I'll bet you thought Nepal's glory days as a hippie destination were over:
A Sadhu (Hindu holy man) smokes ganja (marijuana) in a chillum (traditional clay pipe) as a holy offering from lord Shiva, Hindu god of creation and destruction during celebrations of the Maha Shivaratri festival at the Pashupatinath temple area in Kathmandu, on March 4, 2008. Thousands of sages and holy men visit Nepal's biggest hindu temple Pashupatinath during the Maha Shivaratri festival each year.
A number of Jewish and pro-Israel voters have raised questions about Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign. In case you haven't followed this ongoing issue, here's a brief summary of the complaints:
It's not clear how widespread these sentiments are. Obama does have other advisors, such as Daniel Shapiro, that are quelling voters' angst. And Howard Friedman, the president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said the leading presidential candidates are all interested in continuing close ties with
In an odd parallel, rumors are circulating in Russia that Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin's designated successor, may be Jewish -- a damaging charge in a country with a long history of anti-Semitism. Nikolai Bondarik, head of the nationalist Russian Party, is happy to take advantage:
It's common knowledge. Medvedev never hid his sympathy towards Judaism… A president ought to be related by blood with his people. Imagine if
The scenes on CNN today of Serbian political and religious leaders holding candles at a vigil to protest Kosovo's independence, as well as the rogue protesters setting fire to the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, bring to mind Graham Fuller's January/February FP cover story, "A World Without Islam." In the piece, Fuller cautions Islam's critics not to assume that a Middle East dominated by Orthodox Christianity would be any more accepting of Western influence than today's Middle East. With Serbian Christians now fighting to retain what they they view as their religious homeland, maybe he was on to something:
The culture of the Orthodox Church differs sharply from the Western post-Enlightenment ethos, which emphasizes secularism, capitalism, and the primacy of the individual. It still maintains residual fears about the West that parallel in many ways current Muslim insecurities: fears of Western missionary proselytism, a tendency to perceive religion as a key vehicle for the protection and preservation of their own communities and culture, and a suspicion of the “corrupted” and imperial character of the West. Indeed, in an Orthodox Christian Middle East, Moscow would enjoy special influence, even today, as the last major center of Eastern Orthodoxy. The Orthodox world would have remained a key geopolitical arena of East-West rivalry in the Cold War. Samuel Huntington, after all, included the Orthodox Christian world among several civilizations embroiled in a cultural clash with the West.
Whatever you think of Fuller's characterization, it certainly seems noteworthy that the United States and the EU are about to go the mat with Russia for a Muslim country at the expense of a Christian one. If the rift between an increasingly religious Russia and the West continues to grow, can it be long until the op-eds start appearing on "The Orthodox Threat" or "The Failure of Political Orthodoxy"? "Orthofascism" doesn't quite have the same ring, does it?
Iran may be an international pariah, but the country is nonetheless eagerly suiting up for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, this year's biggest international event. In the Athens Games of 2004, the Islamic Republic allowed just one woman to compete and won only six medals. This year, nationalistic Iran is investing greater resources in its team and hoping for a stronger performance.
An unlikely boost for Iran's "Go for the Gold in '08" strategy has come from the conservative religious establishment: a "special religious dispensation" that allows more women to compete, as long as they wear the proper attire. Check out Haaretz's translation of an al-Jazeera report here:
Couple this with news that Hamas is recruiting women police officers to serve in Gaza, and you have to wonder what's going on in the region.
In addition to "Anglo-Saxon" economic policies and a tabloid-baiting personal life, "Sarko the American," as the French president is somewhat derisively known, has adopted another habit of U.S. politicians: the frequent use of religious rhetoric in his speeches.
In Saudi Arabia the day before, Mr. Sarkozy infused a speech with more than a dozen references to God, a very un-French thing to do, because France prides itself on its strict separation of church and state.
Praising Saudi Arabia for its strong religious base, Mr. Sarkozy referred to God, "who does not enslave man, but liberates him, God who is the rampart against unbridled pride and the folly of men."
Sarkozy also praised his Saudi hosts as leaders who "appeal to the basic values of Islam to combat the fundamentalism that negates them." From an American president, such remarks would probably be viewed as mere politeness, but Sarkozy's praise for the Muslim theocracy has provoked outrage from his political opponents. Socialist Party chairman François Hollande, (who happens to be the ex-"civil partner" of Sarkozy's election rival Ségolène Royal) has accused Sarkozy of cynically "making religion an instrument for the promotion of French products." It may have worked. Sarkozy left Saudi Arabia with a new energy deal.
This isn't the first time Sarkozy has pushed the limits of France's strict laïcité policy on separation of church and state. In a December visit to the Vatican, he stressed the need to "accept the Christian roots of France... while defending secularism." In response, Le Monde ran a cartoon featuring Sarkozy dressed as a bishop and George Bush remarking to the Pope, "I think this guy is stealing my job."
Bush shouldn't worry. Despite the French grumbling, Sarkozy still has a long way to go before he matches the religious rhetoric of even the most liberal American politicians. The role of Christian leader would also be a tough sell for a twice-divorced "cultural Catholic" living in sin with a former supermodel. Then again, maybe he and Rudy should compare notes.
Nearly a year ago, Passport noted that Finnish PM Matti VanHanen, ever the classy guy, dumped his girlfriend via a text message. Ha, ha. But in the Muslim world, apparently there's a serious debate going on as to whether divorce by SMS is valid, and some countries have even had to explicitly ban the practice. In Egypt, however, the law remains unclear:
An Egyptian woman is seeking clarification from a court on whether her husband's declaration of divorce by text message is legally valid, a state-run newspaper reported on Thursday.
After missing a call from her husband on her mobile phone, Iqbal Abul Nasr received a text message from him saying "I divorce you because you didn't answer your husband," Al-Akhbar said.
In line with sharia (Islamic law) men do not need to go to court to file for divorce. A unilateral declaration of divorce by a man, repeated three times, formally ends a marriage.
Egypt actually has a hybrid legal system, meaning that contrary to what most people seem to think, sharia law is already in place in many areas of jurisprudence (though Christians have their own religious courts). A return of the caliphate is not nigh, but if you're a woman in a place like Egypt, the growing Islamicization of the country is bad news indeed. Let's hope the judge rejects this divorce-by-SMS nonsense, if he hasn't already.
Sometimes, a tree is not just a tree.
In the Moldovan capital of Chisinau, the pro-Russia communist President Vladimir Voronin (shown at left with Russian President Vladimir Putin) removed a Christmas tree put up by pro-Europe Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca, an advocate for strong ties with neighbor and new EU member Romania. Voronin said the tree should not be displayed until after the New Year, the traditional time for Russian Orthodox. But Chirtoaca fought to display the tree at a traditionally European time.
In a victory for the pro-European mayor, a Christmas tree now stands in Chisinau, about 300 meters from government buildings. But it raises the larger question encountered by members of the Commonwealth of Independent States during this holiday season: Are they to be Russian and abandon the freedoms of the EU, or tilt toward Europe and risk falling victim to the wrath of Putin?
Do you think cooling your heels in an airport for a few hours is pure torture? It could be much, much worse. A group of more than 1,500 Muslim pilgrims in Tanzania recently endured a flight delay of nine days. They were supposed to depart on Dec. 3 for Mecca for the hajj, the pilgrimage that is one of the pillars of Islam. But because of bureaucratic snafus, the pilgrims were stranded at the airport until Dec. 12 (and some until Dec. 13).
But patience is apparently a virtue. A correspondent for the BBC reported that the pilgrims were not angry, but, rather, saw the delays as a test of their faith. One pilgrim said:
Anyone who gets angry because of flight delays at this time of year does not know Islam.
It's a helpful thought to keep in mind. Such cognitive reframing may help you manage stress, whatever your religion (if you have one), as you head to the airport this holiday season.
Catholic clergy in Italy have had a lot to get upset about recently. First, Italian Catholics who have a custom of carrying around tiny pictures of saints in their wallets and purses no longer have to worry about their santini becoming worn and tattered. Instead, they can buy a €3 ($4.50 U.S.) weekly subscription from a Milan-based company that lets them download images of three saints onto their mobile phones. (Did Italians ever consider just laminating their santini?) Accompanying prayers cost about 50 U.S. cents, which sounds like a bargain. But a bishop complained to La Stampa newspaper that the downloadable saints are "in really bad taste."
What's really in bad taste, though, is a recent TV commercial for Red Bull energy drink. It was pulled in Italy after a priest complained that it depicted the nativity scene in a "sacrilegious way." The ad shows four wise men, not three, visiting baby Jesus. The fourth wise man offered the infant cans of Red Bull. The commercial ends with fluttering angels in the sky chugging Red Bull and illustrating the company's slogan, "Red Bull gives you wings." You can watch it here:
Of course, Christianity isn't the only religion in which connecting to God via mobile phones has caused a stir. Ring tones that feature Koranic verses and azan, calls to prayer, have had a mixed reception in the Muslim world, as FP noted earlier this year.
Culture almost always takes time to adapt to new technologies. In the 19th century, Muslims were divided about gramophone recordings of their holy book. Saudi clerics denounced the television when it was first introduced to the kingdom. But except for groups such as the Amish, people the world over seem to have found ways to make religion and technology compatible. Some people just need more time to adapt than others.
Fridays can be a slog. But tomorrow promises to be an especially tough day for Maria Carolina, one of Chile's most famous prostitutes. She has auctioned off "27 hours of love" to benefit the country's annual Teletón (TV telethon) campaign for disabled children. Carolina, who typically charges about $300 per 90 minutes, says customers jumped at the chance to do it all for the kids. All available time slots have been booked. One customer, so moved by the cause, even paid up front.
Prostitution is more or less legal in the predominantly Catholic country, but not everyone is happy with Carolina's erotic form of philanthropy. Teletón host Mario Kreutzberger (at right getting his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame) — better known as Don Francisco, the gregarious host of Univision's "Sabado Gigante" — has said that Carolina's efforts are outside his moral boundaries, though he stopped short of saying that the money would be turned down. After all, as Carolina was quick to retort, "There are people who are going to be donating money that's a lot more questionable than mine." She's probably right about that.
This has not been a good day for free speech in the Muslim world. In addition to the news that the British teacher who was arrested in Sudan for insulting Islam by naming a teddy bear "Mohammed" at her class's request has been charged, the Turkish publisher of Richard Dawkins's atheist manifesto, The God Delusion, has been called in for questioning by prosecutors and may face charges of inciting religious hatred. Turkey took heat in 2005 for prosecuting Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk on the dubious charge of "insulting Turkishness." Those charges were eventually dropped and the government promised to soften the law.
That the Turkish government would enforce secularism by banning head scarves in universities ... while a prosecutor considers indicting a publisher for propagating the works of one of the world's leading secularists seems to reveal something deeply schizophrenic about Mosque-state relations in Turkey. I can't wait to hear Dinesh D'Souza weigh in on this one.
When I was at the United Nations earlier this year, I remember being astounded by the religious language of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mideastwire.com translated the following excerpt of a recent Ahmadinejad speech; it gives you some of the flavor, and then some:
Two years ago, when we want to go to the United Nations, there, we wanted to utter the blessed name of the Lord of the Age. Some people were saying: Sir, no-one in the world knows the Lord of the Age. We said: Wait now, let us do our duty and see what happens.
"We said it that year. The second year, this year, when we went there, it had become a very normal thing there when we said, a reforming, perfect human being will come, he will smash all these idols and powers, and, by God's grace, will establish justice in the world. That first year, they'd come and ask us: Sir, what are these things that you're saying? This time, when we went there, they were coming up to us and saying: In our beliefs, we have something similar to what your saying. We, too, are looking for a world reformer.
"I want to say to you, dear ones: The dream of your martyrs, the ideal for which the martyrs gave them their lives, and our war-disabled, is rapidly coming to fruition. Let me tell you: The world has no other way. Humanity has no other way. Creation is aimless without it. It is futile and void. All this world has been set up so that, one day, that luminous day will occur. A day on which everyone will come. Listen to me. All the prophets, all the pious, all the martyrs will come. And they will help.
"And let me tell you something that I can see. There are some people who sneer when we say these things because their hearts are empty of faith. They are the modern idol worshippers. They are the modern Satan worshippers. They put on an intellectual demeanour; they don't understand as much as a goat about the world."
Are Chinese authorities planning to ban the Bible at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing? According to the Catholic News Agency, they are. The report comes via an Italian newspaper, which referred to a Chinese government prohibition of "promotion material used for religious or political activity" at the Games.
When asked about the matter, however, China's head of security couldn't give a definitive answer as to whether that restriction would apply to the Bible. (Primarily Christian) news outlets ran with the story and eventually caused the Chinese Foreign Ministry to release a statement. The ministry vehemently denied that foreign visitors would be prohibited from bringing Bibles for their own personal use into the country.
China does restrict religious expression, but standard Christian Bibles themselves are available in China, according to an investigation by the Canadian government. However, the U.S. State Department indicates that religious materials may be subject to confiscation by Chinese authorities and recommends that travelers contact the U.S. Embassy or a Chinese consulate to determine what specific items may be restricted.
While in this case the issue was overblown, the Bible controversy highlights the larger problem that China will face during the Olympics. Beijing wants to put on a friendly face to the world and will have to tread lightly when dealing with foreign visitors who want to make political statements during the Games. This is the exact problem addressed by FP Editor in Chief Moisés Naím in our last issue. Pass the popcorn—this is going to be one heck of a show.
The big news in the political world today is Pat Robertson's endorsement of Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor whose past positions on the "God, guns, and gays" trifecta that animates many religious voters in the United States are anathema to the religious right.
What I think many political analysts are missing about Rudy's enduring popularity among conservatives is that the war on terror is a religious issue to them, and it trumps all the others for many. Many religious conservatives view Islam as an existential threat to their faith and their way of life. Rudy speaks to their fears. So while we can all laugh at Democratic candidate and Senator Joe Biden's recent comment—"There's only three things [Giuliani] mentions in a sentence -- a noun, a verb, and 9/11"—and we can poke fun at Rudy's shocking lack of knowledge about foreign affairs, it's what voters think that ultimately matters. Bill Clinton once said that being "strong and wrong" is better in politics than being "weak and right," a comment that very much applies to Rudy. The vast majority of voters don't evaluate candidates' positions on the issues or look for detailed policy knowledge. They don't go to the candidates' Web sites and read their policy papers. Who has the time? So voters use heuristic methods to make intuitive judgments about politicians based on their TV appearances or their perceived character. Rudy's got the name recognition locked up. He promises he'll stand up to the terrorists, and that's good enough for many.
It remains to be seen, of course, whether other influential evangelical leaders, such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family, will follow Robertson's lead. Mitt Romney, Giuliani's closest rival for the Republican nomination, has been attempting to redefine himself not as a Mormon but as a generic Christian conservative of late. But today, this endorsement looks like a big win for Rudy and a blow to Mitt's aspirations to be the candidate of the religious right.
Take a gander at the map at right, posted by Marc Lynch. At the top of the poster, the text reads in red, "Federalism is our sole path to realize security and freedom." The top of the map portion is labeled, "The Kurdistan region." The light blue area is, "The center and the south." And at the bottom is the name of the Shaheed al-Mihrab Foundation for Islamic Revelation, a group that Marc describes as affiliated with Ammar al-Hakim's SCIRI/SIRI. As you can imagine, Iraqi Sunnis are none too pleased with this kind of artwork. Marc writes:
It was published on an Iraqi Sunni website and then spread like wildfire through the forums and other papers - whether it's authentic or not, it seems to have become one of those viral images and to have touched some exposed nerves. Can't help noticing that there are only two hands clasped together there, not three, and that the Sunni areas are kind of... dark. And small.
Germany may not be too gung-ho about the war in Iraq, but that doesn't mean the country is not serious about stopping terrorism and extremism. That said, the latest serious tool it has added to its arsenal for fighting extremist Islam is ... a comic book (pdf).
Created by the interior ministry of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the comic book features an adolescent German hero, Andi. Andi's frustrated Muslim friend Murat, a German resident of Turkish heritage, can't find an apprenticeship and blames his difficulties on xenophobia. Murat starts to become brainwashed by Harun, a Muslim youth who takes Murat to meet a radical sheikh who shows them extremist Web sites.
The story has a happy ending after Murat finally comes to his senses when his sister Ayshe—a modern, head-scarf-wearing, Muslim girl who staunchly believes in liberal democracy—is threatened by Harun.
Hamburg is planning to use the comic book in its schools; additionally, a second Andi comic is headed to schools soon. It's unclear how German kids will react, though, or whether the book will succeed in stopping the cultivation of homegrown terrorists, such as the three men—two German citizens who had converted to Islam and one Turkish Muslim resident—who were arrested in September for planning bomb attacks. It wouldn't be surprising if teenagers—being teenagers—find it cheesy and just roll their eyes. More importantly, though, is the impact on Muslims. The 2005-06 Danish cartoon outrage showed that cartoons and Muslims don't often go well together. (At least this comic book doesn't appear to have images of the prophet.) There's bound to be somebody who complains that the comic book depicts distorted caricatures of Muslims in Germany.
If the book gets families talking and makes youth more apt to peer-pressure their friends away from extremist recruiters, though, it may have well served its purpose. Only time will tell if placing the security of Germany on the shoulders of a teenage comic-book hero will protect the country from terrorism.
Not very long ago, many people assumed that religion around the world was in a gradual decline. In full Nietzschean mode, The Economist even went so far as to run God's obituary in its millennium issue. Surely, in the 21st century, fire and brimstone and holy wars would be left in history's dustbin for good, the thinking went. But seven years later, The Economist, along with the rest of the world, has changed its tune.
In a just-released survey of religion in public life (
not yet online now online), the magazine finds that the most extreme, strict forms of religion, such as Wahhabist Islam and Pentecostalism, are thriving around the world, whereas more moderate forms are dying out. The Economist attributes this to the free market: as established religious hierarchies break down, people are free to choose their form of observance and naturally gravitate toward more charismatic preachers and visceral experience. This is as true in Brazil's favelas as it is in the suburbs of the American Midwest.
The special report, which profiles the U.S, Europe, India, Turkey, South Korea, and Nigeria among others, begins by warning readers that no matter how you feel about religion, "some of what follows will offend you." For many, this will certainly be true of the report's assertion that the United States should be an, ahem, object of emulation in terms of its religious life. Secular Americans and Europeans accustomed to turning up their noses at a United States they see as increasingly dominated by backward fundamentalists will likely scoff at this notion. At the same time, U.S. religious conservatives feel that their values are under assault by an increasingly secular and immoral culture. According to The Economist, however, the separation clause of America's First Amendment, which was designed to keep religion out of politics, has also been enormously helpful in allowing religious life to flourish.
Unlike France's avowedly secularist laïcité, which is written into the legal code, America has been content to let religious people get on with their business... If the intention is to create a pluralistic society, America's church-state divide has the same advantage as democracy under Winston Churchill's definition: it is the worst way for a modern society to deal with religion, "except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
The authors lament that the United States has not been more active in promoting this model abroad. Such a model, however, may have limited application to Islam, which "stands out as the religion that brooks the least difference between church and state":
Islam has always left less room for the secular. Unlike Jesus, Muhammad was a ruler, warrior and lawmaker. Islam, which means submission, teaches that the primary unit of society is the umma, the brotherhood of believers, and it provides a system of laws, sharia, for people to live by.
This is another assertion that is likely to offend, but it helps to explain why so many Islamic societies turn toward either strict sharia or enforced secularism, à la Turkey.
The report is not all bad news for secularists. The authors find atheism around the world to be thriving to a greater extent than ever before and in the midst of something of an intellectual renaissance. (See the recent books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens et. al.) Atheism could now even qualify as the world's fourth largest religion. Could it be that "the new atheism's" more aggressive tone was what was needed to be heard over the din of religious rhetoric? A laissez-faire approach might be right tactic for governments in dealing with religion, as the survey suggests. But in the marketplace of ideas, a little selective intolerance is a lot easier to sell.
Sex scandals are nothing new to the Catholic Church, but rarely do they reach as high as the Vatican. Which makes this one all the more unusual: Monsignor Tommaso Stenico, a section head at the Vatican responsible for the clergy, was filmed propositioning a young man in his office.
Stenico was suspended by the Church while the matter is investigated. He insists he's not gay, and was actually posing as a homosexual to research a plot by satanists. He told the Italian media that he "wanted to carry out a study, probably for publication" to determine how "priests are ensnared." He added this:
I really believe that there is a diabolic plan by satanist groups who take aim at priests.
That's quite an interesting justification. I mean, who wants to entrap priests if not the devil? It's certainly a better explanation than Larry Craig's "wide stance."
Late yesterday news broke that President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush will attend the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony for the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, at the U.S. Capitol next Wednesday. Now, ABC News is reporting that not only will Bush be attending the ceremony, he will be delivering remarks. It will be the first time Bush has made a public appearance with the Dalai Lama. Normally, the White House is careful to arrange "unofficial" meetings with His Holiness in the White House residence. No more. Bush will reportedly use his remarks to refer to His Holiness as, "a great spiritual leader who is seeking rights for the people of Tibet ... and to protect their land."
Beijing, as you might imagine, is furious. Even before news broke that Bush would be making remarks, China was denouncing the "so-called award," using state-controlled media to take pot shots at the Dalai Lama, and secretly accusing Tibetan Communist Party members of disloyalty. The Burmese junta can't be thrilled with this, either, given that the Dalai Lama is the spiritual shepherd of global Buddhism. Some folks, including the New York Sun's Nicholas Wapshott, are arguing that Bush is using the award as an opportunity to crank up the pressure on the junta. That may be so, although as Asia scholar Phillip Cunningham over at Informed Comment: Global Affairs points out today, interest in Burma is all but fizzled out. No doubt the first lady, who appears to be genuinely passionate about Burma, played a role in the decision to attend the event. Perhaps President Bush will take the opportunity to yet again condemn the junta's crackdown on Buddhist monks.
Judging from the brief excerpts of Bush's remarks released today, though, this looks mostly like a clever attempt by the White House to press the Chinese on human rights at a time when they have little choice but to sit back and take it. First, Beijing wants a quiet Communist Party Congress this year. In fact, Beijing is already cracking down on democracy advocates in advance of next week's sessions in order to ensure they go smoothly. And second, as was widely noted during the Burma protests, the bigwigs in Beijing don't want attention drawn to China's stance on human rights in advance of the Olympics.
So kudos to the White House for spotting a small window within which to deliver the message that booming exports and imports don't translate to democratic reform. Maybe the vaunted "freedom agenda" isn't dead after all.
I've categorized this blog post where it belongs: Disasters.
A steam roller destroys bottles of alcohol, during a ceremony in Jakarta, 04 October 2007. Jakarta authorities destroyed some 35,065 bottles of alcohol seized by police in the capital from illegal alcohol vendors, during [the] Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, when practicing devotees abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and any sexual activity from dawn to dusk.
More photos, including the giant beer vacuum, after the BREAK
Yesterday, I spoke with Reverend Jim Ball, who is president and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Movement and a senior advisor to the Evagelical Climate Initiative. Rev. Ball was a panelist here at CGI, and he's a major player in the "creation care" movement, an initiative by some evangelical Christians to influence the climate-change debate:
FP: Where does the evangelical community fit into the U.S. political landscape?
Rev. Jim Ball: Depending on how you define "evangelical," we represent about 25 percent of the population. So, a significant amount. And obviously a good number of us vote and so political leaders tend to take what we do a little seriously. We think we can make an important contribution in terms of getting those who may not listen to other voices. They may not listen to environmentalists or they may not listen to former Vice President Al Gore, but maybe they'll listen to us and give this issue a hearing. We've got Republican governors really taking a lead now. We have Governor Crist [of Florida] and Governor Schwarzenegger [of California]; we have Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, who is an evangelical Christian himself, taking bold leadership steps. Governor Pawlenty is now the chair of the National Governor’s Association and he has made energy and climate his issue.
FP: What about President Bush? Have you gotten an audience with him?
JB: Well, no, not literally. He is aware of our work and his senior advisors who deal with the religious community are obviously knowledgeable about what we're doing. But if the president is not ready to take significant action, we're not waiting for him. We're going to continue to move forward. I think the president's getting together of leaders of the 16 large emitters is a positive step. But if all that they agree to do is voluntary measures, we've been doing that for 17 years. We've tried voluntary and it hasn't worked. We need a mandatory approach so that all business decisions that have anything to do with global warming, they understand that there is a bit of a cost there. We believe in the markets. We believe that once you get the price right, that the price really reflects the true cost of what you are doing. The free markets are going to solve this problem, I am totally and utterly confident.
FP: So you think it is doable, that climate change can be stopped?
JB: We say we are going to help solve global warming, with the Lord’s help. It is a huge task to solve global warming and there are going to be serious ramifications throughout this century. But there are so many positive benefits to addressing this issue: reducing pollution that harm’s human health; reducing mercury pollution that impacts the unborn; making our industries more energy efficient; creating the technologies that we can sell to others. There is no way that energy is not going to be a growth industry in this century. Why shouldn't we be the ones selling the technologies to everybody to else? As a Christian, I shouldn't be so biased about who sells it. But United States needs to get in this game, because once we really start to lead, then the world is really going to get seriously engaged and involved in this issue.
FP: The Bali conference in December is shaping up to be a huge deal, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has made it a top priority. What is your organization looking for from President Bush in Bali?
JB: Ideally, we would love for him to go there and say, "We are ready to make a commitment on a mandatory approach." I don’t think that is very likely. But if we can't have that, if what they are doing now with the 16 other nations can be a positive compliment to what they are doing in Bali, then that would be helpful.
Not all archbishops are as enlightened as Desmond Tutu. Here's Archbishop Francisco Chimoio, head of the Catholic church in Mozambique, engaging in the kind of reckless lunacy that does not dignify comment:
I know that there are two countries in Europe, they are making condoms with the [HIV] virus on purpose. They want to finish with the African people. This is the programme. They want to colonise until up to now. If we are not careful we will finish in one century's time."
He also claimed some anti-retroviral drugs contain the HIV virus.
If you're getting tired of that "Don't tase me, bro" guy, you might find new inspiration for humor in the story of a group of "inappropriately dressed" Saudi women who had had enough meddling from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, Saudi Arabia's notorious religious police.
From the Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily, Asharq Alawsat:
According to Dr. Al-Marshood, the two commission members approached the girls in order to "politely" advise and guide them regarding their inappropriate clothing.
Consequently, the two girls started verbally abusing the commission members, which then lead to one of the girls pepper-spraying them in the face as the other girl filmed the incident on her mobile phone, while continuing to hurl insults at them.
Joking aside, the Commission has been involved in a number of despicable incidents of brutality against women in the past. The perpetrators were lucky if they were only "cautioned and then released," as the article claims. We can only hope that they were allowed to keep the mobile phone, and that the clip will be circulating on YouTube soon. (Hat tip: Boing Boing)
Joking aside, the Commission has been involved in a number of despicable incidents of brutality against women in the past. The perpetrators were lucky if they were only "cautioned and then released," as the article claims.
We can only hope that they were allowed to keep the mobile phone, and that the clip will be circulating on YouTube soon.
(Hat tip: Boing Boing)
Bill Clinton, introducing Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the opening session of the Clinton Global Initiative, quoted Desmond Tutu thusly:
Religion is like a knife. If you use it to cut bread, it's good. If you use it to cut your neighbor's arm off, it's bad.
Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers has had enough of plagues, famines, droughts, hurricanes, and genocides. Chambers considers these incidents to be terrorists acts. To stop them, he's suing the person responsible for them—God.
Chambers, who before becoming a state legislator was a barber, filed a lawsuit last Friday in Nebraska's Douglas County District Court, naming himself as the plaintiff and God as the defendant, a permanent injunction "ordering defendant to cease certain harmful activities and the making of terroristic threats." Check out the suit here (pdf).
Some choice bits excerpted below:
God could not be reached for comment.
JERUSALEM - SEPTEMBER 14: An ultra-Orthodox Jew laughs as he crosses paths with Palestinians passing Israeli police guarding an entrance to the Temple Mount in the Muslim Quarter September 14, 2007 in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel. Religious Jews leaving morning prayers at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, rubbed shoulders with Muslim worshippers rushing to the first midday prayers at al-Aqsa Mosque as the first Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan coincided with the second day of the Jewish New Year festival of Rosh Hashanah. (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)
Mormon families are instructed to stock up on canned goods and wheat to prepare for Armegeddon."
Passport reader Derek White, who describes himself as a current member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, writes in with a pointed rebuttal:
The truth is that while members are encouraged to have a one-year supply of food (that may include wheat), the reason for food storage is simple "self-reliance". The food storage is meant to help carry a family or individual through difficult financial times or some kind of natural disaster (like Hurricane Katrina) so that families and individuals will have less need for assistance from others.
Never, (may I repeat?) NEVER, has the purpose of food storage been connected in any way to Armegeddon.
In a subsequent e-mail, he added:
The best source for information regarding the Church's stand on self-reliance, humanitarian service, and the Church's own welfare organization is found on their website, "Provident Living".
Among the many interesting facts in Daniel Brook's profile of the Mormon church is this tidbit:
Mormons believe we are living in the "latter days," that the end is near. Mormon families are instructed to stock up on canned goods and wheat to prepare for Armageddon. The Church itself stores 19 million pounds of wheat in a Salt Lake City grain silo.
In fact, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as the Mormons prefer to be called, operates some 60 such silos around the country. Together, they can hold nearly 9 million bushels of wheat (there are about 60 pounds in a bushel). With wheat hovering around $8 a bushel these days, you might think the Church is sitting on a potential gold mine. But the Mormons themselves don't see it that way:
Wheat is a perishable commodity; it cannot be stored indefinitely. Accordingly, the grain storage program rotates one-fourth of the wheat in storage every year, with the result that, generally, no wheat is over four years old. The rotation is accomplished by selling the older wheat on the open market and buying new wheat on the open market. [...] From its inception, the goal of the program has been to store wheat, not trade in wheat. The First Presidency, in a letter dated August 1940 stated, "It should always be borne in mind that we are storing wheat, not trading in wheat. The bins should always be kept as nearly full as possible, consistent with proper care."
Storing grains and canned goods is an individual, not just a collective responsibility: Mormon households are encouraged have up to a year's supply of emergency food on hand. For instance, a family of four ought to be storing about 1,200 pounds of wheat and/or other grains, according to this handy Food Storage Calculator. But where to put it?
Earlier this week, Passport brought you the inaugural flight of the Vatican's new airline, which will ferry eager Catholics to holy sites across Europe.
But so far, it hasn't been all smooth sailing for the heavenly voyagers. Pilgrims returning home from the shrine at Lourdes in the south of France were told by airport security officials that they couldn't take more than 100 ml of holy water on board with them.
Sorry folks, even the big guy upstairs can't get you out of anti-terror security regulations. You'll have to take off your shoes just like the rest of us.
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