Friday, December 28, 2007

DVD Review: Horatio Hornblower Collector's Edition

Long before he became known to American audiences as William Wilberforce (in Amazing Grace) or Reed Richards (in Fantastic Four), Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd made an indelible impression as Horatio Hornblower in the A&E movie series. For the first time, all eight movies are available on DVD in Horatio Hornblower Collector's Edition.

Based on C. S. Forrester's novels, the films trace the career of Horatio Hornblower, a young sailor in the British Navy who finds himself thrust into the middle of the battles of the Napoleonic War. The films, like the books, trace Hornblower's amazing career from Midshipman to Commander.

Although these were made-for-television films, each one reflects outstanding and lavish production values that leaves the viewer believing that they could have been major motion pictures. No expense was spared in the production of these films.

The casting of Gruffudd, who was largely unknown at the time, was nothing short of sheer genius. Gruffudd captures the essence of Hornblower's character: a young idealist who is very green and somewhat naive in the first movie and grows and matures over the course of the eight installments. Gruffudd portrays Hornblower as a true, if not somewhat flawed, hero. He is a hero to be admired but also to learn from. His strong sense of morals and duty are refreshing and greatly needed today.

The supporting cast is also outstanding and rounds out the wide array of characters that we grow attached to over the course of the films. Robert Lindsey, a legend from British stage and film, is Sir Edward Pellew, Hornblower's commander and mentor. Jamie Bamber (Band of Brothers) adds a wonderful dimension to the films as Hornblower's best friend and shipmate Archie Kennedy. Paul Copley (Matthews) and Sean Gilder (Styles) are two fellow crewmen who fight side-by-side with Hornblower and it is through them we see the growing respect that Hornblower receives from his fellow sailors through the progression of the story.

This DVD set is also jam-packed with bonus features including a behind-the-scenes featurette about the production of the film; an interview with Ioan Gruffudd; a profile of English warships; and much, much more.

We watched all eight films together as a family and thoroughly enjoyed them. There are some disturbing images (war footage) but the violence of the battles is not overly graphic. There is also brief language but overall they still make appropriate viewing for families with older children. In addition, the overall themes of duty and honor make these films must viewing.

Horatio Hornblower Collector's Edition is available from the A&E Store.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto Assassinated

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who recently returned to Pakistan to run for Prime Minister in next week's election, was assassinated this morning:
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan — Pakistan's paramilitary forces were on red alert Thursday following the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

The former prime minister was murdered by an attacker who shot her in the neck and chest after a campaign rally and then blew himself up. Her death stoked new chaos across the nuclear-armed nation, an important U.S. ally in the war on terrorism.

At least 20 others were also killed in the homicide bombing that immediately followed Bhutto's shooting.

Bhutto's supporters erupted in anger and grief after her killing, attacking police and burning tires and election campaign posters in several cities. At the hospital where she died, some smashed glass and wailed, chanting slogans against President Pervez Musharraf.

Musharraf blamed Islamic extremists for Bhutto's death and said he would redouble his efforts to fight them.

"This is the work of those terrorists with whom we are engaged in war," he said in a nationally televised speech. "I have been saying that the nation faces the greatest threats from these terrorists. ... We will not rest until we eliminate these terrorists and root them out."

In the U.S., President Bush strongly condemned the attack "by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan's democracy."

Terrorism, which had been downplayed as an issue in the current presidential campaign, has once again come to the forefront and candidates are naturally scrambling to respond.

But the bigger concern is what's next for Pakistan. Do elections go forward as planned or does President Musharraf declare a state of emergency again and postpone the elections? Given the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear nation, their stability is of prime importance if there is to be any hope of peace in the Middle East.

Benazir Bhutto will be remembered for her courage as she returned to Pakistan knowing there was a very good chance that she would be assassinated. She was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice - her life - in order to give her country a chance to move towards a more stable democracy. It will be up to President Musharraf and the other leaders of Pakistan to determine whether Ms. Bhutto's dream will become a reality.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Recent Reviews At Blogcritics

Here's a roundup of my recent reviews for Blogcritics:

DVD Review: National Treasure - Two-Disc Collectors Edition

The action-packed adventure is back with more bonus features to enhance the
viewing experience of this first-rate film.

Book Review: Monopoly - The World's Most Famous Game -- And How It Got That Way by
Philip Orbanes

A masterful tale with a special spotlight on the inventors, game publishers, and business executives who helped give Monopoly a unique place in our culture.

Book/Music Review: Clapton: The Autobiography and Complete Clapton

No doubt fans of Clapton will enjoy reading about the musical influences that shaped his career.

CD Review: Jars of Clay - Christmas Songs

After selling millions of albums, Jars of Clay finally records their own Christmas album. But will it be a holiday classic?

DVD Review: The Wild Wild West - Season Three

Secret agents James West and Artemus Gordon return for a whole new series of adventures in The Wild Wild West Season Three.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

DVD Review: Biography - Jane Austen

Jane Austen is easily the most widely read and widely published author of all time. Her six novels (Emma, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility) have sold hundreds of millions of copies and have been adapted for film and television numerous times. But who was the woman behind what have been called the greatest novels of all time?

We recently picked up the A&E Biography episode on Jane Austen in the hopes that we could find out more about her and what inspired her to write such marvelous stories. While the program did offer a little more insight into her life story, it really focused more on her novels that Austen herself.

Part of the reason that biographical information is so sketchy is that it was not until after her death in 1817 that Austen was identified as the author of her books. During her lifetime, writing was not seen as a fit occupation for a woman and so she published all of her books anonymously.

What little is known about Austen's personality is best reflected in her letters. But as the program points out, most of her letters were destroyed by her sister Cassandra. Still enough of them survived (and a few are excerpted during the program) that we get a sense of her wit and keen observations of society around her.

The program also touches on her two romances. While we were familiar with her relationship with Tom Lefroy (which is dealt with at length in the wonderful movie Becoming Jane) we were less familiar her second relationship that resulted in a marriage proposal from Harris Bigwither. He proposed to her in 1802 when she was 27. Although she initially accepted the offer she broke the engagement the next day after having second thoughts. She would never become involved in another romantic relationship again.

The program goes on to show the wide impact that Austen's novels have had and continue to have on readers all around the world. Nearly 200 years after her death, readers of all ages and backgrounds continue to enjoy her works. This episode of Biography shows that Austen continues to have an impact far beyond what she could have ever imagined.

Biography: Jane Austen is available on DVD from A&E Networks.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Huckabee Gets It Right With Christmas Ad

With the compressed primary season this year and the Iowa Caucuses on the heels of the holidays on January 3rd, there has definitely been a challenged to presidential candidates how to make their appeals to voters and still maintain the holiday spirit. Mike Huckabee gets it right by focusing on the true meaning of Christmas in his ad:

Monday, December 17, 2007

Homeschoolers Help Huckabee In Iowa

Homeschoolers in Iowa are one of the reasons Mike Huckabee is doing so well according to a front page story in today's Washington Post:

ELDORA, Iowa -- Julie Roe, an early believer in Mike Huckabee, worked with
what she had.

With no buttons, no yard signs and no glossy literature from his nearly invisible Iowa campaign, she took a pair of scissors and cut out a photograph of the former Arkansas governor. She pasted it on a piece of paper, scribbled down some of his positions, made copies and launched the Huckabee for President campaign in rural Hardin County.

Roe contacted friends in her home-schooling network and bought a newspaper advertisement for $38. She spread the word in the grocery store and the church foyer: "I would tell them about Mike Huckabee and they would say, 'Who's Mike Huckleberry?' I'd say, 'No, no, no, it's Huckabee.' "

Huckabee's name is no longer a mystery to Iowa's Republican voters, in large part because of an extensive network of home-schoolers like Roe who have helped lift his underfunded campaign from obscurity to the front of a crowded field. Opinion polls show that his haphazard approach is trumping the studied strategy of Mitt Romney, who invested millions only to be shunned by many religious conservatives such as Roe, who see the former Baptist preacher from Hope, Ark., as their champion.

While early attention focused on Romney and other better-known and better-funded opponents, home-schoolers rallied to Huckabee's cause, attracted by his faith, his politics and his decision to appoint a home-school proponent to the Arkansas board of education. They tapped a web of community and church
groups that share common conservative interests, blasting them with e-mails and
passing along the word about Huckabee in social settings.

It was the endorsement by prominent national home-school advocate Michael Farris that helped propel Huckabee to a surprising second-place finish in the Iowa straw poll in August. And it was the twin sons of a home-school advocate in Oregon who helped put Huckabee in touch with television tough guy Chuck Norris, who appeared alongside him in an attention-getting TV spot and on the campaign trail.

Home-schoolers could also prove to be a powerful force on caucus night. By one estimate, about 9,000 Iowa children are home-schooled. Their parents could form a sizable portion of the 80,000 or so Republicans expected to show up on Jan. 3.

Huckabee's apparent success has been a surprise to many and there's no doubt from this article that homeschoolers are an integral part of his success not so much because of their educational choices but because they rely so much on word-of mouth to share information. Whether this campaign tactic leads to success on January 3rd remains to be seen. But if it does, it could fundamentally change poitical campaigns to focus more on word-of mouth communication than more traditional forms of political advertising.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hugh Laurie Sings.....Again!

I've previously written on Hugh Laurie's amazing muscial talents. In fact, he's part of a band along with several other actors called Band From TV. But one of my favorite performances is this one from Jeeves and Wooster.

Jeeves (Stephen Fry) is preparing dinner for Bertie Wooster's (Hugh Laurie) prospective in-laws. Meanwhile, Bertie is trying his hand at Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher" and the resulting conversation is quite hilarious.

You can buy Jeeves and Wooster at the A&E Store.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Less is More

Every year I welcome and dread the Christmas season. I welcome it because of what it means and the joy that it brings to my family. I dread it because of the logistics involved in the shopping and decorating to get ready for what seems to often be an all too brief celebration.

Most years we've tried to provide an abundance of gifts for our girls. When they were younger, it seemed like the more presents they had the happier they would be on Christmas morning. But this year is going to be different. This is partly due to money (being broke tends to put a crimp in your Christmas spending) but more importantly because we wanted to de-emphasize the focus on material things. As my wife and I talked about ideas and discussed our plans for gifts for the girls we decided to be intentional about doing less for them (and for each other) while focusing on getting things for them that they wanted the most. In doing so, our hope is that they will enjoy and treasure what they receive more since what they get should be more special to them and much more desirable.

Perhaps it is because I grew up as a kid who was always showered with gifts at Christmas both by my parents and grandparents that I feel this way. I couldn't tell you right now of one special Christmas gift I received as a child. I don't have a particular favorite (although one or two memorable gifts do come to mind because they were unusual) in the way that most people can probably identify a special gift.

Hopefully my daughters will understand that their mother and I have made sacrifices this year to provide them with something special. My hope is that they will also see that Christmas has less to do with the material gifts that we receive but the special gift that God gave us in His Son. It's my hope that your Christmas will be special this year, too.

Editor's note: As a child, I was blessed with an abundance of wonderful Christmas memories. My mother, especially, took great pains to ensure that Christmas was the most festive and joyful time of the year. This post should in no way reflect unfavorably on those special childhood Christmases. My hope is that while our family Christmases are less abundant in gifts that the joy may be equal.

As my mother always reminded me, above all, Christmas is about the hope of Christ and sharing the season with the ones we love.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Remembering Pearl Harbor

Today is the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, one of the most devastating attacks ever on the United States. The survivors of the attack are slowly disappearing but at least a few of those left continue to serve this country by volunteering at the USS Arizona Memorial. Be sure to read the whole thing.

Hat tip: Instapundit

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Quick Takes

A few random thoughts....

Dealing with The Golden Compass: For weeks I have been getting e-mails about the upcoming movie The Golden Compass (which opens December 7) and how it's one of the worst calamaties of all time that this film should be made. Okay, that's a little strong, but truthfully speaking a number of well-meaning people have been in a panic over this movie. I don't plan on seeing it but I do think it's helpful to be informed about how Christians should respond to the film. Also, Dr. Al Mohler has answered a few questions about the film. (Hat tip: Tim Ellsworth)

Profile in Courage: A high school senior competing in her last track meet breaks her leg during the final race of her career and still manages to cross the finish line. Click here to see the amazing video.

Remembering Pearl Harbor Most people know that the USS Arizona Memorial sits atop the wreckage of the famed ship at Pearl Harbor. But there is more of the ship that is kept at another location. Here's the whole story.

If the kids are spoiled then you can be sure it's the parents' fault.

Pig Out Here is the perfect gift for the barbecue lover in your life

Heard any good news about the war? If you haven't, don't be surprised. According to a new study from the Media Research Center as the situation in Iraq has improved, the number of news stories about the war have decreased.

What I'm Reading I'm currently working on Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork by Mike Huckabee. The governor is, of course, known for the tremendous amount of weight he has lost. In this book, he outlines 12 steps not just for losing weight but developing a healthier lifestyle. Although I've been losing weight for the past few months, I've found this book very challenging and an enjoyable read. If you want to get healthy, this is a good book to read before you get started.

Read to your kids Ridley Pearson recounts how his father's habit of reading to him and his siblings instilled in him a love for the written word. (Hat tip: Tim Ellsworth)

Now, this is what I call a crime deterrant This sign is in the window of the Blue Ridge Shooting Sports Store in Greer, SC.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Hat tip: Rich Galen

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Are the Primary Debates Necessary?

In the aftermath of Wednesday night's CNN/You Tube debate debacle, one of the questions that should be asked is whether the primary debates are really necessary?

Yes, CNN bungled the debate. Given how they did during the last Democratic debate, hopes for a dramatic improvement when the Republicans took the stage were grossly misplaced.

Some would argue it was helpful for Republicans to be put on the spot to answer tough questions. While that may be true, Republicans generally face more adversarial questions from the MSM so I don't know that the debate questions necessarily helped. It struck me that the focus of the debate became more about creating "gotcha" moments that the MSM could endlessly club the candidates with in the coming weeks.

The fact is that this year's debates have been more like Presidential beauty contests than honest debates designed to bring out not only differences in policy positions between the candidates but reveal their character as well. Rather than focusing on clear policy differences (if there really are any) success in the debates comes down to who can come up with the best soundbite that can be replayed on talk shows and in news reports.

The debates also force voters to focus on who is most "electable" rather than vetting the candidates (think John Kerry in 2004).

As this year's primary debates come to a close, both parties would be well advised to carefully examine what went wrong during this year's debates and how they can improve them. It is the only time that Americans get to see their candidates without the benefit of media or campaign spin. Voters need to know who the candidates are and what they stand for. Based on this year's debates, that's hard for anyone to figure out.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Character Still Counts

During the 2004 election, I wrote (here and here) that a candidate's character should be a key factor in deciding who to vote for in an election. Four years later it's still true: a candidate's character should be carefully examined before deciding who to vote for.

Character is exactly why Hillary Clinton's support is crumbling among Democrats and why Mike Huckabee's support is rising among Republicans.

If you look at the positions of the candidates of each party, it's easy to see they are fairly similar within their respective parties. Policies and voting records are certainly important to consider, but when it comes down to the final decision, it's a candidate's character that will matter most. When voters fail to consider a candidate's character, they do so at their own (and ultimately) the country's peril.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

DVD Review: Andrew Jackson - Man of the People

He's one of the most recognizable of the presidents. Show anyone a $20 bill and they are sure to recognize Andrew Jackson's portrait. But most people don't know much about the man behind the portrait or the tremendous impact his election as President would have on the United States and the office that he held.

In A&E's Biography Andrew Jackson: Man of the People, we get the inside story into one of the most colorful men to ever occupy the Oval Office. Orphaned at age 15 by the British troops during the American Revolution, Jackson developed a long-standing grudge against the aristocracy. He worked hard to educate himself becoming a lawyer in Tennessee before achieving his greatest fame in the military.

In 1815, Jackson would distinguish himself at the Battle of New Orleans and would solidify his reputation for toughness that was embodied in his nickname, "Old Hickory". He would then move onto a successful career as a lawyer and judge before going back into politics. He would finally win election as President in 1828.

As this film points out, Jackson was a common man of modest means. He was the first common man to serve as President. During his eight years in office he would reduce the national debt, dissolve the Bank of the United States, and enact controversial programs in dealing with American Indians.

The film also shows that Jackson was a strong a forceful personality. In fact, many of his political vitories were achieved by virtue of his sheer will in getting his programs enacted.

Jackson also had a fairly colorful personal life that included more than one duel. Jackson was one of the last presidents to be involved in duels and the first to survive an assasination attempt.

This DVD is a great insight into the nation's seventh president. In viewing this film, you will gain not only a better understanding of who Andrew Jackson was but how he changed the presidency and how we view the role of government forever.

Andrew Jackson: Man of the People is available from the A&E Store.

Hillary Clinton: Not So Inevitable

Critical articles of Senator and Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are nothing new. On any given day, you can find a number of columns outlining all the reasons she is unfit to be President. I couldn't agree more. But I don't normally pay attention to such articles. I realize that most conservatives like myself have no intention of voting for her. But this article at Blogcritics caught my attention mostly because it came from one of her own supporters. I wonder if there are many of her other supporters who are now rethinking their position especially in light of these new polls?

My question to liberal voters is this: in light of her recent debate performance and the issues raised in this article are you still willing to support her in the upcoming election? I have the feeling that the nomination that was thought to be hers may not be so easy to obtain as the media has made it out to be.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Looking Toward the 2008 Election

Over the course of a 162 game baseball season, the best teams will lose about a third of the games they play. The Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians both had the best overall records during the regular season and both lost 66 games apiece. The worst teams will also manage to win about a third of their games. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays had the worst overall record in the major leagues this year and finished 30 games out of first place in their division and yet still managed to win 66 games. The key difference between being a World Series Champion and finishing in the basement is how the team does in the other third of their games.

Presidential politics is similar in that both the Republicans and Democrats manage to each get about 40-45% of the overall votes in a given election. Unless there is a viable third party candidate capable of siphoning off large amounts of votes from one or both parties (think Ross Perot in 1992) or someone who can alter the outcome in a key state or two (Ralph Nader in Florida in 2000) someone has to be able to capture the majority of the 10 to 20% of the votes that are routinely up for grabs. These are the so-called independent or "swing" votes because they do not consistently vote for a single party regardless of the candidate that party has put forward.

Already we see the dynamic of party politics at work. For many Democrats, it doesn't matter who their nominee is as long as the Republicans are defeated. By the same token, the priority for Republicans is holding onto the White House and has less (at least at this stage) about who the nominee will be. When the Republican candidates started focusing on Hillary Clinton as the target of criticism rather than their fellow Republicans, it was clear that this dynamic was at work.

This begs the question of what it will take to win the 2008 election. What will be the issues that will decide who is victorious next November? In reviewing all the issues that have been discussed so far (and as Michael Barone points out a debate about issues has definitely been lacking to date) it seems to me that this election will boil down to three major areas of concern.

1. The Global War on Terror
According to the Democrats, the 2006 Congressional election was about changing the direction (i.e., withdrawing) in Iraq. But after no fewer than 40 attempts to cut off funding the war, Democrats have failed to change the course. Instead, the President changed the military strategy and as a result the situation is improving. But other threats such as Iran loom on the horizon. Americans seem to have a better understandng that this war is unlike any other that we have previously fought. In order to remain safe, we have to continue to remain on the offensive. Therefore, any President is going to have to have a coherent strategy for continuing to prosecute the war on terror beyond the stabilization of Iraq.

2. Immigration
As Hillary Clinton learned the hard way, immigration is a big issue. It goes hand-in-hand with the war on terrorism as we need to know who is in the country and why. It's also a thorny issue as voters are becoming touchy about whether to offer government benefits and services to immigrants especially if they are here illegally. Neither party has fully developed a comprehensive position on immigration and this is one area where there is tremendous opportunity to appeal to swing voters.

3. The Role and Size of Government
This has been an area where the two parties have traditionally been able to stake out differences. But recent big spending by President Bush and the Republican Congress (when they were in charge 2000 to 2006) has made Republicans as much the party of big government as Democrats. But there are still a wide range of issues (taxes, climate change regulation and government role in health insurance, to name a few) that the parties have an opportunity to stake out positions on that will provide a sense of choice for voters. With the recent debates within Republican circles over federalism it is clear that they are still trying to map out a coherent vision of what the role of government should be.

It may not be until after the nominations are sown up that we start to see a real debate over issues. But don't be surprised if these issues aren't at the top of the candidates' agendas by next summer.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Cleaning Up the Blogroll

It's been long overdue but I've finally gotten around to cleaning up the blogrolls in the sidebar. The reciprocal link roll is already done and I'll be working on the recommended blogs roll here soon. If you would like for your blog to be linked here, all you have to do is either leave a comment or send me an e-mail once you have added the blog to your blogroll and I will do the same. (Links on aggregate blogrolls such as the Church Directory or Homespun Bloggers doesn't count).

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Holiday Sale at The History Channel Shop

Need a perfect gift for the history buff in your life? Check out the big holiday sale going on now through November 26th at the History Channel Shop. You can get up to 50% off selected items in their holiday finder. Click here to find out what's on sale.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Hidden Talents of Hugh Laurie

Most people know Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House from Fox's House, M.D. We recently discovered his comic talents in the wonderful series Jeeves and Wooster. But he also is a talented singer and pianist as this video clip shows. Check it out because it is hilarious.

Friday, November 16, 2007

An Interview with Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

My kids tell me that I have a really cool avocation. It's hard to disagree especially when I get to review all sorts of free stuff and interview authors. Recently, I had the great privilege of sitting down to chat with Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, authors of the three Peter Pan prequels. The final installment of the trilogy, Peter and the Secret of Rundoon, has just been published and we had a chance to talk about the book, the writing process, and lots of other stuff. Check out the interview at Blogcritics.

UPDATE and bump: Dave Barry links to the interview.

Book Review: The Gospel and Personal Evangelism

If you ask the average Christian what it means to evangelize, who should evangelize or even why evangelize, you're likely to get a wide range of answers that may or may not line up with what Scripture has to say. it's a safe bet that many Christians don't fully understand what evangelism is or what role they play in spreading the Gospel.

Thankfully, there is a terrific new resource available that will help churches, pastors, and individual Christians better understand what evangelism is all about. It is a new book by Mark Dever called The Gospel and Personal Evangelism.

In this slender volume, Dr. Mark Dever seeks to answer the most basic questions about evangelism that most Christians are likely to ask. His answers are clear, concise, and, most importantly, based on Scripture.

As I was reading this book I was both challenged and convicted as I realized that many of the assumptions I had made about evangelism were false. I also realized that my past efforts at evangelism simply didn't match up to what Scripture requires. Dr. Dever methodically addresses our misconceptions and points us to the New Testament truths that will help us develop a lifestyle of evangelism.

The Gospel and Personal Evangelism is a tremendous resource. If you are a church leader or simply someone who wants to have a better grasp of what Scripture requires of you in evangelism, be sure to pick up this book.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

World Series DVD Now On Sale

It's the perfect gift for any Boston Red Sox fan: The 2007 World Series DVD is now on sale from A&E. All of the dramatic moments are captured in this 9 disc set. This will be the perfect gift for any Red Sox fan. Check it out today.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Book Review: Forgotten Founding Father - The Heroic Legacy of George Whitefield

I don't read much fiction these days mostly because non-fiction, especially historical biographies, are far more interesting. I recently came across Forgotten Founding Father - The Heroic Legacy of George Whitefield (Cumberland House) which was written by one of my favorite authors, Stephen Mansfield. I knew very little about George Whitefield before I read the book and was certainly glad by the end that I had taken the time to get to know this remarkable individual from the early days of American history.

Published as part of the Leaders in Action series, the book is designed not simply to be a biography recalling the important events of the subject's life but also as a study of that person's character. In this case, the biographical sketch of Whitefield seemed a little rushed in order to get to the character study which takes up the remaining two-thirds of the book.

However, it is the second part of the book that is the stongest portion of the text. Mr. Mansfield takes the key events of Mr. Whitefield's life and explores how he exhibited (or, in some cases, failed to exhibit) key character traits that we should look to emulate. In fact, I believe Mr. Mansfield has done a great service by approaching his subject in this fashion as it is a person's character that is far more interesting that what necessarily happened to them.

Although it's not a comprehensive biography of George Whitefield (nor is it meant to be), this book serves as a great introduction to one of the forgotten heroes of the Christian faith. His influence was profound on our Founding Fathers. His ministry began the Great Awakening in the United States and no doubt had a profound influence on many other evangelists that would follow in his footsteps. I recommend checking out this book as well as many of the other selections in this series.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Joe Says No

Joe Torre has shown what a truly classy guy he is by turning down a one-year contract extension offer to manage the New York Yankees:
NEW YORK -- After all he had accomplished -- four World Series titles, 12 straight years in the playoffs, almost certain entry into the Hall of Fame -- and after all the indignities, this was one Joe Torre wasn't going to stand for.

He wasn't going to take a pay cut from the New York Yankees, no matter that he still would have been the highest-paid manager in baseball, and he certainly wasn't going to prove himself all over again.

Torre walked away Thursday, turning down a $5 million, one-year contract --
$2.5 million less than he made this season, when the Yankees failed to make it past the first round of the playoffs for the third straight year.

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner had publicly stated before the final game of their divisional series with the Cleveland Indians that if Torre didn't take the team to the World Series this year that they would have to seriously consider whether Torre should continue to be their manager. Obviously, four World Series titles and 12 straight playoff appearances (including overcoming a horrible 21-29 start this year to make it to the postseason) was not enough for the Yankees. Their offer was nothing less than a slap in Torre's face and Joe wasn't going to stand for it.

Joe Torre is by far one of the best managers in baseball and a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. He doesn't need the aggravation associated with managing the Yankees. He'll no doubt end up managing somewhere else next year. Wherever it is, they'll be much better off for having Joe Torre as their manager.

As for the Yankees, their dominance in the American League is over. They will certainly go downhill from here. It may take a while but they'll eventually realize what a hugh mistake they have made.

Friday, October 12, 2007

DVD Review - Sherlock Holmes: The Great Detective

With all of our road trips this summer, our family checked out numerous audio books for the many hours we spent in the car. On a whim, we tried out a dramatization of Sherlock Holmes stories and were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed them. So it's only natural that we would want to find out more about the world's most famous detective. The best resource we have found is from A&E Network's Biography series, entitled Sherlock Holmes: The Great Detective.

At first it may seem strange that a television series that has focused on important figures in history and entertainment would devote an episode to a fictional character. But it's not an understatement to say that Sherlock Holmes, the first great detective in fiction, is also the most influential character to appear in literature. As the film shows, all fictional detectives in television, movies and books can trace their roots back to Sherlock Holmes.

The film takes us inside the razor-sharp mind of Holmes to reveal his crime-solving methods. The story is told through the eyes of Dr. John Watson, Holmes' loyal sidekick and chronicler of the detective's exploits. Watson addresses a dinner meeting of the Sherlock Holmes Appreciation Society and through the course of the meal reveals the secrets of the great detective.

The film also shows how Holmes' creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, came to create the characters that became so intergral to Holmes' cases. In fact, Doyle can be credited with not only creating the super sleuth but opening the door for numerous other great writers to have their own stories published.

We love teaching history through use of biographies and as this DVD shows, even a biography of a fictional character can be a useful tool in teaching literature. Yes, I would call the Holmes canon (as devotees of the detective stories refer to the collected works) literature. Holmes gave birth to the modern crime novel and can easily be approached as a literary genre.

Be sure to check out Sherlock Holmes: The Great Detective and find out more about the most amazing detective that never lived. The DVD is available from the A&E Shop.

Business Travel With Family

Okay, the title may seem a little contradictory, but stay with me and it will all make sense.

I travel a lot for my job. About 99% of my travel involves taking trips where I can drive where I need to go within a day. In fact, because I live too far from a large airport, it makes as much if not more sense to drive places than to fly. Mileage reimbursement is not bad and helps the budget. But the best part of being able to do most of my business travel by car is that my wife and daughters tag along with me on my trips. It should be noted that we homeschool our kids which makes the family travel possible.

Now, there are some obvious disadvantages to trying to travel together. But for the most part, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. Frankly, I like having my family with me when I have to go somewhere. It's much nicer coming back to a hotel with my family waiting for me than to a hotel room that is empty. It's depressing having to travel alone away from family. I've known many people that have had to travel 4-5 days a week and see their families on weekends if at all. I admire folks that can do that and still maintain a healthy family life. I just don't know how you do it.

Another advantage of travelling together is that we try to tie in educational ventures into our trips. For example, we were in Washington, D.C. earlier in the summer which of course opens up ample opportunities for educational trips. My kids have had the opportunity to not only read about history in books but to experience it by visiting museums and historic homes.

Our girls have learned how to behave like proper young women, in part, from having to travel and behave in restaurants. They've also become closer through being forced to amuse each other at the hotels (when they're not working on schoolwork).

It's not always easy for us to travel together but it is preferable. When you have to travel for work, could you take your family if you wanted to? It's not only possible, it's very rewarding. Next time you have to travel for your job, consider whether it could also be an opportunity for your family to go with you and experience things your destination has to offer that you might not otherwise get to experience.

This post originally appeared at DadBloggers.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

DVD Review: The Jungle Book

My review of the new Disney DVD The Jungle Book is now up at Blogcritics. Please stop by and let me know what you think!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Quick Takes

It's been a busy couple of weeks and very little time to blog. Hopefully we'll be able to post more soon. In the meantime, a few random items for your consideration.

Who said this? See if you can identify the author of this quote. It seems particularly relevant to the current War on Terror. The answer is at the end of this post.

"It appears we have appointed our worst generals to command forces, and our most gifted and brilliant to edit newspapers. In fact, I discovered by reading newspapers that these editor-geniuses plainly saw all my strategic defects from the start, yet failed to inform me until it was too late. Accordingly, I am readily willing to yield my command to these obviously superior intellects, and I will, in turn, do my best for the Cause by writing editorials - after the fact."

This is not good news. According to an article in The Independent, children are spending less time reading with their parents:

Children of primary school age spend more time on their own or playing with
friends than they do in the company of their parents, according to research
published today. Even mealtimes are squeezed into as little time as possible so
that children can leave the table and watch television or play with their

Hat tip: Tim Ellsworth

Labor Pains. From the Associated Press:

A small Russian city just got a really big addition: its resident has delivered her 12th baby at 17.05 pounds _ the biggest on the nation's record.

Tatiana Khalina, 42, delivered the girl by Caesarean section at a maternity clinic in Aleisk, a town of 30,000 in the Altai region in southern Siberia, Svetlana Gildeyeva, a nurse at the clinic, said Thursday.

Gildeyeva said the birth on Sept. 17 went smoothly and both the mother and the child were fine.
Debating atheism. On Faith, the online forum on religion sponsored by Newsweek and The Washington Post, is hosting a symposium this week on atheism. They started off with the following question:

Best-selling atheist Christopher Hitchens wrote: "Religion is violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children." Why is he right or wrong?
Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas responded with this astute observation:
He is right. That is exactly what religion is. Religion is a creation of man designed to control people who don't agree with whatever brand is being promoted. God has nothing to do with religion. What God has everything to do with is relationships. It is THAT he wants from human beings, a relationship with Himself. But since He is holy and we are not, he demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were still sinners, He sent Jesus to die for us (romans 5:8).

That is not a message to be held or patented as the exclusive property of anyone; rather it is a message to be shared with whosoever will come to Him on His terms. As the offended party, He gets to make the rules (after all, He did make the universe). That some reject his message is their right, but they also must accept the consequences, for "The fool has said in his heart 'there is no God'" (Psalm 14:1)

Hat tip: Kathleen Miller

Bye, Bye Barry. San Francisco Giants' slugger Barry Bonds played in his last home game at Pac Bell Park last night and possibly the final game of his career. He's a free agent at the end of the season and the team has already said they don't plan to re-sign him. He doesn't plan to retire but maybe he should rather than trying to prolong his career as a designated hitter in the American League. He's already got the career home run record (even though he is suspected of cheating through steroid use) and has the stats to get him into the Hall of Fame. Baseball would be better off if he would just retire.

Why did the chicken cross the road? It's an old joke but one company (who sells a cool device for roasting chickens) has assembled some of the best answers to this joke. My personal favorite is from John Cleese:

This Chicken is no more. It has ceased to function. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. It's a stiff. If it wasn't nailed to the road it'd be pushing up daisies. It's snuffed it. It's metabolic processes are now history. It's bleeding demised. It's rung down the curtain, shuffled off the mortal coil and joined the bleeding Choir Invisible. This is an Ex-Chicken. Ergo, it did not cross the road.

Reminds me of the Dead Parrot Sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus:

Coming soon....I've got several DVD and book reviews to post in the next couple of weeks including some educational resources that will be of particular interest to fellow homeschoolers. I also hope to have a couple of author interviews in the next few months so check back often for updates.

Answer to the quote quiz. The quote at the beginning of the post is from General Robert E. Lee (1863). Hat tip: Evangelical Outpost

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Biggest Loser - Week 1

My family and I got hooked on NBC's The Biggest Loser during the summer as reruns from the previous seasons were airing on the Style Network. So when Tuesday night's premiere rolled around we were all glued to the set ready to check out the new season from day one. The show has been a big motivation to both my wife and I as we have tried to lose weight. We were all curious to see how this season was going to play out.

It was obvious looking over this year's crop of contestants that the producers were looking for people that had the potential to lose a lot of weight. Just about everybody was very obese. I don't think anyone was just slightly chubby this year. Last year, Erik Chopin went from 407 pounds down to 193 pounds in winning the grand prize. It's clear they are looking for those kinds of people as it does make for great television.

I like Allison Sweeney as the new host. She seems more empathetic that Caroline Rhea did maybe because Allison has struggled with weight issues of her own (something she mentioned in the opening episode). It will be interesting to see how she does as the season unfolds.

I'm glad Jillian Michaels is back if for no other reason than it adds intrigue to the show. The return of the "black team" to the campus next week after being eliminated by the other players will no doubt cause more than a few fireworks.

I'm not going to pick a winner now but I've got to like Jerry, the 62 year old grandfather's chances after an astounding 31 pounds lost in the first week. How did he do that? Think he's got something to show the younger contestants? You bet he does. It's also no accident he's on Bob's team. I don't know exactly how he does it but something about the way Bob trains his folks always gets great results even if the player has been eliminated and is left working out on their own at home. If I had to pick one of the three trainers, it would be Bob.

We also weren't surprised that Amber was eliminated in the first week. If we've noticed anything it is that you have to go in with the attitude of sticking with the program and working through the routines especially when you don't feel like it. It doesn't take long for players to realize this. It was encouraging, however, to see she had already lost 65 pounds after being eliminated. I'm curious to see how she looks at the finale and whether she's really been able to make headway in her weight loss.

A few years ago I read a book by Clay Jacobsen (one of my favorite novelists) called The Ultimate Reality Show. It's about a guy who gets whisked off to a Survivor-type game and has a shot at winning $10 million. It exposes many of the manipulative things that producers of reality shows do when they are making these types of programs. Maybe because I was more acutely aware of it after reading this book it was easy to see how the players and viewers are being manipulated for the sake of entertainment. It was more of a distraction for me than a deterrant for watching the show.

Anyway, we'll tune in again next week and see how things unfold. I'm hoping that we will at least learn something from these folks about weight loss and nutrition that we can use. That's where I have to tip my hat to the producers of the show. They know that they're not just entertaining folks. They are changing lives for the better.

By the way, be sure to check out my review of The Biggest Loser over at Blogcritics. Please leave a comment and let me know you stopped by.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Best Baseball Poem Ever Written

Though many poems have been written about our national pastime, there is none better that Game Called by Grantland Rice. Although Rice would rewrite the poem in 1948 to eulogize Babe Ruth, the original 1910 version is the best. In these few, short lines Rice captures the essence of the game as well as any writer ever has:

Game Called.
Across the field of play
the dusk has come, the hour is late.
The fight is done and lost or won,
the player files out through the gate.
The tumult dies, the cheer is hushed,
the stands are bare, the park is still.
But through the night there shines the light,
home beyond the silent hill.

Game Called.
Where in the golden light
the bugle rolled the reveille.
The shadows creep where night falls deep,
and taps has called the end of play.
The game is done, the score is in,
the final cheer and jeer have passed.
But in the night, beyond the fight,
the player finds his rest at last.

Game Called.
Upon the field of life
the darkness gathers far and wide,
the dream is done, the score is spun
that stands forever in the guide.
Nor victory, nor yet defeat
is chalked against the players name.
But down the roll, the final scroll,
shows only how he played the game.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Author Madeleine L'Engle Has Died

Author Madeleine L'Engle, whose best known book A Wrinkle In Time was rejected several times before finally being published (and went on to win a Newberry Medal for best children's book in 1963) has died at age 88. From the Associated Press:

Author Madeleine L'Engle, whose novel "A Wrinkle in Time" has captivated generations of schoolchildren and adults since the 1960s, has died, her publicist said Friday. She was 88. L'Engle died Thursday at a nursing home in Litchfield, said Jennifer Doerr, publicity manager for publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The Newbery Medal winner wrote more than 60 books, including fantasies, poetry and memoirs, often highlighting spiritual themes and her Christian faith.

For many years, she was the writer in residence and librarian at the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City.

Although L'Engle was often labeled a children's author, she disliked that classification. In a 1993 Associated Press interview, she said she did not write down to children.

"In my dreams, I never have an age," she said. "I never write for any age group in mind. ... When you underestimate your audience, you're cutting yourself off from your best work."

She will be truly missed.

Monday, August 27, 2007

DVD Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars

Sherlock Holmes is, without a doubt, one of the most famous detectives in all of literature. Part of the sleuth's success was due to a group of street kids known as the Baker Street Irregulars. They were often Holmes' eyes and ears during an investigation. The new BBC production Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars centers on these six kids and their relationship with Holmes.

As the film opens, the Irregulars' leader, Jack (Benjamin Smith), disappears while eluding an unknown assailant. The evidence suggests that he might have drowned in the Thames. His sister, Sadie (Mia Fernandez), doesn't want to believe he's gone. Eventually, she convinces Sherlock Holmes (Jonathan Pryce) to take on the case. He agrees but only on the condition that the Irregulars help him solve the murder of a Scotland Yard inspector. No sooner does Holmes begin to sift through the clues that another policeman is murdered. Soon the evidence points to Holmes as the culprit and he is placed under house arrest. It's then up to the Irregulars to gather the evidence necessary to clear Holmes' name, rescue Sadie and Jack, and at the same time foil the sinister plot of Holmes' one-time acquaintance (and possible love interest) Irene Adler (Anna Chancellor).

The filmmakers have done a terrific job of capturing the essence of Sherlock Holmes and yet focus on the Irregulars who up to now have only been considered minor supporting characters in the novels. The film focuses on the relationships between the kids and Holmes. In a sense, they are the only family they have. Holmes, for better or worse, is a father figure (and on balance a fairly respectable one) and in the end demonstrates that he wants to take care of the children after he is gone. After Jack and Sadie disappear, it's up to Finch (Aaron Johnson) to take matters into his own hands and pull the Irregulars together to clear Holmes' name. It's clear from the interaction between Finch and Holmes that theirs is much more than simply a business relationship. Finch sees Holmes as a mentor and proves that he has learned much from the master as the story unfolds.

The casting of this movie was perfect. Jonathan Pryce does a marvelous job as Holmes. He shows that Holmes is brilliant and at the same time very human. This is perhaps the first time that we see Holmes vulnerable to the charms of a woman. It's clear that Irene Adler gets under his skin and that it's difficult for him to send someone to jail that he clearly cared for. Anna Chancellor is marvelous as Irene Adler. She is both incredibly charming and yet evil at the same time. There is no doubt that her character is fully capable of cold-blooded murder and would not hesitate to kill anyone who would stand in her way. Michael Maloney was the perfect choice to play the inept Inspector Stirling. Stirling's detective skills are dubious at best and he clearly depends on Holmes to save his career on more than one occasion. Bill Paterson's Dr. Watson is perfectly understated and a great sidekick for the brilliant Holmes.

The film will certainly provide ample material for discussion between parents and children since the Irregulars are far from heroic characters. They will lie, cheat, and steal to achieve their goals. But they also show a great loyalty to each other and to their boss. When one of them is in trouble, the others don't hesitate to come to their rescue.

Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars is a great family-friendly introduction to the world's greatest detective. Although the heroes of the film are flawed there are still elements of their character to be admired. Hopefully this won't be the last last we see of the Baker Street Irregulars.

This article orginially appeared at Blogcritics.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

DVD Review - Patrick Henry: Quest For Freedom

"I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" - Patrick Henry, address at St. John's Church, Richmond, VA, March 23, 1775

It's one of the most famous speeches ever given. But the average person probably knows little about the speech itself or the man who gave it: Patrick Henry.

American Animation Studios founders John Derrick and Doug Zanger set out to make the History's Heroes DVD series to tell stories just like this one. The series will tell stories of American heroes that most schoolchildren would otherwise miss. Patrick Henry is just one of those heroes.

The movie features Boomer, a wise-cracking bald eagle that not only helps to tell the story but inserts commentary during key events to help the targe audience (kids age 8-12) understand what's happening and what's being said. The humorous moments are few and far between. However, the character is used effectively to interpret Henry's trademark oratory.

The video tells only a little about Henry's life and abruptly ends after his famous speech. But it does a gret job of helping the audience understand why Henry's speech was so important. War with Great Britain was an almost certainty in 1775 but Virginia was reluctant to join the colonists' quest for freedom. As a result of Henry's stirring oratory, Virginia threw its support behind the move for independence.

The filmmakers have done a pretty good job of telling at least part of Henry's story. There are, however, glaring omissions, such as the fact that he served five terms as Governor of Virginia during the Revolution. He was also was of the key proponents of the Bill of Rights.

The film also suffers technically as the animation is not as smooth or sophisticated as most young viewers have become accustomed to through a steady diet of feature films from Pixar and Dreamworks. The characters sound too "Southern": more like the Beverly Hillbillies than real Virginians. Despite these flaws the film is still enjoyable and serves its primary purpose: to teach young viewers about history through entertainment.

The filmmakers should be applauded for this admirable first effort in the History's Heroes series. Educators will no doubt find the films useful whether in the classroom or in a homeschool setting. Hopefully the production quality will continue to improve with further releases so that History's Heroes can become an essential part of history classes everywhere.

This article originally appeared at Blogcritics.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Huckabee's Moment?

Mike Huckabee's second place finish in the Iowa straw poll has given him a boost in both the polls and the media. But can Huckabee build on this momentum to move himself into the GOP's top tier? National Review's Jim Geraghty thinks there is a chance he could:

Suppose you’re an undecided Republican voter, with mixed feelings about the big-name Republican presidential candidates. You respect John McCain, but he doesn’t look like a viable option — which is just as well since he bugged you with his crusade for speech-limiting campaign finance reform, and lost you with the immigration deal with Ted Kennedy.

Mitt Romney’s wowed you in the debates, but you can’t forget that while you agree with all his positions, he had strikingly different ones not too long ago. And you would prefer a nominee who has won more than just one political race in his life.

You love Rudy Giuliani’s crime-fighting record and 9/11 leadership, but the thought of a non-pro-life Republican nominee gives you pause, and the messy home life troubles you a bit.

You were very excited about Fred Thompson, and nearly fainted with anticipation when you saw his smackdown of Michael Moore. But lately you feel like you’re playing a character in Waiting for Godot, and you’re wondering if he got lost somewhere on the way to the announcement.

Those still shopping for a candidate could do a lot worse than former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who with the second-place finish in Ames is not merely now a “top tier” candidate, as Newt Gingrich recently declared, but arguably belongs in the middle of that first tier.

Huckabee has several things going for him. He's a successful former governor (Arkansas). He's striking the right tone in his responses to quetions on foreign policy. He has solid conservative issues that will give him appeal beyond the Republican base. He's also got a great sense of humor that has served him well in the debates.

His biggest negative has been that up until now he's been in the second tier among GOP candidates. But with the increased media attention after his strong showing in Iowa more voters may begin paying attention to him. That could dramatically change the face of a race that was already starting to narrow down to two or three candidates.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

300 vs. 756

This has been quite the week for baseball milestones. First, Tom Glavine won his 300th career game against the Cubs on Sunday night. Then last night, Barry Bonds finally broke Hank Aaron's career home run record by hitting number 756. Ironically, the two achievements and the athletes themselves could not be more totally different.

First, there's Barry Bonds. The whole sports media complex spent weeks waiting for him hit the magic home run. ESPN was starting to become the San Francisco Giants television network as they were showing practically every one of their games in the hopes of being able to televise the magic moment. Countless articles have been written (and will continue to be written) about whether Bonds' achievement is legitimate given the rumors of steroid use by the new home run king. There will be many debates in the coming years and nothing less than Bonds' place in baseball history (and ultimately a place in the Hall of Fame) will be at stake. Sure, he may get in but the whispers about performance-enhancing drugs will dog him for the rest of his days. Although he will hit at least a few more home runs before the end of the season (likely his last), Alex Rodriguez has already hit 500 home runs at age 32, earlier than anyone else in baseball history. Assuming he stays healthy, he could break the record in a few years. Plus, he's a much more likeable guy than Bonds and will likely be more accepted as home run king if (and when) he breaks the record.

On the other end of the spectrum is Tom Glavine, who when he went 7-17 in his first full year with the Atlanta Braves in 1988 (for the record, he was 2-4 as a late-season call-up in 1987), few writers would have ever imagined that he would have reached the pinnacle of success for a starting pitcher. 300 wins had only been achieved 22 times before in baseball history and only four other left-handers had accomplished the feat. On Sunday night, Glavine accomplished what was once thought impossible. Ironically, he may be the last pitcher to achieve that feat for years to come. But most impressive is his work ethic. He's become a better pitcher in the past few years than he was at the beginning of his career. He continues to work at being a better pitcher and all without the aid of performance-enhancing drugs. True, he hasn't received the attention that Bonds has this week. Glavine will enter the Hall of Fame with no hints of cheating, no whispers of drug use. In the end, he will be remembered as not just a member of the elite 300 win club, but one of the classiest guys ever to play the game.

Glavine credited much of his success to his family who encouraged him to work hard and pursue his dream of being a major league pitcher. If I had to pick a player for my child to look up to as a role model, I'd take Tom Glavine over Barry Bonds any day.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Money Talks

During this presidential election cycle, political reporters everywhere have been devoting a lot of time analyzing the quarterly fundraising figures of each party's presidential candidates. The theory is that the candidate who has the most money is likely to hold an edge in the upcoming elections. While it's been widely reported that Democratic presidential candidates our doing a better job of fundraising than their Republican counterparts, there is another aspect of fundraising that is being overlooked.

If you had to venture a guess, which national party has raised more money: Democrats or Republicans? If you guessed the Republican National Committee, you would be correct. (Hat tip: Rich Galen)

National parties are required to report their fundraising figures on a monthly basis while presidential candidates report quarterly. According to the Federal Election Commission, Republicans raised just about $6.6 million in the month of June while Democrats raised just under $4.2 million in the same period. So Republicans had a good month in June.

But when you look at the total raised so far in this election cycle, the results are even more dramatic: Republicans have raised almost $45 million so far while Democrats have only raised about $28 million. Republicans have more cash on hand: close to $16 million as opposed to just under $5 million for Democrats. So clearly, the RNC has a substantial financial advantage over the DNC.

How do you explain this discrepancy? The Democrats' edge in presidential fundraising seems to be driven by two factors. First, after being out of the White House for almost eight years, Democrats are very motivated to win the Presidential election. Second, the Democratic nominee is likely to be one of three candidates: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. Most of the money seems to be flowing to these three so it's a safe bet one of them will win the nomination.

On the flip side, the Republicans are motivated to recapture the Congress. Democratic inepititude in passing meaningful legislation has helped fueled the Republican cause. The presidential nomination picture is more unsettled that the Democratic picture and that's having a negative effect on fundraising. Rudy Giuliani remains the frontrunner despite plenty of reasons that Republicans have for not supporting him. Mitt Romney has the social conservative credentials but can't seem to make much headway. John McCain's campaign has imploded as he's gone from frontrunner to also-ran. Meanwhile, many Republicans wait for Fred Thompson to officially get in the race.

Democrats have an advantage in presidential fundraising that may or may not last depending on how the nomination process progresses. But they'll have to work overtime to level the playing field at the national party level. If they can't then they may win the White House but lose the Congress.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Indoctrination In The Classroom

Stanley Kurtz has an intriguing and yet frightening article on National Review Online about how the Saudis are using federal education programs to influence curriculum used in public schools about the Middle East:

Unless we counteract the influence of Saudi money on the education of the young, we’re going to find it very difficult to win the war on terror. I only wish I was referring to Saudi-funded madrassas in Pakistan. Unfortunately, I’m talking about K-12 education in the United States. Believe it or not, the Saudis have figured out how to make an end-run around America’s K-12 curriculum safeguards, thereby gaining control over much of what children in the United States learn about the Middle East. While we’ve had only limited success paring back education for Islamist fundamentalism abroad, the Saudis have taken a surprising degree of control over America’s Middle-East studies curriculum at home.

How did they do it? Very carefully...and very cleverly. It turns out that the system of federal subsidies to university programs of Middle East Studies (under Title VI of the Higher Education Act) has been serving as a kind of Trojan horse for Saudi influence over American K-12 education. Federally subsidized Middle East Studies centers are required to pursue public outreach. That entails designing lesson plans and seminars on the Middle East for America’s K-12 teachers. These university-distributed teaching aids slip into the K-12 curriculum without being subject to the normal public vetting processes. Meanwhile, the federal government, which both subsidizes and lends its stamp of approval to these special K-12 course materials on the Middle East, has effectively abandoned oversight of the program that purveys them (Title VI).

Enter the Saudis. By lavishly funding several organizations that design Saudi-friendly English-language K-12 curricula, all that remains is to convince the “outreach coordinators” at prestigious, federally subsidized universities to purvey these materials to America’s teachers. And wouldn’t you know it, outreach coordinators or teacher-trainers at a number of university Middle East Studies centers have themselves been trained by the very same Saudi-funded foundations that design K-12 course materials. These Saudi-friendly folks happily build their outreach efforts around Saudi-financed K-12 curricula.

In one sense it's easy to see how the Saudis can be so successful in their attempts to indoctrinate American schoolchildren. But at the same time it is frightening to consider that the same tactics that are used in Middle East countries than either sponsor or encourage terrorism could be used in American schools. Hopefully, Congress will take the steps necessary to fix this situation. Given the fact that Democrats are more concerned conducting endless investigations than dealing with our country's more serious problems it's unlikely that any deal can be struck. Our kids, and ultimately our nation's security, will suffer.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Real Home Run King

Any day now, Barry Bonds will break the career home run record when he hits number 756 (he's sitting on 753 as I am writing this post). But for many people, myself included, the real home run king will be the man who currently holds the record: Henry Aaron. In a terrific piece, Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci explains why.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

An Indispensible Book

love to read and am always on the lookout for something new and exciting to explore. The other day I picked up a book from my library that I was excited to get to read. In fact, I wish it had been around when I was a boy. It's a safe bet that if I had this book when I was younger I would have been involved in much greater adventures (and no doubt my fair share of trouble) than I did. It's The Dangerous Book For Boys by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden.

Even though I only have girls, I found the book thoroughly entertaining. Less a narrative and more a handbook of things that boys should know, it's a highly engaging and occasionally irreverant look at the things that fascinate boys. As I was reading the book I thought about the fact that (1) girls are much different to parent than boys (they don't have nearly the same interests) and (2) it's never too late as a guy to get involved in the stuff of adventure.

This is a book that covers everything from baseball, rugby, and soccer to poetry, grammar, and how to treat girls. Famous (and not so famous) battles are explored. Skills such as tanning skins, hunting and cooking rabbits, and tying proper knots are all documented. They also include profiles of courageous individuals and the things that we can learn from them. The section on Douglas Bader alone makes the book worthwhile.

The best thing about the book is it offers endless possibilities of activities for fathers to enjoy with their sons. Things such as building treehouses, making proper paper airplanes, or carving your own bow and arrow are the types of activies that will become wonderful memories that father and son can cherish for years to come. This is not a book to read through but rather one that you pull off the shelf anytime you need to know how to wrap a package in brown paper and string or find a coin trick to teach to your son. It's a book that a father and son could spend years working through and never get tired of trying out its projects.

Even if your a dad and you don't have any sons, go get this book. There's plenty as a guy that you need to know that you weren't taught in school. Then buy a book for your friends that do have sons. Make sure you have a copy to give to your future son-in-law. It's a book you'll want to come back to over and over again.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Should Churches Be Allowed to Use School Buildings?

It's a commonplace occurrence among newer churches. They don't have a building of their own so they rent space that is not in use on Sunday. Often, they will rent public school buildings since they would otherwise sit empty. But a case that is likely headed to the Supreme Court may decide whether such usage is constitutional under the First Amendment (Hat tip: Christianity Today):

The three judges on the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals panel who heard a Bronx congregation's challenge to the policy each issued a separate opinion. One judge of Bronx House hold of Faith v. Board of Education ruled in favor of the church; another decided in favor of the Board of Education's anti-church policy; a third found the case was not yet ready for review. As a result, the church may continue to use the school building pending further appeal.

The case likely prompted such division because of the question, more theological than legal, at its center: What is worship? The legal significance of the question hangs on a 2001 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, in which the court held that schools allowing use of their campus after hours by secular groups could not then exclude religious groups from conducting religious instruction or discussion on school grounds.

But in the 2001 case, Good News Club v. Milford Central School, the federal high court appeared to draw a distinction between religiously oriented lessons and outright worship, leaving it to federal judges across the country to grapple with whether schools were permitted to ban on-campus worship services. Ruling that such blocks are legally permissible a judge on the Second Circuit panel nominated by President Clinton, Guido Calabresi, declared worship to be a form of speech incomparable to all others. By separating out all worship, Judge Calabresi, concluded that the Board of Education's policy against it does not discriminate against a particular viewpoint — which would be unconstitutional under the First Amendment — but instead justified the Board's content-based distinction.

A second judge, John Walker Jr., who was nominated by President George H.W. Bush, rejected that distinction and accused Judge Calabresi of relying "more on judicial legerdemain than judicial reasoning." "The fact is," Judge Walker wrote, "that none of us who are judges are competent to offer a legal definition of worship." Judge Walker said that the Board of Education could not prohibit congregations from gaining access to public schools for worship without violating their First Amendment rights.

Although vehemently opposed to Judge Calabresi's outcome, Judge Walker seems hesitant of his own conclusion, writing his approach is "admittedly imperfect in this uncertain legal terrain." The dispute could, Judge Walker wrote, "benefit from a more conclusive resolution" by the Supreme Court.

New York City's policy prohibits churches from using public school buildings for worship services. Bronx Household of Faith had filed suit in order to continue to meet in the school. The central question is whether the church's use of the school violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The Establishment Clause states the following: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". At first blush, the language appears fairly plain. Permitting a church to meet in a school does not equate to establishment of religion since there is no specific requirement for citizens to participate in worship at that church or become a member of the church. But given the convoluted rulings that have come down from the Supreme Court recently particularly in these types of cases, it's entirely possible that the Court will uphold the city ordinance.

Although the ruling from the 2nd Circuit fails to resolve the issue, Judge Walker is correct in that more guidance is needed from the Court in order to decide the issue at hand. It will be interesting to see whether the Court decides to hear the case and use it to provide some clarity for Establishment Clause cases. Given the rulings handed down at the end of the current term, it's more likely that they will hand down a ruling in favor of the church without addressing the fundamental flaws of the relevant precedent cases.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

David Eckstein: Getting More From Less Talent

David Eckstein, shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals, is not the most talented guy in the major leagues. He does, however, get more from the talent he has been given than any other player in baseball. This is due to both his work ethic and his faith as Marvin Olasky explains:

Eckstein, the MVP of last year's World Series and also the shortest athlete on the field, at a generously measured 5-foot-7, is not without talent: He can hit a curveball, which Michael Jordan, a foot taller, could not. But his work ethic and faith sustain him. When I asked him about his success before a game last month, he responded, "Just keep working, working, working, and don't worry. If you start worrying in this game, everything becomes even harder. Work is your friend. Worry is your enemy."

Question: How does he keep from worrying in a sport where a player can hit the ball perfectly and still make an out? Eckstein explained, "I'm not as big as the other guys, so I've always known that I had to work real hard. But even with all that, I couldn't do anything without God. It's all Him. Let Him take control. If I go 0-for-4, I just keep working hard and praying. I'm not anxious because I know it will turn out all right My faith in Jesus is everything to me. You have to understand that He's working in His way. I've got to do everything possible to be prepared, and then to let Him take over."

Be sure to read the whole article. It's a great profile of a truly classy guy.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Independence Day

For many folks, the Fourth of July has come to mean fireworks, a day off from work, and the backyard barbecue. But as we continue to fight the long war against those who seek to destroy us, it's worthwhile to reflect upon the words that brought these great United States into being 231 years ago: The Declaration of Independence.

In Congress, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to
assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which
the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the
opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel
them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more
disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the
necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The
history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries
and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute
Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and
we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

NBC, Al Gore, and the Fairness Doctrine

Fox News' John Gibson made a great point during his commentary today at the end of his show The Big Story about NBC's plans to televise 75 hours of Al Gore's Live Earth concerts starting this weekend:

What is NBC doing airing dozens of hours of Al Gore's Live Earth concerts this coming weekend? And why are the Fairness Doctrine proponents of the Democrat Party not objecting to this outright gift of unequal time to just one side of a controversial issue?

NBC is reportedly airing hours of the concerts — hours upon hours — on and through various NBC platforms. Al Gore is the chairman of the Live Earth project. NBC is a company which is owned by a corporation which must declare its political contributions.

Does anybody think the Live Earth concerts are not a political statement by Gore's supporters that will end up benefiting Al Gore? Does anybody think Al Gore isn't running for president? I know he's said he's not, and every time I get a Democrat analyst sitting next to me, he or she says he's not. But it sure looks like he's running to me.

Look at the field. Hillary's got the big "mo" and the big Bill. Barack has the big pile of cash. There is a chance they will bash each other to a pulp.

Meanwhile, Gore sits on the sidelines. Remember he's a saint to the left. Remember he won in 2000. You do remember that, don't you? If you have forgotten, just ask a Democrat.

You do recall he was the original Bush hater. Didn't like Bush, didn't like the war. He's been calling for us to come home before we even touched home base in Baghdad.

Plus this whole deal about the planet melting. Gore is the left's guy, and he plays to his base.

So what's NBC doing giving Gore so many hours of airtime on NBC owned and operated television operations? Does this constitute a political contribution of free airtime? Do the people who want the return of the Fairness Doctrine think NBC should be forced to give equal time to me and let me argue against Al Gore?

I don’t think so.

That's My Word.

It's ironic to me that the same liberals who have made so much noise about resurrecting the Fairness Doctrine are silent about the real issues that providing such an abundance of coverage on this one issue presents. Plus there's the fact that even though Al Gore says he's not a candidate for President, he's certainly acting like one.

NBC, which already earned a well-deserved black eye for being willing to pay money for high-profile interviews (think Paris Hilton) apparently doesn't see a problem with overt issue and candidate advocacy. I suppose it's not a problem for them as long as it's a liberal Democrat that they are putting all over their networks. Then again, I learned a long time ago that NBC, like the rest of the "mainstream" media is much more biased than many, especially liberals, are willing to admit.