Sunday, November 30, 2008

C.S. Lewis and the Road to Orthodoxy

Herman Middleton received his B.A. from Wheaton College in Illinois, and is the author the Orthodox classic, “Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit” – the lives and excerpts from the writings of contemporary Greek spiritual fathers. Middleton is completing his doctoral dissertation on C.S. Lewis and Orthodox Christianity.

What follows is an excerpt from a recent interview with Road to Emmaus: A Journal of Orthodox Faith and Culutre.

RTE: How did you decide on C. S. Lewis as the subject of your Greek dissertation?

HERMAN: Initially, I’d thought of two other dissertation topics, one dealing with St. Theodore the Studite on the source of authority in the Church, and the other on Fr. Sophrony Sakharov’s gnosiology (theory of knowledge), but I finally decided I wanted to do something that more than five or ten people in Greece would end up reading, something that would be useful and that I would enjoy working on afterwards.

At that point C.S. Lewis leapt to mind. Many people have come to Orthodoxy through Lewis, or at least credited him with help along the way. He is undoubtedly one of the most influential Christian writers of the 20th century, and there hadn’t been an in-depth study of him done from an Orthodox perspective. People don’t think of him as a theologian, but he’s had a greater influence than most 20th-century theologians who wrote more esoteric books that were read by far fewer people. I felt it was important that
Orthodox (especially Orthodox in the West) know what he wrote and where he was coming from.

Lewis was dealing with the modern world in a way that I haven’t seen many people attempt. He saw himself as an apologist to the modern sceptic. He dealt mostly with criticisms of Christianity, which he showed to be prejudices rather than logically reasoned arguments. He was at Oxford with, among others, some incredibly intelligent atheists who were attacking Christianity on many fronts, and he tried to provide a defense of Christianity in the face of modern scepticism. In the heat of that debate, he wasn’t always completely clear, and this was largely because he didn’t have the necessary dogmatic foundation.

In a way, that was just as well, because he belonged to a church that didn’t have a clear-cut tradition – Anglican tradition is very broad. But what kept him small -“o” orthodox to the Christian tradition was his faith, and his dedication to prayer and reading Scripture. His desire to understand Scripture was incredibly sincere. The fact that he hadn’t been trained theologically was actually a benefit because he didn’t come to the debate with preconceived notions; he wasn’t dedicated to a system of thought.

Most of Lewis’s arguments are focused on overcoming prejudice by addressing intellectual obstacles to faith. Lewis would say, “I’m not trying to dogmatize, I’m trying to create room for a healthy agnosticism.” Just as Christians often dogmatize, atheists also dogmatize their disbelief, and he tried to counter this by saying, “You say this, but you actually don’t have a foundation. This is just supposition.”

Nevertheless, although he says that Christianity can be defended intellectually, it wasn’t logical arguments that finally brought him to faith. He described himself as the most reluctant convert in England.

RTE: Yes, it was an experience of God that led him to Christianity, and his intellectual training that allowed him to articulate his belief. How close does his writing resonate with Orthodoxy?

HERMAN: For the most part, I find that he is very close to Orthodoxy, especially when he bases his writing on his own study of Scripture and his prayer life, which was that of a pious dedicated Christian who wanted to know the meaning of the Incarnation. Through this honest search, he came to many positions that the Orthodox Fathers hold as well. Lewis often focused on modern questions, particularly the relationship between Christianity and culture, something that modern Orthodox theologians haven’t really dealt with yet. He wrote wonderful essays on Christianity and culture and on ethical issues, and he foresaw the path modern science is taking. These are all things that Orthodox people can useand benefit from by reading him.

Read it all here.

Creeping Shariah

At the very least, the U.S. government evidently hopes to emulate Harvard's success in securing immense amounts of Wahhabi money in exchange for conforming to the Islamists' agenda. Like Harvard, Treasury seems utterly disinterested in what Shariah actually is, and portends.

Unfortunately, such submission - the literal meaning of "Islam" - is not likely to remain confined long to the Treasury or its sister agencies. Thanks to the extraordinary authority conferred on Treasury since September, backed by the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the department is now in a position to impose its embrace of Shariah on the U.S. financial sector. The nationalization of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Treasury's purchase of - at last count - 17 banks and the ability to provide, or withhold, funds from its new slush-fund can translate into unprecedented coercive power.

Concerns in this regard are only heightened by the prominent role Assistant Treasury Secretary Neel Kashkari will be playing in "Islamic Finance 101." Mr. Kashkari, the official charged with administering the TARP fund, will provide welcoming remarks to participants. Presumably, in the process, he will convey the enthusiasm about Shariah-Compliant Finance that appears to be the current party line at Treasury.

As this enthusiasm for SCF ramps up in Washington officialdom, it is worth recalling a lesson from "across the pond." Earlier this year, the head of the Church of England, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, provoked a brief but intense firestorm of controversy with his declaration that it was "unavoidable" that Shariah would be practiced in Britain. Largely unremarked was the reason he gave for such an ominous forecast: The U.K. had already accommodated itself to Shariah-Compliant Finance.

This statement provides an important insight for the incumbent U.S. administration and whomever succeeds it: Shariah-Compliant Finance serves as a leading edge of the spear for those seeking to insinuate Shariah into Western societies.

Read it all here.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Quote of the Week - Larry Bloom

Larry Bloom was recently interviewed about increased security at his synagogue located across the street from the Obama's Chicago home. He made a priceless comment: "When Sarah Palin said she knew about Russia because you could see it from Alaska, I wanted to say, ‘Obama can see a synagogue from his house; he obviously knows Jews.'"

Coptic Church Target of Muslim Attack

ISTANBUL, November 26 (Compass Direct News) – Thousands of Muslim protestors on Sunday (Nov. 23) attacked a Coptic church in a suburb of Cairo, Egypt, burning part of it, a nearby shop and two cars and leaving five people injured. Objecting to a newly constructed extension to the church of St. Mary and Anba Abraam in Ain Shams, the huge crowd of angry protestors gathered outside the church at around 5 p.m. following a consecration service for the addition earlier that day.

Chanting, “We will demolish the church,” “Islam is the solution” and “No God but Allah,” rioters pelted the church with stones and burned part of the structure; priests and worshipers were trapped inside, and five people were injured.

“It was a terrifying moment,” said lawyer Nabil Gobrayel, who was inside the church at the time. “They were shouting ‘holy slogans’ like, ‘We will bring the church down,’ ‘The priest is dead’ and ‘The army of Muhammad is coming.’”

Police slow to arrive were not prepared for the scale of the protest. Angry Muslims swarmed to the area from a two-kilometer radius, and although estimates varied, some suggested as many as 8,000 people gathered.

Rioters’ stones broke the structure’s windows, and a nearby shop and two cars belonging to Christians were set on fire.

Reinforcements for the overwhelmed security forces did not arrive until two hours later and were then engaged in clashes with the mob until the early hours of Monday (Nov. 24) morning.
Armored vehicles brought in riot police, who used tear gas to disperse the crowd while fire services aided their efforts with water cannons.

A United Copts of Great Britain statement suggested that police were slow to arrest perpetrators in the early stages of the demonstration but did eventually detain 41 people around midnight.

Of the 38 Muslims arrested, 30 were quickly released “under the pretext of being minors,” according to the United Copts statement. Three arrested Christians, however, remained in prison without charges.

United Copts also reported that Wael Tahoon, a police officer, was said to be involved in instigating the attacks.

A source told Compass that Pope Shenouda, head of The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, ordered that prayers at the church site be stopped.

According to Gobrayel, the church will be closed for two months while officials consider its future.

American Victims of Mumbai Attacks

The shock and horror of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, came home to the United States on Friday as a Virginia father and his teenage daughter were identified as being among the more than 150 people killed. Along with two other Americans at a Jewish center in the city, a Brooklyn rabbi and his wife were found dead, although, incredibly, their 2-year-old son survived after being whisked away by his nanny.

The number of Americans killed is almost certain to rise as government officials continue to sort through the carnage of the attacks at two luxury hotels and other sites.

Along with the human toll, the violence also threatens to unravel what had been encouraging regional and American efforts to smooth relations between neighboring rivals India and Pakistan.

Virginians Alan Scherr, 58, and daughter Naomi, 13, had traveled to Mumbai on a trip emphasizing spirituality and meditation. Scherr, a former University of Maryland art professor, was eating with his daughter and other residents of the Synchronicity spiritual community in a tourist-friendly cafe when armed gunmen attacked. Four other Synchronicity members were injured. Two have undergone surgery for gunshot wounds; a third remains in intensive care.

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn couple was found dead this morning. American Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, and his wife Rivka, 28, moved to Mumbai in 2003 to manage the Chabad House, a Hasidic community center and synagogue. Their son, Moshe, escaped during the siege with the help of his nanny and is now with his grandparents. It's still unclear if Rivka, an Israeli, had American citizenship.

The bodies of two other Americans, Leibish Teitlebaum and Bentzion Chroman, also were discovered at the Chabad House. The battle over the Jewish center ended only Friday morning, when authorities found five hostages and two gunmen dead inside.

Other Americans narrowly escaped at various sites hit by terrorists. Along with 65 other guests of an Italian restaurant in the Oberoi hotel, one Chicago family of five was barricaded in a banquet hall until it could flee safely.

Read it all here.

Death by Hanging in Jamaica

WHEN THE first conscience vote on the retention of the death penalty was held in 1979, the statute was barely retained.

D.K. Duncan and Portia Simpson Miller were the only members of that Parliament who still sit in the House. Simpson Miller was absent from the House for the debate and vote, but Duncan contributed to the debate and voted, not once, but twice.

The motions before the House were for "capital punishment to be suspended pending a detailed study, assessment and report of its sociological and psychological effect", and "for capital punishment to be retained".

Hansard - parliamentary records - suggests the debate, opened by then National Security Minister Dudley Thompson, was a lively, contentious, and, in some respects, emotive affair.

'My people say to hang'
Alva Ross, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) member of parliament (MP) for South East St Mary, made his position known even before Thompson could begin the debate.

"My people say to hang," the parliamentary records report Ross as saying.

It was to lay the platform for Thompson, who would make an argument for the retention of capital punishment.

"...We are in Jamaica where, to many people, life is cheap, and we must lift that veil of terror and restore the smiling faces that used to be on Jamaicans," Thompson said as he urged legislators to keep the rope.
"There are some people in this country who only fear execution and nothing else; they fear the rope," Thompson added.

And, if that were not enough, Thompson stopped short of telling members that innocent blood would be on their hands if they refused to retain the death penalty.

Said Thompson: "I utter a clear warning to those responsible for the decent citizens of this country that, were they to lift that fear from the wrongdoer, so that he knows that there is one more section of the community on his side, you would have on your conscience the death of every man who is killed by a murderer who would not have been murdered if you did not have the bleeding hearts and humane writers."

Government MP, Ferdie Neita, who voted to retain capital punishment, described murderous criminals as a "new breed of man, a new breed of animal in the society".

"This breed of animal is like a cancer in the society and must be eradicated," Neita said.

While admitting that the treatment of death-row prisoners, in some cases, amounted to cruel and inhumane punishment, Neita said Parliament had a responsibility to ensure that murderers paid for their crime with their lives.

"I would request that all of us in here make sure that we vote for the law to be carried out as it is now stated, and perhaps we can look at the whole system of justice, where that is concerned, at some later day when the society has returned to normality," Neita said.

JLP MP Dr Neville Gallimore refused to buy the argument that the death penalty would solve the crime problem.

"Let us get scientific data after properly investigating from a sociological standpoint and let us find out what is best for our society and let us do it and let our conscience be clear and that our brother's blood be not on our shoulders," Gallimore urged.

Revenge cannot be factored into decision

Then Prime Minister Michael Manley, who also voted to abolish capital punishment, told the house that emotion should not be at the centre of their thought process.

"In this day and age, revenge cannot be the emotive force in determining a system of punishment, and, therefore, revenge, with all due respect, cannot be the reason for either having capital punishment or not having capital punishment," Manley said.

When the debate ended and the clerk of the House counted the votes after the divide, capital punishment remained on the country's books.

Twenty-four MPs had voted for its retention and 18 for its abolition. PNP MP Percival Minott refused to vote.

Read it all here.

Mumbai Suspects Had Punjab Accents

ISLAMABAD, Nov 28: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Friday surprised his Indian counterpart when within hours of his request to send the head of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to Delhi for the purpose of sharing evidence of Pakistan’s possible link with the Mumbai terror attack. The government in Islamabad agreed to send the ISI chief to India to establish beyond doubt that there was no direct or indirect involvement of Pakistan in the incident.

The decision to send Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of Pakistan’s premier intelligence service, to New Delhi was announced by the prime minister’s office after Mr Gilani held a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari and the two leaders discussed the issue and its various aspects with other important players, including the heads of the security establishment.

No date has been fixed for the unprecedented trip, but the PM’s office statement said modalities of the visit were being worked out. Earlier in the day Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke to Prime Minister Gilani on telephone and besides exchanging views on the mysterious and agonising developments in India’s commercial hub of Mumbai, requested him to send the intelligence chief to look at what he described as “evidence” which New Delhi thought linked Pakistan with the terror attack.

The situation had become tense earlier in the day when Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee took a step forward in the finger-pointing game by declaring that suspects of the Mumbai carnage might have links with Pakistan. Though this was the first direct attack on Pakistan, a section of the Indian media had already accused Islamabad of being in complicity in the affair, with a few of them referring to the “Punjabi accent” of a couple of terrorists as proof of Pakistan’s involvement.

As the Pakistan-bashing continued in a section of the Indian electronic and print media, some of Pakistani television channels launched an anti-India tirade, with a few indirectly blaming the Mumbai carnage on the Indian establishment.

Official sources said that as the tension started to mount between the two countries, the Pakistani leadership considered that there was a need to look for an out-of-box action to defuse the situation.

“Since we had nothing to hide, we thought there was no harm in calling the Indian bluff by agreeing to the request to send the ISI chief to Delhi,” a senior official privy to the developments told Dawn. So, within hours of the telephonic conversion between the two prime ministers, Mr Gilani and President Zardari had a closed-door meeting, which was later joined by other leaders and officials. And as Delhi maintained an eerie silence over the content of the two prime ministers’ talks, Islamabad announced its decision to send the ISI chief to Delhi to discuss the issues with the Indian authorities.

“Mr Gilani has accepted the offer and now the two sides will work out modalities for the visit of the ISI Director General, Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha, which is expected to take place soon,” prime minister’s spokesman Zahid Bashir told Dawn.

Read it all here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Sri Lankan President on the Mumbai Attacks

Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of Sri Lanka, perceives the intention of the terrorists who launched co-ordinated attacks against foreigners and Jewish nationals in Mumbai, India on Wednesday. He has said, "The attacks on leading hotels, hospitals and public transport in Mumbai, the business and financial capital of India, show that the terrorists are targeting an important sector of the Indian economy, with a view to destabilizing democracy in India."

Source: BBC News

Richardson's Parents Commit to Guard Life

The Alliance Defense Fund has reached a favorable settlement in a lawsuit that pitted a divorced father and mother against each another over whether their 24-year-old daughter should live.

Lauren Richardson sustained a severe brain injury in August 2006, according to an Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) press release. The doctors then declared she would be in a "persistent vegetative state."

ADF attorney Matt Bowman tells OneNewsNow Lauren's mother was fighting to have Lauren's feeding tube and water discontinued, but she had a change of heart.

"The miracle in Lauren Richardson's case is that both of her parents came to realize that life should be protected," he explains. "It's inherently valuable, and just because Lauren has a severe disability doesn't mean that her life is not valuable."

Lauren's mother became a born-again Christian and visited her daughter at her hospital facility, which Bowman believes was quite eye-opening.

"And then an amazing thing happened," he notes. "She told Lauren that Lauren would be cared for, and Lauren started crying, and they cried together and she realized that her daughter was really there and was really responding."

Lauren was also responding to pain, music, family members' voices, touch, and assisted exercise.

The parents have agreed to settle the case and share joint guardianship of Lauren.

Read it here.

Gun Sales Soar in Wake of Obama Victory

Higaki, a gunsmith at Jack First Gunshop in Rapid City, is just one of many gun owners across the U.S. who are rushing to buy up some types of guns, driven by fear the weapons will be illegal after Obama and a Democrat-controlled Congress take over in January.

Gun shops around the region and nation have reported sales increases following the Nov. 4 election, and the FBI says firearm purchase background checks in the U.S. climbed 49 percent the week of the election, compared to the same week last year.

With an eye to an Obama victory, Travis Ruff, owner of Trak Guns in Spearfish, stocked up on items in October he thought would sell quickly if Obama won. But even he was surprised by the demand for guns both online and in his store.

Read it all here.

Oglala Seek to Keep Churches Open

Members of 11 Episcopal churches on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation have filed lawsuits in Oglala Sioux tribal court asking that the Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota be prevented from closing their churches and from deconsecrating buildings and cemeteries in the process.

On Monday, the executive committee of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council also unanimously approved a resolution stating that the diocese should return those properties to the tribe in compliance with federal laws that govern the use of reservation lands for missionary or educational works.

The rite of deconsecrating a church allows that building to be used for secular purposes, but it would not necessarily prevent it from being used as a church again at some point.

The legal papers were served Monday at the diocesan offices in Sioux Falls but had not been signed by a tribal judge as of Tuesday. The plaintiffs seek an immediate hearing to stop the closures.

Read it all here.

Turkey Talk

Did you know that Benjamin Franklin suggested that the American wild turkey should be the national bird?

In Kentucky when we talk of wild turkey we mean Kentucky bourbon.

Although the turkeys we enjoy at Thanksgiving are fat, flightless and tasty, that is not the natural state of turkeys. Wild turkey are strong fliers (up to 55 mph for short distances) and among the fastest runners (15-30 mph).

One type of wild turkey is originally from Yucatan and Guatemala and the other is from Mexico and the US. Fossil records indicate that both types of turkey were once more widespread in the Americas.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bush and Obama Tackle Economy Together

The coordination between Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush was taking place among aides, as well as in direct talks about the rescue plan for Citigroup and unresolved details of the overall Treasury bailout plan. The president said his successor would be informed of every “big decision” that was made, adding, “It’s important for the American people to know that there is close cooperation.”

To calm anxious markets, the Federal Reserve and the Treasury plan to announce a major lending program on Tuesday to jump-start frozen loan markets, administration officials said. The Treasury had signaled earlier this month that it was considering such an action for consumer loans, but the action to be announced will broaden the program to include business debt.

In effect, the program would create a government bank to finance hundreds of billions of dollars in commercial debt, like car loans, student loans and business leases. The Treasury is expected to contribute $10 billion to $20 billion in seed capital, which would come from the $700 billion originally provided to shore up the financial system. The Federal Reserve would lend the new entity as much as 20 times that amount.

For his part, Mr. Obama sought to assure Americans and foreign investors that he was seeking to fill any leadership vacuum, and said his economic advisers would begin working “today.” The advisers include Timothy F. Geithner, his choice for Treasury secretary.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index rose 6.4 percent, and the Dow Jones industrials jumped 4.9 percent, reprising the Friday upswing.

As if to underscore the transfer of power now under way, Mr. Obama introduced his new economic team at a news conference here shortly after Mr. Bush made brief remarks outside the Treasury Department.

Read it all here.

Israeli Hawks Ready to Strike Iran's Nukes

Prepare for war. Last week I met the Boogie Man, the former head of the Israeli Defence Forces, General Moshe "Boogie" Ya'alon, who is preparing the political groundwork for a military attack on Iran's key nuclear facilities. "We have to confront the Iranian revolution immediately," he told me. "There is no way to stabilise the Middle East today without defeating the Iranian regime. The Iranian nuclear program must be stopped."

Defeating the theocratic regime in Tehran could be economic or political or, as a last resort, military, he said. "All tools, all options, should be considered." He was speaking in the tranquillity of the Shalem Centre in Jerusalem, where he was, until last Thursday, one of Israel's plethora of warrior-scholars, though more influential than most.

Could "all options" include decapitating the Iranian leadership by military strikes, including on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel's destruction? "We have to consider killing him," Ya'alon replied. "All options must be considered."

That's why he's called Boogie. This is significant, for several reasons. Ya'alon has decided to enter what he called "the cold waters of Israeli politics". He will run for the conservative Likud party in the general election in Israel on February 10. Likud is leading the opinion polls. So I could have been speaking to Israel's next defence minister or, at least, an influential member of the next cabinet.

He is not known for making idle threats. Ya'alon is a former paratroop commander and was deputy leader of the Israel Defence Forces from 2000 to 2002, then chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, during the most recent Palestinian uprising, or intifada. He is credited with shutting it down.

Events are moving quickly. The Israeli Atomic Energy Commission has estimated that Iran will have produced enough highly enriched uranium by the end of next year to produce a nuclear bomb. Next year is widely regarded in Israel as year zero for the strategic decision about Iran's nuclear program.

Read it all here.

Chavez' Ambitions Challenged

CARACAS, Venezuela — From the hardened slums of this city to some of Venezuela’s most populous and economically important states, many of President Hugo Chávez’s supporters deserted him in regional elections, showing it is possible to challenge him in areas where he was once thought invincible.

The outcome of Sunday’s vote was the second blow dealt to the president in a year, after voters rejected last December his plan to alter the Constitution to give himself more power. Although it was unclear whether the results would slow his Socialist-inspired revolution or check his power, they could complicate his ambitions to amend the Constitution to allow him to run again.

Mr. Chávez, who has been in power for 10 years, has focused on raising political consciousness across disenfranchised parts of society. Now, voters in a sizable part of Venezuela sent him a message that they wanted not a monopoly on power, but solutions to economic and social ills that are glaringly apparent on their streets.

Though Mr. Chávez’s allies won 17 of the 22 states in Sunday’s vote, his opponents did well in some poor urban areas, and in states like Zulia, where much of Venezuela’s oil is produced; Carabobo, the home of auto manufacturers and petrochemical plants; and Táchira, rich in agriculture and cattle. Mr. Chávez framed the elections as a plebiscite on his evolving revolutionary ideology, but voters appeared to focus on more mundane concerns like inflation, which at more than 30 percent is the highest rate in Latin America, and fears that an economic boom might be sputtering to an end as oil prices plunge, forcing Mr. Chávez to reconsider his spending plans.

Read it all here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Emanuel a 'Dove' When it Comes to Israel?

Though known for close ties with the Israelis, Emanuel had never given them a free pass and has consistently supported a dovish policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“His approach was always ‘Don’t pull one on me,’” said a former Israeli official who was in touch with Emanuel during President Clinton’s drive for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. “He was very supportive, but never a blind supporter.”

In his years as a senior adviser to President Clinton, Emanuel focused on domestic policy, but his background and openness to the Jewish community made him a point man on issues relating to Israel.

“We could discuss issues with him before raising them at a higher level and get a sense from him on what the thinking in the White House is,” recalled Zalman Shoval, former Israeli ambassador to Washington and now a member of the Likud party.

Though all agree that Emanuel did not play a major role in American relations with Israel, recent weeks have brought to the fore many anecdotes regarding his involvement. But not all seem to be true.

Read it all here.

Ahmadinejad: America Too Weak to Stop Iran

NEW YORK—Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meeting with several dozen American peace activists here Wednesday night, said that Iran was not seeking a nuclear bomb and asserted that the Bush administration was not in a position to launch military strikes to stop Iran from carrying out its nuclear activities.

"I really believe the American government is not able to start another war for the next decades to come. This is good news for the entire world," he declared. He was referring to the financial crisis that may trigger a historically expensive public bailout to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. He very likely also had in mind the long U.S. military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan—a theme he has struck on other occasions.

Ahmadinejad's New York visit to speak before the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly and to conduct a media blitz has become an annual ritual. His appearance here usually draws angry protests, denunciations for his alleged support for terrorism and the destruction of Israel, and tough questioning.

But this meeting was decidedly different, with a friendly tone that seemed to please the Iranian leader.

"It is definitely a very unique meeting as a whole," he said. The gathering was sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, America's oldest interfaith peace group. The few news media representatives permitted to attend were not allowed to ask Ahmadinejad questions.

Read it all here.

Why Coptic Women Shouldn't Marry Moslem Men

ISTANBUL, November 24 (Compass Direct News) – Egyptian human rights workers are looking to international bodies for support against Muslim judges who use sharia (Islamic law) to undermine custody rights of Christian mothers.

Despite provisions such as Egyptian law’s Article 20, which dictates that minors should remain with their mother until age 15, judges consistently rule in favor of Muslim fathers in custody disputes with Christian mothers. Islamist judges typically resort to Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution, which states that “principles of Islamic law are the principal source of legislation.”

Sharia-based decisions that rule contrary to Egyptian statutory law have led the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an independent human rights organization, to protest before the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR). The ACHPR was formed by the African Union to oversee the implementation of its Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

An investigation, decision and recommendation by the African Commission to the Egyptian government would lend considerable weight to the EIPR’s efforts to enforce Egyptian Personal Status Law, which states explicitly the mother’s right to custody of her children until they reach age 15.

The EIPR’s complaint before the African Commission accuses the Egyptian government of violating the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Egypt ratified in 1984, the human rights organization said in a Nov. 10 statement. The EIPR referred to the case of 13-year-old twins Andrew and Mario Medhat Ramses, whom an appeals court awarded to their father Medhat Ramses Labib on Sept. 24 after a custody battle.

“The government’s treatment of the boys’ mother, Kamilia Lotfy Gaballah, constituted discrimination based on her religion and violated her right to equal protection before the law,” the EIPR stated. “The case also charges that the government violated the two boys’ right to freedom of religion and contravened the state’s legal obligation to protect child rights.”

The boys’ father, Labib, converted to Islam in 1999 after divorcing Gaballah to marry another woman. In 2006 Labib altered the official religious status of the boys and later applied for custody.

“Obviously in this custody decision, it is a flagrant disregard of the Personal Status Law, which ensures custody for the mother until the children are 15 years old,” said Hossam Bahgat of the EIPR. “In this case the judiciary chose to ignore statutory law and apply their own interpretation of sharia.”

The long-running case of the twins exemplifies the problem but is in no way unique. Sisters Ashraqat Gohar, 12, and Maria Gohar, 8, were taken from their Christian mother in January and placed in the custody of their Muslim father, Wafiq Gohar, despite his criminal record and the 12-year-old’s claims that he is an alcoholic.

The court ruling referred to Wafiq Gohar’s fears that “[the girls] would cherish a religion other than Islam, eat foods that are banned in Islam and go to church” as determining factors in their decision.

“It is a big problem we are facing in Egypt,” said Naguib Gobrail, president of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organizations. “The decision of the court clearly stated that according to Article 2, the main source [of legislation] is sharia, so the judge cannot apply the natural law.”

More recently, 3-year-old Barthenia Rezqallah of Tanta, near Cairo, remains in her father’s custody, despite a court order that she be returned to her mother pending a final verdict. Police have turned a blind eye to the court order out of fears that the child will practice Christianity rather than Islam, said Gobrail.

Gobrail said that international pressure may be the solution.

“Maybe a connection with someone of international character connecting with President [Hosni] Mubarak is the only way,” he said, “because he has the authority to give orders to the National Assembly to issue a law to make things equal between Muslims and Copts, especially for the children.”

Monday, November 24, 2008

NYC Churches Not to House Homeless

NEW YORK (CBS) ― City officials have ordered 22 New York churches to stop providing beds to homeless people.With temperatures well below freezing early Saturday, the churches must obey a city rule requiring faith-based shelters to be open at least five days a week -- or not at all.

Arnold Cohen, president of the Partnership for the Homeless, a nonprofit that serves as a link with the city, said he had to tell the churches they no longer qualify.

He said hundreds of people now won't have a place to sleep.The Department of Homeless Services said the city offers other shelters with the capacity to accept all those who have been sleeping in the churches. The city had 8,000 beds waiting.

Rea it all here.

Rashid Rauf Killed in Air Strike

MIRAMSHAH, Nov 22: The alleged mastermind of a transatlantic aeroplane bombing plot and four other people were killed in a US missile attack in North Waziristan on Saturday. Six people were injured, government and security sources said.

The Taliban claimed that all those killed in the Alikhel village of Mirali sub-district were local tribesmen and vowed to avenge the deaths by striking the settled areas.

An official said the Birmingham-born Rashid Rauf had apparently been killed along with an Al Qaeda operative, Abu Zubair al Masri.

“Rashid Rauf and Al Misri were the target and have apparently been killed in the air strike,” the official told Dawn.

A security official said that intelligence gathered from the area suggested that Rashid Rauf, a Briton of Pakistan extraction, might have been among those killed in the pre-dawn strike.“This is what we are hearing too,” the official commented.

Read it all here.

Quote of the Week - Nicolas Gomez Davila

"The Church used to absolve sinners; today it has the gall to absolve sins."
–Nicolás Gómez Dávila

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Russian War Ships in Caribbean

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Sunday that Russian warships will soon reach his country's Caribbean coast for joint naval exercises.

Chavez said the Russian ships "will enter Venezuelan waters within a matter of hours." He didn't say exactly when the ships are to arrive.

It's the first such deployment by the Russian navy in the Caribbean since the Cold War. Russia is sending the nuclear-powered cruiser Peter the Great, the destroyer Admiral Chabanenko, and logistical vessels including a tugboat and a supply ship.

Source: International Jerusalem Post

Obama: National Security a Top Priority

President-elect Barack Obama said in an interview broadcast Sunday that since terrorists might try to attack the United States during the White House transition, selecting his national-security team is one of his top priorities. He also told CBS’ 60 Minutes that he would try to “regain America’s moral stature in the world”.

“It’s important to get a national-security team in place”, Mr Obama said in the interview. “We want to make sure that there is as seamless a transition on national security as possible”.

In his first television interview since his historic election, Mr Obama said he spent his time mostly dealing with domestic issues, from doing “whatever it takes” to stabilise the economy, restore consumer confidence, and create jobs, to getting sound health care and energy policies through Congress. The President-elect also said that as soon as he takes office he will work with his security team and the military to draw down US troop levels in Iraq, shore up Afghanistan, and “stamp out al-Qaeda, once and for all”. Mr Obama confirmed reports that he intends to close the detention centre at Guantánamo Bay and “make sure we don’t torture” as “part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world”.

Meanwhile, the world is largely cheering Obama’s historic victory. Only in Israel, Georgia, and the Philippines was John McCain’s crushing defeat lamented. Needless to say, his to-do list is extensive. He will need all the savvy he can summon to soothe the world’s many trouble spots. Mr Obama’s victory, coupled with reinforced Democratic control of the House and Senate, offer him a unique opportunity to resolve some of America’s most troubling foreign problems. Foreign policy experts believe the first step he will need to undertake is to demilitarise US foreign policy and remove foreign policy making from the Pentagon and return it to the State Department, where this function properly belongs.

Although he talked in his 60 Minutes interview about al Qaeda, Iraq, and Afghanistan, America’s most important national security challenge, according to one expert, will not be there, but, in relations with Russia, which has thousands of nuclear warheads. Mr Obama, he said, would need to renew President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s call for nuclear disarmament. Above all, he must move NATO away from Russia’s borders in order to avoid making the alliance a spear pointed at Russia’s heart.

Source: Voices from Russia

U.S. Blamed for Somali Piracy

afrol News, 21 November - The Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement has blamed Washington's alleged policy of "balkanising Somalia" for being the root cause behind piracy off the Somali coast, adding that breakaway Somaliland and Puntland must return to Somalia to create a forceful unit.

According to the official Eritrean statement, it is the US government that stands behind the political split currently experienced in Somalia. Somaliland - a former British colony uniting with Italian Somalia in 1960 but declaring independence again in 1991 - the autonomous region of Puntland, and other areas held by local warlords all were the product of "reckless" US policies aimed at splitting Somalia, the Asmara Ministry holds. Also the serious problem of Somali piracy could therefore be blamed on Washington, Eritrea holds.

"The main cause of this problem is the vacuum that has been created for the last 17 years in Somalia," the statement said. "Sadly, an enduring solution is not conceivable until the reckless acts of the US and its surrogates aimed at balkanising Somalia, dividing its people along ethnic and clan lines ... cease," it adds.

"The solution lies, accordingly, in the liberation and reconstitution of a united and sovereign Somalia," Asmara officials hold. "Unless and until the entire Somali people – whether they are in the so-called 'Somali-land', “Punt-land', 'Juba-land' or 'Benadir-land' - extricate themselves from the malaise of fragmentation to bring about their own enduring solution by themselves, piracy and other deplorable activities will not indeed cease," they add.

This is not the first time the Eritrean government calls for unity among "the entire Somali people." Somalis also dominate large tracts of Ethiopia - Eritrea's arch enemy - Kenya and Djibouti. It has been documented that Eritrea has sponsored and trained Somali secessionists in Ethiopia.

Eritrea further is actively involved in the fighting in Somalia, supporting one of the many splinter groups there. Eritrea, it has been documented, has trained and armed a militant Somali Islamist group which is blamed for attacks on the Somali transitional government, its Ethiopian allies and Somali civilians.

While itself intervening in Somalia arming extremist groups, Eritrean authorities cast doubt on the motives of several Western powers now getting involved in the fight against Somali piracy and that are sending naval forces to the Horn region. "Some might be motivated by sincere objectives. But for others, the situation provides a silver lining for illegal intervention," the Eritrean Foreign Ministry claims.

Source: AfrolNews

Search "Terrorist Attack". Are Americans Anxious?

Google search trends noted a spike in searches using the words "terrorist attack" on Election Day 2008.

The news reference volume shows spikes on November 9 and November 17.

On November 8, about 6,000 Muslim clerics from India approved a fatwa against terrorism. "Islam rejects all kinds of unjust violence, breach of peace, bloodshed, murder and plunder and does not allow it in any form. Cooperation should be done for the cause of good but not for committing sin or oppression," the fatwa written at the Darul Uloom Deoband, India's foremost Islamic seminary. Read it all here.

On November 17, National Public Radio ran a segment on how President-elect Obama has promised to turn attention from the war in Iraq to what he calls the real war on terror: the fight against al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Listen to it here.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Marco Allen Chapman Executed

Kentucky's Catholic bishops pleaded with Gov. Steve Beshear to grant clemency in Chapman's pending execution. The bishops cited his mental instability resulting from an abusive childhood and a long history of drug and alcohol abuse.

Chapman pleaded guilty to the 2002 murders of two children, and to the attempted murder of another child and their mother. in their northern Kentucky home. At his request, Chapman was sentenced to death for the murders and received life sentences for the attempted murders and the rape of the children's mother. Read more here.

Marco Chapman, age 37, asked for the death penalty multiple times but his public defender asked for delays. Although Chapman has already been found competent on three prior occassions, the Department of Public Advocacy asked for another competency hearing .

"I believe justice is being served by the Kentucky Supreme Court's decision to uphold the death sentence against Marco Chapman for the brutal crimes against the Marksberry family," said Attorney General Jack Conway.

This case is being watched because it’s the first time anyone has pleaded guilty to the death penalty in Kentucky.

During his 2004 sentencing, Chapman asked for the death penalty because he said that he was haunted by his actions. He murdered two girls, ages 7 and 6, and attempted to murder another child and their mother, after raping her.

Chapman knows what he deserves. This is a case of a man taking his just desert.

Also from here:

"The only thing I could says is I'm sorry. Even though they shouldn't accept it, my heartfelt apologies for their loss and what I've done," Chapman told The Associated Press in May. "I'm ready. I'm ready and I'm sorry. There's nothing else I can say."

Chapman's aunt, Donna Rumburg of Mount Airy, Md., said his family is a little less certain about his decision. Rumburg, who raised Chapman for a short time, said she hasn't forgiven Chapman for what he did because it's not her place.

"But I don't say I don't love him," Rumburg said.

Chapman, 37, pleaded guilty in December 2004 to killing 7-year-old Chelbi Sharon and 6-year-old Cody Sharon in their northern Kentucky home. He also admitted stabbing 10-year-old Courtney Sharon, who survived, then raping and trying to kill their mother, Carolyn Marksberry, during the 2002 assault.

(AP) - A Kentucky inmate who resisted all appeals to stop his execution was put to death Friday for murdering two young children.

In the state's first execution in nine years, Marco Allen Chapman was given a lethal injection at the Kentucky State Penitentiary. He was pronounced dead at 7:34 p.m. CST.

This case reminds me of C. S. Lewis' essay on the Humanitarian Theory of Punishment, which you can read here.

First to Recieve Tissue-Engineered Organ

Claudia Castillo's body part was grown using her own stem cells harvested from bone marrow.

Professor Anthony Hollander, part of the team behind the breakthrough, described it as an example of "stem cell science becoming stem cell medicine".

Using Ms Castillo's stem cells to create a new airway for her means there are none of the tissue-rejection problems that are a major issue for transplant surgery and which usually mean recipients have to take powerful drugs for the rest of their lives.

Researchers from the UK, Italy and Spain worked together in the extraordinarily complex procedure to grow tissue from the 30-year-old mother of two to fashion a new bronchus – a branch of the windpipe – and carry out the transplant operation.

Scientists believe the same approach will be used in years to come to create engineered replacements for other damaged organs. In five years, they hope to begin clinical trials in which laboratory-made voice boxes are implanted into patients with cancer of the larynx.

Professor Martin Birchall, a member of the team from the University of Bristol, said: "What we're seeing today is just the beginning. This is the first time a tissue-engineered whole organ has been transplanted into a patient.

Read it all here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Arrogant More Likely to Commit Fraud

Wharton accounting professor Catherine M. Schrand and doctoral student Sarah L. C. Zechman are developing a paper titled, "Executive Overconfidence and the Slippery Slope to Fraud" that examines patterns in frauds to determine if some frauds evolve, not out of pure self-interest, but because executives are overly optimistic that they can turn their firms around before fraudulent behavior catches up with them.

"The main question is whether we can explain fraudulent behavior using knowledge about human decision making. Some fraudulent behavior is the outcome of managers putting themselves in the position where fraud is their only choice," says Schrand. "They didn't start out thinking they would commit fraud and they were not necessarily trying to hurt anyone, but they ended up being in a position where they felt it was the only way to get out of a bad situation."

Schrand describes the path leading to fraud. An executive believes his firm is experiencing only a bad quarter or patch of bad luck. He also believes it is in the best interest of everyone involved -- management, employees, customers, creditors and shareholders -- to cover up the problem in the short term so that these constituents do not misinterpret the current poor performance as a sign of the future. In addition, he is convinced that down the road the company will make up for the current period of poor performance. It is the optimistic executive or overconfident executive who is more likely to have these beliefs.

Read it all here.

Selling Tasers to Torturers

Is selling police equipment to a notoriously brutal government tantamount to assisting in torture?

William Schulz believes that it can be, and that these types of sales are one of the principal ways in which businesses can entangle themselves with torturers. Schulz, former executive director of Amnesty International, spoke during a presentation last week sponsored by Wharton's Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research.

Seldom are businesses in the developed world implicated directly in torture, but too often they avert their eyes as their products, purchases or independent contractors support abuses, according to Schultz, who is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank based in Washington, D.C. He cited the case of Taser International, the Scottsdale, Ariz., manufacturer of "stun guns." Taser's devices, sold domestically to police departments and private citizens, shoot electrified barbs that cause a flash of intense pain and momentary muscle failure. Police use them in place of pistols and clubs to protect themselves and subdue unruly people.

The U.S. Commerce Department has documented the sale of Tasers to countries, including Saudi Arabia, that are known for using electro-shock devices as tools of torture, Schulz said. He debated Taser's chief executive, Rick Smith, three years ago at Claremont-McKenna College in California. At the time, he asked Smith to stop selling his company's wares to countries that the U.S. State Department had classified as torturers. Taser's president indicated that the company "would sell to any country it pleased," Schulz stated.

Read it all here.

Auto Makers Learning (Maybe) the Hard Way

The Big Three said nothing, which prompted Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) to rub it in. "I'm going to ask the three executives here to raise their hand if they flew here commercial," he said. All still at the witness table. "Second," he continued, "I'm going ask you to raise your hand if you're planning to sell your jet . . . and fly back commercial." More stillness. "Let the record show no hands went up," Sherman grandstanded.

By now, the men were probably wishing they had driven -- and other members of the House Financial Services Committee weren't done riding the CEOs over their jets. "You traveled in a private jet?" Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) contributed. Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.) felt the need to say that "I'm not an opponent of private flights by any means, but the fact that you flew in on your own private jet at tens of thousands itself dollars of cost just for you to make your way to Washington is a bit arrogant before you ask the taxpayers for money."

It was a display of stone-cold tone-deafness by the automaker chiefs. In their telling, they have no responsibility for the auto industry's current mess. Threatening the nation with economic Armageddon if they are not given government aid, they spent much of the session declaring what a fine job they've been doing in Detroit.

"Chrysler really is the quintessential American car company!" Chrysler's Nardelli boasted.
"We have products that are winning car and truck of the year regularly," General Motors' Wagoner proclaimed.

"We are equal to or better than Honda and Toyota," Ford's Mulally added. "Every new vehicle that we make, whether it's small, medium or large, is best in fuel efficiency. The given is safety. And we have more, at Ford, more five-star quality and safety ratings than any other automobile."

Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) cut him off. "Thank you, Mr. --"

"And the best value!" Mulally blurted out.

"Commercials can go later," the chairman proposed.

They would have to go later, because members of the committee wanted to turn the session into a special edition of "Car Talk." Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) spoke of his '99 Jeep: "It probably has about 150,000 miles on it, and it's still running doggone well." Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) invoked his '98 Jeep Cherokee: "Small problem with the back hatch staying open; we can talk about that afterwards." Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) praised her Chrysler minivan. Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) had good words for her Jeep but complained that it didn't come in a hybrid version.

"I drive the same '66 Plymouth Valiant that I've always had," Ackerman proffered. He went on to discuss a problem with the GPS system in his Cadillac. "I wanted a loaded car in blue; I had to reach out to five states to find one in blue," he complained.

It seemed everybody had a car story to tell. Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) let it be known that he was a car dealer for 25 years. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) disclosed that he had worked at the GM plant in Framingham. Rep. Donald Manzullo (R-Ill.) wanted to see more ads for the car made in his district, while Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) said the Edsel was once made in his home town. Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) read from Cicero and held up photos of cars. And Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) had no car stories to tell but delivered the surprising news that the problem with the Titanic was not its collision with an iceberg.

Detroit area lawmakers made passionate arguments that the carmakers had already done what "they possibly can to restructure and become globally competitive," as Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) put it.

But the executives were not helping their own case. When Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) tried to find out when GM would run out of cash, Wagoner hemmed and hawed until the lawmaker protested that "I don't quite understand what the hell you just told me." When Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) asked about GM's outlook for the quarter, Wagoner informed him that "we don't provide financial guidance in earnings."

Read it all here.

And there's still more...

For a second straight day, the chief executives of Detroit's Big Three tried to convince a skeptical Congress that they deserved $25 billion in emergency loans. But that message was nearly drowned out by discussion of their corporate flying habits, and the Senate later scrapped plans for a vote on the loans today -- dimming hopes for a rescue plan this year.

The executives from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler insisted that they had gotten serious about producing smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles. They also told how they trimmed corporate fat and renegotiated generous union contracts so they could better compete with foreign automakers.But under scornful questioning by members of the House Financial Services Committee, the CEOs conceded that when they came to Washington to plead for government aid, each of them had traveled on a private plane.

Read it here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Socialized Medicine Isn't the Answer

BLOOMBERG -- Jack Rosser's doctor says taking Pfizer's Sutent cancer drug may keep him alive long enough to see his 1-year-old daughter, Emma, enter primary school. The U.K.'s National Health Service says that's not worth the expense.

The NHS, which provides health care to all Britons and is funded by tax revenue, is spending about 100 billion pounds this fiscal year, or more than double what it spent a decade ago, as the cost of treatments increase and the population ages. The higher costs are forcing the NHS to choose between buying expensive drugs for terminal patients and providing more services for a wider number of people.

Rosser, 57, was told the cost of Sutent, 3,140 pounds ($4,650) per treatment for his advanced kidney cancer, was too high for the NHS -- the government agency that funds the nation's health care. The resident of the town of Kingswood, in southwest England, has appealed the decision twice, and next month may find out if his second plea is successful.

Rosser's wife, Jenny said "It's immoral. They are sentencing him to die. The policies seem aimed more at saving cash than treating people. It seems like a money-saving exercise. If a patient dies, tough.''

Gay 'Marriage': What's at Stake?

Despite the fact that Americans just elected one of the most liberal presidents in history, they also voted to uphold traditional marriage in every state where it was on the ballot.

Gay activists (and a few Episcopal bishops) would have you believe that votes against gay "marriage" are a result of bigotry, the equivalent of racism or sexism. After all, they argue, what's wrong with two people loving each other and wanting to publicly proclaim it? Doesn't the world need more committed love, not less?

S.T. Karnick, writing in the autumn issue of SALVO magazine, points out that homosexuals may already "marry" in any number of places, under the auspices of any number of organizations. Churches such as the Episcopal Church USA, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, and numerous others "either explicitly allow the consecration or blessing of same-sex 'marriages' or look the other way when individual congregations perform such ceremonies."

No law prevents these religious organizations from conducting such rituals, nor would most Americans expect or want the government to dictate doctrine to churches. But if and when same-sex "marriage" becomes law, it becomes against the law not to follow it. And that could indeed result in the government not only dictating doctrine to churches, but to religious schools, and to individuals.

Right now, individuals and corporations may choose to treat same-sex unions the same way they treat traditional marriage, or not. As Karnick writes so succinctly: "This, of course, is the truly liberal and tolerant position." What's at issue here is government-enforced recognition that same-sex "marriage" is legally identical to traditional marriage, no matter the individuals' or institutions' religious beliefs.

Government intrusion on religion is what's at stake.

Read it all here.

Calif. Episcopal Bishops a Radical Fringe

Proposition 8, which passed with 52 percent of the vote earlier this month, overturned the high court's May decision legalizing homosexual marriage in California. The easure inserts language into the constitution limiting marriage to one man and one woman.

Gay and civil rights groups, the city of San Francisco and other plaintiffs have asked the court to void the measure on the grounds that voters did not have the authority to make, what they say, is a fundamental constitutional change.

The California Council of Churches and the Episcopal bishops of Northern California and Los Angeles were among those asking the high court to invalidate Proposition 8. They argue that if voters are permitted to take away rights from a group based on sexual orientation, the same could happen to religious minorities.

Read it all here.

Note: California Episcopal Bishops are also known to be heretics. Their positions have been rejected by 3/4 of the worldwide Anglican Communion. They give Holy Communion to Hindus and support the syncretistic United Religions Initiative (URI). Lee Penn, an expert on the URI, has written, "The most ambitious organization in today’s interfaith movement is the United Religions Initiative (URI), founded by William Swing, the Episcopal Bishop of California."

The Episcopal Church in the USA is a political activist organization. That reality is embodied in the Presiding Bishop's personal (non-Christian) beliefs. She has said, "The question is always how can we get beyond our own narrow self-interest and see that our salvation lies in attending to the needs of other people." [Presiding Bishop, Parabola, Spring 2007].

Pakistani Justice Seeks "Rule of Law"

NEW YORK, Nov 19: Deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has made a stirring appeal to “America’s judicial, legal and academic fraternities” to help Pakistan’s judiciary discard the “rule of man” and establish the rule of law.

“What we have is rule of man. What we need is rule of law. What we cannot live without is a judiciary that is immune to political interference,” said Justice Iftikhar at Harvard Law School in Cambridge (Massachusetts) on Wednesday.

He said: “You must help Pakistan transform itself. Rule of law is Pakistan’s national consensus. And we must all side with Pakistan’s national consensus.”

Justice Iftikhar made the speech after he was awarded the prestigious medal of freedom, an honour bestowed on two other recipients, South African leader Nelson Mandela and Justice Thurgood Marshall of the US Supreme Court.

He told a large gathering of students and faculty members: “I stand here for all those Pakistanis who have risen against despotism, dictatorship, brutality, tyranny and injustice. I also stand here for all those Pakistanis who stand for the principle that no one is above the law and all those Pakistanis who agree with Thomas Paine that ‘in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other’.”

He said that Pakistani autocrats, whether uniformed or otherwise, were trying to turn the wheels of history in the wrong direction. “Our autocrats, whether uniformed or otherwise, while decreeing a democratic order are, at the same time, postponing the establishment of an independent judiciary to an ever more distant future.

Such democracy is bound to fail; you can’t have a constitutional democracy without security of tenure for the judges,” he added.

In Pakistan, Justice Iftikhar said, both civilian as well as uniformed autocrats had been influencing judicial decision-making for the past six decades.

He pointed out that judicial reforms were a high stake venture and said every reform undertaking had potential losers and potential gainers. “Potential losers, if our judiciary is to become truly independent, include civilian as well as uniformed politicians and our intelligence agencies.

Potential gainers: the general population at large and the economy. There are two problems: First, potential losers are also our principal decision-makers so they resist reforms. Second, potential losers are organised, potential gainers are not.”

Justice Iftikhar said that economies of countries which had “rule of law” prospered as against dictatorships and autocracies.

“Remember, almost all of Fortune 500 companies are a product of economies where the law rules supreme. At the same time, the poorest of the poor continue to dwell in countries where men govern as opposed to law. A government of laws stimulates economic growth. A government of men impedes economic growth,” he said.

Source: Daily Dawn

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bioethics Under the Obama Administration

President-elect Obama's choice to lead the transition team on the President's Council on Bioethics Review Team is Jonathan Moreno, the associate at the bioethics arms of the Center for American Progress, founded John Podesa, co-chair of the Obama "office of the President-Elect" transition.

Click here for more

Hat Tip to Beverly B. Nuckols, MD

Obama May Uphold Executive Privilege

Mr. Bush has used his executive powers to block Congressional requests for executive branch documents and testimony from former aides. But investigators hope that the Obama administration will open the filing cabinets and withdraw assertions of executive privilege that Bush officials have invoked to keep from testifying.

“I intend to ensure that our outstanding subpoenas and document requests relating to the U.S. attorneys matter are enforced,” said Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “I am hopeful that progress can be made with the coming of the new administration.”

Also, two advocacy groups, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First, have prepared detailed reports for the new administration calling for criminal investigations into accusations of abuse of detainees.

It is not clear, though, how a President Barack Obama will handle such requests. Legal specialists said the pressure to investigate the Bush years would raise tough political and legal questions.

Because every president eventually leaves office, incoming chief executives have an incentive to quash investigations into their predecessor’s tenure. Mr. Bush used executive privilege for the first time in 2001, to block a subpoena by Congressional Republicans investigating the Clinton administration.

In addition, Mr. Obama has expressed worries about too many investigations. In April, he told The Philadelphia Daily News that people needed to distinguish “between really dumb policies and policies that rise to the level of criminal activity.”

Read it all here.

The "Charitable" Face of Atheism

The reputation of atheists has not been well-served by the surly attacks on religion by some of atheism's highest-profile torch carriers. From the best-selling atheist manifestos of recent years to Bill Maher's new Religulous movie, the loudest voices of non-belief have exhibited much of the same stridency and flair for polemics as the religious fundamentalists they excoriate.

But if Margaret Downey keeps making progress with her campaign to show a different face of atheism, it's possible to imagine the day when avowing one's non-belief will not be political suicide. (It seems to be just that today, given that only one member of Congress, Rep. Pete Stark of California, has revealed that he does not believe in a deity; in view of polling data suggesting that some 5% to 15% of Americans are atheists and agnostics, it seems certain there are at least a few more non-believing senators and representatives in the halls — and closets — of Congress.)

Downey, having recently finished a stint as president of the Atheist Alliance International, is now organizing a non-believers' unity convention to take place in 2011. She is the poster person for positive atheism, a term she uses for a new face of atheism that emphasizes the good things in which non-believers do believe.

Downey does not move in the ways of the late atheist spokesperson Madalyn Murray O'Hair, who was known for her caustic mockery of religion and its followers. And despite Downey's friendship with the outspoken atheist author Richard Dawkins, of The God Delusion fame (who likens the religious indoctrination of kids to child abuse), Downey is more interested in building bridges than walls.

In an episode earlier this year in the Philadelphia area, where Downey lives, the stage appeared set for an atheist-vs.-Christian billboards shouting match: Downey and colleagues had posted a billboard on Interstate 95 saying, "Don't believe in God? You're not alone," prompting a local Christian congregation to erect signs with a counter-message promoting God. Instead of escalating the billboard battle, Downey and company asked those who put up the pro-belief sign to join forces and volunteer with them for a Philadelphia charity. The people from the Light Houses of Oxford Valley congregation accepted the offer and teamed up with the atheists to spend a half-day sorting and packaging food for the needy.

"My goal is to teach by example that we believe in the importance of helping improve the human condition," Downey says. "We atheists simply add one more 'o' to our belief system — we believe in good."

Read it all here.

President Bush Has Been Good For Africa

"I've never seen Africa policy better served than under President Bush," said Jendayi Frazer, the assistant secretary of the Bureau of African Affairs. "There's not a single thing that we said we were going to do in 2000 that we haven't done. … We've done far more than I ever expected, and I've been working Africa issues for more than 30 years. The administration's record far exceeded my own expectations."

Of course, every president — even one as maligned as Bush is — tries to put the best face on the things he has done. And there is usually no shortage of political appointees who stand ready to sing his praise.

Noteworthy honor
But the honor Bush received last week from Africare, the oldest and largest black-run African aid organization, didn't come from a right-wing group bent on burnishing his record. And Frazer — who soon will leave the government for a position at Carnegie Mellon University — is no self-serving flatterer.

Despite the president's failure to live up to his "compassionate conservatism" at home, he did better than most people are willing to admit in his dealings with Africa, a continent long victimized by the geopolitical tug of war between America and its adversaries.

"The Bush administration has broadened and deepened U.S. policy towards Africa," said Melvin Foote, president and CEO of Constituency for Africa, a coalition of groups that work to improve conditions on the continent.

"I don't know if it got involved for all the right reasons, but once it got involved it realized this was a good thing to do," Foote said of the Bush administration's efforts to stabilize Africa's fledgling democracies and combat its daunting health problems.

AIDS a top priority
Most impressive of these efforts has been Bush's work to stop the spread of AIDS and treat its victims in sub-Saharan Africa, where there were 22 million people infected with HIV at the end of last year.

This year, Bush signed a bill that authorized up to $48 billion to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria — most of it to be spent in sub-Saharan Africa — from 2009 through 2013. Since 2003, the Bush administration has provided funding to increase the number of Africans receiving anti-retroviral drugs from 50,000 to about 1.4 million, Frazer said.

"It's probably true that the Bush administration has directed more resources to the African AIDS problem than did the Clinton administration," said Nicole Lee in a grudging offer of support. But Bush's African AIDS program has been "a double-edge sword," said Lee, executive director of TransAfrica Forum, a Washington-based advocacy organization for Caribbean and African policy. It has been undermined, she said, by the "Gag Rule," a Bush administration policy that forbids foreign non-governmental organizations from receiving U.S financial support if they offer abortion or abortion counseling.

Read it all here.

Notice the fine line Bush has tried to walk on the moral issues. Will Obama rescind the so-called Gag Rule? How much you wanna bet?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Torture and Abduction Go Unpunished in Pakistan

FAISALABAD, Pakistan: Despite tall claims of the Punjab government regarding provision of speedy justice to the downtrodden and its repeated pledges to make registration of cases hassle-free, those having no money or connections with the powerful continue to suffer. Hafiz Maseeh, 60, a poor resident of Chak 304-JB, is the latest victim of police apathy and alleged partiality of a Punjab Assembly member, who was supposed to be custodian of rights of his electorate.

Hafiz told Dawn that his ordeal began some three-and-a-half months back after he caught son of Haq Nawaz, a resident of same village, while stealing chaff stored outside his house. This, he said, unleashed hell for him and his family.

He said on July 27, Haq Nawaz, his three sons, along with their accomplices barged in his house, carrying clubs, iron rods and weapons. The attackers subjected his daughters Rukhsana and Mafia, and his wife Naseem to brutal torture.

He said that his daughters locked up his only son in a room to save him from the wrath of assailants.

As if it was not enough, the outlaws, on the same day, also abducted his daughter Mafia when she was out along with other women of the area for cotton picking.

He said he immediately reported the torture of her family members to police, along with medico-legal certificates of the injured but they referred the matter to a panchayat headed by MPA Bilal Asghar Warraich. He said the panchayat, after three weeks, ordered him to accept Rs60,000 as compensation for the torture and humiliation of his family members, which he refused.

“On my refusal to accept the money, I was locked in a room of the MPA’s outhouse,” he said, adding when he was brought out after several hours the MPA’s guards again tried to force him into reconciliation with the accused. However, he said, he again refused to succumb to the pressure. Later, he said, he was released after some women approached the MPA’s mother and requested her to intervene.

At last, Gojra Sadar police registered a case against the accused for torturing his wife and daughters. However, no arrest was made as the accused had connections in the right places.

He said the police did not register any abduction case against the accused. Talking on Mr Warriach’s behalf, his political secretary denied Hafiz had been forced to pardon the accused. He claimed MPA’s rivals were spreading such ‘rumours’. However, he admitted the MPA headed the panchayat. He also denied police was barred from arresting the accused. Hafiz also alleged that an ASI asked her to provide 7,000 bricks for construction of DSP’s office which he did. He also alleged the police had been pressuring him to forgive the main accused.

SHO Umer Hayyat admitted no accused had been arrested so far. He also claimed he had yet to hear both parties, failing to explain why he delayed the matter for more than three months. Regarding registration of an abduction case against the accused and police effort, if any, to recover the Hafiz’s daughter, he just said efforts would be made in this regard.

Read it here.

Sheikh Sues Michael Jackson

LONDON: The son of an Arab monarch took the King of Pop to court Monday, charging that Michael Jackson took $7 million as an advance on an album and an autobiography that he never produced.

Lawyers for Sheikh Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalifa say their client paid Jackson expenses as an advance on the book and joint recording project with the sheikh, who is an amateur songwriter. Jackson claims the money was a gift.

Al Khalifa, 33, was due to testify at London's Royal Courts of Justice Wednesday.

Jackson's lawyer Robert Englehart said he was seeking permission to have Jackson testify by video link from Los Angeles.

A lawyer for Al Khalifa said the royal first spoke to Jackson, 50, by telephone while the singer was on trial in California following his 2003 arrest on child molestation charges.

Attorney Bankim Thanki said that Al Khalifa wanted to work with Jackson on rebuilding his career. Jackson's finances fell apart after his arrest and he was desperately short of cash.

Al Khalifa's first payment, for $35,000, went toward paying the utility bills at Neverland, Jackson's 2,500-acre (1,000 hectare) ranch and miniature amusement park in California, Thanki said.

When Jackson was found innocent of the molestation charges in June 2005, Al Khalifa footed $2.2 million in legal bills, the lawyer said.

Al Khalifa said he believed the money would be repaid once Jackson's career recovered from the damaging trial.

‘I saw the payment as an investment in Michael's potential,’ the sheikh in a statement he read out in court. ‘He said he would pay me back ... through our work together.’

Al Khalifa moved Jackson and his entourage to Bahrain almost immediately after the trial, setting up a recording studio for him in Manama, the Gulf state's capital.

The singer stayed nearly a year in Bahrain as a guest of the son, but the relationship soured when Jackson repudiated a business deal Thanki said they had agreed to.

Read it all here.

Somali Pirates Capture Saudi Aramco Oil Carrier

DUBAI: On Monday, Nov. 17, pirates attacked and took control of the Saudi-owned large crude carrier Sirius Star off the east coast of Africa, the US Navy reports.

The vessel, which came under attack more than 450 nautical miles southeast of Mombasa, Kenya, is heading towards the coast of Somalia, a spokeswoman for the Bahrain-based US Fifth Fleet said.

“According to the latest report we have, the ship is approaching the Somali coast, heading towards Eyl (port),” she said, contacted by telephone from Dubai.

“Can we assume that the pirates are Somalis?"

"Yes.” The spokeswoman said she has no confirmation of a report on Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television that control of the vessel had been regained from the pirates.

Sirius Star, which is owned by Saudi Aramco, carried 25 crew members from Croatia, Britain, Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia, according to a US Navy statement. The 318,000-tonne vessel, launched earlier this year, is flagged in Liberia and operated by Vela International.

“Our presence in the region is helping deter and disrupt criminal attacks off the Somali coast, but the situation with the Sirius Star clearly indicates the pirates’ ability to adapt their tactics and methods of attack,” Vice Admiral Bill Gortney said in the US Navy statement.

The International Maritime Bureau has reported that at least 83 ships have been attacked off Somalia since January, of which 33 were hijacked. Of those, 12 vessels and more than 200 crew were still in the hands of pirates.

Last week, the European Union started a security operation off the coast of Somalia, north of Kenya, to combat growing acts of piracy and protect ships carrying aid agency deliveries.

Source: Pakistan Daily Dawn

Quindlen Says Prop 8 was Bought

In one of her typically ridiculous articles, Anna (Political Correctness Junkie) Quindlin wrote: "A state court gave its imprimatur to same-sex marriage in June; the electorate reversed that decision on Nov. 4 with the passage of Proposition 8, which defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. The opponents of gay marriage will tell you that the people have spoken. It's truer to say that money talks."

Read it all here (if you have a strong stomach for tripe).

US Governors Curry Favor of Green Voters

Despite the fact that annual global temperatures have been dropping dramatically since 2004, twelve US governors hope to curry the political favor of environmentalists by signing their names to a global warming pact. Here is the report:

Beverly Hills, CA (AHN) - A declaration between 12 U.S. governors and representatives from Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia and Mexico that their governments and industries will share technologies to reduce global warming emissions is expected to be signed this week.
The declaration is expected to be signed at a two-day Global Climate summit hosted by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Beverly Hills.

Governors from five states, along with more than 600 environmental officials and activists, and politicians from several foreign nations are expected to attend the summit, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Read it here.

Schwarzenegger said the first goal of the meeting is to sign the declaration. The second is to "discuss the outlook for a comprehensive global agreement on climate change solutions that prevent the world from passing the 'tipping point' as described by the [UN's Intergovernmental Governmental Panel on Climate Change]," Schwarzenegger's summit overview reads.

Quote of the Week - Chuck Swindoll

It's easy to miss the things God has to teach us because we cannot imagine Him being involved in the grief or disappointment or heartache brought on by the loss of someone or something dear to us. But some of His choicest deliveries come through the back doors of our lives." - Chuck Swindoll

Busting the Campaign Myths

The 2008 presidential election ended less than two weeks ago, but the mythmaking machine has already begun to churn. President-elect Barack Obama transformed the face of the electorate! The Republican Party will be a miserable minority in Congress for the next century! Cats and dogs are now living together! Below we explode the five biggest myths that have already sprung up around the election that was.

1. The Republican Party suffered a death blow.
There's no question that losing six Senate seats and 24 House seats (not to mention the White House) wasn't a step forward for the Grand Old Party. But there are two good reasons to believe that Republicans will be back on their feet sooner than many people expect.

First, much of the Republicans' permanent political class has concluded that electing Sen. John McCain as president would have amounted to applying a Band-Aid to a gaping wound. Given the state of the party -- bereft of a signature new idea and without many fresh faces -- plenty of Republican operatives have come to subscribe to what I'd call the Ra's al Ghul theory of rebuilding: Ghul, a villain in the movie "Batman Begins," advocates destroying the city of Gotham to rebuild it from the ground up. "It is beyond saving and must be allowed to die," he says -- a sentiment echoed by many Republicans these days, who argue that hitting rock bottom was the only way to allow new faces and ideas to emerge.

Second, historical electoral patterns suggest that Republicans could pick up a passel of Senate and House seats in 2010 -- the first midterm election under President Obama. Every president (save one) since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934 has lost seats in the House in his first midterm election. The exception? George W. Bush in 2002, when Republicans picked up six House seats and two Senate seats -- a historic anomaly widely credited to the world-changing events of Sept. 11, 2001.

2. A wave of black voters and young people was the key to Obama's victory.
Afraid not. Heading into Election Day, cable news, newspapers and blogs were dominated by excited chatter about record levels of enthusiasm for Obama among two critical groups: African Americans and young voters (aged 18-29). It made sense: Black voters were energized to cast a historic vote for the first African American nominee of either major party; young people -- following a false start with former Vermont governor Howard Dean in 2004 -- had bought into Obama in a major way during the primary season, and they finally seemed on the cusp of realizing their much-promised potential as a powerhouse voting bloc.

Or not. Exit polling suggests that there was no statistically significant increase in voting among either group. Black voters made up 11 percent of the electorate in 2004 and 13 percent in 2008, while young voters comprised 17 percent of all voters in 2004 and 18 percent four years later.
The surge in young and African American voters is not entirely the stuff of myth, however. Although their percentages as a portion of the electorate didn't increase measurably, Obama did seven points better among black voters than Sen. John F. Kerry did in 2004 and scored a 13-point improvement over Kerry's total among young voters.

Read it all here.

Americans Listen to the Mainstream Media

Zogby Poll

512 Obama Voters 11/13/08-11/15/08 MOE +/- 4.4 points
97.1% High School Graduate or higher, 55% College Graduates

Results to 12 simple Multiple Choice Questions
57.4% could NOT correctly say which party controls congress (50/50 shot just by guessing)

81.8% could NOT correctly say Joe Biden quit a previous campaign because of plagiarism (25% chance by guessing)

82.6% could NOT correctly say that Barack Obama won his first election by getting opponents kicked off the ballot (25% chance by guessing)

88.4% could NOT correctly say that Obama said his policies would likely bankrupt the coal industry and make energy rates skyrocket (25% chance by guessing)

56.1% could NOT correctly say Obama started his political career at the home of two former members of the Weather Underground (25% chance by guessing).

And yet.....
Only 13.7% failed to identify Sarah Palin as the person on which their party spent $150,000 in clothes

Only 6.2% failed to identify Palin as the one with a pregnant teenage daughter

And 86.9 % thought that Palin said that she could see Russia from her "house," even though that was Tina Fey who said that!

Only 2.4% got at least 11 correct.

Only .5% got all of them correct. (And we "gave" one answer that was technically not Palin, but actually Tina Fey)

From here.