Friday, September 30, 2005

Abortion as a Crime Fighter

Bill Bennett has stirred the Roe v. Wade pot again. This week, he ignited a controversy with his comments on race and abortion:

You could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.

That would be an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.
Whoah, that doesn't sound good. What's the background here?

Well, last spring, a book called "Freakonomics" was released which publicized to the general population the theory that one of the impacts of Roe v. Wade was a drop in crime rates in the '90s. Bill Bennett was using the same rationale to point out that, yes, it is quite certain statistically that the crime rate would drop if all blacks were aborted. Irregardless, though, it is extremely politically incorrect to say so. Hopefully Bennett is aware of that based on his second sentence and his later attempts to clarify.

The problem with his statement, of course, is that he jumped directly to race. He could have (more wisely) used the words poor or disadvantaged instead of a race. And in fact, they would have been more accurate.

As is expected considering the media frenzy, Steven Levitt, author of Freakonomics, has written a response to the comments on his blog. Mostly, he says that he agrees with the correctness of the statement but finds it troubling that Bennett jumped to race as a factor:

He made a factual statement... and then he noted that just because a statement is true, it doesn't mean that it is desirable or moral.

The issue of putting a race on crime is one our country will be dealing with for a long time. Continued analysis can hopefully bring answers to why one most likely commits crime. Is race not a factor? Is it entirely income, the likelihood of growing up in a female-headed household, having a teenage mother, or how urban the environment is that leads to crime and not race? And if so, why are blacks disproportionately represented in those groups?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Does religion help society?

According to a recent study,
belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.
This obviously is not what most would resonate with based on their experiences. However, this study by Gregory Paul, published in the Journal of Religion and Society claims that, based on societal indicators such as higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, suicide, teen pregnancy, and abortion, there is a correlation between how religious a country is and how poorly they do in these areas.

Particularly he pointed at the United States as an example of a supposedly religious country that is functioning poorly. He says,
Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly skeptical world.

The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.
For instance, he says,
The study shows that England, despite the social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than the USA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religious nation than America.

He said that the disparity was even greater when the US was compared with other countries, including France, Japan and the Scandinavian countries. These nations had been the most successful in reducing murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion.
So why is this?

I don't necessarily doubt his numbers, but I do tend to disagree with his conclusions. Mr. Paul is basically calling the country hypocritical. He seems to have shown a correlation, but does not convince me of causality. Even if our country is more Christian, is it the Christians who are contributing to these statistics? Because these indicators are not present, are these other countries morally better or better functioning? Would a resident in those places have any better an experience than here?

Nonetheless, it is troubling to know that our country does struggle with some of these issues. I don't think religion is the bottom line cause, however. We need to continue to work on reaching out to the less fortunate among us, and hopefully some of the societal "ills" that befall our populace will continue to regress. The roots of our problems are likely manifold, but let us hope that the Christians amongst the Americans seek to serve as the counter to Mr. Paul's conclusion:
The non-religious, proevolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator.

The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Google Strikes Again

So at some point we'll run out of cool new things that Google is offering, right? Right??
Last week the NYT profiled a new service that Google, among other companies, is offering. It's called Google Answers.
Basically it's a service at which you can get a question answered for the right price. If you have a question, you post it on there with the amount you're willing to pay for an answer and an expert will anwer it if it's worth it to them.
Pretty cool. So if you have a question you've been dying to know the answer to, look no further for the place to find it.

Friday, September 23, 2005

5 Blades

Stop the presses. Gillete has upped the ante and revealed a -get this- five blade razor called Fusion. This, of course, is one more blade than competitor Schick's Quattro, which was one more blade than Gillette's Mach3.
I think this is getting a little silly. Does continuously adding one more blade really help that much? Personally, I don't care as I use an electric razor.
The crazy thing about this is that satirist The Onion predicted this a year and a half ago. [note: crude, graphic language was used]

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Getting Religion

An absolutely riveting piece could be found in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. It describes the author's look back at his own past as an evangelical (subtitling it My long-lost years as a teenage evangelical) through the lens of a new encounter with it at the recent Billy Graham crusade in New York City.

The story was extremely well-written and moved me in several distinct ways. It was sad, angry, hopeful, and melancholy. Mostly, though, I felt sadness. The author, a University of Chicago professor, was to me still searching. He seeks answers to life's deepest questions. He seems to act as a skeptic to shield himself from his own doubt over what is truth. I cannot suggest that you read the article enough for the simple fact that it will lead you to your own thoughts on Truth.

I would, however, like to go through a couple sections of it here and share the thoughts I have. Sit back, take a deep breath, and here's one Christian's perspective on the article.

The author begins by telling the story of his conversion.
Within a few months, I considered myself "saved".
He goes on to say,

Conversion stories are slippery things. "I once was lost, but now am found" - that's never the whole story, and it's usually not the end of the story. It wasn't for me.
A bit of foreshadowing. He goes on,

...But the thirst for knowledge isn't limited to those who attend the right schools. The caricature of American evangelicals as incurious and indifferent to learning is false. Visit any Christian bookstore and you will see that they are gluttons for learning - of a certain kind... If anything, it is their thirst for knowledge that undoes them. Like so many Americans, they know little about history, science, secular literature or, unless they are immigrants, foreign cultures. Yet their thirst for answers to the most urgent moral and existential questions is overwhelming. So they grab for the only glass in the room: God's revealed Word.
And further,
A half-century ago, an American Christian seeking assistance could have turned to the popularizing works of serious religious thinkers like Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, John Courtney Murray, Thomas Merton, Jacques Maritain and even Martin Buber and Will Herberg. Those writers were steeped in philosophy and the theological traditions of their faiths, which they brought to bear on the vital spiritual concerns of ordinary believers - ethics, death, prayer, doubt and despair. But intellectual figures like these have disappeared from the American landscape and have been replaced by half-educated evangelical gurus who either publish vacant, cheery self-help books or are politically motivated. If an evangelical wants to satisfy his taste for truth today, it's strictly self-service.

And I can see now how this state of affairs breeds a narrow fanaticism.
Whoah! This is where I felt some frustration. What of Ravi Zacharias, John Piper, J.I. Packer, and Millard Erickson? And how about even C.S. Lewis or Francis Schaeffer? Had they nothing to say? Can theology be worthless if it's a "half-century" old? First of all, isn't God's Word where every Christian should turn first? And secondly, it is unfair to say that new Christian thought is vacant when that is so obviously not the case; there are many examples of people who are fully educated, who write books that are neither "cheery self-help" or "politically motivated."

Back and forth the author moves from his past to the Billy Graham crusade.
As banal as Billy's punch line is, I am reminded of its power... The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Web site reports that during the three-day New York crusade, more than 8,700 "inquirers" came forward, hoping to be born again.
And this cannot be denied. However simplistic, false, or odd these crusades seem to many in society, there are thousands who find them exactly what they need.

But back to the story...
There are deeper forces at work: the yearning for truth, for love and, more elusively, for rebirth.

These are powerful forces, and they can also lead a soul out of faith, as they eventually did with me.
I sincerely feel that if someone is seeking THE truth, they will find it. Sadly, I don't think the author has.
After a few months I got myself into a squabble with someone over Scripture, and sat down the next day to study the verses my adversary had marshaled against me. To my surprise, I concluded he was right about what the Bible said. But in my heart I also knew he had to be wrong about the doctrine at hand. Which meant - it was the first time the thought really penetrated my mind - that the Bible might be wrong. My face flushed and I closed the book. It was my first step out of the world of faith and toward the world I live in now.
It seems like the author had a hope for what the Bible stood for. When its truth didn't jive with what his hope was, he walked away. Why was his adversary wrong about the doctrine at hand? Couldn't it have just as well been the author who was wrong? If there was an obvious error, why isn't it documented along with the other scripture shared?

And finally,
I ask whether he went forward during the altar call, and to my surprise I learn he did. Why? "Because," he says, shrugging, "what he was saying tonight made so much sense."

I found it hard to conceal my bafflement, since Billy had not said much at all. You must be born again - that was it. I felt a professorial lecture welling up in my throat about the history and psychology of religion. I wanted to expose him to the pastiche of the biblical text, the syncretic nature of Christian doctrine, the church's ambiguous role as incubator and stifler of human knowledge, the theological idiosyncrasy of American evangelicalism. I wanted to warn him against the anti-intellectualism of American religion today and the political abuses to which it is subject. I wanted to cast doubt on the step he was about to take, to help him see there are other ways to live, other ways to seek knowledge, love, perhaps even self-transformation. I wanted to convince him that his dignity depended on maintaining a free, skeptical attitude toward doctrine. I wanted. . .to save him.
And here we reach the punch line. In a marvelous article, written as if it were neutral, the author leaves no doubt as to what he thinks. This "Christian doctrine" cannot be true. Somehow there is a perceived anti-intellectualism about evangelicalism. For it is obvious that something that doesn't agree with the latest cutting-edge postmodern thought must be wrong. For what is new is right and truth cannot be found in the past. At least that is what he would have us think.

But what's the real story here? Could it be that there is hurt in his past? No doubt life hasn't been easy. Yes, the church may have let him down. The "adversaries" he faced may have been unloving. Yes, they too were likely imperfect. You know what they say, though; We cannot judge a faith by its worst follower.

I challenge Mark Lilla to continue to seek truth. If he earnestly is, he will find it. Hey, I'd love to get together and have lunch-- as one Chicagoan to another and just sit and visit and seek to find it together.
John 8:32

Monday, September 19, 2005

A Thin Line

Thanks to Gapers Block for pointing us to an intriguing site. Words don't do it justice, but this site shows the very thin line between suburbia and the city. As a civil engineer who also got a degree in urban planning, I thought this site was neat.

Giving it a little bit more of a plug, I should note the site is an advertisement of sorts for an artists showcase:
The exhibition "Urban, Rural, Wild" presents work by eight artists addressing the complex historical and contemporary relationship between metropolitan Chicago and downstate Illinois.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

An Upset

Well, I had a semi-sweet return to my alma mater today. An Illini graduate, I returned to see my sister-in-law play them in soccer. She plays for Indiana State.
Well, let's just say that things didn't go well for nationally-ranked Illinois. The Sycamores shocked the Illini, winning 2-1!
To be honest, this was a huge upset. The Illini were expected to compete for the Big Ten title, and were heavily favored in this matchup. However, in this game, they did not come out with the energy they needed to, lost a couple key players to injury, and subsequently lost to a deserving squad of savvy players. The win marked the first ever victory in the Sycamore soccer program history over a ranked or Big Ten school.
So, I came away sad for the orange and blue, but happy for the great game ISU played. Congratulations gals.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Racial Disparities

I'm still ruminating on the effects from Hurricane Katrina. Likely one of the biggest takeaways will be the implications on race relations as a result of perception during the evacuation.

The insinuation was that response to the victims of the hurricane was slower due to the fact they were black. By now everyone has heard Kanye West's famous quote:
George Bush doesn't care about black people.
The reaction from many notable African-American politicians was similar. From Jesse Jackson to Al Sharpton, the federal response was chastized.

Despite the fact I knew there was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction, I was still surprised when the magnitude was revealed. The difference in opinion between blacks and whites on the response to the hurricane was marked. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken last weekend said:
37 percent [held Bush] most to blame for the fact that many residents were trapped inside the city after it flooded.

Twenty percent of blacks primarily blamed New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, 11 percent blamed the residents themselves and 27 percent blamed no one at all.

Among whites, 29 percent blamed Nagin, 27 percent blamed the residents, 15 percent blamed Bush and 24 percent held no one responsible.
Wow, talk about a difference of opinion.

Now this post is not to say who's right and who's wrong. However, there is quite a disparity here. It hearkens back to past events that have split the population along racial lines. Most blacks thought O.J. was innocent, most whites thought he was guilty. Blacks thought Michael Jackson was innocent, whites think he's guilty. Stereotyping, yes, but generally true.

The reaction to the hurricane only serves to remind us yet again that, yes, there is somewhat of a racial chasm in our country. The question becomes: Why is this and what does it mean?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Even the president needs to go.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A sad epilogue

The story I relayed in an earlier post has ended in the most unkind of ways. How incredibly heartwrenching. The emotions felt in this family's last year are hard to fathom.
It just must not have been meant to be.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Me and my 3 parents.

Now wouldn't that be a scary proposition? To legitimately have three genetic parents?

Well, it's close to becoming reality. British scientists have been given permission by their governmental oversights to proceed with just this experiment. This experiment would merge embryos with donor eggs to replace damaged mitochondrial DNA. This would in essence give the offspring three genetic parents, with the nuclear DNA of his "parents" and the mitochondrial DNA (which contains 37 genes) of a another woman. To me this sounds like the beginning of a slide down a slippery slope.

The troubling thing is that there are many advocates for the procedure. One medical ethicist said:
For those who would see this as a threat to the family unit, we should endeavour to persuade them that reproductive technologies could encourage a greater acceptance of diversity in our society.
Now, that's scary! They're claiming this is a good thing because it's just adding to human diversity? Whoah. So if we start adding animal genes, that would be good as it's adding to our diversity?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Who is #1? (2 is not a winner and 3 nobody remembers)

On the road to a national championship in college football, every game is precious. Sure, some teams have recovered from a single loss, but it's a long shot. Many teams have even gone undefeated and still come up short.

This weekend college football fans will be treated to a rare September showdown between two football powerhouses: Ohio State and Texas. The winner will will be hailed as the top contender to USC's throne. The loser will have nearly all the nails pounded into its coffin of national title hopes.

Now, imagine for a moment if I were made Supreme Ruler of NCAA Football. I'd have a 4-team playoff system, and here's how it'd work:

a) Every team plays an 11-game regular season. If a conference wants to have a championship game, then fine. 11+1=12.

b) After the conference championship games have been played, the final poll of sportwriters+coaches will come out with a Top 25. The top 4 ranked teams will play in a playoff. The first round will be held one week after conference championships are over. #4 plays at #1. #3 plays at #2. The winners determine who plays for the national title and who plays in lesser bowls during Bowl Week.

b2) There is one exception to my "Top 4" rule; and that is if only one team makes it through the conference championships undefeated. In such a case, that undefeated team would be guaranteed a spot in the playoff. So, let's say the Akron Zips finished 12-0, but were only ranked #17. As long as they're the only undefeated team, they'll automatically replace the #4 team in the playoff. (You might not think that's fair, but remember, you're not the Supreme Ruler of NCAA Football right now. I am.)

Well, that's my two cents. I think that my system would decide the championship on the field, preserve the special importance of the entire regular season, and put human computer pollsters in unemployment lines. Plus it'd give a glimmer of hope to all of the little schools out there who only want a chance to be heard.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

How Much Is Too Much?

Searching for cheap gas? When it comes to gas prices, people think they're paying a lot these days. In Chicago, I've seen gas for as much as around $3.50. Prices have been driven higher due to the tightening oil supply in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But do we pay too much for gas in America?

Compare our situation to Europe. There, in London, gas goes for about $6.60/gallon. It's even higher elsewhere.
What does that say about our situation? I'd say we should consider ourselves lucky. And to be honest, higher gas prices might be a good thing. It would encourage more people to consider alternate forms of transportation or get cars with higher gas mileage. And that of course is exactly why Europe taxes gas more than we do.

Friday, September 02, 2005

What does the situation in New Orleans say about America?

The world is "stunned" at our struggle to cope with the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. Some have even gone so far as say that the victims' reactions themselves are indicative of the failure of our culture:
"I am absolutely disgusted. After the tsunami our people, even the ones who lost everything, wanted to help the others who were suffering," said Sajeewa Chinthaka, 36, as he watched a cricket match in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

"Not a single tourist caught in the tsunami was mugged. Now with all this happening in the U.S. we can easily see where the civilized part of the world's population is."
I wonder if they're right, though. Would the rest of the world have reacted any better if put in similar circumstances? Somehow I doubt it.

As we do examine what this situation says about our culture, the fact is, as we look at those who so desperately are needing help, there is no escaping that race has become a subtext to the unfolding drama of the hurricane's aftermath.
While hundreds of thousands of people have been dislocated by Hurricane Katrina, the images that have filled the television screens have been mainly of black Americans -- grieving, suffering, in some cases looting and desperately trying to leave New Orleans.

"To me," said Bernadette Washington, "it just seems like black people are marked. We have so many troubles and problems."
While race or their socioeconomic class shouldn't affect how we react to a victim, sadly for some it does.
At that moment, a lady -- white -- came by...and handed her some baby items.

"Bless you," Washington said.

That exchange forced something from Warren Carter: "White man came up to me little while ago and offered me some money. I said thank you, but no thanks. I got money to hold us over. But it does go to show you that racism ain't everywhere."

This isn't the time to analyze why those who are victims are victims, but after the fact, I'm sure it will be a source of much discussion.

Truly, though, underlying all of this is the bottom line. More important than peoples' physical needs are their spiritual ones, and these people seemed to be aware of that:

"It says there'll come a time you can't hide. I'm talking about people. From each other," Bernadette Washington said.

Thomas, the philosopher, waved his bandaged hand. He had a theory: "God's angry with New Orleans. It's an evil city. The worst school system anywhere. Rampant crime. Corrupt politicians. Here, baby, have a potato chip for daddy."

The 2-year-old, Qadriyyah, took a chip from her daddy and gobbled it up. Her face was covered with mosquito bites. But she smiled just to be in daddy's arms.

Thomas continued: "A predominantly black city -- and they're killing each other. God had to get their attention with a calamity. New Orleans ain't seen an earthquake yet. You can get away from a hurricane but not an earthquake. Next time, nobody may get out."

May God's goodness shine on in the midst of this struggle. Our prayers go out to this and all the families facing much today.