Thursday, November 14, 2002


"Ain't no saint, ain't no prophet
Ain't no angel, ask my wife about it"
-- Bill Mallonee, "Hip Train"

So, speaking of Jesus, there's a fine new cartoon over at Alas, a blog.

That was brought to my attention by so-very-glad-she's-back-from-hiatus Body & Soul. (And thanks for the link!)

Jeanne d'Arc also provided this thoughtful post on the awesome (literally) audacity of calling oneself a "Christian":

I think Christianity is something you aspire to, rather than ever securely stake a claim on. It's like poetry. I've written many poems, but I rarely summon the audacity to call myself a poet.

In Lem Dobbs script for the movie Kafka, the sculptor/stone-cutter says, "No one should admit being an artist, unless they're paid for it."

Certain words, it seems, ought never to be used to apply to oneself. If these words convey any truth, let someone else say them about you -- but by no means allow yourself to be caught repeating them. To apply any of these words to oneself is to diminish and undermine them with the unspoken prefix "self-proclaimed."

A list of such third-person words would include:


This is only a partial list, of course. We welcome further suggestions.

A big part of me wants to include "Christian" in this list (for the same reasons I won't ever put one of those fish-things on my car), but the word is useful and often necessary. A certain group of people believe certain things, and we need a word to refer to such people and their beliefs. I find it helpful sometimes to be able to say, "I am a Christian" as a way of telling people "I belong to a group of people that believes X and not Y."

As we Christians are more-and-more absorbed into and identified with the American culture that surrounds us the word becomes less-and-less useful. It gets reduced even into a sort of synonym for "polite" -- Good Christian people don't upset the status quo!

It's also notoriously difficult to find consensus among Christians about what exactly constitutes membership in that group. They tend to refer, in dozens of competing ways, to their holy book -- but that very book is filled with passages like this:

Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?" Then I will tell them plainly, "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!" (Matthew 7:21-23).

Passages like that are a daunting reminder of the "audacity" of claiming this label for one's own. The Sri Lankan theologian D.T. Niles sought to counter this audacity with a radical humility. Christian evangelism, he said, was about "One beggar telling another beggar where you found bread."

That's about right, I think.

posted by Fred Clark 5:39 AM


At 4:23 a.m. I clicked "Post & Publish." The longish post disappeared, never to be seen again.

Blogger is evil.

posted by Fred Clark 4:32 AM


Regarding Jack Van Impe's heavy-metal-ish Bible-prophecy-artwork (see previous post), James Lucky writes:

I believe I've seen several of these enlightened images sitting upon the walls of local tattoo parlors...ya gotta know that multi-headed dragon versus mothra mano-a-mano rendering would like great on the sternum or skull. Ya ought to see what Jack and Rexella can whip up for some sanctified piercin' action. Put's snake handling to sissy-boy shame!

The specific picture to which Jimbo refers -- this one -- doesn't actually depict mothra. Mothra, remember, is a good monster. Van Impe's illustration intends to portray three of the "beasts" described in the book of Revelation.

For example, Revelation 13:1-2 reads:

And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority.

For most of the past 2,000 years Christians have interpreted passages like this rather differently than does Mr. Van Impe and other adherents of the Darbyist cult (such as Tim LaHaye or George W. Bush).

For the majority of Christians, living and dead -- which is to say, orthodox Christians -- Revelations 13 is the classic description of a corrupt earthly ruler. The "beasts" it describes referred to specific Roman emperors (Nero, Domitian), but also stand as symbols for any corrupt, "beastly" regime.

In contrast with a legitimate state or government (described, in Romans 13 as "God's servant to do you good ... for the authorities are God's servants"), the beastly power of Revelations 13 blasphemes God, demands that it be worshipped in God's stead, and "makes war against the saints."

This passage thus served, in the West, as central to the formation of ideas like limited government, democracy and the separation of church and state. When Christians begin to read it otherwise -- as Jack Van Impe and George W. Bush do -- these basic ideas become diminished in the minds of those Christians.

Jack Van Impe is obsessed with gnostic secret codes and the mark of the beast and "666." He reads the entire Bible as though it were an Oliver Stone movie or an Umberto Eco novel. And George W. Bush -- the president, the man with his finger on the big red button! -- seems to agree with him.

This may partly explain why Bush's vision for America seems based somewhat on the Roman Empire (or, as St. John and his contemporaries liked to call it "the whore of Babylon"). Let the eagle soar indeed.

(Whew. I really just meant to post Jimbo's comment because it made me laugh. Then next thing I know I'm looking stuff up in Craig Keener's invaluable Bible Background Commentary and going on at reader-repelling length about the threat that George W. Bush's heretical eschatology poses to the First Amendment. Sorry 'bout that.)

posted by Fred Clark 2:53 AM

Wednesday, November 13, 2002


One of the reasons it's much nicer to live here in the United States -- as opposed to, say, Guatemala or Nigeria or Mynamar -- is that we're insistent about the notion of civilian control over the military. That's rather important for ensuring our continued freedom and the rule of law.

This is why the condescending-even-when-wrong Christopher Hitchens argues in a recent Slate item:

If the entire military brass and rank-and-file opposed a war with Saddam, they would be as obliged to keep their opinions to themselves as they would if they favored nuking Basra.

But Hitchens is wrong in at least two ways.

ONE: The military's obligation of "obedience to the decisions of a civilian president and Congress" certainly does not mean they must "keep their opinions to themselves."

Sharing their opinions, experience and expertise is nearly always the first and foremost duty they are asked to perform for civilian leaders. This is why military leaders are not asked to wait out in the hall when the commander in chief and other civilian leaders assemble to discuss strategy and response. If military leaders should form an opinion -- based on their years of experience, training and study of warfare -- their loyalty to the commander in chief and to America requires that they not keep that opinion to themselves.

Contra Hitchens, the constitutional requirement that the military obey its civilian leadership does not mean that generals must be the president's yes-men and lap-dogs. Obedience and obsequy are not the same thing.

If military leaders believe the president is wrong, they have an obligation to try to persuade him to take a different course of action. This does not constitute mutiny -- if the president remains unpersuaded, they remain compelled to obey despite any disagreement.

Sixty years ago this week, American forces invaded North Africa. General George Marshall preferred a different invasion plan (he wanted to invade France in 1942) and argued the point strenuously. This argument was not a challenge to the principle of civilian rule, or a challenge to the authority of President Roosevelt -- it was, rather, Marshall's moral, constitutional, patriotic and military duty to make his case.

You can read all about the North African campaign in Rick Atkinson's book An Army at Dawn.

One reviewer of Atkinson's book writes, "Especially interesting are Atkinson's straightforward accounts of the many 'feuds, tiffs and spats' among British and American commanders, politicians, and strategists." Those tiffs and spats are part of the process.

TWO: Military leaders have experience, expertise and training. They have devoted years of their lives to the study of warfare -- its methods and its outcomes. This collected wisdom is a valuable resource and tool for anyone considering military action.

I do not have such military experience. Nor does Christopher Hitchens.

(Nor does George W. Bush.)

Because I lack experience and expertise in war-making I would -- if I were placed in charge of a military endeavor -- consult the wisdom of those who do have such experience and expertise.

Christopher Hitchens would not. He sees no need to do so and no value in doing so.

If "the entire military brass and rank-and-file" were to advise for or against a course of action, Hitchens says there is no reason why that should influence his untutored, neophyte opinions one way or another. As often is the case with Hitchens, it's not merely his staggering arrogance that's annoying -- it's that he seems utterly blind to how misplaced and inappropriate his arrogance is.

If Yo Yo Ma were to offer Christopher Hitchens advice about playing the cello ...

If Barry Bonds were to offer him advice on hitting ...

If Tony Hawk were to offer him advice on skateboarding ...

If Monty Python were to offer him advice on comedy ...

If Jam Master Jay were to come down from heaven and offer him advice on DJing ...

Hitchens would ignore them all, because experience and expertise count for nothing. After all, look at the expert advice on political writing George Orwell provides -- Hitchens is certainly ignoring that.

Listening to those with military experience and expertise is not "the clear suggestion is that there ought not to be civilian control of the military." It is the obligation of any morally serious leader weighing the possibility of risking and taking human lives through military action.

UPDATE: TBogg has the goods on this here. He begins:

The sodden and vaguely unsanitary Chris Hitchens weighs in on armchair generals over at Slate. As usual, he gets a lot wrong ...

posted by Fred Clark 3:51 PM

Tuesday, November 12, 2002


Christopher Hitchens misreads and misrepresents the complaint with "chickenhawks." (Hesiod offers a pointed rebuttal to Hitchens -- scroll around, I couldn't get the permalink to work.)

The hastily prolific Instapundit heartily commends Hitchens' straw-man rebuttal of what-nobody-was-saying-to-begin-with.

The "chickenhawks" complaint has to do with ethos -- the importance of which must be downplayed by supporters of the current administration.

There's a long-term trajectory at work here.

Dismiss ethos, abuse logos -- all that will be left is pathos. The future of the blogosphere.

posted by Fred Clark 3:43 PM


Been surfing around a bit more at the Jack Van Impe Ministries Web site, hoping to find the text of the "heartfelt letter" Jeb Bush wrote about Jack's apocalyptic end-times video "Jerusalem: War or Peace?."

I wasn't able to find that letter, or more information about the unique role that George W. Bush is destined to play in "this final hour in prophetic history."

What I did find was this. Further proof that apocalyptic televangelists secretly wish they were heavy metal rock stars.

posted by Fred Clark 3:11 PM


Jack Van Impe hopes things get worse. Much worse. The artfully coifed "prophecy anchor" and his improbably named wife, Rexella, are devotees of a bizarre and tortured modern American heresy called "premillennial dispensationalism."

This particular devilry was concocted by one Rev. Darby in the 1800s. It involves the creative and arbitrary cutting and pasting of scripture to create an apocalyptic, other-worldly form of discipleship in which the righteous few are saved and the rest of the world is destroyed.

Lately, this weird little heresy has gotten renewed popular attention from the best-selling Left Behind books, which do for eschatology what The Exorcist did for theodicy.

Now here's the scary part: Jack Van Impe claims that George W. Bush is a fan of his.

Van Impe's "Question of the Week" asks whether:

"President Bush ... believes or knows he’s involved with ... the final battle between good and evil?"

Yes, says Jack Van Impe. George W. Bush does believe he's involved in Armageddon:

Do you think President Bush, a Christian man, believes or knows he’s involved with prophetic events concerning the Middle East and the final battle between good and evil?

First of all, Billy Graham led George W. Bush Jr. to the Lord Jesus Christ when he visited the White House. President Bush has attended many of Billy Graham’s crusades and during those crusades, Billy Graham always preaches once or twice on Christ’s return and all the prophetical signs.

Secondly, Rexella and I were in the home of President Bush Senior. What a great time we had with his wife Barbara, in fact, she’s even written us four personal letters and we have them hanging up in our memorabilia room. We gave her the message on video, “The Coming War with Russia” and many of our books to share with her husband, George Bush Sr. Of course, I now have sent the video, "Jerusalem: War or Peace" to all the leaders of our nation. ...

I know that he as seen this video, “Jerusalem: War or Peace”. His brother in Florida, Jeb Bush, has seen it because he wrote me the most heartfelt letter. So, yes, I think George W. knows that he’s destined for this final hour in prophetic history.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

posted by Fred Clark 4:35 AM


According to this AP story by Jonathan D. Salant: "Airlines failed to enforce existing security guidelines on Sept. 11 that required airport screeners to confiscate box cutters from passengers."

Those guidelines, the FAA trips over itself to reiterate, were not FAA rules:

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said keeping box cutters off planes was an industry requirement, not a government order. She said the FAA allowed airline passengers to carry blades less than four inches long before Sept. 11. Government rules now prohibit such items.

Why all this fuss about "box cutters"? Well:

Attorney General John Ashcroft has said some of the hijackers used box cutters to take over the planes.

But, as Edward Jay Epstein points out,

Not a scintilla of evidence had been found then -- or to date -- that either plastic knives or box cutters were used by any of the ten hijackers who crashed United Airlines flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center. No box cutters or plastic knives were found in the debris. Nor were the cockpit voice recorders ever found from Flight 11 and Flight 175. No witnesses, either passengers or crew members, on either flight 11 or flight 175 ever reported any hijacker having a box cutter or a plastic knife.

Barbara Olsen was a passenger on Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon, she reported that the hijackers on that flight used "knives and cardboard cutters." But no one on the other three planes made any mention of box-cutters.

On flight 93, the Boeing 757 which crashed near Pittsburgh, the flight attendant reported over a cell phone that a hijacker in her plane had a "bomb strapped on." Some unidentified person also said over the loud speaker that there was a "bomb" aboard the plane. A passenger, Todd Beamer, talked over a cell phone about the "terrorist with a bomb." Another passenger, Tom Burnett, told his wife over a cell phone that he had heard that a pilot had been "knifed."

So why does the official story of "box cutters and plastic knives" remain the unquestioned and unquestionable official story? Why doesn't Jonathan D. Salant provide us with an expose that reports: "Airlines failed to enforce existing security guidelines on Sept. 11 that required airport screeners to confiscate handguns, hunting knives and terrorist bombs from passengers"?

Edward Jay Epstein offers a theory (we repeat. you decide.):

Ashcroft's story that the hijackers used box-cutters and plastic knives in the attack on the World Trade Center is a functional fictoid. In this case, the function was diversion. This fictoid serves to divert public attentions from the responsibility, and legal liability, of the government and airlines to prevent major weapons -- such as guns, bombs, chemical sprays and hunting knives from being carried aboard airplanes. If such illegal devices had been smuggled aboard the planes, the liability could amount to billions of dollars. If, on the other hand, it could be disseminated that the hijackers had only used plastic knives, such as those provided by the airlines for meals, or box cutters, which were allowed on planes, neither the airlines, the screeners at the airport, or the FAA, which regulates the safety of airports, could be held legally responsible.

posted by Fred Clark 2:19 AM


Blah3 just seems to keep getting better and better at this sort of thing.

The theme of the latest Blah3 flash movie is:

War = Ratings. Ratings = Money. War = Money.

That's a bit reductive and conspiratorial. It's also more than a bit accurate ...

posted by Fred Clark 1:58 AM

Monday, November 11, 2002


According to Political Money Line, the reprehensible race-baiter Melissa Brown received funding from the PACs of 21 fellow Republicans.

Ms. Brown's retro 1950s-style campaign was based on the use of "Section 8 Reform" as a code-word for "keeping black people out of white neighborhoods." (See here and here and here.)

Those who helped to pay for Ms. Brown's nasty, un-American, community-eroding hate-mongering should be afforded the opportunity to explain themselves. You may want to contact some of the representatives listed below, and ask them if they really think their party is best represented by the kind of failed, race-baiting campaign Melissa Brown ran in Pennsylvania's 13th District.

To perhaps make this more Google-accessible, I'll list these in simple, declarative sentences.

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) gave $5,000 to support race-baiting.

Rep. Tom Delay (R-Texas) gave $5,000 to promote racial division.

Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) paid $1,000 to help create racial animosity in Northeast Philadelphia.

Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) thought $2,000 for race-baiting was money well-spent.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) offered $7,500 to keep white property owners scared of black neighbors.

Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) ponied up $5,000 to keep low-income housing out of white neighborhoods.

Rep. Michael Oxley (R-Ohio) paid $2,500 to promote segregation in Philadelphia.

Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas) paid $2,500 to help Melissa Brown keep black kids out of well-funded white schools.

Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) spent $3,500 to promote fear and hatred in Pennsylvania.

posted by Fred Clark 3:06 PM


Did you ever notice that some people on the right can never actually bring themselves to condemn the white supremacist crap and homophobia that infects too many of their conservative compadres?

Instead, they evade the question with a slippery "moral equivalence" dodge that amounts to little more than, "Oh yeah! Well I don't have to condemn conservative racism because there are prejudiced statements made by those on the left, too!"

This dodge does not, in any sense, constitute an argument. To accuse someone of hypocrisy does not excuse your own failure to live up to whatever standard you say they are violating.

This dodge is also deliberately obtuse on matters of degree. Harry Belafonte's opinions about Colin Powell are not morally equivalent to, say, the attempt to intimidate and disenfranchise black voters.

Conservatives certainly don't hold a monopoly on racism, anti-Semitism or homophobia. These are fairly unoriginal sins -- hating your brother goes back to Cain and Abel. And in a place like the United States, a country shaped for centuries by the "peculiar institution," racism pervades the entire political spectrum.

Our situation, in the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, is this:

"Some are guilty. All are responsible."

Evading this responsibility is what this weaselly hypocrisy-and-equivalence dodge is all about.

posted by Fred Clark 2:23 PM


"If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person."
-- The Catechism of the Catholic Church

In the past year, I have encountered several articles (see here, here and here, for just a few examples) from across the political spectrum claiming to link either Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, or Saddam Hussein and Iraq (or both) to the Oklahoma City bombing.

Most of these articles do not claim to be conclusive, and I don't find many of them compelling. I believe that the proper culprits -- Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols -- were apprehended and convicted, and that it is extremely unlikely they carried out their cowardly mass murder without additional help.

But the questions raised by these reports -- and to a far greater extent, the questions raised through the broader effort to combat terrorism worldwide -- bring us to this curious thought: it would be useful if Timothy McVeigh were still alive in prison. There are some questions it might be useful to be able to ask him.

In our rush to execute the perpetrators of some notorious recent multiple murders, we might do well to remember this consideration. Ten years from now, it might be useful for the common defense for us to be able to ask these killers some questions, so it might be in the nation's best interest if they are kept alive in prison.

This is purely a pragmatic comment, and in now way constitutes an argument "against the death penalty." But it does reflect the prudential concern embodied in many arguments against the death penalty -- whether the argument from John Paul 2 above, or Gandalf's advice (returning soon to theaters): "do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends."

posted by Fred Clark 4:00 AM


The following is an excerpt from the transcript of yesterday's edition of "Softball with Tim Russert," also known as "Meet the Press":

MR. RUSSERT: As you know, the campaign against you was very widespread across the country. Here’s one ad that was used, paid for by the Club for Growth:

(Videotape from political advertisement):

Announcer: This is Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle. Tom Daschle and the Daschle Democrats like to say no: no to President Bush on job-creating tax cuts. No to President Bush on homeland security. No to President Bush on eliminating the unfair death tax.

(End videotape)

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, Tim, I would remind you that the Club for Growth is an ideologically driven group representing a tiny minority of super-wealthy Americans. This is a group that seeks to corrupt the democratic process by tossing around lots of money and funding deceptive ads on television. They do this wherever they fear that some candidate is standing up for the majority of working Americans. The "growth" this club supports, Tim, would only benefit the very few at the very top of the pyramid. This is a group that represents the richest of the rich and the biggest big businesses, Tim.

The Club for Growth sees the world in terms of class warfare. This is a war, Tim, in which it's them against the 99.99 percent of Americans who don't share their unenlightened selfishness -- who don't share their enormous wealth and their enormous greed. These people are not patriots, Tim. You can't claim to love America while hating 99.99 percent of all Americans. I'm proud to be attacked in ads by the Club for Growth, Tim. It shows I haven't curried the favor of the super-rich who would sell the American people for another nickel a share. I'm proud to be the target of their attack ads. I will wear it as a badge of honor.

Okay, that last part was actually just what Daschle should have said.

What he actually said was just some overly polite truisms about "we didn’t take it personally." Daschle noted that the president "wanted to win and he campaigned hard to do it."

All that civility and politeness is charming, except this contest isn't quite so wholly polite and abstract. The Club for Growth is un-American and anti-American. It is anti-democratic, corrupt, greedy and evil, and it must be fought against with more than meek civility. The gilded boot of their top-down class warfare crushes the real lives of real people who bleed real blood. Those people need someone who will fight to protect them. not just Tom Daschle's hasty smile and his "Thank you, sir, may I have another?"

They are careless people, the Club for Growth -- they smash up things and creatures and then retreat back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it is that keeps them together, and let other people clean up the mess they make.

So we beat on, boats against the current ...

posted by Fred Clark 3:08 AM

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