Monday, December 31, 2007

New beginnings

I was very flattered when Westy first invited me to join IJAB as a co-blogger back in August 2005. In my view he had a neat blog going at the time, and it was an honor to be given a chance to contribute to it. I wasn't sure how long I'd keep at it, maybe six months or a year, but I felt it was worth a try.

Well, more than two years later I can honestly say it's been a fun ride. Not only have I enjoyed writing a variety of posts on many different topics, but I have enjoyed reading people's comments and other people's blogs. The blogging community, both local and global, is quite a place.

A few days ago I let Westy know that after two years, it's finally time for me to step down as an IJAB contributor. I'm not sure if or when I'll start up my own blog, but rest assured I'll still read and comment on this one.

Westy, as I sign off for the final time, I just wanted to say "thank you" for inviting me to be a part of this creative outlet. You've got a great blog going here, and I'm sure some of your best posts yet will be in 2008.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Do you see the GOP nominee?

Note: This post got long-winded. However, my campaign pledge to you is that I intend for this to be my last political analysis post on IJAB, or anywhere else, for quite a long while!

When I was 8 years old, I predicted to my mom that Howard Metzenbaum would defeat George Voinovich in Ohio’s U.S. Senate race that year. After my mom’s initial surprise that her little boy would offer an unsolicited opinion on such a topic had subsided, she asked me, “Why?” My answer was simple: I had seen a TV ad for both candidates and thought most people would like Metzenbaum’s better.

A few weeks later Metzenbaum went on to win in a landslide.

Now, I’m not sharing the aforementioned story to brag. After all, I was only 8 and based my prediction on a ridiculously small amount of information. Rather, I shared this story it to illustrate to you that I’ve been offering unsolicited, ill-informed opinions about politics for nearly 20 years.

Back in March I took a look at the Democratic presidential candidates’ chances at winning their party’s nomination, and at the time I said that I “might” offer up a similar post about the Republicans a few months later. The reason I was so noncommittal back then was because there were a few key variables that I wanted defined. First, I needed to know who would actually be in the race (as it turns out, Fred Thompson did hop in and Newt Gingrich didn’t). Second, I wanted to see which candidate would start to rally the Religious Right (looks like that’s Mike Huckabee). So I guess if I’m ever going to analyze the GOP field before the voting starts, it’s now or never…

Despite the national polls showing five Republicans still running strong in a fluid field, in my estimation the GOP race has essentially been narrowed down to three candidates with a legitimate shot to win their party’s nomination: Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and Rudy Giuliani. But before I go much further, I should probably explain why John McCain and Fred Thompson are long shots.

In Fred Thompson’s case, he is a textbook example as to why all of the serious presidential candidates start running two years before the first votes are cast in Iowa. Most modern presidential candidates adhere to a formula similar to the following when launching their campaigns:

1) About two years before Iowa
  • Determine if you want to be president and if so, what experience and issues will you tout to rally people to your cause?
  • Do the necessary polling to see if your perception lines up with reality (i.e., if polling shows that only 17% of the people in your own state are impressed with your experience, then you probably should reconsider a presidential bid).
  • Go to the people who would campaign for you and only you, and see how much support they’re really going to offer. For instance, start with your spouse and gauge whether or not they’re on board 100%. If your spouse isn’t willing to sacrifice as much as you are to win, then it probably won’t work. Obviously, you then build out from here—talking to your kids and other close relatives and friends. Then go to your close professional/political relationships and see exactly who’s on board and how they can truly help. This is really the most important part, which is to find the core of your campaign, the inner circle of people who will stick with you no matter what; and this should be done about two years before Iowa.
  • Now that your inner circle of supporters is lined up, you start reaching out to other likely supporters, looking for money, advisors, potential endorsements, etc. At this early point, there are a lot of talented people in your party who would love the chance to be a part of a campaign but aren’t sure if they’ll get a chance. If you’re the first to ask them, then you’ve got a leg up. I am no expert on the nitty-gritty details of a presidential campaign, but it’s pretty obvious that most of the critical groundwork is set one to two years before the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses.

2) About one year before Iowa

  • a) You’ve focus-grouped every issue from every angle, organized your campaign as best you can, and lined up enough support to be taken seriously. Now it’s time to officially announce your candidacy.
  • Fund-raising goes into full swing. All of your preparation leading up to this point should begin to result in strong fundraising numbers within three to six months. If it doesn’t, then let’s face it, you’re not a frontrunner and need to re-evaluate either your message or your candidacy.
3) The three months leading up to Iowa (and the rest of the early voting states)…
  • Now it’s open political war. Not only are people paying attention to the debates in increasing numbers, but things really are heating up from a “skirmish” to a “war” mentality. At this point you must unleash both a strong ground attack and aerial assault. By “ground attack” I’m referring to precinct captains and others who are organizing and going door-to-door as well as making phone calls, etc. By “aerial assault” I’m referring to TV and radio ads. Two candidates might be neck and neck in the polls, but the one who has raised more money is likely to have the advantage at getting their message out effectively and organizing voters during those crucial last two days.
  • In the final push, having big-name endorsers actually go out on the campaign trail can make a difference, so long as it’s somebody who is truly respected by the voters you’re trying to court. If you’ll recall, back in January 2004 Senator Ted Kennedy, who is respected nationally by most Democrats, campaigned long and hard for John Kerry in the few days leading up to the Iowa caucuses. Furthermore, Kerry’s wife also campaigned vigorously in the few days leading up to the Iowa caucuses, visiting with voters in their homes and talking to them personally. In fact, Kerry, his wife, and Kennedy often campaigned separately in Iowa those last few days in order to cover more ground. Long story short, having a high-profile, respected person shake hands on your behalf with voters a day or so before voting takes place in a small (population) state can make a big difference. (Food for thought: You know Bill Clinton will be in Iowa on January 2. Will Oprah?)

By not following the conventional model outlined above, Thompson has put himself in a game of perpetual catch-up. Aside from being way behind in money and trying to ward off accusations of not having the required “fire in the belly,” one can only wonder how many thousands of Republicans working for Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain, Romney and others would have gladly worked for Thompson’s campaign had he only asked them first?


Okay, so how about McCain? There’s a poll out today showing him leading the GOP field nationally and running a strong campaign in New Hampshire which could see him repeat his 2000 victory. In fact, there’s a real chance he could come out of New Hampshire with the win and leading in the national polls. Shouldn’t he be considered among the top contenders to win the GOP nomination?


As much as McCain is respected both within the Republican Party and among Independents and Democrats, he is going to have great difficulty translating that widespread appeal into actually winning the GOP nomination. If one were to analyze the core values of the Republican Party (as difficult a task as that would be), McCain is just a little bit too much out of step on a few key issues to win the GOP nomination. In New Hampshire, Independents can vote in the Republican primary, so if McCain does win New Hampshire it will be on the strength of his appeal to Independents. However, after New Hampshire I don’t see his campaign gaining enough momentum to win the nomination.


All right, enough of the backgrounder stuff. Let’s examine the top contenders. In looking at what Huckabee, Romney, and Giuliani must each do to win, this GOP race is turning into a complicated game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Each candidate has strengths and weaknesses in attracting certain types of voters, so this race could be all about the match-ups and, as the elder George Bush coined the phrase during an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1980, “The Big Mo.”


First up, let’s look at the former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee. He spent more than a decade as the governor, so he can tout a resume which shows executive experience. He also has a long record of being pro-life and has done the best job of connecting with the GOP’s Religious Right on a deeply theological level.


Overall, Huckabee has run a great campaign. That I’m even writing about him here is evidence of that fact, especially considering where he started out this year in the polls. However, with his surge in the polls comes increased scrutiny from both his competitors and the media. The biggest hurdle he’ll face with GOP voters is what many could perceive as being “too liberal” while governor of Arkansas.


Huckabee has a great chance to win Iowa, and if he does that, then he has a decent shot at the nomination. However, his campaign made an unforced error recently which could be their undoing. In the January-February issue of the journal Foreign Affairs, an opinion piece penned by Huckabee’s campaign under his name stated, "The Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad.” Such a statement actually could work to Huckabee’s advantage in a general election if Bush’s approval ratings stay low, but such a statement will do more harm than good as he tries to court GOP voters in Iowa. Despite the fact that Huckabee has tried to back away from use of the phrase “arrogant bunker mentality,” Bob Dole, who won the Iowa caucuses in 1988 and 1996, has written an open letter denouncing Huckabee’s criticism of the White House’s foreign policy. If Huckabee fails to win Iowa, pundits will point to that Foreign Affairs opinion piece as one of the key factors.


Next up is the former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney. Of all the GOP candidates, he has come the closest to running a “textbook” campaign. His father had been a fairly popular governor of Michigan back in the day, and he had also run for the presidency. So not only has Romney launched this presidential campaign in an efficient manner, he’s seen firsthand how it’s done before (and has presumably learned from some of his father’s mistakes).


Romney has raised a lot of money (and has much of his own to add), and he’s appealing to a wider spectrum of GOP voters than any of the other candidates, evidenced by the fact that he is the only one polling in the top two for each of the first five states to vote: Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, Nevada, and South Carolina. Although, Romney has not made the deepest inroads, which is why some national polls currently have him running fourth.


We can’t discuss Romney’s campaign without considering how his Mormon faith will impact Republican voters. As far as I can tell, most GOP voters will take Romney at his word when he says that he believes in the separation of church and state; although one negative for Romney’s campaign will be its inability to connect with the Religious Right on a deeply theological level.


Perhaps a bigger area where Romney will be attacked by his opponents is when he was running for office in Massachusetts both in the 90’s and 2002, he ran on fairly liberal platforms, including the fact that he was openly pro-choice. So while Romney has definitely tried to change his stance on many issues as he runs for the GOP nomination, his opponents are eagerly pointing out what his previously stated positions were. Although, one thing that Romney has in his favor on the issue of abortion is that he tells a rather compelling story, saying that as soon as he became governor and actually had to start making decisions of life and death, he changed his mind to always protect the unborn. (I’m not here to comment on whether or not his story is true, but rather that it is, on the surface, a compelling story. It’s reminiscent of George W. Bush saying that after a hangover from his 40th birthday party he finally decided to give up drinking and experienced a spiritual awakening. History shows that voters respond well to those types of stories, which also serve to inoculate the candidate from criticism of their actions during those prior periods. After all, if your opponent starts to criticize what you did in that past era, you can just say, “Yeah, that’s true, and here’s why I changed…” If it’s a compelling story, you come out ahead in that exchange.)


And then there’s former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has executive experience, a record of cleaning up crime and a high-profile name from his steady leadership in the aftermath of 9/11. Last year both Giuliani and McCain were considered the frontrunners, but naturally, the field has been changing.


Giuliani is a tough politician, which is a great asset both for dealing with public criticism as well as for formulating strategies to attack your opponents. Despite the fact that he’s not in step with much of the GOP on social issues, he’s been leading in the national polls for a long time and has been able to raise a lot of money. He will be a formidable candidate at least up until the eve of Super Tuesday (Feb. 5). In fact, if every state had to vote today, then Giuliani would win the nomination because he leads in many of the most populous states such as California, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, etc.


But one curious thing about the Giuliani campaign is that not only has it been relatively absent in Iowa, one could make the argument that it hasn’t gone full force in New Hampshire either. When Giuliani is confronted with such criticisms about how his campaign is deploying its resources, his response is that he’s “running a national campaign.” If I’m not mistaken, his strategy is to let his opponents out-campaign him in Iowa and New Hampshire, states he feels he wouldn’t have won anyway, and he’ll out-campaign them in the Super Tuesday states where his high-profile name, ground organization, and massive TV and radio ad campaign will overwhelm and crush his opponents in one fell swoop.


And so the stage is set for Republicans to battle over the next five weeks, perhaps longer, for the soul of their party. Of the six contests before Super Tuesday, Romney could win all six. Huckabee could win five of six (it’s not looking good for him in New Hampshire), and Giuliani could win three of six (Michigan, Nevada, and Florida).


I have no idea who will win Iowa. It could go either way between Romney and Huckabee. Both need that state badly, but I’d say Huckabee needs it more because Romney’s still in the running for New Hampshire regardless. Funny enough, if Romney wins Iowa, the attacks on his campaign will reach a fevered pitch which could help McCain take New Hampshire.


While both Iowa and New Hampshire matter in terms of press coverage and momentum, the pivotal state for many campaigns will be Michigan. If either Huckabee or Romney wins Michigan, then that candidate will likely give Giuliani the biggest challenge on Super Tuesday. If McCain somehow wins Michigan, then that would likely just jumble the field more, giving Giuliani a bigger advantage on Super Tuesday. If Giuliani somehow wins Michigan, then he’ll be very close to wrapping up the nomination. With the exception of Giuliani, any candidate who loses the first three contests is facing dire odds at that point.


So who do I think will win the nomination? My brain tells me to stay out of it, but my gut does have a feeling as to who has the best chance to win the GOP nomination.


Back in 1980 when a little-known candidate named George Bush scored a surprise victory in the GOP’s Iowa caucuses, he told the national media that his campaign now had “The Big Mo” as in “momentum.” But do you know what happened? Ronald Reagan quickly stomped out that momentum by winning in New Hampshire.


So what about momentum? Is it real? Does it matter? Well, I don’t think that a state’s voters base their decision on how another state voted per se. But they do base it in part on how the media portrays the different campaigns. If you win a state, then the press is asking you, “Why did you win?” and they're asking your opponents, “Why did you lose?” In that sense, some (not all) of the press coverage turns to your favor. By winning a state, the perception is not just that your campaign did something well, but also that you the candidate did something right. On the flip side, if you start to lose too many states in a row in the early going, then a perception starts to build that you the candidate are doing something wrong.


Giuliani won’t win Iowa, and he very likely won’t win New Hampshire. The polling data isn’t looking good for him in Michigan either. If Giuliani loses the first three contests, which at this point is very probable, much of the media coverage he gets will be along the lines of, “How many states will he lose?” and “Is his campaign strategy incompetent?” The fourth contest is in Nevada where he’s currently in a dogfight for the lead, but if he loses that one too, I highly doubt his campaign will stop the bleeding in the fifth contest, which is South Carolina.


As former Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean could tell you, getting that first primary (or caucus) victory is the toughest. If you don’t get one early on, then you’re not sure if you ever will. That’s why I think Romney has the best chance at the Republican nomination. Even if Huckabee wins Iowa and McCain wins New Hampshire, Romney would still have a decent chance to pull out a close win in Michigan. Of all the candidates, Romney is the least likely to be shut out of the first three contests, and therefore, the most likely to have momentum break his way at the most important time, which will be for Florida on January 29 followed by Super Tuesday on February 5.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A "No Bull" Cause


When Scott Skiles was fired as head coach of the Chicago Bulls on Christmas Eve, he told the Chicago Tribune: "Hardly a day goes by that I don't demand accountability and stress results. Today was my day to be held accountable."

It's that type of vintage Scott Skiles attitude that I'm going to miss. But I'm not surprised that it came to this (although I didn't think it would be this December). He is unafraid to let others know what he thinks, and that can be a blessing and a curse. For young players trying to find their way in the NBA, a no-nonsense tough guy like Skiles can motivate them pretty well. For a veteran player who thinks he's paid all of his dues, a guy like Skiles wears thin pretty quickly; and once a veteran is openly rebelling in the locker room, it doesn't take long for others to follow suit.

While John Paxson's patience with Skiles had obviously run out, there are rumors that Skiles had repeatedly let Paxson know that he was dissatisfied with what he had to work with on the roster. Based on my own observations of the Bulls this season, I wouldn't be surprised if Skiles had indeed complained to Paxson about his roster. After all, the Bulls do not have a single All-Star, lack a legitimate inside scoring presence, and they frankly have various match-up problems at every position (with the possible exception of small forward where Luol Deng is a solid player at both ends of the court when his back isn't hurting).

Last year I felt as though the Bulls were assembling the pieces of a team that could eventually compete for the NBA championship. However, now that I've seen how this season has started, it's looking like Paxson will have even greater difficulty acquiring the missing pieces without giving up too much. It will be interesting to see how the team plays from here on out, and I will be especially curious to see how Tyrus Thomas and Thabo Sefolosha progress under interim head coach Jim Boylan.

As for Skiles, even though he is no longer a Bull, I think if he ever got another NBA coaching gig you could still count on him to bring that same "No Bull" attitude.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

IQ

In a fascinating article, Intelligent Life magazine tells us that,

Average IQs are rising sharply from generation to generation.

This is called the 'Flynn effect'. So are you smarter than your grandpa? Why? The article is based on a book called "What is Intelligence" by James Flynn, which

...sets out his explanation for a mysterious phenomenon that bears his name: the rise in IQ from generation to generation. Your IQ is likely to be higher than those of your parents, and your children's IQs is likely to be higher than yours.

Truly very interesting stuff. But if that isn't enough, Malcom Gladwell adds his take in the latest New Yorker. The relevance to the study of racial differences in IQ is high. Gladwell notes that according to Flynn,

The lesson to be drawn from black and white differences was the same as the lesson from...years ago: I.Q. measures not just the quality of a person's mind but the quality of the world that person lives in.

Intriguing stuff. Basically it's the old nature vs. nurture debate. And if it's nurture, changing the environment might just have a positive effect...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

To Have A Home

Lance Freeman, assistant professor of urban planning at Columbia University, recently commented on home ownership amongst minorities in our country.
Home ownership grew among white middle-class families after World War II when access to credit and government programs made buying houses affordable. Black families were largely left out because of discrimination, and the effects are still being felt today.

I was reminded of this reading an article called Forty Acres and a Gap in Wealth by Henry Louis Gates in the NYT. He noted,

I have been studying the family trees of 20 successful African-Americans, people in fields ranging from entertainment and sports (Oprah Winfrey, the track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee) to space travel and medicine (the astronaut Mae Jemison and Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon). And I’ve seen an astonishing pattern: 15 of the 20 descend from at least one line of former slaves who managed to obtain property by 1920 — a time when only 25 percent of all African-American families owned property.

Unfortunately, blacks were still facing the full effects of racism in our country in the periods after both World Wars, times in our country's history when home ownership grew rapidly. Thus, a large proportion of their population was left out of this wave.

Home ownership is key to advancing in society today. The ability to tap equity in their home allows the owner to put the next generation through college and into their own home. There is a direct correlation between parents who own a home and children who attend college. Having a college degree enables people to have better jobs and perpetuates the cycle of success. This is evidenced by the information documented by Gates. As Gates says,
People who own property feel a sense of ownership in their future and their society. They study, save, work, strive and vote. And people trapped in a culture of tenancy do not.

I would say that based on this, initiatives to provide the opportunity for people in poverty to move towards home ownership are key. Would it make sense to turn Section 8 into some sort of rent-to-own program? Would it be more worthwhile to give people a home rather than paying their rent for years on end?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Illusionary

So I thought it would be fun to walk through some optical illusions. It's pretty amazing the tricks our eyes will play on us. Without any further ado, here we go:

1) Let's start simple. Is this possible?
2) Now,
3) Okay, are the purple lines straight or bent?
4) Do you see gray areas in between the squares? Now where did they come from?
5) Next, you should see a man's face and also a word...
6) Now, if you take a look at the following picture, know it's not animated. Your eyes are making it move. To test this, stare at one spot for a couple seconds and everything will stop moving. Or look at the black center of each circle and it will stop moving. But move your eyes to the next black center and the previous will move after you take your eyes away from it.... Weird.
7) And finally,

Sunday, December 09, 2007

That DJ down the hall

In college, one year my dorm floor had a resident named Vince who lived a few doors down from me. He was a computer science major but his true passion was for music--or rather playing (and making) music as a DJ. I don't exactly remember what my first impression was of Vince, but it was probably one of "Man, I'm glad he's not my roommate." He had a turntable (is that what it's called, maybe turntable/soundboard?) that could barely wheel in through the door of his dorm room, and once it was in there it took up about 20% of the room's free space.

However, as I got to know Vince better, I started to really respect him. Sure he had a magnetic personality, but more importantly, he seemed to be genuine. He came across as liking people in general and being happy to talk with anyone. He was a just a cool dude.

And he happened to take this whole DJ stuff pretty seriously. He had told us that he previously had some DJ gigs back when he was in Chicago (which is where he was from), and I think he got some gigs in Chambana too. However, when he had free time during the day, he'd be working that turntable all the time in his dorm room, honing his craft. And I do mean all the time. (If I had a nickel for each time I came home at 2 in the afternoon wanting to take a quick nap but would instead hear Vince scratching weird new beats to otherwise good songs...)

Vince the person was cool, but I had an inner conflict with Vince the DJ. Let's just say that as I continuously walked by his door throughout the year, judging his practice sessions in passing, many different thoughts went through my head. Sometimes I would think, "That doesn't sound difficult to do" or "He's messing up a good song" or "That song is so bad there's nothing he can do to save it." But I'd also have thoughts like, "Wow, it would be cool to be a DJ" or "He's doing pretty good with that one" or "How'd he do that?"

At some point I realized that when it came to being a DJ, Vince was the expert and I wasn't. As such, even if I didn't like some of his beats, there was no point in me trying to critique his craft because honestly I didn't understand it at the same level he did. And besides, these were his practice sessions that I was listening to. He was working hard to get better, finding out what worked for him and what didn't. It was quite possible that I could be walking past that door thinking to myself, "This one ain't working" and on the other side of the door Vince might have been thinking the same thing. Regardless, day after day, week after week, month after month, he kept at it; and for that, it was impossible not to appreciate his passion for being a DJ.

At the end of that year Vince left U. of I.'s CS program and headed back to Chicago. The last time I saw him he was just about to leave Chambana for good, and that final conversation felt too short. I was disappointed to see him go, and perhaps he wasn't exactly happy with the circumstances in which he was leaving. However, even then, I had this sense that, one way or another, "Vince would be back."

Well, I lost track of Vince through the years. along with most of the people I went to college with. As frustrating as it is, you can't keep in touch with all of them. Things move on and people get pulled in different directions. That's just the way it is in today's society.

But a funny thing happened not too long ago. I was driving in my car on the way home from work and switched the radio station over to Chicago's Hits and Hip Hop, B96, which I rarely do. There was some dance mix playing, and sure enough I thought of that guy named Vince back in the dorms who called himself "DJ Flipside." A few minutes later on the radio they were talking to a guy named "Flipside" and I thought, "No way..." But when I got home and Googled him I discovered that not only was it really him, he's apparently been pretty busy recently. In September 2006 he got his big chance at B96's Summer Bash where he brought the house down to rave reviews, which eventually enabled him to launch his new daily radio show: "Flipside at 5."



Way to go, Vince.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Car Repair Troubles

I guess this is why it's important to have someone you trust repair your car. And why it's difficult to trust chains such as these...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Family-Friendly Cities

The WSJ ran an interesting editorial espousing policies that would lead to more family-friendly cities. Due to an odd combination of high-priced homes and blighted zones or great schools difficult to obtain admission to and extremely poor schools, cities often struggle to retain families. At stake, though, is the very future vitality of the city.

There is a basic truth about the geography of young, educated people. They may first migrate to cities like New York, Los Angeles, Boston or San Francisco. But they tend to flee when they enter their child-rearing years.

In San Francisco, for instance, the population of children living in the city has dropped by more than 33 percent since 1960 as families with children have moved out. Elementary schools have had to close. This is a problem because cities that don't have families tend not to experience economic growth. And losing families points to a problem.

In order to create a healthy vibrant city, the emphasis should be on retaining young people as they grow up, marry, start families and continue to raise them. In order to do so, cities must become more family-friendly.

The key is to work closely with local public and private schools, churches, and civic organizations to build up the support structures that might convince today's youthful inner city urbanites to remain as they start families. Looking at the parks, playgrounds, and schools that young families would use is paramount to convincing them to stay.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Washington on $85

I couldn't resist posting this...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Taking Science on Faith

I read an interesting Op-Ed in the NYT this week. Entitled Taking Science on Faith, Paul Davies argues that scientists who insist science is faith-free are kidding themselves. He notes,

Science, we are repeatedly told, is the most reliable form of knowledge about the world because it is based on testable hypotheses. Religion, by contrast, is based on faith. The term “doubting Thomas” well illustrates the difference. In science, a healthy skepticism is a professional necessity, whereas in religion, having belief without evidence is regarded as a virtue.

The problem with this neat separation...is that science has its own faith-based belief system...

He concludes,

...until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.

Good stuff. It seems to be that almost no matter a person's views, there is some level of faith involved.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Disappearances

TrueHoop pointed me to this disconcerting summary of some strange disappearances basketball players have encountered.

Pro basketball has had some truly bizarre disappearances of several athletes over time. And I'm not talking about players just leaving the game or losing their talent at the drop of a hat. I'm talking about guys literally disappearing.

The most recent bizarre disappearance involves former Washington State University player Tony Harris...

It seems that Tony Harris has disappeared in Brazil where he travelled to play basketball.

This year he decided to return to Brazil to get a "financial cushion" before the birth of his first child with his wife.

[She] said her husband left Seattle for Brasilia in central Brazil on Oct. 31. She last heard from him early November...

The other disappearances cited are those of John Brisker and Bison Dele. Each story is very strange in its own way.

Now, news in the latest story involving Harris has come in and it is not good.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

How should America protect its borders?

Former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas answers this question in his presidential campaign's first TV ad:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Farm Bill Rancor

Right now in the US Senate, debate on the future of our farm bill is ongoing. The farm bill sets the policies for US agriculture. Not a big deal you say? Au contraire.

Time Magazine notes the bill is in fact important to all of us, even if only 1% of residents in the US are farmers anymore (down from 50% 130 years ago and while 36% of world residents are still farmers),

But farms still cover most of our land, consume most of our water and produce most of our food. If you eat, drink or pay taxes--or care about the economy, the environment or our global reputation--U.S. agricultural policy is a big deal.

Time writes that as always, bringing reform to the farm bill has been tough, but it's worth fighting for. The biggest issue is subsidies for our large cash crops, especially cotton and corn. So, I would encourage you to read this excellent article, and depending on your perspective, let your congressman know your thoughts. Speaking of which, do you have any?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Friday, November 09, 2007

Sunday, November 04, 2007

War on Poverty

Anthony Bradley writes,

“There is nothing new under the sun.” The oft-quoted saying from the book of Ecclesiastes is especially true of John Edwards’ well-intentioned but misguided “poverty tour.” Edwards’ proposals to help the poor are nothing more than a remix of Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” and Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and, like those previous initiatives, miss the mark.

Government wealth redistribution schemes, larger labor unions, and expanded government social programming have never helped the poor in the past and will continue to fail the truly disadvantaged in the future.

Do you agree? If not these schemes, what is the best strategy for solving the problems of poverty within our country? How about globally?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

"Not My Job" Awards

Back in college, I first saw the below picture and I thought it was pretty classic. It was described as the winner of the "Not My Job Award" from ADOT in Litchfield Park, AZ 85.

How could this have possibly happened? Okay, maybe they overlooked it. And the actual source of this picture and the supposed award aren't clear. Regardless, not something that happens often. But then last year, I saw this.

It was described as the winner of the 2006 "Not My Job" Award. Hmm, I was beginning to sense a theme. First of all, what are the chances of this happening again? In this case, there was no argument that it wasn't noticed. Sheer utter laziness was at fault. Were these pictures real? The only references to so called "Not My Job" awards seemed to come with these pictures. Where were they from? Surely this sort of thing couldn't keep happening.


But yes, this fall, yet again some road painting crews have been caught. And this time the location was verified. Right here in suburban Chicagoland crews painted over a roadkill racoon. Yikes.

Any others out there?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

At the elite colleges - dim white kids

Education has been called the key to upward social mobility. It's the great equalizer. If you're smart enough, you can do anything; regardless of money.

For a number of students, they're being denied the opportunity to enter college due to less qualified students being chosen over them. Who are these less qualified admittees? No, it's not minorities due to affirmative action. It's kids who are often being offered second chances despite being wealthy and connected young people who have squandered many of the advantages life has offered them.

Researchers with access to closely guarded college admissions data have found that, on the whole, about 15 percent of freshmen enrolled at America's highly selective colleges are white teens who failed to meet their institutions' minimum admissions standards.

This means opportunities lost for those who at every turn in their youth have had the harder row to hoe, despite that are succeeding, and are just looking for their first break. Sad.

Monday, October 22, 2007

99 Years of Cubs Losses

For all you Cub fans out there... In honor of the World Series you're not a part of:

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Did You Know?

Begun as a Powerpoint presentation to their fellow teachers at a Colorado high school in 2006, this information-filled video by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod has taken the web by storm. The second generation version reminds us of just how much information is available out there for us and what that means for the future.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Staying Frugal

20-somethings in America today on average spend 16 percent more than they make and have run up a household average of $4,538 in credit card debt. That does not paint a pretty financial picture. It seems obvious there is a lack of basic financial knowledge amongst this segment of society. That sets up a scary future for our counterparts, one in which bankrupcy, financial failure, and overwhelming financial stress are commonplace.

That is why I found this article on doing our best, even as young people, to live frugally good. We do our best to keep our own household one that lives and spends responsibly. An article like this serves as a helpful reminder to keep at it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Kim Jong Il is master of the Internets

It would not be good for me to fail to point out that the most achieved man alive today, has now again made it clear that he is awesome.

Kim Jong Il, ruler of North Korea, clarified for us this week that he is an Internet guru. Along with his many other masterful accomplishments, Mr. Jong Il noted,

I'm an Internet expert too.

Indeed you are. Indeed you are. And again, thank you for reminding me of fond memories of times spent admiring your many triumphs. We all aspire to be the master of intellect and sport that you are. And if we have any tech questions, we'll send them your way.

Monday, October 08, 2007

God Don't Make No Junk

In 7th grade, the first year of school sponsored organized basketball in Minnesota, it was the night before basketball practice was set to begin at 6:30 AM. Needless to say, I was excited (thinking of not much else). I felt like I was all grown up and I was ready to prove I was a baller.
Unfortunately as that day prior passed, it grew more difficult to focus. What was this? I was coming down with the flu!? The night before basketball was to begin? Why oh why? It wasn't fair. I tried to play it off as nothing. "Was something wrong?" my parents asked. "Just feeling a little queasy..." I said.

Soon even that sentiment passed. Something was really wrong. I was in some serious pain. It felt like not only was I weak and nauseous, but a knife was stuck in my lower right side. The pain became quite bad. It soon was obvious even to my parents that this wasn't the normal run of the mill flu. To the hospital we went.

For anyone who has been similarly afflicted, it probably isn't a surprise that the diagnosis was quick (after some painful jabs by the doctor to confirm that yes, it really did hurt very badly on my lower right side). I had appendicitis. I needed to immediately have my appendix removed. And really, we had waited too long. My appendix was about to burst, and if that happened, it could be life-threatening.

So I had my appendix taken out. And for a week, while my future teammates practiced for the first times, I lay in the hospital recovering. I actually didn't mind the hospital stay too much as I got to read and watch TV (we didn't have one) as much as I wanted. I was fine, but I didn't like missing the basketball.

It was small consolation that I was reassured the appendix was of little use anyway--it was purposeless. But still, it was nice to know it wasn't something I needed anyway.

Now, though, that consolation has been shattered. Scientists seem to have found the purpose of the appendix.

The function of the appendix seems related to the massive amount of bacteria populating the human digestive system, according to the study in the Journal of Theoretical Biology. There are more bacteria than human cells in the typical body. Most are good and help digest food.

But sometimes the flora of bacteria in the intestines die or are purged. Diseases such as cholera or amoebic dysentery would clear the gut of useful bacteria. The appendix's job is to reboot the digestive system in that case.

Really, it makes sense. It would be surprising to have a body part that is truly purposeless. One scientist notes,

I'll bet eventually we'll find the same sort of thing with the tonsils.

While the appendix is less needed today in an era of fewer diseases and mass plagues, it may be still used frequently, especially in the Third World.

Me, though? I had better not be needing it. As a friend forwarding me the article noted, I better hope I don't come down with cholera.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Just Getting Started

I suppose now it's official. After knocking off Wisconsin and upping their record to 5-1, the Illini are one of the "surprise" teams of this college football season.

While hindsight is 20/20, what the Illini have done so far shouldn't come as a big surprise*. After all, Zook has brought in back-to-back elite recruiting classes, and last year we saw this team make strides in terms of competitiveness. Furthermore, we knew going into this season that the Big Ten would be down. Heck, after the bowl games last year one has to wonder if the Big Ten had ever really been "up."

Prior to the season, the biggest question mark in my mind with the Illini was their relative lack of experience. However, this team has rebounded quite nicely from a tough loss to Mizzou in the opener, and they're getting more experienced each week.

Next week the Illini are at Iowa, and honestly, that's a game we should win. The week after is when things get really interesting as Michigan comes to town. We'll see how that goes. It's been a long time since the Illini have beaten Michigan in Champaign. As far as I'm concerned, it's been too long... I'm guessing that Ron Zook will tell the guys the same thing...

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Zook was right to call next week a "big game." Anytime you go on the road in the Big Ten, you've got to take things seriously or else risk an embarrassment. In order to prepare better for Iowa, perhaps one day during practice this week Zook should wear a pink tutu?

Seriously, come Saturday that shock tactic could make the difference for the Illini at Kinnick Stadium...

* For what it's worth, I might as well take this opportunity to point out that I was the only person in the pre-season who picked the Illini to win 8+ games in Chairman Gau's poll. Oskee Wow Wow!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Too tired to blog

Wow... this is a first. I had a blog planned out for tonight but I became too tired to finish.

I guess work has really been work lately.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Edwards on Black Males

John Edwards predicts that young black males will soon become extinct because they'll all be in jail or dead. He notes, in regard to the plight of the young black man, that we cannot build enough jails to satisfy the way we're carrying out justice currently. He continues,


...Pretty soon we’re not going to have a young African-American male population in America. They’re all going to be in prison or dead. One of the two.

Are they doomed as Edwards says? Orlando Patterson, professor of Sociology at Harvard University, said in a NYT editorial piece,

The circumstances that far too many African-Americans face — the lack of paternal support and discipline; the requirement that single mothers work regardless of the effect on their children’s care; the hypocritical refusal of conservative politicians to put their money where their mouths are on family values; the recourse by male youths to gangs as parental substitutes; the ghetto-fabulous culture of the streets; the lack of skills among black men for the jobs and pay they want; the hypersegregation of blacks into impoverished inner-city neighborhoods — all interact perversely with the prison system that simply makes hardened criminals of nonviolent drug offenders and spits out angry men who are unemployable, unreformable and unmarriageable, closing the vicious circle.

Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and other leaders of the Jena demonstration who view events there, and the racial horror of our prisons, as solely the result of white racism are living not just in the past but in a state of denial.


What will it take to turn around this cycle of depravity?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

When police are the problem

In Harvey, IL, a south suburb of Chicago, there were 12 murders in 2005. How many did the police there solve?

Zero.

Such a low level of case clearance is almost unbelievable. The ineptitude on display implied either a lack of caring or actual cooperation with criminal enterprises.

With the continued lack of police enforcement, an overseeing task force had to step in to clean up the mess. On January 22 of this year, the records of the Harvey Police Department were raided for examination by this task force. Lo and behold, cases began to be solved. It became even more clear that the Harvey police had not done their job.

Today, two more alleged criminals were indicted as a result of this task force's work. If proven guilty, that's two more dangerous folks off the streets of Harvey.

In a town with criminal activity that needs to be cleaned up, it is downright sad that law-abiding citizens were left for a few years with a police department that didn't have their best interests in mind. How often is this the case around the country? I was raised to respect the police, but so many of the things we see push us in the opposite direction. It is little wonder that many residents begin to suspect the police may not always be fair.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Baby?!

Wow, what can I say?
It's hard to believe, but it seems I am now a dad.

This morning at 11:19 our daughter entered the world...

It is with great honor, joy, and pride that I am writing to you to announce that our baby girl is here!

Elynor Aline was born today, September 13. She weighs 11 lb. 3 oz. and measured 20 in. long. Both mother and daughter are doing very well.

Truly we take a moment to thank God for the incredible blessing and gift that she is. Thanks for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers!

Stay tuned at WCW's for all the updates...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The difficulty of urban education

As most any observer notices, there is a struggle when educating poor urban youth. You are dealing with children from homes that may not provide the support they need to succeed. Is it even possible to make that difference up in school? Earlier this year, the New York Times looked at some of the difficulties schools face.

Then, last week, the Chicago Tribune ran a tremendous series providing a firsthand look at a classroom where these issues play out. I thought this was a wonderful piece, filled with good insights; and most importantly reminding us all what a (justifiably) difficult time cities have providing their children with great education.

Definitely read it, and tell me. What do you think? Can success in situations like this be had? What resources would it take?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Chicago Architectural Gems

One of the things I enjoy most about Chicago is that it is a beautiful city. A lot of this is due to the high concentration of good architecture found here. We often find ourselves extolling the value (and beauty) of such buildings as the Wrigley Building, the John Hancock, the Lake Point Tower, or the Smurfit-Stone Building.

These and others are all great examples of good architecture, that which brings beauty to the city. But what we often forget in looking at these great buildings already here is that every year new great pieces of architecture are going up. And especially here, in a city known for its great architecture, the bar is set high for buildings trying to make an architectural mark. This means many efforts fall short of critical praise. Regardless, many buildings do succeed at catching our eye.

That is why I enjoyed this list in the Chicago Magazine of ten "innovative new buildings illustrat[ing] Chicago’s enduring power to attract great design." My favorite may be the new Gary Comer Youth Center on the South Side:

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bee-ware

Honey is one of the most intriguing foods out there. While being sweeter than sugar, it has antimicrobial properties that lend itself to medical use and an almost unlimited shelf life. Certain antioxidants and vitamins are found in honey in concentrations similar to those in some fruits and vegetables. It is the healthiest sweetener available.

But if you are planning on eating it, or fruit for that matter, you should probably do so now because they might not be around for long...

Albert Einstein [maybe] said,

If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left.

Now it has become quite clear that bees are going missing across the USA. Mysteriously, the bees are vanishing, presumably dead. With them go the means for much of our crop production.

We wouldn't starve if the mysterious disappearance of bees, dubbed colony collapse disorder, or CCD, decimated hives worldwide. For one thing, wheat, corn, and other grains don't depend on insect pollination.

But in a honeybee-less world, almonds, blueberries, melons, cranberries, peaches, pumpkins, onions, squash, cucumbers, and scores of other fruits and vegetables would become as pricey as sumptuous old wine. Honeybees also pollinate alfalfa used to feed livestock, so meat and milk would get dearer as well. Ditto for farmed catfish, which are fed alfalfa too.

And jars of honey, of course, would become golden heirlooms to pass along to the grandkids.

A crisis with billions of dollars on the line is at hand. As scientists struggle to try to explain this, most of America isn't even aware how close they are to losing some of their favorite foods.

Recently scientists have reported some progress in narrowing down the cause. Let's hope, for our sake, that they are on the right track.

Monday, September 03, 2007

What's in a name?

So truth be told, my mom wanted to name me "Jim." But apparently at least one person in her family didn't like that name, so the brainstorming continued. Finally, the name they all compromised on was "Greg," a name that nobody in the family was particularly crazy about, but everyone was at least "okay" with it--and they couldn't think of any obvious schoolyard taunts to which a "Greg" would be subjected. So it was settled. (Years later my mom told me that she was actually glad I wasn't named "Jim" because kids would have called me "Slim Jim" much like they had called her "Bony Joany.")

Anyway, I got my first psychological lesson in names when I was in the first grade. For some reason, my first grade teacher nicknamed me "Gregger." Due to her position of authority (and my general state of confusion at that stage of my life), I didn't question this nickname and always would answer to that. It became a way of life for me in that teacher's first grade class. However, slowly but surely, my fellow first graders started calling me "Gregger" too. This made me slightly uncomfortable, but still, I wasn't going to say anything. They weren't taunting me. For all I knew, some of them probably thought that was really my name.

Then one day as I was getting on the big yellow bus to go home, one of the girls in my class came up to me and asked, "Do you like to be called Gregger?" Now, even though I was only in the first grade, I do remember thinking something along the lines of, "This girl is pretty and she's smart. She can call me anything she wants." But those weren't the words that came out of my mouth. Instead, I simply said, "No."

Word must have spread fast, because my classmates soon stopped calling me Gregger; and once that year was over, it wasn't until later when I took a Spanish class ("Gregorio") and then some German classes ("Gregor") that teachers gave me nicknames again.

An article last year in Psychology Today, "Hello, My Name is Unique," talks about what parents these days tend to look for in names; and the article also explores to what extent a name has on our self-perception and success. The article opens:

Proper names are poetry in the raw, said the bard W.H. Auden. "Like all poetry, they are untranslatable." Mapping your name onto yourself is a tricky procedure indeed. We exist wholly independently of our names, yet they alone represent us on our birth certificates and gravestones.

Varying viewpoints on names and their importance are given in the article. Here's one of those views:

Children and teens either struggle to stand apart or try desperately to fit in. A singular name eases the former pursuit but thwarts the latter. If parents give a child an offbeat name, speculates Lewis Lipsitt, professor emeritus of psychology at Brown University, "they are probably outliers willing to buck convention, and that [parental trait] will have a greater effect on their child than does the name."

Of course a name matters to some degree, which is why many parents put much thought into it. However, at what point should the government get involved if a name is deemed inappropriate?

According to this Foxnews.com article, "Venezuela Seeks to Crack Down on Odd Baby Names,":

Venezuela is considering a bill barring parents from giving their children "names that expose them to ridicule, are extravagant or difficult to pronounce," or "that raise doubts about whether a child is a girl or a boy."

Earlier this month, a couple in China made international news by trying to name their son, "@". The parents said that they liked the name because it's in every email address, and because the phonetic sound "at" can be translated into "love him" in Mandarin. Sounds reasonable to me, but whether or not @ was officially approved as a name is unknown. What is known is that one of the government officials wasn't too thrilled, saying:

The name (@) was an extreme example of people's increasingly adventurous approach to Chinese, as commercialization and the Internet break down conventions.

So how about you? Do you feel your life has been impacted by your name? At what point should the government step in and ban certain names?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Vick Ethics

As I've been contemplating it, and as the story has remained in the news, now that Michael Vick has pled guilty to the dogfighting charges he faced, I have a few more thoughts.

I think Gregg Easterbrook, who has the same type of dog I do, nails much of what my reaction is:

The disgusting thing about dogfighting isn't that animals battle and die -- after all, animals fight to the death in nature, tearing each other's flesh with heartless violence. The disgusting thing about dogfighting is that supposedly intelligent members of Homo sapiens add sadism to the natural equation by starving dogs to make them extra aggressive, filing their incisors to make the fights bloodier, and engaging in other acts unbecoming any man or woman of ethics. What Michael Vick confessed to Monday ought to disgust you, regardless of whether you are a dog lover. Include me. [My dog] -- a Chesapeake retriever, noble state dog of Maryland -- slumbers happily near my feet as I write this.

But the punishment expected to be imposed on Vick -- one to two years in federal prison, and perhaps never playing in the NFL again -- seems out of proportion to his actions and his status as a first-time offender. The situation is confusing because the federal crimes to which Vick pleaded guilty turn as much on gambling and racketeering as dogfighting; gambling and racketeering concern federal prosecutors because of their relationship to organized crime. Racketeering can lead to jail terms even for nonviolent first-time offenders not involved with drug sales, such as Vick. The NFL, for its part, has very strong reasons to detest gambling, and elaborately warns players they will be harshly penalized for associating with gamblers. Yet I can't help feeling there is overkill in the social, media and legal reactions to Vick, and that the overkill originates in hypocrisy about animals.

Thousands of animals are mistreated or killed in the United States every day without the killers so much as being criticized, let alone imprisoned. Ranchers and farmers kill stock animals or horses that are sick or injured. Some ranchers kill stock animals as gently as possible, others callously; in either case, prosecution is nearly unheard of. As Derek Jackson pointed out last week in the Boston Globe, greyhound tracks routinely race dogs to exhaustion and injury, then kill the losers, or simply eliminate less-strong pups: "184,604 greyhound puppies judged to be inferior for racing" were killed, legally, in the past 20 years.

Hunters shoot animals for sport. They do so lawfully, while the manner in which Vick harmed his dogs was unlawful. But from the perspective of the animal, there seems little difference between a hunter with a state game license zipped in his vest pocket shooting a deer as part of something the hunter views as really fun sport, and Vick shooting a dog as part of something Vick views as really fun sport. In both cases, animals suffer for human entertainment. The animal-ethics distinction between Vick's actions and lawful game hunting are murky at best. A first-time offender should go to prison over a murky distinction?

Much more troubling is that the overwhelming majority of Americans who eat meat and poultry -- I'm enthusiastically among them -- are complicit in the systematic cruel treatment of huge numbers of animals. Snickering about this, or saying you're tired of hearing about it, doesn't make it go away. Most animals used for meat experience miserable lives under cruel conditions, including confinement for extended periods in pits of excrement. (Michael Pollan, who enthusiastically consumes meat and fowl, describes the mistreatment in his important new book The Omnivore's Dilemma.) Meat animals don't magically stop living when it's time to become a product; they suffer as they die. One of Vick's dogs was shot, another electrocuted. Gunshots and electrocution are federally approved methods of livestock slaughter, sanctioned by the Department of Agriculture for the killing of cows and pigs. Regulations under the Humane Slaughter Act of 1958 give federal sanction to shooting cows or pigs, or running electrical current through their bodies. Shooting and electrocution are viewed by federal law as humane ways to kill animals that will be consumed. Federal rules also allow slaughterhouses to hit cows in the head with a fast-moving piston that stuns them into semiconsciousness before they are sliced up. Being hit in the head with a powerful piston -- does that sound a bit painful, a bit cruel? It's done to tens of thousands of steers per year, lawfully.

Don't say "eew, gross" about how meat animals are butchered, then return to denouncing Vick. If you're eating a cheeseburger or BLT or steak or pot roast today, there's a good chance you are dining on an animal that was shot or electrocuted. You are complicit. You freely bought the meat, you did not demand Congress strengthen the Humane Slaughter Act. Livestock can be calmed and drugged before being slain. A few slaughterhouses do this, but most don't because it raises costs, and you, the consumer, demand the lowest possible price for your meal. Now about your turkey sub or coq au vin. Federal slaughter regulations apply mainly to large animals, leaving considerable freedom in the killing of fowl. Many poultry slaughterhouses kill chickens by slashing their throats rather than snapping their necks. Snapping the neck kills the bird quickly, ending suffering, but then the heart dies quickly, too. Slashing the throat causes the bird to live in agony for several minutes, heart still beating and pumping blood out of the slash -- and consumers prefer bloodless chicken meat.

Further, the Humane Slaughter Act exempts kosher and halal slaughter. In both traditions, the cow or lamb must be conscious when killed by having its carotid artery, or esophagus and trachea, slashed. The animal bleeds to death, convulsing in agony, as its heart pumps blood, which is viewed as unclean, out of the slashed openings. The delicious pastrami we consumed at a kosher deli, or the wonderfully good beef we could buy at a halal butcher, comes from an animal that suffered as it died.

Yes, Vick broke the law; yes, he arrogantly lied and refused to apologize when first caught; and yes, his actions before and after the dog killings indicate he is one stupid, stupid man. But Vick's lawbreaking was relatively minor compared to animal mistreatment that happens continuously, within the law, at nearly all levels of the meat production industry, and with which all but vegetarians are complicit. There is some kind of mass neurosis at work in the rush to denounce Vick, wag fingers and say he deserved even worse. Society wants to scapegoat Vick to avoid contemplating its own routine, systematic killing of animals. We couldn't all become vegetarians tomorrow: that is not practical. But American society is not even attempting to make the handling of meat animals less brutal, let alone working to transition away from a food-production order in which huge numbers of animals are systematically mistreated, then killed in ways that inflict terror and pain. We won't lift a finger to change the way animals die for us. But we will demand Michael Vick serve prison time to atone for our sins.

Legal note: Vick might be compelled to repay the Falcons a huge amount of bonus money, and will lose $25 million or more in endorsement income. I have no sympathy for his loss of endorsement income: Vick was hired to bring Nike and other companies he endorsed good publicity, and instead brought them bad. But think about the income loss in the calculation of overpunishment of Vick. One or two years in federal prison, and perhaps state prison time if state charges are filed as well; plus $25 million in lost endorsement income and, oh, $50 million in lost or returned NFL income. That's overkill! Often the indirect financial consequences of legal proceedings are worse than the official ones, in the same way that a speeding ticket might cost you $75 but add $1,000 to your annual insurance bill.

In effect, the federal indictment of Vick is resulting in him being fined around $75 million, which is far too much retribution. The legal hang-up is that since 1984, federal courts have been forbidden to consider monetary loss in private life as counting toward punishment. But a year of banishment from the NFL, a guilty plea with suspended sentence and probation (meaning the sentence is imposed if probation is violated), seems plenty of punishment for a first offense by someone who has not harmed another human being. Prison time and a $75 million fine? What Vick did was indecent, but now excessive punishment is being imposed, and two wrongs do not equal one right. Justice, after all, must be tempered with mercy. That's what you would think if you stood in the dock accused.

Here's what I think. Not only is the punishment Vick is facing an overreaction, but this is an illustration of the typical inconsistency that people have in discussing animal rights. In my mind the reactions to this Vick story are only a part of what is a larger societal discussion of the animal rights movement. And the saga got me thinking about it...

First, let's get a couple definitions out there. Animal rights is a broad term that really encompasses a couple items. Animal welfare is care that is given an animal such that it does not suffer unnecessarily. Animal liberation is a push to give animals equivalent rights to humans. Most animal rights 'activists' likely yearn for animal liberation while taking sometimes extreme measures attempting to push for animal welfare. Yet, animal welfare only focuses on the morality of human action (or inaction), as opposed to making deeper political or philosophical claims about the status of animals.

Truly, the perspective one has on what rights an animal has boils down to theology in my opinion. Is an animal the moral equivalent of a human or are humans in fact a special creation set above the rest of the animal world? This past Sunday in church, the sermon was actually on Genesis 1 and 2, in which God gives man dominion over all the animals. Thus, a Christian could not consider any animal as having equal status with man. That does not mean, however, that our actions to them do not matter. We are called to be stewards, and great care should be given to treat animals well--so that they do not suffer unnecessarily. This does not also mean that we imbue animals with special rights equivalent to what we as humans deserve. Do you believe animals were given to humans to use for work, food, and enjoyment?

With the perspective of your own moral basis, why do you treat animals the way you do? Do you consider the indirect actions your interaction with the products of animals may have? In establishing one's own position on animal rights, moral consistency is important. Do you think eating beef is wrong? How about eating horse? How about eating dog? What's the difference? If one is okay with eating meat from one animal, it seems they should be from another.

Don't be too quick to judge Michael Vick before we have contemplated our own actions. Learn where your food comes from, watch Fast Food Nation, and happily still eat meat, as I do, knowing all the facts. I would call all of us to judge what our own action or inaction says in regard to the issue of animal rights. Are we being morally consistent? What should we be advocates for in this discussion?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pickup Basketball

Anyone who has played pickup basketball knows the characters.


11 Guys At The Playground -

Which one are you?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Underground Cities

I am frequently blown away by all that we don't know about our world. What's more surprising, though, is what we sometimes don't know about even the history of what we humans have built in this world. Often we've completely forgotten what the pinnacles of past societies were. Like in 1911 when Machu Picchu was rediscovered after being lost for centuries.

BLDGBLOG now points us to the underground cities of Cappadocia in Turkey. The ancient Hittites, who came to area from east of the Black Sea around 2,000 B.C., are believed to have begun the excavation of these cities. It is believed that these underground cities were enlarged during early Christian times to provide refuge for the Christians from invaders and persecutors.
He quotes Alan Weisman from The World Without Us,

No one knows how many underground cities lie beneath Cappadocia. Eight have been discovered, and many smaller villages, but there are doubtless more. The biggest, Derinkuyu, wasn't discovered until 1965, when a resident cleaning the back wall of his cave house broke through a wall and discovered behind it a room that he'd never seen, which led to still another, and another. Eventually, spelunking archeologists found a maze of connecting chambers that descended at least 18 stories and 280 feet beneath the surface, ample enough to hold 30,000 people – and much remains to be excavated. One tunnel, wide enough for three people walking abreast, connects to another underground town six miles away. Other passages suggest that at one time all of Cappadocia, above and below the ground, was linked by a hidden network. Many still use the tunnels of this ancient subway as cellar storerooms.

Did you catch that? Up to 30,000 people lived in this underground city!

And BLDGBLOG notes, it is likely there is more exploration of these cities waiting to happen. Another underground city, Gaziemir, was just found earlier this year.

What other crazy remnants of a past society are out there still waiting to be found again?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Wow

Once in awhile we get to see the future come. But most of the time, we don't even notice it. Here now, take a peek at it...



All I can say is, I don't think we'll ever trust pictures the same way again.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

And so it begins...

In understated fashion yet another blog has begun. But this isn't just any blog...

It gives me great pride to announce a sister blog to IJAB. Yes, the Westy's have found another place on the web.

As most of you know, my wife and I are expecting a child very shortly. Inspired by that--and maybe to ensure we are able to keep the grandparents happy with plenty of updates--the many odd tales of the Windy City Westy's can now be found on her new blog.

Definitely check it out and watch for updates as our family grows.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Does College Secularize Students?

The problem with when what's considered a given hasn't been tested is that we often find out it's not a given.

For years the running assumption has been that higher education secularizes students. Christians have typically believed that secularization of the young results from the promulgation of a secular agenda, while those of a more secular bent have preferred the explanation that more education naturally exposes the irrationality of religious faith.

Like most people who haven't given it much though, I had usually accepted the conventional thought that college tends to be a secularizing force. Now, though, a study has been released that shows it might not be so.

A new study by Mark Regnerus, Jeremy Uecker, and Margaret Vaaler in the Spring 2007 issue of Social Forces suggests both sides are wrong from the outset. Their conclusion is that higher education doesn't secularize students.

It actually makes sense to me. Do you agree?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Random Movie Reviews

So this past week I caught up a little on my movie-watching, renting my first three movies of the year. (Previously this year, I had seen two movies at friends' places and perhaps two in theaters. So I guess this means I've now seen about seven movies total this year. Oh, and I saw "Happy Feet" on the plane. So maybe it's eight.)

Anyway, I might not see as many movies as the average American, but when I do, I really try to enjoy them. I don't get my hopes too high. I just want some small amount of entertainment where all I have to do is sit back and take it all in. If the movie indeed turns out to be more than that, well, then that's just icing on the cake.

The three movies that I rented and watched over the past week were Pulp Fiction (1994), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), and Signs (2002). I hadn't seen any of these movies before, so despite their age, they were "new" to me.










I got Pulp Fiction because Ving Rhames has been in the news recently, and all the media reports kept referring to him as "the Pulp Fiction actor." I got Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon because I've heard good things about it; and I got Signs because it just seemed like it might be my type of movie.

So without further ado, here are my three random movies reviews:

Pulp Fiction - Toaster scene. 'Nuf said.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - Have you seen this movie? Did you like it? Well, if you liked this movie, then please just skip to my Signs review.

Apparently Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (or as it's known in China, Wo hu cang long) won the Academy Award for "Best Foreign Film" of 2000. Now, this means one of two things: 1) The voting is rigged or 2) 2000 was a down year for foreign films.

First off, let's start on a positive. This movie was based on a novel by Du Lu Wang, which for all I know could be an excellent book. But I'm sorry, this movie was difficult for me to watch, mainly because I didn't connect with the characters and most of the action scenes looked corny to me (such as the many times characters were floating around awkwardly).

My biggest problem was with that Long chick (the one who steals the sword in the beginning and causes all sorts of mindless trouble throughout the movie). Seriously, this chick had major issues and about 20 minutes into the movie I was actively cheering for really bad stuff to happen to her. Toward the end when she used the Green Dragon sword to cut the older lady's arm (Yu Shu Lien) and then Li Mu Bai steps in and yells, "You are not worthy of that sword!" I thought, "Finally, he's going to decapitate her like the Highlander would." But no, they just float around the trees for a little bit and then when he gets his chance to show her who's boss, he goes back to wanting to train her again (even though she's burned every bridge 10 times by this point in the movie.)

And of course, this annoying ninja chick has a long lost lover from the desert named "Dark Cloud." Although, I think his name should have been "Clouded Judgment." He's a desert bandit capable of kidnapping and enslaving any chick he wants, but for some reason he insists on falling in love with this violent, indecisive, snobbish, back-stabbing daughter of a nobleman. At the end, the movie tries to make us believe that these two will live happily ever after in the desert. But come on, you just know she's going to change her mind not long after the credits roll. At the very least, there's no way "Dark Cloud" is going to be able to put up with her "thunder and lightning" for long.

Now, you might be curious as to why this movie is called Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Well, me too. I would have called it Crouching Catfights, Hidden Plot.

Signs - Okay, so if I had seen this movie in the theater without knowing anything about it, I probably would have really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, that's not how I went into this movie. Instead, I've seen the trailers and teasers repeatedly, as well as having heard some things through the rumor mill. I went in kinda knowing what to expect, which kinda defeats the purpose of this type of movie.

That being said, I did think that it was a good movie. Some parts were scary, some were funny, and some were thought-provoking.

In closing, I thought Pulp Fiction worked well as a comedy for me; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon belongs on Mystery Science Theater 3000; and Signs was worth the $5 rental.

Oh, and speaking of rentals. It looks like I have a $1.99 rental at Blockbuster that's good for another week. Do you have any movie suggestions?