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.

Click here for more Words for Wednesday.

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.

For more Words for Wednesday, click here.

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.

Friendly Advice, September 22 Edition

Dear President Ahmadinejad,

I must inform you that you are mistaken. Your country does indeed need nuclear weapons. Without them, your country is bombing-bait, and perhaps invasion-bait as well.


The Chestnut Tree Cafe Staff

Monday, September 21, 2009

It's Yesterday Once More

Nineteen sixty-five. It's 44 years ago. I was eleven -- a fine age for building model airplanes, riding the bicycle, and generally getting up to no good. An Arizona Republican senator had just failed to win the U.S. presidency. The Democrat who defeated him inherited a war, and set out to teach us a new meaning of the word "escalate."

My, how things change -- while staying the same, sort of.

Lyndon Baines Obama has just been told by his favorite general that victory is at hand -- assuming that we escalate. Otherwise, failure:
The US mission in Afghanistan will "likely result in failure" unless troops are increased within a year, the top general there has said in a report.

Gen Stanley McChrystal made his assessment in a copy of a confidential report obtained by the Washington Post.

He recently called for a revised military strategy in Afghanistan, suggesting the current one is failing.

More than 30,000 extra US troops have been sent to Afghanistan since May - almost doubling the US contingent.

The number of US troops in Afghanistan is already set to rise to 68,000 by the end of the year.

Stark concerns have previously been expressed about the viability of the military mission in Afghanistan, but the BBC's Paul Reynolds says what is new about the general's warning is his outright use of the word "failure".
Come on, Americans -- you've got to try to kite some more loans from foreigners so you can go on pounding your collective thumb with that hammer. Otherwise ... oh, no! Failure! Oh, the horrors, the horrors.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Word for (Thursday) -- September 17 Edition

Thursday. What can I say? It's been a tough week. There -- that'll do.

James chapter 1, verses 1 - 4:
James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad, greetings.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James is a quick starter, is he not? A one-sentence introduction: who's writing, who he's writing to, hello there. And then he's off. Getting right to the point -- the first point, that is.

As I type this, I have lots to do, not quite enough time in which to do it, and some of the things I need to do not going especially well. The temptation here for me is to read myself into the company of James's fellow believers who are encountering "various trials." I'm going to resist that one. The James who is the most likely author of this letter -- the half-brother, according to the flesh, of Jesus -- was martyred sometime between AD 62 and 66, and martyrdom was all too easy to come by in the first century of the church. So the various trials to which he refers were likely to have been several orders of magnitude more severe, and scarier, than any that I've ever seen, or am likely ever to see.

Still, the principle can be applied to anyone in any time, no matter how soft a life they may live. When we build up our bodies through exercise, what we're doing is damaging them; tearing them up, a little, so that when they subsequently heal, the healed structure is reinforced. It's stronger than it was to start with. So I can be assured that even the trivial problems that I deal with are one way that the Lord forms me -- oh, so slowly! -- into what He knows I'm supposed to be. Maybe someday, after He's built me up sufficiently, I might be ready to face some real trouble.

Sounds horrible. But He won't send me anything the He hasn't also equipped me to face.

The other thing that jumps out at me in this passage is that James suggests that the mode of our building-up centers on the development of endurance. Patience. The long view. Slow and steady, winning the race. Isn't that often the most difficult response to our troubles -- patience? Temperamentally, I think most of us are probably inclined to say, "Anything -- just get it over with!"

As always, click here for other Words for Wednesday. Or maybe Thursday.

Monday, September 14, 2009

... and the Same Little Question Again

You remember the one. But this time I'm asking Paul Craig Roberts:
The private sector is no longer the answer, because the income levels of the vast majority of Americans are insufficient to bear the cost of health insurance today. To provide some perspective, the monthly premium for a 60-year old female for a group policy (employer-provided) with Blue Cross Blue Shield in Florida is about $1,200. That comes to $14,400 per year. Only employees in high productivity jobs that can provide both a livable salary and health care can expect to have employer-provided coverage. If a 60-year old female has to buy a non-group policy as an individual, the premium would be even higher. How, for example, is a Wal-Mart shelf stocker or check out clerk going to be able to pay a private insurance premium?


What the US needs is a single-payer not-for-profit health system that pays doctors and nurses sufficiently that they will undertake the arduous training and accept the stress and risks of dealing with illness and diseases.

A private health care system worked in the days before expensive medical technology, malpractice suits, high costs of bureaucracy associated with third-party payers and heavy investment in combating fraud, and pressure on insurance companies from Wall Street to improve “shareholder returns.”
In the case of Mr. Roberts, I'll ask the whole question, because I'm pretty sure he'd consider it relevant: Where is the text in the Constitution that authorizes the central government to provide, or finance, medical services?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Murderous Violence

News item:
OWOSSO, Mich. — A Michigan school official says a man who was a well-known anti-abortion activist was shot and killed near a high school.

Business manager for Owosso Public Schools Julie Omer says the shooting took place around 7:20 a.m. Friday. She said police told school officials a suspect was taken into custody. No students were injured.

Michigan State Police have not officially released the victim's identity.

But Omer says police disclosed to school officials the identity of the man, who is often seen carrying signs with anti-abortion slogans. She stressed that police are not making any connection between his views and the shooting.
I wonder how much national brow-furrowing there will be about the threads of deadly violence woven through the pro-choice community? I wonder if Franky Schaeffer will bust out a lengthy apology for his new friends, the way he did for his old ones a while back?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Just One Little Question

I want the credit, as the Dustin Hoffman character said in Wag the Dog as his final minutes arrived. I actually watched a fair amount of Rainbow Brite's speech last night. I started watching shortly after arriving home from my instructional duties, along about the time Da Prez was explaining that he'd be graciously pleased to allow you to keep your present medical insurance if you're happy with it (and, I suppose, if you chose it in the first place; for most of us, our employers choose it). I kept watching (or "listening," I should say, as I was changing clothes and taking care of the other dull minutiae of my bourgeois existence) through the long list of what "shouldn't be" in America, such as going broke because you get sick; and the list of what will soon be against the law for those eeee-vill insurance companies, and a much shorter list of what will be against the law for you: failing to do business with those eeee-vill insurance companies. I didn't actually bail out until it was being explained that implementation of the all-new HealthCare System™ should be viewed as obligatory because it was so important to the late, sainted "Boozer" Kennedy -- even for the credit, that was way too much for me. Along the way, I heard about how truly eeee-vill those insurance companies really are, and how the hoped-for-but-not-really-necessary Public Option™ would keep them honest by competing with them; and I also heard about how parts of the all-new HealthCare System™ were going to be financed, in part, from fees collected from the eeee-vill insurance companies and the almost-as-eeee-vill drug companies. I also heard about how the hoped-for-but-not-really-necessary Public Option™ was going to be much more cost-efficient than the eeee-vill insurance companies, due to its freedom from "overhead" and the generally superior ability of taxfeeders to be efficient and frugal.

I kept wanting to interrupt Da Prez with many questions and an impertinent observation or two, such as the fact that the whole shape of the horrible, horrible HealthCare System under which we now labor was and is set by our supervisors, between Medicare, Medicaid, and WWII-era wage controls. But rather than a hundred questions about the details, and a hundred impertinent arguments, wouldn't it be better to ask one large and simple question: Where is the text in the Constitution that authorizes the central government to ...

Aw, never mind. What's the use in asking that?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Word for Wednesday, 9 September Edition

The Bible (at least, the canonical Bible according to Protestant tradition) contains 66 books, and Isaiah contains 66 chapters. Whether this has meaning beyond numerical coincidence, I leave the reader to decide; I myself see no particular significance. However, with chapter 66, I have officially run out of Isaiah.

This chapter begins with what we can't, and can, do to please God:
Thus says the Lord,
"Heaven is My throne, and the earth is my footstool.
Where then is the house you could build for Me?
And where is a place where I may rest?
For My hand has made all these things,
Thus all these things came into being," declares the Lord.
"But to this one will I look,
To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word."
For the humble and contrite, the future looks good:
"Before she travailed, she brought forth;
Before her pain came, she gave birth to a boy.
Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things?
Can a land be born in one day?
Can a nation be brought forth all at once?
As soon as Zion travailed, she also brought forth her sons.
Shall I bring to the point of birth, and not give delivery?" says the Lord.
"Or shall I who gives delivery shut the womb?" says your God.
"Be joyful with Jerusalem and rejoice with her, all you who love her;
Be exceedingly glad with her, all you who mourn over her,
That you may nurse and be satisfied with her comforting breasts,
That you may suck and be delighted with her bountiful bosom."
For thus says the Lord, "Behold, I extend peace to her like a river,
And the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream;
And you shall be nursed, you shall be carried on the hip and fondled on the knees.
As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you;
And you shall be comforted in Jerusalem."
Then you shall see this, and your heart shall be glad,
And your bones will flourish like the new grass;
And the hand of the Lord shall be made known to His servants,
But He shall be indignant toward His enemies.
For the disobedient, not so much:
"Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go to the gardens,
Following one in the center,
Who eat swine's flesh, detestable things, and mice,
Shall come to an end altogether," declares the Lord.

"For I know their works and their thoughts; the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and see My glory. And I will set a sign among them and will send survivors from them to the nations: Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Rosh, Tubal, and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they will declare My glory among the nations. Then they shall all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the Lord, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules, and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem," says the Lord, "just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. I will also take some of them for priests and for Levites," says the Lord.

"For just as the new heavens and the new earth
Which I make will endure before Me," declares the Lord,
"So your offspring and your name will endure.
And it shall be from new moon to new moon
And from sabbath to sabbath,
All mankind will come to bow before Me," says the Lord.
"Then they shall go forth and look
On the corpses of the men
Who have transgressed against Me.
For their worm shall not die,
And their fire shall not be quenched;
And they shall be an abhorrence to all mankind."
I am thinking that Isaiah must have known that he was recording a "hard saying" of the Lord, because he interrupts the flow frequently to insert a "declares the Lord" or a "says the Lord." He wants it to be clear to his hearer / reader that he's acting properly as a prophet: passing along what God has directly told him to pass along. Significantly, the gruesome image from that last verse of Isaiah (For their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched) shows up repeatedly in another "hard saying:" the words of Jesus, quoted at the end of Mark chapter 9.

Parenthetically: it's always seemed odd to me that Bible-skimming worldlings are usually convinced that God's a benevolent old grandpa, and Jesus a soft cupcake, and that their words of cuddly, fuzzy love are twisted by mean old prophets and apostles into the basis of horrible, horrible "organized religion." I find that the opposite is more nearly true. No one talks more, and more severely, about Hell and judgement than Jesus does. When I read the writings of the prophets and apostles (Paul comes particularly to mind here), it seems to me that they're always looking for a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. They're faithful; they do their jobs; but they often sound as though they'd like to find some way to wiggle out. And if that's the case, I certainly sympathize.

Starting next week, I contemplate changing testaments and taking up the book of James. And, as always, more Words for Wednesday can be found by clicking here.

Monday, September 07, 2009

How Many Words is a Picture Worth?

Check out an angry Fred Reed. An excerpt:
The web is covered in stink today because of a reporter for the Associated Press, Julie Jacobson, who photographed the death of a Marine whose legs had just been blown off. The kid was Joshua Bernard, a Lance Corporal of 21 years. When the photo appeared, Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense [sic] furiously tried to get the AP to quash the photo. It didn’t, to its everlasting credit.

[ ... ]

Photographs are death to a war, boys and girls. They can asphyxiate a war faster than roadside bombs can even dream. Gates does not want the sprawling somnolent inattentive beast, the public, to see what his wars really are.

In wars, there are many enlightening things to see. For example, the Marine with a third of his face and half a lung, going ku-kuk-kuk as red gunch rolls out of his mouth and he drowns in his blood. Ruined or dying teenagers whimpering the trinity of the badly wounded: Mother, wife, and water. The brain-shot guy jerking like an epileptic as he tries not to die. Ever see brain tissue from gunshot? I have. It makes a pink spew across the ground. Like strawberry chiffon.

[ ... ]

Next to keeping the public quiescent, keeping the troops (and potential recruits) bamboozled is vital. If a high-school kid saw what awaited, if he saw the cartilage glistening in wrecked joints, he wouldn’t sign.

Do I think that the press should publish such photos? Not yes but hell yes on afterburner. Every time an editor covers for the Pentagon, every time papers refuse to show the charred bodies still ... slowly ... moving, the dead children, the ... never mind. The effect is to ensure that more kids will die the same way. And the press almost always does exactly this. We are a trade of whores and shills. Except that whores give value for money. The press kills our children.
And -- let's not forget! -- other people's children, too.

We Still Make Something

It appears that there's still one export market in which the peace-loving USA is very competitive:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States accounted for more than two-thirds of foreign weapons sales in 2008, a year in which global sales were at a three-year low, The New York Times reported on Sunday.

Citing a congressional study released on Friday, the Times said the United States was involved in 68.4 percent of the global sales of arms.

U.S. weapons sales jumped nearly 50 percent in 2008 despite the global economic recession to $37.8 billion from $25.4 billion the year before.

[ ... ]

The United States also led in arms sales to the developing world, signing 70.1 percent of these weapons agreements at a value of $29.6 billion in 2008, the report said.
You know, while we're at it, I can't help thinking that, if we as a nation really applied ourselves, we might become dominant in the world market for prostitution, too. U - S - A! ... U - S - A! ... U - S - A!

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Chronicles of Barack Dubya O-bomb-a, 9/4/09 Edition

Cindy Sheehan wanted to petition her president for a redress of her, and others', grievances. Check it out:
... the numbers at Martha’s Vineyard were not large. But Cindy and her fellow anti-warriors were undeterred. While I was there, she mounted a spirited march down the road to Obama’s place, no more than a quarter mile away from where she stayed. The purpose was to present the President with a poster of Cindy bearing a signed plea to end the wars. The considerable armed force at the gate and the Secret Service officers would not even bring out the lowliest of staffers to receive the poster. Clearly the message from Obama was "Get lost, Cindy." And we were quickly told to move a considerable distance down the road. At least in Crawford it had been possible to demonstrate at the checkpoint to the site – not so at Obama’s place. Thus, did Obama greet a mother whose son was lost in the wars, which he continues and enlarges by the day.

The site chosen by Obama for his vacation appeared restful, even idyllic, that afternoon though the house itself was a considerable distance away from the road, hidden from view. But the image of the "antiwar" candidate lounging comfortably by the ocean, his family nearby, while ordering the deaths, by drones and assorted other killing instruments, of people half a world away, complete innocents, unknown to this man or his advisers, was disturbing indeed. What sort of man could do this? Does Obama bring his much ballyhooed "coolness" down a degree or two for cold blooded murder? Are these wars a matter of conscience or patriotism for Obama? If that were so, does one suppose in a future imperial war that Obama will urge his daughters to volunteer to die in some Muslim land any more than did Bush offer his daughters?
But, like his role model and predecessor in office, Rainbow Brite does find time for surviving relatives of the right sort:
The Cape Cod Times reported the meeting thus:
So, yesterday afternoon, the family drove from Yarmouthport to Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod. They waited about two hours at the base. …The Obamas entered. …. President Obama called them all by their first names, Lisa said. "It was like seeing a friend you hadn’t seen in a couple months," Lisa said of the nearly 10-minute meeting. …

President Obama offered his condolences. "He told us whatever decisions he makes, he has Nick (and others serving) in mind," Lisa said. Earlier this year, Nicholas X met President Obama and shook his hand. The president gave a speech at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Shortly after, Nicholas decided he wanted to be part of the new offensive in Afghanistan, his father told the Times in July.

Lisa said her son called her right after the meeting. "He shook his (President Obama’s) hand and called me moments later and said, ‘Mom, the President was amazing, his hand was the softest thing I’ve ever touched, like a baby’s bottom,’" Lisa recalled.

She made sure to tell President Obama that yesterday, drawing a laugh from him. Lisa X said her family is "still pretty numb and raw" over losing Nicholas. But she thought of his likely reaction to the family meeting the Obamas. "He is probably laughing hysterically … and proud."
Such an account should break your heart and stir your anger at this hypocritical politician. The more so if, as one might suspect, this encounter made cynical use of this grieving woman’s trust. That soft hand of Obama’s is soaked in considerable blood now, some of it Nicholas X’s, no less than the rough hands of Bush and Cheney. Obama’s message is clear. Sacrifice your child and endure without complaint the "numb and raw" emotions that come of your grief. And then Barack Obama will glad hand you for "nearly ten minutes" and get some good press – after you cool your heels for two hours awaiting the cool, great man. But protest the senseless death of your son, and you get the bum’s rush at Obama’s gate. Thus, does the erstwhile "antiwar candidate" (How silly that phrase sounds now!) treat Cindy Sheehan whose like he once called on to join him in making peace. And the "leaders" of the antiwar movement are nowhere to be seen or heard.
You can read the whole piece here.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Word for Wednesday: September 2 Edition

The finish line in Isaiah approaches.

Right now, my little arrow-shaped Post-It™ bookmark is at chapter 65. That chapter has a form that is typical of the others in this book: the first part (verses 1 - 16) details how God's people have grieved and angered Him with their disobedience and their unbelief, and how they have forgotten Him. The latter part (verses 17 - 24) talks about how God, despite the misdeeds of His people, is still going to make things come out right, ultimately; verse 17, for example, starts out: For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth ... In my usual greed for comfort, I started out thinking to quote that make-everything-OK passage; good news is scarce these days. Instead, though, I'd like to have a look at an intermediate passage (verses 8 - 12), that I think I might not understand very well:
Thus says the Lord,
"As the new wine is found in the cluster,
And one says, 'Do not destroy it, for there is benefit in it,'
So I will act on behalf of My servants
In order not to destroy all of them.
And I will bring forth offspring from Jacob,
And an heir of My mountains from Judah,
Even My chosen ones will inherit it,
And My servants shall dwell there.
And Sharon shall be a pasture land for flocks,
And the valley of Achor a resting place for herds,
For My people who seek Me.
But you who forsake the Lord,
Who forget My holy mountain,
Who set a table for Fortune,
And who fill cups with mixed wine for Destiny,
I will destine you for the sword,
And all of you shall bow down for the slaughter.
Because I called, but you did not answer;
I spoke, but you did not hear.
And you did evil in My sight,
And chose that in which I did not delight.
Now, the "big picture" here is pretty plain, I think; a sharp contrast between the prospects of those who really are God's people (inheritance, a peaceful dwelling place with good pasture) and the prospects of the disobedient (death by the sword). And when God says here, through the prophet, that He has brought forth offspring from Jacob (which I take to mean Jacob's descendants in general) and an heir from Judah (which is becoming much more specific), I take it we're talking about Jesus. In that one verse (verse 9, that is), we have "offspring," which is plural in form, "an heir," which is singular, and then "My chosen ones," which is plural again; I could conjecture that this mixing of forms indicates the close identification of Jesus Himself (singular) with the church, His body on earth (plural), but that's conjecture and could easily be far off-line. This might not be about the church at all; it may refer specifically to the Jewish people. I'll set that aside to cook over low heat for a while. Next time I read this passage, maybe it will say something to me that I understand more clearly.

Which brings me to another point -- a small one, I think -- that I also don't "get." And that's the "new wine" business at the beginning of the passage above. It may be that my problem is simply unfamiliarity with the ancient world's ways of handling wine (in fact, I'm pretty vague about wine even in today's context). The text says the "new wine is found in the cluster." Now, a "cluster" would be a bunch of grapes, right? And I would think that the only liquid found "in the cluster" would then be the juice of the grapes, unfermented, and so that would be the "new" wine. So far, so good. Why, then, would "one" need to urge someone else not to "destroy" it? I mean, I can only think of two things to do with grape juice: drink it as is, or make wine out of it, and neither one of those involves destruction. I don't think my failure to understand this really hinders me from understanding the main ideas of the passage; but the illustration is there for a reason, and I'll bet my understanding of the passage would be richer, somehow, if I could correctly grasp that "new wine" picture. Maybe that, too, is something that will come with time.

Meanwhile, click here for more Words for Wednesday.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Nostalgia Time

It's yesterday's news, but no matter -- it'll still be current tomorrow, and next month, and next year:
KABUL (Reuters) - The 8-year-old war in Afghanistan can still be won, but only with a revised strategy, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces said on Monday, announcing the conclusion of a long-awaited review that could see him seek more troops.

Officials gave no indication in public as to whether U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, who commands a force of more than 100,000 troops, would ask for still more reinforcements to carry out his new strategy.

The review is expected to spell out a completely revised approach to conducting the war, which Barack Obama considers the main foreign policy priority of his young U.S. presidency.

"The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort," McChrystal said in a statement announcing the review was ready.

McChrystal has been working on the review since Obama put him in charge of the war in June. He sent the classified document to the U.S. military's Central Command (CentCom) responsible for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and to NATO headquarters in Brussels.
I'm not going to suggest that Herr General McChrystal would be stuck for an answer if someone asked him what the success in Afghanistan that he insists is achievable would look like, if achieved. He'd have an answer, and it would boil down to a U.S. puppet government appearing to be in stable control of the country -- a puppet government in the sense that it would be amenable to permanent U.S. bases there, and also to suitable deals with oil-pipeline operators. His answer would be in reasonably correct English and would, superficially, sound sensible, at least to the Great American Public. Most importantly, it would be acceptable to his boss, President Lyndon Baines Obama. Why am I thinking LBJ? Can you say "escalation?" I knew you could:
Military officials say it contains no firm targets for troop strength, but it could form the basis for a decision within weeks on future deployments -- a politically fraught calculation that could mark a turning point in Obama's presidency.

... [snip] ...

The 103,000 troops under McChrystal's command in Afghanistan include 63,000 Americans, more than half of whom arrived this year as part of an escalation strategy begun under outgoing President George W. Bush and ramped up under Obama. The force is set to rise to 110,000 including 68,000 Americans by year's end.

Since taking command, McChrystal has adjusted the focus of Western forces from hunting down insurgents to trying to protect the Afghan population, borrowing in part from U.S. tactics in Iraq developed under CentCom commander General David Petraeus.

His review is expected to suggest concentrating forces in more heavily populated areas, and also stepping up efforts to train Afghan soldiers and police.

Speculation has swirled about whether McChrystal will conclude he needs still more troops, or whether U.S. commanders and political leaders would give them to him if he does.
Cue the Beach Boys music! But remember, O Fellow Americans, that when the Vietnam war got to be a really big deal, in the mid-to-late 1960s, that the U.S. was relatively industrial and relatively prosperous, having a reasonably sound currency that was at least nominally tied to gold. Not so, today. You live in the land of the hollowed-out economy, in which we allegedly become wealthy by lending each other (funny) money, speculating in debt paper, and trading our houses back and forth. You live at the beginning -- and, perforce, near the end -- of what will have to be a brief period of trillion-dollar annual deficits. Remember when the entire cumulative national debt went through the trillion-dollar mark? I do; and it wasn't all that long ago.

But none of that's really important, compared with the vital necessity of making certain that the correct thugs are in charge in Afghanistan, and Waziristan, and Kzyrgistan, and Pakistan, and whatever other 'stans there may be. Remember that it's your proud privilege to continue to underwrite the borrowing of the very last funds available for sending flying robo-death drones, rockets, bombs, bullets -- and your kids! -- to these garden spots, so that unfavored foreigners may be slaughtered, and favored ones installed to rule whoever's left. And then, if you need a laugh -- and I can't imagine why you would -- remember that all this is to secure your freedom!

Yeah. Really.

A Tiny Increment in My Safety is Worth ... Anything! Right?

Anyone see this dreck today?
Attorney General Eric Holder has named a special prosecutor to see whether any of the CIA's interrogators broke the law. Special prosecutors are often themselves like interrogators -- they don't know when to stop. They go on and on because, well, they can go on and on. One of them managed to put Judith Miller of The New York Times in jail -- a wee bit of torture right there. No CIA interrogator can feel safe. The interrogators are about to be interrogated.
Awwwwww ... poor interrogators! They don't feel safe ... und they vass chust followink orders! What a pity. Still, I wonder: how many will be anally raped? Water-tortured? Mock-executed (or maybe beaten to death for real)? How many of their bosses, and their bosses' bosses, on up the chain, face any consequences at all -- even as piddly as career limitation? Yeah, I think we pretty much all know the answers to those questions. Sorry, but my sympathy for those interrogators who may now feel "unsafe" is in pretty short supply.

But Mr. Cohen has more:
I am, as you can see, full of questions. I have, as you can see, few answers.

I am torn between my desire for absolute security and my abhorrence of torture. The one thing I know is that ideology does not provide an answer. For me, it settles nothing that Dick Cheney supported enhanced interrogation and that Cheney was wrong and deceitful on the war. It settles nothing that Cheney defined torture as something so extreme that almost anything less than, say, the rack is permissible interrogation. The issue is not Cheney. The issue is the issue.

The questions of what constitutes torture and what to do with those who, maybe innocently, applied what we now define as torture have to be removed from the political sphere. They cannot be the subject of an ideological tug of war, both sides taking extreme and illogical positions -- torture never works, torture always works, torture is always immoral, torture is moral if it saves lives. Torture always is ugly. So, though, is the hole in the ground where the World Trade Center once stood.
Well. Nuance, ambiguity, "I have few answers" -- how profound. How lovely. And how cowardly. Mr. Cohen is torn between his "desire" (demand) for absolute security and the duty of any decent human being: the repudiation of barbarism. He's anxious to avoid anything that "provides an answer," because the answer is not agreeable to him.

Guess what, Mr. Cohen: there's not just two ugly things in this world (torture and the WTC site). There's lots. There's Muslim civilians, for example, ripped apart by the many tons of high explosives delivered by the United States, Israel, and a few toady nations for the past half-century or so. There's the economic evisceration of your country, caused by its imperial overreach and world-manager hubris. Rule #1, for when you find yourself immersed to your double chin in hideous ugliness: stop making more.

Guess what, Mr. Cohen: you weren't born with an entitlement to safety. An incremental increase in your safety -- even if it weren't illusory, which it is -- at the cost of the life of even a single foreigner who hasn't hurt you is morally unacceptable. You ain't worth it. Neither am I; the only difference between us is that I know that, and am willing to say it. I know that, to paraphrase Jim Morrison, I'm not getting out of here alive, no matter how much wrong I'm willing to do. Maybe you should learn that.