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Thursday, July 31, 2008

US Services Commit Atrocities Against Our Own Troops

And cover them up, at the highest levels.

Rep. Jane Harman visited a VA hospital where doctors told her that 41% of the female veterans seen there reported that they were victims of sexual assault while serving in the US military.  Assault, that is, by their fellow-soldiers.  29% of them were raped.  An independent investigation by the GAO suggests that the numbers may be still higher because of many unreported cases. 

Congress is holding hearings, and issued a subpoena to Dr. Kaye Whitley, the Pentagon's expert on the subject.  She was ordered not to testify.  Ordered, we repeat, by her superiors -- whom we dearly hope to see held accountable.  Oh, and we suspect this was a last-minute change of plans.  The DoD news page indicated (and at this writing still does) that Whitley and other Pentagonals would testify.  So who rearranged her schedule -- and why?

Up until today, we have tried to believe in the traditional American story of a proud military, soldiers who live by a code of honor which sets them apart from the thugs and cretins who run our government and corporations.  It has been difficult to believe this, in the face of atrocities like Abu Ghraib and Mahmudiya, not to mention the Air Force's inability to keep track of nuclear weapons and its passion for designing VIP comfort pods.  But we have managed, despite the mounting evidence, to believe that the career soldiers (including sailors, marines, and even airmen) who guard our country genuinely do hold themselves to a higher standard.

But 41% is a lot of women.  A lot of daughters and sisters and mothers.  A lot of American soldiers, abused in ways that are war crimes pure and simple when committed by an enemy.

Some people will give a sigh and shed a few crocodile tears that barely cover their satisfaction, and then mutter that they always said women didn't belong in the Army.  But women aren't the ones committing these crimes.  The crimes are committed by men, who commit them because they have reason to believe that they will not be seriously punished.  

That needs to change.  Now.

Woe Unto the Shepherds

News from Alabama:  a preacher's wife discovered that he was sexually molesting their 11-year-old daughter.  So he killed his wife, and forced the daughter to help him hide the body in a freezer.  Which is where police found it four years later.

Obviously, Anthony Hopkins is an evil S.O.B., and even though he is a black man in Alabama, the criminal justice system cannot punish him severely enough.  Fortunately, God can. 

We do need to register a complaint with CNN, though.  Their story identifies Hopkins as "an evangelical."  It seems obvious from the context that he was better identified as a Pentecostal or Holiness preacher.  There is a pretty significant difference there, even in the mass media are beginning to lose touch with it.

And we also wonder, parenthetically, about Hopkins' friend and colleague Jerry Porter.  On one hand, Porter seems to have suspected something was wrong -- when Hopkins couldn't answer such basic questions as "Where's your wife today," he barred him from preaching.  On the other hand, he didn't (a) call the cops, (b) demand a straight answer, or (c) call the cops again.  

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"True Blue" As in Blue Movie

In 2006, Texas congressman Pete Sessions was given a "true blue" award from the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, well-known organizations devoted to an especially restrictive vision of family values.  We aren't quite sure what he had done to deserve the prize, although in 2004, after Janet Jackson's Superbowl wardrobe malfunction, he criticized Jackson and Justin Timberlake for imposing "their liberal values upon the rest of the country."

So we are mildly amused to learn that Sessions has held several fundraisers at a Las Vegas Strip club.

Oh, there was no stripping involved, Sessions' rep is quick to assure us.  This place is really a burlesque house, so the ladies didn't actually get nekkid.  (Or so he says; the owner describes the difference between a regular titty-bar and his burlesque house by saying,  "The key component would be to have girls who were dancers taking their clothes off, not just girls taking their clothes off. ")  And we have to admit that Sessions didn't impose his values upon the whole country.  

But, that said, we have to wonder what kind of family would recognize among its values the virtue of asking young girls to parade about in their dainties while wealthy old men leer at them.  FLDS, anybody?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Japan's Booming Sex Niche: Elder Porn

That's the title of a Time article, and it is neither metaphorical nor euphemistic.

Reading the article, one naturally tries to imagine the things it describes.  And then wishes one hadn't, and yet can't erase the images from one's tortured brain.

What Terrorists Read

Sunday morning in Knoxville, a man named Jim David Adkisson walked into a Unitarian worship space during a children's performance on Annie and started shooting.  He killed two people, and was evidently prepared to kill many more.  

Clearly, Adkisson is deranged.  But before we dismiss him as "just a madman," let's also make note of his own reasons for committing this crime, which were expressly religious and political.  According to the police, Adkisson chose the Unitarian community "because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed." It was also expressly terroristic, in the sense that it was not an effort to kill his perceived enemies (America's political leaders) but rather to intimidate those who support them: He said that "that because he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement he would then target those that had voted them in office."

In other words, like the Shiite militias in Iraq, Adkisson used a combination of religious and political factors to choose the target for his terrorist attack.

What inspires a terrorist? Religion and politics, of course; a sense of personal alienation; but also, the persuasion of charismatic public figures. In the Middle East, it is the mullahs. And in Adkisson's home, investigators found these three books: Bill O'Reilly's The O'Reilly Factor; Michael Savage's Liberalism is a Mental Disorder; and Sean Hannity's Let Freedom Ring:  Winning the War of Liberty Over Liberalism.  At least one reader did not take the subtitle to be a metaphor.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Lutherans to Apologize for 500-year-old Crimes

During the Reformation, there was only one thing upon which Lutheran and Roman Catholic forces could agree, at least in the political sphere:  that Anabaptists should be exterminated.  Much bloodthirsty warfare ensued, notably the Siege of Munster, not to mention widespread persecution.

The Lutheran Word Federation is making plans to issue a public apology to the Anabaptists, including Mennonites and Amish.  In the oft-ridiculed world of apologies for things that one's ancestors did, this qualifies as a comparatively reasonable and purposeful example.  It will help to heal an old wound, and allow smoother working relations between two modern church bodies with a strong commitment to works of peace and justice.

Our question, which will probably not help much with those things, is this:  When will Anabaptists apologize to the rest of Christianity for introducing the historically and theologically anomalous idea that we should withhold baptism from infants? 

We Told Them So.

Over our toast with lemon curd this morning, the beautiful Mrs. A read aloud this nugget from Sunday's Times, regarding Henry Paulson, the former Goldman, Sachs chair, and present Bush administration Treasury secretary:

Even Mr. Paulson, for all his Wall Street experience and market savvy, occasionally appears flummoxed by the scale and complexity of the current crisis.

"Funny," she remarked.  "You and I are humble parish priests, and yet we saw this coming two years ago.  Why is one of the world's most powerful money-men flummoxed?"  

She was quite correct as to the fact; two summers back, flush with prenatal nesting hormones, we had briefly considered the purchase of a home.  Eventually, however, we decided not to buy, because it was clear to us that said home -- although attractive and so beautifully located that it breaks my heart to think of it -- had been dramatically overpriced by a market that was already weakening.  Although we could have obtained a mortgage, the terms would have included provisions for low initial rates followed by much higher ones within a few years, and that was plainly foolish.

In other words, two naive and unsophisticated potential buyers, armed with nothing but the facts available from the Times and a few visits to a realtor, could see the housing bubble beginning to burst, and could project from that the inevitable crisis which would affect both families that had accepted predatory mortgages, and banks which had bundled those mortgages into securities.  None of it made sense, even to us.

So how did the world banking community miss it?  And why are they "flummoxed" today?

This is just one among many recent instances of policy failures which appeared likely from the outset to even casual observers, but which have surprised the supposed experts.  

For example, beginning the in the mid-1970s, it was pretty obvious to Father A., then a schoolboy in short pants, that an economy based upon fossil fuels was not viable over the long term.  There were three reasons, both obvious and widely discussed at the time:  (a) carbon emissions (or as we said in those days, "air pollution"); (b) a finite supply which could not keep pace with a rapidly escalating demand; and (c) the political instability of the region from which much of our petroleum was purchased.  One need not have been a child during the oil embargo to have seen all this clearly, but it may have helped.  But all you really needed was a subscription to the Mother Earth News, which ran monthly articles on the fiscal virtue of energy derived from the sun and wind.  Father A. recalls a college course on environmental physics in which, after examining the evidence (all of it available in a textbook by then) and doing a few basic equations, the only policy question left was whether to ditch petroleum in favor of solar or in favor of nuclear.

So if a teenager knew that stuff thirty years ago, why is the government still not stepping up the plate with some serious R&D funding for wind farms and the like?

By the late 1980s, well ahead of the curve, Father A. -- by then, an adventurous young man with a proclivity for visiting exotic places -- had observed the popularity of light trucks fitted out as luxury cars in Haiti and Central America, and predicted the later rise of the American SUV.  But, already having thought through the environmental and financial implications, he always knew the craze would end abruptly, and that the market for used gas-guzzlers would shrivel to nothing.  So he feels no pity for the US auto industry, which -- already in peril -- chose to stake its fortune on the dumbest vehicle it possibly could.

The list goes on.  Iran-Contra didn't surprise anybody who had paid attention to (a) the Reagan Administration's support for Central American death squads and insurgencies, as well as (b) Reagan's own strained relationship with facts.  Airline deregulation hasn't worked out so well, either.  We've always argued that federal subsidies for highways over railroads are perverse, and suddenly we're not alone on that, either.  

Now, in all fairness, we have sometimes been wrong.  Despite our prediction, Bush I's Gulf War is generally considered a success, by everybody except the soldiers with a mysterious illness for which no cure is known, and the land itself, now littered with depleted uranium.  

But the big one, still, is Iraq.  In the months preceding the US invasion of Iraq, a great many people, both in the United States and outside it, argued forcefully that the war would be a mistake.  These arguments followed several main lines:  (a) America had been attacked by stateless terrorists based in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Sudan, so we needed to focus our attention on those people and those places; (b) a war in Iraq would be a drain on America's financial resources and the human resources of the military; (c) the status of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was unclear, but a significant minority doubted their existence, and UN inspectors -- the people with the most detailed first-hand information -- practically begged for more time to do their work.  (Does anybody even remember Hans Blix and Scott Ritter anymore?)

The Bush Administration either ignored these concerns, or responded to them with deceit and misdirection.  A link between Iraq and 9/11 was widely adverted, most notably by Dick Cheney, the member of the Administration likeliest to become fabulously wealthy if a war ensued.  Congress was assured that the adventure would be brief ("Six days, maybe six weeks, I doubt six months") and self-financing.  Colin Powell stood before the UN and showed maps, photographs and scary white powder, all meant to somehow "prove" the existence of the WMDs that didn't exist.

Now, we at the Egg don't claim to be prophets.  (Nor are we knee-jerk peaceniks; ask us about Afghanistan sometime).  When we worried that the pending invasion would be a mistake, we were not by any means a lone voice crying in the wilderness.  Millions of people in hundreds of cities all over the world took to the streets in protest, making the same statement.  Pope John Paul II sent his special envoy, Pio Cardinal Laghi, to ask Bush personally not to begin a war, which would be a "defeat for humanity" and neither legally not morally just.

But the war happened anyway, and it is a mess of historic proportions, one which -- along with our financial woes, and the rise of our Asian competition -- bids fair to reduce America's prosperity at home and influence abroad, quite possibly signaling the beginning of the end of American hegemony.

And so our question is:  Aren't these people experts?  So why -- if a paunchy cleric with neither economic nor scientific training can routinely predict the failure of an American policy -- are the supposed experts who run our government and our large corporations routinely unable to do so?  And if they aren't experts, why do we let them run things?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bush Administration Electrocutes US Troops

We knew the guyed liked the electric chair, but come on.

Per the Times, electrical work done by Halliburton's KBR subsidiary at US bases in Iraq, long since revealed to be defective, is more thoroughly incompetent than originally understood.  We knew, for example, that 13 soldiers had been electrocuted so far; we did not know that wiring in one Baghdad building was so inept that soldiers received shocks in their own quarters every single day.  

The details are sketchy, but internal KBR and Pentagon documents suggest that both parties have long been aware of the fact that the Administration's favorite contractor was, through sheer incompetence, endangering the lives of American soldiers.

One graf reminds us of the bigger picture:

The reports of shoddy electrical work have raised new questions about the Bush administration’s heavy reliance on contractors in Iraq, particularly because they come after other high-profile disputes involving KBR. They include accusations of overbilling, providing unsafe water to soldiers and failing to protect female employees who were sexually assaulted.

Oh, that's right.  American citizens are paying through the nose so that these guys can electrocute and poison our soldiers and rape their own employees with impunity.

UN Soft on Killer Bunnies

The United Nations' human rights committee this week came down hard on the United Kingdom.  In particular, it criticized changes in the law that governs pretrial detention of terror suspects, from 28 to 42 days.  And it asked for firm measures to combat "negative attitudes" toward Muslims that are growing within the general public.

Well, fair enough.  No harm in asking, right?  But let's be serious for a moment.  A seven-week holding period for somebody you suspect was trying to, let's say, blow up the Houses of Parliament isn't really such a big deal, if you can use those seven weeks to either round up his confederates and build a case, or else establish his innocence.  Keep him in a clean, well-lighted room, give him some books to read (Hume and Locke by preference) and carry on.  It's not exactly Gitmo.

And as for asking the government to "combat negative attitudes," let's be careful.  In a general way, asking the government to shape public perceptions strikes us as more than a little Big-Brotherish.  In this case, we wonder whether those attitudes have been shaped by Muslims themselves, particularly those in Gaza, who broadcast  children's TV show called Tomorrow's Pioneers, which features a gigantic bunny rabbit who encourages the little tykes to kill and eat Jews.  (And Danes).

The show is broadcast via satellite, and can be seen in the UK.  The host insists that her program does not spread extremism.  She is either lying or stupid, but we have no idea which.  Why, in the course of writing this post, we ourselves have become more extremist.  48 days now seems far too brief, and a clean room far too generous.  

To their credit, Muslim leaders in Britain have begun to criticize this delightful bit of whimsy.  And rightly so.  But if the UN really wants to to protect Muslims in Britain (or anywhere else) from negative stereotyping by the general population, they ought to take it up not with HM's government, but with al-Aqsa TV and the lovely people at Hamas.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Gotham City Politics

Father A. saw The Dark Knight yesterday, and -- unsurprisingly -- loved it.  For those who don't know, the testy little cleric has been a Bat-fan since early childhood.  As Mrs. A wearily tells her friends, "You can tell he took it all too seriously; even as an adult, he puts on a black suit and fights evil."

Yes, Heath Ledger redefines the Joker, in a performance that certainly deserves consideration by the various awards committees.  And Aaron Eckhart deserves more attention than he has gotten, for a deeply-realized portrayal of a crusading D.A. who fights monsters so hard that he becomes one.  

Indeed, the question of how to fight monsters without becoming like them is the heart of the movie.  (Well, that and a lot of black latex, and some explosions.)  And so naturally, there is an argument brewing about the political content of the picture.  There are spoilers below, so please exercise caution.

Writing on the WSJ editorial page, mystery novelist Andrew Klavan argues that Batman is, basically, George W. Bush:  

Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past. ... "The Dark Knight," then, is a conservative movie about the war on terror.

He goes on to complain that whereas Hollywood liberals can make anti-war movies that are realistic and contemporary, conservatives have to hide their pro-war sentiment behind the mask of historical fantasy ("300") or, in this case, actual masks.

On the surface, Klavan seems to have a point.  As comics readers know, Frank Miller -- whose graphic vision of Thermopylae was the basis for "300" -- is an unabashed conservative, and his groundbreaking 80s miniseries, "The Dark Knight Returns," portrayed a Batman who might have inspired subway vigilante Berhard Goetz (although Miller's Batman is a far better-developed character than the supposedly flesh-and-blood Goetz).  

And the movie at hand makes no secret of its political subtext.  The Joker is referred to in the script as a terrorist, and rightly so.  He works with criminals, but makes a point of saying that his goal different than theirs.  They want to get rich; he is "an agent of chaos."  At one point, in fact, he lights up an enormous pile of cash, while delivering, a speech to effect that he doesn't need money since "the things I like -- gasoline, gunpowder -- are all cheap."  Fighting against Batman, whose work is prodigiously funded and hi-tech, the Joker is a model of asymmetrical warfare.

So Klavan is right about the Joker.  But he misses the point about Batman.  Yes, our hero does "push the boundaries of civil rights," and pushes them pretty hard.  At one point, questioning a mobster, he deliberately breaks the guy's leg just to show that he's serious.  He eavesdrops on a colossal scale, at one point bugging every telephone in the city.  But much of the movie's action hangs on the idea that Batman operates by a strict moral code -- he will not kill his enemies, no matter how hard they try to kill him, and no matter who else they may try to kill.  When another character threatens a witness at gunpoint, Batman intervenes, arguing that (a) the witness probably doesn't have any useful information, and (b) the good guys have to stay good.

(This is an old and absurd trope in superhero comics -- the Lone Ranger used to shoot guns out of the hands of bank robbers.  Reaction against this absurdity led to a slew of 80s comics in which heroes abandoned the code and killed their enemies; as recently as last year, even Wonder Woman did this.  But Batman, one of the comics characters best suited for wetwork, has studiously avoided it.)  

This code stands in symbolically for all the actual ethical codes that we tell ourselves (with ever less justice) separate us from our enemies.  Without this code, the story would collapse.  In one of the climactic sequences, of which the picture has too many, the Joker hatches another plan to commit mass murder, which depends upon the willingness of people, both criminals and ordinary citizens, to commit murder in order to avoid being murdered themselves. (Think of soldiers massacring a village for fear that it sheltered one or two insurgents). Batman's strategy, which ultimately succeeds, depends upon his conviction that people -- even criminals -- are fundamentally decent. Without his direct intervention, they save themselves simply by expressing, despite the temptation not to, their own moral decency.

And the movie provides one set piece in which it gives a blunt opinion of how effective torture is as a tool against terrorists.  The Joker is captured by the police, and interrogated by three people:    

(1) Commissioner Gordon asks him some questions, to which he gives no useful answer.  

(2)  Gordon leaves the room, and Batman enters, using a great deal more violence than the police are allowed to.  It works -- he tells them what they wanted to know, the location of the McGuffin.  Except it doesn't work, because he tells them a deliberate lie, which sends people going to the wrong places, and results (as the Joker intended) in death and mutilation.   In this episode, Batman seems tough in a way that is emotionally rewarding to viewers, but in fact he loses dramatically

(3) Another cop decides to beat the Joker up -- not torture for the sake of extracting information, but as an expression of rage.  The Joker seizes control of the situation, and not only escapes but creates mayhem on a vast scale.  If they had just left him in jail, he would still have killed a lot of people, but not nearly as many.

The message is not crystalline, nor should it be, but it is still pretty clear:  The inappropriate reaction of "civilized" people to terror is what gives the terrorists their power.  Torture doesn't work; it deprives us of our moral advantage without conferring any meaningful tactical advantage.  Even the truly wicked have rights which must be observed, as much for our sake as for theirs.  

The movie may not be intended as a rebuke to President Bush, nor to his thuggish vice-president; it may not be intended as a rebuke to Guantanamo Bay and the extraordinary renditions.  But it seems very likely that the director and his co-writer set out to rebuke the primary expression of militant conservatism in Hollywood these days, specifically with regard to the questions of torture and the rights of detainees.  Bruce Wayne is neither a stand-in for the president nor a response to him; he is a comic-book character who answers another comic-book character:  Jack Bauer.

"The Dark Knight" is the Anti-24.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cellphones Rot Your Brain

We've heard talk about this for a while now.  Although the evidence published to date in peer-reviewd journals is not especially frightening, the director of the University of Pittsburgh's Cancer Institute has access to research that has not yet been published.  Based upon that evidence, he is warning his own faculty and staff to limit their cellphone exposure, for fear of causing brain cancer.

The risk is apparently higher for children.

Finnish Lesbians!

We know:  you came here from your search engine, looking for hot, steamy videos of Nordic beauties.  Our strategy worked; now down to business.

In fact, it seems that lesbian marriages are no longer uncommon in the Church of Finland, although neither do they take place in church buildings or with official approval.  Most recently, the dean of the Espoo cathedral, Liisa Tuovinen, performed a ceremony a church camp.  A couple of years back, another pastor performed one in a Helsinki restaurant, and Pr Tuovinen says that home ceremonies have also been performed.

Apparently, non of this takes place as yet within the church's rules, but the matter will be reviewed by the bishops next year.

The End of Evangelism?

Elizabeth Eaton is the Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod (ELCA).  Egg readers may recall that she had the unfortunate duty of making public statements when one of the pastors in her jurisdiction was arrested for child molestation.  Recently, she also had the duty -- which we hope was more pleasant -- of preaching at the Eucharist which concluded a Women of the ELCA convention.

The church's press release on the subject gives an account of her sermon which, while fragmentary and difficult to follow, has nonetheless piqued our interest.  (Click above to read it).  In many of the extracted quotations, Bp Eaton appears to be chastising congregations for familiar faults ("we have ... bought into a culture of scarcity and fear") while exhorting them to pursue familiar goals (support global mission).  There is nothing wrong with this; we have often  chastised and encouraged in the same vein.

But in places, the press release seems to describe a more provocative sermon.  

Out of context, it is hard to know just what she meant when she said, "Folks are not going to come into our churches. They only did that in the '50s for a few short years.  Everyone who is in is already there. So, don't expect by opening the doors they're going to come walking in."  After all, it is an observable fact that people do walk into churches, and that they can only do so when the doors are open.  But she is quite correct to observe that they don't do so in such large numbers, and upon this observation might potentially hang a very remarkable sermon, especially by a bishop.  

After all, to venture far in this direction is to contradict much of the contemporary talk about passively "welcoming the stranger" as a means of evangelism.   It is, indeed, even to cast some doubt upon the likelihood of re-evangelizing the secularized West, or our de-churched neighborhoods, anytime soon.  As she also said, "We are surrounded by a culture that does not think that the church is marvelous. It thinks in a lot of cases that the church is inconsequential."  It is to portray the Church as a permanent minority, one which ought not to fritter away its energy chasing a will o' the wisp called Growth.

If this was her point, or even a significant part of it, then we are very interested in what Bp Eaton actually said.  One of the pressing debates in our own synod, and one which stirred some emotions during a recent assembly, is the question of why our churches, especially those in the city proper, have declined so dramatically over the past three-quarters of a century, and what we should do about that fact.  At risk of oversimplifying an extremely complex and emotionally-laden issue, there seem to be two camps.  One believes, or at least claims publicly, that the decline results from failures of vision and imagination, especially on the part of the clergy, and that sufficiently persuasive recruitment techniques can reverse the trend.  The other camp, which is far smaller or least far more timid about speaking up, argues that the decline results primarily from demographic and cultural changes, over which local churches have little control, and that our task now is to assess the ways in which we can serve God from the margins of our new society.

Does Bp Eaton see wisdom in the second position?  And if so, what is her vision for the Church as a minority report, a pinch of salt which adds savor to a much larger stew?   It is difficult to tell from the jumbled hash of a press release.  The ELCA has also posted an excerpt from her sermon, which is also too brief to tell us much.  (But listen here).  It includes a reference, with attribution, to Monty Python (the parrot isn't dead; he's pining for the fjords), and another reference, not attributed, to the conservative cultural critic Christopher Lasch, and his assertion that "nostalgia [an illness affecting most Christians and all Lutherans] is an abdication of memory."  

All in all, while it is impossible for the Egg to know quite what Bp Eaton said or meant to say, we have here hints of a sermon which does not merely challenge listeners, but which may possibly challenge them to think new thoughts.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"A Matter of History"

The campaign press seems awfully fond of gaffes this year.  McCain is confused about Purim; Obama seems to think he is on the Senate Banking Committee; McCain is confused about the breakup of Czechoslovakia.  Oh, and McCain is confused about the nonexistent Iraq/Afghanistan border.

We've chuckled over this stuff, and we will continue to do so, all the while recognizing that we ourselves are prone to misspeaking -- there is one member of our congregation who, after nearly every sermon, makes a point of correcting misquoted song lyrics, verses of poetry, or what have you.   It is irritating beyond words, but it keeps us honest -- which is likely how the candidates feel as well.

For the record, the gaffe-hunters are really using the wrong word.  None of these are "gaffes" according to the standard definition, which is a social error, or faux pas.  Both the press and my little old lady are observing errors of fact, usually minor, made while speaking off the cuff.  The technical word is probably "goofs."  And anybody who speaks off the cuff much is going to make them. 

But the HuffPo's Ilan Goldenberg has observed a rather more serious error of fact in a recent McCain interview.  It goes like this:

Katie Couric asks about Obama's contention that, although the surge has helped, Iraqi security has been improved principally by the Sunni Awakening and government crackdown on the militias.

McCain lashes out, accusing Obama of a "a false depiction" -- what you and I would call a lie. He explains, incorrectly, that the surge was what made the awakening possible.  This, he insists, "is just a matter of history," and to say otherwise is to do a disservice to the dead US troops.

Goldenberg produces ample evidence that McCain is mistaken:  a series of military and press descriptions of the Sunni Awakening that predate the surge.  He concludes:  

... what is most disturbing is that according to McCain's inaccurate version of history, military force came first and solved all of our problems. If that is the lesson he takes from the Anbar Awakening, I am afraid it is the lesson he will apply to every other crisis he faces including, for example, Iran.

This is surely true.  But it is also noteworthy that when faced with his opponent's accurate assessment of the situation, McCain's response is to (a) call the truth a lie; and (b) to offer up his own lie as the truth; and (c) to cloak his lie in the garment of patriotism.  This, we think, speaks very poorly for his character and his judgment -- not to mention his grasp of the facts.

Dept. of Misdirection: Obama and the New Yorker

One of the funny things about a subscription to the New Yorker, which we at the Egg had maintained since our youth, is that it does not get the magazine to you very quickly.  Indeed, it is usually on the newsstands several days, or even a week, before it arrives in your mailbox.  (This is an irritating feature in a weekly magazine.)

The result is that we had read all about the NYer's Obama cover, and even shared our own thoughts about it, before we ever opened the July 21 issue.  Having now done so, we now see something clearly:  the cover is a dumb stunt, which -- whatever its editorial intent -- serves to distract public attention from the genuinely disturbing article inside.  And no, we don't mean Denby's review of The Dark Knight.

Ryan Lizza's extended piece on the early stages of Obama's political career, aptly titled Making It, depicts an unfamiliar aspect of the Illinois senator:  typical politician.  Obama comes across as ambitious, cutthroat, temperamental and  -- most surprisingly -- ungrateful, at least to his early supporter Alice Palmer.  He comes to Chicago, a town notorious for its tough politics, and sets off many of the same fireworks he has set of nationally this year -- and even then, early on, he is plainly contemplating a run for national office.  He is plainly bored with local politics, and has bad relations with the black political class.  He makes naive mistakes, and learns hard lessons from them.  He seizes every advantage, even when it risks hurting his own party.  He redraws voting districts to reflect the peculiar demographics to which he appeals -- black, but not too black, with a dose of limousine liberalism.

In one scene, which seems difficult to reconcile with Obama's cooler-than-thou demeanor, he gets into a a shouting match with legislator Rickey Hendon on the floor of the state senate.  The two nearly come to blows before they are separated by a female staffer -- but not before Obama (who turns out to be a trained boxer) shouts something on the order of "I'm gonna kick your ass."

Not incidentally, we also get brief vignettes concerning some of Obama's controversial decisions.  His relationships with the ex-Weathermen, Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dorhn, don't look like much of anything; they had become advisors to the mayor, "long acceptable in polite Chicago society" (if such a thing exists).  And before joining Trinity UCC, Obama worries not about the pastor's inflammatory pulpit oratory, but about the possibility that the congregation may be perceived in the black community as "too upwardly mobile."

The article is a bracing corrective to the comically worshipful coverage Obama often gets from the press (see under:  McCain's whining, below).  That does not, necessarily, make it "anti-Obama."   For the most part, the New Yorker is  pretty friendly to Obama's candidacy, even embarrassingly so.   But this portrait removes some of the phony halo, and lets us see the real man underneath. 

All of which makes the kerfluffle over the cover seem sort of overblown.  As we have said, on several occasions, to Islamic rioters burning the Danish flag:  It's a cartoon, you nitwits.  Get over it.  And yet the media buzz has been all about the cover -- which means it has missed the real point.  When, this week, Ryan Lizza was denied a seat on the plane to accompany Obama to the Middle East, the chattering classes at HuffPo and The Swamp saw it as revenge for the cover.

Nonsense.  It's not the cover, it's the content.   Obama apparently liked the halo, and is less than thrilled by the thought that we might see him as flesh-and-blood. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

John McCain is a Real American

Because he has started whining.  

Apparently, the candidate who used to joke that the media was his base is now running ads complaining that those fickle mediacrats are "in love" with Obama.  Now, to some readers this may look sort of (hmmm, what's the word?  Oh yeah) babyish, on the order of "Mommy, Mommy, Chris Matthews used to be my bes' frien' and now he says he's bes' fren's with Barry -- Mommy, make him stop."  

Unseemly, right?  You just want to scream, "You're a big boy now, so suck it up."  Right?

Wrong.  We at the Egg see what Sen. McCain is up to.  He's showing us that he's a Real American, just like you and me -- a regular guy, despite the rich wife and the confusion about Google.  The key is Phil Gramm, the sensitive soul who until recently served as one of McCain's economic advisors, and whose analysis of our present financial situation was that it was a mental recession, created by a nation of whiners.

Get it?  We're a nation of whiners.  So when McCain whines like a little baby, he's just showing that he's one of us.

Michael Savage Makes Imus Look Sensitive

From mediamatters.org:

On his nationally syndicated radio show, Michael Savage claimed that autism is "[a] fraud, a racket. ... I'll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out. That's what autism is. What do you mean they scream and they're silent? They don't have a father around to tell them, 'Don't act like a moron. You'll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don't sit there crying and screaming, idiot.' "

Click the link for info on getting this guy fired.

Dobson Flip-Flops

Dr. James Dobson, the geriatric family psychologist who has long told conservative Christians how to vote, is not himself a candidate for office.  Therefore, we suppose, he does not need to fear being slapped with the dreaded label "Flip-Flopper."  Like other non-candidates, he is not only free to change his mind based upon new evidence, but even -- like those in swing states -- encouraged to do so by those seeking his vote.

Still, we are somewhat amused by his recent show of lukewarm support for John McCain.  In January, you may recall, Dobson made some minor waves by announcing that he "would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances."  The main issues seemed to be that Dobson disagreed with McCain's stand on stem cells and gay marriage, as well as the McCain-Feingold bill, which in addition to limiting the power of lobbyists to corrupt legislators, also required organizations like Dobson's own Focus on the Family to report their own attempts to sway voters.

Remarkably, McCain has not (yet) changed his position on any of those issues, although we expect he will eventually.  Nonetheless, Dobson has begun to say that he will probably vote for McCain, and may even endorse him.

Clearly, a flip-flop.  But why?  Maybe it's just old-age solidarity.  Or maybe it's not about mcCain so much as his opponent.  In an interview with Newsweek, a FotF lobbyist named Jim Daly explained that Dobson has just gotten around to reading Obama's 2006 speech on religion and politics, and concluded that it is "too radical."  McCain is therefore, to Dobson, the lesser of two evils.  This raises any number of questions for us.

First off, as the interviewer points out, this speech was made in June of 2006 -- it isn't exactly breaking news.  Daly says that Focus on the Family "didn't know about it."  So our first question is:  How stupid are these people?  They do all this political wheeling and dealing in the name of religion, but don't pay attention when a serious presidential candidate makes a major speech on the very subject?

Second, we wonder:  Why vote for the lesser of two evils?  Evangelicals have a long tradition of staying aloof from electoral politics, in part because they could not bear the inevitable compromises it entails.  Does Dobson really want to support a candidate whose positions he considers evil?  In the interview, Daly seems uncomfortable with this idea himself.  He talks about leaving ballots blank or write-in votes, concluding that "People should vote their conscience; if they object to both candidates, they don't have to vote in that category."

And third, we have to ask:  Did Dobson read the same speech we did?  The one in which Obama talks about his own adult conversion experience -- being born again?  In which Obama chides himself and other Democrats for their failure to take seriously the role that religion plays in American public life?  Calls Rick Warren and T.D. Jakes his friends?  The one which ends with something rare in  Democratic speechmaking, a reflection on his own prayerful recognition that political opponents, even on something as emotional as abortion, are not necessarily ideologues and fanatics?  Because this speech, it seems to us, is a far cry from radicalism; it is on the contrary an attempt to understand and interpret conventional Democratic policies from the position of religious faith.  

So.  Why the flip-flop, Dr. D?  Perhaps it isn't senility, ignorance, or a newfound willingness to support evil.  Perhaps it is simply this:  You liked politics better the old way, when the GOP=God and the Dems=Soviet Atheism.   You like your opponents to think of you as you think of them, in purely ideological terms, without any recognition of the human capacity for nuance or reflection.  And Obama, who is so evidently capable of these things, scares the Depends off of you.

Happy Birthday, St Mary Magdalene

a friend wrote this morning to observe that July 22 is the Egg's patronal -- err, matronal? -- feast.  That is to say, it is the commemoration of St. Mary Madgalene, whose image adorns our masthead and inspires our ranting -- in a sense, her birthday.

In a sense.  For those who don't always grasp the grim ironies of Christian tradition, a saint's dies natalis, or birthday, is in fact the day they died.  In the case of Mary Magdalene, the details of whose life are obscure and steeped in legend, we may presume that the date deserves an asterisk -- it was probably chosen later, following some now-forgotten train of monkish logic.  But it has been July 22, both East and West, since the AD 900s.

And look:  Dr. James Dobson has offered us a little birthday present to help celebrate!  For details, read the post above this one. 

Saturday, July 19, 2008

If You Thought Liberals Lacked the Capacity for Self-Criticism ...

You could watch the video of Jesse Jackson talk about castrating Barack Obama. We expect it's all over the Net.

Or you might click the link, and read an article from The Nation -- self-described "flagship of the Left" -- which in a more civil but no less purposeful tone ridicules Naomi Klein's "cookie-cutter" vision of world politics.  Apparently, she got pretty famous leading the charge against globalization, back when anybody gave a hoot.  Now she thinks that it (along with Milton Friedman, who is sort of like her Doctor Sivana) can explain everything from Tiananmen Square to Iraq. 

That's okay.  We at the Egg are notoriously receptive to both conspiracy theories and oversimplifications that explain everything.  Which brings us to Seminex ....

Lambeth: In the Background

"The average Anglican in our world today is black, female and in her late teens or early twenties."

So notes Cathy Ross, an Oxford missiologist, in an essay that helps set the scene for the G.A.S. Most of what she says will be familiar to anybody who studied world missions in seminary, or has bothered to read much of anything by Philip Jenkins. But it is still worth a look.

Here's the core, which we in the secularized West forget only at our peril: "The heartlands of the Christian Church are no longer in the West, but in Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Air Defense

The USAF has attempted to launch countermeasures in response to the WaPo's story about "comfort capsules," noted below. Among the arguments raised in defense by spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Paoli are the Pattonesque "that's bunk," and the somewhat whiny "they aren't that nice."

But our favorite is this especially risible one: "An American would want their senior leaders to travel comfortably." Get it? A terrorist would want them to fly coach.  Pampering the elite while the regular joes suffer is patriotic.

Apparently, he hasn't seen the President's approval ratings. Many Americans would like at least one leader to travel in tar and feathers.

Lutheran Pastor Accused of Child Rape

Our gorge is rising.  One Peter Pilger, who has served various congregations in the ELCA's Northeast Ohio Synod, is in court today, arraigned for three felony counts of attempted rape and single counts of rape, kidnapping and gross sexual imposition. He is accused of abusing his stepdaughter, now 12, over a period of six years.

That means he began when she was six.

Bishop Eaton read a statement which offered prayers for the victim and her family, as well as for Pilger and his family. She did not specify what those prayers were, and we have one that comes readily to mind: "Almighty God, you have promised us that vengeance is yours and you shall repay. Now would be a good time."

I Don't Know, But It's Been Said ...

... Air Force generals' careers are made of lead.

At least we hope so.  Over the last year, the flyboys have sent nuclear warheads flying over the continental US, transferred secret nuclear material to Taiwan, and screwed up the funding of a $50 million air show.  (And why, we ask parenthetically, are there air shows that cost $50 million?).  Oh, and two USAF generals have been fired by the SecDef for their sheer incompetence.

Comes now the happy news that the USAF has spent three years designing "comfort pods" so that VIPs travelling in military aircraft can have flat-screen TVs and full-length mirrors.  The program has cost a bundle -- interior decorating always does.   Why, just changing the seat color and pockets ran a tad under $70,000. The total seems to run a little over $16 million, apparently, since that's what the USAF has repeatedly and unsuccessfully asked Congress to divert from the GWOT.

Now, by military standards, $16 million isn't a whole lot of money.  But let's consider two things.  First, that is taxpayer money, and if it didn't go to the military in the first place, it would buy a lot of hot lunches for poor schoolchildren.  We're just saying.  And second, that American troops are fighting a war -- technically, two -- and it is virtually certain that field commanders could come up with more creative ways to spend that money.  You know, like body armor.

Unsurprisingly, junior officers are kind of unhappy about this. We don't blame them.  We're kind of unhappy ourselves.  We are especially unhappy that, when there were cost overruns on this project (surprise!), the brass decided to cover them up by by transferring $331,000 in counterterrorism funds.  Because nothing keeps Americans safe from a dirty bomb better than an airborne comfort pod.

In defense of Generals Robert McMahon and Duncan McNabb, who seem to have created this project, we will admit that standard military transport is reported to be no more comfortable than commercial air-travel in business class.  Still, having travelled in business class once or twice and quite enjoyed it, we offer this piece of advice to the good generals:  Suck it up, you contemptible goldbricks.  There are people dying in Afghanistan while you piss away money worrying about a comfy airplane seat.

Lambeth - 1

The decennial Lambeth Conference is upon us, and we at the Egg are moved to pity poor old Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury.  He is a fine theologian, an apparently decent human being, and the man whom history will remember chiefly for presiding over the death of the Anglican Communion.

Currently, and somewhat comically, Williams is under assault from both the left and the right wings. A gay website has named him "Creep of the Week"for barring Bishop Gene Robinson from Lambeth. Meanwhile, the curiously-named Virtue Online rips into him for not going further, and barring the bishops who ordained.  And when Robinson claims that Anglicanism has not yet -- quite -- experienced a schism, Virtue calls his remarks "unadulterated garbage." (Failing, we may note, to exercise the virtue of charity.)

Meanwhile, Robinson may be locked out of the conference, but his passport has not been revoked, and he is in Britain, with a busy speaking schedule (heckling and threats included).  He is picking up support from public figures like the actor Ian McKellen, and generally going what he can to make his point in the public forum, since he has no opportunity to make it in the ecclesiastical one.

Also banned from Lambeth is Bishop Martyn Minns.  For those who forget, Minns is the pastor of Truro Parish, on whose vestry George Washington once served.   He is also one of the US priests who has been ordained as a missionary bishop by Peter Akinola, the Primate of Nigeria.  In sharp contrast to, say, Washington, Akinola's hatred of fundamental human rights is such that he has supported legislation to deprive gay Nigerians of free speech and assembly. He has also helped to organize the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a group of congregations which have broken away from the Episcopal Church.

It seems to us that barring both Robinson and Minns, while surely meant to permit a less highly-charged atmosphere at the conference, will have the opposite effect.  We think that it would be better to invite both men, lock them in a conference room with plenty of good food (and, being Anglicans, sherry) but no toilet, and tell them they can't come out until they are friends.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Baptists Disarm Teens ... For Now

A Baptist congregation in Oklahoma City hosts a yearly youth gathering, attended by teens from "as far away as Canada."  For reasons that are not entirely clear to us, this gathering features a shooting contest, and last year the winner was awarded a AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle.

The giveaway was planned for this year as well, but was cancelled because the pastor emeritus injured his foot.  We're not sure what that has to do with the price of bullets in China, but just go with it.

Our spineless liberal readers may squirm, but we think this is a great idea -- giving kids lethal weapons as a way to spread the Gospel.  It's part of a grand evangelical tradition.  Some churches give out little bracelets made of bent nails, but that's just gutless.  Do you know how long it takes to kill somebody with nails?  (Actually, we just checked.  About three hours.)

And can you imagine how much better things would have turned out for the apostles, if they had all carried  some heavy ordnance into the mission field?  Let's just say that St. Paul wouldn't have had to wait for an earthquake to bust him out of the slam, because he would have been prepared to defend his rights as a Roman citizen against any and all comers.  And as for Simon "Two-Gun" Peter, let's just say that the first pope wouldn't have needed any Swiss mercenaries in colorful costumes -- not if he was packing his AK-47.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Yes, the New Yorker

Its Obama fist-bump cover has garnered all sorts of comment -- click the link for a roundup of press remarks.  Falling asleep last night, we heard somebody of NPR going on and on, quite loudly, about what a shameful, disgraceful, thing it was.  

Oh, please.  New Yorker covers are famously obtuse.  Many are just whimsical, like the endless iterations of Eustace Tilley.  Others are make-you-look-twice sight gags.  And the political ones, more common these days than they once were, are a mixed bag; sometimes you laugh, sometimes you don't.  (The black-Hasidic kiss?  More wistful than funny).  But the smartest covers, for our money, are those that mock the mag's own readership and its pieties:  Steinberg's "Map of the World," or Maira Kalman's "New Yorkistan."

The Obama cover strikes us as something in-between the political and the self-mocking.  It digs at the rightist dopes like Fox's E.D. Hill, she of the "terrorist fist-jab" teaser.  It digs, less forcefully, at the liberal dopes, the Obamaniacs if you will, by asking what they really do know about their shining knight.  But it really doesn't dig at Senator or Mrs. Obama, who provide the opportunity for the joke but not its object.

Is it funny?  Eye of the beholder, of course.  We at the Egg would give it a wry chuckle, which is better than a roll of the eyes but not as good as a "Honey, look at this."