Monday, October 31, 2011

Bill Moyers on Where Journalism is Going

Bill Moyers spoke at Oklahoma City University on 10-26-2011. Before his major address he held an informal "Conversation with Bill Moyers" answering questions from students. I managed to use my Galaxy Tab to record his answer to a question from a journalism student who asked what he thinks about the future of journalism.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Economics Made Fascinating

I heard a radio interview of Sylvia Nasar talking about her new book "Grand Pursuit:  The Story of Economic Genius" a few weeks ago and ordered the book because it sounded like the author could make the subject of economics interesting.  I've read a few books on economics and it was always a lot like taking medicine.  I know it is best to get it all down, but I can only swallow so much.

Nasar's previous bestseller was "A Beautiful Mind."  She knows how to tell a story.

When the book arrived, I set it with a stack of other books that I am looking for time to read and forgot about it for a couple weeks.  Sunday afternoon I decided to give the book a glance.  My intention was to read the preface and at most the first chapter, but the book is so well written that I could not put it down.  I read three chapters and 138 pages before I had to stop and fulfill other obligations.

I haven't had time to pick the book up again, but I am honestly eager to do so.  Nasar's forte is storytelling, but woven into her narrative are scores of brief summaries of economic theories and thought-provoking critiques.  Here's an example:
By asserting that labor was the source of all value, Marx claimed that the owner's income -- profit, interest, or managerial salary -- was unearned.  He did not argue that workers did not need capital -- factories, machines, tools, proprietary technology, and the like -- to produce the product.  Rather he argued that the capital the owner made available was nothing more than the product of past labor.  But the owner of any resource -- whether a horse, a house, or cash -- could use it herself.  Arguing, As Marx does, that waiting until tomorrow to consume what could be consumed today, risking one's resources, or managing and organizing a business have no value and therefore deserve no compensation is the same as saying that output can be produced without saving, waiting or taking risks.  This is a secular version of the old Christian argument against interest.

I recommend this book, even before I've finished reading it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Norman City Council Unanimously Approves Public Profanity

When Moses received the Ten Commandments God made it clear that his name was not to be bandied about lightly.  God is nobody's mascot.  No one is to speak that name without the reverence that is due to the Almighty and the penalty for doing so would be severe:

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.  (Exodus 20:7 KJV)

At the request of some pretentiously pious city council members, the Norman City Council voted unanimously last night to post the supremely profane and sacrilegious motto "In God We Trust" in a prominent place in the city council chambers.

The council did so after being reminded that the Supreme Court's Lynch v. Donnelly (1984) decision upholding the constitutionality of the phrase as a national  motto ruled that the phrase serves no religious purpose but only a "secular purpose."   The Supremes called it a form of "ceremonial deism" that is constitutionally permissible only because this reference to God has "lost through rote repetition any significant religious content."

What the Supreme Court said about this national motto is precisely what God prohibited in Exodus 20:7.

There is no doubt that the pretentiously pious city council members who promoted this action were aware of the constitutional necessity to not give the appearance that they were supporting any religion or attaching any religious significance to the name of God.  Jeff Bryant, Norman's City Attorney made that clear when he said:

The resolution drafted by the three council members who sponsored the posting of the motto "is worded in such a way that it emphasizes the historical significance of the words."  If the motto is being posted for historical reasons, "and not in an effort to promote one religion over another, it's legally OK," Bryant said.

Clearly, these pretentiously pious city council members have knowingly and deliberately promoted the public profaning of the name of the Almighty.

I believe in a God of grace and mercy but I would not presume upon that grace in such a willful and unrepentant fashion.

May God have mercy on their souls.  They know what they are doing.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Podcast: Ray and Pat Potts Interview

Podcast (27 MB Mp3) of Dr. Bruce Prescott's 10-9-11 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Ray and Patt Potts, founders of the Potts Family Foundation (PFF) and Oklahoma Champions for Early Opportunities (OKCEO). We talk about the research underlining the importance of early childhood education and about the efforts of PFF and OKCEO to inform Oklahomans of the economic and social benefits of laying a solid foundation upon which children can learn to become productive members of society.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Open Letter to Jim Wallis

October 6th, 2011

An Open Letter to Jim Wallis from Writers about American Religion and Politics

Dear Jim Wallis,

We are writing in response to your e-mail to the Sojourners list on September 29th, and your similar piece on The Huffington Post, in which you claim that "some liberal writers" -- whom you do not name -- are broad brushing evangelical Christians as "intellectually-flawed right-wing crazies with dangerous plans for the country." You characterize unnamed writers -- writers like us -- as people who are "all too eager to discredit religion as part of their perennial habit and practice." This charge is as unfair as it is unsubstantiated.

You may recognize some of us as people who have written in recent years about such tendencies in modern Christian evangelicalism as dominionism, apocalyptic demonization, Christian Reconstructionism, and the New Apostolic Reformation. We see these forces as playing a significant role in our religious and political lives.

We are concerned about your recent attacks for three main reasons.

Our first concern is your claim that writers who are critical of these tendencies are making broad, unfair claims about "most or all evangelicals." This is just not so. We understand and try to reflect in our work the idea that some, but certainly far from all, evangelical Christians embrace or are influenced by these important movements.

We agree with you that evangelicals are highly varied; are not all politically conservative; and that certainly not all are Republicans. None of us has ever thought or written that they are. Indeed, some of us are evangelicals ourselves. We know that former Democratic presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are evangelical Christians. And some of us have written about how elements of the above-mentioned movements and tendencies are also involved in the Democratic Party.

We understand that there are complexities in life, religion, and politics. We take seriously the need for and the extraordinary privilege of constantly learning. As writers, we are quite varied among ourselves. We are religious and non-religious; Christian and non-Christian. We have different histories and emphases in writing about religion, theology, and politics. We do not always agree with one another. But we all do agree on this much: These exclusionary Christian movements and tendencies are real, overlapping, and significant in evangelicalism specifically and in our political and electoral culture at large. We invite our readers to consider that there are aspects to these movements and tendencies that are profoundly problematic, and we invite you to consider that as well.

Second, we are concerned that you have endorsed the essay by Mark I. Pinsky that appeared recently in USA Today. That piece attacked some of us by name and all of us by implication. Pinsky's is but the latest in a series of prominently published smears against those of us who write about these subjects and their ties to powerful political interests. We are disturbed that you would cheer on these ad hominem attacks.

Finally, Pinsky tries to blame much of the published criticism of these elements of evangelicalism on left-wing Jews. We, including the majority of us who are not Jews, view this as a transparent effort to intimidate Jewish writers. We are shocked that you are endorsing and promoting Pinsky's attack on these writers, whose work is well-sourced and painstakingly researched.

We are also shocked that you equate these Jewish writers with “secular fundamentalists” whom you say “want to prove that evangelicals are stupid and dangerous extremists.” You do this by immediately following this claim by stating that Pinsky’s essay is one of “the best responses to the recent articles about evangelicals.”

We want to remind you that in his essay Pinsky goes so far as to compare the work of those four Jewish writers to some of the worst anti-Semitic smears in history, including false claims that Jews had "horns and tails, ate the blood of Christian children and poisoned the wells of Europe with plague.. [and] conspired to rule the world through our Protocols."

Whatever one may think of any of our published work, the fact is that none of it is remotely analogous to the false claims in the various notorious anti-Semitic forgeries known as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Pinsky 's equation of the work of the writers he names with the Protocols is despicable.

We would like to believe that despite our differences with you, you share with us a common desire for a just and peaceful world. We value honest disagreement and debate, and hope that you value these as well. Indeed, as writers we know how essential they are to clarifying and even resolving differences, correcting errors of fact -- and dare we say, perspective. These are necessary ingredients for democracy itself. We invite you take issue with any specific facts or characterizations in our work. Then we will have something to talk about. But we will not be silent in the face of smears and intimidation tactics -- which are so very far from the values of the faith traditions from which many of us hail, and the civic values of free speech and respect for religious pluralism that we all share.

We call on you to stop making false characterizations of our work and stop promoting the false characterizations of others. We also specifically ask that you rethink your support for Pinsky's smear and withdraw it.

Richard Bartholomew
Blogger, Bartholomew's Notes on Religion

Russ Bellant 
Journalist and author of The Religious Right in Michigan Politics

Chip Berlet
Journalist, blogger, co-author of Right–Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort

Bill Berkowitz
 Independent journalist. Contributor to BuzzFlash, AlterNet, and Z Magazine

Rob Boston
Assistant Editor, Church & State Magazine
Columnist, The Humanist Magazine

Frederick Clarkson
 Journalist, blogger, author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy; editor of Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America

Joe Conn
Editor, Church & State Magazine

Barry W. Lynn
Publisher and Columnist, Church & State Magazine
Host, CultureShocks Radio Show

Greg Metzger
Independent journalist. Contributor to Christian Century, Commonweal, Books & Culture and Touchstone.

Rev. Dr. Bruce Prescott
Blogger at Mainstream Baptist
Host of Religious Talk radio show

Sara Robinson
Journalist, blogger, Senior Fellow at the Campaign for America's Future

Adele M. Stan
Washington Bureau Chief, AlterNet.

Rachel Tabachnick
Researcher and featured writer, Talk to Action

Bruce Wilson
Co-founder and featured writer, Talk to Action

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Beware Kenmore Appliances

More than a month ago I posted a blog warning readers to beware Kemore refrigerators. At that time I was disgusted with the service I was (not) receiving on my Kenmore Elite refrigerator.

Purchased in October 2007 for in excess of $1800.00, my refrigerator has a 5 year warranty on the compressor and cooling system. In mid-August it stopped working. A repairman replaced a switch, charged me $295.00 for the repair and my refrigerator worked for another couple weeks. It has not worked since August 29th at the latest.

More than two weeks later, on September 12th Sears sent the repairman to look at my refrigerator again. He decided that it was missing freon and added some red dye freon that was supposed to make it work again and would let him determine where the freon was leaking. He said the refrigerator had to run for at least ten days before it circulated through the entire system and then he would come back to check it again. The refrigerator never did cool again and ran up my electric bill while it tried.

On October 3rd the repairman returned to check on my refrigerator. At that time he determined that the refrigerator could not be fixed and put a sticker on it that said it should be scrapped. He advised me that customer service would contact me within 24 hours to talk about replacing it.

24 hours later, at 10:30 AM on October 4th I had not heard from Sears and contacted customer service myself. Customer service advised me that someone would call me back in a couple hours.

Today, at 12:30 PM I still had not heard from Sears and went in person to talk to a manager at the Sears store where I purchased the refrigerator. I talked with a Heyward Chaplain who told me that my case was being handled by a Shannon Ross (or Roth) with Customer Solutions and that he would get in touch with me this afternoon.

3 hours later and I am still waiting.

How long should I wait for Sears to get their act together? Does anybody think this is a reasonable form of customer service?

Monday, October 03, 2011

Denison Gets It Half Right

Associated Baptist Press just posted an Opinion by Jim Denison, theologian-in-residence for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, entitled "The war on terror just got worse." Denison's opinion is about half right which also makes it about half wrong.

Denison is right about the need for the U.S. to work for economic progress in the Arab world and about the need to support and encourage moderate Muslims. He is right about an American veto of a Palestinian state being viewed as "an affront to their people and a threat to their future."

He is wrong to imply a need for a clearer and more unambiguous statement of U.S. support for the nation of Israel. What American President has ever stated that support more clearly and unambiguously than President Obama did in his recent speech at the United Nations?

But understand this as well: America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. Our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day.

Let us be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, look out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are. Those are facts. They cannot be denied.

The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a two-state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine.

In fact, Obama voiced such strong support for Israel that the Israeli press was concerned that it undermined any chance that the U.S. would ever be viewed again as an honest powerbroker in the peace process.

It is simply naive to believe that declaring our "intention to revive the peace process" would turn our veto of a Palestinian state "into positive leadership for Palestine and Israel."

The most egregious omission in Denison's opinion is his total disregard for the way Israel has alienated allies and undermined the peace process by incessantly building settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates speaks about the major obstacle to peace most succinctly:

"Israel is now alone in the Middle East. Israel has made mistakes. They are having trouble with Egypt. They have alienated Turkey. They assassinated a Hamas leader in the United Arab Emirates."

He blamed their isolation on the settlements. He explained, "The Arabs are angry about the settlements. Every American President has urged stopping the settlements because each new settlement makes it harder to define the borders."

I applaud Denison's desire to be a peacemaker. I wish he demonstrated as much concern for the security and human rights of Palestinians as he does for the Israeli's.