Saturday, July 22, 2006

Female Suicide Bombers

The Salon has an odd and interesting article about women who become suicide bombers; odd, because the article starts like this:

Though these fledgling female armies may surprise many in the West, a much bigger line was crossed in 2002, when Wafa' Idris, a resident of al-Ama'ari Refugee Camp in the West Bank, became the first Palestinian female suicide bomber. Idris had been forced into an arranged marriage by her elder brother. Like most other Palestinian women, she was dependent almost entirely on male relatives for her economic well-being and survival and had no choice but to accede to her brother's decision. In her heart, however, she remained defiant and never accepted the marriage or her new husband, a first cousin. When she became pregnant against her will, she secretly aborted the child. On top of her unhappy marriage, abortion, and subsequent divorce, Idris was further traumatized by her weekly exposure to blood and death in her work as a paramedic for the Red Crescent, where she volunteered every Friday, caring for large numbers of Palestinians wounded during the second intifada.

It has never been clear whether Wafa' Idris intentionally blew herself up with the 22-pound bomb she was carrying or whether she was simply a courier, but she died in the blast, killing one Israeli and wounding a hundred more. Idris' brother, for his part, said that her decision to become a suicide bomber was due to her work at the Red Crescent and that she was a hero.

Two years later, Hamas sent out its own female suicide bomber -- a 22-year-old woman from a wealthy family in the Gaza Strip and the mother of two young children, one of whom, reportedly, was not yet weaned. Pretending to be crippled, Reem Riyashi arrived at an Israeli checkpoint and requested a personal security check so that she would not have to go through a metal detector. Minutes later, she blew herself up, killing four Israelis. Seven more Israelis and four Palestinians were also injured in the explosion, which was so powerful that it blew the roof off the building and scattered human remains to such a degree that the bomber's body parts could not be distinguished from those of her victims.

Like Idris before her, Riyashi had a secret. She reportedly had had an affair initiated by a Hamas operative, and when she was offered the chance to redeem herself by carrying out a suicide bombing, she took it. Her husband, Palestinian security forces assert, drove her to the checkpoint. Hamas leader Ahmad Yasin had stipulated that a female suicide bomber must be chaperoned by a male.

See how the female suicide bombers' reasons are dissected and analyzed in an almost Freudian way? Yet the same article then says this:

Once a woman from each of the two major Palestinian factions had carried out a suicide bombing, it was inevitable that others would follow. Yet even as their numbers grow, what is most remarkable about these women is the way in which their stories are presented, particularly in the Western media. The usual motives cited for carrying out a suicide bombing -- humiliation, despair, revenge, hate, fame, money, religion, nationalism, the occupation and combinations thereof -- are deemed insufficient to explain female bombers. Male suicide bombers, of course, often have their own unofficial motivations, but they are rarely the focus of a report. In contrast, the innermost recesses of a woman's psyche, her most shameful secrets -- almost invariably sexual in nature -- are displayed to a world eager for such an unveiling, eager to be shown that women do not truly relish the job of dying and killing.

Whatever. Perhaps all this is a way of proving the point that women's motives are assumed to be somehow related to some man in their lives, not just the same sort of fanaticism that grabs men. Or perhaps men's motives really are about some woman in their lives, but nobody wants to find out. - Either I'm very muddled in my thinking today or the article is muddled. You take your pick, but don't tell me if you decide it's me who is the most muddled.

My confusion even extends to the picture attached to the story, the picture of Um al-Abed, a mother of eight, who has declared herself willing to become a suicide bomber. The article says this about the picture:

Palestinian female suicide bombers, unlike some of their male counterparts, are not sex symbols but rather icons of purity, sacrifice and honor -- and this holds true both for the Islamists and the nationalists, if to varying degrees. Whereas the Syrian Social Nationalist Mouhaidli adorned herself in a snazzy red Falangist beret and, later, in a white bridal gown and veil symbolizing her deathly post-bomb wedding, Um al-Abed appeared before the cameras in Gaza wearing a conservative Saudi-style hijab, or head covering, and a niqab, or face covering, with a small slot through which she looked out at the world. Despite her moment of fame, this new bride of Palestine was already faceless and invisible -- as if foreshadowing her death -- while the institution whose birth she announced promised to produce many more like her.

Right. She's pure and not a sex symbol. Well, here is the picture:

Notice the bare knee or thigh? I don't get how this is a picture of purity.

Snowflakes Or Crisply Grilled?

Which is the death that we should lament? The death of frozen embryos, left over from fertility treatments? Or the death of Israeli and Lebanese children, burnt to a crisp in the demented fires of war? Which types of children matter most: those which have not yet been born and are not going to be born, or those which were born, were loved, had names, just yesterday played outside with their friends? Which types of children does George Bush lose sleep over? Which death does he try to stop?

Which is the death that our rabid right-wing Christian clerics worry over? Which is the death they find a sin and which is the death they interpret as a hopeful sign of the coming Rapture?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Friday Dog Blogging

The top two pictures are of Hank. She was a wonderful dog. The bottom is of Henrietta. I may have shown it before, but it's a nice one for summertime.

Income Inequality in The United States

A recent Kevin Drum post posed the question of the vanishing middle class in this country:

Over at The Corner, even John Derbyshire thinks there's some evidence that the middle class isn't doing too well these days:

If the rich get richer while the middle class thrives, and some decent provision is made for the poor, I'm a happy man, living in a society I consider healthy and am proud of. If, however, the rich get richer while the middle class is struggling, or actually declining, I am not a happy man. There are some reasons to think that is happening, and you don't have to be a socialist to worry about this.

It is, perhaps, telling that Derbyshire's post sparked not a single response from his fellow conservatives. Even the neo-Lafferians at NRO seem a little too embarrassed by the whole thing to go through their usual exercise of digging up a few pseudo-statistics to demonstrate that, really, the middle class is going great guns under today's Republican leadership.

Kevin Drum then quotes another piece of news which doesn't really have anything to do with the middle class but is interesting anyway:

....No amount of chaff can hide the failure of our remarkable productivity surge (and the accompanying robust growth of the overall economy) to meaningfully boost average wages, which have barely grown with inflation. Separated by income level, the picture is more dismal. From 2000 to 2005, for example, average weekly wages for the bottom 10% dropped by 2.7% (after adjustment for inflation), while those of the top 10% rose by 5.3%.

In short, the rich are getting richer, as would be expected when the Party of the Rich is in power. But what is happening to the rest of the income distribution? And is it ok that the very poor are getting poorer if the middle class can somehow hang on? But is the middle class hanging on or not?

To answer these and similar questions requires delving into statistics. But before I do that I want to say a few short words on the reasons why we should be concerned about increasing income inequality, even in a capitalistic society.

The traditional arguments for allowing incomes to be unequal are two, one ethical and one efficiency-related. The ethical argument simply states that those who work harder or smarter should get to keep the fruits of their labors and should have the right to will those fruits to their heirs, even if this creates a society where money concentrates in few hands. The efficiency argument states that what drives economic progress and innovations is the chance to make money out of it, to make more money than the rest of the pack, and that economic progress and innovations will ultimately make everybody better off. It's a choice between having low equal incomes and higher average incomes in a system which has some people earning more than others do.

The equally traditional arguments against greater income inequality are also both ethical and efficiency-related. The ethical argument points out that greater incomes are not only a consequence of greater effort or smarts. They can also accrue from illegal activities or from gaming the system, and even when they don't they are helped on by the society and its government, because it is the government which makes markets possible and which guarantees the infrastructure that the money-makers can use. Thus, the society deserves a cut in the greater incomes of some. The ethical argument also stresses the horror of the no-safety-nets form of capitalism where the ones who don't thrive are allowed to suffer and die. The efficiency-related arguments point out that a society which is very unequal in income becomes a dangerous place to live in. Just think of life in the so-called banana republics to get an idea of the problems that income inequality causes. And even a less extreme income inequality causes a society where it will be very difficult to arrive at agreements about public policy, because the income differences will make different outcomes desirable.

In short, extreme inequality in incomes may destroy a country. It kills the markets for the products that the rich built their riches from, and it creates an angry and violent underclass. The vanishing middle class is something that speeds up this development, as the middle class is usually the part of the society which cares about the political choices its government makes and which tends to invest in stability. It is also the source of most of the educated labor force.

Given all this, where is the United States going in terms of income inequality? The general consensus is that income inequality is growing, and that this is true whatever the measures we select to use for it.

Now comes the part where I go all economist. But trust me, you will learn a lot from it. For example, you will meet the Lorentz curve and the Gini coefficient. They are really not that horrible creatures. The Lorentz curve is a picture of income inequality, like this one:

The horizontal axis (direction to the right) is all the families of a country standing side by side, arranged so that the poorest family is closest to the left edge and then the next poorest family and so on, until the richest family is the last one on the right. The axis is then standardized so that when all the families are lined up the total length is 100% or 1.

The vertical axis measures the earnings of the same people, added into a pile of earnings. So the vertical dimension initially measures zero because there are no people or earnings yet. Then the poorest family takes its place and its earnings are measured on the vertical axis at that point. Next the second poorest takes its place and its earnings are added to the poorest family's earnings. And so on. When the richest family enters the lineup its earnings are dumped on top of the vertical dimension. The vertical axis is then standardized so that incomes are shown as fractions of the total. So the highest point is 100% or 1.

The green mountain shape shows the way total earnings have been piled up in this process of adding one family's share at a time. The mountain rises slowly at first, because the first families are poor ones, then more rapidly as wealthier families are added to the lineup. The shape of the green area's edge can give us a good visual grasp of income inequality. The more convex* that edge looks the more unequal incomes are.

If you think about this a little it becomes clear that the straight diagonal line in the picture would show how the earnings pile rises in a society where every single person has the same income. Deviations from that line show increasing inequality. For example, think about a country where one guy owns everything. Then the cumulative earnings line would hug the horizontal axis until the richest guy enters the lineup. At that point, the earnings pile would suddenly appear as a vertical line.

So the two extremes the picture shows are full equality: the diagonal line, and total inequality: a reverse L-shape. To show something inbetween the two we get the kinds of curves that are shown in the graph above. The more convex the curve is the more income inequality the country has. Also, a curve that becomes more convex over time shows that income inequality has increased.

The Lorentz curve is a good way of analyzing income inequality. It can be shown for both pre-tax incomes and for after-tax incomes, for example. But it's not one number. If you want one number to describe income inequality the most common candidate is the Gini coefficient. Luckily, it is derived from the Lorentz curve! Just take the area between the diagonal line and the curve (the pink area) and divide it by the total area under the diagonal line! If there is no income inequality at all, the Gini coefficient is zero. If the income inequality is total, so that one person has all the earnings in the society, the value of the Gini coefficient is 100 (we've moved back to percentages here).

Now we are ready to look at the United States income inequality. The Gini coefficient gives the U.S. a value of 46 according to one source, a value around 40 according to another source. The values for West European countries tend to be in the thirties or lower, the values for South American countries tend to be in the fifties or higher. The U.S. value places it slightly apart from other post-industrial countries and closer to the South American countries.

What about changes in the United States over time? Look at the statistics on this site (scroll down). The increase in inequality is very evident in the growth of the Gini coefficient year after year. That is not good news.

I selected the Gini coefficient and the Lorentz curve for discussion not only for their simplicity (yeah!) but also because the Lorentz curve actually stresses changes in the middle of the distribution, in the area where the middle class has hunkered down, and so the changes we observe are quite likely to affect the middle class position. But if this is not sufficient for you, you could also look at income changes by deciles (groups consisting of ten percent of income earners, arranged in increasing order) or quintiles (groups consisting of twenty percent of income earners, arranged in increasing order). That's what we are talking about when we compare the top ten percent of income earners to the bottom ten percent and so on. Here is one summary of what has happened to the quintiles:

So, the top quintile is making more. That means by definition, the bottom three [sic] quintiles are making less. Again according to the Census bureau for the years 1969 - 1999 the fourth highest quintile saw its percentage of national compensation income drop from 23.6% in 1968 to 22.8% in 1999. This is a 3% drop. The third quintile saw its percentage drop from 17.3% to 15.3% or a 11.56% decrease. The second lowest quintile saw its percentage drop from 12.1% to 9.8% or a drop of 19%. The bottom quintile saw its percentage decrease from 5.7% to 4.1% or a drop of 28%.

In other words, the lower you are, the larger share of national income you have lost over the time period.

What has caused this increased income inequality? Have some people become smarter and harder working while others have just decided to rely on the teats of the welfare state sow? That would be the wingnut interpretation, I guess. A more realistic one would look at the changes over time in outsourcing and international competition in general, the failure of education to respond to the changed needs in the labor force after those changes, and the way taxes have been "simplified" to fall less on the very wealthy and more on the middle class. And we don't yet know the impact of the repeal of estate taxes on income inequality.

Time to end this post. You might do worse than by re-reading the bit about why increasing income inequality is not exactly good news, unless you like the idea of gated communities surrounded by acres of misery.
*Convexity: Imagine yourself standing on the horizontal axis and looking up towards the curve. The more it bulges towards you the more convex it is.

From The Queue

Some weeks are so full of events that I get only a small fraction of them into posts. Then other weeks nothing happens, but I can't write about the old events because nobody wants to talk about anything not oven-hot. That's the bad thing about blogs and also the good thing about blogs. I really want to write about income inequality and about the Bible belt failing and dropping the pants of marriage (divorce!), but the news won't sit still for long enough. You might point out here that I shouldn't try to write about everything under the sun because it just shows off the depth of my ignorance, but I like to write about everything under the sun and unless I get paid to shut up I will continue to do that. And call this blog a feminist one, too. The idea is to show that feminists are just like regular people and talk about other things, too. The real idea is for me to have fun writing, of course.

Then to the item from the queue of topics, the backlog that I'm trying to clear out. It's about a court case:

A substitute judge hearing the case of an illegal immigrant seeking a restraining order against her husband threatened to turn her over to immigration officials if she didn't leave his courtroom.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Bruce R. Fink told Aurora Gonzalez during last week's hearing that he was going to count to 20 and that if she was still in his courtroom when he finished, he would have her arrested and deported to Mexico.

The judge didn't want to make the woman's life any more difficult, you see. She is in the country illegally, and that is worse than any husband she might fear. Or that's how I interpreted the story at first. But then I read further:

"I'm going to count to 20, and if you people have left this courtroom and disappeared, she isn't going to Mexico forthwith," Fink said, according to the court transcript. "One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. When I get to 20, she gets arrested and goes to Mexico."

After Gonzalez left the courtroom, Fink asked Salgado if he wanted to stay, and he said yes.

Fink then dismissed the case: "Well, she brought the proceedings, and if she's not here to go forward, I guess all of the requests are denied."

On Wednesday, Fink, who has been a family law attorney for 35 years, insisted he was seeking what he thought was an agreeable solution for both parties.

"What I saw was nothing more than some yelling and screaming between a husband and wife," he said.

"I also saw that they really didn't want to not be together anymore."

If he had issued the restraining order, Fink said, "we'd wind up with exactly the opposite of what these people wanted."

"The cure could be far worse than the illness," he said.

I'm trying to decide if Fink would have diagnosed a case in a similar manner if it was the man who appealed for a restraining order. It's hard to tell, but only because there is a common sexist assumption that men don't need restraining orders against women, women being too weak to threaten anyone successfully or men being too brave to be bothered by such fears. If you set that consideration aside I'd say that Fink engaged in patriarchal thinking here. He decided that he knew what the woman appealing for a restraining order really needs, and that this was not a restraining order at all but a return to the marital union. And he did this on the basis of some mind-reading.

The Rapture President

This Washington Post article, via Atrios, comes as close to telling that the reason Bush is twiddling his thumbs about the Israel-Hezbullah conflict is Rapture:

One former senior administration official said Bush is only emboldened by the pressure from U.N. officials and European leaders to lead a call for a cease-fire. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan demanded yesterday that the fighting in Lebanon stop.

"He thinks he is playing in a longer-term game than the tacticians," said the former official, who spoke anonymously so he could discuss his views candidly. "The tacticians would say: 'Get an immediate cease-fire. Deal first with the humanitarian factors.' The president would say: 'You have an opportunity to really grind down Hezbollah. Let's take it, even if there are other serious consequences that will have to be managed.' "


Those who know Bush say his view of the conflict was shaped by several formative experiences -- in particular the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which made fighting terrorism the central mission of his presidency. Another formative experience was a helicopter ride over the West Bank with Ariel Sharon in 1998, when Bush was Texas governor -- a ride he later said showed him Israel's vulnerability. The cause of Israel has been championed by many of the evangelical Christians who make up a significant chunk of the president's political base.

Bush and his team were also deeply skeptical of the Middle East policy of the previous administration, and of what they see as an excessive devotion to a peace process in which one of the protagonists, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, was not seriously invested. Explaining the reluctance to push quickly for a cease-fire, one senior administration official who was not authorized to speak on the record indicated a belief that premature diplomacy might leave Hezbollah in a position of strength.

"We don't want the kind of truce that will lead to another conflict," said this official, who added that, when the time comes, "you will see plenty of diplomacy."

Fred S. Zeidman, a Texas venture capitalist who is active in Jewish affairs and has been close to the president for years, said the current crisis shows the depth of the president's support for Israel. "He will not bow to international pressure to pressure Israel," Zeidman said. "I have never seen a man more committed to Israel."

That last sentence reminds me of the joke about a breakfast of bacon and eggs: That the chicken is involved but the pig is committed. Not that the joke probably has anything at all to do with the topic of this post. Or perhaps it does. You decide.

If my choices are to believe that we have a president whose bags are packed for Rapture or a president who waits until enough children have been exploded or burned before acting for a ceasefire, which of the two would I pick? Choices, choices. But the alternative explanation for Bush's lethargy is that he's giving Israel a chance to destroy Hezbullah before acting. The idea is that this would reduce future levels of terrorism. That idea has not worked very well during earlier rounds of history.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

First A Neck Rub, Then A Playful Slap


U.S. President George W. Bush playfully slaps U.S. Congressman Al Green (D-TX) as he greets delegates following his remarks at the annual convention at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

What will it be next? Snapping the bra strap of Gloria Steinem?

The Ocean

It is calling. Can you hear it? I can, and will be gone until later tonight. Here is a good piece for you to read in the meanwhile. Or here.

This article on women and science deserves a separate post but at this rate I might never get to it.

Now I need to find my snorkeling gear and my flippers and my rubber duckies...

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Naive Look At Power

The Washington Post has two articles on the U.S. foreign policies today, both of them asking what George Bush should do about the Israel-Hezbullah conflict. Oddly, they both advocate a more decisive grip than the one Bush has recently been showing (except for that bit about Angela Merkel's shoulders); oddly, because they express the views of two political opposites. First, the fairly liberal/centrist David Ignatius says this:

Given the American stakes in this crisis, the Bush administration's passivity is inexplicable. Hezbollah and Israel have been tossing lighted matches back and forth in a region soaked with gasoline, and the world is waiting for robust American diplomacy. Instead we see a tongue-tied superpower, led by a president who grumbles into an open mike in St. Petersburg that Kofi Annan should get on the phone to Syria and make it all go away, or maybe Condoleezza Rice should get on a plane to the Middle East.

At first glance this is not so different from the anger of the neocons at Bush's hands-off (heh) policy, discussed here in an article about the reactions from the right-wing of the Republican party:

Conservatives complain that the United States is hunkered down in Iraq without enough troops or a strategy to crush the insurgency. They see autocrats in Egypt and Russia cracking down on dissenters with scant comment from Washington, North Korea firing missiles without consequence, and Iran playing for time to develop nuclear weapons while the Bush administration engages in fruitless diplomacy with European allies. They believe that a perception that the administration is weak and without options is emboldening Syria and Iran and the Hezbollah radicals they help sponsor in Lebanon.

And this part is really, really funny:

Kenneth Adelman, a Reagan administration arms-control official who is close to Vice President Cheney, said he believes foreign policy innovation for White House ended with Bush's second inaugural address, a call to spread democracy throughout the world.

"What they are doing on North Korea or Iran is what [Sen. John F.] Kerry would do, what a normal middle-of-the-road president would do," he said. "This administration prided itself on molding history, not just reacting to events. Its a normal foreign policy right now. It's the triumph of Kerryism."

Mr. Adelman, no way could George Bush ever be described as a middle-of-the-road president. I'm laughing so hard that my tummy hurts. - Never mind.

This article is fascinating in terminology. The words "tough" and "toughness" appear at least three times in the various quotes. It seems that to be a wingnut is to be tough, even if one happens to be comfortably located in the peaceful part of the world. It's all about perceptions, methinks. What I call penis-measuring games (though women can participate in this version, too).

The naive look at power I want to take has to do with this, but also with something else: the results from the use of aggression, and the naive way of characterizing these is to divide them into increased danger or decreased danger. If you do a similar naive division of the ways of using power into diplomacy and military intervention you get a nice two-by-two cell table which I'm not going to reproduce here. But what the cells would contain are these four possibilities:

1. Diplomacy used; increased danger results.
2. Diplomacy used; decreased danger results.
3. Military intervention used; increased danger results.
4. Military intervention used; decreased danger results.

If you are less naive than I am you could add "no change in danger" and various other policies but the point I'm trying to make wouldn't change. And the point is that the toughness or thrustiness or whatever of the policy used should not be determined by the flavor of the policy but by its results. Sometimes military intervention is the right thing to do, sometimes diplomacy is the right thing to do. Given the large human suffering wars cause one might be justified in leaning towards peaceful diplomacy, but exceptions do exist.

Consider the wingnut discourse in this context. They seem to argue that points 3. and 4. in my list are "molding" history, and I guess they're right in that, though perhaps not in the way they intended. Remember how the oracle of Delphi told Croesus that if he attacked Persia a great country would be destroyed? And it was destroyed. Sadly, it was his own country.

Likewise, wingnuts view points 1. and 2. on my list as always effete, cowardly and pointless. Even if they work. And this is why I call the wingnut strategies penis-length competitions.

All of which is to point out that even though the two articles have similar-sounding recommendations their underpinnings are quite different.

The Three Rs

Are no longer writing, reading and arithmetics. Perhaps we should upgrade them to rabid, reactionary and Republican? I'm not sure.

But this is very funny: First read this earlier post of mine and then come back to compare the message to this one:

The Bush administration and Republican legislators yesterday proposed a $100 million national plan to offer low-income students private-school vouchers to escape low-performing public schools. The plan was immediately assailed by Democrats, unions and liberal advocacy groups.

The proposal comes four days after the independent research arm of the Department of Education issued a report showing that public schools are performing as well as or better than private schools, with the exception of eighth-grade reading, in which private schools excelled. The results prompted questions from foes of vouchers about why taxpayer money should go toward private schools instead of toward improving public schools.

The National Center for Education Statistics compared fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math scores from about 7,000 public schools and more than 530 private schools. Private-school students historically score higher, but the NCES made adjustments to account for student background -- such as socioeconomic factors and race -- which leveled the playing field.

The report also found that conservative Christian schools -- a constituency that supports vouchers -- lagged significantly behind public schools in eighth-grade math. The report supported similar findings from a University of Illinois study on math.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings told reporters yesterday that she hadn't yet read the report and made references to the report's "modest sample." The report itself cautioned that because schools are all very different, overall comparisons of the two types of schools may be of "modest utility."

"It was not an evaluation of how school vouchers, how scholarship programs, how additional resources work for low-income families trapped in chronically low-performing schools," she said. "I do see them as . . . apples and oranges issues."

Grover "Russ" J. Whitehurst, director of the Education Department's Institute of Education Sciences, said this was the first time NCES used student variables. He said that while the report shows that considering the variables did change scores, it is of limited value because it's just a snapshot in time -- with no long-term reference points.

Spellings, flanked by Senate and House leaders on Capitol Hill, said the "opportunity scholarship" plan would be aimed at helping low-income students "trapped" in poor schools by offering them transfers to other public schools, tutoring, and scholarships to private schools, up to $4,000 per student. The secretary said the plan would cover 28,000 students.

See how Spellings was conspicuous in her absence on Friday but is now flanked by Senate and House leaders? My, my.

It's possible that the students who would be given these vouchers indeed attend very poor public schools. But the earlier study suggests that these schools could work well if they were better funded. The choice then seems to be between giving students money to attend private schools (of undetermined quality) or to give the money to improve the current schools of the students. It could be that the voucher scheme is better, but this is a question to be answered by actually studying it. The Republicans don't want to study it. They want to kill the public schools and to replace the system with a patchwork of private schools as the first step towards ending all public funding of education. Really. I'm not making this up.

Guess Whose Rights Don't Matter?

Those of Afghan women. Phila on Bouphonia blogs about a recent move by Hamid Karzai to bring back the "Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the body which the Taliban used to enforce its extreme religious doctrine":

Western diplomats have reacted with unease to the proposal. However, several told The Independent that they believed the move was partly designed to defuse Taliban propaganda which accuses the Karzai government of being un-Islamic.

"This is an Islamic republic and sharia is a part of the constitution," one diplomat said on condition of anonymity. "If it is constitutional and within the framework of the International Convention on Human Rights [to which Afghanistan is a signatory] then it could represent a public information victory for the government."

With the Taliban making considerable gains in the south the Karzai government has been keen to establish a more conservative Islamic profile and to appear more critical of Western military operations.

Make no mistake about the purpose of this move. It's aimed directly at the ever-so-slightly increased freedoms of some women in Afghanistan. The role of women is always something that's up for sale to the highest bidder, it seems. In the U.S. the fundamentalists have been given all the positions in this administration which relate to women's issues. Which is a kinder and gentler form of the same phenomenom.

Now when are we going to hear Laura Bush give another feminist speech to celebrate this additional step in the liberation of that country's women by the U.S. occupation?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Counting Horror

Can't really be done. But there are days when I wish that the Iraq occupation could be ended when a sufficient number of Iraqis have been killed. The impetus for the initial approval of Bush's Iraq war was the fuzzy and incorrect connecting of the deaths of 911 to Saddam Hussein, and the outcome was a revenge raid on some people that resembled the ones who actually committed the crimes. All this was ethically wrong. But I still wish that those who demanded blood as revenge would now be satisfied.

For according to the United Nations:

Nearly 6,000 civilians were slain across
Iraq in May and June, a spike in deaths that coincided with rising sectarian attacks across the country, the
United Nations said Tuesday.


The report from the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq describes a wave of lawlessness and crime, including assassinations, bombings, kidnappings, torture and intimidation.

Hundreds of teachers, judges, religious leaders and doctors have been targeted for death, and thousands of people have fled, the report said. Evidence suggests militants also have begun to target homosexuals, it said.

"While welcoming recent positive steps by the government to promote national reconciliation, the report raises alarm at the growing number of casualties among the civilian population killed or wounded during indiscriminate or targeted attacks by terrorists or insurgents," the U.N. said in a note accompanying the report.

Isn't this enough? Of course it would be if we used such crude comparisons of bloodshed. Instead, more blood will be shed in the next few years in Iraq. The country is a pressure-cooker and we took off the lid that was Saddam Hussein. The killings will continue until some section of radical Islamists take over and make the country into a new Taliban. After that the killings will be more institutionalized.

I naturally want to be proven wrong in this prediction. But I doubt that I will be.

News From The Uterus Wars

First, Cecilia Fire Thunder got into trouble for suggesting that she might open a Planned Parenthood clinic on tribal land in South Dakota, to offer abortions to victims of rape and incest. South Dakota has a new law which would ban all abortions except those that are necessitated by danger to the woman's life, and this law would come in force when/if Roe v. Wade is overturned:

A tribal president who was ousted for proposing an abortion clinic on the reservation has been reinstated at least through next week.

Council members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe removed Cecelia Fire Thunder from office June 29 for proposing the clinic on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that would be beyond the reach of South Dakota's strict new abortion ban.

A tribal judge reinstalled her temporarily Monday after she argued that council members didn't follow procedure when voting to remove her from office. A tribal court is scheduled July 28 to consider making the order permanent.

Such are the rewards for sticking up for women.

Then there are the happy news that our tax money is used to lie to pregnant women:

NARAL Pro-Choice America is renewing its call for Congress to step in and stop the Bush administration from funneling millions of taxpayer dollars into so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" (CPCs) that, as a new congressional report documents, are blatantly misleading women regarding medical issues.

Today Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), ranking member of the House Government Reform Committee, released the investigative report, False and Misleading Health Information Provided by Federally Funded Pregnancy Resource Centers. The report outlines how 20 CPCs in 15 states that received federal tax dollars misled or provided false information to investigators who called asking about their services.

An example about the misleading information these crisis pregnancy centers provide is the one about abortions causing breast cancer. They don't.

These are the bad news, I guess. But it's also true that South Dakotans launched a movement to overturn the rapists' fatherhood initiative.

Atrios in LA Times

Duncan Black, the blogger Atrios, has written an oped piece for the Los Angeles Times on why the left is furious at Joe Lieberman. He touches on most of the reasons for our unhappiness with Lieberman's policies:

For too long he has defined his image by distancing himself from other Democrats, cozying up to right-wing media figures and, at key moments, directing his criticisms at members of his own party instead of at the Republicans in power.

Late last year, after President Bush's job approval ratings hit record lows, Lieberman decided to lash out at the administration's critics, writing in the ultraconservative Wall Street Journal editorial pages that "we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril." In this he echoed the most toxic of Republican talking points — that criticizing the conduct of the war is actually damaging to national security.

Lieberman has a long history of providing cover for the worst of Republican actions while enthusiastically serving as his own party's scold. After the Senate acquitted President Clinton on all impeachment charges, Lieberman called for his censure. More recently, he rejected a call by Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.) to censure Bush over the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program, calling the attempt "divisive."

The usual defense of Lieberman's actions is that he is a centrist, someone who is willing to be bipartisan, someone who is not blindly following party discipline. The problem with this defense is that it's hard to see why a Democratic centrist would be willing to be the cheerleading team for the most extreme right-wing policies of the Republican party. And this has been Lieberman's role in the last few years.

I agree with Atrios when he states that "Lieberman's relationship with the Democratic Party has been one of convenience, not principle". Lieberman is a Democrat because you need to be one to be elected in Connecticut, but the inner Lieberman has slowly grown into a wingnut. The crucial question for the voters in Connecticut is whether they accept this combination.

Atrios also notes the way the real news about Lamont's challenge to Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primaries has been the power of bloggers:

Much of the interest in this race is not because of Lamont but rather his perceived base of support from bloggers, including me. One prominent pundit claimed that Lamont's online backers were practitioners of "blogofascism"; another called the campaign an "inquisition." Online political discourse can indeed be caustic and combative, like talk radio. But too many in the Lieberman wing of the party have elevated civility and the illusion of bipartisan comity over challenging Republicans' failed policies. In the process, they have echoed GOP jargon in dismissing critics as "angry" and "hate-filled."

Politics is a contact sport. Those who would paper it over with a veneer of false propriety are pretending it's something that it is not. More than that, loud and raucous debate is a healthy part of our democracy.

There probably wasn't enough space for further words about the pretend civility of the GOP covering up very nasty threats, usually presented by the pet pundits but seldom protested by the wingnut establishment. The left blogs may allow nasty language but the right blogs also allow witchhunts and free-wheeling debate on the best way to execute New York Times editors. Yet somehow this is not newsworthy in the establishment media.

I'm not convinced that we should think of politics as a contact sport, though. You don't have to know how to take out a person wielding a knife in thirty-seven different ways to be able to kick ass in politics, and sports metaphors tend to discourage women from getting interested in the solving of shared problems. At the same time, I can see the point of that little paragraph. We on the liberal/progressive side have far too long taken the veneer of politeness as something more genuine than it has ever been, and we are still suffering the consequences.

All in all, Atrios has done a good job of summarizing both the reasons why Lieberman is disliked and the way the media has misrepresented these reasons. Now let's see how the establishment media responds to him.

A Movie Idea

Yours to grab freely. I think this would make a great movie: Suppose there is a planet with lots of history and all sorts of international treaties and many possible problem areas. International diplomacy is carried out in various ways but is largely based on tradition and code of behavior. Then suppose that the most powerful country on this planet elects a fraternity boy to run it, a guy with no interest in world affairs, no education, no real experience. He's just out to have fun, to have a few beers, to goose a few world leaders, to trample on a few cultural sensitivities.

Wouldn't that be a fun premise for a movie? And then we could have him get faith of a particularly rigid type. Imagine all the possible plot variations! This would be so hilarious. In a movie.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Very Funny: Bush Loves Merkel

Click on this site and then choose Video. You won't regret it. Via

International diplomacy...

The Secular Fringe

That is what you attach to the hems of your lefty jeans: a fringe of secular, multi-cultural beads. Not really, but that would be much more fun than the reality, which is the idea that liberals and progressives make up the extreme fringes of the Democratic party in being rabid secularists who hate all religion. This is not the whole truth, by the way, though there are liberals and progressives who do hate certain types of religions, a lot. I might be one of those liberals and progressives, because I have a lot of trouble not at least fearing the fundamentalist religions of this world, mostly, because they'd prefer me not to exist or at least not to exist as an independent and autonomous deity.

Take the Christian Reconstructionists, an extreme sect of the religious right. These folks want the laws of the nation to match Old Testament laws. For example, adultery would be cause for execution. The same for homosexuality. And women would have no rights at all, because they didn't have rights in the world of the Old Testament. Doesn't that remind you of Osama bin Laden's views of Islam?

In short, there is lots to fear in religion of the types that nowadays make the news. That it is the most extreme type of religiousness that seems to affect our lives these days is probably one of the reasons for the growing frustration and anger more secular people feel. It's not just that one is expected to be religious in this country (can you imagine an atheist ever getting the presidential nomination) but that one is expected to accommodate religious beliefs of the most revolting sort, just because they are religious beliefs. As an extreme example, consider slavery. Now, some Christian Reconstructionists would argue that slavery should be legal in the United States because the Old Testament doesn't actually ban it anywhere, and this argument is a religious one. Religious arguments have a serious problem from the point of view of those who would like to argue back: no counterarguments suffice if one is seen as debating God.

I'm fully aware that I biased the discussion in the above paragraph. I did it for a good reason: to show why religious arguments are tricky in the public sphere. They can't be debated unless the religious person is willing to use criteria which are visible to the nonreligious person, something else than the assertion that God has willed the outcome a certain way, and this seldom happens these days.

Indeed, one of the consequences of the increased focus on religion in politics is by necessity an increased focus on politics in religion, not only in the sense the megachurches are all Republican now, but also in the very different sense that if we are to allow religion to affect public decisions then all people must be allowed to criticize the religious arguments from religious points of view as well as logically. I don't think most religious people want that to happen. Take the Christian pro-life stance in abortion. If Christianity is the reason why abortions should be illegal then I should be allowed to point out the fact that the Bible doesn't equate miscarriages or abortions with the death of born human beings.

Or consider the current marriage between the religious right and the Republican free-marketeers. If religion is to be openly used in politics, shouldn't we point out that Jesus was very disapproving of the rich and of those who exploited others in trade? And finally, note that Jesus advised his followers to give the emperor what was due him and God what was due Him, which could be read as recommending the separation of the church from the state. And so on.

I don't really want to have a political system where we use each other's religious beliefs in this way, and I can see the practical problems of doing this with all the different religions Americans have. A secular system is more manageable. By "a secular system" I don't mean a system governed by atheism or agnostism but a system in which arguments must rely on something individuals can observe and judge in this world, not just in some hypothetical future world.

After that long defense of secularists I'm ready to address their rabid rage at religions. For there are such people among us. As I mentioned earlier, I sometimes count myself amongs them. I believe the rage is a consequence of the last few decades of public debate, a debate which has been venomous from the religious right, a debate which has painted secularists as no better than the devils and which has defiled the values of those who do not regard themselves religious. Add to that the fact that the religious right advocates things which stand in direct opposition to many humanist values, and you can see the roots of the anger on the left.

More recently, the centrists in the Democratic party have started courting the religious voting blocs, and it's hard not to see this attempt as giving in on some of the basic values of progressive politics: equality of opportunity and fairness, values which many secularists hold dear. Wouldn't you feel anger if your most central values are seen as something easily tradeable for some voters-on-the-fence? Wouldn't you feel like nobody is representing you? Like you were of no worth to the party?

The final reason for some of my anger at the religious arguments is the often made assumption that I have not met those arguments before, that I have to be educated or converted, that I'm walking in the wilderness, just looking for a savior, when in reality I have read all the major religious texts and much of the attached literature, when I have thought about the arguments and rejected them for something different, and when that something different is every bit as spiritual as what the main religions offer their adherents. That I'm seen as not having values, other than the desire to consume as much as possible and have sex all the time. Not that those are my values anyway, but it gets old to have to argue that simple point.

How was that for a very long and not very clear rant?

Watch A Movie

You could do worse than seeing Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, but if you're pressed for time, watch this one.

What Can I Say?

People live in different realities. Just check this Doonesbury cartoon from Sunday (courtesy of Carty), which makes the happy point that feminism is no longer at all necessary and also perpetuates the old bra-burning myth (incorrect).

What can I say about it? Other than the whole contents of this blog for the last three years? Well, I could point out that someone not knowing who draws Doonesbury would have had no trouble guessing that it's a man, because it's much easier to assume that feminism is no longer necessary if you don't need it. Or I could point out that the cartoon is pretty much America-centered, ignoring the state of the majority of women in this world. I could even remind people of the post a few posts down where "Susan" worries about women who go to college and elaborates on the idea that women can never be autonomous, and this in the United States of America. Her story is just one example of the new attack by the fundamentalists against feminism.

But then I should mention that he also has a point, and that is the fact that progress has taken place over the last few decades in the West. A lot of progress. Still, the progress is not complete and the victories of feminism are not permanently safeguarded, and this means that the conclusions of the cartoon are wrong.

I once tried writing a piece about the differences in the average male and female perceptions of sex discrimination, but I couldn't find the metaphors for explaining what I meant. One metaphor I played with was about being stung by mosquitoes, over and over again, day in and day out. Suppose that happened to you but your best friend didn't even see the mosquitoes and was never bothered by them. He'd wonder why you keep scratching like mad and why you are always talking about mosquitoes when he didn't see any. And one day you might explode after yet another mosquito bite and wreck your office or room in front of him. Then he would decide that you are crazy, to react like that to one little mosquito bite.

Another metaphor someone suggested: Suppose that you go to a supermarket for your food and every time you go there the automatic door fails to work, so you pull and you push and you tug like mad. But the door works just fine for other people, so when you try to explain what you don't like about the supermarket experience they find you odd.

These stories convey some of the minor aspects of sex discrimination, but they fail to cover the major ones, and so far I haven't found a story that would translate well. But the correct story is not the one in the cartoon, though of course I would love it to be the final one.

It's About Time

For some serious money to be injected into the Democratic politics:

An alliance of nearly a hundred of the nation's wealthiest donors is roiling Democratic political circles, directing more than $50 million in the past nine months to liberal think tanks and advocacy groups in what organizers say is the first installment of a long-term campaign to compete more aggressively against conservatives.

A year after its founding, Democracy Alliance has followed up on its pledge to become a major power in the liberal movement. It has lavished millions on groups that have been willing to submit to its extensive screening process and its demands for secrecy.

These include the Center for American Progress, a think tank with an unabashed partisan edge, as well as Media Matters for America, which tracks what it sees as conservative bias in the news media. Several alliance donors are negotiating a major investment in Air America, a liberal talk-radio network.

But the large checks and demanding style wielded by Democracy Alliance organizers in recent months have caused unease among Washington's community of Democratic-linked organizations. The alliance has required organizations that receive its endorsement to sign agreements shielding the identity of donors. Public interest groups said the alliance represents a large source of undisclosed and unaccountable political influence.

It's true about the undisclosed and unaccountable political influence. Isn't it great? It's in the American tradition of trying to buy the best democracy available.

That was a semijoke. I'd rather see a political system where money can't buy influence, but until we get such a system it's probably better to have at least some Democratic influence, too, however tainted. The conservatives have been doing all this crap for eons.

(Do I look decisive and divine in this outfit? Do I look like someone deserving of a little bit of funding to cover the food bills and the vet bills? Do I?)

Sunday, July 16, 2006


Now I know what's wrong with me. I went to college! And somehow slipped out of the male authority at the same time, too! And I wasn't properly trained for the job of being a housewife! And my sensibilities weren't protected, so I fell victim to all that shitty feminist indoctrination! So here I am now: half-snake, a minor divinity and a mess.

That's one way of looking at it, and the way a guest-poster called Susan takes on this blog:

I spent my years at college struggling to maintain a Biblical outlook on life. I was constantly attacked with every liberal "ism" known to modern man: feminism, humanism, relativism, evolutionism, etc. In my semester of student teaching alone, I felt that much of my purity was robbed from me as I was subject to horrifying discussions on unmentionable topics - often instigated by my mentor teacher! I survived 4 years in a secular university, but only by the grace of God. It was not an experience I would wish to repeat, though God certainly used that experience to teach me many, many lessons. If I could change one thing about my experience in college, though, it would not be to edit out all the crud or to delete my entire experience - though those would be close seconds! I spent much of my years in college bitter towards my parents and very judgmental of everyone and everything I encountered. If I could change one thing about my college experience, it would be my attitude. My first responsibility was to honor my parents and to glorify God in all circumstances, and I failed in that.

In general I would not recommend college to other women. I think, in general, that young women would make better use of their time and spiritual development by pursuing studies on their own and serving their family and their church during their years of singleness. There are many opportunities for home-based businesses that do not require a college degree or much initial capital. A typical college education is not good training for being a wife and mother, since it is normally coupled with feministic ideology and a focus away from home responsibilities. Women today are leaving college disillusioned as to their Biblical roles. In college they are masculinized by feminist teachings, and after 4 years spent focusing on training for a career, few women exit college still focused on being content and submissive keepers at home. I think there are valid reasons for women to attend college, but I think they are few and much farther between than is generally believed. Certainly a college education has some benefits, and I do not believe that every single woman is by default called to be a wife and mother. I do believe, though, that for the vast majority of young women - especially those who do feel called to serve God as a wife and mother - the negatives of college outweigh the benefits.

Put in a slightly shorter form, Susan tells us that going to college might open your home-schooled eyes and that is a no-no. Is the faith of these true believers so weak that they can't abide hearing the alternatives? Shouldn't battling with these questions make believers stronger? I guess not, if they are women. Women are really fragile and need to be under the authority of a man. Otherwise they will wilt or something. Though at the same time they are strong enough to have many, many children and to scrub floors on all fours.

It is an odd post, and it's not made clearer by a comment its author penned:

Living without her father or another appointed male authority figure, independently on a college campus, doesn't seem to properly keep with the notion of living under authority. When a girl is, say 500 miles away from her father, she can ask advice over the phone, but really, is that any different that chatting with her best friend for advice about a situation? In fact, I would guess the best friend's advice would be more often-sought and (in most cases) more readily taken, so it seems the girl would be more living under the authority of her friends than her father, if occasional long-distance advice suffices for authority.

And please let me make it clear that I am speaking of authority and headship in a positive sense, not in the domineering sense of a father with a power problem, who will not let allow his unmarried, adult daughter to purchase a new pair of socks without his permission. That is not Biblical headship; that is a power problem. I am talking of a positive father-daughter relationship where the father earnestly desires to lead his daughter and guide her in her every day life, and where the daugher earnestly desires her father's opinion and protection in her life on a regular basis, not just on major decisions like marriage. And I am the first to admit that I fail to properly display the daughter's side of the picture I just painted.

Or let me rephraze: The post is not odd at all if you believe that a) women are to be under male authority at all times (a common belief in early Christian times as well as one shared by many Muslims), b) women go bad or spoil very easily and must be protected from any chance of this happening (once again, not that different from what fundamentalist Islam believes) and c) a woman's proper place is at home, in subjection (fill in this parentheses; you know how by now).

I guess a college is frightening because it's a place where these assumptions are questioned.

The American Theocracy - Not Quite A Book Review

I finally read Kevin Phillips's American Theocracy, though I skipped around a lot, mostly because right now (while Israel and Hetzbullah are trying to give us apocalypse) I'm much more focused on the theocracy arguments than the rest of his book which is also about oil and the financial institutions. The book is the last of a trilogy which also includes Wealth and Democracy and American Dynasty, and Phillips uses it to tie together the themes he has followed. But I don't want to discuss the other two books right now. I want to talk about God in this country, and so what follows isn't quite a review of Phillips's book as much as it is a discussion of the Rapturists in this country and their sizeable power in all our affairs.

American Theocracy is a valuable read in that sense. I learned a lot about the history of fundamentalism from it and several myths I had in my head were nicely cleaned out, too. For example, I learned that the waning mainstream religions today are not a new phenomenom, but something Americans have always done. The educated and staid religions don't really apply to the American emotions. Once a church grows and matures in this way its adherents leave for the new fringe churches which make up their own simple theologies and allow lots of speaking in the tongues and magical stuff. It's all very emotional, very primitive (as Phillips calls it) and very simple. And it really doesn't have very much to do with my understanding of the Christian theology. Rather, all these churches make up their own theologies. The Mormons are a good example of the way someone's visions can be incorporated and elaborated on within a framework which looks Christian to an outsider but which might really be something very different.

All this explains why I was always so confused about what "Christianity" means to the fundamentalists who appear to ignore most of the messages actually attributed to Christ in the Bible. American Theocracy made me finally understand that the American fundamentalists are not really Christian except in the name they have adopted and that the best way to understand their religions is to actually look up what they say they believe. Silly, I know. But I'm silly that way, always looking for the logical in things which are not logical.

In hindsight I can see the error of my ways quite clearly. I started my explorations from the wider theological framework of Christianity, whereas the proper starting point would have been the market system of the United States, and the proper question would have been: What sells in a religion? Then the correct answers would have flown in like the wind. What sells is the promise of easy salvation, combined with lots of psychological good feelings and perhaps even the promise of money, wealth and influence in this valley of the tears we secularists call reality. And these are the things most fundamentalist churches offer their adherents, believe it or not, wrapped into a package which centers on the idea of personal and individual salvation. Phillips writes:

We have seen in previous chapters that evangelicals, Southern Baptist Convention adherents, and others oppose government social and economic programs because they interfere with a person's individual responsibility for his or her salvation. One recent scholarly analysis updated evangelical economic thinking to include the role of televangelists, specifically Falwell and Robertson, in upholding "a marriage between religion and American capitalism" during the 1980s. It further elaborated on "theology increasingly espoused by Pentecostal and charismatic preachers: ...that God's blessings are not confined to the next life. Indeed, God desires to bless his children materially in this world. By naming what you want (a new car, better job, good health), claiming it in the name of Jesus, and living in the faith that it will come to you, these believers no longer tied private property to the notion of hard work.

Less kind people would name all this magical thinking, and that sounds to me like the proper description of what is going on in much of American fundamentalism.

The most interesting and frightening aspect of this magical thinking is Rapturism, the belief that we are living in the end-times, that Jesus's second coming is near. End-timers have always existed in Christianity, but only in the last few decades have they actually had the political power to cause the world to end, and only in the United States. Doesn't that make shivers run up your spine? That you might live in the country which sort of likes the idea of an apocalypse, because then all the "good" Christians will be sucked up by the heavenly vacuum cleaner, while the rest of us sinners will be put through the heavenly torture mangle? Well, believe it or not, but there are many millions of Americans who are sighing happily right now while listening to the news reports from Lebanon. Every additional death takes them closer to the happy moment when Christ will open up his arms and these Christians will leap into his lap. Later in this post I will share with you some of that happiness of the True Believers Who Have Been Saved.

But first I need to talk a little more about the end-times belief. There is a psychological explanation for its popularity, of course. Whenever the world looks to have gone off its track, whenever everything is all gloomy and awful, whenever we are powerless to prevent the next disaster, that is the very moment when Jesus might be coming back to kick the sinners in the butt! This makes all the horrors quite all right and bearable, nay, orgasmically wonderful! And think of the fact that if You Are Saved and the next door neighbor is not you will be safe and comfortable whereas that rotten person will burn in eternal flames of damnation!

I can see the appeal. And thousands of people have seen it in the past. Historically, end-times have been proposed often, starting around the year one thousand for Christians. Almost every major war has been explained as the beginning of the end and as Jesus's second coming. When He has not actually turned up, not to worry; the predictions were a little bit off and the end will take place at the next worrisome international events. Thus, until quite recently, it was the Soviet Union who was supposed to be the evil anti-Christ which sets off the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Then it was Saddam Hussein (yes, that Saddam). Now it is Iran, perhaps. Whoever the anti-Christ might happen to be, the end times are always near, and their not happening doesn't disprove anything except the wrong timing.

The Biblical roots of the Rapturist thinking are fuzzy. This is one summary of the ideas, though you may also safely skip it if you're not interested in theology:

We referred to the fifth-century Council of Ephesus, which condemned belief in a future, historical millennium. Clearly the idea is very old. But with a lot of added features, it has become popular in the U.S. only very recently. We speak about the New Right in religion, as well as in politics, only since the late '70s. The preachers of these "new" teachings are the leaders of the new religious right. We will start our survey with a more moderate and serious view.

The Pre-millennialist picture. As we defined this teaching it holds that the Second Coming of Christ will be followed by a thousand years of Christ's earthly reign. George Eldon Ladd of Fuller Seminary, an exponent of this view, writes, "...the New Testament for the most part does not foresee a millennial kingdom"; and again, "The New Testament nowhere expounds the theology of the millennium, that is, its purpose in God's redemptive plan" (in The Meaning of the Millennium, op. cit. p. 39). Having made this careful statement, Ladd outlines the whole program to the end.

Before you read any further, I urge you to read Revelation 19:11—20:15 and take notes. This is important so that you yourself can judge and are not left between Professor Ladd's and my perceptions. For your independent view read the passage carefully: what happens, to whom, who does what? What are you reading about? What does it all mean? Try to visualize what you read. Then come back to this text and find out if your notes agree with what follows.

The Second Coming, says Ladd, brings Christ as conqueror who now destroys his enemies: first the Antichrist and all his supporters, then the one behind the Antichrist -- the dragon, or Satan, who is bound and imprisoned for a thousand years. The "first resurrection" of the saints takes place, they share Christ's millennial reign. At the close of this period Satan is released and finds supporters among the unregenerated who are prepared to stand against God. A final, eschatological war ends with the devil being cast into the lake of fire. The second resurrection -- of those not raised before the millennium --takes place, and they stand before God's judgment throne.

Finally death itself is vanquished; like the devil and the wicked, it is thrown into the lake of fire. To most of us this, as a prophecy about the end of time, is all new. How is it that some Christians know this much about the "program" of the end times while the rest of us do not? They are reading the book of Revelation, from chapter 19, verse 11, to the end of chapter 20, a sequence of apocalyptic visions, as if they were prophecies. And inevitably they interpret those chapters. If you read Revelation 19:11—20:15, did you find all of the above? I did not, and needed the interpretation of millennialists to make "sense" of some of the events. Millennialists like Ladd are restrained interpreters because they hold that apocalyptic literature is about the end time -- and as we noted, they read apocalyptic as if it were prophetic fore-telling. But they do not turn other passages into end-time predictions.

Dispensational approach. The restraint noted above is singularly lacking in this school of thought. John Nelson Darby, a founder of the Plymouth Brethren, and C.I. Scofield following him, developed a scheme of dispensations. They taught that God has two distinct plans for two distinct communities. God has an earthly plan for Israel and a heavenly plan for "born-again" Christians. The rest of humanity has the possibility of joining one or the other. This view was popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible, first published in 1909.

In the 1917 edition, Scofield writes in the introduction: "...the dispensations are distinguished, exhibiting a majestic, progressive order of divine dealings of God with humanity, the increasing purpose which runs through and links together the ages from the beginning of the life of man to the end of eternity."

Darby and Scofleld claimed to have discovered a doctrine of ages or dispensations in the Bible. The past is seen as a line of distinct, distinguishable periods; the present and the future are also part of the scheme of dispensations. They have discovered seven distinct dispensations:

1. Dispensation of innocence -- which ends with Genesis 3.

2. Dispensation of conscience -- ends with the flood.

3. Dispensation of human government -- ends with tower of Babel.

4. Dispensation of promise -- ends with Abraham's descendants going to Egypt and slavery.

5. Dispensation of law -- ends with the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70.

6. Dispensation of grace -- ends with Second Coming of Christ.

7. Dispensation of the kingdom that will bring .history to an end.

The endings of the first five ages indicate that humanity failed completely and God thought up another dispensation and gave another opportunity in which humanity failed once again. Scofield warned of ruin, disaster, catastrophe to the end. There is no possibility of peace on earth until the millennium. Only true Christians need not fear because they will be with Christ. These and a number of other characteristics present in Scofield's dispensationalism became stronger and more obvious among his followers.

Dispensational interpretation of Scripture. Any passage from the prophets or apocalyptic writings can be used by dispensationalists as if it were speaking about the millennial reign of Christ. There is no justification for this, least of all by people who claim to interpret the Bible literally. The original meaning of the text -- that is, the intention of the writer in the historical, cultural context of the writing -- is disregarded by dispensationalists.

It is true that Jesus and the early Christian community reinterpret some texts, in the light of the Christ event and only in that light, not with reference to something yet to come. Matthew 2:15 reinterprets Hosea 11:1, "Out of Egypt have I called my Son." Philip reinterprets Isaiah 53 to the Ethiopian eunuch as speaking of Christ (Acts 7:30-35). But no other figure or event save Christ -- his cross and resurrection -- is ground for reinterpretation.

One example may show how differently biblical texts can be handled. We will look at Daniel 7:7-8, as commented on by John Calvin and C.I. Scofield. The verse speaks of the fourth beast, a dreadful creature with ten horns and "among them another little horn." When interpreters get to the little horn, says Calvin, they quickly point to the Pope or the Turks, that is, whoever opposes or threatens the faithful in their own day. But Calvin rejects this, because "they think the whole course of Christ's kingdom is here described," but instead God is showing to the prophet "what should happen up to the first advent of Christ." The convulsions of the age before Christ were too many, says Calvin. Dominion in the Near East went to the Persians, then the Macedonians -- "afterwards those robbers who made war under Alexander suddenly became kings" -- and strife and hostility were experienced. Then the Roman Empire took over. "Thus this vision was presented...that all the children of God might understand what severe trials awaited them before the advent of Christ." Daniel "does not embrace...the whole kingdom of Christ" (Commentary on Daniel 7:8). As here, so Calvin reads the entire book of Daniel as addressed to contemporaries at the time of writing with understandable historical and social references, therefore relevant for those who first hear or read it. It is speaking about the time before the first coming of Christ and needs to be interpreted in its historical context

According to Scofield the vision speaks of the end of Gentile world-dominion. The "little horn" is identified with "prince that shall come" (Dan. 9:26,27), the "king" (Dan. 11:36-45), "the abomination" (Dan. 12:11 and Matt. 24:15), the "man of sin" (II Thess. 2:4-8) and the "Beast" (Rev.13:4-10). What a horn!

Scofield's end of the Gentile world-power is still in the future. "The 10 kingdoms, covering the regions formerly ruled by Rome, will constitute, therefore, the form in which the fourth or Roman empire will exist when the whole fabric of Gentile world-domination is smitten by the 'stone cut out without hands' = Christ." How did Scofield know this? What reason can one find to say this is prophecy about the end of this world? None, according to the rest of us -- outside dispensationalism. That Scofield is really speaking of the end time he makes clear both by the phrase "Gentile world power" and by cross-referencing the Daniel 7 passage with a footnote to Revelation 16:14: "The time of the Gentiles is that long period beginning with the Babylonian captivity of be brought to an end by the destruction of Gentile world-power,...i.e., the coming of the Lord in glory (Rev. 19:11,21). Until which time Jerusalem is politically subject to Gentile rule (Luke 21:24)." And again on Daniel 2: "Gentile world power is to end in a sudden, catastrophic judgment," that is, in Armageddon

That wasn't the clearest possible explanation of the belief in Rapture, perhaps, but the whole belief is pretty fuzzy. The clearest part of it is the idea that somehow the Bible can be used in a manner not that different from Nostradamus's predictions: to divine when the world will end. And the end of the world will be preceded by the coming of the anti-Christ, a war in Israel and lots of natural catastrophies. All good Christians (to be defined as one wishes, it seems) will be raised to the Heavens with Jesus while the rest of us will be subjected to incredible tortures by the Good Lord Jesus. Then there will be a second Rapture of a few additional "good" Christians and a handful of converted Jews.

The dangers of a wide-spread belief in the Rapture for the rest of us nonbelievers are obvious. Those who expect end-times all the time will not be bothered about the tsunamis, for example. They will quite rejoice in them. Neither will they worry about environmental degradation or people dying in unnecessary wars, because all these are just signs of the great events to come soon. And no believer in Rapture wants peace in the Middle East, because a war in Israel is a necessary prerequisite of the second coming of Christ.

It's not hard to see how a belief in Rapture, as general as it seems to be in the United States, could actually bring the world to an end by such effects. It's a totally different question whether we'd actually then observe the second coming of Jesus. But let me ask of those believers in Rapture this question: What do you think Jesus would say to you if it was you who caused the world to end when He wasn't yet at all ready to come back to kick your asses?

To return to Phillips's American Theocracy: These are the people who are now ascending in power. These are the people who affect the foreign policies of the United States. He makes it quite clear how the Left Behind-series has popularized the idea of Rapture (to tens of millions of people, mind you). He even suggests how it has worked as a blueprint for the policies of the Bush administration. To take one example, consider the removal of Saddam Hussein from the dictatorship of Iraq. A believer in Rapture would have seen the whole pre-emptive war as totally logical. After all, Saddam was supposed to be the anti-Christ. It didn't matter if Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. Even democracy or its lack in Iraq didn't matter for these people. And you might be interested in learning that the evil anti-Christ in the Left Behind-series works for the United Nations and has the backing of a French banker. This puts a very different light to the U.N. hating factions of the Republican party and to their habit of making fun of the French, doesn't it?

Here you may want to get up and stretch your shoulders a little, if you just realized that we may have been running foreign policies based on magical thinking. Then you can sit back and read a couple of messages from the RaptureReady chatsite, a place where the believers in end-times meet and congratulate each other for belonging to the Chosen Few:

Originally Posted by bazza
Some of the old testament prophecies confuse
me regarding the time frame....but I have read
before that the following chapter-Isaiah 18- re-
fers to a country/people that could be the U.S.
If this chronologically follows Isaiah 17, then it
is time to really start to look UP!


I have heard that too, but I have no idea if it's true. No one except Israel is hated more than America. It makes me really sad, because I love my country. My prayer is that Jesus raptures us before that happens. It would break my heart to see the destruction of this beautiful land.
Hizbullah, though primarily in Lebanon & Israel is currently holding Lebanon accountable, is under SYRIAN Control (with the help of Iranian funding and support). The fact that they have just today kidnapped 2 Israeli soldiers and Olmert has declared this an ACT of WAR (against Lebanon for now), it's not hard to see how this could easily and rapidly escalate into the fulfillment of the Isaiah 17 prophecy.

Incredible times that God is allowing us to live in – May He be Praised !!!
Wars and rumors of wars, boys does this not sound true,, middle east, korea, Iran, ten nation union and other hot spots around the world... as in the new superman movie "the world says it does not need a savior, but every day I hear it calling out for one!" but their savior will not be the Prince of Peace
Do you ever wonder, of all the time in history you or me for that matter could have been born, that we are born now... sure makes the hair on my neck stand up... everytime the world seems it is slipping out of God's hand "contol".... bam... God slap's us awake and makes us take a good hard look at who is really in control.. Now with Syria in the news and knowing what can and will happpen to Damascus makes you look up and see if the clouds are parting and the Lord Jesus Himself is standing there....
was watching Hannity & Colmes on Fox News with Oliver North giving his comments on the situation with Israel/Hizbollah. Oliver North actually said:


I almost fainted, as Damascus was on my mind as well.

He was great, defending Israel, and placing the blame squarely on Syria and Iran. He said Israel is surrounded, and they won't back down.

Hope we are going home soon!
Damascus becomes ruinous heap, this eventually leads to the attempted Gog-Magog invasion of Israel. Russia is supernaturally obliterated. Makes sense to me.
As much as it is to stir the pure hearts in Christians. That Syria is in the news--on the front page with a plausible path towards its destruction before our very eyes--should quicken the hearts of you who understand.

Keep an eye on Damascus. This is getting more interesting every day. And me thinks G-d is about to take center stage (for those who know what to look for). I get chills just thinking how priviledged we are to see the signposts through the clutter!

I also do not believe that non-Christians are going to turn to G-d because of the obvious signs we are and will be witnessing. Again, prophecy is meant to stir the hearts of Christians.

There are many excellent posts regarding Damascus and Syria on RR right now. May G-d continue to stir your hearts.