Thursday, October 28, 2004

O'Connor extols role of international law

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor extolled Wednesday the growing role of international law in U.S. courts, saying judges would be negligent if they disregarded its importance in a post-September 11 world of heightened tensions.

The article itself is not overly interesting, but the comments by O'Connor are fascinating. Historically, American courts have essentially ignored International law as a shaper of US law. But it has been a steadily increasing influence. It's interesting to see a sitting Supreme Court Justice make that point so clearly.

The article references the Court's taking of the juevenile capital punishment cases this term. One of the interesting thing about those cases is that multiple 'friend of the court' briefs from international governments and international legal organizations. The United States stood alone with Iran, Qutar and Afghanistan in legally allowing the execution of juevenile criminals - but all three of those countries have recently repealed those law. That's right - we're currently alone in the world in juevenile execution.

Capital punishment in the United States is currently Constitutional because the 8th Amendment's prohibition of 'cruel and unusual punishment' is defined by the "evolving standards of decency" in a "maturing society". The Court is now indicating that these standards may be influenced or defined by a 'world-view' of decency - not just what is decent within lines on a map.

This kind of news doesn't make headlines, but it shapes our society for generations.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Extraordinary Times...

I was fortunate enough to go to school for a semester in Florence, Italy. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Everything about those four months was amazing - but just being in Florence was one of the most magnificent. Absolute, bonafide treasures of the world around every corner. It was truly amazing. After our first tour of the city my neck was sore because I was always looking up or around at the next cathedral, monument, statue, etc. Everywhere you looked was something else extraordinary.

At least for a while.

At some undefined point, the extraordinary becomes the everyday. I distinctly remember walking to meet up with some friends at one point toward the middle of our stay. I jumped off the bus, rushed past the Santa Maria Novella, sped past San Lorenzo, hurried through the crowds at piazza San Giovanni between the Baptistery and the Duomo and as I was walking the road between the Duomo and the Uffizi, I all of a sudden just stopped. These wonders that had kept me in awe just weeks ago, I was now just rushing past - because I saw them everyday. At some point it time, Brunelleschi's Duomo became just the duomo. I changed my plans that day and went back to appreciate some of my favorite spots in Florence by myself because I knew that I wasn't going to have the chance for very much longer. Over the next few weeks, the extraordinary in Florence would again become the everyday to me - but on occasion, I would stop to appreciate it, even if for only a moment.

It's amazing to me how the extraordinary can be come the everyday. I've been thinking about that a lot this week because of what happened Sunday during morning church service. There are a handful of extraordinary church worship experiences that I will never forget. I remember on that semester in Europe, sitting in a church in Athens, Greece where the service was being conducted in Greek, translated into English, and in the back of the room there were two small groupings of people where the service was being re-translated into two other languages. That day I was struck by how universal God's body truly is. I think about that moment often on Sunday's, and how all around the world on the same day, but in a variety languages and in various formats, God's body comes together, and how much bigger it is than I can imagine. Sunday, I was blessed with another of those unforgettable corporate worship moments. We had a man come forward after the lesson to be baptized. He is in Houston being treated at a local hospital, and he has been meeting with our minister and studying for a time, and had decided to put on Christ in baptism. Our preacher was telling us how they've been studying, but the man doesn't speak English and our minister doesn't speak Spanish - so they've been using translators. And we used a translator to take the confession and for the baptism itself - and I was blown away by how God doesn't care about our barriers, languages or borders or class or anything else we try to use to segment ourselves. His gospel is a whole lot bigger than that. It was an extraordinary moment and I was left in tears.

But...there's always a but, huh? But, in class after the service, I started thinking about what a great experience that was, and remembering some of the more special church services I've been blessed with and it hit me - shouldn't every Sunday be that special? Shouldn't every Lord's Day be extraordinary? I mean, come on, I am gathering with the body of Christ, opening my heart up before the throne of God, literally partaking of the body and blood of my Savior, reveling in his Word, singing praises to His name - and it's routine? Doesn't it seem like every time should be extraordinary - but somewhere along the way (at least for me) it becomes everyday.

God's gifts of salvation and the church body are remarkably wonderful, and I hope that I will live everyday life with more appreciation of how extraordinary He really makes it.

Swing States

I spent some time the past few days going over the Electoral Vote map and the latest polls for individual states. (There is a really good web feature at where they allow you to see the polls by state and adjust which way the state goes to see an electoral vote total.)

Okay, remember, 270 electoral votes required to win. Okay, I would include the following in a list of Swing States: AR, IA, MN, WI, OH, PA, FL, NH and NM. (Other states that the media is considering close are as follows: OR, MI and ME which I have in Kerry's camp; and NV, CO, MO and WV which I have in Bush's camp.)

With this as a starting point - the electoral votes look as follows:
Bush - 221
Kerry - 207
Contested - 110

Here is an update on some of the latest polls in important battleground states:
State __________ Bush ___ Kerry
Arkansas (6) _______ 48 _____ 48 (Oct 18-20)
Iowa (7) __________ 48 _____ 47 (Oct 18-20)
Minnesota (10) _____ 48 _____ 48 (Oct 18-20)
Wisconsin (10) ______ 49 ____ 46 (Oct 17-19)
Ohio (20) _________ 46 _____ 50 (Oct 17-21)
Pennsylvania (21) ___ 46 _____ 48 (Oct 17-22)
Florida (27) _______ 46 _____ 46 (Oct 19-21)
New Hampshire (4) __ 41 _____ 50 (Oct 18-21)
New Mexico (5) _____ 46 _____ 48 (Oct 16-18)

A few interesting tidbits:

1. No Republican has ever won the Presidency without carrying Ohio.
2. If MN goes Bush, that is really a coup. MN is generally considered one of the more liberal states around.
3. WI is similar, while not as liberal, it is a generally progressive state that went Gore.
4. Interesting sidenote - CO has a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would split the electoral votes based on percentage of votes. CO is close - with Bush looking to pull out a win, but very close. The amendment could be retroactive if passed - thus if passed, the 9 electoral votes would be split 5 to 4. Currently, the amendment is losing in some fairly close polls.
5. Although the big battleground states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are absolutely of incredibly high priority - in my opinion several smaller states are going to provide interesting battles - and could decide the election. (In 2000, Florida was the focus, but I've always felt it more important to note that Gore could have lost Florida and still won the election by winning his home state of Tennessee and Clinton's home of Arkansas. Two small states, but they would have put him over the top.) In 2004, AR is again a completely over-looked swing state. There are very real scenarios where Kerry could lose Florida, but it he was to win AR, he could get over the top. Other smaller states with similar potential are New Mexico and New Hampshire.

Today the Candidates will be campaigning:
Bush - Wisconsin and Iowa
Cheney - Florida

Kerry - Wisconsin, Nevada, New Mexico, and Iowa
Edwards - Minnesota and Pennsylvania

And my Oct. 26 guess at which way the states will fall:
Kerry - MN, OH, PA, NH, NM
Bush - AR, IA, WI, FL
Bush 271 - 267 Kerry

Rehnquist in Hostpital

A few links to the story:

The US SC Press Release Press Release Regarding Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist

CNN Article Rehnquist has thyroid cancer surgery

MSNBC Article Doctors spliton Rehnquist prognosis

CNN Analysis A Rehnquist vacancy would be huge

MSNBC Analysis Rehnquist illness sets off election alarms

It currently looks as if the Court expects Mr. Justice Rehnquist back at bench by next Monday. If he is unable to return by then, the court proceeds with the docket with 8 Justices. If he is able to be back on bench, this will have no affect on this term. If he is to be out for an extended period of time, however, this could definitely impact this term. A 4-4 vote will uphold the lower court decision.

I wish Mr. Justice Rehnquist a speedy recovery to full health.

Saturday, October 23, 2004


[Deep sigh...]

I think we can officially call this 'Kids Weekend'. Do you ever have weekends that tire you out more than the work week? That's this weekend - and it's only Saturday night.

We spent Friday's dinner with Noah's cousins (our niece and nephew). Saturday, after Shana's run, we picked up the cousin's again and went to the Fall Festival at the West University church of Christ. It was raining in the morning, but they made the best of it inside, and the weather eventually cleared enough to have some outside activity as well (a train and a big jumping thingy). It was a blast for all the kids. (And I even ran into a Law School classmate who is a member at West U - I had no idea - and a couple of people I recognized, or recognized me, from Harding - that was pretty wild.)

Tonight we had some friends over we hadn't gotten together with for too long - a couple who are expecting and a friend with a little three year old boy and a girl about Noah's age. We made dinner and caught up. But it's amazing how things have changed - we all became friends almost six years ago when we were working at the same place. Our careers have all led in different directions (I'm the only one at the same place), we're all married, some with kids, some expecting, and those kids have become so much of our lives - playing with them, feeding them, making sure they are killing each other!

But days like to day let me know I'm getting old. All those kids wear me out! When we left the Fall Festival, I could have called it a day. This evening, everyone was out of here by 9:30, and I would have sworn it was 2AM I'm so tired. Those kids must get their limitless energy by sucking it out of me! But it is is an incredible feeling seeing Noah so happy - chasing his cousins, trying to throw a ball at target just like the big kids, playing with his toys with his friends. Tomorrow is going to continue the trend - we teach the 4-year old class at church and then to our Sunday evening life group which has a number of kids. Yep, it's 'kid weekend' and it's been an exhausting treasure!

Friday, October 22, 2004

The US SC and the Establishment Clause

Another good commentary from Find Law: Two Important Establishment Clause Issues the Supreme Court Will Decide this Term

This term the Supreme Court has taken cases dealing with two diverse areas within the Establishment Clause, and this article is a nice breakdown of the fact patterns in those individual cases, and an overview of this Court's treatment of church and state issues. I think the author does a nice job of demonstrating the legal basis for the Court's general treatment of this area of the First Amendment on a case by case, fact-sensative manner - instead trying to determine a black-letter law that does not exist within the Constitution.

A couple of quotes from the article:

There is more liberty when the government stays neutral toward religion, rather than becoming the vehicle for spreading religious messages.
Where the government transparently endorses a religious viewpoint, as was the case with Roy Moore Ten Commandments, the Establishment Clause violation is readily apparent. ... On the other hand, however, education about religion, or through reference to religion, is not unconstitutional. Indeed, it is a valuable part of any education. Thus, the hard question in each case is whether the particular displays cross the line from permissible education to government endorsement.

Here is the text of the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The author of the article, Marci A. Hamilton, is a Visiting Scholar at the Princeton Theological Seminary, and the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Levels of Losing

I don't believe in superstitions...or jinxes. But I do believe in being safe. I hadn't posted about the Astros - not for fear of stalling the momentum by doing anything different - just to be safe... Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

An absolutely improbable, exciting, stomach churning run came to an end tonight. From compltely written off on Aug. 15 to the 7th game of the NLCS. Mind boggling. My fear is that with this run ending - so ends the hope of the Hall of Fame for Biggio and Bagwell, but I may just be getting ahead of myself.

I read the Sports Guy (Bill Simmons) alot. Back on May 28, 2002 he wrote an article on the "Levels of Losing".

I think tonight qualifies as a Level III: The Guillotine - Definition: This one combines the devastation of the Broken Axle game with sweeping bitterness and hostility ... your team's hanging tough (..., they might even be winning), but you can feel the inevitable breakdown coming, and you keep waiting for the guillotine to drop, and you just know it's coming -- you know it -- and when it finally comes, you're angry that it happened and you're angry at yourself for contributing to the debilitating karma ... these are the games when people end up whipping their remote controls against a wall or breaking their hands while pounding a coffee table ... too many of these and you'll end up in prison.
Best Example: Game 7 of the '97 World Series (Indians-Marlins), when Cleveland's Jose Mesa gave up the game-tying run in the ninth inning. Every Indians fan knew it was coming. Of course, the '97 World Series never happened, so it's probably a moot point. We need to get that one wiped out of the record books.

Just excruciating. (In case you're wondering - yes, I looked that article up before the game, because I knew this post was coming. Talking about contributing to the debilitating karma...) Excuse me while I go cry myself to sleep.

9th Cir Rules whales and dolphins cannot sue Bush

Saw this on the Jurist - Paper Chase yesterday:

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that the world's population of marine mammals do not have standing to sue President George W. Bush or Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The lawsuit, filed by attorney and animal activist Lanny Sinkin, was brought on behalf of the world's population of whales, dolphins and porpoises, described by their attorney as the Cetacean Community. The lawsuit claimed that the US Navy violated the Endangered Species Act because it damaged marine mammal tissue through the Navy's use of long range, low-frequency sonar. In its opinion, the Ninth Circuit held that the reason animals could not sue was not merely the fact that they were animals, but that they had not been granted the right to sue. Read the Ninth Circuit's opinion. More here.

After you look past the sheer oddity of the case - it is actually really interesting from a Civil Procedure perspective. Standing to sue involves two questions. First, the issue or injury involved must satisfy the "case or controversy" requirement in Article III in the Constitution. The 9th Circuit held that there is nothing within the Constitution that limits suits to only human individuals. But if a Plaintiff has sastisfied the "case or controversy" clause, the second question is whether a statute has conferred "standing" on the plaintiff. The plaintiff in this case (The Cetacean Community) was suing under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Environmental Protection Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act. After an analysis of each of these pieces of federal legislation, the Court determined that each confirmed standing only to "persons". That becomes a really facinating question, however, because several of those Acts - and legislation in general - define "persons" as including inanimate entities (corporations, associations, agencies, etc.). In an absolute stellar piece of lawyering, the attorney was careful to argue that he was not bringing suit on behalf of individual whales, dolphins and porpoises - but the Cetacean Community - an association of the animals. He argued that the association would have standing. The Court rejected that argument based on the assumption that an agency has standing because its individual members would have standing if suing on their own. A really great bit of lawyering and a really nicely formed opinion from the Court...which leaves open the opportunity for the legislature to confer standing upon animal groups in environmental law in the future. Really good stuff!

TV for MLS Playoffs

Current TV scheudle for the first round of MLS playoffs:

Friday, Oct 22
LA at Colorado - 8:30 Central - FoxSportsWorld/HDNet

Saturday, Oct 23
Columbus at New England - 6:30 Central - FoxSportsWorld (tape delayed)
DC at MetroStars - 6:30 Central - FoxSportsWorld/MSG

Sunday, Oct 24
Kansas City at San Jose - 4:00 Central - ESPN2

Saturday, Oct 30
San Jose at Kansas City - 7:30 Central - TBD
Colorado at LA - 9:00 Central - FoxSportsWorld
MetroStars at DC - 6:00 Central - FoxSportsWorld/HDNet

Sunday, Oct 31
New England at Columbus - 4:00 Central - ESPN2

To this point, each game has national TV coverage (FoxSportsWorld is national, but generally available on digital cable) except SJ at KC. The entire playoffs are also available on the Direct Kick sports package from InDemand.

If your not traditionally a soccer fan, you should try to catch one of the ESPN2 matches. Especially the game Sunday between SJ and KC - both of those teams generally play good, fairly attractive soccer that a non-soccer fan should be able to enjoy.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Playoff Breakdown

Well, I haven't posted about the playoffs yet - but I suppose it's about time for me to breakdown my thoughts on how it's all going to shake out.

The first round is home and home, semifinals are at the higher seed and the MLS Cup will be played in LA at Victoria Street. (What?!?, no, no, I'm talking about the Major League Soccer playoffs.)

In the Eastern Conference, the Columbus Crew take a 18 game unbeaten streak and the #1 seed in the East to Boston to face the #4 NE Revolution. The Crew are undefeated this year against the Revs and haven't lost on the road since late June. NE had a down year and squeaked into the playoffs with a win last weekend. The Crew missed the playoffs last year but rebounded finishing 2004 with the best record in MLS. The Revs will need a win at home to open to have any chance of advancing in the two game aggregate goal series.
Prediction: Crew

#2 DC United travels to NY to open their series with #3 Metrostars. This matchup is one of the biggest rivalries in MLS (the Atlantic Cup), and that intensity will only be heightened in the playoffs. DC finished the season with a flourish to steal the second seed away from Metros - seeing an in form Freddy Adu close out his first professional season leading United to a couple of victories. Metros are a talented team that seemed in control of the Eastern conference early in the season, but lost the plot at home and stumbled toward the end. Adu's form may be telling for United in his first trip to the playoffs, and first year coach Piotr Nowak will have to keep the intensity up facing the MLS' all time winningest coach in Metros' Bob Bradley.
Prediction: Metros

Out West, #1 seed Kansas City Wizards lock horns with the incredibly dangerous #4 San Jose Earthquakes. The 2003 MLS Cup Champion Quakes never really found their form under first year coach Dom Kinnear - but with Landon Donovan, Brian Ching, Chris Mullen, Richard Mulrooney, and Pat Onstad in the squad, this team will be very dangerous. 2004 was a dream season in many ways for the Wizards. After losing 2003 MLS MVP Preki for the entire season due to injury, losing leading striker Igor Simutenkov for the first half of 2004, then injury ending US National Chris Klein's season just before the all star break, no one expected KC to sit atop the west. But an in form Josh Wolff and a goal explosion from little known Davy Arnaud and the best defense in the West took them top.
Prediction: Quakes

#2 LA Galaxy fired head coach Sigi Schmidt mid-season when the Galaxy were sitting in first place in the West with a cushion. After Steve Sampson took over, the Galaxy took a slide that saw them fearing for their playoff lives - but they have adjusted to the Sampson style and rounded out the season playing well and pushing back up to 2nd place. #3 Colorado Rapids are the surprise of the West. Behind the MVP season of keeper Joe Cannon, the Rapids simply did not allow goals. Of course, they didn't score many either, which is why they couldn't get above 3rd place.
Prediction: Galaxy

Crew v. Metrostars = This should be a fun match - I'm going to give the edge to the Crew since they are at home, and they've won two in a row over the Metros - with Edson Buddle ringing up 4 goals in one of those wins.
Prediction: Crew

Galaxy v. Quakes = For those of you who don't follow soccer, this is as intense a rivalry as there is in American sports. Last year, these clubs squared off in the first round of the playoffs. The Galaxy won the first match 2-0 at home and went up to San Jose and scored 2 more goals in the first 30 minutes. Since the first round is aggregate goals, that meant LA was up 4-0 with only 60 minutes of soccer to go. Then "the comeback" began. SJ reeled off 4 goals - sent the match into extra time and score a golden goal to advance - and ended up winning the MLS Cup. It was an unforgettable moment in MLS history. This year, the Quakes haven't shown the ability to put together consistent wins - but they will be up for the Galaxy.
Prediction: Earthquakes

MLS Cup:
The Crew are the team on a roll. The Earthquakes are the defending champion who never found their form in the regular season amidst rumors of the team being sold and moved to Houston. Both teams have a lot of talent, and have been playing more attractive soccer as of late. But, I think that the Quakes will have found their stride and make it 3 championships in 4 years.
Prediction: San Jose Earthquakes - 2004 MLS Champs

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

So what, exactly, is a coincidence, anyway?

I spent my pre-school and early elementary years in a tiny town in northeastern Arkansas. If you ask my wife - or my mom - they'd tell you I have the world's worst memory. But there are some things I still remember vividly from those early years:

I remember learning the song 'He Paid a Debt' on our car porch. I remember tornado drills, where my little brother and I would learn what to do in case of dangerous weather. I remember my dad's garden in the back yard, and the horse named Lucky that lived in the pasture across the street from our house. I remember listening to a song named 'Kansas City Lights' on the radio as a vaporizor hummed late at night in our bedroom.

And I remember 8-track tapes. In our car and at home, we'd listen to 8-track tapes. The Gatlin Brothers (All the Gold in California); the Oak Ridge Boys (Elvira) and Paul Simon. I'm sure there were many more, but those really stuck with me. Especially the Paul Simon - 'Me & Julio' and '50 Ways to Leave Your Lover'. It's kind of weird the things that stick after all those years...

My son, Noah, was born on February 18, 2003. We went to the hospital the night before, expecting to induce the next morning, but Shana went into labor while we were in the lobby waiting for a room. We had brought a CD player with us, and when we got in the room we were playing some music. As the night progressed, I put on Paul Simon Anthology. And it was funny what happened after that - everyone who came into the room, a couple of different nurses, the anesthesiologist (sp.) and our doctor, each made some comment like, "great music". It was almost a running joke, because everyone that stepped in the room made some comment. At around 2:15 (if I remember correctly) Noah was born - I still remember amdist all the confusion of that moment - seeing my son for the first time, holding the hand of my wife, and hearing Paul Simon singing "me & Julio down by the schoolyard". I can remember that moment vividly. And I can remember such an odd feeling - because as I was becoming a father, I remembered sitting in that old station wagon as this little kid in the 70's singing along...

A Window Into Their Capacity to Listen

The Candidates Clash on Abortion Law:A Window Into Their Capacity to Listen

Excellent piece from FindLaw today - the author of this piece is Sherry F. Colb, is Professor and Judge Frederick B. Lacey Scholar at Rutgers Law School-Newark.

A couple of quotes from the article:
When Kerry made a point of demonstrating respect for the pro-life
position that he does not happen to share, he included pro-life people
within the community that he intends to lead and represent as President of
the United States. Rather than being President only of those who share his
views and concerns, in other words, he aims to be President of

There is reason to believe that Bush does not share this aim of
representing all of the people. Unable to hear the dreams and fears of those
with whose values he disagrees, Bush seems to consider himself President of
only those who fall into his ideological camp.

I thought this was a really good commentary on the abortion debate and the article addresses the nuances of the issue involved. The Right is unwilling to accept rational debate of the arguments because they simply want to 'use' abortion as a 'wedge issue' to instill fear and win votes. (For a good comment on wedge issues, see Greg Taylor's blog entry from Monday, Oct. 18, 2004.) For the Right, it's not about leading America forward - it's about scaring up votes.

Monday, October 18, 2004

20k is a long way...

Yesterday morning Shana ran in a 20k race here in downtown Houston. Wow! 13 miles - she finished up right at 2:00. I cannot even imagine running that far - but she does it and enjoys it. She loves to run - it keeps her calm and at peace. It is great for her. Yesterday, during the run, she developed a blister on the side of her toe. She told me that she wanted to stop running somewhere in the middle because it was hurting so bad - but she was running with her sister who encouraged her to keep pressing on. The competitiveness between the two of them pushed each to run one of the strongest races they had ever run.

Anyway - Congratulations to Shana. Next up is a 25k in November - that's right at 16 miles. She's going run that one and make a decision on running the Houston Marathon in January. She ran the half-marathon (13 mi.) last year, and is considering the big one. (By the way - due to school and family commitments, she had run only once in the month leading up to the half-marathon, and that was only a 3 mile run - but she got out there and ran the whole thing. She is an absolute superwoman, if I do say so myself.)

Servant?!? Who, Me?

My wife and I attend a small group Bible study on Sunday evenings with a few other couples from our church. We’re studying through the Rick Warren book The Purpose Driven Life. Last night, the topic of conversation was service/ministry. And an interesting point of conversation centered on why is being a servant so difficult - what makes it hard. Let's face it, for most of us service is hard. There are those special people that we all know who seem to revel in meeting the needs of those around them, standing in the gap before it's even called upon, and truly loving every moment of it. I am so appreciative of those people - but they are a rare breed. Most of us struggle with the servant heart. Why is that?

Our discussion brought up two, and I've been thinking of a third reason why service is not natural to most of us. First, it is inconvenient. What does service mean? Usually, it means going the extra mile, performing the unheralded task, taking the hand of the homeless guy on the street, etc. If you’re like me, you live in a hectic world where you always have something else you need to be doing, or want to be doing. It’s a whole lot more convenient for me to justify to myself that my plans are more important, more urgent, more of a need that must be met. But it’s rarely the truth. The truth is I don’t want to be bothered. I want to get out of the parking lot quickly, instead of taking the time to talk to a brother who has been going through a rough time and I know will want to talk for a half hour. I want to get my son home and in bed before he gets fussy, instead of hanging around to put up chairs and tables and take out the trash. I want to get my lunch and get back to my office, instead of stopping and getting lunch for the homeless man on the corner next to the sandwich shop.

A second factor that makes service difficult is fear. The unknown is everyone’s biggest fear, and there are aspects of service that hold that unknown quantity. You consider stepping in to help a sister in her family’s time of need – but exactly how much is this going to cost in terms of time and money? You consider stopping and offering help to someone looking for work – but can you trust that person? Am I putting myself at risk physically, financially or with time constraints? Anytime we take up a ministry we are opening ourselves up to the unknown, this holds us back from meeting the needs that need to be met.

Finally, we live in a society that programs us with the desire to be served – not be servants. Look around at the images of success and power – it is the people who are being served, not doing the serving. I think one of the basic hindrances to service is that we view it as a sign of weakness. Aren’t people who take time to open up to the people around them showing vulnerability? Can’t we pay someone to perform the ‘menial tasks’? Isn’t the person who helps the homeless gullible? I mean, come on – I’ve paid my dues, I work hard, and I take care of my family and myself. I deserve a little more of the being served and a little less of the service. That is the attitude of our communities. But that is not the attitude of a servant.

But these reasons didn’t seem to stop Jesus. Was it convenient for him to touch a leper? Or how about the unknown that was involved – should there not have been some apprehension in serving someone with such a disease? What about the classic example of Jesus washing his apostles feet – if Jesus had commanded those apostles to serve Him, would they not have jumped at the opportunity? Was there ever a time when the service of Jesus seemed to be convenient for Him? Was there ever a time when he refused to meet a need out of fear? Was there ever a time when he put His own needs above those of those He was here to serve? And yet we do.

I tend to choose what is easy for me. Hmmm, sounds like self-centeredness, huh? Oh, no – I can list off all the wonderful “service projects” that I get involved with (occasionally). But it’s funny how those projects tend to “fit-in” to my plans. I’m the leader, or it involves a group of friends, or any number of other situations when the “service” is right for me. Selfishness is the foundation of each of these reasons not to be a servant – I choose my convenience; I want my security; I desire to have others serve me. But there is no selfishness in Christ:

Phillipians 2:4-11
4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death--
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

To be a servant our attitude should be that of Christ Jesus – if we model ourselves upon him – the self-centeredness falls away – and what is left is the heart to meet needs…the heart of a servant.

Fiscal gap estimated as high as $72 Trillion

But don't worry - you won't have to pay for at least four more years.

"The first of the 77 million-strong Baby Boom generation will begin to retire in just four years. The economic consequences of this fact -- as scary as they are foreseeable -- are all but ignored by President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry, who discuss just about everything but the biggest fiscal challenge of modern times. "

What a predicament we find ourselves in. The question in my mind is how long can we choose to ignore this? Do you have kids? If so, are you worried?

Look at these quotes from the article:
"Chilling" is the word U.S. Comptroller General David Walker uses to describe the budget outlook.

"The long-term budget projections are just horrifying," added Leonard Burman, co-director of tax policy for the Urban Institute. "I've got four children and it really disturbs me. I just think it's irresponsible what we're doing to them."

An array of government and private analysts put the actual U.S. "fiscal gap," which means all future receipts minus all future obligations, at $40 trillion (Government Accountability Office) to $72 trillion (Social Security Board of Trustees).

These are not sums, but present-value figures, heavily discounted to show in today's dollars what it would cost to pay off the debt immediately. The International Monetary Fund estimates the gap at $47 trillion, the Brookings Institution at $60 trillion.

A former Bush appointee commission of a study by the federal reserve bank (chaired by a Bush appointee) came up with the following immediate options to meet the liabilities:
-- More than double the payroll tax, immediately and forever, from 15.3 percent of wages to nearly 32 percent;

-- Raise income taxes by two-thirds, immediately and forever;

-- Cut Social Security and Medicare benefits by 45 percent, immediately and forever;

-- Or eliminate forever all discretionary spending, which includes the military, homeland security, highways, courts, national parks and most of what the federal government does outside of the transfer of payments to the elderly.

Whoa. And yet no one talks about this. Why? Kerry says he'll roll back the tax breaks for the rich - but will add tax breaks for the middle class and small businesses. Bush says he'll cut taxes again and keep the medicare drug bill which subsidizes giant pharmacudical corporations. They both want to spend, spend, spend - and neither wants to seriously address tax revenues which are shrinking (although Kerry would roll back the mega-rich tax breaks). This is unbelievable - and the public eats it up.

No one talks about the fact that our children are going to have to pay bills that we were to short sided to acknowledge. --As long as my wallet is more full today, I don't care about tomorrow.-- That seems to be the American Way these days.

These are long term problems - this article actually addresses the potential of an Argentina/Russia type financial collapse at some point in the future. There is little question that if the Chinese or Saudi's ever decide to take there money out of US bonds - it would spell immediate recession/depression.

Is it time something was done - or do you think we can afford to put it off to future generations?

Friday, October 15, 2004

100 Favorite American Movies (1-10)

The Top 10 - I'll give a quick comment to each:

1. Casablanca - I love this movie. I can never get too much of it. There is no flaw to this film and the story is engaging every time you see it. This may have been in the midst of the 'assembly-line studio' era, but I've yet to see its equal.
2. Sunset Boulevard - Billy Wilder was the greatest American director. This is his masterwork.
3. Graduate, The - What a terrific capture of a young's man's anxiety's about entering 'real life'.
4. Sound of Music, The - The best musical ever made.
5. Godfather, The - Maybe perfect? Maybe the quintessential American movie?
6. North by Northwest - My favorite Hitchcock. I get caught up in this story everytime I see it.
7. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back - You either love them or hate them, and I love them, and this is best of the trilogy.
8. Citizen Kane - The Epic Ameican film, a story so big it barely fits on the screen.
9. Dr. Strangelove - Every time I watch I laugh through the whole movie, Sellers and Edwards at thier absolute pinnacle.
10. Annie Hall - The premier Woody Allen. Laughs, New York and a quirky story.

That's my favorite 10 films ever.

100 Favorite American Movies (11-20)

11. Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark
12. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The
13. Some Like it Hot
14. Four Weddings and a Funeral
15. Star Wars: A New Hope
16. Schindler's List
17. To Kill a Mockingbird
18. Saving Private Ryan
19. Apartment, The
20. American Beauty

There's your top 20...

100 Favorite American Movies (21-30)

21. Platoon
22. Titanic
23. Rear Window
24. Great Race, The
25. English Patient, The
26. Forrest Gump
27. Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail
28. Gone with the Wind
29. Manhattan
30. Double Indemnity

100 Favorite American Movies (31-40)

31. Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade
32. Breakfast at Tiffany's
33. Cool Hand Luke
34. Wizard of Oz, The
35. Dances With Wolves
36. African Queen, The
37. Princess Bride, The
38. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
39. Chicken Run
40. When Harry Met Sally

100 Favorite American Movies (41-50)

41. Silence of the Lambs, The
42. Pink Panther, The
43. Almost Famous
44. Godfather Part II, The
45. Toy Story
46. Age of Innocence, The
47. Chinatown
48. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
49. Dazed & Confused
50. Sabrina

100 Favorite American Movies (51-60)

51. Lion King, The
52. Midnight Cowboy
53. Rushmore
54. Taxi Driver
55. Best in Show
56. Great Escape, The
57. Aladdin
58. Fargo
59. Field of Dreams
60. Vertigo

Whew...half way there. I think I should clarify - since these are my favorite movies, if I haven't seen it, it's not on the list. Now, I'd say I have an above average interest in film, but I haven't seen nearly all that I should - so one of the big changes in the future of this list will be me viewing older films I'd never seen before who rocket toward the top.

100 Favorite American Movies (61-70)

61. My Fair Lady
62. Way We Were, The
63. Hannah and Her Sisters
64. Operation Petticoat
65. Raging Bull
66. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
67. 2001: A Space Odyssey
68. Birds, The
69. Apocalypse Now
70. Young Sherlock Holmes

100 Favorite American Movies (71-80)

71. Before Sunrise
72. Metropolitan
73. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, The
74. Around the World in 80 Days
75. Harry Potter and the Sorcer's Stone
76. Maltese Falcon, The
77. Clue
78. Jurassic Park
79. Hoosiers
80. JFK

100 Favorite American Movies (81-90)

81. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
82. Rebecca
83. Mary Poppins
84. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
85. Christmas Vacation
86. Slacker
87. Mulholland Dr.
88. Clerks.
89. Oklahoma!
90. Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi

100 Favorite American Movies (91-100)

During 2003, I put together my listing of 100 Favorite American Movies. I am still trying to keep the list reasonably current - although admittedly, Shana and I don't get to the movies nearly as much anymore. Again, this list was put together based on personal preference - I'd tried to say to myself - if you haven't seen a movie in 5 years, 'what movie would you choose to see first'...I'm going to post these in groups of 10...let the critiques begin.

91. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The
92. Die Hard: With A Vengeance
93. Pulp Fiction
94. Usual Suspects, The
95. White Christmas
96. Notorious
97. Goldfinger
98. On the Waterfront
99. Sense and Sensibility
100. Twelve Monkeys

Best and Worst Presidents

Okay - I thought I'd start with a string of randomly unconnected items that I've put together in the past and would be quick and easy to slap into my blog. I'll start with a listing of the Presidents I put together in the summer of 2004 after Ronald Reagan died. There was much pomp and rememberance after his passing, and it got me to thinking about who were the best Presidents in American history. This listing was based totally on my opinions after a bit of historical research. Here are the Top and Bottom 10:

1. Franklin D. Roosevelt
2. Thomas Jefferson
3. Abraham Lincoln
4. George Washington
5. James Monroe
6. James Madison
7. Theodore Roosevelt
8. Bill Clinton
9. Woodrow Wilson
10. James K. Polk

34. Zachary Taylor
35. Richard Nixon
36. William Henry Harrison
37. Gerald Ford
38. Ulesseys S. Grant
39. Andrew Johnson
40. George W. Bush
41. Warren G. Harding
42. Herbert Hoover
43. James Buchannon

First Post!

Well, hello. Welcome to my web log - I coudn't resist jumping in now that blogging is all the rage. A couple of quick introductions:

My name is Blake. I'm married to the most beautiful woman in the world, Shana. We have an adorable little son named Noah. Our family is much of our life and happiness. Hopefully I'll have some pictures up soon.

We live in Houston, Tx. We love Houston, especially this time of year - perfect weather, Astros in the playoffs, Texans' football season in full swing. We also have some family here, although not a lot. Houston is such a wonderful place for our family.

We are highly involved in our church and hope to be only more so. At least a portion of this blog will be discussing some of the beliefs that we hold - or are wrestling with - or are searching for. Spiritual growth is a lifelong journey, too often I just want to get settled somewhere - but settled is dangerous ground.

I am in Law School at UH Law Center. Shana is a graduate of South Texas College of Law - so there is a deep love in our family for the Constitution and justice. I am very interested in thinking and discussing politics and what we can do to make our communities and nation a better place for my son, and all our children, than what we were given. I also follow soccer avidly - Shana is a distance runner.

That's a glipse of a lot of what I'm going to collect here: reflections on family, spirituality, the law, politics, sports - and whatever else comes to mind. Let's just hope it's interesting...