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.