19 December 2006

Around the internets

Over at Needs of the Few, Evil Spocks warns us bad kids about Krampus: "Krampus is Santa's right-hand demon for driving away evil spirits during the holiday season. Not only that, Krampus travels with Santa and doles out punishment to all the naughty children, while Santa fills good kids stockings full of oranges and Nintendo Wii.To best sum up their relationship: Santa = Good Cop. Krampus = Bad Cop." This is a good twist. I always thought that the Christmas myth needed to take into account the value of negative reinforcement.

Speaking of evil demons, Witness for the Prosecution discusses Newt Greengrinch, er I mean Gringrich's, launch of American Solutions for Winning the Future which the "liberal media" is faithfully promoting. Mick provides some glimpses into what a Gringrich future might look like with some quotes:

Gingrich said the threat of biological or nuclear attack requires America to consider curbs to speech to fight terrorists . . .

Gingrich cited last month’s ejection of six Muslim scholars from a plane in Minneapolis for suspicious behavior, which included reports they prayed before the flight and had sat in the same seats as the Sept. 11 hijackers.“ Those six people should have been arrested and prosecuted for pretending to be terrorists,” Gingrich said. “And the crew of the U.S. airplane should have been invited to the White House and congratulated for being correct in the protection of citizens.” (These people are guilty of uh wearing white and praying, and they should have been arrested! That sounds like a very American sort of solution!)

And in other breaking news, some of you might not get presents this year. Using an advanced chi-square analysis, Santa has decided that Indians have been much nicer than Americans and has sent the elves to hand out presents to the more deserving.



I guess we should have waited until after Christmas before we brought Gringrich out into public again.

18 December 2006

Credit for the economy

This is a very long Krugman column that I found over at Cut to the Chase. Catherine astutely advises us "to read it all because it applies to all of us (well, except for the .2% of megabillionaires getting richer and richer during the George Bush reign of terror); the stuff on Wal-Mart is very right (did you catch the Wal-Mart piece on PBS' Frontline this week?)":

Why doesn't Bush get credit for the strong economy?" That question has been asked over and over again in recent months by political pundits. After all, they point out, the gross domestic product is up; unemployment, at least according to official figures, is low by historical standards; and stocks have recovered much of the ground they lost in the early years of the decade, with the Dow surpassing 12,000 for the first time. Yet the public remains deeply unhappy with the state of the economy.

In a recent poll, only a minority of Americans rated the economy as "excellent" or "good," while most consider it no better than "fair" or "poor."Are people just ungrateful? Is the administration failing to get its message out? Are the news media, as conservatives darkly suggest, deliberately failing to report the good news?None of the above. The reason most Americans think the economy is fair to poor is simple: For most Americans, it really is fair to poor. Wages have failed to keep up with rising prices. Even in 2005, a year in which the economy grew quite fast, the income of most non-elderly families lagged behind inflation. The number of Americans in poverty has risen even in the face of an official economic recovery, as has the number of Americans without health insurance. Most Americans are little, if any, better off than they were last year and definitely worse off than they were in 2000.But how is this possible? The economic pie is getting bigger -- how can it be true that most Americans are getting smaller slices?

The answer, of course, is that a few people are getting much, much bigger slices. Although wages have stagnated since Bush took office, corporate profits have doubled. The gap between the nation's CEOs and average workers is now ten times greater than it was a generation ago. And while Bush's tax cuts shaved only a few hundred dollars off the tax bills of most Americans, they saved the richest one percent more than $44,000 on average. In fact, once all of Bush's tax cuts take effect, it is estimated that those with incomes of more than $200,000 a year -- the richest five percent of the population -- will pocket almost half of the money. Those who make less than $75,000 a year -- eighty percent of America -- will receive barely a quarter of the cuts. In the Bush era, economic inequality is on the rise.Rising inequality isn't new. The gap between rich and poor started growing before Ronald Reagan took office, and it continued to widen through the Clinton years. But what is happening under Bush is something entirely unprecedented: For the first time in our history, so much growth is being siphoned off to a small, wealthy minority that most Americans are failing to gain ground even during a time of economic growth -- and they know it.

America has never been an egalitarian society, but during the New Deal and the Second World War, government policies and organized labor combined to create a broad and solid middle class. The economic historians Claudia Goldin and Robert Margo call what happened between 1933 and 1945 the Great Compression: The rich got dramatically poorer while workers got considerably richer. Americans found themselves sharing broadly similar lifestyles in a way not seen since before the Civil War.But in the 1970s, inequality began increasing again -- slowly at first, then more and more rapidly. You can see how much things have changed by comparing the state of affairs at America's largest employer, then and now. In 1969, General Motors was the country's largest corporation aside from AT&T, which enjoyed a government-guaranteed monopoly on phone service. GM paid its chief executive, James M. Roche, a salary of $795,000 -- the equivalent of $4.2 million today, adjusting for inflation. At the time, that was considered very high. But nobody denied that ordinary GM workers were paid pretty well. The average paycheck for production workers in the auto industry was almost $8,000 -- more than $45,000 today. GM workers, who also received excellent health and retirement benefits, were considered solidly in the middle class.Today, Wal-Mart is America's largest corporation, with 1.3 million employees. H. Lee Scott, its chairman, is paid almost $23 million -- more than five times Roche's inflation-adjusted salary. Yet Scott's compensation excites relatively little comment, since it's not exceptional for the CEO of a large corporation these days. The wages paid to Wal-Mart's workers, on the other hand, do attract attention, because they are low even by current standards. On average, Wal-Mart's non-supervisory employees are paid $18,000 a year, far less than half what GM workers were paid thirty-five years ago, adjusted for inflation. And Wal-Mart is notorious both for how few of its workers receive health benefits and for the stinginess of those scarce benefits.

15 December 2006

An inconvenient truth

I finally watched the documentary An Inconvenient Truth yesterday. I was highly impressed. The climate-change naysayers should pay particular attention to one study cited in the documentary. In a peer-reviewed meta-analysis of 928 scientific papers, the number of scientists who believed that global warming was not caused by humans and was not serious was . . . [drum role] . . . zero. The media, on the other, has given the doubters (a couple psuedo-scientific wackos employed by large oil corporations, basically) over half the coverage in the media.

The 928 papers were divided into six categories: explicit endorsement of the consensus position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals, methods, paleoclimate analysis, and rejection of the consensus position. Of all the papers, 75% fell into the first three categories, either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view; 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change. Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.

14 December 2006

Ho ho ho

A Christmas joke from way of Just Tug:

Three men died on Christmas Eve and were met by Saint Peter at the pearly gates."In honor of this holy season," Saint Peter said, "you must each possess something that symbolizes Christmas to get into heaven." The first man fumbled through his pockets and pulled out a lighter. He flicked it on. "It represents a candle", he said."You may pass through the pearly gates," Saint Peter said. The second man reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. He shook them and said, "They're bells."Saint Peter said "You may pass through the pearly gates". The third man started searching desperately through his pockets and finally pulled out a pair of women's panties.St. Peter looked at the man with a raised eyebrow and asked, "And just what do those symbolize?"The man replied, "These are Carols." And So The Holiday Season Begins...

Saudis threaten to toss more $ around

It sounds like the U.S. has set up the conditions for a regional war:

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia warned the US vice-president, Dick Cheney, that the kingdom would provide money and arms to Sunni militias in Iraq if America withdrew its troops from the country, it emerged yesterday. The conversation, during a visit by Mr Cheney to Riyadh last month, was the most serious indication to date of Saudi concerns about a possible massacre of the minority Sunni community in Iraq in the event of a withdrawal of US forces, as well as rising Iranian influence in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.

At the same time, the U.S. is playing into the hands of Iran, a country that has decided it has cultural affinities with many American after all, especially KKK members. Which goes to show that Shrub's policies have failed even the conservative litmus test. Such a disaster, costing so many lives and creating chaos for decades to come, calls for an impeachment inquiry--especially since the move to war was based on, what we now know, were lies.

13 December 2006

L.A.

L.A. is on the right track. We need to abandon suburban sprawl and make cities livable once more.

Two massive projects — the L.A. Live entertainment complex next to Staples Center and the Grand Avenue development on Bunker Hill — are underway. A third giant project, a major expansion of Universal City, was unveiled last week. All adhere to a much-ballyhooed planning strategy embraced by Los Angeles power brokers. The projects, at a combined cost of about $7.5 billion, follow what has become the big planning trend in Los Angeles and elsewhere: mixing dense housing, retail and office space in village configurations near mass transit. The idea is to foster "smart growth" — in which residents leave their cars behind, walk to shops, and take buses and rail to work.

12 December 2006

Rightwing myths melting before our very eyes

This is quite a thought: We might be crossing the North Pole on summer cruises within our lifetimes. Of course, global warming would undoubtedly bring both benefits and disasters depending on region where you live. My only thought is that it would be nice to put just a little teensy bit more research into our actions before we decide to alter the climate over the entire planet.

Ice-free North Pole by 2040

Ice is melting so fast in the Arctic that the North Pole will be in the open sea within 30 years. Ships will be able to sail over the top of the world, and tourists will be able visit what was, until climate change, one of the planet's most inaccessible landscapes. US researchers, assessing the impact of carbon emissions on world climate, have calculated that late summer in the Arctic will be ice-free by 2040 or earlier. Some ice would still be found on coastlines, notably in Greenland and Ellesmere Island, but the rest of the Arctic Ocean, including the pole, would be open water. The researchers, funded by NASA, said the ice retreat was likely to remain constant until 2024, when the process would suddenly quicken. In 30 to 50 years, they concluded, summer sea-ice would have vanished from almost the entire Arctic region. But their forecast may already be out of date, says Chris Rapley, head of the British Antarctic Survey. He said a recent study suggested emissions were rising more than twice as fast as in 2000, and this was likely to speed up ice loss even further. "The study may be an underestimate of when the Arctic summer ice might be all gone," he said. During the past 25 years, Arctic ice has been reduced by 25 per cent. Scientists have long known that ice reflects heat, and as the quantity reduces so does the amount of heat that can be bounced away from the Earth. However, the study team from the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, and two US universities, identified warmer ocean currents as an additional factor.

Disappearing ice is already causing problems for polar bears. Other wildlife, including seals, are also likely to suffer. "We have already witnessed major losses in sea ice, but our research suggests the decrease over the next few decades could be far more dramatic than anything that has happened so far," said Marika Holland, who led the polar warming study. "As the ice retreats, the ocean transports more heat to the Arctic and the open water absorbs more sunlight, further accelerating the rate of warming and leading to the loss of more ice."

10 December 2006

Half a trillion, and what do you get?

A couple years older and deeper in debt...

NASA is now headed to the moon, we're told, on its 17 billion dollar a year budget. I know it sounds like a lot of money to spend on our push to the stars, unless you stop and consider that we've probably already spent half a trillion in Iraq. If we'd had someone in the White House with a little more vision and a few less friends in the subcontracting business, we'd probably be mining fuel from the asteroid belt at this point as we set off for Alpha Centauri. Of course, it is a lot more manly to spend our dollars on weapons for shooting sprees in a country most Americans couldn't find on a map.

7 December 2006

Texas Oilmen Über Alles

Nearly 100,000 Iraqis each month are fleeing to Syria and Jordan. At the same time, there are about 100,000 government contractors operating in Iraq (and this doesn't even include subcontractors). Since Iraq has a population of around 27 million, this means that if we can just "stay the course," the country should be completely empty of Iraqis in about 22 years, after which time it'll be completely populated by Texas oilmen and ex-CIA operatives working for DC subcontracting firms. Shrub might get to build a ranch next to the Euphrates.

5 December 2006

John Podhoretz to the rescue!

Amidst the distant drone of helicopters flying off embassy rooftops, we still find hiding within dark corners of the internets a few remaining true blue crusaders. I came across a quote of a John Podhoretz piece over on XDA titled "John Podhoretz Sees the Situation In Iraq Clearly":

December 5, 2006 -- THE most common cliché about the war in Iraq is now this: We didn't have a plan, and now everything is in chaos; we didn't have a plan, and now we can't win.
This is entirely wrong. We did have a plan - the problem is that the plan didn't work. And of course we can win - we just have to choose to do so.


Uh oh. The revisionists are already at work rewriting the history books. The U.S. forces could have easily won in Iraq but the peacenik politicians wouldn't let them take their rifles off safety.

The problem with our plan is that it wasn't actually a military plan. We thought a political process inside Iraq would make a military push toward victory against a tripartite foe - Saddamist remnants, foreign terrorists and anti-American Shiites - unnecessary.

Let me get this right. The foe is those Shiite fellers and them Sunni fellers and foreigners. That pretty much includes everyone in Iraq except for the stray Vulcan or Ferengi who has strayed back through a time warp. (Oops! I guess they'd be foreigners too.)

Yes, we'd stay in Iraq and fight the bad guys when we had to, which seemed mostly to be when they decided to attack us first.

Who attacked us first? I ain't seen none of those dagnab Iraqi fellers in my neck of the woods. Guess they haven't invaded these here parts though I did see an unshaven fellah that could have very well been an Iraqi driving a taxi the other day.

Our resolve was intended to give the Iraqi people the sense that they were being given control of their future, and to give Iraqi politicians the sense that they had a chance to forge a new kind of country in which everybody could prosper. For this reason, we relented on several occasions when we had a chance to score a major victory over the bad guys. Because politics was more important than military victory, because playing the game was more important than killing the enemy, we chose to lose.

Here we go again. If we would have been more willing to torture, rape, and sodomize teenagers picked up in random sweeps, the whole country would be singing our praises.

After the beheading of Americans in Fallujah, we had the city surrounded - but, because it seemed an attack on Fallujah would be problematic for Iraqi politics, we pulled back. We had the Shiite monster Moqtada al-Sadr in our sights as well, but let him go as well for fear Iraq's leading Shiite cleric would turn on us.

And we also had Saddam in our sights and we funded him, backed his coup, and then supported him in an invasion of a neighboring country. (Uh oh. Did I make a faux pas? I didn't mean to discuss facts of ancient history that might be upsetting . . .)

Each of these decisions seemed prudent at the time. In retrospect, they seem disastrous. Our failure to take Fallujah after the deaths of Americans gave the enemy the sense that we were weak. Our failure to kill Sadr has led to a situation in which he has excessive power over the elected government. Still, the theory of how to prevail in Iraq made sense as a theory.

Great. Let's declare theoretical victory and send the troops home.

What, after all, were the Saddamists and the terrorists fighting for? Clearly there would be no restoration of Saddam's cruel reign, and they couldn't score a battlefield victory against us. That's why Dick Cheney and others referred to them as "dead-enders" - because they were and are dead-enders. They had no achievable goal for securing power in Iraq.

With big Dick Cheney dissin' them, I surprised they didn't just keel over and die on the spot.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi people were voting in elections - 8 million in the first, 10 million in the second, 12 million in the third. They created a new political class where there'd been none before. Once an actual Iraqi government was up and running, we expected the political progress to choke off the oxygen of the dead-enders. With an Iraq hurtling into the future, they would melt away because there was nothing for them to gain. What's more, there was nothing in it for the Saddamists - Sunnis all - to provoke a civil war, because they'd lose. Shiites outnumber Sunnis 2-1, and there are as many Kurds and Sunnis. So that was the plan. We didn't have to win against our foes: The Iraqi people were going to defeat them.

Oh, behold the theoretical beauty of it all!

In other words, we were standing the Iraqis up so we could stand down. Sound familiar? That is the prescription for leaving Iraq that's on everyone's lips - Democrats, Republicans, the Baker-Hamilton group. And guess who else? Donald Rumsfeld. Yes, Bush's very own defense secretary clearly believed this was the way to go. In his classified memo, leaked to The New York Times over the weekend, Rummy says it's time for the Iraqis to "pull up their socks." We should pull back so the Iraqis don't depend on us to secure their future.

The Iraqis do seem to be "pulling up their socks" right before they grab guns and run out the door to shoot American soldiers. I don't think more "sock-pulling" is the problem.

That was not a new idea for him or the administration. In May 2003, a senior administration official told me it was "time for the Iraqis to step up to the plate."

Perhaps the only problem is a deficit of metaphors. I don't think too many Iraqis are donning socks to play baseball games. Maybe we need to advise them to "tighten their turbans" and "cast those backgammon dice".

That's nice. But the Iraqis can't "step up to the plate," and they can't "pull up their socks." The plan envisioned that they could do so whenever they chose. The plan said their political progress would be the way for them to reach the plate and reach their socks. The plan failed.

Due to the metaphorical deficiencies previously mentioned . . .

So we need a new plan. But the Baker-Hamilton advice isn't a new plan. The Democrats don't have a new plan. The only plan that will work is a plan to face the tripartite enemy - the Saddamists, the foreign terrorists and the Shiite sectarians - and bring them to heel.

I can hear a red-faced Elmer Fudd in the background: "You wascally wabbit. Now you weally make me mad."

Kill as many bad guys as we can, with as many troops as we can muster. If this is unrealistic, then Iraq is lost. If we can't win, then we lose.
This worked so well in Vietnam. When the Vietnamese people saw planes napalming entire villages, they embraced the Americans in droves.

Political change doesn't win wars. That's what we've learned, painfully and horribly. Only winning wars wins wars.

Has this been plagiarized from some old Vince Lombardi speech? This sounds oddly like a half-time speech in a for-Hollywood B-movie script.

President Bush needs to decide, as soon as possible, that he is going to win this war - that the bad guys are going to die, that we are going to kill them and that we will achieve our objectives in Iraq. That is the only way forward for him if he doesn't want to end up in ignominy.

I think it's a little late for that. Shrub hit ignomy and ignominy and various states of ignorami long ago. We're just waiting to see if he gets tarred and feathered.

The clock is ticking. He has only a week, maybe two, to change course dramatically. To choose to win, and to direct the military to do so. Or we are sunk, and so is he.

We're certainly sunk. And you've got the metaphor right this time: Twisting on the wheel of the sinking ship isn't going to change anything.

4 December 2006

The terrorist next door

I bet you didn't realize that the knitting grandmothers blocking the sidewalk to the perfume testing division at the local perfume plant were terrorists, but it just goes to show your ignorance of how far the nation has progressed on the path to . . . er . . . somewhere . . . I don't know about you, but I will personally sleep much better now that the great daddy of the nation, Prezidunce Shrub, is protecting us from such people. Perhaps I can remove a few strands of duck-tape (the kind tested on live ducks) from my windows:

ANIMAL TERRORISM ACT SIGNED INTO LAW 11/27/06

Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced today that President Bush signed into law the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a bill that can potentially criminalize interference with an "animal enterprise," including interference with commercial and academic institutions that may use animals for testing or research.

According to Feinstein's office, universities and research facilities such as the University of California San Francisco campus have been targeted by animal activist groups, causing them to spend more than $2.5 million dollars to increase security at their research facilities.
Dr. Elliot Katz, veterinarian and founder of In Defense of Animals, says the law unfairly targets animal rights activists by placing restrictions on their protests not placed on protests conducted by other groups.


"I am proud to be an activist," said Katz, "I am not a terrorist."

Katz said, "The bill reads: if you do something illegal that affects the economics of a company then you can be punished."

Katz said he fears this may include actions such as civil disobedience.

According to Feinstein's office, the law "establishes graded penalties of up to life imprisonment, depending on the financial damage or level of bodily injury caused by such conduct."

Feinstein says the law "confronts these threats in a manner that gives due protections under the First Amendment."

Katz disagrees.

"This law proves that industries are profiting from animals and they don't want to lose the profits that they make on the backs of animals," he said. "They want to intimidate people who care about other species."

2 December 2006

More nonsense from the Christian right

Christian conservatives are fond of harping on the harmless nature of their blurring of the state-church divide. But it's clear where such rhetoric is leading us:

WASHINGTON - Keith Ellison, who will become the first Muslim member of Congress next month, has offended some conservatives with his plan to use the Quran during his ceremonial swearing-in. The decision by Ellison, D-Minn., to use the Muslim holy book for the ceremony instead of the Bible triggered an angry column by Dennis Prager on the Web site Townhall.com this week. Headlined, "America, Not Keith Ellison, decides what book a congressman takes his oath on," Prager argued that using the Quran for the ceremony "undermines American civilization."

Let's paraphrase the following. Basically, the author is saying, "The state, not the individual, will determine public officials' choices on purely religious matters." I've long known that the historical accuracy of reports of our forefathers coming to the "new world" in search of religious freedom for all was highly questionable. But I guess that we're going to now abandon even the facade of being a pluralistic democracy. The article continues...

"Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible," he wrote. "If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress." Conservative bloggers have picked up the criticism and run with it.

Conservative bloggers can always be counted upon to pick up the latest talking points from Fox News or elsewhere and repeat the nonsense verbatim without the least bit of analysis as they all run lemming-like for the nearest cliff.

Ellison was unavailable for comment Friday, but his incoming chief of staff, Kari Moe, dismissed the brouhaha. "I think the criticism is being flamed by the politics of division that were rejected in the '06 election cycle," said Moe, who worked for 10 years for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn. Moe, speaking in a telephone interview, noted that the tradition is for all members of Congress to be sworn in together on the House floor. It's in the photo-op ceremony that a Bible is used — or in Ellison's case, the Quran.

We wouldn't want anyone abandoning the sacred traditions of our photo-ops!

But Prager argued in a telephone interview that the ceremony was no less significant than the actual swearing-in. "Oh, that's the whole point — it's exactly because it's ceremonial that it matters to me," he said. "Ceremonies matter. Ceremonies are exceedingly important. That is the way a society states what is most significant to it." Prager argued that the issue wasn't about freedom of religion. "I want Jews like myself to take the oath on the Bible, even though the New Testament is not our Bible," he said.

Actually, the Old Testament is part of the Bible. For that matter, Muslims generally accept the Old Testament as well and accept the idea that Jesus was a prophet. But this is all neither here nor there. If the majority religion in the U.S. shifts, will Christians suddenly find themselves willing to swear on the Buddhist sutras or the sacred texts of other religions? If not, why are they asking people who believe other religions to do something that they themselves would never do?

Asked if it would be a problem for a Jewish lawmaker to take the oath on a Bible that included only the Old Testament, Prager responded, "Yes, it would," because he said the point is to honor the "Bible of this country."

Countries have their own Bible!?

But despite writing that Ellison shouldn't serve in Congress if he doesn't take an oath with the Bible, Prager said he didn't think Ellison should be banned from serving. "I don't think anything legal should be done about this," he said.

I disagree. I think Prager should be tarred and feathered and then sent into exile.

Moe said the issue was pretty straightforward. "Religious freedom is a tradition in our country," she said. Ellison won an open seat race to replace longtime Democratic Rep. Martin Sabo, who is retiring.

30 November 2006

Ending Shrub's War

I thought I'd shared this from Democracy in California:

How To End The War? Cut off the funds, that's how. Trouble is, Congressman Dennis Kucinich is the only Democrat saying it.

There's one solution here, and it's not to engage in a debate with the President, who has taken us down a path of disaster in Iraq, but it's for Congress to assume the full power that it has under the Constitution to cut off funds. We don't need to keep indulging in this debate about what to do, because as long as we keep temporizing, the situation gets worse in Iraq.We have to determine that the time has come to cut off funds. There’s enough money in the pipeline to achieve the orderly withdrawal that Senator McGovern is talking about. But cut off funds, we must. That's the ultimate power of the Congress, the power of the purse. That's how we'll end this war, and that’s the only way we’re going to end this war. This is a new world. It's time that we started acting like it. It’s time that we reflected new thinking --

28 November 2006

More on the civil war

News reporters are increasingly feeling pressed to state the obvious--Iraq's in a civil war. Shrub's effete attempts to pretend he's still calling the shots there are looking more and more ridiculous.

WASHINGTON -- NBC's "Today Show" host Matt Lauer yesterday told millions of American television viewers, many sitting at their breakfast tables, that the network would buck the White House and from now on describe the Iraq war as a "civil war."

The new policy, which NBC News said would cover all its news shows, could become a benchmark in public opinion about the war, according to media specialists.
Some media analysts compared it to CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite's declaration in 1968 that the United States was losing the Vietnam War -- a pronouncement now considered a turning point in public opinion -- and Ted Koppel's ABC updates on the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 and 1980 that infuriated Jimmy Carter's White House.


Mixter's Mix rightfully ridicules Shrub's latest attempts to paint the war as a crusage against Al Qaeda.

This is not, nor has it ever been, a fight against al-Qaeda. This was an invasion and occupation of a country that was no threat to the U.S. or its allies. There were never enough troops sent to secure the country and get the job done. How was the U.S. supposed to turn things over to Iraq security forces when they were never in control in the first place?

Of course, there are still a few true blue crusaders out there, determined to oust the infidels from the holy oil lands:

I wonder where the days went when the media was behind the troops. The only way we won WW 2 is with the unbridled love and support of the people. The films and the news stories produced then weren't propaganda, they were supportive.

Yes. Supportive propaganda...

When is it wrong to support something you believe in?

Never. As 95% of the Iraqi people would tell you. Almost to a person, they believe that the U.S. occupiers should leave their country.

If you don't believe in something that is one thing, but to tell out and out lies just to break the President down is darn near treason and sedition.

Uh, oh. Another wannabe nazi is once more threatening to line all us pinkos up against the wall and shoot us. All I can say is if that bullets tend to fly both ways on the day when civil society crumbles.

The media has to be held accountable for what they report. There are too many leaks . . .

Leaks, you say? So that's the problem! Facts "leaking" out to the public...who might not be ready for them.

25 November 2006

Shrub's War: Going through a name-change

I guess it takes the media a couple of years to catch up to what many have been saying all allong. Newspapers are now openly referring to Shrub's War as "Iraq's Civil War", as in this little snippet from the LA Times:

Iraq's civil war worsened Friday as Shiite and Sunni Arabs engaged in retaliatory attacks after coordinated car bombings that killed more than 200 people in a Shiite neighborhood the day before. A main Shiite political faction threatened to quit the government, a move that probably would cause its collapse and plunge the nation deeper into disarray.

23 November 2006

$$$

According to the CSM, the price tag for Shrub's War is rising. Iraq has now surpassed $300 billion, according to government estimates, and if we had in the cost of Shrub's miniwar in Afghanistan, the total price rises to around $500 billion, making it one of the most monetarily costly conflicts in U.S. history. When we add the cost of taking care of the war-injured and so on, I'm sure we'll be paying out far more than a trillion in the decades to come. So there's no reason to feel too upset about this. Our grandkids will help share the cost with us.

22 November 2006

More on the options

Sometimes I like to sneak across the railway tracks just to get a glimpse of how the other side lives. On a recent excursion, I was happy to spot this little oasis of rationality within the conservative camp.

NW Republican is discussing the "Go Big", "Go Home", and "Go Long" options:

If these are the three choices, it seems the only practical option is: Go Home. Here’s why: “Go Big” is simply not an option. It is not doable. That leaves “Go Home” or “Go Long.” “Go Long,” reportedly favored by the Bush administration, is really no more an option than “Go Big.” It also is not doable, not because of physical military limitations, but because of moral, emotional, and political limitations — which are even more limiting than the lack of actual military forces.

This analysis is right on.

The truth is, the American people simply will not tolerate a long, slow war of attrition against a cruel, elusive foe who will not stand and fight.

Okay. I said the post (when viewed in toto) was rational. This little Fox News-induced meme is utterly ridiculous. I'm sure that there are countless Iraqi insurgents who would LOVE to fight man to man if the U.S. Marines would step out of their tanks and call off the air power. This sort of bravado regarding warfare is ridiculous in the extreme. Our view of war needs to develop some sophistication--going beyond images of high school fist fights behind the gym after school.

It is not from weakness or cowardice, it is simply that no people, Americans included, are willing to spill the blood of their sons without clear evidence that it is either to defend the homeland directly or that there is regular, meaningful progress toward victory.

We need to record conservatives saying this and then replay the tape for them every time the next great crusade comes around.

Those are the facts. I don’t blame them (us). Heck, I was once a supporter of the invasion of Iraq (based on what I was told), I am a conservative (to the extent that I am political at all any more), and I once was a strong supporter of Bush. All that and even I cannot support “Go Long.”

The character of the people of the United States, liberal, moderate, or conservative, is not such as to support with blood and treasure a war that is not clearly defensive in nature. More than many nations, it is necessary for the self-image and self-esteem of Americans to be seen as the good guys, as the rescuers on white horses. Iraq has turned that on its head. Admittedly, the MSM and the liberals have not been helpful in this regard, “blaming America first” at every opportunity, but the truth is that the macro realities of Iraq — 1) invading a country that was not directly threatening us or its neighbors, 2) becoming an unwelcome occupying force, 3) no found WMDs, etc.. — have given them room to make that case.

This section gets to the heart of the matter. U.S. forces are committed in a country that didn't invade the U.S. That is the reality, something that even Fox News-induced mass-hypnosis has a difficult time covering up.

Want more? Democrats and liberals have never supported the war and they want an early, or even immediate, US exit. Now, Republicans are also beginning to move to a similar position. Politicians who voted for the war and pundits who supported it are busy, busy issuing statements rationalizing their previous positions, covering their rear-ends, and calling for a "change of policy" (meaning early withdrawal). The Republican grassroots is demoralized because of the war (no WMDs, lives lost, no progress) and they blame their party's loss in the mid-term elections on the war. In short, politically there is nobody left to support a long-term strategy in Iraq.

There is one other thing also. Given the hostility of many Iraqis themselves, and given the hostility of Iran and Syria, I sometimes have a concern that our 130,000+ troops in Iraq may be in more danger than we think. They are a long way from home and it would be tough to get them out if there were a serious escalation with Iran and Syria (and/or others), say, with a nuclear strike. We are not as invulnerable as we think we are (pride cometh before a fall). And, Iraq is not Dunkirk. The sooner we get our troops out of there, the better I will feel. It is time to face the fact that the US is, barring some miracle, probably going to have to get out of Iraq and soon, regardless of the consequences. It is time to swallow that ugly truth and start dealing with the reality on the other side of it — how do we cope with the geopolitical realities after an American withdrawal from Iraq?

I'm sure the current administration would love to use the troops as cannon fodder to justify further involvement. Hopefully, some other more rational voices "from the other side of the tracks" will also step forward and help put an early stop to the nonsense.

21 November 2006

We have all been here before...

When even the original architects of the current catastrophe no longer believe there's any hope, it's truly time to pack the dufflebags and head back home:

Military victory is no longer possible in Iraq, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said in a television interview broadcast Sunday. Kissinger presented a bleak vision of Iraq, saying the U.S. government must enter into dialogue with Iraq's regional neighbors — including Iran — if progress is to be made in the region.

Hearing these words from this source should make anyone around in the '60s experience major deja vu flashbacks.

"If you mean by 'military victory' an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don't believe that is possible," he told the British Broadcasting Corp.

I don't believe it's possible either. Of course, I didn't believe it was possible several years back, either.

"I think we have to redefine the course, but I don't think that the alternative is between military victory, as defined previously, or total withdrawal," he said.

I agree. Military victory is no longer an alternative.

20 November 2006

And now what you've been waiting for: The options

The Shrub mis-administration is going to put comedians out of business with their constant stream of malaproprisms and misplaced priapisms. It is within this general spirit of jollity and mirth that we read the latest report from the Pentagon panel:

Reuters: A Pentagon panel has outlined three basic options for improving the situation in Iraq -- pull out, send more U.S. troops or reduce the size of the force but stay longer.

Wait a minute! Wait just a doggone second! I think they left out option number four! We could increase the number of troops but stay shorter. Or we could increase the number then decrease the number, then increase them again. Or vise versa.

Who pays these guys to come up with this stuff? When taxpayers fork over millions of dollars and ask you to figure out what "the options" are, you aren't supposed to come back and say: "We can do X; not do X; or sort of do X." WE KNOW THAT ALREADY! If only my boss were so lenient.

My Boss: "Can you spend the next two months analyzing the Wilson account and then get back to us with some options?"

Me: "Sure. No problem. Give me a couple million of bucks, some plane tickets, some extra cash for backrubs in Bangkok on the way back, and I can take care of it for you."

Me: (Two months later with a dark tan and cirrhosis of the liver) "Well, after many long hard nights pondering the problem in darkly lit nightclubs, I've concluded that basically we've got three options. We can take the account, not take the account, or kind of ambiguously decide to not make up our minds."

Boss: "Gee willikers! We'll have to put you up for a raise, Karlo! We've never seen anyone elucidate the options so well. Other employees have always returned with a narrow range of options that demonstrate closed-mindedness and tunnel-vision, but you, with your outstanding perspicacity and vision, have provided us with a short summary of the entire gamut of possibility! Have you ever considered going into politics?"

19 November 2006

As the Iraqi Civil War (what we used to call "Shrub's War" back in the day) grinds on, we learn that over 50 more have died. How many more "commas" will we have to watch before Iraq reaches the "end of history" and becomes a nice democracy.


Hot air or the fuel of the future?

BMW and Honda are both coming out with "concept cars" (whatever the hell that means) that run (or kind of run) on hydrogen. Since there still isn't an effecient way to extract hydrogen except from fossil fuels, these vehicles aren't truly green. Even so, they advance the technology a little further, opening some remote possibilities for the fuel in the future. Of course we could simply walk to wherever we needed to go (or better yet, stay home) and eliminate both the obesity epidemic and oil depletion at one fell swoop but that would be too simple. We'd end up with long lines of unemployed scientists and chemists. And believe me, you don't want to make those guys upset . . .

16 November 2006

Dude, Where's my dictatorship?

Evil Spock at The Needs of the Few has an insightful reflection on the trampling of Shrub's party during the election.

[Excerpt] Could it be that the direct line to God was a bad connection? That he didn’t hear that invading a sovereign nation with manufactured evidence is actually not a Christian thing to do? How about cutting social programs for the needy and poor while giving tax cuts to the richest among us? You’ve got to be kidding us!That must have been a shock to the system. Imagine the utter confusion and bewilderment as he tries to process what went wrong and what this would mean for his now uber-lame duck status. It is sad, isn’t it?

Evil Spock considers the Poor-manipulated-puppet Hypothesis:

See our pity is derived from the fact that we have long seen our leader as a simple pawn of the truly evil neocons in the administration (Rove, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Perle, etc.) We imagine that when the line to God was clear and some sort of policy benefiting the average American was proposed, the Dubya independent thought alarm in Rove’s office would go off and he would dismiss said policy with a simply “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” wave of the hand.

And then dismisses it...

But then our heart hardens and we come back to something that Bush himself said. The Shakespearean “I’m the decider and I decide what’s best.” Indeed you are, Mr. President. We think Harry S. Truman, another “war” president, also had it right with his motto, “The buck stops here”. Ultimately, no matter how bad the advice and/or manipulation from his puppet masters were, he has been responsible for the past six years.

Unfortunately, what we really need is an impeachment along with a meticulous investigation into everything that went wrong. Without such a reckoning, the "quiet American" types in the shadows are wont to reappear every decade, taking advantage of the tendency of the American "collective" to suffer from anterograde amnesia.

14 November 2006

Reflecting on the loss: Shortage of money, time, and magic?

Elizabeth Dole has the latest Republican analysis of the Republican demise:

The GOP lost for a variety of reasons: not enough money, not enough time, not enough political magic . . .

So the problem was money!? The Republicans have been swimming in corporate kick backs for years. When voters express profound dissatisfaction, the response of either party within the current duopoly should never be--"We need more money." I think someone's in a sad state of denial.

And time! The Republicans have had 12 years! In that time, they've managed to tear up every environmental accord, cook up mountains of false intelligence reports, role back every Constitutional right they could get their hands on, cause the greatest rise in anti-American sentiment the world has ever seen, and pass on the deficit problem to our chidren's children's children. How much more time did they need to complete their "agenda"?

As for magic, I completely agree. The Republicans need more magicians to create boogeymen from thin air, to conjure up money that doesn't exist, and to basically entertain us with the expert employment of smoke and mirrors. Otherwise they don't stand a chance.

13 November 2006

I don't care too much for money...

We've finally gotten rid of the Republican majority. I guess corporate money (or at least the more crass and conspicuous version) can't buy our love after all.

6 November 2006

Some thoughts on bizarre coincidences


So they've finally decided to hang the "Butcher of Baghdad," putting the sorry SOB out of his misery. Through some tremendous coincidence, this has happened right on the eve of the midterm elections but coincidences happen, I s'pose. Who am I to question such odd alignments of the stars? Of course, we saw a similar inexplicable convergence of fate when Saddam stepped into power shortly after a CIA-sponsored coup. Those mysterious astrological forces also lined up behind the dictator as he launched a war on Iran, leading to a civilian death toll even greater than that of Shrub's War. In the end, I s'pose there's something very reassuring about all of this: Even the most evil tyrants ultimately meet their end a few decades later after the "quiet Americans" in the shadows have lost their use for them. If only we could get some of Saddam's henchmen. Like that shifty character in the picture . . .

31 October 2006

Hasta La Vista

Peace Tree Farm has an excellent list of the candidates that we need to get rid of this time around.

Sympathy for the Devil

With a corporate-owned media and a corporate-sponsored government, it's little wonder that we get slates of laws putting forth a corporate agenda. But when the rightwing actually embraces such nonsense as part of their agenda, it's hard to know how to respond. A great example comes from Seeing the Forest via Cut to the Chase. The ballot initiative, that is supposedly designed to redress eminent domain issues, "makes an even greater mockery of property ownership than the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on eminent domain."

From Seeing the Forest: There is a law on the ballot in four states that says if I want to open a hog farm or a chemical plant next door to your house and you don't want me to do that, then YOU have to PAY ME not to -- you have to pay me ALL THE MONEY I MIGHT HAVE MADE.I am not kidding. This new law says that if you want to stop a corporation from dumping toxic waste into the river from which you get your drinking water, or stop them from venting dangerous chemicals into the air, then YOU have to PAY that company not to. I am NOT kidding!The far right says that a government stopping a company from dumping waste into a river is "taking" money from that company. I am not kidding. And you had better take this seriously or YOU will be PAYING companies to not harm you and your families.Along with EVERYTHING else going on in this election, the far right has managed to get stealth "takings" initiatives on the ballot in four states. In California it is Proposition 90. In Washington it is Initiative 933. In Idaho it is Proposition 2. In Arizona it is Proposition 207.

This is a "private property" and "takings" amendment disguised as a limit to "eminent domain." This means that it is supposed to be about keeping the government from seizing property so it can be used by commercial interests. But what this really does is prevent the states from ANY regulation of property, including ANY environmental regulations, ANY zoning laws, etc.These ballot initiatives are all funded by one person - a New York real estate tycoon named Howie Rich. And he did this through front groups - organizations disguised as something else. See if you can guess what he plans to do the day after these laws pass? (Hint -- think "hog farm next door to your house.")

26 October 2006

Plan 9 From Neoconia

Daily Kos gives us a glimpse into the dark and mysterious workings of the conservative mind:

When one considers the actual neocon rationale for invading Iraq, it comes as no wonder that the Neo-GOP tried to scare the bejessus out of us with ginned up tales of Saddam Hussein stealing into our hometowns at the next full moon and murdering us in our sleep with nerve gas or nukes. Because the real reason was beyond surreal. It sounds like a cheesy B-movie plot. The actual neocon 'Plan for Iraq' went something like this:

1) Bomb the daylights out of Iraq, 2000 pound JDAMS and cruise missiles, day and night, into heavily populated areas, utterly destroy the government at every level and eliminate key infrastructure, literally burn it to the underground bunkers.

2) Rumble north from Kuwait in multiple armored columns ten miles long tearing up the highways with tank treads micromanaged by Donald Rumsfeld while, 2a) spraying entire towns with heavy caliber depleted uranium rounds left and right along the way, and 2b) strafing anything that moves from the air.

3) Upon arrival in a now devastated Baghdad, suffering from power blackout and reeking to high heaven thanks to no water or sewer services -- not to mention homes, gutters, and waterways full of rotting bloated corpses -- detain or snuff every policemen and military member dumb enough to still be wearing a uniform, shoot the city full of gaping holes, crater the roadways. Drag terrified civilians, men, women, kids, out of their homes or cars at gunpoint, shackle them, and strip search them in broad daylight. Pack them off to Saddam's old prisons marked for further torture and depraved sexual humiliation.

4) Passively watch the city looted of what little of value remains by criminal elements without lifting a trigger-finger.

5) Start loading US oil tankers with Iraqi crude.

7) Send in college kids whose qualifications for rebuilding an entire nation bombed into the stone-age consists of phone banking for the GOP and opposing reproductive rights for women.

8) Here's where the real neocon genius kicks in ... The Iraqis are going to swoon with pro US gratitude. See? The lucky survivors will be so smitten with the American occupiers after this experience that they'll forget decades of dictatorship and propaganda, put aside centuries of ethnic and tribal conflict, and a millennium of hostility and resentment for the west ... and they'll spontaneously rise up, self organize, and peacefully model their government and culture after our own. See?

The rest of the religious nutcases and brutal Monarchs across the region will likewise be so helplessly enthralled with this sterling success, that they'll opt to abandon their despotic ways and go democratic too. Americans are loved from Pakistan to Libya. Ponies for all! See?
Uhh, yeah; how could that possibly fail?

Casualty Count

It looks like October 2006 will be one of the top 3 or 4 most fatal months since Shrub's War started. Thursday alone saw the announcement of 5 U.S. deaths.

23 October 2006

Jefferson & Henry on the Shrub Doctrine and the Thousand-year War Against Terror

The following quotes, taken from Glen Greenwald's blog, are worthy of extensive reflection:

Thomas Jefferson, in his letter to Thomas Paine, 1789. ME 7:408, Papers 15:269, said: "I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." And Patrick Henry warned us well in advance about Government officials who would seek to claim the right to imprison people without a trial:

Is the relinquishment of the trial by jury and the liberty of the press necessary for your liberty? Will the abandonment of your most sacred rights tend to the security of your liberty? Liberty, the greatest of all earthly blessings--give us that precious jewel, and you may take everything else! ...Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel.

In one sense, these observations are compelling because they define the core of what our country is supposed to be. But in another sense, they don't matter, because our Government is controlled by people and their followers who literally don't understand and, worse, simply do not believe in the defining values and principles of America. They know that this bill is a seizure of the most un-American powers imaginable, but their allegiance is to the acquisition of unlimited power and nothing else.

Lower pay, less baksheesh too

American politicos could take a few lessons from their Japanese counterparts. The new Japanese prime minister recently lowered his own salary by 30 per cent, and reduced the salaries of all cabinet members by 10 per cent.

While we're at it, why don't we pass a law forbidding all members of lawmakers families from working as lobbyists, and even more importantly, create another law forbidding all former government personnel from working for firms that subcontract for the U.S. government. (The law could simply state that the government is forbidden from accepting contracts from firms that employ its former workers.) This would help limit the culture of corruption--those people who quit their jobs as colonels or cabinet members to suddenly find lucrative employment as high-paid "consultants" (just why a retired cabinet member with no background in given industry is such a treasure trove of information and contacts I'll leave you to guess.)

18 October 2006

Jesus delayed

Cleveland.com: Voters should oust congressional Republican leaders because U.S. foreign policy is delaying the second coming of Jesus Christ, according to a evangelical preacher trying to influence closely contested political races. K.A. Paul railed against the war in Iraq on Sunday before a crowd of 1,000 at the New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights, his first stop on what he hopes is a 30-city campaign. The Houston-based preacher said he believes that the Bush administration has delayed the second coming because U.S. foreign policy has blocked Christian missionaries from working in Iraq, Iran and Syria.

In a more positive move, the Bush administration, by pushing mankind into a spiritual dark-age, is hastening the birth of Maitreya Buddha (the Buddha of the future) on Earth. Buddhists have been seen outside the White House, gently shoving the protesting Christians aside in order to heap praises upon Bush for inadvertently leading us to a new age of compassion and wisdom.

Body-count rises

Seventy U.S. troops dead this month so far.

16 October 2006

Taliban stoop to a new low (or is it, a new high?)

What's a god-fearin' democratizing soldier supposed to do in the face of such obstacles? We learn today that the devious Taliban are using walls of marijuana to keep out Canadian troops. Maybe we could employ this clever strategem as a means of sealing off our southern border...

15 October 2006

You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch

Bill O'Reilly tells the audience that he fears gains by progressives could mean "no more Christmas." Secular progressives, O'Reilly claims, want "No more Christmas, no pledge of allegiance to God. No more Christmas – 'this is pulling us down, because it's too judgmental.'"

I think someone's been watching too many reruns of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Not that there aren't a few real grinches to be found. Gracias to No Capital for the quote.

11 October 2006

Watch out for those chic chicks

This suggests a new form of birth control ==> Only sleep with women in drab clothing.

Women dress to impress when they are at their most fertile, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday in a study they say shows that signs of human ovulation may not be as mysterious as some scientists believe.

A study of young college women showed they frequently wore more fashionable or flashier clothing and jewelery when they were ovulating, as assessed by a panel of men and women looking at their photographs. "They tend to put on skirts instead of pants, show more skin and generally dress more fashionably," said Martie Haselton, a communication studies and psychology expert at the University of California Los Angeles who led the study.

War: What is it good for?

In Iraq, over a half-million more deaths than would have occurred had Shrub's War never taken place:

AP: In the new study, researchers attempt to calculate how many more Iraqis have died since March 2003 than one would expect without the war. Their conclusion, based on interviews of households and not a body count, is that about 600,000 died from violence, mostly gunfire. They also found a small increase in deaths from other causes like heart disease and cancer.

10 October 2006

Operational incompetence

Amidst the depressing news and views, I found the following smirkifying post over at Arms Control Wonk:

I close this discourse about operational confidence by noting that the United States has built a missile defense that does not work, to defend against a North Korean missile that does not work, that would carry a nuclear warhead that does not work.

This is all very postmodern.

All this incompetence converging at a single point in time. It's scary.

Signing Statements

The Congressional Research Service has issued an important report that is highly critical of Bush's attempt to expand Executive power via signing statements. The report concludes that these statements don't have any legal force and are therefore insignificant in terms of Constitionality:

Presidential signing statements have a long historical pedigree and there is no discernible constitutional or legal impediment to their issuance. While such statements have become increasingly common since the Reagan Administration and have increasingly been utilized by Presidents to raise constitutional or interpretive objections to congressional enactments, that increased usage does not render them unconstitutional. While the broad assertions of executive authority contained in these statements carry significant implications, both practical and constitutional, for the traditional relationship between the Executive Branch and Congress, they do not have legal force or effect, and have not been utilized to effect the formal nullification of
laws.


The report goes on to say that the statements are problematic in their intent--as a means of asserting broad Executive authority that the president does not have ex cathedra:

Instead, it appears that recent administrations, as made apparent by the voluminous challenges lodged by President George W. Bush, have employed these instruments in an attempt to leverage power and control away from Congress by establishing these broad assertions of authority as a constitutional norm. It can be argued that the appropriate focus of congressional concern should center not on the issuance of signing statements themselves, but on the broad assertions of presidential authority forwarded by Presidents and the substantive actions taken to establish that authority. Accordingly, a robust oversight regime focusing on substantive executive action, as opposed to the vague and generalized assertions of authority typical of
signing statements, might allow Congress in turn to more effectively assert its constitutional prerogatives and ensure compliance with its enactments.

9 October 2006

Columbus Day

We are again being asked to celebrate "Columbus Day" in celebration of the European "discovery" of the Americas. It's a bit like celebrating Hitler Day to celebrate Adolph's "discovery" of western Russia. What's even more amazing is that Columbus's little group, without the help of tanks or a modern bureacracy, actually managed to mount a genocide of almost modern proportions. I can't understand what element of the Columbus story Americans are choosing to identify with. This is, after all, the same man who planned a mass-murder against the very people who had swam out to his boats to greet him. He and his crew raped the young children and drove the natives to such despair with systematic torture, enslavement, and murder that the native people started killing their own children lest they suffer the same fate. In the spirit of the holiday, here's a quote from Zinn's excellent book:

Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island's beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. He later wrote of this in his log:

"They... brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells. They willingly traded everything they owned.... They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features.... They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane.... They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want."

These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing. These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus.

Columbus wrote:

"As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts."

The information that Columbus wanted most was: Where is the gold? The Indians, Columbus reported, "are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone...." He concluded his report by asking for a little help from their Majesties, and in return he would bring them from his next voyage "as much gold as they need . . . and as many slaves as they ask." He was full of religious talk: "Thus the eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way over apparent impossibilities."

Because of Columbus's exaggerated report and promises, his second expedition was given seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men. The aim was clear: slaves and gold. They went from island to island in the Caribbean, taking Indians as captives. But as word spread of the Europeans' intent they found more and more empty villages. On Haiti, they found that the sailors left behind at Fort Navidad had been killed in a battle with the Indians, after they had roamed the island in gangs looking for gold, taking women and children as slaves for sex and labor.

Now, from his base on Haiti, Columbus sent expedition after expedition into the interior. They found no gold fields, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although the slaves were "naked as the day they were born," they showed "no more embarrassment than animals." Columbus later wrote: "Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold."

But too many of the slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death. The Indians had been given an impossible task. The only gold around was bits of dust garnered from the streams. So they fled, were hunted down with dogs, and were killed.

Trying to put together an army of resistance, the Arawaks faced Spaniards who had armor, muskets, swords, horses. When the Spaniards took prisoners they hanged them or burned them to death. Among the Arawaks, mass suicides began, with cassava poison. Infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.

When it became clear that there was no gold left, the Indians were taken as slave labor on huge estates, known later as encomiendas. They were worked at a ferocious pace, and died by the thousands. By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendants left on the island.

The chief source-and, on many matters the only source of information about what happened on the islands after Columbus came is Bartolome de las Casas, who, as a young priest, participated in the conquest of Cuba. For a time he owned a plantation on which Indian slaves worked, but he gave that up and became a vehement critic of Spanish cruelty. In Book Two of his History of the Indies, Las Casas (who at first urged replacing Indians by black slaves, thinking they were stronger and would survive, but later relented when he saw the effects on blacks) tells about the treatment of the Indians by the Spaniards. It is a unique account and deserves to be quoted at length:

"Endless testimonies . . . prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives.... But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy; small wonder, then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then.... The admiral, it is true, was blind as those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians..."Las Casas tells how the Spaniards "grew more conceited every day" and after a while refused to walk any distance. They "rode the backs of Indians if they were in a hurry" or were carried on hammocks by Indians running in relays. "In this case they also had Indians carry large leaves to shade them from the sun and others to fan them with goose wings."

Total control led to total cruelty. The Spaniards "thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades." Las Casas tells how "two of these so-called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys."

The Indians' attempts to defend themselves failed. And when they ran off into the hills they were found and killed. So, Las Casas reports. "they suffered and died in the mines and other labors in desperate silence, knowing not a soul in the world to whom they could turn for help." He describes their work in the mines:

"... mountains are stripped from top to bottom and bottom to top a thousand times; they dig, split rocks, move stones, and carry dirt on their backs to wash it in the rivers, while those who wash gold stay in the water all the time with their backs bent so constantly it breaks them; and when water invades the mines, the most arduous task of all is to dry the mines by scooping up pansful of water and throwing it up outside....

After each six or eight months' work in the mines, which was the time required of each crew to dig enough gold for melting, up to a third of the men died. While the men were sent many miles away to the mines, the wives remained to work the soil, forced into the excruciating job of digging and making thousands of hills for cassava plants.

Thus husbands and wives were together only once every eight or ten months and when they met they were so exhausted and depressed on both sides . . . they ceased to procreate. As for the newly born, they died early because their mothers, overworked and famished, had no milk to nurse them, and for this reason, while I was in Cuba, 7000 children died in three months. Some mothers even drowned their babies from sheer desperation.... In this way, husbands died in the mines, wives died at work, and children died from lack of milk . . . and in a short time this land which was so great, so powerful and fertile ... was depopulated.... My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write...."

When he arrived on Hispaniola in 1508, Las Casas says, "there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it...."

Thus began the history, five hundred years ago, of the European invasion of the Indian settlements in the Americas. That beginning, when you read Las Casas--even if his figures are exaggerations (were there 3 million Indians to begin with, as he says, or less than a million, as some historians have calculated, or 8 million as others now believe?) is conquest, slavery, death. When we read the history books given to children in the United States, it all starts with heroic adventure--there is no bloodshed-and Columbus Day is a celebration.

The treatment of heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arawaks) the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress-is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders. It is as if they, like Columbus, deserve universal acceptance, as if they-the Founding Fathers, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, the leading members of Congress, the famous Justices of the Supreme Court-represent the nation as a whole. The pretense is that there really is such a thing as "the United States," subject to occasional conflicts and quarrels, but fundamentally a community of people with common interests. It is as if there really is a "national interest" represented in the Constitution, in territorial expansion, in the laws passed by Congress, the decisions of the courts, the development of capitalism, the culture of education and the mass media.

5 October 2006

Feeling terrisible

Sorry for the absence. The latest series of antics from the far right fringe--the legalization of concentration camps and the Foley follies in particular--have left me so over- and underwhelmed that I've temporarily lost my blogging mojo. And I lack a word to describe my mixed feeling of revulsion and hilarity. I need to coin a new term, something like "terrisible".

(On a completely unrelated note, why does the blogger spellcheck feature not know the word "blogging". You'd think...)

29 September 2006

Most Iraqis (Shiite and Sunni) back attacks on U.S. troops

Poll: Iraqis Back Attacks on US Troops By Barry Schweid The Associated Press
Thursday 28 September 2006


About six in 10 Iraqis say they approve of attacks on U.S.-led forces, and slightly more than that want their government to ask U.S. troops to leave within a year, according to a poll in that country. The Iraqis also have negative views of Osama bin Laden, according to the early September poll of 1,150. The poll, done for University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes, found:

Almost four in five Iraqis say the U.S. military force in Iraq provokes more violence than it prevents.

About 61 percent approved of the attacks - up from 47 percent in January. A solid majority of Shiite and Sunni Arabs approved of the attacks, according to the poll. The increase came mostly among Shiite Iraqis.

An overwhelmingly negative opinion of terror chief bin Laden and more than half, 57 percent, disapproving of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Three-fourths say they think the United States plans to keep military bases in Iraq permanently.

A majority of Iraqis, 72 percent, say they think Iraq will be one state five years from now. Shiite Iraqis were most likely to feel that way, though a majority of Sunnis and Kurds also believed that would be the case.

The PIPA poll, which included an oversample of 150 Sunni Iraqis, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The State Department, meanwhile, has also conducted its own poll, something it does periodically, spokesman Sean McCormack said. The State Department poll found that two-thirds of Iraqis in Baghdad favor an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces, according to The Washington Post.

McCormack declined to discuss details of the department's Iraq poll. "What I hear from government representatives and other anecdotal evidence that you hear from Iraqis that is collected by embassy personnel and military personnel is that Iraqis do appreciate our presence there," he said. "They do understand the reasons for it, they do understand that we don't want to or we don't intend to be there indefinitely."

28 September 2006

Kevin Zeese

In an interesting turn of events demonstrating some of the ideological convergence of the Libertarian and Green movements, Kevin Zeese (Campaign website) (Campaign wiki site) has won the nominations of the Libertarian Party of Maryland, the Maryland Green Party, and the Populist Party of Maryland, marking the first time all three parties have nominated the same candidate. Since some idiotic Maryland law prohibits fusion candidacies (we wouldn't want these non-mainstream parties ganging up on the two-party duopoly after), Zeese will only be listed on the ballot as the Green Party candidate.

27 September 2006

Crumbling faith

Didn't the conservatives have the deficit all taken care of? And even if the job was beyond the ambit of their powers, wasn't the deficit supposed to be, after all is said and done, a psuedo-problem that would just disappear if we clicked our shoes together and wished hard enough?

The United States has lost its top slot in a global ranking of economic competitiveness published yesterday because of mounting concern among businesses over its budget deficit and crumbling faith in its institutions. The world's largest economy fell from first to sixth place in the World Economic Forum's annual survey that is based on interviews with 11,000 business leaders.

26 September 2006

All the leaves are brown...

This is exciting news. Particularly after the federal government stepped into Californians politics (on the side of the big automakers) and prevented Californians from implementing any environmental laws with teeth.

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California sued six of the world's largest automakers over global warming on Wednesday, charging that greenhouse gases from their vehicles have caused billions of dollars in damages. The lawsuit is the first of its kind to seek to hold manufacturers liable for the damages caused by their vehicles' emissions, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer said.
It comes less than a month after California lawmakers adopted the nation's first global warming law mandating a cut in greenhouse gas emissions.


Can you hear the the Mamas and the Papas singing "California Dreaming" in the background?

Declassified CIA Memo

It's amazing "how far we've come", eh? This is from a CIA memo from the 60s era (my bolding):

Two of the most effective of these [ways to apply pressure] are creating fatigue and preventing the prisoner adequate sleep.

---snip---

Continued loss of sleep produced clouding of consciousness and a loss of alertness, both of which impair the victim's ability to sustain isolation.

Another simple and effective type of pressure is that of maintaining the temperature of the cell at a level which is either too hot or too cold for comfort.

---snip---

Still another pressure is to reduce the food ration to the point to which the prisoner experiences constant hunger.

---snip---

The effects of isolation, anxiety, fatigue, lack of sleep, uncomfortable temperatures, and chronic hunger produce disturbances of mood, attitudes, and behavior in nearly all prisoners. The living organism cannot entirely withstand such assaults.

The Communists do not look upon these assaults as "torture". Undoubtedly, they use the methods which they do in order to conform, in a typical legalistic manner, to Communist theory which demands that "no force or torture be used in extracting information from prisoners." But these methods do constitute torture and physical coercion and should never be considered otherwise.

24 September 2006

Large Flashes of Light Have Been Seen In the Skies Over DC

Half a decade and several hundred billion dollars later, the "intelligence" community has had an epiphany:

The nation's spy agencies don't think the Iraq war has reduced the threat of terrorism. In fact, they concluded that the war has contributed to an increased threat.The assessment comes in a National Intelligence Estimate, which represents a consensus view of the 16 spy services inside the government. It's classified, but published accounts of the report are being confirmed by an intelligence official. It finds that the war helped create a new generation of Islamic radicalism, and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since Nine-Eleven.

19 September 2006

We eat the air, promise-crammed...

In a high whining voice which has become all too familiar, Bush is now demanding that CIA agents and others be granted immunity if they step beyond the ambit of the law and torture people (who, we are to assume, had it coming to them anyway). What a concept!

Perhaps we can get the politikos to extend this privilege. Perhaps we the people can get a free ticket to beat up those CIA agents and government bureaucrats who clearly have it coming to them anyway. We could even take boy George around to the back of the White House and give him a few swift whacks just to keep him in line from time to time. Why should we be prosecuted?

Or is the justice meted out by leftward leaning mobs inherently more suspect than that provided by ultra-secret agencies conducting clandenstine operations overseas? At least we can see mobs; there is, in some strained sense, a certain democracy of the street as people stand by and watch the action, choosing to remain silent or join in. But when it comes to the government, we're left in the dark. We're supposed to allow the government to operate in secret and then not even complain or bring legal measures against those extremely rare individuals who get called to account for their misdeeds.

And America's going to bring democracy to the world! Some navel-gazing is in order, here in the land of the free and the oh so brave.

15 September 2006

Pope's September 14th Speech

Here is the speech that's causing all the ruckus. (My guess is that 99% of the people who pontificate on it, haven't read it.) So what do you think about it?

Your Eminences, Your Magnificences, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a moving experience for me to be back again in the university and to be able once again to give a lecture at this podium. I think back to those years when, after a pleasant period at the Freisinger Hochschule, I began teaching at the University of Bonn.

That was in 1959, in the days of the old university made up of ordinary professors. The various chairs had neither assistants nor secretaries, but in recompense there was much direct contact with students and in particular among the professors themselves.

We would meet before and after lessons in the rooms of the teaching staff. There was a lively exchange with historians, philosophers, philologists and, naturally, between the two theological faculties.

Once a semester there was a dies academicus, when professors from every faculty appeared before the students of the entire university, making possible a genuine experience of universitas - something that you too, Magnificent Rector, just mentioned - the experience, in other words, of the fact that despite our specializations which at times make it difficult to communicate with each other, we made up a whole, working in everything on the basis of a single rationality with its various aspects and sharing responsibility for the right use of reason - this reality became a lived experience.

The university was also very proud of its two theological faculties. It was clear that, by inquiring about the reasonableness of faith, they too carried out a work which is necessarily part of the "whole" of the universitas scientiarum, even if not everyone could share the faith which theologians seek to correlate with reason as a whole.

This profound sense of coherence within the universe of reason was not troubled, even when it was once reported that a colleague had said there was something odd about our university: it had two faculties devoted to something that did not exist: God.

That even in the face of such radical scepticism it is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith: this, within the university as a whole, was accepted without question. I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on - perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara - by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both.

It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than those of his Persian interlocutor.

The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between - as they were called - three "Laws" or "rules of life": the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur'an.

It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point - itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole - which, in the context of the issue of "faith and reason", I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.

In the seventh conversation [text unclear] edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion".

According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war.

Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".

The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably ... is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident.
But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practise idolatry.

At this point, as far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we are faced with an unavoidable dilemma. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?

I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, the first verse of the whole Bible, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: "In the beginning was the Word".

This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts, [text unclear] with logos. Logos means both reason and word - a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis.

In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist. The encounter between the Biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance. The vision of Saint Paul, who saw the roads to Asia barred and in a dream saw a Macedonian man plead with him: "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" (cf. Acts 16:6-10) - this vision can be interpreted as a "distillation" of the intrinsic necessity of a rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek inquiry.

In point of fact, this rapprochement had been going on for some time. The mysterious name of God, revealed from the burning bush, a name which separates this God from all other divinities with their many names and simply declares "I am", already presents a challenge to the notion of myth, to which Socrates' attempt to vanquish and transcend myth stands in close analogy.

Within the Old Testament, the process which started at the burning bush came to new maturity at the time of the Exile, when the God of Israel, an Israel now deprived of its land and worship, was proclaimed as the God of heaven and earth and described in a simple formula which echoes the words uttered at the burning bush: "I am".

This new understanding of God is accompanied by a kind of enlightenment, which finds stark expression in the mockery of gods who are merely the work of human hands (cf. Ps 115). Thus, despite the bitter conflict with those Hellenistic rulers who sought to accommodate it forcibly to the customs and idolatrous cult of the Greeks, biblical faith, in the Hellenistic period, encountered the best of Greek thought at a deep level, resulting in a mutual enrichment evident especially in the later wisdom literature.

Today we know that the Greek translation of the Old Testament produced at Alexandria - the Septuagint - is more than a simple (and in that sense really less than satisfactory) translation of the Hebrew text: it is an independent textual witness and a distinct and important step in the history of revelation, one which brought about this encounter in a way that was decisive for the birth and spread of Christianity.

A profound encounter of faith and reason is taking place here, an encounter between genuine enlightenment and religion. From the very heart of Christian faith and, at the same time, the heart of Greek thought now joined to faith, Manuel II was able to say: Not to act "with logos" is contrary to God's nature.

In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which, in its later developments, led to the claim that we can only know God's voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God's freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done.

This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazn and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God's transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions.

As opposed to this, the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which - as the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 stated - unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language.

God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Certainly, love, as Saint Paul says, "transcends" knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Eph 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is Logos. Consequently, Christian worship is, again to quote Paul [text unclear] worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Rom 12:1).

This inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history - it is an event which concerns us even today. Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: this convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.

The thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a dehellenization of Christianity - a call which has more and more dominated theological discussions since the beginning of the modern age. Viewed more closely, three stages can be observed in the programme of dehellenization: although interconnected, they are clearly distinct from one another in their motivations and objectives.
Dehellenization first emerges in connection with the postulates of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Looking at the tradition of scholastic theology, the Reformers thought they were confronted with a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy, that is to say an articulation of the faith based on an alien system of thought. As a result, faith no longer appeared as a living historical Word but as one element of an overarching philosophical system.

The principle of sola scriptura, on the other hand, sought faith in its pure, primordial form, as originally found in the biblical Word. Metaphysics appeared as a premise derived from another source, from which faith had to be liberated in order to become once more fully itself. When Kant stated that he needed to set thinking aside in order to make room for faith, he carried this programme forward with a radicalism that the Reformers could never have foreseen. He thus anchored faith exclusively in practical reason, denying it access to reality as a whole.
The liberal theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ushered in a second stage in the process of dehellenization, with Adolf von Harnack as its outstanding representative. When I was a student, and in the early years of my teaching, this programme was highly influential in Catholic theology too. It took as its point of departure Pascal's distinction between the God of the philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

In my inaugural lecture at Bonn in 1959, I tried to address the issue, and I do not intend to repeat here what I said on that occasion, but I would like to describe at least briefly what was new about this second stage of dehellenization.

Harnack's central idea was to return simply to the man Jesus and to his simple message, underneath the accretions of theology and indeed of hellenization: this simple message was seen as the culmination of the religious development of humanity. Jesus was said to have put an end to worship in favour of morality. In the end he was presented as the father of a humanitarian moral message.

Fundamentally, Harnack's goal was to bring Christianity back into harmony with modern reason, liberating it, that is to say, from seemingly philosophical and theological elements, such as faith in Christ's divinity and the triune God. In this sense, historical-critical exegesis of the New Testament, as he saw it, restored to theology its place within the university: theology, for Harnack, is something essentially historical and therefore strictly scientific.

What it is able to say critically about Jesus is, so to speak, an expression of practical reason and consequently it can take its rightful place within the university. Behind this thinking lies the modern self-limitation of reason, classically expressed in Kant's "Critiques", but in the meantime further radicalized by the impact of the natural sciences.

This modern concept of reason is based, to put it briefly, on a synthesis between Platonism (Cartesianism) and empiricism, a synthesis confirmed by the success of technology. On the one hand it presupposes the mathematical structure of matter, its intrinsic rationality, which makes it possible to understand how matter works and use it efficiently: this basic premise is, so to speak, the Platonic element in the modern understanding of nature.

On the other hand, there is nature's capacity to be exploited for our purposes, and here only the possibility of verification or falsification through experimentation can yield ultimate certainty. The weight between the two poles can, depending on the circumstances, shift from one side to the other. As strongly positivistic a thinker as J Monod has declared himself a convinced Platonist/Cartesian.

This gives rise to two principles which are crucial for the issue we have raised. First, only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion. Hence the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity.

A second point, which is important for our reflections, is that by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question. Consequently, we are faced with a reduction of the radius of science and reason, one which needs to be questioned.

I will return to this problem later. In the meantime, it must be observed that from this standpoint any attempt to maintain theology's claim to be "scientific" would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self.

But we must say more: if science as a whole is this and this alone, then it is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by "science", so understood, and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective. The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective "conscience" becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical.

In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.

Before I draw the conclusions to which all this has been leading, I must briefly refer to the third stage of dehellenization, which is now in progress. In the light of our experience with cultural pluralism, it is often said nowadays that the synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church was a preliminary inculturation which ought not to be binding on other cultures.
The latter are said to have the right to return to the simple message of the New Testament prior to that inculturation, in order to inculturate it anew in their own particular milieux. This thesis is not only false; it is coarse and lacking in precision. The New Testament was written in Greek and bears the imprint of the Greek spirit, which had already come to maturity as the Old Testament developed. True, there are elements in the evolution of the early Church which do not have to be integrated into all cultures. Nonetheless, the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.

And so I come to my conclusion. This attempt, painted with broad strokes, at a critique of modern reason from within has nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age.

The positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly: we are all grateful for the marvellous possibilities that it has opened up for mankind and for the progress in humanity that has been granted to us.

The scientific ethos, moreover, is - as you yourself mentioned, Magnificent Rector - the will to be obedient to the truth, and, as such, it embodies an attitude which belongs to the essential decisions of the Christian spirit.

The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons.

In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.

Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions.

A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures. At the same time, as I have attempted to show, modern scientific reason with its intrinsically Platonic element bears within itself a question which points beyond itself and beyond the possibilities of its methodology.
Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought - to philosophy and theology.

For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding. Here I am reminded of something Socrates said to Phaedo.
In their earlier conversations, many false philosophical opinions had been raised, and so Socrates says: "It would be easily understandable if someone became so annoyed at all these false notions that for the rest of his life he despised and mocked all talk about being - but in this way he would be deprived of the truth of existence and would suffer a great loss".
The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur - this is the programme with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time. "Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God", said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor.

It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university.