Desperate Houseflies: The Magazine

Feel free to pull out your trusty fly swatter and comment on what is posted here, realizing that this odd collection of writers may prove as difficult to kill as houseflies and are presumably just as pesky. “Desperate Houseflies” is a magazine that intends to publish weekly articles on subjects such as politics, literature, history, sports, photography, religion, and no telling what else. We’ll see what happens.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I'm Not a Closer

I don't have the best discipline when it comes to reading books. I seem to like buying books as much as reading them, which then creates a dilemma because I love starting new books as much as I like finishing ones I'm already reading. So, I have, at present, ten books started. I'm about half-way through each of them. Bad news is I'm expecting another book in the mail later today, so I'll not be making any progress on the books I've started.

So, I'll tease you with some upcoming posts. Don't even pretend you're not interested, as the books portion of this blog is the backbone, the air that fills the lungs and what-have-you and etc.

I didn't read much as a teenager, so I kind of missed out on all of the Fantasy Fiction that gets so many people interested in reading. For instance, I didn't read The Lord of the Rings until I was 25-ish. And a confession that I'll go talk more about next week (or, more likely, at some date later than next week) is that I don't like that book. Well, one qualifier: I loved the first part of the book, The Fellowship of the Ring. The last two installments were painful and predictable and, gasp, boring. At least for me. (Another qualifier is that I loved the first and third movies in the trilogy.) Then a couple of summers ago after a heated graduate-league softball game, one of my professors told me to read Dune. It blew me away. It made me want to read more Fantasy Fiction. So, at the moment, I have three different Fantasy Series going. The genre is starting to make more sense to me, and reading the other series (Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series; China Mielville's New Corbuzon (that's not what it's called, but I don't think the trilogy has an actual name -- the books just take place in a town called New Corbuzon [and I might be misspelling that, as I don't have it in front of me]); and George R. R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice series) has helped me understand more about the genre and also explain why I didn't connect with Tolkien.

I'm also reading some academic-y stuff, just to make myself feel smart. Namely David Hume (got to love the Scottish philosophers -- can I get a witness Coolhand?) and Margaret Himley's wonderful book: Shared Territory: Understanding Children's Writing as Works.

Another tease. About a month ago, as you all remember, I mentioned Dan Chaon's You Remind Me of Me. I'm close to finishing this one. It is so very good. If you all buy it, I won't feel the need to write a rushed review of it (our editor is very pushy when it comes to deadlines). And a brief aside for anyone thinking of giving me a present. A very dear friend of mine gave me this book while I was in the hospital a couple of years ago. She wrote a very sweet note to me in the front of the book. So now, everytime I pick the book up, it reminds me of her. That is how you give someone a gift.

And in the spirit of Spring Training, I picked up a copy of Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball. I devoured the first half and am hoping to finish it, well, whenever it is I decide to finish the books I've started.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Thought For Thursday

If we want to know what happiness is we must seek it, not as if it were a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but among human beings who are living richly and fully the good life. If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under the radiator. He will have become aware that he is happy in the course of living twenty-four crowded hours of the day...

To find happiness we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves...

No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellow-men.

- W. Beran Wolfe, How to Be Happy Though Human, 1931

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Teaching About Gay Issues In Sex Ed Causes Controversy

Hi all, I have a brief due on Thursday so I didn't have time to write a real post this week. And there was not much out there this morning on my usual suspects, but I finally found this Christian Science Monitor article that was pretty interesting. Now, as you guys know, I have my own views on why the gay panic is occurring with such ferocity. On the other hand, I have an incredibly hard time sympathizing with these parents because I can't understand what they consciously believe they are upset about. Maybe someone can explain to me why inclusion is perceived as conversion, because I. don't. get. it.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Exhibit A: Strict Father v. Nurturant Parent, on Abortion

Read this interview. This author's work is a perfect example of how strict-father morality infuses the pro-life movement. (Note that pro-life activists are defined separately from pro-life people). And how nurturant-parent morality is at work in the pro-choice movement's efforts to reduce abortions by providing better access to birth control, child care, family leave, etc. I know it's not my day, but this just fit so perfectly with my previous post.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Plethora of Sports Notes: "Jefe, what is a plethora?"

An NBA note:
What’s worse than being the worst team in the league? (A title the New York Knicks hold with little argument.) … Paying more than $94 million to hold the dubious crown. I mean have you seen what these losers are making?!

Obligatory Olympic Mention:
With Jeremy Bloom placing sixth in the moguls on Wednesday, yet another promising American endorser has failed to medal. That makes zero medals so far for Michelle Kwan, Bode Miller, Apolo Anton Ohno and Jeremy Bloom. All that hype with so little substance.

NL Central Fantasy Round-up: Part II
Houston Astros:
Much of the talk in Houston surrounding this team will be about two players who likely won't have a role on this team, at least initially. Look, Jeff Bagwell has had a great career, and we can argue about his Hall of Fame stats later. But this team is likely more productive moving Lance Berkman to first base and playing an outfield of Preston Wilson, Willy Taveras and Jason Lane. As for Roger Clemens, he can't re-sign with the Astros until May. My guess is this story won't die for another six weeks and he eventually goes back to Houston. Where should you draft him? I think he's coming back, and even if he misses a month, or five starts, so what? With that ERA, he could be a top-10 pitcher again.
Fantasy questions:
-- What happens to Chris Burke? A year ago, this guy was going to be the NL's top rookie, a 40-steal second baseman with some pop. Has anything changed? It sure has. Burke never really got that chance last season. Outfield liability Craig Biggio was moved back to second base, and Burke actually became the left fielder, but in a platoon. He didn't hit, he didn't run, he didn't win Rookie of the Year. I'd guess Burke is worked into the lineup in the outfield and up the middle occasionally for Biggio and Adam Everett, and if he hits, he'll play. His numbers from 2005 tell us nothing.
-- Does Preston Wilson have anything left? There's no question Wilson still has power. He hit 25 home runs last year, 15 of them for the Rockies and the rest for the Nationals. Now a gun for hire on gimpy knees and with little chance for a good batting average and any stolen bases, Wilson goes to a favorable park, and if he can play 130 games, he could hit 30 home runs. Yeah, there's something left, but people have to forget the year he hit 36 HRs and drove in 141 RBIs. That was an anomaly. Wilson is really just a 25-90 guy at this point and, with the health risks, is not a top-50 outfielder.
-- Can one of the young pitchers emerge? It appears both Wandy Rodriguez and Ezequiel Astacio will find some time in the rotation. Both are strikeout guys young enough to improve, but I wouldn't draft either. Rodriguez had a 5.53 ERA, although it was a capable 4.44 after the All-Star break and he started allowing fewer home runs. Astacio had incredible minor league stats but allowed more home runs per start than even Eric Milton, 23 in only 81 innings. Now that's hard to do. Neither can be relied on yet.

LSU vs. USC: Score one for the idiots.
There seems to be a new rule. If you are an LSU fan, you don’t like USC.

Chalk it up to an inferiority complex, jealousy or the ever-present desire to poke a finger in the eye of your “rival.”

I found humorous. And I’m not surprised the Trojans want to respond. But now the whole thing is turning stupid – “Idiocy turns humor in to intimidation”

Questions and Answers

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart.
And try to love the questions themselves.
Do not seek the answers that cannot be given you
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it,
live along some distant day into the answer.
- Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, 1929

I’ve been in sort of a funk for the past few days. It isn’t a hurricane-related funk; it’s a lot more complicated and strange than that, and it won’t be easy for me to describe. I guess it is some weird combination of satisfaction and monotony, two words that surprised me when they appeared in my life this week.

I should begin by explaining that I like to make things happen. I’m a sucker for starting something. Not just anything, mind you, but when something seems worth doing – and when no one else knows where to start – I still possess enough naiveté and arrogance to go for it. I don’t know why, but this is simply part of what makes me “me.”

And I hate maintenance. I love sitting and dreaming and planning and then acting on those plans. My favorite material possessions in this world would be an ink pen, a blank legal pad, and a vision. But I find little enjoyment in maintaining something that has already been created. I can do it, but it is not characteristic of my soul.

When 2006 approached, I was convinced that one goal sufficed for all areas of my life. Beyond any doubt, I knew that my goal was survival. I wanted Hurricane Katrina to have taken her best shot at everything I knew, and when she was finished, I wanted the different areas of my life to have withstood her attack. For my workplace, I wanted there to still be a group of people gathering at our church’s building on Washington Avenue. For my community, I wanted my Habitat for Humanity affiliate to still be about the business of addressing poverty housing. For my family, I wanted us to emerge on the other side still standing strong. Together.

And we have. All of these things. It is odd to feel as if you have achieved all of your goals for a year by mid-February, but that is what has left me in a funk.

I used to have this grand vision for our church family, like a megachurch hooked on social justice, but my vision has changed over the years. I’m pretty happy with what we have now in lots of ways: a place where people from diverse backgrounds (religious, racial, family-type, socioeconomic, and age) can come and be accepted, a place where the leadership is encouraging and not discouraging to people hoping to follow Jesus, and a place that will be there for you when storms attack. Not to claim perfection, but in my new way of seeing “church,” I’m suddenly feeling a new sense of satisfaction.

I still have the same grand vision for Habitat for Humanity of Jackson County, but my role is beginning to change. We are taking on staff, and my term limits on the board are drawing to a close. I feel as if we are in a relay race, and it is nearly my time to hand off the baton. And having withstood the ferocious attack of Katrina that nearly knocked us out of the race, I’m proud to be handing off in stride.

And I’m in love with my family. I love the three ladies in my house with an overwhelming love. I am proud of my wife – of everything she is and stands for. And I’m proud of both my daughters and their directions in life. I am so proud it hurts to realize what they faced this past year and to see them happy of all things. They are heroic to me, and I treasure the character they displayed to the world over the past five months.

So I’m in a funk. You’d think a guy who faced a big storm of life would be giddy to have the satisfying sense that things are suddenly clicking on all cylinders, but you’d forget how weird I am. To reference Rilke’s poetry, there is something quite “unsolved” in my heart, and I’m trying to learn to love the questions. Not to settle into a fat and happy rut of life, but to live the questions. To chase answers.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, referring to Charles Lindbergh’s historic trans-Atlantic flight, once said, “In the spring of ’27, something bright and alien flashed across the sky. A young Minnesotan who seemed to have had nothing to do with his generation did a heroic thing, and for a moment people set down their glasses in country clubs and speakeasies and thought of their best old dreams.”

It is time for me to dream again. What about you?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Difference Between Us and Them

I have always been curious about why people believe the things they do, particularly with respect to morality. My own views seemed to spring, almost fully formed, from the natural impulses of my soul at a pretty young age (12). Struggles for equality always resonated with me; I was instinctively against capital punishment, war, racism, greed, and oppression. Why did this come to be so? (Many people have asked, including my parents, who share none of this).

It also has struck me that many people hold views on different issues in sets, or bundles, that are consistent with those of the political party or ideology to which they subscribe. But what makes those sets or bundles of views internally coherent? Why isn’t it the case that people form views of different issues that fall on both sides of the spectrum? (I.e., are against labor unions but in favor of affirmative action, or are in favor of animal rights and against environmental regulation).

These questions puzzled me until I read George Lakoff’s 1996 book Moral Politics. Lakoff explained the basic worldviews behind conservative and progressive politics in an utterly coherent and persuasive way. (Some of you may know of Lakoff as a political advisor and progressive luminary -- try to ignore that. The book stands on its own). More recently, Rabbi Michael Lerner has echoed the same basic principles in his new book The Left Hand of God. Here’s what Lerner says: “[Left] means looking at the universe through the perception that love, kindness, generosity and caring for others are the central ontological realities of life, and that when they do not manifest in the world in which we live, the world is distorted and needs to be healed. [Right], conversely, means looking at the universe through the perception that life is a struggle of all against all, and that the only path to security is through domination of others.”

Lakoff’s unique riff on these basic ideas is that people view government in a way similar to the way in which they view the family. Thus, the models or concepts of how children should be raised that resonate with you bear on your policy preferences regarding how government should relate to its citizens. Lakoff calls the two moral systems “Strict Father Morality” and “Nurturant Parent Morality.” I will closely paraphrase him in my descriptions of them. But first it is important to note that most people do not have internally coherent worldviews, so one could conceivably use one model in her own family but another in viewing politics or, more likely, mix both in both spheres. In addition, many people do not subscribe 100% to one or the other worldview, but are susceptible to being influenced by both. I’m sure that many people struggle with Strict Father impulses but really aspire to be Nurturant Parents.

Strict Father morality presupposes that people operate based on rewards and punishments, and that if left to their own devices, people satisfy their desires rather than being responsible. Punishment and reward are lionized as the way to make children become good people. The exercise of authority, accomplished primarily through physical punishment, is moral because it teaches children to be self-disciplined. If children are not taught to become self-disciplined, they will not be able to survive in a difficult world.

Competition is central to Strict Father Morality because survival is thought of as a matter of competing successfully. Thus, competition itself is moral, and anything that undermines competition is immoral, because without competition, there is no source of reward for self-discipline. Through competition we discover who is moral, i.e. sufficiently self-disciplined to be “successful.”

The concept of moral authority in the community is patterned after the concept of moral authority in the family, i.e., citizens are subject to authority and are expected to be obedient. Those in authority are charged with setting standards or rules and enforcing them.

The most central piece of the Strict Father worldview, though, is the idea that the Moral Order is the Natural Order (what used to the called the Great Chain of Being). In this view, God has power/moral authority over people; people have power/moral authority over animals; adults have power/moral authority over children; men have power/moral authority over women. This way of thinking presupposes that certain classes of existing power relations are natural, and therefore moral. If whites are more powerful than blacks, for example, then whites must have moral authority over blacks (e.g., white man’s burden). A less controversial example: Since the rich are more powerful than the poor, then the rich must have moral authority over the poor. The myth of the American Dream flows from this notion: everyone has the opportunity to become successful. Therefore, if you don’t, you either haven’t worked hard enough or you aren’t talented enough. Either way, you are lower in the moral order and therefore the rich have moral authority over you. Hierarchy and dominance, in the Strict Father worldview, are necessary and moral.

This is a harsh, uncompassionate, and pessimistic way to view the world. It has always struck me as profoundly wrong and deeply immoral.

Nurturant Parent morality holds that “primal experience is being cared for and cared about, having one’s desires for loving interactions met, living as happily as possible, and deriving meaning from mutual interaction and care.” Children become responsible, self-disciplined, and self-reliant through being cared for and respected, and through caring for others. The obedience of children comes out of their love and respect for their parents, not out of the fear of punishment. Open, two-way, mutually respectful communication is crucial.

The principal goal of nurturance is for children to be fulfilled and happy in their lives and to become nurturant themselves. What children need to learn most is empathy for others, the capacity for nurturance, cooperation, and the maintenance of social ties, which cannot be done without the strength, respect, self-discipline and self-reliance that comes through being cared for and caring.

This model does not assume that people primarily learn through reward and punishment. Instead, it assumes that people learn by positive example and through positive experiences. In this view, people are interdependent, a nonhierarchical relationship. Hierarchical relationships should therefore be minimized, and legitimate authority comes from the ability to nurture rather than out of dominance. In the Nurturant Parent model, morality is empathy, being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and wanting that person to have a sense of well-being. Morality is also social nurturance (helping people who need help), self-nurturance (taking care of your own basic needs so that you can properly nurture others), and happiness (because unhappy people are less likely to be able to nurture others).

These are greatly simplified summaries of Lakoff’s theory, of course. I don’t even have space to get into the best part of his analysis, which is how each of these systems of thought lead to the conservative and progressive positions on various policy issues. The whole time I was reading, I was like, of course, why hadn’t I thought of this before? But it also scared me, because there is little to reconcile between the two views of the world.

Overall, though, with fits and starts and periods of partial regression following periods of progress, I believe that the world has been evolving away from Strict Father morality and toward Nurturant Parent morality for some time, and that we will continue to sweep more and more of the tenets of Strict Father morality into the dustbin of history as time goes on. And why not? Strict Father morality is gloomy, negative, and joyless, not to mention antidemocratic. Nurturant Parent morality is much more likely to create a world in which people are happy and spiritually fulfilled. And that’s the kind of world that I want to live in.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Quick Thoughts

No article this week. (So what's new?)

Here are a couple of political musings to discuss:

- Does not releasing a story for 24 hours constitute a "cover-up"? Poor staff work and clumsy handling most probably, but cover up? How could the VP shooting someone be covered up? C'mon folks... we do NOT live inside a bad Wesley Snipes movie.

- Please, oh please, let Ted Kennedy come out and comment on the slow reporting of Cheney's hunting mishap. I won't mention the word, but it starts with "Chap" and ends with "quiddick."

- The press contends that the public had a "right to know" about the Cheney mishap as soon as it occurred. Doesn't the public also have a "right to know" what the Jyllands Posten cartoons look like? C'mon big media, we have a right to know. Don't give us the pixellation cop-out (I'm looking at you CNN).

- The British press won't publish the Jyllands Posten cartoons because they don't want to incite animosity from Muslims. So instead they run two year old video and photos of British soldiers beating Iraqi citizens during riot control. Mmmmm-kay.

- Speaking of photos... Did you actually see the Bush/Abramoff photo published yesterday? I feel sorry for the poor sap that had to pore over the photo with a magnifying glass in order to find Abramoff. In the future, I don't think the press should put circles around Abramoff in the photos to help us find him. They should superimpose a red and white sweater and hat on Abramoff. Call the feature "Where's Jack?" and it could replace the crossword puzzle in the NY Times on Sundays.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Problem of Evil

It is typically called, “The problem of evil.” Here is a simple, yet precise, definition from J.L. Mackie, “Evil and Omnipotence,” in The Problem of Evil, ed. by Michael L. Peterson (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992) p. 89-90:

“God is omnipotent; God is wholly good; and yet evil exists. There seems to be some contradiction between these three propositions, so that if any two of them were true, the third would be false.”

Typically, it is a philosophical argument that we talk about when things are going great. Life isn’t really going too badly so, we just go on and think about the problems the world faces. We see the suffering of others sometimes and just wonder why that happens.

Aside from the perhaps obvious atheistic answer being “God does not exist,” (I don’t mean to simplify this so easily as their arguments are complex, but this is the basic point from which there is an attempt to defeat any defenses from the theistic point of view) there are theistic answers such as the free will defense, possible world theory (i.e., maybe this is the best of all possible worlds that God could have created), redemptive value in suffering, a theology that suggests that God is not completely omnipotent (process theology), or is at least open to the future (theology of God’s openness), and there are even attempts to separate out the issue into categories such as “natural evil” and “moral evil.”

Rather than going into detail about all these theories, I’d rather pose what is perhaps a more important question, namely, “Why does evil happen to me?” I’m not saying we don’t care when it happens to others, but we care more deeply when something goes wrong in our own lives. We addressed this somewhat last week with the idea of “obstinate faith,” as an answer to life’s situations, but we never really addressed this from a “God” point of view, in the sense of dealing with God’s culpability.

An even different approach sometimes occurs to us in the form of, “Why is that scoundrel (fill in whatever name you like here) doing so well in life after all the bad he/she has done?”

But even from another perspective we could ask, “Why does all this good happen to me?” Or even, “Why does good happen to anyone?”

You see, I feel like we’re asking for a fair system based upon merit, which, when we really think about it, that is not the way the world works, does it? At its very basic level, this is what we experience as what is most problematic. In other words, “If I knew what it was I was doing to deserve this, I’d stop doing it so that things would go better for me. What am I doing wrong? And if I’m not doing anything to deserve this, why is it happening?” It does come down to the question, “Why isn’t God running things more to my liking?” and, “Why isn’t there a system of rewards and punishments so I could at least know where I stand?” From the other point of view, “There must not be a God because a loving one sure couldn’t let the world run this way.”

An interesting guy named Habakkuk had that same question, but did not get the answer he either wanted or expected. Instead, he pretty much got more questions than answers. Here’s how the basic storyline goes:

Habakkuk: God, haven’t you seen all the injustice happening in my little corner of the world today? Why don’t you fix it? I thought you hated evil.

God: So, you’ve noticed, huh? Well, I intend to do something about it, but something so ridiculous that you wouldn’t believe it even if I described it in detail from beginning to end. I’m bringing a ruthless nation in to destroy your nation and take everyone into exile.

Habakkuk: What?! Now you really don’t know what you’re doing! I thought it was bad before, but how can you let a people more evil destroy people less evil than them? I thought you couldn’t tolerate evil. What are you thinking, God? Let me wait here and see if you will answer me again.

God: I see the evil going on and one way or another, my people will see it, too. By this punishment, they will come to know that I will not tolerate the way they oppress the powerless. As for the righteous ones, I’m not so worried about them. This is the necessary way to do it and those who understand me will live by their trust in me anyway. I don’t expect you to understand completely, but this is how it has to be.

Habakkuk: Why can’t you just save us like you always did in the past? I know the stories. Why don’t you just do it that way? Why all this horror? Here we are in the midst of your punishment and I can’t understand why you don’t save us now. But even in this calamity, I will still trust you. You know what is best even if I don’t agree with it.

[End of my paraphrased understanding of the conversation between God and Habakkuk in the book of the Bible called Habakkuk.]

What is your answer? What are some other answers you have heard? Are they satisfying? Is the answer Habakkuk gets satisfying? Do you have problems with the way I characterize the book of Habakkuk?

As always, let me know what you think.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Picture of the Day

It is supposed to be the coldest night of the year tonight in Ocean Springs, though that only means lows in the upper 20s. Still, it has me dreaming of blue skies & baseball.

This picture is from Ameriquest field in Arlington on a hot summer's day in 2004.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The sports contributor sucks

College Basketball
Think about this one: It's not a stretch to see Gonzaga as the fourth No. 2 seed and Duke as the top No. 1 seed. If that occurs, we could get our potential Adam Morrison vs. Redick matchup in the Elite Eight in Atlanta.

Fantasy sports owners are every where. It is with fantasy sports in mind that I begin a series evaluating teams for the upcoming baseball from the perspective of the fantasy franchise owner.First up, the dreaded Cards…

St. Louis Cardinals: Even if Scott Rolen didn't get hurt last season, St. Louis wasn't winning the World Series. It's not as though the Cards lost to the Astros because they had bad play at third base. The Astros played better the final few months. It was like the Steelers never losing again after Thanksgiving, except the Astros ran into dominant starting pitching in the White Sox. Anyway, the Cards are strong again, despite a few losses, and are perhaps the only NL playoff lock at this point. But there are questions.

Fantasy questions:
-- Is Rolen healthy, and where should we draft him? That nasty first base collision with big boy Hee Seop Choi pretty much ruined Rolen's season, and yours if you like Rolen or picked him on your fantasy team. He was coming off 34-124 and a .314 average. Is Rolen that good? Should we expect that again? I'd say no, but don't forget about the guy, either. He's not Barry Bonds coming off three knee surgeries. Rolen's shoulder is getting better, and the Cards expect him to be ready for Opening Day. Maybe he won't reach 30 homers, but he's going to knock in runs and hit for average. I’ve seen his average rank among third basemen around Rolen seventh, which seems about right. He's in the Eric Chavez-Melvin Mora range. I could definitely see him finish in the top five, though..

-- Is it time we forget about that Chris Carpenter injury history? Yes, it probably is. Carpenter made 33 starts last season and was a deserving Cy Young winner. That's two straight seasons he has been terrific, and he has averaged 18 wins in those seasons. Forget about his Blue Jays days. He's a top-20 player overall and one of the top three pitchers.

-- What about Sidney Ponson? You won't find me drafting him. I looked at that 17-12 Orioles-Giants season from 2003 and wondered why he can't do it again, but then I looked at his last two seasons, his weight, etc. I think he can get that ERA into the 4s, but in my opinion he's not worth it.

A few post-Super Bowl random thoughts: I'm not surprised Pittsburgh won, even though I had Seattle going into it, but let me make a few points.
  • Until the fourth quarter, Matt Hasselbeck played as well as I've ever seen a Super Bowl QB play whose team was trailing entering the last 15 minutes. Even though I would have liked to see Shaun Alexander running more -- except in the last minute of the first half, a dumb call that drained the clock -- Mike Holmgren called a good game, and Hasselbeck read Pittsburgh's defense as you can. If he gets more help from his receivers and refs, Seattle wins this.
  • The position that impressed me most Sunday was Seattle's offensive line in pass protection. For the most part, Hasselbeck had time to pick the Steelers apart, and Pittsburgh didn't blitz as much as I expected.
  • Pittsburgh had 181 yards rushing, and 105 of them came in the third quarter. To that point, Seattle's defense had done well against the Steelers. The Seahawks picked a bad time to fall apart.
  • This was the first time an AFC team had won when ABC was televising the game.
  • Rolling Stones halftime show: Not a fan. And I could really do with out the camera shots behind Mick Jagger as he shakes his octogenarian money-maker.
  • Big Ben's passer rating of 22.6 is the lowest for a winning QB. No wonder he felt so relieved to win. If he hadn't played so well during the playoffs, there's no way Pittsburgh would have gotten past anyone. One more take: His 37-yarder to Hines Ward in the second quarter was Elway-esque: Roll left, throw back right, huge gain. Roethlisberger is the youngest QB to ever win a Super Bowl and will be back, I'm sure.
  • I'm not sure whether Holmgren was miked for the game, but I would love to hear an unfiltered account of what he said after Big Ben's iffy touchdown stood, after all of Jerramy Stevens' drops and after the two missed field goals.
  • Wright Thompson had a good account of The Bus' walk out of football
  • For my money, I preferred the Ameriquest Financial commercials. But I don’t want to “judge too quickly.”

And finally a less Super thought on football from a Saints Fan: USC quarterback Matt Leinart was in Detroit for a sponsorship deal in which a sweepstakes is being held to have a fan go with him to the NFL draft. Most people expect Leinart to be the No. 2 pick to the New Orleans Saints. The good news for the Saints is that Leinart isn't going to pull an Eli Manning.
"I feel like it's an honor being drafted," Leinart said. He said he has no plans to manipulate the draft. He'd been content to be No. 1 with Houston, No. 2 with the Saints or No. 3 with the Titans. Getting a chance to be with former USC coach Norm Chow would also interest him. "If I was reunited with coach Chow, it will be cool," he said.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Do You Believe In Miracles?

I was already deep in the infatuation stage of my love affair with sports at age nine when the Winter Olympics rolled into Lake Placid in early 1980. I had already studied every sports magazine I could lay my hands on in desperate preparation. I knew the stories of Eric and Beth Heiden. I practiced pronouncing the name, Ingemar Stenmark. I selected Mark Johnson as my favorite hockey player (he reminded me of Luke Skywalker). And I was very familiar with the chances the United States hockey team had against the Soviet Union.

So at a most impressionable stage of life, I was glued to the television as the American hockey team made its improbable run to the gold medal stand. But when an elated Al Michaels asked the timeless question, Do you believe in miracles?, I had no idea he was asking me one of the most important questions of life.

The Olympics are inspirational. This is intended to be an inspirational column. And as I thought about combining the two today, it struck me that an affirmative answer to Al Michaels’ question is very nearly prerequisite to being inspired in the first place.

A miracle is defined as “an event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature,” and I happen to think it is downright important to believe in such things in order to (a) sometimes just keep going, and (b) when truly inspired, to reach for the stars.

To go back to the Uncle Hub well from Secondhand Lions, “Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love… true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.”

Or take the fantastic story of the fiery furnace from the Jewish prophet, Daniel, when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego declared, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Or from the Christian Bible, the words of Jesus: “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Do you believe inn miracles? It is required to go for the gold, to pursue true love, to face the fire, and to move mountains. That’s what I believe.

When I counsel married folks who hate each other’s guts, it takes a belief in miracles to give love another chance. When I try to comfort a grieving human being mourning the death of a friend, it takes a belief in miracles to latch on to a shred of the word “comfort.” And when I faced the devastation wrought by a hellish hurricane, it took a belief in miracles to pick up the first bit of debris and talk of rebuilding our community.

Do you believe in miracles?

I choose to believe. They make movies and write books about people who believe.

And the alternative sucks.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Evolution, Intelligent Design, et al.

I'm not going to do a whole separate post about this, but I wanted to link to an article from this weekend's Washington Post magazine about the whole evolution/intelligent design issue. I have read tons of articles on this topic, and I found this one particularly good and, um, balanced. One caveat: not all who have studied Darwin agree that his writings provided support for the later theory of so-called "social Darwinism." I have read articles that argue just the opposite -- that social Darwinism is a corruption of Darwin's work. I don't know enough to profess a belief one way or the other, but I thought I would at least flag that issue.

Anyway, enjoy the article!

Birth Control, Anyone?

I hate to keep dwelling on these darn reproductive topics, but I'm really curious about what Christians think about something, so please forgive me for always posting on "women's issues." Today, I'd like to inquire where folks who read this blog stand on the issue-that-I-never-in-my-wildest-dreams-thought-would-become-an-issue: birth control.

See, when I was growing up in the 1980s, the conventional wisdom was that a few kooky Catholics might be against birth control (and an even smaller subset of them might act on that belief), but that other than that, the issue was settled. Birth control was great and wonderful and every woman with any sense used it except when specifically trying to procreate. But now, in the new millenium, there's all this conscience clause legislation and pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for the birth control pill and I was wondering what it was all about, so I did a little research (and I do mean a little, I could not write a term paper on this).

Now, I should be specific: the main objections to birth control that I have heard about (other than those from the aforementioned kooky Catholics) are about the birth control pill, Norplant, Depo-Provera, and IUDs, not about condoms or diaphragms (the so-called "barrier methods"). The argument is that the birth control pill can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting, and is thus an abortifacient (i.e., tantamount to having an abortion). Although the literature states that the birth control pill prevents ovulation, in fact ovulation does occur from 4 to 50% of the time, and in some subset of those cases fertilization occurs, and in such cases the birth control pill works by preventing implantation. Apparently there has been a huge conspiracy on the part of the pharmaceutical companies who profit from the Pill to keep this information from the public.

So then, maybe there's no moral or ethical difference between abortion and at least certain types of birth control. That's certainly what Randy Alcorn of Eternal Perspective Ministries thinks. I guess that means I'll never know how many human beings I've murdered, since I used birth control pills for ten years off and on. Of course, the pro-life folks tell me that I am not culpable for these murders since I was unaware (you have to scroll way down to get to that part; this page also explains very clearly and at length what the pro-life argument is on this issue).

Interestingly enough, I am not a huge fan of hormonal birth control for most women for other reasons -- you know, crunchy granola stuff about putting unnecessary chemicals and synthetic hormones into your body. I read a terrific book last summer called Taking Charge of Your Fertility, and it advocates the Fertility Awareness Method, which involves a lot of tedious stuff like taking your temperature every day and keeping detailed records of your cervical fluid (sorry to be graphic, guys!). I think that for a lot of women, especially those who are in long-term monogamous relationships, this is a much better way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and to really be aware of how your body works. I learned so much -- stuff that it's criminal they don't teach girls in school. (I would explain it more, but that would involve being graphic).

What do you all think about this birth control issue? If you didn't know this information before today (I didn't), does it change your views on the birth control pill and other hormonal forms of birth control? Has anyone seen research or views from medical professionals contradicting the pro-life arguments expressed on the websites linked above? Is there a real chance that the birth control pill will be banned in the United States?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Obstinate Faith

It is what Bernhard Anderson, in Contours of Old Testament Theology, is talking about when he says, “In the Old Testament faith is steadfast reliance on God amid the uncertainties and insecurities of life.” (p. 1)

It is echoed in the words of Rachel, a mother of four who is stuck in a horrible, one-bedroom, broken down hotel room, with no money and not much food, from Jonathan Kozol’s book, Rachel and Her Children, (p.71):

“Listen to me. I didn’t say that God forsaken us. I am confused about religion. I’m just sayin’ evil overrules the good. So many bad things goin’ on. Lot of bad things right here in this buildin’. It’s not easy to believe. I don’t read the Bible no more ‘cause I don’t find no more hope in it. I don’t believe. But yet and still...I know these words.” She reads aloud: “ ‘Lie down in green pastures...leadeth me beside still waters...restores my soul...I shall not want.’

“All that I want is somethin’ that’s my own. I got four kids. I need four plates, four glasses, and four spoons. Is that a lot? I know I’m poor. Don’t have no bank account, no money, or no job. Don’t have no nothin’. No foundation. Then and yet my children have a shot in life. They’re innocent.”

It is how Paul talks about Abraham in Romans 4:18 how he “hoped against hope” even though it did not look like he would have a child with his wife Sarah because they were both too old. It is Job who after he learns that he has lost everything he owns and all of his children, yet says in Job 1:21, “Yahweh gave, and Yahweh has taken away; blessed be the name of Yahweh.”

Why is this? How is this? Are these people crazy? How can they trust in God when life’s circumstances are horrible? The answer is what I call obstinate faith. It’s like saying, “God, I have no clue what you are doing and I think you are not running things very well, but I’m going to trust in you anyway.” It is the two-year-old child that will throw himself on the floor in a screaming tantrum rather than concede defeat.

How are we to think of such things? Why do people do this? When there is absolutely no hope, why continue to believe? It is the “problem of evil” at its worst. We don’t know why; we don’t understand; but we trust anyway.


Saturday, February 04, 2006

Picture of the Day

My desk at home with my newly autographed Albert Pujols baseball on it! I caught Pujols in a home run derby at the University of South Alabama today, and I was fortunate enough to get his autograph afterwards.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

I Heart Sports, Especially the Ones You Can Watch While Reading a Book

People with real jobs, and people not living on the West Coast, likely missed most of the Australian Open. My job is way flexible, and I live on the West Coast, so I didn't have to stay up too late to watch the live coverage. I'm not a big tennis fan, but the tournament had a lot to offer. There were good story-lines, from Federer chasing history to Baghdatis and his chanting and very un-tennis-like fans to Martina Hingis' return to tennis. And the broadcasters. I wish the rest of ESPN would follow the lead of these announcers. Chris Fowler was the anchor, I guess, alongside Brad Gilbert (Agassi's coach). They were insightful and funny and kept me interested even when there wasn't an actual tennis match being played. The play-by-play teams were actually not annoying to listen to. They'd argue over things I didn't really understand, and they talked tennis language that didn't always make sense to me, but, and this is the part I really liked, they'd go for long periods of time without saying anything. They let the play on the court speak for itself. They didn't assume the audience was comprised of a bunch of idiots who needed to hear a cliched analogy or metaphor every few minutes.

The only upsetting part of the coverage for me was a short piece that one of the reporters did on Hingis' return to tennis. Hingis was a great story. She returned after three years of retirement and played incredibly well. She smiled a lot and seemed to enjoy playing the game. The story focused on how in her younger days she beat opponents not by hitting the ball harder than anyone else but by out-thinking them. She was a smart player who was constantly thinking several hits ahead of the opposition.

The disturbing part of the piece was when the reporter talked about why Hingis quit playing tennis three years ago. The game had changed. The players were becoming bigger and stronger. They had started beating her because they could overpower her. Naturally, Venus and Serena Williams were shown beating Hingis. The Williams sisters did change the tennis world. But there were other power players emerging along with the Williams. Lindsay Davenport, Maria Sharapova (well, she's a little younger, but still a power player). So, Hingis returns. She returns as Serena and Venus are playing injured, and this was noted. But this wasn't the end of the note about the Williams.

There were a few seconds where both Venus and Serena were the focus of the camera. They were smashing the ball past opponents. The reporter then said, while the Williams were on the screen, that for the past few years, it was muscle and power rather than intelligence that won tournaments. No other power players were shown, just the two black women. But now, when there bodies are ailing, there seems to be a change in the tennis world. The world of women's tennis seems to have learned that power alone isn't enough to win tournaments. Evidenced by the Williams sisters losing early on in this tournament.

I was disturbed. The two most dominant tennis players of the past 4 or 5 years were, it was insinuated, only dominant because of their physical power. Moreover, if they have to rely on intelligence, they'll cease to be a factor in tennis.

I really don't have much more to add. I was stunned. Lots of tennis players get hurt. Both of the Williams have been playing injured for the past year (and managed to win several tournaments). I realize that the piece was intended to emphasize why Hingis was able to succeed after a three year layoff. She's not as strong as other players, but she knows the game and knows how to think her way through a match.

As if Venus and Serena don't know how to do this. As if it they aren't smart and never have to think their way through matches. As if they have nothing else to offer the game of tennis now that they aren't necessarily the strongest two players on the tour.

I think it's very fair to criticize the Williams sisters about some things, and I honestly don't know how smart they are on the court. But I am disturbed that these were the only two players in all of tennis associated with failing to succeed when intelligence brought into question. For a brief moment in the year 2006 during world-wide coverage, intelligence was linked directly to skin color.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

What It's All About

A volunteer from New London, Iowa

(So I'm a day early. Sue me. Wait, not Annie, Coolhand, or Sandi - you guys DON'T sue me...)


It is now February, and I have a headache. I think it is sinus-related, but I’m not sure. And the phone won’t stop ringing, which makes headaches so much more fun. And I’m busy, too. I’m so happy I could cry, and I just might.

But the weather is breathtaking. Upper sixties, blue skies, cotton ball clouds, bright sunshine... February in Ocean Springs has its definite high points. And volunteer groups just keep coming (hence, the incessant ringing of the telephone). More and more people cannot wait to get here and work out of the simple goodness of their hearts. And last night, headache and all, I remembered what life is all about.

There are thirteen here from the New London Christian Church in Iowa, along with two tag-alongs from Monmouth, Illinois. They range in age from middle-school boys to gray-haired men, which means their work days range from sifting through sand with a family looking for personal belongings to sheetrock finishing work. They arrived Sunday evening and will work until Friday before heading back on their LOOONNNGG trek to Iowa. They asked me to come to supper on Tuesday night and just share some stories of what it’s been like to be here these five long months. So I did.

When I sat down with them, they began what I learned to be a nightly tradition with them called “highs and lows.” They went around the room and everyone shared their low moment of the day followed by their high moment. Always in that order.

I was touched.

The adults were contemplative for the most part, one lady near tears upon reflecting that her low moment was having to leave work at a family’s house when there was so much more to do. Things like that you know. The teenage girls were contemplative, too, which was impressive. And surprisingly, so were the middle-school boys! Every one was thoughtful, a bit goofy from time to time of course because they are real people who love each other.

And like I say, I was touched. These were not new feelings that they expressed. These were feelings I knew all too well, the highs and lows of this roller coaster of the past five months, but I had been growing a bit desensitized to it all. And it surprised me to see it again. So real. So close.

I think I’ve been constructing a shell in some half-baked plan of developing a routine and trying to “get back to normal” (to use that blasted phrase). My shell was broken a bit last night, though, when I heard the highs and lows of a love-prompted day that makes life worth living in the first place.

And I thought that this must be what life is all about on some level. Highs and Lows. Wait, I’ve got them out of order: Lows and Highs. Every day’s got ‘em. Ignoring the lows is about as healthy as ignoring the highs I guess.

And I thought, Wouldn’t it be nice to spend your day doing your best to spread some love and then gather together every night with people who love you back and just throw it all out on the table, the good and the bad?

But always end on the good.

With hope.

Today, I have a headache. But the weather is simply gorgeous.

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