September 29, 2006
Tough Times for Truth
September 28, 2006
The Calm Before the (Next) Storm
Ah, the wonders of a UN resolution. The peacekeeping troops are there, and they're doing...what, exactly?
One month after a United Nations Security Council resolution ended a 34-day war between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, members of the international force sent to help keep the peace say their mission is defined more by what they cannot do than by what they can.
They say they cannot set up checkpoints, search cars, homes or businesses or detain suspects. If they see a truck transporting missiles, for example, they say they can not stop it. They cannot do any of this, they say, because under their interpretation of the Security Council resolution that deployed them, they must first be authorized to take such action by the Lebanese Army.
The job of the United Nations force, and commanders in the field repeat this like a mantra, is to respect Lebanese sovereignty by supporting the Lebanese Army. They will only do what the Lebanese authorities ask.
And many in the Lebanese Army support the aims of Hezbollah, so you're not going to see much on that front.
The Security Council resolution, known as 1701, was seen at the time as the best way to halt the war, partly by giving Israel assurances that Lebanon’s southern border would be policed by a robust international force to prevent Hezbollah militants from attacking. When the resolution was approved, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, one of its principal architects, said the force’s deployment would help “protect the Lebanese people and prevent armed groups such as Hezbollah from destabilizing the area.”
But the resolution’s diplomatic language skirted a fundamental question: what kind of policing power would be given to the international force? The resolution leaves open the possibility that the Lebanese Army would grant such policing power, but the force’s commanders say that so far, at least, that has not happened.
The UN backs up its toothless resolutions with toothless "peacekeepers" that let Hezbollah rearm in broad daylight. Is this what they meant in the resolution by "disarming" them? They've kicked the problem down the road and pretend they've solved it.
In the meantime, it appears that the world body's outrage is all spent, or at least it's selective. When Israel fought back, the UN acted (well, for loose interpretations of the word "act"). When Palestinians lob rockets into Israel, the UN yawns.
Three Kassam rockets fired on Israel Monday morning damaged vehicles and hit an empty classroom at the Sh'ar HaNegev College in the northwestern Negev.
Arab terrorists in Gaza have stepped up rocket attacks against Israel the past two weeks despite IDF operations. However, there has been no political condemnation of the terrorist attacks.
Rockets? What rockets?
Palestinians fired two Qassam rockets from the northern Gaza Strip on Monday morning. One of the rockets landed near Kibbutz Mefalsim, causing damage to two cars.
A Magen David Adom crew dispatched to the area evacuated a woman who suffered from shock to the Barzilai Medical Center in Asheklon.
The other rocket landed near the southern town of Sderot and did not cause injuries or damage.
(Hat tip to Meryl Yourish.)
The UN did not bring peace. What it brought was a calm before the next storm, a storm that is organizing right under its nose.
September 27, 2006
There's Negative, and Then There's Negative
The negative campaign season is upon us. Republicans and Democrats are geared up and ready to takes shots at each other. I've never really had a problem with negative campaigning in principle. I think it's perfectly relevant to have one candidate point out where the other's actions have gone against his past or present promises and stated positions. There's a fine line when you get into the personal lives, but if a candidate says one thing and acts quite differently, it could be fair game.
Having said that, I'm uncomfortable with some of the new negative ads that Republicans are putting out. While both sides are going negative (again, not necessarily a bad thing in my book), according to the NY Times it looks like the Republicans are going negative on mostly personal issues while the Democrats are going negative on political issues. And given the examples cited, the Republicans are disappointing me.
For Republicans, it was the leading edge of a wave of negative advertisements against Democratic candidates, the product of more than a year of research into the personal and professional backgrounds of Democratic challengers.
“What do we really know about Angie Paccione?” an announcer asks about a Democratic challenger in Colorado. “Angie Paccione had 10 legal claims against her for bad debts and campaign violations. A court even ordered her wages garnished.”
For Democrats, it was part of a barrage intended to tie Republican incumbents to an unpopular Congress, criticize their voting records, portray them as captives to special interests and highlight embarrassing moments from their business histories.
In Tennessee, Democrats attacked Bob Corker, a Republican candidate for Senate, saying his construction company had hired illegal immigrants “while he looked the other way.”
Both types of negative ads, personal and political, can result in cheap shots and innuendo that make them wrong. "He voted against X!", when it was just a rider on a larger, bad bill. "She looked the other way!", when it may have been someone hiding things from the candidate. While there's a line that can be crossed in both cases, that line is much easier to cross when the ads get personal. Looking at some of the examples, Republicans are crossing my line.
John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat who is running for a House seat, has spent much of the past few days trying to explain editorials unearthed by Republican researchers and spotlighted in new advertisements. Mr. Yarmuth wrote the editorials for his student newspapers, and in them he advocated the legalization of marijuana, among other things.
Across the airwaves, Democratic challengers are being attacked for having defaulted on student loans, declaring bankruptcy, skipping out on tax bills, and being a lobbyist, a trial lawyer or, even worse, a liberal.
Steve Kagan, a doctor and Democrat running for Congress in Wisconsin, is being attacked for having sued patients who did not pay their bills. “Why not just tell the truth, Dr. Millionaire?” said an advertisement shown Tuesday.
Democrats are hammering away as well, but not as personally.
Democrats are equally aggressive in their advertisements, going after Republicans on votes, ties to campaign contributors and, in the case of challengers, their own personal foibles. In one Democratic advertisement, the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff is shown in shadows wearing a hat as an announcer notes that he made contributions to Representative J. D. Hayworth, Republican of Arizona.
Democrats are even attacking Republicans on what should be their signature issue, taxes, most recently in an upstate New York race between State Senator Raymond A. Meier, a Republican, and Michael A. Arcuri, a Democrat, to fill an open Republican seat. “Raymond Meier raised taxes in Oneida County,” the announcer says. “Meier raised taxes in Albany. What do you think he’ll do” in Washington?
Abramoff and taxes are all fair game. Even Social Security--a example later in the article--is fair game, even if I disagree with the Democratic candidate's position.
With so many issues that Republicans could tweak Democrats on, why do you need this? That this has been done by Democrats in the past is no excuse. Part of the problem is the ceding of the high ground that Republicans have done regarding issues like spending, smaller government, and illegal immigration. Part of it was getting heady with power and allowing Jack Abramoff to start plying them with money.
Additionally, part of it is because we are moved by negative ads, even the personal attacks. It's a sad truth of politics, but we get the ads we deserve because we respond to them. Too many folks are disengaged from the political process, so they tune out positive campaign ads when they hear or see them. But get their outrage up, and they'll listen. If you're going to vote, you've got to get your head in the game sooner than when McCain-Feingold kicks in.
Now this is the NY Times, we're talking about, and it's possible they're not showing examples of personal attacks from Democrats or issue ads from Republicans. Regardless, I expect more from the party I identify with, and it looks like I'm not getting it.
September 26, 2006
It's 2006, Not 1998, Perhaps It's Time to Get Serious?
[N]ow my heart is doubtful. The world changes, and all that once was strong now proves unsure. How shall any tower withstand . . . such reckless hate?
Theoden, King of Rohan, in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings--The Two Towers
For some time I have had in mind to write a mild defense of President Clinton from the charge of "do nothingness" in the face of the al Qaeda threat during the 1990s. These charges that his lack of minding the store caused 9/11 smack of ahistorical amnesia on the part of the accusers. Anybody who was over 18 in the mid-1990s knows, or should know if he or she had sense, that Bill Clinton would have had zero chance of taking any real military action against al Qaeda or the Taliban prior to September 11. Fortunately for me, procrastination has its benefits and the worthy Captain Ed has written the defense for me:
For five years, we have rehashed this long and embarrassing history of American cluelessness. It is a bipartisan history, with both Republicans and Democrats arguing at various times that administrations used terrorism as an excuse for their political benefit. All it does is poison the atmosphere and allow hyperpartisans to play gotcha games with political opponents.
The time has come -- it has long since come -- for that history to become just that: history. None of us can pretend that Bill Clinton could ever have declared war on al-Qaeda in the manner Bush did without having a 9/11-type event as a catalyst. Not only would the Left have screamed much as they do now, albeit without the Hugo Chavez-type conspiratorial thinking, Republicans would have never given Clinton the kind of support needed to send American troops into Afghanistan. The political climate had been thoroughly poisoned by the time of the African bombings and Congress would never have put aside its deathmatch with Clinton to unite in a war effort, especially against a band of terrorists most Americans didn't know existed.
The political climate is still poisoned against a President, albeit a different one this time. Yet, what matters, what is important, is to get on with the business at hand rather than trying to pretend that the past was other than it was. The more energy we waste on each other, the less clear our purpose becomes and the less focus we have on stopping the threat that faces the free West.
I suspect, however, that these calls will availeth naught. Eloquent statements like Captain Ed's will fall on the deaf ears of those of the right who are intent on their dogged campaign against the hated Clintons, both the one who can no longer run and the one who might. On the left, the eloquence and intellectual honesty of those like Christopher Hitchens (see here and here for examples) will also fall on deaf ears, as his otherwise fellow travelers become single-minded in their one true objective--the hatred of all things Bush.
The result is a clear statement to those who observe us: We in the United States (and frankly the West in general) are not serious about this war with militant Islam. We would rather sit on the brink of utter ruin and debate over petty injustices, real or perceived, as if such debates will stop those who want to kill us. (Perhaps we will trifle them to death?)
Sadly, I am increasingly of the belief that the West really does not have what it takes to finish this war. How could it, since it does not actually agree that there is a war, or, if there is, what the aims are, or even who the enemy might be.
So, how exactly is it fair to lay all of that at Bill Clinton's doorstep?
The Minnesota Twins, whom some had written off early in the season, have overcome the loss of two ace pitchers (including a franchise veteran), the loss of their pre-eminent batter for a time, and a variety of other problems, to gain at least a wild-card entry into the playoffs. What an amazing run. We'll see how they do in the playoffs (personally I am optimistic). Whatever happens, it's nice to see a team win by being a team, and not just a collection of high-priced talent.
September 25, 2006
Sanitizing the Veggies
It might be OK to show Madonna hanging on a mirrored cross, but don't dare let Bob and Larry tell kids that God loves them.
The wildly popular VeggieTales kids videos about vegetables who talk and sing and act out Bible stories are being edited for their run on NBC's Saturday morning educational program time, and the network says it's because of time limits.
But the creator says that's not exactly the case, and viewers will have to decide for themselves whether the result is good or bad.
"VeggieTales was originally created for home video and, in most cases, each episode is over 30 minutes long. As it appears …. VeggieTales has been edited down for broadcast without losing any of its core messages about positive values," the network said.
Phil Vischer, the co-creator of the characters, said that comment was "interesting."
"As a guy deeply involved with the project, I know that statement is false," Vischer wrote on his own weblog. "We sent them our first episode for TV, which was already edited to EXACTLY the right length, and they rejected it because, at the end, Bob the Tomato said, 'Remember kids, God made you special and he loves you very much.' They demanded we remove that line. The show wasn't too long, it was too religious."
He said the second also was sent edited for perfect timing. The response from NBC was an e-mail with a list of lines that needed to be removed, "each of them containing either the word 'God' or 'Bible,'" Vischer wrote.
My first reaction was to wonder why NBC felt it needed to lie to the public about what it was doing. Vischer himself had no problem with meeting the standards, as long as NBC was being honest about it. Apparently, now they are. Vischer wrote:
So they're being clear now, which is good. Whether or not you agree with their standards or the other shows they air is really a separate issue. They obviously have the right to set their own standards and apply them however they choose. I just wanted to make sure everyone was being upfront about the situation, because, well, I like it when we're all being upfront.
The company's right to set their own standards isn't really an issue. What is the issue, for me, is the fear of offending non-Christians--or at least the fear of turning them off--while at the same time having no issues with offending Christians in prime time. Brent Bozell says it best.
"This is one of those moments where you understand networks like NBC are only talking an empty talk and walking an empty walk when it comes to the First Amendment, and 'creative integrity,' and so on," Bozell wrote. "They have told parents concerned about their smutty programs like 'Will and Grace' that if they're offended, they have a remote control as an option.
"But when it comes to religious programming – that doesn't even mention Jesus Christ – just watch the hypocrisy. Instead of telling viewers to just change the channel if they don't like it, or put in a V-chip for Bible verses, they demand to producers that all that outdated old-time religion be shredded before broadcast," he said.
"It's truly sad this anti-religious hypocrisy would emerge. Today, no one in network TV fears what the children are watching – unless it makes them think about God."
Vischer is thinking that exposure the the "sanitized" Veggie Tales will get kids interested in the DVDs which aren't edited, and so this was a bit of a compromise. In another blog post on this subject, he tackles the issue of "compromise".
Did I compromise my beliefs to edit the shows? Well, there's 'compromise' in the sense of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refusing to bow down, and then there's 'compromise' in the sense of Paul saying he will be "all things to all people." Paul was willing to compromise his cultural values to build relationships with Greeks, Romans, slaves, and anyone else he met along his travels. If they ate meat, he'd eat meat. If they didn't, he wouldn't. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to compromise their beliefs about God. God said "bow to no other god but me" and they intended to follow that directive, no matter the personal cost. So was taking "God made you special and he loves you very much" off the end of these new shows more like Paul's situation? Or Shadrach's? Do the edited shows say anything that I believe is untrue? No. They do, however, stop short of saying things I wanted to say that are very true. Do they go against God's commands? Or do they just respect the boundaries of a foreign culture?
Vischer says it's up to the viewer to decide. Personally, I'm glad to see Bob and Larry getting more exposure, and I think this can ultimately help spread the news. What I'm disappointed, but not surprised, by are the Hollywood standards in place that are just so upside-down. But as Vischer says,
Let us Christians never forget that we are strangers here. We don't fit in.
And that's okay.
September 23, 2006
A Story of Forgiveness from Africa
I searched for answers in the eyes of the three Acholi men huddled with me in the corner of an outdoor café on the leafy outskirts of Lira, a major city in northern Uganda. I had met the youngest of the three, Patrick, three days earlier and knew him to be a former child soldier, abducted at nine and in the ranks of the LRA rebels for ten years. Patrick, I learned, was piecing together a new life in the grip of Christian faith and good friends.
Patrick had brought me to the café in the early light of a July day to meet with the other two. Charles was a tall, handsome man with remarkably troubled eyes that I figured must be partially explained by the events that led to amputation of one of his legs below the knee. I had met Charles the day before but hadn’t found out how he’d lost his leg. I was trying to talk with a young woman named Janet, one of the “famous” Aboke girls who had been abducted by the LRA from St. Mary’s Boarding School ten years ago. She had spent most of the past decade in captivity. Charles was introduced to me as Janet’s husband, and as the first person I needed to talk to in order to meet her.
Now, with his crutches propped against the wall behind his chair, Charles leaned toward the man we had all gathered to see, known to me only as Mark.
Mark is a large, imposing man resembling James Earl Jones in stature and visage, particularly Jones’ role as Rev Stephen Kumalo in the movie version of the South African classic on reconciliation, Cry, the Beloved Country. Like Kumalo, he is a pastor. He is also Janet’s father, who Charles had explained mysteriously “held me responsible for what had happened to her.” That mystery was one of many to be unfolded around the table.
Mark was understandably protective of his daughter, no longer a young girl, but one who had begun to see too much of the dark side of life before her 13th birthday, when she was enslaved by the LRA and forced into a life of servitude.
As the café brightened, Mark explained his protective instinct, and much more.
Charles, the pastor said, had himself been abducted nearly 20 years ago, in the early days of the twisted rebellion. He was 17 at the time, and like an early adopter of a pyramid marketing scheme, he was soon one of the commanders in what was to become a ferocious and by any standard evil force that continually increased its ranks with abducted children, some 30,000 over the years.
As young abducted girls came of age, they were given to commanders as—you pick the term--wives, concubines, sexual slaves. It was a privilege soon afforded young Charles, and over the years he was presented with four women; a harem that bore him 10 children.
Janet, Mark’s daughter abducted at Aboke, was one of these young women, and by Charles she had two children in captivity, in the bush--as they say in Uganda.
“When Janet was rescued with her children by the military, and she came home, I wanted to kill the man who had forced himself on her; I wanted to kill him with my teeth, I was so angry,” Mark told me, with Charles, that man, sitting beside him.
Then Charles was captured in a firefight with the Ugandan military, by that time already having lost his leg in an earlier battle.
“Then something strange happened,” Mark continued. “God made it clear to me that I was to forgive Charles for what he had done to my daughter. And only God can give you the strength to forgive such terrible acts.”
Charles produced two wallet photos, one of he and Janet with their two children smiling with a white background, looking very much like the young family that went to JC Penney for family photos in a coupon deal. The other photo had the family, with Charles and Mark shaking hands.
“Not only did God tell me to forgive, he told me to reconcile, to make this man, the husband to my daughter, my son. I have done that.”
Charles looked admiringly at the imposing man and told how Mark meets with him regularly and gives him regular counsel and admonition.
“I’ve told him that he must give his life to Christ,” Mark emphasized.
I marveled at his ability to reconcile so decisively and at how this seemed to come easily to the Acholi, who are offering amnesty to the vilest rebels. Mark agreed that it was remarkable, but said it was also extremely difficult. “It is tough. Only in God’s power can you look beyond such offense and agree to love.”
I talked briefly with Patrick, as Mark and Charles discussed plans for later that evening. Patrick continued the description of the reconciliation between the respected gentleman and his son-in-law.
Mark stopped our conversation mid-sentence: “What is this that I hear you saying? My son-in-law? That is not right. No,” he said looking intently at Charles, “this is my son.”
September 22, 2006
Help Stop Those Who Want to Stop the Dead Woman Redux
Ok, this is a recycle post. I feel, though, that I must take drastic action, as I have received a larger than normal amount of bogus feel-good emails recently. Tonight it was Andy Rooney, a few days ago it was Civil War dad finds son on battlefield with the music to Taps in his pocket, a few days prior it was one of the Hillary Clinton lies, namely her refusal to meet with Gold Star Mothers. It goes on and on, with the grandaddy of course being the Madalyn Murray O'Hair story below.
Folks, truth is much, much more interesting, and moving, than fiction. So, check these things out at Snopes.
Well, I got this email today asking me to help stop Madalyn Murray O'Hair and get the FCC to reject Petition Number 2493, which O'Hair and her atheist organization have put in front of the FCC to prevent Christian programming over the airwaves. Doctor Dobson wants all good Christians to help stop this threat to our freedom.
I'd love to help, but you see, this email is a hoax. It's been a known hoax for almost ten years (during which time Ms. O'Hair died). I was actually astounded to receive it, as I thought everybody knew this was a hoax.
Here's a good rule of thumb for emails. If you receive one that asks you to forward it on because of something outrageous that it is reporting to you, do yourself, and your potential recipients, a favor. Go visit snopes.com, do a search on a prominent term in the email, and make sure it's not a hoax. Here is the Snopes entry on the O'Hair email.
A public service announcement by your friends at Stones Cry Out.
That They May Have Life
I do not consider myself especially ecumenical, mostly because that term is freighted with much baggage with regards to watering down the Gospel, and liberal theology. Or at least that is so in my mind. However, I am very passionate about a rapprochement among the various large groups of Christianity, Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Syrian, etc. When Our Lord adjured Christians to "Love One Another," I take it to mean literally that we need to eschew division and come together in communion.
Thus, I have always observed with favor the Evangelicals and Catholics Together project. That group has released a new statement, "That They May Have Life" in the most recent volume of First Things. Interestingly, not only does the group attempt to bridge the chasm between Evangelicals and Catholics, but it also attempts to engage the larger culture in a conversation about life, namely the Culture of Life. I will have more to say on this but would encourage you to read it yourself. In addition, if you are serious about things Christian and things Cultural, you would do well to subscribe to First Things.
The Christian Carnival
The CXL'th (140th for us non-Romans) edition of the Christian Carnival is up at the blog "Lux Venit" (a Latin phrase for, I belive, "the light came", and also the title of a Michael W. Smith song).
Possible Peace, Little Trust in Northern Uganda
Since my return from Uganda in late July, I've been following the sitution in northern Uganda with interest.
It is difficult to get reliable reports out of Uganda about the peace talks with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). While there have been reports of a peace deal, and even indications that up to 1,800 rebels have moved to designated areas, the talks continue. One hang up to total resolution is the international court indictments of rebel leader Joseph Kony and his commanders. Uganda is willing to grant amnesty, but the ICC hasn't agreed.
While peace talks continue between the Ugandan government and the LRA, the Acholi people of northern Uganda, 90 percent of whom are displaced by 20 years of terror, pray for peace but find little reason for concrete hope.
There have been at least seven unsuccessful attempts over two decades to secure a peace agreement, and many were followed by spasms of LRA violence.
“People will stay in the protected internal refugee camps until they have enough confidence that the attacks won’t begin again, and that hasn’t happened yet,” said Doreen Achieng , a program director with Action for Children, a Ugandan social service agency.
Some residents are leaving the camps during the day to farm their land near their abandoned or ruined homes. But almost no one has enough trust that the current lull in attacks will last to live in their villages and face nights that so often have been filled with horror.
For now, most of the villages remain empty, the land dotted with the graves of more than 12,000 friends and family members killed by the LRA.
The challenge for the church is enormous.
“Ugandan church leaders struggle today to assure their flocks of God’s love when many cannot remember a time without deep sorrow,” said Conrad Mandsager, executive director of ChildVoice International, one Christian organization that is providing aid to child victims in the Gulu district. “The scope of the horror and death that the people of northern Uganda have seen and experienced is unfathomable.”
The government of Uganda, recognizing the fundamental victimization of the child soldiers, offered them amnesty last year, which made it more attractive for even long-time rebels to escape. Prior to the peace talks, the government extended the amnesty to Joseph Kony and senior rebel commanders who would abandon their rebellion. The offer, although not yet accepted by the senior rebels, is in accord with a traditional Acholi heart for forgiveness.
Most church leaders support the principle of Kony and his commanders being offered amnesty, viewing it as their Christian duty to forgive.
"In fact, we want them to return home and live a normal life like everybody else,” said Rev. Willy Akena, information officer for the Anglican Diocese of Northern Uganda in Gulu. “It would also be a testimony to those in the communities to know about reconciliation, and I believe many people will be changed as we expect that upon their return, they will publicly denounce their previous atrocities."
Nonetheless, some churchmen don’t see the desire for peace as a reason for pardoning the ring leaders.
“The amnesty is not right for Kony and the commanders,” said one Acholi lay leader now in Kampala. “They are international criminals who the U.N. should apprehend in Congo, where the LRA has set up their camps.”
As in most areas of Uganda, there are Anglican, Catholic, Baptist, and Pentecostal churches in most communities. But in the north most stand empty, since almost all families have been forced by the violence to move to one of 60 protected internal displacement camps (IDP).
All families in a village do not move to the same IDP camp, however, so church and social communities are shattered, not just moved. Many pastors do their best to gather new congregations in or near a camp, but they are usually starting from scratch.
Spiritual interest remains high, and many small non-affiliated churches are being established in the camps. The lack of accountability and theological training has resulted in false teaching. “For example, part of the teaching is that people who are victims of atrocities are sinners and that the rebel activity is God's way of removing sinners,” Rev. Akena said.
September 21, 2006
The "Theocracy" Myth
Joe Carter, in a recycled post at the the Evangelical Outpost which is just as relevant now as when he first posted it, deconstructs the idea that Christians somehow want to establish a theocracy in the United States.
When those of us on the “religious right” hear such paranoid ranting it naturally elicits a chuckle. After all, more than half of American evangelicals are either Baptists or non-denominational. We don’t even want a centralized church government much less a central government controlled by the church.
But since, as Joe notes, "even the most pernicious lie...contains some grain of truth", he looks into the history of the idea and what folks typically mean by it today.
A Darling of the Left Makes Them Proud
Hugo Chavez, a man embraced by Cindy Sheehan and Harry Belafonte, and who gives free PR to Noam Chomsky, spoke before the United Nations yesterday. His words, both then and later, ought to give pause to those who make common cause with him. They also ought to give pause to those who vote for people who have made common cause with Chavez.
"The devil came here yesterday," Chavez said, gesturing to where Bush had stood during his speech on Tuesday. "He came here talking as if he were the owner of the world." He later said he was referring to President Bush when he spoke of the devil.
Chavez said it still smelled like sulfur. Well, as James Taranto notes, he who smelt it....
Chavez then made the sign of the cross and appeared to pray for a moment. Where is the American Left on this? If Bush had some something like this, even in jest, they would be outraged over it. Either they would decry his outward religiosity, or complain that he was using it to make a joke. As far as I know, though, this little demonstration has passed without serious comment by Chavez supporters here.
Rep. Charlie Rangel did come out against Chavez's remarks in general when he said,
You don't come into my country, you don't come into my congressional district, and you don't condemn my president. If there's any criticism of President Bush, it should be restricted to Americans - whether we voted for him or not.
That was great of him to say, and I'm glad to hear this come from across the aisle. I don't think Rangel would have said he was a "supporter" of Chavez before this.
It is interesting to note, though, that, before this statement, Rangel thanked him for the low-cost heating oil program that Chavez was running. Given Chavez's motives for doing this, it's basically saying, "Thanks for the bribes, and keep 'em coming." See, Chavez is looking for a shot at a rotating seat on the security council, and has been lobbying hard for it.
In the past few months, Chavez has crisscrossed the globe collecting promises of support, visiting about a dozen countries including Russia, Belarus, Iran, Vietnam, Qatar, Mali, Benin, China, Malaysia and Syria. His diplomats also have been busy, while top Guatemalan officials and U.S. diplomats also have been doing their own lobbying.
Chavez said he has the solid backing of the Caribbean Community, the Arab League, Russia, China and much of Africa, in addition to his allies across South America.
And it really is a bribe. While speaking last May about expanding the program to Europe, Chavez tipped his hand.
Flanked by Bolivian President Evo Morales, Chavez heaped insults on the government of President George W. Bush, saying Americans were living under a dictatorship and that U.S. foreign policy could lead to another world war.
``We have to confront the empire and denounce it,'' he said. ``The U.S. empire is coming to an end.''
He renewed pledges to use cash reserves bolstered by high oil prices to help support other Latin American countries, including Bolivia, through cheap financing rather than investing it in U.S. or European banks.
This dictator is buying diplomacy, and as nice as low-cost heating oil is to the poor, their representatives ought to know better than encourage this type of tainted money.
Getting back to the UN, however, Chavez's words there were more than just jest. They showed just what it is that is wrong with the United Nations as it currently stands. Dictators like him get equal footing to spew their falsehoods and attempt to sway opinion, in order to simply consolidate their power. Mimicing Bush's form--directly speaking to the people of Iran and Syria--Chavez spoke to the American people.
"I'm not an enemy of the United States. I'm a friend of the United States ... the people of the United States," Chavez said during his speech to an audience including union organizers and professors. "They're two very different things — you the people of the United States, and the government that's installed there."
In this, he tries to conflate his dictatorial regime that he basically "installed" with a democratically elected government that does, indeed, represent its people. I'll note that I'd believe this even if a Democrat were in the White House. Any leader of the United States is far, far more representative of the people of the United States than Chavez is of the Venezuelan people.
He drew a standing ovation when he said Bush committed genocide during the war in Iraq.
"The president of the United States should go before an international tribunal," Chavez said as applause filled the hall at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. He compared the Bush administration's actions to those of the Nazis.
Where was the standing "O" when Bush told the UN back in June of 2005 that they needed to do something about the actual genocide going on in Darfur? They hadn't even used the "G" word at the UN up until that point for the Darfur situation. Yet some dictator walks in and accuses the US of ostensibly targeting civilians on a massive scale, and the place erupts in applause! Where in the name of Diplomacy has the sense of these people gone? The United Nations is broken. It is not in need of fixing, it is in need of replacing.
And while his calls for changes there sounded vaguely conservative...
The Venezuelan leader, a close friend and admirer of Cuba's communist leader Fidel Castro, has sought to be a voice for poor countries and has warned that if the U.S. tries to block U.N. reform, Venezuela and others may eventually create a separate "United Nations of the south" to rival a body they no longer find democratic.
Chavez also said it might eventually be necessary to move the U.N. headquarters out of the United States.
...the changes that conservatives would like to make would probably not line up with his ideas. (Emphasis mine, to note the incredible irony.) A world body composed of the true republics of the world would exclude dictators like Chavez and would be more representative of the people of the world than socialist/communist/whatever-ist dictators that seek to buy their way into world politics.
Hugo Chavez has joined a long line of dictators that have predicted the end of the United States as we know it. The power-hungry of the world have to make the US a target as a matter of course. But they keep being shown wrong as both the shared morality of our country combined with a people- rather than state-run economy (for the most part) keep chugging along and leading the world. Complain all you want about the many ills the US has--and there are indeed many--the people of the world continue to flock here.
And yet those on the left continue to laud this dictator. Nancy Pelosi may call him a "thug" (again, good to hear from that side of the aisle), but the grassroots Left just love him.
Singer and activist Harry Belafonte introduced Chavez at the event, while former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark also attended, among supporters who waved Venezuelan flags and chanted Chavez's name. The Venezuelan leader signed autographs as a crowd rushed to him after the speech.
"We love ya', Huey! Just don't, y'know, make us look bad. Foreign leaders making inappropriate Devil and Nazi references don't play well in flyover country. Leave the inappropriate references to us."
September 20, 2006
Believe Pictures and The Last Sin Eater
There is a notable development in Hollywood that should be of interest to Christians. There is a new interest in things of faith and in products that reflect faith and values. Although many believers in the entertainment industry are now involved, the impetus is the millions of dollars that Mel Gibson made on The Passion of the Christ. People in Hollywood like to make money, even if it means advancing the Gospel.
The New York Times noticed this yesterday.
My former World Vision colleageue Brian Bird , who went on to become executive producer of Touched by an Angel, and Michael Landon Jr. are in the middle of this good news, and their new Believe Pictures has signed a deal with Rupert Murdoch's new Fox Faith division for six films that will highlight faith.
The first film from Believe Pictures will be The Last Sin Eater, based on the novel by Francine Rivers, which was terrific.
Jan at A View from Her has more to say on this.
Chavez and the Iranian Thug at the UN
There is really only one thing to say after listening to clownish behavior of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. "Say No to Citgo." I think I would push my car before I'd stop at a Venezuela-owned Citgo station. Citgo has been owned by Petróleos de Venezuela, the national oil company of Venezuela, since 1990.
The beauty of America is that Hugo and the Iranian president--whose name I don't even want to learn how to spell--can come onto our soil and verbally soil our nation and its leader--and leave again without being thrown in prison or taken hostage.
Try it in either of their countries.
There is part of me that would like to make it a little difficult for them while they're here. Maybe just a U.S. fighter squadron escort out of our airspace, with no invitation to return.
Bringing the Church into Politics
Democratic candidate Harold Ford, Jr. has employed an unusual tactic in his latest senatorial campaign ad: he filmed the commercial in a church sanctuary:
With a stained-glass window behind him, candidate Harold Ford Jr. strolls through the Memphis church where he was baptized to tell voters this is the place where he learned right from wrong.
Using a church sanctuary as the backdrop in his newest campaign commercial, the Democrat running for the U.S. Senate has picked an unusual setting. One expert on religion and politics said it was the first political ad he'd heard of actually filmed inside a sanctuary.
The pastor of the church didn't seem to have a problem with allowing his sanctuary to become the backdrop for a political ad:
"I think people would like to learn about a person's values, and if it was through a church setting, they'd like to know that," said its pastor, Melvin Charles Smith, who says Ford attends services whenever he is town. The name of the church does not appear in the commercial.
The commercial in question is available (at least as of this writing) on the Ford campaign's website.
Whether someone is a Christian should not only be evident by their words but their actions. In fact, their actions should speak louder than their words.
Candidates should know, too, that simply talking about faith is not going to be enough to persuade religious voters to support them. The question is whether the positions the candidates take on issues will be consistent with these "values voters" that made a difference in the last election. Given the current Democratic party planks on abortion, gay rights, and other "values" issues it's hard to see how they are going to be able to appeal to many religious voters no matter how far they go in trying to appeal to them.
September 19, 2006
Why I Like Christopher Hitchens
As to conclusions about religion, politics and life, Christopher Hitchens and I have very little in common. Although he defies easy categorization, he is probably best described as an intelligent Harry Truman-esque liberal and an atheist. If I paint too broadly or out of the lines on Mr. Hitchens, it is only to contrast him with me--namely a politically conservative evangelical Christian.
Why do I like Mr. Hitchens although we disagree on ends? First, he's just a brilliant writer. Read almost anything he writes, and you will at least be the better off for having read a well-written piece.
Second, he calls 'em like he sees them--even with respect to those with whom he might otherwise disagree. Take his recent defense of previous Presidential Press Spokesman Ari Fleischer. One doubts that Mr. Fleischer has much in common with Mr. Hitchens, particularly with respect to politics. However, for the sake of honesty, Mr. Hitchens provides a defense of Mr. Fleischer. A defense that is likely at odds with the desires of the readers and publishers of the journal in which it appears, namely Slate. A defense that will likely not be a hit with the effete intelligentsia with whom Mr. Hitchens probably otherwise hobnobs at cocktail parties.
In other words, Mr. Hitchens is intellectually honest. Perhaps the defining demonstration of this is his essay resigning his column in The Nation. No doubt this resignation, and his intellectual parting with the irrational left, has caused him much subsequent personal grief. Somewhat of a modern, if less dramatic, man for all seasons is our Mr. Hitchens.
So, although Mr. Hitchens and I disagree on much, I must commend him for his zest to out the truth, and for his good writing. Those who regularly read Stones Cry Out would do well, regardless of their religious or political stance, to read Mr. Hitchens from time to time as well.
September 15, 2006
Chaplain Convicted of ... Acting Like a Chaplain
When a Christian prays "in Jesus name", he's just practicing his faith. When an Army Chaplain does it, at what he considers a religious event, he gets fined.
A jury of U.S. Naval officers has recommended a reprimand and a $250 fine per month for a year for a Christian chaplain who was convicted of disobeying an order not to wear his military uniform for media appearances.
Fortunately, this may not be enforced.
However, the jury also recommended the fine be suspended.
But apparently the jury wanted to send a chilling message about religious speech in the military. Is this a shot across the bow?
UPDATE: In the comment section, you'll find a lot more information about this, including from someone who says they're close to the case. This case may not be as much a freedom of religion question as it has been painted by some (including me).
The details of the case give one pause as to why there was a guilty verdict in the first place.
Chaplain Lt. Gordon James Klingenschmitt was convicted of the count, even though he charged that the White House appearance at which he prayed "in Jesus' name" was a bona fide religious event and he had written permission from his commander to wear his uniform at such events.
It could have been much worse.
Klingenschmitt had faced a maximum punishment of a reprimand, restriction to base for two months and fines or forfeiture of pay of nearly $42,000 – two-thirds of his annual salary, officials said.
Klingenschmitt's military lawyer, Lt. Tiffany Hansen, had told the jury that a conviction was enough.
"There was no financial gain as a result of him doing what he did," she said.
"Doing what he did," was to appear at a news conference at the White House with former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, a WND columnist, to protest a new Naval directive that called for all prayers to be "nonsectarian."
Klingenschmitt told WND that he had been given written permission to wear his uniform at bona fide religious events, and that's what he considered the March 30 appearance. He said he took off his uniform before answering media questions that day.
According to the Navy, you can express your religion freely, for restrictive definitions of the word "freely".
The judge, refusing Klingenschmitt's motion earlier this month to drop the case, concluded chaplains are protected only inside the chapel on Sunday morning. If ordered not to worship in public, and they disobey, chaplains can be punished at a criminal court martial.
"There is no more fundamental right than the inalienable right to worship our creator, and I pray in Jesus name," Klingenschmitt said. "For any government official to require non-sectarian prayers is for him to enforce his government religion upon me, to censor, exclude and punish me for my participation"
Several dozen other chaplains also have joined in a civilian lawsuit that alleges the Navy hierarchy allows only those Christian ministers who advocate only non-sectarian blandishments to be promoted. Those with evangelical beliefs, they say, are routinely drummed from the Navy.
And Klingenschmitt, even though he may get a suspended sentence, could still face repercussions.
"That letter of reprimand will be used in two or three months at an administrative separation board to kick me out of the Navy," Klingenschmitt said Thursday. He estimated he would lose $1.8 million in pension and retirement benefits if he's dismissed.
The military does have to have wide latitude when it comes constitutional rights and privileges, I understand that. But restricting religious speech doesn't appear to me to make much sense. If a Navy officer in uniform were to appear, for instance, at a protest rally, that could be construed as some sort of official position being taken by the military. But when a chaplain gets all religious at a religious event, well, that's what chaplains do. And not all religious events take place inside a church (much to the consternation of church-state extremists). He was asked to pray because he's a chaplain, and a Navy chaplain specifically. And I find it entirely appropriate that he took off his uniform before taking questions that were most likely not going to be religious in nature. He was not necessarily representing his profession at that point.
The fear of religion in this land is certainly not something the guys who wrote the First Amendment would recognize.
September 14, 2006
Why I (Still) Hate Polls
Polls drive me nuts. A measure of emotion is trumpeted as hard news and the media suggest that such numbers should drive public policy. One poll says that over a third of American's think 9/11 was an inside job. But this is as much a measure of emotion as it is consideration of the (well-debunked) theories. In another poll, it says that 54% of people are angrier than they used to be. And Bush's poll numbers have really tanked.
But what does this mean, really?
With a hat tip to Ian Murray at The Corner, and speaking of "tanking", check out this graph that charts the President's poll numbers against the price of gas. It's incredible how closely the ups and downs of both track. As gas prices go up (on the graph, a higher prices is shown as a lower point), Bush's numbers go down. You can almost predict one from knowing the other.
Yet pundits and journalists say that Bush should change his policies because of poll numbers. Tell ya' what; can he get a mandate for allowing the NSA wiretaps if he repeals the federal gas tax? I mean, if polls should really matter that much, it follows, right?
One more reason why we don't have a direct democracy. Thank you, Founding Fathers.
September 13, 2006
Bring In the Backup
The President of the United States couldn't get the UN to recognize the problem in Darfur, or do anything about it. Perhaps an actor can.
It's been said that Hollywood's hottest marriage is the one between actors and Africa. That'll be true Thursday when Oscar winner George Clooney is scheduled to address the United Nations Security Council on the crisis in Darfur. That's right, not some small media conference, but the actual Security Council. Hosted by John Bolton, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, the briefing is organized by The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity (EWF), which recently established a Darfur Commission of Nobel Laureates. Clooney visited Darfuri refugees last April to use his celebrity clout to raise awareness of the plight of refugees in the war-torn region, considered the 3rd biggest humanitarian crisis in the history of the UN. According to the Oscar-winning actor, the US, the UN and the world's policies on Sudan is failing. "If we turn our heads and look away and hope that it will disappear then they will-all of them, an entire generation of people. And we will only have history left to judge us," Clooney has said about the tragedy.
Hey, don't blame the US, George. We've been trying to get the UN to recognize genocide when it sees it. And you wouldn't want us doing anything unilaterally, would you? That is "why they hate us", isn't it?
All kidding aside, it's good to see Clooney working with John Bolton and trying to get the UN--paragon of virtue that it is--to wake up and smell the
Kofi coffee. It's sad that it has to come to this (and sadder yet if this is the main reason things start happening), but it's better than nothing.
September 12, 2006
Let the Political Paranoia Resume
Drudge's big headline this afternoon is that gas is down to $2.05/gallon in Iowa. Did I not catch the news story proclaiming that the federal government had moved in and enforced price controls?
No, I (and you) missed nothing of the sort. Instead, as the Captain notes, market forces (remember those things?) are at work.
A number of factors play into this drop in price. First, as the article notes, the summer driving season has passed. Gas prices normally drop after Labor Day as children go back to school and family vacations make their way to the scrapbook. Also, this season has seen much lower levels of violent weather, and while we're not out of hurricane season yet, the chances of a really damaging storm in the Gulf of Mexico gets less likely with each passing day. Traders buy oil on futures, which means their speculation now extends past the hurricane window -- and since they had built bad weather into previous pricing, it makes sense that we would see a sharp drop now.
It seems that, just as Al-Qaeda has, the market, the weather, and American families have conspired to give the Democrats one less campaign issue. In the same way as leftist paranoids looked with suspicion on the release of terrorist videos, prepare for more hand-wringing over the "curious timing" of this news.
Yes, the market has been allowed to work and prices are now coming down. Understand, however, that I loved high gas prices. My wallet didn't all that much, but I can telecommute 3 or 4 days a week, so it didn't complain too loudly. But there were so many upsides to high prices, most of which liberals purport to love. There was the encouragement to conserve or telecommute or car pool. The higher prices increased the demand and the funding for research into alternative energy sources. They helped pay for college tuition (people in the middle class work for oil companies, too, y'know). There was so much good that came from them, yet liberals wailed and whined about it. Truth is, they'd rather the prices go up due to a tax increase so the government gets the money rather than R&D departments of the evil "Big Oil". Then they could siphon it off, pad their wallets, and be magnanimous with the scraps as grants to R&D departments of the evil "Big Oil".
By the way, will all the Democrats who wanted to blame Bush for the high gas prices now turn around and credit him for lowering them? Hold not thy breath.
September 11, 2006
If Baseball Were Still King
Doug Grow quotes a local professor on the America that could have been if baseball had retained its pre-eminence over football:
"The sun would shine brighter. Sweet breezes would waft over us. The smell of hot dogs would permeate the air. Cracker Jacks would fall from the sky and Wally the beer man would be governor."
(Wally the Beerman is a local celebrity who delivered, um, beer at Twins games for years going back to the time of our great-grandfathers.)
I like football (including the very gutsy performance by the Vikings tonight). However, to an old baseball player, there's nothing like the crack of the bat and the smack of the glove to put chills down your spine.
This is a repost of an entry I wrote on my personal blog in September of 2004, before I was with SCO. It's been updated for dates, but the posts remains virtually the same. The memories are, of course, just as relevant, but the admonition to remember, and the concern that too many are not, is also applicable to today. My current 9/11 post continues the theme this year (and it has a nice Michael W. Smith video-track to go with it, "There She Stands").
9/11, 5 years on:
I remember the first words I heard telling me that something unusual had just happened. I remember the voice mail I got at the office from my wife telling me to listen to the news. I remember hearing people relay news reported to them from spouses or friends over the phone (some of which turned out to be wrong). I remember thinking that when the towers came down the death toll could reach into 5 figures. (I remember being so grateful later on that it wasn't.) I remember my boss telling everyone to go home. I remember watching TV pretty much the rest of the day. I remember when my kids got home from school and we talked about what had happened.
My kids took it well. They asked questions, and I answered them the best that I could. I've always tried to instill a sense of history in them when interesting things happened (we talked a lot about the 2000 election debacle), but in this case there was history mixed with a sadness, even a reverence, for those who just went to work that day and never came home.
One of my daughters was studying the state of New York in school and had recently decided to do a diorama of New York City. When it came time to do the buildings, I was going to print out a picture of the skyline, which we'd cut up and give a 3-D look to. When we asked her whether she wanted the Twin Towers there or not, she thought for a second and decided that she wanted them to be in there. She and her sister had visited the Twin Towers a couple years earlier with their aunt from Queens, and they remember looking out from the top.
Some time after the clean-up at Ground Zero was finished, I took my 3 oldest kids there. I have some pictures of them there, as well as the perfectly-proportioned cross made of steel beams that was found in the wreckage, standing tall in the midst of what should have been two tall towers and thousands of people. My picture of the cross is part of my computer wallpaper rotation, to remember that day.
I have a lot of memories from 9/11, but not nearly as many as others. One of my brothers-in-law was stuck in downtown Manhatten for 3 straight days. He did maintenance work at a hospital, and for him to leave would have meant putting patients in peril, so he stayed. When he did come home, he ate, slept, and went right back. You want memories? He's got 'em, and they're far more emotional than mine. My wife read Lisa Beamer's book "Let's Roll". Lisa's husband, as you probably know, was one of those that is likely responsible for downing a plane in Pennsylvania instead of the Capitol or some other target that the terrorists had planned on. You want memories? Few of ours hold a candle to hers.
So 5 years on, we're remembering the day, each in our own way, based on our own memories. But we, as a nation, have a corporate memory as well; the sum total of all of our thoughts and experiences. This national memory sometimes fades, in and out, especially as the time passes. We were so patriotic in the days after 9/11, but where has that gone now? Some of us still are. My vehicles still have the decorations I bought for them soon after the attacks. But flag decals don't make you patriotic. I think standing up for your country when you believe your country is right is nothing to be ashamed of. I also think criticizing your country, in a honest manner, when you believe your country is wrong is nothing to be ashamed of, either.
So I believe that criticizing a war you think is wrong is patriotic, but I don't think that marching in the street complaining of a tyrannical government that is worse than al Qaeda is, because it's not honest. If they were tyrannical, if they were stifling dissent, you couldn't be marching in the street against them.
In one episode of "Star Trek: Deep Space 9", Captain Sisko noted the problem between how Earth was handling a situation and how he thought it should be handled. His complaint was that Earth itself was the problem. They had such a utopian society there--no hunger, no disease, full employment, no poor--that they couldn't understand the situation outside. In a similar fashion, I think we in the U.S. don't really understand how good we've got it. We've forgotten, as a nation, what it felt like that fall morning when 3,000 died and our notion of impenetrability was shattered.
When half the populace agrees with a guy who wanted to make terrorism a "law enforcement" issue, being reactive instead of proactive, you know we're losing our national memory. When people consider the man going after terrorists to be the "real" terrorist, amnesia has set in.
Hopefully, today will remind some folks about what is really going on in the world. Seeing people who have more of an emotional attachment to their 9/11 memories might awaken in others the real reason we can't wait for the rest of the world to agree that our country needs defending. Today is not just an occasion to light some candles. It's not just for comforting those who've lost loved ones. It is all those things, but it is also one thing above all.
This is a day to remember.
Where Were You, Daddy
I suppose it is inevitable that, like my parents' generation before me, I will be subject to the question "where were you on September 11, 2001 daddy?" or words to that effect.
I was driving to work in Minneapolis at about 8:00 am or so Central Time. I was listening to KTIS, the local Christian radio station. Between songs, one of the DJs, Chuck Knapp, mentioned that it was being reported that a small plane had hit the World Trade Center. This was not a "we interrupt this program" report, just a between songs break for regular news.
I remember my thoughts: A real tragedy, especially for the occupant(s) of the plane. I hope nobody inside the building was hurt. I did not, however, think it was a major problem.
I recalled that, in 1945, a B-25 bomber hit the Empire State Building. I thought this was nothing more than a modern, but perhaps smaller, version of that tragedy.
I parked and walked to my building. As I stood on a corner waiting for the light, I overheard a woman and a man talking excitedly, with the woman saying that "two planes" had crashed into the World Trade Center. I scoffed in my head at the way in which a story quickly gets blown out of proportion. Of course, I had just heard the news report, and the real story. So, I shook my head (without saying anything) and crossed. One small plane hitting the World Trade Center is a tragedy, but a routine tragedy. My mind, of course, could not comprehend, or accept, two planes hitting the Towers. Because, of course, that would not be an accident.
In the event, I got in the elevator and went to the 27th floor. People were talking quietly and nobody appeared to be working. There were snatches of conversation that I overheard that made it clear that something was definitely wrong, but I was still none the wiser.
I entered my office, powered up the computer and tried the CNN website. It was down, as were the other news sites. I called my wife at home and asked her to turn on the news.
She turned on the television--"oh my God, the building is on fire, there are going to be people dying in there" was what I heard next. Then, "both buildings are on fire."
I knew then that we had been hit by terrorism (as did everybody else, of course).
I hung up a few minutes later and walked around the floor. I spoke with people, we were all dazed of course. It was still beyond comprehension.
Some time later, I went to the office of one of my partners who had a TV in his office. Right before that, the first tower had collapsed and we were watching the immediate aftermath. My partner said something to the effect of "who did this." I knew. After Khobar Towers, after the embassy attacks and after the Stark, I knew exactly who did this. I was also aware that US intelligence officials had announced a few days earlier that signals were indicating that al Queda was actively planning something, and that another Stark-type attack was possible. Of course, that was a feint to draw attention to the Arabian Gulf, and away from home.
So many images from that day linger. One personal image occurred when I was looking out of my office window. My office overlooked the Mississippi, and the contrast from looking out over the deep peaceful blue of the river, and the images on the TV, was stark. I looked up, and followed an airplane high overhead making a puffy contrail as it flew from West to East. Abruptly, however, it made a 90 degree turn north, and headed for Canada. US airspace had just been closed. Today I can imagine the frustration of those people over the next few days, as they tried to get home--their trips interrupted. Today, such an interruption would be a major event. That day, though, it was a very small thing in a world that changed in an instant.
I don't know what to say, five years later. As a country, we have gone back to business as almost usual. That is good and bad. We are not nearly as focused on terrorism, or al Queda, as we were then. That, too, is good and bad. We cannot ever go back to before September 11. However, we all need to work together on how to live past September 11.
9/11 Five Years Later - A Personal Reflection
I will never forget 9/11. No matter how hard I try, I can't block out the memories of that day. They will be forever burned in my memory.
I was supposed to be attending a meeting in Bala Cynwyd (just outside of Philadelphia) on 9/11. My wife and two daughters (ages 4 and 5) went up a few days early to explore the Amish country as well as downtown Philadelphia. We had had a great time visiting an area that we had never visited before. But that Tuesday morning everything would change - in ways far greater than we could have ever imagined.
The day started normally enough. My meeting was supposed to start at 9:00 so I headed downstairs to the hotel restaurant early to eat breakfast. My wife and daughters were a little later getting ready.
Our meeting started on time and was underway for about an hour before taking our first break of the morning. Many of the folks in this meeting were from New York. While we were on the break, several guys tried to call the office but couldn't get through. One of them finally decided to call the operator and see what was wrong with the telephone lines. He would be the first one to share the news with us: the World Trade Center had been hit. Another person came in and said it was the Pentagon. It would be a few minutes before we realized that it was both.
By the time we managed to get a TV brought into the conference room we were able to see the replay of the South tower being hit. Moments later it collapsed. It took all of us only a split second to decide we needed to go home. The fourth airliner, United flight 93, would crash in Western Pennsylvania within the next few minutes.
My wife had taken the kids next door to Denny's to eat breakfast. A waitress told her that the Pentagon had been hit. Her sister's husband often worked at the Pentagon. Was he there? Frantically, she was calling her unable to get through. It would be much, much later before we found out he wasn't there and was completely safe.
My wife came back to the hotel not knowing how to find me. At the time, I didn't carry a cellphone (I have ever since). She was in the lobby trying to call her sister when I finally came upstairs. I looked at her and said "We're going home".
At the time we lived in Richmond, VA, almost directly due south along Interstate 95 from Philadelphia. Under normal circumstances, it would have taken about five hours to drive home. But Washington, DC is directly on Interstate 95. Due to the attack at the Pentagon, Washington was completely locked down. Our only choice was to head west and then south in a long circle along interstates through Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virgina. It was a long drive home.
As we were leaving the hotel we turned on the local news on our radio. The mayor of Philadelphia was holding a press conference announcing the evacuation of the city. Everyone was being ordered home since at that time we didn't know where the hijackers intended to fly United 93. It was reasonable to assume that Philadelphia was a target.
One thing was clear: we were at war. We weren't sure yet who was responsible but we knew we had been attacked. The peaceful setting of Lancaster County was strangely appealing. Surely whoever this was wouldn't attack the Amish. We would be safe there, wouldn't we?
As we drove on there was this eerie feeling of not knowing what to expect next. Would there be further attacks? Who was responsible? Why had they attacked us?
Our daughters tahnkfully were oblivious to what was happening. At least until the announcement was made that Walt Disney World had closed (we had made our first visit as a family the previous year). Then it registered with them that something was wrong.
Everywhere we stopped along the way home people seemed to be trying to carry on with life as normal even though they all knew that life would never be normal again. Everything had changed.
By late afternoon we had made it to Harrisonburg, VA (about 3 1/2 hours from home). At first we thought we would just find a hotel room and spend the night but there were none to be found. Greyhound had ordered all their buses to stop wherever they were and as a result people had to find hotel rooms. Everything was closing down: restaurants, stores, shopping malls were all closed. We managed to find a gas station that was still open. When I went in to pay there was the extra edition of the local paper with the photo of the burning towers above the fold. This was not just a bad dream. This was real.
As we left Harrisonburg and headed towards home I can remember the eerie sight of a single jet plane crossing the sky. I knew it was a military plane since all civilian aircraft had been grounded much earlier in the day. This is what it felt like to be at war.
We eventually made it home safely that evening. But we knew that everything had changed. A couple days later we got another grim reminder of just how serious things were.
Where we lived, we never saw military traffic. But around 9:00 one evening just a few days after the attacks we were buzzed twice in the span of a couple of minutes by a pair of F-14 fighter jets. It was yet another reminder that we were truly at war.
There would be other reminders, as well. I went to Las Vegas for a meeting a couple of months later (a meeting that was originally supposed to take place the week after 9/11). The sight of armed soldiers patrolling the airport was a clear sign that things had changed.
While I was in Las Vegas I stayed at the New York, New York Hotel and Casino. As the name suggests, the hotel is supposed to remind one of the New York skyline. Even three months after 9/11, there was a memorial of flowers, posters, and messages of support for the police, firefighters, and people of New York City. I couldn't help but be struck by the sight.
Driving by the Pentagon several months after 9/11 and getting to see firsthand the devastation caused by the terrorists would be yet another grim reminder of the war we had been dragged into by our attackers.
I can't forget no matter how hard I try. We should never forget for this is why we fight.
September 08, 2006
The Last Cancer Treatment You'll Ever Need
Biologists have uncovered a deep link between lifespan and cancer in the form of a gene that switches off stem cells as a person ages.
The critical gene, already well known for its role in suppressing tumors, seems to mediate a profound balance between life and death. It weighs the generation of new replacement cells, required for continued life, against the risk of death from cancer, which is the inevitable outcome of letting cells divide. To offset the increasing risk of cancer as a person ages, the gene gradually reduces the ability of stem cells to proliferate.
The new finding, reported by three groups of researchers online Wednesday in Nature, was made in a special breed of mice that lack the pivotal gene, but is thought likely to apply to people as well.
The finding indicates that many of the degenerative diseases of aging are caused by an active shutting down of the stem cells that renew the body’s various tissues, and are not just a passive disintegration of tissues under life’s daily wear and tear, as is often assumed.
“I don’t think aging is a random process – it’s a program, an anti-cancer program,” said Dr. Norman E. Sharpless of the University of North Carolina, senior author of one of the three reports.
I find this article interesting on a number of levels. Let's start with the idea that this scientist says that aging is not a "random process", rather that it is "an anti-cancer program". This, to me, really stretches the credulity with which one must view evolution. Somehow, over the years of random changes, a program emerged through natural selection. But since the vast majority of mutations result in a degradation of the organism, the odds of such a program being written are astronomical, on top of all the other odds-beating events like the formation of life itself. (Talk about having faith in your religion.)
Another interesting thing is that the Bible talks about people in the book of Genesis who lived hundreds of years. This discovery could point out one of the scientific reasons this occurred. Further, it points to an idea opposite that of evolution; instead of the program being randomly formed until it was better and better, this program was written by a Programmer and sin has degraded this program, as the law of entropy would suggest is more likely.
The finding’s implications for cell therapy based on using a patient’s own adult stem cells are not yet clear, but news that the cells get switched off with age does not seem particularly encouraging. The result may undercut opponents of research with human embryonic stem cells who argue that adult stem cells are sufficient for cell therapy. Dr. Sharpless said his finding emphasized the need to pursue both types of research.
No, not necessarily. The stem cells of an 80-year-old patient may not be useful for regeneration of his own organs, but why does this automatically mean that you have to go after embryos and pull in all the ethical issue that entails? How about the stem cells of a 30- or 20-year old? This question is not answered or even asked in the article.
The researchers assume, but have not yet proved, that the increasing amounts of Ink-4 made as a person ages will thrust the stem cells into senescence, meaning they can never divide again. The evolutionary purpose is evidently to avert the risk that a damaged stem cell might evade controls and proliferate into a tumor.
There's that classic anthropomorphism of the evolutionary process again. Evolution could not have a purpose. A creator could.
A fascinating finding, with potentially fascinating developments.
September 05, 2006
A Forced "Conversion"
With the return of Fox News reporter Steve Centanni and cameraman Olaf Wiig, there was a tale of a forced "conversion" to Islam. There are those, as the Captain notes, who condemn these men for doing so. I agree with Captain Ed, that we're really in no position to pass judgement on them. Never mind that we don't know what, if any, religion they do adhere to, I have to ask myself how I would react in the same situation. I would sincerely hope that I would have the guts and the faith to refuse, knowing that perhaps it may lead to a rather gruesome and painful death. Would my faith be enough to overcome the very present fear? I hope it would. I hope, but I don't know. I've never been in a situation remotely similar to the one those two men were in. I can say what a Christian should do, but I won't speak ill of someone who has the same human frailties and weaknesses I do.
As an aside, Rev. Sensing notes these confessions, as foreign as this idea may be to Christians, are completely valid to Muslims.
But, let us remember that the basis of Islam, indeed the very meaning of the word, is “submission,” not faith. There is no concept of original sin in Islam as there is in Christianity; indeed, while original sin is the conceptual glue that holds Christian doctrine together, it is entirely rejected in Islam. Christianity teaches that original sin cannot be remitted by any human works, only by the works of God, namely, Christ dying and resurrected. Hence, no deeds human beings can do can bring them to salvation. Thus, wrote St. Paul, “If you believe in your heart that Jesus was raised from the dead and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, you will be saved.” Note the order: confession follows a change of heart, an affirmation of belief. Without the change of heart the confession’s utterance is of no value.
But in Islam, the confession’s utterance is unconnected to a change of heart. In fact, a change of heart is wholly irrelevant. The confession stands alone and its only point is that it is done, not that it is believed. The entire edifice of salvation theory in Islam is built on one thing alone: human submission to perform deeds ordered by Allah. Islam does not teach that Allah desires human beings to love him; they are commanded to obey.
Christians are to obey God as well, but out of love. It should come as a response to the relationship.
September 04, 2006
Commenting May Resume
Over the long weekend, the spammers weren't taking the time off. We got so much spam in a short amount of time that our software shut down commenting until somebody manually turned it back on.
It's been done. Sorry for anyone having been turned away. Please try again.
Our "Perfect" Future
At Touchstone magazine's blog, Mere Comments, Russell Moore comments on our not too distant future of picking the traits of babies as we would a Chinese dinner. A little of this, some of that, NONE of that, that or that. He worries about the implications of our impending perfection by genetic selection:
We should be sad about all of this, not sad as culture warriors who are losing a battle. We should be sad knowing that the techno-utopian Reich that overshadows us now may soon leave us with a world in which only Christians have Down's syndrome babies in their strollers, only Christians have bald little girls fighting through chemotherapy, only Christians have little boys in "husky" size pants as they struggle with childhood obesity.
I wonder what happens to art, to literature, or to movies? The limitations of humans often play a large role in setting the scene in the arts. Our diversity is the rich canvas upon which the artist paints or the novelist writes. Limit that diversity, and what becomes of "kid with limitations overcomes limitations for greatness" motif?
We wonders, my precious, is there a harder working blogger (blogeress?) out there than the anchoress"? We doubts it my precious, we doubts it.
Greatest Moment in a Movie
I'm not a television kind of guy.
I admit, however, to loving movies.
So, I get to wondering, while "As Time Goes By" is playing on my Comcast Rhapsody, what is my favorite movie moment? This could be answered in two ways--favorite amongst all movies, or favorite within several favorite movies. So, I'll answer both.
At the moment, as time goes by, my favorite movie moment--against all comers--is--a tie. Casablanca is my favorite movie (in case you were not paying attention to the obvious foreshadowing). Two moments stick out in Casablanca as "lump in the throat moments." First, when Rick helps the young Bulgarian couple to win enough money to leave Casablanca. "Have you tried 22 tonight?"
The second Casablanca "lump in the throat" moment is when Lazlo conducts the band in singing "La Marseillaise" to drown out the Nazis singing "The Watch on the Rhine." One does not need to be a Francophile to get Goosebumps.
Two other movie moments that linger for me:
--The "I say a little prayer for you" segment of My Best Friend's Wedding. I haven't a clue why this scene delights me--but there you have it.
--"You had me at hello." This from, of course, Jerry Maguire. (Remember when Tom Cruise just made movies?)
In any event, the last two are what are on my mind at the moment. The first two are still my favorites.
What are yours?
September 03, 2006
Some quick-hit-it's-Saturday-night-and-getting-to-be-Fall-here-in-the-Upper-Midwest thoughts:
Congratulations are in order for Joe Carter, chief evangelist at the evangelical outpost, who is changing jobs from the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity to the Family Research Council. Joe is also moving to Washington, D.C. Joe has come a long way from his Marine helicopter fixing days.
I am reading with interest Applebee's America: How Successful Political, Business, and Religious Leaders Connect with the New American Community. I am still in the early part of the book, but it is proving interesting, although it's actually not the book I thought it would be. Full review to follow.
The Twins beat the Yankees today. They lost last night to the Yanks, so the win was needed.
The trees are yellowing and reddening.
The daylight is waning.
The air is cooling.
The yellow bus will come Tuesday for the children.
My usual wistfulness for the Summer that is ending,
and which was and was not as hoped, is in full bloom,
along with the mums.
September 02, 2006
Christianity Today's Christian History & Biography newsletter contains a comment by Elesha Coffman on Communion. The comment leads off with a description of a new method for preparing communion developed by an evangelical church leader:
[R]etired engineer Wil Greenlee has invented a Communion cup filling machine, reducing the average time it takes to fill a 40-cup tray from 5 minutes to 2 seconds. The time savings really add up at Greenlee's church, massive Southeast Christian in Louisville, which goes through 20,000 cups of juice in three weekend services. A process that used to take a 75-member prep team two nights to complete can now be finished in one morning, and with less spillage.
"Professional, worshipful, neat, clean and sanitary," Greenlee says of the improved routine.
The comment then describes in brief detail the communion practices of the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
"Professional, worshipful, neat, clean and sanitary."
It would be unfair to pick on Mr. Greenlee for his comment. He was likely just commenting on his invention and not elucidating an over-arching theory of communion.
His comment, however, may describe the only real philosophy behind the communion practices of many evangelical churches. In many evangelical churches, and I’ve been to quite a few around the country, the communion portion often feels perfunctory. It is usually not the center of the service--the worship service now fills that function. And, communion is anything but communal in most evangelical churches. We go through the motions so we can get on to the sermon, and then get home. This is completely contrary to the twin functions communion has traditionally serviced in the church--a celebration of the sacrifice of Christ, however defined, and a ceremony meant to draw the body of Christ together as one.
Ms. Coffman has some interesting closing thoughts:
The assembly-line efficiency of Communion preparation at a church like Southeast Christian seems like it could strip some of the mystery and meaning from the ancient ceremony, but that doesn't bother me terribly. What goes on in the sanctuary and in each believer's heart is certainly more important than what went on the kitchen several hours earlier. It does bother me, however, that so many evangelicals can get excited about efficiency while so few actively engage in dialogues on ecumenism, sacramentalism/symbolism, or even eucharistic theology. Somehow the "what" and "why" of Communion have been subordinated to the "how."
As an evangelical myself, I'm not just pointing fingers here. Honestly, I wonder what we might be missing.
One might wonder indeed. A bloodless Christianity.
September 01, 2006
The ACLU vs. America
Wow. I knew that the ACLU promoted many positions that most Americans don't, but "Stop the ACLU" has a long list, fully documented, of comparisons between the ACLU's position and polls and statistics on Americans' views. It's truly amazing that our tax dollars help fund an organization so far to the left out of the mainstream of America.
But, you may say, sometimes what's legal isn't always popular. They cover that angle.
The reaction from ACLU-types will predictably be something like: “What is right and Constitutional is not always popular.” Easy answer: What the ACLU does is invent rights and distort the Constitution, which is why the ACLU is so UNpopular. The ACLU has used dubious interpretations of law NEVER imagined by our Founders with compliance from radical judges to push an agenda abhorrent to most Americans and indeed to the intent of the Constitution. Look no further than the ACLU’s pro bono defense of a website that advocates pedophilia and instructs its visitors in how to rape children and evade prosecution. So…the ACLU considers encouraging instruction on how to commit and get away with child rape a First Amendment right…does anyone believe that the Founders would agree? Therefore, can’t we conclude that if the ACLU is so wrong on this, that it may be wrong on many other things? Judge the evidence for yourself.
Being wrong once doesn't mean you're wrong all the time, but the example gives you an idea of what sorts of things the ACLU thinks are protected by the Constitution, and it speaks to how awful their interpretation can be.
Read the whole thing.