Sunday, August 27, 2006

Good News / Bad News

I awoke this morning to the good news that Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig, the two kidnapped American journalists had been freed, were unharmed, and preparing to return home.

Always one to find the ant at the picnic, I am troubled by one aspect of there captivity. It is contained in two terse, disjunct paragraphs in the New York Times coverage:
Earlier today, their captors delivered a video showing the two men in long Arab robes reading lines from the Koran to indicate their conversion.

Mr. Centanni said the men were forced to make videotapes decrying American policies and converting to Islam. “There were times I thought I’m dead, but now I’m not,” he said.
I am not an expert on Islam, but as I understand it, forced conversions are valid conversions. From such a viewpoint, I ask three questions:

1) Are the conversions of Mr. Centanni and Mr. Wiig considered "valid" by CAIR and other moderate Muslim groups in the United States?

2) If these conversions are invalid, will we hear condemnations of the conversions by the leading voices of moderate Islam in America, Europe, and even in the Middle East?

3) It has been shown that the imams in even "moderate" states such as Turkey and Egypt consider conversion away from Islam an offence punishable by death under sharia law. If Mr. Centanni and Mr. Wiig renounce their conversions as invalid under duress, do they fall under that death sentence?

CAIR and other Islamic organizations have claimed to be voices of moderation. Now they can show that moderation by rejecting the practice of forced conversions and refusing to sanction sharia death penalty for conversion away from Islam.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Specter of the Theocracy, part VII

News comes of the disintegration of the Christian Coalition:

Three state affiliates have severed ties with the Christian Coalition of America, one of the nation's most powerful conservative groups during the 1990s but now buffeted by complaints over finances, leadership and its plans to veer into nontraditional policy areas.

"It's a very sad day for our people, but a liberating day," said John Giles, president of the coalition's Alabama chapter, which said Wednesday that it was renaming itself and splitting from the national organization. The Iowa and Ohio chapters took similar steps this year.

Giles said he and his Alabama colleagues have "a dozen hard reasons" for the action but would elaborate on only one: a perception that the coalition's leadership was diverting itself from traditional concerns such as abortion and same-sex marriage to address other issues ranging from the environment to Internet access.

Giles predicted further defections.

There goes our chance to rule the world!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Tracking Rudy

I am going to be reading Night Blotter regularly for the a while. The author, who styles himself as a New York City cop*, has a close-up view of Rudy Guliani and has determined to follow his presidential campaign.

From his first Rudy posting:
As some readers may have noted, I predicted w/o reservation that Giuliani is not only going to run for U.S. President, he is going to win. Nonetheless, there is a lot of road between now and 2008--and fascinating road it is--particularly since many of those involved have their roots in the NYPD.

As someone who has watched many of the New York characters who are soon going to assume the national (and international?) stage, I'm going to endeavor to track Rudy's candidacy as it develops (a bit) on the site, for a simple reason: While many NYC cops dislike Rudy because he was very tough on salary negotiations, he "gets" the terrorism issue--he is no Jonathan Zimmerman (see Friday's blog post).

Rudy is socially somewhat liberal, but fiscally and internationally conservative--a profile that I think mirrors the nation's mood fairly accurately. He's also been saying many of the right things lately--particularly when it comes to alternative fuel development.

That said, I see three issues so far that can de-rail the Giuliani Express...
*On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Theocons Triumphant

Big thanks to Taleena over at Sun Comprehending Glass for pointing out this great review by Ross Douthat on the current crop of "Theocracy Mongers." She quotes a few paragraphs and encourages the Constant Reader to, "As always, read the rest." This is good advice.

I have several friends who have ben reading and passing around Kevin Phillips's American Theocracy and gushing over its accuracy and truthfulness. Hmmm....

One of the life lessons that I have learned through the years is to check out what people in media and letters say against my direct knowledge of a subject. I recommend this as an exercise for the Constant Reader. Whether your area of expertise is arts, sciences, law enforcement, garbage collection, or enviromental law, read the general press coverage of events in that area and compare that coverage with your certain knowlege of the facts. Charitably, one can say that issues are often simplified to the point of being incorrect; uncharitably one cna say that the press wants first to sell a sensational story, facts be damned.

People Left, Right, and Center will curse the stupidity of the press when they are covering their own area of expertise, but will gullibly swallow the same stupidity when it is about some issue upon which they have little knowlege.

The Constant Reader knows of my contempt of the idea of an impending Theocracy.

But, as Taleena recommends, read the rest. Bonus point to Ross Douthat for linking Margret Atwood to Robert A. Heinlein.

Is the Political Center Up For Grabs?

I switched on the news this morning and saw a report about Joe Lieberman's defeat to Ned Lamont in the Connecticut Democratic party primary. The news anchor blabed on over a repeating loop of Joe coming out of a polling booth and Ned standing on a stage at his victory party, almost lost in the press of people trying to crowd up against some success, hoping that some of that success will rub off on them.

There, behind Ned's right shoulder was Al Sharpton; behind his left shoulder was Jessie Jackson. Two race-baiters who have between them have never won any elective office.

Though this is a blow for President Bush's Mideast policy, this may also be the high-water mark for the resurgent anti-war left. John McLaughlin points out this victory's surprising fragility:

These Connecticut Democrats were opposed to the war and unfavorable to President Bush by about a 4 to 1 ratio. Joe Lieberman stood up to the antiwar radicals Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and found out he can’t count on Hillary Clinton. However, as the intellectual activists and radicals of the Democratic party left him, working class, small-town, and moderate Democrats rallied and voted with Senator Lieberman. It’s a very important lesson for Republicans who must win in blue states. The Democrat center is available. The political descendents of George McGovern are excommunicating the heirs to Scoop Jackson. As Ronald Reagan embraced anti-Communist Democrats, anti-terror Republicans should embrace Lieberman Democrats.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Hispanic Dynamism

A topic much discussed in conservative circles a few years back was the dynamism of the Evangelical church in Latin America. Back then National Review had cover artwork showing Billy Graham in a sombrero. (Discerning Evangelicals knew that the Latin American Billy Graham was Luis Palau.)

Here is a link to an example of that dynamism coming to the United States:

Spreading the Word--Fast
A new system makes church membership grow exponentially.

Friday, July 28, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

At one of his recent Sunday services at the Heavenly Vision Center in the Bronx, N.Y., the Rev. Salvador Sabino asked all the "leaders" in the room to rise. He was shocked to see an elderly woman named Sonia among those who stood up. She was one of the quietest people he had ever known--he had once even wondered whether she was mute. Mr. Sabino then asked: "Will all the heads of a cell rise?" The woman remained standing. He later found out that, despite her withdrawn personality, Sonia had at least 48 people under her guidance. Beneath that shy exterior was a true passion for leadership.

For the other 1,400 (mostly Hispanic) attendees at the Heavenly Vision Christian Center, a nondenominational evangelical church, leadership has become a key concept in their lives. Not only are the congregants expected to mentor 12 disciples--newcomers to the church--but they must also encourage the disciples themselves to become leaders. This cascading structure, called G-12--or Government of Twelve--has proved to be a good way of gaining members while keeping the old ones engaged. The idea is to imitate the delegated leadership of Jesus' 12 disciples. In North America, more than 380 churches have registered to use the G-12 system.

The Wharton business school couldn't have designed a better growth strategy. According to the imperatives of G-12, leaders have to follow four steps--win new adherents, strengthen the adherents' Christian beliefs, take them on as disciples and send them off to replicate the process--to complete the nine-month program called "The Ladder of Success." Each leader meets with his "cell" (often in his home) apart from larger Sunday services. Disciples learn fundamental Christian doctrines as well as techniques for problem-solving, teamwork and leadership.

I find two things interesting about this strategy: First, it didn't originate in the United States:

The system was first imported from Colombia five years ago. It was created by the Rev. Cesar Castellanos in the early 1990s, after a trip he took to South Korea (where Christians account for more that a fourth of the population). In Seoul, Mr. Castellanos met David Yonggi Cho, founder of the Yoido Full Gospel Church, the largest congregation in the world, now with more than 800,000 members, meeting in a number of satellite locations.

Second, it is affecting Latin America far beyond the church's doors:

In Colombia, Mr. Castellanos's wife, Claudia, who is also a pastor, has expanded her influence beyond the church. She thinks that the G-12 model should change not only lives but nations as well. In 1991, Ms. Castellanos became the first Christian senator in her country, and she has been a staunch opponent of abortion and euthanasia in Colombia ever since. Pastors from G-12 churches in Peru, Argentina, Mexico and Canada are already following her footsteps by taking on active careers in politics. Ms. Castellanos is also promoting an entrepreneurial network, under G-12 principles, to foster small-business creation.

While I will forgive Ms Tunarosa her faux pas (I believe that Ms Castellanos was the first Evangelical senator elected, and that the Catholic Church are still Christians), this is very big. As was pointed out a few years back, this is the biggest shift in Latin American culture since the Conquistadores arrived back in the 15th century.

And this may also point out whay so many Republicans are anxious (even to their short-term detriment) to cultivate the Hispanic vote. Latin American immigrants may be the most socially significant cultural group in the US in the next couple of decades.

Given the vitality of this this group, the question may not be, "How can we assimilate Hispanic immigrants into our culture?" But rather, "How can we adopt and assimilate the cultural vigor of Hispanic immigrants?"

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Okay, Now I Really Don't Believe in "Global Warming"

The Constant Reader knows that I have many reservations of the validity of "Global Warming."

However, noted theologian, presidential candidate, gym monkey, and ur-idiotarian Pat Robertson seems to be making the connection between this week's weather and global climate change:
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- The Rev. Pat Robertson said he hasn't been a believer in global warming in the past, but this summer's record-breaking heat is "making a convert out of me."

On his "700 Club" broadcast, Robertson said, "It is getting hotter, and the icecaps are melting and there is a buildup of carbon dioxide in the air."

Switching sides on an issue that divides evangelical Christians, Robertson said, "We really need to address the burning of fossil fuels."

The religious broadcaster told viewers, "If we are contributing to the destruction of this planet, we need to do something about it."
That just about tears it.

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