The Bishop and the Church

by bicyclemark 4 Comments

Today the episcopalian church officially appointed the first openly Gay bishop. At the ceremony several bishops stood and read their statements condemning the choosing of a gay bishop and stating that it “breaks god’s heart.” They then walked out with their heads lowered. Why were their heads lowered if they were so certain of their opinions? Weren’t they carrying out “god’s will.” Or could it be that they were ashamed? Ashamed at their own homophobia and bigotry. Ashamed that their own religious beliefs could not tolerate someone based on their sexual preference.

The church may split. Yet another split of a religion that is troubled by the spirit of evolution and acceptance. A religion that can’t seem to keep up with the times, and often chooses archaic exclusionary traditions over open-minded tolerance.

There’s nothing new in this story, except for the new bishop. Otherwise it’s just another church acting as we’ve come to know organized religion, close-minded, outdated, and irrelavant.

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by bicyclemark 0 Comments

The following is just more evidence of the horrendous state of the United States Government…. enjoy

May 28, 2003

Exxon Backs Groups That Question Global Warming


ASHINGTON, May 27 ? Exxon Mobil has publicly softened its stance toward global warming over the last year, with a pledge of $10 million in annual donations for 10 years to Stanford University for climate research.

At the same time, the company, the world’s largest oil and gas concern, has increased donations to Washington-based policy groups that, like Exxon itself, question the human role in global warming and argue that proposed government policies to limit carbon dioxide emissions associated with global warming are too heavy handed.

Exxon now gives more than $1 million a year to such organizations, which include the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Frontiers of Freedom, the George C. Marshall Institute, the American Council for Capital Formation Center for Policy Research and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The organizations are modest in size but have been outspoken in the global warming debate. Exxon has become the single-largest corporate donor to some of the groups, accounting for more than 10 percent of their annual budgets. While a few of the groups say they also receive some money from other oil companies, it is only a small fraction of what they receive from Exxon Mobil.

“We want to support organizations that are trying to broaden the debate on an issue that is so important to all of us,” said Tom Cirigliano, a spokesman for Exxon. “There is this whole issue that no one should question the science of global climate change that is ludicrous. That’s the kind of dark-ages thinking that gets you in a lot of trouble.” He also noted, “These are not single-agenda groups.”

The organizations emphasize that while their views align with Exxon’s, the company’s money does not influence their policy conclusions. Indeed, the organizations say they have been sought out in part because of their credibility. “They’ve determined that we are effective at what we do,” said George C. Landrith, president of Frontiers of Freedom, a conservative group that maintains that human activities are not responsible for global warming. He says Exxon essentially takes the attitude, “We like to make it possible to do more of that.”

Frontiers of Freedom, which has about a $700,000 annual budget, received $230,000 from Exxon in 2002, up from $40,000 in 2001, according to Exxon documents. But Mr. Landrith said the growth was not as sharp as it appears because the money is actually spread over three years.

The increase corresponds with a rising level of public debate since the United States withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, some of the groups said. After President Bush rejected the protocol, a treaty requiring nations to limit emissions of heat-trapping gases, many corporations shifted their attention to Washington, where the debate has centered on proposals for domestic curbs on the emissions.

“Firefighters’ budgets go up when fires go up,” said Fred L. Smith, the head of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Myron Ebell, an analyst from the institute, spoke at last year’s Exxon shareholders’ meeting, where he criticized a renewable energy resolution proposed by a group of shareholders.

Exxon’s backing of third-party groups is a marked contrast to its more public role in the Global Climate Coalition, an industry group formed in 1989 to challenge the science around global warming. The group eventually disbanded when oil and auto companies started to withdraw. As companies were left to walk their own path, Exxon shifted money toward independent policy groups.

“Now it’s come down to a few of these groups to be the good foot soldiers of the corporate community on climate change,” said Kert Davies, a research director for Greenpeace, which has tried to organize an international boycott of Exxon.

Exxon’s publicly disclosed documents reveal that donations to many of these organizations increased by more than 50 percent from 2000 to 2002. And money to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that works with state legislators, has almost tripled, as the policy debate has moved to the state level.

The gifts are minuscule compared with the $100 million, 10-year scientific grant to Stanford, which is establishing a research center that will focus on technologies that could provide energy without adding to greenhouse gases linked by scientists to global warming. Nevertheless, the donations in the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars are significant for groups with budgets ranging from $700,000 to $4 million.

Critics say that Exxon and these groups continue to muddle the debate even as scientific consensus has emerged, and as much of the industry has taken a more conciliatory stance toward the reality of global warming. As Exxon has become isolated from its peers, it has faced increasing pressure from shareholders and environmentalists. BP, Shell and ChevronTexaco have developed strategies that incorporate renewable energy, carbon trading and emissions reductions.

Among the initiatives that Exxon’s money has helped is the Center for Science and Public Policy. The two-month-old center is a one-man operation that brings scientists to Capitol Hill on two issues: global warming and the health effects of mercury.

“We don’t lobby, we educate,” said Bob Ferguson, head of the center, who spent 24 years working as a Republican Congressional staff member. “We try to be nonpolitical and nonpartisan and nonideological.”

May 28, 2003

In Shift, U.S. to Offer Grants to Historic Churches


n a reversal of a longstanding policy, the Bush administration said yesterday that it would allow federal grants to be used to renovate churches and religious sites that are designated historic landmarks.

Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton announced the change in an afternoon news conference at the Old North Church in Boston, where in 1775 Paul Revere spotted two lanterns hung to signal the advance of British troops. Ms. Norton said the church, which still houses a congregation, would receive a federal grant of $317,000 to repair windows and make the building more accessible to the public.

“Today we have a new policy that will bring balance to historic preservation and end the discriminatory double standard that has been applied against religious properties,” said Ms. Norton, standing below the church’s famed steeple.

The decision was the latest step by the White House to remove barriers to government financing of religious organizations, and it received mixed reviews from constitutional experts.

In December, Mr. Bush issued executive orders telling federal agencies not to discriminate against religious groups in awarding social service contracts. He also directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to allow religious organizations, including schools, to receive earthquake and hurricane relief.

This year, the administration proposed regulations that would allow the use of federal housing aid to build religious centers where worship occurs, as long as the centers were used primarily for social services.

Jim Towey, the director of the White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives, said in a telephone interview that the change in policy on historic preservation would apply only to places of worship that qualify as landmarks under the “Save America’s Treasures” program. The program gives out about $30 million in grants annually to preserve all kinds of historic sites.

Mr. Towey said that the administration was reviewing regulations in other government agencies to determine whether religious organizations were being subject to discrimination in federal programs. He declined to identify the agencies or the regulations.

“They’re clearly interested, and they said it all along, in expanding the amount of government subsidies for religious institutions,” Mark Tushnet, a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University Law Center, said of the administration.

The policy barring religious institutions from receiving federal preservation money had been in place since the late 1970’s because of concerns about the separation of church and state, said Paul W. Edmondson, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the organization’s general counsel. The policy was formalized by a legal opinion issued by the Justice Department in the Clinton administration in 1995.

Recently, the Old North Church applied for a preservation grant under the “Save America’s Treasures” program, which is run jointly by the National Park Service and the National Trust. Last fall the church was told the grant was approved, said Timothy Matthews, a church official. But a week later, the church was informed of the 1995 ruling and the grant was revoked, he said.

Mr. Edmondson said the National Trust appealed to the Bush administration, sensing that the Old North Church was an ideal candidate for testing the ban. The White House asked the Justice Department for a new opinion and received one that took a stand different from the Clinton administration’s, Ms. Norton said.

“The buildings that we’re talking about have tremendous secular importance as historic places,” Mr. Edmondson said in an interview. “It has nothing to do with their importance as religious buildings per se ? it’s either the role they played in American history or their architectural significance.”

The Old North Church was designated a historic landmark in 1961. A foundation that is legally separate from the church will administer the grant, and the church is expected to raise an equal amount from private sources.

Constitutional scholars said that while there were Supreme Court precedents that barred the use of federal money to maintain religious buildings, the law was shifting and still murky.

“Is this government support for religion?” Mr. Tushnet asked. “In one sense, no, because it’s not paying the salary of the minister at Old North Church. But in another sense, yes, because it’s supporting the essential physical character of the church.”

“We’ll find out what the rule is when somebody litigates it,” he said, “but if I were a litigator I wouldn’t go after Old North Church because it is obviously of historic significance.”

Some First Amendment experts said that giving federal grants to preserve religious sites seemed to be constitutionally permissible because they were not grants to advance religion or worship. But others said the move was evidence that the administration was intent on dismantling the wall between church and state.

“This is just one more step in a governmentwide drive to fund religion with tax dollars,” said Joseph Conn, a spokesman for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, an advocacy group in Washington. “Literally you’re putting public money in the collection plate for the church’s building fund.”

Mr. Towey said other religious sites that could soon receive grants were the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., a civil rights landmark where a bombing in 1963 killed four girls, and the Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., the oldest synagogue in the United States.

In an interview after the Boston news conference, Michael L. Balaban, executive director of the Touro Synagogue, said the synagogue had already requested a $750,000 grant.

Caretakers of the nation’s oldest Roman Catholic cathedral, the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore, will also seek a grant soon, Robert J. Lancelotta Jr., the executive vice president of the basilica’s trust, said in an interview in Boston.

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by bicyclemark 0 Comments

I once again refer to the Asia Times for a most excellent commentary on patriotic stupidity. Remember, friends don’t let friends, be patriotic. Like Ho Chi Min said as his country was being colonized by France, “Patriotism is ignorant and dangerous.” (he said something to that effect)


Press the patriotism button, baby

By Sreeram Chaulia

In George W Bush’s America, it is the season for political dolls to again become big hits with shoppers, reminding toy market analysts of the Saddam Hussein “action figures” that stole the Christmas sales in the winter of 1990-91. A small firm in the state of Connecticut, Herobuilders Inc, is raking in fabulous profits generated by unique 12-inch talking world figures that utter politically correct dialogues when the button on their heads is pressed.

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein comes wrapped in a pocket-sized sado-masochistic outfit, holding nukes and germs in either hand, threatening to blow up the “free world”. Herobuilders’ figure of the US president, spouting 17 tough-talking Bushisms, sold out its inventory of 50,000 dolls in less than a week in early December 2002. Among the doll’s aphorisms are Bush’s landmark declaration made at Ground Zero in New York after the twin World Trade Center towers were destroyed, “The people who knocked down these buildings will hear all of us soon.” This dialogue is followed by raucous background cheering of construction workers and rescuers: “USA! USA! USA!”

The piece de resistance of Herobuilders’ repertoire is the talking doll of Osama bin Laden, costing US$36. Press down on his white turban and he squeaks in a rather Yankee-doodle style, “I suck! Would you stop bombing me? You’re killing me. I suck! My turban is too tight, I made a big mistake, all jihad go home. I was just kidding. I suck. Oohoohoohoohoo!” Toyshops claim that this doll has beaten all previous action figure sales records and that makers are planning a second version programmed with even more funny quotes from the sheikh.

Toys of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani are struggling to compete with this all-star lineup, but they, too, have interesting comments to make. Blair convinces buyers that it is in the “interests of world peace that Saddam is disarmed”. Giuliani praises the “spirit of New York which can never be cowed down by mad terrorists”.

What is to be made of all this? One way of looking at the phenomenon is to argue that Americans are a very informal, sporty people and enjoy spoofs of politics and politicians. Ever-popular WWF wrestlers mimic the president and wear underwear with the stars-and-stripes on it. “Dubyaman” comics and pictures of Bush reading “Presidency for Dummies” circulate with rapidity. Talk show comedians come on television and rubbish Kim Jong-il as a dissolute dimwit. Irreverence and casualness, according to this line of thought, is endemic to the American way of life and no icon is too big to be spared some debunking in popular culture.

The alternative view, which I hold, is that Herobuilders company is nicely buttressing the Bush doctrine of preemptive war to “extend the benefits of freedom across the world”. (See The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, September 2002). When legendary trainer Nick Bollettieri was asked the secret of America’s monopoly of world tennis champions, he replied, “We catch them young.” Political dolls do a similar service – they capture and color the psychology of American youth at a formative and impressionistic age. The norms and ideas the Bush, Saddam and bin Laden dolls impart are far more effective than what children learn in school textbooks.

As subtle carriers of propaganda, a-la James Bond films during the Cold War, the dolls help shape a new generation of proud, nationalistic and president-saluting citizens. They sow the seeds of a peculiar American morality whose first canon is “we” are good and “they” (“Russkies”, “commies” or “jhadis”) are evil. The simplistic dichotomy of good against evil, which the Bush doctrine reiterates, does not raise eyebrows in average American homes, thanks to the groundwork laid by action figures and Superman cartoons. It is the same spadework that results in a singularly American trait: “flag patriotism”, which far supersedes the occasional underwear buffoonery of wrestlers. In no other country does one get to see the national flag so profusely exhibited in front of homesteads, on motor vehicles, in shopping malls and on school bags of tiny tots.

These visual symbols collectively assist in inculcating the unquestioning sense of loyalty toward a regime that is waging war after war after war. Latest opinion polls conducted earlier this month reveal that 87 percent of Americans consider Iraq a “threat to national security”. That such an overwhelming majority has bought the Bush line – without conducting any objective analysis or common sense thinking – is living proof that the business of “getting folks to rally behind the flag” is roaring in America.

Noted historian Tariq Ali has likened Bush’s Americanism to another form of religious fundamentalism that thrives on whitewashing domination, manipulation and extermination, and relying on the good-evil paradigm to prepare domestic constituencies for foreign misdemeanors. Taboo questions that are not encouraged in this “religion” range from “Why are we going after some evil, and ignoring or mollycoddling other evil?” and “Did you know that the US air force used chemical and biological weapons extensively in the Korean War?” to “Why do we spuriously parrot that our actions always defend democracy and liberate oppressed people when we know that it is a lie?”

The most that adherents of this religion are willing to acknowledge, as the character named “Control” does to Richard Burton in the classic Cold War flick The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, is that “we” sometimes use “evil methods” to counter evil, thereby preserving good in the end.

A tiny segment of American civil society, located in university campuses, church dioceses and human rights organizations, is without doubt vibrant and vigilant, organizing peace marches and asking the taboo questions. But their efforts are largely met with apathy, or worse, antipathy from the mainstream. Last month, I marched in a peace rally in Syracuse, a small New York town, and found to my consternation that the 50-odd banners we planted on the grass along pavements near the city center were crossed out with red paint the morning after the demonstration.

Our script had read “No blood for oil in Iraq”. In red sanguine-looking paint, someone had retorted: “Be American. God Bless.” Only a religion, thoroughly internalized, can propel citizens to brave the cold of snowy nights simply to overwrite a few taboo questions on innocuous placards. Here was a first-rate illustration of Tariq Ali’s “clash of fundamentalisms”.

In 1988, John Mackenzie published Propaganda and Empire. The Manipulation of British Public Opinion, a remarkable history of ideas and norms that formed the societal consensus behind the last round of British worldwide expansionism. Glorification of martial virtues and the persona of Queen Victoria, backed by misinformation about the civilizing mission of colonizers like Cecil Rhodes, spread to all layers of British society from the 1880s onward. Textbooks, imaginative brochures, advertising, theater, radio and institutions like the Boy Scouts were used by the crown to trumpet the “liberation” (more accurately, the selective genocide) of the “heathen lands”. No room was left for doubt whether the colonial project was causing irreparable human and psychological damage to the subject peoples.

The air in America these days is a lot similar. The Cold War ended de jure in 1991, but the glory and religious fervor of unipolar empire is sinking in only after September 11. More and more common citizens are getting touchy about “pacifists” who oppose the Bush doctrine. More and more school kids are punching the plastic helmet on Herobuilders’ Saddam Hussein toy to hear the Iraqi dictator guffaw and warn, “America, I’m coming for you with all my germs.” More and more children, asked what they want to be when they grow up, say “Real American Hero”.

(?2003 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact for information on our sales and syndication policies, or to submit a letter to the editor.)