Tuesday, January 10, 2012
A Distorted Worldview
The Mercator Projection
What's wrong with this picture? Actually, it's the map that's wrong. Look for example at the size comparison between Iceland and Africa. (Hint: The photo below gives an accurate perspective; the map not so much.)
What does it mean that this map -- the Mercator Projection -- has been at the center of Western geographical "understanding" for the past several centuries?
The Earth from Space
Tuesday, January 03, 2012
The Quality of Mercy
The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.
-From The Merchant of Venice (Act IV, Scene 1)
Thursday, April 21, 2011
A Reflection on Leadership
Next comes the ruler they love and praise;
Next comes the one they fear;
Next comes one with whom they take liberties.
When there is not enough faith,
there is lack of good faith.
Hesitant, [the leader] does not utter words lightly.
When the task is accomplished and the work done
The people all say, "it happened to us naturally."
--Lao Tzu (Tao te Ching) XVII
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Is Nuclear Power a ‘Bargain with the Devil’?
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wonders, in the midst of the ongoing horror in Japan, if nuclear power is a “bargain with the devil.” The main reason for his concern is that “there is no such thing as a fail-safe system. Stuff happens.” And we’re seeing the magnitude — and the unpredictability — of what can happen in the unfolding crisis in Japan.
Humans have a tendency to assume they can construct technological and other safeguards against catastrophe. Harold Meyerson, also in today’s Post, looks at three areas where the experts and insiders promised that “foolproof” systems would be “immune to disaster”: the financial system, deep-water oil drilling, and nuclear power plants. It’s safe to say that none of the three areas serve as stellar cases for human infallibility.
A Non-Nuclear Future
For Lovins, this presents an opportunity to "transform our energy system" to a low- or no-carbon system. An important component of this transformed approach to energy will be the transition away from nuclear power. Lovins (and coauthor Bennett Cohen) give a good summary on how to get there in "Renewables, Micropower, and the Transforming Electricity Landscape."
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
10% of Alabama White Voters Support Obama (gulp)
Obama's Performance With White Voters: We took a look at Obama's performance with white voters in all 50 states. In 13 of them, Obama received less than 35% of the white vote. His three lowest performing states: Alabama (10%), Mississippi (11%), and Louisiana (14%). The other 10: GA (23%), SC (26%), TX (26%), OK (29%), AR (30%), UT (31%), AK (32%), WY (32%), ID (33%), and TN (34%). On the other hand, Obama won the white vote in 18 states and DC: CA, CO, CT, DE, DC, HI, IL, IA, ME, MA, MI, MN. NH. NY. OR, RI, WA, WI and VT. Obama's lowest percentage of the white vote he received in a state that he won: NC (35%). The highest percentage of the white vote Obama received in a state he lost: MT (45%).
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Iraqi PM Supports Obama Approach to Ending the US Occupation of Iraq
An editors' note from Solon explains: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has attempted to retract his apparent support for Barack Obama's timetable; a statement from an Iraqi government spokesman said al-Maliki was "misunderstood and mistranslated." However, the translator who was present for the interview works for the prime minister, not Der Spiegel.
Spiegel: Would you hazard a prediction as to when most of the U.S. troops will finally leave Iraq?
Maliki: As soon as possible, as far as we're concerned. U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right time frame for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.
Spiegel: Is this an endorsement for the U.S. presidential election in November? Does Obama, who has no military background, ultimately have a better understanding of Iraq than war hero John McCain?
Maliki: Those who operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq today are being more realistic. Artificially prolonging the tenure of U.S. troops in Iraq would cause problems. Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement. Whom they choose as their president is the Americans' business. But it's the business of Iraqis to say what they want. And that's where the people and the government are in general agreement: The tenure of the coalition troops in Iraq should be limited.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Once Again, Bad News for the Earth (Thanks, George)
Even the EPA's own experts counseled against such a decision, recommending that Johnson "either grant the waiver or authorize it for three years before reassessing it," according to a syndicated Washington Post article ("EPA says no to California's emissions plan").
Local and state authorities around the country were, to say the least, unhappy with the Bush anti-environment decision. The head of a Washington state environmental agency put it this way:
"I'm pissed," said Dennis McLerran, the normally soft-spoken head of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency and a lead proponent of the California-style rules. "This is a political decision, not a fact-based decision."
Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire agreed, calling the EPA's decision "a failure of leadership that places our economy and our environment at risk." She added that "Washington [state] can't wait for permission to do the right thing for our environment and future generations."
On the environment, as on many other issues, more and more people agree with the governor: We just can't wait.
*There are still 396 days remaining until Jan. 20, 2009 -- Oh-oh.
Hard-liners for Jesus
Meyerson gives several examples, but the most pointed might be on the issue of immigration. He writes:
But it's on their policies concerning immigrants where Republicans -- candidates and voters alike -- really run afoul of biblical writ. Not on immigration as such but on the treatment of immigrants who are already here. Consider: Christmas, after all, celebrates not just Jesus's birth but his family's flight from Herod's wrath into Egypt, a journey obviously undertaken without benefit of legal documentation. The Bible isn't big on immigrant documentation. "Thou shalt neither vex a stranger nor oppress him," Exodus says the Lord told Moses on Mount Sinai, "for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt." Yet the distinctive cry coming from the Republican base this year isn't simply to control the flow of immigrants across our borders but to punish the undocumented immigrants already here, children and parents alike.
The politics and rhetoric of "God's Own Party" often bear very little resemblance to God's own book.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Israel's "Exercise in Escapism"
Yes, Olmert must indeed go home. We need a new leadership, one that understands that Israel will know tranquility only if we make peace with the Palestinians, even when the price is the dismantling of settlements. Is this being discussed seriously? Would this demand draw hundreds of thousands to the square? Of course not.
Avnery laments that the Israeli public fails to understand that the "real question is not why Olmert started the war in haste, but why he started the war at all."
Every right-thinking person understands that Hizbullah can be neutralized only by making peace with Syria, a peace for which we must give back the Golan Heights. ... About that no serious debate is being held--not in the Knesset, nor in the media, nor in public discussions. That was not the reason the masses assembled in the square. That is too complicated. That is too controversial. That needs cool thinking, drawing conclusions from what has happened. It is easier to shout "Olmert Go Home!"
For Avnery, and for the Middle East, hope resides not in the fates of individual politicians, but in the broader movement toward comprehensive peace.
Friday, March 02, 2007
Beyond the Pale on Climate Change
The scientific consensus has become increasingly clear on the human role in climate change, and the religious community – across the theological and political spectrum – has likewise experienced a shift in consciousness about the need to take serious, concerted action on behalf of God’s good earth. Evangelicals jumped to the forefront in the issue with the launching last year of the Evangelical Climate Initiative.
Enter the Flat Earthers. Last summer a group of conservative Christians pooh-poohed the evangelical initiative (and the overwhelming scientific evidence), claiming that “Foreseeable global warming will have moderate and mixed (not only harmful but also helpful), not catastrophic, consequences for humanity ....” Turns out the leading group, which calls itself the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, is linked to organizations funded by ExxonMobil, according to the watchdog group ExxonSecrets.org. (In an interview with Bill Moyers last year, Moyers asked the ISA’s leading spokesperson: “In 2004 the journal Science surveyed 928 papers on climate change that were published in peer-reviewed scientific publications and found that, quote — I'm not making this up — ‘none of the papers disagreed with the consensus.’ That's pretty convincing, don't you think?” The ISA spokesperson, a professor of historical theology – and not a scientist – replied, “I don't find it convincing.” Sounds a lot like those "know-nothings" of a century ago ... )
This week the Religious Right went even further. On Sunday Jerry Falwell, of Moral Majority fame, said the debate over global warming was a “tool of Satan,” and that he expected negative response to his “Myth of Global Warming” sermon from “tree-huggers and the liberals and anybody who gets upset at any challenge to the alarmism and the hysteria that’s going on.” On Thursday James Dobson – along with other far right leaders such as Don Wildmon of the American Family Association, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, and Gary L. Bauer of Coalitions for America – again denied the scientific consensus on global warming and urged the National Association of Evangelicals to stay silent on the issue. They even went so far as to attack NAE vice president Richard Cizik, who has been a clear, honest, and courageous voice on behalf of “creation care.” The Religious Right leaders declared that “Cizik and others are using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time, notably the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage, and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children,” and called for his resignation.
When extremist groups practice self-marginalizing behavior, it’s usually best to just ignore them. But when they engage in the politics of personal attack – as these Far Right leaders have done in their slanderous comments against Cizik and others – it’s necessary to point out how far off the edge they’ve gone.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
Glimmers of Hope Amid the Ruins
There were dire warnings of the danger of the war spreading far beyond the region. Could this be the spark, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich asked, of World War III? Or worse: Voices on the apocalyptic right saw in the Israel-Lebanon fighting the seeds of Armageddon.
While the death toll mounted, world leaders could not agree on whether or how to call for a halt to the fighting.
In the midst of the tragedy, a small glimmer of hope began to emerge. The initial conversation centered around achieving a cease-fire in the daily barrage of rockets and airstrikes between Israel and Lebanon. But it was impossible to talk about a cease-fire without acknowledging that this war didn't begin with the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, or even with the Israeli pullout from Lebanon six years ago. The roots of the conflict in the Middle East, of course, go back centuries--and any genuine, lasting solution must deal not only with the contemporary realities but the heritage of two peoples on one land.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign in an otherwise-discouraging situation is the growing number of voices, across the political spectrum, that these deeper, more profound issues must finally be addressed. On the left, Tikkun magazine and the Shalom Center have called for an international Middle East peace conference to "impose a just, equitable, and lasting settlement." Voices from the right, including George H.W. Bush's national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, have laid out plans for a "comprehensive settlement of the root cause of today's turmoil." While it would be undoubtedly premature to call it a "consensus," the breadth of support for a comprehensive peace creates an opportunity to actually achieve progress toward a just peace in the region.
SERIOUS QUESTIONS, of course, remain unsettled. These range from the Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank to the Arab world entering into full normal relations with Israel. They include the establishment of a viable Palestinian state along 1967 borders, and the establishment of Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states. The bottom line is that both Israel and Palestine must be safe, secure, and peaceful--or neither will ever be.
"Peace processes"--from Camp David to the Oslo agreements and the "road map"--have come and gone over the years. There have been positive achievements--for instance, Jordan and Egypt have established significant accords with Israel--and discouraging setbacks. But the world cannot allow the setbacks to either determine the course of action or prevent hard-scrabble progress from being made.
Real progress toward peace in the Middle East is not the sole responsibility of the Israelis and Palestinians, or even the other actors in the area. For many reasons, peace in this critical crossroads of civilization must be the responsibility of the whole international community--and the United States must play the key leadership role in that effort. But the U.S. must take a significantly different approach than it has in the past if it is to constructively play the part of midwife in the birth of a "new Middle East," as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put it. The U.S. must not only make Middle East peace a high priority, it must do so as an "honest broker," and not just a backer of one side in the dispute. It must not only stand for the peace and security of Israel, but for the peace and security of Palestine and all its neighbors.
Making progress toward a comprehensive peace will never be easy. Extremists on all sides will seek to scuttle any forward movement, out of fear, mistrust, and long-standing hatred. But that only makes the task more important--and the active, unwavering support of committed people of faith essential.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
The Israel-Lebanon War
Similarly, when seven blasts rocked suburban trains in Mumbai this summer, India refrained from a knee-jerk confrontation with Pakistan over the violence (as opposed to the war that nearly erupted when India sent troops to the Pakistani border following the 2001 attack on India's parliament building). This time, again pointedly, India refused to allow the acts of terror to provoke it into a war footing.
We have also, of course, seen an altogether different model of response, perhaps most clearly exemplified by the U.S. invasion of two countries -- one of which was arguably an actual source of the terror -- following the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001.
It has obviously been in the latter spirit that Israel responded to terror attacks in the past fortnight. Provoked by the Hamas kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, Israel not only invaded the northern Gaza Strip but also destroyed a significant portion of Gaza's infrastructure, including airstrikes against Gaza's power grid. Likewise, days later, when the Syrian-backed terror group Hezbollah seized the opportunity to raid northern Israel and capture two Israeli soldiers, Israel responded with a massive attack on Lebanon's civilian structures, from the Beirut airport to a dairy factory, civilian buses, bridges, power stations, and medical facilities, according to reports. Hezbollah, for its part, responded with rocket fire into northern Israel. And the result, not surprisingly, has been the death of many civilians.
Israel's rush to war in response to acts of terror raises many questions. The most important, perhaps, revolves around the issue of legitimate self defense vs. collective punishment. Israel is indeed surrounded by sworn enemies, including many who are demonstrably willing to violently destroy Israel. But does the real need for security justify the massively disproportionate response to an act of terror? Is the collective punishment of an entire population morally and ethically justified?
Even apart from the ethical questions raised by Israel's massive retaliation, there are significant issues of efficacy: Does it work? Is Israel made more secure by its militaristic approach? Israel has destroyed 42 bridges in Lebanon this week, along with 38 roads, communications equipment, factories, runways and fuel depots at the Beirut airport, and the main ports of Beirut and Tripoli. Does the destruction of much of Lebanon's civilian infrastructure, so painstakingly rebuilt after years of civil war and occupation by both Israeli and Syrian forces, bode well for future peace between the neighboring states? In sum, will the Israeli attacks bring long-term security for Israel, or will they ensure that the next generation of Lebanese (and the next generation of Palestinians) grow up with a undying hatred in their hearts?
U.S. media coverage of this new Middle East war paints a picture of a tit-for-tat equivalency between the two sides: Hezbollah explodes a bomb in Israel, Israel responds in kind. That coverage is misleading at best. The violence of Hezbollah (and Hamas) is to be unequivocally condemned and opposed, but the two terrorist groups have nowhere near the military capability of Israel, which wields one of the most powerful military forces in the world (with the aid, of course, of more than $3 billion per year from the United States). The death toll in Lebanon in the first six days of the war has been almost tenfold that in Israel (according to the Guardian, 210 people, most of them civilians, have died in Lebanon and 29 in Israel since Israel began its attacks).
One of the most difficult aspects of trying to be a peacemaker in the Middle East context is the "separation wall" of understanding between the two peoples. The very definition of what is happening is understood in vastly different ways by the two sides. Supporters of Israel see the country attacked by its sworn enemies, and see in its response a necessary and justified act of national self-defense. Others see the region's most powerful military force illegally occupying their homeland and engaging in massive, disproportionate attacks on innocent civilians.
As Christians committed to the cause of peace, our role is not to "take sides" in the struggle, in the traditional sense, but rather to constantly stand for the "side" of a just peace. We can ignore neither the horror of suicide bombings against Israeli civilians nor the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. We must have the vision and courage to stand against the acts of violence by terrorist organizations, as well as the massive state violence by the region's military superpower, while avoiding the trap of positing a false "equivalency" between actions that are not at all equivalent.
And we cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the political, strategic, and moral complexity of the situation to stand back and do nothing. The well-being of millions of people in the region -- and, frankly, peace throughout the world -- requires that people of faith and conscience be actively and conscientiously engaged, for "all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing."
Sunday, March 05, 2006
Welcome the Stranger, Go to Jail?
No less an authority (figure) than the New York Times has applauded Mahony's courageous and powerful stance in its Friday editorial titled "The Gospel vs. H.R. 4437." The Times editors wrote:
The cardinal is right to argue that the government has no place criminalizing the charitable impulses of private institutions like his, whose mission is to help people with no questions asked. The Los Angeles Archdiocese, like other religious organizations across the country, runs a vast network of social service programs offering food and emergency shelter, child care, aid to immigrants and refugees, counseling services, and computer and job training. Through Catholic Charities and local parishes, the church is frequently the help of last resort for illegal immigrants in need. It should not be made an arm of the immigration police as well.
Cardinal Mahony's declaration of solidarity with illegal immigrants, for whom Lent is every day, is a startling call to civil disobedience, as courageous as it is timely. We hope it forestalls the day when works of mercy become a federal crime.
Cardinal Mahony's clarity of vision and commitment to the gospel is remarkable. Perhaps equally remarkable is the vision and backbone showed by the Times in backing Mahony. Maybe we can appreciate this little glimmer of grace as this week's sign the apocalypse is NOT upon us. Yet.
Friday, January 06, 2006
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
Evidence is growing – and public consensus is beginning to realize – that in our court system, as everywhere else in life, mistakes happen. That fact alone is helping to sway public opinion against the death penalty, and politicians (as well as Hollywood execs) are beginning to notice.
Yesterday, outgoing Virginia Gov. Mark Warner ordered DNA testing that could prove the guilt or innocence of a man executed in 1992, in a state where (according to the Washington Post) “officials and judges have routinely refused to reexamine evidence in criminal cases after a defendant's conviction and have been steadfast in their denials of post-execution requests.” An American University criminal law professor said the cause “could be the biggest turning point in death penalty abolition.”
While the Virginia case could be the first time an executed person is cleared through genetic tests, others have been exonerated – tragically after-the-fact – by other means. For example, in November the only witness to an alleged shooting by a 17-year-old in Houston later recanted his testimony, admitting that the alleged shooter wasn’t even at the scene the night of the murder (“Witness Clears Man Executed in Texas...”). But despite his innocence, the defendant had been put to death by the state of Texas.
Pop culture is also catching the wave. A new ABC series “inJustice” features Kyle MacLachlan as the head of the National Justice Project – an agency “that focuses on cases where justice has not been served and innocent people have been wrongly convicted of crimes.” In February Court TV is offering an original movie called “The Exonerated,” featuring stories about “innocence, injustice, and redemption.”
Last week The Economist magazine wrote that “America may be changing its mind” about the death penalty, contending that “Even when it is carefully administered, America’s machinery of death still seems cruel and unusual.” Eighty-six countries, the magazine reports, including all 25 members of the European Union, have abolished capital punishment. And while the majority of Americans still support the death penalty, the level of support is dropping (from 80% in 1994 to 64% last October), indication that the country is finally moving away from capital punishment. Ending the execution of innocent people is one good reason to do so.
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
Schwarzenegger turns up the heat
In a commentary in the London Independent newspaper on the eve of this week's G8 Summit in Scotland, Schwarzenegger wrote: "The debate is over. We know the science. We see the threat posed by changes in our climate," Schwarzenegger wrote. "And we know the time for action is now."
Schwarzenegger's clarion call is a direct slap at the do-nothing, fiddle while the world burns approach of the Bush administration. As the LA Times put it ("Gov. Turns Up Heat in Global Warming Fight"), the governor's "call for immediate action contrasts sharply with the administration's recommendation of only voluntary steps to limit greenhouse gas emissions...."
Thursday, June 30, 2005
Iraq: "Only Death Will Win"
This war has been a colossal blunder, and most Americans now seem to believe as much. The question facing the president is the too-well-remembered question of the Vietnam War: "How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?"
He goes on to nuance that thought, and more, in his piece "Only Death Will Win."
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
"Lazarus" at Bush's Gate
The Washington Times reported ("Religious leaders push for Africa aid"): Richard Cizik, vice president for government policy for the National Association of Evangelicals, said evangelicals have gone "from apathy and disengagement to engagement" on the issue. Currently, they "are willing to devote the same energy toward ending world hunger that they've devoted to issues such as religious persecution and sexual trafficking," he said. "We are lending our voice to this cause in a way never before done," he added. "We believe we can make this happen as we've made it happen on other issues."
The LA Times ("Churches Join to Urge Aid to Africa: Evangelicals unite with liberal and moderate religious groups to press President Bush to increase spending on development efforts"--annoying registration required) wrote: "Anybody who follows religion and has for some time would be pretty impressed and amazed," said Jim Wallis, executive director of Sojourners, a liberal-leaning Christian ministry based in Washington. "There is complete unity on this question across a spectrum that's been divided, and still is, on many other issues."
Perhaps this time the rich man will listen to Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).
Sunday, June 26, 2005
Bishops "refocus" efforts against death penalty
In mid-June, meeting in Chicago, the bishops reaffirmed their opposition to the death penalty. Life is not only sacred when it's "innocent" life, or the life of a good person. The bishops argue that all life is sacred ought to be protected -- whether the person is "deserving" or not. A person found guilty of the most despicable crimes should be kept off the streets, kept away from the rest of society -- even forever, in the most egregious cases. But the state should not sink to the level of killers by become one itself. So say the Catholic bishops. (And so say I, for what it's worth.) See "Bishops renew their opposition to death penalty" in the Washington Times.)
Friday, June 24, 2005
GOP Hack Becomes Mayor of Sesame Street
Ironically, the CPB was set up by Congress in the 1960s to shield public broadcasting from political influence. With Harrison's partisan background, public broadcasting is unlikely to much longer keep its distinction as one of the few remaining non-commercial places on the broadcast dial (either radio or TV). As Senator Frank Lautenberg put it, "This is a fatal blow to the historic political neutrality of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting."
Why do corporations, and their partisan partners in the GOP, need to control PBS and National Public Radio, too? They already run the other 57 channels (although nowadays it's probably closer to 157 channels -- but there's still nothin' on...).
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Conscience in Time of War
The efforts of the military to go after these children -- after all, the youngest high school students in the Pentagon's demographic target range are only 16 years old -- suggests an important area of peacework today: Counter-recruiting. What does that mean? Mainly, it's about telling the truth -- about the war in Iraq, about the real costs of becoming part of an interventionist military effort, and perhaps most important about individual conscience (and for many, how faith informs conscience). A good set of resources on conscientious objection can be found on the Mennonite Central Committee Web site.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
U.S. Out of Guantanamo
But closing the prison camp at Guantanamo doesn't go far enough either. What right does the United States have to occupy that land in the first place? There's only one rationale: the right of empire. The concept is so 19th century -- and yet the neo-cons have turned it almost into their religion. The might-makes-right mentality allowed the United States, as many other colonizers before, to capture lands around the world, including the tip of Cuba. Here's a 21st century concept: Give it back. Of course, that's not going to happen, at least not anytime soon. Truth of the matter is, it would be the right thing to do. But we can't handle the truth. (Okay, that was a stretch, but I couldn't resist the reference.)
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
GOP Rep: Democrats "Anti-Christian"
Monday, June 20, 2005
"Onward Moderate Christian Soldiers"
It would be an oversimplification to say that America's culture wars are now between people of faith and nonbelievers. People of faith are not of one mind, whether on specific issues like stem cell research and government intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo, or the more general issue of how religion relates to politics. In recent years, conservative Christians have presented themselves as representing the one authentic Christian perspective on politics. With due respect for our conservative friends, equally devout Christians come to very different conclusions.
Check out his insightful and interesting commentary, "Onward Moderate Christian Soldiers."
Sunday, June 19, 2005
A Mythical "Peace" in the Middle East
Saturday, June 18, 2005
"Let Them Eat Cake"
The governor of Maryland, Robert Ehrlich, announced he was going to shut down the offices, despite the law. Maryland's Senate President Thomas Mike Miller, called the move "outrageous. It's an insult. It's a slap in the face to every working man and woman in Maryland."
The slap resounds well past the Bay State borders. In this "let them eat cake age," Ehrlich's actions stand as sign and symbol of an approach to working people that begins with disdain and ends with policies, local and national, that undercut the economic well-being of hundreds of millions of working people in this country. The sad irony is that many of these same people voted for Ehrlich, and his clones at the national level, in the first place.
Friday, June 17, 2005
Where's the Apology?
Frist, who said he was speaking "as a physician," not long before Schiavo's death said, "In the midst of his impressively detailed medical review, Frist declared flatly: "Terri's brother told me Terri laughs, smiles, and tries to speak. That doesn't sound like a woman in a persistent vegetative state." ("Where's the Apology," by E.J. Dionne.)
Frist was using a family's tragedy to make political hay. For that, we all deserve an apology. Don't hold your breath.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
The Patriot Act Begins to Crumble
Yesterday, Congress started to catch the anti-Patriot Act fever. Conservative members of the House joined with liberal Democrats to curb the FBI's ability to seize library and bookstore records ("House Votes To Curb Patriot Act: FBI's Power to Seize Library Records Would Be Halted"). President Bush has threatened to veto anything that cuts back the powers outlined in the Patriot Act.
Fifteen provisions of the Patriot Act are scheduled to expire at the end of this year. Bush plans to barnstorm (in the manner of his Social Security national tour) in favor of keeping them all. If the public gets behind it in a vocal way, early signs are that Congress may very well be in the mood to start once again paying a little respect to the Bill of Rights, which has been on the back-burner since the official launch of the "permanent war on terror." Perhaps, if a hue and cry is raised, the war on our civil liberties isn't so permanent after all.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
When Faith Builds Bridges
Of course, in many places, and for many people, faith does exactly that. The front page of today's Washington Post tells the story of people of faith working across the traditional barricades on important issues (poverty being the most prominent) -- check out "Religious Right, Left Meet in Middle: Clergy Aim to Show That Faith Unifies." Another small sign of hope in our overly polarized religious landscape.
The U.S. and the Uzbek Massacre
NATO initiated a process to investigate the killings. But the United States, not wanting to upset the Uzbek government and possibly threaten U.S. military bases in the country, blocked NATO's investigation (and has thwarted other international efforts to respond to the massacre).
The Christian Science Monitor called the U.S. actions "awkward" ("Calls for investigation highlight 'awkward' US ties with authoritarian government"). Some might use a different word. How about "criminal"? Or maybe "immoral"? At the very least, set against U.S. claims to be a beacon of human rights, let's go with "hypocritical."
Hope and Cheerful Faith
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Micah Challenge USA
The U.S. branch -- Micah Challenge USA -- is now in formation. The group had a "formation meeting" last week at the Call to Renewal/Bread for the World-sponsored conference "One Table Many Voices." The network brings together a wide range of actors working on global poverty, including several that aren't the usual suspects. Another sign that something significant -- and hopeful -- is breaking loose around these issues.
Monday, June 13, 2005
Howard Dean and "Moral Values"
His first point is undeniably true: Poverty -- especially, in some ways, the poverty of children -- is clearly a moral value, and it ought to be talked about in moral terms. It's on the second point that things get a bit muddier. Dean uses the "moral values" discussion to take a potshot at Tom Delay and his bought-and-paid-for golf trips. It's hard not to read that statement for the partisan attack that it is -- regardless of whether he's right about those "golf trips" being moral issues.
The Post plays Dean's "appeal to moral values" with the usual cynicism (the article's subhead: "DNC Chairman Calls for Democrats to Adopt GOP's Language to Woo Voters"). And it's probably true that Dean's main motive is indeed to "woo voters." But recognizing that poverty is a moral issue -- as is race, war, the environment, and other social questions -- is more than just a political ploy. Frankly, it's the logical consequence of applying the age-old values of scripture to the issues of our day. That's the kind of moral values that we need to hear more about in the days ahead.
Sunday, June 12, 2005
Do We Need a Smoking Gun?
The memo said that Bush and his aides believed war was inevitable, and that the "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." A key emphasis of the memo is that U.S. officials were unrealistic about the likely cost of a war against Iraq. For example, the Post notes, Paul Wolfowitz -- one of the chief architects of Bush's war policy -- testified in Feb. 2003, "I can't imagine anyone here wanting to spend another $30 billion to be [in Iraq] for another 12 years." The amount allocated by Congress for the Iraq war, as of May, has actually been more than $208 billion since then. (Other sources put the total war expenditures at closer to $300 billion -- a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon we're talking real money.)
Liberal columnist Michael Kinsley, on the other hand, thinks the Downing Street Memo is much ado about nothing, and in his column ("No Smoking Gun") even defends Bush's pre-invasion disembling about Iraq: "Fixing intelligence and facts to fit a desired policy is the Bush II governing style, especially concerning the war in Iraq," and adds that the memo offers no definitive proof that Bush officials actually lied in making their case for war. However, I seem to remember a few comments about weapons of mass destruction, and all that, that strayed a rather long way from the truth...
Saturday, June 11, 2005
And the winner is...
But I was really pondering the role of someone like Quentin Tarantino. From Reservoir Dogs to Natural Born Killers, from Pulp Fiction to the Kill Bills, Tarantino's signature films are awash with violence -- sometimes stylized, sometimes cartoonish, almost always over the top.
Okay, sure, violence in the media doesn't make people go out and act violently. But what contribution does a guy like Tarantino -- undoubtedly one of today's most creative, innovative people in film -- make to furthering the violence that's at the heart of pop culture? And, on the other side, what role could he play in planting seeds toward transforming that culture? I'm not blaming our violent world on the artists -- I won't even bother a silly comparison between the "effects" of art and the real-world consequences of acts by politicians (say, the Iraq war, for example). And I don't want artists to become propagandists, more interested in selling some "message" than in creating genuine art. But art does matter, and it helps shape how we as a culture look at the world. It helps define possibilities, and it creates windows of understanding that can alter the way things are viewed.
I'm not trying to pick on Tarantino, either. But he seems like such a savvy, smart, sophisticated, likable guy. If he wanted to, it seems like he could do some interesting and maybe even consequential things to help change the world we live in, instead of just showing us how messed up it can be.
Friday, June 10, 2005
A Step Toward Debt Relief
The Times noted: The White House has also rebuffed Mr. Blair's efforts to persuade the United States to move closer to the position of the other industrial nations on how to fight global warming. ... And the administration has rejected the British proposal for creation of a new international body that would raise money for Africa by borrowing against pledges of future aid.
The most important thing to come out of the Blair-Bush meeting may very well be the momentum Blair gains in support of his work against global poverty -- which is especially key as we approach next month's meeting of the Group of 8 in Scotland.
Fouling the Environment, One Yard at a Time
But once again, cozy relationships between government officials and industry magnates is preventing (or at least forestalling) progress. This time the person sacrificing our clean air for the sake of corporate profit -- didn't they used to call that graft and corruption? -- is Sen. Christopher Bond of Missouri, whose state is home (as you may have guessed) to two Briggs and Stratton plants.
So thanks to Bond, important and much-needed restrictions on air pollution will be delayed another six months while the government spends $650,000 for a study ("Lawnmower Smog Rule Delayed"). Funny, that's been exactly the tactic taken by the Bush administration regarding greenhouse gas emissions in general: Call for "study" after "study," and avoid doing anything helpful for the environment. In the meantime, if you have a yard, you might try doing what I do: Use an electric mower (with no emissions at all). Better yet, but not exactly easy, is to use a hand-powered mower -- while turning up the pressure on elected officials to change policies that effect us all.
Thursday, June 09, 2005
The Downing Street Memo
The U.S. media, of course, has virtually ignored the memo, which was published in The London Times on May 1. Lying to the American public isn't necessarily an impeachable offense, but lying under oath to, say, congressional committees is something that would be grounds for indictment (if a real opposition existed in this country).
Read the memo. Judge for yourself. But it seems to me if anyone had doubts about the veracity or the credibility of the Bush administration, those doubts should be long dispelled.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
"The Gospel According to ... "
I was hanging with some determined Christians a week ago who were wrestling with their anger about the Republicans and President Bush saddling up and riding into the heart of America on the religion issue. These are the kind of people who drive conservative Republicans nuts, which is why they are so interesting. It's like turning back time and sitting in on a Wobblies meeting or a convention of anarchists. They seem to be very passionate about everything.
Read the rest of the article.
And yesterday's Dallas Morning News included an interesting column titled "Not to get preachy, but McCain needs some religious vote" (annoying registration required).
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Bush Official Caught in Lies About Global Warming
This is one of those Big Lies of this administration, repeated often: That the clear link between human activity -- the emission of greenhouse gasses in particular -- and global warming is "in dispute" among scientists. The fact of the matter is, virtually the only scientists who have questions about the connection between emissions and global warming -- and the dire consequences ahead if we don't take significant action, soon -- are those on the payroll of the oil companies (and the oil companies' front organizations). Cooney's duplicity is only the tip of a very, very dirty iceberg -- and all of us, along with our children, will pay a heavy price for the disembling (that means lying, Mr. President).
Monday, June 06, 2005
They'll Know We are Christians by Our ... Spite?
The AFA obviously prefers that gays and lesbians be treated as second-class citizens, that they be denied health and other benefits, and that companies like Ford ignore them as potential customers.
Since the AFA claims to be a Christian organization (although they certainly don't act like one -- remember the old "they'll know we are Christians by our love"...?), it would behoove other Christians, particularly churches and church bodies, to condemn the AFA's hateful behavior. I wouldn't hold my breath.
Sunday, June 05, 2005
Va. Court and the Abortion Ban
The court's ruling was correct. Exceptions to protect a woman's health must be included in such laws. But that doesn't mean that society shouldn't restrict such procedures (also known as "Intact Dilation and Extraction").
Many of us feel torn between the extremes on abortion. We feel that abortion is at best a tragedy, a horrible choice in desperate circumstances, and that serious effort ought to be made to reduce the number of abortions. But even given that belief, many of us do not feel that a woman (or doctor) who makes that desperate choice ought to be prosecuted as a criminal. Does that make us "pro-choice"? ..."pro-life"? Once again, the labels used by the right and left seem inadequate to describe what seems to be the vast majority of Americans.
Saturday, June 04, 2005
Needed: Deep Throat II
Nowadays, such spying on Americans, infiltrating opposition groups, and generally ignoring constitutional protections in the name of national security is commonplace, mainly justified under the broad-sweeping "Patriot Act." It's amazing how much an administration can get away with, using the rationalization of permanent war (now against terror, then against comunism), without the citizenry rising up in outrage. Deep Throat II, where are you when we need you?
Bush: Africa aid "doesn't fit budgetary process"
Thus far, Bush has resisted European entreaties to increase African aid, saying "It doesn't fit our budgetary process." Hopefully, Bush can be made to see the light, because the U.S. role will be key as the Group of Eight leaders meet next month in Scotland and discuss ways to increase the wealthy world's respond to the crisis of African poverty.
"Team Jesus Christ"
Unfortunately, in the Post's (appropriate) condemnation of such repugnant behavior, the paper paints with a too-broad brush. The Post editors write: "It is especially important, in that atmosphere, that cadets not feel that professing a certain religion is part of the norm to which they must adhere." Christianity, of course, is that "certain religion" to which the paper refers, as if such in-your-face and offensive behavior -- which ultra-conservative Christians would see as "evangelism" -- is indicative of Christianity as a whole. Needless to say, many Christians find such behavior just as reprehensible as would other people of any or no religious faith.
A deeper issue lies beneath this story. Chaplains don't belong in the military at all. Yes, it's true that people in uniform need pastoral care. But a military chaplain is part of the chain of command. By virtue of their being a member of the military, they must follow orders from their superiors -- even if those orders contradict the chaplain's understanding of the gospel. The allegiance of the chaplain is backward -- as Christians, our first allegiance is to Christ, not to a military commander. The practice of Christian churches sponsoring chaplains within the branches of the military is wrong, and it should stop.
Thursday, June 02, 2005
A Liberal-Evangelical Alliance?
...we can have a culture war in this country, or we can have a war on poverty, but we can't have both. That is to say, liberals and conservatives can go on bashing each other for being godless hedonists and primitive theocrats, or they can set those differences off to one side and work together to help the needy.
The natural alliance for antipoverty measures at home and abroad is between liberals and evangelical Christians. These are the only two groups that are really hyped up about these problems and willing to devote time and money to ameliorating them. If liberals and evangelicals don't get together on antipoverty measures, then there will be no majority for them and they won't get done. ...
And when I look at the evangelical community, I see a community in the midst of a transformation - branching out beyond the traditional issues of abortion and gay marriage, and getting more involved in programs to help the needy. ... I see evangelicals who are more and more influenced by Catholic social teaching, with its emphasis on good works. I see the historical rift healing between those who emphasized personal and social morality.
If that's all true -- and there's growing evidence that it is -- it's good news indeed.
One footnote: In the same column, Brooks stole a joke from Ed Spivey Jr., the humor columnist for Sojourners magazine, when he wrote, "...maybe I could write a book for rich Republicans called, "The Chauffeur Driven Life," which I think would do quite well." Spivey's version, published in December 04: "This book has sold so many copies the author is already working on a sequel: The Chauffeur-Driven Life."
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Colson: Deep Throat "Betrayed Trust"
Who betrayed our trust, Chuck? You still think it was a "betrayal" to tell the truth about illegal and corrupt actions of your administration? I guess Colson's famous "conversion" doesn't exactly involve repentance of his role in the Watergate crimes and their coverup. Once a CREEP, always a CREEP?
(And for those who missed the allusion: CREEP was Nixon's Committee to Re-Elect the President.)
While even 2 million killed in such a small country seems almost unfathomable, apparently the actual number is much larger. In addition to Americans killed, there were also 223,748 South Vietnamese soldiers killed, as well as 5,282 of other nationalities.
According to the Agence France Presse, "the true civilian casualties of the Vietnam War were 2,000,000 in the North, and 2,000,000 in the South. Military casualties were 1.1 million killed and 600,000 wounded in 21 years of war. These figures were deliberately falsified during the war by the North Vietnamese Communists to avoid demoralizing the population."
That results in a total of approximately 5.4 million killed in the war. And that doesn't include the deaths in neighboring Laos and Cambodia.
A helpful summary of all this can be found on this "Google Answers" page.
A footnote: 11,465 of the Americans killed in Vietnam were teenagers.