Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Gabriel Text

Craig A. Evans (BAR, Jan-Feb. 2009 Issue)

Scholars and the general public alike have grown accustomed, perhaps even hardened, to sensational announcements every year that have something to do with the Bible, Jesus or Christian origins. From The Da Vinci Code to the supposed tomb of Jesus and his family, and the seemingly annual reports about finding Noah’s ark or the Ark of the Covenant, much of the news in our field is incredible—literally. And, of course, several artifacts (such as the Jehoash inscription and the James Ossuary inscription) were widely publicized before being declared forgeries—although the evidence in support of forgery is far from conclusive (see Strata, pp. 12 and 14 of this issue-->).

In light of all of this noise, I would not be surprised in the least if the public interest in Biblical scholarship and archaeology begins to wane. Future discoveries, even important ones, may well be met with cynical responses such as “We have heard this before.” How is the average person supposed to know when a truly remarkable discovery has been made?
This brings me to the stone inscribed with “Gabriel’s Revelation,” recently published in BAR.a This remarkable find required no hype. Yet the impulse to sensationalize the find, complete with extravagant claims, is already well underway. This is unfortunate.

Ada Yardeni, a respected epigrapher, dates the stone and its two columns of inked Hebrew script to the late first century B.C. or early first century A.D. In her BAR article she stated that if this text “were written on leather (and smaller) I would say it was another Dead Sea Scroll fragment.”1 Her initial transcription and translation make it very clear that this text is important and deserves careful study.

Yardeni’s interpretation is cautious. She describes the text as a vision, a string of prophecies, evidently by someone named Gabriel, addressed to someone in the second person. Several passages of Scripture are alluded to or quoted in part. The focus of the vision seems to be Davidic and may be messianic.

Contrasting Yardeni’s cautious interpretation is Israel Knohl’s daring thesis that the Gabriel vision foretells the appearance of a suffering Messiah son of Joseph, a concept that served as a sort of template for Jesus. After all, Jesus was a “son of Joseph” (Luke 4:22; John 6:42), so surely he understood himself in this light. According to Knohl, this explains why Jesus saw himself as a messiah who would suffer and not as a conquering Messiah son of David.2 This seems to me a rather shaky line of reasoning.

Knohl has certainly done a great deal of research into the tradition of the suffering Messiah son of Joseph, but is this messiah even present in the Gabriel text? That is far from certain. Neither “Joseph” nor “son of Joseph” appears in the surviving text, and it makes no mention of a suffering figure.

Even if we agree with Knohl’s interpretation of line 80 (“In three days, live, I, Gabriel, command you”)b as referring to resurrection, who is being resurrected? The text says it is the “prince of princes”; there is nothing here about a Messiah son of Joseph. One should bear in mind that Knohl’s reconstructions and interpretation lend significant support to the thesis of his book The Messiah before Jesus,3 a thesis that has not escaped serious criticism.

Read it all here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dati a "Lighting Rod"

But what happens when the symbol of change runs into the hard wall of political reality, or, as some see it, sexism and bigotry? Dati, France's first Muslim cabinet minister, is proving to be a lightning rod. Issues from her haute-couture wardrobe and "complicated" personal life to her advocacy of tough policies on crime and judicial reform have put her front and center in the French press.

Ironically, the news that unmarried Dati, 43, is expecting a baby in January has been the least of the issues in a country in which about half of all babies are born to unwed mothers (with some couples opting for civil partnerships rather than marriage). But the rounds of speculation over the father, whom she chooses not to identify, has brought an element of farce with awkward denials of paternity from various men, including a former Spanish prime minister and a prominent sports figure.

On the outs? By some accounts, Dati's mentor, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, is looking for a way to ease her out—even though many of the most disputed judicial measures, such as stricter sentencing rules, reflect his policy priorities. It probably doesn't help that she has been close to Sarkozy's now ex-wife Cecilia and reportedly has a chilly relationship with his current wife, singer and former model Carla Bruni. But Sarkozy risks political damage to himself if he is seen as eager to toss his protégé overboard. Some speculate that the baby's birth will give her cover to leave politics or acquiesce to a less prominent government position. "If her name was not Dati, she would no longer be a minister," a cabinet colleague says under cover of anonymity.

Read it all here.

Quote of the Week - Ravi Zacharias

"What America needs more than anything else right now is to know she cannot exist without the worldview that helped bring her into being. And that was the Judeo-Christian worldview."
- Ravi Zacharias

Monday, December 29, 2008

Brits Point Finger at Pakistan

LONDON—That Britain faces a very real risk of home-grown Islamic terrorism has long been known. But now, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has not only publicly hinted at the extent of the problem but bluntly charged that most U.K.-based extremists are linked to Pakistan, some 3,700 miles away.

According to Brown, fully three quarters of the serious radical Islamist plots under investigation in the United Kingdom have connections to the South Asian Muslim country. Published reports say they total more than 20, and the government reckons that at least 4,000 British Muslims have received training at terrorist camps in Pakistan or Afghanistan—among them, most infamously, Mohammed Sidique Khan, one of the July 7, 2005, suicide bombers who killed 52 people in London.

Islamabad's inability to keep a lid on its extremist elements was highlighted last month when a gang of Pakistani terrorists attacked a number of sites in Mumbai, killing more than 170 people.

Brown described a "chain of terror that links the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan to the streets of Britain and other countries of the world." As if to underscore Brown's point, Rangzieb Ahmed of Manchester was convicted last week of running a three-person, al Qaeda terrorist cell and arranging to send British citizens to training camps in Pakistan. Another man, Habib Ahmed, was convicted of being a member of al Qaeda.

This situation poses a delicate situation here. More than a million people of Pakistani heritage call Britain home—only Saudi Arabia has a larger Pakistani expatriate community—and clearly the vast majority are law-abiding citizens who eschew terrorism.

"However, there is a significant number who are radicalized," says Farzana Shaikh, an expert on Pakistani affairs.

One question is where they are indoctrinated by violent Islamism. Is it here in the United Kingdom or on trips to Pakistan?

"There's a lot of evidence that a lot of it takes place in the U.K.," says Gareth Price, head of the Asia Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. For instance, Britain's prison system has been called a breeding ground for budding Islamic extremists.

Then again, young British Pakistanis who fall into trouble with alcohol or drugs are sometimes sent by their parents to stay with relatives in Pakistan to straighten them out. "And they are vulnerable to brainwashing there," Price adds.

Read it all here.

Atheists Seek Overturn of Day of Prayer Law

Bill Ritter Jr. was not the first governor of Colorado to declare the first Thursday in May as a day of prayer.

But he was the first to attend a celebration of the National Day of Prayer at the state Capitol, joining a crowd of several hundred Christians in 2007. His appearance at the event caught the attention of a Wisconsin-based atheist group, which has mounted a campaign its leaders hope will dissuade him and other governors from participating again.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a lawsuit in state court, seeking to stop the governor from issuing any proclamations it says endorse a particular religion and send a message to nonreligious residents "that they are expected to believe in God."

"Everybody has become too comfortable with this interaction of religion and government. Sometimes someone needs to push back," said David Habecker, 63, one of the lawsuit's plaintiffs and a member of the foundation.

Habecker was ousted as town trustee in Estes Park, Colo., in a 2005 recall after he refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance because he objected to the phase "under God."

The suit is part of a broader campaign by the group to overturn the 1952 law designating a National Day of Prayer and mandating an annual proclamation by the president.

The group also recently filed a federal lawsuit arguing that proclamations encouraging prayer violate a constitutional ban on government officials endorsing religion.

Of particular interest to the foundation, its leaders said, is the role of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, a private organization in Colorado Springs that advocates for participation in the annual observance.

The task force -- whose chairwoman, Shirley Dobson, is married to James Dobson, founder of the evangelical Christian group Focus on the Family -- comes up with biblical themes and quotes for each day of prayer and lobbies vigorously for governors across the nation to use them, said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of Freedom From Religion.

This year, Ritter, a Democrat, used the quotes suggested by the task force.

"They're working hand in glove with government officials dictating prayer to constituents. That's not what government is supposed to do," Gaylor said.

Read it all here.

Middle School for Homosexuals?

The Milwaukee Public School System will expand the services provided by its gay-friendly high school and apparently become the nation's first school system to create a gay-friendly middle school.

At a meeting two weeks ago, a subcommittee of Milwaukee's Board of Education unanimously approved the Alliance School's proposal to serve sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. The proposal gained unanimous approval from the full board by default when the item was not pulled for further discussion or a vote at last night's meeting. Alliance School lead teacher Tina Owen said the public charter school will begin accepting new applicants eligible for middle school in the 2009-2010 school year immediately.

Milwaukee's response to gay-friendly schools has been much different from other cities'. In Chicago, community leaders' concerns about creating a gay-friendly high school stalled plans to bring such a proposal before the city's school board. In New York City, protesters greeted students of the gay-friendly Harvey Milk High School in Manhattan's East Village on its first day of classes five years ago. But in Milwaukee, the Alliance School's birth as a high school and expansion to serve middle school students passed with no real opposition. Calls from social service organizations and parents urging Owen to create the middle school more quickly are the only responses she has received from the community, Owen said.

Before helping to create the Alliance School four years ago, Owen worked in another Milwaukee high school and advised its Gay Straight Alliance club. She heard horror stories from students who were being verbally and physically harassed on a daily basis because of their sexuality or gender identification. Research conducted by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network indicates that students across the country are experiencing the same trauma. A GLSEN study on school climate found that 86.2 percent of youth who identify themselves as other than heterosexual were verbally harassed in the past year and that 22.1 percent were also victims of physical assaults at school.

Read it all here.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

India Activates Bases on Pakistan Border

Karachi, 24 Dec. (AKI) - By Syed Saleem Shahzad - Relations between India and Pakistan remained tense on Wednesday with security forces on both countries on high alert in the aftermath of the Mumbai bombings in late November. Indian armed forces have activated three bases near the Pakistan border, said top analyst Dr. Farrukh Saleem, Executive Director of Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) in an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI)."

Indian forces have activated three bases including Rajasthan, Gujarat and Ladkah and its shows a military build-up on part of India,” Saleem said. "However, Indian forces are not capable of any surgical strikes inside Pakistan and if they try to do so, Pakistan Air Forces are capable of shooting down the aircraft.”

A senior defence analyst and retired Pakistan army officer who was in India at the time of the Mumbai bombings says that a deep anger and frustration after the attacks forced the Indian leadership to think about 'war' not only against Pakistan but also against Muslims living in India.

"I have been to India many times but I never saw such hatred against Pakistan and Muslims," retired Brigadier A.R Siddiqui said in an interview broadcasted by a local TV station."

However, there are several reasons of war mongering statements from the Indian leadership and the foremost is the upcoming elections. Indian political parties aim to use the Mumbai attacks as an election issue," Siddiqui said.

Siddiqui, who is the author of several books and served as head of the Pakistani military’s public relations arm ISPR, said that the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks and a possible war could result in a rift between the Muslim and Hindu communities as it happened in the pre-independence period of 1947.

"The most ironic aspect of this situation is that even Muslims living in India are facing the consequences of the Mumbai attacks and they are seen as the enemy," Siddiqui said.

"I am afraid of a reaction and think that in case of war, a pre-1947 situation might emerge in which all the Muslims of south Asia were on one side and the Hindus were on another side.”

There are at least 154 million Muslims in India who make up almost 14 percent of the population. India's Muslims are the third largest after Indonesia and neighbouring Pakistan.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Muslims Object to Conviction of Ft. Dix 5

One day after a jury convicted five Muslim immigrants of conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix, New Jersey, two Muslim groups claimed the outcome of the trial was unfair.

Mohamad Younes, president of the American Muslim Union, questioned the jury's decision.

"I don't think they actually mean to do anything," he said. "I think they were acting stupid, like they thought the whole thing was a joke."

Jim Sues, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, attended five days of testimony during the trial.

"Many people in the Muslim community will see this as a case of entrapment," he told local media.

Unfortunately the media reflexively turns to the usual suspected after trials such as these--groups such at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, and the American Muslim Union, or AMU, for opinions on issues related to issues such as this. CAIR bills itself as “the largest and most mainstream Muslim organization in America” but is known to support terror groups. "Any objective assessment of the material ... leads to the conclusion that CAIR, its leaders, and its activities effectively give aid to international terrorist groups," said Steven Pomerantz, former counterterrorism chief of the FBI.

Four current and former senior leaders of the American Muslim Union were associated with a mosque established by the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. The Treasury Department designated Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in December 2001. Senior members of the group have expressed support for Hamas.

Read it here.

Here's more:

Muslim leaders have objected to a US court decision to convict five Muslims for plotting a terror attack on an American military base at Fort Dix in the state of New Jersey. After an eight-week trial, a jury on Monday ruled that three ethnic-Albanian brothers, Shain, Dritan and Eljvir Duka, and two others - Turkish-born Serdar Tatar and Mohammed Shnewer from Jordan - were found guilty of planning an attack on the base in a bid to kill as many American soldiers as possible.

The jury, however, acquitted the group of charges of attempted murder.Mohamad Younes, president of the American Muslim Union, questioned the jury's decision.

"I don't think they actually mean to do anything," he said. "I think they were acting stupid, like they thought the whole thing was a joke."

Jim Sues, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, attended five days of testimony during the trial."

Many people in the Muslim community will see this as a case of entrapment," he told local media.

The five foreign-born residents lived in the northeastern cities of Cherry Hill in New Jersey and Philadelphia in the state of Pennsylvania. They were arrested in May 2007 after the group was infiltrated by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents. The prosecutors described their activities as an attempt to wage Islamist holy war against America, inspired by Al-Qaeda.

Defence lawyers had argued that the five were just bragging about their plans and also challenged the credibility of the government informants.

One Egyptian-born informant was paid 230,000 dollars by the FBI for his undercover work, said the defence lawyers. They also said he was on probation for bank fraud.

Defence lawyers also claimed that the men were coaxed by the government informants into making controversial and incendiary remarks which were recorded.

National Infrastructure Protection Plan

The water sector is set to become the first of the country’s 18 critical infrastructure and key resource sectors to develop a metric and launch a tool to gauge security progress under the National Infrastructure Protection Plan framework.

“We’ve got a lot of great stories and anecdotes about utilities that are really doing a lot to safeguard not just the hazardous materials they have, but to enhance their ‘all hazards’ security posture,” says L. Vance Taylor, manager of security policy for the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies. “But there’s nothing that’s been developed to date that allows us to get a sectorwide measure of these [efforts].”

According to Congressional Quarterly, drinking water and wastewater utilities will be able to access the tool and fill out the 22 questions that comprise the metric this week.

“Those of us in the water sector want to make sure that we are doing the right thing to protect our utilities and to do everything to minimize the impact of any natural disaster or terrorist attack,” says Billy Turner, chairman of the Water Sector Coordinating Council and president of the Columbus, Ga., Water Works.

Developed as part of a collaboration between government representatives from such agencies as the Homeland Security Department and the EPA and members of the Water Sector Coordinating Council, CQ reports that the tool’s questions range from general — “Have you integrated security and preparedness into budgeting, training, and manpower responsibilities?” — to more specific — “For what period of time does your utility have backup power?”

“We sat down and said ‘what works here for measuring?’ ” says Jim Caverly, director of the partnership and outreach division in DHS’s Office of Infrastructure Protection. “So we jointly did that.”

According to Caverly, the various sectors committed to developing metrics as part of their involvement with the National Infrastructure Protection Plan.

“It’s not mandatory in the sense that there is ... a legal requirement that requires them to do that or a legislative requirement, but it is a commitment that they’ve signed up to do,” Caverly says.

DHS expects the other sectors to develop their metrics by the summer of 2009, Caverly told CQ.

Read it all here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Pentagon: 30,000 More Troops to Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, Dec 25: The United States is committed to fighting insurgency in the Muslim world for 25 years, says a report released by the US Joint Forces Command.

Besides this general commitment to fighting insurgency, the United States is building permanent military structures in Afghanistan to indicate its plans for a long-term stay in the war-ravaged country.

Earlier this week, the US Corps of Engineers sought bids for some of these projects. One such project in Kandahar could cost as much as $500 million while three separate projects for housing facilities for the US troops will cost at least $100 million each.

Last week, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who retains his office in the next administration, assured the Afghan government that the United States was making a “sustained commitment” to that country. “You will see a continuing American commitment to defeating the enemies of the Afghan people during the administration of the president-elect” as well, he added.

On Saturday, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that by next summer, up to 30,000 US troops would join the 31,000 already in Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, the official Voice of America radio quoted Mr Gates as saying that the United States was preparing to fight “irregular wars” across the Muslim world for years to come.

The VOA report was based on a study by the US Joint Forces Command saying that the United States was prepared to confront insurgencies and small-scale threats for the next 25 years.

Rear Admiral John Richardson said the study attempting to project global threats over the next 25 years pointed mainly in one direction.

“We see that the future will contain irregular types of threats,” he said. “And we need to be able to respond to those threats and be as superior in the irregular warfare area as we are in the conventional warfare area.”

The VOA report said that Mr Gates firmly supported a deeper US commitment to counter-insurgency in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere.

What the Pentagon calls “irregular warfare” covers everything from limited conventional war, with tanks and artillery, to urban warfare fighting insurgents, and includes the need to help foreign governments with everything from army and police training to building electrical grids, water systems and effective bureaucracies, the report added.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported on Thursday that the Pentagon planned to invest up to $300 million in construction projects at the Kandahar base, in order to house more than 5,000 additional American forces expected to arrive there soon.

Read it all here.

Ahmadinejad Preaches Hate on Christmas

“If Christ was on Earth today undoubtedly he would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers,” Mr Ahmadinejad will say in a speech to be shown in Farsi with English subtitles.

“If Christ was on Earth today undoubtedly he would hoist the banner of justice and love for humanity to oppose warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies the world over. If Christ was on Earth today undoubtedly he would fight against the tyrannical policies of prevailing global economic and political systems, as He did in His lifetime.”

It is no the first time that the broadcaster has courted controversy since Quentin Crisp delivered Channel 4’s first alternative Christmas message in 1993. In 2006 a fully-veiled British-born Muslim woman used the message to attack Jack Straw, then Home Secretary, for his criticism of the niqab (face veil) earlier the same year.

Stephen Smith, director of the Holocaust Centre, said Mr Ahmadinejad’s message should be treated with caution. The Iranian President has repeatedly called the Holocaust a “myth” and called for the annihilation of Israel.

Mr Smith said: “Many of his political and historical views are very dangerous and do not uphold the views in his message. I think this benign message is deception. People need to be alert to the fact that this is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Henry Grunwald QC, president of the Board of Deputies, added: "The appearance on our television screens of a man whose prejudices are so well-documented and who has openly called for the eradication of another member country of the United Nations is an affront to decency.

To invite him to deliver a Christmas message, even a so-called alternative one, fills me with disgust. Whatever he may say in his ‘message’, his words on other occasions and his actions towards minority groups in Iran should have disqualified him from filling this television spot."

But Dorothy Byrne, Channel 4’s head of news and current affairs, defended the choice. "As the leader of one of the most powerful states in the Middle East, President Ahmadinejad’s views are enormously influential," she said. “As we approach a critical time in international relations, we are offering our viewers an insight into an alternative world view."

Read it all here.

Jihadists Threaten Christian Institutions in Pakistan

THE High Commissioner of Pak­istan met the Archbishop of Canter­bury and the Bishop of Bradford in London on Wednesday, amid rising fears for the safety of churchgoers in the North-West Frontier Province, after a fresh death-threat was re­ceived by a church school last week.

The High Commissioner, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, said after the meet­ing that he would immediately discuss increasing security for Chris­tians during the run-up to Christ­mas with the interior minister of Pakis­tan and the government of the province.

“We will take every means pos­sible to protect the Christian com­munity, and arrest the people who are re­sponsible for these threats,” he said.

The government would take “ex­tra­ordinary” measures to ensure that Christmas passed peacefully for Christians, he said. The new ruling party’s aim was to return to the founding vision of Pakistan as a place where faith and politics were sep­arate, and all faiths lived in peaceful co-operation. He said that last week the government had an­nounced that an extra five per cent of all govern­ment posts would be reserved for Christians.

He also said that he intended to meet the Bishop of Bradford, Dr David James, and leaders of the Pakistani community in Bradford to help consolidate the improvements in community rela­tions. His govern­ment had been in power for nine months, and was try­ing to clear up years of “stupendous mess”.

Last Friday, the Bishop of Pesh­awar, the Rt Revd Manowar Rumalshah, met the Archbishop of Canter­bury to brief him on the earlier violence against the Christian com­munity (News, 5 December). The most recent threat was delivered to the Church of Pakistan’s Elizabeth School and College last Saturday. A letter accused the school of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity: “We will shed the blood of those Chris­tians who persuade Muslims.”

The school authorities were quick to say that none of its institutions permitted any attempt to convert Muslims.

The letter continued: “The pur­pose of our organisation is to wage holy war against infidels. Such pro­grammes occur in your college. This time you have called Muslims on your Christmas Eid through a pro­gramme and remember we will blow up your college.”

It said that the Americans were happy when Muslims were killed: “Recently in India some Christians and Jews have been killed and that has alarmed America.”

The Revd Dr David Gosling, the Principal of Edwardes College, at the University of Peshawar, who has seen the letter, said it contained a threat of violence to “other institutions along with yours”. This presumably in­cluded his college, he said. “The death threats are linked to the military activities of the USA and Britain, and make specific reference to the Mumbai bombings.”
Source: Church Times

Playboy Enterprises Apologizes for Irreverent Cover

The owners of the Mexican version of Playboy magazine were forced to apologize after people took offense to the December cover of the magazine, which depicted a nude model resembling the Virgin Mary, according to Reuters:

"The magazine, which hit newsstands on December 1 as ceremonies began leading to Friday's pilgrimage to the Mexico City shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, showed a model wearing nothing but a white cloth over her head and breasts.

"She is standing in front of a stained glass window with the cover line, "We Love You, Maria" in Spanish. The model's name is Maria Florencia Onori."

Chicago-based Playboy Enterprises apologized for the cover, but did its best to wriggle out of responsibility, adding that the magazine in Mexico is run by a licensee, meaning the cover wasn't directly approved by headquarters.

Raul Sayrols, publisher of Playboy Mexico, said in a statement, "The image is not and never was intended to portray the Virgin of Guadalupe or any other religious figure. The intent was to reflect a Renaissance-like mood on the cover."

Despite the controversy, it appears unlikely that Playboy Mexico will recall the 100,000 copies that it printed.

Read it here.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Cyber Terrorism

The existence of terrorist groups — and terrorist Web sites — is indisputable. The sites are plain to see, and the hundreds of groups running them hail from all over the globe. Examples range from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in the Middle East to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Europe and the Colombian National Liberation Army (ELN-Colombia) in Latin America.
Some experts say that U.S. intelligence agencies are surreptitiously infiltrating “chat rooms” — or online discussion groups — on these terrorist sites.

“It's easier to infiltrate the ranks over the Internet than face-to-face, because people cannot tell who you really are,” says George Smith, a senior fellow at The program in Ohio is part of the National Academic Consortium for Homeland Security.

“I know — but only in an unofficial way — that counterterrorist agencies are monitoring many (terrorist) chat rooms and forums, and pretending to be members of the ‘clubs,’” says Gabriel Weinmann, a professor of communications at the University of Haifa in Israel.

Expert opinions differ dramatically, though, about how else terrorists might be using these sites, as well as about what — if anything — can and should be done to stop terrorists from keeping toeholds on the Web.

“On a videotape, Osama Bin Laden said that he wanted to destroy the U.S. economy. The entire U.S. economy is built on computer chips. What better way to bring it down than through cyber-terrorism?” suggests Rebecca Ehrenfeld, director of the American Center for Democracy, Internet researcher, and member of the anti-terrorism group Committee on the Present Danger.

Some, on the other hand, question the whole notion of “terrorism on the Internet.”

“There's been a big culture of forecasting cyber-terrorism, but a lot of that's been consigned to the funny files. During the Clinton Administration, Richard Clark used to spend a great deal of time appearing before Congress and various industry groups, telling people that terrorists would use the Internet to shut off electricity,” Smith says.

“But you can't destroy real-world things in the infrastructure over the Internet, where you're only dealing with software. There's something immutable about roads and bridges,” he adds.

Read it all here.

I'm been thinking about this a good deal lately. The internet is a valuable tool for gathering information, especially when you know what to search for.

If I were a terrorist wanting to get into the USA, I would learn Spanish and come in as a Mexican. One way to do this is to study online Spanish short stories with English translations. I've noted that 15% of visitors reading these Spanish short stories are from Iran, Morocco, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. All these visitors are reading the same Spanish short stories. Interesting, huh?

Collapse of Israel-Hamas Truce

Militants in the Gaza Strip showered southern Israeli towns with rockets and mortar fire on Wednesday in the latest sign that the six-month truce between Israel and Hamas has collapsed.

An estimated 30 rockets and at least 20 mortar shells were launched from Gaza, Israeli and Palestinian sources said.

The makeshift rockets are wildly inaccurate and rarely cause serious injuries. But Israeli officials said more than 50 people, half of them children, were treated for hysteria and shock.

The Izzidin al-Qassam Brigade, Hamas' military wing, issued a statement saying the barrage was retaliation for the killing of three Hamas gunmen by Israeli soldiers in a clash Tuesday night.

Later Wednesday, an Israeli warplane fired on what the army said was a group of militants preparing to fire a rocket. Local medical sources said at least one Palestinian was killed.

Read it all here.

The Empire Called 'America'

Gary Dorrien wrote four years ago in "Imperial Designs," an article in the journal CrossCurrents (he has also published a book by the same title), "most of the world has no doubt that the U.S. is an empire, but now it has plenty of doubt about the kind of empire that the U.S. wants to be."Americans, however, don't want to believe the United States is an empire.

That reluctance was underscored in a 2003 debate sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, between British historian and journalist Niall Ferguson and neoconservative foreign policy advisor Robert Kagan, a founder of the Project for a New American Century and a leading advocate of the American invasion of Iraq. Ferguson, author of the book COLOSSUS: THE PRICE OF AMERICAN EMPIRE, argued the affirmative, saying, after a brief survey of American military, economic, and cultural power, that from a British perspective "the only thing that is really quite remarkable about the American empire … is the fact that … [t]his is an empire in denial. It is an empire that refuses to acknowledge its own existence."

Kagan accepted Ferguson's description of the vastness of American power but rejected the word "empire" as a description, preferring "global power" or "hegemon." Colonies are the touchstone of empire, he said, and he argued that while America had an imperial past, "as American imperialism diminished, American power grew." There is a difference between being the world's greatest power, he suggested, and "a country that seeks to exercise dominion over others, which is what the true definition of empire is."

More recently, in his book THE RETURN OF HISTORY AND THE END OF DREAMS, Kagan continues to think about the world not in terms of empire but of power, suggesting that Americans both desire and rue their role: "Americans want what they want, and not just economic opportunity and security but also a world that roughly suits their political and moral preferences. They would naturally prefer not to pay a high price for such a world, however, and it is not only the financial price Americans would like to avoid, or even the cost in lives. It is also the moral price, the ethical burdens of power."

Read it all here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Capital Punishment in Iran

TEHRAN — Iran on Wednesday hanged nine people convicted of murder in a mass execution in a Tehran prison as well as a drug trafficker in the north of the country, the Fars news agency reported.

Amnesty International says Iran carried out more death sentences in 2007 than any other country apart from China, executing 317 people.

Capital offences in the Islamic republic include murder, rape, armed robbery, drug trafficking and adultery.

Read it all here.

JB Rawls: 'Original Position'

The original position is a central feature of John Rawls's social contract account of justice, “justice as fairness,” set forth in A Theory of Justice (TJ). It is designed to be a fair and impartial point of view that is to be adopted in our reasoning about fundamental principles of justice. In taking up this point of view, we are to imagine ourselves in the position of free and equal persons who jointly agree upon and commit themselves to principles of social and political justice. The main distinguishing feature of the original position is “the veil of ignorance”: to insure impartiality of judgment, the parties are deprived of all knowledge of their personal characteristics and social and historical circumstances. They do know of certain fundamental interests they all have, plus general facts about psychology, economics, biology, and other social and natural sciences. The parties in the original position are presented with a list of the main conceptions of justice drawn from the tradition of social and political philosophy, and are assigned the task of choosing from among these alternatives the conception of justice that best advances their interests in establishing conditions that enable them to effectively pursue their final ends and fundamental interests. Rawls contends that the most rational choice for the parties in the original position are the two principles of justice. The first principle guarantees the equal basic rights and liberties needed to secure the fundamental interests of free and equal citizens and to pursue a wide range of conceptions of the good. The second principle provides fair equality of educational and employment opportunities enabling all to fairly compete for powers and prerogatives of office; and it secures for all a guaranteed minimum of the all-purpose means (including income and wealth) that individuals need to pursue their interests and to maintain their self-respect as free and equal persons.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Christmas a Secular Holiday?

There are those who for distaste of religion in general and God in particular would ban public Christmas displays claiming that such favor one religious tradition.

This may have been the case 40 years ago, but no longer. For the masses who endure long shopping lines and the rigors of holiday parties, who send greeting cards with red foxes in snow (I received 3 this year!), Christmas is a secular holiday.

Mark Mercer has the right idea. He has written:

For at least a couple of generations, Christmas has been evolving into a secular holiday, a holiday that for many of us has no religious significance at all. Christmas is a celebration of good will, generosity, and peace among nations. It is a time to appreciate and enjoy the company of family and friends. Children are central to Christmas — partly because it is to them that the future belongs, mainly because they are strange and clever people of whom we are fond.

Now for the Christians among us, Christmas marks the birth of Jesus and, so, is also an occasion for worship. But it isn’t any such occasion for the rest of us. And while the activities and symbols through which we honour and celebrate good will, generosity, peace, family, friends, and children derive from Christian traditions, they now have a life of their own independent of those traditions. They don’t put us in mind of any values or doctrines specifically Christian.

Christmas then is, for many who celebrate it, an entirely secular holiday. So if public displays of Christmas trees or greetings of “Merry Christmas!” privilege or exclude, it is not in virtue of their privileging Christianity or excluding non-Christians. What we honour and celebrate at Christmas and through such things as Christmas trees, gift giving, and greetings of “Merry Christmas!” — good will, generosity, peace, family, friends, children — are important in many, if not all, traditions and ways of life current in Canada.

Read Mark's full story here.

Those who claim that Christmas, as it is celebrated in the West today, is a Christian holiday should remember that for the first 20 years of Christianity there was no celebration of Christmas. Instead Christians joined in weekly remembrance of Christ's Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension in joyful anticipation of His coming again.

Gavin Kennedy: Media Bias and Adam Smith

Adam Smith was of the decided view that in the balance between the interests of consumers and producers there was no doubt as to which side attention should be concentrated.

‘Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer’(WN IV.viii.49: p 660).

He found it was seldom the case that the interests of consumers had plyed any role in the mercantile system:

‘It cannot be very difficult to determine who have been the contrivers of this whole mercantile system; not the consumers, we may believe, whose interest has been entirely neglected; but the producers whose interest has been so carefully attended to; and among this latter class our merchants and manufacturers have been by far the principal architects’ ( WN IV.viii.54: p 661).

It is ever thus it seems right through to the 21st century. But this not a simplistic case of the media ignoring or exposing the neglect of consumer interest in an impartial manner. The prejudice of sections of the media goes beyond righting a few wrongs. The question of impartiality itself is a mess. There are consumer-oriented programmes that expose shortcomings in some businesses, as they should. There are producer news programmes that interview leaders of business that expose the ethical shortcomings of some CEO’s, as they should. There are few consumer-oriented programmes informing consumers of products that are exhibits for excellence; there are few producer-oriented programmes lauding the achievements of business leaders. Instead, we have a constant diet in the performing arts programmes (‘soaps’, serials, franchises, one-offs) that portray illicit practices of consumers who ‘go wrong’ because they are excessively covetous of the ‘good life’ of conspicuous consumption, and portray the ‘illicit’ practices of those who act ‘merely for profit’, as if profit is a dirty word for a dirty personal habit.

These daily drip feeds are a far more serious bias in the media, including the BBC, than the incidence of this or that presenter mentioning a product (a chocolate brand) with which she is a keen consumer, or, quelle horreur, her co-presenter who expressed a preference for Sky Sports programming over his own employer’s, the BBC’s (I do too). It is only recently that the BBC acknowledged the existence of radio and tv channels produced by rival private companies.But nobody looks at the daily anti-capitalist rants and clichéd images of crooked business people in their ‘pursuit of greedy profits’ and ‘environmental destruction’, and the ‘evil’ consumers who encourage them.

I have a media friend (I haven’t seen him for years; he’s now a tv producer) who defended his youthful ‘leftist’ daily critiques on the programmes he presented on national tv on the grounds that when Labour returned to power he would be critical of them too, as if this evened up his daily biases presented as ‘news’. I pointed out to him that he criticised Mrs Thatcher’s right wing government from his leftist perspective but would continue to criticise a leftwing Labour government from the left, not the right. Hence, the leftist bias would continue. He denied this because it was his ‘duty’ to do so until a truly leftwing government was elected by the viewers. With such attitudes prevalent among the media there is little hope that producer bias will be curtailed.

In the meantime, consumer interests are neglected, over two hundred years after Smith noted the pervasive influence of producer interests...

Read it all here.

Toyota Reports Loss in '08

Toyota is posting an operating loss of $1.7 billion in 2008, the first in 70 years for that automaker.

For more, go here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dispute over Episcopal Seat in Karachi

On Oct 1, 1997 the Rev Ijaz Inayat was elected Bishop of Karachi by the diocesan synod. Shortly before his consecration, a rival faction within the diocese convinced a court to block the consecration charging his election had been unlawful, and litigation ensued.

In 2002, the Rev Sadiq Daniel was elected Bishop of Karachi in an election boycotted by supporters of Bishop-elect Inayat. Bishop Alexander Malik of Lahore, Bishop Samuel Azraiah of Raiwind and the former Bishop of Multan, the Rt Rev John Smart and then Sadiq Daniel as Bishop of Karachi.

In response, Bishop Smart K Dass of Hyderabad, Bishop John Samuel of Faisalabad, Bishop John Mall of Multan and Bishop Pervaiz Samuel Sialkot consecrated Ijaz Inayat as Bishop of Karachi.

Each of the new Karachi bishops claimed their consecration had been led by the Moderator of the Church of Pakistan. In 1997 Bishop Azariah was elected moderator of the Church of Pakistan. However, at the 2000 meeting of synod, Bishop Azariah closed the proceedings before a vote could be taken for a new moderator. A rump meeting was then held after the formal close of business and Bishop Dass elected moderator.

The rival moderators led to rival consecrations for the bishops of Karachi, then Hyderabad. The 2004 synod meeting elected Bishop Malik moderator, but its actions were not universally accepted by the church as half of the bishops boycotted the proceedings. Interventions by Dr Carey in 2004 failed to resolve the split. Within the international councils of the Communion, Dr Rowan Williams has followed the lead of Dr Carey and the Church of Pakistan Mission Partners Forum --- a support group comprising the Church of England, the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland, and others mission partners, and have backed Bishop Malik and his faction.

Litigation over the see of Karachi, as well as the disposition of church assets continues.

Read more here.

Bishop Ijaz Inayat agreed to the intervention of the Archbishop of Canterbury expecting the Archbishop to work on healing the situation in the Church of Pakistan. Then the Archbishop's recommendations came and the court announced its decision to hold fresh elections within one month “according to the procedure as laid down by the constitution”, to end the dispute. The court named Bishop S.K. Dass of Hyderabad as co-Moderator and assigned him the duty of holding the election.

Straight away, Bishops Malik and Samuel Azraiah consecrated Sadiq Daniel, claiming that he had won the election. Four bishops did not approve of this election. All four bishops in response to the situation consecrated Ijaz Inayat as Bishop of Karachi on 14th September 2002.

By then it became known that Bishop Malik had registered a parallel Church, without the approval of the Lahore Diocesan Council and the Synod, Church of Pakistan. He was trying to go back to former “Anglican System” and the new constitution was aimed at monopolizing all power within the Diocese of Lahore as it was the body which sets the Lahore Diocesan Trust Association which holds all property within Pakistan irrespective of Diocesan territories.

This body can pressure other Dioceses on property matters and can sell properties. Questions have been raised about whether certain parties have skimmed money from the sale of church properties. This is one of the questions being considered in reference to the sale of Afghan Mission Hospital in Peshawar to a developer.

Obama names Holdren, Lubchenco, Varmus and Lander

WASHINGTON - U.S. President-elect Barack Obama on Saturday named Harvard physicist John Holdren and marine biologist Jane Lubchenco to top science posts, signaling a change from Bush administration policies on global warming that were criticized for putting politics over science.

Both Holdren and Lubchenco are leading experts on climate change who have advocated forceful government response. Holdren will become Obama's science adviser as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Lubchenco will lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees ocean and atmospheric studies and does much of the government's research on global warming.

Holdren also will direct the president's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. Joining him as co-chairs will be Nobel Prize-winning scientist Harold Varmus, a former director of the National Institutes of Health, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Eric Lander, a specialist in human genome research.

Read it all here.

This promises of more pressure on objective environmental scientists to accept the party line on global warming.

India Presses for Action on Pakistan

NEW DELHI, Dec 22: India urged the international community on Monday to press Pakistan to weed out from its soil runaway terrorists who it says were behind the recent massacre in Mumbai and posed a great threat to global security.

Briefing Indian ambassadors from different world capitals, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said New Delhi was also aware that eventually it might have to deal with the problem on its own and it was keeping all options open for this.“We have so far acted with utmost restraint and are hopeful that the international community will use its influence to urge Pakistani government to take effective action,” Mr Mukherjee said. “While we continue to persuade the international community and Pakistan, we are also clear that ultimately it is we who have to deal with this problem. We will take all measures necessary, as we deem fit, to deal with the situation.”

In a rare reference to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), usually relegated to the backseat in moments of crisis like the current one triggered by the Mumbai attacks, Mr Mukherjee claimed credit for helping the group make its transition from rhetoric to action. But even in this Pakistan was not up to the mark, he said.

“In our neighbourhood we have continued with our efforts to deepen engagement, either bilaterally or multilaterally and even by assuming a built-in asymmetry in responsibilities. An objective assessment shows that this policy has yielded results except with Pakistan,” he said.

“The recent terrorist attack on Mumbai was unprecedented both in terms of its scale and audacity,” the minister said. “This and the series of terrorist incidents preceding it, including the attack on our embassy in Kabul where we lost our colleagues, indicate that terrorism emanating out of Pakistan is acquiring an increasingly dangerous dimension and continues to threaten peace and stability in this region and beyond.”

India had so far worked at several levels, he said. “At the international level we have sought the support of the international community to put pressure on Pakistan to deal effectively with terrorism. We have highlighted that the infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan has to be dismantled permanently.”

India was not saying this just because it was affected but because it believed that it would be good for the entire world and also for Pakistani people and society, he said.

“This terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan is the greatest terrorist danger to peace and security of the entire civilised world,” Mr Mukherjee said. There had been some effort so far by the international community but this was not enough, he said.

“Much more needs to be done and the actions should be pursued to their logical conclusion. We need effective steps not only to bring those responsible for the Mumbai attacks to justice, but also to ensure that such acts of terrorism do not recur,” Mr Mukherjee said.“Unfortunately, Pakistan’s response so far has demonstrated their earlier tendency to resort to a policy of denial and to seek to deflect and shift the blame and responsibility. We expect the civilian government of Pakistan to take effective steps to deal with elements within Pakistan who still continue to use terrorism as an instrument of state policy.”


Quote of the Week - Francis Hutcheson

“Without staunch adherence to truth telling, all confidence in communication would be lost.” Francis Hutcheson, 18th century Scottish philosopher

Monday, December 22, 2008

Siemens Exec Bribed Officials

Mr. Siekaczek (pronounced SEE-kah-chek) says that from 2002 to 2006 he oversaw an annual bribery budget of about $40 million to $50 million at Siemens. Company managers and sales staff used the slush fund to cozy up to corrupt government officials worldwide.

The payments, he says, were vital to maintaining the competitiveness of Siemens overseas, particularly in his subsidiary, which sold telecommunications equipment. “It was about keeping the business unit alive and not jeopardizing thousands of jobs overnight,” he said in an interview.

Read it all here.

Lambeth 'Oaf' Sacked for Abuse of Leading Bishop

Ruth Gledhill reports:

Astonishing story around today about how a member of the Archbishop of Canterbury's staff referred to the Bishop of Rochester Dr Michael Nazir-Ali as an 'a***hole' in a private memo. Anglican Mainstream has the details. Besides all the obvious things I could say about this crude, incredible and outrageous insult to one of the truest bishops on the bench, what really strikes me most is the depressingly low-grade nature of the abuse. It really is the kind of thing an illiterate oaf with an IQ of 60 might say in a Tesco queue. From Lambeth Palace, a more sophisticated forms of bullying might have been expected. Coincidentally, Dr Nazir-Ali is showing the Christian stuff of which he is made in a broadcast tonight on BBC Radio 3's latest Belief series, presented by Joan Bakewell. I am honoured to be able to give you the transcript, below. I wonder if anyone at Lambeth Palace has ever had to bury a baby in a fruit crate because the parents could not afford a coffin? Truly, the Bishop of Rochester is a prophet for our times and a mark of this is that he is disdained.

Read all of Gledhill's column here.

Bishop Nazir-Ali's views on gay rights and the integration of Muslim communities have attracted vitriolic criticism and even earned him death threats from outside the Church of England.
Now the controversial Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, 59, has found himself the target of a scatological attack by an aide in the offices of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.

A confidential document sent from Lambeth Palace to No 10 Downing Street and the Church of England's 43 diocesan bishops included the unclerical word "arsehole" appended to the name of Dr Nazir-Ali, Britain's most senior Asian Anglican.

The rogue insult – which specifically referred to "The arsehole Bishop of Rochester" – appeared in a confidential list of job vacancies and prospective candidates which was drawn up by the clergy appointments adviser, the Rev John Lee. The offending member of Dr Williams's staff has since been sacked.

The Church of England hopes its decision to sack the author of the abuse will end an embarrassing episode for the Lambeth Palace hierarchy. Mr Lee has already sent a written apology to the Bishop of Rochester.

Read it all here.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Obama's Speech Writer is "Fav"

Obama sometimes jokes that Favreau is not so much a speechwriter as a mind reader. He carries Obama's 1995 autobiography, "Dreams From My Father," with him almost everywhere and has memorized most of his famous keynote speech from the 2004 Democratic National Convention. He has mastered Obama's writing style -- short, elegant sentences -- and internalized his boss's tendency toward reflection and ideological balance.

Favreau's job is "to be like a baseball umpire," one co-worker said, and perform his task so deftly that nobody notices him. He listens to Obama tell stories in his office and spins them into developed metaphors, rich in historical context. When Obama delivers a speech on the road, Favreau studies the recording and notes the points at which Obama departs from the text so he can refine the riffs and incorporate them next time.

In four years together, Obama and Favreau have perfected their writing process. Before most speeches, Obama meets with Favreau for an hour to explain what he wants to say. Favreau types notes on his laptop and takes a crack at the first draft. Obama edits and rewrites portions himself -- he is the better writer, Favreau insists -- and they usually work through final revisions together. If Favreau looks stressed, Obama sometimes reassures him: "Don't worry. I'm a writer, too, and I know that sometimes the muse hits you and sometimes it doesn't. We'll figure it out together."

"The president-elect understands that Jon is a rare talent. He knows what he's got," said Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor, who also worked in the Senate office. "There's a mutual respect and appreciation between them, and the president-elect trusts Jon's instincts and ability. It's a partnership."

They stumbled upon it by accident in 2004, when Obama, just elected to the Senate, needed to hire a speechwriter. He brought Favreau, then 23, into the Senate dining room for an interview on his first day in office. They talked for 30 minutes about harmless topics such as family and baseball before Obama turned serious.

"So," he said. "What's your theory on speechwriting?"

Awkward silence. Favreau, just graduated from Holy Cross, had talked his way onto Sen. John F. Kerry's presidential campaign in 2003 and had become a press assistant, arriving at the office at 3 a.m. to clip newspapers. The speech he had given as class valedictorian circulated around the staff, and Favreau eventually got a shot at speechwriting. He wrote well and rose to the top of the department, but there was never any time to formulate theories. Now, Favreau looked at Obama and went with his gut.

"A speech can broaden the circle of people who care about this stuff," Favreau said. "How do you say to the average person that's been hurting: 'I hear you. I'm there. Even though you've been so disappointed and cynical about politics in the past, and with good reason, we can move in the right direction. Just give me a chance.' "

"I think this is going to work," Obama said.

Read it all here.

That part about the average person hurting... it doesn't fly. Hurting how? Because he didn't get a raise this year? Because her boyfriend left? Because he didn't study and earned an F on the final exam? Because she has breast cancer? Because his buddy was killed in Iraq? Because her church's leadership went nuts and caused the denomination to split? Geez! Life is about suffering. The message we need to hear is not that President Obama can identify with the average American, but toughen up, America! There is more suffering on its way.

Obama and Rick Warren

Alice C. Linsley

Liberals hate that Obama has invited Rick Warren to offer the Inaugural Prayer. They were hoping he might invite the gay Episcopal Bishop from New Hampshire.

Conservatives think Warren is sending the wrong message in accepting the invitation, appearing to endorse Obama's social policies. They would prefer that Warren decline the invitation, sending a message to the American public.

A tempest in a teapot. Much ado about nothing.

That's what Obama's invitation to Warren means to Christians in the catholic Tradition. Warren is just another Protestant preacher and Protestants long ago crossed the line when it comes to accommodation to the culture.

Warren’s purpose-driven life is so American. His presentation of the Incarnation (The Purpose of Christmas) is the typical watered-down Protestant view that Jesus’ birthday should be celebrated by recognizing and receiving the Gift and by attempting to be an agent of peace on earth for God. There is no meat here. No spiritual substance such as the early Church Fathers offer in their understanding of the Incarnation, writings that pre-existed the observance of Christmas by about 200 years.

In accepting Obama’s invitation, Warren doubtless believes that he is following his advice to “cooperate wherever possible, looking for common ground” (The Purpose of Christmas, p. 113).

This is not the message Joseph received from the angel in Bethlehem. The angel in his dream didn't proclaim 'peace on earth' while Herrod's soldiers were marching there to slaughter the innocents. If Warren believes that his acceptance of Obama's invitation is an act of peace and reconciliation, he mistakes the moment in which we live. Herrod's soldiers are on the march.

To Obama, Rick Warren was a perfect compromise, Protestant and progressive. And to be honest, Obama didn't have many options here. Gene Robinson would have isolated conservatives further and a Catholic Bishop could not have accepted the invitation without serious censure from Rome. The Roman Catholic hierarchs are ratcheting up their opposition to Obama's abortion and gay rights plans.

For more on this, go here.

Cardinal Biffi Denounces Homosexual Ideology

Cardinal Biffi notes that the “homosexual ideology” fits right into the present context of pan-sexuality, an idolatry of sex ‘liberated’ from any objective moral norm. It is at the same time a symptom and a consequence of both the abandonment of God and the theoretical and practical atheism of our times.

According to Saint Paul, aberrant practices are a punishment for that abandonment, which leads people to a kind of mental imbalance: "They became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools."[9]

This type of madness causes a degradation of the body as well:
"Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies."[10]

Man thus becomes dominated by the most violent and degrading passions:

"Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to their undiscerning mind to do what is improper."[11]

Acceptance of vice eventually leads man to try to justify it from a doctrinal standpoint, thus creating an ideology. Hence Saint Paul concludes his analysis: "They [who practice such things] not only do them but give approval to those who practice them."[12]

Read it all here.

Luxembourg Considering Legal Euthanasia

ROME, December 19, 2008 ( - Pope Benedict XVI yesterday expressed his "deepest concern" as Luxembourg draws near to adopting assisted suicide into law, which the Pope roundly condemned as contrary to true compassion.

“Political leaders, whose duty is to serve the good of man, as well as doctors and families should remember that 'the deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always evil from the moral point of view and can never be lawful,'" said the Pope, quoting the encyclical Evangelium Vitae. Benedict issued his remarks as he received the new ambassador to the Holy See from Luxembourg, Paul Duhr.

Luxembourg's parliament on Thursday narrowly voted in favor of the euthanasia law, hours after the Pope voiced his opposition. The law has not yet been finalized, and will undergo further consideration and possible revision before it could be signed into law next year. If passed, it would make Luxembourg the third country in Europe to allow euthanasia, after Holland and Belgium.

The current draft of the law also includes improvements for palliative care, which the Pope called a contradictory addition to a law permitting doctors to end the lives of suffering patients rather than care for their needs. "Love and true compassion embark on another path," he insisted.

"The request that arises from the heart of man in his supreme confrontation with suffering and death, especially when he feels the temptation to let himself be overcome by desperation, and feels lost to the point of wanting to disappear, is above all a petition for someone to accompany him and a call to greater solidarity and support in this test.

"This call can seem demanding, but it is the only one worthy of the human being, and it opens to new and deeper solidarity, which enriches and fortifies family and social bonds."

The Pope encouraged the people of Luxembourg, a predominantly Catholic country, to follow the "path of humanization" in cooperation with the Church. Hopeful that the people of Luxembourg would be "faithful to Christian and humanistic roots of their nation and the shared interests of promoting the common good," the Pope asked that they still "reaffirm the inviolability and grandeur of human life."

(To see the full text of the Pope's statement to the Luxembourg ambassador, go to:

At a conference promoted by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry last month, the Pope urged doctors not to give in to the "temptation" of shortening the lives of patients, as euthanasia "appears as one of the more alarming symptoms of the culture of death that is advancing above all in the society of well-being."

Luxembourg's Grand Duke Henri instigated a furor weeks ago when he stated that his conscience would not allow him to sign into force a law permitting euthanasia. He later agreed to an amendment removing his power as head of state so that his signing would be mere ceremony, a move that the parliament approved.

UK Children Aren't Happy

A public opinion poll published by The Children’s Society, as part of its ongoing Good Childhood® Inquiry, reveals mounting concern about children’s mental health and well being. When asked to rate children’s happiness today compared to when they were growing up, only one in ten (9%) respondents felt children nowadays are happier.

The Children’s Society commissioned the GfK NOP poll to complement the launch of a summary of the evidence submitted to the inquiry on its fifth theme - children’s health. Professionals and members of the public submitted evidence on a variety of health concerns but a large number of responses highlighted an issue barely acknowledged by past generations: children’s mental health and well being.

Adults’ concerns echo what children themselves have told The Good Childhood Inquiry. In a survey of 8,000 14-16 year olds, carried out by The Children’s Society as part of the inquiry, 27% of young people agreed with the statement ‘I often feel depressed’ (1). In a separate online vote, conducted by CBBC Newsround for the inquiry, 78% of those who voted said they felt fine, good or really good about their health; however a worrying 22% felt bad or really bad (2). Many also said they felt under pressure to look good, with seven out of ten admitting they dieted some or all of the time (3).

A number of children submitting evidence commented on the importance of being free from stress, pressure and worry. In some cases they explicitly linked pressure to school, the influence of peers, bullying, family expectations and their looks (4). Interestingly when asked what has the most negative impact on children’s well-being generally, adults responding to the GfK NOP poll rated family breakdown and conflict (29%) and peer pressure (23%) highly.

Read it all here.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pakistanis Pessimistic about Nation's Progress

WASHINGTON, Dec 19: About 88 per cent Pakistanis feel their country is headed in the wrong direction, 59 per cent say the next year will be worse than the current year while 67 per cent believe democracy has made no difference to their wellbeing, according to the findings of an opinion survey by the US-based International Republican Institute.

The poll was conducted from Oct 15 to 30 and the results were issued on Friday. The randomly selected sample consisted of 3,500 adult men and women from 223 rural and 127 urban locations in 50 districts in the four provinces. The margin of error for the sample was 1.66 per cent in 19 out of 20 cases.

The poll indicates a high degree of pessimism and discontent.When asked if they felt the country was headed in the right or wrong direction, 88 per cent responded wrong direction while 11 per cent said right direction. These ratings are slightly worse than the sentiment in January 2008, shortly before the nation went to the February elections polls.

When asked about their personal economic situation over the past year, 73 per cent said it had improved, 12 per cent said it had worsened and 14 per cent said it had remained the same, essentially unchanged since January.

Read it all here.

Pakistan and the USA have something in common. The solution for both nations is a deep sweeping change of heart among those in power (especially tribal and local chiefs), turning them from the works of darkness to the Divine Light revealed once and for all in Jesus Christ.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Somali Pirates 'Desperate Men'

NEWSWEEK: Why has there been such an increase Somali piracy?

In Somalia all the young men are desperate. There is wide unemployment in the country, there are no sources of income. One of the only sources we have had is fishing, and the superpowers and Asian countries sidelined us in our own sea. So at first we started out just to counter illegal fishing, but international forces started to protect them.

NEWSWEEK: Now the European Union is sending an additional naval force. Are you worried about the increased naval presence?

We know the EU and NATO forces are coming, but that is not the solution. The solution is to restore peace in Somalia so that we can have a better life and more job opportunities. I can tell you that sending forces will not stop us going into piracy. They can arrest us if they find us out at sea, they've arrested our friends several times, but that will never deter us from this business. The only thing that can stop piracy is a strong government in Somalia.

The most friendly forces in Somali waters are the U.S. forces. They arrest us and release us, because they know we are not going to hurt them. But the French and the Indians treat us badly and sometimes they don't know what they're doing. The Indians sunk that Thai boat [a fishing vessel reportedly taken over by pirates this month] and said it was pirates, but I tell you there was not a single pirate on that boat.

NEWSWEEK: Are you worried about another attack ashore, such as the one the French conducted, now that the U.N. has approved such attacks?

The French forces made two attacks. They arrested our friends, but French nationals will pay for that. If we get a ship with French nationals, we will punish the crew and they will pay double ransom. We're not worried about another attack [against pirates on land], because now we are on very high alert and they will never succeed with another raid.

NEWSWEEK: You justify piracy against all shipping even though your only complaint was against foreign fishing boats operating in your waters. Does that really make sense?

I justify it as a dirty business encouraged by the foreign forces that were escorting illegal fishing boats and toxic waste dumpers. And if they are escorting fishing boats, they can't escort all commercial shipping, and if we are forced to avoid fishing our waters, then those [commercial] ships are all our fish.

NEWSWEEK: How do you justify attacking pleasure yachts hundreds of miles offshore, or cruise liners, or even any vessel so far from Somalia?

Luxury yachts are what we are looking for, because what we need is money, and if we get a luxury yacht, we make a fortune.

Read it all here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Oxford Dictionary Expunges Christianity

The latest edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary has dropped many words associated with Christianity and British history that were found in earlier versions.

Christian-related words like "bishop," "chapel," "disciple," "minister," "sin," and "devil," have been replaced by words like "blog," "biodegradable," "MP3 player," "democratic," and "celebrity," in the 2007 edition of the popular children's dictionary in the United Kingdom.

Although the newest version of the dictionary was released last year, the removal of words went largely unnoticed until Lisa Saunders, a mother of four from Northern Ireland, pointed them out.
She first realized the omission of words during a homework session with her son when couldn't find "moss" and "fern," which were in editions up until 2003, but were not included in the 2007 version, the Daily Telegraph reported.

The discovery prompted Saunders to compare entries from the older editions, dating from 1978, 1995, 2000, 2002, and 2003 with the latest junior dictionary.

"I was completely horrified by the vast number of words which have been removed," she told the Telegraph in London. "We know that language moves on and we can't be fuddy-duddy about it but you don't cull hundreds of important words in order to get in a different set of ICT words."

Vineeta Gupta, the head of children's dictionaries at Oxford University Press, told the Telegraph the changes were made to reflect a "multicultural" society.

Read it all here.

Anyone want to bet that the following words appear?


In Iowa Rabbis Failed Everyone

Ever since the Forward published its first reports two years ago on working conditions at the Agriprocessors slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, Orthodox rabbinic authorities have insisted that the violations attributed to the company are not directly related to the rules of kosher slaughter, and therefore are outside the certifying rabbis’ jurisdiction. Kosher certification, they have explained, follows time-honored biblical and talmudic principles that cannot be altered by modern rabbinic fiat. Many have derided and even ridiculed the Conservative rabbinate for seeking to develop a new form of certification, Hekhsher Tzedek, that would consider a company’s ethical behavior alongside its slaughtering techniques.

Besides, Orthodox rabbis told us, protecting workers and safeguarding the environment are the job of government, not the clergy. If the government with all its lawyers has not acted against the Postville plant, why should rabbis presume to?

The arguments were specious from the outset, as we have argued before. Kosher certification standards have been altered repeatedly over the years in response to behavior unrelated to the slaughter itself. A generation ago, kosher restaurants in New York were commonly open on Saturdays. Today the practice has all but disappeared, shut down by kosher certifiers. Kosher hotels in Israel used to offer New Year’s Eve parties, mixed dancing and even belly dancers. Nowadays such activities lead to loss of certification.

Rabbis routinely use their certification power to regulate activities that have nothing to do with knives. It’s one of the only enforcement powers they have in the modern world. Qualified rabbinic authorities could have used that power in response to growing evidence of Agriprocessors’ abuses. They did not. Instead, they crossed their fingers, hoped for the best and waited for the government to act.

Why did the kosher authorities not take action? Part of the reason was fear for the integrity of the community’s food supply. Agriprocessors had managed, by cutting costs and beating back the competition — in ways that deserve their own examination — to dominate the nationwide market for kosher beef. Rabbis feared that if the company were to stonewall in the face of a rabbinic threat of decertification they might be forced to ban much of the country’s kosher meat supply, leaving their public without a food staple.

In part, too, rabbis were deterred by mistrust of the labor, animal rights and other liberal groups that led the protests against the company. There was a widespread suspicion in the Orthodox community that the protesters were motivated by concerns other than simple ethics.

Acknowledging the abuses, many thought, would have put traditional Judaism and the Jewish community in a bad light. In the choice between siding with critics and circling the wagons of their community, most Orthodox leaders chose the latter. Only a handful of mostly young activists chose to speak out against the abuse. Their protests were mostly ignored by the kosher consuming public.

In the end, events took their own course. Government authorities acted far more harshly than anyone had anticipated, with terrible results for both the kosher marketplace and the reputation of traditional Judaism. Agriprocessors was forced to shut down production amid a circus of theatrical law enforcement and front-page media coverage. News media across the country have responded gleefully to images of a company run by devout Jews, its primary mission to enable the observance of Jewish religious rules, acting in ways that violate the ethical and moral standards of everyone else. And the bottom fell out of the kosher meat supply.

For all that, it must not be forgotten that the real victims in this saga are the Agriprocessors’ employees whose mistreatment sparked the controversy in the first place. During the long months that Jewish community leaders debated the ethics of Agriprocessors and its certification, the mostly immigrant workers toiled on in largely unchanged conditions. The same long hours, short pay, dangerous conditions and on-the-job harassment that they had endured unseen for years continued in daylight while outsiders discussed whether and how to act.

And when the government finally did step in, as the rabbis had said it should, it did not act to protect workers’ legal rights and public safety standards — but rather to punish the workers for being on the job. In one of the largest workplace law-enforcement raids in American history, close to 400 Agriprocessors employees were arrested for immigration violations and taken without notice from their homes and families. In a move of astonishing callousness, authorities did not simply deport the detainees to their home countries, but first jailed them on charges of stealing identity documents — papers whose illegality the workers themselves had no way of knowing about.

Now, five months later, as our Nathaniel Popper reports, dozens of them are out of prison, their sentences completed, but they are not free. In a Kafkaesque turn of events, they are being held in Iowa so that they can testify against their former employers on charges of child labor and employing illegal immigrants. They cannot leave, they cannot see their families, they cannot yet work and the government will not provide them with the wherewithal to live while they wait.
They live day to day on the charity of a Catholic church as they prepare to help the government prosecute their former abusers for the suffering that they continue to endure, now at the government’s hands.

Read it all here.

Ugliness in Vietnam

As part of their intimidatory action police “turned their backs” on four Catholics whose boat sank off the coast of central Vietnam near Hue; “one even tried to prevent their rescue,” said Fr Peter Nguyen Huu Giai. The incident occurred last Monday near the church in An Bang parish, in Vinh An, a village in Thua Thien province, Hue archdiocese.

The church is not a real building; it is only a cross and altar set in the ground. The land on which they stand belonged to a parishioner, Mr Le Khinh, who died a few years ago. Both he and his children had agreed to have the “church” built for Vinh An parishioners, who are mostly poor fishermen and farmers. “His children are still the land’s legal owners,” Father Peter said.

Things turned ugly when Vinh An authorities decided they wanted to turn the area in a tourist resort following the death of the congregation’s benefactor. Back in October they issued a removal order for cross and altar, claiming that the area as public land.

The parish priest rejected the order, demanding the authorities show a proof of ownership.

The controversy echoes similar happenings in Hanoi and Vinh Long where local authorities have seized Church property.

Here too the tug-of-war between Catholics and local authorities involves a campaign of intimidation and harassment on the latter’s part.

For example, “at 5.30 every morning loudspeakers blare out the government religious policies, saying how much it respects the Catholic Church,” Father Peter said. “Many parishioners have also been summoned to appear before the authorities,” he added.

On Monday “when parishioners were meeting in church to prepare for Christmas, hundreds of policemen swarmed the area to seal it off,” the parish priest said. “They told me and the members of my congregation that we were not allowed to celebrate Christmas here.”

Upon hearing about what was happening, many faithful rushed to the place. At 12.15 a boat carrying four Catholics overturned in the waters. The police saw it but did nothing. “One even tried to prevent their rescue,” Father Peter said.

Other faithful “jumped into the sea and saved them, but everyone was taken aback by the authorities’ behaviour.”

Now the latter have set up three police booths near the altar where officers can tape people coming to Mass.

Source: SperoForum

Worst Torture Record?

Egypt is one of the worst countries in terms of torture," Mr. Meral said. "Once you are detained, that's it. The security services can keep you without charges for six, seven months, and then renew those charges."

It was there he encountered a man who had endured horrific suffering for leaving Islam."
A few days into his torture, he broke down and gave up hope," Mr. Meral said. "They were laughing and saying,

'You're screaming and there is no one out there. No one can help you.'"

Of the world's 2 billion Christians, 200 million are persecuted in some way. Many of them are in Islamic countries or in rabidly anti-religious regimes such as North Korea's. These countries ignore the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which grants people freedom to choose their religion.

The persecution from Muslims is so intense, 70 percent of all Islamic converts to Christianity give up their adopted faith in two years, Mr. Meral said.

"Your society, your family, everyone is against you and you are completely left alone," he said.

Once their switch to another faith is made known, converts first lose their jobs. Angry parents will seek to have their children taken away from them. Others are told their marriages are no longer valid. In many countries, secular law is subservient to Islamic Shariah law, which proscribes death for converts.

Mr. Meral has a book, "No Place to Call Home: Experiences of Apostates From Islam and Failures of the International Community," published by Christian Solidarity Worldwide. It is about people like Jeje Nehamiah Baki, a nomad from Chad who converted to Christianity in 1995. His father-in-law took custody of Mr. Baki's wife and children and when the convert tried visiting his family in 2002, the father-in-law killed Mr. Baki's oldest son to teach the father a lesson.

Read it all here.

(The Copts, though not converts from Islam, have also received extremely abusive treatment in Egypt.)

India's Big Problem with Terrorism

In fact, over the last few years India is only second to Iraq in the death toll due to terrorist attacks as recorded by the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington, D.C. This doesn’t account for premeditated mob violence which has increasingly targeted minorities as seen in the ethnic cleansing of Dalit and Tribal Christians in the Orissa state in December 2007 and August 2008.

All these extremist groups threaten what is called “the idea of India,” which refers to a united nation made up of diverse religious and ethnic groups.

Simply put, we cannot afford to let any form of terrorism go unpunished. India cannot let the extremist Hindu groups who have displaced tens of thousands of Dalit Christians in Orissa escape justice.

Read it all here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bernie Madoff's Garbage

Beyond cocktail parties, Madoff really created the money management business to feed himself trades. But his strategy was garbage. He absolutely bombed as a money manager, but he desperately needed the assets under management to feed his trading operations, so he started to make the numbers up. As is usually the case, most don't set out to be crooks, but Madoff became one when his talents proved lacking. There is your "why."

It's not new. This was the Enron story: They lost tons in water ventures and Indian power plants, so concocted fraudulent entities to cover up their losses. Same for Sam Israel and his Bayou hedge fund. And even (without the fraud) the Citigroup/Wall Street story, too. They tried to be investors to make up the difference of their bread-and-butter business deteriorating and were awful at it, so they levered up in off-balance-sheet vehicles.

Who knows when the fraud started? As early as December of 1990, he was taking money from the Fairfield Sentry fund of funds. The bull market resumed in January of 1991 as Operation Desert Storm commenced. Madoff showed up years, as did most money managers. But 1994 was rough. So were 1996, 1997 and 1998, yet he did have double-digit years.

Since 2001 and 2002 were ugly, and Madoff showed "only" single-digit returns this decade, so my sense is that money kept flowing in and flowing in. The Tremont fund of funds and Nomura and European banks--my partner and I were out raising a hedge fund and couldn't raise a tarnished nickel from these groups. And we tried.

Public begging is humiliating. But funds of funds and banks were steering money into the Madoff machine. (Ah, schadenfreude delayed.) But it went beyond these so-called professionals or even the country club set; lots of great charities fell for his fudged numbers.

As in any classic Ponzi scheme, you pay old investors who redeem with new money. Sounds like not too many wanted out, until 2008. Now, $7 billion in redemption requests since the Credit Crisis began meant Madoff has made a complete circle, from schlub to macher to goniff (a crook, swindler or cheat).

Let that be a lesson. Learn a few jokes to tell at the club. Impressing the highball crowd with your investing prowess is a losing strategy.

Andy Kessler is a former hedge fund manager turned author. Kessler writes a daily blog. Read it all here.

More on the Slaughter of Jos Christians

Deaconess Susan Essam, Principal of Christian Institute, Anglican Diocese of Jos writes: From where I live at the Diocesan office (on the edge of Jos) the sky over the city that day (November 28) was brown with rising clouds of thick smoke. Houses, shops, businesses, vicarages, churches were being destroyed and hundreds of innocent people brutally slaughtered.

The previous day had seen the Local Government Elections pass off peacefully despite much apprehension about the Jos North area. Then in the early hours, before the results were even released, evil struck. Cries of Jihad were heard. Buildings were set alight and citizens who could not escape were either burnt alive, shot or hacked to pieces.

Plans had obviously been laid well in advance and Muslim mercenaries brought in from outside Nigeria, together with guns and other weapons. The non-Muslims were caught unprepared and had to defend themselves with whatever they could lay their hands on. This they did with remarkable effect. Anger brought retaliation, however, and Muslim property, businesses and mosques were also destroyed, but please note that contrary to some reports in the foreign media NO Muslim was killed in a mosque.

Read it all here.

Even were it true that a Moslem had been killed in Jos, that would hardly justify the slaughter of 360 innocent Christian men, women and children.

And the American media? You could safely bet that this story would have made the front page were Christians slaughtering Muslims.

Fed Sues Ovation

The federal government on Tuesday sued Ovation Pharmaceuticals Inc., accusing the Deerfield company of illegally raising the price for a drug that treats heart defects in babies.
The Federal Trade Commission claims that in 2006, Ovation raised the price of its drug, Indocin, to nearly $500 a vial from $36, after acquiring the rights to the only competitor drug on the market.

“By acquiring its only competitor in the treatment of a serious heart condition affecting premature babies, Ovation has been able to charge dramatically higher prices for its drugs,” acting FTC Bureau of Competition Director David P. Wales said in a statement. “While Ovation is profiting from its illegal acquisition, hospitals and ultimately consumers and American taxpayers are forced to pay millions of dollars a year more for these life-saving medications.”

Here is what Chris MacDonald has to say about this price-gouging:

OK, so, find a super-vulnerable population that desperately needs your product. Eliminate all competition. Then jack up the price more than 1000%. Yup, that pretty much takes the cake.