Monday, July 31, 2006

The Comment Wars

James 4:1 (New Living Translation)

“What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn't it the whole army of evil desires at war within you?”

The war in the Middle-East has taken an ugly turn, as wars always do. It’s what almost inevitably happens when diplomacy and statecraft fail.

It’s quite easy to view the carnage and self-righteously declare that the whole thing could have been avoided. Well, of course it could have been, in the same manner that any war in history could have been avoided. What’s more, it’s even easier to vilify the actor in this morality play who has responded to the provocation to begin with.

One of the things that’s struck me over the past few days is that if anyone wonders how these conflicts begin with all they need to do is take a trip on the good ship Blogosphere. Once they get their ticket and get on board they’ll see how the wars of words all too often become shooting wars.

Ever since this conflict began I’ve been reading MidEastWeb, a blog moderated by Ami Isseroff, an Israeli peace activist. I’ve never met him, so what little I know of him is through the written word. He seems to me to be an eminently decent man. If I’m to believe what I read about him he’s dedicated much of his life to pursuing peace between Israel and her neighbors.

The thing that has set him apart in this conflict, though, is that he has supported Israel’s right to defend its territorial integrity. That position has, unfortunately, cost him.

How is it that a man of peace is now vilified by some former allies and viewed as a man of war, even a supporter of Israeli sponsored terror?

One of the things that’s quite clear to me about the Middle-East is more complex than we living in the safety of the free world could possibly imagine. I think, given that, men like Ami Isseroff are as complex as problems that now seem so intractable. A couple of years ago I read Eliot Cohen’s “Supreme Command.” In the book, Cohen looked at leadership in times of crisis. Among the leaders he greatly admired was David Ben-Gurion. In the fifth chapter he described the one-floor bungalow that Ben-Gurion retired to in 1963. There adorning the walls were four images that summed up, in Cohen’s mind, the complexity and greatness of the man. On his desk was a picture of Berl Katznelson. On a wall opposite the desk was a replica of Michelangelo’s Moses. In the living room there was a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. In the bedroom there was a picture of Mahatma Gandhi.

As Cohen noted:

“These four images capture much of the complexity of Ben-Gurion’s personality – Katznelson, his immersion in the fierce internecine struggles of labor with political rivals outside it; Moses, his roots in Jewish history and identity and his messianic aspirations for the Jewish people; Lincoln, his admiration for the English-speaking world and its greatest leaders in their most bitter contests for freedom and democratic rule; Gandhi, his appreciation of spiritual power even when its expression took form so completely different from his own. His own greatness resided, in great measure, in his ability to harmonize these contrasting and in some respects contradictory sides of his personality.” (Pages 133-134)

Am I saying that Ami Isseroff is a great man? It’s not for me to say, but I can say that he is a complex man and that I believe much of that complexity if founded on the twists and turns of Israel’s modern history. All he’s trying to do is harmonize the same contradictory elements of the Middle-East drama that are at the core of his life.

In a recent post Ami called the current war a “generic war,” he attempted to unravel some of the complexity, looking at the current conflict from both sides. It was well thought out, well written, and often compelling. He concluded the essay with these words:

“Unless these groups (Hezbollah and Hamas) are stopped, there is no chance that moderate forces will be empowered in Middle East. Their success, and the international legitimacy that is granted to them, will be the inspiration for similar tactics all over the Middle East, and will lead to many more “generic wars.” However, it appears increasingly doubtful that Israel alone can stop the Hezbollah. Stopping the Hezbollah requires a determined international effort.”

It all seemed very reasonable to me. Yet, one of the things I found surprising when I went back to the post a day after it was published was the level of vitriol aimed at him. One commenter, whose pen name is Sirocco, had this to say:

“I am dismayed that Ami Isseroff, whom I used to respect, appears to support this despicable campaign of war crime against the people of Lebanon.”

“Well, it suddenly makes more sense that he links to the likes of Little Green Footballs. My own link to him is now removed.”

Another who calls himself Frederick said this:

“Sirocco is right. Ami used to be a intelligent person (my emphasis added), but he's now been reduced to sprouting the crudest of cliches. The prisoners' document show that Hamas is least moving toward a 2-state solution. What is the Olmert government doing to promote the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state? By placing a separation barrier in the heart of Palestinian communities, by annexing the Jordan Valley, by creating a Jewish belt around East Jerusalem, the Olmert government is making a Palestinian state an impossibility.”

About fifteen minutes later he said this:

“And, one more thing, Ami: It was precisely because Hamas was moving towards a 2-state solution that Israel reinvaded Gaza, just as Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 to forestall a more moderate approach by the PLO.”

“But this is all irrelevant to Ami, who's become the Benny Morris (my emphasis added) of bloggers.”

Then, about twenty minutes after that he added this final salvo:

“Notice that Ami does not mention the violations committed by Israel against the Lebanon's sovereignty since 2000 -continuous over-flights into Lebanese air space, kidnapping of Lebanese nationals, refusal to provide maps of location of land mines.”

Later that day someone who identified himself as “OMFG” added the following insult to injury:

“I'm appalled by your comments. Don’t you people know that disagreeing with an Israeli is “ANTI-SEMITISM”!!! I hate this word, all it stands for is. “I'm a Jew I should be able to commit what ever dirty, ruthless crime there is ..and if you disagree then your an evil person for not letting me have my way...whaaaaaa!”. Israelis can hide behind their little mantra that they live in hell and all the boogey-men Arabs are out to get them. That doesn't make what your government does ok. Just as you want to be treated as individuals and not be judged by the actions of your extremist government, so too should you give the same respect to the citizens of your neighboring countries. Your double standards are not obscured. We all see what values and morals you hold. Those values will be your undoing.”

After reading the comments I went back to the original post to see, based on the comment thread, what I’d missed. Try as I might I couldn’t find anything in the piece in which Mr. Isseroff said or alluded to the notion that anyone who disagreed with him was an anti-Semite. I found nothing in the piece either advocated or supported war crimes. Yet, this was the conclusion some commenters came to. The more I thought about it all, the more I came to see that this was a classic case of asking for Betty Gabriel and getting Frankenstein. Ami Isseroff was asking for understanding and got overheated rhetoric in return. The hate was palpable; if the commenters, men of peace to a man, only could have gotten their hands on his throat they would have shown him what peace was all about. That’s how wars begin, that’s the core of this war, and that’s how the blogosphere is becoming an extension of the conflict.

You see, the blogosphere is just one more piece of this enormously complex problem. It’s war being waged on an electronic battlefield, with ad-hominems and distortions as the primary weapons.

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Men Behind the Curtain

“To return to the full-fledged moral Darwinist, we conclude that much of the resistance to intelligent design arguments is not theoretical, but moral, and since (as I have argued), the materialist principles that excluded the divine from nature have been undermined by the progress of science itself, then even more of what appears to be purely theoretical resistance to intelligent design is actually moral in origin. If materialism is a kind of faith – that is, a hypothesis attempting to explain nature, but doing so by excluding, a priori, nonmaterialist explanations ( a hypothesis against which there is mounting counter-evidence) – then what fuels this faith? To be quite blunt, the fervent desire that its opposite, intelligent design, not be true.”

- Benjamin Wiker – “Moral Darwinism – How We Became Hedonists” (2002)

I attended a seminar presented by the Intelligent Design Network this past Thursday. With school board elections coming up in November I thought it would be a good idea to find out if there’s been any positive movement toward an amenable compromise on Kansas Science Standards, which have the state in the crosshairs of a national controversy.

The presenters were:

Dr. William Harris, PhD (Nutritional Biochemistry)
Dr. Amos Menuge, PhD (Philosophy/Action Explanation)
John Calvert, JD

The following topics were covered during the three hours:

Hour One – A summary of the changes to the Kansas Science Standards.
Hour Two – How the changes replace a religious bias girded in scientific materialism.
Hour Three – How the public has been misinformed about the changes.

Between each session there was a question and answer period. The first two were ten minutes and the last was twenty-five.

I’ll make my bias clear. I am not a Darwinist, nor am I a scientist. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do believe I’m entitled to ask questions of the Darwinists.

That’s the thing that rankles the Darwinist side of this argument more than anything. They really don’t like to be questioned. This was very evident to me when it came time for the question and answer sessions.

There was a group of men in the front of the church sanctuary who were clearly displeased with the evidence Harris, Menuge, and Calvert presented. At the first interval one of them came to the microphone, lowered his head, scratched his chin, and asked Dr. Menuge, “Do you know what a straw man is?” It seemed a pretty arrogant question to me. I would like to think that any PhD worth his salt knows what a straw man is. Dr.Menuge responded far more patiently than I would have. “Yes, I know what a straw man is, but what has that to do with the argument I’ve made that Darwinism is a non-theistic religion?” For the rest of the session the man would alternately scratch his chin and then berate the panel, all but refusing to relinquish the microphone to anyone else.

After the third session another member of the group assembled in the front asked about narratives. “We have a narrative for our theory of origins,” he said. “Why don’t you?” I assumed that what he meant was that the lack of a narrative, or a perceived lack of one, would invalidate the point made by the other side of the debate. I decided it was time for some questions of my own. “Where is all of this taking us?” I asked. Dr.Harris replied, “That’s a really good question.” I turned and asked another question of the Darwinists gathered. “I’m more interested right now in where the Darwinist narrative is taking us than where it’s been. I realize that the question of origins is important, but I think that it’s even more important to consider the impact that Darwinism has had on just about every other scientific discipline of modern man. A lot of this began with men like Thomas Malthus, who was a proponent of the idea that mankind could not sustain itself because population growth at some point in history would far exceed the available food supply. The result of this convergence would be catastrophic. Darwin read his work and observed:

“In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic inquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus “On Population,” and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavorable ones to be destroyed. The results of this would be the formation of a new species. Here, then, I had at last got a theory by which to work.”

By the 1930’s Margaret Sanger’s eugenics became a mainstream idea.

Well, one thing led to another. On the centennial observance honoring the publication of “The Origin of Species,” zoologist Julian Huxley observed:

“Evolutionary man can no longer take refuge from his loneliness in the arms of a divinized father figure whom he himself has created, nor escape from the responsibility of making decisions by sheltering under the umbrella of Divine Authority, nor absolve himself from the hard task of meeting his present problems and planning for the future by relying on the will of an omniscient, but unfortunately inscrutable, Providence.
Finally, the evolutionary vision is enabling us to discern, however incompletely, the lineaments of a new religion that we can be sure will arise to serve the needs of the coming era.”

In the seventies when I went to college Paul Erlich was in vogue. He had become a re-incarnation of Malthus, warning of the dangers of population growth and advocating solutions such as compulsory abortion and sterilization. Even on campuses like the Baptist college I attended he was the darling of the age. Everyone who read him, it seems, came under his spell. It didn’t matter that every bit of evidence around him contradicted his thesis. It didn’t matter that he spent too much time extrapolating and too little in scientific inquiry. It didn’t matter that his thesis was seriously flawed. It didn’t matter that hundreds of millions of people didn’t starve and the problem of starvation occurred principally in areas of the world where distribution and infrastructure were problematic. It didn’t matter that in areas where population density was highest, wealth and nutrition were also highest (Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York, London, Chicago, etc.). What mattered was that Erlich had become mainstream. The validity of his science had nothing to do with it.

The progression didn’t end there. About the same time Erlich was making population control mainstream, Princeton University “ethicist” Peter Singer took the concept to its next logical step – infanticide:

“Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons”; therefore, “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.”

By the time the nineties rolled around we were careening ninety miles an hour down a dead end street. In 1992 Jeffrey Reiman, philosophy professor at American University, carried the Darwinist ball a step closer to the goal line:

“Jeffrey Reiman has asserted that unlike mature human beings, infants do not “possess in their own right a property that makes it wrong to kill them.” He explicitly holds that infants are not persons with a right to life and that “there will be permissible exceptions to the rule against killing infants that will not apply to the rule against killing adults and children.”

With all of that said, I asked the Darwinists, “What’s next? Where is your narrative going to take us?”

After the meeting one of them spent about ten minutes with me, curious I think about my thought process. “You’re the guy who had the questions about where we’re headed, aren’t you?” he asked.
“I am indeed,” I proudly responded.
“What does your position have to do with verifiable science?”
“I’m not sure I understand your question.”
“Darwinism is verifiable. That’s what I mean.”
“I see.”
“Do you?”
“Do you mean I see what you’re saying or do you mean I see the light?”
“Just where are you coming from?”
“Well, I’ve already explained my position. I’m concerned with where your narrative is taking us. It looks for all the world to me like there’s a progression and I want to know what’s next.”
“But that’s philosophy and it has nothing at all to do with science.”
“Well, you should tell folks like Huxley, Erlich, and Singer that. They seemed to have missed the message.”

Our conversation drifted for a moment and then came back to Malthus. “Do you think we have a population problem?” the Darwinist asked.
“What do you mean by problem?”
“My God, man!” he exclaimed. “There’s six billion of us! Isn’t that problem enough?”
With that, I rolled my eyes. Detecting a hint of Zyklon B in the air, I asked, “So, just where are we going anyway?”
He shrugged his shoulders, turned around and left. I assume it was his way of letting me know that he disapproved of me and the things I had to say.

At the risk of seeming to be the blogosphere’s biggest village idiot I still have questions. Some of them are mundane, like “How does a duck billed platypus fit into a Darwinist’s scheme of things? Or “what place in the Darwinist hierarchy do abstract thought or Shakespeare’s sonnets occupy?” But, the most troubling question of all for me is where we’re going. Dostoevsky said, “If there is no God, then all things are permissible.” I look at the world around me and I’m not sure I’m comfortable in believing that science is leading me up the rungs of Jacob’s ladder. In fact, I have this nagging notion that they may be leading me down into the pit. Could it be that without Supreme Authority to challenge them, Darwinists have created Huxley’s new religion, complete with sacraments like abortion on demand, euthanasia, infanticide and assisted or compulsory suicide? Given that, I can only imagine what their future sacraments will be. Soylent Green (a.k.a “filet of fundamentalist”), anyone?

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Charles Darwin



Proverbs 12:15 (King James Version)

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.”
Mea culpa!

I found out this morning that the Irish National Museum has issued a clarification on the twenty page excerpt from the Vulgate found in an Irish bog early last week. The full text of the correction follows:

Clarification re Psalm 83 in Ancient Book of Psalms

“In the press release issued by the National Museum of Ireland on 26th July the following reference was made to Psalm 83:”
“While part of Psalm 83 is legible, the extent to which other Psalms or additional texts are preserved will only be determined by painstaking work by a team of invited experts probably operating over a long time in the Museum laboratory”
“The above mention of Psalm 83 has led to misconceptions about the revealed wording and may be a source of concern for people who believe Psalm 83 deals with “the wiping out of Israel”.
“The Director of the National Museum of Ireland, Dr. Patrick F. Wallace, would like to highlight that the text visible on the manuscript does NOT refer to wiping out Israel but to the ‘vale of tears’.”
“This is part of verse 7 of Psalm 83 in the old Latin translation of the Bible (the Vulgate) which, in turn, was translated from an original Greek text would have been the version used in the medieval period. In the much later King James Version the number of the Psalms is different, based on the Hebrew text and the ‘vale of tears’ occurs in Psalm 84. The text about wiping out Israel occurs in the Vulgate as Psalm 82 = Psalm 83 (King James version).”
“It is hoped that this clarification will serve comfort to anyone worried by earlier reports of the content of the text.”

Thanks to irishkc for bringing this to my attention.

In my zeal to support a cause I firmly believe in I acted too hastily. I apologize. While my actions may have been misguided, I still believe Israel’s cause is just and worthy of support.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Surprayse, Surprayse!

“A public opinion poll is no substitute for thought”

- Warren Buffett

It now seems that the tide of popular opinion in the Arab world is turning against Israel. About an hour ago I read this snippet from the New York Times posted on a read-worthy blog bylined “Stop the ACLU”:

“Now, with hundreds of Lebanese dead and Hezbollah holding out against the vaunted Israeli military for more than two weeks, the tide of public opinion across the Arab world is surging behind the organization, transforming the Shiite group’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, into a folk hero and forcing a change in official statements.”

As Gomer Pyle often said, “Surprayse, surprayse.”

Another recent public opinion done in Lebanon showed Hezbollah enjoying eighty-seven percent support.

“Surprayse, surprayse.”

I’m not entirely sure what the media’s message is in all of this, but I’ll take a guess. It’s time for Israel to hoist the white flag and surrender.

I wonder what a poll done in Germany in 1939, 1940, or 1941 might have looked like. I’d be willing to bet der Fuhrer’s numbers were somewhere in the stratosphere. The trains were running on time, the economy was booming, and the Third Reich was expanding east and west across Europe. And I’d guess that they got even higher when things got worse and the all out bombing of Germany’s industrial cities began. I’d even be willing to bet that a lot of folks at those times got part time jobs at places like Dachau and Auschwitz to support the national effort.

What do you suppose public opinion polls done in Japan might have looked like as the American military noose tightened on the home islands in the forites? Does anyone seriously believe they would have produced pro-American results?

I occasionally make hit and run raids into enemy territory on the blogosphere, posting comments in response to something they’ve written on their turf. Few, if any, have anything kind to say in return. I’m considered either stupid, arrogant, uninformed, and unenlightened. Some say I’m a lunatic. The responses don’t have to make sense, and often don’t. They've never surprised me, but they always raise the question. Have I provoked them into doing something out of character or have I just unmasked what’s really there?

Israel’s response to Hezbollah’s provocative act of war has only revealed the character of the conflict and the enemy.

About a week ago one of Fox’s talking heads asked an Israeli defense official for any comment he might have about Hezbollah statements and public opinion polls done in Lebanon and the Arab world. He handled the question much more diplomatically than I would have, saying that the opinion of others meant little to Israel at that point. They had more pressing issues at hand.

There is a war going on. The sides have been drawn; the die is cast. Israel is fighting for its national survival. Does anyone seriously believe under these circumstances that they should be the least bit concerned with public opinion polls?

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Message in the Mud

Psalm 102:16-18 (New International Version)

“For the LORD will rebuild Zion and appear in his glory.
He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea.
Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the LORD”

I’ve never been fortunate enough to find a message in a bottle as I’ve walked along the seashore, nor have I ever found a long lost manuscript as I trekked these wonderful Flint Hills of Kansas. About as close as I’ve ever come to such treasure is picking up bits of sea glass along the dunes of Cape Ann, Massachusetts a couple of years ago. It occurred to me then that the messages they carried probably weren’t profound, just reminders of something discarded a generation or so ago, leftovers from a clam bake or a quiet seashore picnic perhaps. Ah, but they were messages of sorts, sent from one generation to another for deciphering. That, I think, is the important thing.

Sometime earlier this week CNN reported that an Irish construction worker came across a thousand year old manuscript, written in Latin, as he was working a backhoe in the thick mud of a Irish bog. The manuscript, which was turned over to archaeologists for further study, was on of those rare finds. Pat Wallace, director of the National Museum of Ireland, described it this way:

“This is really a miracle find.”

“There's two sets of odds that make this discovery really way out,” Wallace said. “First of all, it's unlikely that something this fragile could survive buried in a bog at all, and then for it to be unearthed and spotted before it was destroyed is incalculably more amazing.”

One of the things I found remarkable in the find, besides its historical value, was that it appeared to be sending a message from one generation to another. It was as though an Unseen Hand had planted this manuscript in just the right place so that it would be found at just the right time, with its message still intact.

What relevant message could a thousand year old manuscript carry from its time that would be relevant to ours? It couldn’t be much clearer. You see, the manuscript was found opened to Psalm 83:

Psalm 83 (King James Version)

“Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God.
For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head.
They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones.
They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.
For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against thee:
The tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarenes;
Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek; the Philistines with the inhabitants of Tyre;
Assur also is joined with them: they have holpen the children of Lot. Selah.
Do unto them as unto the Midianites; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook of Kison: Which perished at Endor: they became as dung for the earth.
Make their nobles like Oreb, and like Zeeb: yea, all their princes as Zebah, and as Zalmunna:
Who said, Let us take to ourselves the houses of God in possession.
O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind.
As the fire burneth a wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire;
So persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm.
Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O LORD.
Let them be confounded and troubled for ever; yea, let them be put to shame, and perish:
That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.”

“Coincidence,” you say. “Uncanny,” I say. It’s as though a generation a thousand years past is shedding light into our present.

Holy writ declares that there are “many kinds of voices (languages) in the world, and none of them is without signification.” I believe there is signification for us today in this manuscript found in the Irish mud. Its message isn’t hidden. It’s very plain, very direct. The question is, will this generation heed it?

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Friday, July 28, 2006

Taking the Harps Down From the Willow Trees

Psalm 137:1-6 (King James Version)

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
How shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.”

I got out at about six this morning and placed the Star of David on the north column of my front porch. It now waves proudly in the hot Kansas wind, letting everyone who passes by 919 Neosho where I stand in this conflict. It’s only a symbolic gesture, I realize, but it expresses what I’ve felt ever since Hezbollah and Hamas attacked Israel. I also realize that in many ways I’m far from this conflict, but yet not so far that it hasn’t stirred my emotions and feelings for the people of Israel. In much the same way John F. Kennedy expressed his solidarity with the people of Berlin in 1963, I, in some small way, am expressing my solidarity with the good people of Israel today.

The Star of David will fly here until Israel has won the victory.

Recently the Jerusalem Post made the following observation about Israel’s battle against terror:

“The near-miraculous turnabout in June 1967, when Israel went from being on the brink of destruction to total victory over multiple Arab armies, inspired Jews the world over – particularly Soviet Jews, who discovered their dormant identity and viewed Israel’s history as a blow to their oppressors.”

“Our refusal to be cowed by Hezbollah’s missiles, and our attempt to destroy Iran’s external terrorist arm, should inspire the international community to similar acts of courage.”

“In recent years, Israeli courage and decisiveness has, paradoxically, mainly been channeled into territorial withdrawal. Now we are displaying a more classic type of fearlessness, which is showing signs of greatly improving our military and diplomatic position.”

One of the things that’s very clear to me in this conflict is that Israel’s battle should also be ours. The free world needs to do much more in support of this just cause. Clamoring for unilateral cease fires or using them as a surrogate to do the dirty work is not enough. As Israeli peace activist Ami Isseroff noted yesterday:

“There is not the slightest chance of making these groups “peace partners.” The only “dialogue” they will engage in is a dialogue on how to meet their demands: annihilation of Israel.”

“Hamas and Hezbollah insist on wiping out Israel by force. Their “grievances” are the existence of Israel and of a peace process. While they exist, there can be no peace.”

“Unless these groups are stopped, there is no chance that moderate forces will be empowered in Middle East. Their success, and the international legitimacy that is granted to them, will be the inspiration for similar tactics all over the Middle East, and will lead to many more “generic wars.” However, it appears increasingly doubtful that Israel alone can stop the Hezbollah. Stopping the Hezbollah requires a determined international effort. Iran and its allies have mobilized a massive and vociferous campaign to bring about a cease fire under terms that would leave the Hezbollah intact and force Israel and Lebanon to surrender to continued Hezbollah extortion.”

Israel has taken a stand against terror. They’ve taken their harps down from the willow trees. It’s now time for my country and the international community to do likewise. The world must see that this confrontation with evil and terror is not Israel’s alone; the battle is ours as well as theirs. While symbolic expressions of support are important, the need for the world to put hands and feet to its prayers and gestures has come!

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Thursday, July 27, 2006


“He’s a great humanitarian; he’s a great philanthropist,
He knows just where to touch you honey, and how you like to be kissed.
He’ll put both his arms around you,
You can feel the tender touch of the beast.
You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.”

- Bob Dylan – “Man of Peace” (1983)

Last night I got the following e-mail from someone here in Emporia. There’s no reason to identify the person; it’s just best to consider him or her “concerned citizen for justice.”

The note began ominously. About the only people nowadays who address me as “Mr. Dillon” are solicitors or politicians, both of whom call with hats in hand. Thus, as soon as I saw the salutation I proceeded to tie down some the things I consider valuable in this life – my dignity and my conscience.

The note follows for your enlightenment:

Mr. Dillon:
“Below is my query of Dr. Bernard Weiner regarding an article he wrote a few days ago for the American Politics Journal. (That question is at the bottom of the message).”“Next is his capsulized comment. I thought after your comment in the Gazette you might be interested in the historical aspects of Dr. Weiner's text.”
“Israel is an arbitrary creation, one made through the offices of Great Britain and the United States in 1947. In its making land was taken away from rightful owners and given to the new-born Israelis and the specific territorial lines were drawn. Since then Israel has continued to encroach upon Arab lands. Is it any wonder that, after the havoc Israel has wrought on their “neighbors” they have indeed angered some of those neighbors? And the guilt of the West has caused even more problems for the Mideast, and will continue to do so until Israel is returned at least to their 1947 boundaries.”
“Perhaps if all efforts at peace fail, we can give the Jewish people the state of Texas. (Under present conditions, that would seem most appropriate.) We could except that Mr. Bush insists we make no sacrifice in pursuit of “democracy” for all, especially no sacrifice for the “haves” of the United States. Imagine the anguish of the Texas oil folks if they were inundated with Jewish people!”

At the heart of his note was a question he previously asked of the aforementioned Dr. Bernard Weiner, which follows:

“Perhaps you or someone in your audience can explain to me why it is the Jewish people must have their own personal nation when most of the rest of us don't and probably don't expect to. I mean, where is the nation to which all Christians can demand that no one else enter? Or where Christians can expect to relentlessly settle their next door, once-upon-a-time-owner's territory?”

I read the note a couple of times to be as certain as I could that I had the intended message correct. I think it was pretty close to unmistakable, a piece of rank anti-Semitism. About the only thing missing was a reference to the “truth” of the rhetoric of the vile forgery “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

I sent the following response:

I read through your note and I'm not sure whether or not to be amused or offended. I think I'll maintain the latter.

I could try to reason with you on what you call the artificiality of the formation of the State of Israel, but I think it would be a waste of time I could spend profitably elsewhere. Suffice it to say that the nation of Israel is recognized internationally, in the same way that my title to my house is recognized by the state of Kansas, the folks down at the probate court, and my neighbors.

In addition, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Jews purchased large tracts of land in Palestine from absentee landlords living in other Arab countries (see Alan Dershowitz's “
The Case for Israel”).

My position on the matter is that the world needs to find a two-state solution, with Israel and the Palestinian people living within secure borders. Your option is Palestine for the Palestinians and the Jews to Texas. Quite clever. One “artificial” solution to solve another. For you to say that Israel is “artificial” is nothing more than a veiled way for you divert attention away from the rank anti-Semitism I see mounting in this country. I saw it in Europe back in the nineties, and I'm sure that as things continue in the Middle-East that sentiment will grow here too.

Let me put my feelings succinctly. I do not subscribe to prejudice, whether its adherents claim to be “educated and well informed” or whether they wear pointed hats and robes and burn crosses.

One last thing. I consider any avenue of communication that might have been open between us closed. As I said earlier, I have better things to do with my time.

I have since put this “concerned citizen for justice” on my spam list.

Unfortunately, Israel doesn’t have a spam list that will effectively do away with the terror that’s been surrounding them for over half a century. There have been times when it appeared that peace and secure borders might actually become a reality, but each and every time the bubble of expectation was burst by terror in one form or another. Nothing has worked. Land for peace hasn’t worked. Concessions haven’t worked.

There’s a reason for this. The Jewish people are hated. Israel’s enemies, and many “concerned citizens for justice” see this one body of human persons as the root of the problems in the Middle-East, if not the world. The language may be scholarly and, paradoxically, vitriolic, like these words from Professor M.Shahid Alam of Northeastern University:

“But this has been the particular burden of Zionists as they conceived their plan for a colonial-settler state in Palestine, as they went about executing this plan on the backs of imperialists powers-with wars, massacres and ethnic cleansing-and, later, as they have persisted in their plans to dispossess the Palestinians of the last fragments of their rights and legacy whose Canaanite roots were more ancient than Isaiah, Ezekiel, David and Moses.”

Or, they may have a populist strain, as the words of “concerned citizen” penned last night demonstrate. The net effect is the same. Jews are bad for the world, and we’d all be better off without them. The Palestinians, Hezbollah, and their puppet masters in Tehran and Damascus don’t want them and now there’s a mounting body of “concerned citizens” in this country who don’t want them, or only want them far away from where they themselves live.

When he was a child in Romania, Elie Wiesel, like so many Jews, faced a daily onslaught of anti-Semitism. He even came to accept it as “endemic to our condition.” “But,” he also said:

“During the darkest times, I would ask myself simple, perhaps simplistic questions. Why do they hate us? Why do they persecute us? What did we do to arouse such cruelty?”

I have the same questions. Why are the people of Israel so hated? What have they done that is so poisonous that the very thought of them brings a sense of revulsion to some living here in the idyllic Flint Hills? What is it about them that’s made them exiles, unwanted in just about any place they’ve ever tried to call home? Why is it that so many “humanitarians and philanthropists” so demonize this one body of people? Why is it that so many would prefer that they lie passive in the face of assault after assault? Do they have no memory of the Warsaw Ghetto? Do they have no memory of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, or Dachau?

I could go on asking questions for hours and the answer for each question would inevitably be the same. Hate, when nurtured, is powerful beyond words.

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Alan Dershowitz


Elie Wiesel


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Israel, the Washington Post, Snarling Dogs, and Proportionality

“Say to the nations far and wide: “Get ready for war! Call out your best warriors! Let all your fighting men advance for the attack! Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears. Train even your weaklings to be warriors.”

Nancy and I just got back from a couple of days in Kansas City. It was a nice getaway. We alternated between getting things at her mother’s place organized and celebrating Nancy’s birthday. Both were done in grand fashion. Yesterday morning we sorted through boxes and boxes of post cards, photographs, letters, books, magazines, and other memorabilia. There were several treasures unearthed in the process – a Bible printed in 1873, five or six late nineteenth century daguerreotypes from Switzerland, Nancy’s ancestral home, three shelves of old “Organic Gardening” magazines, and several post cards from one branch of Nancy’s family to another dated 1903.

On Monday night Nancy’s mother took us all out to dinner. For James, Nancy’s developmentally disabled brother, it was a something special. He ordered a steak in honor of Nancy’s birthday and when it got to the table he got right to work. While he has a few problems using a knife, he has very nimble fingers, so, when the knife didn’t cooperate he just ripped the meat into small pieces by hand. I didn’t notice whether or not any of the restaurant’s more genteel customers were offended by what they saw, but if anyone had said something I was prepared to tell them that since James was a paying customer it would be best for them to focus on their own food and manners. At any rate, when he was done he pronounced that “This is the best steak I’ve ever had.”

Last night Nancy and I had dinner at McCormick and Schmick’s on the Country Club Plaza. The sea food (sea scallops and mahi-mahi) was pricey, but outstanding, easily justifying our decision to eat there. We just figure we won’t have to eat at Applebee’s, Emporia’s version of haute cuisine, six or seven times in the next couple of months and everything will even out.

On the way home this morning we recapped our visit to Kansas City, going over the good things that took place. Nancy’s mother and brother seem to be quite excited about the potential of moving to Emporia. Then, somewhere around Ottawa Nancy switched gears, mentioning in passing that there is a commonly held belief among liberals that Volvo is “their” car. We both found it quite amusing, especially since we’re on our second Volvo since 1997. “I wasn’t aware that Volvos are built with left-leaning politics as one if their standard features,” I chuckled. “I just thought it was a bunch of metal, plastic, glass, rubber, and other components fashioned into an automobile by blue-collar workers somewhere in Sweden.”

About an hour after I got home I went through my e-mail and got caught up with my reading. One of the first pieces I read was Eugene Robinson’s “It’s Disproportionate.”
It seems that the peacemakers are at it again, assuming their the only ones noble enough to want peace, blaming the victim for the attack, once again calling Israel’s response to Hezbollah disproportionate. It also seems that many in the media, particularly the media east of the Mississippi, are, like Robinson, calling for Israel to stand down. They’ve all but said that Israel must beat the swords into plowshares. The problem with their position is that the plowshare, as well as the sword, often cuts two ways.

Upon reading Robinson’s piece I came to the conclusion that he must be, by liberal definition, a Volvo owner. After lighting in to George Bush for his table manners and back rubs, he, as is the wont of America’s left, got down to brass tacks, as the following excerpts demonstrate:

“Bush's endorsement of the violence that Israel is inflicting on Lebanon -- a sustained bombing campaign that has killed hundreds of civilians and can only be seen as collective punishment -- is truly astonishing. Of course Israel has the right to defend itself against Hezbollah's rocket attacks. But how can this utterly disproportionate, seemingly indiscriminate carnage be anything but counterproductive?”

“The Israeli campaign is so intense and widespread that it is creating more terrorists than it kills. Proportionate military action might have enhanced Israel's security, but video footage of grandmothers weeping amid the rubble of their homes and bloodied children lying in hospital beds won't make Israel more secure. Hezbollah's stature in the Arab world is growing, and its patrons in Damascus and Tehran must be smugly satisfied.”

Robinson appeared to be quite proud of his piece, so much so that I think he must have been thinking, “This is an opinion only a peace loving Volvo owner could hold” as he typed the last word.

Perhaps I’m a bit conflicted (I own a Ford Ranger in addition to a Volvo), but I still maintain that a peace loving Volvo owner can sanction Israel’s response to Hezbollah. I’m not from the school of thought that posits the insane notion that Israel’s response to terror is creating terrorists. I’m more from the Richard Cohen School in that regard. I’m beginning to wonder if there isn’t a hint of anti-Semitism in the calls for Israel to stand down:

“The dire consequences of proportionality are so clear that it makes you wonder if it is a fig leaf for anti-Israel sentiment in general. Anyone who knows anything about the Middle East knows that proportionality is madness. For Israel, a small country within reach, as we are finding out, of a missile launched from any enemy's back yard, proportionality is not only inapplicable, it is suicide. The last thing it needs is a war of attrition. It is not good enough to take out this or that missile battery. It is necessary to re-establish deterrence: You slap me, I will punch out your lights.”

I wonder what kind of car Cohen owns. It couldn’t possibly be a Volvo. Only peace loving liberals own them.

The more I thought of Robinson’s op-ed the sillier it sounded. I can only imagine how proportional he would be if the Washington Post canned him for bad writing. He’d be driving that Volvo all around town demanding justice. He’d be going from NBC to MSNBC to the ACLU or any ambulance chaser he could find to take his case. He’s no more for proportionality than I am for Saddam Hussein’s politics or social engineering.

This is the type of proportionality I subscribe to. Sometime back in the early eighties I was living in Kansas City. I’d just gone through a difficult divorce and was trying to put my life back in order. One of the stress relievers I had then was my morning jog. I was renting an apartment near the Kansas City Museum, in the northeast district of the city. One cold December morning I was out making my rounds. After about an hour I made my way back home, and as I jogged through the park adjacent to the apartment building I heard a menacing sound, a dog’s barking getting closer and closer by the second. I stopped and looked back and saw a German shepherd, teeth bared, drool flowing from his jowls. Realizing that the dog meant business, I froze in my tracks and adopted a defensive posture. My knees were knocking, my heart pounding, my body tingling. The dog stopped about five or six feet in front of me, growled menacingly and got back on its haunches, in attack mode. One of the things that was very clear to me was that I had little I could do to defend myself. The dog was quicker than me, his teeth were sharper, and he was prepared for the fight. “Go home,” I shouted, thinking that noise would deter him. I needn’t have bothered. The dog just keep inching its way toward me as I tried to back away from the confrontation. Then, my salvation came. I heard a woman’s voice. “Stay,” she ordered. “I am,” I reassured her.
“Not you,” she said. “I’m talking to Wolfie.”
“Is Wolfie yours?” I asked.
“Do you have a leash for him?”
“You don’t need to worry about him; he won’t hurt you.”
I looked at Wolife’s snarling face and looked at his master, trying to discern who was telling me the truth. I determined that it was Wolfie.
“Get your leash and get your damned dog away from me,” I demanded.

Later that day I went and bought a can of pepper spray. The next morning I went out jogging, the pepper spray in one hand and my Louisville Slugger, Nellie Fox model, in the other. At the tail end of my run, in the park where the previous day’s confrontation had taken place, I felt much more confident than I had the day before. “Here, Wolfie,” I called out. “Come’ere big boy, Mister Phil has a present for you. Come and get it.”

Wolfie never did appear again, but if he had I can assure you that this Volvo owner would have slapped him up side his snarling head with my right hand and peppered his beady eyes with my left before he knew what hit him.

That’s my practical view of how proportionality should work. Folks like Eugene Robinson seem to think there are better ways. I don’t believe them for an instant. It’s easy for them to be for peace when the dogs aren’t snarling at their doors. What they forget in their ivory tower perches is that Israel is facing snarling dogs bent on attack. I suspect if they’d come down from their safe places they might just encounter a snarling dog or two themselves and change their tune.

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The Washington Post

Monday, July 24, 2006

Escaping the Insanity

The news hasn’t changed much overnight. According to this morning’s Kansas City Star Israel is punching deeper into Lebanon and Syria is now willing to accept a settlement with Israel. They’ll give Israel peace if Israel gives them the Golan Heights. It’s like playing “Let’s Make a Deal” with the devil. This has me in a reflective mood this morning, in need of some solitude to escape the insantity. The news of the past week has worn me down. I need to be in a quiet place, far away from the cacophony of coming from the world’s newsrooms. While I’m not going to be able to get down the turnpike to my favorite reflecting place, I am able to do so in my heart and mind. To that end I’m re-running something I wrote on one of my daily trips down the turnpike some years ago.

I hope, as much as is possible, it takes you to a quieter, safer place as well.

Reflections at Mile Marker 109, Kansas Turnpike
Phil Dillon
© 2002 Phil Dillon

It’s the cusp of dawn. I’m chasing Orion’s Belt and bull-haulers down the Kansas Turnpike. At mile marker 109, about a furlong or two south of the cattle pens, I stop.

The occasional rush of southbound traffic breaks the dawn silence. Like a general poised in his appointed place, I review the early morning parade. Saints and scoundrels, gospel singers and politicians, truckers, ranchers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, mothers, fathers, children, all pass by. Problems and opportunities wind their way down the highway with them.

I touch the highway sign. Mile marker 109. I feel the bits of rust creeping up on the metal. It’s man-made, temporal, placed on the edge of the eternal. It speaks. “This is where you are.” It speaks of commerce and progress passing by. It speaks of cattle and concept drawings on their journeys past a solitary milepost planted on the edge of eternity.

I turn, take a step, and cast my gaze across the prairie. Like the storied astronaut of my youth, that one small step transports me from one world to another. Thoughts pass by. Some pass quietly, humming like the Toyotas and Fords on the highway. Others I hear in the distance. Their low, grinding hums become roars as they draw near, like the Peterbilts and Kenworths hauling their precious cargoes from Chicago to Dallas or the Twin Cities to San Antonio.

While the darkness has not yet surrendered to the day, there are hints of color along the rim of the eastern sky. I sense that they carry the faint whisper of an announcement of the millennium to come. The ageless ritual proceeds, moment by moment. Light overcomes the darkness. The unbroken sky and the endless sea of grass now join together in a hymn of praise. The morning breeze caresses the tallgrass. The blades of grass, in turn, wave gently to and fro, worshippers caught up in the glory of this moment.

Thoughts glide effortlessly through the air, then stop to gently kiss the earth. The earth gratefully receives the kiss from above and pleads, “Maranatha…..Maranatha.”

A hawk circles above, wings outstretched, reaching for an unseen spire. As he circles, the dawn sun touches him, revealing his priestly robes and eyes of fire.

I sense that I’ve entered a great cathedral. I’m overwhelmed by my own smallness. I fear. The hawk descends slowly, gracefully and speaks. “You are indeed small. But, fear not. You’re known…..You’re known. This is where you are. Mile marker 109. This is the place where the line between now and forever is drawn. Here you own nothing, but are given the grace to be a part of everything. The language of the world you left is ownership. The language here is stewardship. This is the place where “moth and rust do not corrupt.

His appointed ministry complete, he now lays hold of the morning currents and moves effortlessly off to the east.

I feel the warmth of a tear as it drifts slowly down my cheek. My epiphany’s complete. I turn back and take another small step, returning to the world I left moments before. I take my place in line with my fellow travelers, the builders and dreamers, the movers and shakers, the commerce and the concepts. Our daily procession has taken us past this place…..mile marker 109.

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The Kansas Flint Hills

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Armageddon Blues, Part II

Revelation 22:16-17 (New International Version)

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.”

On Friday night I channel surfed for a while, getting everyone’s slant on the news from the Middle-East. Fox had the conservative view, MSNBC the center-left, and CNN the left. Each outlet trumpeted its resident experts, most of whom were retired generals, colonels, diplomats, or graduates of prestigious journalism schools. As the evening wore on the rhetoric slowly heated up till about nine o’clock, when one network proudly proclaimed the world to be on the brink of World War III. Some guru, retired colonel something or other, lined it all up. On Israel’s side there were the United States, Great Britain, and India. On Hezbollah’s there were Iran, Syria, China, Russia, with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, France, Italy, Switzerland, and the Trobriand Islands sitting it out.

It was all reminiscent of a doomsday preacher I heard in the late sixties when I was stationed in Panama. I’d only been a Christian for a year and had never heard of Gog or Magog, let alone a lot of the rest of the lineup of nations who were going to be involved in Armageddon. That one hour at Balboa Baptist Church was a real eye opener, a real education for a novice Christian. It was like the day trading that was in vogue a few years ago. “Buy Egypt, Syria, Gog and Magog, hold Iran and Saudi Arabia, sell Pakistan and the Aleutians.” It was beautiful, fluid, and poetic, a masterpiece done in iambic pentameter. I’ve often wondered why no-one ever made a board game out of it, something along the lines of Stratego. It would have made a bundle.

One of the curious signs of our times is that Evangelical Christians are often derided for their inordinate focus on eschatology. I suppose there’s validity in that criticism, but as I watch the media today I also see the same focus being played out on a minute to minute basis along the world’s airwaves. What’s really fascinating about it all is that the doomsday preachers have been replaced by network pundits, retired generals, journalists, and diplomats. Christians aren’t fueling all this speculation. The media, Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah are doing the job for us.

By about nine-thirty Friday night my mind was tied up in an intellectual pretzel. I had a serious case of the Armageddon Blues. At about nine-forty I saw my need for detachment from it all and took refuge in a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of cranberry juice.

That’s one of the other curious things about these times. It’s really easy to detach ourselves from what’s going on in the world. We can just tune out and kick back. It’s really easy. It’s easy to talk of Armageddon and the lineup of the nations when the missiles aren’t raining down on you, when you can turn off the television and grab a sandwich and a cold glass of juice as it all becomes too overwhelming. It’s easy to be an outhouse lawyer when you’re sitting in the comfort of an air-conditioned studio, waving your sheepskin or pedigree like a badge of honor.

So, then, how is a Christian supposed to act and think at times like this? About the best I can come up with is that we have to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly and leave the reading of the tea leaves to others. Armageddon will come soon enough and with it the Parousia. When it does it will come in the twinkling of an eye, when no-one will be able to detach themselves from it.

That’s the hope I hold. While I’ve taken sides in this current battle I know that in the end that only Jesus can fix what ails the world. George Bush can’t do it, nor can Kofi Annan. And, while I greatly admire Condoleezza Rice and her negotiating skills, I know that Jesus is the only one who will ever be able to settle every international dispute. He’s promised those who love his appearing that He would return to the earth and do just that, at a time when “the Spirit and the bride (my emphasis added) say come.” It’s that hope, not the detachment of a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of cranberry juice or expert opinion, which must be at the center of this Christian’s life.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Armageddon Blues

“God knows it’s a struggle,
God knows it’s a crime,
God knows there’s gonna’ be no more water
But fire next time.”

- Bob Dylan – “God Knows” (1990)

It’s Saturday. The weather is absolutely beautiful. We’ve had some really good news. Nancy’s mother seems very amenable to the idea of moving down here to Emporia so we’re pressing ahead on the purchase of the house next door for her. With that said, though, we’ve both got the blues today.

Nancy’s blues are borne, strangely, on the wings of joy. She’s been worried about her mother for some time and believes that the current circumstance is an open door, but she also knows that the move will mean that there will be some loss of freedom and a lot of change for us. A while ago she asked me if I was alright with the direction things are going and I told her I was. “It’ll be a challenge, but your mom makes a mean apple pie, so I’ll be fine.” The thing that’s clear to both of us is that this is the right thing to do.

My blues, which I’ve named the Armageddon Blues, are borne on the news of the day. For the past week or so the situation in the Middle-East has been weighing heavily on me, as it has millions and millions of other souls on this planet.

The great advantage of the internet, open and instant communication, is also its great disadvantage. This has never seemed so clear to me than it has this past week. The same medium that allows the voices of reason to attempt to clarify is the same medium that allows the insane voices to ratchet up the rhetoric notch by deadly notch. Now it’s not that the messages have me conflicted as to where I stand. I’ve made my position clear and will stand on what I believe and have said about the matter. Last night I ordered an Israeli flag and as soon as it comes I’ll fly it as proudly as I do Old Glory on the Fourth of July.

What the messages have done for me is give me more insight into how the world got to this pivot point in history. Permit me to explain.

Last night I read some more from the MidEastWeb. I weaved my way through the comments and came across one from someone who identified himself as “John.” Ami Isseroff, the author of the post, had tried to clarify his positions in his short essay and in doing so he elicited a lot of response, which was good. While people’s positions were deeply held, it was clear that there was room for give and take, for listening as well as making one’s feelings and positions known. “John” changed all of that. He lashed out at Ami:

“The problem with the middle east is an underlying reason. The problem is IGNORANCE AND DISHONESTY. Let me start with the Jews, God does not give land to anyone period. God does not favor anyone period. The Jews are still waiting for there Messiah for 6000 years. Keep waiting. The moslims claim the middle east is their land because a military commander named Mohammed said that he had communication with God through angel Gabriel in a cave. Lie, Lie, Lie. If you as a human do not have common sense and logic then you are not even close to communicating with God, if he does exist. God created the human brain to THINK,and not to just accept things blindly. For both moslims and jews in the world, make sure God is REALLY SPEAKING TO YOU BEFORE YOU ACT because once you die and meet God, you will realize that you never talked to Him or recieved messages from him. God does not play favors, I don't need God to tell me that. It is common sense. If God favors anyone over someone else, then he is not a good God. The Jews must understand that God loves the leader of Hizbullah as much as their president.”

Looking back at it I see now that I would have been better not to have responded. There’s an old adage that says it’s not productive to take up another man’s offense. I thought about it later, after I’d posted my comment to “John,” but once I pressed the “send” key it was too late.

This is what I said to John:

“I must have misread Ami's peace. I didn't realize it was a theological treatise.
From what I read in your comment I am making a leap of faith and assume that either a theist or Christian. Myself, I'm a Christian, with a graduate degree in Christian theology, and I find your commentary offensive.”

“The issue on the table is Israel's right to exist as a state among the nations. As a Christian, I support that right. If the time comes for a theological discussion with Ami Isseroff or others on Midle East Web, I believe it can, and should, be conducted with the dignity and respect the subject deserves.”

“I find it unfortunate that you chose to act in the manner you did. I doubt that you'd show any willingness to apologize for your offense, so I will apologize for you.”

“John” then fired a volley back:

“The reason you got “offended” is because the TRUTH DISTURBS people. If you are an honest man Phil, than you wouldn't get offended, you would just feel sorry for me. Just look back at your history, and ask yourself how you became Christian, then you will see that you have just accepted it blindly. If Jesus's message was just to accept things blindly, then I understand how you recieved your PHD.”

By this time I should have seen it would be best to let go, but I tried to reason with “John”:

“Nowhere in Ami's piece or my response did anyone make theological claims on the part of the Jewish people. The land in question that Israel inhabits is theirs in the same way my property is mine. The registrar of deeds, the mortgage company, and my neighbors all recognize that 919 Neosho, Emporia, Kansas belongs to me. Since 1948 the international community has recognized Israel's right to the land they inhabit in the same manner.”

Next, “John” turned his ship broadside and let go with three volleys, one for me, one for Ami, and one for someone named Daniel who wasn’t even involved in the discussion. You can read the threads for yourself and see that his fury had built to a fever pitch.

Upon seeing the verbal assaults I decided it was get some wind in my sails and get the hell out of “John’s” way, announcing my strategic retreat as I did:

“Upon reading John's comments I'm getting more insight into what Israel is dealing with right now.”

“There's nothing else that I can say that would move our discussion in the right direction.”

That should have been the end of it, but it wasn’t. “John” had decided to apply the Coup de Grace:

“Thank you for your short response, I didn't feel like going to the toilet again, so thank you Ami.”

I guess “John” just couldn’t resist.

The whole episode made me wonder whether “John” might be sitting next to a battery of kaytusha rockets a few miles north of the border between Israel and Lebanon right now, alternately pushing keys on a keyboard and firing missiles south across the border into Israel.

This is how it happens in life and how it works in international geopolitics. One word leads to another and the next thing you know you’re on the Eve of Destruction.

I take great comfort in the knowledge that I can pull back from the brink when someone like “John” descends into madness. I can turn him off, make a grilled cheese sandwich, and tune in to Animal Planet to get away from it all. Israel, unfortunately, can’t. The rockets are raining down on them. The leadership and rank and file of Hezbollah aren’t reasonable people. They’re intent on a new Holocaust and nothing, not a negotiated settlement, not reason, not concessions, not good will, not brotherly love, will satisfy them.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

The Cowboy Way

“Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason it was put up.”

- G.K. Chesterton

Bear with me, this will all tie together. I promise.

Last night our electricity went out, giving us the opportunity to visit outside with our neighbor Ellen, and subsequently with our cross street neighbor Shelley Wise. We found out from Shelley that the source of the power outage was a transformer at the sub-station close to the university recreation center where here husband, Mike, works. Shelley said Mike had seen it happen and called her proudly proclaiming that when the transformer blew it was a real thing of beauty. The real big news we got, though, was the news that Ellen, who has been such a wonderful neighbor, is moving to a senior friendly apartment complex being built a bit north of us on 15th Street. Keeping up with the house had just become too much for her, so she’s cashing in her chips and moving on to more amenable quarters. Once she announced the move Nancy’s eyes lit up. It wasn’t because she wanted to see Ellen go. She was seeing an opportunity to bring her mother, who is now eighty-seven, down to Emporia to live next door to us. That way we could watch after her and Jimmy, Nancy’s special needs brother. We’ll see how it all plays out.

One of the nice things about a good neighbor like Ellen is that there is no need of a fence between us. We’ve never had a quarrel about where her property line ends and mine begins. There’s no mine field between us. In the winter I occasionally shovel the snow from her sidewalk and her son occasionally reciprocates for us. It’s quite idyllic, really, which makes me sometimes ask why, as did Robert Frost, fences are needed at all. Wouldn’t the world be a beautiful place if we didn’t spend our time worrying about whether or not my neighbor’s apple trees are eating the cones under my pine?

By the way, the electricity came back on while I was on the way back home from our local Wal-Mart with a carload of batteries, flashlights, lanterns to solve the electricity problem, and a twelve ounce bag of Raisinettes, which I intended to use as stress relief.

This morning I took a long walk. It felt wonderful to be out in the cool of the day. The heat wave has broken for the time being and being outside is quite pleasant. I meandered from my place through downtown, past the Friends church on Sixth Avenue, occasionally going a block or two down side streets to add to my mileage. At each detour I would hear the barking of dogs as I passed by their houses. There was a sheltie on the south side of Union Street, a Boston terrier on Exchange, a chocolate labrador on Cottonwood, and a toy poodle on Sylvan. Their barks, whether high pitched soprano like the poodle’s, or deep bass like the lab’s, all voiced the same sentiment. “Do you see this fence, buster?” “Do you know what it’s here for?” “This is my yard, not yours and I’m not going to let you play in it.”

As much as I’d like to live in an idyllic world, I think the barking dogs have something on Robert Frost and me. Fences and property lines are there for a reason and it’s a good idea to respect them.

A week ago I said that it wouldn’t be long till world opinion cascaded down on Israel for defending its territorial integrity and right to exist. Lest you think me prophetic, let me disabuse you of the notion. I’ve been around for a while and I’ve seen it happen over and over again. I’m just a good observer of the international scene with a keen eye for detail.

A while ago a read a post titled “Fog of War in Lebanon and Israel: Rumors and misunderstandings” by Ami Isseroff on a website by-lined Middle East Web. I’d read an earlier dispatch by him and agreed with some of what he had to say and he’d apparently read something I wrote around the same time and liked some of what I had to say. That’s the way healthy discourse is built. Agreeing on five, six, or seven things out of ten is the basis for a good friendship. Agreement on ten out of ten would make both parties candidates for psychiatric care.

In the essay I read this morning he made a strong case for a cease fire, the disarming of Hezbollah, full implementation of U.N. resolutions 1559 and 1680, and the return of the Israeli soldiers kidnapped when the crisis began. While I’m not sure that Mr. Isseroff and I would agree on how best to proceed in the current circumstance, I believe we both believe that any solution has to get to the root of the problem, which in this case is Hezbollah.

The essay elicited a long list of strong comments. There was one, in particular, that really annoyed me. I think it’s comment number thirty-one of the current thread of thirty-five. The basic premise of the comment was that Israel just needs to treat Hezbollah the way too many Back Bay mothers treat their children at those times of inter-Nicene crisis in the home. “Just leave him alone, Billy. If you don’t provoke him back he’ll get tired of the game and leave you alone.”

Well, forgive me if I violently disagree. To sit on the catbird seat and say that Israel should just ignore what’s happened to them is a bit like being the American judge who not long ago told a young woman testifying of having been raped that, under the circumstances, the best thing she could have done would be to just relax and enjoy it.

It’s really easy to tell the Israelis they’re over-reacting. The world community seems to have forgotten who their neighbors are. It would be nice if Israel’s northern neighbor was the Netherlands and its eastern neighbors were the Swiss and the Danes, but the current reality is that Israel lives in a much different neighborhood. The Syrians, the Palestinians, and the Hezbollah in Lebanon are hardly the Dutch, the Swiss, and the Danes. There are a lot of schemes being hatched in the Bekaa Valley, but thinking of creative ways to get tulips to Haifa is not one of them.

I’m a great fan of western movies, with Shane being my all time favorite. I watch it once a year, much to Nancy’s dismay. I even dust it out on special occasions. I’ve played it for Corina, a young exchange student from Moldova who lived with us for a year and for Binna, the South Korean exchange student who just got back home from her tour in the Flint Hills. They seemed to like it too. It’s all about simplicity, about right and wrong, in what seems to be a complex world. Film historians and critics (a double oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one) call it a cold-war parable revealing the way America was viewed by the world of the nineteen fifties. It could be, but I just see it as the all too unfortunate reality of how one must protect one’s interests, even by force if necessary. It’s the story of a gunfighter who wants to retire and settle down. He comes across several families of homesteaders who just want to work the land. They can’t, however, because the Ryker boys are terrorizing them, trying to force them off the land they’ve been given. In the end the conflict comes, with Shane facing down Jack Wilson, the gunfighter the Rykers have hired to do their bidding. Shane wins, the bad guys are dispatched to hell, and Shane leaves the valley, knowing that he’ll never be able to retire. There will always be some homesteader somewhere who needs his gun. It’s a tragic reality, but it’s a reality nonetheless.

Let me tie this all together. In the current crisis Hezbollah is playing the Ryker boys and Jack Wilson to Israel’s homesteaders and Shane. There is a right and wrong in the current crisis. There are good and bad guys. Israel’s neighbors aren’t at all like our neighbor Ellen, nor are they like the Dutch, the Swiss, or the Danes. What that means, as I see it, is that the Middle-East neighborhood will never change until Israel’s neighbors do. It’s not enough to tell the Israelis to cease-fire and that everything will be alright. If the international community really wants to solve the problem it needs to fully implement the U.N. resolutions they’ve signed on to, send Hezbollah packing, and return, un-reciprocally, the Israeli soldiers kidnapped when this crisis began.

My solution is not as complex or nuanced as the solutions offered by Israel’s critics. It’s the cowboy way. It’s simple, with few if any nuances. But mine, unlike theirs, makes sense. Not only that, if it were applied it would actually work.

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The Middle East

Thursday, July 20, 2006


James 4:17 (New Living Translation)

“Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.”

It’s supposed to get to about a hundred and seven or eight here today. I spent the early morning hours walking northwest of my place, occasionally stopping to talk to folks as I did. Somewhere near the Emporia Surgical Hospital I spent a few minutes with a fellow who was watering his tomato plants. “Better get ‘er done early,” I said. “You too,” he responded. “I been out here since about six and I’m gonna’ git back inside the house directly and won’t come out again till it rains. I highly recommend you do too.”

Our conversation meandered from the state of the wheat crop in western Kansas to the state of local politics, both of which are poor, finally landing on some of the lessons of history. I reminded him of the summer of 1980 in Kansas City and he did me one better, telling me all about his experience as a teenager during the dust bowl days of the thirties in the Great Plains. With that our conversation ended and I was on my way, contemplating the lessons until I got back home.

I was home by nine-fifteen and after a completing a few chores I turned on the news and watched a bit of FOX, C-Span, and MSNBC. The coverage is now almost universally about the Middle-East crisis. Most of the talking heads, particularly those on the left, support a negotiated settlement. I’m not sure what they mean by settlement, but I have a hunch that somewhere in the fine print it would include some provisions favorable to Hezbollah and Hamas. Europe and Vladimir Putin would claim it’s all in keeping with what scholar Thomas Sowell calls the unconstrained vision. On the east coast of the United States they’d call it win-win. Out here we’d call it appeasement.

This all brings me back to something I wrote last September or October when Israel was pulling of the West Bank and Gaza. Looking back on it, it’s hard to believe that it was that long ago. The history of our times, in small and great ways, was converging on the Kansas Flint Hills in much the same way as it is today. I re-read the piece and found that it was also an eerie reminder to me that along with the convergence of events come moral choices.

I re-post it now, hoping that it will converge with you wherever you are:

I get together with a group of guys from church on Tuesday mornings for breakfast at the Commercial Street Diner. It’s a good way for me to get the pulse of Emporia. I like to think of these little excursions as time spent with the “ham and eggers,” the men with barrel chests, ham hock hands, and plain speech.

It’s taken time, but I’ve become a regular of sorts. Almost all of the other guys order biscuits and gravy or eggs and hash browns while I order my usual, a large glass of apple juice, oatmeal, and an English muffin. In fact, I’ve become such a regular that the waitress brings my apple juice even before I sit down. Then, this little cycle of the seasons ends with the rest of the guys having a good laugh at my expense. I’ve come to love and appreciate it.

For most of the guys there is a day of hard work ahead of them, hence the hearty breakfasts. While I sit here thinking and typing Danny Horst is out in some field near here, “thrashing” something or other. Mike Blake is selling cellular phone service and is more than likely on the road to Fort Scott right now. Cliff Allen is either hanging or repairing a door. Steve Quandt is probably pretty close to Kansas City with his wife, Marletta. He’s needing some supplies for the car washes he owns and operates here in town and Marletta is going to be looking for some furniture. That’s hard work if you ask me. Gene Stair is a retiree like me, but I suspect he’s in the middle of some project that’ll keep him busy for the rest of the day. And Mike Stubbs, our pastor, is in all likelihood, preparing a sermon, praying for the flock, or binding wounds. And, as I said, I’m sitting here half thinking, half meditating on the morning, occasionally, in bursts of twenty or thirty words, putting those thoughts down in as concrete a fashion as I can.

One of the things that struck me this morning was on how things so often converge. After breakfast had been ordered this morning Mike Blake shared about some recent experiences he had in Kansas City. He’d been given an exercise to go out into the “marketplace” and find someone to break bread with. It seems that “coincidence” led him to a Jewish woman who worked in a store in the mall Mike had decided would be a good place to break bread. I think if it had been me I’d have chosen a different venue, but “coincidence” is often tailor made. The woman was apparently taking a break from work and that gave Mike the opportunity to strike up a conversation. One thing led to another and the two began to talk about matters of faith, Mike from a Christian world view and the woman from a very nominally religious, albeit Jewish, point of view. It all ended with the woman telling Mike that he seemed to be a very kind, caring man and then offering him a piece of a pretzel she was eating. As I sat listening I was amazed by how closely coincidence and convergence were aligned. It all began with a little exercise and wound up being a profound experience in breaking bread. I’m certain that in the days to come I’ll find out where the coincidence and convergence were leading.

As I ate I listened to the conversation around me. Most of it concerned itself with Israel and the Jewish people. The guys are, to a man, staunch supporters of Israel’s right to exist and are also, to a man, concerned with the pullouts from Gaza and the West Bank. “Where will the concessions end?” was the question of the day.

It’s a really good question. Where will the concessions end? Or will they even end?

The breakfast conversation brought to mind another little “coincidence” Nancy and I had during or recent vacation. We were in Washington D.C.’s Union Station. While Nancy was getting as much information as she could about our final destination, the
National Holocaust Memorial Museum, I was buying day passes for the Metro from the most confusing dispensing machine I’ve ever been around. It took me about three or four minutes to decipher what I was supposed to do and another two or three to mash the right buttons, pay, and get the tickets. I finally succeeded and started to make my way over to where Nancy was gathering our intelligence for the day. After about three steps I heard a woman’s voice. “Can you please help me? This machine is so confusing.” Another three or four minutes deciphering, another two or three mashing buttons and the rescue mission seemed complete. By this time Nancy had made her way over to me, wondering out loud, “Are you okay?” “I’m fine,” I responded. “Just helping this woman buy a metro ticket. The damned machine was so confusing it took a genius like me to figure it out.” The woman, understanding the degree of difficulty of the task we’d been through, laughed. “I’m Rachela Dotan. Thanks for helping me.” With that she handed me a business card that read “Rachela Dotan, Licensed Tourist Guide. I scanned down and saw an address – 11 Harel St. Haifa 34555. I put the card in my wallet and asked her, “Where are you going today?” “To the Holocaust Museum,” she replied.
“What a coincidence. My wife and I are going there too. Why don’t you come with us?”

Rachela, probably thinking that the trip might be just as complex as the ticket dispensing machine, agreed.

We only got lost once on our way to the museum, but Rachela didn’t seem to mind. About a couple of blocks from the museum I moved from directions and small talk to the politics and philosophy of the Middle East. “How do people in Israel feel about the pullouts from Gaza and the West Bank?” “Our feelings are mixed,” she replied. “We’ve had to spend billions protecting so very few of our citizens that most of us feel that we can make things safer by pulling out.”
“What about security in the future?
“No Israeli harbors any illusions there. We want peace and secure borders, but we also know that our Arab brothers who surround us really want to destroy us. There’s talk of peace and we make concessions, but we know that we must rely on ourselves alone for our defense. We will never again allow ourselves to have our security placed solely in the hands of others.”

Rachela’s words became more animated as we entered the museum. “This building tells something of our story. It tells a story we don’t want others to forget.” With that, she gave us two of the tickets she had and said her final thanks to us, then made her way to the one exhibit she wanted to see, I assumed in privacy.

The museum tour actually begins on the third floor. I think there’s some symbolism to it, part of the terrible lesson the Jewish people took from the Holocaust. Madness descends; it never elevates. There were other lessons in the ambience as well. The third floor was relatively comfortable and warm, but as we made our way to the lower levels the air became increasingly cold. The message, again, was clear. Evil casts a chill upon the human soul; it never brings warmth or comfort.

I think of our breakfast conversation, though, and sense that there are other lessons as well. Just like the convergence and coincidence overtook Mike Blake at the mall the other day and in the same way that convergence and coincidence overtook Nancy and me in the Washington, D.C. metro a few weeks ago, history and coincidence often converge on all of humanity.

One the second floor of the Holocaust Museum there is a small exhibit tucked quietly in with the more renowned ones. In the mid to late thirties it was becoming increasingly clear to Europe’s Jews, in general, and Germany’s Jews, in particular, that the “final solution,” the Holocaust, had grown from its infancy and was picking up the force of a deadly storm. In September of 1935 the
Nuremberg Laws were passed. In October of 1938 it was Kristallnacht. Evil events were converging on the Jewish people. Some Jews, seeing the oncoming evil, tried to emigrate. A few were successful, but most were rebuffed. For those trying to escape to America their need for safety from der Fuhrer was converging with our national need to recover from the depression. Some lawmakers pleaded for increased Jewish immigration, but most, seeing their constituents in need of jobs and security themselves, felt that European Jews were a threat to American labor. In the end, American economic need won the day. The Jewish people had few allies. The rest, as we all should know now, is history.

Convergence. Coincidence. Events and nations and people are woven together, strands of history and circumstance. They come together in the lives of individuals. They come together in the history of nations. They come in our malls. They come while we’re having breakfast at an Emporia, Kansas diner. They come while we’re in the subways. And, they come when evil collides with all that is good in the world. In some cases they only require that we nod, noting that we’ve learned a lesson. Most often, though, they call upon us to act.

In the current circumstance history will either vindicate us for acting on behalf of what is right or condemn us for retreating in the face of evil.

We must not retreat!

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The Holocaust