Due to an ongoing health crisis in the family, blogging will be 'on and off' as time and circumstances permit for the foreseeable future. I also beg your indulgence if I am slow in responding to emails. New posts will appear below this notice.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Under pressure from the Orthodox Church, Russia considers ditching liberal abortion laws

MOSCOW—Russia's Orthodox Church teamed with Conservative parliamentarians Monday to push legislation that would radically restrict abortions in a nation struggling to cope with one of the world's lowest birthrates.

The legislation would ban free abortions at government-run clinics and prohibit the sale of the morning-after pill without a prescription, said Yelena Mizulina, who heads a parliamentary committee on families, women and children.

She added that abortion for a married woman would also require the permission of her spouse, while teenage girls would need their parents' consent. If the legislation is passed, a week's waiting period would also be introduced so women could consider their decision to terminate their pregnancy, Mizulina said.

During the time of the Soviet Union, abortion laws were liberal, and unrestricted termination of pregnancy became virtually the only method of family planning. Sex education was frowned upon.

Russia's abortion rates are still among the world's highest, contributing to a fertility rate of only 1.4 children per woman -- far below the 2.1 needed to maintain the existing population. The rate has become a serious concern for Russia as it fights to stem a steep population decline.
Read the rest here.

In Bi-Partisan Vote House Rejects Debt Limit Increase

With an August deadline looming, the House overwhelmingly refused Tuesday to raise the legal limit on government borrowing, setting the stage for a long, sweaty summer of haggling over the shape of the largest debt-reduction package in at least two decades.

Not a single GOP lawmaker voted to support the measure to raise the limit on the national debt from $14.3 trillion to $16.7 trillion — a sum sufficient to cover the government’s bills through the end of next year. Republican leaders said their troops would reject any increase without a plan to sharply curtail spending and, thus, future borrowing.

“Tonight’s vote illustrates that there is no support in the People’s House for a debt-limit increase without real spending cuts and binding budget process reforms,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), adding, “The families and business owners throughout the country want Washington to begin to live within its means and stop maxing out the credit card.”

Polls show a higher debt limit is extremely unpopular with a large majority of voters, which has left Democrats leery of calling for an increase. On Tuesday, as the House voted 318 to 97 against raising the limit, nearly half of House Democrats sided with the Republicans. In so doing, they ignored a long-standing request from the Obama administration to boost the limit before plunging into a complex and politically difficult battle over the size of the federal budget.

“I don’t intend to advise our members to subject themselves to a 30-second political ad and attack,” House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said hours before the vote, noting that GOP leaders had offered the bill with the intention of letting their members vote against it. Seven Democrats voted present as a way of protesting the manner in which the Republican majority called up the bill.
Read the rest here.

WHO: Cell phone use may increase risk of cancer

(CNN) -- Radiation from cell phones can possibly cause cancer, according to the World Health Organization. The agency now lists mobile phone use in the same "carcinogenic hazard" category as lead, engine exhaust and chloroform.

Before its announcement Tuesday, WHO had assured consumers that no adverse health effects had been established.

A team of 31 scientists from 14 countries, including the United States, made the decision after reviewing peer-reviewed studies on cell phone safety. The team found enough evidence to categorize personal exposure as "possibly carcinogenic to humans."

What that means is they found some evidence of increase in glioma and acoustic neuroma brain cancer for mobile phone users, but have not been able to draw conclusions for other types of cancers

"The biggest problem we have is that we know most environmental factors take several decades of exposure before we really see the consequences," said Dr. Keith Black, chairman of neurology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Read the rest here.

Egypt’s Christians Fear Violence as Changes Embolden Islamists

CAIRO — The headline screamed from a venerable liberal newspaper: Coptic Christians had abducted a young Muslim and tattooed her with a cross. “Copts kidnap Raghada!”

“They tied me up with ropes, beat me with shoes, shaved my hair,” Raghada Salem Abdel Fattah, 19, declared, “and forced me to read Christian psalms!”

Like many similar stories proliferating here since the revolution, Ms. Abdel Fattah’s kidnapping could not be confirmed. But for members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, the sensational headline — from a respected publisher, no less — served to validate their fear that the Egyptian revolution had made their country less tolerant and more dangerous for religious minorities. The Arab Spring initially appeared to open a welcoming door to the dwindling number of Christian Arabs who, after years of feeling marginalized, eagerly joined the call for democracy and rule of law. But now many Christians here say they fear that the fall of the police state has allowed long-simmering tensions to explode, potentially threatening the character of Egypt, and the region.

“Will Christians have equal rights and full citizenship or not?” asked Sarkis Naoum, a Christian commentator in Beirut, Lebanon. A surge of sectarian violence in Cairo — 24 dead, more than 200 wounded and three churches in flames since President Hosni Mubarak’s downfall — has turned Christian-Muslim tensions into one of the gravest threats to the revolution’s stability. But it is also a pivotal test of Egypt’s tolerance, pluralism and the rule of law. The revolution has empowered the majority but also opened new questions about the protection of minority rights like freedom of religion or expression as Islamist groups step forward to lay out their agendas and test their political might.
Read the rest here.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Complicated dance between Orthodox Church, Serbian politicians

Religion and politics often intertwine in Serbia, but experts say the relationship is more complex than many assume.

Analysts agree on one thing: the church maintains a connection with Serbian political parties.

The real question, they argue, is which partner leads in this dance? Which wields more power over the other?

Religion analyst Zivica Tucic believes the Serbian Orthodox Church's influence on politics is weaker than many assume, given the bishops' broad range of views.

"The bishops have very different political orientations, from right-wing conservatism to closeness to the left, as in the Socialist Party," Tucic told SETimes.
Read the rest here.

Russian Church to promote modern day foundling homes to fight abortion

Russian mothers who don't want to keep their new babies will be able to leave their newborn children anonymously in special centers, if new legislation pending in the Russian parliament is approved, a parliamentary committee head said on Monday.

The bill, sponsored by the State Duma committee for family affairs and the Russian Orthodox Church, aims to reduce the number of abortions and boost live births.

"Such specialized centers can be set up both at medical institutions and social structures, as well as monasteries and shelters," committee head Yelena Mizulina said.

Under the proposed law, a woman who decides to leave her child at such an institution will be exempt from responsibility.

The centers will only be available for children under six months.

MOSCOW, May 30 (RIA Novosti)

EU Racing to Draft Second Greek Bailout

Throwing good money after bad.  What a waste.  Read the story here if you are so inclined.

Orthodox Liturgy (in Slavonic) is served in the Basilica St. Maria Maggiore in Rome

On the commemoration of Sts Cyril and Methodius was held at the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, where over a thousand years ago for the first time a prayer and reading of the Gospel in Slavonic sounded, and for the first time since the 9th century the divine liturgy in Slavonic according to the Orthodox rite was celebrated. The worship was led by Archbishop Mark of Yehoryev, who concelebrated with Archbishop Alexander of Pereyaslav-Khmelnytkyy and Bishop Nestor of Korsun, clergymen of the Orthodox parishes in Italy and delegates in the UOC in holy order.
Read the rest at Byzantine Texas.

Greece’s crisis could torpedo Europe’s recovery

It has come to this. A year after rescuing Greece from default, Europe is staring into the abyss. The bailout has proved insufficient. Greece needs more money, and it can’t borrow from private markets, where it faces interest rates as high as 25 percent. But Europe’s governments are reluctant to advance more funds unless other lenders — banks, bondholders — absorb some losses by writing down their debts. This, however, would constitute a default, risking a broader banking crisis that might torpedo Europe’s fragile recovery in France, Germany and elsewhere. There is no easy escape.

What’s called a “debt crisis” is increasingly a political and social crisis. Looming over the financial complexities is the broader question of the ability — or willingness — of weak debtor nations to endure growing hardship to service their massive government debts. Already, unemployment is 14.1 percent in Greece, 14.7 percent in Ireland, 11.1 percent in Portugal and 20.7 percent in Spain. What are the limits of austerity? Steep spending cuts and tax increases do curb budget deficits, but they also create deep recessions, lowering tax revenue and offsetting some of the deficit improvement.

Just how long this grinding process can continue is unclear. In Spain, the incumbent socialist party lost big in recent elections. Popular unrest persists in Greece amid signs — reports The Post’s Anthony Faiola — of a “resurgence of an anarchist movement” there and elsewhere.

Some causes of Europe’s plight are well-known: the harsh recession following the 2008-09 financial crisis; aging populations coupled with costly welfare states. But there’s also another, less recognized culprit: the euro, the single currency now used by 17 countries.
Read the rest here.

A War Story

One of the great cemeteries populated by the First World War

(I wrote this essay several years ago but think it worth reposting.)

From my grandmother and my cousin Sarah Jane (memory eternal) I gleaned the story of my great-uncle Francis Guy (known as Guy in the family). He was one of the older children (14 in all) of my great-grandparents who lived in Endicott New York at the turn of the last century. My great-grandfather was by all accounts a good man, hard working and God fearing as they used to say in those days. But he also had a reputation for being stubborn with a "my way or the highway" mentality.

By contrast my uncle Guy was a shy youth in his middle teens who had been born with some minor disfigurement on his face to which no one really paid any notice other than him. But he was very self conscious about it. In late 1914 my great grandfather wanted him to get a job at the local shoe manufacturing plant run by the Endicott Johnson company, then the biggest by far employer in my home town. Guy was perfectly OK with this. But he asked if he could set aside a small amount of his earnings to save for an operation which he felt would remove the offending birth mark. My great-grandfather said no. He was a man who believed that if you were born that way, it’s what God intended and that’s the end of it.

Well he was also not very diplomatic about it and there was an argument, a real barn burner by all accounts. When it was over an ultimatum was given to the boy; do as you’re told or get out and make your own way in the world. In the heat of anger and hurt Guy left home.

Now at this time what would become known as the Great War had just broken out in Europe. Guy like a lot of kids of his generation had rather romantic notions about war. The United States had not fought a really serious one in almost sixty years and memory dulls with time. With the United States still neutral and in need of a job Guy struck out for Canada where he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Army (Canada was part of the British Empire then). I am not sure if he lied about his age. He landed in the Princess Patricia Regiment which would gain great fame in the war. After preliminary training the regiment was shipped to England and then over to the continent where it joined up with the British Expeditionary Force holding the left wing of the Allied line with the Belgian Army in one of the few parts of Belgium not occupied by the Germans.

In September of 1915 during one of the innumerable back and forth battles near Ypres his unit assaulted the German trench works. The attack was repelled with the customary horrific casualties but Guy made it back to his own trench unharmed. When he looked back over the battlefield known as no man’s land between the opposing trench lines he saw amongst the human wreckage of war one of his close friends lying wounded. The odds of surviving in no man’s land were not good since neither side respected stretcher bearers or medics. The wounded were usually left to die. Guy leapt out of the relative safety of his trench and rushed forward to save his buddy. He reached him and under heavy fire dragged him back to the trench. After lowering the wounded soldier down Guy turned to drop down himself when he was shot in the stomach. He died several days later at a military hospital and was buried in one of the vast cemeteries near Ypres created by the carnage of the War to End All Wars.

My great-grandparents received the telegram while watching a silent movie at the local cinema house. The lights were turned on and half the town showed up to express their sympathy. The Canadian Army later (and retroactively) conferred the Military Medal on him posthumously which my great-grandmother was buried with. I am told that in Ottawa there is a book on display with the names of all of the dead of the Princess Patricia Regiment inscribed in it. A page is ceremoniously turned each day. On one of those pages is the name of an Irish-Catholic kid with a birth mark from a small town in upstate New York, Francis Guy Dwyer. Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.

The next worse thing to a battle lost, is a battle won.
-The Duke of Wellington

Old men declare war. But it is the young who must fight and die.
-Herbert Hoover


In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Royal Canadian Army

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

On the manly art of the shave

A Straight Razor

The Young Fogey has a post up showing a recent acquisition... a 1950's vintage safety razor which he now employs, apparently with much satisfaction.  As someone who dislikes shaving and regards it as a chore, I am rather impressed.  I think most modern razors are a bit of a rip off.  Electric razors do not shave as close as a blade, and the disposable ones I doubt are much better than the safety razors our grandfathers used.

It is a fact that the closest shave I ever got in my life was in the late 1980's while I was stationed in La Madelena Italy in the Navy.  I was out in town and in bad need of a haircut so I stopped in at a local barbershop.  Now this was a real barbershop.  The elderly proprietor was wearing the traditional white jacket and the whole place just looked like something out of a period film from say the 1940's.

He spoke to me in Italian which I did not know.  In time I would acquire a limited command of the language, sufficient to get around.  But I was new then and completely monolingual.  We briefly spoke at one another in our respective languages and I gathered he had grasped my desires for he motioned me into the chair.

Swiftly he went to work and after a few minutes I had the small mirror in my hand and managed a quick "bueno."  He indicated his pleasure and I prepared to pay my bill and go on to meet some friends.  Just as I started to tighten my grip on the arms of the chair to raise myself up however, the chair went sharply back and in just seconds the old barber stood in front of me with a bundle of white towels that he began to pack on my face.  I should note here that these towels were HOT.  I mean REALLY HOT.  All I could think of was what a crazy and extreme way to get rid of loose hairs from a trim.

But he left them there.  As in for several minutes.  When he returned and took them off he he had some sort of old fashioned brush and mug in his hand and the next thing I knew he was lathering up my face with shaving cream or more accurately shaving soap.  I had by now figured out that I was about to get the full service barbershop experience.

That's when it happened.  He set down the mug and in a flash there appeared mere inches before my eyes, which must have been the size of a 50 cent piece, one of the most wicked looking instruments of death and torture I had seen that close... a straight razor.  I am NOT talking about the semi sheathed blades some barbers use today to edge around the ears.  I am talking the real deal here, an honest to goodness cutthroat razor. 

I vaguely recall opening my mouth in a minor panic.  I am not sure if I was trying to find the Italian word for "STOP!" or if I just wanted to scream.  In any event he moved way too fast.  In a blink he had my head in a vise like grip with his left hand and very firmly moved it to the left.  I just closed my eyes and mouth... and cringed as I felt the blade on my face.  He began to draw it across my right cheek.  After several strokes of the blade, with no evident damage, I opened my eyes just as his hand moved my head to the right and he shifted sides.  I could now watch him as he held the blade like a master sculptor and he began to sweep the left side of my face.  So far so good.  Then he lifted my chin and again I couldn't watch as he drew the blade along my neck and throat.  I was afraid to breath or so much as twitch.  Forget the urgent desire to swallow that suddenly was upon me.

I don't know what I will eventually die from.  But I am fairly certain it won't be a heart attack.  If that were my fate, I would have been fertilizing a lawn somewhere for decades now.

When I ceased to feel the blade on my throat or neck for a few moments I opened my eyes.  He looked at my face carefully and then took the blade and gently ran the short end right under my nose.  At last he nodded with apparent satisfaction and I began to think that this rather remarkable experience was at an end.

Wrong.

He set the blade down, picked up the mug and brush and before I could say anything he was soaping up my face again.  And for a  second time (!) he began to shave me.  Yet again I could not keep my eyes open when the blade was on my throat and neck.  And then it was over.

He grabbed a fresh (very hot) towel and wiped my face clean.  I think I gave the man close to twice the charge for the haircut and shave and waved off the change.  It was probably a couple of minutes before I bothered to feel my face.  Despite being bathed in sweat I could tell that my face had probably not been that smooth since before I reached a certain age.  Point in fact I had no real need to shave for the next two days.

Over the years I have toyed with the idea of learning how to shave with a straight razor.  But on that score my courage is really no greater now than it was 20+ years ago.  Every time I look at a straight razor they just seem sooo... wicked.  I doubt I could keep my hand steady enough to avoid inflicting some terrible injury on myself.

For those more adventurous than myself however I found this rather interesting article posted by an avid straight razor man.  If you have ever thought about trying your hand at the most manly (and frightening) of shaving instruments, this strikes me as a good primer.

351 years ago

The monarchy was restored and the tyranny of the republic abolished.  Happy Royal Oak Day and God Save The Queen!

HT: The Mad Monarchist

Saturday, May 28, 2011

High Tory Gerald Warner: On a deluded pursuit of democracy and the IMF playing master of the universe

Liberal democracy is part of the "accepted political landscape"? Accepted by whom? By China, which occupies a not inconsiderable portion of the landscape? Increasingly it is viewed with scepticism in the developed world which spawned it. Yet Western "statesmen" are still trying to market this flawed commodity abroad. Last week's state visit by Barack Obama and the G8 meeting that followed demonstrated the delusions of what passes for a leadership in the Western world. The litmus test was Libya. At his joint press conference with David Cameron, Obama deployed all the usual rhetoric; but although Barack supplied the mouth music it was left to Dave to furnish the Apache helicopters - as already announced over his head by France.

Libya is Dave's war. He has never been happy with Afghanistan: that was a hand-me-down conflict. Dave wants his own piece of action and Libya is it. That suits Barack: he would like to sit out this dance. When Barack Obama displays a better grasp of reality than yourself, you are in a bad way. That is Dave's situation: even Obama now knows when to come in out of the rain. He has taken terrible punishment in his foreign policy initiatives. All the post-inauguration "outreach", hug-a-mullah naivety blew up in his face.
Read the rest here.

And...
International capitalism these days is perfectly happy to embrace socialism when, as with Strauss-Kahn, it comes with $3,000-a-night hotel suites, a starting salary of £260,000 a year, an annual living allowance of £45,000 and a severance package of £154,000. The IMF should have been abolished years ago. It is a phantom survivor of the Bretton Woods agreement marinated in Keynesian delusion. Whenever a country has been living beyond its means the IMF thrusts a large loan upon it, then imposes conditions such as inflated tax rates that prevent genuine recovery.
Read the rest here.

HT: The Monarchist

One of those days

OK.  I know I harp on inflation here.  But this is nuts.  I just finished reading a paperback novel that a friend had recommended (it was enjoyable) and I thought to pass it along to my mother and sister on the right coast.  So I stop by the local UPS drop off and show them the book.  I tell the gentleman that I want to send it to New York.  Next I provide him with all of the appropriate information (names addresses etc.) and let him know that it can go via the next wagon train, which is to say I don't care when it gets there as long as it does so before my family dies off.

Total cost... $33.04.

No.  I am not joking.  After expressing my astonishment he recalculated and came back with the same figure.  I reiterated that I was shipping a paperback book that weighed 1.6 lbs, that it was neither an overdue library book, nor a rare first edition.  The numbers did not move.  I then pointed out that I could purchase the book brand new on Amazon.com and have it shipped by two day delivery via UPS for 1/3 what he was proposing to charge me.  The numbers did not move.

Needless to say the book is sitting on my desk under my right arm as I type.  Come Tuesday I will stop by the Post Office and send it for perhaps $4 Book Rate.

I don't want to disparage the gentleman who waited on me.  Nor suggest that UPS is a poorly run company staffed by a bunch of simpletons.  So I will confine myself to observing that if I owned UPS stock right now, I would sell it.

Blanchflower: A euro debt default 'inevitable'

Former Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee member David "Danny" Blanchflower discusses the European debt crisis here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Anti-Christian violence in Faisalabad (Pakistan)

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) – Christian tombs were recently desecrated and a young Christian woman was gang-raped for an entire night. In both cases, police refused to file a First Information Report, allowing the culprits to escape justice. These are examples of the ordinary violence visited upon Pakistan’s Christian minority. Whether it involves Christian-owned land and property or individuals who are targeted because they are defenceless, victims will not find justice with the country’s legal system. Gradually, Pakistan’s ‘Islamisation’ slowly progresses, especially in the densely populated province of Punjab.

The Pakistan Christian Post reports that, in Chak Jhumra (Faisalabad), Muslim landowners destroyed and desecrated a Christian graveyard, using a tractor to plough over a number of tombs. Buried coffins were broken and the bones of the dead were brought to the surface. The local police refused to open an inquiry, whilst the landowners utter threats against local Christians to get them to stop legal proceedings.

The Faisalabad chapter of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Pakistani Catholic Church has intervened in the affair. A team sent by the commission visited the desecrated graveyard and collected evidence.

However, a local Muslim has filed a claim, saying he owned the land on which the cemetery is located. The first hearing in the case is scheduled for 13 June 2011.

Fr Joseph Jamil, a Faisalabad priest, strongly condemned the anti-Christian violence. “The Church,” he said, “is closing monitoring the issue.”

“Landowners and extremists are actively involved against the Christian minority in Punjab,” he told AsiaNews. “Most attacks happen in the central part of the province.” The government, he said, should “take charge of the situation and defend the minority.”

As additional evidence of the prevailing atmosphere of violence, a story came to light involving a 29-year-old Christian woman who was abducted by a Muslim co-worker, roughed up, drugged and gang-raped.

Afshan Sabir is a factory worker and a mother of three. She was assaulted over night on 27 March in an unspecified area near Gojra. When she woke up, she sought help in a state of disorientation. She later tried to file a complaint with the local police station. However, instead of helping the woman, police officers helped the rapists cover their tracks.

On this occasion, the National Commission for Justice and Peace also intervened, providing the victim with legal counsel and following the case on her behalf.
Source.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Procession and service in honor of Sts. Cyril & Methodius

Procession from the Uspenski Cathedral to the Cathedral of St. Basil.  Times have indeed changed.  Who, a mere 20 years ago, could have imagined such a massive procession within the very walls of the Kremlin?

Pope Benedict XVI receives new tiara

Via Fr. Z
At today's weekly general audience the Holy Father received a new tiara made for him and presented by Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

The tiara was commissioned by Dieter Philippi (http://www.dieter-philippi.de/), a German Catholic businessman who has a great devotion to the papacy as well as to the call to Christian unity.

The tiara was created in Sofia, Bulgaria by Orthodox Christians of the Liturgix studio (http://www.liturgix.com/).

Today a small delegation of Roman Catholics and Bulgarian Orthodox on pilgrimage in Rome had the honor to present the tiara to the Holy Father in the name of Christian unity.
Read the rest here.

On a side note, I am not certain about the involvement of Orthodox Christians and would caution against reading too much into this though I can all but guarantee that some of our Roman Catholic friends will latch onto this as yet further proof of imminent re-union.  The website for Liturgix does not identify themselves as Orthodox.  Rather they simply declare that they cater to both Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholics.

At one time it was customary for the citizens of whatever city a newly elected Pope came from to commission a new tiara for the Pope for his coronation.  Obviously this custom died out after Paul VI abandoned the tiara in the 1960's.  All three of his successors have declined to revive its use with Benedict going so far as to remove the tiara entirely from his coat of arms.

Still, it's an impressive addition to the Vatican's collection of papal bling. 

Europe sees return of horse drawn trash wagons

Horse-drawn rubbish carts are making a comeback decades after the demise of the rag-and-bone man in new trials by Suez Environnement, the European waste and recyling company.

Suez Environnement, the owner of Sita UK, is trying out the new horse-drawn bin lorries in cities across France - saving petrol money and therefore carbon dioxide emissions.

The company, which collects the bins for 62 UK councils, said initial data from the regions shows that people are recycling 15pc to 17pc more waste than before, as they are reminded of the need to be eco-friendly.

"It seems as though the mere presence of horses makes households think and act with more of an environmental conscience," a spokesman said.

The first areas in France to see horses trotting the streets to collect waste are Beauvais three parishes near Troyes, Verdun, Vendargue and Sezanne, where collections started in April and May this year.

If the trials are successful, the use of horses could be expanded further across Suez's operations in suitable locations.
Read the rest here.

In Israel, Netanyahu Is Seen as Diplomatic Failure

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel returned from Washington on Wednesday to a nearly unanimous assessment among Israelis that despite his forceful defense of Israel’s security interests, hopes were dashed that his visit might advance Palestinian peace negotiations.

One of the widely articulated goals of his trip, where he met with President Obama and addressed Congress, was to find a way to lure the Palestinians back to direct negotiations, thereby preempting their plan to approach the United Nations in September for recognition of statehood within the pre-1967 lines.

Instead, the Palestinians now say, Mr. Netanyahu’s speeches convinced them that they have no negotiating partner. They plan to intensify their United Nations efforts, leaving Israelis worried about increasing international isolation and pressure, especially in light of the popular uprisings across the Arab world.

A cartoon in the centrist Yediot Aharonot newspaper summarized the concern. It showed Mr. Netanyahu’s returning plane flying near a volcano. Inside the plane someone says, “All in all, it was a very successful visit.” From the volcano, smoke rises that spells out “S-E-P-T-E-M-B-E-R.”

Newspapers and airwaves were filled with similar commentary.
Read the rest here.

Ariz. shooting spree suspect incompetent for trial

PHOENIX — A federal judge has ruled that the suspect in the Arizona shooting rampage that wounded U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is mentally incompetent to stand trial, putting the criminal case on hold indefinitely.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns means 21-year-old Jared Lee Loughner will be sent to a federal facility for up to four months in a bid to restore his competency.

During the hearing Wednesday, Burns had Loughner escorted from the courtroom after Loughner lowered his head and said what sounded like: "Thank you for the freak show. She died in front of me." His head was inches from the table in front of him.

Loughner, dressed in a khaki prison suit and sporting bushy, reddish sideburns, was pulled from the courtroom by three court officers, NBC News reported. A room had been set up with a monitor so he could follow proceedings on closed circuit TV.
Read the rest here.

G.O.P. on the Defensive as Voters Resist Medicare Plan

WASHINGTON — When they proposed just last month to overhaul Medicare, House Republicans were confident that the wind of budget politics was at their backs and that the country’s looming fiscal problems provided justification to begin reshaping the increasingly costly social welfare system.

But the last six weeks have left Republicans pointed into a stiff headwind. With polls and angry town hall meetings suggesting that many voters were wary if not opposed to the Medicare overhaul, party unity and optimism gave way to a slow-motion backtracking in the House and, in the Senate and on the presidential campaign trail, a bit of a Republican-on-Republican rumpus.

Even before the Republican loss Tuesday night in the race for a vacant House seat from New York — a contest fought in large part over the Medicare proposal — Democrats were clinging to the developments like koalas to eucalyptus trees, hoping that the plan’s toxicity among many voters would give them a shot at retaining control of the Senate and, in their most vivid dreams, taking back the House majority.

Eager to press their advantage, Senate Democrats will stage a vote on the Medicare plan as soon as Wednesday, forcing Senate Republicans into a yes-or-no choice that both sides know will become the basis of countless campaign commercials over the next year and a half.
Read the rest here.

GOP Senator blocks pay raise for Interior Secretary

President Obama's Interior secretary is due for a raise, but Louisiana GOP Sen. David Vitter threatened to block that pay increase unless the Interior Department opens more access to Gulf drilling. Democrats say that Vitter's opposition amounts to coercion.

This morning, aides to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar say he asked the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to withdraw any effort to address Salazar's planned salary increase over a rare and personal dispute launched by Vitter. Salazar wrote to Reid, that Vitter's demand is "wrong" and called it "attempted coercion."

Vitter is demanding Salazar take action to open more drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico, an issue important in his home state after last year's spill. In a letter, Vitter threatened to use a procedural move that would allow him to block Salazar's pay adjustment.

Vitter wrote, "[W]hen the rate of permits issued for new deepwater exploratory wells reaches pre-moratorium levels (so 6 per month), I will end my efforts to block your salary increase."
Read the rest here.

In case anyone was wondering just how powerful the oil companies are in Washington.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Joplin Hospital: A Rush to Protect Patients, Then Bloody Chaos

JOPLIN, Mo. — When the warning — “Execute Condition Gray!” — blared through the halls of St. John’s Regional Medical Center, nurses began rolling patients’ beds into the hallways, as they had been trained to do time and again in this tornado-prone region.

But just as workers were completing the precautionary steps Sunday night, the entire nine-story building was pummeled by a tornado. Glass shards exploded from every window, doors blew open, and even patients’ IV-lines were ripped from their arms.

By the time the three-quarter-mile-wide tornado — among the deadliest in the nation’s history — moved on, the hospital was a scene of stunned chaos. Nearly every patient was splashed or covered with blood from all the glass, and people in the emergency room on the first floor were sucked out of windows into the parking lot. Even a backup generator failed, leaving ventilators and other medical equipment without power in dark rooms.

One panicked nurse, who had been in the intensive care unit, pleaded for help when machines stopped pumping air into the lungs of critically ill patients. “I’ve got patients dying up there!” Robert Kuhn, a hospital worker, recalled the nurse calling out. The doctors told him to go back and pump the air manually.

“You were on your own,” Mr. Kuhn explained.

At least 116 people were killed and hundreds more injured, city officials said Monday, as hundreds of emergency workers searched for others beneath the rubble that blanketed this southwest Missouri city. Leaders said they expected the death count to continue to rise.

The tornado, which struck around dinner time, crushed nearly a third of the city. It pounded about 2,000 buildings, knocked out power and cellphone service for many, and damaged water treatment and sewage plants. The tangled remains of cars and trucks were overturned and thrown against buildings and trees. Some blocks were jagged mounds of debris, while others were stripped to utter emptiness: just foundations of homes and tree trunks — no leaves, no branches, no bark.

The tornado did catastrophic damage to a Wal-Mart, a high school and a nursing home apartment building, and ripped through the places that exist to respond to emergencies, like a fire station, where a brick wall was crumbled over a fire truck, and the hospital, whose sign was reported to have been spotted miles from Joplin.

It was the deadliest single tornado in more than half a century, and it adds to a season of particularly deadly tornadoes. Storms in the Midwest and South have killed hundreds of people in the last two months, and left millions of dollars of damage behind.
Read the rest here.

Islamists Drive Cairo Church Shut Down

Hundreds of Muslims, angered by the prospect of a government-closed church re-opening in their neighborhood, protested outside the church yesterday, causing the provisional military authority to back away from its promise to allow Orthodox clergy to reopen it.

Protesters started gathering on Thursday afternoon outside the Church of the Virgin Mary and St. Abraam in Ain Shams, a poor section of northeastern Cairo. The church was scheduled to reopen that day, but protestors surrounded the building, preventing anyone from getting into it and trapping priests who were inside.

Several people were injured in fights between the Copts and the Muslims. Protestors threw rocks at each other, according a witness. One Coptic bystander was seriously injured, another witness said, when he took out a cell phone camera to record the protest and a group of Muslims surrounded and beat him. Several Copts were arrested, according to church officials.

It was unknown if any of the Muslim protesters have been arrested.

Peter Rizq, a lay minister at the church, said he, the priests and others trapped in the building found a way to sneak to safety after Muslims threatened to kill the head priest of the congregation.

“He [the priest] told us, ‘We need to go home now,’” Rizq said. “He told us we couldn’t stay any longer in the church because it would cause more problems.”

The men left the church building one by one, but some of them were later arrested and charged with illegal possession of weapons, a charge Rizq said was untrue.

Intimidation
This is the second time the church has been closed because of local Muslim opposition. Three years ago, in November 2008, Egypt’s State Security Intelligence service closed the church building after a group of protesting Muslims blocked the entrance.

Prior to their attempts to open the church building, members of the congregation held meetings in two rented apartments. Eventually the congregation gathered donations and bought a plot of land with a building, converting the inside of it into a worship place. Other than signs outside the building, there were none of the structures traditionally associated with a Coptic Orthodox church, such as crosses or domes.

Problems started soon after the renovations began. A group of Muslims bought a piece of land across from the church building and hastily started constructing a mosque. When the mosque was still unfinished, the Muslims blocked access to the church building; on the day it was scheduled to open, they placed prayer mats in front of the makeshift mosque, extending the rows to the entrance of the church.

The church building has been closed since the confrontation in 2008.
Read the rest here.

An excellent discussion on the European debt crisis

Watch it here.

HT: T-19

Massive devastation and more than 90 dead in MO tornado

JOPLIN, Mo. — The death toll stood at 90 on Monday after amassive tornado — the deadliest single U.S. tornado since 1953 — tore through this city on Sunday. The six-mile path included a hospital and high school destroyed, cars crushed like soda cans and a forest of splintered tree trunks where neighborhoods once stood.

Authorities warned that the death toll could climb as search and rescue workers continued their efforts. Their task was made more miserable as a new thunderstorm with strong winds and heavy rain pelted part of the city with quarter-sized hail on Monday morning.

Fire chief Mitch Randles estimated that 25 to 30 percent of the city was damaged, and said his own home was among the buildings destroyed as the twister swept through this city of about 50,000 people some 160 miles south of Kansas City.

"It cut the city in half," Randles said.
Read the rest here.

California: US Supreme Court orders state to reduce prison population

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ordered California on Monday to release tens of thousands of its prisoners to relieve overcrowding, saying that "needless suffering and death" had resulted from putting too many inmates into facilities that cannot hold them in decent conditions.

It is one of the largest prison release orders in the nation's history, and it sharply split the high court.

Justices upheld an order from a three-judge panel in California that called for releasing 38,000 to 46,000 prisoners. Since then, the state has transferred about 9,000 state inmates to county jails. As a result, the total prison population is now about 32,000 more than the capacity limit set by the panel.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, speaking for the majority, said California's prisons had "fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements" because of overcrowding. As many as 200 prisoners may live in gymnasium, he said, and as many as 54 prisoners share a single toilet.

Kennedy insisted that the state had no choice but to release more prisoners. The justices, however, agreed that California officials should be given more time to make the needed reductions.
Read the rest here.

Obama's fake birth certificate contains secret code

NEW YORK – Recalling Dan Brown's bestselling novel "The Da Vinci Code," computer experts have discovered strange anomalies in the Obama birth record released by the White House.

They include a different birth registration number that shows up in "hidden text," remnants of the short-form certificate apparently bleeding through the long-form and a "smiley face" in the registrar's stamp that does not show up on other recently issued Hawaii birth records.

Curiously, in a simple process run by Optical Character Recognition software that reveals hidden text, the registration number 10611 turns up, instead of 10641, the number displayed on the two birth records authorized for publication by the White House.

Application of the Adobe Acrobat's "Examine Document" function on the Obama long-form document produces the following hidden text:
Read the rest at World Nut Daily.

Disclaimer: Normally I would never post anything from this site or link to it. But this was just irresistible. It goes without saying that WND occupies what could be fairly described as the psychiatric ward for internet news sites. I briefly considered comparing them to a supermarket tabloid, but I was afraid of being sued by the National Enquirer for defamation resulting from the comparison. They would have a really strong case.

Arizona shooting suspect may be unfit to stand trial


Daniels joins long list of GOP non-candidates

WASHINGTON — Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels joined the march of would-be GOP presidential hopefuls offstage Sunday in a dead-of-night decision that put his supporters in play and muddled the fight for front-runner status against President Barack Obama.

Daniels' exit, which he said he made at his family's behest, clears the upcoming news cycle to absorb former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's entry into the race Monday in Iowa.

Make way for Pawlenty, Huntsman?

For the moment, Pawlenty would be the only Midwesterner in the campaign, a conservative who governed a Democratic-leaning state and has a record resisting tax increases and spending increases.

But Pawlenty would have a rival for the claim of No. 1 fiscal conservative in Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and Obama's first ambassador to China. Both Republicans are competing to emerge as the principle challenger to ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tornados strike Missouri killing dozens

A tornado steamrolled over Joplin, Mo., on Sunday night, knocking out a hospital and killing dozens of people across the city, according to various reports.

Joplin, which was in the direct path of the tornado, was left isolated and in the dark after the destruction, with telephone connections largely cut off and many homes without electricity after the twister touched down around 6 p.m.

Reuters quoted the Newton County coroner, Mark Bridges, as saying about 30 people had been killed, and 11 bodies had been recovered from just one location.

A major hospital in town, St. John’s Regional Medical Center, had to be abandoned, witnesses said, and the triage unit set up on its grounds to care for the patients had to be temporarily moved across the street when the hospital caught fire.

The tornado was just the latest in a string of deadly twisters that have killed hundreds of people in recent months, with Tuscaloosa, Ala., still recovering from one that also tore through the center of the city in late April.

Initial reports from Joplin said that schools, apartment buildings, megastores and fire stations were ravaged by the tornado.

“There was panic — firefighters were pulling themselves out of the debris and then helping others,” said Mike Bettes, a meteorologist for the Weather Channel who arrived in Joplin 10 minutes after the tornado touched down, as part of the show “The Great Tornado Hunt.”
Read the rest here.

Lord have mercy!

Reports: Taliban Leader Mullah Mohammad Omar Has Been Killed

This is just starting to get out on various news sites, mostly overseas.  It has not been confirmed by the US and as of this moment is not being reported on any of the MSM news sites.  If true it would be HUGE news following up on the death of OBL.

Update; Reuters is reporting a strong denial from the Taliban.  This doesn't look like it's going anywhere.

Rumblings from Rome

Pope Benedict XVI

Maybe I am reading more into this than I should.  But there has been the sound of distant thunder in the Roman Church, and it seems to be emanating from Rome.  When Benedict XVI was elected to the Papacy there was a collective groan heard from one end of the globe to the other as liberal Catholics reacted with shock, anger and more than a touch of fear at the prospect of the Panzer Kardinal taking his seat on the throne of Peter.  On the other hand conservative and all but the most radical Trad Catholics reacted with general approval.  He was their man.  And if there was one thing that both the conservatives and liberals were sure of, it was that the new Pope was going to clean house.

Except that he didn't.

To the dismay of the Catholic right (and the relief of the left) Benedict's reign could be characterized thus far as a moderately conservative one.  The mass purges of liberal bishops and theologians did not occur. Nor did he repudiate Vatican II.  And while he issued a document freeing the ancient liturgy of the Latin Church he has done little to suppress the reformed liturgy cooked up in the wake of the council, deeply distressing Catholic Traditionalists.

Indeed his pontificate thus far has been mostly focused on theological issues with his often very deep sermons and lectures, which he delights in giving to everyone from Cardinal Archbishops to the remarkably large crowds that appear at his Wednesday audiences.  To the extent he has addressed the highly polarized divide within the Roman Church between liberals and conservatives, he has emphasized a "hermeneutic of continuity," arguing that both sides have misrepresented the Second Vatican Council as a rupture with the Church's past teachings.

But of late there have been some interesting signs that after six years on the job he may be flexing some pontifical muscles long unused.  Consider just a few recent events...
  • The Pope is becoming increasingly comfortable bypassing local episcopal synods and issuing decrees that he thinks are important to the church as a whole.  I.E.. the erection of an Ordinariate for High Church Anglicans who want to convert en mass, without so much as a "by your leave" to the Catholic bishops of England and Scotland (not so affectionately known in some quarters as the "magic circle").  And then there are the decrees freeing the old mass and lifting the excommunications from the  bishops of the SSPX which were widely opposed.
  • The Holy See just vetoed the choice of keynote speaker at a conference for Caritas International, a major umbrella group for Roman Catholic charities.  The proposed speaker was considered soft on more than a few doctrinal issues.  Rome is making it clear they will ensure that the group has a properly Catholic identity before granting it canonical recognition.
  • Within the last six months the Pope has sacked at least three bishops for serious deviations from church doctrine and or discipline.  Note; these were not passed off as "early retirements."  They were fired by the Pope and Rome wanted everyone to know it.  I can not remember any instance in my lifetime where such a thing has happened.
  • Rorate Caeli now reports that the Pope has suppressed a 500 year old monastery for among other things "grave liturgical abuses."
It is always dicey trying to read too much into the motives of the Holy See.  And it is possible that a lot of this could just be coincidence.  But I doubt it.  An educated guess is that Benedict has grown tired of all the abuses that have been going on and is making some selective examples in an effort to curb at least the worst offenders.  It is also possible that he is becoming more cognizant of his age, and his mortality.  While no rumors concerning his health have reached my ears or inbox, when you are in your 80's its hard not consider how much time you have left and what you want to accomplish before God calls you into retirement.
    But while no rumors about the Pope's health have reached me, I can say that posts and comments in the more liberal corners of Catholic blogdom suggests that they are sitting up and taking notice of the Roman thunder.  Some are wondering if this is the beginning of the long feared counter-revolution.

    Time will tell.

    Saturday, May 21, 2011

    RIP: Lord Onslow a noble character (in every sense of the term)

    Michael William Coplestone Dillon Onslow, the seventh Earl of Onslow, who publicly advocated purging hereditary peers from the British House of Lords but who then, in the sort of full-bore reversal that seems a peerly prerogative, vowed to fight such an action “like a football hooligan” when it threatened to become a reality, died in England on May 14.

    Lord Onslow, who was also the seventh Viscount Cranley, 10th Baron Onslow and 11th Baronet of West Clandon, among other things, was 73.

    The cause, his family told The Associated Press, was “an illness most courageously borne.” Several British newspapers reported that he had had cancer.

    A nominal Conservative and a constitutional contrarian, Lord Onslow continued a family tradition of parliamentary service begun in the 16th century. “I don’t know what Tory policy is on virtually anything,” he told The Daily Telegraph in 2004. “And I’d probably disagree with it even if I did.”

    He was one of 92 hereditary peers allowed to stay in the House of Lords after hundreds were swept out by the Labor government of Prime Minister Tony Blair in a divisive reform measure of 1999. (House of Lords reform is the subject of continuing debate in Britain.)

    Long before the measure, and long after, Lord Onslow was a favorite of the world news media, for even in a nation known for cheese rolling and competitive nettle eating, he was a somewhat unusual character.

    His exploits — including the curious incidents of the wayward bull, the stone testicle and the loose monkey on the Underground — were widely recounted and are well within the realm of probability.

    A dapper man given to red socks, pink bow ties and plain speech, Lord Onslow was born on Feb. 28, 1938. His forebears, he liked to say, were cattle thieves who acquired titles through canny political dealings during the Renaissance and afterward.

    They created a memorable lineage. “That’s the second baron, known as Dickie Ducklegs,” Lord Onslow told a reporter in 2006 as he traversed the portrait gallery at Clandon Park, the family home in Surrey. “He spent most of his wife’s fortune building this place and defending a woman in Godalming accused of giving birth to rabbits.”

    Young Michael attended Eton and the Sorbonne, but was, he later said, “too stupid to have gone to university,” and never obtained a degree.

    In 1964, he married Robin Bullard. He once left a stone testicle — a genuine Roman artifact — under her pillow as a present.

    Besides his wife, his survivors include a sister, Lady Teresa Waugh (the widow of Auberon Waugh, a son of the novelist Evelyn Waugh); two daughters, Lady Arabella and Lady Charlotte; and a son, Rupert, now the eighth earl. As Lord Onslow’s obituary in The Daily Telegraph of London reminded readers on Wednesday, “He once confessed to a desire to ‘thrash most of my children most of the time.’ ”

    Lord Onslow had assumed the earldom in 1971, on his father’s death, and for years farmed the family’s 800 acres. He once pursued a runaway bull down a local freeway, which would have been less remarkable had he not been on horseback at the time. He also worked as an underwriter for Lloyd’s of London, once boarding the London Underground, bound for the office, with his pet monkey in tow. It escaped on the train and was later apprehended by the police.

    In 1994, the earl astonished listeners by serving as the host of a BBC radio series devoted to hip-hop, thrash metal and the like. (“Hello and welcome to the ‘Supertunes’ chill-out zone, from me, Lord Onslow, your mellow and, I hope, laid-back host,” he intoned.)

    Despite his lineage, or perhaps because of it, Lord Onslow had long questioned the right of hereditary peers to serve in the House of Lords. As he once explained, “I have been in favor of Lords reform almost since I have been there, because any House which has me in it really needs its head examined.”

    But he became a sworn foe of Mr. Blair’s plan, under which, he felt, peers were sent packing without precisely agreed-upon long-term provisions for replacing them.

    “If the government is going to play silly monkeys, I’m going to behave like a football hooligan and” botch “things up,” he said in 1998. (Lord Onslow did not use the word “botch.”)

    Despite an eventual compromise that let him and 91 other peers remain, Lord Onslow deplored the arrangement, calling it a “weak half-bastard thing.”

    In the end, however, he was philosophical. After all, he acknowledged, it was pure genetic happenstance that had put him in the House of Lords in the first place.

    “I find it extremely difficult to justify the fact that because one of my ancestors got” drunk “with George IV I can boss the British people about,” he said in a 1996 interview.

    Lord Onslow did not use the word “drunk.”

    Vassula Ryden responds to her excommunication

    1. Vassula  Excommunicated  -  A Response to This False Statement
    by The Foundation for True Life in God, Geneva (Switzerland)

    The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople has recently published, on its website a statement of condemnation regarding Vassula Rydén and True Life in God faithful of Greek Orthodox faith. A certified translation into English of the Greek original is below . It is to be noted that the Patriarchate has only expressed itself in Greek, leaving people of other languages to themselves.

    The statement of the Patriarchate has been misinterpreted by some people who have publicly declared that Vassula has been excommunicated.
    Such declarations are wholly untrue and do not accord with the Patriarchs statement which is not a decree of any description and does not refer to excommunication.

    What the statement does is to accuse Vassula and the Orthodox TLIG faithful of acting in defiance or in breach, of Orthodox Christian Doctrine and Faith.  That is equivalent to an accusation of heresy. (A denial of or deviation from the doctrine of the Orthodox Church).  

    The appropriate procedure for dealing with heresy is very clearly laid down in the Canon law of the Holy Church. The statement calls upon Vassula and her followers to discontinue the dissemination of the TLIG messages and to renounce their teachings in order to avoid the appropriate sanctions under the Holy Canons.  Under those Canons, the prescribed penalty for heresy is Excommunication (often called anathema) but, under the  Canonical procedures of the Church a decree of Excommunication can only be made after formal proceedings have taken place before the Ecclesiastical Courts or/and before  a Holy Synod.  Such proceedings involve a formal Complainant, a Defendant and Witnesses, and an appeal procedure (Hierarchical), regulated by Article 44.1 of the Charter of the Church of Greece

    Only when this procedure has been exhausted, is the crime of transgression against the faith punished by Excommunication or sometimes by exclusion from the sacramental life of the Church for a temporary period.


    There have been no proceedings for Excommunication instituted before the Ecclesiastical Courts or the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in the case of Vassula Rydén. That is not surprising because the Holy Orthodox Church like the Catholic Church or the Anglican Church regards Excommunication as a last resort, an instrument to be wielded with great reserve and caution and only to be imposed after repeated warnings and discussions.  No such discussions have taken place between Vassula and the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Vassula has already written to the Patriarch personally, to request that she and her Theologians enter into a proper dialogue with him. Her request is presently under consideration by the Patriarch.

    Until due judicial process is established and concluded by the Church, any public comments stating or implying that Vassula and TLIG faithful have been excommunicated by the Holy Orthodox Church are wholly untrue and harmful to her and those members of TLIG  who are of the Greek Orthodox faith.

    The present statement is published by the Foundation for True Life in God after due research into this matter. Its purpose is to prevent publication of further ill advised comments and to encourage correction of untruthful statements already published.


    Geneva, May 2011
    From a friend of the blog who asked not to be named. This woman is a heretic. She excommunicated herself. All the EP did was confirm this for the benefit of those who might have been confused.

    Friday, May 20, 2011

    Episcopalians move toward communing the un-baptized

    The Episcopal Church’s national office has given a backhanded blessing to the practice of allowing those not baptized to receive Holy Communion—a practice forbidden by canon law.

    Supporters of Communion without Baptism (CWOB) have argued that relaxing the church’s Eucharistic discipline will serve as a recruiting tool for those outside the faith. However, traditionalists have rejected the practice as uncanonical and contrary to church teaching.

    Last month the Episcopal Church Office of Congregational Vitality posted a video to the national church’s website highlighting the ministry of parish of St Paul & the Redeemer in Chicago. The congregation “exemplifies transformative work,” the Rev. Bob Honeychurch, the Episcopal Church’s officer for congregational vitality, said, adding that the parish “sees its primary point of contact with the wider community through its Sunday morning experience. The worship becomes its witness to the world.”

    “What we do is the Episcopal liturgy,” said parish rector the Rev. Peter Lane. “We just do it in creative ways.”

    St Paul & the Redeemer welcomes “everybody. Orthodox believer or skeptic, gay or straight, black or white, rich or poor, everybody is invited to eat at God’s table” Mr. Lane said.

    The video features a parishioner who relates his love of the “diversity” and “inclusion” of the Episcopal Church. At his first visit to the congregation he received Holy Communion, and was led to join the church. When his young son was baptized three years later, he also decided that it was time to become baptized.

    A study released in 2005 by the Diocese of Northern California estimated that a majority of dioceses had congregations that practiced Communion without Baptism. (CWOB) Of the church’s 110 dioceses, 48 responded to the Northern California survey: 24 reported they had parishes who practiced CWOB while a further 7 dioceses were reported to “probably allow CWOB.”

    A spokesman for the national church told The Church of England Newspaper in response to the query about the video, “The canons of the Episcopal Church expect that baptism precede the receiving of Communion. The Episcopal Church does not, however, inquire of each person coming to receive Communion if he or she has been baptized. If a newcomer is discovered not to have been baptized, then the most appropriate response is to prepare and baptize that person, welcoming her or him into the body of Christ.”

    Episcopal Church Canon I.17.7 is unambiguous. It states “No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.

    “From the earliest centuries, it has been the universal practice of the Christian Church that one must first be baptized before being admitted to Holy Communion,” Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker told CEN.

    The issue is one of canon law, Prayer Book rubrics and Scripture, the Anglo-Catholic leader said.

    In Romans 6:3-11 “St. Paul explains that the unbaptized remain under the dominion of sin and death and have not been reconciled to God by faith in the saving death of Jesus Christ. Thus they are not eligible to receive the benefits of Holy Communion,” Bishop Iker explained.

    “The unbroken tradition and practice of orthodox believers is clear: first baptism, then communion – not the other way around,” he said.

    The Rapture – Indisputable Christian Heresy

    As I was driving one day I encountered a bumper sticker admonishing me:

    “WARNING! In the event of Rapture, this car will be driverless.”

    The strange belief in the Rapture teaches that some day (sooner rather than later), without warning, born-again Christians will begin to float up from the freeway, abandoned vehicles careening wildly. There will be airliners in the sky suddenly with no one at the controls! Presumably, God is removing these favored ones from earth to spare them the tribulation of the Anti-Christ which the rest of us will have to endure.

    Unfortunately the Rapture has been promoted widely by the Left Behind series of books that have sold over 70 million copies.

    The Rapture represents a radical misinterpretation of Scripture. I remember watching “Sixty Minutes”a year ago and was appalled to hear the announcer say that “the Rapture is an unmistakenly Christian doctrine”. It is not!

    It is a serious distortion of Scripture.

    It is astonishing that a belief so contrary to Scripture and the tradition of the Church could be propagated by so-called “Christians”.

    According to the Bible and according to the belief not only of Orthodox Christians but also of the Roman Catholic and most Protestant mainline churches, the true Rapture will not be secret; it will be the great and very visible Second Coming of Jesus at the end of the world. That is the one and only “Rapture”. It will not be a separate, secret event but one that every eye shall see (1 Thess. 4:16-17).

    The word rapture is not found in Scripture but hearkens to 1 Thess. 4:17 where St. Paul says that when the Lord comes again

    “we who are alive…shall be caught up…in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”

    This “being caught up…in the clouds”—arpagisometha in Greek, is translated by some as “raptured”. The word itself is not found in Orthodox theology.

    The notion of a rapture in which Christ comes unseen to take believers away secretly, and only later comes back again for everyone else publicly—this whole teaching is quite novel. It was almost unheard of until John Nelson Darby formulated it in the 1800s as part of a new approach to the Bible, sometimes called “dispensationalism”.

    The purpose of the “Rapture” is to protect the elect from the tribulations of the end times. Yet Jesus said nothing about sparing anyone from tribulation. In fact, He said,

    “In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”

    Nowhere did Jesus ever say that He would return secretly to rapture the elect. Rather, He promised to be with His elect in all tribulations.

    “Lo, I am with you always. I will never leave you or forsake you.”

    He even had something good to say about being persecuted:

    “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10).

    Those who espouse the Rapture claim that Matthew 24:40-41 refers clearly to the rapture of the just,

    “Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.”

    The entire passage, however, refers to Christ’s second coming where He will judge the living and the dead and separate the just from the unjust.

    Darby taught as dogma that when the Scriptures reveal that the Lord will reign on earth for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4), this figure is to be taken literally, rather than as a symbol for eternity as we believe. The Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431 condemned as heresy this teaching which is called chialiasmos (millenianism or 1000 years).

    In fact, the Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787 A.D.) in which the essential truths of the Christian faith were defined never mention a rapture. Yet evangelical Christians and Pentecostals keep using obscure passages of the book of Revelation which purport to give a detailed timetable of what will happen at the end of the world, despite the fact that Jesus Himself warned that no man knows either the day or the hour when the Son of Man shall return.

    A major problem with the Rapture is that it ends up teaching not two but three comings of Jesus—first His birth in Bethlehem; second, His secret coming to snatch away (rapture) the “born-again”; and third, His coming at the end of the world to judge the living and the dead and to reign in glory. Yet only two not three comings of Christ are mentioned in the Bible. We have the clearest definition of this in the Nicene Creed when we confess that

    “the Lord Jesus Christ…will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. His Kingdom will have no end…. I expect the resurrection of the dead. And the life of the ages to come.”

    There is no mention of a “Rapture”.

    As already stated, most Christians, Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Protestants do not believe in the Rapture. In fact, one Protestant pastor, John L. Bray, summarized magnificently what we Orthodox and most other Christians believe about the Rapture when he wrote these remarkable words,

    "Though many believe and teach this “Pre-Tribulation Rapture” theory, they erroneously do so, because neither Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, nor any of the other writers of the Bible taught this. Nor did the early church fathers, nor any others for many hundreds of years…. Did you know that NONE of this was ever taught prior to 1812, and that all forms of Pre-Tribulation Rapture teaching were developed since that date? …. If I were to preach something, or believe something, supposedly from the Bible, but cannot find that ANYONE ELSE before 1812 ever believed it or taught it, I would seriously question that it is based on the Bible."

    Thus the Rapture is foreign to the Bible and to the living tradition of the Church. It is what we call a heresy, a false teaching. False teachings, such as this, happen when people—like John Darby—believe that they have the right to interpret the Scriptures individually apart from the Living Body of Christ—the Church—where the Spirit of Truth abides and leads us to all truth.

    I can think of no better words to conclude than those of Jesus when He speaks of the one and only “Rapture”, the Second Coming:

    “Be on guard. Be alert! You do not know when that time will come…keep watch…if he comes suddenly, do not let Him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: Watch!” (Mark 13:32-37).
    -Fr. Anthony M. Coniaris

    Thursday, May 19, 2011

    70 Years Ago

    A fateful sea battle

    Obama endorses 1967 borders for Israel

    WASHINGTON — Seeking to harness the seismic political change still unfolding in the Arab world, President Obama for the first time on Thursday publicly called for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would create a non-militarized Palestinian state on the basis of Israel’s borders before 1967.

    “At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent that ever,” he said.

    Although Mr. Obama said that “the core issues” dividing Israelis and Palestinians remained to be negotiated, including the searing questions of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees, he spoke with striking frustration that efforts to support an agreement had so far failed. “The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome,” he said.
    Read the rest here.

    This is going to be a minor bombshell in the Middle East. It is also long overdue. The Dispensationalist crowd and Israeli Amen Choir in Washington are going to go nuts.

    $2 million and collecting Food Stamps

    DETROIT — A Michigan Lottery $2 million jackpot winner from last year is eligible and collecting some food stamp assistance under a loophole state officials have been working for months to close.

    Leroy Fick, who lives near Saginaw, took a lump sum payment for his June 2010 prize, buying a house, a used 2008 Audi and investing the rest, attorney John Wilson said on Wednesday.

    "If you're going to ... try to make me feel bad, you aren't going to do it," Fick told a reporter from local station TV5.

    The income he receives from investing the remaining money leaves Fick eligible under federal rules for food assistance of "far less than $5,000 for the year," Wilson said.

    "There is no asset based testing for it, it is all based on income," Wilson said. "The amount that he has invested of this winnings spins off an amount of income and that income is such that he is eligible."
    Read the rest here.

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011

    A Rough Start

    And we thought that Joe Biden had a rough campaign rollout in early 2007, after he referred to Barack Obama as “articulate” and “clean.” Simply put, Newt Gingrich appears to have set the modern-day bar for a disastrous presidential rollout. In the last 48 hours, Gingrich walked back his past support for a health-insurance mandate; faced the revelation that he and his wife racked up as much as $500,000 in debt at Tiffany’s a few years back; encountered a Dubuque, IA man who came up to him and said, "Get out now before you make a bigger fool of yourself”; got showered in glitter by a gay-rights protestor; and, under pressure, finally decided to apologize to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan after saying that Ryan’s Medicare overhaul amounted to “right-wing social engineering.” Gingrich said this on FOX last night: "I made a mistake and I called Paul Ryan today who is a close personal friend and I said that." Ryan’s office confirmed to NBC’s Shawna Thomas that the congressman accepted the apology.

    Biden’s later success in 2007-2008 -- eventually becoming his party’s vice-presidential nominee -- is a reminder that a candidate can overcome a rough start. But Gingrich right now looks a lot like the Bruce Willis character in the “Sixth Sense”: Everyone but him thinks he’s dead. What might be the most surprising revelation of the past 48 hours is the lack of goodwill Newt enjoys. Conservatives (whether it’s Rush Limbaugh, Charles Krauthammer, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, even the man in Dubuque) seem to be relishing in beating Newt up. What he’s discovered in the last couple of days: He has very few real friends in the conservative movement, and gets no benefit of the doubt. You get the sense that some conservatives were simply waiting for him to make a mistake to pounce in order to drive him out of this race.

    Republicans seek to curb new consumer protection agency

    ...With just two months to go before the law officially grants the agency those powers, Congress is considering measures that supporters of the new agency say would substantially weaken it before it writes its first new rule.

    Last week, the House Financial Services Committee passed three bills to tighten the reins on the agency. One would create a new bipartisan commission to oversee it. A second would make it easier for other regulators to veto any new rules written by the CFPB. And a third would give it independent status only if its director is confirmed by the Senate, where Republicans are also demanding changes in oversight of the agency

    "No person should have the unfettered authority presently granted to the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau," forty-four GOP senators wrote to Obama earlier this month. "Therefore we believe that the Senate should not consider any nominee to be CFPB director until the CFPB is properly reformed."
    Read the rest here.

    An ocean of difference between French and US legal systems

    PARIS (AP) -- The trans-Atlantic gap separating the U.S. and French justice systems and moral codes is as wide as the ocean itself -- appalling a nation witnessing the unraveling fortunes of a favorite son, jailed IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

    Some of the charges leveled against Strauss-Kahn in the alleged sexual assault of a hotel maid in New York do not exist in France. And if the case was being heard in France, the 62-year-old IMF chief might risk three to five years in prison instead of scores in the United States, a leading expert says. He also likely wouldn't be sitting in a notorious jail right now on a suicide watch.

    Some in the United States, meanwhile, have expressed surprise that French media have identified the alleged victim by name -- nearly unthinkable in U.S. journalistic circles, which avoid publishing a victim's name in suspected sex crimes.

    U.S. officialdom is treading cautiously, also: The woman's name isn't even appearing on some New York police documents so as to better safeguard her identity.

    The photos of potential French president Strauss-Kahn -- handcuffed, stooped, unshaven, tieless and whisked away to court before photographers -- knocked the breath out of the French public.

    The initial response was a collective "that would not happen here."

    Not in a country whose laws protect even a petty thief from flashing cameras in a public space and televised court hearings like the one broadcast Monday from Manhattan Criminal Court. Not in a country whose traditions have long shielded the philandering of the powerful, at the risk of failing to uncover travesties of the law.

    So different are French laws and mores, it is conceivable that Strauss-Kahn -- innocent or guilty -- failed to grasp the speed by which American justice runs its course, the weight given to alleged sex offenses and the egalitarian premise on which the U.S. judicial system is based until he sat in the infamous Rikers Island prison.
    Read the rest here.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011

    Quote of the day...

    "Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of my administration has been minding my own business."

    -Calvin Coolidge 30th President of the United States

    Senate Group on Debt Loses a Key Republican

    WASHINGTON — The already weak prospects for a bipartisan debt-reduction deal this year dimmed further on Tuesday when a Republican member of the Senate’s “Gang of Six,” Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, withdrew after months of private negotiations amid differences over changes to Medicare.

    “He is disappointed the group has not been able to bridge the gap between what needs to happen and what senators will support,” said a Coburn spokesman, John Hart. “He has decided to take a break from the talks.”

    While Mr. Hart’s statement said the talks were at “an impasse,” it left little doubt that Mr. Coburn did not expect to return. “He still hopes the Senate will, on a bipartisan basis, pass a long-term deficit-reduction package this year,” Mr. Hart said. “He looks forward to working with anyone who is interested in putting forward a plan that is specific, balanced and comprehensive.”

    The talks are separate from negotiations begun recently between the White House and Congressional leaders on reducing the debt. But the progress of the Gang of Six was seen as a harbinger of whether the two parties could come together and compromise on spending and taxes.

    Two other Republicans, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Michael D. Crapo of Idaho, for now remain in the group along with three Democrats, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the chairman of the Budget Committee; Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the assistant majority leader; and Mark Warner of Virginia, the organizer along with Mr. Chambliss, of the five-month-old effort. The five met for about four hours on Tuesday, and agreed to meet again on Wednesday.

    “The group continues to meet,” said a Chambliss spokeswoman, Bronwyn Lance Chester.
    Read the rest here.

    Christie Says No to 2012 Bid, but G.O.P. Keeps Calling

    So many people want to talk to Gov. Chris Christie about the 2012 presidential campaign that he probably could not drop the subject if he wanted to.

    Not that he wants to.

    Despite months of insisting that he will not enter the race, the New Jersey governor has become an increasingly busy presence on its fringes. Conservative politicians and talk-show hosts are still clamoring for him to jump in, and he has agreed to meet this month with a group of fund-raisers from Iowa who want to persuade him.

    While Republican consultants say he would be a leading contender, and journalists keep asking whether he will run, Mr. Christie keeps finding new and ever more provocative ways to say no. The Republicans who have considered running want his imprimatur, lining up for dinner dates at the governor’s mansion in Princeton.

    Candidate or not, Mr. Christie is a force to reckon with in the contest, someone who political analysts say could influence his party’s nomination, or make a splash as a choice for running mate — another prospect he rules out. The governor shows no sign of fading into the background, and by his own admission, he loves the attention.

    “I’m a kid from Jersey who has people asking him to run for president,” he said last week in a radio interview, laughing off the idea that he had “become tired and annoyed” by the subject’s coming up time and again. “I’m thrilled by it. I just don’t want to do it.”
    Read the rest here.

    Pakistan and NATO Trade Fire Near Afghan Border

    ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistani ground troops opened fire on two NATO helicopters that crossed into Pakistan’s airspace from Afghanistan early Tuesday morning, the Pakistani Army said in a statement. In the firefight that followed, two Pakistani soldiers were wounded, it said.

    The clash provided another irritant to the already sour relationship between the United States and Pakistan in the wake of the May 2 Navy Seal raid that killed Osama bin Laden at a compound deep inside Pakistan, heightening American mistrust of Pakistan and inflaming Pakistani sensitivities over sovereignty.

    The exchange of fire on Tuesday took place at Admi Kot Post in the North Waziristan tribal region of Pakistan, an area that American officials have long regarded as a haven used by militants to attack coalition forces inside Afghanistan. NATO officials said they were looking into the incident, and could not immediately confirm whether the helicopters had indeed entered Pakistan’s airspace.

    Pakistani military officials said the NATO helicopters came about 400 yards into Pakistani territory. The Pakistani Army “lodged a strong protest and demanded a flag meeting,” it said in a statement, referring to a meeting between officials from Pakistan and NATO on the border. Last September, Pakistan shut down the land route through Pakistan that NATO uses to supply its forces in Afghanistan for more than a week after two Pakistani paramilitary soldiers were killed in a similar border clash.
    Read the rest here.

    IMF chief a 'honey trap' victim? Conspiracy theories swirl

    The weekend arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn sent shockwaves through the financial world and upended French presidential politics, but it also quickly gave rise to theories about whether the International Monetary Fund chief had been set up by rivals.

    Prior to his imprisonment at Riker's Island on charges of attempted rape, the globetrotting Strauss-Kahn wielded considerable power. As head of the monetary fund — which provides emergency loans to countries in severe distress and monitors global financial stability — Strauss-Kahn was a frequent guest of lawmakers and leaders of the banking industry.

    And as a prominent member of France's Socialist party, he was widely considered to be one of the strongest potential challengers next year to President Nicolas Sarkozy.

    The financial titan — who carries a reputation for womanizing — became an immediate talking point: For some, the story represented a sad fall from grace; others spoke of humiliation for France; but, for another group, it smacked of a set-up.

    In a strange twist, Strauss-Kahn himself lit the fuse for theorists and supporters just two weeks ago. During an interview with French newspaper Liberation, the IMF chief predicted that his enemies could use his proclivity for promiscuity against him if he chose to run for president of France.

    When asked what challenges he faced in a possible bid, Strauss-Kahn replied, "The money, women and my Jewishness."

    "Yes, I love women ... so what? [...] For years we talk about giant pictures of orgies," he told Liberation. "But I've never seen anything out ... Let show them!"
    Read the rest here.