faith, life, depression, struggle

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A good day for healing

Spurgeon's evening devotional for today sings to my soul ...

"Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed."
-- Jeremiah 17:14

"I have seen his ways, and will heal him."
- Isaiah 57:18

It is the sole prerogative of God to remove spiritual disease. Natural
disease may be instrumentally healed by men, but even then the honour
is to be given to God who giveth virtue unto medicine, and bestoweth
power unto the human frame to cast off disease.

Amen. There is no power to healing, no cure, but that the Lord Himself gives it power. I praise God that He grants healing even to the very sick in body, and I marvel at the times when I feel good in the midst of these cancer treatments -- small reminders of the omnipotent Lord's restorative work in creation, which will culminate when the Lord Jesus returns to claim His own and bring the new heaven and new earth to us.

As for spiritual
sicknesses, these remain with the great Physician alone; he claims it
as his prerogative, "I kill and I make alive, I wound and I heal;" and
one of the Lord's choice titles is Jehovah-Rophi, the Lord that healeth
thee. "I will heal thee of thy wounds," is a promise which could not
come from the lip of man, but only from the mouth of the eternal God.
On this account the psalmist cried unto the Lord, "O Lord, heal me, for
my bones are sore vexed," and again, "Heal my soul, for I have sinned
against thee." For this, also, the godly praise the name of the Lord,
saying, "He healeth all our diseases." He who made man can restore man;
he who was at first the creator of our nature can new create it.

Just as Job was not only healed of all his travails, but blessed richly in overabundance on the other side of his terrible trials, all of creation -- especially us human creatures who have been brought by faith to see that He is the King and Creator of all things, the Author and Finisher of salvation itself -- yearns for redemption. In my brokenness, I seek His healing power, knowing that whatever my prognosis, I will be made whole in Christ Jesus. And what joy that brings me even when I feel sick, weak, and exhausted. What joy to know Him, to love Him because He first loved me!

What a
transcendent comfort it is that in the person of Jesus "dwelleth all
the fulness of the Godhead bodily!" My soul, whatever thy disease may
be, this great Physician can heal thee. If he be God, there can be no
limit to his power. Come then with the blind eye of darkened
understanding, come with the limping foot of wasted energy, come with
the maimed hand of weak faith, the fever of an angry temper, or the
ague of shivering despondency, come just as thou art, for he who is God
can certainly restore thee of thy plague.

Whether I am to be healed of this cancer or it claims me in due time, I know in Whom I trust -- the Great Physician of my soul! He healed my broken heart and sin-fouled spirit by His strong right hand, gave my withered heart faith in the truth of His Word, and led me out of darkness into the brilliant light of His love and mercy. I rejoice in my God!

None shall restrain the
healing virtue which proceeds from Jesus our Lord. Legions of devils
have been made to own the power of the beloved Physician, and never
once has he been baffled. All his patients have been cured in the past
and shall be in the future, and thou shalt be one among them, my
friend, if thou wilt but rest thyself in him this night.
I think of the folks in the waiting room at the Regional Cancer Center, in the chemo infusion room, the wonderful nurses, doctors, PAs and office administrators who have in ways large and small been instruments of healing in my life and those of so many others who, like me, are on a journey with cancer for as long as it takes. Nothing easy about any of this, but oh, what ease to rest in the Lord this day. My heart is light in His boundlessly gracious hands. I am breathing. In Him, I am truly alive.

Photo (c) Ian Britton |

Now playing: Ennio Morricone - On Earth As It Is In Heaven
via FoxyTunes

Godspeed, Charley Reese

I am saddened to read Charley Reese's very last column today. One of my favorite columnists, Reese's long career as a journalist comes to a close as he officially retires after 49 years of ink-stained wretchedness.

Reese is a singular voice for individual liberties, for the Constitution that makes this country unique, for the rights of the little guy against the behemoth that government too often (always?) becomes. There was something very Midwestern about the gentleman's writing that greatly appealed to me. He never comes across as a scholar; he's one of us who understands what government encroachment looks and feels like out here in Flyover Country.

Reese called 'em like he saw 'em, period. He had no compunction about stepping on the toes of conservatives or liberals, Republicans or Democrats. If they're wrong, they're wrong, and Reese said as much. Reese's loyalty was to his country and his craft, above all, and that made everything he wrote worth reading. Without question, he sharpened my thinking -- "iron sharpening iron," as the Bible so perfectly expresses it. I am very grateful for Charley Reese's written output and will miss his voice terribly.

From what he's written recently, it's become apparent that his health is declining. With a full heart, I wish Mr. Reese and his family fully restored, good health and many years of peace and prosperity. You will be missed, Mr. Reese.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Nowhere to hide from our own

Face it: You have no privacy. Nor do I. If a government agent wants to place you under intensive surveillance, he can, regardless of whether there is probably cause to suspect you are up to no good. You are constantly being watched, and our surveillance society is little better than China's, Russia's, or Great Britain's, according to a new report from the UK's Privacy International and the US firm Electronic Privacy Information Center. Their 10th annual report states:

The US, the UK, China and Russia are "endemic surveillance societies", according to a recent study examining privacy protection around the world that gave the four nations the lowest possible rating.

The 10th annual report showed a global increase in surveillance and a decline in privacy safeguards during 2007, as concerns over immigration and border control continued to dominate national policy agendas.

The 2007 International Privacy Ranking, published by advocacy groups Privacy International of the UK and the Electronic Privacy Information Center in the US gave Britain the "black" or "endemic" ranking for the second year in a row.

After all the media analysis of China's crackdown on journalists and the Internet in conjunction with the Beijing Olympiad, this is just a tad bit humiliating. But such is what we've given up in our zeal to be "safe" from terrorism, a quixotic objective if ever there was one.

One of my favorite justifications for government surveillance is the old chestnut, "If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear." Even if that were true (and it isn't), even if it weren't a complete subversion of the Bill of Rights .... It's still the stuff of totalitarian regimes, not an allegedly Constitutional republic. But now we also know that the celebrated terrorist watch list is so unusable, so full of holes, than only the U.S. government could find it useful. As The Wall Street Journal reported on the government's badly flawed watch list and the expensive fix that made it worse, known as Railhead:

The government's main terrorist-watch-list system is hobbled by technology challenges, and the $500 million program designed to upgrade it is on the verge of collapse, according to a preliminary congressional investigation.

The database, which includes an estimated 400,000 people and as many as 1 million names, has been criticized for flagging ordinary Americans. Now, the congressional report finds that the system has problems identifying true potential terrorists, as well.

The New York Times summed it up nicely in an editorial:

The Bush administration is far too focused on pushing through new ways to spy on Americans — like the terrible F.B.I. guidelines that the Justice Department appears poised to approve. Railhead’s shocking deficiencies demonstrate that the administration’s first priority should be getting the nation’s terror-fighting infrastructure in order — and analyzing the data it already has.

I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Biden: The McCain Democrat

The verdict on Obama's choice of a running mate seems overwhelmingly positive from the Washington press corps, which is utterly unsurprising. Need a DC insider for the ticket so as not to scare K Street and the thinktank-American community? Joe Biden is your man. As's Justin Raimondo points out, Obama may have outdistanced McCain in the footrace to Biden:

Biden has been one of the War Party's most reliable servants, endorsing as "absolutely correct" then-President Clinton's attack on hapless Yugoslavia – like Iraq, another example of a war in which the "enemy" represented no danger to the U.S. and whose crimes were vastly overstated. This earned him the approbation of John McCain, who, on April 11, 1999, declared to Tim Russert on Meet the Press: "We need Joe Biden for secretary of state." An astounded Russert asked: "Is that an offer by President McCain?" McCain replied: "Absolutely!"

McCain wasn't joking, and his comments underscore the essential unity of Washington's bipartisan foreign policy consensus, which is firmly anchored in an interventionist outlook, a militarist mindset that assumes unlimited American power and a position of unchallenged preeminence. Yet reality – economic reality – is setting in, and even the most stalwart advocates of America's role as the world's policeman are losing their pretensions. Not, however, Sen. Biden, whose most recent noteworthy contribution to the Iraq war debate was a proposal to divide Iraq into three separate quasi-independent nations, one for each of the three main ethnic-religious factions. The problem is, he didn't bother consulting with the Iraqis before floating this idea, and the Iraqis were apoplectic.

Of course, Biden has been reading from the same page as the rest of the DC contingent where Russia and the former SSRs are concerned, ignoring Georgia's siege of South Ossetia in order to heap blame on Russia. As previously noted, Georgia is a democracy in name only, and South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Ajera all deserve self-determination as much as Georgia does -- whether acknowledged by the U.S. or not.

Perhaps more disastrous, though, is the missile shield agreement that will plant ballistics on Polish soil to deter the any-day-now nuclear attack from Iran or other rogue Middle Eastern regimes. Why Iran would want to, even if they had nukes, when the nuclear response from us would ensure the elimination of Iran from the face of the earth -- no one seems compelled to explain. No, we've got to have a deterrent located just west of Russia's border. No one in the Bush administration will admit it, but it's a direct provocation to Russia at a time when Russia is a) very worried about her future, given its rapidly declining demographic replacement rate, and b) particularly concerned about losing more ground to her west, particularly to voracious NATO.

Regardless of who wins in November, I'm not hopeful that our foreign policy in Central Asia and the Middle East will make any more sense than it does now.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bush's destructive path ...

Leave it to The Onion!

Spurgeon: Receiving by giving

One of the marvels of the Christian faith, to me, is its counterintuitive emphasis on giving, giving away, and finding freedom and blessing in doing so. It's a point Charles Spurgeon made beautifully in his "morning" devotional for today:

"He that watereth shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25

We are here taught the great lesson, that to get, we must give; that to
accumulate, we must scatter; that to make ourselves happy, we must make
others happy; and that in order to become spiritually vigorous, we must
seek the spiritual good of others. In watering others, we are ourselves
watered. How? Our efforts to be useful, bring out our powers for
usefulness. We have latent talents and dormant faculties, which are
brought to light by exercise. Our strength for labour is hidden even
from ourselves, until we venture forth to fight the Lord's battles, or
to climb the mountains of difficulty. We do not know what tender
sympathies we possess until we try to dry the widow's tears, and soothe
the orphan's grief. We often find in attempting to teach others, that
we gain instruction for ourselves. Oh, what gracious lessons some of us
have learned at sick beds!

I have discovered anew this year how truly weak I am, and that just as I was beginning to enjoy a newfound physical strength from pursuing a rigorous weight workout, changing my diet, etc. I wonder now if I wasn't falling into a trap of trusting my own illusory strength, and ignoring the real source of strength -- God. If this is the lesson I'm learning, then I learn it eagerly and thank God for it. Better to know the truth in weakness than to believe a lie in strength!

Fighting cancer, I have been blessed richly by the Spirit of God. Every time I've been to the cancer center for treatment, I've had an opportunity to pray for someone (sometimes with them), to share the joys of faith with other believers, to share encouragement, to feast in the Spirit. I have seen firsthand the power of God's grace moving through others and through me as we share, even in our shared weakness, the joy of calling Jesus Christ our Savior, our Author and Finisher, our Friend and Advocate. In sharing our very human weakness, we draw from His very divine power. And such joy in letting it pour forth from us!

I didn't know it was possible to feel such joy at such odd times until I let go of my desire for it, and sought to give to others. God is teaching me, in His Spirit, how to find it the only way we can -- by trusting and obeying, by knowing He loves all who love Him, by sharing that joy because there is no containing it. Knowing Him, loving Him, and giving whatever I can to all He brings across my path: There is no other way for me, and I rejoice in that!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The U.S. fritters away opportunity in Russia

Spengler, the Asian Times columnist, has a tremendous piece of analysis on how badly the U.S. has bungled leading up to and in response to the Russia-Georgia conflict. He does the one thing U.S. policymakers are consistently failing to do -- consider all this from Russia's point of view. To wit:

Russia intervened in Georgia to uphold the principle that anyone who holds a Russian passport - Ossetian, Akhbaz, Belorussian or Ukrainian - is a Russian. Russia's survival depends not so much on its birth rate, nor on immigration, nor even on prospective annexation, but on the survival of the principle by which Russia was built in the first place. That is why Putin could not abandon the pockets of Russian passport holders in the Caucusus. That Russia history has been tragic, and its nation-building principle brutal and sometimes inhuman, is a different matter. Russia is sufficiently important that its tragedy will be our tragedy, unless averted.

The place to avert tragedy is in Ukraine. Russia will not permit Ukraine to drift to the West. Whether a country that never had an independent national existence prior to the collapse of communism should become the poster-child for national self-determination is a different question. The West has two choices: draw a line in the sand around Ukraine, or trade it to the Russians for something more important.

Spengler notes that we have much, much more to gain from a strong alliance with Russia with relation to Iran and the Middle East than we do as a rival over the former western SSRs:

My proposal is simple: Russia's help in containing nuclear proliferation and terrorism in the Middle East is of infinitely greater import to the West than the dubious self-determination of Ukraine. The West should do its best to pretend that the "Orange" revolution of 2004 and 2005 never happened, and secure Russia's assistance in the Iranian nuclear issue as well as energy security in return for an understanding of Russia's existential requirements in the near abroad. Anyone who thinks this sounds cynical should spend a week in Kiev.

Russia has more to fear from a nuclear-armed Iran than the United States, for an aggressive Muslim state on its borders could ruin its attempt to Russify Central Asia. Russia's strategic interests do not conflict with those of the United States, China or India in this matter. There is a certain degree of rivalry over energy resources, but commercial rivalry does not have to turn into strategic enmity.

Not surprisingly, the neocons fail to see this, so busy are they refighting the Cold War. It's over. It's a new world. And if we are serious about checking Middle Eastern and Central Asian terrorists (something I sometimes doubt very seriously myself), we would do well to do what we can to help Russia survive its sharp demographic decline.

The illusion of homeland "security"

One of the big lies many Americans seem to believe is that we can make our nation absolutely impervious to all threats. That's not only false, of course -- it's insane. But it drives much of our homeland security policy, and it's not making us any safer, as a policy paper presented back in March by Ohio State University's John Mueller illustrates:

Policy discussions of homeland security issues are driven not by rigorous analysis but by fear, perceptions of past mistakes, pork-barrel politics, and insistence on an invulnerability that cannot possibly be achieved. It's time for a more analytic, threat-based approach, grounded in concepts of sufficiency, prioritization, and measured effectiveness....

Quite right. As Mueller points out, the number of targets -- especially in a nation this large -- is nearly infinite, and the odds of any one location being attacked approaches zero. It makes no sense at all to have long lists of potential targets, and worse, is a waste of time and money that is better used elsewhere.

Far more important than protection for the interconnected grid of infrastructure that keeps our nation running is resiliency, a concept John Robb hits repeatedly in his book Brave New War and at his blog. Resiliency is simply the ability to get back up and running after a breakdown, no matter what its cause. Aside from investments in infrastructure to help ensure resiliency (which would be wise investments), there is little to be done to protect the United States from terrorism. As international policy Veronique de Rugy pointed out in "The Case for Doing Nothing":

To conclude, it seems clear to me to me that in the current debate between the public, the airlines, industry lobbyists, Capitol Hill, security experts, defense contractors, or the White House, each of the players has his own agenda which often has nothing to do with security. No one is really trying to figure out what the actual risk is, what the optimal level of risk we are willing to live with is, how much cost and inconvenience is acceptable, and then what security measures achieve these tradeoffs efficiently. Instead, we are told that we should prepare for the worst and hope for the best no matter what the cost. It is bad policy, bad economics, and bad security.

We all live at risk every day of our lives; prioritizing risk is what enables us to function in a world that has never been and will never be safe -- from carjackers, from home-invasion robbers, or from terrorists. The worst thing we can do is to overreact out of irrational fear -- in other words, pretty much what we've been doing up to now, at enormous cost to our nation.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mindreading: New development in military research?

Not that anyone ever imagined the bad old days of MK-ULTRA and other CIA-military experiments in thought control were behind us ... But this direction in research certainly poses some scary possibilities for those of us who don't trust our government to obey its own laws. As the AP reports:

The U.S. military is paying scientists to study ways to read people's thoughts. The hope is that the research could someday lead to a gadget capable of translating the thoughts of soldiers who suffered brain injuries in combat or even stroke patients in hospitals.

But the research also raises concerns that such mind-reading technology could be used to interrogate the enemy.

Armed with a $4 million grant from the Army, scientists are studying brain signals to try to decipher what a person is thinking and to whom the person wants to direct the message.

I think we all know that this technology, should it ever come to fruition, would in fact be used not just to interrogate the enemy, but against anyone the government deems an "enemy" -- including its own citizens. After eight years of the Bush administration's shredding of the Fourth Amendment, only a fool would view such technology developments as benign.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Innocence not enough to open the jailhouse door

Truthout's Maya Schenwar is the latest I've seen to expose a disgraceful hole in our criminal justice system -- prisoners serving time for crimes the justice system has exonerated them from. These are not just those who have won appeals or convinced higher courts of the righteousness of their claim to a new trial; these are men and women who have been declared innocent by the courts after their initial convictions, but still await the slow wheel of justice to let them walk free.

Schenwar focuses upon one of the (relatively) better-known of these cases, that of 61-year-old former Black Panther Albert Woodfox, one of the three inmates who were subsequently tagged "the Angola 3." He's served 35 years in Angola, the notoriously tough Louisiana penitentiary, for the murder of a prison guard -- nearly all of it in solitary confinement, as have his colleagues. But Woodfox got great news -- or so he thought -- earlier this summer, as the Guardian's Helen Kinsella noted:

In June, a Louisiana magistrate recommended the reversal of the 61-year-old's conviction due to evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, inadequate representation, and racial discrimination, in his 1973 trial. That report, which found in favour of Woodfox on every claim that he made, was appealed by the state, but a federal judge rejected their appeal last month, approved the magistrate's ruling and overturned the conviction. That would, technically, set Woodfox free.

Except it didn't, as Louisiana's attorney general has filed repeated appeals of the magistrate's and U.S. district court judge's decision. Woodfox, effectively declared innocent by a federal judge, is nonetheless still behind bars, and there is no timeline for all the appeals prosecutors can file. Of course, the bureaucracy and red tape alone can slow the process of release indefinitely. As Schenwar reports:

For clients who do not or cannot "fight for themselves," an open-ended prison sentence may be inevitable, hinging on the whims of prosecutors and judges.

Another reason prisoners may stay incarcerated when they should be released: Legal statutes on sentencing change often and quickly, and sometimes a prisoner's release date is simply computed wrong, according to Rene Aucoin, a New England journalist who has followed the matter closely.

"Say you were arrested in 1993 and the statutes mandated that you serve 75 percent of your sentence. Say the statutes were changed and/or new statutes created so that the law mandates inmates serve 85 percent of their sentence. By the time your release/parole date is near, the statutes have been changed again, and since you were convicted so long ago and have been incarcerated through several changes in legal statutes, no one remembers how the original law worked," Aucoin told Truthout.

Fortunately, concerned citizens are putting the pressure on the Louisiana attorney general to do the right thing.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Georgia vs. Russia in the broader scope

Whether we like it or not, there is no separating what is going on now in Georgia/South Ossetia/Abkhazia from the war on terror. A map of the region tells you why, to a certain extent: Georgia is bordered by Turkey on the south, and the shifting alliances of central Asia and the Middle East lie just beyond both Georgia's and Russia's southern doorstep. So the line we're getting fed by the White House and mainstream media on this one is, once again (ever again), simplistic to the extreme and all the more dangerous for it.

Does it strike anyone else as a little hypocritical for the U.S. to be make stark warnings to the Russians after our interventions in the Balkans, to say nothing of our invasion and ongoing occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq? I'm by no means whitewashing what the Russians are doing, or what the Georgians have done leading up to this. But Pat Buchanan makes the right points, as usual:

American charges of Russian aggression ring hollow. Georgia started this fight – Russia finished it. People who start wars don't get to decide how and when they end.

Russia's response was "disproportionate" and "brutal," wailed Bush.

True. But did we not authorize Israel to bomb Lebanon for 35 days in response to a border skirmish where several Israel soldiers were killed and two captured? Was that not many times more "disproportionate"?

Russia has invaded a sovereign country, railed Bush. But did not the United States bomb Serbia for 78 days and invade to force it to surrender a province, Kosovo, to which Serbia had a far greater historic claim than Georgia had to Abkhazia or South Ossetia, both of which prefer Moscow to Tbilisi?

Is not Western hypocrisy astonishing?

Spiked Online's Brendan O'Neil makes this point eloquently in his column this week. Once again, our intervention isn't helping matters one bit, and is poised to invite yet more blowback from ill-considered (or unconsidered) consequences:

The problem with this fairytale script that is being cut-and-pasted on to the horrendous massacres of people in South Ossetia and Georgia is that it is almost entirely wrong. Georgia is no free-spirited, democratic republic, but an increasingly authoritarian regime that bans overly critical media outlets and criminalises opposition parties (4). Russia is acting not from an imperialist, expansionist standpoint but out of desperation, behaving recklessly because it feels its sovereign authority challenged by numerous ex-Soviet republics.

And, most importantly, far from Western involvement being the solution in Georgia, there has already been far too much of it: Washington’s arming, goading and cajoling of former Soviet republics has intensified instability across the Caucasus and Central Asia and around the rim of one of the most populous, powerful nations on Earth: Russia.

Russia gave us a stark warning when we recognized Kosovo as a sovereign state in February that we were setting a precedent we'd come to regret. This, of course, is the very Kosovo whose KLA has been named a terrorist group -- and to whom we will give $348 million in aid this year. Same old contradictory-at-ever-turn Washington foreign policy. As a New York Times story from back in February noted:

But in Moscow, the upper and lower houses of Parliament released a joint statement signaling an intention to recognize at least two Russian-backed separatist areas in the former Soviet Union — Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both in Georgia.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia have announced their intention to seek recognition as independent states. Russia has already granted citizenship to most residents of both enclaves and had hinted that it might recognize their independence if Western countries recognized Kosovo.

“The right of nations to self-determination cannot justify recognition of Kosovo’s independence along with the simultaneous refusal to discuss similar acts by other self-proclaimed states, which have obtained de facto independence exclusively by themselves,” the Russian Parliament’s statement read.

Thus, more blowback from our completely unwarranted meddling in the Balkans in the mid-1990s. (Yes, I know -- "war crimes." They occurred on both sides. None of it rose to the level of what has happened in the years since in the Congo and Sudan, and to date no one in the West has lifted a military finger to address those situations.)

Now, the War on Terror, as usual, connects here as well, in obvious and subtle ways. As O'Neil points out:

The impact of what we might term Washington’s ‘emotional occupation’ of the former Soviet republics – its celebration of these states as ‘beacons of liberty’ in the East and brave warriors in the global ‘war on terror’ – has been twofold. First, it has given a blank cheque to isolated, opportunistic, sometimes illegitimate rulers in the former Soviet republics to crack down on their political opponents and media critics. In Georgia and Uzbekistan in particular, both of which have been granted new post-Soviet purpose as frontline states in America’s ‘war on terror’, increasingly dictatorial rulers have taken Washington’s political and military backing as a green light to preserve their power by any means necessary.
How many times has the U.S. gotten into bed with tinpot dictators in a global game of Risk and had it come back to bite us on the ass? And how does it make sense for us to antagonize Russia at a time when our military is stretched to the breaking point in the Middle East and Central Asia? Do we really want Russia to take an interest in those conflicts, perhaps by funneling arms to our enemies?

Georgia started this, with our blessing and prodding, even. Russia reacted, however disproportionately. We would be wise to play a small role, if wanted, in helping to resolve this peacefully, acknowledging that South Ossetia and Abkhazia (as well as Ajaria) have the right to secede, and recognize them when they do. We're in no position to demand anything of Russia, and they know it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

External threats = internal harmony?

Fascinating research from Stanford University and the University of British Columbia seems to point to calamity and disaster as grand unifiers of national identity and purpose across all other lines. The lead researcher, Paul Davies of Stanford University, got the idea for this study in the immediate aftermath of 9/11:

On September 11, 2001, Paul Davies was a post-doctoral fellow at Stanford University working on the psychology of intergroup relations. As military jets escorted passenger airliners from the skies in the hours after terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and in the air over Pennsylvania, Davies realized that all around him the interactions between people had shifted dramatically.

"The world changed instantaneously," he says. "Foreigner became synonymous with enemy. There was all this animosity directed towards any foreigner, and at the same time there was an extraordinary outpouring of brotherly love within America. We had this paradox that 9/11 led to intergroup harmony inside the United States while leading to intergroup conflict outside the United States."

I've long wondered about this, so it's interesting to see research that apparently bears it out. I don't think it's uniquely American, either -- it's how Shiites and Sunnis reach across centuries of bitter rivalry to make common cause against enemies, real or perceived (not that there's necessarily that much of a difference between the two).

Davies draws a distinction between domestic and foreign threats (thus, the response following the Columbine High School shootings was far different from the post-9/11 environment), but I have to wonder if scale isn't at least as telling a factor. Granted, there was no "enemy" to speak of, but the aftermath of the South Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast speaks to the willingness of individuals to pitch in and help however they can, even going to extraordinary lengths to do so.

The release from UBC concludes:

"During a period of national challenge, embracing one's national identity can be highly adaptive," Davies says. "The healing power of embracing one's national identity was obvious among the 78 percent of Americans who indicated, in 2002, that 9/11 and its aftermath has changed America for the better. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is that calamity can unite people in a way that shared humanity cannot."
I think that's very true. We've all seen images and heard the narratives of a real unity in the U.S. during the Great Depression and World War II, and while I have no doubt that some of that narrative is manufactured (black Americans and Native Americans may have a thing or two to say about that, I'd imagine!), there is still some truth to it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Commenting on a piece by liberal journalist Robert Frank, the Independent Institute's Robert Higgs makes the case for an essential piece of illogic in modern liberal and conservative thinking:

In a touchingly partisan recent essay titled “Follow This Dime,” progressive writer Thomas Frank indicts the federal government under Bush for its having cordially invited and lavishly rewarded corruption by conservative wheeler-dealers: “The ruination they have wrought has been thorough; it has been a professional job.” I have no quarrel with Frank’s characterization of the present federal government and its corporate cronies as utterly, shamelessly corrupt.

Yet, the touching part is the naïveté of Frank’s interpretation and the conclusions he draws from his observations. In perfect progressive pitch, he sings: “We behold the majestic workings of the free market itself, boring ever deeper into the tissues of the state.” What he has identified, however, is not the free market, but the very antithesis of the free market; it is classic economic fascism.

Because he has misdiagnosed the illness, he naturally prescribes a remedy that not only will fail to effect a cure, but will only cause the pathogen to penetrate more deeply into the state’s tissues. Having railed against the “ruination they [the conservative politicos and their corporate co-conspirators] have wrought,” he declares: “Repairing it will require years of political action.” Fancy that: politicians are manifestly corrupt; bring on more politicians to fix this mess.

Now, I'm quick to add that corruption is hardly foreign to the marketplace. That's why there is such a thing as government regulation (or at least one reason). The problem is that the pendulum inevitably swings toward government, but never swings back. Thus, government gets bigger, ever bigger, and the very corruption we'd all like to see stamped out is subsumed into the system itself.

Frank is a good writer, but an utter partisan; he imagines that corporate interests and government muscle didn't collide until the GOP assumed power with the Bush administration. In a word: hilarious. One more word: wrong. Human nature being utterly corrupt, it should come as no surprise that large groups of people engaged in a set of similar activities will magnify that corruption.

Of course, the other big lie is a Republican one -- "It'll all get paid for down the road." Thus, we can build nations for other people, and their oil will pay the tab. We can have tax cuts, but without reducing the size and scope of the federal government. And so on.

I've never been a member of either party, and never will be. Not a holier-than-them thing; I just don't agree with the power-hungry instincts that both major parties continuously exhibit. And I have no illusions that a more vibrant third party (of whatever denomination) wouldn't fall victim to the same trap. I'm no pure libertarian, but I tend to agree with them on this: Until some mechanism for truly reducing the size of the federal government is developed and imposed, there is no reason to buy into the purported vision of any political party.

NATO: Our imperial military arm

With the current war in Georgia, it's a good time to reflect on where we'd be if that former Soviet republic had indeed already joined NATO, as the U.S. has been advocating. Simply put, we'd be under enormous pressure to send troops and materiel to support the Georgian military, and we'd probably be going it alone, yet again. (Georgia is expected to become a NATO member in 2009, so this is hardly mere speculation.) As the Wikipedia entry on Georgia states:

Georgia is currently working to become a full member of NATO. In August 2004, the Individual Partnership Action Plan of Georgia was submitted officially to NATO. On October 29, 2004, the North Atlantic Council of NATO approved the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) of Georgia and Georgia moved on to the second stage of Euro-Atlantic Integration. In 2005, by the decision of the President of Georgia, a state commission was set up to implement the Individual Partnership Action Plan, which presents an interdepartmental group headed by the Prime Minister. The Commission was tasked with coordinating and controlling the implementation of the Individual Partnership Action Plan. On February 14, 2005, the agreement on the appointment of Partnership for Peace (PfP) liaison officer between Georgia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization came into force, whereby a liaison officer for the South Caucasus was assigned to Georgia. On March 2, 2005, the agreement was signed on the provision of the host nation support to and transit of NATO forces and NATO personnel. On March 6-9, 2006, the IPAP implementation interim assessment team arrived in Tbilisi. On April 13, 2006, the discussion of the assessment report on implementation of the Individual Partnership Action Plan was held at NATO Headquarters, within 26+1 format.[39] In 2006, the Georgian parliament voted unanimously for the bill which calls for integration of Georgia into NATO. The majority of Georgians and politicians in Georgia support the push for NATO membership. Currently, it is expected that Georgia will join NATO in 2009.

But this is still 2008. Thank heavens for small favors.

Contrary to much of the shallow reporting I've seen on this war, Georgia is no innocent suddenly besieged by the (former) Red Army. Mikhail Saakashvili, the president of Georgia, is a tyrant, pure and simple, who has shut down the opposition press, banned regional political parties, and fought an ongoing (if lowkey) war against South Ossetia and Abkhazia since both were given independence in 1991. As's Justin Raimondo notes:

That's what Western reporters aren't telling their readers: the South Ossetians (and the Abkhazians) have had de facto independence since 1991, when they rose up against their "democratic" central government, which had banned regional parties from participating in elections. They beat back the Georgian army, which, nonetheless, inflicted a lot of casualties and damage. A low-level war has been in progress ever since, with Saakashvili and his ultra-nationalist party using the rebels as a foil to divert attention from their repressive domestic policies and Georgia's sad status as an economic basket case.

Yes, that's right -- they've been recognized as independent by Russia since the breakup of the Soviet Union, but Georgia had territorial designs on both. Standing guard at the Memory Hole, Spiked Online's Brendan O'Neil has similar thoughts:

The problem with this fairytale script that is being cut-and-pasted on to the horrendous massacres of people in South Ossetia and Georgia is that it is almost entirely wrong. Georgia is no free-spirited, democratic republic, but an increasingly authoritarian regime that bans overly critical media outlets and criminalises opposition parties (4). Russia is acting not from an imperialist, expansionist standpoint but out of desperation, behaving recklessly because it feels its sovereign authority challenged by numerous ex-Soviet republics.

And, most importantly, far from Western involvement being the solution in Georgia, there has already been far too much of it: Washington’s arming, goading and cajoling of former Soviet republics has intensified instability across the Caucasus and Central Asia and around the rim of one of the most populous, powerful nations on Earth: Russia.

Now, aside from the Machiavellian concerns of oil and regional influence, what is the difference between Russia's military action in these breakaway republics and our own in the former Yugoslavia? After all, we bombed a nation that hadn't ever attacked us, based largely on utterly false claims of genocide. (There were most certainly atrocities committed by all sides, but the blame has fallen heaviest on Serbia.) What is Russia doing now that we didn't do then? But oh, the philippics of condemnation being heaved at Russia now from the Bush administration and both parties' nominees-apparent ...

I'm not about to paint the Russians as saviors of independence movements, but it's very hard for me to get too upset over the Russian incursion. After all, Georgia has eagerly sent its troops into South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Ajaria (a breakaway southwestern province). It seems that the imperial impulse is common to every nation, and of course is the impulse most to be countered aggressively at every turn. Three Georgian republics have been clamoring for independence since 1991. If an independent Kosovo was a net good (I'd argue with that, but it seems to be the consensus), why can't these three burgeoning nations have exactly the same thing?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A nice Olympic moment in the face of a new war

Georgia, Russia, shooting -- doesn't sound like a recipe for a moment of unity and generosity of spirit, but that's what happened at the end of the women's 10-meter air pistol event in Beijing, as the BBC reports, Russian Natalia Paderina and Georgian Nino Salukvadze shared a tender moment on the medal stand:

The competitors - who were once team-mates in the former Soviet Union - hugged and kissed each other on the cheeks after the dramatic final in the Beijing shooting range hall.
The two shooters reminded us all of what the Olympics can be about in its best moments:

"It was nice that Natalia Paderina came up to me after and gave me a handshake. Yesterday I thought the Georgian Olympic team might withdraw.

"It's a small victory for my people," [Salukvadze] said, looking at Paderina and adding: "When it comes to sports we will always remain friends and nothing will effect our friendship - even in such a scary event as shooting."

Silver medal winner Paderina said: "We are friends indeed. We've been shooting together for a long time. ..."

Now that Georgian troops are apparently withdrawing from South Ossetia (with fighting continuing in Abkhazia), a ceasefire is appearing more likely. What remains to be seen past the fighting (assuming it's drawing to a close, and I pray it is) is whether Russia will demand a redraw of the map. Salukvadze may find her Georgia that emerges from this to be a significantly smaller nation, depending on Russia's moves from here on out.

The special nature of creation

Yeah, I used the "C-word." Not to anger anyone, but I do believe God created the entire universe, and while I continue to struggle to understand how Genesis 1-3 and the amazing wealth of knowledge science has revealed about our world and our universe all fit together, I go back to point #1 every time: God created it all.

One of the arguments against that idea, advanced not by science but by the philosophy based upon it (scientific materialism), is that our world and solar system really isn't unique. It can't be. Indeed, that's a largely necessary conclusion of a fully evolutionary view -- without that precept, we're left with the same old questions of "why us, why here, why then"?

So this report in Science doesn't settle any arguments (nor could it be expected to), but it does potentially open those questions back up to scientists on a grand scale. As it turns out:

Prevailing theoretical models attempting to explain the formation of the solar system have assumed it to be average in every way. Now a new study by Northwestern University astronomers, using recent data from the 300 exoplanets discovered orbiting other stars, turns that view on its head.

The solar system, it turns out, is pretty special indeed. The study illustrates that if early conditions had been just slightly different, very unpleasant things could have happened -- like planets being thrown into the sun or jettisoned into deep space.

The precise tensions to which our solar system is tuned are very meaningful. If all of this came about by sheer chance (via forces acting on matter), then it should be happening somewhere else, and on a considerable scale. But this Northwestern University computer model, having completed the largest-ever computer simulation of how planets form. The study further found:

Using large-scale computer simulations, the Northwestern researchers are the first to model the formation of planetary systems from beginning to end, starting with the generic disk of gas and dust that is left behind after the formation of the central star and ending with a full planetary system. Because of computing limitations, earlier models provided only brief glimpses of the process.

The researchers ran more than a hundred simulations, and the results show that the average planetary system's origin was full of violence and drama but that the formation of something like our solar system required conditions to be "just right."

Again, people on both sides of this debate, such as it is, will be unmoved by this development. For me and other creationists (although I'm not of the six-day variety, so there's no club here!), this confirms God's role and place as Creator. For atheists, agnostics, and non-Christians, it simply confirms how precise conditions must be for a system like ours to develop -- and perhaps shows why we haven't found any other planets like ours, in terms of bearing life as we understand it.

I recall watching a nature program on TV a few years back about animal migrations. One of the featured creatures was the African river martin, a bird that exhibits glorious large-flock flights when it migrates. At times, the massive, twisting column appears to bend around itself, much like the double helix of DNA:

I think the design once again implies a Designer, and that Designer is God. And that God has a sense of wonder at His own work; after all, He keeps pronouncing it "good" throughout Genesis 1 and 2. He also has a sense of humor and beauty (which is where we get ours, too, as image-bearers of our Creator, however sullied by sin's destruction). I thank Him for river martins and rain, for cats and dogs, for people and plants, for this special place we all call home.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Sin's insanity and horror: more on Holodomor

I read somewhere that the Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer once figured that if he had one hour to present the entire Gospel before he died, he'd spend 45 minutes talking about sin and its destruction, and the last 15 minutes talking about Jesus Christ, the One who nailed sin and its destruction to the cross -- and we who love Him and follow Him will know, one day when He returns, what it is to live with our author and shepherd in a new world free of sin.

I find it tragic that Christianity in the United States (and Europe, in those pockets where it still hangs on) has run from the Biblical understanding of sin. We love to minimize our own evils, or pretend that we share no guilt with those who have committed great evils. Oh, but we are terribly, terribly guilty, each of us. As Paul, drawing from Old Testament Scripture, reminds us in Rom. 3:

"None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one."
"Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive."
"The venom of asps is under their lips."
"Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness."
"Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known."
"There is no fear of God before their eyes."
-- Rom. 3:10b-18 (ESV)
This is the natural human condition. This is how the ordinary Hutu can pick up a machete, hack his neighbors to death, then go home and eat, as happened so often in Rwanda in 1994. This is how ordinary Germans become Nazis. It's how American soldiers accept their government's policy of forcibly moving and killing Native Americans repeatedly in the 19th century. On and on and on and on.

One of those "ons" is what happened in the Ukraine in 1932-33 -- often called the "Great Famine," an accurate term that is nonetheless incomplete. The Ukrainians call the Great Famine of 1932-33 "Holodomor" -- "the Hunger."I think that gets to the street level of what happened. They are still trying to get what Stalin and the Soviet state did in those two years recognized as a genocide. As the (London) Daily Mail's Simon Sebag Montefiore wrote last week about this nightmare of evil, it's a massive crime against humanity regardless of whether the "G-word" applies:

Millions starved as Soviet troops and secret policemen raided their villages, stole the harvest and all the food in villagers' homes.

They dropped dead in the streets, lay dying and rotting in their houses, and some women became so desperate for food that they ate their own children.

If they managed to fend off starvation, they were deported and shot in their hundreds of thousands.

So terrible was the famine that Igor Yukhnovsky, director of the Institute of National Memory, the Ukrainian institution researching the Holodomor, believes as many as nine million may have died.

Stalin of course engineered this deliberate starvation of his own people, but he learned from his master, the murderous V.I. Lenin. As Montefiore notes:

Lenin's hatred of the peasantry became clear when a famine occurred in Ukraine and southern Russia in 1921, the inevitable result of the chaos and upheaval of the Revolution.

With his bloodthirsty loathing for all enemies of the Revolution, he said 'Let the peasants starve', and wrote ranting notes ordering the better-off peasants to be hanged in their thousands and their bodies displayed by the roadsides.

Lest we get too far lost in the numbers -- as even Stalin noted, "The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic" -- Montefiore relates some eyewitness accounts of this mass murder:

'The peasants ate dogs, horses, rotten potatoes, the bark of trees, anything they could find,' wrote one witness Fedor Bleov.

By summer 1932, Fred Beal, an American radical and rare outside witness, visited a village near Kharkov in Ukraine, where he found all the inhabitants dead in their houses or on the streets, except one insane woman. Rats feasted on the bodies.

Beal found messages next to the bodies such as: 'My son, I couldn't wait. God be with you.'

One young communist, Lev Kopolev, wrote at the time of 'women and children with distended bellies turning blue, with vacant lifeless eyes.

'And corpses. Corpses in ragged sheepskin coats and cheap felt boots; corpses in peasant huts in the melting snow of Vologda [in Russia] and Kharkov [in Ukraine].'

Cannibalism was rife and some women offered sexual favours in return for food.
There are horrific eye-witness accounts of mothers eating their own children.
Thus communism, the most murderous ideology our planet has yet seen.

And lest we think -- "we" including "me" here -- that we're not the sort who would engage in such brutality, let us Americans not forget our own history. To say nothing of every other human being on the face of the planet.

Why does God hate sin? Because of what we, as sinners, necessarily do out of sinful hearts. As Jesus Christ taught:

"You have heard that it was said to those of old 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
So profound. We are to be peacemakers, and peace starts in the heart -- just as murder begins with anger. So important was this teaching that Jesus instructed His listeners, and us, even to leave aside our offerings -- for us, our prayers -- and make peace first, then return to offering to God.

Sin: So terrible, God incarnate had to pay the price for all those He would redeem. And he did that through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ -- the only way to escape sin's judgment and punishment, the only way to God.

Instead, we are swift to shed blood, and in our paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace we have not known. There is no fear of God before our eyes.

And on and on and on and on.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Some shared thoughts on the Georgia-Russia war

Georgia and Russia are in the early stages of war -- with concerned calls for a cease-fire coming from all corners. As Foreign Policy blogger Joshua Keating reports:

Georgia's president Mikheil Saakashvili, a key U.S. ally in the Caucasus, is calling for American aid but I have to assume it's next to impossible that the United States would sent troops into a messy civil war where they would be facing the Russia military. FP author Jon Sawyer's warning is proving prescient.
BTW, that piece he refers to by Jon Sawyer covered Saakashvili's mistaken impression that the U.S. would support any provocative action he took against Russia. Sawyer's point, of course, is that he's crazy -- no way the U.S. sends troops into what is more-or-less a civil war that involves the Russian military, which is still very formidable. As he wrote in October 2006 (registration required):

The relationship, prickly since the breakup of the former Soviet Union, took a sharp turn for the worse in late September, when Georgia arrested four Russian soldiers for alleged spying and threatened to block Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization. Russia responded with a ham-fisted crackdown on all things Georgian, cutting off trade and telecommunications to the country and deporting planeloads of Georgian citizens.

A very close friend is a freelancer who does research and coordinates presentations for a major defense contractor, specifically on the former Soviet republics of the west and the various 'stans throughout Central Asia, her bailiwick. We've been e-mailing back and forth today on the developing conflict, and she's offered some excellent insights. I share here with her permission:

Georgia is calling on NATO for back up, which they won't get, and we have folks in there but I doubt they will get much more than that, since it is all trainer types who will probably be recalled. However, we have major strategic interests there, as does Europe, so...hmmm. And then if fighting spreads outside of Ossetia...the Georgians are tough people and their sense of nationalism is really strong. Their military has been built up and they have experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, but Russia has experience in Chechnya. Russia has not updated their military like they should but they are wealthier. They sure have had a rotten time in Chechnya, though. I'd hate to see a proxy war in Ga, US vs. Rus. Turkey also HATES Rus and does NOT want to see pipelines interrupted, neither does Azerbaijan...that Turkey hatred is longstanding and they are friendly with Georgia, interestingly enough.

Germany is kissing Rus ass for energy, as they are heavily dependent on them (ex Chancellor Schroeder and Puty-Put are best buds), but other nations are not so keen. Angela Merkel grew up in E Germany and is not so keen on Russia, though--would like more independence from them. France is nuclear and really pissy over Chechnya (why? maybe b/c of large Muslim pop) and not Rus friendly. Let's not even talk about UK and their feelings toward the Bear. Most E Bloc countries not friendly to Rus and this is a bit too much like the Hungary 56 and Czech/Slovak thing 68. Bad memories.

I guess we'll just see. Needless to say, a lot of analysts with better intelligence than me will be briefing W, Obama, and McCain.

A bit later, she offered more:

Schroeder left office with a multi-million euro deal to take a job in a Russo oil company...highly controversial at the time, but it didn't stop him and I am not sure where he is living at the time. Interestingly, while in office he made a deal with the aforesaide Russo oil companies to build an oil pipeline overland thru above Ukraine (they are soooo uncooperative, REALLY) and through Latvia and Belarus (I bet their oil prices fell dramatically) and through Kaliningrad (HIV rate through the roof, ships rotting in the harbor, drugs exchanged daily) and then under the sea directly to Germany's north ports. Wow, how about that?

So Ukraine is screwed, and split in half (E part looks E and is Orthodox, W part looks W and is Catholic) and is now paying out the yang for oil from Russ.

However, Belarus is so freaking poor and their economy is still so controlled and centralized that when they asked to rejoin Russia, Puty said "nyet". Gees Louise. They just haven't gotten it yet in their gov't to TRY the capitalist thing. I think they go back and forth with N Korea in a bad cha cha for the worst in press freedoms in the annual "shittiest govt" poll by Freedom House and all the other folks. Sigh.
FP's Keating concludes with a trenchant point:
However this ends, Georgia's bid to join NATO is now effectively dead. In that sense, Russia has already won and the months of ratcheting up the pressure in the breakaway province seem to have paid off.
Georgia miscalculated badly on this one. How this all shakes out, though, is anybody's guess.

North Carolina ramps up road checks

Predictably enough, immigrant activists are not happy that the state highway patrol is revving up checkpoints along state roads today. The purpose of the checkpoints, as always, is nailing drunk drivers (a good thing!) and other moving violations, not "your papers, please." But activists are correct that those arrested could face deportation.

I do have sympathy -- a lot of it, actually -- for those who come here illegally. They risk a lot, work hard, long to live the American dream. The problem is, of course, that they come here illegally. That limits my sympathy, particularly since many come here legally, which requires jumping through some hoops. I want these people reward indirectly by being differentiated, not indirectly scorned by scofflaws, however well intentioned illegals are. Breaking the law should never be rewarded, no matter who does it -- and our immigration laws are there for a reason, obviously.

Raleigh Police Sgt. Robert Strickland puts it well:

Raleigh Police Sgt. Robert Strickland, who is organizing a separate checkpoint, said Raleigh officers do not plan to jail those committing simple traffic violations such as driving without a license.

"We have too many things going on to be taking everybody to jail who doesn't have a license," Strickland said.

But Strickland said those committing more serious crimes will be jailed regardless of immigration status. Of the panic the event caused, Strickland said, "If they're panicked and they're concerned about what's going to happen, then they shouldn't be driving."
I understand the fears of immigrants and activists who advocate on their behalf. But their fears should be at least somewhat well-founded; they've broken the law. Our borders and ports need protection, and our laws regarding immigration need to be enforced -- humanely, respectfully, but enforced nonetheless.

If all this contributes to an impetus to self-deportation, that's a net good. This needs to happen in tandem with some form of national immigration reform, and that's a complex issue for another post (or ten). But drunk drivers, regardless of their citizenship status, need to be stopped, and checkpoints help in that regard. As for deportation, let the chips fall where they may. If I went to Mexico, drove drunk, was arrested, I would expect exactly the same (along with some rather severe treatment, possibly bribery solicitation, from the notoriously corrupt Mexican police).

A cup o' joe -- to your health!

The New York Times' Jane Brody nicely sums up what we know about the total health picture surrounding coffee. I'm raising a cup now, with a smile on my face! Brody notes:

Recent disease-related findings can only add to coffee’s popularity. A review of 13 studies found that people who drank caffeinated coffee, but not decaf, had a 30 percent lower risk of Parkinson’s disease.

Another review found that compared with noncoffee drinkers, people who drank four to six cups of coffee a day, with or without caffeine, had a 28 percent lower risk of Type 2 diabetes. This benefit probably comes from coffee’s antioxidants and chlorogenic acid.

If I were where you are now, I'd buy you a cup.

Drug war: Will attack on Maryland mayor's home wake people up?

What happened to Berwyn Heights, Md., Mayor Cheye Calvo is a familiar scenario in the seemingly endless government abuses of the war on drugs: County and state police SWAT team busts in unannounced, terrorizes the family, kills the dogs (because even though these guys are Kevlar'd out the wazoo and heavily armed, the family dogs represent a threat to their safety, don't-cha know), and -- assuming they have the right address in the first place -- refuses to give information, lies about the warrant, and refuses to apologize when it's beyond obvious to everyone with a functioning brain that they were wrong, wrong, wrong and damned jackbooted about it, to top it off.

If you haven't followed this story, here's the nutshell: a Prince George's County mayor returns home from walking his dogs. Mother-in-law's in the kitchen making dinner. FedEx package dropped off; turns out it contains marijuana. SWAT team swarms, terrorizes everyone, forces mother-in-law and mayor into the floor after handcuffing roughly, and kills the two Labrador retrievers as they're retreating from the action. What courage!

Turns out that the package landed on the mayor's front stoop because his wife's identity was stolen and used by a drug-dealing ring, among which was a FedEx deliverymen. So, you'd expect Prince George's County Police Chief Melvin C. High to issue an immediate apology and announce an investigation into what went wrong, wouldn't you? You'd be wrong. Fortunately, the FBI is investigating, although I'm not hopeful this will change anything in Berwyn Heights, Prince George's County, or anywhere else.

What may change matters is increased media focus on the government's ongoing Constitutional abuses under the rubric of the war on drugs. Ordinary citizens getting shot and killed, having their Fourth Amendment rights trampled under jackboot, their homes ransacked, and no apologies forthcoming if the police are wrong ... all that doesn't matter. (In fact, the police are sometimes even commended for being completely in the wrong, as happened in Minneapolis recently.) But if it happens to a public official, it can become a scandal. That's often what it takes, although even that isn't enough sometimes (especially if the idiotic TSA is involved).

So, at least these no-knock, unannounced raids by black-suited SWAT team members who often forget to announce that they're police work to bring drug dealers down, right? Uh, no. As the Denver newspaper The Rocky Mountain News reported in 2000, of the 146 no-knock raids performed in the Denver area in 1999, only 49 resulted in charges being filed, and only two -- TWO -- resulted in conviction and sentencing, and the longest sentence handed down was a mere 5 years.

Now, about those dogs ... I had to laugh in disgust at this, from The Washington Post's coverage:

Sgt. Mario Ellis, a Sheriff's Office spokesman, said the deputies who entered Calvo's home "apparently felt threatened" by the dogs.

"We're not in the habit of going to homes and shooting peoples' dogs," Ellis said. "If we were, there would be a lot more dead dogs around the county."

Liar. They are in that habit, and there are a lot more dead dogs around the country. Radley Balko documented this very thing in his report, Overkill. If you have even the slightest doubt that our police are overmilitarized (a direct result of our imperial military overreach -- all that equipment has to go somewhere!), the drug war is a Constitutional nightmare, and our rights are getting trampled, read it.

In no imaginable way did our Founding Fathers intend for us to live in a police state, which is why the Fourth Amendment was enshrined. We have a stated, enumerated right to be secure in our lives -- period:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
That amendment, and the case and appeal law based on it, once kept us confident in government (however foolishly) and secure in our habitats. No longer. And if (as usual) it takes an abused politician to bring this to a head, so be it.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ron Suskind on NPR's Fresh Air now

Just started ... Go here to listen.

(You'll need RealPlayer, I believe.)

Ask for help!

There's an old saw that runs somewhat along the lines of, "If you want to make a friend, let him help you; if you want someone to resent you, help them." It's true, and if you are -- like many of us -- challenged in asking for and accepting help from family, friends, other loved ones, and even complete strangers, here's some encouragement: People want to be asked.

That's the conclusion of a new analysis of studies on helping out that will be published later this year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Authors Frank Flynn, associate professor of organizational management at the Graduate School of Business, and Vanessa Lake, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Columbia University, found that people consistently underestimated how successful their appeals for help would be:
The results were replicated even more dramatically in a real-world scenario involving volunteers for Team in Training, a division of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. These volunteers, who receive training for endurance sports events in exchange for fundraising for the society, were asked to estimate the number of people they thought they would have to solicit to reach their fundraising goals, as well as the average donation they expected.

Once again, volunteers predicted they would have to approach 50 percent more people than were actually needed. Moreover, they underestimated the average donation they'd receive by $17. "People seem to miscalculate how willing others are to say yes to direct requests, even in a conservative case like this where they're open to soliciting others and the request is significant—anywhere from $30 to more than $1,000," Flynn said.
Why is this? Flynn believes he and Lake have identified the tendency in our thinking to misjudge the altruistic impulse in others, even when that impulse is primarily motivated by social concerns:

Two further studies demonstrated this dynamic. When given various scenarios, participants responded differently depending on whether they were in the role of a potential helper or the one who needed the help. Those asking for help thought they were more likely to be turned down than those offering aid. Even more important, askers said they thought it would be much easier for others to refuse their request than did potential helpers.

"That's really the mechanism explaining the effect," Flynn said. "People's underestimation of others' willingness to comply is driven by their failure to diagnose these feelings of social obligation on the part of others."
And that's what Titus reminds us of in Scripture, too:

And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. -- Titus 3:14 (ESV)
And as Paul put it so beautifully in Acts:

You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" -- Acts 20:34-35 (ESV)
Memo to self: Ask for, and graciously accept, the help I am offered!

Don't fall for official Chinese charm

This Friday, the Beijing Olympiad opens with what is sure to be a stunning ceremony. And "stunned" is how the government of still-communist China wants the world to be, so the continuing oppression of the Chinese people (to say nothing of Tibetans and Mongols) can continue unabated and Chinese foreign policy, which is even more tyrant-friendly than our own, can continue to thwart even modest efforts to confront the Mugabes of the world.

As Ellen Bork of Freedom House reminds us in today's Wall Street Journal, China's dissidents -- who have been mistreated, murdered, and oppressed on an epic scale (73 million in the 20th century, per democide expert Prof. R.J. Rummel of the University of Hawaii) -- expect us to be the standard-bearers of individual liberty:

The PRC's leaders still control what Chinese people read and watch on television on any topic where they perceive their interests to be at stake. All publications and broadcast media are licensed by the government. Journalists are required to undergo Marxist indoctrination and can be singled out to perform self-criticism. Unsatisfactory political attitudes or behavior can lead to prosecution and surveillance. The party's Central Propaganda Department also dictates content through texted and faxed directives telling journalists how to handle sensitive issues like the outbreak of SARS and anniversaries of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

The directives and blacklists are kept secret, perhaps to keep their targets off balance, or to maintain the façade of openness that Chinese authorities wish to present to the rest of the world. A journalist, Shi Tao, who relayed the content of such a directive to an overseas Chinese Web site, is in jail on a 10-year sentence for leaking such "state secrets."

Kudos to President Bush for standing up for freedom now, refusing to knuckle under to Chinese pressures to keep politics out of the Olympics (which is tantamount to keeping oxygen out of a life-supporting atmosphere). Too bad he won't do the same for his own country, but I digress.

And lest I (or anyone else) get too indignant ... Tim Swanson has an excellent bromide at today about the double standards of "freedom" as Americans too often perceive it elsewhere, and ignore it in their own backyard:

To add insult to injury: this is the same bellicose congress that has spent billions in taxpayer funds to secretly design and deploy NSA wiretapping surveillance stations across the country. It is the same congress that passed a slew of anti-civil liberties laws including the latest FISA immunity. It is the same congress that has borrowed tens of billions from the People’s Bank of China to fund an invasion of Iraq which has killed 1.2 million Iraqis. And don’t even get started with the funding of propaganda.

Freedom has taken enormous hits in this country, and not only from the Bush administration -- in fact, every American president has taken his whacks at the Constitution when it didn't suit his imperial purposes, with a few notable exceptions (Calvin Coolidge, we hardly know ye!). As Lew Rockwell wrote last year:

Having read the above, you are now in a tiny elite of people who know anything about the greatest death camp in the history of the world that China became between 1949 and 1976, an experiment in total control unlike anything other in history. Many more people today know more about China's exploding cell-phone batteries than the hundred million dead and the untold amount of suffering that occurred under communism.

When you hear about shoddy products coming from China or wheat poorly processed, imagine millions in famine, with parents swapping children to eat in order to stay alive. And what do China's critics today recommend? More control by the government. Don't tell me that we've learned anything from history. We don't even know enough about history to learn from it.

Hear, hear.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Who exactly are the Olympics good for?

I'm not picking on the People's Republic of China, I promise. I'll let the fact that China's UN representative just voted against the typically tepid UN sanctions against ... Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe. If the Nazis had only built their gas chambers and furnaces in conquered Africa, the Chinese would provide them all the diplomatic protection they'd need.

I don't rush to the ad hitlerum trope in order to provoke mindlessly; there is a deeper parallel here, and it's between the 1936 Berlin Games and this year's edition in Beijing. As George Packer points out in his blog at The New Yorker, the Olympics are always about much, much more than sport, and it's usually unsavory. Quoting from German-Jewish literary scholar Victor Klemperer's diary of living in Dresden throughout the Third Reich's run in Germany -- date of August 13, 1936:

I find the Olympics so odious because they are not about sport—in this country, I mean—but are an entirely political enterprise. “German renaissance through Hitler,” I read recently. It’s constantly being drummed into the country and into foreigners that here one is witnessing the revival, the flowering, the new spirit, the unity, steadfastness, and magnificence, pacific too, of course, spirit of the Third Reich, which lovingly embraces the whole world. The chanted slogans on the streets have been banned (for the duration of the Olympics), Jew-baiting, bellicose sentiments, everything offensive has disappeared from the papers until August 16, and the swastika flags are hanging everywhere day and night until then too.
Just about everything within the Olympiad is built on a lie, at least in this modern version of the Games. The IOC gets filthy rich off the entire enterprise, but not the host countries, whom nearly always take an economic hit after the Games leave town, as Foreign Policy magazine's Brad R. Humphreys illustrates in his graphically rich presentation.

No need to get into the well-covered scandals involving Olympic athletes and cheating; suffice it to say that the IOC slept through all that in the 1970s (remember the East German swim teams? If not, check out Steven Ungerleider's Faust's Gold some time -- the entire nation's sports progra was one huge HGH and steroid factory). But you may have forgotten the many IOC bid-bribery corruption scandals for the 2002 Games, or the fact that Juan Sammaranch, a well-known fascist, ran the stinking organization for more than 20 corruption-filled years. I am barely scratching the surface.

John Hoberman writes a great "Think Again" piece in the current issue of Foreign Policy magazine. Hoberman effectively takes down the frosty-eyed vaunting of the "Olympic movement" (whatever that means) as just that. Summarizing Hoberman's piece (which is behind a paywall), FP blogger Blake Hounshell quotes him:

Olympic diplomacy" has always been rooted in a doublespeak that exploits the world’s sentimental attachment to the spirit of the games. In the absence of real standards, the spectacle of Olympic pageantry substitutes for a genuine concern for human rights. At the heart of this policy is a timid and euphemizing rhetoric that turns violent demonstrations and state-sponsored killings into "discussions," a combination of grandiosity and cluelessness that has long marked the IOC's accommodating attitude toward unsavory Olympic hosts. Even today, with regard to Beijing, the committee has fallen back on its old habit of claiming to be both apolitical and politically effective at the same time. Although the IOC "is not a political organization," it does claim to "advance the agenda of human rights." Sadly, neither is true.

Of course, all those sweet promises China made to the IOC in order to secure their bid ... have evaporated, as old habits die hard in communist nations. Censorship, which China promised would not affect journalists? Rampant. As Packer concludes,
Now that it’s too late to turn around, China is busy breaking all its promises to improve human rights, allow uncensored coverage, or even—for God’s sake—clean up the air in Beijing so that marathoners don’t fall dead in the streets. I know we’re supposed to say nice things about China as a rising power and welcome it to the world stage because anything else inflames Chinese nationalism. But the Chinese leadership wants to have it both ways: quick to criticize President Bush for interfering in China’s sovereign affairs when he had the decency to meet Chinese dissidents this week, but eager to cash in on all the geo-political benefits that the Olympics will bring. China didn’t even bother to abstain last month but instead vetoed sanctions against Robert Mugabe at the U.N. Unlike Germany in 1936, China is prettifying its streets without pretending to prettify its foreign policy.

Just sad. Unless you're on the IOC's payroll.