Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Empirical Support for the Rapture

OK. I know I'm beating this to death, but here's some empirical evidence (courtesy of the Rev. Scotty Kirk) that the Rapture did in fact happen although the fourth picture suggests that only cats were the beneficiaries:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Rapture Reloaded

Harold Camping, the 89-year-old leader of Family Radio Worldwide, has revised his predictions concerning the rapture and end of the world ("Preacher Says World Will Actually End in October"). After admitting that he was flabbergasted how events failed to unfold this past Saturday as he anticipated ("Judgment Day: May 21, 2011"), Camping went on to argue that what happened on Saturday was a spiritual Judgment Day, which evidently placed the entire world under Christ's judgment. This slight (?) misinterpretation of God's plans did not change Camping's belief that the end of the world would still occur on October 21, 2011 (as he originally predicted).  He did note, however, that because God's judgment and salvation were completed on Saturday, there was no point in continuing to warn people about it (apparently, the die has been cast and there's nothing he or his followers or we can do about it), so his radio network will just play music and programs until Oct. 21st. I don't know about you, but I can't wait until October 22nd!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Lifetime Laker Jerry West a San Francisco (oops, Golden State) Warrior?

I'm sure long-time Golden State Warrior fans are thrilled that 14-time All Star, Hall of Famer, inspiration for the NBA logo (see graphic at right) and lifetime Los Angeles Laker, Jerry West, has joined the Warrior front-office in an advisory role and agreed to be a member of its executive board.

But I can't help wondering what Laker fans are thinking about this turn of events. Isn't this something of a betrayal? It's like Willie Mays consulting for the Dodgers, or Don Drysdale becoming the pitching coach for the Giants, or Roger Clemens pitching for the Yankees (oh, that's right, that did happen). It makes you wonder if something happened that alienated West and the Lakers, but as far as I know, nothing has, which makes me wonder: Is anything sacred anymore?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Judgment Day: May 21, 2011

Judgment Day has come and gone, and Harold Camping is alive and well and still living (and presumably very disappointed) in Alameda, California (I write these words prior to the predicted time -- really going out on a limb here). Camping, as many of you know, is the 89-year-old leader of Family Radio Worldwide, who has been predicting that Judgment Day or the Rapture would occur today with the end of the world following on October 21, 2011.  For the uninformed, the rapture refers to the time when true Christians will be gathered together in the air and meet Jesus Christ.

This isn't the first time Camping has predicted the end of the world. He first predicted that it would end on Sept. 6, 1994, but when that didn't work out, he went back to the drawing board (his words) and is now confident that his calculations are correct. So confident, in fact, he has advertised his predictions on 2,200 billboards around the country, and many of his followers have been traveling across America to spread the word, so to speak. It would be funny if it weren't for the fact that many of Camping's followers have left their families, their jobs and drained their saving accounts in anticipation of the big event. I wonder what they plan on doing on Monday?

Camping, of course, isn't the first to make predictions concerning the end of times. Sir Isaac Newton, for instance, predicted that it wouldn't occur before 2060 (which suggests that he believed that it eventually would occur) and the Jehovah Witnesses identified 1914, 1918, 1925 and 1942 as possible dates (it  appears that they have abandoned making predictions since then). And then, of course, there are the Left Behind books, which have sold over 65 million copies worldwide.

Perhaps the most influential predictor of the end times, however, was the Baptist preacher, William Miller, who claimed that Christ would return between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844, but then revised his prediction to October 22, 1844. When the big day didn't occur, Miller admitted that he was wrong (although he continued to believe that Judgment Day was imminent) and returned to his Baptist church, but many of his followers refused to believe that he was wrong and ended up giving birth to the Adventist movement. It will be interesting to see how Camping's true believers react once they realize that the Rapture didn't occur (or they believe that it did and they're among the reprobate).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Don’t Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses. Really?

On May 3rd, Intelligence Squared US held a debate on the motion "Don't Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses," which addressed the issue of immigration, legal and illegal. Arguing on behalf of the motion were Kris Kobach and Tom Tancredo; arguing against were Mayor Julián Castro and Tamar Jacoby. 

If you recall those attending an Intelligence Squared US debate vote prior to and after the debate, and the winning debate team is decided by how many minds were changed and in what direction. As always not only can you listen to the debate at the Intelligence Squared website ("Don't Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses"), but you can access transcripts of the debate as well. The debates can also be downloaded from iTunes (my source).

Here's a brief description of the participants (from the Intelligence Squared website):

Kris Kobach is the secretary of state for Kansas and former professor of constitutional law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He served as counsel to Attorney General John Ashcroft during the Bush administration, where he led Department of Justice efforts to prevent terrorists from exploiting gaps in U.S. immigration controls. Kobach is well known nationally for his role as co-author of Arizona’s SB 1070 illegal immigration law and has litigated some of the most significant immigration-related cases in the country.

Tom Tancredo is a former Republican congressman from Colorado (1999-2009). He sought the 2008 Republican nomination for President of the United States with the intention of forcing the immigration issue into the debate. In 2010, Tancredo ran as the Constitution Party's nominee for governor of Colorado. Tancredo served as the Secretary of Education's regional representative under Presidents Reagan and Bush, and founded two not-for-profit education organizations, the Rocky Mountain Foundation and the American Legacy Alliance.

Mayor Julián Castro is the 36-year-old mayor of San Antonio, making him the youngest mayor of a Top 50 American city. In 2001, at the age of 26, Mayor Castro became the youngest elected city councilman in San Antonio history. Throughout his tenure in public service, he has championed a vision of economic growth and a top-notch quality of life for all San Antonians. In 2005, Castro founded the Law Offices of Julián Castro, PLLC, a civil litigation practice. He earned his undergraduate degree from Stanford University with honors and distinction in 1996 and a juris doctorate from Harvard Law School in 2000.

Tamar Jacoby is president and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA, a national federation working to advance better immigration law. She is the author of Someone Else’s House: America’s Unfinished Struggle for Integration, and editor of Reinventing the Melting Pot: The New Immigrants and What It Means To Be American, a collection of essays about immigrant integration. From 1989 to 2007, she was a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Before that, she was a senior writer and justice editor for Newsweek and the deputy editor of the New York Times op-ed page (1981 – 1987).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The King James Bible: 400 Years and Counting

As many of you know, the King James Version of the Bible turns 400 this year. NPR had an excellent story on it a few weeks ago ("Hallelujah! At Age 400, King James Bible Still Reigns") that explored both its history and the impact it has had on the English Language.

Briefly, in January of 1604, King James I convened a meeting of Puritans and Bishops with the intent of working out differences concerning church liturgy. At least that was the official reason. James's real reason was to get the two groups to agree to craft a new English translation of the Bible that both the Bishops and Puritans could embrace. Evidently, at the time England was divided over two English translations: (1) The Bishops' Bible, which was read in churches but was clunky and inelegant; and (2) the Geneva Bible, which used more accessible language and, as such, was the choice of the Puritans and the laity.

Unfortunately (at least from James's point of view), the Geneva Bible included marginal notes, some of which challenged authority and referred to kings as tyrants, and that simply wouldn't do. So, James brought the Bishops and Puritans together, and as he hoped, they decided that a new English translation of the Bible was in order, and over the next seven years, 47 scholars and theologians worked through the Bible line by line. The result is what we now know as the Authorized or King James Version (KJV) of the Bible.

The impact that the King James Version of the Bible has had is profound, not just on theological reflection and church liturgy, but also on the English language. Consider the following sayings, all of which are from the KJV (a longer sample taken from the NPR website appears at the end of this post):
  • A drop in the bucket (Isaiah 40:15)
  • A man after his own heart (Samuel 13:14 or Acts 13:22)
  • Apple of your eye (Deuteronomy 32:10, Zechariah 2:8)
  • At their wits' end (Psalms 107:27)
  • Bite the dust (adapted from Psalms 72 -- eat your heart out Freddie Mercury)
  • By the skin of your teeth (Job 19:20)
  • By the sweat of your brow (Genesis 3:19)
  • Eat drink and be merry (Ecclesiastes 8:15)
  • He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword (Matthew 26:52)
  • Holier than thou (Isaiah 65:5)
  • Out of the mouths of babes (Psalms 8:2, Matthew 21:16)
  • Tender mercies (Psalms 25:6)
  • Writing is on the wall (Daniel 5: 5/6)
Moreover, the language of the KJV is absolutely stunning. I have yet to find a modern translation (even though most are more accurate than the KJV) that when read aloud, sounds so good. This fact was first driven home to me when I heard Prime Minister Tony Blair read from the KJV at Princess Diana's funeral. I was reminded of it a few weeks ago when Kate Middleton's (sorry, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) brother James read from Romans 12: 1–2, 9–18 at Kate and Prince William's wedding. It simply can't be beat even though many have tried (although it doesn't hurt when it's read by someone who has an English accent). Here's the rest of the sayings listed on the NPR website (prepare to be amazed):
  • A house divided against itself cannot stand (Matthew 12:25)
  • A wolf in sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15)
  • An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21; Matthew 5:38)
  • Baptism of fire (Matthew 3:11)
  • Bite the dust (adapted from Psalms 72)
  • Broken heart (Psalms 34:18)
  • Can a leopard change its spots? (Jeremiah 13:23)
  • Cast the first stone (John 8:7)
  • Chariots of Fire (2 Kings 6:17)
  • Cross to bear (Luke 14:27)
  • Don't cast your pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6)
  • Fall by the wayside (Matthew 13:4)
  • Fall from grace (Galatians 5:4)
  • Fat of the land (Genesis 45:18)
  • Feet of clay (Daniel 2:31-33)
  • Fight the good fight (1 Timothy 6:12)
  • Fire and brimstone (Genesis 19:24-26)
  • Flesh and blood (Matthew 16:17)
  • Fly in the ointment (adapted from Ecclesiastes 10:1)
  • Forbidden fruit (Genesis 2:9)
  • From strength to strength (Psalms 84:7)
  • Give up the ghost (Mark 15:37)
  • Heart's desire (Psalms 21:2)
  • How the mighty are fallen (Samuel 1:19)
  • In the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52)
  • It's better to give than receive (Acts 20:35)
  • Labour of love (Hebrews 6:10)
  • Lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7)
  • Land of Nod (Genesis 4:16)
  • Law unto themselves (Romans 2:14)
  • Letter of the law (2 Corinthians 3:6)
  • Living off the fat of the land (Genesis 45:18)
  • Love of money is the root of all evil (Timothy 6:10)
  • Manna from heaven (Exodus 16:15)
  • Many are called but few are chosen (Matthew 22:14)
  • My cup runneth over (Psalms 23:5)
  • No rest for the wicked (adapted from Isaiah 57:20)
  • Nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
  • O ye of little faith (Luke 12:28)
  • Peace offering (Leviticus 3:6)
  • Pride goes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18)
  • Put words in her mouth (2 Samuel 14:3)
  • Put your house in order (2 Kings 20:1)
  • Reap what you sow (adapted from Galatians 6:7)
  • See eye to eye (Isaiah 52:8)
  • Set your teeth on edge (Jeremiah 31:30)
  • Sign of the times (Matthew 16:3)
  • Sour grapes (Jeremiah 31:30)
  • Sweat of your brow (Genesis 3:19)
  • The blind leading the blind (Matthew 15:14)
  • The ends of the earth (Zechariah 9:10)
  • The root of the matter (Job 19:28)
  • The powers that be (Romans 13:1)
  • The salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13)
  • The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41)
  • The straight and narrow (Matthew 7:13/14)
  • There's nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
  • Two edged sword (Proverbs 5:4)
  • Voice crying in the wilderness (John 1:23)
  • Wages of sin (Romans 6:23)
  • Wash your hands of the matter (Matthew 27:24)
  • White as snow (Daniel 7:9)
  • Woe is me (Job 10:15)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Should Christians Celebrate bin Laden's Death?

Shortly after news leaked that Navy SEALs had killed Osama bin Laden, people spontaneously began to appear outside the White House and at Ground Zero in NY to celebrate the death of a man who has been behind the death of thousands of people (and as more information comes to light, if given the opportunity he was hoping to kill thousands more). President Obama was clearly pleased with the outcome (click on this link to see his address to the nation, "Osama bin Laden is dead, Obama Speech at White House"), and subsequent polls indicate overwhelming support for the government's action ("AP-GfK Poll: Bin Laden killing was justified").

In the midst of the celebrations, a handful of dissenting voices could be heard, however. For example, the day after bin Laden's death, Pastor Peter Ilgenfritz of the University Congregational United Church of Christ in Seattle, WA, posted a reflection entitled ("I Do Not Rejoice at the Death of a Man") that drew on Matthew 5:44 (“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.”) to argue that Christians shouldn't celebrate the death of any man, no matter how evil. Instead, we should feel sadness that our world is so broken that some of our young men grow up to be like Osama bin Laden (see the picture of bin Laden at age 15 below).  Similar sentiments have been echoed by the Baptist theologian, David Gushee ("Do Not Rejoice When Your Enemies Fall"), the evangelical leader of the Sojourners Community, Jim Wallis ("How Should We Respond to the Death of Osama bin Laden") and the Roman Catholic Church ("Vatican says bin Laden's death cause for reflection, not rejoicing"):
"Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions to this end...  In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred."
I would be lying if I said that I wasn't glad when I heard that bin Laden was dead. I was. I hurried home to watch the news and hear the President's address to the nation. A part of me wanted to be at Ground Zero or at the White House so that I could wave the Stars and Stripes and celebrate with others.

Nevertheless, I understand where Pastor Ilgenfritz, Jim Wallis, David Gushee and the Vatican are coming from. I often cringe at the glee with which some Christians greet the death of our enemies. As the just war tradition teaches us, the death of an enemy combatant is, at best, the lesser of two evils and is only justified if it, in fact, prevents a greater evil. Indeed, I think that in terms of the just war tradition bin Laden's death is justified given all that he had done and pledged to do in the future.

A helpful distinction in this regard is the difference between revenge and justice. It is inappropriate, I believe, for Christians to celebrate bin Laden's death out of feelings of revenge, but I do believe that just war Christians (as opposed to Christians who are pacifists) can, in good conscience, breath a sigh of relief and feel a sense of tempered joy that someone who was responsible for the deaths of so many people is no longer in a position to do so again.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Am I Missing Something?

Today I was driving home and a bicyclist decides to dart out in front of me, causing me to swerve into the other lane (good thing I was driving the speed limit and there wasn't someone in the lane next to me) in order to avoid him. I predictably honked my horn, and he gave me the finger. Am I missing something? Would he have preferred me to plow right through him instead? I guess he wouldn't have given me the finger, but that doesn't strike would be his preferred outcome.

Friday, May 6, 2011

College and High School Baseball Power Outage: BBCOR Bats

Colleges and high schools introduced new metal bats to reduce the speed of the ball as it comes off the bat in order to increase the safety of pitchers and come as close as possible to the speed that the ball comes off wood bats. Bats now must adhere to the Ball-Bat Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) standard, which measures the collision between bat and ball to determine the liveliness of the bat.

As a recent article in the San Jose Mercury News noted ("New Bats Cut Homers"), the new standards appear to be working. According to NCAA statistics, scoring nationwide is down 20 percent this year and the number of home runs is nearly half of what it was last year (my nonrandom, unscientific observation of several high school games this year has left me with a similar impression). Silicon Valley college teams have experienced varied results. While Cal, St. Mary's and Santa Clara's offensive production is down, Stanford's is about the same and San Jose State's is up slightly. The article's author seems somewhat puzzled by this, but I think the obvious answer is that State simply has better hitters this year. In other words, if State's hitters were still using the same type of bats as they did last year, their offensive production would be way up, not just a fraction.

Professional baseball scouts seem to like the change because the new bats are more like the wood bats professional players use, which makes it easier for them to separate the wheat (i.e., the ones who consistently hit the ball on the good part of the bat) from the chaff (i.e., the ones who don't). Opinions among college coaches is mixed, however. San Jose State's head coach Sam Piraro (Sam was SJS's assistant coach when I was playing and that was a long time ago!) seems to like the change, while Stanford's Mark Marquess doesn't.

Personally, I like it because the game is much more like the one I played in high school and college (we used wood bats when I first started high school, and then switched to aluminum. However, the first aluminum bats didn't have a whole lot more pop than our wood bats did. The primary advantage aluminum bats gave us was the fact that they didn't break as easily as wood bats.). Moreover, even if the number of pitchers injured by batted balls was relatively small before the change, any increase in safety is worth it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Umar Patek, Osama bin Laden and Abbottabad: Mere Coincidence?

In the relatively near future I'll post my thoughts on Osama bin Laden's death at the hands of US Special Forces, but those of you who have been following the story have probably picked up on the fact that considerable tension that exists between the US and Pakistan. What you may not have heard is that on January 25th of this year, another high profile terrorist, Umar Patek, was arrested in Abbottabad, Pakistan -- that's right, the same town where bin Laden was found hiding -- this time by Pakistani authorities.

Patek is a senior member of the Jemaah Islamiya (JI) terrorist organization based in Indonesia. For the last 10 years he has been the target of an international manhunt for his role in the October 2002 Bali bombings that left 202 people dead. After the Bali bombing, Patek decamped for the southern Philippines where he was provided sanctuary, first by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF -- the group needs to work on a new acronym) until it began peace talks with the Philippine government, and then by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the group that kidnapped the Christian missionaries, Martin and Gracia Burnham. While in the Philippines, Patek was implicated in several bombings and also helped provide training to JI members and other militants from Indonesia. Patek apparently snuck back into Indonesia in 2010, shortly after the 2009 death of Noordin Mohammed Top, but he and his wife fled to Pakistan (via Thailand) shortly after Indonesian authorities raided a terrorist training camp in Ache, Indonesia, that led to the arrest of 100 individuals. After arriving in Pakistan, Patek and his wife were provided shelter in an apartment where they lived a quiet life until his arrest in January.

Indonesia sent a team to Pakistan to arrange for Patek’s extradition, but they haven't even been able to interrogate him let alone arrange for his transport back home. Pakistan has said that it would eventually return him to Indonesia, but it has been dragging its feet and some Pakistani authorities have expressed their desire to indict and try him in Pakistan first. Pakistan has also made it clear that it would rather not turn Patek over to the CIA, primarily because of the fallout after the CIA contractor, Raymond Davis, killed two two men in Lahore, Pakistan, following what Davis said was an attempted armed robbery.

All of this raises a number of interesting questions:
  1. Is it merely a coincidence that two of the world's most sought after terrorists both decided to seek refuge in the same town in Pakistan?
  2. Isn't it something of a stretch to believe that Pakistani officials were able to learn of Patek's presence in Abbottabad while remaining completely ignorant of bin Laden's, especially considering the fact that Patek did as little as possible to attract attention to himself while bin Laden was building a heavily-fortified mansion? (British Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament it was unbelievable that the Pakistani authorities did not know that Bin Laden was hiding so close to Pakistan's capital).
  3. If it isn't a stretch, then what does that say about Pakistan's intelligence capabilities?
  4. Why have Pakistani authorities yet to turn Patek over to Indonesian authorities?
Is it any wonder that the US didn't inform the Pakistan government about the impending operation against bin Laden? I think not. My guess is that they believed that if they did, there was a good chance that bin Laden would be tipped off and "do a bunk" (to paraphrase Professor McGonagall) before the Navy Seals arrived. And they certainly didn't want that to happen.