Thursday, December 31, 2009

Whom to Believe?

Buried in the middle of this story about the deaths of seven spooks in the middle of a CIA/army base in Afghanistan, was another small news item concerning death in that same Graveyard of Empires. This one wasn't played so prominently, no doubt because it was only some dirty wogs who lost their unimportant and swarthy lives:
Wednesday's blast came amid heightened tensions between NATO and Afghan officials over the U.S.-led raid in the northeastern province of Kunar over the weekend. An investigation ordered by Afghan President Hamid Karzai found that 10 civilians were killed, including eight schoolchildren.

"A unit of international forces descended from a plane Sunday night into Ghazi Khan," Mr. Karzai said in a written statement, and "took 10 people from three homes -- eight of them school students in grades six, nine and 10, one of them a guest, the rest from the same family -- and shot them dead."

A NATO statement questioned that assertion. "A joint Coalition and Afghan Security force entered the village of Ghazi Khan," the group said, and "came under fire from several buildings and in returning fire killed nine individuals. Several assault rifles, ammunition and ammonium nitrate used in bomb-making were discovered."

There was "no direct evidence" to substantiate the Afghan claims that unarmed civilians were killed, NATO added. The Afghan Defense Ministry denied its forces had a role in Sunday's operation.
So, whom to believe -- the Empire's direct employees, or its sock puppet Hamid Karzai, "the Mayor of Kabul?" I tend to think they're all liars; but if I had to pick, I'd say the issuers of the "NATO statement" are likely to be the champion liars.

I hope those students and their surviving families are properly grateful to America, and to the Obama administration in particular, for our efforts to fix them up with a stable and cooperative government. And I'm sure that atrocities of this kind have nothing to do with the motivation of suicide bombers to find a cluster of CIA torturers in their country, sidle up to them, and push down on the button. No, nothing to do with it at all. Remember, they hate us because we're so good. They hate us for our freedom. And don't you forget it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My "Holiday Gift"

Ah, the day job. I've been there for close to 24 years now. Until a few years ago, management used to present each employee, a week or two before Christmas, with a turkey. Yes, a frozen turkey, in a convenient box. And I always kind of liked that. Not only because I like a turkey dinner -- who doesn't? -- but because of the Dickensian overtones of the thing. Made me feel like Bob Cratchit, getting ready to feast on my Gracious Benefactor's largesse ("I suppose you must have the whole day, then. Be here all the earlier the next morning!").

Well, times have changed. Now, there's a "holiday" gift: a gift card, redeemable at Wal-mart for $15 worth of whatever. (I've heard it's set up so you can't buy alcoholic beverages with it, but I can't confirm that from my own experience.) The whole thing left me pretty cold. Until now, in keeping with my B&A status (Bitter and Alienated), I've simply boycotted the distribution of the Holiday Wal-mart Gift Cards. But this last time around, a couple of weeks ago, I queued up to collect one, because I had dreamed up what I thought of as a poetic response. This evening, on my way home, I implemented my response. I stopped at my friendly Wal-mart store, ascertained that my $15 card would buy me 36 rolls of Great Value™ toilet paper (actually, it was more like $18; I completed the purchase with a few dollars of my own cash), and brought them home with me.

I think I will derive some real pleasure, over the next few months, from wiping my butt on my Holiday Gift. Happy Holidays!

The Temptation to Optimism

I know it's hard to believe, everything in the blog being so cheerful and all, but I actually tend to think that everything's going down the drain at an accelerating rate. It's pretty much an article of faith with me. But, every now and then, I see something that tempts me to hope:
A federal appeals court this week ruled that a California police officer can be held liable for injuries suffered by an unarmed man he Tasered during a traffic stop. The decision, if allowed to stand, would set a rigorous legal precedent for when police are permitted to use the weapons and would force some law enforcement agencies throughout the state -- and presumably the nation -- to tighten their policies governing Taser use, experts said.

Michael Gennaco, an expert in police conduct issues who has conducted internal reviews of Taser use for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and other agencies, said the ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals prohibits officers from deploying Tasers in a host of scenarios and largely limits their use to situations in which a person poses an obvious danger.

"This decision talks about the need for an immediate threat. . . . Some departments allow Tasers in cases of passive resistance, such as protesters who won't move," he said. Tasering for "passive resistance is out the door now with this decision. Even resistance by tensing or bracing may not qualify."

[ ... ]

The judges, for example, said Tasers should be considered a more serious use of force than pepper spray -- a distinction that runs counter to policies used by most law enforcement agencies in California and elsewhere, according to Greg Meyer, a retired Los Angeles Police Department captain and consultant on use-of-force issues.

The ruling does not appear to affect the LAPD, which has a relatively strict policy on Taser use. Gennaco said that the same is more or less true of the Sheriff's Department, but that he would discuss with Sheriff Lee Baca the possible need for "tweaking" the policy and training.

The Orange County Sheriff's Department seems more likely to be affected. Spokesman John McDonald said the department's policy allows officers to fire Tasers at people who try to flee an encounter with police or who refuse, for example, to comply with an officer's order to lie down during an arrest. Those scenarios appear to be prohibited under the court's ruling.

"It sounds like this court is attempting to raise the bar for nonlethal use of force," Meyer said.
A court, I think, is not who should be raising that bar; but I'm glad someone's interested in raising it. Anyone who reads Will Grigg's excellent (but infuriating) blog, Pro Libertate, already knows that the predictable result of putting a not-usually-lethal torture device in the hands of American thug-cops has occurred: they just love handing out summary punishments, here and there, to anyone who annoys them. And they are getting easier to annoy all the time.

Anyway: get rid of Tasers. All of them. The sooner, the better. And shrink the police departments, too. Yeah, sure, like that's going to happen anytime soon.

The Word for Wednesday, 30 December 2009

From James chapter 5, verse 12 to the end:
But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no, no; so that you may not fall under judgment.

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the sky poured rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins.
This last part of the last chapter of James's letter puts me in mind of a mother packing up her child for a journey on which she can't accompany him. It seems like a collection of miscellany in no particular order ("Here's some warm socks, I'm tucking them right in here ... do you have enough money? Better take some more ... here's some stamps -- don't forget to write ..."). James is, perhaps, thinking of a bunch of things that a believer needs for a difficult and dangerous hike: the one we take through this life. I especially like the part about not using oaths; he seems to have lifted that one almost word-for-word from his half-brother Jesus (Matthew 5:34-37). Not that I blame him; who better to plagiarize? I should do much more of that, myself.

And at this point, I've reached the end of James. Not sure where I'm going next. I'm thinking of using this space for a little bit of a topical study, rather than another working-through-a-book sort of study. Well, I've got at least a week to think about it.

As always, click here for more Words for Wednesday.

The More Things Change ...

... the more they stay the same. That's what my old Dad used to say, and I don't think it was original with him, either. Anyway, I thought this looked awfully familiar, a couple of days ago when I saw it:
The Northwest Airlines Airbus A330, with nearly 300 people on board, was on its final descent to Detroit at the time.

Mr Obama, speaking at a military base in Hawaii where he has been on holiday with his family, said: "We will not rest until we find all involved and hold them accountable."
Yes, Dear Leader was just channeling (yet again!) the previous Dear Leader:
From a September 5 speech:

BUSH: Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them. The question is: Will we listen? Will we pay attention to what these evil men say? America and our coalition partners have made our choice. We're taking the words of the enemy seriously. We're on the offensive, and we will not rest, we will not retreat, and we will not withdraw from the fight, until this threat to civilization has been removed.
A side note, by the way: isn't it time that cliche ("we will not rest until ...") got laughed out of existence? I mean, doesn't it seem like an odd thing to come out of the mouth of dude on vacation in a Pacific island paradise, unless he says it over his shoulder while he's running for the plane back to DC?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

I'm Sorry

Somebody else has done something bad on an airplane. Well, gee, it's a shame that just one bad apple has to ruin things for everyone, but of course I acknowledge my supervisors' correctness in punishing everybody. It's the least I can do, besides hang my head in shame, that is ... render up another of the remaining shreds of my freedom in order to make everyone safer. It's all for freedom! Freedom isn't free, you know. My supervisors are going to have to destroy my freedom, like that village in Vietnam, in order to save it.

I think we should immediately invade Iran. 'Cause, I mean, you know, somebody has to do something. And maybe kill the firstborn male child in every household. Or maybe just kill all the boy children one year old or less. That should teach 'em that we're a peace-loving people that they just can't trifle with!

Monday, December 21, 2009

How Far the Fall

By way of, I read this at lunchtime today. Here's a substantial excerpt, although I certainly recommend the reading of the whole piece:
On the eve of U.S. entry into World War II, in 1940, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a resolution expressing its “utter abhorrence of war as an instrument of International policy.” The nine-point statement concluded, “Because war is contrary to the mind and spirit of Christ, we believe that no war should be identified with the will of Christ. Our churches should not be made agents of war propaganda or recruiting stations. War thrives on and is perpetuated by hysteria, falsehood, and hate and the church has a solemn responsibility to make sure there is no black out of love in time of war.” There was not a single resolution issued by the Southern Baptists during World War II or Vietnam expressing support for the president or the troops, but there were resolutions in support of conscientious objectors. The bold 1940 resolution can be found even today on the SBC website but the Southern Baptists have changed their tune . . . and their lyrics . . . perhaps even their hymnal.

As late as 1970, Francis Schaeffer, an orthodox Presbyterian, was warning, “In the United States many churches display the American flag. The Christian flag is usually put on one side and the American flag on the other. Does having two flags in your church mean that Christianity and the American Establishment are equal? If it does, you are really in trouble. . . . Equating of any other loyalty with our loyalty to God is sin.” Ironically, Schaeffer’s later writings helped give rise to the Moral Majority, with its endorsement of Constantinianism and the Mush God of American civil religion.

To their credit, Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) condemned the Iraq War as unjust in 2002-03. Unfortunately, there was no teeth to their pronouncements. I am not a Roman Catholic, but if I were, I would want my pope armed with anathemas and bulls of excommunication. What is the point of having an episcopal form of government headed by the vicar of Christ if he does not wield at least one of the two swords of Gelasius?

The supreme pontiff ought to have disciplined disobedient children like Senators Tom Daschle, Joe Biden, John Kerry, Pete Dominici, Susan Collins, and Sam Brownback. When it comes to peace, the Catholic hierarchy is often politely correct, but it is no Erasmus of Rotterdam, Dorothy Day, or Thomas Merton in denouncing militarism and the perfidy of its practitioners. Too much diffidence and compromise. That’s one of the fruit of the spirit of Constantine and a corollary of cultural synthesis. A huge bureaucracy enmeshed with worldly wealth and power is not in a position to be too radical in its opposition to the world, even when the opposition is sincere.

Without jargon or hedging, the French Catholic mathematician-scientist-philosopher-mystic Blaise Pascal put it simply centuries ago: “[Q:] Why do you kill me? [A:] What! Do you not live on the other side of the water? If you lived on this side, my friend, I should be an assassin, and it would be unjust to slay you in this manner. But since you live on the other side, I am a hero, and it is just. . . . Can anything be more ridiculous than that a man should have the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of the water, and because his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have none with him?” (Pensées, V: 293-94)

Still, the peace rhetoric of the papacy is much to be preferred to the refined war mongering of Richard Land, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. As Congress was preparing to give President Bush a blank check to wage war against Iraq, in October 2002, Land organized an open letter to Bush, signed by prominent evangelical Protestants, that began, “In this decisive hour of our nation’s history we are writing to express our deep appreciation for your bold, courageous, and visionary leadership. Americans everywhere have been inspired by your eloquent and clear articulation of our nation’s highest ideals of freedom and of our resolve to defend that freedom both here and across the globe. We believe that your policies concerning the ongoing international terrorist campaign against America are both right and just.” Specifically, the planned attack on Iraq was sanctified as a just war. After the bombing and invasion, Land remained confident of God’s blessing on the undertaking, writing, “I believe we are seeing in Iraq an illustration of waging a war of defense and liberation according to the criteria of just war.”
I only became a Christian relatively recently (1983, which is recent on my old-guy time scale). So, I'll have to admit that the part about the Southern Baptists surprises me quite a lot. I've always thought of the SBC as a collection of flag-waving, America-worshipping idolaters justly represented by Mr. Land. In the historical sense, at least, I believe I owe them an apology, which I'm happy to render here.

But the situation is now as we see it: the nominal church, at least in America, is complicit -- either actively or by omission -- in the many slaughters perpetrated by our supervisors. C.S. Lewis was correct, I think, in comparing the church to Noah's ark: if it weren't for the storm outside, no one could tolerate the stench inside. Even so, Lord Jesus, come.

Just to Introduce Myself ...

My name is Jim Wetzel, and I used to post here. And now I think maybe I will again. The last few weeks saw an alignment of several things ... none of them planets or anything else that would impress a high-powered Mayan astrologer, but things packing some significance for me. I'm talking about things like the end of a semester in the world of Physics 218, and muzzleloader season, and Advent-related activities in my church, and the emergence of some lively interest in the half-percent subtleties of geometric distortion in a three-mirror anastigmat test collimator. All of these have in common that they require time, and they involved me. Then there's that pesky "sleep" thing. Hey, at least that one's optional.

In any case, it's clear to me that if I don't blog, the world swirls in an ever-tightening orbit of the toilet bowl. If, on the other hand, I do blog, then the world swirls in an ever-tightening orbit of the toilet bowl. That's why I felt free to take a break for a little while.

But break time's over.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Separation of Powers

Remember American history class, or "civics" or "government" class, where you were taught that the genius of the Founders, guaranteeing out liberties against encroachment by the central government, depended on the "separation of powers" among various chunks of its organization? They were going to fight each other like dogs, and no Big Dog was supposed to emerge to rip our throats out. Well, with all due respect to those Founders (and, believe it or not, I actually do have a modicum of respect for them), look how well that's worked out:
The Obama administration is warning Congress that if it doesn't move to regulate greenhouse gases, the Environmental Protection Agency will take a "command-and-control" role over the process in way that could hurt business.

The warning, from a top White House economic official who spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity, came on the eve of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson's address to the international conference on climate change in Copenhagen, Denmark.

[ ... ]

"If you don't pass this legislation, then ... the EPA is going to have to regulate in this area," the official said. "And it is not going to be able to regulate on a market-based way, so it's going to have to regulate in a command-and-control way, which will probably generate even more uncertainty."
Lots of your supposed liberty was based on the idea that the legislature -- Congress -- is directly elected (House members) or indirectly elected (senators) by you. Now the non-elected bureaucrats of the "regulatory agencies" (surely, a notion that would have surprised those sainted Founders quite a lot) are warning your elected representatives that they'd best do right, or those same agencies are going to take over and command-and-control us. Command and control? I don't remember joining the army; do you?

I guess you're not required to remember joining. I guess you join just by living here.

The Word for Wednesday, December 9 Edition

James, chapter 5, verses 7 through 11:
Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.
"Lord, give me patience, and quickly, please!" A standard yuk-yuk in the evangelical world, that one is. I think there is a different shade of meaning attached to the term "patience" in this passage. In being told to be patient, we're also told to "strengthen" our hearts. Then, as if to make it clearer, we're pointed to the prophets as examples of patience and suffering. Clearly, this isn't preparation for a party, or a nice vacation. This is the sort of "patience" needed when sitting in the dentist's chair (back in the days when dental anesthesia wasn't so good, that is). It is, maybe, even the sort of patience required to undergo surgery, back when "anesthesia" consisted of (maybe) a swallow of whiskey and some strong men to hold you down. No fun at all, I'm sure.

Since James wrote in the immediate context of ferocious persecution of believers, both by the Jewish religious establishment and by Roman authority, I would suppose that the particular suffering he had in mind has already taken place. Still, the Lord's return (verse 8) was not consummated then (or since), and it won't come without plenty of trouble. So, preparation for patient suffering is very much in order for today's believer, too.

Click here for more Words for Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

How's That Surge Working Out For You?

Today's news:
A series of devastating car bombings rocked Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 121 people and wounding hundreds more, according to preliminary accounts by witnesses, the police and hospital officials.

Five bombs in all, including at least three suicide attacks, struck near a college, a court complex in western Baghdad, a mosque and a market and a neighborhood near the Interior Ministry in what appeared to be a coordinated assault on the capital.

The blasts began shortly after 10 a.m. and reverberated through the city for the next 50 minutes, sending enormous plumes of black smoke into the air.

The attacks came as Iraq’s Presidency Council announced a date — March 6 — for the country’s long-delayed parliamentary elections. And furor over Tuesday’s bombings immediately became political, with prospective candidates blaming the security forces and the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for failing, once again, to secure the heart of Baghdad.

Many victims linked the attacks to the protracted political jockeying over holding the election, which was originally scheduled for January. “Are we cursed?” yelled a young woman near the mosque that was struck in Qahira, in northeast Baghdad. She had burns over her arms and legs. “When will we be finished with this election issue?”
Don't worry, Lyndon Dubya Barack. I'm sure it'll work much better in Afghanistan.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Word for Wednesday Saturday Early Sunday Morning

Tuesday last week; late Saturday night this week. Chaos reigns.

James chapter 5, first six verses:
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.
If the rotting of riches and the loss of fancy clothes are miseries that make us weep and howl, then they're not just riches and clothes; they're idols, and we've put them in the place that's supposed to be God's place.

The final sentence of this passage needs some thought. In the New American Standard, "he" isn't capitalized, as you'd expect if it refers to Jesus (the NAS capitalizes pronouns that refer to Deity). THe King James also doesn't capitalize this pronoun -- but then, the copy I consulted doesn't capitalize pronouns referring to Deity, nor does the NIV (in fact, it renders the sentence as "You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you"). Still, the righteous man who allows himself to be put to death and does not resist is powerfully reminiscent of Jesus; and, in the Matthew 25 sense, when we mistreat anyone, but especially the poor man or the prisoner, we mistreat Jesus as well; He accounts it that way.

I also hear, in the reference to the withheld pay of laborers crying out against their withholder, an Old Testament echo of Abel's blood crying out to God from under the ground (see Genesis 4:10). God's ways of knowing aren't the same as ours; and it's a little unsettling to consider that, even if we think we're clever and sneaky and do our misdeeds in secret, all of God's creation tells Him our story.

Click here for more Words for Wednesday, most of which are actually posted on Wednesdays ... unlike this one.

Uh, Wait a Minute

I've expressed some skepticism, I must admit, about our God-Assigned Mission in Afghanistan. "Our" mission? Yes, I know, I should be careful about that formulation -- who's "we?" God assigns the sacred duty of winning elections to the wise elders of the two big-boy political parties, and then -- like good managers -- they delegate the task to the gullible, some of whom travel to very remote places to kill exotic people who unaccountably try to kill them back, and others of whom become so swelled up with button-bustin' patriotic pride over all the killing that they vote for the sending elders.

Still, we're told very often that there's a job to be finished ("get the job done") in Afghanistan. What's the job? How do we know when it's finished? The answers depend, of course, on who's being asked; but it seems to me that the more frequently cited ones include: establish a stable national government in Afghanistan; kill all the members of al Qaeda (I assume that's what's meant by "crush" or "destroy" al Qaeda); kill or cow everyone associated with Taliban; kill or capture Osama bin Laden; establish women's rights; prevent either the Taliban, or al Qaeda, or both, from taking over Pakistan; prevent anyone from staging another 9/11. And undoubtedly more. Those are just the ones that return quickly to mind.

But now the noted vampire and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tells us something different:
The tenacious Taliban and al Qaeda are the entities that the international and Afghan forces are trying to corral in battle. But one tack mentioned recently is diplomacy with the Taliban itself.

Asked about Karzai's comment that he would be willing to hold talks with Taliban leader Mullah Omar, Clinton said she is "skeptical about that" but it's still "worth exploring."

"We have no evidence that Omar is interested in speaking to Karzai or anybody else. If they were willing to speak, that would denote a dramatic 180-degree change from where they've been.

"Remember the U.S. government asked Mullah Omar to give up the [Osama] bin Laden leadership of al Qaeda after we were attacked on 9/11. If they had done so, we would not be in Afghanistan today."
Wait, what? If the murderin' Taliban had simply rendered up OBL for martyrdom, we wouldn't be all worried about al Qaeda and Taliban-ism and national instability and Islamist Pakistan and women's rights and more 9/11s and so forth? The "defense" contractors and the other corporate mega-parasites wouldn't be drinking their fill of our blood today? That strains my credulity pretty severely.

A related question, Madam Secretary: if OBL had been gift-wrapped and handed to our executioners on September twelfth or thirteenth, would be also not be in Iraq today? Uhhh, yeah, right, that's what I thought. Lots of proven reserves in Iraq; the big Trans-Afghanistan pipeline; an astronomical gruntload of profits for everybody from KBR/Halliburton to LockMart to Blackwater Xe. Lots of strength-in-sorrow photo ops for our politicos; and the death, maiming, and misery reserved for a bunch of nameless shitkickers -- mostly wogs, some Americans. Fabulous.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Sacred Person of the Emperor

Reading stuff like this makes me think the inevitable bankruptcy of the Empire can't come soon enough:
The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on Dec. 3 to investigate how an uninvited couple slipped past security at last week’s state dinner honoring Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Among those requested to testify are the couple, Tareq and Michaele Salahi of Virginia, and U.S. Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, according to a press release from the panel.

“This is a time for answers, recognition of security deficiencies past and present, and remedies to ensure the strength of the Secret Service and the safety of those under its protection,” said Bennie Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat who is chairman of the committee, in a statement.

The Secret Service is investigating the breach, which Sullivan said “deeply concerned and embarrassed” the agency. Agents failed to follow procedures that should have prevented the man and woman from crashing the event, he said.
Obviously, no one has any sense of the ridiculous any more. Whatever. Here's an idea for guaranteeing the perfect personal security of the Exalted, the Son of Heaven: let's establish a mobile, spherical security bubble, fifteen kilometers in radius, centered on The Presence. That bubble would then be declared a no-fly, no-drive, no-sail, no-walk, no-run, no-bike, no-dance, no-skip-rope, no-breathe zone for anyone except the Exalted's family, and the Exalted's praetorian guard and servant staff (who have implanted Electronic Loyalty chips which do not permit them even to think about harming Himself). The rest of us can stay outside, pay taxes, join the army, and speak only when spoken to.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Word for Wednesday, 25 November

Actually, it's Tuesday evening. But I can pretty much see that tomorrow's not shaping up to be a post-friendly day, so I think I'll make a little hay while the sun shines, so to speak.

Here's James chapter 4, verse 13 to the end:
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that." But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to him who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.
Let me get one trivial thing out of the way now. Every time I read this passage, I think I ought to learn to read New Testament Greek (which, yes, I really should) just to see what Greek figure of speech for a non-specific example the New American Standard has translated as "such and such a city." I bet it would be interesting.

About the passage, though: it teaches a lesson that's very easy to agree with, but quite difficult to remain aware of afterward. If someone reminds us: sure, we all know very well that we have no idea what's happening tomorrow, or five minutes from now, as far as that goes. But when no one reminds us otherwise, we naturally appoint ourselves Owner and Arranger of Tomorrow. It's very natural, in a way. In my 55.3-year lifetime, about 20,200 mornings have occurred, and guess what? I've been present at every last one of them! On all those mornings, I've never not been there. (Although, truth to tell, I don't remember very much about the first couple thousand or so.) So, obviously, I'll never not be here for any mornings in the future, either ... or, at least, that's how it feels.

Once again, feelings prove unreliable. And that shouldn't be any surprise.

Click here for more Words for Wednesday.

Very Confident

Ten months in, and Commander Hope 'n' Change ... well, he still doesn't say "newk-you-lar," at least not in public. Otherwise, though, I'm thinking: redact the news stories just enough that you can't see that the names have changed, and how will you know we're not in George the Stupid's third term? Here's Yes We Can, the War President:
With U.S. combat deaths climbing on Obama's watch and more than half the American public opposed to escalation, the president seemed to acknowledge Tuesday that he has a lot to explain.

"I feel very confident that when the American people hear a clear rationale for what we're doing there and how we intend to achieve our goals, that they will be supportive," he said, speaking at a White House news conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

"I can tell you, as I've said before, that it is in our strategic interest, in our national security interest to make sure that al-Qaida and its extremist allies cannot operate effectively" in the area, he said. "We are going to dismantle and degrade their capabilities and ultimately dismantle and destroy their networks. And Afghanistan's stability is important to that process."
Ah, confidence! One thing I remember well about the BushMaster was his bountiful confidence; however little justified it might have been, it was always there. So too with Obama.

The bad thing is, he's probably right to be confident. While there's always the technical possibility that the Great Amur'kin People might notice that official unemployment is over ten percent, actual unemployment is undoubtedly more than twice that, and yet we're still burning cash by the mega-bales to screw up some very remote and non-American parts of the globe, and then fail to be supportive. But, given what history tells us about the attention span of that Great Amur'kin People, he's very likely right to be confident. Very confident, even.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Rare Political Endorsement From the Chestnut Tree Cafe

And sure, it's presidential -- why not? After all, Obama's been in office nearly a year now -- he's old news at best, and there are other signs that the bloom's off his rose. No, it's not a bit too soon to start handicapping the 2012 edition of the quadrennial donkey derby.

Day before yesterday, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin graced my home city with her presence at a book-signing held -- appropriately enough -- at a downscale discount store called Meijer, not known for its extensive selection of books, and, indeed, adorned on its storefronts with the oddly punctuated slogan "Why Pay More!" How many of her eccentrically-named offspring were with her, I do not know. And now, I see that the Weepy Mormon, Glenn Beck His Own Self, is also promoting a book, and more:
Glenn Beck, the popular and outspoken Fox News host, says he wants to go beyond broadcasting his opinions and start rallying his political base — formerly known as his audience — to take action.

To do so, Mr. Beck is styling himself as a political organizer. In an interview, he said he would promote voter registration drives and sponsor a series of seven conventions across the country featuring what he described as libertarian speakers.

On Saturday he held a festive campaign-style rally in The Villages in Florida, north of Orlando, in which he promoted his recently released book, “Arguing With Idiots,” and announced another book to come next August filled with right-leaning policy proposals gathered from the conventions.
Which brings me to my endorsement. Look, we have here a ready-made dream ticket. We have a matched set of splashy, self-confident morons. Palin/Beck, or Beck/Palin: who cares which one "tops" the ticket? It matters not the slightest bit. Let 'em flip a coin for it at the 'Pubbie convention.

I'm convinced that America has yet to truly get the leadership that we deserve, although we've been getting closer and closer to it. Well, let's do it! Let's go all the way. Out-and-out clowns, presiding over a clown country ... let's just go ahead and declare that Idiocracy has arrived. Palin/Beck might not be up to the standard of President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, quite yet, but they may well grow into that level once in office.

Yes, I know that an opposition is needed; after all, we are a duh-mock-racy. In due course, I'll endorse a donkey ticket as well.

Bet you can't wait!

Or maybe you can ...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I Ain't A-Skeered of You!

Our supervisors are ready to put on a show for us again. They have their stage makeup on, and their wireless microphones are in place and powered up.
Holder: Don't fear trial of 'coward' 9/11 plotter


WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder is defending his decision to put the professed Sept. 11 mastermind on trial in New York — and urging critics of the plan not to cower in the face of terrorists.

Holder is set to testify Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where lawmakers are likely to spar over the attorney general's decision last week to send Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged henchmen from a detention center at Guantanamo Bay to New York to face a civilian federal trial.

Critics of Holder's decision — mostly Republicans — have argued the trial will give Mohammed a world stage to spout hateful rhetoric.

In remarks prepared before Wednesday's hearing, Holder says such concerns are misplaced, because judges can control unruly defendants and any pronouncements by Mohammed would only make him look worse.

"I have every confidence the nation and the world will see him for the coward he is," Holder says in written testimony obtained by The Associated Press. "I'm not scared of what (Mohammed) will have to say at trial — and no one else needs to be either."

Addressing other concerns about the case, the attorney general says the public and the nation's intelligence secrets can be protected during a public trial in civilian court.

"We need not cower in the face of this enemy," Holder says. "Our institutions are strong, our infrastructure is sturdy, our resolve is firm, and our people are ready."
What is it with these people, anyway? They can't just say, "we don't see any significant problems with holding a trial," or "we don't anticipate any troublesome security situation." No, they have to play the pol's childish and unconvincing version of the testosterone card. If anyone disagrees with the program, imply that the disagreement is based on un-manly fear. ("Homophobia," anyone?) Then Mr. Holder goes on to toss the customary charge of "cowardice" onto that veteran of hundreds of waterboardings, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Why? Because he is alleged to have sent others to kill, and to die? How does that differentiate him from either of the Bushes, or from Clinton, or from his own boss, Rainbow Brite? Wartime Presidents all, and therefore prime exemplars of the manly virtues, no? Of course, Mr. Holder simply follows the pattern of his boss. You may remember that the mighty warrior Obama the First disparaged the Fort Hood shooter, a week or so back, as "craven." Same deal: one guy with a couple of handguns launches an attack on an entire military base. Call him murderous; like most acts of war, his certainly was murderous. Call him foolish; he probably was. Call him "the enemy;" I'm sure he was that. Fanatical? Crazy? Quite possibly; I won't argue. But "craven?" You go and do likewise, O Great One, and then make that accusation.

No, the Other can't just be opposed, bombed, killed, or otherwise resisted. He has to be accused of everything, including things that, it's childishly obvious, aren't true.

Meanwhile, back to the show. Let me interpret for Mr. Holder: My fellow Americans, you're broke, hopelessly in debt, and your currency has been debased in order to shower it in obscene amounts on the already-wealthy and well-connected. We're trying desperately to keep the wagon lurching drunkenly down the rutted road just a little farther, and just long enough to finish up the looting. We'd rather you didn't notice this, although -- what with it being "Dancing With the Stars" season -- there really isn't much danger of that. Just in case, though, we think it might be prudent to stage a small diversion ... so we'll lynch us a towelhead. The show must go on.

Once again ... what's supposed to be the difference between the horrible Bush II regime and the current crew? Oh, that's right: most many of Rainbow Brite's sentences do parse, don't they? Terrific!

The Word for Wednesday, November 19

Continuing in James, chapter 4, verses 11 and 12:
Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you to judge your neighbor?
A short passage, but one requiring some head-scratching. It won't do to read "speak against a brother" too narrowly, as James has already been speaking (or writing, anyway) against his brothers earlier in this same book, and is going to do so again before he's finished. Pairing it with "judges his brother" provides, I think, a clue as to how to read this. It seems to me that this gives "speaking against" a condemnatory flavor, as in helping to prosecute. Then, too, there's the parallel treatment of our brothers with the law: also a head-scratcher. To speak against one, or to judge one, is to judge the other. Well, what does my brother have in common with the law? The plainest and most immediate common factor that springs to mind is that both are the creations of the Living God. As the law is holy, so too is your brother (and sister, as I hope it goes without saying) holy: an image of God. They are to be treated accordingly, with care and respect.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How About We Mind Our Own Business?

Isn't Israel a sovereign state? Yes? So why should U.S. officials affect to be all angry and forbidding about the Israelis putting a little more boot pressure on the necks of the natives in its Bantustans?
Israel said Tuesday that it had advanced plans to expand a Jewish district of Jerusalem in territory that was captured in the 1967 war and that the Palestinians claim as part of their future state. The move is likely to further complicate the Obama administration’s faltering efforts to restart peace talks.

The news that the building plans had moved closer to approval drew a sharp response from the White House, which has declared reviving the talks to be a major goal. Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, issued a statement saying the administration was “dismayed” and asking both parties to avoid unilateral actions that could “pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations.”
No, we should tend to our own knitting, and let the Izzies do whatever they want with the Pals, the Iranians, the Lebanese, and the various flavors of Ay-rabs in their neighborhood. We should also instantly cease all monetary/military aid to Israel, Egypt, Syria, the Palestinian (Non-)Authority, and any other foreign pockets we've been lining in that area. Doesn't that sound simple and equitable?

Yes, I know it'll never happen. Which is beside the point, I think.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

An Armistice Day Thought, or Two

Yes, I know the calendar says "Veterans Day," in the contemporary illiterate fashion. The living -- who vote -- easily appropriate the glory of the dead, who don't.

But anyway: the last veterans whose activity, no matter how well-intended, actually had the effect of making Americans any more free, were the veterans of the American Revolution (and arguably, to some extent, those of the War of 1812). After that, not. If you're killing foreigners, or training to kill foreigners, or fixing Hummers so that others can kill foreigners, on my behalf: please stop. I didn't ask you to do it.

And if you won't stop, please don't expect me to thank you.

The Word for Wednesday, November 11

The next chapter in James is the fourth. Here are verses 1 through 10:
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us"? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
This passage reminds me of Psalm 37, verse 4: "Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart." There, the promise of God giving you the desires of your heart can (and, I think, must) be read in two ways. The person whose delight is the Lord -- who loves Him and directly wants Him, as opposed to wanting what He might do or what gifts He might give -- will have right desires, meaning desires that are ordinate with the will of God. That's the first sense in which we may hope to be given the desires of our hearts: that our base, evil desires will be replaced with right ones. And then there's the second sense. To have right desires means that they will be fulfilled. If we really want God, we shall have Him; He will give Himself to us. If we really want to please Him, we'll be made able to do so. If we really want to serve Him by serving those around us, the opportunities will come our way, and we'll be made aware of them.

But the other desires, the sinful ones, go unfulfilled, and become the seeds of even worse things. What's pointed out here by James is an aspect of sin which is also brought out by quite a few other scriptural texts: sin as futility. We're intended to function very well, in the right way; the dysfunction that follows in sin's wake is a real shame to us. One of many, that is.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Think Twice

This isn't, I hope, a political blog. I didn't really set out with an agenda in mind, other than replacing the hole in my online life that the demise of the "political" message board left. What I wanted to do was to write, at whatever length I thought was warranted, about the ideas and principles that I think ought to underlie the way people live their lives in community with each other. I don't want to write knowingly about what's likely to happen in workaday electoral politics; I have no reason to think I know what's likely to happen, nor do I have much interest in such. I want to write about how things should be, not how things are. I have a grown daughter who's playfully impatient with me about this; she likes to ask me how things are this week in Candyland. Well, so be it; the TV cable, and the remnants of the papers, and the internets are full of clever folks who give the play-by-play in the elephant-donkey trivia contest.

All of which is by way of noting that the "health-care reform" bill that just cleared the House of Representatives seems unlikely to make it through the Senate. And, on balance, that seems like a moderately good thing to me. Apart from the minor matter of being constitutionally impermissible, it represents a gun held to the heads of people who can't afford health insurance, along with a growled command to go and buy some health insurance. And yes, it has a "public option," whereby our notorious drunken-sailor-with-bottomless-pockets government becomes a competitor to the wicked private insurers; however, it seems unlikely to emerge from the Senate so equipped, if it emerges at all. Since the thing passed the House by a skinny margin, you have to wonder if a Senate-acceptable version wouldn't lose enough House support to doom it. As I say, I claim no expertise in these matters, and maybe a bill of some sort will pass. But I'm pretty much thinking not.

Before we go find a tea party at which to celebrate, though, consider: does the current "system" deserve any enthusiasm? Under it, people with good jobs get to go to the doctor, and those who don't, don't; they get to do without, or go to an emergency room and receive not-very-appropriate care at great cost to everyone. Under the current system, routine medical services are covered by insurance. As I read somewhere (don't remember where, just now), if homeowner's insurance worked this way, you wouldn't buy a replacement for a burned-out light bulb -- you'd file a claim. And far from being an exemplar of the glories of the free market, current arrangements seem to be as distorted and crabbed a market, with as high a set of barriers to entry, as one could imagine -- except for what may yet be coming from the people who brought you the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, COINTELPRO, and Abu Ghraib. Still, under current arrangements, we're spending one-seventh of GDP on such matters (actually, we were in 1997 -- it's very likely more now).

What we have now is long-term unsustainable, although it can always be made even worse, and that is why I consider a failure of the House-passed bill to be a moderately good thing. Still, things must, and will, change. Perhaps the situation will resolve itself in the context of a general economic collapse -- which also seems like an inevitability. Instead of playing the red-jerseys-and-blue-jerseys football game, though, maybe we should be thinking about how the poor man's family can get some basic doctoring, without putting a gun to anyone's head and taking a big chunk of their earnings away from them.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Aha! There It Is!

I knew I left my blog around here someplace. Couldn't for the life of me remember where, though.

It's been a strange week. No blogging of any kind, among other anomalies. I'm going to mark the overdue end of this week, finally, by going camping.

Now, if I can just remember, next week, where I'm leaving this thing. I know -- I'll just stick one of those little post-it arrows right here on the edge of the monitor, right by where it says "New Post." There! That ought to do it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Word for Wednesday, October 28 Edition

Finishing James chapter 3 (from verse 13):
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Most of us, I'd guess, are familiar with a song called "Kum-ba-ya" (or "Kumbaya"). Before looking it up, I'd assumed it was of 1960s vintage, but it's a little older; it seems to go back to at least the 1920s or 30s. I don't like it, really: melodically tiresome and lyrically insipid, it always seemed to me like a dull waste of time.

Back around the time Emperor Bush II was kicking off Gulf War II, I noticed the title of the song becoming used as a sort of go-to insult by my former companions in political conservatism; if you argued that invading somebody else's country might not be the thing to do, you were apt to be accused of being a kum-ba-ya singer. (That happened to me, at least, lots of times.) But in the passage above, when I read James's description of the wisdom from above (pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy), it occurs to me that many, many war fans would likely suggest that "Kum-ba-ya" must have been a real favorite with James. Shamefully, the American evangelical "church" tends to be heavily infested with such folks; several have been my pastors during my long, weary trek of the last couple of decades.

I still don't like the song. But, please, give me the wisdom from above. Maybe it'll displace some of that other kind of wisdom, that I still have plenty of.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Truth in Government

Sometimes a little piece of truth pops out by accident. I think our lawfakers are experiencing some Freudian slips:
In a dramatic sign of Democrats' growing confidence that they have the votes to pass a far-reaching healthcare overhaul, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday that the bill he intended to send to the Senate floor next month would include a "public option."

The provision would allow the federal government to create an insurance plan to be offered to Americans who do not get medical coverage through their employers -- with the proviso that states could opt out of the program.

"While the public option is not a silver bullet, I believe it's an important way to ensure competition and to level the playing field for patients with the insurance industry," Reid said during a Capitol news conference.
All right, we have our ammunition. Now, how about parts for the weapon?
And some senators, most notably Maine Republican Olympia J. Snowe, favored adding a "trigger" to the public option -- letting a government-run plan be offered several years down the road only if private insurers failed to meet cost and coverage targets.
Delightfully bipartisan -- Sen. Snowe has the trigger, and Sen. Reid brought the ammunition. As the commissars chatter on and on, as is their wont, about how they'll provide "competition" to keep those evil insurance companies honest, they've helped us keep in mind what government, ultimately, is: a gun. Force. Power. Compulsion. Cops, armies, guns, tasers, prisons, lethal-injection gurneys, electric chairs, waterboards, sound cannons, microwave projectors.

Everything you could want in a family doctor, no?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Word for Wednesday, October 21 Edition

James chapter 3, verses 1 through 12:
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they may obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Behold, the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder, wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. Behold, how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed, and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Neither can salt water produce fresh.
This passage encourages me to be quite sparing in commenting upon it. It speaks for itself quite plainly anyway, I think. Perhaps it is sufficient to say that saying nothing is seldom a mistake, and even when it is a mistake, it's one that's easily corrected. There are exceptions to every rule, but in general, when you later decide that you really should have said something, you can usually still say it ("I love you" is the exception that comes immediately to mind here). But saying something when it would have been better not to is basically uncorrectable; you can apologize for what you said, but you can't really unsay it.

And I speak from sad experience.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

A Little Troop-Think

I'm not a big Supporter of The Troops. If you are, though, you might want to consider this. Suppose you're an American Troop in Afghanistan. Whatever your alleged mission might be, you might reasonably think your chances of accomplishing it and returning home in one piece would be enhanced by having more Troops as company, helping you, watching your back, and so on. So, what do you think when your great leader (or his chief minion) is saying this stuff:
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will not commit more U.S. troops to Afghanistan until he is convinced that the central government can be a credible and effective U.S. partner, a senior White House aide said Sunday.

But it was unclear whether Obama intends to accept the recommendation by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, for thousands more American troops and other resources in the 8-year-struggle to stabilize Afghanistan.

The central question before Obama, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said, is "not how much troops you have, but whether in fact there's an Afghan partner."
Gee, that's interesting. We install a puppet, and then decide, close to a decade later, that he's maybe not such a good puppet. What's the Hopey-Changey Administration's response? Do they get rid of the celebrated Mayor of Kabul and install another collaborator? Do they decide to wash their hands of the whole business -- a bad investment, you see -- and pull The Troops out? Neither one. Instead, they say that they're not convinced that Puppet Karzai is worth propping up, so you stay there and keep on propping, while they express their displeasure by not sending you any help.

If that doesn't make much sense to you, well ... you're not alone. But actually, O Troop, it does make a certain kind of sense. It's a way of temporizing, based on your leaders' evaluation of the worth of your butt: slight. Near-negligible, in fact.

Meanwhile, a failed contender for the Emperorship is puzzled:
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, who visited Kabul over the weekend, said Obama should wait until the election cloud has lifted.

"I don't see how President Obama can make a decision about the committing of our additional forces or even the further fulfillment of our mission that's here today without an adequate government in place or knowledge about what that government's going to be," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Well, Senator, I can help you there. If Obama were a decent human being, he could make his decision in a few milliseconds. He could decide that the "mission" is either nonexistent, or something that can't be truthfully defined without even the somnolent American public becoming upset. And he could decide to adjust the number of killer-Americans in Afghanistan by -N, where N is the number currently there. Then he could order the entire imperial stock of flying deathbots to be flown out over the Indian Ocean somewhere and crashed into the sea. Next, he could ...

Ah, never mind. If Obama were a decent person, he'd hardly be employing the likes of Rahm Emanuel. And the rest follows, as the night follows the day.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hey! This Is a PROTECTED Operation!

I'm not here to suggest that there's any virtue associated with health-insurance corporations. My actual thought about them, I suppose, is that they're like any other corporate entity that exists to enrich stockholders: vacuum cleaners for cash, automata, basically existing below the level of personality and moral choice and so on. Machines. Be that as it may, though. Let's assume, for the sake of discussion, that Big Health Insurance is thoroughly reprobate. Let's assume that they are the moral equivalent of a crack house, or a brothel, or a bookie parlor. That leaves the words of Our Glorious President and Nobel Laureate, as reported here, a little troublesome:
President Obama mounted a frontal assault on the insurance industry on Saturday, accusing it of airing “deceptive and dishonest ads” to derail his health care legislation and threatening to strip the industry of its longstanding exemption from federal anti-trust laws.

In unusually harsh terms, Mr. Obama cast insurance companies as obstacles to change interested only in preserving their own “profits and bonuses” and willing to “bend the truth or break it” to stop his drive to remake the nation’s health care system. The president used his weekly radio and Internet address to push back against industry assertions that legislation will drive up premiums.
Let's leave aside for the moment the hilarity of any successful big-time politico affecting to wax wroth against those who bend the truth, or break it. ("Hey, quit lying -- that's my job!") Let's think for a moment about the structure of the threat being made here.

When I was just a young engineer, back in high school, they taught me in Government class about antitrust. Antitrust, they said, was the height of civic virtue. It was the only thing keeping the top-hatted capitalists from taking our first and last pennies, enslaving us, and probably sleeping with our moms and sisters while they were at it. Inasmuch as I now know that at least 98% of what I was taught in Government class was pure, high-potency, weapons-grade crapola, I find myself skeptical about the benefits, the constitutionality (as if that mattered!), and the efficacy of antitrust. Again, though, let's agree to assume that antitrust is the real goods: our strong and solitary bulwark of defense against the malefactors of great wealth and their depredations.

Then: why does the Health Insurance Crackhouse & Massage Parlor have an exemption from Holy Antitrust? How did they get it? Did they, perhaps, at one time, purchase our noble lawfakers? If so, they must have continued to purchase all the subsequent ones; else, they'd have eliminated this criminal exemption long since.

And, more toward the immediate problem: why does Pres. Rainbow Brite not immediately strip those criminals of their shameful exemption? Why does he instead threaten to enforce the higher law of antitrust unless the criminals shut their mouths for his political benefit?

What is the difference between Prexy saying what he said, and any corrupt police chief reminding the proprietor of a local house of ill fame that, unless the protection money gets paid, there'll be a little trouble with the law?

I don't want to be misunderstood, now. There really is a difference between government and an ordinary organized-crime gang. Government enforcers usually have snappy uniforms to wear, and often have pretty lights atop their cars. Distinctions, you see, must be made. Distinctions are critical.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Chuck's a-Talkin'

I have frequently claimed, in this space, to regard the two halves of the reigning American political duopoly as being equally ridiculous, and equally repugnant to free and decent people. And I haven't lied, either; I do so regard them. Normally, most of my heckling is directed at the knaves who can currently be regarded as "in power," I suppose because they're the ones who are mainly all up in my face, as the young folks might say. Right now, that would be the Donkey brand, and I've been pretty free with my disrespect. Until early this year, I had expended most of my fun-making on the Elephant variation (and Dubya, with his substance-addled faux-redneck speech and mannerisms, certainly made that both fun and easy). During the Clinton Donkey regime, they hadn't invented blogging yet, and I haunted a primitive arrangement known as "message boards" -- those of you who are near my age may remember them. Good fun, they were, from time to time.

So, anyway: with the Glorious Republic in the anticonstitutional mode in which it's operated since 1800 or so, those who squat in public office in general, and the presidency in particular, are there to be hooted at (or maybe farted at, depending on which way you're facing); and I enthusiastically include the current prexy, Rainbow Brite, in that group. Still, I abhor the immoral saying that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Sometimes, the person making fun of Mr. Obama is at least as much a horse's ass as Mr. Obama himself; and in the case of Mr. Charles Krauthammer, he's quite substantially worse. Today, Mr. Krauthammer staked his claim:
About the only thing more comical than Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize was the reaction of those who deemed the award "premature," as if the brilliance of Obama's foreign policy is so self-evident and its success so assured that if only the Norway Five had waited a few years, his Nobel worthiness would have been universally acknowledged.

To believe this, you have to be a dreamy adolescent (pre
ferably Scandinavian and a member of the Socialist International) or an indiscriminate imbiber of White House talking points. After all, this was precisely the spin on the president's various apology tours through Europe and the Middle East: National self-denigration -- excuse me, outreach and understanding -- is not meant to yield immediate results; it simply plants the seeds of good feeling from which foreign policy successes shall come.

Chauncey Gardiner could not have said it better. Well, at nine months, let's review.

What's come from Obama holding his tongue whil
e Iranian demonstrators were being shot and from his recognizing the legitimacy of a thug regime illegitimately returned to power in a fraudulent election? Iran cracks down even more mercilessly on the opposition and races ahead with its nuclear program.

What's come from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton taking human rights off the table on a visit to China and from Obama's shameful refusal to see the Dalai Lama (a postponement, we are told)? China hasn't moved an inch on North Korea, Iran or human rights. Indeed, it's pushing with Russia to dethrone the dollar as the world's r
eserve currency.
Hmmmm ... "an indiscriminate imbiber of White House talking points," eh? What, O Chuckie, did you drink during the reign of George the Slow? (Of course, perhaps you weren't a consumer -- you may have been writing the lies yourself, for all we know.) And just imagine, the Chinese working to dethrone the dollar as the world's reserve currency! The nerve! After all, the dollar's just as sound as ... as ... well, as sound as whatever it is that's behind it. You know, the "full faith and credit of the U.S. government." Kind of like the full faith and credit of Bernie Madoff, only not quite as good.

What's come from the new-respect-for-Muslims Cairo speech and the unprecedented pressure on Israel for a total settlement freeze? "The settlement push backfired," reports The Post, and Arab-Israeli peace prospects have "arguably regressed."
"Unprecedented pressure on Israel?" Good thing the Obamster didn't consider withholding the Izzies' $3B/year allowance (which, you may be very certain, he didn't); to Krauthammer, that would have been the New Holocaust.
And what's come from Obama's single most dramatic foreign policy stroke -- the sudden abrogation of missile defense arrangements with Poland and the Czech Republic that Russia had virulently opposed? For the East Europeans it was a crushing blow, a gratuitous restoration of Russian influence over a region that thought it had regained independence under American protection.
So opposition to foreign missile bases, installed right on your border, is "virulent?" Imagine the feces that would hit the fan if the Russians started installing missile bases in Tijuana and Toronto. I'm guessing it really would be virulent. Russia should definitely not show any concern for what goes on in Eastern Europe (that's next door to Russia, for those whose geography was learned in the government schools), because they never had a czar named Monroe-ski to write a famous Doctrine, I guess, as we did. And we contrast sinister Russian influence with cuddly American protection. That latter sounds oddly like a commodity traditionally sold by gangsters. Bad word choice, there, Chuck ... should've gone with "nurturing" or something like that.

No, Obama still merits ridicule ... but not just everyone is entitled to hand it out. Mr. Krauthammer's publishers should take note.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Word for Wednesday: October 14 Edition

James chapter 2, from verse 14 to the end:
What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works?
I interrupt almost immediately to add emphasis: " ... if a man says he has faith ...". To continue:
Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, "You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness," and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also is faith without works dead.
But wait -- isn't there a conflict here with Paul's writings, in Romans and elsewhere? Romans 2:19 - 28:
Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.
Well, of course, I don't think there's a real conflict, but I do think the texts need to be read carefully to avoid confusion. You could say that Paul is slighting works, and you could say that James is slighting faith. But, to be honest and complete, you'd have to note that both Paul and James are pretty specific about what kind of works, and what kind of faith, they disparage. James talks about a man who says he has faith (suggesting that the man is either dishonest of deluded, and in fact has no faith), and asks whether that (non-) faith can save him; the answer, unsurprisingly, is "no." About "works," he speaks generally, but particularizes by example. He doesn't use, as an example of no-works, a hypothetical man who doesn't keep kosher, or who labors on the sabbath; instead, he shows us someone who fails to meet his neighbor's basic practical needs, for food and clothing. Paul, on the other hand, almost exclusively writes the phrase "works of the Law" rather than "works." He has something particular in mind; and I'm thinking it's more the keep-kosher / keep-the-sabbath kind of thing.

Jesus said (Matthew 22:37 - 40):
And He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.
With Jesus having fulfilled the whole Law, I'm pretty sure that applying what He said here requires the faith that Paul was speaking of, and fulfills the works that James urged. At least, that's how I'm understanding things.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Oooooh, Dyn-o-mite!

Well, I see where Pres. Rainbow Brite has attained the world's ultimate participation ribbon: the Nobel Peace Prize For Not Being Dubya While Pursuing and Extending Every One of Dubya's Murderous Adventures.

In a way, I miss George the Slow. At least, when he was infesting the seat of imperial power, the Europeans didn't embarass themselves with some crap like this. I mean, Commander Flying Death Drone winning the Nobel Peace Prize? Why don't they go ahead and toss the physics prize to Dr. Gene Ray, World's Wisest Human, while they're at it?

Alfred Nobel is noted as the inventor of dynamite, and also as an armaments manufacturer. So, perhaps the Nobel Committee simply decides, every so often, to confer the big prize on the most profligate user of explosives and the associated paraphernalia. Still, you have to wonder: what would they have given the O-bomber if we had actually ceased our occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and if we weren't flying automated terror strikes into Pakistan, and if we weren't issuing hamfisted threats against most of the rest of the world? The mind reels.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Word for Wednesday, October 7 Edition

James chapter 2, verses 1 through 13:
My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing fine clothes, and you say, "You sit here in a good place," and you say to the poor man, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not commit murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
One thing that's always bothered me about the first part of this passage continues to do so. James says not to favor the rich over the poor, and I'm right with that, so far. But then he provides what seems to me an odd reason for that excellent advice: because the rich mistreat you. Are we supposed to be impartial because we have reason to dislike our mistreaters? That seems to me to be rather a worldly way to reason. I'll wait for my thinking to be corrected, as it no doubt will be, ultimately.

Later in the passage, James gets at the same idea that Paul does in his letter to the Galatians: that trust in our obedience to the law of Moses is the ultimate all-or-nothing, high-stakes, terrifying business. To transgress one law, any law, is to transgress them all. Perfection is required. If you can't meet that standard, better observe the law of liberty, and to specialize in showing mercy and forbearance. "Forgive us our trespasses," says Jesus, "as we forgive those who trespass against us." Amen and amen.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Vox Populi, Vox Dei

Which, as someone once said, translates into English as My God, how did we get into this mess? Here's how:
Poll: Strong majority back military action in Iran

October 6, 2009

WASHINGTON (JTA) -- A strong majority of Americans would support military action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, according to a new poll.

Asked whether it was "more important" to "prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it means taking military action" or to "avoid military conflict, even if Iran may develop nuclear weapons," 61 percent chose the first option, according to a poll released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

The result included majorities of both political parties -- 71 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of Democrats -- as well as 66 percent of independents. Twenty-four percent said it was more important to "avoid military conflict."

The nationwide survey of 1,500 adults on both landline telephones and cell phones, taken from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

Majorities also were in favor of direct negotiations with Iran and tougher sanctions, although they were not optimistic that either would work. Sixty-three percent said they would support direct negotiations, but only 22 percent thought they would be effective, while 78 percent favored sanctions with 32 percent thinking they would be successful. Partisan differences on those questions were minimal.
Never doubt it: we deserve every single thing we get. All of it. Every bit.

Tell Me Again ...

... about this "Constitution" you're always talking about? I'm having a tough time reconciling that talk to what actually goes on:
If you receive a free copy of the latest video game and post a positive review of that game on your personal blog without revealing that you got the game free of charge, you could be guilty of ad fraud, according to new guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission.

In June, the FTC confirmed that would review its advertising guidelines to determine whether blog posts should also be subject to its watchful eye.


The FTC shot down suggestions that these guidelines would stifle innovation on the Web.

"The commission disagrees with those who suggest that including in the guides examples based on these new media would interfere with the vibrancy of these new forms of communication, or that the commission should, instead, defer to industry self-regulation," the commission wrote. "The guides merely elucidate the commission's interpretation of [the FTC Act] but do not expand (or limit) its application to various forms of marketing."

"Self-regulation works best when backed up by a strong law enforcement presence," the FTC concluded.
Yeah, kind of like "freedom," which apparently works best when it's completely hypothetical. You have freedom! Don't you dare act like it.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Friendly Advice, October 2 Edition

Dear Mr. Letterman,

Concerning your conjecture on married men's admiration of your life and conduct:

No, not really.

Best regards,

--- married men of the Chestnut Tree Cafe staff

Update: the Reuters link expired, making this post a little hard to understand. I was able to find the same quote in an ABC news story, and changed the link. I apologize in advance, in case this one also expires.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

No Three Ways About It

Debbie Harbeson, the Suburban Voluntaryist, does have a way with words:
When I first heard Clarksville’s Redevelopment Director Rick Dickman say that most restaurants would love to have a three-way, I though it had something to do with the publicity that comes from having people like Rick Pitino, um, hanging around. But then I realized it had to do with Indiana’s asinine alcohol laws.
It's about liquor licensing -- a very odd concept, when you think about it -- and it's both funny and perspicacious. Check it out.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Word for Wednesday -- September the Last

After today, no more September, right? Thought so.

To continue with James (chapter 1, verse 12 through the end of the chapter):
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God;" for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures.
Let me interrupt this passage, at a paragraph break, to interject something related. James gives us a sequence or chain of causal events: lust produces sin, sin produces death. This reminds me of a similar construction from Paul, from Romans 5:3 - 5:
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
These two chains run in opposite directions, more or less; Paul describes an upward path in which perseverance takes us from tribulation to hope, while James warns of a downward sequence in which a particular kind of sin (lust) opens us to temptations leading to death. James makes this lust a kind of reverse-side opposed to perseverance (echoing the endurance with which he begins the chapter); this same perseverance is integral to Paul's upward path. These, I would venture, are two aspects of the same truth.

Going on:
This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does. If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless. This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
That loud THUMP you just heard was, I think, the sound of the rubber meeting the road. What's the proper primary use to us of Scripture? Giving us ... no, wait, giving me a standard to which to compare my condition. How do I measure up? Yeah, you can guess; it ain't pretty. What are my options? They are two in number: obey, or distract myself with some foolishness (religious foolishness works well here). What does "obey" mean? Well, I can start by keeping quiet (ouch!), not indulging my anger (double-ouch!!), resisting my natural urge to play in mudholes (triple-ouch!!!), and looking after the practical needs of widows and orphans.

It ain't easy. But it's James.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Tiny Silver Lining. Dark, Dark Cloud. (Part 2)

I just gave the first exam of the semester to my Physics 218 students. Between the unusually large number of students leaving the exam early, wearing grim looks, and the quick glances I took at a small random sampling, I'm pretty sure it's going to be one bloody stack of papers.

Fortunately, my brother in Colorado left a little smile in my Outlook mailbox, which I share with you here.

Tiny Silver Lining. Dark, Dark Cloud. (Part 1)

Out of last week's invasion and occupation of Pittsburgh comes only one good thing: a really striking demonstration of our supervisors' hypocrisy and tone-deafness. As so often happens, Paul Craig Roberts provided a biting summary:
In keeping with its obligations under the treaty, on September 21 Iran disclosed to the International Atomic Energy Agency that it is constructing another nuclear facility. The British prime minister Gordon Brown confused Iran’s disclosure with “serial deception,” and declared, “We will not let this matter rest.”

What matter? Why does Gordon Brown think that Iran’s disclosure to the IAEA is a deception? Does the moronic UK prime minister mean that Iran is claiming to be constructing a plant but is not, and thus by claiming one is deceiving the world?

Not to be outdone in idiocy, out of Obama’s mouth jumped Orwellian doublespeak: “The Iranian government must now demonstrate through deeds its peaceful intentions or be held accountable to international standards and international law.”

The incongruity blows the mind. Here is Obama, with troops engaged in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan demanding that a peaceful nation at war with no one demonstrate “its peaceful intentions or be held accountable to international standards and international law.”
By all means, read the whole piece.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Did Uncle Sam Chew on Lead Paint Chips As a Child?

No, why?

The third term of George W. Bush continues, with perfect continuity. Having evaded the supposed two-term limit by disguising himself as someone else and taking the ridiculously-unlikely nom de prez "Barack H. Obama," Mr. Bush said he knows that the great American public is as tired of his war in Afghanistan as it would be tired of "American Idol," if the great American public weren't so entranced with such things.
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama said Friday that he understands that Americans are tiring of the war in Afghanistan, and that he is examining whether the U.S. is pursuing the right strategy there.

Obama gave no hints about whether he plans to add more troops, as his commanding general in Afghanistan wants him to do. He said he has to make sure the core goal of defeating al-Qaida is served by any move he makes.
Mr. Obama Bush Obama went on to explain that what the bored and fickle American public really wants is something completely new and different, sort of. Like, maybe, "Dancing With the Stars:"
Earlier Friday evening Obama said "Iran is on notice" regarding its nuclear efforts.

"They are going to have to make a choice: Are they willing to go down the path to greater prosperity and security for Iran, giving up the acquisition of nuclear weapons ... or will they continue down a path that is going to lead to confrontation," he said at a news conference at the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
No, nothing delusional about early 21st-century America, is there?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Word for Wednesday, September 23 Edition

Continuing in James chapter 1, commencing with verse 5:
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
I think what James says here is that God will give me wisdom, if and only if my intention is to use it to obey Him. If I'm just out to satisfy my idle curiosity, or to become a smarter and more efficient evildoer, I'm out of luck. Likewise, if I'm simply vacillating between commitment to God's purposes and, well, anything else.
But let the brother of humble circumstances glory in his high position; and let the rich man glory in his humiliation, because like the flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind, and withers the grass; and its flower falls off, and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
Here's an echo of Jesus's words, quoted at the end of Matthew 19: And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, shall receive twenty times as much, and shall inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last; and the last, first." It's a unifying theme in Christianity -- this inversion or reversal of what seems to be the normal order of things. The sinless one dies to buy the pardon of ... well, me. Whoever would be great must seek to be least, the servant of all. Wash each others' feet. Whoever tries to save his life will lose it; whoever submits his natural self to death receives everlasting life. In this writing of James is advice for the reasonable rich man: understand that your comforts and advantages are temporary, and accept -- even rejoice in -- that fact.

Good stuff.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

With Representatives Like These ...

... who needs revolting, bloody-handed poseurs? Check it out:
WASHINGTON (JTA) -- Four dozen prominent Christian leaders asked Congress and other world leaders to call for immediate sanctions on Iran.

In an open letter, Christian Leaders for a Nuclear-Free Iran -- an ad hoc group that claims to represent more than 28 million evangelicals, Roman Catholics and other Christians -- calls for "immediate action to address Iran’s program to develop and deploy nuclear weapons" by imposing economic sanctions on companies which help Iran produce or import refined petroleum products, and by initiating a boycott of any arms sales to Iran.

Among the signatories are Christian Broadcasting Network president Pat Robertson; Prison Fellowship Ministries chairman Charles Colson; the Southern Baptist Convention's Richard Land; American Values President Gary Bauer; and Pastor John Hagee, Christians United for Israel chairman.
Rather than grumble about the scrofulous character of my self-appointed representatives, I'll echo another person's comment on this item: I wonder when I'll see "an ad hoc group" called "Christian Leaders for a Nuclear-Free Israel?"

Yeah. Don't think I'll hold my breath.