Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Father, Son, Freud and Oedipus
...Members of the usually media-wary Bush family seem surprisingly unguarded in talking to the authors, and some of their remarks could well disconcert a White House in campaign mode or ratify opponents' worst fears. For instance the Schweizers quote one unnamed relative as saying that George W. Bush sees the war on terrorism "as a religious war": "He doesn't have a p.c. view of this war. His view of this is that they are trying to kill the Christians. And we the Christians will strike back with more force and more ferocity than they will ever know."

The Schweizers write that with the war on terrorism, family members saw "the Walker genes literally coming out in him," referring to the Walker side of his family — "aggressive risk-takers who wanted to win at all costs." They describe what they call George W.'s "addictive personality," which "required him to fix in on something and maintain a hold on it." And they quote a relative who says: "With terrorism, he's like a dog with a bone. He won't give up on it."

For that matter, the authors argue that the post-9/11 demands of office were a perfect match with George W.'s personality: "Because of his addictive personality, it was the sort of presidency that suited him well. Unencumbered by domestic issues, with their detail and ambiguity, he was now free to speak naturally in a way that reflected the way he viewed the world: black and white, good and evil. Life had been for him a struggle to conquer those things that had a bad hold on him; the struggle between good and evil was something that he had experienced in his own life."...

Christian Reader, March/April 2001
Reporting from Hell's Doorstep
Jack Kelley covers the world's hot spots

by Jeffrey S. McDonald

He has been stalked by snipers, caught in a Kosovo minefield, and arrested in Cuba. He has watched helplessly as children starved in Somalia and stood over mass graves in Rwanda. He has tracked crime bosses in Russia and read the diaries of soldiers slain during the Persian Gulf War.

As a foreign correspondent for USA Today, Jack Kelley has traveled to 86 countries and conducted interviews with 36 heads of state, including Fidel Castro, Yasser Arafat, the Dalai Lama (who, jokester that he is, burped in Jack's face), and Mikhail Gorbachev.

What has brought him to the front lines of human conflict and tragedy?

"Journalism is a calling," he explains. "I feel God's pleasure when I write and report. It isn't because of the glory, but because God has called me to proclaim truth, and to worship and serve him through other people."

His role models, he says, are four of "the greatest journalists of all time": Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

"I try to be people's ears, eyes, and hearts so they can understand the times they are living in," he says.

One might think he has become callous after seeing so much misery. But he hasn't.

"The day it stops affecting me or I become cynical is the day I want to get out of journalism," Jack says....

..."I talk to the Lord constantly," he adds. "That is the only way I can get through this job. I should have died a long time ago. God is protecting me. I don't think I am testing the Lord. I just think this is what he has called me to do, and he will equip me as necessary."...

...In times of war and crisis, Jack has repeatedly seen how easy it is for misinformation to color perceptions. He has been stunned by the false reports he has received in war-torn areas. ...

...Jack says the best way for him to demonstrate his Christian walk is to strive for excellence in all his dealings. He checks and rechecks his facts and sources, and puts in extra effort so his reports will be accurate and to the point. ...

The Invisible Men
...As the 9-11 Commission continues its focus on why more wasn't done to prevent the terror attacks, a public inquiry set to begin in the next few weeks in Canada may reveal long-hidden secrets about the abuses of America's war on terror. Headed by a judge, it will investigate why Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was flying home to Montreal in 2002, was detained by the U.S. authorities at JFK Airport, and then escorted through Jordan to Syria, where he said he was tortured and kept in a grave-like cell for 10 months. Arar was finally cleared by a Syrian court and sent back to Canada, where he hasn't been charged with any crime.

Arar's advocates say his case calls into question not only what kind of men the U.S. is apprehending, but where these detainees are being sent, and with what consequences. The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents Arar in the U.S., filed a lawsuit on his behalf in late January that they have said is the first to challenge the legality of rendition.

"[F]ederal officials removed Mr. Arar to Syria under the Government's 'extraordinary renditions' program precisely because Syria could use methods of interrogation to obtain information from Mr. Arar that would not be legally or morally acceptable in this country or in other democracies," the group charged. ...

Iraq was invaded 'to protect Israel' - US official
WASHINGTON - Iraq under Saddam Hussein did not pose a threat to the United States, but it did to Israel, which is one reason why Washington invaded the Arab country, according to a speech made by a member of a top-level White House intelligence group.

Inter Press Service uncovered the remarks by Philip Zelikow, who is now the executive director of the body set up to investigate the terrorist attacks on the US in September 2001 - the 9/11 commission - in which he suggests a prime motive for the invasion just over one year ago was to eliminate a threat to Israel, a staunch US ally in the Middle East.

...Zelikow made his statements about "the unstated threat" during his tenure on a highly knowledgeable and well-connected body known as the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), which reports directly to the president. He served on the board between 2001 and 2003.

"Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I'll tell you what I think the real threat [is] and actually has been since 1990 - it's the threat against Israel," Zelikow told a crowd at the University of Virginia on September 10, 2002, speaking on a panel of foreign policy experts assessing the impact of September 11 and the future of the war on al-Qaeda. ...

...To date, the possibility of the US attacking Iraq to protect Israel has been only timidly raised by some intellectuals and writers, with few public acknowledgements from sources close to the administration. Analysts who reviewed Zelikow's statements said that they are concrete evidence of one factor in the rationale for going to war, which has been hushed up. ...

Apocalypse Now
How a hologram, a blimp, and a massively multiplayer game could bring peace to the Holy Land.

Yitzhaq Hayutman holds the key to peace on Earth - it's on a floppy disk in his pants pocket. With his full white beard, bald pate, and well-pressed khakis, the 61-year-old Israeli cybernetics expert and tech investor looks like Moses done over for a Banana Republic ad. Right now, he's showing me how he wants to position an airborne hologram over the Dome of the Rock, a gold-capped shrine that's one of the most holy sites in Islam. "The blimp will go there," Hayutman says pointing into the blue. "And eventually the Messiah will come."

Hayutman is excited by the prospect - perhaps too excited. Twenty yards away, two flak-jacketed Israeli police officers finger their machine guns while four plainclothes members of the Islamic Trust - the Muslim force that protects Islam's holy sites - move cautiously toward us. Violence has a habit of erupting here on the Temple Mount, the world's most explosive plot of land.

Illustration by Kenn Brown
Let there be light: The site is the sky above the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The project includes a laser-projected temple. The goal: to summon the Messiah.
For 1,500 years, Jews, Christians, and Muslims have fought for control of this 35-acre plateau in the heart of Jerusalem. The dispute remains one of the main obstacles to peace in the Middle East. Jewish teachings say that a temple must be built here - many say on the exact spot where the Dome now stands - in order to induce the arrival of the Messiah and the coming of peace on Earth. Fundamentalist Christians interpret this to mean the Second Coming of Christ and actively encourage Jewish building efforts. Muslims categorically oppose any encroachment on their holy site, from which they believe Mohammed ascended to heaven to receive the Koran.

All sides acknowledge that tensions on the hill have the potential to start a war, but Hayutman believes he has found a way to resolve the intractable conflict. "What most people see is that if the Muslims are here, surely there is no temple," Hayutman says. "They do not understand that technology has given us the tools to realize the prophecy right now."

He has two big ideas, two ways to engineer the apocalypse. The first: a hovering holographic temple. Hayutman wants to set up an array of high-powered, water-cooled lasers and fire them into a transparent cube suspended beneath a blimp. The ephemeral, flickering image, he says, would fulfill an ancient, widely revered Jewish prophecy that the temple will descend from the heavens as a manifestation of light. Hayutman hopes to finance the project with some of the proceeds from a $20 million patent-infringement suit he and his partners have filed against Palm.

The rest of that money would be poured into Hayutman's second idea for jump-starting the end-times: a virtual temple within a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. The goal is for thousands of people to join in its construction on the Web. Hayutman even wants to display progress reports in the floating hologram as a kind of apocalyptic scoreboard.

Whether it's a hologram or a cyberstructure, Hayutman believes that a techno temple does away with the need for a physical building. Under his scheme, Jews and Christians would get a biblically accurate temple without razing the Dome of the Rock. A description of his plans is on the floppy disk in his pocket, which he says he will give to me when we leave the Mount....

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Pisces: (Feb. 19—March 20)
You're in grave danger of planning your life around vague interpretations of the mysterious patterns that can supposedly be seen in the night sky.

Quick Note on Clarke and Right-Leaning Blogs
...So why aren't right-learning bloggers being more honest with themselves that Clarke is kicking the hell out of the Bush administration -- and that he's using the Bush administration's own inclinations toward paranoia and secrecy against them, i.e., hoisting them on their own petard? I mean, come on, now: Even if you don't agree with Clarke's message that the Bush administration is staffed with incompetents, at least you can admire the craft with which the message has been delivered. The Bushies have been defending themselves against the same guy for ten days now -- ten days! Even Bush's pathetic deflective attempt to gain goodwill by tossing up the idea of broadband for everybody by 2007 was shown to be just that -- deflective and pathetic. Come on, right-wing bloggers, just come out and admit it: Clarke is beating the Bush administration like a festive piñata. You'll feel better when you do. And you'll get candy!

But I doubt they will, and here's why: Most right-wing bloggers I read are either generally neutral on Bush or actually sort of dislike him for every other thing except the War on Terror -- but their focus on that War on Terror is such that when it comes to it, they're willing to put up with everything else -- the contempt for most Americans, particularly the ones who are not rich, the fundamental disregard for entire swaths of the Constitution, the unseemly theocratic leanings -- because they believe Bush's actions since 9/11 have kept them safe; the entirety of their political thinking, therefore, can be summed up in the words "There's a War On." If Bush is in fact shown to have been negligent or incompetent in the execution of this war, what happens is that these poor folks are going to have their noses rubbed in the fact they've willingly compromised every other important political position they have in order to put their trust in someone in whom that trust was entirely unwarranted. In short, they'll look like they're naive dumbasses. For the sake of their own personal political self-image, they have to defend Bush's war on terror to the bitter, contradictory end. ...

Monday, March 29, 2004

Iraqi detentions fuel anti-US sentiment
ABU GHRAIB, Iraq -- The American military is holding some 8,000 Iraqi security detainees without trial or formal charges, most of them in a prison where at least six US guards have been criminally charged with abusing inmates.

While legal under the Geneva Conventions, the detentions are proving disastrous to the public image of the US-led occupation authority, as hundreds of Iraqis freed this month spread stories of dismal prison conditions and say they were never told why they were arrested.

US officials insist they treat the prisoners fairly, but the widely circulated stories about seemingly arbitrary arrests fuel the sense of injustice here; even as the coalition builds democratic institutions for Iraq, including a new court system, a parallel legal system for detainees persists with few apparent rights for the accused.

In one such case, Mahmoud Khodair said American soldiers blasted into his basement apartment six months ago and dragged him off, accusing him of aiding insurgents. He was held under a procedure that allows occupation forces to imprison without trial those suspected of "anticoalition activity."

Like hundreds more, he was released earlier this month, with no explanation of why he was arrested in the first place or why he was ultimately cleared to go home.

Khodair, a 55-year-old cafe owner, colorfully recounted to a half-dozen men packed in his dark, half-underground bedroom on a recent afternoon how he was forced to sit on his knees in the sun for 10 hours before his first interrogation. "It was just like hell," he recalled.

"Nothing has changed since Saddam," Khodair said. "Before, the Mukhabarat [secret police] would take us away, and at least they wouldn't blow down the door. Now, some informant fingers you and gets $100 even if you're innocent."...

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Biblical Objectivity
Before you begin publishing a newspaper or magazine, you should be able to describe coherently your publication’s theological, political, and cultural perspective. Merely saying that your publication is Christian is not enough: Liberal denominations have so devalued verbal theological precision that the glorious word Christian can mean little more than, "We hope to be nice."

...Christian reporters should give equal space to a variety of perspectives only when the Bible is unclear. Editors who see leftist evangelicals as misled should still give them a chance to respond to questions–but a solidly Christian news publication should not be balanced. Its goal should be provocative and evocative, colorful and gripping, Bible-based news analysis. ...

...In a similar vein, do not tell us that a Christian football player is big; give us his height in feet and inches, his weight in pounds; show him filling up an elevator or dancing with his girlfriend. Do not tell us that a candidate from the feared religious right is energetic: Show him running to meetings or racing around with his children. Do not tell us that a school-board curriculum is messing up children: Show us a child frustrated at not being able to read, a girl putting a condom on a banana, a boy joking about God; give us specific detail about the number and type of complaints from parents. Do not tell us that a teenager has good manners: Show us how he knew which of six forks to use, that he opened doors for elderly folks, that he wrote thank-you notes before the sun went down. ...

...Staying ahead will be easier if you become a Christian contrarian, proceeding on the principle that the conventional wisdom revealed in Time or Newsweek is backward: If they are campaigning for x, it is likely that x is wrong and others will see so. For example, if the top-down leaders are glamorizing homosexual activists, biblically oriented people will be opposing them. Editors can learn much by listening to the bottom-up concerns of Christian and conservative activists who are preparing to derail the secular liberal express. ...

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Jack Kelley Urged to Pursue Counseling
Jack Kelley's Christian journalist friends in Washington, D.C., are confronting the discredited star reporter formerly with USA Today in hopes of getting him to acknowledge publicly that he cannot vouch for the reliability of his reporting.

Several journalists contacted by Christianity Today say that Kelley, 43, seems to confuse what was fabricated and what was true in his reporting and they suggested to him that he seek professional counseling....

...The paper also alleged that Kelley lied in his speeches, notably to the annual meeting at the Evangelical Press Association in 2000. For years, leading evangelicals hailed Kelley as a role model to student journalists....

...At the time Kelley resigned in January, he had been the subject for months of extremely intensive inquiry from his editors. Prior to that day, Jack Kelley, a deeply devout Christian, seemed to rise above his difficulties. If a young reporter needed some hard-to-get phone numbers, Kelley was the first one to open up his Rolodex. If you needed to know how to negotiate the dark alleys and corrupt lords of the earth, Kelley was your man.

But some journalists thought his tight wire act over the cesspools of the world was too good to be true. A few questioned that he couldn't possibly know what he found out or interview who he said he had.

Yet, Kelley successfully put off his detractors, discounted their criticisms as envy and all seemed to be going his way. While doubt simmered, there never was a clear cut case of fraud that boiled the pot of criticism over into serious accusation.

Indeed, Kelley said that he believed that God was opening doors and protecting him. He further told Christian Reader (now named Today's Christian) magazine that "Many times God has spared me."...

...USA Today decided to focus on some of Kelley's most sensational stories. In one story from 2001 Kelley reported narrowly escaping being blown up outside the Sbarro pizza restaurant in Jerusalem by a terrorist bomber who passed right by him. Some reporters snorted in disbelief at another tale of Kelley's "miraculous escapes" that the journalist sometimes attributes to God's intervention. Further, Kelley's claim that he had actually brushed by the terrorist seemed too good to be true....

...Indeed, over the years some friends wondered if Kelley wasn't over-dramatizing and tailoring his facts to fit the audience. Jill Rosen in the American Journalism Review reports a similar incident of an unexpected call from Kelley to a friend, reporter Matthew Fisher. Kelley told the story of running through the streets of Moscow from Chechen hit men. Kelley asked Fisher to call his editor for help in getting into the U.S. Embassy.

Later, Kelley retold that same story as an example of God's miraculous intervention. He told Today's Christian that he got a vision of a building number 925 in which he would receive safe haven. He claimed a vivid memory of the details of the apartment. But was his survival due to safe haven in the embassy or God that saved Kelley? That seemed to depend on who Kelley was talking to....

Friday, March 26, 2004

The Faith-Based Presidency
You can question Bush's veracity, his grip on reality, and the rationality of his policies, but not his faith.

George W. Bush has made rationality an antonym of Republican. His is the first faith-based presidency. Above the entrance to the Bush West Wing should be St. Paul's definition of faith—"the evidence of things unseen."

So much of President Bush has to be taken on faith. His integrity, for example. You have to trust the evidence of things unseen to believe him, for the visible evidence indicates a disposition toward deceit. Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, the cost of his prescription-drug bill, the effect of his tax cuts on the deficit, the number of lines of stem cells available to scientists after his restrictions on research. You name it—from who hung the Mission Accomplished banner up behind him for his "victory" strut on the USS Abraham Lincoln to his claims that on September 11 he, not the Air Force Chief of Staff, was the one to order the military to highest alert—he's lied about it.

Alternatively, Bush could be seen as what Al Sharpton called "an unconscious liar." He asks us to accept his feelings about something as evidence of the something. In this view, he's not deceitful; he's innocent of the procedures of rationality—he can't think.

Or his troubles with truth arise because he bases his thoughts on authority not reality. Bush offered an example of his dependent mind on the night of his election....

...ou can question Bush's veracity, his grip on reality, and the rationality of his policies, but not his faith. Turning to Jesus to escape from drinking was the turning point in his life. Sincerity, unreservedly giving your heart to Jesus, is the fulcrum of life-altering faith, say people who have experienced it. Reason, skepticism, critical thought, irony, argument—all threaten this sustaining emotional purity. You owe your life to a miracle, and it will go away if doubt creeps in.

All lives have the kind of soul-trying trouble that nearly cost George W. Bush his marriage. Some people see psychiatrists; others take medication; many turn to faith. And for many of this last group, I suspect, Bush's sins against reason, his privileging of his heart over his head, make up no small part of his appeal. Religiosity—intensity of faith and frequency of church attendance—now vies with race as a partisan predictor. Just as 9 in 10 African-Americans voted for Al Gore in 2000, so nearly 9 in 10 "high-commitment evangelicals" voted for George W. Bush. Altogether, evangelicals and white Protestant fundamentalists constituted 40 percent of Bush's vote. ...

...Again and again Daddy bailed him out of failed business ventures and may have, by the influence of his office if not directly, helped him escape indictment for insider trading in connection with one of them. Daddy got him into the National Guard, saving him, perhaps, from Vietnam; at a low point in GWB's career, Daddy's status as Vice President helped him become a partner in the Texas Rangers, so he could parlay a few hundred thousand dollars into a fortune. In short, throughout his life either his father or Jesus has saved him from the consequences of his own decisions or behavior....

Flashback: Bush, Gore trade barbs on character
...Bush lashed out at Gore's reputation for honesty and his explanations of his role in the fund-raising probes stemming from President Clinton's 1996 re-election bid.

"In my administration, we will ask not only what is legal but what is right," Bush said. "...Not just what the lawyers allow, but what the public deserves. In my administration, we'll make it clear there is a controlling legal authority of conscience."

Despite the sharpness of Thursday's speech, Bush said he would set "a tone of civility and bipartisanship that gets things done." ...

...Bush ... accused Gore of following momentary changes in public opinion rather than acting on core beliefs, lacing his address with references to changes in Gore's image and promising "a climate of honesty and integrity." ...

Thursday, March 25, 2004

MIA WMDs--For Bush, It's a Joke
Last night I was at the Radio and Television Correspondents' Association Dinner. It's a formal-and-fun affair where thousands of media folks assemble at the Hilton for a fancy dinner and fab pre- and post-parties. I'm not going to denigrate such soirees. I enjoy them. While bookers and producers jiggled and jostled on the dance floor and media and political celebs dissected the news du jour (this time it was Richard Clarke's dramatic appearance before the 9/11 commission), I was able to chat with former weapons hunter David Kay and learn about some troubling developments in the intelligence community (more on that down the road). And there was free sushi.

But an awful you're-all-alone moment came during George W. Bush's comments that followed the sit-down dinner. The current president is often the honored guest at this annual affair, and the audience toasts him in what is supposed to be a sign of communal and nonpartisan spirit. And, the tradition is, that the president has to be funny; he has to provide us with an amusing speech that pokes fun at himself and his political foes. After all, political journalists love to see politicians engage in self-deprecating humor. Bill Clinton was quite good at these performances. Bush seems to enjoy them less. Rather than do straight standup, he sometimes relies on a humorous slide show, and that was how he chose to entertain the media throng this time.

It's standard fare humor. Bush says he is preparing for a tough election fight; then on the large video screens a picture flashes showing him wearing a boxing robe while sitting at his desk. Bush notes he spends "a lot of time on the phone listening to our European allies." Then we see a photo of him on the phone with a finger in his ear. There were funny bits about Skull and Bones, his mother, and Dick Cheney. But at one point, Bush showed a photo of himself looking for something out a window in the Oval Office, and he said, "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere."

The audience laughed. I grimaced. But that wasn't the end of it. After a few more slides, there was a shot of Bush looking under furniture in the Oval Office. "Nope," he said. "No weapons over there." More laughter. Then another picture of Bush searching in his office: "Maybe under here." Laughter again. ...

Another dodgy dossier
A poll showing that most Iraqis were happier now was widely and uncritically reported - but was it accurate?

Media reports treated last week's poll of Iraqis, commissioned by the BBC, ABC News and others, as the population's definitive word on the war. "Iraqis happier without Saddam" trumpeted headlines, in response to the claim that 57% think life is better now than it was before the war. The poll of 2,737 Iraqis was carried out in February by Oxford Research International (ORI), which describes it as "a national survey" and "representative". President Bush's official blog gave it an approving nod: "Thanks to the bravery of our troops, and the principled, consistent leadership of our president, we are leaving Iraq better than we found it."
But how representative of Iraqi views is it? Western companies have conducted polls, but their findings are unconvincing. In October Zogby International and the American Enterprise magazine said they had conducted "the first scientific poll of the Iraqi public". Yet their sample was small: 600 Iraqis in Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk and Ramadi.

Polling in any post-war setting is difficult, and there are additional problems in Iraq. The UN says there is "a dearth of demographic information about Iraq's population over the past several decades". As a consequence of Ba'ath party secrecy, questions remain about the distribution of ethnic and religious groups and social classes. Iain Murray, a statistician based in Washington, says that for a poll to be representative, "matching the sample to the country's demography is absolutely key. Otherwise, you simply cannot be sure that you are not weighting the sample unconsciously towards or away from any section of society."

So how did ORI weight its sample for class and religion, to achieve results that, according to the BBC, "reflected Iraq's distribution of population, balance between men and women, and religious and ethnic mix"? It didn't....

Gory, gory, hallelujah
YOU'D BE FORGIVEN FOR THINKING there was not much fun to be had from Mel Gibson's paschal bloodbath, The Passion of the Christ. It's an unrelenting two-hour gorefest in Latin and the only joke in it is extremely poor.

But you'd be wrong. The display of double standards from Christian anti-violence campaigners happily denying everything they have preached for a quarter-century has been thoroughly entertaining. For years they have told us that ketchup explosions degrade and corrupt viewers, that graphic violence inspires copycats and undermines society.

Now, without so much as a grinding of gears, they have stolen all the liberals' best arguments to explain why the film Roger Ebert called "the most violent I have ever seen" is the greatest story ever sold.

FIRST EXEMPLAR OF EVANGELICAL DOUBLETHINK is Jerry Falwell, founder of Moral Majority, pastor of the largest church in North America and scourge of the Tellytubbies....

Richard Clarke KOs the Bushies
The ex-terrorism official dazzles at the 9/11 commission hearings.

Richard Clarke made his much-anticipated appearance before the 9/11 commission this afternoon and, right out of the box, delivered a stunning blow to the Bush administration—the political equivalent of a first-round knockout.

The blow was so stunning, it took a while to realize that it was a blow. Clarke thanked the members for holding the hearings, saying they finally provided him "a forum where I can apologize" to the victims of 9/11 and their loved ones. He continued, addressing those relatives, many of whom were sitting in the hearing room:

Your government failed you … and I failed you. We tried hard, but that doesn'tmatter because we failed. And for that failure, I would ask … for your understanding and for your forgiveness.

End of statement. Applause. KO....

...The heart of his book's attacks surrounds the war. "By invading Iraq," he said, taking full advantage of Lehman's opening, "the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terror." End of response. Lehman said nothing....

Python's 'Life of Brian' to be re-issued
LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) -- Coming back soon to a theater near you -- a controversial film about a Jewish guy from Nazareth who is worshiped as the Messiah and crucified by the Romans.

No, it's not Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." It's Monty Python's "Life of Brian."

Inspired by the runaway success -- and public furor -- over Gibson's portrayal of the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus, the creators behind the 1979 biblical satire about an anti-Roman activist who spends his life being mistaken for a prophet are planning a 25th anniversary re-release next month.

"Life of Brian" will open at the end of April in Los Angeles and New York before expanding to other cities across the country, Rainbow Film Company president Henry Jaglom, whose distribution arm is reissuing the film, said Tuesday.

Jaglom, a writer-director whose partner, John Goldstone, produced the original film, said trailers for the comedy would appear in theaters starting on Good Friday.

"We decided this is an important time to re-release this film, to provide some counter-programming to 'The Passion,' " Jaglom told Reuters. "I intend it, hopefully, to serve as an antidote to all the hysteria about Mel's movie."

He said marketing for the re-release would play off Gibson's film by adapting such taglines as "Mel or Monty" and "The Passion or the Python" -- "we want to give people a choice."...

Time for Contrition
...Problems arise when we attempt to "cover" our own sin, and never is that more true than in the case of powerful political leaders. Today the man who had done more than anyone to sound the alarm prior to 9/11 was the one to finally apologize to the families of the dead--many of whom were seated in the room--after all the Secretaries of Defense and State, the CIA Director and one National Security Advisor had testified.

It is obvious that there is plenty of blame to go around for the terrible lapse in security that failed to prevent the 9/11 attacks. It is also apparent that the most immediate blame must be borne by the Bush administration. But what is even worse than the initial negligence is the lengths to which they have gone to "cover" their sin. They've stonewalled the 9/11 Commission and even refused to allow their National Security Advisor to testify. They've tried to demonize any who criticized them. Finally, even the Iraq War can be argued to have part of its motivation in a hope that an easy military victory would "atone" for the catastrophe that hit the nation in 2001.

An Evangelical Christian like George W. Bush should understand contrition and repentance. If he had honestly examined himself and his adminstration in the days following 9/11, he surely would have recognized his fault and could have offered his apology to the victims' families and the nations. If members of Congress and the Clinton administration really looked at their own actions and inactions, they should have joined him in a day of national contrition and healing. None of that is to absolve the murdering terrorists who actually killed all those people. It is only to say that we depend upon our government to defend us and they failed....

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Dick Clarke Is Telling the Truth
Why he's right about Bush's negligence on terrorism.

I have no doubt that Richard Clarke, the former National Security Council official who has launched a broadside against President Bush's counterterrorism policies, is telling the truth about every single charge. There are three reasons for this confidence....

...But on to the substance. Clarke's main argument—made in his new book, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, in lengthy interviews on CBS's 60 Minutes and PBS's Charlie Rose Show, and presumably in his testimony scheduled for tomorrow before the 9/11 Commission—is that Bush has done (as Clarke put it on CBS) "a terrible job" at fighting terrorism. Specifically: In the summer of 2001, Bush did almost nothing to deal with mounting evidence of an impending al-Qaida attack. Then, after 9/11, his main response was to attack Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11. This move not only distracted us from the real war on terrorism, it fed into Osama Bin Laden's propaganda—that the United States would invade and occupy an oil-rich Arab country—and thus served as the rallying cry for new terrorist recruits.

Clarke's charges have raised a furor because of who he is. In every administration starting with Ronald Reagan's, Clarke was a high-ranking official in the State Department or the NSC, dealing mainly with countering weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. Under Clinton and the first year of George W. Bush, he worked in the White House as the national coordinator for terrorism, a Cabinet-level post created specifically for his talents. When the terrorists struck on Sept. 11, Condi Rice, Bush's national security adviser, designated Clarke as the "crisis manager;" he ran the interagency meetings from the Situation Room, coordinating—in some cases, directing—the response.

Clarke backs up his chronicle with meticulous detail, but the basic charges themselves should not be so controversial; certainly, they're nothing new. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill wrote in his book, The Price of Loyalty, that Bush's top officials talked about invading Iraq from the very start of the administration. Jim Mann's new book about Bush's war Cabinet, Rise of the Vulcans, reveals the historic depths of this obsession.

Most pertinent, Rand Beers, the official who succeeded Clarke after he left the White House in February 2003, resigned in protest just one month later—five days before the Iraqi war started—for precisely the same reason that Clarke quit. In June, he told the Washington Post, "The administration wasn't matching its deeds to its words in the war on terror. They're making us less secure, not more." And: "The difficult, long-term issues both at home and abroad have been avoided, neglected or shortchanged, and generally underfunded." (For more about Beers, including his association with Clarke and whether there's anything pertinent about his current position as a volunteer national security adviser to John Kerry's presidential campaign, click here.)

Clarke's distinction, of course, is that he was the ultimate insider—as highly and deeply inside, on this issue, as anyone could imagine. And so his charges are more credible, potent, and dangerous. So, how has Team Bush gone after Clarke? Badly.

To an unusual degree, the Bush people can't get their story straight. On the one hand, Condi Rice has said that Bush did almost everything that Clarke recommended he do. On the other hand, Vice President Dick Cheney, appearing on Rush Limbaugh's show, acted as if Clarke were a lowly, eccentric clerk: "He wasn't in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff." This is laughably absurd. Clarke wasn't just in the loop, he was the loop....

Analysis: Iraq Charges Against Bush Begin to Mount
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Criticism of President Bush's motives and decision-making in attacking Iraq last year may be acquiring critical mass with voters following criticism by former top counterterrorism official Richard Clarke.

Political consultants and analysts said Clarke's allegation that Bush ignored the al Qaeda threat before the Sept. 11 attacks and was obsessed by a desire to invade Iraq were especially damaging because they confirmed other previous revelations from policy insiders.

"Each of these revelations adds to the others so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and the message gets reinforced with voters," said Richard Rosecrance, a political scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Before Clarke, there was former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who asserted in a book published in January that Bush began laying the groundwork for an attack on Iraq from the moment he took office.

Then came the bombshell from former weapons inspector David Kay that the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that Bush launched the war to find and destroy probably did not exist.

Kay on Tuesday warned that U.S. credibility at home and abroad was in grave danger and urged the Bush administration to own up to its intelligence failures.

"We are in grave danger of having destroyed our credibility internationally and domestically with regard to warning about future events," he said. "The answer is to admit you were wrong, and what I find most disturbing around Washington ... is the belief ... you can never admit you're wrong."

Earlier this month, former U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix added to the fire by accusing Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair of "exaggerating the risks they saw in order to get the political support (for the war) they would not otherwise have had."...

IT workers--unhappy campers?
If information technology is your chosen vocation, think again; you might be a lot happier if you switched profession and took up hairdressing, plumbing, cooking or even selling flowers.

Only one in seven IT specialists rate themselves as 'very happy' in their work, compared to one in three in hairdressers, plumbers and chefs, and one in four florists. The findings are revealed in a new City & Guilds 'Happiness Index', based on a survey of 1,054 employees both in academic professions and in vocational occupations. Overall, IT workers came in at number 19 in the happiness index.

Chris Humphries, director general at City & Guilds, said: "It's a misconception that white-collar professionals have the best jobs and are therefore the happiest. As our research proves, it's often people in vocational careers that are the most content and fulfilled." ...

Clarke: Bush Pressured him to Find Iraq link to 9/11
...These revelations in turn make Tony Blair's behavior more understandable. Right after 9/11, it was entirely possible that London should also be hit. MI-6 would have had an excellent appraisal of the jihadi networks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and would have known that the 40 terrorist training camps in Afghanistan were a seething swamp out of which the mosquitoes kept coming to sting the US and Europe. There were even questions at the time about whether a British subject had trained at one of the flight schools.

So, Blair and the British establishment must have been taken aback at the bizarre early stance of the Bush administration, that they intended hit Iraq and leave Bin Laden alone. Indeed, Blair must have been absolutely frantic that the weird Bush crew might plunge the Middle East into chaos while leaving the main threat still operating. So Blair frantically flies to DC, makes an alliance with Powell, and makes a devil's bargain. The Bushies can have Iraq if they want it. But only at a price: They must take care of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan first. If they do it in that sequence, Blair would provide them a cover against charges of complete unilateral aggression.

The level of cynicism among the anti-Iraq hawks like Wolfowitz, in the wake of a huge national tragedy like September 11, is breathtaking. Even Wolfowitz admitted to Bush that the likelihood Iraq had anything to do with it was between 10 and 50 percent. And, he almost certainly knew that there was no link at all....

Blair 'dissuaded Bush from attack after 9/11'
Tony Blair has frequently played a pivotal role in the infighting in the US administration over Iraq, according to the recently retired British ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer.

Hawks in the Bush administration, mainly the deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, pushed for an attack on Iraq rather than Afghanistan in the aftermath of September 11.

Sir Christopher, in an interview with the US public broadcasting system last night, said that the prime minister, arriving in Washington the week after an inconclusive discussion between George Bush and his key advisers at Camp David, swung in behind the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, who saw Afghanistan as the prime target.

In the documentary Blair's War, Sir Christopher, who returned to Britain last month, said that when Mr Blair met Mr Bush in the weeks after September 11, he urged him to deal first with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network and its protector - Afghanistan's Taliban government - before tackling Iraq.

"Tony Blair's view was, 'Whatever you're going to do about Iraq, you should concentrate on the job at hand'. And the job at hand was get al-Qaida, give the Taliban an ultimatum," the former British ambassador said.

Sir Christopher added that Mr Bush took Mr Blair aside and promised he would keep Iraq "for another day". ...

An Accuser's Insider Status Puts the White House on the Defensive
WASHINGTON, March 22 — John Kerry himself has never dared to make such a bald charge: That President Bush failed to adequately grasp the threat of Al Qaeda in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks, then followed up with "an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq that strengthened the fundamentalist, radical Islamic terrorist movement worldwide."

But that is the stinging indictment of Mr. Bush's own former top counterterrorism adviser, Richard A. Clarke, published this week in a memoir. At the worst possible moment, it undercuts Mr. Bush on the issue that he has made the unapologetic centerpiece of his administration and a linchpin of his re-election campaign: his handling of the global war on terror....

...Just as Mr. Bush appeared to be gaining the upper hand over Mr. Kerry in the fledgling general election campaign after weeks on the defensive over the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Mr. Clarke has put the White House squarely on the defensive again. He paints a scene that it is easy to imagine turning up with spooky music in a Kerry commercial as evidence of Mr. Bush's determination to invade Iraq. On Sept. 12, 2001, Mr. Clarke writes, Mr. Bush approached him in the White House Situation Room and three times asked him to "look into" whether Iraq had been involved in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"And in a very intimidating way, I mean, that we should come back with that answer," Mr. Clarke elaborated in an interview on the CBS program "60 Minutes" on Sunday night....

The American elections, the future of alliances and the lessons of Spain
We are now experiencing fundamental changes in the international system whose implications and consequences may ultimately be as far-reaching as the dissolution of the Soviet bloc.

The United States' strength, to a crucial extent, has rested on its ability to convince other nations that it was to their vital interests to see America prevail in its global role. But the scope and ultimate consequences of its world mission, including its extraordinarily vague doctrine of "preemptive wars," is today far more dangerous and open-ended than when Communism existed. Enemies have disappeared and new ones - many once former allies and even congenial friends - have taken their places. The United States, to a degree to which it is itself uncertain, needs alliances, but these allies will be bound into uncritical "coalitions of the willing."

But the events in Spain over the past days, from the massive deadly explosions in Madrid to the defeat of the ruling party because it supported the Iraq war despite overwhelming public opposition to doing so, have greatly raised the costs to its allies of following Washington's lead....

In Praise of Laudanum
For some, “addiction” may be the only cure.

...One of these “addicts” was lost to us on a rainy Tennessee day in the spring of 1809. Meriwether Lewis was the greatest national hero of those times and the designated political heir to Thomas Jefferson. He was, presumptively, the sixth or seventh president of the United States. In historical terms, his suicide marked the passing of the torch from Jeffersonian to Jacksonian democracy and had a profound impact on the nature of our country. The continental vision he shared with Jefferson was replaced by “manifest destiny” and the Trail of Tears. Conquest by force of arms replaced diplomacy and guile as the hallmark of American expansionism. Slavery ceased to be an abomination that we had to be lead out of and became, instead, a bargaining chip to be cynically used, always to the accrual of federal power. The loss of this junkie was transformational and, in the aftermath of his suicide, when his personal effects were sent home to Virginia and inventoried, there wasn’t any laudanum to be found.

Monday, March 22, 2004

A Nation of Victims
George W. Bush is generally regarded as a mangler of the English language. What is overlooked is his mastery of emotional language--especially negatively charged emotional language--as a political tool. Take a closer look at his speeches and public utterances, and his political success turns out to be no surprise. It is the predictable result of the intentional use of language to dominate others.

President Bush, like many dominant personality types, uses dependency-creating language. He employs language of contempt and intimidation to shame others into submission and desperate admiration. While we tend to think of the dominator as using physical force, in fact most dominators use verbal abuse to control others. Abusive language has been a major theme of psychological researchers on marital problems, such as John Gottman, and of philosophers and theologians, such as Josef Pieper. But little has been said about the key role it has come to play in political discourse, and in such "hot media" as talk radio and television.

Bush uses several dominating linguistic techniques to induce surrender to his will....

USA Today Reporter Busted
...From JOHN PHILLIP SANTOS: There was a troubling sidebar to the NYT coverage of the Jack Kelley flap, reported by Times media correspondent, Jacques Steinberg.

Reporting on an interview with Johanna Newmann, Kelley's onetime foreign editor at USAT, now at the LA Times, Steinberg reports that Kelley, because he was so widely trusted, was allowed to use only a first name to identify the author of an alleged Serbian girl's diary that contained murderous anti-Croat vituperations. The story ran on USAT's front page.

"That trust, she (Newmann) said, was rooted to some extent in his openness with his colleagues about being an evangelical Christian. 'He was this very earnest, moralistic Christian reporter,' she said. 'It made people trust him in ways they didn't trust other reporters. If he was reporting he had the diary of a Serbian girl, and no one else had it, you tended to say: 'He just has a way with people. People just respond to him.' "

Steinberg moves on without probing further the implications of Newmann's remarks.

How many newsrooms operate in the shadow world of such an ethic? What kind of an editor would factor a reporter's evangelical Christian beliefs into whether or not to go with a dubious piece of reporting, much less admit to it in the New York Times? Would a good Muslim reporter be likely get the same green light from Newmann? A righteous Bahai or a compassionate Buddhist?

I guess even the most upright Atheist would have to be willing to account for every fact they want to report to the public....

God in the Hands of Angry Sinners
If you relish the sight of a healthy male body being systematically demolished, beyond the farthest reach of plausible endurance, The Passion of the Christ is your movie. It is not simply the scourging scene that is at issue, though that deals out an unspecified number of stripes—more than sixty and still counting, half of them inflicted by whips that have been made into multiple-hook tearing instruments. Even earlier, at the arrest of Jesus, he is chained, beaten over and over, thrown off a bridge to crash below. He arrives at his first legal hearing already mauled and with one eye closed behind swollen bruises. From then on, he is never moved or stopped without spontaneous blows and kicks and shoves from all kinds of bystanders wanting to get in on the fun. On the way to execution, he is whipped while fainting under the cross. A soldier says to lay off or he'll never make it. But the crowd just keeps whipping and beating him all the rest of the way.

My wife and I had to stop glancing furtively at each other for fear we would burst out laughing. It had gone beyond sadism into the comic surreal,...

Saturday, March 20, 2004

The Déjà Vu War
American and other "coalition" forces try to keep order, but outbursts of ethno-religious violence break through the façade with dismaying regularity and increasing intensity. As of Thursday, 22 civilians were dead, and hundreds wounded, in the latest wave of rioting, with 35 occupation troops injured – and immediate reinforcements totaling some 2,000 rushed to the scene. The occupation authorities vowed "robust action," and appealed to the international community for support, as the UN went into emergency session to discuss the imminent crisis. The EU's Javier Solana declared it "a major setback," the French were frantic with outrage, and the Russians solemnly underscored the urgency of the situation, the implication being that the Americans and their Western allies were again failing to live up to their responsibilities. A neighboring nation deplored the ethnic cleansing of its cross-border compatriots and mobilized its forces.

The latest from Iraq? Nope. Follow the links: we're talking Kosovo….

...It is one of the great myths perpetuated by the left-wing of the anti-war movement, i.e., the left-wing of the Democratic party, that Team Bush invented the doctrine of preemptive war. In declaring their imperial prerogative of intervening anywhere with impunity, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz merely formalized and elaborated on what had already been put into practice by Albright and Holbrooke, who touted the cause of "humanitarian" intervention in the Balkans to the loud applause of the left-liberal peanut gallery....

...Postwar revisionism on Iraq bears an eerie resemblance to the misgivings expressed in the headlines of the world's newspapers as the "liberation" of Kosovo was accomplished: "Cook accused of misleading public on Kosovo massacres," [London Times]; "Where Are Kosovo's Killing Fields?" asked Stratfor, the online foreign policy analysts; "Despite Tales, the War in Kosovo Was Savage, but Wasn't Genocide," averred the Wall Street Journal; "Serb killings exaggerated by the West," said the London Guardian [8/18/00].

Instead of the 100,000, 50,000, or 10,000 victims of Serbian "genocide" we were led to believe we would find in "liberated" Kosovo, at one time or another, the total number of bodies exhumed was never more than a few thousand, including both Albanians and Serbs. ...

Friday, March 19, 2004

Off the Mark on Cost of War, Reception by Iraqis
A year ago tonight, President Bush took the nation to war in Iraq with a grand vision for change in the Middle East and beyond.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq, his administration predicted, would come at little financial cost and would materially improve the lives of Iraqis. Americans would be greeted as liberators, Bush officials predicted, and the toppling of Saddam Hussein would spread peace and democracy throughout the Middle East.

Things have not worked out that way, for the most part. There is evidence that the economic lives of Iraqis are improving, thanks to an infusion of U.S. and foreign capital. But the administration badly underestimated the financial cost of the occupation and seriously overstated the ease of pacifying Iraq and the warmth of the reception Iraqis would give the U.S. invaders. And while peace and democracy may yet spread through the region, some early signs are that the U.S. action has had the opposite effect. ...

Remarks by President Bush and Prime Minister Balkenende of the Netherlands in a Photo Opportunity
...Q Thank you, Mr. President. Candidate Kerry has suggested he has support of world leaders. Do you think he should -- that should be a factor in the campaign? Was that an appropriate thing for him to say?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I think it's -- if you're going to make an accusation in the course of a presidential campaign, you ought to back it up with facts. ...

Iraq Council, Shifting Stance, Invites the U.N. to Aid Transfer
...In a morning meeting on Wednesday, Mr. Bremer warned the Iraqi leaders that they risked isolating themselves and their country if they continued to snub the United Nations. ...

The Fickle Majority
The sputtering vitriol of the Warmongers against the Spaniards would be funny if it weren't so ugly. They like democracy - as a justification for endless war and intervention - it's just the decisions of the voters they can't stand....

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Couple Arrested After 'Passion' Debate
STATESBORO, Ga. - A couple who got into a dispute over a theological point after watching "The Passion of the Christ" were arrested after the argument turned violent.

The two left the movie theater debating whether God the Father in the Holy Trinity was human or symbolic, and the argument heated up when they got home, Melissa Davidson said.

"It was the dumbest thing we've ever done," she said....

The Armageddon Plan
During the Reagan era Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were key players in a clandestine program designed to set aside the legal lines of succession and immediately install a new "President" in the event that a nuclear attack killed the country's leaders. The program helps explain the behavior of the Bush Administration on and after 9/11....

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

They're OK, We're OK
..."For all their (often quite legitimate) denunciation of sex and violence in the popular media, evangelicals flourish amidst the celebrity-drenched, lowest-common-denominator, highly sentimentalized world of romance novels, daytime soaps, NASCAR races, and Opry-knockoff music that dominates America's entertainment industry." ...

...The special attention Wolfe pays to evangelicals is occasioned not only by his newfound familiarity with them (he is careful to distinguish them from fundamentalists) but also by their vulnerability to his scorn and their centrality to his narrative. It takes little effort to find instances of "insipid," "simplistic," and "narcissistic" praise music and pop theology in seeker-sensitive megachurches and feel-good small groups. Wolfe respects his new evangelical friends too much not to share with them his disdain for the way many of their number flirt with the worst of American pop culture. But he also recognizes the extent to which the deep-seated individualistic and anti-formal currents in American culture, and even the fashionable mantra that lauds "spirituality" over "religion," are themselves the product of evangelicalism. When he writes that "we are all evangelicals now," he knows that evangelicals are agents as well as victims of cultural accommodation....

It is not caving in to the bees to stop poking a stick into their hive.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Onward Christian Soldiers
...No one likes to see people murdered in cold blood. But the very presence of fundamentalist missionaries in Iraq (as part of the official relief effort, no less) is a cultural and political abomination, as well as a classic example of just how seriously the Bush admnistration takes the struggle against terrorism -- which is to say, not very seriously at all.

This issue has been simmering away since shortly after the invasion, when groups such as the Southern Baptist International Mission Board and Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse began mobilizing to follow the advancing U.S. Army into Iraq. That's the same Franklin Graham who once described Islam as "a very evil and wicked religion."

...In general, I think the Southern Baptists should be free to preach their cult-like beliefs to whomever they like -- just as long as they stay away from my door. If they want to sneak into closed countries in search of a martyr's death (or, more likely, a martyr's explusion) more power to them. Personally, I think proselytizing is culturally and morally obnoxious. But so is religious repression....

But the missionary presence in Iraq -- as part of a conquering infidel army, no less -- unquestionably has been an enormous propaganda gift to the jihadists. It's hard to imagine a better way to reinforce the idea that the war on terrorism is actually a Christian crusade to subjugate Islam than to let a bunch of noisy right-wing religious bigots set up shop in the heart of an occupied Arab country -- holding badly needed relief aid in one hand and a Bible in the other. Like Jesus's general, my-God-is-bigger-than-your-God Jerry Boykin, these people are literally helping Al Qaeda promote its core message to the Islamic world.

For the Bush White House, this is simply an extention of the 'faith-based" pork barrel to foreign shores -- yet another way to cultivate the Christian conservatives. And it appears the short-term political advantages of pandering to the base outweigh the long-term damage the missionaries are doing to the administration's alleged goal of stabilizing and pacifying Iraq. By their works ye shall know them....

THE SEARCH TO BELONG: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups - by Joseph R. Myers
...The cultural trend to seek out front porch is evident in the phenomenon of "church shopping." For several years, we have credited consumerism with birthing the trend for people to "shop" for a church that offers a buffet of choices to meet their many needs. We have observed that many individuals jumping denominational lines. We attributed these evils to the consumer mentality of our time. Yet I am not convinced that this is at the heart of people's search.

There may be several fundamental life searches, but the search to consume is not among them. People consume in an effort to fulfill a search. For example, a person may purchase a new outfit to help with their search for identity and individuality. At the same time another may make the same purchase to quench a desire to fit in, which helps with their search to belong. People do not consume just to consume.

What I believe may be happening is that people are dating our congregations. They are looking for communities where they can become part of the family. You do not shop for family. You date to find family. ...

Race Matters
...People are likely to support welfare if they live close to recipients of their own race; but are antipathetic if they live near recipients from another race. The divergent attitudes of Europeans and Americans to the poor are underwritten by the fact that the poor in Europe tend to be ethnically the same as most other folk. In America, their skin is often a different colour....

Monday, March 15, 2004

Too high for love: lost your drive? ...
When the physicians come to me,/ My heart rejects their remedies;/ The magicians are quite helpless,/ My sickness is not discerned./ To tell me “She is here” would revive me!

If this Ancient Egyptian poem is any guide, lovesickness has been with us for more than 3,000 years. But psychiatrists may be unintentionally “curing” us of that experience and other aspects of romantic love with modern antidepressant medications.

So argue the anthropologist Helen Fisher, and the psychiatrist James Thomson Jr. Their case, sketched out in Fisher’s recent book, Why We Love (Henry Holt, £13.22), centres on how certain antidepressants could be blocking chemical pathways in the brain that were paved by evolution to help us meet and keep mates. ...

Sunday, March 14, 2004

The Iraq War did not Force Gadaffi's Hand
Embarrassed by the failure to find Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, President George W. Bush is trying to find another WMD-related justification for his pre-emptive war on Iraq. Bush administration spokesmen have been quick to portray Libya's December decision to abandon WMD programmes as the direct result of the US invasion of Iraq or, as Mr. Bush himself put it in his State of the Union address: "Nine months of intense negotiations succeeded with Libya, while 12 years of diplomacy with Iraq did not." In diplomacy, noted the president, "words must be credible, and no one can now doubt the word of America" (applause).

The implication is clear. Get rid of one dictator because of his supposed WMD programmes and others will be so afraid that they will voluntarily abandon their weapons programmes. Therefore, even if no WMDs were found in Iraq, we still made the world a safer place. The perfect comeback.

In Muammer Gadaffi's case, this proposition is questionable. In fact, Libyan representatives offered to surrender WMD programmes more than four years ago, at the outset of secret negotiations with US officials. In May 1999, their offer was officially conveyed to the US government at the peak of the "12 years of diplomacy with Iraq" that Mr. Bush now disparages. Back then, Libya was facing a deepening economic crisis produced by disastrous economic policies and mismanagement of its oil revenues. United Nations and US sanctions that prevented Libya importing oilfield technology made it impossible for Mr. Gadaffi to expand oil production. The only way out was to seek rapprochement with Washington....

Friday, March 12, 2004

Race, religion gap growing, MTSU poll indicates
Tennesseans' views on the presidential race, the war in Iraq, gay marriage and the state's social problems are increasingly divided by race, religion and political party, a poll released yesterday showed....

...Among the poll's findings: Race and religion are becoming as important as political party affiliation in predicting how people view social and political questions, Wyatt said.

Attitudes about the Iraq war illustrate these divisions.


• Among Republicans, 78% said the war was worthwhile, as opposed to 12% of Democrats and 51% of independents.

• Among whites, 54% supported the war vs. 18% of African-Americans.

• Sixty-one percent of white evangelicals supported the war, compared with 33% of nonevangelical whites.

...And among whites, nearly two-thirds of evangelical Christians are Bush supporters compared with about a third of non-evangelicals, the poll showed....

Scandal of the detainees
Serious questions were asked today over how four Britons could be held for two years in Guantanamo Bay - but completely cleared by British police in just 24 hours.

The four detainees flown home from the notorious American prison camp were freed late last night, while one other Briton, Jamal al-Harith, had walked free almost as soon as landing in Britain the previous evening. Today the American government faced the prospect of huge embarrassment as the men prepared to tell their stories and lift the lid on the secretive camp....

Bush Addresses Evangelicals
...Bush's emphasized his faith-informed "doctrine" to rid the globe of terror, fight AIDS in Africa, and spread democracy and freedom. "I'm fortunate enough to be President during a time in which our country holds great influence in the world, and I feel that we must use that influence for great purpose. When we see disease, and starvation, and hopeless poverty, we must not turn away."

More pressing to the President are domestic issues, as the presidential election nears. Bush promised to fight judicial challenges to the partial-birth abortion ban and assaults on marriage and highlighted his appointment of judges who will not "legislate from the bench." The President also promised to "defend the sanctity of marriage." Conservatives have been criticizing "judicial activism" that forced gay marriages in Massachusetts and blocked enforcement of the partial-birth abortion ban.

Such stances have infuriated Democrats, but many pundits say it's part of an election plan to get out the vote of a supposed 4 million evangelicals who did not vote in 2000. According to an AP report, it seems to be working. Rev. Tim Ralph, said, "I think he's addressing the issues dear to the heart of every evangelical pastor in this country. I just love the man. He's been a breath of fresh air in our presidency."

Other pastors agreed. "In my lifetime, I can't remember a president who has spoken out so clearly on Christian values," said Ted Welch, a 57-year-old minister for the First Christian Church in Panhandle, Texas, according to the AP report. "This election, these things he's speaking out on could kill him—and I respect that."...

Don't mention the war
...What is missing from these debates is politics. Instead there are endless discussions of UN resolutions, WMD, David Kelly's suicide, whether the war was legal, illegal, 'semi-legal'. The debate over Iraq has been reduced to an evidence-based dissection of everything but the war, where neither side is prepared to offer a political or moral defence or critique of the invasion. The pro-war lobby says Saddam had to go because he was in breach of UN resolutions 678, 687 and 1441, the anti-war lobby says the war wasn't legal enough for its liking, while Blair tries to shut them all up by uttering the h-word.

It's time we mentioned the war. The war should be opposed because it was wrong in principle, and a disaster in practice. Organising the world around the principle of intervention, where powerful states can override the sovereignty of other states, is a recipe for global instability and future conflict. In practice, the war created a political vacuum in Iraq, giving rise to widespread violence and uncertainty; outside intervention always exacerbates tensions rather than resolving them, storing up division and conflict for the future. In my political view, this means the war was wrong even if it was legal, even if it had the support of every single member state at the UN, and even if Saddam had a palace-full of nukes. Now who wants to debate that?

Bush administration ordered Medicare plan cost estimates withheld
WASHINGTON - The government's top expert on Medicare costs was warned that he would be fired if he told key lawmakers about a series of Bush administration cost estimates that could have torpedoed congressional passage of the White House-backed Medicare prescription-drug plan.

When the House of Representatives passed the controversial benefit by five votes last November, the White House was embracing an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office that it would cost $395 billion in the first 10 years. But for months the administration's own analysts in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had concluded repeatedly that the drug benefit could cost upward of $100 billion more than that.

Withholding the higher cost projections was important because the White House was facing a revolt from 13 conservative House Republicans who'd vowed to vote against the Medicare drug bill if it cost more than $400 billion.

Rep. Sue Myrick of North Carolina, one of the 13 Republicans, said she was "very upset" when she learned of the higher estimate....

Middle East: More Fundamental Problems
...The modern nation-state came into being in Europe in the 1500s and 1600s as kings consolidated and centralized power that had been held by medieval fiefdoms run by dukes, earls and the like. The great theorist of the nation-state was Thomas Hobbes, who in Leviathan attempted to prove that the powerful centralized nation-state was the most feasible way to prevent the violent "war of all against all" that would ensue without that power being held by somebody (Hobbes' preference was a monarch)....

...Most political observers act as if the modern nation-state is a universal concept, the necessary structure to fix whatever ails a society in any part of the world. I think a case can be made that the modern nation-state is not only a culture-specific institution – with roots in Western Europe that don't necessarily transplant well elsewhere – but a time-specific institution as well. In fact, there's pretty good evidence that Western Europe is in the twilight of the era of the nation-state – the Staterdaemmerung? The powers of the European states are being replaced by large bureaucracies in Brussels as the European Union – a distinctly non-democratic and perhaps even markedly anti-democratic institution – becomes the real power in the continent.

Simultaneously, of course, we are seeing increasingly active local secession movements, some of which will establish imitations of modern states, like Slovakia when it removed itself from Czechoslovakia, and some of which simply seek more local autonomy without being too picky about how that autonomy will be exercised. Perhaps paradoxically, in the age of the Internet and instant communications, in which any part of the world can be in contact with and trade with any other part fairly conveniently, globalization will make increasing localization increasingly feasible.

Whether the nation-state was really the best way to deal with the problems and opportunities that presented themselves in the Europe of the 1600s – more discussion, please – it seems fairly clear to me that it wasn't appropriate for other parts of the world, especially those that had strongly-established tribal or familial forms of governance. I made the case a few months ago that Somalia is actually better off without a nation-state of the kind the UN and the "international community" spent so many years trying to impose....

...If the nation-state is in eclipse, why do we want to work so hard to foist one on Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries? Why not let systems evolve based on local traditions, customs and current needs rather than having them imposed by wise international bureaucrats who become international bureaucrats mainly so they will get out of the hair and leave alone the countries in which they happened to be born?

Sharing Bush’s Pain
...It’s not just the usual anti-war types who have argued that Bush undermined the war on terror with his war in Iraq. In December, the Strategic Studies Institute of the Army War College published a report that harshly called the war on Iraq “an unnecessary preventive war of choice against a deterred Iraq that has created a new front in the Middle East for Islamic terrorism and diverted attention and resources away from securing the American homeland against further assault by an undeterrable al Qaeda. The war against Iraq was not integral to the [global war on terrorism], but rather a detour from it.”

A few weeks ago, James Webb, secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, made the same point more brutally: “Bush arguably has committed the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory. To put it bluntly, he attacked the wrong target. While he boasts of removing Saddam Hussein from power, he did far more than that. He decapitated the government of a country that was not directly threatening the United States and, in so doing, bogged down a huge percentage of our military in a region that never has known peace. Our military is being forced to trade away its maneuverability in the wider war against terrorism while being placed on the defensive in a single country that never will fully accept its presence.” Webb added, “The reckless course that Bush and his advisers have set will affect the economic and military energy of our nation for decades. It is only the tactical competence of our military that, to this point, has protected him from the harsh judgment that he deserves.”

So Bush blew it on WMDs, the al Qaeda– Hussein link and the need for the war. ...

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Houses of Worship Are Reaching Out To a Flock of Pets
For the first time in 10 years, Mary Wilkinson went to church one Sunday in January. She sat in a back pew at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Stamford, Conn., flipping through a prayer book and listening intently to the priest's sermon.

What drew Ms. Wilkinson back into the fold was a new monthly program the church introduced -- Holy Communion for pets. As part of the service, the 59-year-old retired portfolio manager carried her 17-year-old tiger cat to the altar, waited in line behind three panting dogs to receive the host and had a special benediction performed for her cat, Purr Box Jr. "I like that the other parishioners are animal people," Ms. Wilkinson says....

CIA director disputes Cheney assertions on Iraq
WASHINGTON - CIA Director George Tenet on Tuesday rejected recent assertions by Vice President Dick Cheney that Iraq cooperated with the al-Qaida terrorist network and that the administration had proof of an illicit Iraqi biological warfare program. ...

...In building the case for war, Bush, Cheney and other top officials relied in part on assessments by the CIA and other agencies. But they concealed disputes and dissents over Iraq's weapons programs and links to terrorists that were raging among analysts, U.S. diplomats and military officials.

They also used exaggerated and fabricated information from defectors and former Iraqi exile groups that was fed directly into Cheney's office and the Pentagon. Those groups included the Iraqi National Congress, whose leader, Ahmad Chalabi, was close to hawks around Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and the White House, but who was distrusted by the CIA and the State Department.

Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the military's main intelligence arm, said that "some" information provided by defectors had checked out, but that they also gave material that was "fabricated or embellished." ...

Fun Cheney Facts
Unless otherwise noted, the following 24 Fun Facts About Dick are from Jane Mayer's article "Contract Sport" from the Feb. 16-23, 2004, issue of The New Yorker....

C.I.A. Chief Says He's Corrected Cheney Privately
ASHINGTON, March 9 — George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, told a Senate committee on Tuesday that he had privately intervened on several occasions to correct what he regarded as public misstatements on intelligence by Vice President Dick Cheney and others, and that he would do so again.

"When I believed that someone was misconstruing intelligence, I said something about it," he said.

Mr. Tenet identified three instances in which he had already corrected public statements by President Bush or Mr. Cheney or would do so, but he left the impression that there had been more....

Monday, March 08, 2004

The worst of times
In the past week I've been called "sick," I've been told to keep my "big fat mouth shut." I've been told I write "garbage," I've been called various anti-Semitic names. I've been abused, insulted, threatened.


Because I dared to say that while I love Jesus, I didn't like Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ.

I gave my reasons last week and, believe me, there are plenty more. It's all been an eye-opener for me.

Over the years, my blocked e-mail list has grown quite long, as various bigots write to scream insults because I'm a Christian. I've lost jobs and been blacklisted from certain media. I've had my life put in danger, and even had police intervention on one occasion. All part of the price for standing up for truth.

Yet, I have to be honest. The last week has shaken me. Of course I'm not scared, I'm just so profoundly and enormously disappointed. Even disillusioned. Years of work defending Christians. Then one column disliking a movie and I'm a monster who deserves to be spat upon. ...

Friday, March 05, 2004

Confidence Man
The case for Bush is the case against him.

...How can Kerry persuade moderates to throw out Bush? By turning the president's message against him. Bush is steady and principled. He believes money is better spent by individuals than by the government. He believes the United States should assert its strength in the world. He believes public policy should respect religious faith. Most Americans share these principles and think Bush is sincere about them. The problem Bush has demonstrated in office is that he has no idea how to apply his principles in a changing world. He's a big-picture guy who can't do the job.

From foreign to economic to social policy, Bush's record is a lesson in the limits and perils of conviction. He's too confident to consult a map. He's too strong to heed warnings and too steady to turn the wheel when the road bends. He's too certain to admit error, even after plowing through ditches and telephone poles. He's too preoccupied with principle to understand that principle isn't enough. Watching the stars instead of the road, he has wrecked the budget and the war on terror. Now he's heading for the Constitution. It's time to pull him over and take away the keys.

Bush was right to go to war against the terrorists who struck us on 9/11. He was right to demand the overdue use of force against the scofflaw Iraqi regime. But he couldn't tell the difference between the two threats. He figured that since both Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden were evil, they had to be connected. Saddam must have helped orchestrate the 9/11 attacks. He must have built weapons of mass destruction to sell to al-Qaida.

In recent months, congressional hearings and document leaks have unearthed a disturbing history. Again and again in 2001 and 2002, U.S. intelligence agencies sent signals that Bush was wrong. The FBI and CIA debunked putative links between Iraq and al-Qaida. The CIA rejected the claim that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Africa. In its National Intelligence Estimate, the CIA calculated that it could take Saddam up to five years to make a nuclear weapon and that he would transfer WMD to terrorists only if he were invaded. The Defense Intelligence Agency advised the administration that there was "no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing or stockpiling chemical weapons." The Air Force disputed the suggestion that Iraq had developed aerial drones capable of delivering chemical or biological toxins. Analysts questioned whether the White House was right that Saddam's aluminum tubes were designed for building nukes, or that two trucks the White House found suspicious were designed for making biological weapons.

Bush ignored every one of these warnings. They couldn't be true, because they didn't fit his theory. He couldn't stand the complexity of the facts or the ambiguity of intelligence. "Until we get rid of Saddam Hussein, we won't get rid of uncertainty," he told aides in November 2002. Four months later, on the eve of his invasion of Iraq, he declared, "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." After the war, when Diane Sawyer asked Bush about the discrepancy between what he had said--"that there were weapons of mass destruction"--and what U.S. inspectors had found--"the possibility that [Saddam] could move to acquire those weapons"--Bush replied, "What's the difference?"

That's Bush all over: Certainty. No doubt. No difference. But it makes a difference to Britain, France, and Mexico, which no longer trust our requests, based on U.S. intelligence, to cancel flights to the United States. And it makes a difference to China, which refuses to accept our report, based on U.S. intelligence, that North Korea is operating a highly enriched uranium program. Bush's overconfidence—reflected in a series of exaggerations wholly unnecessary to the punishment of Saddam for his noncompliance with U.N. inspections—has trashed our credibility and cost us vital help with other terrorist and WMD-related threats....

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Young, male and married
Churches seeking a new pastor tend to want a man under 40, preferably married to a nonworking woman who volunteers on church committees. It's a caricature, but only slightly so, says sociologist Adair Lummis, who is describing not congregations from the 1950s, but those today. This preference exists "even in those denominations which have ordained women to full ministerial status for 50 years or more," according to her little-publicized nationwide study. ...

...If I send out a profile of a pastor who is mediocre along with a picture of him with his family, and he is 35 years old, has a cute wife and two beautiful children, I guarantee he will be interviewed if not called....

...Warren describes God's call to him in the late 1970s to start a church in a fast-growing, major metropolitan area. That call led him to Orange County, California. He suggests that the best church growth is possible with a new congregation which has no building to outgrow, and which can be intentional in its description of church membership before people start joining.

Two concerns arise. First, this approach doesn't fit with many denominations' vision of ministry. As a Methodist, I go where the bishop sends me, not where I see the best potential for growth. If I am sent to a church that is hundreds of years old and set in a dying post-manufacturing community, in a South so saturated with churches almost every family has its own chapel, then my goals for ministry will necessarily be quite different from Warren's in Orange County in 1979.

Further, it is not even clear that Warren's model for ministry is the best one for a community like Warren's. A friend of mine is a nondenominational pastor in a similar setting, and he says his church cannot open its doors without growing. It grows one upper-middle class, SUV-driving family of four at a time. He has become frustrated with this vision of ministry to the affluent and wants to start a church in a run-down inner-city neighborhood where relationships can be built among downwardly mobile people of a variety of ethnic backgrounds. It is at least worth considering whether this latter is a more appropriate--scripturally and christologically--vision of the church.

A third question concerns the church's handling of interpersonal difficulties. Warren describes his unpleasant experience in a "family-reunion" style church in Texas. The church was located in a rural community that was not growing, which made for a church without growth. Warren celebrates Saddleback's ability to travel light, to dismiss members who do not share the "purpose-driven" vision....

...I worry also about Warren's insistence that people want to be in church with people who are like them. I worry about a definition of faithfulness that delivers on this "felt need." What of the inevitable difficulty that arises when a church insists on inviting ethnically or economically different people into its fellowship? People may leave--but will God not be glorified?

Peter Storey, the former Methodist bishop in South Africa, once told an American church growth expert that his country had tried "homogenous living units" (the expert's phrase, not Warren's) and decided they were a bad idea. In South Africa, these had been known under the term "apartheid." I am not accusing Warren or the "purpose-driven" movement of racism. I am only pointing out that our "felt needs" can turn out to be highly problematic....

...I have spent much time reassuring the kind of church Warren left behind in rural Texas that Jesus has words of comfort for those who are least, last, hurting, tired and suffering. These words are less clearly applicable to the "fastest growing Baptist church in the history of America," and one of the "most effective churches on the North American continent," to cite the description in the foreword to The Purpose-Driven Church (Warren himself adopts a much more modest tone). But they are applicable to most churches. God's purposes for our common life are not so transparent as the "purpose-driven" movement pretends, and the criteria for successful ministry are not so obvious.

If the bible is universally diffused in Hindustan, what must be the astonishment of the natives to find that we are forbidden to rob, murder and steal; we who in fifty years, have extended our empire...over the whole peninsula...and exemplified in our public conduct every crime of which human nature is capable. What matchless impudence to follow up such practice with such precepts! If we have common prudence, let us keep the gospel at home, and tell them that Machiavelli is our prophet, and the god of the Manicheans our god.
-- The Reverend Sydney Smith - (1771 - 1845)

Avoiding attacking suspected terrorist mastermind
With Tuesday’s attacks, Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant with ties to al-Qaida, is now blamed for more than 700 terrorist killings in Iraq.

But NBC News has learned that long before the war the Bush administration had several chances to wipe out his terrorist operation and perhaps kill Zarqawi himself — but never pulled the trigger.

In June 2002, U.S. officials say intelligence had revealed that Zarqawi and members of al-Qaida had set up a weapons lab at Kirma, in northern Iraq, producing deadly ricin and cyanide.

The Pentagon quickly drafted plans to attack the camp with cruise missiles and airstrikes and sent it to the White House, where, according to U.S. government sources, the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council.

‘People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president’s policy of pre-emption against terrorists.’

“Here we had targets, we had opportunities, we had a country willing to support casualties, or risk casualties after 9/11 and we still didn’t do it,” said Michael O’Hanlon, military analyst with the Brookings Institution.

Four months later, intelligence showed Zarqawi was planning to use ricin in terrorist attacks in Europe.

The Pentagon drew up a second strike plan, and the White House again killed it. By then the administration had set its course for war with Iraq.

“People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president’s policy of preemption against terrorists,” according to terrorism expert and former National Security Council member Roger Cressey.

In January 2003, the threat turned real. Police in London arrested six terror suspects and discovered a ricin lab connected to the camp in Iraq.

The Pentagon drew up still another attack plan, and for the third time, the National Security Council killed it.

Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawi’s operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam....

As I See It: The Bible is a book of mysteries
...Can I have the mind of God? I just have to tell you I am skeptical of anyone who claims to understand everything in the Bible and says it means only "thus and so." When people step into the mind of God with, "God wants this ... " and " God wants that ..." my buzzer goes off.

I know there are those of us who are more learned, but I firmly believe when someone assumes he knows what God will and won't do they are presumptuous, and I am dubious. Sorry. It is no surprise to me when different Bible-waving evangelists prove to be false prophets.

Love one another? Love your enemies? Pray for those who despitefully use you? These are the challenges that grapple me. They have the ring of truth which I can't dismiss. But I don't think I shall ever be able to claim to know it all. I don't know that I'm meant to, or that anyone else is meant to. If it were so cut and dried, it would not have the same allure. It might depreciate from its supernatural quality of healing, its inexplainable versatility to mean different things at different times to different people. Where does faith come in?

The word of God is spirit, a two-edged sword that can pierce us to the quick, a fire that can sear our hearts, a bolt of lightning out of the blue. It brings a new meaning to each fresh wound we bring to it.

When we need it, it's there. The Bible has an inexplicable way of soothing, being the balm for whatever pain or quandery with which we cope. I believe the Holy Spirit dwells within the pages of the Bible. "Be still, and know that I am God," it states. Jesus did not leave a bunch of platitudes. He brought a "new commandment," the message of love and mercy.

Does God intend for us to know everything, sit up on a bench and pass judgment on each other? Are we all supposed to interpret what he says in exactly the same way? How many denominations do we have? How many translations of the Bible are there?

My help comes from a Lord who doesn't speak to us moralistically. His message comes in the verses of what we called the Beatitudes, positive statements that tell us how to be, not how NOT to be. "Love is the fulfillment of the law," is the Christian message. Do we really need much more than that?...

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

A Conversation in God's Kitchen
...This idea, of a great conversation taking place over time and culture, and then selected and presented for my benefit, has become my dominant idea of what is the Bible. It has proven increasingly helpful in a number of ways.

The great conversation model has allowed me to jettison any defense of the Bible as single book whose human origins and methodologies present significant difficulties that must be explained. For instance, I view the Bible as a selection of purely human literary creations. I may lay aside my faith, as many critics do, and study the Biblical material purely in their historical and cultural settings. This eliminates the need to force the Bible to be divine in origin, and gives me the freedom to hear each Biblical writer saying what he/she had to say in the way he/she chose to say it.

Or I may read the Bible with my eyes, mind and heart alive to the faith that is at the center of the Biblical conversation. The humanity of the conversation is not an obstacle, but an invitation to understand the Bible even as we understand ourselves and our histories, experiences and cultures.

The rich diversity of the Bible is frequently lost in our fear that seeing a book as exactly what it appears to be will ruin the inspiration and divine authority of the book. Is God so small that the humanity of a text matters to His use of it? Further, the particular "voice" or style the text uses to talk about God may come to us in ways that are strange and uncomfortable to modern ideas of reality and truth. But if we are listening to a conversation and not predetermining what it must be, these factors are almost meaningless.

In the Great Books, the conversation took place in those common categories that were universal, even if greek dramatists and nineteenth century historians actually looked at the world in very different ways. The Great Conversation method says that the editor hears this conversation in his selection of the texts, and the reader experiences it for himself as he reads and listens.

Genesis isn't twentieth century science. Leviticus is primitive, brutal and middle eastern. The Old Testament histories are not scholarly documentaries, but religious and tribal understandings of God and events. Proverbs comes from a mongrel wisdom tradition throughout the middle east. Song of Solomon is erotic poetry, and not much else. The prophets spoke to their own times, and not to our own. The scholars who help me understand these books as they are, are not enemies of truth, but friends. Call it criticism, paint it as hostile, but I want to know what the texts in front of me are saying!

The Old Testament and New Testament Canon are the selection of those parts of our spiritual literary heritage that make up the Great Conversation about the Judeo-Christian God. The Bible itself is a human book, created and complied by human choices. There may be other writings that contribute to the conversation, but those who know and experience the God of Jesus Christ hear the conversation most plainly in these writings. Canon is that human choice of what to listen to. Inspiration- the next section- is the validation and expounding of that choice.

The conversational model allows for a number of helpful ways of approaching scripture. For instance, it allows a variety of viewpoints on a single subject, such as the problem of evil. Job argues with Proverbs. It encourages us to hear all sides of the conversation as contributing something, and doesn't say only one voice can be heard as right. Leviticus has something important to say that Psalms may not say. This approach sees the development of understanding as a natural part of the conversation, and isn't disturbed when a subject appears to evolve and change over time. This model allows some parts of the conversation to be wrong, so that others can be right, and the Bible isn't diminished as a result.

...Ever think of the Bible as....a grocery store? I worked at grocery stores for a long time. People come into the store with their grocery lists, and they know what they are looking for. They need some bananas, ice cream, a case of root beer, a head of lettuce. They run up and down the aisles finding what they want, find everything on the list, check out and go home.

That's how evangelicals increasingly approach the Bible. They have a list of what they need. Parenting principles. Verses for healing. Advice for marriage. Rules for children. Stories to inspire. Challenges to give. Information on Heaven. Predictions of the future. We run into the "Bible" looking for these things, and when we find them, we leave.

This "grocery store" view of the Bible is built on the idea that the Bible is an inspired "library" of true information. A "magic book" as some have called it, where passages contain unquestionable information and authoritative rules. This approach to the Bible is flattering to the human ability to catalog information, and it is used in many churches to build confidence that the use of scripture puts a person on a foundation of absolute certainty.

In this approach, interpretation is important, and good interpretation is common. But the problem is fundamental. Scripture is not a grocery store. It's not a place to run in and find principles for parenting or prophecies about the future, even though the conversation contains discussions about these things.

No, the Bible is a cooking show. And if we are going to interpret any part of scripture correctly, we need to get out of the store- the encyclopedia of true things in a magic book- and get to the kitchen. ...