Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Novel Idea

This is the fiction piece I'm working on for ECTA. I'd love any questions or suggestions on conventions (man, I love word play!). It's only about ten pages. Click this link to find it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

What You Need to Know about the NCRI!

This was an article I wrote for The Sower which got bumped for space reasons. It explains what the NCRI is and presents the views of both sides. I tried to be impartial in presenting the facts for this article, but if you're interested in my opinion, I say vote for initiative 424!

What Will the Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative Do? Both Sides’ Opinions

On November 4, Nebraskans will cast their votes on the controversial Initiative Petition 424, the Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative (NCRI). The NCRI would add this amendment to the Nebraska Constitution: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”

According to Ward Connerly, who introduced the petition to Nebraska, the purpose of this proposed amendment is to end, “scholarships that are restricted on the basis of race or gender, programs that give preferential treatment to some over others, faculty hiring in which people are hired on the basis of race and promoted on the basis of race…It is designed to make sure everyone gets equal treatment, not preferential treatment.”

NETV aired a debate titled “Your Verdict: Affirmative Action on Trial.” Sharon Brown represented the NCRI, and David Kramer represented Nebraskans United, a group which is strongly opposed to the bill. Brown made her case first, and one of her witnesses was former Republican nominee for the Senate, Pete Ricketts. In his defense of the NCRI Ricketts quoted Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who believed that people should “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” During his cross-examination of Ricketts, Kramer asked about the importance of diversity. Ricketts responded, “Diversity is something, I think, we all recognize as valuable. But how you accomplish that is what makes a difference. For instance, if you do it on skin color, that’s wrong, but if you want to give advantages to under-privileged children who come from [impoverished] neighborhoods, that’s absolutely appropriate.” This is an example of race-neutral affirmative action, which would not be affected by Initiative 424. Kramer only called one witness, State Senator Danielle Nantkes. She argued that “Quotas as preferences, as our opponents talk about, don’t exist in Nebraska in 2008, and so this…is a solution in search of a problem.”

Both groups agree on two principles. First, that we should have a color-blind society where equal protection of civil rights is protected by law. Second, they agree that diversity in education and the workplace is important. Moshman believes that the NCRI will increase protection of civil rights. In a column for the Lincoln Journal Star, he wrote, “In the event that federal law were to become less protective of civil rights, the state of Nebraska still would be forbidden to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.” However, Nebraskans United fear that the NCRI would hamper affirmative action programs and decrease diversity. In his opening statement in the debate, Kramer said that there would be “unforeseen consequences” if the NCRI was passed.

What affect will the bill have on affirmative action? Moshman wrote in his column that “the NCRI would not ban affirmative action. It would, however, restrict some kinds of affirmative action.” Moshman listed three different kinds of affirmative action: quotas, preferences, and outreach.

According to Moshman, quotas “have been unconstitutional since 1978,” therefore the NCRI will simply back up what federal law says about quotas.

Using preferences to increase diversity, in Moshman’s opinion, would be restricted by the NCRI. He defines preferences as “selection criteria or decisions that, in addition to consideration of relevant qualifications, favor some individuals over others on the basis of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, political views or other factors…”

A third way employers and educators can increase diversity is by making efforts to increase the relevant application pool to include all qualified applicants, including those from under-represented groups. An example of this type of affirmative action would be an employer widely advertising openings including publications that reach minority communities. Moshman believes that nothing in the NCRI’s language which would threaten affirmative action programs that use outreach.

The NCRI is an amendment which is designed to protect civil rights, but possibly at the expense of diversity. In this debate, the proponents of the NCRI tend to be those who believe that equal protection under the constitution should take priority over some diversity programs. Nebraskans United tend to believe that maintaining diversity in schools and businesses takes precedence over NCRI, which would reaffirms equal protection clause of the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

(You can read David Moshman’s column in the Aug. 30 issue of the Lincoln Journal Star. Read the fill text of the NCRI at All other quotes were obtained from “Your Verdict: Affirmative Action on Trial.”)

Mixed Feelings about American Carol

It sounded like a great idea for a movie. 

A modern-day retelling of A Christmas Carol, except that “Scrooge” is a Hollywood liberal and Christmas is the Fourth of July. Three American spirits, John F. Kennedy, General Patton and George Washington, visit the famed film-director Michael Malone (a jibe at Michael Moore), to convince him that America is a great country.

However, the movie itself didn’t fully live up to my expectations. American Carol definitely has some fun moments, but the touching story of Malone’s redemption is diminished by the ludicrous slapstick and unnecessary crude humor.

I will say that it was well acted. The second you see Michael Malone celebrating the healthcare system of the “island paradise of Cuba,” it’s hard to tell he’s not the real Michael Moore. Rosie O’Connell was a perfect caricature of infamous Rosie O’Donnell, former co-host on The View. Celebrities like Bill O’Reilly, Trace Adkins and Paris Hilton played themselves to perfection.

Though the impressions were spot on, not all of the comedy was genuinely funny. Often, the attempts at humor veered into overkill. Ironically, the terrorists got the most laughs (the suicide bomber training video was absolutely hilarious). When watching this film, sometimes I laughed and sometimes I had to roll my eyes.

That being said, the message of the film buried beneath the slapstick is quite poignant. Of course, the film’s source material A Christmas Carol is one of the most beautiful stories of redemption ever written, and watching Michael Malone’s gradual transformation is indeed inspiring. Taking the place of Scrooge’s nephew Fred is Malone’s nephew Josh, an officer in the navy. Josh is a proud American, who loves the Fourth of July, whereas Malone attacks American society and the troops in his documentaries. Thanks to the spirits, Malone learns that war is sometimes necessary to defeat evil, and comes to appreciate the courage of American troops throughout history. However, even the emotional climax of the film, where Malone salutes to his son as he departs to fight the War of Terror, is not free from goofy slapstick.

Whether you want to spend the money to see American Carol depends on your personal tastes. If people like Michael Moore, Rosie O’Donnell and Jimmy Carter just irritate you, or if you like slapstick comedy, you will love this movie. If not, you could still enjoy American Carol. I’d give it two and a half stars out of five.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Obama and the Surplus Population

I have received a lot of comments about my column from the Sept. 24 issue of The Sower, “Candidate’s Potential Impact on the Supreme Court,” some positive, some negative. Some readers were surprised to learn that I think the Supreme Court is the most important issue in this election, as opposed to the war, global warming, or a tax cut for 95% of Americans (including many who don’t pay taxes). Some readers doubt that the next President really will have much impact on social issues like abortion.

Gerald Ford was President from 1974-1977. The judge Ford appointed to the Supreme Court, John Paul Stevens, is still in office today. As this proves, the influence of a President’s Supreme Court appointments can extend decades beyond the end of his Presidency.

Both Democrats and Republicans agree that there is a very high probability that one or more Supreme Court Justices will need to be replaced in the next four to eight years. It would be irrational for an informed and intelligent voter to ignore this issue when voting for the next President.

Therefore, I would like to further examine Obama’s record on the issue of abortion, since he is likely to impact it if he wins in November.

I am aware that not all Democrats are pro-abortion, but Obama definitely is.

In Dr. Albert Mohler’s opinion, “Abortion is back front and center in the 2008 presidential race.  Sen. John McCain and the Republican Party Platform call for a reversal of Roe v. Wade and against any notion of abortion as a fundamental right.  Both the candidate and the platform call for specific measures to curtail access to abortion and to lead, eventually, to the end of abortion on demand. Sen. Barack Obama and the Democratic Party Platform call for a stalwart and enthusiastic defense of Roe v. Wade and for expanded access to abortion.  In the case of Sen. Obama, his advocacy of abortion rights goes considerably beyond where any major candidate has ever gone before.

Pro-abortion group NARAL (the National Abortion Rights Action League) gives him a 100% approval rating for his voting record. In fact, as a state Senator in Illinois, Obama killed a bill called the Born Alive Infant Protection Act. The purpose of this bill was to protect infants, regardless of their stage of development, who survived induced abortions. This bill would only have protected infants who were fully delivered from the womb, and it contained a clause which expressly stated that this would not affect the legal status of an infant inside the womb. Obama voted to kill this bill because he believes in an absolute right to an abortion, a right which extends, remarkably, even beyond the womb.

Obama himself has told us that his views on abortion will affect his appointments for the Supreme Court. At the Saddleback forum, where Obama dodged the abortion question by claiming it was above his pay grade, he promised he would not appoint judges like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. He also voted against Bush’s appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Those four Justices are the only pro-life jurists  presently serving on the court. Although deciding when life begins may be above Obama's pay grade, he has no problem voting against the right to life on every occasion when he has the opportunity. As Prof. Robert George of Princeton concludes, Obama is "the most extreme pro-abortion candidate ever to seek the office of President of the United States,...Indeed, he is the most extreme pro-abortion legislator ever to serve in either house of the United States Congress."

About this time of year, I start looking forward to Christmas, which brings to mind one of my favorite stories of all time, Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. Before his miraculous conversion, Ebenezer Scrooge expressed his hope that the poor would just die, and thus “decrease the surplus population.” To Scrooge, the poor were nothing but unwanted members of society, not full human beings.  This same philosophy is expressed today to justify abortion as the right of a woman to terminate an unwanted child. “In the classic form of this argument, a woman must have the right to an abortion at anywhere, any time, for any reason, whether or not she can pay for it,” writes Mohler. As Christians, this is a question we must answer: how is someone with extreme pro-abortion views any different from the unrepentant Scrooge?

And so, this being my last chance to comment on this election in The Sower, I’d like to endorse John McCain. During the Republican primary, McCain was probably fifth on my list of favorite Republicans because he was less conservative than my top choices (the furthest from Bush, you might say). Yet during this election cycle, as I learned more about him, my respect for John McCain increased immensely. Whatever minor differences you might have with McCain on policy issues, you cannot deny that he is a man of character.

(You can find the text of the Born Alive Infant Protection Act at

(Read Dr. Albert Mohler’s post on abortion, Two excellent articles by Prof. Robert George of Princeton on Obama's record, and one on infanticide.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Response to Prof. Creed

In the Oct. 8 issue of The Sower, Prof. Creed wrote a letter to the editor in response to my column on each Presidential candidate’s potential impact on the Supreme Court. Some of his points were valid, but I need to respond to some of his outlandish assertions.


First, Creed accused me of oversimplifying complex issues like abortion and gay marriage. The purpose of my column was simply to compare the substantive differences between Barack Obama and John McCain’s stances on these issues. My article was not about federal funding of abortion procedures; it was about the Supreme Court.


Second, I never at any point wrote that all Republicans are pro-life and all Democrats are pro-choice. What I’ll point out is that, although not all Democrats are pro-abortion, Obama definitely is. 


Third, Prof. Creed also wrote that I used a fallacy of logic, slippery slope, when I argue that Barack Obama would affect social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, because I asked a lot of “what if”s. Now, Creed is right; the next President will not necessarily have to appoint any new Justices. Maybe Justice Stevens will still be going strong at 96. So, if Obama never gets the opportunity to appoint any Supreme Court Justices during his Presidency, he won’t have much affect on social issues. But that’s a huge “if.” Considering that the Supreme Court’s job is to interpret the Constitution, a Constitutional Law Professor is probably the very best authority to ask when you want to find out how the next President’s decisions will affect the dynamics of the Supreme Court. I quoted two, one pro-choice Democrat, and one pro-life Republican, who agree that the next President will have tremendous impact on social issues like abortion and gay marriage by his appointments.


My column was truthful; I reported the facts. My column was thorough; I presented viewpoints from both sides. And considering that it’s an opinion column, it does not violate the journalist’s code of ethics for me to share my opinions.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Avatar and Redemption

I finally got the complete third season of Avatar on DVD, and am anxiously awaiting Thanksgiving break when I can watch the dramatic conclusion. Avatar is the most intelligent show I’ve seen, beautifully animated and superbly written. Two characters in particular are almost Dickensian in nature: Uncle Iroh and Prince Zuko. Iroh could have been created by Charles Dickens: a wise, eccentric old man with a wry wit, a passion for tea, and a silver tounge. Both Iroh and Zuko are deep, three-dimensional characters. The compelling story of Zuko’s transformation from an angry, selfish malefactor to a strong, virtuous hero is as dramatic as the miraculous redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Though the writers may or may not be Christians, the story of Zuko’s growth is particularly poignant to me because I know that, in the real world, such a change can only be effected by the healing power of Christ’s love.

The picture shown above is my own drawing of Iroh in a style called "Mega D." I believe the Japanese call characters who are ridiculously small and cute "chibis," so this is a "Chibi Iroh!" 

Monday, October 13, 2008

Martin Luther’s Teaching Moments

So far, there are two passages in Marty’s Martin Luther which particularly made me pause and think. The first was Luther’s comparing the story of Jacob struggle with God to the way we all wrestle with the ideas and paradoxes surrounding God. What intrigues me is Luther‘s choice of words. He believes we have to conquer God. Luther admits that “if we judge according to philosophy,” it’s an absurd idea (26). Indeed, it sounds like something the Catholic church would have used to justify the selling of indulgences, conquering God’s wrath with pieces of paper. Fortunately, Luther wasn’t saying that God wasn’t omnipotent. Luther’s point is that God “is not conquered in such a way that He is subjected to us, but his judgment…is conquered by us praying, seeking, and knocking, so that from an angry judge…He becomes a most loving Father” (27). I think this is because of God’s perfect nature. Another Luther comment which sounds strange when taken at face value is “Every good work is sin” (77). Again, what Luther is really saying is that doing good works to try to win God’s favor is arrogance. Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is still a sin. So why does Luther initially word his views in such a way, it sounds like he believes something completely different. I think it’s because he was a teacher. By wording his point in such a stark way, Luther grabs your attention, and gets you to think about this Biblical passage in a new way. That’s the mark of a great teacher.

My Thoughts on Relativism and Public Education

Our old pastor, a great guy, once gave a sermon on what he called the two great demonic ideas of today’s society: moral relativism, and atheistic evolution. Before this sermon, the pastor and my dad had a discussion about public education. They agreed that they didn’t like what was being presented to influential children in public schools, but our pastor didn’t want to talk about it at the pulpit for fear of offending church members with kids in public schools. When Dad heard our pastor’s two demonic ideas, he grabbed a bulletin and wrote in the comments section “What other demonic ideas should we expose our children two for eight hours a day?” Moral relativism is the most blaring self-contradiction I’ve ever seen. Yet many public educators believe this notion unquestioningly.

I’ve actually hear Christians argue that sending your child to a private Christian school like Concordia, or my high school Lincoln Christian, is not the best thing to do. They cite these reasons: your child’s faith won’t be tested in a Christian school and your child can be a witness for Christ in a public school. Here are my thoughts: how can someone defend their beliefs if they don’t even know what they believe? Grade school kids don’t think about the paradoxes of Christianity; they have a simple, childish faith (which is great). How can we expect them to fend off the one-sided arguments of rabidly liberal, but intelligent adults?  Second, you can be a witness to Christ anywhere you are. When I’m a father, I’m not going to send my five-year-old to deepest darkest Africa, which is full of lions and strange diseases, to be a witness. My kid can do a great witnessing to people right here in America. Similarly, I’m not going to send an impressionable kid to a public school, which is full of spiritual diseases, and where the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8 NIV). Not everyone in Christian schools are Christians; my kid can be a witness for Christ there.

Now, let me just clarify this: I don’t want to diminish the good work of Christian public school teachers (we need as many of them as we can get). It’s also great that God can use kids in public schools to be a witness. I know that some people simply can’t afford private education (we need school choice!). Let me clarify where I’m coming from by sharing another story about my dad (by now, you can probably tell he’s one of my spiritual heroes). When my dad was asked to teach a Sunday school class to help parents who had questions about this issue. He asked the parents there to raise their hand if they wanted their child educated in a way which reflects the mind of Christ. Of course, every parent raised their hand. Next, he asked if anyone thought that the public education system reflects the mind of Christ. No hands were raised. Dad did his best Columbo impression and said, “Well, I’m confused. You asked me to help you decide if you should be sending your child to public school, but you all seem to know the answer.”

Thoughts on Theme in Kiss Me Kate

On the surface, Kiss Me Kate is a delightful, bouncy musical comedy. But reading through the script and watching an excellent unabridged production on YouTube (ahh, the wonders of YouTube), I found that the play explores intriguing themes in its layered plot.

As much as I love the comedy, the music, and the Shakespeare, the authors of Kiss Me Kate slid in more than a few suggestive gags. Admittedly, this is in the tradition of their inspiration, the Bard of Stratford on Avon. Still, several of the play’s showstopper songs are singularly sensual. “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” is a witty duet which showcases famous Shakespearean quotes and plays in its lyrics. While the word play is delightful, it’s quite awkward because the song is also about using Shakespeare to seduce “yer goil.”

“Always True to You” always brings the house down. In her big solo, Lois Lane sings about how she will cheat with any man if there’s something in it for her, but reassures her beau that she’s always true to him “In my fashion.” Do I really need to tell you what the song “Too Darn Hot” is about? So why all the suggestive humor? The authors still could have told a hilarious story without so much of it. However, when trying to decide if something is appropriate or not, I think it’s better to look at what the story says about certain behavior, rather than count how many times it references certain behavior. Questions I ask when I watch any movie or play include “What is the moral? What ideas are the authors trying to sell me? What behavior are they celebrating/ridiculing?” Does Kiss Me Kate celebrate promiscuity? I don’t think so, though I admit someone could make the case that it does. One might argue that Kiss Me Kate showcases these immoral characters, paints a positive picture of them, portrays them as fun and cheerful. Even though some of the characters live amoral life styles, I don’t think the authors were encouraging bad behavior at all. For example, let’s take the two unnamed gangsters. The two comedic bruisers are my favorite characters in the play. Does that mean the authors are celebrating violence and encouraging us to join the mob? Of course not! Furthermore, take Lois Lane: she is the definitive ditsy blond. The authors certainly don’t think that Lane is the example people should follow. Though Kiss Me Kate presents the audience with many examples of immorality, it uses these elements to send a positive message about good behavior.

More Thoughts on Inherit the Wind

In my auto-biography, I wrote about acting in Inherit the Wind. I’d like to go into a bit more detail on the impact this play had on my life. When I was ten, I understood that the play was about the conflict between creation and evolution, and I raptly followed Drummond’s cross-examination of Brady. It was clear to me where the flaws were in Drummond’s arguments, and I often wondered why Brady didn’t notice them and point them out, and why were some of Brady’s arguments so weak? It didn’t occur to me, then, that this was a play specifically written to ridicule Bible-believing Christians.

Just last year, Dad took me to a production of Inherit the Wind. The play, which highlighted atheistic arguments, but glossed over any Biblical ones; the actors, who portrayed Christians as angry, ignorant rubes with heavy Southern drawls; the audience, which laughed heartily at this bigoted caricature of my faith; that was what Dad wanted me to see and I’ll never forget it.

(p.s. If a certain Presidential nominee had attended that play would he have laughed with the rest at the portrayal of these bitter Americans clinging to their religion and antipathy towards others?)

My Autobiography

My grand father served in WWII, and during Pearl Harbor, manned the guns on his ship and fired at the Japanese for all he was worth. He married an Irish lass named Ann Rogers right before being deployed. Both survived the Great Depression, shaping the way they thought about the world for the rest of their lives. My dad was born on the anniversary of D-day a few years after granddad’s return, and was taught by nuns in Catholic school. That made him and my mom baby boomers. Though my mom took after her conservative, race-car driving dad, my dad Rick was a sorta-hippie. Though he opposed the war in Vietnam, it was because of the draft, not because he bought into the notion that all war was evil or the “Make love, not war” mentality. He became a Wall street lawyer, moved to Nebraska to teach, where he met my mom, his student. After she graduated, they started dating, Mom helped bring Dad to Christ, and they married.

My selfless mother chose to home school my siblings and me. My best friend Steve, the pastor’s son, was also home schooled. Almost every Friday, our families had co-op day, and our moms taught all four of us together. We usually reenacted scenes from American history, especially the American and Civil wars. Some people argue that home schooling stifles a child socially. That may be true to a limited extent, but I am a fierce proponent of the merits of home schooling to this day. Though I was home schooled, I still had plenty of social interaction with my peers at church and camp, which meant I formed strong relationships with some of the wonderful people at CBC. Barb Phillips is like a second mother to me, and I remember several of my Sunday school teachers to this day when I think about Biblical teachings. One of the highlights of my young life was acting in professional theater. When I was eight, I acted on the Lied stage in A Christmas Carol. Since the Lied used to produce it every two years, I acted in the play a total of three times, and earned the role of Tiny Tim during the second performance. I also played a son in Fiddler on the Roof, and got the lead role for a boy my age in Inherit the Wind. That was a controversial choice at my church. My parents felt it was good for me to see how the sinful world perceives Christians, and to expose me to the debate between creation and evolution. That decision wasn’t popular with some parents, even ones who sent their children to public school to learn about evolution every day! Though I was a bit young to understand that Inherit the Wind was a flagrant attack on Christianity, I had strong Christian beliefs, and I think I may have been a witness to the older actors. I shared a dressing room with over twenty actors, all of whom were probably over twenty themselves. As you might expect of college students, they swore, smoked, joked coarsely, and peed in the shower. Some of them were good enough not to swear in front of a kid my age, and many of them curbed their swearing habit altogether. Over time, I became a sort of mascot. Every performance night, the guys would blare “You’re the Best Around” as a good luck tradition. The show couldn’t start, however, unless I was there to play air guitar. When we talked about the theology in the play, I defended my Christian beliefs to the best of my ability.

I started an amateur comic strip when I was eleven for my church newsletter. For seven years, Bob ‘n Joe has kept me busy, and it’s been published in my school newspaper, online at my blog, and one comic won third place in a national contest sponsored by a candy company and appeared on wrappers seen by people across the country.

While home school was one of the most positive experiences of my life, my parents and I decided that it would be good for me to have some experience with a “real school.” For all for years of high school, I was enrolled in Lincoln Christian. I had a very successful career there. I formed fast friendships with several of my teachers and students. I could talk forever about the highlights from those four golden years, so let me summarize some of the wonderful ways God blessed me in high school. I served as student editor for all four years, founded the journalism club, played lead roles in drama productions, became president of our school’s chapter of the International Thespian Society, was chosen as the art student of the year when I was a senior, and joined the National Honor Society, became a leader in the speech team, medaled at district speech all three years and went to state two of those years. One year, for a duet, I used a scene from The Unaborted Socrates, a powerful pro-life piece, and, though we placed last at districts (the piece’s worldview was a definite factor) a few people spoke to us after our performance and told us we’d convinced them.

Of course, I wanted to attend Concordia. Thankfully, I got enough scholarships to come here, because Concordia was my first choice. Concordia’s Christian atmosphere was very important. Doane was a college I was strongly considering, but during a visit, I discovered that though there were wonderful Christian students and professors there, the worldview of the school itself was not in line with mine.  Furthermore, it’s one of the best art schools in Nebraska. Some kids want to get as far away from their parents and hometown as possible, but after all the sacrifices my parents made for me, I wanted to stay close to home and visit them when I could. 

Peter Kreeft’s Influence on my Life and Thinking

I am enjoying GS 101, because I enjoy analyzing ideas and arguments. If I can point to one event in my life where my passion for critical thinking and philosophy began, it would probably be when my father handed me a book by Peter Kreeft. Kreeft is a Christian apologist, professor of philosophy, and has been heralded as the intellectual heir to C.S. Lewis. The first book by Kreeft I read was Between Heaven and Hell, in which Clive Staples himself appears as a character. Lewis meets John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley in purgatory and the three dialogue about the differences in their beliefs. Another favorite hero of Kreeft’s is Socrates. I’ve read his introduction to Socratic philosophy, as well as three of the books in his series of books in which Socrates returns to life in modern times and other points in history and reacts to the current society. The Unaborted Socrates is the most important book I’ve ever read on abortion, because in it, Socrates examines the logic behind three pro-choice men’s world-views, and using simple, inescapable logic, refutes their flawed arguments. In Socrates Meets Jesus, the philosopher returns to life in the liberal “Have It” Divinity School (a play on Harvard), examines the claims of Christ, and eventually becomes born-again! Since reading these books, I’ve been more able to recognize logical fallacies and poor examples of critical thinking.

Of course, I also learned to think critically about my hero Kreeft’s ideas. Kreeft is a good Catholic, who believes in Christ’s divinity, his necessary death for sins, and resurrection. In his book, Ecumenical Jihad, he wrote about what unifies and what divides each religion and worldview. I like what he wrote about how, though we shouldn’t forget about the important doctrinal differences that divides good Catholics and good Protestants, we should remember that what unites us is far greater: Christ. Still, I took his chapter defending his belief in the eucharist and the papacy with a grain of salt. No one can be right about every doctrinal issue, but Peter Kreeft is definitely an author I would recommend to anyone, Catholic, Lutheran, or otherwise.

(More of my thoughts on Peter Kreeft at Bob 'n Joe.)

Why I Like Small Schools

I love small schools. For one thing, you actually get to know your professors. My dad is a Prof. of Constitutional law and property law at UNL (and one of the faculty’s few staunch conservatives). There are usually a lot of students in his class, and though there are a few he likes because they are hard-working and know their stuff, he’s almost never established a camaraderie with a student. That’s because of the vast number of students that go through his class doors. The increase of students there this year is about the same as the total number of students attending Concordia!

The second great thing about small schools is the ability to participate in activities. Think how much competition there is a large school to participate in the school plays, athletics, and other EC activities. When I attended the first Sower meeting, I thought I would have to do weeks of volunteer work before I’d have a chance to write. Carson asked who was interested in politics and I raised my hand, and BOOM, I got my own column. At UNL, it probably takes journalism majors years before they work their way up and get their own column! No one could possibly excel in several areas at a big school; they would have to focus on their strength. But at Concordia, kids can get involved in multiple activities together. Many of the kids I’ve met in Improvables and art classes will be trying out for the school musical, Kiss Me Kate. That means I’ll have ample time to form friendships with these people.

What I Think of Turning the Other Cheek

Because I was home schooled through eighth grade, one would think I never should have had problems with bullies during my grade school years.  However, that was not the case. When I was eight, I had a terrible bullying problem—in church. People look at me incredulously whenever they hear me say that, but it is true. “Aaron” would literally pick on me during the minutes between Sunday school and church, on the way to hear the pastor’s sermon on loving thy neighbor as thyself. When I ignored Aaron’s verbal insults, he quickly got physical. The abuse escalated to the point where I was forced to hide in the bathroom until I was sure Aaron was gone. On one of these occasions, Mom caught me furtively sticking my head out of the men’s room.

My parents enrolled me in Karate the very next day.  As Bible-believing Christians, my family and I believe in Jesus’ words: “But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39).

A lot of Christians agree with me that it is morally right to defend yourself from an attacker. Some Christians, I know, translate this particular verse so literally, they believe it’s wrong to strike back at an evil person, even to save your own life. So how to these seemingly conflicting ideas go together? Here is my interpretation of this verse: a slap on the cheek isn’t an attack, but an insult. In the days of Musketeers, if a man removed his glove and struck another man, it wasn’t meant to inflict physical pain but rather to challenge him to fight back. Such a slap doesn’t hurt that much, but it does sting one’s pride. If the slapped man accepted the challenge, he would not be defending his life, but his honor (in fact he  would be putting his life in danger to do so). I am reminded of a scene from the Chronicles of Narnia where the mouse Reepicheep requests that Aslan restore his truncated tail, which he calls his honor. Aslan wonders whether Reepicheep is being prideful, too concerned with defending his honor. Jesus condemns this attitude with his words. However, I don’t believe Christ is ordering Christians to not defend ourselves. No one ever died from a slap on the cheek. If someone is trying to kill me, I can’t turn the other cheek if I am dead. I should defend myself to preserve the sanctity of life, the same way I should fight to rescue a helpless person being attacked.

In my case, Aaron had gone a lot further than slapping my cheeks, and my instructor, Master Roger Terrell, told me that if someone attacked me, the only reason I should turn my cheek was to deliver a spin hook kick! I also cannot write a journal on this topic without quoting one of my favorite TV shows, Kung Fu: "Weakness prevails over strength. Gentleness conquers. Become the calm and restful breeze that tames the violent sea." Master Kan’s word to Kwai Chang Caine reflect Christ’s, and throughout the series, Caine never accepted a challenge from an evil person. However, when his life, or an innocent person’s life was threatened, the gentle, soft-spoken Kwai Chang conquered his violent foes with ease.  

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Improv's First Show

The Improvable's first show was incredible! The house was packed (they actually had to lock the doors and turn away people, no room). They played a variety of games and gave us an encore. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Risk-taking and Role Reversal in the 2008 Election

Just a few weeks ago, the rivalry between Barack Obama and John McCain looked very familiar: the hip, young dude versus the boring old crank. We’ve seen this stereotypical matchup in TV shows like All in the Family (Michael Stivic vs. Archie Bunker) and we’ve seen it in past elections (Walter Mondale vs. Ronald Reagan). But as it turns out, the roles are reversed for this election. Who’d have guessed that John McCain, the “bland white guy,” would be the one making this election exciting with his bold gambles and unprecedented decisions, and that Barack Obama would be running a typical, dull campaign?

A month ago, Dick Morris, a very intelligent Democrat who supports John McCain, predicted that McCain would not be a big part of this election. He believed people will either vote for Obama because they really love him, or vote against him because they really hate him (not because they really love John McCain); therefore, Obama would be the central figure in this election.

Yet, two completely unexpected decisions by John McCain have been game-changers in this election. Obviously, the first is his selection of Sarah Palin for his running mate. That was big news. When I interviewed students for my column on the VP selections, everyone knew about Sarah Palin. Few students I spoke to knew who Joe Biden was, even though Obama had made that announcement weeks earlier, and I can’t blame them. It seems the only time I see Joe Biden in the news is when he makes a gaffe, like when he asserted that if Palin was elected VP, it would be a step back for women, or when he forgot that Herbert Hoover was President during the Great Depression and that there weren’t TVs back then.

I’m not saying Biden is stupid; everyone slips up now and then, including McCain and Obama. In fact, I think Joe Biden is a good man. For example, Biden criticized his own campaign when it released an ad, approved by Obama, which suggested that John McCain isn’t prepared to be President because he has never sent an e-mail. The ad didn’t mention that the reason McCain can’t send an e-mail is the same reason he can’t tie his shoes, comb his hair, or lift his arms above his shoulders: injuries he sustained as a POW in the infamous prison camp, the Hanoi Hilton. Kudos to Biden for speaking out against this despicable ad which ridicules McCain’s war injuries.

Still, Biden was a boring pick. He’s old, and he’s been in Washington longer than John McCain, which means that Obama can’t use these points to attack McCain without looking like a hypocrite. The reason Obama picked Biden is that he’s a safe bet. Hillary Clinton would have been a riskier choice, but a much more exciting one. On the other hand, McCain hasn’t been afraid to take risks.

On Sept. 24, President Bush gave an address to the nation, explaining his plan to help our struggling economy. According to the President, “We've seen triple-digit swings in the stock market. Major financial institutions have teetered on the edge of collapse, and some have failed…Financial assets related to home mortgages have lost value during the house decline, and the banks holding these assets have restricted credit. As a result, our entire economy is in danger. So I propose that the federal government reduce the risk posed by these troubled assets and supply urgently needed money so banks and other financial institutions can avoid collapse and resume lending.” This bailout would put seven hundred billion dollars of taxpayer money at risk.

Days before the first Presidential debate, McCain decided to suspended his own campaign and go to Washington and fix this bill! According to Dick Morris, “The Democrats had already cut their deal with Bush. The Dems agreed to the price tag while Bush agreed to special aid to families facing foreclosure, equity for the taxpayers, and limits on executive compensation. But no sooner had McCain arrived than he derailed the deal. Knowing how unpopular the bailout is with the American people, the Democrats are not about to pass anything without broad Republican support even though their majorities permit them to act alone. Instead of signing on with the Democratic/Bush package, the House Republicans are insisting on replacing the purchase of corporate debt with loans to companies and insurance paid for by the companies, not by the taxpayers. That, of course, is a popular position.

It’s hard to tell whether taking this course of action has helped or hurt John McCain. Some voters think this was just a political stunt. Here’s why I disagree: it doesn’t make sense to me that McCain would jeopardize his campaign when he and Obama are so close in the polls just so he can pose in front of the cameras. I think John McCain suspended his campaign because he thought it was the right thing to do. He once said that he would rather lose this election than lose a war. What McCain’s bold action shows us is that he would also rather put his campaign at risk than let the hard-earned money of the American people be used to bail out Wall Street.

When he felt he had done all he could on Capitol Hill, McCain agreed to go ahead with the Presidential debate. Though the questions were supposed to cover foreign policy, about thirty minutes were devoted to questions about the economy. Both candidates did very well, but I’d say Obama did a better job talking about his views on the economy. Dick Morris thought McCain blew it. In his opinion, McCain should have talked more about why he had suspended his campaign, and how he opposed both President Bush and the Democrats; it would have been a crushing blow for Obama. Morris is right. John McCain simply is not as sharp as Obama at these debates. Obama is a smooth-talking lawyer who is very slick at presenting his views.

However, I think McCain clearly beat Obama in the section on foreign policy. When McCain pointed out that he had visited Afghanistan and Iraq multiple times and Obama hadn’t, Obama’s response was that, though he hadn’t visited these countries, Joe Biden had, and he could rely on his input. Essentially, Obama was admitting that Biden has more foreign policy experience than he does. (In that case, it should be Biden at the top of the ticket, making the actual decisions on foreign policy.)

John McCain may not have the presence of mind Obama has during a debate, but he is running an exciting campaign full of risks, while Obama is playing it safe. That’s a role-reversal no one expected. Perhaps a better way to frame our Presidential choice in 2008 is “a man who talks about action vs. a man of action.”

(Find Dick Morris’ article “The Brilliance of McCain’s Move” at Find the transcript for Bush’s speech at

More Poems!

Here are a couple examples of poetry from high school:

King Arthur
Josh Duncan

When children read books
King Arthur returns to life
The mind's Lazarus. 

In the tradition of the rock song Mr. Pinstripe Suit, by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. 
Mr. Simon Cowell
Josh Duncan

Well now friends let me tell you about this chap that I once met,
Straight talker and he ain’t done talking yet.
I don’t believe I ever saw him when he wasn’t looking idle
As he pronounced his judgment on my fav’rite American Idol.

Now he shoots down singers looking for their golden ticket,
 With his British flag and a knowledge of Cricket.
I don’t believe I ever saw a man more sloppy nor more idle,
As he pronounced his judgment on the future American Idol.

Hey Mr. Simon Cowell,
Hey Mr. Hi-dee-hi-dee-ho,
Well I know you got the answers
We all wanna know!

Mr. English dude,
Hey Mr. always runs the show,
Well I know you got the answers
We all wanna know!

Hey Mr. old t-shirt,
Hey Mr. Hi-dee-hi-dee-ho,
Well I know you got the answers
We all wanna know!

Mr. English dude,
Hey Mr. always runs the show,
Well I know you got the answers
We all wanna know!

Well I know you got the answers
We all wanna know!
Well I know you got the answers
We all wanna know!

Smelly Poems

We've been writing some poetry in ECTA, so I thought I post some of my poems. These two are poems about the sense of smell.
Katie (anapestic tetrameter)
Josh Duncan

At the Indian Oven sits Katie, her cup
holds four slices of lemon from all of our soup.

And is not lemon so fresh and so crisp and pure
Likewise Kate, with her charm, anything will procure.

Old Spice (free verse)
Josh Duncan

“Smell is the strongest sense tied to memory,”
Claims the Old Spice commercial.
How true.
My brain generates images unselectively
When I detect
Brewing sweet, calming tea in the kitchen
Gargling unsavory, biting mouthwash.
Brewing pleasant, invigorating tea in the kitchen
Using the stale, crusty cinnamon shaker.

How often have we sensed these scents
In snacks, sweets, and solvents?
These old spices are everywhere,
Remind us of everything
Both pleasing and revolting.

And though Old Spice smells nice
It still evokes a sweaty, smelly armpit.

These three just had to be about something we observe in nature. For the first one, I had to praise something which rarely receives praise. The second one is about the statue, The Son of Man be Free, here at Concordia.

Nick the Tick, a Limerick
Josh Duncan

One rarely hears praise for the dim tick,
But praise one I shall in this lim’rick.
When to drown him I went,
To survive he was bent.
So I had mercy and named him Nick.

The Statue of the Naked Man, a Haiku
Josh Duncan

All ridicule it.
But was not Christ stripped naked?
For us ridiculed?

The Old, Old Chair (a sonnet)
Josh Duncan

Antiquated, ancient, aged, alone,
All wooden but for metal joints rusted,
Sit on his lap and he emits a groan
Brittle, broken, buckling, beaten, busted

Crinkled, crotchety, creaking, cracking
One grey day in the rain, a night dreary
Gave him texture but left his strength lacking
Withered, weathered, wrinkled, warped, worn, weary

Shabby, seasoned, secluded, stripped, splintered,
Armrests, cushions—none—no more than you need
For many a year we’ve kept him wintered
Faded, feeble, flimsy, fragile, fatigued

A paradox, admired for its wear,
Practical, yet useless, that old, old chair.


Relative of Richard, Kelly, Casey, Becca, Hannah, and Katie, who together form the Duncan Clan

Conservative Christian, Karate Kid, lover of the arts and literature

Good grade go getter, art teacher, mild-mannered newspaper reporter

Lover of Broadway musicals, Charles Dickens, the Red Sox and Indian curry

Who feels free on the stage, energized on speech team, and expressive through his drawing

Who has been to the Grand Canyon, Washington D.C., and Sandbridge, VA

Who needed his mom to teach him, his dad to guide him, and his siblings to inspire him

Who fears heights, high school, and fear itself

Who gave art lessons to third-grade twins, gave Karate lessons, and gave it all he got

Who longs to see Ireland, Scotland, and London

Who would like to have seen his grandfather for a few more years, Ronald Reagan for two more terms, and the Calvin and Hobbes guy come out of retirement


Resident of Sunset Meadows


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Variety Show a Success

The Variety Show was tremendously entertaining. The last act was a piano battle between two music students. They were incredible!  Josh G. and I performed "The Two Man Show" which got a lot of laughs. It was a typical "knight rescues the princess" story, except that the two of us had to play all five parts, including the princess and queen! 

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Back to Trayless Tuesdays

Well, good for Concordia. When we students expressed our dissatisfaction with going trayless permanently, Concordia listened and changed it back to just going trayless on Tuesdays. Also, kudos to the students who set up the survey table outside of Janzow to ask students what they thought of going trayless.