Daily Archives: April 7, 2009

Time Is Short as U.S. Presses a Reluctant Pakistan

President Obama’s strategy of offering Pakistan a partnership to defeat the insurgency here calls for a virtual remaking of this nation’s institutions and even of the national psyche, an ambitious agenda that Pakistan’s politicians and people appear unprepared to take up.

Officially, Pakistan’s government welcomed Mr. Obama’s strategy, with its hefty infusions of American money, hailing it as a “positive change.” But as the Obama administration tries to bring Pakistanis to its side, large parts of the public, the political class and the military have brushed off the plan, rebuffing the idea that the threat from Al Qaeda and the Taliban, which Washington calls a common enemy, is so urgent.

Some, including the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and the president, Asif Ali Zardari, may be coming around. But for the military, at least, India remains priority No. 1, as it has for the 61 years of Pakistan’s existence.

Read it all from the front page of yesterday’s New York Times.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Asia, Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Pakistan

David Ignatius: Listening in Kabul

Some common messages emerged: Many Afghans specifically blamed Pakistan and its intelligence service, known as the ISI, for funding the Taliban insurgency; they criticized the Karzai government’s corruption; and they lauded Holbrooke’s pet project for sharply boosting aid to Afghanistan’s agricultural sector.

The Afghanistan visit was an unusual exercise in strategic listening for a superpower that during the Bush years treated communications strategy as a problem of talking more loudly. It was especially interesting to see Holbrooke in listening mode. “Give us advice on reconciliation with the Taliban,” he implored the religious leaders. “What other suggestions do you have?” he asked the tribal chiefs.

The upbeat tour was deceptive, in a way, in its suggestion that Afghanistan’s problems can be fixed by more open talk. An illustration of how hard it will be to turn the war around comes in a security map displayed in Atmar’s office. Districts where the insurgency poses a high threat are colored in red; those that are enemy controlled are black. There is an arc of nearly unbroken red and black across the southern half of the country, where more than half the population lives.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, War in Afghanistan

Obama brings rivals to faith-based advisory panel

A Pentecostal bishop who has challenged Democrats on abortion and a representative of a national gay rights group are among nine new members of a White House advisory council.

President Obama announced the appointments of Bishop Charles E. Blake and Harry Knox on Monday, filling out a 25-person roster that is part of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Barack Obama, Religion & Culture

George Austin: The Rule of Rowan

The most distinguished occupant of Augustine’s chair since Anselm’ – so Rowan Williams is described by his biographer Rupert Shortt [Rowan’s Rule, reviewed ND Jan 2009]. At first sight it seems an inflated claim, perhaps overblown against an otherwise fairly undistinguished bench of bishops.

Yet even though the book is a warts-and-all account of the archbishops life and person, one cannot read Shortt’s work without recognizing that there is a quite remarkable occupant on the throne of Canterbury – theologian, philosopher, poet, writer and much more.

Two items in the accounts of his early life in South Wales seem to sum it all up. The first was a comment to a colleague by his English teacher: ‘There goes a boy who knows more about my subject than I do.’

The second was an essay on King Arthur, in which he examines the life of the king, suggesting the modern locations of Arthurian legends. It is erudite and beautifully constructed, and was written when he was thirteen years old.

But as well as being a scholar and profound thinker, he is deeply spiritual, toying both with Orthodoxy in his student days and with the possibility of a vocation to the religious life as a Catholic.
Of course he will not please everyone and even before he came from Wales he had become a controversial figure. To be Archbishop of Canterbury is a thankless task: both liberals and conservatives had thought of him as ‘on their side’, only to come later to abuse him when he appeared to be other than they had imagined.

Robert Runcie, when still Bishop of St Albans, had been described by the Bishop of Leicester in a Synod debate as being able ‘to sit on the fence while keeping both ears to the ground’ and those who knew him recognized it as a fair comment. But Rowan Williams’ intellect is of another kind, able to see the broadest perspective of an argument while coming to his own conclusion about it.

A tiny mind sees a controversial issue as if from the inside of a windowless box, with the result that for such a person the solution of, for example, the matter of women bishops becomes a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – or, put more crudely, ‘accept it or leave.’ Thus seven bishops could vote for the amendment in the July debate demanding a single-clause measure with no provision whatsoever for the opponents, surely an act either mindless or intolerant.

Williams, on the other hand, has a mind that considers all issues as if with a panoramic, all-round view, and that can only be good for the Church of England at this crucial time. As Shortt indicates in his biography, it is clear that this ability set him aside even in his student days.

There can be some comparison with John Robinson, whose book Honest to God from those days had a huge effect, particularly in Robinson’s concept of a ‘new morality’ – which was much deeper than its dismissal by some critics (or worse, its acceptance by many others) as no more than ‘if you like it, do it.’ Yet, like Rowan, Robinson was a true academic, unlike many liberal theologians then and later who were once criticized by the scholar and bishop John Moorman as people who, rather than first to find the evidence and then reach their conclusions ‘as I do as a historian, seemed instead to come to conclusions and then find the proof in selective Scripture.

Robinson was to display this academic rigour later when he wrote The Priority of John, completely overturning the fashionable liberal view that John’s Gospel was, as he wrote in his introduction, ‘the product of numerous hands and redactors.’

Rather he preferred ‘to believe that the ancient testament of the church is correct that John wrote it while ‘still in the body? As a result, he was not popular, to say the least, with some of his fellow liberal theologians.

Rowan Williams had to face the prevalence of secular liberalism in the theology of his student days, in which Christ was ‘a moral mentor rather than God incarnate; and Rowan saw deep problems with this model on both textual and conceptual grounds’ [Shortt].

It is still present today, though perhaps not so powerfully as even ten years ago; but it will add to the problems he faces both in England and in the wider Anglican Communion.

The grounds for considerable hope are in fact that he could resist it forty years ago as a mere student. If he could do it then, he can certainly do so now, while respecting those on both sides of such arguments – and that in an age when such respect is rare in ecclesiastical circles.

One issue on which he generated controversy and considerable unpleasant criticism is in the matter of homosexuality and the Church’s attitude to it. Yet the fact that the abuse he has received has come both from conservative evangelicals and from fundamentalist liberals is an indication both of that respect and, more importantly, of his ability to see the broader perspective of an argument than that which fits in with a particular stance.

Moreover, the statements he has made on the issue make it clear that he cannot on the one hand regard the homosexual condition as inherently sinful nor on the other can he condone every expression of that homosexuality. In other words, God loves every homosexual person just as he loves every heterosexual; but some actions of each must be regarded as contrary to God’s law.

Similarly with the contentious matter of women in the episcopate, which he supports, that broader perspective means he can recognize that those opposed have reached their conclusion not from misogyny or bigotry but from a different understanding of the theology of ministry and of the historic episcopate.

Since the lack of adequate provision will certainly mean a considerable exodus of priests and laity from the Church of England, it is not beyond possibility that such an archbishop, intellectual and deeply spiritual as he is, may well ask himself the question, ‘Can I too stay in such a Church?’ Now that would be unique indeed.

–The Rev. George Austin is retired Archdeacon of York; this appeared in the March 2009 New Directions Magazine, page 10

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Provinces, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England (CoE)

From the Do Not Take Yourself Too Seriously Department

After my four-year-old and I turned the department store upside down looking for a bathing suit for me, we finally found a black-and-white one-piece that we both liked. I tried on the suit and modeled it for her. It was a hit.

“Mommy, you look so pretty,” she squealed. “You look just like Shamu the whale.”

–Lori Rhodes in the May 2009 Reader’s Digest, page 192

Posted in * General Interest, Humor / Trivia

U.S. deficit nearly $1 trillion in first half of FY2009

The government likely recorded $953 billion in red ink from October through March including $290 billion for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, which was to provide much-needed cash to struggling financial institutions, the CBO said.

Receipts during the six-month period dropped about $160 billion, or 14 percent, over the same period in fiscal 2008. Nearly half of the drop, $73 billion, came from a fall in corporate income tax receipts.

The CBO, the nonpartisan budget analyst for Congress, said the drop in corporate receipts was the largest in more than three decades.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Taxes, The National Deficit, The U.S. Government

David Crawford Chimes In

From here:

How are the numbers in the Episcopal Church calculated? How can we have well over 2 million members, of which well over 1 million are members in good standing, and still only have 700,000 attending the church on Sunday? If I only go to church twice a year am I considered a member in good standing? These numbers are shocking, and we are reduced to a level of participation equal to that of a fringe group.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Data

By bits, vets peel away the anxiety

For 35 years, Paul Middleton avoided the Cooper River bridges. Fearful of glimpsing the gray warships at Patriots Point, the North Charleston resident took Interstate 526.

Middleton, 57, has post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

On Monday afternoon, the Vietnam veteran sat at a picnic table at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, tapping his fingers. He said his anxiety level was an eight on a scale of one to 10.

Read it all from the front page of the local paper

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Health & Medicine, Military / Armed Forces

Stephen Crocker: How the Internet Got Its Rules

The early R.F.C.’s ranged from grand visions to mundane details, although the latter quickly became the most common. Less important than the content of those first documents was that they were available free of charge and anyone could write one. Instead of authority-based decision-making, we relied on a process we called “rough consensus and running code.” Everyone was welcome to propose ideas, and if enough people liked it and used it, the design became a standard.

After all, everyone understood there was a practical value in choosing to do the same task in the same way. For example, if we wanted to move a file from one machine to another, and if you were to design the process one way, and I was to design it another, then anyone who wanted to talk to both of us would have to employ two distinct ways of doing the same thing. So there was plenty of natural pressure to avoid such hassles. It probably helped that in those days we avoided patents and other restrictions; without any financial incentive to control the protocols, it was much easier to reach agreement.

This was the ultimate in openness in technical design and that culture of open processes was essential in enabling the Internet to grow and evolve as spectacularly as it has. In fact, we probably wouldn’t have the Web without it. When CERN physicists wanted to publish a lot of information in a way that people could easily get to it and add to it, they simply built and tested their ideas. Because of the groundwork we’d laid in the R.F.C.’s, they did not have to ask permission, or make any changes to the core operations of the Internet. Others soon copied them ”” hundreds of thousands of computer users, then hundreds of millions, creating and sharing content and technology. That’s the Web.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Blogging & the Internet, History

Living Church: Amid Recession, Michigan Considers Sustainable Church Mission

In preparation for the special convention, the diocesan treasurer predicted that the tamped-down support of diocesan ministry””congregation apportionments plus standard dividends from investments””would not exceed $2 million annually.

“We are in a different financial place than where we were even six short months ago,” Bishop Gibbs wrote to the diocese in late March, signaling the necessity to sacrifice mission and ministry opportunities.

On April 2, the bishop made the first sacrifice. He dissolved five positions on the diocesan staff. One in the finance office was unfilled since convention approved the 2009 budget. The four others”” canon for Ministry Development and Transition Ministries, canon for Lifelong Learning, director of Stewardship and Planned Giving, and director of Payroll and Benefits””were full-time positions eliminated from that staff, effective at the end of May.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Economics, Politics, Economy, Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Bishops, TEC Diocesan Conventions/Diocesan Councils, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--

Michael S. Rozeff: The Basis for the Geithner Plan is Invalid

The pricing of the toxic assets of the banks is in line with the pricing of other risky assets. There is no evidence that prices of credit instruments are now reflecting fire sales or distress selling. The evidence, if anything, suggests that the prices are actually on the high side. This means that the liquidity rationale of the Keynesians has no basis in fact.

The findings are sure to be contested in the literature, as most research is. In the end, they will prove robust. They will hold up.

The debate on bank bailouts is broader than economics. It goes to a question of justice. Should one group, taxpayers, be forced to pay for the mistakes of another group, bankers? It goes to a question of freedom versus socialism and fascism. Should banks operate in a profit and loss system and bear the losses that they incur, or should they not, in which case the financial system becomes more socialist and fascist? Even before addressing these questions, if the Keynesian policy does not do what it is claimed, then in economic terms the Keynesian case falls.
The government and FED claim that the financial system lacks liquidity. They say that there is a market pricing defect or failure. This, they say, is why the bad loans (toxic assets) held by the banks are worth more than the prices that they are fetching in the market. These prices, they claim, are fire sale prices. The remedy, they call for and implement, is for the Treasury and FED to supply the banks with liquidity, i.e., bail them out. Thus, the government and the FED are directing trillions of taxpayer dollars to shore up weak banks by buying their bad loans rather than overseeing a judicial-like process of re-organizing the banks and cleaning out these loans in established bankruptcy-like procedures.

The Austrian position is that the financial system does not lack liquidity. The bad loans were overpriced to begin with, largely because the FED and government engineered a speculative bubble. The bubble burst. The loans were repriced in the market. The loans are now worth what they are bringing in the market. Thus, the government has no liquidity justification for bailing out the banks. The government’s economic rationale has no merit. Many banks are insolvent. On the economic merits, they should be allowed to fail, not bailed out.

This may seem arcane but it really does matter. Read it all–KSH.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Credit Markets, Economy, Housing/Real Estate Market, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Barack Obama, The 2009 Obama Administration Bank Bailout Plan, The Banking System/Sector, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--, The U.S. Government, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner

Bishop Paul Marshall of Bethlehem: My position on the Northern Michigan Episcopate

In the case of the bishop-elect of Northern Michigan, perhaps we can get our ducks in the correct rows. His Buddhist practices are sensational but not the point. In sermons and other writings (including eucharistic prayers which I fear were used outside Rite III settings, giving us a question of discipline as well as doctrine), the bishop-elect makes it clear that the doctrine of the Trinity as confessed in the Creed and explained in the Catechism is not what he holds.

He will use base-three theological language, but never in service to the proposition that in Jesus of Nazareth God became fully human. Similarly, his understanding of the atonement is not conformable with the liturgy or catechism, but appears to be something like gnostic enlightenment. His writings represent a very shaky understanding of the Second Person of the Trinity, God incarnate, severely weakening his gospel.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Christology, Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Bishops, TEC Conflicts, TEC Conflicts: Northern Michigan, Theology

ACNA Canons Published, Comments Welcome

The charge to the Governance Task Force was to provide a strong skeleton around which a living Church could be built.

This letter is being sent to the whole Church as an introduction to the basic work that has been done, and in order to outline the process of discussion, adoption and ratification now ahead of us. Simply put, the whole Church discusses, the Provincial Council adopts, and the Provincial Assembly ratifies or sends back.

The principal time for suggesting changes to the draft canons is between now and the April meeting of Council. Comments and suggestions should be given to the jurisdictional representatives who compose the Common Cause Leadership Council by April 24th or sent to the chair of the Governance Task Force, Mr. Hugo Blankingship (email: governance [at] theacna [dot] org), no later than noon on Monday, April 20th. The Council can then consider these matters in deciding the form in which the canons are adopted. Once adopted, another period of publication and comment follows, but this time the advice from the local Church to its representatives to the Provincial Assembly (June 22-25) would take the form of recommendations on whether to ratify or reject individual canons or sections of canons. If, however, substantial concerns are identified in this latter period, it should be noted that it would be possible for the Council to meet, adopt and circulate further revised canons prior to the Provincial Assembly.

Read it carefully and read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, --Proposed Formation of a new North American Province, Common Cause Partnership

Archbishop of Westminster protests at football on Easter Day

The next Archbishop of Westminster has attacked the heads of the Premier League and Setanta Sports for holding football fixtures on Easter Day.

The Most Rev Vincent Nichols, who will be enthroned at Westminster next month, has written a strong letter of complaint to Richard Scudamore, the chief executive of the Premier League, and Trevor East, the director of sport at Setanta, for showing disdain for the religious traditions of Britain. Two Premier League games ”” Aston Villa v Everton and Manchester City v Fulham ”” are scheduled for Sunday afternoon.

Writing as Archbishop of Birmingham, along with the Anglican Bishop of Birmingham, the Right Rev David Urquhart, he accused the league and the broadcaster of disregarding the importance of Easter Day and treading on the sensitivities of their employees and football supporters.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Sports

Thomas Friedman: Obama’s Big, Bold Bet

Mr. Obama is betting that the totality of economic policies his team and the Federal Reserve have put in place will act, like radiation therapy, to halt the spread and reduce the size of the cancerous tumors eating away at our financial system ”” and stimulate enough new growth and optimism so that Phase II will be small enough to get past Congress and the public.

As Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told ABC News, “If we get to that point” ”” where more funds are needed ”” “we’ll go to the Congress and make the strongest case possible and help them understand why this will be cheaper over the long run to move aggressively.”

Have no doubt, Phase II is coming. At best, it will require hundreds of billions of dollars more, at worst more than a trillion, to deal with more bad loans and toxic assets weakening the economy ”” problems that Phase I can’t fully absorb. Because unemployment is still rising ”” ensuring that the initial spate of mortgage defaults, which came from loans to people who could never repay, will be followed by another spate of defaults from those who could repay but now can’t because the deteriorating economy has stripped them of their jobs, their businesses or their credit lines.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Budget, Economy, Federal Reserve, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Barack Obama, The 2009 Obama Administration Bank Bailout Plan, The 2009 Obama Administration Housing Amelioration Plan, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--, The Fiscal Stimulus Package of 2009, The National Deficit, The Possibility of a Bailout for the U.S. Auto Industry, The U.S. Government, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner

Brain Researchers Open Door to Editing Memory

Suppose scientists could erase certain memories by tinkering with a single substance in the brain. Could make you forget a chronic fear, a traumatic loss, even a bad habit.

Researchers in Brooklyn have recently accomplished comparable feats, with a single dose of an experimental drug delivered to areas of the brain critical for holding specific types of memory, like emotional associations, spatial knowledge or motor skills.

The drug blocks the activity of a substance that the brain apparently needs to retain much of its learned information. And if enhanced, the substance could help ward off dementias and other memory problems.

So far, the research has been done only on animals. But scientists say this memory system is likely to work almost identically in people.

Read it all from the front page of this morning’s New York Times.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Psychology, Science & Technology