Saturday, December 30, 2006

Gerry Ford

It was a sad week as Michigan has lost their famous son Gerald R. Ford. Some of my earliest political memories revolve around Ford.

During the 76 election, my Dad was undecided who to vote for. He was a lifelong Democrat but Ford was from Grand Rapids and my Dad liked him. He was so undecided that he took me into the voting booth with him on election day and had me pull the lever on his behalf. As a precocious three year old, I didn't have the same political savvy that I have today so I voted mistakenly voted for Jimmy Carter. One can only assume that the reason Carter won that election were the votes of many other ignorant three year olds across the country. By 1980 we had all matured enough to not vote for him and that was his downfall.

One interesting thing that I learned only a couple years ago was that Ford was actually born Leslie King, Jr. His mother got pregnant out of wedlock by Leslie King, Sr. when they lived in Nebraska. She would keep the baby and get married to King, Sr. but he was an abusive drunk and threatened to kill her and the baby early into the marriage. Ford's mother would quickly divorce him and eventually migrated to Grand Rapids where she would meet Ford, Sr. who would marry her and raise her son as his own.

Much is made of Ford's startling rise to the presidency. He is often referred to as the unexpected or accidental president. This title is usually given because he was appointed Vice President and then became President without ever being elected. I maintain that his achievement is all the more unexpected given his early childhood. What if his mother did what many women of that day did and stayed with her abusive husband? Would Ford have become President or merely been a King instead? What if Ford Sr. hadn't truly embraced him as a son? I find it fascinating that his success in life was partly the result of choices made by other people.

But Ford made the most of his opportunity and that is why I consider him a model of the American spirit. Regardless of how he came to power, history has proven him to be the right man at the right time to lead our country. I know that many of my conservative friends look down on Ford because was moderate and bi-partisan and they view both of those characteristics as four letter words. But those traits were needed to help bind up the wounds that resulted from Nixon's disgrace. How much more would those traits help heal the nation's divide today? Who will be the next Gerald R. Ford?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas Persecution

Every year during the holiday season, there are several stories that highlight the growing incursion against celebrating Christmas in the public square. In the past it has focused on whether nativity scenes should be displayed on public property or if school's should give students "Christmas break" or "holiday break". This year's big story revolves around whether or not Seattle's airport should display Christmas trees.

Often, accompanying these stories are howls from the Christian community who fear that we are being discriminated against and that these incidents are signs that are culture is becoming anti-Christian. While I agree that communities should be allowed to celebrate Christmas, I wonder if this is really an issue we as Christians should get so worked up about. Trust me, nobody has more animosity for the secular elitist that want to purge Christianity from our culture than I do, but what difference does it make if airport has Christmas Trees or not? Or if Walmart wishes their customers Merry Christmas vs Happy Holidays?

Sometimes in our zest to not be treated as second class citizens, we lose track of the important issues that we should be upset with; sexual promiscuity among young people, increased violent crime, rising poverty, the AIDS epidemic, just to name a few. Regardless of what we may choose to believe, the ship has already sailed when it comes to our country being Christian. While, there is a still a Christian residue in the country, our culture is mostly filled with moral relativism and materialism. Ironically, Christmas tends to feed that materialism more than deter it.

I understand the frustration that many of my Christian friends express this time of year. But let's not over exaggerate the situation as if we are really being persecuted. Real persecution is happening around the globe where Christians are actually dying and being jailed for their faith. When American Christians complain about these supposed mistreatments, we only cheapen their hardship by comparison. Yes, we want to be respected by our culture. But Christ himself was not respected by his culture. Why should we feel more entitled than Him?

We do have a message to share with our country and the Christmas incarnation is a key component of that story. But that message isn't shared by simply placing a nativity scene in a public place or by wishing people Merry Christmas. The true message of the gospel is much more about love, sacrifice and service to our fellow neighbors. Maybe if we spent as much time serving others as we do complaining, more people would actually understand the true Christmas spirit.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

All about Power

Nothing more exposes the real agenda in Washington DC than the recent events surrounding Sen. Tim Johnson. Within minutes of his stroke/brain aneurysm, the headline was not about his health or his record of service but it was about how this situation would impact who controls the US Senate. This ghoulish behavior was shared equally by both Republican and Democrats as each side rushed to stake out their claim to power.

This incident is revealing because it shows that maintaining or regaining power is the most important goal even above public service or the well-being of the country. If the politicians are more concerned with power than they are with the health of one of their own, how much less can they care about the health and well-being of their constituents when it conflicts with their quest for power?

No wonder most Americans are so cynical about politics.

Stem cell horrors

This morning there is a chilling headline on the Drudge Report that the BBC has learned that newborn babies in Ukraine are being stolen and used for stem cell research. Just reading the article made me sick to my stomach. Unfortunately, Ukraine is a hotbed of stemcell research and the high demand for stemcells cannot be filled solely with aborted fetuses. If you believe the mainstream media you would assume that stem cells only come from frozen embryos that will be disposed of anyways. They use this argument to justify their position. This article exposes this to be simply untrue and I fear that these revelations are not uncommon. The scientific community must act quickly to condemn these practices and send the message that life still has some inherent value.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Was Jesus White?

I was just reading an article in Newsweek about the Nativity. This movie is the story of Mary and Joseph and how they come upon Bethlehem as the place where Jesus was to be born. One of the interesting facts about this movie, is that the cast is made up of largely dark skinned actors and actresses. Their dark skinned appearance would fit historically with the ethnicity in that time and region. But why then is Jesus normally portrayed as a white man?

The Newsweek article explores this dilemma and comes to the conclusion that one would expect. Our white-American culture wants a Jesus that looks like us. I find this answer to be simple yet very profound and revealing. Rather than seeking out an accurate portrait of Jesus, we are content to assume that he was one of us. This may not have much impact when we are talking about skin color but what if we take that approach to other parts of Jesus' life?

Have we reinvented Jesus in our own image? Do we want a Jesus who not only looks like us but also acts like us as well? This gives me great pause to imagine how much damage that type of thinking has done to the true person of Jesus. This idea would explain why we largely accept his teachings and actions which seem to comply with our own culture but then ignore certain others that seem out of place with our view of the world. It's a slippery slope, that begins with how we view the physical Jesus but it certainly has implications with how we view the whole Jesus.

This Christmas as we remember his incarnation, let us not celebrate an American Jesus that is a product of our own finite culture. Rather let us worship the true Jesus who transcends all cultures and nationalities.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Iraq study group

Let me preface by saying that I have not read the Iraq study group's report directly. My opinions are taken from several other media sources who presumably have read the report. Having said that, I am not convinced that the recommendations contained in the report are in the best interest of winning the war against radical Islam. It appears to me that the report is a plan for retreat disguised as being the only realistic solution.

What strikes me most about the report is the premise. That we are losing the war and the only avenue is to find an exit strategy that will not leave Iraq a complete disaster. Rather than spending time on finding this proposed exit strategy maybe they should have been examining ways to actually win the war. I fear that our country has learned very little from our previous conflicts. When we do not pursue absolute victory we end up defeating ourselves and we leave the countries we were trying to liberate in worse shape than when we started. Our enemies do not view our retreat as a good will gesture or a as a means to political diplomacy. Rather, they see at as it is; weakness and lack of will to see our fights through to the finish line.

The Iraq people will not be in the streets cheering when we leave. Instead they will be in their houses hiding from the ruthless thugs that will be left unchecked without our troops in place. On top of this, we will lose all credibility with our allies as they will no longer trust us. They will realize that when the going gets tough, the US is predisposed to find a quick exit strategy with little regard to long term peace.

I hope that President Bush rejects this report as he examines other solutions to win the war. I support McCain's idea to double the amount of troops and Sen. Biden's idea of splitting Iraq into separate countries should be given serious consideration. Retreating is not the only answer.

Yes, the current war is not going well but History should remind us that all wars do not go well. During World War II we suffered many defeats and setbacks including D Day where we lost thousands of men. Did we form a study group to look for ways to get out of the war? No! We pushed forward as a country and by doing so liberated an entire continent from tyranny. We should do no less today.

Monday, December 04, 2006

BCS Mess

College football is very frustrating. It's a great sport full of passion and tradition and great rivalries. But each year the whole season is ruined by a corrupt and antiquated system that decides the champions based on votes by coaches and computers. It is hard to justify why the protectors of college football continue to fight for the status quo in the face of disaster after disaster. Two years ago it was Auburn that got screwed and this year it is Michigan and a host of other teams. Why shouldn't Boise St get to play for the championship? They won all there games but they are locked out by a system that protects the big conferences ensuring that they get to divvy up a majority of the money.

But more importantly it's the college football fan that gets cheated out of a true playoff system. While I could write pages and pages why Michigan is more deserving than Florida to play for the championship, I shouldn't have to. I should be able to watch them settle it on the field. The problem isn't that Florida was picked over Michigan, it's the system itself that is the true villain. The current system is based on greed and money and how it doesn't violate the law is beyond me. If I were Boise St or another jilted school I would sue the NCAA for collusion and they would definitely have a case. But instead the NCAA tried to buy them off by giving them an invitation to the Fiesta bowl which is nothing more than a glorified exhibition game.

We need a playoff system. There are no more excuses. Saving the bowls and tradition doesn't work anymore. For all the hype about the bowls, nobody cares about these games outside the teams that play in them. TV viewership is down, game attendance is down at a majority of them and yet we keep getting fed the line that the reason we don't have a playoff system is to protect the bowl system. Quick, tell me who played in the cotton bowl last year or who played in pointsettia bowl. Better yet try to name 10 bowls that are not part of the BCS. My guess is that you can't answer any of those questions. The worst part about the bowl system is that I won't get to watch a meaningful game until January and then the game will be played by teams that have had over 6 weeks off from football. They have all this momentum from the regular season and yet they just put it on hold for no good reason. You couldn't design a worse system if you planned it.

So while yes I am pissed that Michigan didn't get picked for the championship game, but I am more pissed that we still don't have a real playoff.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Stem Cells

During the recent election there was a lot of talk about stem cell research. What got lost in much of that debate was the bright line between using embryonic stem cells and other types of stem cells.

Today, the Michigan Senate passed legislation that encourages the use of umbilical cord blood stem cells. Before we introduced the bill, I had very little knowledge about this topic but the science is pretty amazing. Basically, the blood in the umbilical cord is rich in productive stem cells that are used to treat dozens of diseases. During testimony in committee, a family explained how their son's sickle cell anemia was cured by transplanting the stem cells from his brother's umbilical cord.

Currently in Michigan there are several private banks that families use to store their umbilical cords for potential future use. However, there are only a handful of public banks in the state. There is a need to expand the number of public banks to increase the chances of finding matching donors. Our legislation is part of a package to create a statewide network of public banks and provide tax credits for donating umbilical cord blood to these banks. Our bill specifically requires the state to educate the public on the science of umbilical cord stem cells and the benefits of donating umbilical cords.

The legislation passed with bi-partisan support but of course one Democratic Senator attempted to amend the bill and link it with embryonic stem cell research. It's frustrating that she couldn't just support the bill on its own merits. Instead she felt the need to score political points and muck it up with what she knows to be a matter of personal ethics for many Senators. It reminded me of what a friend of mine once told me about Democrats. He said there slogan should be if we can't help everyone we shouldn't help anyone. This was a good example of that mentality.

Leaving out the ethical concerns of using embryonic stem cells there are practical problems with this type of research. While there may be some long-term potential in that area, the existing science has not demonstrated any results especially when compared to using umbilical cord stem cells or adult stem cells from bone marrow. To date the latter stem cells have helped treat or cure over 70 diseases while embryonic stem cell research has not cured one disease.

Yet despite the lack of scientific of results and the ethical concerns raised by using human embryo's many people still prefer to fight for embryonic stem cell research. Usually in science, the money and the efforts follow results and progress, yet it seems like the debate in moving in the opposite direction. Why doesn't the scientific community put their efforts more firmly behind the stem cell science that actually works? And if the embryonic stem cells are so promising why isn't more private money pouring into that research? Why do they demand that public money be spent on unproven results knowing that many people have ethical concerns over the research?

Thankfully her amendment failed and despite the attempt to muddy up the debate it was a good day in the Michigan Senate. The fact that we were able to help people address the very real medical problems they are facing is a positive step forward. Sometimes, even government gets it right and today was one of those days.