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Monthly Archives: December 2007

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Zeitgeist the Movie–– coming to a computer near you. It’s a 2-hour YouTube extravaganza all about how 9/11 is a shadowy government conspiracy. And how Christianity is nothing more than a rehashing of Egyptian astrology. And how Jesus is simply a retread of the Sun god Horus. The net-net of “movie” is that the Man (be he the Roman Emperor Constantine, the Illuminati, or the Federal Reserve) is ingeniously conspiring to keep us down. Among his methods are myth-based religions, human suffering and a group of clever Masons. When does Lara Croft come in and save the world? But I digress. Which is why I love the Internet. The crazies get equal time. I can blog that Muhammad was really a sock puppet and upload a video warning that implanted microchips are the apocalyptic mark of the Beast. And the crazies beget more crazies. And those crazies get followers. And those followers beget more fear and suspicion. Why, it almost sounds like a …what’s the word?…Conspiracy. Freaky!

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Fred Thompson’s campaign was going great guns. A true conservative. Ronald Reagan’s heir apparent. The genuine article. Then something happened. He showed up. Suddenly, that Law & Order bull dog tenacity morphed into a hangdog look that hasn’t done much on the campaign trail but lazily sniff the path those early-bird candidates had already trod. Now we learn that Thompson doesn’t care much for politics and isn’t all that interested in running for President. Which explains a lot: A lackluster campaign and a debating style that is reminiscent of the high school jock who squirms behind the speech class lectern longing for the next football practice. Of course, a cavalier manner is to be admired; and Ronald Reagan famously napped his way through eight years of peace, middle-class prosperity and the demise of the Soviet Union. The big difference is when Reagan campaigned he was electric. He oozed charm and an aw-shucks cowboy toughness that promised morning again in America. Thompson, by contrast, was more inspiring as a undeclared concept than he is as a candidate. But the truth is we could all use another Reagan. A guy with a political winsomeness. A guy who could pull a divided, humpty-dumpty country back together again. And Thompson clearly ain’t that guy. In fact, I am afraid that the vast group of GOP contenders (with the exception of maverick Ron Paul) only promise “more of the same.” The same war on terror. The same supply-side tax cuts. The same “benevolent bully” foreign policy. So if you are ready for a new morning in America, a fresh start and leadership that is simultaneously tough-minded and uplifting––Reaganesque, if you will––I see only one candidate with those kind of credentials and that level of charisma. His name is Obama. And this kid, unlike Senator Thompson, has wanted to be President since kindergarten. Oh well, who said the next Reagan had to be a Republican?

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So you are the folks that get to choose my next President. Clean-living, middle-American corn shuckers. Refugees from a Grant Wood painting. Salt-of-the-earth types who got the privilege of shaking hands with a real-life Clinton, rubbing shoulders with Queen Oprah and Kung-Fuing with the likes of Chuck Norris. But next week, after this carnival sideshow subsides, you Iowans get to turn two presidential wannabes into bona fide front runners. And although another handful of primaries may upset your apple cart, how you good folks vote will dramatically affect where this whole thing shakes out and what man or woman gets a Pennsylvania Avenue address come November. So please look past who had the better brass band or which glad-hander snubbed you at the local greasy spoon; put your thinking caps on and choose us someone with something more than charisma and pretty promises. Give us someone substantial––someone with those midwestern qualities that it doesn’t take a wizard to dispense: a heart, a brain and a modicum of courage. Those are three things that could serve our country well.
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Blasphemy has always been a tricky business. Jesus instructed his rag-tag band of understudies to avoid swearing oaths. The ancient rabbis were so gun shy about taking the Lord’s name in vain that they exorcised Yahweh of all His vowels. But Malaysian attempts to put a lid on blasphemous behavior has left Christians in a bit of a fix. Apparently, Malaysia’s Islamic-dominated government has outlawed the willy nilly use of “allah”–Arabic’s generic term for “god.” Maybe if clueless school teachers didn’t allow their students to name the classroom’s stuff teddy “Mohamed” these sort of things wouldn’t happen. Nevertheless, it puts the Church in a bit of a pickle. You see, the word for Jehovah in the Arabic Bible has always been Allah. Like, ever since there were Arabic Bibles. So while Western evangelicals are all in your face about how Muslims and Christians worship different gods, the saints in Malaysia are up in arms arguing that Allah is the name of their God, too. In fact, the Evangelical Church of Borneo has taken legal action against the government. Which I guess is only human nature. We evangelical Christians don’t want Allah forced upon our theological pedestal. But try and take Him away from us, and you’ll have a fight on your hands.
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It’s Christmas in Berkeley. The streets are packed with last-minute shoppers huddled under clear, blue skies. A grizzled little man with a Santa hat cranks out the hits of the Eighties on his squeezebox accordion as passersby stuff folding money into his tip jar. A jewelry store has a sign over its door that reads “welcome procrastinators.” A line queues up outside of a corner bakery.  It’s all like a Curriers & Ives engraving minus the snowball fight. Berkley is a left-leaning hamlet strewn with broken dreams and discarded Subarus where tires go flat and marriages go bust. The gold rush is over, they gave peace a chance and are now left with a village of grayed-out hippies and close-cropped lesbians complaining of nagging back pain and osteoporosis. They sip their herbal teas, nibble on their organic, free-range granola and secretly thank Vishnu that our country is saddled with another unholy war for them to bitch about. Protest makes them feel young again, even if it is nothing more than buying that key ring at the greeting card store that flashes the countdown to Dubya’s last day in office; and the only well-funded peace candidate is a libertarian wingnut who haplessly wandered into the GOP.  It’s Christmas time. So as they settle into their beds tonight, they can dream of peace on earth, good will toward men and lions lying down with lambs. Berkeley, like Des Moines or Dallas, sleeps this Christmas eve awaiting the birth of a Saviour.  A prince of peace would be nice. Preferably, not a Republican.

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The pro-life movement has had a fascinating character arc in it’s thirty-some years of gestation. We’ve all watched as embryonic placard-wavers and zygote-like sidewalk counselors morphed violently into vitriolic megaphonists and action-packed abortion clinic bombers. Then in its later trimesters, we saw the cause sprout suavy political action groups and kinder, gentler crisis pregnancy centers. Then something happened––an unplanned birth. Science and technology accidentally hooked up and, haplessly, unwittingly, brought forth a bundle of joy: the Ultrasound. The pro-lifers quickly drew up the adoption papers and seamlessly transformed their fledgling counseling centers into full-blown medical clinics. Suddenly, that proverbial lump of fetal tissue grew arms and legs right before our very eyes. And the pro-life movement grew wings. So when my wife and I saw the hysterically funny, deeply touching indie film, Juno, I hardly noticed that we were imbibing inadvertent, pro-life propaganda. Because there is only one thing more persuasive––more strangely heart-nagging––than some whizbang sonogram snapshot of a glob of radiant, unborn life. It’s a glimpse of human truth; and you’ll find it right up there on the screen.

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The air was thick with intrigue. The daggers were out. On this crisp December morning, the brave politician was completely prepared to face the wrath of the crowd and the rejection of the masses. Knowing this could well be the end of his political life, Mike Huckabee summoned his courage and spoke up–– like Polycarp amidst the flames–– “I know this is probably a very controversial thing, but may I say to you, Merry Christmas!” What would this Iowa crowd do? Tear him limb from limb? Boo him off the stage? He would soon find out. As they rose to their feet, Huckabee swallowed hard and braced himself for a potential martyr’s death. Then a miracle happened: the crowd burst into enthusiastic applause. Obviously, this salutation was not nearly as controversial as Governor Huckabee had reckoned. In fact, it was so successful with this middle-American, evangelical Republican crowd that a more cynical observer might have misconstrued it as blatant pandering. But not me. It was a Christmas miracle! This brave warrior is waging a holy war on Christ-hating multiculturalists. The angels are watching over him. And this crowd is eating it up.

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TIME magazine has just named Vladimir Putin, TIME’s Person of the Year. Attaboy, Vladdy! According to TIME editor, Richard Stengel, “[Putin] doesn’t care about civil liberties, he doesn’t care about free speech. He has no charm. He is just pure force and pure force of will.” (I can only imagine what he says about the runners-up.) But I suppose a Russian leader without “charm” is indeed quite an anomaly––like an unicorn or a pro-life Democrat. They have all been so Noel Cowardish. Dashing men like Stalin, Kruschev, and Yeltsin. Yup, Putin is one in a million. If only we Americans had a leader with a proclivity for limiting civil liberties; a guy who lacked charm and sophisication! Then maybe our guy could be TIME’s Person of the Year. Dubya, brother, you were so robbed.

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We all have our guilty pleasures. For instance, my favorite part of ringing in the New Year is when the TV news folks remind us who kicked the bucket the previous year. Two of the names that top 2007’s list are Jerry Falwell and Evel Knievel. Two headline makers. Two men that seemed so over the top. And I can’t help but wonder how these two fiesty souls are behaving in the Celestial City. I can only imagine the Right Reverend Falwell continuing his crusade even in his heavenly abode. You know, flashing that big, toothy, insincere, corn-pone smile for the Lord God Almighty and insinuating (ever so innocently) that Saint Peter is not to be trusted; a little to Catholic, if you know what I mean. Let a Baptist hold the keys to the kingdom for a change, hmmm? And Bad Boy Knievel–– can’t you imagine the way he must be gloating now that he has finally completed the biggest leap of all. From death bed to Glory. Now that’s a chasm! Can men so famous and media-glorified actually check their egos at the Pearly Gate? Well, if not, I’m sure that the King of Heaven can easily find them more suitable accommodations.

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Admittedly, the 2000 presidential election was an aberration. It was an election decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Hope we never see another one of those. Of course, had the Supreme Court voted differently and had the Florida recount given Al Gore the Presidency (an unlikely hypothetical to be sure). Had that been the case, one guy running for today’s Democratic nomination would undoubtedly have been Vice President Joseph Lieberman. And that is the irony of today’s bizzare endorsement. Joe Lieberman is the guy that had to leave his party just to hold his Senate seat. So now as an Independent he comes out and puts his support squarely behind John McCain. A Republican. All of which has something to do with some hanging chads seven years ago in a county in sunny Florida. Yup, it just gets curiouser and curiouser. Clearly, John McCain could use a shot of momentum. I can’t for the life of me believe this is going to be it. After all, former Democrat, current Independent, future Republican Lieberman is no Oprah. Heck, he’s no Chuck Norris, even.

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It was 1968. I was heading into my first year of high school. My parents were staunch Republicans and I began to follow politics. That year the hawkish, outgoing administration was that of Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat. The tar baby war that our country couldn’t seem to win, or get out of, was called Viet Nam. And in the primaries, among the Republican presidential wannabes, was the governor of Michigan: A well-funded, strong-jawed, gray-haired patriarchal figure of a man who had recently changed his position on the war. He was suddenly, with the rest of the country, against it. His presidential ambitions, however, were quickly dashed when he explained that his previous support of he war had been the result of being “brainwashed.” Not exactly the best choice of words. Not really a quality we look for in our Presidents––the proclivity to be brainwashed. (Although, as we have recently learned, having a brain could come in handy.) This presidential hopeful’s name was George Romney; you know, Mitt’s dad? And he, like his son, was a devout Mormon. The only difference is back then no one cared. So why is our current Romney having such a rough go of it? Why is he having to address his faith in lofty, pandering speeches? Why is his highly-funded campaign now suddenly trailing that affable, underfunded Baptist pastor, Mike Huckabee? And why––as much as I like a good theological debate––are we talking about whether the cosmic struggle of Good vs. Evil is mere sibling rivalry between Christ and his black sheep brother, Beelzebub? Why are we suddenly choosing our Presidents on what lessons they learned in Sunday School? Maybe I am alone on this one, but I’d rather have an outstanding atheist brain surgeon cutting on my cranium that a middling one with an Icthus in his Yellow Pages ad. My standards for a President? Pretty much the same.

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It’s kinda funny. A school teacher in Connecticut calls the cops when she hears the janitor doing karaoke over the school PA system. The custodian was doing his heartfelt rendition of “Welcome to the Jungle.” Among the lyrics is the poignant phrase: “you’re in the jungle baby, you’re gonna die.” It was these words that rattled the teacher. Little wonder. These days, the Blackboard Jungle is a pretty scary place. Teachers are routinely blown away by troubled youth. Teachers are held at gunpoint by a government that wants no child left behind. Teachers in low-performing schools are held hostage by standardized tests that ultimately and mercilessly determine where they stand as a teacher. And the biggest gun held to their heads is the one that demands school teachers to inspire our callow youth to achieve the sort of lofty goals that lax parenting, overextended two-income households and poverty-stricken single moms fail to. The cultural cannon is blasting away at the school teacher. And no one stops to think that academic excellence never has rested in their hands. Kids learn to love books when they see parents’ noses wedged in a novel. Kids learn to work hard in school when Mom requires them to work hard at home. Kids keep their beaks out of the nose candy when Dads model contentment, godliness and love. The classroom can only do so much. And parents have to do a whole lot more. That has always been the case. After all, it’s a jungle, baby.

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Not since the days of Shoeless Joe Jackson has baseball looked this bad. With the publishing of today’s long-awaited Mitchell Report it appears that the All Stars of America’s favorite pastime are up to their dugouts in illegal, performance-enhancing substances. These All-American sluggers have been knocking it out of the park thanks to a little help from steroids. And all of us upstanding, solid citizens are shocked. What did we think? That the batting averages were up because of good, clean living? Yup. Athletes, like rock stars, are improving their game by doing what is clearly illegal. And ticket prices to both ball games and rock concerts just keep going up. And we upright, solid citizens queue up and pay the price of admission. We follow the game, play the music and rent the DVD. At the end of the day, we are the beneficiaries of these performance-enhancing drugs and thereby complicit in these illegal actions. We self-righteous, solid citizen, tsk-tskers with all of our season’s tickets and tailgate parties. We are the ones who reward this behavior that’s now as American as baseball and apple pie. Oh no, say it ain’t so.

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Remember the Dark Ages? Back when superstitious folks would pay small fortunes to possess a sliver of the Holy Cross. A chunk of the Holy Sepulchre. A bit of the Holy Grail. Well, it would appear that those glory days of borrowed glory are back with a vengeance. For it seems that former Beatle John Lennon––if not bigger than Jesus––is at least, as relicly-challenged. Yesterday, for the handsome sum of $48,000, some lucky individual gained the proud possession of a lock of Lennon’s legendary moptop. A dead Beatle’s dead hair. Forty-eight big ones. Cheap at half the price. Relics, I think, will always have their allure. Recently, my wife and I attended the estate sale of well-beloved, recently-deceased Baptist minister. The ornately appointed parsonage was full of rickety card tables covered with chipped china, tarnished silver, and discarded jewelry. Everything was wildly over-priced, yet selling like hot cakes. For with every sale, people were requiring the story. “Oh, that was the Criswells’ very first candelabra.” Really! Their very first? ” Isn’t it lovely?” Why, yes it is. And this? “Her first mink coat.” Myyyy! Yes, relics, it seems, are here to stay. For nobodies like us have always been willing to pay just about anything for a piece of somebodies like them.