Saturday, January 28, 2006

Does Truth Matter?

The national discussion about the revelation that author James Frey’s memoir “A Million Little Pieces” contained a lot of details that were not true even though the book was presented and sold as non-fiction has been very interesting. Oprah Winfrey, whose recommendation made the book a great success, initially took the position that it did not matter whether the book was actually true or not. She said that the book’s ability to move and inspire its readers was more important than its historical accuracy and that it had, in fact, been an inspiration to thousands of readers.

Oprah received a lot of criticism for this. It was pointed out that a great deal of the power and appeal of Frey’s story was based on the reader’s perception that it was true. A true story of personal redemption and perseverance is much more powerful and moving than a fictional one. The readers who had been moved by Frey’s story because they thought it was true had been deceived and manipulated.

After a few weeks Oprah changed her mind and apologized to her viewers for having recommended the book and for having left the impression that “the truth does not matter” when she defending the book’s “underlying message.” She confronted Frey on national television. "To me, a memoir means it's the truth of your life as you know it to be and not blatant fictionalization," She told Frey "I feel that you conned us all.”

From the media coverage it appears to me that there is a consensus that truth does matter. If a story which people believe to be true turns out to be fiction this should change how people feel about and relate to the story. If people had recommended the book they should revisit that recommendation. If they based arguments, scientific theories, philosophies or their personal religion on the truth of the story they may need to reevaluate those arguments and everything based on them, perhaps a total revolution in their mental life

Everyone seems to agree with this view of things, at least in regard to Frey’s book. It has only been out a few years and that is not enough time for people to have incorporated the book’s message too deeply into their world view and personal philosophy. But if truth matters this must also be true of stories which people have believed to be true for a very long time. It would be true even of the stories which form the basis of major world religions.

If archeological research shows that there were no grand buildings in Jerusalem at the time the Bible says King Solomon built a magnificent temple there then Jews, Christians and Muslims should not be allowed to get away with saying that this does not matter, it is the “underlying message” which is important, should they?

If archeological research shows that the city of Nazareth did not exist at the time the Bible says Jesus lived there should not all Christians who had believed in the humanity of Jesus reevaluate their relationship to their religion? Christianity won out against rival religions because it claimed a unique advantage. Its godman, Jesus, had supposedly actually come down and dwelt among us here on earth. If it now appears that this story is fiction should it be acceptable for people to respond to that by saying that Christianity is so fundamental to their belief system that they cannot deal with any challenge to it?

Explore the evidence for whether or not Christianity started with a historical Jesus here

US Forces Terrorize Iraqi Wives and Children

According to stories in the the LA Times and the Associated Press on at least two occasions US forces have held the wives of suspected insurgents in an attempt to get the husbands to surrender.

In one case, a secretive task force locked up the young mother of a nursing baby, a U.S. intelligence officer reported. In the case of a second detainee, one American colonel suggested to another that they catch her husband by tacking a note to the family's door telling him "to come get his wife."

In thinking about these Mafia-style tactics I think it is important to remember that the current justification for our forces being in Iraq, now that it is clear that Iraq was not any sort of threat to the US, is that we are bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq so that it can be a shining example to the rest of the region and the world. What lesson are we teaching by these tactics?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

US Reconstruction of Iraq Incompetent and Corrupt

An article in today's New York Times describes an incompetent and corrupt recontruction of Iraq.

A new audit of American financial practices in Iraq has uncovered irregularities including millions of reconstruction dollars stuffed casually into footlockers and filing cabinets

a $108,140 contract to completely refurbish the Hilla Olympic swimming pool, including the replacement of pumps and pipes, came to nothing when the contractor simply polished some of the hardware to make it appear as if new equipment had been installed. Local officials for the provisional authority signed paperwork stating that all the work had been completed properly and paid the contractor in full, the report says.

The pool never reopened, and when agents from the inspector general's office arrived to try out the equipment, "the water came out a murky brown due to the accumulated dirt and grime in the old pumps," the report says.

Americans who expected Iraq to be rebuilt as Europe and Japan were rebuilt after WWII must be wondering what happened. Although many Americans bought into the idealist talk the neocons were spinning about making Iraq an example of democracy and prosperity in the Middle East it is obvious from the results that the Bush Administration never believed a word of it. All the talk about the good things we were doing and going to do for the Iraqi people was just a huckster's pitch designed to fleece the rubes.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Has the Bush Administration Given Up in Iraq?

In his column in today's New York Times Paul Krugman claims, with some evidence, that the Bush Administration feels no responsibility to rebuild Iraq, is not requesting any money to do so and has been telling the Iraqis that they must rebuild their country without our help.

Iraq's Power Vacuum
In the State of the Union address, President Bush will surely assert, to choreographed applause, that he has a strategy for victory in Iraq. I don't believe him. In fact, I believe that three years into the conflict his administration refuses to admit defeat but has given up even trying to win.

To explain myself, let me tell you some stories about electricity.

Power shortages are a crucial issue for ordinary Iraqis, and for the credibility of their government. As Muhsin Shlash, Iraq's electricity minister, said last week, "When you lose electricity the country is destroyed, nothing works, all industry is down and terrorist activity is increased."

Mr. Shlash has reason to be strident. In today's Iraq, blackouts are the rule rather than the exception. According to Agence France-Presse, Baghdad and "much of the central regions" - in other words, the areas where the insurgency is most active and dangerous - currently get only between two and six hours of power a day.

Lack of electricity isn't just an inconvenience. It prevents businesses from operating, destroys jobs and generates a sense of demoralization and rage that feeds the insurgency.

So why is power scarcer than ever, almost three years after Saddam's fall? Sabotage by insurgents is one factor. But as an analysis of Iraq's electricity shortage in The Los Angeles Times last month showed, the blackouts are also the result of some incredible missteps by U.S. officials.

Most notably, during the period when Iraq was run by U.S. officials, they decided to base their electricity plan on natural gas: in order to boost electrical output, American companies were hired to install gas-fired generators in power plants across Iraq. But, as The Los Angeles Times explains, "pipelines needed to transport the gas" - that is, to supply gas to the new generators - "weren't built because Iraq's Oil Ministry, with U.S. encouragement, concentrated instead on boosting oil production." Whoops.

Meanwhile, in the early days of the occupation U.S. officials chose not to raise the prices of electricity and fuel, which had been kept artificially cheap under Saddam, for fear of creating unrest. But as a first step toward their dream of turning Iraq into a free-market utopia, they removed tariffs and other restrictions on the purchase of imported consumer goods.

The result was that wealthy and middle-class Iraqis rushed to buy imported refrigerators, heaters and other power-hungry products, and the demand for electricity surged - with no capacity available to meet that surge in demand. This caused even more blackouts.

In short, U.S. officials thoroughly botched their handling of Iraq's electricity sector. They did much the same in the oil sector. But the Bush administration is determined to achieve victory in Iraq, so it must have a plan to rectify its errors, right?

Um, no. Although there has been no formal declaration, all indications are that the Bush administration, which once made grand promises about a program to rebuild Iraq comparable to the Marshall Plan, doesn't plan to ask for any more money for Iraqi reconstruction.

Another Los Angeles Times report on Iraq reconstruction contains some jaw-dropping quotes from U.S. officials, who now seem to be lecturing the Iraqis on self-reliance. "The world is a competitive place," declared the economics counselor at the U.S. embassy. "No pain, no gain," said another official. "We were never intending to rebuild Iraq," said a third. We came, we saw, we conquered, we messed up your infrastructure, we're outta here.

Mr. Shlash certainly sounds as if he's given up expecting more American help. "The American donation is almost finished," he said, "and it was not that effective." Yet he also emphasized the obvious: partly because of the similar failure of reconstruction in the oil sector, Iraq's government doesn't have the funds to do much power plant construction. In fact, it will be hard pressed to maintain the capacity it has, and protect that capacity from insurgent attacks.

And if reconstruction stalls, as seems inevitable, it's hard to see how anything else in Iraq can go right.

So what does it mean that the Bush administration is apparently walking away from responsibility for Iraq's reconstruction? It means that the administration doesn't have a plan; it's entirely focused on short-term political gain. Mr. Bush is just getting by from sound bite to sound bite, while Iraq and America sink ever deeper into the quagmire.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Molly Ivins calls on the Democrats to join the majority

In Molly Ivin's column in today's paper she tells the Washington Democrats to stop cowering in fear of Republican attacks on their patriotism and join the majority of
Americans in saying the war was a mistake and we should get out.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Impeachment Project

Do you think President Bush should be impeached? Are his crimes at least as serious as those that led to President Clinton's impeachment? The above picture is from : The Impeachment Project At this site you will see at lot more pictures of people publicly proclaiming their desire to see this president impeached.

Self censorship in the media

I just saw a program on CSPAN's Book TV about the book "Einstein on Race and Racism" by Fred Jerome, Rodger Taylor One of the many things I found interesting was a discussion by the authors about how, in spite of the extensive material that exists on the subject, no mention has been made about Albert Einstein's great interest in and work against racism in America in the 1940s in any of the previous 100 books about Einstein. Even today the media is very relucant to publish anything on the subject, especially any mention of Paul Robeson or W.E.B. Dubois, two men whose work against racism Einstein publicly supported.
To call the media "liberal" is to call black white and to turn reality on its head.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Operation Yellow Elephant

Why aren't young Republicans signing up to fight in Iraq? Click on the image above to visit a blog devoted to that question.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Jesus Called

An example of one of the fine fridge magnets and other stuff you can find at Miss Poppy's

Whether or not the Jesus portrayed in the gospels actually existed there is no doubt that the message Jesus preaches in the Bible is almost exactly the opposite of the message preached by today's Religious Right. Jesus' message is one of compassion and forgiveness. He is shown as ministering to the morally fallen and the socially outcast. Jesus advocates giving money to the poor, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and giving shelter to the homeless.

The Religious Right seems to be following a moral code almost exactly the opposite of the one the gospel Jesus preaches. The book of Revelation warns about the coming of the Anti-Christ whom many would follow in the last days. If the Anti-Christ is the opposite of Christ would those who follow him preach a message of pride and assertiveness? Would the Anti-Christ's followers oppose government programs to help the needy in order to not "foster dependency"? Would they oppose high schools allowing unwed mothers back into the classroom in order to not send the "wrong moral message?"

Unfortunately, Jesus probably won't be calling anyone on the phone. All we can hope for is that people will start to recognize the disconnect between what the Bible says and their church is preaching and vote with their feet out the door.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Journalists or Wage Slaves?

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Upton Sinclair

I have set up a Cryptoquote web site that requires me to periodically compile lists of quotations. While engaged in this search I came upon the quote above and it suddenly occurred to me as the reason why my two journalist brothers-in-law in particular, and the news media in general, do not understand a lot of things that are very obvious to other Americans with similar educations and backgrounds.
It apparently would be difficult to continue working for the corporate media if you saw that invading Iraq was not a legitimate and legal response to 9/11 or that the results of the invasion and occupation of Iraq are not likely to be worth the costs, either for Americans or for Iraqis. It also must be a job requirement not to be able to entertain the possibility that if a people in a foreign country do not see American investment in their country as desirable it might be because they understand better what is in their interests than we do. They must also have to banish from their thoughts the idea that if hundreds of thousands of people are demonstrating against free trade and the World Bank they might not all be people just looking to smash shop windows and fight the police.
People working for the corporate media must not be able to see irony. They must not see it as strange that while the Bush Administration claims to be promoting democracy they bitterly criticized the governments of Turkey and Spain (where more than 90% of the public opposed invading Iraq) for listening to their own people rather than to Washington.
And, of course, to work for the corporate media they must not see the contradiction between their idealistic ideas of themselves as performing a journalistic public service and the reality that they are wage slaves dancing to the tune of international corporations whose interests are almost diametrically opposed to those of most working Americans.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Absence of Discussion of the Sin of Usury

There is a great deal said about Christianity in the media and the public sphere but it is amazing to me how many interesting aspects of modern Christianity are rarely mentioned. For example, the sin of usury has disappeared from public discourse.

In the Bible and for the first 1400 years of Christianity usury was defined as lending money at interest -- any interest at all. In the Fifteenth Century the benefit of credit in the business world began to be recognized. At that time church leaders decided that it was not a sin for one Christian to loan money at a reasonable rate of interest to another Christian in a business context -- if the lendee intended to make money with the loaned funds. Christians could lend needy fellow Christians money and expect the money to be repaid (no interest), but it was still Christian duty to give money freely to the destitute without any expectation of repayment.

I recently saw a documentary on tv about the credit card industry. It mentioned that 25 years ago there were usury laws in all 50 states that legally capped interest rates at 12%. The decision of the state of South Dakota to lift that cap and allow banks to charge more than 12% interest set in motion a chain of events that, among other things, created the modern credit card industry. Think about that for a moment. For the first 200 years of this country's existence there was such a broad consensus that charging more than 12% interest was wrong that all 50 states had laws against it.

Of course, there are a number of things besides usury that Christians have traditionally considered wrong and that used to be illegal that are now legal -- among them are divorce, adult pornography, gambling and sodomy. But, unlike usury, there has been and continues to be a great deal of discussion in the media about these issues. You would have no trouble finding in the media stories about Christians who think there should still be laws against divorce, pornography, gambling and sodomy. (Well actually, there is not much discussion about the morality of gambling, but that is the topic of another posting.)

Are there any Christians in this country who feel that it was a mistake to legalize charging more than 12% interest? if not, why not? If so, why is there so little mention of this issue in the media. Could this be a topic that the corporate world does not want discussed? Is the corporate ownership of the media manufacturing consensus on this issue?