Author Archives: phil

Deconstruct this

I have an experiment for you to try.

Here is the wikipedia article on deconstruction.

As you read it, wherever you see the word “deconstruction”, substitute “emerging church”.  Wherever you see the word “philosophy” or “meaning” or related terms, substitute the word “theology” .

And, wherever you see the word “text”, substitute the word “bible”.

It won’t be a perfect match each time, and sometimes this process will produce nonsense…  but it mostly seems to, uh, you’ll pardon the reference, “make sense”.

See whatcha think.

Just think of me as “the other”.

A little Christmas music

So, I tried to post this before, but did something wrong… trying again… Mike, where are you when we NEED you? (Whine)

We need a little Christmas music. Santa Claus lives!

This is my fanfare on Deck the Halls for 12 herald trumpets (the long skinny ones) for the Long Beach Symphony Christmas Concert. Yes, it’s a touch frantic… hey, it’s a FANFARE, OK?


The “First Iraq”?

Here’s how a post at the Belmont Club begins today:

Friday, November 17, 2006

The First Iraq

Although history never quite repeats itself, current events often resemble earlier occasions so closely there is a temptation to draw lessons from them. Imagine a time when America found itself in a war against a foreign foe whose strategy was to inflict a constant rate of loss on the army; invited US and British reporters to feed antiwar elements with atrocity stories; when US commanders who expected a quick war against a corrupt and oligarchic native elite found they had roused the countryside against them. Imagine a time when the issue of this war was central to an American Presidential election, caused a split in one of the major parties and planted the seeds for a world war. Not Iraq. The war was Philippine-American War and the election that of 1912.

This is a truly fascinating read, written with a lot of insight into the history of the Phillipines since the Spanish-American War.  There really are very many parallels to the Iraq conflict.  The post discusses the political parallels involving presidential elections, the impact of the press, the strategy of the “insurgents” to simply weary the USA (not really to “win”), etc. There are more similarities.

What’s fascinating in all this is that one of the more decisive weapons in the battle was a ship full of newly-minted teachers, who fanned out and began teaching English, among other things.  These teachers were called Thomasites, for the ship that brought some of them, the USS Thomas.  (Obviously the teachers were sent mostly into relatively secure areas…  exactly the situation now with social services in Iraq, which can only be provided in areas where the terrorists don’t immediately murder the service providers.)  The long term effect?

It proved the decisive weapon. How decisive was illustrated 40 years later, when Filipinos would fight side by side with the US Army against the Japanese. Taft  [president in 1901] could little have imagined in 1901 that another Chief Justice [Taft became Chief Justice of US Supreme Court after his presidency], Philippine Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos, would choose in 1941 to be executed by the Japanese rather than renounce his allegiance to the American flag.

The Phillipines had some rough history between then and now, including more-or-less fascist dictatorships and Islamic extremists on opposite poles.

In the early 21st century, 11.5 % of the entire Filipino population works abroad.  Maybe more.  And 13.5% of the GNP of the nation is generated by them, in money sent back to families.

One of the key graphs in the post, for me:

Perhaps most importantly, many Filipinos no longer expect the government to do anything for them. They simply go out and do it for themselves. 

A bit of personal side-story (I’ve been told that you all love that here):  My mom had a stroke about 4 years ago.  Since she was no longer able to care for herself, after she got out of rehab she moved into a “care home” run by a Phillipino family, and staffed exclusively by Phillipino caregivers.  They tend to have about five “houseguests” at a time.  They do a good job, by and large.  They tend to stay for 6 months or so, then go home.  My mom has been there long enough that we’ve seen people come back in the “rotation”.  And if you read the post I’ve linked above, you’ll see that’s the trend in Filipino society.
And because no post from me is complete without a reference to the threat of Islamic extremisim, I offer the following quote, indicating that radical Islam seems to have figured out the lesson of the Thomasites handily:

Parenthetically, it was the Wahabi religious authorities which began its own “Thomasite” program in the 1970s as it flooded the southern Philippines and many other countries of the world with teachers and textbooks. This is now acknowledged to have greatly influenced the rise of Islamic extremism. A senior Southeast Asian official with whom I recently spoke said that Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) education officials were exploring ways to influence Imam training and texbook provision for the madrassas.

Because history never exactly repeats itself, it would be foolish to copy the Thomasite tactic of Taft. However, it reinforces the argument that the War on Terrorism is largely a war of ideas. Taft understood this. Does anyone now?

No war is won ONLY by ideas…  guns, people and bombs are required.  But recognition that ideas are central in any conflict seems late in coming to many in the USA, as does recognition that we won’t know the results of the Iraq experiment for decades… unless we leave prematurely, which will produce quite sudden effects, all negative.

Science Fiction does it again

In his novel, Earth, David Brin, writing in 1991, describes a society in the year 2038 where military action is taken against people who keep secrets… And, by the way, in which Bangladesh is simply gone due to rising sea levels, and physics experiments are about to destroy the world.

One thing he gets right: he posits a world where nearly everyone wears a video camera, and is constantly uplinking video in real time to central servers accessibile to all. Senior citizens especially are likely to be wearing video cameras to record any crimes committed against them, which combined with facial recognition software is a powerful deterrent.

And now, from LA:

Some Los Angeles grass-roots groups are training citizens to use cameras, video cell phones and the speed and Internet sites like YouTube to get their voices, and pictures, heard.

“We urge everyone to have a camera on them at all times so if anything happens it can be documented. The concept of patrolling the police is something we are trying to push as a form of direct action,” said Sherman Austin, a founder of Cop Watch L.A., which launched its Web site three months ago.

The three videos shot on cell phones or small recorders capturing Los Angeles police using apparently excessive force to restrain suspects all surfaced within a week.

Of course, what goes around comes around. If the anti-police patrol would police its own communities, recording drug buys, muggings, trolling johns, etc., imagine the salutary effect on minority on minority crime. Of course, some of those folks shoot back with something besides camcorders: unlike the cops. Now, when a cop plugs somebody for videoing an arrest, THAT will be real news.
In the meantime, guard your secrets jealously.

Retrofitted Christianity?

I’d like to introduce you to a couple of people you may not know.

One is Mark D. Roberts, a blogging presbyterian pastor, who is a seriously thoughtful guy.  (Remember, I’m the guy who was bashing mainline denominations recently.)  I have enormous respect for the man, and his writing.  His book on praying through the Psalms, “No Holds Barred”, is simply wonderful.   Don’t take that as meaning I agree with him on everything he writes…  Hey, it’s me!  But he’s someone to contend with.

The other is Andrew Sullivan, whose blog, The Daily Dish, is often interesting and provocative.  Sullivan is a frequent writer for Time and other “mainstream media” outlets.

Sullivan has written a book, “The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back” that is reviewed by Roberts here.

Here is how Roberts introduces Sullivan:

A skilled writer and creative thinker, Sullivan combines in one man several attributes that rarely share the same human body. He is a gay, Christian, Roman Catholic, conservative who voted for John Kerry. (He may be the only one of this species in existence today.) It’s no surprise that such a combination leads to unusual perspectives, many of which can be found on Sullivan’s blog,

This is a very thoughtful review, of a book on conservatism that will surprise you.

If you aren’t familiar with either author, this review of one by the other is a great place to start.

Here is Robert’s description of Sullivan’s reading contradictions into the gospels:

Once again, I fear Sullivan has bought into a bit of retrofitted Christian dogma, which exaggerates the differences among the gospels for the sake of discounting them. Ironically, the kind of literalistic reading that allows some scholars to find multiple contradictions among the gospels is exactly the sort of thing Sullivan despises among fundamentalists. I am not the first to point out that fundamentalist Christians and liberal scholars who reject biblical authority both tend to read the Bible in the same, overly literalistic way.

Is something like this also at issue re: the different ways emergent church(EC) folks and the “traditionalists” read scripture?  I have the feeling sometimes that the leftward tilt of much of the EC is defended by very literal readings of certain scriptures, and very post-modern interpretation of others….

Others have observed that the various religious traditions simply differ on which parts of scripture they take seriously.  You know: Nazarenes stress the “free will” parts, and Baptists stress the “elect” part.  :-)  Is that all that’s really going on in the EC?  Or is the EC something new?

Robert’s opinion is that Sullivan seems to embrace a “retrofitted Christianity”.

I find Sullivan’s thoughts about Christianity fascinating for several reasons. One is that he epitomizes something I’d call “Retrofitted Christianity.” What do I mean by this? If you look up “retrofit” in the dictionary, one definition reads: “To provide with parts, devices, or equipment not in existence or available at the time of original manufacture.” If you retrofit a classic car, for example, you might give it a new engine that wasn’t available when the car was first built. So retrofitted Christianity is a version of classic faith that includes new parts that weren’t there at first. Some people, like Andrew Sullivan, think this is a better or even more authentic version of the faith. Others, like me, for example, are concerned that the retrofitted version of Christianity exemplified by Sullivan lacks some essential parts, even though it gets some things right.

I think something like this is at the core of my concerns with the EC.  But I’m still reading.

Why “gender equity” and “racial equity” have a bad name… for some of us

This is a post about politics and how the media reports it.  If you hate the topic, move on.   I’m stuck at home today because my back hurts so much I can’t drive in to teach….  I’m in pain, and Darvocet, Vicodin, etc., aren’t making a dent.  I’m in a bad mood.
Here’s a recent article from a partisan columnist on the media reaction to our first female Speaker of the House.  Some of you will recoil in horror at the very mention of the columnist’s name, so I won’t mention it here.  You can click the link if you want to.  But if you do, I dare you to read the entire article, make it past the partisan perspective, and consider the point.

In the past week, there are 476 documents on Nexis heralding the magnificent achievement of Nancy Pelosi becoming the FIRST WOMAN speaker of the House.

I thought we had moved beyond such multicultural milestones.

The media yawned when Condoleezza Rice became the first black woman secretary of state (and when Lincoln Chaffee became the first developmentally disabled senator).

There were only 77 documents noting that Rice was the first black woman to be the secretary of state, and half of them were issues of Jet, Essence, Ebony or Black Entrepreneur magazine.


But when Nancy Pelosi—another Democrat who married a multimillionaire—achieves the minor distinction of becoming the first female speaker of the House, The New York Times acts like she’s invented cold fusion.

There were two major articles breathlessly reporting Pelosi’s magnificent achievement as first female speaker and an op-ed by Bob Herbert, titled “Ms. Speaker and Other Trends.” Beatifying Pelosi as “the most powerful woman ever to sit in Congress,” Herbert began: “Sometimes you can actually feel the winds of history blowing.” There was a major Times profile of Pelosi, gushing that Pelosi was “on the brink of becoming the first female speaker.” (Isn’t she just the most independent little gal?)

The problem is obvious: the real enthusiasm of many for gender and racial equity is actually just enthusiasm for the left in general.  Some of us have said this for a long time, and been called racists, bigots, and this-and-that-phobes, it being a popular pastime of the left to hurl epithets when no other response comes to mind.  I’m sure that many readers will believe themselves free of this partisan taint in their pure love of egalitarianism.  I even hope it’s true.
But it’s safe to say a couple of things:

1)  No lefty columnist will report the same facts about the coverage and opinion on the new Speaker.  It’s going to be pretty hard to spin them counterclockwise…  so they’ll just ignore it.

2)   The left (as ably represented by the main stream media) seems unable to give credit when its political bête noire achieves significant things (in the eyes of the left), like a more gender/racial balanced governing team.

Why does this matter?  Because if you get most of your information from the self-appointed mouthpieces of the left, you may not have considered just how little recongnition the left gives when people acheive the very things the left claims to want.  The left won’t be pointing this out to you.

So, here’s a new standard to consider: whenever the left stops yelling about something, and the right is in a position of relative power, it probably means that the goals of the left have been achieved, and they just don’t want to give credit.  Instead, they’ll wait till the left is in a position of relative power again…  and then give themselves the credit.

Prediction:  we are NOW in a period of essentially full employment, in the midst of a very healthy economy, by virtually any indicator.   That is, unemployment is the lowest it has been for a long time, and virtually any semi-presentable person who wants a job can find one.  The media had very little to say about that fact during this election cycle.  It would appear that sometimes “it’s not the economy, stupid”.   Look for the media to be giving credit for low unemployment to the policies of the new Democratic congress in about, oh, a year or two.  Unless, of course, unemployment goes UP in reaction to the proposed national minimum wage legislation (for which there is historical precedent)…  in which case, of course, it will be Bush’s fault… even though he’s signaled a willingness to sign a minimum wage bill (proving once again that he is not actually a “conservative”).
None of this is to defend race or gender bigotry in any way.  So don’t go there.  I would like to know if anyone has a different explanation for the imbalance in media reportage (a little French for the folks) than the one offered here…..

The Return of the Living Dead (or maybe just sleeping)

If you read most of this article in USA today, you’d think that the mainline churches are having a resurgence. That’s because most of the article is a puff-piece about how well those “liberal churches” (that’s the article’s term, not mine) are doing, and how great they are.

But the telling paragraphs, buried in the body of the article, are these:

By comparison, total membership in the seven largest mainline Protestant denominations — United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian Church (USA), Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ and American Baptist Churches — fell a total of 7.4% from 1995 to 2004, based on tallies reported to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.

Meanwhile, the total membership count for Roman Catholics, the ultra-conservative Southern Baptist Convention, Pentecostal Assemblies of God and proselytizing Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) reported to the Yearbook is up nearly 11.4% for the same period.

While I’m not quite sure how the LDS got put in with Roman Catholics, Baptists and Assemblies (the only “conservatism” they share is political… not theological in the slightest), these are revealing stats that basically undermine the rest of the article. So while the author of the article found some “vibrant, growing churches” from the “mainline protestants”, they are emphatically not the trend.

Sociologist Barry Kosmin, a lead researcher for the American Religious Identification Survey, done in 1990 and 2001, says, “The mainline is never going to be the dominant cultural group again.


In 2001, 17.2 million people named a mainline denomination [as their church], down from 18.7 million in 1990…………

Still, the experts say hold off on playing taps for the mainline. “Numbers aren’t the only story,” Lindner says. “We still have to talk about what really counts — cultural hegemony.”

Here’s what’s not in the USA Today article, because it would further undermine the perspective of the author: There are about 163 million “protestants” in the USA. Since it seems doubtful that most of those are unitarians, one assumes they must mostly be the more conservative denominations. So who’s mainline now?

An important point: the shift that’s still happening between former mainline and more conservative affiliations seems to be speeding up, not slowing down, and it isn’t just a sort of “market adjustment”.

Which naturally leads to the question: why? What is causing such hemorrhaging (true confessions… I looked it up in the spell check) in the “mainline denominations”? DO they still have “cultural hegemony”? If they do, will they keep it?

Does anyone know of any studies on the typical affiliation (or former affiliation) of members of the “emergent church” ?

Fascinating questions, to me…. and I’m not too sure I have ready answers… just some wild guesses.

How about you?

Libel tourism

So, we have a new phenomena, libel tourism. This is where wealthy Saudis travel to England or another nation which has strict “anti-defamation” laws, and files suit against authors who simply tell the truth about aspects of Islamic society. Something we forget about the so-called democracies in Europe is that they do not have our constitutional protections.
An American author who wrote a book on the Saudi funding of terrorism has been sued in England. The book was only published and sold in the USA… but publishers are now fearful of these “grasping hands across the water” lawsuits, and despite the success of her first book, the author is struggling to find a publisher for the next.

British law requires the loser in a court case to pay the winner’s court costs. This is the real attraction for shady millionaires: the chance to bankrupt their opponents into silence. Because of this, Britain has become a Mecca for rich but shady characters seeking to purchase the appearance of legal vindication. There’s even a name for it: libel tourism….

… the larger issue, of course, is how it became the business of a British court to render judgments against American authors. The legal pretext here is laughably flimsy: despite the fact that the book was never published, or even offered for sale, in the UK, 26 Britons bought copies over the Internet from American booksellers like (which, to its credit, joined an amicus brief supporting Dr. Ehrenfeld in this.) And a few downloaded the first chapter, which was posted on the Internet.

By this standard, every author in the United States is now subject to Britain’s Victorian libel laws, and the Declaration of Independence has failed.

So far, American courts have basically refused to deal with the situation.

WMD Redux

Was Saddam a year away from having a nuclear weapon? The New York Times seems to think so… and blames the Bush administration for (gasp!) releasing sensitive material to prove it. (No, not a Karl Rove October surprise… the material has been out there for months… the NYT just noticed… )

Yep… the “newspaper of record”, which has thrice printed national security secrets in the last year, is accusing the Bush administration of releasing too much information about Saddam’s nuclear program.

There is irony here aplenty, as this take on it reveals.

Now that Joe Wilson is thorougly discredited in his assertion that Saddam wasn’t in the process of buying uranium from Niger (by a self-avowed liberal, no less… but check his sources, they’re good), it’s going to be hard to keep up the meme that there was no WMD risk from Iraq after all, and so the war is a waste, and Bush lied, etc.

Saddam had motive, opportunity, and was busy creating means. Should we have waited for him to pull the trigger, THEN held a trial?

There are basically two positions here, it seems to me.

1) It really is all a lie… Saddam was no serious danger to the US and others, and was being nicely contained by the, uh, “Oil for Food” program and the enforcement of “no fly zones”. The war was started under false pretenses, and so is an ongoing waste of life. If you think this, I suspect you haven’t done your homework, and get all your information about this from the MSM…. that bastion of objective reporting and analysis.
2) Saddam was a danger to the US and others, and the war has stopped him from carrying out his plans, which would not have been stopped any other way.

What’s funny about all this is that the NYT is undermining the “Bush lied” mantra by complaining that Bush isn’t lying about the details of Saddam’s nuclear program, out of Bush’s selfish desire to justify the war…. It’s called Bush derangement syndrome, when your hatred prevents you from seeing that you’ve undermined your first accusation by the second.

Lifting the veil

A recent conference pointed up the problem of the treatment of women in Islam:

“The keynote speaker, Syrian-American psychiatrist Wafa Sultan, an outspoken critic of Islam, described an “honor killing” of a young Middle Eastern woman that occurred with the help of her mother. In a later exchange, another participant, Libyan journalist Sawsan Hanish, argued that it was unfair to single out Muslim societies, since women suffer violence and sexual abuse in every society including the United States. Sultan pointed out a major difference: In many Muslim cultures , such violence and abuse are accepted and legalized.”

These problems are not the exclusive province of women in countries dominated by Islam. The treatment of American Muslim women presents similar difficulties. Many European nations with Muslim minorities report honor killings of women who are raped, by husbands, brothers, fathers, et. al.

“Not long after I picked up the free Saudi book, Mahmoud Shalash, an imam from Lexington, Ky., stood at the pulpit of my mosque and offered marital advice to the 100 or so men sitting before him. He repeated the three-step plan, with “beat them” as his final suggestion. Upstairs, in the women’s balcony, sat a Muslim friend who had recently left her husband, who she said had abused her; her spouse sat among the men in the main hall.

At the sermon’s end, I approached Shalash. “This is America,” I protested. “How can you tell men to beat their wives?”

“They should beat them lightly,” he explained. “It’s in the Koran.”

He was doing the dance.”

I continue to wonder why American feminists are not more outspoken in their condemnations of Islamic traditional treatment of women, which is horrendous by nearly any standard. Is more feminist ink spilled on the Southern Baptist church than on Islam? It’s difficult not to suspect that conflicting imperatives (of being “for” women but also “for” multiculturalism and “against” the evil fascist regime of Bush) have caused a certain paralysis of rhetoric.

The irony: no more “anti-choice” regime is possible than a state ruled by Sharia, where the women and their abortionists are simply to be killed.

Protest this

Save Darfur is an organization that seems to be trying to stimulate UN action.

This is your basic heartbreaking situation.

Read the link, and see if you can tell me the missing word or words that would make sense of it all.

The word or words will explain why it’s happening, and why it seems impossible to get the UN to take effective action.

And then wonder why it’s so hard to say the obvious.

Reality Check: How long does it take?

Bosnia is still trying to get it together, after eleven years. There are obvious applications to the current situation in Iraq.

It’s going to be awhile. There is one guaranteed way for Iraq to become a far worse mess than it is, and that’s for the USA to give up and leave. The history lessons here: Korea, Vietnam, Somalia, etc.
The argument will go on for decades about whether the USA should have invaded Iraq, whether more troops should have been committed, whether the aftermath was handled correctly, etc. It’s also pretty much a waste of time, now, in determining the direction of future policy. We’re there. We can’t leave till the situation is stable.

It will take years.

I’m not happy about this… but I truly see no other option.

He lives

OK, I know that when you follow this link, you’ll think the title of this post is false advertising, but check out the credentials of the reviewers before you close the window.

There is more direct evidence for this than there is for the putative transition from homo heidelbergensis to homo sapiens sapiens. After all… he has actually been seen.

Personally, I’m going hunting. Oh, chill out… I mean with a CAMERA, OK? But don’t look in my backpack unless you really wanna know.

The sky isn’t falling… heck, what’s the sky?

After last week’s UN speech by President of Iran Ahmadinejad, I remain stunned at how little coverage was given to the “prayerful” ending to the speech.

What, you doubt me? Go to yahoo and search for these words “UN speech Ahmadinejad end Mahdi imam”, all of which would have to be included in any decent coverage of the speech’s ending.

Note the sites that DO have coverage…. and wonder why none of them are ABC, CBS, NBC, NYTimes, LATimes, etc.

It’s pretty simple, I think. The notion that the man is a fanatic (who can be trusted to do exactly what he says, and is determined to do horrible things… which he has already done, but which don’t stack up against his stated intentions) just doesn’t play well with the press.

They’d rather ask stupid questions like this of Bush. From Wolf Blitzer, to Bush, soon after the speech:

“But if it would help — if it would help to sit down, talk to them and try to convince them… What would be wrong to just sit down with them and tell thenm, you know what, here are the options before you?”

As if the mullahs don’t know.

And, “Would it be so bad if Iran had a nuclear weapon?”

So, to return to first point: have YOU seen any mention of this “prayerful ending” in the major media?

If you have, I’d sure like to know where.