Monday, June 30, 2008

Wal-Mart: The Store Some People Love to Hate

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The familiar logo of the world's largest retailer is getting a makeover.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Sunday the company will begin replacing logos on the front of its U.S. stores with a new design beginning this fall. Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Gardner said the change would reflect changes customers already have seen in some store signs and advertisements.

"This logo update is simply a reflection of the refreshed image of our stores and our renewed sense of purpose of helping people save money so they can live better," Gardner said in a written statement.

The new logo would show company's name in white letters on an orange background, followed by a small starburst.

Read more here.

Anthony Mirhaydari comments “Wal-Mart has finally decided to do something about its staid white-on-blue logo and red, blue, and grey color scheme. In a surprising move for a company that acted as though it was too big, too powerful, and too damn cheap to bother with its image problem...”

Anthony seems to think that Wal-Mart is a charitable organization rather than a for-profit business. One can almost hear the disgust as Mirhaydari attempts to put Gardner’s comment in a less philanthropic light, “That's a nice thought, but don’t let them fool you: Everything Wal-Mart does is driven by the profit motive.”

Mirhaydari has perhaps forgotten that Wal-Mart was one of the first mega-store chains to respond to the needs of Katrina victims, donating over $20 million in cash, 1,500 truckloads of free merchandise, food for 100,000 meals and the promise of a job for all of its displaced workers. Wal-Mart responded so quickly and so effectively that it could teach FEMA how to do relief work.

The fact is that Wal-Mart’s executive intelligence is such that it knows that philanthropy is good for business and the time is right for smaller stores and earth friendly retailing.

The last time Wal-Mart changed its logo was 1992. Since that time Wal-Mart has made many changes. Besides introducing a discounted prescription drug program that has become a benchmark for pharmacies, the corporation has increased the number of associates who now have health-care from 90. 4 percent in 2007 to 92. 7 percent in the first quarter of 2008. The number of uninsured Wal-Mart associates decreased also by more than 2 percent, compared to 2007.

Linda Dillman, executive vice president of benefits, reported in January of this year: "We’ve worked hard over the past couple of years to improve our health-care plans and help reach out to more associates."

Tibet: Buddhist Social Ethics

Buddhist teachings do not rule out the use of force to relieve a greater suffering, although the Buddhist tradition is rightly known for the systematic practice of nonviolence, its first ethical precept. A concise summary of the texts authorizing the use of force may be found in Peter Harvey's An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics, where most examples are of killing a tyrant who is terrorizing the masses. Even here, however, the paradigm is of the Buddha, who famously stopped a serial killer in his tracks by the force of his goodness and then accepted the criminal (known as Angulimala for his signature "necklace of fingers") into the monastic order.

The Tibetans are historically a bellicose people who have defended themselves with force throughout history. Monks have taken to the streets before, even in the 20th century. What follow is a summary of the Tibetan conflict with the Chinese in modern history.

The struggle for Tibet is perhaps the best known theater of engaged Buddhism in the early 21st century, due in part to the global activism of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, and the strong interest of the press and the public since 1959, when Chinese troops overran the country.

Certainly the political, economic, cultural, and environmental carnage that resulted from Chinese annexation of the Tibetan region has been well documented (see recommended reading list).

Political instability is not new to Tibet, but it is arguably its defining characteristic since before the transmission of Buddhism to the region in the 7th century CE. Its provinces were not unified until the 17th century, when the first Dalai Lama consolidated the country under Manchu patronage. When the British invaded in 1904, the 13th Dalai Lama fled to Mongolia and attempted unsuccessfully to enlist Russian support. The Chinese recovered control of the country in 1909, but were expelled by the Dalai Lama in 1913.

Declaring independence in 1914, the 13th Dalai Lama attempted to institute political reforms but was opposed by the monasteries. After an uprising of monks in 1921, the Dalai Lama gave up all efforts to modernize the country; the army was disbanded, English schools closed, and regents took over the country following the Dalai Lama's death in 1933. In 1947, armed monks of the Sera Je monastery took part in a rebellion that resulted in 300 deaths. Elements of the sangha (Buddhist clergy) called on China to liberate the country. The People's Liberation Army entered the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in 1951 and brokered a 12-point accord between Beijing and Lhasa. But in 1959 another uprising of monks triggered a crackdown that has placed the country firmly under Chinese control ever since. The 14th Dalai Lama, still a teenager, fled to India with the senior members of the government.

In 1966, the Chinese Cultural Revolution encompassed Tibet in the systematic destruction of all things Buddhist: clergy, monasteries, libraries, rituals, and artifacts. The Free Tibet Movement emerged in the Tibetan refugee camps in India in the 1970s, with the Tibetan Youth Congress and the Tibetan People's Freedom Movement giving voice to the growing militancy of the exiles. In 1977, a group of young Tibetans held a hunger strike outside the United Nations Information Center in New Delhi, stating to the press, "We Tibetans are treated as political lepers by the international community and our cause as an embarrassing and contagious disease. We the victims are ignored and shunned while our oppressors are courted and feted by a world gone mad. We are peaceful people and we have nowhere to turn to for justice except the United Nations."

Read it all here.

The irony is that Buddhist monks and nuns who believe in non-violence are having to resort to violence to gain world attention and to force China to consider her actions. Lucky Severson recently said, "The work of the protesters is raising questions among Tibetans themselves and people around the world. For instance, will the demonstrations actually force the Chinese to loosen control of Tibetan Buddhism? And how can a religious philosophy built around peace and compassion continue to hold the high ground when the protests are resulting in so much violence? Professor Thurman says the Tibetan devotion to nonviolence goes to the core of their faith --the path to total enlightenment takes place over many, many lifetimes, many reincarnations, and to commit violence threatens that path."

Robert Thurman explains, "Buddhist ethics is intense about nonviolence, but it's also pragmatic. There is one sutra where it's stated if you are invaded by an enemy and you can successfully defend yourself and repel the enemy, and the enemy while occupying you will cause tremendous violence, then you should defend yourself. "

Read more here.

Madam "Primate" Decries Jerusalem Declaration

Much of the Anglican world must be lamenting the latest emission from GAFCON. Anglicanism has always been broader than some find comfortable. This statement does not represent the end of Anglicanism, merely another chapter in a centuries-old struggle for dominance by those who consider themselves the only true believers. Anglicans will continue to worship God in their churches, serve the hungry and needy in their communities, and build missional relationships with others across the globe, despite the desire of a few leaders to narrow the influence of the gospel. We look forward to the opportunities of the Lambeth Conference for constructive conversation, inspired prayer, and relational encounters.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Source: Episcopal Life Online

This is what one has come to expect from the head of the Episcopal (Zero-Tolerance of Right-Believers) Organization, who has publically stated that Jesus Christ is one of many ways to God. Yet Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, still believes "that it is wrong to assume we are now so far apart that all those outside the GAFCON network are simply proclaiming another gospel. This is not the case; it is not the experience of millions of faithful and biblically focused Anglicans in every province. What is true is that, on all sides of our controversies, slogans, misrepresentations and caricatures abound. And they need to be challenged in the name of the respect and patience we owe to each other in Jesus Christ.

I have in the past quoted to some in the Communion who would call themselves radical the words of the Apostle in I Cor.11.33: ‘wait for one another’. I would say the same to those in whose name this statement has been issued. An impatience at all costs to clear the Lord’s field of the weeds that may appear among the shoots of true life (Matt.13.29) will put at risk our clarity and effectiveness in communicating just those evangelical and catholic truths which the GAFCON statement presents."

Read Williams' full response to the Jerusalem Declaration here. It must be hard to straddle a picket fence!

Serving the White House: Highest Moral Duty?

Whether or not Scott McClellan's new book accurately depicts his time working for President Bush, the former White House press secretary has raised interesting questions about ethical choices at work. For one: How responsible are employees for ethical lapses to which they are compelled to contribute? Stephen Goldman, author of Temptations in the Office: Ethical Choices and Legal Obligations, is a law professor at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and he has also earned his stripes as a business owner. Goldman recently spoke with U.S. News on workplace ethics. Excerpts:

McClellan's book aims to expose his former employer's purported lack of moral compass, but his own role seems to be as both victim and participant. Can victims really be participants?

I think that lots of victims begin life as participants. Something happens, and, you know, it doesn't feel right, they don't like it, but nobody wants to be a crybaby. I talk in the book about how temptations in the office that cause problems are divided into sex, money, and power. Lots of times, the sexual harassment situation starts—a guy does something to a woman in the workplace, which she doesn't like and doesn't think is appropriate. But she doesn't say anything about it, she doesn't do anything about it, and—I'm not saying he's right in doing this—but he may take that as an invitation. And then it accelerates, and then she realizes she's in a situation of being a harassment object. In some of these financial scandals, people start cutting corners, they participate, and before long they're in the cross hairs of the [Securities and Exchange Commission].

I say that abuse of power in the workplace is really the next frontier of business ethics. People sort of thought that people in power can get away with anything they want. I think what happened to McClellan was—at first, there's the power, there's the president, and the vice president and Karl Rove. And all of a sudden, you were first of all helping them; you're now kind of the fall guy.

Do "victims" have an ethical obligation?

Yeah, there is an ethical choice. The ethical choice is either to confront the wrongdoer—sometimes that's just not practicable—or get out. Or unfortunately, there's a third choice, which, in the real world, some people make: They keep quiet about it. I mean, if you're Scott McClellan, you can get another job, but there are lots of people who are hanging on to their jobs for dear life now, and they're not in a position to do more than grin and bear it. Those are the three choices. Ideally, if you can get out or confront them, it's best. But it's not always realistically possible for people.

McClellan has said the press didn't ask the tough questions in the run-up to the Iraq war, and members of the press have said they weren't allowed to. Is that passing the buck, or is it unfair to expect people without power to accept responsibility?

I think that not being in a position of leadership doesn't absolve you of taking responsibility for your acts. I mean, that, after all, was the superior-orders defense which the Nazi war criminals used unsuccessfully at Nuremberg after World War II. So I don't think you can get out of taking responsibility.

What other ethics lessons do you see in the McClellan episode?

I think that the response of the White House, which is clearly very well orchestrated, is very interesting. What they have, in essence, charged him with doing is breaching his loyalty. And loyalty is an important value. We all owe loyalty to our employers. But what seems to me to be implicit in what the White House is saying is: The duty of loyalty is the highest moral duty—that it should trump anything else.

Read it all here.

Let Freedom Ring Speaks Out

Why Ms. Young thinks that I’m “upset that the AP exposed” some “strict constructionist code words” is beyond me. My belief in strict constructionist judges is based on my belief that the Constitution means what it says, that there’s a reason why the Founding Fathers outlined the specific duties of each branch of government.

Strict constructionism simply means that elected officials are responsible for enacting and signing legislation that becomes law. The Founding Fathers’ wisdom in establishing that is that they wanted elections to hold people accountable for their actions in the House, Senate or White House.

The last thing they wanted was unelected people making laws, which is what activist judges do. Let’s remember that they just separated themselves from the British because they didn’t believe in accountability.

Here’s how Ms. Young twisted my post into her own diatribe:

Giulianni was pandering to the theocrats when he said that. The so-called “strict constructionists” such as Scalia really are interested in having a theocracy. Scalia has said that Government derives its legitimacy from God. That’s not what the constitution says and it’s interesting how these characters have claimed to be “strict constructionists.”

Christians are now considered theocrats? That’s a helluva leap.

While it’s true that the Constitution doesn’t say that government “derives its legitimacy from God”, the Declaration of Independence does:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The Declaration is clear that the Founding Fathers believed that the government only had the powers that the governed consented to.

Read it all here.

Paleoanthropologists Consider How to Give Back

A new paleonanthropology group, called the East African Association for Paleoanthropology and Paleontology (EAAPP), has agreed to investigate how local communities can be helped by research conducted on their lands.

One of the stated goals of the EAAPP is "to bring scholars working within this region closer by holding conferences to exchange ideas and report on paleoanthropological research findings, with an emphasis on making East African and foreign scholars working in East Africa aware of each other’s research."

The synopsis of the EAAPP's intent was written by Emma Mbua (Kenya), Zeresenay Alemseged (Ethiopia), and American René Bobe from the University of Georgia. Zeresnay Alemseged discovered the 3.3 million year old girl Selam in Ethiopia.

This ethical turn among paleontologists and archaeologists is extremely welcome. Hopefully the group's ambitions will go beyond simply sharing research results and formulation of policies to conserve fossils and to make them available to the public.

EU to Iran: Stop Executing Juveniles

Brussels: The EU has spoken out against the imminent execution of juvenile offenders in Iran, calling for an immediate halt to the plans.

In a statement issued today by the Slovenian Government, which holds the rotating EU Presidency, it stated that all juvenile death sentences are in direct contravention of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s international obligations and commitments to which the Islamic Republic of Iran has freely undertaken.

It has been reported that yet another juvenile offender is in imminent threat of execution. Mr Selah Taseh was sentenced to death for a crime committed when he was a minor. The Presidency today urged the Iranian authorities to immediately halt the execution of Mr Taseh and all other juvenile offenders on death row, including Mr Saeed Jazee, Mr Mohammad Fadaei, Mr Behnoud Shojaee, Mr Behnam Zare and Mr Abu Moslem Sohrabi.

Twice earlier this month the EU has called on Iran to observe the obligations contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. These “must be fully and unconditionally respected by the Islamic Republic of Iran, as a State Party to both of these legally binding international human rights conventions,” the statement said.

Source: Religious Intelligence News

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Jerusalem Declaration

The following is an excerpt from the Global Anglican Future Conference. Ironically, it comes exactly 20 years after my ordination on the Feast of St Peter and St Paul, June 29, 1988. These 20 years later I have come to see that the priesthood is as gender specific as giving birth. I have extensively researched the history and nature of the Priesthood from its primeval origins so I am not simply expressing a preference.

The Episcopal Church USA was the first to ordain women as priests and the first woman canonically ordained was also lesbian. The Episcopal Church was also the first to consecrate as bishop a homosexual who this month "married" his partner. These innovations are without precedent in the history of the Church and are contrary to the framework of biblical Faith. Such innovations bring strife and division to the Church and are diabolical, not "prophetic" as TEC's leaders claim.

I have no regrets about setting aside Episcopal Church orders. Those to wish to read more about this should go here and here.

I hope that the question of women and the priesthood will now be addressed, as it should be, apart from the rhetoric of gay activisim and feminism.

The Jerusalem Statement represents a long awaited resolution to the Anglican crisis by stating who Anglicans are doctrinally. The up-coming Lambeth Conference will have to address this statement or the Canterbury establishment will be further marginalized.

While I'm now rejoicing in the Holy Orthodox Church, I continue to pray for my Anglican brothers and sisters. There are yet many details to work out, but the realignment of Anglicanism is de facto.

From the GAFCON Closing Statement:

Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans
We, the participants in the Global Anglican Future Conference, are a fellowship of confessing Anglicans for the benefit of the Church and the furtherance of its mission. We are a fellowship of people united in the communion (koinonia) of the one Spirit and committed to work and pray together in the common mission of Christ. It is a confessing fellowship in that its members confess the faith of Christ crucified, stand firm for the gospel in the global and Anglican context, and affirm a contemporary rule, the Jerusalem Declaration, to guide the movement for the future. We are a fellowship of Anglicans, including provinces, dioceses, churches, missionary jurisdictions, para-church organisations and individual Anglican Christians whose goal is to reform, heal and revitalise the Anglican Communion and expand its mission to the world.

Our fellowship is not breaking away from the Anglican Communion. We, together with many other faithful Anglicans throughout the world, believe the doctrinal foundation of Anglicanism, which defines our core identity as Anglicans, is expressed in these words: The doctrine of the Church is grounded in the Holy Scriptures and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal. We intend to remain faithful to this standard, and we call on others in the Communion to reaffirm and return to it. While acknowledging the nature of Canterbury as an historic see, we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Building on the above doctrinal foundation of Anglican identity, we hereby publish the Jerusalem Declaration as the basis of our fellowship.

The Jerusalem Declaration
In the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit:

We, the participants in the Global Anglican Future Conference, have met in the land of Jesus' birth. We express our loyalty as disciples to the King of kings, the Lord Jesus. We joyfully embrace his command to proclaim the reality of his kingdom which he first announced in this land. The gospel of the kingdom is the good news of salvation, liberation and transformation for all. In light of the above, we agree to chart a way forward together that promotes and protects the biblical gospel and mission to the world, solemnly declaring the following tenets of orthodoxy which underpin our Anglican identity.

1. We rejoice in the gospel of God through which we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because God first loved us, we love him and as believers bring forth fruits of love, ongoing repentance, lively hope and thanksgiving to God in all things.

2. We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation. The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church's historic and consensual reading.

3. We uphold the four Ecumenical Councils and the three historic Creeds as expressing the rule of faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

4. We uphold the Thirty-nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God's Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today.

5. We gladly proclaim and submit to the unique and universal Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, humanity's only Saviour from sin, judgement and hell, who lived the life we could not live and died the death that we deserve. By his atoning death and glorious resurrection, he secured the redemption of all who come to him in repentance and faith.

6. We rejoice in our Anglican sacramental and liturgical heritage as an expression of the gospel, and we uphold the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer, to be translated and locally adapted for each culture.

7. We recognise that God has called and gifted bishops, priests and deacons in historic succession to equip all the people of God for their ministry in the world. We uphold the classic Anglican Ordinal as an authoritative standard of clerical orders.

8. We acknowledge God's creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.

9. We gladly accept the Great Commission of the risen Lord to make disciples of all nations, to seek those who do not know Christ and to baptise, teach and bring new believers to maturity.

10. We are mindful of our responsibility to be good stewards of God's creation, to uphold and advocate justice in society, and to seek relief and empowerment of the poor and needy.

11. We are committed to the unity of all those who know and love Christ and to building authentic ecumenical relationships. We recognise the orders and jurisdiction of those Anglicans who uphold orthodox faith and practice, and we encourage them to join us in this declaration.

12. We celebrate the God-given diversity among us which enriches our global fellowship, and we acknowledge freedom in secondary matters. We pledge to work together to seek the mind of Christ on issues that divide us.

13. We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.

14. We rejoice at the prospect of Jesus' coming again in glory, and while we await this final event of history, we praise him for the way he builds up his church through his Spirit by miraculously changing lives.

The Road Ahead
We believe the Holy Spirit has led us during this week in Jerusalem to begin a new work. There are many important decisions for the development of this fellowship which will take more time, prayer and deliberation. Among other matters, we shall seek to expand participation in this fellowship beyond those who have come to Jerusalem, including cooperation with the Global South and the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa. We can, however, discern certain milestones on the road ahead.

Primates' Council
We, the participants in the Global Anglican Future Conference, do hereby acknowledge the participating 20Primates of GAFCON who have called us together, and encourage them to form the initial Council of the GAFCON movement. We look forward to the enlargement of the Council and entreat the Primates to organise and expand the fellowship of confessing Anglicans.

We urge the Primates' Council to authenticate and recognise confessing Anglican jurisdictions, clergy and congregations and to encourage all Anglicans to promote the gospel and defend the faith.

We recognise the desirability of territorial jurisdiction for provinces and dioceses of the Anglican Communion, except in those areas where churches and leaders are denying the orthodox faith or are preventing its spread, and in a few areas for which overlapping jurisdictions are beneficial for historical or cultural reasons.

We thank God for the courageous actions of those Primates and provinces who have offered orthodox oversight to churches under false leadership, especially in North and South America. The actions of these Primates have been a positive response to pastoral necessities and mission opportunities. We believe that such actions will continue to be necessary and we support them in offering help around the world.

We believe this is a critical moment when the Primates' Council will need to put in place structures to lead and support the church. In particular, we believe the time is now ripe for the formation of a province in North America for the federation currently known as Common Cause Partnership to be recognised by the Primates' Council.

Conclusion: Message from Jerusalem
We, the participants in the Global Anglican Future Conference, were summoned by the Primates' leadership team to Jerusalem in June 2008 to deliberate on the crisis that has divided the Anglican Communion for the past decade and to seek direction for the future. We have visited holy sites, prayed together, listened to God's Word preached and expounded, learned from various speakers and teachers, and shared our thoughts and hopes with each other.

The meeting in Jerusalem this week was called in a sense of urgency that a false gospel has so paralysed the Anglican Communion that this crisis must be addressed. The chief threat of this dispute involves the compromising of the integrity of the church's worldwide mission. The primary reason we have come to Jerusalem and issued this declaration is to free our churches to give clear and certain witness to Jesus Christ.

It is our hope that this Statement on the Global Anglican Future will be received with comfort and joy by many Anglicans around the world who have been distressed about the direction of the Communion. We believe the Anglican Communion should and will be reformed around the biblical gospel and mandate to go into all the world and present Christ to the nations.

Feast of St Peter and St Paul
29 June 2008

The full text of the GAFCON Closing Statement is here.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Mice Used to Help Unravel Human Mental Illnesses

New mouse strains engineered to express human genes related to mental disorders are being developed under a recently-launched grant program from NIMH’s Division of Neuroscience and Basic Behavioral Science. The new models are designed to help scientists understand the molecular workings of variations in genes that may predispose for – or even help protect against – illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. They will also explore how duplications or the differences in the amount of genetic material affect brain function, and how genes influence response to treatments.

The new studies follow a spate of recent discoveries using such mouse models to replicate features of mental and developmental disorders. So far, eight new grants have been awarded in response to an NIMH program announcement issued last year.

“Knock-In” to Model Bipolar Features
In one of the newly launched studies, Elizabeth Simpson, Ph.D., of the University of British Columbia, is following-up her recent discovery* of eight variants of a suspect gene in people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and aggressive disorders that were not found in healthy controls. Conserved through evolution, this gene is important for brain development and birth of new neurons in both the mouse and human forebrain. Simpson initiated her search for variants in humans after finding that mice lacking the gene are hyperactive, aggressive and otherwise behaviorally impaired.

Instead of such a “knock-out,” her new study will “knock-in” combinations of the suspect human gene variants in an effort to create mouse strains that mimic features of the mental illnesses, particularly bipolar disorder. The researchers will generate five different mouse strains and test them for differences in brain systems, behavior, and any effects of the gene variants on response to lithium, the medication commonly used to prevent episodes of mania and depression. They hope their findings will ultimately contribute to better diagnosis and treatment of the disorder.
Depression Gene Riddle Examined in Mouse Embryonic Stem Cells

In another of the newly-funded studies, Beverly Koller, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina, will genetically engineer mice to express human gene variants at the center of a controversy in psychiatric genetics.

A series of studies has implicated in depression one of two common versions, called the short variant, of a gene that produces a protein that recycles the chemical messenger serotonin. The most widely prescribed class of antidepressants act by blocking this serotonin transporter protein, suggesting a pivotal role for the protein in the disorder. However, the short variant’s statistical association with depression remains in dispute. Also, determining how it might work differently than the long variant to affect serotonin function and behavior has proven difficult in living organisms – especially if the difference stems from how the gene is expressed rather than the structure of the encoded protein.

To address this issue, Koller has devised a unique method for replacing the mouse serotonin transporter gene with either the short or long version of the human gene in mouse embryonic stem cells. This will yield mouse strains that differ only in the precise variation associated with risk for depression in humans, permitting any effects on protein function, development and behavior to be detected.

Schizophrenia Features Produced in Mice by Candidate Gene
Among recent discoveries made possible by animal models similar to those discussed above, versions of a gene implicated in schizophrenia were found to trigger behaviors and neurological features characteristic of the human illness in mice. Two separate teams of NIMH-supported researchers at Johns Hopkins University produced somewhat different components of the human illness in genetically-engineered mouse strains with the gene, called DISC1 (for Discovered In Schizophrenia).

The DISC1 gene codes for an enzyme in the brain’s cortex and hippocampus important for mood and memory, as well as for brain development. Different variants of the gene have been linked to schizophrenia and mood disorders in different samples.

Mikhail Pletnikov Ph.D., and colleagues, inserted altered forms of the human DISC1 gene into the forebrain of mice – areas comparable to the human circuits implicated in schizophrenia, creating strains with both strong and weak expression of the gene’s protein. Also, the timing of the expression was selectable, so it could be used to study the function of the DISC1 protein at various stages of prenatal development, when schizophrenia is thought to originate. Expression of the human mutant form triggered a significant decrease in expression of the mouse’s natural protein and other key proteins critical for normal brain development. As in human schizophrenia, there were sex differences in symptoms; male mice moved around more and socialized less, while female mice showed memory problems. Like humans with schizophrenia, the affected mice had enlarged ventricles and stunted neuron growth.

In the other Hopkins study, Akira Sawa, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues, showed both behavioral and anatomical features of schizophrenia, including enlarged ventricles (cavities filled with spinal fluid) and hyperactivity in genetically engineered mice with altered DISC1 genes. The animals also displayed anxiety and depression-like behaviors. The researchers point out that the differences seen are subtle, in keeping with the idea that additional genetic and/or environmental insults would be required for the full-blown syndrome.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

Drug Trafficing and Terrorism Linked

Those who are skeptical of the growing ties between drug trafficking organizations and terrorist groups-which I think will be the real war we will be fighting for many years, given the resources obtainable by drug trafficking organizations-should read the latest UN Office of Drugs and Crime report.

Among the many interesting findings is that the two areas of greatest increase in illicit production of drugs in the world are in the hands of designated terrorist groups: the Taliban in Afghanistan and the FARC in Colombia.

A third party involved in the expansion of drug production is Burma, a rogue criminal state. This bodes ill for the rest of the world.

As Antonio Maria Costa, director of the agency, told the AP:
“The explosion of narcotics in those areas is explained by their presence (the terrorist groups) and the protection they offer,” Costa told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday.

“I believe that slowly these people, although politically motivated at the beginning, are becoming a kind of organized crime,” he said. “Money tends to stick to fingers, and a big lump of money becomes very problematic.”

The numbers should alarm policy makers and the intelligence and law enforcement communities.

Afghanistan saw a 17 percent increase in opium production, and now accounts for 92 percent of the world’s heroin. Some 80 percent of the poppy was grown in five southern provinces where Taliban fighters profit from drugs.

Burma, which is able to control the country so that almost no disaster relief can reach starving citizens, somehow managed to let its opium crop increase 29 percent. It’s poppies are not as productive as those in Afghanistan, so it share of the world market is not so high.

But, if you can block the arrival of clean drinking water and emergency foodstuffs, one would think that controlling poppy crops with the state security apparatus would be a piece of cake. Unless the state did not want to.

Colombia saw a 27 percent increase in coca production, and continues to produce about two-thirds of the world’s cocaine. Most of that coca came from regions under the FARC’s control, “just like in Afghanistan,” Costa said.

“Recent major increases in drug supply from Afghanistan and Colombia may drive addiction rates up because of lower prices and higher purity of doses,” he warned.

But the equal danger is that these groups will use their wealth to wreak havoc in areas where 1) the US has a vital and ongoing interest and 2) where fragile states are struggling mightily, and perhaps in vain given that they are outgunned and out financed by the narcos, are trying to make life more bearable for their peoples.

The independent sources of financing for the Taliban and the FARC, as well as the cartels now threatening the Mexican state and their encroaching on ever-greater swaths of Central America, are a significant national security crisis.

It is a crisis not just for the United States, but for each country that the cartels touch. Mexico is now paying a terrible price for confronting the cartels. Some 4,150 people have been killed, including 400 law enforcement and military personnel, in the past 18 months of confrontation.

There are some interesting indications that the FARC is, indeed in serious trouble, however. The report states that, while coca production is up, cocaine production is not because the coca plants are of poorer quality and not as well tended as in the past.

This means the people tending the fields are not as well protected by the FARC and cannot take the time to clean the fields and maintain the necessary facilities.

This is the type of war we will be fighting for decades. It is time we started to pay attention to it, and our options. Thinking has not changed in 20 years, so perhaps it is time to come up with new approaches.

Source: Douglas Farah

Lee Penn on Global War Against Freedom

In the United States and around the world, would-be authoritarians continue their assaults on individual freedom. In the US, Canada, Great Britain, the European Union, the former Soviet Bloc, China, the Islamic nations, and the rest of the Third World, the trend is the same. At the same time, Western religious and secular pundits – mainstream “liberals” and “conservatives” alike – denounce what they call “radical individualism” and call for a reassertion of the “common good” rather than a defense of human rights. As in the 1930s, virtually everywhere the trend of the times is strongly against liberty.

As the powers-that-be reassert their will to dominate their own people, they are also – worldwide – mobilizing for new wars. On the left and the right, and in secular and religious states, calls for peace are being drowned out by those who propose to violently remake the world according to their own will. On all sides, those who plan the wars expect to usher in a utopia once the enemy is crushed. Fear and hate, fanaticism and utopianism ride forward together. Mankind rushes toward a self-inflicted Armageddon, followed by a self-willed anthill State. No unified human conspiracy is responsible; what we are seeing is how humanity acts when it makes itself – and its tribes, its rulers, its beliefs, its wealth, and its security – into idols. As a race, humanity has cavorted with Astarte, sought gold from Mammon, and given honor to Baal; now the time comes for Moloch to exact his sacrifice of blood.

These trends, which blighted much of the 20th Century, seemed to have abated or reversed with the fall of the Soviet empire in 1989-1991. However, after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, the world resumed its swift travel down the road to serfdom. [1] Previous articles in this Journal – “When the State Becomes God” [2] and parts I and II of “Soul Under Siege” [3] – covered the erosion of liberty from the 1990s through mid-2004. This article takes up where the earlier stories left off.

It might be asked: if the current regime in the US – and the current world order – are as illiberal as you claim, how is it that you are able to write as you do now, and to publish openly? Indeed, for now, I can prepare this article without fear. However, the time to denounce and resist dictatorship is before it is fully established, before the mechanisms of repression and deceit are fully in place, and before the people have been fully anesthetized by fear and greed so as to accept their new masters. When the Russian Bolsheviks consolidated power in 1918, and when the Nazis imposed their dictatorship in 1933, the opportunity for legal, peaceful dissent and resistance had ended. As Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said in March 2006, “It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.” [4]

Open dissent is possible for now – but unless present trends reverse, it will not be for long. After the next 9/11, or after a traumatic military defeat, or after the first use of an atomic weapon, or – perhaps – even after a plague or a massive natural disaster, silence will be imposed in the name of “security.” Then, it will be too late to issue such public warnings as this. As Christ said, we must work “while it is day; night comes, when no one can work” (John 9:4).

This account, of the efforts afoot worldwide for the suppression of freedom and human dignity in the name of “peace and security” (1 Thess. 5:3), begins where most SCP readers live: in the United States. This story shows – as did the earlier SCP articles – that both major political parties, and all levels of government, are at fault for undermining freedom. As James Bovard, a libertarian writer who has been covering abusive government power since the late 1980s, said: “It would be a mistake to view Bush as an aberration in modern political history. There are far more parallels between Bush and Clinton than either Democrats or Republicans would like to admit. And most of Clinton’s abuses followed precedents set by Bush, Sr., Nixon, Johnson, and earlier presidents.” [5]

The Bush Administration: Leviathan Unleashed

Bush and his followers have said that since the US is at war, the President has the “inherent constitutional power” [6] to wage this war as he sees fit, by any means necessary. Those means have included the following – a collection of power tools that any aspiring tyrant would love to have. Some of these practices have been challenged in Congress and the courts – but in all cases, the Administration is resisting any limitations to its authority.

· Wiretapping without a court warrant: By Presidential order, the National Security Agency (NSA) has spied on Americans as well as on suspected overseas terrorists – without going to the secret tribunal established in 1978 by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to get a warrant for such surveillance. The New York Times reporters who broke this story in December 2005 are under Justice Department investigation for possible unlawful release of classified information. When the ACLU went to court to stop the program, the Justice Department demanded that the Federal judge dismiss the case, since “state secrets are involved.” [7] (The Federal government made a similar claim in September 2006, in an Oregon warrantless wiretapping case, saying that the plaintiffs must not be allowed to sue “because classified facts needed to evaluate the case are protected under the so-called ‘state secrets’ privilege.” [8])

AT&T gave the NSA “secret direct access to phone calls and e-mail detailing the activities of millions of ordinary Americans.” [9] When the privacy watchdog Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued AT&T for this, the Justice Department warned the Federal judge hearing the case to dismiss it to protect “state secrets.” [10] Judge Vaughn Walker, who was appointed by George W. Bush’s father, has allowed the case to move toward trial, nevertheless.

In August 2006, a Federal district court judge (Anna Taylor, a black liberal appointed by President Carter) ruled the espionage program illegal, saying: “It was never the intent of the framers [of the Constitution] to give the president such unfettered control. … There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all ‘inherent’ powers must derive from that Constitution.” [11] This ruling is, of course, being appealed by the Justice Department.

· Indefinite detention without charge or trial: In November 2001, Bush stated that he had the right to hold as an “enemy combatant” anyone whom he suspected of involvement with terrorism – and these detainees could be held indefinitely, without access to courts. [12] These “combatants” need not be armed; donors to foreign charities whose money ended up in the wrong hands could also be imprisoned. [13] At a December 2004 Federal court hearing, Deputy Associate Attorney General Brian Boyle claimed, “Someone’s intention is clearly not a factor that would disable detention” as an enemy combatant; this category is “not limited to individuals who carried a weapon and shot at American troops.” [14] In June 2005, during an appearance before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, the US Solicitor General told the court that the US is a “battlefield in the war on terror,” allowing the President to imprison “enemy combatants” – including US citizens – on American soil. [15]

The issue in this 2005 case was whether Jose Padilla, an American citizen and a convert to radical Islam jailed since 2002, would ever have a day in court to face charges against him. As of September 2006, Padilla has finally been charged, but the indictment has nothing to do with the publicly stated reason for his arrest four years ago: the allegation that Padilla was part of a plot to explode a dirty (radioactive) bomb in the US. [16]

According to Amnesty International, “More than two years after the US Supreme Court ruled in Rasul v. Bush that the US federal courts have jurisdiction to consider habeas corpus appeals from the persons held at Guantánamo, not a single detainee currently held at the base has had the lawfulness of his detention judicially reviewed on its merits because of intense Administration resistance to the Rasul ruling. The Administration is now seeking to have all Guantánamo detainees permanently denied their right to full judicial review of their detentions, in contravention of international law.” [17]

Congress has passed the law Bush wanted, allowing indefinite detention – without court review – of those designated by the President as “enemy combatants.” [18] The Senate passed the bill by 65-34, with approval from all but one of the Republicans and twelve of the Democrats; the House passed the bill 253-168 on a “mainly party line vote.” [19] Establishing a precedent – suspension of the right of habeas corpus for enemy aliens – clears the way for suspension of the same right for Americans, if the government deems a future “emergency” to require it.

Vincent Warren, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, “This unprecedented and expansive suspension of habeas corpus is utterly unconstitutional. … Since the nation’s founding the writ has been suspended only four times – each only briefly and in a territory that was an active combat zone. … This bill would suspend it for all non-citizens inside and outside of the US – even if they have not been charged with any crime.” [20] Journalist Jim Lobe, of the Inter Press Service, reported that “the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter, predicted that the courts will rule the elimination of habeas corpus – which dates back to the English Magna Carta in 1215 – under the MCA [Military Commissions Act of 2006 ] unconstitutional. ‘What this bill will do is take our civilisation back 900 years,’ he warned. … One particular item of concern was the bill’s expansion of the definition of ‘unlawful enemy combatants’ who could be subject to detention under the MCA to cover persons – including US citizens and legal permanent residents – who have ‘purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its cobelligerents,’ or anyone deemed as such by a ‘Combatant Status Review Tribunal’, which is overseen by the Pentagon. ‘This provision expands the concept of combatant way beyond anything that is traditionally accepted, and it could come back to haunt Americans,’ said HRW [Human Rights Watch] director Kenneth Roth. ‘It would make every civilian cafeteria worker at a US military base, and every worker in an American uniform factory, someone whom enemy forces could shoot to kill.’” [21]

· Trial of prisoners by military tribunal: Bush has set up military tribunals to give summary judgments upon US prisoners held at Camp Delta at Guantánamo Bay. In June 2006, the Supreme Court ruled against these “courts” in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case, [22] finding that they are in violation of US and international law. [23] In response to this decision, the Administration sought Congressional legislation authorizing these drumhead courts for alien captives. According to Amnesty International, “The commissions as proposed would allow for the admission of coerced and hearsay evidence and for the defendant to be excluded from any part of the proceedings in which classified information is admitted.” [24] On September 29, 2006, Congress approved these tribunals, which will operate as Amnesty International described them. [25]

· Torture and abuse of prisoners: After the invasion of Afghanistan, the President decreed that Al Qaeda and Taliban captives would not be entitled to the protections of Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which set standards for humane treatment of enemy captives. [26] The Supreme Court’s June 2006 Hamdan ruling said otherwise – a ruling that is consistent with the War Crimes Act of 1996, which requires US personnel to comply with the Geneva Convention.

The CIA sought legal authority to continue the “special interrogation techniques” that it began using on terror suspects in 2002 in its secret prisons. These include “induced hypothermia; forcing suspects to stand for prolonged periods; sleep deprivation; a technique called ‘the attention grab’ where a suspect’s shirt is forcefully seized; the ‘attention slap’ or open hand slapping that hurts but does not lead to physical damage; the ‘belly slap’; and sound and light manipulation.” [27] Another technique, the simulated drowning of prisoners (“waterboarding”) has been hailed by John Gibson, a FOX News commentator. He said it is “not torture” and “it worked.” [28] The hawkish, neoconservative site defends the practice as one with “immense value in our fight against terror.” [29]

Those who are familiar with the techniques used by the KGB to obtain confessions during the Soviet show trials of the 1930s will recognize these CIA techniques; Solzhenitsyn listed them in Gulag Archipelago as “some of the simplest methods which break the will and the character of the prisoner without leaving marks on his body.” [30]

As in Soviet times, these methods get prisoners to confess to anything – true or false – so as to end the abuse. In at least one case, the “intelligence” gained from these tortures was used by the Administration to justify the invasion of Iraq. As ABC News reported in 2005, “According to CIA sources, Ibn al Shaykh al Libbi, after two weeks of enhanced interrogation, made statements that were designed to tell the interrogators what they wanted to hear. Sources say Al Libbi had been subjected to each of the progressively harsher techniques in turn and finally broke after being water boarded and then left to stand naked in his cold cell overnight where he was doused with cold water at regular intervals. His statements became part of the basis for the Bush Administration claims that Iraq trained al Qaeda members to use biochemical weapons. Sources tell ABC that it was later established that al Libbi had no knowledge of such training or weapons and fabricated the statements because he was terrified of further harsh treatment.” [31]

Abuse of prisoners by the military and the CIA has gone well beyond “harsh treatment.” Captain Ian Fishback of the 82nd Airborne Division reported “death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation, and degrading treatment.” [32]

Read it all here.

New Anglican Province Coming

Good News is coming for North American orthodox Episcopalians. A new province is on the way. It is only a matter of time now before it comes into existence.

The "separate ecclesiastical structure in North America", called for at Kigali by the Global South Primates in November 2006, is not far off, the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan wrote in a paper delivered to pre-GAFCON theological leaders in Amman, Jordan.

Drawing upon the history of North American efforts to establish an orthodox beach head in the U.S. Duncan noted that when founded in 2003, the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes (Anglican Communion Network, or just The Network) proclaimed the vision of "a biblical, missionary and united Anglicanism in North America."

"We were given clarity that our work was to connect all the orthodox together, whether still inside the Episcopal Church or, increasingly, outside in various fragments as rescue efforts were undertaken by various Anglican Provinces. Local circumstances and missionary relationships were producing Rwandan, Ugandan, Nigerian, Kenyan and Southern Cone enclaves all across the continent. It was also clear that several of the historically separated Anglican bodies - the "Continuing Churches" and Reformed Episcopal Church - shared the same Faith as all the rest of us."

The Rt. Rev. David C. Anderson, President of the American Anglican Council and a CANA (Nigerian) bishop, believes that it is more accurately a proto Province one that will bring together the multiple Anglican affiliations that are spread across the country that will, in time, become a full blown province. "We are moving inexorably in that direction. It is no longer a matter of if but when," he told VOL. Given the ever-growing population of American Anglicans under overseas jurisdictions, two issues have emerged: First, since Anglican congregations in some of our major cities are under different Episcopal jurisdictions, how will they work together? If these congregations find a way to serve together for the sake of serving their regions, then mission and evangelism will flourish. However, if they do not find ways to collegially work together to serve their regions, then these congregations will never get beyond being chaplaincies to those who choose to affiliate with them.

Secondly, a more serious issue arises which is that if a new, national Anglican province is actually formed, then who, if necessary, will be willing to lay down his claim to episcopacy for the sake of the visible and structural unity of this new province? How flexible will these new bishops (and the archbishops they serve) be for the sake of reaching the United States with the Gospel? Or, to put it negatively, how stuck will this new province be in old TEC models that are committed to maintaining personal and structural power, no matter what the cost?

While there are no simple answers to these questions there will be much sorting and sifting out about who will or will not belong to such a proto province.Will the issue of those who are willing to ordain women to the priesthood continue to be a stumbling block to those who theologically refuse to accept the legitimacy of such ordinations?

Can evangelicals who ordain women and those who don't coexist comfortably with Anglo-Catholics who steadfastly see this as a profoundly theological communion-compromising issue and not just a pastoral one? Time will tell.

Read it all here.

India: Persecution of Christians

Uttarakhand, June 27 (Compass Direct News) – Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on June 22 attacked a Christian prayer meeting, beating participants and the pastor in Krishnagar, Dehra Dun city, reported the daily Tribune. The extremists stormed pastor Jonathan Singh’s Sunday prayer meeting and beat him and other participants. As the women and children in the assembly ran off, the extremists caught hold of Singh, dragged him to his rented home some distance away and ordered the landlord to throw out his belongings. The extremists ordered Singh to leave Dehra Dun, the report stated. A delegation of Christian leaders went to Garhi Cantonment police station, where the officer in-charge declined to register a First Information Report (FIR), instead advising them to contact local BJP legislator Harbans Kapoor, who is also Speaker of the state assembly. Dehra Dun Senior Superintendent of Police Amit Sinha said he would look into the matter.

Andhra Pradesh – In Rangadam Palli, Medak district, Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on June 22 attacked a pastor, his wife and another Christian woman and poured alcohol on them. The All India Christian Council of India (AICC) reported that at about 8 p.m. pastor Kinnere Kanankaiah, his wife and Manne Laxmi were on their way home from a birthday celebration when the drunken extremists began harassing them. They beat the pastor, knocking him to the ground and stomping on him. They hit Laxmi on the head with the edge of a broken bottle and afterwards poured alcohol on all three. Moses Vattipalli of AICC told Compass that the pastor was admitted to a hospital with internal injuries, and the two women also received treatment. The pastor registered a police complaint. At press time, no arrests had been made.

Karnataka – About 100 Hindu extremists belonging to the Bajrang Dal accompanied by police disrupted a pastors seminar and seized their property on June 17 in Varna village, Mysore. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that the extremists stormed the Well Water Garden Institute’s seminar, where 70 pastors were in training, and accused them of forcible conversions. Some of the pastors went to the district superintendent of police asking for protection. Instead, at about 7 p.m., police led by Circle Inspector Venketa Ramanappa barged into the chapel and threatened the pastors with dire consequences if they continued meeting. Police officers took Bibles, books and vehicles belonging to the pastors. With the intervention of the GCIC, the seized materials were returned to the pastors.

Chhattisgarh – Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists belonging to the Bajrang Dal attacked Christians on June 16 in Rewadahi village, Rajnandgaon district. Dr. Sajan K. George of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) said that just before midnight, a mob of around 55 Hindu extremists went to the house of two converts, Karthik Sahu and one identified only as Ramesh. Sahu was scheduled to marry a Christian convert on June 18, and the intolerant Hindus derided him in foul language for marrying by Christian rites in a church and not according to Hindu rites in a temple. The extremists beat and kicked both men for nearly 15 minutes, then went to the neighboring house of Sagni Sahu, where weekly prayer meetings take place, and began berating him and others in coarse language and falsely accusing them of forcibly converting villagers to Christianity. The extremists then left with 30,000 rupees (US$703), which the couple had in their home as they had just sold their rice crop. “The extremists accused the couple of having the money to lure villagers to convert to Christianity,” GCIC regional coordinator Sam Mathew told Compass. “At around 1 a.m. on June 17, the couple went to the Lal Bagh police station to register a complaint, and the police detained the couple till morning and released them at 11 a.m.” Police refused to register a case of robbery against the extremists, he added.

Andhra Pradesh – Unknown assailants set a church building on fire on June 15 in Amberpet, Hyderabad. The church was burned down at about midnight along with five huts in the area. A pulpit, tables, sound system, fans, light and other furniture were reduced to ashes, with damages estimated to be around 50,000 rupees (US$1,171). Pastor Majji Yeshurathnam had established the small prayer chapel used as church building in the slum area nine years ago with permission from local authorities, and the All India Christian Council (AICC) reported that related ministries had led to many positive changes in the community. The pastor has filed a police complaint. At press time, no arrests had been made. An AICC representative told Compass that intolerance of Christians is on the rise in different areas of Andhra Pradesh.

Madhya Pradesh – Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists belonging to the Bajrang Dal on June 15 beat and filed a false complaint of forcible conversion against a pastor in Chungi Naka, Gurh Tehsil, Rewa district, according to Dr. Sajan K. George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC). As pastor Rampal Masih of Believers Church was preaching to a congregation of 70 believers at about 11 a.m., nearly 25 intolerant Hindus surrounded the rented church hall shouting Hindu chants. Five of the Hindu extremists entered the church, walked up to the pulpit and dragged Masih outside, punching and kicking him and accusing him of forcible conversions. Sam Mathew, regional coordinator, GCIC told Compass, “The extremists brought along two policemen from the local Gurh police station to the church, after registering a false complaint of conversion against Masih. They continued beating the pastor in front of the police. The police warned the pastor against conducting Christian worship in the village and threatened to arrest him if he did so again.”

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Bharatiya Yuva Jana Morcha (Indian People’s Youth Front ) along with members of an auto union on June 12 attacked a pastor and a non-Christian brake inspector, falsely accusing them of forcible conversions in L.B. Nagar, Hyderabad. Brake inspector Ramesh Babu was known for his strict application of traffic rules, causing many drivers to turn against him, and pastor Peter Mohan had received many threats not to preach Christ in the area; the two men are friends. The All India Christian Council reported that Hindu extremists eager to implicate them in a false case joined forces with the auto union members to concoct the accusations and launch the attack. On June 13 the extremists and the auto union members staged a protest, demanding suspension of the brake inspector and an end to all Christian activities in the area.

Source: Compass Direct News

Iran: Converts Tortured and Threatened

LOS ANGELES, June 25 (Compass Direct News) – Security police officials in Tehran this month tortured a newly converted couple and threatened to put their 4-year-old daughter in an institution after arresting them for holding Bible studies and attending a house church.

A Christian source in Iran said that 28-year-old Tina Rad was charged with “activities against the holy religion of Islam” for reading the Bible with Muslims in her home in east Tehran and trying to convert them. Officials charged her husband, 31-year-old Makan Arya, with “activities against national security” after seizing the couple from their home on June 3, forcing them to leave their 4-year-old daughter ill and unattended. Authorities kept them in an unknown jail for four days, which left them badly bruised from beatings, said the source. Rad was released on bail of US$30,000 bail, and her husband was freed on payment of US$20,000.

“The next time there may also be an apostasy charge, if you don’t stop with your Jesus,” a female security police officer told Rad during interrogation, according to the source. Under Iran’s strict Islamic laws, Muslims who convert from Islam to another religion can be executed.

Source: Compass Direct News

Virginia Anglicans to Keep Their Properties

A Civil War-era law that lets Virginia churches keep their property when leaving a denomination where a "division" has occurred is constitutional, a county judge ruled Friday, June 27, siding with 11 former Episcopal parishes.

Fairfax County Judge Randy I. Bellows' ruling on the 1867 law stops short of awarding the property to the parishes, but it hands them a major legal win.

"It's a resounding victory and very broad," said Steffen Johnson, lead counsel for several of the congregations. "There are just a few loose ends to tie up."

The ruling could encourage the dozens of Episcopal parishes in similar court battles across the U.S., and shake the confidence of mainline Protestant denominations that fear losing churches and people to breakaway groups.

An October trial is scheduled to decide the remaining legal issues, which concern church deeds and property that predate the 1867 law.

The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia argued that the law infringes on their First Amendment rights to practice religion without government interference.

The diocese signaled that it may appeal the ruling, saying Friday it would "explore fully every option available to restore constitutional and legal protections for all churches in Virginia."

The 1867 law allows churches that are part of a denomination in "division" to keep their property when they decide which side to join.

Read it all here.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Omaba's Books

Omaba tells the story of his life, the son of a Kenyan man and a white woman who divorced when he was a young child. His father was a quick-talking polygamist who was often an embarrassment to Omaba's family. Here are some interesting quotes from Obama's book Dreams from My Father (Three Rivers Press):

"I ceased to advertise my mother's race at the age of 12 or 13, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites."

"I found a solace in nursing a pervasive sense of grievance and animosity against my mother's race."

'There was something about him that made me wary, a little too sure of himself, maybe. And white.

"It remained necessary to prove which side you were on, to show your loyalty to the black masses, to strike out and name names."

"I never emulate white men and brown men whose fates didn't speak to my own. It was into my father's image, the black man, son of Africa , that I'd packed all the attributes I sought in myself , the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, DuBois and Mandela."

From his book Audacity of Hope:

"In the wake of 9/11, my meetings with Arab and Pakistani Americans, for example, have a more urgent quality, for the stories of detentions and FBI questioning and hard stares from neighbors have shaken their sense of security and belonging. They have been reminded that the history of immigration in this country has a dark underbelly; they need specific assurances that their citizenship really means something, that America has learned the right lessons from the Japanese internments during World War II, and that I will stand with them should the political winds shift in an ugly direction."

To read other famous quotes by Barack Hussein Obama, go here.

Catholic Bishops Urge Consensus Govt in Zimbabwe

CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- The Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference has called on the international community to work with leaders in the region to resolve the political crisis in Zimbabwe.

"We are deeply concerned at this situation and warn that unless there is a unified effort from the international community, with the leadership of southern African countries, the hopeless situation of violence, famine and uncertainty will result in a vast humanitarian crisis that will engulf the whole southern African region," bishops from South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland said June 24.

In the statement issued by South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, conference spokesman, the bishops called for "a consensus model of government that involves all Zimbabweans" to be established by the international community in cooperation with the Southern African Development Community.

While the conference "passionately supports" the "legitimate aspiration" of Zimbabweans to choose their president in a fair election, "the politically motivated violence, intimidation and torture have made a just and fair runoff presidential election virtually impossible," the bishops said."A 'winner-takes-all' solution that rewards the ruling party for its atrocities and criminal mismanagement will only entrench the sufferings of the most vulnerable," they said.

The crisis was magnified June 22 when Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said his party decided to withdraw from the June 27 presidential runoff against President Robert Mugabe because violence in the country had made a fair vote impossible.

Citing the growing violence and the action of Tsvangirai's party, the bishops said the election has "degenerated into a sham."

The opposition's choice "to try to protect the lives of supporters and others who have been targeted is understandable," they said."

The alternative would have been an undeclared civil war," they said.

Independent human rights groups say 85 people have died since the March 29 elections when Tsvangirai outpolled Mugabe but did not receive a majority of votes. Tens of thousands, most of them opposition supporters, also have been displaced from their homes."

We, together with other organizations, warn that the atrocities and barbarism of (Mugabe's ruling party) ZANU-PF are being documented," the bishops said in the statement. Mugabe's "actions and those of his generals, their wives, his thug supporters and the so-called war veterans are offensive in the eyes of God. Judgment awaits," they said.

People must continue to ask who is benefiting from Zimbabwe's crisis, the bishops said.

"We, the Catholic bishops of southern Africa, believe that the actions of the incumbent ruling elite deserve rigorous censure. They are a blight on every African," they said."

We call on the member states of the African Union to register their commitment to democracy in Zimbabwe by rejecting the legal fiction that this election has become and by not recognizing Robert Mugabe and his party as the legitimate government," they said.

Source: Catholic News Service

The Archbishop of Canterbury on Mother Churches

Dr. Rowan Williams said in a letter to the Dean and conference hosted by St Valdimir's Orthodox Seminary: “At the most basic level, every local church has a 'mother church' except for Jerusalem, where the Risen Jesus first directly establishes the company of witnesses to his resurrection and pours out upon them the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit. From this point on, the church's mission moves outwards, and, as we see in St Paul's epistles, local congregations are equipped by the apostles with the essentials of belief and practice that allow them in turn to become in their own context communities of witness to the Risen Christ.

And one consequence of this is something to which St Paul more than once makes appeal: the life of the local congregation is founded on something received – not discovered or invented. The assembly of Christ's people, Christ's Body, in this place is the result of the active communication of tradition, in its widest and fullest sense (I Cor. 15). For a local church to come into being is for a community to arise that is part of a continuous stream of life being shared...

Roman Catholics are still labouring to discover how to disentangle the missionary apostolic charism of the See of Peter from juridical anomalies and bureaucratic distortion. Orthodox have often 'frozen' the concept of primacy in an antiquarian defence of the 'pentarchy' as the structure of the church, thus allowing non-theological power struggles rooted in nationalism and ethnocentrism to flourish with damaging effect. Anglicans have failed to think through primacy with any theological seriousness and so have become habituated to a not very coherent or effective international structure that lacks canonical seriousness and produces insupportable pluralism in more than one area of the church's practice. All need to rethink the meaning of primacy in relation to mission and in relation to what episcopal fellowship really means. In this connection, the discussion in the recent Anglican-Orthodox Agreed Statement, The Church of the Triune God (2006), especially paragraphs 19 to 23 of the chapter 'Episcope, episcopos, and primacy', is a helpful orientation in tracing the complementary connections between primacy and conciliarity and reception, and merits development in the light of the 34th of the Apostolic Canons, a text increasingly significant in ecumenical dialogue.

Read the entire letter here.

Bill Lind: The Origins of Political Correctness

Where does all this stuff that you’ve heard about this morning – the victim feminism, the gay rights movement, the invented statistics, the rewritten history, the lies, the demands, all the rest of it – where does it come from?

For the first time in our history, Americans have to be fearful of what they say, of what they write, and of what they think. They have to be afraid of using the wrong word, a word denounced as offensive or insensitive, or racist, sexist, or homophobic.

We have seen other countries, particularly in this century, where this has been the case. And we have always regarded them with a mixture of pity, and to be truthful, some amusement, because it has struck us as so strange that people would allow a situation to develop where they would be afraid of what words they used. But we now have this situation in this country. We have it primarily on college campuses, but it is spreading throughout the whole society. Were does it come from? What is it?

We call it "Political Correctness." The name originated as something of a joke, literally in a comic strip, and we tend still to think of it as only half-serious. In fact, it’s deadly serious. It is the great disease of our century, the disease that has left tens of millions of people dead in Europe, in Russia, in China, indeed around the world. It is the disease of ideology. PC is not funny. PC is deadly serious.

If we look at it analytically, if we look at it historically, we quickly find out exactly what it is. Political Correctness is cultural Marxism. It is Marxism translated from economic into cultural terms. It is an effort that goes back not to the 1960s and the hippies and the peace movement, but back to World War I. If we compare the basic tenets of Political Correctness with classical Marxism the parallels are very obvious.

First of all, both are totalitarian ideologies. The totalitarian nature of Political Correctness is revealed nowhere more clearly than on college campuses, many of which at this point are small ivy covered North Koreas, where the student or faculty member who dares to cross any of the lines set up by the gender feminist or the homosexual-rights activists, or the local black or Hispanic group, or any of the other sainted "victims" groups that PC revolves around, quickly find themselves in judicial trouble. Within the small legal system of the college, they face formal charges – some star-chamber proceeding – and punishment. That is a little look into the future that Political Correctness intends for the nation as a whole.

Indeed, all ideologies are totalitarian because the essence of an ideology (I would note that conservatism correctly understood is not an ideology) is to take some philosophy and say on the basis of this philosophy certain things must be true – such as the whole of the history of our culture is the history of the oppression of women. Since reality contradicts that, reality must be forbidden. It must become forbidden to acknowledge the reality of our history. People must be forced to live a lie, and since people are naturally reluctant to live a lie, they naturally use their ears and eyes to look out and say, "Wait a minute. This isn’t true. I can see it isn’t true," the power of the state must be put behind the demand to live a lie. That is why ideology invariably creates a totalitarian state.

Second, the cultural Marxism of Political Correctness, like economic Marxism, has a single factor explanation of history. Economic Marxism says that all of history is determined by ownership of means of production. Cultural Marxism, or Political Correctness, says that all history is determined by power, by which groups defined in terms of race, sex, etc., have power over which other groups. Nothing else matters. All literature, indeed, is about that. Everything in the past is about that one thing.

Third, just as in classical economic Marxism certain groups, i.e. workers and peasants, are a priori good, and other groups, i.e., the bourgeoisie and capital owners, are evil. In the cultural Marxism of Political Correctness certain groups are good – feminist women, (only feminist women, non-feminist women are deemed not to exist) blacks, Hispanics, homosexuals. These groups are determined to be "victims," and therefore automatically good regardless of what any of them do. Similarly, white males are determined automatically to be evil, thereby becoming the equivalent of the bourgeoisie in economic Marxism.

Fourth, both economic and cultural Marxism rely on expropriation. When the classical Marxists, the communists, took over a country like Russia, they expropriated the bourgeoisie, they took away their property. Similarly, when the cultural Marxists take over a university campus, they expropriate through things like quotas for admissions. When a white student with superior qualifications is denied admittance to a college in favor of a black or Hispanic who isn’t as well qualified, the white student is expropriated. And indeed, affirmative action, in our whole society today, is a system of expropriation. White owned companies don’t get a contract because the contract is reserved for a company owned by, say, Hispanics or women. So expropriation is a principle tool for both forms of Marxism.

And finally, both have a method of analysis that automatically gives the answers they want. For the classical Marxist, it’s Marxist economics. For the cultural Marxist, it’s deconstruction. Deconstruction essentially takes any text, removes all meaning from it and re-inserts any meaning desired. So we find, for example, that all of Shakespeare is about the suppression of women, or the Bible is really about race and gender. All of these texts simply become grist for the mill, which proves that "all history is about which groups have power over which other groups." So the parallels are very evident between the classical Marxism that we’re familiar with in the old Soviet Union and the cultural Marxism that we see today as Political Correctness.

But the parallels are not accidents. The parallels did not come from nothing. The fact of the matter is that Political Correctness has a history, a history that is much longer than many people are aware of outside a small group of academics who have studied this. And the history goes back, as I said, to World War I, as do so many of the pathologies that are today bringing our society, and indeed our culture, down.

Read it all here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

US Supreme Court Upholds Right to Bear Arms

The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling today upholding an individual right to bear arms is a clear victory for gun advocates. But the court's divided decision is unlikely to end debate over myriad other gun control proposals across the country.

In a 5-to-4 decision, the majority opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, held for the first time that the Constitution provides an individual right to bear arms, such as for self-defense, rather than a right that applies only to a state militia.

The decision upheld an appellate court ruling striking down Washington, D.C.'s 1976 handgun ban. The case marked the first time in more than 70 years that the Supreme Court had addressed the Second Amendment and the first time it spoke directly about the implication of an individual right.

In doing so, the court struck down two of the District of Columbia's gun control laws: its handgun ban and its requirement that other firearms kept at home have a trigger lock or be disassembled.

Relying on the broader historical record, Scalia wrote that "putting all of these textual elements together, we find that they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation."

The court's liberal minority, led by Justice John Paul Stevens, held the opposite: namely that the amendment guaranteed only a collective right for a militia. "There is no indication that the Framers of the Amendment intended to enshrine the common-law right of self-defense in the Constitution."

Indeed, Justice Stephen Breyer warned that the ruling jeopardized other gun laws. "In my view, there simply is no untouchable constitutional right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to keep loaded handguns in the house in crime-ridden urban areas."

Read it all here.

World Hindu Council: Conversion a Crime

New Delhi: A Hindu nationalist organisation that is notorious for launching violent attacks on Indian Christians and Muslims has demanded that religious conversion be treated as a ‘heinous crime’ in India.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or World Hindu Council made the demand in a resolution passed during its closed-door executive council meeting on June 25 in Kanpur city in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

A VHP leader, Mohan Singh, alleged in a media report that 5,000 foreign (read Christian) priests were converting people in India, and that they were staying on tourist and business visas. Singh demanded that all the foreign missionaries be deported.

The VHP also accuses Christians of using money and “force” to convert Hindus, a charge that Christians in India deny, saying most preachers are Indian and no unfair means is used in evangelism.

The Indian Constitution allows for propagation of a religion subject to public order and morality.
Hindutva (meaning “Hinduness”) is a term coined by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in 1923 through a pamphlet, “Hindutva: Who is a Hindu,” which claimed that the Indian subcontinent is the homeland of Hindus, and Christians and Muslims are its enemies because they came from “outside”.

The VHP also has a wing in the UK, the US and a few other countries.

Read it all here.

More Bloggers Arrested

More bloggers than ever face arrest for exposing human rights abuses or criticising governments, says a report.

Since 2003, 64 people have been arrested for publishing their views on a blog, says the University of Washington annual report.

In 2007 three times as many people were arrested for blogging about political issues than in 2006, it revealed.

More than half of all the arrests since 2003 have been made in China, Egypt and Iran, said the report.

Citizens have faced arrest and jail for blogging about many different topics, said the World Information Access (WIA) report.

Arrested bloggers exposed corruption in government, abuse of human rights or suppression of protests. They criticised public policies and took political figures to task.

The report said the rising number of arrests was testament to the "growing" political importance of blogging.

Source: BBC Read it all.

Charles Bennison Convicted

An Episcopal bishop was found guilty by a church panel of covering up his brother's assaults of a teenage girl in the 1970s.

Charles E. Bennison Jr., 64, was convicted of two counts of engaging in conduct unbecoming of a member of the clergy, according to his attorneys and the church verdict, dated Tuesday and released Thursday. He could be reprimanded, suspended or ousted from the church.

"We are proud of the Episcopal Church for holding Bishop Bennison accountable, and for using an open and transparent process that allowed the truth to come to light," church attorney Lawrence White said in a statement Thursday.

It was not immediately clear when the sentence would be handed down for Bennison, bishop of the nation's fifth-largest Episcopal diocese. The special Court for the Trial of a Bishop must wait at least 30 days before handing down a sentence, and Bennison's attorneys said they will request a hearing before sentencing.

The victim, now 50, testified during a four-day ecclesiastical trial this month that the abuse by the bishop's brother, John Bennison, happened three to four times a week for several years. She testified that an encounter in a Sunday school classroom and another in a church office in 1973 were witnessed by Charles Bennison, who "opened the door, took a look at us, turned around and walked out."

At the time, Charles Bennison was rector of St. Mark's Church in Upland, Calif., in the Diocese of Los Angeles, and his brother was a married lay minister there.

Source: The Washington Times

For background go here and here.

Louisiana Child Rape Law Struck Down

CHICAGO - Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama said Wednesday they disagree with the Supreme Court's decision to outlaw the executions of people who rape children.
McCain called the ruling an "assault" on legal system.

Obama said it is wrong to flatly prohibit the death penalty in such cases if states want to apply it.

The court's 5-4 decision struck down a Louisiana law that allows capital punishment for people convicted of raping children under 12, saying it violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Read it all here.

Patent Dispute: Human Embryonal Stem Cells

A European Patent Office (EPO) tribunal in Munich heard a dispute Tuesday on whether a method of growing embryonal human stem cells can be patented, but gave no date for its decision on the controversial case.

US scientist James Thomson, who in 1998 was the first in the world to cultivate such stem cells, is appealing to EPO's highest board over the refusal to grant a patent in the European Union for the so-called WARF stem cell.

Critics say that patenting the method is tantamount to patenting the live human cells themselves.

After hearing the arguments, the board said it would not need to continue the hearing Wednesday as originally planned. EPA spokesman Rainer Osterwalder said he expected the board to rule before Europe's summer holidays.

The patent application by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) was filed in 1995.
The application described a method by which primate stem cells derived from an embryo could be maintained in test-tubes for a long period of time without losing their potential to differentiate into any cell of the body.

One of the main reasons for the EPO refusal was that the method used a human embryo which was destroyed in the process.

Justin Turner, the lawyer for WARF, told EPO's supreme judiciary body, the seven-member Enlarged Board of Appeal, "There are no grounds whatever to deny a patent for embryonal stem cells."

He said EPO guidelines prevented patenting human embryos themselves, but not the cells derived from them.

EPO defended its refusal, saying an embryo had clearly been used and EPO rules obliged the Munich based office to protect the human dignity of the embryo.

Source: The Earth News

Ethical Standards and Fairness

Bernardo A. Sanfeliz
Sergeant Major, USA, Retired

Societies are made up of individuals who in turn are formed by the societies in which they live. Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) noted this when he wrote, “…the genesis of the great man depends on the long series of complex influences which has produced the race in which he appears and the social state into which that race has slowly grown… Before he can remake his society, his society must make him.”

In the Spencerian view a moral person is one who has been formed by a society in which there is intelligent public conversation about right and wrong. Such a society emerges from a long traditional of public conversation on Ethics. Such was the courtly England of Spencer's day. In other words, Spencer was speaking of his time and place.

But what of contemporary America? We are a young country and while we are heirs of the philosophical tradition of Western Europe, we do not have a long history of public conversation on Ethics. Nor is our society governed by Victorian politeness. Rather we are a people who value individualism and tend to think that what is best for Number One is best. When we think of progress, we tend to measure it in terms of personal financial gain or advancement in the workplace. When we think of social reform we usually want to remake society in our own image.

The ethics of organizational management involve developing personal ethical guidelines. The manager must know his or her ethical boundaries or what consitutes personal integrity. This is learned from observing a good manager. It is learned from observing the consequences of actions. It is often developed out of a religious viewpoint, or it may be based on doing what is fair.

I prefer the last approach, but don't find it an easy one. Fairness, like integrity, is sometimes difficult to determine. It involves determining the facts, down to the small details. It involvces talking frankly to people I supervise. Even when I feel that I have all the facts and a clear picture of the situation, I still realize that fairness is not objective. My own ethical framework is still a filter through which I must strain the facts and determine what is fair.

Still, after almost 30 years of management in the Army and in the corporate world, I can say that the principle of fairness works. My management style may sometimes be regarded as aloof, but I've never been acused of being unfair. Partly this is because I try to be consistent. Here is my statement of Personal Ethical Guidelines:

I treat others honestly and with respect, and expect the same treatment from them.
I give a good days work and am willing to sacrifice.
I tell the truth.
I seek to be fair.