Why the Ads?

Dear Readers,

You might have noticed that we now have an ad on the right-hand side of the screen.  I always hoped that we could keep this place ad free, and I want you to know that I didn’t cave in for monetary reasons.  While it is possible that some day I could see a very small payment in exchange for this advertising space, the only motivation behind this decision was the opportunity to be part of the BlogHer network.  They require that I put at least one ad on my site in order to be publicized on theirs, and my hope is that this will prove to be a very minor distraction for those who visit this site.  I have made an effort to block less scrupulous advertisements, but if for some reason you see something objectionable appearing in that space, please let me know and I will do what I can to get rid of it.  Also, head on over to www.blogher.com, where you can find articles written by females such as myself on a wide variety of issues.  Thank you once again for visiting Church & State!

Sincerely,

Amy Mantravadi

Happy Reformation Day!

Wittenberg All Saints Church, The Theses Doors, Wiki AlterVista

The “Theses Doors” at All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, where Martin Luther purportedly nailed his “Ninety-Five Theses” on October 31, 1517. Photo by Wikipedia user AlterVista

It is October 31st, a day which in the United States is associated with Halloween, a celebration that mostly involves dressing up, pigging out on candy, and covering the neighbor’s yard with toilet paper and smashed pumpkins.  However, did you also know that October 31st is Reformation Day?  What is Reformation Day?  Allow me to explain…

Nearly half a millennium ago, on October 31, 1517, a theology professor at the University of Wittenberg in Germany drafted an announcement of an upcoming university debate and posted it to the door of the local church, which in those days served as a kind of town message board. This is the kind of everyday occurrence that normally gets ignored by historians, except that the man’s name was Martin Luther and his announcement contained a list of “Ninety-Five Theses” that laid out what he believed were necessary reforms in the Catholic Church. As it turns out, the typical story of Luther authoritatively attaching his list of demands to the church door is likely apocryphal and based mostly on the account of his friend Philip Melanchthon, who may or may not have actually been in town at the time the event was supposed to have occurred. Continue reading

Trouble in the Kingdom: Saudi Criticisms of U.S. Policy

800px-Arrival_ceremony_welcoming_King_Faisal_of_Saudi_Arabia_05-27-1971, National Archives Robert L Nudsen

Former Saudi King Faisal is greeted by President Richard Nixon at the White House in 1971. The U.S.-Saudi relationship is one of long standing. National Archives photo by Robert L. Nudsen

With Syria in flames and Iran continuing its nuclear development, two Saudi princes have grabbed headlines criticizing Obama administration policies in the Middle East. What does this mean for the future of the bilateral relationship?

In the Middle East, events seem to shift as often as the Arabian sands. Rulers rise and fall, wars come and go, and firm alliances are often hard to achieve. Thus, the longstanding relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia has been one of the key driving forces in the region, an alliance based more on common interests than common ideals or ways of life.

The course of this relationship has not always run smooth. The presence of American troops and contractors on Saudi soil has been a source of consternation for those who frown on such things happening on holy Islamic land. The OPEC embargo in the 1970s revealed some distance between the two allies, while the Persian Gulf War opened the door for enhanced military cooperation in defense of the Kingdom and neighboring Kuwait. Another low was reached after the 9/11 terrorist attacks: 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Continue reading

Olympic Preview: Ladies’ Figure Skating

2013 Worlds podium Flickr { QUEEN YUNA } - Copy

Medals winners in the ladies’ event at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships: (L-R) Carolina Kostner, Kim Yu-Na, and Mao Asada. Photo by Flickr user { QUEEN YUNA }

Editor’s Note: A newer article covering all five figure skating disciplines – men, ladies, pairs, ice dancing, and the team event – is now available.  Check it out here.

Figure skating is a dying sport, or so the media has led me to believe.  Nobody understands the new scoring system implemented after the judging scandal at the 2002 Olympics.  Arenas in North America are half empty where they used to be packed.  Hardly any events are shown live on television anymore.

I understand where these complaints are coming from.  Americans’ interest in figure skating has dropped substantially since the good old days of Nancy Kerrigan vs. Tonya Harding.  More than any changes to the judging system, I think what has really killed public interest is the lack of big time American stars on the ladies’ side.  Michelle Kwan was a fan favorite for an entire decade, and no one has been able to successfully fill her shoes. Continue reading

Two Overlooked Biblical Heroes

Martha and Mary Magdalene, 1598, Carvaggio

“Martha and Mary Magdalene”, circa 1598, by Michelangelo da Carvaggio

 

Both Martha and Thomas are often viewed negatively by Christians, but when we look at their lives more comprehensively, there is a lot to be admired.

For those of us who have grown up in a Christian family, Bible stories have been drilled into us from birth.   Children’s Sunday school classes are often filled with a colorful cast of biblical characters who become examples of virtue and vice.  These stories, brought to us in full-color flannelgraph (the prime storytelling medium for evangelical Christian children prior to the advent of Veggie Tales), introduced us to heroes such as Joseph, Moses, David, Esther (her story doesn’t mention God by name but is still much beloved for its entertainment value, practical lessons, and female protagonist), and Daniel.  They also brought us a wide array of villains: Pharaoh, Goliath, Ahab, Judas, etc.

These Bible stories can be a double-edged sword for the people included in the narrative.  Only a small portion of a person’s life is actually recorded in scripture, with the majority happening “off stage”.  However, since we are talking about the Word of God, whatever details show up in the text are sure to be highly valued and endlessly repeated.  It could be that your best day gets immortalized, but it is also possible that the biggest mistake of your life will be the thing for which you are forever remembered. Continue reading

America is the New Egypt

Wiki kallerna

Photo by Wikipedia user Kallerna

America’s politicians are not much better than Egypt’s these days, squabbling and refusing to deal with big issues.  What must be done to fix the situation?

Apparently, when Americans think about Egypt, the first word that comes to mind is “pyramids”; at least, that’s what I heard at one of the many D.C. think tank events I attended during my time working on Egypt.  I get it: the pyramids are pretty awesome.  However, when I think of Egypt, I am sad to say that one of the first words that pops into my head is “dysfunctional”.

When I say dysfunctional, I am referring to the government, which since the 2011 revolution has gone from an interim military regime, to a mostly democratic one dominated by Islamists, and then back to an interim military regime.  If you like lots of plot twists, then Egypt is the place for you these days.  What the country really needs is a unity government full of technocrats who can put it back on track politically and economically, but that is easier said than done. Continue reading

Captain Phillips is a Case of Greengrass Déjà Vu

Going to see the new movie Captain Phillips was a case of massive film déjà vu.  No, this is not because I was recently on a boat that was taken over by Somali pirates, or because I was once trapped on a lifeboat for several days.  Fortunately, there was nothing from my own life that bore a striking similarity to the events on screen.  Rather, it was a case in which one film reminded me of another film, and the similarities were no coincidence. Continue reading

Socialism Under the Microscope: Part One – The Socialists Among Us

Flickr Socialist Party November 2011

Current French President Francois Hollande at a Socialist Party rally back in 2011. Flickr photo by the Socialist Party (Parti socialiste)

I’m just going to come right out and say it: the President is a socialist.

While some of us may wish to avoid talking about it, facts are facts.  The President’s policy positions, his background, and most of all his own affirmative statements prove beyond a doubt that the land which once fought so hard for liberty is now being governed by a socialist.  Sacré bleu! Continue reading

The Lavabit Shutdown and its Implications for American Liberty

Ladar Levison 2013 Flickr Gage Skidmore

Ladar Levison is not impressed with the FBI. Flickr photo by Gage Skidmore

Contributor Samuel Mantravadi believes that the FBI has overreached in its latest attempt at using technology to track down a potential criminal.

Ladar Levison is somewhat of a hero these days in software and technology news circles. If you’re not not up on the latest gossip, Mr. Levison is the founder, developer and CEO of a company called Lavabit that provides provided secure e-mail services via encryption 1) to and from its servers and 2) while on its servers (two separate methods of encryption).

In the wake of a series of secret subpoenas and search warrants given by the FBI, Mr. Levison has chosen to shutter his services rather than fully comply with the order. In the wake of the e-mail shuttering, another award-winning blog, Groklaw, also chose to stop reporting due to the possible massive invasion of privacy (previous articles still available). Continue reading

Update: Janet Yellen to Be Named Fed Chief

The White House has leaked the news that President Obama will indeed name Janet Yellen as the next chairperson of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.  Should she be confirmed, she will be the first woman to hold the position.  Of course, it would be foolish to depend on Congress to do anything these days, but I suspect her chances of getting confirmed are quite good.

Last month, I wrote a profile piece on Yellen.  Take a look at it before the President announces her nomination tomorrow afternoon:

A WOMAN ON THE MOVE (click to follow link)