Pro-Life Muslims

Mark Shea found this small but gratifying story from the UK:

London, England ( -- Christians and Muslims came together for a pro-life conference on Saturday, proving that pro-life values extend beyond religious boundaries. The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, a leading British pro-life group, brought together the Bishop of Pontefract and members of the Indian Muslim Welfare Society...

"We Muslims should act and show this mercy by trying to stop the unjustified killing of our innocent unborn children through the barbaric procedure of abortion," he said.

Mufti Jusuf Akudi, one of the organizers of the event, agreed.

"Abortion, euthanasia and immoral sex education are among the vital issues that have a profound effect on our lives, the lives of our children and the lives of all members of the human family whatever their faith or religion," he said.

"I urge everyone regardless of their background or religion, and especially my Muslim sisters and brothers, to actively support the work of SPUC," Akudi added. MORE

This is what we need to see, and a lot more of it. I'm convinced that the decadence and secularism of the West is a primary motivator for radical Islamists. Without shading the many differences, we have to build bridges wherever we can between Christianity and Islam. Pro-life activities are a great way to do this. Just as the movement brings together Catholic and evangelical Christians in pursuit of a common goal, Muslims and Christians everywhere who care about life issues should join forces.

Such partnerships will have two benefits: helping end the evil of abortion, and allowing individuals of both backgrounds to get to know each other better. It's a lot harder to think in "Us versus Them" terms when you know the other side personally.

Help Wanted in Europe

New statistics show an even more alarming de-population trend in Europe. Germany, whose population is now 80 million, will have only 25 million people by the end of the century. Experts believe 2006 was probably the first year in which European deaths outnumbered births. (Hat tip to Paul Kedrosky.)

The resulting labor shortages will have to be met by increased immigration. Europeans, generally speaking, have never exactly rolled out the red carpet for immigrants as was done in the U.S. Now their decades of easy abortion and low birth rates leave them no other choice.

I have to wonder what will happen to all these aging Germans in their tax-funded nursing homes, where they will be cared for by young workers who are predominantly Muslim. Will the new generations be eager to keep paying high taxes just to keep the elderly infidels alive? Euthanasia - which Europeans pioneered - may be their Final Solution.

On the bright side, there are hints that in France the birth rate is increasing, even among native-born citizens. This is a hopeful sign but they need to get even busier if they want to catch up. The government seems to recognize their problem:

A factor in the increasing number of children is undoubtedly France's generous social legislation, giving long maternity leaves, with assured return to work with posts and seniority intact. Governments with negative birthrates have investigated the French system, and Germany has just introduced new allowances for parents. "New Labour" introduced such measures in 2001 and Britain had its highest birthrate in 13 years last year.

Another possible birth incentive in France, which may not be copied elsewhere, is its 35-hour workweek. It has been suggested that the French have so much leisure now that they have found nothing more interesting to do with it than have babies, combining fun with demographic patriotism. (Hat tip: Crunchy Con)

Wisdom of the Saints III

Turn trustingly to the Lord who is my God. Put your faith in him with all your heart, because nothing is impossible to him.

St. Patrick

Defining Torture

For several months now a furious debate has raged between Christian bloggers about the Bush Administration's use of "aggressive interrogation techniques" in the war on terror. You can get a flavor for it here, here, and here.

Some of the discussions in comment boxes have become quite angry. In one corner are those who say we face such a dire threat that dire means, and even torture, may be necessary and justified to protect lives. In the other corner are those who argue that torture in intrinsically evil and can never be allowed.

One reason the discussion is so heated is that it is, we are told by some, hard to define "torture." The Bush Administration claims it uses "aggressive" interrogation methods but does not condone torture. The president has persistently refused to define these terms, however, leaving many wondering exactly what is being done to prisoners at Guantanamo and elsewhere.

Please understand, I do not deny the U.S. is in a perilous position and we need to acquire information to prosecute the war on terror. We must do so, however, without becoming the very same evil we are trying to defeat. This is what distinguishes us from Saddam Hussein and other despots of the world.

I happen to have a little bit of expert knowledge about interrogation, since I spent eight years as a military intelligence officer in the Army. I never actually interrogated anyone - my specialty was electronic warfare - but I did go through the general training that all MI officers get, which includes interrogation techniques. I was also trained in how to resist hostile interrogation since I possessed a lot of sensitive information. Nonetheless, seeing how vituperative the topic can be I've stayed out of it on this blog until now.

Recently while digging around in the attic I found some of my old army field manuals. One in particular has a lot to say about the topic of torture and interrogation. It is FM 27-2, "Your Conduct In Combat Under The Law Of War," and the date is November 1984. This small booklet tells soldiers how they are supposed to treat prisoners, at least as of 1984.

Page 13 informs the troops they must "Let enemy soldiers surrender."

You do not have to kill the enemy to accomplish your mission. Enemy soldiers may reach the point where they would rather surrender than fight...

Once enemy soldiers surrender to you, they are under your control. Their safety is your responsibility until you are relieved of them. Enemy soldiers who surrender are a source of valuable information. Moreover, other enemy soldiers may surrender if they see how well you treat captives.

Page 14 is titled "Treat all captives and detainees humanely."

When you capture enemy soldiers or detain any noncombatants or civilians during combat, you must treat them humanely according to the laws of war. , This includes civilians, whether organized guerrillas or local inhabitants who commit combat acts against you in support of the enemy...

Attacks upon personal dignity or other humiliating or degrading treatment are strictly forbidden by the law of war. It is particularly important to treat every captured or detained female with appropriate respect.

We all recognize that full compliance with the Geneva Conventions is not always easy for the combat soldier, especially in the heat and passion of battle. For instance, you might be extremely angry and upset because your unit has taken a lot of casualties from enemy booby traps or hit-and-run tactics. But you must never engage in reprisals or acts of revenge against any persons, enemy or civilian, whom you capture or detain in combat. Remember that you are responsible for the safety, security, and welfare of any persons you capture or detain. If you treat them as you would like to be treated were you captured or detained, then you will be treating them humanely.

Does this seem hard to understand? That last sentence I have placed in italics sums it up very well. Would you like to be waterboarded? Hung by your shoulders for hours? Kept in extreme cold conditions? If not, then you should avoid using these practices on prisoners.

On page 16 we come to the part about interrogation:

If you suspect a captured or detained person is an enemy soldier or spy, you do not know that you are correct. That determination is made by specified personnel at a higher headquarters. You may question captives and detainees for military information of immediate value to your mission, but never use threats, torture, or other forms of coercion. An enemy captive is required to give you only his name, rank, service number, and date of birth.

Combat experience has proven that useful information has been gained from captives who have been treated humanely, while information gained through torture or coercion is unreliable.

Again, this is official Army doctrine. It was developed from years of experience in various conflicts. It is proven effective and worked fine for decades. The Bush Administration would like us to believe that it's different now. Is it? I don't think so. Without saying anything about the morality of torture, hard-won experience tells us to avoid it because it doesn't work.

I haven't seen any current manuals on this subject, but I feel confident our current military leadership has not changed in this regard. To the extent torture tactics are being used, it is probably by the CIA and other non-military organizations. I do not know if the same laws of war apply to them, but the reality remains: torture is simply not an effective means of acquiring useful information from prisoners. Ethically, it is questionable at best. Therefore we as citizens should insist that agents of our government not torture people. I don't see why this is so hard to understand.

Now some will try to draw a distinction between "inhumane treatment" and "torture." FM 27-2 says it doesn't matter. If you don't want it done to yourself, you can't do it to prisoners. Following the Golden Rule is still the best practice, and is the best way to get the information we need.

American Dynasties

Political guru Michael Barone has an interesting column today about the recent pattern of the American electorate to prefer names they know. If Hillary Clinton is elected in 2008 (God forbid), our last four presidents will have been named, in order: Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton. If she finishes one term, there will be 24-year-old Americans who have never known a president who wasn't named Bush or Clinton.

Republicans appear to be more prone to this dynastic tendency. Consider the GOP tickets of the last thirty years:

1976 Ford-Dole
1980 Reagan-Bush
1984 Reagan-Bush
1988 Bush-Quayle
1992 Bush-Quayle
1996 Dole-Kemp
2000 Bush-Cheney
2004 Bush-Cheney

Someone named Bush or Dole has been on the ticket for every one of the last eight elections. People keep tossing out the name Jeb Bush for 2008, so the trend could even continue. Senator Elizabeth Dole could always get drafted if the GOP needs a woman on the ticket.

Barone says this apparent nepotism is not entirely a bad thing, and he makes a good point. If you own a business and need to hire someone for an important position, it is always nice to know their family. Why? Because our family background says a lot about what kind of person we are. It is not a perfect indicator by any means - every family has black sheep and many children grow up to rebel against their parents. Nevertheless, knowing the candidate's family still gives us valuable information.

Personally, I'd like to see us go without a president for awhile. Just leave the Oval Office vacant and see if anyone notices a difference. We might even be better off.

Footsteps of Paul

Here is a cool web site I found from a Sheila Liaugminas post. It's an interactive, illustrated map that lets you follow the journeys of the Apostle Paul around the Mediterranean. It's amazing to think about him going all these places the hard way - on foot, usually. Check it out.

Another interesting site is

The Nature of Zealots

Fr. Jay makes an interesting point in his post on the Conversion of St. Paul:

Conversion always brings with it a bit of zeal. It's natural and it's a good thing. But what's funny is that zeal in the case of religion (and apparently only in the case of religion) is considered a negative by most people. The other day some former parishioners came to visit, and while we were talking one of them mentioned how her teenaged son told her that his friends consider her a bit of a "religious nut." Now, consider the source: A bunch of teens who will spend hours watching a football or basketball game, quoting obscure lines from Wil Farrell movies they've seen dozens of times, and willing to throw a fit in order to 'fit in' with the mob mentality that is high school. Why are a bunch of fans who go to a football game barechested in freezing weather called "diehards" and applauded, and a bunch of people who go to Washington to protest abortion in freezing weather called "religious nuts" and ridiculed? MORE

Indeed. We admire zeal in some areas while condemning it in others. This is important because it provides a glimpse of our innermost priorities. Are they in the right place?

The key question is what get us excited? What makes us willing to say and do things that others may think are a little strange? I don't mean there is anything wrong with being a devoted fan of your team. (In fact, few teams have rabid fans than Notre Dame.) In so doing, however, we should recognize that our greatest devotion is owed to God.

Maybe we feel a little guilty when we see other people displaying that devotion in public ways. However not everyone is called to vocal evangelization. Many people serve God extraordinarily well in private ways. Some who seem to be loudly faithful are, in fact, not faithful at all.

The real problem is that we assume people to be zealots of whatever kind without knowing them. We see the guys at football games all painted up and assume things about them that may not be true. We see someone carrying a Bible and make different presumptions. In either case, until we know someone and have opportunity to observe them over time we probably shouldn't make a lot of conclusions about their motivation.

The best practice: get to know people before you judge them. First impressions aren't always right.

Wisdom of the Saints II

When we have placed ourselves entirely in the hands of God, we need fear no evil. If adversity comes, he knows how to turn it to our advantage by means which will in time be made clear to us.

St. Vincent de Paul

Rise of the DINKs

There is in our culture today a growing number of married couples who have made a decision to not have children. These families of two are known as DINKs: Double Income, No Kids. These are not newlyweds who are simply waiting to have children while they get established. Nor are they physically, financially, or otherwise prevented from reproducing. DINKs have made a permanent decision not to have children, now or ever, because they like being childless.

The existence of such a class is a new phenomenon. For most of history it was simply not possible since children are the inevitable result of marital union. This was God's intent in creating us: be fruitful and multiply. Disobedience of that command became practical only with the widespread availability of artificial contraception and abortion, beginning in the 1960s. (Update: there have been some civilizations, like ancient Rome, that simply wiped out their offspring. These civilizations disappeared. More here.)

The reasons someone would choose this status vary, of course. No doubt some DINKs grew up amid divorce and broken families, and fear the same will happen to them if they have children. Others just feel unqualified to be parents. I would bet for most, however, the reasons are less altruistic. They enjoy living the good life without the burden of midnight feedings and teen angst.

Indeed, life without children can be very enjoyable. Consider the two married professionals who each earn $75,000 or more a year. No need to feed or clothe little ones. They don't have to save for college. No expensive family health insurance. DINKs get to spend their double income on themselves, often inhabiting fine homes and driving luxury vehicles. Their copious free time allows DINKs to take frequent vacations and otherwise enjoy themselves in ways that those with children seldom do.

This is all fine, I guess. If you don't want children we are probably all better off if you don't have any. Or are we? Consider this story from a blogger family traveling on a holiday vacation:

The Darwin family is something of a sight when enjoying the free hot breakfast at our motel of a morning. At least one major spill may be expected. The older two scuffle occasionally, stealing food from one another, and the baby slowly shreds food into her lap and shrieks when she runs out of food that's not yet on the floor or in her tummy.

Darwin was over at the waffle maker waiting on his waffle and sipping coffee when the middle-aged, preppy-looking couple (last seen the night before wrestling a german shepard in from their SUV in a 6ft x 6ft cage) came in set themselves down at a table behind him with an air of disapproval and (before settling down to provide loud, socially conscious commentary on the morning news on TV) observed, "I shouldn't have felt bad bringing a dog into the hotel."

Let me know, folks, when that dog starts paying your social security... It may be a little crazy around here, but our offspring are of the same species, and someone's got to do the work of rearing the next generation. MORE

Like it or not, each generation needs the next. If we don't create another generation to follow us we will end up paying a terrible price. At the macro level, Social Security is going bankrupt because there are not enough younger workers paying into the system. Even if you are wealthy enough not to need a pension, you still need an economy where the rest of us are reasonably prosperous.

At the individual level, those who grow old without children will not be able to replace, for any amount of money, the love that adult children should show toward their aging parents. We all reach a point where we need someone we trust to take care of us and make important decisions for us. If you have no children, who will it be?

So if you are a DINK I wish you well and I certainly don't want to force you into having children. I strongly suggest you re-consider your decision. Parenting is more rewarding than you think, and there are many long-term benefits. Think about it.

The West, As Seen By Islam

Mark Shea quotes a Muslim who left this comment on his blog:

Let me tell you a typical Muslim immigrant experience. He chafes under the restrictions of his Islamic home country. He does not pray or fast (is Muslim in name only--MINO). He finally makes it to America. Once here he experiences the severe culture shock of encountering a permissive sexual society plus the adjustment of living as an outsider (who can blame him--his own culture is very different). And he is envious. What is that secret things that divides his repressive Islamic society from the democratic West? He looks for clues.

Maybe he tries to assimilate, but finds it impossible as some changes would destroy his identity. Like can he allow his daughters to screw around in high school and still consider himself a man?

At no point does he ever discover that the secret of the West's success is Jesus Christ. That their societies are robust and democratic because these are the natural fruits of a Christian world-view. He never sees the third way as there have been no Christians to present it to him. In fact he has taken for granted that everyone he meets is Christian. Where are the Christians? He is not likely to encounter them as they travel in different circles as they have their own schools and universities and are concentrated in the red states and tend not to advertise their beliefs. And when the Muslim attended university what education did he get? Everything he was taught reinforced what he already knew about the evil Church and the crusades and the inquisition and the Dark Ages. He is relentlessly fed liberal PC multicultural victimology claptrap. From the media he encounters the writings of the judas apostate clergymen (what we call liberal Christianity) and is gleefully convinced by their claims. Now he sees that the West with their filthy culture has been the culprit all along. He figured it out.

Whereas before he had idealized Western values as being the key to reforming his home country, now he sees that those Islamic restrictions are all that keep him from total chaos. In his own country he envisioned all sorts of reforms such as more mingling of the sexes etc, now the slippery slope (every reform will lead to chaos) has been firmly entrenched in his mind--he sees where it all will lead.

Thus in a strange land he finds himself clinging to his Islamic identity; he prays and fasts and listens to the imams at the local mosque. Islam is the answer.

Now I ask those of you who deny his humanity, did he ever really stand a chance?

The author of the above is a convert to Christianity and now writes a blog here. It's a fascinating glimpse into a culture we in the West have a hard time understanding. We'd better learn about it while we still can.

Putin's Nemesis

OpinionJournal has an interesting interview today with Russian chess player Garry Kasparov, whom I have quoted before. This time the subject is Kasparov's efforts to restore some semblance of democracy to Russia. Under Vladimir Putin, Russia is almost as authoritarian as it was under the communists. Kasparov wants to change that.

"The Other Russia" is the name of the unlikely left-right coalition conceived by Mr. Kasparov in 2005 and founded last year. It is composed of groups that would normally be at political odds--democrats like Mr. Kasparov, nationalists, socialists, even Bolsheviks. Mr. Kasparov predicts that the Communist Party will join up before the end of the year. "There's still a lot of distrust," he says, with more than a modicum of understatement. "It's a problem, but I don't think it's insurmountable. The big advantage of the Other Russia, and I think it's our biggest accomplishment, is that we've established the principle of compromise, which was not yet seen in Russian politics. It was always confrontation. It was a mentality of a civil war. We eliminated it."

A declaration at the time of the Other Russia's organizing conference last summer reads, "We are gathering together because we are united in our disagreement with the current political course of the Kremlin and united in our alarm for the present and future of our country." The group's sole objective is to find a candidate to run--and win--in the March 2008 presidential elections. Or as Mr. Kasparov puts it with characteristic bluntness: "When a liberal democracy is re-established, everybody goes his or her way."

The Russian Constitution forbids Mr. Putin from running for a third term--though that doesn't quell widespread speculation that the president will ignore the rule of law and do so anyway. He "has the administrative resources" to do so, Mr. Kasparov agrees, but it would be at the price of his legitimacy--both in the West and at home. "I don't think Putin wants to take such a chance."

Mr. Kasparov believes Mr. Putin's "mentality is just to run away--with all the Russian billionaires. This is the richest ruling elite in the world. They are way ahead of the Saudi princes. They are mega-rich. When you're so rich, you have to make sure that your funds are safe." But "if Putin goes, then who will be in charge? That's a big problem. Then it's instability. An authoritarian regime cannot have a successor while the big name [Mr. Putin] is still alive, much less well, young and strong." MORE

What happens in Russia is critical to our future. With a large nuclear arsenal, it is still the closest thing to another Superpower that could challenge the U.S. Russia also holds the key to much of the world's energy supplies. It is a culture whose population is literally shrinking by 700,000 people every year. Unless trends change, this vacuum will be filled by someone; the most likely candidates are Muslim.

Kasparov's efforts need to bear fruit if the West is to avoid disaster. The Pope knows this, too; he is working hard to bring the Orthodox churches, most of whom are in Russia, back into communion with Rome. If they succeed the world could change in amazing ways.

Lord Tom?

I wish I were making this up, but it is actually true:

Tom Cruise is the new “Christ” of Scientology, according to leaders of the cult-like religion.

The Mission: Impossible star has been told he has been “chosen” to spread the word of his faith throughout the world.

And leader David Miscavige believes that in future, Cruise, 44, will be worshiped like Jesus for his work to raise awareness of the religion. MORE

Now I can believe there are people out there nutty enough to worship Tom Cruise. What I would really like to know is whether Mr. Cruise really thinks of himself this way. From what I have heard about him recently, it isn't that far-fetched.

The Least of These

The owner of this antique gallery in New York has some unwanted neighbors: three homeless people who have taken up residence on the heating grate in front of his store. Their presence drives away customers, the merchant claims.

Now I can understand this is not good for business. What I don't get is his solution, which is to file a $1 million lawsuit against the homeless men.

Michael Zen, a lawyer for Kemp, said that since 2004 the shop owner contacted police, who came and shooed the transients away, and the manager of the building, requesting the hot air flowing out of the heating duct be rerouted.

"Filing the suit wasn't our first instinct," Zen said. "Mr. Kemp's business has been interfered with. We want these people to move on. Unfortunately, it has come to this."

The attorney doesn't say what their first instinct was. What we know from the news stories is that they 1) called the police and 2) filed suit. Now, this may come as a shock to some people, but it really IS POSSIBLE to solve problems like this WITHOUT getting the government or courts involved. There are numerous organizations that try to help homeless people find better places to live.

Even more disturbing is the level of support the shop owner is getting from New Yorkers. Clearly people are frustrated at being confronted with these poor souls, many of whom are mentally ill. The answer, however, is not to pretend they don't exist. Nor is it to sweep them under the rug so we don't have to look at them. We have to help them. If this case reminds a few people of this obligation, it may turn out for the best.

Twisted Unicorns

This is very strange.

Hat tip: Orthometer

Update 2/3/07: Charlie the Unicorn now has his own online store. Check it out.

The Next Holocaust?

I have thought for a long time that Christians are the last group in America that can still be openly mocked and discriminated against. This is especially true for white, male Christians. Now in this article Daniel Lapin, a Jewish rabbi, suggests even worse things may be in store for us. Lapin believes Our culture is headed toward the same kind of wanton hatred that caused the slaughter of Jews in Nazi Germany. Sound far-fetched? So did the idea of gassing Jews in 1920.

Phase one of this war I describe is a propaganda blitzkrieg that is eerily reminiscent of how effectively the Goebbels propaganda machine softened up the German people for what was to come.

There is no better term than propaganda blitzkrieg to describe what has been unleashed against Christian conservatives recently.

Consider the long list of anti-Christian books that have been published in recent months. Here are just a few samples of more than 30 similar titles, all from mainstream publishers:

American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America

The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right's Plans for the Rest of Us

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

Piety & Politics: The Right-wing Assault on Religious Freedom

Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person's Answer to Christian Fundamentalism

Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America

Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right

What is truly alarming is that there are more of these books for sale at your local large book store warning against the perils of fervent Christianity than those warning against the perils of fervent Islam. Does anyone seriously think America is more seriously jeopardized by Christian conservatives than by Islamic zealots? I fear that many Americans believe just that in the same way that many pre-World War II Westerners considered Churchill a bigger threat than Hitler...

Fervent zealots of secularism are flinging themselves into this anti-Christian war with enormous fanaticism.

If they succeed, Christianity will be driven underground, and its benign influence on the character of America will be lost. In its place we shall see a sinister secularism that menaces Bible believers of all faiths. Once the voice of the Bible has been silenced, the war on Western Civilization can begin and we shall see a long night of barbarism descend on the West.

Without a vibrant and vital Christianity, America is doomed, and without America, the West is doomed.

Which is why I, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, devoted to Jewish survival, the Torah and Israel am so terrified of American Christianity caving in.

Many of us Jews are ready to stand with you. But you must lead. You must replace your timidity with nerve and your diffidence with daring and determination. You are under attack. Now is the time to resist it.


I'd like to argue against Rabbi Lapin but he makes a strong case. Sad to say, I don't think we Christians are doing much to help our cause. Considering everything we have allowed to happen, it's hard to keep a straight face while asking God to save this civilization. He may just prefer to start over with a clean slate.

The battle isn't over yet, but we're running out of time.

The Kindness of Pro-Choicers

From Gazizza I learned of this page illustrating the 2006 Walk For Life in San Francisco. That city - the namesake of which must be gnashing his teeth up in the clouds somewhere - is probably the most concentrated snake pit on our continent. The inhabitants certainly show no mercy to the brave few who dare to stand up for the unborn. Pro-life people are clearly not welcome in San Francisco.

The photos of the counter-demonstrators are both disturbing and revealing. Disturbing because most of us, whatever our political or moral disagreements, never have this level of vicious anger toward our neighbors. Revealing because for the 2007 event, Planned Parenthood supposedly refused to support the counter-demonstrators. They know this kind of bile doesn't help their cause.

Click here and prepare to be disgusted.

Prayer to End Abortion

Lord God, I thank you today for the gift of my life,
And for the lives of all my brothers and sisters.

I know there is nothing that destroys more life than abortion,
Yet I rejoice that you have conquered death
by the Resurrection of Your Son.

I am ready to do my part in ending abortion.
Today I commit myself
Never to be silent,
Never to be passive,
Never to be forgetful of the unborn.

I commit myself to be active in the pro-life movement,
And never to stop defending life
Until all my brothers and sisters are protected,
And our nation once again becomes
A nation with liberty and justice
Not just for some, but for all.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen!

Source: Priests for Life

40 Million Dead

No, that's not the estimate of what might happen in the U.S. if the terrorists succeed. It's what has already happened since the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision, 34 years ago today. 40,000,000 children painfully, ruthlessly murdered before taking their first breath. All completely legal.

Click here to see some photos of what we allow to happen. It isn't pretty.

Here's a question: what have you done to stop this slaughter? If you are a Christian: what has your church done to stop this slaughter? The answer to both questions, for all of us, is "not enough."

We can't all march and protest in the streets, but we can all pray. So do it. Right now. Stop reading, close your eyes, and pray for an end to this abomination. Do it again tomorrow. Then again, every day, until the killing stops.

May God have mercy on us all.

Better Than Home Movies

If you are over about 35, think back your youth. Remember when people would go off on trips to exotic places, then return with stacks of slides and sometimes even grainy 8mm movies? (Note to Gen-X readers: these were actual movies, made with film - not hard drives, or DVD, or even videotape. Hard to believe, I know. The mere fact I have to explain this to you makes me feel really old.)

Now, of course, we have the benefit of digital cameras and camcorders. We also have the internet, and in the last year or so online video has matured into something usable by the masses. This convergence is about to revolutionize the whole experience of "travel."

Case in point: Jeff Cavins is currently leading a tour group of Americans in Israel. In years past, the families of those on such trips were left in the dark until the mandatory slide show took place. Things have changed. Jeff is posting a daily video diary of the places the group visits. So you can see grandma and grandpa checking out Nazareth in almost real time. I think this is very cool. The videos take some time to download, and a lot of it is just the tourists waving at the folks back home, but it's worth checking out. Links below.

A side benefit for trip sponsors like Jeff is that the pilgrims and their families probably feel a lot safer about going to this politically unstable region when they can see what is happening in this way. Happily, there is no sign of suicide bombers so far. The folks seem to be having a lot of fun and are visiting some interesting sites. I learned that Mt. Tabor, where the Transfiguration took place, looks a lot like Central Texas. I would love to go on a trip like this some day but I'm sure it is very expensive. Maybe if I wait long enough I can go there via virtual reality glasses or something.

Links to videos:
Israel Pilgrimage Day 1 & 2
Israel Pilgrimage Day 3 & 4
Israel Pilgrimage Day 5
Israel Pilgrimage Day 6
Israel Pilgrimage Day 7
Israel Pilgrimage Day 8
Israel Pilgrimage Day 9
Israel Pilgrimage Day 10

So Much For Democracy

Your Beloved Leaders in Washington want your votes, but it appears that some of them would prefer not to hear from you otherwise. New Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her henchpersons have proposed a "Lobbying Reform Bill" that would impose strict registration and reporting requirements on organizations and individuals who seek to influence pending legislation.

Under the House version of the Bill, a church or organization would be considered a “grassroots lobbying firm” subject to this law if the group attempted to influence the general public to voluntarily contact federal officials in order to express their own views on a federal issue. Furthermore, many large churches and ministries utilize mass media to communicate their message. Under this House Bill by Nancy Pelosi, these communications, as long as they are directed to at least one person who is not a member of the church, would fall under this new Bill. Finally, if the church spends an aggregate of only $50,000 or more for such efforts in a quarterly period, they are now required to register as lobbyists. Many ministries spend $50,000 or more a month for air time. MORE

It is ironic that Democrats, supposed friends to minorities, are leading this charge. Where, exactly, did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. go to rally the country to pass important civil rights reforms? Churches, of course.

Proponents of this move will argue that no one is being silenced. They simply have to register so the government can keep track of them. This is nonsense. Do we require newspapers to register before they can print editorials? No, and the media would explode in indignation at the very idea. Registration = restraint. This legislation needs to be stopped. I would tell you to write your Congressperson about it, but then I might have to register.

Hat tip: Dymphna's Well

Modern Day Exile

My last post inspired several comments, including one anonymous person who wrote at length about the idea of making released sex offenders live in so-called "safe zones" away from children. The broader question is what to do with child predators who have served their sentence - assuming of course the sentence is something less than death.

We should first note that not all offenders are equal. For example, it is not uncommon for a young male of 16 or 17 to be convicted of sexual contact with a girl of 13 or 14. This is not ideal behavior by any means, but is it equivalent to a man in his 40s preying on young girls? Hardly. Yet in the eyes of the law both are "child predators" and will be labeled as such for life. Our laws need to make better distinctions about the type and degree of sex crimes.

The second thing to remember is that many, and perhaps most, child predators are mentally ill. This is common sense - normal adults do not seek out young children for sexual purposes. Yes, there are people who are simply evil and must be treated as such. However many offenders have some kind of disorder. Sadly, our society has simply turned its back on these people. Fifty years ago they were institutionalized, cared for humanely, and kept away from opportunities to act on their impulses. Now, in the name of "equality" we leave mentally ill people to fend for themselves. They fill our homeless shelters, beg for money on the streets, and sometimes commit horrible crimes. This is a shameful situation that must be addressed soon.

Another cause of the apparent increase in sex crimes is that the internet now makes pornography easily available. There have always been magazines and such, but online material is never-ending, easily accessible and very private. It serves to encourage harmful fantasies and, for some people who are already weak, can push them into acting on their impulses. Since a lot of this material comes from overseas, it is not easily stopped. The temptation attacks even otherwise strong Christian men - as we see in the frequent stories of clergymen caught in sexual affairs. True Knights is a good resource for anyone who needs help with this problem.

In any case, the reaction in many states and localities to the release of child predators is to tell them "go somewhere else." A patchwork of laws forbid registered offenders from living within certain distances of schools, churches, parks, bus stops, or other places where children congregate. 2,000 feet is a common limit.

Here's an exercise for you. Try finding a spot in any city or suburb that is not within 2,000 feet (almost a half-mile) of a school, church, park, or bus stop. It isn't easy. So one of two things happens: the predators simply drop out of sight, or they are exiled into isolated rural areas. Does this accomplish anything toward the goal of preventing future offenses? Not really. Most sexual deviants are happy to travel if that's what it takes to find what they want.

It does, however, mean that they are spread out over vast areas and become that much harder to track. It also makes it harder for them to stay in touch with family, friends, therapists, and others who can help them live a normal life and not repeat their offenses.

It's also a fair question to ask why we don't apply this logic to other types of criminals. Should arsonists be forbidden to own matches or enter wooden structures? Should shoplifters be banned from malls? Should tax evaders be sold into slavery until their debt is paid? It's easy to say that punishment should fit the crime, but not always easy to do so in practice.

Of course, if one takes the position that all sex offenders should be executed or imprisoned for life, none of this matters. However anything short of that extreme leaves us with a problem to solve. How do we make sure these people do not hurt more children?

I don't have any simple answers. Maybe there are none, other than to continue all efforts to recover a general sense of faith and morality in our culture. Tougher penalties do not seem to be helping. This isn't surprising since, as noted above, many offenders are mentally ill and are forced to live in the fringes of society. Doing something about this (something more humane than prison or execution) would help a lot.

At the end of the day, the real question is whether we believe people who commit these crimes can change their ways. If they can, then society will benefit from having them return to productive lives. If not, then they have to be separated somehow so they do not harm anyone else. I don't think there is a blanket answer to this question - each case has to be considered individually. That's why broad-brush legislation that reduces the discretion of judges, juries, and parole boards is probably not the best solution.

Do YOU have an answer? If so, I'd like to hear it. Post your comment and we'll talk about it.

Hang 'Em High

Our Texas political heroes are once again trying to look like they are actually accomplishing something helpful to society. From today's Austin-American Statesperson:

Dozens of sex offender bills have already been filed for the 140-day legislative session that began Jan. 9.

Proponents want Texas to join states cracking down with tough "Jessica's Laws", named after a girl who was abducted and killed in Florida, and become one of a handful that could put some repeat offenders to death.

Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said Texas is already tough on sex offenders.

Most already serve their entire sentence without parole and are subject to civil commitment if experts deem them dangerous upon release.

"We are tough (on sex offenders.) Tougher than hell. We lead the nation in tough." Whitmire said. "But you've got to be careful."

Hmmm, "tougher than hell," eh? That must be some kind of prison. I had no idea there was a lake of fire down there in Huntsville.

And is this really an area where you want to "lead the nation?" How does that go when the legislators get together. "Guys, Alabama says they are tougher than us. We gotta show 'em!"

Don't get me wrong - those who molest children must be punished. They must also be prevented from causing additional harm. We already have ways to achieve these goals. What does imposing the death penalty on sex offenders accomplish? For one thing, it encourages them to make sure there are no witnesses to the crime. If you are going to get punished like a murderer anyway, you might as well finish the job.

Keep in mind, also, that many if not most cases of child molestation involve a relative or family member. How ethical is it to have a child testify against a grandparent, for example, when the result may be that relative's execution? Do we want to add this burden to a child who already has plenty to bear?

Justice should be based on solid ethical principles, not a misguided sense of revenge. Hopefully the legislature will drop this idea and get on with more important business.

Ancient Abortion II

I've written here and here about the disregard for life shown by the early Romans, and its eerie similarity to our own culture today. Today Mike Aquilina at Way of The Fathers has another excellent post about this.

In pagan Rome, a child did not achieve personhood until recognized by the head of the family, the father. When the mother had given birth, a midwife placed the child on the floor and summoned the father. He examined the child with his criteria of selection in mind.

Was the child his? If the man suspected his wife of adultery — ancient Rome’s favorite pastime — he might reject the child without so much as a glance.

If the child was an “odious daughter” (a common Roman phrase for female offspring), he would likely turn on his heel and leave the room.

If the child was “defective” in any way, he would do the same. As the philosopher Seneca said: “What is good must be set apart from what is good-for-nothing.”

Life or death? It all depended upon the will of a man. Human life began when the child was accepted into society. A man did not “have a child.” He “took a child.” The father “raised up” the child by picking it up from the floor.

Those non-persons who were left on the floor — while their mothers watched from a birthing chair — would be drowned immediately, or exposed to scavenging animals at the town dump.

Against these customs, the Church consistently taught that life begins at conception and should continue till natural death. In such matters, Christianity contradicted pagan mores on almost every point. What were virtuous acts to the Romans and Greeks — contraception, abortion, infanticide, suicide, euthanasia — were abominations to the Christians. READ MORE.

Again I ask: exactly how is this different from the way we regard life today? Now it is usually the mother whose "choice" decides if her child lives or dies. With our technology we don't have to wait until the child is born to evaluate its worthiness. The process is cleaner, quicker, not as messy. Is it any less evil?


Carl Olson at Ignatius Insight dares take on the Mighty Oprah.

There's no doubt that Oprah has a tremendous impact on the views and emotional lives of numerous viewers. So much so that a December 2006 AP-AOL poll had Oprah in third place (behind President Bush and American troops, and tied with Jesus and Barack Obama) in response to the question: "If you were asked to name a famous person to be the biggest hero of the year, whom would you choose?" Pope Benedict XVI was far down the list, of course.

One of the few times I ever watched Oprah at length (more than 30 seconds) was when musician/singer Sting (aka, Gordon Sumner) was interviewed. When Sting described how he had left his first wife to be with his second and current wife, Oprah and the audience erupted in passionate, adoring applause. Apparently this was in response to Sting's earnest explanation that he committed adultery and abandoned his first wife (well, he didn't put it that way) because he "had to be true" to himself and he couldn't waste away in an unhappy relationship—after all, his mother had done so, and he saw what that did to her.

And that is likely a big element of Oprah's appeal: the constant message of "be true to yourself," believe in yourself, create your own destiny, follow your own path, blah, blah, blah. After all, it worked for Sting (no word, of course, about Sting's first wife. Celebrity trumps feminism, I suppose)... MORE

Olson is now trying to wait out the 30,000 Oprah fans who have surrounded his home demanding that he recant this heresy. Oprah must be obeyed without question. All hail Oprah!

Minimum Wage Tuna

The newly-dominant House Democrats just passed a bill to increase the minimum wage in order to "help" American workers. One class of low-paid workers will not be helped, however. According to the New York Post, the House bill exempted workers in American Samoa.

Why is this? It seems the major employer in American Samoa is Starkist Tuna, which pays its workers $3.26 an hour. Starkist is owned by Del Monte, which happens to have its headquarters in San Francisco. Who represents San Francisco in Congress? Nancy Pelosi, of course.

So Nancy Pelosi, friend of the little guy, kindly arranged for this particular group of little guys to get nothing, so her rich friends in San Francisco can pad their profit margins - and, presumably, make more campaign contributions.

Now that she's been caught, Pelosi is vowing to extend the new minimum wage to "all American territories." How courageous of her. Some things never change.

(Hat tip to the Cavemen.)

Incidentally, raising the minimum wage is not helpful to workers anywhere. The main thing it will do is encourage companies to outsource overseas, or use technology to replace human workers. The day will come soon when you will walk in McDonald's and punch your order into a machine rather than give it to a kid behind the counter. The loser will be that kid, who will never be hired in the first place. Raising the minimum wage just brings this day a little closer.

Mapping Faiths

This page may take a few minutes to load but it has some very interesting maps that graphically illustrate the impact and variety of faith in the U.S. (Hat tip to The Curt Jester). I found some of it very surprising.

The first map shows you, by county, what percentage of the population claims membership in any kind of church. West Texas, the northern Plains, and Utah appear to be the most deeply religious areas of the country. The Pacific Northwest is the least religious area.

The second map kind of shocked me. I had no idea the U.S. was still so regionalized into various denominations. Baptists dominate the South. Lutherans are found in the northern Plains. Mormons prevail in Utah and areas of surrounding states. Methodists lead in scattered areas of the Midwest, Kansas and Nebraska. Catholics are predominant in South Florida, along the Mexican border, and most of the West, Midwest and Northeast.

The rest of the maps break the country down further by individual denominations. This can show some interesting anomalies - for example, the Episcopalians appear to have established a stronghold in South Dakota. The Amish and Mennonites are more widespread than I would have thought. The map of Unitarians is almost a perfect match for the "blue" areas we see after election time that typically vote Democratic.

Bottom line: most religious denominations are segregated in certain areas. The only ones with a serious nationwide presence are Baptists, Catholics, Pentecostals and Presbyterians. Even so, the U.S. is probably more diverse in this regard than most nations.

Believing The Media

Here is a vivid example of how the media distorts the news. From OpinionJournal:

Are There Two Different Fort Bennings?

"Bush Cheered at Fort Benning: FORT BENNING, Ga.--President Bush, surrounded on Thursday by cheering soldiers in camouflage, defended his decision to send 21,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq and cautioned that the buildup will not produce quick results. 'It's going to take awhile,' he said."--headline and lead paragraph, Associated Press, Jan. 11

"Bush Speaks and Base Is Subdued: FORT BENNING, Ga., Jan. 11--President Bush came to this Georgia military base looking for a friendly audience to sell his new Iraq strategy. But his lunchtime talk received a restrained response from soldiers who clapped politely but showed little of the wild enthusiasm that they ordinarily shower on the commander in chief."--New York Times, Jan. 12

OK, so which was it? Did the troops cheer, or just clap politely? I have no idea - I wasn't there. The news media is supposed to give us the facts without imposing their own ideological opinions. They don't do so. They got away with this bias for generations, but thanks to competition from bloggers and other alternative media, they are finally getting caught.

Ways To Make You Talk?

Here is a funny story via Philokalia. When Pope John Paul II was a young priest in Poland, he was often questioned by the communist authorities who were looking for "subversive" activity.

He was asked about his positions on politics, on society, on the structures of power. He answered them at length. He spoke to them about his personal concept of man, citing some contemporary thinkers but even Aristotle's Ethics and Plato's Politics. Then he would distinguish between the ethic of values in Max Scheler and the dangers of solipsism made concrete in 'reflecting on reflection."

Of course, the functionaries questioning him understood nothing of these long monologues. And in the end they would let him go, and write on their reports, "He is not dangerous." MORE

Not dangerous? Let's see, Communism is now dead and JP2 is on his way to being a saint. These poor interrogators didn't know what they were up against. Though I must say if somebody I was supposed to be questioning started to lecture about Aristotle and solipsism, I would probably give up too.

If Only This Were True

WASHINGTON, DC—Citing a desire to finally make a difference in Iraq, in the past two weeks, more than 800,000 young people from upper-middle- and upper-class families have put aside their education, careers, and physical well-being to enlist in the military, new data from the Department Of Defense shows.

"I don't know if it was the safety and comfort of the holidays or what, but I realized that my affluence and ease of living comes at a cost," said Private Jonathan Grace, 18, who was to commence studies at Dartmouth College next fall, but will instead attend 12 weeks of basic training before being deployed to Fallujah with the 1st Army Battalion. "I just looked at my parents in their cashmere sweaters and thought, 'Who am I to go to an elite liberal arts college and spend all my time reading while, in the real world, thousands of kids my age are sacrificing their lives for our country?' It's not right."

Added Grace: "Whether I agree with the war or not, our president needs us, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let our least advantaged citizens bear the brunt of this awesome burden."

At the on-campus temporary recruitment table at Reed College in Portland, OR, the line of students eager to sign up for active duty stretched around the block Monday. Recruiters across the country reported a similar trend, with scores of young people asking how soon they could be ready to go to battle in Iraq. MORE

Europe Disappearing II

A follow-up to this post:

“The salient feature of Europe, Canada, Japan, and Russia is that they’re running out of babies. What’s happening in the developed world is one of the fastest demographic evolutions in history.

Most of us have seen a gazillion heartwarming ethnic comedies—’My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ and its ilk—in which some uptight WASPy type starts dating a gal from a vast, loving, fecund Mediterranean family, so abundantly endowed with sisters and cousins and uncles that you can barely get in the room. It is, in fact, the inversion of the truth. Greece has a fertility rate hovering just below 1.3 births per couple, which is what demographers call the point of ‘lowest-low’ fertility from which no human society has ever recovered.

And Greece’s fertility is the healthiest in Mediterranean Europe: Italy has a fertility rate of 1.2, Spain 1.1. Insofar as any citizens of the developed world have ‘big’ families these days, it’s the Anglo democracies: America’s fertility rate is 2.1, New Zealand’s a little below. Hollywood should be making ‘My Big Fat Uptight Protestant Wedding’, in which some sad Greek only child marries into a big heartwarming New Zealand family where the spouse actually has a sibling... This isn’t a projection—it’s happening now.” —Mark Steyn via Gazizza

Reminding Us Who We Are

Last week I wrote about The Need For Ritual in our society. Now the inimitable Peggy Noonan devoted her weekly column to the same topic after observing New Year's Eve and the Gerald Ford funeral.

I cannot begin to approach the beauty of Ms. Noonan's words, so I will quote her at length:

Why do they mass in Times Square and count the New Year in? There are no symposiums on this question, but I believe the answer is: to gather and mark something big beginning, to share a sense of expectation. If you had a bad year, it's over, change is on the way--"Five, four, three, two"--and if you had a good year you're on a roll--"one!"

They do it to start out on the right foot, with a cheer.

It's not just an event, it's a ceremony.

A few days later, the great state funeral of Gerald Ford. I didn't plan to watch it, but every time I saw it I couldn't stop. Why do we do this, dust off the pomp and circumstance and haul out the ruffles and flourishes? It's not only to mark a death, even of so respected and highly charged a figure as a former president. Why do network television chiefs and newspaper editors decide not to leave the story until it's over, even when from day one it seems stale?

Because it's not stale. We're renewing.

The Marines snap their salutes and bear the flag-draped coffin up the marble steps and we hear the old hymns--"Going Home," "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," "The Navy Hymn": "Oh hear us when we cry to thee / For those in peril on the sea." We don't hear these songs much in modern life, only at formal occasions like this. We lock them in a closet until a state funeral, and then they come out and we realize how much they meant, and how much we miss them.

The ministers speak of God's grace and ask him to welcome his humble servant home. Which suggests, and in a formal state occasion, that there is a God, a home, a soul. The eulogists speak of the wonders of the human personality, and of a specific and particular life in the long continuum. They praised Ford's honesty, his modesty, his patience. They said he always put himself second. They said he loved his country. In doing so they reminded us that effort is rewarded, patriotism is praised.

We do all this to remind ourselves who we are. We do it to remind ourselves what we honor, and what we believe, as a nation and a people. We do it to remind ourselves that America yields greatness, that here a seemingly average man raised in decidedly average circumstances can become someone whose passing deserves four days of a great nation's praise.

Praising these things reminds the old of what it is we should be aiming for each day, and instructs the young on the elements of a life well lived.

We do it to make the picture broader for a moment, and free ourselves of our cynicism. And we do it finally to enact what so many feel and rarely say, not only because it's corny but because if you mean it, it's beyond words. MORE

Islam Comes to Christ

In the last year or so I reached the conclusion that the so-called "Was on Terror" will never be won by military force. The more Muslims we kill, the more they will hate us and fight us. We can't kill them all. Even if we could kill them all, is that how we want to win?

The only long-term answer is to bring Muslims to Christianity. This seems like a tall order, but nothing is impossible. Various groups are trying to evangelize in the Islamic world, often at enormous personal risk. In the last month I've seem two articles, both via Mark Shea, that suggest a glimmer of hope.

For decades, a well-documented phenomenon has been occurring in the Muslim world—men and women who, without knowledge of the gospel, or contact among Christians in their community, have experienced dreams and visions of Jesus Christ. The reports of these supernatural occurrences often come from “closed countries” where there is no preaching of the good news and where converting to Christianity can invoke the death sentence. But these are more than just dreams. Setting them apart is the intense reality of the experience and the surrender of one’s heart and mind to Christ in the wake of the dream. A common denominator appears to be that the dreams come to those who are seeking—as best they can—to know and please God. MORE

The Lord works in mysterious ways indeed. This story is even more optimistic:

"I see many, many Arabic-speaking people turning to Christ, accepting Him as Lord and Savior,” said Nizar Shaheen, host of Light for the Nations, a Christian program seen throughout the Muslim world. "It's happening all over the Arab world. It's happening in North Africa. It's happening in the Middle East. It's happening in the Gulf countries. It's happening in Europe and Canada and the United States-in the Arabic-speaking world. Everywhere, people are accepting Jesus."

"What's happening nowadays in the Muslim world has never happened before," said Father Zakaria Henein, an Egyptian Coptic priest who is one of the foremost evangelists to the Muslim world. He says a cross-section of Muslims are accepting Jesus Christ. "Young and old, educated and not educated, males and females, even those who are fanatic."

... Some believe the Church's response to jihad must be a fearless proclamation of the Gospel to Muslims. Through prayer and evangelism, many see an unparalleled opportunity for the Gospel.

"I anticipate that very soon – perhaps within two or three years-we are going to see the greatest harvest in history," Shaheen said. MORE

This is truly exciting news. Can it really happen so fast? Again, nothing is impossible for God. Remember that Communism went from our greatest fear to a defeated enemy within about five years. When a dam breaks, the water floods everywhere. So it was at Pentecost. So, God willing, it may be again.

UPDATE 1/13/07 - Here is a short interview with the author of a book on this topic. He tells the story of a Bosnian Muslim soldier who converted.

Ancient Abortion

Last month I wrote here about the apparent prevalence of abortion in ancient Rome, but I didn't have sources to verify it. Now Mike Aquilina at Way of the Fathers has some answers.

A couple of days ago, Kathimerini, Greece’s “international English-language newspaper, posted The Wines and Herbs in the Land of Pan, a feature story that touches upon the medicinal potions of antiquity. Included in the discussion are contraceptives and abortifacients, which the Fathers consistently condemn (as do their heirs in the Catholic Church today). Rodney Stark studies the documentary and archaeological record in chapter 5 of his book The Rise of Christianity, and even includes a photograph of an abortionist’s surgical tools, unearthed at Pompeii. The Christian notion of chastity — which included opposition to contraception — immediately set the Church’s doctrine apart from all its pagan rivals. Moreover, Christian fertility contributed to the Church’s growth over those early centuries, while pagan sexual practices surely helped to carry out Rome’s slow cultural suicide.

Christians did not waver in this matter until the twentieth century. The Protestant Reformers — Luther, Calvin, and Wesley — univocally opposed birth control and abortion.

There are many good web resources on the subject. See here, here, here, and here.

For a fascinating book-length treatment of the subject, see my friend Pat Riley’s book Civilizing Sex: On Chastity and the Common Good.

I find this fascinating because it so closely parallels the decline of our modern-day empires. Look what happened to Rome. A mighty nation came to rule or strongly influence most of the known world. All this power and wealth created a culture devoted to pagan rituals, material things and sexual pleasure. There was also a general failure to procreate; abortion and contraception were widespread. Then a movement emerged that was organized around strong religious beliefs and had a very high birth rate. Over time, this powerful civilization simply died out and was replaced. Sound familiar?

The same thing is now happening to Western Civilization. We are not replacing ourselves because we find children inconvenient and expensive. Meanwhile the Islamic population is growing rapidly. It is also moving out of the Middle East and into formerly Christian nations. Project this forward another hundred years, as Mark Steyn does in America Alone, and it's not a pretty picture.

She-Ra Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi became the first female Speaker of the House this week. Many news stories, like this one, focused on the generous bi-partisan spirit the Democrats are expected to show. Others show different side of Pelosi.

After calling herself "the most powerful woman in America," Mrs. Pelosi flexed her right muscle like a weight lifter to much applause at an event yesterday titled a "women's tea."

"All right, let's hear it for the power," she screamed as the jubilant applause continued. MORE

Well, at least she is being honest. Politics is all about power - getting it, keeping it, using it. Republicans are no different. On one level it will be fun to watch Pelosi's antics for the next two years, at least. On the other hand, there is a real potential she will use her newfound power in decidedly unpleasant ways. She won't do it alone, though. She has lots of allies, and they aren't always obvious. You may even have voted for one of them.

Saddam's Last Video

After I wrote here and here about the Saddam Hussein execution, I figured the story would be over. Not so, not since that grainy cell phone video revealed the taunting chants of his executioners.

As I've said, when we must execute someone it is not reason for celebration. It is a sad duty that must be performed in the name of justice. Whatever you think about the ethics of capital punishment, I hope we can all agree this is not how it should be done. Nor will it be helpful to the political process in Iraq. Columnist Richard Woodward said it well at OpinionJournal:

The intention of the U.S. in putting Saddam in the dock for crimes against humanity was to demonstrate the rule of law, a process he never followed while in power. The trials of Nazi and Japanese war criminals after World War II were a model, along with the more recent (and much slower) prosecutions for genocide of Serbs, Croats and Rwandans at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Damning testimony about Saddam's treatment of the Kurds went unheard, but witnesses before the Iraqi judges--his trial began in October 2005--offered enough evidence to prove his direct role in ordering hundreds of deaths, a fraction of the hundreds of thousands he reportedly ordered over his 23-year reign.

In less than three minutes, the video undid that deliberate process. Saddam will now be frozen in time looking like a tested leader--angry but resigned to his fate--while the Iraqi government is seen hurrying to complete its nasty business before the new year. Even though that government granted him the kind of dignity he seldom granted the people he killed, his uncovered and unbowed head contrasts favorably with the masked executioners shouting "Muktada" and acting up for the camera as if this were a soccer match. Ironically, it is Saddam's stoic behavior on the scaffold that makes his hanging bearable to watch. MORE

Great - so the main thing history will record about this tyrant's death is the relative dignity he displayed. This was not an image of justice. It was an image of victor's justice, carried out by the winning faction (Shiites) against the losers (Sunnis).

"This was for the Iraqis to do themselves," you may say. True enough. Yet the United States had Saddam in its physical custody right up to the moments before his death. He died only because the Bush Administration handed him over to a gang of hooligans.

That the U.S. allowed this historic event to turn into a debacle is another sign of the incompetence with which our Dear Leaders have carried out this whole Iraqi adventure. It should have been a cleansing experience for all. Instead, it probably aggravated an already desperate situation.

More thoughts from Slate via Mark Shea.

So Why Are They There?

This week an Arizona border observation post, manned by some of the 6,000 National Guard members that Bush so generously allotted a few months ago, was overrun by invaders. The Guardspersons retreated, apparently under orders from higher command.

According to the Border Patrol, an unknown number of gunmen attacked the site in the state's West Desert Region around 11 p.m. The site is manned by National Guardsmen. Those guardsmen were forced to retreat. MORE

Question: WHY is this not front-page news everywhere? Our country was just attacked by foreign forces. Shouldn't we DO SOMETHING about it?!?!

I have an idea. Give weapons to the National Guard and deploy them to the border. Arrest anyone who tries to come across without permission. If they don't surrender peacefully, shoot them. It's really not that complicated. Our Dear Leaders either can't see the obvious, or they have some other agenda.

Caveman has more details and comment.

How Much Risk Is Enough?

I've been reading a blog called AdventureFaith, which is directed toward Christians who participate in extreme sports such as surfing, rock climbing, etc. There are some interesting discussions of how the thrill we get from doing these things relates to our faith.

A couple of weeks ago I read this post about the three climbers who were just lost on Mt Hood. This story had caught my interest since I've climbed that mountain myself. I was a fairly enthusiastic climber in the past but don't do it anymore. I left a comment at the AdventureFaith post explaining why I made that decision. Other readers left some rather passionate reactions.

To summarize my own position: we can't eliminate risk from our lives, but we should be prudent and reasonable in the risks we take. I greatly enjoyed my climbing days, and I've done other things like skydiving and motocross. I have never tried surfing because I'm afraid of sharks. Strange, I know - I can hang by my fingers hundreds of feet in the air and not think twice about it, but being in the same ocean with big hungry fish bothers me. Go figure.

Anyway, the point is that these activities carry above-average risk of death. That was fine when I was a single guy. Now I have a family that depends on me, and I have a responsibility to take care of myself and avoid unnecessary risks. So no more climbing for me; blogging is now my hobby.

The editor of AdventureFaith wants to renew the discussion in this post. I've left another comment and the discussion is now widening to questions of predestination, free will, and the definition of suicide. Check it out and leave your own thoughts.

Inspector Clouseau is Reading Your Mail

In the name of fighting terror, the Bush Administration has made it clear nothing will stop it from monitoring our internet usage, reading our e-mail or eavesdropping on our phone calls. (You think not? Show me a clear, unhedged, on-the-record denial from any senior official that they are doing these things right now. You won't get it.)

So now we learn they are not above steaming open envelopes to read our snail-mail too. This is from the New York Daily News:

WASHINGTON - President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail without a judge's warrant, the Daily News has learned.

The President asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a "signing statement" that declared his right to open people's mail under emergency conditions.

That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it. MORE

Bush loves these "signing statements, " and well he should. In them he claims for himself and all future presidents nothing less than the right to ignore the law. And we're letting him get away with it!

All you conservatives out there who were so up in arms about "the rule of law" when Bill Clinton lied about his affair with Monica need to show some consistency. Otherwise you'll have no grounds to complain when all this new power lands in Hillary's lap.

We have a president, not a king. Or at least we used to.

Sympathy For The Devil?

When I was in high school I had an internship in the Dallas County District Attorney’s office. As part of that I had the unique experience of watching a capital murder trial in person. The defendant was named Danny Lee Barber, and he had brutally killed a woman named Janie Ingram. There was no question of his guilt – he left a bloody palm print at the scene, and later confessed to this killing as well as several others that had previously been unsolved.

After he was found guilty of murder, the trial moved on to the punishment phase. The DA asked for death, of course. I can remember like it was yesterday the very eloquent prosecutor making his closing statement to the jury:

Ladies and Gentlemen, Danny Lee Barber is a man who deserves to die. When his appointed day comes, you’ll be able to put your ear to mother Earth and hear the gates of hell slam shut on his murderous soul!

At the time I thought this was pretty cool. Having seen poster-size photos of the victim’s body, I agreed he should die. I got a weird sort of thrill in the courtroom, sitting only a few feet away from this savage murderer. I didn’t really think very much about what would happen to his soul.

I bring this up because the Saddam Hussein execution has sparked a furious debate among bloggers about the death penalty. If Danny Lee Barber deserved to die, the Saddam Hussein certainly did, too. My purpose today is not to answer that question. Rather, it is to think about the words many of us say about people like Saddam and Barber. It is especially common among conservatives and even many Christians: “I hope he rots in hell.” “He should burn for what he did.” This sort of thing. I’ve said them, too. What do these wishes say about us?

The fact is we can’t know where any particular person goes when they die. What should we wish for them? Of course, as Christians we want all people to be saved. Every human is created in the image and likeness of God. All are precious to Him. That’s why Christ and Satan are locked in a battle for every human soul.

Question: which side are we on? Let’s conduct a little linguistic experiment. Exactly what is the difference between these two statements?

  1. I hope Saddam Hussein burns in hell.
  2. I hope Satan wins the battle for Saddam Hussein’s soul.

Logically, there is no difference in the sentiment behind these two wishes. So when we wish someone would go to hell, or we express satisfaction at the belief that they are going there, we are quite literally taking the side of the devil. Is this really what we want? I hope not.

Did Saddam Hussein deserve to go to hell? Did Danny Lee Barber? Yes, they did. So do I. So do you. So does every human being who is stained with even the slightest sin. God doesn’t owe us anything at all, much less a place in heaven. He offers us a gift of salvation, and the free will to accept it or not.

If people like Saddam make bad choices, they have to face human justice. The eternal justice they face is not ours to decide. Our job in this life is to wish for, and work toward, the salvation of everyone.

Danny Lee Barber was finally executed in 1999 after almost 20 years on death row. It seems like this would be adequate time to think about where you want to spend eternity and then do something about it. Maybe he did. His last words don’t sound especially hopeful, though.

I wonder if he got letters in prison. I wonder if some people told him where he deserved to go. And I wonder if he came to believe that would be his fate, and there was nothing he could do about it. I hope not.

It is not my place to forgive Danny Lee Barber for his crimes, because he did nothing to me. It is my place, however, to hope that one day I will see him again when we are both in heaven. This isn't an easy thing to do. Yet, it is what God asks of us. Wishing damnation on our brothers is a bad habit we all need to break.

Wisdom of the Saints

The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.

St. Basil the Great

The Futility of Spreading Democracy

The idea behind invading Iraq, we were told by our President and his followers, was not only to remove the threat of Saddam Hussein. It was to gain a foothold for freedom in the Middle East by establishing a democracy there. Obviously this is happening slowly, if at all, primarily because Iraq consists of groups of people who really have no desire to get along with each other. Mark Bowden says it very well in OpinionJournal this morning.

We Americans consistently underestimate the deep hatreds that divide people. Our political system is designed to wrestle peacefully with the divisions of race, class, ethnicity, religion and competing ideological or geographical interests, and has generally worked as intended--the Civil War being the one glaring exception. Generations have struggled to live up to ideals of tolerance and diversity. When we look out at the world, we tend to see millions longing to get past the blood feuds, to be, in short, more like us. George Bush and the neocon intellectuals who led us into Iraq are just the latest in a long line of evangelical Americanists. No matter how many times history slaps us in the face, the dream persists. [more]

This is right on target. The nation we now call Iraq was created
by the British after World War I with little regard for the ethnic or cultural unity of the inhabitants. Saddam and his predecessors were able to keep it united and orderly by means of brutal dictatorship. With that hammer now gone, the cats and dogs have been unleashed to fight it out. And they are.

This idea of establishing a peaceful democracy in Iraq isn't totally futile. It may well happen, in some manner, at some point, but not anytime soon. Bowden concludes his article:
Maybe we need to better appreciate that our nation remains an exception. I believe that in the long run people on this planet will embrace democracy and diversity, but we are not there yet. I still nurse hope that Iraqis will abandon blood feuds for compromise and a democratic future, but it appears to be a longer shot today than three years ago, and it was a bad bet then. Mr. Bush has staked his legacy on it.

Illegal Aliens Vote

News is just now emerging of an apparent alien spacecraft that visited Chicago O'Hare Airport on November 7th. This from the Chicago Tribune:

The Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (the term that extraterrestrial-watchers nowadays prefer over Unidentified Flying Object) was first seen by a United ramp worker who was directing back a United plane at Gate C17, according to an account the worker provided to the National UFO Reporting Center.

The sighting occurred during daylight, about 4:30 p.m., just before sunset.

All the witnesses said the object was dark gray and well defined in the overcast skies. They said the craft, estimated by different accounts to be 6 feet to 24 feet in diameter, did not display any lights.

Some said it looked like a rotating Frisbee, while others said it did not appear to be spinning. All agreed the object made no noise and it was at a fixed position in the sky, just below the 1,900-foot cloud deck, until shooting off into the clouds.

Of course, the government denies all knowledge:
Like United, the FAA originally told the Tribune that it had no information on the alleged UFO sighting. But the federal agency quickly reversed its position after the newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act request.

An internal FAA review of air-traffic communications tapes, a step toward complying with the Tribune request, turned up the call by the United supervisor to an FAA manager in the airport tower, Cory said.

Cory said the weather might have factored into what the witnesses thought they saw.

"Our theory on this is that it was a weather phenomenon," she said. "That night was a perfect atmospheric condition in terms of low [cloud] ceiling and a lot of airport lights. When the lights shine up into the clouds, sometimes you can see funny things. That's our take on it."

Hmmm, the sighting was at 4:30 PM, which is not exactly "night" even if it is cloudy. What were these visitors doing? My theory is they were here to tamper with the voting machines, since this occurred on election day. Chicago has a long tradition of allowing dead people to vote, so alien voting isn't so hard to believe.