Daily Archives: June 5, 2010

'The Mighty Uke': A Musical Underdog Makes A Comeback

The ukulele has a mixed bag of friends, including mega-zillionaire Warren Buffett, at least three Beatles and elementary-school students in Nova Scotia. Despite many thousands of fans the world over, the small four-stringed instrument has been the butt of countless jokes and insults. But as a new documentary demonstrates, the uke has made a comeback.

The Mighty Uke: The Amazing Comeback of a Musical Underdog opens with shots of Hawaiian virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro ”” now 33 ”” in New York City wearing jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt, playing his ukulele with brilliance and brio. Director Tony Coleman describes Shimbukuro’s technique as “ukulele shock and awe. He’s an athletic performer, full of expression.” Shimbukuro’s mother handed him a ukulele when he was 4, and a little more than two decades later, his version of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” went viral on YouTube.

Caught this on the morning run via podcast–a terrific story. Best when heard via audio (7 1/3 minutes) if you can; if you can’t please read it all–KSH.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Music

Scientists Cite Advances on Two Kinds of Cancer

Using two opposite strategies, one focused and one broad, scientists say they have made progress in taming two of the most intractable types of cancer.

The focused approach shrank tumors significantly in a majority of patients with advanced lung cancer marked by a specific genetic abnormality.

Even though the clinical trial was small (just 82 people, with no control group), the results were considered so striking for such sick patients that the study will be featured Sunday at the main session of the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology here.

“This is a phenomenal example of finding the right patient and the right drug very early on,” said Dr. Pasi A. Janne of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, who was involved in the trial.

Really encouraging–read the whole thing.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

Peggy Noonan on the Umpire's Blown Call in Detroit: Nobody's Perfect, but They Were Good

What was sweet and surprising was that all the principals in the story comported themselves as fully formed adults, with patience, grace and dignity. And in doing so, [Armando] Galarraga and [Jim] Joyce showed kids How to Do It.

A lot of adults don’t teach kids this now, because the adults themselves don’t know how to do it. There’s a mentoring gap, an instruction gap in our country. We don’t put forward a template because we don’t know the template. So everyone imitates TV, where victors dance in the end zone, where winners shoot their arms in the air and distort their face and yell “Whoooaahhh,” and where victims of an injustice scream, cry, say bitter things, and beat the ground with their fists. Everyone has come to believe this is authentic. It is authentically babyish. Everyone thinks it’s honest. It’s honestly undignified, self-indulgent, weak and embarrassing.

Galarraga and Joyce couldn’t have known it when they went to work Wednesday, but they were going to show children in an unforgettable way that a victim of injustice can react with compassion, and a person who makes a mistake can admit and declare it. Joyce especially was a relief, not spinning or digging in his heels. I wish he hadn’t sworn. Nobody’s perfect.

Thursday afternoon the Tigers met the Indians again in Comerica Park. Armando Galarraga got a standing ovation. In a small masterpiece of public relations, Detroit’s own General Motors gave him a brand new red Corvette. Galarraga brought out the lineup card and gave it to the umpire””Jim Joyce, who had been offered the day off but chose to work.

Read the whole thing.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Ethics / Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Sports, Theology

IRS Nears Action on Church Pensions

The Internal Revenue Service is drafting guidance that could require employers with religious affiliations to warn workers when their pensions have lost their federal safety net.

Over the past decade, more than 100 employers, including hospitals, schools, nursing homes, charities and other nonprofits, have converted their pension plans to “church plans,” a largely unregulated category of pensions that generally cover clergy and lay employees of churches and synagogues.

Church plans are exempt from federal pension rules, including those that require employers to fund the plans and insure them with the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., or PBGC, a federal agency that pays the benefits if a pension plan runs out of money.

“They said: ‘Hallelujah, I’m a church plan,’ and no longer have to meet funding requirements, or pay premiums, said Andrew Zuckerman, the IRS’s acting director of employee plans, at a meeting for pension groups this year.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Economy, Law & Legal Issues, Pensions, Personal Finance, Religion & Culture, Taxes

Black Flight Hits Detroit

This shrinking city needs to hang on to people like Johnette Barham: taxpaying, middle-class professionals who invest in local real estate, work and play downtown, and make their home here.

Ms. Barham just left. And she’s not coming back.

In seven years as a homeowner in Detroit, she endured more than 10 burglaries and break-ins at her house and a nearby rental property she owned. Still, she defied friends’ pleas to leave as she fortified her home with locks, bars, alarms and a dog.

Then, a week before Christmas, someone torched the house and destroyed almost everything she owned.

In March, police arrested a suspect in connection with the case, someone who turned out to be remarkably easy to find. For Ms. Barham, the arrest came one crime too late. “I was constantly being targeted in a way I couldn’t predict, in a way that couldn’t be controlled by the police,” she says. “I couldn’t take it anymore.”

Not a short article but a very important one–read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., City Government, Economy, Politics in General

NFIB Jobs Statement: Small Business Still Reluctant to Hire

Overall, the job creation picture is still bleak. Poor sales and uncertainty continue to hold back any commitments to growth, hiring or capital spending. Job creation plans have been running far below comparable quarters in the recovery from two other major recessions.

Read the whole thing.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market

A WSJ Editorial: Employers on Strike

Almost everything Congress has done in recent months has made private businesses less inclined to hire new workers. ObamaCare imposes new taxes and mandates on private employers. Even with record unemployment, Congress raised the minimum wage to $7.25, pricing more workers out of jobs. The teen unemployment rate rose to 26.4% in May, and for those between the ages of 25 and 34 it rose to 10.5%. These should be some of the first to be hired in an expansion because they are relatively cheap and have the potential for large productivity gains as they add skills.

The “jobs” bill that the House passed last week expands jobless insurance to 99 weeks, while raising taxes by $80 billion on small employers and U.S-based corporations. On January 1, Congress is set to let taxes rise on capital gains, dividends and small businesses. None of these are incentives to hire more Americans….

It’s always a mistake to read too much into one month’s jobs data, and we still think the recovery will lumber on. But if Ms. Romer wants this to be more than a jobless recovery, she and her boss should drop their government-creates-wealth illusions and start asking why so many private employers remain on strike.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, The U.S. Government

Suzanne Guthrie–Repentance: Repeat as needed

The parish liturgy committee decided to adopt the contemporary version of the Lord’s Prayer for use during worship. From now on, at least at one of the services, we’d be “sinners” instead of “trespassers.” The next Sunday a distraught man cornered me. “You’ve taken the Lord’s Prayer away from us!”

I was shocked. What did he mean? We’d been preparing and educating people for this small change for years. How could changing a few words “take away” the Lord’s Prayer?

I thought: maybe the Lord’s Prayer was not part of this man’s daily spiritual practice. If it were, he might be using as many versions as he wanted in as many languages as he wanted or even paraphrases of his own. But maybe instead of praying it in his own time, he viewed Sunday worship as his own time, rather than as a gathering together of diverse and dissimilar people in continual growth and flux. After I came to this realization I begin hearing more “I” language: phrases such as “I came to get my ashes” on Ash Wednesday and “I had to get my palm” on Palm Sunday. My parishioners were consumers of prayer! Like customers at vending machines, they’d slide their dollars into the slot for the week’s allotment of praise, thanksgiving, intercession and petition followed by coffee hour. The formulaic general confession served as the sole opportunity for soul cleansing and maintenance. There was no preparation, no aftercare, no angels rejoicing over this one repentant sinner out of 99, no fatted calf or cloak or ring, no popping of a champagne bottle celebrating a moral victory won over self.

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Spirituality/Prayer, Theology

Stanley Hauerwas Writes about the Early Reaction to His Memoir, "Hannah's Child"

Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir has been out for not quite a month, but in that time I have received more letters about the book than any book I have ever written. I am not sure why that is the case, but it seems that I have struck a nerve. That I come from the working classes evokes for many a sympathetic reading. Others respond to my having lived for over twenty years with a wife that suffered from bipolar illness. The significance of friendship for sustaining my life also seems significant to many readers. The response I find most surprising is the surprise many express about my surprise that I am a Christian.

That a theologian should be surprised about being a Christian may seem strange, particularly among folk who have little sympathy with Christianity. They often assume that theologians by definition must believe in what they think about. That, of course, is a deep mistake made, particularly in recent times. Many who become theologians in our time think their task is to try to determine how much of what has passed for Christianity they still need to believe and yet still be able to think of themselves as Christians. I discovered, however, that I did not know enough about Christianity to know what I was disbelieving….

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Books, Methodist, Other Churches, Theology

Black Women See Fewer Black Men at the Altar

It is a familiar lament of single African-American women: where are the “good” black men to marry?

A new study shows that more and more black men are marrying women of other races. In fact, more than 1 in 5 black men who wed (22 percent) married a nonblack woman in 2008. This compares with about 9 percent of black women, and represents a significant increase for black men ”” from 15.7 percent in 2000 and 7.9 percent in 1980.

Sociologists said the rate of black men marrying women of other races further reduces the already-shrunken pool of potential partners for black women seeking a black husband.

“When you add in the prison population,” said Prof. Steven Ruggles, director of the Minnesota Population Center, “it pretty well explains the extraordinarily low marriage rates of black women.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Marriage & Family, Race/Race Relations

A Gay Catholic Voice Against Same-Sex Marriage

“I spent the summer before college reading Shakespeare and staring out the window and occasionally being a roadie for my friend’s band,” says Eve Tushnet, the celibate, gay, conservative, Catholic writer. That was all good fun, she says upon meeting in Union Station, but she was ready for more, although she knew not what. “I was hoping for something very different in college.”

It is common, this freshman urge for self-invention. The football player tries his hand at poetry; the classical violinist fiddles in a bluegrass band. But Ms. Tushnet ”” whose parents, Mark Tushnet and Elizabeth Alexander, are a well-known liberal Harvard law professor and a former American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, respectively ”” did not imagine that she would become a Roman Catholic, nor that 10 years after graduation, her voice, on her blog and in numerous articles, would be one of the most surprising raised against same-sex marriage.

As the hundred or so daily readers of eve-tushnet.blogspot.com, and a larger audience for her magazine writing, know by now, Ms. Tushnet can seem a paradox: fervently Catholic, proudly gay, happily celibate. She does not see herself as disordered; she does not struggle to be straight, but she insists that her religion forbids her a sex life.

“The sacrifices you want to make aren’t always the only sacrifices God wants,” Ms. Tushnet wrote in a 2007 essay for Commonweal. While gay sex should not be criminalized, she said, gay men and lesbians should abstain. They might instead have passionate friendships, or sublimate their urges into other pursuits. “It turns out I happen to be very good at sublimating,” she says, while acknowledging that that is a lot to ask of others.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Sexuality, Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths), Theology

Peter Boone and Simon Johnson–French Connection: The Eurozone Crisis Worsens Sharply

The big news is France. With sentiment worsening across Europe, France has lost its relative safe haven status ”“ credit default swap spreads on French government debt were up sharply today.

The trigger ”“ oddly enough ”“ was Hungary’s announcement that its budget is worse than expected (blaming the previous government; this is starting to become the European pattern) and in the current fragile environment discussed yesterday, this relatively small piece of news spooked investors. But these developments only reinforced a trend that was already in place.

It did not help that the Irish Minister of Finance announced Ireland has 74.2bn euros of guaranteed bank loans, bonds, and systemic support falling due between now and Oct 1. This is around 55% of GNP. It sounds like everyone backed by the Irish government had the “clever” idea to roll over their debts to just before the guarantees expire.

The big losers are Portugal-Ireland-Italy-Greece-and-Spain as always, but Belgium is now in the line of fire, and France is clearly under pressure. The spread between French and German credit default swaps (measuring the relative probability of default) is up ”“ yesterday this was 40 basis points, today it stands at 44 (up from just 5 basis points at the end of 2009; most of the increase is since mid-March, with a sharp acceleration recently). French bonds have become illiquid, with wide bid-ask spreads; not what is supposed to happen in a safe haven. This is going to make the French angry ”“ watch for more market slanders from top French politicians over the weekend; you know they would just love to ban trading in something.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, --Eastern Europe, --European Sovereign Debt Crisis of 2010, Credit Markets, Economy, Euro, Europe, European Central Bank, France, Hungary, Politics in General, The Banking System/Sector, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--

Rise in Suicides of Middle-Aged Is Continuing

For the second year in a row, middle-aged adults have registered the highest suicide rate in the country, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Historically, the eldest segment of the population, those 80 and older, have had the highest rates of suicide in the United States. Starting in 2006, however, the suicide rate among men and women between the ages of 45 and 54 was the highest of any age group.

The most recent figures released, from 2007, reveal that the 45-to-54 age group had a suicide rate of 17.6 per every 100,000 people. The second highest was the 75-to-84 age range, with a rate of 16.4, followed by those between 35 and 44, with a 16.3 percent rate.

The rate for 45- to 54-year-olds in 2006 was 17.2 percent, and in 2005 it was 16.3 percent.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Middle Age, Psychology

BBC Today Programme: The Controversy surrounding Cardinal Newman

Listen to it all (about 6 1/2 minutes).

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Religion News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Church History, Church of England (CoE), Other Churches, Roman Catholic

U.S. Adds Jobs in May, but Private Hiring Disappoints

A shadow fell across America’s economic recovery on Friday, as the Labor Department’s monthly report showed that private sector job growth was considerably weaker than expected.

The headline numbers suggested a reason to be optimistic ”” employers added 431,000 jobs and the jobless rate fell to 9.7 percent from 9.9 percent in April. But the underlying numbers showed that almost all of the job growth came from the 411,000 workers hired by the federal government to help with the Census. Most of those jobs will disappear in a few months.

By contrast, the private sector created 41,000, far short of expectations of 150,000 to 180,000 jobs. And the number of long-term unemployed, those who out of work for 27 or more weeks, remained at its highest rate since the Labor Department began collecting such data in the 1940s.

“It’s a very, very grudging labor market,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief economists for MFR Inc. “A growing amount of evidence now points to this recovery taking a long time.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, The U.S. Government