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August 31, 2006

Plamegate Denouement

Attention, Mr. & Mrs. Wilson. Your 15 minutes are up.

Update: The Washington Post has a short article marking the end of this kerfuffle. Their concluding paragraph nails it.

Nevertheless, it now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame's CIA career is Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming -- falsely, as it turned out -- that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush's closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It's unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.

Posted by Doug at 05:37 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Changes in China?

More religious openness in China? Could be happening.

A Christian author has been permitted to sign his books at a press conference at the Beijing International Book Fair, a first, according to Chinese officials.

"This is the first time in the history of China that an international religious leader has been permitted to sign copies of his book in a large public secular venue," said Shen Weiping of the China Association for International Friendly Contact.

The signing was by evangelist Luis Palau, whose book, "Riverside Talks: A Friendly Dialogue Between an Atheist and a Christian," was released Wednesday at a Beijing news conference cut short when the crowd of journalists, photographers and television crews rushed the stage to get autographed copies and interview the authors.

It's the first time such a book has been issued in China, according to Craig Chastain of the Luis Palau Association, because it has a clear statement of the beliefs of Christianity and a description of how to become a Christian.

There were 500 copies of the book prepared for the book fair, but they were snatched up immediately.

I suppose this could be considered propaganda, but considering the description of the book, I kinda doubt it.

Palau wrote the book with Zhao Qizheng, the vice chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and former minister of information for the People's Republic of China.

As he used the book, Palau also used the press attention to explain what is meant when Christians say they follow Jesus or have peace with God.

"I believe with my whole heart that God loves China. I believe He has a special message for China and wants nothing more than to share His love with the entire nation," Palau said.

Zhao told reporters that the book – as well as his friendship with Palau – models how two people with different ideologies and backgrounds can have a dialogue and be friends.

The book was started several years ago when Zhao suggested a project to build bridges and mutual understanding, and the two held a series of face-to-face conversations.

Tapes of those meetings were turned into book form.

The project, the authors said, is a dialogue, not a debate between opposing perspectives – an atheist and a theist, a scientist and a Christian evangelist, a Marxist scholar and a religious scholar, a leader from the East and a leader from the West.

They exchanged ideas and beliefs on ethics, politics, atheism, Confucianism, Chinese and Western cultures, the Bible, religion, history, creation, philosophy and the relevance of Jesus Christ to society.

A book that describes a discussion of the Christian faith with a member of the Chinese government is certainly a big step forward. Yes, they apparently cover a wide range of topics, and perhaps the Christian message of saving from sin is spread thin among all the other information. However, it sounds like it presents the Christian perspective on a number of other relevant topics, something that many Chinese may not otherwise get exposed to. It could break down the disinformation they may have heard. This is certainly a good first step.

Hopefully also, a good first step toward the end of the persecution of Christian in that country.

Posted by Doug at 03:50 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 30, 2006

A Solipsistic Trifle

I have no pretensions about my poetic skills. Nevertheless, I have been dabbling a bit lately, and thought I'd post one that at least I like. I acknowledge that (i) it is too short for a poem and (ii) perhaps not very good.


Arranging papery purple flowers in the vase,
The last dried remnant of a bouquet
presented to the young dancer at recital.
Her mother’s late night love labor
Will not be lost on the girl, nor on her God.

Posted by Mark at 11:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

American Neo-Nihilism

Mark Triplett, a commenter on Doug's Post "The Future of Dissent," notes the following:

Doug, it's only one small step to state that no one at anytime may say anything negative about homosexuality, bisexuality, and transsexuality regardless of government funding or not.

This new law in California goes way beyond the slippery slope and falls off the cliff.

The sad thing is that most will accept this as the new reality and move on not realizing that the next thing you can't talk about in schools will be...... you fill in the blank.

Soon it will be like 1984, the novel, where good is bad and bad is good.

Mr. Triplett is correct. Most Americans, if forced to sit down and listen to the implications of the new California law, would disagree with it. However, as Mark states, that would end the matter. Survivor would be airing in a few minutes, or the Powerball drawing, and the issue would quickly be forgotten. Does that mean that, since the issue failed to engage attention beyond the moment, the issue was not that important? I don't think that is the case, because I cannot imagine any important issue these days that would really inspire passion, or even interest, in the majority of Americans beyond their next meal and television program.

At least Nineteenth Century Russian nihilists, as sketched by Turgenev and Tolstoy, had a philosophy. Twenty-first century Americans are nihilists by default, not by thought, avocation nor philosophy.

Posted by Mark at 10:59 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Future of Dissent

Joseph Farah, on why the recent ruling requiring the condoning of homosexuality, bisexuality, and transsexuality in California institutions that get government money is a big deal.

I don't want to overstate this, but this is the end of religious freedom in the biggest state in the union.

The only alternative left for Christians and Jews and people of other faiths in California is quite literally to drop out. That means homeschooling. It means creating new institutions that won't touch any public funding – even when it is as tenuous as one student accepting a state grant. When you submit yourself or your institution to government regulation in California now, you tacitly accept the official state religion of paganism.

And don't think it will end here. It never does.

When more people choose to drop out, as they inevitably will, the coercive state will find new creative ways to come after them as well.

Just ask German homeschoolers. Yes, Farah's editorials are generally overheated, but this time I think he's really on to something. How far of a stretch is it, really, to imagine a law that makes this sort of coercion required for any business or institution simply operating in California, regardless of whether it gets state money? Not that much, in my mind.

Posted by Doug at 04:13 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 29, 2006

Rediscovering Christmas

Sam's Club has brought back "Christmas".

Posted by Doug at 04:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Dissent is Futile, You Will Be Assimilated

It's now illegal in California schools to criticize homosexuality.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has tossed out all sexual moral conduct codes at colleges, private and Christian schools, daycare centers and other facilities throughout his state, if the institutions have any students who get state assistance.

The governor yesterday signed a bill that would require all businesses and groups receiving state funding -- even if it's a state grant for a student -- to condone homosexuality, bisexuality and transsexuality.

Note the phrase I bolded. Not only does this affect state-run schools, but it affects any private institution that has students who get state education grant money.
There is no exception for faith-based organizations or business owners with sincerely held religious convictions, critics note.

Gov. Arnold has essentially forced private institutions to either teach what they don't believe, or refuse students who get money from the state and who may not be able to otherwise afford those institutions (and possibly cause those institutions to scale back or go out of business). The state is now forcing a particular social curriculum, to the financial detriment of those who disagree with the state's position.

If this is what a "moderate" Republican looks like, I'll stick with those further to the right, thankyouverymuch. I applauded Schwarzenegger for actually stepping up to the plate and doing something about what he believed--running for office--when other Hollywood types just had photo ops for causes. I still think he's head and shoulders above the rest, but I think he's way out of the mainstream from the public. This is simply a bad law.

If you wonder why more and more folks choose to homeschool, there's you're answer. You're not forced to immerse your kids in an institution that is diametrically opposed to what you believe.

(See also Outlawing Disagreement Regarding Homosexuality.)

Posted by Doug at 01:44 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Future Imperfect

This sounds like the title of a bad sci-fi flick, and the following sounds like an overused plot--on the run from government compulsion--but it's happening today in Germany. They don't trust their citizens to do what's best for their childrens' education, even the highly qualified ones.

Hamburg- A German couple who are determined to educate their six children entirely at home have fled the city of Hamburg after the father, Andre R, 44, was jailed for a week for refusing to enrol his offspring in a public school. The R family are evangelical Christians who believe that public schools are a bad moral influence on children. Father R has a university degree in teaching, so he thought he could teach his five daughters and one son their reading, writing and arithmetic at home.

But the couple have hit a brick wall with German school authorities, who say they will apply the full power of the state until the R family yields to compulsory-education laws.

In February, Andre R and wife Frauke, 39, were hauled into court and fined 840 euros (1,090 dollars) for defying education laws. This month, five police showed up at the family's rented, suburban row- house and hauled Andre R off to the Hamburg city prison.

Andre R refused to give in, so after a week among murderers and drug dealers, he was released and the authorities tried a new tack.

Officials last week began fetching the children each morning from the R home and taking them to school. Custody of the children is to taken away from the parents and the children will become wards of the state.

On Monday, no one answered when officials came knocking at the door of the R home.

Armin Eckermann, president of the German Home-Schooling Association, who is advising the family, said, "They have left Hamburg." He declined further details.

I fully understand a government that insists that children be educated, but this is over the top. In Germany, there is only one way this will be done and that is by the state. There is no place for the parent in the equation. Where does this governmental attitude come from? Hint: Not from smaller-government, more-personal-freedom conservatives. More and more central control of things like education leads to this sort of incredible action on the part of a government that insists it knows better. It's the nanny-state taken to its logical result.

I was asked in a previous post on the subject, by a German citizen, what these parents have to fear from a government education. The thing is, the people aren't trying to stop the government from doing something, it's the government trying to enforce these onerous rules, so the question should instead be put to it. Or perhaps more accurately, it should be put to the citizens who have voted for the politicians that implemented these laws. What do they have to fear? It was also pointed out to me that there were Christian schools ("overlooked by the state", according to the writer). All well and good, but not all can afford that. But that begs the question; does the state really not trust its own citizens enough to allow even a university-trained teacher to teach his own children?

Posted by Doug at 10:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 28, 2006

A Plea for Christian Environmentalism

"Beware of sentimental alliances where the consciousness of good deeds is the only compensation for noble sacrifices." Otto von Bismarck

In a recent article at The New Republic Online, the eminent biologist Edward O. Wilson has penned a plea to Christians to help save Creation:

It may seem far-fetched for a secular scientist to propose an alliance between science and religion. But the fact is that environmental activists cannot succeed without you and your followers as allies. The political process in American democracy, with rare exceptions, does not start at the top and work its way down to the voting masses. It proceeds in the opposite direction. Political leaders are compelled to calculate as precisely as they can what it will take to win the next election. The United States is an intensely religious nation. It is overwhelmingly Judeo-Christian, with a powerful undercurrent of evangelism. We secularists must face reality. The National Association of Evangelicals has 30 million members; the three leading American humanist organizations combined have, at best, a few thousand. Those who, for religious reasons, believe in saving the Creation, have the strength to do so through the political process; acting alone, secular environmentalists do not. An alliance between science and religion, forged in an atmosphere of mutual respect, may be the only way to protect life on earth, including, in the end, our own.

Professor Wilson presents some evidence of why he thinks the world is on the verge of environmental collapse:

Scientists estimate that, if habitat-conversion and other destructive human activities continue at their present rates, half the species of plants and animals on earth could be either gone or at least fated for early extinction by the end of the century. The ongoing extinction rate is calculated in the most conservative estimates to be about 100 times above that prevailing before humans appeared on earth, and it is expected to rise to at least 1,000 times greater (or more) in the next few decades. If this rise continues unabated, the cost to humanity--in wealth, environmental security, and quality of life--will be catastrophic.

However, he does not provide evidence beyond that paragraph. Nor does he offer any practical ideas on what Christians can do to stop the destruction. Because this is intended as an initial step, and is intended as a short online article, these are not fatal flaws. It will be interesting to see what flesh he adds to these bones in his forthcoming book mentioned in the article.

More troubling, potentially, is the offer of an alliance, using the language of faith, by a secular humanist who appears to have no other interest in matters of faith in general, or Christianity in particular, beyond accomplishing his own agenda. Members of the academy, particularly those in the hard sciences, tend to be condescending (or worse) towards people who take their faith seriously. What consequences are their for Christians to take up this offer to become unequally yoked? ("Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" 2 Cor. 6:14)

I will take Professor Wilson at his word that this plea is freighted with utmost respect for Christians and our beliefs. In addition, I am increasingly concerned about environmental matters, although I remain agnostic about the threat of Global Warming. Even without Global Warming, though, there are plenty of environmental issues to cause concern, such as deforestation and toxic pollution, particularly in the less developed countries.

However, I think that Christians need to address these problems from a distinctly Christian perspective--one in which we take seriously our stewardship of the Earth. (See Genesis 1:26-31) In addition, we must remember that God's salvific plan through Jesus was for the entire creation, not just humans. (See, e.g., Romans 8:20-23 and Revelation 21:1-2) As the Church, Christians have an important role within that plan for the creation.

This does not mean that we should exclude cooperation with non-Christians, nor ignore what they have to offer. It just means that we need to discern God's plan for the environment, not man's plan. If we ignore this important philosophical starting point, if we start out with our own plan and not God's, then we will likely miss the mark, and risk watering down the Gospel for the sake of getting along with secularists, or risk veering down the path of animism.

What, then, does that mean for the Professor's offer? Of course, his offer is obviously rhetorical in the sense that he does not really expect an answer, or that he will be sitting down with the National Association of Evangelicals in a future meeting to discuss the alliance. What this means as a practial matter, though, is that we need to look inward to Christianity and its sources and resources to discover and determine the means by which we should be faithful stewards. If Professor Wilson would like to join us within that context, then he is certainly welcome.

Posted by Mark at 01:04 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 27, 2006

Literary Criticism

Two examples of why literary criticism remains one of the higher art forms:

Dana Gioia--Example Number One

Thomas Hibbs--Example Number Two

Conducted properly, literary criticism can both illuminate the work at hand and illuminate life in general.

Posted by Mark at 01:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future

Is there a text in this class?

Today, as in the ancient era, the Church is confronted by a host of master narratives that contradict and compete with the gospel. The pressing question is: who gets to narrate the world?

Christianity Today has an article on "A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future." The Call is the work of a small group of Evangelical Christians who are interested in reclaiming a holistic Christian meta-narrative. The Call speaks to Christians, North American Evangelical Christians in particular. Ultimately, though, the Call is meant to align all Christians under a meta-narrative that reaches back to the early Christian church and reaches past today to confront a world that appears to be increasingly polarized by competition among several meta-narratives.

The Call is interesting and I recommend that you read it. For the moment, I will remain an interested observer. The Call is not particularly weighty--it's not treacle but neither is it red meat. I have more hope for the Evangelicals and Catholics Together project as a means by which Christians will obey Jesus' adjuration to "love one another" commanded by John 13:34. Nonethelesss, if the Call results in Evangelical Christians taking their first century Church and Patristic roots more seriously, then it will have accomplished much good.

The main mover behind the Call, Bob Webber, was also involved in a similar call in 1977--"The Chicago Call: An Appeal to Evangelicals." I also encourage you to read the Chicago Call. It could have been written today and has retained its vibrancy and prophetic nature.

Posted by Mark at 12:24 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 26, 2006

Wild-Card Haiku

I wonder if Tom
would think me to be churlish,
to Haiku Twins win!

It's Haiku part deux.
The Twins win again tonight!
Like birds, they take flight.

(Necessary caveat to avoid bad luck caused by perceived bragging: Lots of baseball left this season. Anything can happen.)

Posted by Mark at 09:48 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 25, 2006

Outlawing Disagreement Regarding Homosexuality

The stifling of dissent, Democrat-style.

...[T]his week in one of the boldest moves yet by a sitting liberal, Democrat California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez proclaimed, "The real purpose of SB 1437 is to outlaw traditional perspectives on marriage and family in the state school system."

He continued, "The way you correct a wrong (perspective) is by outlawing. 'Cause if you don't outlaw it, then people's biases tend to take over and dominate the perspective and the point of view."

Nunez's solution to the people he disagrees with is to outlaw their ability to disagree with him.

And Nunez's viewpoint is one that pervades liberals in his party and in the nation. That is why Nunez and his fellow Democrats in the California State Assembly voted in unison to pass four bills that are all designed to punish people who disagree with them. To incarcerate someone for daring to criticize a different point of view – over a purely behavioral issue.

The bills in question have passed both houses and await Gov. Schwarzenegger's signature or veto. The bills were unanimously embraced by the Democrats and universally denounced by the Republicans.

Read the whole thing for the details on those four bills. In summary, they are designed to promote homosexuality as a lifestyle in the schools (in rather graphic detail), and to punish anyone who dares speak against it.

Some have said that it's just a matter of time before the public accepts homosexual marriage. Perhaps not. Perhaps it's only a matter of time before it's fully forced on the public, and the public loses its will to fight.

Posted by Doug at 02:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Back in the Saddle Again

Why dost thou gaze upon the sky?
O that I were yon spangled sphere!
Then every star should be an eye,
To wander o'er thy beauties here.

Sir Thomas More

Well, thanks to the graciousness of the good folks who have been keeping Stones Cry Out up and running the last 18 months, I have been allowed to return to posting. My hiatus was the result of a number of personal and professional issues that left little time for anything else. (Nothing salacious on the personal side nor controversial on the professional side; just no time left over for posting.)

For those of you who don't know me (or to reverse the phrase of a famous candidate for Vice President "who is he, what is he doing here?"), I am one of the founders of Stones Cry Out. I stopped posting in November 2005, due to the above reasons.

So, many, many thanks to Doug, Jim and Tom for keeping the lights on and the bills paid. I hope to keep up my end of the bargain as we move forward. In my lacuna, I have noticed a few changes in the Blogosphere (is that word still in use?), and am excited to be a very minor participant in the continuing evolution of this medium.

Posted by Mark at 12:14 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 24, 2006

Interesting Psycho-Political Science

There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
Mark Twain

If the 2004 data predict behavior, many undecided, moderate, and even liberal voters will be moved in the Republican direction by any news about terrorism.

Cass Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago (and referenced in these pages previously by Doug), has an interesting comment at The New Republic Online (free registration required). Professor Sunstein extrapolates to the 2006 and 2008 elections the results of a research study conducted after the 2004 elections. The research purports to demonstrate that voters tend to view Republicans more favorably when confronted with terrorism, and perhaps their own mortality.

Professor Sunstein wonders whether, in the light of the recently unveiled plot to bomb trans-Atlantic airliners, Republicans will have an election advantage, so long as terrorism remains in the forefront.

I have little to add to the Professor's provocative thought experiment, other than to note that it is interesting.

One wonders, though, about the Game Theories that could be played out based on this research.

Theory 1: The efforts of the Bush administration, and Congressional Republicans, in quelling worldwide terrorism bear fruit. Worldwide terrorism diminishes. The mind of the American public wanders to other matters. In a scene that hearkens back to Churchill's defeat in 1945, a Democrat is elected President in 2008 and Democrats extend (or take) their control of Congress.

Theory 2: Terrorism thrives (or at least continues apace), despite the efforts of the Republicans. Viewing the Republicans as still being stronger on terrorism, the American public votes in a Republican as President in 2008 and continues to give Republicans a bare majority in Congress.

There are, of course, multiple other permutations.

Posted by Mark at 11:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Lost Planet

While you slept last night, the solar system lost a planet.

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) - Leading astronomers declared Thursday that Pluto is no longer a planet under historic new guidelines that downsize the solar system from nine planets to eight.

After a tumultuous week of clashing over the essence of the cosmos, the International Astronomical Union stripped Pluto of the planetary status it has held since its discovery in 1930. The new definition of what is - and isn't - a planet fills a centuries-old black hole for scientists who have labored since Copernicus without one.

Will Mickey Mouse's dog have to be renamed "Neptune"?

Posted by Doug at 01:08 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 22, 2006

Wiretap Ruling Panned by Both Sides

Now that legal experts have been able to go over the recent ruling on the constitutionality of the NSA wiretaps, they're not impressed, even the ones that don't like the wiretaps.

Even legal experts who agreed with a federal judge's conclusion on Thursday that a National Security Agency surveillance program is unlawful were distancing themselves from the decision's reasoning and rhetoric yesterday.

They said the opinion overlooked important precedents, failed to engage the government's major arguments, used circular reasoning, substituted passion for analysis and did not even offer the best reasons for its own conclusions.

This from a Carter appointee. The results of a single presidential election can have ramifications long after he leaves office.
Discomfort with the quality of the decision is almost universal, said Howard J. Bashman, a Pennsylvania lawyer whose Web log provides comprehensive and nonpartisan reports on legal developments.

"It does appear," Mr. Bashman said, "that folks on all sides of the spectrum, both those who support it and those who oppose it, say the decision is not strongly grounded in legal authority."

The main problems, scholars sympathetic to the decision's bottom line said, is that the judge, Anna Diggs Taylor, relied on novel and questionable constitutional arguments when more straightforward statutory ones were available.

Much like other liberal judges who rule based on, say, emanations and penumbras, rather than the text. The "living document" way of looking at law and the Constitution has brought us decisions that legal experts from both sides of the aisle can't defend.

And if I may toot my own horn for just a bit, this point...

She ruled, for instance, that the program, which eavesdrops without court permission on international communications of people in the United States, violated the First Amendment because it might have chilled the speech of people who feared they might have been monitored.

That ruling is “rather innovative” and “not a particularly good argument,” Jack Balkin, a law professor at Yale who believes the program is illegal, wrote on his Web log.

...sounds very much like my initial critique that her explanation made wearing a wire to a mob meeting unconstitutional. I am not a lawyer and still I managed to pick this up. This says nothing about my legal knowledge, frankly, but speaks volumes against this poor ruling.

Critics of the wiretapping also don't understand why Judge Taylor's ruling didn't take into account some of the more obvious legal issues, like the FISA court law. Even supporters of the program could tick off lists of precedents that could have been used.

Supporters of the program, disclosed by The New York Times in December, suggested that Judge Taylor’s opinion was as good a way to lose as any.

“It’s hard to exaggerate how bad it is,” said John R. Schmidt, a Justice Department official in the Clinton administration who says the program is legal. He pointed to Judge Taylor’s failure to cite what he called several pertinent decisions, including one from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review in 2002 that said it took for granted that Congress “could not encroach on the president’s constitutional power” to conduct warrantless surveillance to obtain foreign intelligence.

Predictably, the ACLU will take the worst ruling and frame it as wisdom from Solomon.
Anthony Romero, the executive director of the A.C.L.U., said Judge Taylor’s decision represented vindication of established limits on the scope of executive authority.

“Ultimately,” Mr. Romero said, “any doubts about the decision will be taken up on appeal by sitting federal judges rather than pundits or commentators.”

No, the doubts will most likely stick around. According to Prof. Cass Sunstein, a rather liberal law professor at the University of Chicago, the case, while he thinks it will ultimately be won by the plaintiffs, won't be won because of anything Judge Taylor said.
“The chances that the Bush program will be upheld are not none, but slim,” Professor Sunstein said. “The chances that this judge’s analysis will be adopted are also slim.”

Posted by Doug at 11:58 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 21, 2006

When "Cease-Fire" is Spelled "R-E-A-R-M"

Well, that didn't take long.

JERUSALEM – Hezbollah has returned to many of its strongholds in south Lebanon and is capable of launching another round of attacks against the Jewish state, Israeli and Lebanese officials tell WorldNetDaily.

The statements follow scores of reports Iran and Syria are attempting to rearm Hezbollah one week after a cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon went into effect following 34 days of confrontations that began when Lebanese militia ambushed an Israeli patrol unit, kidnapping two soldiers and killing eight others.

"Hezbollah has undoubtedly returned to their positions," Walid Jumblatt, Lebanon's Druze leader and head of the country's Progressive Socialist Party, told WND. "They were victorious against Israel and now they are regrouping for another round, which is inevitable."

Looks like Thomas Sowell will be shown to be right, as calling for a cease-fire is doing nothing but giving Hizbollah time to rearm for the next strike.

Posted by Doug at 01:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

How Green is Your Church?

Dr. Roy Spencer at TCS Daily asks "How Green is Your Church?" and hits points about global warming and the different way that Christians can react to it that we've covered here before. But I wanted to highlight his concluding paragraphs.

Bjorn Lomborg, a self-proclaimed environmentalist, assembled a panel of experts in economics who were charged with determining -- given a fixed amount of money to be dedicated to improving the human conditions -- what actions give the biggest returns for the least money. The result was the "Copenhagen Consensus", with over a dozen policy approaches prioritized in terms of bang-for-the-buck. Fighting climate change was at the bottom of the list. Fighting malaria, AIDS, provision of clean water and other sanitation measures were a few that were at or near the top of the list.

As has often been the case where economics and policy intersect, good intentions are not enough. The lesson for the church is, while it is one thing to agree to "help the world's poor", it is another thing entirely to determine how to best spend limited financial resources. Unless we examine the consequences of our charitable efforts, it is entirely possible to inadvertently make matters worse, rather than better.

Posted by Doug at 09:08 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 18, 2006

Unconstitutional by Association

A recent court ruling claims that, while a religious display might not be unconstitutional in and of itself, if too many religious people get near it, it becomes unconstitutional.

The ruling from the Fifth Court of Appeals said the display of a Bible on public ground in Houston to honor the founder of a mission has to go, not because it was unconstitutional itself, but because it became unconstitutional when a Christian group rallied around it.

The pastor's group said that means any monument, building, or even feature of nature is an illegal "establishment of religion" if a church ceremony is held there.

"Connecting the dots between the eminent domain case, which says all of your churches are up for grabs if a town wants a mall, secondly you now have been told you do not have constitutional rights in the public square," Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastors Conference, told WorldNetDaily.

"Any kind of an event is okay, as long as you didn't express any religious faith. What is that telling you?


Welch told WND that the court's conclusion was "ludicrous" and if followed logically, could mean that a religious rally at any public building would therefore make the building unconstitutional so it would have to be removed.

The Bible was installed on county property about five decades ago in honor of William Mosher, the founder of Star of Hope Mission, and was replaced in 1996 with donated funds. However, an atheist challenged the monument, and on an appeal from the District Court decision that the Bible was unconstitutional, the appeals court carried the argument further.

Its ruling said that the monument became an unconstitutional "establishment" after a 2003 rally was held by Christians to defend the display. That rally involved prayers and clergy, the court noted.

"The ramifications of this tortured decision are breath-taking and without any historic or legitimate Constitutional rationale," said the pastors' organization. "For the court to state that if a private citizen exercises his or her First Amendment rights of religious expression and assembly on public property, that any monument, building or fixed item of any kind that contains religious references becomes 'establishment of religion' is simply irrational."

Even if you don't think that such predicted persecution "followed logically" from such a ruling, the ruling itself is awful. It's certainly one that, if it stays in force on appeal, makes the constitutionality of any sort of religious display, even in a religious context, subject to the whims of judges. Is that what the First Amendment means by "free exercise" of religion?

Posted by Doug at 01:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 17, 2006

A Civil Society Approach to Welfare

I'm a little behind in my podcast listening since having gone on vacation, but I listened to one this evening from the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. Father Robert Sirico, President of the Acton Institute, gave a 40 minute talk on "A Civil Society Approach to Welfare" (link is to the mp3 file). It's an absolute must-listen for a Christian considering caring for the poor, the morality of the welfare state, the waste of the federal "solution" to this, and the unintended consequences.

One of the very many good points that Sirico makes is that governmental social services, by their nature, cannot minister to the whole person. The spiritual side is ignored, and in many cases (Sirico suggests that it may be in the majority of cases) there is a deeper moral issue that has caused the poverty. (Most of our own problems, indeed, reflect a personal issue with sin.) The church is the best party to deal with this, but when the government steps in, it siphons off funds that would go to faith-based organizations, and turns many of those organizations into lobbying groups for more welfare instead of groups that actually do anything. Social services that ignore the spiritual nature of man in essence treat him as cattle. When the cows are cold, we put them in the barn. If they're thirsty, we give them something to drink. Nothing wrong with doing that for people, but people aren't cattle. There's a dimension that is ignored by government a thousand miles away (or even government down the street).

This talk is absolutely chock full of great points. I wish there was a transcript that I could post excerpts from, so you'll just have to listen to it. Really. And if you have a podcatcher, pick up their feed.

Posted by Doug at 09:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

NSA Wiretaps Ruled Unconstitutional

A federal judge has ruled that the Bush administration's NSA warrantless wiretaps of international calls are unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit became the first judge to strike down the National Security Agency's program, which she says violates the rights to free speech and privacy.

A few things in this paragraph bug me. First, when one says she "became the first", the AP implies "of others", because you don't typically refer to the first of something when there is only one of them, or unless you're anticipating more (or trying to give the impression that there will be more). Their bias is showing, and their intent to manipulate public opinion has begun.

Secondly, listening to speech in no way restricts it. It's like saying when a stoolie wears a wire it stifles the free speech of the mob.

Thirdly, there's that elusive general constitutional right to privacy that no one can ever put their finger on. There are some specific privacy rights, but none so general as would prevent people from listening in on conversations or allow the general right of getting an abortion.

Now granted, this is a very preliminary report of the ruling, which just hit the wires. There's certainly more to come, and the description of the ruling at this point may be overgeneralized. In fact, there's no mention in the article about the warrant or FISA issues. And frankly, as I said when this thing first came out, I'm always a bit wary of expanding government power (though when it's a constitutionally-mandated power, I'm less concerned). But if this turns out to be true--that this flimsy ground is what the ruling is built upon--it's worth of appeal.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of journalists, scholars and lawyers who say the program has made it difficult for them to do their jobs. They believe many of their overseas contacts are likely targets of the program, which involves secretly taping conversations between people in the U.S. and people in other countries.

Yup, let's make it easier for journalists to do their job, while making it harder for the intelligence agencies to do their's. Now that's prioritization.

Certainly this will be a hot topic in the days to come.

Posted by Doug at 01:14 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 16, 2006

The Return of McGovernism

I remember George McGovern. He came to the University of Iowa during my freshman year in 1972 in the last throes of his presidential candidacy. The crowd packed the quadrangle, with students hanging out the windows of the surrounding classroom buildings. The crowds were friendly and supportive, anxious for an end to the Vietnam War and the draft (my selective service number was 11, which meant I would be packing my bags for 'Nam if the war didn't end).

There weren't many happy moments for McGovern thereafter, as he was crushed by Nixon at the ballot box and faded into anti-war history.

Evidently the Democrats of 2006 are nostalgic for the '70s. I miss Crosby, Stills and Nash and the music of the times. But I can't understand why the Democrats don't recognize where the McGovern road leads.

At the Conservative Outpost, Drew McKissick revisits and parallels the era of McGovern with the anti-war radical of our day, in a post titled The New McGovernism.

Posted by Jim at 04:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Winners and Losers in the Latest Mideast Conflict

Doing some more catch-up today. This time, the recently "cease-fired" battle in southern Lebanon between Israel and Hizbollah

This particular battle had quite a lot of popular support, from both the Right and the Left, in Israel. Israel's peace movement was essentially silenced as either they didn't speak up and/or they agreed with the premise. This was also noted on the Radio Open Source program of 7/31, in a show highlighting Israeli reactions. How the battle was prosecuted certainly has its critics, but hardly anyone disagreed with the justness of it.

And who can we at least partially thank for the necessity of it? Why the UN, of course. While their "peacekeeper" were flying their flag along with Hizbollah's, Iran and Syria were rearming these terrorists (Hizbollah, not the UN). Israel tried to make this a quick and effective battle by sending in special forces to take out enemy positions early, but what they ran into were more and better bunkers than they'd known about. Hizbollah was showering Israel with far more rockets than they were thought to have. Much of this digging in and rearming occurred during the 2 years that UN 1559, the resolution saying that Hizbollah must be disarmed, was in force. Guess this august body was quite sure of what needed to be done, but no one was willing to do it. (Until Israel started the job. Then, of course, the UN balked.)

I wonder if Israel will now have 2 years to abide by the UN resolution calling for a cease-fire. No, in fact Kofi Annan wanted the fighting to stop before the appointed hour in the resolution.

As I noted earlier, Thomas Sowell said that there have been more cease-fires in the Middle East than anywhere else, and that doesn't seem to have solved the Arab-Israeli issue. I don't think this one will either. Here are some of the pros and cons of this:


  • Civilian deaths will stop: Well, Lebanese civilian deaths will stop, which is a good thing in and of itself. I really don't think that this cease-fire will stop Israeli civilian deaths, especially since it was Hizbollah that started the shooting. Letting them continue on to fight another day just delays when that begins again.
  • Israel forced the UN to actually do something about UN 1559: The United Nations sat on its collective hands for 2 years, allowing and hardly discussing the violating of an international border by Hizbollah. Is this the way to prevent war, by allowing one side to attack and kidnap? Is this they way to achieve fairness, by only passing resolutions when the other side defends itself? But in any event, the cease-fire will allow forces to come in and hopefully start the job of enforcement that should have been started 24 months ago.

  • Hizbollah lives to fight another day: We are going to see further Israeli casualties in the future. It's simply a matter of when. This new resolution, 1701 (not a Star Trek reference, for those that may get it), also calls for the disarming of Hizbollah. Think it'll happen? I'm not talking about whether Hizbollah gives up some of it's rockets, I'm talking about disarming. No, I don't think will. Instead, they'll give up their older tech in likely anticipation of getting longer-range missiles from Syria and Iran, while the UN "peacekeepers" mill about.
  • Hizbollah is legitimized: The UN is treating like a country. According to Andy McCarthy at National Review, the resolution...
    doesn't purport to direct any UN member nation to make Hezbollah cease firing — least of all Lebanon, the purported sovereign of this territory. Instead, it appeals to Hezbollah directly — in the same paragraph in which it addresses Israel, as if there were no difference in status between the two — and "calls on" it to stand down.

  • The resolution has no teeth: It was not passed with what's known as Chapter 7 provisions, so the international force can't actually do anything if Hizbollah starts shooting at Israel again. As Michael Rubin puts it (also on National Review), the force thus becomes so much "decoration". Hizbollah doesn't even have to return the kidnapped soldiers, the flashpoint of this battle.
  • Instability in Israel: If just one more rocket is launched from southern Lebanon or one more attack made, the Olmert administration is done for. While the cease-fire is ostensibly insured by the UN, it'll be Olmert that pays the price if it fails.
  • Israel is essentially punished for properly leaving Lebanon: As they say, no good deed goes unpunished, at least in the Middle East. Click here for a list of the sacrifices made and costs incurred by Israel in the one year since moving out of Gaza and portions of the West Bank. Note also the thanks they got in return from the Palestinians.

And, as ScrappleFace notes, if cease-fires work so well, how about we call a cease-fire in the war on terror, eh? Think Osama will abide by it?

(Other notable reactions to the cease-fire are at Captain's Quarters and Power Line.)

Overall, I think Israel got a raw deal. They may have made some gains against Hizbollah, but not enough to ensure their security. Thank you, United Nations.

The media have been an interesting part of this conflict. They come out with a number of black eyes, especially regarding photography (or as Glenn Reynolds has referred to it as, "fauxtography"). As noted by Jim, and heavily documented at "EU Referendum", the video and photos coming in from the front have been manipulated, either intentionally or not. The fact that this happened, as far as I know, exclusively on the Hizbollah/Lebanese side of the equation make the press look like patsies, full of bias, or both. (It doesn't say much for the Arabs, either, when you'd be hard-pressed to find nearly the same attempts at manipulation by civilians on the Israeli side.)

This hasn't been solely a pictorial issue. CNN International coverage of the conflict was highlighted by a report that minimized Israeli deaths while reporting heavily on Lebanese ones, and inferring that Israelis would intentionally target civilians, among other things. The foreign media in general covered Beirut extensively, but virtually ignored Haifa. They've called Israeli leaflets asking civilians to leave a soon-to-be-attacked area "propaganda", ignored bad news for Hizbollah, reported their own opinion in news, and ignored dissention against Hizbollah in Lebanon.

As I've noted before, typically, your political persuasion can generally predict who you side with in Arab-Israeli conflicts. It shouldn't be that way, given a clear reading of history, but it generally does. Conservatives tend to side with Israel, liberals with the Arabs. Now, given the leanings of the press in the coverage, it further adds credibility to the charge that they have a liberal bias. Just another of a long line of such lists of evidence.

To be honest, I've found myself on CNN as often as FoxNews in the recent weeks, mostly because I wanted current news rather than analysis or opinion, and Anderson Cooper was doing more of that than Bill O'Reilly or Greta van Susteren. While you can point to some reports and programs that were balanced, when you look at those that could be considered biased for one side of the other, and when you see which side that bias almost always falls, the press, once again, falls into the camp that conservatives have always said it would.

But those that deny such a bias will also hand-wave away such evidence as well. That I expect, but find increasingly amazing.

So in summary:

  • Israel: Short term win, medium term up in the air (thank you, UN), long term loss.
  • Hizbollah: Short term loss, medium term win.
  • United Nations: All term loss (toothless, cowardly; needs to visit the Wizard of Oz).
  • The Media: Loss. Again. Not really news, so to speak.

Posted by Doug at 03:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 15, 2006

When the Messenger Falls

It was tragic when the man who is responsible for introducing Jesus Christ to more people than anyone else in our generation demonstrated great public sin and enormous personal problems.

That man, of course, is Mel Gibson, the film star, director of The Passion of the Christ, and evangelist, who accomplished a late night trifeckta—-public drunkenness, driving under the influence, and scapegoating an ethnic group, the Jewish people.

I grieve for Mel Gibson, because he clearly has deep personal issues that have now destroyed his reputation. And I grieve for the impact this has on the fine work he has done bringing the message of Jesus through the thicket of Hollywood opposition to millions of people. When God’s messengers prove to have feet of clay, it gives courage to those who would tramper upon the message.

But much has been written about this incident. I appreciated a column from Terry Mattingly, which included this thought from film critic Michael Medved, an Orthodox Jew.

"When a long-married, 50-year-old father of seven gets arrested for drunk driving at nearly twice the speed limit at 2:30 in the morning," noted Medved, "it's safe to assume that he faces even more serious problems than exposing his anti-Semitic attitudes."

I like Mel Gibson and I honor him for his courage. I pray for his restoration and healing. He found a way to bring the story of Christ to the big screen; perhaps he’ll find a way creatively to help diminish the anti-Semitism that is a curse in the world and a unsavory legacy of Gibson’s own family.

Posted by Jim at 08:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 14, 2006

Playing Politics with People's Lives

Playing a little catch-up after 2 weeks in the Great Smoky Mountains. (Loved it; camped out and went whitewater rafting, among other things, with the family.)

The terrorist airline bombing plot that was foiled last week is a testament to the Bush administration's approach to the problem vs. Kerry's proposed "law enforcement" approach. Law enforcement relies on the penalty for breaking the law being a deterrent. It doesn't handle suicidal maniacs very well.

The Wall St. Journal put it this way:

Let's emphasize that again: The plot was foiled because a large number of people were under surveillance concerning their spending, travel and communications. Which leads us to wonder if Scotland Yard would have succeeded if the ACLU or the New York Times had first learned the details of such surveillance programs.

Some have shot back (see the comments to this post from World Magazine's blog) that the issue is legality, making it sound like they'd have no issue whatsoever if the NSA wiretapping and the SWIFT program, both of which the NY Times exposed, would be hunky-dory with them if only they were legal. Problem is, the NSA program hasn't been shown to be illegal and the SWIFT program was patently legal (even the Times admitted that). And it is possible that some of the intercepts were international calls to the US (ABC News' "The Blotter" blog notes that the FBI is following up on domestic leads). I don't buy this appeal to legality since all is assumed to be wrong if done by a Republican.

And I'm pretty confident in that generalization, as reported by PoliPundit.

"Regardless of how you voted in the presidential election, would you say you want President Bush to succeed or not?"
Democrats: No, 51%

And with this success in the war on terror, you'd think this would be good news, but, again, not for Democrats. (The WSJ again...)

And almost on political cue yesterday, Members of the Congressional Democratic leadership were using the occasion to suggest that the U.S. is actually more vulnerable today despite this antiterror success. Harry Reid, who's bidding to run the Senate as Majority Leader, saw it as one more opportunity to insist that "the Iraq war has diverted our focus and more than $300 billion in resources from the war on terrorism and has created a rallying cry for international terrorists."

If the terror plot had been successful, you no doubt could've hear the exact same rhetoric coming from Reid. It's nothing but a talking point to try and make political hay out of a success viewed as a failure. (Is this what Democrats mean by "reframing" the debate?)
Ted Kennedy chimed in that "it is clear that our misguided policies are making America more hated in the world and making the war on terrorism harder to win." Mr. Kennedy somehow overlooked that the foiled plan was nearly identical to the "Bojinka" plot led by Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to blow up airliners over the Pacific Ocean in 1995. Did the Clinton Administration's "misguided policies" invite that plot?

And I would add; what is it we need to do to make ourselves more liked by Islamic fascists, and do we really even want to consider it? We are not hated primarily because of policy or politics; we're hated because we're not Muslims. France has bent over backwards to avoid offending Muslims, and they got riots anyway. Indonesia's huge Muslim population and Muslim preference didn't stop the Bali bombings. And the 9/11 attacks had most of their planning period spent under the Clinton administration. They didn't start hating us and planning our demise once Dubya sat down in the Oval Office.

This is a textbook case of playing politics with people's lives. It's time for Democrats to take a deep breath and determine what's best for the country instead of just their own political careers. It's time for the man on the street to see this rhetoric for what it is. And it's time for the far left to take a reality check, step back from the Bush Derangement Syndrome they're suffering from, and take an honest look at the world. If not--if the Democrats continue to be pulled to the left by vitriol and dishonesty--I don't see how they expect this to win them more votes in November.

Posted by Doug at 01:06 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Reuters Photo Fraud to Bring Sympathy to Hezbullah

Here is fascinating evidence of photo fraud by Reuters and other media organizations in their coverage of the war against Hezbullah terrorists.

Posted by Jim at 12:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Journalistic Balance and Moral Equivalence

Photos and TV images are the most difficult to balance in journalistic reports, according to an article in the NY TImes, and the Hezbullah/Israel conflict has been among the most difficult, the article says.

But the attempt to balance the photo of a dead Israeli child with that of a dead Lebanese child is seen by some as "a dereliction of journalistic duty.:

"Some critics of Israel argue that because the death tolls and destruction are greater in Lebanon, a proportionality of sorts should inform the resulting reports; anything else betrays a pro-Israeli stance. But supporters of Israel say such an approach bestows a misguided moral equivalence. Israel is a democratic nation exercising its right to self-defense, they argue, while Hezbollah is a terrorist organization that uses the Lebanese people as human shields."

Certainly there is no moral equivalence here, with the Hezbollah terrorists responsible for attacking a legitimate and democratic nation. But journalistic balance should not infer moral equivalence, although it takes some wisdom by the reader/viewer (always a risk) to separate the morality from the equivalence of human tragedy.

It's an interesting article on a tough daily struggle for responsbile news organizations.

Posted by Jim at 07:25 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 09, 2006

Northern Uganda: A Journey to the Edge of Darkness

This is Crisis
Occasionally, God puts us in situations where we are forced to realize that we are truly fortunate, and that the events and challenges that we call problems, are truly minor inconveniences in a sea of ease.

We returned several days ago from two weeks in Africa, mostly in northern Uganda, with a few days in Nairobi, Kenya. We were working with Child Voice International, a new Christian organization focusing on the child victims of war.

Although I’ve traveled extensively throughout the world, including a fair amount of time in the poorest countries, the time in Uganda provided a fresh dose of reality, of perspective, of gratitude, and of conviction.

Uganda shares with most of Africa the tragic legacy of post-colonial cultural and economic freefall. Actually, the nation has been doing a little better in recent years than many of its neighbors, and because of the influence of the Christian church, it has a better record in its battle with AIDS than much of Africa. (You see abstinence posters everywhere. It’s not a bad word in Uganda).

Thirty years ago, Idi Amin brutalized the nation. When we flew into Entebbe, the world was observing the 30-year anniversary of the successful Israeli rescue of its citizens who were hijacked to Entebbe. Our Uganda guide and friend, however, did not want to talk about it. It is not a proud chapter in Ugandan history.

But now another madman has taken a severe toll on the nation. A deranged rebel spiritualist/terrorist, Joseph Kony, has killed thousands, adducted and enslaved some 30,000 children, and displaced most of the population of two million in the northern provinces of the nation.

One formerly abducted child we met at a transit center, James, had been forced by the rebels to bite his brother until nearly dead, then to beat him to death. At one point in the bush, James took some corn because he was hungry, and a rebel cut off part of his ear because he had not been given permission.

These stories are everywhere. Most families in northern Ugandan have lost a loved one.

When Will They Be Able to Go Home?
There shouldn't be malnutrition in northern Uganda, where the soil is fine and the rains are plentiful. But the murderous attacks of the oddly named Lord's Resistance Army have caused most of the two million people in this region to leave their homes and farmland to live in protected internal refugee camps. While these camps are relatively safe, people are crowded into them and diseases are killing thousands of people. And there is no land there for these people to grow their crops. They are kept alive through the help of international aid agencies.

Once the LRA rebels are subdued or give up, it should be safe for these refugees to return to their homes. But will they feel safe? Will they want to return to homes that have often been scenes of horrible crimes?

Thousands of Children Still Enslaved
According to one source who was abducted at the age of nine and served 10 years as a child soldier, during the which time he became a high-level LRA operative, there are still more than 3,000 child soldiers held by the LRA.

There are peace talks grinding on in Sudan between the LRA and the Ugandan government. Pray for this peace.

The government has offered amnesty to the butchers of the LRA. It blows your mind, but it fits into a culture of forgiveness, which I’ll talk about another day.

Posted by Jim at 01:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 01, 2006

Anti-War Left Completes Takeover of Democratic Party

Democratic leaders (including senior members of every congressional committee on military, intelligence and international affairs) have sent a letter to President Bush urging a complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

The Anti-War Left has completed its takeover of the Democratic Party. By making the War on Terror the central issue of the upcoming election, they are only reinforcing their image as a party that cannot be trusted to keep America safe.

Many Americans realize that this war is going to be a long war. It's better for us to fight this war patiently and deliberately rather than sit back and wait to be attacked again.

Until Democrats accept the fact that we are at war and that they need to come up with a realistic strategy for winning instead of just cutting and running, they can expect to lose more elections. Perhaps getting soundly beaten at the polls a couple of times will help them see the error of their ways. But I wouldn't count on it.

Posted by Tom at 11:02 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack