Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pay Up

Count it up, guys and girls. The American taxpayer subsidized $450,000,000 in bonuses for the executives responsible for the failure of AIG, I suppose, as a way of saying 'thanks' for playing such a central role in this financial mess. Thanks a buck-fifty from every man, woman, and child in the USofA. Have you coughed yours up yet? If you don't, those brilliant execs might get upset and threaten an early retirement or something. But we really need their smarts over there at AIG, and God knows they gotta pay for those primo wax jobs on those Bentleys. Make sure Grandma forks it over, k? Oh and tell her to just set aside a ten spot actually cuz I've got a feeling we're gonna be rewarding a few more companies' failures before this is all over. What? Her savings just evaporated cuz Wall Street gambled it away? Oh well, I'm sure your Dad can cover her. What's that? He just got laid off and is filing for chapter eleven because he can no longer afford those medical bills his insurer found a reason not to cover? Hmm, well I suppose you can borrow from your kids you haven't even had yet. Oh wait, does Social Security even exist anymore? Look here, my friends: these guys planned their Tahitian getaways long before they burned the house down. Let's all just call China and ask them for some dough. Oh, each of us owes them well over three grand already? Aw then they wont mind if we each borrow a quick twenty bucks more. We can toss half to make sure the rich stay rich and use the rest to celebrate over a box of Samoas.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bailouts for Bonuses

Why can't the US Government, upon agreement to hand AIG $170B, include in the contract that the US taxpayer will not subsidize executive bonuses? I mean, perhaps they were "contractually obligated" before they went flying off the cliff, but the only reason those bonuses can even be dscussed at this point is because we saved their asses. For that, we should have the power to say NO BONUSES FOR FAILURE, but we shouldn't even have to say it. This is disgusting.

WASHINGTON (AP) - American International Group is giving its executives tens of millions of dollars in new bonuses even though it received a taxpayer bailout of more than $170 billion dollars.

AIG is paying out the executive bonuses to meet a Sunday deadline, but the troubled insurance giant has agreed to administration requests to restrain future payments.

The Treasury Department determined that the government did not have the legal authority to block the current payments by the company. AIG declared earlier this month that it had suffered a loss of $61.7 billion for the fourth quarter of last year, the largest corporate loss in history.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has asked that the company scale back future bonus payments where legally possible, an administration official said Saturday.

This official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that Geithner had called AIG Chairman Edward Liddy on Wednesday to demand that Liddy renegotiate AIG's current bonus structure.

Geithner termed the current bonus structure unacceptable in view of the billions of dollars of taxpayer support the company is receiving, this official said.

In a letter to Geithner dated Saturday, Liddy informed Treasury that outside lawyers had informed the company that AIG had contractual obligations to make the bonus payments and could face lawsuits if it did not do so.

Liddy said in his letter that "quite frankly, AIG's hands are tied" although he said that in light of the company's current situation he found it "distasteful and difficult" to recommend going forward with the payments.

Liddy said the company had entered into the bonus agreements in early 2008 before AIG got into severe financial straits and was forced to obtain a government bailout last fall.

The large bulk of the payments at issue cover AIG Financial Products, the unit of the company that sold credit default swaps, the risky contracts that caused massive losses for the insurer.

A white paper prepared by the company says that AIG is contractually obligated to pay a total of about $165 million of previously awarded "retention pay" to employees in this unit by Sunday, March 15. The document says that another $55 million in retention pay has already been distributed to about 400 AIG Financial Products employees.

The company says in the paper it will work to reduce the amounts paid for 2009 and believes it can trim those payments by at least 30 percent.

Bonus programs at financial companies have come under harsh scrutiny after the government began loaning them billions of dollars to keep the institutions afloat. AIG is the largest recipient of government support in the current financial crisis.

AIG also pledged to Geithner that it would also restructure $9.6 million in bonuses scheduled to go a group that covers the top 50 executives. Liddy and six other executives have agreed to forgo bonuses.

The group of top executives getting bonuses will receive half of the $9.6 million now, with the average payment around $112,000.

This group will get another 25 percent on July 14 and the final 25 percent on September 15. But these payments will be contingent on the AIG board determining that the company is meeting the goals the government has set for dealing with the company's financial troubles.

The Obama administration has vowed to put in place reforms in the $700 billion financial rescue program in an effort to deal with growing public anger over how the program was operated during the Bush administration.

That anger has focused in part on payouts of millions of dollars in bonuses by financial firms getting taxpayer support.

In his letter, Liddy told Geithner, "We believe there will be considerably greater flexibility to reduce contractual payments in respect of 2009 and AIG intends to use its best efforts to do so."

But he also told Geithner that he felt it could be harmful to the company if the government continued to press for reductions in executive compensation.

"We cannot attract and retain the best and brightest talent to lead and staff the AIG businesses, which are now being operated principally on behalf of the American taxpayers - if employees believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury," Liddy said.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Jon Stewart vs Jim Cramer

Here's the complete interview between Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer. VERY interesting.



Wednesday, March 11, 2009

An Audio Journey

Here's a fascinating audio interview I heard tonight on 'The Story', presented by National Public Radio and American Public Media, following this introduction copied directly from TheStory.org

About 10 years ago, William Lobdell was at a church retreat. He felt a warmth spreading in his chest and next he knew, he was raising his hand - he felt he had been saved. His faith gave him new purpose in life. After a couple of years as an evangelical Christian, he began taking steps to convert to Catholicism. Around the same time, he convinced his editors at the Los Angeles Times to allow him to become the paper's religion reporter.

At the beginning, the religion beat was a dream job. But as stories of clergy abuse and religious hypocrisy kept making the news, Bill found himself shaken, increasingly skeptical of both the church and its teachings. He began to question his own faith, and ultimately the existence of God.

Listen Now to the mp3 in a New Window

The Coming Evangelical Collapse

Here's an excerpt from an article I came across yesterday on the Christian Science Monitor:

ONEIDA, KY. - We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the "Protestant" 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.

This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.

Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I'm convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.

WHY IS THIS GOING TO HAPPEN?

1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.

The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.

2. We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we've spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures.

3. There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven megachurches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile. Denominations will shrink, even vanish, while fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive.

4. Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism. Evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself.

5. The confrontation between cultural secularism and the faith at the core of evangelical efforts to "do good" is rapidly approaching. We will soon see that the good Evangelicals want to do will be viewed as bad by so many, and much of that work will not be done. Look for ministries to take on a less and less distinctively Christian face in order to survive.

6. Even in areas where Evangelicals imagine themselves strong (like the Bible Belt), we will find a great inability to pass on to our children a vital evangelical confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith.

7. The money will dry up.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Niiice :)

i was the old man on a moped, you were 19ish on a skate board - m4w - 70 (Disctrict of Columbia)

Reply to: pers-1003405187@craigslist.org [?]
Date: 2009-01-22, 7:34PM EST


I was on a moped and you were on a skate board. we looked at each other and you gave me a "i wanna suck your dick off" look and I almost crashed my moped into a blue usps mailbox with lots of people watching. i could tell you didn't mind other people watching, thats hotttttt. I was wearing an old Davy Crockett hat with the racoon tail in the back. So if that little tight ass skate boarding girl wants to get banged by me and some of my retirement home friends, let me know....or without the friends, i can use my cane on you and see how much you can take.


Location: Disctrict of Columbia
it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
PostingID: 1003405187

Friday, January 16, 2009

$10 Need TEMP place to crash for a couple nights? Share bedroom (Santa Monica)

Reply to: hous-995213126@craigslist.org [?]
Date: 2009-01-16, 9:15AM PST


Please - this is a platonic offer! And for females only.
We think it's important in nowadays to help out as much as you can. What we can do to help is offer you a place to crash for a couple days, if you need a break, just relocating into town, in between places or money is tight. There's currently a guest sleeping in our living room couch so we'd like to offer you to stay in our bedroom and share the bed with us. It's a really comfortable queen size bed. Yes - this means we have to be very respectful of each other. Low-key and laid back. Non smoker only. We have done this in the past and the girl that stayed with us felt safe and secure. We're a young couple living in a clean 1 bedroom apartment in Santa Monica. Close to everything. Very respectful and friendly. We'd like to be honest and upfront - we are open-minded but this is a strictly plotonic offer (unless you're interested in more, in which case we can talk about it). Let us know if you're interested and please provide some info about you, like who you are, your age, what you do, some myspace or photos, etc. Have a wonderful weekend.


Location: Santa Monica
it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
PostingID: 995213126

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Excerpt from 'Letter to a Christian Nation'

Here is a brief list of figures and a few quotes compiled by Sam Harris in his book 'Letter to a Christian Nation', a follow-up which responds to many religious criticisms of 'The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason', which spent 33 weeks on the NY Times Bestseller List in 2005.  Harris is a Stanford-educated philosopher and the son of a Quaker and a Jew.  Data collected from Pew, Gallup, and Newsweek polling.
  • More than 50% of Americans have a “negative” or “highly negative” view of people who don’t believe in God. 70% think it important for presidential candidates to be “strongly religious.”
  • “A person who believes that Elvis is still alive is very unlikely to get promoted to a position of great power and responsibility in our society. Neither will a person who believes that the holocaust was a hoax. But people who believe equally irrational things about God and the bible are now running our country.”
  • 44% of Americans think Jesus Christ will return in the next 50 years. 22% are “certain” that he will, another 22% think he “probably” will.
  • “According to the most common interpretation of biblical prophecy, Jesus will return only after things have gone horribly awry. Imagine the consequences if any significant component of the U.S. government believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be glorious. The fact that nearly half of the American population apparently believes this should be considered a moral and intellectual emergency.”
  • Only 28% of Americans believe in evolution (and two-thirds of these believe evolution was “guided by God”). 53% are actually creationists.
  • “Despite a full century of scientific insights attesting to the antiquity of the earth, more than half of our neighbors believe that the entire cosmos was created six thousand years ago. This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue.”
  • 87% of Americans say they “never doubt the existence of God.”
  • 28% of Americans believe that every word of the Bible is literally true. 49% believe that it is the “inspired word” of God.
  • “We read the Golden Rule and judge it to be a brilliant distillation of many of our ethical impulses. And then we come across another of God’s teachings on morality: if a man discovers on his wedding night that his bride is not a virgin, he must stone her to death on her father’s doorstep (Deuteronomy 22:13-21).”
  • 80% of Americans expect to be called before God on Judgment Day to answer for their sins. 90% believe in heaven. 77% rate their chances of going to heaven as “excellent” or “good.”
  • “In the year 2006, a person can have sufficient intellectual and material resources to build a nuclear bomb and still believe that he will get seventy-two virgins in Paradise. Western secularists, liberals, and moderates have been very slow to understand this. The cause of their confusion is simple: they don’t know what is like to really believe in God.”
  • 65% of Americans believe in the literal existence of Satan. 73% believe in Hell.
  • 83% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. (11% disbelieve. 6% don’t know.)
  • “The president of the United States has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he said that he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive.”

Thursday, January 8, 2009

An Oxford Debate

Here is an interesting intellectual debate over the existence of God between two extremely bright men.

Bios taken from Wikipedia.org:

Richard Dawkins, FRS, FRSL (born 26 March 1941) is a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and popular science author. He is a professorial fellow of New College, Oxford.
Dawkins came to prominence with his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, which popularised the gene-centred view of evolution and introduced the term meme. In 1982, he made a widely cited contribution to evolutionary biology with the theory, presented in his book The Extended Phenotype, that the phenotypic effects of a gene are not necessarily limited to an organism's body, but can stretch far into the environment, including the bodies of other organisms.
Dawkins is a prominent critic of creationism and intelligent design. In his 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker, he argued against the watchmaker analogy, an argument for the existence of a supernatural creator based upon the observed complexity of living organisms, and instead described evolutionary processes as being analogous to a blind watchmaker. He has since written several popular science books, and has made regular appearances on television and radio programmes, predominantly discussing the aforementioned topics.
Dawkins is an atheist, secular humanist, skeptic, scientific rationalist, and supporter of the Brights movement. He has widely been referred to in the media as "Darwin's Rottweiler", by analogy with English biologist T. H. Huxley, who was known as "Darwin's Bulldog" for his advocacy of natural selection. In his 2006 book The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that faith qualifies as a delusion − as a fixed false belief. As of November 2007, the English language version had sold more than 1.5 million copies and had been translated into 31 other languages, making it his most popular book to date.

Alister E. McGrath (born January 23, 1953) is a Christian theologian, with a DPhil in molecular biophysics, as well as an earned Doctor of Divinity degree from Oxford, noted for his work on historical, systematic and scientific theology. In his writing and public speaking, he promotes "scientific theology" and opposes antireligionism. McGrath was until recently Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Oxford, but has now taken up the chair of Theology, Religion and Culture at King's College London since September 2008. Until 2005, he was principal of Wycliffe Hall.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Nigerian Child Witches Part 2: Videos

Below is a collection of videos pertaining to my earlier post on Nigerian Child Witches. Please take the time to watch these.

Dispatches: Saving Nigeria's Witch Children: BBC Television Documentary (in six parts) which focuses on The Child Witches of Akwa Ibom State; Gary Foxcroft and Stepping Stones Nigeria; Sam Ikpe-Itauma and Child's Rights And Rehabilitation Network; evangelist Helen Ukpabio; and 'Bishop' Sunday Ulup-Aya.

Part 1


Part 2


Part 3


Part 4


Part 5


Part 6


Helen Ukpabio's 'End of the Wicked': Nollywood blockbuster which describes how child witches are inducted into covens and eat the flesh of their victims.


Journeyman Pictures have made three films on the subject of Nigerian witchcraft, but they have disabled embedding of their YouTube videos. Nevertheless, these are very interesting and informative. Please click the links below to open each in a new window.

Child Witches in Akwa Ibom State
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbDu0-K9cPk

Prophet TB Joshua 'removes demons' from White South Africans on a pilgrimage to Lagos, Nigeria
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7cGK9OodVY

Nollywood Film Industry
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpPXgStqjfs


'The Bishop' Sunday Ulup-Aya, who boasted to having taken the lives of up to 110 children in 'Dispatches: Saving Africa's Witch Children' speaks in police custody, December 2008


Friday, January 2, 2009

Nigerian Child Witches: Hate and Hope

Gary Foxcroft traveled to the Niger Delta in 2003 working toward a master’s thesis on community perceptions of the oil industry. What he discovered changed his life: children abandoned, littered along roadsides, hacked with machetes, doused with acid, nails driven into their skulls, slashed, maimed, or poisoned, as punishment, to extract confessions, or to exorcise demons. And these are the lucky ones, mere outcasts -- ostracized, beaten, rejected, but with warm blood still pumping through their tiny hearts. Untold numbers were not so lucky.


Sorcellerie are literally everywhere across the African continent -- in the newspapers, on the radio, on television, and pervading the consciousness of the African populous. Anyone at any age could be branded, perhaps even you.

With a population of 140 million, and a staggering growth rate of 9%, Nigeria is now the 8th most populated country on Earth. The Niger Delta boasts the world’s 12th-largest known reserves, and is widely regarded as a bridge away from American dependence on Middle-Eastern Oil. A member of OPEC, Nigeria was the United States’ fifth largest supplier of crude and petroleum in 2008, just above Iraq. The West-African nation’s oil industry, of which the Nigerian government owns a 65% share, experienced windfall profits of over $60 Billion in 2005. You’d think, with such massive positive cash flow, that they’d be well on their way to first-world status, but roughly half of Nigeria’s inhabitants still live on less than one dollar a day. Poor sanitation, a poor education system, severe environmental degradation, massive oil spills, theft, and widespread corruption have all stripped the abundant wealth from under the feet of Nigeria’s people and left them famished and desperate. When the Nigerian government failed to safeguard its people, they turned to religion.


This is the story of child witches in Nigeria. It begins fifty years ago, around the time Nigeria gained independence from England. Christianity has influenced the region since the 1800’s, but the last half century has brought a massive influx of Pentecostal churches, blending Christian Evangelism with traditional African religious beliefs to give rise to the modern witch hunt.

In the years immediately following independence, Africans tended to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors, trending toward opposition of witchcraft in favor of modernity. But most will point to racial lines rather than reason. White man didn’t believe in sorcery, so the notion of magic was squelched in colonial Nigeria. But in the waning influence of British colonialism, Africans, ever mindful of the glowing reality of witchcraft, have pushed the issue back to center stage.


Now, you’ve heard of Hollywood. I suspect you know Bollywood. What about Nollywood? Respectively, these are the three biggest film industries on the planet, and Nollywood’s most prolific output are Christian films. Nollywood blankets the entire African continent with titles like ‘Holy Ghost Fire’, ‘Private Sin’ and ‘End Time’. The most widely viewed of these films is undoubtedly Helen Ukpabio’s ‘End of the Wicked’, which depicts the process of possession and induction of child witches into covens, engaging in cannibalism and bringing disease, chaos and death to their families. Supporting this wild claim with Biblical passages like Job 41:24-25 (“There is no power upon earth that can be compared with him who was made to fear no one, He beholdeth every high thing, he is king over all the children of pride. He is king...He is superior in strength to all that are great and strong amongst living creatures: mystically it is understood of the devil, who is king over all the proud.”), popular evangelist Ukpabio (pictured above), General Overseer of the 150-branch Liberty Gospel Church and a proud mother of three, professes three distinct types of witchcraft: black, white, and red. 

“In white witchcraft, people are organized into various cult groups or religions and thought certain things contrary to the word and will of God. Some of the things they do are believed to have the potential of protecting the member and making him prosperous while harming the others in the work place, business place, school, the neighbourhood, or family. All the same, it is witchcraft and harmful to him and others. In black witchcraft, the spirit gets directly into the human spirit. It can be dropped into someone’s food and it develops. If you are initiated into it, you can do a lot of evil to people in the society. The black witchcraft is crude and dangerous. They act like beasts and have no sympathy or pity for humans.” Ukpabio professes that witches practice their craft on their beds, and covet others’ fields and properties.


Given such widespread anguish, it can be difficult for anyone to avoid coveting a neighbor’s field. Scholars point to starvation, destitution, and poor allocation of resources as prime catalysts for fear and suspicion of neighbors, friends and family.

While Ukpabio might be a standout figure, her kind is far from rare. The Niger Delta region boasts a higher number of churches per square mile than any other place on Earth. Ministries such as the Church of God Mission, New Testament Assembly, Glory of God, Mount Zion Gospel, and Brotherhood of the Redeemed literally pepper the landscape. High birthrates and aggressive evangelization have rocketed the number of believers from a little over 150,000, or 1% of Nigeria’s population in 1960, to 60 million, over one-third today.

Humble and unadorned nganga of the mid-twentieth century have given way to newer and glitzier healers who drive expensive cars, wear designer clothes and live in large houses. They profess great knowledge of magic, Christian rituals and medicine, and make salaries sufficient to support copious material indulgences. These wealthy, conspicuous and arrogant modern nganga now arbitrarily point fingers, diagnose many each day, and foster growing panic over the supposed proliferation of witchcraft which consequently triggers violent witch hunts by not only more ngangas and ministers but also state judges and police.



One ironic characteristic of the modern nganga is that they are self-proclaimed ‘super-witches’ who have developed their evil power to a degree which allows them to provide protection against pervading sorcery. Here’s a brain-bender: these super witches are often called as witnesses or consultants to provide testimony in court trials against defendants who have been accused of witchcraft. Also, state officials call on nganga to cast spells on their political opponents while simultaneously accusing their opponents of participation in sorcery.

There are some basic trademarks regarding witchcraft. Anyone can be accused of it, and suspicion draws hidden aggression from within the family and community sphere. There are infinite possible interpretations of magic, making falsification of accusation essentially hopeless. Sunday Ulup-Aya, ‘The Bishop’, asserts that well over half of Akwa Ibom State’s 4 million inhabitants are probably witches.

Clearly visible symptoms of sorcery can be seen in children under two years old: crying at night, fevers, and degrading health (nevermind that these are common symptoms of children in impoverished regions). The clergy widely threatens that child witches will not only bring destruction, disease, and death to families, but they may also cast spells and contaminate others. For a price equal to a poor Nigerian’s annual income, ‘The Bishop’ will perform a two-week program of deliverance employing ‘African Mercury’, a mixture of pure alcohol and his own blood, which must be swallowed and poured into the eyes of the afflicted. One regimen is not always enough. Sometimes two or more of these two-week procedures are necessary. Often, parents cannot immediately pay the exorbitant fee; if so, ‘The Bishop’ will imprison children until the balance is covered. Ulup-Aya eventually resorted to simply killing supposed witch children, having claimed to have personally taken the lives of up to 110 in order to protect their villages from the spread of contagious evil spirits. Increasingly, parents are left to struggle with difficult choices: drain the family account in a potentially futile cycle of exorcisms or abandon their children altogether.


This is what witches do - they ruin families. But it’s the neighbors who exert the strongest influence with malignity and strength in numbers. Once diagnosed, it’s practically impossible to reintroduce these children to their communities. Instead, they are ostracized, beaten, hacked, driven from villages or killed in any number of brutal, primitive ways. Mothers are frequently forced out of desperation and terror to take their children away from the community and dump them on the street. Many wind up on the doorstep of CRARN.

Sam Ikpe-Itauma and his wife Elizabeth started the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN) in 2003 by opening their home to four children who had been branded as witches. A handful of children are stigmatized each day and few hospitals or clinics will accept them. Today, he and five others care for more than 150 witch children at the CRARN Children’s Centre, a modest tin-roof and cinderblock structure where every day is a fight for the rights of these abandoned, maimed, and uneducated youth.



Having witnessed the frightening humanitarian crisis first-hand, Gary Foxcroft, 29, vowed to return to the region and do whatever he could. He founded Stepping Stones Nigeria (SSN), a UK-based charity organization which has since partnered with CRARN to provide children of the Niger Delta with education and quality resources and also to provide protection from abandonment, stigmatization, murder, and slave trade. SSN-funded radio and television jingles have also helped raise awareness about stigmatization and abandonment.


Five years ago, the federal government passed the Child Rights Act which forbids such child abuse, but not all of Nigeria's 36 states have adopted it. It was only after SSN and CRARN staged a large public demonstration in front of the governor’s mansion in Uyo, with British cameramen and many abandoned witch children present, that Akwa Ibom State finally adopted the legislation, and in early December 2008 ‘The Bishop’ Sunday Ulup-Aya was taken into police custody. Foxcroft questions whether any long-term effect will take hold as a result of the mandate. ‘The Bishop’ is only one of many of such ngangas, and may have only been arrested because he boasted his murderous ways on the UK television documentary ‘Dispatches: Saving Africa’s Witch Children’. International media pressure appears to have been what ultimately brought about the adoption of the Child Rights Act in Akwa Ibom State, not the true will of Governor Godswill Akpabio. Foxcroft told the Guardian UK on December 8 "the fact remains that the vast majority of Akwa Ibomites including commissioners, legislators, policy makers, police and social welfare teams believe that children can be 'witches'. Until a radical reorientation of these mindsets takes place, the abuses of child rights that occur due to this belief system are likely to continue for many years to come.” Handfuls of children are still showing up at the rescue center every day.


Not only is English the primary language spoken in the Niger Delta, African discourses on witchcraft have made their way onto the internet. Any English-speaking person with access to the internet can visit Helen Ukpabio’s website and peer insider her ministry. Just as witchcraft is practiced by those who aim to destroy it, modernity is embraced by those who fear it. The atrocities which have been committed in the Niger Delta are by no means localized to Akwa Ibom State. They are taking place across Nigeria and the whole African continent. Humanitarian crises in Africa all appear to share a common thread of poverty, disease, environmental degradation, corruption and a severe lack of birth control and education. Rwanda and Darfur are two shining examples of how such circumstances can quickly spiral into chaos.

Problems in Nigeria and the rest of Africa have been getting out of hand for so long that it’s difficult to do anything but shrug and wonder if there is even a solution. These travesties are ubiquitous in Africa. Maybe this is simply how Mother Earth controls Her human population -- in stark, darwinian terms. Dwindling resources, environmental decline, exponential population growth, more and more ignorant and pecunious people all clamoring for the same barren fields -- certainly these are fertile grounds for hatred, violence and plague. As with any gaping and festering sore, infection will surely spread if untreated. Africa’s poor, overcrowded villages and slums are an evolutionary laboratory for disease. What can anyone really do?

Francis Bacon put it concisely 500 years ago: “Knowledge is Power.” Adults become set in their ways. Self-transformation is not occuring from the top down. Children, however, are impressionable. If we can protect and teach these children, perhaps they will grow away from voodoo. Imaginably, a new generation of Africans could reform their nations if given the tool of intelligence. Leverage to solve the African crises could be achieved through international efforts to quell violence coupled with simultaneous implementation of a sweeping educational revolution aimed directly at children. But stifled UN efforts in Sudan exemplify the roadblocks to peacekeeping. Certainly, any imposition on the part of any foreign government agency has its own pitfalls and implications, and nation-building should never be our enterprise. Nevertheless, eradication of epidemic ignorance could build a robust foundation which might empower Africans to overcome a huge amount of their own obstacles, from within. Perhaps the only way is through non-governmental organizations like Gary Foxcroft’s Stepping Stones Nigeria and the Ikpe-Itaumas’ Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network: one tiny heart at a time.


“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
-- Lao Tzu

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Word, My Lady?

I think it’s really amazing how many of you have been reading along, and I especially appreciate those of you who have participated by responding and giving this examination a life of its own. I’m thinking that it might be time to let God breathe a minute and move on to other curiosities. Shouldn’t we? Its a big world out there; I’d hate to get caught up on one thing for too long. Regardless, I’d like to respond to those of you who posted comments in the last few days:

*******************

“Mikey, you wish there was a benevolent God. There totally is a benevolent God. What greater gift could He have given than to die in our place. He wanted us to have the perfect world all along. No suffering or pain...but we had to go and mess it up.” -- Amanda

Amanda, I respect your response. Perhaps you’re right, and there is a benevolent God who has given us free will to act without God’s knowledge or prediction. However, if we are acting outside Her wishes, then She cannot be omniscient. This simple impossibility is mentioned in my blog post “The Free Will/Omniscience Paradox.” What should be noted here is that if God isn’t omniscient, then the very foundation on which Christian theology is based becomes significantly compromised.

“I still think there is both. Yes, God has a plan. But He can not decide what you will do with it. . .There is no way I can ever believe that we don't have free will. People do too many stupid, cruel, and selfish things.” -- Kathryn

Kathryn, your steadfast belief in free will makes a lot of sense and appears to be grounded in reason, because you have seen concrete empirical evidence which suggests that you and everyone you know makes many choices on her own, every day. The notion of free will, in this context, is merely a philosophical, not religious, principle with connotations ranging from religion to ethics to science. I am sure that you will see what I mean when I say that ‘free will’ can exist without divine origin; however, if you’re saying God has a general plan, but doesn’t know if we will follow it, then you’re suggesting that God might not be omniscient. Once again, God-given free will disproves the notion of omniscience, which is a central tenet of Christianity.

'All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them.’ Ecc. 9:2 -- KD

KD, this was a good find. Certainly, if there is a preponderance of biblical evidence to support an omniscient God’s divine plan, then this must suggest that free will cannot exist, as proven in my article “The Free Will/Omniscience Paradox.” However, since many have responded to my blog posts in firm support of the notion of God-given free will, it appears the very existence of God must be put under tough scrutiny.

“I pretty much stopped studying religion when I was 12. (I also started slacking in science, until college, because well, studying the two of them together at the same time made for alot of confusion). . .Yes, logic, reason, science, in most cases they make the most realistic case, and against them, God does not make sense. Alot of things in this world do not make sense to me though, and therefore, I don't believe everything has to fit into the 'realistic' category. . .Though I don't KNOW God exists, I feel he does. I don't really know how to explain it.” -- Kathryn

Well, Kathryn, it appears you found an interest in philosophy. We can never profess to know everything. We should never profess to know anything without proof.  Emily Dickinson penned “faith is doubt.”  Perhaps the reason science makes the most sense is because it is the correct path.   Perhaps the reason God does not make sense is because She just isn’t sensible, having been conceived by man before the advent of science, and hence subsequently and continually disproved by the slow but consistent momentum of scientific progress. If, however, realism is unnecessary, and you only need to just feel that God exists, well, it sounds like you don’t need to be having this exercise of free thought.

“As far as God being omniscient, I believe that He is, to a point. He may know what is going to happen, He may know what situations we will find ourselves in, and He may even know how we will react, but I don't believe that means He chose our reaction. Its more like a prediction. Perhaps He even hopes for us to prove Him wrong at times, though we can never really know.” -- Kathryn

There is no such thing as God being omniscient ‘to a point.’  Nor can an omniscient God hope to ever be proven wrong.  Those very statements are a paradox. Perhaps God is not omniscient?

“Hurricane Katrina didn’t take the lives of over 1000 people...the levee’s that man made that broke did, and then they went and rebuilt them. There’s weather everywhere, God doesn’t have to stop that, but maybe not building levees where ocean is SUPPOSED to be might have let over 1000 God-loving, church-going, poor black people keep their lives....annnd I believe most of them were warned to evacuate and they didn’t...so that’s not God’s fault.” -- xoTLExo

Alright, I will give it to you that an argument can be reasonably presented which proposes that God didn’t kill people in New Orleans, but rather our government’s mismanagement of a levee system in a city constructed below sea level. However, this does not disprove my original point, which was that if there is a God, She is not benevolent. If mismanagement of levees killed NOLA’s poor, what killed over 225,000 innocent people in the tsunami in December 2004? There are plenty more examples, but I think you’ll get my point. There was no free will, nor was there any possibility of mortal lapse. This was purely a deadly “Act of God.”

“As for Skid Row, well...Getting addicted to crack or heroin is your own choice, not God’s. If you’re stupid enough to do drugs because your friend told you it was cool or for whatever reason people get into drugs and now you can’t work because of it, that’s your own fault.” -- xoTLExo

I think it would be a good thing for you to learn more about Skid Row and how people wind up in such circumstances. Yes, often humans make decisions to do drugs which will ruin their lives, but what about the children which are born into this life? What about the babies who are born addicted to crack? What about the children who grow up on the streets of Los Angeles and are raped and beaten and uneducated and hungry? Surely you can see that free will does not apply to them, right?

“He gave the world to us all and we went and f%#&ed his s!*^ up.” -- Noelle

I would agree with you if each child born into this world shared an equal shot, but the very fact that this isn’t true completely disproves the idea of a benevolent, omniscient God who give us all free will. A simple brainstorm will raise plenty of examples where you will see that we are born into this already-cruel world. Perhaps human history has created the cruelty, but the simple fact that we cannot control it is what contradicts the idea of equal dissemination of God-given free will.

“I am a realist, you may disagree with that based on my faith but then as you do not personally know me.” -- Claire

Claire, faith requires you to let go of a certain measurable amount of realism.

“Like Claire said, God gave us free will and I believe that as he gave us, he leaves us free to help others. . .God is not good, God is Just.” -- Bruna

Bruna, is God just? A simple history query will raise plenty of doubts on this point. One that immediately comes to mind is the dogma which proclaims that a benevolent nonbeliever will go to hell even if she haphazardly follows the Ten Commandments. That is not divine justice; it makes me believe that I, and most people I know, can be more just than God.

“You want to know why i dont blame God....because he gave us free will.” -- Claire

A Christian God is proclaimed to be omniscient. Its a central pillar of the faith. If God gave us free will, then She understands that She gave us the ability to defy the will of God; hence, God would no longer be omniscient. If God knows how and when we will defy Her, then she is not benevolent and also the idea of free will ceases to exist because our actions are predestined. Please see “The Free Will/Omniscience Paradox.”  Perhaps there’s nothing to blame for the way things are except the slow progression of history, evolution, nature, etc. Remember, I’m not arguing against the notion of ‘free will,’ I am only arguing it in the sense that it is given to us by an omniscient God.

“There are many many countries where survival is very hard, but this is MAN MADE, how can you blame God who gave us all free will.” -- Joanna

The point I was attempting to make is that free will can be overridden by a host of circumstances, or can be precluded by forebearers. The notion of God-given free will in the context which you write can only apply to the very people who messed these places up originally. This is not a religious debate point, however. This is merely an empirical observation.

“Do you really want God to wave a magic wand, to dictate what we can & can't do, so you want to be a robot in fairy land? Ever heard of Idi Amin???” -- Joanna

I’m not sure what you’re talking about, and yes, I am quite familiar with Idi Amin. I’m not sure how he supports your argument. Idi Amin stripped an entire people of free will.

“I have many instances where God has stepped in I can never not believe.” -- Joanna

In one sentence, you say that God doesn’t intervene because he gave us free will, which is how such tragedies can occur under the nose of a benevolent, omnipotent God. Now you are suggesting that God has chosen to intervene in your life. If you say She did, (and I cannot argue that She didn’t) are there others on this planet who might deserve some divine intervention? If so, why has God chosen you and not them?

“Yes he can wipe out whole nations, he can destroy the Taliban & all terrorists, he can hold back nature BUT YOU DONT WANT TO BE A ROBOT, YOU WANT FREE WILL WHICH IS WHAT WE HAVE.” -- Joanna

Joanna, this is not about being robots, and it most certainly isn’t about what we want. If God exists, it’s exclusively about what She wants, isn't it? 

“As for science DNA has proved we come from one set of parents, that all babies start as female.....” -- Joanna

Please produce concrete scientific evidence to support this fantastic claim. It should also be mentioned here that even the discoverers of DNA are nonbelievers.

"You know if enough people followed your beliefs you would be considered a religious icon, then would that make you a hypocrite?" -- Noelle

I think I can see your point, but it deserves mentioning that Agnosticism and Atheism merely suggest a lack of belief. Therefore, no one would be following my beliefs, since I don’t have any regarding God.

“No proof????!!! proof is everywhere...in everything you "can't explain" -- emotion, nature, death, EVERYTHING.. that's god, because there is no need for explanation when we all know the un- tangible feeling.. the all knowing, all powerful, all good god.” -- Noelle

Noelle, please put down the Koolaid. Proof is everywhere in everything we can’t explain? That’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever read one. Furthermore, if your God is all-knowing and all-powerful, She has not given you free will and She certainly isn’t ‘all good.’

“Sometimes I find myself changing the way the bible goes.” -- Noelle

Read above about the Koolaid.

“We can update the bible a bit. IF he can forgive a murderer, not to sure he'd mind an updated bible, especially for some new aged truth. maybe with new true stories and a pixstar advertisment campagin, we might have some REAL people back on our side... FOR REAL.” -- Noelle

One more time, sweetie.

“What is the definition of a god? The presence of mountains, the colors of a flower, the smile you got from your dad, the way you feel when you get hurt, the knowledge of the difference between green and red.” -- Noelle

If you're looking for the origin of the presence of mountains, I’d point to geology; the color of flowers, botany; the smile you get from your dad, love; the way you feel when you get hurt, doctors; and the knowledge of difference between green and red? Well, I’m red-green colorblind.

“The death of the people helping at ground zero did not come from God hating us. . . Yes he created those people who f#%^ed our s&*t up, but he also gave them free will to kill or love.” -- Noelle

I’m sure you can see how this is a perfect example of a few Islamic terrorists overriding the free will of thousands of Americans. 

“I personally know that God does not enjoy suffering or cause it to happen. I know He orchestrates everything for good even in the midst of despair.” -- Lisa

How do you know? And you cannot say that you ‘just know.’ There’s an abundance of abject misery in this world. If you know that God is good, then why and how does She arbitrarily ‘test’ so many with such intolerable cruelty, while others are given comfort and ease? And if God is orchestrating, then there’s no place or need for free will. It simply ceases to exist by definition of Divine Orchestration.

“i believe that God has given us free will because of His love and allows us to use it, rather than control us.” -- Lisa

This contradicts what you said above about God orchestrating everything. Please see "The Free Will/Omniscience Paradox."

“Christian belief is that God is holy & perfect and we are sinful (since the Garden of Eden), so the only way anybody can be with God in relationship or in heaven is by having his or her sins atoned for... in Judaism it's through sacrifices of animals, but Christians believe that Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice for everyone's sins.” -- Lisa

If Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, then why must we worry about sinning? If God is holy and perfect, than why has She created such an imperfect species as the human race?

“God gave us free will, 9/11 was a result of that. We can torture eachother and kill eachother all we want, we can kill our unborn children, and even our children after they are born... We think and act for ourselves, God doensn't do it for us. We lie, cheat, steal, and God has nothing to do with how we behave.” -- Kathryn

I can see your point, but therefore God cannot be omniscient. Also, the act of killing removes free will from the victim. Why would God allow such a loophole?

“I believe that God does have wrath - but that the wrath of God was satisfied in Christ.” -- Lisa

Given the overabundance of misery in this world, it’s hard to see how God (assuming She exists) has gotten all her wrath out on Jesus.

‘The other thing was the way you described the Bible - if you actually study the Bible it is not a message of laws and damnation, but rather a huge story of God's love for the world, expressed most fully in Jesus.” -- Lisa

No reasonable person argues the fact that the Old Testament is rife with messages of strict laws, cruel vengeance, and fierce damnation. For a mere handful of examples, please see “My God Your God His God Her God.”   Furthermore, it is not “a huge story of God’s love for the world expressed most fully in Jesus,” as the simple exercise of dividing the Bible at the end of the Old and beginning of the New Testaments will prove that the Bible is much more heavily weighted toward the Old.

“In response to the above, yes there were people on that list who i have also respected but i personally just because i respect someone doesn't mean they will shape my beliefs.” -- Claire

Actually, many of the people on that list have shaped your beliefs; its just that you might not even think about it since their contributions to the scientific world are, by now, so widely dispersed and part of general knowledge. You believe in Ego, yes?  Freud shaped your beliefs.  The Socratic Method?  Thank Socrates.  Do you wish for the return of Monarchy? No? Thank John Locke for your freedom. Do you support the practice of Civil Disobedience over violence? Thank Henry David Thoreau and Gandhi. Evolution? Thank Darwin. I’ll stop myself. I think you’ll see my point.

“You did have alot of people I've spent my life respecting in there too though, so I'll give you that. I can only hope that they are the ones who are wrong though.” -- Anonymous

If I were you I would be thankful that these people were right. Otherwise, we would not be here having this conversation.

“In my opinion, the first Biblical passage that should have been mentioned regarding free will is in Genesis when God told Adam & Eve not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil, and they did (therefore introducing sin into the world). That was a free will decision. God didn't prevent them from eating the fruit.” -- Lisa

You’re right. I should have mentioned this; however, the question remains: Did God know that they would eat the fruit? If so, it was predestined, and therefore disallows free will. If he did not know that they would eat the fruit, then God is not omniscient. The two are mutually exclusive.

“He created us and knows us intimately, so that is why He knows what we will choose. He doesn't force us to do what He wants, or we wouldn't have any sin in this world at all. He doesn't cause us to sin or hurt others.” -- Lisa

If God knows our moves before we make them, then free will does not exist. However, for the sake of argument, if God knows what we will do, but chooses not to intervene, then not only does free will not exist, but God is also not benevolent. If an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God would choose to stand and watch in cases where free will is overridden by bad people exercising free will to commit atrocities and overriding the free will of his people, then only one reasonably conclusion can be reached: God is malevolent.

“Jesus called us to start fixing things down here - "the Kingdom of God is at hand" - the Kingdom God created where there is no suffering and pain and inequality (even though that's what you are saying that God endorses).” -- Lisa

If God is omnipotent, why doesn’t She just fix things Herself? If Jesus, as the flesh of God, called on us to fix things for Her, why did God create such a flawed species in the first place? Did God make some kind of mistake somewhere along the line? If God is omniscient, didn’t She know things would come to this level of misery and chaos for so many of Her people?

“I think one thing, though, that would be nice is if you at least had some respect for believers, understanding that they might have used reason and logic to arrive at a faith decision.” -- Lisa

Since only 10% of the United States are nonbelievers, it’d take an awful lot of disrespect. I love people. I love seeking knowledge and asking questions. I love diversity. If you have searched within, asked yourself all the tough questions, found all the contradictions and malevolence in the Bible, learned all that science has discovered, exhausted your free will to challenge assumptions and prophesy, and learned in depth about all the other other religions that exist and have existed rather than accepting the one you’ve been given or is closest in proximity and history, and you still come back to Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior, I will not only have the highest amount of respect for you -- I will want sit down and learn from you.

An Exercise in Perspective


If God actually exists, how lucky we are to be the only thing he cares about or mentions!  How lucky we are he chose a land so close by to bear a son.  A lot of wasted space indeed.  Come, have a look: