Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Pray for the Big Easy

Still on hiatus. In the meantime, our heart goes out to the residents of New Orleans, as the disaster worsens. Two places where readers can make contributions: Catholic Charities USA and

Thursday, August 25, 2005

On Hiatus

Mrs. T. (Monster Mom) is a monster mom again. Happy birthday to Augustine James, born Aug. 22, 2005. He weighed in at 7 lbs., 8 oz. We're on hiatus from blogging until things quiet down -- we'll post photos soon.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Pope Benedict, speaking in Cologne synagogue, warns of rising antisemitism

Story here: "Speaking before Germany's oldest Jewish community in Cologne, Benedict said that 'today, sadly, we are witnessing the rise of new signs of anti-Semitism and various forms of a general hostility toward foreigners.'"

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Saleh Mohammed al-Aoofi, Al Qaeda leader in Saudi Arabia, killed

AP reports:
Al Qaeda's leader in Saudi Arabia was killed Thursday during clashes with police in the western city of Medina, the Interior Ministry said.

Saleh Mohammed al-Aoofi was among six al Qaeda militants reported killed Thursday during police raids on numerous locations in the holy city of Medina and the capital, Riyadh, security officials told The Associated Press.
Hat tip: In the Bullpen.

Osama heading for Iraq?

Indian press is reporting on intercepted Al Qaeda communications that indicate that Bin Laden is going to Iraq to direct the jihad. Can't find any confirmation of this story so far.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Woman with a knife kills leader of Taizé in front of worshippers

Sad story. R.I.P., Brother Roger.

Iranian prosecutor now threatening family of Ganji

The New York Sun reports:
WASHINGTON - The Iranian prosecutor responsible for jailing Akbar Ganji hinted that he would pursue prosecution of family members of the dissident journalist.
Ganji is in the 69th day of his hunger strike.

Are sacred texts "all-or-nothing" in public schools?

Mike G. Gaither at libertyWatch has been asking some questions regarding Odessa and church-state relations.

As a matter of law, public schools may constitutionally teach Bible courses, as this opinion demonstrates:
[I]t might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment. (Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963)).
Note that the study of the Bible (either on its own or as part of a general discussion of religion) is specifically approved here. The Abington precedent has been cited as allowing the Bible to be studied for literary and historic qualities in later Supreme Court decisions (e.g., Epperson v. Arkansas, 1968 and Stone v. Graham, 1980). Mike asserts: "The Supreme Court (the folks we hire to interpret the Constitution) has ruled fairly consistently the government (i.e. public schools) cannot endorse one religion over another. A class teaching the Koran (Quoran) with no other classes teaching the texts of other religions available, would be just as biased and unlawful." There is much in the existing jurisprudence that is not based in the text, legislative history, or intent of the Constitution, but even the Court has ruled in these cases that mere teaching of the Bible as literature or history does not in and of itself constitute an establishment of religion. Is there a SCOTUS precedent that requires schools to teach the Koran as literature if the Bible is taught as literature? If so, is there a mandate to the Bhagavad Gita be taught as literature/history? What about L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics -- must that be taught as literature/history?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Iraqi Chemical Stash Uncovered

Iraqi Chemical Stash Uncovered:
U.S. troops raiding a warehouse in the northern city of Mosul uncovered a suspected chemical weapons factory containing 1,500 gallons of chemicals believed destined for attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces and civilians, military officials said Saturday.

Monday's early morning raid found 11 precursor agents, "some of them quite dangerous by themselves," a military spokesman, Lt. Col. Steven A. Boylan, said in Baghdad.

Combined, the chemicals would yield an agent capable of "lingering hazards" for those exposed to it, Boylan said. The likely targets would have been "coalition and Iraqi security forces, and Iraqi civilians," partly because the chemicals would be difficult to keep from spreading over a wide area, he said.

Boylan said the suspected lab was new, dating from some time after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. . . .

Too bad the murder weapon wasn't a "cyber-knife"

File under Modern Weird: Chinese online gamer gets life for murder - Games -
BEIJING - A Shanghai online game player who stabbed a competitor to death for selling his cyber-sword has been given a suspended death sentence, which in effect means life imprisonment, state media said on Wednesday.
The case had created a dilemma in China where no law exists for the ownership of virtual weapons.
Qiu Chengwei, 41, stabbed competitor Zhu Caoyuan in the chest after he was told Zhu had sold his "dragon sabre", used in the popular online game, "Legend of Mir 3," the China Daily said.

Able Danger -- overrated?

A lot of current news indicates that most of the "Able Danger" story was overstated and inaccurate. Will try to roundup info later.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Michael Ledeen on Able Danger

Channeling James Jesus Angleton again, he finds it par for the course.

More "Able Danger"

Turns out that the "Able Danger" team notified the 9/11 Commission that they had identified Atta as a terrorist more that a year before the attacks, but the Commission omitted it from their report. This story is getting interesting . . . .

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith

With his election as Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger's views, style, and thought have taken on a new relevance. Pilgrim Fellowship Of Faith: The Church As Communion is as good a place as any to start to gain insight into the man. Read more . . .

A collection of speeches, papers, and letters collected by his students for his 75th birthday, it examines the relationship between theology, faith, ecclesiology, and sacrament. It reveals a man who strives to be ecumenical in the most serious way -- who seeks real dialogue, which requires all participants to be as honest and searching about their beliefs and to accord dignity and respect to other interlocutors. This collection includes gracious letter exchanges with Orthodox Metropolitan Damaskinos of Switzerland and with Lutheran Provincial Bishop Johannes Hanselmann of Bavaria.

In the course of the works cited, Ratzinger deals in depth with these and other questions: What is theology, what is its relation to faith, and how can her methods lay claim to providing knowledge? What is the role of the Holy Spirit in ecclesiology, in our understanding of the Church? What is the relation between Communion as Eucharist and communion as Christian fellowship, and how does christology shape ecclesiology? What role to lay movements serve in the Church? How does the Church go about remembering and atoning for sins?

If there is a common theme, it is the primacy communion -- a vision of God as triune communion, a vision of the Universal Church with many local churches in communion, a vision of the ecumenical movement as a striving to realize Christian communion as a gift from God, a vision of sacraments as visible signs of communion. Also interesting is what he declares communion not to be. Specifically, it is not to be taken as a cover for blanket centralization of ecclesiastical authority in Rome.

It's a good read. A comparison with Wojtyla's style is perhaps inevitable. Ratzinger's writing is perhaps more pragmatic and concise, less grandiose. There's a quiet precision and grace here. Ratzinger seems like a quiet, patient teacher, a somewhat self-effacing man with a penetrating mind. It's an excellent way for Catholics to begin to learn their new pope's mind. It's a great book for other Christians who want an insight into how ecumenism fits into Pope Benedict's theological views. It's also a good book for non-Christians who wonder how the Church sees itself.

Even Chanceyer

Here's a review that Dr. Mark Chancey wrote for The Passion of the Christ. He was somewhat disappointed. Capsule review: "problematic."

The Odessa file

In a comment on an earlier post, someone wrote:
Please read the full report at to learn why this particular curriculum is bad for our public schools.
People interested in this issue should indeed read the full report. To start with, though, let's keep in mind that this curriculum is not currently for "our public schools." The issue is at hand is for the people of Odessa, Texas. Educational decisions are made at the level of the local school board. Standards and requirements are mandated at the state level. It's not clear why people outside Odessa should make this decision. The Texas Freedom Network should direct their efforts to the people involved.

Dr. Mark A. Chancey, professor of biblical studies at Southern Methodist University, wrote the full report, commissioned by TFN. Upon reading his report several things become apparent:
  1. The curriculum does seem to have defects and biases. Anyone who is remotely familiar high school texts knows that this is not news. Finding a good curriculum in any subject is a challenge.
  2. Chancey is not above using ad hominem criticisms. At the outset we learn that the "Advisory Committee's more than 50 members include many well-known figures associated with the religious right and conservative organizations." This is irrelevant.
  3. Several times Chancey strays from his field (biblical studies) into Constitutional law. One of the endorsers that Chancey dismisses is Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University. Rather than a simple endorsement, George has written a legal brief that finds that the curriculum passes constitutional muster. Interested parties are urged to read this as well.
  4. Chancey spends a lot of time criticizing works referred to, even though the curriculum explicitly disavows any claim of accuracy for these works. There's more than a smidgen of guilt by association in the report.
  5. The vast bulk of Chancey's report finds inaccuracies and limitations. Nowhere does he demonstrate religious indoctrination, and he is not an authority on matters of law.
Again, one cannot defend the curriculum without access to it. Professor Chancey, an expert in the field, finds many ways to improve it, and much of what he writes is very pursuasive. The obvious course of action would be to remedy the deficiencies, either by contacting the curriculum's publisher, or by seeking out a superior curriculum with better scholarship. For its part, the publisher, National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools, has published a response to TFN's claims. Why isn't TFN proposing alternative curricula? It seems to be an organization that seeks not to improve the quality of high school Bible studies, but to eradicate it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Protect us, but don't look at us

The New York Times reports that a military intelligence unit had identified four of the 9/11 attackers, including Mohammed Atta, as likely members of an Al Qaida cell, more that a year before the attacks:

Mr. Weldon has long been a champion of the kind of data-mining analysis that was the basis for the work of the Able Danger team.

The former intelligence official spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying he did not want to jeopardize political support and the possible financing for future data-mining operations by speaking publicly. He said the team had been established by the Special Operations Command in 1999, under a classified directive issued by Gen. Hugh Shelton, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to assemble information about Al Qaeda networks around the world.

Mickey Kaus, in his Kausfiles blog on Slate, sees this as vindication for the utility of mining publicly available data in a search for terrorists. He cites Heather Mac Donald's excellent piece last year in City Journal:
It’s okay for Home Depot to buy my digitized credit-card receipts, says the privacy "community," to see whether I would be a soft touch for a riding mower. But if government agents want to see who has purchased explosive-level quantities of fertilizer, they should go store to store, checking credit-card receipts. Data-mining opponents would deny terror investigators a technology in common use in the commercial sector, simply because they think government should be kept inefficient to limit its power, a Luddite's approach to public policy. Remember: data mining would only speed government access to records to which it is already legally entitled. When a technology offers possibly huge public benefits, the rational answer to the fear of its abuse is to use technology to build in safeguards.
Kaus concludes:

It's been obvious for a while that we're going to match the terrorists in the cyberspace race we'll have to give up some of our privacy. Letting a government supercomputer scan my credit card receipts and Amazon searches seems a relatively inoffensive place to start.** It beats torturing people. ...

** Don't forget my library books! (Do you have an expectation of privacy when you check out a book from ... the government? I don't.)

It's nice to see Mickey Kaus continue to uphold the banner of common sense at Slate, undoubtedly a lonely and thankless task. Restrictions on manipulating publicly available data when pursuing terrorists is just plain barmy.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The George W. Bush Conspiracy Generator

The George W. Bush Conspiracy Generator

Random samples:

George W. Bush invaded Iraq so that Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and Republicans could oppress Iraqis.

George W. Bush had Michael Jackson arrested so that SUV owners could oppress welfare recipients.

Hat Tip: The Corner

Peter Jennings, R.I.P.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Textual Defense Initiative (TDI) Threefer

Eric Scheske at the Daily Eudemon has tagged us with a meme challenge. We don't usually do memes, but Eric is a swell so we're game. Here are his rules:
  1. Name your three biggest non-reference books (excluding the Bible and text books).
  2. Name your three biggest reference books.
  3. Tag three others.
By "biggest," we're not looking for number of words. We're looking for weight. Heft. Something you'd drop on invaders while defending a castle.
In our bookcases, these are the largest non-reference books:
  1. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works (The Oxford Shakespeare) (Hardcover)
    by William Shakespeare, Stanley Wells (Editor), Gary Taylor (Editor), John Jowet (Editor), William Montgomery (Editor)
  2. The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II
    by Fernand Braudel, single volume abridgement. (Mrs. Thumos's Ph.D. thesis ties for third, as does Mortimer Adler's Great Ideas).
Note that Lord of the Rings is the heaviest if you include the cardboard slipcase. Our Big References:
  1. CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics
  2. History of Italian Renaissance Art
    by Frederick Hartt, et al.
  3. Collegeville Bible Commentary, Hardcover
We tag:
  1. Paul Boutin
  2. Matthew Lickona at Godsbody, and
  3. okliberal at The Independent Liberal
Doing this exercise has convinced us that, despite all of our security concerns in the last four years, we are woefully unprepared to defend ourselves by massive tomes. The heaviest of our texts, the CRC Handbook, is just under 6.5 pounds. Even dropped from a second story window, that would do little more than slow down a would-be assailant. And most of the weighty books we have only come to us serendipitously, as gifts. We're taking this opportunity to urge that others join us in TDI, the Textual Defense Initiative. Think of it: Coffee table books in every home, constructed not only out of mere paper, board, and leather, but from slate, marble, titanium, with precision internal guidance systems -- the possibilities are endless . . . . thanks Eric.

Friday, August 05, 2005

The theologian of chick-lit

Donna Freitas says that for hip spirituality, ascetism is out, chocolates and "inner poise" are in. In an interview on Beliefnet, she attempts to craft the Christian tao of Bridget Jones. Clearly, this is a sophisticated spirituality that can't be confined by abstinence or celibacy.

Freitas writes:
Often the spiritual figures who are held up are very extreme--for example, Mother Teresa. People can admire her, but it’s very difficult to be her. So I think people are searching for models who are closer to who they are, are searching for people like Bridget who is clearly in love with the world in every which way.
You can't see or hear us now, but we're tittering. It gets better:
Q: Speaking of vices, why is sex spiritual?

Because we make it that way. Bridget and her friends, and everyone on Sex and the City, and all these other women characters in chick lit novels are all having sex outside marriage. So one of the things I was looking to do was to figure out, How do we incorporate this experience into our spiritual lives? Because people tend to divorce their sex life and their spiritual life, since religion teaches that marriage is the only legitimate place for sex.
So, let's make sure that we understand this. Christian practice should legitimize our activities and gratifications. We need a Christ and a Cross that fit comfortably into our fornication. Just wanted to be clear on that.

Later, Freitas gushes over Elaine Pagels (of course):
I admire Elaine Pagels’ understanding of authority and the fact that we need to remember that we’re the authors of our own authority. There’s a self that’s implied there. You can give yourself authority. You have the authority to believe in someone. Can we stand with our own sense of authority and affirm sexuality as a spiritual thing? There is tons of literature within religious traditions that affirms sexuality. There’s erotic poetry, there’s all kinds of wonderful things about sexuality and marriage. One of the things I think we need to do is take that poetry, take that work done on marriage about the importance of sexuality and open that up beyond marriage to apply to our sex lives outside of marriages.
Oh, thank goodness Dr. Freitas is looking out for us. Somehow, we're not truly affirming the goodness of sexuality unless we're affirming the goodness of adultery. For Freitas, the traditions of Christian spirituality (she cites Augustine, Hildegaard, Julian of Norwich, and Mother Teresa) were fine in their time, but we need something hipper and sexier. Maybe anonymous sex at a health spa. She tries so hard to be hip, but she's so square (baby I don't care).

As you can probably guess, Freitas is a professor of spirituality and religion somewhere.

Odessa steps to biblical literacy

The New York Times is worried. So is the Washington Post. Why? Because the town of Odessa, Texas, through their school board, has opted to introduce an elective course on the Bible as literature. A group called the Texas Freedom Network, based in Austin is protesting. This appearance on Chris Matthews's Hardball shows that TFN is a little vague on why they're protesting. Is it because the curriculum is actually religious indoctrination and they are stepping in to protect non-believers rights? Or is it because it uses shoddy scholarship? In her interview, she was unpersuasive about the first point. The creators of the curriculum stand by their claim that it is a guide to history and culture of the Bible. The course outline seems to support this. Regarding the second point, one has to ask why this particular curriculum is singled out for intellectual weakness, when lousy textbooks are sadly familiar to students and teachers alike. It would certainly help if the quotes from the actual curriculum were available, instead of hearsay accounts of what it contains from unnamed experts. Why isn't this a question for the people of Odessa to figure out, instead of know-it-alls in Washington and New York?

Hat tip: libertyWatch

Thursday, August 04, 2005

L.A. Times: Roberts worked on winning side in Romer

John Roberts did pro bono work for gay activist groups in the Romer v. Evans case. In Romer (text of the opinions here), these groups successfully challenged a Colorado initiative which prohibited special legal protection for homosexuality.

A couple of things are clear -- even though Roberts participation as an advocate indicates nothing about his beliefs, this will undercut claims that he is an ideologue who cannot see beyond his preferences and beliefs. It also may make conservatives uneasy (Scalia wrote a scathing dissent in Romer). Certainly a lawyer should advocate for his client. But Ramesh Ponnuru and Mark Levin are right: the Senate confirmation hearings should feature more questions about legal philosophy and ideas, not less. Perhaps not, "how would you decide Roe today?" But something a little stronger than "would you faithfully interpret the text of the Constitution or would you make it say what you want it to say?"

Monday, August 01, 2005

King Fahd Dies; Abdullah Now King of Saudi Arabia

From the New York Times: "King Fahd, the absolutist monarch of Saudi Arabia who guided his desert kingdom through swerves in the oil market, regional wars and the incessant, high-stakes scrimmage between Islamic tradition and breakneck modernization, died today, the Saudi royal court in Riyadh said. He was 82, according to his official Website.. . . His brother, Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, ultimately assumed many executive responsibilities, and was today appointed the country's new monarch."

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