Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Texas Here we Come!

42 and Infission have graduated from law school. (Scary, indeed.) We are both in the process of moving from NYC to our home state of Texas. We'll be offline for a few days in the process, and the next time we speak to you it will be from that wonderful, terrible Lone Star State.

In the meantime, God Bless!

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Costs of War

The U.S. casualties in the Iraqi war are widely reported. After the recent attacks, the number of U.S. military dead has reached 1631. The number of U.S. military wounded is over 6000. Less widely reported are the Iraqi casualties: 2105 guardsmen and police killed and untold thousands of civlians (icasualties.org).

Even less media attention is given to another critical matter, however: the costs of war in terms of government spending and the opportunity costs that entails. 42 pointed us to this National Priorities Project "clock" almost a year ago. If it was enlightening then, it is even more so now. What could we have done if we didn't invade Iraq? Here's a few examples current through 2:00 a.m. Sunday morning (and counting):
  • Provided 103,000,000 children with health insurance for one year,
  • Funded over 8 million four-year college scholarships to public universities and
  • Ensured that each child in the world got basic immunizations for 57 years!

Even the most hardened leftists will admit that it is a good thing that Saddam Hussein is gone.

But when we hear this argument, we must consider all the other evils that we could have eradicated with much lower human costs, through non-violent means and without adding a cent to the federal budget. Yes, it is good for the world that Saddam Hussein is gone. But is it better than ensuring every child in the world gets immunizations for 57 years? I think not. And we could have achieved that without the thousands of deaths and world alienation....

Friday, May 20, 2005

Lest we Forget

Amidst all the talk of economic recovery, prices for consumer goods are rising and wages are stagnating. The stock market may like this economy, but I'm not convinced it has done anything for "the least."

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Death Row Inmate Seeks Delay to Donate Liver

I'm continually amazed by the compassion shown by those who have received none.

Gregory Johnson is scheduled to be killed by the state of Indiana on May 25, but on Monday he begged the parole board for enough time to donate his liver.

"My sister is sick, she needs a liver," Johnson said.

"At this point, everything else, including my own life, is secondary to trying to help her if I can."

Quite a Christian sentiment from someone the state has found utterly irredeemable....

Thursday, May 12, 2005

New Shots Fired in the Culture Wars

Federal Judge Rules Nebraska's Same-Sex Unions Ban Unconstitutional

I fear that gay marriage is the new abortion.... Will this keep the Christian conservatives aligned with the radical laissez-faire capitalists for the next twenty years? I hope not, but it sure looks that way.

Homeless Drug Addict Killed Saving the Life of Another

Kelcy Ruiz, a homeless man described by family members as a crack addict, was stabbed to death today as he defended a restaurant owner, Melinda Murillo, from a knife-wielding intruder. (AP)

"Even though he was a forgotten member of society, he acted better than most people who are not homeless," said Detective Delrish Moss, spokesman for the Miami Police Department.

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." John 15:12-13.

SBC deteriorating?

Thom Rainer, dean of the Southern Baptist Convention's Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth in Louisville, Ky., says the denomination is "on the path of slow but discernible deterioration."

In a study to be released later this month by The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Rainer says the SBC faces a "evangelistic crisis" - citing consistently falling "baptism rates":

"[O]ne person was baptized for every 19 members of SBC churches in 1950. In 1978, that ratio increased to 36 to 1 and by 2003 -- the number reached 43 to 1...."

Rainer suggests that pastors " repent for their lack of evangelistic zeal."

I grew up in a town dominated by Southern Baptists. So did my wife. In our experiences, which occurred right in the middle of 1978 and 2003, Southern Baptists pastors have extraordinary "evangelistic zeal."

I was not raised a Southern Baptist, but I was indoctrinated merely through attending a couple of church camps. Southern Baptist pastors got about two or three cracks at me, and by the time I was 14, their hellfire and brimstone "evangelistic zeal" had convinced me that I would burn eternally if I did not come down to the altar and "publicly accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior." In fact, I was saved twice in junior high. My wife more than twice.

No, if the SBC is indeed declining it is not for lack of evangelistic zeal. It is declining because it has the wrong message. Jesus Christ is about more than saying a magic spell, getting baptised and refraining from pre-marital sex. As more and more Christians realize this, the SBC will continue to decline.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Fixed!

No one ever accused Infission of being tech saavy, that's for sure.

But all is well is SGT land... we have fixed our graphics problem, and the links on the right should now be visible to all users, whether they use the internet explorer (the dark side) or Mozilla Firefox (the good guys).

A Letter from the IRS

Today I got a letter from the IRS. I was terrified. I filed my tax returns on time! Was I being audited? Who would audit a student with $652 of adjusted gross income!?

I opened the letter and discovered that the IRS is doing a new and wonderful thing to help low-income people.

People who work but don't make much money sometimes qualify for an "Earned Income Credit." In actuality, this is more a subsidy than a credit or refund because people who qualify generally don't make enough money to pay any taxes. One of the biggest problems with this great program is that people often don't know when they qualify.

My letter from the IRS was titled: "You May Be Eligible for a Refund If You Qualify for the Earned Income Credit." The letter clearly stated: "This is not a bill." It explained that I could have some money coming to me and asked me four simply-phrased questions that would tell me whether I qualify.

I don't qualify because I'm not working. I'm a student. But I think the policy of sending people letters to let them know that they might qualify is a GREAT ONE. This means that more low-income people will actually get what they are entitled to.

Cheers to the IRS, which is all too often vilified.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Immediate Action Required

I received this email (from someone that spent a year
of her life working with those seaking asylum) and thought
it was blogworthy.

Hello everyone.

I am writing to urge you to write your senators and
express your opposition to the inclusion of the REAL
ID act with the Supplemental Appropriations bill. The
REAL ID act contains provisions that are extremely
harmful to people applying for asylum. A number of my
clients who were granted asylum last year would not
have had this legislation been in effect. This is not
because their claim was any less meritorious (their
persecution was still real), it is simply because of
the narrowed definition of who qualifies and the
increased burden of proof needed to demonstrate that
you do qualify. If you want more details or specifics
please feel free to write me. Otherwise, please write
your senators. You can find their e-mail addresses
at:

http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/


Just pick your state from the "choose a state" box and
your senators' contact information, will appear (and
all you need is an address in the state in order to
claim them as your senator).

I have included a sample letter below to help make it
that much easier/faster for you, though feel free to
change it as you see fit. Writing your Senators
really does make a difference. Thanks.

SAMPLE LETTER (feel free to cut and paste):

I am writing to express my opposition to the inclusion
of the REAL ID act in the 2005 Supplemental
Appropriations bill. I am opposed to its inclusion
for two reasons: 1.) the act has not been subjected to
a full debate in the US Senate. The democratic
process depends on a full hearing of all views prior
to the passing of legislation. By including this act
in a completely unrelated bill you are circumventing
debate and discussion of the act on its own merits.
2.) I am opposed to the REAL ID act on its own terms.
While the act purports to protect our boarders from
terrorists, in reality the individuals who will be
most affected are those who are truly seeking
protection from persecution. Any terrorist who
attempting to enter the U.S. through the asylum
process will not be stopped by this act. Presumably
they are entering under fraudulent claims (because
otherwise they would never qualify) and they will
continue to do so if this legislation is passed.
Raising the standard of proof will not present a
barrier to individuals with the resources to develop a
good fraudulent claim (i.e., terrorists).
Unfortunately, the people who truly deserve asylum
will be the very people least able to meet the new
burden of proof. This bill hurts the very people the
U.S. should be trying to protect while doing nothing
to further protect the U.S.
Email your Senators today! DO IT!

The Bush Agenda

Paul Krugman, a professor of economics at Princeton, has this to say on Monday's NY Times op-ed page (discussing Bush's social security plan):
Let's consider the Bush tax cuts and the Bush benefit cuts [to Social Security] as a package. Who gains? Who loses?

Suppose you're a full-time Wal-Mart employee, earning $17,000 a year. You probably didn't get any tax cut. But Mr. Bush says, generously, that he won't cut your Social Security benefits.

Suppose you're earning $60,000 a year. On average, Mr. Bush cut taxes for workers like you by about $1,000 per year. But by 2045 the Bush Social Security plan would cut benefits for workers like you by about $6,500 per year. Not a very good deal.

Suppose, finally, that you're making $1 million a year. You received a tax cut worth about $50,000 per year. By 2045 the Bush plan would reduce benefits for people like you by about $9,400 per year. We have a winner!

I'm not being unfair. In fact, I've weighted the scales heavily in Mr. Bush's favor, because the tax cuts will cost much more than the benefit cuts would save. Repealing Mr. Bush's tax cuts would yield enough revenue to call off his proposed benefit cuts, and still leave $8 trillion in change.

The point is that the privatizers consider four years of policies that relentlessly favored the wealthy a fait accompli, not subject to reconsideration. Now that tax cuts have busted the budget, they want us to accept large cuts in Social Security benefits as inevitable. But they demand that we praise Mr. Bush's sense of social justice, because he proposes bigger benefit cuts for the middle class than for the poor.

Sorry, but no. Mr. Bush likes to play dress-up, but his Robin Hood costume just doesn't fit.

Don't be fooled America! The Bush administration's agenda (as orchestrated by anti-government ideologues) isn't to help sustain the poor nor our beloved system of Social Security. If they wanted to do that, all they would have to go is roll back their tax cuts to the non-economy stiflying levels of the Clinton administration (with $8 trillion in change). By suggesting that S.S. benefit cuts are inevitable, Bush takes an Orwellian (think Ministry of Truth from 1984) approach to curtailing all government benefit programs, telling the public that we have no other options and that if we fail to act we are hurting the poor.

Wake up America. George Bush isn't about defending marriage, the unborn or the poor.

Call me Wiston Smith, and point me towards the fight.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

George Bush is not Jesus

Well if we haven't convinced you already of just how reactionary and thoughtless the religious right is being...

Pastor Kicks Parishioners out of Small Baptist Church for not Supporting President Bush (CNN)

WAYNESVILLE, North Carolina (AP) -- A pastor who led a charge to kick out nine church members who refused to support President Bush was the talk of the town Saturday in this mountain hamlet, withousted congregants considering hiring a lawyer...

Members of the congregation said Chandler told them during last year's presidential campaign that anyone who planned to vote for Democratic nominee John Kerry needed to leave the church.

At least the unspoken mentality pervasive in 'conservative' congregations across the country is finally being drawn out into the public discourse; hopefully its hypocrisy will soon be brought to light.

Thanks to ats54 for the heads up on the article.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Justice Department Under Gonzalez Still Brutal

Vermont, in a wondrous expression of its values and consistent with federalism, abolished the death penalty decades ago. The last execution in Vermont was in 1954. That's the age of Jim Crow, before Vietnam, for those who are counting. Vermonters take life seriously....

But the Bush Administration doesn't care. If the Vermont authorities won't bring a capital case, then it will. It is making a federal case out of a standard state murder case just because the Justice Department believes the defendant deserves death. (AP)

"It's clear that the state doesn't want it," said Allen Gilbert, executive director of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "Yet the federal government is coming in and imposing it on us. They are imposing a system of justice we rejected."

Re: Technical Difficulties

We're still trying to get our links to load correctly.

I got this form email from blogger support today:

"We want to let you know that we've been busy lately. Very busy. In fact, we've been so busy that we don't currently have the bandwidth to answer each email individually. We assure you that this is a temporary situation."

I'm not sure a month can be described as "temporary" in the internet age. In any event, we may begin looking for a new home depending on just how "untemporary" blogger's "temporary" problem is.

Any suggestions? (Note that we're not computer experts over here.)

Re: Whoops, Wrong Country

North Korea May be Testing Nuclear Weapons

Reuters

U.S. government officials are monitoring recent satellite photographs of North Korea that appear to show extensive preparations for a nuclear weapons test, according to a report in the New York Times, citing officials who have been briefed on the matter.


Darn, its too bad the U.S. has lost all international credibility. That might have been helpful in dealing with this problem don't ya' think?

But hey, how about that runaway bride? I'm sure that's what they're talking about on cable news right now.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

"Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words."

I just wanted to encourage our readers to visit Matthew 25:40, which is usually available by link just to the right the blog is working right. (Hopefully, it will be again soon.)

The blog recounts the very personal religious journey of a free-thinking Methodist. Matt's motto is one of my favorite Christian quotes ever: "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words." St. Francis of Assisi.

Currently, Matt is discussing Marcus Borg's new book, The Heart of Christianity, which he is quite passionate about and wants to "shout from the rooftops." The book, according to Matt, powerfully shows that "Christianity is about more than believing the right things so that we can get to Heaven after we die. Christians ought to be about the business of compassion and concern for others in THIS life."

"I've got Jesus in my heart. I'm sorry for any pain I've caused."

Lonnie Pursley was convicted of robbing and brutally murdering Robert Earl Cook in 1997. The crime appears to have been related to Lonnie's severe drug addiction, as he pawned the rings that he stole to buy drugs. On Monday, Lonnie received a letter from Robert Cook's family: they forgive him! Lonnie was grateful, and his response was, "I've got Jesus in my heart. I'm sorry for any pain I've caused." Lonnie also thanked fellow inmates who have been supportive over the years. And then, the State of Texas killed him.

His last words to his friends on death row: "I'm going home, OK? Y'all stay strong."

(AP)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Jesuits for Justice!

This is one Catholic order that definitely has the right idea:

Religion News Service:

Jesuit educators, known for their dual emphasis on academics and social justice, are gearing up to set a new standard for the way colleges wield clout on Wall Street.Under a proposal rolled out for chief financial officers last week (April 28) in Cincinnati, the nation's 28 Jesuit colleges and universities would use their billions of dollars in investments to push a collective, Roman Catholic social agenda.

Under a proposal rolled out for chief financial officers last week (April 28) in Cincinnati, the nation's 28 Jesuit colleges and universities would use their billions of dollars in investments to push a collective, Roman Catholic social agenda.

Participating colleges would build endowment wealth and advocate for the poor simultaneously by demanding corporate policies that defend human rights, reduce predatory lending practices and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa.

(Full Story at Beliefnet)

We're still at War; and Now They're at War

The AP reports today that the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq has reached 1,590. Over 91% of these (1452 soldiers) have been killed since President Bush declared major hostilities over. It has been too long since we have lamented this tragedy; this outrage.

More disturbing still: Sunni militants killed 60 and injured 150 other Iraqis today in the bombing of a police center at Irbil. It increasingly looks as if a civil war between Sunni and Shi'i Iraqis is breaking out - despite the best of U.S. efforts.

Saddam Hussein's tyrannical regime was indeed terrible, but if the U.S. thought that Sunni and Shi'i Muslims in Iraq were just going to quietly come together under some sort of completely secular, Westernized government, it was gravely mistaken. And if it expects Sunni Muslims to accept Shi'i dominance, it is terrifically naive. What is to be done now is hard to say. But a good start would be to get someone into a high policy position that knows something about Islam. I'm pleased that the President recognizes that Islam is a peaceful religion. But it would be nice if our leaders knew a bit more than that....

Update: more violence on Thursday.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Woodpecker's gift to Theology

This excerpt is from a NY Times op-ed piece by Jonathan Rosen entitled, "The Woodpecker in All of Us." It references this exciting news.

I think there is a deep spiritual meaning behind what Rosen says and, after final exams, I will attempt to draw that out. For starters, here are a few of Rosen's own words:
Among its gifts to us, the ivory bill can help us see ourselves as we really are, torn between our own desire to be free - to shoot and develop and cut down and expand - and the desire to live among free things that can survive only if we are less free. With the double vision of birders, we still can recognize ourselves as the wild children of American fantasy, but also as the far less romantic, but equally biblical, stewards of the earth. The challenge now is to give the ivory-billed woodpecker a home - not merely in legend but on actual, American ground, where it can be both the metaphorical Lord God bird [one of its names] and also the literal eater of grubs. If we can pull this off, we will not merely be saving this bird, we will be saving ourselves.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Pat Robertson Disapproves of Muslim Judges and Cabinet Members

Beliefnet story

Who is against people of faith again?


(What happened to your links?)

The Real Threat to Religious Expression, The Garden of Eden

Last week, I posted a short poem that those outside (and perhaps even inside) the legal profession probably found cryptic. So now to be clear to lawyers: all Christians should find the Supreme Court's "innovative" commercial speech doctrine at least as disturbing as the Court's establishment clause jurisprudence (if not more so). And then to laypeople: the Court's commercial speech doctrine increasingly places an equal sign between religious expression and public democratic discourse on the one hand, and corporate ads proposing market transactions on the other.

How did we get here?

Let's compare Valentine v. Christensen and Murdock v. Pennsylvania - two United States Supreme Court cases decided in 1942 and 1943 respectively.

In Valentine, the Supreme Court upheld a law that prohbited "distribution in the streets of commercial and business advertising material." The Court noted that the streets are "unequivocally" proper places to exercise "the freedom of communicating information and disseminating opinion." It found protecting these freedoms perfectly consistent with its bold (and, in my view, correct) holding that the First Amendment "imposes no...restraint on government as respects purely commercial advertising." The extent to which commercial advertising is permitted is not a fundamental constitutional right but a proper "matter[] for legislative judgement."

In Murdock, the Court made good on its distinction between First Amendment speech and mere business talk. The Court held that a small licensing tax on door-to-door soliciting could not be applied to Jehovah's Witnesses.

The Court's exalting of religious expression in Murdock marked a sharp contrast with Valentine's view of "mere commercial advertising":

Petitioners spread their interpretations of the Bible and their religious beliefs largely through the hand distribution of literature by full or part time workers. They claim to follow the example of Paul, teaching 'publickly, and from house to house.' Acts 20:20. They take literally the mandate of the Scriptures, 'Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.' Mark 16:15. In doing so they believe that they are obeying a commandment of God.

The hand distribution of religious tracts is an age-old form of missionary evangelism--as old as the history of printing presses. It has been a potent force in various religious movements down through the years. This form of evangelism is utilized today on a large scale by various religious sects whose colporteurs carry the Gospel to thousands upon thousands of homes and seek through personal visitations to win adherents to their faith. It is more than preaching; it is more than distribution of religious literature. It is a combination of both. Its purpose is as evangelical as the revival meeting. This form of religious activity occupies the same high estate under the First Amendment as do worship in the churches and preaching from the pulpits. It has the same claim to protection as the more orthodox and conventional exercises of religion. It also has the same claim as the others to the guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

This blissful state of affairs lasted more than three decades....

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Experiencing Technical Difficulties

Update: the problem is only with IE. If you use mozilla, things load fine. Still working on it....

The Bible in Public Schools - A follow up

A follow up on a previous post.

Two follow up articles. This very interesting read on the national phenomenon from the Dallas Morning News...

Roughly 80 percent of the schools using the national council's Bible course are small or rural districts, according to Ms. Ridenour, the group's president.

"It's not just gone into the Bible Belt states. It's gone into Alaska, Pennsylvania, California," Ms. Ridenour said. "We've already had over 170,000 students take the course nationwide. It's never been legally challenged."

Ms. Ridenour stressed that the curriculum is designed to help students understand the Bible in the context of its influence on culture and the arts. She emphasized it is not a course in Bible devotion.

"You wouldn't learn this in Sunday school class," she said. "How in the world could you understand what's going on in the Middle East today without introducing the Bible and understanding the background? How can they understand Michelangelo's Moses or Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper without knowing about the figures that inspired those works of art?"

Also, this from beliefnet.com:
"Americans have a long and bitter history of fighting over the role of the Bible in the classroom," said Charles C. Haynes, a scholar at The Freedom Forumn's First Amendment Center, a foundation with offices in Nashville and Arlington, Va. He added that public schools "should not inculcate or inhibit religion."

Haynes said it is a common misconception that the Supreme Court prohibited religious study from public institutions in a 1962 decision. Instead, it banned state-sponsored religious practices, he said.

According to Haynes, who has worked in partnership with the Bible Literacy Project, teaching academic Bible courses is not in violation of the First Amendment as long they are taught "objectively as part of a secular program of education."

Haynes said he hopes the latest report and anticipated textbook will dispel misconceptions.

"After fighting about this for over 150 years I think it's about time for public schools to move past the controversy and include study of the Bible," Haynes said.

"If we care about education we must."
This will certainly be an interesting issue to see develop. And as Burleez says, a valuable opportunity to see if progressives have had their ears to the ground...


What Happened to Democracy?


President Bush holding hands with Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdullah at the Bush ranch this week.

The President welcomes dictators who deny their citizens basic human rights? The Saudi "monarchy" presides over a country where freedom of expression is "nonexistent," where political parties are not permitted, where there is no free press, where peaceful anti-government protest is "unthinkable," and where "infringements on privacy [abound], gender discrimination [is institutionalized], harsh restrictions on the exercise of religious freedom [are enforced], and the use of capital and corporal punishment" is common for trivial crimes. (Human Rights Watch.) The Saudi regime also supports terrorists.

Saddam Hussein got an invasion; Prince Abdullah gets an invitation to the ranch. What's the difference between the two again?