Sunday, August 31, 2003

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Analysis: Mercenary as future peacekeeper?

By Christian Bourge
UPI Congressional and Policy Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Aug. 25 (UPI) -- The controversial idea of using for-profit military forces as peacekeepers in war-torn countries is gaining momentum with nations' increasing unwillingness to man such operations and the growing integration of private companies into government military operations around the world.

While paid non-governmental troops could provide some advantages over traditional government-sponsored military detachments in such situations, the use of these forces raises questions about the legitimate use of military power as well as major moral and human rights issues.....

Passage to India?
Productivity at home will counter outsourcing.

As manufacturing workers worry about their jobs moving to China, service workers see India as the threat. With its large pool of educated, English-speaking workers available for wages 80 percent lower than here, many large companies, especially banks, have set up Indian operations or contracted with Indian companies to provide information-technology services.

A new report from Deloitte Research projects that outsourcing of IT jobs to India will accelerate in coming years. It estimates that $356 billion worth of global financial services will relocate to India in the next five years, producing a cost saving of $138 billion for the top 100 financial service firms. It further estimates that 2 million jobs will move to India — 850,000 from the United States, 730,000 from Europe, and 400,000 from other Asian countries.

However, another report from Deloitte Consulting throws cold water on these estimates. It notes that while direct wage costs may be 80 percent lower in India, total labor cost savings are much more modest — 10 percent to 15 percent for most companies. The reason is that there are important added costs to doing business in India that eat up much of the savings. Higher costs for travel, communications, equipment, and managerial oversight are some of these. But the largest costs are for lower productivity, cultural differences, and incompatible systems.

The Deloitte Consulting report goes on to detail several case studies where companies went into India thinking they would achieve significant savings only to find that it was not worth the effort. Other companies undoubtedly will make the same discovery....

Iraq Could Become U.S.'s West Bank and Gaza
James P. Pinkerton
August 26, 2003

George W. Bush is on to something when he argues that the United States and Israel face a common enemy in the Middle East. However, insight is not the same as good news; if Bush is correct, then the United States can look ahead to years, if not decades, of conflict in the area.

In his Saturday radio address, the president linked the two suicide bombings, in Baghdad and Jerusalem, taking scores of lives on Aug. 19.

Both acts were committed, he said, by terrorists animated by a "malicious view of the world."

Bush's words are hard to argue with, but it's also clear that the bombers see the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel as their chief enemy; those are, after all, the three nations that are occupying territory they inhabit. But wait a second, one might say, the terrorists blew up the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad. Yes, but that's the brutal logic of insurgency: Insurgents aim to make occupation impossible, by any means necessary. And so humanitarian workers are often "collateral damage."

That was also the case on Sept. 17, 1948, when a Swedish diplomat, Count Folke Bernadotte, on assignment from the UN as a Middle East mediator, was murdered in Jerusalem by Israeli militants. Back then, the British were the colonizing power; independence-minded Jews viewed the British and other foreigners as enemies to be expelled. Their strategy worked.

Today, Anglo-Americans find themselves similarly targeted in Iraq. The coalition once blamed the Iraqi resistance on "Saddam loyalists." But the problem with that argument was that Saddam Hussein never commanded much loyalty. Iraqi army units mostly broke and ran in the 1991 war; they melted away again in 2003. By contrast, the resistance English speakers are facing today in Iraq is oftentimes suicidally brazen....

... Bush says that America will "persevere" in Iraq, population 24 million. But the Israelis have been "persevering" in an area that's a fraction of the size and population for 36 years now - and we see the violent and tragic results of their perseverance every few days.

In other words, if we are as persevering as the Israelis, and if the Iraqis are as persevering as the Palestinians, then the Anglo-Americans could be fighting in Iraq for 36 years themselves. Are Yanks and Brits ready for a military commitment to 2039 and beyond?...

Believing, Disbelieving, And Suspecting
Disordered Thoughts On Religion

... Of course arrogance comes in forms both personal and temporal. People tend to regard their own time as wiser and more knowing than all preceding times, and the people of earlier ages as quaint and vaguely primitive. Thus many who do not know how a television works will feel superior to Newton, because he didn't know how a television works. (Here is a fascinating concept: Arrogance by proximity to a television.)

It will be said that we have learned much since the time of Newton, and that this knowledge renders us wiser on matters spiritual. We do have better plastics. Yet still we die, and have no idea what it means. We do not know where we came from, and no amount of pious mummery about Big Bangs and black holes changes that at all. We do not know why we are here. We have intimations of what we should do, but no assurance. These are the questions that religion addresses and that science pretends do not exist. For all our transistors we know no more about these matters than did Heraclitus, and think about them less.

Many today assuredly do know of the questions, and do think about them. One merely doesn't bring them up at a cocktail party, as they are held to be disreputable.

Yet I often meet a, to me, curious sort of fellow who simply cannot comprehend what religion might be about. He is puzzled as distinct from contemptuous or haughty. He genuinely sees no different between religious faith and believing that the earth is flat. He is like a congenitally deaf man watching a symphony orchestra: With all the good will in the world he doesn't see the profit in all that sawing with bows and blowing into things.

This fellow is very different from the common atheist, who is bitter, proud of his advanced thinking, and inclined toward a (somewhat adolescent) hostility to a world that isn't up to his standard. This is tiresome and predictable, but doesn't offend me. Less forgivably, he often wants to run on about logical positivism. (I'm reminded of Orwell's comment about "the sort of atheist who doesn't so much disbelieve in God as personally dislike him." Quote approximate....

Whack'em & Stack'em
Resistance is Futile (or in this case - fatal)
Report By J.J. Johnson

In the warm and peaceful setting of San Luis Obispo County, where just three days ago the County tentatively agreed to a $2 million settlement in the case of a some poor sap from Los Osos who suffered permanent brain damage while being taken into custody by sheriff's deputies, a different breed of law enforcement seems to be taking shape.

Jay Anthony Vestal - age 37, found out about this in a lethal fashion.

This assassination is very intriguing. But since police are never at fault, we don't want to cloud your mind with any sympathy for the victim. So, let's report the 'stack' before the 'whack':

Previously, Vestal pleaded guilty to burglary, false representation and public drunkenness, according to court records reported by the San Luis Obispo Tribune. There are no records of violent felonies, but that doesn't matter. This is all we have, and should be enough to convince the reader that once again - this poor SOB had it coming to him.

But hold on a minute: Regarding Vestal's priors, someone either had to go down to court and look up this information or it was handed to the media (leaked) by the local constabulary. A legitimate question to be asked is why is this information necessary for this news story? Did it have any relevance to what was about to happen?

Whack & Stack Class is in session...

Why Nerds are Unpopular

When we were in junior high school, my friend Rich and I made a map of the school lunch tables according to popularity. This was easy to do, because kids only ate lunch with others of about the same popularity. We graded them from A to E. A tables were full of football players and cheerleaders and so on. E tables contained the kids with mild cases of Down's Syndrome, what in the language of the time we called "retards."...

...Much as they suffer from their unpopularity, I don't think many nerds would. To them the thought of average intelligence is unbearable. But most kids would take that deal. For half of them, it would be a step up. Even for someone in the eightieth percentile (assuming, as everyone seemed to then, that intelligence is a scalar), who wouldn't drop thirty points in exchange for being loved and admired by everyone?

And that, I think, is the root of the problem. Nerds serve two masters. They want to be popular, certainly, but they want even more to be smart. And popularity is not something you can do in your spare time, not in the fiercely competitive environment of an American secondary school.

Alberti, arguably the archetype of the Renaissance Man, writes that "no art, however minor, demands less than total dedication if you want to excel in it." I wonder if anyone in the world works harder at anything than American school kids work at popularity. Navy SEALs and neurosurgery residents seem slackers by comparison. They occasionally take vacations; some even have hobbies. An American teenager may work at being popular every waking hour, 365 days a year.

I don't mean to suggest they do this consciously. Some of them truly are little Machiavellis, but what I really mean here is that teenagers are always on duty as conformists....

...If I could go back and give my thirteen year old self some advice, the main thing I'd tell him would be to stick his head up and look around. I didn't really grasp it at the time, but the whole world we lived in was as fake as a twinkie. Not just school, but the entire town. Why do people move to suburbia? To have kids! So no wonder it seemed boring and sterile. The whole place was a giant nursery, an artificial town created explicitly for the purpose of breeding children.

Where I grew up, it felt as if there was nowhere to go, and nothing to do. This was no accident. Suburbs are deliberately designed to exclude the outside world, because it contains things that could endanger children.

And as for the schools, they were just holding pens within this fake world. Officially the purpose of schools is to teach kids. In fact their primary purpose is to keep kids all locked up in one place for a big chunk of the day so adults can get things done. And I have no problem with this: in a specialized industrial society, it would be a disaster to have kids running around loose.

What bothers me is not that the kids are kept in prisons, but that (a) they aren't told about it, and (b) the prisons are run mostly by the inmates. Kids are sent off to spend six years memorizing meaningless facts in a world ruled by a caste of giants who run after an oblong brown ball, as if this were the most natural thing in the world. And if they balk at this surreal cocktail, they're called misfits.

Life in this twisted world is stressful for the kids. And not just for the nerds. Like any war, it's damaging even to the winners.

Adults can't avoid seeing that teenage kids are tormented. So why don't they do something about it? Because they blame it on puberty. The reason kids are so unhappy, adults tell themselves, is that monstrous new chemicals, hormones, are now coursing through their bloodstream and messing up everything. There's nothing wrong with the system; it's just inevitable that kids will be miserable at that age.

This idea is so pervasive that even the kids believe it, which probably doesn't help. Someone who thinks his feet naturally hurt is not going to stop to consider the possibility that he is wearing the wrong size shoes.

I'm suspicious of this theory that thirteen year old kids are intrinsically messed up. If it's physiological, it should be universal. Are Mongol nomads all nihilists at thirteen? I've read a lot of history, and I don't think I've seen a single reference to this supposedly universal fact before the twentieth century. Teenage apprentices in the Renaissance seem to have been cheerful and eager. They got in fights and played tricks on one another of course (Michelangelo had his nose broken by a bully), but they weren't crazy.

As far as I can tell, the concept of the hormone-crazed teenager is coeval with suburbia. I don't think this is a coincidence. I think teenagers are driven crazy by the life they're made to lead. Teenage apprentices in the Renaissance were working dogs. Teenagers now are neurotic lapdogs. Their craziness is the craziness of the idle everywhere....

...This is the sort of society that gets created by default in American secondary schools. And it happens because these schools have no real purpose beyond keeping the kids all in one place for a certain number of hours each day. What I didn't realize at the time, and in fact didn't realize till very recently, is that the twin horrors of school life, the cruelty and the boredom, both have the same cause....

... lost more than books. I mistrusted words like "character" and "integrity" because they had been so debased by adults. As they were used then, these words all seemed to mean the same thing: obedience. The kids who got praised for these qualities tended to be at best dull-witted prize bulls, and at worse facile schmoozers. If that was what character and integrity were, I wanted no part of them....

...I'm not claiming that bad schools are the whole reason kids get into trouble with drugs. After a while, drugs have their own momentum. No doubt some of the freaks ultimately used drugs to escape from other problems-- trouble at home, for example. But, in my school at least, the reason most kids started using drugs was rebellion. Fourteen year olds didn't start smoking pot because they'd heard it would help them forget their problems. They started because they wanted to join a different tribe.

Misrule breeds rebellion; this is not a new idea. And yet the authorities still for the most part act as if drugs were themselves the cause of the problem....

Prison patterns
Alachua County looks closer at jail culture

He has been in jail for a long time, so long that the guards know him well. Held on a violent crime, he waits for and watches younger, smaller inmates held on nonviolent offenses. When one of those inmates winds up in his cell, he strikes - and expects the guards to look the other way.

That's the profile of the typical prison rapist, says Joanne Mariner, author of a study of prison rape in 37 state prison systems.

"There's definitely a pattern to this behavior," said Mariner, a New York attorney for the group Human Rights Watch and the author of its 2001 study on prison rape. "And the pattern is clear enough that prison authorities ought to be able to stop it more often than they do."

If recent reports from the Sheriff's Office are correct, this year's string of rapes at the Alachua County jail fits that pattern almost perfectly. Sheriff's office investigators say Randolph Jackson, 35, raped at least four fellow inmates while awaiting trial for the alleged July 2002 rape of a Gainesville woman. At least two of his alleged victims were in their late teens, held on nonviolent offenses.

Sheriff's Officials have not revealed the identity of any of the victims.

Two guards at the jail were fired for allegedly extending special privileges to Jackson, and bringing other inmates to Jackson's cell at his request. Four others were disciplined for allegedly failing to report incidents that led up to the rape.

Mariner's study - one of only a handful of large-scale studies of the prison-rape phenomenon - is filled with similar stories. Stories of larger, older inmates preying on smaller, younger inmates. Stories of guards who ignore inmate complaints about rape, or even "set up" young prisoners by putting them in cells with known rapists.

"In some places, it seems to be part of the culture of the prison," Mariner said. "The guards either don't care and look away, or they actively set up prisoners as a form of punishment."....

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Dating tips from the world of science

By Agnieszka Biskup, Globe Columnist, 8/19/2003

Are you unhappy with your love life? Do you ever wonder who your perfect mate should be? Want some good advice, but don't know where to turn? Skip the television psychic, and try talking to some scientists instead. Many researchers wonder about the same questions, and, like your mother, have a few ideas of their own on whom you should be dating and why.

Much of this scientific advice is offered from an evolutionary perspective: The emphasis is on propagating the species rather than romantic fulfillment. Who knew your grandchild-craving Mom was a card-carrying Darwinian?

But for those of you who want to hook up to pass on your genes, here are some dating and mating tips from the world of science....

The Least Likely Soil
Where God is more certain than death.
By Philip Yancey

...Something was astir in the prison camp, something that Gordon would call "miracle on the River Kwai." For most of the war, the prison camp had served as a laboratory of survival of the fittest, every man for himself. Men lived like animals, and for a long time hate was the main motivation to stay alive.

Recently, though, a change had come. One event in particular shook the prisoners. A Japanese guard discovered that a shovel was missing. When no one confessed to the theft, he screamed, "All die! All die!" and raised his rifle to fire at the first man in the line. At that instant an enlisted man stepped forward and said, "I did it."

Enraged, the guard lifted his weapon high in the air and brought the rifle butt down on the soldier's skull, killing him. That evening, when tools were inventoried again, the work crew discovered a mistake had been made: No shovel was missing.

One of the prisoners remembered the verse, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Attitudes in the camp began to shift. With no prompting, prisoners began looking out for each other rather than themselves.

Gordon sensed the change in a very personal way as two fellow Scots came by each day and cared for him, dressing the ulcers on his legs and massaging the atrophied muscles. He put on weight and, to his amazement, regained partial use of his legs. By default, because he had studied some philosophy, he became the unofficial camp chaplain.

Gordon's book tells of a transformation within the camp so complete that when liberation finally came, the prisoners treated their sadistic guards with kindness and not revenge. Gordon's own life took an unexpected turn. He enrolled in seminary and became a Presbyterian minister, ending up as Dean of the Chapel at Princeton University, where he died in early 2002, just before the movie about his life was completed....

From the Boar's Head Tavern

...I did read the link to the article talking about James Dobson's calls for Christians to go to Montgomery to protest [the removal of the plaque w/ the Ten Commandments from the courthouse]. The fact that this is happening in Montgomery, Alabama made me think back to the early civil rights movement when MLK was organizing marches and protests for equal rights back in the '60's. How many evangelical Christian leaders who were around back then urged their fellow Christians to join MLK's cause for civil rights and equality? Probably not a single one. They were sitting on their butts shaking their heads, calling MLK a communist and questioning his theology. But, years later, hey gang, let's all mobilize to save a MARBLE SLAB, in the name of Jesus! Are our priorities all screwed up, or what....

Monday, August 25, 2003

Harry Potter: The new Atlas Shrugged?

There is a pure joy in seeing libertarian principles expressed by unexpected sources in a world teeming with those who love power. This is especially true when the expression is focused on the next generation. Thus, I am almost rapturous about book five in the Harry Potter series, The Order of the Phoenix.

The first blessing of the Harry Potter series is that it is an example of a gifted writer making an obscene fortune by creating a product people love. It has recently been confirmed that J. K. Rowling is now wealthier than the World's Greatest Welfare Mother, the Queen of England. That alone is enough to warm my capitalist heart.

But far more important is that the first printing of The Order of the Phoenix will be 8.5 million copies. Subsequent printings could number in the tens of millions. Millions of young kids, and many not-so-young kids, read these books repeatedly and absorb every detail. And this is one of the most anti-government books I've read since Atlas Shrugged....

How Does the War Party Get Away with It?
By Robert Higgs*

If you see someone shuffling along the street, eyes downcast, a pained expression on his face, you may have stumbled upon a member of the Peace Party. Once again, this party's cause has gone down to defeat, and its members are shaking their heads sadly, wondering why.

Their anguish is not assuaged by the knowledge that ultimately many will come to see that they were right to oppose this war. Eventual vindication will avail them little. The war is a fait accompli, and time’s arrow flies in only one direction. The death, destruction, and misery that the war has caused cannot be erased. On the contrary, for many of the victims, that misery will only fester, despoiling the other lives it touches, just as it did in the aftermath of earlier, similarly mistaken wars. Think of all the former soldiers with parts of their bodies missing, or parts of their minds gone askew. In this country, veterans’ institutions brim with these enduring casualties, and big-city alleys harbor no small number of them. In Iraq the innocent victims of this year's war are counted in the tens of thousands, and their number continues to mount.

While the architects of war, the Cheneys, Rumsfelds, and Wolfowitzs who sleep every night between clean sheets, deem these terrible costs to be worth bearing--as well they might, because they personally bear not an ounce of them--the members of the Peace Party often seem baffled. In view of the evident futility, and worse, of nearly every war the United States has fought during the past century, how does the War Party manage to propel this nation into one catastrophe after another, each of them clearly foreseen by at least a substantial minority who failed to dissuade their fellow citizens from still another march into calamity?

An adequate answer might fill a volume, but some elements of that answer can be sketched briefly. The essential components are autocratic government, favorably disposed mass culture, public ignorance and misplaced trust, cooperative mass media, and political exploitation for personal and institutional advantage....

Study Spurs Hope of Finding Way to Increase Human Life

[B] iologists have found a class of chemicals that they hope will make people live longer by activating an ancient survival reflex. One chemical, a natural substance known as resveratrol, is found in red wines, particularly those made in cooler climates like that of New York State.

The finding could help explain the so-called French paradox — the fact that the French consume fatty foods considered threatening to the heart but live as long as anyone else....

So far Dr. Sinclair and his colleagues have shown only that resveratrol, the chemical found in red wine, prolongs life span in yeast, a fungus, by 70 percent. But a colleague, Dr. Mark Tatar of Brown University, has shown, in a report yet to be published, that the compound has similar effects in fruit flies. The National Institute of Aging, which sponsored Dr. Sinclair's research, plans to start a mouse study later in the year.

Despite the years of testing that will be needed to prove that resveratrol has any effect in people, many of the scientists involved in the research have already started drinking red wine. "One glass of red wine a day is a good recommendation. That's what I do now," Dr. Sinclair said. Resveratrol, he said, is unstable on exposure to the air and "goes off within a day of popping the cork."...

The Philosopher King Caper
by Kurt Luchs

...My secretary had the day off -- in fact, given our recent dispute about the constitutionality of the minimum wage, she had the rest of her life off -- so after the introductions I let him into the office myself and sat him down in one of the two beautifully appointed folding chairs. Demographer's dream or not, he was shaking like a paint mixer, except that there were no metallic clamps holding his five-gallon, flat enamel head in place. Suddenly tears and words came pouring out of him in a rush of pent-up emotion.

..."Nothing like that. You see, according to every newspaper editorial writer in the country, when I go into a polling place, I'm a philosopher king."

"So?" I lit up a menthol Philosopher King and blew a smoke ring at the miniature plastic hula girl holding down the loose papers on my desk.

"So in an election year, they always say I combine the practical wisdom of Aristotle with the democratic idealism of Thomas Jefferson. Plus they assume I've read more history than Arnold Toynbee, I question everything, I'm familiar with all the issues, I've written my own position papers, I can recite the party platforms backwards, and I've taken the time to get to know each of the candidates personally. Naturally, I assume the same about them."

"Naturally. Aside from your almost crippling sense of self-effacement, however, what's the problem?"

"It's what happens when I leave the voting booth and walk into the supermarket, Mike. According to these same editorial writers, as soon as I stop voting for politicians and start voting with my wallet, I instantly lose 100 IQ points. My mind goes blank. My will withers away. I shuffle like an extra from Night of the Living Dead, helplessly controlled by whatever blatantly commercial propaganda flashes in front me. A cartoon dromedary can cause me to inhale poisoned narcotic air. An action movie merchandising tie-in can convince me that a shooting spree is the best way to resolve all conflicts. The richest man in the world can get me to give him more of my money in exchange for a software package that barely works. In short, I become a drooling idiot with no moral center."

"That is a problem, unless you are by profession a newspaper editorial writer," I said. He shook his head sadly.

..."A dichotomy. There's no mystery here. You suffer from Bipolar Buying-Voting Dementia, like every good American. When you vote, you're a genius and whatever you decide is always the best of all possible worlds. When you buy, you're a low-grade numskull who must be protected from himself at all costs. Oddly enough, that makes you two completely separate individuals who live in the same body yet have nothing to do with each other -- unless you happen to be buying votes. Then you are still a genius, but an evil genius."

"Sounds awful. What can I do?"

"Simple. Take this handy portable voting booth that I keep around the office for emergencies just like yours. Strap it to your back, carry it with you at all times, and you'll always be a voter imbued with the wisdom of the ages, not a consumer imbued with the imbecility of the marketplace. And you'll never feel like a bumbling, incompetent yahoo again ... until you get married."...

U.S. Recruiting Hussein's Spies
Occupation Forces Hope Covert Campaign Will Help Identify Resistance

By Anthony Shadid and Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, August 24, 2003; Page A01

BAGHDAD, Aug. 23 -- U.S.-led occupation authorities have begun a covert campaign to recruit and train agents with the once-dreaded Iraqi intelligence service to help identify resistance to American forces here after months of increasingly sophisticated attacks and bombings, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.

The extraordinary move to recruit agents of former president Saddam Hussein's security services underscores a growing recognition among U.S. officials that American military forces -- already stretched thin -- cannot alone prevent attacks like the devastating truck bombing of the U.N. headquarters this past week, the officials said.

Authorities have stepped up the recruitment over the past two weeks, one senior U.S. official said, despite sometimes adamant objections by members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, who complain that they have too little control over the pool of recruits. While U.S. officials acknowledge the sensitivity of cooperating with a force that embodied the ruthlessness of Hussein's rule, they assert that an urgent need for better and more precise intelligence has forced unusual compromises....

Sunday, August 24, 2003

War foes were right
August 22, 2003

The French were right.

The liberals were right.

The peaceniks were right.

True conservatives were right.

Veterans opposed to the war - I hear from more of them than you might imagine - were also right. They said this war was based on lies, and it was. They said this war, like most wars, would lead to more chaos and killing, and it has.

Now some in the Bush administration are telling the world that the car bombing of United Nations headquarters in Iraq is evidence that our policy is right.

How illogical can you be? Insurgents blow up oil pipelines and water mains; American soldiers get killed or maimed almost daily. Demonstrations are ongoing. And the biggest blow from the Iraqi resistance so far - destruction of U.N. headquarters in Iraq - is presented by the Bush team as evidence that our policy is correct because - because - because this proves terrorists are really, really bad.

Duh. We all know terrorists are really, really bad. That's why it's best not to give them more chaos in which to thrive. ...

Friday, August 22, 2003

PowerPoint Is Evil
Power Corrupts.
PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely.

By Edward Tufte

Imagine a widely used and expensive prescription drug that promised to make us beautiful but didn't. Instead the drug had frequent, serious side effects: It induced stupidity, turned everyone into bores, wasted time, and degraded the quality and credibility of communication. These side effects would rightly lead to a worldwide product recall.

Yet slideware -computer programs for presentations -is everywhere: in corporate America, in government bureaucracies, even in our schools. Several hundred million copies of Microsoft PowerPoint are churning out trillions of slides each year. Slideware may help speakers outline their talks, but convenience for the speaker can be punishing to both content and audience. The standard PowerPoint presentation elevates format over content, betraying an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch.

Of course, data-driven meetings are nothing new. Years before today's slideware, presentations at companies such as IBM and in the military used bullet lists shown by overhead projectors. But the format has become ubiquitous under PowerPoint, which was created in 1984 and later acquired by Microsoft. PowerPoint's pushy style seeks to set up a speaker's dominance over the audience. The speaker, after all, is making power points with bullets to followers. Could any metaphor be worse? Voicemail menu systems? Billboards? Television? Stalin?...

Bush's personal rule of law

By Nat Hentoff

Immediately after Tony Blair's soaring speech to Congress on July 17, the prime minister and the president were asked at a press conference about a rift between the two countries concerning whether two captured British citizens, imprisoned at Guantanamo, would be getting a fair trial under the prospective military tribunals at that American base. President Bush noted that he and Mr. Blair would address that issue, but then the president said, without qualification: "The only thing I know for certain is that these are bad people."

The president of the United States was, in effect, publicly prejudging the guilt of these defendants. It was like the trial in "Alice in Wonderland" when the Queen of Hearts insisted: "Sentence first — verdict afterwards." ...

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Terror's gains

REALITY HAS FINALLY caught up with rhetoric. Last winter the Bush administration wasted no opportunity to declare that Iraq posed a clear and present danger to America in part because it was in league with terrorists -- maybe even including al-Qaida. There wasn't much evidence for it then, but it made a handy hook to hang a war on.

There's more evidence now. Both Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez and civilian boss L. Paul Bremer III have said that some measure of the continuing trouble in Iraq is caused by foreign terrorists who appear to have al-Qaida behind them. Organizations linked to al-Qaida have been moving men into Iraq and stepping up activity there, they say.

Let's put it another way: Since the war, Iraq has started to look like a fertile ground for terrorists. The American invasion made this possible. The United States has created what it went to war to prevent. ...

...American tactics have so far produced unfortunate results: a major spike in Middle East instability and far more hostility toward the United States in the Muslim world than existed two years ago. It's time for a reality check; the invasion of Iraq may have gotten rid of an odious regime, but it was a setback, not a victory, in the war on terror.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Some Things in Common

Thursday, August 14, 2003
By Radley Balko

...Both former President Clinton and our current president also present a kind of philosophical paradox.

Each man commands huge support among his respective base. President Bush can count on strong support from conservatives in the election ahead, just as President Clinton didn’t need to worry about strays from the left in 1996 (unlike Al Gore (search), who lost disgruntled leftists to Ralph Nader (search)). Likewise, each man knows that about 15-20 percent of the electorate positively loathes him.

And yet neither really embraces policies that should inspire such vehement feelings from either side. President Clinton was a “triangulator.” (search ) He chose his policies carefully, so as not to upset the fat part of the philosophical bell curve. When his proposal for universal health care grew unpopular, he dropped it. He offended his gay supporters when he embraced “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He took on Sister Souljah (search).

President Bush, while promising not to “govern with polls” in the campaign, has done precisely that. Much as he is despised by the left, it is President Bush’s political strategist Karl Rove (search ) who prevents him from straying too far rightward. Consequently, the president has decided to postpone any serious discussion about Social Security reform (search) until his second term. Rather than veto a wasteful, gargantuan prescription drug benefit (search ) that pretty much everyone in Washington knows is doomed to failure, President Bush knows that seniors vote in droves, and so he has promised to sign it.

In fact, you could make a convincing case that President Clinton was in fact more conservative than President Bush has been so far, which makes the intense loyalists and detractors of each all the more perplexing.

On free trade, President Clinton wooed union leaders and union members while simultaneously opening huge new channels of free trade (through NAFTA (search) and GAT (search )), which unions vehemently opposed. President Bush talked free trade up in his campaign, but has largely been a disappointment, having signed a disastrous farm subsidies bill (search), and upheld protectionist tariffs (search) on steel, lumber, catfish and computer chips.

In his first two years in office, President Bush has increased federal spending (search) considerably more than President Clinton did in his first two years, even after adjusting for defense and homeland security.

President Bush talked much in his campaign about education choice (search ), but in the end, signed an education bill President Clinton would have been proud of -- one that increases, not decreases, federal involvement in primary and secondary schooling.

On civil liberties (search ), President Bush has certainly upheld his conservative credentials. But even here, it’s hard to see where he’s been that different than President Clinton. One can’t imagine former Attorney General Janet Reno (search) -- architect of the Waco (search) disaster -- showing any more post-Sept. 11 deference to the Bill of Rights (search) than Attorney General John Ashcroft (search) has.

Foreign policy? Both men dropped bombs on Iraq and Afghanistan. President Bush is about to send a “humanitarian” military mission into Liberia (search). President Clinton sent one into Somalia (search). Both were/are interventionists (search).

When President Bush’s father first ran for president in 1988, Democrat Ann Richards (search) delivered a famous (if borrowed) line at the convention of his opponent, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis (search ). Addressing feminist issues, Richards said, “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards, and in high heels.”

You might say that today, President Bush is doing many of the same things President Clinton did, only backwards, and in cowboy boots.

The neoconservative myth: Our values are universal
By George Will

...Disregard Blair's straw men: No one says Afghan women were "content," Saddam was "beloved" and Milosevic was a "savior." But Blair suggests that unless you believe such preposterous things, you surely believe that "freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law" are not exclusively Western values. But what does that mean?

Certainly not only Westerners value, or can come to value, those things. But certainly not everyone everywhere shares "our attachment to freedom." Freedom is not even understood the same way everywhere, let alone valued the same way relative to other political goods (equality, security, piety, etc.).

Does Blair believe that our attachment to freedom is not the product of complex and protracted acculturation by institutions and social mores that have evolved over centuries that prepared the social ground for seeds of democracy? When Blair says freedom as we understand it and democracy and the rule of law as we administer them are "the universal values of the human spirit," he is not speaking as America's founders spoke of "self-evident" truths. They meant truths obvious to all minds unclouded by superstition and other ignorance.

Blair seems to think Boston, Baghdad, Manchester, Monrovia - what's the difference? Such thinking is dangerous. Blair's argument is true only if it is trivial: "Ordinary" people choose freedom, democracy and the rule of law because those who do not so choose prove thereby that they are not ordinary....

...Blair's thinking is Bush's, too. "There is a value system that cannot be compromised, and that is the values we praise," says President Bush. "And if the values are good enough for our people, they ought to be good enough for others."

But one must compromise in the face of facts, those stubborn things. It is a fact that not everyone is inclined to praise "the values we praise." And not every society has the prerequisites - of institutions (political parties, media) and manners (civility, acceptance of pluralism) - of a free society.

Bush and Blair and many people called neoconservatives believe that moral objectives in politics are universally applicable imperatives. If so, then either national cultures do not significantly differ; or they do not matter; or they are infinitely malleable under the touch of enlightened reformers.

But all three propositions are false, and antithetical to all that conservatism teaches about the importance of cultural inertia and historical circumstances.

The premise that terrorism thrives where democracy doesn't may seem to generate a duty to universalize democracy. But it is axiomatic that one cannot have a duty to do something that cannot be done.

Notes From the Blackout
by Gene Callahan

Having just moved to Brooklyn, I was center stage for the "Blackout of '03." The most salient feature of the event here was how calm New York City was. People were wandering the streets of my neighborhood well after dark (and no, not in order to mug other people). Spontaneous street parties arose in a number of places. Everyone was talking to everyone else. Strangers would gather around someone on her stoop with a transistor radio or sitting in his car listening to the news. In Brooklyn, even traffic flowed smoothly. At busy intersections cars pulled to a stop on their own. One driver would wave the other through. People stopped for pedestrians at crosswalks without a traffic light or the threat of a ticket to make them do so. I heard of two minor incidents of looting, both in the worst neighborhood in the borough. One person in the city died as a result of the blackout… from a heart attack.

...Civil society, given a chance, works far better on its own than statists can conceive. The government sits atop it like a parasite, and is most often a major threat to its smooth functioning....

The Neoconservative Persuasion
From the August 25, 2003 issue: What it was, and what it is.
by Irving Kristol

...Viewed in this way, one can say that the historical task and political purpose of neoconservatism would seem to be this: to convert the Republican party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy. ...

...Its 20th-century heroes tend to be TR, FDR, and Ronald Reagan. Such Republican and conservative worthies as Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, and Barry Goldwater are politely overlooked. ...

This leads to the issue of the role of the state. Neocons do not like the concentration of services in the welfare state and are happy to study alternative ways of delivering these services. But they are impatient with the Hayekian notion that we are on "the road to serfdom." Neocons do not feel that kind of alarm or anxiety about the growth of the state in the past century, seeing it as natural, indeed inevitable. Because they tend to be more interested in history than economics or sociology, they know that the 19th-century idea, so neatly propounded by Herbert Spencer in his "The Man Versus the State," was a historical eccentricity. People have always preferred strong government to weak government, ....

...The upshot is a quite unexpected alliance between neocons, who include a fair proportion of secular intellectuals, and religious traditionalists. They are united on issues concerning the quality of education, the relations of church and state, the regulation of pornography, and the like, all of which they regard as proper candidates for the government's attention. And since the Republican party now has a substantial base among the religious, this gives neocons a certain influence and even power. ...

Sunday, August 17, 2003

RAZORMOUTH: Those World-Affirming Dudes
Reverend P. Andrew Sandlin

For the better part of my adult life, I've worked to recapture our culture for Jesus Christ. This is what the Center for Cultural Leadership is all about.

I've increasingly come to question the one-sidedness of Dick Weaver's book title-cum-aphorism, "Ideas Have Consequences." Well, true enough. But it must be wedded to an equally valid aphorism: "People Create Consequences." Ideas are not objective entities that float in midair—they have meaning only as they inhere in people. As John Lukacs reminds us, "[I]deas do not exist apart from the men and women who choose to represent and express them — and when." This is what Christian personalism is all about. God is a personal God, and we are personal beings. Neither he nor we are abstractions. And neither are ideas.

I've also increasingly come to realize that a narrow, legalistic, suspicious, conspiratorial, pharisaic and anorexic Christianity won't recapture our culture for the Lord. At the summer 2003 CCL Institute in Santa Cruz, Pastor Craig Dumont highlighted his talk with the aphorism "Christians need to quit fasting and start feasting." "The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children" (Matthew 11:19). It was the Pharisees, not our Lord, that espoused a narrow, separatist, world-denying religion; and our Lord reserved his severest denunciation for them. ...

...The Church as been infected from almost the start with ancient Greek heresies that saw earthly matter and the human body as sub-par and "spirit" alone as desirable. Under this sinister influence, some in the Church depicted the Faith as salvation from the human body and this world. Biblical Christianity - thank God! -- repudiated this heresy. Our Faith contends that only sin — not creation — is evil, and that this present world should be subordinated to Christ's authority. Sin, not God's world, is the problem. This is a cardinal tenet of RazorMouth.

New and Controversial
And we RazorMouth dudes aren't afraid of new and controversial ideas. After all, all ideas were new and controversial at one time (Jesus had a real problem with the conservatives of his day [Mt. 5:21, 27, 33, 38; 9:14-17]). While the unbelieving liberals bash our stodgy, orthodox theology, the unbending conservatives cringe at our bold, progressive practice. But we see no conflict between orthodox theology and progressive practice. Indeed, we believe the Bible demands the two. Why? If the Bible doesn't change, we must.

Some dyed-in-the-wool types gag at Joel's biblical argument for the legalization of drugs, Jamey Bennett's "happy hip-hop music group Royal Ruckus," Rod Martin's Mustang speeding convertible Republicanism, David Bahnsen's well-documented Contemporary Christian Music connection and tobacco penchant, and my own orthodox theological eclecticism. "Oh, deary, did you hear what those impudent boys are doing now? It's so much fun, it must be sin."

Dead wrong. We Christians alone have the right to have fun (Pr. 13:15).

We're robust, life-enjoying, world-affirming, culture-reclaiming Christians. We make no apology for this. We make apology only for our brothers that equate spirituality with solemnity, holiness with prohibition, and piety with boring sex.

The Method in the Madness
There's a method to this madness; it's not a show-off libertinism. But we're not afraid of the world, either. The bad guys in God's world should be afraid of us. They've stolen all the clean fun and perverted it for sinful purposes. (I think it was Larry Norman who once queried, "Why does the Devil have all the good music?") The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was not, contra Kevin Spacey's character in The Usual Suspects, convincing the world that he doesn't exist. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was to convince God's people that they have to be unhappy to be holy. That subtle deception undermines the entire Christian cultural enterprise — in other words, Christ's Lordship over all things. In other words, it's an implicit heresy.

The Devil's not so much afraid that we'll be worldly as he is that we'll be happy in the world.

RazorMouth wants to keep him very, very afraid.

We here know that Christians won't win back the culture by sad-sack "quiet times," funeral-dirge "worship services," fifth-rate apocalyptic fiction, tofu Sunday school socials, and Little House on the Prairie bonnets, but by boisterous invocations of the Almighty God, ear-blasting steel guitars, full-bodied Napa Merlots, exotic marital sex, and God-drenched avant-garde teenagers.

We won't win the culture until we get over being embarrassed by our robust, world-affirming Bible. Embarrassed by Song of Solomon's stunning eroticism. Embarrassed by Israel's worship dance and loud musical instruments. Embarrassed by Jesus' water-to-wine miracle (WWJD should really mean, "What Would Jesus Drink?")

In Dt. 26:10-11 we read:

And now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land, which thou, O LORD, hast given me. And thou shalt set it before the LORD thy God, and worship before the LORD thy God: And thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the LORD thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is among you.

"Thou shalt rejoice in every good thing." Not an option, mind you, but a command.

This is how our culture will be Christianized.

So crack open the Bible, fire up a Cohiba, mix the martinis, and crank up the latest Coldplay CD.

God sure is good. And the sooner our death-obsessed secular culture learns it, the sooner life-obsessed Christian culture will replace it.

Enjoying Wine
Douglas Jones

Wine is quite a miracle. It's something like the birth of a child. A man and woman mix and then create a being wholly distinct from themselves, yet with deep family traits—new and yet the same. A ripe grape contains two parts, unmarried—an interior sugar juice and an exterior skin full of yeast. But if you marry and mix these parts by crushing a grape, it will start toward creating wine, a third distinct thing, new and yet the same—a "wine that maketh glad the heart of man" (Ps. 104:15). In meditating on Christ's miracle of creating wine, Augustine lamented that we accept normal wine creation as any less miraculous, for even as water "turned into wine by the doing of the Lord, so in like manner also is what the clouds pour forth changed into wine by the doing of the same Lord. It has lost its marvellousness by its constant recurrence."...

...Enjoying wine involves experimenting with all its varieties, and the most interesting feature of enjoying wine is combining multiple senses—sight, smell, taste, and touch. We miss out on some of the best parts of wine if we concentrate only on the taste....

...Many books are commonly available which can provide much more depth. Christ created a high-quality wine, and so we should at least be able to tell the difference as we obey the divine command, "Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works" (Eccl. 9:7).

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Left Your Brain Behind

The "Left Behind" novels about Jesus' second coming have sold 60 million copies worldwide. All the more alarming, then, says Gareth Higgins, that they're full of fundamentalist paranoia.

I BECAME A CHRISTIAN because of the rapture. When a youth leader told my 12-year-old self that he would "stake his faith on it" that Jesus would soon return preceded by cars and planes crashing as the holy inhabitants were taken to heaven in a flash of light, it was only sensible to agree and take the red pill. It would have been rude to turn down the offer of eternal life for those who agreed, burning flesh for those who didn't.

After this seminal experience, I lived in fear of the future moment when all of us would meet our good Christian friends in the sky (and never asked who would be controlling the air traffic).

Thank God I found a way out. I began to doubt the end-times theories that flood so much of the institutional church because the people who seemed most concerned about them also appeared to be the most neurotic. Then I spent three years in doctoral research, examining people's end-times obsessions (which, of course, may reflect my own neuroses, but then, I have yet to meet a PhD candidate who isn't a little unhinged)....

Evangelical Extravaganza
Today's worshipers expect big budget performances.

It's August, which means, believe it or not, that First Baptist Church of Orlando is gearing up its yuletide worship extravaganza, "The Singing Christmas Trees." The staff and members of this populous church construct two five-story "trees" with hidden risers that hold a total of 350 singers, while an additional 200 people act and play instruments for the $250,000 production, which draws about 40,000 people during its annual eight-day run in December. That tally includes the handful of trombonists who fly in from England just to play.

Of course, "Trees" is going to have to be pretty spectacular to beat First Baptist's Easter-week production, "Portraits of Grace." That three-day affair features live "re-creations" of famous works of art and usually draws about 15,000 people. It culminates in worship services on Easter Sunday, when a 200-strong choir backs a dazzling presentation of soaring worship music featuring studio-level singers, graceful dancers, Hollywood-quality video clips and a march in which dozens of congregation members trace the aisles holding aloft colorful banners.

In the breathtaking finale, an actor portrays Christ at the Second Coming. Fifty feet above the stage, the huge Christ figure comes to life, aided by cloaked mechanical contraptions that allow his arms to support the sleeves of a 12-foot-long robe and optical illusions that add to the apparent enormousness, including a specially tilted stage and the use of small children in the roles of angels at his feet.....

Churches told to ditch 'Jesus on a cross' image

Churches are being urged to drop the image of the Crucifixion and instead highlight the social benefits of filling the pews in an effort to boost Sunday attendance.

Traditional approaches such as showing Jesus on the cross and Bible quotations are a turn-off to non-churchgoers, according to one of two suggested advertising campaigns drawn up by agencies.

Instead, advertisers say churches should highlight their community life, the chance to have a good sing, hear a good sermon and have a heart-to-heart chat.

Another separate campaign has advised that churches should target 30 to 40-somethings who have the trappings of success but feel there is something missing....

Friday, August 15, 2003

The Last Gasps of Literate Christianity

...My young friend was apparently suddenly struck by the oddity that the Bible played no real part in her life as a Christian. Yet she was not disturbed, but merely bemused. In other eras, this would have been a discovery of a flaw so significant it would have called into question one's entire claim of discipleship. Today, the observation probably never entered her mind again, and certainly my admonition concerning the importance of reading scripture did not make any alteration in her path. I have been telling Christians to be students of the Bible for almost 26 years, and it appears to me that very, very few take this as anything more than yada, yada, yada. Among many Christians, reading of any kind, including the Bible, is seen as a genuine evil. Bor-ing.

One reason my friend doesn't feel a gaping vacuum where the Bible should be is that she is stuffed full of Christian media of other types. She is a "fan" of contemporary Christian music, a medium that will never be faulted for being bashful in claiming that it contains all the essential vitamins and nutrients for healthy Christianity. Listening to the current crop of Christian alternative rockers, hip-hoppers and rappers, the average Christian young person gets a version of truth that looks something like this: God is my girlfriend, one for whom I have romantic feelings of constant warm fuzziness. He loves me like the ideal girlfriend, except he won't dump me or ask anything of me. There are no real moral issues or dilemmas that ought to rally my generation, other than we ought to love people and share Jesus with our friends. Staying on a buzz with the Holy Spirit is the real point of worship. Jesus is better than drugs, but only because he feels better. And so on...

Millions of Christians believe this silliness is spiritual nourishment and truth of a kind that makes the Bible practically unnecessary. Listening to interviews with Christian musicians, one can understand why former CCM artist Steve Camp roundly condemned the whole business as vacuous Chicken Soup for the Deceived Soul. My friend is nourished on a diet of junk food masquerading as meat and vegetables. The Bible has assumed the status of the founder of a college whose picture hangs in the wall, whose books are on the shelf, and who doesn't matter a bit in the day to day. She sees no connection between her relationship with God and reading the Bible.

Now many of my readers will recognize the utter corruption of CCM as one of my frequent sump topics, so I must do better. And I will. Let's talk about the Bible as used in preaching, and in evangelical churches in general.

We find ourselves at a place where Sunday morning finds evangelical Christians demanding and being fed "practical" messages. How to's. Principles for. Ten Ways to. How to succeed and make things work. I need not acquaint any reader of this journal with such preaching. We have all heard it ad nauseum. And, we have heard the Bible used in it. Yet I will contend that such preaching is the very death knell of Biblical literacy.

First, such sermons are not expositions of the Bible's message and claims, but typically quite secular fare where Bible verses and examples make "guest appearances" to set up or "prove" the principle under discussion. The listener knows no more about the Bible, or the God of the Bible after the sermon than before it. The referencing of the Bible as support for a talk that would be just as true without the Bible is a travesty masquerading as a sermon....

If It Looks Like an Evangelical Skunk....

(Or Why You Can Leave Me Behind Too)

by Michael Spencer

I think Jan Crouch's hair is the darnest thing since the Tower of Babel. I think Benny Hinn is sincere, but probably unstable. I think T.D. Jakes is preaching gnosticism. TBN in general convinces me television is utterly incompatible with Christianity. Most Contemporary Christian music makes me wish I was wandering in the Antarctic wastes. A tour through the Christian fiction section of my local Christian bookseller reveals enough mediocrity to fill a small country. Christian radio, for the most part, makes NPR look downright intelligent. Evangelical cinema is bad- just plain bad. The best Christian movie ever made- Chariots of Fire- was produced by a Muslim....

Evangelical Nuisances
The Last Word by Ole Anthony and Skippy R.
Issue #186, March/April 2003

Evangelicals are becoming a public nuisance.

Like the lowrider Chevy that pulls up next to you, rattling your windows with a hip-hop wall of decibels from Public Enemy, channeled through 800-watt amps that are meant to say, "I have ARRIVED, buddy, and whatever you're doing or thinking or listening to has got to give way to MY agenda."

Everybody hates those guys.

And everybody is starting to feel the same way about Christians.

The momentum has been growing for years. Back in the '90s, the book What America Believes asked the public to rank hundreds of societal groups.

Televangelists ranked next to last, beating out only drug dealers. Now a recent Barna poll reports the public image of evangelicals as a whole ranks next to last, beating out only prostitutes and just behind lesbians.

Of course, the world will always be offended by the true gospel. But that's not happening. Instead, people are being offended by the hypocrisy, self-importance and desperate sales gimmicks Christians display through their evangelistic efforts. The real gospel gets lost behind all the ear-splitting dissonance in the background.

So what do real missions and evangelism look like?

It might be easier to first explain what they're not.

* Televangelism is not evangelism. With its worldwide electronic reach, the cotton-candy gimme-gospel of the televangelists is what most people associate with the word "Christian." The name-it-and-claim-it, gain-is-godliness philosophy behind these programs is the opposite of the gospel Jesus expressed on the cross. This might fill stadiums, but so does Britney Spears.

* Motivational thinking and sales techniques cannot substitute for preaching the cross. Getting psyched up is not the same thing as zeal. You can't sell God the same way you sell cornflakes. In fact, motivational methododology might just be a way to disguise one's own lack of faith.

* Appeals to maximize self-interest won't bring anyone to faith in Christ. Parading happy, successful, celebrities and athletes to entice people to get what these people have will never bring anyone to face their own sinfulness....

Fundamentalism: A monumental waste of time
Mike Yaconelli

I recently gave a chapel talk at a conservative "Christian" college. I prefaced my remarks on the characteristics of a Christian in 1983 by mentioning what did not characterize Christians. I said that drinking, smoking, dancing, swearing and going to movies were not issues anymore. Many of the students interrupted with applause. Many of the administration and faculty did not applaud. In fact, I am now a persona non grata at that college. I have to admit I was surprised. I shouldn't have been because there is one thing that has always characterized fundamentalists - their obsession with drinking, smoking, dancing, swearing and movies. It is true of their churches and their schools. Card-carrying fundamentalists will not indulge in alcohol, the theater, smoking, dancing and using nasty words.

Of course, there are certain things that you can count on from non-fundamentalists as well. We always make fun of fundamentalists, especially their emphasis on the don'ts. And that is why I was surprised because I always make fun of them rather than take them seriously. I think it is time we non-fundies stopped laughing and started crying. I think it is time we take fundies seriously and call their bluff.

So here goes.

Not only are drinking, smoking, swearing, dancing and going to movies not issues…they simply do not matter. They matter to fundamentalists, of course, but to anyone else outside the church, they could care less whether we smoke or attend movies. Absolutely no one gives a tinker's damn whether I say "tinker's damn" or not. I can honestly say that after twenty-two years in the ministry, I have never met nor heard of anyone who said, "I was going to give my life to Christ until I saw you (pick one) a) dancing, b) smoking, c) drinking, d) coming out of a movie, e) swearing." I have had a number of fundamentalists suggest that my (pick one or all of the following) a) dancing, b) smoking, c) drinking, d) coming out of a movie, e) swearing was "causing them to stumble." That did bother me for awhile until I realized what they were saying was that my behavior bothered them. It made them upset. It wasn't, I discovered, causing them to question the validity of their was causing them to question the validity of mine.

The point of all this is to suggest that what the fundamentalists have been guilty of, more than anything else, is a monumental waste of time. Fundamentalists, because of their obsession with things that don't matter, have, in effect, made the Gospel irrelevant.....

Retreating into combat
P. Andrew Sandlin: Why cultural retreat will never work

A.W. Tozer, one of the most insightful Christian thinkers of the 20th century, once lamented that Christians have a habit of backing into their convictions. His point was that too many Bible-believers form their beliefs by reacting against some other beliefs. They believe and practice things not because they know them to be right, but because they are afraid not to. Like many of his other comments, it was scintillating.

Reaction is the soft underbelly of the conservative temperament. Conservatives have seen non-conservatives take the lead in Church, family, theology, society, and culture for so long, that all they can do is react -- never act . The other (bad) guys set the agenda, and we dutifully respond to it. We never make any gains, of course, because reaction never gains anything, except, perhaps, temporary protection. (As Winston Churchill wryly reminded his euphoric countrymen at the massive evacuation of Dunkirk, “Wars are not won by evacuations.”)

Today, whenever the non-conservatives bring up a creative (though usually deeply flawed) idea or program, a spate of conservative books and conferences normally ensues. “How are we going to deal with this?” When conservative theologians like John M. Frame write creative theology, or conservative pastors like Steve Schlissel preach creative sermons, or conservative itinerants like John Armstrong develop a creative ministry, they’re crucified by their deeply conservative fellows: “It’s new, and thus cannot be good.” (Jesus dealt with the same line of criticism.)...

Believe It, or Not

...The result is a gulf not only between America and the rest of the industrialized world, but a growing split at home as well. One of the most poisonous divides is the one between intellectual and religious America.

Some liberals wear T-shirts declaring, "So Many Right-Wing Christians . . . So Few Lions." On the other side, there are attitudes like those on a Web site,, explaining the 2000 election this way:

"God defeated armies of Philistines and others with confusion. Dimpled and hanging chads may also be because of God's intervention on those who were voting incorrectly. Why is GW Bush our president? It was God's choice."...

... But mostly, I'm troubled by the way the great intellectual traditions of Catholic and Protestant churches alike are withering, leaving the scholarly and religious worlds increasingly antagonistic. I worry partly because of the time I've spent with self-satisfied and unquestioning mullahs and imams, for the Islamic world is in crisis today in large part because of a similar drift away from a rich intellectual tradition and toward the mystical. The heart is a wonderful organ, but so is the brain.

Whence Wine?
Blending chemistry and archaeology, a researcher tracks the origins of grape fermentation


...This fall Princeton University Press will publish Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture, which details Mr. McGovern's sleuthing through the ages for clues to how people began fermenting grapes. In the book, he provides the first reports on both the Chinese and the Georgian finds, which together document that people started their love affair with wine at least as far back as the beginning of the Neolithic era, near the dawn of agriculture and before the emergence of the first cities. "The history of civilization, in many ways," he writes, "is the history of wine."

It's a heady claim, but one that other archaeologists are ready to toast. "Food and drink are at the center of human existence. That's why this research is so important," says Brian Fagan, an emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

"Wine is all sorts of things. It's a means of social interaction. It's a means of entertaining people. It's a political currency. It's a commercial currency. It's used to seal deals," says Mr. Fagan, who calls Mr. McGovern the world's authority on ancient wines....

Turning lawyers into government spies
Paul Craig Roberts

When will the first lawyer be arrested, indicted and sent to prison for failing to help the government convict his client? You can bet it will be soon. Once the Securities and Exchange Commission, Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Department of Justice (sic) complete their assault on the attorney-client privilege, they will rush to make an example of a lawyer, lest any fail to understand that their new role in life is to serve as government informants on their clients.

Just as government bureaucrats used the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 to assault the Bill of Rights and our constitutional protections, they are now using "accounting scandals" and "tax evasion" to assault the attorney-client privilege, a key component of the Anglo-American legal system that enables a defendant, whether guilty or innocent, to mount a defense against the overwhelming power of the state. ...

...In our days, the Benthamite attack on the attorney-client privilege was revived by Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Gerson, who declared the 400-member prominent law firm of Kaye, Scholer "an abettor of crime" for not ratting on its client, Lincoln S&L owner Charles Keating. The government froze the assets of the law firm and the personal assets of the 400 partners, an action that coerced the firm and its partners to hand over a $41 million ransom payment to the government.

Fierce opposition from bar associations and legal authorities could not prevent the government from succeeding in this act of robber barony, despite the fact that Keating had not gone to trial or been convicted of any offense. The law firm was robbed for abetting a crime that had not been tried or proven. ...

Thursday, August 14, 2003

One of the annoying things about believing in free will and individual responsibility is the difficulty of finding somebody to blame your problems on. And when you do find somebody, it's remarkable how often his picture turns up on your driver's license.
-- P.J. O'Rourke

Propaganda: Did Goebbells Write The Bush Administrations speeches?

From an address to a joint session of the US Congress: President George W. Bush.

"Americans are asking ``Why do they hate us?'' They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other. " George W. Bush, 20 September, 2001

From Goebbels' New Year address to Germany

They hate our people because it is decent, brave, industrious, hardworking and intelligent. They hate our views, our social policies, and our accomplishments. They hate us as a Reich and as a community. They have forced us into a struggle for life and death. We will defend ourselves accordingly. All is clear between us and our enemies. Goebbels 31 December 1939


Tempest in a Coffeepot
Starbucks invades the world.

...What those worried about monoculture really fear is cross-cultural contamination: the dilution of foreign cultures by contact with America. But no culture is truly indigenous or untouched by others. Starbucks itself is an American repackaging of Italian coffee culture. The chain was originally indistinguishable from any other coffee shop. But in 1983 Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz (then head of marketing) took a business trip to Milan and was blown away by the grace and style -- not to mention the coffee -- of the city’s 1,500 espresso bars.

Schultz eventually differentiated Starbucks from other American coffeehouses by modeling it on his Italian experience, with certain modifications to suit American tastes. These include chairs for loitering, jazz overhead instead of opera, and an Italian-sounding nonsense language (such as "frappuccino" and "tazo tea") that one ex-Starbucks exec freely admits was concocted in a boardroom. This just adds another stage in the international epic of coffee drinking: Starbucks customers, whether in Zurich or Beirut, are drinking an American version of an Italian evolution of a beverage invented by Arabs brewed from a bean discovered by Africans....

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

My wife and I visited a small storefront church Sunday. We sat in the back, which I guess was the visitor area by the looks of the people around us. I could tell the woman sitting alone next to me wasn't a Christian: She had a bewildered look during worship; she didn't really know when to sit and stand during the service; and she embarrassingly whispered to me when the pastor referenced a scripture that she didn't "have a book." I shared mine so she could follow along.

Back to the story. Toward the end of the hour-long worship time, there was a moment of stillness in the service. That's when, THUD, the girl sitting behind us fainted. It wasn't anything spiritual รข€” we later found out she had skipped breakfast and was prone to these things. But as the girl hit the floor and started to convulse, the lady next to me shouted, "Somebody's fainted! Call 911!" A crowd gathered and gawked, not knowing what to do, so she pleaded again: "Somebody call 911!"

Long story short, a couple minutes later the girl came to and, with a little juice, was fine. But the pastor took what had just occurred as an opportunity to soapbox. "Whoever it was that called for 911 needed to repent for a lack of faith!" "911 is for doubters!" "Real Christians don't need 911, they only need the Holy Ghost!" "Somebody in this church needs to repent this morning!"...

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

today’s christian culture denies
the inherent goodness of creation.

Christians no longer affirm the basic goodness of God’s Creation. We are often discouraged or forbidden from enjoying things God has placed in this world for our pleasure. Things that satisfy

our tastes (like wine, foods);
our bodies (like marital sexuality);
our eyes (the visual arts, fashion design);
our minds (philosophy, literature);

using them appropriately, as the Bible instructs us.

Having embraced a kind of “ Gnostic-dualism ,” Christians today have forgotten that the Holy Spirit comes, in sanctifying power, to war against what we are as sinners — the consequences of our moral rebellion against God — not what we are as human beings, created in the image of God.

Take very careful note of that distinction.

Today’s Christian Culture, in forbidding or discouraging the appropriate use of things God has given us to enjoy freely, is guilty of legislating a morality that is largely rooted in cultural taboos.

This type of legalism is not Christian — to forbid eating certain foods, drinking alcoholic beverages, enjoying marital sexuality, listening to “secular” music, reading literature and philosophy, engaging in other supposedly "unspiritual" activities — although it claims to be so. The Bible alone must rule the conscience of any Christian. To legislate where God has granted freedom is damnable.

In fact, Paul calls it "the teaching of demons" in 1 Timothy 4:1

As Jerram Barr notes, "God has created us to really enjoy life." That means that we are at liberty to enjoy "the things of this life" — what God has made. But in every age there are certain "religious types" who seem to shutter at that thought. And for the last few generations of "evangelical, Bible-belieiving" Christians, they have held our fellowships captive — disrupting the unity of the Spirit and breaking the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1ff.)....

Souls on Ice
Kirk Cameron, lefties and the politics of self-hatred.

It’s a Wednesday, and I’m at Six Flags Darien Lake, your typical vast concrete amusement paradise in the middle of nowhere, this particular nowhere being a spot in Western New York not far—geographically or spiritually—from Attica. I’m there attending a special event: a Christian youth rally called "Kingdom Bound."

The vast park grounds are teeming with pale, pear-shaped Believers, people in ketchup-stained 4XL t-shirts that say things like "Jesus: the original blood donor" and "Satan is a nerd." Trying to keep a low profile, I’m sitting on the ground in a place designated on the park map as the "Worship Tent."

The speaker looming above me on the podium is Kirk Cameron, the former teen star of Growing Pains. Wide-eyed and dressed like a Gap model, he is talking in the cheery voice of his sitcom alter ego, Mike Seaver, about Hell and eternal conflagration.

Cameron is a hardcore fire-and-brimstone type, only with the delivery of Tony Robbins. Ecumenically, he makes Chuck Colson look like Mr. Rogers. His pet idea is that evangelicals in the past hundred years have concentrated too much on trying to convince people that turning to God will improve their lives, give them peace of mind, etc. He believes that the fear-of-eternal-torment aspect is the much more fruitful strategy. Thus he is inclined to metaphors like: God as a parachute that one wears not to improve one’s flight, but because…

"You might fall 25,000 feet to the Earth at any moment, and PERISH!!!" he shrieked, his eyes filled with what looked like real human fear at the idea.

As he spoke, a giant screen behind him lit up. The apocalyptic message read, in fat white letters against a neon blue background:


On drugs, I would not have been able to handle this scene.....

$20,000 bonus to official who agreed on nuke claim

By Paul Sperry
© 2003

WASHINGTON – A former Energy Department intelligence chief who agreed with the White House claim that Iraq had reconstituted its defunct nuclear-arms program was awarded a total of $20,500 in bonuses during the build-up to the war, WorldNetDaily has learned.

Thomas Rider, as acting director of Energy's intelligence office, overruled senior intelligence officers on his staff in voting for the position at a National Foreign Intelligence Board meeting at CIA headquarters last September.

His officers argued at a pre-briefing at Energy headquarters that there was no hard evidence to support the alarming Iraq nuclear charge, and asked to join State Department's dissenting opinion, Energy officials say.

Rider ordered them to "shut up and sit down," according to sources familiar with the meeting.

As a result, State was the intelligence community's lone dissenter in the key National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, something the Bush administration is quick to remind critics of its prewar intelligence....

Rally 'Round the Flag
Check out this telling graphic of President Bush's poll numbers since taking office. You really don't even need the dates at the bottom to find a) September 11, and, b) when we invaded Iraq....

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Are We Afriad of Leisure?
Jerram Barrs

...Many non-Christians and perhaps some Christians have a fear that Christianity is only very sober and somber, and suspicious of fun, delight, and lightheartedness. As we think about this unwholesome approach to life, we recognize several ways in which unbiblical thinking has affected Christians.

First, there is a tradition of asceticism which is part of our Christian history. Asceticism tells us that there is no room to enjoy life in this world. Any of the pleasures of human existence are suspect–physical pleasures, the pleasures of family life, of creation, the arts, music, and entertainment. Asceticism says that all the Christian should be concerned about is his or her spiritual growth in relationship to God. It was thought that the purely committed believer ought to be one whose heart and soul were so entirely committed to God that nothing else really mattered at all. Life itself was problematic and seen as a kind of distraction.

All of us have heard sermons or talks, or have read books about the Christian faith which have moved in that direction. There is a kind of evangelical form of asceticism: that if I start enjoying things around me I am in danger of damaging my soul. The idea is that anything one really enjoys is suspect.

Another problem which we have in our Christian background is the thinking that especially physical pleasures are a cause of sin. They are seen as fleshy, worldly temptations that will arouse the sinful desire of our hearts and turn us away from the service of God. So whether we view the physical as just an insignificant distraction, or think that life around us is actually a temptation toward sin, either approach will have dramatic effects on how we think about our lives. There is a hymn with a familiar refrain which lilts that as we “turn our eyes upon Jesus... the things of the earth will grow strangely dim.” Many of us are touched by this particular refrain, but how do we understand such a hymn? Do we really understand it to mean that if we love Christ with a whole heart everything else around will become unimportant and somehow dim to us? Do these words reflect for us a Biblical understanding of spirituality? Is there something really wrong with clearly seeing a sunset and thoroughly enjoying it? ...

David Lloyd George Dubya

...I'll start off with a polemic cunningly disguised as a book recommendation. David Fromkin's book A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East is a meticulously and brilliantly told tale, a great work of popular history. It is also a primer on a historical episode with which everyone in the Iraq debate should be familiar: the period following the First World War during which the British Empire redrew the map of the Arab world.

...This is the story: a great empire, the strongest military power in the world following the defeat of its principal competitor, decides to take over the Middle East and modernize it by force. The empire's motivations are complex: grand dreams of altruistic uplift, long-term security concerns, and craven resource-grabbing all mixed together. Hopeful speeches are given about democratization, reconciliation, liberation. Pious assurances are made about respecting the interests of all ethnic groups and creating an environment in which all can live in peace. At the same time, there is condescending talk about the failure of Islamic culture, the inability of Arabs to govern themselves, the need for friendly rulers who will keep their countries on the approved path.

The overthrow of the tyrannical rulers of Mesopotamia turns into a costly and bitterly resented occupation. Tribal revolts wear down the occupiers; they respond with brutality that only creates more resentment. The empire grows exhausted. For all its wealth and power, it is stretched thin; it has too many overseas commitments for its shrinking army and shaky treasury to support. The traditional liberties the homeland once enjoyed are worn down by the demands of war. The empire slides toward socialism at home even as it struggles to hold on abroad. In the end, it leaves the Arabs fractured and downtrodden, ruled by puppet kings, and thereby lays the foundation for even more hatred of the West.

Sound familiar?


..."The divorce rate among atheists and agnostics in the United States is below that of almost every Protestant church," he said. "In 1999, pollster George Barna asked couples if they had ever been divorced. Catholic and Lutheran churches tied at 21%, mainline Protestants were at 25%, and 29% of Baptist and 34% of nondenominational Christians had been divorced. Only the Lutherans and Catholics are lower than the atheists."...

When authorities warn you of the sinfulness of sex, there is an important lesson to be learned. Do not have sex with the authorities.
-- Matt Groening

More from the Internet Monk
OK. This has been in the oven for months now, and I need to get it out and serve up the meal. (BTW- where are my recipes for using the Guinness extra stout?) I don't like this. It's an article about Southern Baptist couples who are abstaining from almost all physical contanct until they are married. It bothers me.

Now I am not ignorant of this. Far from it. I have observed couples making these types of vows since the early 1980's. There is a thriving chapter of this kind of thinking among good friends of mine. But here is the problem I am having. You are doing something scripture doesn't command, particularly an abstention- "don't ever kiss"- and you are making it into something spiritual A spiritual achievement. Some kind of advanced purity. Gack....

Simon Parke: Why, after 20 years as a priest, I am leaving the Church of England
The Pharisees are running the asylum because they are rich and the Church of England is bankrupt
10 August 2003

So there it is. After 20 years as a priest I am leaving the Church of England. It has been painful for me, saying goodbye to this strange, privileged, dog-collared, crucifying existence, for which the pay is £16,000 a year with a big, rent-free house. Ministry, like plastering a wall or bringing up a child, is an art form involving the constant adaption of the vision to the less than perfect reality.

...One thing we must understand about the Church of England is this: the Pharisees, known today as the evangelicals, are running the asylum. These are worthy people, but they hide behind rules, unable to cope with mystery and spirit. They look in the book of Leviticus and see clear denunciations of same-sex relationships; they read verses in Paul's Letter to the Romans talking about "unnatural relationships". There is, in this psyche, a deep desire for issues to be black and white, fenced in, particularly in the tumultuous sphere of sex.

The Pharisees added more than 600 rules to the spiritual life in order to protect the original Ten Commandments. Christ, however, had a different approach. Rather than add, he subtracted, leaving two guides to life: to worship God and to love others....

...This is a crisis, and so, like New Labour, the church leadership is attracted to anyone with cash. So, with their large congregations around Bromley and beyond, and their success-driven, clean-cut, pre-packaged, winner-takes-all salvation, the evangelicals wield huge financial clout. And so it is that authorities which really should know better pay great honour to them in public, and feel their balls squeezed by them in private....

...What the church needs to do amid its activist, middle-management new culture, with its audits, action plans, consultation documents, appraisals, questionnaires and targets, is recover its contemplative heart....

School Board member tells Slay he is cursed

St. Louis School Board member Rochell Moore fired off a cryptic letter Tuesday to Mayor Francis Slay, saying he is "cursed with a curse" of biblical proportions for interfering with the city school district.

Moore - who distributed her letter to area news media - also accuses the mayor of participating in a conspiracy that she said landed her in a psychiatric unit last year.

The letter consists almost entirely of a passage in Deuteronomy in which Moses spells out the calamities that would attend the Israelites if they strayed from God. ...

Monday, August 11, 2003

Just follow the link, I can't do it justice

New Euro law could make criminals of us all
Rupert Goodwins

August 05, 2003, 10:00 BST

Welcome, European citizen, to a new world of criminality -- a world where you’re the star. The IP Enforcement Directive, a proposed new law from the EU, has been attracting some attention from the usual quarters. In particular, the sainted Ross Anderson of Cambridge University has rolled out a masterly analysis of the threat to many of our accepted civil liberties and commercial freedoms. Yet even a cursory readthrough reveals much to be worried about. ...

...You want to change the tyres on your 2006 model Ford Prefect? Anything other than genuine Ford tyres -- with the genuine Ford ID chip -- will disable your car. Your Sony MP3-playing nasal hair trimmer will only work with genuine Sony batteries: don’t even think about trying to make alternatives, because that’ll make you a criminal. And no, you can’t buy those jeans -- the RFID chip in the label says they’re only for sale in America. By the way, the same RFID chips on the clothes you are allowed to buy may well be radiating all manner of things about your location: you’re not allowed to find out for yourself, as possession of an unlicensed receiver is a criminal act....

This is getting a bit obvious:

Attorney General John Ashcroft is hitting the road to rally support for the Victory Act, which would further expand his powers to go after Al Qaeda and narcoterrorists, the Daily News has learned.

...Winston sat in his usual corner, gazing into an empty glass. Now and again he glanced up at a vast face which eyed him from the opposite wall. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption said. Unbidden, a waiter came and filled his glass up with Victory Gin ....
-- George Orwell

Sunday, August 10, 2003

'Bring us home': GIs flood US with war-weary emails

An unprecedented internet campaign waged on the frontline and in the US is exposing the real risks for troops in Iraq. Paul Harris and Jonathan Franklin report on rising fears that the conflict is now a desert Vietnam

Sunday August 10, 2003
The Observer

Susan Schuman is angry. Her GI son is serving in the Iraqi town of Samarra, at the heart of the 'Sunni triangle', where American troops are killed with grim regularity.
Breaking the traditional silence of military families during time of war, Schuman knows what she wants - and who she blames for the danger to her son, Justin. 'I want them to bring our troops home. I am appalled at Bush's policies. He has got us into a terrible mess,' she said.

Schuman may just be the tip of an iceberg. She lives in Shelburne Falls, a small town in Massachusetts, and says all her neighbours support her view. 'I don't know anyone around here who disagrees with me,' she said.

Schuman's views are part of a growing unease back home at the rising casualty rate in Iraq, a concern coupled with deep anger at President George W. Bush's plans to cut army benefits for many soldiers. Criticism is also coming directly from soldiers risking their lives under the guns of Saddam Hussein's fighters, and they are using a weapon not available to troops in previous wars: the internet. ...

Friday, August 08, 2003

Checkpoints phony, but arrests real
Ruse targets drugs, raises legal questions

By Tom Spalding
August 8, 2003

Police have begun pretending to use illegal checkpoints in an effort to flush out people carrying drugs, a tactic that is drawing attention from the state's top civil liberties group.

A fake checkpoint went up Wednesday and Thursday on southbound I-65 near the Marion County line on the Northwestside, netting at least one driver who police said had marijuana.

A multiagency law enforcement team set it up so that any drivers hoping to avoid the bogus checkpoint must make an illegal U-turn or try to make an unsafe exit. Either way, officers stand ready to pull them over.

...But the approach bothered John Krull, executive director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union.

"What they're threatening to do is something illegal, in the hopes of pushing people to do an illegal activity," Krull said. "Obviously, I'd like to see our legal staff take a look. It might meet the letter of law, but it clearly violates the spirit."

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that drunken-driving roadblocks and random drug testing are allowed under the U.S. Constitution. But three years ago, the country's highest court, ruling in an Indianapolis case, refused to expand those roadblocks to include random checks for drugs....