Thursday, May 27, 2004

"I'm often amazed at the way politicians, who spend hours poring over opinion poll results in a desperate attempt to discover what the public thinks, are certain they know precisely what God's views are on everything."
-- Simon Hoggart

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Scorpio: (Oct. 24—Nov. 21)
Sometimes it feels like true happiness slipped past you in an instant. In reality, it crept by slowly, taking extreme care not to be seen.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

''The priorities of the Godly''
...But what got my friend’s knickers in a knot about the ABC news item was not the [Abu Ghraib] photos themselves; they are repulsive, but they are no worse than what any other news outlet has been displaying for the past couple of weeks. What made him, and me, see red was the warning that accompanied the photos. The photos in question are, at the time of this writing, to be found at [Click Here] and because of the disturbing and sensitive nature of the photos, they are prefaced by a warning for viewers which reads:

WARNING: The following graphic depictions include nudity. Viewer discretion is advised.

Let me quote directly from my friend’s email message to me because he says it as well or better than I would. He wrote that he sees “something distinctly disturbing about a society that can show pix of corpses being gloated over by pretty young army girls, of bloody and battered bodies -- the result of torture -- and of human beings being humiliated, abused and degraded ... and this to carry a warning that the nudity may offend. (Particularly when said nudity is fuzzed out in the pictures anyway.)

"Either that, or this is a way of subtly boosting the humiliation of the Iraqi people -- 'only the sight of your bodies offends us -- not what's done to them.' ...

Denison church's tax-exempt status granted
AUSTIN _ Reversing an earlier decision, state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn announced Monday that a Unitarian church in Denison would get its tax-exempt status after all.

The decision came after the Star-Telegram reported on May 18 that the comptroller's office had ruled the Red River Unitarian Universalist Church was not a religious organization for tax purposes.

The status was denied, the state said, because the church "does not have one system of belief."

Stunned church officials said it was the first time in U.S. history that any state had denied tax exempt status to the Unitarians because of their religious philosophy....

Monday, May 24, 2004

The Religious Side of the Abu Ghraib Scandal
As prisoners forced to renounce faith, guards repudiated theirs voluntarily.

...The first item comes from Spec. Joseph M. Darby, who reportedly confronted Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr.—apparent ringleader of the prison abuse—about the activities. Darby later told investigators that Graner told him, "The Christian in me says it's wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, 'I love to make a grown man piss himself.'"

That the Christian in Graner lost out (in fact, it wasn't just the prisoner's own urine that Graner reportedly liked to see prisoners soaked in) is ripe for much commentary.

But far more troubling is an allegation that guards deliberately attacked the prisoners' faith. Details on this matter have largely surfaced from prisoner Ameed Saeed al-Sheikh, who, in the words of The New York Times, said that "a hostility toward Islam coursed through much of the abuse." We've already heard of many abuses that would have been particularly offensive to Muslims, but it now appears that the guards may have deliberately chosen some of these methods because they're so offensive to Muslims. Some prisoners, press reports say, were "forced to renounce their religion."

Particuarly disconcerting is this testimony from al-Sheikh: "Someone else asked me, 'Do you believe in anything?' I said to him, 'I believe in Allah.' So he said, 'But I believe in torture, and I will torture you.'"...

The Big Lab Experiment
Was our universe created by design?

..."You might take this all as a joke," he said, "but perhaps it is not entirely absurd. It may be the explanation for why the world we live in is so weird. On the evidence, our universe was created not by a divine being, but by a physicist hacker."

Linde's theory gives scientific muscle to the notion of a universe created by an intelligent being. It might be congenial to Gnostics, who believe that the material world was fashioned not by a benevolent supreme being but by an evil demiurge. More orthodox believers, on the other hand, will seek refuge in the question, "But who created the physicist hacker?" Let's hope it's not hackers all the way up.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Kholood, a 2-year-old Iraqi girl, lies in a bed Sunday in the hospital in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, Iraq. Kholood was injured by shrapnel in her back when U.S. helicopters fired on a wedding party on May 19 in the desert near the border with Syria, killing more than 40 people. Kholood lost her parents, and four of her brothers and sisters during the attack.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Show me the way home
Washington has earned a new sobriquet -- Sunni Triangle West. The mashing of molars and sharpening of knives is audible in the nation's capital as generals and civilian war hawks line up for the blame game. Contrary to Bush administration orders, the Rubicon is already well traversed.

From "failure is not an option" to "failure is now the only option" is the new message one hears in off-the-record think tank discussions with retired generals and former ranking Pentagon and CIA officials. The POW fiasco, with its global radioactive fallout, has left Operation Iraqi Freedom in intensive care....

Hawks Eating Crow
The Bush Administration has not made it easy on its supporters. David Brooks now admits that he was gripped with a "childish fantasy" about Iraq. Tucker Carlson is "ashamed" and "enraged" at himself. Tom Friedman, admitting to being "a little slow," is finally off the reservation. Die-hard Republican publicist William Kristol admits of Bush, "He did drive us into a ditch." The neocon fantasist and sometime Republican speechwriter Mark Helprin complains on the Wall Street Journal editorial page--the movement's Pravda--of "the inescapable fact that the war has been run incompetently, with an apparently deliberate contempt for history, strategy, and thought, and with too little regard for the American soldier, whose mounting casualties seem to have no effect on the boastfulness of the civilian leadership."

Most of the regretful hawks blame the Administration for its failure to execute what they consider a noble endeavor. But it is a noble endeavor only in the way it would be noble to give all your money to one of those deposed Ethiopian princesses who fill your inbox with pleas to send them all your money for a guarantee of future riches. In other words, yes, while it might have been nice to liberate Iraq from Saddam's clutches, it was a lot more likely that under Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Co., we would end up arresting innocent people, holding them without trial and systematically torturing and sexually humiliating them; all the while saying, as the Daily Show's Rob Corddry so brilliantly put it, "Remember, it's not important that we did torture these people. What's important is that we are not the kind of people who would torture these people." ...

...And how pathetic is it that the only cable network really grappling with the media's failure is Comedy Central? Let's give the last word to the Daily Show's incomparable Stephen Colbert: "The journalists I know love America, but now all anybody wants to talk about is the bad journalists--the journalists that hurt America.... Who didn't uncover the flaws in our prewar intelligence? Who gave a free pass on the Saddam-Al Qaeda connection? Who dropped Afghanistan from the headlines at the first whiff of this Iraqi snipe hunt? The United States press corps, that's who."

Red Planet Warming
Images Show Mars' Ice Caps Are Melting Fast

Dec. 7 — It might seem like the weather's getting warmer here on Earth, but Mars appears to have an even bigger global warming problem.

High-resolution images snapped by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor show that levels of frozen water and carbon dioxide at the Red Planet's poles have dwindled dramatically — by more than 10 feet — over a single Martian year (equivalent to 687 days or about two Earth years).

Michael Caplinger of San Diego's Malin Space Science Systems points out that if the warming were to continue at the same rate (that's a big "if"), Mars could become a nearly inhabitable place for people within 5,000 years or so....

We Know the Bu'ushists Were Lying About WMDs
Ralph Raico reminds me of Paul Craig Robert's devastating point: if US war planners had thought Saddam was able to defend his country with WMDs, they would never have concentrated 150,000 troops in a small area in Kuwait for weeks before invading. They would have been too easy to wipe out in a preemptive strike.

One incident. Forty dead. Two stories. What really happened?
A tiny bundle of blankets is unwrapped; inside is the body of a baby, its limbs smeared with dried blood. Then the mourners peel back the blanket further to reveal a second dead baby.

Another blanket is opened; inside are the bodies of a mother and child. The child, six or seven years old, is lying against his or her mother, as if seeking comfort. But the child has no head.

These are the images that American forces in Iraq had no answer to yesterday. They come from video footage of the burials of 41 men, women and children. The Iraqis say they died when American planes launched air strikes on a wedding party near the Syrian border on Wednesday....

...So potentially damaging is the video to the US occupation that American officials have demanded that the Dubai-based al-Arabiya television news network, which obtained the footage, give them the name of the cameraman who took it. Al-Arabiya has refused....

Woman accused of pouring boiling oil on boyfriend after argument of Bible verse
EUGENE, Ore. -- A woman is accused of pouring boiling oil on her boyfriend's face in an argument over a Bible verse.

Angela S. Morris, 19, was charged with domestic violence assault and jailed on $250,000 bail. Her 31-year-old boyfriend, whose name was not released, was hospitalized with severe burns on his face, neck and chest.

The two were reading the Bible at the boyfriend's apartment May 13 when Morris went to the kitchen to prepare french fries, police said.

Morris told police that they continued to argue and that her boyfriend grabbed her from behind. Police said he then went to his bedroom to lie down. Morris followed and threw the oil on him, police said.

Videos Amplify Picture of Violence
Editor's Note: Images in this video may be disturbing because of their violent or graphic nature.

The edited video excerpt is from a collection of short digital video files obtained by The Washington Post. The videos appear to show U.S. soldiers abusing detainees last fall in Abu Ghraib prison.

In this video, soldiers are shown apparently attempting to arrange a human pyramid with naked Iraqi prisoners -- a scene similar to those also shown in previously obtained photographs. ...

Brutal interrogation in Iraq
Five detainees' deaths probed

Pentagon records provide the clearest view yet of the U.S. tactics used at Anu Ghraib and elsewhere to coax secrets from Iraqis.

Brutal interrogation techniques by U.S. military personnel are being investigated in connection with the deaths of at least five Iraqi prisoners in war-zone detention camps, Pentagon documents obtained by The Denver Post show. ...

...No criminal punishments have been announced in the interrogation deaths, even though three deaths occurred last year.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Hostilities force Bush into deep hole
Strategy pushing US into 'abyss'

...But across town in Congress even those instinctively sympathetic to the US military cause in Iraq were warning that America was facing a strategic disaster.

"I believe we are absolutely on the brink of failure. We are looking into the abyss," General Joseph Hoar, a former commander in chief of US central command, told the Senate foreign relations committee.

The apocalyptic language is becoming increasingly common here among normally moderate and cautious politicians and observers.

Larry Diamond, an analyst at the conservative Hoover Institution, said: "I think it's clear that the United States now faces a perilous situation in Iraq.

"We have failed to come anywhere near meeting the post-war expectations of Iraqis for security and post-war reconstruction.

"There is only one word for a situation in which you cannot win and you cannot withdraw - quagmire."

The growing fear is that the US will able neither to defeat the insurgents in Iraq nor to find an honourable means of withdrawal, while every week there will be an haemorrhaging of US credibility in the Arab world and far beyond. ...

GI: Boy mistreated to get dad to talk
A military intelligence analyst who recently completed duty at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq (news - web sites) said Wednesday that the 16-year-old son of a detainee there was abused by U.S. soldiers to break his father's resistance to interrogators.

The analyst said the teenager was stripped naked, thrown in the back of an open truck, driven around in the cold night air, splattered with mud and then presented to his father at Abu Ghraib, the prison at the center of the scandal over abuse of Iraqi detainees.

Upon seeing his frail and frightened son, the prisoner broke down and cried and told interrogators he would tell them whatever they wanted, the analyst said. ...

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Christians Committed to Biblical Justice
"The Christian Zionist's particular reading of both history and contemporary events, determined by the dubious exegesis of highly selective biblical texts, as well as their theological presuppositions, is essentially fatalistic, polarized and dualistic. It sets Israel and the Jewish people apart from and above other peoples in the Middle East. In so doing, however unintentionally, it perpetuates, exacerbates and justifies the endemic racism and mistrust plaguing the Middle East because 'The Bible tells them so."

John Mere's Commemoration Sermon
St Benet's Church, Cambridge

...But what has this to do with the obedience that John Mere wanted expounded for subjects and pupils and servants? Simply this: Christian obedience in its biblical sense can never be just a passive conformity to commands in the hope that this will somehow ensure a reward for us. It is properly an obedience given where we see authority engaged with a truth beyond its own interest and horizon — ultimately with the truth of Christ. The obedience of the pupil, at any educational level, is rightly and credibly demanded when the very shape of the intellectual exercise is visibly to do with a mind being pressed and moulded into truthfulness by a reality that has nothing to do with the petty power games that intellectual life can sometimes produce. The best teacher, the one who has most claim on obedience, may be the one who is at times least fluent and confident, most puzzled and engaged and troubled by the truth. The best master is the one who is most visibly mastered by demands and standards that have nothing to do with the serving of his own personal interests. If obedience is a form of attention, the attentive person is the one who should command obedience.

And this is why political obedience in our age has become so problematic. Eusebius of Caesarea in the fourth century was able to commend the authority of the emperor Constantine on the grounds that he was constantly engaged in contemplating the heavenly Logos. It was not even at the time a very plausible case; but he had at least noticed that any Christian justification for obedience to rulers must build in some reference to their capacity to absorb truth that is not determined by their interests.

Now we do not usually look in our rulers for signs of advanced contemplative practice; nor do we say, even as Christians, that no obedience is due to unbelieving governments. But we do say that credible claims on our political loyalty have something to do with a demonstrable attention to truth, even unwelcome truth. A government that habitually ignored expert advice, habitually pressed its interests abroad in ways that ignored manifest needs and priorities in the wider human and non-human environment, habitually repressed criticism or manipulated public media — such a regime would, to say the least, jeopardise its claim to obedience because it was refusing attention. Its policies and its rhetoric would not be designed to secure for its citizens an appropriate position in the world, a position that allowed the best kind of freedom because it did not deceive or encourage deception about the way the world is. It would be concerned finally about control and no more; and so would be a threat to its citizens and others....

We Don't Expect Americans To Act Like That?
We're better than that . . . we have a higher standard of behavior . . . we treat people differently because we're Americans? Is this what I'm hearing?

Who in the world are we fooling? I agree we are better than that, but I'm here to tell you, if we don't get the same mind set these killers have, it's over.

You have to meet the enemy where he is. You have to get inside his mind; to think like he does or you can't win.

It wasn't like us to drop the atom bomb on Hiroshima, but we had to.

It's not like us to use certain tactics to get information, but we have to.

These are not refined people with manners, who will sign papers and say they will treat our prisoners humanely.

Our President couldn't have said it any plainer; we're dealing with the "Axis of Evil" . . . in other words - Satan himself.

Some people have been upset that some of the Iraqi prisoners were mistreated. We're at war . . . it doesn't bother me that they may have been stripped naked and had cold water thrown on them.

If they're not willing to give us information, do you think we should have them over for a steak dinner to see what questions they will answer? My question is: How cold is the water?

We took 120,000 Japanese Americans - two thirds were citizens of the United States - and locked them up during World War II. We put them inside barbed-wire fencing; we didn't strip them of their clothes - we stripped them of their dignity; took them from their homes; caused many to lose their businesses, because we could not take a chance that any one of them might hurt us. None did, but we still couldn't take that chance . . . we were at war....

Unitarian Universalists have for decades presided over births, marriages and memorials. The church operates in every state, with more than 5,000 members in Texas alone.

But according to the office of Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a Denison Unitarian church isn’t really a religious organization—at least for tax purposes. Its reasoning: the organization “does not have one system of belief.”

Never before—not in this state or any other—has a government agency denied Unitarians tax-exempt status because of the group’s religious philosophy, church officials say. Strayhorn’s ruling clearly infringes upon religious liberties, said Dan Althoff, board president for the Denison congregation that was rejected for tax exemption by the comptroller’s office.

“I was surprised—surprised and shocked—because the Unitarian church in the United States has a very long history,” said Althoff, who notes that father-and-son presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams were both Unitarians. […]

Questions about the issue were referred to Jesse Ancira, the comptroller’s top lawyer, who said Strayhorn has applied a consistent standard — and then stuck to it. For any organization to qualify as a religion, members must have “simply a belief in God, or gods, or a higher power,” he said. ...

No Wizard Left Behind
Harry Potter and Left Behind are more alike than you might think.

...Some Christians view Harry Potter as anti-Christian because it glorifies witchcraft. "Where will the fascination and emulation end?" asks Richard Abanes in Fantasy and Your Family. "With experimenting with 'fun' practices like the divination or spellcasting at Hogwarts? With taking college classes on occultism? As Harry Potter fans mature, will they desire to delve deeper into occultism?" J.K. Rowling, he argues, promotes moral relativism because "Harry, Hermione, Ron, Hagrid and other 'good' characters habitually lie, steal, cheat, ignore laws, break rules and disrespect authority." Oh, and Hagrid is an alcoholic.

The series seem to live in parallel universes, as different as books could be. But as we absorb their latest milestones (the upcoming release of the third Potter movie, the recent release of the climactic Left Behind volume), I have bad news for both camps: The two have a lot in common.

Most obviously, in both cases, we see not a fight between individual good guys and bad guys, but a Manichean struggle between good and evil. That's the case in Left Behind from early in the first book. Harry Potter starts out as a more limited skirmish between Harry and the evil sorcerer Voldemort. But by the fifth book, the number of combatants has increased, with the entire wizard cadre the Order of the Phoenix battling a vast conspiracy of Voldemort-worshipers and death-eaters....

...Finally, they both have a theology. It's not, as one might expect, that Left Behind is Christian and Harry Potter pagan, but rather that Left Behind is Protestant and Harry Potter is Catholic. One of the chief theological arguments between Catholics and Protestants has been over whether salvation is earned through faith or by good works. In Left Behind, the only thing that matters is faith in Jesus. Steele explains that church leaders had led so many people astray because they merely "expected them to lead a good life, to do the best they could, to think of others, to be kind, to live in peace. It sounded so good, and yet it was so wrong. How far from the mark!"

While everything is pre-ordained in Left Behind, in Harry Potter, by contrast, Dumbledore explicitly tells Harry that even though he carries some of the essence of Voldemort in him, he has the power to do good because he has the power of choice.

In that sense, despite their similarities, at their hearts the two series are different in a fundamental but not obvious way. Left Behind is fatalistic; Harry Potter sees outcome determined by individual actions. Both provide a roadmap for how to live a good life, but in one case the key is morality, and in the other it is faith.

DeLay Links U.S. War, Mideast Conflict
WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said Monday the war in Iraq and Israel's battle against Palestinian terrorists are two fronts in the same global conflict, "and we will win it."

"The survival of Israel is essential to America's victory in the war on terror, and America's victory in the war on terror is essential to Israel's survival," the Texas Republican told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

"We will never leave their side."...

..."Israel's fight is our fight," said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House Democratic whip. "Those who sow hate in our world are the common enemy of all."...

...DeLay, by contrast, made a ringing defense of Bush's conduct of the war, and linked Israel's struggle to the war in Iraq.

He called the president "the greatest friend of Israel in the world today."...

Iraq War Weakens Bond Between Bush, Evangelicals
...But Kerry's disinclination to speak in public about his religious beliefs is not sitting well with some evangelicals.

"In distancing himself from the Catholic church he distances himself from religion and that doesn't resonate well with evangelical Christians," said Corwin Smidt, executive director of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Smidt noted that evangelicals would be influenced by several issues including the war in Iraq, gay marriage and the economy but their "comfort level" with candidates would also be very important.

"They (evangelicals) don't just vote on the issues but for candidates they feel comfortable with," Smidt said, noting currently such considerations favored Bush.

"There is a religious quality to American public life and really distinguishes it from public life in other western democracies," he added.

Davis said many evangelical Christians were concerned that the nation was in a "moral vacuum" and wanted to "renew the Christian roots of our nationhood." "Many Christians feel we are in trouble morally and if we don't do something radical our Christian heritage is going to be lost to the secularist, the atheist, etc. etc.," he said.

"The solution to most evangelical Christians is a Republican vote," Davis added.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Atrocities in Iraq: 'I killed innocent people for our government'
For nearly 12 years, Staff Sgt. Jimmy Massey was a hard-core, some say gung-ho, Marine. For three years he trained fellow Marines in one of the most grueling indoctrination rituals in military life - Marine boot camp.

The Iraq war changed Massey. The brutality, the sheer carnage of the U.S. invasion, touched his conscience and transformed him forever. He was honorably discharged with full severance last Dec. 31 and is now back in his hometown, Waynsville, N.C.

When I talked with Massey last week, he expressed his remorse at the civilian loss of life in incidents in which he himself was involved....

Religion: Apocalyptic Politics
Ties That Bind: Bush and LaHaye have a history, and share a sense of mission

...Which is where Bush the Younger enters the scene. He and LaHaye aren't close, but they go way back. By the late 1980s, Bush and Karl Rove had decided that the key to establishing "Junior's" political base in Texas was to reach out to evangelical Christians. Conveniently enough, Bush's job in his father's 1988 campaign was to focus on those voters nationally. A key leader in that constituency was Falwell, who was for Vice President Bush; LaHaye went with Jack Kemp, but was eased out of that camp for some anti-Roman Catholic statements he'd made. The Bush campaign took LaHaye in, inviting him to an event at the veep's home. "I'm pretty sure I introduced Tim to George W," Falwell says.

By that time Bush II had become an earnest Christian, a double helix of faith and ambition. Ever since, and with growing confidence, he has spoken the Biblical and political language of the evangelicals. In 1999 LaHaye was among the religious conservatives with whom the then Governor Bush met as he prepared to launch his candidacy, telling them he felt "called" to run and to serve. As president, Bush has had his best speeches written by Michael Gerson, a graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois (known as "the evangelical Harvard"). In spare, Biblical cadence, they proclaim Bush's central themes of individual compassion and faith-based strength and, since 9/11, an Armageddon-like struggle between good and evil.

The White House won't say whether the president has read the "Left Behind" books. But Bush doesn't need to have read them to speak to the hearts of their readers, says Cal Thomas, a columnist who worked for Falwell years ago. Even if they don't take the Book of Revelation as literal truth, most evangelicals have been reared on tales and debates about the End Times. For fans of Bush—and LaHaye—it's the backdrop of life its own self. "It's not a secret code," says Thomas. "It's our shared experience."

Bush White House checked with rapture Christians before latest Israel move
The Jesus Landing Pad

It was an e-mail we weren't meant to see. Not for our eyes were the notes that showed White House staffers taking two-hour meetings with Christian fundamentalists, where they passed off bogus social science on gay marriage as if it were holy writ and issued fiery warnings that "the Presidents [sic] Administration and current Government is engaged in cultural, economical, and social struggle on every level"—this to a group whose representative in Israel believed herself to have been attacked by witchcraft unleashed by proximity to a volume of Harry Potter. Most of all, apparently, we're not supposed to know the National Security Council's top Middle East aide consults with apocalyptic Christians eager to ensure American policy on Israel conforms with their sectarian doomsday scenarios.

But now we know.

"Everything that you're discussing is information you're not supposed to have," barked Pentecostal minister Robert G. Upton when asked about the off-the-record briefing his delegation received on March 25. Details of that meeting appear in a confidential memo signed by Upton and obtained by the Voice.

The e-mailed meeting summary reveals NSC Near East and North African Affairs director Elliott Abrams sitting down with the Apostolic Congress and massaging their theological concerns. Claiming to be "the Christian Voice in the Nation's Capital," the members vociferously oppose the idea of a Palestinian state. They fear an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza might enable just that, and they object on the grounds that all of Old Testament Israel belongs to the Jews. Until Israel is intact and David's temple rebuilt, they believe, Christ won't come back to earth.

Abrams attempted to assuage their concerns by stating that "the Gaza Strip had no significant Biblical influence such as Joseph's tomb or Rachel's tomb and therefore is a piece of land that can be sacrificed for the cause of peace."

Three weeks after the confab, President George W. Bush reversed long-standing U.S. policy, endorsing Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank in exchange for Israel'sdisengagement from the Gaza Strip.

In an interview with the Voice, Upton denied having written the document, though it was sent out from an e-mail account of one of his staffers and bears the organization's seal, which is nearly identical to the Great Seal of the United States. Its idiosyncratic grammar and punctuation tics also closely match those of texts on the Apostolic Congress's website, and Upton verified key details it recounted, including the number of participants in the meeting ("45 ministers including wives") and its conclusion "with a heart-moving send-off of the President in his Presidential helicopter."

Upton refused to confirm further details. ...

Memos Reveal War Crimes Warnings
Could Bush administration officials be prosecuted for 'war crimes' as a result of new measures used in the war on terror? The White House's top lawyer thought so

The White House's top lawyer warned more than two years ago that U.S. officials could be prosecuted for "war crimes" as a result of new and unorthodox measures used by the Bush administration in the war on terrorism, according to an internal White House memo and interviews with participants in the debate over the issue....


I wonder what Christ would think of the Christian market if He were living in the flesh here on earth today. He would probably contemplate the current situation while driving in His car purchased from the Christian car dealership. Most definitely the back of His car would bear a new Christian bumper sticker.

He would be sipping on his Jesus Java that He picked up from the Christian coffeehouse. Of course He would be decked out with the latest Christian T-shirt—a "creative" knock-off of a "worldly" slogan. He would journal His thoughts in His Christian notebook with his Christian pencil that reads, "I'm a member of the J Team."

If He couldn't get a healthy perspective, maybe He could listen to some Christian music. If that didn't clear His head, He could always waltz into the local Christian bookstore. In fact, He might enjoy playing with a Jesus action figure. If His mind was still cloudy, He could gain some insight while walking the treadmill at the Christian fitness club.

Eventually, He'd become fatigued and need some Christian vitamins to help Him reenergize. All this walking in the world would probably wear Him out. He might enjoy kicking back on the sofa chewing some Christian candy while feasting on a healthy diet of Christian TV. If He got really hungry, He could always grab the Christian phone book and order out for a Christian pizza....

Forgotten Christians
Not all displaced Palestinians are Muslims.

Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” is playing to full houses in the Syrian capital Damascus. Watching it here turns out to be much the same as watching it on opening night in New York—customarily rowdy moviegoers observe a reverent silence, the usual sound of candy wrappers is replaced by sobbing and gasping, and, at the end of it all, the audience files out of the theater in silence and contemplation. Many of those watching the movie on this occasion are Palestinian Christian refugees whose parents or grandparents were purged from their homeland—the land of Christ—at the foundation of Israel in 1948. For them the movie has an underlying symbolic meaning not easily perceived in the West: not only is it a depiction of the trial, scourging, and death of Jesus, it is also a symbolic depiction of the fate of the Palestinian people. “This is how we feel,” says Zaki, a 27-year old Palestinian Christian whose family hails from Haifa. “We take beating after beating at the hands of the world, they crucify our people, they insult us, but we refuse to surrender.”

At the time of the creation of the Israeli state in 1948, it is estimated that the Christians of Palestine numbered some 350,000. Almost 20 percent of the total population at the time, they constituted a vibrant and ancient community; their forbears had listened to St. Peter in Jerusalem as he preached at the first Pentecost. Yet Zionist doctrine held that Palestine was “a land without a people for a people without a land.” Of the 750,000 Palestinians that were forced from their homes in 1948, some 50,000 were Christians—7 percent of the total number of refugees and 35 percent of the total number of Christians living in Palestine at the time....

Christian Cool and the New Generation Gap
FOR evidence of generational upheaval these days, you might skip over the usual suspects - sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll - and consider instead the church.

Two decades after baby boomers invented the suburban megachurch, which removed intimidating crosses or stained-glass images of Jesus in favor of neutral environments, their children are now wearing "Jesus Is My Homeboy" T-shirts.

As mainline churches scramble to retain young people, these worshipers have gained attention by creating alternative churches in coffee bars and warehouses and publishing new magazines and Bibles that come on as anything but church.

But does a T-shirt really serve the faith? And if religion is our link to the timeless, what does it mean that young Christians replace their parents' practices?...

The Conquest of Cool
Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism
by Thomas Frank

Thursday, May 13, 2004

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are,
the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be
in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and
you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae
the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but
the wrod as a wlohe.

Amzanig huh?

American Evangelicals
Today's NY Times has a great piece explaining that many evangelicals are ambivalent about the FMA. It's not that they are die-hard gay rights activists - it's that they aren't particularly "energized" by Bush's endorsement. If that's true, that could be really bad news for Rove, the genius. After all, the whole point of pissing off half the country was that it would energize the infamous four million evangelicals who stayed home in 2000. The more I think about it, the more I see a much deeper problem for our Boy Genius and his prize student. Here's the million dollar question - what if Rove got bad information? In other words, is it possible that Rove depended too much on the leaders of the evangelical movement who might have given him faulty information about the preferences of the rank-and-file? And it is possible that these leaders might not have been speaking with the interests of their flock in mind, but rather in the interests of their own financial and fund-raising activities? That's a question I'm going to flesh out today. If I'm right, Rove may have just gotten Chalabi-ed by Christ, Inc. ...

The Pentagon Plan to Provoke Terrorist Attacks
...Because these attacks will be instigated at the order of the Honorable Donald H. Rumsfeld, U.S. Secretary of Defense.

This astonishing admission was buried deep in a story which was itself submerged by mounds of gray newsprint and glossy underwear ads in last Sunday's Los Angeles Times. There--in an article by military analyst William Arkin, detailing the vast expansion of the secret armies being massed by the former Nixon bureaucrat now lording it over the Pentagon--came the revelation of Rumsfeld's plan to create "a super-Intelligence Support Activity" that will "bring together CIA and military covert action, information warfare, intelligence, and cover and deception."

According to a classified document prepared for Rumsfeld by his Defense Science Board, the new organization--the "Proactive, Preemptive Operations Group (P2OG)"--will carry out secret missions designed to "stimulate reactions" among terrorist groups, provoking them into committing violent acts which would then expose them to "counterattack" by U.S. forces.

In other words--and let's say this plainly, clearly and soberly, so that no one can mistake the intention of Rumsfeld's plan--the United States government is planning to use "cover and deception" and secret military operations to provoke murderous terrorist attacks on innocent people....

N E W Y O R K, May 1 — In the early 1960s, America's top military leaders reportedly drafted plans to kill innocent people and commit acts of terrorism in U.S. cities to create public support for a war against Cuba.

Code named Operation Northwoods, the plans reportedly included the possible assassination of Cuban émigrés, sinking boats of Cuban refugees on the high seas, hijacking planes, blowing up a U.S. ship, and even orchestrating violent terrorism in U.S. cities.

The plans were developed as ways to trick the American public and the international community into supporting a war to oust Cuba's then new leader, communist Fidel Castro.

America's top military brass even contemplated causing U.S. military casualties, writing: "We could blow up a U.S. ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba," and, "casualty lists in U.S. newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation."...

General Who Made Anti-Islam Remark Tied to POW Case
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army general under investigation for anti-Islamic remarks has been linked by U.S. officials to the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, which experts warned could touch off new outrage overseas.

A Senate hearing into the abuse of Iraqi prisoners was told on Tuesday that Lt. Gen. William Boykin, an evangelical Christian under review for saying his God was superior to that of the Muslims, briefed a top Pentagon (news - web sites) civilian official last summer on recommendations on ways military interrogators could gain more intelligence from Iraqi prisoners.

Critics have suggested those recommendations amounted to a senior-level go-ahead for the sexual and physical abuse of prisoners, possibly to "soften up" detainees before interrogation -- a charge the Pentagon denies.

Congressional aides and Arab-American and Muslim groups said any involvement by Boykin could spark new concern among Arabs and Muslims overseas the U.S. war on terrorism is in fact a war on Islam.

"This will be taken as proof that what happened at Abu Ghraib (prison) is evidence of a broader culture of dehumanizing Arabs and Muslims, based on the American understanding of the innate superiority of Christendom," said Chris Toensing, editor of Middle East Report, a U.S.-based quarterly magazine....

Statement by the President
United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

Today, on the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the United States declares its strong solidarity with torture victims across the world. Torture anywhere is an affront to human dignity everywhere. We are committed to building a world where human rights are respected and protected by the rule of law.

Freedom from torture is an inalienable human right. The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, ratified by the United States and more than 130 other countries since 1984, forbids governments from deliberately inflicting severe physical or mental pain or suffering on those within their custody or control. Yet torture continues to be practiced around the world by rogue regimes whose cruel methods match their determination to crush the human spirit. Beating, burning, rape, and electric shock are some of the grisly tools such regimes use to terrorize their own citizens. These despicable crimes cannot be tolerated by a world committed to justice.

Notorious human rights abusers, including, among others, Burma, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, and Zimbabwe, have long sought to shield their abuses from the eyes of the world by staging elaborate deceptions and denying access to international human rights monitors. Until recently, Saddam Hussein used similar means to hide the crimes of his regime. With Iraq's liberation, the world is only now learning the enormity of the dictator's three decades of victimization of the Iraqi people....

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Focus shifts to jail abuse of women
For Huda Shaker, the humiliation began at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Baghdad. The American soldiers demanded to search her handbag. When she refused one of the soldiers pointed his gun towards her chest.

"He pointed the laser sight directly in the middle of my chest," said Professor Shaker, a political scientist at Baghdad University. "Then he pointed to his penis. He told me, 'Come here, bitch, I'm going to fuck you.'"

The incident is one of a number in which US soldiers are alleged to have abused, intimidated or sexually humiliated Iraqi women.

According to Prof Shaker, several women held in Abu Ghraib jail were sexually abused, including one who was raped by an American military policeman and became pregnant. She has now disappeared. ...

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Most Iraqi detainees 'arrested by mistake'
Coalition military intelligence officers believed 70-90 per cent of Iraqi detainees were "arrested by mistake", according to a leaked Red Cross report on prisoner abuse, further details of which were disclosed on Monday.

The confidential report, given to the US and British governments in February but covering events in March to November last year, describes a pattern of indiscriminate arrests involving destruction of property and brutal behaviour towards suspects and their families.

Ill-treatment during capture was frequent and "appeared to go beyond the reasonable, legitimate and proportional use of force", the report said. Such behaviour "seemed to reflect a usual modus operandi by certain CF [coalition forces] battle groups"....

Monday, May 10, 2004

Sluts for Jesus

Born-again Rapture
...“Bible prophecy is history written in advance”, we’re told again and again in the Left Behind books, and in the course of the series, the mystical torments described in Revelation unfold in literalistic detail. Seas turn to blood, darkness veils the earth, and venomous locusts torment the unbelievers. This makes it increasingly difficult to account for the continuing apostasy of most of the world’s population. In Glorious Appearing, one of the characters wonders about this, while recalling the still-recent episode in which “200 million demonic horsemen” wiped out one-third of the people on the planet. Are unbelievers insane? “No, she decided, they were self-possessed” – self-possessed? – “narcissistic, vain, proud. In a word, evil”. But, even as she thinks this, the forces of evil are gathering on the outskirts of Petra, where the “Trib force” and “the Jewish remnant” are preparing for Christ’s return by watching Baptist preachers on DVD. Christ, the believers surmise, is “gonna kill a bunch of people”.

In an apocalyptic scene, the Antichrist’s swarthy legions advance, brandishing their weaponry. “And then, as if God had thrown the switch in heaven, light.” Christ descends on a horse and makes “magnanimous comments about Himself”. At his every word, “tens of thousands of Unity Army soldiers fell dead, simply dropping where they stood, their bodies ripped open, blood pooling in great masses . . . . It was as if the very words of the Lord had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skin”. This operation is repeated several times at different locations, in order to conform to the various prophecies marshalled by LaHaye, and in consequence the cast spend most of the book chasing their Lord around the Middle East in armoured vehicles, exchanging pious greetings on mobile phones. The Antichrist, the smells-and-bells False Prophet and Satan himself are exquisitely punished, the sheep and goats divided. Then Christ’s millennial reign on earth begins.

It would be easy to make fun of Jerry B. Jenkins for thinking that “the spoils of war” means bomb damage, or for having a Jordanian member of the Tribulation squad operate under the codename “Camel Jockey”. But it would be hard to overemphasize the awkwardness with which he blends folksy humour, treacly sentiment and religiously justified bloodbaths. The Left Behind books have been energetically condemned by mainstream reviewers in the United States – not least by more orthodox Christians, who have been as offended by LaHaye’s manglings of biblical tradition as they have by his uncompromising sectarian zeal. Nevertheless, the series’s visions of beleaguered yet plucky evangelists speaks powerfully to the many millions of believers whom secular as well as religious ideologues have been mobilizing since the late 1970s. President Bush – whose endorsement by the Christian Right in 1999 and 2000 was brokered in part by the “renowned prophecy scholar” Tim LaHaye – might be acting as an astute political operator when he professes not to believe in the theory of evolution, to be conducting a showdown between good and evil and all the rest of it. But, as Joan Didion put it in a recent essay on the Left Behind phenomenon, “the kind of dream that can be put to political use . . . can also entrap those who would use it”.

Mr. Bush & the Divine

...The question of this administration's relationship to the Christian right has been frequently muddled, most deliberately, or opportunistically, by the administration itself. We have come to recognize the rhetorical signals the President sends to evangelicals, a constituency which, since its turn toward political action in the 1970s and with the encouragement of those Republicans who would use it, has itself become the party's plague of brimstone-breathing horses. By the 1994 congressional elections, Christian conservatives cast two of every five Republican votes. By the time of the 2000 Republican convention, Christian conservatives achieved a platform unswervingly tailored to their agenda, including the removal of language that could be interpreted as pro-choice, the removal of language that could suggest approval of civil rights for homosexuals, and the removal of language that could be seen to favor any form of sex education other than the teaching of abstinence. "It was a one hundred percent victory," Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum said of the completed platform.

Now as then, evangelical Web sites provide primers on influencing legislators and maximizing the Christian vote, as well as call-to-action discussions of inflammatory issues, for example whether Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore was right to defy a federal court order to remove his Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building's rotunda. "Christian rights are being challenged," was the conclusion on the Ten Commandments question of a September edition of the Newsletter, which is e-mailed to followers of the series from To the same point, Focus on the Family's site offered a "Ten Commandments Action Center," where readers could "learn who to contact and what to say" in support of Judge Moore.

Donald Paul Hodel, who served first as secretary of energy and then as secretary of the interior during the Reagan administration, is now president of Focus on the Family, and in that capacity recently wrote to The Weekly Standard objecting to its favorable review of two books by the Protestant theologian D.G. Hart, who had suggested that the disinclination of American evangelicals to separate religious from public concerns was deleterious to both. "The fact is that without the hard work and votes of millions of Christians who have chosen not to be silent," Hodel warned, "there would be no Republican majority in both houses of the US Congress, no Bush presidencies, few Republican governors, and a small handful of statehouses in Republican hands."...

...We recognize that when the President stood in February 2003 in Nashville before a backdrop reading "Advancing Christian Communications" and told the National Religious Broadcasters that America's enemies "hate the thought of the fact" that "we can worship the Almighty God the way we see fit," he could be confident, his frequent mentions over the months of "churches, synagogues, and mosques" notwithstanding, that there would be no confusion among the 2,700 representatives of evangelical Christian radio and television stations in the Opryland Hotel that day about which God the President himself saw fit to worship. We recognized, early after September 11, his persistent use of the word "crusade" for what it was, a construction designed to slip past merely nominal Christians (the ones who prefer the churches that might as well be country clubs) but carry a specific message to the evangelical....

...This notion of the nation, or its president, having been chosen to fulfill some divine purpose was repeated many times, with the active encouragement of the White House. Within days of the September 11 attacks, White House aides were confiding to Time that the President was "privately" speaking of having been "chosen by the grace of God to lead at that moment." "I think President Bush is God's man at this hour," Timothy Goeglein of the White House Office of Public Liaison told the Christian weekly World, "and I say this with a great sense of humility." The President was presented as accepting his mission with an equal sense of humility: after his address to Congress on September 20, 2001, according to Deborah Caldwell, a producer at, he received a call from his speechwriter, Michael Gerson. "Mr. President, when I saw you on television, I thought—God wanted you there," Michael Gerson is supposed to have said. "He wants us all here, Gerson," the President is supposed to have said in response....

..."It seems as if he is on an agenda from God," one of the religious broadcasters who heard the President speak in Nashville in February had said to Dana Milbank of The Washington Post. "The Scriptures say God is the one who appoints leaders. If he truly knows God, that would give him a special anointing." Another had agreed: "At certain times, at certain hours in our country, God has had a certain man to hear His testimony." President Bush, the Post article had concluded, drawing in elements of the familiar fundamentalist redemption story and melding them with the dreams of the administration's ideologues about remaking the entire Middle East, "admires leaders who have overcome adversity by finding their life's mission, much as he has gone from drinking too much to building a new world architecture." We have now reached a point when even the White House may be forced to sort out how a president who got elected to execute a straightforward business agenda managed to sandbag himself with the coinciding fantasies of the ideologues in the Christian fundamentalist ministries and those in his own administration.

Iraqis' doubts of U.S. deepen
New poll says majority wants Americans gone

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Sadoun Dulame read the results of his latest poll again and again. He added up percentages, highlighted sections and scribbled notes in the margins.

No matter how he crunched the numbers, however, he found himself in the uncomfortable position this week of having to tell occupation authorities that the report they commissioned paints the bleakest picture yet of the U.S.-led coalition's reputation in Iraq. For the first time, according to Dulame's poll, a majority of Iraqis said they'd feel safer if the U.S. military withdrew immediately.

A year ago, just 17 percent of Iraqis wanted the troops gone, according to Dulame's respected research center in Baghdad. Now, the disturbing new results mirror what most Iraqis and many international observers have said for months: Give it up. Go home. This just isn't working....

...Dulame's grim poll doesn't even take in the prisoner scandal's effects. It was conducted in mid-April in seven Iraqi cities. A total of 1,600 people were interviewed, and the margin of error is 3 percentage points. The findings, which must go first to coalition authorities, have not yet been made public.

According to Dulame, director of the independent Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies, prisoner abuse and other coalition missteps now are fueling a dangerous blend of Islamism and tribalism. For example, while American officials insist that only fringe elements support the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a majority of Iraqis crossed ethnic and sectarian lines to name him the second most-respected man in Iraq, according to the coalition-funded poll....

'Patriot' games
Mend it or end it? A better question is why Bush wants to make the Patriot Act an election issue.

You feel like pinching yourself, but it's true enough. On April 6, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging one of the provisions of the "USA Patriot" Act, passed in haste by Congress after 9/11. Under provisions of that same act, the ACLU was not allowed to make its lawsuit public.

Three weeks later, after intense negotiations with the government, the ACLU was able to announce its lawsuit. But it could only release a redacted version; some pages had more than half the lines blacked out...

Stalking the anti-fundamentalist voter

Any Top 10 list of slogans for abortion-rights signs would include "Curb
your dogma" and "If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a

At the recent March for Women's Lives, one nurse weighed the tensions
between Sen. John Kerry and the Vatican and proclaimed: "I'm a Catholic, I
take Communion … and I'm Pro-Choice." She could have added: "And I vote."

George W. Bush will receive few votes from these voters. They're not fond
of Pope John Paul II, Jerry Falwell and other conservative religious
leaders, either.

Political scientists Gerald De Maio and Louis Bolce call them
"anti-fundamentalist voters" and their rise has been a crucial -- yet
untold -- story in U.S. politics. Many are true secularists, such as
atheists, agnostics and those who answer "none" when asked to pick a
faith. Others think of themselves as progressive believers. The tie that
binds is their disgust for Christian conservatives.

"This trend represents a big change, because 40 or 50 years ago all the
divisive religious issues in American politics rotated around the
Catholics. People argued about money for Catholic schools or whether the
Vatican was trying to control American politics," said Bolce, who, with De
Maio, teaches at Baruch College in the City University of New York.

"That remains a concern for some people. But today, they worry about all
those fundamentalists and evangelicals. That's where the real animus is."

In fact, Bolce and De Maio argue that historians must dig back to the
bitter pre-Great Depression battles rooted in ethnic and religious
prejudices -- battles about immigration, public education, prohibition and
"blue laws" -- to find a time when voting patterns were influenced to the
same degree by antipathy toward a specific religious group....

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Power turns good soldiers into 'bad apples'
By Philip G. Zimbardo

THE HORRIFYING PHOTOS of young Iraqis abused by American soldiers have shocked the world with their depictions of human degradation, forcing us to acknowledge that some of our beloved soldiers have committed barbarous acts of cruelty and sadism. Now there is a rush to analyze human behavior, blaming flawed or pathological individuals for evil and ignoring other important factors. Unless we learn the dynamics of "why," we will never be able to counteract the powerful forces that can transform ordinary people into evil perpetrators.

Those responsible should suffer severe sanctions if found guilty. However, we must separate guilt from blame. Should these few Army reservists be blamed as the "bad apples" in a good barrel of American soldiers, as our leaders have characterized them? Or are they the once-good apples soured and corrupted by an evil barrel? I argue for the latter perspective after having studied the psychology of evil for many decades. In fact, I have been responsible for constructing evil barrels that produced many bad apples.

Like Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of the Iraqi prison at Abu Ghraib, I was once a prison superintendent with no experience or training in corrections. In 1971 I was in charge of the Stanford Prison Experiment, in which randomly assigned student volunteers in a simulated prison role-played prisoners and guards. Although everyone knew it was just an experiment, the line between simulation and reality was breached as it became a psychological prison of incredible intensity.

The planned two-week study was terminated after only six days because it was out of control. Good boys chosen for their normalcy were having emotional breakdowns as powerless prisoners. Other young men chosen for their mental health and positive values eased into the character of sadistic guards inflicting suffering on their fellow students without moral compunction....

Commentary & News Briefs
...Having just returned from a three-week trip to the combat zones in Iraq, Lt. Colonel Oliver North told a huge audience at the National Day of Prayer ceremonies in Washington yesterday that the present is a crucial time to invoke God's power and that Americans must not forget to pray for the fighting men and women of the U.S. armed forces. The former Marine officer noted that the National Day of Prayer has historically been associated with war, the first observance of it having been proclaimed by the Continental Congress back in 1775 "as America was on the edge of a war for independence," and he says Abraham Lincoln renewed the call for national prayer during "a war for national survival, and today, we are fighting another such war on battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan." North says he himself is a living example of the power of prayer, and he has been amazed at the faith in God he saw displayed by the American military men and women in Iraq, who he describes as "true heroes in every sense of the word."

...The honorary chairman of this year's National Day of Prayer, Oliver North, says the U.S. troops he recently visited in Iraq "are compassionate toward the Iraqis." And he says they regularly pray that they will do what is right. North told a prayer gathering on Capitol Hill that there is also a spiritual battle being waged in the United States -- against the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and what he called "the traditional concept of marriage, biblically-based." Other National Day of Prayer organizers warned that Americans are losing their religious rights. Attorney General John Ashcroft said he had spoken with President Bush shortly before the Capitol Hill prayer gathering. He says Bush credited his daily religious devotions with helping him carry the burdens of the presidency....

...An Israeli author and lecturer believes the United States and Israel have a master plan for bringing down the tyrannical regime in Iran. Victor Mordecai has been touring the United States, telling church audiences about the ongoing threat of Islam. Mordecai says Iran is the next rogue regime that must be brought down before it gets a nuclear bomb, which he says the radical mullahs want to use against Israel in order to prove that the Koran is true and the Bible false....

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Bush's "Christian" Blood Cult
...Bush's self-proclaimed adherence to Christianity (during one of the presidential debates he said Jesus Christ was his favorite "philosopher") and his constant reference to a new international structure bypassing the United Nations system and long-standing international treaties are worrying the top leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. Well-informed sources close to the Vatican report that Pope John Paul II is growing increasingly concerned about Bush's ultimate intentions. The Pope has had experience with Bush's death fetish. Bush ignored the Pope's plea to spare the life of Karla Faye Tucker. To show that he was similarly ignorant of the world's mainstream religions, Bush also rejected an appeal to spare Tucker from the World Council of Churches - an organization that represents over 350 of the world's Protestant and Orthodox Churches. It did not matter that Bush's own Methodist Church and his parents' Episcopal Church are members of the World Council.

Bush's blood lust, his repeated commitment to Christian beliefs, and his constant references to "evil doers," in the eyes of many devout Catholic leaders, bear all the hallmarks of the one warned about in the Book of Revelations - the anti-Christ. People close to the Pope claim that amid these concerns, the Pontiff wishes he was younger and in better health to confront the possibility that Bush may represent the person prophesized in Revelations. John Paul II has always believed the world was on the precipice of the final confrontation between Good and Evil as foretold in the New Testament. Before he became Pope, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla said, "We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of the American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel." The Pope, who grew up facing the evils of Hitler and Stalin, knows evil when he sees it. Although we can all endlessly argue over the Pope's effectiveness in curtailing abuses within his Church, his accomplishments external to Catholicism are impressive.

According to journalists close to the Vatican, the Pope and his closest advisers are also concerned that the ultimate acts of evil - the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon - were known in advance by senior Bush administration officials. By permitting the attacks to take their course, there is a perception within the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy that a coup d'etat was implemented, one that gave Bush and his leadership near-dictatorial powers to carry out their agenda.

The Pope worked tirelessly to convince leaders of nations on the UN Security Council to oppose Bush's war resolution on Iraq. Vatican sources claim they had not seen the Pope more animated and determined since he fell ill to Parkinson's Disease. ...

Bush is portrayed in Talk as ridiculing pickax killer Karla Faye Tucker of Houston for an interview she did with CNN broadcaster Larry King shortly before she was executed last year. Just before her execution date, Tucker appealed for clemency on the grounds that she had become a born-again Christian.

" `Please,' Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, `don't kill me,' "
-- The Houston Chronicle August 10, 1999

An interesting tidbit from this evening's edition of The (must-read) Nelson Report ...

We can contribute a second hand anecdote to newspaper stories on rising concern, last year, from Secretary of State Powell and Deputy Secretary Armitage about Administration attitudes and the risks they might entail: according to eye witnesses to debate at the highest levels of the Administration...the highest levels...whenever Powell or Armitage sought to question prisoner treatment issues, they were forced to endure what our source characterizes as "around the table, coarse, vulgar, frat-boy bully remarks about what these tough guys would do if THEY ever got their hands on prisoners...."

Mistreatment of Prisoners Is Called Routine in U.S.
Physical and sexual abuse of prisoners, similar to what has been uncovered in Iraq, takes place in American prisons with little public knowledge or concern, according to corrections officials, inmates and human rights advocates.

In Pennsylvania and some other states, inmates are routinely stripped in front of other inmates before being moved to a new prison or a new unit within their prison. In Arizona, male inmates at the Maricopa County jail in Phoenix are made to wear women's pink underwear as a form of humiliation.

At Virginia's Wallens Ridge maximum security prison, new inmates have reported being forced to wear black hoods, in theory to keep them from spitting on guards, and said they were often beaten and cursed at by guards and made to crawl.

The corrections experts say that some of the worst abuses have occurred in Texas, whose prisons were under a federal consent decree during much of the time President Bush was governor because of crowding and violence by guards against inmates. Judge William Wayne Justice of Federal District Court imposed the decree after finding that guards were allowing inmate gang leaders to buy and sell other inmates as slaves for sex.

The experts also point out that the man who directed the reopening of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq last year and trained the guards there resigned under pressure as director of the Utah Department of Corrections in 1997 after an inmate died while shackled to a restraining chair for 16 hours. The inmate, who suffered from schizophrenia, was kept naked the whole time....

...In a 1999 opinion, Judge Justice wrote of the situation in Texas, "Many inmates credibly testified to the existence of violence, rape and extortion in the prison system and about their own suffering from such abysmal conditions."...

...In an interview with an online magazine,, last January, Mr. McCotter recalled that of all the prisons in Iraq, Abu Ghraib "is the only place we agreed as a team was truly closest to an American prison. They had cell housing and segregation."...

Friday, May 07, 2004

Primal Scream
“Stop with the hindsight”, says one writer. “Be patient,” says another.

Oh, no, let’s not stop with the hindsight. Not when so many remain so profoundly, dangerously, incomprehensibly unable to acknowledge that the hindsight shows many people of good faith and reasonable mien predicting what has come to pass in Iraq. Let’s not be patient: after all, the people counseling patience now showed a remarkable lack of it before the war.

One of my great pleasures in life, I am ashamed to say, is saying “I told you so” when I give prudential advice and it is ignored. In the greatest “I told you so” of my life, I gain no pleasure at all in saying it. It makes me dizzy with sickness to say it, incandescent with rage to say it. It sticks in my throat like vomit. It makes me want to punch some abstract somebody in the mouth. It makes me want to scrawl profane insults in this space and abandon all hope of reasonable conversation.

That’s because the people who did what they did, said what they said, on Iraq, the people who ignored or belitted counsel to the contrary, didn’t just screw themselves. They screwed me and my family and my people and my nation and the world. They screwed a very big pooch and they mostly don’t even have the courage to admit it. They pissed away assets and destroyed tools of diplomacy and persuasion that will take a generation to reacquire at precisely the moment that we need them most. ...

...There is a struggle against terror, injustice, illiberalism. It is real. It will be with us all our lives. We must fight it as best we can. The people who backed the war in Iraq, especially the people who backed it uncritically, unskeptically, ideologically, who still refuse to be skeptical, who refuse to exact a political price for it, who refuse to learn the lessons it has taught, sabotaged that struggle. Some of them like to accuse their critics of giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Right back at you, then. You bungled, and you don’t even have the grace or authentic commitment to your alleged aims to confess your error. ...

Neoconservatives Are Anti-American
Is Bush correct when he reassures his war fans that torture is not indicative of American values?

Or is the US government merely treating Iraqis the same way it treated Randy Weaver’s family at Ruby Ridge, the Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas, and Gordon Kahl’s family at Medina, ND?

Why expect the US government to show more restraint to Iraqis than it shows its own citizens? ...

The Pentagon Unleashes a Holy Warrior
...Who is Jerry Boykin? He is Army Lt. General William G. "Jerry" Boykin. The day before Boykin appeared at the pulpit in Oregon, the Pentagon announced that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had nominated the general for a third star and named him to a new position as deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence. In this newly created position, Boykin is not just another Pentagon apparatchik or bureaucratic warrior. He has been charged with reinvigorating Rumsfeld's "High Value Target Plan" to track down Bin Laden, Hussein, Mullah Omar and other leaders in the terrorism world. But Gen. Boykin's appointment to a high position in the administration is a frightening blunder at a time when there is widespread acknowledgment that the position of the United States in the Islamic world has never been worse.

A monthlong journalistic investigation of Boykin reveals a 30-year veteran whose classified resumé reads like a history of special operations and counter-terrorism. From the failed Iranian hostage rescue attempt in 1980 to invasions in Grenada and Panama, to the hunt for drug lord Pablo Escobar in Colombia, to Somalia and various locales in the Middle East, Boykin has been there. He also was an advisor to Atty. Gen. Janet Reno during Waco....

Here's an idea or something possibly to consider (and I have to thank a reader --JS -- for reminding me of this connection).

In many of the articles on this emerging Iraqi prisoners story, it has been claimed that some of the key instigators or enablers of bad acts were military intelligence officers.

Now, who's the head of military intelligence? 'Head' is to vague. There's no such post per se. But what comes pretty close is the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence.

And who's that? Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin.

Remember him? He's the one who got in trouble last year for describing his battle with a Muslim Somali warlord by saying "I knew that my God was bigger than his God. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol", saying President Bush was chosen by God, and generally that the war on terror is an apocalyptic struggle between Christianity and Satan. ...

...In any case, I doubt very much that all this mess we've gotten ourselves into is attributable to this one man. But at what point in this scandal does someone ask whether some of this might have some connection to the fact that the guy running military intelligence believes the war on terror is a literal holy war pitting Christian America against Satan and his Muslim minions?...

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Jerusalem conference calls Christian Zionism a 'heresy'
Christian theologians, religious leaders and peace activists meeting in Jerusalem issued a stinging rebuke of "the heretical teachings of Christian Zionism" following the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center's conference "Challenging Christian Zionism: Theology, Politics, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict," held April 14-18.

Released at the conclusion of the five-day meeting, the statement says that Christian Zionism, in its extreme form, "places an emphasis on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ's love and justice." The statement, adopted by more than 600 participants from 32 countries at the conference's conclusion on April 18, declared that "we categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as a false teaching that undermines the biblical message of love, mercy and justice."...

...The Rev. Stephen Sizer, an Anglican priest who chairs the International Bible Society in the United Kingdom, said that the thesis of Christian Zionism is that "every act taken by Israel is orchestrated by God and should be condoned-period." He said that the movement's influence is immense, with as many as 100 million adherents in the US. Christian Zionism, he said, dates back to early 19th century England, when a commitment to restore the Jews to Palestine as an antecedent to Christ's Second Coming and the end of the world began to take shape. Conservative British politicians like Lord Balfour were convinced that the purpose of history is to carry out the divine purpose. But Balfour was "entirely duplicitous," said Sizer, because he never intended to take into account the people already living in Palestine. Yet Balfour is responsible for giving Zionism political legitimacy, especially in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which called for the establishment of a Jewish state.

Christian Zionists typically are ultra-literalist in their interpretation of Scripture, support Jerusalem as the "eternal and exclusive" capital of Israel, favor rebuilding the Jewish temple on Mount Zion, and express antipathy for Arabs who stand in the way of such a vision, Sizer said....

...Barbara Rossing of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago dealt directly and convincingly with the misuse of the New Testament book of Revelation in supporting Christian Zionist theology. "It is a highly political but deeply spiritual book," she said, "that helps us see empire differently." When Revelation was written, Rome had just reoccupied the region and the book's writer, John, looked at the situation and "addressed the issue of justice, giving us eyes to see our world."

But Revelation is not meant to be read literally, Rossing said. "It is one of the most daring critiques of empire" in the New Testament, one that "looks the powers in the face and says that 'Rome won't last, God will.'" Rossing said that Revelation offers "a vision of healing and renewal." But its prophecy is a wake-up call, a word of warning to the people, not a set of predictions. Fundamentalists never get to the last chapter that describes the New Jerusalem and God's renewed vision of community, she said. "It lays out God's vision for all time, not restricted to someone's time-line. It is also written from the underside, at a time more hopeless and violent than our own. The non-violent Lamb conquers by shedding its own blood," she said....

...Yet Christian Zionists are actually making the safety of Israel untenable, argued the Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor who is director of the International Center in Bethlehem. He noted that there were a number of "recovering Christian Zionists" at the conference, including some speakers. The Christian presence in Jerusalem is a problem for Zionists. "We are there as a stumbling block, erected originally by Christ," he said. "The theology of Christian Zionists is one of glory, not suffering. They are interested in power, they need victories. They are the true anti-Semites because they want to bring Jews to Israel to slay two-thirds of them as part of the end of time," he said. "We are the continuation of the first disciples. If you identify with that then we have a place to start." Raheb joined others in acknowledging that it is possible to deal with Israel politically but not theologically, because "only the kingdom of God can claim that status."...

...Preaching at the closing worship service at the Notre Dame Center, former presiding bishop Edmond Lee Browning seemed to capture many of the emotions that had been running through the conference. (Both he and his wife Patti were honored by Sabeel for their long commitment to peace in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.)

"Clearly the Christian community is divided between two views," Browning said. "One view would see God's plan being enacted through the return of the Jewish people to Israel, to be followed by Armageddon and the second coming of Christ. The other holds up a vision of this land based not on an interpretation of scripture but on a God of justice as revealed in the totality of Scriptures... Any vision that says God would bring about deliverance for one group at the expense of suffering and injustice to another group of people is just simply not acceptable Christian theology. Indeed, it is not of God."...

So Iraq's a mess and half the country hates you. Just keep praying.
The Divine Calm of George W. Bush
...Shortly after his 1998 re-election as governor of Texas, Republican heavyweights begin to discuss George Bush Jr. as a presidential prospect. W. is dubious. Then one day he's sitting in church, Highland Methodist in Dallas, with his mother. The pastor, Mark Craig, preaches on Moses' ambivalence about leading the Israelites out of bondage. ("Sorry, God, I'm busy," the minister has Moses responding. "I've got a family. I've got sheep to tend. I've got a life.")

Pastor Craig moves on from the allegorical portion of his sermon. The American people are "starved for leadership," he says, "starved for leaders who have ethical and moral courage." He reminds his congregation, "It's not always easy or convenient for leaders to step forward. Remember, even Moses had doubts."

Barbara Bush, the high-church Episcopalian whose husband rejected advice to insert scriptural references into his speeches because they made him uncomfortable, tells her son, "He was talking to you."

George W. Bush, the born-again Christian, apparently hears his mother's "he" as the providential He. According to Stephen Mansfield's sympathetic account in The Faith of George W. Bush, he then calls his friend, the Charismatic preacher James Robison, host of the TV show Life Today, and tells him, "I've heard the call. I believe God wants me to run for president." ...

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Civilians ID'd in abuse may face no charges
WASHINGTON -- A legal loophole could allow four American civilian contractors allegedly involved in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners to escape punishment, US military officials and specialists said yesterday.

US commanders in Iraq announced that seven military supervisors have received administrative reprimands over the alleged abuse of the detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of US forces in Iraq, said the investigation into the supervisors -- officers and non-commissioned officers -- was complete and they would not face further proceedings....

...But the four civilian workers identified in an internal army report for their involvement in the physical and sexual mistreatment of the prisoners -- including the alleged rape of one detainee -- cannot be punished under military law, and it is unclear whether they will face any charges under either US or Iraqi laws.

The army report -- written in February and obtained by a reporter for the New Yorker magazine -- found evidence that civilian interrogators employed by the Virginia-based firm CACI and civilian interpreters with the San Diego-based Titan Corp were directly involved in the abuses at the prison. Abu Ghraib is a place once notorious for the torture carried out under the rule of Saddam Hussein but now at the center of an international scandal over apparent human rights abuses at the hands of Americans....

Continuity of Government
...I've had that same feeling about Abu Ghraib since I first heard that the coalition had reopened it as a prison last summer. Anyone who knows anything about the history of Saddam's regime can't help but wonder what that particular decision was intended to symbolize. I mean, they didn't even change the name. Saddam International Airport became Baghdad International, Saddam City metamorphosed into Sadr City. But Abu Ghraib Prison remained Abu Ghraib Prison.

Did anyone stop to think what kind of message that sent to the Iraqis about the nature of their "liberation"?

It's as if the allies had captured Buchenwald or Dachau, slapped new coats of paint on them, then turned around and reopened them as occupation prison camps -- not just for Nazis, but for ordinary people grabbed off the street or pulled out of their beds in the middle of the night, often on no more evidence than what the Gestapo would have required. ...

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Land of the Serf
A few years ago I was astounded to learn that during the War Between the States, many slaves fought for the Confederacy. It seemed a paradox, as if they were fighting against themselves.

Since then I’ve come to see that it’s not unusual for slaves to fight for their masters. No slave system can work unless the slaves accept their servitude and even regard their masters as benefactors. It’s naive to imagine all slaves as shackled, grudging, and dreaming of liberty.

Less then a century ago, when chattel slavery was still rife in Africa (where remnants of it still exist), an English writer was startled to find that runaway slaves were despised by other slaves, who regarded them as ungrateful to their masters. This was true even though slaves were usually acquired in raids by neighboring tribes, who kidnapped them as infants. Unable to remember their own parents, they were raised to regard their kidnappers as virtual fathers.

There is ample proof closer to home. Many Americans see nothing wrong with servitude to the state — in the forms of military draft, limitless taxes, or what is now being touted as “national service.” All these things presume that we belong to the state and must do whatever it demands of us.

In their minds, the state is within its rights to force young men to fight wars across oceans against other states that have done them no harm. Of course these young men are always told that these foreign states are “threats” and therefore that “we” are fighting for freedom. And of course it is treason to suggest that there is a certain paradox in being forced to fight for freedom, let alone that the real enemy of the young men’s freedom is their own state. ...

...Are U.S. troops today fighting for what Jefferson would recognize as freedom? Or are they fighting for an empire — not only a global military empire, but an enormous domestic system of unconstitutional laws, taxes, regulations, bureaucracies, and general infringements of the freedoms our ancestors took for granted?

The answer is obvious. They are serfs fighting for servitude. They are fighting for the CIA, the FBI, the EPA, OSHA, HUD, the Social Security Administration, the departments of Homeland Security, Education, and Energy, and of course the IRS, to name just a few agencies. President Bush says they are fighting for freedom. Jefferson might put it a little differently.

To many Americans, fighting for the U.S. Government means fighting for “America,” and America, no matter how tyrannous its government becomes, always remains, in their minds, a synonym for freedom. Some of these people may even hate what the government has done to this country, yet they are always eager to support it when it goes to war — even when war means new restrictions on freedom at home. ...

Saturday, May 01, 2004


In 1981 my wife Joan received a cancer diagnosis that was determined in all
probability to be fatal. Because we were a well-known and publicly identified
family (I was Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, New Jersey), the news
became public knowledge almost immediately. resources of our people and our
friends were quickly mobilized. Prayer groups throughout the diocese and even
in ecumenical settings added my wife to their list of special intentions. Her
name was spoken regularly during the prayers of the people in public worship in
almost all of our churches. Those actions communicated concern, caring, and
love to both of us, and we received that caring with deep appreciation.
Remission did appear to have been achieved, and Joan lived for six and a half
years from diagnosis to death.

This was beyond anything the doctors had led us to believe was possible. As
this realization of a prolonged remission began to dawn, the people who were
most concerned and whose prayers were the most intense began to take credit for
her longevity. “Our prayers are working,” they claimed. “God is using our
prayers to keep this malevolent disease at bay.” Perhaps there was present
still that ancient but unspoken assumption that this sickness was the work of
the devil and that this evil work was being thwarted by the power of God loosed
through the prayers of God’s people.

Despite my gratitude for the embracing love that these people demonstrated,
both for me and for my wife, I could not help but be troubled at their
explanations. Suppose, I queried to myself alone, that a sanitation worker in
Newark, probably the city with the lowest per capita income in the United
States, has a wife who had received the same diagnosis. Because he is not a
high-profile person, well connected to a large network of people, socially
prominent, or covered by the press, the sickness of his wife never comes to
public attention. Suppose he is not a religiously oriented person and thus
prayer groups and individual petitions in hundreds of churches are not offered
on his wife’s behalf.

Would that affect the course of her sickness? Would she live less time from
diagnosis to death, endure more obvious pain, or face a more difficult dying?
If so, would that not be to attribute to God not only a capricious nature, but
also a value system shaped by human importance and the worldly standards of
social elitism? Would I be interested in worshipping a God who would treat my
wife differently because we had had opportunities in life that the sanitation
worker had not had? Do I want to attribute to the deity a behavior pattern
based on human status? The answer to all of these questions is no, no, a
thousand times no! ...

Treaty of Peace and Friendship, signed at Tripoli November 4, 1796 (3 Ramada I, A. H. 1211), and at Algiers January 3, 1797 (4 Rajab, A. H. 1211). Original in Arabic. Submitted to the Senate May 29, 1797. (Message of May 26, 1797.) Resolution of advice and consent June 7, 1797. Ratified by the United States June 10, 1797. ...

...ARTICLE 11.
As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries. ...