Friday, July 30, 2010

Bloody Hands

"Fox" Mullen plays the blood card on Wikileaks:
Admiral Mike Mullen, who chairs the joint chiefs of staff, said: "Mr Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family."

The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, called the disclosure of the names of Afghans who had co-operated with Nato and US forces "irresponsible and shocking". He said in Kabul: "Whether those individuals acted legitimately or illegitimately in providing information to the Nato forces, their lives will be in danger."
The first thing that crossed my mind was the irony of a high functionary of the Imperial war machine affecting to be offended by blood on anyone else's hands ... like Bernie Madoff sniffing at someone else's financial practices. Julian Assange, however, beat me to it:
Assange said today that they had tried to comply with a private White House request to redact the names of informants before publication. But the US authorities had refused to assist them.

He said in a statement: "Secretary Gates speaks about hypothetical blood, but the grounds of Iraq and Afghanistan are covered with real blood."

Thousands of children and adults had been killed and the US could have announced a broad inquiry into these killings, "but he decided to treat these issues with contempt''.

He said: "This behaviour is unacceptable. We will continue to expose abuses by this administration and others."

Meanwhile, both US and UK authorities remained silent about the disclosures in the 92,000 war log files that hundreds of civilians have been killed or wounded by coalition forces in unreported or previously under-reported incidents.
Again, our glorious leaders couldn't possibly care less whether anyone associated with Taliban, Inc. or al-Maybe-Qaeda reads any or all of this material. It's you and me they're worried about. Why, I've no idea ... but there it is.

The Word for Friday, July 30

Running a little late this week. How does that differ from most other weeks? Well, this week, I have an excuse -- I was on the road (and thus off the air) in Rochester, New York, until today. So, to take up where we left off, with 2 Corinthians chapter 5, verses 11 through 20:
Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, that you may have an answer for those who take pride in appearance, and not in heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Therefore from now on, we recognize no man according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the minstry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed us to the word of reconciliation.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
I'll have to admit right away that some of this isn't clear to me: in particular, the part where Paul writes that if "we" (I assume this means Paul and Timothy, who was also named in the greetings in the first verse of this epistle) are beside ourselves, it is for God; while if they are sound mind, it is for the Corinthians. I think maybe what this is getting at is the idea that Paul's relationship with the Corinthiam believers is essentially rational, based on persuasive reasoning; while his relationship with God transcends human reason and thus might resemble, to human eyes, madness. But I may well be entirely off-track here.

What's clearer, though, is another exposition of the Christian principle of vicariousness, whereby God says to us, I'll become you so that you can (sort of) become Me. Jesus became, Paul says, sin, even though sin is entirely foreign to His nature, so that we can become righteousness, even though righteousness is entirely foreign to our nature. It can't happen otherwise. Our reconciliation to God is, from our side of the transaction, completely passive. Paul doesn't tell us to reconcile ourselves to God; instead, he says, be reconciled to God. It's not something we do. It's something we permit Him to do -- or that we don't permit Him to do. Ultimately, He has made us entirely free, and He doesn't take that freedom away.

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Monday, July 26, 2010


So, Wikileaks has released some tens of thousands of classified documents related to the Global War on Swarthy People That the Israelis Don't Like. And our supervisors don't like that, not one bit:
The White House condemned the publication of the data which it said threatened the safety of coalition forces.

A spokesman said: "We strongly condemn the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organisations, which puts the lives of the US and partner service members at risk and threatens our national security."
Let's pause to note something: our supervisors don't give a fig if the Talibannies are out there reading Wikileaks. The primary reason for this stuff being all secret and classified and everything is so you and I don't know it. Why don't they want us to know? Perhaps because they think that if we find out how stupid, wicked, and costly their hobbies are, we'll put a stop to them. (Frankly, I think they're giving us far too much credit, but that's another discussion.)

Let's also note that "US and partner service members" would be quite safe if they weren't occupying other people's countries. When it comes to the sort of "service members" whose famous "collateral murders" were recently seen on Wikileaks: the less safe, the better, say I. Whatever the culpability of any individual Troop, though, his or her safety is best served by going home, post haste.

We seem to take it for granted that governments properly keep secrets from the governed. Why should that be? I can certainly think of many reasons why it should not be.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Well, He's Half-Right, Anyway

I don't want to distract you from the truly vital questions that concern us, such as whether Shirley Sherrod is a racist or not, but pause to check this out for a moment:
Wall Street took the latest government report on its pay practices in stride Friday, saying it would review U.S. pay czar Kenneth R. Feinberg's suggestions about compensation while privately expressing relief that the report wasn't tougher on them.

Mr. Feinberg's four-page public discussion of banks' pay practices concluded that 17 banks had handed out $1.6 billion in "ill-advised" executive compensation before he was assigned in 2009 to oversee banks that accepted government money during the financial crisis. Mr. Feinberg's report didn't disclose the level of ill-advised pay at the 17 firms, which included Goldman Sachs Group Inc., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., and Morgan Stanley.


Mr. Feinberg said the payments "were ill advised, they were troublesome. But I do not believe it is fair to declare … that the payments were 'contrary to the public interest.' " In fact, Mr. Feinberg said he undertook the compensation review, which was required by the 2009 stimulus law, with "some reluctance."

"This is arm-chair quarterbacking," he said.
I can give Mr. Feinberg some qualified agreement here. In a sane world, it's none of the government's business what some moneylending organization pays its employees. But then, in that mythical sane world, there's no such thing as a federal "pay czar" (sorry, Mr. Feinberg, find some honest way to make a living); and, in that sane world, there's no such thing as a federal bailout for an insolvent bunch of moneylenders. They just go down.

"Fair," indeed. Ha!

The Word for Friday, July 23

To continue in 2 Corinthians: chapter 5, verses 1 - 10:
For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven; inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord -- for we walk by faith, not by sight -- we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and be at home with the Lord. Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
Most of us, I suppose, have mostly heard this passage read at funerals; and at a believer's funeral, it does seem appropriate. I myself read it eighteen years ago over the grave of my well-beloved father, who was not -- as far as I know, at least -- a believer, and that was a cheerless business indeed for me. But I really don't think that's primarily what this passage is about. It's written to first century believers who faced the very real threat -- the certainty, I suppose, for many -- of persecution directly unto death, and some very hard deaths at that. Death is a thing of the body ("this earthly tent"), but so are want and suffering, whether natural, such as illness and age, or man-made, such as beatings and execution. How is the believer, when facing such prospects, to be of good courage, as Paul says we are? The answer, it seems to me, is summed up in verse 5: Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. The Spirit is not only the way we know that death is actually good for the believer; but His presence and work within us actually powers that "good courage." God does not, I am sure, tell us to do things for which He has not equipped us; here, He equips us through His own presence, in the person of the Holy Spirit. And a good thing, too; otherwise, it can't be done.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Apropos of Nothing in Particular

Let's just skip right down to the bottom line. I'll write the headline for next week sometime, and then maybe we can quit hearing about it:


There! Glad that's over with.

The Word for Wednesday, July 14

Back to 2 Corinthians, chapter 4:
Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of the darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
So, there we have one way in which the gospel may be interfered with, or blocked, or obscured: through the activity of "the god of this world," who would be the devil. This active countermeasure by Satan is able to keep unbelievers from seeing the glory of God, manifested in the truth of His word. But there's more:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you. But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I believed, therefore I spoke," we also believe, therefore also we speak; knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.
"Treasure in earthen vessels" can be hard to see. You can, however, always know that it's there, assuming you've been told by a trustworthy source. Perhaps you, as a believer in Corinth, see and hear that Paul and his associates are being jailed, beaten, and threatened with death, but they somehow keep staggering along their appointed path; now you've been told why this is, and how it's all working for your good. This is a sort of picture version of the gospel itself: victory coming through surrender, and life coming through the acceptance of death. Powerful stuff, this is.
Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though the outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Mathematically, we can handle the meeting of the finite with the infinite, or of the discrete with the continuous, using the concepts of limits and infinitesimals (thank you, Sir Isaac Newton, among others). But once we turn from the calculus back to what we are pleased to call "real" life, we forget all that -- or, perhaps more accurately, we find that we have no experiential intuition for that which we've never directly experienced. Paul's trying to be our guide through this difficulty. What's really, really, really real, we have no direct experience of. We've never sat face to face with the living God and listened for a few eons while He explained why He made everything as He did. On the scale of eternity, my life so far is, in fact, instantaneous. It doesn't matter whether I live another fifty years or another fifty milliseconds. One of the few works of the Spirit in my own life that I can confidently point to, and know where it came from, is the fact that I really don't much care whether I live or die tomorrow. Not that I don't fear the process of dying -- I know that even the easiest death is pretty scary, and that some people die in ways, and over lengths of time, that are truly horrifying. But this life itself, which has been full of many joys, is so very temporary; and the possible union with God -- or, not to dodge the hideous alternative, the enforced separation from Him -- are completely permanent. The physical life within me is not mine at all. It's not mine to either throw away carelessly, nor to cling to inordinately, and I kind of think that one major task we all have here is to develop the awareness and discernment whereby we can avoid both of those traps, and to maintain our lives with due care, while also maintaining a willingness to instantly surrender them when doing the will of God calls for such a surrender. In both cases, I just hope I'm not "asleep at the switch" when the time comes.

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Whom to Believe, Whom to Believe?

So, this Iranian scientist says he was abducted by a combination of the CIA and some Saudi Arabian secret police of some sort. Our supervisors, on the other hand, insist that he was a defector who decided to run home because he was afraid the Iranian supervisors were going to hurt or kill his family.

I wish I could say that of course my government would never do any such thing. Regrettably, though, the evidence doesn't exactly support such a statement.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Word for Sunday, July 11

I'm not at all sure whether this is a late WFW for last week, or an early one for this week. Come Wednesday or Thursday, I guess I'll find out. I haven't been online much this week -- paradoxically, because I've been on vacation. One of those "project" vacations, that is. I've been overhauling the upstairs bathroom, and since I'm about as adept a handyman as your typical Tolkien orc, everything takes me twice as long as a normal person would take, and has to be repeated two or three times before I get it halfway correct.

This one represents a brief departure from 2 Corinthians. It's a single verse from Leviticus: chapter 19, verse 28:
You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead, nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.
I looked this up because of something I saw a few days ago at the YMCA (my early-morning workout is a strong enough habit that it still seems to happen when I'm on vacation, as long as I'm local). I noticed while I was getting my shower that one of my fellow shower-ers, a young guy, had a large tattoo on his back that depicted Jesus on the cross. It was pretty artistic, as tattoos go, and presented a technically-impressive perspective view from in front of, and somewhat above, the cross, which spared the tattoo artist from having to try to depict Jesus' face; instead, we had a view of the top of his bowed head. The idea of this tattoo seemed ironic to me, since I thought I recalled that there was some Old Testament scripture enjoining against the practice of tattooing. It is, of course, a bit of the Law from the old covenant; and Jesus said (Matthew 5:17, 18)
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.
Jesus came to fulfill, and I rest in the confidence that He has done what He came to do; and so I take it that all is indeed accomplished. Purely as a matter of personal taste and preference, though, I find that tattooing is quite disagreeable. Your mileage, of course, may vary. Still, it seemed an odd way for a Christian to express his devotion to Jesus. If we really have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us in power, we shouldn't need a picture embedded in our flesh, or a cross on a chain around our neck, or a bumper sticker, to give evidence to the world; the evidence should be in our deeds, and in our love. Or so it seems to me.

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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Occupation of Occupying

Mrs. Clinton, whose appointment as Secretary of State showed just how hopey and changey our glorious ass-kicking president really is, shows herself to be without any trace of a sense of irony:
TBILISI, GEORGIA -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton wrapped up a tour of former Soviet bloc countries Monday by assuring Georgia's pro-American leaders that they will not be abandoned as the Obama administration improves relations with Russia.

That "reset" of relations has unnerved this small country, especially as Russian troops have become entrenched in two breakaway regions where a brief war broke out in 2008.

During her six-hour stop in Georgia, Clinton defended the administration's policy, saying partnership with Russia is producing important results such as a nuclear arms-control accord. But she reiterated longtime U.S. support for Georgia.

"We continue to object to, and criticize, actions by Russia which we believe are wrong. At the top of the list is the invasion and occupation of Georgia," she said.
One could ask, of course, why Russia is wrong to occupy Georgia (which isn't quite the case, but never mind) while it's perfectly okay -- necessary, even -- for the U.S. to invade and occupy Iraq, Afghanistan, and bits of Pakistan. So far, that is; the armada is being assembled even now against Iran. Maybe the new rule is that it's good to make it your business how people live and die half the world away, but very bad to do so next door. See, the Russians should probably have invaded and occupied Quebec. That would be much more American of them.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Today's Contribution to the Blogging Industry

I just love the contemporary use of the term "industry." The word calls to mind smokestacks, molten steel pouring out of the giant crane-operated ladle in a shower of sparks, lathes and vertical mills with coolant washing chips off the workpiece, people assembling machinery ... in short, the production of tangible goods. But in this story, we're told what's going on in the "leisure and hospitality" industry, as well as in the "temporary-help industry." Yeah, well, at the moment I'm in the blogging industry, I guess. If I were a good-looking harlot, I could be in the sex industry. Whatever.

Meanwhile, this economic "recovery" we've been told about continues in robust fashion:
Washington — Private employers added a smaller-than-expected 83,000 jobs in June, but the unemployment rate edged down to 9.5% as many workers dropped out of a labor market that remains very sluggish.

The Labor Department reported Friday that total payroll employment, including government workers, was down 125,000 in June, reflecting the loss of 225,000 census workers who finished their assignments.

The decrease in Census Bureau staffing was expected, but most analysts were looking for stronger job growth in the private sector, which has yet to generate momentum and looms as a major threat to the overall economic recovery. In May, private employers added just 33,000 jobs. What's more, the average hours worked in manufacturing and other industries in June declined, as did average hourly earnings.

Job gains last month were largely in low-paying industries -- leisure and hospitality, and the temporary-help industry. Manufacturing payrolls grew by 9,000, but that was much smaller than the average of 25,400 in the prior five months. And the construction industry shed another 22,000 jobs in June.

Although the jobless rate in June fell from 9.7% in May, that reflected a big drop of 652,000 people in the labor force over the month. The labor force is made up of workers and those actively looking for jobs. With the economic recovery weakening and many employers reluctant to hire, many more unemployed people may have quit looking for work, which would push down the jobless rate.

In fact, the percentage of the overall working-age population that is in the labor force fell last month to 64.7% -- near a 25-year low.
News stories like this put me in mind of those super-slow-motion videos we've all seen, showing collision tests in which SUVs populated with instrumented dummies are crashed into barriers. Each such story is like a freeze frame, showing crumpling sheet metal, bits of shattered glass suspended in mid-flight, the driver dummy burying his face in the airbag. The long-awaited crash of the American corporate empire is in progress, and has been for some time. Recovery? I rather think not -- not if, by "recovery," we mean Americans living as they did even in 2000, to say nothing of the idyllic 1960s.

But away with all of that. I just want to know -- at last! -- where Mr. LeBron James will be plying his trade, occasionally sending a basketball through the twine, and how many tens of millions he'll be compensated each year for his heroic contributions to the sports industry. And, of course, to see the death industry continue and even improve its amazing productivity in the Middle East.