Friday, September 28

Did the stupidity of much of the dot-com cliche madness drive you insane? Want to laugh about it now?
The other nite someone was lamenting that they did not live up to the standards that they had set up for themselves. I said that they should not beat themselves up about it. My friend Sean suggested that most of us would do well to raise our standards not lower them. This was in reference to walking with Christ i.e. acting more like Him. At least that is how I understood it.

Anyhow, this got me to thinking. What if we were to follow Christ in a more excellent way? What would that look like? This is not a theoretical question but a practical one.

So...I'm taking a survey. What does it look like to follow Christ in an excellent way? If you want to weigh in on this call or send an email. I'll post the results I have in a week or so.

Since Jim's writing about something I said, I should pitch in, don't you think?

The short answer is love. Christianity is supposed to be a religion of love. Our Scriptures say 'God is love.'. Real Christianity should include real, live love, love that is felt to some degree and that is most definitely acted out, not only for God and our 'loved' ones, but for neighbors and enemies, too.

I'll be the first to confess that I don't think my life has a lot of this kind of love in it. I want to grow in this area.

Real Christianity, excellent Christianity, should also include joy. Christianity is supposed to be joyful. How many joyful Christians do you know (who aren't simply in denial)? It's no wonder more people don't want to be like us as killjoy as we often are.

The kind of joy I'm talking about, again, is felt. But it also springs from a deep conviction that God is in charge and that He wants what is best for us. There's a big gap between what I want for myself and what God wants for me/what is best for me. If I want to be onboard with Him, I need to try to close the gap, or at least be willing to give up my version more.

There should be power in Christianity, power for personal change and for loving others in ministry and mission.

God's presence should be palpable periodically (how's that for alliteration!). Part of that presence should include God's guidance.

How's that for starters?

If you think I'm talking about something supernatural here, you're right. And you might think I'm stark, raving mad. But this is the kind of Christianity I distill from the Scriptures, and I'm holding out for it, even though I haven't experienced as much of it as I would like.
By the way, that FotR trailer I've been talking about is awesome. The Pillars of the Kings look amazing. Sir Ian looks great as Gandalf.

You can see some of the changes they've made from the book. If you're OCD about it, like me, you can read The Complete List of Film Changes MAJOR SPOILERS!

I don't mind some of the changes. The change from Pippin dropping a rock down the well in Moria to inadvertantly knocking a dwarf skeleton in isn't a big deal.

But I don't like the first Arwen add - that she helps Frodo at the Ford of Bruinen. If you're going to put here in Glorfindel's role, leave her behind at the Ford with Aragorn. Oh well.

It's all very heroic - gets my blood boiling, inspires me to be a hero.

But do heroes write weblogs? Or do they do something more valuable with their time? I ask this tongue in cheek, but do you get the real critical query underneath? Most heroes train for action so when the time comes, they can act. I don't train to act. I don't train for much. I have trouble staying motivated for such training, thinking it really matters. 'It won't matter if I sleep in this once.'

Or, maybe more, heroes are out doing heroic things right now. They're putting their lives on the line now.

Sure, you can say I can be a hero by doing my job well in Tulsa, being a responsible citizen, raising my children attentively. But I don't know...
Steven raises an interesting question (from Iain): what would we do with Osama bin Laden if we got him?
Daypop looks pretty good (via Blogger). It's a current events search engine that searches weblogs and newslogs.

Their top 40 list includes the Apple Fellowship of the Ring trailer download site that I linked yesterday.

Also appearing, the 3-2-1 Penguins! Shockwave game, Strategic Forcasting's Afghan Theater of Operations, and Star Trek's new series.
Report: U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan

I guess I was more right than I knew when I guessed that the strike force was in motion a little over a week ago. Of course, that only makes sense. Admittedly, I thought we'd have seen more actions by now, eg cruise missiles and the like. But discretion is very valuable right now.

I also guessed special forces were on the ground doing target id. I guess you could say I was partially right on both guesses, but anyone could have been.

Also in military news, Saudi Arabia will allow its ally the United States to launch military action from a U.S. base on its territory against Islamic militant Osama bin Laden

Thursday, September 27

Thinking of The Lord of the Rings inspired me to head over to The One Ring. There I found an interview with Sir Ian McKellan and ! the Apple site to download the new LotR trailer ! (Windows is telling me I have another 2 hours to go for the full size.).

I also learned over there that Enya is doing some of the music for the movies. That's cool. I like Enya, even if my friend Roxanne calls her music 'from the hearts of space'
The Web Today's redesign slipped in under my radar: War, People, and World.
Must see Yahoo Lord of the Rings slideshow!

Liv Tyler looking pregnant (carrying Aragorn's love child? Draw your own conclusions!).

Peter Jackson looking hobbitish.

Sam has the coolest sword.

The amount of CGI this movie must have taken to get shots like this is staggering.
Also found in referrals log: Someone went to Shonen Knife, a Japanese punk band, before they came to my site. Interesting. Best guess: your favorite punk and mine.
Remember when my tagline was 'the way to a man's heart is through his weblog.'? Well, I find a referral pretty often from someone searching for how to win a man's heart or some such thing. Humorous.
This letter from a regular reader I've just met:

Dear Sean...

I've been following (er... "lurking") your blog for months now.

Before this, I've not really had much to say... and even this e-mail
is trivial. But I've always prided myself on my "cross-platform"
ability to understand members of other faiths when they discuss
matters of faith or religiosity.

Must admit, though, that last night's post (Wed 26 Sep) threw me for
a loop: what does it mean to be "seeker driven"; and what is the
"Calvinist/Arminian Distinction", and how does one not subscribe to
it as a pastor?

I'm guessing that being seeker driven has something to do with
proselytes, and that the C/A D has something to do with the
theological differences that entered into the Calvinist theology

But as I don't know, I'm asking.

Warmest regards,


PS... "Jon VW" another theologically conservative blogger has an
eponymous site where he occasionally discusses religion from a
Lutheran/English Catholic perspective. Very interesting.

My reply:

dear Silus,

thanks for you email. i trust your lurking means my weblog is worth following to you, and i'm glad.

maybe i need to update my post. i definitely used some technical jargon.

'seeker driven' means, like you suspected, putting those who are interested in faith but not yet across the line in the most important position. everything else is sublimated to that goal (to one degree or another). another way of expressing it would be 'having evangelism as the chief goal of ministry and structuring everything accordingly'. 'seeker driven' churches have 'seeker services' on sunday morning because that is prime time - the time a seeker is most likely to come visit church. their services designed to edify believers happen some other time, often wedpms. Willow Creek Community Church is best known for this posture.

i think i simply confused you regarding Calvinism and Arminianism. by C/A D is simply meant the distinction between the two theologies. i think these two views are built on false dichotomies, eg choosing between God's sovereignty/predestination and human free will. i think this is one of those places where the Bible points us to a paradox: God is sovereign and predestines people and human's are completely free to choose whether or not they will follow God and it seems contradictory, but it's simply more than our finite minds can comprehend, and therefore we reconcile it as paradox.

is that any clearer?
Good day. Day off. Home alone. Made coffee. Did a little cleaning. The weather has cooled off.

Wednesday, September 26

Want to know what pastors are like here in the States these days? Stats

I would describe myself as Evangelical, though I'd want to clarify terms (as usual).
I am theologically conservative.
I don't subscribe to the Calvinist/Arminian distinction - n/a.
I am not seeker driven, nor is my church, nor my senior pastor. (I think this result on the survey is given the lie, as the analysis points out, since churches aren't growing. At least we're honest about it (and we're growing, besides :-).
My spiritual gifts, given this grid, are teaching and encouragement. More senior pastors need to be leaders. The administration and prophecy results don't surprise me. A lot of pastors do a lot of administration (as opposed to leading, which is more critical). And prophecy can be simply railing against things. As we well know, there are plenty of preachers who do that.
I'm married, have a college (and mastersl/seminary) degree, and am bringing down the average at 29. I have not been divorced.
Our church averages more than 700 people in worship.

Barna is right on in his analysis of the challenges of pastoring. The main things a pastor needs to do are lead, teach, and care.

Most pastors work long hours, are constantly on-call, often sacrifice time with family to tend to congregational crises, carry long-term debt from the cost of seminary and receive below-average compensation in return for performing a difficult job. Trained in theology, they are expected to master leadership, politics, finance, management, psychology and conflict resolution. Pastoring must be a calling from God if one is to garner a sense of satisfaction and maintain unflagging commitment to that job.

Oh yeah, and this post comes to you in preparation for Pastor Appreciation Month. Feel free to appreciate me (kind words, point traffic this way, buy stuff off of my Amazon wishlist, etc. :-).
Israeli Rights Group Slams Israeli Army Violations (via the web today)
I'm starting to get a lot of referrals from Yahoo (where I'm listed as a new weblog), Yahoo search, and Google search. Cool.

Tuesday, September 25

It's easy to be overwhelmed by space photos, especially with all of the great pictures coming from Hubble and new observatories earthside. So here's the top 10 Space photos of all time. Must see. If you'll only spare the time for one of these photos, make it the Hubble Deep Field.

Monday, September 24

Do you know the way to Afghanistan? (also via randomWalks)
Noam Chomsky interview (via randomWalks).

Bin Laden's purpose:

they are fighting a Holy War against the corrupt, repressive, and "un-Islamist" regimes of the region, and their supporters, just as they fought a Holy War against the Russians in the 1980s (and are now doing in Chechnya, Western China, Egypt (in this case since 1981, when they assassinated Sadat), and elsewhere


As for a response, they are, I presume, listening to the foreign leaders, specialists on the Middle East, and I suppose their own intelligence agencies, who are warning them that a massive military response will answer bin Laden's prayers. But there are hawkish elements who want to use the occasion to strike out at their enemies, with extreme violence, no matter how many innocent people suffer, including people here and in Europe who will be victims of the escalating cycle of violence. All again in a very familiar dynamic. There are plenty of bin Ladens on both sides, as usual.
Steven's arguments regarding police actions and wars, though arguing for war, only further persuade me that this ought not to be a war but that we need to protect civil rights, not suspend them. How much damage could these terrorists really do with stepped up action and security against them. I fear that war is not the right posture to take, and that it may only propagate more violence.
BRITISH troops will lead an international coalition alongside America to wage war on Afghanistan in the next 10 days as security and intelligence sources indicated last night that the net was tightening on Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect behind the terrorist attacks on America (via the web today).

Question: If they want to be successful, why is this information in the news?
War in a World Without Borders (via Matt)

This is a good essay which, among other things, examines the difference between war and crime, war and police action. Are we going to proceed as if this were a war (eg, civilian casualties and collateral damage are accpetable), or a crime?

But Bush has also sworn, much more broadly, to eliminate
evil from the world. That is quite a goal.

Yes, too big a goal. I trust Bush was using hyperbole here. However, it points toward the potential for abuse of such goal. We don't want to sign a blank check here, financially or morally.

What if, by "war", he means a broader spectrum of actions -- not just bombing and shooting
but psychological warfare, political and economic warfare, a full
spectrum of everything that the US can do to people or countries,
much as in the Cold War, but even more diffusely and with even less
geographical constraint?

This is surely what is intended, as Rumsfeld's press conference yesterday made clear.

Of course, the history of the CIA suggests
that quasi- and sub-military operations are going on all the time.
But perhaps the point of the present "war" is to massively escalate
that steady background of intervention in other societies, and to
institutionalize it by requiring that every government choose between
openly supporting it and being an object of it.

I don't think this this is the point. However, again, this bread mandate could be so interpreted. We must be cautious as we move forward. 'Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.' Add to that the Law of Unintended Consequences, and this baby begins to look like it could produce seriously scary results.

It is good to keep this in mind, because questions of right and wrong
in the aftermath of the east coast attacks can be very complicated.
Who is responsible? One answer is that the people who organized and
executed the attacks are solely and completely responsible, and that
nobody else's actions, right or wrong, have any relevance. Another
answer is that context is everything: the United States, it is argued,
created these extremists and contributed to the oppression and anger
that helped them grow. The proponents of these two answers, it is
fair to say, hate one another. In part they are simply politically
polarized: rightists reflexively supportive of America's pursuit of
its interests versus leftists reflexively opposed. But on another
level their positions are two sides of a coin. The coin arises from
a confusion about right and wrong. We need to distinguish two kinds
of responsibility, moral and practical. The bombers have absolute
moral responsibility for their actions: they committed mass murder.
But that fails to answer some important questions: what could we have
done to keep the disaster from happening, and how can we keep it from
happening again? These latter questions have their moral components,
in that certain policies might be deemed culpably reckless, but they
do not assign moral responsibility for the bombing as such. We are
responsible for our actions in helping to create the context, and they
are responsible for theirs in acting on it.

This analysis of responsibility is right on.

The rest of the article is really long, but I recommend it if you have the time and gumption. Or scan for the parts you find most useful (quick lesson in efficient reading there :-).
My friend, Eric, has a very thoughtful and appropriately nuanced post on his thoughts regarding the war on terrorism.

Friday, September 21

In fact, you should go read a bunch of stuff over on the good ship Clueless. Specifically, I recommend Parkinson's Law and the size of the Cabinet, layoffs in secondary industry signal long recession, and the importance of maintaining civil liberties in difficult times like these.
Steven analyzed the link I sent him from CDI about the president's military options. He drew very different conclusions.

Wednesday, September 19

I have continued to dialogue with Josh about Islam. Maybe I just need to give a rest. I'm certainly no expert. However, there seems to be an environment of noncritical cozying up to Islam in response to hate crimes. I am trying to get a proper understanding of Islam, and I don't trust the most eager people to give it. This is largely a matter of principal for me: proper study and interpretation. So, since I'm not a 'professor' in this case (ie, someone who professes something or professes to know), I should probably just give it a rest. I don't have anything against Islam. I don't think I'm being hateful. Enough for now. (I'm still open to your commentary and concerns.)
Here's another Islamic explanation of jihad. A quote:

Islam however is a religion that sees it its duty and commitment to form an Islamic state. Islam came to reform society and to form a nation and government. Its mandate is the reform of the whole world.
Such a religion cannot be indifferent. It cannot be without a law of jihad. In the same way, its government cannot be without an army. While the scope of Christianity is extremely limited, that of Islam is extremely wide. While Christianity does not cross the frontiers of advice, Islam is a religion which covers all the activities of human life. It has laws which govern the society, economic laws, and political laws. It came to organize a state, to organize a government. Once this done, how can it remain without an army? How can it be without a law of jihad?

Once again, a significant part of Islam is theocracy. The writers of Al Islam may decry suicide and civilian casualties, but their goal is imposition of Islam. Most Christians would confess to the goal of changing society, but I also think most would say Jesus' method was from the inside out, calling people to a different life. Legislating morality does not change people's natures. Jesus wanted a change on the inside that resulted in changes on the outside. The author of this article belittles such ideas.

Jesus says love your enemies. Muhammad says fight your enemies. While Christianity has often done abominable things (say, from a human rights perspective), those things have been false to the ethic of love. When Muslims do abominable things (same context), there is at least some degree to which it is consonant with its core teachings.
Is it time to laugh again yet? It feels like it. This worked for me (via Matt):

Those who cannot remember the plots of the '70s tv shows are condemned to repeat them.
randomWalks linked an interesting, informative article about military options available to the president. My guess is that special forces are on the ground right now doing better target id so they don't have the same problems they've had before blowing up insignificant or politically damaging targets.

Tuesday, September 18

Richard Dawkins' invective against religion infuriates me. I understand that he was angry about the attacks. We all were.

His trust in mechanistic evolution requires a far greater leap of faith than religion. He implies that all religious people are fools (we 'fell for [religion]').

I am trying to call attention to the elephant in the room that everybody is too polite - or too devout - to notice: religion, and specifically the devaluing effect that religion has on human life. I don't mean devaluing the life of others (though it can do that too), but devaluing one's own life. Religion teaches the dangerous nonsense that death is not the end.

He has gone too far this time. It is a mortal insult to call my dearest conviction 'nonsense'. I am livid.
Again, getting back to normal a little, they've got a new module at the ISS.
Scott has a very informative post against sanctions.
Steven has a great post about the evil ADM. They're the ones who have those commercials on NPR that say 'ADM:Supermarket to the world.' They got hung for a billion dollar price-fixing suit a few years ago. When I heard that commercial, I substitute 'Price-fixers' for 'Supermarket'.
John wrestles with last tuesday's tragedy. The following is the most poignant excerpt. The whole post in well worth reading.

I have a bad relationship with America. I feel used and abused by our system, and I will not support the ripe infection of our government with my life or my money if I can help it. Once i paid off my back taxes, I kind of washed my hands. I don’t feel like I owe any special debt to the country for allowing me what I consider the bare minimum of what every person should be allowed. To the contrary, the country by and large has wacky authoritarian forces puling to the right and the left. I exist apart from the government, and I spent the week wondering how American am I? I searched for a definition of American that did not exclude any valid point of view as almost any opinion has someone who can be considered a great American to champion it. n the end, I have decided an American is a citizen of the United States which I think is a good and honest view. It includes us all, and is more likely to pull us together than any feel good definition that leaves people out.

You're intelligent enough to figure out that my posting this doesn't necessarily constitute agreement or similar feeling, right? I can certainly understand where John is coming from, though.
Jim has a thoughtful post today about God's judgment in the Christian faith and whether or not it applies in this situation.

(He also gives me props, but that's not why I'm pointing you there :-) However, link love turnabout is always appropriate.)
We deplore the heinous acts of violence that occurred on September 11, 2001 in New York City and Washington DC, and we believe the individuals responsible should be brought to justice.

We believe that the lives and livelihoods of innocent people should not be harmed, whether at home or abroad.

We believe that the response of the people of the United States in the coming weeks will have a profound effect on our future and that our response as a global community must be just and reasonable, not driven by fear and rage.

We believe that military action in response to this act of terrorism will ultimately not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States.

We strongly encourage our leaders to choose a course of action that will spare the lives of innocent people, that will rebuild our faith in humanity, and will foster a peaceful, humane and harmonious world.

If you agree with this statement, go sign at Shared Voice. I did.
I really want to be fair in my evaluation of Islam. Josh sent the following email to me and I appreciate the differing viewpoint, so I will reprint it in full:

i stumbled on this commentary and thought perhaps you had not seen it.... i cannot vouch for its validity but
it seems to suggest that Classical Islam, though having a violent past (like all
religions, like all nations, our frigging species), would not condone terrorist

this quote, i think, is particularly poignant:
"a dogmatic, puritanical and ethically oblivious form of Islam has predominated
since the 1970s. This brand of Islamic theology is largely dismissive of the
classical juristic tradition and of any notion of universal and innate moral
values. This orientation insists that only the mechanics and technicalities of
Islamic law define morality. Paradoxically, it also rejects the classical
juristic tradition and insists on a literal reinterpretation of all Islamic

please don't misunderstand my writing this.... i too am trying to make sense of a terrible, terrible series of events (that i feel are just beginning).... i simply have a knee-jerk reaction to the notion that an entire faith, devoted to
God, is inherently violent.... i feel like the reflections in that post have a
subtle but problematic slant.... i'm uncertain why one ought to conclude that
Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi's comments are looking for a loop-hole..... while the
notions from Answering Islam, are not similarily examined....

i also feel like de-contextualizing the quote from the Qu'ran is somewhat
"The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the
tares are the children of the wicked [one]; The enemy that sowed them is the
devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As
therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the
end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall
gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing
of teeth."-- Matt. 13:38-43

the language of faith often has very violent overtones... this is not proof
enough to entrench an entire religion in its violent past.....

um, i've never responded to a blog before, please know that my interest in
writing is simply for dialogue.....
i was refered to your site by my friend john thirteen... and the bulk of your
writing i found measured and remarkably intelligent...... your concerns, and
insights about the occupation of Palestine were right-on.....

anyway, i hope i didn't offend.....
take good care,


Josh did not offend at all. I appreciate the dialogue and will so engage with anyone.

I think I can respond with a similarly respectful tone.

Restatement: I hesitate to conclude that Islam is originally violent.

However, I remain fairly convinced that my statements from yesterday have not been finally refuted. I guess that Mr El Fadl is a moderate Muslim and liberal/progressive in his interpretation of Islam, the Qur'an, and the history of Islamic faith. I remain convinced that the links I posted yesterday, including those under the Jihad section of the Islam Page, put Jihad within the mainstream of historical Islam. Though I haven't looked exhaustively, I have yet to read an Islamic apologist explain in light of current events where Jihad fits in to contemporary Islam, both conservative (left of fundamentalist/extremist) and moderate/liberal. I think this has not been addressed for a reason. It's going to be hard to finesse it.

Mr El Fadl says conservative Islam 'rejects the classical juristic tradition and insists on a literal reinterpretation of all Islamic texts'. But I'll bet that conservative Muslims (to the left of fundamentalists) would say that Mr El Fadl rejects Islam's history in favor of later (though still 'classic' or old) interpretations and insists on a liberal interpretation of all Islamic texts instead of the plain meaning communicated by Muhammad et al.

I'm in deep water here, because I'm not a Muslim. I remain open to correction, if I can be convinced otherwise.

Part of what is driving me here is my own foundational interest in interpretation of texts. Both in literature and regarding Scripture, I believe that the primary meaning of the text is what the original author intended to convey. In Christianity, people on the left often interpret the Scriptures in ways the original authors could never have intended. Literary, historical, and cultural conext, among others, are critical to this process. This means of interpretation has guided me well in my own faith. But it has led my to disturbing conclusions about Islam, regarding which I may certainly be wrong.

That is why I conclude that liberal and moderate Muslims are looking for loopholes regarding this event.

Also, the essay I linked yesterday - Muhammad, Islam, and Terrorism - purports to examine historical fact. How do you (Josh) and others who disagree with me treat that essay? Is it inaccurate in its depiction of history? I'm certainly no expert here.

Finally, Josh, thank you for your kind words and thoughtful commentary. I hope we can continue to dialogue about many things in the future.

Sincerely yours,


Monday, September 17

Starting to return to normal, here's the NPR 100 - the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century. Some really nice stuff here. Worth a look.
A member of my congregation asked yesterday: Is Islam a religion of hate?

I respected his honesty.

Answering this question is tricky. Many Muslim moderates do not hate. However, Islam was founded in violence. Muhammad took Mecca by force. He ordered the death of many people for bad reasons.

So Islam, historically and in it's conservative form is violent and militant.

Here are some of the resources that I have looked at to draw these conclusions:

Islam Page

American Muslims utterly condemn what are apparently vicious and cowardly acts of terrorism against innocent civilians. We join with all Americans in calling for the swift apprehension and punishment of the perpetrators. No political cause could ever be assisted by such immoral acts.

Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi Condemns Attacks Against Civilians: Forbidden in Islam

These are statements from moderate, liberal Islam. They do not accord with historical Islam. Simply scroll down the page and read some of what they have to say about Jihad. It is a legitimate doctrine to them. Here's a sample:

So when you meet (in fight... Jihad in Allah's Cause) those who disbelieve smite at their necks till when you have killed and wounded many of them, then bind a bond firmly (on them, i.e. take them as captives) (V.47:4, 5,6). Jihad in Qur'an and Sunnah

I think these liberals are trying for a civilian loophole that may or may not be legitimate (cf Steven's There is no such thing as a civilian). Also, I'd be really interested to see what they would say if we asked if the Pentagon was a legitimate target.

For those who want to research Islam from a specifically Christian point of view, try Answering Islam. Anyone might be interested in their Muhammad, Islam, and Terrorism This essay talks about acts by Muhammad which can legitimately be construed as terrorist.

From Answering Islam:

The modern Christian is embarrassed at our own historical acts of violence, atrocity, and conquest because he knows that they violate the deepest teaching and example of Jesus. Our embarrassment is that we lived as 'mere men', that we stooped to the level of those without heart, that we failed to obey the Living Lord.

I am struggling to do good history here. If I am not, please email me and let me know. I do not want to inaccurately portray historical Islam.

Friday, September 14

Also on Boing Boing, David Pescovitz posts a hand drawing of bin Laden's alleged command bunker. Crazy.
Matt had this great observation from Cory:

The most amazing, futuristic thing about the Current Situation is the amount of civilian-generated content and coverage, from amateur photos and videos to first-person accounts to grassroots survivor-lists to the passengers themselves, making wireless calls to the ground as they prepare to rush the cockpit. The world has changed. The filpside of the Orwellian nightmare of the panoptic surveillance society is the voracious data-gathering and republishing of the distributed world, a weird utopia of ubiquitous information and observation.
If you have some time, check out this thread that started by quoting Meg. I have commented extensively at the bottom (will some say I commented too much?). If you don't read anything else about a reasonable, Middle-Eastern and specifically Palestinian view of the US, read this from raaka (he has some links in the hypertext version. I'll just grab his text for below):

• If you’ve got some time on your hands and an understanding of Islam, read Bin Laden’s Declaration of War. He spells out from a fundamentalist’s perspective reasons to attack “infidels”.

(I don’t agree with him at all, but understanding other people’s perspectives is very important.)

That page also has an intro on Laden. He made his millions ($300m, apparently) at his family’s construction company.

• Laden was hand-picked by the CIA to funnel American resources into Afghanistan during Russia’s decade long invasion. More than likely, he learned a lot about clandestine actions under CIA tutelage.

• Sadam Hussein and his family are not popular. He is comparable to Stalin and Hitler, occasionally purging his lieutenants, murdering his own people and forcing strict allegiance. Upper-class homes in Baghdad display portraits of Sadam. Often, not by choice.

Hussein recieved massive foreign aid during the Iran-Iraq War from the US. During the height of Sadam’s atrocities against Kurds and Shiites he continued to get US aid. After invading Kuwait, the atrocities were used by Bush Sr. as a reason to attack Iraq. This conflict wasn’t pointed out by the mainstream press.

A popular uprising intent on deposing Hussein asked the US for access to captured Iraqi weaponry. The Bush Sr. Administration made motions that any popular uprising would get help. This turned out not to be true, and the uprising was quelled.

This makes it look further that the US supports evil dictators, but has it in for Arab people.

• Ten years after “liberating Kuwait” the US stands nearly alone in the international arena on continued sanctions against Iraq. Britain has publicly stated that the sanctions have gone on long enough, but continue to give tepid military support for them. The sanctions are a near perfect way of giving Hussein an iron-clasp on his country. Since Iraqis were impoverished during life without sanctions, they are living day-to-day with them. If someone has trouble finding food, they certainly aren’t going to have energy to fight a revolution.

• The US gives billions a year to Israel ($3b slated for 2001: $1.98b for military, $840m for “economic assistance”). This doesn’t include add-on packages and low-interest military loans.

• Palestinians live under a brutally oppressive government. The human rights violations include assasinations, collective punishment and torture. Which isn’t to say the actions Israel takes in retaliation to suicide bombings and the like aren’t warranted, only that they are looked upon — throughout the world, except in the US — as grossly excessive.

• Arafat, as leader of the PLO, is pretty much considered a crook by a significant portion of Palestinians. Last year, Middle Eastern leaders refused to give him access to a billion-dollar trust fund earmarked for Palestinian relief efforts due to his misuse of funds in the past. PLO elites build sea-side mansions while the people they supposedly represent live in squalor. The US only negotiates with Arafat and the PLO, which further alienates Palestinians.

• Palestinians have been without the right to self-determination for fifty years. Every peace plan the US has constructed in the last 30 does not include that right — which Americans consider birthright — despite unanimous international support for it. Only the US and Israel fight to keep Palestinians under Israeli rule.

• The US bombed Libya, Sudan and Afghanistan. The military called these attacks “retribution” and “pre-emptive strikes to guard against future attacks.” Countries other than the US that make pre-emptive strikes to guard against future attacks are branded “terrorists” and called “evil”.

Consider the US has a ten-year-old “contingency” base in Saudi Arabia to enforce sanctions against Iraq.

Consider Israel lays claim to religious areas also holy to Muslims.

Consider, possibly unwittingly, US foreign policy consistently aligns against Arab Muslims.

Consider extremist Arab Muslims are blamed for the Beriut, Kenya, Tanzania, WTC ‘93, USS Cole and WTC/DC attacks.

Now, why would any extremist Muslim consider America a target?

The attack against New York and Washington was directed at civilians and is completely indefensible. Those responsible should be brought out and punished for their crimes. After that task is completed, we, as citizens, must make our leaders accountable for the international climate they create. Otherwise, sure as the sun, we will be attacked again.
another helpful animation (in Spanish) (via jeffhoward on MetaFilter).
I was unaware until now that the sequence of impact was north tower, south tower, but the sequence of collapse was south tower, north tower:

8:45 a.m.: (all times are EDT): American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston, Massachusetts, crashes into the north tower of the World Trade Center.

9:03 a.m.: A second hijacked airliner, United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston, crashes into the south tower of the World Trade Center.

10:05 a.m.: The south tower of the World Trade Center collapses, plummeting into the streets below.

10:28 a.m.: The World Trade Center's north tower collapses from the top down as if it were being peeled apart.

source: CNN (warning: flash) (link w/invective via mantid on MetaFilter)
I am very concerned that the Israelis will use this opportunity to put the Palestinians down in an extreme way

These thoughts were prompted by this thread on MetaFilter. I posted the following over there:

the way i see it, many Palestinians feel that Israel is constantly expanding it's territory into their areas, squeezing them into smaller and smaller parcels of land. when they complain they get no response from Israel, the US, or the UN. their human rights are repeatedly infringed upon. so they respond, first with intifadeh. this has been going on for years. no improvement.

there are violent and terrorist elements that hurt the cause i've descibed above, but lumping them all together is like making all Americans racists or something similarly unsavory.

Israel's relative power and Palestine's relative powerlessness are a big deal in this situation, as far as i'm concerned. and the US is culpable (in this regard) for supporting, indeed, empowering, the oppression of Palestinian Arabs at the hands of Israel.
Hmmm. Interesting article in 'The Guardian' (via Summer on MetaFilter (including discussion)).

First, the author says The Cuban Missile Crisis is a better comparison to these attacks than Pearl Harbor. It depends what you're trying to analyze. The attack itself is pretty analogous. But Woollacott has a point in comparing the potential responses. His assessment makes Kennedy look pretty smart.

Woollacott says toward the end of the article that his assessment of the waning of terrorism and fundamentalism may be 'too sanguine' and I think it is. However, I agree with most of his analysis and his caution about retaliatory action.
Steven's military knowledge and analysis is impressive. See, especially, his new essay on why 'civilian' is no longer a practical distinction in military operations (and maybe never was).
nixlog is compiling graphic representations of the attack and aftermath (via randomWalks). Very helpful. I especially found helpful to understanding these maps of Manhattan and the Pentagon.
Steven has a new essay: There is no such thing as a civilian.

Wednesday, September 12

Hmmm. Maybe I was wrong about striking bin Ladin immediately. If we were doing that I would think we would have heard something by now. Maybe and maybe not.

It looks more likely now that the government is gearing up for a longer war on terrorism. Interesting.
Secretary of State Colin Powell says the coalition being formed will not stop at getting the people responsible for the attack, but will go after terrorists wherever they are found (link).

Translation: we want to hit somebody. If we can't find the specific terrorists, any general terrorists will do. From one point of view, I'm okay with that, as long as they really are terrorists.
Conjecture: the bin Ladin strike force is in motion now. We may not be able to prove he did this, but he's done it before and no one will be able to raise a legitimate complaint if he's snuffed out without a direct link to this crime. The problem will be collateral damage and innocent casualties. If those happen, especially without proof positive of his involvement in this case, that will be a problem. So maybe bin Ladin is already shielding himself among many innocents, perhaps with hostages, so to speak, who aren't harboring him or aiding him - relative innocents.

next concern: does bin Ladin have a 'last will and testament'? If he is killed, do contingency plans go into effect?
Steven also has some of the most gripping photos with commentary.
Officials have identified all the hijackers, and estimated there were three to five for each of the four passenger planes involved. At least two of the hijackers were on the Immigration and Naturalization Service "watch list," and it's still unclear whether the individuals entered the United States illegally or whether they entered before their names were placed on the list.
Most if not all of the hijackers were Egyptian or Saudi nationals, sources said
(link via Steven)

I think we should still be cautious about how watertight this evidence is, but the reports are piling up. I hope none of these conclusions are premature, because I bet the strike is in motion right now. I have no illusions that there won't be one.
Steven and Lia are debating the analogies. She said the attacks are more like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He said they're more like Pearl Harbor.

Both attacks were made in peacetime, Steven is right. Lia points out that PH was a military target and yesterday's attack was a civilian target.

Steven limits the casualty count from H and N, but Lia rightly points out that there were many longer lasting effects which must be weighed as well. However, Steven is right in saying many more Japanese (and Americans) would have died in a conventional attack and invasion of Japan.

Steven rightly points out that this will mobilize the US in anger.

Steven is right in saying that H and N were a response to a war which Japan started.

Overall, and this is a pretty mechanical analysis, the PH comparison is more apt, as far as it goes.

However, and this is where I add my part, the likely originating reasons for these surprise attacks bear different weight. The US had embargoed Japan. We had that right. They chose to attack. We were justified (from a certain point of view) in retaliating with lethal and final force.

If some significant portion of this attack is motivated by our selfish and high-handed dealings in the Middle East, aiding and abetting the oppression of others, then we must lay at least some of the blame for this attack at our own door.
You also ought to read Michael Moran's article about bin Ladin and his CIA-Afghanistan connections.
from MeFi: a report of passengers on the PA-crashed flight attacking their captors. then the discussion included this quote:

One other thing I heard last night is that pilots are trained to comply with terrorists. In almost all aircraft hijackings, no innocent people end up dying. In those that due, it is usually due to botched rescue attempts, not terrorist action.

Naturally, none of the pilots which commanded the planes that flew into the WTC and the Pentagon could have ever reasonably assumed what was to happen to them. They would have cooperated with the hijackers until it became obvious what their plans were.

To which I posted the following response:

also, since the reported evidence and resulting speculation points to trained pilots among the hijackers, the legitimate pilots were probably replaced and held with the rest of the passengers, having even less abilit to intervene if intentions became clear.

maybe the hostages of the PA crashed flight overwhelmed their captors. maybe the captors had told them their intentions by then, maybe bragging about preliminary reports. mabye the hostages had even heard what was happening via cell phone and put two and two together. maybe they took out the captors in the passenger compartment, stormed the cabin, and the captor pilot crashed the plane.

these are wild speculations, but it seems a plausible scenario, at any rate.
If you haven't read the interview from 1998 with Osama bin Ladin you should.

He is a psycho. That's the overruling truth.

However, he also has some legitimate points:

The Americans impose themselves on everyone who believes in his religion and his rights. They accuse our children in Palestine of being terrorists. Those children that have no weapons and have not even reached maturity. At the same time they defend a country with its airplanes and tanks, and the state of the Jews, that has a policy to destroy the future of these children.

American history does not distinguish between civilians and military, and not even women and children. They are the ones who used the bombs against Nagasaki. Can these bombs distinguish between infants and military?

Also, by testimony of relief workers in Iraq, the American led sanctions resulted in the death of over 1 million Iraqi children.

All of this was done in the name of American interests. We believe that the biggest thieves in the world and the terrorists are the Americans. The only way for us to fend off these assaults is to use similar means.

The crusaders continued their slaughter of our mothers, sisters and children. America every time makes a decision to support them and prevent weapons from reaching the Muslims, and allow Serbian butchers to slaughter Muslims. You do not have a religion that prevents you from carrying out these actions and therefore you do not have the right to object to like treatment. Every action solicits a reaction. It is a punishment that fits the crime.

The presence of Americans in the Holy Land supports the Jews and gives them a safe back. The American government, in a time where there are millions of Americans living on the street and those living below the standard of living and below the poverty line, we find the American government turning toward helping Israel in occupying our land and building settlements in the Holy Land.

I hate violence. I do not condone violence in any form. But I understand that violence and criminal neglect and pursuit of 'national interests' without concern for others incites violent retaliation and armed seeking of other 'interests'.
Some of the best photos at Yahoo's most emailed content. I especially found the diagram of the WTC helpful. The picture of smiling Barbara Olson, who made one of the phone calls from the doomed planes, is chilling.
More on last night's speech:

The things Bush could have said but didn't (via Kevs on MeFi):

- The speech didn't mention that we needed to remember that all Americans are American, and that we can't single out Arab-Americans or even know that Arabs did this
- He didn't express disgust at the Jihad and Hamas who expressed no condolences
- He didn't mention that we needed financial restraint in this time when the worlds markets are in dire straits
- He didn't say that our civil liberties would be protected, no matter the cost
- He didn't say that America's govt. is level-headed and would not do anything to harm the innocent in other countries, though we would use all of our power to rein in the perpetrators
Last night, President Bush said:

America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.


We were certainly targeted for some other reason. Do people buy these kinds of explanations? It sounds like empty political rhetoric to me.
I strongly advise you to browse through all of these political cartoons. I found them very stirring.

An impressive number of them feature the Statue of Liberty crying.

Some of these cartoons also use the phrase 'infamy'. This morning I wondered to myself why Bush didn't use it last night.

I thought the first cartoon on this page was the best of the Statue of Liberty cartoons.

I thought the first cartoon on this page was particularly poignant.

The second one on this page must be seen.

We are wounded. Our flag still flies. Our nation still stands. The torch of liberty still burns.

And now is the time to best live up to the ideals that we hold most dear. Justice is okay. We can go after justice. But now is the time to live out freedom, and to think about how we affect the same rights and hopes of people around the world.
With CNN interviewing people like Tom Clancy (no joke), there will be no shortage of people calling for Americans to trade in some more freedom in return for a promise of more security. Benjamin Franklin correctly said that the people who would make that trade would neither get nor deserve freedom or security (via adam or randomWalks from Indymedia).

In response, we should think carefully about our security. This is a horrible thing. But it doesn't happen often, and it won't. There are only so many things we can reasonably protect ourselves against (I've said this before in criticism of the Missle Defense Shield). These events should be reviewed and applicable lessons should be learned and acted out. However, I think it would be a mistake to violate personal liberties seeking justice for this action or seeking to prevent such and action in the future.
Apocalypse Now

That's what occurred to me as I looked at the pictures this morning.

I had a lot more traffic than usual yesterday for no particular reason that I can discern from my referrer logs. I guess everyone felt like I did and wanted to read what their friends on their regular reading list had written.

Tuesday, September 11

Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden (news - web sites) warned three weeks ago that he and his followers would carry out an unprecedented attack on U.S. interests for its support of Israel, an Arab journalist with access to him said Tuesday.

Tragedy strikes. We grieve for the lost lives, including the lives of many emergency response personnel.

People are comparing this to Pearl Harbor. There are some similarities.

This time, though, we don't know the 'return address'. There's a lot of assuming this is Osama Bin Laden at work. Safe guess, but let's make sure before we do anything rash.

a quote from CNN:

Three Palestinian groups -- Hamas, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad -- deny responsibility for the attacks, but blame U.S. policies in the Mideast.

I think there's something to this. We are a party to injustice in the Middle East (though I'm sure I wouldn't agree with the perpetrators concept of 'justice'). It is no surprise that we are a target of attack. This is a tragedy. The criminals responsible should be brought to justice. But we have brought some of this on ourselves. Civilians are suffering here today. It's horrible. And civilians suffer all around the world every day, many in situations that the USA ignores or abets. The reciprocity is sad.

That's not to say if we did the just thing that wouldn't also bring suffering. At least in justice there's the peace of knowing you've done right.

Discussion of some of these issues (mostly on the same side as what I've said) is going on at MetaFilter (slow-loading because of volume of hits).

Monday, September 10

Israel has signed a contract to receive 52 F-16I fighter-bombers from the US firm Lockheed Martin having bought 50 of the aircraft last year. The funding for the $2 billion contract will come from the US military aid budget, which awards that amount to Israel on an annual basis (via The Web Today).

I hate this.
I like Matt's reflection about time to think and the busyness of our lives.
Steven talks about the difference between marketing and engineering and the importance of having a saleable product. Everything I need to know about economics I learned from 'Raising Arizona': 'It's not what you will pay, but what the market will bear.' Whether we like it or not.
Lots of interesting links from randomWalks over the last 3 days:

very interesting article about a British Chess Grandmaster who thinks he's playing Bobby Fischer anonymously on the web.

I love playing Ultimate. This article inspired me to look into it some more. It contains a link to an article about the Spirit of the Game. I'm going to call the guy in Tulsa and see if I can get on the team. I'm going to have to practice my throwing, though.

One million UK schoolchildren jumped up and down for a minute and got some kind of result at every single seismometer around the country,'' Nigel Pain, director of Science Year, told Reuters. "We generated something like a hundredth of a serious earthquake."
Steven responded to my post of a quote from Philip Yancey about the problem of pleasure for atheists.
How's this for fun? I met someone new to my acquaintance for breakfast this morning to talk about church stuff. Turns out he's one of the webmasters for Wolfram Research. It was interesting to discuss some of the goings on inside this company founded by the notoriously eccentric Stephen Wolfram.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Who watches the watchmen?

I've liked this quote ever since I heard it. Those who lead need to be overseen.

Friday, September 7

Kevin Campbell of Cork, Ireland wrote saying he liked my page. Hi Kevin!

He also asked for my top 10 movies with insightful political commentary. I've broadened it to social commentary, and here's what I come up with (in no particular order or number):

The Mission (period piece, but amazing, and applicable today)
The Merchants of Cool (PBS Frontline - how media sells stuff to kids. nonfiction, but piercing)
Romero - by reputation - haven't seen it.
To Kill a Mockingbird
Doctor Strangelove
Dead Man Walking
Roger and Me
Schindler's List
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
The Grapes of Wrath

and here's some more i came up with looking at AFI and Amazon:

Citizen Kane
On the Waterfront
All the President's Men
Wag the Dog
Primary Colors
The French Connection
Dances with Wolves
The Killing Fields
Boys N the Hood
Born on the Fourth of July
Malcolm X
Norma Rae
Apocalypse Now
The Candidate

what do you think?
New weblog to keep an eye on: brandhast (via Nathan). Long on ideas (this is a good thing).
More from the same excerpt:

Yancey is writing about Christianity. The title of his new book is 'Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church'. He's keying off of GK Chesterton and his understanding of Christianity. Here's a sample:

Chesterton viewed this world as a sort of cosmic shipwreck. A person in search of meaning resembles a sailor who awakens from a deep sleep and discovers treasure strewn about, relics from a civilization he can barely remember. One by one he picks up the relics—gold coins, a compass, fine clothing—and tries to discern their meaning. Fallen humanity is in such a state. Good things on earth—the natural world, beauty, love, joy—still bear traces of their original purpose, but amnesia mars the image of God in us.

Additionally, Chesterton notes that Christianity is supposed to be joyful, and not because of denial. Rather, Christian joy should come from deep, unshakeable roots. If we've been turned off to faith by the church, chances are it's largely because that church/person is so joyless. You could even question whether a church/person is truly Christian if they don't have discernible joy in their life.

For Chesterton, and also for me, the riddles of God proved more satisfying than the answers proposed without God. I too came to believe in the good things of this world—first revealed to me in music, romantic love, and nature—as relics of a wreck, and as bright clues into the nature of a reality shrouded in darkness. God had answered Job's questions with more questions, as if to say the truths of existence lie far beyond the range of our comprehension. We are left with remnants of God's original design and the freedom, always the freedom, to cast our lots with such a God, or against him.


In addition to the problem of pain, G.K. Chesterton seemed equally fascinated by its opposite, the problem of pleasure. He found materialism too thin to account for the sense of wonder and delight that gives an almost magical dimension to such basic human acts as sex, childbirth, play, and artistic creation.

It struck me, after reading my umpteenth book on the problem of pain, that I have never seen a book on "the problem of pleasure." Nor have I met a philosopher who goes around in head-shaking perplexity over the question of why we experience pleasure. Yet it looms as a huge question—the philosophical equivalent, for atheists, to the problem of pain for Christians. On the issue of pleasure, Christians can breathe easier. A good and loving God would naturally want his creatures to exper ience delight, joy, and personal fulfillment. Christians start from that assumption and then look for ways to explain the origin of suffering. But should not atheists have an equal obligation to explain the origin of pleasure in a world of randomness and meaninglessness?


The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried


Chesterton readily admitted that the church had badly failed the gospel.


Along with Chesterton, I've had to take my place among those who acknowledge that we are what is wrong with the world. What is my snobbishness toward my childhood church, for instance, but an inverted form of the harsh judgment it showed me? Whenever faith seems an entitlement, or a measuring rod, we cast our lots with the Pharisees and grace softly slips away.
Here's a beautiful quote from an excerpt from Philip Yancey's latest book (via Jim):

Then I fell in love. Janet and I drew together for all the wrong reasons—mainly we sat around and complained about the oppressive atmosphere of the school—but eventually the most powerful force in the universe, love, won out. I had found someone who pointed out everything right with me, not everything wrong. Hope aroused. I wanted to conquer worlds and lay them at her feet. For her birthday I learned Beethoven's Sonata Pathetique and asked, trembling, if she would be the very first audience to hear me play. It was an offering to new life, and to her who had called it forth.

If you find this moving, too, email or call or tell someone you love 'what's right with them'. That sounds like some dorky email-chain-forward, but I don't do such things enough.

Thursday, September 6

In the spirit of my rereading of Dune (I'm finishing up 'Heretics' now) I give you the time line from Museum Arrakeen.
If you haven't read Dean before, you do not know how well he writes. His missive about Provencal is an example.
James is having a Powazek Poetry Contest. I'm not really trying to win, but the poetry part interested me.

the fray is nice so go and buy the book
but others, too, have helpful stories to tell
great MetaFilter is my favorite look
throw in a healthy dose of Matt as well

ABAB in iambic pentameter
Doggoneit. The JD gave up on breaking up Microsoft.

Wednesday, September 5

Steven's 7 technological wonders of the modern world:

The Internal Combustion Engine
Electric Power
Mass Production of Steel
Plastics and Polymers
Space Travel
Genetic Engineering

Ugh. The new Douglas Coupland book sounds pretty bad (also via randomwalks).
Mister Rogers' last day (via randomwalks). Godspeed.
Okay, I misrepresented myself. I didn't post at all while on vacation. I played a lot of Nintendo 64, namely Madden 2000 and Perfect Dark. Sorry (for misrepresenting, and if you missed it).