Saturday, December 18, 2004
The Iraq airlift has begun
In late July I began a series on Iraqi hostage-taking and killing of truckers. At that point the press was completely ignoring it. The trucker kidnappings increased, eventually the media took notice, and I went on to other topics. The press finally grasped the effect on the supply lines, but they never really drew out the implications.
It seemed to me inevitable that an airlift would have to begin sooner or later if the insurrection couldn't be suppressed. And it has. It apparently began in earnest in November and is now going full force.
According to Eric Schmitt of the NY Times,
Dozens of air force C-130 and C-17 transports, as well as contracted commercial aircraft, are now ferrying about 450 tons of cargo a day, including spare parts, food, water, medical supplies and other matériel that normally moves by truck or trailers, a 30 percent increase in the past month.
Even trucks are sometimes shipped in by air.
In just the past month, the increased air operations have kept more than 400 trucks and about 1,050 drivers with military escorts off the most dangerous roads in Iraq, an air force spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Caldwell, said on Tuesday.
American military convoys have been suffering about 100 deaths and wounds a month.
Flying cargo is more expensive and less efficient than hauling supplies over land, but the air force's decision reflects the judgment of air and ground commanders that the insurgency will continue to pose a lethal threat to American supply lines, and that extraordinary steps must be taken to ensure the safe flow of cargo and to reduce casualties. [emphasis added]
The Washington Post first broke the story on the 12th, relegating it to page A28. Bradley Graham wrote—
The Air Force initiative reflects the judgment of top military authorities that the threat to the convoys is not likely to diminish in the foreseeable future and that the best way to ensure safe delivery is to avoid ground transportation.
According to officers here, plans being drawn up for review by Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, the commander of all U.S. forces in the region, call for an even greater increase in supplies delivered by airlift -- up to about 600 tons a day. Such a rise could put a serious strain on the existing air fleet, officers said.
"I would kid you if I said I'm not worried about sustainment," Buchanan said in an interview. "I can surge, but I have to develop a system that I can sustain this with because we don't know how long this is going to go on."
Asked if that meant more airplanes may be needed, Buchanan replied, "Potentially."
Ramsay said he could envision using aircraft to lift as much as 1,600 tons into and around Iraq daily. But even that, he added, would amount to only a small fraction of the shipments now pouring into the country. The vast majority of the tonnage, he said, is water and fuel, which are too bulky to haul by air.
To address the water issue, senior U.S. logistics officers are looking at options that include buying bottled water from the Iraqis or constructing bottling plants in Iraq. [emphasis added]
We may glean a further clue as to how bad the situation really is from the conclusion of the Times article
[Air Force chief of staff John] Jumper also said that he would not rule out the possibility of airdrops or landing on roadways, if needed.
And, of course, when you're losing your ass, cost is no object—
He acknowledged that the new operations would add fuel costs and other expenses to the $4.4 billion monthly price tag of the Iraq operation. But, he said, "I'm totally disinterested in the cost. It will be paid for. We'll do what it takes."
This airlift is a very objective measure of the success of the insurgency and of the control that the U.S. has over the country.
The situation is dire. Someone in the administration will need to be sacrificed—and soon—to the gods of war. I have always thought that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld would look his best on a sacrificial altar, though it's anybody's guess whether they'll find a heart.
As with all such rituals, the sacrifice will have no effect in altering the outcome of the war. If the U.S. continues, further sacrifice will eventually be needed—and demanded. After Rumsfeld, who?
Friday, December 17, 2004
Dr. Allawi's campaign started on an unpropitious note, when American and Iraqi forces closed off sections of central Baghdad so he could leave the Green Zone and cross the Tigris River to declare his candidacy at a sports club. But Western reporters judged the three-mile journey to be too hazardous in the bus provided by Allawi aides, and remained behind.
Five hours later, he stood before fewer than 60 people, about half of whom were his own aides. With American bodyguards in flak jackets and cradling automatic weapons patrolling the club's auditorium, Dr. Allawi read a brief statement and returned hastily to the Green Zone.
I've been trying to figure out where they're going to set up a safe polling station for the election. By triangulating from the mortar fire coming into the Green Zone, I believe there's a Burger King in the shadow of the Ministry of Defense building that might do nicely. Unfortunately, for security reasons voting will be restricted to "Dr." Allawi, his family and a few of his closest associates.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
Hollywood to start catching up on cashing in
Harrison Ford is to star in what will be Hollywood's first feature about the current Iraq war.
Based on a nonfiction work—No True Glory: The Battle for Fallujah by Bing West—you may take it as a given that this will not be the title of the movie.
It is probable that the film will strike a different tone to the only major feature about the US's previous war in Iraq, 1999's Three Kings, which told the story of a group of cynical, self-serving US soldiers. West's coverage of the war has tended to side with US troops.
You bet! The government needs enlistees badly. Time to get the Hollywood propaganda machine going.
The Law Lords have decided — Let those people go!
According to the Guardian,
Lawyers for the detainees had challenged the lawfulness of Britain's opt-out of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to liberty. The convention guarantees the right to be brought to trial within a reasonable time or be released.
Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead ruled that: "Indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is anathema in any country which observes the rule of law. It deprives the detained person of the protection a criminal trial is intended to afford."
This is a wonderful decision, which we can only hope will be discretely passed along to the U.S. Supreme Court for their edification.
The actual effect of the ruling, however, is not to obtain the current prisoners' immediate release—
A Home Office spokeswoman said it was now a matter for parliament to decide whether detention without trial continues. In the meantime, the suspects will remain behind bars, she said.
The Law Lords are themselves members of Parliament, and Britain does not have our "Separation of Powers" doctrine by which the Law Lords are independent of the legislature, so to analogize them to the U.S. Supreme Court is a bit off the mark.1 However, the ruling has sufficient force that amendment of the anti-terror law is anticipated.
This vexatious ruling came within hours of the introduction of Charles Clarke to his new job as Britain's Home Secretary. He is expected to be working today on promoting his predecessor's plan for a national ID card. The Lords' ruling may temper Parliament's enthusiasm for the plan.
Anti-human-rights law to go to the Law Lords
The Lords cannot exercise judicial review over, or in any way strike down Acts of Parliament under the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty. In common with other courts in the European Union, however, they may refer points involving European Union law to the European Court of Justice. The Lords may also declare a law inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights pursuant to section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998. Whilst this power is shared with the Court of Appeal and the High Court, such declarations are considered so important that the question will almost inevitably be determined in the House of Lords on appeal. However, the challenged law in question is not automatically struck down; it remains up to Parliament to amend the law.[back]
Americans who are aware, however vaguely, of their constitutional rights will likely be aware of their right under the Fifth Amendment not to be placed in "double jeopardy" by the legal system. This means, on its face, that you can't be tried twice for the same offense. As with most of our "rights," this right has more holes in it than Swiss cheese. But it is a part of our culture to believe that we have this right, that the right is just, and that any right-thinking country would treat its citizens likewise.
Of course, the right does not extend to foreigners who have been tried on the same offense in a non-U.S. jurisdiction. But since we take ourselves to be the world's model for fairness, a violation of these cultural beliefs can only shock.
Such is the case of Boudella al Hajj. Al Hajj is a Bosnian Muslim seized by the U.S. in January 2002. Where? According to the Washington Post, "on the steps of a Sarajevo court that had found him not guilty of terrorism charges." Picture this: You're walking out of an ordeal, free at last, and the U.S. military, from your own country, whisks you away for indefinite detention, incommunicado—without trial—on the charges for which you've just been freed.
Al-Hajj's case was briefly alluded to in a Post report on cases being brought to a federal judge that have resulted from the post-detention hearings by a military tribunal in Guantánamo.
Al-Hajj's wife Nadja Dizdarevic wrote to the court—
I can't believe these things can happen, that they can come and take your husband away at night and, without reason or evidence, destroy your family, ruin your dreams.
Why? Why are they doing this to us?
If George Bush's government has its way, Nadja Dizdarevic will never find out. In fact, she's lucky that she knows where her husband is—the government had intended to make these prisoners just disappear into the Black Hole of Guantánamo.
In papers released Thursday, an Australian detainee who faces charges of war crimes asserted that U.S. interrogators repeatedly beat him while he was blindfolded, injected him with drugs against his will and offered him a prostitute1 in exchange for information about his fellow prisoners.
1 Which raises a question. If the Australian had accepted the offer, would the prostitute have been one of Castro's Cubans, brought from off the base? Or would she (or he) have been flown in from the U.S.? Or would one of the soldiers at the base simply have been detailed to the task? [back]
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Judge wears 10 Commandments
Shock! Rush Limbaugh used obscene language
This is a Holy War, however, on two fronts. There is also the home front, or perhaps better—the homeland front. Here the heathen are to be converted, not killed—at least for now. Crèches need to resume their rightful places on the courthouse lawns. The Ten Commandments need to go right along with the flag in the schoolhouse and courtroom. Pat Robertson has declared Kwanzaa to be a fraud. There will be none of this "Season's Greetings" falderole. We will have a "Merry Christmas." That's Christmas spelled with a C-h-r-i-s-t in it, do you hear?
You thought I was exaggerating, didn't you? Go on, admit it. Then go read today's AP story "Religious activists step up push for explicit Christmas displays."
Emboldened by their Election Day successes, some Christian conservatives around the country are trying to put more Christ into Christmas this season.
In Terrebonne Parish, La., an organization is petitioning to add "Merry Christmas" to the red-lighted "Season's Greetings" sign on the main government building and is selling yard signs that read, "We believe in God. Merry Christmas."
And a Raleigh, N.C., church recently paid $7,600 for a full-page newspaper ad urging Christians to spend their money only with merchants who include the greeting "Merry Christmas" in ads and displays.
"There is a revival taking place in our nation that is causing Christian and right-minded people to say, 'Wait a minute. We've gone too far,' " says the Rev. Patrick Wooden Sr., pastor of the Raleigh church. "We're not going to allow the country to continue this downward spiral to the left."
In California, a group called the Committee to Save Merry Christmas is boycotting Macy's and its corporate parent, Federated Department Stores, accusing them of replacing "Merry Christmas" signs with ones wishing shoppers "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays." The organization cites "the recent presidential election showing political correctness is offending millions of Americans." [emphasis added]
Fox News gave the Committee to Save Merry Christmas its first big airing back in July.
There's more to come. Count on it.
Ohio's Secretary of State plans run for governor — Ohioans need help
Blackwell released the poll one year after a Montgomery survey showed 32 percent of GOP voters favored [Auditor Betty Montgomery's] candidacy. Blackwell placed second with 23 percent; Petro finished last with 17 percent.
Since then, Blackwell has courted his party's conservative wing by leading efforts to add a gay-marriage ban to the Ohio Constitution and arguing for lower taxes.
His message resonated well, especially among voters in his home of Cincinnati and those in the upper-income brackets, according to the survey.
Pollster Fred Steeper said voters' growing concern over moral values puts Blackwell in a position to continue to gain support.
This explains his risk-taking to throw the election. He's collecting "chits" for his gubernatorial aspirations. As Keith Olbermann wrote Monday—
My MSNBC colleague and Newsweek chief political correspondent Howard Fineman shares my amazement at the Inspector Clouseaus of the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. If there’s nothing wrong in Ohio, it sure won’t be because Secretary Blackwell didn’t try to make it look like there was.
Blackwell's flagrant partisanship, his very visible shenanigans are quite calculated—calculated to show the "big boys" what he can do. The hope at Simply Appalling is that his calculations are off just enough to land him in some real legal difficulties, such as a charge of fraud and perjury1—which assumes there are some honest prosecutors left in Ohio or in the Justice Dept.
Meanwhile, those who are fighting the good fight in the Ohio vote investigations are getting discouraged, according to a post and comments at Daily Kos. Gary Polvinale writes—
[W]e here in Ohio need more than a "You can do it" pat on the back. We ARE doing it. But nobody knows. Ohio is screaming the truth at the top of its lungs, literally, and no one hears us because of all the noise of the media silence.If you want to do something, here's what you can do to help. I am asking the rest of the country to please get out there and find well-known people who's voices are loud enought to be heard by the press who will stand up for us. Get a Senator or a media personality or anyone of very high profile to come out about this. The media blackout is killing us. Very few members of Congress, and no one in the Democratic Party has even seriously acknowledged the recount.
We've kinda got our hands full here, or we'd be doing that ourselves too. Give us a voice and we will deliver Ohio. Otherwise SOS Blackwell and the BOE will continue to slap us around like we don't matter a lick, at every turn. We are being squelched by a state government that is willing to violate our rights and even break the law as often as necessary to stand in our way and prevent us from exposing what they've done. I watched 100 of the greatest people I've ever met freeze their butts off for three hours Sunday, and 1500 the week before. And today people are out there at the Conyers hearing at the Columbus Statehouse again freezing, supporting the hearing, the investigation and the recount. And the Ohio recount has begun this morning.
If you want to help, please turn over every rock to find someone big who can get the media's attention who is willing to speak up for us. [emphasis added]
I have an idea! How about John Kerry!2 Or even John Edwards!
At least one activist is being stalked. Katrina Sumner sent an email that has been posted at Newsclip Autopsy—
Last night I was returning from Columbus and was scared out of my mind. First I’ve been getting calls from a man that has been able to tell me each and every place I’ve been or roads I’ve been traveling on (a group of 3 other women heard this while driving me to meet Jesse Jackson and Cliff Arnebeck last night, having the call on speaker). Then while driving back I was ran off the road by two dark blue Suburbans(?), bigger than 4 runners anyway, with dark tinted windows. They came up behind me with their brights on and then one came to the side of me and ran me into the ditch off I-70. I saw as they sped away that one had a Maryland license plate, but in the heat of it all I couldn’t get the plate number or even see the plate of the other one. It’s becoming apparent to me that someone is not liking what I’m doing.
According to Ray Beckman, a lawyer who is deeply involved in fighting election fraud, the Ohio recount team assigned to Greene County were in process of recording voting information from minority precincts, when they were stopped in mid-count by a surprise order from Secretary of State Blackwell’s office that made all voter records for the state of Ohio, private and no longer considered “public records.” According to Beckman, “the Ohio Revised Code Title XXXV, Elections, Sec. 3503.26, requires all election records to be made available for public inspection and copying.” Beckman said, “ORC Sec. 3599.161 makes it a crime for any employee of the Board of Elections to knowingly prevent or prohibit any person from inspecting the public records filed in the office of the Board of Elections.” Perhaps even more significantly, Beckman said, “ORC Sec. 3599.42 clearly states: ‘A violation of any provision of Title XXXV (35) of the Revised Code constitutes a prima facie case of election fraud within the purview of such Title.’”[back]
2 Olbermann is almost as scathing in his comments about Kerry as about Ken Blackwell—
Here is Kerry, insisting he is not invested in the outcome of an Ohio recount, asking through his lawyers to inspect the 92,000 ballots that contain no vote for president. And, through his interactions with Jesse Jackson and John Conyers, connecting into the Alliance for Democracy lawsuit to overturn or freeze the Ohio Electoral count, and into the assessment that Blackwell’s behavior “appears to violate Ohio law.”
In my part of the country that is known as "pussyfooting," which is why Kerry didn't get resoundingly elected in the first place. [back]
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Crazy is as Crazy does
Sheila Samples indicts and explains the media's bizarre complicity with Bush—
The media appear to be dug in too deep to back out now. Although the hole they're in is scandalously deep and wide, they have no choice. They must keep digging. And digging. They're forced to save Bush's backside in order to save their own, else how will they explain at this late date their covering up the lies of a man-child who delights in being an international bully — who applauds himself for irrationally "seizing opportunities" to decide the fate of the entire human race, no matter how much devastation he leaves in his wake? How else can they defend hiding from the public a monster-child teetering atop a mountain of body bags containing the remains of almost 1,300 US citizens — arrogantly braying he "would do it all over again" if he had the chance? The problem is not just with the fawning dogs in the media. The rest of us are also to blame — people who choose to remain silent while hoping someone else will stop the madness — the jackasses in Congress who trot out the theory that backing down, "swallowing their pride" and moving to the middle will somehow garner them presidential favors. As Erasmus pointed out in The Praise of Folly, "What is more courteous than the way two mules scratch each other?"
And compares Bush with Don Quixote—
Bush's pre-puberty vision is one of uberhuman heroes and knights whose power comes from a higher realm, and it is far more colorful and exciting for the media to sell than the more mundane scenario requiring reason and ulitity. If you think about it, "Mr. President" is little more than a deadly Don Quixote who, upon seeing a cluster of windmills, cried to his squire...Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we could have wished; for you see there before you friend Sancho Panza, some thirty or more lawless giants with whom I mean to do battle. I shall deprive them of their lives, and with the spoils from this encounter we shall begin to enrich ourselves; for this is righteous warfare, and it is a great service to God to remove so accursed a breed from the face of the earth.
This is powerful writing.
Chilean dictator and secret police get their comeuppance
Former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet has just been ruled fit to stand trial by a Chilean judge and placed under house arrest. This reverses previous rulings on his mental condition in both Chile and Britain.
Pinochet, after having successfully evaded the justice system with his "stroke" defense, unwisely went on Miami TV last year and displayed considerable mental agility. He was also found to be cunning enough to salt away millions of dollars in Riggs Bank, of Washington DC. Pinochet is 89 and frisky.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that
[the judge] has accused Pinochet of playing a role in the murder of one and the kidnapping of nine others during Operation Condor, an intelligence-sharing scheme by five South American dictatorships to execute thousands of left-wing activists in the 1970s.
Court documents show Operation Condor was largely organised by secret police working under the direct control of Pinochet, then commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay also took part in Condor. It reached into the US in what Peter Kornbluh, author of The Pinochet File, called the first act of "state-sponsored international terrorism".
Ah, yes. The good ol' days of Henry Kissinger.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch reports—
The Chilean Supreme Court’s decision today to confirm the prison sentences of General Manuel Contreras and four other military officers for a 1975 case of forced disappearance is a major victory for accountability, Human Rights Watch said.
“Today’s ruling gives full backing to efforts by the lower courts to hold accountable those responsible for grave human rights violations under military rule,” said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch.
What is particularly interesting about this ruling is its novel legal rationale. A rather self-serving general amnesty had been issued by the military government in 1978 "that covers human rights crimes committed between September 11, 1973, and the date of the decree." In other words, if you murdered anyone during that time, it was all okay, and you could go on about your business.
But there were many people that the government never acknowledged killing—they just "disappeared." So since these people are still "disappeared," the court ruled that their disappearance is an ongoing crime and is therefore not covered by the amnesty.
Here is one example—
Government agents detained Miguel Ángel Sandoval Rodríguez, a 26-year-old tailor in January 1975. He was held in secret detention in the Villa Grimaldi, a clandestine camp in Santiago, where he was tortured. Sandoval was one of 119 missing detainees who were later falsely reported in the press to have been found dead in Argentina, a ruse concocted by the secret police to cover up their secret execution. His body has never been found.
It is a wonderful irony that their effort to conceal the murders has been their undoing. If they had just pointed out the bodies, they could be vacationing in Miami.
Will Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld 'fess up when the time comes?
Anti-human-rights law to go to the Law Lords
What has been billed as an "anti-terror" law by British politicians and the media is, as usual, an anti-human-rights law. Somewhat parallel to the Bush administration's claims regarding prisoners in Guantánamo that were rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, this law is finally to be reviewed by Britain's highest judicial authority. According to Reuters' Jeremy Lovell—
Britain's top court will decide on Thursday whether the country's draconian anti-terror law that allows foreign suspects to be locked up without trial is legal.
The House of Lords will determine the fate of nine men, some of whom have been held for three years under a law that was rushed through in a climate of fear after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
It will be a major test of how far the government will be allowed to overrule human rights in the U.S.-led war on terror.
It is interesting that British law is said to be based on what happened in New York and Washington.
This is not the first time the matter has come up—
The government argued during a four day hearing in the House of Lords in October that the world order changed after the Sept. 11 attacks, and with it the necessary severity of measures needed to protect the nation.
"Did the attack in the United States, in New York threaten the life of the nation? Plainly, it did," Attorney General Lord Goldsmith told a panel of nine Law Lords then.
It is also interesting that supposedly sane people can sit unmoving in their robes and listen to this crap.1 The attack of 9/11 did not, by any measure that I can imagine, "threaten the life of the nation." It is the response from the U.S. government that has threatened the life of the nation.
To implement the law, Britain has had to "suspend" the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Special Immigration Appeals Commission had ruled against the government. The Court of Appeal reversed, allowing the detentions to continue. So now the case goes for a final decision by the Law Lords, Britain's "Supreme Court."
And what of the detainees? The case has become moot for some of them—
Of the men originally held, one was freed after the government decided he was no longer a threat and one after a secret tribunal ruled evidence was insufficient.
Another was moved to house arrest after the tribunal ruled his detention had driven him insane, and two agreed to leave the country voluntarily.
Of the original nine prisoners there are now four. We don't know why one of them is "no longer a threat." Perhaps he has become permanently incapacitated while in British custody, or perhaps he has been "re-educated" a la chinoise. Clearly, the two who agreed to leave "voluntarily" were not a "threat." For one prisoner the government had "insufficient" (read that "no") evidence as to why he should be held. And one has
Ladies and Gentlemen, behold the "Free World."
Monday, December 13, 2004
Assault on Christmas continues—media fighting the good fight (updated)
The media preoccupation with real or imagined assaults on Christmas continues. This time the anti-Christmas conspiracy has reared its ugly head in London.
Madame Tussaud's of waxwork fame has put up a Nativity scene that .... Wait! Here's the way it appeared from "wire reports" in Japan Today—
In a move condemned by church groups as deeply tasteless, famous London waxworks museum Madame Tussauds has set up the scene using effigies of Beckham and his wife Victoria to stand in for the holy couple Joseph and Mary.
The unorthodox tableau is augmented by figures of U.S. President George W Bush,1 British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Queen Elizabeth's husband Prince Philip playing the Three Wise Men.
Actors Samuel L Jackson and Hugh Grant are among the shepherds, while Australian pop star Kylie Minogue is an angel.
The nativity scene, pictured in British newspapers on Wednesday, brought swift condemnation from religious organisations, with the Catholic Church calling it "certainly not in very good taste."
"Dear, oh dear," lamented a spokesman for the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Angican Church worldwide, while the Presbyterians were more blunt.
"The waxwork will cause offence to many, and it should be pulled down straight away," a spokesman told the Sun newspaper.
The Times newspaper also railed against the tableau as "uniquely tasteless."
"In the temporal realm, this is an example of the cult of celebrity taken to an absurd extreme. In the spiritual domain, the offence is more serious," it said in an editorial. [emphasis added]
It is always interesting to read the London Times when it speaks on matters spiritual.
Of course, I'm sure you're already familiar with the story if you haven't been in a coma, but I wanted to point up the role the media are playing in all this.
While the Toronto Star presents the Tussaud story to the public with the headline "'Pop' Nativity scene enrages Christian groups," Canada's Globe and Mail skates on thin ice. In the Entertainment section—where else?—is a little piece called "Lego my baby Jesus."
Baby Jesus looks like -- there's no other way of putting this -- two teeny propane-gas tanks stuck together, one of them with a happy face.
They are the work of a wonderfully unhinged young Californian Web designer, Brendan Powell Smith, who tells the traditional Christmas story . . . in Lego models. Models that Smith, fascinated by the Bible, builds using the famous Danish construction toy, then photographs with a digital camera.
But he's not irreverent, like those awful people at Tussaud's—
.... He has done all of Genesis. He's done the Crucifixion, which gave him a problem: Lego models have arms that move parallel to their little bodies but not out sideways, as in hanging on a cross.
And it's all okay. Michael Valpy writes—
So here it is Christmas. Each generation interprets and reinterprets the Christian nativity. Each generation's artists approach the subject seeking a new expression of the transcendent with which to cement the story with contemporary relevance.
And the scene where Angel Gabriel visits Mary with the Holy Ghost is not to be missed. Smith says, "I am telling these sacred stories, but with a sense of humour, and sort of playing out the parts that make people scratch their heads."
I know I've been scratching mine.
An alarmed citizen has taken the matter into his own hands. According to the BBC2—
Waxworks of Victoria and David Beckham dressed as Mary and Joseph in a nativity scene at Madame Tussauds have been damaged in an attack.
The London tourist attraction has removed them from display and closed off the controversial scene.
Church leaders and some members of the public have criticised the scene, which also has Kylie Minogue as the Angel.
A man in his 20s repeatedly punched the waxwork figures and fled into the street, the Sun newspaper reports.
A Tussauds spokeswoman said on Sunday night: "There was some damage caused to the figures of David and Victoria by a member of the public earlier today.
"The figures have been removed and the scene has been closed."
All this comes on the very day that the Britain's Religious Hatred bill was under debate in Parliament as to whether it should be sent to the Law Lords, Britain's highest judicial authority.
Late-breaking news: The Telegraph is reporting—
DAVID BLUNKETT is preparing to drop planned laws against inciting religious hatred in a major concession to critics tomorrow.
The Government will now concentrate on defending the core parts of the Bill, including powers to detain foreign terrorist suspects without a formal trial. Ministers say MPs do not realise that anyone detained can appeal to a closed court headed by a High Court judge. [emphasis added]
The Religious Hatred bill was opposed by everyone from the comedian Rowan Atkins to the evangelical Christians, who felt they still had some things they wanted to say about the Muslims. Now the British government can leave speech control for later. Instead it will concentrate on pushing through detention without trial.
Holy Holy War!
1 Presenting George Bush as a Wise Man alone is enough to condemn this exhibition to the Hall of Fame of Hellish Horrors, but I'm not aware of any media comment on this. When joined by Blair and Philip, you know we're talking blasphemy! [back]
Today, fatwas in Egypt are issued just about daily to forbid anything from the internet and satellite dishes to mobile phones and yoga.Can you believe those Muslims? Why don't they ban something that really needs banning—like irreverent crèches. [back]
Another reason I won't be supporting Hillary for President in 2008
.... the former first lady told WABC she favors "at least a visa ID, some kind of entry-and-exit ID. And ... perhaps, although I'm not a big fan of it, we might have to move towards an ID system even for citizens."
Yes, a national ID system will be necessary as the government "ramps up" its internal travel restrictions. The national ID will serve as your internal passport.
On NPR's Morning Edition ("Search Back on for Homeland Security Chief"), Cokie Roberts noted today that Bernard Kerik, the recently embarrassed ex-candidate for Homeland Security "czar," had had the full support of both Democratic New York Senators Clinton and Schumer.
Well, Rudy Giuliani is said to be on excellent terms with the Clintons. Why shouldn't they support his boy? After all, Kerik is from New York—or maybe New Jersey.
Sunday, December 12, 2004
Holy Holy War!
Has anyone noticed that Christmas is under attack? On Friday I put up Bill O'Reilly's wonderful Christmas nonsense as the Quote of the Day and thought we were done with it. Many's the time that O'Reilly has raved all by himself. Anyway, here's what he said—
You criticize anybody, you challenge anybody, then you are a bigot. And that's the — that's why nobody does it. That's why nobody sticks up for Christmas except me. Did Peter Jennings stick up for Christmas last night? I don't believe he did. How about Brian Williams, did he? Did Rather stick up for Christmas? How about Jim Lehrer — did he? Did Larry King — hello — I love Christmas — did he? No.
Weird, huh? It's as if Christmas were under attack!
But I had scarcely laid down my poison pen when I turned on the telly and arrived in the middle of the Charlie Rose show. There was this unctuous but vaguely familiar man talking about the Nativity. I thought Rose was doing an interview with a pastor of some sort. But no! It turns out "the preacher" was Jon Meacham, Managing Editor of Newsweek. And along with him was David Van Biema, who is a "religion writer" for Time.
As usual the two magazines have conspired to produce the same cover. And what might that be? Why, the Nativity!
Time takes us backstage with "Behind the First Noel." The cover tittilates us with Secrets of the Nativity: Why the story of Jesus' birth inspires so much scholarly interest — and faith. Newsweek teaches: The Birth of Jesus. Faith and History: How the Story of Christmas Came to Be. The Rose interview ended with Jon Meacham's quoting cryptically from the Bible, "Now I see but through a glass darkly, ..."
I too was beginning to see through a glass darkly.
The sudden and simultaneous discovery of Christmas by two of the nation's leading magazines induced the Indianapolis Star to write a piece about it. According to the Indy Star, here are some data "from a poll [Newsweek] took about people's beliefs concerning the Christmas story" that Newsweek thinks you should know—
- 84 percent of American adults consider themselves Christians.
- 82 percent see Jesus as God or the Son of God.
- 79 percent say they believe in the virgin birth.
- 67 percent think the Christmas story is historically accurate.
One Christmas story too many
Now on that last point there's a bit of a problem, since, as the Newsweek article notes, there are actually two Christmas stories and they don't agree. In an infallible reference work, this is considered bad form. In case you thought that noticing the obvious (Why, the emperor has no clothes!) was slightly sacriligious, not to mention unhealthy and abnormal, the Indystar's John Shaughnessy reassures us—
Raising these issues can be healthy for people of faith because it makes them examine their beliefs more deeply, University of Notre Dame theology professor Lawrence Cunningham told The Star.
"I don't think it's heretical, this idea of historical investigation," Cunningham says. "Those things are both good and helpful. They only become bad when people assert they can show things with rigid certainty.' [emphasis added]
I feel relieved, somehow, that scholars will still be permitted to study the matter. But I'm rigidly certain that the historical accounts don't agree, and I note the stern warning here—"they only become bad"—for those of us who might frighten the horses with our historical quibbles. Also, it may not be healthy for people who are not "of faith."
Shaughnessy closes with some words of wisdom from Time—
"Most Christmas worshippers, of course, are not currently focusing tightly on the Gospels' backstory," Time's article notes. "In this holiday season, they will be less interested in analyzing Matthew's message than in celebrating it, less concerned about parsing Luke's sentiments than in singing them."
And that's how we all should be. Deck the halls! ... Tra-la-la-la-lah!
But I just can't get over this rush to defend Christmas. What is going on?
As the IndyStar's Shaughnessy quoted in his intro—
"Throughout much of my life, there has been a diminishing public interest in religion," says Allen, 55, a professor of preaching and New Testament at Christian Theological Seminary.
"That has been changing over the past five to 10 years. That both of these national publications would take up the Christmas story is a recognition that religion is a deep and important part of our culture."
Is that it? I thought news magazines wrote about current events and near-history. So what is the "current event" that they think they're writing about? I'm getting the feeling that the topic might be headlined in their befeebled brains as "The triumph of Christianity."
When Jon Meacham spoke with what I took to be Anglican fervor on Charlie Rose, I knew we were way beyond the "cynical journalist" stereotype. Here was a true believer—who delivers up our news.
No wonder the pundits were asserting the importance of "moral values" in this election when in fact moral values had precious little to do with anything. Many members of the press have become Christianized and are actively promoting Christianity.
David Brooks and the Evangelical Pope
Consider David Brooks, a Jew. He begins a column titled "Who is John Stott?" by decrying the appearance of Jerry Falwell and Al Sharpton with Tim Russert.
Naturally, they got into a demeaning food fight that would have lowered the intellectual discourse of your average nursery school.
This is why so many people are so misinformed about evangelical Christians.... Falwell and Pat Robertson are held up as spokesmen for evangelicals, which is ridiculous.
They sure had me fooled.
So Brooks hastens to tell us what a "real" one is like—John Stott, who "if evangelicals could elect a pope, Stott is the person they would likely choose."
When you read Stott, you encounter first a tone of voice. Tom Wolfe once noticed that at a certain moment all airline pilots came to speak like Chuck Yeager. The parallel is inexact, but over the years I've heard hundreds of evangelicals who sound like Stott.
It is a voice that is friendly, courteous and natural. It is humble and self-critical, but also confident, joyful and optimistic.
Yep, I've heard that voice. They teach that voice in evangelist school.
Brooks admires Stott's uncompromising "backbone of steel"—
Stott is so embracing it's always a bit of a shock - especially if you're a Jew like me - when you come across something on which he will not compromise. It's like being in "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," except he has a backbone of steel.
And where does Stott draw the line?
He does not accept homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle, and of course he believes in evangelizing among nonbelievers. He is pro-life and pro-death penalty, even though he is not a political conservative on most issues.
And where does David Brooks draw the line? Apparently not at Stott's implied degradation of him as a "nonbeliever," someone who needs "evangelizing."
Most important, he does not believe truth is plural. He does not believe in relativizing good and evil or that all faiths are independently valid, or that truth is something humans are working toward. Instead, Truth has been revealed.
And Guess Who knows what that truth is!
It is not because we are ultra-conservative, or obscurantist, or reactionary or the other horrid things which we are sometimes said to be. It is rather because we love Jesus Christ, and because we are determined, God helping us, to bear witness to his unique glory and absolute sufficiency. In Christ and in the biblical witness to Christ God's revelation is complete; to add any words of our own to his finished work is derogatory to Christ.
So if you have any questions about anything, just ask.
The media are holy-rollering with the best of them, and I won't be surprised if before long someone writes a column "in tongues."
With all this Christian triumphalism in and from the media and with a war going on with the infidels, the need to "defend" Christmas is becoming a little clearer. We're in a Holy War.
This is a Holy War, however, on two fronts. There is also the home front, or perhaps better—the homeland front. Here the heathen are to be converted, not killed—at least for now. Crèches need to resume their rightful places on the courthouse lawns. The Ten Commandments need to go right along with the flag in the schoolhouse and courtroom. Pat Robertson1 has declared Kwanzaa to be a fraud. There will be none of this "Season's Greetings" falderole. We will have a "Merry Christmas." That's Christmas spelled with a C-h-r-i-s-t in it, do you hear?
So why should you care?
My concern, of course, is not with the Muslims or African Americans or Jews but the markets. This new pietism could wreck the best shopping season of the year. Dresses at J.C. Penney's are already at half-price and we're only halfway through the annual Thanksgiving-to-Christmas buying binge.
Santa Claus brings good little boys guns and toy soldiers and Evil Empire games. And he brings good little girls dolls and coloring books and paint sets and clothes. But would Jesus buy them these things?
If the media succeed in putting Christ back in Christmas, the collapse of the economy may be more imminent than even I had believed. You know, there are many fundamentalist Christians who do not believe in Santa Claus and would put him right there alongside evil witches and warlocks—a Devil's idle idol idyll.
The Christmas Spirit
When I was about eight, Santa gave me a chemistry set. I and my best friend—the minister's son—tried for weeks to build a bomb. It was fun. But only because we
Some hackers are having fun at the expense of broadcaster Pat Robertson, specifically with his new book, Six Steps to Spiritual Revival. Last Friday, Amazon quickly deleted the page's recommendations under "Customers who shopped for this item also shopped for these items" when it listed The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Men as one of the titles.But Robertson has had some good news too—
Mr. Pat, finally won its first race Friday. After several supporters complained that he was supporting gambling, Robertson promised he'd sell all of his horses by the end of November, but he still owns and races Mr. Pat, who has been a bit of a loser up to this point.
I just hope Mr. Pat is staying off the performance-enhancing drugs. [back]