Thursday, June 30, 2005

The American Creed

Timothy Garton Ash is in awe:

"One is still gobsmacked by things American Republicans say. Take the glorification of the military, for example. In his [Fort Bragg, N.C.] speech, Bush insisted "there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces". What? No higher calling! How about being a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, an aid worker? Unimaginable that any European leader could say such a thing." (Timothy Garton Ash, Guardian Unlimited, Thursday June 30, 2005).

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Structure of Fear (With Apologies to Raymond Williams)

The key to Ian McEwan's mastery of style is his ability to capture what Raymond Williams called a "structure of feeling." Or, sometimes, just raw feeling. An excerpt from his new book, Saturday, a meditation on life for a certain kind of upper middle class English male after september 11:

"Like most passengers, outwardly subdued by the monotony of air travel, he often lets his thoughts range across the possibilities while sitting, strapped down and docile, in front of a packaged meal. Outside, beyond a wall of thin steel and cheerful creaking plastic, it's minus sixty degrees and forty thousand feet to the ground. Flung across the Atlantic at five hundred feet a second, you submit to the folly because everyone else does. Your fellow passengers are reassured because you and the others around you appear calm. Looked at a certain way -- deaths per passenger mile -- the statistics are consoling. And how else attend a conference in Southern California? Air travel is a stock market, a trick of mirrored perceptions, a fragile alliance of pooled belief; so long as nerves hold steady and no bombs or wreckers are on board, everybody prospers. When there's failure, there will be no half measures. Seen another way -- deaths per journey -- the figures aren't so good. The market could plunge.

Plastic fork in hand, he often wonders how it might go -- the screaming in the cabin partly muffled by that deadening acoustic, the fumbling in bags for phones and last words, the airline staff in their terror clinging to remembered fragments of procedure, the leveling smell of shit. But the scene construed from the outside, from afar like this, is also familiar. It's already almost eighteen months since half the planet watched, and watched again, the unseen captives driven through the sky to the slaughter, at which time there gathered round the innocent silhouette of any jet plane a novel association. Everyone agrees, airliners look different in the sky these days, predatory or doomed." (Ian McEwan, Saturday, 2005, p. 14-15).

Monday, June 27, 2005

Americanisms III

John Dolan on the United States' propaganda laureate Thomas Friedman:

"[This is] the most interesting aspect of the whole Friedman phenomenon: not that Friedman is a bear of very little brain (because after all, there are a lot of Poohs in the woods) but that this Pooh is a leading writer for America's newspaper of record.

Why would a hegemonic world power hire an outright halfwit as spokesman?

The very stupidity of Friedman's analyses must somehow serve the Empire's purposes. Once you admit this possibility, you can see that it fits an historical pattern. Again and again, the truly powerful Empires hire mediocrities; it's the marginal empires which generate the great sloganeers - Mao, for example. Whatever else may be said about him, Mao came up with some great lines, from "paper tiger" to "Let a hundred flowers bloom." When those five-million-strong crowds chanted in Tienanmin, they were quoting some first-rate poetry. That little red book they waved enclosed some of the best lines of the century.

Friedman, slogan kommissar of a much stronger Empire, couldn't get drunken Manchester United fans chanting. Consider his use of numbers. This was one of Mao's favorite mnemonic devices; "Smash the four olds!" "Destroy the Seventh Snake!" All Friedman has to offer is "The Three Democratizations" - but Friedman's three D's are so uninspiring that two days after finishing his book, I can only name two of them. If this guy was working for the Chinese Propaganda Ministry, he'd soon find himself collecting glowing camel-dung in the most radioactive districts of Sinkiang.

But the US, like nineteenth-century Britain, is so strong that it doesn't want talented poets working for it. Think of the intentionally flat slogans of the British Empire:

"England expects every man to do his duty." "The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton."

Dull lines - meant to be dull. The British, in their glory days, revelled in their dullness, associating real poetry with women, the French, and other lesser species. There was an element of gloating in the very dullness of their slogans: let the conquered know that they are ruled by mediocrities.

The slogans Friedman develops in this book have the same triumphant dullness. Their purpose is not to inspire Americans, but to convince everyone else that there's no way to stop "Globalization-Americanization" (his term). Take his favorite oxymoron, "The Golden Straitjacket," his name for the state-model created by Thatcher and Reagan. It's "Golden" because if you implement it, your country will supposedly get rich. It's a "Straitjacket" because, as Friedman says over and over again, it takes away all your freedom. He compares this straitjacket to the Mao suit, evoking those grey-clad crowds in the great Tienanmin Square rallies:

'The Golden Straitjacket is the defining garment of this globalization era. The Cold War had the Mao suit, the Nehru jacket, the Russian fur [sic]. Globalization has only the Golden Straitjacket. If your country has not been fitted for one, it will be soon."

Friedman comes up with dozens of glib, sloppy metaphors implying that there is no way out of "globalization-Americanization," and that anyone who tries to resist will be stampeded. He refers to the wired-up leaders of the movement as "the Electronic herd," which tramples anything in its way. He takes the cattle-herd metaphor further, dividing the wired American elite into "long-horn" and "short-horn" cattle, and adds that the herd is served by the "bloodhounds" of financial-rating services like Moody's.

Friedman doesn't seem to know that cattle herds aren't usually guided by bloodhounds. But the clumsiness of his metaphors is part of his job. He's here to threaten those who seem reluctant to join the herd. Who wants subtlety from a leg-breaker? The cruder the metaphor, the more frightening. Good poets don't make good goons. And Friedman is pure goon, brass-knuckled platitudes all the way. Like a Naked Gun voiceover, he lets his violent metaphors stampede where they will. One of the most ham-handed metaphorical panics is what happens to this "electronic herd." Within pages of its introduction, the "herd" is transformed from cattle to wildebeest, grazing the Savannah. Ah, but that's only the beginning. You have to read it to believe it, so take a deep breath and follow Mr. Friedman into the Serengeti of international finance:

"Think of the Electronic Herd as being like a herd of wildebeests grazing over a wide area of Africa. When a wildebeest on the edge of the herd sees something move in the tall, thick brush next to where it's feeding, that wildebeest doesn't say to the wildebeest next to it, "Gosh, I wonder if there's a lion moving around there in the brush." No way. That wildebeest just starts a stampede, and these wildebeests don't stampede for a mere hundred yards. They stampede to the next country and crush everything in their path. So how do you protect your country from this? Answer: You cut the grass, and clear away the brush, so that the next time the wildebeest sees something rustle in the grass it thinks, "No problem, I see what it is. It's just a bunny rabbit." [...] What transparency does is get more information to the wildebeests faster, so whatever they want to do to save their skins they can do in an orderly manner. In the world of finance this can mean the difference between having your market take a little dip and having it nosedive into sustained losses that take months or years to recover from."

Is he TRYING to be ridiculous here? I don't think so. Friedman is a perfect spokes-beest for the entire herd. His endless Mister-Ed monologues comfort the other ruminants, reminding them of their hegemony.

But that doesn't make for great Imperial poetry. In fact, by the end of that paragraph, with its African bunny rabbits, transparent wildebeest and brush-clearance program, poor old Mao is banging his head against the coffin-lid. Mao's corpse is praying to Marx, Stalin, and Kwan-Yin for one day back on Earth, just time enough to liquidate this Friedman, whose hack-work shames ideological poets everywhere. In fact, seismologists detect widespread vibrations as Imperial poets from Virgil to Kipling batter their coffin-lids, screaming in agony, as Friedman drones on.

But there are horses for courses, and this garrulous Mister Ed is perfect as mouthpiece of the gloating, swaggering American Empire in its moment of triumph. Because Friedman's not just dumb; he's mean, too. He just loves to tell those about to undergo "Globalization-Americanization" that the process is going to hurt:

"Unfortunately, the Golden Straitjacket is pretty much 'one size fits all.' So it pinches certain groups, squeezes others....It is not always pretty or gentle or comfortable. But it's here and it's the only model on the rack this historical season."

But of course he has to offer something which passes for evidence. So, to fill the time between "insights," he recounts inspirational anecdotes gleaned from lickspittles and Uncle Toms the world over. Friedman meets the son of a leading PLO general, and is gratified that the boy is now working as a software salesman with no hard feelings over the fact that his father took a hundred bullets from an Israeli hit team. He is told by Anatoly Chubais, that herd bull of the Russian Young Wildebeest herd, that it's Russia's own fault entirely that the country is in ruins.

Russia, in fact, is the villain of this book. Friedman hates Russia - truly hates it, with a mealy-mouthed venom which does not make pleasant reading. His book begins with a quote from an American businessman whining that it's "aggravating" that the Russian crash actually affects his profits. When he needs a bad example, it's always Russian. He tells the hoary anecdote (an "insight" in this case, naturally) about the Russian elevator with misnumbered floors, and the equally venerable anecdote about the Russian who drives his tank to town because he doesn't have a car. Oh, those funny, funny Russians, with their aggravating habit of starving to death just when we want to celebrate. Like many of the Empire's leg-breakers, Friedman hates Russia for all sorts of reasons: as a child of cold-war America; as an Israel-can-do-no-wrong Middle-East correspondent; and above all as a popularizer of the get-with-the-program hegemony of the Golden Straitjacket. Russia doesn't fit into the Golden Straitjacket very well. In fact, the Straitjacket made Russia so uncomfortable that by 1998, its screams were audible even in the offices of the New York Times. Friedman and his masters will never forgive Russia for ruining the gloat-fest with that discordant scream." ( John Dolan, "Do Fries Come with this Tripe?" The Exile (issue #11/92), June 8-22, 2000).

La Distinction

Nick Wachira reflects on Nairobi's burgeoning coffee shops:

"At Dormans Coffee Shop along Mama Ngina Street in downtown Nairobi, getting a seat on a weekday afternoon is a frustrating experience.

So is the case at the Java Coffee House, and Lavarza next door on Kaunda Street.

Forget shuffling between the sea of human and vehicular traffic during the after-work hours, and jostling for space with office workers on expensive coffee dates.

Inside these coffee shops, it is a world of make-believe. With the strong smell of freshly brewed house coffees, blended with a light touch of western music and artistic decor, one could rightly assume that their minds have been transported back to Europe or America. At Dormans Coffee, it actually feels like the world famous Starbucks – only that the Nairobi version is half cheaper.

A regular cup of house coffee goes for Sh100, a similar sized Expresso for Sh120, and entry-level lattes start at Sh140.

In a country where nearly three million people have dropped below the poverty line in the last five years, one may wonder how so many city residents blow nearly Sh200 on frappuccino, iced mocha or a banana smoothie in one lazy afternoon – but then Nairobi is a city that thrives on contradictions and controversies. " (Nick Wachira, "Chasing a 'Starbucks' dream in Kenya," The Daily Nation, 6/21/2005).

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Political Is Personal (With Apologies to Second Wave Feminism)

When does the personal articulate with the public? How does the personal articulate with the rigorous, erudite, lucid front stage persona? When does the "public persona" become an alibi for the cruelty, prejudice, hatred that we indulge in private?

But, also, dear reader, when does your fascination with the personal sprout into a figleaf, a cover for your laziness and unwillingness to engage seriously with that person or movement you have been conditioned to dismiss? An alibi for your graduate seminar posturing? Discuss....

"Rousseau, who apotheosized primal virtue, abandoned all five children that he had with Therese, his illiterate servant-wife. The self-styled expert on child-rearing gave them to orphanages, where "most of them soon died."

Schopenhauer celebrated art's beauty and joy, but displayed a willful ugliness toward everyone in his life. He won particular notoriety for throwing a noisy seamstress / neighbor down the stairs, hurting her so badly it ended her sewing career.

Bertrand "Dirty Bertie" Russell, who declared one of his three great passions to be "unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind," contributed his share: The unstoppable rake's madcap womanizing over more than six decades (he lived till 97) caused havoc among his endless lovers and damaged children....

The masochistic and ungrateful Rousseau, who once announced himself "a disciple of Jesus Christ, not of priests," stole, lied and sponged off others almost as much as he wrote.

Russell seduced his daughter-in-law when already an octogenarian. Schopenhauer, a moneyed sort most of his life, insisted "that a bank clerk should bring the interest on his [large] wealth to his lodgings every week to be counted." He also, during the brief liberal 1848 revolution in Frankfurt, "welcomed government troops into his apartment so that they could shoot down on demonstrators."

Schopenhauer ... castigated Hegel ("That clumsy and nauseating charlatan") for shaping his philosophy to accord with the growth of state power. (Schopenhauer's resentment extended so far that he scheduled his own Berlin lectures at the same time as Hegel's, a move that simply earned him more empty seats.) Yet he also appears to have adopted some positions out of prudence or convenience.

"I have always thought and still think myself the best of men," Rousseau once asserted."

(From Carlin Romano, "The-not-so-great-acts-of-the-great-philosophers," Inquirer, on Nigel Rodgers and Mel Thompson's Philosophers Behaving Badly).

Sunday, June 19, 2005

l'arbitraire culturel (With Apologies to Pierre Bourdieu)

"[Rugby] is, after all, a sport summed up in a famous quip contrasting it with soccer, a k a football: Football is a sport for gentlemen played by hooligans; rugby is a sport for hooligans played by gentlemen." (David Colman, "A Scrum of Stripes Refined for the Street," New York Times, 6/16/05).

Civility and Its Discontents

Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey Sheehan died in Iraq, made a moving testimony before Congress on the Downing Street Memos. Her poignant testimony poses some lessons as well on the question of civility:

"There are a few people around the US and a couple of my fellow witnesses who were a little justifiably worried that in my anger and anguish over Casey's premeditated death, I would use some swear words, as I have been known to do on occasion when speaking about the subject. Mr. Conyers, out of my deep respect for you, the other representatives here, my fellow witnesses, and viewers of these historic proceedings, I was able to make it through an entire testimony without using any profanity. However, If anyone deserves to be angry and use profanity, it is I. What happened to Casey and humanity because of the apparent dearth of honesty in our country's leadership is so profane that it defies even my vocabulary skills. We as Americans should be offended more by the profanity of the actions of this administration than by swear words. We have all heard the old adage that actions speak louder than words and for the sake of Casey and our other precious children, please hold someone accountable for their actions and their words of deception."

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The (Un)Civil Religion (With Apologies to Robert N. Bellah)

Jeff Sharlet, of "Killing the Buddha" fame, recently wrote in Harper's about his trip to Colorado Springs, the Pentagon of evangelical Christianity in the United States. Sharlet's story largely focuses on Ted Haggard and his mega-Church, the New Life Church. Some excerpts:

1. The Chosen People: Persecuted, Victimized, Circa 1950s, Suburban, Middle-to-Upper Class, White, Evangelical Christian, Americans:

"They speak of Colorado Springs, home to the greatest concentration of fundamentalist Christian activist groups in American history, both as a last stand and as a kind of utopia in the making. They say it is new and unique and precious, embattled by enemies, and also that it is “traditional,” a blueprint for what everybody wants, and envied by enemies."

"The story they found in Colorado is about newness: new houses, new roads, new stores. And about oldness, imagined: what is thought to be the traditional way of life, families as they were before the culture wars, after the World Wars, which is to say, during the brief, Cold War moment when America was a nation of single-breadwinner nuclear families."

"Crime, of course, looms over this story. Not the actual facts of it—the burglary rate in and around Colorado Springs exceeds that in New York City and Los Angeles—but the idea of crime: a faith in the absence of it. And of politics, too: Colorado Springs’ evangelicals believe they live without it, in a carved-out space for civility and for like-minded dedication to common-sense principles. Even pollution plays a part: Christian conservatives there believe that they breathe cleaner air, live on ground untainted by the satanic fires of nineteenth-century industry—despite the smog that collects against the foothills of the Rockies and the cyanide, from a century of mining, that is leaching into the aquifers and mountain streams."

"But those are facts, and Colorado Springs is a city of faith. A shining city at the foot of a hill. No one there believes it is perfect. And no one is so self-centered as to claim the perfection of Colorado Springs as his or her ambition. The shared vision is more modest, and more grandiose. It is a city of people who have fled the cities, people who have fought a spiritual war for the ground they are on, for an interior frontier on which they have built new temples to the Lord. From these temples they will retake their forsaken promised lands, remake them in the likeness of a dream. They call the dream “Christian,” but in its particulars it is “American.” Not literally but as in a story, one populated by cowboys and Indians, monsters and prayer warriors to slay them, and ladies to reward the warriors with chaste kisses. Colorado Springs is a city of moral fabulousness. It is a city of fables."

"[In the New Life Church] is “Fort Victory,” whose rooms are designed to look like an Old West cavalry outpost, the kind they used to fight real live Indians, back when Colorado still had Indians to conquer and convert."

2. The Messiah: "Ted Haggard will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father Haggard, and he will reign over the house of the United States forever; his kingdom will never end." (Mt.1:1, 1:6)

"New Life began with a prophecy. In November 1984 a missionary friend of Pastor Ted’s, respected for his gifts of discernment, made him pull over on a bend of Highway 83 as they were driving, somewhat aimlessly, in the open spaces north of the city. Pastor Ted—then twenty-eight, given to fasting and oddly pragmatic visions (he believes he foresaw Internet prayer networks before the Internet existed)—had been wondering why God had called him from near Baton Rouge, where he had been associate pastor of a megachurch, to this bleak city, then known as a “pastor’s graveyard.” The missionary got out of the car and squinted. He crouched down as if sniffing the ground. “This,” said the missionary, “this will be your church. Build here.”

3. The Kingdom

"Pastor Ted, who talks to President George W. Bush or his advisers every Monday, is a handsome forty-eight-year-old Indianan, most comfortable in denim. He likes to say that his only disagreement with the President is automotive; Bush drives a Ford pickup, whereas Pastor Ted loves his Chevy. In addition to New Life, Pastor Ted presides over the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), whose 45,000 churches and 30 million believers make up the nation’s most powerful religious lobbying group."

"Pastor Ted will serve as NAE president for as long as the movement is pleased with him, and as long as Pastor Ted is its president the NAE will make its headquarters in Colorado Springs. Some believers call the city the Wheaton of the West, in honor of Wheaton, Illinois, once the headquarters of a more genteel Christian conservatism; others call Colorado Springs the “evangelical Vatican,” a phrase that says much both about the city and about the easeful orthodoxy with which the movement now views itself.

Certainly the gathering there has no parallel in history, not in Lynchburg, Virginia, nor Tulsa, nor Pasadena, nor Orlando, nor any other city that has aspired to be the capital of evangelical America. Evangelical activist groups (“parachurch” ministries, in the parlance) in Colorado Springs number in the hundreds, though a precise count is hard to specify. Groups migrate there and multiply. They produce missionary guides, “family resources,” school curricula, financial advice, athletic training programs, Bibles for every occasion. The city is home to Young Life, to the Navigators, to Compassion International; to Every Home for Christ and Global Ethnic Missions (Youth Ablaze). Most prominent among the ministries is Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, whose radio programs (the most extensive in the world, religious or secular), magazines, videos, and books reach more than 200 million people worldwide."

"The press tends to regard Dobson as the most powerful evangelical Christian in America, but Pastor Ted is at least his equal. Whereas Dobson plays the part of national scold, promising to destroy politicians who defy the Bible, Pastor Ted quietly guides those politicians through the ritual of acquiescence required to save face. He doesn’t strut, like Dobson; he gushes. When Bush invited him to the Oval Office to discuss policy with seven other chieftains of the Christian right in late 2003, Pastor Ted regaled his whole congregation with the story via email. “Well, on Monday I was in the World Prayer Center”—New Life’s high-tech, twenty-four-hour-a-day prayer chapel —“and my cell phone rang.” It was a presidential aide; “the President,” says Pastor Ted, wanted him on hand for the signing of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Pastor Ted was on a plane the next morning and in the President’s office the following afternoon. “It was incredible,” wrote Pastor Ted. He left it to the press to note that Dobson wasn’t there."

"No pastor in America holds more sway over the political direction of evangelicalism than does Pastor Ted, and no church more than New Life. It is by no means the largest megachurch, nor is Ted the best-known man of God: Saddleback Church, in southern California, counts 80,000 on its rolls, and its pastor, Rick Warren, has sold 20 million copies of his book The Purpose-Driven Life. But Warren’s success has come at the price of passion; his doctrine, though conservative, is bland and his politics too obscured by his self-help message to be potent. Although other churches boast more eminent memberships than Pastor Ted’s—near D.C., for example, McLean Bible Church and The Falls Church (an Episcopal church that is, like many “mainline” churches today, now evangelical in all but name) minister to the powerful—such churches are not, like New Life, crucibles for the ideas that inspire the movement, ideas that are forged in the middle of the country and make their way to Washington only over time. Evangelicalism is as much an intellectual as an emotional movement; and what Pastor Ted has built in Colorado Springs is not just a battalion of spiritual warriors but a factory for ideas to arm them. "

"Pastor Hayford [guest pastor of New Life Church] wants to “wedge” an idea in our minds. The idea is “Order.” The illustration is the Book of Revelation’s description of four creatures surrounding Christ’s throne. “The first . . . was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying angel.” Look! said Pastor Hayford, his voice sonorous and dignified. “All wonderful, all angels.” The angels were merely different from one another. Just, he said, as we have different “ethnicities.” And just as we have, in politics, a “hierarchy.” And just as we have, in business, “different responsibilities,” employer and employees. Angels, ethnicities, hierarchy, employers and employees—each category must follow a natural order."

In the chapel are several computer terminals, where one can sign on to the World Prayer Team and enter a prayer. Eventually one’s words will scroll across the large flat screens, as well as across the screens around the world, which as many as 70,000 other Prayer Team members are watching at any point in time. Prayers range from the mundane (real-estate deals and job situations demand frequent attention) to the urgent,

"[A prayer] ... from “Lauralee” of Vermont: If you never pray for anyone else, please choose this one! I’m in such pain I think I’m going to die; pray a healing MIRACLE for me for kidney problems (disease? failure?); I’m so alone; no insurance!

One might be tempted to see an implicit class politics in that last point, but to join the Prayer Team one must promise to refrain from explicitly political prayer. That is reserved for the professionals. The Prayer Team screen, whether viewed at the center or on a monitor at home, is split between “Individual Focus Requests,” such as the above, and “Worldwide Focus” requests, which are composed by the staff of the World Prayer Center. Sometimes these are domestic—USA: Pray for the Arlington Group, pastors working with Whitehouse to renew Marriage Amendm. Pray for appts. of new justices. Pray for Pastor meetings with Amb. of Israel, and President Bush. Lord, let them speak only your words, represent YOU! Bless! But more often they are international— N. KOREA: Pray God will crush demonic stronghold and communist regime of Kim Jung Il.

The Iraqis come up often, particularly with regard to their conversion: Despite the efforts of the news media, believing soldiers and others testify to the effective preaching of the Gospel, and the openness of so many to hear of Jesus. Pray for continued success!

Another prayer request puts numbers to that news—900,000 Bibles in the Arabic language distributed by Christians in Iraq . . . And one explicitly aligns the quest for democracy in Iraq with the quest for more Christians in Iraq: May the people stand for their rights, and open to the idea of making choices, such as studying the Bible . . .

The most common Iraq-related prayer requests, however, are strategic in the most worldly sense, such as this one: Baghdad—God, press back the enemy . . .

“There was,” Pastor Ted said one afternoon in his office, “a significant influence exerted on the last election by Colorado Springs.” He was meeting with me and another reporter, an Australian from a financial paper.

“You mean,” the Australian asked, “almost like a force going out from Colorado Springs?”

A force—Pastor Ted liked that. He smiled and offered other examples. His favorite was the Ukraine, where, he claimed, a sister church to New Life had led the protests that helped sweep the pro-Western candidate into power. Kiev is, in fact, home to Europe’s largest evangelical church, and over the last dozen years the Ukrainian evangelical population has grown more than tenfold, from 250,000 to 3 million. According to Ted, it was this army of Christian capitalists that took to the streets.

4. The First Commandment: "I am Capitalism your God.You shall have no other gods before Me." (Exodus 20:2-3 RSV)"

“They’re pro-free markets, they’re pro-private property,” he said. “That’s what evangelical stands for.” (Ted Haggard).

"New Lifers, Pastor Ted writes with evident pride, “like the benefits, risks, and maybe above all, the excitement of a free-market society.” They like the stimulation of a new brand. “Have you ever switched your toothpaste brand, just for the fun of it?” Pastor Ted asks. Admit it, he insists. All the way home, you felt a “secret little thrill,” as excited questions ran through your mind: “Will it make my teeth whiter? My breath fresher?” This is the sensation Ted wants pastors to bring to the Christian experience. He believes it is time “to harness the forces of free-market capitalism in our ministry.” Once a pastor does that, his flock can start organizing itself according to each member’s abilities and tastes."

"Ron Poelstra came from Los Angeles. Now he volunteers at his church, selling his pastor’s books on “free-market theology” after services."

"... Pastor Ted [also presides] over a smaller network of his own creation, the Association of Life-Giving Churches, 300 or so congregations modeled on New Life’s “free market” approach to the divine."

5. The Original Sin: "From the fruit of the trees of capitalism we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the hierarchy of New Life Church, Pastor Haggard has said, 'You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'" (Genesis 3:3)

"The true architectural wonder of New Life, however, is the pyramid of authority into which it orders its 11,000 members. At the base are 1,300 cell groups, whose leaders answer to section leaders, who answer to zone, who answer to district, who answer to Pastor Ted Haggard, New Life’s founder."

6. The Great Commission: "Go ye therefore, and use all necessary methods to convert all nations, baptizing them in the name of Capitalism, and of Whiteness, and of Partriarchy."

"One of Pastor Ted’s favorite books is Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree, which is now required reading for the hundreds of pastors under Ted’s spiritual authority across the country. From Friedman, Pastor Ted says he learned that everything, including spirituality, can be understood as a commodity. And unregulated trade, he concluded, was the key to achieving worldly freedom."

"Free-market economics is a “truth” Ted says he learned in his first job in professional Christendom, as a Bible smuggler in Eastern Europe. Globalization, he believes, is merely a vehicle for the spread of Christianity."

7. The Enemies: Islam, Catholics, New Agers, Gays, Demons, Witches.

"He was always on the lookout for spies. At the time, Colorado Springs was a small city split between the Air Force and the New Age, and the latter, Pastor Ted believed, worked for the devil. Pastor Ted soon began upsetting the devil’s plans. He staked out gay bars, inviting men to come to his church; his whole congregation pitched itself into invisible battles with demonic forces, sometimes in front of public buildings. One day, while he was working in his garage, a woman who said she’d been sent by a witches’ coven tried to stab Pastor Ted with a five-inch knife she pulled from a leg sheath; Pastor Ted wrestled the blade out of her hand. He let that story get around. He called the evil forces that dominated Colorado Springs—and every other metropolitan area in the country—“Control.”

"Sometimes, he says, Control would call him late on Saturday night, threatening to kill him. “Any more impertinence out of you, Ted Haggard,” he claims Control once told him, “and there will be unrelenting pandemonium in this city.” No kidding! Pastor Ted hadn’t come to Colorado Springs for his health; he had come to wage “spiritual war.”

"He moved the church to a strip mall. There was a bar, a liquor store, New Life Church, a massage parlor. His congregation spilled out and blocked the other businesses. He set up chairs in the alley. He strung up a banner: SIEGE THIS CITY FOR ME, signed JESUS. He assigned everyone in the church names from the phone book they were to pray for. He sent teams to pray in front of the homes of supposed witches—in one month, ten out of fifteen of his targets put their houses on the market. His congregation “prayer-walked” nearly every street of the city."

[Ted Haggard] means [when talking about Christianity] Protestantism in particular; Catholics, he said, “constantly look back.” He went on: “And the nations dominated by Catholicism look back. They don’t tend to create our greatest entrepreneurs, inventors, research and development. Typically, Catholic nations aren’t shooting people into space. Protestantism, though, always looks to the future. A typical kid raised in Protestantism dreams about the future. A typical kid raised in Catholicism values and relishes the past, the saints, the history. That is one of the changes that is happening in America. In America the descendants of the Protestants, the Puritan descendants, we want to create a better future, and our speakers say that sort of thing. But with the influx of people from Mexico, they don’t tend to be the ones that go to universities and become our research-and-development people. And so in that way I see a little clash of civilizations.”

So the Catholics are out, and the battle boils down to evangelicals versus Islam. “My fear,” he says, “is that my children will grow up in an Islamic state.”

And that is why he believes spiritual war requires a virile, worldly counterpart. “I teach a strong ideology of the use of power,” he says, “of military might, as a public service.” He is for preemptive war, because he believes the Bible’s exhortations against sin set for us a preemptive paradigm, and he is for ferocious war, because “the Bible’s bloody. There’s a lot about blood.”

8. The Golden Rule: "Do unto others before they do unto you."

"(New Lifers always turn to metaphors to describe their church and their city, between which they make little distinction. It is like a “training camp” in that its young men and women go forth on “missions.” It is like a “bomb” in that it “explodes,” “gifting” the rest of us with its fallout: revival, which is to say, “values,” which is to say, “the Word,” which is to say, as so many there do, “a better way of life.”)

"The Prayer Center—a joint effort of several fundamentalist organizations but located at and presided over by New Life—houses a bookstore that when I visited was called the Arsenal (its name has since been changed to Solomon’s Porch), as well as “corporate” prayer rooms, personal “prayer closets,” hotel rooms, and the headquarters of Global Harvest, a ministry dedicated to “spiritual warfare.” (The Prayer Center’s nickname in the fundamentalist world is “spiritual NORAD.”) The atrium is a soaring foyer adorned with the flags of the nations and guarded by another bronze warrior angel, a scowling, bearded type with massive biceps and, again, a sword. The angel’s pedestal stands at the center of a great, eight-pointed compass laid out in muted red, white, and blue-black stone. Each point directs the eye to a contemporary painting, most depicting gorgeous, muscular men—one is a blacksmith, another is bound, fetish-style, in chains—in various states of undress. My favorite is The Vessel, by Thomas Blackshear, a major figure in the evangelical-art world.[2] Here in the World Prayer Center is a print of The Vessel, a tall, vertical panel of two nude, ample-breasted, white female angels team-pouring an urn of honey onto the shaved head of a naked, olive-skinned man below. The honey drips down over his slab-like pecs and his six-pack abs into the eponymous vessel, which he holds in front of his crotch. But the vessel can’t handle that much honey, so the sweetness oozes over the edges and spills down yet another level, presumably onto our heads, drenching us in golden, godly love. Part of what makes Blackshear’s work so compelling is precisely its unabashed eroticism; it aims to turn you on, and then to turn that passion toward Jesus."

“Colorado Springs,” Jayson, [a member of the New Life Church] told me, “this particular city, this one city, is a battleground”—he paused—“between good and evil. This is spiritual Gettysburg.” Why here? I asked. He thought about it and rephrased his answer. “This place is just a watering hole for Christians. For God’s people. Something extra powerful’s about to pour out of this city. I hope not to stay in Colorado Springs, because I want to spread what’s going on here. I’m a warrior, dude. I’m a warrior for God. Colorado Springs is my training ground.”

(Jeff Sharlet, "Soldiers of Christ I," Harper's, May 2005].

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Making the World Legal for Abu Ghraib

Contractarianism (in commonsense parlance, "the rule of law") is one of the most powerful ideologies of Liberal-Capitalism, not least because of its legitimation of violence:

"The US Government is set to suspend military aid programmes over Kenya's reluctance to sign an agreement sheltering American soldiers from the international war crimes court.

Already, a group of Kenyan military officers preparing to leave for the US in July for an advanced training programme have had their trip blocked.

Threatened with cancellation is a Sh760 million military aid package, which includes training and equipment, unless the Kenya government agrees to sign what is referred to as a bilateral non-surrender agreement." (Patrick Mayoyo, Sunday Nation, 5/29/2005).

"What Is It Like To Be A Bat?" (With Apologies to Thomas Nagel)

A peek into the belfry of the conservative mind. Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal columnist (the one with a crush on Reagan), on the coming out of Deep Throat (Mark Felt):

"What Mr. Felt helped produce was a weakened president who was a serious president at a serious time. Nixon's ruin led to a cascade of catastrophic events--the crude and humiliating abandonment of Vietnam and the Vietnamese, the rise of a monster named Pol Pot, and millions--millions--killed in his genocide. America lost confidence; the Soviet Union gained brazenness. What a terrible time. Is it terrible when an American president lies and surrounds himself by dirty tricksters? Yes, it is. How about the butchering of children in the South China Sea. Is that worse? Yes. Infinitely, unforgettably and forever....

Were there heroes of Watergate? Surely many unknown ones, those who did their best to be constructive and not destructive, those who didn't think it was all about their beautiful careers. I'll give you a candidate for great man of the era: Chuck Colson. Colson functioned in the Nixon White House as a genuinely bad man, went to prison and emerged a genuinely good man. He told the truth about himself in "Born Again," a book not fully appreciated as the great Washington classic it is, and has devoted his life to helping prisoners and their families. He paid the price, told the truth, blamed no one but himself, and turned his shame into something helpful. Children aren't dead because of him. There are children who are alive because of him." (The Wall Street Journal, "The Legend of Deep Throat Was Mark Felt really a hero?" Thursday, June 2, 2005).

Let that stand as the last word on the philosophy of mind.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Crusaders of Civilization (Or Neoconservative Civility)

An exchange between Christopher Hitchens and a female audience member at an English literary festival:

Female audience member: Excuse me. I'm not usually awkward at all but I'm sitting here and we're asked not to smoke. And I don't like being in a room where smoking is going on.

CH (smoking heavily): Well you don't have to stay darling, do you? I'm working here and I'm your guest, OK? And this is what I'm like; nobody has to like it.

I K [Ian Katz, moderator]: Would you just stub that one out?

CH No. I cleared it with the festival a long time ago. They let me do it.

FAM We should all be allowed to smoke then.

CH Fair enough. I wouldn't object. It might get pretty nasty though. I have a privileged position here, I'm not just one of the audience, so it would be horrible if everyone was like me. This is my last of five gigs, I've worked very hard for the festival. I'm going from here to Heathrow airport. If anyone doesn't like it they can kiss my ass.

IK Would anyone like to take up that challenge? (Laughter. Woman walks out)...

(From The Guardian Unlimited, "When Christopher Met Peter," Tuesday May 31, 2005).

Waiting for the Barbarians II

Senator Bill Frist, the Republican majority leader, sounds the alarm on the viruses about to be unleashed by the "densely intermingled Asian and African animal and human populations" on pristine America. But fear not, he has a plan for a Final Solution too:

"A federal initiative as ambitious as the Manhattan Project is needed to protect the nation from infectious diseases, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, said Wednesday in a lecture at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Frist, who studied medicine at Harvard, said the effort would defend against both bioterrorism and diseases that are spread naturally. He said that the United States and the rest of the world were unprepared for a potential pandemic despite signs that emerging viruses like the avian flu are capable of causing sharp losses of life.

"Any number of known and unknown viruses for which at present there is neither immunization nor cure are at this moment cooking in Asia and Africa, where they arise in hotbeds of densely intermingled human and animal populations," said Dr. Frist, who was delivering the Marshall J. Seidman Lecture to the Department of Health Care Policy.

Dr. Frist said he had not yet developed an estimate of the costs to the federal government of his proposal.

Elements of his proposal are incorporated in pending Senate legislation on biodefense, but he said his immediate goal was to open a discussion about the need to take seriously the threat such diseases pose. "I've got to build a case for it," he said, laying out the idea of a close working relationship among the government, the private sector and educational institutions that would rival the Manhattan Project, the World War II initiative to build the atomic bomb.

"I propose an unprecedented effort - a Manhattan Project for the 21st century - not with the goal of creating a destructive new weapon, but to defend against destruction wreaked by infectious disease and biological weapons," Dr. Frist said.

The senator, who has been mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2008, noted that Britain, France and Canada were already far ahead of the United States in trying to secure the scarce supplies of the antiviral agent for the avian flu.

"We have decided upon going to the moon and then done so in a few short years," Dr. Frist told his audience. "We must open our eyes to face the single greatest threat to our safety and security today, but also to seize our single greatest opportunity." (By THE NEW YORK TIMES, June 2, 2005).

Gavagai II

Some more fun on the translation trail, this time courtesy of the blogger au lait. She lists some funny signs seen around the world:

In a Nairobi restaurant:


On an Athi River highway (Kenya):


On a poster at Nairobi :


In a Nairobi restaurant:


In a cemetery:


On the menu of a Swiss restaurant:


In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across from a Russian Orthodox monastery:


In a Swiss mountain inn:


Airline ticket office, Copenhagen:

WE TAKE YOUR BAGS AND SEND THEM IN ALL DIRECTIONS. (Ms K., in the blog au lait, posted Tuesday May 31, 2005).