Americans, hold your government accountable…

In light of Tony Benn’s insight in the previous post, I was pleased to find an update from Congressman Dennis Kucinich on my Facebook profile this afternoon that showed both his courage and a call to the thinking, involved American public to hold our government accountable.

One of the most important needs for a democratic society to exist and thrive is transparency in the governmental process. Those who have been given the responsibility of leading must lead with integrity, wisdom, and accountability. When the lives of persons are at stake with possible military action, then leaders must especially be truthful.

I am sad to say that George W. Bush is not this type of leader. And I am even further saddened to suggest that in the buildup to the Iraq War, he used propaganda techniques, misdirection, and perception-spin to convince the American people that they should get behind a military invasion of the country. This has resulted in over 4,000 deaths of American personnel, tens of thousands of American personnel injured (physically and mentally), tens of thousands (if not more) Iraqi deaths (most civilians, including women and children), Iraqi society in deeper turmoil; and worst, a growth in numbers of al-Qaeda as hatreds have been inflamed by deaths in families.

In Bill Clinton’s presidency, he was impeached by the House of Representatives because he lied about sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. They called this “high crimes and misdemeanors.” George W. Bush and his administration lied about Iraq, al-Qaeda, and their motives for invading, resulting in untold human devastation. If lying about a sexual relationship is a “high crime” (highly debatable), and the costs of Bush’s action have made Clinton’s look like a geriatric bridge club, then certainly Bush is guilty, and must be held accountable.

Not only am I disgusted at Bush’s leadership, but even further disgusted at my fellow Christians who give this man a blank check because he’s “born-again.” By my estimation, he’s one of the most corrupt, big-business-bought-off, immoral presidents in recent memory.

Thankfully, there’s at least one Representative that has had the guts to be a leader in this area; Dennis Kucinich. And he’s gaining a wider hearing with his colleagues on Capital Hill. The following is a message I got from Kucinich a bit ago. I signed the petition. I would suggest you join me as well. Make our government accountable.

Last week, Congressman Dennis Kucinich delivered a petition bearing more than 100,000 names to the Speaker of the House urging that impeachment proceedings begin into the conduct of President Bush. 

With new disclosures that the Administration tried to “cook the books at the CIA” by creating a phony, forged link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, “We cannot step back and let this President escape accountability.”

If you have already signed the impeachment petition at http://kucinich.us, thank you. If you haven’t, please do. And, in the next few weeks, please ask just one more person to sign so we can let the members of Congress hear our collective demand that they meet their obligation to uphold the Constitution.”

This is an attack on the black church (and if the black church, then the church at large)…

Jeremiah Wright and Cornel West have awakened me from my middle-class white slumber in the last three months.  Lost amidst all the hullabaloo from 10-second sound-bites yanked from the greater context of Jeremiah Wright’s sermons which news organizations then talked hours on is the greater message Jeremiah is seeking to convey to the American nation. Jeremiah Wright is not Obama’s lapdog, and Obama is not his. Barack Obama is a politician, and Jeremiah Wright is an eloquent, shockingly-honest, sometimes-divisive pastor of God’s church.  The two are very different things. In order for us to understand the experience of the black church and the foundation from which Wright speaks, we need to move beyond the sound-bites and into a good, full listen to him in the videos below; even if, or especially if, we disagree with him.

If you are a person who is sick and tired of news organizations telling us what we should believe and showing us what we should see, please give this man a full listen in the videos below.

And if you want to know, REALLY know, this man that Barack Obama is separating himself from because of mushy political centrism in seeking to get elected, please give this man a full listen in the videos below. Barack Obama is being more and more exposed as a man who used Trinity UCC as a leg up, as a prestige card to play with the black community, rather than a fully participating member invested in attacking the problem of racism head-on. Calling for racial unity is nice and all, but when significant embedded racism still exists in our society, it’s time for troublemakers, rabble-rousers to stand up and speak truth to power, their political careers be damned.

And let this be stated clearly, if you can watch Survivor or American Idol or Dancing with the Stars (“reality” shows) or Lost or 24 or The Office (hour-long escapes from reality into suspended disbelief) or Hannity and Colmes (a show of barking partisan hacks) for hours on end every week, I’m fairly certain you can watch an embattled man (and a fine one at that) talk about something of vital importance for our world today in the videos below.

I’m sitting on some thoughts, but I will write them in the next couple days after wrapping up some loose ends for school. So keep attuned here if you’re interested in catching some of my thoughts on this; I want to contribute to this conversation that is simply not taking place in our society right now. It is DESPERATELY needed, and I want to be a part of it. Even in a little tiny way.

Video #2 of the same speech

Video #3 of the same speech

Video #4 of the same speech

Video #5 of the same speech

Video #6 of the same speech

The Gospel according to Moneyball, or…A picture is worth how many words?

I was reading for a bit in the instant classic Moneyball (by Michael Lewis) this morning, and he made several observations I found immediately incisive and made my thoughts wander a bit. He’s talking about the game (and management) of baseball, but hopefully you’ll see where my thoughts went. Lewis is talking specifically of Oakland’s former assistant GM Paul DePodesta and his decision to enter the business of baseball rather than a more lucrative finance career;

“He was just the sort of person who might have made an easy fortune in finance, but the market for baseball players, in Paul’s view, was far more interesting than anything Wall Street offered. There was, for starters, the tendency of everyone who played the game to generalize wildly from his own experience. People always thought their own experience was typical when it wasn’t. There was also a tendency to be overly influenced by a guy’s most recent performance: (but) what he did last was not necessarily what he would do next. Thirdly- but not lastly- there was the bias toward what people saw with their own eyes, or thought they had seen. The human mind played tricks on itself when it relied exclusively on what it saw, and every trick it played was a financial opportunity for someone who saw through the illusion to the reality.”

This is just a wonderfully interesting quote by itself that could be spun off in a number of directions if one had the time and the energy to think/write about it, but in this post, I thought I’d explore the “thirdly” part of Lewis’ quote that included the suggestion that “the human mind played tricks on itself when it relied exclusively on what it saw.” Just to take you through the progression of thoughts in my mind, I immediately thought “Hmmm…” followed by a moment of the suggestion sinking in, followed by remembering a little of what Neil Postman had to bring to bear on the power of image to overcome rational thought, followed by beginning to wrestle with the “false reality” that can be created by persons with the wherewithal to do so (which preys on the temptation for us to only rely on what we have “seen”). That was the process…I’ll work through it a bit more here following.

I guess a relevant question would be, is it true? Are we more deeply affected by what we see or directly experience than what is said to us or revealed to us outside of our experience? I’m assuming yes, though I’d label that as a temptation rather than an assumed truth. This over-emphasis on experienced truth is one of the deep weaknesses of uncritical postmodern thought as I see it. I could talk about this for pages probably, but that’s not my intent in this post. My basic intent is to expose the basic inadequacy of relying on experience or what one “sees” as a foundation for what is true through a couple simple examples. I recognize there are multiple shades of gray between the black and white of experienced truth vs. revealed truth, but hopefully the reality that what is “experienced” or “seen” can be manipulated shines through here.

The age of the internet complicates things, making news much more open-source and therefore less able to be easily manipulated for propaganda purposes, but it is still very possible (especially if the populace relies on basic news outlets for information) to present something as “reality” when it really is a series of images that have been manipulated to achieve a desired outcome. One example to support this suggestion was the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in the center of Iraq as the U.S.-led Shock and Awe campaign swept into the center of Baghdad in 2003. In describing the fall of Hussein’s statue, Donald Rumsfeld described the images as “breathtaking,” the British Army saw them as “historic,” and for BBC radio they were “amazing.” In the pictures that spread through media outlets like wildfire, there seemed to be a massive crowd of jubilent Iraqis pulling down the statue of Hussein that represented their celebration of freedom from his oppressive rule. Here’s the central picture of that series;

crowds

If you check out a Youtube video that follows Fox News’ coverage of the statue toppling, you’ll notice the anchors saying “jubilant seems too mild a word for what you’re seeing here,” followed by poking fun at French governmental officials for their opposition to the “liberation of Iraq.”

After the event, conservative commentator Robert Novak weighed in with his opinion, saying that

“As the war began in 2003, the New York Times required less than three weeks before it ran a front-page report by a star correspondent of the last generation, R.W. Apple, which hauled out the heavy word of the Vietnam generation, quagmire-as in the quagmire in which, Apple wrote, U.S. troops were already bogged down. Three weeks later, those same quagmired troops had sped into Baghdad, watching as jubilant crowds pulled down the great statue of Saddam Hussein in the center of the city and organizing a systematic search for the suddenly deposed butcher of Mesopotamia.”

And these images then were exported throughout the world as display of the celebration that had ensued in Iraq and the momentous change of regime on par with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Some of the images follow;
crowds1
crowds2

This third image represents the global impact of the photography, as viewed in Frankfurt, Germany.
frank
(pictures linked from here)

So, it seems there was a massive crowd celebrating the end of the Hussein era, right? Not so fast. If you had a healthy sense of skepticism and traveled outside the seeming exultation of the crowds presented by prominent media outlets, you would have found a different picture…literally. And while one could argue which pictures represent reality more faithfully if two different groups take different pictures and claim different things at the event, I think we’d all agree that pictures of wider context usually display a more full picture of the reality.

Take a gander at a bit wider angle shot of the event, then two definitely large-scope shots taken chronologically;
crowd4

crowd5
It seems that less-euphoric/less-subjective/less-manipulative news sources reported a much different scene than the CNN/BBC/Fox News one. Journalist David Zucchino interviewed a member of the Army’s psychological operations unit and found that the event was almost entirely put on by the US military. After a US colonel “selected the statue as a ‘target of opportunity,’ the psychological team used loudspeakers to encourage Iraqi civilians to assist, according to an account by a unit member.” And when cameras zoomed in on the Marine recovery vehicle toppling the statue, “the effort appeared to be Iraqi-inspired because the psychological team had managed to pack the vehicle with cheering Iraqi children.”

And in the words of eyewitness Neville Watson, a clergyman from Australia,

“Well, there certainly was some jubilation, but I certainly wouldn’t go along with that presented by television. The one that I’ve seen a lot of since I’ve been back is the toppling of the statue of Saddam and I can hardly believe it was the same one that I saw, because it happened at only about 300m from where I was and it was a very small crowd. The rest of the square was almost empty, and when we inquired as to where the crowd came from, it was from Saddam City. In other words, it was a rent-a-crowd. Now, that piece of television has been played over and over again, but I’ve seen nothing of the pieces of television, for example, what happened in Mosul the other day, where the Americans opened fire on a crowd killing 10 and injuring 100 when it became anti-American. So I think the scenes of jubilation have to be balanced against the other side of the picture.”

All in all, the wide-angle shots and different testimonies reveal a much different picture. In total, there were about 200 people in the square, with a vast majority of that number being military personnel and international media (we won’t mention that the square is just adjacent to the Palestine Hotel where the international media were based) along with a handful of Iraqis. And even the spontaeity of the handful of Iraqis is in doubt; one could say those who came after encouragement by the loudspeakers were somewhat spontaneous, but a picture of a central celebrant reveals him to be a member of the “Free Iraqi Forces” militia who were flown into Iraq several days before the statue-toppling. Starting to shape up into a different “picture,” eh? *pun intended* I guess I shouldn’t mention that the BBC reported the American flag initially put over the face of the Saddam statue was one flying over the Pentagon on September 11th either. Seems less and less spontaneous, the deeper we go.

I don’t want to belabor the point, because my intention, again, was just to expose the inadequacy of relying on experience or what one “sees” as a foundation for what is true, because one can be greatly deceived by persons interested in keeping us in the alternate reality shaped and colored by their perspective. And governments (ALL governments) certainly have a vested interest in the support of the populace. Just a cautionary note; don’t believe all that you see. Maintain a healthy skepticism. Be willing to wade deeper, even if it may cost you or cause people to label you.

Some thoughts (maybe some interaction with others?)

My friend Matt Murphy is a prolific blogger over on Myspace; I wish I had the work ethic to be as disciplined on mine (blogging helps me sort out my scattered thoughts). Matt about a half a month or so ago posted a blog I found interesting. I’ll attach both his thoughts and mine, but before doing that, I’ve got a bit of a preface that’s been rolling through my head recently (most directly related to Matt’s approach).

Matt is not your typical evangelical American Christian. How do I define typical evangelical American Christian? Most often, I find them to be hypocritical in belief and lifestyle and logically incoherent. Keep in mind I’m saying this as a Christian too (and that I, from time to time, am both hypocritical and logically incoherent, but work with me). I continually find myself intrigued that Christians can in one breath talk about love, forgiveness, and God’s grace and in the next talk of folks next-door or across the globe as if their lives are nothing more than dirt. It seems to me the prevailing message we get in our churches is typically something that leads to a split in us; as if you or I could “love” someone in our hearts but beat to a different drum in our actions. As a simple example, somehow we’ve been taught that we can “love” God and others and “forgive” others while simultaneously serving in the military and killing those who disagree with us (using the most obvious case) in the name of “justice.” This logic goes further for those who don’t serve directly in the military but engage in the cult worship of military “heroes” or our American governmental leaders that usually takes place the Sunday closest to every Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day, or Independence Day where we celebrate their sacrifice to maintain our “freedom.” Acknowledging that reality could spawn some more writing here on that subject, but I think it’s important to focus here on the false presumption that we can “believe” certain things while our lives and primary motivations completely contradict what we say we believe in. It’s wickedly humorous to me how supposedly mature Christians in times of relative peace and comfort say all the right things, yet when things happen that destabilize the norm, they line up with all the other good American citizens and toe the line of uncritically accepting the decisions of G.W. because he’s a “praying man” or the nation at large as if we’re the pure, perfect light of freedom and justice in the world or some other such nonsense. This applies to any modern nation-state (especially in the West) where fealty to the state usurps faithfulness to Christ as Lord.

What has “love” become in our society? What about “justice” and “peacemaking” and “discipleship”? It’s manifestly obvious to me we value Jeremy Bentham, George W. Bush, or H. Richard Niebuhr’s opinions on these subjects more than Jesus or Paul. Is that a problem? (tongue planted firmly in cheek) I say all this because Matt (as a relatively “new” Christian) has a deeper awareness of the aforementioned concepts of love, discipleship, justice, etc than 99.9% of my friends or acquaintances that call themselves Christian. How has this hit Matt between the eyes and not them? My deeper question is: how can we recover a reading of the teachings of Jesus with a plain understanding that they are intended to be the center of what it means for you and I to be disciples? Call me crazy, but love doesn’t make sense if we don’t define it by Jesus’ example, teachings, and further (second-level) New Testament musings. The proper pursuit of justice doesn’t make sense if we don’t define it by Jesus’ example, teachings, and further (second-level) New Testament musings, etc etc. Matt seems to have this awareness (along with a willingness to be dynamic in dialogue about the secondary issues that stem from his pursuit of discipleship in the way of Christ). I think that should be applauded.

Anyways, here’s what he said on his blog (keep in mind my perception of Matt’s approach comes not from this post alone, but from reading multiple posts that seem to reflect a consistent motivation):

I have opinions that my friends don’t like.

Soldiers go door to door killing. For what? Are the citizens of Iraq suddenly going to come to my house and try to kill me or my family? Probably not. Its a good thing we have a constitution here that generally prevents the killing of malcontents. Have any weapons of mass distruction definitively been found? No. Did Iraq threaten us prior to our invasion of their country? Depends on who you talk to. Have we rooted out any Al Qaeda members in Iraq? Not definitively. When we did invade, for the purpose of human rights, did we assist refugees? Not really. Is the US Government moving to make more strict laws against torture of prisoners? Negative. Wait, isn’t torture of Americans one of the things we are upset about? How many innocent have died? A lot. How many American soldiers have died just from being over there (vehicular accidents, friendly fire, etc.)? A lot. In the first Iraq war, more Americans died from just being over there than in the war. Is Matt ever going to vote Republican? My sources say no.”

And my response:

“Some further questions I think are important:

How does a secular sense of justice match up with a Biblical sense of justice 1)in general and 2)specifically in the case of Iraq?

How do we as the church maintain a distance from the actions of the state and take action in our own unique way that provides an alternative witness in times where the actions of the state are clearly unjust?

In recognizing the ultimate futility of staking our complete interest in the actions of the state (empires rise and fall, right?), how do we move beyond secular political pigeonholing (liberal/conservative, Democrat/Republican/Green/Libertarian) to recognize that the Politics of Jesus will make some label us as conservative in some areas and liberal in others?

In connection with another of your blogs, it seems to me we always have the temptation to make the easiest move towards the most comfort in our lives. I think that relates to:
1) our politics…its easier to toe the line of whatever party we agree most with and we end up defending their entire platform because we think they’re “right” and the other “wrong”, and
2) how we relate to the society as the church…we’ve passed off much of the responsibility of the church to impact the society for good (who started widespread education and the helping profession of medicine?) on the state; that way we don’t have to do much other than go to church on Sunday and sit on our hands the rest of the time.

That makes it a heck of a lot easier to sit in our armchairs and talk about why the poor just need to quit being lazy and do something about their lives when we don’t have any direct connection to those who are poverty stricken; or talk about why single mothers shouldn’t get abortions without actually working directly in their lives so they know not only their lives are important, but the lives of their unborn children, etc etc. I’m continually frustrated by how selfish I am in this respect (in a vacuum, I’d choose the armchair), and how much potential we have for grassroots change as the church that’s being wasted in front of televisions between the four walls of our residences.”

Penny for your thoughts (and willingness to read this longish post)