Tuesday, February 28, 2006

As Canada's Slow-Motion Public Health System Falters, Private Medical Care Is Surging
VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Feb. 23 — The Cambie Surgery Center, Canada's most prominent private hospital, may be considered a rogue enterprise.

Accepting money from patients for operations they would otherwise receive free of charge in a public hospital is technically prohibited in this country, even in cases where patients would wait months or even years in discomfort before receiving treatment.

But no one is about to arrest Dr. Brian Day, who is president and medical director of the center, or any of the 120 doctors who work there. Public hospitals are sending him growing numbers of patients they are too busy to treat, and his center is advertising that patients do not have to wait to replace their aching knees.

The country's publicly financed health insurance system — frequently described as the third rail of its political system and a core value of its national identity — is gradually breaking down. Private clinics are opening around the country by an estimated one a week, and private insurance companies are about to find a gold mine.

Dr. Day, for instance, is planning to open more private hospitals, first in Toronto and Ottawa, then in Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton. Ontario provincial officials are already threatening stiff fines. Dr. Day says he is eager to see them in court.

"We've taken the position that the law is illegal," Dr. Day, 59, says. "This is a country in which dogs can get a hip replacement in under a week and in which humans can wait two to three years."...

Iraq's death squads: On the brink of civil war
Most of the corpses in Baghdad's mortuary show signs of torture and execution. And the Interior Ministry is being blamed.

Hundreds of Iraqis are being tortured to death or summarily executed every month in Baghdad alone by death squads working from the Ministry of the Interior, the United Nations' outgoing human rights chief in Iraq has revealed.

John Pace, who left Baghdad two weeks ago, told The Independent on Sunday that up to three-quarters of the corpses stacked in the city's mortuary show evidence of gunshot wounds to the head or injuries caused by drill-bits or burning cigarettes. Much of the killing, he said, was carried out by Shia Muslim groups under the control of the Ministry of the Interior.

Much of the statistical information provided to Mr Pace and his team comes from the Baghdad Medico-Legal Institute, which is located next to the city's mortuary. He said figures show that last July the morgue alone received 1,100 bodies, about 900 of which bore evidence of torture or summary execution. The pattern prevailed throughout the year until December, when the number dropped to 780 bodies, about 400 of which had gunshot or torture wounds.

"It's being done by anyone who wishes to wipe out anybody else for various reasons," said Mr Pace, who worked for the UN for more than 40 years in countries ranging from Liberia to Chile. "But the bulk are attributed to the agents of the Ministry of the Interior."

Coupled with the suicide bombings and attacks on Shia holy places carried out by Sunnis, some of whom are followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qa'ida's leader in Iraq, the activities of the death squads are pushing Iraq ever closer to a sectarian civil war....

U.S. Troops in Iraq: 72% Say End War in 2006
...An overwhelming majority of 72% of American troops serving in Iraq think the U.S. should exit the country within the next year, and nearly one in four say the troops should leave immediately, a new Le Moyne College/Zogby International survey shows....

Sunday, February 26, 2006

...Love—caritas—will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbour is indispensable.[20] The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. The Church is one of those living forces: she is alive with the love enkindled by the Spirit of Christ. This love does not simply offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something which often is even more necessary than material support. In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live “by bread alone” (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3)—a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human....

Friday, February 24, 2006

Deadly riots continue in Nigeria
Mobs of Christian youths, armed with clubs, machetes, and gas cans, beat several Muslims to death in the southern Nigerian city of Onitsha and set fire to two mosques. The rioting, which began yesterday and continued today, has left at least 20 people dead, Reuters reports. At least 39 people were taken to the hospital. A Red Cross official told Reuters, "Thousands of people who have been displaced from their homes are now sheltered at the police and army barracks." The violence comes as Muslim attacks, largely tied to outrage over the Muhammad caricatures, have left at least 50 people dead in Nigeria's northern cities. The attacks come a day after a dark statement from Church of Nigeria Archbishop Peter Akinola, in which he told "our Muslim brothers that they do not have the monopoly of violence in this nation" and that groups such as the Christian Association of Nigeria (which he leads) "may no longer be able to contain our restive youths should this ugly trend continue." It will be interested to see whether that message is seen as prescient or provocative, insightful or inciting.

The Apocalypse Will Be Televised
Armageddon in an age of entertainment

... “How fading and insipid,” Swift wrote, “do all Objects accost us that are not convey’d in the Vehicle of Delusion?” And indeed, such preposterous views haven’t prevented LaHaye from advancing in the world. As an ecclesiastical go-getter, he has few peers. A co-founder, along with the Rev. Jerry Falwell, of the Moral Majority, LaHaye now heads something called the Tim LaHaye School of Prophecy, at Liberty University in Virginia. Another of LaHaye’s visionary projects is the secretive Council on National Policy, which functions as a sort of theological popular front of evangelical preachers and politicians on the far right. And his alliance with Jerry B. Jenkins (writer of the Gil Thorp comic strip, former editor of the Moody Bible Institute magazine, and author of more than one hundred quickie books, including celebrity “autobiographies” of Billy Graham and Orel Hershiser) has turned LaHaye into a best-selling novelist.

As the careers of such disparate authors as Ayn Rand and D. H. Lawrence demonstrate, eccentric ideas are no impediment to writing novels. Almost any worldview compatible with sanity, in the medical sense, can serve as the scaffolding of readable fiction. Orwell wrote about what he called “good bad books,” arguing that “intellectual refinement can be a disadvantage to a story-teller, as it would be to a music-hall comedian”; what is necessary are strong convictions, an interest in individual human beings, and a powerful instinct for narrative. We’re all capable of suspending disbelief for the sake of a good story. So how seriously should we take the dust-jacket blurbs from reviewers who compare the Left Behind series to the work of pop-fiction luminaries like Tom Clancy and John Grisham? Or, to put it another way, can anybody not infatuated with LaHaye and Jenkins’s theological views read the novels for pleasure?

The answer, I fear, is no. On a purely mimetic level, the novels scarcely exist as realistic or even as allegorical fiction. These are novels for people who don’t read novels. Far too much of it is sheer didacticism: the characters don’t converse so much as they preach....

...By no means are all, or even most, evangelical Christians comfortable seeing their faith turned into fortune-telling. Rossing quotes an array of contemporary theologians who reject what one disapprovingly describes as “this perverse parody of John 3:16: ‘God so loved the world that he sent it World War III.’” As noisy zeal overwhelms more reasonable voices, however, the Left Behind hubbub strikes me as symptomatic of the degraded state into which American Puritanism has fallen. In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, the runaway religious bestseller of the seventeenth century, Christian’s allegorical journey to the Celestial City involved an essentially inward quest. His encounters with the Giant Despair and Mr. Worldly-Wiseman forced him continually to search and re-search his mind and spirit for evidence of Satan’s wiles. LaHaye and Jenkins convert what was once the spiritual and psychological drama of salvation into escapist melodrama, Puritan self-examination into messianic narcissism. Satan is the Other, basically anything you fear and don’t understand. The books are pagan tribalism writ large, complete with soothsayers and magic spells. All of history has conspired to turn suburban Americans into apocalyptic superheroes. The end is near, and dude—you’re, like, the star!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

On the menu today: horse penis and testicles with a chilli dip
The menu at Beijing's latest venue for its growing army of gourmets is eye-watering rather than mouth-watering.

China's cuisine is renowned for being "in your face" - from the skinned dogs displayed at food markets to the kebabbed scorpions sold on street stalls - and there is no polite way of describing Guo-li-zhuang.

The waitress presents a dish combining the male organs of the ox and snake
A dish combining the male organs of an ox and a snake

Situated in an elegantly restored house beside Beijing's West Lake, it is China's first speciality penis restaurant....

...For beginners, Miss Zhu recommended the hotpot, which offers a sampling of what the restaurant has to offer - six types of penis, and four of testicle, boiled in chicken stock by the waitress, Liu Yunyang, 22....

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Dark Side of Global Evangelicalism
This diary is not an in depth study but the result of a little googling which produced some food for thought. Counterpoints and further information are welcome.

I have read several worrying articles recently about bad social effects related to the spread of evangelical Christianity in developing nations, but this is one of the saddest....

The Myth of Spending Cuts for the Poor, Tax Cuts for the Rich
...More broadly, the accusation that poor families are shouldering more of the tax burden while receiving less of the spending is empirically false. From 1979 through 2003, the total federal tax burden on the highest-earning quintile (one-fifth or 20 percent) of Americans—who earn 52 percent of all income—rose from 56 percent to 66 percent of all taxes. Their share of individual income taxes jumped from 65 percent to 85 percent.[2] On the spending side, antipoverty spending has leaped from 9.1 percent of all federal spending in 1990 to a record 16.3 percent in 2004.[3]...

...[3]Total antipoverty spending is calculated based on data from Office of Management and Budget, Historical Tables, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2007 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2006), pp. 55–72, Table 3.2, and pp. 137–142, Table 8.5, at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2007/pdf/hist.pdf (February 4, 2006). The spending consists of budget functions 604 (housing aid), 605 (food aid), 609 (other income support), and Medicaid and S-CHIP for health care....

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

...To summarize then: According to the National Journal's research, upwards of half of all prisoners at Guantanamo weren't captured on the battlefield. Rather, they came into our custody by way of third parties "who had their own motivations for turning people in, including paybacks and payoffs." Many — perhaps most — of the men rounded up in these sweeps have no connection to al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and the evidence against them is often weak, sometimes nonexistent, and all too frequently known to be fabricated. And yet they remain in prison....

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Democrats misplay "God Card"
...Shoot, Jim Wallis’ bestselling book on the subject of faith in public life is ostentatiously titled God’s Politics.

But a strange thing happened on the political Left’s offensive to become the party of God: their image as a “religion friendly” party actually deteriorated in the year immediately following their electoral disaster.

According to Pew Research Center data from October 2004, just one month before Election Day, 40 percent of the American public saw the Democrat Party as “friendly toward religion.” That number tumbled to 29 percent by August 2005, almost a full year (and a lot of misquoted Bible passages) later.

Moreover, as Tony Carnes points out in a recent Christianity Today article, “While overall support for George W. Bush has plummeted, evangelicals remain surprisingly loyal.”

Democrats have some serious decisions to make about the future of their party and its message. The Democrat Party cannot long stand as one that demands separation of church and state in all -- even symbolic -- matters while at the same time claiming Biblical substantiation for liberal public policies. They cannot imply John Roberts’ queasiness about Roe v. Wade breaches the “impregnable wall,” as Sen. Dianne Feinstein did during Roberts’ confirmation hearings, while at the same time urge income redistribution because “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:25). They cannot call Republicans “theocrats” for trying to save Terri Schiavo while they also claim John the Baptist endorsed their welfare state when he said, “He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none …” (Luke 3:11). ...

Monday, February 13, 2006

Religion and Political Power
...Despite the revolutionary power of religion--something that one should expect given the often radical nature of various prophet's pronouncements against their rich and powerful contemporaries--the historical fact is that when all is sorted out, religious forces usually end up on the side of power. This phenomenon is explored and instances of it are enumerated throughout Siegel's text, whether he is discussing evangelical Christianity and the robber barons in the US or Orthodox Judaism and Zionism in Israel.

Each and every time god was revived by those opposed to the power structure, whether it was the prophecies of Moses against the pharaoh and his gods or Jesus' Christian underground against the Pharisees' and their temples; to Mohammed's pronouncements against the excesses of Islam's monotheistic predecessors or Buddhism's proclamations against the Emperor's Confucianism; the oppositional religion evolves into that which it opposed. According to Siegel, this is due to religion's easy manipulation by the ruling classes- a manipulation that is facilitated by the contradictory nature of religion. ...

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The CIA Leak: Plame Was Still Covert
Feb. 13, 2006 issue - Newly released court papers could put holes in the defense of Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, in the Valerie Plame leak case. Lawyers for Libby, and White House allies, have repeatedly questioned whether Plame, the wife of White House critic Joe Wilson, really had covert status when she was outed to the media in July 2003. But special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald found that Plame had indeed done "covert work overseas" on counterproliferation matters in the past five years, and the CIA "was making specific efforts to conceal" her identity, according to newly released portions of a judge's opinion....

Cheney 'Authorized' Libby to Leak Classified Information
Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, testified to a federal grand jury that he had been "authorized" by Cheney and other White House "superiors" in the summer of 2003 to disclose classified information to journalists to defend the Bush administration's use of prewar intelligence in making the case to go to war with Iraq, according to attorneys familiar with the matter, and to court records.

Libby specifically claimed that in one instance he had been authorized to divulge portions of a then-still highly classified National Intelligence Estimate regarding Saddam Hussein's purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons, according to correspondence recently filed in federal court by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

Beyond what was stated in the court paper, say people with firsthand knowledge of the matter, Libby also indicated what he will offer as a broad defense during his upcoming criminal trial: that Vice President Cheney and other senior Bush administration officials had earlier encouraged and authorized him to share classified information with journalists to build public support for going to war. Later, after the war began in 2003, Cheney authorized Libby to release additional classified information, including details of the NIE, to defend the administration's use of prewar intelligence in making the case for war. ...

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Government
Ever since there was government, there have been those who want to purify it from its excesses and corruptions, rid it of its grafters and operators, and cleanse it from any taint of the sin of private interest.

Government should serve the people with an eye to the common good, they declare, and it should be part of the solution to the problem of evil in the world, and not contribute to the problem itself. Government, in short, should be good!

The naïveté of good government ideology is more widespread than is usually supposed. Those who want government to do some things always, but do other things never, embrace the same ideal.

The left is scandalized by a government that plunders foreign nations and spies on its citizens' private lives but urges that same government to plunder property owners and spy on their commercial lives. The right is disgusted by a government that slathers billions on deadbeats and ne'r-do-wells but wants the same government to squander billions on military contractors and goons that enforce bad law....

...He drinks the potion again, and turns back into Dr. Jekyll. But there is a hitch. Whereas Dr. Hyde was pure evil, Dr. Jekyll is not pure good. He is the same mix of tensions that he was before. Reverting to his old self, he was nothing more than "that incongruous compound of whose reformation and improvement I had already learned to despair. The movement was thus wholly toward the worse."

Well, that's a pretty good description of the results of most good-government legislation. It creates new obstacles for the old evil forms to get through but strengthens the evil by making the public less wary of it. A government perceived as righteous is more dangerous than one that is looked upon with suspicion. Sometimes corrupt government can actually be better than good government, if it means that unjust and unworkable laws can be bypassed through bribes and graft.

Every few years, for example, Washington, D.C., elects a mayor who promises a clean sweep of the bad and a restoration of the good. A bar owner there once told a reporter that he always dreads these changes, because it means that absurd fire codes and license requirements are enforced to the hilt. Under a corrupt regime, he needs only to bribe a few policemen and bureaucrats. Under good government, he has to cough up tens of thousands for lobbying groups, lawyers, and legislative specialists in order to keep his business running.

Good-government seeks to give us all the government we pay for, and who can but rue the day that this happens?

In the Stevenson book, Mr. Hyde grows stronger as he spends time separate from Dr. Jekyll. He is unleashed, unchecked by conscience. Whereas he was once a temporary indulgence, he eventually becomes a full-time obsession even as the good side of Dr. Jekyll seems to become less robust and shrink.

So it is with good-government movements. Once the state is reformed, the next step is obvious: a clean state that does wonderful things, untainted by nefarious practices, should be permitted to expand to do those good things with more liberality and efficacy. Thus has every government reform movement in the last century and a half ended up expanding rather than shrinking the state. And the expanded state does not end up doing good; it draws ever more evil to its side and results in an expansion rather than a shrinking of corruption.

The same is true of the pressure groups that have a selective interest in the activities of the state. The right believes the government should provide for the common defense but in so believing turn a blind eye to ghastly abuses that occur in wartime. The left believes that the government should redistribute wealth and thereby pretends not to notice that this requires increasing violence against property and subsidizes the worst propensities of human nature.

As government grows ever bigger in the guise of doing good, its capacity for doing evil expands at a far more rapid rate. Whatever true good that government might be capable of doing is swamped by growing levels of corruption, graft, payoffs, violence, arbitrary rule, and all the rest of the institutions that the movement was trying to make go away....

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Surprisingly Few Adults Outside of Christianity Have Positive Views of Christians
(Ventura, CA) - One reason why evangelical churches across the nation are not growing is due to the image that non-Christian adults have of evangelical individuals. In a nationwide survey released by the Barna Research Group of Ventura, California among a representative sample of people who do not consider themselves to be Christian, the image of "evangelicals" rated tenth out of eleven groups evaluated, beating out only prostitutes....

...In terms of the actual positive and negative percentages awarded to different groups, the study points out that less than half of the non-Christian public has a favorable impression of any of the three religious groups evaluated. Just 44% have positive views of clergy, only one-third (32%) have a positive impression of born again Christians and just one-fifth (22%) have a positive view of evangelicals....

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Gaza shopkeeper stocks up on Danish flags to burn
GAZA, Feb 6 (Reuters) - When entrepreneur Ahmed Abu Dayya first heard that Danish caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad were being reprinted across Europe, he knew exactly what his customers in Gaza would want: flags to burn.

Abu Dayya ordered 100 hard-to-find Danish and Norwegian flags for his Gaza City shop and has been doing a swift trade.

"I do not take political stands. It is all business," he said in an interview. "But this time I was offended by the assault on the Prophet Mohammad."...

..."I knew there would be a demand for the flags because of the angry reaction of people over the offence to Prophet Mohammad," said Abu Dayya, whose PLO Flag Shop also sells souvenirs and presents....

...Abu Dayya sources some of his flags from suppliers in Taiwan, but he buys Israeli flags from a merchant in Israel, even though he sells them to be burnt at anti-Israeli rallies....

Monday, February 06, 2006

Exclusive: Can the President Order a Killing on U.S. Soil?
Feb. 13, 2006 issue - In the latest twist in the debate over presidential powers, a Justice Department official suggested that in certain circumstances, the president might have the power to order the killing of terrorist suspects inside the United States. Steven Bradbury, acting head of the department's Office of Legal Counsel, went to a closed-door Senate intelligence committee meeting last week to defend President George W. Bush's surveillance program. During the briefing, said administration and Capitol Hill officials (who declined to be identified because the session was private), California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Bradbury questions about the extent of presidential powers to fight Al Qaeda; could Bush, for instance, order the killing of a Qaeda suspect known to be on U.S. soil? Bradbury replied that he believed Bush could indeed do this, at least in certain circumstances.

Current and former government officials said they could think of several scenarios in which a president might consider ordering the killing of a terror suspect inside the United States....

Friday, February 03, 2006

Blair-Bush deal before Iraq war revealed in secret memo
PM promised to be 'solidly behind' US invasion with or without UN backing

Tony Blair told President George Bush that he was "solidly" behind US plans to invade Iraq before he sought advice about the invasion's legality and despite the absence of a second UN resolution, according to a new account of the build-up to the war published today.

A memo of a two-hour meeting between the two leaders at the White House on January 31 2003 - nearly two months before the invasion - reveals that Mr Bush made it clear the US intended to invade whether or not there was a second UN resolution and even if UN inspectors found no evidence of a banned Iraqi weapons programme.

"The diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning", the president told Mr Blair. The prime minister is said to have raised no objection. He is quoted as saying he was "solidly with the president and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam".

The disclosures come in a new edition of Lawless World, by Phillipe Sands, a QC and professor of international law at University College, London. Professor Sands last year exposed the doubts shared by Foreign Office lawyers about the legality of the invasion in disclosures which eventually forced the prime minister to publish the full legal advice given to him by the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith.

The memo seen by Prof Sands reveals:

· Mr Bush told Mr Blair that the US was so worried about the failure to find hard evidence against Saddam that it thought of "flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft planes with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours". Mr Bush added: "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach [of UN resolutions]"....