Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Prayers for the President

I just heard a very disturbing story last night. Apparently there is a campaign called Pray for Obama Psalm 109:8. If you look up that Psalm you will find it says:

May his days be few, may another take his place of leadership (NIV)

That might seem innocent enough, although I don’t think it is, but it is next verse that is truly disturbing:

May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.

I am a strong supporter of the first amendment and will defend the right of people criticizing the President, but this is a troubling trend because it is beginning to take on the taint of the anti-abortion movement in which killing abortion doctors is justified, even killing them in their church. Obama has been compared to Hitler, Stalin, etc. and even been called the anti-Christ. There can be little doubt that there are some people who view this rhetoric as justification for seeing him dead.

The man who took an assault rifle to an Obama event in Arizona had heard his preacher say just the night before in his sermon that he would “pray for Obama to die and go to hell.” He says that he doesn’t want violence to come to Obama he just wants him to die of “natural causes.”

We as the church need to stand up and say that this is unacceptable. Whether we like the President or not, it is beyond conscionable to be offering prayers like this. It is even worse to be using scripture to justify his removal as being approved by God. Again, there can be little doubt that there are some who will take this reasoning to heart and feel completely justified in killing the President. And not only will they feel justified but will believe that they were doing God’s work.

As Peter Gomes reminds us (I think he was quoting someone else):
“A surplus of virtue is more dangerous than a surplus of vice.” Why we naturally ask? “Because a surplus of virtue is not subject to the constraints of conscience.”

My greatest fear going into the election was that Obama would not survive his term. The secret service is reporting that they are overstretched because the threats to Obama are greater than they have seen for any other President.

We as a church need to step up and say that this is unacceptable. This has nothing to do with politics it has everything to do with who we think God is and what we are called to do as Christians. If you search praying for Obama you will find much of this hate, but you will also find some who are calling for prayers in support, even though they disagree with him. This is what we should be promoting.

For a better more eloquent and more insider perspective on this issue, please watch this interview (it starts 3:30 into it) with Frank Schaeffer, who with his father Francis Schaeffer helped create the modern fundamentalist movement and in particular their opposition to abortion and the rhetoric surrounding that issue.

Here is another good piece on it by Diana Butler Bass, with a great quote from CS Lewis.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I Dare You to Try to Argue Against It

According to the number crunching wizards at the Wall Street Journal, in years when the Yankees win the World Series the economy does well. In fact:

Since 1930, the Yankees — who would clinch their 27th World Series trophy with a win tonight — have been a harbinger of an average of 5% GDP growth in years following a series victory, healthy by any measure. In years in which the Yankees didn’t win the World Series (either they lost or didn’t make it) U.S. output expanded at an unspectacular 2.9%.
When the Phillies win on the other hand, you can be sure that financial disaster is on the horizon. Of course they won last year and look what happened to the economy. In 1980, when they won interest rates were above 20% with high unemployment. The only time Philadelphia repeated as World Series Champions was 1929-1930 (it was the A's then) and I'm sure I don't need to remind you what happened in October of '29.

It should also be noted that the last time the Yankees beat the Phils in the Series the GDP grew the next year at a rate of 7.7%.

You don't have to cheer gratefully, but I do expect some modicum of appreciation for rooting for the financial improvement of our economy.

Learning a Lesson

I think Bill Belichick has something to teach us. There are four things that can happen when we make a decision:

1) We make the wrong decision but get the right outcome
2) We make the wrong decision and get the wrong outcome (or the right outcome for that decision)
3) We make the right decision and get the right outcome
4) We make the right decision and the wrong outcome

Just because the outcome is wrong does not mean the decision was wrong. You can make the right decision and have a bad outcome, just as you can have a good outcome result from the wrong decision.

I personally think that he was right to go for it on 4th and 2 and all of the statistical indicators say that that decision gave him a better possibility for victory. What went wrong was not making sure that his receivers went far enough down field (although Moss was right there and was clearly in first down territory) and they got an absolutely terrible spot from the ref and there was no replay possible because they didn't have any timeouts left. (Those who argue that the MLB should be like the NFL who are said to be concerned about "getting it right" and use instant replay need to reconsider your position. As this play shows us, the NFL is not concerned about "getting it right" but only about having the appearance of getting it right.)

The Colts had just gone 79 yards in 1:40 on the previous drive, and the drive before that had also gone almost 80 yards in less than 2 minutes. What makes you think the defense was going to stop Manning all of a sudden? The truly radical move would have been to have let the Colts score immediately rather than trying to stop them in order to put the ball back in Brady's hands with two minutes remaining know he only had to get in field goal range.

We often judge things based on their outcomes, as is probably a good idea, but let us not forget that the outcome does not always mean the wrong decision was made.

Sunny Days

Last week Sesame Street celebrated its 40th anniversary. This brought out some congratulations but more condemnation. The attacks seemed to focus predominantly on the fast paced nature of the show which it is claimed has led to short attention spans in children. One thing I couldn't help notice was that those who were doing the attacking were all white. Perhaps this is because there are few people of color on television, or maybe because it is a statement of privilege. What they all seem to disregard is what the common thinking was at the time Sesame Street started and the impact it has had on children's lives for the good.

Sesame Street did not create the idea that children have short attention spans. This is what educators believed at the time, including Jean Piaget whose theory of cognitive development was predominant. What the creators of the program also found in their test programs was that after about three minutes the children lost interest, and so they kept the segments short. They were following what the experts were telling them and also what the children were demonstrating. Now were they wrong? Maybe. I still think it's too debatable. My daughters never watch Sesame Street and have very short attention spans.

What the commentators also missed was the fundamental change this program made on television. For one it created children's programming as we know it now, which is focused on learning. Second it gave a positive spin to living in the city. Most shows portray the city, especially large urban centers, as dirty and dangerous places to live. Certainly not the place you want to raise your kids (again think white privilege and white flight). They also portrayed the radical notion that whites and blacks could be seen interacting in positive ways. This was so shocking that many southern PBS stations refused to run Sesame Street.

Finally, and most importantly, was that this program gave inner-city kids good quality television to watch. I cannot locate the statistic at the moment, but it was something like 95% of all televisions in homes with children in urban areas were turned to Sesame Street when it was on. That means that all of those children were being exposed to educational programming and opportunities that would not have otherwise been available. If Sesame Street had not been on then more than likely the children would have been watching a soap opera or some other meaningless program. Something that would not be helping them learn their numbers or letters.

Now wouldn't it be more beneficial if the children were not watching television at all? Of course. But let's not attack Sesame Street for our failure as a society to provide adequate low cost preschool and daycare opportunities for our children. The simple reality is many people cannot afford to send their children to good programs and so for them they need something to help supply what they cannot, and Sesame Street helps fill in some of the gap.

So lay off Sesame Street, for remember Big Bird is bigger than you are!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Getting Caught Up

So where do I begin to get caught up? The obvious is the fact that my beloved New York Yankees won their 27th World Series title. It’s been a long time and I loved every minute of it. I had also called it for the Yankees in six, which impressed those who heard me say it, although it shouldn’t have. At some point I’ll write about the economics of baseball because it’s of interest to me, but this had nothing to do with the Yankees “buying” another title. (and by the way that claim has been made since Ruth led them to their first title in ’23.) Salary level has little to do with success, just ask the Mets. Many of the players that contributed are also home grown talent, including the “core four” as they are now being called. The first team to win the series without a single player drafted by that team (I have been told) is the 2004 Red Sox. What was also very apparent from revenue and television viewership numbers is that the MLB does very well when the Yankees are very good, and all the teams benefit from that.

Tim Tebow was cleared to play and has been doing well, but there have been more troubling trends on the concussion front since then. Last Saturday, Jahvid Best, the running back for the University of California, was taken off the field on a stretcher after having lost consciousness in a dive into the end zone and suffered a serious concussion. It happened that he has also been diagnosed the prior week with a minor concussion suffered the week before which had not been caught. So, in less than 10 days he has now had two concussions. There has been some debate about how long he will be out for, which is ridiculous. The coaches, the medical staff, the university and the fans should all be telling him that he is done for the season. These injuries are way too serious to be taken as lightly as they are and the long-term risks are terrifying. It is in Best’s best interest to be done. I know that this flies in the face of the toughness issues of football players as well as the win at any cost mentality, but we have to start thinking of what is in the best interest of the players not for the fans, the university and the coach.

If you still don’t think this is a serious issue, please read this article by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker. You MUST read this if you have a son playing football, know a friend’s son who plays football, know someone who knows someone whose child plays football, etc. In other words you must read this article. If what the doctors he interviews suspect is true it is terrifying.

LeGarrette Blount, whom I also wrote about, has also been reinstated for this week’s game against Arizona State (Go Devils!). I wrote at the time that I believed that Oregon had made the right move, and I still stand by that. I’m also still waiting for Boise State to make any show of punishment for their player who instigated the whole thing, although I know the wait is in vain; and Florida’s half game suspension of Brandon Spikes for attempting to gauge out the eyes of another player was just ridiculous. I think you can also be sure that had Florida been playing someone good the next week instead of Vanderbilt (sorry Commodore fans) that there would not have been any suspension, because Florida, like Boise, has cleared made it clear that sportsmanship and good play are secondary issues to winning. That is not the statement that Oregon made.

At the time I also wondered were forgiveness came into the picture. That is where we are now. We have to give applause to Blount for dealing appropriately with this issue. He could have just walked away from everything and gone back home to wait for the NFL draft, but he didn’t. Instead he continued to go to school and to practice in order to prove himself and show that this was a mistake which he was aware of and wanted to atonement for (one of those big church words). And apparently he has done that and more, to the point that not only Oregon but the PAC-10 were willing to change their minds and reinstate him. I again applaud Oregon for their original stand, for giving him the opportunity to change his ways and earn a place, and for changing their original position when there was a new reality. If only other institutions would operate the same way. You have been given another chance Mr. Blount, make the most of it.

Navy beat Notre Dame again for the second time in three years, both times on Notre Dame’s field, and also for only the second time in the last 46 years. I used to be a Notre Dame fan, but now I root against them every chance I get. When they fired Bob Davie after the 2001 season, they interviewed Tyrone Willingham, who had turned around Stanford’s football team (Stanford has a much higher academic acceptance level than Notre Dame by the way), but instead decided to higher George O’Leary from Georgia Tech. When it turned out that he had lied about not only his playing career but also his academic career, he was forced to resign, and they then hired Willingham.

In his first year Willingham had a better record than Weiss, although in Weiss’ first year he was given a ten year extension. (Willingham also gave credit to Davie for the players he had that he was succeeding with. Weiss took all the credit for himself because he was such a great coach.) At the end of his third year, before he had his recruiting classes playing for him as seniors, Willingham was fired with a record of 21-15. At the end of Weiss’ third year he had a record of 22-15, but he was not fired. There were lots of reasons for this, the money left on the stupid contract he had been given in the first year being one of them, but when you look at the numbers, which are basically the same, and how one man was treated against the other the only differences are that one is black and not an alumni, and the other is white and an alumni.

I do not believe that the alumni piece plays all that big of a role, so that leaves race as the defining difference. This is only substantiated by comments made by the president of Notre Dame, Rev. Edward A. Malloy, at the time that Willingham was fired who said that the most embarrassing thing to happen under his leadership at Notre Dame (he was also leaving) was the way that Tyrone Willingham was treated, and he had been there since 1987. Here is a good editorial on the issue. Go Pitt!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Has it been that long?

I can't believe that my last post was on October 1, but life has been pretty crazy. But what's even harder to believe is that yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the end of the Berlin wall. It really shouldn't surprise me since my 20th high school reunion is in February, but I just hadn't connected the two. I can still remember were I was and what I was doing at the time, and I didn't believe it when I heard it. It also happened that we had an exchange student that year from Berlin and she couldn't believe that she wasn't there for the most significant event in the past two generations of Germans. In college I had a friend who was the opposite; she was an exchange student in Berlin and went down and partied at the wall even taking a piece off with a sledge hammer. I wonder if she still has it?