Wednesday, December 31, 2003

What Is It About W?
I actually sat through the Bush press conference yesterday. The experience reminded me in some ways of that November night in 1972 when Richard Nixon's disfigured face appeared on the television to gloat about his trouncing of the honorable George McGovern.

Bush exhibited the same intense disdain for the press as he called reporters by their last names and facetiously accused David Gregory of "stealing" the White House silver. There was that same curious combination, exposed by tone of voice and body language, of a President who is both arrogant and insecure as he struggled twice to retrieve the word "commensurate" when his brain kept delivering "commiserate." When his mind failed him, he thought a weak bluff would suffice given the power bestowed upon him by his name, his office and augmented by the momentary boost provided by the capture of family enemy Saddam.

Yet Bush is anything but another Nixon. Nixon was shaped by the poverty of his family and his sheer physical unattractiveness so that he viewed the world, even when he became President, from the perspective of a fearful outsider. He believed that the power of his intellect and ruthless guile could compensate for his deficiencies and enable him to overcome the advantages wrought by wealth and beauty in American culture.

Bush represents all that Nixon struggled against. Where Nixon was always articulate when discussing even the most complex foreign or domestic issues, Bush ventures into uncharted territory when he dares to use words of more than two syllables. Where Nixon's every mistake threatened to cast him into outer darkness, Bush has failed over and over again in life only to be rescued by his powerful family and its friends. Where Nixon learned about the hardships of life in the pre-New Deal capitalist America, Bush has always enjoyed the advantages bestowed upon the born-rich....

Hawks tell Bush how to win war on terror
President George W Bush was sent a public manifesto yesterday by Washington's hawks, demanding regime change in Syria and Iran and a Cuba-style military blockade of North Korea backed by planning for a pre-emptive strike on its nuclear sites.

The manifesto, presented as a "manual for victory" in the war on terror, also calls for Saudi Arabia and France to be treated not as allies but as rivals and possibly enemies....

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

U.S. to Hussein: WMD A-OK
Sometimes democracy works. Though the wheels of accountability often grind slowly, they also can grind fine, if lubricated by the hard work of free-thinking citizens. The latest example: the release of official documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, that detail how the U.S. government under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush nurtured and supported Saddam Hussein despite his repeated use of chemical weapons.

The work of the National Security Archive, a dogged organization fighting for government transparency, has cast light on the trove of documents that depict in damning detail how the United States, working with U.S. corporations including Bechtel, cynically and secretly allied itself with Hussein's dictatorship. The evidence undermines the unctuous moral superiority with which the current American president, media and public now judge Hussein, a monster the U.S. actively helped create. ...

...It was Rumsfeld and Shultz who told Hussein and his emissaries that U.S. statements generally condemning the use of chemical weapons would not interfere with relations between secular Iraq and the Reagan administration, which took Iraq off the terrorist-nations list and embraced Hussein as a bulwark against fundamentalist Iran. Ironically, the U.S supported Iraq when it possessed and used weapons of mass destruction and invaded it when it didn't.

It was 20 years ago when Shultz dropped in on a State Department meeting between his top aide and a high-ranking Hussein emissary. Back then the Iraqis, who were fighting a war with Iran, were our new best friends in the Mideast. Shultz wanted to make it crystal clear that U.S. criticism of the use of chemical weapons was just pablum for public consumption, meant as a restatement of a "long-standing policy, and not as a pro-Iranian/anti-Iraqi gesture," as State's Lawrence S. Eagleburger told Hussein's emissary. "Our desire and our actions to prevent an Iranian victory and to continue the progress of our bilateral relations remain undiminished," Eagleburger continued, according to the then highly classified transcript of the meeting.

The Shultz/Eagleburger meeting took place between two crucial visits by Rumsfeld, acting as a Reagan emissary, to Hussein to offer unconditional support for the Iraqi leader in his war with Iran. ...

Cohabiting boosts men's mental health
Cohabiting is better for men's mental health, but marriage is better for women's happiness, suggests a new study.

The study of nearly 4,500 men and women in the UK also reveals that men and women who stick with their first enduring relationship enjoy good mental health.

However, where men recover from serial break-ups, women fare much worse. In fact it may be much better for a woman's mental health to stay single than to have loved and lost, suggests the study by Michaela Benzeval at Queen Mary, University of London and colleagues....

How three threats interlock
CANBERRA Three minority extremist groups - the militant fundamentalist Islamists exemplified at the far edge by Al Qaeda, certain activist elements among America's reborn Christians and neoconservatives, and the most inflexible hard-line Zionists from Israel - have emerged as dangerously destabilizing actors in world politics. Working perversely to reinforce each other's ideological excesses, they have managed to drown out mainstream voices from all sides. Each has the aim of changing the world according to its own individual vision.

If these extremists are not marginalized, they could succeed in creating a world order with devastating consequences for generations to come. ...

...With considerable help, intended or not, from one another, these three groups have now positioned themselves to determine the future of world order and, for that matter, humanity. Prime Minister Tony Blair recently declared that Iraq would define the future of relations between the West and the Muslim world. This is also precisely what Osama Bin Laden and his leadership associates have said from the Islamic side. It is important that these minorities not be allowed to have such an influence. It is necessary for the mainstream from all sides to return to the center stage to chart the direction of world politics before it is too late....

The War Party Versus Global Capitalism
If anti-globalization radicals really want to tear down the world capitalist system they might want to go door-to-door next year on behalf of incumbent U.S. president, George W. Bush.

While Bush brags about his business experience and identifies with the interests of wealthy US capitalists, a continuation of the policies he has pursued since Sept. 11, 2001 threatens not only the US economy, whose ballooning defense-driven federal deficit risks a potentially disastrous collapse of the dollar.

But his insistence on effectively exempting the United States from the rule of international law – commercial as well as human rights law – also threatens the very foundation of the multilateral economic system under which global corporate capitalism has prospered for more than 50 years, according to a growing number of economic analysts.

For multinational corporations, which act as both the chief engines and beneficiaries of the global system, the rule of law provides the predictability they need to make investment decisions. Without it, countries find it much more difficult to attract capital and benefit from global trade and investment regimes....

...The danger is that once the US brazenly departs from international treaties, it invites widespread cynicism about all global agreements and opens the door to other nations' flaunting them too," Garten argued at the time.

Unconstrained either by Congress, the UN Security Council or the captains of finance and industry, Bush went to war, fueling a new round of warnings.

"Uncertainty is anathema to investment and growth," wrote Business Week editorial page editor Bruce Nussbaum as US troops crossed into Iraq from Kuwait, noting that the war's possible consequences, as well as the flaunting of international law, posed serious threats to global confidence.

"Chief executives are beginning to worry that globalization may not be compatible with a foreign policy of unilateral preemption," he went on.

"US corporations may soon find it more difficult to function in a multilateral economic arena when their overseas business partners and governments perceive America to be acting outside the bounds of international law and institutions." ...

..."American imperialism is, by definition, a retreat away from global capitalism, a retreat from the invisible hand of markets in favor of a more dominant role for the visible fist of governments," argued Paul McCulley, a managing director of PIMCO, the world's largest bond investment fund. ...

Ben Merkle

As Melville put it-"The world's a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow." This quote descibes wonderfully how feminism ruined beer. Our culture is lead by its pulpits. As the preachers of Christianity became emasculated, our culture was dragged into effeminacy. Part of this trend in our culture is reflected in the destruction of our beer. ...

...During the early twentieth century, the fight for a dry country and the fight for women's suffrage went hand in hand. The following lines from a prohibition-era song demonstrate this: "But if the men can't drive it out we'll call for women voters; they'll scrub out the nation's barber shop with all the whiskey bloaters. When we get women voters, good-by to beerkeg toters. O-ho! O-ho! When we get women voters."

In order to drive out the sins of America, what we needed was women voters! Many of the prohibition songs display this presumption that the sanctifying influence in this world was femininity. "'Twas near the hour of midnight, two lovers loitered late. The moon hung o'er the city, while they hung o'er the gate. And as he stooped to kiss her, his arm around her belt, an odor strong of liquor then suddenly she smelt. In vain he did deny it, then vowed he'd drink no more; When she replied, sarcastic, `I've heard such talk before.' How often, O how often, he begged, and then did sigh; how often, O how often he listened for reply. At last, in desperation, he swore that he would quit; but in the moonlight tender, she simply said, `You git.'"

Prohibition was simply applied feminism, and the passing of the eighteenth amendment was feminism victorious....

Monday, December 29, 2003

Bible Belt missionaries set out on a 'war for souls' in Iraq
American Christian missionaries have declared a "war for souls" in Iraq, telling supporters that the formal end of the US-led occupation next June will close an historic "window of opportunity".

Organising in secrecy, and emphasising their humanitarian aid work, Christian groups are pouring into the country, which is 97 per cent Muslim, bearing Arabic Bibles, videos and religious tracts designed to "save" Muslims from their "false" religion....

...Jerry Vines, former head of the Southern Baptist Convention, has described the Prophet Mohammed as a "demon-obsessed paedophile". Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham and the head of Samaritan's Purse, a big donor to Iraq, has described Islam as a "very evil and wicked religion".

The missionaries pose a dilemma for President George W Bush. He has reached out to Muslims since September 11, shrugging off criticism from evangelicals to describe Islam as "peaceful". But Christian conservatives are also a key Bush constituency: Franklin Graham delivered the invocation prayer at his presidential inauguration....

...Mr Hanna concluded: "The Muslim religion is an antichrist religion." Later Mr Hanna asked to retract that choice of words. "Without the reader hearing my voice and looking into my eyes as I made that statement, it would be easy for certain readers to feel personally attacked and be offended," Mr Hanna wrote by email. "That would be unfruitful."

He rejected the suggestion that aid work was a "cover" for missionary work, preferring to call it a "conduit for sharing the gospel of Jesus. Christians are commanded to minister to the hungry, but also to the hunger of the spirit. It can't be separated," he said.

In public, the largest groups put the emphasis on their delivery of food parcels and their medical work. However, their internal fund-raising materials emphasise mission work. One IMB bulletin reported aid workers handing out copies of the New Testament and praying with Muslim recipients. Another bulletin said Iraqis understood "who was bringing the food . . . it was the Christians from America."...

...Mr Hanna said he encountered friendly curiosity, with noisy crowds gathering to take his group's tracts. "Maybe 10 per cent were hostile." He was one of 21 on his mission including Jackie Cone, 72, a Pentecostalist grandmother from Ohio who said God had told her to join a second mission planned for next year. "I sensed Him telling me to come back in January," she said.

Mrs Cone is confident she made converts in Baghdad. In her hotel she met a Muslim woman on crutches with a leg operation due that day. Mrs Cone knelt on the lobby floor and prayed that surgery would not be required.

"I saw her that evening and she said God had healed her, and she hadn't needed the surgery. She didn't say Allah, she pointed to Heaven and gave God the glory," she said....

US rubbishes Blair's WMD claim
"Massive evidence of laboratories" dismissed as red herring

TONY Blair is facing severe embarrassment after the US official running Iraq dismissed his claims that "massive evidence" of weapons programmes had been found in the country as a "red herring".

Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, has recorded an interview for broadcast this morning, in which he was unaware the claims were from the Prime Minister, when he described them as unfounded and the work of someone trying to undermine the US-led coalition in Iraq....

...Bremer’s comments have been recorded for ITV's Jonathan Dimbleby programme to be broadcast this morning. The presenter put to the US administrator the claim that the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) had unearthed "massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories". The claim went on to say that Saddam Hussein had attempted to "conceal weapons".

That was in Blair’s Christmas message to British troops in Iraq. But without being told whose claim it was, Bremer responded that the claim was not true and did not square with the survey reports he had seen. "I don’t know where those words come from but that is not what [ISG chief] David Kay has said," said Bremer. "It sounds like a bit of a red herring to me. It sounds like someone who doesn’t agree with the policy sets up a red herring, then knocks it down."...

Tom Wright: It's not a question of left and right, says the combative priest who opposes the war in Iraq and gay bishops
The Monday Interview: The bishop of Durham

...In a Christmas Day sermon, which was broadcast nationwide by Radio 4, the man who is now the fourth most important bishop in the Church of England (he comes after Canterbury, York and London in precedence) launched a thinly-veiled attack over the war in Iraq on Tony Blair and George Bush as people who "still invoke Jesus to support plans that look much more like those of Augustus", the imperial power of Christ's day.

He also criticised Israel's "savage" policies towards the Palestinians, even quoting the words of the Jewish prophet Isaiah about "God himself fighting on the wrong side".

On Christmas Eve, in an article in The Independent, he took a withering sideswipe at "so many of last generation's theologians", including presumably his famous predecessor at Durham, Dr David Jenkins, who were eager to reduce the Christmas story to the status of a myth. That morning, on the Today programme, he locked horns with the leading Jewish scholar, Geza Vermes, on the significance of Jesus's Jewishness. And on the same day, writing in The Times, he launched a full-frontal assault on what he calls the "shrill secularists" who every year "discover" Christmas is "really" an ancient pagan festival in an attempt to cut Christianity down to size and screen out its revolutionary political implications.

As well as all that, Dr Wright is one of the key members of the international commission recently appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to avoid schism in the Anglican Communion over the issue of gay bishops, to whom Dr Wright is fairly stoutly opposed.

Yes, you can expect to be hearing a lot more of Dr Tom Wright.

If his combination of strong stances falls a little oddly on your intellectual template then that merely shows, so far as Dr Wright is concerned, that you are thoroughly immersed in the unquestioning presuppositions of our culture. Which makes you, I am afraid, a part of the problem.

"The faddish culture of our day is still clinging to the threadbare pseudo-moralisms of the late Enlightenment world," he told me in a study of towering bookshelves in Auckland Castle, the former hunting lodge which has been the home to the prince-bishops of Durham for 800 years....

..."The way we line up issues owes much to America, where things are still seen along old Civil War fault-lines. You are either a liberal Yankee in favour of gays, abortion and all other right-thinking causes. Or you're a Southern fundamentalist redneck who believes in guns, the death penalty and shooting people outside abortion clinics," he said. But life is more complicated than the Mason-Dixon line suggests. "The position of someone such as Rowan Williams is seen as inconsistent only by those who accept that tick-all-the-boxes package deal. And yet this left/right polarisation is only as old as the French Revolution. It shows that our assumptions are still those of the world of the late Enlightenment and of the Whig idea of history [that we progress constantly to a future better than the past]....

...All of which gives some hint of the package of simultaneous radicalism and conservatism, faith and reason, which constitutes Dr Wright's world view. It gives non-evangelicals some sense that a philosophical position, rather than outdated homophobia, lies behind the opposition to gay bishops by many in the Church. And it says something about the complex interweaving of religion and politics in the Church of England, which should remain established, Dr Wright believes, partly to "keep alive the rumour of God in society" but also to speak truth unto power. The medieval church excommunicated Holy Roman Emperors over the death penalty "and there are people in Texas today who need to be reminded of that".

Dr Wright himself has not been coy in this area. Before the invasion of Iraq, and before he became a bishop, he said: "It is horrendous that two leaders of the Western world who profess to be of the Christian faith are the two who are leading us towards war against an Islamic state. It is going to mean the whole of the Islam world will think this is a Christian-against-Islam war. America's notorious support for Israel only exacerbates that."

Today he adds: "For Bush and Blair to go into Iraq together was like a bunch of white vigilantes going into Brixton to stop drug-dealing. This is not to deny there's a problem to be sorted, just that they are not credible people to deal with it. ...

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Revealed: how MI6 sold the Iraq war
12/28/03: (The Times) THE Secret Intelligence Service has run an operation to gain public support for sanctions and the use of military force in Iraq. The government yesterday confirmed that MI6 had organised Operation Mass Appeal, a campaign to plant stories in the media about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

The revelation will create embarrassing questions for Tony Blair in the run-up to the publication of the report by Lord Hutton into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly, the government weapons expert.

A senior official admitted that MI6 had been at the heart of a campaign launched in the late 1990s to spread information about Saddam’s development of nerve agents and other weapons, but denied that it had planted misinformation. “There were things about Saddam’s regime and his weapons that the public needed to know,” said the official.

The admission followed claims by Scott Ritter, who led 14 inspection missions in Iraq, that MI6 had recruited him in 1997 to help with the propaganda effort. He described meetings where the senior officer and at least two other MI6 staff had discussed ways to manipulate intelligence material.

“The aim was to convince the public that Iraq was a far greater threat than it actually was,” Ritter said last week. ...

...He said there was evidence that MI6 continued to use similar propaganda tactics up to the invasion of Iraq earlier this year. “Stories ran in the media about secret underground facilities in Iraq and ongoing programmes (to produce weapons of mass destruction),” said Ritter. “They were sourced to western intelligence and all of them were garbage.” ...

Meet the New Boss...
Fed up with wartime sweetheart deals between the from-Texas administration occupying the White House and Texas-based contractor-construction outfit Brown & Root, a brazen young Congressman took to the floor of the House of Representatives and declared:

...under one contract, between the U.S. Government and this combine, [RMK-BRJ] it is officially estimated that obligations will reach at least $900 million....why this huge contract has not been and is not now being adequately audited is beyond me. The potential for waste and profiteering under such a contract is substantial.

The year was 1966. Brown & Root was then its own company -- it's now a subsidiary of Haliburton. The war was Vietnam. The administration pushing no-bid sweetheart deals was the Lyndon Johnson administration.

And the brazen young Congressman calling for an investigation?

Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Friday, December 26, 2003

1914 Christmas truce 'planned by thousands of German soldiers'
The Christmas truce of the Great War in 1914 was started by a "peace movement" of German soldiers who won over their trenchbound British foes by lobbing chocolate cake at them instead of hand grenades, a new book claims.

The interpretation of the events on the Western Front on Christmas Eve 1914 is made by Michael Jürgs whose book, The Small Peace in the Great War is the first to be written about the ceasefire from a German perspective.

The book has received wide publicity in Germany where its findings have been welcomed, not least because they help to dispel the stereotype of the German soldier as a ruthless fighting machine....

The loser's guide to getting lucky
Why do some people get all the luck while others never get the breaks they deserve? A psychologist says he has discovered the answer.

Ten years ago, I set out to examine luck.

I wanted to know why some people are always in the right place at the right time, while others consistently experience ill fortune. ...

...Lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there rather than just what they are looking for.

My research eventually revealed that lucky people generate good fortune via four principles.

They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good....

Never Apologize, Never Explain
Never apologize. Never explain. Never concede. Many politicians--and many Homo sapiens--live and die by these words. But the Bush clan has emblazoned them onto the family crescent....

...Before the war, Bush asserted Hussein was an immediate threat because he already had such weapons. He never went before the public and said, Hussein may have weapons of mass destruction; then again, he may only have weapons programs; but there's no difference. This is disingenuousness after the fact, backpedalling without acknowledgment. Moreover, after the Sawyer interview, the news broke that Kay had decided to quit his post, supposedly for personal reasons. Reports of his departure were widely interpreted (and probably rightfully so) as a signal that he had uncovered little in the way of evidence of WMDs. And Representative Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, noted that the administration had removed "critical people"--including analysts and linguists--from Kay's weapons hunting unit. This was another sign that Kay and his crew were not close to finding WMDs, and it showed that the Bush administration was not taking the WMD search all that seriously.

Which leads to the question: will Bush and his aides ever admit they oversold the WMD threat? Their case gets weaker by the day. If there had been real WMDs in Iraq, wouldn't at least one Iraqi have turned over information on them to the CIA, which presumably is ready to pay millions of dollars for information leading to real WMDs? Even conservative columnist George Will weeks ago urged the Bush White House to come clean on WMDs. The administration ignored his advice. Rather, Bush officials kept saying, wait for Kay's report. But even Kay is not sticking around for it.

Bush's excuses are falling apart on another front. After 9/11, he and his senior advisers maintained over and over that no one could have imagined such an attack against the United States. That was not so. For years, the intelligence community had collected warnings reporting that al Qaeda and other terrorists were interested in launching a 9/11-sort of attack--using hijacked aircraft as weapons--against American targets. (The final report produced by the joint inquiry on 9/11 conducted by the Senate and House intelligence committees includes a list of such warnings.) And there is strong evidence that Bush was told of a July 2001 intelligence report that noted that al Qaeda was planning a "spectacular" attack involving "mass casualties" against an American target. But by insisting falsely that 9/11 was so far out of the box that no one could have done anything about it, Bush absolved his administration and the Clinton administration of any blame for failing to thwart the assault.

Now former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, the Republican chairman of the independent 9/11 commission, says that 9/11 could have been prevented. In a recent interview with CBS News, Kean noted that he would, if he could, fire the government officials who had failed the public. ...

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Africa isn’t dying of Aids
The headline figures are horrible: almost 30 million Africans have HIV/Aids. But, says Rian Malan, the figures are computer-generated estimates and they appear grotesquely exaggerated when set against population statistics

...It was an article from The Spectator describing the bizarre sex practices that contribute to HIV’s rampage across the continent. ‘One in five of us here in Zambia is HIV positive,’ said the report. ‘In 1993 our neighbour Botswana had an estimated population of 1.4 million. Today that figure is under a million and heading downwards. Doom merchants predict that Botswana may soon become the first nation in modern times literally to die out. This is Aids in Africa.’

Really? Botswana has just concluded a census that shows population growing at about 2.7 per cent a year, in spite of what is usually described as the worst Aids problem on the planet. Total population has risen to 1.7 million in just a decade. If anything, Botswana is experiencing a minor population explosion.

There is similar bad news for the doomsayers in Tanzania’s new census, which shows population growing at 2.9 per cent a year. Professional pessimists will be particularly discomforted by developments in the swamplands west of Lake Victoria, where HIV first emerged, and where the depopulated villages of popular mythology are supposedly located. Here, in the district of Kagera, population grew at 2.7 per cent a year before 1988, only to accelerate to 3.1 per cent even as the Aids epidemic was supposedly peaking. Uganda’s latest census tells a broadly similar story, as does South Africa’s.

Some might think it good news that the impact of Aids is less devastating than most laymen imagine, but they are wrong. In Africa, the only good news about Aids is bad news, and anyone who tells you otherwise is branded a moral leper, bent on sowing confusion and derailing 100,000 worthy fundraising drives....

...When you read that 29.4 million Africans are ‘living with HIV/Aids’, it doesn’t mean that millions of living people have been tested. It means that modellers assume that 29.4 million Africans are linked via enormously complicated mathematical and sexual networks to one of those women who tested HIV positive in those annual pregnancy-clinic surveys. Modellers are the first to admit that this exercise is subject to uncertainties and large margins of error. Larger than expected, in some cases.

A year or so back, modellers produced estimates that portrayed South African universities as crucibles of rampant HIV infection, with one in four undergraduates doomed to die within ten years. Prevalence shifted according to racial composition and region, with Kwazulu-Natal institutions worst affected and Rand Afrikaans University (still 70 per cent white) coming in at 9.5 per cent. Real-life tests on a random sample of 1,188 RAU students rendered a startlingly different conclusion: on-campus prevalence was 1.1 per cent, barely a ninth of the modelled figure. ‘Doubt is cast on present estimates,’ said the RAU report, ‘and further research is strongly advocated.’

A similar anomaly emerged when South Africa’s major banks ran HIV tests on 29,000 staff earlier this year. A modelling exercise put HIV prevalence as high as 12 per cent; real-life tests produced a figure closer to 3 per cent. ...

...In Grahamstown, district surgeon Dr Stuart Dyer is contemplating an equally perplexing dearth of HIV cases in the local jail. ‘Sexually transmitted diseases are common in the prison where I work,’ he wrote to the Lancet, ‘and all prisoners who have any such disease are tested for HIV. Prisoners with any other illnesses that do not resolve rapidly (within one to two weeks) are also tested for HIV. As a result, a large number of HIV tests are done every week. This prison, which holds 550 inmates and is always full or overfull, has an HIV infection rate of 2 to 4 per cent and has had only two deaths from Aids in the seven years I have been working there.’ Dyer goes on to express a dim view of statistics that give the impression that ‘the whole of South Africa will be depopulated within 24 months’, and concludes by stating, ‘HIV infection in SA prisons is currently 2.3 per cent.’ According to the newspapers, it should be closer to 60 per cent. ...

A False Alarm: Overcoming Globalization's Discontents
...To the claim that globalization increases poverty, Bhagwati's response is, rubbish. As a young economist at the Indian Planning Commission 40 years ago, he observed that redistributing wealth is not an effective way to reduce poverty; far more effective is to create more wealth. And engagement with the rest of the world facilitates growth. During the three decades that Bhagwati's India was a relatively closed economy, for example, the economy grew at 4 percent a year, and the poverty rate hovered around 55 percent. But in the two decades since it opened its economy to foreign trade and investment, economic growth averaged five percent; by 2000, the poverty rate had fallen to 26 percent. China's experience was similar: with liberalization came spectacular growth, and poverty declined from 28 to 9 percent between 1978 and 1998. Although India and China provide the most dramatic examples, the rule applies more broadly: openness brings growth, which reduces poverty. ...

A Net of Control
Unthinkable: How the Internet could become a tool of corporate and government power, based on updates now in the works

Issues 2004 - Picture, if you will, an information infrastructure that encourages censorship, surveillance and suppression of the creative impulse. Where anonymity is outlawed and every penny spent is accounted for. Where the powers that be can smother subversive (or economically competitive) ideas in the cradle, and no one can publish even a laundry list without the imprimatur of Big Brother. Some prognosticators are saying that such a construct is nearly inevitable. And this infrastructure is none other than the former paradise of rebels and free-speechers: the Internet....

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
Here's historian Mark Noll on the subject of the primitivist strain in American evangelicalism...

...The American Revolution had taught evangelicals that the past was corrupt and that ardent effort in the present might even usher in the millennium. ... This primitivism sought to dispense with history almost entirely in its effort to recapture the pristine glories of New Testament Christianity.

Because it draws strength from evangelicals' devotion to the Bible generally and to the illuminating examples of the New Testament specifically, the primitivist influence in American evangelicalism remains very strong. But for evangelicals, the record of the centuries after the New Testament era is dim at best, corrupting at worst. Responding to the crises of the moment, therefore, requires, as in the example of Bryan, an application of absolute principles along with a fervent appeal to millennial possibilities. The aeon between the first and second advent has never been the object of systematic evangelical attention. For William Jennings Bryan, as for evangelical commentary on public life more generally, there has been no Thomas Aquinas, no deference to a tradition such as Aquinas represented for Leo XIII, and no felt need for such deference.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

[iMonk's] rant on ordination
...I think a lot of this problem with the traditional worship service- whether from the pomo crowd or the informed, assertive layman- comes from problems with the current role of the pastor in traditional churches. I almost said "resentment," but that may be slightly too strong, but not by much. IOW, I think this comes down, in large part, to how we feel about ordination, and then, what we've allowed to happen in churches as a result of this.

My theory is two-fold: Ordination has turned a lot of pastors into jerks, and a lot of lay-people into patsies. Churches are now too pastor centered, pastors are concerned with perpetuating their own careers, church success is wrapped up in pastor success, and like the Puritans who wanted to behead Charles II as the first step to good government, we have a lot of solid Christian laypeople who have had it with pastors and what churches have turned into under them.

Everyone defensive? OK. Good....

The Anti-Father Police State
...Developments in only the last few days amount to government admissions of Christensen's charge. Under pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, judge has just freed some 100 prisoners who had been incarcerated without due process for allegedly failing to pay child support. The fathers were sentenced with no notice given of their hearings and no opportunity to obtain legal representation. Fathers relate that hearings typically last between 30 seconds and two minutes, during which they are sentenced to months in prison. ACLU lawyer Malia Brink says courts across Pennsylvania routinely jail such men for civil contempt without proper notice or in time for them to get lawyers. Lawrence County was apparently jailing fathers with no hearings at all. Nothing indicates that Pennsylvania is unusual. After a decade of hysteria over "deadbeat dads," one hundred such prisoners in each of the America's 3,500 counties is by no means unlikely.

Also last week, a federal appeals court finally ruled unconstitutional the Elizabeth Morgan Act, a textbook bill of attainder whereby Congress legislatively separated father and child and "branded" as "a criminal child abuser" a father against whom no evidence was ever presented. "Congress violated the constitutional prohibition against bills of attainder by singling out plaintiff for legislative punishment," the court said. The very fact that a bill of attainder was used at all indicates something truly extreme is taking place. Bills of attainder are rare, draconian measures used for one purpose: to convict politically those who cannot be convicted with evidence.

So do these decisions demonstrate that justice eventually prevails? Hardly. In both cases, the damage is done. Foretich's daughter has been irreparably robbed of her childhood and estranged from her father. Moreover, millions of fathers continue to be permanently separated from their children and presumed guilty, even when no evidence exists against them.

The Pennsylvania men will fare worse. For many, the incarceration has already cost them their jobs and thus their ability to pay future child support. As a result, they will be returned to the penal system, from which they are unlikely ever to escape. Permanently insolvent, they are farmed out to trash companies and similar concerns, where they work 14–16 hour days. Most of their earnings are confiscated for child support, the costs of their incarceration, and mandatory drug testing.

This gulag recalls the description of the Soviet forced-labor system, described by Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski in their classic study of totalitarianism: "Not infrequently the secret police hired out its prisoners to local agencies for the purpose of carrying out some local project…. Elaborate contracts were drawn up…specifying all the details and setting the rates at which the secret police is to be paid. At the conclusion of their task, the prisoners, or more correctly the slaves, were returned to the custody of the secret police."...

Monday, December 22, 2003

The sleek shall inherit the Church
As Christians gather to celebrate Christmas at the end of a tumultuous year for Anglicans worldwide, evangelicals are flexing their economic muscle to overwhelm the liberals and take control. But can they win? ...

Qadaffi's turnaround poses a challenge to U.S. policymakers

The decision by Libya's Moammar Qadaffi to come clean, so to speak, and give up his weapons of mass destruction is being touted, by the War Party, as proof that their program of "regime change" in Iraq has put the fear of God – or, at least, of Washington and London – in the region's bad boys. But to anyone who has been paying the least bit of attention to Libya and its eccentric leader for the past decade or so, this contention is utter nonsense.

Libyan efforts to break out of economic and diplomatic isolation long preceded the invasion of Iraq: the surrender and trial of the two suspects in the 1988 Pan Am Lockerbie bombing, in 1999, made it plain to even the least attentive that the world-renowned oddball, who once fancied himself the Che Guevara of the Arab world, was going "straight."

The process leading to the dropping of United Nations sanctions and the rapid reintegration of Libya into the Mediterranean matrix of commerce, culture, and diplomacy began well before the Iraq war was a twinkle in Paul Wolfowtiz's eye. ...

Corruption claim governor says he was called by God
By David Rennie

The governor of the strait-laced New England state of Connecticut has rejected calls for his resignation over corruption allegations, saying he is in direct contact with God.

In a performance worthy of a fallen "televangelist" John Rowland, who has admitted accepting favours and gifts from powerful businessmen, defended his position by saying the Almighty had called to him "loud and clear" in his "adversity".

Mr Rowland, a Republican who faces a federal inquiry into the awarding of lucrative state contracts, spoke flanked by local soldiers recently returned from Iraq...

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Peggy Noonan Gets Owned

MATTHEWS: No, no. The particular question here is, why do the majority of the people still believe that Saddam Hussein attacked us 9/11 and, therefore, believe the world is safer because he is gone?

NOONAN: Chris, take a look at what that poll says. It doesn't say they are certain Saddam Hussein did 9/11. They think Osama...

MATTHEWS: No, they say he personally was involved.

NOONAN: They think Osama bin Laden did 9/11. They also think the world is a complicated place. And they think that Saddam...

MATTHEWS: No, no, Peggy, you are not listening. You are not listening.

NOONAN: I am listening.


NOONAN: They think that Saddam Hussein was helpful to international bad guys and the world's bad guys.

MATTHEWS: No. They say he was personally involved in blowing up the World Trade Center, personally involved. Do you believe he was personally involved?

NOONAN: Do I think he did it?

MATTHEWS: Yes. No, was personally involved in it.

NOONAN: Do I think he was on the plane? Do I think he pulled the levers that Osama bin Laden did?

MATTHEWS: No, do you believe he was personally...


Do I suspect that he was helpful to our enemies and helpful to terrorism, looking to hurt us? Yes.

MATTHEWS: But do you think he was personally involved in blowing up the World Trade Center, Saddam Hussein? That is the critical question here, because it involves whether we're safe or not.


NOONAN: Chris...

MATTHEWS: Do you believe he was personally involved?

NOONAN: Chris, I don't think it can be asked as a crystal question.

First of all, I think a lot will come out and be revealed in time and a lot will be studied that we already know. It seems to me that Saddam Hussein was a guy who was extremely helpful to our enemies, our foes, our opponents, terrorism, etcetera. He was friends with those guys. We will see. There was a report just last week.

MATTHEWS: Why are you having a hard time with a question of fact here? Lawrence made a very clear statement. He said there is no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. Is Lawrence correct?

NOONAN: Lawrence made a clear statement that he doesn't believe that Saddam Hussein had any part, correct?

MATTHEWS: What do you believe?

NOONAN: In 9/11?

O'DONNELL: No, no, Peggy. I didn't say that.


NOONAN: All right. What did you say, Lawrence?

O'DONNELL: I said-and this is quite simple.


O'DONNELL: There is absolutely no evidence of it. I do not have a religious belief one way or the other. I know, scientifically, evidentiary, there is no evidence for it.

MATTHEWS: Do you challenge that, Peggy? Do you have any evidence?

NOONAN: I'm sure there is evidence that he has been helpful to bad guys who have tried to hurt us and who in fact have hurt us in the past.


MATTHEWS: Peggy, you can't handle this question, because it gets to the heart of why we went to war. You can't handle the truth.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

9/11 Chair: Attack Was Preventable
(CBS) For the first time, the chairman of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks is saying publicly that 9/11 could have and should have been prevented, reports CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston.

"This is a very, very important part of history and we've got to tell it right," said Thomas Kean.

"As you read the report, you're going to have a pretty clear idea what wasn't done and what should have been done," he said. "This was not something that had to happen."

Appointed by the Bush administration, Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, is now pointing fingers inside the administration and laying blame.

"There are people that, if I was doing the job, would certainly not be in the position they were in at that time because they failed. They simply failed," Kean said.

To find out who failed and why, the commission has navigated a political landmine, threatening a subpoena to gain access to the president's top-secret daily briefs. Those documents may shed light on one of the most controversial assertions of the Bush administration – that there was never any thought given to the idea that terrorists might fly an airplane into a building.

"I don't think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile," said national security adviser Condoleeza Rice on May 16, 2002.

"How is it possible we have a national security advisor coming out and saying we had no idea they could use planes as weapons when we had FBI records from 1991 stating that this is a possibility," said Kristen Breitweiser, one of four New Jersey widows who lobbied Congress and the president to appoint the commission. ...

Coddling Dictators
OK everybody, repeat after me:

Saddam baaaad. Ghadafi goooood....

...And that unpleasant business about blowing an American airliner out of the sky? Or that disagreeable incident with the bomb in the Berlin disco? All forgotten and forgiven. Heck, what's a few minor acts of terrorism between friends, anyway.

And the one-party police state? The cult of personality? The torture chambers? The aggression against neighboring countries? Old news. It's time to "move on."...

...Over the next couple of days, it will be facinating to see how quickly the conservative agitprop machine can conform to the new line. While detente with Libya isn't quite as drastic a policy backflip as the Hitler-Stalin pact, it could be a tough mouthful to chew and swallow for an audience that's been conditioned to rank Ghadafi second only to Saddam in the League of Evil Villains, insane Arab dictator division. The White House certainly understands this, which must be why they slotted Bush's announcement into the usual Friday afternoon dead zone....

Court: U.S. Cannot Hold Padilla as a Combatant
By Fred Barbash
Washington Post Staff Writer

A federal appeals court ruled today that the Bush administration overstepped its authority by detaining Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen seized in Chicago nine months after the bombing of the World Trade Center and locked up incommunicado as an "enemy combatant" for allegedly plotting to explode a "dirty bomb" in the United States.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, said the administration has no inherent constitutional power to sidestep the normal procedures required to imprison a U.S. citizen seized on American soil. ...

Dubious Link Between Atta and Saddam
A document tying the Iraqi leader with the 9/11 terrorist is probably fake. ...

A widely publicized Iraqi document that purports to show that September 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta visited Baghdad in the summer of 2001 is probably a fabrication that is contradicted by U.S. law-enforcement records showing Atta was staying at cheap motels and apartments in the United States when the trip presumably would have taken place, according to U.S. law enforcement officials and FBI documents.

The new document, supposedly written by the chief of the Iraqi intelligence service, was trumpeted by the Sunday Telegraph of London earlier this week in a front-page story that broke hours before the dramatic capture of Saddam Hussein. TERRORIST BEHIND SEPTEMBER 11 STRIKE WAS TRAINED BY SADDAM, ran the headline on the story written by Con Coughlin, a Telegraph correspondent and the author of the book "Saddam: The Secret Life."

Coughlin's account was picked up by newspapers around the world and was cited the next day by New York Times columnist William Safire. But U.S. officials and a leading Iraqi document expert tell NEWSWEEK that the document is most likely a forgery—part of a thriving new trade in dubious Iraqi documents that has cropped up in the wake of the collapse of Saddam's regime.

"It's a lucrative business," says Hassan Mneimneh, codirector of an Iraqi exile research group reviewing millions of captured Iraqi government documents. "There's an active document trade taking place … You have fraudulent documents that are being fabricated and sold" for hundreds of dollars a piece....

...While all of Atta's movements cannot be accounted for, enough is known to make it "highly unlikely" that the September 11 ringleader could have flown off to Baghdad for a three-day work program with Iraqi intelligence, a FBI official told NEWSWEEK. For similar reasons, the bureau has long since discounted claims by Czech intelligence—and widely promoted by some Iraq hawks in the Bush administration—that Atta had flown to Prague to meet with an Iraqi intelligence agent around April 8, 2001....

Rumsfeld Visited Baghdad in 1984 to Reassure Iraqis, Documents Show
Trip Followed Criticism Of Chemical Arms' Use
By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer

Donald H. Rumsfeld went to Baghdad in March 1984 with instructions to deliver a private message about weapons of mass destruction: that the United States' public criticism of Iraq for using chemical weapons would not derail Washington's attempts to forge a better relationship, according to newly declassified documents.

Rumsfeld, then President Ronald Reagan's special Middle East envoy, was urged to tell Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz that the U.S. statement on chemical weapons, or CW, "was made strictly out of our strong opposition to the use of lethal and incapacitating CW, wherever it occurs," according to a cable to Rumsfeld from then-Secretary of State George P. Shultz.

The statement, the cable said, was not intended to imply a shift in policy, and the U.S. desire "to improve bilateral relations, at a pace of Iraq's choosing," remained "undiminished." "This message bears reinforcing during your discussions." ...

...An earlier trip by Rumsfeld to Baghdad, in December 1983, has been widely reported as having helped persuade Iraq to resume diplomatic ties with the United States. An explicit purpose of Rumsfeld's return trip in March 1984, the once-secret documents reveal for the first time, was to ease the strain created by a U.S. condemnation of chemical weapons. ...

...Publicly, the United States maintained neutrality during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, which began in 1980.

Privately, however, the administrations of Reagan and George H.W. Bush sold military goods to Iraq, including poisonous chemicals and deadly biological agents, worked to stop the flow of weapons to Iran, and undertook discreet diplomatic initiatives, such as the two Rumsfeld trips to Baghdad, to improve relations with Hussein. ...

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Still no mass weapons, no ties to 9/11, no truth
By Derrick Z. Jackson, 12/17/2003

THE INVASION was still a lie. The capture of Saddam Hussein changes nothing about that. There were too many forked tongues in the road to his lair. The way we removed the dictator, we became a global dictatorship....

During trial, Hussein may try to implicate Western leaders
U.S. and other nations that supported him in past could be vulnerable

WASHINGTON - The trials of Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi leaders could produce embarrassing reminders of past American support for his government and of the West's failure to punish him despite mounting evidence of Iraqi atrocities.

Lawyers familiar with war crimes trials say attorneys for Hussein and his aides might try to introduce damaging evidence against Western leaders as a pressure tactic against their accusers or to shift responsibility away from the dictator's actions....

...In 1988, Reagan administration officials found persuasive evidence that Hussein had used poison gas against Kurds in the village of Halabja, in northern Iraq, and joined with allies in seeking a United Nations inspection. Hussein refused to allow inspectors in. That same year, the United Nations found that Iraq had used poison gas in the final throes of its war against Iran.

But the Reagan administration resisted an effort by some in Congress, led by Sen. Claiborne Pell, a Rhode Island Democrat, to impose sanctions on Iraq, preferring to use diplomacy in a bid to halt Hussein's use of chemical weapons.

The Reagan administration and its successor under President George Bush granted billions of dollars in credits to Iraq, enabling it to buy U.S. agricultural products, while Hussein simultaneously expanded his weapons arsenal and tried to develop nuclear weapons.

A 1990 Human Rights Watch report quoted a senior State Department official as describing the Iraqi government as "possibly the worst violator of human rights anywhere in the world today."...

Onward (un)Christian Soldiers
The time has come to fight back.

I am making this appeal to New York City, because this is the only place in America where such an appeal can still be made. I just saw Billy Graham’s Qualcomm Stadium telecast on ABC, and I believe that there are legitimate grounds for the godless among us to demand equal time according to Section 315 of the 1934 Communications Act.

Non-believers in America are far too polite, which will prove to be their undoing. There is a reason why the life of a typical atheist family resembles the Marshall-Will-and-Holly model from Land of the Lost. They live in caves, only venturing out for food and water, conceding the entire plush territory to T-Rex and the idiotic Sleestack. A guilty conscience prevents them from taking positive steps to change the situation: We’re only here by mistake, it was our own fault for rafting down those rapids, this is their world, not ours...

This is a mistake. Land of the Lost was an inaccurate representation of humanity. What would have really happened in that situation is propagation of the species by Marshall, Will and Holly–incest be damned. Within a generation or two, the Sleestack would be wearing striped pajamas and cultivating our fields, while our chief dinosaur problem would be how to get them to mate in captivity. To depict things any other way is to sell human intelligence short....

...That is some weird-ass Christianity, praying for God to assist James Baker’s efforts to restructure Iraq’s debt. One wonders how Christians in Russia, whose country is owed $8 billion by our new satellite, will pray on this matter. Additionally, the idea that God should be called upon to help Americans recover their investments in Iraq is a little strange, to say the least. I must have missed that section of the Bible.

The Presidential Prayer Team issues a disclaimer, saying that it is not affiliated with the government and that it would serve "future leaders." But I don’t think that it takes a genius to see that it would cease to exist the day, say, Al Sharpton is elected president....

Fancy Greens, Pusherman Blues
Why the new Jackson spells problems for your local dealer–and more tax dollars for Uncle Sam.

The subtle effectiveness of the new $20 bill as a post-recession market stimulant is something the Federal Reserve System is not taking credit for.

In fact, no one is taking credit for it. Not the Fed, the FBI or the Secret Service–which was originally created to handle counterfeiting, not presidential security. None of these agencies admits to seeing so much as a memo suggesting that the introduction of the new twenty would wind something of a nervous timer in the minds of people sitting on large sums of old twenties, creating a paranoid deadline to decommission conspicuous sums of old bills from their untaxed "underground economy."

The U.S. is making an incalculable profit on the roll-out of the snazzy new twenties, a profit that remains unarticulated in the Fed’s frontline campaign that explains the currency–with its watermark, security thread and color-shifting ink–solely as an anti-counterfeiting measure. What’s not being said is that the new twenty puts the zap on the heads of people who routinely reintroduce hefty wads of currency from the underground economy to the aboveground one: money launderers and hoarders operating from considerable private cash holdings...

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Terror alerts manufactured?
FBI agents say White House scripting 'hysterics' for political effect
By Jon Dougherty

Intelligence pros say the White House is manufacturing terrorist alerts to keep the issue alive in the minds of voters and to keep President Bush's approval ratings high, Capitol Hill Blue reports.

The Thursday report said that the administration is engaging in "hysterics" in issuing numerous terror alerts that have little to no basis in fact. ...

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Senators were told Iraqi weapons could hit U.S.
Nelson said claim made during classified briefing
By John McCarthy

12/15/03: (FLORIDA TODAY) U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Monday the Bush administration last year told him and other senators that Iraq not only had weapons of mass destruction, but they had the means to deliver them to East Coast cities.

Nelson, D-Tallahassee, said about 75 senators got that news during a classified briefing before last October's congressional vote authorizing the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Nelson voted in favor of using military force.

Nelson said he couldn't reveal who in the administration gave the briefing.

The White House directed questions about the matter to the Department of Defense. Defense officials had no comment on Nelson's claim.

Nelson said the senators were told Iraq had both biological and chemical weapons, notably anthrax, and it could deliver them to cities along the Eastern seaboard via unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones.

"They have not found anything that resembles an UAV that has that capability," Nelson said. ...

The evangelicals who like to giftwrap Islamophobia
The world's largest children's Christmas project has a toxic agenda
Giles Fraser
The Rev Dr Giles Fraser is vicar of Putney and lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford

...Ironically, it is the story of the good Samaritan that provides one of the most effective put-downs to precisely the sort of Islamophobia displayed by Christian fundamentalists such as Graham. Jesus is asked: "Who is my neighbour?" The moral of the story he tells in response - at least the one most people remember from Sunday school - is that it is the man who is beaten up and left for dead that Jesus points to as our neighbour. Conclusion: we must help those in need.

But that's not the story at all. A man is mugged in the Wadi Qelt between Jerusalem and Jericho. Whereas the religious pass by and do nothing, it is the Samaritan who offers care. Those listening to the story would have despised Samaritans. The words "good" and "Samaritan" just didn't go together. Indeed, theirs would have been the General Boykin reaction: that Samaritans worshipped the idol of a false god. Therefore, in casting the Samaritan as the only passer-by with compassion, Jesus is making an all-out assault on the prejudices of his listeners.

If the story was just about helping the needy, whoever they are, it would have been sufficient to cast the Samaritan as the victim and a Jewish layperson as the person who helped. Crucially, however, the hated Samaritan is held up as the moral exemplar. Conclusion: we must overcome religious bigotry.

The story of the good Samaritan, in the hands of Franklin Graham, is conscripted as propaganda for the superiority of Christian compassion to the brutal indifference of other religions - almost the opposite of the purpose of the story.

What is astonishing is that Christian fundamentalists have managed to persuade millions that their warped version of Christianity is the real thing and that mainstream churches have sold out to the secular spirit of the age. The truth is quite the reverse.

US evangelicals employ a selective biblical literalism to support a theology that systematically confuses the kingdom of God with the US's burgeoning empire. It is no coincidence that the mission fields most favoured by US evangelicals are also the targets of neo-conservative military ambition. To use Jesus as the rallying cry for a new imperialism is the most shameful reversal of all, for he was murdered by the forces of empire. The cross spoke of Roman power in just the way Black Hawk helicopters speak today of US power. ...

Tony the flight attendant
...Over the coming pages, we'll learn more about who was taken and who was left behind. This is the great privilege for writers of fiction set in the afterlife. It's a tradition that goes back at least to Dante, who settled political scores by writing his opponents into Hell....

The Hypothetical Bus

I don't remember much of Donald W. Thompson's series of rapture movies from when I saw them back in middle school at Hydewood Park Baptist Church....

...Thompson's films used the threat of the rapture as a surrogate for the threat of death. Like the evangelist warning of imminent, diesel-powered doom, he was trying to scare his audience into heaven. In its own way, A Thief in the Night is an old-fashioned fire-and-brimstone sermon -- Thompson's version of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."

I expected Left Behind to take a similar course, to invoke the apocalypse as a cosmic version of the Hypothetical Bus, urging sinners to repent because the end is near.

But that's not LaHaye and Jenkins' agenda. Jonathan Edwards famously wrote of the fires of Hell as a warning. L&J write of the Tribulation as a vindication, a confirmation of their own rightness and righteousness.

Their intended audience is people who, like them, already believe in premillennial dispensationalism. Their tone is the juvenile triumphalism of an adolescent semi-threatening suicide or running away: Just wait until I'm gone. Then you'll see. Then you'll be sorry.

There's a message here for "the unsaved," but it's not the message of salvation that Edwards and Thompson extended, however clumsily. It is not "get right with God, because time is short," but rather this: "Ha-ha! We were right and you were wrong! Have fun in Hell!"

I would suggest that this is not a very winsome or effective strategy for evangelism.

Not creepy enough
...Mennonite theologian Loren L. Johns identifies this "unadulterated triumphalism" as one of the most disturbingly unchristian aspects of the series:

... Fundamental to the spirit of the Left Behind series is the sense of vindication that "we" have been right all along. The not-so-subtle news headline that lies behind the entire series could well be, "Premillennial Dispensationalists Proved to Have Been Right All Along." The message of this series is unadulterated triumphalism. You can forget the business of Christians taking up the cross in this series!

Premillennial dispensationalists have admittedly gotten rough treatment in the modern world. From a modernist or secularist point of view, the claims of a pre-Tribulation rapture of the church, followed by seven years of Tribulation, followed by the thousand-year reign of Christ just seems too preposterous to be believed. Combine that with the fact that premillennial dispensationalists have been prone to set dates for the Second Coming of Christ -- and the fact that their batting average so far has been zero -- and that well-educated theologians as a whole tend to pooh-pooh their ideas, and you quickly come to a point of eschatological frustration with the way things are.

It is not the Lamb who has conquered in this series, but the premillennial dispensationalists! "We win!" Similarly, "You lose!"

Johns is astute in pointing out the transparent insecurity and frustration that are the source of this fictional vindication, and how it undermines the "taking up the cross" that is the literal crux of Christianity....

...Why expose myself and the readers of this blog to the potentially toxic foolishness of Left Behind?

Welcome to the Hellmouth
Because LB is more than simply a wretched novel. It is a wretched novel with serious consequences. It is, among other things, an assault on the central beliefs of the Christian faith, as Mennonite theologian Loren L. Johns writes:

At the end of the day, this series is ultimately a rejection of the good news of Jesus Christ. I say this because it rejects the way of the cross and Jesus' call to obedient discipleship and a new way of life. It celebrates the human will to power, putting evangelical Christians in the heroic role of God's Green Berets. In this story, premillennialist dispensationalism meets American survivalism. This is a story about so-called Christian men who never really grew up, who still love to play with toys and dominate others, and whose passions are still largely unredeemed. Love of enemies is treated as a misguided strategy associated not with the gospel, but with the Antichrist. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins have the right to offer any kind of interpretation of Christianity and of the end times that they wish. Ultimately, it is not their interpretation of the end times that troubles me so much as their interpretation of Christianity. It is devoid of any real theology, or substantial Christology, or any ethics that are recognizably Christian. This is a vision of unredeemed Christianity....

Saddam Captured – Now What?
...In his great novel First Circle, Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn created a memorable portrait of the Soviet dictator Stalin during his final years at the pinnacle of supreme power. The man who was perhaps the most ruthless and powerful tyrant in the world was effectively confined to a small apartment of rooms in the Kremlin. Having wielded power ruthlessly for decades he had created innumerable enemies and could trust nobody. His food had to be tasted before he would touch it. He was constantly worried (and as it turns out, not without cause) that people were plotting against him. He had virtually no human companionship except a few servants. A victim of his own spite and plotting, he was almost somebody one could feel sorry for, if you could overlook the minor fact that he was responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent people.

When I read that years ago, I was struck by how empty is the promise of political power. Not every political leader suffers isolation and the inability to trust anyone, but most feel it to some degree. To gain political power is to relinquish almost everything that makes a decent person human, and it's true for democratic leaders as well as tyrants. A few thrive on it, but rare indeed is the political leader who doesn't wonder, some nights when sleep doesn't come easily, whether it was worth it. Not only do one's personal human relationships suffer, but whatever tattered remnant of a personal conscience a political leader cannot repress must deliver an unwelcome rebuke from time to time....

“Free-Speech Zone”
The administration quarantines dissent.
By James Bovard

...The Justice Department is now prosecuting Brett Bursey, who was arrested for holding a “No War for Oil” sign at a Bush visit to Columbia, S.C. Local police, acting under Secret Service orders, established a “free speech zone” half a mile from where Bush would speak. Bursey was standing amid hundreds of people carrying signs praising the president. Police told Bursey to remove himself to the “free speech zone.”

Bursey refused and was arrested. Bursey said that he asked the policeman if “it was the content of my sign, and he said, ‘Yes, sir, it’s the content of your sign that’s the problem.’” Bursey stated that he had already moved 200 yards from where Bush was supposed to speak. Bursey later complained, “The problem was, the restricted area kept moving. It was wherever I happened to be standing.”

Bursey was charged with trespassing. Five months later, the charge was dropped because South Carolina law prohibits arresting people for trespassing on public property. But the Justice Department—in the person of U.S. Attorney Strom Thurmond Jr.—quickly jumped in, charging Bursey with violating a rarely enforced federal law regarding “entering a restricted area around the President of the United States.” If convicted, Bursey faces a six-month trip up the river and a $5000 fine. Federal magistrate Bristow Marchant denied Bursey’s request for a jury trial because his violation is categorized as a “petty offense.” Some observers believe that the feds are seeking to set a precedent in a conservative state such as South Carolina that could then be used against protesters nationwide....

"Discourse on Voluntary Servitude"
Étienne La Boétie

Poor, wretched, and stupid peoples, nations determined on your own misfortune and blind to your own good! You let yourselves be deprived before your own eyes of the best part of your revenues; your fields are plundered, your homes robbed, your family heirlooms taken away. You live in such a way that you cannot claim a single thing as your own; and it would seem that you consider yourselves lucky to be loaned your property, your families, and your very lives. All this havoc, this misfortune, this ruin, descends upon you not from alien foes, but from the one enemy whom you yourselves render as powerful as he is, for whom you go bravely to war, for whose greatness you do not refuse to offer your own bodies unto death. He who thus domineers over you has only two eyes, only two hands, only one body, no more than is possessed by the least man among the infinite numbers dwelling in your cities; he has indeed nothing more than the power that you confer upon him to destroy you. Where has he acquired enough eyes to spy upon you, if you do not provide them yourselves? How can he have so many arms to beat you with, if he does not borrow them from you? The feet that trample down your cities, where does he get them if they are not your own? How does he have any power over you except through you? How would he dare assail you if he had no cooperation from you? What could he do to you if you yourselves did not connive with the thief who plunders you, if you were not accomplices of the murderer who kills you, if you were not traitors to yourselves? You sow your crops in order that he may ravage them, you install and furnish your homes to give him goods to pillage; you rear your daughters that he may gratify his lust; you bring up your children in order that he may confer upon them the greatest privilege he knows to be led into his battles, to be delivered to butchery, to be made the servants of his greed and the instruments of his vengeance; you yield your bodies unto hard labor in order that he may indulge in his delights and wallow in his filthy pleasures; you weaken yourselves in order to make him the stronger and the mightier to hold you in check. From all these indignities, such as the very beasts of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces.

INVESTIGATIVE REPORT: The untold story of the Bush administration's penchant for secrecy
How the public's business gets done out of the public eye

...Beyond the well-publicized cases involving terrorism suspects, the administration is aggressively pursuing secrecy claims in the federal courts in ways little understood--even by some in the legal system. The administration is increasingly invoking a "state secrets" privilege that allows government lawyers to request that civil and criminal cases be effectively closed by asserting that national security would be compromised if they proceed....

Hiding Underground
..."Good riddance," [Bush] declared. "The world is better off without you, Mr Saddam Hussein. And I find it very interesting that when the heat got on, you dug yourself a hole and you crawled in it."

Where was Bush and Cheney and the rest of them on 9/11?

Underground. In hiding. ...

Monday, December 15, 2003

Oh, my God....

Methodists Vote to Install Obese Bishop
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – In a highly controversial vote that may divide the denomination, the Free Methodist Church of North America voted today to install Dr. Jack Harvey, an openly obese man, as the bishop of the western conference of the church. Harvey is the first admitted obese person to have been installed as a bishop in the FM Church. The vote, which came after several hours of intense debate at the annual Free Methodist General Conference, fell in Harvey's favor by a margin of 421-385.

Harvey, who at six feet tall tips the scales at 389 pounds, declined to stir the controversy further, offering only a succinct statement at the press conference following the vote. "I'd like to thank my supporters for their confidence in my depth of faith and servant's heart. And I'd like to extend an olive branch to the thin community and let them know I'm their bishop, too. I will work tirelessly to oversee the western conference and care for our wonderful pastors, regardless of their race, gender, or body mass. Thank you." Harvey refused to answer questions from the press, noting with a chuckle that he had to get home in time for dinner with his family.

Opponents of the decision turn to the Bible for support. Roger Greenwood, president of Frees Against Gluttony, an internal group organized to oppose Harvey's election, says the group cites "no less than sixty direct references to the avoidance of gluttony and the type of binging so commonly practiced within the obese community." Such passages include Philippians 3:18-19, which Greenwood claims describes obese persons as "enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things." Greenwood also referred to the famous passage in 1 Corinthians that describes the body as a temple: "That passage is obviously about smoking, but we think it also applies to one's body weight. What kind of Christian would dump two or three cheeseburgers a day into a temple of the Holy Spirit?"

Greenwood also announced the launch of his organization's Web site,

Left Behind: Pretrib Porno
Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth's Last Days, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Tyndale House Publishers, 1995.

Pages 1-3.

The first words of Left Behind are "Rayford Steele," the protagonist's name.

It sounds like a porn star's name -- and in a sense it is. The Left Behind series is dispensational porno,...

...Our porn star hero, Rayford Steele, interacts with women just like any porn star does -- minus, of course, the sex. It's all about dominance, exploitation, titillation and the stroking of -- in this case -- egos.

The character Rayford Steele is, like the authors, no longer a young man. Younger authors might not have been compelled to give their protagonists names -- "Steele" and "Buck" -- that seem such a blatant assertion of male virility. Bev is apparently not the only LaHaye who seems oblivious to phallic imagery.

If you're thinking I'm reading too much into all this, that this theme isn't really as present in the text as I'm making it out to be, consider the opening lines:

Rayford Steele's mind was on a woman he had never touched. With his fully loaded 747 on autopilot ...

That's more than just subtext....

I kind of feel the terrorists have won by making me write this, since it ought to be obvious to any idiot, but yes, I’m quite pleased that a monstrous mass murderer (though a former ally to Messrs. Reagan, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld) will be brought to justice and will not be able to threaten anyone ever again. However, just as obviously, it does little to justify what remains a dishonest, self-destructive, hubristic adventure that continues to undermine our security and the stability of the region with each passing day, but there it is....

U.S. Secretly Urging Afghan Rebels to Quit
Some who are fighting for a fugitive warlord have been prodded to set up democratic parties.
By Paul Watson
Times Staff Writer

December 9, 2003

KABUL, Afghanistan - In a series of secret gatherings, senior U.S. and other Western diplomats have met commanders of an Afghan faction that is attacking U.S.-led troops, urging the militants to dump their leader, disarm and form democratic parties.

The most recent talks, with four top commanders who fight for fugitive warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, were held in Western embassies and the presidential palace here in the last week in November, a source familiar with the talks said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

U.S. forces have tried to kill Hekmatyar with at least two airstrikes, but he escaped and is waging a self-declared holy war against U.S. troops. He openly supports Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Hekmatyar's Hizb-i-Islami, or Islamic Party, is on the State Department's list of terrorist groups.

Officials of President Hamid Karzai's government, with the support of U.S. diplomats, are talking with some Taliban and other militant leaders Karzai considers moderate enough to participate in mainstream politics...


THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. Today I bring news of great consequence to all the pollsters of the world. Yesterday, December the 13th, at around 8:30 p.m. Baghdad time, former U.S. Department of Defense employee Saddam Hussein was captured alive. This man, the most powerful, diabolical evildoer ever to threaten humanity, was found in his hometown of Tikrit, beneath the dusty lean-to of a long-time supporter. In short, he was exactly where everyone thought he'd be. And today, I am proud to say that it only took us just shy of nine months from the day I gave him forty-eight hours to skedattle or be promptly administered a Texas Lead Enema.

Also as expected, Saddam was found presiding over operations at a state-of-the-art Weapons of Mass Destruction control panel with a retractable top, hot babes and heliport – albeit artfully camouflaged to resemble an unstaffed, vermin-infested hole in the ground. It was here, from this advanced, zillion dollar terror complex that he concocted and carefully managed execution of his countless nefarious schemes – most notably his powerful, intoxicating ability to make us forget all about the people who were actually behind 9/11 by impersonating a filthy piece of poor homeless trash. Well that was his last mistake. Little did he know that this administration is even quicker at taking down the poor than it is at nabbing evildoers!

Going forward, you will hear a great deal of talk in the news media about how Saddam did not fight to the death when finally seized by U.S. forces. You will hear that while he wore a diminutive, dirt-jammed sidearm, that he never fired a single shot while 600 burly leathernecks wielding personal howitzers closed in around him. You may wonder about the fixation on this seemingly irrelevant detail. Well, the reason for this is simple. This shows that Saddam is a pussy. A pink panty-wearing, prancing tooty-fruity wimp in a silken negligee, wanting nothing more than to be taken alive, stripped naked, and repeatedly subjected to Uncle Sam's notoriously thorough body cavity searches.


Indeed. But in contrast to Saddam's totally embarrassing pussiness, I am a total stud – a veritable throbbing veiny staff of alpha-male triumph. And inasmuch as I am also the embodiment of the United States, all Americans are today infinitely more studly than they were yesterday. That is why, in celebration of our astonishing ability to evict a bewildered 66 year-old from a hole in the ground with only 400+ U.S. casualties, let all Americans follow my personal example, and demonstrate their patriotism by standing topless in front of a mirror, gritting their teeth, flexing their muscles and bellowing, "WHO'S THE FUCKING MAN? I'M THE FUCKING MAN! USA! USA! USA!" ...

Saddam’s Capture Means Trouble for U.S. Officials
by Jacob G. Hornberger, December 15, 2003

In his official statement celebrating the capture of Saddam Hussein, President Bush announced that “the former dictator of Iraq will face the justice he denied to millions.” Notably lacking from the president’s statement, however, was whether the U.S. government would agree to relinquish control over Hussein’s trial to the Iraqi government or to an international tribunal consisting of independent judges.

Why wouldn’t U.S. officials readily agree to relinquish jurisdiction over Hussein’s trial? Because of their need to closely guard the secrets that Saddam Hussein has in his possession — secrets that would cause no small amount of embarrassment to the U.S. government, including former president Ronald Reagan, former vice-president and former president George H.W. Bush (the president’s father), and Donald Rumsfeld, the president’s secretary of defense. ...

Power corrupts, PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.

PowerPoint Makes You Dumb

In August, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board at NASA released Volume 1 of its report on why the space shuttle crashed. As expected, the ship's foam insulation was the main cause of the disaster. But the board also fingered another unusual culprit: PowerPoint, Microsoft's well-known ''slideware'' program.

NASA, the board argued, had become too reliant on presenting complex information via PowerPoint, instead of by means of traditional ink-and-paper technical reports. When NASA engineers assessed possible wing damage during the mission, they presented the findings in a confusing PowerPoint slide -- so crammed with nested bullet points and irregular short forms that it was nearly impossible to untangle. ''It is easy to understand how a senior manager might read this PowerPoint slide and not realize that it addresses a life-threatening situation,'' the board sternly noted.

PowerPoint is the world's most popular tool for presenting information. There are 400 million copies in circulation, and almost no corporate decision takes place without it. But what if PowerPoint is actually making us stupider? ...

Friday, December 12, 2003

Case Forged
No Amens Here for NR's 'Corner'

The advocates of war in the Middle East, now in panic mode, have resorted to concocting third-rate fiction to support the occupation of Iraq. Consider this email that National Review stalwart Cliff May claimed to have gotten from a real live Iraqi [who presumably reads NR for the stories and not the salacious pin-up stuff that I really don't want to mention in mixed company]....

Thursday, December 11, 2003

The Saudi Connection
How billions in oil money spawned a global terror network
By David E. Kaplan

The CIA's Illicit Transactions Group isn't listed in any phone book. There are no entries for it on any news database or Internet site. The ITG is one of those tidy little Washington secrets, a group of unsung heroes whose job is to keep track of smugglers, terrorists, and money launderers. In late 1998, officials from the White House's National Security Council called on the ITG to help them answer a couple of questions: How much money did Osama bin Laden have, and how did he move it around? The queries had a certain urgency. A cadre of bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorists had just destroyed two of America's embassies in East Africa. The NSC was determined to find a way to break the organization's back. Working with the Illicit Transactions Group, the NSC formed a task force to look at al Qaeda's finances. For months, members scoured every piece of data the U.S. intelligence community had on al Qaeda's cash. The team soon realized that its most basic assumptions about the source of bin Laden's money--his personal fortune and businesses in Sudan--were wrong. Dead wrong. Al Qaeda, says William Wechsler, the task force director, was "a constant fundraising machine." And where did it raise most of those funds? The evidence was indisputable: Saudi Arabia.

America's longtime ally and the world's largest oil producer had somehow become, as a senior Treasury Department official put it, "the epicenter" of terrorist financing. This didn't come entirely as a surprise to intelligence specialists. But until the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. officials did painfully little to confront the Saudis not only on financing terror but on backing fundamentalists and jihadists overseas. Over the past 25 years, the desert kingdom has been the single greatest force in spreading Islamic fundamentalism, while its huge, unregulated charities funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to jihad groups and al Qaeda cells around the world. Those findings are the result of a five-month investigation by U.S. News. The magazine's inquiry is based on a review of thousands of pages of court records, U.S. and foreign intelligence reports, and other documents....

... It didn't hurt that the Saudis had spread money around Washington by the millions. Vast sums from Saudi contracts have bought friends and influence here. In his recent book Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude, former CIA operative Bob Baer calls it "Washington's 401(k) Plan." "The Saudis put out the message," Baer wrote. "You play the game--keep your mouth shut about the kingdom--and we'll take care of you." The list of beneficiaries is impressive: former cabinet secretaries, ambassadors, and CIA station chiefs. Washington lobbyists, P.R. firms, and lawyers have also supped at the Saudi table, as have nonprofits from the Kennedy Center to presidential libraries. The high-flying Carlyle Group has made fortunes doing deals with the Saudis. Among Carlyle's top advisers have been former President George H.W. Bush; James Baker, his secretary of state; and Frank Carlucci, a former secretary of defense. If that wasn't enough, there was the staggering amount of Saudi investment in America--as much as $600 billion in U.S. banks and stock markets....

Intrepid Antiwarriors of the Libertarian Right Stake Their Rightful Claim to Power
Looking into the endearing obsession known as

Justin Raimondo is hunched in front of his computer, in the living room of his cramped one-bedroom Pacific Heights apartment, under a framed poster of the Ayn Rand commemorative postage stamp. A 52-year-old with the lithe body of a much younger man - the result of obsessive workouts -Raimondo has brown eyes cupped in dark circles, and a Vantage cigarette hangs from the corner of his scowling lips. It's his fifth in as many minutes. He throws back his head, lets out a stream of smoke, and howls, "Aaaaaaaagh!"

Raimondo is a libertarian political writer who pens a thrice-weekly column for, an anti-U.S. foreign intervention Weblog he works on full time with his friend, Eric Garris. Raimondo's style is sarcastic and polemical; his targets are the evil "neocons" running the Bush administration - "Rummy," "Condi," and the rest, whose dastardly warmongering has led the country into blood-soaked ruin....

Remarks to the Commonwealth Club
by Michael Crichton
San Francisco
September 15, 2003

...I studied anthropology in college, and one of the things I learned was that certain human social structures always reappear. They can't be eliminated from society. One of those structures is religion. Today it is said we live in a secular society in which many people---the best people, the most enlightened people---do not believe in any religion. But I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind. If you suppress it in one form, it merely re-emerges in another form. You can not believe in God, but you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and shapes your sense of the world. Such a belief is religious.

Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it's a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.

There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.

Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming doomsday---these are deeply held mythic structures. They are profoundly conservative beliefs. They may even be hard-wired in the brain, for all I know. I certainly don't want to talk anybody out of them, as I don't want to talk anybody out of a belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God who rose from the dead. But the reason I don't want to talk anybody out of these beliefs is that I know that I can't talk anybody out of them. These are not facts that can be argued. These are issues of faith.

And so it is, sadly, with environmentalism. Increasingly it seems facts aren't necessary, because the tenets of environmentalism are all about belief. It's about whether you are going to be a sinner, or saved. Whether you are going to be one of the people on the side of salvation, or on the side of doom. Whether you are going to be one of us, or one of them. ...

...There is no Eden. There never was. What was that Eden of the wonderful mythic past? Is it the time when infant mortality was 80%, when four children in five died of disease before the age of five? When one woman in six died in childbirth? When the average lifespan was 40, as it was in America a century ago. When plagues swept across the planet, killing millions in a stroke. Was it when millions starved to death? Is that when it was Eden? ...

...So I can tell you some facts. I know you haven't read any of what I am about to tell you in the newspaper, because newspapers literally don't report them. I can tell you that DDT is not a carcinogen and did not cause birds to die and should never have been banned. I can tell you that the people who banned it knew that it wasn't carcinogenic and banned it anyway. I can tell you that the DDT ban has caused the deaths of tens of millions of poor people, mostly children, whose deaths are directly attributable to a callous, technologically advanced western society that promoted the new cause of environmentalism by pushing a fantasy about a pesticide, and thus irrevocably harmed the third world. Banning DDT is one of the most disgraceful episodes in the twentieth century history of America. We knew better, and we did it anyway, and we let people around the world die and didn't give a damn.

I can tell you that second hand smoke is not a health hazard to anyone and never was, and the EPA has always known it. I can tell you that the evidence for global warming is far weaker than its proponents would ever admit. ...

...There are two reasons why I think we all need to get rid of the religion of environmentalism.

First, we need an environmental movement, and such a movement is not very effective if it is conducted as a religion. We know from history that religions tend to kill people, and environmentalism has already killed somewhere between 10-30 million people since the 1970s. It's not a good record....

...The second reason to abandon environmental religion is more pressing. Religions think they know it all, but the unhappy truth of the environment is that we are dealing with incredibly complex, evolving systems, and we usually are not certain how best to proceed. Those who are certain are demonstrating their personality type, or their belief system, not the state of their knowledge. Our record in the past, for example managing national parks, is humiliating. Our fifty-year effort at forest-fire suppression is a well-intentioned disaster from which our forests will never recover. We need to be humble, deeply humble, in the face of what we are trying to accomplish. We need to be trying various methods of accomplishing things. We need to be open-minded about assessing results of our efforts, and we need to be flexible about balancing needs. Religions are good at none of these things. ...