Friday, August 31, 2007

George Bush and the Peter Principle

Greg Djerejian puts his finger on exactly the right point, reflecting on the departure of Alberto Gonzales, the most recent of George Bush's associates to fall from grace. The president has an old-fashioned sense of loyalty to those who are correspondingly loyal to him. Unfortunately, his discernment about their competence is cloudy.

Much like Harriet Miers, he was so supremely underqualified for his position, so spectacularly beyond his depth, that he should never have been put in such a difficult position. Instead Bush's bovine obsessiveness with loyalty--basic competence be damned--has focused the brutal kleig-lights of international opprobrium on old friends like Harriet and Alberto. Like Brownie, say, they will become key examples in the history books of the rampant cronyism and incompetence of this Adminstration.

Their legacy thus sealed, one wonders, is Bush even cognizant of how he's effectively besmirched his friends by trying to elevate them to realms they should have never occupied to begin with? I suspect not, as the President's capacity for self-criticism appears somewhere between minute and non-existent. Instead, he's doubtless bitterly nursing his grudges, rankled that Senators like Arlen Specter and Pat Leahy and Chuck Schumer dared to challenge an Attorney General whose sycophancy to the President was so complete as to render the Department of Justice a totally discredited arm of Government, one where Administration lawyers dutifully genuflected before David Addington and John Yoo's youthful exuberances.

Check out the whole post and follow the comments. At some level the criticism is charitable. But just as competence (or, in this case INcompetence) trumps loyalty, it also trumps charity for poor judgement. The Peter Principle is once again affirmed...all the way to the top.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lydia the Tatooed Lady

When that poor girl from South Carolina was held up to national scorn for her answer to a beauty pageant question my first impulse was embarrassment followed by pity. Memories of sad moments in my own life came washing over me and my heart ached in sympathy for her. I also imagine how mortified her family must feel.

But thanks to the Web, YouTube and a savage population of media jackals looking for new blood her infamous moment in the spotlight is fast becoming part of contemporary folklore. Neal Boortz, never one to miss a cheap shot, bullied her without mercy as he put another notch on his belt, using her answer to underscore his relentless tirade against what he insists on calling "government schools." I'm not embedding the snip. You'll have to go to another site to find it. (Right sidebar of the link, in case you are among the few who have not yet watched.)

But when I came across one of the "posts" from that site I had to make this connection. Take a look and see for yourself.

My life was wrapped around the circus.
Her name was Lydia.
I met her at the world’s fair in 1900,marked down from 1940.

Ah, Lydia.She was the most glorious creature
Under the su-un.Guiess. DuBarry. Garbo.Rolled into one.
Lydia oh Lydia, say have you met Lydia,
Lydia, the Tattooed Lady.
She has eyes that folks adore so,
And a torso even more so.
Lydia oh Lydia, that encyclopidia,
Oh Lydia the Queen of Tattoo.
On her back is the Battle of Waterloo.
Beside it the wreck of the Hesperus, too.
And proudly above waves the Red, White, and Blue,
You can learn a lot from Lydia.
La la la, la la la, la la la, la la la
When her robe is unfurled, she will show you the world,
If you step up and tell her where.
For a dime you can see Kankakee or Paris,
Or Washington crossing the Delaware.
La la la, la la la, la la la, la la la
Oh Lydia oh Lydia, say have you met Lydia,
Oh Lydia the Tattooed Lady
When her muscles start relaxin’,
Up the hill comes Andrew Jackson
Lydia oh Lydia, that encyclopidia,oh Lydia the queen of them all!
For two bits she will do a mazurka in jazz,
With a view of Niagara that nobody has.
And on a clear day you can see Alcatraz.
You can learn a lot from Lydia.
La la la, la la la, la la la, la la la
Come along and see Buff’lo Bill with his lasso.
Just a little classic by Mendel Picasso.
Here is
Captain Spaulding exploring the Amazon.
Here’s Godiva but with her pajamas on.
La la la, la la la, la la la, la la la
Here is Grover Whalen unveilin’ the Trilon.
Over on the West Coast we have Treaure Island.
Here’s Najinsky a-doin’ the rhumba.Here’s her social security numba.
{whistles}La la la, la la la, la la la, la la la
Oh Lydia, oh Lydia that encyclopidia,
Oh Lydia the champ of them all.
She once swept an Admiral clear off his feet.
The ships on her hips made his heart skip a beat.
And now the old boy’s in command of the fleet,
For he went and married Lydia.
I said Lydia{He said Lydia}
They said Lydia{We said Lydia}
La La!


On a slightly different track, Peter Oakley released another video a few hours old describing what he did last week. In ten minutes or so he tells a little about his family, including a very special man who came for a visit.
I'm not embedding because if you go to YouTube you can select the full screen view. In this case it seems more enjoyable that way.

Mr. Oakley tells about making a video of his multi-challenged (now grown) foster son for his sister in Australia whom he never gets a chance to see. He was tempted to put it up for his You Tube audience but wisely decided against it because of trolls. The wholesale distribution of the teen beauty pageant's embarrassing moment illuatrates how a large population of thoughtless people stands ready to exploit such videos. I don't favor censorship but look forward to a time when it will not be considered good form to make children objects of derision.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I love my Gmail

We asked you to help us imagine how an email message travels around the world. All it took was a video camera, the Gmail M-velope and some creativity — and, wow, did you get creative!
The clips you submitted were amazing and it was hard to choose selections for the final video featured here.


Here's the breakdown...

Imagine. Somebody (or several somebodies) gets paid to view and edit all the items submitted, stringing them all together into the final product. I'm glad it's not me.

Discovery Channel -- Tracking Climate Change

Just keeping up.
Thanks again 3Quarks.

Does this mean we can disregard discussions about global warming?
No, but a little more intelligence about the matter won't hurt. The Lord hasn't given us permission to remain ignorant or behave stupidly.

BoingBoing Gadgets

Boing Boing, one of my endlessly addictive sites, has a spinoff site, BB Gadgets. For the techno-trivia buff this is like candy. I can always tell when my life is relaxed because I allow myself to get lost in places like Boing Boing and Arts and Letters Daily, another Brittanica-level Web aggregator -- but that is another story. Here is an item from today's catch...

The people who bring us Crocs are now marketing a clothing line made of the same type material. Croslite they call it. Very defensive about quickly adding that it is not rubber.
Adjectives like "stupendously ugly" and "eye-wateringly bright...distinctive clunky" seem to be part of the marketing appeal.
I have more to do this morning than run on about this. That's enough links for the interested reader...
Almost forgot: credits to Blogsnow, another great aggregator. Andreas Wacker has it back up and running. I don't know when that happened, but it's great news to me.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Rolling Stone: The Great Iraq Swindle

The article is long, dark and nasty.
Kinda like the war.
I'm too disgusted to do more than point...

It was an awful idea, perhaps the worst America has ever tried on foreign soil. But if you were in on it, it was great work while it lasted.
Because contractors were paid on cost-plus arrangements, they had a powerful incentive to spend to the hilt. The undisputed master of milking the system is KBR, the former Halliburton subsidiary so ubiquitous in Iraq that soldiers even encounter its customer-survey sheets in outhouses. The company has been exposed by whistle-blowers in numerous Senate hearings for everything from double-charging taxpayers for $617,000 worth of sodas to overcharging the government 600 percent for fuel shipments. When things went wrong, KBR simply scrapped expensive gear: The company dumped 50,000 pounds of nails in the desert because they were too short, and left the Army no choice but to set fire to a supply truck that had a flat tire. "They did not have the proper wrench to change the tire," an Iraq vet named Richard Murphy told investigators, "so the decision was made to torch the truck."

In perhaps the ultimate example of military capitalism, KBR reportedly ran convoys of empty trucks back and forth across the insurgent-laden desert, pointlessly risking the lives of soldiers and drivers so the company could charge the taxpayer for its phantom deliveries. Truckers for KBR, knowing full well that the trips were bullshit, derisively referred to their cargo as "sailboat fuel."

In Fallujah, where the company was paid based on how many soldiers used the base rec center, KBR supervisors ordered employees to juke the head count by taking an hourly tally of every soldier in the facility. "They were counting the same soldier five, six, seven times," says Linda Warren, a former postal worker who was employed by KBR in Fallujah. "I was even directed to count every empty bottle of water left behind in the facility as though they were troops who had been there."

Yet for all the money KBR charged taxpayers for the rec center, it didn't provide much in the way of services to the soldiers engaged in the heaviest fighting of the war. When Warren ordered a karaoke machine, the company gave her a cardboard box stuffed with jumbled-up electronic components. "We had to borrow laptops from the troops to set up a music night," says Warren, who had a son serving in Fallujah at the time. "These boys needed R&R more than anything, but the company wouldn't spend a dime." (KBR refused requests for an interview, but has denied that it inflated troop counts or committed other wrongdoing in Iraq.)

One of the most dependable methods for burning taxpayer funds was simply to do nothing. After securing a contract in Iraq, companies would mobilize their teams, rush them into the war zone and then wait, citing the security situation or delayed paperwork -- all the while charging the government for housing, meals and other expenses. Last year, a government audit of twelve major contracts awarded to KBR, Parsons and other companies found that idle time often accounted for more than half of a contract's total costs. In one deal awarded to KBR, the company's "indirect" administrative costs were $52.7 million, and its direct costs -- the costs associated with the ­actual job -- were only $13.4 million.

Companies jacked up the costs even higher by hiring out layers of subcontractors to do their work for them. In some cases, each subcontractor had its own cost-plus arrangement. "We called those 'cascading contracts,' " says Rep. Van Hollen. "Each subcontractor piles on a lot of costs, and eventually they would snowball into a huge payout. It was a green light for waste."

Thanks, Blogsnow.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Pray for the Korean Hostages

Today, Sunday, a glimmer of hope shines for the release of the Korean hostages of the Afghan Taliban.

Readers inclined to pray are invited to join in prayer for a nonviolent end to this conflict.

Come down with power now, Lord, and cause Your free people to remember these and ALL those who are held in captivity because of bad ideology. Bind us together in the will of Your Spirit and bring us to the place of intelligent prayer. Pass our prayers through the mind of Christ and accept our passionate pleas according to His blessed will for humankind and this generation.

Link to the longer prayer.

Links to details of the story.

Link to Eugene Cho's blog.

Prayer for Peace from the Book of Common Prayer.

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Tay Zonday on YouTube

Call this post a generation gap inquiry.
I'm, as they say, WAY old to be looking at this kind of stuff.
But the older I get the more concerned I become about where we may be headed as a society. This video was on the first page of You Tube's "Most Viewed" and "Top Favorites" this morning.[This post was first put together August 13.] Here is the link, if your tastes lie that way, but what interests me is not what passes for music, but the lyrics.
[It looks like this video has been pulled...I apparently caught the first showing on You Tube which included the lyrics copied below. Of course I went to a lot of trouble to reformat the content from poetry to narrative, so what you see here is not what I found. This is a prose version.]

"The Only Way"

Attention, all people,Tay Zonday has arrived. I'm the piper of record, beloved and respected, Mack Daddy of all of the down and rejected. I'm the talented tenth, the chill in your spine, the glimmer of hope in the back or your mind. I'm the rising Aquarius, galaxy is the place where I'm ridin' my chariot. Fightin' for lovin 'm fightin' for dance, fightin' to give more people a chance.

Ain't coming from the East...ain't coming from the West. I come from the heart, I come for the best...

[Chorus] Cause the only W-w-w-w-w-wayIs Tay Zon D-d-d-d-d-day The only W-w-w-w-w-wayIs Tay ZonD-d-d-d-d-day [Repeat]

I'm the silent majority: no one's priority, craving deliverance when they stop ignoring me. Wishing on candles, praying on stars'...hating on promises, licking my scars. None for the people; it's trickle-up cash paying more for bottled water than I do for gas. To subsidize a system with oblivious victims make me work so hard that I can't resist 'em. The bread and circus makes me desert us. I party away all the violent urges.

Revolution? I'm watchin my sitcom playin Nintendo' til Kingdom Come. Waitin for a leader to make me believe there's more to life than what they say I can be. I'm aimless dangerous when I start to learn that I'm not served by next quarter's return. Holdin 'back history the Jetsons a mystery...buildin' new electric rail they had in 1880. If it ran on gas I'd have a flying car. Human progress? Gotta look where we are. We consume for profit and run in place or we build a rocket to get outta this place.


Little Man with an alien voice' changin the world by makin' some noise...I'm hydroelectric, always eclectic, fighting disease 'cause I'm antiseptic...
Staccato...mulatto...every day a new motto. Made music in my crib when I ate from a bottle. Ain't wearin any label cause I wasn't able to see myself in the master's fable. Daddy was from Venus, Mama was from Mars...don't know about you, my flag is the stars. And it ain't just fifty --More like fifty billion -- cause the rest of the galaxy ain't doin what we doin': hatin' each other, killin' their brother. They sent me here so we can teach each other. Ain't any excuse for the privilige I have driving SUVs, building third world debt.

But the thing to get is the kid who sweat to make my tee shirt in Bangladesh. We're both 'bein screwed, we're both 'bein used. I get the bouncing car, she gets no shoes. But neither one of us has political power 'til we come together snd face that hour.

[Chorus X 2]

HEheh Every day is Tay Zonday...We all find the wayWith Tay Zonday

As I read through these lines I hear a rant, a frustrated, angry, alienated rant. I hear nihilism, low-grade smugness and more political awareness than most listeners will hear as he chants out the words. They may sense anger or identify with a theme of powerlessness, but I very much doubt that most listeners will understand the truly revolutionary implications of the message, even though the word is actually spoken along the way.

Anyone who reads these words and imagines that young people in America are not ripe for picking by the wrong people is living in a fantasy world of their own. This line of thinking is not being cultivated by alien sources or sinister conspiracies. It grows as naturally as mold on bread if left too long in the wrong environment. And thanks to technology, the rate of growth can be exponential compared with how ideas spread before the advent of the Internet.

This is the message from the author/performer:

Added this video: August 11, 2007
THIS IS NOT A COCKY BRAG TRACK! "Tay Zonday" symbolizes education and consciousness. The lyrical symbolism is pretty deep and this is perhaps the most selfless song that I've written.

Most hip-hop artists seem to do a shoutout song. This is mine. You can buy it on my My Space page [myspace(dot)com(slash)tayzonday] . . . it should also eventually make it onto Apple's Itunes store via tunecore.

Just a few random thoughts from an old guy blogging. Is anyone else listening?
I report. You decide.

Here is the link to Tay Zonday's You Tube channel. He has over 13,000 subscribers. That may not be big numbers by some measures but it looks like a lot of people to me.
And here is a more soothing video he made. More woodshedding needed, as we used to say, but he shows aptitude, ambition and no big problems with self-image. He reminds me of Phillip Glass. Time will tell if his star will rise. There is a lot of competetive talent in this generation.

No reference to Tay Zonday would be complete without mention of his most important and widespread viral production, Chocolate Rain, a haunting stream of consciousness expression aiming yet another spotlight on the unremediated racism of America.

One of the mysteries of our time is how and why the children of slavery in America continue to be the subject AND object of racism, often from within the black community itself.
The original version is everywhere and easy to find, but this four-minute explanatory video translates the message into plain language that no reader can miss.

As a veteran of the movement I'm growing tired of fighting what seems to be a never-ending uphill fight. After spending my adult life fighting racism, I now have to contend with the surly, prejudiced ignorance of a growing number of youngsters who have no sense of history and no experience with the ugliness of the past. I'm not sure if the Chocolate Rain phenomenon is a sign or progress or regression. I know the sentiments are real and the points are on target. I am not convinced that chanting about them without some kind of effort toward amelioration is helpful. Clearly the consciousness of the victims needs no raising. And the subtlety of these lyrics comes across as the same type of double-speak that says the man when the real meaning is established (and presumably un-fixable) racism. Or saying my bad instead of excuse me.

Expectations have a lot to do with racism from all angles.

Putative victims who expect to be targeted are more apt to read messages between the lines that are not there.

Likewise, those of us who expect to find intractible racism on the part of those victims must guard against the same kind of poisonous, inverted thinking.

Unfortunately a growing number of young people see me as an adversary because I am male, white, older and in a position of authority. It is a very sad commentary indeed.

I found this link at a Regina Lewis blog entry.

Her take on Tay Zonday is that of a journalist reporting a pop culture and entertainment story.
I give her good marks for being a good reporter and not taking sides in what is clearly a hot and inflammatory discussion.

A quick look at any of the comments threads will show a level of conflict about racism that I have not seen openly discussed for several years.

Hottest Viral Star: Tay Zonday a.k.a. "Chocolate Rain Guy"

Young man with bizarre voice achieves cult following on web singing "Chocolate Rain."
Real name = Adam Bahner. He's apparently a Ph.D student at University of Minnesota. He graduated from viral web superstar to television by appearing on Jimmy Kimmel. At end of the "Internet Talent Showcase" Kimmel just says, "Wow."

Kimmel performance here

Web performance here

After millions of views online, seems to be what a lot of people are saying. But, am not entirely convinced people know why, since the lyrics are hard to catch & there are only a few hundred views of this explanation, though John Mayer & others have admired the song (see: Chocolate Rain - Wikipedia).
Here are some interesting snips from a Google Cache comments thread.

TayZonday (1 week ago) I still don't think this is doing anything for me in leaving it up. It's too easily misunderstood -- not by haters but by everyday people. Like that 90's single "Lets Talk About Sex Baby" that they changed because nobody realized it talked about AIDS.

UncertainTruths (1 week ago) I disagree, its a good song, I enjoy the lyrics, and I'm sorry if most people are too idiotic to get them.

pchizzle (1 week ago) No, leave it up! Most people don't understand things, but it means a lot for the people who do. We need more educated people out there, and you're one of them. The only way ignorant people are taught is if people keep trying. Keep on trying, Tay Zonday. Sure, your music is fun and humorous, but it's meaningful too. (:

DarkBlazerX (1 week ago) No! Stop pitying him! Anyways they arent funny, they are okay. I would never BUY any of his music though, I mean, Hes no William Hung.

TayZonday (1 week ago) Yeah. But at some point I have to decide whether I want to do good music that marginalizes me at the same time. If people see it as a cocky brag song--and those songs are basically successful because of the "urban" image tied to them, which is not my image-- it's just art that has no place in the existing market.
TayZonday (1 week ago) I stopped promoting this video when I realized that its mainstream reception would not be well-understood :-)

LBJ and Vietnam

H/T Greg Djerejian whose commentary is very much worth reading.

Parallels with the Iraq adventure are too obvious to comment about. I want to think that President Bush is in Iraq reluctantly, but nothing he says or does indicates that to be the case. Those who got the US into this mess seem more concerned with reputations than results.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Korean Hostages Update

Day 37 is passing and most of the popular media has lost interest. Celebrities, political grand-standing and bad weather take the headlines. But the wait continues.

Al Jezeera keeps the story alive in the Arab world in print, video and on the web.

Two South Korean women, held hostage for weeks by the Taliban in Afghanistan, have appealed for the release of the other 19 hostages.

Speaking exclusively to Al Jazeera, in an interview broadcast on Thursday, Kim Kyung-ja and Kim Jee-na said the relief they felt at their release was overshadowed by the plight of the remaining hostages.

"You probably think we are happy now, with our families. In fact, we can hardly sleep at night," said Kim Jee-na.

"I understand that Islamic teachings give priority to life and family. Please release our co-workers as soon as possible."

Jee-young, one of the hostages and who had also been working as a translator for the group, gave up her place as one of the hostages to be freed.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Free Water

You're gonna come across this sooner or later.
Might as well see it now and get it over with.
Thirty-nine seconds out of your otherwise over-extended schedule. Think of it as missing a left turn because the light didn't last long enough and you have to wait one more cycle at the intersection. I do that sometimes when I'm really only pissing away time. But I digress...
Uh, speaking of pissing away...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

In Which I Discover the Theremin

Today I celebrate ignorance. My own, that is. After a lifetime of loving all kinds of music -- two years study at the college level -- and past the age of sixty-three...Today I am still able to make an interesting and exciting musical discovery: the theremin. Six decades of ignorance made it possible for me to be excited about a discovery today.

Thera-men, it is pronounced.

Here is the Wikipedia article.

Here is one of several YouTube videos of Clara Rockmore who made a name for both herself and the instrument. You'll see why.

Modern applications, too...

So where did I come across this?

You'll never guess.

Wikipedia spinning -- watching the watchbird (More...)

This is another "watchbird" post.

I'm a big fan of Wikipedia. I love the way it uses the Web in real time to report news and quickly disseminate information of all kinds. I also like that for just about any topic under the sun there are dedicated groupies obsessed with keeping up with the most trivial information, quick to jump on anything that fails to meet careful scrutiny. And compared to how it will work over time, measured in generations instead of years, the phenomenon has only just started. Barring some disruptive change of course, our grandchildren will have access to a Wikipedia that will be history's most complete and impressive repository of information...ever.

In the meantime growing numbers of individuals and institutions are working hard to cover their butts and/or obscure information they don't want interpreted the wrong way. Spinning, it's called. But the design of Wikipedia makes it possible to track the sources of every edit. Digital fingerprints connect the dots in ways that indicate old-fashioned manipulation in the manner that Wikipedia articles are written.

The secret of Wikipedia's phenomenal success is that anyone can edit the millions of comments, facts and statistics published on the pages of the world's most popular online encyclopaedia. But that of course is also its greatest weakness.

The chance to rewrite history in flattering and uncritical terms has proved too much of a temptation for scores of multinational companies, political parties and well-known organisations across the world.

Introducing Wikipedia 2.0. The watchbirds are flocking, starting with what may be the start of a second-generation analytical approach. Instead of checking the facts, Wikiscanner is in the business of revealing the sources and how they present information. The results are interesting.

Exxon Mobil and the giant oil slick

An IP address that belongs to ExxonMobil, the oil giant, is linked to sweeping changes to an entry on the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989. An allegation that the company "has not yet paid the $5 billion in spill damages it owes to the 32,000 Alaskan fishermen" was replaced with references to the funds the company has paid out.

The Republican Party and Iraq

The Republican Party edited Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party entry so it made it clear that the US-led invasion was not a "US-led occupation" but a "US-led liberation."

The CIA and casualties of war

A computer with a CIA IP address was used to change a graphic on casualties of the Iraq war by adding the warning that many of the figures were estimated and not broken down by class. Another entry on former CIA chief William Colby was edited to expand his cv.

That's only a sample. The linked story from the Independent lists lots more (Dow Chemical and the Bhopal disaster, Diebold and the dubious voting machines, The Israeli government and the West Bank wall, The dog breeders and fatal maulings, The gun lobby and fatal shootings, Discovery Channel and guerrilla marketing, The church's child abuse cover-up, The FBI and Guantánamo, Scientologists and sensitivity, and a delicious list of others) but the importance of this next generatiion Internet investigative tool is just starting to be revealed.

H/T Tom Smith

[Added two days later...]

A couple of interesting items came up since this was posted.

►Within hours I noticed a little spike in traffic from Exxon-Mobil of all places! Google Finance picked up the post and linked it from the XOM information page (it's gone now) because they were mentioned above. Someone is watching somewhere, no? Are we just a little bit sensitive or what?

The New York Times published a similar story.

Internet experts, for the most part, have welcomed WikiScanner. “I’m very glad that this has been exposed,” said Susan P. Crawford, a visiting professor at the University of Michigan Law School. “Wikipedia is a reliable first stop for getting information about a huge variety of things, and it shouldn’t be manipulated as a public relations arm of major companies.”

Most of the corporate revisions did not stay posted for long. Many Wikipedia entries are in a constant state of flux as they are edited and re-edited, and the site’s many regular volunteers and administrators tend to keep an eye out for bias.

In general, changes to a Wikipedia page cannot be traced to an individual, only to the owner of a particular network. In 2004, someone using a computer at ExxonMobil made substantial changes to a description of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, playing down its impact on the area’s wildlife and casting a positive light on compensation payments the company had made to victims of the spill.

Gantt Walton, a spokesman for the company, said that although the revisions appeared to have come from an ExxonMobil computer, the company has more than 80,000 employees around the world, making it “more than a difficult task” to figure out who made the changes.

Mr. Walton said ExxonMobil employees “are not authorized to update Wikipedia with company computers without company endorsement.” The company’s preferred approach, he said, would be to use Wikipedia’s “talk” pages, a forum for discussing Wikipedia entries.

Mr. Wales [founder of the Wikimedia Foundation] also said the “talk” pages are where Wikipedia encourages editors with a conflict of interest to suggest revisions.

“If someone sees a simple factual error about their company, we really don’t mind if they go in and edit,” he said. But if a revision is likely to be controversial, he added, “the best thing to do is log in, go to the ‘talk’ page, identify yourself openly, and say, ‘I’m the communications person from such and such company.’ The community responds very well, especially if the person isn’t combative.”

Uh, not to put too fine a point on it, XOM sure didn't let grass grow under their feet before insuring writers at the New York Times would 'splain thier position properly. Anyone notice that hot-link to the XOM financial page at the Times???

►Freelance writer Kirsten Anderson riffs on the story at Huffington Post, focusing on how the presidential race keeps the spinmeisters busy polishing the images of their respective candidates. Fred Thompson and Barack Obama illustrate the point...

With all the editors working on Wikipedia (on Wikipedia, anyone can make a change and thus become an editor), it's no surprise that there is a constant flow of additional information. The "more you know factor," though, can just as easily confuse rather than clarify. The big debate on the Fred Thompson page was his religious affiliation: was it the Churches of Christ or Disciples of Christ, and if he is elected president, would he be the second president after James Garfield to belong to this denomination? The statement, "If elected president, he would become the second president in U.S. history (after James Garfield) to belong to the Churches of Christ, a non-denominational Christian group that was formed on the day of Pentecost as found in the book of Acts," now stands as, "Thompson belongs to the Churches of Christ, a non-denomination group of churches descended from the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. If elected president, he would become the third Stone-Cambellite president in U.S. history, after James Garfield and Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ belonged to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); the split happened after Garfield's time.)" Very specific, indeed. File under "Things to Keep in Mind While Pondering James Garfield and Schisms of 19th Century American Protestant Sects."
Wikipedia Campaign '08 isn't all denominational hair-splitting and wedding parties, though. Barack Obama's page was the site for more familiar fights involving class warfare and American hegemony -- with a peculiarly Wikipedian twist, though.

The class warfare issue started when an admin (these are higher-level editors who have been given special superpowers, such as being able to protect, or lock down a page) noticed heavy activity on the Obama page. A flurry of edits -- often on mind-numbingly small details, such as whether to add a "Jr.," to Obama's name -- were constantly being made and then reverted by other editors, with no reason listed other than "sock puppet." A sock puppet is a false identity; essentially, people create sock puppets by registering as editors under a series of different names, usually for the purpose of hiding their identities or to build the appearance of consensus on an issue when there is really only one advocate.

The admin, suspecting some kind of trouble, put the Obama page into "semi-protection," that is locked it down temporarily in order to find out what was going on. This led to a serious of furious exchanges on the discussion page, with allegations of abuse of power by the admin, and anger that this had been done without bothering to understand that the "edit-warring" was not a real problem, but simply the result of (in what is so far the phrase of the year, and unlikely to be challenged for that title) "a rolling band of disruptive socks."

Things got even worse when another admin stopped by, studied the situation, and advised that the protection be taken off. The first admin agreed and lifted the lock. Now people began to call out the first admin for only listening to other admins. As one editor put it: "It is most definitely a good thing that us lowly plebeians don't have any pull with an elite admin like yourself. Imagine if you had to listen when uppity non-admins challenged your actions. That would be dreadfully unnerving, mixing with the baser classes and all." Heavens to Murgatroyd, what would Barack have to say about all this? (probably, "Uh, I don't use Jr. with my name. Thanks for asking.")

The other problem was a complaint involving what some described as typical American arrogance and others considered just an issue of user-friendliness. If users typed Obama into the search box, what page should come up? Should it go directly to Barack Obama's main biographical page? Or should it go to what is known as a "disambiguation page," that is a page that lists a number of possibilities for a word. For example, typing in "Clinton," leads to a disambiguation page that lists page links for Hillary, Bill, Chelsea, George Clinton, DeWitt Clinton, and any number of towns named Clinton. Obama, one group of editors argued, should go to a disambiguation page because of options such as the Japanese town of Obama and the president of Equatorial Guinea, Ricardo Mangue Obama Nfubea--both, they argued, much more important and of international significance than a junior senator from Illinois who may or may not make it to the Democratic primary. The others pointed out that the Barack Obama page was amongst the most viewed Wikipedia pages and therefore for ease of use, searches should automatically go there, with the page featuring a link to an Obama disambiguation page.

When several admins quietly moved the search result from the direct to Barack version to the Obama disambig, name-calling started, with accusations of "cabals" and "collaborations." In an attempt to calm things down, someone started a poll to see which result was preferred. Rather than vote, though, many editors wrote statements of protest, saying they wouldn't participate in a poll when they felt the result was already rigged by the cabal of Obama disambig-ers (latest update: currently the search automatically goes to Barack Obama, with the disambiguation link). Again, what would Barack think? (probably something like, "Is there a link to my entry? Okay.")


I went to the comments thread looking for "sock puppets." I don't think I found any, but there were a couple of interesting observations.

Comment: The facts and truth keep changing so they have to be modified.

Reply: No...the facts and truth are not like the price of a turnip at a Bulgarian outdoor market. They never change. Only people's perceptions change, and what you're allowed to say and write changes. That is the problem with wikipedia. Even as a snapshot of what people are thinking, it is worthless, because some articles are so carefully guarded.
Try writing that Patti Reagan was born to Nancy "Just Say No" Reagan as a full-term baby seven months after the Reagans got married, and WHOOOSH, it will disappear within minutes. Try entering that Eleanor Roosevelt was a lesbian. WHOOOOOSH! Gone. Yet both are facts. I wouldn't recommend wikipedia to a 10-year old doing a book report.

And this line is worth repeating:

Wikipedia sites that Alfred E. Neuman has periodically been offered as a candidate for president with the slogan “ You could do worse….and always have!”

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Peter Oakley aka Geriatric 1927 turns 80

This twenty-minute tribute to Peter Oakley is a bouquet of You Tube characters all wishing him a happy eighteith birthday. This is a Who's Who of people in Peter's life.
After watching this you may wish to see his response, in which he works hard to keep from crying in appreciation.
Don't just skip through this piece carelessly. It represents more love, creativity and from-the-heart appreciation than I have seen in a long time.
This remarkable man has touched more lives in a positive way than anyone of whom I am aware.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

NY Times on the Mortgage Meltdown

Articles like this are what make the Times part of journalism's gold standard. Clear, timely and (unfortunately for some) accurate. What they can't predict is now far the ripples will travel as the sub-prime mortgage bubble bursts. Among other effects, it is reasonable to predict that mortgage interest rates are rising and carelessly granted home loans are, at least for the moment, a thing of the past.
...As his gamble began to pay off in the first months of 2007, Mr. Melcher, a money manager based in New York, plowed the profits into ever bigger wagers that the mortgage crisis would worsen further, eventually risking some $60 million of the fund’s money.

“We saw the opportunity of a lifetime, and since then events have unfolded on schedule,” he said. Mr. Melcher’s flagship fund has since doubled in value, even as this summer’s market turmoil cost other investors billions, forced the closing of several major hedge funds and pushed the stock market down 7 percent since mid-July. This week, Mr. Melcher is heading to Paris for a vacation with his wife.
...the cast of characters who missed signals like the rise of delinquencies and foreclosures is becoming easier to identify. They include investment banks happy to sell risky but lucrative mortgage debt to hedge funds hungry for high interest payments, bond rating agencies willing to hope for the best in the housing market and provide sterling credit appraisals to debt issuers, and subprime mortgage brokers addicted to high sales volumes.

What is more, some of these players now find themselves in a dual role as both enabler and victim, like the legions of individual borrowers who were convinced that their homes could only keep rising in value and were confident that they could afford to stretch for the biggest mortgage possible.

All of the old-timers knew that subprime mortgages were what we called neutron loans — they killed the people and left the houses,” said Louis S. Barnes, 58, a partner at Boulder West, a mortgage banking firm in Lafayette, Colo. “The deals made in 2005 and 2006 were going to run into trouble because the credit pendulum at the time was stuck at easy.”
"Neutron loans." What a great description! And it may be more apt than they thought. The term refers, of course, to the neutron bomb, a nuclear weapon which has been conceived, tested and shown to be viable but has never been (as far as we know) deployed on a battlefield. The popular notion that it is a bomb which only kills people leaving infrastructure intact is not accurate. It is true that radiation from a neutron bomb can penetrate armor and kill the people behind it without apparent damage to the armor. But the detonation of an neutron bomb, like any other bomb, would have a catastrophic impact, not only on houses but most other civilian structures. It is, after all, a bomb.
And like the neutron bomb, sub-prime mortgages may leave standing the houses they helped inspire builders and developers to produce, the eventual results of sub-prime loans may kill more people than the first line of borrowers who took them. The institutions that extended credit to shaky prospects are taking a much harder hit than they expected. And they are biting the dust in swelling numbers.

Oh, and Mr Melcher? He's one of those ultra-savy investors who knows how to make a fortune as others are sinking. His hedge-fund is the institutional version of selling short...on the margin. Even after a ship sinks there is a picnic for life in the ocean.
Look closely. There is a big tear on my cheek.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Yezidi Links

Yesterdays savage coordinated attack on the Yezidi people of Iraq takes this evil conflict to another level of madness. All I have read of these people leads me to think of them with the same cultural respect due any other minority. Their beliefs and customs are alien to both Muslims and Christians and their origins predate both faiths. They are a small and isolated population, tightly bound by tribal loyalties, with no ambitions toward tyranny over others.

Wikipedia article.

The Yazidi number around 200,000 to 300,000 individuals in total, but estimates vary on their population size, partially due to the Yazidi tradition of secrecy when asked about one's religious beliefs. Low estimates range around 100,000, and high estimates around 700,000.
Expatriate Yazidi are concentrated in Germany, numbering between 20,000 and 40,000, mainly in Niedersachsen and Nordrhein-Westfalen, most of them from Turkey. A much smaller diaspora community is found in the Netherlands. Very small groups are also found in Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the USA, Canada and Australia, probably totalling to below 5,000 people.

Michael Yon visited Dohuk in February and published a beautiful account.

Nearly everything I heard pronounced as fact about Yezidis was certain in only one narrow sense: before long, someone equally confident of their information would provide a different set of facts. The only way to find the truth would be to talk with Yezidis in situ, so I asked an interpreter in Dohuk to take me to a Yezidi village.

This wasn’t my first foray in search of mythic danger. I’d learned some things from when I tracked down cannibals in the jungles of northern India. A current anthropological rap sheet is of paramount necessity before venturing alone into the wild. Safety first is my motto.

“Will they kill me?” I asked.

“Of course not!” he answered immediately, incredulous at the very idea. “They are Yezidi! They are good people.”

“Just asking.” I said, thinking safety first.

Michael Totten was there the year before with another good account.

Two young men entered the temple, ducked into the sacred chamber, and came out with small metal stands with what look looked like square cooking pans attached to the tops. They poured oil into the pans, brought them into the public space, and dropped in some lit matches. Small flames burned in the corners.

My feet froze. Never in my life have my feet been so cold. I’ve taken my shoes off in lord-knows-how-many mosques, but mosques have carpeted floors. The temple at Lalish was open to the winter mountain air, the floor was made of cold hard stone, and I stood on it for a long time. Pain shot up my ankles through the balls of my feet. But I wasn’t about to complain. When would I ever be here again? I was honored that they let me inside their “Mecca,” their birthplace of the universe, only because I showed up and said hi.

When we went back outside the temple I put my shoes back on with tremendous relief. Birzo’s feet didn’t seem to be doing any better than mine, but the Yezidis were used to the cold.
Birzo and I waited on a small elevated platform above the temple courtyard while our guide went and summoned Baba Sheikh, the Yezidi version of a top imam or priest. Actually, he was more like their Pope.

Baba Sheikh greeted us warmly. He wore a white robe, sandals despite the cold, a tan shawl, and a black belt. His face, with its fiercely intelligent eyes, was framed by a long black beard and a one-inch thick headband.

“Sometimes translators do not translate correctly for me,” he said to me in Kurdish through Birzo. He then squinted just slightly at my innocent translator before nodding at me as though he trusted me more, as though we shared some sort of a bond.

“Please,” he said. “Ask me anything you like.”

My first awareness of the Yezidi was via my friend Abu Khaleel. He described them briefly at his blog, now available in book form, a year before Totten wrote of them.
I can't think of anything intelligent to say about yesterday's events. Once the animal in man is animated there is no boundary to his capacity for obscene behavior.
God, protect us from becoming like those who would annihilate a group like the Yezidis.

"...quagmire" Oops! Hey, I didn't say it -- HE did...

Said it before.
I'll say it again...
Res ipsa loquitur.

The US decision makers all around saying they can't withdraw, there will be chaos, etc. are quite right, except... there is going to be chaos regardless.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Korean Hostages of the Taliban -- Day 27

The wait continues.

I cannot imagine how the families of these dedicated Christians must feel. At some level it may be very much like the feeling one has when a child leaves home to be on his or her own. Mine has always been a prayer of thanks and a plea for safekeeping. My thanks are that they were in my care for the first season of their earthly life. During that time I did all I could to prepare them for the time when I was no longer able to keep them out of danger. When they leave home they are in the hands of God, His to use in whatever manner seems best to suit His divine plan. A sketch by Keirkegaard gives me comfort.

Eugene Cho's blog is the most timely source of information about this terrible situation. Today he links to two good articles.

For God’s sake, let those Koreans go, from Yemen Times...

This observer, along with millions of devout, faithful and sincere Moslems throughout the world, are somewhat puzzled and are often outraged by the tactics adopted by some of the self-declared Jihadists of the world. More than that, many knowledgeable Moslems are at a loss in finding jurisdictional, dogmatic and textual reference relied upon by the latter in Islamic literature, which reveal that such tactics emanate from or even fit in with conceptually. Furthermore, any true faithful Moslem would find many of the tactics employed by those who profess to be carrying the banner of Islam as actually being contrary to the interest of Islam or providing any hint of short-term or long-term support to any Islamic cause. In short, such tactics as senseless suicide bombings against non-Moslem civilians, not to mention the ones against members of the Islamic community, even if under sectarian pretexts; kidnappings of unarmed “foreigners”, who have entered Moslem countries legitimately or with good and peaceful intentions; hijackings of civilian aircraft, the projection of a crude or uncivilized image and the rejection of any Moslems, who may differ in the interpretation of dogma on minor secondary issues and matters of religious doctrine all tend to reflect a serious effort to corrupt the real civilized nature of Islam and to render it unattractive to any misinformed witness or observer in these modern times. When such actions emanate from misguided Moslems, who profess to work for the restoration of an “Islamic State”, which is actually viewed as having been a total failure, even if viewed outside of a Moslem context, is really problematic. Surely the failure of the Taliban regime could undoubtedly be attributed to its poor comprehension of the real essence of Islam as truly being a powerful social reform doctrine, with reason, logic and compatibility with human nature as essential elements of any application of Moslem dogma. On the other hand, any applications of Islamic dogma that fails to encompass, mercy, tolerance, respect for all people, who do not display any animosity towards Moslems is for all practical purposes absolutely incongruent with Islamic fundamental principles and render the followers of such incongruities as heretical to Moslem doctrine.

Much more at the link...

And from the Baptist Press...

Back home, families unite, pray for Korean hostages

"Those of us with sons are more anxious than those with daughters," Lee said, her voice breaking. "It seems that when the Taliban chooses to execute a hostage, they choose a man rather than a woman."

Throughout the three-week ordeal, Lee has spent many sleepless nights and has lost nearly 15 pounds. She and other family members of the remaining hostages meet daily in a small room set aside especially for them at Saemmul Presbyterian Church. Lee sits on the floor and leans against a wall, her knees covered with a quilt.

The atmosphere in the room is quiet and subdued. This day, the families have just learned that the release of two sick female hostages has been delayed yet again by their Taliban captors for unknown reasons. Some pray. Others read Scripture. Many watch the TV screen that has been installed to provide up-to-the-minute news. Thankfully, the two women, Ji Na Kim, 32, and Kyung Ja Kim, 37, were released to the Red Cross a few hours later. After a medical examination at a Korean air base near Kabul, the two are scheduled to return to Seoul as soon as possible.

Conversations with those close to the situation reveal that the team members were fully aware of the risk they faced. This was the second trip to Afghanistan for 39-year-old Jung Hwa Yu. Last year, she accompanied a group from Saemmul to Afghanistan to teach English. Her mother, Ok Kang Kwak, said, "Her heart was so touched by the needs she saw that she returned again this year."

Daniel Lee, senior pastor of the Global Mission Church, a Baptist congregation one hour south of Seoul in Suwon, is a good friend of Park. Lee recounted a sermon that Hyung Kyu Bae preached just two weeks before the group departed. "Dying for Christ is a glorious thing," Bae said. "Don't cry for me if I die in service to my Lord. Put on my tombstone, 'He died training young people to make a difference in the world.'"

"Where in the Bible," Daniel Lee asked, "does it say that we should not go to difficult places? We must be willing to share the love of God wherever He compels us to go."

Peter Oakley, aka Geriatric 1927, marks One Year at You Tube

It was a year ago that this gentleman made his first appearance.

Much has happened since then and it's still going on. The high point of the year was, of course, the creation of The Zimmer Band, an assembley of old people whose recording of My Generation made a respectable showing on the popularity charts. That event launched a number of other activities, including more recordings.

These things take so long to do. And the original BBC programs than led to us doing was started way back last October and we were doing the Zimmers thing in February.
But now it's always been on the cards that the Zimmers would do a further record, and that is going to happen.
Alf, the lead singer, is now in the studios doing his rock-and-roll number and practicing his moves. And the great excitement, which is what I want to tell you about, is -- there have been many negotiations going on -- that Grandad is going to do a record as well. And at the moment the arrangements are that I will go to the studios in September and it will be done.

Here he is, folks.
This is the Colonel Sanders of You Tube.
I think he's just getting started.

Operation Start Up Tour

From the propoganda front...

Plans by a Christian group to send an evangelical video game to U.S. troops in Iraq were abruptly halted yesterday by the Department of Defense after ABC News inquired about the program.

Operation Start Up (OSU) Tour, an evangelical entertainment troupe that actively proselytizes among soldiers, will not be sending the "apocryphal" video game in care packages as planned, according to the department.

"Left Behind: Eternal Forces" was inspired by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' best-selling book series about the battle of Armageddon, in which believers of Jesus Christ fight the Antichrist.

Favorite clip from the comments thread...

There are really only 4 things the soldiers in Iraq want:

1. Gatoraid for their water
2. Oreo cookies
3. "Silly String" to catch trip wires for bombs.
4. Porn.

The rest of the stuff is eventually thrown in the trash.

Posted by: Bill H Aug 15, 2007 3:08:37 PM

H/T Truthout

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sullivan on Clinton

Andrew Sullivan has reservations...

The character issue is really about having a president I can trust, whose words are connected to what he or she actually believes, and a president who can move us past the hideous and growing polarization of the past two decades. The words that come out of Clinton's mouth are like round, honed pebbles on a beach of public relations and focus groups. She has got it down, and it's smooth and round and aesthetically pleasing. But I don't believe it or even hear it except as a series of ever shifting calculations. I know some of this is inevitable in politics. But it has come to drain our political discourse of real meaning and clarity. And the crafted populist soundbites of Clinton's newest, Eva Peron-style campaign ad sound as empty as they may well be effective. She has taken professional politics to a newly homogenized blur of blather. We need plain English.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Church/State Wall of Separation

If growing up Baptist did nothing else to develop my faith, it marked me forever as a staunch advocate of keeping religion and politics in separate compartments. Over the years my understandings of both have changed, but the notion of keeping them separate has not. I could bore the reader for pages with arguments, but I will stick with a few recent instances of faith gone awry to make my point.

Representative Bill Sali of Idaho voiced objections to a Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate by Keith Ellison, Muslim convert from Minnesota.

Last month, the U.S. Senate was opened for the first time ever with a Hindu prayer. Although the event generated little outrage on Capitol Hill, Representative Bill Sali (R-Idaho) is one member of Congress who believes the prayer should have never been allowed.

"We have not only a Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate, we have a Muslim member of the House of Representatives now, Keith Ellison from Minnesota. Those are changes -- and they are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers," asserts Sali.

Sali says America was built on Christian principles that were derived from scripture. He also says the only way the United States has been allowed to exist in a world that is so hostile to Christian principles is through "the protective hand of God."

"You know, the Lord can cause the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike," says the Idaho Republican.

According to Congressman Sali, the only way the U.S. can continue to survive is under that protective hand of God. He states when a Hindu prayer is offered, "that's a different god" and that it "creates problems for the longevity of this country."

I won't go to the trouble to comment further about this incident. Res ipsa loquitur .

Barbara O'Brien and Dave Neiwert have forensics reports at their sites.

Yesterday I came across this on C-SPAN's Book TV.

Michael Weinstein argues that Christianity is forced on cadets attending the U.S. Air Force Academy. Calling upon his experience, the experiences of his children, and first hand accounts from others, Mr. Weinstein explains how he thinks evangelical Christianity is forced on our military. He also details accounts of religious persecution purportedly suffered by cadets who may not believe evangelical Christian principles.

Michael Weinstein is the founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. He is an attorney and has served as a Judge Advocate for the Air Force. He also served in the Executive Office of the President for three years during the Reagan Administration.

He makes a powerful point. And he is an in-your-face opponent of anyone who would advance a religious agenda by the use of political or military power. This is a trend that has been going on for ten years (pay attention: same title, same idea, different author, printed ten years ago) and seems to be getting stronger with the passing of time. His most recent target is Christian Embassy, a world-class organized melding of faith, politics and military influence. I don't know whether to be embarrassed, angry or scared. This video is worth a moment of your time. Decide for yourself, but I find it repellant. This is NOT what Christianity is about.

►Finally (for today) this is what Thomas Jefferson had to say about expressions of faith in the context of government business.

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that it's protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion." The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it's protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.

As the flames of religious extremism get higher and hotter, I want to be remembered as one of the people who tried hard to stop the madness.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Jihad, The Musical

Lots of folks have their backs up over Jihad, the Musical, now being staged at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. A quick look at comments left at various reviews indicates a load of righteous indignation. Godwin's law gets tossed in right off the bat. I came across the link at Chicago Boyz but it's pretty much all over the place.

I'm reserving judgement, but my first take is that the more we make light of serious issues the better off we are at many levels. A rash of silly illustrations comes to mind from TV shows about the Korean war and German POW camps to Fiddler on the Roof and Jesus Christ, Superstar (remember Herod's Song?).

The dust will settle soon, but in the meantime this video is a don't-miss piece of work.

In the meantime, you want serious?
You can't handle serious.
I'll give you serious.

Tighten your seatbelt and get ready for this from Iraq Slogger...

"Meeting Resistance," a documentary exploring the roots of the Iraqi insurgency, as told by the insurgents themselves, opens this weekend in Los Angeles at the famed Laemmle Grand, with other cities soon to be scheduled.

Filmmakers Molly Bingham and Steve Connors just put the finishing touches on their trailer--a series of questions that force the viewers to examine the Iraq conflict from the perspective of those who call their fight against the US "resistance" against "occupiers." Provocative would be an understatement.

And if that fails to get your attention, here is a link to IRAQI MESSAGE TO AMERICAN PEOPLE which has been around over a year. It is shot through with anti-Semitism and other bloody-shirt propoganda, but it lays out in language that no one can misunderstand a point of view which will not be destroyed by violence or the threat of violence. It is a mind-set, not too different from those that led to our own revolutionary and civil wars. And mind-sets are not easily changed by wars. They morph instead into more subtle forms. Succeding generations usually wash off the blood stains while retaining the values that led to the conflict. The warm, fuzzy relations between the US and Britain, between former Union and Confederate families, between Vietnam, Japan or Germany and the US...these did not happen right away. But happen they did, after reconstruction, the Marshal Plan or post-war occupation of Japan and Germany.

How many people calling for the US to leave Iraq are aware that without some kind of post-war equivalent to these historic realities the United States will become the target of global rage the likes of which have not been seen in our lifetime?

Eric Erikson's fading legacy

One of the high points of a gerontology course I was privileged to take was an impromptu presentation by Dr. Betty Segal, now retired president of Kennesaw University, in which she presented without notes a flawless summary of Eric Erikson's stages of childhood development. Having been exposed to Erikson years ago I was blown away by her command of his work. Unfortunately Erikson's work along with a gifted generation of professionals is is fading from consciousness. His approach to understanding human development, with those of other heirs of the Freudian school, are being lost to a more measurable approach to human behavior deriving from both drugs and a more easily understood cognitive approach.

The recent passing of Albert Ellis underscores the trend to what many consider a more scientific approach to behavioral therapy (it's now bad form to use words like mental...too fuzzy) and human (as opposed to childhood) development. This is the thrust of an essay by Robert Fulford in Canada's National Post. [Disregard the parenthetical snarks...those are mine, not Fulford's.]

This year, Erikson is the subject of a poised and sympathetic study by Daniel Burston, an Israeli-born, Toronto-raised psychologist at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Erik Erikson and the American Psyche: Ego, Ethics, and Evolution (Rowman & Littlefield) not only describes why he once mattered but why, in many places, he ceased to matter.

It's a monument to a now neglected figure and a demonstration of how quickly intellectual fashion changes and fame flees. People dominate the cultural landscape and then, almost overnight, vanish into what Burston calls "a dim recess of the collective psyche." Burston's last chapter "The Erasure of Erikson," cites Gore Vidal's summary of the U.S. as "the United States of Amnesia."

Arts and Letters Daily provided the link that set me to tracking this obscure corner of human understanding. I have been interrupted several times putting together this post so I will now stop. No one but me is interested, but it is possible that some wayward Google searcher may need what I have posted thus far.

It is regrettable that more people will not be exposed to the insights of this man. His posthumous analytical sketches of Martin Luther and Mohandas Gandhi are without parallel in the literatures of history, psychology or social science. The same can be said for the production of Robert Coles, his disciple and biographer. Together they represent a flash of insight into human development as it intersects with spiritual influences that comes as close as modern man comes to Divine revelation. Coles' personal interviews of Dorothy Day and subsequent biography was one of the most important sources of my own spiritual growth.

I have too much to read already so I won't be buying Burston's book. Besides, it would be like preaching to the choir in my case. I do hope, however, that it will advance and protect Erikson's legacy and find a wide and influential audience.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Catholic Church's Jewish cardinal

Mort Reicheck's blog continues. At eighty, this guy has a historical perspective that all should envy. Here he discusses Jewish ethnicity as distinctly different from faith. He makes reference to Messianic Jews who have embraced Christianity. I understand many Messianic Jews see themselves as completed Jews. As a Christian I rather like the notion. Thanks to activities in my younger days I think of myself as an honorary Jew as well.

The death earlier this week of France's Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger underscores the very sensitive issue of Jewish identity. The traditional Orthodox Jewish view is that some one born of a Jewish mother is a Jew, but that Jewish identity is erased if a Jew converts to Christianity or any other religious faith. The late French cardinal steadfastly challenged that view...

Lustiger, who was the archbishop of Paris until his retirement two years ago, was born to Polish Jewish immigrant parents in Paris. In 1940, after the German occupation of France, he was hidden with a Catholic family where he was exposed to and converted to Catholicism at age 13.
The ethnicity argument is that Jewishness is more than a religious faith. With a common language and written alphabet (Hebrew), history, tradition, and culture, Jews are also an ethnic group. Historical and geographic circumstances, however, led to the emergence of three separate Jewish ethnic sub-groups--Ashkenazim (European), Sephardim (Mediterranean), and Mizrahim (Middle East and central Asia)--all of whom possess these common characteristics.

Some would even argue that belief in Judaism as a religion is not necessarily a requirement for Jewish identity. The late Cardinal Lustiger obviously held this view...

Solid, short read.
Go learn something.

Pleading for help

For details see my earlier post and Eugene Cho's blog.

Kathryn Birky -- Entrepreneur, Scholarship Winner

GOSHEN, Ind. — A pony-powered environmental lawn-mowing service established Kathryn Birky as a socially conscious entrepreneur when she was only 12. And this year, the business plan for the service helped the Goshen College sophomore win a $24,000 young entrepreneur scholarship.
The award, given annually by the National Association for the Self-Employed, or NASE, is a national prize for a student who shows interest and promise in entrepreneurship.
Birky, a communication major from Glenn, Mich., demonstrated both aptitudes when she and her brother began researching environmentally friendly ways to mow the lawn six years ago. They decided to try a horse-powered reel mower, a type of non-motorized mower normally sold to the Amish.
“We enthusiastically purchased a pony named Clementine, built a barn and took driving lessons,” Birky wrote in the essay describing her business plan for the scholarship competition. After advertising the service with flyers explaining the advantages to mowing without using gasoline, Birky said, “We accepted as many lawns as Clementine could handle.” They have kept the business going every summer since.
Entrepreneurship is often thought of as a way to be self-sufficient, but for Birky, the value goes far beyond that.
“I’m personally more interested in social entrepreneurship, which is what activists do to try to create social change,” she said. “I think social entrepreneurs aren’t doing it for the money or for their local community. They’re doing it to improve their society in the bigger picture.”
Her success at raising social awareness while launching a business became apparent in its first year and continued.
“When I began mowing lawns with a pony, I was simply attempting to respect the Earth with my decisions,” she wrote in her essay for the scholarship. “Since then, I have seen it grow in ways I never imagined.”
Soon their small but unique business operation was receiving national attention with stories in the Detroit Free Press and the Boston Globe.
Then a Canadian author mentioned the business in her book and Birky and her brother met the governor of Michigan. For Birky, it was especially rewarding that the attention influenced others to seek alternatives to gas-powered mowers.
“After our first summer, we were selected to represent the U.S. at the United Nation’s International Children’s Conference on the Environment,” Birky said. “This led to leadership opportunities at other U.N. conferences and to meetings with corporate and political leaders to speak of our concerns for the environment.”
Duane Stoltzfus, professor of communication at Goshen, has observed Birky and her work in the classroom.
“Fortunately for those around her, Kathryn is determined to use all the daylight hours she can to do good in the world,” he said.
Birky continues to have high aspirations. Though she doesn’t plan to continue the mowing business, her values haven’t shifted. She hopes to be an independent environmental writer, believing: “If I can convince individual readers to make their everyday decisions with this awareness in mind, their united actions will create a greener world and a brighter future.
“An entrepreneur is a visionary: they see opportunities for improvement in a society that other people haven’t noticed yet,” she said.
The lawn-mowing business is a good example.
“Not only was it a savvy marketing technique but it also made a heartfelt statement about opportunities for non-polluting lawn care,” Stoltzfus said. “With a little imagination, she seemed to be saying, each person can make a difference in caring for the Earth.”
“I am already an entrepreneur,” Birky wrote in her winning essay. “At this stage I only need to continue to be successful.”
She is already on her way to achieving this, having won the scholarship.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Korean Hostages of the Taliban in Afghanistan (Added links)

(Posted August 1)

How best do we deal with blackmail? That is the core question of this and all "hostage" stories. Thinking about the situation makes me angry and sad. Angry because I feel such rage against the perpetrators, and sad because I feel so helpless. Prayer, as ilona points out, is all we have left.

Spreading an awareness of the story may be beneficial but that can be a double-edged sword. Blackmail is a form of terrorism, and the greater the public impact the more effective it becomes. This morning I heard an NPR report from Baghdad of yet another truck bombing that took the lives of several ordinary people as they were eating ice-cream celebrating Iraq's victory over Arabia in a sports event. He made a very telling comment to the effect that people are at some level relieved to know of sudden death because it is kidnapping with subsequent torture and murder that they fear more! That kind of thinking is hard for me to hear about but under the circumstances I completely understand.

There are several links for interested readers to follow, but that of Eugene Cho seems most earnest, balanced and up-to-the-minute. You Tube links are included but hard for me to watch.

(Added August 4)

FP writer Prerna Mankad looks at the hostage crisis in The price of proselytizing in a war zone?

...the criticism in South Korea over the evangelicals' mission has been withering. But as so often happens, much of the anger is now shifting to the United States as relatives and Korean lawmakers plead for U.S. help. Should the U.S. and Afghan governments cut a deal with the Taliban to release the remaining hostages? And should the fact that the missionaries were aware of the risks, flouted the government's advice, and failed to take precautions change the answer to that question?

Clearly, these are difficult issues. But with 17,000 missionaries in 173 nations(including Afghanistan, China, Iraq, Sudan, and the North Korean border), they are questions that South Koreans will have to address. I just hope that after this disaster, churches will think twice about sending their missionaries into the lions' den.

The Asia Times link (I love this title), North Korea's missionary position, explores recent Christian history in the Korean penensula, pointing out that North Korea's famous dictator was not averse to using the faith to bolster a political agenda.

Once upon the time, Christianity played an important role in North Korean politics. Indeed, few people are now aware that in the colonial era, between 1910 and 1945, what is now North Korea was the stronghold of Korean Protestantism. Protestant missionaries came to Korea in the 1880s and achieved remarkable success in conversions. By the early 20th century Koreans had come to associate Protestantism with modernity and progress, and many early Korean modernizers came from Protestant families. Although Christians composed just 1-2% of the population, they were over-represented among intellectuals and professionals. It helped that Korea was colonized by a non-Christian nation - Japan - so in Korea the teachings of Jesus avoided those associations with colonialism that proved to be so damaging in many other parts of Asia.

Once upon a time, relations between early Korean communism and Korean Christianity were much closer than either side is willing to admit nowadays. Kim Il-sung himself, the founder of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), was born into a family of prominent Protestant activists. His father graduated from a Protestant school and was an active supporter of the local missions, and his mother was the daughter of a prominent Protestant activist. This was fairly typical: it seems that a majority of early Korean communists had Christian family backgrounds, even though Christians were few and far between in the general population.

Much more at the link, all of it news to me.

Anyone who thinks that religion has no political significance is living in a fantasy world. And it's not always the fantasy we like to advance. It is for this reason that I have strong feelings about maintaining a well-constructed wall of separation between church and state. The invocation of the name of Goerge Bush in many churches strikes me as a case in point. He's no Kim, but he sure ain't no Jimmy Carter either, as he would be quick to point out. See what I mean?

This little snip jumped out at me about halfway through.
I think it should be enshrined somewhere prominent:
...Christians were politically unreliable.

(Added August 7)

From Eugene Cho's blog....

Today, a video from Ryu Haeng Shik to his wife, Kim Yun Yeong [one of the Korean Christian hostages in Afghanistan] was posted on YouTube as a plea to the Taliban to release her and the other hostages. His letter has also been published in numerous places. This is the first of a series of letters entitled, ”Love Letters to Korean Hostages in Afghanistan.”

Prominent News today: Taliban wants to swap two Korean female ill hostages for two female Taliban prisoners; Bush and Karzai agree to not give into Taliban [Chosun News] and [CNN]. No surprise there but you have to ask the question: Are they doing all that they can. Despite what was initially stated, this kidnapping had NOTHING to do with the hostages being a Christian Relief Group. So, let’s stop with the bashing of Christians or Korean Christians.
I know that I’ve already complained about the lack of attention this has received from both the media and the larger [C]hurch. For me, it’s so very simple: If the US is at war against terrorists such as the Taliban, why wouldn’t you highlight this story in some way or another? Doesn’t this support the cause? Particularly, if it’s a group of innocent civilians who trained for SIX months to go to provide relief and aid?

The lack of attention in the larger Church is more enraging. These are Christian missionaries and relief workers. These are brothers and sisters in Christ. But hardly a whimper. Does that make sense? Is the larger church that fragmented?

Someone emailed and asked a simple question:
“Why are you wasting your time by posting updates every day? Let’s face it…You nor I can do anything…God is in control.”

My response: It is true that I am spending more time than I want on this blog. I try to give myself no more than 45 minutes each day but have broken my own rules. And I also agree that ultimately, God is in control. I believe that God is able and will redeem this situation… But, before you get carried away, let’s not stop caring, believe, hoping, praying, or working just because you have what I call a hyper steroidified version of Calvinistic worldview. I share these updates because outside of Korea and some of Asia, the stories of these 23 people - innocent civilians, doctors and nurses, relief workers, Christians living out their faith, missionaries with a plan not to blindly oppress and proselytize the Afghani people with forced or manipulative evangelism but rather, faith demonstrated in compassion and care - will never be heard. They will simply be forgotten. Their compassion and their courage will be forgotten. Their purpose will be forgotten…

And finally, while I acknowledge the situation looks very dim, let’s not let that discourage us from ENTERING into their STORIES.