Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Religious Groups Get Chunk of AIDS Money
New groups are springing up to win a piece of President Bush's $15 billion AIDS program, with traditional players and religious groups joining forces to improve their chances in a competition that already has targeted nearly a quarter of its grants for faith-based organizations.

The administration is putting out a call for new community and church groups to get involved in HIV prevention and care in 15 target countries, most in sub-Saharan Africa. It is reserving $200 million specifically for groups with little or no government grant experience.

Groups that have deep local ties in the countries and focus on abstinence and fidelity -- instead of just condoms -- are faring well....

...Condom promotion to anyone must include abstinence and fidelity messages, U.S. guidelines say, but those preaching abstinence do not have to provide condom education....

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Operation Iraqi Freedom
Sometimes spreading freedom means taking innocent women and children hostage. It may take awhile--we've been doing it since at least 2003--but eventually the people of Iraq will cherish freedom as much as Our Leader does....

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Health trust debts more than £1bn
Every NHS trust or primary care trust in England was asked for its current financial situation, whether it was in debt or had money in the bank.

The total for the whole country showed a debt of £1.07bn - despite the NHS receiving record funding of £76.4bn for the financial year 2005-2006.

It has led to patient services being affected as trusts try to cut spending.

Some trusts revealed they had closed beds, wards or entire hospitals, others had cancelled operations and many said they had cut staff levels. ...

...The John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford announced in December that many patients would not be able to have the same heart therapy received by Prime Minister Tony Blair, with only life-threatening conditions still being treated.

The withdrawal for up to 100 patients of cardiac ablation therapy, to control an irregular heartbeat, was blamed on the need to cut Oxfordshire's £15.1m deficit. ...

...The Royal College of Nursing said earlier this month it feared more than 3,000 health service jobs could be lost through cost-cutting efforts which were having a "direct and detrimental" effect on patients.

Unison, the trade union which represents many nurses, said newly-qualified staff were struggling to find jobs because posts were being left unfilled.

And the NHS Confederation, which represents more than 90% of NHS organisations, said trusts were under too much pressure to cut deficits quickly and needed to be given "space" to deal with debt in a way which had patients' care at heart.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Evangelical scholar looks at old war sermons
...The pro-war evangelicals have a very hard task ahead of them, because their arguments for the war haven't held up. Those who argued that war was justified because it would lead to greater religious freedom in the country now need to answer whether the war was unjustified because it has brought less religious freedom to the country.

Others are in a greater bind. One Christian leader told Christianity Today in September 2002 that two requirements must be met to justify an attack on Iraq: irrefutable evidence connecting Hussein to the attacks of September 11 and proof that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are being prepared for imminent use.

"If you fulfill these, an attack is justified," this leader told Christianity Today. "The president has an obligation to communicate why he is asking our nation to sacrifice, as well as why he is willing to sacrifice combatants and innocents on the other side."

That person was Robert McGinnis, vice president of policy for Family Research Council, one of the most conservative religious groups in Washington. Other evangelical leaders also told us that proving connections with the 9/11 attacks was imperative to attacking Iraq. Many others in Christianity Today's survey of evangelical opinion before the war had much stricter standards.

"If all we do is blast out a regime and conditions of long-term civil war are all that's left, then the operation can hardly be justified," said the Center for Public Justice's Jim Skillen—whom no one would confuse with Jim Wallis. "Are the countries around Iraq prepared to work with us to make sure a better regime gets in, and not a worse one? Does the U.S. have the support of allies to do that while rebuilding Afghanistan? There has to be an agreement and not a presumption that the U.N. will pick up the work."...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Democrats and Republicans Both Adept at Ignoring Facts, Study Finds
Democrats and Republicans alike are adept at making decisions without letting the facts get in the way, a new study shows.

And they get quite a rush from ignoring information that's contrary to their point of view.

Researchers asked staunch party members from both sides to evaluate information that threatened their preferred candidate prior to the 2004 Presidential election. The subjects' brains were monitored while they pondered.

The results were announced today.

"We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning," said Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory University. "What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts."

The test subjects on both sides of the political aisle reached totally biased conclusions by ignoring information that could not rationally be discounted, Westen and his colleagues say.

Then, with their minds made up, brain activity ceased in the areas that deal with negative emotions such as disgust. But activity spiked in the circuits involved in reward, a response similar to what addicts experience when they get a fix, Westen explained.

The study points to a total lack of reason in political decision-making.

"None of the circuits involved in conscious reasoning were particularly engaged," Westen said. "Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and activation of positive ones."

Notably absent were any increases in activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain most associated with reasoning....

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Southern Baptists now fighting each other
After purging liberals from their ranks, Southern Baptist conservatives who won control of their denomination are now taking aim at each other.

The Rev. Wade Burleson, a Baptist leader from Oklahoma, says fellow conservatives who crusaded to only elect leaders who believe the Bible is literally true are carrying their campaign too far, targeting Southern Baptists who disagree with them on other issues.

These leaders, he wrote on his blog, are "following the same battle plan conservatives used to defeat liberalism," and have started a "war" for the future of the SBC.

Burleson's postings may have already cost him a leadership role in the denomination. Trustees of the Southern Baptist international missionary agency took the first step this month toward ousting him from their board, accusing him of "broken trust" for writing about a meeting on his Web site.

The seemingly minor conflict has broader significance.

Southern Baptists are trying to reverse several years of stagnation in membership growth, partly through an ad campaign called "Caring People" that is meant to soften their image. Complaints of hardball church politics would undermine that effort.

"Conservatives who loved the battles of decades past have fallen victim to a crusading mentality of bloodthirst," Burleson wrote. "Since all the liberals are gone, conservative crusaders are now killing fellow conservatives."

Burleson first rankled the board over an obscure policy change: Trustees of the International Mission Board voted in November to bar future missionaries, from using a "private prayer language," or speaking in tongues in private. Previously, missionaries were discouraged from speaking in tongues publicly, but their private prayer was not monitored.

The practice is common among Pentecostals, whose spirited brand of Christianity is spreading rapidly throughout countries where Southern Baptist missionaries work, and in the United States. Many conservative Protestants, however, reject the practice.

Still, Burleson opposed the ban on speaking in tongues privately. He viewed the move as a dangerous effort to vet conservatives for purity, and said so on his blog.

"Sadly, the Southern Baptist Convention is now moving toward a time when everyone must look the same, talk the same, act the same, believe the same on the nonessentials of the faith, or else you will be removed as `not one of us,"' he wrote in a Dec. 10 entry....

..."The Southern Baptist leadership is so ideologically driven that it's almost impossible for them not to continually draw lines and narrow the boundaries," he said. "In the early stages, this was publicly evident with the moderates and liberals. Now, when the convention meets annually in June, you wonder who they're going to throw out this year. There's always somebody."...

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Wayward Christian Soldiers
IN the past several years, American evangelicals, and I am one of them, have amassed greater political power than at any time in our history. But at what cost to our witness and the integrity of our message?

Recently, I took a few days to reread the war sermons delivered by influential evangelical ministers during the lead up to the Iraq war. That period, from the fall of 2002 through the spring of 2003, is not one I will remember fondly. Many of the most respected voices in American evangelical circles blessed the president's war plans, even when doing so required them to recast Christian doctrine.

Charles Stanley, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta, whose weekly sermons are seen by millions of television viewers, led the charge with particular fervor. "We should offer to serve the war effort in any way possible," said Mr. Stanley, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. "God battles with people who oppose him, who fight against him and his followers." In an article carried by the convention's Baptist Press news service, a missionary wrote that "American foreign policy and military might have opened an opportunity for the Gospel in the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."

As if working from a slate of evangelical talking points, both Franklin Graham, the evangelist and son of Billy Graham, and Marvin Olasky, the editor of the conservative World magazine and a former advisor to President Bush on faith-based policy, echoed these sentiments, claiming that the American invasion of Iraq would create exciting new prospects for proselytizing Muslims. Tim LaHaye, the co-author of the hugely popular "Left Behind" series, spoke of Iraq as "a focal point of end-time events," whose special role in the earth's final days will become clear after invasion, conquest and reconstruction. For his part, Jerry Falwell boasted that "God is pro-war" in the title of an essay he wrote in 2004.

The war sermons rallied the evangelical congregations behind the invasion of Iraq. An astonishing 87 percent of all white evangelical Christians in the United States supported the president's decision in April 2003. Recent polls indicate that 68 percent of white evangelicals continue to support the war. But what surprised me, looking at these sermons nearly three years later, was how little attention they paid to actual Christian moral doctrine. Some tried to square the American invasion with Christian "just war" theory, but such efforts could never quite reckon with the criterion that force must only be used as a last resort. As a result, many ministers dismissed the theory as no longer relevant.

Some preachers tried to link Saddam Hussein with wicked King Nebuchadnezzar of Biblical fame, but these arguments depended on esoteric interpretations of the Old Testament book of II Kings and could not easily be reduced to the kinds of catchy phrases that are projected onto video screens in vast evangelical churches. The single common theme among the war sermons appeared to be this: our president is a real brother in Christ, and because he has discerned that God's will is for our nation to be at war against Iraq, we shall gloriously comply....

...What will it take for evangelicals in the United States to recognize our mistaken loyalty? We have increasingly isolated ourselves from the shared faith of the global Church, and there is no denying that our Faustian bargain for access and power has undermined the credibility of our moral and evangelistic witness in the world. The Hebrew prophets might call us to repentance, but repentance is a tough demand for a people utterly convinced of their righteousness.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

BELLEVUE, WA – Canada's billion-dollar boondoggle – the national gun registration scheme – has proven itself an abysmal failure, as that country's violent crime rates are double those reported in the United States, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA) noted today.

"We looked at violent crime rates per 100,000 population in both countries, using the most recent available data," said CCRKBA Chairman Alan Gottlieb, "and we were not surprised at what we found. Since Canada started this ridiculous and costly program, violent crime has gone up dramatically, at the same time that crime in the United States has declined. Yet, there are people in the states who think Canada's gun legislation should be the model for America.

"By comparing the data," he detailed, "we found that the violent crime rate in the United States was 475 per 100,000 population, while up north, there were 963 violent crimes per 100,000 population. The figure for sexual assault in Canada per 100,000 population is more than double that of the United States, 74 as opposed to 32.1, and the assault rate in Canada is also more than twice that of the states, 746 to our 295 for the population rate."

Noted CCRKBA Executive Director Joe Waldron: "What happened in the states to actually contribute to a reduction in our overall crime rate is simple. We've got 38 states with shall-issue, right-to-carry concealed handgun laws. While Canada has clamped down on its citizens' gun rights, our citizens have been empowered against criminals by passage of these laws. The disparity in crime rates between the two countries says it all about how well gun registration works to stop crime, as opposed to actually carrying guns to deter criminals, and fight back if necessary."

A Jan. 3 story in Canada's National Post by writer David Frum confirmed CCRKBA's independent finding. Frum wrote, "Canada's overall crime rate is now 50% higher than the crime rate in the United States." Later, Frum added: "Gun registries and gun bans…do not work." ...

Judas the Misunderstood
JUDAS ISCARIOT, the disciple who betrayed Jesus with a kiss, is to be given a makeover by Vatican scholars.

The proposed “rehabilitation” of the man who was paid 30 pieces of silver to identify Jesus to Roman soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane, comes on the ground that he was not deliberately evil, but was just “fulfilling his part in God’s plan”.

Christians have traditionally blamed Judas for aiding and abetting the Crucifixion, and his name is synonymous with treachery. According to St Luke, Judas was “possessed by Satan”.

Now, a campaign led by Monsignor Walter Brandmuller, head of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Science, is aimed at persuading believers to look kindly at a man reviled for 2,000 years.

Mgr Brandmuller told fellow scholars it was time for a “re-reading” of the Judas story. He is supported by Vittorio Messori, a prominent Catholic writer close to both Pope Benedict XVI and the late John Paul II.

Signor Messori said that the rehabilitation of Judas would “resolve the problem of an apparent lack of mercy by Jesus toward one of his closest collaborators”. ...

...The move to clear Judas’s name coincides with plans to publish the alleged Gospel of Judas for the first time in English, German and French. Though not written by Judas, it is said to reflect the belief among early Christians — now gaining ground in the Vatican — that in betraying Christ Judas was fulfilling a divine mission, which led to the arrest and Crucifixion of Jesus and hence to man’s salvation....

Did FDR really "save capitalism"?
...I have yet to see any evidence that the U.S. was ever on the verge of revolution either before or after the rise of FDR. In 1932, for example, the Communists and the Socialists (primary indicators of radical or revolutionary sentiment on the left) scored between them a measly 2.5 percent of the vote. They did not elect a single member to Congress.

In 1932, FDR campaigned on a platform that differed little from that [of] Al Smith in 1928 or, for that matter, his opponent Herbert Hoover. While he vaguely promised an undefined New Deal, he just as often attacked Hoover as a spendthrift. Politicians who promised retrenchment and low taxes, such as Governor Harry G. Leslie of Indiana, were often just as popular at the polls as those who promised more government....

...While quasi-fascists (actually populists) like Huey Long and Father Coughlin made waves, this was mostly in 1934 and 1935. If FDR "saved" the United States from the likes of them, why did they have their best years after his New Deal was implemented?...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Anthony Diotaiuto Update
...Diotaiuto is dead not because he was suspected of dealing drugs. He's dead because he owned a legally-registered firearm. Ask yourself, how many drug kingpins -- or any violent criminals, for that matter -- would take the time to register their firearms? In Florida registration requires a significant amount of paperwork, fingerprinting, and a background check? Shouldn't the fact that Diotaiuto registered his gun have tipped police to the fact that he wasn't particularly violent?

Gun owners take note. Owning legal firearms in Florida apparently means that if police ever have reason to search your home, they're bringing the SWAT team, and they're coming in early in the morning, to catch you while you're asleep.

VIN SUPRYNOWICZ: Have a kid, lose your guns?
Jessica Lynne Carpenter was 14 years old on Aug. 23, 2000, the morning 27-year-old Jonathan David Bruce came calling at the Carpenter house in Merced, Calif.

Jessica Lynne knew how to shoot -- her father had taught her. And there were adequate firearms in the house to deal with what happened next.

That Wednesday morning, Jessica was home with four of her siblings -- Anna, 13; Vanessa, 11; Ashley, 9; and John William, 7 -- in the San Joaquin Valley farming community, 130 miles southeast of San Francisco.

Bruce, an out-of-work telemarketer apparently high on drugs, was stark naked and armed with a spade fork. He cut the phone lines to the house shortly after 9 a.m., broke in, and immediately began chasing down and stabbing the children in their bedrooms.

Jessica Lynne tried to dial 911. The phone was dead. So she ran to the gun closet.

Then she remembered the new "safe storage law" that had just been enacted in California, and which her parents had told her about. When John and Tephanie Carpenter had left the house that morning, they had locked the gun closet so no one under 18 could get access to the family firearms ... as required by law.

Jessica's only option was to climb out a window and run to a neighbor's house.

By the time Merced County sheriff's deputies arrived at the home, John William and Ashley were dead. Anna was wounded but survived.

As deputies arrived, Bruce rushed them with his bloody spade fork. So they shot him dead. They shot him more than a dozen times.

The following Friday, the children's great uncle, the Rev. John Hilton, told reporters: "If only (Jessica) had a gun available to her, she could have stopped the whole thing." Maybe John William and Ashley would still be alive, Jessica's uncle said....

Friday, January 13, 2006

Big Government Is Even Bigger Than You Think
...Combined direct and mandated government spending may well exceed $7 Trillion – and rising – this year, next year, and every year!

$7 Trillion out of this year's total U.S. economy of approximately $12 Trillion.

Big Government in America is so huge it boggles the mind and numbs the senses.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

US Army its own worst enemy: British officer
A senior British Army officer has written a scathing critique of the US Army and its performance in Iraq, accusing it of cultural ignorance, moralistic self-righteousness, unproductive micromanagement and unwarranted optimism.

His publisher: the US Army.

In an article published this week in the army magazine Military Review, Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, who was deputy commander of a program to train the Iraqi military, said American officers in Iraq displayed such "cultural insensitivity" that it "arguably amounted to institutional racism" and may have spurred the growth of the insurgency....

The Rising Cost of Complying with the Federal Income Tax
In 2005, taxpayers will pay roughly $1.2 trillion in federal income taxes. But America’s tax burden is more than just the amount of tax paid. It also includes the cost of complying with federal taxes, including tax planning, paperwork and other hassles caused by tax complexity.

In the last century the cost of tax compliance has grown tremendously. This is due partly to the inherent difficulty of taxing income, but also because of growing non-economic demands lawmakers place on the tax code. As Congress debates the tax reform recommendations of the President’s Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform, Members should address this growing compliance burden, and work to reduce it through tax simplification and reform.

In 2005 individuals, businesses and nonprofits will spend an estimated 6 billion hours complying with the federal income tax code, with an estimated compliance cost of over $265.1 billion. This amounts to imposing a 22-cent tax compliance surcharge for every dollar the income tax system collects. Projections show that by 2015 the compliance cost will grow to $482.7 billion.

The burden of tax compliance does not fall evenly on taxpayers. It varies by type of taxpayer, income level and state. In 2005, businesses will bear the majority of tax compliance costs, totaling nearly $148 billion or 56 percent of total compliance costs. Compliance costs for individuals will be $111 billion or 42 percent, and non-profits will bear nearly $7 billion or 2.5 percent of the total.

When examined by income level, compliance cost is found to be highly regressive, taking a larger toll on low-income taxpayers as a percentage of income than high-income taxpayers. On the low end, taxpayers with adjusted gross income (AGI) under $20,000 incur a compliance cost equal to 5.9 percent of income while the compliance cost incurred by taxpayers with AGI over $200,000 amounts to just 0.5 percent of income. ...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Liturgy as politics: an interview with William Cavanaugh
... I don't think there is any reason to want to restore the churches to political power, if by that one means coercive power. There is, however, good reason to question the myth of the secular state as peacemaker. The so-called wars of religion did not pit one religion against another, as in Catholics versus Protestants. They are more accurately described as wars between different theopolitical orders. This explains why, for example, Catholics killed Catholics. The second half of the Thirty Years' War involved Habsburgs fighting Bourbons--two Catholic dynasties fighting each other.

Obviously, the church was not innocent of the bloodshed, entangled as it was with coercive power. But neither was the modern state an innocent bystander. The whole apparatus of the state arose to enable princes to wage war more effectively. As Charles Tilly has written, "War made the state, and the state made war." The modern nation-state is founded on violence. If the church is going to resist violence, it has to emerge from its privatization and have a political voice, one that seeks not to regain state power but to speak truthfully about it. Christians can atone for their complicity with violence in the past by refusing to be complicit with state violence now. ...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Selective Posturing on Guns
...Now, anyone who has studied the gun-control issue knows that Mexico, like Canada, has very restrictive gun-control laws. In his book Guns, Crime, and Freedom, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre described Mexico as a country where it is “virtually impossible for an honest citizen to own a gun.”

If strict gun laws make Canada safer, Mexico ought to be a crime-free paradise rather than a “critical crime” zone. But we all know that is not the case. ...

...Though the number of homicides has fallen slightly in Canada recently, it has not fallen nearly as dramatically as it has in the United States, where the federal and state governments have been loosening gun laws. Even the Center for Disease Control, which is notoriously anti-gun, must have been surprised when a report issued by the National Academy of Sciences in 2003, which was co-sponsored by the CDC, found after years of study that there was no evidence to support the view that any gun-control laws have achieved their purported goal of lowering crime or making people safer in the United States. Why should it be any different for Canada?...

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Eve Gets Naked in Church
What to do if you're a church youth group leader and need some money? Make an erotic calendar of course. That's what Stefan Wiest did in Germany. Not surprisingly, some have called his taste into question. Nudes posing in church, they feel, is going a bit too far.

...In April, the youth group of the Lutheran congregation of Katzwang decided to come up with a fundraiser; the youth center rooms needed a new coat of paint. Somebody thought of making a calendar, one that could be sold in the community. The members of the youth group would be the models, depicting scenes from the Bible, but in a modern interpretation. Oh, and the calendar should be erotic, too. Why not, after all?

Nude photos it was.

The concept was nothing new. Last year the Franconian country youth group had put together something similar -- sitting on tractors in revealing dirndls. Students posed nude for photos and there were already calendars of nude volleyball players, soccer players and firemen. And then there was the film "Calendar Girls," so why not Marina, Julia and Michael from Katzwang?

They wanted to do everything properly: parents were informed, the pastor was asked to suggest suitable excerpts from the bible. Everyone under 18 needed written permission from their parents. A few members of the church board felt that showing naked women in the church was offensive, but they were clearly in the minority.

And so they took a few photographs: King David, who secretly watched a woman bathing, is depicted as a peeping tom in the sauna. The whore Rahab, waits in the door of a motel room, wearing only lingerie, Salome wears a thong and instead of her biblical seven veils, her body is covered in paint.

"It turned out really beautiful" says the Russian reporter in Wiest's sitting room.

An exhibition was planned for the second Sunday of Advent. Wiest told the local press and created a Web site. The young people thought about maybe advertising as well, otherwise nobody might come. The pastor talked to the evangelical press service and the church newspaper Sonntagsblatt. The next day he got a call from a Munich paper tz. "Why are you interested in our calendar?" he asked. He could hardly believe it. Why, Munich is 150 km away.

Soon thereafter, the Internet server crashed. ...

Jesus, CEO
America's most successful churches are modelling themselves on businesses

VISIT Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, an upscale exurb of Chicago, and you are confronted with a puzzle. Where in God's name is the church? Willow Creek has every amenity you can imagine, from food courts to basketball courts, from cafes to video screens, not to mention enough parking spaces for around 4,000 cars. But look for steeples and stained glass, let alone crosses and altars, and you look in vain. Surely this is a slice of corporate America rather than religious America?

The corporate theme is not just a matter of appearances. Willow Creek has a mission statement (“to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ”) and a management team, a seven-step strategy and a set of ten core values. The church employs two MBAs—one from Harvard and one from Stanford—and boasts a consulting arm. It has even been given the ultimate business accolade: it is the subject of a Harvard Business School case-study.

Willow Creek is just one of a growing number of evangelical churches that borrow techniques from the corporate world. Forget those local worthies who help with the vicar's coffee mornings and arrange flowers. American churches have started dubbing their senior functionaries CEOs and COOs. (North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, even has a director of service programming. Can Chief Theological Officers be far behind?) And forget about parish meetings in which people bat about random ideas on how to keep the church going. America is spawning an industry of faith-based consultancies. John Jackson, the senior pastor of Carson Valley Christian Centre, a “high-impact” church in Minden, Nevada, has taken to describing himself as a “PastorPreneur” and has published a book with that title....

...These pastorpreneurs are committed not just to applying good management techniques to their own organisations but also to spreading them to others. This is, after all, the world of evangelism. Willow Creek has a consulting arm, the Willow Creek Association, that has more than 11,500 member churches. It puts on leadership events for more than 100,000 people a year (guest speakers have included Jim Collins, a business guru, and Bill Clinton) and earns almost $20m a year. Rick Warren likens his “purpose-driven formula” to an Intel operating chip that can be inserted into the motherboard of any church—and points out that there are more than 30,000 “purpose-driven” churches. Mr Warren has also set up a website, pastors.com, that gives 100,000 pastors access to e-mail forums, prayer sites and pre-cooked sermons, including over 20-years-worth of Mr Warren's own.

Indeed, in a nice reversal businesses have also started to learn from the churches. The late Peter Drucker pointed out that these churches have several lessons to teach mainline businesses. They are excellent at motivating their employees and volunteers, and at transforming volunteers from well-meaning amateurs into disciplined professionals. The best churches (like some of the most notorious cults) have discovered the secret of low-cost and self-sustaining growth: transforming seekers into evangelicals who will then go out and recruit more seekers. ...

...The marriage of religion and business has deep roots in American history. Itinerant Methodist preachers from Francis Asbury (1745-1816) onwards addressed camp meetings of thousands of people, and often borrowed marketing techniques from business. Aimee Semple McPherson, one of America's first radio Evangelists, built a church for 5,300 people in Los Angeles in 1923. (She had none of Mr Hybels's worries about religious symbolism: she topped her church with an illuminated rotating cross that could be seen 50 miles away.) And the gospel of self-help and prosperity is as American as apple pie. In his 1925 bestseller, “The Man Nobody Knows”, Bruce Barton, an adman turned evangelist, pictured Jesus as a savvy executive who “picked up twelve men from the bottom ranks of business and forged them into an organisation that conquered the world”. His parables were “the most powerful advertisements of all time”....

The Law and the President
In a national emergency, who you gonna call?

EMERGENCY POWER FOR SUCH UNDERHANDED activities as spying makes Americans uncomfortable and upset. Even those who do not suffer from squeamish distaste for self-defense, and do not mind getting tough when necessary, feel uneasy. A republic like ours is always more at ease in dealing with criminals than with enemies. Criminals violate the law, and the law can be vindicated with police, prosecutors, juries, and judges who stay within the law: At least for the most part, the law vindicates itself. Enemies, however, not merely violate but oppose the law. They oppose our law and want to replace it with theirs. To counter enemies, a republic must have and use force adequate to a greater threat than comes from criminals, who may be quite patriotic if not public-spirited, and have nothing against the law when applied to others besides themselves. But enemies, being extra-legal, need to be faced with extra-legal force.

This home truth gets little recognition from critics of the Bush administration's surveillance activities in the war on terror. Some of its defenders, too, seem unaware of the full extent to which the Constitution addresses the problems we face today and how useful and relevant its principles prove to be.

One can begin from the fact that the American Constitution made the first republic with a strong executive. A strong executive is one that is not confined to executing the laws but has extra-legal powers such as commanding the military, making treaties (and carrying on foreign policy), and pardoning the convicted, not to mention a veto of legislation. To confirm the extra-legal character of the presidency, the Constitution has him take an oath not to execute the laws but to execute the office of president, which is larger....

Fertility, not theology, cause of decline
CHICAGO (ABP)--The decline in membership of mainline churches over the last century had more to do with sex than theology, research by a trio of sociologists suggests.

The popular notion that conservative churches are growing because mainline churches are too liberal is being challenged by new research that offers a simpler cause for much of the mainline decline--the use of birth control. Differences in fertility rates account for 70 percent of the decline of mainline Protestant church membership from 1900 to 1975 and the simultaneous rise in conservative church membership, the sociologists said.

"For most of the 20th century, conservative women had more children than mainline women did," three sociologists--Michael Hout of the University of California-Berkley, Andrew Greeley of the University of Arizona and Melissa Wilde of Indiana University--wrote in Christian Century. ...

Saturday, January 07, 2006

What no one seemed to notice was the ever widening gap between the government and the people. And it became always wider.....the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting, it provided an excuse not to think....for people who did not want to think anyway gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about.....and kept us so busy with continuous changes and 'crises' and so fascinated.....by the machinations of the 'national enemies,' without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.....

Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, 'regretted,' that unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these 'little measures'.....must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing.....Each act is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next.

You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow. You don't want to act, or even talk, alone.....you don't want to 'go out of your way to make trouble.' But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes.

That's the difficulty. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves, when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed.

You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things your father.....could never have imagined.
-- Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free, The Germans, 1938-45 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955)

"Bovard's Attention Deficit Democracy is published"
...Here's a little sampling of epigrams from ADD. (Hm. I think our friend Jim may one day rival H.L. Mencken in the liberty-quote books.)

* Rather than a democracy, we increasingly have an elective dictatorship. People are merely permitted to choose who will violate the laws and the Constitution.

* Instead of revealing the "will of the people," election results are often only a one-day snapshot of transient mass delusions.

* Attention Deficit Democracy lulls citizens into thinking that they have nothing to fear from the rising number of sticks and shackles that politicians and bureaucrats can use on them.

* The biggest election frauds usually occur before the voting booths open.

* A democratic government that respects no limits on its own power is a ticking time bomb, waiting to destroy the rights it was created to protect.

* Leviathan is premised on government's need to control the people. Democracy rests on people's right to control the government. The conflict between these two principles generates much of the deceit that permeates contemporary politics....

Thursday, January 05, 2006

In India, Engineering Success
...In 2005 India enrolled fully 450,000 students in four-year engineering courses, meaning that its output of engineers will more than double by 2009.

As striking as these numbers is the way India is getting there. What's made this engineering takeoff possible is not an increase in the supply of universities financed by taxpayers or foreign donors; it's an increase in demand for education from fee-paying students -- a demand to which entrepreneurs naturally respond. More than four out of five Indian engineering students attend private colleges, whose potential growth seems limitless. In 2003 the Vellore Institute of Technology received 7,000 applications. In 2005 it received 44,000.

Something similar is happening to the Indian school system, which has experienced a huge growth in private provision. Since the early 1990s the percentage of 6-to-14-year-olds attending private school has jumped from less than a tenth to roughly a quarter of the total in that cohort, according to India's National Council of Applied Economic Research. And this number may be on the low side. James Tooley of the University of Newcastle in Britain has found that in some Indian slums about two-thirds of the children attend private schools, many of which are not officially recognized and so may escape the attention of nationwide surveys.

The causes of this private-school explosion shed interesting light on debates about development, not just in India but throughout the poor world. The standard assumption among anti-poverty campaigners is that education leads to development; if you supply classrooms and teachers, progress will follow. Up to a point, India's success in brain-intensive industries such as software and pharmaceuticals lends substance to this theory: India's government has long invested in a few elite engineering schools, whose graduates are at the heart of the country's high-tech success. But it's also true that this elite pool of engineering excellence counted for little so long as statism stifled India's economy. It was only after market reform began in the 1990s that high-tech India took off.

Meanwhile, the recent private-education boom in India shows how causality can also flow the other way. Education may or may not spark development, depending on whether economic conditions favor it, but development certainly can spark an educational takeoff....

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Plans for Holy Land theme park on Galilee shore where Jesus fed the 5,000
· Evangelical groups and Israel on brink of deal
· Some Israelis fear motives of US Christian right

The Israeli government is planning to give up a large slice of land to American Christian evangelicals to build a biblical theme park by the Sea of Galilee where Jesus is said to have walked on water and fed 5,000 with five loaves and two fish.

A consortium of Christian groups, led by the television evangelist Pat Robertson, is in negotiation with the Israeli ministry of tourism and a deal is expected in the coming months....

Monday, January 02, 2006

Nearer, My God, to the G.O.P.
NANCY PELOSI, the Democratic leader in the House, sounded like an Old Testament prophet recently when she denounced the Republican budget for its "injustice and immorality" and urged her colleagues to cast their no votes "as an act of worship" during this religious season.

This, apparently, is what the Democrats had in mind when they vowed after President Bush's re-election to reclaim religious voters for their party. In the House, they set up a Democratic Faith Working Group. Senator Harry Reid, the minority leader, created a Web site called Word to the Faithful. And Democratic officials began holding conferences with religious progressives. All of this was with the intention of learning how to link faith with public policy. An event for liberal politicians and advocates at the University of California at Berkeley in July even offered a seminar titled "I Don't Believe in God, but I Know America Needs a Spiritual Left."

A look at the tactics and theology of the religious left, however, suggests that this is exactly what American politics does not need. If Democrats give religious progressives a stronger voice, they'll only replicate the misdeeds of the religious right.

For starters, we'll see more attempts to draw a direct line from the Bible to a political agenda. The Rev. Jim Wallis, a popular adviser to leading Democrats and an organizer of the Berkeley meeting, routinely engages in this kind of Bible-thumping. In his book "God's Politics," Mr. Wallis insists that his faith-based platform transcends partisan categories.

"We affirm God's vision of a good society offered to us by the prophet Isaiah," he writes. Yet Isaiah, an agent of divine judgment living in a theocratic state, conveniently affirms every spending scheme of the Democratic Party. This is no different than the fundamentalist impulse to cite the book of Leviticus to justify laws against homosexuality. ...

Debbie Does Salad:
The Food Network at the Frontiers of Pornography

... For the past several weeks, Nitke had been running porn films side by side with Food Network shows, studying the parallels. She had also been analyzing the in-house ads, like a recent one for the network’s “Chocolate Obsession Weekend,” which promised to “tantalize your tastebuds.” In this spot a gorgeous model pushes a chocolate strawberry past parted lips as she luxuriates in a bubblebath. The suds shot dissolves into Food network superstar Emeril Lagasse, who shakes his “Essence” – a trademarked blend of salt, paprika, black pepper, granulated garlic, and onion powder – into a pan of frothing pink goo. The camera moves into the frying pan and stays there. There’s something very visceral about watching the food,” said Nitke. “It’s very tissue-y. It’s hard not to think of flesh when you’re looking at these close-ups.”

Like sex porn, gastroporn addresses the most basic human needs and functions, idealizing and degrading them at the same time. “You watch porn saying, Yes, I could do that,” explained Nitke. “You dream that you’re there, but you know you couldn’t. The guy you’re watching on the screen, his sex life is effortless. He didn’t have to negotiate, entertain her, take her out to dinner. He walked in with the pizza. She was waiting and eager and hot for him.”...

... For the past several weeks, Nitke had been running porn films side by side with Food Network shows, studying the parallels. She had also been analyzing the in-house ads, like a recent one for the network’s “Chocolate Obsession Weekend,” which promised to “tantalize your tastebuds.” In this spot a gorgeous model pushes a chocolate strawberry past parted lips as she luxuriates in a bubblebath. The suds shot dissolves into Food network superstar Emeril Lagasse, who shakes his “Essence” – a trademarked blend of salt, paprika, black pepper, granulated garlic, and onion powder – into a pan of frothing pink goo. The camera moves into the frying pan and stays there. There’s something very visceral about watching the food,” said Nitke. “It’s very tissue-y. It’s hard not to think of flesh when you’re looking at these close-ups.”

Like sex porn, gastroporn addresses the most basic human needs and functions, idealizing and degrading them at the same time. “You watch porn saying, Yes, I could do that,” explained Nitke. “You dream that you’re there, but you know you couldn’t. The guy you’re watching on the screen, his sex life is effortless. He didn’t have to negotiate, entertain her, take her out to dinner. He walked in with the pizza. She was waiting and eager and hot for him.”...

Under the influence of politicians, masses of people tend to ascribe the responsibility for wars to those who wield power at any given time. In World War I it was the munitions industrialists; in World War II it was the psychopathic generals who were said to be guilty. This is passing the buck.

The responsibility for wars falls solely upon the shoulders of these same masses of people, for they have all the necessary means to avert war in their own hands. In part by their apathy, in part by their passivity, and in part actively, these same masses of people make possible the catastrophes under which they themselves suffer more than anyone else. To stress this guilt on the part of the masses of people, to hold them solely responsible, means to take them seriously. On the other hand, to commiserate masses of people as victims, means to treat them as small, helpless children. The former is the attitude held by genuine freedom fighters; the latter that attitude held by power-thirsty politicians.
--Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism