Monday, June 25, 2007

Brain Man

Meet Daniel Tammet, a 27 year-old math and memory wizard.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

How children lost the right to roam

Do you remember those carefree days of summer when we were kids? Roaming around the neighborhood enjoying what we could. Are those days lost for kids of today?

When George Thomas was eight he walked everywhere.

It was 1926 and his parents were unable to afford the fare for a tram, let alone the cost of a bike and he regularly walked six miles to his favourite fishing haunt without adult supervision.

Fast forward to 2007 and Mr Thomas's eight-year-old great-grandson Edward enjoys none of that freedom.

He is driven the few minutes to school, is taken by car to a safe place to ride his bike and can roam no more than 300 yards from home. Even if he wanted to play outdoors, none of his friends strays from their home or garden unsupervised.

The contrast between Edward and George's childhoods is highlighted in a report which warns that the mental health of 21st-century children is at risk because they are missing out on the exposure to the natural world enjoyed by past generations.

Is the fear that is keeping our children tethered to home costing them more than just the right to roam? The report's author, Dr William Bird, believes children's long-term mental health is at risk. Is knowing this enough that parents will let their children roam free? If not, why not? What do they fear?

Friday, June 08, 2007

Obama's Political Hoops

This article on one of Barack Obama's hobbies is pretty fascinating. It turns out that Obama is a member of a group of guys who love to get together and play basketball. It just happens that this is a remarkably influential group of guys. And those connections indicate the breadth of Obama's own political growth.

Some of those he plays with include Arne Duncan (CEO of the Chicago Public Schools), Alexi Giannoulias (Illinois State Treasurer), Martin Nesbitt (Chairman of CHA), Craig Robinson (Brown's basketball coach and Obama's brother-in-law), and John Rogers (founder of Ariel Mutual Funds, the largest African-American owned mutual fund company). Interestingly, Duncan hails originally from Harvard, IL and played basketball at Harvard and then professionally in Australia and Rogers and Robinson were basketball teammates at Princeton. Duncan and Robinson were also members a couple years ago of the national Hoop It Up 3-on-3 basketball champion team sponsored by Rogers.

Some familiarity with Chicago politics allows us to see that with Duncan's connections to Mayor Daley, Rogers' connections to Jesse Jackson and Bill Bradley, and Giannoulias' connections to Governor Blagojevich, Obama has quite the network via these pick-up basketball games.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

True Christianity

As American Christians begin attempting to get a grasp on this year's presidential field, the question for many evangelicals seems to boil down to one major underlying one. Who should a Christian vote for? The candidates' own faith is a big part of answering that question.

On Monday, the three leading Democrats participated in a forum on Faith, Values, and Poverty; it featured John Edwards, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton.

Although all three are Protestants, they represent three discreet traditions. Edwards, born Southern Baptist, left and returned to personal faith; Barack Obama articulated the prophetic hope of the African-American church, himself an adult convert; and Hillary Clinton has been a mainline Methodist all her life. Edwards spoke easily of Jesus, Obama extolled the vision of “the beloved community,” and Clinton confessed that she is “private” when it comes to faith and finds it awkward when others “wear their faith on their sleeve.” In one short hour, they modeled the three great families of American Protestantism: evangelical, African-American, and mainline.

On the Republican side, inclusion of Mormon Mitt Romney and the likely addition of former Senator Fred Thompson to the field has cause questions to be raised about his and his opponents' faith. Focus on the Family's founder, James Dobson, said recently that Thompson does not appear to be Christian.

The fact that neither Thompson nor any of the top-tier Republican presidential candidates claims to be a born-again Christian raises broader questions in the race for the GOP nomination. One is, simply: Who do evangelicals consider to be Christian? Another is whether a candidate being considered Christian is a prerequisite to winning evangelical support.

Which frontrunning Republican candidate will be able to capture the evangelical vote has become a much-discussed question. But to the voter, it may come down to who they regard as a 'real' Christian.

There's a lot more than semantics at play here. In fact, the question of what makes a Christian has set the evangelical movement apart from other Christian traditions from its inception in the 18th century. Early evangelical theologians such as John Wesley and George Whitefield introduced notions of "true religion" to distinguish their followers from "traditional" or "routine" religion.

"Evangelicals have always had a pretty narrow understanding of who is a Christian in the proper sense of the term," says University of Notre Dame historian Mark Noll. "Catholics and most Lutherans and Episcopalians would say that anyone who has been baptized is a Christian, but most evangelicals would not agree. They see baptism as an initiation ceremony that may or may not indicate the presence of true faith."

That explains why it's commonplace today to hear evangelicals use the word "Christian" to refer exclusively to fellow evangelicals, as opposed to Catholics or members of mainline Protestant churches. Indeed, when asked whether Focus on the Family considered 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry, a Catholic, to be Christian, Focus spokesman Gary Schneeberger said he'd rather not answer...

In recent decades evangelicals have begun discerning true Christians from mere professing believers less by denomination and more by religious commitment. Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says,

It's a question of the heart: Has someone turned away from his own works to put his trust in Jesus Christ and does he believe in the Jesus that the Bible portrays? If so, that person has been born again.

For voters, the question is, who amongst next year's candidates is?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Lost in translation

From the "I'm not making this up" department... Read here. View here.