Advent and the Four Last Things

For those who even celebrate Advent these days, it has become the season to lead up to Christmas.  As such, it’s happy and anticipatory.  It used to be a sober time of penitence, like Lent.

And the four Sundays of Advent, with its four candles in the Advent Wreath, were not all about Hope, Preparation, Joy, and Love.  They were about “the Four Last Things”:  Death, Judgment, Hell, and Heaven.

I don’t begrudge the happy Advent.  I’m glad to find it anywhere I can.  But wouldn’t it be good for us to contemplate those Four Last Things?

See Advent—Let’s Hold Back the Christmas Cheer » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

Why don’t we protect Iraqi Christians?

World editor Mindy Belz raises a good question about U.S. policy in Iraq:

Three years ago I attended a meeting outside Washington with a NATO adviser recently returned from briefings with commanders of the war in Iraq. The question had been posed to them: If there should be a targeted massacre of Christians in Iraq (the word actually used was genocide), would the U.S. military respond? The answer from the commanders: No.

It was December 2007. Gen. David Petraeus had arrived in Baghdad 10 months earlier bearing orders to carry out his new counterinsurgency strategy with a thrust of 20,000 additional troops throughout the city. Until then, U.S. forces were bogged down in Iraq’s sectarian warfare—with civilian and military casualties sometimes topping 100 a day. That year U.S. casualties hit their all-time high, 904, but fell steadily after Petraeus’ arrival to a low of 59 (over 11 months) in 2010. Decades from now historians will study Petraeus-style warfare launched in 2007 and how it catapulted the U.S. military from its post-Vietnam malaise.

So it’s always been curious to me that the successful strategy to stamp out sectarian violence somehow did not extend to protecting Iraq’s minorities, particularly a Christian population that stretched back nearly 2 millennia and numbered up to 1.5 million under Saddam Hussein. By December 2007, church leaders estimated, that population had been halved through death and displacement to somewhere under 700,000. . . .

Leaving Christians out of the counterinsurgency equation has itself proved decisive. And the result of U.S. military and civilian leaders’ unwillingness to take a vocal and visible stand against targeted violence toward religious minorities continues to unfold—not only in Iraq but across the region.

Consider recent attacks in Iraq: the Oct. 31 assault on a church in Baghdad that killed 58; the Nov. 9 bombing of Christian homes in western Baghdad; Nov. 10 Islamic hits to more than a dozen homes with mortar fire and bombs, leaving four Christians dead and dozens wounded. Some of the homes were singled out because they belonged to mourners who attended funeral services for the Oct. 31 victims. On Nov. 15 in Mosul militants stormed two adjacent homes belonging to Christians, killing two men, then bombed others. On Nov. 16 a Christian father and his 6-year-old daughter were killed by a car bomb. As Elizabeth Kendal, writing for the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, pointed out, “This terror has led to a surge in Christians fleeing Iraq. They will join the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians struggling to survive as refugees in Syria, Turkey and Jordan. They no longer see any reason to risk their lives for a state where, even if they survive, they will be condemned to live as second class citizens (dhimmis).”

via WORLD Magazine | Left out | Mindy Belz | Dec 18, 10.

So why do we risk American lives for a state like that?

Internet war

In support of Wikileaks, an army of hackers has declared war.  Their first battle is to attack Mastercard and Visa.

Hackers have declared an Internet war in support of WikiLeaks, with groups of anonymous attackers disabling major credit card websites in retaliation for denying service to the controversial website.

The group, going by the name “Anonymous,” rallied its supporters in a Twitter post Wednesday, calling for them to get their “weapons” ready to attack the Visa website for the next phase of “Operation Payback.”

The same group claimed responsiblity for crippling the MasterCard website for much of the day Wednesday using denial of service attacks, which overwhlem a website with data requests.

Both Visa and MasterCard have stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks as the online organization faces tremendous political pressure for publishing secret U.S. diplomatic cables.

Wikileaks released a cable Wednesday showing that in February 2010 U.S. officials lobbied Russia on behalf of MasterCard and Visa to ensure that a proposed Russian law did not adversely affect their businesses.

There are now more than 1,000 Internet “mirror sites” hosting WikiLeaks content, which is more than double the number of sites that existed days ago.

via VOA | Hackers Set Sights on Visa in Fight for WikiLeaks | News | English.

Unflagging a word and setting us free

Thanks to tODD for figuring out how to get into the spam filter to keep it from blocking the word “socialist.”  The filter keeps a list of words to flag that usually are associated with spam.   All that had to be done was to delete “Cialis” from the list.  Now you commenters can talk about “socialism” all you want, whether you are for it or against it, and your comment won’t get filtered.

This really opens up the subject matter for this blog.  We can discuss not only socialists but also specialists, commercialism, provincialism, and racialism.

We can also use previously forbidden words like artificial, beneficial, judicial, superficial, social, antisocial, and crucial when followed by an “is” or a noun that begins with those two letters, such as “issue.”

Think of all the things we are now freed to talk about.  Even Cialis.  (If that kind of spam gets through all of the other defenses, though, we might have to take further action.)

At any rate, this will hopefully keep your comments from not showing up and will keep me from having the unpleasant duty of going through the spam that gets filtered looking for legitimate comments that were blocked.  (Also remember that posts with more than two links go into moderation, but those are easier for me to catch and approve.)

Obama accepts Bush tax cuts

President Obama has agreed with Congressional Republicans to extend all of the  Bush-era tax cuts in exchange for extending unemployment benefits.  The package includes some other interesting details:

President Obama and congressional Republicans have reached a tentative accord on a far-reaching economic package that would preserve George W. Bush administration tax breaks for families at all income levels for two years, extend emergency jobless benefits through 2011 and cut payroll taxes by 2 percent for every American worker through the end of next year.

The scope of the agreement, announced by the White House late Monday, was far broader than lawmakers in either party had been expecting. The deal would extend a college tuition tax credit and other breaks for middle-class families that were due to expire New Year’s Eve. And it would revive the inheritance tax after a year-long lapse, imposing a 35 percent rate on estates worth more than $5 million for individuals and $10 million for couples.

The package would add more than $700 billion to the rising national debt, said congressional sources who were briefed on the deal. But with the unemployment rate at 9.8 percent, the White House was focused on winning a compromise that could boost the fragile recovery while preventing the economic damage that could result from letting the expiring tax breaks affect paychecks next month.

The payroll tax holiday, in particular, is striking for its universal application. Unlike most tax breaks, it would be available to taxpayers at every income level, letting consumers keep an extra $120 billion in their pockets next year. For a couple making $70,000 a year, the holiday would provide a tax savings of $1,400.

via Obama and GOP strike tax accord.

This description of the payroll tax, which goes for Social Security, is unclear.  It doesn’t cut them by a measly 2%, which would hardly mean anything.  Rather, it cuts the tax rate from 6% of the paycheck to 4%, so that all workers will get to keep a third of what they used to pay.  That’s a pretty significant raise.

Now all the President has to do is persuade the Democrats, many of whom are reportedly livid at the deal, which keeps the tax cuts even for those who make $250,000 and up.

U.S. test scores vs. China’s

International testing data shows that American high schoolers perform at a distinctly mediocre level in reading, math, and science.  Our future imperial masters, though, scored at the very top.

After a decade of intensive efforts to improve its schools, the United States posted these results in a new global survey of 15-year-old student achievement: average in reading, average in science and slightly below average in math.

Those middling scores lagged significantly behind results from several countries in Europe and Asia in the report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to be made public Tuesday.

South Korea is an emerging academic powerhouse. Finland and Singapore continue to flex their muscles. And the Chinese city of Shanghai, participating for the first time in the Program for International Student Assessment, topped the 2009 rankings of dozens of countries and a handful of sub-national regions.

via International test score data show U.S. firmly mid-pack.

The top five in reading:  (1)  Shanghai-China (2) South Korea (3) Finland (4) Hong Kong-China (5) Singapore.  The USA ranked 17.

The top five in math:  (1) Shanghai-China (2) Singapore (3) Hong Kong-China (4) South Korea (5) Taiwain.  The USA ranked 31.

The top five in science:  (1) Shanghai-China (2) Finland (3) Hong Kong-China (4) Singapore (5) Japan.  The USA ranked 23.

Would this not be evidence of American decline and Asian ascendancy?  (Also, I suppose, Finnish ascendancy?)  Any ideas about what we could do to become eduationally competitive again?  Keeping in mind everything that hasn’t worked?


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