Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Appomattox News Interviews Rep. Perriello

Rep. Perriello, when in district, is going from locality to locality holding "Tom in your Town," where local constituents can have one-on-one time to talk with Tom. The Appomattox News caught up with Tom a couple days ago and interviewed Tom during one of these events. Here he answers questions on the purpose and functionality of these events, his legislative accomplishments, and potential challengers. Tom offered this response on his long work hours:
A typical day is probably from about 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m., but no two days are the same. This weekend I was meeting with veteran groups in Bedford and Halifax and Albemarle County and I was meeting with displaced workers in Danville. Where there’s a place I can be helpful, I try to get there.

But we also have the same work ethic with my staff. In our district work week a few weeks ago we covered over 10,000 miles as a staff in one week in the district. There’s a very deep sense on our team that we’re blessed to have jobs and that we’re blessed to have the chance to spend our days trying to help protect other peoples’ jobs. That gets you up in the morning and keeps you up at night.

That's working a double-shift. Earlier today, I posted on what an "average" day looks like for him.

Psychiatry as Religion? Not so much, thanks.

Rob Whitley of the Dartmouth Psychiatric Research Center argues that Psychiatry has many similarities with religion. From the decline in religious observance due to the Enlightenment, Psychiatry can step in and fill the void:
I argue that psychiatry, and its hand maiden, clinical psychology, now constitutes an amorphous system of beliefs, behaviors and attitudes whose functions and doctrines are unsettlingly similar to those held by conventional religions. Are psychiatrists the new priests? Are clinics the new confessionals? Are pills the new prayer? ... [N]ow may be the time to proudly add ‘psychiatry’ to the pantheon of world religions.
According to Whitley, like religion, there is a strong proselytizing campaign to educate others about the "one true system" and to help people with their problems. Like priests, psychiatrists receive extensive training in order to treat the general public (laity), and they deal with an ephemeral, nebulous concept of the mind, similar to the soul. Psychiatrists have their sacred text in the DSM-IV and ICD-10, guiding them through "thought and deed." Like religious adherents attend weekly spiritual activities, psychiatrists encourage weekly visits, and therapy is similar to confession. Concludes Whitley:
Whatever, if Karl Marx resurfaced today, he maybe more circumspect in concluding that religion is the ‘opium of the people’. He may decide there is no need for clever metaphorical poetics in describing the people’s penchant for diminishing the pain, distress and suffering concomitant with the human condition. Today, psychiatry, and its panoply of psychotropic medication, maybe the literal ‘opium of the people’.
Vaughan at Mind Hacks isn't sold:
The 'psychiatry is a religion' argument is weak, however, as despite similarities in some functions, none of these are core features of religion. As identified by cognitive anthropologist Pascal Boyer, the single common feature of all religious is a preoccupation with unseen sentient beings, of which psychiatry says nothing.

In fact, mainstream psychiatry remains firmly materialist - usually re-explaining experiences that many people attribute to spirits, forces or unseen influences as biological dysfunction. So, in the most fundamental sense, the practice of psychiatry is typically contra-religious.
Boyer's definition of religion, the "preoccupation with unseen sentient beings," is simply absurd, but we could have a lengthy debate over the inclusion or exclusion of the core characteristics of religion. I, however, think we could agree on several legitimate characteristics. First, religion posits a coherent worldview, wrapped in narrative and grounded in an epistemological foundation, that answers our deepest existential yearnings: Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? What is our purpose? Is there life after death? Psychiatry does not posit a set of answers to these existential questions, nor should it. Second, religion asks believers to transcend the self - our ego-centrism - in order to commune (or live in relationship) with a larger, greater, and more mysterious power. Finally, religions generate a system of values and a relational ethic. It would be a stretch to say that psychiatry offers these last two characteristics. I typed this quickly, so I might have missed some more qualities and characteristics of religion.

In agreement with Vaughan, it is apparent to me that Whitley, because of his scientific background, looked only the quantifiable and actionable functions present within religion. He missed the deeper purpose and value therein.

(h/t Andrew Sullivan)

A Day in the Life of Rep. Perriello

Capital News Connection followed Rep. Perriello around for a day a couple weeks ago. From a morning press conference to late night events, from talking AIG bonuses to peanut butter filled diets, you can vicariously experience an "ordinary" of our Congressman. You can either listen to the audio or read the transcript at the link above.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Quote of the Day

Concludes Christopher Marlin-Warfield:
... [M]uch of what gets taught in the classroom doesn’t make it to the pulpit. Of course, the sermon as an art form is not the same thing as a lecture. However, what gets taught in the seminary classroom also often doesn’t seem to make it to the Sunday school, the youth group, the confirmation class, or even the bookshelves of your local Barnes & Noble. What does seem to make it to all of these - especially those bookshelves - is a form of Christianity that is all about feeling a personal relationship with Jesus and minimally about thinking about the Christian faith. That’s bad enough for those inside the church; those on the outside end up getting exposure to Christianity almost exclusively via anti-theistic screeds or Christian pop and porn.

I’m not trying to suggest that Christianity is not, on some level at least, about a personal relationship with the divine, but we have, in many ways, lost the connection to our heritage that built universities and the American public school system; that inspired education for the poor and enslaved; that inspired the abolitionist and civil-rights movements; and on, and on, and on. I think it’s reasonable to make the demand that churches - with the help of public, academic theologians - reclaim this history and engage the world in conversations about Christianity as though it is something more than a vague feeling. As though, in short, it is something serious.

(h/t Andrew Sullivan)

Perriello on the Gubernatorial Primary

During the Charlottesville Pasta Cook-off last night, Rep. Perriello stated that he is pleased with the Democratic gubernatorial field, but he will not endorse pre-primary. Saith Perriello:
"I'm not doing that in the primary," says Rep. Perriello. "We do have strong candidates, and some home grown ones here as well,l and we'll see how that plays out. I really think it's a strong field."

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Now this is audacity:
A retired police chief said he was robbed by "probably the dumbest criminal in Pennsylvania," at a police officers' convention on Friday morning. John Comparetto said as he came out of a stall in the men's room, a man pointed a gun in his face and demanded money. There were 300 narcotics officers from Pennsylvania and Ohio at the gathering.
[...]
When a reporter asked the suspect for comment as he was led out of court, he said, "I'm smooth."

Perriello and a Poker Fundraiser for Paralyzed Veterans

Two days ago celebrities, Senators, and Representatives played in a poker tournament in order to raise money and awareness for paralyzed veterans. Some of those attending:
High-profile tournament players attending included professional poker players Cowboy Kenna James, Andy Bloch and Lee Childs; Senator Begich; former U.S. Senator Alfonse D'Amato; and U.S. Representatives Joe Barton, Cynthia Lummis, Tom Perriello, Nick Rahall, and Shelley Berkley. Tournament chairs were Ben Affleck, Kyle Petty and Montel Williams. (emphasis mine).
Senator Begich (D-Alaska) came in second, losing a ticket to the World Series of Poker to an intern from the Pokers Player Alliance. It is rumored, however, that Begich might have lost on purpose.

Because inquiring minds wanted to know (read: me), I asked Rep. Perriello how he fared. He apparently finished middle of the pack, yet he was happy with his play. He had top pair on the flop with a possible flush draw. He hit the flush on either the turn or the river but lost to a higher flush. There you have it. That's journalism at its finest. And to editorialize, I'm happy that Rep. Perriello's uses his "down time" to promote and help a great cause.

Danville Register & Bee on Uranium Mining

The Danville Register & Bee has an editorial on the new study commissioned by the State Legislature. Not only should they be studying the health implications of mining, according to the editorial, but they should also be studying the economics of uranium mining - a study that takes into account the marketability of uranium, the jobs created, America's interest in other energy sources, and the cost of facility upkeep and waste disposal. Concludes the editorial:
Add it all up, and it’s clear that the safety of a uranium mine and mill are only part of the equation — albeit the most important part. The Coal and Energy Commission is right to put every possible issue on the table for this study that so many people and politicians are looking at to decide the future of this project.

But the Dan River Region doesn’t need to have another dying industry. That’s why the economics of uranium mining must be studied by the state.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Bracketology

How are your brackets doing? Are you even still in it?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Baseball and Good Friday

Although Easter weekend is a couple weeks away, this year, several religious leaders are upset that some baseball teams are holding baseball games during sacred time on Good Friday:
In a profound conflict of sacred and secular traditions, thousands of Christians who are urged to solemnly commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday (April 10) afternoon are being tempted by an alternative spring ritual: the cry of “Play ball.”

Four Major League Baseball teams—the Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals and Milwaukee Brewers—have scheduled games during the midday time window that’s considered by many the most solemn period of the Christian calendar.

Religious leaders say they don’t expect Americans to return to an age of shuttered shops and businesses on Good Friday, but they question whether baseball teams could not have been more respectful of religious sensitivities.

I wonder if these same religious leaders get upset that NBA, NCAA football, and NFL games are played on Christmas.

Praying with Palin

Politico's Ben Smith picked up on a speech Gov. Palin delivered at a GOP dinner in Alaska. The part that I am interested in is how Palin couldn't find anyone in the McCain campaign to pray with. Saith Palin:
"So I'm looking around for somebody to pray with, I just need maybe a little help, maybe a little extra," she said. "And the McCain campaign, love 'em, you know, they're a lot of people around me, but nobody I could find that I wanted to hold hands with and pray." As the crowd laughed, Palin grinned and said she meant no disrespect to the McCain campaign. She said she ultimately prayed with her daughter Piper.
I am not in Palin's mind here, but to me, there are two possibilities at work here: (1) There is a vulnerable element inherent within prayer, the opening up into relationship with a higher power. Palin might have been looking around for people she was comfortable with to share that sacred space. Personally, I would feel uncomfortable praying with a person I don't know well. (2) Palin was acting spiritually superior, and couldn't find any staff person worthy of participating in prayer with her. I would be happy to entertain other possibilities.

I want to give Palin the benefit of the doubt here, but all signs point to no. 2 as the unfortunate conclusion. Several elements of her speech here underscore this. She says "love 'em" to lift them up before tearing them down rhetorically (and spiritually). She didn't "want" to hold hands and pray with any of them, and after the comment, she quickly offered that she meant no disrespect, rhetorical cover after she said something disrespectful. Finally, several McCain staffers have replied angrily to this statement:
"It's about us people who were on the plane, who showed extreme loyalty to Palin, continually getting thrown under the bus or slapped in the face by her comments, whether she means it or not," the staffer said, adding that Palin's remarks "cause you to question not only your loyalty but her judgment as a leader."
This statement highlights the strained relationship between Palin and staffers, and this reaction coupled with the rhetoric in her speech point to a sense of spiritual superiority. I don't remember Jesus preaching this mentality, but quite the opposite. Although taking the opportunity to slam Republicans, Americablog takes the hand-off:
Considering Jesus reached out to even the harlots, that's quite a charge from Palin.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Double-shift: Tom's a legislatin'

Rep. Perriello is at it again! Perriello introduces a bill to help veterans, like his last bill on reducing suicide rates among soldiers and veterans. From his press release:
Congressman Tom Perriello today announced that he has introduced legislation to increase and make permanent veterans’ benefits for on-the-job and apprenticeship training. He also announced the formation of a Veterans Advisory Board comprised of veterans from across the 5th district who will make legislative recommendations to the congressman.

The legislation (H.R. 1098, also known as the VET-WORK bill), would provide 570,000 unemployed veterans and members of the Guard and Reserve more assistance in securing employment in today’s challenging job market. On-the-job training and apprenticeship programs typically lead to full-time, permanent employment at their conclusion.
Awesome quote by Perriello:
“Similar to how the GI Bill allows veterans to pursue higher education, this bill will allow veterans to pursue vocational training and trade jobs, a key component of my economic revival plan and a crucial option for veterans re-entering the workforce. With the recent news that the jobless rate for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan wars now stands at 11%, this legislation is needed more urgently than ever,” said Perriello. “Those who fought to serve our country deserve economic opportunity when they return home, whether they want to go to college or learn a trade. I pledge to work with my colleagues from both parties to pass this legislation.”
Notably, Tom is fulfilling his campaign promises here (i.e., his economic revival plan), however, with a positive twist. As I understand it, this bill will provide assistance to those veterans who, in terms of vocation, do not view a college degree as an option or a necessity. Not everyone needs to go to college, and people completing vocational training, obviously, provide positive and valuable contributions to our society. America needs welders, nurses, and mechanics. With that principle in mind, this bill provides a parallel option to the GI Bill. Good stuff.

On being a twin

For those of you who don't know me personally, I am a non-identical twin, the younger to my fraternal brother. In terms of incidence, twin-hood is pretty rare, as only 1-2% of the population are twins. Because of this relative rarity, non-twins are always excited to interrogate twins. For example, my personal favorite question, What does it feel like to be a twin? Sigh. Since the totality of my existence is wrapped up in being a twin, I cannot fathom what it is like to not be a twin. There is also the good ol', Do you feel each other's pain? No, I do not feel my twin brother's pain and never have. And then there's, Do you finish each other's sentences? Yes, I can finish my twin's sentences. But, I have found that with people I know intimately (other family members and close friends), I can complete their sentences also. It is about knowing and understanding how the person thinks and interacts - knowing the social, relational, and cognitive patterns of the person in which you are close; it is not some special bond or connection. The last two questions, of course, are trying to get at the possible existence of an underlying psychic connection between twins. I do not have it and most twins don't.

With all of this in mind, I kinda cringe when I read articles perpetuating untrue twin stereotypes, like this TimesOnline article on twins and their sixth sense. After a long article detailing intriguing examples of a psychic connections between twins, the article provides theories of this connection (i.e., social and genetic). The article, however, concludes with, in my mind, a more plausible possibility:
For Professor Chris French, head of the anomalistic psychology research unit at Goldsmiths, University of London, the explanation is more prosaic.

“People will always have concerns about those they love - so it's bound to happen that at some point they will have these feelings and they'll turn out to be true. But most of the time it doesn't,” he says.

“These anecdotes are pretty common between mothers and daughters and ebtween [sic] twins, and if we have a physical pain we are likely to follow it up. The problem is, we have no data about people ringing up where it's not the case - so we don't know how much of it is an intriguing coincidence, but one that proves nothing.”

While I don't rule out, by any means, the possibility of a sixth sense between twins, I want to underscore that it is a rarity within a rarity. Hope that clears things up.

Commence with the interrogation of a twin.

People make money off Madoff

A NY man played the lottery using Bernie Madoff's prison number and won. Apparently, many New Yorkers had the same idea:
Wall Street swindler Bernard Madoff is a lucky charm for one New York City construction worker. Queens resident Ralph Amendolaro said he saw Madoff's prison number in a newspaper and had a good feeling so he played the last three digits of it in the state lottery's Numbers game. It hit March 15, paying $1,500.

Lottery officials say other people had the same idea. The number combination 0-5-4 produced 501 winning tickets the Sunday after Madoff's guilty plea, up from 120 winners the previous day.

Madoff's prison registration number is 61727-054.

At least some people are making money off of Madoff these days.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Obama's Religious and Non-Religious Balance

The Wall Street Journal has a good article talking about Obama's approach to religion and non-religion. Money quote:
In the early days of his administration, President Barack Obama has developed an unusual pattern as he talks about religion: He regularly puts nonbelievers on the same footing as religious Americans.

It is a rare gesture for a U.S. political leader. But what makes Mr. Obama's outreach especially remarkable is that it is accompanied by public displays of faith that sometimes go beyond even those of his religiously oriented predecessor in the White House.

The outreach toward both ends of the religious spectrum makes for a complicated balancing act, one that runs the risk of alienating one group, the other, or possibly both.

From inviting all sides of the religious prespective to discuss policy, to his executive orders on embryonic stem cell research, to his recognition of non-believers in his Inaugural address, Obama, while not always in agreement, recognizes and respects the plurality of voices in America. As the article mentions, this approach derives from his life experience:

Part of the explanation for Mr. Obama's references also may lie with his own story. He wasn't raised religious and only became a Christian as an adult, when working with churches as an organizer in Chicago.

"I had a father who was born a Muslim but became an atheist; and grandparents who were nonpracticing Methodists and Baptists; and a mother who was skeptical of organized religion, even though she was the kindest, most spiritual person I've ever known," he said at National Prayer Breakfast in February. "She was the one who taught me as a child to love and to understand and to do unto others as I would want done."

In response to the article, a Baptist Joint Committee blogger asks rhetorically:

If the President is a man of faith personally, but chooses public rhetoric that is respectful of all Americans, and refrains from using his government position to impose his religious beliefs on others, doesn't that just mean he is fulfilling his constitutional duty? And not necessarily playing political games or trying to pull the wool over the eyes of one side or the other in church-state culture wars?
Discuss.

When over-used science fiction themes intersect with spirituality

It is an over-used science fiction theme in which humanity creates artificial intelligence, and centuries later, through enhancement and evolution, the robots/cyborgs attack humanity to claim their own destiny. Think Terminator, Matrix, I Robot, Battle Star Galactica. I am sure we could name more; those are just off the top of my head.

Reader Katie passed on this article in which this over-used theme, sans the apocalyptic hostility between robots and human, has turned into a mathematical and technological spirituality. Premised upon the exponential rate of the acceleration of technological advancement, some day a singularity will arrive, upon which nifty things, like immortality (via the downloading of our memories into robots), will be possible. Money quote:
[Inventor and Singularity Prophet Ray Kurzweil] is attempting to travel across a frontier in time, to pass through the border between our era and a future so different as to be unrecognizable. He calls this border the singularity. Kurzweil is 60, but he intends to be no more than 40 when the singularity arrives.

Kurzweil's notion of a singularity is taken from cosmology, in which it signifies a border in spacetime beyond which normal rules of measurement do not apply (the edge of a black hole, for example). The word was first used to describe a crucial moment in the evolution of humanity by the great mathematician John von Neumann. One day... von Neumann began discussing the ever-accelerating pace of technological change, which, he said, "gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs as we know them could not continue."
[...]
He argues that while artificial intelligence will render biological humans obsolete, it will not make human consciousness irrelevant. The first AIs will be created, he says, as add-ons to human intelligence, modeled on our actual brains and used to extend our human reach. AIs will help us see and hear better. They will give us better memories and help us fight disease. Eventually, AIs will allow us to conquer death itself. The singularity won't destroy us, Kurzweil says. Instead, it will immortalize us.
I have nothing to offer. I tuned out at the part where the guy was 60 going on 40. Okay, I didn't for the sake of this post, but you should have.

Second Part of McAuliffe's Business Plan, Southside Implications

Yesterday in Danville, gubernatorial hopeful Terry McAuliffe unveiled the second part of his business plan. The first part focused on the renewable energy and had implications for the Southside. The second part of McAuliffe's business plan focuses on creating jobs and growing the economy, also with Southside implications. From the Danville Register & Bee:
[McAuliffe] emphasized the need for tax incentives for industries to deliver high-paying jobs to economically depressed Southside Virginia, as well as strengthening existing small businesses.

“I will not be satisfied until every part of Virginia sees economic growth,” McAuliffe said.
The Martinsville Bulletin offered more detail on McAuliffe's plan for the Southside:
“The best opportunity to create jobs now is in Southside,” McAuliffe said in a telephone interview later Monday. “You’ve got the land; you’ve got the work force. I can do this faster in Southside than in any other part of the state.”

McAuliffe said the kinds of jobs he would bring to Henry County and Martinsville probably would be in the alternative energy field. He offered as examples factories to build wind turbines or hybrid cars.

Those kinds of jobs would be “good-paying jobs with health care and benefits,” McAuliffe said.

“Every job we get is important,” he said. But Southside’s soaring unemployment rates — unemployment in Martinsville hit 18 percent in January — and the availabilty of large tracts of land mean “we need and want to focus on bringing in new industry, new businesses where at least 1,000 jobs would come,” he said.
In both parts of McAuliffe's business plan, he recognizes the need to bring new (industrial) jobs to the area, and he believes that the Southside can be on the cutting edge of the new energy economy. I dig it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bad theology, awful metaphors, and NASCAR

My fave! There are apparently several of parallels between NASCAR and theology, according to Rick Lemons, author of The Race. Money quote:
Just as NASCAR teams work together to improve a car's performance in Pit Row, God has provided all we need to drive a victorious race. Lemons points out that we have a pit crew-other believers-and a crew chief in God. By making frequent pit stops for God's Word, Worship, Fellowship, Prayer, Accountability, and Encouragement, we equip ourselves for ultimate performance. He explains how these are like fuel, new tires, a strong battery, receiving instructions from the Crew Chief, listening to your spotter, and receiving a refreshing drink during a NASCAR event.
For some reason, Jesus isn't part of this theology. But it's obvious, like the bumper stickers say, that Jesus is my co-pilot. Or is Jesus the "spotter?" I'm confused. But not all, apparently, is good:
Lemons also warns of accidents resulting from debris that Satan throws our way; Satan wants to put us on the "dnf" list-did not finish. Lemons forewarns of wreckage that can disqualify us. NASCAR teams understand that having the best car does not guarantee victory on every race day. Forty-three cars begin each race, but not all will finish.
While I'm a universalist, at least according to this theology salvation is for those who merely finish the race and not solely for the person who finishes first. That's at least something. But did you notice how Satan has powers over and within the world, while God is just a consummate supervisor or Crew Chief? Satan has a more immanent and pro-active role in creation, while God is transcendent and only relationally engaged during worship, the pit stop of everyday life. Or said differently, Satan is involved in the race - in order to disqualify or wreck us - but God is on Pit Row. Yikes.

(h/t Andrew Sullivan)

McAuliffe on Uranium Mining

From the Danville Register and Bee:
Democrat Terry McAuliffe wouldn’t say whether he’d back uranium mining in Virginia as he expanded what he calls his business plan for the state.

... McAuliffe said he’d await the results of a study on health and environmental effects of the proposed mine near Chatham.

When asked whether Virginia Uranium Inc., which stands to make billions from mining, should pay for the study, McAuliffe had no objection to it.

He effectively punted here, but I haven't heard Moran or Deeds on the issue.

Goode as Constitution Party's Presidential Candidate?

The Constitution Party has announced its speakers for this year's National Committee Meeting. Virgil Goode is among the speakers. But let me post this nugget:
Virgil Goode is of particular interest for several reasons. He filed paperwork last week to seek a rematch against Rep. Tom Perillo [sic] as a Republican. However, Goode has a history of being trans-partisan; He started his congressional career as a Democrat, became an Independent in 2000, and then joined the Republican Party. He is also rumored to be a prospective candidate for the Constitution Party’s presidential nomination in 2012. (emphasis mine)
(h/t John Cosgriff)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bleep this: How the economy is affecting cursing

Here's an interesting article on how the recession is affecting our potty-mouths. Money quote:
According to Los Angeles psychotherapist Nancy Irwin, a foul economy is prompting more outbursts of foul language.

“There are a lot of elements that are out of our control right now and as a result, there’s a lot more frustration, a lot more fear and anxiety,” she says. “When people feel that, many cuss. Swearing is something that gives us an instantaneous release.”

The article goes on to explain the cathartic, psychological, envolutionary, and cultural make-up of cursing ... that is, if you bleepin' care.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bracketology

How are your brackets doing?

(Guest Post) Veteran critical of Obama, applauds Perriello

(This is a guest post by an anonymous veteran. As a reminder, I am more than happy to post other voices on this blog, if those posts are thoughtful, respectful, and dialogue provoking.)

As a veteran, I was stressed to hear that the Obama Administration was considering a proposal that would force veterans to use their private insurance to pay for the treatment of combat-related injuries. During the campaign, Obama made several promises to veterans including “Fully Fund[ing] Veteran’s Administration Medical Care” and “Allow[ing] All Veterans Back into the VA health system.” It was strongly implied that when he became President, he would ensure proper health care to those returning from war.

In less than two months since being inaugurated, President Obama almost broke a sacred promise to those that have served our country. He considered limiting payment for our medical care for combat-related injuries. This would have not only broken his campaign promises to veterans, but would have fundamentally brought into question his administration’s commitment to the men and women still in uniform, those in harm’s way ensuring our freedoms and liberties. One of the reasons many veterans voted for Obama for President was his promises to not fail those in the uniformed services, like the previous administration had done so often. With the horrors of the Bush Administration dumping Reservists and National Guard personnel back into the Pay-As-You-Go Civilian Health Care system, rather than providing proper treatment of their injuries, wounds and amputations after deployments, veterans turned to then Senator Obama for real and permanent change. It appears that what we got for our support was the same disregard we received from former President Bush. Although we applaud our President for reversing course in favor of support for veterans with service related injuries, he should be aware that he will have to earn our full trust back, and it will not be won easily or cheaply.

Veterans, however, can praise, without reservation, the 70 members of the House of Representatives, from both political parties, who sent a letter to President Obama to urging him to abandon his proposal that would have forced veterans to use their private insurance to pay for the treatment of combat-related injuries. They were lead by Representative Glenn Nye (D-VA 2) and wholeheartedly supported by Virginia Representatives Tom Perriello (D-VA 5) and Rob Wittman (R-VA 1).

Congressman Perriello’s strong and vocal support was especially meaningful to veterans, because he is a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. To underscore his commitment to veterans, Representative Perriello stated:
We saw a threat to our veterans, and joined across the aisle to produce immediate results. That is what our brave veterans deserve from Washington.
It showed great courage and leadership for Representative Perriello, a freshman, to challenge the new President. Perriello honored his pledge to veterans, and it is good to know that people of Virginia’s 5th Congressional District are represented by someone who supports us. Veterans have fought and died to ensure our national security and fragile freedoms remain safe. It is heartening to be reminded by our Representative that our actions are not forgotten. He has shown himself to be a true friend of Veterans.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reading Obama's NCAA Bracket (updated)

Obama has caused a lot of stir with his NCAA bracket, and that he even took the time to fill one out. You can view his bracket here. Bloggers have already tried to subscribe personality characteristics and political motives to his picks. One blogger thinks that Obama's picks show a conservative (read: not a big risk-taker), yet pragmatic approach to leadership. On the other hand, Nate Silver uses statistics to prove that Obama chose swing-states in his bracket, obviously politically-minded choices. Personally, I don't give too much weight to either theory, as they are just March Madness picks; let's not read too much into them.

Obama's bracket upset Coach K of Duke for his selection of UNC as National Champions. Saith Coach K:
Somebody said that we're not in President Obama's Final Four, and as much as I respect what he's doing, really, the economy is something that he should focus on, probably more than the brackets.
It has been theorized that this was a political response, as Krzyzewski is a devout Republican, but Obama responded graciously and knowledgeably:
Coach K, I think, is a great coach, and you know Reggie Love, my assistant, played for Coack K, and so, you know, it's not surprising--I didn't take them to go to the finals. Look, you know, he's a competitive guy. I just don't think they've got the inside game to go all the way, but I look forward to him proving me wrong.
Picking up on this non-controversy, Congressional Republicans have agreed with Coach K's sentiments, mocking Obama for taking the time to fill out a bracket and go on Jay Leno's show in the midst of the AIG scandal and economic distress.

Update: The Christian Science Monitor, after reviewing both sides of the blogosphere and looking at the actual video, believes that Coach K was having a light-hearted moment.

Goode campaigning

John Barnhart, the uber-conservative columnist for the Bedford Bulletin, writes his weekly column on the potential Perriello v. Goode rematch. Notably, Goode is campaigning throughout the district against the stimulus package and the upcoming budget battle. Money quote (emphasis mine):
Goode said that he has been going to local Republican committee meetings in the district. He’s also looking at major issues coming before the House of Representatives. The biggest, at present, have involved spending, although Goode notes that it is still early in the session.

“I was concerned, like every other Republican, about the size of the stimulus,” Goode said.

Along with the size of the $787 billion package, Goode questions its value as a stimulus. He said it contains items that have been on some House members ‘wish lists for several years.

President Barack Obama’s budget proposal is also a concern.

“It’s huge, too,” Goode said. “It calls for the biggest deficit we have ever had. It’s pushing up debt.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Vicar of Christ needs a Mulligan

Despite my theological disagreements, I have much respect for Catholicism and the Pope. Generally speaking, I love reading about the Pope, his decrees, and his actions around the world. And, of course, I want my own pope-mobile.

With that said, yesterday's statement by the Pope on condoms and AIDS was absolutely ludicrous:
Benedict also said the Roman Catholic Church was at the forefront of the battle against AIDS.

"You can't resolve it with the distribution of condoms," the pope told reporters aboard the Alitalia plane heading to Yaounde. "On the contrary, it increases the problem."

For the life of me, I can't figure this out. Of course, the first part of his statement rings true. Condoms alone can't prevent the spread of AIDS, and those wearing condoms are not immune from catching the disease; condoms break, etc. In this mindset, it seems like air-tight logic to conclude that condoms decrease the spread of AIDS. But, according to the Pope, condom's increase the spread of the disease!?! The NYT has a good editorial questioning the sanity of this statement. Money quote:

From a national perspective, condom promotion has been effective in slowing epidemics in several countries among high-risk groups, such as sex workers and their customers, but less effective in slowing epidemics that have spread into the general population, as in much of sub-Saharan Africa. That is probably because far too few people use condoms consistently and correctly.

Even so, health authorities consider condoms a valuable component of any well-rounded program to prevent the spread of AIDS. It seems irresponsible to blame condoms for making the epidemic worse.

On Obama: Bush v. Cheney

Bush on Obama:
"I'm not going to spend my time criticizing him. There are plenty of critics in the arena," Bush said. "He deserves my silence."

"I love my country a lot more than I love politics," Bush said. "I think it is essential that he be helped in office."
Cheney on Obama:
Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday that President Obama had made the country less safe, asserting that the new administration’s changes to detention and interrogation programs for terrorism suspects would hamper intelligence gathering.
[...]
“He is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack,” Mr. Cheney said of Mr. Obama in an interview on the CNN program “State of the Union.”
(h/t Andrew Sullivan and Marc Ambinder)

Rep. Perriello and National Service Reserve Corps



Today, Rep. Perriello helped pass the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education (GIVE) Act. Further explanation from his press release:
The GIVE Act would more than triple the number of volunteers, from the current 75,000 to 250,000, and increase the education reward they receive to $5,350 for next year. The education award can be used to pay for college, graduate school, or to pay back qualified student loans. Some national service members may also receive a modest living allowance during their term of service.
Money quote:
“In our nation’s history, every crisis comes with a call to service. This bipartisan bill will expand opportunities for all Americans to serve their communities and country. As someone who grew up in the community service generation, I believe full-time national service is a great option for graduating high school students, young people looking to jumpstart their careers, and even displaced workers and seniors,” said Perriello.

He added: “I’m proud of my proposal to create a reserve corps, which will tap into the skills and talent of our service alumni in case of a national emergency.”
Importantly, Rep. Perriello added an amendment to the bill to create a National Service Reserves Corps, which passed with stunning bipartisanship, 339-93. Here is video of Perriello explaining his amendment. Notably, he was a volunteer buildinging a green house during the filming of the video.

Volunteerism is important to Perriello. He has spent his life at service to his community and nation, from Boy Scouts to working overseas to help end war and genocide. During his campaign, Tom, staff, and volunteers tithed 10% of their time to help strengthen local communities, from domestic violence shelters to soup kitchens; from reading to underprivileged youth to adult day care centers. This bill and his amendment are a natural extension of his behavioral ethic.

Committing to building new generations of volunteers that give back go their communities, both locally or nationally, positively strengthens civic engagement and responsibility, the sense that we are all in this together. And, as Tom said in the top video, volunteers now become volunteers later.

Thank you, Tom!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Islamic Creationism and Canada's Science Minister

Adnan Oktar, a former interior designer, is finishing his magnum-opus on Islamic Creationism that, in his mind, will deal a death-blow to Darwin and evolution. Oktar's ideas, with the strong support of lawyers, are generating a lot of support in Turkey despite the strong opposition from his detractors and strong criticism from Richard Dawkins. Very fascinating, however, to see the theology behind Islamic Creationism:
Unlike strict Christian creationists, who assert the world was created in six days around 10,000 years ago, Mr. Oktar allows for a far longer time period stretching back billions of years. But he agrees with those Christians who insist life didn't evolve, asserting that animals and plants now are exactly as they were at the dawn of time.

His "Atlas of Creation" produces thousands of pictures of fossils of birds, snakes and other creatures side by side with what he says are their identical modern kin.
To which Dawkins replies:
"He is a complete and utter ignoramus."
Touche.

On a similar but separate note, Canada's Science Minister, Gary Goodyear, is dodging questions about his views on evolution and creationism. Because of budget cuts in scientific researchers, some in the research community are accusing Goodyear of being suspicious of science. When asked a straightforward question about his beliefs on evolution, Goodyear dodges and invokes vague Christian beliefs:
Canada's science minister, the man at the centre of the controversy over federal funding cuts to researchers, won't say if he believes in evolution.

"I'm not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don't think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate," Gary Goodyear, the federal Minister of State for Science and Technology, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

Now, I am not going to mock anyone for holding creationistic beliefs, whatever my disagreements, but if you are the Minister of State for Science and Technology, I would expect - heck, demand! - a full-throated endorsement of evolution and a scientific-based understanding of the world. That's just me, I guess.

Jon Stewart the Rush Limbaugh of the Left?

Digby thinks that Republicans are trying to brand Stewart in the same vein that Democrats have branded Limbaugh. Doubt it will gain traction.

Crazy News & Advance editorial on Rep. Perriello

Yesterday the Lynchburg News & Advance, a paper skewed to the right, hence Lynchburg, came out with an editorial chiding Rep. Perriello. With serpentine-like logical cohesion, the editorial staff is "heartened" by the potential rematch between Perriello and former Congressman Goode in the next election. Their thinking goes, if Goode enters in the race, Perriello will have to vote more honestly. Of course, to further argue their point, Rep. Perriello is the most vulnerable incumbent EVER, nevermind their erroneous data interpretation therein (read: Obama coattails!). But, like magnanimous soothesayers, they offer advice for Tom, because he is already beholden to the "bright lights" of Washington. Perriello should stand with small business (read: vote against the Employee Free Choice Act) and should become a Blue Dog fiscal conservative (read: never, ever side with Pelosi and the liberals). The end.

This is the same newspaper that defended Perriello against the vicious NRCC attack ads. Go figure.

220South: Uranium Mining

220South has a great blog post providing updates and group movements on the possibility of uranium mining here in the Southside, specifically Pittslyvania County. As this is one of the issues that matters to him most - and affects us all! - 220South has promised to provide further updates to keep us all abreast of the news. Please check out his post and bookmark his site. Despite (in spite of?) his Wahoo education, this is a thoughtful and intelligent blog. Definitely worth your time and reading.

Quote of the Day (updated)

Rep. Perriello on the AIG bonuses:
“This decision by AIG is offensive to the American taxpayer and at odds with the free-market principles they claim to support. I opposed the bailout for these banks as bad policy and I oppose these bonuses as bad morality. I am outraged that middle-class taxpayers who have worked hard and played by the rules are watching their retirement savings and home values shrink, while those who caused our economic pain continue to prosper."

“AIG hides behind claims of contractual obligations, but the car companies who received bailout funds found a way to cut wages to line workers. Why is it okay for companies to force cuts on workers but not scale back million dollar bonuses for the executives who knowingly caused us this mess?”

Update: Jim White has a video of Rep. Perriello and other congressional representatives standing together to block the AIG bonuses.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Current Southside unemployment rates

From the Martinsville Bulletin: According to January's statistics, Martinsville (18% unemployed) no longer has the highest unemployment rate in the state, as Williamsburg now holds that "honor" (19.5%). Danville is third (14%) and Henry County (13%) is seventh. Neighboring Patrick County, 11th on the list, has 11.4% unemployment rate. Of the 134 municipalities in Virginia, 24 have double digit jobless rates.

The overall unemployment rate of Virginia is 6.4%, while the country suffers from an 8.5% unemployment.

Maslow's hierarchy and the culture wars

In terms of Maslow's heirarchy, an individual cannot seek higher-order functioning until all lower order needs are met. For example, one can't find friendship or contemplate morality until his/her worries about food and shelter are met. In this same fashion, our country is less concerned with moral values issues when military and/or economic difficulties remain to be solved. The culture wars are higher order debates, only reviewable when lower order needs are met. As such, the 2006 election was a referendum on the war in Iraq and the 2008 elections highlighted the electorate's anxiety with the current financial mess. The battles of 2004 have been put on the back-burner, as our security, both military and financial, are front an center.

Frank Rich, op-ed columnist for the Washington Post, alluded to this yesterday, although not his main point. Using Roosevelt's ending of prohibition a guide, Rich believes Obama's stances on embryonic stem cell research, and the future issue of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," have met/will be met with little uprising; we are more concerned with the financial crisis. Money quote:
Here, at last, is one piece of good news in our global economic meltdown: Americans have less and less patience for the intrusive and divisive moral scolds who thrived in the bubbles of the Clinton and Bush years. Culture wars are a luxury the country — the G.O.P. included — can no longer afford.
This all doesn't mean the culture wars are dead. They are higher order concerns, and currently the nation is suffering from lower order problems: safety before self-actualization in Maslow's terms. When these are "resolved," I am sure the issues of abortion, gay marriage, and/or the new moral value issue will re-emerge. Rich agrees:
History is cyclical, and it would be foolhardy to assume that the culture wars will never return.

Bracketology

So, I unfortunately haven't been following college basketball this year like I have in the past. I, however, do love filling out brackets and pulling for my teams. If there is a big interest, we can try to find put together a bracket for Dem Bones. But I we would need about at least 8 people to sign up. If interested, say so in the comment section.

Who you got in the tourney? Final Four?

Religion, Violence, and Defense Of Marriage Acts

Any settlement of peace between Israel and Palestine deals with the issue of Jerusalem last, as this is the one area where peaceable dialogue is non-negotiable. In a similar fashion, I have tried delay discussion on the hot-button issues of abortion and gay-rights on this blog, because we all have deep-seeded, genuine, and emotive responses to these issues. Because of my studies on religion and violence, however, I feel compelled to write this post. If possible, let's please try to discuss one of these issues, gay marriage, in this narrow context.

ReligionDispatches has an article discussing the religious violence employed when defending against gay marriage. The author, John Pahl, believes that Defense Of Marriage Acts (DOMA), currently present in 37 states, are forms of religious violence. He argues six reasons DOMA's are violent. Here I offer Pahl's argument ledes (in blue), with abbreviated justification:
  1. DOMA Laws violate sacred texts. The use of biblical texts (i.e., Genesis, Leviticus, Romans and I Corinthians) project twentieth century, alien understandings of homosexuality onto ancient Jewish and Helenistic cultures.
  2. DOMA Laws elevate heterosexual marriage to idolatrous status. In some religious communities the defense of marriage is all-consuming. This honors heterosexual relationships, the majority, with special privileges, privileges not available to the minority.
  3. DOMA Laws scapegoat gays and lesbians. Real threats to heterosexual marriage and civil society are scapegoated onto a voiceless and powerless group, who only seek the similar rights of the majority.
  4. DOMA Laws sacrifice homosexual rights, and damage civil society, in the interest of religious purity. The exclusion and discrimination of a "dangerous" few, constructed around a purity interest (the purity of marriage and normal sexual relationships), invariably damages our understanding of trust, the most important practice in civil society.
  5. DOMA Laws confuse legislation with religion, and violate the First Amendment .... It is a violation of the First Amendment protection of free association to inhibit, by law, who can associate with whom, when that association does not harm the common good. Also, it violates the establishment clause, when religiously-implicated exclusion is legislated.
  6. DOMA Laws perpetuate an association of sex with power, and thereby do damage to any sacramental sensibility that might remain in association with even heterosexual marriage. These laws establish hierarchies of relationships and give heterosexual relationships power and dominance in the public sphere, losing the sacramental nature and deep trust inherent in loving relationships.
After his six points of violence, Pahl offers this conclusion:
People who wish to “defend” corrosive influences on marriage – and I count myself as one – might actually find allies among gays and lesbians who desire public recognition for their pledges of fidelity and their commitments to share resources and responsibilities with one another. A true defense of marriage would not involve mean-spirited exclusions, but would embrace practical policies that strengthen deep trust and support families facing economic challenges. (emphasis mine)
I couldn't agree more. Defending the sanctity of marriage is one thing, but doing violence to our sisters and brothers is quite another.

Note to self: Beware the Ides of March.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Conservative Evangelical and Catholic Leaders Grade Obama

The Associated Press reports on early Conservative Evangelical and Catholic leader's responses to the Obama administration. Of importance, these leaders either were on Obama's transition team or currently consult for Obama's Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Most of those leaders quoted felt that Obama has been true to his campaign promises and, therefore, are not upset. They are happy with the current conversation, even in disagreement, and are optimistic that Obama will seek common ground in the future. A few were disappointed, citing abortion and embryonic stem-cell research as examples.

Quiverfull

Salon has an article articulating the Quiverfull movement and one woman's escape from this theo-patriarchal system. The quick skinny:
Shunning all forms of birth control, Quiverfull women accept as many children as God gives them as a demonstration of their radical faith and obedience as well as a means to advance his kingdom: winning the country for Christ by having more children than their adversaries. This self-proclaimed "patriarchy" movement, which likely numbers in the tens of thousands but which is growing exponentially, bases its arguments on Psalm 127: "Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They shall not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate." Quiverfull women commonly give birth to families of eight, 10 and 12 children, or more.
Nevermind the blantant patriarchy and the demeaning subordination of women to men - that's bad enough - but to have that many children, like the Octomom, only stunts the development, possibility, and opportunity of each child. As the father is at work, the mother only has a finite amount of attention and stamina she can offer, and spreading her resources (economic, relational, etc.) around to a dozen or so children diminishes and starves their potential. I understand the pro-life argument, but having this many children, in an oppressive environment, is just not healthy to mother and children. To me, the morality is questionable.

On Science

In a Washington Post editorial, Davit Shaywitz describes some of the pitfalls of science, namely the hyper-competitive university environment and the false university-industry dichotomy. Money quote:
[S]ince academic success is determined almost exclusively by the number and prestige of research publications, the incentives to generate results are exceedingly powerful and can encourage investigators to see patterns that may not exist, to disregard contradictory observations that might be important, to overvalue data that might be preliminary or unreliable, and to embrace conclusions that deserve to be viewed with far greater skepticism.

Does all this mean the system is broken? Surprisingly, no. Ultimately, science tends to be self-correcting, and flawed ideas are eventually recognized and disregarded. There really does seem to be a marketplace of ideas, and many good ideas eventually gain traction and persist, while many attractive but incorrect hypotheses eventually fall under the weight of compelling evidence. The system is far from perfect -- especially with regard to the exploitation of the most junior (and most vulnerable) researchers, who support much of this ecosystem -- but like capitalism, it may represent the best available option.

Shaywirtz ends with these words of wisdom:
Researchers are unlikely to become less self-serving -- just as reporters are unlikely to become less opportunistic in their hunt for news. Ultimately, it is up to each of us to develop a more skeptical ear, to approach received wisdom cautiously and to pay more attention to data than to narrative.

Only by discovering our inner scientist can we fully delight in the hope of new research without being seduced by its charms.

Game On!

Yesterday's Martinsville Bulletin's article on Goode filing FEC papers for possible candidacy. Money quote:
“If you’re thinking about it, you should file the papers,” [Goode] said. “ ... But that doesn’t mean I am running.”
[...]
“I’m going to look at the situation, explore the possibilities and see how things go,” he said, “but I’m certainly not making any announcement.”
What does mean your running? Gallivanting around the district holding photo-ops with poster-sized checks?

Frederick doubling-down

Tim Craig at the Washington Post has an article highlighting the tenacity of RPV Chair Jeff Frederick amidst calls for his resignation. Last week, gubernatorial candidate and Republican presumtive nominee Bob McDonnell called for Frederick to resign. The five Republican Congressmen of Virginia (Wittman, Forbes, Goodlatte, Cantor, and Wolfe) wrote Frederick a letter echoing a similar sentiment:
"For the good of the Republican Party of Virginia, we write today asking that you step aside as chairman," the congressmen wrote. "Clearly it is the sentiment of the grassroots members of the party to move in another direction. . . . No one will benefit from a protracted battle over the leadership of" the Republican Party of Virginia.
If Frederick doesn't resign, he will likely face a vote of no-confidence next month at the Republican state central committee meeting. The Congressmen urged is resignation before the April 4th meeting to minimize the damage to the party. Frederick, however, remains defiant, and he is supported by a small group of loyalists, a group who sent robocalls out this past week calling McDonnell and Frederick-detractors "elitists" who take orders from "tax-raising, anti-gun, pro-abortion officeholders in Richmond." Conservative blogger Shaun Kenney has an excellent post showing some other Frederickian antics and the resulting blow back on the Right.

In an election year, a self-marginalized Republican Chair is doubling-down on his right to power, however flimsy, and is supported by a group trashing the presumptive gubernatorial nominee. And, I thought Democrats were prone to circular firing squads:
Until now, Democrats were fearful that they would be the ones fighting with each other. For the first time in three decades, there is a contested Democratic primary for governor. Now it's McDonnell, with no primary opponent, who is bogged down by an intraparty feud.
Hopefully, we can learn something from this debacle. Republicans will likely have their Frederick-problem solved next month, we still have until June.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Republicans healthier than Democrats?

Statistics savant Nate Silver catches this study examining the influence of political ideology on one's health. In a meta-analysis, covering over three decades of research (1972-2006), the authors found that those with more conservative ideology (Republicans) are generally more healthy than those with progressive ideology (Democrats). Silver points out - I got lost in the jargon and stat-speak - that Republicans are 25% less likely than Republicans to report poor health, and a major contributing factor is smoking. Saith the study's authors:
Our analysis suggests that there might be fundamental health differences between individuals who identify with a conservative political party and individuals who identify with a liberal political party. Specifically, individuals affiliating with the republican party report lower rates of poor health. Crucially, this association does not seem to be due to republicans, on average, having higher socio-economic status (SES) than democrats. The observation that republicans enjoy better health status may reflect the core republican value of individual responsibility, which could translate into increased adherence to health-promoting behaviours. This is indirectly supported by our analysis, which shows that, on average, republicans
are less likely to be smokers compared with democrats after accounting for several factors including race/ethnicity and SES. It may also be that republicans exhibit greater religiosity (beyond attendance) compared with democrats, which may lead to
health promoting social conditions such as enhanced social ties and networks.
[...]
Whether one’s political ideology is an independent risk factor, or a marker of something else, clearly requires further research. It does not seem implausible, however, that conservative values at the individual level may be health promoting. (emphasis mine)
To the study's conclusion, Silver is very skeptical, but he acknowledges that the study likely points to some significant underlying truth:
But, whatever ultimately comes of these findings, I'm supportive of the general idea of looking at correlations from these databases. There are lots of possible dead ends and wild goose chases (and this might be one of them) but it's certainly a step up from the bald speculation we often see, and it can sometimes lead somewhere interesting.
Actually, I'm not that surprised of these findings, as it is similar to studies showing the benefits of religion. And, I have already suspected that Republicans are happier than Democrats. Health and happiness go hand in hand. It does appear, however, that being religious and being conservative do provide people with physiological and psychological benefits.

But being right has its own cross to bear. :-)

Perriello: Office of Rural Policy. Danville Paper Applauds.

A couple days ago Rep. Perriello sent out a press release in which he called on the Obama Administration to create an Office of Rural Policy. The administration announced earlier the creation of an Office of Urban Policy, and Perriello and the congressional Rural Caucus, comprised of 40 other bipartisan Representatives, wrote a letter to Obama to create its rural counterpart. Saith the letter:
“The unique policy matters faced in rural America include, but are not limited to, specific concerns regarding agriculture, conservation, economic development, education, health care, information technology, and transportation infrastructure, among others. We are sure your administration would benefit from an office devoted to the effect of federal regulations on rural Americans and our communities ...”
Rep. Perriello's money quote:
“An Office of Rural Policy would be an effective way to make sure rural areas have a seat at the table when it comes to national policy,” said Perriello. “I’m pleased to join with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle who understand what rural America needs and what it has to offer to the rest of the country.”
The Danville Register & Bee picked up the story, and the editorial board applauded:
It’s easy for most Americans to discount the problems — and potential — of rural America. That’s because most Americans live in cities and suburbs, not rural communities.

To many of them, rural America is “flyover country” or “the sticks."
[...]
If an Office of Rural Policy will do on the national level what’s been done here in Virginia for rural issues and concerns, it will be well worth the effort.

It’s important for Washington to understand rural communities. Our issues, problems and potential deserve no less.

I haven't lived in rural Virginia long, but it was quickly apparent how more urban areas of Virginia, and I imagine those nation-wide, get all of the attention and the love. Developing an Office of Rural Policy that respects, understands, and fights for the issues that matter to us is crucial. Otherwise, to use a state-issue as an example, the NoVa's of the country get all of the money for their traffic problems, and the RoVa's get stuck with the bill.

This is your brain ... on God

In a neuro-scientific study examining 40 people, of all stripes of faith, researchers found three parts of the brain that are activated when contemplating religious and moral statements. The researchers found:
MRI scans revealed the regions that were activated are those used every day to interpret the feelings and intentions of other people.

'That suggests that religion is not a special case of a belief system, but evolved along with other belief and social cognitive abilities,' said Jordan Grafman, a cognitive neuroscientist at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland.
This study reinforces previous research in the area and concludes that no one part of the brain is utilized to understand God and religion. There is no "God Spot," as many parts of the brain are implicated:
'There is nothing unique about religious belief in these brain structures,' Professor Grafman said.

'Religion doesn't have a 'God spot' as such, instead it's embedded in a whole range of other belief systems in the brain that we use every day.'

The networks activated by religious beliefs overlap with those that mediate political beliefs and moral beliefs, he said.
[...]
'Religion has so many different aspects that it would be very unlikely to find one spot in the brain where religion and God reside,' Dr [Andrew] Newberg [Director of the Centre for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania] said.
I'm sure that theologians and scientists will point to this study as proof of their understandings of the developmental nature of religion within an individual (i.e., divinely created, biologically predisposed, sociologically developed, etc.). But for me, I just think it is cool to learn about how our brains work when we think about and discuss God and religion. Amen.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

McAuliffe's Plan for Martinsville and Henry County

Dem Bones' loyalist, A Faithful Reader, passed on this article in the Martinsville Bulletin outlining the prominence of Martinsville and Henry County in gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe's Comprehensive Business Plan. Money quote:
Thousands of jobs would be created as renewable green projects, such as wind, solar, biodiesel and bio-mass technologies, get under way, McAuliffe said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters.

And, with property already zoned for local industrial parks, Martinsville and Henry County could again become a manufacturing hub, producing wind blades, turbines, towers and other equipment needed as the state goes green, he said.

McAuliffe also supports four-laning U.S. 58 “all the way out to the Ohio Valley” to provide an attractive route for traffic generated by vessels coming to the coast from the Panama Canal.

Martinsville has been hit especially hard in the uncertain economy, McAuliffe said, and he pledged to devote “resources and efforts” to the region if elected.
I have to admit, if more than just campaign promises, I am heartened by this ... very heartened. Anything - and green jobs, taboot! - to help get us out of the economic quagmire in this area.

Aliens as Fallen Demons

I am sometimes amazed (read: stupified) at the creativity and innovation of theologians. From the RNS Blog:
The "very first" Christian symposium on aliens will touch down in, where else? Roswell, N.M. this July.

Guy Malone, author and co-founder of Alien Resistance, is organizing the event, where he will make the case that aliens and UFO's are actually fallen demons.

Malone's Alien Resistance organization is devoted to looking at UFO's and alien abductions in "biblical" ways.

Game On!

Getting back from New York and my inbox is flooded with emails concerning former Rep. Virgil Goode. Goode filed paperwork with the FEC, a move that would allow him to re-run against Rep. Perriello. From TheHill:
Goode filed Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) — a move that allows him to raise money for the race — but he told The Hill that he hasn't made a final decision about running again in 2010.

Once a candidate receives $5,000, he or she must file a statement of candidacy with the FEC.

“I’m filing that because a few people have sent me donations,” Goode said.

Goode said he’s not sure when he’ll decide about a rematch and that he’s more concerned with helping the GOP win state assembly races this year.
Note that technically, he hasn't stated whether or not he is actually going to run against Rep. Perriello. He is just legally required to report the donations to the FEC, a requirement that also allows for the possibility of fundraising for a new campaign. The Washington Post offers their take, as does Channel 19 News in Charlottesville.

As a quick aside, this quote freaking kills me, read here for a reminder:
Much of the reason for his loss appeared to be extraordinarily high turnout in the Charlottesville area, which is home to the University of Virginia. The southern Virginia district has long been a conservative stronghold.

Reaction was quick around the progressive Virginia blogosophere to a possible Goode re-run. Fellow friend 220South isn't surprised at the news, yet he feels that there are more worthy Republican candidates on the bench. Roland the HTG posts at Blue Commonwealth and New Dominion Project reminding us to donate to Tom's campaign. Jim White thinks that Goode is a tired, old loser, who needs to be reminded of the Perriello-Goode debates; Tom's victory wasn't luck, Tom was clearly the better candidate. Heartland of Virginia blogger Mark Brooks argues that Goode is "done" and that Goode created a conspiracy in order to frame his defeat, a conspiracy beckoning the possible rematch. Missing Goode, Lowell believes that, this time around, there will be more ammunition to use against Goode. Finally, I Had No Right thinks that Tom's legislation will help him with voters, especially Veteran voters with his new bill, and she, like me, is concerned with the facile explanation of Tom's victory.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Doom! Despair! Demise!

According to this Christian Science Monitor contributor, evangelicalism will pretty much die off within the next two generations and those remaining will refashion themselves anew. The author provides several reasons for this demise, offers predictions, before pondering if this is a good thing. Alarmist anecdote:
We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. ... In the "Protestant" 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.

This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.

Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I'm convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.

I don't really know how to respond to the article, because it seems like the journalistic equivalent of the big-city homeless guy wielding a "The End is Near" cardboard sign.

I would love it if you could read the entire article and could give me your thoughts.

Injustice

A 75 year old widow who lives in Saudi Arabia asks the nephew of her late husband and his friend to bring her some bread, and, when delivered, she gets busted by the religious police. She was convicted of mingling with the opposite sex, not her close relatives, and sentenced to 40 lashes and 4 months in jail. I'm quite speechless to the lack of understanding and extreme rigidity in this religious law, let alone the relatively barbaric punishment ... to a 75 year old! Money quote:
"Because she said she doesn't have a husband and because she is not a Saudi, conviction of the defendants of illegal mingling has been confirmed," the court verdict read.

Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islam prohibits men and women who are not immediate relatives from mingling. It also bars women from driving, and the playing of music, dancing and many movies also are a concern for hard-liners who believe they violate religious and moral values.
I am generally concerned with the mainstream media's reporting on stories like this, because I think they unfairly and poorly characterize the Islamic religion as a whole, like all Muslims are overly fanatical in their religious interpretation; not all Muslims are Wahhabi-ists; most Muslims are peaceful, thoughtful, and compassionate people, like you and I. With that said, I think it is important to speak truth to power and speak out against this type of injustice and oppression.

(h/t Andrew Sullivan)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Americans less religious, less Christian

America is becoming less religious, less Christian, yet more generic in their Christianity.

A survey released today by American Religious Identification Survey, Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, found that the number of people identifying themselves as Christians fell in the last two decades, from 86% in 1990 to 76% in 2008. The survey, the largest of its kind, interviewed 54,000 people from February to November last year. The only group that increased in the last two decades was the non-religious group, now 15%, almost double since 1990. Money quote:
The survey substantiated several general trends already identified by sociologists: the slipping importance of denomination in America, the growing number of people who say they have "no" religion and the increase in religious minorities including Muslims, Mormons and such movements as Wicca and paganism.
On the note of the "slipping importance of denomination[s],"the study found that among Christians there is a growing lack of denominational identification; those self-identifying as Christians specified that they were non-denominational, evangelical, or born again - all very generic terms. The researchers charge the lack of denominational branding:
"What seems to be happening is there is a decline in what we might call traditional brand loyalty to the old denominations, specific churches," said Barry Kosmin, a principle investigator for the American Religious Identification Survey.
Dem Bones readers already knew this, as Christians have the same loyalty to toothpaste and toilet paper as they do with their denominations.

(h/t A Faithful Reader)

Roanoke Times on Jeff Frederick

The Roanoke Times has an editorial on Jeff Frederick today. According to them, Virginians need the comedic distraction of RPV Chairman Frederick during these tough economic times. Money quote:
The economy is in full-blown recession. Home values are dropping. The commonwealth is shedding jobs. State and local services are being cut to the bone. During these dark days, Virginians needs a distraction. They need the comical antics of state GOP Chairman Jeff Frederick.

Some Republican leaders have had it with Frederick, who took over the party less than a year ago. On his watch, Democrats have fared well. Barack Obama carried the state, Mark Warner won an open Senate seat, and the Ds now have a majority of the commonwealth's congressional delegation.

After listing five Frederick-ian blunders, the editorial concludes:

Virginians need a laugh these days more than ever. The GOP shouldn't deny them Frederick.

Yeah, this guy is gold. Gold for Democrats; gold for laughter.

Quote of the Day

Newt Gingrich on Rush Limbaugh:
You've got to want the president to succeed. You're irrational if you don't want the president to succeed. Because if he doesn't succeed the country doesn't succeed... I don't think anyone should want the president of the United States to fail. I want some of his policies to be stopped. But I don't want the president of the United States to fail. I want him to learn new policies.
(h/t Andrew Sullivan)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Vatican: Women's liberation and washing machines

Wow. According to the official Vatican newspaper, the washing machine has done more for women's liberation then working in the workplace or contraception. Money quote:
As International Women’s Day is celebrated, the Vatican had a novel message for the women of the world: give thanks for the washing machine. This humble domestic appliance had done more for the women’s liberation movement than the contraceptive pill or working outside the home, said the the [sic] official Vatican newspaper, Osservatore Romano.

“In the 20th century, what contributed most to the emancipation of Western women?” questioned the article. “The debate is still open. Some say it was the pill, others the liberalisation of abortion, or being able to work outside the home. Others go even further: the washing machine.”
It amazes me that the Catholic Church, an ecclesiastical and hierarchical structure chalked full of dudes, has the audacity to speak about what does or does not constitute women's liberation. And we weren't exactly expecting the Vatican to glorify contraception by any means were we?

(h/t The Huffington Post)

Clearing up inconsistencies

The LA Times today has an editorial decrying the inconsistency of the Supreme Court regarding First Amendment religious monument cases, seen especially in the Summun adjudication. The editorial board agrees with the ruling, but the case could have been avoided if the Court was more consistent in its stands on religious displays:
The Supreme Court was right to hand down (though not on stone tablets) a ruling against a religious group that demanded that its precepts share space in a public park with the Ten Commandments. But the controversy never would have arisen if the court had adopted a consistent attitude toward religious displays on public property.
The editorial points out the potential problem with the Summun case:
Writing for the court, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said the park wasn't a public forum. Rather, the Ten Commandments and other monuments in the park were "government speech," which needn't be balanced against other points of view. The principle is a sound one. No one would suggest that critics of President Obama's stimulus plan have a 1st Amendment right to commandeer White House printers to run off fliers stating their objections.

The problem is that the Ten Commandments convey an essentially religious message, albeit an older and more familiar one than the Seven Aphorisms. Alito was emphatic that the decision didn't undermine language in the 1st Amendment prohibiting a government "establishment" of religion. Still, the practical effect of the ruling is that a text sacred to Jews and Christians is displayed in a public park, but not the teachings of a minority religion.
The editorial ends discussing the pair of 2005 rulings on Ten Commandment displays (McCreary; Van Orden) and how these rulings, combined with the Summun case, will affect next year's Salazar v. Buono case, a case that could clear up the confusion and inconsistency:
In a pair of 5-4 decisions, the court in 2005 struck down the posting of the Ten Commandments in courthouses in Kentucky but upheld a display on the grounds of the Texas Capitol. ... The decision in the Texas case encouraged some religious activists to believe that the court was stealthily lowering the wall separating church and state. They may also take comfort from last week's decision. The way to dispel that impression is for the court to make clear that permissible "government speech" doesn't include endorsing a particular religion.

The court will have an opportunity to do that when it rules, probably next year, on a challenge to the constitutionality of just such a message: an eight-foot-tall cross in the Mojave National Preserve commemorating war dead. Californians who insist that such a display is innocuous should ask themselves how they would feel if the cross were replaced by the Seven Aphorisms.