Niebuhr on the Road

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The hills of Pennsylvania on the road yesterday.

It used to be that when I would go on a long road trip, I would spend most of my time listening to music, first on my portable CD player and then on my iPod.  Once I had a laptop, I could also watch movies, which seemed more than anything to provide a pleasant distraction from the hours of cornfields zipping by my window.  Eventually, I started using my laptop to write while on the road, which was probably a slightly more productive use of my time.  However, this summer I have gone decidedly old school: I spend a good portion of my hours in the car…reading books.

I know, no one reads books anymore.  Why else is every bookstore but Barnes & Noble now closed?  If people do read books, they read them on their tablet, phone, or Kindle.  Only in extreme circumstances will they resort to real paper and ink (not “E Ink”).  For every person not reading a book, there are two or three people not reading a newspaper.  I recently observed that soon our libraries will be nothing more than a place where people go to sit down and read something electronically.  After all, it’s better for the environment. Continue reading

Egypt’s Never Ending Revolution

People often ask me what I think about the situation in Egypt, knowing that I worked for the Egyptian Press Office in Washington, D.C. through three and a half years of revolution and political transition.  I understand the curiosity, especially since Egypt is a country that few Americans understand, but the fact is that my opinion isn’t worth that much, and neither are the opinions of most of the people you see on television.

Take a look at the situation in Egypt today: the security forces have moved in to clear the Muslim Brotherhood’s protest camps, leaving approximately 525 people dead.  This is the latest in a long line of chaos that started with the 2011 revolution and has now gone through a ruling military council, an elected Islamist government, and then another takeover by the armed forces. Continue reading

A Change of Strategy in the War on Drugs

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Yes, this is a picture of crack cocaine, brought to you by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

28 grams of crack cocaine can earn you a $28,000 per year prison sentence.  A growing consensus of policy makers and activists hope to see that changed.

U.S. President Richard Nixon is credited as the first person to declare a “war on drugs”, stating in a 1971 press conference that the abuse of drugs was “public enemy number one”.  Unfortunately, America’s War on Drugs has proven to be much like Vietnam, the other war of Nixon’s presidency: long, destructive, only moderately successful, and often suffering from an unclear sense of purpose.  The following year, 1972, Nixon became embroiled in the Watergate scandal, thus insuring that he – not drugs – would become public enemy number one.

Today, America’s prisons are overflowing with those convicted of drug-related offenses.  While some are hardened criminals at the center of massive drug rings, others are serving a mandatory sentence of five years for being found in possession of just 28 grams (about one ounce) of crack cocaine.  Outside the U.S., Americans’ drug habits fuel violence in Mexico and around the world that is claiming thousands of lives.  While it may not be clear what “winning” the War on Drugs would look like, it is obvious that we are far from that point. Continue reading

The Endangered Female Bible Major

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Photo by Wikipedia user Trounce

Today, we turn our attention to that rarest of species, the female Bible major at an evangelical or otherwise conservative Christian university.  While male Bible majors have always been plentiful, very few females are ever spotted in the wild.  This is why most Bible majors have to be put through a captive breeding program, a.k.a. seminary.

You may be thinking that the reason we have such a lack of females in Bible departments is that they simply lack interest or initiative, and there is some truth to that.  However, they also face certain predators, namely cultural expectations and the fact that few of them would ever have a chance to actually teach scripture in their preferred evangelical church.  While more opportunities for females to teach are opening up, there is still a lack of plentiful resources to nourish a thriving population. Continue reading

Less Debates? Yes, Please!

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Republican presidential candidates during one of many debates that were
part of the 2012 campaign.
Flickr photo credit: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, Pool

Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus made news this past week when he threatened to prevent NBC and CNN from hosting any Republican presidential primary debates in 2016 if they refuse to cancel planned Hillary Clinton-themed projects.  As he said on the MSNBC program Morning Joe, “I cannot have companies that are in the business of making what I consider to be promotional movies about the life of Hillary Clinton . . . depose the candidates for president on the Republican side of the aisle”  Take that, mainstream media!

I’m not going to attempt to suggest that the people at NBC and CNN aren’t dying for Hillary to run in 2016.  I mean, just imagine a primary race in which Joe Biden is the presumptive frontrunner: it might provide plenty of fodder for comedians, but it wouldn’t do much to capture the public’s imagination.  The Clintons, on the other hand, have true star power.  Even the producers at Fox News must be secretly hoping for her to run so that they can reap the benefits of an anti-Hillary campaign.   Continue reading

Richard III: Shakespearean Hit Job?

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First page of the first edition of William Shakespeare’s play “Richard III”

England’s King Richard III has been experiencing a bit of  renaissance lately after his remains were discovered underneath a carpark (a.k.a. parking lot) in Leicester, UK last year.  Of particular interest has been the debate over whether or not Shakespeare’s portrayal of the late king in his famous play Richard III is historically accurate.  Scholars had suspected for some time that the villainous, deformed version of Richard that appears in the Bard’s script could have been a clever form of Tudor-era propaganda – the Tudors being the English royal dynasty that unseated Richard III and would have been keen to emphasize his illegitimacy as king.

The discovery of Richard III’s skeleton has now proved that at least two details in Shakespeare’s play were incorrect: the king did not have a withered hand, and while he did suffer from scoliosis (side-to-side curvature of the spine), descriptions of a hideous hunchback were exaggerated.  As for the many crimes that Shakespeare alleges – murdering his two nephews and a brother while manipulating his way to the throne – the Richard III Society offers a spirited defense for him.

In addition, a mock trial at Indiana University’s law school  in 1996, presided over by former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist and other legal experts, found Richard III not guilty of murdering the two princes.  Taking all of this into consideration, and remembering that the play was written more than a century after Richard’s death, it seems quite likely that at least part of Shakespeare’s tale was invention. Continue reading

Insert Cold War Pun/Analogy Here

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White House photo by Pete Souza

When writing about tensions between the U.S. and Russia, it’s all too tempting to choose a headline that brings to mind the Cold War.  I could have gone for, “New cold front hits U.S.-Russian relations”, “U.S.-Russia relationship enters deep freeze”, or “The Cold War is over, but it still feels frosty!”  Yet, in doing so, I think I would not have demonstrated personal creativity so much as a dependence on overused journalistic metaphors.  Instead, I’m going to go the smart Alec route and tell you to come up with your own headline.

All kidding aside, relations between the U.S. and Russia do appear to be on the downswing, although they may not have reached an all-time nadir. (Please note my impressive use of the word “nadir”, which is a much better testament to my creativity than a corny headline.) President Obama just canceled a planned bilateral summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, and he has decided not to meet with his Russian counterpart on the sidelines of the upcoming G20 gathering in St. Petersburg. Continue reading

Let’s Party Like It’s 1588!

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Photo uploaded to Wikipedia by Prioryman, attributed to “Steve”

History has seen its share of monumental rocks.  There was the stone that killed Goliath, the Hope Diamond, the star of films such as Fast and Furious 6, and the renaming of Simon as “Peter”, a.k.a. the rock on which Christ’s church would be built.  But only one rock is currently causing a diplomatic crisis….Well, actually  the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem could be a second, but just forget about that for now.  The rock of which I speak is the Rock of Gibraltar.

Ah, Gibraltar: It only has 2.6 square miles of real estate (that picture above is of the whole thing, plus part of Spain), but a very strategically located 2.6 square miles.  The small peninsula sticks out into the narrow channel connecting the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, making it a perfect location for anyone engaged in either international trade or international warfare.  If it didn’t already exist, the guys who made those palm islands in Dubai would have been forced to create it. Continue reading

In Defense of American Ignorance

I’m going to do something today that might shock even myself.  I’m going to defend the ignorance of my fellow Americans in several areas.  In general, I’m opposed to ignorance.  In fact, I will have to overlook several perfectly valid counterpoints in order to play this role of devil’s advocate.  What you are about to witness is something which may not happen again, but for the sake of argument, it is happening right now.

It is all too easy to point out the deficiencies in the average American’s knowledge about our world, and if it’s easy for me, it’s even easier for foreigners.  Most Americans are more likely to know about the exploits of Kim Kardashian than Angela Merkel (the Chancellor of Germany and current champion on Forbes’s “100 Most Powerful Women” list).  But as I’m about to show, there are perfectly understandable reasons for this state of affairs beyond simple stupidity. Continue reading

Southwest-AirTran Merger Update: “It’s Complicated”

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Photo by Wikipedia user MamaGeek

From the title of this post, you may be inclined to think that it is going to be a serious discussion about business in America, but in fact it’s mostly a rant about my latest travel experience.  Nevertheless, I think you will find that my “on the ground” observations are at least as indicative of the progress of this merger between two “budget airlines” as anything you will find on the pages of the Wall Street Journal.  So strap in and secure your tray tables in the upright and locked position – it’s going to be a bumpy ride. (I have no idea what that last sentence was about, but it sounds pretty awesome.)

About half of the flights I take are from my current home base Washington, D.C. to my original home base in western Michigan.  It used to be that Delta had a nice direct flight from Reagan National Airport – located about a 10 minute drive from my apartment – to Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I’d leave about 7:30 pm and get in around 9:00 pm.  It was low stress and even slightly affordable.  Ah, those were the good old days. Continue reading