Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dorothy Day, died Nov 29, 1980

Credit to the Daily Episcopalian ( For some reason I didn't have Dorothy Day up on my calendar of saints, but she died 26 years ago, and she was an activist for women's and worker's rights. Interestingly, she wrote in support of free love and birth control in 1910, and had an abortion in the 20s, but she opposed the sexual revolution of the 60s. And as I said in a previous post, liberal Christians need a concrete sense of sexual ethics.

In any case, through it all, Day maintained a commitment to the poor and to nonviolence. The Catholic Worker Movement has over 185 houses providing social services; they are independent of the Roman Catholic Church. Their beliefs are listed here:

Dorothy Day didn't want to be called a saint. She felt it would trivialize her. So, don't call her a saint; instead, go and do likewise.

Link to Robert Lentz's icon on Trinity Stores - that's the image

The Catholic Worker Movement homepage:

The Catholic Worker, a mirror site for some articles from TCWM:

Her Wikipedia page

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"An unfounded obsession with homosexuality"

It is not good that many Christian groups are obsessed with their members' sexual conduct. I remember several sessions in my Bible study class as a teenager and as a new convert to Christianity where the aura of guilt hung heavily in the air as our group leader told us to refrain from masturbation and to not succumb to homosexual temptations. I may not have had the second, but almost everyone, male and female, masturbates. I was no different. That guilt stayed with me for a long time.

The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina is moving to expel churches that "affirm", "approve" or "bless" same-sex relationships. There are apparently a dozen of them. From the Washington Post article below, "The growing acceptance of gays in popular culture and the fact that homosexuality has powerful advocacy groups made the stance necessary, Baptist leaders said." Mark Harris, the head of the committee that proposed the measure said, ""In our day and time, no other sin marches so defiantly across our national landscape."

I had no idea that the use of hallucinogenic drugs was so widespread among Christian conservatives. Let me give you another example of sin. Americans allowed their administration to engage in war, based on fabricated evidence, and against international law. According to the Iraq Body Count (link below), between 48,000 to 54,000 Iraqi civilians have died based on newspaper reports of deaths; the British medical journal Lancet estimates as many as 100,000. As of today, 2,879 American servicepeople are dead and officially, over 22,000 are wounded. Some estimates that the sanctions that preceded the war, which were instituted by President George HW Bush and continued by Presidents Clinton and Bush Jr, killed as many as half a million children under 5. Madeleine Albright said that those deaths were justified. Americans apparently only just woke up and realized that the casualties (at least, the American casualties) were actually not all that justified. The military keeps no official body count. Many Republican leaders expressed contrition for the war, but it sounded more like they regretted being caught lying rather than actually regretting the suffering they had helped inflict. Many Democrats waffled between pro-war and anti-war for political gain.

There is indeed sin marching across the American national landscape. There's the war, there's the blaming the poor for their own plight and the refusal to provide universal healthcare. There's the cutting of taxes for the rich while eliminating programs that provide a safety net to the poor. And by the way, Mark Harris, whatever you're smoking, it's probably illegal too. There's an article (link below) about how the president-elect of the Christian Coalition had to step down because he wanted to broaden their agenda to include poverty reduction and fighting global warming. Imagine that - Christians supporting poverty and environmental destruction. And these are the Christians who have the gall to question other Christians' legitimacy because they differ on issues of sexuality. These are the Christians whose obsession with sex produces wilfull blindness to what's actually going on in the world.

I'm not saying we should all just go at it like rabbits without regard to the consequences. We do need sexual/reproductive ethics that addresses reality: that teenagers will have sex whether or not they are taught about birth control; if they're not taught, the result is unwanted teen pregnancy. That pronatalism among Roman Catholics and some conservative Protestants is harmful to an already overburdened planet - and that it helps keep women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. That birth control should not be seen as a sin. That human personhood should not be seen as beginning at conception, but that embryos are indeed forms of human life and should be treated with dignity. That abortion rights should be protected, women and men informed of the choices and the potential consequences, and trusted to make the right decision based on their own sense of ethics and personal situations. That lack of abortion rights means that women will go to desperate measures to get one, jeopardizing their lives, and that attacks on abortion rights are at best potential attacks on womens' equality.

3 Christian groups move to condemn gay sex: Washington Post

The antigay obsession: Boston Globe (may require registration)

Pastor chosen to lead Christian Coalition steps down in dispute over agenda

Iraq body count

Monday, November 27, 2006

More racism...

By now, many of you will have heard of Michael Richards' racist tirade against a couple of Black hecklers at his performance. Not so long ago, Mel Gibson went on a drunken, sexist and anti-Semitic rant when he was arretsted for drunk driving. I'm sure that everyone is beating this issue to death and psychoanalyzing Richards by remote. I hate to follow the crowd. But I really have something to say, so I'll say it.

If you're reading this blog, you've read my post on the Syro-Phonecian woman. ( She asked Jesus for healing. He responded with what was likely the equivalent of "chink". She persisted, he healed her ... and subsequently, he never denied any of the Gentiles when they asked to be healed. Nor did he insult them.

You've also read me excoriating Singapore, my native country, for its own refusal to acknowledge racism.

Leonard Pitts Jr, writing for the Baltimore Sun (link below), lambasts America for the same reason. Apparently,, the website that first aired the footage, had a survey showing that 40% of respondents didn't think Richards was racist. Pitts contends, and I agree, that you don't launch a 2-1/2 minute tirade with multiple references to "niggers" and a reference to a lynching without being racist. It is good that Richards apologized publicly, and is trying to do so privately to the hecklers. It is not enough.

Many well-meaning White Americans persist in denying that their country is racist. I have to say, this is very unfortunate. People of color in America should not forget that racism is not only a Black/White issue, and they should not forget that they are racist among themselves.

America's problems with race relations have not been solved. They will not be solved before we can admit to ourselves that we are sinful, and one of those sins is racism. And one of the biggest barriers to recognizing racism is the guilt. We're so guilty that in 21st century America, there is racism. We're guilty about the past treatment of Africans and Native Americans. We're so guilty that we repress it and deny it, and that is just as bad as the original sin.

But, if we admit it, we can start to talk about it, and then we can start to do something about it.,0,4427975.story?coll=bal-oped-headlines

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

They don't do it. Should they be telling everyone else how to do it?

Credit to The Mad Priest's blog,

"Condoms as a means of protection from the HIV virus do not stop the Church's condemnation of any prenuptial sex, especially between homosexuals, stated the President of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Health on commenting a study entrusted by the Pope to the Pastoral Health and Doctrine of the Faith Ministries. The issue of the contraceptive being allowed is only considered between a married heterosexual couple where one of the two is HIV positive. Cardinal Barragan said: "Following the Pope's instructions, we accurately studied the contraceptive from both a scientific and moral point of view, and handed in our study, almost 200 pages long, to the Doctrine of the Faith, which is currently examining it. Let's hope that the Holy Father says what is most convenient on this subject: if an answer needs to be given, or what this answer is, I don't know. I think that no answer from the Church should encourage sexual libertinism. This we have to know clearly."

Comment by The Mad Priest: "How on earth did they manage to waffle on for 200 pages about a bit of rubber you put on your knob. For goodness sake, has anybody ever actually shown these idiots a condom.

Whatever you do, don't anybody tell them they make flavoured versions - they would have to cut the Amazon Rainforest down to provide the paper for that report!"


Monday, November 20, 2006

"One criticism levelled at Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, is that in being too broad minded, he has been too accomodating to the conservatives at the expense of the liberals, and that he has turned back on his previous support of gays in the church."

To elaborate on that, here's an article by Peter Sanford in the Independent, a UK newspaper.

he hardest thing for Rowan Williams's many admirers to stomach, said one of the Archbishop of Canterbury's inner circle last week, "is that too often he seems to bend over backwards to be kinder to his enemies than he is to us". It is, she added, a wonderfully Christian thing for him to do, but not what is required of the leader of the fractious, 77 million-strong worldwide Anglican church.

Instead, it needs at its head someone who will take a clear line over divisive issues such as the ordination of women and gay priests, so that the whole communion doesn't just tear itself apart. Yet the confused signals that Dr Williams repeatedly sends out on these and other subjects have caused a dramatic reversal of fortunes for the 56-year-old, Welsh-born archbishop. When he was appointed in 2002 he was widely hailed as the man who was going to breathe new life into his church and the national debate. Today, some people feel he is a lame duck, an irrelevance and a liability.

On the eve of his visit to Rome for a first summit with Pope Benedict XVI, the archbishop has been up to his familiar tricks again. In an interview with The Catholic Herald, Dr Williams appears to belittle the contribution of women priests in his own church. They had not "transformed" or "renewed" it, he said. (Lambeth Palace claim he was misquoted).

He also suggests that they might one day be thrown off the altar and returned to the pews. All this from a long-time supporter of female ministry and who previously has advocated that the ban on women bishops be lifted.

Was he trying to find something comforting to say to that minority in the Church of England that continue to see women as second-class citizens before God? Or did he really intend to reopen a door that everyone else believed had been firmly shut after General Synod's 1993 vote in favour of women's ordination? Or worst of all, was he just creeping up to Pope Benedict who believes that the advent of female priests in Anglicanism has put the ecumenical clock back decades?

His meaning is utterly unclear, and that is the problem with Dr Williams. Not even he seems to know what he thinks. Lambeth Palace is claiming that his remarks in The Catholic Herald were misinterpreted, but the Archbishop of Canterbury already has form on appearing not to know his own mind.

In his first year in office, he appeared to give the green light for Canon Jeffrey John, a gay priest in a long-standing relationship, to become Bishop of Reading. Canon John is an old friend of Dr Williams, and his appointment by an archbishop who had happily ordained actively homosexual clergy was seen as a first bold move to stamp his authority on the church's tortured debate about gay clergy.

Yet, in the face of criticism from traditional and evangelical Anglicans, the archbishop performed a spectacular U-turn. He capitulated to his critics and forced Canon John to withdraw. Dr Williams's moral authority has never recovered and Anglicanism remains unable to see beyond the issue of gay clergy. It was undoubtedly a brave experiment to appoint Rowan Williams as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury. Born in Swansea in 1950, this saintly academic, married to a fellow theologian with two children, had served as Archbishop of Wales since 2000. He was therefore the first Anglican leader to have been chosen from outside the Church of England since the Reformation. He was also the youngest for 200 years and probably the cleverest.

Expectations were high. But some of Dr Williams's friends believe he was always too clever for the job. It is better suited to a dully plodder, like the previous incumbent, George Carey, or a high-profile man of certainties, like the cleric hotly tipped to be the next, Archbishop John Sentamu of York. Dr Sentamu's interventions on Islam and secularism have been in marked contrast to Dr Williams's invisibility on such subjects, though you could argue that it is easier to take risks in speaking out when you're second-in-line rather than the primate.

The modest Dr Williams's capacity to see shades of grey on moral and ethical issues served him well when he became Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford in 1986, the youngest holder of that chair. It still can make him a beguiling broadcaster. In John Humphrys' recent radio series, Humphrys in Search of God, Dr Williams sidestepped invitations to be dogmatic and spoke appealingly to a wide audience about "silent waiting on the truth, pure sitting and breathing in the presence of the question mark".

But such nuanced remarks, the ability to see both sides of an argument, do not always sit easily with being Archbishop of Canterbury. It is, by any standards, an unenviable job. It carries a quasi-papal role as head of the 38 provinces of the Anglican communion around the world, but has none of the Pope's teaching authority to make his leadership effective in practice. Dr Williams would not, his friends stress, want to act like a Pope. He is by nature too subtle and self-effacing. But there must have been moments in the past four years when he has wished he could. When, for instance, he was trying to achieve some sort of rapprochement between implacable US Anglicans who had ordained an "openly" gay bishop and outraged African Anglican archbishops who see homosexuality as sinful.

Quite why Dr Williams even bothers trying to paper over the cracks in his communion puzzles some. By prevaricating, the most he has done is delay the collapse and in the process alienate his natural liberal constituency without managing to win any new supporters among traditionalists and evangelicals.

By putting the unity of the worldwide church above his own beliefs, he has squandered a golden opportunity to show the world that a modern, progressive form of Anglicanism can still be relevant to contemporary dilemmas. So his thoughtful remarks on climate change, child-rearing and Darfur, for instance, have gone largely unheard.

When he was first appointed he seemed, despite his monkish beard, so attractively normal. He spoke without embarrassment of his young children, of watching The Simpsons with them, of his love of W H Auden and of his native Wales. Yet increasingly, Rowan Williams has the careworn, detached air of someone who has come to regard his daily work as a kind of crucifixion. His only escape from the cross is to disappear on long overseas visits.

Because he was relatively young when he was appointed, Dr Williams could, in theory, continue in office for another decade. Many suspect, however, that the last stage of his via dolorosa will come at what promises to be a disharmonious Lambeth Conference in 2008, when the worldwide Anglican church gathers to parade once more its differences. In its wake Rowan Williams will slip back into academic obscurity, where he will be better appreciated.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Martyrs of the Jesuit University, San Salvador, Nov 16 1989

Ignacio Ellacuria, Frs Segundo Montes and Ignacio Martin-Baro, Julia Elba and Marisette Ramos were murdered, Nov 16, 1989, at the Jesuit University in San Salvador, El Salvador. Of the links below, the first is Robert Lentz's reflections on their killings. The second is the President of Georgetown Univ. in the US, pleading for an end to the Salvadoran civil war in which 75,000 people died.

The US has a long history of interference in Latin America. Hugo Chavez sounded like a nutcase when he ranted at Bush in front of the UN, but his words are, frankly, justifiable. Oscar Romero, a murdered Catholic archbishop, was assasinated by a death squad probably trained at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. Before his murder, he had pleaded with then-President Carter to end military aid to El Salvador's government - it was being used to murder the people of El Salvador, under the guise of defending against Communist insurgents. For the sake of containing Communism, the US funded and aided numerous dictators in Latin America.

These six martyrs are only a handful of the victims. Their killers have blood on their hands, which they will answer for before the Supreme Judge. However, we too have blood on our hands, and we too must repent. Too often, we refuse to know about the misdeeds committed in the name of our country. And let us pray that these six, and all the others we have killed or allowed to be killed shall rest in eternal light, and find mercy and justice before God. Amen.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Political psychology, Christianity, and bigotry

I've taken a swipe at my religion yesterday, so I might as well go for broke. I spoke of how some memes basically encourage mindless obedience to Biblical and/or church authority, lack of empathy, wilful ignorance as to the lives of out-groups, and hostility towards them. I'm going to bring in a couple of concepts from political and personality psychology to elaborate my case. Thanks to David Winter, my political psych professor at the University of Michigan, and Veronica Benet-Martinez, my personality psych prof at the same institution. This article might get a bit technical, and might not make a lot of sense to anyone who hasn't studied psychology or another social science. If so, just forget about it and concentrate on the last article.

A construct is a mental structure, a "way in which some things are construed as being alike and yet different from others" (Kelly, cited in David Winter's textbook). They are like adjectives that describe the nouns of our experience: people, places, things. Some constructs are preemptive or constellatory. A preemptive construct, when applied, precludes all others. For example, all those gays want is to screw like rabbits. Nothing else about them matters, just the sex. A constellatory construct is one that, when applied, requires specific others to be applied. So, if all those gays want is to screw like rabbits, they must be out to destroy the family, discredit Christianity, etc. In contrast, some constructs are permeable or open. They can easily accomodate or incorporate new experiences. For example, we might say that the LGBT community has a broad, non-conformist expression of gender. That would validate the fact that some gay men are very masculine, and some are very feminine.

Cognitive complexity is a measurable variable. The more complex a person's constructs, the more permeable and the less constellatory or preemptive. They are more likely to be able to see things from multiple points of view. It was first scored by someone named Bieri, who obviously had nothing better to do with his time. He calculated the degree of overlap across constructs in his subjects' writing; two constructs overlap if they are applied in the same way to a group of persons or role titles. The more overlap, the less cognitive complexity.

This is the part where I hope it gets more intelligible to laypeople (and, frankly, to myself). People who are higher in cognitive complexity attend to a wider range of information, especially that which doesn't fit their previous stereotypes or violates familiar rules or schemas. Our ideologies can guide us, but they can also blind us. For example, I had been told that homosexuality was a choice; if I had hung on to that construct, I would have ignored the fact that many of the gay people I met felt that it was a far more complex issue than simply being a choice. In fact, I would have avoided gay people entirely. For world leaders, low-complexity leaders tend to advocate their own foreign policy goals (sound familiar?). High-complexity leaders are more likely to cooperate. Leaders that displayed higher complexity during foreign policy crises were more likely to resolve them peacefully - think the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Integrative complexity is the ability to integrate multiple perspectives, whereas cognitive complexity involves mainly differentiation.

A study was done on Robert Lee, the famous and probably best Confederate general during the US Civil War; he outranked most of his Union opponents significantly in integrative complexity, and when he did so, he defeated them in battle. He outranked Meade somewhat in integrative complexity at the battle of Gettysburg, but lost the battle. The Confederates were outnumbered in the battle, and Lee ordered an infantry assault against Union positions on Cemetery Ridge. The preceding artillery barrage was ineffective, and 12,500 of the Confederation's best troops advanced against a dug-in enemy over open ground with predictable results. I'm no military historian, but a lot of things obviously went wrong with the assault. Perhaps Lee felt he had no choice. In any case, he lost at Gettysburg, and his integrative complexity took a dive. It has been shown that integrative complexity will go down under stress. He suffered several subsequent losses. After the war, his cognitive complexity recovered to its previously high levels.

In modern times, President George Bush is actually a man of average intelligence. However, his integrative complexity is low. From an article posted in Political Psychology, and referenced below:

"...he scores particularly unimpressively for “openness to experience, a cognitive proclivity that encompasses unusual receptiveness to fantasy, aesthetics, actions, ideas and values. In the general population this factor is positively associated with intelligence”.

Bush’s openness score of zero — compared with 82 for Clinton and John F Kennedy, 95 for Abraham Lincoln and 99.1 for Thomas Jefferson — “placed him at the very bottom of US presidents”.

This assessment can only be considered tentative because of lack of available evidence on a sitting president, but it is corroborated by a measure of Bush’s “integrative complexity”. Simonton says: “Low scorers on integrative complexity can only see things from a single perspective — their own.”

Bush’s score, he says, is comparable to “extremist Islamic fundamentalists in the Taliban and Al-Qaeda leadership"

So, Bush isn't actually an idiot in terms of IQ ... but he is an idiot in terms of cognitive and integrative compexity. This does not bode well for Iraq, Iran, Israel/Palestine or North Korea. And I bet you some of that low complexity is exacerbated by the memes he has inherited from his branch of Evangelical Christianity have not helped at all. Had he come across a minister who preached a more complex version of Christianity, he might have turned out different. That having been said, people can only change if they want to, and he might very well have sought out churches whose ministers would not challenge him so much.

Integrative complexity is not necessarily a good thing. Let's say someone steps into the room, draws a pistol, and is about to fire. If I take the time to consider the fact that his homeland was invaded by Americans troops and his family was killed by a misguided cruise missile, and wonder what sort of response is appropriate, I will already have been shot. If I am not a pacifist, I should either run or attempt to disarm him. If I am, I should either run or allow myself to be shot. The time to think about these things, however, is before, not during. During the debate on slavery during the American Civil War, moderate leaders scored high on integrative complexity, but interestingly enough, abolitionists and slavery advocates both scored low. Perhaps the abolitionists scored high when they were considering whether slavery was justifiable or not. But, once they made their decision, there was no time to be nice. One criticism levelled at Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, is that in being too broad minded, he has been too accomodating to the conservatives at the expense of the liberals, and that he has turned back on his previous support of gays in the church.

I wrote this to reinforce the point that clergy and laypeople have important roles to play in broadening the experience of their fellow believers who may not yet have had "stretching" experiences, like Jesus had with the Syro-Phoenecian woman. Or, like Jesus' audience when he told the parable of the Good Samaritan - did you notice that it was the Samaritan, the unclean one, reaching out to the Jew in the story, and not the other way around? It will take some doing, but if we help broaden each other's minds, we will make this world a better place.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Memes, Christianity, and Bigotry

Meme (IPA: [miːm]): like gene, but related to culture. A unit of cultural information, transferable from one mind to another. Memes often propogate in integrated sets, known as meme-plexes.

Biblical inerrancy is one meme in Christianity. It is the notion that the Bible is the literal word of God, and that it is completely free from error. Every word is true. I believe it is a response against great societal change, and a response against the introduction of uncertainty into religion. For example, the scientific method (a meme-complex in itself) led many to question many Biblical teachings. Some reconciled science with the Bible, saying that the Bible is authoritative in matters of faith but not necessarily matters of science. Some said, to hell with science. See Dave Miller's article below; he believes that:

"Inerrancy is fundamental to the doctrine of biblical authority."

"If the Bible is a mixture of truth and error, then it is like any other book and simply not deserving of any special attention."

"If the doctrine of inerrancy is not true, then the Bible lacks the very criteria and credentials necessary for authenticating its divine origin. Human beings would be incapable of distinguishing between it and all other religious books which seek acceptance by men (e.g. the Koran, Book of Mormon, the Vedas)"

I believe he is incorrect. I won't go into why that is so in this post. I will say that this meme has spread. It has spread throughout the US as a means to deal directly and indirectly with change: immigration and multiculturalism, evolution, feminism and the sexual revolution, racial integration, gay rights, etc. American and other Western missionaries have spread it to Asian and African converts to Christianity. There, the prevalence of the meme is reinforced, sometimes by government or cultural persecution against Christians, sometimes by the effects of colonialism.

Bibilcal inerrancy is a maladaptive meme. It leads to a rigid way of perceiving the world. It inhibits us from seeing the truth in other teachings, and it inhibits us from seeing Christ in certain outsiders - for example, the LGBT community.

In contrast, some Christian denominations have memes that can protect them from fundamentalism. Anglicans have traditionally relied on Scripture, tradition, and reason. Methodists have relied on those, plus experience. The United Church of Christ takes the Nicene and other Creeds as testimonies of faith rather than as litmus tests of faith. The Unitarian Universalist Association draws from multiple sources of spiritual truth, only one of which is the Judeo-Christian scriptures. That's not to say that those memes are infallible. There are some UCC churches which left in protest at the denomination's stand in favor of gay rights. You all know that the Episcopal Church is in the process of self-destruction, much like Gabby and Carlos on Desperate Housewives. The United Methodist Church has taken a stance against homosexuality, and the ordination of LGBT ministers.

We can fight bigotry by spreading the non-exclusivist memes. We must spread these memes on a personal and a denominational level. We must spread these memes to other religions, and we must spread these memes to those who do not belong to a religion. Mind you, education is only one thing of many that we must be doing, but we have to do it. If we allow our leaders, both religious and secular, to continue thinking like simpletons, then we're really screwed. Make them think different.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Time exclusive: Charges sought against Rummy in Germany

"Good riddance, Donald Rumsfeld. Give thanks to God. If this world were just, you would be arraigned on charges of war crimes, and you would be facing life in prison. Be thankful that at least you won't face judgment in this life."

Perhaps I spoke too soon... From Time Magazine online, by Adam Zagorin:

Just days after his resignation, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is about to face more repercussions for his involvement in the troubled wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. New legal documents, to be filed next week with Germany's top prosecutor, will seek a criminal investigation and prosecution of Rumsfeld, along with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former CIA director George Tenet and other senior U.S. civilian and military officers, for their alleged roles in abuses committed at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The plaintiffs in the case include 11 Iraqis who were prisoners at Abu Ghraib, as well as Mohammad al-Qahtani, a Saudi held at Guantanamo, whom the U.S. has identified as the so-called "20th hijacker" and a would-be participant in the 9/11 hijackings. As TIME first reported in June 2005, Qahtani underwent a "special interrogation plan," personally approved by Rumsfeld, which the U.S. says produced valuable intelligence. But to obtain it, according to the log of his interrogation and government reports, Qahtani was subjected to forced nudity, sexual humiliation, religious humiliation, prolonged stress positions, sleep deprivation and other controversial interrogation techniques.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say that one of the witnesses who will testify on their behalf is former Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the one-time commander of all U.S. military prisons in Iraq. Karpinski — who the lawyers say will be in Germany next week to publicly address her accusations in the case — has issued a written statement to accompany the legal filing, which says, in part: "It was clear the knowledge and responsibility [for what happened at Abu Ghraib] goes all the way to the top of the chain of command to the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ."

A spokesperson for the Pentagon told TIME there would be no comment since the case has not yet been filed.

Along with Rumsfeld, Gonzales and Tenet, the other defendants in the case are Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone; former assistant attorney general Jay Bybee; former deputy assisant attorney general John Yoo; General Counsel for the Department of Defense William James Haynes II; and David S. Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. Senior military officers named in the filing are General Ricardo Sanchez, the former top Army official in Iraq; Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the former commander of Guantanamo; senior Iraq commander, Major General Walter Wojdakowski; and Col. Thomas Pappas, the one-time head of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib.

Germany was chosen for the court filing because German law provides "universal jurisdiction" allowing for the prosecution of war crimes and related offenses that take place anywhere in the world. Indeed, a similar, but narrower, legal action was brought in Germany in 2004, which also sought the prosecution of Rumsfeld. The case provoked an angry response from Pentagon, and Rumsfeld himself was reportedly upset. Rumsfeld's spokesman at the time, Lawrence DiRita, called the case a "a big, big problem." U.S. officials made clear the case could adversely impact U.S.-Germany relations, and Rumsfeld indicated he would not attend a major security conference in Munich, where he was scheduled to be the keynote speaker, unless Germany disposed of the case. The day before the conference, a German prosecutor announced he would not pursue the matter, saying there was no indication that U.S. authorities and courts would not deal with allegations in the complaint.

In bringing the new case, however, the plaintiffs argue that circumstances have changed in two important ways. Rumsfeld's resignation, they say, means that the former Defense Secretary will lose the legal immunity usually accorded high government officials. Moreover, the plaintiffs argue that the German prosecutor's reasoning for rejecting the previous case — that U.S. authorities were dealing with the issue — has been proven wrong.

"The utter and complete failure of U.S. authorities to take any action to investigate high-level involvement in the torture program could not be clearer," says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a U.S.-based non-profit helping to bring the legal action in Germany. He also notes that the Military Commissions Act, a law passed by Congress earlier this year, effectively blocks prosecution in the U.S. of those involved in detention and interrogation abuses of foreigners held abroad in American custody going to back to Sept. 11, 2001. As a result, Ratner contends, the legal arguments underlying the German prosecutor's previous inaction no longer hold up.

Whatever the legal merits of the case, it is the latest example of efforts in Western Europe by critics of U.S. tactics in the war on terror to call those involved to account in court. In Germany, investigations are under way in parliament concerning cooperation between the CIA and German intelligence on rendition — the kidnapping of suspected terrorists and their removal to third countries for interrogation. Other legal inquiries involving rendition are under way in both Italy and Spain.

U.S. officials have long feared that legal proceedings against "war criminals" could be used to settle political scores. In 1998, for example, former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet — whose military coup was supported by the Nixon administration — was arrested in the U.K. and held for 16 months in an extradition battle led by a Spanish magistrate seeking to charge him with war crimes. He was ultimately released and returned to Chile. More recently, a Belgian court tried to bring charges against then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for alleged crimes against Palestinians.

For its part, the Bush Administration has rejected adherence to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on grounds that it could be used to unjustly prosecute U.S. officials. The ICC is the first permanent tribunal established to prosecute war crimes, genocide and other crimes against humanity.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

All human institutions ossify, and they need to be shaken up every so often

The American Presidency is an interesting institution. It used to be that Presidents were afraid of power. George Washington didn't want the Presidency. Presidents would take pains not to accumulate too much power.

That's changed, in recent times. Many recent Presidents have tried to acquire power. Some have used it for good. Some, like Bush and his administration, have used it for evil. Let's not mince words.

We can see this, by the way, with Christianity. We used to be a cult that grew out of Judaism. Jesus spoke against many of the excesses of the Pharisees, who were wedded to the purity cult at the expense of real, live Jews. Later, though, Christians became powerful. The emperor of Rome became Christian ... later on, we started wars of conquest, such as the Crusades.

Back to the present. Now, the Democrats have won the House as well as the Senate. Rumsfeld's resignation was announced last night, in grudging acknowledgement of the nation's growing anti-war sentiment. Most Americans realize now that, at the very least, the war was very poorly executed. A minority of us have known all along that the war was conducted on faulty intelligence and/or fabricated pretenses, and opposed it from the beginning; I think the rest of America hasn't been listening to us, but never mind.

Good riddance, Donald Rumsfeld. Give thanks to God. If this world were just, you would be arraigned on charges of war crimes, and you would be facing life in prison. Be thankful that at least you won't face judgment in this life.

A quote from an article in SFGate:

Bush has indicated on numerous occasions that he would not allow his policy to be affected by political clamor, insisting that his strategy relies solely on the advice of military officials on the ground.

"We're winning, and we will win, unless we leave before the job is done,'' Bush said at a news conference two weeks ago, during which the only hint of a change was his repeated insistence that the U.S. forces are perpetually adapting to the enemy.

On Wednesday, he lamented that "somehow it seeped into (people's) conscience that, you know, my attitude was just simply stay the course.''

This administration has grown haughty in their power. The Republicans, in power in the Senate and Congress for 12 years, have grown haughty. We all know what Mary said in the Magnificat, that the mighty will be put down from their seats, and that the humble and meek will be exalted.

I don't want this to be a gloating session. The Democrats will grow as haughty as anyone else. They too will need to be challenged.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election news!!

As everyone in the US knows, election day was yesterday. Most of the votes have been counted.

The good news: the Democrats have gained control of the House. There is a chance they may gain control of the Senate; at the very least, the Republican majority there will now be either very slim, or very very slim. Even if they don't gain the Senate, the Democrats now have the power to block a lot of the excesses that this administration has started, and that the Republicans have developed with 12 years in power. Democrats have also won a large number of governorships.

Proposal 2, a vote to ban affirmative action succeeded in Michigan, my temporarily-adopted state. It was as bad as the last Proposal 2, which banned same-sex marriage and civil unions, and which may be used against domestic partnerships (Michael Cox, our idiot AG, filed suit against some DP programs). In California, minority enrollment has declined across the board. Scholarships that use state money to target women and minorities have been shut down. Suits have been filed against a women's shelter because they would not admit a male victim of violence. You can't usually trust the courts to do the right thing; you can entrust them to interpret the law, and who knows how that will turn out. Anytime someone writes a law, there can be unintended consequences. Ask opponents of the last Proposal 2 if you don't believe me (

More good news: a proposal that would ban same-sex marriage and civil unions FAILED by two percent points in Arizona, which is not exactly a renowned bastion of liberalism. AZ voters ignored the fact that their state was illegally acquired by conquest from Mexico, when they endorsed a proposal to make English the official language of the state.

Minnesota has sent Keith Ellison, a Muslim, to Congress. Keith opposed MN's marriage amendment, and fought to decriminalize homelessness and fund outreach programs to the homeless. More info here:

Update: South Dakota voters have rejected the state's total ban on abortion, which offered no exceptions for rape, incest, or poor maternal health; if it came to a mother-or-fetus decision (which admittedly is rare) it would have required the doctor to try to save the fetus as well.

From a article,

Marianne Larsen, 65, a Sioux Falls retired business owner who voted to repeal the law, cast the issue differently.

"Women must have the right to make choices for themselves, not have a bunch of male legislators make the decision for them," Larsen said. "It's very much about women's rights."

She is right. This whole fiasco started as a bunch of almost exclusively male legislators playing games with people's lives. With women's lives.

For fundamentalists, human personhood begins at conception, and abortion is therefore equal to murder. They have forgotten to consider that aroung 50% of pregnancies are spontaneously aborted at early stages, possibly due to genetic defects. We don't know why. But if 'ensoulment' begins at conception, then we have a problem.

If you ban abortions completely, and continue a puritanical system of abstinence-only sex education, then people will still have sex. Unfortunately, they will have sex without knowing about contraception, and they will have unwanted pregnancies. Because of shame and fear of parental reprisal, they may resort to dangerous methods to obtain an abortion, as women through the ages have done.

If we genuinely want to cut down the number of abortions, we should use comprehensive sex education, make contraceptives freely available, and make it easier for women to give babies they cannot raise up for adoption. For the fundamentalists, the thought of people having sex outside of marriage is almost as bad as abortion, so I doubt they will be willing to go for this.

Night-time update: the Dems have one additional Senate seat confirmed, which gives them a tie in the Senate with the Republicans; the VP would cast the deciding vote, leaving the Repubs in the majority. However, it's being reported that the Dems did in fact win the last Senate seat, although there will almost certainly be a recount.

Also, I hate to gloat ... but Rumsfeld has stepped down as defense secretary. I better stop typing before I say anything nasty about Rummy.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Just discovered: Pope John Paul II makes partial apology for RCC's sins

From SF Gate, by Joan Ryan

THE CONFESSIONALS at Annunciation Church had red curtains heavy enough to keep my childhood sins from spilling into the sanctuary, where other sinners waited in pews like voters for their turn in the booth. I always dreaded confession, with its demand that I own up to my mistakes and weaknesses. And I was skeptical of the priest's assurance that by reciting a specific number of ``Hail Marys'' and ``Our Fathers,'' my soul would be wiped clean.

(I became especially suspicious of the whole process when, in eighth grade at a Catholic school in Florida, I was made to troop by myself down the church aisle, kneel at the altar, and in front of the whole class, pray for God's forgiveness for the offensive sin of forgetting my hat.)

Despite my skepticism, I'd usually emerge from church after confession on Saturday afternoons feeling as if I could reinvent myself as a person who didn't fight with her brothers and sisters and wasn't obsessively jealous of her friend Maureen's new white go-go boots. Asking forgiveness cleared away the past, giving me room to build something new.

I thought of those childhood confessions as I read of the remarkable ``Jubilee Year'' homily Pope John Paul II delivered on Sunday. He repented for the Catholic Church's sins over the past 2,000 years, which included injustices toward Jews, immigrants, indigenous people, the poor, the unborn and women.

``Lord God . . . at times the equality of your sons and daughters has not been acknowledged,'' he said in reference to women, ``and Christians have been guilty of attitudes of rejection and exclusion . . .''

I'll say.

As the pope spoke yesterday about the sins of gender inequality, I couldn't help but be struck -- again, still -- by the absence of women in the Vatican's vast sea of robed clergy. Did the pope grasp the irony?

I called my 67-year-old aunt in Nairobi yesterday to ask her about the pope's apology. She is a Catholic nun who has worked as a missionary in Africa for four decades. The divisiveness she has seen in African communities in the name of faith has been mirrored in her own religion. The Catholic Church is no closer to allowing women into decision-making roles at the highest levels than it was when she entered the convent as a young woman.

``Nothing has changed. And nothing is going to change under this pope. Women do not have an equal place in the church. It's one of the last bastions of inequality in modern society,'' she said. ``About two years ago, the pope said the topic of women being ordained as priests couldn't even be discussed. The topic couldn't even be discussed!''

Sr. Helene O'Sullivan is the president of Maryknoll Sisters in Ossining, N.Y., the order to which my aunt belongs. She is a patient woman, more patient than many of her sisters. She saw the pope's apology, like Saturday confessions, as a way of to cleanse the church's soul and allow for a new beginning. She called on the Catholic Church to be a model of equality for the world.

``Once you ask for forgiveness, you then ask, `Where do we go from here?''' O'Sullivan said. ``This is the start of a process, not an end.''

It is quite a remarkable and admirable thing that a church that considers itself holy, that believes its popes are guided by the hand of God, would acknowledge and ask forgiveness for mistakes of the past.

But what about the mistakes of the present? Let's hope acknowledgment of today's exclusion and rejection of women won't have to wait for whoever is pope during the next Jubilee.

The Roman Catholic Church has a long way to go ... but so do we all. Like the author said, it's remarkable that a church that believes its popes are guided by the hand of God would acknowledge and apologize for past mistakes. The Roman Catholic hierarchy is ossified and arrogant in assuming that their word is God's word.

In Prostestantism, the parallel sin is bibilcal inerrancy. This grew out of sola scriptura, "by scripture alone", which was the notion that the Church was subject to Scripture and not the other way around. Sola scriptura was a reaction to the Catholic leaning on church tradition, which over time had become ossified and corrupt. Now, many Protestants have become corrupted by the notion of biblical inerrancy.

Biblical inerrancy is simply another form of idolatry. The Bible is the work of men. I say "men" deliberately - all the authors were male (I've heard arguments that the Song of Solomon was written by a woman, but even if true that's just one book out of dozens). Men are as fallible as women. Human beings are full of internal contradictions, and we are restricted by the lenses our cultures teach us to use. Most of the authors of the Bible were Jewish/Hebrew - they do not represent the whole of humanity because they cannot.

The Roman Catholic hierarchy holds that the final authority to interpret the Bible rests with its magisterum, meaning the Pope plus the higher-ranking bishops. Protestants heap scorn upon this idea, and they claim that final authority rests in the individual believer ... and then they let another small handful of men decide for them how to interpret the Bible.

Anglicans have relied on a "three-legged stool" of Scripture, tradition, and reason. Methodists rely on the above three, plus experience. We should all remember that. To hold up only scripture, or tradition over scripture, or experience/reason over scripture, is idolatry.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Feast day of St Martin de Porres (1579-1639)

Quite appropriately for a public health student, today is the feast day of St Martin de Porres, whose patronage includes public health as well as race relations, poor people, social justice, and multiracial people.

Martin was born of a Spanish nobleman and a freed African slave. He was born in Lima, Peru, forty years after the invasion and destruction of the Inca Empire. His father is said to have been disappointed that Martin inherited his mother's dark skin, and neglected him and his sister. Martin entered the Dominican Order as a tertiary at fifteen, and later became a brother with vows. His piety led his superiors to drop racial limits on admission to the Order. He also apprenticed to a barber-surgeon.

Surgery was primitive in his day, but he had a vast knowledge of herbal medicines. He gave free treatment to Lima's poor. He also begged for food and clothing from wealthy families, and distributed it to the poor. He opened an orphanage for abandoned children, and staffed it with the best teachers, nurses and guardians he could hire. He also planted fruit orchards for the poor. (Gateley and Lentz, 2003). It was also reported that sick animals came to him for healing.

There is a legend about some rats at his monastery.

"It is said that the prior, a reasonable man, objected to the rodents. He ordered Martin to set out poison for them. Martin obeyed, but was very sorry for the rats. He went out into the garden and called softly--and out came the rats. He reprimanded them for their bad habits, telling them about the poison. He further assured them that he would feed them every day in the garden, if they would refrain from annoying the prior. This they agreed upon. He dismissed the rodents and forever after, they never troubled the monastery." (St Patrick's, DC)

The Roman Catholic Church usually emphasizes his piety and humility - sometimes perhaps too much. It is said that when his priory was in debt, he implored them: "I am only a poor mulatto. Sell me. I am the property of the order. Sell me." Had his superiors done that, they would have placed themselves in danger of judgment, no matter what the values of the time were.

St Martin is usually depicted as holding a broom, because no work was too menial for him. Indeed, we as future public health professionals should always remember and emulate St Martin's service to the least fortunate. Societal problems like racism, homophobia and sexism are all around us, and they are detrimental to public health. Let us confront them wherever we serve.


Robert Lentz and Edwina Gateley, Christ in the Margins, Orbis Books, 2003