Saturday, January 29, 2011

You've Got To Check Out This Site!

      If you have gone to the page, "Connexions," you know some of the internet sites that I frequent.  Each of the ones listed has benefited my thinking in some specific way.  From time to time, I stumble across new sites that are particularly significant to me.  Sometimes friends will suggest sites, and I will follow up.  I suspect that your experience has been similar to mine.

       But I also suspect that the sites that you have discovered are quite different.  Would you do us all a favor, by suggesting sites that interest you, and will extend our participation in the Great Conversation?

      If you are feeling spontaneous, you can drop to the bottom of this post right now and just mention the link.  (Good.)

       If you have the time and the inclination, you can give us a brief or lengthy description of what we are likely to find on the site, and tell us what interests you.  (Better.)  Post a comment right here, or at 'Connexions,' or at 'Videos du Jour,' or at 'News Bulletins.'

       You can mention sites that are hard to find, controversial, contrarian, and edgy.  Or simply unique.    (Best.)  Your suggestion will not be taken as a ringing endorsement or implied approval -- just a connection of interest.

       ((No porn sites.  I think we all know how to "find" enough of those.))

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Three Reasons Why I Like Jesse Ventura

       1.  The man is an Independent.  That is, he is not a Republican, and he is not a Democrat.  He ran for Governor of Minnesota, on a shoestring budget, and won as an Independent.  He governed for four years as an Independent.  He retired as an Independent.  He remains Independent.  What?  A high-level official who doesn't owe his soul, his vote, his election, and his campaign treasury to a totally corrupted party apparatus?  Who else has managed this in the last fifty years . . . okay, last hundred and fifty years?

       2.  The man is a truth-seeker and a truth-teller.  Any man that will challenge the 9/11 Official Story gets major points in my book.  It tells me he is above average in intelligence, above average in basic human perception, and above average in courage.  I like what that tells me about his character and his priorities.

       Speaking of character, I like the way he handles "religious" issues.  At some point a while back, Ventura had ventured to say, unfavorably, that "the religious right wants to tell people how to live."  Well can you imagine that?!  He wasn't following the Playbook!

       So, he got asked by Tim Russert specific questions about his theological beliefs.  So, he gave them:

Russert: Do you believe in God?
Ventura: Absolutely.
Russert: Do you consider yourself a Christian?
Ventura: Yes.

       And then went on immediately to say, "But I don't believe necessarily that I need a church to go to.  I can go, my religious beliefs can be by a lake, they can be on a hill, they can be in the solitude of my own office." Religious beliefs by a lake?  On a hill?  In solitude?  What kind of talk is that?

       Oh, wait: I did hear about that kind of religious belief once, way back,  . . . when the Holy Apostles met with Christ . . . at the lake . . . on a hill . . . in solitude . . .

       Anyway, I thought it sure beat the unctuous and ultimately meaningless pro forma drivel about "church membership," "family values," "culture wars," and so forth that I have heard coming from politicians pandering for the "evangelical vote" for about the last quarter of a century or so.

       3.  He seems to enjoy life.  Although he is grappling with serious issues (like the future of our country) more intensely that most of us, I see that he maintains balance and humor, and in a certain sense does not take himself too seriously.  There is more to him than the underwater-demolition-team expert.  His wrestling-as-entertainment background seems to give him an actor's flair and a showman's iconoclasm that I like.  In that, he reminds me of another old actor-turned-politician that I especially liked--and he turned out to be a great President, too.

       I hear he has a conspiracy-theory TV show; I haven't watched it, but I bet I'd like it if I did.  Right now, he's suing the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security and Whats-Her-Name for fondling his genitals.

       Okay, make it four reasons.  Go, Jesse.

Persecution for Cause of Conscience, circa 1644

Roger Williams was a Christian pastor and founder of Rhode Island. This old document deals with religious wars and differences of conscience in a very thorough way.  


Roger Williams (July 15, 1644)

First, that the blood of so many hundred thousand souls of Protestants and Papists, spilt in the wars of present and former ages, for their respective consciences, is not required nor accepted by Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace.

Secondly, pregnant scriptures and arguments are throughout the work proposed against the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.

Thirdly, satisfactory answers are given to scriptures, and objections produced by Mr. Calvin, Beza, Mr. Cotton, and the ministers of the New English churches and others former and later, tending to prove the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.

The entire document can be found at The Reformed Reader website, here.

*       *       *

Your opinions, thoughts, and comments are most welcome.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Serious Call to Arm-Chair Strategists

       This is not a trick question or a gimmick.

       Let us suppose that President Barack Obama, the Commander-in-Chief, appointed you to be his National Security Advisor, and wanted your serious advice on future policy in Afghanistan and any related areas.

       Let us also suppose that his confidence in you was so strong, that your opinions and recommendations would prevail, and the Secretaries of State and Defense would follow your lead.

       Let us further suppose that the President assured you that he fully trusted your judgment and would see to it that your plans would be carried out to the best of his authority and ability.

       (Now don't be offended because I called you an arm-chair strategist.  Almost all of us are exactly that.  Certainly the National Security Advisor is.  Certainly the President is.  And there is nothing wrong with that; it is just the way things are.)

       Let us assume that you take this responsibility as seriously as you can.  You have been following the war for the past 10 years, but you are going to brush up on the real facts before you start making proposals that will be quickly turned into operational plans and orders.  You can get your information from anywhere, but if you'd like just a bit of quick input, you could check with Fred Reed for a pretty up-to-date view.

       Of course, having plenary authority, you have plenary responsibility for the outcome.

       Basically, what would you actually propose -- all things considered?  Precisely all things, considered.

       You may consider the comments section as a great place to develop your assumptions, your objectives, and your means and methods.  And, you will probably get at least as good feedback as the real National Security Advisor.


What Are People For?

       That is the title of a very good book by Wendell Berry, which in turn takes its title from a 3-page essay which he wrote in 1985.  Worthy of several posts, but I'm not ready to tackle that yet.

       (Get the book, of course, and read it and lend it out.  You'll be glad you did, I promise.)

       I think that it is fair to say that in some ways he leaves the question unanswered -- though he has some specific observations and suggestions.  But it is the right question, and it is a question that I haven't heard any of us addressing, really.  Not beyond a certain level.  Not capitalists, not socialists, not Christians, not atheists.

       Would you please take about seven minutes of your time and read this recent essay by Fred Reed?  Yes, it is very raw, I think.

       And get back with me in the comments section, if you will.

       What are people for?


The Limits of Scholastic Consciousness

       'On the day when the lotus bloomed, alas, my mind was straying,
       and I knew it not.' 
       -- Rabindranath Tagore, from the poem, "Lotus"

       A few months ago, I wrote a bit about the limits of literacy consciousness, and I appreciated the willingness of several readers to respond with their own thoughts. (Comments on that post are still open.)  In like manner, I am now taking up the closely related (but not identical) subject of scholastic consciousness -- which I simply mean to be that frame of mind, or kind of mind, that is developed by people who spend much time in schools poring over the words of others.  If I seem to speak critically, you will forgive me, for I am only criticizing myself:  I have spent about twenty years as a student in schools and universities, and about twenty more as a teacher in the same.  Forty years:  it sounds almost biblical.

       Here come a few related thoughts.


       Jewish tradition celebrates the Festival of Shavuot -- the commemoration of the Giving of the Law at Mount Sinai -- with an all-night vigil in which, among other things, the Law of Moses is discussed by the participants.  One of the traditional ideas which relate to this custom is that Israel had not done well at keeping the Law because they had been "caught napping," as it were -- they were sleeping on the night before the Law was given, and they should have been awake, preparing.  The ancient, annual custom of vigilance is a sort of compensation for that lapse.  The quote given above from the poem, "Lotus,"  reminds me of the same sort of thing -- a sense of having been taken unawares.


      In that day when the Servant of All the Earth spoke to them directly, the scribes of the Law of Moses were warned by Him that although they searched the Scriptures (diligently, I presume),  they would not come to Him to whom the Scriptures referred.  In modern linguistic terms, we might say that they had confused the signifier (Scripture) with the referent (Himself).  The contextual question was, "How do you find Life?"  (The whole story can be found in the Gospel of St. John, Fifth Chapter.)


       I agree with the general consensus that St. Thomas Aquinas did a masterful job of developing the teachings of the Church into a more or less thorough scholastic tradition, and he deserves to be called a Doctor of the Church if anyone does.  I do not deny his sanctity;  indeed, I affirm it;  but I would like to make three observations:

       His scholarly considerations led him to consider deeply what is called "The Beatific Vision" -- that vision of God which is accorded to believers who have passed into Heaven.

       It appears that he was correct in this assertion:  that there is a Beatific Vision.  He was perhaps incorrect only if he supposed that death must precede it; the attested story is that it was granted to him in this life.  It is said that on the 6th of December, 1273, St. Thomas heard the Voice of Christ while at mass, asking him what he desired.  He had the wit, or the holiness -- is there a difference? -- to reply, "Only you, Lord.  Only you."  Upon which Something Happened.  Whatever it was, he abandoned his writing, and his writings, with these words, "All that I have written seems like straw to me." Three months later, and he was gone.

       It is that Something Happening that interests me.  Something apart from the old saint's scholastic labors.  Not that his scholarly mind precluded it from happening; but it certainly stood apart from all that, and it stood apart in some way that he felt had transcended all that he wrote.  "All that I have written seems like straw to me."


       The old Hebrew prophets had varieties of spiritual experience, as we all know:  dreams,  horrors, healings, ascensions, visions, angelic visitations, even something like holy madness, all worthy of much consideration and much to be desired.  But I want to focus on a particular experience among all these experiences.  The prophet Isaiah calls it "the Refreshing."  Christ, speaking to the Apostles, calls it "the Baptism of the Holy Spirit."  St. Paul famously equates them in his Epistle to the Corinthians, Chapter Fourteen.

       Here is Isaiah, beginning the quotation where St. Paul begins it:

For with stammering lips and with a strange tongue
  shall it be spoken to this people;
To whom it was said:
  'This is the rest, give ye rest to the weary;
  and this is the refreshing';
  yet they would not hear.
And so the word of the LORD is unto them
  precept by precept, rule by rule,
  here a little, there a little;
  that they may go, and fall backward,
  and be broken, and snared and taken.

       Do you see in this holy poem, as I do, a contrast between that "refreshing," and a mindset that becomes, or reverts to, precepts and rules that fail to attain that Something Happening?

       In the schools where I have learned and taught, there has always been much of curriculum, scope, sequence, precept upon precept, rule upon rule, compulsion, approval, disapproval, problems, solutions, assignments, here a little, right answers, there a little, wrong answers, going, winning, losing, falling backward, succeeding, suspending, probation, dismissal, being broken, adulation, failing, being snared and taken, grades, degrees, scholarships, awards, honors -- any or all of which may have their place, I will grant you -- but I get the feeling that this is mostly creating a Paradigm of living, rather than Living.  It seems almost as "virtual" a reality as a video game or a soap opera or a Matrix.  Consensus Reality.  I think that this Paradigm affects us all, whether we are religious or secular, more than we know.


       To my fellow Christians:  I should like to hope that none of us confuses a merely precept-and-rule relation to God with the Real Thing; or if so, yet may we live long enough to enjoy some of the Beatific Vision which came to St. Thomas Aquinas.  (I am concerned, because in some sects and theological schools in Christianity, any reference to "spiritual experience" is immediately suspect, and is often treated as a dirty word.)

       To my non-Christian friends, I should like to hope that you, too, seek and see Reality;  but I encourage you to seek it outside the prevailing school-inculcated paradigm.

       If I may offer a suggestion to anyone, it would be a thoughtful reading and re-reading of the Seventeenth Chapter of the Gospel of St. John.  If Jesus Christ knew what He was talking about, and really meant what He really said . . . it changes everything in an utterly astonishing Way.
      Not the least of which is that the Universe is flipped inside out.

*       *       *

       Comments are always most welcome.  Your thoughts are valued.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Commentary In Defense of Comments

Guest post by Andrew Hoffman
“Propaganda ceases where simple dialogue begins.”
--Jacques Ellul
I recently stumbled upon a fairly typical “Big Brother is good” propaganda piece from Reuters which had been posted on Yahoo! News. The article, “Utah city may use blimp as anti-crime spy in the sky” ignored any concerns with privacy and focused on the supposed benefits of using a supposedly inexpensive blimp to look for criminal activity. I was not surprised by the article because Homeland Security has been employing blimps since at least 2005.
A pleasant surprise awaited me, however, when I happened to look at the comments below the article. As of this writing, there are 636 of them and a vast majority of them are decrying the program as another example of Big Brother police state activity. There also seems to be a healthy debate around how easy it would be to shoot down a surveillance blimp, with the general consensus being that it would be fairly easy.
There have been many observers who have credited the Internet with bringing a political awakening and leveling the playing field with the establishment media. Ron Paul, for example, credits the Internet activism of his supporters for much of the success of his 2008 presidential campaign and for increasing public awareness on issues like the Federal Reserve. While there are many factors involved, I believe the essential element of the Internet is that it allows dialogue to begin.
C. Wright Mills, in his 1956 book The Power Elite, pointed out that one of the key dimensions that separate a mass society from a society of publics is the ration of the givers of opinion to the receivers. Because of mass media like Television and Radio, Mills forecast that America would become more and more of a mass society rather than society of publics (the textbook model of a democracy). I believe this part of Mills’ analysis was correct, and as several generations have grown up under the dominating influence of mass media we have seen the effects.
Now, however, thanks to the Internet, the tide seems to be turning. The ratio of givers of opinion to receivers is beginning to shift back in the other direction. Independent blogs, podcasts, and radio shows are inexpensive to create and allow a host of new voices to be heard. The simple act of leaving a comment under a mainstream news story modifies its effect. Instead of wondering if I was alone in feeling like the surveillance blimp is another step down the road to an Orwellian police state, I realized that most of the people reading the story felt the same way. I am not alone. You are not alone. Let the conversation continue.
*       *       *

Obviously, comments are welcome!  You may also comment at Andrew Hoffman's website.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Power of Formal Prayer

Guest post by Isaac Fox

Recently I posted a short essay on ecumenism and the Sign of the Cross entitled In Nomine Patris. In that essay I particularly tried to demonstrate that the Catholic practice of making the Sign of the Cross should not be found offensive to non-Catholics; that it was, in fact, a very good practice; and that it might serve as an example of a practice that could be adopted by Christian of many traditions with the purpose of both personal enrichment, and Christian unity. I also suggested the study of Sacred Scripture as an excellent practice often found in Protestant circles that could and should be more widely adopted by Catholics. Today I would like to continue in a similar vein, on another Catholic practice that I believe could greatly enrich the lives of all Christians, put us back in touch with long-abandoned Tradition, and also be very effective in restoring unity among Christians. I am referring to formal prayer.

*       *       *

Comment here, or at Isaac Fox's website.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Paul Craig Roberts Talks About Animal Rights

       I really appreciate Paul Craig Roberts.  He was a part of the Reagan Revolution that I admire.  As an advocate of (the much derided, but nevertheless appropriate) supply-side economics, he helped to establish the success of Reaganomics.  (With the help also of Paul Volcker, a more responsible head of the Federal Reserve than his recent successors.)

       Roberts saw, first-hand as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, the embedded greed of the Republican establishment, most particularly in its congressional and Wall Street manifestations, as it inentionally and vigorously hobbled and weakened the original Reagan vision of limited government and fiscal responsibility.

       He also saw, as did Joe Sobran and others, the foreign policy distortions that occurred as the so-called "neo-conservatives"  (actually neo-Trotskyites)  insinuated themselves into the foreign policy apparatus, effecting a general takeover by the time of the H. W. Bush Administration, but overly influential long before (read: Iran-contra).

       When, after the September 11 Incident and Cover-Up, I began to pay more attention again to what was happening -- I never well-understood the Clinton Years, and still don't -- Mr. Roberts was on hand with reliable insight:  he had never lost track.  I respect everything he says.

       Which brings me right up to the present.  He has an article about  . . . animal rights!  (And he's for them!)   I love it when older writers (he's past seventy now) loosen up and tell you things that have been growing in the backs of their minds for a while.

       Enjoy his article, "A Brief for Animals," here.

*       *       *

       I highly recommend his book, Tyranny of Good Intentions.  Everyone who loves his country should read this.  Including non-Americans who love their countries.

       Agreeable (and horrified!) comments always welcome!


Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Torch With No Oil

       I have long been an advocate of full "Second Amendment Rights," and have no plans to change my mind.  The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States rather famously states that "the right of the People to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed," and I am quite satisfied with the intentions and language of the Framers.  I am glad that this is a part of the supreme law of the land.

       I recall a short documentary made by Charlton Heston several years ago, when he was president of the National Rifle Association and a prominent advocate of the Second Amendment.   Called "A Torch With No Flame," he warns that a freedom, in this case private individual gun-ownership, is probably not going to survive a generation of voters who do not understand it, and therefore do not value it properly.  In the video, it is clear that Heston knows that he is nearing the end of his life, and he is, or is becoming, very concerned.  I think I agree with him.

       May I offer a similar concern to "Tea Party" constitutionalists?

       I am glad that you are re-discovering your "constitutional rights" and are standing up for them.

       I applaud your discovery, or re-discovery, of the Constitution.  As the final expression (at least so far) of what is often called the "organic law" of the United States, it does speak to many Americans on a level so deep that one might almost call it spiritual.

       When you are having an important political conversation with someone with whom you disagree, whether left-wing, right-wing, or otherwise -- have you experienced inward relief, as I have, when you find that your opponent really believes in the Constitution?  Relief, because you know that whatever differences you may have, you have very, very much in common.

       But much depends upon those words, "real belief."  I think we all realize that waving a flag, or even pledging allegiance to it, or even calling yourself a "patriotic American," does not make you a patriotic American.  In like manner,  waving a Constitution, or taking an oath to protect it, or "standing up for your constitutional rights," does not make you a constitutionalist.

       May I suggest that what decides the question is whether you deeply and really believe that what it says is good and true.  That it gives a good description of what is, and what should be.

       It might be good to set aside a couple of hours of your time, sit down with nothing but the Constitution and a notepad and pen for jotting down your thoughts and questions, and start reading.  I'd suggest starting with the Bill of Rights (the first ten Amendments), as they, along with the Preamble, provide the framework by which the entire document is to be understood.

       Here are some questions that I ask myself.

       Do I really believe in freedom of speech, and of the press?  
       What does the Constitution really say about religion?
       What are cruel and unusual punishments?
       How important is a fair trial?
       What is bail, and what is excessive bail?
       Is there anything that the government is doing that is illegal?
       What is the function of political parties?
       What is a bill of attainder, corruption of blood, or title of nobility, and why does the Constitution forbid or severely regulate them?
       What is habeas corpus, and why and how is it talked about?
       What is an ex post facto law?
       What is treason?
       And of course, there are many more important questions.

       I am no one's judge.  But I suspect that some people's loyalty to the Constitution is quite shallow.  Please don't misunderstand; I am glad for even shallow loyalty these days, because the Constitution is an almost universally disregarded document in our federal and state governments, in the media, and in most folks' minds.  If you seriously care about the Constitution at all, you and I are in a minority group that is probably less than 20% of the total population of the United States of America.  (I hope I am wrong about this.)

       But today -- and always -- the Constitution needs defenders and advocates who know and believe what it says at a deep level of integrity.

       I am afraid that we have self-styled "constitutionalists" today who think they can reconcile the Constitution with torture, with imprisonment without jury trial, with confiscatory anti-drug laws, with federally mandated smoking restrictions, with mandated health-care, with phony money, with a welfare state, with a warfare state, with a police state, with heavy-handed treatment of "illegal aliens," "domestic terrorists,"  "security risks," "people who look like they are middle eastern," people who board airplanes, and so on.

       This kind of thinking may be sincere, but it is sloppy thinking that will probably do more harm than good.  It produces, in Thomas Paine's words, "summer soldiers" and "sunshine patriots."   Not good when the weather turns bad.  When some new media-manufactured fad, or government-manufactured crisis blows through.

       Lacking depth, their convictions will sputter into smoky confusion.  Like a torch with no oil.  Standing up for their own constitutional rights, but unaware of their roots in the natural and moral law, are they going to ignore their responsibility to stand for the precisely equal constitutional rights of us all?

       May it not be so.

*       *       *

       Comments pro and con always welcome.  This topic urgently needs to be discussed; please take part.



Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Towards a Moral Economy

Guest post by Isaac Fox

Morality and Economics. Those are two words that we seldom see juxtaposed in  print. And I suspect that we seldom associate them in our own minds. We hear a lot about the economy these days. "The economy is up"; "The economy is down"; "We're in a recession"; "Maybe the economy needs another stimulus package"; and on and on we go. Our chief concern with the economy seems to be only how much wealth is presently flowing towards us. In fact, that seems to be as far as our definition and understanding of economy goes. A good economy means that I am making more money at the moment. "Good" has no specially moral value in the above sentence. Perhaps we might feel an occasional self-righteous hint of moral repugnance at the size of the National Debt, or the disparity between the rich and the poor in America, but beyond that morality remains largely unconnected in our minds with the economy. Yet economic structures contain all the necessary ingredients for moral culpability or virtue, and demand moral thought and action from us, as much as government, environmentalism, politics, business, and our inter-personal relationships do. When we leave morality out of politics, business, relationships, etc... well, I probably don't need to finish that sentence--we've all seen where it goes.

Let's glance at morality for just a moment. Morality has to do with relationship. Relationship is implied in every moral action. To see this, let's take an extreme (and impossible) hypothetical example. Suppose that nothing existed except you. No God, no universe, no people, and no possibility of anything else ever coming to exist. There is no law for you to break, there are no persons for you to hurt, and no God for you to offend. Without relationship to a law, or God, or nature, or other persons, your actions will have no moral significance. Morality enters the scene the moment a relationship is established.

Now, hold that thought for a second, and let's go back to economics. The first part of the Merriam-Webster College Dictionary's definition of economics reads as follows: "The social science that deals with the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services...." Through this definition we can see that economics deals with very relational topics. Production involves labor, or work. Distribution involves buying, selling and shipping. Or to put it more simply: trade. So economics involves  work, trade, and consumption. Now it is almost self-evident that these three subjects are fundamentally relational and moral.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The CIA War in Pakistan

       I thought of a long lead-in to this post, but I think I'll just mention a few facts and then conclude with a personal opinion.

       Fact.   It is reported -- I believe reliably -- that CIA drone strikes in Pakistan have killed over 1600 tribesmen in Pakistan since President Obama took office.  (In the last three years of the George Bush administration, over 400 were killed in the drone wars, which brings the total above 2,000.)  Drones, in this case, are unmanned aircraft that are loaded with explosives and remotely controlled by operators in front of computer screens at a command center.

       Fact.  The target area is in what Pakistan calls its "Federally Administered Tribal Area."  This area is in Pakistan as a result of convenient boundary-drawing during the heyday of the British Empire (as are many of the other borders in the Middle East and Southern Asia).  These boundaries did not reflect the homelands of different nations or ethnic units, but served the administrative and geo-political objectives of foreign intruders and overlords.  This target area is occupied mostly by the Pashtun and other mountain tribespeople, who are not especially distinguishable from their Pashtun brethren on the Afghan side of the border.

        Fact.  I am told -- I believe reliably -- that for centuries the Pashtun mountain people have not liked, and have in fact quite actively and successfully resisted, the civilization that is centered in the valley cities of Pakistan.  Pakistan therefore has a very limited ability to control what goes on in this area; and what with other stresses in Pakistan these days, the central government has very little stomach for "pacifying" the Pashtun, regardless of the US Government's insistence that they do so.

       Fact.  Since the world's earliest memory, the mountain regions of Afghanistan-Pakistan have been populated by a very independent and (it seems to me, at least) fierce people.  They did not learn these ways, nor did they change their essential behaviors, because of the Prophet, or British missionaries, or Soviet troops, or any other form of foreign influence.  (Opinion:  These tribespeople cannot possibly have anything to do with "threatening our freedoms."  Further opinion:  Since a real war must have a real reason, and the stated reason cannot be real, the real reason must be something else.  I wonder what it is.)

       Fact.  I am informed -- I believe reliably -- that these tribesmen, and others, have grown opium for uncounted generations.  They not only use it for their own pleasure and medicine, but have been known to sell it to outsiders for a long, long time.  I am further informed that among their most eager customers have been (for a couple of centuries) prominent British (and later American) merchandising families.  These specially gifted and anointed families like to establish -- um, shall we say "vertical monopolies" (control the production at the source) -- utilizing "security services" (public or private mercenaries) in order to um, "assure market stability with a view to long-term profit maximization."

       Fact.  These British families (and later American) were tightly linked to the military and security apparatus of the British Empire, and there is no way of saying where one begins and the other ends.  The colonial arrangements evolved directly into the "modern" global intelligence and security arrangements and functionaries of the 20th century and today. A direct descent can be traced to British MI5 and to the American OSS and its successor organization, the CIA.

       Fact.  Favored British and American families have been prominently involved in drug trafficking. They find it most convenient to make drugs "illegal" so they can control the entry points, control the traffic, control the judicial system, and hopefully eliminate competition.  You can research this easily on the Internet by searching with keywords which will occur to you.

       Many More Facts.  Follow your curiosity and see where it leads.  (Hint.  It leads beyond Internet "conspiracy theory" to books written by solid historians.)

       *       *       *

       Now for a bit of personal opinion.  Purely personal opinion, mind you.

       I hate to hear about people being stoned to death, whether it is by mob violence or culturally sanctioned for crimes.  Yes, I know that for a long time Middle Eastern cultures both Jewish and Islamic have found religious justification for this custom.  Often, they can plausibly appeal to God for approval of their actions -- though I observe that Saul of Tarsus was neither the first nor the last person who sanctioned a stoning only to find out later that the Divine Will was quite opposite to his own.

       I can surf the net and quickly find accounts of girls being stoned -- in such countries as Somalia, Kurdistan, and Pakistan -- for crimes ranging from adultery, to having been raped by a family member, to walking in public with a male fellow religionist.  The reporters of these events purport to be horrified, as I am.  As, I think, you are.  They decry the action and variously blame the Taliban, Islam, or "the insane elements in society."  Anyway, they blame people who are not us.

       If I am horrified at the sight, or the thought, of a young girl being stoned for violating a cultural norm . . . I am also horrified when I learn that the CIA persistently use drone aircraft to target assemblies of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including girls on the way to their own weddings, blowing them into wounded or dead fragments of themselves, stoned by chunks of metal instead of chunks of rock.

       These drone aircraft are authorized by Congress, paid for by American taxpayers and bankers, built by war profiteers, and operated by the CIA from remote bases and safe places staffed by young military personnel whose understanding of the morality of war comes chiefly from whatever they learned while playing computer games.  These young people will be among the veterans that we will honor in our American civic religion in five years time.  None of these people are Taliban; they are not Muslim.  They may or may not be "the insane elements in society"; but they are us.

       Alternatively we are told that (a) we aren't doing it  (b) we are investigating it  (c) we will see to it that it will never happen again (d) it is unavoidable (e) we are winning hearts and minds (f) it is Hamid Karzai's fault that we are not winning hearts and minds; (g,h,i,j).

       If the commanding general of the American forces had a strong conscience, he could order the CIA to cease and desist in his area of operations.  If they failed to comply, that would be very telling;  we would then know who is really in charge.  In that case he could resign his command, as the American General John Wool did when he was ordered by the Department of War to oversee the Cherokee Removal in 1838.

       If the American president had a strong conscience, he could shut down the entire war enterprise in southwest Asia, on his own authority as commander-in-chief.  If the War Party in the US Congress threatened to impeach him, which they probably would, we could all see how numerous they are; and we could also learn a lot from each other about how we all really think.

      The President, following his conscience, could then resign and turn the whole bloody mess over to the vice-president, who could then decide what he wanted to do -- maybe resign himself and turn it over to the new Speaker of the House, who would then become president and put this sordid affair back in the hands of the neo-conservative Republicans who have been the biggest cheerleaders of this war.  Then they could elect Dick Cheney in 2012.

       I'm sure I have left out important facts and considerations.  Your comments always welcome, pro and con.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Sacraments of Middle Earth

Guest post by Isaac Fox

"...those who have dwelt in the Blessed Realm live at once in both worlds, and against both the Seen and the Unseen they have great power." "Yes, you saw him for a moment as he is upon the other side: one of the mighty of the Firstborn." Thus Tolkien has Gandalf describe the Elf-lord Glorfindel in The Fellowship of the Ring. 

I have long suspected J.R.R. Tolkien of being one who lived in both worlds at once. Witness his keen perception of and appreciation for both physical and spiritual realities. But I think that this is a common trait that is (or should be) shared by all Christians. And if  I may say this without being seen as indulging in some divisive prejudice, I find that this is especially observable in the Catholic Church. The Mass is seen as heaven on earth, the realities of the spiritual world intersecting and mingling with the clear realities of time and space. During the Sanctus we are called upon to realize that our voices singing "Holy, Holy, Holy" are truly joined with the voices of the angels as they sing in another realm. We are made to realize that we are living "at once in both worlds." And perhaps this is nowhere more true than in the Sacraments, those great mysteries of our Faith. We see the material reality of water poured out upon one's head, as Grace is simultaneously poured out into one's soul. A person can smell the incensed "oil of gladness", and  feel it upon upon one's hair and skin, as one is confirmed interiorly in Holy Spirit. We know that the Priest that absolves or consecrates is simply a stand-in; it is Christ absolving, Christ consecrating. And most of all, we may hopefully come to see our Lord hidden under the appearance of bread and wine.

What does all of this have to do with Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings? Simply this: I believe that Tolkien's works are fundamentally sacramental. I believe that a sacramental understanding underlies and breathes through page after page of Tolkien's works. It is easy to go to extremes in reading him. We may be tempted to deny any hint of allegory, since the author denied that his works were allegorical. But remember, he was insisting upon this in response to the idea that one of his chapters was meant to be an allegory of post-WWII England ("The Scouring of the Shire"). After all, in another place, Tolkien says that the books were "at first unconsciously, then later consciously Christian, and specifically Catholic." (Take the quotes loosely here, I'm quoting from memory, but I think it's fairly close.)  It is also possible to go to the other extreme and read too much into Tolkien's intentions and make the books strictly allegorical. But I do not think that it would  be wrong to recognize the underlying sacramentalism in the Trilogy.

I was deeply attracted to The Lord of the Rings as a boy, but for years I knew nothing about the author.

*       *       *

Comments always welcome .  Here; or better yet, with Isaac himself.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

State-Based Propaganda -- An Old Case History

       A couple of years ago I read an old story in the Bible and caught an entirely fresh sense of its significance.  It was the historical account of Israel's ill-advised war on Syria as recorded in the Second Book of the Chronicles, Chapter Eighteen.  The story includes details of the activities of evil kings, allies, war councils, soldiers, the misguided pious, prophets, assemblies of ruling spirits, and the opinions of God Himself.

       Since I had never before seen the connections between this ancient record and current events in the Middle East, I immediately wanted to get the idea down in a lecture form -- or more recently, in the form of a lengthy post here.

       I am happy to report that that is not necessary.  Andrew Hoffman has done an excellent job in the post that begins below. -- Robert Heid

State Propaganda vs. A Prophet

by Andrew Hoffman

First of all, I know you’re probably thinking “another 2 Chronicles 18 post, how cliché!” I promise to cover something original, like Romans 13, sometime soon.
In this chapter, King Jehoshaphat of Judah goes to meet with King Ahab of Israel. After buttering him up by killing a bunch of sheep and oxen, Ahab asks Jehoshaphat to go to war with him against Ramoth Gilead. In modern PR parlance, Ahab was using the Law of Reciprocation to create a feeling of indebtedness in Jehoshaphat. It is the same technique used by the Hare Krishna’s in the 1960’s—giving someone a small gift before asking for something much more valuable in return.

Read the rest of the article here.
Andrew Hoffman is an independent writer and researcher.  He is the author of the book, The New World Order and the Eugenics Wars: A Christian Perspective.  Visit him at his websites here and here.    As always, comments welcome, pro and con.