Saturday, February 26, 2011

Al Jazeera English Live Feed

I added that link to the list on the right, so you can easily get there from here. From the live feed, you can go to all sorts of other informative places.

For us old guys, it's a blast from the past, when TV news in the States was actually news 40 years ago, but better. If you're interested in your own history, Americans, go look and see how it used to be in your own country, although as I said, it was never quite this good.

In the States, Jon Stewart's Daily Show is about as close to what it gets to a news show, but Al Jazeera is real news.

While we're in there, the name: Al Jazeera means The Island, and refers to the region between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

UN Security Council Resolution 1970

Very good unanimous resolution, including a referral of the Libyan government to the International Criminal Court, targeting travel and the finances of the people in the regime.

The highlight was the Libyan Deputy Ambassador, Ibrahim Dabbashi, thanking the Council for the resolution and calling for the overthrow of this "fascist" regime, specifically asking officers of the armed forces to support the revolution.

There is, of course, no shortage of ironies. The passionate speech of the representative of Gabon, one of those introducing the resolution, condemning violence against peaceful protestors while the Gabonaise cops and army are now cracking heads. The Columbian representative, who, however, failed to mention the paramilitary death squads presently murdering labor organizers in his own country with the approval of his own government. The Chinese representative talking the same way while the Chinese cops are hauling people away before they can even demonstrate in sympathy with those same Libyan protestors. The American representative indignantly protesting violence against civilians while the American occupation force in Afghanistan is bombing the civilian population, destroying their crops and homes, and breaking into their homes in the middle of the night and shooting them or dragging them away. The British representative huffing and puffing about the Libyan security forces doing what they were doing with the arms supplied to them by British arms manufacturers for that purpose - a detail he forgot to mention.

But none of this, I think, can top Hillary Clinton, on February 15 denouncing governments that don't respect freedom of speech.

Emmanuel Margolis commenting in the Connecticut Law Tribune.

The video, with commentary in the Sky Valley News (WA). You have to scroll down a bit.

Equal weights, equal measures

Moses writes that unequal weights and unequal measures are an abomination to the Lord, which means that from the perspective of God's law, such partiality - being abominable - is in the same bucket as having sex with animals. And Moses is clearly correct, since once we give way to such partiality, no one can say what atrocities we won't wind up making excuses for. Truly, if partiality is permitted, then all is permitted.

Needless to say, partiality is a whole lot more common among folks than having sex with their dogs, and a whole lot better thought of. In general, people generally think it's just fine, like Papa Bush declaring that he would never apologize for the United States of America while certainly believing that others should apologize for their own misconduct. So for Americans, 3,000 dead people in New York on September 11, 2001 is the biggest thing in the world, while 3.000 dead Panamanian poor people in Chorillo in 1989 at the hands of the US Marines is beneath notice, along with the thousands of Chileans murdered and many thousands of others tortured due to the American-sponsored coup of September 11, 1973. Jesus wasn't exaggerating when he said that what is held in honor among men is abominable to God. When we're told not to be conformed to this world, we're being told some pretty radical stuff, and if we actually obey that instruction, we'll be way out of step with everybody.

A particularly disgusting example of how this works has been supplied to us this past week by President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and Fidel Castro of Cuba, who have all been making excuses for Muammar Qaddafi's conduct in the past two weeks. How they would have talked if an American-supported dictator were doing exactly the same things can well be imagined.

No doubt they are correct in figuring that the Americans and Europeans would be pleased to take advantage of the situation in order to control Libyan petroleum. That's how it has always been. But does that change the nature of Qaddafi's conduct or the nature of his regime? And by making a revolting spectacle of themselves through their partiality, are these guys actually doing themselves or anyone else any good?

Now if these gentlemen really laid to heart the way of Americans that make all sorts of excuses for the conduct of their own favorite empire which they denounce in other countries - even as the Americans contract out torture to some of those very countries - if these guys understood that they were looking in a mirror, they might have said to themselves, "Wow, those Americans do look disgusting when they do that. Let's make real sure to learn from them not to do the same!" In this way, when we see a dog eating its own vomit, the proverb warns us to consider that that's what we look like when we return to our same old folly instead of turning away from it and doing it no more.

Instead, they've only seen debating points, seeing these specks in American eyes while taking no notice of the logs in their own. Now with their example in mind, how about asking God just how we're doing just like them right now, and learn to do otherwise. Disgusting conduct can be very purifying to look at, so long as we don't say in our hearts, "Thank you God that I'm not like those guys." The only alternative - the way of life - is to remember that God is really holding up a mirror to us. That way is tight and narrow, and few they are that find it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"The cruel man troubles his own flesh" (Proverbs 11:17)

Muammar Qaddafi seems to be headed for the exits, having already killed thousands of people to try to stay in charge. He could have made everything better for himself and everyone else by getting on a plane early, living elsewhere in comfortable retirement. That idiot Daniel Ortega would have been glad to sell him a comfortable pad in Managua. Or Berlusconi across the water in Rome could have worked out something for him. But that ship has sailed now, baby.

The thing that seems to have made the wheels start coming off was when Qaddafi's security forces started answering protests in Benghazi with machine gun fire. Most of the armed forces in town went over to the people, and after several hundred people were killed, Benghazi was in the hands of the people, supported by the army.

As Juan Cole pointed out, Qaddafi here is following the example of Mussolini and his colonial governor in 1930, Rodolfo Graziani, who put 80,000 Libyans in concentration camps, where more than half died, and by 1943 had driven out or killed half the population.

Qaddafi figured that cruelty would work, but the result was that his justice minister, his interior minister, almost all of his diplomatic corps, and most of the armed forces have turned against him.

That's the very purifying moral of what we've been seeing lately. The end of Zine al-Abeddine Ben Ali began when his cops robbed an unemployed vegetable seller of his cart and then laughed at him when he went to complain about it, so that he set himself on fire, and what finished him was when his special security forces deliberately killed people in Kasserine. Four days later, the army had put Mr Ben Ali on a plane.

What finished Mubarak was sending his pony riders and camel jockeys to beat people up, since he didn't dare to try to use the army, thus making clear to everyone his thuggishness and total lack of class - and so he lost the mandate of heaven.

The Americans came to grief in Iraq in great part because of their utter contempt for the lives of people there. You may be sure that it would not be thought fitting to fill the United States with depleted uranium dust to cause cancers and birth defects forever as they've done in Iraq - here in Chino Hills, Aero-Jet leaked a little depleted uranium in the woods and people got very excited indeed. Made them carefully clean it up, but do you think anything like that will ever happen in Iraq?

But this wanton cruelty and contempt for the lives of Iraqi people has brought Americans to grief in Iraq. They all thought it was a great idea to torture people all over the world, but America's torture gulag hasn't really been too helpful to American designs in the world lately, has it?

In Afghanistan, too, slaughtering civilians, destroying their homes and crops, and lying about it hasn't been working out too well. The latest - I could not have made this up - is that after American bombs and missiles had slaughtered 50-64 civilians in Kunar last week in the manner of Qaddafi, General David Petraeus told Hamid Karzai and other Afghan officials in a meeting that the explanation for burned children is that the parents are burning them and then blaming it on the Americans to make them look bad.

This is not going over too well in Afghanistan. How cruel do you have to be to do such things in a country where you have no business to be in the first place? And how cruel and stupid do you have to be, when your bombs and missiles burn little kids, to actually suggest that the parents are burning their own kids as a propaganda stunt? Can anyone imagine American parents doing that? So how do they think of ascribing such deeds to Afghan parents, except that they consider them subhuman? Which seems to account for their willingness to do these crimes in the first place.

In all these examples and many more, we see that cruelty does terrorize people all right, but by the time we're done, those that do it have harmed themselves. Truly, the cruel man, so intent on solving his problems by doing to others what he does not want done to himself, brings his way down on his own head. Ben Ali, Mubarak, Qaddafi, Bush, Obama, and Petraeus give us great examples not to follow.

So I'm learning from these teachers a new appreciation for the value of doing mercy, and thereby doing good to my own soul, instead of troubling my own flesh by being cruel.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Women in Egypt

I was talking with a couple of Christians in town last Thursday, and we got to talking about Egypt. I had to hear a lot of nonsense about how it was all organized by the Muslim Brotherhood on Twitter and Facebook by guys that were clean-shaven to conceal their membership in the Brotherhood (who didn't even join the street protests for several days), and how all the Egyptian Christians in their church were telling them how the Brothers were dressing in police uniforms and beating people, so that they could get control of the revolution that way - and now the Brotherhood is going to seize power and turn Egypt into an Islamic fundamentalist state like Iran, which has never happened since the Muslim conquest in 640-641. But it had to be true, since they were hearing this from these Egyptian Calvary Chapel members who in turn said they were hearing it from their family members in Egypt.

I don't know who has heard what from whom, but I really wish people had some sense of the ridiculous, some kind of functioning crap detectors. Ideology, like all idolatry, really makes people stupid. But reality will prevail. We'll see what happens in months to come.

One obvious difference is that in Iran it was Khomeini's baby, which other people joined. There is no equivalent of Khomeini in Egypt. But here's another point, more significant from a biblical point of view. Look at these women. This is the result of hard work in labor organizing, feminism, and other struggles to force an opening in civil society that has depended significantly on women for some time, this latest effort since at least 1998. Those ladies weren't facing those riot cops, and even intimidating them, out of nowhere.

The Bible records that the fundamental injustice among humans, coming after our injustice to God, is gender injustice - specifically men oppressing women. In brief, the woman got deceived and screwed up, and then the man deliberately took her advice, knowing it was wrong. And then their eyes were opened and they knew that they were naked.

Only after the man ate and ratified the woman's mistake did the wheels come off. So Paul concluded in Romans 5.12 that it was by one man, Adam, that sin came into the world, and not by the woman.

And then God asked about this, and the woman told the truth, that the serpent had deceived her and she ate, and the man said, "The woman whom You gave to me gave it to me and I ate" - blaming God and the woman in one breath.

And yet millions of people. including rulers of the Christian church going centuries back, ascribe the blame to the woman, even saying she did wrong to blame Satan for his part - much as women are expected today, when their husbands beat them up, to say that everything is their fault.

So I think the role of women in the Egyptian revolution, how they participated and how they were free and safe from groping and abuse during the rallies, makes all the difference.

Watch those pics again. They don't look like what happens to women in Afghanistan, or in the American pornography industry, which produces and exports more violent pornography than any other nation in the world. They don't look like what generally happens to women in American churches either. It's not whether people call themselves Muslims or profess to be Christians or something else that counts.

Just as you would expect from Genesis 3, including the eternal enmity between Satan and Woman (Genesis 3.15), what matters most is what you do to women. What happens to women in Egypt going forward will determine more than anything else how things go from here. Societies that treat women better, as Islam did better than in Europe until around 1800, do better. Those that treat them badly do badly. It's not the theological professions that people make that counts so much as what they do, as we may read in the gospels.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"The wicked are caught in their pride"

There's a funny story that I know I haven't been paying enough attention to. You neither, perhaps. January 27th, while things were starting to go south for Uncle Hosni, a nice American "consular official" named Raymond Davis was sightseeing alone in a rental car in Lahore when he found himself being tailed by a couple of young guys on motorbikes.

Well, in self-defense he shot and killed both these guys who were armed but never drew their weapons. Ray's self-defense was pretty good for an average diplomat - 2 shots each from his Beretta through the windshield, so he claimed, and two more apiece in the back. Mr. Davis administered 4 pills apiece to his patients, taking care to take pictures of their dead bodies with his cell phone. One of the wives has already killed herself in her grief.

Cops all around the world tend to be unimaginative - in Pakistan too - so the cops in Lahore, like all the American cops I've ever known, just couldn't see a way to picture this as self-defense. So they arrested Mr Davis and found three cell phones in his pockets, along with a Glock and three full clips, and "a small telescope." The American press has on the whole failed to mention these small details in its coverage of the case, but in Pakistan the papers write up the reports they get from the cops the same as they do here. And then another detail turned up - the two bikers were Pakistani intelligence agents.

The consulate claimed diplomatic immunity for Mr Davis, based on the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961. But unlike American TV news watchers, the Lahore High Court, along with lawyers in Pakistan, have been reading the Convention, and they have noticed that Article 37, paragraph 2, states that the diplomatic immunity of "the administrative and technical staff," which the consulate said described Mr Davis, "shall not extend to acts performed outside the course of their duties." Lawyers and others in Pakistan are arguing that espionage and the assassination of Pakistani intelligence agents on their own soil with two shots each in the back fall outside the course of Mr Davis's duties. Which I suspect the judges I've met at the Office of Administrative Hearings might agree with.

These Pakistani lawyers also noticed the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963, which the Americans have somehow overlooked, which reads as follows in Article 41:

"Consular officers shall not be liable to arrest or detention pending trial, except in the case of a grave crime and pursuant to a decision by the competent legal authority."

The Pakistanis are arguing that the execution-style murder of their agents in their own country is a grave crime, which again any hearing officer might well agree with.

For sure the Lahore High Court agreed, so they took Mr Davis from his comfortable cell in the police station and dumped him in a crowded jail, probably to soften him up without actually torturing him, because the Pakistanis for sure would like to hear Davis sing about what he knows.

The Americans have responded with all sorts of threats and pressure to get the Pakistanis to release Mr Davis, the law be damned, and that's perfectly understandable, since they don't want Mr Davis to sing. And if he doesn't, and he's found guilty of murder, he could end up with plenty of time in custody to tune up his pipes.

So the Americans are actually demanding the privilege of extra-territoriality for one of their junior sahibs. To understand how that goes down in host countries, consider how indignant Americans are just that UN diplomats blow off their New York City parking tickets.

Now close your eyes and do a thought experiment. How will it go down in the average American head if a Pakistani consular official, driving in downtown Los Angeles, is tracked by a couple of FBI guys on their motorcycles? The Pakistani "diplomat" shoots these guys twice each from the front and then gives them two more in the back to polish them off, and then he takes the pictures of their corpses with one of his three cell phones. Besides those, the LAPD finds a Glock and three full clips in his car along with a small telescope. And then the Pakistanis get Hillary Clinton fired for noticing that the Conventions deny the murderer diplomatic immunity and for insisting that they stand trial in an American court. Now when the US government caves and lets the Pakistani "diplomat" fly home, what will you see and hear from Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh - or even Harry Reid - never mind the average American?

Consider the arrogance and complacency that make the American government even think of asking Pakistan to swallow such a humiliation, never mind the arrogance of this guy that thought himself entitled to execute Pakistani intelligence agents on the street in their own country. Pride does come before stumbling, and a haughty spirit before a fall, just as it is written. What makes these masters of the universe think that heaven's law carves out an exemption for them?

And they're acting this way in a country through which they must move supplies for their occupying army of 100,000 men in Afghanistan. Yes, lads and lassies, you're playing the Pakistanis much too close. The occupying forces in Afghanistan may find good cause to feel pretty unthankful to the idiots acting this way in their rear.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The more it changes, the more it's the same

Ynet, the online English-language version of the Israeli paper Yedioth Ahronoth, reports today on the impossible situation of civics teachers in Israel because of the rising racism of their students, to the point that it's difficult to argue in class against openly genocidal sentiments.

The comments mostly blame the victims, and in my experience so-called Christians in the US condone this neo-Nazi racism in Israel using the same pretext, the supposed wickedness of the victims. These people claim that the Bible is the word of God and authoritative in their lives, but somehow they never get around to explaining how hatred and murderous sentiments against people are justified even if those are evil-doers. Like the Pharisees and the scribes, they hold to the doctrine that you should hate your enemy, and yet they amazingly call Jesus "Lord, Lord!" while explicitly blowing Jesus off.

When we find out that finding reasons to hate people doesn't justify us in hating them, that hatred no longer seems so desirable. It's an arresting thought that much of our hatred is motivated by a quest to justify ourselves. We really need to stop and think about that. It's hard to find a limit to how stupid we can be.

If that's you, baby, Malachi's advice is sound: "Consider your ways." As Paul put it, "Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith," because if you don't believe what Jesus says, then you are by definition an unbeliever, and in calling yourself a Christian you are taking the name of the Lord in vain. Will doing that really justify you?

Cool Egypt videos

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hosni Mubarak has followed Zine Abeddine Ben Ali

Snowball the cockatoo reports.

Take it away, Snowball!

Humor Break - Hosni Mubarak's last speech

Instead of that stupid speech, Hosni, why didn't you play them this?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A few lessons from Egypt, for us

First, an excellent analysis of the Egyptian situation, although from a socialist perspective which I respect but don't altogether share:

One point he makes that I had missed is that the Mubarak regime has been pushing Islamist moralism and other themes to divide and rule by provoking animosity among the population, for instance against the Christian minority. That seems to explain the general disgust in the present movement with religious bigotry, so that when the Muslim Brotherhood people started shouting their slogans the rest of the crowd shouted them down. Since the protests, no Christian churches have bee attacked, as was happening before. Instead, they're often guarded by young Muslim men.

Another thing worth looking at it is how the rich have all the money, how everything has been privatized so that cronies can get over, and nobody else has anything. The parallel in this respect to what is happening to the United States is quite striking.

Another point is that Egyptian society is not militarized so much as the military is commercialized. The army in Egypt is in business in a big way - real estate, shopping centers, all sorts of businesses. It's not that way here in the same flagrant way, but we get to much the same place. Generals have no trouble retiring into the private war contracting business. That's been so at least since Walter Dornberger, who worked thousands of concentration camp inmates to death at the Nordhausen rocket works in World War 2, came to the States to work in the space program, and became a senior vice president of Bell Aircraft.

This condition has certainly distorted the Egyptian economy, causing all the wealth to concentrate in a few well-greased hands. And Egypt really doesn't need fancy real estate developments in the desert, while farmland is parched. Much the same has happened in the United States, where the same kind of robber class under the Bush-Obama administration has gotten completely out of control. It's so that now it's called economic recovery that corporations are making more money and the stock market is rising because they're doing such a great job of getting rid of American workers and hiring people overseas to work cheap in their place.

Let's look at that slowly. You throw your workers on the street, so that presently they're out of their homes, and you hire someone cheap in China or Malaysia. The job is gone for good, not like job losses in economic downturns, because it's not companies getting rid of workers to hunker down in bad times. They're getting rid of them at all times to move overseas while still calling themselves American companies, for which they're rewarded in the tax code by the Congress which they have purchased. This way they do make more money, which they hoard or spend on hundred million dollar bonuses for their CEOs. So we're having a wonderful economic recovery because the corporations are making lots of money by abolishing jobs and manufacturing capacity. Time was that corporate profits were being skimmed off a healthy economy, so that those profits correlated to everyone else's success. When people were out of work, the corporations weren't making money either. Now their profits are the result of liquidating that economy, so that they are the result of the disintegration of the US economy. These owners of Congress and the President don't need the American economy anymore. GM can't sell cars here, but they're doing pretty well, because they're selling them in China.

Another parallel with Egypt is that Egypt is coming into a crunch because it will soon no longer be any kind of oil exporter, and it will continue having to import grain. It needs tourism and manufacturing. Whatever else happens, rising petroleum prices when Egypt can no longer export will choke the tourist trade while giving no export revenue.

In the United States, the predicament is less immediate but ultimately more dire. The US is a huge petroleum importer, depending on petroleum for food, transport, and even national unity. When the US can no longer borrow to buy it, the US economy will hit the wall.

What then for the US population? The regime, behind a democratic face, has prepared for the wheels to come off by putting in place all sorts of police state institutions, and in fact Obama has accelerated this process. Everybody that sends email is under surveillance and being spied on unconstitutionally, and becoming accustomed to think it's OK because at the moment nothing more is being done. But torture, imprisonment without due process, murder of even American citizens with no due process at all, and pointless security checks have become officially accepted. It's obvious that checkpoints in airports have nothing to do with security, because there are no real terrorists trying to blow up airplanes, which are a tough target just because the cabin door is locked. If any were interested in the American aviation industry, they would blow up the crowd assembled at the TSA checkpoint - and it's clear that our rulers know that won't happen.

So when the wheels do come off, what will the American people do? Will they come together as in Egypt today or in Argentina in 2001, or will they kick down on the weak as it generally is today, as happened in Germany, Romania, and Poland in the 1920s and 1930s? American history has seen both. Now is the time to prepare to be decent human beings in very bad times. I hope we do as well as the Egyptians are doing this month.

Progressive, conservative

Senator Rand Paul just produced a budget-cutting proposal that doesn't touch Social Security or Medicare and does cut a great deal of corporate welfare. It's that great progressive in the White House that wants to cut Social Seceurity and Medicare while keeping corporate welfare intact.

Paul wants to chop the war industry, too, another thing our great progressives don't want to touch.

And he even wants to send less money to Israel, which is making all sorts of people scream.

That's why I keep remembering that progress is what happens in an egg, while at the same time when people call themselves conservative I want to know what they want to conserve.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Uh oh, a slave revolt!

The "American Family Association" describes itself as a Christian organization, complete with a "Statement of Faith." So have a look at this video, and pay close attention, boring as it is.

If it were specific to the AFA, then whatever. I'm not picking on them in particular. Their significance is in just how indistinguishable they are from so many others, including some in my church, how predictably they react like the good Christian slave-owners, their fathers, that could flog a slave and wash his stripes in brine, and then go off to church and take communion. The moral idiocy of these people really hasn't changed at all. People don't too often take note of them that they have been with Jesus, do they? Certainly not the poor, to whom they're quick to prescribe more whie phosphorus and depleted uranium, more secret police torturers, more Hellfire missiles. In this last at least, they openly profess what spirit they are of.

Mubarak has amassed a $70 billion fortune on the backs of the poor, and his methods are those of American slave owners. Consider some of the footage in this video that was taken by the cops themselves.

Looks familiar doesn't it, just like the good old days here in the States. You know, back when they had prayer and Bible classes in the schools. The good old days before we fell away from the faith of our fathers, and from their whips and shackles.

And all the Christoids can think about is if these overseers of the slave populations of Egypt and other places lose their perches, what's going to happen to us and to our own safety?

What I want to know is, what happened in American Christianity, in the hearts of these "Bible believers" who blow it off, and in "pro-life" Christians whose trust is in murder, to the idea that our safety is found in the shadow of the Almighty - not in torturers, murderers, and robbers keeping us safe by keeping the poor under their boots?

Truly they're filling up the measure of their fathers, who hired slave breakers, slave catchers, and brutal overseers to torment and degrade their fellow human beings so they could prosper and feel safe going to church and praising God.

Now the good news in this is that the utter powerlessness of the Christian church in the United States today, its total failure to have a positive impact on American culture, is not because there is no God of power such as we see in the Bible. His arm is not short, and the witness of his power in time past is not a fairy tale. Things today are just what the Bible testifies they are whenever people profess to know God and deny him in deeds, having lips that draw near but hearts that are far away - being taken up with robbing the poor and slashing at them like Mubarak's cops in order to feel safe in this present world.

In 400 years, American Christians have always coveted the place of worldly power, asserting that the US is a Christian country - in total defiance of history and the Bible's testimony - in order to document their right to be boss, posting their crosses and 10 Commandments plaques in public places like a dog marking trees.

But what if at some point we stop constantly exalting ourselves and learn instead to humble ourselves, making it our business to follow the steps Paul lays out in Philippians 2? If Jesus went that way, doesn't following him mean to step out on that path ourselves? Maybe that way we might even see some of his results.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Coptic Christian Mass with Muslims in Tahrir (Liberation) Square. The Coptic crosses are visible behind the crowd, but you have to pay attention. There are lots of people in the way!

As Juan Cole reports, it closely parallels the mass demonstrations against the British in 1919, which eventually led to the modern Egyptian state. A phony independence was granted to Egypt in 1922, much like that given to Iraq about the same time. Real independence for Egypt came in the Free Officers coup in 1952, and for Iraq in the July 14, 1958 coup that replaced the puppet monarchy with an independent state under General Abdel Karim Qassem.

Now that Egypt under Hosni Mubarak has become a satellite of Israel and the United States in exchange for a $2 billion annual bribe from the American taxpayers - who have all sorts of extra money to contribute to Hosni Mubarak's $70 billion personal fortune - the Egyptians are united in seeking real independence, just as they were in 1919, and with the same unity between Christians and Muslims that they had then.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

A little child will lead them