Long-Awaited Medical Study Questions the Power of Prayer

The title of this post is exactly the same as the title of the New York Times article on this subject.

I have blogged before about how these sorts of studies do not prove one way or the other about whether prayer can affect a person's healing.

As an evangelical who believes in the exclusivity of the Christian faith and the power of God to heal if and when he chooses, it struck me as odd that the investigators used the prayers of people from non-evangelical churches:

The researchers asked the members of three congregations — St. Paul's Monastery in St. Paul; the Community of Teresian Carmelites in Worcester, Mass.; and Silent Unity, a Missouri prayer ministry near Kansas City — to deliver the prayers, using the patients' first names and the first initials of their last names.
So, two Catholic congregations and the "Silent Unity" church in Missouri. This latter church appears to accept all religions as equal and is happy to pray with people of all religious faiths.

The only way a conclusive study of this subject can be achieved is to limit the prayers to evangelical churches and for the participants in the study to be subject to "double blind" testing which means that both the pray-ers and the persons prayed for do not realise that a test is being conducted.

One final essential element is God's participation in the test. God is the one who ultimately answers prayer - prayer is not what heals people, but God. If my house is on fire and I call the fire brigade to put it out, I don't praise the power of the telephone to put out fires - the same needs to be said about prayer. And since God is involved, and because God refuses to be tested, He also would have to be subject to being double-blinded by the testers, which is very hard to do given his omniscience and omnipresence.

Given these particualr restrictions, it is fairly clear that God's ability to answer the prayers of his saints regarding sick people cannot be scientifically proven through testing and quantitative analysis.

From the Theosalient Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Al Mohler wimps out again

Al Mohler is a wimp. He's a pushover. He's a purse-carrying theological nancy-boy controlled by his theocratic taskmasters in Colorado Springs.

Al's latest blog is about Houston mega-church pastor Joel Osteen. Osteen's commitment to prosperity theology has been well documented, not least by Internet Monk Michael Spencer, who describes him as a "motivational speaker pretending to be a Christian pastor". I certainly concur with Spencer that Osteen's very existence is an indication that something is very seriously wrong within American evangelicals.

The good news, it seems, is that Mohler, one of America's most prominent evangelical leaders, has taken notice of Osteen's popularity and influence, and has blogged about him.

But, of course, the bad news is that Mohler equivocates. His blog is not a detailed, point by point dissection of Osteen's grave theological errors and nor is it a call for us all to warn our fellow believers about such teaching. Instead it is, well, nothing.

Most of Mohler's article about Osteen is simply a direct quote from The New York Times. When Mohler actually writes something he starts off by essentially discrediting the NYT. "It would not be fair to characterize Mr. Osteen's ministry based upon a profile published in The New York Times" he says, which pretty much questions whether or not Osteen actually does teach bad theology since, well, you just can't trust the "MSM". Mohler then says "The real test of his ministry is what he does in the pulpit (or on the platform of his church, as it happens)", which of course, is true. Then comes a most cowardly and inept conclusion:

The first question is this -- Would anyone watching his television program, or sitting in his vast church facility, hear in Mr. Osteen's message a clear and undiluted message of Gospel proclamation? Would this person have any reason, based on hearing Mr. Osteen's message, to know himself as a sinner and to understand how the cross of Christ is the only ground of his salvation? Would he come to know that Jesus the Christ is fully human and fully divine, and that He came in order that we might have everlasting life -- not just a good parking space?
Mohler doesn't answer any of these softball questions himself, preferring his readers to make their own judgements. In fact, Mohler does not give any real opinion at all - and that is a grave problem. This final paragraph can be read in three different ways:

1. Mohler H8s Osteen
For those who recognise that Osteen is preaching a false message, Mohler may appear to be on their side. Certainly Michael Spencer thinks so, and is over the moon about Mohler's latest words.

If a knowledgeable Christian with a love for Christ and the Gospel and with a knowledge of prosperity doctrine turns on Osteen's TV show, they will conclude that Osteen does not preach the Gospel, nor does he preach the cross, and nor does he preach salvation. For this person (of which Michael Spencer is a good example), Mohler appears to be on his side.

2. Mohler (hearts) Osteen
But for those who support Osteen and think he's the ants pants and the bees knees, Mohler's conclusion defends their position. "Of course Joel preaches the Gospel" they would say, "Of course he preaches and believes in the cross of Christ". Osteen supporters would be quite happy with Mohler's article because they know that their Joel is doing all these things - even though it is obvious that what Osteen supporters think "preaching the gospel" is and what Osteen opponents think it is are actually quite different.

During the Osteen controversy at Michael Spencer's site, quite a number of Osteen supporters turned up on the comments thread and said wonderful things about him and how he preaches the gospel and everything, while at the same time not engaging with the details of Michael's arguments against him. The Osteenie-boppers, who do not really understand what "preaching the gospel" is, would not see in Mohler's words any implicit condemnation at all. If Mohler was making a criticism, his choice of words was woefully inarticulate.

In short - when confronted with Mohler's last paragraph from his blog, Osteen supporters would feel vindicated and supported. Mohler is not criticising their Joel. He is, through the use of rhetorical questions, implying that Joel is okay.

3. Mohler says something about Osteen.
And what of those who don't know much about Osteen? Well, since Mohler isn't exactly condemning Osteen in his article, ignorant readers may just conclude that the "MSM" is going overboard and indulging in typical Christian-bashing without checking the real facts - which are, of course, whether Osteen preaches the truth or not. Mohler hardly encourages these ignorant readers to make these checks themselves.

If there is any example of postmodernism infecting the church, Mohler's last paragraph is a good one to use. Osteen critics see Mohler being critical of Osteen, Osteen supporters see Mohler being supportive of Osteen. It depends upon who the audience is and what their presuppositions are to determine the meaning of the text. In this sense, Mohler's article is a wonderful example of "the death of the author" in action.

What is lacking in Mohler's article is his explicit support or rejection of Osteen and his teaching. He's happy to excoriate and expose the "works of Satan" in such areas as homosexuality, abortion, socialism and the Democratic Party, but when it is absolutely clear that Satan is also working through the evangelical church via the false teaching associated with prosperity theology, Mohler writes a piece that is as compromising as they come. Why?

I think the reason is because of his close ties to "Focus on the Family" (he's a board member). Osteen and his church, while indulging in the false teaching of prosperity theology, are nevertheless part of the evangelical mainstream. Osteen's followers and fans are probably numbered in the millions. If Al Mohler came out and slammed Osteen for his teaching, FOTF may incur the wrath of millions of Osteenie-boppers. It's hardly likely that Osteen would respond to Mohler's criticisms by admitting his sin, repenting and then preaching expository sermons for the rest of his ministry career. A Mohler/Osteen fight would be a battle between two evangelical heavyweights - both exuding power and influence over millions of Americans. It would be a contest that would confuse many and could possibly split the evangelical movement.

So, for the sake of appearing unified, Mohler writes a blog article that says nothing, that is written in such an expert, postmodern way that Roland Barthes himself would love it.

But this is not what Mohler should have done. He should have been courageous and boldly spoken the truth. He should have written a blog article that rips apart Osteen's teachings and exposed them for the falsehoods they are. But he didn't. He chose to be political. He chose to shut his mouth, keep his head down and follow the party line. Mohler has decided that evangelical unity is far more important than standing up for the truth.

I have criticised Mohler many times in this blog. Apart from this recent debacle, Mohler appears more than willing to compromise rather than come out for Biblical truth, even when it goes against the grain. One example of this is his unbiblical stance on the consumption of alcohol. Another example is his support for the use of torture.

So here's an evangelical leader who thinks alcohol is evil, torture is okay, and that prosperity theology is not a serious problem.

Enough is enough. Mohler should repent, resign from ministry, and retire.

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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House prices will fall

The Angry Bear Blogsite is everything the world needs - pro-growth progressives warning of the impending doom of over-investment and fiscal stupidity.

Today's posting is about the historical growth of house prices over time. And this is not just about America, but about house prices throughout the western world. And it is not just about house prices for the past few decades, but for the past few centuries.

The graphic, created by Robert Schiller, clearly shows that house prices rise and fall over time, but are not at all determined by population growth. Obviously the reason for this is that as population grows and the demand for housing increases, so does the supply - a process that keeps the prices down.

But the graph also shows that recent price activity has led a growth "spike". In other words, the current price of housing throughout the western world is completely anomolous. Quiddity, a blogger who posted a comment about this article at Angry Bear, points out that the graphic reminds him of Tobin's Q, an equation that has been increasingly used to explain (in hindsight of course) how and when the stockmarket has become overvalued. Similar to the P/E ratio, Tobin's Q is a very useful tool for investors, and there is no doubt that the current housing trend is unsustainable.

But, of course, that doesn't mean you should sell your house (This means you Dave!). The current market is overvalued because it has been used for speculative purposes, not because there is a massive demand for accomodation. The current housing market is made up of homebuyers, those who wish to take advantage of homebuyers (banks, real estate agents, etc), and people who try to take advantage of people who try to take advantage of homebuyers. It's these third group of investors - people and businesses who buy property solely as an investment in the hope and belief that prices will continue to rise - who will suffer the most when the market crashes. Conversely, those who buy houses in order to live in them will actually be the least affected by this.

So, if you own a house and live in it - stay there and don't sell. Pay back the principal as best you can and don't borrow against the equity since that will bite you badly when the crash happens.

If you own an investment property, however, I seriously suggest you sell it... now.

From the Osostrian School Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Bush's popularity revealed

Dreaminonempty at DailyKos has posted an interesting graphic based on a recent "Survey USA" poll on George Bush's current popularity. At this present moment in time, it appears that Bush has the support of the majority of people who live in:


If these numbers translate to votes in the Midterm Election, there will be a marked swing to the Democrats. The only question that remains is what this swing will be. There will always be some margin of error between polling and actual election results, but with a large swathe of states disapproving of the president by 55% or more I think that the result could be a rather substantial Democratic victory in the Senate.

Click here to see the graphic in full size.


Unfortunately named places

In Glenorie, in Northern Sydney, there is a street named Pinus Avenue.

In Western Lake Macquarie, south-west of Newcastle, is a suburb called Woodrising.

Limited Atonement is not in the Bible

Hah! Got you! You're probably wondering what I'm going to say and about how Limited Atonement is wrong aren't you?

I'll state two apparently contradictory things here:

1. Limited Atonement is not backed up by Scripture
2. I believe in all five points of Calvinism, including Limited Atonement.

You see, it's a bit of a semantic trick. A few years ago I sat down and tried to nut out everything the Bible said about Limited Atonement - the idea being that I was looking for a verse that specifically tied the Atonement to Election.

And guess what? I couldn't find any.

Of course, the Bible is replete with verses that point out that God's people, the church, have their sins forgiven solely by the work of Christ on the Cross in his atoning death - what many theologians describe as "penal substitutionary atonement". There is no other way that a person may be forgiven.

And, of course, the Bible is also replete with verses that point out that it is ultimately God who chooses those who come to him. From the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37 we see that dead people cannot choose to serve God unless they have been regenerated first. Because we are dead in our sins and incapable of responding to God's grace, God acts in our hearts through the Spirit. In other words, it is God who makes us Christians - a process that has been determined since the beginning.

Yet there are no Bible verses which link these two doctrines. Yes, God's people can only be fogiven through the Atonement; Yes, God's people have been elected from the beginning; No, Atonement and Election are not mentioned together.

The problem is that it is not Calvinists who created the term "Limited Atonement", but Arminians who forced them to through the Five articles of Remonstrance (specifically article 2):
That, agreeably thereto, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption, and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins, except the believer...

The article actually sounds quite good doesn't it? Nevertheless, Calvinists (not John Calvin himself, who was long dead when this problem arose) responded to these five articles with their own five, which includes the response to article 2 and is now called "Limited Atonement". These five points are now known as "The Five Points of Calvinism"

As I grappled with Limited Atonement, I came to the conclusion that it is the only possible outcome that results from the Bible's teaching on Atonement and Election - yet it is a conclusion that has no explicit Bible verse to back it up, and relies instead upon the logical outcomes of an analysis of two biblical doctrines. In a sense, Limited Atonement is similar to the doctrine of the Trinity in that it is a thoroughly biblical idea that results from a conglomeration of various doctrines. This analogy falls down, however, considering the overwhelming amount of biblical data for the Trinity (thus making it an essential feature of the Christian faith - denying the Trinity is essentially denying God, while denying Limited Atonement isn't as serious).

As such, if a Christian truly examines the scriptures and is convinced of the reality and truthfulness of both the Atonement and Election; and if that Christian should be presented with the idea of Limited Atonement; then that Christian will come to the conclusion that to deny Limited Atonement would be to deny either the Atonement or Election or both. In a sense, Limited Atonement is a "Litmus test" for the ability of a Christian to work out the logical result of two different (though obviously related) biblical doctrines.

I make the point that denial is the important thing to look at here, rather than acceptance. If a Christian should accept both the Atonement and Election then that is enough - even if that person does not know what Limited Atonement is. What is important is if that denial of Limited Atonement ends up denying something else in Scripture.

Let me get back to the Trinity. No Christian is apostate if they do not understand the Trinity. Denial of the Trinity, however, is a damnable offense. Again I will state that a denial of Limited Atonement does into fit into this class. (Denial of the Atonement is, however, quite a serious matter)

So what place does Limited Atonement have, especially in preaching and teaching? I think it's important for people to know, but I think it is far more important for people to understand the Atonement and Election. If the congregation have these two things right, then they'll accept Limited Atonement.

Moreover, when Christians begin to read verses like 1 John 2.2 and John 3.16, they may be led to question the extent of Christ's salvation, a process which could lead to Universalism. In trying to explain how the universal nature of God's gospel call fits in with his specific acts of election, Limited Atonement is an excellent teaching to follow.

From the Theosalient Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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A bible meme from an island off Essex

From this post by Elizaphanian (a word I can't seem to pronounce):

1. How many bibles are in your home?
2. What rooms are they in?
3. What translations do you have?
4. Do you have a preference?
5. Nominate an interesting verse

1. Between about 10-12 I think.

2. Mainly in the study, although one resides in my Bum Bag.TM

3. Good News (the one I read as a child); lots of NIVs (including my original NIV Study Bible from 1987 and the dodgy Thomson Chain Reference edition); my brother's old RSV; an NASB I use when doing sermon work; an NRSV/Greek interlinear (which is essentially my Greek NT); an old Gideon's red Bible I was given at high school that ended up being the "Revised Berkley Version"; an 8 translation New Testament which often comes in handy (KJV, TEV/Good News, Jerusalem Bible, Phillips, NIV, Living Bible, NIV, RSV); I do not have a copy of The Message but, even if I did, I wouldn't include it here because it is not a real Bible; I also have three ESVs.

4. Since buying the ESV I am convinced that it is a much better translation than the NIV. Here in Australia, Evangelical churches still use the NIV a lot although the Sydney Anglicans have been agitating for some years now for the ESV to be adopted. It is a harder translation for people to read, but I think that, over the long term, it will be better for the church to adopt it. I think it is far better to set a standard that the congregation should aspire to, rather than trying to use simpler translations (which are more opaque) to "get down to their level" (which is rather condescending). However, It still has faults (check out the sentence structure of Acts 3.11)

5. Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit... But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol (the grave), for he will receive me. (Psalm 49.7-9, 15)


"Look behind the numbers for Australia's true wealth"

Statistics can do all sorts of things. One hundred people earning $50,000 each. Average wage, $50,000. Sounds good. Ninety people earning $20,000 each and 10 people earning $320,000 each. Average wage, still $50,000. Now we're told the average wealth of Australians has gone up under John Howard. I wonder who's wealthier?

Neil Cameron Waratah

(SMH, 28 March, 2006)


Good news from Iraq!

26,074,876 Iraqs woke up today with their heads still attached to their bodies!

Good news from Iraq is always an important thing!

Atrios is reporting this great news as well!



I had my second drink of Kava tonight. I found a supplier about 10 minutes walk away at a nearby fruit and veg shop.

In short - it tastes terrible. I have never drunk liquified horse manure but I think Kava would come close to that sort of taste. Even with the milk and chocolate syrup it tasted awful.

But it's not the taste that Kava drinkers are after, it's the effects. Even after the first mouthful I could feel my lips and tongue become numbed. But all the happiness and joy that people are supposed to feel after Kava consumption aren't there, but I certainly don't feel depressed or low.

When I first tried Kava last week I was looking forward to wonderful dreams and a restful sleep. That night I dreamt I was driving around in a large pot (like a cauldron) with coasters where each foot should be, with a large helium balloon keeping the vehicle light on the road. It wasn't the most weird dream I ever had (in fact, no dream comes close to my Greatest American Hero dream I had in 1986) and I didn't wake up smiling, but I certainly didn't wake up feeling bad.

I'll post below tomorrow to let you know of any effects during the night.

Aiden managed to come down with croup as I was writing this, and needed time in The John. We spent two hours waiting for a doctor to come along and give him a 2 minute diagnosis and 5 minutes of treatment - thanks to the Coalition government's slow cutting of medicare benefits. After that we drove off to McDonald's at King street and brought home a double beef and bacon burger, a cheeseburger and a small fries to consume at 2.30am. I eventually fell asleep at 3.00pm and dreamt I had a collection of three L1A1 Battle rifles that I enjoyed using.

Christians for Torture

Faithful Progressive has written about something that sickens me - absolutely.

A survey by Pew research polled over 2000 Americans about their attitude to torture. The question asked was:

Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?

The first surprise is that 63% of Americans - 63% - think that torture has some form of justification. This is abhorrent. It not only shows a level of ignorance about torture (the fact being that it is a most unreliable source of information gathering) but also a willingness to embrace the idea that when a person is a "suspected terrorist", then any belief in the adage "innocent until proven guilty" can be dispensed with.

The second surprise is that, of those Americans who were polled who identified themselves as "secular" or having "no religion", 51% thought that torture had some justification. Again, this is unacceptable, but notice that there is a much stronger anti-torture belief (41%) among such people. The irony here is that torture is actually more morally repugnant among the irreligious and the secularists than the norm.

The third, and perhaps worst, surprise, is that 65% of "White Evangelicals" think that torture has some form of justification - that is, slightly more than the average American.

I have a number of things to say about this.

1. While torture is not mentioned much in the Bible, it can be inferred quite easily that its practice is abhorrent to God. Hebrews 11.35 speaks of torture as a device inflicted upon God's faithful people by those who persecute them (gk. tumpanizo). A couple of verses later, in Hebrews 11.37, these saints were "mistreated" (gk. kakoucheo). Jesus himself, of course, was tortured and humilated in the lead up to his crucifixion (Matthew 27.24-31). During this time, he was whipped (gk. phragelloo, from the Latin flagellate), he was struck in the face (gk . tupto) and he was spat upon (gk. emptuo). The soldiers also mocked and humiliated him, giving him a crown of thorns and a purple robe and making fun of him. There is no corresponding passage in the Bible that I am aware of which condones this sort of behaviour. Moreover, the Apostle Paul points out in 1 Timothy 3.2 that elders in the church should not be "violent" (gk. plektes) which is, in effect, a personal quality that all Christians should have.

2. Torture is completely unreliable as a means of gaining vital information. Even if the subject was a guilty terrorist, the chances of actually getting information out of him via torture is very low. A person who is undergoing torture will become willing to say or sign anything if it means that the pain would stop. Christians who somehow think that torture is a "lesser evil" that might prevent many from dying in a planned terrorist attack have absolutely no idea how ineffectual torture is in gaining this sort of information.

3. Torturing a person if they are suspected to be a terrorist goes against the whole system of law that we live under. Torture is an assumption of guilt, and no person can be considered guilty unless they have gone through a legal process to establish their guilt. The idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty is one of the bedrocks of our civilisation and is backed up clearly by biblical evidence. All throughout the Old Testament we see God's rules for the nation of Israel, dictating the importance of having multiple witnesses and decrying legal corruption. Even if the subject is guilty, punishment can't be meted out without some form of trial beforehand. For Christians this is a very important issue because many Americans would maintain that these sorts of laws don't apply once they are outside America - which is hogwash, since Christians believe that the Bible is to be held as God's word everywhere in all creation.

I'll leave you with a quote from one of my least favourite evangelical leaders in America. There are many reasons why I don't like him, but this quote will give you some idea:

Under certain circumstances, most morally sensitive persons would surely allow interrogators to yell at prisoners and to use psychological intimidation, sleep deprivation, and the removal of creature comforts for purposes of obtaining vital information. In increasingly serious cases, most would likely allow some use of pharmaceuticals and more intensive and manipulative psychological techniques. In the most extreme of conceivable cases, most would also allow the use of far more serious mechanisms of coercion – even what we would all agree should be labeled as torture.


I would argue that we cannot condone torture by codifying a list of exceptional situations in which techniques of torture might be legitimately used. At the same time, I would also argue that we cannot deny that there could exist circumstances in which such uses of torture might be made necessary.

- Al Mohler, president, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville Kentucky

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Interrogating Bush about his Christian beliefs

Ever since Bush's inexplicable inability to even come close to explain his thoughts on Christian eschatology, the Progressive blogosphere is beginning to come up with two theories about Bush's Christian faith. The first is that he is a hypocrite, the second is that he isn't a Christian in the first place. As a result, there has been some conjecture about trying to nail him on certain points of Christian belief.

And so, herewith, are my suggestions for questions:

  1. Mr President, if you died tonight and stood before God, and he asked you "Why should I let you into heaven", what would you say to him? An evangelical would focus solely upon the death of Christ and his atonement on the cross for sin. If the president attempts to use his own works or deeds as the basis for entering heaven, then his faith is not in Christ to save, and he is not an evangelical.
  2. Mr President, can you please give an example of how God has guided you during your time as president? This is a general question that would reveal how the president thinks God guides. The key is whether or not he mentions the Bible, since the Bible is considered at least a major way that God guides amongst evangelicals.
  3. Mr President, do you think that sincere, devout and peaceful Muslims go to heaven when they die? This is a "gotcha" question that will force the president to either deny his faith or to sound arrogant. All evangelicals believe that the Christian faith is an exclusivist faith, which would mean that even devout Muslims are unable to reach heaven. If he thinks that devout Muslims go to heaven, he's not an evangelical.
  4. Mr President, do you think that God could forgive someone as evil as Osama Bin Laden? How? This is a question that will further outline the president's understanding of how God forgives. For the evangelical, no sin is too big for God to not forgive, so long as the sinner puts his faith in Christ. The "how" question would expand this answer. If Bush says he does not know, or focuses on anything apart from Christ, his answer is not one an evangelical would give.
  5. Mr President, which is your favourite book of the Bible? If he reads the bible (as he says he does) then this should be answered easily, along with some explanation of why that book is his favourite. Vague answers or "it's all good" are not acceptable for an evangelical, who sees the Bible as being very important in his/her life. If Mr Bush can't give a good answer, the chances are that he doesn't read the Bible.
  6. Mr President, when Jesus was on earth, do you think that he may have occasionally sinned? This is a question that would show up Bush's understanding of Jesus. If he believes that Jesus is God and is perfect, his answer would be a simple "no - Jesus did not sin". If he gives an "I don't know" or a "yes" in response then he has a deficient understanding of who Jesus is and is therefore not an evangelical.
  7. Mr President, many sincere Christians think that Jesus didn't actually rise from the grave, what would you say to them? Similar to the last question, this is another "gotcha" that gives him little room to move. Evangelicals believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead and Christians who deny this are in grave error, no matter how sincere they are. If Bush is brave and says this, then chances are that he is an evangelical. If he talks about their sincerity of faith as being more improtant that the fact of the resurrection, then he aint an evangelical.

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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John 6.1-35


Well John Seaton and I are two different people,
but we do share one common passion -
good coffee.
Not for us the tins of International Roast or Nescafe.
To us, instant coffee is anathema, it is madness,
it is the abomination that causes desolation!
But even amongst us purists there is a difference
- John Seaton uses a plunger to make his coffee
while I use an espresso machine that sits on our stove.
John Seaton buys pre-ground coffee
while I purchase beans and then grind them.

But what happens if my coffee is taken away from me?
Well, after three days, I would have a splitting headache.
Without the theobromide,
the theophylline
and the paraxanthine in coffee to relax my muscles
and increasing the blood and oxygen flow to my brain, I
'll start to feel a bit funny.
A day later and I will have full-on caffeine withdrawl.
Fortunately at one cup of brewed coffee per day,
my intake of caffeine is not dangerous,
thus making the withdrawl process easier to deal with.

But can I live without coffee?
The scientifically correct answer to this is yes - I can live without it.
I don't need it. I enjoy it but if I stop drinking coffee my life will continue.
It's the same with a lot of things we consume
- cigarettes, alcohol, even chocolate!
Our lives are not dependent upon these things.

The passage that we're looking at today, however, shows what we do need.
Here in John chapter six,
Jesus tells us exactly what we need to live.
He shows us what we cannot do without.


Well the first thing I'll be doing today is explaining how this chapter of the Bible fits together. S
o please have your bibles open to John chapter six
- I'll be referring to it directly as we go along.

Let me read 6.1-4:

Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Feast was near.

So here is Jesus continuing his ministry.
He sails on a boat to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
This is a freshwater lake in North-Eastern Israel,
By way of comparison, the Sea of Galilee is around one third bigger than Lake Macquarie.

Now a bunch of people followed Jesus to this location.
The reason why they were following him is explained simply - they had seen Jesus do miraculous signs.

Then Jesus went up a mountain to teach his disciples.
He wasn't planning to preach to a crowd or do miracles.
One of the important things we do see here is in verse 4 - John tells us that this event was occurring during passover.
Passover was the most sacred religious festival for the Jews since it celebrated their rescue from Egypt.
It reminded God's people of the circumstances of how God saved them.
And, in this particular time in history,
it was also an expression of their national identity -
which was important considering they were a nation controlled by the Roman empire.

Let me keep reading, verses 5-11

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, "Eight months' wages[a] would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!"

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, spoke up, "Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?"

Jesus said, "Have the people sit down." There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

So there is Jesus with his disciples on the mountain and they see the crowd heading towards them.

Confronted with the thousands that had turned up on their mountainside retreat,
Philip works out that not even eight months' wages would not be enough for each person to have one bite of bread.
Translated into our situation, taking into account average weekly wages and so on, the figure is around $33,000 Australian Dollars.

Andrew, another of Jesus' disciples, pipes up and says
- and you could sort of hear the uncertain tone in his voice
- that he had just found some kid with 5 loaves of bread and two fish.

Now we need to realise that this kid's food supply is actually smaller than what we might realise.
For loaf of bread, think of the equivalent of a bread roll -
that's what is being talked about here.
For two small fish, don't think of an undersize snapper that you've pulled out of Lake Macquarie,
but a small tin of Tuna chunks in Springwater.

So Jesus gets them to sit down on the green grass.
It says that there was about 5000 people,
but a lot of experts believe that the number represented adult men,
and did not include any women or children with them.
This means that there could have been in excess of 10,000 people there at the time.

Then Jesus gave thanks.
he was thanked God for the provision of the bread.

Well we all know happens next. Verses 12-15

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, "Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted." So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, "Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world." Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

Twelve baskets of food are left over.
The thousands who were present had been fed by Jesus' miracle.
There is no magical explanation or special effects that are used by the author here
- Jesus thanks God for 5 bits of bread and two small fish
and then he hands them to his disciples.
Obviously Jesus' miracle involved a multiplication of the food,
but what I really like is the fact that the details are sketchy.

Naturally the people
- people who had come along to see a miracle
- were impressed.
With Passover near,
they were a bit nationalistic
and understood that Jesus was the "coming Prophet"
that had been prophesied about way back in Deuteronomy.

Let me read to you Deuteronomy 18.15-19

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, "Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die."

The LORD said to me: "What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.

Obviously such a figure was closely aligned with the expectation of a Messiah.
The Jews at Jesus' time expected God to send someone to rescue them -
a person who was simultaneously prophet, priest and king.
But these Jews minsunderstood who the Messiah would actually be.
Given the fact that the nation of Israel had been conquered by the Roman Empire,
this Messianic figure, to their minds,
would literally come as a king like David,
raise up an army and overthrow their Roman rulers.
So the crowd, amazed and emboldened by Jesus' miracle,
begin to plan to make Jesus king by force.

So the situation is now rather serious.
Jesus is now sitting amongst a group of people who were now planning a revolution against the Romans.
This was not what Jesus was intending to do.
Jesus, being God, knew exactly what was going on and what these people were planning,
and so he withdrew back to the mountain by himself.

Now in verses 16-24 we have another miracle by Jesus.
That night, while his disciples are out in a boat on the lake of Galilee,
Jesus walks on the water.
The following morning, the crowd who had been fed the night before went looking for Jesus and eventually found him in Capernaum,
a town on the Western side of the lake.

Then comes a very important section in the text.
In verses 25-35, Jesus reveals to the people his true nature.
Although we will stop at verse 35, Jesus' dialogue lasts pretty much until the end of the chapter.
At some point, probably around verse 27, Jesus begins to address the local synagogue in Capernaum -
a fact we learn in verse 59.
So when we hear Jesus' response to the crowds here in these verses,
we need to also remember that there are a number of people from the synagogue who are listeninig in as well.

Let me read verses 25-27

When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, "Rabbi, when did you get here?"

Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval."

So here we are, moving into from the crowd into the synagogue.
Jesus is hardly impressed by those who have chosen to follow him.
He discerns that the crowd are only looking for him
because he fed them,
not because he did anything miraculous.

Then he moves onto the real meaning of his miracle
- that they should not work for food that spoils,
but to work for food that endures to eternal life.
This food, says Jesus, will be given to such a person by the Son of Man.
Why will this "son of man" give such food?
Well, according to Jesus, God the Father has placed his approval on him.

Let's keep going with verses 28-35

Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"

Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

So they asked him, "What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' "

Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."

"Sir," they said, "from now on give us this bread."

Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.

Jesus has stated that a person needs to work for food that endures in verse 27.
In verse 28, the listeners ask Jesus "Alright then, what is this work of God we have to do?".
Jesus' reply is simple - believe in the one that God has sent.
Have faith in the person the Father has given them.
Place their trust in the son.

Now at this point - verse 30 - some of the members of the Synagogue ask him for a sign.
This is quite ironic since Jesus has already given a sign in the feeding of the 5000 the day before.
But, of course, the fact that John put this question here is important.
Because in verse 31 it talks about how God provided the Israelites manna in the desert in the book of Exodus.
Jesus then points out that Moses was not the one who gave them bread from heaven,
but instead Jesus says that his Father is giving them true bread from heaven.
Then he says that the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

Now you need to remember that Jesus is being poetic here.
Jesus is referring to himself in the third person.
He says "Believe in the one God has sent",
and "The bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world".

Of course, the listeners understand.
They say to Jesus "from now on give us this bread".
And then Jesus finally comes out and says it
"I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty."

So Jesus is both the giver of the bread of life
and the bread of life himself.


Well, what does all this mean for us?
What does this part of the Bible teach us about God,
and how shall we apply it to our lives?
Well, what we need to understand is that Jesus is everything we need.

Some of you have sampled one of my Thai curries,
so you know how nice they can be. I love making Thai curries.
You put sesame oil and garlic in a wok and heat them up
until you see the oil sizzling underneath the garlic.
Then you put the chicken in,
and you stirfry it until the outside is white.
Put the vegetables in, like carrots or broccoli or beans.
Add a teaspoon of curry paste
- I prefer the May Ploy brand... you can get them from an Asian supermarket.
I also tend to mix the curry paste with a bit of boiling water to make sure the paste is not lumpy.
Add fish sauce, a teaspoon of raw sugar, basil leaves and, of course, coconut cream. When it's all cooked, serve it on a bed of steamed rice.

So, hopefully, there in your mind's eye, in front of you is a nice Green or Red Thai Curry.
Your mouth is already watering isn't it?
But what is the most important part of that meal?
Which element of that meal is essential to our living?
Well, believe it or not, it's the rice.
No other part of the meal contains the complex carbohydrates that our bodies need for energy.
If you took away the rice, the meal might taste nice,
but it would not be as good for you.

We have to remember that when Jesus says that he is the bread of life, we need to understand both the simplicity and the importance of that statement.
In the ancient world at that time, bread was the staple
- it was the most common food and it was the most important food.
Rich people could afford to spend money on delicacies,
but the ordinary person in the ancient world needed bread to survive.

So when Jesus says that he is the bread of life, what is he saying?
He is saying that he is everything we need.

The most basic of human needs is physiological.
We need food, we need water, we need air to breathe.
If we have these things, we then seek safety,
which includes clothing and shelter.

Yet despite this, Jesus is saying to us that he is our greatest need.

Look at how Jesus' argument is put forward.

1. He states that we need to work for food that endures to eternal life.
2. He says that this food is given to us by the Son of Man, who has been given the approval of God the Father.
3. The work that God wants us to do is to believe in the one God has sent.
4. The true bread from heaven is given to us by God the Father.
5. The bread of heaven is a person who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
6. Jesus is the bread of life. Those who come to him will neither hunger nor thirst.

Now remember that Jesus is obviously speaking symbolically.
Jesus is not literally bread that is eaten,
and those who eat it don't suddenly need to eat and drink any more.
When I was a kid that's what I thought it meant.
The answer is obviously spiritual in nature.

The way to interpret this part of the Bible is actually quite simple.
All it is saying is that Jesus is everything we need.
In Jesus we are to place our trust and our faith.
In Jesus do we rely for God's work in us.
In Jesus eternal life is found.
Those who come to Jesus and have their faith in him will have eternal life.

The problem is that, because of our sin,
we often think that Jesus is not enough.
We think we need more of God.
We think we need to find out how we can unleash more of God's blessings in our lives.
We think that the reason why Jesus came was to make us happy or to lead us to some form of ecstatic spiritual state.
But that's not what we should think.
If we have Jesus,
if we have the bread of life,
we have everything we need.
I'm not saying that we whouldn't strive to be more godly or to grow as Christians
- that's a given.
What I am saying is that we should always realise just how wondrous and amazing is the bread of life that God has given to us in Christ.

The world and the devil throw a lot of false teaching our way.
We're constantly barraged by values and beliefs that cause us to be dissatisfied with our life and our faith.
Dissatisfaction leads us away from contentment and the reality that we have in Christ.
That's why so many fads in the church come and go,
where someone has finally discovered the so-called secret of being a successful Christian.
The fad lasts a few years,
and then is replaced by something else,
and all the while Christians remain deeply dissatisfied with everything that God has given them in Christ.

You see the reason why these fads fail is,
apart from the fact that they are unbiblical,
is that they always focus on what we can do.

If YOU pray some magic prayer,
or if YOU give 10% of your finances,
or if YOU pray three times a day.

What happens is that God is reduced to some form of divine stimulus-response.
If YOU do this then GOD will do that.
If YOU pray some magic prayer then GOD will magically bless you.
The problem really is that the focus is on what YOU do.

But here in John 6 we see that it is not what WE do,
but on what GOD does.
The only thing we need to do, the only action we are commanded to do,
is to believe in Jesus
- to have faith in him.
We don't strive to reach the bread of life.
We don't have to pray for 3 hours per day
and give 10% of our income in order to get this bread of life
- we have to have faith in Jesus.
But even faith, ultimately, is something that God gives us.
Our faith in Christ exists not because we choose to believe in him,
but because God has regenerated us by his Holy Spirit.
So even the act of faith that is commanded of us here has its basis in the actions of God.

It's hard to understand,
but we must remember that when we have Christ,
we have everything we need.
Our need of Christ is so great that it is even more important than real food and water.
And when we have Christ, we need nothing more.
When you've eaten the bread from heaven,
when you've placed your trust in Christ,
what more do you need as a Christian?

And it's only when we realise that we need nothing but Christ that we begin to understand how we grow in godliness.
We pray to God not to get closer to him,
but because he is close already.
We love one another not so we can get something good from God,
but because we have already been given the best thing there is.

The Christian life is not some series of hyped up emotional crisis events where we seek to go above and beyond where we are now,
but a joyful and simple acceptance of everything that God has given to us by his wondrous grace.

But what did this gift cost God?
It cost him his son.
When Jesus died on the cross in our place,
when he took upon himself our sins and rebellion,
his death brought us forgiveness,
his death brought us reconciliation with God.
And when Jesus rose from the grave,
he brought us new life,
he brought us the promise of eternal life.

And I want to challenge you all now
- do you have faith in Christ?
Do you trust him as your saviour?
Do you bow down to him as your Lord and King?
Have you turned from your sin and rebellion and have humbly come to Christ for forgiveness,
trusting that his death and resurrection is enough to save you?
If you have then know that you have everything you need
- know that you have eaten the bread of life
and have the assurance of eternity in paradise with God.

But if you do not have faith in Christ,
then you have not eaten the bread of heaven,
you have not had your sins forgiven
and you remain outside of God's love and grace.
If this is you, then God is calling you to repent and believe.
Jesus, the bread of life,
has been sent by God and God is calling for you to believe in the one he has sent.
Don't delay this decision.


When Jesus said that he was the "bread of life", he was saying to us all that he is the only thing we need.
God sent Jesus to us so that we can never be hungry or thirsty again.
If we have placed our faith and trust in Christ
then we can know that God has blessed us and has provided for us,
not because of anything we have done,
not because we deserve it,
but because God in his love and compassion has given it to us.

Let's pray:

Heavenly Father,
Thank you for sending Jesus. Thank you that he is everything we need. Teach us to be content with all that you have given us, and give us wisdom and patience to grow as Christians knowing that you have given us such a great gift. Amen.

From the Kerygmatic Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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by georgia10
Tue Mar 21, 2006 at 03:51:32 PM PDT

I am ashamed. I am ashamed of this President. Aren't you? After watching his press conference today, a sense of shame overtook me. I'm ashamed that he took to the podium today as if he emptied out a container of laughing gas. I'm ashamed of a President who has the temerity to laugh when asked a question about war. I'm ashamed of the whores of the fourth estate who care more about having the honor of being the butt of one of the President's jokes than about exposing the truth to the American people. I'm ashamed that millions of my fellow Americans are so scared and so desperate for leadership that they believe the President's bullshit.

I am ashamed. I'm ashamed of this President, this megalomaniac hellbent on leaving his assprint on the map of the Middle East, no matter how much destruction is wrought and no matter how much blood flows in the streets of lands that never threatened us. I'm ashamed that when I see the American flag waiving, images of flag-draped coffins flash in my mind. I'm ashamed of Freedom's MarchTM. Ashamed when I see villages reduced to rubble. Ashamed when I see the tiny little corpses. God, they're so painfully tiny--lined up in a row, little angels wrapped in colorful blankets that starkly contrast against their gray-tinged faces. Ashamed when I see wailing Iraqis slam their hands against plain, unvarnished coffins, over and over, asking "Why? Is this democracy? Why?" When I see those image of funerals, of broken families, I want to crawl into my TV, I want to go to them and grab their slumped shoulders and scream "I'm sorry, good god, I'm so sorry. I want to leave, I want us to leave, believe me. But they won't listen...No one listens anymore."

I'm ashamed that the word "massacre" is even uttered in connection with our actions in Iraq. I'm ashamed it's not just one massacre that is alleged, but two. I'm ashamed it's gotten to the point that I can't even tell this little voice inside of me to shut up, that little voice that says maybe, just maybe it could be true. That the impossible may be plausible. Before this war, I would have rejected such claims outright. But that voice of plausibility is the consequence of those black hoods. It's the consequence of those leashes, those snarling dogs. It's the consequence of those detainees chained to bedframes. Of naked pyramids. Of forced sex acts. Of beatings and blood-streaked floors.

I am ashamed. Ashamed that Justice is no longer blindfolded, but gagged. Ashamed that in America, in AMERICA, I can only protest in "free speech zones" the size of postage stamps. Ashamed that by the time I'll take my oath as an officer of the court to support the Constitution, I'll be swearing to uphold a tattered document that has managed to survive over 200 years only to be shredded by this President in less than eight.

I am ashamed. Ashamed that in America, I see bearded men panhandling in the street, holding cardboard signs that read "U.S. Vet, can't work, need food. God bless." Ashamed that somewhere, in our America, a grandmother is sitting alone at her kitchen table, crumpled bills clutched in her thin hands, agonizing over the choice before her: medicine for her pain, or food to keep on living. Ashamed that there is a child who will go to sleep tonight on a cot in an orphanage, with no one to read him a story, no one to stroke his hair and kiss him goodnight, because the American Taliban thinks gay Americans can't love, can't parent, can't provide.

I am ashamed of my fellow Americans. Ashamed that they haven't flooded the streets. Ashamed they care more about Brangelina than the Bill of Rights. Ashamed that they're seemingly ok with the subtle but steady transformation from democracy to dictatorship. Ashamed that they are so gullible.

I am ashamed of myself. For not having the courage or the strength to do anything else but sit here and blog. I write. I protest. I vote. And yet, I'm impotent. Stuck in a unrelenting cycle of hope and despair and hope and despair. What a curse it is to be 23 and want to change the world. What a curse to be so disillusioned so early in life. What a curse to want to change a world that will not change...that cannot change? That cannot change as long as we sit and wait for others to change it. That cannot change as long as our elected Democrats refuse to take a principled stand. That cannot change until they--until we--appreciate the gravity of the situation before us: we are losing America.

This is not America. I refuse to accept it. America doesn't torture. America doesn't jail people incommunicado for years. America doesn't sit idly by as an entire people are exterminated in Darfur. America doesn't stifle science. America doesn't conduct massive, secret spying on innocent citizens. America doesn't believe the individual is an annoyance, an impediment to supreme government power. This isn't the greatest democracy on earth. This isn't the nation that pioneered human rights. This isn't the America that leads the world, that leads humanity towards a greater good. No, I refuse to accept this America of shame. This is not my America. It is an America perverted by Republican stewardship. A nation that under GOP rule has abandoned its founding ideals of freedom, liberty, and justice for all. True Americans--coast to coast, young and old--now bow their heads silently in collective shame for a nation that has lost its way.

Can a Christian lie?

First, just if I might correct a misperception, I don’t think we ever said – at least I know I didn’t say that there was a direct connection between September the 11th and Saddam Hussein.
(George Bush - 20 March 2006)

The use of armed forces against Iraq is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations or person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.
(Bush’s Letter to Congress, 21 March 2003)

Thanks to Think Progress.


The US Deficit Nightmare

The first thing I would like you to do is to fix in your mind how much your yearly income is. Got it? Good.

Now I want you to imagine that you owed the same amount of money on your credit card. Getting a bit concerned?

Finally, I want you to discount any thoughts you have about your mortgage (if you have one). Think about having this credit card bill as well as having a mortgage.

Not a good feeling is it? Would you like to be in that situation? I didn't think so.

But here's the bad news - it is precisely the situation that the United States Federal Government will likely be in within the next two years.

The BBC has reported that Congress has approved measures to increase Federal Debt levels to $9 Trillion. That's $9,000,000,000,000.00.

But, according to the CIA world factbook, America's estimated GDP in 2005 was $12.37 Trillion.

I realise that I'm comparing different figures from different dates here, but the current 2006 debt increase is around 73% of America's total 2005 output. Of course, by the end of the year America's GDP will be greater than $12.37 trillion - but the debt levels are rising faster than GDP.

It would be the same as seeing your credit card debt increase faster than your income.

The reason why I asked you discount your mortgage is to put things into perspective. If you have a mortgage, then likely you owe many times your yearly income to the bank. This is balanced, however, by the fact that your property is a saleable asset - you may owe money to the bank but you do actually own something that is quite valuable. And if you're lucky to own a house that is increasing in value, then the chances are that your net debt levels are actually decreasing (assuming, of course, that your house retains its value).

But what we have with the US Federal Budget deficit is different. The American government does not have a mortgage that it can borrow against. It is precisely like having a massive credit card debt - with levels increasing even further the less interest you are able to pay back.

The problem is that, eventually, investors will start to get a bit worried. Rather than seeing America's economy as strong, they will see it as increasingly weak.

The amount of money that the American government will owe will increase faster than the economic growth rate. Eventually debt and GDP levels will be on par. The closer America gets to this point, the more nervous the market will become.

Eventually, the market will decide that lending money to the US government is too risky, and will begin selling off US treasury bonds. The resulting drop in the value of the US dollar and the inflation that this will undoubtedly cause will force the Federal Reserve to hike up interest rates. The Dollar will retain its value, but the cost will be too great. With higher interest rates, American businesses and consumers will find it more difficult to borrow money, and a recession will result.

And the reason? Because George Bush decided that the rich needed massive tax cuts. Another blow to America's standing in the world, courtesy of the worst US President in history.

From the Osostrian School Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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The Iraqi Civil War compared




Deaths per day

Finnish Civil War

19th January 1918 - 7th May 1918

(108 days)



Irish Civil War

28th June 1922 - 24th May 1923

(330 days)



Lebanese Civil War

13th April 1975 - March 1991

(6138 days)



El Salvador Civil War

24th March 1980 - January 1992

(4331 days)



Iraqi Civil War

1st May 2003 -

1st March 2006 (1035 days)



Sources: Wikipedia and Iraq Body Count Website (click on hyperlinks in table)

Note that the figures for the Iraqi Civil War begin on 1st May 2003 - the day George Bush declared the ending of major combat operations (his "Mission Accomplished" speech) and do not include the amount of Iraqis who died during the invasion proper.

As you can see, defining the current situation in Iraq as a "civil war" is consistent with other civil wars throughout history. Although nowhere near as bloody as the American Civil War, the Russian Revolution and the Spanish Civil War, the Iraqi Civil War compares favourably with other civil wars that were fought during the 20th century.

In terms of casualties, the 30,000 in Iraq compare well to the 36,000 who died during the Finnish Civil War. However, the civil war in Finland lasted just over 100 days making it a short but very bloody conflict.

The civil wars in El Salvador and Lebanon lasted well over a decade with casualties at least twice that reported in Iraq. However, the length of these two civil wars has led to lower deaths per day compared to Iraq. In Iraq at present, just less than twice as many people are dying per day than those who perished in El Salvador and Lebanon.

The Irish Civil War in 1922 and 1923 killed less people in total, and killed less per day, than the current situation in Iraq.

Comparing civil wars is obviously frought with the inevitable apples vs pears situation. Indeed, more people have perished in some civil wars than have died in some international conflicts. Obviously one of the problems is trying to answer the question "What defines a civil war?"

I won't even try to address that particular question now, but I will point out that history has generally named certain conflicts without any real dispute among either historians or ordinary people. Thus it is acceptable to define the conflicts in places like El Salvador, Lebanon, Ireland and Finland as being "Civil Wars".

And if these particular conflicts are defined in this way, then all the current evidence from Iraq suggests that a civil war has been occurring since George Bush announced "Mission Accomplished" to the world. Therefore it is no longer appropriate to report or define the situation in Iraq as merely a "conflict" or an "insurgency". What is occurring in Iraq is a civil war. Let's stop playing around with words and call it as it is.

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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The Iraqi Civil War

According to Iyad Allawi, the situation in Iraq can now be described as a civil war.

So that's how we have to refer to it now. Let's stop wondering whether Iraq is "on the brink" or "heading towards" it. Let's refer to it from now on as The Iraqi Civil War.

Arianna Apologises

Good for her:

Dear HuffPost Readers, Commenters and Bloggers :

I've read all your insightful feedback over the last few days and realized something I did not see right away but should have.

At the beginning of the week, I was so focused on making it crystal clear that we did indeed have permission to run the Clooney blog that I was blinded to another extremely important issue: that a blog, where the source of the material is not clear, diminishes the amazing work of bloggers who day in and day out put their hearts and souls into writing their blogs.
I can't thank our commenters enough for, in different ways, driving this point home.

I now realize that I made a big mistake in posting a blog without clearly identifying that the material in it didn't originate as a blog post but was pieced together from previous interviews.

I'm sorry I didn't see this earlier. But I see it now and here is what I'm going to do about it:

1. Going forward, any time the HuffPost uses repurposed material we will identify it as such and source where it originally appeared and link to it. (Thank you Jeff Jarvis)

2. Even though the point of providing George Clooney a sample blog was to show how it's done and encourage him to join the blogosphere, I will curb my enthusiasm and not do this in the future.

3. When I read something or hear something in an interview or have something said to me in person that I think is really important and should have as wide an audience as possible, I will put it in my own blog, becoming Boswell to all the Dr. Johnsons out there just as I did once with Arthur Schlesinger.

We've been doing this for ten months, and the learning curve has been enormous. Consider this a major lesson learned. I get it and have taken it to heart.



Arianna and the Clooney Controversy

The Huffington Post is an interesting, if slightly gaudy, website run by Arianna Huffington. It is essentially a DailyKos site for big names in the world of political progressives. Not only does Arianna have her own daily comment, but so do Harry Shearer (of Spinal Tap and Simpsons fame), Larry David (Seinfeld), Rob Reiner (director of Spinal Tap, Stand by Me and others), Walter Cronkite and many, many more.

In short, apart from providing a "link page" to various news stories that interest progressives, the site allows big names to give their opinions on things. Sites like Eschaton, Dailykos and others do not have this emphasis, which gives Huff Po its unique place in the progressive blogosphere.

Everything was going along successfully... until actor George Clooney wrote a piece about his political liberalism and how proud he was to oppose the Iraq war and how much he disliked George Bush.

Clooney is an outspoken Hollywood liberal - so his Huff Po article was nothing really new - that is, until George Clooney complained to the media that he didn't actually write the article in question.

That's right - Clooney did not write the HuffPo article attributed to him. In fact, he was angry that the Huff Po had published the article since he fervently denied ever writing it.

So who did write it? Arianna is in a bit of hot water over this. She has admitted that Clooney did not write the article, but that it was put together by a Huff Po staffer made up from public comments that Clooney had made. In other words, the article was 100% Clooney, but it wasn't actually written or compiled by him.

Her explanation goes like this: Huff Po contacted Clooney's agent and told the agent about what they were doing and the agent approved of it. The fact that George didn't know about it is essentially his agent's fault.

All of this is probably true - but it has revealed something about the actions of Huff Po which are disturbing her online audience.

Like thousands of others, I read the offending George Clooney article. As I read it, I made the tacit assumption that Clooney had actually written the article in its present form and had sent it off to Huff Po - much in the same way as I would hit the "Publish Post" button in blogger. This episode has revealed the fact that Clooney's article was not written in the way I thought it was.

In the online world of blogs and chat rooms and message boards, it is easy to lie, cheat and manipulate. Most of us who have been on the internet for a while are aware of this and are quite jaded and cynical about the way in which some people operate. Truthfulness, honesty and transparency are qualities that are in demand online. Web surfers and bloggers like myself realise that trust is essential for the online world to operate successfully.

The Clooney episode has taken away some of the trust that I have for Arianna and Huff Po. Now that it has been revealed to me that the Clooney article was merely a cut-and-paste job, I am now seriously doubting the veracity of other articles there. Does Arianna write her own posts? Does Harry Shearer?

For all of her trumpeting about how wonderful the world of blogs and online political thought are, Arianna has shown herself to be woefully igonorant of how important truthfulness in reporting is to online readers. There is no doubt that the tactic of cutting and pasting text from someone's comments, or of getting a staff writer to write your blog for you, is a common, even acceptable part of modern journalism. But that's not the point. The old rules no longer apply.

Arianna has also erred by not (so far) admitting that she is wrong over this issue. In her post "The Medium isn't the message - the message is the message", she defends the decision to re-work Clooney's words, arguing that it doesn't matter that Clooney didn't write them, so long as he actually said them.

Apologies go a long way in the online world. If someone admits they were wrong and does so quickly, the readers are usually mollified. Those who refuse to admit fault are lambasted so much that their online demise spreads in much the same way as viral marketing. It's why people like Andrew Sullivan and Jonah Goldberg are so despised. Politically, Arianna may not like the idea of admitting that she was wrong since she may think that it may harm her reputation. But in the online world, reputation is enhanced when people are honest about themselves. Arianna has much to gain by doing the right thing, and much to lose by standing firm on this issue.

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Changes to the laws of Cricket

This is what I would do to try to make it a bit easier on bowlers (who are suffering at the hands of a batsman-friendly environment):

Law 3. (The Umpires)
1. (a) Three umpires shall adjuicate during the match, with two on the field and one off the field, with a system of rotation to ensure that each umpire is on the field for two sessions.
This isn't a bowler-friendly law-change, but I think it is important for international and first-class umpires to function at the highest possible level throughout the match. With the amount of top level cricket increasing, the international umpires are making mistakes that may not have occurred had they not been fatigued. Having three umpires will reduce fatigue and increase their skills at judgement.

Law 6. (The Bat)
4. Bats shall weigh no more than 1.25kg
Advances in technology have meant that bats have, over the years, become far more powerful than they ever were historically. Mis-hits that would have been caught in the outfield are now going for six simply because of the increase in batting power. By limiting the weight of bats to 1.25kg (the maximum is around 1.4kg today) the batsmen will find it harder to score runs.

Law 10. (Preparation and maintenance of the playing area)
1. The pitch shall not be rolled during the match under any circumstances. Previous laws that allowed rolling between innings are no longer applicable.
3. (a) The pitch shall not be mowed during the match under any circumstances. Previous laws that allowed mowing before or after play are no longer applicable.
3. (b) The outfield shall not be mowed during the match under any circumstances. Previous laws that allowed the mowing of the outfield during the match are no longer applicable.
Before the match starts, the pitch should theoretically be as batsman-friendly as possible, and the outfield should be as fast as possible. As the match progresses, the conditions should begin to swing towards the bowler. By removing the option to roll the pitch between innings, the pitch will wear quicker. Similarly, by not mowing the pitch after play, the normal growth of grass will produce some interesting quirks on the pitch. Finally, with the outfield unmown, the ball will slow up after being hit, restricting the amount of runs scored.

Law 11. (Covering the pitch)
5. The pitch may not be covered during the nights before the final two days of play.
The game will be won or lost during the final two days of the match. By opening the pitch to "the elements" (ie rain), the pitch will possibly be damp during this time, allowing the bowlers to exploit the conditions.

Law 12. (The innings)
4. The toss shall randomly determine which team bats first.
Instead of having one captain win the toss and elect to bat or bowl, this method eliminates any decision-making on behalf of the captains whatsoever. Calling wrongly on the toss, therefore, is removed from the game's influences.

Law 41. (The fielder)
5. No more than three fielders may be behind the popping crease on the on side.
Due to bodyline, the rules were changed to limit the amount of fielders to two. Allowing an extra fielder may allow leg-side bowling to be punished less.

From the This Salient SportingLife Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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