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Friday, March 31, 2006

Cindy ...10:13 pm

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Cynthia McKinney has served in congress since 1992 (with two years off between 2002 and 2004), and yet it is only the other day that she found herself suddenly a victim of “being in congress while black.”

The official statement that she first issued about the incident where she allegedly punched a Capitol Police officer in the chest with her cell-phone states:

I know that Capitol Hill Police are securing our safety, that of thousands of others, and I appreciate the work that they do. I deeply regret that the incident occurred. I have demonstrated my support for them in the past and I continue to support them now.

That was then (March 29th, so very long ago). This is now:

“This whole incident was instigated by the inappropriate touching and stopping of me, a female black congresswoman. I deeply regret that this incident occurred and I am certain that after a full review of the facts, I will be exonerated,” McKinney said at a press conference at Howard University.

Mostly, I’m glad that this incident led me to go to Cynthia’s very own web site, and read her very own bio. It includes these priceless lines:

Cynthia McKinney’s political career can be traced to 1986, when she won 40% of the popular vote when her father, state representative Billy McKinney, submitted her name as a write-in candidate for a Georgia state house district, despite the fact that she lived in Jamaica at the time. Two years later she ran for the seat herself and won, thus making the McKinneys the first father-daughter duo to serve simultaneously in the Georgia House.

At least we know she’s paid her dues, huh? That chip on her shoulder is nothing if not well earned.

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But Who Got Kicked Off “American Idol?” ...9:46 pm

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With a h/t to Allah, how do you like these apples: Hezbollah (the well-regarded terrorist organization) has been smuggling operatives over the Mexican border. As revealed this week in an FBI budget hearing by Robert Mueller.

“This was an occasion in which Hezbollah operatives were assisting others with some association with Hezbollah in coming to the United States,” Mueller told a House Appropriations subcommittee during a Tuesday hearing on the FBI’s budget.

In a stunning revelation, Mueller admitted that Hezbollah had succeeded in smuggling some of its operatives across the border, telling the House committee: “That was an organization that we dismantled and identified those persons who had been smuggled in. And they have been addressed as well.”

Hezbollah was responsible for the single most deadly terrorist attack against the U.S. before 9/11 – the Oct. 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, which killed 243 U.S. troops.

The same story at Newsmax quotes a Texas congressman, John Culberson, as declaring this week on national radio that a “confirmed al-Qaeda terrorist” was captured in Mexico in the past 6 weeks and turned over to the FBI.

None of this, somehow, is news to any of the outlets that count.

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The Murmur of a Prayer ...5:36 pm

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The story about the study that failed to show the healing power of prayer has probably provoked lots of ascerbic remarks from believers. I’m sure I’m not the first person to wonder if anyone connected with the research paused to consider the remark once made by someone — someone who by the way has a good deal of cachet in this area — to the effect of, “Thou shalt not put the Lord thy God to the test.” (Matthew, 4:7)

I can only guess that the word of the actual Lord was beyond the scope of the current study.

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Drifting Like a Satellite ...8:31 am

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Well, everyone interested would know by now that Dylan’s XM radio show isn’t expected to debut until May. The LA Times today has some background on what’s going on:

“It’s definitely going to happen, but it’s taking a little longer than originally planned,” said XM spokeswoman Anne-Taylor Griffith. “Bob is super involved in the show, and, like with everything he does, he wants it be just a certain way, and it’s taking some time … . We’ve already received several episodes of the show, and they’re absolutely fantastic.”

With Dylan moving at his own chosen speed, the show is now expected to premiere in early May.

In April, XM will announce the show’s title and schedule and also release some sample playlists, which Griffith described as “amazing” surveys of music both new and vintage.

With several episodes “already received,” that certainly implies the show will be taped. When it was initially announced, the impression given was that Dylan would do it from the road, from hotel rooms or wherever he happened to be. I guess it could also be a hybrid affair, with some taped and some live, or some segments taped inside a studio, with other segments (interviews?) taped on the road. Who knows? Who cares? Just get it on the air before this whole satellite radio concept burns out like a meteor.

Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip Away.
Tomorrow will be another day.
Guess it’s too late to say the things to you
That you needed to hear me say.
Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip away.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Reason for this Web Site # 4187 ...2:01 pm

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(Or something like that.)

Came across this article from an online marketing industry magazine today, based, apparently, in South Africa – “Bob Dylan: The Great Researcher?” It basically is a rundown of the ideas of someone named Gordon Cook, who is apparently head of a school in South Africa that teaches marketing or branding or communications or some such goop.

Beginning to read the article, it seemed at first to be an eccentric but at least potentially interesting angle on Dylan’s work. Mr. Cook has pointed to various elements of Dylan’s artistic nature that would be helpful to a researcher, including:

Dylan is an outsider and a great research mind is often outside of what he or she has to research. He stayed an observer and is not obsessed with being a celebrity.

He has incredible perceptual and awareness boundaries. “All research has to start off from a point of view. This is often too narrow, but Dylan had the ability to have a very huge awareness boundary.”

Fine and dandy. Then, out of nowhere, comes this:

His philosophic platform recognises the dignity of all humans. “I wish I could hold George Bush down and thrash him with Bob Dylan songs until he either agrees to stop being an idiot or resigns,” says Cook.

OK. Well … number one: If there’s any Bob Dylan song that Cook could argue would cause George W. Bush to “stop being an idiot” or resign, I would wager that I could write a thoroughly persuasive essay that would demonstrate how that song could in fact provide sustenance and encouragement to George W. Bush, and in fact would be more likely to provide such encouragement to him. Of this I have no doubt. (And by the way, Dubya has of-course heard plenty of Bob Dylan songs in his life, not least because his wife is well known to be a big Dylan fan.)

Number two is a question: What is it that causes someone who presumably wants to be taken seriously by other people, in speaking about a non-political subject, to abruptly inject their extreme personal politics into the discussion? Why this total disregard for the consequences of alienating those who don’t share that politics? It comes across as an arrogance, but is probably at the same time an insecurity. The speaker wants to reassure himself that his opinions are completely true and unquestionable, so he throws them out there, counting on no one to respond, so he can take that as evidence of the rightness of his beliefs, and the fact that he’s surrounded by like-minded intelligent thinkers. “I hate that idiot George Bush — don’t we all? Aren’t we just so enlightened and wonderful because all agree that George Bush is so incredibly stupid?”

The writer of the article chooses to end with a quote from a Dylan song:

So researchers:

“Are you thinking for yourself
Or are you following the pack?

Are you ready, hope you’re ready.
Are you ready?”

I think that’s a song Dubya would probably dig pretty well. He doesn’t follow “the pack” of intellectual elites who would have him aim for kudos from the likes of the NY Times and the Nobel Prize committee; instead, he thinks for himself and does his job, trying to keep the well-being of the United States as his foremost concern. He also at least tries to humble himself before the will of God, which after all is what this song is about. There’s some other verses that Dubya would clearly appreciate too:

Are you ready to meet Jesus?
Are you where you ought to be?
Will He know you when He sees you
Or will He say, “Depart from Me”?

When destruction cometh swiftly
And there’s no time to say a fare-thee-well,
Have you decided whether you want to be
In heaven or in hell?

Are you ready for the judgment?
Are you ready for that terrible swift sword?
Are you ready for Armageddon?
Are you ready for the day of the Lord?

Yeah! Bring it on!

Sounds perfect for the presidential iPod, if you ask me.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Viva L’Italia ...5:41 pm

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Cynics will call it a pre-election ploy by Berlusconi, but he’s been straightahead all along on issues connected with the “clash of civilizations,” or whatever we want to call it today. From the BBC:

“He is already in Italy. I think he arrived overnight,” Silvio Berlusconi said on Wednesday, hours after his cabinet approved the asylum plea.

Mr Rahman was freed on Monday after being deemed mentally unfit to stand trial on a charge of apostasy.

It is unclear when he arrived in Italy.

….

Mr Berlusconi told Associated Press Television News: “I say that we are very glad to be able to welcome someone who has been so courageous.”

….

Mr Rahman, who converted 16 years ago while working as an aid worker for an international Christian group, was arrested after police discovered him with a Bible.

An ethnic Tajik originally from the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, Mr Rahman returned to Afghanistan a few years ago.

It is thought that he was denounced by relatives after returning to seek custody of his two daughters. His family alleged he forced them to read the Bible, something he has denied.

In an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Mr Rahman said: “I have done nothing to repent, I respect Afghan law as I respect Islam. But I chose to become a Christian, for myself, for my soul. It is not an offence.”

He sure sounds like a raving looney-tunes to me. Asserting his respect for law, and his respect for Islam, and claiming that this Christianity stuff is something to do with his “soul,” and that it is “not an offence.”

Throw away the key!

Anyhow, the next question is what happens to the Italian embassy in Kabul, and the broader repercussions of letting him go for the Karzai government. And — more important than anything else — how will Christian converts and other non-believers in Islam be treated by the authorities from now on. So far, there appears to be little reason for optimism on that front.

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Going, Going, Gone ...10:47 am

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Reuters reports that the Afghan Christian Abdul Rahman may already have left the country. Meanwhile TIME magazine collects impossible-to-confirm allegations about Rahman’s treatment of his own family. One thing that is a part of every allegation — whether from his children or his parents — is his Christianity. As in, “He threatens us and we are all afraid of him and he doesn’t believe in the religion of Islam.” So, I’m not sure where that leaves us. The impression foreign observers have had of Afghan society in the past couple of weeks is a place where the great majority of people simply take it for granted that rejecting Islam is a crime that deserves death. If you’re accusing someone of a capital crime, it seems relatively small potatoes to throw in a few allegations of threats and beatings to go along with it. That said, the truth of the Rahman family’s domestic politics is just not going to be knowable (perhaps Afghanistan also needs an army of Dr. Phils?).

The broader point is that Americans, and doubtless many in the West generally, are left with a sour taste in their mouths after seeing a man threatened with death for saying, “I believe in Jesus Christ;” threatened, that is, not just by a mob or some crazed clerics in the Afghan hills, but by the judicial system of a democratic Afghanistan that Western soldiers have given their lives to help establish, and where they continue to risk their lives daily. Of-course there is also a narrower self-interest involved in keeping troops in Afghanistan and keeping al-Qaeda on the defensive, but narrower and more self-interested tactics might also be an option, after all. The ripples of Rahman’s case are only beginning to radiate, I think.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Philosophizing Disgrace ...5:09 pm

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Billy Bragg has rewritten The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (hat tip Clive Davis) as a paean to Rachel Corrie, the activist with the “International Solidarity Movement” who was accidentally crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in the Gaza strip in March of 2003 when she attempted to block its movement with her body. Bragg’s performance is being distributed as a free mp3 here at The Guardian.

It’s excruciating to listen to — and this is from someone who was once a pretty big Billy Bragg fan, and still owns some of his stuff — and the lyric is atrociously bad, even if you should sympathize with its sentiments, which I do not.

Who is Rachel Corrie? Go see what her own International Solidarity Movement says about her (e.g., “she is the new Anne Frank”) or go to the Little Green Footballs blog to see an archive of entries about her and those who have exploited her death. Decide for yourself where the truth may lie.

Billy Bragg’s new ballad was particularly inspired by some difficulty in getting a play about her ( “My Name is Rachel Corrie”) produced by the New York Theater Workshop (it has already been performed in London and looks to be heading back there shortly). As Billy plaintively sings, “Is there no place for a voice in America /That doesn’t conform to the Fox News agenda?” That’s right, Billy: It’s all Fox, all the time, here in America now, even on the stage. Bill O’Reilly’s new one man show is opening on Broadway in the fall, soon to be followed by Romeo and Juliet, starring Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter. Get used to it.

It’s really too absurd to respond to, and yet the Dylan connection has compelled me to write this post. Does Bragg, or anyone, mean to suggest that there is “censorship” taking place here, as if anyone with the cash to put forth couldn’t buy out a theater and put this play on for as long they liked? How about all the royalties Billy must have earned from his years of singing songs to try and make Stalinism hip? Has he anted up or is mangling one of Bob Dylan’s great songs the extent of his contribution to the cause?

“Non-person” seems to be Billy’s latest favorite catchword, if this song is any evidence, as in the Palestinians “had become non-persons in the eyes of the media,” and

If America is truly the beacon of freedom
Then how can it stand by while they bring down the curtain
And turn Rachel Corrie into a non-person?

So, the Palestinians, who have received billions in aid through the years from the EU, the United States, the UN, and other international sources (while countless other people without the same spotlight on their troubles have died from malnutrition in Africa, or been murdered in death camps in North Korea) are apparently entitled to Bragg’s new elevating “non-person” catchword, as is Rachel Corrie, whose death has already garnered so much sympathetic ink and who has had a play written about her and performed to sell-out crowds in London.

Corrie’s death, at the age of 23, was certainly sad, not least because she did not have time to grow and potentially realize the extent to which she had been misled and used by movements and forces beyond her understanding. At 23, a lot of sensitive people can find themselves filled with a righteous passion against injustice in the world, and can feel compelled to focus on some piece of it and demand that it be fixed immediately. Which piece that is can depend on whose influence they have fallen under at that particular stage of life. Perhaps, given the time, someone like Rachel Corrie would have begun to question how long the people of Israel would survive if they displayed an unwillingness to defend themselves. Perhaps she would have perceived the restraint shown by a people with vast military superiority against those that sent terrorists and suicide bombers their way with regularity. Perhaps — maybe by the time she was thirty years old, say — she would begun to have understood that if Israel’s enemies ever possessed the same military superiority over Israel, there would be no restraint, but only another holocaust against the Jews. Perhaps she would have begun to perceive reality, in other words, instead of being seduced by the twisted glamor of “freedom fighters” versus bullying “occupiers,” and putting her trust more in slogans than in facts.

Billy Bragg knows the power of slogans, if he knows little else.

Bob Dylan’s original song, The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, is a great song in part because it never resorts to slogans or catchwords. Dylan knows the relative value of songs which make their point without bashing the listener over the head.

He also knows a little something about how a people surrounded by enemies — enemies who are determined to see their death at the soonest possible moment — can be portrayed as bullies in a shadowy world where lies are often a lot sexier than truth.


The neighborhood bully just lives to survive,
He’s criticized and condemned for being alive.
He’s not supposed to fight back, he’s supposed to have thick skin,
He’s supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in.
He’s the neighborhood bully.

Rachel Corrie
(Rachel Corrie demonstrating the burning of a mocked-up American flag to young Palestinian children in Gaza)

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Asylum ...3:39 pm

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So, Rahman is “seeking asylum”– in lieu of an asylum, I guess — according to news reports. It’s surely likely he’ll return to Germany, but if not it is to be hoped the United States would also welcome him.

It does put me in mind of the quote from the Afghan cleric Said Mirhossain Nasri a few days ago, when he thoughtfully observed:

“If he is allowed to live in the West, then others will claim to be Christian so they can too,” he said. “We must set an example. … He must be hanged.”

Will there be a rush on Christianity in Afghanistan, the better to get a fast ticket out? I don’t think so, somehow, but there will be repeat cases, genuine or not. That’s why there had better be big wheels turning to find a way of explaining the concept of religious freedom to a judiciary — not to mention a populace — that genuinely understands it only as the freedom to be Muslim. The fire fighter who asked President Bush last week if we needed to send “an army of sociologists” over there was, I think, expressing the frustrations of many who feel they’re waking up to realize that what they thought to be their irresistable goodwill has collided with an immovable object.

Mark Steyn is on the ball as usual:

In his book Islam And The West, Bernard Lewis writes, “The primary duty of the Muslim as set forth not once but many times in the Koran is ‘to command good and forbid evil.’ It is not enough to do good and refrain from evil as a personal choice. It is incumbent upon Muslims also to command and forbid.”

Or as the shrewd Canadian columnist David Warren put it: “We take it for granted that it is wrong to kill someone for his religious beliefs. Whereas Islam holds it is wrong not to kill him.” In that sense, those blood-curdling imams are right, and Karzai’s attempts to finesse the issue are, sharia-wise, wrong.

I can understand why the president and the secretary of state would rather deal with this through back-channels, private assurances from their Afghan counterparts, etc. But the public rhetoric is critical, too. At some point we have to face down a culture in which not only the mob in the street but the highest judges and academics talk like crazies.

Rahman embodies the question at the heart of this struggle: If Islam is a religion one can only convert to not from, then in the long run it is a threat to every free person on the planet.

Addendum 5:27 p.m.: From ABC News there is a piece on what they call the secret world of Afghan Christians:

One man, who serves as a local pastor, says converts in Afghanistan know they face the gravest consequences if caught.

“We live in constant fear,” he said. “Everyone is afraid.”

Many even have to hide their adopted faith from their families. That was what got Rahman in trouble, say other Christians who knew him. His relatives turned him in after he read the Bible to his two daughters.

Christians had been hopeful the U.S.-backed government would make life easier, but so far it hasn’t helped much.

“President Karzai has no power to help us. He is just like a symbol,” the pastor said.

Another Christian, whose house was raided four months ago by police looking for his Bible, feels lucky they never located evidence of his adopted faith.

He says the United States needs to do more to ensure basic freedoms are enshrined in the new Afghanistan.

“I am thankful to the U.S. for removing the Taliban monsters,” he said, “but it is America’s responsibility to bring real democracy here.”

Well, that last man’s desperation and desire is understandable, but he’s also wrong about whose ultimate responsibility it is to create real democracy in Afghanistan.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Abdul Rahman ...1:48 pm

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There are conflicting stories on exactly what is taking place with Afghan Christian Abdul Rahman today, but it is apparent that some kind of legal sleight-of-hand is being used to shunt him out of the trial process. The Chicago Tribune has a thorough story, and Michelle Malkin continues to do an excellent job at rounding up information and opinion from a variety of sources.

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A – 11 ...1:17 pm

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Buck Owens has passed on to his eternal reward, and the obituaries are springing forth far and wide. In his way, Dylan was likely paying tribute to Buck about a year ago, when he was slipping the song “A -11″ into his set-lists. It’s not actually one of the gems composed by Buck Owens himself, but I believe was made most famous by him (it was composed by Hank Cochran).

From Portland, Oregon, then, on March 11th of 2005, here’s a sample of Dylan and band, pleading please don’t play A – 11.

This used to be our favorite spot
And when she was here it was heaven
It was here she told me that she loved me
And she always played A – Eleven.

I don’t know you from Adam
But if you’re gonna play the jukebox
Please don’t play A – Eleven…

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Karzai Resolves Afghan Christian Dilemma ...5:06 pm

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Breaking news from the Free Associative Press:

KABUL March 25, 2006 (FAP) – In a turn of events that some observers are describing as “unexpected,” Afghan President Hamid Karzai today claimed resolution of what had seemed a dangerous and developing crisis concerning the fate of Abdul Rahman, a former Muslim who had been set to stand trial on the potentially capital charge of converting to Christianity.

“Today,” announced Karzai, “I have declared that Afghanistan is now officially a Christian country. Therefore, it can be clear that there is no more problem for Mr. Rahman. ”

Specifically, Karzai is declaring the state religion to be that of the United Methodist denomination of Protestantism.

“I heard about it from my good friend President Bush,” he told the FAP. He went on to assure Muslims that their faith would be tolerated under the new system.

Reaction from Islamic clerics in this deeply conservative, formerly Muslim country, was mixed. Sitting in a courtyard outside the Herati Mosque, moderate Afghan cleric Abdul Raoulf said, “After cutting off Rahman’s head, we will use it to bludgeon Karzai into an oozing mess. Then we shall call on all the people to write letters to the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church, and truthfully they will not desist from this letter writing until Afghanistan has been officially ejected from this abominable denomination.”

But Said Mirhossain Nasri, the top cleric at Hossainia Mosque, one of the largest Shiite places of worship in Kabul, said this would not work quickly enough to allay the humiliation of Karzai’s action.

“Tomorrow I depart with thousands of good Muslims, and we will go by land, sea and air to the address of these Councils of Methodists at 100 Maryland Ave., NE, Suite 320, Washington, DC 20002, and we will demand that they embrace Allah and Mohammed as his prophet. If they do not,” he continued, “we will take seriously the possibility of a schism with the American church.”

Experts say that while Afghanistan’s adoption of United Methodism seems to solve the immediate problem of Abdul Rahman’s legal status, it may well pose problems for the future.

“You just don’t turn a Muslim nation into a Christian one overnight,” said one. “At least, I’m pretty sure it hasn’t happened till now.”

For his part, President Karzai acknowledged some potential difficulties in implementing the new state religion.

“I have heard that they oppose capital punishment. This will take some getting used to for our people. Their aggressive stance in favor of gun control will also require great sacrifices.”

“On the other hand,” he continued to the FAP reporter, “I am very excited by our new Church’s ideas on sustainable agriculture, food safety and collective bargaining.”

The Afghan president then excused himself, indicating he hoped to be more expansive at a press conference next week, but for now he needed to study in order to be able to teach a class he would soon be offering on making hymns inclusive.

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