. As in every specialty, some do it better than others, so the best advice I have is for anyone making plans to do as much homework and field work as possible.

Assisted Living

The next step in aging calls for assisted living. Here again there is a bewildering array of options, but this is the intermediate stage between "independent" living and "long term care." At this point, government steps in. Assisted living facilities are required to meed specific guidelines and are subject to state inspections.

Generally speaking, an assisted living environment furnishes a significant degree of personal care. Anything up to the threshold of medical attention can be provided. In the case of medication, the professionals can remind but not administer meds. Private duty nurses can be employed by the resident or their designated agent, but a facility nurse is there to monitor the population and coordinate the staff, not provide nursing care for any individual except for emergencies.

Continuing Care Retirement Communities

The baby boom has produced a product made to order for us as we age, the CCRC. A continuing care retirement community can be either for-profit or not-for-profit. The aim is to provide a place where those who are accepted can expect to live for the remainder of their natural lives, including long-term skilled nursing and Alzheimer's care if needed. The aging resident graduates as needed to the next stage of care. Movement from one stage to the next is not as difficult as one might imagine. All the providers have to do is wait, and the inevitable process of aging does the rest. A few stubborn individuals refuse to move to the next stage, literally until they die. But statistically, everyone matriculates one way or another.

What are the costs?

This is the reason for my post. The "ticking bomb" in the title is not the aging process or even the onset of declining health or dementia. Except for a small portion of the population, the real pain of aging will be watching a lifetime of work come to an end as even the most pitiful of estates are consumed by the expense of long-term care. That is the euphemism for what most people know as "nursing homes."

Current costs for long term care average about sixty to seventy thousand dollars a year. Five or six thousand a month is what one can expect, whether it be for round-the-clock in-home care, or as a resident in a facility dedicated to the purpose.

Where does the money come from?

Are you sitting down?

Assisted living is private pay. If you thought Medicare covered the costs you have been misinformed.

Likewise, long term care is private pay. It is not covered by Medicare.

Let that sink in.

Most people imagine that they will be taken care of by Medicare if they require assisted living or go to a nursing home, but that is not true. Here's the deal: IF you have been admitted to a hospital for three days (doctors orders) and IF you are discharged for rehabilitation to a facility licensed and approved for that purpose, Medicare pays twenty days of your therapy. For the next eighty days, Medicare pays all but about $124 a day. That amount will be the responsibility of the patient or their agent. A "medigap" policy (commonly called Medicare Part B) pays that amount.

Custodial Care

At the end of 100 days of rehabilitation, Medicare stops and you are on your own. After that your care is considered "custodial." Some people return to independent or assisted living after that, but long-term care, i.e. a nursing home, is for many the next step.


Medicaid is a state administered program and each state sets its own guidelines regarding eligibility and services.

Got that? Medicaid and Medicare are not the same. Medicare is federal. Medicaid is state. And they do not have the same mission.

Medicare is for (as the word says) medical care.

Medicaid is for (as the word suggests) financial aid.

Let the confusion come to an end. Medicaid is welfare. It is government financial assistance for those who cannot afford to pay. There are a variety of reasons, but in the end, if you cannot afford to pay, then someone else must.

In the case of long term care, here's how it works. Someone entering a nursing home is expected to pay. If they don't have enough money they are expected to start liquidating assets. After the money is gone, the house, all investments, property and other assets....then they can apply to receive Medicaid assistance. It's called spending down.

I want to end this post by simplifying and clarifying a couple of budget realities.

Think of your material wealth as having two parts, nest egg and income.

Your nest egg is all you own and hold, including IRA's, home equity, that old junk classic car you think is worth something, whatever. Anything you can convert to money counts.

Income is what you can expect to receive as long as you live...Social Security check, pension, annuity, lifetime stipend form a rich benefactor, whatever.

If your income meets expenses you're okay. That means if an when you have to pay for long-term care (either at home or in a facility operated for the purpose) and have sixty-five thousand annually in after-tax disposable income you're all set. (Uh, maybe double that if you are a married couple and both of you have to have skilled nursing care.)

Otherwise, you will be liquidating your assets until you have become officially destitute. After you have successfully "spent down" to that point, you are at the mercy of the state and will probably by then have a very different view of welfare than you may now have.

At this point, my wife and I are contemplating our future plans along these lines. Our anticipated annual income is not going to be near enough to pay for long term care, if needed, as it now exists and most people we know are in the same boat. If we come up with any good solutions I'll keep you posted.

(The obvious solution is income-producing assets: rental income, stock dividends, interest from CD's and distributions from IRA's. One alternative to spending down is to let your heirs pick up the bills privately. Every dollar applied to that purpose is one less dollar that will otherwise reduce their inheritance.)

I am reminded of Will Rogers' advice on how to make money in the stock market.

"The way to make money in the stock market is to buy a stock. Then, when it goes up, sell it. If it's not going to go up, don't buy it!"

Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto links

In the aftermath of the Bhutto killing my heart goes out this morning to gifted group of young people, Pakistan's brightest and best, who publish 3Quarks Daily. It is a horrible experience to lose a living symbol of hope, whether by accident or design. In this case the tragedy is amplified by a political quagmire that seems to have no end.

There is a blizzard of commentary this morning but 3Quarks is my bridge to Pakistan. I look to them to help me interpret what happens next.

Moderniser, moderate, martyr (The Guardian)

in the eye of the Pakistan storm (NY Times)

For once, I have no words... (a pain-filled gesture from the editor of 3Quarks)

Obituary: Benazir Bhutto (BBC News)

Benazir Bhutto assassinated (CNN News)

The following anguished poem is from a comment left at Abbas Raza's post.

Our leader
Our hope
Our country
Our credo
Our ethos
Our emblem
Our identity
Our inspiration
Our pride
Our poem
Our anthem
Darkness falls, sweet Shahzadi, sleep.
Dear sweet Benazir, sleep.

Our unending love
Our enduring grief burys you deep in our hearts.
We are broken. Our hearts, our minds, our souls. Cry beloved country.
We have been looted.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Crumpet the Elf Reads from Santaland Diaries

Morning Edition, December 24, 2007 · Crumpet the Elf, better known as writer David Sedaris, is back for another holiday visit. Sedaris first read from his Santaland Diaries, about his experience working as an elf at Macy's, 15 years ago. That reading helped launch his career as a novelist, playwright and humorist.

If you haven't heard this yet, you're in for a Christmas treat.

Seven minutes.
Here's the link.

E. Coli Conservatives

First, this quote from a comment thread...

...The libertarian backwash who have been cheerleading for Doktor Paul these past two months will no doubt be able to "prove" that the problem lies in too much gubbmint interference in the Holy Vocation of commerce. Too bad the Tokyo Trotter left in a snit, as I was looking forward to another meaningless list of links to Ludwig von Missing-a-screw.

That comment from Mrs. Robinson's thread sets the tone for this essay from Rick Perlstein's blog.

First, they came for the spinach.

I remember the day last September. The supermarket had a new kind of salad dressing, one that looked like it would taste good with spinach. I went to the produce section to buy a bag. But they all had been recalled. Three people had died from E. coli contamination from eating spinach. I decided I could live without the spinach.

Next they came for the peanut butter, and I didn't pay much attention. I don't much like peanut butter.

Then they came for the tomatoes. Then the Taco Bell lettuce.
Then the
mushrooms, then ham steaks, then summer sausage. I started worrying.

Then, they came for the pet food.

I remember the sinking feeling, hearing that dogs and cats had died eating contaminated food. Then the flash of guilt—had we poisoned our dogs? I remember hearing the name of the manufacturer, my wife searching the web frantically for a catalogue of its products, the stab of fear when we found the name of the food our own dogs eat. Then the wave of relief—it was only canned food; our dogs eat dry. I began investigating more. One of the things I learned was that the Food and Drug Administration hasn't been able to confirm "with 100 percent certainty" that the offending agent didn't go into human food. Then it neglected to reveal the name of the tainted product's U.S. distributor.

It is time to get to the root of the problem. I blame the conservatism.

With this riff on Pastor Neimoller's timeless lines he's just getting warmed up.

Thanks to Sara Robinson's Christmas message (linked above) and a good night's sleep, I feel energized and ready to start another year. 2008 is only a few days away and I'm getting ready for yet another charge at the windmills.

I've been studying the conservative turn in American politics pretty much fulltime since 1997. I never was a conservative. But I admired conservatives. The people then running the Democratic Party just did not seem to me strong people. They were "triangulators"—splitting every difference, selling out any principle, in the ever-illusive quest to divine the American people's fickle beliefs at that particular moment. They did not lead. They followed—Chamberlains, not Churchills.

I wrote a book that came out in 2001 about the conservatives who took over the Republican Party in the early 1960s. Whatever my differences with them ideologically, I didn't write a single negative word about the conservative movement for nearly seven years. Until then, I considered them honorable adversaries. They inspired me. They took risks for a cause. They were principled. They were endlessly determined.
I've come to different conclusions now. They were, yes, endlessly determined. It was over 35 years ago, in Conscience of a Conservative, when Barry Goldwater wrote these stirring words: "I have little interest in streamlining government or making it more efficient for I mean to reduce its size." Twenty years after that, President Reagan intoned at his first inaugural address, "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

But Barry Goldwater lost his 1964 presidential race in a landslide. Reagan was inaugurated, and we began seeing headlines like "Wide Spectrum of Regulations Set for Reagan Team's Scalpel." But actually, the Reagan team wasn't able to deregulate all that much, or nearly as much as they wished; the political obstacles, in the 1980s, were just too great.

For these brief four years, however, between the Republican takeover of the Senate in 2002 under President Bush and the recent return of Congress to Democratic control, the scalpel has become a machete. We've been able to witness a natural experiment: What would have happened if Goldwater and Reagan had been able to get their way?

Surveying the results, what once looked to me like principle now looks to me now like mania. Conservatism has been killing Americans. The recent food safety crisis is only one case study.

Let's start connecting the dots.

And connect them he does.

He's talking about food safety but that is but a symptom, not a cause. The greater picture, as the opening of the post indicates, is bigger than food. It's about a way of thinking that threatens to poison more than the air, water and food we need. It is poisoning the politics as well.

I'm no supporter of Ron Paul (Doktor Paul? tee-hee...) but he did come up with a good line last week by Sinclair Lewis: If fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag, carrying a cross.

I don't know exactly how to resist what seems to be a national flight to embrace an over-weening patriotism undergirded by our own brand of religious extremism that seems at times to be on a slippery slope to fascism, but if an old guy's blog is found in the ashes that much I want to claim as my own.

Christmas Eve, 2007

Thanks to Sara Robinson for the link leading to this video. Her holiday rant has done more to lift my liberal spirits than anything I have read for weeks. If you're ready for a kick in the butt, read her post and the comments thread. If you're a conservative, read it more than once...until the message sticks.
If we needed any proof that conservatism was, forever and always, a venal, inhuman, and deadly ideology, the way these Grinches stole Christmas 2007 from American families should close the case for good.


Blame, especially, Wal-Mart. What we are seeing here is the real cost of Wal-Mart's "Low Prices -- Always." You get what you pay for. And what we're getting this Christmas out of our deal with the Wal-Mart devil is exactly no more and no less than we've been willing to pay for -- and what we've allowed them to get away with in the name of ever-lower prices.As far and away the biggest toy retailer in the country, Wal-Mart effectively sets the standards by which every toy company in the business operates. The deal is simple: If you want your toy in a Wal-Mart store, you do it Wal-Mart's way. And if you choose not to sell through Wal-Mart, you're out of business. So when Wal-Mart demands that American-based companies to take their operations overseas in order to shave a few cents per unit off the costs, well, that's what happens. America's toy production got offshored, in no small part, due to massive pressure exerted on manufacturers by this one company.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Walter Lewin teaching physics

This feature in the Times makes me want to take physics online.

Professor Lewin delivers his lectures with the panache of Julia Child bringing French cooking to amateurs and the zany theatricality of YouTube’s greatest hits. He is part of a new generation of academic stars who hold forth in cyberspace on their college Web sites and even, without charge, on iTunes U, which went up in May on Apple's iTunes Store.

In his lectures at, Professor Lewin beats a student with cat fur to demonstrate electrostatics. Wearing shorts, sandals with socks and a pith helmet — nerd safari garb — he fires a cannon loaded with a golf ball at a stuffed monkey wearing a bulletproof vest to demonstrate the trajectories of objects in free fall.

He rides a fire-extinguisher-propelled tricycle across his classroom to show how a rocket lifts off.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Attitude Trumps Intelligence

I've known this for a long time. Any good manager can tell you he can accomplish more with someone willing to try than the most gifted employee with self-imposed limits. This Scientific American article focuses on child development, but the lesson is for everyone. The good news is that even after we leave home, all of us have the capacity to make affirmative changes for the better.

Several years later I developed a broader theory of what separates the two general classes of learners—helpless versus mastery-oriented. I realized that these different types of students not only explain their failures differently, but they also hold different “theories” of intelligence. The helpless ones believe that intelligence is a fixed trait: you have only a certain amount, and that’s that. I call this a “fixed mind-set.” Mistakes crack their self-confidence because they attribute errors to a lack of ability, which they feel powerless to change. They avoid challenges because challenges make mistakes more likely and looking smart less so. Like Jonathan, such children shun effort in the belief that having to work hard means they are dumb.

The mastery-oriented children, on the other hand, think intelligence is malleable and can be developed through education and hard work. They want to learn above all else. After all, if you believe that you can expand your intellectual skills, you want to do just that. Because slipups stem from a lack of effort, not ability, they can be remedied by more effort. Challenges are energizing rather than intimidating; they offer opportunities to learn. Students with such a growth mind-set, we predicted, were destined for greater academic success and were quite likely to outperform their counterparts.

The moral of this story: You may not be as smart as you think. Thankfully, you also may not be all that stupid.

Politicians pandering? Nah. Surely not.

Pejman couldn't resist.
This from NY Times...

Mr. Huckabee’s stock message is slightly more God-friendly in Iowa, somewhat more tax-averse in New Hampshire, but at the core it is always the same: that he, Mike Huckabee, is a man of faith. That he is the first in his family to have graduated from high school. That as one who has known economic hardship, he believes people care far less about the “left and right” of politics than they do about the “up and down” of economic mobility.

It is pretty much Reagan-era stuff, only funnier. He says Medicare obligations, if not “fixed,” will lead to financial ruin, but he makes the point by saying, “Wait till all these aging hippies find out they’ll get free drugs for the rest of their lives.”

His appeal is mainly to people who like the idea of “a man of convictions,” not one who behaves like a conventional, pandering politician. But there are times when even the purest of truth-speakers must bow before the demands of a campaign for the highest office.

“Who is your favorite author?” Aleya Deatsch, 7, of West Des Moines asked Mr. Huckabee in one of those posing-like-a-shopping-mall-Santa moments.

Mr. Huckabee paused, then said his favorite author was Dr. Seuss.

In an interview afterward with the news media, Aleya said she was somewhat surprised. She thought the candidate would be reading at a higher level.

“My favorite author is C. S. Lewis,” she said.

Friday, December 21, 2007

I need to get out more...

This snippet from Andrew Sullivan makes me feel...I dunno...old, maybe?

Go there to see a You Tube video consisting of eight minutes of a young man playing a video game application, Guitar Hero. Instead of a joy stick, the player handles a guitar with buttons in the place of strings on the fretboard.

For the full impact, read this first-person description of kids playing.

As I stare wistfully down the PC game aisle, the posse approaches. Four teenage boys (it always seems to be boys), not so much walking, but dancing, like poised ballerinas. Their torsos are almost entirely motionless as their legs slide along the floor. Their pants are ridiculous: large enough for two and beltless, each clearly a plumber's apprentice. They wear unmatching zip hoodies. The tallest of the boys is perhaps 6 feet. His skin is pasty white and pimpled, with what might pass for baby-soft stubble. His hair is a mass of center-parted brown grease. I feel a deep sympathy for him.

As one and with purpose, they stop in front of the GH3 shrine. Choreographed in their movements, the smallest of the clan hands the well-used Gibson Les Paul reverently to the leader.
As the stage swirls on the screen, a calm comes over Kyle. His face slackens a bit. He closes his eyes. His lieutenants absorb his tension, shuffling their feet, biting their nails. The highway of the fret board starts rolling, and as the first note falls, Kyle's eyes open.

The entire intro of Fire is hammer-ons. There's no preamble. There's no warm up. It starts hard and it stays hard. Both of Kyle's hands are poised over the fret buttons as he taps out the notes. He is not looking at the screen. He is looking at his fingers. His long neck and arms make the guitar controller look even more diminutive than it is. He is curled over it, completely motionless but for his fingers. I look at the screen as he passes "200 note streak."
At just over 6 minutes, the song becomes even more ludicrous. While actually playing it will ever remain for me an uncrossable gap, I am enough a student of the form to recognize the crux. He is Lance Armstrong approaching the bottom of Alpe D'Huez: Will he attack? Kyle has yet to use the Star Power crutch he has carried throughout his meditation.

He continues to ignore it.

His posse is immobile now: brows furrowed in tension, fingers white and digging into palms. I realize I haven't blinked in too long and force myself. My palms are sweating, my left hand cramped in sympathy. As the song comes to it's unrelenting conclusion, I can only stare at Kyle's face. His eyelids have dropped, half covering his irises.

He hits the last orange note. He lets the guitar fall from his hands onto the floor. It's not an act of disdain or bravado, his hands simply open and then there is no guitar. I look at the screen. "You Rock!" Jake echoes with the screen. 500,000 points. Kyle isn't looking. The small crowd claps for a second, then starts to disperse.

I really want to feel good about the next generation, but it's not easy when I come across this.

But I have a flashback to Pinball Wizard and start to feel a little better.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Rodney Clapp on Christmas

(Rodney Clapp is an editor with Brazos Press, an imprint of Baker Book House. He was formerly an associate editor for Christianity Today.)

Let the Pagans Have the Holiday

Christmas is ruled not from Jerusalem or Rome or Wheaton or any other religious center, but from Madison Avenue and Wall Street. In a revealing symbolic act, President George [H.W.] Bush two years ago inaugurated the season not, mind you, in a church, but in a shopping mall. There he bought some socks and reminded Americans their true Christmas responsibility is not veneration but consumption.

Read the rest of the article at the link. It's not too long.

If you want more, go to the post I just finished, Reconsidering Christmas. Among other references there is a very long and scholarly article from CT by Randy Clapp linked there.

Top Ten Quotes of 2007

The 10 most memorable quotes of 2007, according to Fred R. Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations:

1. "Don't tase me, bro." — Andrew Meyer, a senior at the University of Florida, while being hauled away by campus police during a speech by Sen. John Kerry.

2. "I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don't have maps and I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and Iraq and everywhere like such as and I believe that they should our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S. or should help South Africa and should help Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for us." — Lauren Upton, South Carolina contestant in the Miss Teen USA contest, when asked why one-fifth of Americans cannot find the U.S on a map.

3. "In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country." — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking at Columbia University in New York.

4. "That's some nappy-headed hos there." — radio personality Don Imus, referring to the Rutgers University women's basketball team.

5. "I don't recall." — former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' repeated response to congressional questions about the firing of U.S. attorneys.

6. "There's only three things he (Rudolph Giuliani) mentions in a sentence: a noun and a verb and 9/11." — Sen. Joseph Biden, speaking during a debate for Democratic presidential candidates.

7. "I'm not going to get into a name-calling match with somebody who has a 9 percent approval rating." — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, referring to Vice President Dick Cheney.

8. "(I have) a wide stance when going to the bathroom." — Sen. Larry Craig, explaining why his foot touched the foot of an undercover police officer in an airport men's room.

9. "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man." — Sen. Joseph Biden referring to rival Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama.

10. "I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history." — Former President Jimmy Carter, referring to the Bush administration.

H/T Catfish at Golden Pond

Reconsidering Christmas

Here is a string of provocative, thoughtful and informative links about Christian values in general and Christmas in particular. I found them by drilling into a mother-lode found at Young Anabaptist Radicals.

Confessions of a half-hearted Christmas radical

As a Mennonite, and an activist, I’ve always been aware of the huge gaping problems with Christmas as practiced in America. I know all about the Christmas industrial complex and the way it has stolen the true spirit of Christmas. I’ve read many an article about simplifying Christmas and getting back to it’s true spirit. I know that corporate America has taught us to consume to live rather than live to consume. I honor Buy Nothing Day.

But somehow, none of this has ever stuck very well. It’s not that I’m a shop-a-holic or even an extravagant gift giver. But despite my radical aspirations, there’s something sentimental or romantic in me that really enjoys the Christmas tree and the Christmas carols and the warm, fuzzy feeling I start feeling sometime in the week after Thanksgiving. And I’ve never really found a way to shape a consistent alternative Christmas tradition.

But this year, I’ve finally come across someone who takes liberating Christmas seriously. My good friends Tim and Patty Peebles are featured on the cover story of the Mennonite: Throwing out the tree.

That's where it starts. Be advised, if you take time to drill into the links, you will be sitting at the monitor for some time.

American Communion: The Book of Cynics, Chapter 1

1 And it came to pass that Jesus came to America, not in the way of Joseph Smith's story; rather, he showed up at Chili's in a Southern state. He was tired and hungry and wanted bread and wine. 2 When he discovered the wine available at Chili's, he immediately left that place and went to a local restaurant with a better menu. 3 The place was frequented by many different people of various races and religions (some having no religion) and political leanings. 4 He sat at a table in the rear of the bar and ordered a red table wine (under $15) and a basket of bread. 5 After the server brought the bread and wine, she asked if she could get Jesus an appetizer or lunch. 6 "Nay," Jesus replied. "But please, invite all the patrons to come have bread and wine with me."

Go to the link to find out what hapened. The last verse is "32 I would like to take communion with all of you," Jesus said, but no one heard him. 33 He munched his bread in silence and had one glass of wine too many before going in search of a place to pray."

Why the Devil takes VISA (Christianity Today, October, 1996)

I asked Lendol Calder, a historian in New Hampshire who devoted his doctoral dissertation to consumerism, "When did you first begin to notice the depth and breadth of consumerism in our culture?" He recalled a Christian camp for college students of several nationalities. A get-acquainted exercise divided campers by nationality, charging them to choose a song representing their culture, one that all could approve and sing to the rest of the assembly. Most nationalities reached consensus, practiced, and were ready in 10 to 20 minutes; nearly all the groups chose folk songs from their native lands.

Not the Americans. They debated over 20 minutes, then an hour. Some wanted a rock song; others suggested a series of country songs. At last they settled on the Coca-Cola jingle "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing." The tune ringing in his ears, Lendol realized that commercial culture was what really bound these Americans-these American Christians- together.

This is a long, serious article. Scan first, then print it out for later reading and reflection.

In fact, most of these are pretty serious. If they don't make you at least a little uncomfortable, you've been taking too many happy pills. (That's what one of my co-workers calls the anti-depressants her doctor prescribed for bouts of menopause depression.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Amazing Statues

Donald Sensing is made of the right stuff

One of the best bloggers out there is still alive, having survived a car crash he was able to walk away from. First person account and pictures are dramatic. Donald Sensing's response is a study in humility and faith. I sometimes use the word durable to describe people. In this case, it is a perfect fit.

...Tom Wolfe related some stories about jet fighter flight testing in the 1950s.
The pilots who lived to tell about it said once they figured out they were not going to be able to control the plane, they used the "Jesus maneuver." They cut the throttle, folded their hands in their lap, took their feet off the pedals and said, "Jesus, it's your airplane."

Sometimes the plane stabilized. Sometimes it didn't. Sometimes the pilots walked away from their landing. More often, they were carried, provided there was anything left to be carried.

He made it.

It is not really that for five seconds I was dead, and now am alive again. That is God's gift truly, but my life has always been God's gift, even before I acknowledged it.

The clarity is this: I know that for the rest of my life, I am really just a dead man walking. That evokes a certain freedom and a longer view of life. So Saturday night, just before I went to bed, I went alone in the dark to my living room, sat down and thanked God for the clarity.

David Brooks on Obama

Brooks says Clinton is a better Senator but Obama will make a better president. Why? In a nutshell, because he doesn't personalize problems, even when others see HIM as the problem.

Hillary Clinton has been a much better senator than Barack Obama. She has been a serious, substantive lawmaker who has worked effectively across party lines. Obama has some accomplishments under his belt, but many of his colleagues believe that he has not bothered to master the intricacies of legislation or the maze of Senate rules. He talks about independence, but he has never quite bucked liberal orthodoxy or party discipline.

If Clinton were running against Obama for Senate, it would be easy to choose between them.

But they are running for president, and the presidency requires a different set of qualities. Presidents are buffeted by sycophancy, criticism and betrayal. They must improvise amid a thousand fluid crises. They’re isolated and also exposed, puffed up on the outside and hollowed out within. With the presidency, character and self-knowledge matter more than even experience. There are reasons to think that, among Democrats, Obama is better prepared for this madness.

Many of the best presidents in U.S. history had their character forged before they entered politics and carried to it a degree of self-possession and tranquillity that was impervious to the Sturm und Drang of White House life.

Obama is an inner-directed man in a profession filled with insecure outer-directed ones. He was forged by the process of discovering his own identity from the scattered facts of his childhood, a process that is described in finely observed detail in “Dreams From My Father.” Once he completed that process, he has been astonishingly constant.

Like most of the rival campaigns, I’ve been poring over press clippings from Obama’s past, looking for inconsistencies and flip-flops. There are virtually none. The unity speech he gives on the stump today is essentially the same speech that he gave at the Democratic convention in 2004, and it’s the same sort of speech he gave to Illinois legislators and Harvard Law students in the decades before that. He has a core, and was able to maintain his equipoise, for example, even as his campaign stagnated through the summer and fall.

Moreover, he has a worldview that precedes political positions. Some Americans (Republican or Democrat) believe that the country’s future can only be shaped through a remorseless civil war between the children of light and the children of darkness. Though Tom DeLay couldn’t deliver much for Republicans and Nancy Pelosi, so far, hasn’t been able to deliver much for Democrats, these warriors believe that what’s needed is more partisanship, more toughness and eventual conquest for their side.

But Obama does not ratchet up hostilities; he restrains them. He does not lash out at perceived enemies, but is aloof from them. In the course of this struggle to discover who he is, Obama clearly learned from the strain of pessimistic optimism that stretches back from Martin Luther King Jr. to Abraham Lincoln. This is a worldview that detests anger as a motivating force, that distrusts easy dichotomies between the parties of good and evil, believing instead that the crucial dichotomy runs between the good and bad within each individual.

Obama did not respond to his fatherlessness or his racial predicament with anger and rage, but as questions for investigation, conversation and synthesis. He approaches politics the same way. In her outstanding New Yorker profile, Larissa MacFarquhar notes that Obama does not perceive politics as a series of battles but as a series of systemic problems to be addressed. He pursues liberal ends in gradualist, temperamentally conservative ways.

Obama also has powers of observation that may mitigate his own inexperience and the isolating pressures of the White House. In his famous essay, “Political Judgment,” Isaiah Berlin writes that wise leaders don’t think abstractly. They use powers of close observation to integrate the vast shifting amalgam of data that constitute their own particular situation — their own and no other.

Obama demonstrated those powers in “Dreams From My Father” and still reveals glimpses of the ability to step outside his own ego and look at reality in uninhibited and honest ways. He still retains the capacity, also rare in presidents, of being able to sympathize with and grasp the motivations of his rivals. Even in his political memoir, “The Audacity of Hope,” he astutely observes that candidates are driven less by the desire for victory than by the raw fear of loss and humiliation.

What Bill Clinton said on “The Charlie Rose Show” is right: picking Obama is a roll of the dice. Sometimes he seems more concerned with process than results. But for Democrats, there’s a roll of the dice either way. The presidency is a bacterium. It finds the open wounds in the people who hold it. It infects them, and the resulting scandals infect the presidency and the country. The person with the fewest wounds usually does best in the White House, and is best for the country.

LINK to Brooks' NY Times column

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Nanking -- the Movie

Bob Edwards interviewed Ted Leonsis, the producer, Sunday morning.

This is an anti-war film about what is known as the Rape of Nanking by Japanese forces in 1937. It is a documentary based, in part, on the testimonies of survivors and more than a thousand pages of letters written from the scene at the time it happened.

I have no intention of watching this film. It is a lesson that I already know. The magnitude of what happened cannot be reduced to a couple of hours on a movie screen, but for a large population who need to be aware, this film should be a must-see.

Nothing I write here is important. I only want to note the release of this film for future reference.

Race-baiting a U.S. Senator

The race issue has always been there, but polite people weren't talking about it, except to say "Why, yes...some of my best friends..." or lines to that effect.

Add to that his birth father's Muslim roots and his connection with the wrong kind of mainline Protestant denomination and Senator Obama is about to confront the most formidable challenge of his career.

I'm not wasting blog space and energy this morning preaching, but in the short space of the last two hours I have come across all I need to find letting me know that the gloves are coming off and the primary season is gonna get ugly.

The Obama racial subtext surfaces in Iowa

...“Obama,” the man said, “has never said anything about payback for the problems the blacks have had getting their foothold in society.” It wasn’t exactly clear, but the man seemed to want Barack Obama to denounce the “not guilty” verdict in Simpson’s 1995 trial.

Where a presidential contender stood on O.J. had apparently become this voter’s litmus test. There was also the implication in his question that if you vote for Obama, you get Sharpton and Jackson in the bargain.

Bob Kerrey Goes for Clinton (but he still has a few poison pills for Obama)

"The fact that he's African American is a big deal. I do expect and hope that Hillary is the nominee of the party. But I hope he's used in some way. If he happens to be the nominee of the party and ends up being president, I think his capacity to influence in a positive way without spending a penny the behavior of a lot of underperforming black youth today is very important, and he's the only one who can reach them."

Kerrey continued, "It's probably not something that appeals to him, but I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim. There's a billion people on the planet that are Muslims and I think that experience is a big deal." He added, "He's got a whale of a lot more intellectual talent than I've got as well."

Ooh! Lemme go give him a big hug while I'm at it...maybe kiss him on the cheek.

Hillary’s ‘Southern Strategy’: Muslim-Baiting

Oh, isn’t it just charming that Obama (rhymes with Osama) just happens to have the middle name of the former Iraqi dictator. Muslims, you gotta love ‘em. And there’s a billion of them, you know. Very important experience that young Barack HUSSEIN Obama has there. Wonder why he doesn’t make more of it?

Later...Kerry apologizes...

Kerrey: I meant no disrespect at all


Monday, December 17, 2007

Another treasure from Bahrain

Mideast Youth is a group blog made up of young people from MENA. This young woman describes her mother and maternal grandmother, writing in the first person as though her mother were writing.

(About the writer, Esra'a Al Shafei...
A 21 year old student from a Kingdom the size of a bathtub in the Gulf: Bahrain. She comes from a long line of lift engineers and personnel managers. She likes hardcore acoustic noise-terror music and people who can take a joke. She thinks college ultimately does not matter in the slightest, but unfortunately, some kind of socio-political imposition of cultural norms forces her to attend. She enjoys drinking flavored milk and writing about herself in 3rd person to remind herself of her existence.)

People say I resemble my mother. They say I share her eyes, her gentle voice, and though she had no form of education, she had a natural wit and intelligence about her. Growing up as an Arab woman she was not allowed to go to school, though it has been suspected that if she did, she would have gone far. Times have changed since then, I attend school and do well. I thank God everyday for what I have: a life far better than my mother’s was. She was young back when women were treated like cattle, bought and sold, leading the life of an animal following her father or husband like an eager dog. Men viewed her as a desirable, worthy prize, and though she was wanted by many, she had been arranged to marry a man named Ahmed, a kind, meditative and somewhat self-indulgent man. They were wed a young age and my mother delivered nine children, my siblings and I.

Our family was large but of common size for most Arab households. It was a kind of chaotic clockwork, enough to keep anyone’s hands full and at times a difficult number of mouths to feed. I was the second oldest and one of two daughters. My elder sister was married at fourteen, to a man she was forced to wed. She belonged to him now, so it was an unwritten law that I was to look after my seven younger siblings. Everyday I would cook three meals, every night I would send them to bed and force them to sleep.

My parents rarely helped me in the raising of this small army. I empathized with my mother’s past, I knew the hardships she had endured without knowing better, and in the quasi-modernized world I felt fortunate and wanted to help her in any way I could, as if to compensate for her slavery. So I raised her sons. I felt I had to work to please my father, who detested any toil outside of his immediate desires. I could tell by his eyes that I held a special place in his heart. I did his bidding without any command from him, and I did everything he ever expected of me, not wanting to lose his favor.

But the man of the house left for another woman, leaving his family to fend for themselves in a world where women are not beradwinners. The rest of the story is a study in character-building and role modeling.

Viral Marketing by Burger King

Hootsbuddy's Place doesn't do advertising.
It's my way of not making a dime with this blog. I don't know much about copyright, but keeping the blog revenue-free seems like a good way to protect against accusations of copyright infringement.

But this is different. This is not about hamburgers but marketing and technology. If you have eight minutes to spare, take a look at what Burger King is doing. I think it's clever. My buddy VC linked to it, so he gets the hat tip.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Google's answer to Wikipedia

Google Blog describes yet another work in progress, the knol project. Without editing or endorsing, Google aims to open its pages for people with knowledge, to share that information with the rest of the world as part of a searchable database.

Earlier this week, we started inviting a selected group of people to try a new, free tool that we are calling "knol", which stands for a unit of knowledge. Our goal is to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it. The tool is still in development and this is just the first phase of testing. For now, using it is by invitation only. But we wanted to share with everyone the basic premises and goals behind this project.

The key idea behind the knol project is to highlight authors. Books have authors' names right on the cover, news articles have bylines, scientific articles always have authors -- but somehow the web evolved without a strong standard to keep authors names highlighted. We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content. At the heart, a knol is just a web page; we use the word "knol" as the name of the project and as an instance of an article interchangeably. It is well-organized, nicely presented, and has a distinct look and feel, but it is still just a web page. Google will provide easy-to-use tools for writing, editing, and so on, and it will provide free hosting of the content. Writers only need to write; we'll do the rest.

Go read about it.

I'm thinking how I have dedicated the bulk of my working life to being a good food service manager in general, learning to run a Southern cafeteria in particular. My knowledge of this subject is vast but obsolete, having been overcome by a combination of technology (which produces lovely biscuits from a frozen puck that look and taste as good as those made from scratch), real estate prices (which makes that part of a cafeteria investment drive prices out of the competition) and a global economy (which makes cooking from scratch too labor intensive for the market).

What I have learned that will NOT go out of date is that good management requires understanding that your subordinates are peers, regarding them with respect, treating them with dignity and looking for non-monitary rewards over which you have the most control, starting with being friendly and greeting them with a smile every day.

I'm vain enough to think that someone might want to read my ideas about management. But I'm also realistic enough to know that those who would are probably the very ones who would least need to know. Can anyone say "cocooning"?

Sullivan (and others) on Huckabee (and others)

Andrew Sullivan, commenting on how the Christian Right is biting the Rupublican ankles....hard...

It's amazing to me to watch Rich Lowry and Charles Krauthammer begin to panic at the signs of Christianism taking over the Republican party. Where, one wonders, have they been for the past decade? They have long pooh-poohed those of us who have been warning about this for a long time, while cozying up to Christianists for cynical or instrumental reasons. But now they want to draw the line. Alas, it's too late, I think, for Charles to urge an openness toward atheism or non-religion in a party remade on explicitly religious grounds by Bush and Rove. Who was it, after all, who cited Jesus Christ as the most influential "philosopher" in his life as part of his electoral strategy? Who reorganized his party to base it on churches? The man whom Krauthammer eagerly supported in two consecutive elections.

The theocon consensus that front-runners Romney and Huckabee both reflect is that religion is intrinsic to public life and public debate, that it is a necessary component of any political discussion - and that this does not merely mean rote invocations of Nature's God or Providence or the kind of inclusive, vague language that the Founders believed in. It means a very thick, constant and inviolable recourse to religious argument in secular politics. If you haven't noticed this development in the past decade, you have had blinders on.

Hat Tip to Cernig who put me on the scent.

Sullivan isn't all snark. He articulates serious and important ideas with the best of them. This is worth repeating...

...I certainly don't believe that opposition to torture depends on a religious base. Many, many atheists and agnostics have been heroes in the long history of outlawing torture. The two most influential on me, over the years, have been Camus and Orwell, two atheists whose sense of morality outshines that of many Christians.

This, to me, is the critical distinction between a Christianist and a mere Christian. One wants to infuse politics with religion; the other wants to respect both, separately, and to keep religion private. I should add I do not want to banish the word "God" from the public square. But I do want that invocation to be as thin and as empty and as formal as the Founders intended. The current Republican party has reinvented itself as a force on opposite grounds. The party of Huckabee and Romney, the party of Hewitt and Dobson, the party of Ponnuru and Neuhaus is emphatically not a secular party.
(More at the link)

As long as we're on the election, don't miss Peggy Noonan's truly delightful column yesterday.

Mike Huckabee is in the lead due, it appears, to voter approval of the depth and sincerity of his religious beliefs as lived out in his ministry as an ordained Southern Baptist. He flashes "Christian leader" over his picture in commercials; he asserts his faith is "mainstream"; his surrogates speak of Mormonism as "strange" and "definitely a factor." Mr. Huckabee said this summer that a candidate's faith is "subject to question," "part of the game."
He tells the New York Times that he doesn't know a lot about Mitt Romney's faith, but isn't it the one in which Jesus and the devil are brothers? This made me miss the old days of Gore Vidal's "The Best Man," in which a candidate started a whispering campaign that his opponent's wife was a thespian.

I wonder if our old friend Ronald Reagan could rise in this party, this environment. Not a regular churchgoer, said he experienced God riding his horse at the ranch, divorced, relaxed about the faiths of his friends and aides, or about its absence. He was a believing Christian, but he spent his adulthood in relativist Hollywood, and had a father who belonged to what some saw, and even see, as the Catholic cult. I'm just not sure he'd be pure enough to make it in this party. I'm not sure he'd be considered good enough.
This thought occurs that Hillary Clinton's entire campaign is, and always was, a Potemkin village, a giant head fake, a haughty facade hollow at the core. That she is disorganized on the ground in Iowa, taken aback by a challenge to her invincibility, that she doesn't actually have an A team, that her advisers have always been chosen more for proven loyalty than talent, that her supporters don't feel deep affection for her. That she's scrambling chaotically to catch up, with surrogates saying scuzzy things about Barack Obama and drug use, and her following up with apologies that will, as always, keep the story alive....
Politicians, that is, distort the debate, not because they care so much but because they care so little.
Hillary Clinton is not up at night worrying about the national-security implications of open borders in the age of terror. She's up at night worrying about whether to use Mr. Obama's position on driver's licenses for illegals against him in ads or push polls.
Just a couple of bonbons from this box of candy.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Polarization of Extremes

Professor Cass Sunstein. University of Chicago, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, elaborates on a phenomenon I have often observed, the tendency of people of like mind to strengthen common ideas and minimize their differences, resulting in polarization. He doesn't use the word cocooning specifically, but in the Internet it is a well-known part of life.

After describing an experiment a couple of years ago demonstrating the phenomenon using a pre-selected group, he raises an important question: Why do enclaves, on the Internet and elsewhere, produce political polarization?

Three possibilities are proposed.

The first explanation emphasizes the role of information. [Information=evidence, so when people who are already in basic agreement exchange information, common bonds become stronger.]

The second explanation, involving social comparison, begins with the reasonable suggestion that people want to be perceived favorably by other group members. [Simply stated, peer pressure is at work.]

The final explanation is the most subtle, and probably the most important...The starting point here is that on many issues, most of us are really not sure what we think. Our lack of certainty inclines us toward the middle....Enclave extremism is particularly likely to occur on the Internet because people can so easily find niches of like-minded types — and discover that their own tentative view is shared by others.

This final point, that extremism derives from a lack of certainty, is important. We are taught to go forward with every mission with a positive attitude, certain that our cause is correct and doubts are our worst enemy.

We don't have to look far during this period leading up to an election to discover how unacceptable it is for anyone to have a changed mind. One of the most potent weapons in the arsenal of any candidate is a handful of soundbites showing how an opponent "flip-flops." We forget how we shift gears ourselves depending on whether we are at work, at play, at home, in church or visiting a respectable but elderly family member who "wouldn't understand." We have dozens of levels of candor depending on where we are talking.

When I do it, it's not uncertainty, of course, but diplomacy. It's uncertainty, if not downright mendacity, only when you do it.

I have learned to have great respect for anyone who has the grace to admit to a changed mind. Especially when the change of mind comes round to my way of thinking.

H/T Arts and Letters Daily

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Drought comment

Here in the South we are experiencing drought. Low levels of rainfall have resulted in water shortages stretching from the Carolinas to Mississippi. Lake Lanier, Atlanta's reserve, has been used to the point that if nothing changes, we are told, barges will be installed with giant pipes by which water can be sucked up to the dam's lowest drain elevation to supply Atlanta with water.

Lots of development. Going on for decades. I think they call it progress.

My recreational reading is a fat tome by William Least Heat-Moon, Prairie Erth. It tells you more about the prairie and Chase County, Kansas than you ever imagined.


The third-greatest enemy of the tallgrass is not fire, disease, herbivores, high wind, heat, cold, ice , freezing, or flood -- it is drought, the force that shapes the prairie, the power that grasses roll their leaves against and counter by treating the world above ground as a treacherous place to be only tolerated, as if they understood the prepotency of drought over their second great enemies, trees. Against the biggest enemy, Western man, they have a lone defense of waiting him out, surviving in neglected pockets like those World War Two Japanese soldiers who were still creeping out of jungles a quarter of a centruy after the surrender.

Prairie Erth, p. 199

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The New Evangelicals, Part I

The previous post, focusing on Rick and Kay Warren, is billed Part II of Krista Tippett's latest theme for her radio program Speaking of Faith. In Part I she interviews in depth Jim Wallis, founder and publisher of Sojourners Magazine and evangelical progressive who has been plugging away for three decades now, bringing a message of Christian activism to a resistant world at large and Conservative Christians in particular. I'm listening as I type, but for me there is nothing new in the message. I've been there, done that all my adult life. So I would urge anyone wanting to know what lies beneath the surface of us lunatics to devote an hour to listening to the program.

Here is Wallis' salvation testimony, taken from the transcript of the program.

Rev. Wallis: No, it was very Evangelical in the usual ways back then. And I remember — I remember I was 6 years old and my parents were a little nervous, because, well, I wasn't saved yet. And I was getting up in years, I was 6, you know? So there's a fiery evangelist that was billed to be coming in a couple of weeks, and so I was kind of dreading the day because I heard he was pretty scary. And all unsaved kids had to sit in the first row. You know — we never wanted to sit in the first row, because I think the closer you are to a sermon, the more impact it will have in your life, you know? But he preached and he pointed his finger — it seemed right at me — and he says, 'If Jesus came back tonight, your mommy and daddy would be taken to heaven, and you would be left…

Ms. Tippett: Oh, gosh.

Rev. Wallis: …all by yourself.'

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Wallis: Well, it got my attention. And so I asked my mother how to fix this thing. And to her everlasting credit, she told me about the love of God, not the wrath of God. And God wanted me to be his child. And so I signed up. It wasn't deep, but it was, it was as real as it gets, you know, for a 6 year old.

Well, my second conversion was really the most important, because I'm 14 now, I'm paying attention in my home city, Detroit. I'm reading the papers, I'm listening to the news, and I'm asking questions: 'How come we live the way we do in white Detroit? And life is so different in black Detroit, just a few miles or blocks away?' 'You're too young to ask these questions,' I was told. 'When you get older, you'll understand or…"

Ms. Tippett: So where — what are we — what decade are we talking here?

Rev. Wallis: This is like early 1960s, yeah.

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Wallis: And so I didn't get answers. So I went in the city to find answers, and I met the black church. And they loved the same Jesus and read the same Bible and sang out of the same hymnbook, made it sound so much better than we did.

Ms. Tippett: Did you just walk into a black church?

Rev. Wallis: Yeah. I just started reading books and I read the autobiography of Malcolm X, and I…

Ms. Tippett: Oh, so the civil rights movement's bubbling along…

Rev. Wallis: It was…

Ms. Tippett: …in the culture at large.

Rev. Wallis: Oh, yeah. And I'm hearing about this guy in the South, this minister named King, you know? What was he up to, you know? How come we never had any black preachers at our church? Never been to a black church. And so I came back with questions and — new questions and new friends and some answers. And an elder, one night in a very pivotal moment for me, said, 'Jim, you have to understand Christianity has nothing to do with racism. That's political and our faith is personal.'

And, Krista, I think that's the night that I left in my head and my heart. And I was gone in a couple of years altogether and got — joined the civil rights struggle and the anti-war movement. I didn't have words to go around it then, but I do now. And the words are that God is personal, but never private. And I have a privatized notion of faith that never touched the world.

Ms. Tippett: So you left the church because you felt that the church…

Rev. Wallis: Yeah.

Ms. Tippett: …wasn't meshed without that and couldn't get — couldn't make the connections you were making?

Rev. Wallis: To be honest, I felt kind of kicked out, because I was raising these questions and they really didn't want them in the church. You know our favorite verse in those days was, "For God so loved the world," John 3:16, "that He gave His only begotten son. And who so ever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." The problem is, we only focused on the last two stanzas about everlasting life and not "for God so loved the world." And the world was who I cared about is — was my world. I was a teenage kid; I wanted to change the world. And they didn't care about changing the world. They just didn't care about the world.

Same thing happened to me. Reared as a Southern Baptist, grandchild of a Presbyterian minister, I was struck full force by the Civil Rights movement about the same time and also felt more or less kicked out of the church I had known. When deacons formulated a game plan how NOT to seat any black people should they show up to make trouble some Sunday morning at our white church, I knew there was something wrong.

Krista Tippett is all over the place with her programs. She treats a bewildering array of subjects and people with sterling journalistic professionalism. I don't listen to every program, but when I do I enjoy her approach to her subjects, I appreciate the respectful manner with which she handles everyone, and I always learn something.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Krista Tippett speaks with Rick and Kay Warren

This week's Speaking of Faith spotlights the recent work of Rick Warren and his wife Kay. With a river of fame and money they practice what they call "reverse tithing," giving away ninety percent and keeping ten percent for themselves. The Purpose Driven Life has sold and continues to sell tens of millions of copies in scores of languages. But the statistics, impressive as they are, are nothing compared to the vision and new direction they have taken to lead Christians in a global mission to address poverty, illness and illiteracy.

They claim no political or social agenda other than putting faith to work in meaningful, practical ways, but this couple has become what in the Sixties we called radicalized or politicized. As soon as I heard the promo I knew this was an important program. There is no way that I can capture in a blog post the scale and excitement of Rick Warren's latest vision and mission. He notes that Christians worldwide, including all who identify themselves as "Christian" are a very large population.

There are two-point-three billion people who are church members. That means the Church is bigger than China. It's bigger than India. It's bigger than China and India put together.

Warren regards every breathing, confessing Christian as a potential source of input for a global mission the likes of which has never before been seen. He cites Psalm 72 as an illustration of how powerful leaders should direct their power. Solomon prayed to become the most powerful man of his time. But he wanted to use that power to care for those who had none of their own...

The mountains will bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness. (4) He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; he will crush the oppressor. All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him. (12) For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.

But Solomon didn't have the Internet and today's powers of telecommunication. Rick Warren does, and he doesn't hesitate to use it for God's purposes.

Listening to this couple is a great way to get your batteries charged. Be advised, this is not your Daddy's Old time Religion. This is a message to Christians everywhere that the challenge of our lifetime is a lot bigger than giving Christmas food packages to a few local families. It is my hope that this hour of radio can somehow be repackaged and spread to the same millions that have already ingested the Purpose Driven Life.

Krista Tippett talks about the "post-religious-right" era. I'm not sure what that means, but if the story of the Warrens is any indication, it strikes me as one of the most important and powerful releases of religious energy of our time. This program is tagged Part II, and I have not yet heard Part I. Should we use the word revival? I don't know. But if it's not revival, it's the next best thing. Next on my to-do list is to hear Part I.