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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sex and Money and Crime

This one's got it all.

Ted Haggard, who may or may not be the most poorly closeted gay man since Liberace, wants you to send him money. Since no church would hire him, he's enrolled in a counseling program (not getting it, mind you, but learning to give) and "won't have adequate earning power for at least two years." No real surprise -- he was always one step away from televangelism. But let's unpack the story a little.

First off, the man is not exactly an impoverished grad student. He and his wife earned $338,000 since 2006. Pocket change to a hedge-fund manager, perhaps, but by the standards of the clergy, this is an almost incredible fortune.

Second, he will be "studying" at the the Univeristy of Phoenix, an on-line degree mill catering primarily to people with jobs, who can't make time for conventional classroom study. So there's no reason he couldn't hold work while he gets a degree. (I shelved library books in college, and proofread legal documents in seminary. If he asks, I'll tell him where to send a resume.)

Third, he wants you to send your momney directly to his family or, failing that, to a charity called Families With a Mission. This group shut down operqtions in Colorado a couple of years ago, but still functions in Hawaii. It is run by a sex offender named Paul Huberty, who during his time as an Air Force lieutenant colonel was convicted of "consensual sodomy, fondling his genitals in a public area, indecent acts and adultery," and has since been convicted in Hawaii of "attempted sexual assault," both per the Denver Post.

Yeah, I'm going to send this guy money. Wouldn't you?

Perhpas best of all is this: Huberty disclaims all knowledge of Haggard, or of any effort to raise cash for his studies. So how bad does Haggard have to be that even repeat sex offenders don't want to be associated with him?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Making Friends in Faraway Places

We love Wonkette. We really do. Something about mean-spirited, sometimes bawdy, political satire just grabs us by our cassock-buttons. And we love this post best of all:

"Nearly five years into the greatest American war ever, Army brass are finally admitting what nearly everyone else on Earth (including Dick Cheney) has known for so many years: Bombing the fuck out of a distant country for no actual reason and killing half a million of its people and scattering its armed military forces and destroying its entire infrastructure and executing its government and raping its children and elderly in torture chambers and forcing its educated and professional classes to flee to other countries is not, in fact, a surefire way to spread democracy in the Middle East."

Click the link for more.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

How Serious Are We About Energy?

America's slide into industrial irrelevance continues.

Indian researchers have discovered a way to create biofuel from sunflower oil without heating it up first. (They use a fungus which secretes an enzyme, which ... well, click the link to Wired for details). The end result is a new and more efficient process, which equals cheaper fuel.

This is great news for the world, tyrannical petroleum oligarchs excepted. Cheaper, cleaner fuel is a very good thing. But it may also be disquieting news for those with a deep investment in American self-sufficiency (or, let's face it, hegemony). After all, Indians, not Americans, will hold the patent rights -- once again making our energy supply dependent upon the goodwill of foreign nations.

In the posts following the Wired story, somebody suggests that "we need a new Manhattan Project" searching for renewable energy, and that this won't happen "while Big Oil" runs the government. The author of the original story links to a post about some promising steps in that direction -- a $500 million gift from British Petroleum to some univerities for research, and US Dept. of Energy commitment of $125 million over five years, to create a Joint BioEnergy Institute. Both of these are wonderful ideas, at least in principle. (And if we can assume pure motives for an oil-besotted government and, um, and oil company).

But come now. $625 million is about one-third of the government's $1.9 billion investment in the actual Manhattan Project -- and that's without adjustment for inflation. In constant 1996 dollars, the Manhattan Project cost about $21 billion. To show the kind of seriousness about energy independence that it once showed about killing Japanese civilians, the government would have to triple public/private partnership spending -- or increase its own spending by a little more than one thousand percent.

Oh, and about the $21 billion: Yes, that's a lot of money, compared to my parish budget. But it's only about ten weeks' worth of the Iraq war.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Wiley Coyote Prays for Death

Oh, my mistake. Apparently, it's the Rev. Wiley Drake praying for death. And not his own.

Drake, the Second VP of the Southern Baptist Convention, recently endorsed Mike Huckabee's campaign for President. On his congregation's letterhead, no less. Predictably, this led to questions from Americans United for Separation of Church and State. (Their name, btw, is a nuisance to type, but a marvel of clarity. As opposed to, say, Thrivent.)

Seems Wiley doesn't like it when people question his judgment, either political or pastoral. Or when they question his tax-exempt status, which is presumably the real issue here.

John Donne On Torture

Nice little bit from Harper's, with a link to a brief quotation from Donne's 1626 Easter sermon. Donne is sometimes dismissed as an apologist for Stuart absolutism, but as some scholars (including, ahem, myself) have argued that, on the contrary, he often employed his prodigious intellect and poet's wit to the task of subtly undermining all manner of received opinions.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Who Has Integrity?

On his Doonesbury page at Salon, Gary Trudeau compiles these remarks three presidential wannabees. As Big Bird used to say, Which of these things is not like the other?

"I missspoke."
-- Mitt Romney, on his earlier suggestion that his sons' work on his presidential campaign was comparable to serving in the military in Iraq

"I misspoke."
-- Rudy Guiliani, on his earlier claim to have spent as much time at Ground Zero as most of the workers

"I made a mistake. I screwed up."
-- Bill Richardson, on his earlier comment that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice rather than a biological characteristic

Friday, August 10, 2007

Megachurch Cancels Gay Janitor's Funeral

. . . 24 hours before it was scheduled to begin.

Click to read the gory details. Bottom line: big old church eager to hold funeral for its sexton. Then gets the willies cause he, um, liked willies. Cancels funeral, insults family. Dead guy's sister claims the pastor is lying about details; he probably is.

What went on behind the scenes? We'll never know. But it barely matters, because we all get the point. Christianists don't like gay people; they dislike 'em so much, they won't even bury 'em.

Giuliani Wants to Be a Fireman

... if he ever grows up.

Fearlessly burning his bridges, the former NYC mayor has outraged firefighters and other first responders by claiming to have spent as much time as any of them -- "or more"! -- at the World Trade Center site. Therefore, he says, "I'm one of you."

No matter which borough they come from, the firefighters respond with a traditional Bronx cheer : "I personally find that very, very insulting," says one; "He's not one of us. He never has been and he never will be," says another.

"Self-absorbed, arrogant and deluded," says a third.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

If You're Thinking About Voting For Rudy ...

Click the link for yet another take on why that might be a mistake, this one by Josh Johnson of the Rocky Mountain News. It's a decent rundown of what most New Yorkers already know about their former jefe. But, like many other websites lately, it offers a chilling quotation, in which Giuliani says that "freedom is the willlingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority."

Like most of the other sites that quote it, Johnson doesn't give much context. It was a 1994 speech on crime -- early in Rudy's tenure as mayor, long before 9/11. (The Times offers a meatier excerpt at : http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A01E2D9173CF933A15750C0A962958260). But there is a whole section that merits a look for anybody who wants to see how Giuliani's mind works:

"We constantly present the false impression that government can solve problems that government in America was designed not to solve. Families are significantly less important in the development of children today than they were 30 or 40 years ago. Religion has less influence than it did 30 or 40 years ago. Communities don't mean what they meant 30 or 40 years ago.

"As Americans, we're not sure we share values. We're sometimes even afraid to use the word values. We talk about teaching ethics in schools -- people say, "What ethics? Whose ethics? Maybe we can't." And they confuse that with teaching of religion. And we are afraid to reaffirm the basics upon which a lawful and a decent society are based. We're almost embarrassed by it.

"We look upon authority too often and focus over and over again, for 30 or 40 or 50 years, as if there is something wrong with authority. We see only the oppressive side of authority. Maybe it comes out of our history and our background. What we don't see is that freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do.

"[ Interruption by someone in the audience. ]

"You have free speech so I can be heard."

He goes on to say that government isn't the solution to the decay of society, stronger families are. Taken as a whole, the speech is a weird melange of conservative ideas. Each idea by itself might appeal to some part of the Republican tent, but I'm not sure that they work together very well. The emphasis on personal responsibility and the limitations of government squares poorly with the emphasis upon lawful authority, for example. Still, the ideas aren't bad or even wrong, so far as they do. But did you catch the kicker?

Make no mistake: Giulliani is an authoritarian bastard. There is a lot of trash-talk about NYC lately, at least in Sullivan's blog, calling in a "nanny state" under the present mayor. This is nonsense. it was Giuliani who erected steel barriers along the avenues so that pedestrians were no longer free to choose which intersection they used -- a stupid idea which Bloomberg quickly jettisoned. Throw in the Diallou shooting, the Louima torture and a series of excessive force cases in the NYPD, and it was obvious to most of us living there that New York wasn't a nanny state during "Giuliani time." It was a police state.

And he's also a narcissistic freak of nature. What else could explain the serial humiliation of serial wives?

These two lovely character traits -- authoritarianism and narcissism -- come together in a single lapidary remark, improvised in response to a heckler: "You have free speech so I can be heard."

And this guy is his party's front-runner? Yeesh.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Bishop Lustiger -- R.I.P.

Jean-Marie, Cardinal Lustiger, is dead. Click the link for a good obit in Le Monde.

A Pole raised in France, a Jew converted to Catholicism, the only Cardinal fluent in Yiddish -- Lustiger was quite a man. As the obit says, "Karol Wojtyla embodied the spiritual resistance to a society of atheistic Communism. Lustiger did it in a laicized French society, secular in the extreme. A powerful friendship was born."

Despite our admiration, we at the Egg have our doubts about John Paul II, and about his chosen prelates. We are partial to Jacques Gaillot, the former bishop of Evreux, whom Lustiger helped his Pope "exile" to the nominal see of Partenia. (Google him for a good time.)

One Lord, One Faith ... Err, Never Mind

Anglicans in Jamaica are updating their hymnal to include songs by the prominent Rastafarians Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. Rastafarianism, we should remind our readers, is not a form of Christianity. It is a different religion, in which marijuana is a sacrament and the late Emeperor Haile Selassie is the Messiah. In fact, the songs are being added "despite [the songwriters'] sometimes vocal opposition to Christianity," according to the AP.

But that's okay, explains church spokesman Ernie Banks. Tosh and Marley " ... may have been anti-church, but they were not anti-God or anti-religion."

We understand the Dalai Lama isn't anti-God, and is rather decidedly pro-religion. Shall we add a few of his choice lyrics? How about Cat Stevens (um, we mean Yusuf Islam)?

"Jihad" -- the Musical

Oh, this is going to be great. I'm not going to go see it, mind you. First, because it's playing in Britain and sencond because I'm a big chicken when it comes to be targeted for car bombs. But still, it's going to be great.

"It's almost heartwarming," one reviewer concluded.

Giuliani's Daughter Backs Obama

Rudy has "asked for privacy to deal with strained relationships in his family." No joke.

We at the Egg aren't going to violate the ex-mayor's filial privacy. But we are going to point out, yet again, that his "strained relationships" aren't just the usual sturm-und-drang of family life. This is a man who married his own cousin, then cheated on her and lied about knowing how they were related -- lied to his church, no less -- in order to end the marriage. Then he married somebody else, cheated on her, and publicly humiliated her by announcing their divorce to the media before he announced it to her or the kids.

He lies, he cheats, and he has no problem with humiliating even those closest to him. So no, we're not surprised that his one of his kids might prefer Obama (or for that matter Lucifer) for president.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Why Being a Christian Is Often Embarrassing

Sigh. Some minister in California is going to line his people up outside a mosque, hoping to convert Muslims as they come to and from their house of worship.

Some of you may seen nothing wrong with this picture. After all, it's a free country. The guy has a right to express himself. And as he says in the story (linked above), immigrants from the Middle Eastern tyrannies may not know that they have a choice in the matter.

True enough. But now imagine the shoe on the other foot. It's Sunday morning in Lahore, where you are working for a relief agency or oil company or some other international employer. Going to church in Pakistan is a little dangerous, because you never know when some sectarian violence will explode in your general direction. It would be safer and easier to stay home and read the Times online. But your faith matters, so you get dressed and take your chances.

And when you get to church, who is there to greet you but a crowd of Islamists, eager to save your soul? They mean well, to be sure, but they are awfully loud and forceful as they approach you, shouting and shoving literature into your hands, assuring you that your faith is "hopeless" and even "leads to eternal death."

How do you react? Angry, sure. And scared -- is there some unspoken threat here? Will your church be attacked when you enter it? Stranger things have happened, you know, in that violent foreign nation. It is very likely that you cleave more closely still to the church, as it is the only thing that makes you feel safe in this strange place. And you get ready to defend it, by any means necessary.

Well, that's exactly the situation that immigrant Muslims are in as they go to their mosque. And singling them out on the doorstep of their house of prayer isn't going to help. You may convert a few, but the rest will be convinced more filrmly that holding onto their faith is all-important. A small number may even feel threatened enough to buy into the Islamist agenda, as the only way to defend themselves and their religion against Christianist fanatics.

Why I Am A Christian

The Times of London headline says it all: "Hindu Man Chops Off Hand As Offering to Goddess." (Kali, to be sure).

Oh, we Christians have our little foibles -- the Crusades, the witch trials, the Bush Administration -- but at least our ritual sacrifice is determinedly unbloody.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Has Gonzales Stopped Beating His Wife?

Obviously, the Attorney General of the United States isn't a wife-beater. But he may be something worse.

A New Yorker piece by Jeffrey Toobin details the murder of Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Wales in Seattle, and the subsequent investigation -- which some of Wales' colleagues considered strangely inadequate, and which to this day has resulted in no arrests.

It then describes the firing of U.S. Attorney John McKay, who is part of a family so prominent in Republican circles that they are sometimes compared to the Kennedys. Despite his obvious partisan commitment, and despite pressure from within his party, McKay declined to prosecute any Democrats for fraud after the 2004 election. Apparently he didn't see sufficient evidence.

You might naturally assume that when McKay was fired, it was for this insistence that criminal prosecution be accompanied by evidence of crime. Call it an unwilingness to prostitute himself for the sake of "loyalty," which in the Rove Administration is a firing offfense, if not a capital one. (This seems to be the rule that kept Colin Powell in line).

Apparently, you'de be wrong. According to AG Gonzales' testimony before Congress, McKay wasn't sacked for lack of zeal in lynching Dems. He was sacked because he was too zealous in his advocacy of an information-sharing system among federal prosecutors -- an idea so obviously good that it has since been adopted despite McKay's support.

This would be typical Bush-era craziness -- good prosecutor fired for supporting good idea. Except that, also in typical Bush-era fashion, Gonzales is lying.

More than a year before McKay came out in favor of information-sharing, Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, had put his name in the infamous email to Harriet Miers. And why? Well, in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Sampson suggested that "McKay might have been fired because he had been too aggressive in his investigation of Tom Wales' murder."

That's right. We are living through an era in which a "good prosecutor" is one who goes after his masters' political enemies, but doesn't support programs that help his colleagues work effectively -- or show any interest in learning who killed one of his own team. And, by the way, up is down, war is peace, and Bush is in in charge.

As McKay says himself, "The idea that I was pushing too hard to investigate the murder of a federal prosecutor -- it's mind-numbing. If it's true, it's just immoral, and if it's false, then the idea that they would use the death of Tom Wales to cover up what they did is just unconscionable."

So that's the question for Gonzales: On your watch, has the conduct of the Department of Justice been immoral or has it been unconscionable? And, as a follow-up: Have you stopped beating your wife?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The End of America, Part 1

Click to read the story of Mark and Deborah Kuhn, a couple in West Asheville, North Carolina. I'll give a recap, but the story is ful of perfect little details that combine to show what America becoming.

Upset about the condition of the country, the Kuhns hung a big flag on their porch -- upside down, in the "distress" position. Later, they added President Bush's face and the words "Out Now." For this, a local sheriff's deputy intimidated them, broke into their home and beat Mark up -- all after they had taken the flag down. They have been arrested and charged with, among other things, desecrating a flag.

No word yet on whether deputy Brian Sorrell will be charged with assault, battery, unlawful entry, abuse of his authority, or a violation of the Kuhn family's basic civil rights. Now ord yet on whether the sheriff's department will suspend or terminate him for this outrageous misbehavior. And no word yet on whether the sheriff's department lost the flag they deny having confiscated as evidence, or are secretly desecrating it themselves for its inevitable court appearance.

The scariest part is that the original complaint to which the deputy responded appears to have been filed by some mysterious man in military fatigues, who has been driving by the house and taking pictures, and who during the arrest cheered the deputy on by shouting, "Go to jail, baby." I know, you're thinking "Neo-Nazi skinhead thugs." So was I, until I realized it wasn't the 1980s anymore. The guy had a federal license plate on his vehicle.

The only good news here is the neighbors. They woke up, watched what was happening; they have backed up the Kuhns' version of events. And they are angry. Shawn Brady says, “This is an outrage. The 1st, 4th and 5th Amendments were clearly broken today.” When they asked what was going on, the deputies told them it was none of their business; to which Tony Plichta responds, simply, "They are our neighbors."

These are dark times, people. And the only way we are going to get through them is by watching out for each other, and guarding our neighbors' rights.