Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Almost Beer Event

From the press pool here is what the President, Vice President, Sgt. Crowley, and Professor Gates were drinking:
The beers:
POTUS: Bud Light
VPOTUS: Bucklers
Gates: Sam Adams Light
Crowley: Blue Moon
Yikes. I had a Victory HopDevil Ale in honor of the event.

Ernie Lefever RIP

From the Washington Post today:

Ernest W. Lefever, 89, who founded a conservative public policy organization in Washington and was an embattled nominee for a State Department human rights job under President Ronald Reagan, died July 29 at a Church of the Brethren nursing home in New Oxford, Pa. He had Lewy Body dementia, a progressive brain disorder.

Dr. Lefever, a Chevy Chase resident, was an international affairs specialist with the National Council of Churches, a staff consultant on foreign affairs to then-Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey (D-Minn.) and a senior researcher at the Brookings Institution before starting the Ethics and Public Policy Center in 1976. The center studies the link between Judeo-Christian morality and national and foreign policy.

In 1981, Reagan nominated Dr. Lefever for the State Department position of assistant secretary of human rights. After months of accusations over conflicts of interest involving his think tank and insurmountable controversy about his views of the human rights job, Dr. Lefever withdrew his bid after rejection by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Among those who spoke against Lefever's nomination were his brothers, Don and John. Don testified against his brother at the Foreign Relations Committee meeting. Don is deceased, but his wife Faye is a member at Open Circle.

I first learned about Ernie when I was at PSU working on a Masters in Religious Studies and was reading Reinhold Niebuhr. My adviser clued me into the work and writings of Ernie Lefever. I was very much attracted to Niebuhr's realism at the time and appreciated the fact that there were other Brethren who "got it." My appreciation for Niebuhr remains although my views have evolved back towards a modified pacifism. I didn't retain the same appreciation for Ernie and his positions.

Prayers for his family.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Real Cost of Our Health Care Mess

Joe Klein makes a good point in response to talk about how much it is going to cost to cover everyone with health care:
Cover everyone and it costs more--but we don't know how much more, and it may cost less than we think. It will certainly cost less in the areas economists can't quantify, but which have very real economic impacts: in the level of panic and uncertainty that exists in the society, the opportunity cost in entrepreneurial energy among people who might start a new business but are locked into their jobs because they need their health benefits--and a thousand other, non-fiscal benefits.

One of my favorite Springsteen lyrics is, "We've got to start saving up for the things that money can't buy." That's the best argument for a health care system that costs less in anxiety and unfairness. In the end, a conversation about universal health care can't just be about money. It has to also be about values, about what sort of society we want to be--and need to be in an era of economic volatility and uncertainty.

It may very well cost us more money to insure everyone. Our taxes are almost certainly going to have to increase. But it is the right thing to do.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Weddings Brethren Style

This YouTube video went viral, as they say, and the couple was invited to appear on the Today Show. There was a front page write-up in the Star Tribune this morning. The officiating pastor was Jeannine Leonard, an ordained minister in the COB and a member of Open Circle, and a friend. I imagine the ordination committee will be paying her a visit soon ;).

Monday, July 20, 2009

For the Glory of God

I am sitting on my deck this morning. I have with me a book, a laptop, and a cup of coffee. It's a perfect morning.

On the corner of one of our flower beds there is a large nepeta plant, a member of the Lamiaceae or catnip family. It is in full bloom and covered with bumblebees. Periodically a hummingbird zips in and works the small individual flowers that line each stem before moving on to other plants. A couple of times this morning goldfinches have landed on stems of the plant, bending them over to the ground. I don't know if the finches are looking for insects or the seeds that are forming as the flowers are spent.

The flowering nepeta, the bumblebees, the hummingbird, and the goldfinch are all engaged in a frantic effort to use the few summer months we have in Minnesota to perpetuate their individual species. They are unaware of this, of course. They are just doing what nature has given them the tools and drive to do.

The only one aware of what they are doing is me. I have just enough interest in the way things work that I will read about the life cycle and the reproductive habits of the birds and the bees and the plants we have in our yard. For instance, unlike every other bird that makes an appearance in my backyard, the goldfinches are just now getting about the business of laying eggs. They time the arrival of their young with the arrival of their favorite sources of food, particularly thistle seeds, which show up late in summer. I have an interest in knowing these kinds of things about my backyard visitors.

But that's not the first thing that comes to mind when the goldfinch drops in on the nepeta. It's awesome; it's just simply beautiful. For a moment conscious thinking stops; some other part of my mind and body is triggered.

For a moment, and then the goldfinch leaves and I begin to think about what just happened. Where does this aesthetic sense come from? Why are we stunned by beauty, moved by music, overcome with awe when we look up at the stars at night? What purpose does it serve? Is there some evolutionary advantage to be gained by being more attuned to beauty? There certainly is no financial advantage. Wall Street executive or concert hall pianist? Making beautiful music rarely pays well.

But then the person making the music didn't choose their profession with an eye for retiring wealthy. They were likely moved to tears at some time in their childhood by a piece of music. They wanted to be able to recreate the possibility of experiencing that moment again for themselves and others. So they began to play and practice an instrument. For years and years, just for the sake of beauty. In much the same way that my wife and I have spent the better part of a decade replacing our lawn with a riot of color, just so we can see a goldfinch bend a flower stem to the ground. It makes no sense, really.

For the glory of God is a phrase that comes to mind. Why is there so much beauty? For the glory of God. Which I take it to mean that there is no utilitarian purpose to beauty. Just as there is no utilitarian purpose to the universe itself. Stars explode; planets are born; bumblebees fly against all physical odds; goldfinches take our breath away. And if we are lucky enough or smart enough to be able to lift our noses from the grindstone of the "real" world for a few moments, we might see that there is beauty everywhere we look. For no purpose. But for the glory of God.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Walter Cronkite Dead

Another icon from my childhood is gone. Because of the internet and cable TV there is no one like Walter Cronkite today. Whether I was at home or at my grandparents' homes evening meal time was organized around his evening news broadcast. His influence on the events of the day was enormous. I was too young to remember his reporting on the assassination of President Kennedy; I do remember his reporting on the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and MLK, Jr., as well as his series on Watergate and his editorial comment that the Vietnam war was unwinnable. And I remember watching Dan Rather getting slugged at the Democratic Convention in 1968 and Cronkite commenting on it. We also watched his daily coverage of the first moon landing while at school. Uncle Walter will be missed.

New Brethren Church in Twin Cities

Dunker Journal links approvingly to a new Brethren church plant in the twin cities, noting that it doesn't sound like "they will be opening the circle." The church web site is under construction and nowhere mentions that the church is affiliated with the Brethren Church, a sister denomination to the Church of the Brethren that broke away as a progressive group in 1882 only to be swept by the fundamentalist movement soon after. In any case there is nothing on the website but this list of recent sermon topics:

Introduction (1:1-3)

11/23/08 Jesus Revealed (1:4-20)
11/30/08 The Seven Churches I (2:1-29)
12/07/08 The Seven Churches II (3:1-22)
12/14/08 Setting the Stage – The Throne of God (4:1-5:14)
12/21/08 Is Jesus Really the Reason for the Season?
12/30/08 Preparing for the New Year
01/04/09 Reading the Judgment: The Seven Seals I (6:1-6:17)
01/11/09 Reading the Judgment: The Seven Seals II (7:1-8:5)
01/18/09 Announcing the Judgment: The Seven Trumpets I (8:6-9:21)
01/25/09 Announcing the Judgment: The Seven Trumpets II (10:1-11:19)
02/01/09 The Ancient Cosmic Battle (12:1-14:20)
02/08/09 Pouring out the Judgment: The Seven Bowls (15:1-16:21)
02/15/09 The Judgment of a Culture of Greed, Lust, and Power (17:1-18:24)
02/22/09 The Battle of Armageddon (19:1-20:6)
03/01/09 The Last World War: The Summing Up of All Things in Christ (20:7-22:6)
03/08/09 Revelation for the Church (22:7-21)
Definitely doesn't sound like my cup of tea, but I wish them well. Interestingly, I am just finishing up a series on the "books of the Bible I don't like and why," and Revelation is my last book.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Limits of Liberal Tolerance

From Reason, Faith, and Revolution by Terry Eagleton:
The liberal principles of freedom and tolerance are dogmas, and are none the worse for that. It is simply a liberal paradox that there must be something close-minded about open-mindedness and something inflexible about tolerance. Liberalism cannot afford to be over-liberal when it comes to its own founding principles, which is one reason the West is caught between treating its illiberal enemies justly and crushing their testicles. As British prime minister Tony Blair remarked in a classic piece of self-deconstruction: "Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain Britain. So conform to it, or don't come here." (p. 127)

One Big Happy Ant Family

I loved this BBC story about the ant super-colonies that live on different continents and how they all get along:

Argentine ants living in vast numbers across Europe, the US and Japan belong to the same inter-related colony, and will refuse to fight one another.

The colony may be the largest of its type ever known for any insect species, and could rival humans in the scale of its world domination.

...Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) were once native to South America. But people have unintentionally introduced the ants to all continents except Antarctica.

These introduced Argentine ants are renowned for forming large colonies, and for becoming a significant pest, attacking native animals and crops.

In Europe, one vast colony of Argentine ants is thought to stretch for 6,000km (3,700 miles) along the Mediterranean coast, while another in the US, known as the "Californian large", extends over 900km (560 miles) along the coast of California. A third huge colony exists on the west coast of Japan.

While ants are usually highly territorial, those living within each super-colony are tolerant of one another, even if they live tens or hundreds of kilometres apart. Each super-colony, however, was thought to be quite distinct.

But it now appears that billions of Argentine ants around the world all actually belong to one single global mega-colony.

Researchers in Japan and Spain led by Eiriki Sunamura of the University of Tokyo found that Argentine ants living in Europe, Japan and California shared a strikingly similar chemical profile of hydrocarbons on their cuticles.

But further experiments revealed the true extent of the insects' global ambition.

The team selected wild ants from the main European super-colony, from another smaller one called the Catalonian super-colony which lives on the Iberian coast, the Californian super-colony and from the super-colony in west Japan, as well as another in Kobe, Japan.

They then matched up the ants in a series of one-on-one tests to see how aggressive individuals from different colonies would be to one another.

Ants from the smaller super-colonies were always aggressive to one another. So ants from the west coast of Japan fought their rivals from Kobe, while ants from the European super-colony didn't get on with those from the Iberian colony.

But whenever ants from the main European and Californian super-colonies and those from the largest colony in Japan came into contact, they acted as if they were old friends.

These ants rubbed antennae with one another and never became aggressive or tried to avoid one another.

World domination? Global ambition? Whoever wrote this story has been watching too many old sci-fi movies. These ants and their social behaviors are pretty amazing, though.