FIRE’s Latest on the ‘Disinvitation Season’

How about we have no graduation speakers at all, no graduation ceremony, and just mail you your diploma? That way you’ll be freed from the horror of hearing anything from anyone who might have done anything at any time in their past which you might disapprove of and/or who might have the temerity to say something you disagree with. And if your diploma arrives in any way folded, spindled, or mutilated, consider it an apt metaphor for your university-educated brain.

Read the article here.

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NSA’s Bulk Data Collection Fail

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board‘s just-released report doesn’t detail a single instance of the NSA’s bulk data collection leading to the foiling of a terrorist plot — for the simple reason that this oversight agency couldn’t find any — and yet, the mantra “to keep Americans safe” is incessantly uttered by  the NSA’s defenders whenever the wisdom (not to mention legality) of collecting pretty much every data bit generated by everyone, ever, is questioned.  (Well, once the NSA finally-sort of-almost-maybe admitted that’s what they might be doing — for your own good, of course. See how that one flies with Angela Merkel.)

With this latest report revealing that the NSA’s counter-terrorism claims have been wildly exaggerated, the data stockpile’s potential use for corruption ought also to get a closer look.  Even if 99.9 percent of NSA employees are 99.9 percent pure, a few bad-apple agents with ill intentions could partner with a few  bad-apple politicians or government officials — for the sake of symmetry, let’s pretend there are only a few — and use the available data for blackmail, coercion, or the kind of anonymous leaks that send political enemies scrambling for rehab or other cover.

As for the claim that no NSA agent could improperly access such data without others knowing about it, there is an obvious answer:  Edward Snowden.

Equally absurd is the assumption that the NSA would or could know about all misuse of data — or that the NSA’s assurances that no abuse has occurred are in any way meaningful.  Last time I checked, the reason blackmailers are often successful is that the victim cannot reveal the blackmailer without revealing whatever it was that made the victim blackmailable in the first place.

What?  500 phone calls last month to ‘Bunny’?  Sure,  I can explain that.  Yeah . . . that’s a nickname for my . . . uh . . . accountant.

So perhaps it’s time, despite the president’s assurances about the necessity of bulk data collection,  for the NSA to focus on targeted data-gathering and analysis instead, and to make sure the pertinent results are promptly shared with other law enforcement agencies.  After all, in piling up its mountainous haystack of all cyber data that was, is (and ever shall be, if the NSA prevails against its critics),  the NSA seems to have missed a few needles — in fact, every needle of late.

With more selective data and analysis, the NSA might, for instance,  have come across the Tsarnaev brothers perusing an online magazine for the do-it-yourselfer terrorist, checking out the helpful “How To” page for making pressure-cooker bombs.  Alerted law enforcement agencies might subsequently have flagged their purchases for the “ingredients,” and a pre-Boston Marathon arrest could and should have occurred.

Tragically, no such arrest was made. In today’s uber politically correct climate, it is apparently considered “Islamophobic”  to focus our data-culling on the places where terrorists tend to “hang out” — in both the cyber world and the real world.  Even though the Russians had earlier warned the FBI about the Tsarnaevs’ family ties to Chechen rebels and the elder brother’s six known visits to an Islamic militant in the Russian republic of Dagestan,  that info wasn’t considered compelling enough to tap not only into their particular data stream, but to actually pay attention to where they were swimming in tha stream. Instead, various Tsarnaevs were interviewed by various FBI agents.  The apparent gist:

Are you  terrorists?

No.

Oh.  OK.

How else to explain that shortly thereafter, when the brothers were learning to cook with nails and ball bearings, no one in the we-need-your-data-to-protect-you trade was paying attention?  (And we worry that Snowden has tipped off the bad guys??)

Likewise, our data-gatherers were also spectacularly incurious about  an Air Force major who ordered business cards online that described him as a  “Soldier for Allah,” and was email pals with radical Islamist Anwar al-Awlaki.  Before it became “insensitive” to keep tabs on folks who might, by virtue of behavior, travel patterns and cultural or religious affiliations, have a higher probability of being terrorists than, say,  little old ladies from Milwaukee flying to visit great grandchildren, this sort of behavior, like collecting recipes for pressure cooker bombs,  might have sparked some serious, and prolonged, investigation.

But we don’t have to go back that far to find an example of the bulk data collection FAIL. On Jan. 24, police in Pennsylvania arrested a Russian teenager whose suitcase housed  a “weapon of mass destruction” – a bomb.  The Penn State University student reportedly built it from online purchased parts, but the police weren’t searching through his belongings in response to an NSA tip about his online activity.  They weren’t looking for a bomb at all – they were looking for pot as part of a drug investigation, and serendipitously stumbled across his other hobby.  To the original drug charges, police have added “possessing a weapon of mass destruction, risking a catastrophe, possessing instruments of crime, prohibited offensive weapons, incendiary devices, [and] recklessly endangering another person.”

So here we have another young Russian buying his terrorist wares online, and yet the NSA didn’t flag him or his online purchases.

The question is, within the mega haystack of NSA data, how many other needles have escaped notice?  And why have so many of our politicians and talking heads failed to notice that the NSA hasn’t produced a single instance in which their massive data sweep has led to the prevention of an attack?  It’s time for lawmakers to take the recommendation of the PCLOB and shut down the bulk collection of all Americans’ data, an egregious violation of the Fourth Amendment, and for the NSA to focus its full attention on the sites and behavior patterns common to terrorists.  Sometimes less is more.

This a.m., from the hubster chat files

Jim, staring at single-serve coffee maker we’ve owned for two + years: “So if it says ‘extra-bold’ that means I should choose the 10 oz. size?”

Leslie: “Yes, ‘extra-bold’ means it has enough coffee to make a larger cup. It’s not a description of the flavor.”

Jim: “I didn’t know I married some sort of javalogist.”

Leslie: “You didn’t. You married someone who reads directions.”

Jim: “I don’t think that was in the pre-nup. You should probably get some help for that.”

Can I just give to a kickstarter campaign for Steve Taylor to make more kickstarter videos like this one?

Perfection:   http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2128223578/steve-taylor-and-the-perfect-foil-new-album-really

Big Brother Goes Back to College

These revelations about surveillance being used and abused by university administrators for C.Y.A. purposes would come along less frequently if citizens understood more clearly the natural human tendency to corruption, and cherished the Constitution for what it is:  a bulwark against tyranny.    Those who want power always want more of it — that’s human nature.  The rest of us are foolish to be so easily manipulated in the alleged service of our own security.

Where are the Shutdown Enforcement Thugs When You Need Them?

I wonder if anyone is dressing up this Halloween as a National Park Service Officer??

Chick Curmudgeon

So when news came out that the exclusive House and Senate gyms and athletic facilities are still open during the shutdown, though they’re on the official list of shutdown closures, an unnamed source explained away the discrepancy with a rhetorical question, “How do you close a basketball court?”

Well, I’ve been studying the shutdown, as it has been masterfully enacted by the White House, or as some are now calling it, The Spite House, and I think I can help.  Start with armed officers  — that’s  the tackthat the National Park Police are taking, and it’s working quite well, not only with our own citizens, but also non-English-speaking foreign tourists, who thought they were under arrest.  Position the officers directly under the baskets.  If the phrase “No recreating!” doesn’t work, they can shoot into the balls (the basketballs).

Cones, which are blocking drivers from pulling onto scenic overlooks…

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Awkward?

Just saw a post on Facebook from “Being Liberal” which thanks “Americans Against the Republican Party” for a photo of a woman looking deeply distressed and forlorn as she stares at her computer screen, with this caption:

Awkward.

That moment when you connect with an old friend from high school.  And you discover that she’s a fan of Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and Fox News.

It’s got over 43,000 “likes” and is pushing 9600 “shares,” and it’s coming from the very crowd that had a national hissy fit when Limbaugh said he hoped Barack Obama would “fail,” even though he’d made it clear he thought the president’s policies would hurt the country if they succeeded.

Now we’re in the midst of that hurt, with too many part-time jobs and too few full-time careers; huge national debt; record numbers of people on unemployment and/or some form of welfare assistance;  a surfeit of scandals including Fast & Furious,  Benghazi, and an IRS which targeted political opponents; a Justice Dept. which taps journalists; foreign adversaries who respect us less, allies who are angry over NSA surveillance; and a signature piece of legislation that’s proven wildly successful at getting people dumped off the health insurance plans they were assured they “can keep,” but  features a three-and-a-half year in-the making website that is about as effective as an Etch-A-Sketch at enrolling them in new health care plans.

A quick sampling of the comments following the post:

Heck, I’ve unfriended family members because I couldn’t take what they were sharing!!!

Oy! So true… AND, Glenn Beck. The worst!

I have family that are die hard Republicans. They swear by Fox News and all of the right-wing pundits. Thank God I only have to be around them once a year at Thanksgiving.

Ugh….pretty much my entire “HS” list on fb. Most of which are “do not show in newsfeed” or blocked.

I have quite a few liberal friends and relatives on Facebook, and for the record, I’ve never blocked anyone because I didn’t agree with their posts, much less “unfriended” someone because they loved MSNBC or Bill Maher or even posted photos from “Americans Against the Republican Party”  featuring condescending captions.

And yet, Being Liberal thinks my political views are unbelievably embarrassing?

What’s embarrassing is that the same people who are always lecturing the rest of us about “inclusion” and  “tolerance” and  “diversity”  seem blissfully unaware of their own tendency to be  non-inclusive, non-tolerant and non-diverse, ideologically speaking.

More importantly,  I believe they’re mistaken about human nature and thus miscalculate the likely effects of various policies or initiatives.  We subscribe to very different worldviews and place our faith in very different objects or institutions.  But there seems to be less and less mutual respect these days between people who differ philosophically, and Being Liberal’s post serves as a  snapshot in social-networking time, illustrating one of the main reasons:  the Left thinks the Right is too stupid to be worth listening to.

We’ve been “deleted” from the conversation about what ails our country and what might help it, because we listen to and admire the wrong people, and this, you see, cannot be tolerated.

And that’s not awkward; it’s sad.

Where are the Shutdown Enforcement Thugs When You Need Them?

So when news came out that the exclusive House and Senate gyms and athletic facilities are still open during the shutdown, though they’re on the official list of shutdown closures, an unnamed source explained away the discrepancy with a rhetorical question, “How do you close a basketball court?”

Well, I’ve been studying the shutdown, as it has been masterfully enacted by the White House, or as some are now calling it, The Spite House, and I think I can help.  Start with armed officers  — that’s  the tack that the National Park Police are taking, and it’s working quite well, not only with our own citizens, but also non-English-speaking foreign tourists, who thought they were under arrest.  Position the officers directly under the baskets.  If the phrase “No recreating!” doesn’t work, they can shoot into the balls (the basketballs).

Cones, which are blocking drivers from pulling onto scenic overlooks to view Mount Rushmore, should likewise block members from using weight machines:  just have the Shutdown Core of Engineers attach cones with screws to every weight-machine seat.

Barbed wire and barriers have proved reasonably effective at keeping veterans’ prying eyes off their WWII memorials.  I’m thinking a little electrified fencing strung around the pools might keep Congressional swimmers ashore.  Ditto for the showers.

It would stink to high-heaven around here if Members couldn’t use those showers.  Can you imagine that?

~unnamed source

Yes, I can imagine that.  I’ve got news for you, Mr. Source — it’s stinking whether the showers are available or not.

“First the Saturday People, then the Sunday People”

 . . . all too many many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

~Martin Luther King

Excellent piece here by Kirsten Powers on the horrors being done to Christians and other religious minorities across the Middle East and Africa, and the willful ignorance of too many of us back here in the complacent Safe-To-Be-A-Christian Zone.  I sent this article to my pastors and started a discussion — may I suggest you consider doing the same?Please share, and share ideas about strategies to pursue, too.

I’m not sure what we can, or should, do — but pressuring the State Dept. and our political class to start paying attention to religious persecution sounds like a reasonable place to begin.  And how about writing letters to our reps and the State Dept., advocating that we cut off aid to countries that promote or tolerate this evil?   We may not be able to “sell” our values of religious freedom and diversity abroad, but we sure as hell shouldn’t be subsidizing the extermination of Christians or other religious minorities.

If Only My Devices Came with a Switch Labeled “Cloaking Mode”

Fascinating interview here with cryptographer/security expert Bruce Schneier, who is helping The Guardian analyze the huge number of documents bequeathed it by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden.  (Or traitor, if you prefer.  I don’t — not yet, anyway.) Schneier argues that the potential ramifications of the NSA’s all-seeing eye are far more disturbing than most citizens realize:

They’re not just spying on the bad guys, they’re deliberately weakening Internet security for everyone—including the good guys. It’s sheer folly to believe that only the NSA can exploit the vulnerabilities they create. Additionally, by eavesdropping on all Americans, they’re building the technical infrastructure for a police state.

We’re not there yet, but already we’ve learned that both the DEA and the IRS use NSA surveillance data in prosecutions and then lie about it in court. Power without accountability or oversight is dangerous to society at a very fundamental level.

Yup.  He’s also right that His Five Tips  for protecting ourselves from government intrusion are neither simple, nor practical.  I’ve read about the encryption hoops Laura Poitras had to jump through when first contacted by Snowden.  The security procedures he insisted on didn’t sound like something the average person has the money, patience or technical know-how  to do.  Heck, I’m so “average” I can’t even figure out how to get the “Recent Posts” widget to work in the sidebar of ChickCurmudgeon.  The fact that four widgets do appear properly — most of the time — is no sign of waning widget-impairment either; I have no clue why they’re working.

If interested, more reflections on the NSA’s attempts at Snowden-mitigation are in my blog posts “On Truth and Fantasies” and the third section of “Oh, What a Tangled Web They Weave . . . ” and include a link to the NYT profile of Poitras.  Is it possible a spy thriller based on her experiences isn’t already in the works?

These are scary times, but Schneier, who will be writing future articles on the material he’s been analyzing, has a wise practical suggestion:

The Internet has become essential to our lives, and it has been subverted into a gigantic surveillance platform. The solutions have to be political. The best advice for the average person is to agitate for political change.

I have one for him too, if he hasn’t already done it:  hire bodyguards.

Breaking Weak

Since the U.S. has now taken the much-traveled road of WMD inspections as the path forward for ridding Syria of its chemical weapons arsenal, I am reminded of a lecture I attended many years ago given by an American scientist who’d served on one of the U.N. teams in Iraq.  We hadn’t invaded yet, but there were rumblings, and the scientist made it clear he wasn’t a fan of the idea.  I remember also his sympathy for Iraqi scientists who’d been recruited for Iraq’s WMD program with a steady government salary and the enticing benefits package of “staying alive.”

I don’t remember the lecturer’s name or if he ever made clear his reasoning for opposing invasion, but he clearly was not basing his objection on the “success” of the inspection program.  His experiences as an inspector were tales of obstruction, obfuscation and gallows humor.  The “surprise” visits were escorted,  the escorts often delayed, and by the time a team arrived,  the inspection site was often abandoned and buried under tons of fresh concrete.   Aw gee, you wanted soil samples?  Who knew?

At one particular compound there was a water tower, and an inspector told the Iraqi standing near it that he needed to get a water sample.  Reluctantly, he was allowed to ascend — but it wasn’t the tank he was after – it was the altitude.  From his higher vantage point the inspector caught sight of what he was really looking for: a long caravan of trucks trailing away into the distance,  which he photographed as surreptitiously as possible.   In the shell game of hide and seek, he’d found something.  The next morning he learned that the man who had allowed him to climb up the tower had been shot.

Fast forward to the current agreement on Syria,  which proposes to find chemical weapons which have already been dispersed, says our Secretary of State, to at least 45 locations.  “They have moved them, and we know they have moved them,” Kerry said. “We’ve seen them. We’ve watched this.”  (Btw — Isn’t that the sort of thing the administration lambasted Snowden for, that is, telling our enemy what our capabilities are?  Or is Kerry just bluffing again, using the “language of diplomacy”?)   At any rate, who will take him seriously now?  His talk of an “unbelievably small” strike, along with Pres. Obama’s “shot across the bow” was somewhat less scary than the French soldier in Monty Python and the Holy Grail — these were “I-Fart-in-Your-General-Direction” threats, on Zoloft.

Given that the players in Syria are a dictator; an old KGB hand;  an ongoing civil war featuring guest jihadists; and the U.N., which makes up for its bureaucratic incompetence by being endemically corrupt — not to mention that do-it-yourselfer bad guys with a few gallons of Sarin need only garage-shop tools to make an efficient dispersal unit – and the stage is set for an absurdist reprise of the Iraq WMD inspections, but in an even more deadly setting.

The new agreement is a successful pivot for our president only in that his schizophrenic dithering has now been outsourced to an international body which specializes in dithering.  People of  good will  and ill will alike in Syria will continue to be killed, if not from weapons of mass destruction, then from the usual mass application of weapons for more individualized destruction.

I’ve never been in favor of intervening militarily, at least not since it became clear that the replacements might be as vicious as Assad, if not more so.   And while I may not be hip to the nuances of diplomatic bartering, making idle threats about consequences – i.e., making it clear that your word is meaningless — is not generally a very efficient way to pressure bad guys into not doing bad things.  Heck, it’s not even a good way to get a nice kid to clean his room.

But if the deal struck in these whirlwind negotiations “holds,” the leader of the world’s biggest super power can go back to reading stern talk off his teleprompters,  lamenting that his hands are tied, and doing what he seems to have the most enthusiasm for:  attacking Republicans.    My  guess is that the Red Line will be pink for the rest of his term.

No Love Lost

. . . if you accept that it is natural and normal for someone to be gay, because, um, that’s the way they are,  then it follows from that, that I don’t think it is right to say that if these two folk here, who are in love with each other and are of the same gender, should be denied the opportunity  for legal recognition of the duration of their relationship, by having marriage equality.

~ Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at a Q&A session

This four-minute clip of a politician answering a pastor’s question about his recently changed  view on same-sex marriage is a great illustration of what passes for gotcha reasoning these days — a “smackdown” being celebrated all over FB, about the righteousness of “marriage equality” and the uber-wrongness of Christians and others who oppose it. The “winner” is Rudd, a self-avowed Christian who has promised to introduce a bill legalizing same-sex marriage within the first one hundred days of his reelection.  He begins his answer to Pastor Matt Prater of Brisbane with several glib, but nevertheless, unsubstantiated assertions: (A) that gays are all born that way; (B) that since they’re born that way, it must be “natural and normal” and therefore ought to be supported by everybody;  and (C) that anybody who thinks differently is anti-science, not to mention dissing the wisdom of the prime minister’s own conscience, which he tells us more than once, is both “informed” and “Christian.”

Never mind that Rudd only achieved this state of marriage-equality enlightenment recently –he exhibits no charity or compassion for anyone who might still be in the dark ages which he himself inhabited just a few months prior.  In explaining his reversal, Rudd derides the view that homosexuality is abnormal and unnatural as  “just wrong . . . and completely ill-founded” and then asks the pastor to clarify his reasoning.  Wisely, the pastor doesn’t go there, instead saying that since Jesus defines marriage as between a man and a woman,  he’s curious to know why, as a Christian,  Rudd doesn’t “ . . . believe the words of Jesus in the Bible.”

That’s when the great smackdown moment occurs, as Rudd replies, “Well,  mate, if I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition.” The place erupts with applause.   To drive the point home, he adds, “Because St. Paul said in the New Testament, ‘slaves, be obedient to your masters’ and therefore we should have all fought for the Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War.”   Touché – the Bible has been fatally wounded.

Or not.

No one seemed to notice that Rudd’s non-sequitur answer had been crafted  to obliterate the claim that he tried to elicit from the pastor:  that homosexuality is abnormal and unnatural.  The fact that the pastor never said so didn’t matter –  Rudd’s tone was triumphantly dismissive,  and if winning the gay marriage debate meant throwing Jesus under the bus, then so be it.   After all,   what exactly is that view that the prime minister, with his informed and Christian conscience, was so eager to eschew? It’s the view of traditional Christianity throughout the centuries, that as followers of Christ, believers ought to take Jesus at His word — as saying, in fact, exactly what He meant to say.

Toss out the authority of Jesus and the Bible, and what exactly of Christianity is left?   Ah yes, “universal love,” avers Rudd — although why we should trust what the Bible purportedly says about love, when it can’t be trusted to speak reliably on marriage or slavery or presumably other sticky subjects, is beyond me.

Putting aside that Rudd’s facile retort about slavery conflates descriptive and prescriptive passages, and that Biblical advice for dealing with Caesar or various human institutions does not necessarily confer approval of those rulers or institutions — he has just made the argument that same-sex attraction is natural and that what is natural is worthy of societal approval.  In essence, Rudd uses the adjectives natural and normal to bestow a positive qualitative judgement on things which are naturally occurring   –  to attach a sort of moral seal of approval.    Call me wacky, but it seems that the tendency of the strong to enslave the weak is also “natural,” and has been “normal” throughout history – rather popular to this day in fact.   I’m sure that the science he is so eager to defer to in support of gay marriage could give him several plausible evolutionary reasons as to why slavery is “natural” among men.

But in this case, the PM means that because slavery is morally wrong, it therefore cannot be “natural,” and since it is not natural, the Bible is wrong, and being wrong, it can no longer lay claim to having any moral authority.  Get it? I don’t, but I’m not as advanced as the prime minister.

However, I can think of lots of naturally occurring things, besides slavery, that I would rather not accept, much less endorse:  Quick tempers, arsenic, birth defects,  earthquakes, murder, and cellulite come to mind.  (I’m not too crazy about gray hair either, but I’ll admit it looks great on a few friends.)    And before you get your knickers all twisted up, I am NOT saying that same sex attraction is “like” murder, or slavery.  I am simply saying that “natural and normal” tendencies or activities come in good, bad and indifferent.  (By the way, I just learned from a retired dentist for a prison that it was “normal” for him to be asked by gay prisoners to have their top and bottom front teeth, perfectly good teeth, mind you, extracted.  Normal, but nevertheless, a request not granted.  Trust me – you don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about it.)

At any rate, for most Christians, to say that something is “natural and normal” is not to say that it’s morally right.  Our belief is that we live in a fallen world, one in which sin has metastasized throughout it so completely that we’re told by Paul in Romans 8 that the whole creation has been “subjected to futility.”   Paul then describes the situation in more poetic terms:  the creation, he says, is in bondage, groaning for redemption.    If Christians are right, then this fallen state is the real Reality, and Reality, we all know from bitter experience, has an annoying  way of not cooperating with ideology that, for lack of a better way of saying it, gets Reality wrong.

If Paul is correctly describing the spiritual state of mankind, slavery is “natural and normal” precisely because man is sinful, and being sinful, we do bad things.  Repeatedly.  Over time, we get more efficient and more creative at doing bad things –think sarin gas.  We also get better at rationalizing doing bad things, and better at rationalizing not doing good things.   Bad things become “normal” and “good,” and vice versa.  Yup –that’s progress.

This isn’t to say that people don’t transcend their sinful nature, and do good, occasionally spectacular things, or that radical moral arguments can’t be made, and won, such as William Wilberforce’s long and ultimately successful battle to end the slave trade in Britain. But, the doctrine of original sin does say that when it comes to the rightness or wrongness of a behavior or belief, its “naturalness” or “normality” is nothing but a red herring.

****

It’s difficult to explain in this relativistic age, but when Christians talk about God’s law, we’re not talking about arbitrary rules He’s inflicted on us just to keep us from having fun.  We believe God’s law is meant to protect us, with all our flaws and selfish inclinations, from ourselves, and from each other.  We think that our best chance for a meaningful life will be found by cultivating certain attitudes and behaviors — for instance,  a willingness to forgive and a habit of cheerful generosity — and by avoiding destructive attitudes and behaviors, such as being envious or doing a shoddy job at school or work.    The moral counsel of the Bible provides a framework within which each of us will best find true purpose and fulfillment.

Of course, this traditional view jibes with the prime minister’s view that God is indeed universal love, and that therefore He intends good things for these creatures made in His own image.  But it goes much further, however, than the PM is willing to go,  and  trusts that God knows better than man himself what is best for man.  It also reasons that God, as the omniscient creator of the universe, does not need to be “updated” periodically, like an app, with the latest moral operating system.

Christians may be wrong about all this, and if so, to the extent that we’ve obeyed the moral code, we’ve missed out on a lot of fun.  Some of us may confuse moral directives that were meant for particular times, places and purposes, such as dietary or dress restrictions, with moral directives intended to be timeless, like “thou shalt not murder.”  Clearly, there are gray areas of dispute.  Yet, if the conventional view that God’s boundaries for sexual relationships and family structures belong to the for-all-time category, then to the extent that society discards these rules, great harm will be done to individuals, and to  our society as a whole.  Our suffering will be the collateral damage that always occurs when our mistaken ideology collides with Reality.

This doesn’t mean that if Christians are right about sexual prohibitions, that trying to obey them is not, at times, fraught with great difficulty and anguish.  It’s that fallen-world syndrome again.  As Paul says in Romans 7:15, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  Even so, we believe that God helps us in making the attempt at obedience,  and that we’re better for it, even though we  sometimes fail.    The belief that there is forgiveness, redemption and life everlasting, is,  of course, a cornerstone of the Christian faith.

Unfortunately, in this life, the viral video world is offering no forgiveness or redemption to the pastor whose legitimate question – asking why a Christian rejects a clear Christian teaching on marriage  — sparked Mr. Rudd’s great triumph.  The link I ran across had already garnered over 46,000 “likes” in just a day.  The scorn heaped on the pastor in tweets and comments is to be expected — it’s what happens when an understanding of the depravity of man, the inherent sinfulness of all of us –not to mention kindness — gets lost . . .  But I can’t help contrasting this sham of a debate about same-sex marriage to the radically different view  expressed in a blog I linked to last month, written by a homosexual Christian  who believes that despite his “natural” inclination, he is called to be celibate.   He calls his struggle to be obedient to God’s  boundaries an “arduous good,” a  phrase he borrows from St. Thomas Aquinas:

An arduous good is a good that requires struggle. A good that is worth fighting for. And a good that inspires fear and hope and endurance in the face of adversity.

“Arduous good” is also a phrase that is seldom spoken in Hollywood, and almost never heard on Madison Avenue. In that silence, the poverty of our culture is laid bare.

Yes, and the poverty of our culture is also laid bare in that moment when an unthinking audience cheers a facile putdown of the Bible, Jesus, and a hapless pastor who tries to follow Him.

****

Postscript:  Australia Shows: Family Friendly Conservatism Can Succeed

 

Link

Fascinating blog post by Richard Fernandez on the Obama administration’s machinations in the middle east:

The Light of Day 

The Erosion Watch

The hubster just finished his first week of the fall semester, but he’s already reported a multi-student cheating incident.  He had an extra textbook to give away, so he decided to offer it to the student who could tell him Shakespeare’s birthdate, or get closest to it.    One student instantly looked it up on his phone, and several nearby students copied his answer.

I’ll spare you the CSI details, but when my husband had his little chat with the chief defrauder, he was struck by how blasé he was.  Textbooks are expensive, and he could really use a free one — he has two kids to raise by himself — therefore, he’d merely done what was necessary.  Surely his English professor couldn’t have any issues with that??

I thought of the free textbook incident when reading this blog-post by Donald Miller about the decline of a universal moral code leading to a decline in storytelling.  It’s a provocative thesis in our relativistic world, but it’s really exactly what we ought to expect when the concept of a universal and timeless moral code is about as welcome as a  mink coat at a PETA rally.  Miller quotes Robert McKee:

The final cause of the decline of story runs very deep. Values, the positive/negative charges of life, are at the soul of our art. The writer shapes story around a perception of what’s worth living for and what’s worth dying for, what is foolish to pursue, the meaning of justice, truth-the essential values. In decades past, writer and society more or less agreed on these questions, but more and more ours has become an age of moral and ethical cynicism, relativism, and subjectivism – a great confusion of values. As the family disintegrates and sexual antagonisms rise, who, for example, feels he understands the nature of love? And how, if you do have a conviction, do you express it to an ever-more skeptical audience? This erosion of values has brought with it a corresponding erosion of story.

And so I’m wondering — can a values-impaired student think outside-of-the-box, to use the cliché du jour, and gain an understanding of why values are . . . um . . . valuable?  If the only take-away from his first week of school is that he hasn’t quite mastered the surreptitious use of the “smart”phone, what will be his take-away from, say, “Dog Lab” by Claire McCarthy, or Frankenstein?  And speaking of  Frankenstein, as our elites shred the universal moral code in the name of creating a better and more advanced society, at what point will they realize that they may be creating a monster of their own?

On Truth and Fantasies

The government’s forensic investigation is wrestling with Snowden’s apparent ability to defeat safeguards established to monitor and deter people looking at information without proper permission, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the sensitive developments publicly.

The disclosure undermines the Obama administration’s assurances to Congress and the public that the NSA surveillance programs can’t be abused because its spying systems are so aggressively monitored and audited for oversight purposes: If Snowden could defeat the NSA’s own tripwires and internal burglar alarms, how many other employees or contractors could do the same? ~Goldman & Dozier

“The abuse is rampant and everyone is pretending that it’s never happened, and it couldn’t happen. … I know [there was abuse] because I had my hands on the papers for these sorts of things: They went after high-ranking military officers; they went after members of congress — Senate and the House — especially on the intelligence committees and the armed services committees, lawyers, law firms, judges, State Department officials, part of the White House, multinational companies, financial firms, NGOs, civil rights groups …”  ~ Russ Tice, NSA agent from 2002-2005, quoted by Michael Kelly.

***

Here’s the question  I would love to ask our top NSA officials and their government handlers,  if I could get them all in a room and lock the doors:  Are you guys even capable of  giving a straight, unparsed, and truthful answer to any question, or are you so far gone that Truth isn’t even a category you recognize?

It’s been obvious for some time that the NSA doesn’t know what Snowden has – their denials of specific surveillance capabilities and abuses have several times been followed by the release of purloined NSA documents which utterly discredit their denials. The fact that they’re backtracking now, albeit through anonymous officials,  shows only that their strategy of last resort is one of incremental honesty: tell the least amount of truth possible, and only when not doing so would be farcical.

In following the Snowden story and reading up on the NSA’s reaction to past whistleblowers, it’s clear a game is being played, and so far, the NSA has won every round.  If allegations of abuse survive past the instant excoriating of the source, unequivocal denials are made . . . . Don’t be silly — we don’t have the capability for that level of surveillance — you must be filling you head with too many of those Hollywood spy flicks.  The implication is clear: such questioners are fanciful and none too bright.  Then, should incontrovertible evidence surface, most recently thanks to a 29-year-old-high-school-dropout-loser, the narrative, typically  from “unnamed sources,” switches to, Well, of course the NSA spied on so & so or such & such.  Hellooo  — everybody knows that.  It’s an “open secret” and this IS a secret agency.  Where have you been all this time, you silly goose?

I wonder: do the rules of high school cliquedom ever really expire?  At any rate, reporters often fall for that ploy —  the desire not to look stupid or naive usually trumps the urge to be morally outraged at being  lied to.    If enough reporters show signs of persisting with their bothersome questions, the terrorism card is pulled out:   We’ve got real bad guys to catch, you know.  This is a serious business we’re in, and you’ll be mighty sorry if you distract us from that. Remember 9-11?  Now go and play elsewhere . . . So journalists tend to quit digging, underplay the abuse-of-power revelations in their stories  and pass that don’t-be-a-rube feeling onto their readers.

Going back to my little scenario at the beginning of this post: I’m not naïve enough to imagine I’d get an honest answer to my question, or even some decent squirming.  But if these allegations don’t go away, and the popping up of confirming documents becomes bothersome enough, I’m just rube enough to hope that  the NSA’s leaders might eventually opt for the most radical strategy of all – telling the whole truth, taking the consequences, and submitting to real oversight.

I know it’s a fantasy, but it’s not as if there isn’t a lot of that going around already.