Walk for Women

In some countries they punish the victim. A woman who was brutally raped by seven men in Saudi Arabia was sentenced to 90 lashes because the crime occurred while she was in the company of a man not related to her. When the woman appealed her sentence, it was increased to 200 lashes because, by speaking out, she had insulted the dignity of the court.

In Nigeria they also punish the victims. A 15 year-old-girl whose step-father attacked her was sentenced to 100 lashes. We might not be surprised that Iran applies Sharia law in the same way.

Under Islamic law rape is very hard to prove–and an unproved charge of rape could result in the death penalty for the accuser. The law requires a victim to prove she resisted. In the United Arab Emirates evidently stabbing an attacker is not proof enough of resistance. A guest-worker from the Philipines was first sentenced to death for murder when she resisted an attack by her employer. But the enlightened and progressive UAE commuted her sentence to a year in prison, a payment of blood money to her attacker’s family, and 100 lashes.

There are numerous other examples of this kind of brutal punishment of victims.

What do these countries have in common?


Does that mean every time we fill up our cars, we are supporting the regimes that enforce this kind of law? How many lashes per gallon does your car get?

Just because we can’t do much, doesn’t mean we can’t do anything. My suggestion is that we start a “Walk for Women” movement. If we walk instead of driving any time we can, and let others know why, it will at least call attention to the problem.

My daughter at Mother Earth News recently reminded me that we in the US actually import more oil from Canada than any other country. Well, I’m not suggesting that Canada is oppressive to women. But oil is sold on the open market, and a gallon sold anywhere affects the price everywhere, so in that sense it doesn’t matter where it comes from–every gallon we buy enriches the flogger barons.

Walking for women is one way to engage in flog-free transportation.

Joe’s Finds

 Joe and Mark

Joe Collins, graduate student at Villanova, has  been sending me news items fairly regularly; so I decided to make him a research editor.  I am adding a page called “Joe’s Finds.”  Check it out once a week or so.

This is a self-portrait with me that he took in my front yard shortly before leaving for Philadelphia.

Jayhawks Victorious

The Jayhawks basketball team pulled out an overtime victory over Arizona tonight.  This was their first serious rival of the season.


Oh, well, football is, you know, just a game.

Border Wars

Rivalry between Missouri and Kansas goes back a little over 150 years. The Missouri compromise of 1820 brought two new states into the union–Maine a free state and Missouri a slave state–preserving the balance of slave vs. free states. The Missouri compromise also stated that slavery would not be extended west of Missouri.

In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska act created two future states which would decide by popular sovereignty whether to tolerate human bondage in their borders (thus ending the “freeze” of the Missouri Compromise and re-opening the issue). Pro slavery forces were afraid that a new free state would tip the balance and endanger their peculiar institution. While many of the pioneers to the newly opened territory came seeking land for homesteading or other economic opportunities; many also came to advance political causes–either the cause of slavery or of freedom.

They took their politics seriously back then. The border Ruffians from Missouri were called “Bushwackers” when they made raids into Kansas territory. In 1854 the new city of Lawrence was sacked and burned. Local vigilantes who made revenge-counterattacks into Missouri were called Jayhawks.

In 1864 a misfit from the Confederate army named William Quantrill gathered a gang of bandits that included future leaders of the James gang (Frank James and “Bloody Bill Anderson). Quantrill’s raiders masacred 181 free-state citizens, including women and children.

Lately we’ve learned to settle our differences in the football field.

A few years ago, football in Kansas was a joke. There were rumors that Kansas and Nebraska were going to merge. What would Nebraska get from the deal? All that wheat. What would Kansas get? A football team.

But then in the 1990s Bill Snyder built a respectable football dynasty at Kansas State University. When we first moved into K-State territories I didn’t flaunt my Jayhawk sympathies too obviously. I could root for K-State football and Jayhawks basketball, because KU didn’t have a football team anyway. Now that has all changed.

For the first time in decades KU has a winning football team. They have an 11-0 record and are ranked in the top 3 or 4 in the nation. Missouri also is ranked in the top 4; and tomorrow the warriors will meet in Arrowhead stadium in Kansas City (Missouri)–almost neutral territory–to settle old scores.

My niece Claudia is a manager for the Jayhawks football team, and one of the perks is that she gets two tickets for every game. So my dad and my brother will be there watching the game of the century–or really, the game of two centuries.

I hear that some Missouri fans have a posters saying “Missouri 181, Kansas 0”–a reference to Quantrill’s massacre. I also saw a T-shirt with a picture of John Brown and the slogan “Kansas–Keeping America Safe from Missouri for 150 Years.”

But maybe athletic competition is a more civilized and less lethal way of settling questions or regional pride. After all, whichever team leaves the field heart broken and humiliated–the young men will have lives and opportunities ahead of them.

It does show that people who once were bitter enemies can now enjoy a friendly rivalry. I can imagine someone saying in 1864, “those Missourians and Kansas have been enemies for years, the hatred is bred into them, they will never be at peace.” But today, there are no checkpoints at the border, and I even admit to having friends from Missouri.

It does bother me that there are a few Neanderthals who don’t get it; small-minded, pitiful little people who take everything too literally. There are a few who don’t understand the idea of friendly rivalry, who think the hatred is supposed to be real. I’ve heard of windshields being broken in Lawrence. I have heard there is fear of sporadic outbreaks of violence after the game.

Regardless of the score on the field, those who act this way are losers.  Come on, get a life!

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Who would have guessed that encouraging words would come from Christopher Hitchens? Yesterday he announced on CNN that Al Qaida has been defeated in Iraq. Sometimes we are embarrassed at the prayers in the Psalms for the destruction of one’s enemies; but when you have an enemy as hideous as Al Qaida it’s easier to be sympathetic with those prayers.

I’ve been reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s letters from prison; and I just received a copy of the prison correspondence between him and his fiancée Maria Von Wedemeyer. To respect her own privacy and his memory she donated her collection of letters to Harvard university but requested that they not be published until after her death. The letters were published in 1992.

In one letter she expresses her exuberance at receiving a letter from her beloved prisoner. I think her joy comes through without even a translation:

Hurra, Hurra, Hurra, Hoch, Vivat und Halleluja! Ich hab einen Brief von meinem Dietrich . . . Mein liebster Dietrich . . .

Shortly before he was arrested, Bonhoeffer wrote a reflection “After Ten Years” of resistance against the German Christian’s accommodation to the Nazi regime. Here are a few thoughts from this meditation:

Time lost is time in which we have failed to live a full human life, gain experience, learn, create, enjoy, and suffer; it is time that has not been filled up, but left empty. These last years have certainly not been like that. Our losses have been great and immeasurable, but time has not been lost. . .

One cannot write about these things without a constant sense of gratitude for the fellowship of spirit and community of life that have been proved and preserved throughout these years.

I Was a Rampman

Almost in another life, twenty-some years ago, to support my habit of going to graduate school I worked as a ramp service worker for Eastern Airlines. It was a good job. I worked with a bunch of young, hard working, conscientious people. The job involved hard physical labor, but most of the men and women, like me, had college degrees.

We directed airplanes to their parking spot on the runway, checked the oil, de-iced the planes in the winter, and otherwise serviced the aircraft during the few brief minutes they were on the ground. We also unloaded and loaded cargo, including passengers’ luggage, traveling animals, air freight, and the U.S. mail.

When our employers wanted to emphasize to us how important our job was, they called us by our official title, Ramp Service Workers. When they wanted to remind the public that we were overpaid, they called us baggage handlers.

We had a lot of camaraderie among the workforce. I remember the song, “I Was a Highwayman” by Johnny Cash, Chris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson. We improvised our own version, “I Was a Rampman.”

We would work hard for an hour or so at a time while a dozen or more aircraft were at the gates. On the evening shift, though, there was usually at least an hour of free time between rounds of flights. We had to be ready to respond to any urgent needs, but otherwise were free to entertain ourselves as we pleased. There was a large public break room with a television, tables, and comfortable chairs, and a sink to wash one’s hands after servicing aircraft. I used some of this time to keep up with my studies. I taught myself Latin at KCI.

One day a pilot and the flight attendants came into the break room. The pilot asked me if there was a place he could wash his hands, and I pointed to the sink. He leaned toward me and said, “I mean, I need to use the restroom.”

Oops! I had missed a euphemism. Euphemisms are polite ways of speaking about things that are embarrassing, unpleasant, or private. Normally we use euphemisms to refer to death, sex, and private bodily functions. Euphemisms are handy for those awkward situations where we have a need to refer to such matters without unduly offending or disturbing anyone.

But euphemisms are also used by politicians to obscure the truth.

My kids liked the late comedian Mitch Hedberg, and they went to see him in one of his last performances before his untimely death. One of his jokes I liked was about catch-and-release fishing. He said, “They don’t want to eat the fish, they just want to make it late for something.”

I don’t know why, but this joke makes me think of the current euphemistic use of the words, detain and detainee. Somehow being a detainee sounds nicer than being a prisoner. Detainees are even entertained by waterboarding, a procedure evidently so innocent that our current attorney general can’t call it torture.

I understand that politicians have to use euphemisms when the truth would hurt them. But don’t you think that when journalists adopt their reality-evading jargon, they become complicit in deceiving the public?

More to Come

I’ll write a couple of posts this week. In the meantime, I will refer you to a few recent posts by Timothy Stanley, a theology graduate student currently studying in Manchester, UK. He has written a few posts on environmental themes, that overlap some of the things I have said recently, here.

You Never Even Call Me by My Name

Whether it was just a coincidence, or whether he read what I wrote about him, Dave Black said recently (Nov 9), “I have never considered myself . . . a New Testament Scholar.”

He says he finds distinctions between the academic and the devotional study of the Scripture to be superficial and misleading.

“The truth is” he continues, “that I do not see myself as a New Testament scholar but as a simple student of the Scriptures, a child, if you will, wading on the shore of an unlimited (and still vastly unexplored) ocean.” (here)

I think that’s a good point of view. My colleague Larry reminded me, though, that he did write the perfect Greek grammar.

And at least he didn’t object to being called a southern gentleman.

Dave Black Horseback

You Don’t Have to Call Me Doktor, Doktor . . .

Dave Black

David Allen Coe

I stumbled onto a blog called Daveblackonline this week–or maybe he stumbled onto mine first. He had noticed my “Theological German” site. I looked at his site and at first he seemed to be a southern preacher, a simple, honest straight shooter. I was somewhat surprised that he had an interest in German, until I looked further.

This is David Allen Black, the famous expert on the Greek Language and a New Testament Scholar. When I started teaching intermediate Greek, the students had been broken in on his grammar. They all knew the rule about neuter plural nouns–the famous page 36 rule, from page 36 in his textbook.

I remember at the time thinking of the similarity of his name to the country singer David Allen Coe, but for all I knew David Allen Black was Scottish or Irish. It turns out that he is a Southern gentleman, who lives on a working farm in Virginia. He is a patriot who has some firm political convictions. For example, he believes the United States began a slide toward socialism when Abraham Lincoln began his “unconstitutional war” of aggression against the southern states in their bid for independence.

He also has more recently written a book entitled Why I Stopped Listening to Rush: Confessions of a Recovering Neocon (here) in which he also describes how he lost faith in George W. Bush.  He is now supporting Ron Paul.

Looking back over his past career, professor Black remembered receiving his doctorate in theology in 1983 from the University of Basel (that explains the German!) He said he had to pledge (in Latin) loyalty to the Swiss principles of democracy. Evidently he is still trying to keep that vow. (See his post on “The Barmen Declaration.”)

Still thinking about the country singer, I went on a search for the lyrics to his song, “You Don’t Have to Call Me Darlin’, Darlin. You Never Even Call Me by My Name.” I think it is very clever, and is in fact the world’s greatest country song. I think the gentleman farmer/professor would have enough sense of humor to appreciate it if I changed the lyrics just a bit to “You Don’t Have to Call Me Doktor, Doktor.”

David Allen Coe is a real country outlaw, having done several years of hard time in prison (not just a few nights in a county jail like Johnny Cash did). I was deeply disappointed to find that he had recorded a couple of awful, vicious “racist and misogynist” songs in the 1980s. I now have a dilemma, because back in the 90s I vowed I would never listen to any music by Marshal Mather because of his racist and misogynist lyrics; so I guess if I’m consistent I can’t even listen to Coe singing “Child of God.”

According to Wikipedia Coe states that the songs in question “are not his works” and he refuses to acknowledge or perform them in concert. He also maintains that he is not a racist, (and for all I know he even admits that some of his closest relatives are women). I don’t know, Konashould I take his word for it?

Professor Black wasn’t always a southern gentleman. He was born in Hawaii, and loves to surf and drink 100% Kona coffee. So I have another thing in common with him. Before she went to work for Mother Earth News, our older daughter served an apprenticeship on an organic coffee farm in Hawaii.

I plan to keep up with professor Black’s blog, and if I ever get the chance to meet him, I’ll hang around as long as he will let me . . .

Liberal Use of Water

Big Pool

OK, this is my third and final post on the air and water around Liberal, Kansas.

Southwestern Kansas is pretty dry. It would not be profitable at all for raising crops like corn, if it were not for irrigation. Underneath that all that flat land is not only oil and natural gas, but a large reservoir of water known as the Ogallala Aquifer. It is an underground “lake” with a water volume equal to Lake Huron, stretching over eight states. Since heavy irrigation began in the 1940s, the water level has declined by about 100 feet. (See “Water Encyclopedia” here.) Water flows back into it at the rate of less than an inch per year, and much of that water is polluted.

All this water is being pumped out to grow corn. The corn is grown to feed the steers on the great feed lots that stretch for miles on end throughout Southwest Kansas, from Dodge to Liberal, and up to Garden City. Garden City, by the way, has one of the world’s largest public swimming pools, covering more than half a city block and holding 2.5 million gallons of water. (More here)

Author Michael Pollan described his breathtaking drive through Garden City in a radio interview on NPR (transcript here). His current book Omnivore’s Dilemma describes the corn and feedlot industry. (See his shorter article in the NY Times here.)

Cattle are not designed to eat corn. A couple years ago I undertook a research project, asking farmers and ranchers about a law in the Torah, “you shall not muzzle an ox when he is treading out the grain.” I was curious about how much grain an ox would eat; I thought it was a rather generous provision for the working oxen. The farmers, though, ignored my question. Their first response was, “it would make him sick. If a cow eats too much grain it will die.”

Feedlot management involves careful monitoring of cattle as they are put on grain to fatten them up. They are also put on antibiotics at this time. The corn has a marvelous effect on the meat; it fills it with the marbled fat that makes it so juicy, the same fat that clogs our arteries.

We’ve all heard that “red meat” is unhealthy. Actually it is grain-fed red meat that is killing us. Grass-fed, free range beef is actually good for our health. It is high in the good fatty acids (Omega 3 and Omega 6) and low in bad cholesterol. Grass-fed, free-range bison is even more healthy; it is like eating salmon.

A few months ago our daughter, on assignment for Mother Earth News drove across the southwest corner of Kansas on down to Phoenix. I ride a bicycle for enjoyment, for my health, and to reduce my dependence on fossil fuel. I had studied the map and was considering riding out west and crossing into Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico–all in one day.

I asked my daughter what she thought of this, and she said the foul air would choke me. That area is miles and miles of feedlots; cattle side by side up to their knees in mud and muck, making themselves and us sick on corn.

So this is what we are doing: We are using up the water in the underground lake, to grow corn, to feed to cattle, to produce heart-attack-causing beef. Meanwhile what little water trickles back in to the aquifer is contaminated with runoff from the feedlots, and the air is unfit to breathe.

If it were a matter of free enterprise and free market forces, that would be one thing. But the whole industry is fueled by government subsidies, the majority of which go to large multinational corporations. Is something wrong here?

Meanwhile, my brother has a few acres and raises a few head of cattle on natural grass pasture. He sends one or two a year to the butcher shop and keeps his arteries clean eating natural free-range beef. The meat is not quite as tender as corn-fed, but it has a full rich taste, and there are ways of cooking to make it tender.

What does all this have to do with faith? We have a stewardship, a responsibility, to take care of God’s creation, to leave it to our children better than we found it. Grazing cattle on the open range is a responsible use of the earth’s resources.

(just click the highlighted words if you missed Part I or Part II.)