Now on deck in the state that elected World Wrestling Federation star Jesse Ventura governor: an acid-tongued, liberal comedian for U.S. Senate. A week after leaving his gig on Air America as Bush critic and all-around foe of conservatives everywhere, radio-talk host and former Saturday Night Live writer/producer Al Franken launched his bid to challenge Republican Norm Coleman for his Minnesota seat. Now Franken, who has made political hay in recent years penning anti-conservative broadsides like Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, has a challenger of his own: high-powered trial attorney Mike Ciresi, who jumped into the race earlier this month.
Some Minnesota political observers say Ciresi makes Al Franken a bit of a dark horse because the lawyer is a known quantity to Minnesota voters while the entertainment alum, for all his bluster, is a bit of a political cipher.
Franken was born in New York City, grew up in suburban Minneapolis, but made his home back in the Big Apple during his SNL stint, which spanned three decades. But he isn't all fun and games: In 1973, Franken graduated from Harvard University, and in 2003 served as a fellow with Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. What remains to be seen is whether Minnesotans will mind his past drug use, no-holds-barred anti-war rhetoric, and the "jerk" persona he now says is only an act: "It's a character I play of myself. It's this jerk. It's a comic conceit-me as jerk."
-by Lynn Vincent
Christians in Uzbekistan are scrambling to win the release of Pentecostal pastor Dmitry Shestakov, who was arrested for leading an underground Pentecostal church in the predominantly Muslim nation. Government officials arrested and jailed the 37-year-old pastor on charges of illegal proselytizing. He faces up to 20 years behind bars. Uzbekistan recognizes Islam (88 percent of Uzbeks) and the Russian Orthodox Church (9 percent) as the accepted religions and has cracked down on all Protestant groups, including missionaries. According to Forum 18, a religious freedom advocacy group based in Oslo, the Uzbek government has also targeted Christian charity group World Vision and other pastors.
- by John Dawson
Man knows not his time
Bruce Metzger, a biblical scholar and modern-English Bible translator, died Feb. 13 in Princeton, N.J.; he was 93. A Presbyterian minister and long-time professor of New Testament at Princeton Seminary, he won the respect of theological conservatives and liberals alike and was a member of the translation team that produced the Revised Standard Version of the Bible in 1952. Darrell Bock, a New Testament professor at Dallas Seminary, praised him as "one of the great New Testament scholars of the last century."
SPORTS: When Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz arrived at spring training for his 19th year in the major leagues, he looked like he was finishing a long, grueling season rather than beginning a new one. Visibly downcast and noticeably thinner, Smoltz arrived at training just days after announcing he and his wife were divorcing after 16 years of marriage. Smoltz and his wife Dyan have been well-known in the Atlanta area for their Christian faith and charitable giving.
MEDICINE: Christian medical professionals denying service or care based on moral objections is no new thing. But should a Christian pediatrician deny care to a toddler with an ear infection because of her mother's tattoos? A California television station reported Dr. Gary Merrill of Bakersfield, Calif., refused to treat Tasha Childress' young daughter because the mother's tattoos violated standards of appearance and behavior that he told the station were based upon his Christian faith.