Friday, July 28, 2006

When is it OK to Criticize Israel?

The Star Tribune reported this morning that both Mark Kennedy and Amy Klobuchar, candidates for the US Senate in MN, agree that Israel is justified in its massive military excursion into Lebanon. I am not surprised by Kennedy's statement as he simply parrots whatever the President says or does, but I was disappointed to see such an unnuanced response from Klobuchar:
Israel has a right to defend itself, and it's doing exactly what our country would do if Iranian-made rockets came down on Wisconsin or Iowa or Minnesota. ... We would go to the country from which they were being fired and we would do whatever was necessary to protect our country.
I think we can all agree that Israel has a right to defend itself from missile attacks and unwarranted siezures of its citizens and soldiers. We can also agree that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization that is bent on destroying Israel. But is it possible to agree on these points and still argue that in responding in the way they have, with attacks that have destroyed Lebanon's infrastructure and that have killed hundreds of innocent civilians, that Israel has crossed both a moral boundary and a strategic one as well.

In terms of strategy, killing civilians hurts the cause. It makes enemies and terrorists out of people who might have been allies and friends. We are already hearing numerous reports of how Israel's actions are turning moderate Arabs against them.

Regarding the moral boundary, one of the marks of a democracy that holds human life and human rights in the highest regard ought to be the care it takes in showing restraint, working for peace, giving diplomacy every last chance to succeed.

Israel ought to act better than its enemies, just as America ought to as well. They, the "enemies," may show no regard for human life, but we will. They may hate us and seek to destroy us but we will not do the same in return. They may attack innocent civilians, but we will not. Because we are not like them. And we want the world to see us differently, and to respect us and emulate us. Israel risks becoming what they hate.

But this post isn't really about Israel. It is about pandering politicians who fear raising these kinds of issues with a friend and ally. For too many years now in Washington there have been far too many politicians who reflexively back the nation of Israel no matter what they do. Mostly it has been Democrats. Recently they have been joined by Republicans who depend on votes from the religious right. Most disturbingly in this last flare up, it has been our President who has winked and nodded and encouraged Israel to take as long as it takes, no matter what the cost to their, or our, integrity and moral standing in the world.

Friends don't let friends drive drunk. Friends don't let their allies hurt themselves and everyone else. True friends are true and friends because they offer their love and support while at the same time speaking the truth. We are not true friends of Israel when we don't use our power and influence with them to urge caution and restraint, and use our common shared values to remind them to live by a higher calling, and use our diplomatic skills to work to quicky diffuse the crisis.

As I said, Kennedy's response is no surprise. But I expect more thought and more courage from Amy Klobuchar.

Retiring Nuns Bring Catholic Church Financial Crisis

It comes as no surprise to me that there are lots of retiring Catholic nuns, and not many young recruits. But it did surprise me to read that supporting these nuns in their retirement will cause a financial hardship that dwarfs the financial pain brought on by the sexual abuse scandal:

With tens of thousands of U.S. nuns over age 70, the Roman Catholic Church is facing a massive financial shortfall for the care of retirees in religious orders -- a gap that over the long term dwarfs costs from the clergy abuse crisis.

Though billions of dollars have been salted away, there still remains an unfunded future liability of $8.7 billion for current nuns, priests and brothers in religious orders. The financial hole is projected by a consulting firm to exceed $20 billion by 2023.

It makes me wonder about the financial health of Catholic Church. They seem like they have unending amounts of riches, but given the stories of dioceses having to sell off property to cover liability costs associated with the sexual abuse scandal, who knows.

My Religion is Kindness

Karen Armstrong is a noted religious historian and former Roman Catholic Nun. Her most recent book, The Great Transformation: The Beginning of our Religious Traditions, explores the evolution of several major religious traditions in what is known as the Axial Age between 900 and 200 BCE. In a recent interview with the magazine Zions Herald, she talked about the evolution of her own religious beliefs. Responding to a question about whether there might be a new religion that emerges that blends together the ideas common to all religious traditions, she said:
I don't think we need a new religion. I think we've got what we need. It's there. All the religions teach the same things. I was with the Dalai Lama in September, and he said to a Buddhist girl, a Buddhist American: "You know, really, you might as well have stayed Christian. There is no need to convert from one religion to another. They all teach the same. They all teach kindness and compassion."

My religion, you see, is kindness. That's it. And that is a constant discipline. Whereas people often want spiritual highs and lows and exotic experiences--that's so much rubble. You get your experiences of transcendence--this is what the real practicioners say--through the practice of the Golden Rule. And anything else can be a bit of an ego trip.
My religion is kindness. Is there a more challenging spiritual discipline? Is there any greater need in our world today than for Christians and Muslims and Jews and Buddhists and Hindus and pagans and athiests to search their scriptures, their heritage, and their hearts and find the stories of compassion, forgiveness, love, and the golden rule, and to seek to make those stories the ground and goal of their own religious path? My religion is kindness. Can we make that our religion?

Military Dominance of Foreign Policy in Israel

Via Talking Points Memo, I read this interesting commentary in the Israeli paper Hareetz. After reviewing numerous historical instances when generals overconfidently led their countries into disasterous wars, the paper notes that this is why most democracies have built in civilian checks on the ability of the military to make policy decisions. Not so in Israel:
And this is precisely the difference between us and the others: While in all other democracies, a certain dependency of policy-makers on generals is apparent, together with attempts to reduce it, in Israel, the case is not only one of dependency but the fact that our policy-makers are held captive by the generals.

The security policy-making process is in fact the domain of the Israel Defense Forces and the defense establishment. In the absence of non-IDF national security planning bodies, the major part of the planning - not only operational and tactical planning but also strategic and political planning - is done within the army.

The result is that military considerations have often become more dominant than political ones. Thus, Israel's foreign policies have come to be based on an essentially belligerent perception that favors military considerations over diplomatic ones. Violence is seen not only as a legitimate instrument in international affairs, but almost as the only means that can bring positive results.
Looking on at Israel from the outside, it certainly feels that this is the case. It is interesting to see this perspective voiced from the inside.

As an aside it is worth noting that in the United States in recent years I think you can make the case that non-military idealogues are making foreign policy decisions that rely heavily on the blunt instrument of military force over diplomacy, and they are doing it without listening to the generals.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Armageddon part 3

From the Wall Street Journal this morning, a story about evangelical leader Charles Hagee and his hopes that we are moving towards the final big battle:

Last week, as Israel's armed forces pounded Lebanon and worries of a wider conflagration mounted, Mr. Hagee presided over what he called a "miracle of God": a gathering of 3,500 evangelical Christians packed into a Washington hotel to cheer Israel and its current military campaign.

Standing on a stage bedecked with a huge Israeli flag, Mr. Hagee drew rapturous applause and shouts of "amen" as he hailed Israel for doing God's work in a "war of good versus evil." Calls for Israel to show restraint violate "God's foreign-policy statement" toward Jews, he said, citing a verse from the Old Testament that promises to "bless those who bless you" and curse "the one who curses you."

The gathering was sponsored by Christians United for Israel, a national organization the 66-year-old preacher set up this year. The group lobbies politicians in Washington, rallies grassroots support for Israel and aims to educate Christians on what it calls the "biblical imperative" of supporting the Jewish state.

Mr. Hagee is a leading figure in the so-called Christian-Zionist movement. This evangelical political philosophy is rooted in biblical prophecies and a belief that Israel's struggles signal a prelude to Armageddon. Its followers staunchly support the Bush administration's unequivocal backing of Israel in its current battle with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

President Bush sent a message to the gathering praising Mr. Hagee and his supporters for "spreading the hope of God's love and the universal gift of freedom." The Israeli prime minister also sent words of thanks. Israel's ambassador, its former military chief and a host of U.S. political heavyweights, mostly Republican, attended.

At a time when Islamist groups are displacing secular nationalists as the main vehicle for political revolt across the Middle East, Mr. Hagee and like-minded evangelicals are injecting greater religious fervor into American attitudes and policy toward the region. They see, and even sometimes seem to embrace, the notion of a global conflict between Islam and the Judeo-Christian West, just as do many zealous Muslims.

"This is a religious war that Islam cannot -- and must not -- win," Mr. Hagee wrote in a recent book, "Jerusalem Countdown," which focuses on what he says is a coming nuclear showdown with Iran. "The end of the world as we know it is rapidly approaching.... Rejoice and be exceeding glad -- the best is yet to be." The book has sold nearly 700,000 copies since it was released in January, according to his Florida-based religious publisher, Strang Communications.
It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine. Or at least I would if I was drinking too much right-wing religious kool-aid.

Say it ain't so Floyd

Can it really be true that Floyd Landis, former Pennsylvania Mennonite, and surprise winner of the Tour de France was doping? It doesn't sound good:
Floyd Landis' stunning Tour de France victory was thrown into question Thursday when his team said he tested positive for high testosterone levels during Stage 17, when the 30-year-old American champion began his stunning comeback with a gritty charge into the Alps.
Let's hope the follow-up testing tells a different story. Fortunately his mother is still behind him:

After speaking with Floyd Landis by telephone, Arlene Landis said she is convinced her 30-year-old son did nothing wrong and blasted cycling's governing body for "spoiling everything."

"My opinion is when he comes on top of this, everyone will think so much more of him. So that's what valleys are for, right?" she said outside her home in a section of rural Lancaster County called Farmersville.

There were reportedly more than a few conservative Mennonites who didn't think too much of Floyd's sudden fame and fortune. If he is found true of doping, this would certainly confirm their suspicions about the evils of the outside world.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Another Step Backwards

With the closing of the day yesterday we saw another devastating loss in the effort to maintain a woman's right to a safe, legal abortion--at the federal level.

Last night, the U.S. Senate passed a divisive attack on young women's health and safety. The deceptively titled "Child Custody Protection Act" (CCPA) imposes criminal penalties on anyone other than a parent, including a grandparent, aunt or member of the clergy, who accompanies a teen to an out-of-state doctor for abortion care if she has not complied with her home states' parental-involvement mandates. The punishment for violating this law is a year in prison. This punitive bill will do nothing to protect young women's safety or improve family communication - and it certainly won't prevent teen pregnancy in the first place--the responsible approach Congress should have taken.

Regardless of your personal position on whether or not a woman should have the right to choose whether to end an unplanned pregnancy, the passage of this legislation should alarm you. Not only is it titled deceptively so that you are led to believe it deals with something entirely different when in fact it restricts a teen girl's ability to find a driver to take her across state lines to obtain a safe, legal, abortion. But also this law ties the hands of a young woman's extended family and her pastor if she asks them for their help.

Please say a prayer for all the young woman who may be effected by this legislation--and their relatives and clergy who will be asked for help by these young women and will now need to make an additional decision whether to risk criminal penalty and choose to help.

And after you've said that prayer, please read the following list of senators to see who voted for it and decide what action you will take to counteract this alarming legislation.

"Yes" Votes
Alexander (TN)Allard (CO)Allen (VA)Bayh (IN)Bennett (UT)Bond (MO)Brownback (KS)Bunning (KY)Burns (NC)Burr (NC)Byrd (WV)Carper (DE)Chambliss (GA)Coburn (OK)Cochran (MS)Coleman (MN)Conrad (ND)Cornyn (TX)Craig (ID)Crapo (ID)DeMint (SC)DeWine (OH)Dole (NC)Domenici (NM)Dorgan (ND)Ensign (NV)Enzi (WY)Frist (TN)Graham (SC)Grassley (IA)Gregg (NH)Hagel (NE)Hatch (UT)Hutchinson (TX)Inhofe (OK)Inouye (HI)Isakson (GA)Johnson (SD)Kohl (WI)Kyl (AZ)Landrieu (LA)Lott (MS)Lugar (IN)Martinez (FL)McCain (AZ)McConnell (KY)Murkowski (AK)Nelson (FL)Nelson (NE)Pryor (AR)Reid (NV)Roberts (KS)Salazar (CO)Santorum (PA)Sessions (AL)Shelby (AL)Smith (OR)Stevens (AK)Sununu (NH)Talent (MO)Thomas (WY)Thune (SD)Vitter (LA)Voinovich (OH)Warner (VA)

Armageddon part 2

I came home a few minutes ago and turned on CNN to catch a news update and thought I had accidently turned on the 700 Club. There was Kyra Philips interviewing apocalyptic fiction writers Jerry Jenkins (Left Behind Series) and Joel Rosenberg (The Copper Scroll) and as scripture passages were popping up on screen they were explaining how biblical prophecies are being fulfilled and the end times are near. Joel Rosenberg is saying that he has been invited to the White House and the CIA and to testify before Congress about what it all means. He reminds us that biblical prophesies are "interrupts from the mind of mind of God." Kyra asks them if she should be getting her affairs in order and they say yes indeed.

This unbelievable piece of "journalism" is then followed by a weather report on the hot, dry conditions around the country and a story about the mayor of Lubbock, Texas who has called for a day of fasting and prayer to ask God to bring an end to the draught.



If I was a conspiracy theoriest watching events in Lebanon, Gaza, and Iraq play out I would find plenty of ammunition to believe that the Bush administration is conspiring to bring on the end of the world. But I am not a conspiracy theorist and I believe simply that we are watching the bungling of the most inept President that has ever held the highest office in our land.

That doesn't mean, however, that he couldn't bring about the end of our world. If left unchecked he could get us to an all-out regional war in the Middle East that could go nuclear. It is obvious now that there is no one inside the administration who is going to be able to reign him in; the question is whether this Congress will finally assume its Constitutional mandate to be a check on the President's power, or whether we will have to wait for a new Congress.

Another reminder of how inept he has been in Iraq comes from the book review of "Fiasco," by Thomas E. Ricks:

The title of this devastating new book about the American war in Iraq says it all: “Fiasco.” That is the judgment that Thomas E. Ricks, senior Pentagon correspondent for The Washington Post, passes on the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq and its management of the war and the occupation. And he serves up his portrait of that war as a misguided exercise in hubris, incompetence and folly with a wealth of detail and evidence that is both staggeringly vivid and persuasive.

By virtue of the author’s wealth of sources within the American military and the book’s comprehensive timeline (beginning with the administration’s inflammatory statements about Saddam Hussein in the wake of 9/11, through the invasion and occupation, to the escalating religious and ethnic strife that afflicts the country today), “Fiasco” is absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in understanding how the United States came to go to war in Iraq, how a bungled occupation fed a ballooning insurgency and how these events will affect the future of the American military. Though other books have depicted aspects of the Iraq war in more intimate and harrowing detail, though other books have broken more news about aspects of the war, this volume gives the reader a lucid, tough-minded overview of this tragic enterprise that stands apart from earlier assessments in terms of simple coherence and scope.

“President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 ultimately may come to be seen as one of the most profligate actions in the history of American foreign policy,” Mr. Ricks writes. “The consequences of his choice won’t be clear for decades, but it already is abundantly apparent in mid-2006 that the U.S. government went to war in Iraq with scant solid international support and on the basis of incorrect information — about weapons of mass destruction and a supposed nexus between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda’s terrorism — and then occupied the country negligently. Thousands of U.S. troops and an untold number of Iraqis have died. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent, many of them squandered. Democracy may yet come to Iraq and the region, but so too may civil war or a regional conflagration, which in turn could lead to spiraling oil prices and a global economic shock.”

Books of Faith and Science

My reading list just got longer. The New York Times takes a look at the recent glut of books out on faith and science:

Nowadays, when legislation supporting promising scientific research falls to religious opposition, the forces of creationism press school districts to teach doctrine on a par with evolution and even the Big Bang is denounced as out-of-compliance with Bible-based calculations for the age of the earth, scientists have to be brave to talk about religion.

Not to denounce it, but to embrace it.

That is what Francis S. Collins, Owen Gingerich and Joan Roughgarden have done in new books, taking up one side of the stormy argument over whether faith in God can coexist with faith in the scientific method.

With no apology and hardly any arm-waving, they describe their beliefs, how they came to them and how they reconcile them with their work in science.

In “The Language of God,” Dr. Collins, the geneticist who led the American government’s effort to decipher the human genome, describes his own journey from atheism to committed Christianity, a faith he embraced as a young physician.

In “God’s Universe,” Dr. Gingerich, an emeritus professor of astronomy at Harvard, tells how he is “personally persuaded that a superintelligent Creator exists beyond and within the cosmos.”

And in “Evolution and Christian Faith,” Dr. Roughgarden, the child of Episcopal missionaries and now an evolutionary biologist at Stanford, tells of her struggles to fit the individual into the evolutionary picture — an effort complicated in her case by the fact that she is transgender, and therefore has views at odds with some conventional Darwinian thinking about sexual identity.

If his eminence in science were not so unassailable, a fourth author, the biologist E. O. Wilson of Harvard, might also be taking a chance by arguing that religion and science ought to take up arms together to encourage respect for and protection of nature or, as he calls it in his new book, “The Creation.”

Although he writes that he no longer embraces the faith of his childhood — he describes himself as “a secular humanist” — Dr. Wilson shapes his book as a “Letter to a Southern Baptist Pastor,” in hopes that if “religion and science could be united on the common ground of biological conservation, the problem would soon be solved.”

Coming as they do from a milieu in which religious belief of any kind is often dismissed as little more than magical thinking, this is bravery indeed.

Then there are the evangelical athiests:

In “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon,” Daniel C. Dennett, a philosopher and theorist of cognition at Tufts, refers again and again to the “brave” researchers (including himself) who challenge religion. In “The God Delusion,” Richard Dawkins, a professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford, once again likens religious faith to a disease and sets as his goal convincing his readers that atheism is “a brave” aspiration.
I haven't read Dennett before but I have read and enjoyed numerous books by Dawkins. He is a great science writer. But his writing about religion is a good reminder that there are lots of ways one can be a religious fanatic. Athiesm is a religious faith. One cannot scientifically prove or disprove the existence of God; one's stance on the existence of God is a matter of faith and Dawkins is a "believer" if ever there was one.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Pastor "wins" week 1 of The Messenger

Did anyone tune in to watch The Messenger on The Learning Channel Sunday night? I nearly forgot and remembered in time to hear the last speech by Ms. Osbourne. If you forgot to watch, and didn't tape or TiVo, don't fret! I just found out that you can go to The Learning Channel website and listen to the speeches.

The topic of week one's messages was homelessness. Messengers were asked to spend time on the streets as "research" for their speeches. The winner of week was is a pastor of a church 55 miles from Atlanta (We actually drove past his "commune/church" when in Georgia this spring visiting relatives and vacationing over spring break.) I heard the last minutes of his message on a later rebroadcast, but I would like to listen to it in its entirety. A student of spiritual development named Floyd was voted out of competition this week. I have yet to listen to his message which was apparently too unconventional for the judging duo.

I'm not a fan of reality t.v. and have only watched a couple episodes of this genre (so I haven't watched much primetime t.v. in the past 8 years). However this is a very interesting concept and I'm going to stick with it. If you watched it on Sunday or tune in to the website and listen, let me know what you think!

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Scientific Consensus on Global Warming

Naomi Oreskes is a history of science professor at UC San Diego. She has a piece in the Los Angeles Times today about the scientific consensus on global warming. A couple of weeks ago the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial by MIT professor Richard Lindzen, who said there was not a scientific consensus on the facts of global warming. Oreskes says Lindzen is wrong:
...Not a single paper in a large sample of peer-reviewed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003 refuted the consensus position, summarized by the National Academy of Sciences, that "most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations."

Since the 1950s, scientists have understood that greenhouse gases produced by burning fossil fuels could have serious effects on Earth's climate. When the 1980s proved to be the hottest decade on record, and as predictions of climate models started to come true, scientists increasingly saw global warming as cause for concern.

In 1988, the World Meteorological Assn. and the United Nations Environment Program joined forces to create the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to evaluate the state of climate science as a basis for informed policy action. The panel has issued three assessments (1990, 1995, 2001), representing the combined expertise of 2,000 scientists from more than 100 countries, and a fourth report is due out shortly. Its conclusions — global warming is occurring, humans have a major role in it — have been ratified by scientists around the world in published scientific papers, in statements issued by professional scientific societies and in reports of the National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society and many other national and royal academies of science worldwide. Even the Bush administration accepts the fundamental findings. As President Bush's science advisor, John Marburger III, said last year in a speech: "The climate is changing; the Earth is warming."

To be sure, there are a handful of scientists, including MIT professor Richard Lindzen, the author of the Wall Street Journal editorial, who disagree with the rest of the scientific community. To a historian of science like me, this is not surprising. In any scientific community, there are always some individuals who simply refuse to accept new ideas and evidence. This is especially true when the new evidence strikes at their core beliefs and values.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Progressive Church Lady

John Tierney, editorialist for the New York Times understands exactly why I picked the name Progressive Church Lady as my monicker for by blog posts on Liberal Pastor's blog!

In the New York Times Select (yes, I temporarily subscribed just so I could read his editorial today) he writes about how the Republicans have become the "Church Lady Party".

I hope I'm a Progressive Christian Voice. I write because I must. I'm compelled to counteract the shrill whine of the Evangelical Republicans such as President Bush.

Just as Dana Carvey used to jokingly surmise on Saturday Night Live when interviewing guests and suggesting what made them do something stupid they had done in their private lives...I will now presume to guess playfully what caused President Bush to veto legislation allowing life-saving stem cell research...

"Can you say 'Satan' "?!

War is Heck

I usually tune out when a war documentary comes on t.v. I was never a big fan of war history despite the fact that my dad and my uncle read book after book on the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. They planned vacations around visiting battlefields, history centers, and monuments. The history of those wars--and others--was their hobby. Today the boomers seem to be fixated on WWII both in fiction and in fact. The Greatest Generation, of which Tom Brokaw wrote, is the current obsession. Perhaps because so many of our fathers/mothers, grandfathers/grandmothers and greatgrandfathers/greatgrandmothers were involved in it or lived through it and either died in it or are about to die and are reliving and releasing horriffic memories before they can rest in peace.

I read with interest in the NYTimes today
that Ken Burns is in the process of creating another documentary for PBS on war. This time it will be WWII. It has always seemed to me that war documentaries tend to romanticize or glamorize war instead of depict the brutal reality of war. However in the upcoming documentary by Burns, we may all be faced with the more brutal truth.

Burns is encountering censorship issues because his oral history of veterans includes obscenities as survivors of WWII describe the horrors of fighting in that war. Some things can only be emotionally expressed with swear words. The fact that Burns will be going to the mat on this issue with the FCC, gives me hope that viewers young and old will get a realistic and unromanticized dose of the human cost of war.

Only by exposing the truth about war, will the average citizen being to think about how we can avoid war in the future and more actively and vehemently protest when our government enters our country--and its citizens--into a war.

The Death of a Hard Drive

I returned yesterday from a college visit with Ryan at the U of M to find the dreaded blue screen of death on my laptop. Initially I thought it was a Windows problem, but soon discovered it was a dead hard drive. I have 5 months left on my three year service contract with Best Buy, so they are going to replace the hard drive, but they won't be able to replace the files I have lost because it has been 3 months since I backed it up. I am glad for Gmail and online newsletter programs that now protect many of my files somewhere else than my personal computer. Still, how important is it to back up your hard drive? I will be relearning that important lesson many times over the next couple of months as I search for files I need but no longer have.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Is It Time to Start Shopping at Wal-Mart?

Al Gore thinks it is. As Grist Magazine reports, Gore recently took his global warming message to Arkansas and got a warm reception from corporate executives. In turn, he lauded the company's efforts to turn green:
Picture Al Gore standing in a modest auditorium deep in America's heartland before an exultant crowd of Wal-Mart employees, comparing their campaign to lighten the company's environmental footprint to the Allies' righteous struggle in World War II. This after Rev. Jim Ball, head of the Evangelical Environmental Network, likened the giant retailer's greening efforts to the work of Jesus Christ.

This strange scene unfolded last week in Bentonville, Ark., and Muckraker was there to witness it. The occasion was an environmental strategy meeting of some 800 Wal-Mart execs, managers, suppliers, and partners, where the heads of the corporation's various divisions -- from seafood and textiles to transportation and packaging -- outlined their respective green agendas.

The assembled employees did high-energy renditions of the Wal-Mart cheer, complete with fist-raising, grunting, and even a group wiggle. "Gimme a W! Gimme an A! Gimme an L! ... Whose Wal-Mart is it? Who's No. 1?" CEO H. Lee Scott pumped his team up further by calling Wal-Mart's newfound environmental focus a "higher purpose." There was also a rare appearance from company chair Rob Walton Jr. -- son of Wal-Mart's legendary founder and, as it happens, a member of Conservation International's board -- who beamed, "I love, love hearing the progress that is being made."

Mid-afternoon brought a screening of An Inconvenient Truth; more than a few audience members could be seen dabbing teary eyes as the documentary drew to a close. Then the entire crowd erupted into a standing ovation when the lights came back on and Gore trotted up to the stage, Tipper in tow.

"That's a larger round of applause than we gave for Wayne Newton!" joked Scott while introducing Gore, who, in turn, showered the audience with reciprocal cheer: "Doesn't it feel good to have this kind of [environmental] commitment? Don't you feel proud?"

Sporting a curiously thick Southern drawl, Gore heaped praise on Wal-Mart's green goal-setting. His Allies analogy was particularly striking: "Look at what [the Allies] did with their victory. They found after winning that they had gained the moral authority and vision to lift up from their knees our defeated adversaries ... And by taking this climate crisis on frontally and making this commitment, you will gain the moral authority and vision as an organization to take on many great challenges."


The pairing up of Gore, this season's It Boy in Hollywood and other left-leaning circles, and Wal-Mart, the goliath retailer loved in red states and loathed in blue cities, seems bizarre on its face -- and couldn't have happened before this year. But now, with Gore trying to spread climate awareness beyond the choir and Scott trying to give Wal-Mart a high-profile green makeover, the match actually makes sense.

Last October, Scott pledged to transform his sprawling company, which employs 1.8 million people worldwide and ranks No. 2 on the Fortune 500 list, into a lean green machine powered exclusively by renewable energy, producing zero waste, and selling sustainable products. Those goals are so lofty they sound downright deluded, but Scott has followed them up with specific, seemingly achievable commitments and timetables. He aims, for example, to reduce Wal-Mart's total greenhouse-gas emissions 20 percent by 2012, and invest $500 million in environmental improvements each year.

Andy Ruben, Wal-Mart's vice president for corporate strategy and sustainability, reasons that the 100 percent renewable-energy goal could be met largely with greater efficiencies. "We can use 70 percent less energy to do what we're doing today, and supply the rest with renewables," Ruben suggested at last week's meeting.

The gathering brought forth more green goals from divisions throughout the company. In the area of seafood, Wal-Mart is working with the World Wildlife Fund to identify, and purchase exclusively from, sustainable fisheries. It's moving toward organic cottons in its apparel and bedding lines. The jewelry division is developing a sustainable certification program for the gold mines it works with, and exploring outlets for recycled gold. The transportation division is planning to double the efficiency of its truck fleet, one of the largest in the U.S., within a decade. The construction division is developing prototype stores that are 30 percent more energy-efficient than current stores, and the company also aims to improve efficiency at existing stores by 20 percent. The packaging department is working to eliminate its waste stream by 2015, using reusable, recycled, and biodegradable containers.

The produce division is ramping up its organic offerings, and plans to move toward more local farm purchases in order to save money on truck fuel costs and refrigeration. Ron McCormick, an executive in Wal-Mart's produce division, said he plans to purchase a broader variety of produce based on what's available in each region, rather than insisting on a "monoculture" of produce at stores nationwide. "Our whole focus is: How can we reduce food-miles?"

These internal aims aside, Scott said Wal-Mart's most meaningful environmental impact will be in nudging its 60,000 suppliers toward more eco-friendly practices -- working with them, for instance, to reduce packaging, which in turn would mean fewer raw materials consumed, less energy expended in transit, and, in the end, lower prices for consumers. "Ninety percent of the impact Wal-Mart can have is on the supply chain," he said.

Wal-Mart's Ruben, who this spring testified before a Senate committee in favor of federal greenhouse-gas regulations, also pointed out that while Wal-Mart is responsible for emissions equivalent to 23 million tons of CO2 a year, there are a whopping 220 million tons of annual greenhouse-gas emissions in the company's supply chain.

Scott's grand goal, as he explained it in an interview with Grist this spring, is to "democratize sustainability." To wit: He wants to use Wal-Mart's unparalleled economies of scale to put everything from organic T-shirts to compact fluorescent light bulbs to pesticide-free foods within reach of the masses.
Wal-Mart has an enormous economic footprint and it has enormous influence on the culture of American business. If they implement this plan they should be commended and emulated. But as this Grist article written by John Sellers, president of the Ruckus Society and Barbara Dudley, former executive director of Greenpeace USA points out, not everyone is so impressed:
Yes, Adam Werbach, founder of the Sierra Student Coalition, youngest president of the Sierra Club, author, filmmaker, and self-proclaimed progressive-big-think guy, is going to be a consultant for Wal-Mart. Will he be working with the planet's largest retailer to cut its carbon footprint by 50 percent, source its products locally from sustainable suppliers, or make fundamental changes to its labor practices? No. Werbach has been brought on to teach Wal-Mart's "associates" how to live a less consumptive existence in their everyday lives, how to eat healthy food and buy compact fluorescent light bulbs on their meager wages.

Wal-Mart's line is that this new "Environmental Health and Wellness Program" was created as a direct response to requests from its employees. Oddly they have not responded to employee requests for a living wage, affordable health care, or unscheduled bathroom breaks. The Wal-Mart Workers Association in Tampa, Fla., sent Werbach a letter respectfully asking him not to lend Wal-Mart his name or environmental credentials. They insightfully point out that greenwashing for Wal-Mart is woefully out of step with the views expressed in his 1997 book Act Now, Apologize Later, in which he compares the retail giant to a "virus, infecting and destroying American culture."

Let's be really blunt: there is no such thing as a green big box that is full of exploited workers selling you cheap disposable stuff made in sweatshops on the other side of the planet. Whenever environmentalists help Wal-Mart score easy "corporate responsibility" points in The New York Times, they set back the efforts of working people in their battle with Wal-Mart, and simply reinforce the flaws of the old environmentalism which Werbach and others declared dead over a year ago.
Shades of grey are the colors I see. I try not to shop at Wal-Mart because I don't like the way they treat their workers and their use of sweat-shop made products. But they are not evil. The world is not black and white. Even Wal-Mart has its good points. I hope they do go green; the planet and our children will benefit.

God Was in the House

Susan reported yesterday on the defeat of the US House bill to support an amendment to the Constitution banning gay marriage. Dana Milbank writes in today's Washington Post that God was in the House during the debate and vote, or at least that is how some of the Republican Congressmen saw it:

"It's part of God's plan for the future of mankind," explained Rep. John Carter (R-Tex.).

Rep. Bob Beauprez (R- Colo.) also found "the very hand of God" at work. "We best not be messing with His plan."

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) agreed that "it wasn't our idea, it was God's."

"I think God has spoken very clearly on this issue," said Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), a mustachioed gynecologist who served as one of the floor leaders yesterday. When somebody quarreled with this notion, Gingrey replied: "I refer the gentleman to the Holy Scriptures."

It is amazing to me how God speaks so clearly about the dangers of gay marriage but seems to have nothing to say about the mess in Iraq or the escalating conflict in Lebanon. God seems to have some mighty strange priorities.

Reed Goes Down

Ralph Reed, former leader of the Christian Coalition and head of the Georgia Republican Party, was defeated by a relative unknown yesterday in a primary election for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. According to the Washington Post:

An upbeat Reed told a few dozen cheering supporters in Atlanta that his conservative message will live on.

"Stay in the fight. Don't retreat. And our values will win in November," he said.

The question is, which values. We can argue about whether Reed's Christian values even remotely resembled the values of Jesus, but it turned out that Reed's true values revolved around lining his pockets with money. He is just the latest casualty of the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Since I don't believe in eternal punishment for sins, I am glad to see he is getting his just rewards in this lifetime.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

...and now the U.S. House!

This good news just in from the Associated Press!

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday rejected a proposed U.S. constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, ending for another year a congressional debate that supporters of the ban hope will still reverberate in this fall's mid-term elections. The 236–187 vote for the proposal to define marriage as a union of a man and a woman was 47 short of the two-thirds majority needed to advance a constitutional amendment. It followed six weeks after the Senate also decisively defeated the amendment.

Opponents dismissed the proposal as both discriminatory and legislatively irrelevant because of the Senate vote. The measure is "all for the purpose of pandering to a narrow political base." said Rep. Tammy Baldwin, an openly gay Democrat from Wisconsin. "This hateful and unnecessary amendment is unworthy of our great Constitution."

The marriage amendment is part of the "American values agenda" the House is taking up this week that includes a pledge protection bill and a vote on a bill promoting embryonic stem cell research, which Bush is expected to veto. Bush has asked, and social conservatives demanded, that the same-sex marriage ban be considered in the run-up to the election.

The White House, in a statement Tuesday, urged passage of the measure. "When activist judges insist on redefining the fundamental institution of marriage for their states or potentially for the entire country, the only alternative left to make the people's voice heard is an amendment of the Constitution." The same-sex marriage debate mirrors that of the 2004 election year, when both the House and Senate fell well short of the two-thirds majority needed to send a constitutional amendment to the states.

The Senate took up the measure last month but fell 11 short of the 60 votes needed to advance the legislation to a final vote. The last House vote on the issue, just a month before the 2004 election, was 227–186 in favor of the amendment, 39 short of the two-thirds majority needed to advance a constitutional amendment.

The U.S. Constitution has been amended only 27 times, including the 10 amendments of the Bill of Rights. In addition to two-thirds congressional approval, a proposed amendment must be ratified by three fourths of the states. (AP)

What Did You Do On Your Vacation?

I visited with family, read, fished, learned a little more about my family ancestry, and relaxed. Did I use my time well? Maybe, according to Geoff Godbey, a professor of leisure studies at Pennsylvania State University, who says there is a hierarchy of leisure activities:

To be most satisfying, Prof. Godbey explains, leisure should resemble the best aspects of work: challenges, skills and important relationships. Leisure has its hierarchy. At the lowest level, it's a search for diversion, higher up it's a search for pleasure and, at the top, it's a search for meaning. "It's not that diversion is bad," says the professor, "but in terms of human growth, it's inferior to activities that are more pleasurable -- and they're inferior to activities that are more meaningful."

Scientific evidence, he notes, shows that people who engage in skill-oriented leisure -- crossword puzzles, bridge, chess, woodworking -- score higher on practical intelligence tests. "Leisure is a very important medium for making us stupider or more intelligent," he says. "At the end of your life what you've done with your leisure may be more important than what you've done at work."

I don't have a doctorate in leisure studies, and don't remember seeing those classes on the curriculum when I attended PSU some 25 years ago either, but I suspect that truly meaningful leisure is strongly correlated with what a person does when they are not at leisure. For some who work in very high-stress jobs, for instance, I can imagine that sitting on a beach frying ones body and brain is quite meaningful.

Monday, July 17, 2006


This is so ridiculous that I won't be a bit surprised to see President Bush pick it up and run with it:

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich says America is in World War III and President Bush should say so. In an interview in Bellevue this morning Gingrich said Bush should call a joint session of Congress the first week of September and talk about global military conflicts in much starker terms than have been heard from the president.

"We need to have the militancy that says 'We're not going to lose a city,' " Gingrich said. He talks about the need to recognize World War III as important for military strategy and political strategy.

Gingrich said he is "very worried" about Republicans facing fall elections and says the party must have the "nerve" to nationalize the elections and make the 2006 campaigns about a liberal Democratic agenda rather than about President Bush's record.

Gingrich says that as of now Republicans "are sailing into the wind" in congressional campaigns. He said that's in part because of the Iraq war, adding, "Iraq is hard and painful and we do not explain it very well."

But some of it is due to Republicans' congressional agenda. He said House and Senate Republicans "forgot the core principle" of the party and embraced Congressional pork. "Some of the guys," he said, have come down with a case of "incumbentitis."

Gingrich said in the coming days he plans to speak out publicly, and to the Administration, about the need to recognize that America is in World War III.

He lists wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, this week's bomb attacks in India, North Korean nuclear threats, terrorist arrests and investigations in Florida, Canada and Britain, and violence in Israel and Lebanon as evidence of World War III. He said Bush needs to deliver a speech to Congress and "connect all the dots" for Americans.

He said the reluctance to put those pieces together and see one global conflict is hurting America's interests. He said people, including some in the Bush Administration, who urge a restrained response from Israel are wrong "because they haven't crossed the bridge of realizing this is a war."

"This is World War III," Gingrich said. And once that's accepted, he said calls for restraint would fall away:

"Israel wouldn't leave southern Lebanon as long as there was a single missile there. I would go in and clean them all out and I would announce that any Iranian airplane trying to bring missiles to re-supply them would be shot down. This idea that we have this one-sided war where the other team gets to plan how to kill us and we get to talk, is nuts."

There is a public relations value, too. Gingrich said that public opinion can change "the minute you use the language" of World War III. The message then, he said, is "'OK, if we're in the third world war, which side do you think should win?"

This will be the Republican stategy this fall. They may not have the chutzpah to call it World War III but they will be "connecting all the dots" and using fear-mongering to try and change the subject away from deficits and corruption and failing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Rich Get Richer

Sometimes people are surprised to learn that I regularly read the Wall Street Journal. I don't read it for balance, I read it because it has the best non-partisan financial reporting in the country.

Here, for instance is what the New York Times had to say recently about the improving deficit picture and the President's touting of it as evidence that his tax-cutting policies are working:

Mr. Bush said the latest budget figures were evidence that his administration’s program of tax cuts was behind the country’s prosperity. “Together, these tax cuts left nearly $1.1 trillion in the hands of American workers and families and small business owners,” he said. “They used this money to help fuel an economic resurgence.”

But Democrats and independent budget analysts say that government revenues are now only barely above their level of six years ago, before the economy went into a brief recession. They say that this year’s tax receipts appear to be a surge only because the last five years were so weak.

It is a typical "he said, she said" report that provides "balance." The President gets his say, the Democrats get theirs. But do you know anything important about the numbers? Not unless you read the Wall Street Journal:

In announcing a big drop in its estimate of this year's federal budget deficit, the Bush administration was quick to credit itself.

"Tax cuts worked to generate economic growth, and economic growth is now working to raise revenues," White House budget director Rob Portman said last week during an online discussion with the public.

But this explanation falls short. While tax revenue is growing far faster than the Bush administration forecast in its budget projections in February, the nation's economy isn't.

What has changed isn't the size of the economy, but how the economic pie is divided. The share of national income going to corporations and the wealthiest individuals, already large, has expanded, while the share going to typical wage earners has shrunk. Because corporations and the wealthy generally pay income tax at higher rates than does the typical wage earner, that shift benefits the federal Treasury.

U.S. tax revenue for fiscal 2006, which ends Sept. 30, is expected to be 5% -- or $115 billion -- higher, than the administration projected in February. Largely as a result, the budget deficit is expected to be $296 billion this year, instead of $423 billion.

But total economic output is expected to be just 1% larger, before adjusting for inflation, than the White House predicted. After adjusting for inflation, it is projected to be just 0.1% larger. While the unemployment rate is lower than the administration had expected, payroll growth has been slower.

In other words, the rich are getting richer and the poor and middle class are still stuck in what is for them a dead economy. The WSJ explains the details and affects of economic policy better than any American paper. If only their editorial page writers actually read their own paper!

Brad DeLong, whose blog I read regularly for its insights regarding the economy, has more on this and on the sorry shape of reporting in general today.

On the Road Again...

Willie Nelson, in his song from the 1980s, sings about how he just can't wait to get back on the road again. And it is so for many senior citizens whose last vestige of independence is getting behind the wheel of their cars. But when is it unsafe for them to do so? The way this determination is made nowadays is when a tragedy occurs--or not.

In this article in today's New York Times, an orthopedic surgeon who was hit by a 75 year old driver while riding his bike tells his story. He explains that the driver received a small fine and was driving again without pause. He advocates for the inception of periodic driver tests for senior citizens before licenses are reissued. As the only child of a senior citizen I'm praying Ohio will pass such a law!

My mother fell and broke her arm near her shoulder last spring. In the days following this fracture, while on the pain reliever percidan, she took off her sling and drove around her small town running errands. I was told this by her friends. I agonized what to do from my home 800 miles away where my 7 and 9 year old children were in the midst of school and activities and my husband was working at his full time at his job with deadlines. I wasn't able to pick up and go do the thing someone needed to do--hold her keys or unplug the spark plugs of her car until it was safe for her to drive again.

I spent the next 3 weeks agonizing and phoning. I spoke to her friends and asked for their help. I spoke to my cousin to ask for her help. I spoke to her minister and pleaded for his help. They all responded by calling my mother and offering to get her anything she needed or take her anywhere she wanted to go. But my mother didn't want to hear that, she just wanted to drive. And she did. She thanked them for their offers of help and shoved the keys in the ignition.

I begged her lawyer to intervene who advised me to "get her Dr. to take them away". I spoke to her doctor who said, "I can't do that". I contemplated calling friends I know in the local law enforcement agencies who are police and deputy sheriffs to stake out her house and take her keys away until it was safe.

I had a real and legitimate fear that she would be the cause of a tragedy for herself and/or some unwitting person also on the roads. Neither of us could live with that with any degree of sanity or peace if that were to happen--well at least I couldn't. So I did all that was left to me to do--I prayed that she and those around her would be safe.

Finally her closest and dearest friend stepped in and took away her keys until the doctor told her she could drive again. So thankfully this episode ends without tragedy--at least for now.

I talking with someone in my hometown last week on the phone and they recounted the tragedy of a 91 year-old-woman who was at the drive up lane of the local grocery store where a young grocery clerk was loading her groceries into her car. Her driver's door was open along with the read passenger door where her groceries were being loaded. Somehow her foot hit the accelerator and she spun the car around nearly missing the grocery clerk. She was thrown out of the car and killed and her car came to a halt when it hit other cars in the parking lot.

Right now, I am the person who must make the determination as to whether my mother should drive or not. I'm not comfortable with this responsibility, nor do I think it fair to my mother or to me to have to make that determination. I made it a point to be a passenger alone in her car with her when we were visiting her a few weeks ago to silently evaluate her driving. I will again have this opportunity in a couple weeks when she picks me up from the airport. But in fairness to her I'm not really qualified to make the judgment as to whether or not she should drive. It would be much fairer for her if someone from the DMV made this determination. They have the equipment and expertise to judge her driving capabilities. They should be the ones making that determination for my mother and others over 65.

In the meantime, I'll just keep singing and praying because my mother is...On the Road Again.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Mideast Conflict

Thankfully, I am on vacation and am only marginally connected to the unpleasant news coming out of the Middle East. But as Israel escalates its attacks and we face the prospect of a wider regional war, the real question is: where is the world's super power in all of this? And the obvious answer is that we have been severly weakened by the Iraqi follies, and our ability to influence the actions of even our closest allies is virtually non-existent.

I continue to give thanks, though, that there have been no sex scandals in the Bush Administration. That would be a real cause for concern.

Back on vacation I go. Thanks to ProgressiveChurchLady for her posts.

Survivor meets the T.V. Pulpit--"The Messenger" on TLC

Earlier this spring young candidates for the priesthood shared their struggles on cable t.v. in a series "God vs. the Girl". Now we are about to have a survival battle of the young inspirational speakers on The Messenger, a new t.v. series on cable tv's The Learning Channel. Teddy Rooseveldt described the presidency as "A Bully Pulpit". But cable t.v.--now that's a really a Bully Pulpit!

The first episode airs on July 23rd. I'm going to tune in and check it out! Who can't use a little more inspiration in their lives?!

Here's what the TLC website says about its new series.

The power and force of the spoken word and the motivation it inspires are the essence of the new TLC program The Messengers. This innovative eight-part series kicks off July 23 at 10/9c and has a simple yet lofty goal: to find America's next great inspirational speaker. Showcasing 10 speakers from a variety of perspectives, The Messengers explores their ability to communicate the many complexities of life’s toughest lessons. Along the way, the speakers address issues viewers face in their everyday lives and communities.
The Messengers is an innovative and uplifting series with challenging individual experiences that act as a catalyst for the celebration of inspirational public speaking in contemporary America. "The participants really have to walk the walk before they can talk the talk," said David Abraham, executive vice president and general manager for TLC.
The foundation of each episode is a field trip designed to give the speakers a profound learning experience – the opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes. In the first episode, the participants face the harsh reality of homelessness. They spend 24 hours on the streets of Skid Row in Los Angeles and then deliver speeches based on the topic of charity. In subsequent episodes, field trips range from the participants living as a blind or wheelchair-bound individual for a day, to sharing in a powerful moment of forgiveness between a man convicted of vehicular homicide and the deceased’s mother. At the end of each field trip, the group is given their speaking topic – one simple word such as hope, perseverance or forgiveness, to use as the basis for their speeches.
Over the next 24 hours, the speakers blend their in-field experiences with their own life lessons to create powerful speeches of motivation for a studio audience. After each speech is delivered, public-speaking experts Richard Greene and Bobby Schuller offer valuable commentary and criticism to the participants. Panelist Richard Greene, author of Words That Shook the World, is a speech adviser and public-speaking analyst. He gives the contestants constructive guidance on their delivery, technique and content development. His co-panelist, Bobby Schuller, is a pastor at the Crystal Cathedral in Southern California and grandson of Rev. Robert H. Schuller. Schuller focuses his remarks on the content and emotional connection the speakers make with the studio audience.
At the conclusion of each episode, one person is eliminated by the studio audience’s vote. The speaker remaining at the end of the series will be crowned "The Messenger," awarded a publishing deal and given the chance to host his or her own TLC television special.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Pointing out the Obvious

Shouldn't everyone who works be entitled to a wage that supports the basic needs of life--adequate food, clothes, and a safe decent place to live--at least in the United States of America a nation built upon the notion of equality when it comes to basic human rights?

Why do US lawmakers who hold the power to set their own government salary give themselves payraises while at the same time deny the right of other workers in the private sector to a guaranteed wage that will allow them to live above the poverty level?

These are questions that have troubled me since I was old enough to comprehend the world of work and think about a choice of careers. It has always seemed like a terribly obvious and embarrassing inequity allowed by our federal and state governments.

This editorial points out the obvious:

Published July 13, 2006 in the New York Times:
Congress has just chopped a week off what already is a notoriously skimpy work calendar so that lawmakers will have extra campaign time at home this fall. The Capitol will recess at the end of September, leaving a world of unfinished business. You'll be relieved to know, however, that among the House items already seen to was a pay increase 2 percent over the current base salary of $168,500.Pay raises are a classic bit of passive-aggressive legislative behavior in Washington: they are automatic, unless Congress takes a vote to block them. In the past 16 years, the two houses have passively accepted 11 of the cost-of-living raises while actively rejecting five. Although we have always believed that lawmakers should draw decent salaries, it is hard to have patience with a body that allows its own pay to rise automatically while systematically stonewalling any increase in the national minimum wage. The private-sector workers who need a pay raise the most have been waiting nine years and counting for some kind of increase to offset the rising cost of living. But there has been no sign of mercy yet from the Republican leaders. They warn of raising the first rung of the economic ladder beyond a noble striver's reach as if that rung is securely anchored at $5.15 an hour. For a family of three, the minimum wage of $10,700, set in 1997, is now more than $5,000 below the federal definition of poverty. In that same time, a lawmaker's salary rose $31,600 better than 20 percent while the purchasing power of a minimum-wage earner deteriorated by 20 percent. Is it fair to make comparisons between working poor in the private sector and the lawmakers with power over their salaries? Congress would be wise to face that question before voters do. House leaders have thus far ducked it in blocking floor votes on the minimum wage (with no comparable hesitation about a tax break for estates left by the wealthy). A rise in the minimum wage to $7.25 did get to the Senate floor, but fell short. Democrats vow to fight the Congressional raise unless poor workers finally get a boost. This is a debate well worth having before members of Congress hurry off to brag to voters of the job they've done.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Amish in Trouble Again for Different White Substance

A few weeks ago Liberalpastor wrote about a farmer in Ohio who was being prosecuted for selling illegal white stuff (see June 27th post). The illegal white stuff was actually non-pasturized milk. The hearing on this illicit sale will take place in the courtroom where my father was once a judge.I like to think of what he'd do and say about this case if he were still on the bench! But instead his predecessor, Thomas White, will be presiding over the adjudication of this "crime" and I intend to check on the progress of this case later this month when I return for my high school reunion. Now, in a different instance of government overreaching, it seems that another Amish farmer and businessowner in Indiana has been marked! This culture of peace-loving simple-living Americans have a business "on the list" of potential terrorist activity sites.
In an article in today's New York Times, we learn that Amish Country Popcorn is on the Dept. of Homeland Security's list of potential sites of terrorist activity!

Eric Lipton writes in today's NYTimes,
"...the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, in a report released Tuesday, found that the list was not childs play: all these unusual or out-of-place sites whose criticality is not readily apparent are inexplicably included in the federal antiterrorism database.
The National Asset Database, as it is known, is so flawed, the inspector general found, that as of January, Indiana, with 8,591 potential terrorist targets, had 50 percent more listed sites than New York (5,687) and more than twice as many as California (3,212), ranking the state the most target-rich place in the nation. The database is used by the Homeland Security Department to help divvy up the hundreds of millions of dollars in antiterrorism grants each year, including the program announced in May that cut money to New York City and Washington by 40 percent, while significantly increasing spending for cities including Louisville, Ky., and Omaha.
We don't find it embarrassing, said the department's deputy press secretary, Jarrod Agen. The list is a valuable tool...

Even people connected to some of those businesses or events are baffled at their inclusion as possible terrorist targets. Seems like someone has gone overboard, said Larry Buss, who helps organize the Apple and Pork Festival in Clinton, Ill. Their time could be spent better doing other things, like providing security for the country. Angela McNabb, manager of the Sweetwater Flea Market, which is 50 miles from Knoxville, Tenn., said:"I don't know where they get their information. We are talking about a flea market here."New York City officials, who have questioned the rationale for the reduction in this year's antiterrorism grants, were similarly blunt. Now we know why the Homeland Security grant formula came out as wacky as it was,, Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said Tuesday."This report is the smoking gun that thoroughly indicts the system"..

The businessman, Brian Lehman, said he owned the only operation in the country with that name. "I am out in the middle of nowhere", said Mr. Lehman, whose business in Berne, Ind., has five employees and grows and distributes popcorn. "Weare nothing but a bunch of Amish buggies and tractors out here. No one would care." But on second thought, he came up with an explanation: "Maybe because popcorn explodes?"

Monday, July 10, 2006

Sour Cherries and Hope

Returning from a two plus week vacation on the '2006 Ohio Grandma Tour', my husband and I were shocked and delighted to see that we still had a tree full of extremely ripe sour cherries. It was more than we hoped for! We set to work picking and pitting yesterday morning and evening, giving some away to our neighbors and loaning her our new pitting tool purchased from my friend who sells Pampered Chef products. This new little tool has cut our pitting time down considerably. Even with the new equipment we are still no match for 'the two armed, bare-handed pitter', Sylvia Culler, my husband's mother. Sylvia can pit a gallon of cherries in about 15 minutes! As the full moon was rising over the treeline around 9pm last night we put our pitting equipment down and enjoyed a slice of cherry pie with our neighbors. One of the many special joys of a summer Sunday evening is fresh fruit pie. It was a treat for my husband whose favorite dessert is a warm slice of cherry pie.

At church yesterday morning we were urged to stay present in our lives by Jeanine, a minister member of our congregation who was filling in for Liberal Pastor. (Liberal Pastor is now with his family on their '2006 Grandparent Tour' of Pennsylvania enjoying time with family and friends.) Jeanine is going through many difficult transitions in her life now. Her children are also challenged/challenging as they deal with these transitions. She took a pause from all this pain to encourage those of us gathered with her at church yesterday, to 'be present' for the special moments in our lives regardless of whether they are good or bad. Be open to the moment and do not try to force them--be ready when they arrive and savor them. Do not force them to happen but learn from them if you can. Be open to experience fully the joys and sorrows that come to us on our life journey. Let these moments be sources of hope.

Last week Jeanine's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and will be undergoing a double mastectomy this week. Please keep both Jeanine and her mom in your prayers along with the family of Jenna. Jenna was at church yesterday sporting her new scarf headgear. Well into her chemo treatment now, Jenna is struggling with the side effects. She has 5 bad days and 2 good days a week.

In the next days I will share ways we can each provide hope and support to family and friends who live with cancer by supporting the efforts of The American Cancer Society and its 2015 initiative. This past weekend I attended training for my role as an Ambassador for the Celebration on Capitol Hill 2006 and the grassroots lobbying effort on behalf of the American Cancer Society (ACS CAN). We have pledged to do all we can to help end cancer in our lifetime by funding research, better detection, better treatments, prevention, and education--not to mention finding the cause and cure!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Conference Update

I attended the worship service last night at Annual Conference. Myrna Wheeler was the speaker. I was forwarned that she was not a good speaker by some friends who know her. She does not have a great speaking style, but she had a very good message. She told the story of her father who as she described him was a good Christian man all his life, but also a "bitter" and angry and uncaring man. She said all his life he never missed going to church on Sundays, serving in various leadership capacities, tithing, being the good Christian man. But she told the stories of the various relationships he broke off with family and friends because he was unwilling to compromise his beliefs and because he was always certain he had the truth. He broke off his relationship with his mother after a disagreement about taking care of something in the house she lived in. For more than forty years until she died he never spoke to her and never allowed his children growing up to visit with her. He broke off relations with his only brother over the same issue and Myra never had the opportunity to play with cousins. He left a church over an issue and actually moved to another town to participate in another church. When Myra's daughter grew up and married a black man the daughter became a pariah to her grandfather and he wouldn't allow her into his house. And on and on it went.

Myrna said "He missed the point." He was a good Christian man but he wasn't really because he didn't know anything about love, compromise and forgiveness. Happily, at 90 years old he had an epiphany and began to mend relationships. He welcomed his granddaughter into his home to celebrate his 90th birthday and saw his 10 and 13 year old great grandchildren for the first time. He wrote to his brother and asked for his forgiveness and reconciled with him. He died a happy man at 93, finally figuring out what it really meant to live a Christian life.

Myra's point: there is something more important about being right in these times when we are divided by contentious issues. We can be right and still be very wrong. What really matters is not being right but being loving and gracious. It was a good message.

Independence Day

From the Writer's Almanac:

Today is Independence Day, celebrating the day in 1776 that Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence, and the United States officially broke from the rule of England.

Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence in a second-floor room on Market Street in Philadelphia, on a little lap desk that he had designed himself. Some members of the Continental Congress had hoped that Benjamin Franklin would write the document, but Franklin declined. John Adams was also considered a possible writer of the document, but Adams gave the assignment to Jefferson because he said, "You can write ten times better than I can."

Jefferson finished the first draft after a few days work and sent it to Franklin on the morning of June 21, asking for suggestions. Franklin made just a few changes. In the most famous passage, Jefferson had written, "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable." Franklin changed it to, "We hold these truths to be self-evident."

Monday, July 03, 2006

On Being Brethren

I am at my denomination's Annual Conference in Des Moines, Iowa. The best part about this conference is always the chance it affords to reconnect with seminary friends. This year has been no different. The worst part: just about everything else.

For about ten years I was a member of my denomination's steering committee on new church development. I left the committee last year after new denominational leadership came on board and it was clear that leadership had even less interest in new church development than previous leadership. But last night I attended an insight session hosted my old committee where the current church "plants" were invited to talk. There were about a dozen stories. And I thought I was at the wrong denominational gathering. I heard stories about spiritual warfare in the streets and lots of conversations about souls being saved. And the moment I knew I was at the wrong demoninational gathering came when one person told the story of a group of Southern Baptist carpenters who go around the country building churches for church communities who otherwise couldn't afford a building. It is actually quite a good idea; good for them for doing it. But when a group of Southern Baptist carpenters can look at our denominational website, as they apparently did to decide whether they should help out the Brethren, and find nothing objectional in our theology then there is something wrong with our denomination. We are becoming more and more like the Southern Baptists.

Now I am on my way to this evening's worship. We will see how it is.