Wednesday, November 30, 2005

This I Believe?

It's funny that I missed this on NPR. Funny, because I usually have the radio on in the mornings and the evenings, and I usually catch the "This I Believe" segment, and I usually find it to be so much audio treacle that I wish I had missed it. But I wish I'd heard this one, and I'm glad it showed up as the "most e-mailed" piece on their website, or I'd have never gone looking for it and had a chance to read it.

Funny, too, because everything Penn Jillette mentions enjoying here, I enjoy, too, and probably for much the same reasons. And funny, lastly, because it fits in with my thinking, recently, about the caricature we have made of Augustine's insight: "Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee."

Mr. Jillette simply presents us with the same caricature, from the other direction.

Mind, I don't blame that caricature solely on "fundamentalists." The Church has exploited it over time, one way and another. But its abuse today owes more to the Romantics than to tradition. Once we established that humanity was more than profits and factory owners, that laborers were worthy of not only their hire but their dignity, and worthy because they were unique individuals (a very 19th century notion, and very radical for most of that century), it was a short leap to saying that we all longed for what Wordsworth longed for: deep spiritual connection, whether it sprang from "powerful emotions recollected in tranquility" or the memories of childhood (another Wordworthian invention; Freud owes more to Wordsworth than he does to science). And from there, a short step indeed to Augustine's Confessions, which begin in childhood and culminate in his recognition of a "need" for God, what later commentators have come to call the "God-shaped hole" in each of us.

Except, of course, that's not what Augustine said, or meant. It's much closer to Wordsworth, to the poet crying out that he's been "suckled on a creed outworn" or that his intimations of immortality spring from recollections of a happy childhood.

So much of what we think, today, in matters religious, is divorced indeed even from true spirituality. Huston Smith tries to get at this problem in Why Religion Matters, which I'm currently reading (and which prompts this "spontaneous overflow"), but he tries to discuss it in the vocabulary of the modern world, and frankly, as I sit here and try to type it myself, I realize what his central problem is: you cannot discuss "spirit" except in the vocabulary of spirituality. The importance of spirit cannot be defended, or even discussed, in the language of Penn Jillette, because Mr. Jillette will simply say: "I don't believe it, and you cannot prove it." And he is right on both counts; and there the discussion ends, having never really started.

But there is a rich body of spirituality and spiritualism in Christian tradition. It speaks of spirit and vision and "the cloud of unknowing," of mystery and beauty and sex and humanity, in a way not even cognizable to the language of "proof," although proof is not unknown to it, either. Julian of Norwich wrote and re-wrote of her visions during her illness and near-death experience. Teresa of Avila complained to God, like Isaiah, that she didn't always have proof of what had been revealed to her. The greatest mystics never moved "beyond proof," so much as they didn't let it rule them; but they always understood its importance, if only so they could communicate their experiences to us.


Seymour Hersh:

"We're not planning to diminish the war," Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me. Clawson's views often mirror the thinking of the men and women around Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "We just want to change the mix of the forces doing the fighting-Iraqi infantry with American support and greater use of airpower. The rule now is to commit Iraqi forces into combat only in places where they are sure to win. The pace of commitment, and withdrawal, depends on their success in the battlefield."

He continued, "We want to draw down our forces, but the President is prepared to tough this one out. There is a very deep feeling on his part that the issue of Iraq was settled by the American people at the polling places in 2004." The war against the insurgency "may end up being a nasty and murderous civil war in Iraq, but we and our allies would still win," he said. "As long as the Kurds and the Shiites stay on our side, we're set to go. There's no sense that the world is caving in. We're in the middle of a seven-year slog in Iraq, and eighty per cent of the Iraqis are receptive to our message."

One Pentagon adviser told me, "There are always contingency plans, but why withdraw and take a chance? I don't think the President will go for it"-until the
insurgency is broken. "He's not going to back off. This is bigger than domestic politics."

Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the President remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding.

Bush's closest advisers have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush's first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President's religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that "God put me here" to deal with the war on terror. The President's belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that "he's the man," the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his re-election as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose.

The former senior official said that after the election he made a lengthy inspection
visit to Iraq and reported his findings to Bush in the White House: "I said to the President, 'We're not winning the war.' And he asked, 'Are we losing?' I said, 'Not yet.' " The President, he said, "appeared displeased" with that answer.

"I tried to tell him," the former senior official said. "And he couldn't hear it."
In the simplest physical terms, can we continue to do this? No.

There are grave concerns within the military about the capability of the U.S. Army to sustain two or three more years of combat in Iraq. Michael O'Hanlon, a specialist on military issues at the Brookings Institution, told me, "The people in the institutional Army feel they don't have the luxury of deciding troop levels, or even participating in the debate. They're planning on staying the course until 2009. I can't believe the Army thinks that it will happen, because there's no sustained drive to increase the size of the regular Army." O'Hanlon noted that "if the President decides to stay the present course in Iraq some troops would be compelled to serve fourth and fifth tours of combat by 2007 and 2008, which could have serious consequences for morale and competency levels."
And now, of course, there is the spectre of the "Salvador Option."

O Saviour, rend the heavens wide;
Come down, come down with mighty stride;
Unlock the gates, the doors break down;
Unbar the way to heaven's crown.

O Father, light from heaven lend;
As morning dew, O Son, descend.
Drop down, you clouds, the life of spring:
To Jacob's line rain down the King.

O earth, in flow'ring bud be seen;
Clothe hill and dale in garb of green.
Bring forth, O earth, a blossom rare,
Our Savior, sprung from meadow fair.

O Morning Star, O Radiant Dawn,
When will we sing your morning song?
Come, Son of God! Without your light
We grope in dread and gloom of night.

Sin's dreadful doom upon us lies;
Grim death looms fierce before our eyes.
Oh, come, lead us with mighty hand
From exile to our promised land.

--Frederich von Spee, 17th century

So much depends on a red wheelbarrow...

or on what the meaning of "is" is:

In a report this month, the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity said Cheney and his staff have sidestepped regulations that require annual reporting of travel expenses of more than $250 received from outside groups. The center, which focuses on ethics and public service issues, said previous vice presidents routinely disclosed such payments for lodging, travel and food when the veep and his staff made appearances at colleges, think tanks and trade associations.

"The private sector reimburses elected officials and bureaucrats for such trips, but laws require officials to disclose where they went, how much it costs and who paid for it," the report said, citing provisions found in Section 1353 of Title 13 of the U.S. Code.

Cheney's office says nothing is amiss. In three letters since 2002 to the Office of Government Ethics, which collects the travel reports, David S. Addington, then Cheney's general counsel, noted that the reporting requirement applies to the "head of each agency of the executive branch."

"The Office of the Vice President is not an 'agency of the executive branch,' and hence the reporting requirement does not apply," wrote Addington, who this month replaced I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby as Cheney's chief of staff.
Well, at least, it used to.

And why do we care?

[A]according to the center's research, Cheney has given 23 speeches to think tanks and trade organizations and 16 at academic institutions since 2001 -- apparently all at taxpayers' expense.

"[I]t appears that his office labels them 'official travel,' " the center said. "As a result . . . the public is kept largely unaware of where he and his staff are traveling, with whom they are meeting and how much it costs, even though tax dollars are covering the bill."

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

It's Official: Charlie Brown is dead.

From the November 28 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

O'REILLY: What's happened is frightening. A legal assault by the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] combined with the media that blatantly promotes secularism has succeeded in convincing some Americans that the words 'Merry Christmas' are inappropriate while celebrating the national holiday of Christmas.

This, of course, is nuts. Anyone offended by the words 'Merry Christmas' has problems not even St. Nicholas could solve.

Every company in America should be on its knees thanking Jesus for being born. Without Christmas, most American businesses would be far less profitable; more than enough reason for businesses to be screaming Merry Christmas.
Jesus may have died for your sins, but he was born in order to enrich corporate America.

And that's... the rest of the story.

ADDENDUM: It occurs to me, there is a Bing Crosby song, "Happy Holidays."

I suppose Clear Channel is going to have to ban that one from the playlists. And any radio station that dares air it, will have to be boycotted.

We cannot let this get out of hand!

November 29: Dorothy Day

"AFTER 1976 Dorothy [Day] virtually withdrew from the affai rs of the world of the Worker movement. Her lot, as she knew, was to await death. Content to spend as much time as she could in the company of her daughter and grandchildren, she remained in her room at Maryhouse, coming downstairs only for the evening Mass that was said at the house. In her room, which overlooked Third Street, she could look out onto the dismal prospect of a narrow street, shadowed by five-story buildings, shoulder to shoulder, whose unkempt and desolate appearance suggested that they, like the people who passed before them, felt that their existence mattered not at all. In front of these buildings, parked cars at the curbs were jammed against one another. One structure, ugly with shattered windows and an aspect of grotesque garishness, was fronted by motorcycles-power-ful brutish machines with signs and symbols that proclaimed their owners' defiance of civilized norms. The building was the home of the Hell's Angels, a motorcycle gang about whose doings fearful stories were told.

"It was in this part of New York that Dorothy had spent a half-century of her life, where just blocks away she had lived in 1917 as the acting editor of the Masses and where in that cold winter of 1918 she had whiled away the nights with Eugene O'Neill and the young radicals and artists of the Village. A few blocks to the west and south was New York's Lower East Side, the home of the Jews. She had never left them. Mott Street was two blocks away, the street of the Italians. She remembered sitting on the front steps of the Mott Street house, watching them celebrate the feast of San Gennaro. Perhaps she remembered that night soon after the war had begun, the cool clear air and the half-moon shining brightly over Mott Street. . . .

"Dorothy died on November 29, 1980, just as night began to soften the harshness of the poverty and ugliness of Third Street. Her daughter, Tamar, was in the room with her. There was no struggle. The last of the energy that sustained her life had been used. The funeral was on December 2 at the Nativity Catholic Church, a half block away from Maryhouse. An hour before the service, scheduled for 11 o'clock in the morning, people began to assemble in the street. Some were curious onlookers, the hollow-eyed and stumbling people who roam the streets of lower New York, but others were drawn there by some sense of the propriety of paying their last respects to the woman who had clothed and fed them. There were American Indians, Mexican workers, blacks and Puerto Ricaos. There were people in eccentric dress, apostles of causes who had felt a great power and truth in Dorothy's life. . . .

"At the appointed time, a procession of these friends and fellow workers came down the sidewalk. At the head of it Dorothy's grandchildren carried the pine box that held her body. Tamar, Forster, and her brother John followed. At the church door, Cardinal Terence Cooke met the body to bless it. As the procession stopped for this rite, a demented person pushed his way through the crowd and bending low over the coffin peered at it intently. No one interfered, because, as even the funeral directors understood, it was in such as this man that Dorothy had seen the face of God. "

--William D. Miller

"ALICE Paul, the suffragist leader, had gold pins made, depicting prison bars, to give to those who went to jail with her in the second decade of this century. Dorothy Day was given one of those pins; but I would bet she did not have it when she died this week. She was not good at owning things. She was good at giving things away, including her-self. It is the only way, finally, to own oneself.

"In her own and this century's teens she was an ardent defender of other people's rights. She continued to speak up for the unprotected when no one else would do that. During World War II, her protests at the internment without due process of Japanese-Americans caused j. Edgar Hoover to open his extensive file on her. Without her, how much bleaker would be our record. She fed the poor, which may not be the Christian's final task, but should normally be the first one.

"She was the long-distance runner of protest in our time, because her agitation was built on serenity, her activism on contemplation, her earthly indignation on unearthly trust. This or that cause, with its noisy followers, came and went, butshe was always there. "Rest in peace," one prays over the dead; but she reposed in restlessness, so long as there was no peace-and her moral discontent should be continued. Let her rest in our disquietude.

"Dorothy Day showed us . . . that people who stand with and for others cannot act from a calculus of individual advantage. They must act as they do from a higher urgency, a love beyond what most of us think of as loving. So far from distracting them from earth's injustice, as Marx claimed religion did, Dorothy Day's faith made effective radicalism not only possible, for many people, but imperative. We may not even be able to possess the earth unless we aspire to heaven-like our sister, who is dead and lives. "

--Gary Wills

"A Day On Which Absolutely Nothing Happened."

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
--W.H. Auden, 1940
I was teaching this poem yesterday when I recognized the connection to Advent.

Most commentators focus on the last painting of the three described, "The Fall of Icarus." But this is a walking tour of the Musee des Beaux Arts in Belgium, where all three Breughel paintings mentioned are in the collection. And this one, "The Census at Bethlehem," is now, for me, the image of Advent.

As Auden says, the old people are busy with their business, trying to register for the census that is the reason, in Luke's nativity story, for Jesus being born in Bethlehem. The children, however, and the rest of the world, far from being stopped by this event, go on blithely around it. Luke focusses us on the singular importance of the census; Breughel shows us that was is singular to some, is of no particular importance to most others.

The year I got married, a good friend of mine was getting married, too; about a month after me, in fact. I was in his room one day, and noticed on this desk calendar that the date of my wedding was blank. I grabbed a pen and scribbled "Absolutely Nothing Happening" in the empty box for my wedding day.

A few weeks after the wedding, he presented me with a photo album of pictures he'd taken teh day of the wedding, complete with captions. The title: "A Day On Which Absolutely Nothing Happened."

And so Advent proceeds, or should; not as an event the brings the world to a halt, or even to take much notice. A day coming on which absolutely nothing happened; unless it was important to you.

Redeem the Time

I was listening to this story on NPR, and thinking, not coincidentally, about Advent.

Almost spontaneously, I started singing my favorite Advent hymn. Perhaps it is because I am old, or always tired, or just getting more and more sappily sentimental as years go by, but alone in my car, listening to the story of this poor man struggling to recover the life he had before being sent of on this grand foreign adventure, I found I couldn't help myself.

As I sang, I started to cry.

O come, O Come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lowly exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel, shall come to thee, O Israel.

The pleading of the words, and the almost awfulness of the call to rejoice in the middle of them, was too much for me in that context. At that point, for that moment, they became real: the throbbing expectation, the longing, the need; and the fulfillment, that has come, that is coming. The experience of eternity in the temporary; that is not yet temporary enough, that is, in its own way, eternal. The redemption of this time, for this soldier, will be the redemption of time itself.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Keep Awake!

The root of Advent is in revelation, which is to say apocalypse; and also in parousia, the anticipation of the Reign of Christ. Which is why some churches observe "Reign of Christ" Sunday on the last Sunday of Pentecost, the Sunday before the First Sunday of Advent. And why the German tradition includes a "Tötenfest" on that day, honoring those who have died in Christ in the last liturgical year, as they prepare to turn toward the beginning of the next liturgical year, which begins not with a whimper, but with a bang. The bang of the apocalypse.

Today begins Year "B" on the Lectionary cycle, and it opens with two of my favorite scripture passages:

Isaiah 64:1-9

64:1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence--

64:2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-- to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

64:3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

64:4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.

64:5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.

64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

64:7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

64:8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

64:9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

Mark 13:24-37

13:24 "But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,

13:25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

13:26 Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory.

13:27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

13:28 "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.

13:29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

13:30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.

13:31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

13:32 "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

13:33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.

13:34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.

13:35 Therefore, keep awake--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,

13:36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.

13:37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."

Luke turns that fearful vision into a joke, but the command is the same, and it has become a traditional one for Advent: "Wachet Auf!" Keep awake! The plea from the prophet Isaiah for a visible sign from the invisible God is less well known, but deserves to be just as familiar.

The reference here is to Elijah, and the priests of Ba'al. The priests set up a pyre and doused it with oild, and prayed all day for Ba'al to set it afire. With one request, Elijah's pyre, which was doused with water until the wood was soaked, was set alight. In the last chapter of the collection of writings of the three Isaiahs, the prophet is longing for a positive sign like that, an assurance that God hears; and that God has not abandoned Israel.

Advent began as a season of preparation, and the reasonable preparation for the coming of the king was penance and repentance. The Christian story, after all, began with the kerygma of John the Baptizer: repent! It was a penitential season, a "mini-Lent," in which the hearts of the believers were prepared for the birth of the Messiah not with presents and cakes and cookies, but with fasting and confession and penance. The priest this morning said the old themes for the four Sundays were sin, death, heaven, and hell. There is more reference to the passage from Mark to doom and apocalypse as we commonly understand the term (a cataclysmic end to all things). But Advent is, and always has been, a curious kind of preparation.

Lent, after all, is a preparation for death, and the longed for resurrection. It is another season of the already done but not yet now; but, oddly enough, on a less cosmic scale. Advent is a preparation for birth, but it is also the story of the coming of the Creator of the Universe. It is a kind of resetting of the clock to a time before Messiah, a time when the longing expectation was not yet fulfilled. And, of course, even now the expectation is still "now but not yet." The parousia is still waited on by Christians, even as they proclaim the kingdom of God is here and now, is present and at hand. The kingdom is both present and not yet. The parousia has both come, and is coming, and is still awaited. More than any other season, Advent returns us to this central paradox. It simultaneously looks forward to what has already come, and also to what has not yet come. It is completeness and incompleteness, together.

Advent is the one time the church tries to capture the eternal, in the temporary. To gather together that which was, and is, and is not-yet, and hold it still, and look back on it, while still anticipating it. And it opens with a cry that is both already answered, and not yet answered today: "O, that you would eah open the heavens and come down!" And yet it is still coming, because we have the commandment: Keep awake!

For four weeks, we will be caught between this knowing about what is already history, and waiting for what has not yet come.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


ADVENT is both a beginning and an end, an alpha and an omega of the church's year of grace. Too often considered merely a season of preparation for the annual commemoration of Christ's birth, this rich and many-layered season is actually designed to prepare the Christian for the glorious possibilities of the parousia. It is a season of longing expectation-"Come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20).--William G. Storey

ADVENTUS" is the exact Christian Latin equivalent of the Greek "parousia."--H.A. Reinhold

NOBODY knows exactly how Advent started, but the custom is very ancient. In his History of the Franks, St. Gregory of Tours wrote that one of his predecessors, St. Perpetuus, who held the see around 480, decreed a fast three times a week from the feast of St. Martin, November 11, until Christmas. In 567, the Second Council of Tours en-joined monks to fast from the beginning of December until Christmas. This penance was soon extended to the laity and was pushed back to begin on St. Martin's Day. This 45-day Advent was nicknamed "St. Martin's Lent." From France the practice of doing penance during Advent spread to England as is noted in Venerable Bede's history.--Hubert Dunphy

EXClTA, quaesumus Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni.
Summon all your strength, a Lord, and come.--Monastic Liturgy

OUR time is a time of waiting; waiting is its special destiny. And every time is a time of waiting, waiting for the breaking in of eternity. All time runs forward. All time, both history and in personal life, is expectation. Time itself is waiting, waiting not for another time, but for that which is eternal.--Paul Tillich

ETERNITY is in love with the production of time.--William Blake

A Charlie Brown Christmas?

Okay, it's sort of related to Advent, but since when did "Christmas shopping" and "Christmas trees" become "religious", and not secular, matters?

Boston set off a furor this week when it officially renamed a giant tree erected in a city park a "holiday tree" instead of a "Christmas tree."

The move drew an angry response from Christian conservatives, including evangelist Jerry Falwell who heckled Boston officials and pressed the city to change the name back.

"There's been a concerted effort to steal Christmas," Falwell told Fox Television.
Last year, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger lit what he called a "Christmas tree" at a state ceremony. The year before, he and former California Gov. Gray Davis presided over ceremonies for the more secular "holiday trees."
I think somewhere along the way, Charlie Brown, we completely lost the point.

Of course, there is this:

Falwell and the conservative Liberty Counsel led a campaign that threatened to sue anyone who spreads what they see as misinformation about Christmas celebrations in public spaces.
Which makes me wonder: if they become aware of what they're doing, will they sue themselves, and leave the rest of us alone?

A Nation of Laws?

I keep meaning to stick strictly with Advent related postings.

Reality keeps intruding:

"The position of the executive branch," said Eric M. Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University who has consulted with lawyers for several detainees, "is that it can be judge, jury and executioner."

The government says a secret and unilateral decision-making process is necessary because of the nature of the evidence it deals with. Officials described the approach as a practical one that weighs a mix of often-sensitive factors.

"Much thought goes into how and why various tools are used in these often complicated cases," Tasia Scolinos, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said on Friday. "The important thing is for someone not to come away thinking this whole process is arbitrary, which it is not."
It is, of course, absolutely arbitrary, because it is secret. "A look at the half-dozen most prominent terrorism detentions and prosecutions does little to illuminate the standards that have informed the government's decisions." Secrecy, and an inability to determine a pattern, is the very definition of arbitrary decision making.

Consider the case of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri.

After 16 months of criminal proceedings on fraud charges, and less than a month before Mr. Marri's trial was to start in July 2003, President Bush designated him an enemy combatant. Mr. Marri, a Qatari who had been working on a master's degree at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., was immediately transferred into military custody and moved to the Navy brig in Charleston
Why? Because Mr. Marri is not a U.S. citizen.

This year, the same South Carolina federal judge heard challenges from Mr. Padilla and Mr. Marri. In July, the judge, Henry F. Floyd, ruled that the administration was authorized to detain Mr. Marri. Four months earlier, the judge had reached the opposite conclusion in Mr. Padilla's case.

The difference, he said, was that Mr. Padilla was an American citizen.
The Supreme Court might disagree. But the Justice Department obviated that possibility, by bringing criminal charges against Jose Padilla in court, dropping their claim that he, too, is merely an "enemy combatant." Why?

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., reversed the ruling in the Padilla case pand held that he could be detained indefinitely as an "enemy combatant"]. The administration's decision last week to charge Mr. Padilla and try to moot his appeal of the Fourth Circuit's decision to the Supreme Court may have been driven by its desire to maintain a helpful precedent in the circuit where it brings many of its terrorism cases.

"They are seeking to keep their options open," said David D. Cole, a law professor at Georgetown, "by avoiding Supreme Court review in the Padilla case. It lets them keep standing the Fourth Circuit decision."
How far does this go, and for how long?

In a hearing in December in a case brought by detainees imprisoned in the naval facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a judge questioned a Justice Department official about the limits of that definition. The official, Brian D. Boyle, said the hostilities in question were global and might continue for generations.

The judge, Joyce Hens Green of the Federal District Court in Washington, asked a series of hypothetical questions about who might be detained as an enemy combatant under the government's definition.

What about "a little old lady in Switzerland who writes checks to what she thinks is a charitable organization that helps orphans in Afghanistan but really is a front to finance Al Qaeda activities?" she asked.

And what about a resident of Dublin "who teaches English to the son of a person the C.I.A. knows to be a member of Al Qaeda?"

And "what about a Wall Street Journal reporter, working in Afghanistan, who knows the exact location of Osama bin Laden but does not reveal it to the United States government in order to protect her source?"

Mr. Boyle said the military had the power to detain all three people as enemy combatants.
So which should I worry about? Whether or not troops are withdrawn from Iraq? Or whether or not we are a nation of laws, or of men? A very few men?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Judgment is Coming

I think Josh Marshall is right. Bush/Rove are betting on withdrawal from Iraq as the "magic bullet" solution to their election problems in 2006. Why? Because it fits the pattern that has led them into the trap of their own making, and proves they will never find their way out.

What has happened to the Bush Administration has been entirely self-inflicted, and, while many voices pointed it out, nobody really cared. The American public went blithely on, apparently not noticing, apparently not bothered with Abu Ghraib or Guantamo or the quagmire that many now acknowledge is Iraq. Nothing has changed in Iraq since the first of the year; the situation, as John Murtha pointed out in his extemporaneous remarks announcing his resolution on setting a withdrawal time table, is the same as it ever was:

"Many say the Army is broken. Some of our troops are on a third deployment. Recruitment is down even as the military has lowed its standards. They expect to take 20 percent category 4, which is the lowest category, which they said they'd never take. Much of our ground equipment is worn out."

"Oil production and energy production are below prewar level. You remember they said that was going to pay for the war, and it's below prewar level. Our reconstruction efforts have been crippled by the security situation. Only $9 billion of $18 billion appropriated for reconstruction has been spent. Unemployment is 60 percentClean water is scarce and they only spent $500 million of the $2.2billion appropriated for water projects.

"And, most importantly --this is the most important point ­ incidents have increased from 150 a week to over 700 in the last year."
What has changed? The attitude of the American public. And what changed them? Katrina.

People still aren't shocked by American combat deaths rising over 2100. They pay little or no attention to the number of wounded, or even the fact that the military is almost irrecoverably broken. But ever since they sat and watched the pictures on CNN of American waving desperately from rooftops, and sitting in hot, sweaty crowds outside concrete buildings waiting for rescue, and hearing horror stories of rapes and mayhem (which turned out to be false), while watching their President say: "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job," they have lost trust in this President.

And he's done absolutely nothing to win it back. Reconstruction in New Orleans is not only halting, it has been openly questioned by the GOP members of Congress. Work in the rest of hte American South is similarly stalled. FEMA has been forced not to evict evacuees from hotel rooms by December 1st. Michael Brown has proven he is as clueless as the President he served. So, if Bush and Rove are banking on troop withdrawals in Iraq to save the GOP in Congressional elections next year, well; it's hardly a surprise, is it?

Atrios thinks this war can be sustained until Bush leaves office, and Attaturk thinks it's all a smokescreen, as well. Niether position seems truly tenable, given the state of the military even now, not to mention in the foreseeable future. Iraq is already a slaughterhouse for our troops; that situation will only get worse. Bush may try to sustain this, with the same swagger and over-bearing ignorance that led him to say "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job." But the troops are not the ones wandering around being advised to roll up their shirt sleeves for the cameras; they are the people trapped in the flooded city. Only this time, we put them there, and once again we're the only ones who can get them out. This has stopped being a political or even military issue; now it's a moral one.

Which is exactly what Katrina did for all the actions of this Administration: turned them from political ones, into moral ones. And George W. Bush and Karl Rove have proven, time and again, they are completely amoral. Even Machiavelli understood that the Prince had to provide something for the people in exchange for having power over them. Bush has signally failed in that, and has gone on to prove the failure was not a fluke, but the very nature of his Presidency. Now the judgment on his Administration is coming; and there is nothing he can do except say: "Lord, when did I see you?"

Advent is, oddly enough, all about anticipation of the Dies Irae, the Days of Judgment, when the King comes to decide

Advent is coming. The Judgment is coming

Excita, quaesumus Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni.

Summon all your strength, O Lord, and come.

The Approach of Advent

CONDITOR alme siderum,
Aeterna lux credentium,
Christe Redemptor omnium,
Exaudi preces supplicum:

Qui condolens interitu
Mortis perire saeculum,
Salvasti mundum languidum,
Donans reis remedium,

Vergente mundi vespere,
Uti sponsus de thalamo,
Egressus honestissima
Virginis matris clausula.

Cujus forti potentiae
Genu curvantur omnia
Caelestia, terrestria,
Nutu fatentur subdita.

Te deprecamur, hagie,
Venture judex saeculi,
Conserva nos in tempore
Hostis a telo perfidi.

CREATOR of the stars of night,
Your people's everlasting light,
O Christ, Redeemer of us all,
We pray you hear us when we call.

In sorrow that the ancient curse
Should doom to death a universe,
You came, 0 Savior, to set free
Your own in glorious liberty.

Come, Sun and Savior, to embrace
Our gloomy world, its weary race,
As groom to bride, as bride to groom:
The wedding chamber, Mary's womb.

At your great Name, 0 Jesus, now
All knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
All things on earth with one accord,
Like those in heav'n, shall call you Lord.

Come in your holy might, we pray,
Redeem us for eternal day;
Defend us while we dwell below,
From all assaults of our dread foe.

FOR many, Advent would not be Advent if introduced by any other hymn. It is well-nigh impossible for even the best of poets to find a formula that really corresponds to the first line of the Latin text. The Latin "sidus" ["siderum"] means more than "star." It includes the stars, of course, but also sun and moon and planets and all the heavenly constel-lations and comets and meteors. These are the cosmic elements that will appear in later stanzas of the hymn. For the ancients, these mysterious heavenly bodies that moved about and that had their cycles of waxing and waning and that in some unfathomable way could affect the course of human destiny-these heavenly bodies were perhaps living beings.

The opening line of this Advent hymn should make us think of the great array of all the powerful cosmic bodies that figure in those eschatological texts of scripture where the whole of the created universe responds to the presence of its God. The point of reference is not some lovely nightfall scene studded with gently glimmering stars, but rather that Great Day when "the sun will be darkened, and the moon
will not give her light, the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken" (Matthew 24:29). Indeed, this Advent hymn, if we really look at it, is something of a "Dies irae" in a less strident mode.

In stanza three, the world's evening draws to a close. We recognize in the last three lines of this stanza the allusion to verse six of Psalm 19, the verse that occurs so frequently in the Christmastide cycle: "And he, as a bridegroom coming forth from the bridal chamber, rejoices as a giant to run his course." So just when the world seems doomed to certain extinction, the Sun comes forth in a blaze of light and begins its paschal journey across the whole of human life and experience. This imagery is especially appropriate towards the beginning of December and the first Sunday of Advent, when nights are growing progressively longer and longer, until, upon the arrival of the winter solstice just before Christmas, the inexorable onslaught of darkness is reversed with the birth of Christ, the Sun of Justice, who now begins to run his course over the whole of our existence.--Chrysogonous Waddell

WHEN the Man of Heaven comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, "Come, 0 blessed of my Father, inherit the realm prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me." Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?" And the king will answer them, "Truly, I say to you, as you did to one of the littlest of these my dear people, you did it to me." Then the king will say to those at his left hand, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and the devil's angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me." Then they also will answer, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?" Then he will answer them, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it notto one ofthe littlest of these, you did it not to me." And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

--Matthew 25:31-46

Friday, November 25, 2005

Massacre of the Innocents

It's a bit early in the church year to be thinking of the Massacre of the Innocents, but this brought it to mind, anyway:
The journalist knows the stories of all the detainees who occupied neighboring cells in Guantánamo. He mentions the taxi driver sold for $5000: "The Pakistanis had just made a raid to find Arabs close to al-Qaeda and hadn't found anybody, so they arrested him. The officer who sold him to the Americans told him: 'Look here, it's worth it to sell people like you to keep the Americans from coming to make war on Pakistan...'" He says the taxi driver is still at Guantánamo.
I had naively assumed Tom Gilroy was talking about a generic "taxi driver;" obviously, I was wrong.

Herod, says Matthew, feared the news of a new king born among the people of Judea; his people. Unable to get any definite information out of the Magi, he did the next best thing: he ordered the death of every male child under the age of 2 in Bethlehem.

And still he failed in his objective.

Matthew doesn't record the impact this had on Bethlehem, other than to quote Jeremiah:
In Rama was there a voice heard,
lamentation, and weeping, and
great mourning, Rachel weeping for
her children, and would not be
comforted, because they are not.
But somehow I think the impact was just as long lasting as it will be for Mr. Bader Zaman, even if history doesn't record it:
He's forgotten nothing of the pain, the humiliation, the solitude. American investigators took a year to clear him. And another year to free him. Beyond the revolting injustice to which he was victim, former journalist Bader Zaman denounces the arbitrariness of American detention centers.

He suffers from hypermnesia. It's twelve months since Bader Zaman was released from Guantánamo prison, but he remembers every detail of his detention. Not only the pain, the humiliation, the solitude, but also little things: dogs' breath, the scrape of the razor against his eyebrows, the accent of the creep who cried out over the megaphone to the other soldiers: "Don't show any sympathy for the terrorists!" He can't forget anything.

More leftovers

Rather than pile up many posts quickly, two for the price of one.

These slightly pre-date Thanksgiving, but they'll get too old if I don't serve them now.

Post #1:

Just remember: "torture works," and "We don't need no steenkin' habeas corpus":

Almost three and a half years ago, the Bush administration announced that it had arrested a Chicago-born man named Jose Padilla while he was entering the United States to explode a "dirty bomb" and blow up apartment buildings. The attorney general, John Ashcroft, said Mr. Padilla was a Qaeda-trained terrorist so dangerous that he was being tossed into a Navy brig and the key was being thrown away.

The administration hotly defended its right to hold Mr. Padilla without legal process because he was declared an unlawful enemy combatant, one of the new powers that President Bush granted himself after 9/11. The administration fought the case up to the Supreme Court. Mr. Padilla's plot was thwarted, the Justice Department claimed, only because of the government's ability to hold suspected terrorists in secretive prisons where they were sweated, to put it mildly, for information. The "dirty bomb" plot supposedly was divulged by a top Qaeda member who had been interrogated 100 times at one such location.

Never mind. As of yesterday, Mr. Padilla stopped being an unlawful combatant, and the new attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, refused even to talk about that issue. Mr. Padilla is not going to be charged with planning to explode bombs, dirty or otherwise, in the United States. Just in time for the administration to prod Congress on extending the Patriot Act and to avoid having to argue the case before the Supreme Court, Mr. Padilla was charged with aiding terrorists in other countries and will be turned over to civilian authorities.

Mr. Padilla was added late in the game, and in a minor role, to a continuing case against four other men. He faces serious charges that carry a possible life sentence, but they do nothing to clear up the enormous legal questions created by this case, nor do they have the remotest connection with the original accusations.

The Padilla case was supposed to be an example of why the administration needs to suspend prisoners' rights when it comes to the war on terror. It turned out to be the opposite. If Mr. Padilla was seriously planning a "dirty bomb" attack, he can never be held accountable for it in court because the illegal conditions under which he has been held will make it impossible to do that. If he was only an inept fellow traveler in the terrorist community, he is excellent proof that the government is fallible and needs the normal checks of the judicial system. And, of course, if he is innocent, he was the victim of a terrible injustice.

The same is true of the hundreds of other men held at Guantánamo Bay and in the CIA's secret prisons. This is hardly what Americans have had in mind hearing Mr. Bush's constant assurances since Sept. 11, 2001, that he will bring terrorists to justice.
Post #2:

It really is a matter of whether we are the ones using it, or not:

The Italian journalist who launched the controversy over the American use of white phosphorus (WP) as a weapon of war in the Fallujah siege has accused the Americans of hypocrisy.

Sigfrido Ranucci, who made the documentary for the RAI television channel aired two weeks ago, said that a US intelligence assessment had characterised WP after the first Gulf War as a "chemical weapon."

The assessment was published in a declassified report on the American Department of Defense website. The file was headed: "Possible use of phosphorous chemical weapons by Iraq in Kurdish areas along the Iraqi-Turkish-Iranian borders."

In late February 1991, an intelligence source reported, during the Iraqi crackdown on the Kurdish uprising that followed the coalition victory against Iraq, "Iraqi forces loyal to President Saddam may have possibly used white phosphorous chemical weapons against Kurdish rebels and the populace in Erbil and Dohuk. The WP chemical was delivered by artillery rounds and helicopter gunships."

According to the intelligence report, the "reports of possible WP chemical weapon attacks spread quickly among the populace in Erbil and Dohuk. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Kurds fled from these two areas" across the border into Turkey.

"When Saddam used WP it was a chemical weapon," said Mr. Ranucci, "but when the Americans use it, it's a conventional weapon. The injuries it inflicts, however, are just as terrible however you describe it."
No kidding.

Leftover Turkey

I saw this at Huffington Post, and I still can't believe it. It's not even a question of irony. Read what Mr. Brown has to say, and tremble again at how utterly clueless are the appointees to important posts in this Administration:

Former FEMA Director Michael Brown, heavily criticized for his agency's slow response to Hurricane Katrina, is starting a disaster preparedness consulting firm to help clients avoid the sort of errors that cost him his job.

"If I can help people focus on preparedness, how to be better prepared in their homes and better prepared in their businesses — because that goes straight to the bottom line — then I hope I can help the country in some way," Brown told the Rocky Mountain News for its Thursday editions.
He couldn't do it as a government official, but surely he can do it as a private consultant.

Michael Brown is now, officially, the embodiment of the GOP philosophy of governance. And New Orleans is his legacy.

Brown said officials need to "take inventory" of what's going on in a disaster to be able to answer questions to avoid appearing unaware of how serious a situation is.
Because appearance, of course, is what really matters.

In the aftermath of the hurricane, critics complained about Brown's lack of formal emergency management experience and e-mails that later surfaced showed him as out of touch with the extent of the devastation.

The lawyer admits that while he was head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency mistakes were made in the response to Katrina. He also said he had been planning to quit before the hurricane hit.
Notice he doesn't say mistakes were made by him.

"Hurricane Katrina showed how bad disasters can be, and there's an incredible need for individuals and businesses to understand how important preparedness is," he said.
Read that one again, slowly; and remind yourself this man was in charge of FEMA once upon a time. And then be afraid; be very afraid. This Administration is riddled with "Michael Browns;" and we have three more years with potential disasters, to go. Are we going to learn, over and over again, just "how bad disasters can be"?

Brown said companies already have expressed interested in his consulting business, Michael D. Brown LLC. He plans to run it from the Boulder area, where he lived before joining the Bush administration in 2001.
Well, it always worked for W. Which should also make you wonder how much longer American-style capitalism can last.

"I'm doing a lot of good work with some great clients," Brown said. "My wife, children and my grandchild still love me. My parents are still proud of me."
Because, remember: it's all about self-esteem. And in Mr. Brown's case, it's all about Brownie.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

No, We Don't Know What It Means....

To tell the truth, since the NYT Op-Ed page went to "Times Select," I haven't been there; even for the columns that are not "behind a wall." So I missed this, until I saw it at Truthout.Org:

On my way every day to where we used to live, I drive through a city I love that lies in ruins. The park that lines one side of a boulevard I follow home is now a solid wall of debris 20 feet high. On the other side of the street, desolate houses destroyed by the flood gape back with shattered windows, open doors and ragged holes in rooftops kicked out by families trapped in their attics when the water rose. Every single thing - wrecked houses, abandoned cars, even the people - everything is covered in a pall of gray dust, as if all the color of this once vibrant city has been leached out.

And why have we had to face this ordeal? Because, as has been amply documented, the Army Corps of Engineers designed and oversaw construction of levees so defective they are now the subject of criminal investigations by the Louisiana attorney general, the United States attorney here and the FBI.

We New Orleanians would have been back home two or three days after Hurricane Katrina if a manmade catastrophe had not engulfed the city in a flood. Instead, nearly three months later, only 15 percent or so of residents have returned. Most people can't come home. As The Times recently reported, half the houses in New Orleans are still not reconnected to the city sewer system and as many still lack natural gas for heating and cooking, 40 percent have no electricity and a quarter of the city is without drinkable water.

New Orleans is on the verge of death, but still, just as in the days after our levees crumbled, the government dithers, refusing to offer an unequivocal commitment to provide protection against Category 5 hurricanes.

Why is this so critical an issue? After what we have been through in the last three months and face in the coming year, there is not a homeowner or a business executive who will invest insurance proceeds in rebuilding if we are to remain vulnerable to a similar catastrophe every hurricane season. Anything short of protection against Category 5 hurricanes will condemn the city to a slow death.
New Orleans is home to the largest and most important agricultural port in the country, on the most important natural transport route in the country. The oil and gas pipelines that run through it (as the country has learned) are critical to every consumer and homeowner in 48 states.

And yet we are going to let the city die because it is prone to flooding, and we think people who live there are fools who put themselves in harm's way. Really?

Are all our judgments made solely on the basis of economics? Is that the only way we can argue, at all, for the preservation of New Orleans? Because of the port, and the pipelines?

Because if it is, we don't deserve New Orleans. And we don't deserve to call ourselves a "civilized people." If we are just going to neglect New Orleans to death, just turn away and go back to seeking the comfort of our own lives, disappear behind our wreath-bedecked doors and our Christmas trees glittering in the front window, then even the "barbarians" will be better than us. Then even the Romans under Caligula will have been more civilized than we are.

[I]f the United States refuses to protect New Orleans, what will the world - and what will history - make of a nation that let one of its most celebrated cities die?
This is the United States; let's be honest, we don't care what the world thinks, and we agree with Henry Ford: "History is bunk." But what will we think? Will we be able to look at ourselves?

I've never been truly ashamed of this country; but I almost am, now.

Listening to Judy Collins While Cooking the Thanksgiving Feast

Pack Up Your Sorrows, by Richard Farina

No use cryin', talking to a stranger,
Namin' the sorrows you've seen;
Oh, 'cause there are too many bad times,
Too many sad times,
Nobody knows what you mean.

Well, if somehow you could pack up your sorrows,
And give them all to me.
You would lose them, I know how to use them,
Give them all to me.

No use ramblin' walkin' in the shadows,
Trailin' a wanderin' star.
No one beside you, no one to hide you,
An' nobody knows where you are.


No use roamin', walking by the roadside,
Seekin' a satisfied mind.
Ah, 'cause there are too many highways,
Too many byways,
Nobody's walkin' behind.


You would lose them, I know how to use them,
Give them all to me.

Carry It On, by Gil Turner

There's a man by my side walking
There's a voice within me talking
There's a voice within me saying

Carry it on, Carry it on

They will tell their empty stories
Send their dogs to bite our bodies
They will lock us up in prison

Carry it on, Carry it on

When you can't go on any longer
Take the hand of your brother
Every victory brings another

Carry it on, Carry it on
Carry it on, Carry it on

Let me only add one non sequitur: if there is one dish that is the American South's signal contribution to world cuisine, it is cornbread dressing.

Enjoy your holiday, y'all.

Happy Thanksgiving

Robert, and everyone who visits here, have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day. In spite of the bad news, we have much to be grateful for.

At the Eucharistic celebration today, our rector told us that he tries to remember to thank God for where he is at the moment. I liked that.

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, wil guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Advent impends....

Obviously in a black mood for the end of the church year. But not without reason:

"Impunity reigns in Guatemala," he said. "So whether there are documents or not, people responsible for crimes do not expect to pay for them. They have always enjoyed blanket immunity."
The files of the Guatemalan National Police have been found. Files which document the atrocities committed by the police for 36 years, until it was finally disbanded in 1996. Files which the Guatemalan government said didn't exist. "It now seems clear, human rights investigators say, that Mr. Arzú's government, as well as those that followed, knew about the files all along."

Does this begin to sound at all familiar? No? Give it a minute, it will.

"This presents a serious challenge for the government because there are going to be a lot of powerful names coming out of the files, and the justice system is very weak," Frank LaRue, director of the Presidential Commission on Human Rights, said in an interview. "But the government remains committed to opening the archive, and prosecuting people responsible for crimes."

Later he toned down his statement, saying, "I am not sure everyone in the government would agree with that."
How about now?

Well, then, consider what Tom Gilroy has to say:

If we can look up from the maze every once in a while before we hit the little lever that makes the cheese pop out, we may discover that all this talk of did Cheney know this, will Scooter be pardoned that, will Alito overturn Roe v. Wade, will Pat Robertson melt if doused with water on live TV---all of this matters little to the uncharged, unconvicted, undefended cab driver hanging from his ankles in Guatanamo Bay.

I left out ‘starving’ and ‘sleep-deprived,’ but let’s not muddy this very polite and abstract political debate by mentioning ruptured organs, crushed vertebrae, being chained in a fetal position in a pool of your own shit and piss, or having electrodes clipped to your balls.

Let’s just keep it all polite so people like Joe Lieberman can seem patriotic, unbiased, and centrist. After all, we’re on the side of freedom and morality, so pulling out somebody’s fingernails is really an insignificant detail when you look at The Big Picture, which is of course hard to see when you’re hanging upside down in a hood and everything.
Five Democratic Senators voted for the "Graham Amendment," and Mr. Gilroy wants us to remember them:

So Joe Lieberman of Connecticut? Out.
Kent Conrad of North Dakota? Out.
Mary Landrieu of Louisiana? Out.
Ben Nelson of Nebraska? Out.
Ron Wyden of Oregon? Out.
But it isn't really about politics; it's about morality. It's about national identity:

Five of our ‘peacenik liberals’ sided with the lunatics in the majority who spout things like evolution is bunk, homosexuality is bestiality, and affirmative action is reverse racism, and gave 'the Graham measure' its margin of victory. Given the chance to look up from their George Lakoff books and say to themselves, ‘hmm, I don’t know, in my heart, something smells funny about this whole wallowing in your own piss and shit thingy,’ five of our leftist bleeding hearts okayed practices that would give Hitler a hard-on.

At a time when the Democrats are supposedly ‘on the march,’ we find five of them voting against a Republican who’s anti-torture. What does it tell you?

It tells you the labels of GOP and Democrat are bullshit, as are liberal and conservative, and this whole little exercise is a board game of PR and semantics. What matters in life—and more so in politics--is not what you say, not what you spin, not how you describe yourself, it’s what you do. And we torture.
But we knew this, in Texas. We learned it a long time ago:

The legendary Maury Maverick Jr. was in the legislature at the time, one of the “Gashouse Gang” that fought bravely against the poison of the era. He said these were “the worst years” in his life. “The lights were going out” and few voices were raised in protest. The low point, said Maverick, came when the state Senate passed a bill to remove all books from public libraries which “adversely” reflected on American and Texas history, the family and religion. Even the state teachers association endorsed the bill, in exchange for a pay raise. Maverick voted against it, but walking back to his apartment that evening he was suddenly overwhelmed by the evil of what was happening, and he “vomited until flecks of blood came up.”

That was the lay of the land in the 1950s. And Democrats were in charge, remember? That’s right: Texas was a one-party state; Republicans were as scarce in high office as Democrats are today. No matter the players, one-party government is a conspiracy in disguise.
So this is America, but not that far removed from Guatemala; because we like our secrecy, too. George W. Bush sealed Presidential records for himself and all of his predecessors for 12 years after their Presidency ends. It is as close as he can come to imposing absolute secrecy. But even that won't work; after all what is true for Guatemala is also true for us: " 'Ultimately these files are the institutional memory of the bureaucracy,' [Hassan Mneimneh, of the Iraq Memory Foundation] said. 'To expect a bureaucracy to destroy its files is to expect it to commit suicide.' "

So, still what distinguishes us from Guatemala? Not much, really:

This predatory convergence of corporate, political and religious power has taken the notion of our commonwealth —the ‘We the People’ in that magnificent preamble to the Constitution—and soaked it in the sanctimony of homegrown Ayatollahs, squeezed it through a rigged market, and then auctioned it to the highest bidder for private advantage, at the expense of working people, their families and their communities.
Or maybe it's that we have some people here who have experience with this kind of thing, people like: "Ronnie Dugger, Willie Morris, Robert Sherrill, Larry Goodwyn, Kaye Northcott, Jim Hightower, Geoffrey Rips, Lou Dubose, Michael King, Nate Blakeslee and Molly Ivins (whose wit should have prompted her arrest long ago. Who else makes us laugh so hard even as we read about the betrayal of democracy?)." All of whom are connected, not coincidentally, to Texas ("the strangest state in the Union") and The Texas Observer.

I read The Texas Observer and am reminded of the Irishman who comes upon a street brawl and asks, “Is this a private fight, or can anyone get in it?” You
never let us forget that democracy is a public fight. For half a century now, you have covered that fight like no other journalists in the state. From Marshall in East Texas to El Paso in the far west, from Dallas to Corpus Christi, from Bastrop County to Deaf Smith County, you have reported on the men and women who struggle against much larger forces—sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of others, knowing that whether they succeed or not, they had to make a fight of it, had to take a stand, if justice is to have a chance in Texas.
Maybe I just need to be reminded that democracy is a contact sport, and that fighting this kind of governance is a Texas tradition.

Because otherwise, I'm going to give up on it, and start proclaiming the kingdom of heaven is whatever I want it to be. That's so much easier than being faithful.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Do you know what it means....?

Public executions have gone by the way-side. Intentional and deliberate cruelty is no longer countenanced. Katrina made us aware of the suffering of others within our own country, of the "Third-World" conditions in our own national back-yard.

But then again, "Never underestimate the power of denial." And: "Out of sight, out of mind."

Already, we are forgetting New Orleans:

Less than three months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, relief legislation remains dormant in Washington and despair is growing among officials here who fear that Congress and the Bush administration are losing interest in their plight.

As evidence, the state and local officials cite an array of stalled bills and policy changes they say are crucial to rebuilding the city and persuading some of its hundreds of thousands of evacuated residents to return, including measures to finance long-term hurricane protection, revive small businesses and compensate the uninsured.

"There is a real concern that we will lose the nation's attention the longer this takes," said Representative Bobby Jindal, a Republican from Metairie, just west of New Orleans. "People are making decisions now about whether to come back. And every day that passes, it will be a little harder to get things done."

Officials from both parties say the bottlenecks have occurred in large part because of a leadership vacuum in Washington, where President Bush and Congress have been preoccupied for weeks with Iraq, deficit reduction, the C.I.A. leak investigation and the Supreme Court.
Bob Woodward; John Murtha; who's on top in the political game, who is ahead in the horse race? This is all that matters to the media. Is it any wonder Americans are so ignorant of, and so disinterested in, politics?

Nor do we really want to know. The cruelty of torture in foreign countries doesn't seem to faze us. The denial of habeas corpus? Well, it doesn't affect me, does it? When the UCCNews ran a picture of a young Iraqi girl in her father's arms, her foot blown off by a U.S. bomb, the outrage was aimed mostly at the editors of the paper, for running the picture.

Jane Smiley is right:

We are a country that can no longer pay our bills, no longer wage an effective military action, and no longer protect our citizens from disaster. And it doesn't matter what fiscal responsibility individuals show, what bravery individual soldiers show, or what generosity individual Americans show.
As a country, we are morally bankrupt. And again, not just because we are a democracy, but because this is true of any country: we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Do we condone cruelty? Certainly not! But then we hear, again and again, that Antonin Scalia is the "smartest" judge on the Supreme Court bench, and we all "know" that "smart" equals "good." But do we ever take the moral responsibility to find out what Justice Scalia thinks?

One more example: Antonin Scalia - like Karl Rove last Thursday - has declared himself to be scandalized by a recent Supreme Court decision prohibiting the execution of convicts who were minors at the time they committed their crime. According to Scalia, the only real question is whether the execution of a minor was considered "cruel and unusual" - therefore prohibited - at the time when the Bill of Rights was ratified. The idea that judges should take into consideration the fact that such execution is today prohibited or fallen into disuse in practically all the states of the union or that the United States remains one of the only countries in the world to execute minors is, in his eyes, an error - worse, a heresy!
So, executing minors is neither cruel nor unusual, because it was not considered such in the 18th century. All I can say to that is that it's a good thing crucifixions had gone out of style by then. But this kind of "interpretation" certainly leaves room to overrule Brown v. Board of Education and re-instate Plessy v. Ferguson. After all, our only standard is the completely arbitrary one of a point in history! Why let the further passage of time introduce new ways of thinking? Besides, we have jobs to do, we have money to earn, we have countries to compete with and riches to acquire!

Just don't read that Jane Smiley post too closely, if you want to stay comfortable with that way of thinking.

Scalia, indeed, seems to reflect the American character more than we might like. Why bother with "interpretation" and "wisdom" (the careful and considerate application of judgment to a complex situation), when a simple reflexive thought will do?

Another example: the separation of Church and State. The Constitution is unclear on this issue, as Judge Sandra O'Connor acknowledged when she exclaimed: "It's hard to draw the line!" Precisely, Scalia objects, "why should the Supreme Court purport to draw a line that is impossible to define if the Constitution doesn't demand it? Why not authorize religious manifestations in any public place?"
And keep reminding yourself he's "the smart one." All the news media will tell you so, in case you forget. Alito is "smart" like this, too.

Isn't that comforting?

Scalia's jurisprudence makes a mockery of the idea of the "common law," or the "golden thread" that runs through British legal history and, by design and positive action, through American legal history, too. Judges do not judge, according to Scalia; they simply rule. Mr Boulet-Gercourt is right; Scalia is a judicial "fundamentalist."

How have we come to this pretty pass? By denying it could happen; by denying that it was happening; by pretending that it didn't involve us personally, and so we were not involved. By declaring ourselves dutiful little islands, separate unto themselves, and no part of the main. We came to this by the American way: by being bred-in-the-bone distrustful of government, and so creating government we could not trust. Corporations and politicians don't hold our noses and force us to swallow the snake-oil; we line up for it willingly. We aren't kept away from nationalized heatlh care; we keep ourselves away from it, because ultimately we don't trust our government to spend the money wisely, and we point to examples like the boondoggle in Iraq, or the graft and corruption of Louisiana, to prove our point.

And then, satisfied that we are right, we turn away. Satisfied that if, at some level, government doesn't work for us, whether "us" are "liberals" demanding health care or "conservatives" demanding more bombs, we simply walk away from the process, or take to the streets to proclaim loudly and longly, and the vast majority of Americans, the "big middle," simply shake their heads and say "who has time for that? I have a job to get to," and move on.

And the two of us, the "right wing" and the "left wing," continue to borrow from each other's arsenals, continue to poach each other's lines, continue to crib each other's tactics, and understand, finally, that it's all about power, about pendulum swings of influence and authority, and that it has nothing at all do with changing hearts and minds.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Murtha Speaks

On the war:

"We cannot win this militarily. Our tactics themselves keep us from winning," Murtha said.
On the Congressional resolution:

"The guys in Congress are scared to death to say anything because they might be vilified," Murtha said. "The soldiers can't speak for themselves. We sent them to war and, by God, we're the ones that have to speak out."
On Rep. Jean Schmidt calling him a "coward":

"You can't spin this. You've got to have a real solution," Murtha said. "This is not a war of words, this is a war."
It's all over but the cryin', now.

And, per Rolling Stone, it all started because of Chalabi.

Never underestimate the power of a determined individual; not in a small church; not in world affairs. Chalabi and Murtha may be the bookends, the "strange bedfellows" of this matter, before it is finally laid to rest in the history books.

(an excellent interview with James Bamford, author of the RS article, is also available here.)

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Yes, Virginia, There is a "War" on "Christmas"

When I attended Eden Seminary, language was a major concern. It's actually a philosophical concern, too, which is why it boiled over into the seminary in the first place. "Lord" was a banned term, because it was "hierarchical" and almost "patriarchal." Papers which were submitted using the male personal pronoun in place of "God" were turned back for correction and, if not corrected, were not accepted. The only exception was the KJV of the "Lord's Prayer," and even then the preferred title was "The Prayer of Our Savior."

I went out of seminary using that title in my worship bulletins. One of the most vociferous complaints against me was over that change in tradition. A woman brought in several years worth of worship bulletins, to "prove" the change was "wrong." She even derided it as "Catholic," the worst epithet she could muster.

"Christmas" suffered a similar fate at the hands of the Puritans, eager to distance themselves from the dominant church of Europe. The word, they pointed out, included the Rcman Catholic term "Mass," and therefore could not, and should not, be uttered by God-fearing Puritans.

The more things change, the more they remain the same:

The American Family Association called Thursday for a Thanksgiving weekend shunning of Target stores, saying the chain was refusing to allow the phrase "Merry Christmas" on in-store promotions and advertising.

"I don't know where they're coming from," Target spokeswoman Carolyn Brookter replied. "We have no such policy on Christmas. You can see it in our stores."

At one local Target, in Colma, most of the in-store advertising offers a generic "Gatherround." One of the few advertising mentions of the C-word is above a Christmas card rack that says, "Celebrate Christmas."

That's not good enough for American Family Association President Tim Wildmon, who wants to see "Merry Christmas" signs displayed prominently "if they expect Christians to come in and buy products during this so-called season."

And he isn't worried if they offend people who aren't Christian.

"They can walk right by the sign," Wildmon said. "It's a federal holiday. If someone is upset by that, well, they should know that they are living in a predominantly Christian nation."
Granted, this is the most extreme position, taken by the most extreme group out there. But "Merry Christmas" is now a required "Christian" term that, if not used, insults Christians? And, of course, since it is a federal holiday, that means it has the imprimatur of Caesar on it, and is even more hallowed.

Ironically, nowhere in that article does anyone complain about the "commercialization" of Christmas. The whole "Charlie Brown Christmas" aspect of Christmas is completely swept away in one-upsmanship and power plays, boycotts and litigation.

Wonderful way to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. The irony is so sharp they've cut themselves on it, and never felt a thing.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Rendering unto Caesar

This, unfortunately, is how debate is conducted in a democracy:

Republicans and Democrats shouted, howled and slung insults on the House floor on Friday as a debate over whether to withdraw American troops from Iraq descended into a fury over President Bush's handling of the war and a leading Democrat's call to bring the troops home.

The battle boiled over when Representative Jean Schmidt, an Ohio Republican who is the most junior member of the House, told of a phone call she had just received from a Marine colonel back home.

"He asked me to send Congress a message: stay the course," Ms. Schmidt said. "He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message: that cowards cut and run, Marines never do."

Democrats booed in protest and shouted Ms. Schmidt down in her attack on Representative John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, a Vietnam combat veteran and one of the House's most respected members on military matters. They caused the House to come to an abrupt standstill, and moments later, Representative Harold Ford, Democrat of Tennessee, charged across the chamber's center aisle to the Republican side screaming that Ms. Schmidt's attack had been unwarranted.

"You guys are pathetic!" yelled Representative Martin Meehan, Democrat of Massachusetts. "Pathetic."

The measure to withdraw the troops failed in a 403-to-3 vote late Friday night.

The rancorous debate drew an extraordinary scolding from Senator John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican who heads the Armed Services Committee.

"Today's debate in the House of Representatives shows the need for bipartisanship on the war in Iraq, instead of more political posturing," Mr. Warner said in a statement.
Unfortunately, because it is messy, and I don't mean "messy" in the sense of disorderly and not quietly composed. I mean "messy" in the sense that people go on dying in Iraq, both Americans and Iraqis, and the number of American wounded continues to rise from 10,000; and those are just the physically wounded.

Debate should be conducted this way:
Given all that has happened in Iraq to date, the best strategy for the United States is disengagement. The endless sequence of major acts of violence proves that U.S. military forces are unable to fulfill their security roles. A withdrawal, however, would not leave the insurgents victorious: Even if the official Iraqi army and police remain as ineffectual as they now are, the Shi'a and Kurdish militias are far larger and better armed than the insurgents, and would crush them soon enough.

While the U.S. armed forces are formidable against enemies assembled in mass formation, they are least effective at fighting insurgents. Insurgents strive to be especially elusive, and as targets diminish, so does the value of American firepower. this was demonstrated in Vietnam in many different ways over many years and is unncessarily being proven all over again in Iraq, damaging the reputation of the United States, wasting vast amounts of money, inflicting added suffering on Iraqis at large, and taking the lives of young Americans, whose sacrifice, one fears, will soon be deemed futile.

The predicament of counterinsurgency is that it is a political activity with an admixture of violence, rather than warfare to any real extent. While there are occasional armed clashes in Iraq that do have a tactical dimension and a classical military shape, so much of the insurgency takes covert forms, ranging from the infiltration of the government, army, and police to bombings, sabotage, and assassinations, that the frequent tactical victories won by American forces have no perceptible impact on the volume of the violence or its political consequences.
Edward Luttwak, "The Logic of Disengagement," Harper's Magazine 311.1865 (2005)13-17.

But it won't be; not in this country, anyway. It will be conducted by screaming, yelling, and the most outraqeous and disgusting posturing imaginable, as politicians fling epithets like "pathetic" and "reprehensible" and other politicians and pundits cluck their Mother Hen tongues and "tut-tut" about the "declining" standards of our discourse.

I don't care about the "level" of the discourse nor even the words used; what I care about is that people are dying, and being ripped apart, and mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, and that the "debate" will always devolve into screaming matches and stupid accusations because the bird was right, and we cannot bear very much reality.

Mr. Luttwak's words are the simple reality. The real "lesson" of Vietnam is the iconic image of the last helicopter lifting off from Saigon, trying desperately to shake off those last desperate souls sure that their doom was coming. From that image, as a country, were the deaths of 50,000 Americans (never do we count the millions of Vietnamese) "deemed futile." And we've been embarassed by that ever since.

But Iraq is, again, Vietnam on steroids. In July 1970, 23% wanted immediate withdrawal from Iraq; 25% wanted to withdraw within 12 months. In November 2005, 19% want to withdraw immediately, 33% within twelve months. This is not new: 6 in 10 thought some or all troops should be withdrawn, in June. And again, the response from the White House was that withdrawal would "send the wrong message." And politicians were saying "I voted for the resolution" and "we've done about as much as we can do."

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

But that is no longer the issue: the issue now is, how do we respond? American opposition to Vietnam was strong in 1970, but it was 1973 before a peace treaty was negotiated, and 1975 before that iconic helicopter lifted off from the American Embassy. And President Bush is determined not to leave Iraq, nor are Democrats calling for withdrawal tomorrow.

Disengagement is clearly the only option; there isn't another one, unless we plan to annex Iraq as the 51st state. "Staying the course" is not madness or insanity, it is simply ignorant and stupid. As Luttwak points out in three eloquent paragraphs, we are the destabilizing force; we are the reason the insurgents continue to kill (82 dead yesterday alone). Withdrawal is the only option.

But as we are not going to have that debate, what other option is open to us? Christians like to say we are called to be in the world, but not of the world; however, that phrase is always poorly defined and even more poorly understood. Are monastics "not of the world" and not even "in the world"? Are priests and pastors? Lay people? And what is, what must be, our response to the events of the world, to the politics of war and violence and empire? Do we engage the debate vigorously? Or stand aloof, apart from the fray?

Luttwak's analysis is absolutely right, and yet who will listen to it. He made it in January of this year, and who listened then? Are the odds any better they will listen now? Jesus famously refused to enter into such debates. When the Pharisees once tried to draw him into one, he answered: "Give Caesar what is Caesar's, and God what is God's."

When I consider the terms of the current discussion, and what is at stake, and what responsibility I have in it, I consider again what is Caesar's; and what is God's.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Speaking of Fallujah

Robert Fisk:

Prevail" is the "in" word in the United States just now. We are not going to "win" in Iraq - because we did that in 2003, didn't we, when we stormed up to Baghdad and toppled Saddam? Then George W. Bush declared "Mission Accomplished." So now we must "prevail." That's what F.J. "Bing" West, ex-soldier and former assistant secretary for international security affairs in the Reagan administration, said last week.

Plugging his new book "No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah," he gave a frightening outline of what lies in store for the Sunni Muslims of Iraq.

I was sitting a few feet from Bing - plugging my own book - as he explained to the great and the good of New York how Gen. Casey was imposing curfews on the Sunni cities of Iraq, one after the other, how if the Sunnis did not accept democracy they would be "occupied" (he used that word) by Iraqi troops until they did accept democracy. He talked about the "valor" of U.S. troops - there was no word of Iraq's monstrous suffering - and insisted that the United States must "prevail" because a "Jihadist" victory was unthinkable. I applied the duke of Wellington's Waterloo remark about his soldiers to Bing. I don't know if he frightened the enemy, I told the audience, but by God Bing frightened me.
I would only note that the white phosphorous stories still seem to be showing up primarily in non-U.S. media (BBC, RAI, etc.; still can't find any mention of it on the NYT website) and slowly making their way back "over here." Fiske's column (this time!) is from a Seattle paper. Why is that important? Because John Donne was right, no man is an island; and no country is, either.

Our appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations was part of a series titled "Iraq: The Way Forward." Forward, I asked myself? Iraq is a catastrophe. Bing might believe he was going to "prevail" over his "Jihadists" but all I could say was that the American project in Iraq was over, that it was a colossal tragedy for the Iraqis dying in Baghdad alone at the rate of 1,000 a month, that the Americans must leave if peace was to be restored and that the sooner they left the better.

Many in the audience were clearly of the same mind. One elderly gentleman quietly demolished Bing's presentation by describing the massive damage to Fallujah when it was "liberated" by the Americans for the third time last November. I gently outlined the folk that Bing's soldiers and diplomats would have to talk to if they were to disentangle themselves from this mess - I included Iraqi ex-officers who were leaders of the non-suicidal part of the insurgency and to whom would fall the task of dealing with the "Jihadists" once Bing's lads left Iraq. To get out, I said, the Americans would need the help of Iran and Syria, countries that the Bush administration is currently (and not without reason) vilifying.

Silence greeted this observation.
And because:

It's like living in a prism in New York and Washington these days.

"Torture" is out. No one tortures in Iraq or Afghanistan or Guantanamo.

What Americans do to their prisoners is "abuse" and there was a wonderful moment last week when Amy Goodman, who is every leftist's dream, showed a clip from Pontecorvo's wonderful 1965 movie "The Battle of Algiers" on her Democracy Now program. "Col. Mathieu" - the film is semi-fictional - was shown explaining why torture was necessary to safeguard French lives.

Then up popped Bush's real spokesman, Scott McClellan, to say that while he would not discuss interrogation methods, the primary aim of the administration was to safeguard U.S. lives.

U.S. journalists now refer to "abuse laws" rather than torture laws.

Yes, abuse sounds so much better, doesn't it? No screaming, no cries of agony when you're abused. No shrieks of pain. No discussion of the state of mind of the animals perpetrating this abuse on our behalf. And it's as well to remember that the government of Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara has decided it's quite all right to use information gleaned from this sadism.
We know it doesn't work. Yet we still we are led by those who believe in it. The "morals" of our leadership would shame a congress of whores.

Ah, but I'm all right, I'm all right.
I'm just weary to my bones.
Still you don't expect to be bright and bon vivant,
so far away from home,
so far away from home.

And I don't know a soul who's not been battered.
I don't have a friend who feels at ease.
I don't know a dream that's not been shattered,
or driven to its knees.
Ah, but it's all right. It's all right.
For we've lived so well so long.
Still, when I think of the road we're travelin' on,
I wonder what's gone wrong.
I can't help but wonder what's gone wrong.
Paul Simon

Our Man on Their Side


President Bush may have come to Asia determined to show leaders here that his agenda is far broader than Iraq and terrorism, but at every stop, and every day, Mr. Bush and his aides have been fighting a rearguard action to justify how the United States got into Iraq and how to get out.

On Friday morning, as Mr. Bush was meeting the leaders of Southeast Asia, his press secretary issued an unusually blistering statement responding to Representative John P. Murtha's call for a pullout from Iraq, declaring that Mr. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat who had often backed Mr. Bush's military initiatives, was "endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party."

Standing Thursday with President Roh Moo Hyun of South Korea, Mr. Bush leapt on a question about the charges that he had manipulated prewar intelligence. "I expect there to be criticism, but when Democrats say that I deliberately misled the Congress and the people, that's irresponsible," he said, as Mr. Roh looked on silently.

On Friday morning, Mr. Roh's defense minister, Yoon Kwang Ung, announced that South Korea planned to withdraw about a third of its 3,200 troops from northern Iraq next year. While the step has been rumored for two months, it was unclear why it was announced while Mr. Bush was here.

But if Mr. Bush's aides were surprised about the timing, his hosts, both here and in Japan, have appeared surprised at Mr. Bush's tone, which has given them an unobstructed window into the growing debate in Washington about how the United States got into Iraq, and when it should get out.

"I think it has been a bit of a shock to everyone," said one longtime Japanese diplomat when Mr. Bush was in Kyoto, insisting on anonymity because he was not speaking for the government. He noted that Mr. Bush had publicly thanked Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for sending Japanese troops to Iraq in the face of overwhelming opposition in Japan. But the diplomat wondered whether "after the president leaves, there will be more and more questions about why we are there, too.
That whole "coalition of the willing" is SO last year!

And, of course, Irony is not dead, but would really appreciate a long vacation at Christmas:

Mr. Bartlett insisted the president was not trying to quash debate about Iraq. Rather, he said, the president was "blowing the whistle" on those who are "willfully and knowingly saying something that happens not to be true."
Well, I hear he and Cheney are "on the outs..."

But others around Mr. Bush are clearly concerned. One senior official said that inside the White House, there is now an active debate about whether Mr. Bush and his aides erred in not explicitly admitting to mistakes in how they conducted the war, the occupation, and the repeated efforts to train Iraqi troops.