Monday, April 02, 2007

False security

Colorado 9NEWS is reporting that undercover agents were able to sneak 90% of weapons (including liquid bombs and improvised explosive devises) through the Transportaiont Security Administration scanners at Denver International Airport.
In one test, sources told 9NEWS an agent taped an IED to her leg and told the screener it was a bandage from surgery. Even though alarms sounded on the walk-through metal detector, the agent was able to bluff her way past the screener.

The only reason that this is not completely outrageous is that these tests were performed by the TSA's own people and they have said that they are planning to take action. But I was just at DIA last night sending off my in-laws and while we stood there we heard the repeated message drone: "remember 3-1-1: all fluids must be in 3 ounce containers in 1 plastic bag per person...." This recorded voice reminded us of the inane rule about carry-on fluids while my in-laws were forced to remove their shoes, coats, etc.

I have long believed that the greatest incentive for security checkpoints at airports is to make people "feel" like danger lurks around the corner, but the government has their back. This report just confirms that the most dangerous things go unchecked while inconveniences and impositions on privacy abound.
"There's very little substance to security," said former Red Team leader Bogdan Dzakovic. "It literally is all window dressing that we're doing. It's big theater on TV and when you go to the airport. It's just security theater."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Rove is a national security risk

Via Boing Boing via Daily Kos, it has come to light that principally Karl Rove and others in the White House do a great deal of emailing off the government server on run-of-the-mill email clients. Apparently, this is recognized to pose a great security risk, especially concerning sensitive information, but the decision to use non-governmental email servers is at least partly motivated by a desire to evade detection or subpoena by Congress.

Frontline 'News Wars': A Call to Arms

Frontline's recent four-part series 'News Wars' is a call to arms for traditional and non-traditional media. I found the report to be balanced and nuanced, demonstrating the variety of factors that threaten the viability of traditional news media as well as pointing out the shortcomings of non-traditional web-based media for filling the inevitable news vacuum as more traditional sources fall by the wayside.

I must say that I can't understand Huffington Post's David Federer's complaints (and it seems that they are effectively countered by Louis Wiley in this recent post). Federer seems to be driven by the progressive notion that any positive coverage of Judith Miller and any potentially critical coverage of Patrick Fitzgerald is wrong. As a casual observer, I thought that the Frontline treatment of this case was as balanced and informative as any that I had heard. This was such a strange and multifaceted issue; one where it was not easy to tell the difference between the 'good guys' and the 'bay guys'.

But the final report that just aired on Al Jazeera was a real wake-up call. Al Jazeera has been almost universally condemned in the mainstream western media for being a "mouthpiece of bin Laden." But what this report showed is just how influential Al Jazeera is in the Arab world; it commands not only a huge audience, but one that is motivated to treat politics and news as a matter of life and death. Moreover, Al Jazeera is not the only Arab viewpoint that is gaining traction; there has been a recent proliferation of Arab news channels with a variety of perspectives. Though the US government often claims to be aware of the "war over hearts and minds" it seems that they are woefully behind the curve on this one. For example, though Al Jazeera launched an English-language news outlet over a year ago, no viewers in the US will have access to Al Jazeera on their cable TV. Why? Because we still see the war of ideas as a war of Us vs. Them. Quite to the contrary, in order to win a war of ideas, the first prerequisite is to understand that no viewpoints can be a priori eliminated from the debate. We cannot ban Al Jazeera anymore than we can censor Ann Coulter. If we succumb to that kind of thinking, we have already lost the war.

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Swift Boater to be nominated

From Bob Geiger at the Huffington Post: Swift Boat Veteran's for Truth financier, Sam Fox, is to be nominated as ambassador to Belgium. Like the recent justice department scandal, there is nothing technically wrong with appointing an unqualified campaing financier to an ambassador position. But just like that other case, this one shows the utter baseness and lack of regard for the democratic process that this administration holds. There are few examples in modern politics as reprehensible as the swiftboaters campaign against John Kerry in 2004.

Call your senators and urge them to oppose this nomination.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Church With A Myspace Profile? (when evangelism goes awry)

For the past months I have been nearly obsessed with following the operations of a strange new church in my area called The Vintage. Located in Metro Paris, the church was started by missionaries from a company called Christian Associates International based in Amsterdam and Southern California, respectively. The aim of The Vintage Church is to bring the gospel to unchurched Parisians, not American ex-patriots mind you, even though their entire website is in English, barring the occasional "tonight's meeting at 'Chez' Parker" thrown in more as a bad joke rather than an attempt to be inclusive. I first found out about this church when last January, on Superbowl Sunday I ran into their worship leader at a Sport's Bar along the Seine. He described the operation to me, the church had a "blog," it was a "grassroots organization" an "alternative" church that ministered to people through dinner parties and had no staff, but a "team," and no pastor, but a "team leader."

The next Sunday night my husband and I went to one of the dinner parties put on by this church. It was interesting to be at a party put on by people who's job it is to put on parties, making sure that the room had at least one good conversationalist while two of the other team members went to pick-up the very French dish of the night: pizza. But conversation about Jesus was at a minimum since the dinner party is more a "soft sell" for non-Christian seekers. In all, the team made quite an impression, they were hip and very good-looking, like American rock stars. They had cool haircuts, trendy clothes; they had their IPODS, their skateboards, and their mac laptops were sitting out on the table. I don't want to judge them based on their trendiness, but it wouldn't be a stretch to say that their "stuff" was very important to them. I know that there are many Christians who know what the trends are--but think about it, trendy missionaries? Something about it didn't sit quite right with me, and was more disconcerting than comforting. As for my husband, he couldn't put his finger on what was so strange about them except for some reason they reminded him of kids that he used to do drugs with in Vail.

The apartment where the party was staged was HUGE, right on Boulevard Montparnasse near the Luxembourg Gardens, a very posh Paris neighborhood, and it was decorated like every American's dream: big leather furniture, big TV, big DVD collection, nice sound system with a Christian music playlist cycling through, candles everywhere...very Pottery Barn meets MTV Real World House--I probably could have asked for a Cappucino. Raised an evangelical myself, I admit, in the height of the 90's coffeehouse culture I once thought that it would be cool to start a "coffeehouse church," but since then I have realized that may not have been such a selfless, or service-oriented vision to have. It was more about holding onto my fashionable lifestyle and trying to fold Christ into it. More about my own comfort than about transformation and sacrifice. I guess I wasn't ready for those things in my life yet. So it was then that I starting asking questions like, what is this Christian life about, and, what are we really called to do here? So what does a bunch of rich American twenty-somethings with cool haircuts getting together in a model-home just "hang out" have to do with Jesus' mission on the earth? I mean, Jesus *did* walk among the prostitutes, the sinners, the lepers, but he said "I am the way, the truth and the light," not, "I love Death Cab For Cutie!" I tried to approach this matter with them, but I came up dry. It seemed that in that context they didn't really know how to describe their mission either, but they threw some Christianese cliches at me, told me to read my Bible, and then they told me that they didn't like to hang out with people who question and debate all the time.

There is something that I find pretty consistent about a lot of Christians in the churches that I've attended and worked at as a worship pastor myself; even though they say that they welcome, "the poor, the hungry.." sadly, the majority of the members are people with MONEY, people who can afford big nice apartments in Montparnasse and have so much leisure time in their lives that they mostly want to attract others like themselves who can afford to spend hours on DVD binges, meet up with them at Starbucks, buy music from the itunes store, and of course, putter around on myspace.com.

So about a week ago I sat before my screen, appalled to see that Vintage had finally done the unthinkable, and yet, the next logical thing: they had signed up for a profile on myspace.com. In my last post on this blog I discussed what I feel to be the problem with myspace, in that, instead of working to bring people together it only serves as a tool to pigeon-hole people's consumer habits. The myspace concept is brilliant when it succeeds in convincing some that they can actually express their true selves there when they are doing the opposite: demeaning their very humanity by reducing themselves to a list of things that they consume: music, television, books, movies... The page opened with a comment by said worship leader saying, " I am so glad that we finally can join the rest of pop culture and have a myspace page!"

What does the actual page look like? For starters, Vintage decided that their collectivity should be personlified as a 35-year-old Gemini who is "in a relationship. " But then in the "Who I'd like to meet" category it diffuses any thought that those criterion should exclude anyone. Under "who I'd like to meet" it lists: "the broken, the rich, the poor, tall, short, man, woman, needy, giving, lonely, popular, artistic, can't carry a tune...you get the idea...bienvenue."

Sounds pretty welcoming, right? But as it goes on it begins to read like a marketing strategist's playbook for the demographic that Vintage would feel comfortable attracting. Favorite movies: blockbusters such as The Matrix and Gladiator, but then, they also align their tastes with such cutting-edge films as Napoleon Dynamite and Uptown Girls. OK, so Uptown Girls, starring Brittany Murphy is not exactly cutting-edge, but for some reason it's got something that the Vintage Church wants to project. Under the "television" category they have listed three shows that make up their "best television line-up ever!": 24, Lost and The Office. By the way, so far, I'm not looking like a candidate for the Vintage church at all. It's not that I have anything against 24 or Napoleon Dynamite, I would just prefer not to be a "Napoleon Dynamite Christian," or to commune with other Christians based upon that criteria. There's a lot more to life, and sue me, but I contend that faith and pop culture are not healthy bedfellows. And if they are, I think we're in trouble. There are favorite bands, a whole list of Christian pop literature and even a catchy banner that anyone can lift and attach to their own myspace page that reads, "It's about being real. It's about being together. It's about being creative. It's about being with God."

OK, so is it really *that* wrong? It is evangelism's highest aim to bring the gospel to as many people as possible, but in a society that knows too well how to lure people into doing things, how far will evangelical churches allow themselves to slide down that slope? It's the aim of a consumer society to get as many people to buy buy buy as possible. If Christians are willing to appeal to the same basic human urges of materialism that advertisers use what makes Christians so different from a slimey salesman? For all they know, the world already views them that way. It comes down to this: what kind of a face are churches willing to slap on Jesus in order to "sell salvation?" And furthermore, is Jesus's face the face of materialism, of consumerism, of gross desire--ask a single mother stricken by poverty if she thinks that's a comforting image. But by defining their church by what kind of things they like to buy that is what they have done. There are many ways to create interest or desire in people, many of them unethical, many of them come with the lavish trappings of sin, and, call me biased, but I believe that there should be an impeccably high standard of ethics for those who act as the hands and feet of Christ on this earth, and I doubt whether anyone at the Vintage has actually given the moral implications of this a thought.

Is there a line that can be crossed when we "recruit people for Christ?" Telling people that your church is about "authenticity," "grace," cafe, cake and good food, just sounds to me like this church has lost the plot. But at least they're not leaving us guessing.
Decide for yourself...
www.myspace.com/vintage_church

Thursday, March 23, 2006

What MySpace.com has to do with the War on Terror

I think that every generation has their own ethical dillemmas to struggle with, and it is certainly very difficult to see what those dillemmas are at the time: everything is happening so fast, and as we learn when we're 12, "beacause everyone else is doing it," is not a valid reason to take part in a thing, but as any junior high student will tell you, it *is* frighteningly persuasive. Hitler was incredibly popular in Germany in the 1930's...It may have been very difficult for a common German citizen to see through the frenzy of popularity that surrounded him to the true motivation behind his philosophy, which was about labelling people. Another word for labelling people is prejudice.

(quoting from my myspace sign-off note)

"...Here, not only am I subject to subtle marketing schemes--each person advertises the band they like, but there are even flagrant marketing schemes, like the "featured daily profiles" advertising "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" and "V for Vendetta," and multitudes of pop-ops that myspace drops off on my computer telling me that I needed to scan my hard drive for errors. Far from the worst part, not only am I being advertised to, but I am actually advertising myself as a "thing," as a "brand" to be consumed. I feel that by seeking to define myself in terms of "things": books, movies, music, tv, and then pasting them all up online like a billboard for myself is not natural. In doing it I devalue myself, in fact, I rob myself of my own humanity. Tom Fox, who recently gave his life in Iraq as part of the Chrisitan Peacemakers Organization wrote in his last journal entry before his was kidnapped that, whenever you dehumanize a person you have put yourself on the road to a mindset that is capable of torture, killing and numerous kinds of monstrosities."

This war that our country is currently engaged in is based upon prejudice. Otherwise, how else could it ever take place? We would never be able to live with ourselves tearing families apart, crippling children for life, unless we had already stripped these people of all humanity in our minds. Even when the reasons for going to war have been proven to be totally false why is there not more outrage? Because those reasons were never the true reason for going. We went to war to fight evil, and because of this crippling disease of the mind--prejudice--that classifies entire groups of people under an unfortunate heading our country is blinded by an idealogy that tells us, "we are the *good,* and what we are fighting is EVIL!" I say "no," we are fighting people, people who like us need families, schools, clean water, hospitals, security, electricity for light, refigeration and heat for their homes, there is no other way to slice it.

I feel very strongly that it is up to *us* to analyze the time we live in and make decisions on how to conduct our lives according to our ethics. It may seem funny to some for me to take such a stand on, "just a little harmless networking website," but life is comprised of small and important choices, which, when you put them together comprise the world. What else is a macrocosm but millions of little microcosms put together?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

New girl in town

I am opening up this space on the internet to put my words into, and, here's the catch: other people can read them besides myself! Why do I want to let other people read my words? I'm not sure. Well, that's not true, I have a lot of reasons...I want to stay acquainted with people that live far and wide. The world is so spread these days. I wish I could go back about 200 years and live in a small village, where everyone--family, friends--were in the rhythm of each others days. What a wonderful life that would be...so full of people. And people that entertained each other insetad of turning to strangers on a television--not to be anti-film, which can be art.

But now we live in tiny boxes scattered all across the globe and we are connected through the wires, words and images. That is, at least till the oil runs out! Then, we might have to move close to the people we love again.

For now, this is me existing in the "village"

I wrote this poem because when I was missing the sun, so I was thinking of Costa Rica! It is called,

After the wedding night

It was a land much too big for sky;
the heavens were resting down
on the shorelines.
The reflected color that bounced off of terra cotta-firma
to cloud galaxy back to the River Styx was seamless--
like they had always been monochrome.
I stood ankle deep.

Dust direct from the burn of sunset was blowing into cool galaxies of cloud
and diluting inside each one’s ocean.
Scattered across the cove, from gold to carmine, digestion of pure color was taking place,
making each orb more rotund, bloated,
they began to hang startlingly close to my head—
I had to bend down.
I was a giant in that land.

But the river was less like river than ocean,
And the caramel sunset above the River Styx
(which spanned almost one-third of what I knew
as the surface of mother earth),
was a little screen door of peace
on the front of my house party of worry;
of our love,
of our lately stunted phrases,
of strands of conversation left hanging
because they had suddenly lost the gusto
to knot themselves around
any treetop solution.

Having left audacity with my singlehood,
I found myself flailing on the beach of The River Styx,
a planet never before on my earth--
I now live there as a giant;
with only river, only beach,
only you and me.

Lately, we have been experimenting with the light hue on our faces,
situating side to side as we float on our backs,
trying to find which ways keep us suspended
on the water’s surface.
We are daring each other to touch bottom with our toes,
but we also fear that they may be pinched.

At breakfast I spent the same amount of time
examining your eyes as I did waiting for a change in the sky;
watching the clouds, waiting for rain
that comes now predictably at least once a day.
These are our new planet lives,
I must start to learn the terrain;
Because I am threatened at first by these rain heavy skies,
I will start at your feet
before I jump to your eyes.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

What Does the Attitude of This Peace Movement Need to Be?

Have you ever been laying in bed trying to go to sleep when it suddenly occurs to you that you have been in an all out battle with the world for who knows how long? Years maybe?

And you start to recall many conversations you have had in the past few months, and if not the conversations themselves then just the sentiment behind them, and you realize that you had been using combative language with people you hadn't meant to be using it with just because you were fighting with the world?

Two nights ago I realized that I had been fighting with the world--for who knows how long-- and I have been shell shocked ever since. Of course, upon the realization that I had been fighting I felt an amazing sense of peace, as in, "Now that I realize I have been fighting I can stop."

But after that initially rough slept night, drifting in and out of sleep because my brain was alertly trying to train itself to stop fighting, I experienced the most sober day that I have had in a long time. I felt more freedom then I had in a long time too.

So I'm seeing what the sentiment behind the peace movement needs to be. We can't all fight a sharp war of facts with those who support the war, we have to stop fighting each other first and then spread that friendly embrace to those who have been conversely on the the offensive and defensive for so long that it's hard wired in them. But it can begin in small ways: kiss your lover, speak to your teacher, accept the successes of others when you have found no success of your own--do these things without squirming, probing and "pushing back." Help to stop the war by stopping the war withing yourself.