News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: December 2005

Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Religious Right's Hypocrisy on NSA Surveillance

It's been a week since I noted that the stories about the Bush admin's surveillance of US citizens via the NSA should pose some concern for the Religious Right. Their myth of the AntiChhrist says that he will institute some form of surveillance infrastructure to watch and track people.

I suggest that if the Religious Right is truly concerned about this threat, then they should feel threatened by the idea that the US government is now using surveillance technology on its own citizens.

I've monitored CBN website for a week to see how they'd cover this story. Somewhat surprisingly, they have not mentioned it even once. I say surprisingly since the story--simply as a news item--deserves some mention. But the silence speaks volumes. Instead of chancing an anti-Bush backlash, the Xtian media have simply tried to kill the truth through silence. ...

Now comes this story over the wires about the Religious Right's concern over Radio Frequency Idenitification. This technology enables stores to track packages to maintain better inventories and provide faster goods to market. The Xtian Right, however, sees the technology as the work of Satan. According to Opinion Journal:

Critics, however, say the chips--which they call "spychips"--will eventually provide corporations and government with frightfully detailed information about unsuspecting consumers. The bugs, they argue, can be sewn into clothes, inserted in shoes and implanted under the skin; in the fullness of time snoops could use Global Positioning technology to keep us under constant surveillance.

Authors Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntire, whose "Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move With RFID" has become the bible of the wary, consider the technology an invasion of privacy. While free-thinking libertarians have worried about such threats for years, "Spychips" reveals a deeper fear: Chip implants could be part of the satanic identification scheme, foretold in the Book of Revelation, by which "no man might buy or sell, save that he had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of the beast, which is 666." Those without the mark, which itself signals obeisance to the evil one, will find themselves excluded from the chain of commerce, unable to purchase even food.
If the Xtians are serious about tracking technology then they should speak out against the Bush policies. If they do not, they show how deceitful they are and how willing they are to play the political game to serve their own ends and purposes.

Why is it okay for Bush to spy on us but not the EU? And why isn't Bush denounced as the AntiChrist for using this technology to spy on us? That the Xtian Right wants to dodge the issue, by their own logic, means they are in bed with the Whore of Babylon and follow the AntiChrist. Read more!

The Cancer of Americanism

Imagine what you'd do in the same situation. Such are we called to do when witness to the spread of this cancer that will sweep the world and conquer it long before the armies arrive--if they ever do. For a pacified population high on the crack of concumerist frenzy is a more potent form of control than occupation.

According to the NY Times: Blood Flows With Oil in Poor Nigerian Villages. According to the report:

On Sunday morning, the village children shimmy out of their best clothes after church and head to a muddy puddle to collect water. Their mothers use the murky liquid to cook whatever soup they can muster from the meager catch of the day.

Yet for months a pitched battle has been fought between communities that claim authority over this village and the right to control what lies beneath its watery ground: a potentially vast field of crude oil that has caught the attention of a major energy company.

The conflict has left dozens dead and wounded, sent hundreds fleeing their homes and roiled this once quiet part of the Niger Delta. It has also laid bare the desperate struggle of impoverished communities to reap crumbs from the lavish banquet the oil boom has laid in this oil-rich yet grindingly poor corner of the globe.
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Unnoticed Stories of 2005

In an attempt to fit in with the end-of-year tradition and true documentarian style, I'll use this space to log some of the stories I think received little or no attention. This'll be a continuing effort, so keep your eyes peeled for updates.

Note: Numbering does not mean one story is more important than the other. I'll leave determining that up to you. Besides, in the age levellers, all stories are equal.

1. via Juan Cole @ Informed CommentBritain: Israel Breaking Law, Spreading Terrorism by Jerusalem Policies

The British government presented a secret report to the European Union

2. U.N. Investigator: Torture Remains Widespread in China Despite Decline
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Thursday, December 29, 2005

War Profits, Cynicism, and the Ghoul's Flag

Being a cynic means looking for honesty in all things. It's not that all things human are inherently motivated by evil or perverse desires. It's the recognition that people do things for reasons that if they knew about they'd choose to do something more honest and worthy of a higher truth and good.

The tragedy of 911, we were told, was a time for uniting and not fighting each other. It was a time to see a common enemy and to join forces to fight that enemy. It should've been a time for moral reassessment and reflection on what it is that generates hatred in the world against us.

All of these things, you might say, were achieved...

And yet, in America you'll always find people out to make a fast buck. People out to cheat the dreamers and rosy-glassed utopians and the engineers of future shining cities on a hill. With the widow in mourning, these types are the ones who'll sell her a grave site in a swamp.

So, it's a matter of common-sense in America to ask in all things: "show me the money," (in the words of an otherwise forgetful movie). "Show me the money" comes alive when you wonder why this false war on terror, this pandering and exploitation of people's sorrow and anxieties profits not only the gravedigger but also the graveseller, as well as his bigger cousins the war profiteers.

Show me the money... If you think it's cynical to point to those who'd profit from grief and terror and fear, consider the individuals who filed false death claims and the many companies that profited after 911. Of course, in the march to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, it was easy to forget that companies and individuals had hoped to bilk New York for their own profit. Now comes the revelation that companies received money destined for companies hurt by the 911 attack but shouldn't have.

Another story out of Washington and reported in the Washington Post describes how politicians and capitalists banded together to exploit 911 for monetary and political gain.

And those who would wink and smile condescendingly at me for stating the obvious? You are not cynics, you are vultures knowing that you'd do the same thing if you were in the right circumstances. A cynic asks for honesty and truth in all things, as difficult and ugly as that might be. A cynic does not buy into the craven exploitation of people's fears, false hopes, and dreams. A cynic grieves when people suffer under an illusion--s/he does not mock that person with false pity and secret delight.

Where dreams are illusionary, then a counter-balance of the concrete is needed. Where lies are told, the truth must out. In this war against terrorism, built on lies and deceit, we see once again the fleeting hand of the true beneficiary of these deaths and this destruction: the money men with their overseas bank accounts, their $2,000 suits, and their Joe-next-door smile wrapped up in star-spangled jibber.

It's time to call a spade a spade. This war is not for you or me; it's war for the profiteers whose ghoulish plans are lies within lies.
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"Compassion Fatigue" in Iraq

The military can always make something traumatic sound as though it came out of the mouth of a robot. Those who witness the trauma of war every day undergo a stress and dehumanization that no one who has never been there can imagine. But when the suffering is so great and your ability to relate to it becomes taxed to the limit, you suffer what the Army calls "compassion fatigue."

Philosophers and poets try to capture the terror and horror of war--but the violence is not only in what a person sees and does in the heat of battle or distress. It also leaves its seal on the spirit, a seal whose pain may never wear away. ...

Stars and Stripes recounts the life in war of Army Reserve Maj. Donald W. Robinson. He works as a surgeon and deals with the worst wounds. Like a true hero, he does not discriminate between Iraqi and American when it comes to saving lives and alleviating suffering. But the level of pain has left its mark:

When a patient died, Robinson said, his staff knew to leave him alone. He would find a quiet place, sometimes the hospital roof, and say a prayer.

“I wished I could have called that person’s mom or dad to say, ‘You know, I’m the one who took care of your son, and I want you to know that we did everything possible to save his life.’ I wish I could have done that for every single soldier or Marine or airman.”

Robinson frequently counseled young medics and nurses, worried about how they were coping with all the trauma cases. In Iraq, he was too busy to weigh the effect on himself. At home, however, he had difficulty sleeping. For two weeks he slept on the floor so as not to disturb his wife, Shari. He had nightmares, recalling the many amputations he performed.

Rather than dreams of helping patients, his were filled with the horror of their injuries. “It’s almost like you know you can help the person, but it’s just the intensity of what this person has gone through, and will have to live with. I would go to sleep and I would see that.”

In our hourlong interview, Robinson never mentioned his phone calls home to Shari “just to unload,” as she described it. During those calls, Shari said, Don was particularly troubled by the many children he treated who had been burned or had lost limbs. The Iraq experience made him miss his own children deeply, son Kimani, age 11, and daughter Karina, age 3.
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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Court Tells Military to Release Abu Ghraib Photos

In a story that did not make it into your newspapers today--not even the liberal press--a US court ordered the military to release previosuly unseen photos and videos from Abu Ghraib. The government has been trying to keep this material from the US public ever since they came to light. We got to see some of them, but the most disturbing pictures were kept out of the media.

It's reported by respected journalist Seymour Hersh that the material show the rape of a young boy by US soldiers, as well as other brutal acts of sexual and physical torture...

Al-Jazeera reports:

Pictures of detainee abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison must be released despite government claims that they could damage America's image, a US federal judge has ruled.

US District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein on Thursday said "terrorists" in Iraq and Afghanistan have proved they "do not need pretexts for their barbarism".
The government will appeal this ruling, so don't expect to see the photos soon.

What purpose could publishing this material serve? I believe that we must see the actions that our government commits in our name. This relates to televising capital punishment executions as much as it does to showing pictures of our dead soldiers'coffins and the civilian deaths that result from aerial bombing.

If the government can't deal with the consequences of the actions that its leaders make, then they should not do them. If these photos are published, then perhaps these decision-makers will work harder at making sure that these results do not happen. Otherwise, there is no accountability--just faceless victim and victimizer which adds further to the irreality of this war. Read more!

Doomsday and Doublespeak 2

Coming off my Anti-Christ high, you might imagine how the announcement that Donald Rumsfled has moved closer to the little red button strikes my jangly nerves.

Call me a cynic, but could this promotion for Rumsfeld and demotion for the Generals have anything to do with recent reports that the military ranks are asking some hard and testy questions about Iraq? Read more!

Where Being a Teacher Can Get You Killed...

... and not because s/he gave someone a bad grade. In some countries you'll get killed for teaching about something that offends someone else, that threatens perhaps their way of looking at the world. This threat strikes at the heart of everything you believe in, take for granted, cherish with your death. And then this know-it-all shows up and questions all of that. Imagine...

On a day when "four to five" people shot at academics attending a conference, killing one, Martha Nussbaum's article on terrorism in India hit the blogopshere. Do you think there's any connection? Or that she's on to something?
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Katrina: The Insane Aunt in the Attic Gets Put Back

What lessons do you learn when wind and water rip up your life or the lives of your friends and neighbors and spit them out in the front yard to rot and decay in front of everybody, naked in innocent shame? This is a question people have asked since hurricane Katrina blew over New Orleans and shattered the levees that protected it from the sea.

Hundreds of thousands of people still have not returned to their homes in the city. For people with money, this has been hardship enough, as they scramble to make ends meet day to day and wait for the city to become habitable again. Weeks become months as jobs disappear or become a search for employment.

For the poor, though, there's nothing to return to since most had little before they had to flee Katrina. Shipped out of New Orleans after a week of sitting in offal and stench, they simply scrape together a life from the hand-outs of the government, and neighbors, friends, and aid organizations and made to feel their shame in the open this time. Pity is a sweet anodyne to smoke, a bitter pill to swallow.

But what did "we" learn from the event that was Katrina? What secret letter did she drop in the mailbox of each and every one of us?

For many who weren't there, Katrina was just a daily horror show that brought out the worst preconceptions and biases that have been held in check by what people usually call "political correctness." For many of these people, Katrina finally ripped the lid off the boiler and showed how irretrievably immoral and evil our society is. Katrina finally gave them a chance to think and feel what they really do.

These people are the ones who pointed to the looting and said, "see, that's the real nature of black people." Or maybe they left race out for one reason or another (surely not out of politeness or from "Not thinking so," they're just too craven to say so) and use "Katrina" as minor thesis in a syllogism whose conclusion points to the chaos that sleeps in the heart of each and every one of us. Just one more reason why we need the police, the state, the eyes of God peering through our windows to make sure our hearts are pure.

On the other side, of course, there're the bleeding hearts--the ones who want to blame someone else besides themselves for feeling so sad and hurt. You wonder what they were thinking before "Katrina." Why this outrage and tears after Katrina when what made Katrina the storm of offense that it is was always there?

What sheltered lives do you lead that this actually offended you? I wonder whether these people were so much offended by the injustice of what happened as they were by the fact that they actually had to think about this for more than a few seconds as they sit and write a check?

And this is the ugly little secret that Katrina broke out of the family attic like some insane aunt in a Victorian novel. Katrina put the lie to the comfortable notions that we all try to forget and suffocate with platitudes and soap operas. "Katrina" revealed the lie that the poor are okay, the lie that the old and dying can't talk.

Katrina showed that what makes a party town possible is an underbelly that is soft, human, terrified and, yes, "vulnerable" to all that is evil and unfair and unjust about this society that prides itself on its freedom and equal opportunity.

Of course, the preachers in their thousand dollar suits storm and rant about injustice. The commander-in-chief emerges from the behind the curtain and speaks in front of a cathedral of light to salve the outrage with platitudes and promises of bravery, intelligence and heart. The money-lenders and insurance companies circle like sharks smelling green blood in the water. The feeding frenzy begins.

Katrina's ravings about the little lies we tell ourselves when we become too comfortable in our reality show lives fade into the background as she is strait-jacketed and hauled off to the attic. We stuff a gag in her throat wanting her to swallow the whole length and breath of the shafting.

Now we can go back to our daily grind. Normality returns, the public narcosis numbs the synapses, and reality beckons from the TV screens.

Related Links

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Anti-Christ in the Heart (Contd)

DH Lawrence, that omnivorously perverse sexual libertarian, once wrote a book about the book of Revelation. This might surprise some, but it does not surprise me. I understand the sense of freedom that the book promises. Lawrence used its powerful images to point at and bring to the light the amazingly darkly ecstatic nature of this thing we call reality.

Simone Weil, for her part, saw in the book's image of the Great Beast more than a metaphor for the modern nation state. In her mystical politics, the Beast is the animial we all idolize and curry favor with in our universal desire for control and power. The Red Virgin, as her friends affectionately called her, was prophetic in her own day. For, certainly her writings analyze the Beast in all its machiavellian machinery. Her analysis of oppression and liberty speaks as much to our own world of the surveillance state as it does to the fascist and communist states of yesterday's concentration camps and gulags.

I love this myth that is multi-valent and which can attract the spirits of an ecstatic sensualist and the politico-spiritual prophet...

Of course, this only goes to show that Luther was probably on to something when he wanted to throw the book out of the Christian canon. It is one of the strangest books in the world and has probably given birth to more bad than it has good. Besides, it distracts from the original messaqge of Jesus, doesn't it? Its grand conspiracy theory makes all this talk about aleins, Kennedy, and the new world order seem like child's play, right?

Then again, if Luther had left the book behind, it would've given Dan Brown more fodder for a new novel... Imagine the conspiracy of paternalistic nihilism he could string together with that one!

I confess, though, that I love to watch the variations on a theme that the mythology can generate. From the Omen (1,2, and 3) to the Left Behind fantasies, it's made Hollywood oodles of cash. You can't tell me that this book's themes haven't influenced everything from Terminator (1,2, and 3) to The Matrix.

Anyway, my own favorite variations on the themes in Revelation--see my poems--is Valdimir Solvyov's work, War, Progress, and the End of History: Three Conversations, Including a Short Tale of the Antichrist. I also highly recommend Czeslaw Milosz's seminal essay, "Emperor of the Earth," in the book of essays with the same name.
Last night, I watched a two-hour special on the AntiChrist. As you many know, the Religious Right uses this mythology to provide a template by which to read current socio-political realities in the US as well as to map out the future direction of this country on the world stage.

[Added 12/28/05: For a taste of how perniciously this mythology can work consider the conversation among evangelical youth about whether Bono is the AntiChrist or not]

While listening to that program, I noticed a new economic survey from the past few years which shows that the gap between those who have and those without has grown in the past 20 years. For many, this will not be surprising. But there are still those who believe that this land of milk and honey actually exists to benefit everyone...

Somewhat ironically, I posted a passage from the book of Revelation to go along with that report on weealth disparity in the US. And today I find an email from my daily biblical readings that has a Revelation passage inside:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. He is clad in a robe... (Revelation 19:11-16)
Now I am not a superstitious person--at least consciously--so when I found articles in my daily news sources chronicling more US lies, deceit and spying on friends and US contractors' efforts to sugar-coat what amounts to human slavery (also see this article), I was not fazed but intrigued at the coincidence.

As today's reading shows, the rider on the White Horse brings war to those who lie and destroy trust. What does spying do if not disseminate lies among friends aand sow distrust among them as well? Perhaps the Religious Right should be looking into their own hearts for the AntiChrist, as St. Augustine advised, rather than seeking abroad to wreak a self-fulfilling prophecy that spreads and empire of rapacious greed, civil war, and suffering and oppression to others that they brand as outsiders.

Human misery is human misery, however much you try to use laws and regulations to sugar-coat it. That American companies are trafficking in human cargo to build the infrastructure of its empire is indeed reminiscent of an apocalyptic landscape. But this trafficking and exploitation of foreign workers is not simply about toil, it is also about prostituion and exploitation of young women to gratify the passions and desires of US contractors. Read more!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Soldiers' Nightmares May Not End When They Leave Iraq

The Washington Post is reporting that the US govt. may not have enough money to take care of soldiers returning from the Iraq War who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In a recent posting, I covered this issue from the perspective of John Murtha's proposal to withdraw troops from Iraq.

What this Post article does not cover are the social and economic costs associated with the numbers of veterans who eventually become homeless. As numerous studies show, nearly half of the homeless today are Viet Nam veterans. Recent news accounts have shown that a similar phenomenon is occurring among Iraq War veterans.
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Bush in Hot Water with Evangelicals?

Keep an eye on how the Religious Right handles the revelation that Bush ordered the NSA to spy on Americans. The reason why evangelicals might find this disturbing is the following: an important sign that will give away the AntiChrist is his use of surveillance technology to track people.

In some versions of the Rapture mythology, known as Dispensationalism, this surveillance is a sign of the AntiChrist's plan to form a world government. In some versions of the myth this will happen through computer chips implanted in children at birth. Other versions include using computers and technology to surveille people.

No doubt, how the image of his administration carrying out one stage in the AntiChrist's plan will play with the evangelicals might account for Bush's high anxiety when he discovered that the NYTimes was going to publish the story...

Reports have Bush calling in NYTimes editors and begging them to not release the surveillance story. Certainly one reason for his anxiety is the scandal of the US spying on its citizens. But, as we've seen, the secular Right is quite comofortable with that notion. And Bush and Rove don't care what the Liberals think.

But when it comes to their base of evangelicals, a very superstitious lot, were they to connect this story to the end-of-the-world scenario, you are talking about serious repercussions not only for Bush but potentially for the conservative and Republican agenda in the next few years. As I say, watch how evangelical stalwarts spin the story. Chances are they'll try and downplay the story and wheedle Bush some wiggle room.

On the other hand, they have to be pretty careful here. If they don't express any concern then they run the chance of disaffecting their followers who take the Left-Behind scenario so seriously. Evangelical leaders can't simply pooh-pooh this central tenet of worldwide government surveillance, which plays such an important part in the end-of-the-world script.

No matter how they spin it, there might still remain some suspicions of Bush's true agenda after the scandal settles down. This suspicion in and of itself might prove harmful to Bush and his acolytes, further eroding trust in the administration and its foreign and domestic policies.
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Those Who Suckle at the Great Whore's Teats

Just as I find the following article, the History Channel runs a two-hour special on the AntiChrist. Syncrenicity? I wonder...

Feeding the minimum wage debate: some graphs on income inequality, by Jerome a Paris

For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies. (Rev 18:3)
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People Lied in Dover--and Many Were "Christians"

If you lie for God, doesn't that make it okay?

Prosecutor Seeks Perjury Evidence in Intelligent Design Case
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (RNS) A federal prosecutor said testimony in the Dover Area School District's intelligent design case is under review to determine if perjury charges should be pursued. -- John Beauge and Bill Sulon
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Pope Attacks "Technology"

In his Christmas homily, Pope Benedict 16 warned Christians about the spiritual dangers of technology. It's obvious that the Pope does not carry his life in his Blackberry or keep his mind online via Google and a weblog. If he did, he would understand that this semi-luddite peeve he has with technology is more than odd.

And what does a man who spends his time sitting silently and wasting his day in what he calls prayer know about technology anyway?

Pro forma, the reporter of the the Washington Post article draws attention to abortion. Lurking in the background, no doubt, are the further demons of contraception, euthanasia, and Internet pornography. Since we all share the culture's list of technophobic peeves, insert your own technological demon here.

Note here that the reporter is at a complete loss for describing what spiritual barrenness might possibly mean beyond gadgets, medical procedures or some vaguely acknowledged secular lifestyle. Of course, why should we expect an objective report of something like spirituality which, by another unacknowledged assumption, can't be defined or qualified anyway? This is all a matter of personal choice and privacy, right? And what's private is mine and nobody else's.

Of course, much of the fault in the vagueness or lack of clarity here lies with the Holy See itself. Using such evocative but equivocal terms as spiritual barrenness in a culture that has little understanding of the soul or spirit is like talking to a stone about love.

Indeed, that is the danger that the Pope should be talking about in much clearer and more upbuilding terms. He should be describing how technology and its effects on life are making it entirely impossible for people to even understand what spirituality might possibly mean.

And his talk about right and wrong simply comes across as an outdated, quaint, prudish man who means well, who can be envisoned with a halo around his head and easily forgotten, but never taken seriously because he's a dinosaur--a well-intentioned dinosaur but a dinosaur nonetheless.

What might strike you as odd is that I think the Pope is right... He just doesn't know how to make his point since making a point is beside the issue. The issue is relighting the fire and thirst for something beyond this world, a world that has become increasingly incapable of imagining anything outside this world. And the Pope's rationalistic, syllogistic appeal to common sense and prudence is part of the problem.

If there's a heaven, it's just a continuation of the good part of this one, less the tears and bad things unless you've really done something wrong. (I kow, I need to watch Barabara Walters; she answered this question the other night.) But even then, who knows whether there's a hell, since a really loving God would never seriously be incapable of understanding how our moral lapses are enmeshed in mitigating circumstances that we can't really be held accountable can we?

And anyway, I can always go to confession, shed a few tears and then say my hail maries and our fathers and just get back to living the real life as I see it on reality TV. But who needs that religious superstition? Forget the confession--who'd I confess to?--and just have fun watching reality on TV.

For a different take on this, see Robert Sharp's attempt to throw dust in the Pope's eyes.
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Reporting War

The Washington Post is now reporting on unembedded US reporters who are trying to get out the real story of Iraq. The article decries the negative reports on Iraq in the US press, and chronicles the efforts of an American blogger to go to Iraq and bring the real story of US military operations there, especially the building efforts underway which are headed by US troops and contractors.

The article wants to present an objective reflection of the US military operation...

Unfortunately, the US military has not allowed anything except pro-American reports to leave the area. I applaud the effort to present objective information about this war. But to get this information, I have to rely on foreign news sources, mostly Arabic sources.

The Washington Post article assumes--like the US military does--that these reports from Arab news media are biased and unobjective. This Post article even implies that all Arab news is suspect since it supposedly plays into the insurgents' and terrorists' propaganda. Another way to look at it is to see that these sources are simply reporting the facts--facts which often go against the rosy picture that the US military and US politicians would like to present.

No doubt, showing pictures of families blown apart by US aerial bombardment creates anger among viewers--the reason that you have never seen any of these photos and pictures on US media outlets, nor can you expect to any time soon.

The US military appears to want to have the news war its own way. It has obviously failed to gain the hearts and minds of the Iraqi populace. Yet it has a captive audience at home where little reporting beyond simple numbers that refer to faceless, nameless American casualities and insurgent bombings makes its way into 24/7 TV news feeds.

It seems that the US TV news media have simply thrown in the towel in covering this war. Realizing that they will generate great uproar among viewers on both sides of this issue, they just rely on a general, vague, unfocused coverage of the war.

Except for scandals such as torture and Abu Ghraib, you cannot expect to find true war coverage in the US media. True war coverage involves not only presenting the side of the soldier but also of the enemy. It should also, perhaps most importantly, report on the civilians who suffer either way--from enemy and friend alike.

If the military were interested in objective war coverage in Iraq, it would not be running its own propaganda effort to place pro-US articles in Iraqi news media. It would better use that money to support Arabic sources, whose reporting follows western standards more than the military or the western media are willing to admit.

Repsonsibility for information coming from this war should be practised by all news sources. For the military to bitch about stories that do not always fit their scenario seems more than disingenuous, however. They have exercised immense control over the flow of information coming from this war. Indeed, this control is probably unprecedented in the annals of modern warfare.

That their stories do not get to the general Arab public is once again an indication of what they have simply failed to do in Iraq itself: gain the trust of the everyday Arab public.
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Sunday, December 25, 2005

bin-Laden: Luther of an Islamic Reformation?

In a very penetrating and incisive review of Osama bin-Laden's speeches that have been printed in book form recently, Faisal Devji provides a glimmer of Islam's future. Devji makes the prescient observation that bin-Laden's brand of Islam is unique because it breaks up an Islam that has for the past thousand years presented a somewhat monolithic face.

What makes bin-Laden's speeches important is that he provides a space where Sunni and Shi'a understandings of Islam can find a common ground...

For Devji, bin-Laden's speeches show a fragmentation of the traditional institutional structure, theological assumptions, and religious alignments within Islam. This relates specifically to the split between Shi'ism, practised mostly in Iran, and Sunnism, practiced by the majority of Moslems.

Bin-Laden's speeches display an appreciation for Sufist and Shia concepts, says Devji. As such, bin-Laden shows himself as an eclectic in his theological assumptions. This theological eclecticism allows him to craft a message that speaks to Moslems from many different cultural backgrounds, something that in the past has contributed to the lack of a pan-Islamic message.

For Devji, bin-Laden's message represents a globalization of the Islamic religion in such a way that those Moslems who would not otherwise care about Moslems in other parts of the world actually find in the persecution and deaths of these others an echo of their own struggles.

In a world of media that provides a means to view violence on a mass scale and almost instantaneously, Moslems from countries where the political structures have failed or are failing will see in terrorist acts a model for their own religious sentiments and emulation.

The fragmentation and globalisation of Islam does more than send British citizens of Pakistani descent to blow themselves up in Israel, for such an act poses a problem much larger than itself.

Movements like al-Qaida represent our global interrelatedness by such acts, in which any one person can be related to any other through schemes of violence or virtue. Indeed these acts function like shadows of our global interrelatedness, which possesses as yet no political form of its own.

Osama bin Laden’s Islam represents this global predicament in the fragmentation of its own history, geography and doctrine. His war against the west represents the same global predicament by making possible a universal reciprocity of violence, which has replaced failed forms of freedom or democracy as the new currency of global equality.
I have noted elsewhere that bin-Laden represents a Luther-like gesture to the traditional interpretive structure and religious auhtority within the Islamic religious hierarchy. While it is true that Islam does not have priests or preachers, there is a traditional structure of education that those who run the mosques must undergo before they are recognized as entitled to interpret the Koran and to preach on it.

It is this traditional hierarchy and structure, as well as its thousand year-old method of interpreting the Koran, that bin-Laden has ostensibly threatened to topple. In publishing and propagating his own interpretation of what the Koran means, bin-Laden has taken on himself a role that, by the rules, he does not have the right to do.

Yet, in doing so he has shown Moslems without this education that they too can interpret the Koran for themselves and perhaps find a meaning in it that the official authorities do not espouse, by implication for politically motivated reasons.

A question that Devji does not pose nor undertake to answer is whether this nascent Islamic reformation can withstand the forces ranged against it. These forces are exactly those that in many ways make this reformation possible: the spread of mass media and secular dissolution of traditional lifestyles.

While it took the Enlightenment and Romanticism in the west to undermine and ultimately destroy Luther's call for a pure Christianity, the similar call to a pure form of Islam may find itself overwhlemed by a much more corrosive and deadly movement in the form of consumerism, global capitalism, and technology. Read more!

Israeli Lobbyists Upset At Bush Iran Plan

The Israeli Lobbying group, AIPAC, is upset with Pres. Bush's plan to back the Russian plan to work with Iran in developing its peaceful nuclear capabilities. It seems that the Bush admin. may have realized that there are moderate elements within the Iranian regime which the US can work with. This is a positive sign, especially if Shiites win in Iraq, as expected, and draw close to Iran.

On the other hand, Israel has put Washington on notice that it will not allow an Iranian nuclear capability...

According to the Washington Post:

U.N. nuclear inspectors are on the third year of an investigation of Iran's nuclear program. They have not found proof of a weapons program, but mounting evidence suggests that the Iranians have spent the past two decades acquiring the knowledge and technology that could be used to build an atomic bomb.

"This decision will facilitate Iran's quest for nuclear weapons and undermines international efforts to stop Iran from achieving such a capability," AIPAC told supporters and policymakers in a paper circulated after Thanksgiving. The position paper urged the Bush administration to work quickly toward reporting Iran's case to the Security Council, where it could face sanctions or an oil embargo.
As recent reports show, Israel defense forces have gone on high alert, which some inside the Israeli government have told reporters means that the Israeli air force may be called upon to attack Iranian nuclear targets in March 2006.

On the other hand, the US Army War College International Strategic Studies group has issued a recommendation that seems to envision a nuclear-capable Iran. Their report, GETTING READY FOR A NUCLEAR-READY IRAN, suggests ways to allow Iran to have nuclear power plants but not weapons of mass destruction.

Perhaps, the Israelis are concerned by one of the recommendations in this report: "Isolating Iran as a regional producer of fissile materials by encouraging Israel to take the first steps to freeze and dismantle such capabilities." This is certainly an overt reference to Israeli's own nuclear weaons stockpile. While Israel has never admitted that it has these weapons, it is widely acknowledged by experts that they do have a sizeable arsenal.

At the same time, Israeli special forces and Mossad agents have been working close to the Iranian border in northern Iraq, ever since the US invaded that country. Such actions can only be seen by the Iranians as provocations and perhaps as preliminary operations for some form of Israeli attack.

If the Bush administration has indeed changed its policy towards Iran and is willing to encourage the more moderate elements within that country through debate and compromise over its nuclear capacitiy, then Israel may indeed have no other choice but to back down on its own weapons of mass destruction program and to accept Iran as an equal in the region. Read more!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Iraq War Animation, the View from Nibbana

Via the Dharmavidya blog, an animation on the Iraq War. Read more!

Tech Guys Parse the NSA's Data "Firehose"

Over at Defense Tech, the tech guys have added their input on the information trickling out about what the NSA is doing to spy on Americans. Following up on an NYTimes editorial, they've added some insight into the way that the program can digest all that data and spit out information.

Once the data mining programs get going this voluminous data can then be further analyzed and used for further research...

The tech guys seems somewhat in awe of the program's breadth and length. They especially note how impressive it is that US companies opened up their communication lines to the NSA like a lazy whore spreading her legs to a rich john.

Commenting on how the NSA is sifting through this haystack of data to find that proverbial needle, they note:

"The NSA is intercepting huge streams of communications, taking in 2 million pieces of communications an hour," James Bamford, the author of two books on the NSA, told the Boston Globe on Friday.

"They have a capacity to listen to every overseas phone call," added Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University."

But the question has been: how do you turn all that data into something useful? You've got to find a realtively simple way to get rid of 99.99999% of the calls and e-mails quickly. Otherwise, it's like drinking from a firehose.

But as link analysis and data mining programs have become more sophisticated, that sifting process has gotten easier. And, I'll bet, it is simpler still when the telecom companies are playing ball.
All the cliches about Brave New World, Big Brother and 1984 seem almost trite here. Those stories still had the veneer of simple dystopic nightmares, a liberal's worst dream that conservatives could pooh-pooh and jeer at.

As usual, the reality is much stranger than fiction. Another cliche, but one whose reality those insiders in power will justify by ends-justify-the-means logic or that a fearful public who either do not care simply will accept as an inevitable stage in securing safety and health in a time age of wars on terror. Read more!

Occupation, Sex, Murder and Prostitution

The ugly story behind any occupation of another country is the need by occupying soldiers to find sexual release. In a high-stress environment like Iraq, it is no different. Even with the plethora of online pornography sites, there is still the need for that human intimacy that no porn pictures can satiate...

A recent story reports that a US soldier was court-martialed for killing a 17-year old Iraqi boy after having consensual sex with him. The soldier was given 25 years in prison. According to the Associated Press:

...The News & Observer of Raleigh reported Saturday that records show Merida and the Iraqi were on guard duty May 11 in a tower on the perimeter of an Army camp near Tikrit in northern Iraq. At about 10:30 p.m., Merida shot the teen 11 times with his carbine.

Merida first told investigators the teen demanded money at gunpoint. Later, he said he killed the boy because he forced him to have sex. In a third interview, Merida said he got angry after the two had consensual sex.

While this story is no doubt an exception, the rule is that where there are soldiers there will be prostitutes, perhaps proving the truth of the old maxim that where there's a demand there'll be a supply.

But this should not bring a glint of satisfaction to those who want to place the blame on either side. Often, those who provide the services are impoverished by the war and have no other means of subsistence. In many cases, as well, young girls are forced into this by their families who need to feed themselves and their children.

In an online forum in August, I posted a link to an article that described this situation in Iraq. A soldier who'd been there detailed the circumstances of much prostitution that he saw. According to Patrick Lackatt:
Prostitution, he tells me, once illegal before the American occupation, is now rife in Iraq, and hundreds of girls throughout the country are being sold into the seedy world of brothels and sex slavery.

"For one dollar you can get a prostitute in Iraq for one hour," Patrick says.

"For $10 you can get a room, wash her up and do the business," he adds.

He grins and shrugs his shoulders when asked whether this constitutes freedom, adding he has little time for the man who claims that from time to time as the reason Americans are still being sent there.
These stories, no doubt, can be used by both sides of the war debate to fit their own agendas. One thing, at least seems true: when you put an occupying army into a country and ravage it, human misery and corruption will follow. Read more!

Friday, December 23, 2005

"Complaining to God of a guilt they did not commit"

Collateral damage--such a neutral, neutralizing phrase. Turning human being into a quanitfiable but meaningless mass. The detritus of powers beyond control--the djinn in the bottle, Nemesis unleashed from parricide, matricide, deicide, genocide.

These limbs whose human trunks lie dead, mute, ripped apart like so much stuffing in a scarecrow. These mothers,fathers, sons, daughters, splayed wide, torn open for none to see, none to view the terror of their nameless deaths.

For we will never admit we were there or meant to be there or were there to perpetrate anything save following orders. They will fill the dreams of their young, the men who came and saw and went away to another land.

This trash... this mass of flesh and bone whose sac the winds dry into terrible flags in the winds of empire.

U.S. Airstrikes Take Toll on Civilians Eyewitnesses Cite Scores Killed in Marine Offensive in Western Iraq [You will need to subscribe or already have done so]

Photo from Mother Jones
Read more!

Issue 2 of the America-Israel Friendship League Newsletter

I've just received my first email copy of The Complete Picture: The rest of the news from Israel... from the America-Israel Friendship League (AIFL). It's completely online, so I won't have my snail mailbox cluttered.

I do not remember how I signed up for this newsletter...

Perhaps it was when I visited the Unity Coalition for Israel website some time back. I was following a link at the CBN weblog that quoted "Bibi" [Netanyahu] as telling US Evangelicals that they were Israel's greatest friends.

According to the newsletter,

Founded in 1971, The America-Israel Friendship League bridges gaps and enriches lives around shared democratic values of pluralism, tolerance and inclusion. We forge alliances that transcend religious, ethnic, political and geographic boundaries. The AIFL is a non-sectarian, non-partisan organization.
I am glad to see that they are building bridges with Americans whose respect for democratic values are so equivalent to those who live in Israel. As the masthead of the newsletter asserts, "There is no distance between common values."

In this issue, I'll read about an Israeli film nominated for an Academy Award:
39 Pounds of Love tells the story of Ami Ankilewitz an American-born Israeli with a severe form of muscular dystrophy that renders him almost entirely immobile.
I can also learn about the The International Women's Commission, which has been
...established to ensure representation of women in all decision-making bodies and negotiation teams in Israel, was launched at the Knesset.
Certainly lots of shared values there. SHows that women have rights in Israel, not like many other of those places there in the Mideast.

I can read a close-up article on a woman politician,
Shelly Yachimovich, a divorcee and mother of two, defines herself as a socialist and a feminist. . . .During her career she has succeeded in finding a place at the epicenter of the major media outlets. . . .Now in a move that sent major reverberations through the media and the public, she announced she was joining the Labor Party under the leadership of Amir Peretz.
Very important to see how secular and diverse the Israelis are. In fact, they seem even more secularized than us in the US. So I can feel comfortable that they are not going to turn into a rabid, right-leaning fascist regime.

Bibi's run for head of government looks like he will at least be met with someone with liberal leanings. Again, not like those other people who live around there... Common values, you know. Read more!

US Ready to Bomb Iran?

Kurt Nimmo is intrepid. His personal blog, Another Day in the Empire is a conspiracy theorist's paradise. Unfortunately, this rather eccentric side of Nimmo's character can detract from some of the very serious, legitimate information he posts.

One such posting is his recent report on US CIA Director's message to Turkey: Prepare to bomb Iran...

Acoording to Nimmo's article, which appears at Global Research:

You’d think the fact Porter Goss, head broom sweeper at the CIA, recently told the Turkish government the United States plans to attack Iran and Syria would be headline splashing news in the New York Times and the Washington Post. But although the news was carried in the Turkish press, it elicited hardly a murmur here in America, with the exception of United Press International and Reuters.
This is big news.

In the context of recent articles in the British press that Israel is now on its highest defense alert and statements from sources inside the Israeli government that they will attack Iran's nuclear facilities in March, this article is indeed of concern. Read more!

Afghani Women Tribute

Using photos from the brave marytrs of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, I've created a slide show. These photos include poems and commentary. The photos document the barbarity that these courageous women have suffered at the hands of the Soviets, the warlords, and the Taliban.

Technical Note: Wait a few seconds for the slide show to start.

For an update on the current situation of the Afghan people after the US invasion see Afghani Women Left to Clean Up Mess of US Invasion
Read more!

Cornel West on America's Nihilism

Philosopher and religious thinker Cornel West provides a succinct analysis of the neoconservative agenda for America, as well as a definitive critique of what he calls paternalistic nihilism in the Democratic party.

In his recent book, Does Democracy Matter?, West describes the typically paternal nihilist John Kerry:

For West, this nihilistic paternalism animates the politics of Democratic Party. These are the types who get into politics to do good, become part of the elite, and then end up supporting the status quo. Like this Grand Inquisitor, they decide to “wor[k] within the corrupted system, paternally deceiving the public, shielding them from the terrible burden of the mandates of the truth.” It is this type of imbalanced compromise that helps explain why someone like 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry presented such a twisted and contorted stance on the Iraq war. Kerry argued: It was a mistake, but I would vote it for again; we should withdraw, but raise troop levels to get the job done and only withdraw in the future. Using West’s framework, Kerry is a paternalistic nihilist who could neither support war and its evangelical idea that might is right, nor oppose it publicly with thoughts that, like Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, he must keep to himself. Kerry’s biography almost fits this portrait too well, for Kerry himself was a Vietnam veteran who became an outspoken anti-war activist and at one point threw a handful of United States military medals of honor into the Potomac. By the time he was a presidential candidate, his days of impolitic gestures and remarks were long gone. Anyway, a paternalistic nihilistic resigns himself: “Better not to rock the boat with pipe dreams of a radical transformation of society.”
I have written about this paternalism in my review of the movie Walker. What is wrong with this paternalism? Its nihilism rests in its inability to recognize the true source of its motives and behavior. Believing that it has the solutions to the problems of suffering, it thinks it can organize a better life based on a plan originating in some Reason existing above and beyond the realities in front of its face. Self-deluding, it thereby thinks it acts innocently while its results cause catastrophic evil for those who "receive" its beneficence. Read more!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Mosque Bombing in US

Authorities Say Bombing at Islamic Center Could Have Been Deadly
CINCINNATI (RNS) Federal investigators say an attack on an Islamic center would have been deadly if people had been around when two homemade pipe bombs exploded.
-- Bill Sloat and Robert L. Smith Read more!

God is Pissed at Women, Mostly (Say Imams); the Whore of Babylon Redux

Most of you have seen this story about Muslim Imams blaming the Tsunami in Asia on women and their evil ways. I know, tell these guys to look at the planks in their own eyes for once.

I doubt they or anyone else knows God's mind or ways or reasons--if those terms even mean anything to God And even if they do, I wonder whether there's anyone alive who'd even begin to be able to comprehend what those might be. There's so much garbage that filters out the divine in our lives that you need to take look at how you might begin to deprogram all thesse learned preconceptions about God doing this or God doing that out of our hearts...

And before you Xtian jihadists get a hardon thinking about how bad the Muslim Imams beating up their women will play in the news--left and right--you need to remmeber the Right Rev. Robertson and his reading of God's mind after 911. Then again, there's always the redoubtable Anne Coulter to spit venom and acid into the faces of every decent human feeling of empathy for others:

"[T]he government should be spying on all Arabs, engaging in torture as a televised spectator sport, dropping daisy cutters wantonly throughout the Middle East and sending liberals to Guantanamo"
What got into her grape nuts, I wonder? Who ate her dinner and took food from her mouth? She puts me in mind of something I read in the Christian book of Revelation.
The woman wore purple and scarlet clothing and beautiful jewelry made of gold and precious gems and pearls. She held in her hand a gold goblet full of obscenities and the impurities of her immorality.
Read more!

Tim LeHaye Left Behind?

I'm always looking for what I call crisis points in our spiritual landscape. One of these has been called the "culture wars." If you're on either side of this "war," you already know and understand what it's about. Far from being a tempest in a teapot, you think, this war is about the life or death of us, that which makes us who we are.

Depending on what side you belong to, this "who we are" will be either an eternal supernatural being with a destiny in another world. The other, "liberal," side thinks in different terms: some on the liberal side think there is no other world, that this one's it and if we fuck up here, well that's the point, isn't it? Others on this side, New Agers, think there are other worlds or "planes of existence," but getting to these planes has been co-opted and rented out by leaders from the other side...

These two sides can best be measured, I think, by the numbers of books that're sold by their Party writers. Books that best exemplify the conservative, religiously traditional, side of this debate are the Left Behind books. The New Age wing claims The Da Vinci Code. I take books sales very seriously in determining my spiritual outlook on the world and in this debate they really tell a story about how seriously the two sides take their ur-myths.

In terms of book sales, it looks like the Left Behind series kicks The DaVinci Code's ass. Left Behind's sold over 58 million copies worldwide--even in China! The DaVinci Code has only sold 25 million worldwide. But to its credit, Tom Hanks is starring in a movie version of the book, so it'll probably get a boost in sales after the movie. This book could do for Gnosticism what The Passion did for the Evangelicals.

No doubt, this potential success and the fact that Hollywood is filming the other side's book and not their book has the Evangelicals side feeling left out, if not left behind.

All of this is no doubt obvious and probably tedious for everyone except those with a penchant for irony like me. And besides, how's this demythologize Tim LeHaye, the co-author of Left Beind? It doesn't, it just goes to show how well I can use Google to find fun facts...

But seriously folks, here's the low-down on LeHaye, something I find odd about a man who preaches about the God of Love. According to Steve Weissman over at the website, LeHaye,

A Christian Nationalist, LaHaye would use government coercion to enforce "Biblical morality." No more separation of church and state. And no free speech to say what God doesn't want to say. As for which Christians would govern the nation, he has frequently attacked the Catholic Church and accused mainline Protestants of not being Christians at all. He has also blamed Jews for the crucifixion of Christ and regularly lambastes Islam.
Well, if that doesn't curl your pinko little toes, I don't know what does or will. I myself am not so easily riled. LeHaye has obviously had a religious experience and through this vision he's seen the Rapture of God and Jesus coming on war clouds with a sword of fire.
As LaHaye reads the Holy Writ, the Rapture leads to the Great Tribulation, with floods and earthquakes, pestilence and epidemics, anarchy in the streets, and demonic battles against the one world government of the anti-Christ, whom he portrays in his novels as the Secretary General of the United Nations, a suave Romanian named Nicholae Carpathia. The forces of good finally defeat this Emperor of Evil in a famous victory at Armageddon, after which Jesus Christ returns to rule the earth.
Who could or would want to argue with a man who's seen the end of the world? Not me. And you have to question aynone's motives who would want to even write for a website called "StateofNature" anway, right? That's obviously a veiled allusion to Darwin whose little fish will be eaten by the Big Fish Jesus.

Oh, and did I mention his last name...? But that's beside the point.

I'm not so sure I have gotten LeHaye more demythologized than maybe more mythical. I am sure he's a nice guy, has made lots of money like a true-blood American Christian should and is using those bucks to bring comfort and compassion to the poor and those rotting in prison. On the other hand, I really do think that he's onto something here. He's got more book sales than the heretical gnostics who read that Code book, so 54 million people can't be wrong, right? Read more!

Pope Basher!

Okay I admit it, I'm only posting this so I have something to go along with the picture. If that doesn't warm your cockle-shells, then I'm not a cynic! The guy either has a great sense of humor or is completely oblivious to the world that he lets his handlers dress him up like a Barbie Doll.

After getting that off my chest...

The Pope, at least, does have some real pleasant thoughts for those frantic to fill their Xmas lists and checking it twice or whatever. The following does rise above mere doggerel:

"You should bring joy, not expensive gifts that cost time and money," the pope said Sunday during a homily at Santa Maria Consolatrice Church in Rome. "With a smile, an act of kindness, a little help, forgiveness, you can bring joy and that joy will come back to you." . . .
Go ahead, say it. You won't be the first to call me a Scrooge during this season of splurge and gorge. I smile, thinking of the solace of the grave and what may yet come.

And for those wondering about the Pope's new hat:
Pope's Santa-Style Hat the Talk of the Town, By Stacy Meichtry

VATICAN CITY -- A crimson cap, trimmed with snow-white fur and worn by a rosy-cheeked elderly man as he glides past thousands of onlookers days before Christmas, may come across as typical holiday kitsch in many parts of the world. Here in Rome, however, the accessory is an undeniable fashion statement. Pope Benedict XVI, whose taste for Gucci sunglasses and Prada footwear turned heads last summer, is again creating waves in fashion-conscious Italy after debuting the latest form of papal headgear during Wednesday general audience. Although the cap, known as a camauro, was a staple of medieval and Renaissance papal attire, few popes have dared to try it on in modern times.
Read more!

Reaping Religion's Riches

Two articles on religion and the profit factor have appeared in The Economist. It seems like the guys over at the QA Department are weighing the profit/loss matrix on religion. While anyone who's visited a religion store can tell you, Xtianity is big business in America. There I can buy Jesuslovesu teddy bears, mugs, keychains, posters, CDs and my special favorite, Jesus Comix.

Okay, I'm getting snide here. People need stuff to make them feel all fuzzy and warm about their God. I mean, what would you rather have me do, buy Jesus or be out there shilling pence for secular junk that makes me feel fuzzy and warm about my god? For some folks, that's not the false dichotomy it seems to be to amoral brainiacs...

The two articles are Jesus, CEO (great title, give the editor a big hug for that synapse-candy) and Wealth from Worship. One quote that leapt of the screen right away was

Finally, religious faith itself might be the channel through which churchgoers become richer. Perhaps, Mr Gruber muses, the faithful may be “less stressed out” about life's daily travails and thus better equipped for success. This may make religion more appealing to some of those who turn up only once a year. But given that Jesus warned his followers against storing up treasures on earth, you might think that this wasn't the motivation for going to church that he had in mind.
The irony in the fact that an economist with a rather jaded eye for the purely material aspects of life can pinpoint the jarring disconnect between what the purported founder of the faith said and what the followers are doing is takes your breath away doesn't it? It does me.

I'm reminded of something Kierkegaard says somewhere at the beginning of his attack on Christendom; something to the effect of: Why is it that the atheists seem to understand the what the religion is about better than the believers? I don't even need to read poor old Job's words to figure that one out, though I always take solace as much as I in listening to Job's railing against God and injustice as often as I can. Read more!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Tammany Time Warp in Iraq

With this story about coercion and intimidation by gangs and religious thugs bullying Iraqi voters, you'd think you were back in the US of A, ca. 1850s-1900. Pres. Bush and his Iraqi fairy tale link between the infant US democracy and its growing pains that he painted a week or so ago sure seems a far cry from the reality in Iraq.

But the parallels remain: intimidation to vote for their guy makes these thugs as American as EA Poe...

UPI reports:

"This climate of intense pressure by armed groups is an undeniable fact in these elections," Rand al-Rahim, executive director of the Iraq Foundation and former Iraqi representative to the United States, told the CAP meeting.
I imagine that if liquor were legal they'd be wheeling guys around in wheelbarrows so they could vote more than once... Oh, yeah, those purple fingers. That settles it, they got the plum from the pudding after they got the shove in the ass from a rifle butt.

Update 12/18/05: Protest marches against election "irregularities." From the Washington Post: a story to set your mind at rest before the real civil war starts. Read more!

Rumblings in the Ranks Rattle the State Machinery

For months I have run a virtual category called "rumblings in the ranks." It's included comments and bitches by those in the lower ranks, as well as some from the higher pay grades. I ran this because I believe that if this war is going to end, it's going to do so because the soldiers in the field and their commanders are so pissed off that they'll basically "mutiny."...

Something of this angle seems to have gotten to the Insider Watchers at the Washington Post. They're finally realizing that when John Murtha threw down the iron glove on G Bush's table, it wasn't just him talking but the commanders and soldiers in the field who are fed up with a war going nowhere fast.

Now it seems that the disaffection with the wayward Bush policies has also made its way to the intelligence services. Granted, the entire Plame affair was about lower-echelon agents in the CIA rebelling against the ham-handed bullying of Cheney/Rumsfeld. But now it appears that the entire intelligence apparatus is starting to creak. According to David Ignatius at the Washington Post:

One little-noted factor in this re-balancing is what I would call "the officers' revolt" -- and by that I mean both military generals in uniform and intelligence officers at the CIA, the NSA and other agencies. There has been growing uneasiness among these national security professionals at some of what they have been asked to do, and at the seeming unconcern among civilian leaders at the Pentagon and the CIA for the consequences of administration decisions.
Stay tuned for this one folks. The old truism that nothing gets done unless the insiders say it can looks like it's about to break out into open warfare. The gloves are coming off.

To mix metaphors, the gears and belts of the state machinery are squeaking and we are going to have a chance to look inside at the gory details of what makes this machine tick. Read more!

Ritter Interview Dissects Bush Policy, Lies, and Deceit

Scott Ritter, the man who oversaw the actual destruction of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction gave a wide-ranging and informative interview on CSPAN today.

Note that along with the call-in questions about Iraq, several callers actually accuse Ritter of being charged for having child pornography and for receving money from Saddam Hussein. Ritter convincingly crushes these obscene accusations...

You really need to think about this. According to Ritter, these charges were brought out against him because he has criticized the Bush admin's rationale for going to war against Iraq.

You can talk about spying on people and whatnot, but when the opposition engages in character assassination of this kind, we are talking about a whole new ballgame. Who says Joe McCarthy is dead? He's walking in the Oval Office and he's taking names and dishing dung like he never did before.
Read more!

Ike Liked Radical Islam Jihad

The twistings and gyrings of history are often filled with irony and, as Marx noted, farce. Or is it, in this story, that farce becomes tragedy, as Kierkegaard says somewhere?

Be that as it may, a recent story by Richard Dreyfuss describes how Pres. Ike Eisenhower courted a little-known Islamic jihadist to spread the Koran around the world in an attempt to stem the spread of that other, long since dead "axis of evil," Communism.

What's the proper attitude here and response to history like this? Malcolm X once said, quite controversially, that John Kennedy's assassination was a case of "the chickens coming home to roost." I have often repeated this in my diatribes on the Iraq war and the mideast conflicts in general...

Malcolm was not gloating when he said what he did. For him, he was merely stating a fact that a black man who'd been treated as he had would feel and think about the death of the leader of the very nation that had enslaved his family and those with his skin color had endured for over 200 years.

Of course, I have nothing of this background to give me any such backing in my belief and assertion that what has happened in the mideast is indeed a case of "the chickens coming home to roost." If anything, in my case it is shame, anger, and outrage at the actions of my country in that part of the world. And the more I learn about what America does in the name of me and my so-called freedoms, the more my shame increases.

This does not mean that I think all is lost. No, the Islamic people and their culture offer a unique opportunity for the west to regenerate its dead culture and social and economic norms. That's what this war is about; but I am not optimistic about this form of socio-cultural regenration. I believe that American consumeristic ways of life will conquer the world long before the US military does.

As is so often the case in individual lives, so it seems it is the case in history of nations: actions that at one time seem to be in place and logical return years later to kick you in the ass and make you realize how fallible and often self-deceitful are the things we undertake and do.
Read more!

Bush Charged with Numerous War Crimes

Bush has been indicted for war crimes by a citizen tribunal. You can see the list of charges at Bush Crimes Commission

Some of the charges include the following:

The Commission will inquire into the following charges:

Count 1: The Iraq war was a crime of aggression.

Count 2: The conduct of the war involved the commission of "war crimes."

Count 3: The occupation of Iraq involved, and continues to involve, the commission of "war crimes", "crimes against humanity" and other illegal acts.
There are further charges that include torture, attacks on the environment, and attacks on public health. Read more!

The New Iraq: Looks Like Iran Wins Big

According to RJ Esko, the Iranians look to win big in Iraq. With all the furor and outcry about creating a bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism in the mideast and the Bush admin's assertions that democracy would stabilize the region, last week's election looks like it will strengthen the hand of Iran.

Eskow compares the goals and the actual outcomes of the election...

In a piece that puts to shame the neoconservative vision for the mideast that's been sold to the public hook line and sinker, Eskow notes:

Thee mission of "exporting democracy" to Iraq had four key goals:

1. To create a US-friendly nation in the region
2. To build a working model of democracy as the neocons conceived it for the Middle East
3. To provide
Israel with an ally in the Arab world (which Chalabi had promised to deliver)
4. To isolate
Iran from the Arab world

What have we gotten instead, for the massive loss of American and Iraqi life and the hundreds of billions of dollars spent so far?

1. A country where 82% of the population "strongly opposes" our presence and 45% support armed attacks against US troops
2. A highly conservative, religiously-based electorate that's a far cry from the neocon vision of liberal democracy
3. A country that appears to be drawing closer and closer to Israel's enemies
4. A new ally and sister country to Iran, with similar religious and political beliefs
How's that for nation building? More importantly, how's that for making peace in the region. But did you really think that being peacemakers was the real objective of this administration?

Contrary to the pessimistic views of Iran promoted by the west, I think that this provides an opportunity that could in the end work out for the best. There are very liberal elements within Iranian society and if they can be nurtured and supported they have a chance of overturning the more fanatical members of the Iranian government, including the obviously demented President. Even members of the Iranian government have expressed frowing opposition to his confrontational statements against the west. Read more!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Today in Iraq, 22 years Ago

This picture shows Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein, days after Hussein had used chemical weapons on the Kurds. The story is even more bizarre... Read more!

Who's Afraid of Osama bin-Laden?

Recent speeches by Pres. Bush and his administration have stressed the objectives of al-Qaeda to establish worldwide dominance by re-establishing an Islamic caliphate. While it's true that bin-Laden advocates such a view, most scholars in the Arab world and outside, see it more as a pipe-dream than a potential reality....

One such scholar is Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland. According to recent polls in the Arab world, he says,

...Al Qaeda was not leading a movement that threatened to mobilize the vast majority of Muslims. ... [A poll by] Zogby International of 3,900 people in six countries - Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon - found that only 6 percent sympathized with Al Qaeda's goal of seeking an Islamic state.
As I have stressed over and over, the danger posed by al-Qaeda as a worldwide phenomnon is minimal and easily manageable. Its threat has been overblown by the Bush administration for political purposes.

Related Links Read more!

New Guidelines Prevent Gifts to Terrorists

U.S. Muslim Groups Endorse New Guidelines Preventing Aid to Terrorists

(RNS) Muslim-American organizations are welcoming the U.S. Treasury Department's revised guidelines on how to ensure that funds raised by nonprofit groups do not inadvertently go to terrorist organizations. -- Mariam Jukaku Read more!

Would Jesus Torture?

Everyone wants to know what jesus would do. This is a question that gets so garbled by compromise with the ways of life and cultural prejudices that most of the answers that come back are tainted by these same biases.

How do you get to a point from which you actually could even begin to understand what it is that living a life like Christ wanted us to live becomes a live possibility if not full actuality?

Given Jesus Christ's divinity, people take the easy way out and say that we can never live up to that example. This is, of course, true. But it's true in a way that does not invite the simple resignation to that fact. The injunction is still there: follow Jesus' example and don't use his divinity as an excuse for not trying.

Okay, so would Jesus torture someone--even in what's called the "ticking bomb" scenario? Inquiring Christians want to know. Well, the Right Reason blog posed that question to some of its most eminent conservative Christian commentators--people like Richard John Neuman, for example.

After reading these responses, do you think you now know whether Jesus would torture or not?
Read more!

The Citizen Politician

While we're on the issue of privacy and the invasion of it by the Bush snooper machine, the question pops to mind about when the current understanding of what privacy means developed. I know there'll be those that will say that the issue of what is private is obvious and that it has always meant what it does now.

But that is not so, as readers of other societies and their cultures will know. Those who investigate these things in our culture and society, like Richard Sennett, have described the historical transformation that such concepts have undergone throughout western civilization...

I won't retell Sennett's findings here. (If you really want to know, take a gander at his books, "Authority," "The Fall of Public Man," and "The Corrosion of Character.")

I'll use an example that doesn't require so much detail as Sennett's does. This example does not call for too much historical knowledge and might even seem somewhat common-sense, although a historian might find it not nuanced enough.

No doubt, the founding fathers placed an emphasis on citizens taking part in the running of their government. They expected that the democratic model implied that everyone would think that making sure their government was doing what they thought it should would be incentive enough to garner each and every citizen's participation in the running and decision-making of the government.

I know, these guys were mostly men and white. Many were somewhat aristocratic in mentality and world-view. That's why they felt that every decision could not be left with the uneducated masses, so they split the legislative branch into two parts--one for appointed "geneltmen" politicans, senators, and those who were elected by the rest of the people. (In fact, senators were appointed by state governors well into the 19th century, when it finally became an elected position as well.)

The founding fathers' skepticism about the masses' not being educated enough was taken up by Emerson. He espoused a view that each and every one of us has an inherent "genius," which if tapped into would enable them to fulfill the vast promise of the American democratic experiment. In his mind, this promise meant that each and every individual should and would participate in the governing of the state. It didn't take schooling or learning the classics to become a citizen politican in Emerson's mind. It took that spark of genius that we could all tap into if we only realized it.

Emerson's dream for a truly democratic Republic came under attack with the rise of industrial capitalism. The robber barons and their proteges bought and sold politicians like candy. These politicans were obviosuly more than willing to do so, given the profit and power that they would gain.

The consolidation of the power brokers in the US continued. There was still a threat that the masses could and would want to take back the power of controlling their lives that the constitution promised. To forestall this eventuality, the ruling rich and politicans realized the potential in advertising in forming and molding the needs and desires of the working men and women.

If they could sever the relationship between the public and private spheres, then they could cut off the desire to participate in politics by the workers that so much threatened their power. In this way, the public relations machine came to dominate both politics and the selling of products.

Whereas before the goal of work was to gain enough time to take an active role in public life and governing themselves, the PR machine began to sell privacy as a time away from that--a time to enjoy the "good things of life," the gewgaws and consumer products that mass-production produced.

On top of this, the entertainment industry became ever more present in people's lives and the goal of life became more distanced from public life. Now the goal of life became not only consuming material products but also consuming entertainment in the form of radio shows and so on. Today, this mass entertainment industry has become the be-all and end-all of most people's lives. They literally live for their TV shows, their soap operas, and their DVDs.
Read more!

Black Ops Techies Spooked by Bush US Spy Ops

As a follow-on to my previous article about the tech guys smelling something rotten in the air from Bush spying on Americans, here's another installment by the geeks over at Defense Tech. It seems that as they learn more about the details of this operation, the more they're finding out that it's not only rotten, it's toxic.

They also hear from former and current techs at the NSA, who speculate on what exactly was going on over there and why.... Read more!

"That's How Those People Are"

Juan Cole makes some interesting observations about violence in Iraq. Amidst his general remarks about the Iraqi election, he says:

If these things were happening daily in Washington, Virginia and Maryland, Americans would freak out. Even just a little sniping paralyzed that area not so long ago. Americans know a war zone when they see one.
This brings up an interesting, much too neglected fact: Americans seem willing to live with violence, as long as it's someone else's neighborhood...

I used to watch that very short-run TV show, Over There. Forgetting for the moment why the show didn't win a larger audience, I'll just say how gritty and almost realistic the show was. Sure it purveyed a rather think-skinned realism and it wore its patriotism on its sleeve, but it really tried to portray the "inside view" of how war affected the grunts in the field.

That was the good part. The bad part--at least as I see it--is the almost superficial way it dealt with the violence that the troops visited upon the Iraqi civilian populatin. One thing in particular stands out: time after time you'd see these soldiers kicking in doors of people's homes, ordering everyone out of their beds--men, women, and children--and making them lay down on the ground with guns pointed at their heads.

I know I'm a sucker for empathizing with the victim, but I can't imagine that many Americans seeing those scenes would feel at least somewhat uncomfortable. At least, I imagine, most people would put themselves into these Iraqi families' place and feel the real terror and rage that anyone would feel in such circumstances.

That's what I believe... But then I think about our own violence in our mean streets. How much violence do Americans allow, that is not think about or even begin to imagine, in their own land? I am thinking about the streets where gangs live and children are accidentally gunned down during drive-by shootings. So, to say that Americans care about violence perpetrated against others just doesn't cut it, I think. Violence is okay, as long as it happens hidden away somewhere, or when it's perpetrated by the poor against the poor, becuase that's "how those people act."
Read more!

Bush@War Listening to You and Me: Scholars Duke It Out

Three very interesting discussions of the controversial subject of Bush's wiretapping, eavesdropping, reading emails, etc. over at the University of Chicago Law School Blog. I want to take a look at the arguments and parse out the legal jargon from the waste and see if I can get a sense of who's right/wrong on this.

At a glance, sunstein seems to make a strong case for Bush's interpretation of the Congressional resolution that allowed him to invade Afghanistan.

One sentence that piques my interest, picked after cursory reading, is the following by sunstein:

What about the Fourth Amendment? It turns out that the President has a plausible claim here as well (again see Orin Kerr's post for helpful discussion) -- not necessarily decisive, but plausible. The cases do not clearly support the view that when monitoring (a) an international call involving (b) someone with an Al Qaeda connection (c) to or from the United States, the President must, (d) under post-9/11 conditions, obtain a warrant. (The AUMF is helpful to the President here.) But to the extent that the Fourth Amendment claim is strong, there is reason to interpret the AUMF narrowly, so as to avoid that question, and also to interpret FISI broadly, also to avoid the Fourth Amendment question. On the other hand, the President's claim of inherent authority, if plausible, raises doubts about this approach.
Read more!

Why "They" Hate Us and America Jonesing on Itself

Pres. Bush in his news conference and in his speech from the Oval Office on Sunday asserted once again that the reason the terrorists hate us is because we are free. What Bush did not say is that they also resent us for what we have, because we are rich.

Ever since 911 people have asked why other people might want to harm us. The argument that they resent us for what we are and have is an easy one for Americans to relate to, since it plays into the reality of our cultural and political life. In the land of "keeping up with the Jones'", the idea that other people are just jealous of what we have and act out their resentment through violence is a deep-seated feeling and way of understanding other people in the US. It helps explain much about other people, since we assume that everyone is out for themselves, looking out for number one.

(There must be something in the concept of Jonesing as an addiction and that other idea of keeping up with the Jones'. Can it be that America's greatest addiction is their desire to be like all the others who they are not?)

But what if the al-Qaeda and other people who hate the American way are not thinking and feeling that way?

According to Ivan Eland at the American Prospect, the reasons that these groups give is from a different angle than resentment, or what the Presdient calls the "they hate us because of who we are" motive:

Recent publicity surrounding Pape’s study has given much needed, but belated, exposure to the sensitive thesis that the United States is attacked for “what it does” rather than “what it is.” The evidence has overwhelmingly pointed in this direction for some time. Pape’s results are the latest to be added to the pile.
It's hard for Americans to believe that they can do anything wrong. Why is this? Why so self-righteously assume that our actions with the world should be perceived by others as in their best interests? The short answer, no doubt, is that Americans have benefited so much from their way of life that anything done to promote that way of life to others is inherently right and just. Americans have a deep-seated belief that this country and its way of life is the best in the world. This is borne out by all those people trying to get into America, isn't it?

To face reality, these assumptions must be questioned. Americans need to begin to look beyond their own self-interests, their in-born narcissism and begin to see that there is something wrong with the way they live. While al-Qaeda and their ilk may not be completely right, as in most of life there's often a grain of truth in any statement opposed to ours. Americans are so infatuated with their own image in the mirror that they cannot and will not question that there is something wrong with not only looking in the mirror in that way but also in refusing to see what the mirror actually tells us about ourselves. Read more!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Robertson Calls Evolutionism a cult; "the Church" Bets on Intelligence; Dawkins Sneers; I Yawn

The Rev. Pat Robertson said on his television show, the 700 Club, that evolution is a false religion. Stating that evolution is only a theory and not a fact, Robertson lambasted evolutionists worshiping atheism and called them cultists.

Robertson and other Xtian fundamentalists have taken a strident opposition to the teaching of evolution in US schools. Instead, they propose teaching a science called Intelligent Design as a more reasonable and rational description of the origins and meaning of the universe.

This is in opposition to some mainline churches, such as the Catholic Church...

In his comments, Robertson said:

You know, what we have got to recognize just there in this case is that the evolutionists worship atheism. I mean, that's their religion. And evolution becomes their religion. It is a matter of religion. So this is an establishment of religion contrary to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. And the fact that somebody comes along and says, "We are not sure that it's accurate, it's a theory and not a fact" -- how can you say it's a fact? You are talking about 10 to 15 billion years ago. Who was there?
The Catholic Church, on the other hand, has come out against Intelligent Design. It has given qualitifed acceptance of the theory of evolution, noting that while evolution may explain the material nature of the universe, it does not and cannot explain the spiritual nature of human beings or explain the final purpose and meaning of the cosmos.

Responding to questions about the Catholic Church's stand on evolution in an interview, William R. Stoeger, a Jesuit and a scientist, said:
The church really does not accept or reject any scientific theory as a strictly scientific theory. It is really incapable of doing that, and it would be a mistake for it to do so. It has always affirmed that the natural sciences are independent disciplines — independent of philosophy and theology — and should pursue truth according to acceptable scientific methods and criteria in a responsible and careful way.

However, at the same time, the church does — and should — provide guidance concerning philosophical, ethical and theological extrapolations and extensions of scientific conclusions — particularly those which purport to claim that science demonstrate that there is nothing beyond the purely material or that there is no purpose or point to the universe.
For his part, Richard Dawkins, the bright light among the evolutionists, declares that he trusts science to light the way to enlightenment:
In all cases there is a hidden (actually they scarcely even bother to hide it) "default" assumption that if Theory A has some difficulty in explaining Phenomenon X, we must automatically prefer Theory B without even asking whether Theory B (creationism in this case) is any better at explaining it. Note how unbalanced this is, and how it gives the lie to the apparent reasonableness of "let's teach both sides". One side is required to produce evidence, every step of the way. The other side is never required to produce one iota of evidence, but is deemed to have won automatically, the moment the first side encounters a difficulty - the sort of difficulty that all sciences encounter every day, and go to work to solve, with relish.
It's been something of a strange spectacle to watch what started out as a bumper sticker war turn into a full-fledged culture war. If you don't know, I'm talking about those stickers on people's cars that used to show up on advocate for and against evolution. You could tell each side by the size of their fish. The stickers either showed a fish called Darwin eating a cross or a bigger fish witha cross eating a smaller fish called Darwin. Now, that's intelligent debate, desgined by a few minds inspired by a sense of humor.

If only this little farce had stayed on the bumper stickers where I could keep an eye on it. Then perhaps people would see the whole thing is just a bit of fun, instead of taking it seriously and starting to take over school boards because teaching evolution is tantamount to arming our kids with the armature of communism, as some of the more enlightened anti-evolutionists pronounce. But no, these people actually take this war seriously!

What's just as bad as the fish-god worshippers is the brainiac evolutionists getting so high on their horses that they think that evolution answers "all" of life's problems. In practice, what's evolution really tell us about ourselves as individuals, really? If anything, it simply states the rather obvious fact that we're animals. But I could have known that by looking at people around me. I mean look at the white house for the past few years. If that's not proof that we have ape in our DNA, what does?

The brainiacs face the sad fact that it's the more demented, fanatical "breed and multiply" religious fanatics who believe there's something good on the earth to build on and make the world from that. Who's going to want to build a "city on a hill" in the wilderness of the human compulsion to kill each other, with the idea that we're just animals anyway? You have to believe that humans are better than that to get along in this world, otherwise you'd go insane. Read more!