News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: October 2006

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Hardwired for Ethics?

Why not be hardwired for knowing what's right and wrong? Ethically, there's nothing to say that that's somehow contra religion (contra suggestions to the contrary by some). Indeed, it's the basic assumption by many Christian theologians that the Transcendent does indeed instill in each human a basic love of and desire for the good.

Following Aristotle, Aquinas makes exactly this point. Even those philosophers like Kierkegaard who are often called "irrationalists," assume this very basic drive. For Kierkegaard--following Kant and Socrates in some ways--there's a higher ethics that characterizes religious ethics. This higher ethics is distinctly opposed to natural inclinations, calling into play a higher sense of purpose than common desires for biological, social, or political ethics entail. ...

According to NYTimes:

The moral grammar now universal among people presumably evolved to its final shape during the hunter-gatherer phase of the human past, before the dispersal from the ancestral homeland in northeast Africa some 50,000 years ago. This may be why events before our eyes carry far greater moral weight than happenings far away, Dr. Hauser believes, since in those days one never had to care about people remote from one’s environment.

Dr. Hauser believes that the moral grammar may have evolved through the evolutionary mechanism known as group selection. A group bound by altruism toward its members and rigorous discouragement of cheaters would be more likely to prevail over a less cohesive society, so genes for moral grammar would become more common.

Many evolutionary biologists frown on the idea of group selection, noting that genes cannot become more frequent unless they benefit the individual who carries them, and a person who contributes altruistically to people not related to him will reduce his own fitness and leave fewer offspring.

But though group selection has not been proved to occur in animals, Dr. Hauser believes that it may have operated in people because of their greater social conformity and willingness to punish or ostracize those who disobey moral codes.

“That permits strong group cohesion you don’t see in other animals, which may make for group selection,” he said.
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All Hallow's Eve Reflections and Hauntological Remarks

For those unfamiliar with catholic feast days, all Hallow's Eve might appear to be one of those pagan rituals that--depending on your religious inclinations--might or might not be a good thing. In theory at least, the feast day is meant to be a time when the living and the dead are supposed to interact and commune. Of course, the schlock of Halloween has turned such ideas as remembering the dead into an exercise in putting on display the various anxieties and fears that people everyday wear inside but on this day wear on the outside. ...

There's more to contemporary practices of dressing up than displaying those fears that one usually hides. There's also the idea that you dress up and display things you'd like to be. This exercise in play which affirms what your dreams are and thereby seek social affirmation of certainly has something to say for itself. That it should occur in a context that once included paying some form of homage to the dead speaks perhaps to the closeness in that possibility and potential and dreams have in our psyches with the finality and nothingness of death.

Personally, Halloween is one of those holidays that evokes ambivalent feelings in me. Since I have strong agrarian roots, I've always had a strange affinity for thinking about the dead. This goes back to the days when, as a child, I believed I saw ghosts opening my bedroom door at night. This was later strengthened when my family moved next door to a funeral home. Many dreams I remember from those days included often paradisal visions of the after-life.

Unfortunately, Halloween was also a time of immense personal tragedy. My sister died Halloweening, hit by a car as she crossed the street. That event has defined my life more than I am conscious of, for it was so traumatic that I have little memory of several weeks that followed her death.

In some ways, then, Halloween is not just a time for possibility for me but also a time for remembering the dead and trying perhaps to recover some lost time that will never again see the light of day. This is perhaps why La Dia de Los Muertos has always attracted my admiration. While I lived in new Mexico, the closeness of death was a continual, quite palpable reality. Since much of the state is still rural and very poor, the closeness of death is not hidden behind the facade created by so much iconography of despair.

So what will I do tonight? I'll be spending time watching the "reality shows" on SciFi channel's Ghost Hunters and the BBC's three-day extravaganza of ghost hunting from Scotland's most haunted sites. I've tried before to discuss my interest in these shows. In justifying my taste for these types of shows to those who deride the shows' absurdity, I'll often point to the Ghost Hunters' stated purpose of debunking ghosts and their diverse habits--whether living a shadowy tape loop that seems to play over and over and which the ghosts are not aware of being in and which the living can sometimes witness; the "holy grail" of full-bodied apparitions; or the diverse phenomena of strangely moving chairs, knocks, steps, etc.

My respect for the Most Haunted series is charitable. The use of mediums and the often hysterical (and I don't mean comic) reactions of the show's host often drives me to shout out imprecations of gullibility. The decision to use night-vision cameras wherein the pupils of the (living) protagonists glow eerily in black and white seems an obvious technical fact that works in the show's favor by turning normal human beings into strangely ghostly presences on the TV screen.

Most Haunted's three-day extravaganza is another matter, however. It's shown before a live audience in a hall that appears to seat several thousand people from floor to balcony. The show's aired to Britain and the US and several live cameras can be seen on the show's Internet site. Along the bottom of the screen, you can find comments from people in Britain and the US who "see things" and have premonitions about what the cast is expected to encounter in its hunt for the dead's spirits.

I make little apology for my interest in these shows. On a rather superficial level, there's the simple interest in the fact that people still believe in ghosts. Then there's the psychology of fear and how it works among the various cast members as they walk through the dark and deal with various noises and other phenomena. My dislike of the use of mediums revolves around the proven manipulation of human gullibility and various tricks involving casting one's voice, moving objects, faking possessions--all phenomena that have been noted among shaman-based societies. The diverse means by which these tricks can be played have been outed by such luminaries as Harry Houdini and others.

No matter Houdini and others' efforts at debunking the evocative methods used by shamans and mediums to create an environment in which our deepest fears surface, you should recall that these methods are effective. Western anthropologists and ethnographers report on their own responses as witnesses during sessions in religious ceremonies where these methods are employed. And surely Hollywood has elaborated in spectacular fashion in exploiting these methods and creating their effects.

It's interesting that in my discussions with people about Ghost Hunters in particular has shown that working class people respond positively to this show. This may reflect the fact that the protagonists in the show are working class stiffs who run a Roto-Rooter company by day. Beyond this rather obvious identification with members of their own class, however, there's still the question about why talk of an afterlife appeals in some way to working class people.

Perhaps Don Cupitt is right, and this is mere superstition that reflects the ignorance of those out of power projecting into unearthly realms events and happenings that occur beyond their control. Add to this Cupitt's notion that the supernatural itself is simply a reflection of the linguistic nature of human being, and perhaps this does provide an adequate explanation for the will to believe in ghosts and other paranormal phenomena among the working classes. if so, then Cupitt's suggestion that secularization's inevitable progress will ultimately rationalize away these traces of the agrarian and Bronze age belief systems.

Belief in the afterlife is a gnarled matter within many religions. As I have noted in a previous posting, in the Abrahamic religions, at least, the question of the survival of something related to what has been a human being has been hotly contested. Often, the beliefs associated with the life-force of a previously alive human being reflect either stories and tales brought in from previous nature-based religious systems or reflect ideas imported into these religions by way of philosophy, notably Plato and Aristotle.

It is interesting to note that the contemporary understanding of the afterlife and the soul borrows heavily from Plato. The historical reasons for this may have to do with the fact that this understanding of the soul was adopted as doctrine by the Catholic Church as part of the Counter-Reformation. Based especially on the writings of the Renaissance Neo-Platonist Marsilio Ficino, the very description and formulation of the nature of the soul and its fate after death clearly follows Ficino's thought.

Another strain within philosophy and theology also comes from the Renaissance. The Aristotelian theologian Pomponazzi made a scholastic argument that the immortality of the soul could not be proven. Basing himself on Aristotelian psychology, he said that there is simply no way to prove the existence of anything like a separable soul from the body and therefore whether something like that exists beyond death is unprovable. He does, however, note that the belief in such a soul and its continued existence is a matter of faith.

Soren Kierkegaard took up the Pomponazzi side of the argument. While it's obvious that Kierkegaard believed in what he calls the spirit (distinct from the bodily life-force of the soul), he agreed with Pomponazzi that its existence cannot be proven either logically or empirically. If there is any proof for the spirit's existence it is based purely on one's experience of ethical and religious dimensions of living in time.

Kierkegaard does most religious thinkers and philosophers one better, however. For Kierkegaard, the respect and love for the dead can be considered one of the higher forms of love. Since one still loves the dead--beyond all sense and rational justification--the love for the dead exhibits the radical nature of love that transcends the merely sensual an empirical. For Kierkegaard, that is, love's higher expressions--which are part of its lower forms--is the belief in something or someone that goes beyond what is simply given by facticity. Visiting the loved one's grave, tending and taking care of it, planting flower, lighting candles--all these represent a work of love that shows your own awareness of dimensions of spiritual affirmation than those limited to the realms of the sense.

According to Kierkegaard:

The work of love in recollecting one who is dead is thus a work of the most unselfish, the freest, the most faithful love. Therefore go out and practice it; recollect the one who is dead and just in this way learn to love the living unselfishly, freely, faithfully. In the relationship to one who is dead, you have the criterion by which you can test yourself. -- Kierkegaard, Works of Love, p. 358
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Language Empire and Media Lies

Don Cupitt has made a career of espousing a religious message that often shocks the pious with its anti-christ vibrado. The heart of Cupitt's assault, following much of recent philosophy, is that what has been depicted as a supernatural world is actually the working of language--invisible machinations that determine and define the outlines of our lives. For Cupitt, the invisibility we often attach to otherwordly entities is actually the result of language and its ability to seemingly control events.

Unseen concepts and notions are anthropomorphized into gods, goddesses, and demons in various types of human, especially nomadic. With the rise of the centralized agrarian state, these powers were invested in one entitity whose attachment to the social, cultural, and political structure is always operative if bot always apparent. The divinity of the ruler reflects the absolute and all-powerful divinity in this other world. ...

Given the emphasis by contemporary philosophers and theologians on the power of language in shaping beliefs and actions in the world, it's always important to stay tuned to the ways that those in power manipulate language and use it to enforce unjust and oppressive political maneuverings.

Lenin's Tomb reviews a recent book by Lila Rajiva, THE LANGUAGE OF EMPIRE: Abu Ghraib and the American Media. According to the Tomb:

"Ideology", says Lila Rajiva, "prevents the citizens of the state from recognising its violence and allows the state to rewrite the general terrorising of a population through detentions and torture as the inevitable and just operation of law." That's in her excellent book The Language of Empire, an examination of American state violence and political culture in light of Abu Ghraib. The ideology, in Rajiva's account, derives from the myth of Prometheus, America as a rebel taking on the international political and legal establishment lodged atop Mount Olympus. America stealing fire from the world powers to give to the powerless, those states with weak capacity. This myth doesn't so much conceal as provide a semi-coherent story to account for a global system of bribery, coercion, dependency and corruption.

The empire prefers weak states, of course, dictatorships with few of the traditional capacities of modern bureaucratic nation-states, ones that are bought off by the IMF, World Bank, DEA and CIA, ones with weak legitimacy and little accountability to the domestic populace. Hence, you help a general to power in Indonesia, let him butcher a million people, carve up the economy in private sessions with leading multi-national CEOs, encourage the general's family to skim billions off the top of 'development' loans based on exorbitant estimates for construction plans that go nowhere.
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liar liar revelations of lies for liars whose lies are lies

and so the political charade creaks out its slimy pace from day to day dripping its sleaze into lives and deaths and scaring little dogs and children. gone the days when revolutions tried for justice: a tragic fate that only the deformed footed drones claim their own quoting one scripture or another or the nothingness of their own self-deceit and gurgling gonads seeking revelation. ...

read the lies and weep oh jerusalem washington seoul baghdad mecca -- thy children seek the mighty $$$$$$. rambo crashes the gates and guards the door only to lead them away in dog collar and leash: the lie that is the democratic bon mot of the day.

god lies and man lies and jacksnipe waits at the door with his wolf brigade. for the creativity of the divine comdey has become the blood-stained farce of neo-pseudo-quasi-deception that has internettized the apocalypse.

The lie plays a tremendous role in human life. The world is swallowed up in lies. And to the problem of the lie philosophers have paid too little attention. Not only do people that are by nature liars lie, but also uprightly truthful people. They lie not only consciously, but also without awareness. People live in fear, and the lie is a weapon of defense. The structure of consciousness is deformed by the function of lie, begotten by fear. There exist several types of lies, but the most interesting is that type of lie, which is conceived of not as a sin or a vice, but as a duty. ... The moral act of man is always creatively-individual and is worked for the concrete instances of life, singular and irrepeatable. But most significant is the social lie, affirmed of as a duty. The life of states and societies is full of it, it serves as a support for civilisation, this gives it pride, as being the vanguard against chaos and anarchy.
strange then that people who will make it to wield power and pay back their debts to the money-lenders it's those who voters believe lie less than other people who will get elected. Read more!

Monday, October 30, 2006

You Got Guns, We Got Guns

One of the stupider things I ever saw on the subway was in the Summer of 2000. Anyone who's ridden the NYC subway in summertime knows the smells, the sound, and most often the heat. The time I saw two guys almost shoot it out on the subway, though, added a more than surreal--albeit comic effect when I remember it now--to the humid stench of that day. ...

To make a long story short, I caught the eastside subway to Penn Station and it was hot. The car was packed, but not overly so. When I got on I noticed that many people were staring at a black man in a seat near the door. They were cowering away from him since he was spewing a lot of anger around, mostly an incoherent rant. All you could tell was that the guy was pissed off.

Hanging on to one of the upright railings was a white guy. He was listening to this rant in a somewhat bemused if increasingly antagonistic manner. He just kept glaring at the black guy who at first took little notice.

But then the guy standing finally caught his eye and he started going off on him. Again, the white guy just stands there smirking somewhat. Finally, the black man gets off and gets into the white guy's face.

Of course, everyone including me is getting ready to either duck or run out of the car, away from who knew what.

This went on for several stops. Finally the white guy says something that I forget but that really set the other man off. Again, they were closer to whatever was going to happen. Just then the doors open and the white guy steps out of the car and begins screaming, "You got guns? I got guns." He stood there with hands out--not exactly looking like he was going to draw but defiantly and comically.

The black guy just stood there. What or if he was thinking I don't know. I expected him to get out. He glared and didn't say a word. Then the doors closed. The white guy's left standing there with his arms out. There's a silent sigh of relief.

Then the doors open again. (Someone getting on or off in another car.) The mental screams are heard--if only to the dead.

Everyone's expecting the white guy to get back on the train. But he doesn't he just stands there... waiting. And the black guy stands there too. Silent. (Mulling it over? Stewing in his rage? Fermenting?)

The doors close again and the train finally gets going to the next stop.

As I stand there not knowing whether to get down on my knees and thank God for delivering me from death or breaking out in the laughter of the demented, the black guy retakes his seat and begins his stare-down job again. Daring anyone, everyone, to look at him. By this time, of course, augmenting his rage is the awareness that some on the car might be questioning his courage.

Fortunately, the little farce ends when he finally gets off a few stops later. Whether to backtrack and find the other guy and take him up on the showdown or to get away from the ignominy of having 20 people witness his impotent rage, I certainly don't know.

As I said, now it's one of the funniest if stupidest things I've ever seen on the subway. The stupidity, needless to say, is magnified by the realization that in one way I and the others on the train that day dodged a bullet.

Don't ask me why, but this story came to mind today as I thought about the controversy over CNN's airing of an Iraqi insurgent video showing snipers killing US soldiers. That story of the subway encounter came to mind when I read over some blog postings and pictures at The Sniper Eye, the blog of a US sniper.

The outrage expressed over the decision to air that insurgent video led me to think about moral equivalences. Of course, it's horrifying to watch as the insurgent snipers talk about identifying the target. And when the shot finally rings out and the soldier falls, the pit of the stomach revulses. That's one of our guys. That's one of us. That could be my kid.

Yet--perversely perhaps--I think about the situation in which the sniper is a US soldier taking out an Iraqi. Would those who find the airing of this insurgent video be as horrified by the imagery were it shown on TV? Then again, why isn't video shown of events like that?

The rhetorical nature of these questions should not leave unsaid the fact that in most cases many people would not want either video to be aired. They'd rather have such events occur unseen and unmentioned. One of those silent affairs of war whose despair is covered by that despicable phrase "collateral damage."
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sing to me oh columbia thine image in oily mirror read

to mon frere le cynic and le oily smirch he doth try to smack ye vice presidential arse with i say beware mon frere les assassins are afoot and the hashish it is good but only in moderation. ...

sing me that patriotic disco again me buckos. the swaggering Dick hath spoken but and the $$$$$ doth fill his coffers. no need to sail the marbly main to find that dead man's chest: look into his bank book and see the swirling zeroes as they flitter in the eyes of the masses going to hades on the wings of apache copters and f17s.

thy wars oh overlord of the netherly deep where the crude doth flow hath given up her dead and they cry like the wailing orcus that our own ahabs sent to their grave.

and so the ship of state doth reek of an oily pall and the wraiths do twitter on her stern. i'll see the darth vader in his chains i guess when the revelation bells ring and darling jack snipe pricketh the dick to vats of oil where he'll boil for all eterne.

Vice President Dick Cheney's presentation to the London Institute of Petroleum in the fall of 1999 sums up the exponential drivers of peak oil nicely:
By some estimates there will be an average of two per cent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead along with conservatively a three per cent natural decline in production from existing reserves [from fields already producing oil]. That means by 2010 we will need on the order of an additional fifty million barrels a day.
Essentially, the dynamic Dick describes means that we need to replace 70% of existing daily production with new sources of liquid fuels every decade. The problem is that with each passing year the problem gets worse as both demand continues to increase (particularly as we bring China online) and depletion is calculated against a larger basis. Further, as the peak oil analysts argue, the depletion rate of existing fields may soon increase by up to eight percent as the mammoth fields (none of which have been found in 40 years) that provide bulk of the world's base production begin steep declines en masse (like we saw with with Mexico's Cantarell and Kuwait's Burgan last year). Ultimately, as is the case with all closed systems that exhibit exponential demand for finite resources, the need for replacement will eventually overwhelm the ability to produce it. The only debate is over when it will occur. Those estimates range from now (it has already occurred) to 2020, with the bulk of evidence pointing to an early emergence.
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how much justice doth genocide buy?

barring the notion that justice is the twin of love and forgiveness as some our great prophet-leaders seedeth the fertile fields of vengeance with: chris hedges asks some interesting questions about genocide and the victimhood that the mausoleum of a museum taxidermifies. where're the rwanda armenia homosexual gypsy polish mummies interred methinks? ...

so much death would breed or instil a sense indeed for justice but as so much of the blood and soil cogitation fetsishizes justice can only revel like a teeming mass of living dead for cannibalistic fury.

mr hedges you ask questions that are obviously antisemite and hateful[/url] and obviously skewed in your parallaxical view. take a note from ye olde goode bookes and grasp the idea that love and forgiveness give way to the just sword and the rabidity of vengenace.

When I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington I looked in vain for these other victims. I did not see explained in detail the awful reality that Jewish officials in the ghettos—Judenrat—worked closely with the Nazis to herd their own off to the death camps. And was the happy resolution of the Holocaust, as we saw in images at the end of the exhibits, the disembarking of European Jews on the shores of Palestine? What about the Palestinians who lived in Palestine and were soon to be pushed off their land? And, as importantly, what about African-Americans and Native Americans? Why is the Nazi genocide, which we did not perpetrate, displayed on the Mall in Washington and the brutal extermination of Native Americans ignored? Why should billions in reparations be paid to Jewish slave laborers and not a dime to those enslaved by our own country?

These questions circle back to the dangerous sanctification of any genocide, the belief that one ethnic group can represent goodness, solely because its members are the victims, and another evil because from its ranks come the thugs who carry out mass slaughter. Once these demented killing machines begin their work the only thing unique is the method of murder. The lesson of any genocide is not that one group of human beings is better than another, but that in the intoxication of the moment, gripped by the mass hypnosis of state propaganda and the lust for violence, we can all become killers. All the victims must be heard. None are unique. And all of us have to be on guard lest we be seduced. We carry within us—German, Jew, Armenian or Christian—dark and dangerous lusts that must be held in check. I applaud the French. I hope the French action pushes the Turks toward contrition and honesty. But I do not wish for the Armenians to covet the Holocaust, to begin the process of sanctifying their own suffering. When we sanctify ourselves we do so at the expense of others.
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of rape lesbians and vps dead having sex

lynne oh lynne:cheney thy imagination doth protest too much. in attacking webb and his truthful take on what he's seen in real life thou deniest thy own secret dark and deep insecurities. why not own up to the passionate that lurks beneath thy cold and harried exterior. the despair of sexual inertness plants a dead rose in the heart of america. ...

thou should at least give the webb-ster credit for having been there seen that in his realistic accounts of life lived in the dangerous zones where your own soul:or that of thine bedizened husband with the dead heart: would indeed fear to tread.

or is it that the dead pere who leads thy clan hath found a little chickadee on the side whose hot and writhing arms jerk the premature shots that wound even friends and lead all to believe that this is a man who indeed one does not fuck with?

Later, Cheney criticized Virginia Senate candidate Jim Webb for including sexually explicit material in his novels. Asked whether her own novel Sisters had “lesbian characters,” Cheney said, “no, not necessarily. This description is a lie. I’ll stand on that.” In fact, her novel did contain multiple scenes describing a lesbian love affair.
as a man who has lived in a glass house i dare say that ms cheney thou shouldest refrain from casting stones. Read more!

New Co-Blogger: hamlet_machine

I'd like to introduce a new member of the Cynic Librarian blog team: hamlet_machine. This is the nom de plume for a writer who's seen better times. Taking his persona from the words made by East German playwright Heiner Muller, Mr. hamlet_machine finds it easy to verbalize and put into play some thoughts that skim the surface of cybernetic and biological life forms.

The density of his newspeak is perhaps offset by a biting and acid humor which is not always apparent but most often fills each word with irony--something that I myself appreciate. More Borg than Borgia, I imagine his faltering heart has brought to life the despirs of individuality while longing for the collective. Read more!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Iran Again... Historian Sees War Inevitable

With part of the US naval fleet carrying out exercises with five nations in the Persian Gulf, talk of invading Iran by the Bush admin has once again begun to crest. For the past year, I have chronicled the rumblings and threats of war with Iran that have emanated from Washington.

Beginning late last year when I noted that Israel was planting articles in the media about an impending Israeli air strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, speculation about such a war has ebbed and flowed. ...

I recently linked to an article by Richard Sale reprinted by Pat Lang. In his piece, Sale says that any such threat of an imminent attack on Iran was very hot in the Bush admin during the Summer. He reports from insiders that Bush had already made up his mind to do the nasty deed. But Bush lost steam and the possibility of an attack subsided.

And yet Israel has never let up on the possibility of attacking Iran. As I noted in another posting, the potential scenarios for instigating such an attack included some "incident" which would provide the Bush admin plausible grounds to move forward with the attack.

Some have speculated that such an attack is what Bush's brain, Karl Rove, has referred to in private by threatening some sort of "October surprise" leading up to the November legislative elections. In the face of such speculation, I have remarked that such an attack might actually backfire for the Republicans, since the American public is likely to see such a war as the cynical wagging of the dog that it would be.

In two articles (here and here), historian William R. Polk has detailed his reasons for why he believes that an invasion of Iran is inevitable--if not before the election, then before Bush leaves office.

Polk writes:

So why do I predict an American attack on Iran?

The answer is composed of the same elements I have described: Mr. Bush’s belief that he has a God-given task which he must accomplish before he leaves office – and perhaps even before the forthcoming Congressional elections might cripple his means of action. His belief that what his own intelligence experts tell him is wrong, that Iran actually is about to acquire the bomb, is stirring the pot of Middle Eastern terrorism and is a threat to the existence of Israel. Finally, he believes he has the authority, given by the American people in his two elections and through Congressional approval of his war with Afghanistan, to act. In the next article, I will discuss what he is doing to effect his policy.
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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Wolf at the Door in Iraq: US Set Civil War in Motion

Seven months ago, I linked to articles that reported that the US Defense Dept. had set into operation in Iraq a policy known as the "el Salvador" option. Ostensibly, this policy entails creating militias to combat insurgent forces. The option is named for El Salvador where it was used to support and create the infamous contra forces. With increasing sectarian violence in Iraq, stories arose early this year that the US had created similar forces there. The ensuing civil war is seen by some to be the result of this policy ...

According to The Independent:

Yet, ironically, the death squads are the result of US policy. At the beginning of last year, with no end to the Sunni insurgency in sight, the Pentagon was reported to have decided to train Shia and Kurdish fighters to carry out "irregular missions". The policy, exposed in the US media, was called the "Salvador Option" after the American-backed counter-insurgency in Latin America more than 20 years ago, which led to 70,000 deaths and countless instances of human rights abuse.

Some of the most persistent allegations of abuse have been made against the Wolf Brigade, many of whom were formerly in Saddam's Baathist forces. Their main US adviser until April last year was James Steele, who, in his own biography, states that he commanded the US military group in El Salvador during the height of the guerrilla war and was involved in counter-insurgency training. The complaints against Iraqi special forces continue. ...
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Friday, October 27, 2006

Bush and Religion... Germany's Schroeder's View

Much has been made of David Kuo's recent book about his experiences as part of President Bush's faith initiative team. Kuo has made news because he's asserted that many of those around Bush, especially Karl Rove, referred disparagingly to fundamentalists and apparently used fundamentalists to further the Bush agenda.

German President Gerhard Schroeder also has a book out. In it he says that Bush was always talking about being "g0d-fearing." ...

According to al-Jazeera online:

While meetings with Bush at that time were friendly, Schroeder writes, he could not reconcile himself with the feeling that religion was the driving force behind many of the president's political decisions.

"What bothered me, and in a certain way made me suspicious despite the relaxed atmosphere, was again and again in our discussions how much this president described himself as 'God-fearing,"' Schroeder wrote, adding he was a firm believer in the separation of church and state.


"We rightly criticise that in most Islamic states, the role of religion for society and the character of the rule of law are not clearly separated," he added.

"But we fail to recognize that in the USA, the Christian fundamentalists and their interpretation of the Bible have similar tendencies".
On Kuo's book, and Bush and religion in general, Eteraz has his usual insightful experience to add. Read more!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

How Many Rich Fit Through a Needle Eye?

While it seems that religion is once again about to play a role in the upcoming US election, little is being said on left or right about the rich. While it's no doubt true that little headway will be made by politicians attacking the very notion of wealth, you'd think the religious voices on either side might at least raise the question about how wealth and its pursuit play a role in creating and sustaining injustice. But is wealth itself a sin? That's a question that historian James Crossley says Jesus understood by his notion of the law. ...

Writing about his recent book at his blog, Crossley sums up:

The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus also stands firmly in the tradition of re-interpreting reward theology and as ever it is done in terms of law observance. The rich man does NOT go to fire because he has mistreated the poor; no, he goes because he is rich. That simple. So Lazarus has a happy ending because he is poor. The conclusion to the parable is not added in light of Christian preaching on the resurrection, as is often argued, for the simple reason that Lazarus is the one who is to be sent back and is better read in the tradition of sending someone back from the afterlife to warn the living. And note the reference to Moses and repentance.

What these and other traditions show is that the repentance of the rich is a theme of Jesus’ teaching. They must repent, give up their wealth (or part of it) or else suffer. When Jesus criticizes those who worry about food and clothes, he is following a tradition of criticizing the behavior of the rich.

This line of thought is also a part of Jesus’ actions in the Temple. The economic element in Jesus protest is well established (as I’ve argued elsewhere) but I now add another element, namely the idea that idolatry is a part of Jesus’ polemic. In other words, there is a tradition, I think, that remembers Jesus as one who accused the Temple authorities of idolatry. Of course they would have disagreed but in many ways that is irrelevant. Jesus may have been arguing that wealth led to what he regarded as the sin of idolatry.
Don't hold your breath for politicians of either party, or their religious apologists, to undertake to ask this question soon. Indeed, it's doubtful that a mainstream church of either denomination will take up this view of sin soon.

Indeed, the sociologist and priest Andrew Greeley, while pinpointing the issue as one of paramount importance, appears to believe that the American religion must find an adequate ethic that speaks to the great prosperity in the US. Now Greeley is no mealy-mouthed gospel of wealth promoter. His own sympathies lie with creating an environment in which a balance is maintained between addressing social inequality and the ability to give the movers and shakers in society an incentive to continue to not only generate wealth but to do so within an ethical framework. yet, the Thomist background of his education shows through in his desire to maintain that Aristotelian balance that always seems to tilt in favor of those with power.

In my own work, I have increasingly become aware that there's much to the notion that capitalism breeds a world view that is inherently and ineradicably disposed to creating injustice and social inequality. These are of such a nature that they threaten the very possibility of an ethics, not to mention, a spiritual awareness of anything above and beyond wealth. Read more!

How Political Is Political for a Believer...?

The following comments contained in a posting on American Christianity and politics by "pastordan" has some decent remarks on the subject of Christianity and its interaction with politics. ...

pastordan reports that Cary McMullen replied pastordan's comments:

One of my professors at Duke, Stanley Hauerwas, contended that the church IS a political organization in the sense that if the church is properly exhibiting the gospel in the world, there will be political repercussions. For example -- the Confessing Church in 1930s Germany. The Barmen Declaration could be the manifesto for this view that the church, by being the church, is a political organization. To take a smaller example, suppose a local church -- maybe even a Baptist church -- has a prison ministry, and they learn that the local sheriff has policies that restrict prisoners' religious activities. How then should the church behave? I leave that question open.
That's a fair statement as far as it goes. I wonder though how much the churches in Germany should've done before Hitler came to power? Of course, the German people people may have been involved in their own totentanz with the Nazis in such a way that Hitler's rise was inevitable.

Is it then and only then that a sacrifice such as Bonhoeffer's martyrdom of his pacifist principles in order to assassinate Hitler was made possible? Read more!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Manufactured Chaos or Simple Ineptitude?

I've argued several times in this blog that I believe the US military has tried to create chaos in Iraq to thereby enhance its military position in the mideast as a whole. I have linked this idea to comments made over a year ago by former Pentagon alumna Karen Kwiatkowski as well as the neocon theory of creative destruction. John Robb almost has me convinced that the present chaos in Iraq is the result of simple mismanagement by the Rumsfeld Defense Department. ...

At Global Guerillas, Robb writes:

The result is that over the last two years the US military has actually created an environment that is conducive to a bloody and chaotic civil war. By partnering with paramilitaries, we accelerated the development of those forces that would take the war to the Sunnis.

What can we do? Nothing but leave. We can neither expect the leadership of US military to develop sound strategies for mitigating the damage done, nor can we reverse drivers of chaos that have been initiated over the last three years. This chaotic system is now running smoothly under the power of its own internal dynamics and continued intervention will only continue to worsen it. Withdrawal is the only option. The faster the better.
Read more!

Dawkins Under the Gun

Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion has stirred much controversey. While the leftist atheists have jumped on Dawkins' bandwagon such heavy hitters as philosopher Thomas Nagel and Terry Eagleton attack Dawkins' incereasingly shrill attack on the god-fearers. ...

Bill Benzon at The Valve has been tracking the debate:

Let us assume that Nagel is correct, that not only is Dawkins a committed reductionist, but that Dawkins cannot see any alternative to reductionism other than religion. Why not? And just why does this situation force Dawkins to take a militant stance as an atheist? How is it that an attack on religion is also a defense, not of science, but of a reductionist view of science? Why doesn’t Dawkins attack non-reductionist views of, say, biology or psychology, in addition to attacking religion? Does he think such views are unworthy of attack, or that they are, for all practical purposes, essentially religious? If so, why?

It’s not at all clear to me just what kind of questions those are. But they aren’t about personal motivation in any simple sense. They are also about modes of thought and argument, and in a fairly open-ended sense. It is not at all clear to me that we know, anymore, just how to think about ultimate issues. While I am reasonably convinced that Dawkins does not know, I am not convinced that anyone does. Thought, like time, goes on.
Update 1 Dawkins Shoots Back
We explain our existence by a combination of the anthropic principle and Darwin's principle of natural selection. That combination provides a complete and deeply satisfying explanation for everything that we see and know. Not only is the god hypothesis unnecessary. It is spectacularly unparsimonious. Not only do we need no God to explain the universe and life. God stands out in the universe as the most glaring of all superfluous sore thumbs. We cannot, of course, disprove God, just as we can't disprove Thor, fairies, leprechauns and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, like those other fantasies that we can't disprove, we can say that God is very very improbable.
Read more!

Historical Criticism and the Koran

Some opponents of Islam have pointed to the fact that while the Jewish and Christian testaments have been studied for 200 years for their historical content, the Koran has received little or no such analysis. In the following comments I address very superficially some of these issues, noting in particular the idea that the Koran is just a selection of saying that every generation of Moslems has added context to. I argue that this notion of contextualization is in fact what many modern biblical scholars--especially those using the redaction method--say has occurred with the Christian texts.

What is meant when critics of Islam use the notion of creating a context for the Koranic surahs? Those who aim this accusation at the Koran attempt to judge the historicity of the surahs by using the historical-critical results of studies of the Jewish and Christian testaments. I think that this is somewhat questionable, but in the following I will accept this approach by showing that--at least in the remarks that many critics use--the contextual critique of the Koran is something of a red herring. ...

Contextualization has been done in Christianity since the times that Jesus spoke. Indeed, the significant differences between the synoptic and Johannine gospels is a first indicator that creation of context was important to the gospel writers. If you expand the genre to include the so-called Gnostic gospels, the notion of "creating" context becomes even more pronounced.

If Crossan et al and others are correct, the source for many of the Gospels--called Q by historians--was without context and the gospel writers came later to provide it. Indeed, if you look at the Gospel According to Thomas, you'll find simply a list of sayings. Many scholars think this was the original "text" of the Gospel. What we have passed down to us is part of the redactive effort of the early Christian communities.

As many of these scholars make clear, the issue of context is indeed important to the gospel writers. One of the more important historical-critical methods is redaction criticism, which identifies the various contextual interests of the communities who took the original Q material and set it into appropriate narratives that served their contemporary faith needs.

Using the Gospels to judge the historicity of the Surahs is therefore a somewhat thorny issue. At least within the context of contemporary historical-critical efforts with regard to the Gospels, the result shows that the Gospels are just as much the effect of "fabrication" as critics of the Koran say the Surahs are. While I look forward to seeing the results of applying the historical-critical tools to the Surahs, this by no means delegitimates their meaning than do the various searches for the historical Jesus.

That the Surahs provide no historical context, as some put it, places them somewhat closer to the set of sayings that many Christian scholars believe comprised Q and which characterizes GoT. The work of contextualization continues inside Christianity as well. Indeed, one could see the various efforts at discovering the so-called historical Jesus as just such an effort.

If redaction criticism is correct, contextualizing remembered sayings of Jesus is exactly what the early Christian communities did, as do the various churches from then to now. The efforts to smooth out the differences in narrative of the Gospels themselves shows how this effort was part of the early church as it moved to religious hegemony in the Roman empire. If the rhetorical critics (eg, Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza) of the Gospels are correct, such political and ideological interests have always been part of the contextualization of the gospels as well as inherent to their writing.

One should note, however, that according to Patricia Crone, there are more historical sources for Muhammad than for Jesus:

For all that, we probably know more about Mohammed than we do about Jesus (let alone Moses or the Buddha), and we certainly have the potential to know a great deal more.
Anyone who's read ibn Khaldun should know that historical writing is not simply limited to the western universities. As Fazlur Rahman's work shows, the historical understanding of Islam and the Moslem world is not as foreign to Islamic self-wareness as many critics of Islam uncritically assume.

It took biblical historians over 200 years to get to where they have gotten. Beginning with Reimarus, the work has evolved from quite crude reductionistic methods to very sensitive and refined historical methods. I believe the number of searches for the historical Jesus is now at three. No doubt, we will soon see a fourth search begin. As scholars continue to use these methods on the Koran, we will see something similar.

This will be an unending search. I would hope that these searches learn from the mistakes of historical-critical scholars in the west as they approach the Koran. By this, I see Rudolph Bultmann's approach as perhaps the most impressive achievement, although I find the work of feminist scholars also very important.

In the Wikipedia entry on historical critical approaches to the Koran, the effort at using these methods has continued apace--contrary to what many critics of Islam assert.

Related Links
Koranic Exegesis (tafsir)

Feminine Voices Read more!

Segal on Immortality and Social Aspects

Steven Segal provides some background on the different understandings of immortaltiy that appear in the Jewish and Christian testaments, as well as the present understanding of the immortal soul which derives from Platonic philosophy. ...

In the academic circles that Segal inhabits, these are not new ideas and derive perhaps from the 1960s, especially an influential essay by the German biblical historian Oscar Cullmann.

As Segal notes, when people think of the soul in the present day they often have the Platonic concept in mind:

To return to the contemporary world for a moment: Fundamentalist and evangelical varieties of Jews, Christians, and Muslims (I’m restricting myself to those who have a developed biblical notion of resurrection) are knowledgeable about their scriptural tradition and affirm resurrection. They also know that martyrdom is a cost which may be asked of them personally. The majority of Americans however are the equivalent of mainline and normative. Whether Jew Christian Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or nothing at all, most Americans affirm a form of immortality of the soul, though some call that immortality of the soul resurrection because they know that is the core of Christianity. In fact, more Americans believe in an afterlife than actually believe in God. And when they do believe, they believe in a form of immortality that is consonant with immortality of the soul. So the same social and ideological connection that was established in the Hellenistic world is influencing our religious lives today, though there is no theoretical reason why we could not have changed metaphors completely. The differences between immortality of the soul and resurrection are still informing our religious life today.
Read more!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Reality of Attack on Iran Sinking in for Bush?

This analysis of thinking inside the White House about war with Iran says that Bush seems to be getting the notion that war over Iran's nuclear aspirations is unrealistic.

According to Richard Sele (posted at Sic Semper Tyrannis):

But they did say that Bush is also becoming "increasingly pessimistic" about any military action against Iran. According to one, "Bush really wanted to mount an attack on Iran earlier this year -- he was really hot to trot," but military briefings brought home to him that attacking Iran did not mean eliminating its suspected nuclear sites but also having to destroy "Iran's entire retaliatory capability," in the words of one. This capability is formidable; U.S. intelligence sources say Iran has underground missile batteries southwest of Abu Musa with the HY-2 advanced version of the Silkworm anti-ship missile. There are also Scud-Cs which could hit any UAE ports, including those to the south and west of Abu Dhabi and they could also strike Dubai where U.S. naval sources currently dock at the port of Jebel Ali. [my emphasis]
Read more!

Israel Using Experimental Explosvie in Gaza?

This story suggests that Israeli military operations have used a previously unknown explosive in Gaza.

According to The Guardian:

Photographs of some of the dead from Shifa hospital showed bodies that had been melted and blackened beyond recognition. In several cases doctors amputated badly burnt limbs.

At least 250 Palestinians have died in Gaza since the latest military operations began and hundreds more have been injured.

Neither of the doctors could give exact figures for the numbers of patients suffering the new injuries, although both said that most of those brought in during July showed signs of these injuries.

Dr Saqa'a said the injuries occurred over six weeks beginning in late June, while Dr Jouda said he believed patients admitted even in recent days still showed signs of unusual injuries.

The health ministry in Gaza reported that these injuries came from an "unprecedented type of projectile," and also noted severe burning and badly damaged internal organs. It called for an investigation into the cause of the wounds.
Read more!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Who You Gonna Believe? 500,000 Dead in Iraq

A new Lancet Report is out. Its stark figures not only give the lie to the Bush admin's own "30,00 or so" Iraqi deaths but provides surely one of the darkest and increasingly obscene lies and deception ever perpetrated by an American administration. ...

According to the NYTimes (h/t Daily Kos):

A team of American and Iraqi public health researchers has estimated that 600,000 civilians have died in violence across Iraq since the 2003 American invasion, the highest estimate ever for the toll of the war here.

The figure breaks down to about 15,000 violent deaths a month, a number that is quadruple the one for July given by Iraqi government hospitals and the morgue in Baghdad and published last month in a United Nations report in Iraq. That month was the highest for Iraqi civilian deaths since the American invasion.

But it is an estimate and not a precise count, and researchers acknowledged a margin of error that ranged from 426,369 to 793,663 deaths.

It is the second study by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. It uses samples of casualties from Iraqi households to extrapolate an overall figure of 601,027 Iraqis dead from violence between March 2003 and July 2006.
Juan Cole has a posting on why there are no "mass graves"? Muslims bury their dead wuickly and cheaply out of religious piety. There will be no mass graves to be found; instead there are hundreds of thousands of freshly and not so freshly dug graves--many times with entire families interred.

Comments attacking this study remind me of the soldier with whom I argued concerning the reasons for this "war." I maintained then and do now that the war is about oil, plain and simple. This soldier said that couldn't be the cause. It just can't be--because if it were, the immorality of the war would overwhlem him with despair.

These comments came alive again in another context where I suggested that oil is indeed the motivating factor behind this effort. The notion that innocent civilians and US soldiers have been maimed, injured, and killed for oil shrieks to the heavens with spiritual and ethical desolation.

The same is true, I believe, with the figures of how many people potentially died in this war for "democracy" (aka oil). It just can't be true, because if it is the brutal facticity of the undertaking will overwhelm people with its spiritual depravity.

I might mention that the only way to debunk this report is for the US government to perform its own study. My question is why they haven't kept track of these things from the beginning. Beyond what I take to be an ethically bankrupt notion that civilains are just collateral damage, I believe the other reason for why they don't is because they, first, don't want the US public to ever get a gauge by which to measure the toll of this war and, second, don't wish to have their soldiers experience the horror of the desolation that they have brought upon a once living and viable society.

With over 600,000 people killed, aren't we entering the territory of mass murder on the scale of the 20th century's worst crimes against humanity? Of course, for the President, for "those people," "you know, that there’s a level of violence that they tolerate." Why tolerate? Because they're those people, you know the ones who are animals anyway? Read more!

One More Reason to Attack Iran... !?

The following article by Louis J. Cantori, reprinted by Pat Lang at his blog, has to be the best three-page analysis of the present foreign policy situation of the US that's received dissemination in the blogosphere.

Finally, at least, someone puts the pretensions of the US in Imperial terms, thereby drawing the correct framework within which the US foreign policy debacle in the Mideast unfolds. If anything, should Bush et al. invade Iran, it will be to stem the flow of air from the imperial dirigible that the Bush-neocon cabal have floated over the present and near future.

According to Louis J. Cantori:

This brings us to the present day and the significance of the recent war in Lebanon. There Israel was diplomatically shielded at the UN by the US in order to give Israel as the sixth most powerful army in the world thirty days to accomplish its war aims . Israel, however, failed in near militarily humiliating terms to subjugate Hezbollah, an at most 6000 man guerilla force. Israel’s failure as an American proxy was also America’s failure. In Iraq, the coming to power of a Shiite coalition by democratic means, subtlety confirmed Iran’s ability to dominate Iraq. It has occurred with little notice except for close observers noting the presence of Iranian intelligence “station chiefs” around the country. Iran has thus peacefully imposed itself politically upon Iraq and the proxy victory of Hezbollah in Lebanon means that Iran is the big winner in the Middle East, including the achievement as a Shiite nation in garnering both Shiite and Sunni Islamic support.

As a result, the international relations of the Middle East are now being transformed from the recent one power, United States dominant system backwards to the preexisting one of a regional bipolar system of pre-1990. The regional system is now one where Iran and Syria are joined by Hezbollah and Hamas and possibly Lebanon, Yemen and Sudan plus the great powers of Russia and China arrayed against Israel and the US, plus in a more tenuous fashion, the GCC countries ,Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey. The US is thus now not only relatively diplomatically isolated in the Middle East, but it is now perhaps momentarily in policy terms immobilized between the inability to exercise an overstretched military power that is strained to its outmost limits and the Bush administration’s functional incapacity for diplomacy. America can neither fight nor does it have the predisposition to negotiate.

This is a profoundly important essay that needs to make the rounds of Congress quickly, not to mention the media--if they could be trusted to read it over their lattes and sushi.

The article gives the depth to a comment made by military historian Martin Creveld that appeared briefly in the media about 8 months ago. Many of your readers will remember Creveld writing that the invasion of Iraq was "the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C sent his legions into Germany and lost them."

The problem now is that the debacle will perhaps make the Bush admin. crazy and out for blood, hoping via an invasion of Iran to destabilize that country in such a way that any advantage that it's gained from the US failure in Iraq will be ameliorated.

Such an invasion would be devastating to not only the Mideast but perhaps the world economy, as former New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges has recently written. According to Hedges, a war with Iran:
[W]ill ignite the Middle East. The loss of Iranian oil, coupled with Silkworm missile attacks by Iran on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, could send oil soaring to well over $110 a barrel. The effect on the domestic and world economy will be devastating, very possibly triggering a huge, global depression. The 2 million Shiites in Saudi Arabia, the Shiite majority in Iraq and the Shiite communities in Bahrain, Pakistan and Turkey will turn in rage on us and our dwindling allies. We will see a combination of increased terrorist attacks, including on American soil, and the widespread sabotage of oil production in the Gulf. Iraq, as bad as it looks now, will become a death pit for American troops as Shiites and Sunnis, for the first time, unite against their foreign occupiers.
Hedges, of course, is echoing similar comments by others (like Ray McGovern) inside and outside the intelligence community.

Given these circumstances, the obly solution left to the Bush admin may be the one cited by Scott Burchill, senior lecturer in international relations at Deakin University in Australia, in 2005:
And yet the likely policy choices of a sovereign, minimally democratic Iraqi government would not be favourable to Washington. Closer political ties with Tehran, continuing hostility to Israel, oil contracts for US competitors such as France, Russia and China, and the political emancipation of Shiites across the region are not what the Bush Administration wants.

The only solution for Bush in Iraq is the traditional imperial one, as applied in the region earlier by the British, the French in North Africa, the Russians in Eastern Europe, the US in Central America, and so on: leave a client regime and a brutal army in place, with big muscle only a phone call away when the natives get too restless. This will be called "the democratisation of Iraq" and victory will be declared again, but few locals will be fooled.

Washington isn't building the world's largest embassy in Baghdad and a series of permanent military bases across the country just to abandon its most valuable strategic prize.
Many are hoping that the upcoming election will somehow forestall any such attack on Iran. That's doubtful, given the Bush admin's interpretation of the Authroization to Use Military Force passed to invade Afghanistan. In addition, Bush's imperial presidential pretensions discount the idea that he will backtrack now, given his propensity for Texan bluster and blue-blooded sense of entitltement--not to mention apocalyptic notion of destiny.

Should the Democrats win majorities in either house of Congress, the only option left would be for Congress to refuse to appropriate monies for the war effort. That indeed would bring on a constitutional crisis, one that might indeed spell the death of the republic as Bush goes further than any American president ever has in unilaterally appropriating funds for his suicidal war.

Related Links

[xposted at Pat Lang's blog] Read more!

War with Iran as October Surprise?

The writer Spengler went on record several months ago with a prediction that the Bush admin. had an October surprise in store for the November mid-term elections. The "surprise" would be a war with Iran, something I have written about for many months now. In terms of the elections, I do not htink that the effect will be what the Bush admin. believes it will be: a rallying around the flag and overwhelming support for the Republican ticket. Instead, I think that such a war could solidify the growing diassatisfaction with this admin's foreign policy and war-making stance. ...

Several authors of renown have cast supsicion on any such war by the Bush admin. They note the fact that the US Army is stretched thin in Iraq. This situation would forestall any invasion of Iran by land forces. Yet, I think that these writers focus too much on land invasion. The Navy and Air Force have significant assets and resources available to undertake some form of attack on Iran. Such an attack would simply be undertaken to destroy supposed Iranian nuclear facilities and disruption of Iranian social and political institutions. I think that the Bush admin. believes here that an attack of this kind would undermine the Iranian government to such an extent that indigenous opposition groups would try to foment a coup.

Two reports highlight the reasons for heightened speculation about an imminent US attack on Iran. Mother Jones, for example, writes the following:

A strike force led by the aircraft carrier Eisenhower is currently making its way to the entrance of the Persian Gulf, with a predicted arrival date of October 21. The Navy officially claims that the Eisenhower’s deployment is part of a normal rotation of ships in and out of the Gulf. But The Nation reports that the carrier’s deployment date was pushed up significantly. Both Time and MSNBC say the move was accompanied by a request from the Chief of Naval Operations to revamp a plan to blockade Iran from the Persian Gulf.

The Nation got its story from an anti-war retired Air Force Colonel, Sam Gardiner, who claims that officers of the deploying ships contacted him and "complained that they were being sent to attack Iran without any order from the Congress." But the president might see it differently. When Bush addressed the U.N. in mid-September, he claimed that Iran's leaders were "fund[ing] terrorism and fuel[ing] extremism." And President Bush has made a point of broadly interpreting the post-9/11 congressional vote authorizing him to combat terrorism (including as authority to conduct warrantless surveillance on American citizens). He could potentially initiate conflict with Iran with no further congressional approval.
In another posting, Steven Soldz at Psyche, Science, and Society writes:
Hedges may be wrong. In fact, we must hope he is. But I will no longer place bets on it. In fact, one factor he doesn’t mention that may increase the impulse to launch war is the free-fall the Republicans are experiencing in the polls, and in their hopes of maintaining control of Congress. Those who so confidently expected to dominate and remake the entire world in their image may, upon seeing their hold on power shatter, decide to launch the dice and see what comes up. The lure of the excitement may be too great for them to resist. Those who have had such apparent success at transforming their fantasies into reality may not gracefully accept their failure. After all, more than one despot in history has gone down in a blaze of glory. If our leaders decide to follow such a path, it may depend upon the rest of us to stop them so that we do not follow them along the path to destruction.
Soldz quotes Time's Chris Hedges' apprehensions extensively. Most notably, Soldz pinpoints Hedges' depiction of the chaos such an attack will ignite in the Mideast and the world economy:
An attack on Iran will ignite the Middle East. The loss of Iranian oil, coupled with Silkworm missile attacks by Iran on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, could send oil soaring to well over $110 a barrel. The effect on the domestic and world economy will be devastating, very possibly triggering a huge, global depression. The 2 million Shiites in Saudi Arabia, the Shiite majority in Iraq and the Shiite communities in Bahrain, Pakistan and Turkey will turn in rage on us and our dwindling allies. We will see a combination of increased terrorist attacks, including on American soil, and the widespread sabotage of oil production in the Gulf. Iraq, as bad as it looks now, will become a death pit for American troops as Shiites and Sunnis, for the first time, unite against their foreign occupiers.
Read more!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Chaucer Does "Serpents on Planes"

Well, you always knew this was a keene desyr of the bard: serpentes ona shippe. ...

Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog channels the poet (h/t Austro-Athenian Empire):

‘What haue ye seyde?’ askede the PRIORESSE then. ‘I did curse the snakes,’ seyde Sir Neville, ‘and therwith the shippe, in the name of Seynt George who ys a patron of valour and chivalrie.’ ‘Ywis,’ seyde the PRIORESSE, ‘yower cursinge hath borne good fruyt, for methinkede whan I herde ye speke thus that the arme of man, eek even of a mighti man swich as yowerself, is but a litel thinge compared to the grete power of God the which is dispensed thorow the mediacioun of the seyntez. And thes serpentes the which do make werre ayeinst us aren figuraciouns of the sinne of ower firste parentes who weren by a serpent deceyved, and thus thei signifien that we sholde seke nat strengthe in knighthede but in prayere and devocioun. For syn we face thes foule serpentes, mesemeth we must seeke succour and aide from the gret seynt who is the enemy ysworn of al maner of serpentes.’
Read more!

What Would a Post-Hegemony Religious Experience Look Like

In an excellent essay on Christian writers and other religions (h/t Eteraz), G. Willow Wilson nips the issue in the bud. How should people of different faiths relate to each other? ...

In an essay critical of authors like Tolkien and Waugh,Wilson writes the following about CS Lewis:

Lewis makes this same link—that people of deep, non-propagandist faith have more in common with each other than they do with secularized or patriotically indoctrinated members of their own religions—in a letter he wrote in 1952 to an American friend who had just converted from Anglicanism (Lewis’s creed) to Catholicism. He congratulates her “though you have taken a way which is not for me…because your faith and joy are so obviously increased.”[viii] He goes on to make a rather astonishing statement: “I believe that, in the present divided state of Christendom, those who are at the heart of each division are all closer to one another than to those who are at the fringes. I would even carry this beyond the borders of Christianity: how much more one has in common with a real Jew or Muslim than a wretched, occidentalised [member] of the same categories.”[ix] Here, Lewis is conscious that the Raj has dealt a serious blow to the dignity of its colonized subjects by trivializing their faiths, and imparting in their place an ‘occidentalism’ that makes the colonized ‘wretched’. He does not raise Muslims or Jews to the venerate status of Christians—he is still, at the end of the day, an early-twentieth-century Englishman—but he takes the first and most vital step. What truly connects two individuals is not origin or creed, but the honest desire for truth.
Read more!

Arendt on Totalitarianism

In a time when people throw big terms, and perhaps meaningless terms, like fascism and authoritarianism around, it's often important to be reminded of the work by important researchers about what these words and concepts mean. One of the more prescient thinkers of the 40s, 50s and 60s, was Hannah Arendt. Her work in political philosophy can still be read today and not sound hollow. ...

A piece in Forward magazine provides some perspective on Arendt's writing on authoritarianism and how it fills in some of the misconceptions informing the current debate about Islamic extremists and their so-called authoritarian proclivities.Benjamin Balint writes:

Still, Arendt predicted that totalitarian tendencies will survive the death of the era of totalitarian states. Arendt’s lens thus helps us see more clearly how the new jihadism bears the mark of those tendencies by bringing some of the telltale signs into sharper focus: the totalistic Islamic worldview that reaches into every facet of life, demanding from the individual total loyalty and achieving over him total domination; the retreat from the anxieties of modernity into an idealized, heroic past; the masses who feel themselves the outcasts of globalization; the contempt for the “decadence” of the West; the obsessive antisemitism that was also intrinsic to both Nazism and communism (hence the widespread dissemination in the Arab world of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”); the fetishized violence spread by the shahids; the pan-Arabist echoes of the pan-German and pan-Slav movements that Arendt saw as preludes to full-blown totalitarianism; the antidemocratic denial of human plurality; the desire for limitless expansion and global domination; and the notion of a united, supranational umma where once there was a racial volk or worldwide proletariat. Each of these is what Arendt called a “catalytic agent” for totalitarianism. Yet the most important element of the totalitarian impulse past and present is the will to annihilate human freedom, to surrender it to the march of historically irresistible forces. This takes us to perhaps the deepest lesson to be gleaned from the investigations that Arendt conducted into “the grammar of political action.” She insisted that the possibility of political freedom — not the same thing as an individual’s freedom from politics — is universal. Quoting Sophocles’s suggestion that freedom can “endow life with splendor,” Arendt called freedom the raison d’être of politics. The highest political action, she thought, is free speech in public about public affairs.
While the emphasis here is on jihadism, the author of this article ends with some important remarks about Arednt's other work, On Revoltion, where she investigates the meanings of the American and French revolutions.

Balint writes:
Hence Arendt’s lofty regard for the wisdom of the American Revolution — and her fear that contemporary Americans are in danger of forgetting it. For such people as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, she wrote, “life in Congress, the joys of discourse, of legislation, of transacting business, of persuading and being persuaded, were… a foretaste of eternal bliss.” A sophisticated indulgence of those joys and freedoms — together with an awareness of the urgent necessity to protect them where they are threatened — may be just the thing to counter the bleak vision of eternal bliss that animates today’s would-be totalitarians.
While this sounds as though Arendt was a sentimental idealizer of the American Revolution in much of her analysis of revolution, she notes the American revolution's disregard for the larger perspective of human inequality and injustice. Read more!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Religious Right Gears Up to Elect Repubs, Skirts Voting Laws

With the stink of a sex scandal scandal emanating from the Republican head, the Religious Right is touting the Republicans as the party of social virtue. While the following article may reflect views of the Religious Right's leadership before the Foley scandal, I think they will continue to stick behind the Republicans. No doubt, they will buy into one of the moral rationalization described in my previous posting. ...

According to the LATimes (h/t Evangelical Right):

With a pivotal election five weeks away, leaders on the religious right have launched an all-out drive to get Christians from pew to voting booth. Their target: the nearly 30 million Americans who attend church at least once a week but did not vote in 2004.

Their efforts at times push legal limits on church involvement in partisan campaigns. That is by design. With control of Congress at stake Nov. 7, those guiding the movement say they owe it to God and to their own moral principles to do everything they can to keep social conservatives in power.

Preachers "ought to put their toe right on the line," said Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit law firm that supports conservative Christian causes.

The Rev. Rick Scarborough, a leading evangelical in Texas, has recruited 5,000 "patriot pastors" nationwide to promote an agenda that aligns neatly with Republican platforms. "We urge them to avoid legal entanglement, but there are times in a pastor's life when he needs to take a biblical stand," Scarborough said. "Our higher calling is to Christ." [my emphasis]
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Iran Ready To Stone Seven Women

This crime against the basic humanity of who each of us is needs to be addressed on all fronts. As Eteraz reports, the Iranian government is set to stone seven women for crimes against chastity. Read Eteraz on some things you can do to help register outrage at the Iranian government's inhumanity. ...

In relationship to the Quran and its statements on this sruel punishment, Eteraz writes:

Over time I will show all the numerous jurists who historically did not consider the hadith a primary source of law that could therefore veto the Quran. I will also show that if you look just at contemporary Islamic Jurisprudence the ‘minority’ is at least about 40% (and rapidly growing and soon to become the majority). Since some of you will one day become Muslim Jurists (note that non-Muslims can be Islamic Jurists too) these lessons will be instructive. I will also set forth a number of different methodological tools that jurists today are using in the area of hadith (some will be completely challenge Islamic legal history; some, however, emerge right from it).

In the long term, there is no reason to say that when it comes to stoning Islamic Law cannot be changed. It can be. The tools are there. Only the knowledge is lacking. We will remedy that over time.
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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Quran is a Supermarket

As the wise and wonderfully rational Eteraz reports, you can get yourself killed--or at least divorced by fiat--for criticing those who cherry-pick verses from the Quran for their own lees-than-pure ends. Much like a bible-thumping preacher who smells only fire-and-brimstone emanating from the Bible, forgetting the Roses of Sharon ,
islamic fundamentalists are fond of finding their own neuroses and phobias in scripture. ...

Eteraz writes:

Hasan Hanafi, a Philosopher Professor in Cairo, is in trouble for comparing the Quran to a supermarket where you can find whatever you are looking for (i.e. selective reading). He is being labeled and an apostate (and a Marxist, which is interesting because the epithet “Zionist” and “CIA agent” were still available).

A few years ago, his colleague Nasr Abu Zeid wrote a book and was also accused of apostasy, and since non-Muslim men cannot be married to Muslim women, people attempted to get Abu Zeid’s marriage to his wife nullified. Abu Zeid fled to Europe. I wonder where Hasan Hanafi is headed. If you read the article, you’ll note that some Ikhwani (Salafi) scholars have defended Hanafi. People often equate Salafis with Wahhabism, which is not accurate, because Salafism, in its original form, was actually an attempt to inject rationalism back into Islamic Law (instead it ended up injecting ideology).
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Monday, October 02, 2006

Call for Kierkegaard Carnival Submissions

I am hosting the Kierkegaard Carnival, which I set up at Blog Carnival. If you have an online posting about any aspect of Kierkegaard's philosophy, religious writing, politics or anything else, please consider submitting it to the Kierkegaard Carnival. ...

To submit your posting for consideration, see the Kierkegaard Carnival page at Blog Carnival.
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