Monday, February 28, 2005

ComBlu Introduces Powerful, New Word-of-Mouth Marketing Methodology, The Evangelist Effect(TM)
CHICAGO, Feb. 9 /PRNewswire/ -- ComBlu ( )
introduces The Evangelist Effect(TM) (EE), a proprietary nine step process
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Today, customers filter out most marketing messages and rely on their
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themselves. WOM is more personal and the most credible part of their discovery

The Evangelist Effect offers marketers a systematic, proven and measurable
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service. The nine step process integrates the roles of both internal employee
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their competition and generate significantly higher returns on investment....

With The Evangelical Air Force
As Christian broadcasting's leading lights gathered at the National Religious Broadcasters' convention in Anaheim, California, only power-mongering and profiteering could keep their contradictions from bubbling to the surface

...It might seem ironic for McDonald to invoke the spectre of persecution at the convention of a group that represents the interests of 1700 broadcasters and which enjoys unfettered access to congressional Republicans and the White House. The NRB's influence was best summarized by its new CEO, Frank Wright, who, in describing a recent lobbying excursion to Capitol Hill, said, "We got into rooms we've never been in before. We got down on the floor of the Senate and prayed over Hillary Clinton's desk." Wright went on to rally support for the NRB's handpicked candidate for FCC commissioner, whom he refused to name, and rail against federal hate crime legislation because, "Calls for tolerance are often a subterfuge when everything will be tolerated except Christian truth."

Given the NRB's political muscle, the persecution mentality that undergirded its convention seemed more like a justification for its members' aggressive profiteering and politicking than a cry for social justice. But at a gathering where women who had had multiple abortions organized to prevent other women from doing the same, where Israeli Jews heaped effusive affection upon evangelicals who cheerfully predicted their doom at the dawn of the apocalypse, and where evangelical leaders who warned of Islam's imperial ambitions hatched plans to "take over cities for Christ," the theme of victimization was only one of many contradictions looming just beneath the surface.

Such contradictions are inherent in the Christian Right, and might have translated into internecine conflict long ago, balkanizing the movement and curtailing its influence, had its leaders not so assiduously cultivated Jesus as a unifying symbol of the their will to power....

...Perhaps the most startling moment of the morning was an appearance by popular Christian Zionist author, Kay Arthur of Precepts Ministries. "I love America," Arthur said, her voice quivering with emotion. "But if it came to a choice between Israel and America, I would stand with Israel." While the crowd applauded tepidly, I looked around and saw more than a few faces cringing with embarrassment. Arthur went on to read excerpts from the Book of Revelations, painting a surreal image of Jesus seated in a throne floating above Jerusalem, rapturing all the world's true believers up to Heaven. She left the fate of unreconstructed Jews to the imagination....

...Like everything else about Dobson, his passive attitude was calculated. The evening was to belong to Ryan, who dominated the discussion with long, blustery yarns about everything from his passion for skateboarding to his views on abortion. With close-cropped hair, gauge earrings and a handlebar mustache reminiscent of the biker from the Village People, Ryan had studiously cast himself as a rebel for Christ. But behind his bad-boy veneer, he is being groomed as the heir to his dad's political empire. Adopted by his parents when he was six months old, Ryan interned for a year at Washington's premier right-wing Christian think tank, the Family Research Council (website), which his father founded, and today is dispatched across the country for speaking engagements before evangelical youth groups, which his father promotes.

While at the NRB, Ryan explained the logic behind his latest book, 2Die4, a sequel to his other ghostwritten masterpiece, Be Intolerant: Because Some Things Are Just Stupid. "Kids today are looking for something to die for, they're looking for a cause," Ryan said. "If you give them something to die for, they'll go to the edge of the earth for you. Kids like that give me hope for revolution in America."

During a brief Q&A session, I asked Ryan if he thought there were any specific causes kids should die for. I wanted to know if he sought to literally usher children toward martyrdom like some Hamas lieutenant or was just using jarring rhetoric to spur apathetic teens to activism....

...In James Dobson's War on America, a 1998 tell-all book by Dobson's former radio co-host, Gil Alexander Moegerle recounts a conversation he had with the late Stan Mooneyham, former president of the evangelical relief group World Vision. "Dobson believes he has no dark side," Mooneyham told Moegerle. "He doesn't accept his shadow, which only means he has pushed it into the cellar and locked the door. But it will someday roar out and do him in." I wondered if his son might become that shadow.

Of course, Dobson is unlikely to abdicate his position at the helm of the Christian Right any time soon. He still serves as the moral beacon for a movement that enjoys unprecedented influence in Washington and is resurgent throughout the world. It remains to be seen if the stark, inherent contractions of his movement will slow its swelling ranks or impede its increasingly ambitious agenda.

Blessed are the warmongers
...Now we know where Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) thinks the weapons of mass destruction are buried: in Syria, which he said he’d like to nuke to smithereens.

Speaking at a veterans’ celebration at Suncreek United Methodist Church in Allen, Texas, on Feb. 19, Johnson told the crowd that he explained his theory to President Bush and Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) on the porch of the White House one night.

Johnson said he told the president that night, “Syria is the problem. Syria is where those weapons of mass destruction are, in my view. You know, I can fly an F-15, put two nukes on ‘em and I’ll make one pass. We won’t have to worry about Syria anymore.”

The crowd roared with applause....

It's Called Torture
...Mr. Arar was the victim of an American policy that is known as extraordinary rendition. That's a euphemism. What it means is that the United States seizes individuals, presumably terror suspects, and sends them off without even a nod in the direction of due process to countries known to practice torture.

A Massachusetts congressman, Edward Markey, has taken the eminently sensible step of introducing legislation that would ban this utterly reprehensible practice. In a speech on the floor of the House, Mr. Markey, a Democrat, said: "Torture is morally repugnant whether we do it or whether we ask another country to do it for us. It is morally wrong whether it is captured on film or whether it goes on behind closed doors unannounced to the American people."

Unfortunately, the outlook for this legislation is not good. I asked Pete Jeffries, the communications director for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, if the speaker supported Mr. Markey's bill. After checking with the policy experts in his office, Mr. Jeffries called back and said: "The speaker does not support the Markey proposal. He believes that suspected terrorists should be sent back to their home countries."

Surprised, I asked why suspected terrorists should be sent anywhere. Why shouldn't they be held by the United States and prosecuted?

"Because," said Mr. Jeffries, "U.S. taxpayers should not necessarily be on the hook for their judicial and incarceration costs."

It was, perhaps, the most preposterous response to any question I've ever asked as a journalist. It was not by any means an accurate reflection of Bush administration policy. All it indicated was that the speaker's office does not understand this issue, and has not even bothered to take it seriously.

More important, it means that torture by proxy, close kin to contract murder, remains all right. Congressman Markey's bill is going nowhere. Extraordinary rendition lives.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Christian right mum on Gannon Affair
Why have the 'traditional family values' folks erected a wall of silence around the Gannon scandal?

They were livid over SpongeBob Square Pants' participation in a video advocating tolerance, and fuming about Buster the Bunny's visit to a lesbian household. So where's the outrage from the Christian right over the Jeff Gannon Affair? Despite a chunk of time having passed since the Gannon Affair was first uncovered, Christian right organizations are still cloaked in silence. As of February 24, there wasn't any news about the Gannon Affair available on the Web sites of Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, or the Traditional Values Coalition. As best as I could determine, no special alerts about the Gannon Affair have been issued; and no campaigns have been launched to get to the bottom of the matter.

Curious about this wall of silence, I phoned several Christian right groups on Tuesday, February 22, hoping to find someone who could comment on the Gannon Affair. This is what I found...

Friday, February 25, 2005

Adam was but human - this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple's sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.
-- Mark Twain

Aboard Air CIA
The agency ran a secret charter service, shuttling detainees to interrogation facilities worldwide. Was it legal? What's next? A NEWSWEEK investigation

Feb. 28 issue - Like many detainees with tales of abuse, Khaled el-Masri had a hard time getting people to believe him. Even his wife didn't know what to make of his abrupt, five-month disappearance last year. Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, says he was taken off a bus in Macedonia in south-central Europe while on holiday on Dec. 31, 2003, then whisked in handcuffs to a motel outside the capital city of Skopje. Three weeks later, on the evening of Jan. 23, 2004, he was brought blindfolded aboard a jet with engines noisily revving, according to his lawyer, Manfred Gnjidic. Masri says he climbed high stairs "like onto a regular passenger airplane" and was chained to clamps on the bare metal floor and wall of the jet.

Masri says he was then flown to Afghanistan, where at a U.S. prison facility he was shackled, repeatedly punched and questioned about extremists at his mosque in Ulm, Germany. Finally released months later, the still-mystified Masri was deposited on a deserted road leading into Macedonia, where he brokenly tried to describe his nightmarish odyssey to a border guard. "The man was laughing at me," Masri told The New York Times, which disclosed his story last month. "He said: 'Don't tell that story to anyone because no one will believe it. Everyone will laugh'."

No one's laughing these days, least of all the CIA. NEWSWEEK has obtained previously unpublished flight plans indicating the agency has been operating a Boeing 737 as part of a top-secret global charter servicing clandestine interrogation facilities used in the war on terror. And the Boeing's flight information, detailed to the day, seems to confirm Masri's tale of abduction. Gnjidic, Masri's lawyer, called the information "very, very important" to his case, which is being investigated as a kidnapping by a Munich prosecutor. In what could prove embarrassing to President Bush, Gnjidic added that a German TV station was planning to feature Masri's tale ahead of Bush's much-touted trip to Germany this week. German Interior Minister Otto Schily recently visited CIA Director Porter Goss to discuss the case, and German sources tell NEWSWEEK that Schily was seeking an apology. CIA officials declined to comment on that meeting or any aspect of Masri's story....

I saw Americans kill terror suspects, says Guantanamo Briton
One of the four Britons released from Guantanamo Bay last month said he was tortured by the Americans at a separate holding camp and spent many hours trussed like an animal with a bag over his head.

Moazzam Begg, 37, who was released by the Metropolitan Police without charge and reunited with his wife and four children after three years' imprisonment, also accuses his American captors of beating two detainees to death at the Bagram air base near Kabul in Afghanistan. In his first interview since his release, he told Channel 4 News he "witnessed two people get beaten so badly I believe it caused their deaths".

In February 2003, Mr Begg was transferred from Bagram to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The former law student and bookshop owner from Birmingham joined hundreds of other "unlawful combatants", shackled and dressed in orange jumpsuits, then held without charge, trial or access to lawyers. For much of his detention he was in solitary confinement, often exposed to extreme weather and deprived of basic necessities. Last night he said he was interviewed at Guantanomo by US security officers who asked him to identify the guards in the alleged beatings.

He told Channel 4: "I saw one body actually being carried away and the other one, I wasn't sure whether he had been killed but the photographs the American intelligence officers had brought confirmed this person had been killed."...

Condoleezza Rice's Commanding Clothes
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived at the Wiesbaden Army Airfield on Wednesday dressed all in black. She was wearing a black skirt that hit just above the knee, and it was topped with a black coat that fell to mid-calf. The coat, with its seven gold buttons running down the front and its band collar, called to mind a Marine's dress uniform or the "save humanity" ensemble worn by Keanu Reeves in "The Matrix."

As Rice walked out to greet the troops, the coat blew open in a rather swashbuckling way to reveal the top of a pair of knee-high boots. The boots had a high, slender heel that is not particularly practical. But it is a popular silhouette because it tends to elongate and flatter the leg. In short, the boots are sexy.

Rice boldly eschewed the typical fare chosen by powerful American women on the world stage. She was not wearing a bland suit with a loose-fitting skirt and short boxy jacket with a pair of sensible pumps. She did not cloak her power in photogenic hues, a feminine brooch and a non-threatening aesthetic. Rice looked as though she was prepared to talk tough, knock heads and do a freeze-frame "Matrix" jump kick if necessary. Who wouldn't give her ensemble a double take -- all the while hoping not to rub her the wrong way?

Rice's coat and boots speak of sex and power -- such a volatile combination, and one that in political circles rarely leads to anything but scandal. When looking at the image of Rice in Wiesbaden, the mind searches for ways to put it all into context. It turns to fiction, to caricature. To shadowy daydreams. Dominatrix!...

Thrown to the Wolves
... "I still have nightmares about being in Syria, being beaten, being in jail," said Mr. Arar. "They feel very real. When I wake up, I feel very relieved to find myself in my room."

In the fall of 2002 Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen, suddenly found himself caught up in the cruel mockery of justice that the Bush administration has substituted for the rule of law in the post-Sept. 11 world. While attempting to change planes at Kennedy Airport on his way home to Canada from a family vacation in Tunisia, he was seized by American authorities, interrogated and thrown into jail. He was not charged with anything, and he never would be charged with anything, but his life would be ruined.

Mr. Arar was surreptitiously flown out of the United States to Jordan and then driven to Syria, where he was kept like a nocturnal animal in an unlit, underground, rat-infested cell that was the size of a grave. From time to time he was tortured.

He wept. He begged not to be beaten anymore. He signed whatever confessions he was told to sign. He prayed.

Among the worst moments, he said, were the times he could hear babies crying in a nearby cell where women were imprisoned. He recalled hearing one woman pleading with a guard for several days for milk for her child.

He could hear other prisoners screaming as they were tortured....

...Official documents in Canada suggest that Mr. Arar was never the target of a terror investigation there. One former Canadian official, commenting on the Arar case, was quoted in a local newspaper as saying "accidents will happen" in the war on terror....

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Religious group challenges 'traditional' history
Presidents’ Day is when many Americans honor the country’s past commanders-in-chief.

At the Christian Heritage Center in Fishersville, Thomas Jefferson was not on the list of honorees Monday....

...Each actor cited examples to suggest Jefferson was the enemy of Christians and that Washington was a model Christian, who walked the walk - even begging forgiveness from God when his prayers were not fervent enough.

“Jefferson came disguised as an angel of light by appealing to reason instead of faith - to works instead of the cross,” Humphries said.

“His purpose … was taught by Voltaire, Locke, Paine and Priestly. They become … wolves in sheep’s clothing,” he said.

Campbell finished the service by bringing the crowd to its feet and striking up “God Bless America.” He reminded the crowd that the current president, George W. Bush, has Jesus Christ as Lord and master and is a good example to today’s young people.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Rapture awaits in the Florida Panhandle
Last month, as we usually do, we motored down U.S. Interstate 75, to the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the shores of the Florida Panhandle. It's a time to catch up on serious reading, walk the pristine white quartz beaches, watch for pelicans and passing dolphins, and do some research on the ever-fascinating phenomenon of American religion.

The whole coast from Panama City on the east to Pensacola on the west, apart from having the most beautiful beaches in the world, is the focus of some of the most intense conservative evangelical activity in the entire U.S. Superchurches, training schools, and all kinds of crusades abound...

...At first impression, the religious scene in this Bible Belt terrain is upbeat, vigorous, prospering in numbers, properties, and outspoken leadership. There is an agenda both spiritual and political as well as the people and money to make it happen. But, when you pay close attention to the message being driven home by every possible technical medium and skill, you meet some deeply disturbing, even frightening realities.

Let me illustrate by describing an all-day Saturday conference at one of the largest Protestant churches I have ever been in, The Village Baptist Church in Destin, Fla. The facilities there are gleaming, spacious, comfortable.

The theme of the day was Left Behind: A Conference on Biblical Prophecy about End Times, and it featured three of the leading voices in the U.S religious right today: Tim LaHaye, Gary Frazier, and Ed Hindson.

LaHaye was one of the leaders included in Time magazine's Jan.31 story on evangelicals most influential in the presidency of George W.Bush. He appeared, for that reason, a few nights ago along with three other prominent evangelicals on Larry King Live.

LaHaye has written about 50 non-fiction books and is particularly noteworthy because of his multi-million dollar Left Behind series of novels dealing with end-of-the-world themes.

Following the "Rapture" — the supposed moment when Jesus Christ will suddenly appear and all the saved will be "caught up to meet him in the air" — leaving the rest of Earth's billions to plague, pestilence, famine and war, there will be seven years of the "Tribulation."

How the Christian "God of love" treats those "left behind" makes for lurid reading indeed.

To sum up the essence of the three speaker's messages all that long Saturday, I have never heard so much venom and dangerous ignorance spouted before an utterly unquestioning, otherwise normal-looking crowd in my life. For the $25 fee, the 800 devotees certainly got a plateful.

There were stunning statements about humans having been only 6,000 years on Earth and other denials of contemporary geology and biology. And we learned that the Rapture, which could happen any second now, but certainly within the next 40 years, will instantly sweep all the "saved" Americans (perhaps one-half the population) to heaven, leaving the United States as "a Third World country" with the European Union becoming the revived Roman Empire.

But these fantasies were harmless compared with the hatred against Islam that followed. Here are some direct quotes: "Islam is an intolerant religion — and it's clear whose side we should be on in the Middle East." Applause greeted these words: "Allah and Jehovah are not the same God ... Islam is a Satanic religion ...We will never be able to understand their (Muslim) mentality ... They're going to attack Israel for certain. ..."

Gary Frazier shouted at the top of his lungs: "Wake up! Wake up!" And roughly 800 heads nodded approval as he added that the left-wing, anti-Israel media — "for example, CNN" — will never tell the world the truth about Islam. According to these three and the millions of Americans they lead, Muslims intend ultimately "to impose their religion on us all."

The idea of peace in the Middle East was denounced — specially any accord granting any land whatever to the Palestinians.

The two-state concept is unacceptable to American Christians, they argued, because "God gave that land to the Jews through Abraham" long ago. If the Palestinians want a state they must go to Jordan or elsewhere.

A terrible, final war in the region is inevitable.

Frazier, Hindson and LaHaye all teach at Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. They have the ear of the President of the world's sole superpower.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Capitalism and Human Nature
In the spring of 1845, Karl Marx wrote, ". . . the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of social relations." Marx's idea was that a change in the "ensemble of social relations" can change "the human essence."

In June 2004 the communist North Korean government issued a statement to its starving citizens recommending the consumption of pine needles. Pyongyang maintained that pine needle tea could effectively prevent and treat cancer, arteriosclerosis, diabetes, cerebral hemorrhage, and even turn grey hair to black.

Tragically, human nature isn't at all as advertised, and neither is pine needle tea. According to the U.S. State Department, at least one million North Koreans have died of famine since 1995.

Marx's theory of human nature, like Kim Jong Il's theory of pine needle tea, is a biological fantasy, and we have the corpses to prove it. Which may drive us to wonder: if communism is deadly because it is contrary to human nature, does that imply that capitalism, which is contrary to communism, is distinctively compatible with human nature?

A growing scientific discipline called evolutionary psychology specializes in uncovering the truth about human nature, and it is already illuminating what we know about the possibilities of human social organization. How natural is capitalism? ...

...The problem of distributing scarce resources can be handled in part by implicitly coercive allocative hierarchies. An alternative solution to the problem of distribution is the recognition and enforcement of property rights. Property rights are prefigured in nature by the way animals mark out territories for their exclusive use in foraging, hunting, and mating. Recognition of such rudimentary claims to control and exclude minimizes costly conflict, which by itself provides a strong evolutionary reason to look for innate tendencies to recognize and respect norms of property.

New scientific research provides even stronger evidence for the existence of such property "instincts." For example, recent experimental work by Oliver Goodenough, a legal theorist, and Christine Prehn, a neuroscientist, suggests that the human mind evolved specialized modules for making judgments about moral transgressions, and transgressions against property in particular.

Evolutionary psychology can help us to understand that property rights are not created simply by strokes of the legislator's pen. ...

...Trade and mutually beneficial exchange are human universals, as is the division of labor. In their groundbreaking paper, "Cognitive Adaptations for Social Exchange," Cosmides and Tooby point out that, contrary to widespread belief, hunter-gatherer life is not "a kind of retro-utopia" of "indiscriminate, egalitarian cooperation and sharing." The archeological and ethnographic evidence shows that hunter-gatherers were involved in numerous forms of trade and exchange. Some forms of hunter-gatherer trading can involve quite complex specialization and the interaction of supply and demand.

Most impressive, Cosmides and Tooby have shown through a series of experiments that human beings are able easily to solve complex logical puzzles involving reciprocity, the accounting of costs and benefits, and the detection of people who have cheated on agreements. However, we are unable to solve formally identical puzzles that do not deal with questions of social exchange. That, they argue, points to the existence of "functionally specialized, content-dependent cognitive adaptations for social exchange."

In other words, the human mind is "built" to trade. ...

Evangelist, students debate
The right of free speech came into question yesterday, as tension again mounted at the Alumni Plaza when students argued for the fourth consecutive day with a preaching evangelist who was making politically incorrect comments.

Jed Smock, a traveling evangelist and author of "Who Will Rise Up: A Call to Confrontational Evangelism," has been preaching to students by Heritage Hill for the last week. But the preacher said today will be his last day.

What began as a religious debate and question of free speech quickly turned into an afternoon entertainment session, attracting a crowd of about 150 people.

Some of Smock's comments included "a masturbator today is a homosexual tomorrow" and "God has a vagina for every homosexual." Smock also said the only thing Mexicans contribute to society is burritos, and Jewish people are only good at making bagels and running banks.

Smock advised students against "fornicating outside of marriage," drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana or doing drugs, although Smock said he found God while doing LSD in college. ...

Saying nothing is torture in itself
...Are Americans OK with using religious humiliation as tools of war?

How about religious torture?

In Abu Ghraib, the cruelties inflicted on prisoners by Specialist Charles Graner and his little band of sadists weren't limited to the sexual. Inmates told investigators they were forced to swallow pork and liquor -- both are forbidden to Muslims -- and to denounce Islam.

''They stripped me naked," said a detainee named Ameen Saeed Al-Sheik. ''They asked me, 'Do you pray to Allah?' I said yes. They said, '[Expletive] you. And [expletive] him.' They ordered me to curse Islam and because they started to hit my broken leg, I cursed my religion. They ordered me to thank Jesus that I'm alive. And I did what they ordered me. This is against my belief."

Graner has since been sentenced to 10 years in prison for his crimes, and four other Abu Ghraib soldiers have pleaded guilty. But the charges keep spilling forth....

...As regular readers know, I write as a war hawk. I strongly support the mission in Iraq. I voted for President Bush. I believe the struggle against Islamist totalitarianism is the most urgent conflict of our time.

But none of that justifies the administration's apparent willingness to countenance -- under at least some circumstances -- the indecent abuse of prisoners in military custody. Something is very wrong when the Justice Department advises the president's legal adviser that a wartime president is not bound by the international Convention Against Torture or the US laws incorporating it. Or when that legal adviser tells the Senate, as Alberto Gonzales did last week, that ''there is no legal prohibition under the Convention Against Torture on cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment with respect to aliens overseas."

If this were happening on a Democratic president's watch, the criticism from Republicans and conservatives would be deafening. Why the near-silence now? Who has better reason to be outraged by this scandal than those of us who support the war? More than anyone, it is the war hawks who should be infuriated by it. It shouldn't have taken me this long to say so.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Bible Belt Upside the Head
This week, the Staunton, Va., School Board met to consider changing its 60-year-old Weekday Religious Education program. The WRE is a released-time Christian educational program, in which students in first, second, and third grades in the public school system, leave regular classes on school time in order to attend 30 minutes of religious instruction each week. Twenty such "released-time" programs exist across Virginia, and many more exist in at least 32 states nationwide. To comport with constitutional requirements, these religion classes happen either at local churches or in buses or trailers parked off school grounds. Estimates of the number of Staunton school kids currently participating in WRE differ slightly: The schools say that between 78 percent to 87 percent of the students at their four elementary schools attend WRE classes; JoAnne Shirley—state president for WRE—says that closer to 95 percent of the kids take part. The classes and facilities are funded by local churches.

Several Staunton parents—many of them new to an area often described as "Virginia's Bible Belt"—have come to feel that their children should not have to choose between being evangelized or ostracized on public school time....

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

It's clear that homophobia is reason for ad's rejection
...The UCC properly implied that millions of American Christians are at odds with the Christian Right. They know that the Biblical book of Leviticus forbids homosexual relations. They are also aware that the same book condemns barbequed ribs and Monday Night Football for it is “toevah” – an abomination – not only to eat pork but merely to touch the skin of a dead pig.

In reality, there are no biblical literalists, only selective literalists. By abolishing slavery and ordaining women, millions of Protestants have gone far beyond biblical literalism. It’s time we did the same for homophobia.

Homosexuality was not a big issue for Biblical writers. All told, there are only seven verses in 66 books that refer to it. Nowhere in the four gospels is it ever mentioned. Not everything Biblical is Christ-like, and verses involving more hate than love have no place whatsoever in the human heart. For Christians, the problem is not how to reconcile homosexuality with the scriptural passages that condemn it, but how to reconcile the rejection and abuse of homosexuals with the love of Christ. The UCC ad claims that it can, and must be done....

The Passion of Hotel Rwanda
A year after Mel Gibson's movie, I found an even more Christian film—one that most Christians are ignoring.

...I think about Tutsi and Hutu locked in a cycle of fear and aggression, insult and revenge, attack and counterattack. And I also think of the Twa (the literal "little people" of our world) whose story is so little known, who suffer in the crossfire between the larger, more powerful tribes. And I think about how our community of Christian believers is divided by tribes also caught in long-standing cycles that seem to defy reconciliation: Protestant, Catholic; liberal, conservative red-state, blue-state; contemporary, traditional; postmodern, modern; seeker-driven, seeker-sensitive; purpose-driven, tradition-driven, and so on.

And I go back to the film, and think of the hotel and its manager, himself a Hutu, but one who loves Tutsi as well. I think about his distinction early in the film between family (who deserve help) and non-family (who one can't worry about), and how in the course of the genocide, he comes to see that all neighbors are family. And I wonder why so few of us see our neighbors in the Christian faith in anything close to a similar way, not to mention our non-Christian neighbors who may also be modern-day prostitutes, tax collectors, and Samaritans. I wonder what kind of tragedy it would take to bring us to the insight gained by that hotel manager.

Then, I realize that in some ways at least, the tragic tsunami of December 26, 2004, did that. I didn't hear anyone saying, "Let's raise money for Baptists in Indonesia," or "Let's send help to evangelicals in Sri Lanka," or "Let's be sure no liberals get any of our help, or any Hindus, or Buddhists, or Muslims." I think about the words of a Sri Lankan-whether he was a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or Christian, I don't know-who said that a wave of destruction had crashed upon them, but when he looked to the horizon, he saw another wave rising: an even taller, deeper and more powerful wave of compassion.

Then I realize that's why Hotel Rwanda seemed to me an even more Christian film than The Passion of the Christ. Forgive me if this sounds crazy to you, but try to understand; it evoked in me a wave of compassion for my neighbors around the world, whatever their color or tribe, whatever their religion or politics. And I hear our Lord saying, "As you have done it to the least of these … you have done it to me."

In fact, I can't think of a more worthwhile experience for Christian leaders than to watch Hotel Rwanda and then ask themselves questions like these:

Which film would Jesus most want us to see, and why?

Why did so many churches urge people to see Gibson's film, and why did so few (if any?) promote Terry George's film? What do our answers to that question say about us?...

BuzzFlash interview: Susan Jacoby
Author of Freethinkers reminds us of America's proud tradition: 'religious freedom from government interference...and government freedom from religious interference'

...leaving God out of the Preamble to the Constitution – it was revolutionary. There had never been a government that legally separated church and state before, and it was very deliberate. The omission of God from the Constitution was debated at all of the state ratifying conventions about the Constitution before and when it was finally ratified.

And the Christian right at the time – the right-wing ministers – were very opposed and predicted that God would smash America for leaving Him out of the document. And by the way, this was a division then, too, between conservative and liberal religion, not only between conservative religious people and freethinkers, because religious dissidents also supported the separation of church and state strongly in the Constitution. And indeed, it was a coalition of freethinkers – of people like Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine – and dissident Evangelicals – Baptists, for instance, who were then the minority religion in most states, who joined in this coalition to support the separation of church and state. How far we have come from that....

...We really need to think about this not in terms of any contrast with the sixties, but in a much larger time frame. And I think the difference now, and why George Bush is a really unique figure in American history, is there have been lots of Presidents who were devout believers in God. But there has never been a President, before, who set himself up as the leader or the spokesman for one religious faction in the country.

And I think a really good comparison in terms of attitudes toward God and the role God plays in public rhetoric and public decisions really is with Abraham Lincoln. He talked about God a lot. And one of the points he made over and over again was that both Northerners and Southerners prayed to the same God supposedly -- but the Northern God told the people in the North at the time that it was right to go to war to end slavery, and the Southern God told Southerners that God Himself supported slavery, and it was their right to go to war to uphold that divinely inspired institution.

And right there is the quandary and the dilemma and the wrongness of citing God as a final authority for public policy, because what we all know is that whatever one believes about God, God speaks to people in different voices, and darned if that voice usually isn't the voice of what we already think.

That's the problem of citing God as a justification for capital punishment or war. You close down any public discourse when you do that because, presumably, people who take their inspiration from their vision of God are convinced that they know the will of God. And even though their neighbor may know the will of a completely different God, you just – you close down any discussion, when God is appealed to as the sort of President-in-Chief....

Up against Caesar
Jesus and Paul versus the empire

The “kingdom” of God and “gospel” are usually thought of as terms unique to Christianity. And who else but Jesus was called not only “the son of God” but also “Lord” and “Savior”?

In fact, say biblical experts, these terms and concepts were already familiar to residents of the Roman Empire who knew them as references to the authority and divinity of the emperors, beginning notably with Caesar Augustus before the dawn of the first century.

Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March in 44 BC. When a comet was later visible on July nights, Octavius, the adopted son and heir of Julius Caesar, promoted the idea that it was a sign that the divine Caesar was on his way to heaven. When Roman law in 42 BC deified Julius Caesar, the status of Octavius, who took the name Augustus, was strengthened by adding the phrase “son of God.” Poets celebrated the divinity associated with Augustus, and across the empire coins, monuments, temples and artwork promoted the cult of Augustus and other emperors who adopted Caesar as an honorific title.

To many in the empire, Roman civilization brought stability and wealth. And the people were urged to have “faith” in their “Lord,” the emperor, who would preserve peace and increase wealth. “In the Roman imperial world, the ‘gospel’ was the good news of Caesar’s having established peace and security for the world,” wrote Richard A. Horsley in Jesus and Empire.

Christians gave secular words associated with the empire a new meaning. The Greek word parousia referred to the triumphant arrivals of emperors into cities. In churches it meant the expected return, or second coming, of the heavenly exalted Christ. Churches, literally “assemblies,” were the Christian counterparts to the Roman ekklesiai where Caesar was celebrated, according to Horsley, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. “Caesar was the ‘Savior’ who had brought ‘salvation’ to the whole world.”...

...But didn’t Jesus himself, on the question of paying taxes, advise inquirers to give to Caesar what was Caesar’s and to God what was God’s? For some scholars, Jesus’ answer indicates that the kingdom of God can coexist with the Roman power structure. But Horsley and some others view Jesus’ response as a clever, indirect way to foil his foes’ attempt to entrap him. In Israelite tradition, everything belongs to God and nothing to Caesar, said Horsley in Hearing the Whole Story: The Politics of Plot in Mark’s Gospel.

One evident slap at Roman rule in Mark is the story of Jesus healing the demoniac that no one had the strength to subdue. Jesus asks the man’s unclean spirit for its name. “My name is Legion; for we are many,” replies the man, using the Latin word for a large unit of Roman troops. The demons beg Jesus not to send them out of the country, but instead into a herd of swine; when he obliges, they promptly rush down a steep bank into the sea. Horsley believes the symbolism is unmistakable: Jesus takes control of the Roman forces who have brutalized people and foretells the army’s demise. ...

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Pisces: (Feb. 19—March 20)
Religious and scientific leaders will argue for weeks about whether what happened to you was the result of divine retribution or messy, high-energy physics.

Ex-Aide Questions Bush Vow to Back Faith-Based Efforts
A former White House official said yesterday that President Bush has failed to deliver on his promise to help religious groups serve the poor, the homeless and drug addicts because the administration lacks a genuine commitment to its "compassionate conservative" agenda.

David Kuo, who was deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives for much of Bush's first term, said in published remarks that the White House reaped political benefits from the president's promise to help religious organizations win taxpayer funding to care for "the least, the last and the lost" in the United States. But he wrote: "There was minimal senior White House commitment to the faith-based agenda."

Analyzing Bush's failure to secure $8 billion in promised funding for the faith-based initiative during his first term, Kuo said there was "snoring indifference" among Republicans and "knee-jerk opposition" among Democrats in Congress.

"Capitol Hill gridlock could have been smashed by minimal West Wing effort," Kuo wrote on, a Web site on religion. "No administration since [Lyndon B. Johnson's] has had a more successful legislative record than this one. From tax cuts to Medicare, the White House gets what the White House really wants. It never really wanted the 'poor people stuff.' "

Kuo's remarks were a rare breach of discipline for an administration that places a high premium on unity among current and former officials, and they mark the second time a former high-ranking official has criticized Bush's approach to the faith-based issue.

In August 2001, John J. DiIulio Jr., then-director of the faith-based office, became the first top Bush adviser to quit, after seven months on the job. In an interview with Esquire magazine a year later, DiIulio said the Bush White House was obsessed with the politics of the faith-based initiative but dismissive of the policy itself, and he slammed White House advisers as "Mayberry Machiavellis." ...

White House Turns Tables on Former American POWs
Gulf War pilots tortured by Iraqis fight the Bush administration in trying to collect compensation.

WASHINGTON — The latest chapter in the legal history of torture is being written by American pilots who were beaten and abused by Iraqis during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. And it has taken a strange twist.

The Bush administration is fighting the former prisoners of war in court, trying to prevent them from collecting nearly $1 billion from Iraq that a federal judge awarded them as compensation for their torture at the hands of Saddam Hussein's regime.

The rationale: Today's Iraqis are good guys, and they need the money.

The case abounds with ironies. It pits the U.S. government squarely against its own war heroes and the Geneva Convention....

Monday, February 14, 2005

When it's personal, the right veers left
Nancy Reagan supports stem-cell research after her Ronnie gets sick.

Dick Cheney opposes the gay-marriage ban after his daughter comes out.

Rush Limbaugh is suddenly an advocate of treatment - not prison - for people addicted to narcotics. Oh, I almost forgot: The epiphany comes while Rush is being investigated for drugs.

The list goes on and on: prominent conservative figures, forced to question some sweeping social principle, after being rudely interrupted by the messy realities of life.

Ain't personal experience just the worst?

There used to be a joke about liberals.

Q: What's a conservative?

A: A liberal who's been mugged.

Well, somebody probably ought to dream up a corollary or two.

Q: What's a liberal on stem-cell research?

A: A conservative with a family member who is ill.

Q: What's a liberal on homosexual rights?

A: A conservative with a gay kid.

There's no end to the potential variations. I could easily give you a hundred more. Instead, I'll introduce you to the Rev. Norman Kansfield, age 64, who has just been ousted as president of the New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Jersey.

He too came face-to-face with life....

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Detainee Says He Was Tortured While in U.S. Custody
Mamdouh Habib still has a bruise on his lower back. He says it is a sign of the beatings he endured in a prison in Egypt. Interrogators there put out cigarettes on his chest, he says, and he lifts his shirt to show the marks. He says he got the dark spot on his forehead when Americans hit his head against the floor at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

After being arrested in Pakistan in the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, he was held as a terror suspect by the Americans for 40 months. Back home now, Mr. Habib alleges that at every step of his detention - from Pakistan, to Egypt, to Afghanistan, to Guantánamo - he endured physical and psychological abuse.

The physical abuse, he said, ranged from a kick "that nearly killed me" to electric shocks administered through a wired helmet that he said interrogators told him could detect whether he was lying.

Speaking publicly for the first time since he was freed two weeks ago, Mr. Habib, a 49-year-old Australian citizen born in Egypt, also described psychological abuse that seemed intended to undermine his identity - as a husband, a father and a Muslim man. At Guantánamo, he said, he was sexually humiliated by a female interrogator who reached under her skirt and threw what appeared to be blood in his face. He also said he was forced to look at photographs of his wife's face superimposed on images of naked women next to Osama bin Laden.

Mr. Habib's claims of mistreatment and torture cannot be confirmed, yet many are in line with accounts from other former detainees, as well as from human rights reports and from some government agents involved in the detention system. In addition, Australian officials confirm Mr. Habib's movements during his confinement, including his imprisonment in Egypt, where his lawyers say the United States sent him for harsh interrogation through a process known as rendition....

We Have Nothing to Fear
Suppose you are the party responsible for invading a country under totally false pretenses. Suppose you had totally unrealistic expectations about the consequences of your gratuitous aggression.

What do you do when, instead of being greeted with flowers, you find your army is tied down by insurgents and you have no face-saving way to get out of the morass? If you are the moronic Bush Administration, you blame someone else. ...

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Holy S**t! It's fascist picture story time!!
First off, this is absolutely true and only happened about an hour ago. I am a Christian, a republican and support the war in Iraq, but this pisses me off in ways I cannot explain even to myself. This is not a debate thread, after you read this and look at the pictures, if you post anything it will be reactions, advice, or simple opinion. I know there are a lot of military personal in this forum and I would love to here what you have to say about this but if this turns into a flame war I will be extremely upset with whoever's involved. Now on to the story....

Taking Jesus Back from the Hijackers
...Used to be a time, Stassen reminds us, when he could teach Southern Baptist seminary students and argue that there are two kinds of religion: authoritarian and compassionate. And he could of course encourage them toward the compassionate kind. But these days the Southern Baptists won't hear it anymore. In fact, says Stassen, the Baptists have become the new KGB, the secret police of the 21st Century. Don't call them, they'll call you. Reagan and Gorbachev were two people Stassen could work with, but the Southern Baptists today? They are impossible....

Friday, February 11, 2005

Silver Ring (Scripture) Thing
...What little room for interpretation there was in the controversy over the proselytizing of an abstinence group in Louisiana seems absent from Silver Ring, which promotes abstinence with club-style shows featuring music, lighting, teen testimony and abstinence skits. After the shows, students are expected to buy the group's signature Scripture-engraved silver chastity rings and "abstinence study Bible," and the group's website boasts that more than 4,400 students have found Jesus after a show. Though the group now claims to offer a token "secular alternative" for students who want to hear about abstinence without hearing about Christianity, Silver Ring describes its mission as religious outreach to unchurched youth and Pattyn himself admitted that abstinence wasn't the goal in itself, but faith. "'Abstinence is the tool that we’re using to reach children.'"

Torture, American Style
Maher Arar is a 34-year-old native of Syria who emigrated to Canada as a teenager. On Sept. 26, 2002, as he was returning from a family vacation in Tunisia, he was seized by American authorities at Kennedy Airport in New York, where he was in the process of changing planes.

Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen, was not charged with a crime. But, as Jane Mayer tells us in a compelling and deeply disturbing article in the current issue of The New Yorker, he "was placed in handcuffs and leg irons by plainclothes officials and transferred to an executive jet."

In an instant, Mr. Arar was swept into an increasingly common nightmare, courtesy of the United States of America. The plane that took off with him from Kennedy "flew to Washington, continued to Portland, Maine, stopped in Rome, Italy, then landed in Amman, Jordan."

Any rights Mr. Arar might have thought he had, either as a Canadian citizen or a human being, had been left behind. At times during the trip, Mr. Arar heard the pilots and crew identify themselves in radio communications as members of "the Special Removal Unit." He was being taken, on the orders of the U.S. government, to Syria, where he would be tortured.

The title of Ms. Mayer's article is "Outsourcing Torture." It's a detailed account of the frightening and extremely secretive U.S. program known as "extraordinary rendition."

This is one of the great euphemisms of our time. Extraordinary rendition is the name that's been given to the policy of seizing individuals without even the semblance of due process and sending them off to be interrogated by regimes known to practice torture. In terms of bad behavior, it stands side by side with contract killings.

Our henchmen in places like Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Uzbekistan and Jordan are torturing terror suspects at the behest of a nation - the United States - that just went through a national election in which the issue of moral values was supposed to have been decisive. How in the world did we become a country in which gays' getting married is considered an abomination, but torture is O.K.?...

...Any government that commits, condones, promotes or fosters torture is a malignant force in the world. And those who refuse to raise their voices against something as clearly evil as torture are enablers, if not collaborators.

There is a widespread but mistaken notion in the U.S. that everybody seized by the government in its so-called war on terror is in fact somehow connected to terrorist activity. That is just wildly wrong....

Thursday, February 10, 2005

9/11 Report Cites Many Warnings About Hijackings
WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 - In the months before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal aviation officials reviewed dozens of intelligence reports that warned about Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, some of which specifically discussed airline hijackings and suicide operations, according to a previously undisclosed report from the 9/11 commission.

But aviation officials were "lulled into a false sense of security," and "intelligence that indicated a real and growing threat leading up to 9/11 did not stimulate significant increases in security procedures," the commission report concluded.

The report discloses that the Federal Aviation Administration, despite being focused on risks of hijackings overseas, warned airports in the spring of 2001 that if "the intent of the hijacker is not to exchange hostages for prisoners, but to commit suicide in a spectacular explosion, a domestic hijacking would probably be preferable."

The report takes the F.A.A. to task for failing to pursue domestic security measures that could conceivably have altered the events of Sept. 11, 2001, like toughening airport screening procedures for weapons or expanding the use of on-flight air marshals. The report, completed last August, said officials appeared more concerned with reducing airline congestion, lessening delays, and easing airlines' financial woes than deterring a terrorist attack.

The Bush administration has blocked the public release of the full, classified version of the report for more than five months, officials said, much to the frustration of former commission members who say it provides a critical understanding of the failures of the civil aviation system. The administration provided both the classified report and a declassified, 120-page version to the National Archives two weeks ago and, even with heavy redactions in some areas, the declassified version provides the firmest evidence to date about the warnings that aviation officials received concerning the threat of an attack on airliners and the failure to take steps to deter it....

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead trying to kill me. They do not feel any enmity against me as an individual, nor I against them. They are only doing their duty, as the saying goes. Most of them, I have no doubt, are kind-hearted law-abiding men who would never dream of committing murder in private life. On the other hand, if one of them succeeds in blowing me to pieces with a well-placed bomb, he will never sleep any worse for it. He is serving his country, which has the power to absolve him from evil.
-- George Orwell, London, 1941

What's In Popeye's Pipe?
The world's most famous sailor-man may be tooting more than just spinach in his pipe.

Popeye is one of the world's most well-known and beloved animated characters. Since his creation, the pipe-puffing Popeye has become a global phenomenon, with millions of kids heartily munching on spinach in the hopes that it will make them as strong as the legendary sailor-man.

Yet is the spinach which gives Popeye his super-strength really a metaphor for another magical herb? Have children around the world been adoring a hero who is really a heavy consumer of the forbidden weed – marijuana?

The evidence is circumstantial, but it is there, and when added together it presents a compelling picture that, for many readers at least, Popeye's strength-giving spinach is meant as a clear metaphor for the miraculous powers of marijuana....

...So from these seemingly innocent beginnings, what evidence is there that Popeye is actually a stoner?

During the 1920s and '30s, the era when Popeye was created, "spinach" was a very common code word for marijuana. One classic example is "The Spinach Song," recorded in 1938 by the popular jazz band Julia Lee and Her Boyfriends. Performed for years in clubs thick with cannabis smoke, along with other Julia Lee hits like "Sweet Marijuana," the popular song used spinach as an obvious metaphor for pot.

In addition, anti-marijuana propaganda of the time claimed that marijuana use induced super-strength. Overblown media reports proclaimed that pot smokers became extraordinarily strong, and even immune to bullets. So tying in Popeye's mighty strength with his sucking back some spinach would have seemed like an obvious cannabis connection at the time.

Further, as a "sailor-man," Popeye would be expected to be familiar with exotic herbs from distant locales. Indeed, sailors were among the first to introduce marijuana to American culture, bringing the herb back with them from their voyages overseas....

The unsecret order of the blue finger
...Could there be a more revealing sentence? By conflating the Iraq election with the outcome of the Australian and US elections, he manages very neatly to give the whole game away.

The mock outrage that shot forth from the pro-war section of the blogosphere had nothing to do with any concern about the elections in Iraq, nothing to do with "solidarity" with Iraqis who voted, and everything to do with claiming political advantage at home. In this game, the Iraq election and the Iraqi people who risked their lives (and lost their lives) to participate in it are nothing more than tools in the backpacks of sad cases who want to gloat about the victories of Mr Bush and Mr Howard.

To claim the Iraq election as a victory for their side--all evidence to the contrary--and use it as some sort of device with which to bash their ideological enemies is typical of the sort of up-is-down world these guys live in.

But we only need to go back through recent history to know that the Iraqi people are the least concern of the Fighting 101st Keyboarders. For such people, the invasion in Iraq has never been about Iraq. It has been part of campaign to shore up support at home, a way of presenting "their guy" as tough and decisive and to paint their opponents as traitors.

As comments like the one quoted above reveal, the Iraq election--now that it is has happened--continues to be nothing more than a means to an ends.

So, oh you brave members of the unsecret order of the blue finger, here's a few points to keep in mind when the other kids refuse to play imaginary games with you and give you the credit you think you so richly deserve.

You gave up any right to claim solidarity with the Iraqi people when you excused at every opportunity their abuse and torture in the prisons of Abu Ghraib. When that story broke, it wasn't the side of the Iraqi's you took, it was the side of the Bush administration, and you mouthed all their pathetic rationalisations from "a few bad apples" to "not as bad as Saddam." When the Iraqi people demanded action, you joined the likes of Alberto Gonzales and argued that the international sanctions against such treatment didn't apply to the Iraqis in Abu Ghraib, that such measures were quaint and obsolete.

You gave up any right to claim solidarity with the Iraqi people when you refused to acknowledge how many people had been killed in this little adventure by attacking every legitimate attempt to put a number on the deaths. It wasn't the methodology of a survey like the Lancet study that caused you concern; it was the very existence of such a study that caused you all to freak out. So you sought to smear and downplay the result instead of trying to understand it or perhaps even insist that the administration make an effort itself to count the casualties.

In other words, your concern then, like now, was domestic politics not Iraqi lives. All you had was denigration for anything that didn't comply with your fantasy picture of post-invasion Iraq.

You gave up any right to claim solidarity with the Iraqi people when you joined those like Donald Rumsfeld who denied the very existence an insurgency, when you mocked people for being concerned about the post-invasion looting, and when you insisted that all this fighting stuff and other bad news coming out of Iraq was just a ploy by the liberal media to mislead the world.

Again, you had a choice between the reality in Iraq that ordinary Iraqis were facing or the spin the administration applied to that reality and at every turn you chose the spin.

And what about your so-called concern about democratic government and the rule of law that allows you to claim the election as a personal victory? Well, you've shown your true colours on that score too.

You gave up any right to gloat about democracy when you refused to hold the administration accountable for the bogus rationale it used to launch the invasion in the first place. You showed your true colours when for month after month you kept up the pretence that WMD were bound to be found any day now. You showed your true colours when you repeated every lie and exaggeration the administration made in trying to connect Saddam Hussein with Osama bin Laden and/or the attacks of 9/11.

Having failed every test of democratic citizenship at home you now claim to be champions of democracy abroad. It is to laugh....

Cable Companies Provide Porn While Funding Politicians
Feb. 7, 2005 - While its previous owners considered adult entertainment "immoral," Adelphia Communications Corp., the country's fifth-largest cable television provider, last week became the first to offer hard-core adult films on pay-per-view to its subscribers.

"It's a very lucrative source of funds," said Dennis McAlpine, a media and entertainment industry analyst. "The cable companies and the satellite companies are programming agnostics in the sense that they don't care what the programming is. It's what the viewers want to see."

Viewers can watch such sexually explicit movies in the Hilton and Marriott hotel chains on video services like LodgeNet or on "On Command," which is owned by Liberty Media, formerly a part of AT&T; at home via DirecTV, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's Newscorp; or via virtually every cable company, including Cox, Time Warner and Comcast.

'A Really Smart Business Decision'

Adelphia's programming decision is being applauded by the adult film industry.

"I think they made a really smart business decision," said Tim Connelly, publisher of Adult Video News, the trade journal of the adult entertainment industry. "So today Adelphia, tomorrow Wal-Mart."

While the corporations generate millions in profits from providing adult content, their political contributions are often given to those elected, in no small part, because of their stance on "moral values."

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Comcast Cable has given millions in political donations since 1998. The national Republican Party committees are its biggest organizational recipient, with donations totaling $851,000. President Bush is its biggest individual recipient with $109,000 in donations. ...

President Putting 'Big' Back in Government
WASHINGTON — Even as President Bush proposes significant cuts in healthcare, farm subsidies and other domestic programs, his new budget makes one thing clear about the legacy of his first term in the White House: The era of big government is back.

Bush's $2.57-trillion budget for 2006, if approved by Congress, would be more than a third bigger than the 2001 budget he inherited four years ago. It is a monument to how much Republicans' guiding fiscal philosophy has changed over the 10 years since the GOP's Contract With America called for a balanced budget and abolition of entire Cabinet agencies.

No longer are Republicans arguing with Democrats about whether government should be big or small. Instead, they are at odds over what kind of big government the U.S. should have....

'I'm Ready to Die'
Fundamentalist Christianity Instills in Millions of American Followers a Depressing-and Dangerous-Nihilism

...He cut her off: "Look, the end is coming. I know that and you know that. You've seen the signs. I just don't care about this guy, I don't care what he says. The end is coming very soon. None of this is going to matter." For the first time showing emotion, he added angrily, "I'm ready to die-I'm ready to go today, right now!"

I immediately recognized this as rapture talk. This young man does have an incurable disease, but it's spiritual, not physical: It's called fundamentalism (aka "millennialism"), the kind of Christianity to which Bush and his "conservative" advisers ascribe.

Early last year, I overheard another conversation that made me tremble for this nation under Bush and his Dobsonian advisers. This one, however, brought back tragicomic memories of a childhood spent in fundamentalist churches.

No longer hearing that depressing conversation, images of a scary old barn flooded my mind. I was 14, and was riding with our youth group to a dark field out in the middle of nowhere. It was summer but dark, so it must have been 8:30 p.m. or later.

As we got out of our cars, we were taken to a huge barn--to this day I don't know what kind of barn, because it had no farm equipment in it--and seated in folding chairs facing a large pull-down screen. We giggled as usual, flirting and complaining about missing our favorite TV shows as the adults fiddled with the film projector. But we knew the score: when the film started, we were to be absolutely quiet and "reverent".

After a few words of prayer and a reading from Revelations, the youth director started the film. I remember vividly the opening scene: a boy of about 13 ("the age of accountability") is walking home from school. As he enters the house, he finds it empty.

"Mom? Mom!", the boy calls, but she doesn't answer. He shrugs and goes to the kitchen to get his own snack, looking annoyed. Then the music shifts to an ominous minor key, horror-movie style, and he begins to search the house. Holding a sandwich, he races through the house calling desperately, "Mom! Mom! Where are you?!"

Then the narrator explains--Mom has been raptured up into the heavens to be with God, leaving the boy bereft to regret his sinful ways, then burn in hell for all eternity. ...

...For a child raised in fundamentalist "conservative" churches, there is no safe haven. Everyone is a potential threat, not just of contamination of oneself--to burn for all eternity--but of causing the child to suffer the more tangible threat of losing his or her parents, siblings, and grandparents.

The rapture film and others like it strike at the very core of normal childhood needs for security and parental love. Those who succumbed to the rapture threats grew up to be legalistic Christians, paranoid and ever on the watch for sinful people. Contamination by Christians of other denominations was to be avoided at all costs. Imagine, then, how much greater the fear of Catholics (considered "a cult", not "Christian" by many fundamentalists), Jews, Muslims, and other "sinful" citizens. In Purity We Trust.

Google "purity" with names of Bush's conservative advisers and "think tank" writers: Notice how they promote this fearsome concept. Hitler knew the power of "purity", and so do today's fundamentalists: Avoid contamination by whatever means necessary.

To make a pure nation you have to break a few heads. Sure, people will die: the enemy, "our troops", maybe you, too. But it will have been worth it if even one soul is saved. Anyway, your choice is stark: Die today (be sure to repent first) or burn for all eternity. Be "ready to die" at every moment-because the end is coming. As Freddy Mercury sang so sadly, "nothing really matters anymore".

In our brave new fundamentalist nation, it really doesn't matter anymore how many people you kill, or how much of the earth's environment you destroy. What matters is this and only this: If you don't want to come home one day to an empty house and suffer in the lake of fire for all eternity, you'd better hate all the right people, bomb all the right countries, and back your rapture-ready president in whatever hare-brained scheme he comes up with next.

Life itself is a snare, a temptation of the flesh. Your safest bet is to repent and then die young, before you're Left Behind.

GOP Corporate Donors Cash In on Smut
Since the election, the e-mails from readers have poured into my mailbox. The common theme from conservatives has been that Nov. 2 was a triumph of values -- embodied by the GOP heartland over the heathens of the coastal elite.

Typical of the comments was this one from Arizona: "I do think the Democrat Party is identified -- justifiably -- with much of the vulgarization so prominently displayed by many celebrities, particularly those in the entertainment industry. Hey, we pick our friends."

In this case, the Democratic Party's "friends" are the expletive-spewing Whoopi Goldberg and her Hollywood pals, whom conservatives demonize. But Republicans have their friends, too. While not as obvious as the Goldbergs of the world, this corporate elite also profits from the peddling of lowbrow entertainment and, in some cases, outright smut.

In fact, just as the Democratic and Republican elites both profit from creating and selling popular entertainment, red states and blue states don't differ much in their consumption of it....

... In this world of irony, corporate leaders at companies as diverse as News Corp., Marriott International and Time Warner can profit by selling red state consumers the very material that red state culture is supposed to despise. Those elites then funnel the proceeds to the GOP, which in turn has used the money to successfully convince red state voters that the other political party is solely responsible for the decline of the civilization.

There was never any doubt how the good people of Utah County, Utah, would vote on Nov. 2. It has long prided itself as a bastion of conservatism and family values. And so when voters were given the opportunity to choose between President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry, 86 percent of them went for Bush, making Utah County the second most Republican county in the most Republican state in the country. Utah County has a population of roughly 370,000. Its largest employer is the Mormon-run Brigham Young University.

But Utah County is also the home of a mid-1990s court case that demonstrated some of the ambiguity about "values," even in the reddest of the red states. Randy Spencer was the attorney that the court appointed to defend a the Movie Buff video store in American Fork from local prosecutors who had charged the store's owner with 15 counts of pornography for renting tapes such as "Jugsy," "Young Buns II" and "Sex Secrets of High-Priced Call Girls." The prosecutors claimed the store was violating the community standards of suburban Provo.

Spencer, who describes himself as a devout Mormon, challenged the prosecution's definition of the community's values by subpoenaing records that showed Utah County tolerated the consumption of porn in several outlets: Utah County cable subscribers had ordered at least 20,000 explicit movies in the past two years; the Sun Coast Video store in the town of Orem was deriving 20 percent of its rental sales from adult movies, even though adult movies only made up 2 percent of the store's inventory; Dirty Jo Punsters in nearby Spanish Fork was racking up on average $111,000 dollars per year selling sex toys, blow up dolls and other adult fare; the Provo Marriott across the street from the courthouse sold 3,448 adult pay-per-view movie rentals in 1998 alone. ...

..."EchoStar Communications Corporation, the No. 2 satellite provider, whose chief financial backers include Mr. Murdoch, makes more money selling graphic adult films through its satellite subsidiary than Playboy, the oldest and best-known company in the sex business, does with its magazine, cable and Internet businesses combined, according to public and private revenue accounts by the companies....

...For instance, Ruport Murdoch, the controlling owner of News Corp. -- which owns both the conservative Fox News and the popular and frequently salacious Fox TV -- continues to cash in. On one hand, Fox News employs commentators who promote the connection between Republicans and family values while other divisions of the company profit from sexually explicit content.

In fact, Murdoch's Fox TV network is fighting a record-setting FCC indecency fine for an episode of the now-canceled "Married by America" (which featured whipped-cream-covered strippers at a bachelor party and digitally obscured nudity) by arguing that the government should not even be in the business of regulating decency on the public airwaves. ...

...In the end, the Rupert Murdochs of the world could not exist without the Utah Counties of the world. His political party needs their voters. His businesses need their patronage.

While the debate over abortion and gay rights remains as relevant as ever, the preponderance of evidence suggests that the larger "cultural" values debate is as over-hyped as most of Don King's fights.

Popular culture isn't popular because members of the "tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving left-wing freak show" (to borrow a line from a campaign ad this year) are the only customers. It's because there is an unquenched thirst for it, and the corporate profiteers (who are members of and contributors to both political parties) see a nationwide market for it....

Monday, February 07, 2005

CIA renditions of terror suspects are 'out of control:' report
The Central Intelligence Agency's 'rendition' of suspected terrorists has spiralled 'out of control' according to a former FBI agent, cited in a report which examined how CIA detainees are spirited to states suspected of using torture.

Michael Scheuer a former CIA counterterrorism agent told The New Yorker magazine "all we've done is create a nightmare," with regard to the top secret practice of renditions.

In an article titled 'Outsourcing Torture' due to hit newsstands this week, the magazine claims suspects, sometimes picked up by the CIA, are often flown to Egypt Egypt, Morocco, Syria Syria and Jordan Jordan, "each of which is known to use torture in interrogations."

The report said suspects are given few, if any, legal protections.

Despite US laws that ban America from expelling or extraditing individuals to countries where torture occurs, Scott Horton -- an expert on international law who has examined CIA renditions -- estimates that 150 people have been picked up in the CIA dragnet since 2001....

Official chides Christian right
Moral Majority called aberration

...A top official of the National Association of Evangelicals told reporters gathered at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary that the Moral Majority, a 1980s political movement dominated by Christian conservatives, was ''an aberration and a regrettable one at that," even though it drew evangelicals into the political process, because the organization was ''fatally flawed by a hubris that made the movement condescending and more than a bit judgmental."

''The Moral Majority lacked a servant heart of Christ born out of humility and compassion for a fallen humanity," said the official, Robert Wenz, who is vice president of national ministries for the National Association of Evangelicals....

...Wenz acknowledged a rift between black and white evangelicals, which he attributed to the failure of white evangelicals to support the civil rights movement that began in the late 1950s. As a result, he said, black evangelicals formed their own organization, the National Black Evangelical Association, and many black religious leaders avoid the word evangelical.

''The total lack of evangelicals in the civil rights movement continues to be an embarrassing failure from which we have not fully recovered," Wenz said.

''The lack of involvement in the civil rights movement meant that evangelicals surrendered that role to mainline churches. We should have been in Birmingham, but we were not."

The Greening of Evangelicals
Christian Right Turns, Sometimes Warily, to Environmentalism

SEATTLE -- Thanks to the Rev. Leroy Hedman, the parishioners at Georgetown Gospel Chapel take their baptismal waters cold. The preacher has unplugged the electricity-guzzling heater in the immersion baptism tank behind his pulpit. He has also installed energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs throughout the church and has placed water barrels beneath its gutter pipes -- using runoff to irrigate the congregation's all-organic gardens.

Such "creation care" should be at the heart of evangelical life, Hedman says, along with condemning abortion, protecting family and loving Jesus. He uses the term "creation care" because, he says, it does not annoy conservative Christians for whom the word "environmentalism" connotes liberals, secularists and Democrats.

"It's amazing to me that evangelicals haven't gone quicker for the green," Hedman said. "But as creation care spreads, evangelicals will demand different behavior from politicians. The Republicans should not take us for granted." ...

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Iraq Shiite leaders demand Islam be the source of law
NAJAF, Iraq : Iraq's Shiite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and another top cleric staked out a radical demand that Islam be the sole source of legislation in the country's new constitution.

One cleric issued a statement setting out the position and the spiritual leader of Iraqi Shiites made it known straight away that he backed demands for the Koran to be the reference point for legislation. ...

Dating Tips for Christian Men (satire)
If you have grown up in a Christian home that believes in the Holy Bible, then most certainly, you have limited yourself to chaperoned dating until the age of 21. If you are truly saved, it is not until your 21st birthday, that the thought of dating someone without adult supervision would even enter your mind.

These tips are for Christian men, age 21 or older. If you are truly saved, you are looking for a woman who will serve you and who loves the Lord as much as you do. You are looking for a woman who has kept herself pure for her future husband and for the Lord Jesus Christ. You are looking for a woman who knows how to cook and sew, a woman who can keep house. You are looking for a woman who will not squander your income or lean toward gossip. You are looking for a woman who will submit and obey, for there is no other way for a marriage to honor God without following the strict Biblical principles that God has laid out for us in the Bible.

If you have found such a creature and she is not bobbed of hair, nor wont for excess in make-up or lewd attire, then you must prepare yourself for a first date. Here are a few tips to get you prepared for your first date. ...

Jesus Geek Superstar
Michael Marcavage wants to save your soul. (We think.)

...The crux of Marcavage's worldview is biblical literalism. Even those famous instances where the Bible seems to wander from modern conceptions of right and wrong, Marcavage explains away as misinterpretations. Biblical slavery, for instance, is "not in the sense of based on the color of someone's skin, but about how people were admitted into voluntary slavery based on them wanting to be in service to others." Nor is Marcavage bothered by the suggestion that, in adhering to his own interpretation of the Bible, he is ultimately putting his faith in the superiority of his own intellect. He says that on some matters, the Bible is just clear.

"As Christians, we know that there is a literal hell and a lake of fire where the unsaved will burn for all eternity," he has written on the Repent America Web site. "Therefore, we act upon this Truth without reservation and GO OUT into the streets and communities of America declaring the WORD OF GOD and proclaiming the GOOD NEWS."

But critics have wondered why he seems to focus so much of his attention on abortion and homosexuality. He has been accused in the past of having "an obsession with all things gay." Marcavage calls these charges "baseless." He calls abortion in America a "holocaust" and homosexuality a "public safety issue." The latter, he says, deserves special attention because it is one of the more "celebrated sins in our nation. … No one says, 'let's break the Sabbath today'. … No one's gonna say, 'greed is good'. … I don't know of any event where you have people coming into the streets of America celebrating adultery."

Marcavage never uses slurs to describe homosexuals; rather, he turns the word homosexual itself into a slur, using it as a sort of branding. He is a deliberate speaker, careful as any politician. But if he is diplomatic with his words, he uses them to advance a militant agenda.

"According to the Scriptures, it's the government's job to enforce God's law and to uphold his law, and the Bible talks about how, I don't want to really get into this — it'll make me sound like I'm crazy — but it does talk about how [homosexuals] are to be put to death. The wages of sin is death. But I want to make [it] clear that I'm not advocating the [independent] killing of homosexuals. … I'm saying that the government's duty is to uphold God's law. … I know that's harsh, but we have all broken the law, God's law, and we need to be held accountable." ...

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Although a person acting under authority performs actions that seem to
violate standards of conscience, it would not be true to say that he
loses his moral sense. Instead, it acquires a radically different
focus. He does not respond with a moral sentiment to the actions he
performs. Rather, his moral concern now shifts to a consideration of
how well he is living up to the expectations that the authority has of
him. In wartime, a soldier does not ask whether it is good or bad to
bomb a hamlet; he does not experience shame or guilty in the
destruction of a village: rather he feels pride or shame depending on
how well he has performed the mission assigned to him.

Another psychological force at work in this situation may be termed
"counteranthropomorphism." For decades psychologists have discussed
the primitive tendency among men to attribute to inanimate objects and
forces the qualities of the human species. A countervailing tendency,
however, is that of attributing an impersonal quality to forces that
are essentially human in origin and maintenance. Some people treat
systems of human origin as if they existed above and beyond any human
agent, beyond the control of whim or human feeling. The human element
behind agencies and institutions is denied. Thus, when the
experimenter says, "The experiment _requires_ that you continue," the
subject feels this to be an imperative that goes beyond any merely
human command. He does not ask the seemingly obvious question, "Whose
experiment? Why should the designer be served while the victim
suffers?" The wishes of a man -- the designer of the experiment --
have become part of a schema which exerts on the subject's mind a
force that transcends the personal. "It's _got_ to go on. It's _got_
to go on," repeated one subject. He failed to realize that a man like
himself wanted it to go on. For him the human agent had faded from the
picture, and "The Experiment" had acquired an impersonal momentum of
its own.

When you think of the long and gloomy history of man, you will find more hideous crimes have been committed in the name of obedience than have ever been committed in the name of rebellion.
-- C. P. Snow (1905 - 1980)

Orwellian Guantanamo
..."This is something the interrogators told me a long while ago," Idr complains during his so-called trial. "I asked the interrogators to tell me who this person was. Then I could tell you if I might have known this person, but not if this person is a terrorist. Maybe I knew this person as a friend. Maybe it was a person that worked with me. Maybe it was a person that was on my team. But I do not know if this person is Bosnian, Indian or whatever. If you tell me the name, then I can respond and defend myself against this accusation."

The tribunal president then responds, presumably with a straight face: "We are asking you the question and we need you to respond to what is on the unclassified summary."

The officer then tells Idr that he "was arrested because of his alleged involvement in a plan to attack the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo, to which Idr replies: "The only thing I can tell you is I did not plan or even think of (attacking the Embassy). Did you find any explosives with me? Any weapons? Did you find me in front of the embassy? Did you find me in contact with the Americans? Did I threaten anyone? I am prepared now to tell you, if you have anything or any evidence, even if it just very little, that proves I went to the embassy and looked (at) the embassy, then I am ready to be punished."

"These are questions that I can't even answer," Idr adds. "I am not able to answer them. You tell me I am from al Qaeda, but I am not an al Qaeda. I don't have any proof to give you except to ask you to catch Bin Laden and ask him if I am a part of al Qaeda ..."

Idr may or may not be a terrorist. He may or not have been properly detained by the U.S. military. But he's right to mock the tribunal procedures in place at Guantanamo, procedures which the United States to its great discredit says are in compliance with the latest mandate from the Supreme Court. And he's lucky that there are judges like Judge Green who are willing to recognize that even men like Idr can perceptively call a sham trial a sham trial.

Fifty years after Joe McCarthy, and 70 years after the Soviet-style trials that inspired George Orwell, the Star Chamber is back, Cuban-style, in the name of protecting freedom and liberty. This is what we are fighting for?...

Friday, February 04, 2005

Religious groups' political divide here to stay, expert says
...Bush received a majority of votes from eight religious groups, mainly described in the survey as traditionalists -- those with orthodox beliefs and practices -- and centrists -- those with moderate beliefs and practices.

He also received a majority of the Latino Protestant vote. His single most important group was traditionalist Evangelicals.

Kerry's most important group was black Protestants. His constituency was made up of five religious groups, including Jews and modernist mainline Protestants, or those with modern beliefs and practices.

The most dramatic change in support between the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections was among mainline Protestants, who evenly divided their votes between the presidential candidates. That shift represented a big decrease for Bush and the highest level of support for a Democratic candidate from that religious group in recent times.

Traditionally, mainline Protestants have been a strong constituency for Republicans.

Traditionalist mainliners, or those with highly orthodox beliefs and practices, were more likely to support the president. But the modernist mainliners, or those with modern beliefs and practices, backed Kerry.

Survey results also indicated a sharp internal divide among Catholics. Traditionalists and centrists backed Bush, but modernist Catholics preferred Kerry....

U.S. 'in for a shock'
In early election results, Shiite cleric's alliance trouncing Washington's favorite

Baghdad -- Partial results from Sunday's election suggest that U.S.-backed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's coalition is being roundly defeated by a list with the backing of Iraq's senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani, diminishing Allawi's chances of retaining his post in the next government.

Sharif Ali bin Hussein, head of the Constitutional Monarchy Party, likened the vote outcome to a "Sistani tsunami" that would shake the nation.

"Americans are in for a shock," he said, adding that one day they would realize, "We've got 150,000 troops here protecting a country that's extremely friendly to Iran, and training their troops." ...

Thursday, February 03, 2005

'Fuzzy Math' and the Iraqi Election
Everyone is delighted that so many Iraqis went to the polls on Sunday, but do the two turnout numbers routinely cited by the press -- 8 million and 60% -- have any basis in reality? And was the outpouring of voters in Sunni areas really "surprisingly strong"?

(February 02, 2005) -- Everyone, of course, is thrilled that so many Iraqis turned out to vote, in the face of threats and intimidation, on Sunday. But in hailing, and at times gushing, over the turnout, has the American media (as it did two years ago in the hyping of Saddam's WMDs) forgotten core journalistic principles in regard to fact-checking and weighing partisan assertions?

I'll be delighted if the turnout figure, when it is officially announced, exceeds the dubious numbers already enshrined by much of the media. But don't be surprised if it falls a bit short. The point is: Nobody knows, and reporters and pundits should stop acting like they do know when they say, flatly, that 8 million Iraqis voted and that this represents a turnout rate of about 60%.

Carl Bialik, who writes the Numbers Guy column for Wall Street Journal Online, calls this "a great question ... how the journalists can know these numbers -- when so many of them aren't able to venture out all over that country." Speaking to E&P on Wednesday, Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post -- one of the few mainstream journalists to raise questions about the turnout percentage -- referred to the "fuzzy math" at the heart of it.

Those with long memories may recall the downward-adjusted turnout numbers that followed violence-plagued elections in South Vietnam in 1967 and in El Salvador in 1984.

And one thing we now know for sure: the early media blather about a "strong" Sunni turnout has proven false. Adding a dose of reality, The Associated Press on Wednesday cited a Western diplomat who declared that turnout appeared to have been "quite low" in Iraq's vast Anbar province. Meanwhile, Carlos Valenzuela, the chief United Nations elections expert in Iraq, cautioned that forecasts for the Sunni areas were so low to begin with that even a higher-than-expected turnout would remain low. ...

...As for the overall Iraqi turnout: the more the better, but why is the press so confident in the estimates from an Iraqi commission with a clear stake in a high number?

For three days now, the press has routinely referred to the figure of 8 million Iraqi voters, following the lead of Farid Ayar, the spokesman for the Independent Electoral Commission for Iraq. In the original press citations, what Ayar actually said (hedging his bets) was "as many as 8 million," which most in the media quickly translated as "about 8 million," and then, inevitably, "8 million." ...

...And one thing we now know for sure: the early media blather about a "strong" Sunni turnout has proven false. Adding a dose of reality, The Associated Press on Wednesday cited a Western diplomat who declared that turnout appeared to have been "quite low" in Iraq's vast Anbar province. Meanwhile, Carlos Valenzuela, the chief United Nations elections expert in Iraq, cautioned that forecasts for the Sunni areas were so low to begin with that even a higher-than-expected turnout would remain low.

In a rare reference to an actual vote tabulation, The New York Times on Thursday reports that in the "diverse" city of Mosul, with 60% of the count completed, the overall turnout seems slightly above 10%, or "somewhat more than 50,000 of Mosul's 500,000 estimated eligible voters."...

...All credit to the brave Iraqis who did vote, and in many places they did turn out in droves. But it occurred to me, watching the moving TV images on Sunday of people standing in line outside polling places in Sunni hot spots, that maybe, as so often, the camera lied. In many embattled Sunni cities, we'd been told, many if not most polling places never opened. Wouldn't this likely cause a crush, by even a few hundred voters, at the relatively few places that did open?

Not that anyone, that I know of, was asking.