The Need for Ritual

From The Libertarian Enterprise, via Serge, is an interesting story about the importance of ritual in our individual and family lives. The author is describing his experience running a home for troubled youths, most of whom had been abused or otherwise had little family life in their backgrounds:

One thing each of my friends there seemed to long-for was meaningful rituals. What I brought to them was meaningful ritual, like the kind I had grown up with myself. Birthdays were a cause for celebration, for our friend had lived another year through, despite the poverty, crime and homelessness. We celebrated Thanksgiving for much the same reason, with wine to toast our warmth and comfort of the "family" we had become. The most extensive gift at Christmas was love; and with it we made popcorn strings, paper chains, and paper snowflakes to decorate the tree that had most likely been given to us. But through it all was shared a sense of (at least for this brief moment) family and home, where we were safe and warm; a sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves.

These are little things, perhaps, but in the grand scheme of things they add up to a society that works. Their absence has not been helpful (emphasis added by me):

My point is simple but its meaning huge, without real, meaningful rituals our society has bred and continues to breed people who; won't take responsibility for their own children, refuse to be responsible for their animals, and deny all responsibility in their jobs where it is usually most needed. My last example illustrates this point very well.

In the summer of 1993 four police officers were found not guilty of irresponsibility in the felony arrest of Rodney King, an arrest (and beating) viewed by millions across the US and around the world, the police department that they worked for refused to take responsibility for the policemen's actions, the City of Los Angeles refused to take responsibility for their jackbooted thugs performing their duties as prescribed, and in response a city exploded in anger. Had those responsible accepted their responsibility to their citizens, Fifty-Four (54) people need not have died while hundreds-of-millions of dollars damage was done, by people who will never take responsibility—because if their leaders don't have the guts to do so, then why should they?

Full story

So what's a ritual? Anything that brings us out of our regular routine and into a collective recognition that we are part of something bigger. It doesn't happen much anymore. The clearest recent example I can think of is 9-11. On a grand scale, we all went through a terrible, traumatic experience together - as a nation, as families, as co-workers, as fellow citizens. It brought us all together.

Of course this is not the desirable kind of ritual. It should happen in smaller ways: holidays, family events, church services, etc. These bring us together and make us realize that we are individual parts of a larger whole. At the same time, we retain our individual identities, strengths and weaknesses. Ritual helps us become complete persons. Without it, we rarely reach outside of our own selves.

We all crave ritual, even if we don't recognize it for what it is. Why do so many people watch big-event television, like 24, Lost, American Idol ? A big part of it is that we look forward to going to work the next day to discuss the show with our friends. This is fine, but there are even other ways to achieve the same ends. We could sure use it.

Adios, Saddam Redux

My post about the Saddam Hussein execution from last night elicited a thoughtful reader comment, to which I responded, so check it out again. Meanwhile there is some other interesting reaction in the blogosphere.

Via Serge, we learn that powerful people may have wanted Saddam gone for their own personal reasons. Dead men tell no tales. Indeed, it would have been interesting had he exposed the various Westerners who supported his murderous regime for their own profit.

Steve Hayes finds it ironic that even as we are all hailing Gerald Ford for the courageous act of pardoning Richard Nixon for his crimes, we gave no thought to pardoning Saddam.

The London Telegraph has a long story, almost obituary-like, about Saddam.

Here is video of the event. It cuts off before he drops, but I bet that footage will leak out soon.

A roundup of liberal comments from

Cowboys For Death

I have never liked NFL football. Maybe I'm a bit of a purist, but to me it's not really "sport" when the players are being paid millions to entertain us. I greatly enjoy college football, however.

Now there is another reason to dislike pro football. Via Orthometer, I've just learned that the Dallas Cowboys support Planned Parenthood to the tune of thousands of dollars a year. This is not consistent with the All-American, Pro-Family image Jerry Jones would like us to accept. America's Team is officially pro-choice.

Personally, I would not buy any Cowboys merchandise or go to a game in any case. I know many pro-life folks who are fervent Cowboys fans, however. Now you have a choice: punt, or go for it? You may not get another chance.

Too Many Mommies, Too Many Kids

Last month we learned that Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, is pregnant and expecting a child with her longtime partner, Heather Poe. It is unclear exactly how this child was conceived; presumably it was a result of in-vitro fertilization.

Conservatives reacted mainly with embarrassed silence. Since the VP is one of their heroes, the fact that he has a lesbian daughter is something they would prefer not to think about. Dick and Lynne Cheney are obviously in a difficult situation; they don't approve of Mary's lifestyle but she is still their daughter.

Liberal and gay-rights groups used this news to attack VP Cheney as a hypocrite. This strikes me as misguided. Clearly he did not ask Mary to become a lesbian, and there is not much he can do about it. I guess he could banish Mary from family events, have no contact with her, and proceed with his conservative social agenda. Then he wouldn't be a hypocrite any more. Of course, then he would be attacked for being cold and heartless. It's a no-win situation.

As I wrote here and here, I think gay couples should not attempt to become parents in this way. They are creating a new life in the full knowledge that this child will be deprived of either a mother or a father. This is not right. Kids need parents of both genders.

Sadly there are thousands of children in the USA who do not have even one parent, and languish in foster care, orphanages or other institutions. This isn't right either. Many of them have been abused, suffer from some kind of disability, are no longer infants or are otherwise less than ideal. Most of them are non-white in race. Yet they are still children of God and deserve better.

Now, if Mary Cheney and her partner wish to take on the lifelong emotional, spiritual, and financial burden of raising one of these parentless kids, I would be ok with it. As flawed as their home life may be, it is probably better than the conditions the child is in now. Likewise for anyone else who is truly sincere and capable of being an adoptive parent.

That's not what is happening in this case. These sort of children are not good enough for Mary Cheney and the other couples who use IVF to create "their own" babies. This is not an act of generosity and love. It is an act of selfishness. They must have a baby that is genetically theirs. They want the pleasure of bearing the child, going through delivery and coming home from the hospital with their lovely new baby. If the pursuit of this pleasure means passing up the chance to adopt another poor child, then so be it. What we want for ourselves is the most important thing.

If you are a parent who made this kind of choice, I don't mean to condemn you. I think you made a mistake and did not fully consider the implications of your decision. Now you have a child to raise, and you need to give that job your full energy. There is one thing you can do, though...

Late at night, when you put your baby to bed and look down at that angelic little face, stop for a minute. Think about the other child who could have been yours. He's still out there, somewhere. Pray for that child. Pray for all the others who remain homeless and parentless. Pray that the God of compassion will take them in His loving arms and bring them Home, forever and ever.

Et-tu Jen

In Austin you see cars with bumper stickers saying "Keep Austin Weird." If you haven't been here you don't know how true this is. I once remarked to a friend that "it takes all kinds." He replied "No, it doesn't, but we sure have all kinds."

I say this to let you know that conservative Christian bloggers are not common in these parts. There is at least one other, however: Et-tu Jen is a young woman who grew up as an atheist, and her excellent blog chronicles her journey to becoming a believer. I've been slowly working my way through her archives and it is a fascinating story.

Jen was kind enough to recommend Driving Out The Snakes in a recent post, so I'm hereby returning the favor. Check it out.

Adios, Saddam

Reports this evening say that Saddam Hussein has been executed. I have really mixed feelings about this. Certainly he is guilty of terrible crimes and must be punished. Even if imprisoned for life, he might still serve as a kind of spiritual leader for terrorists. The world is better off with him gone.

On the other hand, a nice quick hanging is not remotely comparable to the horrific deaths he inflicted on many others. Part of me says he should suffer more. Then I remember Jesus said to love our enemies. It's a weird thought - justice demands that people like Saddam be put to death, but we are still supposed to do it with love.

I recently heard a priest say that we should never presume to know whether someone is in heaven or hell. Even the most evil person may have repented in the last seconds before death, and God in His mercy may accept them for reasons that are beyond our understanding. This seems unlikely for Saddam, but we can't rule it out. There is no webcam at the Pearly Gates for us to watch.

So adios, Saddam, wherever you are. Vaya con Dios. Of one thing we can be certain: God's justice will be served, in His own way and on His own time. We should pray for Saddam's victims who remain on Earth, that this action will help heal their wounds and bring them peace.

Your Comments, Please

I seem to be acquiring a few regular readers. If you find a particular SnakePost to be enlightening and/or enraging, please feel free to leave comments. Here's how.

At the bottom of each post is a little link that says, in most cases, "0 Comments." If you click it, a box will pop up allowing you to leave your thoughts, amplifications, advice, curses or suggestions. You can do this anonymously if you wish.

Reading these comments is enjoyable to me. I appreciate anything you care to say. Thanks for reading and have a nice day.

Holy Innocents

Today is, for Catholics at least, the Feast Day of the Holy Innocents. This is a day when we remember the many young boys slaughtered by King Herod as he searched for the baby Jesus.

The story can be found in the second chapter of Matthew. Enraged that the Magi did not tell him where to find this young King of the Jews, Herod ordered that all boys aged two years and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem be killed. His soldiers carried out the order ruthlessly. We can only imagine what this must have been like. Warned in a dream, Joseph led Mary and Jesus to safety in Egypt.

Today more Holy Innocents are dying, aborted before they are even born. Others die soon after from abuse or neglect. We will all face the Holy Innocents one day. Will we be able to tell them we did all we could?

"A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more."

War in the Horn

In the last week a new Middle Eastern war front seems to have opened: Somalia, in a region known as the Horn of Africa. Look at a map and you'll see why it is called that.

You may recall Somalia as the setting for the movie Black Hawk Down, the place where in 1993 US peacekeeping forces suffered a humiliating defeat. Since then the country has been ruled by an assortment of local militias and warlords. In 2004 an “official” government was formed, supported by the U.S. and some neighboring countries, like Ethiopia. This government never managed to take control of much territory, however.

In 2006 an Islamic group took control of the capital city, Mogadishu, and eliminated most of the warlords. Last week, Ethiopian forces attacked in an attempt to remove the Islamic forces and install the Western-backed government. At this point events are moving quickly: Yahoo News has full war coverage here.

Somalia is in a particularly critical location on the Gulf of Aden, through which ships (like oil tankers) wishing to enter the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal must pass. It is also conveniently close to reinforcements from other radical Islamic countries. Ethiopia is the only majority-Christian nation in the region, so it’s no stretch to portray this conflict as a clash of Christianity vs Islam. The Islamic rulers of Mogadishu bear a striking resemblance to the Taliban in their attempt to impose strict Sharia law on the population. Osama bin Ladin himself has urged jihadis to go to Somalia and fight the U.S.-backed infidels.

If the U.S. weren’t so tied down in Iraq I suspect the Bush Administration would be deploying forces to Somalia right now. It may happen anyway. My prediction: more Black Hawks will go down before it’s all over.

Wearing Galoshes

This is amusing and bizarre. Enjoy.

Hat Tip: Mark Shea.

Merry Christmas!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only,who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Hail Me!

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Imperial Majesty Patrick the Spurious of Kesslington under Ox
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Homeless Jesus?

Mark Steyn responds to liberals who like to describe Jesus, Mary and Joseph as "homeless people" in Bethlehem:

For pete’s sake, they weren’t homeless - they couldn’t get a hotel room. The whole neighborhood was, as the UN might put it, fully occupied territory. They had to sleep in the stable only because Dad had to schlep halfway across the country to pay his taxes in the town of his birth, which sounds like the kind of cockamamie bureaucratic nightmare only a blue state could cook up. Except that in Massachusetts it’s no doubt illegal to rent out your stable without applying for a Livestock Shelter Change Of Use Permit plus a Temporary Maternity Ward For Non-Insured Transients License, so Mary would have been giving birth under a bridge on I-95. MORE

The Useful Dead III

The ends to which science will go to call down lightning from heaven continue to expand. Via Young Fogey comes this breakthrough. Scientists in the Netherlands and Israel (!) are working to harvest eggs from aborted little girls for later use with in-vitro fertilization. There is, apparently, a worldwide shortage of such eggs. Since there is no shortage of aborted babies, this would be a reproductive gold mine.

Professor Roger Gosden, director of the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine in the US, told BBC News Online that there were a number of question marks, ethical and practical, over the use of foetal follicles to help people become pregnant.

However, he said that the research itself was worthwhile, because it might help doctors learn more about the process, even if it never led to foetal eggs being used in IVF.

He said: "Surely it's better to do some good with tissue than no good?" MORE

No, no, no. This isn't just "tissue." It's PEOPLE!!! How would you like to grow up knowing that your mother was an aborted baby? That's where we are headed. God help us.

I am beginning to suspect that The Useful Dead will become a regular feature of this blog. I will assign a topic heading and continue numbering future updates.

Merry Xmas!

I have always been disturbed and sometimes offended when people use "Xmas" as an abbreviation for Christmas. To me it looks like just another way to take Christ out of Christmas. Unfortunately, to many people that is exactly what they mean to do, whether through ignorance or malice. So I was surprised this week to learn that there is more to the story.

In the Ancient Greek language of the scriptures, the word Christ begins with the letters Chi and Rho. These letters look like X and P in our modern alphabet. Anyone who has ever pledged a fraternity should recognize them.

The Roman emperor Constantine, a Christian, created a banner for his fourth century armies to carry with a symbol combining the letters Chi and Rho. The symbol came to be called the Labarum, and to this day you will see it in Eastern Orthodox and Catholic liturgical artwork. It looks like this:

So, using "X" in reference to Christ isn't necessarily a bad thing, though most people don't know the history behind what they are writing. The joke is on the atheists who really do want to take Christ out of the holiday. They're just using a different name.

Interesting article from Wikipedia.

Billary Clinton

Sorry to ruin your day but this is too good not to share...

Gabbana on Parenting

I caught flack from some folks for this post in which I suggested children should have both a) a mother and b) a father, thereby ruling out gay couples becoming parents. Now, via Drudge Report , we learn that a well-known gay person agrees:

Gay designer STEFANO GABBANA is against the idea of same sex couples becoming parents, because he believes children need both a mother and a father. Gabbana insists taking a child away from its mother is "cruel" and that he will never adopt, although a female friend recently agreed to become the surrogate mother of his child through artificial insemination. He says, "I am opposed to the idea of a child growing up with two gay parents. A child needs a mother and a father. "I could not imagine my childhood without my mother. I also believe that it is cruel to take a baby away from its mother." MORE

It isn't clear why Gabbana has engaged a surrogate mother if he really feels this way, or who will raise the resulting child. Nevertheless, his parental instincts are correct. I hope he can persuade other gay people to abandon their quest to produce children.

You can be further enlightened by clicking the MORE link above and then the "view all comments" link in the top right of the page. A very interesting discussion is underway from those on both sides of the issue. Mr. Gabbana's comments are probably not going to help his business prospects.

Read My Lips II

In 1990 George HW Bush doomed his presidency by reneging on the "Read my lips, no new taxes" pledge he had made two years earlier. His son is about to do the same thing.

This will be a huge mistake, but it proves once again what I have said before: George W. Bush is not a conservative. Most of us have figured that out on the social issues; now he is going to betray his "economically conservative, socially moderate" supporters as well.

Trans-Siberian Christmas

Here is some Christmas fun for you. Turn up your speakers before watching.

Mystery of the Missing Girls

From Paul Kedrosky, I learned today of some new population data from the government of Canada. There is a lot of detailed info but this little stat jumped out at me:

"At birth, boys still outnumber girls by a ratio of about 106 to 100 in Canada."

It has been a long time since I took biology, but I seem to recall that gender is determined by chromosomes that operate randomly. Therefore, over a large population the number of male and female children born should be exactly equal. In Canada it appears that 51.4% of babies are male. This is too big a difference to be random.

So what is going on? Maybe a virus or genetic mutation is causing Canadian women to produce more boys? This seems unlikely. Something about the cold weather? Hard to believe. What could it be?

I have another theory. The key words in the quote above are "At birth." So it's not the case that more boys are conceived. Instead, more boys are born. What happens to the girls? Well, thanks to modern technology parents can now know the gender of their child long before it is born. And thanks to modern ethics if that child is not the desired gender, the parents are allowed to destroy it and try again.

What it looks like is that Canadian mothers are more likely to have an abortion if the child is a girl. Why? I have no idea. I think all children are a blessing. There are other examples of this tendency, though. China's one-child policy causes the death of many infant girls whose parents wanted a boy. The same thing happens in India. Apparently Western parents are not immune from this evil.

The full report from Statistics Canada is here. Warning: 86-page PDF download.

Jen and her readers have some sage comments here.

How To Destroy Marriage

Conservative Christians are up in arms about the idea of same-sex unions becoming lawful in their states. The gays and lesbians are "destroying marriage," we are told.

Well, no, not exactly. We heterosexuals don't need any help destroying marriage; we're doing a fine job of it all by ourselves. It's not gay people who are keeping the divorce court dockets full. Not yet, at least.

Lifesite reports on an interesting presentation by a Canadian physician at a recent medical ethics conference in Ottawa. Dr. Pia de Solenni points out some difficult truths:

It becomes “very difficult” to argue against same-sex marriage, Dr. de Solenni said, when heterosexual couples fail to respect the traditional values of marriage. Using contraception, regarding sex as simply a pleasure activity, considering children a “maybe,” and divorcing easily - all contribute directly to society’s growing acceptance of homosexuality...

Forty years of feminism have “trained women to think about sex the way a not very good man thinks about it,” she said. Casual sex and one-night stands are the weapon society uses to avoid intimacy and the vulnerability of a genuine sexual encounter, she said.

The marriage relationship, however, is meant to be as intimate as the relationship between Christ and the Church, Dr. de Solenni said, leading men and women to a genuine encounter of themselves, each other and ultimately, God.

Sexual sin and disorder is so deeply personal, “in your face, in front of us all the time” that it leads to a profound sense of shame, causing men and women to hide their sexual differentiation in today’s culture.

Dr. de Solenni said she believes young people today are becoming more open to a traditional understanding of the sacred nature of marriage, saying young people have lived through the “divorce culture.” She called for more careful preparation of youth for dating and marriage, saying communication skills and an understanding of Natural Family Planning should be part of high school instruction. MORE

Pope John Paul II saw all this coming and recognized that it's not enough to fight against secularization; there must be a positive alternative. He gave us one, or rather explained what has been there all along, in the way we were created male and female, and how we love each other. It's called Theology of the Body. Check it out.

A Parent But Not A Dad

The Washington Post carries a sad story by a young woman conceived with the help of an anonymous sperm donor. (Hat tip to Gazizza).

When she was 32, my mother -- single, and worried that she might never marry and have a family -- allowed a doctor wearing rubber gloves to inject a syringe of sperm from an unknown man into her uterus so that she could have a baby. I am the result: a donor-conceived child.

And for a while, I was pretty angry about it.

I was angry at the idea that where donor conception is concerned, everyone focuses on the "parents" -- the adults who can make choices about their own lives. The recipient gets sympathy for wanting to have a child. The donor gets a guarantee of anonymity and absolution from any responsibility for the offspring of his "donation." As long as these adults are happy, then donor conception is a success, right?

Not so. The children born of these transactions are people, too. Those of us in the first documented generation of donor babies -- conceived in the late 1980s and early '90s, when sperm banks became more common and donor insemination began to flourish -- are coming of age, and we have something to say.

I'm here to tell you that emotionally, many of us are not keeping up. We didn't ask to be born into this situation, with its limitations and confusion. It's hypocritical of parents and medical professionals to assume that biological roots won't matter to the "products" of the cryobanks' service, when the longing for a biological relationship is what brings customers to the banks in the first place. MORE

As I said here, the act of donating (or receiving) sperm does not make you a mom or a dad. Those titles have to be earned. Children of these artificial mechanisms are being robbed of their humanity. It needs to stop.

Be Kind To Lobsters?

Mark Shea links to a story about efforts to reduce the pain lobsters feel before we cruel humans consume them. Then he adds this commentary:

Sin Doesn't Just Make You Stupid. In it's extreme forms, it makes you crazy.

That's why a culture that murders 1.5 million of its kids each year and struggles to preserve the God-given right to stick scissors in a baby's brain obsesses over how to mercifully kill a lobster.

I think it's displacement: "Oh, but I'm not an inhuman monster! Sure, I approve of sticking scissors in a baby's brain. But look how tenderly I fret about lobsters! I'm really quite a lovely person!"

Well said.

Bad Will Toward Men

Radio shock jocks Opie & Anthony reached a new low today by shamelessly exploiting homeless people for entertainment purposes. How? They gathered a group of people off the streets, gave them some money and took them to a mall filled with high-end luxury stores. The experience was taped for the amusement of all. Except, presumably, the victims,who were then returned to their life on the streets. News stories here and here.

Most people don't know that the majority of the homeless are suffering from serious mental illness. In times past they would have been safely institutionalized, but thanks to "managed care" and do-gooder liberalism, these people are now forced to fend for themselves without the mental capacity to do so. So they end up one of three places: 1) prison, 2) dead, or 3) the streets.

Now, we can discuss proper responses to this situation and have legitimate disagreements. I hope we will all agree that taking them to a mall to buy Armani sweaters while an audience of millions laughs along is not helpful.

I like a good joke as much as anyone. This wasn't one. It was a sick, cruel, twisted trick on people who deserve nothing but our compassion and help.

The worst part is that millions of Americans vicariously helped stage this disgusting spectacle. Opie and Anthony do these things because they know their audience likes it. If you are part of that audience, I hope you're proud of yourself. And I hope someone you love becomes mentally ill. I bet you'll change your tune.

Pro-Life or Pro-Me?

Steve Chapman has an excellent column today about politicians conveniently changing positions on abortion when it fits their needs. He focuses first on Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who was strongly pro-choice as recently as 1994, when he ran for Senate against Ted Kennedy. His position on life issues, and actions as governor, became more conservative just about the time he began attempting to court conservative GOP primary voters. Coincidence? You decide. Romney is in good company:

It's a little unfair to single out the Massachusetts governor, since he is not the first presidential candidate to outgrow a youthful set of abortion beliefs. Ronald Reagan signed a liberal abortion law in California before reversing himself. George H.W. Bush, once a supporter of abortion rights, took the opposite position as Reagan's running mate in 1980. The current president had a liberal position when he ran for Congress in 1978.

But Democrats have proven equally open-minded. Jesse Jackson, who once denounced legal abortion as "a policy of killing infants," morphed when he ran for president in 1984. Al Gore, who once voted for a measure stipulating that life begins at conception, made an about-face before becoming Bill Clinton's running mate in 1992. As governor of Arkansas, Clinton said, "I am opposed to abortion and to government funding of abortion." As president, not so much.

You will notice the common element: Each of these shifts, however morally sincere, perfectly fit the political needs of the candidate in question at that point in his career.

Does that make you feel you can't trust politicians on this subject? It shouldn't. The record shows clearly that you can trust almost any politician to champion the abortion policy that serves his or her immediate interests, and to sincerely place his own political prospects above anything else.

The Useful Dead, Jr.

Just yesterday I wrote about the apparent Chinese practice of harvesting organs from executed criminals. Now BBC Television is preparing to air a report about a hospital in Ukraine where newborn babies are mysteriously dying. Parents charge that the infants are killed and dismembered in order to harvest stem cells. The cells then go to a private clinic in Barbados to be used in cosmetic and anti-aging procedures.

Suspicious families in the Ukraine succeeding in ordering the exhumation of 30 newborn infants who died in the hospital. Arms and legs had been removed from some of the bodies. Doctors interviewed by BBC suggested this may indicate an attempt to remove stem cells from the bone marrow. A more detailed story is here. Warning: it's very graphic.

This is so disturbing I don't know where to begin. Let's start with the wealthy Americans whose vanity and desire to appear youthful is so overpowering they must fly to Barbados for surgery. Fine; they can spend their money however they want, but I can think of much better uses for it.

When recapturing one's youth requires the death of another youth, we have a problem. Sometimes the stem cells come from aborted babies. Patients who use these cells either don't care, or more likely have convinced themselves that the dead baby is less than human. Deep down, however, I think they know what they are doing. They are simply insulating themselves from a truth they don't want to face.

Suppose you are one of these patients. It doesn't have to be cosmetic; suppose you have some fatal disease. Your doctor shows you a baby in an incubator. You are told that your disease can be cured, but in order to do so this baby must die. What would you do? For many people, this would pose quite an ethical dilemma. Yourself or the child? The answer for any adult with an ounce of decency should be obvious: you don't harm a child, even at the cost of your own life. Period, end of story. That people even have to think twice about this tells you how low our society has fallen.

Wait, you say: these babies are going to die anyway via abortion. Regrettable, but perfectly legal. We might as well make something good come out of it. Not so fast. Yes, abortion is legal. Does that make it right? No. It is still an evil act no matter what status the civil government gives it. Using that evil because you think something good will result is still evil.

Anyway, in the Ukraine case it seems likely that many of these babies were healthy and killed for the express purpose of procuring stem cells:

"I gave birth to a healthy girl," Olena told me. "She was crying and moving her hands and legs. I was shown the baby. After that the girl was taken away. They told me everything was OK and I could see her the next day."

But that never happened. Olena was told the following day that her baby had died. But when she asked what had the death, the answers were inconsistent. "They told me three stories. One, she didn't have enough air to breathe; two, the lungs didn't open; and three, that her heart failed."

This doesn't sound like a mom who wanted her baby used for spare parts. Let's hope BBC and other media follow up on these allegations. It's a horrifying story that ought to exist only as a movie, but it's real. This is the world we live in.

Dr. Anonymous Talks About Sex

There is an interesting new book called UNPROTECTED. The author is a female physican who works in a college health clinic somewhere in the U.S. and wishes to remain anonymous. Why? Because she thinks what she has to say would destroy her career. It is nonetheless important.

Our society is obsessed with health. We are constantly told to eat this, don't eat that, take supplements, don't smoke, stay out of the sun, get more exercise, avoid germs, etc etc. In other words, we are advised to change our behavior in order to remain healthy. Except in one area: sex.

The medical profession, according to Dr. Anonymous, refuses to face the fact that our sexual choices have medical consequences that can be easily prevented. She speaks specifically about the behavior of college students, among whom casual sex is commonplace. In fact it is encouraged on our so-called "elite" campuses. Explore, experiment, find yourself, be tolerant: these are the messages college students get.
And should all this joyous experimentation end in externally verifiable effects--should girls find themselves afflicted with a disease or an unwanted pregnancy--then (and only then) do their campus "women's health" departments go to work for them. They will book the abortion, hand out a condom or prescribe a course of antibiotic treatment. And then they will pat their young patients on the shoulder and send them back into the world, without an admonishing word about the conduct that got them into trouble in the first place.

"Look at how different health decisions are valued," the author advises. "When Stacey avoids fatty foods she is being health conscious. . . . When she stays away from alcohol, she is being responsible and resisting her impulses. For all these she is endorsed for keeping long-term goals in mind instead of giving in to peer pressure and immediate gratification. But if she makes a conscious decision to delay sexual activity, she's simply 'not sexually active'--given no praise or endorsement." MORE

I've always wondered why HIV is treated so differently from other infectious diseases. If someone shows up at the clinic with, say, typhoid fever, doctors would swing into action. The patient would be isolated, authorities would be informed, everyone who might have been exposed would be tracked down and checked. Not so with HIV. It is a politically protected disease. Why? Because it is a result of sexual behavior, which no one is allowed to question.

We are so obsessed with being "tolerant" that we refuse to acknowledge our choices about have consequences, in our own lives and those of the people around us. Even otherwise mature, responsible people are unable or unwilling to accept that the sex act is more than just "harmless fun." No - we are blasted with messages telling us to have sex as much as we want, with whomever we want, however we want, wherever we want, and with as many partners as we want. The key word here is "want." If we "want" something, society must not keep it from us. How infantile is this?

Meanwhile, the positive consequences of sex - children - are either prevented from coming into existence, or destroyed if they do. No wonder we have such a low birth rate. We're a society of sexual bulimics - we gorge and then purge, so that we can gorge some more. Guess what - all this binging and purging isn't good for your health, mental or physical. The people who are supposed to be telling us this aren't doing so. Eventually we learn, hopefully before too much damage is done.

As for the college students who will learn these lessons the hard way, there is plenty of blame to go around. Most of it belongs with their parents, who themselves grew up in the days of free love and consequently feel reluctant to "impose" any values on their own offspring. Every generation is becoming geometrically more hedonistic. I'm guessing that ancient Rome was something like this. We know what happened to that civilization. Where is ours going?

More reviews of Unprotected:
Spero News
Christian Post

The Useful Dead

Yahoo News reports that two white-collar criminals have been executed in China. Nothing unusual about that - the Chinese administer the death penalty even more enthusiastically than we do here in Texas. Something odd in the story caught my eye, though.

After the Supreme Court had confirmed the death sentences, the two were taken to a special mobile execution chamber for the lethal injections. MORE

First, the preferred method of execution in China, so far as I know, is a pistol shot to the back of the head. I have never heard of them using lethal injection. The Chinese government does not concern itself with avoiding "cruel & unusual" punishment as we do here in the U.S.

Even stranger, they have a "special mobile execution chamber." What's up with that? What does a mobile execution chamber look like? What do you need for a lethal injection besides a gurney and an IV? This makes no sense.

Or maybe it does make sense. Recall my previous post about China harvesting organs from condemned prisoners. Now the pieces come together. Suppose your plan is not only to kill the prisoners but also to do so cleanly and gently, so you can immediately begin removing organs in a sterile, efficient manner. In this case special facilities are a good idea.

If you want to keep the nature of the facilities quiet, you don't build one next to every courthouse. Better to have a mobile surgical suite that can be transported around the country to wherever executions are scheduled. Sort of a Winnebago of Death.

I'm not against the death penalty in principle, nor am I against organ donation. Combining the two in this manner, however, is just plain creepy.

Gift Wrapping for Men

This is hilarious.

This is the time of year when we think back to the very first Christmas, when the Three Wise Men; Gaspar, Balthazar and Herb, went to see the baby Jesus and, according to the Book of Matthew, "presented unto Him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh."

These are simple words, but if we analyze them carefully, we discover an important, yet often overlooked, theological fact: There is no mention of wrapping paper. If there had been wrapping paper, Matthew would have said so:

"And lo, the gifts were inside 600 square cubits of paper. And the paper was festooned with pictures of Frosty the Snowman. And Joseph was going to throweth it away, but Mary saideth unto him, she saideth, 'Holdeth it! That is nice paper! Saveth it for next year!' And Joseph did rolleth his eyeballs. And the baby Jesus was more interested in the paper than the frankincense."

But these words do not appear in the Bible, which means that the very first Christmas gifts were NOT wrapped. This is because the people giving those gifts had two important characteristics:

1. They were wise.

2. They were men.


Extreme Technobabble

Can anyone explain what he is talking about?

Abortion Up Close

Last night Bill O'Reilly interviewed a young woman, identified only as "Kelly," who became pregnant at age 13 and had an abortion 20 weeks later, when she was 14. She lived in Maryland, where late-term abortions are illegal, so her loving parents drove her to Kansas in order to have their grandchild killed properly. Here, in her own words, is a summary of the experience.

Well, it was a five-day process. And when I first went in, they have counseling that they offered. It's a group counseling with other women that are going through the same thing. And during the five days, they insert expandable whatever into the cervix to slowly dilate you through the five-day process.

And about the third or fourth day Dr. Tiller came in and injected into the amniotic sack a saline solution, which suffocated and burned my baby to death. And on the last day they put you in a room with other women — there's, like, maybe six to 10 beds in a big room. And every woman is lying there. And they kind of go down the line and whatever's ready, you know, they decide that you're dilated enough and they put you in wheelchair and wheel you out to another room.

And in this other room there's basically a toilet, and they told me to sit on the toilet, lean on the nurse, and push, push my baby into a toilet. And after that they wheel you into another room, to remove all the, you know, afterbirth.

And really, that's the only two times I ever saw the doctor was when he injected the saline solution and when he finished the process by removing the afterbirth. And this is all very graphic, and I think that that's very important that people know that that's going on in our country...

O'REILLY: What happened to the body?

KELLY: I have no idea. I left my baby dead in the toilet...

O'REILLY: How do you feel about that, the whole thing?

KELLY: I'm disgusted. I'm disgusted that women are told that they have a choice, yet no one tells us what that choice is or what that choice is going to do to us or to the baby, for that matter. I mean, very few people, I think, know that this is what happens. It's not just an easy solution. It just — it's not an answer to any problem. It just creates other problems.

O'REILLY: What happened to you after the abortion?

KELLY: Many things. I mean, I was traumatized, so I had lots of symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. I had very low self-esteem. I was promiscuous, I used drugs, I had eating disorders. Lots of horrible things.

And when I think that, you know, what would the worst-case scenario be, that I have my child? That would have been better than having gone through all of the affects of the depression, suicidal thoughts, all of that that happened afterwards. MORE

I'm sorry if this is too graphic and upsets anybody. I'm sorry this innocent child had the misfortune to be conceived in a family without a moral compass. I'm sorry most people apparently don't know that this same thing happens 3,000+ times a day in the U.S. I'm sorry we are so comfortable in our cushy homes, jobs, schools, and churches that we allow this abomination to go on. And I'm sorry for the judgment God is going to rain down on us one day. We will richly deserve it.

Hope at Helm's Deep

For some reason I can’t get enough Lord of the Rings. I read all of Tolkien’s books when I was in high school, read them again in my college years, then forgot them until the movies came out. Now I’ve seen all three films several times and I own the extended-edition DVDs. The drama and richness of the world Tolkien created still leaves me in awe. That Peter Jackson was able to visualize it so perfectly is equally amazing.

Anyway last night I was flipping channels on TV and found The Two Towers playing on TNT. When the people of Rohan retreat to Helm’s Deep and begin preparing their defense, I always think of the Alamo. Outnumbered defenders, knowing there is little hope of survival, bravely preparing to fight to the end.

Then comes the waiting. The waiting must be the worst part. They see the Orcs coming, they hear the noise of soldiers marching and weapons clanking. The defenders know Death is near, yet they stand firm.

Jackson illustrated Rohan’s desperation as common folk become soldiers. Women and children are sent into the caves for safety. Old men and young boys – all those old enough to carry a sword, which isn’t very old – are pressed into service. King Theoden fights his own inner despair but keeps a brave front for his men. Aragorn shows a boy how even a dull, tarnished sword can be deadly in skilled hands. Unfortunately the boy’s hands are not skilled.

Then the battle begins. Many die and defeat seems inevitable, when Gandalf appears with the cavalry. The Orcs flee and Rohan is saved. It occurred to me last night that this is not unlike our fight to save our own civilization. Why was Rohan in trouble in the first place? Because their leadership spent years under a spell, allowing Darkness to take control. Those few who would remain loyal were called traitors and expelled. Ultimately the spell was shattered, but the damage was done.

We in the West have allowed many of our own leaders – political, cultural, spiritual and intellectual – to fall under a spell. They no longer know the Truth, and they try to destroy those who do. A small remnant devoted to Truth does what it can in the face of evil. At times the battle seems lost. Good men die. Innocent children, who should not be part of the war at all, fight bravely before they fall.

Yet the battle is not lost. As Aragorn told the boy with the tarnished sword: There is always hope. I’ll go one step further and say that we have more than hope. We have already won the war. Soon, dawn will break and all will see the Power for which we fight. We do not yet know exactly how Victory will appear; yet we know that it will appear.

There is a Reason for our hope. This we must never forget.

The Watchmaker

Click here to see a wonderful little video about life, creation, and evolution. It's only about 3 minutes long. Check it out. (Hat tip to Steve Ray.)

Voice in the Wilderness

I just discovered a blog called Voice in the Wilderness, based in Central Texas, as am I. They just posted an excellent review of Mark Steyn's book America Alone, which I have referred to several times.

If you believe your culture to be valuable, you will work to protect and propagate it. If you think your culture to be racist, bigoted, homophobic, or the latest academic smear du jour from your local multiculti humanities professor, why have any kids to keep it going or lift a finger to defend it from the latest gathering storm? Thus, the moral foundations of Western society have eroded under the drip drip drip of multiculturalism, moral relativism, and welfare state debilitation. MORE
Well said. It's nice to know there are other Texans who think like me. :)

Rome was Pro-Choice

This week I heard a fascinating interview on Relevant Radio with a historian of early Christianity. Unfortunately I didn't catch his name. The subject was how Christmas was celebrated in the first centuries, but somehow the topic turned to a comparison of ancient Rome with modern society. There are some eerie parallels. How, with all the power of the Roman Empire, did Christianity survive and ultimately triumph?

This historian said that the Romans actually destroyed themselves. Abortion, infanticide and euthanasia were common. Excavations of Roman cities have turned up mass graves of infants and fetal remains have been found in sewers. The birth rate among privileged Rome was apparently very low. Meanwhile Christians were breeding rapidly. This led, over time, to a population imbalance that made Christians the majority.

Sound familiar? It's exactly what is happening to the West right now. Europeans, especially, are not replacing themselves, but Americans are not far behind. Will we go the way of Ancient Rome? That's what it looks like.

Frozen Babies

On November 28 in Tennessee, a 35-year-old woman was found dead in her apartment, apparently of natural causes. This week a relative was cleaning out the freezer and discovered three dead, frozen babies carefully wrapped in plastic. Autopsies are pending to determine the age and cause of death of the babies. DNA testing will show whether the dead woman was the mother. News stories here and here.

Obviously something strange happened here. No one who knew this woman can recall her ever being pregnant, though she was large so it might not be obvious. If they aren't her children, whose are they and how did they get in the freezer?

To me, the odd thing as that we are all so horrified by stories like this. The fact is that 3,000+ other infants are killed in American abortion clinics every single day, efficiently and legally. These babies don't even get the dignity of a freezer; they are incinerated as "medical waste" or thrown away with the trash.

Then we have untold thousands of embryos (babies by another name) that are produced by couples trying to get pregnant with in-vitro fertilization. The unused ones are frozen because no one knows what to do with them. (Hat tip: Mark Shea)

What happened to these babies in Tennessee was a tragedy. What happens to thousands of others is forgotten.

RIP Jeane Kirkpatrick

Jeane Kirkpatrick died today at the age of 80. President Reagan appointed her as his first ambassador to the United Nations in 1981, and her spirited defense of freedom and American ideals really shook up the place.

Kirkpatrick is probably best remembered for her fiery speech at the 1984 Republican National Convention. You can read the whole speech here. A little sample:

The American people know better.... They know that Ronald Reagan and the United States didn't cause Marxist dictatorship in Nicaragua, or the repression in Poland, or the brutal new offensives in Afghanistan, or the destruction of the Korean airliner, or the new attacks on religious and ethnic groups in the Soviet Union, or the jamming of western broadcasts, or the denial of Jewish emigration, or the brutal imprisonment of Anatoly Shcharansky and Ida Nudel, or the obscene treatment of Andrei Sakharov and Yelena Bonner, or the re-Stalinization of the Soviet Union.

The American people know that it's dangerous to blame ourselves for terrible problems that we did not cause.

They understand just as the distinguished French writer, Jean Francois Revel, understands the dangers of endless self- criticism and self-denigration.

He wrote: "Clearly, a civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself."

With the election of Ronald Reagan, the American people declared to the world that we have the necessary energy and conviction to defend ourselves, and that we have as well a deep commitment to peace.

All these years later, it's hard to remember that we once all lived in fear of nuclear annihiliation by the Soviet Union, what Reagan called an"evil empire." Together with giants like Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, Cap Weinberger, and countless others, Reagan won the Cold War. I'm proud to have served in that war - which was not nearly as "cold" as most people think. Jeane Kirkpatrick's fought the battle with only her words, and she wielded them skillfully.

America lost a hero today. RIP.

UPDATE 12/9 - Here is an excellent tribute from WSJ.

The Fruits of IVF

As I've said before, I really question the use of in-vitro fertilization and other extreme measure to produce children. My main reason is that there are already plenty of children who need loving homes; those who want children should adopt these instead of producing still more. Anyway, now it appears there is another reason to avoid IVF.

While increased rates of specific abnormalities have been known to be associated with IVF, such as brain abnormalities and defective urological systems, the new research showed an overall increase in poor health among IVF children, including single-birth children.

Multiple births resulting from IVF treatment have been associated with higher mortality rates, increased risk for hospitalization and cerebral palsy. Single children born using IVF technology also showed increased hospitalization rates, however, as well as more birth complications. MORE
The research isn't conclusive, but it appears that IVF may not be quite as safe as previously thought. Strange things happen when we tamper with Life.

Not Aborted Fast Enough

Here's a horrifying story from LifeSite. A young woman went to an abortion clinic in Florida to dispose of her 22-week-old child/fetus/clump of tissue. The clinic must have been experiencing heavy volume that day because she was kept waiting for the procedure.

On July 20, an 18-year old woman went to a for-profit abortion facility owned by Belkis Gonzalez and Siomara Senises. She gave birth to a living baby girl while sitting in a recliner in the facility’s recovery room. The child’s mother, Sycloria Williams told police that she had watched her daughter moving and gasping for air for approximately five minutes.

The Dade County Medical Examiner report dated October 28, said that the baby died of “extreme prematurity” and lists no “contributory cause.” The report lists the “manner of death” as “natural.”

The report says that the child, who has since been named Shanice by her mother, then 22 weeks gestation, was delivered “and placed to the side. A staff member cut the umbilical cord and placed the neonate into a red biohazard bag.”

“Witnesses, including the mother, indicate that the neonate was breathing and moving.” The report says that children born so prematurely have 0% chance of survival.

“It doesn’t matter if Shanice had a 100 percent or a zero percent chance of survival. Once she was born, she was deserving of the same protections under the law as the rest of us,” said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman. “At the minimum, she should have been given comfort care. Shoving her into a plastic bag and tossing her onto a roof to die is just unconscionable.” MORE
Obviously this is a terrible story, and it sounds like Sycloria Williams now wishes she had made a different choice. She will live with this horror for life. Shanice, sadly, will not.

The weird part to me is that now, suddenly, Shanice is a "child" again and even has a name. Why? Because after the fact, mom decided she had a "daughter." This is where we've come to: you are human only if you are wanted. Where does this end?

It's also legal weirdness. Had the clinic moved a little faster and dismembered Shanice while she was still in the womb, it would be all in a day's work. The medical waste would have been incinerated and no one would be the wiser. Now the abortionist may face criminal charges.

The really sad part is you can bet this sort of thing happens in abortion clinics every day in this country. We don't hear about it because there are no witnesses. Well, actually there are witnesses. They have wings and halos, and they gently take up the victims of these death houses and bring them to a loving eternal Home.

Those who commit these ghastly crimes will get to face their victims one day. They had better hope for more mercy that they showed Shanice.

Map of Ages

This is an interesting map, via Paul Kedroskey. The colors show you the percentage of population in each country that is under 18. While not quite the same thing, this corresponds very closely to birth rates. Western countries that are not reproducing have significantly fewer young people. Conversely, the third-world nations of Africa, Asia and South America sometimes have, well, a majority of minors.

As I keep saying, the future belongs to the fecund. This is a map of the future, and it's not a happy picture for Western Civilization.

Kidnapped in Japan

OpinionJournal has an interesting story today about a 13-year-old Japanese girl, Megumi Yokota, who was kidnapped from a quiet street near her home in 1977, never to be heard from again. In 2002 the government of North Korea admitted it had kidnapped Megumi and 12 other Japanese citizens. They were forced into a kind of slavery for the purpose of training North Korean spies how to pass as Japanese natives. This is now the subject of a documentary film in Japan.

As "Abduction" explains, it took years before Megumi's parents suspected what had happened to their daughter, and even now, the full story remains unknown. In the film, Ahn Myong-Jin, a former North Korean spy who defected to the South in 1993, describes what his instructor at the spy school--a Mr. Chung--told him about Megumi's kidnapping. The girl was hidden inside a steel compartment in the hold of a freighter during the 200-mile journey to North Korea, he says, scratching at the door so hard in an effort to escape that her nails came off. Mr. Chung felt "terrible," he says, when he discovered he had grabbed a child. Mr. Ahn remembers seeing the grown-up Megumi once, a beautiful young woman with "pure eyes."

Akitaka Saiki, who led Japan's negotiations with Pyongyang on the abduction issue and is now deputy chief of mission at the Japanese Embassy in Washington, says the "Japanese government has identified that at least 17 Japanese citizens have been abducted in 12 separate cases." Are there others? "There are still others who disappeared suddenly without good reason--suddenly from the beach, suddenly from a train station. We've identified 17 people with 100% certainty. There may be more." No. 17--a 29-year-old woman kidnapped in 1977 on her way to a knitting class--was added to the list only two weeks ago.

Pyongyang has permitted just five abductees to return to Japan, and Mr. Saiki expresses skepticism about its explanations for what happened to the rest. One supposedly died in a traffic accident, but "how could a traffic accident have occurred in a country that has so few automobiles?" he asks. Another was said to have had a heart attack, "but that's hard to accept about a woman in her 20s."

And what of Megumi? In Pyongyang, in November 2004, North Korea announced that she had killed herself in 1994, handing over her "remains" to Mr. Saiki. Subsequent DNA analysis showed that they were not Megumi's. Mr. Ahn, the former North Korean spy, says he has heard that she was teaching Japanese to Kim Jong Il's son. Is she still alive? "That's what we believe," says Mr. Saiki. MORE
Now here is my question. If the North Koreans kidnapped Japanese citizens to help train their spies, is it possible they did the same with Americans? We know they are ruthless. We know they have great interest in acquiring information about the U.S. government and businesses. And we know lots of American citizens, young and old, disappear without a trace every year. Furthermore, if the North Koreans did this, is it so hard to believe that Russia, China or Iran have done the same thing?

Could some of those kids we see on milk cartons be teaching English in Pyongyang right now? I think it's entirely possible. It wouldn't be hard to nab a child from a park or a mall in a port city and then take them to a freighter, as was apparently done in Japan. I don't want to give false hope to anyone who has a missing loved one - if this does happen, it is probably quite rare. But even once is too much.

Talking Turkey Part 2

In Part 1 we discussed how the real purpose of the Pope's trip to Turkey revolved around efforts to re-unify Rome with the Eastern Orthodox churches. Bartholomew I, the Patriarch of Constantinople, and other Orthodox leaders seem to be warming to the idea. They need to do something if their churches are to survive in anything resembling their present form.

The Orthodox are fighting the same demographic and social trends that face Western Christianity, with the additional burden of severe government restrictions. Turkey calls itself a "secular" state but since 99% of the population is Muslim, other faiths are not exactly welcome. Churches are not allowed to own property, the Orthodox seminary was closed so they have no way to train new priests, and Christians are routinely harassed in many small ways. The Patriarch is required to be a Turkish citizen, born in Turkey, despite the fact that the office has historically been one of international leadership.

Meanwhile, Turkey would like to join the European Union, but its lack of religious freedom is an obstacle. Back when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict spoke out against this idea on the grounds that Turkey is neither European in character, nor culturally Christian. He was never against friendly relations between Europe and Turkey; he just didn't see Turkey as a proper addition to the "European" union. Last week it was widely reported that he has now reversed this stance. Not exactly. The Pope's spokesman said that the Vatican is not taking a position in the matter, and if Turkey meets the same human rights standards as other EU member states then it should be considered for membership.

This is a very big "if." What the Pope really means is that he will support Turkey's membership in the EU if it will grant religious freedom to the Orthodox and other non-Muslim faiths. This looks to me like the beginnings of a Big Deal. If he can pull it off, B16 will be a hero to the orthodox leadership and will have taken a big step toward unification.

It is hardly a sure thing yet, but I feel sure that furious negotiations are going on behind the scenes. Soon after he gets back to the Vatican, Benedict is also scheduled to meet with the head of the Greek Orthodox church. Coincidence? I think not.

Finally, there is the Muslim question. The news coverage of this trip would make you think that Benedict was there to apologize for remarks he made in September questioning the Islamic commitment to reasoned dialogue. This was met with violent protests throughout the Mideast; a nun was killed in Somalia. As I've written before, I think the Pope knew exactly what he was saying and what the reaction would be. He is trying to jump-start a process that is the only long-term solution to the coming confrontation between East and West. He knows it will be a long fight, and will probably not be concluded by him. He's beginning a game that his successors will have to finish. We should hope and pray for their success. All our futures depend on it.

Global Chess

Geopolitics is often compared to chess. Now world chess champion Garry Kasparov tells us how well the game is going.

Thirty years as a chess player ingrained in me the importance of never losing sight of the big picture. Paying too much attention to one area of the chessboard can quickly lead to the collapse of your entire position. America and its allies are so focused on Iraq they are ceding territory all over the map. Even the vague goals of President Bush's ambiguous war on terror have been pushed aside by the crisis in Baghdad.

The U.S. must refocus and recognize the failure of its post-9/11 foreign policy. Pre-emptive strikes and deposing dictators may or may not have been a good plan, but at least it was a plan. However, if you attack Iraq, the potential to go after Iran and Syria must also be on the table. Instead, the U.S. finds itself supervising a civil war while helplessly making concessions elsewhere. MORE

I think the Bush Administration is starting to see the big picture. Unfortunately it may be too late.

Talking Turkey

I've been fascinated this week with Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Turkey. The mainstream media coverage would have you believe that it's all about trying to mend fences with the Islamic world for his "insults" earlier this year. That was actually a minor point in the big picture. The real story involves history, theology and international politics - three of my favorite subjects. With such vast implications it is hard to get your arms around everything that is happening, but I'll give it a shot.

The first thing to know is that visiting the Muslims was NOT the original or primary purpose of the Pope's trip. It was, instead, the latest step in a continuing effort to re-unite the Roman Catholic Church with the Orthodox church. Here a little historical background is necessary.

The Gospels tell us that Christ was crucified, died, resurrected and then ascended to heaven. He left behind his disciples with instructions to spread the Good News far and wide. Now known as Apostles, they went out across the world, preaching the Gospel and establishing churches in various places. Among the disciples were two brothers named Peter and Andrew. Peter ended up in Rome and became leader of the Christians there - the first Pope. Andrew went to the area that is now Turkey and did the same. Christianity grew quickly even as the Roman Empire began its decline and fall.

Because Peter had been given a special charge by Christ to build the church, he was regarded as leader of the Apostles, or at least first among equals. This leadership was passed on to his successors in Rome. It developed that the Bishop of Rome not only led his own local church, but also was expected to resolve disputes and answer questions among Christians everywhere. There are many examples of this in the correspondence of early church fathers. Certain other bishops also came to be seen as leaders, among them the Bishop of Constantinople - the city now known as Istanbul, Turkey.

The next thousand years are not easily summarized. Suffice to say that various theological and other differences arose between the Eastern churches and the Roman Church. This culminated in the Great Schism of 1054, when Pope Leo IX and the Patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated each other. You can read more about it here.

Since the Great Schism, the Orthodox and Roman churches have operated separately, though their doctrines are very similar. The Orthodox are dominant in Greece, the Balkans, Eastern Europe and Russia, today numbering some 300 million followers. They are less centralized than the Roman church, but the Patriarch of Constantinople is considered spiritual leader of all Orthodox Christians.

In 1965, the Pope and the Patriarch both lifted the excommunications their predecessors had pronounced almost a thousand years earlier. Since then, a series of discussions have been directed toward the goal of re-unifying the two churches. A custom has arisen that every year on the feast day of St. Peter (June 29), an Orthodox delegation visits the Vatican while a Vatican delegation goes to Istanbul on St. Andrew's Day, November 30th. This symbolizes the relationship between brothers Peter and Andrew and their role in founding the two wings of the Church.

This year, Patriarch Bartholomew invited Pope Benedict to attend the November 30th meeting in person. The Pope accepted, and that is why he went to Turkey on this particular date. It had nothing to do with Islamic relations.

This post is getting long so I will stop here and pick up the story soon.