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

Rep. Tom Cole’s Civil War Analogy

With the House Republicans having voted dozens of times to repeal Obamacare (a.k.a. The Affordable Care Act), only to have each of those proposals die upon arrival in the Senate, Republicans such as Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), Sen. Marco Rubio (Florida), and Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) are making a new push to simply defund the program, thus killing it in every sense that matters.

There is some reason to believe that Republicans might have more luck with this approach, since they are clearly more successful at preventing something from passing than ensuring that it gets passed.  However, one Republican isn’t so sure that this strategy can achieve the desired result. Continue reading

Thus Spake Francis

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Photo by Wikipedia user Edgar Jiménez

With a single question, the newly minted Pope set off a worldwide media reaction – and raised some important questions about the state of the papacy in the 21st century.

I don’t claim to know everything there is to know about the papacy.  Smarter people than I have devoted their lives to the subject and still been left with profound mysteries.  However, there is one thing of which I am fairly certain: popes do not give impromptu, unrestricted press conferences aboard the papal plane. (Fun fact: the plane, hereafter to be known as Pontiff One, does not run on destructive fossil fuels, but is instead carried  invisibly by angels.)

Yet, that is exactly what Pope Francis did earlier this week during his trip back from a successful outing to Brazil, going where the Queen of England still fears – or at least refuses – to tread: in front of a group of reporters.  Fortunately for the assembled media, the Q & A session proved to be newsworthy for more than one reason.  When one of them asked the Holy Father a question about the supposed “gay lobby” in the Vatican that has so fascinated the Italian press, Francis gave a surprisingly nuanced answer. Continue reading

Aslan and Jesus

If you started reading this post thinking that it was going to be a comparison between Aslan, the unsafe but good hero of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, and Jesus Christ, the hero of the Christian Bible, then you are in for a bit of a disappointment. (However, you have to give me some credit for pulling you in like that!) No, this is a discussion of the recent controversy surrounding Reza Aslan’s new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.  If you really do want a serious discussion of the aforementioned links between Lewis’ literary creation and the Son of God, you may find one of many examples here.

Mr. Aslan – whose previous books include No God but God: The Origins and Evolution of Islam and How to Win a Cosmic War: Confronting Radical Religion – is, in the words of his personal website, “an internationally acclaimed writer and scholar of religions”.  He is an Iranian American who works as an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California in Riverside, and his list of professional associations include the Council on Foreign Relations.  Oh, and he is also a Muslim. Continue reading

International Tiger Day

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Two Sumatran tigers at the Smithsonian National Zoo in 2007

Today is International Tiger Day, which is aimed at creating awareness of the dangers facing the world’s dwindling tiger population and promoting measures to help preserve one of the world’s most amazing and beloved animals.  As some animal, but I was also born in the year of the tiger according to the Chinese zodiac.  The  tiger is also considered to be a national symbol of India, where much of my husband’s family comes from.  If you too love the tiger, consider making a small donation to help preserve the wild tiger population, or just read about the conservation efforts that are taking place in countries like India, Russia, and Indonesia.  I am including a few links that might be helpful.

First, take a look at the work that World Wildlife Fund is doing.  They are one of the main organizations working on this issue and have a positive track record.  Two other groups that are well established include the Save the Tiger Fund and Panthera.  They have a joint initiative that you can read about here.  Finally, check out this story from Deutsche Welle today that draws attention to the inadequacy of captive breeding programs as the sole method of preventing the tiger’s extinction.

We’ve Arrived!

While your host was on the road yesterday, Church & State passed a major website milestone.  For the first time, we received spam in the comments section!  This must mean that the world has discovered the wonder of this site.  However, it also places a responsibility on our loyal readers to make sure that real comments outnumber fake ones.  Here’s hoping that we’ll be able to achieve that.  On a related note, you can expect slightly less opining from yours truly this week as I will be a few miles out of the country.  In the meantime, try out our new Facebook feature, which allows you to officially “like” C & S for all the world to see.  Our actual Facebook page needs some work, but in the future this will allow anyone who likes this site to receive every post directly in their news feed.  Posting every update to all of my Facebook friends will surely become wearing eventually, so at the risk of sounding repetitive, “like” us today to get updates tomorrow (or at any point in the future).

Sochi Blues

Friendly mascots prepare to welcome the world to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi - but will they be welcoming the U.S.?

Friendly mascots prepare to welcome the world to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi – but will they be welcoming the United States?

What was meant to be an example of international cooperation is once again a cause for international bickering.

Since the Russian city of Sochi was awarded the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, there have been concerns in some circles that this would give the spotlight to a country with a poor civil rights record, not to mention a city located very close to the tense Caucasus region.  However, it wasn’t until a certain NSA whistleblower decided to take shelter in a Moscow airport that we had a prominent senator suggest that the U.S. should boycott the games.

In an interview with The Hill (a local D.C. paper), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was asked if the U.S. ought to consider a boycott of the Sochi Olympics if Russia grants asylum to Edward Snowden.  Graham agreed that such an action might be in the cards.

“I would. I would just send the Russians the most unequivocal signal I could send them,” Graham (R-S.C.) said when asked about the possibility of a boycott.

“It might help, because what they’re doing is outrageous,” he said. “We certainly haven’t reset our relationship with Russia in a positive way. At the end of the day, if they grant this guy asylum it’s a breach of the rule of law as we know it and is a slap in the face to the United States.”  Continue reading