Sooners, the new 2004 National Champions

My alma mater, the University of Oklahoma, should ascend to the 2004 National Football championship, even though they were beaten in the BCS championship game by the University of Southern California.  That team is being forced to forfeit all of their games played by star running back Reggie Bush, due to the valuable  benefits that his coaches lavished on him.

The NCAA threw the book at storied Southern California yesterday with a 2-year bowl ban, 4 years’ probation, loss of scholarships and forfeits of an entire year’s games for improper benefits to Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush dating to the Trojans’ 2004 national championship.

USC was penalized for a lack of institutional control in the ruling by the NCAA following its 4-year investigation. The report cited numerous improper benefits for Bush and former basketball player O.J. Mayo, who spent just 1 year with the Trojans.

The coaches who presided over the alleged misdeeds – football's Pete Carroll and basketball’s Tim Floyd – left USC in the past year.

“I’m absolutely shocked and disappointed in the findings of the NCAA,” Carroll said in a video statement produced by the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, who hired him in January. “I never thought it would come to this . . . I’m extremely disappointed that we have to deal with this right now.”

The penalties include the loss of 30 football scholarships over 3 years and vacating 14 victories in which Bush played from December 2004 through the 2005 season. USC beat Oklahoma in the BCS title game on Jan. 4, 2005, and won 12 games during Bush’s Heisman-winning 2005 season, which ended with a loss to Texas in the 2006 BCS title game.

Bill Hancock, the executive director of the BCS, said a committee will meet to consider vacating USC’s 2004 championship. While no action would go into effect until USC’s appeals are heard by the NCAA, Hancock said there would be no 2004 champion if USC’s victory is vacated.

The NCAA says Bush received lavish gifts from two fledgling sports marketers hoping to sign him. The men paid for everything from hotel stays and a rent-free home where Bush’s family apparently lived to a limousine and a new suit when he accepted his Heisman in New York in December 2005.

The rulings are a sharp repudiation of the Trojans’ decade of stunning football success under Carroll, who won seven straight Pac-10 titles and two national championships before abruptly returning to the NFL. Floyd resigned last June, shortly after he was accused of giving cash to a middleman who helped steer Mayo to USC.

via USC gets 2-year bowl ban, might forfeit 2004 title | Philadelphia Daily News | 06/11/2010.

Wait a minute:  The Trojans might not be stripped of their championship?  How can a team win the national title while losing all of their games?  The BCS might declare that there was no champion for 2004?  How can that be?  In the final BCS rankings, OU was #2.  If #1 is removed from the picture, everyone moves up.

In all seriousness, I dislike the penalty of forfeiting games that were already played.  If a team violates the rules, punish them now, but don’t try to change history.

Egypt orders Coptic Christians to allow divorce

The Egyptian government has ruled that Coptic Christians must change their doctrine about divorce and remarriage, putting them more in line with Islam:

It is not enough that the Egyptian government facilitates persecution of the Copts, Egypt’s indigenous Christian minority. Now the government is interfering directly with the church’s autonomy concerning doctrine. According to the Assyrian International News Agency:

The head of the Coptic Church in Egypt has rejected a court ruling that orders the church to allow divorced Copts to remarry in the church. In a press conference held on Tuesday June 8, Pope Shenouda [III], reading from the statement issued by the Holy Synod’s 91 Bishops, including himself, said: “The Coptic Church respects the law, but does not accept rulings which are against the Bible and against its religious freedom which is guaranteed by the Constitution.” He went on to say “the recent ruling is not acceptable to our conscience, and we cannot implement it.” He also said that marriage is a holy sacrament of a purely religious nature and not merely an “administrative act.”

Though little reported in the West, this issue is rapidly boiling over. There is even talk that, if he does not submit to the court’s ruling, the pope will (once again) be imprisoned. What is behind such unprecedented governmental interference with the Coptic Church’s autonomy?

Reading Egypt’s national newspaper, Al Ahram, one gets the impression that, by trying to make divorce and remarriage easier for Copts, the Egyptian government is attempting to “liberalize” Coptic society — only to be challenged by an antiquated pope not open to “reform.” It quotes one Copt saying that the “pope’s limiting divorce and remarriage to cases of adultery is unfair. It is against human nature.” Even the manager of the Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance claims that his position “exposes Pope Shenouda’s desire to impose his will over the Christian community” (a curious statement, considering that some 10,000 Copts recently demonstrated in support of the pope, and that the Catholic and Orthodox churches — which guide some 1.5 billion Christians — hold similar views on divorce and remarriage).

At any rate, lest the reader truly think that the Egyptian government is becoming more “liberal,” there are a few important facts to remember:

First, according to the Second Article of the Egyptian Constitution, Sharia law — one of, if not the most draconian law codes to survive the Medieval period — is “the principal source of legislation.” This means that any number of measures contrary to basic human rights are either explicitly or implicitly supported by the Egyptian government, including polygamy, the obstruction of churches, and institutionalized discrimination against non-Muslims and females in general. Put differently, Sharia law can be liberal — but only to male Muslims, who (speaking of marriage and divorce) can have up to four wives, and divorce them by simply uttering “I divorce you” thrice (even via “text messaging”).

via Pajamas Media » Unprecedented: Egyptian Government Suppresses Christian Doctrine.

Lady Gaga vs. Madonna

Mark Judge is a conservative who argues that most conservatives don’t understand pop music, completely missing or misconstruing its meaning.  He offers a reading of two music videos, Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” which he says is a positive treatment of Christian imagery, and Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro,” which he says is fascist.

Lady Gaga is no Madonna. That some conservatives are conflating the two performers is yet another sign of the pop culture (and even religious) illiteracy of the right. I myself am a conservative, and it always demoralizes me when people on the right fumble the ball on popular culture, particularly in the field of pop music.

Robert Bork once referred to the industrial gloom freaks Nine Inch Nails as rap. Reagan-era Interior Secretary James Watt attempted to postpone the Beach Boys Fourth of July concert, thinking that the somnolent surfers would cause trouble. And, despite how much I’ve begged and pleaded, the Weekly Standard and National Review will not cover pop music, which I consider a beautiful form of spiritual art.

Now, taking a lead from Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, everyone is comparing Gaga to Madonna. To me Madonna will always be a mediocre talent, but one of her better songs is “Like a Prayer,” which came out in 1986. Many conservative culture warriors wrongly considered the video for “Like a Prayer” blasphemous, and are now juxtaposing it with a new video by pop star Lady Gaga. In the video for her song “Alejandro,” Gaga is dressed in a red latex nun costume. She swallows a rosary, and is depicted in scenes of sadomasochistic sex and Nazi marching troops. As night follows day, conservatives went nuts. Donohue called Lady Gaga a “Madonna wannabe.” The rest of the right wing photosphere fell into place.

They will miss a crucial fact: Madonna’s video for “Like a Prayer” is an intelligent and even devout meditation on grace, love and conscience. Lady Gaga's is lazy trash.

As I will explore in my forthcoming book “A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Madonna’s video is actually a powerful depiction of the vitality of the Catholic saints and their ability to intercede in our lives and give us gifts of courage. In the video, Madonna witnesses a black man falsely accused of a crime. Terrified of the racists in the town, she flees into a church, where she prays to St. Martin de Porres, a black saint. She falls asleep and in her dream the statue of the saint actually comes to life, becoming her lover. She wakes up filled with a new bravery. She fingers the real criminals, and ends the video jubilantly dancing with a gospel choir.

When “Like a Prayer” was released, it was completely misunderstood by conservatives. A bishop condemned it. So did Donohue. On the other side, liberals mindlessly defended Madonna without understanding the message of the video. The only truly coherent analysis came from Fr. Andrew Greeley, a liberal Catholic priest. “Like a Prayer” was blasphemous, wrote Greeley in America magazine, “only for the prurient and the sick who come to the video determined to read their own twisted sexual hang-ups into it. Only for those who think that sexual passion is an inappropriate metaphor for divine passion (and thus are pretty hard on Hosea, Jesus, Saint Paul, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and Saint Teresa of Avila).”

Lada Gaga’s video for “Alejandro” is not just slightly dissimilar to “Like a Prayer” – it’s like a fascistic antipode. There is no moral story, no call to conscience. The very language of the bodies is different. In “Like a Prayer,” Madonna and the gospel choir dance with freedom and individual joy. They are powered with the power of the Holy Spirit, which gave Madonna grace the courage to fully respond the call from her conscience. In “Alejandro” the dancing is militaristic, joyless. The scenes of sadomasochism are cold and dehumanizing; they reek of fascism. The entire thing is cold.

We’ve gotten to a point in our culture where we expect the “avant-garde” left to embrace absolutely anything that gives them the delicious frisson of transgression — no matter how tired and, well, conservative their tropes have become. Pop singer Katy Perry was right when she said “Using blasphemy as entertainment is as cheap as a comedian telling a fart joke.”

But I want better from my conservative friends. I became a conservative because of the ideas of the movement. Irving Kristol, Thomas Sowell, and Midge Decter are people who rely on facts, common sense, and age-old wisdom about the nature of the human person to come to conclusions about politics. But they are like the worst knee-jerk lefty when it comes to pop culture. I fear most of them have not listened to a record since Pat Boone was a star.

via Guest Voices: Lady Gaga is no Madonna – On Faith at

Talk about Madonna and Lady Gaga if you want, but what about his claim that conservatives don’t understand pop culture?  Is that necessarily a bad thing?  I agree that there is quite a bit of fascism in pop culture–not to mention all kinds of free-floating violence, racism, and sexism–which the left seems to gobble up indiscrimately.  Maybe the left doesn’t understand it either, while still embracing it.  Can you think of other pop culture artifacts that, while seeming rebellious, actually have a conservative subtext?

The Big 12 as the Big 10

Well, Texas has decided to stay in the Big 12, even though Nebraska and Colorado have fled.  In response, the other five teams from Texas and Oklahoma have decided to stay in, rather than join the PAC-10.  So there will only be ten teams in the Big 12.  (If all of you conferences are realigning, do something about your names, so that at least they are arithmetically accurate!)

One good result:  If there are only ten teams, there won’t be the need for the playoff game between the northern and the southern branches, an extra game that would always damage the record of one of the semi-champions.

As for these projected mega-conferences, I think all conferences should be smaller.  The right number is Eight.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: College Football.

Presidents can’t stop the oil from flowing

Anne Applebaum, who is no conservative, points out that the notion that President Obama should “do something” about the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrates this strange assumption held by both liberals and conservatives that our government should solve problems that are just impossible for it to solve:

In the Gulf of Mexico, plumes of black oil are gushing into the ocean, coating the wings of seabirds, poisoning shellfish, sending tar balls rolling onto white Florida beaches. It is an ecological disaster. It is a economic nightmare. And there is absolutely nothing that the American president can do about it. Nothing at all.

Here is the hard truth: The U.S. government does not possess a secret method for capping oil leaks. Even the combined wisdom of the Obama inner circle — all of those Harvard economists, silver-tongued spin doctors and hardened politicos — cannot prevent tens of thousands of tons of oil from pouring out of hole a mile beneath the ocean surface. Other than proximity to the Louisiana coast, this catastrophe has nothing in common with Hurricane Katrina: That was an unstoppable natural disaster that turned into a human tragedy because of an inadequate government response. This is just an unstoppable disaster, period. It will be a human tragedy precisely because no government response is possible.

Which leads me to a mystery: Given that he cannot stop the oil from flowing, why has President Obama decided to act as if he can? And given that he is totally reliant on BP to save the fish and the birds of the Gulf of Mexico, why has he started pretending otherwise — why is he, in his own words, looking for someone’s “ass to kick”? I suspect that there are many reasons for this recent change of rhetorical tone and that some of them are ideological. This is, of course, a president who believes that government can and should be able to solve all problems. Obama has never sounded particularly enthusiastic about the private sector either, and some of his congressional colleagues — the ones talking of retroactively raising the cap on BP’s liability, for example, or forcing BP to pay for the lost wages of other oil companies’ workers — are downright hostile.

A large part of the explanation, however, is cultural: Obama has been forced to take a commanding role in a crisis he cannot control because we expect him to — both “we” the media and “we” the bipartisan public. Whatever their politics, most Americans in recent years have come to expect a strong response — an invasion, massive legislation — from their politicians in times of crisis, and this one is no exception. We want the president to lead — somewhere, anywhere. A few days ago, the New York Times declared that “he and his administration need to do a lot more to show they are on top of this mess” and should have started “putting the heat” on BP much earlier — as if that would have made the remotest bit of difference.

via Anne Applebaum – The oil spill isn’t Obama’s Katrina.

This is not to say that the government shouldn’t police such things and try to keep them from happening.  But the point is that to talk about limited government goes beyond thinking government should be limited.  It is also to recognize that government has intrinsic limitations, that there are things that it just cannot do.

Why Lutherans don’t believe in consubstantiation

While browsing through the bookstore at Concordia Publishing House at my final board meeting, I came across a book entitled Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper (Counterpoints: Church Life).  It featured a Roman Catholic, a Lutheran, a Calvinist, and a Baptist reflecting on each tradition’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper, with each participant also responding to that understanding.  It was a good format for theological debate.  Anyway, David Scaer ably presented the Lutheran position.  I appreciated his explanation of why the term “consubstantiation,” which the Catholics and the Reformed say is what Lutherans believe is rejected by Lutherans themselves.

The term, he says, indicates that there are two “substances” in the Lord’s supper.  That, however, keeps them apart, as two separate things.  The Lutheran confessions speak rather of a “sacramental union.”  The bread and the wine are somehow united to Christ’s Body and Blood.  Thinking in terms of “consubstantiation” misses that entirely. (As does “transubstantiation.”  The Roman Catholic participant in the forum did not realize that Lutherans hold such a high view of the Sacrament.  Actually, it could be argued that Lutherans hold a higher view than Roman Catholics do.)