Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Paris - Sonic Jihad
David Bazan - Fewer Moving Parts
Todd Steed and the Suns of Phere - Heartbreak and Duct Tape
Starflyer 59 - Leave Here a Stranger
Mustard - Eureka Grande
My Photo
Location: Illinois, United States

The peaches, apples, plums and pears are guarded by ferocious bears.

Powered by Blogger

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling
My Secret - Frank Warren
Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi

28 March 2005

All the News That's Unfit to Print

I’m a firm believer in the notion that the mainstream news media spends entirely too much time reporting national news that isn’t really national news at all. Quite a bit of the information that is sold to you as national news falls into one of two categories. You’re either getting reports about celebrities or you’re getting local news stories that are being pushed as national news stories. Of course, there is news that does deserve to be covered on a national level. But not nearly as much as you’d think.

The first category, celebrities, is pretty obvious. Michael Jackson’s trial. Martha Stewart’s departure from prison. Oprah giving away some cars that weren’t hers to begin with. In some sense, even news reports about corporations fall into this category. When Coke comes up with a new drink, or when Burger King comes up with a new sandwich, it’s important news. But these things only have bearing on your life to the degree that you continue to suck from the teat of the corporate infotainment complex. If you stop paying attention to these things, you’ll be no worse. I guarantee it.

The second category seems a big more tricky, at least on the surface. But really, it’s not. Most national stories are really local stories. Laci Peterson’s murder? Should’ve been a local story. Terri Schiavo? Should’ve been a local story (until the media sold it to George Bush and Congress, at which point it turned it into a national story). The Red Lake school shootings? Should’ve been a local story.

That’s not to say that these occurrences aren’t important, or that they don’t have bearing on our lives. They do, and they are, because in some way they speak to the human condition. But is Laci Peterson any more important than the unsolved murder in your own hometown? No. Is Red Lake any more important or any more tragic than any other shooting or instance of multiple deaths? No. Is Terry Schiavo any more important than any other person in a vegetative state who may or may not have wanted to die without the benefit of a feeding tube? No.

These stories are only special to the degree that they speak to the emotional side of us. These stories are national stories because they make us angry or sad. These stories are national stories because we will watch them. And if we watch them, ads can be sold. And if ads can be sold, news companies can make money and stay in business. And so it goes and so it goes.

Under the guise of “staying informed,” our emotions are manipulated. But we don’t really know what’s going on. We know the big stories, but these are only the big stories because the news companies say they are. Meanwhile, we miss the things that are right in front of our faces.

26 March 2005

Saturday Comics Blogging

It's grown customary in the blogosphere to have a traditional Friday post of some sort. Zalm over at From the Salmon does a Friday Random 10, with iPod songs he's listened to that week. South Knox Bubba does Friday bird blogging. Me? I'm doing comics. But I'm picking Saturdays because I'm obstinate that way.

This week's is from The Parking Lot is Full, which is similar to Gary Larson's The Far Side, only far more cynical and apparently on some form of hard drugs. I'll keep at this until I start getting cease and desist letters from lawyers. Then I'll try something else.
Posted by Hello

Big Brother Bellwood is Watching

There’s a village in Cook County, near where I live, that is planning to add security camera surveillance to every inch of its public streets (thanks to The Green Lantern for the link). In other words, within two years anything you do on a public street within the 3.5 squares miles of Bellwood will be on camera for police and village officials to scrutinize. I can’t confirm this, but Bellwood may be the first city in the nation to go to this type of setup.

Notes Chicago Tribune reporter Angela Rozas:
The cameras, which police will monitor at the department's call center and can access through laptops in their cars, are the latest technology. They're wireless and sound-activated. Any excessive noise prompts the cameras to tilt and point toward the sound, enabling the department to home in on a crime even as it is happening. The images are beamed to the department and the laptops through highly encrypted Internet servers and can be downloaded to compact discs to be used as evidence. High-ranking department officials eventually will be able to access the cameras via hand-held PDAs.

In a demonstration Wednesday, a camera set on a lamppost in the Bellwood Police Department parking lot was able to zoom in on the license plate of a car parked about five blocks away. When a gun was fired into the air, the camera took less than one second to shift toward the sound and zoom in on the demonstrator.
The article goes on to state that for a fee local businesses can have their security cameras hooked into the village’s camera network.

Now, in some ways this is a good idea. Any time there’s theft, vandalism, assault, or any other type of crime committed on a public street, the police will have photographic evidence. That’s kind of a nice thought. My wife has twice had her car stolen (and twice recovered). The police caught the first pair of thieves but you bet your ass I’d love to know who did it the second time. Some fool in our parking lot backed into our car a few months back, busted the taillight, and didn’t leave a note. We think we know who did it but proof would be really sweet. So I definitely see some tangible personal benefits to this type of security system.

But the abuses here frighten me. Our country is quickly becoming a police security state. I’ve seen different statistics estimating that the average U.S. citizen has his or her photograph taken between 12-30 times a day. Those numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt, since I couldn’t find any source information for them. Still, I think that’s a reasonable number, given the cameras you see at traffic intersections, tollways, banks, ATM machines, in grocery stores, department stores, malls, etc. Already, if you’re in a public building, you’re probably on tape. But we all know this is being taken further.

As Republican Representative Bob Barr (GA) testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Highways and Transit in 2001 (a few weeks before 9/11):
At the 2001 Super Bowl in Tampa, for example, every person entering the stadium was secretly photographed, and their images digitally transmitted and compared to a computer database housing the images of thousands of known criminals. Last year, government officials monitoring motorists traveling on Maryland’s I-95, a stretch of road where there is more than one traffic camera per mile, identified 26,000 Maryland residents and sent them letters asking where they were going that day, why, and with who, as part of a mass transit survey. In such instances, lawful citizens were unwittingly captured on video, monitored by government bureaucrats, and had their lives either questioned or examined, without ever having consented to such intrusions.

Most recently, it has been reported the city of Washington, D.C. has entered into a partnership with a private corporation to install surveillance cameras at traffic intersections around the city. Unfortunately, as in many instances, the public was not made aware of this assault against its civil liberties, until the I’s were dotted and the T’s crossed on a contract that would reap millions of dollars not only for the Washington, D.C. government, but for the private corporation as well. In fact, over the next five years alone, it is estimated more than 80,000 tickets a month will be issued; compared to only 10,000 speeding tickets issued in all of last year by the District of Columbia. Aren’t machines wonderfully efficient? These tickets would result in the collection of more than $160 million from the pockets of citizens; $44 million of which would be given to the private corporation that installed the cameras. This sounds like a high-tech version of the small-town speed trap outlawed as unconstitutional decades ago.
September 11 has naturally made things worse. As was widely reported in 2003, for example, the Pentagon is working on “Combat Zones That See,” a surveillance system that would use computers and thousands of cameras to track, record and analyze the movement of every vehicle in a city. And while this system isn’t intended for use on U.S. shores, we all know what will happen once the technology becomes available, and once lobbyists for corporations start throwing campaign money around.

Security is the business of the future. It won’t be long before data-mining corporations have access to anything and everything about us, including our DNA. And if the last few thousand years of human history is any indication, this type of technology, though meant for good, will be abused. It’s really only a matter of time.

Addendum: There's another curious aspect to the Bellwood cameras that the Tribune doesn't pick up on: race. Bellwood is only 11.75% white. African-Americans make up 81.73%. Latinos make up 7.94% of the population. And while the village's economic state is quite good (median income for a family is $57,037, per capita income for the village is $19,420, 7.2% of the population and 5.9% of families are below the poverty line), you can't tell me that ethnicity isn't a factor here.

22 March 2005

The Culture of Life

Lots of people are weighing in on the Terry Shiavo case. Rather than repeat them, I'll just let them do the talking:

Notes Streak:
KRT Wire | 03/21/2005 | Law Bush signed as Texas governor prompts cries of hypocrisy: "In 1999, then-Gov. Bush signed the Advance Directives Act, which lets a patient's surrogate make life-ending decisions on his or her behalf. The measure also allows Texas hospitals to disconnect patients from life-sustaining systems if a physician, in consultation with a hospital bioethics committee, concludes that the patient's condition is hopeless.

Bioethicists familiar with the Texas law said Monday that if the Schiavo case had occurred in Texas, her husband would be the legal decision-maker and, because he and her doctors agreed that she had no hope of recovery, her feeding tube would be disconnected.

'The Texas law signed in 1999 allowed next of kin to decide what the patient wanted, if competent,' said John Robertson, a University of Texas bioethicist.

While Congress and the White House were considering legislation recently in the Schiavo case, Bush's Texas law faced its first high-profile test. With the permission of a judge, a Houston hospital disconnected a critically ill infant from his breathing tube last week against his mother's wishes after doctors determined that continuing life support would be futile."

Let's just let this sink in. When he was governor, Bush signed legislation that allows the doctors to take people off life support, and this law was used against the Mother's wishes. No spouse to blame here. If you read what the White House said in response, they said that ""The legislation he signed (early Monday) is consistent with his views," McClellan said. "The (1999) legislation he signed into law actually provided new protections for patients ... prior to the passage of the '99 legislation that he signed, there were no protections."

Hear that? Down is up. Right is wrong, and George Bush is a seriously committed Christian. Oh, and one of the factors used in the Texas case is if there is money for the treatment. When it is gone, and there is no hope for recovery.... Unless, of course, you can make political miles.

So, to sum up: the Republicans and their conservative christian handlers believe in life:

a) especially when it is politically helpful
b) unless that person is dying from a treatable disease and just needs health insurance
c) or unless on death row with dubious evidence
Notes Rick at Cheaper Than Therapy:
Also according to the St. Pete Times, "on June 23, 2000, while still governor of Texas, George W. Bush allowed the execution of Gary Graham, a man whose claim to innocence was so strong that FIVE members of his own, notoriously sanguinary parole board had argued to spare Graham's life. So had four justices of the Supreme Court.'

'Graham's murder conviction depended entirely on his identification by a stranger who said she had seen him briefly through a car windshield from more than 30 feet away. Two eyewitnesses who had been closer to the shooting later said that Graham wasn't the killer, but they had never been interviewed by his court-appointed counsel and were not called to testify at his trial.'

'Graham was 17 when arrested, making him one of the last juvenile offenders to be executed anywhere on this planet. The senior warden of Huntsville prison at the time wrote later that it was the worst execution he had commanded; that Graham 'was extremely angry, and struggled until he was finally strapped down.'

'In washing his hands of Graham's innocence, Bush rationalized that Graham had committed other crimes. Indeed he had, and admitted them. But they did not justify his execution, given the shakey facts and the inherent unreliability of eyewitness identification."
And Jon Stewart at The Daily Show has some great insights, too.

Anyways, don't get me wrong. I'm all for supporting life. But the U.S. also killed one million Iraqi children with its economic sanctions between the Gulf War and the current one. So let's not lose perspective here. All life is important. Not just the ones that give Bush a couple of approval points.

Posted by Hello


There's a nice interview over at Bandoppler Magazine with Craig Thompson. Thompson is responsible for Blankets, a 600-page graphic novel about love, family, enlightenment and growing up in a fundamentalist Christian household. I haven't read Blankets yet, but I have a feeling I will soon.

Here's a quote from the interview:
One of the reactions of my parents to Blankets was that they actually said, 'Why have you chosen to do this with your life instead of “Veggie Tales?”’ That’s an actual quote! Yeah, I easily could have gone down that route, and it would have been awful, because ultimately it’s just propaganda. Like, you have to purport a specific message.
(Thanks to Christian Retail for the link).

There's also an insightful interview with director Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Trainspotting) up at The Onion. Boyle discusses his latest film, Millions, which looks absolutely wonderful.

21 March 2005

Cashing In

I don’t know how well you know your rap beefs. But the past few weeks have been quite a ride, with 50 Cent’s The Massacre throwing barbs at Fat Joe, Nas, Jadakiss, Ja Rule, Shyne and Kelis. Nothing really new there, of course. But then 50 Cent kicked The Game out of G-Unit, shots were fired and things got hot (thanks, in part, to Hot 97 FM). The two have since kissed and made up.

So fortunately we didn’t see Biggie and Pac round two, although I’m sure it will happen again, probably sooner than later.

Nonetheless, this seems to be par for the course in our culture. Not just the violence, mind you. But the fact that African Americans are being exploited for profit.

Adisa Banjoko picked up on this recently in an essay:
Since America was first created, much of its wealth has been rooted in black death. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade made this nation stronger than it could have ever imagined and was the base of all economic success that this country has achieved since slavery was abolished in 1865. For several hundred years black men and women were raped, hung and tortured at the whim of their owners, later to be discarded at the bottom of creeks and rivers throughout the south. Their free labor set up the economic foundation for the earth we walk on today in North America. When black blood soaks into American soil, money sprouts up.
And, as Banjoko goes on to point out, this is happening again today, in rap and Hip-hop.
We can only speculate how much Interscope Records has made from the death of Tupac Shakur. Surely the amounts they made were more than when Pac was alive. At the same time, we can only wonder how much Arista made after the death of Notorious B.I.G. Virtually every rap magazine rakes in the profits with annual Pac and B.I.G. issues. Never mind the fact that most of these mags are a core reason these men died - it was in many respects the irresponsible hip-hop press that threw gasoline on the deadly rap flame by focusing on perceived coastal wars and emcee feuds. Now there are all kinds of merchandise - including t-shirts, hats, cell phone cases, posters, and ring tones, among other things - that generate untold millions.
Hip-hop is absolutely huge. In part that’s because Hip-hop is about a lot more than music. Hip-hop is a culture, recognized all over the globe. Hip-hop dominates the landscape musically, from Tokyo to the Middle East and from the UK to Rio. Hip-hop also functions as a mindset, an attitude. It’s the voice of the youth culture, whether you see it in political activism, fashion or slang.

Consequently, Hip-hop is big business. Corporations and advertisers know that the youth love Hip-hop. And as any novelist knows, nothing is more compelling than conflict. And nothing moves units faster than controversy. So it’s not surprising to see big business capitalizing on it, and even fanning the flames if necessary. And if a few black men die or go to prison in the process? Oh well.

(And in the interest of full disclosure, yes, I've contributed my fair share to the coffers of Shady/Aftermath, which makes me part of the problem and a big fat hypocrite. But I buy far more rap that doesn’t contribute to this sort of thing, which hopefully is a step in the right direction.)

Posted by Hello

19 March 2005

The First Time That I Went To Church

The following is a poem written by a musician named Larry Norman. The poem appears on a record called Street Level. The album has since been released on CD, but I believe it's out of print at the moment.

Actually, this is a reworked version of an older poem. Unfortunately I can't remember who wrote the original. Sorry. Anyways, Adam over at The Pub has been posting lately about being a bit disgruntled with the state of church. That made me think of this:

The first time that I went to church was on a Sunday morning.
And from what I’d heard, I figured I’d spend me whole time yawning.
At 18 years of age or so, I thought I knew it all.
Me hair was long, me jeans were tight.
I loved a knife or buckle fight,
Providing mates stood left and right,
And those we fought were small.

But me mates and me, we’d never been,
So off to church we filed.
We marched inside, ‘bout three abreast,
Straight down the middle aisle.
Some of us were smoking cigs. Ron was sucking candies.
We sat in what they called a pew,
And look around to see just who would come inside.
Let me tell you, everyone dressed like dandies.

The row behind was full of dames, you shoulda seen their looks.
And one old dear, she gave me a smile, and offered me some books.
Ha! We opened them, passed them around.
You shoulda seen the words, all set out like poetry is.
The words put us in a tizz,
And Fred says through his lemon fizz,
“These books is for the birds.”
“Shhhh! Tsk tsk tsk tsk,” one old lady says,
And the whole place buzzed.
Sam turns and says, “Oh, do hush up.
You make more noise than us.”

We looked around the building and it really was revealing.
Sam says, “Hey mates, hey, get this score.
There ain’t no carpets on the floor.
See the rafters. They’re so poor they can’t afford a ceiling.
Can’t afford electric either, using candles everywhere.
And colored windows like me granny’s, at the bottom of her stairs."
“Shut your face,” I says to Sammy. “I’m for listening. So is Ron.”

And from the left, without a noise came a line of little boys.
And Sam says in a puzzled voice, “Q, they’ve all got nighties on.”
Then came men, in robes, with banners.
“Look at that one, must be queer.
Then they dare condemn us for the way we choose our gear.”
Then there’s a minister, you know, the minister
Whose job’s to preach. The minister, what’s his name?
Those real long prayers and what he preaches sounds just about the same.

I came to church to listen, close, but I can’t dig the chair.
It’s like, shifting sinking sounds,
And words like judgment and reprimand.
Well, me and me mates don’t understand a language quite like that.
I’m used to talking with me mates in words that have a meaning.
But that there church was just about the weirdest place I been in.

If people like that kind of thing, well, then let them. That’s OK.
But let me tell you what I feel.
I feel we need someone who’ll deal in words and thoughts and things that’s real.
I’d listen to what he’d say.

Me mum once said, “Jesus came to help young men like you.”
But Jesus came so long ago, mum, I don’t think it’s true.
But is there someone who can explain to me right now,
Is Christ a myth? A madman’s whim?
Some say that Christ can cure our sin.
Is there a way to contact him?
Or will I die not knowing how.

Listen, I only came to church to see if they could offer hope.
But everything that happened there was way outside my scope.
Like afterwards, outside, there was a beggar on the grass.
He held his hand out to the people,
And they’d smile and then they’d pass.
I’m sure he reached for something real,
For something more than cash.
He begged them for a little cheer
And they all pretended not to hear.
I get the message loud and clear.
Church is middle class.

17 March 2005

16 Facts About the U.S. Addiction to War

I finished Joel Andreas' well researched, highly informative Addicted to War the other day. Good stuff. You'll learn more about the United States' fetish for its military in this 80 page graphic novel than you probably did in high school and college combined.

I don't have much else to say about it. But here are some factoids from Andreas' book that you should know. (In some cases I'm quoting directly from the book. In some cases I'm not. I'm not going to go back and look to see which are which. I'm sure you can deal.)

1) The United States spends more than half its discretionary spending on its military
2) The U.S. military budget is now larger than the next 15 biggest spenders put together. The U.S. accounts for 36 percent of total global military spending.
3) Since 1948, the U.S. has spent $15 trillion to build up its military. This is more than the cumulative monetary value of all human-made wealth in the U.S. The U.S. has spent more on the military over the last four decades than the value of all factories, machinery, roads, bridges, water and sewage systems, airports, railroads, hospitals, power plants, office buildings, shopping centers, schools, hotels, houses and churches in this country, put together.
4) The current Pentagon budget, the nuclear weapons budget of the Department of Energy, the military portion of NASA’s budget, foreign military aid, veterans’ benefits and interest payments on debt incurred by past military expenses add up to $670 billion a year. This costs the average American household nearly $4000 a year in taxes.
5) With the $1 billion it takes to maintain an aircraft carrier for one year, you could build 17,000 homes, provide free prenatal care for 1,600,000 expectant mothers, enroll 384,000 kids in Head Start, provide drug and alcohol treatment for 333,000 or give 500,000 malnourished children three meals a day.
6) Between 1898 and 1934, the U.S. Marines invaded Cuba four times, Nicaragua five times, the Dominican Republic four times, Honduras seven times, Haiti twice, Guatemala once, Panama twice, Mexico three times and Columbia four times.
7) The defeat of Japan was already assured before the United States dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The main purpose of dropping the atomic bombs was to show the rest of the world, particularly the Soviets, the deadly power of America’s new weapons of mass destruction.
8) During the Cold War, Washington intervened militarily in foreign countries more than 200 times.
9) In 1965, 3000 people were gunned down in the streets of Santo Domingo, after the Dominicans rose up to demand reinstatement of their overthrown president. The president, who had been elected in a popular vote, was overthrown in a U.S.-backed military coup.
10) Blacks make up only 12 percent of the U.S. population, yet 22 percent of U.S. casualties in Vietnam were black soldiers.
11) In 1983, Ronald Reagan, fearing the threat to U.S. security posed by the 110,000 people living on the Caribbean island of Grenada, ordered the Pentagon to seize the island. A new government more to Reagan’s liking was subsequently installed on the island.
12) There is evidence that in 1990, the U.S. lured Iraq into invading Kuwait, so as to have a pretext for an intervention. Washington, when Saddam Hussein informed the U.S. about his plans, gave him a virtual green light to attack Kuwait. But immediately after the invasion, Bush made preparations for a massive strike, and blocked all possibilities for negotiation. Iraq had even begun to withdraw from Kuwait when Bush launched the ground war.
13) The U.S. deliberately and systematically destroyed Iraq’s electrical, sewage treatment and water treatment systems in the Gulf War. Worse, severe economic sanctions were put in place, leading to, as UNICEF estimated, 7500 deaths a month, mostly children. Well over one million children died in the 90s between the reigns of the two Bushes.
14) GE is the third-largest military contractor in the U.S. It produces parts for every nuclear weapon, makes jet engines for military aircraft and creates electronic gadgets for the Pentagon. GE also owns NBC, CNBC and MSNBC.
15) In 1971, 14,000 people were arrested in Washington, D.C., when they moved to shut down the city for three days to protest what was happening in Vietnam.
16) “There’s a variety of theaters. So long as anybody’s terrorizing established governments, there needs to be a war.”—George W. Bush, October 17, 2001
 Posted by Hello

16 March 2005

More Thoughts On Fear

Zalm over at From the Salmon has some nice thoughts on fear and the Christian response. He also briefly touches on the way fear is used to manipulate and control people, which is something else I wanted to get into.

Politically, fear is used to keep the masses in check. We can clearly see this in the way George W. Bush invokes the name of terrorism and September 11. Under the guise of security, Bush has tried to convince us to give up basic freedoms and civil rights. Under the guise of security, Bush convinced many to vote for him, making it clear that a vote for John Kerry was a vote for another plane crashing into a skyscraper (never mind that Kerry already has a better track record than Bush’s 0 for 1 on the issue).

Fear is also used extensively in churches to control the flock. The use of the word sheep is telling. If you’re doing something the church hierarchy doesn’t approve of, then you’re backslidden. You’re out of fellowship. Better get in line or you’re not a real Christian. And if you’re not a real Christian, there’s some darkness and gnashing of teeth waiting for you.

But are these blossoms of a plant with far deeper roots? Sometimes I think so. Fear, at least in some sense, seems to be one of the building blocks on which our society is built. Think for a moment just how much fear controls everything that you do. You wear a watch, and use an alarm clock, because you’re afraid of being late. You brush your teeth because you’re afraid of cavities and having bad breath on your date. You shower because you’re afraid you’ll smell badly. You wear makeup because you’re afraid of how you’ll look if you don’t. You wear a seatbelt because you’re afraid of dying. You wear a certain set of clothes to work because you’re afraid of being fired if you don’t do what everyone else does. You wear clothes in warm weather because you’re afraid of what people will think of your naked body. You lock your car doors in “bad neighborhoods” because you’re afraid of being carjacked. You go to college because you’re afraid if you don’t you’ll spend your life working at Burger King. And on and on.

Why? What are we so afraid of? Is everyone and everything out to get us? Are we so desperate for approval that we’ll do anything to get people to like us? Or is it largely driven by a consumptive media machine?

Marilyn Manson: I can definitely see why [the politicians, religious right, and protestors] would pick me [as the reason for the Columbine killings] because it’s easy to throw my face on TV because I’m, in the end, sort of a poster boy for fear. Because I represent what everyone is afraid of, because I do and say what I want. The two byproducts of that whole tragedy were violence in entertainment and gun control. And how perfect that that was the two things that we were going to talk about with the upcoming election. And also, then we forgot about Monica Lewinsky, we forgot that the President was shooting bombs overseas. Yet, I’m a bad guy because I sing some rock-and-roll songs. And who is a bigger influence, Marilyn Manson or the President? I’d like to think me, but I’m going to go with the President.

Michael Moore: Did you know that the day that Columbine happened the United States dropped more bombs on Kosovo than at any other time during that war?

Marilyn Manson: I do know that and I think that’s really ironic that nobody said maybe the President had any influence on this violent behavior. Because that’s not the way the media wants to take it and spin it and turn it in to fear. Because then you’re watching television, you’re watching the news, you’re being pumped full of fear. There are floods, there’s AIDS, there’s murder, cut to commercial, buy the Acura, buy the Colgate… If you have bad breath they’re not going to talk to you, if you got pimples the girl’s not going to fuck you. It’s a campaign of fear and consumption. And that’s what I think it’s all based on, it’s the whole idea that... keep everyone afraid, and they’ll consume and that’s really the symbols people are bound to.*

I’ve got no answers. But it’s certainly something worth thinking about.

*Courtesy of Bowling for Columbine. View the clip here.

13 March 2005

United We Fear

There’s a bit in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 in which psychiatrist and Washington Democratic Representative Jim McDermott says, “You can get people to do anything if they’re afraid.” This is a recurring theme in Moore’s work, cribbed to a large extent from Barry Glassner’s The Culture of Fear. A major thread of Bowling for Columbine, for example, as well as, I believe, Stupid White Men, is the way in which fear is used to manipulate.

Moore notes, for example, how fear of the black man dominates the news. What’s interesting about this, for Moore, is how few times most people have actually been wronged by a black man (or by a person of another race at all, for that matter). Speaking from personal experience, that’s the case for me as well. About 99 percent of the bad things that have ever happened to me were caused by white people. Given, I grew up in East Tennessee, an area not particularly known for its racial diversity. Nonetheless, with the exception of a big kid who put a chain around my throat at the Boy's Club when I was about seven, I’ve mostly been screwed over by white people. White people were the ones who bullied me, made fun of me, treated me unfairly, lied to me, took advantage of me economically, and didn’t promote me vocationally when I deserved it. Maybe this is just me, but I don’t think so.

Fear is very present in the brand of Christendom I’m familiar with, as well. In fact, fear seems to dominate this form of Christianity. It’s fear of children being corrupted that motivates James Dobson to “protect the family,” as if some wild band of homosexuals is going to sodomize his grandchildren and make him watch. It was a mixture of fear of Satanism, sexuality, teenage rebellion and even African Americans that was responsible for preachers in the 80s condemning rock and roll music (racist panic because, like the fear of aggressive Africanized honeybees, rock and roll is ultimately African, and you can’t be exposing your kids to those wild jungle rhythms). Fear is what motivates the more rural, working class members of my wife’s family, who are absolutely terrified of anyone not like them, be they rich, black, Latino, from the North, or on welfare. Fear is what motivates those who support George W. Bush’s war on terrorism, as if Bush could ever protect you from a determined suicide bomber.

Fear, ironically, is also what brings many people to salvation. Christians often rely on two techniques for saving souls. One if the fear of hell and death. After all, you could die tonight in a car accident. And if you don’t know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, then you’ll spend all of eternity burning in torment, separated from God and all your friends. And eternity is forever. The second is the fear of being left behind. Despite the rapture being an idea roughly 150 years old, despite the reality that much of end times prophesy is strung together from out of context verses shoved wildly together into a perverse jigsaw puzzle that its advocates have already assembled in their minds, and despite the strong possibility that much of Revelation was a metaphor for Christian persecution under the Roman Empire (the values for Nero’s name add up to 666, for instance), apocalyptic fear is at an all time high. And there are many churches (and book publishers) willing to take advantage of that fear. Who wouldn’t want to not die? Who wouldn’t want to be whisked away from seven years of death and destruction?

The question, then, is would many evangelical Christians even know how to evangelize if they weren’t allowed to scare people? Would evangelical Christians know how to, as St. Francis of Assisi said, preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use words? Would they know how to persuade people, as Paul did, that Christianity is both reasonable and true? Would they, and do they, know how to love their neighbor as themselves? Or is it just so much easier to scare people shitless?

11 March 2005

Book Notes

So, as usual, I’m late to the party. Apparently it was quite the fashion statement back in December to take up the 50 book challenge. If you’re fashionably late also, the rules basically call for you to come up with 50 extracurricular books to read all year, posting your list of finished books as you go. Seeing as how it’s March already, I’m playing catch up. That’s OK. I’m up for the challenge.

I’m going to leave out books I’ve already read this year, except the one I just finished. So here goes:

Just Finished:

A Time to Kill – John Grisham

Books in Progress:

Addicted to War: Why the U.S. Can’t Kick Militarism – Joel Andreas
The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
The Everlasting Man – G.K. Chesterton
The Politics of Jesus – John Howard Yoder

On Deck:

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith – Anne Lamott
The War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells
V for Vendetta – Alan Moore
Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life – Sissela Bok
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf – Edward Albee

Interesting that I just finished Grisham’s A Time to Kill, given the courtroom shooting in Atlanta earlier today. And, yes, that's about all that’s interesting about Grisham’s first novel.

If you haven’t read it, or seen the movie, A Time to Kill is about a black father whose daughter is brutally beaten and raped by two rednecks in the deep South. The father takes revenge by brutally gunning down the two men (in a courtroom). The rest is a combination of walking one-dimensional clichés as characters, poorly written dialogue, superfluous adverb usage and excessive telling instead of showing.

If you can look past its literary sins, A Time to Kill presents some pretty frightening ideas. Grisham obviously sympathizes with the father here. So are we to assume it’s OK to gun a man down in cold blood if he rapes your daughter? Is this what Grisham, the moderate Southern Baptist, is preaching? If so, he’s not far from the territory of other American Christians, many of whom seem to advocate Jerry Falwell’s “blow them away in the name of the Lord” mentality.

So what happened to “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well?"

I guess we’re not supposed to take that part of the Bible literally. Just the bits about locusts with teeth like lions. Maybe they should start selling Grisham in Christian bookstores. Seems like he’d fit right in.

09 March 2005

God's Politics

Alternet has two pieces up by Sojournors editor Jim Wallis. One is an excerpt from Wallis' new book, God's Politics. The other is a reminder that budgets are moral documents and that Bush's fails the moral test.

Some excerpts:

Christ commands us to not only see the splinter in our adversary’s eye but also the beams in our own, which often obstruct our own vision. To name the face of evil in the brutality of terrorist attacks is good theology, but to say they are evil and we are good is bad theology that can lead to dangerous foreign policy. Christ instructs us to love our enemies, which does not mean a submission to their hostile agendas or domination, but does mean treating them as human beings also created in the image of God and respecting their human rights as adversaries and even as prisoners. The words of Jesus are either authoritative for Christians, or they are not. And they are not set aside by the very real threats of terrorism. The threat of terrorism does not overturn Christian ethics.


Low-income people should not be punished for decisions that placed us in financial straits. Rather than moving toward a "living family income" this budget stifles opportunities for low-income families, which are vital for national economic security. Our future is in serious jeopardy when one in three proposed program cuts are to education initiatives (after a highly touted "No Child Left Behind" program); when fewer children in working poor families will be included in Medicaid; when the food stamps that supplement families’ grocery budgets are threatened; and when affordable housing is put out of reach. Cutting pro-work and pro-family supports for the less fortunate jeopardizes the common good. And all this while defense spending rises to $419 billion (not even including any additional spending for the war in Iraq), with an overall increase of 41 percent in military expenditures during the Bush years.

06 March 2005

A Shameless Plug

I guess I should point out that I've started up an MP3 blog. It's over here. There's not much content yet, but that will change soon. If you're like me, and are constantly searching for new songs with which to clog up your harddrive, this puppy is for you.

05 March 2005

Get Your David Rees On

Posted by Hello

There’s a nice interview with David Rees up at Campus Progress. For those not in the know, Rees is the author of four comic strips, most notably the angry, Bush-slamming, profanity-laced, sarcasm-heavy Get Your War On. In the interview, Rees touches on the origin of his strip, his clip art denizens' penchants for swearing, Jesus, the media, and even namedrops Jim Wallis.

Interview soundbite:

(T)he thing that I’m interested in now, even though I haven’t done many strips on it, is values and religion and their role in society and politics. I grew up in a really religious household and I used to be really religious. So, I get really offended when Bush uses all of that rhetoric and language, but I feel like Bush’s policies don’t reflect my understanding of Christ. And that’s something that really offends to me in a sort of personal way.

While you're at it, access archives of Rees' stuff here.

03 March 2005


Slacktivist beat me to this. Oh well.

As you probably already know, the Supreme Court has begun hearing arguments about whether it is legal for the Ten Commandments to be displayed on government property. And, as usual, the Christians pushing for the Ten Commandments to be displayed are pushing for the wrong set of rules. The Bible lists three sets of ten commandments. The list that is actually called "the ten commandments" isn't the list you learned in Sunday School.

Quibbling? A bit. But for the jot and tittle Christians who take the Bible literally, they should at least know what they're talking about.

Here's the real list, the one from Exodus 34:13-28:

1) Thou shalt worship no other gods.
2) Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
3) The feast of unleavened bread thou shalt keep.
4) Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest.
5) Thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.
6) Thrice in the year shall all your men children appear before the Lord God.
7) Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven.
8) Neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.
9) The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the Lord thy God.
10) Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.

Blood for Oil

As of today, 1502 U.S. troops are dead. It is estimated that 11069 U.S. troops have been wounded. The number of dead Iraqis powering your SUV? At least 16171.

You may now return to numbing your senses with American Idol, now on three nights a week. Thanks for the cheap gas, Mr. President.

Photo courtesy of Freeway Blogger.  Posted by Hello

02 March 2005

Southern Baptist Conventions

Natalie has had a few posts lately about the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC has been on my mind recently as well.

My wife and I know a couple who will be moving to Ukraine this summer to become missionaries. Ideally, they would have liked to have gone as SBC missionaries, as they grew up Southern Baptist and go to the only SBC church I know of in the Wheaton area. But the SBC doesn’t make it quite that easy.

Despite the fact that our friend will graduate with a MA in counseling, and wants to work as a counselor in a school in Ukraine, the SBC would require she and her husband to complete several more years of theology training in order to become missionaries. Well, that’s part of it. The other problem is that, despite the fact that it’s a woman who has the marketable skill in this case, the SBC would really prefer it if she take a backseat to her husband. In other words, if the Southern Baptists haven’t OKed your training, then you obviously aren’t ready to spread the gospel. And God help you if you don’t have a penis. Needless to say, she and her husband are working with a different missionary organization now.

This doesn’t surprise me. In college I attended an SBC church with my wife, whom I was dating at the time. Towards the end of our brief tenure there, my wife wanted to do a presentation at church about Compassion International, a group that provides food, education and other basic needs for children living in poverty. Nothing too fancy. Maybe a small display with some flyers and a short announcement. After being given the run around for weeks, the church finally told her that it just wasn’t doable. Why? The SBC isn’t affiliated with Compassion International.

So it seems that the SBC is a corporation more than it is a body of Christ followers. If you aren’t attending its schools, using its methodology, kowtowing to its leadership or preparing French fries with its secret blend of herbs and spices, then you’ve got some explaining to do.

I learned something else interesting about the SBC’s missionary tactics this week from a coworker. My coworker, a hyphenated-American who has lived in many parts of Asia over the course of his life, told me that the SBC missionaries he’s encountered in the field do not live amongst the people to whom they are ministering. According to what he’s seen, the philosophy is that you work and minister to the natives during the day. But at night you retire to your lodging, which is adorned in Western attire. No blending in with the culture. No attempting to live like the silly foreigners. No making the people you’re living amongst feel comfortable should they come into your home.

Instead you spend your home life in an Americanized box, in order to stay strong for the rest of the journey. What’s worse, the missionaries my coworker encountered were also living in what was essentially a gated community. White-skinned people in. Dark-skinned people out.

So much for apologies.