Friday, October 31, 2008

Nightmare on Your Street

Joe Conn, Communicators Director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has posted the most alarming blog I have ever read. Entitled "Invasion of the Constitution Snatchers: Bush Judges Scare the Halloween Out of Me," Conn documents the ongoing threat to the Constitution posed by the judges Bush has appointed. Here's a quote:

“Republican-appointed judges, most of them conservatives, are projected to make up about 62 percent of the bench next Inauguration Day, up from 50 percent when Mr. Bush took office. They control 10 of the 13 circuits, while judges appointed by Democrats have a dwindling majority on just one circuit.”

Many of these judges are looking for every opportunity to roll back precedents safeguarding church-state separation and individual rights.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Baylor Chisels Away at Wall Separating Church and State

Baylor University used to be known as a stronghold of advocacy for separation of church and state. Then Robert Sloan took over the reins at the University and started slipping church-state accomodationists onto the faculty at the J.M. Dawson Institute and proponents of Intelligent Design onto the faculty of the Michael Polanyi Center. Sloan is gone now, but his contempt for the historic Baptist distinctive advocating church-state separation remains.

Monday the University announced that Jay F. Hein has been accepted as a Distinguished Senior Fellow and Director of the Program for Faith and Service at Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion. Hein was deputy assistant to President George W. Bush and director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives from August 2006 until September 2008.

In April 1996, when "Charitable Choice" legislation was under consideration by Congress, Baylor hosted a prestigous conference bringing together the country's most prominent religious scholars and religious liberty advocates to discuss the dangers the legislation posed to the integrity of both Church and State. Practically all of the abuses that David Kuo described in his book Tempting Faith were predicted. In those days, Baylor University was at the forefront of opposition to the union of church and state in social work.

Today, Baylor is demonstrating that it intends to stand at the forefront of the institutions encouraging the church to trade its birthright (its prophetic independence and integrity) for a mess of pottage (government funding).

God, help us.

Wired to Hate?

British researchers say they have identified brain circuitry linked to hate. The intensity of the hate is related to the strength of activity in this region of the brain. Here's a quote:

In this study, 17 female and male volunteers underwent brain scans while they looked at photos of a person they hated, along with photos of a "neutral" person. Looking at images of hated people triggered activity in an area that includes structures in the cortex and in the sub-cortex as well as components that generate aggressive behavior and translate it into action.
I'd like to ask these researchers a few questions. What if you don't hate anybody? Are the circuits used for something else or are they just dormant? Do you have to learn to hate to feed the circuitry or is hate a spontaneous response to a perceived threat?

Why is it that every time I read about research on the brain I'm left with more questions than answers?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

On Real World Health Insurance Costs

Uwe Reinhardt, a health-care economist and a professor at Princeton, reacted the same way I did when John McCain declared that the average cost for a health-care policy is $5800 -- we both nearly fell out of our chairs.

It has been more than 20 years since the health insurance policies available to me as a Baptist minister were anywhere near that range. I know from personal experience that McCain's claim is way off base. Reinhardt, however, provides more than anecdotal evidence for the price of health insurance. Here's the money quote from his commentary in today's Philadelphia Inquirer:

According to a highly respected annual survey of employer-sponsored health insurance in America, conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Heath Research Educational Trust, the average annual premium for the type of insurance employers provide is $12,600.

That includes the employer's and employee's contributions to the premium, but not the family's out-of-pocket costs, which have been rising steadily in recent years. According to the Milliman Medical Index, based on millions of privately insured Americans, average medical costs for the typical American family when out-of-pocket spending is included are $15,600.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Dembski Lectures at Baylor Again

Like an irrepressible stalker from old Halloween horror flick, William Dembski starred in a rerun of his act as a scientist at Baylor University last week. Dembski lectured on "Darwin's Unpaid Debt" to an aspiring chapter of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA). The ASA is an organization committed to demonstrating that science reconciles with literal interpretations of the Bible.

Dembski's act was definitively reviewed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in 2005. Judge John E. Jones issued an 139 page scathing review of Dembski's work and the entire Intelligent Design movement.

The key witness against Dembski and his ID cronies was Dr. Barbara Forrest, professor of philosophy at Southeast Louisiana College. Here's a link to a podcast (27MB MP3) of my Religious Talk radio interview with her about Dembski and the Dover vs. Kitzmiller case.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

CBFO Mission Project in Gulf Port

My blog postings are thin this week because I am with the CBF Oklahoma mission group working on the new facilities for Grace Temple Baptist Church in Gulf Port, Mississippi.

Grace Temple's facilities suffered severe damage during hurricane Katrina. They've purchased some land further inland from the Gulf.

Pictured above are CBFO missioners T and Kathie Thomas, Jodie Williams, and Bill Rozelle trimming a wall panel.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On the IMB's Shamelessly Political Commissioning Service

When the Southern Baptist Convention wants to send a signal to it 16 million members, nothing communicates like a missionary commissioning service.

Commissioning services used to be about missions. Today, they are less than subtle mechanisms by which the denomination signals which candidates are approved in national political elections. That is why the SBC's International Mission Board recently hosted the first ever commissioning service in Palmer, Alaska.

Commitment to missions was the cause that originally led many fiercely independent Baptists to work together. Nothing used to unite Baptists like the desire to share the gospel with the whole world.

Southern Baptists in particular were noted for their missionary zeal. Literally thousands of missionaries were sent and supported financially by the combined contributions of millions of Baptists in America. The Cooperative Program successfully combined the willingness of all Baptists in the South to make personal and financial sacrifices to share the "good news" about Jesus with others.

That was before fundamentalist preachers with a political agenda tookover the denomination and redirected its resources to influencing the political landscape of the United States. They have been gaining increasing political clout for more than a quarter century and their get out the "values voters" efforts were widely credited with making the margin of difference in the 2004 political election.

Fundamentalist Southern Baptists used to keep up the charade that they were focused on the mission of spreading the gospel. This year they have finally lowered the fascade and brazenly exposed the political mission and purpose that has become the focus for all of the denomination's efforts.

Before Sarah Palin was nominated for national office, Palmer, Alaska was the last place on the face of God's still green earth (no thanks to Southern Baptists) that the International Mission Board would have held a commissioning service.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Mark Crispin Miller on Bill Moyers Tonight

Mark Crispin Miller, professor of media studies at New York University, will be a guest on Bill Moyer's Journal this evening. Miller is the author of "Fooled Again" -- a book that documents the wideranging evidence of voter fraud in the 2000 and 2004 elections. Particularly worrisome are allegations that many of the problems with electronic voter machines (such as the lack of a paper ballot for recount purposes, on some models) were "features" not flaws.

It is rare for me to beat Bill Moyers to an interview, but in this instance, I did. I interviewed Miller in March of 2006. Here's a link to a podcast of that interview. I'll also be rebroadcasting that interview this Sunday morning at 10:00 AM CST on KREF radio in Norman, OK.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mutant Gene Gives Rise to Thought

The Daily Galaxy is reporting that Chinese scientists have discovered that type II neuropsin, a protein expressed in the central nervous systems of humans, is a recent evolutionary mutuation that distinguishes humans from apes and monkeys.

Type II neuropsin is a protein that plays a role in memory and learning.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

More About Socially Conscious Investing

After printing Whitni Thomas' letter to the editor yesterday, the Guardian has published an interview with Charles Middleton the managing director of UK's Triodos Bank.

In the U.S., the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Foundation is launching an initiative to provide microcredit to alleviate global poverty. Don Durham, president of the CBF Foundation, gave a workshop about this at the CBF General Assembly last June. Here's what the Dallas Morning News wrote about this initiative:
Don Durham, president of the CBF Foundation, provided information on new investment opportunities that will soon be available through the CBF Foundation. The CBF Foundation board is launching a new initiative to provide small loans to the poor who have no collateral and lack access to capital. By investing in these micro enterprise loans, Fellowship Baptists, churches and partner organizations can help alleviate global poverty.
Here's a link to the audio (MP3) of Phil Smith and Don Durham's presentation:

Microcredit: Empowering the Poor to End Poverty (Birmingham, June 20, 2008)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On Socially Conscious Investing

Whitni Thomas, daughter of CBF Oklahoma Coordinator T and Kathie Thomas, has a letter to the editor published in today's Guardian.

Whitni, an investment manager for Triodos Bank in London, wrote in response to an article about the enormous sums that some British charities had lost pursuing higher financial returns from banks in Iceland. She writes:

Instead of charities depositing their cash in a bank because it offers a titillating interest rate, what if they used their cash to also meet their charitable objectives? It is possible to earn a healthy interest rate by depositing funds in a bank with a capital adequacy ratio nearly double the mandatory minimum, with the knowledge (through full transparency) that deposits are only lent to organisations delivering positive social and environmental change. Now is the time for charities and foundations to demand more from their investment advisers, and make their money work harder by delivering social good as well as financial return.
Before accepting her position with Triodos Bank, a bank that invests only in projects that advance the common good, Whitni was involved in providing micro-loans to impoverished women in Mexico. Before that she was an investment banker with J.P. Morgan.

Web Browsing Increases Brain Power

BBC is reporting that "Internet Use is 'Good for the Brain.'"

It is particularly beneficial for people who are middle aged and older. Gary Small, a professor at UCLA, says "A simple, everyday task like searching the web appears to enhance brain circuitry in older adults."

Now I've got the perfect alibi for all the time I spend surfing on the web. I'm increasing my brain power.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Britain Leading World Out of Economic Crisis

Paul Krugman, newly announced recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics, has posted an essay commending British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for showing the world how to deal with the current economic crisis.

Krugman reveals that U.S. Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson lost precious time and taxpayer money by failing to heed Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's recommendation for an "equity injection" -- a sort of temporary part-nationalization of financial instititions. The reason why is that, as George Soros indicated on Bill Moyers Journal last week, Paulson is a "market fundamentalist" who believes in the perfect equilibrium of free markets. He does not believe in government intervention in the markets. Instead, Paulson devised a plan for the government to buy up an inexhaustible supply of bad speculative instruments from bankrupt private financial institutions.

Paulson should have known that those speculative instruments were all smoke and mirrors. Wall Street did. It reacted by trimming 2 trillion dollars worth of wealth off the market in one week.

In the meantime, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown took a path similar to the one that Bernanke had suggested. Over the weekend, other world leaders appear to be following Brown's lead as governments around the world are coordinating efforts to respond to the current economic crisis. Even Paulson, belatedly, seems to have seen the light. Today, stock markets around the world are up.

We desperately need to get rid of the economic fundamentalists that are running our economy under the current administration. We need some "economic realists" who know that blind faith in "the magic of free markets" is a fairy-tale made popular by a Hollywood actor who was elected president of the United States.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Thumbs Up to John McCain

As this brief video demonstrates, John McCain is beginning to reign in the excesses of his followers.

Thumbs up to John McCain. Once again, he's exhibiting the qualities that made him an American hero.

If Sarah Palin begins to demonstrate a similar restraining influence on her followers, I'll post a blog to give her credit.

Campaigning at the Brink of Anarchy

Talking Points Memo has some pointed words to say about the role that Republican Presidential ticket is playing in ratcheting up incendiary rhetoric against the Democratic Presidential ticket. Here's a quote:

Even an establishmentarian like David Gergen is now alarmed at the McCain team's own role in fomenting all the fury. "There is a free-floating sort of whipping-around anger that could really lead to some violence," Gergen said last night. "And I think we're not far from that...I think it's really imperative the candidates try to calm people down."

Or listen to Joe Klein: "We are on the edge of some real serious craziness here and it would be nice if McCain did the right thing and told his more bloodthirsty supporters to go home and take a cold shower."
The Atlantic has published a story suggesting that the political climate is verging on a return to the "Unthinkable" atmosphere of the late 1960's.

We need some cooler heads to ratchet down the rhetoric at Republican rallies. It is time for McCain and Palin to demonstrate some genuine leadership abilities.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

On the Value of Sewage

Your local waste treatment plant and those stinking confined animal feed lots could be viewed as gold mines if research into generating electricity from biowaste proves viable. Here's what scientists at Oregon State University are saying:
While it's producing significant amounts of hydrogen from sewage, this system also cleans the water. Conceptually, treatment plants could be developed that take in sewage on one end and send clean water and hydrogen fuel out the other. Their production potential may only be limited by the amount of raw waste they have available – and sewage in the future may no longer be a waste disposal problem but rather a valued commodity, another important component of the nation's sustainable energy equation.

Other forms of biowaste could also be used, scientists say. The use of woody biomass is possible. The large amounts of waste from food processing factories would be a good candidate, as well as agricultural waste such as the huge amounts of manure produced in cattle, hog, and other livestock operations. In that context, it may be quite possible to make a silk purse out of a sow's rear.
In the laboratory, these scientists are already close to the Department of Energy's hydrogen cost goal of $2 to $3 per gasoline gallon equivalent.

When hydrogen can be produced at a price equivalent to the price of gasoline, hydrogen powered fuel cell vehicles will be able to economically replace gasoline powered vehicles.

Food for Thought

Chief Executive Magazine has published a story indicating that 80% of America's CEO's support John McCain for President.

70% of them are afraid of Barack Obama.

I suspect that the CEO's were nearly as fearful of Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

New Baptist Covenant Midwest Region Meeting Announced

The Steering Committee for the New Baptist Covenant Midwest Region is pleased to announce that the New Convention Center in Norman, Oklahoma has been selected for the first ever meeting of the Midwest Region of the New Baptist Covenant.

The meeting will be held on August 6-7, 2009.

Former President Jimmy Carter has agreed to speak at our meeting.

We will be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Baptist denomination.

To see the full press release click here.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Barack Obama as Good Samaritan

Leisha Camden of Oslo, Norway has translated an article about Barack Obama that was published in the Norwegian newspaper VG.

It appears to be an authentic Good Samaritan story from an incident that happened twenty years ago.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The End of American Exceptionalism

I had opportunity to read Andrew Bacevich's The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism while visiting my sister during her recent set-back in her struggle against ovarian cancer.

Bacevich's book is essential reading for those trying to understand the dramatic changes that are taking place in our country's economy and politics. He begins with a review of the "War Without Exits" and moves on to deal with "The Crisis of Profligacy." Next he discusses "The Political Crisis" and predicts it will be followed by a "Military Crisis." He contends that we have been pushed to the "Limits of Power" and concludes that the era of American exceptionalism is over. I highly recommend this book. It is a quick read and is hard to put down at a time when what he discusses is unfolding hourly in news reports.

The author is a retired Army colonel now teaching history and international relations at Boston University. The book is dedicated to the memory of his son, Andrew John Bacevich, who was killed in the line of duty in Iraq in May 2007.

Here's my favorite paragraph:

Pick the group: blacks, Jews, women, Asians, Hispanics, working stiffs, gays, the handicapped -- in every case, the impetus for providing equal access to the rights guaranteed by the Constitution originated among pinks, lefties, liberals, and bleeding-heart fellow travelers. When it came to ensuring that every American should get a fair shake, the contribution of modern conservatism has been essentially nil. Had Martin Luther King counted on William F. Buckley and the National Review to take up the fight against racial segregation in the 1950s and 1960s, Jim Crow would still be alive and well.