Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Call

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It's a strange thing, being a blogger. Sometimes I can almost respect the lives and work of journalists, if I could believe the majority of them were half as serious about the commitment to accuracy, consistency, and simply respecting the ideals of the nation in the pursuit of a story, as bloggers are. Since I first began to write on blogs last spring, I have occasionally been contacted by various people in various places, offering me insight into their positions and experience, on the condition that I respect their privacy and protect their anonymity. Fortunately, I have always been able to agree to this provision; I would never protect anyone guilty of a crime or advocating violence, nor anyone acting in opposition to the traditional responsibilities of the military, government, or similarly authoritative positions, but the people who contact me hold the same sort of ideals. Apparently, only Newsweek and the Washington Post hear from people whose sense of responsibility and conscience are lond dead. Friday evening, I got a call that fell into that no man's land between details which cannot be revealed, and something that screams to be told.

The Intelligence Community of the United States is something of a maze, an enigmatic mess of groups and agencies, even for many of the men and women who work in it. Without a prolonged discussion which would bore the tears out of most people, the Intel guys basically fall into five types: The Technical and Logistics crews who make the tools and supplies that make Operations possible; the Field agents of various classes who get the information, the Analysts who sort out the information and prepare reports, warnings, advisories, and recommendations, the Politicians who represent the agencies in their dealings with Congress and the President, and the Money guys, whose main plan is always to get the agency they work for a bigger budget and larger share of the power pie. You think the office politics is bad where you work, think for a few minutes about what this arrangement is like, especially given the incestuous habit some guys have of collecting Congressional patrons in exchange for, well, "inside" information, which used to lead to leaks whcih endangered the security, even the lives, of real agents, in a way the Plame affair scarcely imagines.

Anyway, I'm of an age where I know a few old friends who went one way when I went another, and as a result I got a call on Friday from an old bud who used to work in the field, and now gets to write reports for some of the higher-ups. Since he and I are pretty much law-&-order types, there's no juicy secrets here about the War on Terror. He doesn't get chatty about details, and I don't plan on breaking trust with anyone who not only carries a gun, but who has saved my butt in more than one way.

But in case you were wondering how well the War is really going, my buddy assures me of a few interesting points:

[] Coalition morale is high, for good reason.

[] Zarqawi may be alive and on the run. But his network is really, really messed up, however. One of his lieutenants has been nicknamed "Snitch-Life", which won't translate well to fascist terrorist, no matter how they try.

[] Osama bin Laden hasn't been heard from since Howard Dean was taken seriously for a good reason.

[] A new group may be expected to soon start claiming credit for "insurgent" attacks in Iraq. This represents new desperation, rather than organization.

[] Syria will have electrical problems in a number of places this summer.

[] Don't be surprised to see raids on Madrassahs in Jordan, Lebanon, even Iran in coming weeks.

IOW, we're winning, so expect a lot of whining from the Left.

And thanks guys, out in deep center.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Munderings About Taxes

It’s pretty hard, trying to make sense of Liberal ideas. Not surprising to me, given how poorly Liberal ideas have performed historically. Especially where Money is concerned. After all, in 21st Century terms, American Liberalism is about Class Warfare, the notion that simply succeeding is wrong and should be punished. The whole tax structure in the United States is about hitting people harder, the better they do for themselves. If anyone thinks this makes sense, Howard Dean is counting on your vote. For anyone as unhappy with the notion of freedom only for people running on envy and bitterness as I am, this issue needs a closer look.

Nobody wants to be poor. And most of us are sensitive to the plight of the truly needy. But the truly needy are not defined by people complaining because they don’t want to work a job like regular people, who complain because the house they own isn’t nice enough to please them, or they feel entitled not to the car they have, but to a new car whenever they feel like it. It’s not a right to demand luxury, anymore than we owe cable television to prison inmates, or tax benefits to fringe groups simply for being a minority. It’s also not a right, to hate people simply for having money. The thing is, the “hate the rich” act has been around for a long time. People tend to miss the distinction between the American and French Revolutions; the American Revolution was begun in large part by businessmen who wanted the British Government to just let them live their lives and treat them as equals. The French Revolution was begun mostly by starving peasants, so enraged at the Aristocracy that they simply murdered them wholesale; all the myth about Napoleon was more about the tyrannic subversion of the people by the more unscrupulous manipulators in their midst. The American Revolution is about the Republican Party really, while the French Revolution is about the Democrats.

This is not to say that the Republicans have been pure and true to their promises at all things; ask any Libertarian about the Federal deficit and the last few Appropriations bills, and you’ll get a lot of reaction. But ever since John Kennedy was President, the Democrats have begun that long, deep slide into absolute abrogation of their duties, and never more than in a basic understanding of Economics.

A lot of commentors like to claim that a country’s money should be handled the same way one would handle a family’s money, but personally I’m not spending family money on armed forces, roads, and vaccine development for the Avian flu, so that comparison doesn’t really hold up. National revenue comes from taxes for the most part, and the question naturally should be focused on how much is the right amount. The latest budget is, if my memory is right, $2,600,000,000,000.00 - that’s one year of federal spending, folks. Dividing that by 300 million citizens would be a hefty share for each person, but that doesn’t recognize that we’re really talking about only 145 million taxpayers, so the punch is really more than twice as hard. And that does not include state, county, local, sales, and school taxes.

It’s time for us all to pay much closer attention to how much money is coming out of our paychecks, and where it’s going. Now may not be a good time to mention that tax money pays for not only Presidential candidates, but other federal office seekers as well.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

No Kings In Asia


Jim Hoagland has written an interesting article for The Washington Post, but necessarily the way he intended. Mr. Hoagland’s article, titled “Whose Asian Century?”, examines the race between China and India for economic dominance in Asia. This is an interesting thought, but I found reason to question Mr. Hoagland, using his very reasons in application to his column. I found a number of statements which don’t bear up well to inspection.

Mr. Hoagland began by saying of China, “empires unravel, usually from within.” However, that was not the case of England, which became a Constitutional Republic of sorts, though not as we Americans call it. And as for Egypt, Rome, France, Russia, and the original Chinese Empires? They fell after costly wars against nations intent on invading/destroying them. Mr. Hoagland’s warning only becomes salient, if we find a military expedition headed in the direction of Beijing.

Defending the claim that India, not China, is headed for regional supremacy in commerce and industry, Hoagland writes “Current straight-line projections of China's rise to power neglect developments and adjustments in other Asian countries, particularly in the region's two great democracies, India and Japan.”

OK, first off: Does anybody else here see the difficulty in putting India and Japan on the same page, in strategic terms, or of comparing either of these countries to the United States, politically? There’s a reason neither Japan nor India has met its promise in the past half-century, and their governments have a lot to do with it. In Japan, there’s not so much a democracy as an oligarchy, a rigidly controlled network or ministries which approve every tissue for a sneeze, almost. Far too regulated and controlled to react to spontaneous opportunities, or to give entrepreneurs real freedom to explore new tactics. As for India, they’re a Democracy all right, in the same way Greece is a Democracy. There’s practically no order at all, which scares off a lot of investment because there is no regulation for critical industries. Ask the Wharton School of Business and they’ll assure you yes, they study Japan and India, but they do not envy them.

Hoagland then makes a statement I might have agreed with 15 years ago, but not now: “Politically, China is ruled by Leninists who must maintain the status quo. Militarily it relies on a large, underequipped land army. Economically it has adapted and mastered Henry Ford's assembly line on a continental scale. Financially it hordes its cash, regulates its markets with zeal and defensively uses fiscal policy to prevent mass upheaval.” All of those statements are true at one level, but they fail to understand the critical creation of Autonomous Precincts. These are largely ignored by Western observers, because there is no true political or military autonomy in those regions, and in places like Nepal “autonomy” is no more than a big lie. But in Canton and certain other precincts, especially the Hong Kong and Macau regions, the business climate is slowly changing to allow some real innovation. Chinese leaders, whether Manchu warlords or Wen Jiabao’s committees of industry, like to have their perks, and China rewards those who bring in capital investment. It’s not enough to make China a global power in commerce, but it is an underestimated factor.

Asia is more than China; Mr. Hoagland got that much right. But he has a lot more to learn, before handing crowns to Japan or India.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

More About the Christian Identity


In my last entry, I seem to have confused some people on the issue of who goes to heaven, and how. Good, this is a complex point, and one which should be examined through discussion.

Make no mistake, I am committed to Christ, and I whole-heartedly recommend the faith to anyone seeking meaning and purpose to their existence. But a lot of Christians seem to be cultural Christians, accepting a version that may well be different form the role Christ meant for us, and there I find it necessary to discuss whom we are meant to be, as well as a glimpse at some of Heaven’s more surprising tenants.

First the basic question; is it necessary to be a Christian in order to enter Heaven? The answer seems easy, until you think about it.

First, who is Jesus Christ? Jesus said plainly, that if you know Him you know the Father. He was, is, and ever will be God, Who chose of His own volition and love to walk among us, as one of us. Accordingly, it is impossible to reject Christ yet love God. It would be easier to demand a life without oxygen, yet demand no complications in breathing.

The tricky part, however, is when we deal with the matter of ‘rejecting’ Christ. There are those people who clearly hate Christ, but many who do not choose to become Christians, do so for reasons which are hard to criticize and more, recognizing that God is merciful and seeks to show compassion to all of us, means that we must be very, very slow to consider a person lost to God.

The Bible provides clues to how people can get to Heaven by less-traveled ways. In the Old Testament, a number of non-Jews are portrayed in a light which suggests God was pleased with them, including the Pharoah whom Joseph served, Nebuchadnezzar, the Queen of Sheba who knew Solomon, and King Xerxes. The fact that God made an everlasting covenant with Abraham also shows a commitment on God’s side, which is not conditional on Man’s behavior, a point which needs to be understood and reinforced. Paul wrote that we Christians were grafted onto the vine of that promise, not supplanting it but growing alongside it. Also, it needs to be understood that God is not a pawn for technicalities; the thief on the cross was never baptized but was truly saved anyway, as one obvious example. If God means to grant heaven to any person, there is no man qualified to deny that act.

The rapture also shows a signal to the matter. If we Christians are to be raptured as it seems, and so receive our measure at the Bema seat, then what of the passage in Revelation which says that men would be judged by what they did. If a man who does not become a Christian in this mortal life has no hope, then why go through the pretense of a judgment; all remaining after the Rapture would be lost! Also, we see in Scripture many times the promise that we will reign with Christ. Reign over whom, if the only people in Heaven are Christians?

Thus, we hit an impasse. I cannot agree that a man may enter Heaven on his works, because even if a man could live a life with no errors or mistakes, the strength and ability to do good comes only from God, and so the man would earn no credit for himself as a result of his works. And if Christ is not the Savior of the entire world, why would God have made such an effort and why would He bear such pain? That cannot be correct, either.

Here is what seems right to me, with the caution that I speak only from my own understanding, which is flawed as all human minds are to some degree: We all must at some point consider Christ and the Gospel, and make our choice. Some will reject Him totally, but I do not think that will be the case for all, nor even most. Some will accept Him fully, and their faith will shine brightly indeed. These are the elders we see in Revelation, and the people whose seats will be in the presence of God, not only for their faith and pure spirit, but because of the natural desire everyone has to be with people like themselves. Those who follow God the most closely will desire Him the most, and God will delight in those who, He knows the best through their choice.

The rest of us will all accept Christ, in what means we are able. The Christian will see Him as Lord, the Jew (eventually) as Messiah, and all the world will come to know Him by His right and worth. And this will determine our place and course in the world to come. We who are Christians in this world, are called to spread the Gospel, by word but more by deed, showing the love and hope we claim to everyone, freely confessing that all we know for goodness comes from Jesus, but never condemning anyone for their doubt and reluctance. After all, during Christ’s time on Earth, Peter denied Him, his earthly brother James did not believe His divinity, and Thomas was a cynic indeed. Yet all of them came around in their time, just as did Paul, who spent months if not years persecuting Christians and denying the essential truths. Who is to say where the life roads may lead for those who now say they cannot believe? We must serve as we are able, and bless as we have ourselves been blessed.

The answer is imperfect, but in this life all such answers must be.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Christian Role In Heaven


A friend of mine who does not happen to be Christian, has asked about the Christian view of where people go if they are not Christian. The question is sticky, since it suggests a general answer would be applicable to every individual person, but a few things should be considered as indicators of God's will, I think.

One thing that people trip over is the line from Jesus, saying "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No man comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). A lot of exclusionists try to use that verse and others like it, to say that everyone must adopt their specific doctrine, or be condemned. I think that has been largely misunderstood, and to great pain. Rather than argue from my own doctrinal understanding (which is biased on its face), I think a look at context is vital.

Let's assume, arguendo, that Jesus was properly quoted, and meant exactly what He said, and more was exactly right. Note that in the 14th Chapter of John, Jesus was meeting with His disciples for the last time, in the upper room where they had the Last Supper. This statement then, was to His disciples, personally given and face to face. The first verse of that Chapter reads "Do not let your hearts be troubled", and Jesus also specificaly promised them that "I am going there to prepare a place for you". This talk was not a warning but a word of hope and comfort.

So how does that verse get raised? Jesus promised His disciples "You know the way to the place where I am going.". The disciples naturally were worried that they would fail this point, so Thomas (the famous doubter, remember) asked "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?". It was to this question that Jesus answered "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No man comes to the Father except through Me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." Jesus was not warning the people that they'd better follow His slightest suggestion perfectly or be burned; He was assuring His followers that they would do as He did, and go where He goes, because they could not fail, having chosen the good.

In that context, the Gospel shows the meaning of its hope and love. Now, from that Scripture, I read the matter thus:

There is bad news and good news for us all. Some think that certain words or signs will be enough to impress God, but God makes it clear that to go where the Father reigns, we must do as He wills, and that example is found in Christ, who loved, taught, shared, and gave freely. Those who do as Christ did, will not fail to receive their reward

This does not mean that sin is a lie, or that our works will be sufficient. The truth is, we all owe better than we do, no matter how much we do, so anyone who depends on their own strength or ability will fail. This is apparent, actually, even in the world we know. No matter how strong or healthy a man is, he will grow feeble and die. No matter how intelligent a man is, he will nevere know all there is to know, nor even all that is important. No matter how wealthy a man is, he will die with nothing. The only things a man may leave after himself are his family, his friends, and his work. It is no coincidence that all of those things can succeed only in cooperation with other people.

So it is with the spirit. We can never be pure enough, strong enough, or accomplish enough to pay our way. The good news is, that is not at all necessary.

The character of God is such, that none of us can say for certain that any person, no matter his reputation, was consigned to hell. We can know, however, the sort of people who are received in Heaven, and it is a great number. It is Heaven, to be clear, that we should focus on, not as a goal to be earned and acquired, but as a gift God has prepared for us.

Throughout History, Man has only known of Christ since His life on earth, and even then only in those places where Christians have faithfully spread the Gospel. A simple consideration of how many billions of people have lived since the first human, knowing that God is the Father and Creator of every one of them, can only mean that the Father has a plan for hope and glory for each of us.

This does not mean that everyone goes to Heaven, but it also does not mean that only those who carry the name "Christian" will be in Heaven. This is apparent, I think, by the covenant God made with the Jewish people. Since I do not believe God makes errors, it seems to me that God intended His covenant with Abraham to be a signal to all people, that a direct and blessed relationship with God is not only possible, but intended by His perfect will.

So, what is the meaning of Christianity? If it is not a special covenant by which all men may be saved, why are we told this in Scripture? What are we meant to be and do, we who call Jesus 'Lord'?

Two books in the New Testament address this well, I think. In Hebrews, it is written "because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood" (Hebrews 7:24. In 1 Peter, it is written "you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5) and "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." (1 Peter 2:9).

Look at how Jesus lived on Earth; not as a moody tyrant, but among the people, helping and teaching by word and example. Is it surprising to see that His disciples are called to the same work?

Look to the Jewish Rabbis and the Catholic Priests today. Are they not set apart by every aspect of their person? They act, speak, even dress in a manner that is unique. Yet, none of them has the position to settle civil or criminal disputes (except where one is asked to do so by both parties in certain cases as a matter of respected wisdom, not by fiat), none of them issues laws to command people or compel behavior, none of them uses physical or coercive force in their teaching. The way of the priest, then, is one of example and leadership, of the accomplishment of good through cooperation and community. We are meant, here on Earth and again in Heaven, to do the work first, that others may follow a good example. The Christian in Heaven then, is tasked to show the light of Heaven, and the crowns spoken of in Revelation are no more or less than the spirit which delights in holy service.

Is there rank in Heaven? Save that God reigns, I do not know, nor care. But since we who go to Heaven will go from an imperfect and corruptible life to a perfect and incorruptible essence, we shall hope for examples of the way there, just as a man looks for good light to see his way.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Canyon In New York

John Burns, writing for the New York Times, has an interesting, if sadly predictable, perspective on Iraq. In an article titled “Iraq’s Ho Chi Minh Trail”, Burns attempts once again to connect the War in Iraq to the conflict in Vietnam. As usuall, the analogy only holds if one’s attention is very selective, and crucial differences are ignored.

Burns begins with a short comment about the search for Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, implying that the Americans have made his capture a top goal, and commenting that even if he is caught, this will not end the insurrection, and indeed suggests that the capture of Saddam Hussein was of little value in strategy or consequence. This is laughable, of course, since it assumes that Iraq would have acted the same over the past 18 months if Saddam had been running loose, as it has in fact. It seems to me that such things as the free elections, the impressive rise in private retail businesses in Iraq, the turnover of domestic security operations in Iraq to Iraqi officers, would not be nearly as likely to have happened, were the murderous former dictator still at large.

Burns shows his flaws early, even in the title of his column. It is a poor history student indeed, who does not understand the difference between the Ho Chi Minh trail in Southeast Asia, which was never seriously intercepted by U.S. forces, and the terrorist incursion routes, which are being fought by Coalition forces.

Mr, Burns writes as if U.S. morale is low, when in fact it is strong and rising, with the clear desperation of terrorists cpparent in their tactics and targets. Some of the accounts by the media bordered on the ludicrous. Burns reported a Washington Post account, of “rebels lying on their backs in a crawl space beneath the concrete floor of a house, blasting marines above them with bullets designed to penetrate tanks.” Leaving aside the notion that a foreigner who sneaks into Iraq for the purpose of killing Iraqi civilians as well as Coalition forces should be described as a “rebel” rather than the more accurate “terrorist”, anyone mildly familiar with Physics would question the notion that bullets have been made which “penetrate tanks”; The divorce between these MSM agents and the truth is plainly evident.

A crack was made some time ago in New York’s Media, which became a ditch and now a canyon. And people like Burns just keep digging.