Friday, May 19, 2006

A Member, Not a Ruler

A UN panel on torture called for the US to close its Guantanamo Bay detention center and should reform its interrogation process, among other things. I don't know that I totally agree with their conclusion. I think that they are right about many points. For example, I think that it is immoral for the US to "outsource" torture to countries where it is legal. I also think that some interrogation methods we have used, such as sexual humiliation or threatening death, are gray-area at best. I don't know that I would go as far as saying that GITMO should be closed altogether, though. Admittedly I don't have the same information as this panel, and they may be justified in their prescription. However, despite what I or any other Americans think, I believe that the US must take action to comply with the recommendations of this panel. If this panel has made mistakes or overstepped its bounds then the US needs to get the UN to admit such and formally absolve us from the corresponding charge. I think that I share a general disdain for the UN with many Americans. It is an organization rife with corruption and so bogged down by bureaucracy and politics that it rarely accomplishes anything of value. However, we can do nothing to improve the effectiveness and authority of the UN if we do not respect what it says. Furthermore, if we expect other countries (like Iraq under Saddam) to comply with UN directives and respect the body's authority to place requirements and restrictions on any country then we must similarly comply with and respect the UN. The US is clearly a very powerful force militarily, politically, socially, and economically worldwide. As such we have a responsibility, I feel, to use that power to lead other countries to a better future. We should take a leadership role here showing that all countries ought to respect the UN. If the US is willing to comply with the UN it will provide a large impetus for other countries to do the same. Furthermore, it will make us justified in moving against other countries that don't. We cannot use non-compliance with the UN as justification for aggression or political pressure if we don't comply with the UN ourselves. Finally, we ought to do what we can not to stand alone against the world but rather work towards unity and harmony. That is the goal of the UN. If it is broken we should take a leadership role in fixing it. But we need to work from within the system, not as though we are above it. If we comply with this panel it will show the world that the US recognizes the authority of the UN and we are committed to working with other nations to establish lasting peace. If we do not it will show the word that the UN is powerless and that we, the US, believe that we are above its authority and will stand alone unless the other nations of the world agree to do everything on our terms. I think the latter would be a huge mistake.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Better, Stronger, Faster

I live in Waco. Waco has more churches per capita than anywhere else in the world, so I see a lot of different churches, and many of these churches have signs out front proclaiming all kinds of trite catchphrases. Right now one of them says, "We don't change the message, the message changes you" Now, its a subtle thing, I know. But I think that there is value in examining it. Shouldn't it say, "We don't change the message, the message changes us"? Whether that is what they meant or not, I think that this reveals a true undertone in American Christianity today... maybe all Western Christianity. It is the idea that those of us who are already Christians are done. We prayed a prayer or were baptized or whatever the particular sect uses as its conversion moment, and now we're done. The Message changed us and we are changed, there is nothing more that Christianity has to offer us until death. Now we exist only to get more people to become Christians. It's kind of like a cosmic pyramid scheme. And I believe that this correlates directly to the decline in church population in the US today, especially among young people. In our generation there is very little social pressure to be an active member of any faith. In the recent past, I believe, many people went to church because it was socially unacceptable not to, not because they felt like they benefited from the Christian faith at all. Today that social pressure is gone and the true state of affairs is apparent: people aren't interested in Christianity. And how could they be if this is all there is to it? Furthermore, if this is all there is why should I continue in faith after the conversion moment? Now, the Arminians among us believe that one's salvation is due to an ongoing faith (to put it simply), not some conversion moment. But we are certainly not the majority. If God is not active in our lives after the conversion, if there is no "life more abundant" on this Earth, if there is no continual movement towards Perfection, then churches should be replaced with drive-thrus. We are not machines that just need fixed and once fixed operate correctly. We live in a world full of pain, sorrow, and suffering. We live in a place that offers nothing but despair on its own. And if all God promised was a better life after this one then that would still be more than we deserved. But if He is offering a better life now, a life more abundant today, then isn't that infinitely better? If Christianity can ease the pain of everyday life, bring you closer to God before you die and allow you to begin living the life we long for now then it has real value everyday. And in that case it cannot be a one-dose solution. It must be something that changes you every day. Something that brings you to a God who reaches out and redeems the damned situations we find ourselves in day after day. My final thought is one that is now becoming cliche itself, so here's the sign I'll put on my proverbial church this week: "Jesus commanded that we make disciples, not converts"

Monday, May 08, 2006

To die, or not to die

Zacarias Moussaoui was convicted of being involved in the 9/11 plot and sentenced to life in prison five days ago. During his trial he frequently spoke out of turn, saying things about how America is evil and he is going to be a martyr and so on. He even plead guilty. Now he wants to change his plea (requires a free membership). He claims that, "he had not trusted the American legal system because he was not assigned a Muslim lawyer, and that his days in solitary confinement had provoked him to fight that system." Furthermore, he claims that "the jurors' decision to spare his life made him look at his situation anew," and now "he would welcome a trial where he could show he was not part of the 9/11 plot" in his own words: "'because I now see that it is possible that I can receive a fair trial even with Americans as jurors.'" I wasn't aware that it was even possible to change your plea after sentencing. In fact, its not. His lawyers, in their filing of his request, "acknowledged that the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure prohibit a defendant from withdrawing a guilty plea after he is sentenced" but submitted the request anyway, due to "'their problematic relationship with Moussaoui'" who "confounded" his lawyers with his outbursts and general bizarre behavior during the original trial.

What is interesting to me is that throughout his trial he antagonized the judge and jury claiming that he wanted to be a martyr. The government strongly urged the jurors to give him the death sentence, but instead they gave him life in prison. And now he wants to change his plea. Not when he was faced with death. Although he may be telling the truth and have a newfound faith in the American system, I am skeptical. My belief, or at least a theory that seems plausible to me, is this: he wanted to die. He antagonized the court in order to provoke them so they would hate him and give him the death penalty. Now that they haven't he is faced with decades in isolation in a maximum security prison. He wanted to fly planes into buildings to die as a martyr. When that didn't work he wanted to die at the hands of "infidels" so he could still be a martyr. When instead he was sentenced to life imprisonment, with no more chances at martyrdom, he tried to escape. He doesn't want another trial because he wants to be innocent, he wants another trial so he can get another shot at martyrdom.

I don't think that this conclusion seems remarkable to many, including those involved in his trial. I'm sure he won't get another trial since it is illegal for him to change his plea at this point. But it should make us consider our approach to people like him and the culture he comes from. Our culture values life above almost anything. That is reflected by the fact that Western soldiers from many countries often are taken prisoner in wars and do not fight to the death. We were confounded by the Japanese willingness to die for their country in World War II. This enemy is very similar. An "honorable" death is better than life. These men do not want to kill for their cause, they want to die for it. This makes confronting this threat much more complicated. Military power will not deter them. As the Soviets learned in Afghanistan, it doesn't matter how many you kill, they will not give up. We cannot simply overpower them unless we are going to kill every last one of them. There can be no surrender obtained through military action. We have to win men away from this cause while they are alive. We have to change minds and hearts. I'm not saying that military action should always be out of the question -- it may be that we have to prove that we are strong and willing to fight back before they will respect us at all. But we also have to understand that military action alone will not win this war and we need to have a plan in which military action is just one tactic, not our entire strategy.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Bill Gates: I wish I were better at acting humble

While studying for finals I came across this article. This article is about how Bill Gates doesn't really want to be the richest man alive. Check this quote out: " Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates told an advertising conference in Washington state that he'd prefer not to be the world's richest person.

'I wish I wasn't,' Gates said in the interview broadcast online."

I'm speechless, Bill. He acts like its a disease or something. You wish you weren't? I understand that when you have that much money it feels like an endless supply, but seriously, who does he think he's kidding? If he doesn't want to be the richest man alive he can certainly solve that problem. In fact, I'll help him out. Bill Gates, if you ever read this you have my word that I will gladly accept any sized gift (above $0) that you would like to give me to help remove some of your wealth. If we can get enough people to volunteer then we might be able to lower Gates' bottom line enough to make him the second richest man in the world.

In all seriousness, there are plenty of ways to spend $65 billion. He could pay off some of the national debt, if he wanted. Or pay off the debt for some third world country. Or give even more money to AIDS research. Or nuclear fusion research. Or just start sending big checks randomly (or to me). You get the idea.

I like reading articles like these. It always entertains me to see rich people and celebrities pretending like they'd rather not be, especially when they could easily cure the problem they complain about if they really wanted to. Bill Gates doesn't want to be anything but the richest man alive, or he would be.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

NHL Playoffs, Round Two: the Western Conference is Crazy

So, first I'd like to brag that I correctly chose the winners of six out of eight series. I didn't get the number of games right in many cases, and I didn't make my predictions until after game 3, but whatever. The Flames lost, so not all the Northwest Division teams made it past the first round. However, something even cooler happened: all the top-seeded teams in the Western Conference were eliminated. That's right, numbers 5, 6, 7, and 8 are going on and 1-4 are out. I think that's pretty cool. The Eastern Conference is the exact opposite, all the top seeds are going on and the bottom four are out. So, that probably says something about differences between the two conferences. Here are my second round predictions, but I have to admit that the number of games is mostly a crap shoot.
Western Conference:

Avs beat the Mighty Ducks in 6 games -- the Ducks are good this year; they did force game 7 before beating the Flames after being down 3-2 in the series. However, I think that the matchup favors Colorado in most aspects -- we have a solid defense, a red-hot goalie, and a formidible four-line attack that features a few great scoring lines as well as some grinders. I love the Avs, I'm sure I'm not objective.

Sharks beat the Oilers in 7 games -- The real matchup here will be Roloson vs. Thornton+Cheechoo. My prediction is that in the end the league's leading scorer will crack Dwayne Roloson, talented as he is.

Eastern Conference:

Sabres beat the Senators in 7 games -- this is a really tough one, but I think the Sabres played with a lot more energy and intensity than the Senators last round, in my opinion.

Hurricanes beat the Devils in 6 games -- this is another tough one. But again I'm looking at last round. The Devils steam-rolled the Rangers with little competition. It'll be hard for them to gear up to play the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes, on the other hand, just came from being down 2-0 in the first series. They have some good momentum and intensity built up after that.

Not all the series will probably go as long as I've predicted, but I don't feel good enough about any of my choices to predict a faster finish. I thought that many of the series last round were incredibly exciting and I found the games very entertaining to watch. And I think its only going to get better with these new matchups.