Monday, November 17, 2003

OK, OK, its been far too long since I pulled something out of my psyche to write about.

I've been busy. 20 credit semester, 45+ hour work week, 4 kids under the age of 7, and an attempt at a burgeoning writing career.

I like to think that not blogging for a time is the least if my worries.

After months of debate about how to support myself as I turn pro writer (Back into computers? Sales? Consulting?) we've decided something radical.

We're going to try writing.

By that, I mean I have a 'good enogh' job now to get by. I'll start hitting agencies that specialize in placing writers with temp jobs, like manuals and sales copy, to pick up some extra cash and, hopefully, get me into a job where I write for a regular paycheck during the day and for the irregular royalty at home.

We'll see. In the meantime, tho', its good to be blogging.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

I've been trying to write a post about an Army cadence for about 40 minutes, but accidents keep mappening and wiping my text, so I'll take the hint and cut straight to my point.

The U.S. Army is getting fucked over by George w. Bush.

Now, Bush's dad and Dick Cheney fucked the Army over before. I know, I was there. Multiple deployments, usually during the Winter Holidays, to real nasty places to fight wars that didn't really directly affect us (remember when we invaded a sovereign nation to arrest its president because we didn't like him?). Ronald Reagan had cut the pensions of military retirees and George sr. and Dick cut things like recreation centers (do you know what there is to do in the middle of the Mojave? Nothing), improvements to the housing of enlisted men, etc. Then, right after the first Gulf War, they cut the size of the army - mainly by changing the rules to force out soldiers before they could retire. This was mainly done by a) making it very difficult to get promotions and b) requiring those promotions before you could retire.

Then Cheney had the gall to tell the military 'help is on the way'! Ha! When Bush sr. and Cheney were in charge my raises didn't keep pace with inflation.

Now we've got the army in Iraq again. And the war was not fought as a 'flexible force', it was fought on the cheap. It costs more money to ship tanks, so ship fewer tanks seems to be the real philosophy behind the force structure. Why do you want tanks? Its harder to kill guys in tanks. If the forces in Iraq for Iraq 2: Electric Boogaloo had been a standard mix, casualties would have been lighter and the operations wouldn't have taken any longer (remember how forces had to 'maneuver into position' - that was CYA talk for 'mass enough force to fight'. Tanks would have been as fast).

Another idiot move made to save money was the whole 'shock and awe' idea. "We'll scare them into quitting!" said the 'experts'. I was an intelligence spook in a tactical spook unit for over 6 years - when I heard the 'shock and awe' concept years before GWII:EB, I laughed. A buddy of mine named Scotty said it best, "There's a name for big explosions in the air that don't damage targets, and that name is 'fireworks'." The idea that the leaders would surrender in the face of no damage was discounted by military officers from the beginning.

Until, of course, Rumsfeld and Wolf O' Wits decided it was cool. Rumsfeld, by the way, never served in the military (although he was a councilor to Nixon). Wolfowitz, another hawk, also never wore a uniform nor carried a rifle. Both are flat-out eager to send others to die, however.

These two men, with only academic knowledge of combat, predicted that grateful Iraqis would welcome us with open arms ans we strolled into a Baghdad filled with cowering leaders so overwhelmed by airbursts that they were too afraid to fight.

Ah, well. In the business world, they'd be fired. In the military world, they'd be removed from command. In Washington, they're "leaders".

So now our soldiers sit in Iraq. Suicide bombers detonate themselves in the midst of kids from Iowa. Guys from Maine and Kentucky and Arizona are shot in the head while buying a coke on a hot day. Men who married their high school sweethearts haven't seen their wives, or their children, for six, nine, sometimes twelve months. Women with young children haven't held them or kissed them for just as long. All are watching Iraqis and wondering which one is going to try to kill them.

Try to imagine that. You just fought your way into Iraq. You are far from home. And every day someone might kill you while you are eating, or sleeping, or taking a leak, or talking to your friend. Back home, when a reporter asks the president about the danger you are in, he replies 'Bring 'em on". He's 7 time zones away. No one is shooting at him. His best friend wasn't turned into a stain and a pair of dogtags by a suicide bomber yesterday. He sees his wife and his kids every day. He sleeps in a bed, and eats three hot meals, and takes a shower every day. He doesn't have to wait in line for three hours (wondering if he's going to get killed) to call his mother for 5 minutes on her birthday.

Some of these soldiers have no mission anymore - there is literally nothing for them to do except risk death. They aren't being brought home. Rumsfeld has said that the units there will stay there 'because they are experienced'. They are also tired and emotionally exhausted. They have been misled about when they are coming home so many times they don't trust their leaders anymore (of course, their leaders were lied to - excuse me, 'misled' - all the way up).

You know what I think the reason is that these soldiers aren't being rotated? It costs money to swap troops. By leaving these tired, drained soldiers in Iraq the DoD can save some cash. Of course, many of the soldiers (those that live) will change their minds and not re-enlist - the lies, fear, and separation will make sure of that. So new, inexperienced people will be needed. Good thing the economy is bad; in bad times its easier to replace troops since people gotta' eat.

Of course, there is another danger. Tired troops can make mistakes. Scared troops can make mistakes. Emotionally exhausted troops can make mistakes. As time goes on, they may start to hate the Iraqis, seeing them as both the source of their fear (death) and the reason they are far from home (the war). If we leave these same troops over there long enough in bad enough conditions with no end in sight, every day increases the chance that someone will overreact and commit an atrocity like firing on a crowd of civilians, or using a grenade to 'clear a room' full of kids. With the level of training, leadership, and just plain old quality of modern American soldiers this is very unlikely. But if it does happen, they'll be left out to dry and Runsfeld will have something grave and statesman-like to say about it.

"Help is on the way" indeed.

Friday, July 11, 2003

See, that's why I dislike personal comments of too much immediacy on a blog. A brief crisis of faith in the plan I have adopted, a bit of anxiety mixed with too little sleep and viola! A lousy post.

BTW, I'm fine and the job wasn't nearly the Big Deal I made it. I just wanted to work with some old friends I don't see nearly enough.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Man o' man. When I first conceived of Deep Thought I hoped to keep it impersonal for as long as possible. I mean, talking about yourself is neither deep nor profound unless you can illustrate the general human condition in reference to your own.

Of course, bloggers are always in it, ultimately, for themselves. As ,uch as some may rant that they are making "art" or that they are being "profound" (actually, the tendency of bloggers to take themselves far too seriously is where the name Deep Thought came from), in the end we are talking into the dark because we fear that no one wants to listen and yet hope that we are wrong....

Of course, I am dodging the issue. I started this blog for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is exorcising my own personal demons (and a big shout out to Sarah Hatter, Reverse Cowgirl, Blogdaddy, and, of course, Hjalmer).

My blog has so far covered a great many things that I really think and talk about; politics, economics, and (the big one) theology. But I have been omitting a great deal else, the fear, and the anger, and the confusion, and the joy, and love, and laughter; in other words, the human parts.

But it is harder for me to shout my emotions into the dark, because I am afraid the dark is listening. I was essentially mentally ill for a long, long time and I am afraid of what I feel to this day. It might be alien, it might be other, it might be not-me. Even knowing that the aneurysm that was short-circuiting my skull is gone, I know that my recovery is still going on. ad i fear that I might never be 'better'.

The scary part is, though - how do I tell if I'm crazy? If that gush of blood that oh-so-nearly crushed me damaged my brain permanently, how can I tell? If my emotional responses are off by 5 or 6 degrees, who can tell?

I hate this, I hate this, I hate this! Every question brings a pause as I wonder, every one of my answers is weighed and weighed again. My wife tells me that I sometimes don't answer the question that people ask me, I answer something else. I don't think so, I think that I understood it better than she did. But, what is she's right? What if the more certain I am, the more egregious the error? The Heisenberg Uncertainty Conversation.

Of course, it could be stress. A wife, four young children, no job, no home of my own, a full-time course load at college, trying to keep it together, and always wondering, wondering. Am I unemployed because the economy is bad, or because I can't get a job anymore? Or is it that people can sense the hesitancy, the not-like-me lack of confidence?

And that is the worst, isn't it? what if i am so busy wondering if I am really acting like me that I do not have time to act like me? What if i have made myself the new Sisyphus, always pushing the boulder of Self up the hill of Self-Doubt?

No time, no time. I must away and try to earn my bread.

Sweet heavens, I am wound tight. I have two tests today (one finished and one to go), but that's not it. No, I really, really want this job I applied for, and I don't think I'm going to get it. I applied Sunday night and the job posting was gone Monday afternoon. I am really qualified for the job, and I know people at the company, but I am just convinced that I won't get it. This is mainly because I have been trying to get hired into this same company for almost 4.5 years and its never worked out.

But I hope it does. Jen and I are down to about $850 and have no hope for more other than a job, and soon.

Enough about me, though.

I'll post more later, after my next test.

Sunday, July 06, 2003

Well, even more evidence that Western civilization in general and American civilization in particular is corroding in an inexorable slide into collapse.

Over the Fourth of July weekend there was a "boat rage" incident on Lake Minnetonka. For those of you who don't live in the Twin Cities Metro Area, Lake Minnetonka is a rather large lake in the eastern suburbs famous (or infamous, as you prefer) for the price of the homes on its shores (some are worth tens of millions) and the hauteur of many of those who boat there. Lake Minnetonka has many coves and bays and this incident occured in one of them.

Well, this weekend a boat seems to have either bumped another boat or rocked it with 'excess wake', causing the man in the receiving boat to lose his temper. Shortly thereafter, the man in the boat that did the bumping threw the other fellow in the lake - and drove his boat (including outboard) over him. The man thrown in the water is probably dead.

I hear you now, "Probably, Deep Thought? Aren't you sure?" No, no one is sure he's dead, and that is a more terrifying story than the one about how he probably died. A much more terrifying story.

You see, within a few moment sherrif's boats with deputies arrived to clear the area and get divers in the water to search for the missing boater. Eventually there were 35 deputies in 9 boats screaming through bullhorns to clear the area so the divers could start looking. Here's the beginning of the scary part - no one moved their boat. Nobody. A man is probably dead in the water, but maybe injured and needing help, and no one moves their boat to allow the police to try to find him.

Here's the scarier part - they didn't want to move becaue they were afraid they'd lose their prime 'fireworks watching' spots in the cove. That's right, the motivating force behind all of these people ignoring the police as they perhaps left an injured man to drown (and at least left his dead body in the water) was a fear that they wouldn't have a prime view of the upcoming fireworks.

And the scary finish to this story is the added fact that the police had great difficulty in getting statements about what happened from the eyewitnesses. Now, were they afraid of the man who probably killed a fellow boater? No. Were they ashamed of their callous disregard of the welfare of another human being? No. You see, the police were taking their statments during the fireworks show and people didn't want to "ruin their fourth" by giving the police a statement about the murder they witnessed instead of watching the fireworks. Other witnesses left immediately after the fireworks show despite the pleas of police to make a statement. Despite this, enough evidence was gained that two people are in custody and the investigation continues.

Let's sum up - in Minnesota, a place that prides itself on being friendly, a man is hurled from a boat and probably killed and the many observers refuse to either make room for divers to either save the man or retrieve his body or make statements as to what they saw because they wanted a good view of the fireworks.

I'm going to go out on a limb here, but I bet a lot of the people there got a little misty-eyed when they heard the National Anthem on the 4th of July. I bet many more of them get teary when they saw Bruce Willis' speech in the movie Armageddon. And I bet a whole lot of 'em get upset about the Holocaust and wonder how Germans could just stand by while 12 million people were purposefully executed in gas chambers.

Newsflash! Many of those Germans didn't want to get arrested, too. And some didn't want to risk losing that really good job they finally had. Or the nice house, social connections, whatever. Essentially, they didn't want to risk losing their place for the really good show.

If you think I am being too harsh in drawing a comparison between the boaters who wouldn't move and complacent Germans under the Nazi regime, let me respond with this; The boaters are probably far worse than the majority of WWII-era average-joe Germans were. Most Germans were just careful not to connect the dots; they didn't turn and look full-on at the truth. These boaters knew the truth and turned their back on a man's life and probable death. They weighed a man's fate against a fireworks display and found compassion wanting. They compared letting another man's family know whether their husband and father were alive or dead with their own family's opportunity for a really good view of fireworks and decided in favor of the red starclusters.

One of my first posts was about the separation of compassion from the rest of our lives and how this is a sign of moral corrosion. My example then was how the Nazi high command could order the Final Solution one day and cry at the opera the next. I am afraid that this is a new example, a new indicator that many members of society are placing empathy for their fellow humans in a box that is only opened for movies and family reunions.

And in the end, what is civilization but formalized empathy for others?

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

I should be sleeping. But I'm not.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Most of my friends are ignoring the brouhaha over prescription drugs and medicare. After all, we’re young, hip, and immortal. The fact of the matter is, though, that even if you plan to die young and leave a good-looking corpse, you should be worried about how the government is screwing us all over.

The House and the Senate have each passed slightly different prescription drug plans for senior citizens. Democrats (as usual) are saying things like “it doesn’t go far enough” (implying that its good, but not great) and Republicans are predictably shouting “this is salvation for seniors”. In reality, though, this sucks for everybody.

Here’s how the plan is going to work. A senior citizen signs up for private insurance that covers prescriptions. Then, once they are enrolled, the government helps pay for prescriptions – but only after a certain amount of premium is paid (about $450 a year) and after a certain amount of money has been paid by the senior citizen for drugs (about another $250). After all of that the plan begins to pay 80% or 100% of the remaining drug costs (depending on if we’re talking House or Senate plan). Sounds OK, right?

Well, not really. The first big problem concerns the fact that the plan won’t go into effect until 2006. This isn’t because its complicated (although it is), this is because virtually no company offers prescription-only insurance – the basis for the plan. Congress expects private companies to begin offering prescription-only insurance in the meantime so that they can cash-in on the plan.

This may be wishful thinking. The people most likely to enroll in such plans are those who really need the coverage. Insurance companies make their profits by not covering people who are likely to need their insurance. Or, they do so by overcharging enough in premiums and co-pays that they still make money despite providing benefits. So the companies that do provide prescription-only insurance are almost certainly going to charge as much as possible for every step of the insurance cycle. All of those extra costs, by the way, will be paid for with tax moneys.

The Senate version of the bill has a provision, though, saying that Medicare will offer its own prescription insurance – but only if there are less than 2 private providers of such insurance in a region. Many worry that this will in effect promote local monopolies – insurance companies that are the sole providers of insurance in a region who, free from competition, charge whatever they want and have their charges gladly paid for with tax money.

Another problem is the cost structure. Although senior citizens that spend a great deal on prescription drugs ($5,000+) will save money, they vast majority of seniors (about 70%) will not have their costs go down. Indeed, the Commonwealth Alliance (a watchdog group) estimates that about 35% of seniors on Medicare will have their drug costs go up. For about 10% they will double or more. Oh, and if they have other insurance (say, from retirement benefits) that contribute toward drug costs, that money doesn’t count toward the plans out of pocket costs – no matter what, you must pay $700+ to receive any benefits.

To sum up, the plans currently passed by Congress rely upon an almost nonexistent service that, if and when it is provided, will cost some senior citizens more than they pay now and will certainly cost the government a great deal more than if they were to pay all cost directly (since the plan is effectively funding insurance company profits on top of drug costs). It involves a chain of doctors, private individuals, private insurance companies, pharmacies, etc., all of which will require more administration, also driving up costs.

So why did the Congress pass a bill that makes care more complicated, more expensive, and more prone to error? As usual, the answer is ‘money’.

According to the group Public Citizen, drug companies spent almost a quarter of a billion dollars on lobbying, advertising, and campaign contributions during the 2000 election cycle. The annual lobbying expenditures by drug manufacturers has been no less than $25 million for almost 2 decades. The three or four drug companies that dominate the market spend fortunes on influencing our elected leaders to protect their own immense profits.

How immense are the profits of the drug industry? According to Fortune magazine (April 2002 issue), the average profits of the major drug manufacturers were 8 times the average return of the rest of the Fortune 500, making it the most profitable industry in America. Indeed, the most profitable drug company in America, Pfizer, made more profit ($7.8 billion after all taxes, expenditures, etc.) than Fortune 500 companies engaged in railroads, clothing, home construction, and publishing combined. Merck, the second most profitable drug company, had a total profit of 7.3 billion, meaning that its profit was greater than the profits of all Fortune 500 companies engaged in hotels, casinos, resorts, crude oil production, pipeline industries, food production, and semiconductor manufacturing combined.

According to the University of Minnesota, the drug industry has been one of the top two industries in America for over 30 years and has been the clearly dominate money-maker since the dawn of the 1990’s with a profit margin almost 4 times greater than the average for Fortune 500 companies. Heck, even inn 2001, when the economy as a whole was taking a dive for the pavement, gross profits for the drug industry were up 33%. Needless to say, the multimillionaire CEO’s of these companies, with their hundreds of millions of dollars in stock options, are very interested in protecting these immense profits.

In addition to lobbying congress (also known as ‘paying for protection’), the drug companies lobby us, the everyday consumer. The most successful ploy is to contend that the enormous costs of research and development to develop drugs that may or may not work demand that they charge high prices – otherwise, they say, they can’t keep developing life-saving drugs.In an informal survey of 50 people at a nearby college I found that 80% of them could recite this argument almost word for word.

In truth, however, R&D doesn’t cost that much. While the National Science Foundation does report that drug companies spent about $16 billion on R&D in 1997 (the most recent comparative year), this was less than the $18 billion spent on R&D for computer hardware alone, meaning that they are spending less R&D money than companies that do not compare to their level of profitability.

Indeed, Fortune magazine reports that none of the top 10 drug companies spent more money on R&D than they designated as profits in 2001. Indeed, on average drug companies spend three times as much money on advertising, marketing, and administrative costs as they do on research and development. And according to a Senate committee report from 1991, drug manufacturers exaggerate their research costs by adding in all expenditures on marketing research, including things like focus groups and surveys to create a name for a new drug.

It gets even shadier. An oft-cited 2001 report by the Tufts Center for Drug Development claimed that it costs $802 million dollars to develop a single new drug. This number is, in polite terms, an obfuscation. The Tuft’s report includes in this total the ‘opportunity cost of capital’, or the theoretical money ‘lost’ by the company by not investing in something else. Now, considering that the most profitable industry in America is the manufacture of new drugs, I am not alone in wondering how the Center for Drug Development decided that this hypothetical cost came to about $400 million dollars per new drug, or about 50% of their total estimated costs.

Another ‘obfuscation’ is the failure to mention that R&D dollars are tax deductible, meaning that, after tax savings, R&D costs should be reduced by about 33%, reducing the actual cost of R&D to about $240 million per new drug. Last but not least, the Center for Drug Development’s estimates are only for the development of completely new drugs, something that is increasingly less common. Most new drugs today are variations of existing pharmaceuticals, meaning that the actual R&D cost per a new drug may average as low as $40 million each, perhaps much lower.

We will almost certainly never know the actual costs of R&D for new drugs because the companies involved (despite their complaints) refuse to divulge the information. Even when subpoenaed by Congress the drug companies refused, eventually winning the right to stay silent in the Supreme Court in 1993.

In addition to all of this, the government pays for at least some drug research and development with tax money. The National Institutes of Health says that 45 of the top 50 drugs in volume of sales were developed with at least some government funding (with a total of no less than $175 million in taxpayers’ money) and that total drug research expenditures by the government were over $1 billion dollars in 1996. Unfortunately, the NIH tracks its research spending “very loosely” and cannot give a detailed accounting of how the money was spent.

What we do know, however, is very upsetting. For example, the drug Taxol was developed at taxpayer expense (for a mere $27 million, at that). It is currently exclusively marketed by Bristol-Meyers Squibb and had total sales of about $1.6 billion world-wide in the year 2000. The return to taxpayers? Zero dollars.

The drug industry also receives tax breaks. In a 1999 congressional report it was revealed that the average effective tax rate of major industries was about 27% from 1993-1996. During that same period, the effective tax rate for drug manufacturers was about 16% due to tax breaks granted by Congress. In the end, the most profitable industry in America is also the least-taxed industry in America. This is certainly the result of decades of hard-core lobbying by the drug industry.

Which leads us back to the prescription drug bills now being reconciled in the congress. One of the reasons that it is so complicated is to make sure that prescription drug users are not represented by a single company or governmental group. Why? It drives down costs and, thus, profits.

Virtually every European nation (and I’m including Canada is this group) negotiates prescription drug costs. Some set limits to profits, requiring a company toi reimburse the government if it exceeds some upper profit limit (about 17% in England, more elsewhere), some encourage the use of generic drugs, and some simply sit down with the drug companies and reach an agreement on a ‘fair’ price. According to the Government Accounting Office all the nations that do this use the same drugs that Americans do but spend between 35% and 50% less total on prescriptions. Similarly, in America the Veteran’s Administration has conducted simple negotiations with drug companies reducing the cost of prescription drugs at VA centers by 50%. As a result, 60% of the drug companies’ world-wide profits come from America.

Needless to say, the drug companies are very interested in maintaining the high prices in America – the difference is pure profit. As a result, more than $12 million in ‘soft money’ alone was donated to political parties and PACs in 2001-2002 (75% to Republicans, the rest to Democrats). And an additional $78 million was spent on lobbying members of Congress that same year. In total, the drug industry has a total of about 625 full-time lobbyists, more than half of which are former Federal employees – including 23 former members of Congress.

And the lobbying is paying off. Over the last 20 years, as the drug companies spent more and more in Washington, all efforts to provide a prescription drug benefit directly through Medicare have failed, patent protection for drugs (making them more profitable for longer) have been extended a number of times, and legislation has been passed limiting the ability of citizens to sue drug companies for damage caused by drug side-effects.

And, of course, the new prescription drug plan from Congress. A plan that costs senior citizens more, costs all taxpayers more, denied patients the opportunity to engage in group negotiation, and guarantees that the drug companies will continue to make tens of billions of dollars in profit every year.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

OK, OK - I've been busy. Summer term started and I'm taking Christian Morality and the Theology of Global Economics - lots of reading for both! In the last two weeks I've read three entire books (scholarly books, yet), written four papers, reviewed the social teachings of the Catholic Church, etc., etc. - all while writing two projects and doing the usual "4 sons and a lovely wife" stuff, too!

And, speaking of writing, it just doesn't pay enough right now - so I'm looking for a "real" job. The urgency is a bit high, too - I need $3,000 to purchase our van (I'll never lease again!) or I won't have a way to get to school or work. I've actually started asking relatives for a loan, but most of my relatives are not in a position to help. Ah, well - something will come up.

But enough about me... what about you?

Well, gotta' get to class. I'll post more later.

Friday, June 06, 2003

Man, what a bind I am in. And on so many levels. Let me explain.

No, its too complicated. Let me sum up.

Almost exactly a year ago I ceased being employed by my former employer under circumstances that I cannot talk about in deference to our lawyers.

Anywhoo, I decided that I would work for myself and went into writing. After a few false starts, I started to develop a freelance career aimed at a very small niche. And its now starting to pay off. Slowly. And with the occasional 'we'd like to pay you, but we have no money'.

Life or a writer, tight?

Here's part of the rub. I figured this would be the perfect time to return to college and complete my degree. If writing is great, its cool. If it isn't, I am now degreed and, thus, more employable. I have often suffered from a (irrationally) terrible combination of having over 10 years of experience as a manager and no degree. I think this demonstrates that I have proven time and again that I am a capable, talented manager who has clearly demonstrated leadership abilities (after all, I keep getting promoted to manager). However, no HR department agrees with me. Even worse, when you have 4 managers and all but one has a degree, guess whi gets laid off first?

That's right - I do.

So, I figured, my degree completion will be good.

More stickiness added.

I like college. A lot. Now that my brain isn't being crushed by an aneurysm, I'm doing really well.So Jen and I started thinking/talking about/debating "why don't I get my master's degree?"

So I'm going to do that now. A master's degree.

More stuff.

And why not get a PhD? In my chosen field (theology) you really must have a PhD to be employed as a professor. And it would add credibility to my writing. And I'm considering public speaking - a PhD would be real handy for that.

Back to the here and now.

So, writing has been a bit of a slow starter. I'm not going to quit, but I need to, say, feed my children - so I'm looking for a real job.And I want to get my master's here. If I do well enoguh, I can get into Notre Dame's PhD program, with its full ride plus stipend.

Or should I get a job and go to the MA part-time? Just get a job?

Argh. Well, I'm obviously a bit burned out with sheer potentiality. Time to put in the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack and stop thinking so much.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Here I am, taking a break from... well, writing something else, actually. I'm working on the player's guide for the d20 adaptation of the DemonWars Saga series of novels by R. A. Salvatore. Mucho fun.

And I finally found the album Heaven or Las Vegas by the Cocteau Twins. I was certain I had lost it in the move and was ready to buy a new copy when it shoed up. I am personally convinced that if you haven't heard Liz Fraser singing you have missed an important, perhaps life-changing, event. I don't know how many reviewers have compared her to an angel. Heck, when they needed someone to sing the Elvish Lament in Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring they got Liz. By herself.

And she sounded just like what I thought elves would sound like when I was 12 and read the books for the first time.

Let me put it this way - I'm such a big fan of Liz that I not only have her agent's phone number and email address (I was an intelligence goober in the army, ya' know), but I've written to him about how my wife and I can get to meet her (Jen is a huge Liz fan, too). He's nice, BTW, not what you'd expect from an agent based on how Hollyweird portrays them in movies, and makes vague comments about her next big tour in America.

Fair enough.

Until then, though, I'll keep listening to songs like Iceblink Luck and Frou-Frou Foxes in Midsummer (from this album) or my all time favorite, Treasure Hiding.

And no, Hjalmer, I won't give you the agent's contact info - he made me promise not to if we want to meet Liz.

In my place you'd do the same thing.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Time for a lighter entry than normal, I think.

Back in 1999 one of the movie review sites I visit (probably mentioned a website for a movie called The Blair Witch Project. I checked it out and was immediately hooked. I sent the page to all of my co-workers and friends with an interest in movies and saw it opening week. And i really, really enjoyed it. During the credits, though, I noticed that it was produced by a guy named Gregg Hale.

"Huh," thought I, "I had a close friend named Gregg Hale. I wish I'd kept track of him."

Like much else from those years, the thought of finsing my friend never quite took - the pressure from my aneurysm was getting severe, making me forgetful and unable to focus. If I had only known....

Gregg and I went to the Defense Language Institute together in 1985-86 where we were in class together, studying the Farsi language. We both loved Japanese food and drinking, so we hung out a lot. He introduced me to punk music and the ideological aspects of cultural dissent. He was 2-3 years older and we had a lot of fun hanging out, going to the e-club, and playing D&D. After DLI I went to the 519th at Ft. Bragg and he went to 5th Special Forces Group, also at Bragg. 5th Group eventually moved to Ft. Campbell and I lost touch. At the time my first marriage was collapsing, so I had little opportunity to track him down and, after, my illness kept me from thinking too much about anything.

Well, about 4 months ago I'm trying to track down someone else when I encounter an email address for a Gregg Hale. Not too hopeful, I dashed off an email - and it is my old friend! Very cool.

I asked, and found out, that he was, indeed, the producer of The Blair Witch Project. Super cool.

Which brings us to the meat of today's entry. Monday night my wife, who is certainly NOT a fan of horror movies, or even just scary movies, finally sat down to watch Blair Witch with me. I pop in the DVD and hit play.

She stopped actually watching the movie during the events of the second night. As the characters were preparing to camp for the fifth night, she finally demanded that I turn off the movie and leave all the lights on. I was further instructed, quote, "Tell your friend Gregg that I don't really like him much right now," end quote.

I'm pretty sure Gregg will be happy to hear that.

The story keeps on going, though. Tuesday morning at breakfast Jen is kinda' mad that I "made" her watch as much as she did. Our oldest, Jack (who is 6 years old), asked to watch the movie with me. Jen told him, "Remember how the movie Them scared you so badly? This is 100 times scarier."

Jack's eyes got really big and he asked, "Does it have ants 100 feet tall?"

While Jen tried to hide her laugh, I chimed in, "Well, you really don't see what is after the characters, you just... hear things."

Jack smiled and said, "Oh, just like Forbidden Planet. I loved the part where the Monster from the Id left those scary footprints in the sand. That was awesome."

He immediately jumped down from his chair and ran off to play "Monsters from the Id" with his brothers.

Jen and I were laughing quietly while I beamed with pride over my son's knowledge of horror and science fiction film. Even Jen was impressed, considering Jack saw Forbidden Planet only once and that was more than a year ago.

Dinner table discussions of theology, science, horror films, and science fiction. Such is life in a home full of geeks. I wouldn't trade it for NASCAR and wrestling for all the money in the world.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Well, my final final of the semester was Friday. I spent yesterday trying to relax. I'm not very good at 'working on relaxing', so today will be much less productive, I hope.

And I am having serious trouble with the entire italics html tag in my blog. Please forgice me, but I have brain damage. Maybe I'll ask my good buddy Hjalmer to debug this page. hmmmm.

I had two interesting philosophical encounters over the past few days. Most people don't seem to have any - but they probably aren't looking! Me, I look and listen because I think that what and how we think is important and needs to be examined and discussed. Of course, my friend Gregg Hale would counter that I just like to argue. He probably has a point.

Anyway, my first issue was with a local radio personality named Todd Friel with KKMS (look up in the Twin Cities. Now, politically-liberal religiously conservative Catholic that I am, I have many problems with the far-right wing evangelical protestants of KKMS in general. But I listen to find out what people who don't think like me are talking about, something I feel is very important.

Todd is a talk-show host that I find to be a mass of contradictions; he likes to make proclamations like "Good Christians don't do x", or ""This book/movie/whatever is evil and no Christian should buy/see it", while claiming he doesn't think about theology much. He seems to really dislike the very word 'theology'.


Now, whenever you say or think things like 'this is evil', or 'this is something a Christian/Buddhist/Zoroastrian should or shouldn't so', you are engaged in theology. And most religious people know and admit this. I usually find that when someone who is religious rejects the concept of theology one of three things is going on; 1) they think 'theology' is some weird, esoteric thing like church Latin and is not part of everyday life; 2) they haven't figured out what they actually believe yet, can't detail their beliefs, and therefore avoid discussing particulars; or, 3) both A and B.

I think Todd is more B with a bit of A along the lines of 'theology equals complexity'. Mainly, though, he joins the vast ranks of evangelicals who have strong beliefs - but don't know how to detail or defend them.

Now, before you think I'm a jerk, I don't think that only people with a developed theology are religious, or that religious people with a fuzzy theology are weak, poor cousins, etc. Far from it. But I do think that if you are going to spout off about Good and Evil and what 'good Christians' should or shouldn't do, you have an obligation to have a solid theology behind you.

Todd doesn't. And he doesn't see a problem with that. Like a lot of people I encounter, he knows what he knows and if you don't agree then you are deluded. Facts, logic, and rhetoric don't matter - he's right, you're wrong, he's moving on.

Lest you think I'm picking on poor Todd, let me assure you - I am convinced most of us (amd i include myself) think like this most of the time. Indeed, it is the only way to be productive. We don't wonder if the sun will come up in the East tomorrow, nor do we worry that the next time we turn the tap the water will flow up just this once. Making assumptions and working off preconceived notions keep sus efficient and productive. even sane.

But we can't let this stand when it comes to such issues as politics, religion, relationships, etc. We must ensure that we check our premises every now and then. And even if you are certain that you will never change your mind about something (such as my faith), you should understand it, be able to explain it, and make logical extrapolations from it.

My other encounter - well, I'll talk about that some other time, I think.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

I apologize for the scarcity of posts, but 1) its the end of the semester for me and I'm taking 20 credits (including three 300 level courses), 2) I just moved to a new home, 3) I have 4 children under the age of 7.

I've been busy.

During the move, though, something special happened. Our new place has the magic that is cable TV. Normally, I don't watch TV very much (see items #1, 2, and 3, above) but I have been watching some cartoons with the kids. Anyhoo, I was able to experience my oldest son's first encounter with the Hunting Trilogy of Chuck Jones.

The cartoons called the Hunting Trilogy are the three cartoons titled Rabbit Fire, Rabbit Seasoning, and Duck! Rabbit, Duck!. These cartoons have some importance to trivia buffs like me (they are the only three Warner Brothers cartoons to feature Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, and Bugs Bunny together), but virtually every North American recognizes them as 'the ones where Daffy and Bugs argue that its either rabbit season or duck season'.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself "So his kid saw a cartoon; so what?"
Let me illustrate with a bit of dialogue;
After being shot by Elmer when he expected Bugs to get shot, the following exchange takes place,
Daffy: "Let's run through that again, shall we?"
Bugs: "Sure, Doc."
Daffy (dispassionately): "Its rabbit season, shoot him."
Bugs (also dispassionately): "Would you like to shoot me now or wait 'til you get home?"
Daffy: "Shoot him now, shoot him now."
Bugs: "You keep out of this, he does not have to shoot you now."
Daffy (the light dawns): "A-ha!" (looks at the camera) "Pronoun trouble"

Folks, this isn't 'just a cartoon', this is art. And I don't mean as in 'Fantasia is art', I mean this is good, important, you should learn about it in college art. Where Fantasia was created by a group of guys who wanted to 'prove' they were artists, Rabbit Seasoning and the rest were made by artists trying to make something they would love and be proud of. And the difference in how people react to Fantasia and Rabbit Seasoning shows this. All sorts of TV specials show you the sorceror's apprentice and talk about how 'important' it is. But you don't go to work and talk about fantasia with your co-workers. On the other hand, people watch Rabbit Seasoning all the time and talk about it with each other over the water cooler even though the cartoon was made in 1952. There isn't anything artificial about it, no attempt to be relevant - and that's what makes this 7 minute animated short so cool - the guys who made it just wanted to make the viewer laugh. And we have been laughing for 51 years.

If you think this stuff hasn't seeped into our culture, try this - next time you see two people arguing over some matter (in a friendly way) just interject "rabbit season!" - they'll get the reference. Or look at the movie Drive where two guys are arguing when one suddenly yells "Don't try that Bigs Bunny shit on me! I am not going to tell Elmer to shoot me!"

Or just look at my son, Jack. He laughed his head off at Daffy's spinning beak. And I suspect that 30 years or so from now while his kids are laughing at Daffy's beak, he will be laughing at the same line that gets me every time.

"Pronoun trouble".

Friday, May 02, 2003

In general, I think talk radio is a vast wasteland. Most talk radio hosts either have a too narrow focus, too skewed position, or both. If 'truth in talk radio' laws existed, most radio 'personalities' would be in jail for a loooong time.

But I spend a lot of time listening to talk radio, nonetheless. Why? I listen to the people I disagree with most just to keep an ear on the opposition, as it were. Just as theologians are mainly responding to questions and dealing with problems, I listen to prepare for attacks and respond to questions. Just doing my part to be prepared. And besides, the research I do often teaches me new things and occasionally changes my mind [for example, my research has led me to think Mumia Jamal did kill that cop, but I also think he didn't get a fair trial. So I think he shouldn't be executed, but should spend some time in the big house].

It also makes me realize how the Catholic Church needs to make its full position on many topics much more widely known. Here is an aexample.

Yesterday I heard a local marriage counselor talking to a woman with a problem. While she was pregnant her husband started an affair with another, younger, woman. He returned to his wife when she gave birth - but now his mistress is pregnant with his child, too, and he's waffling. This is a horrible situation and the counselor mentioned that he's seen this before and has plans to deal with it in an attempt to save the marriage.

Seen this before? Church of the Holy Sepulchre, what is going on?!

But I know what's going on. A huge number of males in this society have no concepts of responsibility of the results of their sexual activity. And almost as many females concur that sex and consequences have nothin to do with each other. I refuse to refer to these adults as 'men' or 'women' because these attitudes are immature and 'men' and 'women' are words to describe mature humans.

And why should a young man feel that he should face any consequences from being sexually active? After all, birth control means that a woman can't get pregnant, right? And condoms also prevent STDs, right? Well, no - not really. A condom combined with a spermicide is (according to the FDA) about 85% effective - meaning that about 1 in 6 times the woman will get pregnant. And the FDA calculates that a condom without spermicide (the method of choice for many) can be no more than 97% effective. Indeed, the FDA calculates that a diaphragm with spermicide is statistically about as effective as withdrawal. And remember, the FDA is dealing with statistical means here - hurried young people with little experience are going to actually be in danger of slipping down to the 50% to 60% effectiveness of such sloppy birth control. But these young people expect the effectiveness to be 100% - so they really don't think about the potential consequences. And if there is a failure, then just get an abortion, right?

Again, this is ducking the responsibilities in herent in sex. After all, according to the CDC about 10% of all abortions result in immediate health complications (ranging from second-degree burns to intestinal perforations) and about one-fifth of these complications (or 2% of total abortions) are considered life threatening. That means that about 80 women are suffering life-threatening complications from abortions not every year, not evey month, but every day. And the CDC also reports that many deaths directly related to abortions are not reported as related to abortions, increasing the number of women who die as a direct result of abortion by at least 50%, to no less than 40 women a year.

Scary numbers - who wants to die because of sex? And we haven't even started talking about STDs, which are more likely to bypass contraception!

So beyond any emotional connectedness, spiritual directives, moral issues, or just plain compassion for your sexual partner, having sex instantly creates a situation where at least the woman's future is potentially at risk.Having sex is a risky business and human societies have historically recognized this and placed moral, cultural, and societal demnds on those who engage in sex.

But current society tells youngsters that sex should be and is free of all consequences as risk. Indeed, many parents oppose abstinence education because it 'doesn't work'. Actually, as everyone from the Pope to the CDC, FDA, and NOW continue to state/freely admit only abstinence is 100% effective in preventing disease and pregnancy. The only nation in Africa with a declining percentage of AIDS infection is Uganda. Its secret? Abstinence education and a strong emphasis on monogamous marriages with no infidelity. So they have a declining percentage of AIDS infection, a sharp drop in all other STDs, and a steep decline in unwed mothers and teen pregnancies. And the basic message of their abstinence program is 'if you have sex you will eventually get pregnant or catch a disease'. And it works.

Let's repeat that - teaching people that sex has consequences is shown to reduce teen pregnancies, unwed mothers, STDs, and the percentage of AIDS infection. And I do mean a declining rate of AIDS infection, which means the total number of AIDS patients is still growing, albeit slowly - I mean a declining percentage of AIDS patients, meaning the total number of infected people is going down. This information is available from Doctors without Borders and in a number of medical journals - but not the WHO, yet. Many at the UN oppose abstinence programs because it might take funding away from condom programs.

Let's repeat that, too - some want to suppress the abstinence and monogamy programs (that have been proven to work in the real world) because it might reduce the funding for condom programs (which have been proven to fail in the real world).

This is all part of a continuing pattern of people confusing the acceptance that sex has consequences with being repressed. People think that teaching others that having sex will lead to children, that abortion is inherently dangerous, or that condoms don't prevent AIDS (statistically) is somehow infringing on their 'rights'. Read the news stories about these issues and see if you can see this pattern. Or write me and tell me I'm crazy - either way, think about this. Its more important than you think.

Saturday, April 26, 2003

Friday was an interesting day in my American Political Thought class (I'm working on a degree - BA this Winter, Master's program immediately after). We are reading and discussing various themes in American political history and this section is on class and economics - this means people like Brownson, Sinclair Lewis, etc. Well, while discussing middle class/working class issues and poverty several students used the term 'the poor' in ways that meant that they were envisioning only urban "people-of-color". Not only is it unfair to Blacks to assume that 'poor' equals 'unemployed Black man' it ignores the fact that the majority of poor Americans are employed Whites in rural areas. A vast majority, actually. Unemployed Blacks just tend to be much more convienient when a politician or reporter wants an image - they are close, and they are so stereotyped in American thought that they are perfect for framing a soundbite.

That's OK - these kids are in college to learn, so I spoke up a mentioned the statistics (giving some references I had at hand) so they could do some research and learn some facts about poverty.

Then the fun began. A student started a rant about how the poor aren't doing to well for themselves politically because (close quote, but not exact) 'they're so ignorant that the vote to block abortions for someone else when they don't have healthcare. I mean, how stupid is it to care what someone else does with their body when you don't have insurance? They have their priests and ministers telling them what to do and they just do it because they don't know enough to think for themselves.'

No, really. A kid going to a Catholic university said this. In front of people, and stuff. On purpose.

I broke in and said "You might want to be more careful before you equate being pro-life with being ignorant or stupid. Or claiming that its only an issue for the poor."

And he actually tried to reply! he said, "I'm just saying that the poor are more likely to be religious and that they don't have the education to realize they don't have to do what the priests tell them to do. I mean, why don't priests care about wages, or insurance? I'm not trying to be offensive."

I said, "You're failing. Badly."

Where was the professor, you ask? Standing there, letting me correct this kid.

Just so you know, the Catholic Church has been officially promoting the concept of a 'living wage', or a minimum wage sufficient to support a family, since the encyclical Rarum Novarum in 1891. Many bishops, theologians, etc. have advocated similar concepts since at least the 3rd century, but it became the official stance of the Church as a whole with this encyclical on Capital and Labor. And the Church remains heavily active in the modern living wage movement (Santa Fe springs to mind) to this day.

And while the Church has no official declaration on universal health care, two millenia of building hospitals, educating doctors and nurses, and providing free care to the poor and indigent speaks loudly enough, I think.

This kid was obviously made nervous by my words and literally bolted out of the room as soon as class ended. I think that tomorrow night I might write up a little note for him including all the stuff I've written about here (with a bibliography) as well as a statistical snapshot of pro-life voters. Wht go to the trouble, you ask?

Too many people today assume that if you do not agree with their opinions (a popular opinion) then it means that you are misled and that you are not worth listening to. I do my best to introduce people to one of my favorite pastimes - trying to change my own mind. By this I mean taking something that someone disagrees with me about and researching it to see if I'm the idiot. I've discovered that I am wrong about enough things that I try to spread this wonderful idea around a bit.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

According to the best numbers available the Catholic Church has a touch over 1.1 billion members. This is based upon the number of people who are officially members of a parish, nt just 'self-reporting' Catholics (although some estimates were made for 'secret Catholics', or Catholics in nations where being Catholic can get you arrested or killed, like China - but that is a fraction of the total). This means that about 16.5% of all humans are Catholic, making it easily the largest denomination on Earth. It also means that Catholics just barely outnumber all other Christian denominations combined (there are about 2 billion Christians, or 33% of the total population).

Not too bad for a church that has been called 'irrelevant' or even 'dying' by the media, huh?

And the Catholic Church is growing, by the way, at about 10% per decade. While this may seem like small growth, in actuality it means that in 2010 there will be about 110 million more Catholics than there were 2 years ago. Compare this with, say, the Pentecostal churches which have about 1 million congregants world-wide. And a large number of 'new' Catholics are converts, always dynamic members that are usually very active (in any religion).

In America about 25% of all citizens are Catholic, or about 70 million people - easily the largest single denomination in America.

Yes, I'm getting to my point now.

Traditionally, American Catholics have voted Democrat for about 120+ years. Rain or shine, as the party changed it usually changed to match the opinion of Catholics. This all began to change in the late 1920's and accelerated in the '70's, especially post-. Since the 1980 elections more and more Catholics are voting Republican until it is clear that soon Catholics may become majority Republicans. So what has the Democratic party done to win back this massive voting block?


That's right, nothing. While the changes are many, the main sticking point for most Catholics is the abortion issue. After that are other 'socially conservative' issues, like homosexual marriage, sex education, etc. In the main, though, surveys reveal that many Catholics that vote Republican prefer the Democratics position on issues like fiscal policy, legislation, welfare, medicaid, etc. In other words, Catholics are largely socially conservative but fiscally liberal (the opposite of Jesse Ventura); they are pro-welfare, anti-war, and don't want tax cuts for the wealthy.

As more turn to the Republicans on social issues, though, this is changing and Catholics are sloooowly becoming more fiscally conservative, too, in response to what they see as a total failure of the Democratic positions.

So it seems that it should be fairly easy to reach out towards Catholics, doesn't it? Indeed, a survey done in 1996 by Father Andrew Greely (Catholic Priest and sociologist) indicated that a fair number of American Catholics would vote Democrat (either instead of voting Republican or not voting at all) if the Democrats would simply talk about differing viewpoints on abortion, etc., being acceptable within the party. A staunch Democrat himself, Greely published the information and sent a copy to the Democratic National Commitee. When nothing happened Fr. Greely confirmed his first survey with another, again learning that many Catholics indicated that they would vote Democrat if the party leadership would simply let their dissenting voices be heard.

Nothing like that happened. And some estimate the Democrats effectively abandoned maybe as many as 2 million votes in the last presidential election - an election where the Republican candidate visited Bob Jones University, a notorious center of anti-Catholic hate. Even is the actual numbers were 1/4th the large estimate it would have made a huge difference in places like, say, very Catholic Florida.

In one of his books Fr. greely spoke of when he entered the headquarters of a Democratic candidate in Chicago. In street clothes, Fr. greely eventually spoke to the campaign manager and asked,

Why aren't you working on the Catholic vote?"

The reply? "We have been working on the blue-collar vote."

Greely left, angry and dismayed at the ignorance. He then lists the statistics for Catholics in America. Of all gentile (i.e., non-Jewish) religious groups in America, Catholics; are the most likely to have a PhD; have the highest average salary; are the most likely to have a management or administrative position; and have the highest average IQs. The days of Irish Catholics driving railroad spikes with hammers are over 100 years behind us, yet many think of Catholics as being just like they are portrayed in the films of 1930's and '40's Hollywood.

So why have Democrats abandoned Catholics? I'm not sure, but I suspect it may be because many leaders within the Democratic party disregard all religious people. Oh, they'd never admit it, but many people who see themselves as intellectual completely reject all religions and believe people who embrace religion are deluded at best and fools in general.

What are Catholics to do? I suspect we either have to do one of three things; 1) get very involved in local politics AND be very vocal about our religious beliefs so that people finally realize how many of us their are; 2) promote our social and justice concerns in secular terms and hope for the best (although this seems to be failing as we speak); or 3) start our own political party.

I bet you can guess which one I suspect is most likely to succeed.

Monday, April 21, 2003

You know what one phrase instantly makes me ready to be offended?

"I don't hate Catholics."

This is usually immediately followed by "...I just hate [their beliefs/their traditions/their way of life/my stereotypical view of x element of being Catholic]. I love the people, I hate [x]."

Very offensive. There was a survey done of media about 6 years ago now by an ecumenical group that investigated religious bigotry. What religious group is most discriminated against? Catholics, hands down. From cartoons to oped pieces to sitcom plots Catholics were portrayed negatively and the Catholic faith system fared worse. And the more orthodox (i.e., faithful to Catholic belief) the characters were, the more negative the portrayal.

This is no news to Catholics, especially the devout. As a recent convert to Christianity at all, I am constantly appalled. I know a man who would never utter a racial slur who refers to Catholics as "idiots" (as in "I saw the pope and his idiots on TV today. Must have been a few thousand idiots at that rally!" "That was a public mass, 'Bob'"). I know a manager that fired a sales rep for using the phrase "I jewed them down" but goes out of his way to tell offensive Catholic 'jokes' to the Catholics that work for him. His boss didn't understand what I was upset about, either. And I know a college student with a 'celebrate diversity' sticker on his car that "...doesn't think the anti-christ [he means the Pope] should be allowed in the UN".

And let us not discuss the portrayal of Catholics in movies or (please no!) television. Let's just agree that as far as TV writers are concerned Catholics are either evil or the village idiot.

So why is this permitted? Why do professors who teach diversity feel free to call the Catholic Church evil? Why do TV shows that would never dare portray gays, Jews, or Asians in a negative or stereotypical light consistently portray Catholics as ignorant, repressed hicks (or morally corrupt villains)? And why is the portrayal of Catholicism in the popular media so mistaken, so error-ridden, and so flat-out wrong that even many Catholics have seriously flawed concepts as to what the Church actually teaches and believes? If your documentary on the Discovery Channel claimed that Jews controlled all moneylending in Renaissance England you'd lose your job as producer for not fact-checking (although Jews were moneylenders in that period of English history, the Italians were dominant). Yet I saw a documentary on that same channel proclaim that the Catholic Church sold indulgences as "forgiveness of sins in return for money" - a 'fact' so well established that 'everyone knows its true'.

And, naturally, it isn't. Indulgences were not a forgiveness of sin in return for money. What they were is more complicated. In Catholic theology confession of your sins to God (in the presence of the priest, the representative of both God and the members of the Church) God then forgives you sins. BUT, there is a penance, as well. The penance is a 'payment' made by the forgiven to expiate, or puge the effects, of the sin. For example, if I stole $5 from my Mom when I was 12 years old and then confessed, my penance might be to replay the $5 and to give $5 to charity to teach me that money isn't everything, that giving is more important, etc. Of if I had committed adultery my penance might consist of months of prayer and reflection, working with the poor, and parayer with my wife to ingrain in me the importance of my family, my love for my wife, and how adultery corrodes my character as a life of deceit.

Some penances, especially in the Euope of the 1300-1600's, were pretty hardcore. Like a pilgrimage from Paris to Vienna. On foot. In Winter. Or 1 hour of constant prayer every day for 3 years. This is where indulfences entered the picture. In certain areas Bishops of the Church announced that certain charitible causes were innately beneficial; thus, giving money to these causes would help expiate the effects of sin. So, if you gave x amount of money to, say, building a hospital or feeding the poor in a famine-ridden area you were counted as having done some certain level of other penance. This was called 'an indulgence from penance' or just an indulgence (the theological explaination of this involves a concept called the Communion of the Saints and the manner in which the Church can determine what is or is not meritorious - don't worry about it too much). And, yes, you could 'buy ahead' on penances that you had not yet been assigned by a priest. However, this did not mean that you were forgiven for sins you had not yet committed. Indeed, many people 'bought ahead' out of simple charity in the concept of 'a good cause is a good cause'.

Did some people misunderstand what indulgences were? Probably, especially among those too poor to purchase them. And were fake indulgences sold by con men? Sure. And were some bishops selling indulgences for things that didn't seem very meritorious? Yup (that is what Luther was most upset about, per his notes. That and all 'works', actually). But $1 billion worth of indulgences wouldn't have forgiven a single sin and the Church never said they would, just that you could substitute giving to certain charities for certain other actions required by your faith.

Of course, understanding this requires time, and some knowledge, and some history - hence, people just repeat the anti-Catholic accusations of certain Protestants without ever checking the facts. And after a few hundred years of this legend being repeated everywhere from Lutheran pulpits to college classrooms I have to convince cradle Catholics that it just ain't so.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Happy Easter!

On this most important of all Christian holidays I doubt that I will have time to blog... but you never know. So on this day that the Lord has made, try to remember the importance of the day. By His death and resurrection Christ has broken the bonds of sin, freeing us from death.

Friday, April 18, 2003

Food for thought, geopolitics. You learn that situations are as important as ideologies. After all, communists, capitalists, libertarians, and royalists are all human. That is one of the core conceits of much political theorists (at least macro theorists); that capitalists, et. al., will react in similar manners to similar situations, they will just use different rhetorical excuses.

In broad terms, I agree with this. Exceptions must always be made for those political actors who are 'strict' ideologues like, say, the Vatican, or Cuba. To these political entities ideology often does override typical reactions.

A few days ago I discussed the ways that America is beginning to act as a hegemonic power, or empire. But what sort of empire are we? Early Rome was a Republican Empire (not that way! They were a Republic that acted as an empire) while later Rome was a Dictatorial Empire. I suspect that America is becoming an Oligarchy, or 'rule by a few'; more precisely a Plutocracy, or 'rule by the richest'. I also threw out some (U.S. Government supplied) numbers on how the richest 1% of America out earn the lowest 90% - they control much more than that - after all, they make all that money by controlling massive corporations. So the richest 1% also decides who among the rest has a job, how much that job pays, etc. Rarely discussed, this power disparity is much more dramatic than the income disparity.

And this power is actually much more effective in the US, and its use much more naked. In virtually every other democratic (or non-democratic, for that matter) nation on Earth it is illegal for a corporation to give millions of dollars to a politician or political candidate - its called 'bribing someone'. Here, its called 'fund raising'. Ditto for private individuals giving huge sums of cash to, say, a chief of police, or mayor, or president. Heck, our big argument is if some big donors even have to be publically revealed! The 2000 presidential election cost $3 billion dollars; you can't tell me that the people who 'donated' over $1 billion to the winner don't expect something in return for their money.

Not that long after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, Unocal (aka United Oil of California) starting working on negotiations to complete a pipeline from the Turmenistan accesses to the oil and gas resources of the Caspian Sea area to the Indian Ocean ports of Pakistan via Afghanistan. Indeed, in December 1997 they were training Afghans to build this pipeline. And despite the already notorious actions of the Taliban, Unocal and other American energy companies were more than willing to do business with them.

Except, of course, for the continued instability in the region. It was too dangerous to build a pipeline. And a broken pipeline would send stock prices down. What to do?

Then the Bush Redux administration came in, an administration where most of the 'top players' (the President, the vice-President, the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Advisor, and many others) were all ex-oil corporation executives. And most still had close ties *cough, cough, stock, cough* to the 'energy sector'.

And Eurasia (the very eastern edge of Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia) is estimated to have about, oh, 75% or so of the energy reserves (oil, gas, coal, and fissionables) on Earth. Controlling this region, militarily, politically, or economically, would go a long way to making a lot of oil people much richer than they already are. and they are already rich enough to donate billions of dollars to politics.

And lest you think I am on a "blood for oil" rant I learned from Chomsky, there are many other reasons to be involved in the region.

It is politically very important. Arab nationalism is in some ways finally catching up to the sentiments felt in other regions in the '60's, '70's, and early '80's. Just as the political oligarchs felt it was critical for us to blunt the 'extreme effects' of nationalism (like local people and governments controlling and profiting from local resources, rather than watching multinational corporations strip the land reap the benefits) in places like Latin America and Africa, there are certainly people very interested in curbing this disturbing notion on the part of some Arabs that they are perhaps getting a raw deal from existing governments and maybe they want newer, more representational, governments. And lest you think that America, child of revolution that she is, would never prevent the people of another nation from determining their own destiny, may I point out that in the late '50's/early '60's when the people of Iran ejected their King and tried to go to a representational democracy based upon the American model the CIA stopped the revolution, helped grab the elected leaders, and placed the Shah back on his throne. Why? Because the Shah would keep the existing contracts in place (to the incredible profit of a number of foreign multinational oil corpoprations) rather than nationalising the industry (so that well-trained Iranians would pump, process, and profit from Iranian oil). So the Iranians had their democracy squashed by the CIA, British Petroleum and its American partners kept their fat profits, and Americans paid a higher price at the pump (after all, BP had to ship the oil a few times to process it. It maximized their profits, but resulted in more expensive gasoline than if it was all done centrally in Iran).

Is it any wonder the Iranians were so very angry at America when they had their next revolution?

A military reason to be quite interested in the region is its central location. From this area you can directly 'project power' (also known as 'threaten') all of Europe and Asia, as well as northern Africa. Russia, China, and India - all potential major political and military powers of the future - can all be watched very closely. Currently, to launch a ground war on any of these nations would require some other nation allowing us to base ourselves in their territory before attacking their powerful neighbor. In some cases even air attacks are very, very tough because of distance. The solution would be army, air force, and naval bases in the Middle East and Central Asia. This is currently not possible.

Well, not exactly. Afghanistan has been considered strategically critical to the region since about the time of Alexander the Great. Since its central location provides access to Russia, Iran, China, and India its probably more important now. Great location from army and air bases. But where to put the navy? I mean, carrier groups travel the high seas all the time - how do we increase our influence on the local waterways?

Unless you have lived in a cave since the opening of the Silk Road, you know I mean the Persian Gulf. But where in the Gulf? There is a place that is politically and militarily important - it has a deep water port; its location gives an excuse for travelling the entire Gulf; the surrounding territory borders Iran and the splinter Russian Republics (also getting nationalistic); and it can threaten virtually every nation in the Middle East. It is, of course, Iraq.

So if you want to begin to politically, economically, and militarily dominate Eurasia, where would you start? Almost certainly Afghanistan and Iraq - they are strategically important, politically isolated, and militarily pathetic. Seizing either or both would allow you to continue hegemonic activity/empire building/economic-political-military aggression against the immediate neighbors of that state.

So, do i think that some shadow conspiracy is running this thing? Not really. As a matter of fact I thinks its almost certainly not truly coordinated. What I do think is happening is a confluence of events that make certain things virtually inevitible. In broad strokes they are;

the beginnings of a true plutocracy in America

America's position as hegemonic power

The power vacuum caused by the lack of a true coalition in opposing America's hegemony

The social and political turmoil of growing Eurasian nationalism

A morally and ethically weak administration and legislature that has no core ideology with which to resist the tides of political and economic interests.

The last is important. You see, no matter how common human reactions are in similar situations, they are not fated. Most people flee a fire in terror - some save others at risk to their own life. Geopolitics are the same: some react like "most people", some change the world. And history has proven time and again that one person can change the world and, indeed, individuals are effecting change all of the time. But without some core ethical and moral framework it is virtually impossible to resist these "common reactions" - that's why they are common.

Our current political climate, with its soundbites, soft money, and reliance on polls, is probably not the place to find many people with a strong, internally-consistent moral/ethical framework. Hence, the growth of Imperial America.

Well, my wife tells me that she thought my post on post-modern feminism was

"Weak. Not bad, just... weak".

I'll admit, feminism is not my strength. Being a man I am, essentially, an observer of the dynamic. Much like childbirth; I sympathize, and man! it looks painful. But, in the end, all I can do is say "You can do it! Don't quit! Almost there, now!"

Actually, during labor my wife tells me to shut the Hell up.

Maybe the feminist movement and childbirth have more in common than I thought.

Whatever. Later tonight I will return to two of my favorites - geopolitics and theology.

Funny story: during the birth of our third son, Sam, I was quietly moving about, keeping everything neat and orderly, when the midwife commented,

"You are awfully... distant, aren't you? Most husbands are coaching their wives."

I replied, "She needs to concentrate. She knows that I'm here, she knows that I love her, and she knows that I'll do anything for her."

"Aw, that is so sweet."

Behind her, Jen was glaring at me to shut up.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Our topic this evening is post-modernism and the decline of modern feminism.

No, really.

I feel that, as a human, I can comment on both post-modernism and the current state of the feminist movement. Not quite as an 'insider', but that doesn't mean I can't have insights.

The feminist movement is, at its core, a very Christian movement. Its core concept is that women are just as intelligent, worthy, and human as men with the exact same rights. And if you say 'duh', let me remind you that my dear grandmother, who is still alive, can remember clearly the day women gained the right to vote in America. So it wasn't that long ago that the US Senate still had a member that also remembered a time when women weren't considered responsible enough to vote.

That being said, I have a problem with a great deal of current educators that call themselves feminists. They advocate an "anything goes' sort of version of this where if you like it (or it makes you more popular, or gets you a raise) do it. This is an absurd proposition normally, but even more so when it is intended to be a central moral and ethical tenet of 51% of the population. And the other common facet of current 'feminist' thought is that career success=feminism. In other words, if you're rich, you're a good feminist. If you are poor, you are a failed feminist.

Both ideas suck. The 'if you like it, do it' concept is the attempt at wish-fulfillment of immature people who want to relive their teenage years a little better, this time. If I can do whatever I want I'll be happy, right? Hardly. And the idea that feminism is about careers is a buckling of some feminists to the capitalist concepts of the oligarchy (more on the oligarchy in the future). Being a worthy human is about a lot more than how many female vice-presidents a company has and there is far more depth to the souls of women than meetings and memos. And I don't think Betty Friedan would ever 'dress for success'.

And where does post-modernism come in? You probably aren't too surprised to learn that I plan to explain.

The basic idea of post-modernism is that you can never be absolutely certain that you are right: there is always the chance that you are wrong. Therefore, never assume you are right and be open to learning new things and changing your mind. Pretty simple.

Many people (whom I politely refer to as 'intellectually lazy') twist this to the schoolyard argument of "I'm rubber, you're glue" by denying everything (the 'there is no truth' crowd). They use this fuzzy thinking to claim that everything is OK, everything is equally valid, there is no such thing as 'quality' or 'truth' so do whatever you want. Sort of an even-more-pseudo-intellectual veneer to the ramblings of Anton LeVay.

They fail to grasp that post-modern theory doesn't say you can't be right, just that you can't be sure you're right so you need to be growing continually(a pretty good Catholic concept, really; since Man is tinged with sin, Man needs to always be vigilant for errors in thought or application). And post-modernism certainly leaves room for you to be flat wrong.

So that's why you have some "feminists" making money off pornography ('all the girls volunteered to pose to become empowered about their bodies'. Sure they did) or talking about how to perform sex acts that you don't really like.

Don't get me wrong - there are some who are keeping the faith out there, especially women like Becky Whisnant of UNC - Chapel Hill (who has some excellent essays out there that I recommend to anyone). And there are some good resources out there that repeat that empowerment does not mean 'learning how to smile through it' but does 'learning how to not put up with it'.

Don't get me wrong - I don't agree with everything Becky says. But I like that she teaches me things and makes me uncomfortable.

Monday, April 14, 2003

So the Bush regime is sending not-so-subtle warnings to Syria to get behind the US or end up in front of an armored column. At least they are being upfront about the expected changes in world climate - obey or pay.

I was lucky to take a class with Dr. Organski at the University of Michigan on political science. Organski is one of those political scientists who isn't popular with the media or the governments because he happens to be right most of the time. Hence, he disagrees with government "experts" and the "leaders in the field" most of the time. He co-developed a theory of warfare called (if I remember correctly) the 'power transition' theory. Boiled down, it states that in large wars the victor is determined by economics and that large wars occur when either 1) a formerly lesser economic power feels it is now economically dominant or 2) the economically dominant power feels it is in danger of losing its economic pre-eminence. This theory nicely models everything from the late crusades to Desert Shield/Storm with numbers that make solid predictions.Predictions that tend to be true.

So, since we are in broad generalization territory (and remember - everyone who makes a broad generalization is an idiot), let's talk some numbers.

The European Union is being formed in an attempt to create a single, unified European economy in the hope that this economy will rival the American economy. It isn't certain that this will happen. Heck, with all of their oil wealth the Kingdom of Saudi Arabiahad a GDP of only $241 billion in 2001. "Only $240 billion+?" you say? Yes, only. After all, California had an estimated GDP of $1.3 trillion the same year. Yup, trillion with a 't'. Or roughly the GDP of France.

Let's take a quick break and talk about hegemonic theory. This is the concept that if there is only 1 superpower it will act as a hegemon, or consolidator of power. According to political theory, this is inevitable. Dr. Organski said in lecture that with strong presidents imperial attitudes and actions on the part of America could be delayed until 2050 or so. With average presidents until 2025 or so. But with one weak president it could happen almost instantly.

Guess what?

What is the natural reaction to hegemonic (or imperial) actions? 'Lesser' nations will band together in attempts to create power blocs that can balance the hegemon.

Remember power transition theory? It predicts that when these blocs look like they are surpassing the hegemon it will result in war. Let me repeat that - if either side believes the challengers are a serious economic threat it will result in a major war. And with a hegemon like the US, that almost certainly means a world war.

Of course, that might be a few years down the road. After all, like I said, California is an economic power roughtly equivalent to France. Heck, Indiana has a GDP equal to about 150% the GDP of Finland - the European Union will not actually challenge America ecomically for some time. BUT, if either side thinks that they do, it could be vey, very bad.

More importantly, one of the actions of a hegemonic power is to weaken its potential foes and consolidate power. And there are certainly some people in the current administration who are conversant with political theory and economics. So I am convinced that we are seeing a knowing and deliberate attempt on the part of political leaders, under the guidance of political advisors, to begin the process of hegemonic activity by the US. Not only for the influence and power it gives current leaders but because there is another side to these theories - once the US is deeply involved enough into hegemonic activities it will be virtually impossible to cease those imperialist activities without a major weakening of America either by economic disaster (natural or imposed) or the loss of a major war. Let me say that again - if we are led far enough down the path of imperialism the only way out is by the economic or military defeat of America so that it can no longer threaten the non-hegemonic powers.

"But Deep Thought," I hear you ask, "why would anyone purposefully do such a thing?". Well, two main reasons.

First, being an hegemon is pretty nice for ideologues. Don't like a foreign government? Change it! Don't like a particular strain of political thought? Crush it. Rome certainly tried to remake the world in its own image and succeeded well enough that they have strongly influenced Europe, Northern Africa, Western Asia, the Middle East, and the Western Hemisphere for over 1,500 years since they were destroyed. There are plenty of ideologues in the current administration who would kill or die for a fraction of such a legacy. And with a long-lasting, aggressive hegemonic power it is certainly possible.

Second, being an aggressive hegemon is pretty cushy for the ruling elite. Face it, America is controlled by the wealthy. And being hegemonic is about making the wealthy both wealthier and more powerful. If you are the 1% of Americans control 36% of the wealth of America, or about $1.2 trillion a year. And no one really knows how much of the world's wealth they control (no on seems to research that....) but if they could use hegemonic action to control 50% of the Wworld's wealth....

Who could say no?

Saturday, April 12, 2003

Listening to a conversation between two young men (20-21) at St. Thomas the other day and then reading (good writer, nice girl, very romantic in the classical sense) I am struck again by the cultural pressure to have sex. Not (necessarily) good sex, or sex with the right person, or for the right reasons. Just to have sex as often as possible. And if you do not, you are a failure, or a loser, or a hag, or a prude, or a religious nut, or... well, you get the idea. I'm sure I didn't even need to list any of the derogatory terms I did, and you can certainly add more.

The two young men were commenting that they didn't ever want to get married because married people, on average, have sex once a week or so. And that is too little.

So these 2 men (I use the term loosely) would forgo the concept of having a life-long loving partnership with someone who loves them deeply, cares for them more than she cares for herself, and is willing to do more for them than for her own interests because they would *ahem* "not be getting nearly enough".

My first reaction was to dismiss them as two emotionally-challenged men trapped in hormonal tides; but I realized that virtually everything in our culture tells them that marriage is, in fact, a sucker's bet. Women who insist upon some level of emotional commitment before sex are 'prudes' or other less-savory terms. And a woman who insists upon marriage vefore sex is a loony, right? I mean, a man can go anywhere - what makes her so special? Books, movies, etc. all assume that sex without permanent emotional commitment is the norm. Many parents insist that abstinence is insufficient as sex ed because 'kids will have sex anyway'.

Why? Why do parents believe that their underage children will have sex no matter what? And doesn't such an attitude on the part of a parent make it de factoacceptable? I mean, if my Mom and Dad are telling the school board that they know kids will have sex no matter what education they receive, then they just expect me to have sex, right? And if I do (no matter what they or anyone else tells me) then it can't be wrong in their eyes, can it?

And marriage is no longer acceptable to many men. And face it, lacking a moral or ethical compass, why would a man ever marry? I have an aquaintance who has been dating the same woman for 22 years, since 7th grade. They have been living together for 15 years, since college. They have a house, two cars, and a lovely daughter. I asked him one day why he didn't just marry her: he laughed and said "why should I get tied down?"

No, really. You see, he lives in a state with no 'common law' marriage statute. He keeps a separate bank account, the house and cars are in his name, and his daughter has her mother's last name. He is perfectly open in admitting he won't marry her because he can't get her to sign a pre-nuptual agreement that keeps him as free as he currently is. After all, if he decides he's "tired of her" (his words) he can just throw her and 'her' daughter out of his house. She has no legal claim on the house, the cars, or any of his money. And she would have to go through a rather lengthy court battle to get any child support for their daughter because they were never married.

When he explained at length how he 'had it made' I was tempted to drop-kick him through the goalposts of life. But the other guys in the office who heard this were, one and all, jealous. They either wished they were that 'free' from their wives or expressed hopes to find a woman as 'agreeable'. And why does his live-in girlfriend put up with it? Well, she told me she was 'lucky to have a man who loved her'.

That was what started me thinking, years back, about how modern society has stripped women of their few real cultural protections. Yes, there is much argument that chastity until marriage, life-long monogamy, and such are all 'patriarchal impositions meant to oppress women'.

I don't buy it. Why would men culturally deny themselves access to sex? Why would a patriarchal society limit themselves to one sexual partner for life? And why would the women in such a society particpate so strongly in such a system if they felt it oppressed them? Yes, women wanted the ability to divorce abusive husbands, but to shame them as much as to escape them.

Further, why do so many "primitive societies" (I hate that term) have strong chastity and monogamy rules, even the matriachal ones? Indeed, chastity and monogamy (or at least polygyny) are pretty darn common worldwide throughout history. Why is this?

Well, your host suggests this - these cultural norms are imposed by women to avoid sexual exploitation by men. Walk with me for a moment.... Men want to have sex with women (think in general terms, nitpickers!). Sex leads to pregnancy. Pregnancy physically limits the abilities of a woman to care for herself and the little nipper that is the result of sex. The mother needs help for years to make sure her child survives and thrives. And if you think I'm talking about the African savannah, I am - but I'm also talking about modern New York.

To ensure this support, cultures impose rules that tie the male to the female and their children. These range from laws to shame and shunning - if a man does not commit to his sexual partner and their children, he is punished, somehow. And this is all to protect the woman.

"But, Deep Thought," you say, "modern birth control means that sex doesn't lead to children. So we don't need these outmoded cultural norms". And Deep Thought says to you, "Bullshit". Just because a woman doesn't get pregnant doesn't mean she can't be sexually exploited.

The concept that since sex doesn't necessarily lead to pregnancy then sex is free of consequences is a logical fallacy. And an ethically-challenged male's dream come true. Here's a chain of I deas that I want to posit as how males in modern society took this idea:
1) With birth control, women don't get pregnant
2) If women don't get pregnant, I don't have to worry about providing for my sexual partner
3) If I don't have to provide for her, why do I need to make a lifelong commitment to her?
4) If I don't need to make a lifelong commitment to her, why do I need to make a deep emotional commitment to her?
5) Oh, some women want a deep emotional commitment regardless. Whatever, I'll try it.
6) Come on! I have a deep emotional commitment and she can't get pregnant - she had better have sex with me tonight!

So we end up with a situation where it is very possible for a woman to feel that she must have sex routinely or risk losing emotional commitment. And we're just touching on the edges, here. There are also the cultural triggers that tell women that having sex is chic, hip, cool, modern, and 'the thing to do'. From Cosmo to TV, smart, trendy women are having sex. A lot of sex. Those who aren't having a lot of sex bemoan their fate. Of are frigid, bitter, loony, or weird. Or tragically unhip. Or ugly. And she certainly won't partner with the cool, trendy, modern guy who wants to have sex and can always move on to a more-modern girl to get it.

Is it any wonder that more and more girls are having sex as young as 12 years old? Or younger? That fewer and fewer people are getting married? Or that divorce is so rampant (she had a headache)? Or that so many women are young, single mothers (birth control ain't perfect) and, thus, probably going to remain poor and single for a long time? Or that abortions are so common (children are only a burden, after all. Just an unwanted side effect of fun. Having a child would interfere with my life/career/education/plans to buy a nice car next year)? And can you tell me that this is weighted toward the benefit of women in anyway?

Sex is an amazing thing. The closest thing to real magic in the world. One of the greatest gifts God has given humans. The closest sharing of emotionality and physicality two people can ever experience. An action that can create a new life, a child that is totally dependent upon her parents for years and will both love her parents and be a physical embodiment of their love for each other.

It is NOT something to be cheapened as 'fun', 'trendy', or 'cool'. I know a girl who told me in all seriousness that she wouldn't share a toothbrush with her live-in boyfriend until they were married. No, seriously. She had more qualms about sharing dental plaque than about comingling gametes. I know a couple where they didn't want to live together because that 'implied too much commitment' - to them sharing the most intimate act possible wasn't as weighty as divvying up sock drawers.

And, of course, there is the girl I wish I had had better advice for. I met her at a party long before I thought these things through. She was well-dressed, smart, and had a lovely smile. After we had talked for about 15 minutes she offered to go upstairs with me. I was a bit shocked - your host has never believed himself to be in the same time zone as "irresistable" - and I actually asked her why she was willing to have sex with someone she had just met. Her reply haunts me, "I'm not so special - why else would someone fall in love with me?"

Why else, indeed.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Well, the lack of logic continues in the press. Here in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA I read Cal Thomas the other day "explaining" *cough* how the quick win in Iraq proves A) the war protestors wrong and B) discredits activists who protested the war but not against Saddam (he singled out Martin Sheen). And I also read from a senior fellow at the Center for the American Experiment (a local think tank) how churches are discredited for opposing war with Iraq when it was obviously moral to end evil. She then drew parallels between the opposition of some churches to WWII and such as "evidence" or moral failure.

Whew. Where to start.

First of all, just because you win does not mean that you were right. Let me repeat that - winning does not make you morally, ethically, or otherwise superior except in a limited military sense. To think otherwise is to propose that might makes right. This is a wonderful concept for people who are certain they can't lose, but it is otherwise a crock. So to argue that America's swift vistory in Iraq implies that America is morally or ethically superior to the Ba'athist regime currently in place is a failure of logic, both rational and moral.

Second, ol' Cal must not know much about Martin Sheen. Martin was complaining about America's involvement with Saddam's Iraq in the mid-'80's. Yup, when the government and conservatives though Saddam was a good ally because he was fighting those evil Iranians, Martin Sheen was pointing out that Saddam was a scumbag. Cal Thomas needs to invest in access to good news databases and use them, because this is a total failure of responsibility on his part. As a journalist he is supposed to research and report on the facts, even in an opinion piece. His failure paints him as no better than the Iraqi Information Minister.

And as for the Center's senior fellow (Katherine Kersten, I believe) she was a bit too disingenuous. She complains about the Catholic Church opposing the current war and then tries to use a broad brush to paint mainstream Christian churches as appeasers who opposed war with Hitler and the first Gulf War. She fails to mention (naturally) that the Catholic Church supported World War II, Desert Shield/Desert Storm, and even urged America to fight the Nazis before the average American was willing to. Why does she omit this? Well, that's obvious - if she admitted that the Catholic Church led the way in the opposition of Hitler and the Nazis, supported the first American War in Iraq, and now opposes the current war it would greatly weaken her argument. Therefore, the inconvenient facts must not be mentioned. She must focus on religious organizations who oppose all war and then argue that such steadfastness in the face of contrary popular opinion is weakness.

Catholic Just War Theory is pretty comprehensive. It is based upon 2,000+ years of moral, ethical, and theological thought made in the real world, developed by people in places like the collapsing Roman Empire, the Latin Kingdoms, Europe of the Middle Ages, WWI and WWII Europe, Soviet Russia, Vietnam, Korea, and El Salvador. People who were in charge of kingdoms, and people trying to save war orphans from starvation. People attempting to halt to collapse of civilization itself, and people trying to oppose men like Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot. Its pretty clear. It supported the First Gulf War as the liberation of the conquered and oppressed Kuwaitis. It opposses the current war as a war of aggression.

About 10 days before the War in Iraq started the American envoy to the Vatican City met with His Holiness, John Paul II. The Pope is an excellent scholar: he speaks 11 languages, reads as many more, and is considered an excellent theologian and political theorist. As a priest, bishop, cardinal, and pope he directly oppossed the communist regimes of his homeland while living there and facing the possibility of assassination for speaking out. It can be argues that his direct opposition and the moral weight he added to groups such as the Polish Solidarnosc were directly responsible for the changes in opinion and outlook that led to the fall of the Soviet Union (and this is much more likely that the conservative claim that Ronald Reagan beat the sommies). He has directly opposed tyrants in their own lands time and time again, sometimes flying around the world to stand in range of their rifles while he repudiates them.

Considering these facts, you wonder what the American envoy, as representative of George W., was there for. Did he want tips on how to oppose (an depose) Saddam? Was the President seeking moral or ethical support from the Pope? No, it was none of these things.

The envoy was there on the orders of President George W. Bush to make a request. What was that request?

That the Pope change Just War Theory so that it would support the American invasion of Iraq.

And I think that that is the most damning example of the attitude of the American government that I can recount. In the face of overwhelming opposition from world leaders, world citizens, and many Americans, the president sent an envoy to the head of Christ's Church, a man that may be the greatest opponent of tyranny in the last 200 years, to request that he change a moral/ethical/theological doctrine based upon millenia of work by some of the greatest thinkers and leaders in history, all for his won temporary political advantage

If a playwright or novelist were to create a fictional character with as much overweening arrogance as any senior member of the current administration, it would be considered to be a metaphor similar to the denizens of an early Greek tragedy - so unbelievable as to be ludicrous.

But they run America, the most militarily and economically powerful nation-state in the modern world.

And it is clear that they intend to continue to use this might as they see fit.