Archive for February, 2006

A Thought For Thursday

February 23, 2006

If we want to know what happiness is we must seek it, not as if it were a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but among human beings who are living richly and fully the good life. If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under the radiator. He will have become aware that he is happy in the course of living twenty-four crowded hours of the day…

To find happiness we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves…

No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellow-men.

– W. Beran Wolfe, How to Be Happy Though Human, 1931

Teaching About Gay Issues In Sex Ed Causes Controversy

February 21, 2006

Hi all, I have a brief due on Thursday so I didn’t have time to write a real post this week. And there was not much out there this morning on my usual suspects, but I finally found this Christian Science Monitor article that was pretty interesting. Now, as you guys know, I have my own views on why the gay panic is occurring with such ferocity. On the other hand, I have an incredibly hard time sympathizing with these parents because I can’t understand what they consciously believe they are upset about. Maybe someone can explain to me why inclusion is perceived as conversion, because I. don’t. get. it.

Exhibit A: Strict Father v. Nurturant Parent, on Abortion

February 17, 2006

Read this interview. This author’s work is a perfect example of how strict-father morality infuses the pro-life movement. (Note that pro-life activists are defined separately from pro-life people). And how nurturant-parent morality is at work in the pro-choice movement’s efforts to reduce abortions by providing better access to birth control, child care, family leave, etc. I know it’s not my day, but this just fit so perfectly with my previous post.

A Plethora of Sports Notes: "Jefe, what is a plethora?"

February 16, 2006

An NBA note:
What’s worse than being the worst team in the league? (A title the New York Knicks hold with little argument.) … Paying more than $94 million to hold the dubious crown. I mean have you seen what these losers are making?!

Obligatory Olympic Mention:
With Jeremy Bloom placing sixth in the moguls on Wednesday, yet another promising American endorser has failed to medal. That makes zero medals so far for Michelle Kwan, Bode Miller, Apolo Anton Ohno and Jeremy Bloom. All that hype with so little substance.

NL Central Fantasy Round-up: Part II
Houston Astros:
Much of the talk in Houston surrounding this team will be about two players who likely won’t have a role on this team, at least initially. Look, Jeff Bagwell has had a great career, and we can argue about his Hall of Fame stats later. But this team is likely more productive moving Lance Berkman to first base and playing an outfield of Preston Wilson, Willy Taveras and Jason Lane. As for Roger Clemens, he can’t re-sign with the Astros until May. My guess is this story won’t die for another six weeks and he eventually goes back to Houston. Where should you draft him? I think he’s coming back, and even if he misses a month, or five starts, so what? With that ERA, he could be a top-10 pitcher again.
Fantasy questions:
— What happens to Chris Burke? A year ago, this guy was going to be the NL’s top rookie, a 40-steal second baseman with some pop. Has anything changed? It sure has. Burke never really got that chance last season. Outfield liability Craig Biggio was moved back to second base, and Burke actually became the left fielder, but in a platoon. He didn’t hit, he didn’t run, he didn’t win Rookie of the Year. I’d guess Burke is worked into the lineup in the outfield and up the middle occasionally for Biggio and Adam Everett, and if he hits, he’ll play. His numbers from 2005 tell us nothing.
— Does Preston Wilson have anything left? There’s no question Wilson still has power. He hit 25 home runs last year, 15 of them for the Rockies and the rest for the Nationals. Now a gun for hire on gimpy knees and with little chance for a good batting average and any stolen bases, Wilson goes to a favorable park, and if he can play 130 games, he could hit 30 home runs. Yeah, there’s something left, but people have to forget the year he hit 36 HRs and drove in 141 RBIs. That was an anomaly. Wilson is really just a 25-90 guy at this point and, with the health risks, is not a top-50 outfielder.
— Can one of the young pitchers emerge? It appears both Wandy Rodriguez and Ezequiel Astacio will find some time in the rotation. Both are strikeout guys young enough to improve, but I wouldn’t draft either. Rodriguez had a 5.53 ERA, although it was a capable 4.44 after the All-Star break and he started allowing fewer home runs. Astacio had incredible minor league stats but allowed more home runs per start than even Eric Milton, 23 in only 81 innings. Now that’s hard to do. Neither can be relied on yet.

LSU vs. USC: Score one for the idiots.
There seems to be a new rule. If you are an LSU fan, you don’t like USC.

Chalk it up to an inferiority complex, jealousy or the ever-present desire to poke a finger in the eye of your “rival.”

I found humorous. And I’m not surprised the Trojans want to respond. But now the whole thing is turning stupid – “Idiocy turns humor in to intimidation”

Questions and Answers

February 16, 2006

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart.
And try to love the questions themselves.
Do not seek the answers that cannot be given you
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it,
live along some distant day into the answer.
– Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, 1929

I’ve been in sort of a funk for the past few days. It isn’t a hurricane-related funk; it’s a lot more complicated and strange than that, and it won’t be easy for me to describe. I guess it is some weird combination of satisfaction and monotony, two words that surprised me when they appeared in my life this week.

I should begin by explaining that I like to make things happen. I’m a sucker for starting something. Not just anything, mind you, but when something seems worth doing – and when no one else knows where to start – I still possess enough naiveté and arrogance to go for it. I don’t know why, but this is simply part of what makes me “me.”

And I hate maintenance. I love sitting and dreaming and planning and then acting on those plans. My favorite material possessions in this world would be an ink pen, a blank legal pad, and a vision. But I find little enjoyment in maintaining something that has already been created. I can do it, but it is not characteristic of my soul.

When 2006 approached, I was convinced that one goal sufficed for all areas of my life. Beyond any doubt, I knew that my goal was survival. I wanted Hurricane Katrina to have taken her best shot at everything I knew, and when she was finished, I wanted the different areas of my life to have withstood her attack. For my workplace, I wanted there to still be a group of people gathering at our church’s building on Washington Avenue. For my community, I wanted my Habitat for Humanity affiliate to still be about the business of addressing poverty housing. For my family, I wanted us to emerge on the other side still standing strong. Together.

And we have. All of these things. It is odd to feel as if you have achieved all of your goals for a year by mid-February, but that is what has left me in a funk.

I used to have this grand vision for our church family, like a megachurch hooked on social justice, but my vision has changed over the years. I’m pretty happy with what we have now in lots of ways: a place where people from diverse backgrounds (religious, racial, family-type, socioeconomic, and age) can come and be accepted, a place where the leadership is encouraging and not discouraging to people hoping to follow Jesus, and a place that will be there for you when storms attack. Not to claim perfection, but in my new way of seeing “church,” I’m suddenly feeling a new sense of satisfaction.

I still have the same grand vision for Habitat for Humanity of Jackson County, but my role is beginning to change. We are taking on staff, and my term limits on the board are drawing to a close. I feel as if we are in a relay race, and it is nearly my time to hand off the baton. And having withstood the ferocious attack of Katrina that nearly knocked us out of the race, I’m proud to be handing off in stride.

And I’m in love with my family. I love the three ladies in my house with an overwhelming love. I am proud of my wife – of everything she is and stands for. And I’m proud of both my daughters and their directions in life. I am so proud it hurts to realize what they faced this past year and to see them happy of all things. They are heroic to me, and I treasure the character they displayed to the world over the past five months.

So I’m in a funk. You’d think a guy who faced a big storm of life would be giddy to have the satisfying sense that things are suddenly clicking on all cylinders, but you’d forget how weird I am. To reference Rilke’s poetry, there is something quite “unsolved” in my heart, and I’m trying to learn to love the questions. Not to settle into a fat and happy rut of life, but to live the questions. To chase answers.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, referring to Charles Lindbergh’s historic trans-Atlantic flight, once said, “In the spring of ’27, something bright and alien flashed across the sky. A young Minnesotan who seemed to have had nothing to do with his generation did a heroic thing, and for a moment people set down their glasses in country clubs and speakeasies and thought of their best old dreams.”

It is time for me to dream again. What about you?

The Difference Between Us and Them

February 14, 2006

I have always been curious about why people believe the things they do, particularly with respect to morality. My own views seemed to spring, almost fully formed, from the natural impulses of my soul at a pretty young age (12). Struggles for equality always resonated with me; I was instinctively against capital punishment, war, racism, greed, and oppression. Why did this come to be so? (Many people have asked, including my parents, who share none of this).

It also has struck me that many people hold views on different issues in sets, or bundles, that are consistent with those of the political party or ideology to which they subscribe. But what makes those sets or bundles of views internally coherent? Why isn’t it the case that people form views of different issues that fall on both sides of the spectrum? (I.e., are against labor unions but in favor of affirmative action, or are in favor of animal rights and against environmental regulation).

These questions puzzled me until I read George Lakoff’s 1996 book Moral Politics. Lakoff explained the basic worldviews behind conservative and progressive politics in an utterly coherent and persuasive way. (Some of you may know of Lakoff as a political advisor and progressive luminary — try to ignore that. The book stands on its own). More recently, Rabbi Michael Lerner has echoed the same basic principles in his new book The Left Hand of God. Here’s what Lerner says: “[Left] means looking at the universe through the perception that love, kindness, generosity and caring for others are the central ontological realities of life, and that when they do not manifest in the world in which we live, the world is distorted and needs to be healed. [Right], conversely, means looking at the universe through the perception that life is a struggle of all against all, and that the only path to security is through domination of others.”

Lakoff’s unique riff on these basic ideas is that people view government in a way similar to the way in which they view the family. Thus, the models or concepts of how children should be raised that resonate with you bear on your policy preferences regarding how government should relate to its citizens. Lakoff calls the two moral systems “Strict Father Morality” and “Nurturant Parent Morality.” I will closely paraphrase him in my descriptions of them. But first it is important to note that most people do not have internally coherent worldviews, so one could conceivably use one model in her own family but another in viewing politics or, more likely, mix both in both spheres. In addition, many people do not subscribe 100% to one or the other worldview, but are susceptible to being influenced by both. I’m sure that many people struggle with Strict Father impulses but really aspire to be Nurturant Parents.

Strict Father morality presupposes that people operate based on rewards and punishments, and that if left to their own devices, people satisfy their desires rather than being responsible. Punishment and reward are lionized as the way to make children become good people. The exercise of authority, accomplished primarily through physical punishment, is moral because it teaches children to be self-disciplined. If children are not taught to become self-disciplined, they will not be able to survive in a difficult world.

Competition is central to Strict Father Morality because survival is thought of as a matter of competing successfully. Thus, competition itself is moral, and anything that undermines competition is immoral, because without competition, there is no source of reward for self-discipline. Through competition we discover who is moral, i.e. sufficiently self-disciplined to be “successful.”

The concept of moral authority in the community is patterned after the concept of moral authority in the family, i.e., citizens are subject to authority and are expected to be obedient. Those in authority are charged with setting standards or rules and enforcing them.

The most central piece of the Strict Father worldview, though, is the idea that the Moral Order is the Natural Order (what used to the called the Great Chain of Being). In this view, God has power/moral authority over people; people have power/moral authority over animals; adults have power/moral authority over children; men have power/moral authority over women. This way of thinking presupposes that certain classes of existing power relations are natural, and therefore moral. If whites are more powerful than blacks, for example, then whites must have moral authority over blacks (e.g., white man’s burden). A less controversial example: Since the rich are more powerful than the poor, then the rich must have moral authority over the poor. The myth of the American Dream flows from this notion: everyone has the opportunity to become successful. Therefore, if you don’t, you either haven’t worked hard enough or you aren’t talented enough. Either way, you are lower in the moral order and therefore the rich have moral authority over you. Hierarchy and dominance, in the Strict Father worldview, are necessary and moral.

This is a harsh, uncompassionate, and pessimistic way to view the world. It has always struck me as profoundly wrong and deeply immoral.

Nurturant Parent morality holds that “primal experience is being cared for and cared about, having one’s desires for loving interactions met, living as happily as possible, and deriving meaning from mutual interaction and care.” Children become responsible, self-disciplined, and self-reliant through being cared for and respected, and through caring for others. The obedience of children comes out of their love and respect for their parents, not out of the fear of punishment. Open, two-way, mutually respectful communication is crucial.

The principal goal of nurturance is for children to be fulfilled and happy in their lives and to become nurturant themselves. What children need to learn most is empathy for others, the capacity for nurturance, cooperation, and the maintenance of social ties, which cannot be done without the strength, respect, self-discipline and self-reliance that comes through being cared for and caring.

This model does not assume that people primarily learn through reward and punishment. Instead, it assumes that people learn by positive example and through positive experiences. In this view, people are interdependent, a nonhierarchical relationship. Hierarchical relationships should therefore be minimized, and legitimate authority comes from the ability to nurture rather than out of dominance. In the Nurturant Parent model, morality is empathy, being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and wanting that person to have a sense of well-being. Morality is also social nurturance (helping people who need help), self-nurturance (taking care of your own basic needs so that you can properly nurture others), and happiness (because unhappy people are less likely to be able to nurture others).

These are greatly simplified summaries of Lakoff’s theory, of course. I don’t even have space to get into the best part of his analysis, which is how each of these systems of thought lead to the conservative and progressive positions on various policy issues. The whole time I was reading, I was like, of course, why hadn’t I thought of this before? But it also scared me, because there is little to reconcile between the two views of the world.

Overall, though, with fits and starts and periods of partial regression following periods of progress, I believe that the world has been evolving away from Strict Father morality and toward Nurturant Parent morality for some time, and that we will continue to sweep more and more of the tenets of Strict Father morality into the dustbin of history as time goes on. And why not? Strict Father morality is gloomy, negative, and joyless, not to mention antidemocratic. Nurturant Parent morality is much more likely to create a world in which people are happy and spiritually fulfilled. And that’s the kind of world that I want to live in.

Quick Thoughts

February 13, 2006

No article this week. (So what’s new?)

Here are a couple of political musings to discuss:

– Does not releasing a story for 24 hours constitute a “cover-up”? Poor staff work and clumsy handling most probably, but cover up? How could the VP shooting someone be covered up? C’mon folks… we do NOT live inside a bad Wesley Snipes movie.

– Please, oh please, let Ted Kennedy come out and comment on the slow reporting of Cheney’s hunting mishap. I won’t mention the word, but it starts with “Chap” and ends with “quiddick.”

– The press contends that the public had a “right to know” about the Cheney mishap as soon as it occurred. Doesn’t the public also have a “right to know” what the Jyllands Posten cartoons look like? C’mon big media, we have a right to know. Don’t give us the pixellation cop-out (I’m looking at you CNN).

– The British press won’t publish the Jyllands Posten cartoons because they don’t want to incite animosity from Muslims. So instead they run two year old video and photos of British soldiers beating Iraqi citizens during riot control. Mmmmm-kay.

– Speaking of photos… Did you actually see the Bush/Abramoff photo published yesterday? I feel sorry for the poor sap that had to pore over the photo with a magnifying glass in order to find Abramoff. In the future, I don’t think the press should put circles around Abramoff in the photos to help us find him. They should superimpose a red and white sweater and hat on Abramoff. Call the feature “Where’s Jack?” and it could replace the crossword puzzle in the NY Times on Sundays.

The Problem of Evil

February 12, 2006

It is typically called, “The problem of evil.” Here is a simple, yet precise, definition from J.L. Mackie, “Evil and Omnipotence,” in The Problem of Evil, ed. by Michael L. Peterson (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992) p. 89-90:

“God is omnipotent; God is wholly good; and yet evil exists. There seems to be some contradiction between these three propositions, so that if any two of them were true, the third would be false.”

Typically, it is a philosophical argument that we talk about when things are going great. Life isn’t really going too badly so, we just go on and think about the problems the world faces. We see the suffering of others sometimes and just wonder why that happens.

Aside from the perhaps obvious atheistic answer being “God does not exist,” (I don’t mean to simplify this so easily as their arguments are complex, but this is the basic point from which there is an attempt to defeat any defenses from the theistic point of view) there are theistic answers such as the free will defense, possible world theory (i.e., maybe this is the best of all possible worlds that God could have created), redemptive value in suffering, a theology that suggests that God is not completely omnipotent (process theology), or is at least open to the future (theology of God’s openness), and there are even attempts to separate out the issue into categories such as “natural evil” and “moral evil.”

Rather than going into detail about all these theories, I’d rather pose what is perhaps a more important question, namely, “Why does evil happen to me?” I’m not saying we don’t care when it happens to others, but we care more deeply when something goes wrong in our own lives. We addressed this somewhat last week with the idea of “obstinate faith,” as an answer to life’s situations, but we never really addressed this from a “God” point of view, in the sense of dealing with God’s culpability.

An even different approach sometimes occurs to us in the form of, “Why is that scoundrel (fill in whatever name you like here) doing so well in life after all the bad he/she has done?”

But even from another perspective we could ask, “Why does all this good happen to me?” Or even, “Why does good happen to anyone?”

You see, I feel like we’re asking for a fair system based upon merit, which, when we really think about it, that is not the way the world works, does it? At its very basic level, this is what we experience as what is most problematic. In other words, “If I knew what it was I was doing to deserve this, I’d stop doing it so that things would go better for me. What am I doing wrong? And if I’m not doing anything to deserve this, why is it happening?” It does come down to the question, “Why isn’t God running things more to my liking?” and, “Why isn’t there a system of rewards and punishments so I could at least know where I stand?” From the other point of view, “There must not be a God because a loving one sure couldn’t let the world run this way.”

An interesting guy named Habakkuk had that same question, but did not get the answer he either wanted or expected. Instead, he pretty much got more questions than answers. Here’s how the basic storyline goes:

Habakkuk: God, haven’t you seen all the injustice happening in my little corner of the world today? Why don’t you fix it? I thought you hated evil.God: So, you’ve noticed, huh? Well, I intend to do something about it, but something so ridiculous that you wouldn’t believe it even if I described it in detail from beginning to end. I’m bringing a ruthless nation in to destroy your nation and take everyone into exile.Habakkuk: What?! Now you really don’t know what you’re doing! I thought it was bad before, but how can you let a people more evil destroy people less evil than them? I thought you couldn’t tolerate evil. What are you thinking, God? Let me wait here and see if you will answer me again.

God: I see the evil going on and one way or another, my people will see it, too. By this punishment, they will come to know that I will not tolerate the way they oppress the powerless. As for the righteous ones, I’m not so worried about them. This is the necessary way to do it and those who understand me will live by their trust in me anyway. I don’t expect you to understand completely, but this is how it has to be.

Habakkuk: Why can’t you just save us like you always did in the past? I know the stories. Why don’t you just do it that way? Why all this horror? Here we are in the midst of your punishment and I can’t understand why you don’t save us now. But even in this calamity, I will still trust you. You know what is best even if I don’t agree with it.

[End of my paraphrased understanding of the conversation between God and Habakkuk in the book of the Bible called Habakkuk.]

What is your answer? What are some other answers you have heard? Are they satisfying? Is the answer Habakkuk gets satisfying? Do you have problems with the way I characterize the book of Habakkuk?

As always, let me know what you think.

Picture of the Day

February 11, 2006

It is supposed to be the coldest night of the year tonight in Ocean Springs, though that only means lows in the upper 20s. Still, it has me dreaming of blue skies & baseball.

This picture is from Ameriquest field in Arlington on a hot summer’s day in 2004.

The sports contributor sucks

February 10, 2006

College Basketball
Think about this one: It’s not a stretch to see Gonzaga as the fourth No. 2 seed and Duke as the top No. 1 seed. If that occurs, we could get our potential Adam Morrison vs. Redick matchup in the Elite Eight in Atlanta.

Fantasy sports owners are every where. It is with fantasy sports in mind that I begin a series evaluating teams for the upcoming baseball from the perspective of the fantasy franchise owner.First up, the dreaded Cards…

St. Louis Cardinals: Even if Scott Rolen didn’t get hurt last season, St. Louis wasn’t winning the World Series. It’s not as though the Cards lost to the Astros because they had bad play at third base. The Astros played better the final few months. It was like the Steelers never losing again after Thanksgiving, except the Astros ran into dominant starting pitching in the White Sox. Anyway, the Cards are strong again, despite a few losses, and are perhaps the only NL playoff lock at this point. But there are questions.

Fantasy questions:
— Is Rolen healthy, and where should we draft him? That nasty first base collision with big boy Hee Seop Choi pretty much ruined Rolen’s season, and yours if you like Rolen or picked him on your fantasy team. He was coming off 34-124 and a .314 average. Is Rolen that good? Should we expect that again? I’d say no, but don’t forget about the guy, either. He’s not Barry Bonds coming off three knee surgeries. Rolen’s shoulder is getting better, and the Cards expect him to be ready for Opening Day. Maybe he won’t reach 30 homers, but he’s going to knock in runs and hit for average. I’ve seen his average rank among third basemen around Rolen seventh, which seems about right. He’s in the Eric Chavez-Melvin Mora range. I could definitely see him finish in the top five, though..

— Is it time we forget about that Chris Carpenter injury history? Yes, it probably is. Carpenter made 33 starts last season and was a deserving Cy Young winner. That’s two straight seasons he has been terrific, and he has averaged 18 wins in those seasons. Forget about his Blue Jays days. He’s a top-20 player overall and one of the top three pitchers.

— What about Sidney Ponson? You won’t find me drafting him. I looked at that 17-12 Orioles-Giants season from 2003 and wondered why he can’t do it again, but then I looked at his last two seasons, his weight, etc. I think he can get that ERA into the 4s, but in my opinion he’s not worth it.

A few post-Super Bowl random thoughts: I’m not surprised Pittsburgh won, even though I had Seattle going into it, but let me make a few points.

  • Until the fourth quarter, Matt Hasselbeck played as well as I’ve ever seen a Super Bowl QB play whose team was trailing entering the last 15 minutes. Even though I would have liked to see Shaun Alexander running more — except in the last minute of the first half, a dumb call that drained the clock — Mike Holmgren called a good game, and Hasselbeck read Pittsburgh’s defense as you can. If he gets more help from his receivers and refs, Seattle wins this.
  • The position that impressed me most Sunday was Seattle’s offensive line in pass protection. For the most part, Hasselbeck had time to pick the Steelers apart, and Pittsburgh didn’t blitz as much as I expected.
  • Pittsburgh had 181 yards rushing, and 105 of them came in the third quarter. To that point, Seattle’s defense had done well against the Steelers. The Seahawks picked a bad time to fall apart.
  • This was the first time an AFC team had won when ABC was televising the game.
  • Rolling Stones halftime show: Not a fan. And I could really do with out the camera shots behind Mick Jagger as he shakes his octogenarian money-maker.
  • Big Ben’s passer rating of 22.6 is the lowest for a winning QB. No wonder he felt so relieved to win. If he hadn’t played so well during the playoffs, there’s no way Pittsburgh would have gotten past anyone. One more take: His 37-yarder to Hines Ward in the second quarter was Elway-esque: Roll left, throw back right, huge gain. Roethlisberger is the youngest QB to ever win a Super Bowl and will be back, I’m sure.
  • I’m not sure whether Holmgren was miked for the game, but I would love to hear an unfiltered account of what he said after Big Ben’s iffy touchdown stood, after all of Jerramy Stevens’ drops and after the two missed field goals.
  • Wright Thompson had a good account of The Bus’ walk out of football
  • For my money, I preferred the Ameriquest Financial commercials. But I don’t want to “judge too quickly.”

And finally a less Super thought on football from a Saints Fan: USC quarterback Matt Leinart was in Detroit for a sponsorship deal in which a sweepstakes is being held to have a fan go with him to the NFL draft. Most people expect Leinart to be the No. 2 pick to the New Orleans Saints. The good news for the Saints is that Leinart isn’t going to pull an Eli Manning.
“I feel like it’s an honor being drafted,” Leinart said. He said he has no plans to manipulate the draft. He’d been content to be No. 1 with Houston, No. 2 with the Saints or No. 3 with the Titans. Getting a chance to be with former USC coach Norm Chow would also interest him. “If I was reunited with coach Chow, it will be cool,” he said.