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

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)

Classical Music Isn’t Dead – It’s on the Big Screen

A live performance of the score from "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" accompanies a showing of the film at Radio City Music Hall in 2010.  Photo by Flickr user workinpana

A live performance of the score from “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” accompanies a showing of the film at Radio City Music Hall in 2010. Photo by Flickr user workinpana

Word on the street is that classical music is dying out.  Sales for classical recordings are plunging, attendance at many concerts is on the decline, and it is getting harder for new graduates from art and music schools to find a decent job.  The reasons for this downward trend have been much debated.  As you might expect when dealing with the subjective world of art, everyone seems to see the problem a little bit differently.

“The root of the problem, musicians tell me, is a plague of pirated Internet downloads and a spreading anti-intellectual climate in the U.S. music world, especially among the young,” read one article by the American Spectator’s Michael Johnson back in 2011. “Further pressure, as if any were needed, comes from the current economic squeeze.” Continue reading

Are Women Better off Catholic?

St. Peter's Square in Vatican City with St. Peter's Basilica in the background. Photo by Greg O'Beirne via Wikipedia/GFDL Creative Commons

St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City with St. Peter’s Basilica in the background. Photo by Greg O’Beirne via Wikipedia/GFDL Creative Commons

Is Catholicism better then Evangelicalism when it comes to females?

The very title of this piece may be confusing for some.  Is the Roman Catholic Church better for women than evangelical Protestantism?  Some may argue that Catholicism is by nature highly patriarchal and even sexist.  Women are not allowed to be priests, not allowed to use birth control, etc.  The Catholic Church is run by a bunch of men who believe that marrying a woman would simply be too distracting from their duties.  They do not allow women to play a role in selecting the Pope, voting on important doctrinal issues, or administering the sacraments.

To all this I respond, “How is that really any different from evangelicalism?”  We too typically prevent women from becoming members of the clergy or serving on the deacon and elder boards that make important church decisions.  While we do not condemn all forms of birth control, we do start to ask questions when people don’t seem to want to get married, have children, or participate in idyllic family life.  Generally, the role of women in basic church governance, teaching, and administration is no greater in evangelicalism than in Catholicism. Continue reading

Let’s Give Neville Chamberlain a Break

Arthur-Neville-Chamberlain, US National Archive

Photo of British PM Neville Chamberlain from the US National Archive

In the year of our Lord 1938,

A man named Neville caught a bad break.

He sought to bring us peace for our time,

But as it turned out, he was blind –

Blind to evil that grew by the day,

To the Führer who feared not to betray.

We remember him for all he failed to be,

For his optimism and naïvety.

The peace he brought was none too long.

The gathering storm was just too strong.

He sought a madman to appease,

And avoid war by saying “please”.

No courage did this man possess,

Of duty and honor he knew less;

For no war would have come to be,

Dear reader, were it not for he! Continue reading