Sunday, December 30, 2007

Worst video of the 1980s?

A fun song, but what's up with the dancing jester dwarf?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Why I worry about Mitt Romney [Bryan]

A long, boring, politically-oriented post below. Reader beware!

Anyway, a reporter recently asked Mitt Romney and the other presidential candidates about the limits of presidential power. From what I can tell, Romney does not recognize ANY limits of presidential power. This is all very disturbing to me. I'll just add this to my list of reasons of why I'm not a supporter of Mitt Romney.

Below are the questions (in bold), Romney's answers, and my commentary (in italics). For comparison purposes, I have listed the responses of Barack Obama to the same questions. Obama here seems much more specific, informed, and takes a more principled stand for the rule of law.

1. Does the president have inherent powers under the Constitution to conduct surveillance for national security purposes without judicial warrants, regardless of federal statutes?

MR: ntelligence and surveillance have proven to be some of the most effective national security tools we have to protect our nation. Our most basic civil liberty is the right to be kept alive and the President should not hesitate to use every legal tool at his disposal to keep America safe.

BW: Romney thinks that the government can wiretap U.S. citizens without any sort of judicial oversight.

The Supreme Court has never held that the president has such powers. As president, I will follow existing law, and when it comes to U.S. citizens and residents, I will only authorize surveillance for national security purposes consistent with FISA and other federal statutes.
2. In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress?

MR: A President must always act in the best interests of the United States to protect us against a potential threat, including a nuclear Iran. Naturally, it is always preferable to seek agreement of all – leadership of our government as well as our friends around the world – where those circumstances are available.

BW: Romney, it seems, thinks the president does not really need any Congressional authorization to start a war.

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.....
3. Does the Constitution empower the president to disregard a congressional statute limiting the deployment of troops -- either by capping the number of troops that may be deployed to a particular country or by setting minimum home-stays between deployments? In other words, is that level of deployment management beyond the constitutional power of Congress to regulate?

MR: The founders created a constitutional system in which the war power was divided between the President and Congress. A President must respect the constitutional design while at the same time remain faithful to commander-in-chief powers and obligations to keep this country safe.

BW: Again, no congressional oversight. In this case, over anything having to do with military affairs.

No, the President does not have that power. To date, several Congresses have imposed limitations on the number of US troops deployed in a given situation. As President, I will not assert a constitutional authority to deploy troops in a manner contrary to an express limit imposed by Congress and adopted into law.
4. Under what circumstances, if any, would you sign a bill into law but also issue a signing statement reserving a constitutional right to bypass the law?

MR: I share the view of many past presidents that signing statements are an important presidential practice.

BW: Romney's answer here is vague and evasive. In what way will he use signing statements? Can the president modify congressional legislation to suit his whims?

Signing statements have been used by presidents of both parties, dating back to Andrew Jackson. While it is legitimate for a president to issue a signing statement to clarify his understanding of ambiguous provisions of statutes and to explain his view of how he intends to faithfully execute the law, it is a clear abuse of power to use such statements as a license to evade laws that the president does not like or as an end-run around provisions designed to foster accountability.....
5. Does the Constitution permit a president to detain US citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants?

MR: All US citizens are entitled to due process, including at least some type of habeas corpus relief regardless whether they are designated unlawful enemy combatants or not.

BW: So, U.S. citizens only get "some" habeas protection -- not sure what that means.

No. I reject the Bush Administration's claim that the President has plenary authority under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants.

6. Does executive privilege cover testimony or documents about decision-making within the executive branch not involving confidential advice communicated to the president himself?

MR: Courts have recognized that there is a valid need for protecting communications among high government officials and those who advise and assist them. Before invoking the privilege, a President should carefully weigh, among other factors, the interest in disclosure and the interest in preserving the confidentiality of deliberations and advice in the Executive Branch. As an institutional matter, the President must also protect the prerogatives of his Office for future presidents.

BW: U.S. presidents, it seems, don't have to reveal who they talk to or for what reason. Does he realize that the president works for the people, rather than the other way around? The people need the tools to check up on how the president in doing. It is this that deserves protection, not "the prerogatives of his office." For what its worth, Obama on this point isn't much better.

BO: With respect to the “core” of executive privilege, the Supreme Court has not resolved this question, and reasonable people have debated it. My view is that executive privilege generally depends on the involvement of the President and the White House.

7. If Congress defines a specific interrogation technique as prohibited under all circumstances, does the president's authority as commander in chief ever permit him to instruct his subordinates to employ that technique despite the statute?

MR: A President should decline to reveal the method and duration of interrogation techniques to be used against high value terrorists who are likely to have counter-interrogation training. This discretion should extend to declining to provide an opinion as to whether Congress may validly limit his power as to the use of a particular technique, especially given Congress’s current plans to try to do exactly that.

BW: So, if a president wants to torture, there is nothing anybody can do about it. A president does not even have to answer questions about it.

BO: No. The President is not above the law, and the Commander-in-Chief power does not entitle him to use techniques that Congress has specifically banned as torture. We must send a message to the world that America is a nation of laws, and a nation that stands against torture. As President I will abide by statutory prohibitions, and have the Army Field Manual govern interrogation techniques for all United States Government personnel and contractors.

8. Under what circumstances, if any, is the president, when operating overseas as commander-in-chief, free to disregard international human rights treaties that the US Senate has ratified?

MR: The President must carry out all of his duties in a manner consistent with the rule of law, whether it is our Constitution or valid international agreements, so long as they do not impinge upon the President’s constitutional authority.

BW: So, a president doesn't have to honor treaties if they conflict with his or her view of presidential power. But look at the vast sweep of authority Romney is claiming here. Virtually any treaty would conflict with this conception of executive power!

BO: It is illegal and unwise for the President to disregard international human rights treaties that have been ratified by the United States Senate, including and especially the Geneva Conventions. The Commander-in-Chief power does not allow the President to defy those treaties.

9. Do you agree or disagree with the statement made by former Attorney General Gonzales in January 2007 that nothing in the Constitution confers an affirmative right to habeas corpus, separate from any statutory habeas rights Congress might grant or take away?

MR: The availability and limitation of habeas corpus is governed by current federal statutory law and the Suspension Clause of the US Constitution, Article I, § 9, cl. 2.

BW: The constitution says clearly, "The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it." If this is not the language of an "affirmative right," I don't know what is.

Disagree strongly.

10. Is there any executive power the Bush administration has claimed or exercised that you think is unconstitutional? Anything you think is simply a bad idea?

The Bush Administration has kept the American people safe since 9/11. The Administration’s strong view on executive power may well have contributed to that fact.

BW: Ben Franklin: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

BO: First and foremost, I agree with the Supreme Court's several decisions rejecting the extreme arguments of the Bush Administration, most importantly in the Hamdi and Hamdan cases. I also reject the view, suggested in memoranda by the Department of Justice, that the President may do whatever he deems necessary to protect national security, and that he may torture people in defiance of congressional enactments. In my view, torture is unconstitutional, and certain enhanced interrogation techniques like “waterboarding” clearly constitute torture....

Monday, December 24, 2007

A handout I'm proud of [Bryan]

Here is a handout I made for a Christmas class I taught in church yesterday.

I. Greek Vocabulary:

  1. Katalumati -- (Luke 2:7): KJV translates as “inn” in KJV; should probably be translated “guest room,” “upper room,” or “encampment.” Thus, phrase might be better translated "because there was no space for them in the room.” JST makes this plural: “inns.” Notice there is no mention of an "innkeeper" who turns Joseph away!
  2. Eudokias -- (Luke 2:14): KLV translates “of good will” – KJV reads “Peace on earth and good will toward men (eudokia)”; should probably read “Peace on earth among men of good will (eudokias)”
  3. Paraklesiv -- (Luke 2:25): KJV translates “consolation.” Closely related to the word for “comforter.” Literally has to do with “calling out” or “exhorting.”
  4. Tois tou patros -- (Luke 2:49) – KJV translates as “about my father’s business”; could also be translated “in my father’s house.”
  5. Magoi -- (Matt 2:1) – Priestly class among the Persians? (Herodotus) Priests of Zoroastrian religion? Babylonian astronomers? Jews from Babylon?
  6. Tektone -- (Matt 13:55). KJV translates as “carpenter.” Could also be a “builder” or a “stonemason.” Early Christian traditions say that Joseph was a homebuilder or a plow-maker.

II. Differences between Luke and Matthews account of the nativity.

  1. No mention in Matthew of shepherds, angels, mangers, etc. No mention in Luke of majoi, Herod, or Jesus’ presentation in the temple.
  2. Matthew focuses on the role of Joseph., Luke of Mary.
  3. Matthew focuses on Jewishness of Jesus; Luke on the humanness of Jesus – Jesus as prophet.
  4. Matthew does not mention Joseph being from Nazareth (Joseph could have been from Bethlehem; inn = guest room among relatives?)

III. Parallels between Jesus and Moses as formulated in the Gospel of Matthew:

  1. Attempts to kill children by Pharaoh and Herod.
  2. Events take place in Egypt.
  3. Moses wrote five books; Jesus gives five great sermons.
  4. Mount Sinai and Mount of transfiguration.
  5. Confrontations with Satan.

IV. Events of Jesus’ early life focused on the temple in Lucan account.

  1. Zacharias incident took place in temple.
  2. Jesus’ calling confirmed twice in the temple (Simeon, Anna).
  3. Jesus taught the priests (says he is to be found “in his father’s house”)
  4. Luke also ends his gospel with disciples gathered in temple.

V. Genealogies of Jesus (Matt 1:1-16, Luke 3: 23-38)

  1. Mattean account begins with “Abraham” and emphasizes “David.” For Matthew, again, Jesus is Jewish Messaiah.
  2. Lucan account begins with “Adam.” Jesus belongs to universal human family?
  3. Mattean account contains four “infamous” women (Tamar, Ruth, Racab, Bathsheba).
  4. Mattean genealogy has 14 generations between each “big” historical event (14 in gematria = “David”). Note: Matthew takes some literary license here to make the generations come to 14.
  5. Luke and Matthew have very different genealogies for Joseph. Why? For what its worth, this did not seem to be an issue for the early church, with apologetic discussions of the issue appearing only much later (5th century BCE).

VI. Poetry of Praise in Lucan narratives.

  1. Mary’s famous Magnificant (Luke 1:46-55) contains themes of God exalting the humble and God protecting the weak. This comes right after Elizabeth’s confirmation of Mary’s miraculous conception.
  2. Simeon (Luke 2: 29-35) uses the theme of God as a salvific force.
  3. Mary's poem parallels the psalm of Hannah in 1 Sam. 2.
IV. Some discussion questions:
  1. The birth stories are very different. Why?
  2. Matthew focuses on the visit of the magoi to the exclusion of everything else. Why does he do this? What message was he trying to get across? Could his parallel with Moses be an answer?
  3. Luke says that the angels announced the birth of Jesus first to lowly shepherds. Why is this significant? Why not to others?
  4. According to the earliest manuscripts, the angels greet the shepherds by saying “Peace on earth to men of good will” instead of “Peace on earth good will to men.” How does this change the message of angels?
  5. Why did Luke show the Jesus’ early life was so focused on the temple?
  6. What image does Luke give of Jesus as a boy? Why does he want to present this image?
  7. Why does Matthew begin his genealogy and Luke with Adam? What different emphases does this imply?
  8. Why does Matthew include the "infamous" women rather than, say, Sarah or Rachael?
  9. What themes do you see in Mary's Magnificant? Why might she had this in mind? What about Simeon?
  10. Why does Mary's poem parallel Hannah's?
(In writing this, I used stuff from Bart Ehrman, Jim Falcouner, and Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament, among other sources I can't remember now.)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Living in the Chirstmas Present [Bryan]

Christmas "presents" are hard to appreciate. I've found that, for me, it is tempting to live Christmas in the past tense rather than in the present. Growing up, Christmas was the best time of the year. It was pretty much the only time that my parents purchased toys (that and our birthdays, of course). The whole Santa Claus deception made the December air tingle with mystery and excitement. Even after the demise of Santa, that same feeling of electricity remained as I would search the house to discover my hidden presents. I remember vividly every aspect of my childhood holidays: the TV specials, the school Christmas programs, the bustle of Fred Meyer department store, the eggnog, the Warnick extended family party, the decorations on the tree, the Christmas lights. I remember the stories we used to read as a family, particularly a story about children who trick their parents on Christmas Eve by turning the clocks ahead. I remember all our old family vinyl Christmas albums and the church Christmas parties. I remember driving to a needy person's house to secretly deliver toys and food. I was always the first one who was ready to start celebrating Christmas, usually around mid-November.

Additional memories were added as I grew older. In high school, Christmas meant band concerts, the beginnings of basketball season, and first adventures in love (alas, always unrequited). On my Mormon mission, Christmas meant the excitement of discovering foreign traditions (fireworks!), along with deeply spiritual moments of friendship and service -- moments when I proved to myself that Christmas could be much more than presents and decorations. Christmases in Champaign, Illinois, were marked by new friends and memorable participation in an extremely talented and dedicated church choir (if you don't know, I like to sing, in a pinched-and-faltering-bass kind of way).

With such poignant and powerful memories, it is hard not to try to spend my current Christmases trying to recreate those of my past. I often try to relive those past moments, but they never seem to be quite as powerful as I remember. Dickens had it right when he describes the spirits of Christmas as ghosts, fleeting, ephemeral, and appearing on their own timetable. The songs and Christmas TV specials, for example, are still loaded with memories. Yet, even as I recall how I once felt listening to them, I am aware that the current feeling does not match the past intensity. The disjunction between past memories and present emotions can feel a a bit troubling, as if suggesting that the best of life is behind me, never to return. But that feeling is, I hope, ridiculous.

It has slowly dawned on me over the years that, rather than trying to forever summon the ghosts of Christmas past, I need to raise a toast with the ghost of Christmas present. I need to deeply inhale the new memories swirling about my young family. Instead of feeling the mystery and excitement myself, I can appreciate it through the eyes of my children. The sights and sounds of Christmas, rather than existing in an unchanging past, should be forever supplemented with new experiences. Memory can serve to enrich the present, but it can also be a prison. Carpe Christmas diem!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Our First (Annual?) Christmas Progressive Dinner [Ellie]

Lately Bryan and I have been discussing our longing to recreate the Christmases of the past. Bryan invokes his childhood Christmases through buying the classic Christmas movies of his childhood--Charlie Brown's Christmas, Christmas on Sesame Street, Mr. Krueger's Christmas--and making our children watch them with him. . .sometimes against their wills. My longing this year took the form of wanting to host a progressive dinner. Now, I had never before been to a progressive dinner, much less hosted one. It was not my personal past I was plumbing, it was my parents'. I remember them, dressed up, bundled against the cold, heading out to their adults-only progressive dinners every Christmas. Their excitement was the more deeply imprinted on my mind because my parents were not party people when I was growing up. We never had their friends over for dinner. We never had their friends over, period. They never hosted a non-family party in all my years growing up, except for their part in these Christmas progressive dinners. So embedded deep down in my psyche was the desire to recreate their excitement, to own it for myself. To be one of the adults in "adults-only."

So I did it. And I dragged Bryan along with me. (He wasn't too hard to convince.) We finagled 7 other couples to participate, fast-talked three young women from the ward into watching our kids, and despite freakishly bad weather (snow, freezing rain, rain) we did indeed progress. We traveled from house to house sampling hors d'oeuvres, two different salads, homemade tomato soup, apple pork roast, napoleans and raspberry chocolate brownies, and ending with games at the last house. We had a wonderful time. The conversation was engaging and the food was to die for!

Thanks to all our friends who participated--they let me live the dream! We only hope they had as much fun as we did. For people who like to eat as much as Bryan and I, this just might become an annual tradition.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My favorite Christmas Songs [Bryan]

These aren't in any particular order. As you can see, I have a soft spot for choral music -- pretty much anything composed by John Rutter.

1. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Bare Naked Ladies/Sarah McLachlan)
2. Christmas Night (John Rutter)
3. Veni Veni Emmanuel (Manheim Steamroller)
4. Peace on Earth (U2)
5. What Shall We Give to the Babe in the Manger? (Mormon Tab)
6. In Dulci Jubilo (John Rutter)
7. What Child is This? (Mormon Tab)
8. Pat a Pan (Manheim Steamroller)
9. He is born (Traditional French)
10. A La Nanita Nana (I don't know who composed this)
11. Christmas in Hollis (Run DMC)
12. Parson Brown (The New Christy Minstrels)
13. Once as I remember (John Rutter)

War on Christmas? [Bryan]

Every year at this time we hear about a "war on Christmas." Bless their hearts, our House of Representatives just passed a bill reaffirming the importance of Christmas. That's a relief -- no one seems to celebrate Christmas anymore. (I'm being sarcastic here.)

Of course, the reason why people are worried about Christmas is not that we Americans aren't celebrating it (we are, in record numbers). It is that people get mad when their school "Christmas Break" is renamed the "Winter Break." They get mad when a choral program contains seasonal music of other faiths, and not just the Christian tradition. The get upset when people say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." I personally don't have a problem with any of this. Our schools and governments need to serve people from many different faith traditions, and I think it is good that they recognize that not everyone is a Christian.

But there IS a war on Christmas! The war on Christmas is not demonstrated, however, by a few Kwanzaa additions to a community choral program. The war on Christmas is shown as Christmas is turned into a month-long orgy of materialism. I guess we have the three wise men partly to blame for this, with their gold, frankincense and myrrh business. But it is now completely out of control. I was walking through Walmart three days before Halloween and the Christmas merchandise was already appearing, further emphasizing that the "true meaning" of Christmas is buying and selling. If you want to fight for Christmas, don't worry about the nerdy secularist and multiculturalists. Worry about the businessmen and consumerists!

(Of course, make sure you buy my present before you worry about them.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

My book cover [Bryan]

Well, there it is. Information about my book can be found here. It is starting to seem real.

Hits close to home (thanks Derek)