Feb 06

Cover for all sorts of grime.

However the book series Fifty Shades of Grey came to be wildly popular, I’ll let social scientists figure out and help us sort through the ravages of our culture for the past five decades or so. But because it has turned into a heavily funded, slickly filmed and produced, and very cleverly marketed big budget film about to be released for Valentine’s Day weekend – a real twist of ironies there – people need to be aware of what this is all about. So many aren’t. Zac Alstin tried to help out here.

From its first pages Fifty Shades of Grey is firmly situated in the realms of mediocre fan fiction, beginning with an awkward and clichéd scene in which the protagonist helpfully describes her own appearance in the mirror. It continues with a quality of prose and characterisation that would be hard to reconcile with the book’s success but for the knowledge that the “erotic romance” genre is underpinned by readers’ sexual fantasies – in this case, the sexual fantasies of a hundred million Twilight readers already primed for an R-rated elaboration of their favourite tale of forbidden love…

As one author put it: “Two years ago, it was all vampires. Now it’s BDSM. Kink is the new vamp.”

Unfortunately BDSM does actually exist, whereas vampires do not…

Put those thoughts together and go to Miriam Grossman, featured here already for her expert insight and advice on the issues related to the themes of Shades of Grey. She speaks with expertise of those young readers primed for an elaboration on tales of forbidden love, without understanding the true nature of love. In fact, Dr. Grossman has written a four part series to help navigate this cultural minefield. It’s well done, from the first post, a parent survival guide on how to talk with teens and young adults about the subject.

There’s a lot for them to figure out, but they’re utterly lost. What do I want, and how do I get it? How do I deal with peer pressure and navigate the hook-up culture? Are there consequences to sex, or is it just about fun? What’s normal? What’s not?

Please know, these are kids who by and large do well in other areas. They’re successful at school and with friends; some of them are accomplished musicians and athletes. But romance? That’s where they’re thrown off-track, and there are lots of tears, anger, and regret.

I often wonder to myself, I know this kid has responsible, loving parents…where are they?

Moms and dads, guardians and grandparents, I urge you: no matter how awkward it is, you must speak to your children about intimacy – what it is, and what it is not. I’m talking not only about teens, but also tweens who are mature, or who hang out with teens.

Now brace youselves…

The perfect opportunity is here. Hollywood’s gift to us this Valentine’s Day is Fifty Shades of Grey. With Universal Picture’s mega million dollar publicity campaign, and a soundtrack by Beyonce, your child is about to be bombarded with a dangerous message about romance.

That’s a gift?

Fifty Shades of Grey teaches your daughter that pain and humiliation are erotic, and your son, that girls want a guy who controls, intimidates and threatens. In short, the film portrays emotional and physical abuse as sexually arousing to both parties.

You know these are foul lies, but your kids may not be sure. If the world was a better place, they would never hear such awful things. But this is the world we live in.

The good news is you can turn this to your advantage. Don’t dread all the hype, because it’s a chance to connect with and help your child in a big way. Every billboard, preview, and sound clip is a precious opportunity, a chance to warn your child about being manipulated. It’s a springboard for discussion about disturbed relationships – how to recognize and avoid them.

You can prepare for this with a little homework.

1. Learn about the film’s plot and main characters, Christian and Anastasia – this will give you credibility. Do this by reading a synopsis such as the one on Wikipedia. If you want more than that, there’s a long, detailed one at thebookspoiler ( warning: obscene language ).

2. Identify some opportunities for private and uninterrupted time with your child. Perhaps in the car, or while working together in the kitchen or garage. If you don’t think it’s going to happen, consider a bribe: There’s something really important I want to talk about. If you turn your phone off for fifteen minutes while we chat, I’ll give you five bucks. There’s nothing wrong with this.

My goal is this: by Valentine’s Day, you’re going to say: thank you, Universal Pictures. I used to procrastinate about talking with my child about this difficult subject. But Fifty Shades is so extreme, so over the top, that I had to step up to the plate. And I’m so pleased I did…because we had one of the most important conversations of our lives.

Good advice. Because these young people engaging entertainment media and pop culture all the time are sure confused. But so are their parents. I had Patrick Trueman on my program this week, former Justice Department head of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, and current President of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, to discuss how his organization is engaging this rollout of what he repeatedly called hardcore porn pitched as romantic fantasy. He said the film promotes torture, abuse and sadomasochism, normalizes domestic violence, and particularly violence against women.

That same afternoon, a young friend excitedly planning her wedding told me, anxiously about two women she knew who were planning to see the film when it comes out on Valentine’s Day weekend. One was her mother-in-law to be. The other is her friend who works at an abused women’s shelter. This, declared my friend, is the extent to which people are clueless about the harsh, perverse and graphic reality of this film. And it highlights the need to inform them.

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Feb 03

The truth and the lies have become clearer.

Vast numbers of young people turning out for the March for Life in Washington DC, other such rallies across the US, and in the groups, operations, organizations and services dedicated to daily outreach and care for women and children, are survivors of the Roe generation. They’ve lost siblings, classmates and peers, some even their own child in a surprise and unintended pregnancy, and they know the toll it has taken on them, their parents, families and society. They’re the most life loving, fiercely determined, committed and outspoken generation of pro-life activists. Abortion activists saw that years ago, the evidence that their generation was dying off as a natural consequence of devaluing human life and motherhood and the natural bond between the generations.

There are so many ways this story is coming out and reaching people. Star Wars fans, humanitarians in general who aren’t used to these types of personal accounts, look at this one.

In 1914 Agnes Cuff, a flighty and unstable young woman with few prospects and little money found herself pregnant. The father didn’t want to be involved. She was alone, shamed, poor and pregnant.

Today she would be encouraged to get herself to an abortion clinic and end the unwanted pregnancy.

Instead a little boy was born.

English actor Alec Guinness, most famous for his role as Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars was Agnes Cuff’s only child. On his birth certificate he is named “Alec Guinness” but those were only his first names. The place for the child’s last name is blank. So is the column where the father’s name is listed.

It has never been confirmed who Guinness’ father was. Some speculated that he was a member of the Anglo-Irish Guinness family. Alec Guinness himself thought his father was a banker named Andrew Geddes.

Alec Guinness converted to the Catholic faith in 1956 and was a faithful Catholic for the rest of his life. His delightful conversion story is told in his autobiography Blessings in Disguise

CNN runs a piece by a feminist against abortion.

Abortion betrays women by having us believe that we must become like men — that is, not pregnant — to achieve parity with them, professionally, socially, educationally. And if we are poor, overwhelmed or abandoned by the child’s father, or if medical expenses would be too great for us or for our child, social “responsibility” requires us to rid ourselves of our own offspring…

Is this really the equality we were looking for 42 years ago?

I think most women want to see a culture that respects and honors women not only for the myriad talents we bring as individuals to our professions, our communities and our country. Women also want to live in a society that, at the very same time, cherishes our shared, and indeed, wondrous capacity to bear new human life. We want to be respected for the work we do as mothers.

What about a culture where women’s childbearing capacity is recognized not as an impediment to our social status and certainly not as the be-all and end-all of women’s capacities as it once was, but as that which calls upon all persons in society to show a bit of gratitude? Rather than structure society around the wombless, unencumbered male, ought not society be structured around those who, in addition to being able to do all that men can do, can also bear new human life?

Such a cultural restructuring in support of caregiving — one that pro-life feminists seek — would benefit this generation’s fathers as well. Many men today would prefer to dedicate far more time and attention to their children than fathers of prior generations did, or could. Pro-woman, pro-child, pro-family policies would enable just that.

Not all women become mothers, but those who do so depend upon a cultural esteeming of both pregnancy and motherhood for their social and professional support. When we belittle the developing child in the womb, a scientific reality that most pro-choice advocates have come to admit, we belittle and distort that child’s mother. We make her out to be one with property rights over her developing unborn child (much as husbands once had property rights over their wives).

We give her the inhumane (but for 42 years, constitutionally protected) right to decide the fate of another human being, of a vulnerable child — her child — to whom she properly owes an affirmative duty of care. We do all this rather than offering her the myriad familial and social supports she needs, whatever her situation, and cherishing her role in the miracle of human life.

Those supports are being offered, in something like 2,500 crisis pregnancy centers, otherwise known as pregnancy help centers, across the US, a service expanding abroad as more service providers are training teams of caregivers and organizations outside the US. They cover everything a woman might need in what’s frequently called a ‘crisis pregnancy’, from medical aid to legal, financial, material, spiritual, and maternal aid once the child is born, when mothers choose to care and provide for their babies.

The Monday after the Super Bowl in the US always draws a great deal of media attention to the sports hype aftermath, and the commercial hype as well, especially rating the commercials that aired at extravagantly high cost during those hours of one of the most highly viewed sports games of the year.

Look how one well known and long established American company handled their ad.

This new ad by Pampers had 950,000 views on YouTube before it ran during the Superbowl. Babies are the focus here—born and unborn—and its message is that every first is significant, no matter how small it seems. The ad begins with a sonogram and goes on to show the many firsts between children and parents. It’s a heart-warmer, even if it is about diapers.

Especially because it is about diapers, which means a new life in the world, in the life of a couple, which now makes them a family. Well done. The pandering has stalled, and the pampering has shifted, back to where it belonged.

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Jan 30

Are we talking about the Charlie Hebdo unity rally and demonstration? Or the March for Life?

There’s a thought experiment. Robert Royal calls it “Magical Thinking” and  helps us think through it here.

“I am Charlie,” the common slogan, is silly and emblematic of how we express ourselves publicly about moral matters these days. But no shame on that crowd for saying – no matter in how confused a fashion – that we don’t allow some people to kill others, simply because they think they have a right to.

What shall we say, though, about the people who have remained largely passive in a world in which 1.32 billion babies have been aborted since 1980?

Or an America that has killed, without losing much sleep, 57.5 million babies since 1973?

More than Stalin (40 million).

Way more than Hitler (30 million).

Chairman Mao edges us out (60 million), but he had a bigger population to work with. And anyway, we’re catching up.

Out of those 57.5 million, 17.3 million black babies were aborted. It’s hard to get your head around such numbers, so this may help: That would be like eliminating the entire black populations of New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Houston, Memphis, Baltimore, Washington DC, Dallas, Columbus, San Diego, Phoenix, Indianapolis, Boston – combined. And more than twice. Put a different way, it amounts to almost half the current African-American population.

If America’s police departments did that, we’d be seeing a lot more than demonstrations about “Hands up, don’t shoot.”

Perspective is everything, especially if it’s keen and clear and not seen through an ideological lens. Young adults and adolescents in greater numbers every year, along with other generations of Americans from the Roe era to the children in strollers, get the truth of the pro-life cause and movement.

It should not surprise America that the pro-life movement is growing younger and stronger. Incredible advances in science have made it possible for young women such as myself to first greet our children and witness their miraculous development beginning when they aren’t much bigger than a legume. Today’s women track their baby’s developments with any number of smartphone apps. Today’s children are growing up in a world where ultrasound pictures of their siblings are taped to the family refrigerator. Today’s would-be parents are bringing children into the world where tremendous medical advances keep nudging backward the age at which babies born prematurely can be kept alive…

The 2014 midterm elections saw a huge number of legislators who self-identify as pro-life elected to office. Pro-choice darling Wendy Davis was a spectacular failure, and candidates like Mark Udall, who campaigned on abortion rights, not only lost but were criticized for emphasizing their pro-choice positions. The war on woman rhetoric the abortion rights camp has been using will likely be retired, especially when the youngest woman in history was elected to Congress last year, and she is a staunchly pro-life woman in fiercely pro-choice state.

The tide has turned, the truth of human life and dignity is again self-evident to more Americans. The March is getting bigger, younger, more joyful and hopeful every year. It’s joined by burgeoning groups of witnesses to the demonstrable ravages of abortion, like Silent No More Awareness Campaign, Created Equal, Centurions, And Then There Were None, Rachel’s Vineyard, Live Action, and so many others.

The media mostly didn’t cover the March for Life. But they’re rendered more irrelevant every year by ignoring hundreds of thousands of exuberant young people pouring into the nation’s capitol, cramming Constitution Avenue and the streets and avenues crisscrossing Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. Especially when participants take to social media to share the news themselves.

And it’s those thinkers and writers who are engaging the culture with challenging responses to the tired slogans of a dying movement that claims the right to kill in the name of an ideology of ‘freedom of choice.’

Here’s a good example.

I don’t have the right to force someone to be pregnant. I don’t have the right to force someone to continue to be pregnant. I don’t have the right to force someone to become a mother against her will. I simply don’t.

And neither does anyone else…

What we, as a society, do have the right to do is to require, and we do that all the time.

It is an accepted norm of human society that we require parents (this includes mothers) to care for their minor children. We do not accept conditions and exceptions to this rule. The age, sex, stage of development, and location of the child do not in any way preclude the obligation, the societal requirement, that the parents ensure that that child’s basic needs are met. This is true whether the child is living in the same residence as the parents or not. The obligation remains intact even if the minor child is away at boarding school, or living with relatives. Human society requires that the parents of each child be responsible and answerable for his/her health and safety.

In the event that the biological parents choose to pass the obligation for raising that child along to someone else (adoption), we still require that that happens in a way which is in the best interest of the child.

And it’s about time we look out, once again, for the best interests of the child.

This is not a new and radical position. The social contract which exists between parent and child is ingrained within every culture on Earth. This basic understanding of the duty owed by parents to their offspring predates its being codified into written law. There has never been a human civilization which did not hold this expectation for parents.

Now pay attention to this:

What is new is the position we now hold. Western society has decided that in the unfortunate instances when the biological parents of a child are incapable of caring for their child, we as a society will step in as a safety net, and see to his/her health and safety collectively. We recognize and so value each life that we have made the historically unprecedented decision to fulfill the parental obligation even in the absence of parental ability.

It is this basic human premise and recognition of human value which Pro-Life people call upon with regard to what is owed the child in the womb. We acknowledge the biological fact of the humanity of that developing human being, and require of its mother the same societal norm which exists for the well-being of all children. We expect that the parents of that child will meet and fulfill the basic needs of that child. In the event that they feel incapable of caring for that child long term, we place upon them the same obligation which is already in place – that they transfer the care of that child to someone else in a manner which safeguards the health, safety, and well-being of that child.

Recognition and protection of the right to life and human dignity are preeminent, the right upon which all others build. Rallies for the rights to free expression of speech, even of the most vile and obscene sort, no matter how many world leaders lead the march, make no sense whatsoever if that first and fundamental right is subjected to an ideological bias against life deemed disagreeable.

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Jan 16

He doesn’t soft-peddle his approach.

In another airplane press conference on an apostolic journey abroad, Francis called out anyone who commits violence in the name of religion. And while he emphasized the importance of free expression, he admitted it necessarily has limits.

Here’s the transcript of his remarks. A key exchange, on the tension between freedom of religion, and freedom of speech:

Sebastien Maynard (La Croix): Holy Father, yesterday during Mass, you spoke about religious liberty as a fundamental human right. With respect to other religions, how far can the freedom of expression extend, since this latter is a fundamental human right, too?

Pope Francis: Thanks for the question, that is smart, it is good. I think that both are fundamental human rights, religious liberty and liberty of expression. You can’t … Let’s think, are you French? Let’s go to Paris. Let’s speak clearly. You cannot hide a truth. Everyone has the right to practice their religion, their own religion without offending, freely. And that’s what we do, what we all want to do.

But…

Secondly, you cannot offend or make war, kill in the name of your religion, in the name of God. What has happened now astonishes us…Killing in the name of God is an aberration against God. I think this is the main thing with freedom of religion. You can practice with freedom without offending but without imposing or killing.

The freedom of expression… Every one of us has not just the freedom, the right, but also the obligation to say what he thinks to help build the common good. The obligation. If we think of a congressman, a senator, if he doesn’t say what he thinks is the true path, he doesn’t collaborate in the common good. We have the obligation to freely have this liberty, but without offending. It’s true that you cannot react violently. But, if Dr. Gasbarri, my great friend, says something against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke, you cannot insult the faith of others, you cannot make fun of the faith.

Pope Benedict, in a speech, I don’t remember which, he spoke of this post-positivist mentality, of the post-positivist metaphysics that brought people to believe that religions or religious expressions are a type of lower culture: that they are tolerated but that there’s not much to them, that they are in not part of an enlightened culture. And this is a lecacy of the Enlightenment. So many people speak against others’ religions. They make fun of them. Let’s say they “giocatalizzano” (make a playng out of) the religion of others. But they are provoking, and what can happen is what I said about Dr. Gasbarri if he says something about my mother. There is a limit. Every religion has dignity; I cannot mock a religion that respects human life and the human person. And this is a limit. I’ve used this example of the limit to say that in the freedom of expression there are limits, like the example I gave of my mother. I don’t know if I was able to respond to the question. Thanks.

This is so Francis-like. Honest and sincere, off-the-cuff spontaneous remarks, in the colloquial expressions he’s familiar with but we all are too, in our own way. So we can relate. Would you hear Pope John Paul II or Benedict talking about ‘expecting a punch’ for insulting his mother? No. But Francis is Francis. Catholics refer to ‘Holy Mother Church’, which was a point he was making. Freedom of expression is important, but all freedoms have to be exercised within the limits of truth, right order and the common good (think ‘You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater’).

More on his thoughts about religion being abused in the cause of war here.

When confronted with the question of truth commissions in war torn nations, Francis said this:

I support efforts to find the truth, balance efforts; not those in search of vindication, but balanced efforts to help to reach an agreement.

I heard something from the President of Sri Lanka – I don’t want this to be interpreted as a political comment, it is only phenomenological: I repeat what I heard and I agree with. He said he wants to move ahead with the work of peace, reconciliation. Then he used another word, he said we must create harmony in the people. That’s something more than peace, more than reconciliation, and it’s beautiful, it’s musical, too. Then he used another word. He said harmony brings happiness and joy. I was amazed. I said: I like hearing this, but it’s not easy. He said yes, we must touch people’s hearts. That’s what I thought of in answering your question, only by touching the hearts of people who know what suffering is, what injustice is; who had suffered many things from war, so many things. Only by touching hearts can people forgive, can we find the right path, without incorrect compromises to go forward.

This all comes right after the week of terror in Paris and the extraordinary weekend unity rally that drew world leaders and massive crowds together in a demonstration of solidarity against extremist violence. Francis has been working on that, through the channels available to him, throughout his papacy. In the footsteps of his predecessors, according to former US Vatican Ambassador Francis Rooney, who wrote this Time.com opinion piece not long ago, which becomes timely again with current events.

It has now been announced that Pope Francis will make a state visit to Turkey in November [which he made]. As with Pope Benedict’s visit there in 2006, a papal visit to the secular Islamic nation will garner the attention of everyone who is concerned about the violence and civil wars in the Middle East. Like the Albania visit, the Pope’s very presence will symbolize hopes for genuine religious tolerance and inter-religious dialogue, while drawing the clear distinction between religion and lawlessness and murder.

Following Regensburg, several groups of Islamic scholars acknowledged that Koranic teaching must reconcile with modernity.

Few people know that fact, to this day.

Continuing with Ambassador Rooney

Pope Francis’ engagement of the Holy See, both in calling for an end to the persecution of Christians and implying recently that even military opposition to ISIS in Iraq and Syria could be supported a “just war,” has similarly brought constructive results.

…Grand Mufti Abdul-Aziz, the leading Muslim cleric in Saudi Arabia, spoke out clearly against radicalism in response to King Abdullah’s public request for all clerics to raise their voices on this issue. While King Abdullah visited Pope Benedict in the aftermath of Regensburg, this is the most clear expression of Saudi opposition to radicalism to date.

On September 10, some two dozen MuslimAmerican leaders met in Washington with officials from the Department of Homeland Security and spoke out against Islamic terrorism and the recruitment of young Muslim Americans to extremism. More recently, in a direct reference to the need for “soft power” solutions, the Minister of Religious Affairs for Jordan, Hayil Abdelhafeez Dawoud, told the Wall Street Journal that “to fight terrorism, we need to fight its ideology. It can’t be solved militarily.”

George Weigel has recently summarized the problem and suggested a solution, stating that the modern world is at a crossroads with Islam, which requires that Islam reconcile its theology with the tolerance, freedom and respect for human life that the rest of the civilized world has come to expect, as well as with the nature of the secular, modern state and its relationship to religion.

While optimism is hard to find right now, and the violence and persecution in the Middle East and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa continue unchecked, these recent expressions offer promise that a broad community of nations will congeal to create a supportable, “just” force against Islamic extremists and that the Muslim states and leaders themselves will work to devise theological and philosophical constructions to bring Islam at large into accord with the modern world.

No sovereign is more aligned with these efforts nor more suited to weigh in diplomatically than the Holy See and Pope Francis.

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Jan 14

How about more attention on massacres, at the very least?

That’s what Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama virtually cried out for after the latest  breathtaking wave of crimes against humanity there.

As the world mourns the vicious massacres in Paris, one of Africa’s top religious leaders suggested that the lack of a similar outcry across the globe over the slaughter of up to 2,000 people by Boko Haram last week in northeast Nigeria is further evidence that Black lives don’t matter as much as whites’.

Ignatius Kaigama, the Catholic Archbishop of Jos and president of the Nigerian Bishops Conference, said the international community has expressed “solidarity,” but hasn’t done much to offer real help.

“We have always said that there should be concern expressed more concretely by the West beyond just expressing their solidarity,” Kaigama said. “They should do more than that. Compare what has happened in Paris and what is happening here. There is a great difference.”

According to Amnesty International, most of the people killed in Baga and the surrounding villages were women, children and the elderly, who were not able to flee in time. Reports say that the villages are overwhelmed with dead bodies lying as far as the eye could see. Amnesty International said it was the deadliest massacre Boko Haram has staged in the years of its murderous reign.

In addition to the dead, another 30,000 people are thought to have fled their homes, with about 7,500 seeking sanctuary in Chad and the rest adding to the tens of thousands of displaced people already scattered throughout that region of Nigeria.

On Twitter, Imad Mesdoua, a political analyst at consultants Africa Matters, said, “No breaking news cycle, no live reports, no international outrage, no hashtags,”…

Harry Leslie Smith, the 91-year-old who the Independent said electrified the Labour Party conference last year with a speech on the NHS, said on Twitter: “Note to the media and Western politicians that Paris isn’t burning but Nigeria is.”

On his Facebook page, Hollywood actor Boris Kodjoe congratulated the world leaders for taking part in the Paris march and asked “can somebody tell me why nobody is marching for those [Nigerian] victims? Any world leaders planning a trip to Lagos or Abuja this week? Too Busy? Bad flight connections?”

Thankfully, Angelina Jolie gets a lot of attention on just about everything she does and says, and she’s stepping up and speaking out about these atrocities, and calling out world leaders to send relief. This CNN report tells the raw story.

The attackers sped into a Nigerian town with grenade launchers — their gunfire and explosions shattering the early morning calm.

As terrified residents scattered into bushes in Baga town and surrounding villages, the gunmen unloaded motorcycles from their trucks and followed in hot pursuit.

Residents hid under scant brush. Bullets pierced them.

Some sought refuge in their homes. They were burned alive.

Many who tried to cross into neighboring Chad drowned while trying to swim through Lake Chad.

By the time the weapons went quiet, local officials reported death tolls ranging from hundreds to as many as 2,000 people.

That was January 3, nine days ago.

On Monday, bodies still littered the bushes in the area.

“It is still not safe to go and pick them up for burial,” said Musa Bukar, the chairman of the local government where Baga is located.

No emergency crews will enter the villages where militants are still running amok, local authorities said.

“Baga is not accessible because it is still occupied by Boko Haram,” said Sen. Maina Ma’aji Lawan of northern Borno state.

The strategic Nigerian town borders Chad, giving the extremists better access to both countries.

Boko Haram has terrorized northern Nigeria regularly since 2009, attacking police, schools, churches and civilians, and bombing government buildings. The Islamist group has said its aim is to impose a stricter form of Sharia law across Nigeria, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south.

The group’s brutal tactics have shocked and stunned the world.

It has kidnapped students, including more than 200 schoolgirls who were abducted in April — and remain missing.

On Saturday, explosives strapped to a girl detonated at a crowded marketplace in Nigeria, killing at least 20 people. Although no one has claimed responsibility, Boko Haram militants are the main suspects.

But the scale of the early January attack — the death of hundreds, possibly thousands — defies belief.

Any one of those sentences is a jaw dropping stunner. Why is this continuing? Isn’t anyone doing anything? Where’s the ‘international community’? Where’s the massive rally and outcry and gathering of world leaders? Where’s the social media campaign to activate people around the globe to stop the madness and inhumanity to innocent children, women, elderly, everyone in the path of this murderous gang?

Angelina Jolie wants to know, too. And in her position with the UN and the media in general, she has a voice and is using it, thank God.

“Each new crime committed by Boko Haram exceeds the last in brutality. This is a direct consequence of the environment of total impunity in which Boko Haram operates. Every time they get away with mass murder, rape and the enslavement of women and children, they are emboldened,” Angelina Jolie, special envoy of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement.

She urged the United States and other nations to offer Nigeria help to “collect evidence and bring the perpetrators of these attacks to justice.”

Amnesty International called the massacre Boko Haram’s “deadliest act.”

“If reports that the town was largely razed to the ground and that hundreds or even as many as 2,000 civilians were killed are true, this marks a disturbing and bloody escalation of Boko Haram’s ongoing onslaught,” said Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International.

The Nigerian military said the description of the attack as “the deadliest” was “quite valid.”

“The attack on the town by the bloodhounds and their activities since January 3 should convince well meaning people all over the world that Boko Haram is the evil all must collaborate to end,” it said.

Should is such a weak term, an innocuous one in this case. Convince? Does a case need to be made? Don’t the brutal facts shock all “well meaning people all over the world” into taking some action, any action, to call their members of government to DO something? And to do something themselves to send any form of relief available to us all?

What forms might that take, many good people desperately want to know. The first things I think of are the heroic relief organizations on the ground desperately trying to get life saving help to the thousands and thousands of innocent people terrorized and barely hanging on to life and hope, if they even have that.

Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders seems to be assisting survivors in the stricken region. CNEWA, CRS, Caritas and Samaritan’s Purse are great organizations doing so much globally. It’s not evident they can get into Nigeria, though they’re certainly on location where Iraqi and Syrian refugees have fled persecution and need help. So I checked out what Archbishop Kaigama is saying. Here’s what he’s saying about the help his people need:

The Archbishop said prayer was necessary, because the situation has gone beyond what “can be managed at the human level.”

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Jan 13

Will it be a new direction, or a short term distraction?

The massive rally in France drew European leaders together with a defiant and determined population in response to last week’s lethal attacks there by Islamic radicals. As big as it was, it was still little and late. It was trending, live in Paris and on social media, the thing to do at the moment. It was impressive to witness and encouraging to consider the opportunities this moment in history presents. Still, in these days in the immediate aftermath.

But look with the longer lens.

Why is free speech so fierce a battle cry now? The sudden, vicious and terrifying attacks on a publication in France started this new wave of international unity for free speech. Pens have become emblematic of this revolution against violent extremism that seeks to destroy free expression of ideas repulsive to the terrorists. But it took this week of terror to come to this unified stand against radical extremism. Before this, even the threat of such violence worked to stifle free speech, as Nina Shea has said time and again, and most recently here.

What lesson will Europe draw from the Charlie Hebdo massacre? Will it get serious about ending Muslim extremism within its borders, or will it try even harder to curb offensive political cartoons and speech about Islam? Up to this point, Europe has responded to Islamist violence in retaliation against ridicule, and even against sober critique of Islam, by taking the latter course.

In 2008, the EU mandated religious hate-speech laws, with European officials indignantly declaring that there is “no right to religious insult.” More revealingly, one official European commission delicately explained that this measure was taken to “preserve social peace and public order” in light of the “increasing sensitivities” of “certain individuals” who “have reacted violently to criticism of their religion.”

Consider this recall Shea makes:

Europe was frightened and wanted to cool down its angry Muslim populations and appease the censorship lobby that claims to represent them in the 56-member-state Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Since 2004, it had seen the assassination of Theo van Gogh in an Amsterdam street for his and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s film on abuses against Muslim women; worldwide Muslim riots and economic boycotts over an obscure Danish newspaper’s caricatures of the Islamic prophet Mohammed; and yet more rioting and murders after Pope Benedict presented a paper to an academic audience at Regensburg University that questioned Islam’s position on reason. The subjective hate-speech laws were intended to placate those — including Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, who in 1989 issued a fatwa against novelist Salman Rushdie — who demand that Europe police its own citizens for conformity to Islamic blasphemy codes. European leaders insisted that this could be accomplished while somehow still upholding Western principles of free speech.

These hate-speech laws have failed in both aims. Islamist extremism continues to grow in Europe, while speech critical of Islam is undertaken at ever greater personal risk, including risk of criminal prosecution. Some are so intimidated that they remain silent even when it is their duty to speak up.

And so on. Read Nina Shea’s whole article. She’s an expert on persecution and terrorism against minorities, and continually shines the spotlight on hard truths that slip into obscurity if not recalled as she does so often.

NRO’s Andrew McCarthy makes the same case, about what has happened for years when the fundamental principles, liberties and essential identities of Western nations were threatened by radical extremists opposed to their core values and being.

What is the response of Western governments, particularly in the United States — the leader of the free world, whose government was formed for the primary purpose of protecting our God-given fundamental liberties, including the right to free expression?

Surely we know this as a knee-jerk response by now.

Snug among her “Istanbul process” partners in Turkey, then–Secretary Clinton lamented that — despite energetic Obama-administration efforts — the campaign to muzzle “Islamophobia”…had been hampered by a legal inconvenience: Throughout American history, free speech had been deemed “a universal right at the core of her democracy.”

But there was, she declared, a way around the First Amendment, a way around the parchment promises of law. The United States government would “use some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming so that people don’t feel they have the support to do what we abhor.”

Was that clear enough? Since we can’t make the law prohibit critical examination of Islam, we hereby endorse coercion.

It wasn’t long afterwards that four American officials, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were murdered by jihadists in a terrorist attack on Benghazi. Almost all of the terrorists are still on the loose, but Secretary Clinton, President Obama, and their underlings took pains to blame the attack, falsely, on an anti-Islamic video. In particular, they choreographed a high-profile jailing and prosecution of the video producer.

That was shameful then, all the more culpable now for probably emboldening radical jihadists.

This Wall Street Journal editorial continues the point. Consider it carefully.

Wednesday’s massacre, following a long string of plots foiled by police in the U.K., France and elsewhere, is a reminder that jihadism isn’t a distant Middle Eastern phenomenon. There will be many more such attempts at mass murder, and authorities in the U.S. and Europe need broad authority to surveil and interrogate potential plotters to stop them.

This offends some liberals and libertarians, but imagine the restrictions on liberty that would follow if radical Muslims succeed in blowing up a soccer stadium or half a city. Men willing to execute cartoonists in Paris and 132 children at point-blank range in Peshawar in the name of religion

(remember that?)

won’t shrink from using more destructive means to impose mass casualties. Better to collect metadata and surveil some people now than deal with public demand for mass Muslim arrests or expulsions after a catastrophe.

Wednesday’s attack also demonstrates again that violent Islam isn’t a reaction to poverty or Western policies in the Middle East. It is an ideological challenge to Western civilization and principles, including a free press and religious pluralism. The murder of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists is merely the latest evil expression of a modern arc of Islamist violence against Western free speech that stretches back to Ayatollah Khomeini ’s 1989 fatwa calling for the killing of novelist Salman Rushdie.

There are the reminders again. How quickly we forget atrocities when the cameras go away and the headlines move to other news. Or fail to cover atrocities at all.

Like the story I heard Saturday on the BBC about a 10 year old girl strapped with explosives and sent into a busy market in Nigeria.

The bomb exploded in a market in the city of Maiduguri, in Borno state.

“The explosive devices were wrapped around her body,” a police source told Reuters.

No group has said it carried out the attack. The market is reported to have been targeted twice in a week by female bombers late last year.

Correspondents say that all the signs point to the militant Islamist Boko Haram group.

They have been fighting to establish an Islamic caliphate in the north-eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, which have borne the worst violence in their five year insurgency.

Where and when did you hear of this, if at all?

Have you heard about the attack carried out by Boko Haram after that one? The horrific “deadliest massacre” to date, in the words of Amnesty International?

Reporting in northern Nigeria is notoriously difficult; journalists have been targeted by Boko Haram, and, unlike in Paris, people on the ground are isolated and struggle with access to the internet and other communications. Attacks by Boko Haram have disrupted connections further, meaning that there is an absence of an online community able to share news, photos and video reports of news as it unfolds.

But reports of the massacre were coming through and as the world’s media focused its attention on Paris, some questioned why events in Nigeria were almost ignored.

On Twitter, Max Abrahms, a terrorism analyst, tweeted: “It’s shameful how the 2K people killed in Boko Haram’s biggest massacre gets almost no media coverage.”

Musician Nitin Sawhney said: “Very moving watching events in Paris – wish the world media felt equally outraged by this recent news too.”

If the unity rally was to be a consequential tipping point – and I believe it was intended as that and has the potential to be that – then it has to quickly spawn groups resolved to focus global attention on all the atrocities committed by violent extremists against innocents, and ready to direct relief, aid and protection to those children, women and elderly innocent people especially endangered by them.

Full stop.

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Jan 12

America’s president was conspicuously absent. Why? “Mr Obama is wholly out of sync with U.S. thinking and sentiment.”

So says Peggy Noonan in this Wall Street Journal column. It’s good reading for those fed up with fed-up-ness.

Here are the reasons the president of the United States, or at very least the vice president, should have gone [Sunday] to the Paris march and walked shoulder to shoulder with the leaders of the world:

To show through his presence that the American people fully understand the import of what happened in the Charlie Hebdo murders, which is that Islamist extremists took the lives of free men and women who represented American and Western political freedoms, including freedom of speech;

To show through his presence that America and the West, and whatever nations choose to proclaim adherence to their democratic values, will stand together in rejecting and resisting extremist Islamist intolerance and violence;

To demonstrate the shared understanding that the massacre may amount to a tipping point, whereby those who protect and put forward Western political values will insist upon them in their sphere and ask their Muslim fellow citizens to walk side by side with them in shared public commitment;

To formally acknowledge the deep sympathy we feel that France, our oldest ally, suffered in the Charlie Hebdo murders a psychic shock akin to what America felt and suffered on 9/11/01. The day after our tragedy, the great French newspaper Le Monde ran an unforgettable cover with an editorial of affection and love titled Nous sommes tous Américains: “We are all Americans.”

I’ll never forget that. I can’t say we are all Charlie Hebdo, as the trending pop slogan declares. But I can say we are all citizens of the world, virtually the same language Barack Obama used in his July 2008 Berlin address just four months before his first presidential election. Back when he wanted to identify with the masses, and embrace adoring crowds. Neither is happening now. But what is happening of import, is happening without his participation, acknowledgement or obvious concern.

Peggy Noonan concludes her piece with the historical reference to Gen. Lafayette, “our first foreign friend” who fought alongside Gen. Washington in 1776. Noting that the reference was starting to appear in social networks, she said that

…it would be good to send our friends in France, again through social media, the sentence, “Lafayette we are here, still, and with you, even if our leaders were not.” [Signed:] “The American people.”

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Dec 15

And countless others she personifies.

Whoever originally uttered the much misattributed statement that the death of one is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic, it’s been often cited and reapplied for good reason. It fits the Twentieth Century and first decade of the Twenty-First.

So personalizing the threat to one endangered, vulnerable, persecuted woman, man or child personalizes and humanizes the ongoing daily, hourly plight of countless millions of others we don’t see and easily forget.

Nina Shea, Nina Director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, has been a frequent guest on my radio show for her exhaustive work in protecting endangered religious minorities around the world. She’s one of the forces behind Persecution Report. Look it over, read it and weep. It’s so much worse even than it appears there, because the administrators are too busy fighting to save lives to update a website.

It was from Nina that I first learned of Asia Bibi. Here’s an update she published.

On October 16, for the first time, an appeals court affirmed a death sentence for blasphemy meted out to a woman. A Christian mother of five, Asia Bibi was arrested in 2009 after fellow field hands complained that, during a dispute, she had insulted the prophet of Islam. No evidence was produced, because to repeat blasphemy is blasphemous. Similarly, anyone who defends an accused blasphemer risks being labeled a blasphemer; two officials who made appeals on Bibi’s behalf—Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minorities affairs—were assassinated in 2011. Bibi has one last legal recourse, an appeal to the federal Supreme Court, but now no public official dares speak up for her—or for any other blasphemy defendant.

Accusations of blasphemy are brought disproportionately against Pakistan’s Christians, some 2 percent of the population. Intent is not an element of the crime, and recent years have seen cases brought against illiterate, mentally disabled, and teenage Christians. Each case seems to heighten the sensitivities of the extremists and further fracture society. The flimsiest rumor of a Koran burning can spark hysteria ending in riots against entire Christian communities. Lahore’s St. Joseph Colony was torched last year in such a pogrom.

The American Center for Law and Justice relentlessly drove a social media campaign to save Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s life, which probably did, in the end. They have pursued the same aggressive campaign of awareness and engagement for Pastor Saeed Abedini (who is American, by the way) and Asia Bibi.

A committed Christian. A mother of five. A loving wife. A servant of all.

But will she also be a martyr?

That’s Asia Bibi. She’s been sentenced to death by hanging under Pakistan’s Shariah blasphemy law. She was targeted as a member of the sole Christian family in her small Pakistani village. She was falsely accused of “blasphemy” – for supposedly speaking against the prophet Muhammad.

Last week an appeals court in Lahore, Pakistan upheld her execution sentence.

Here’s how this valiant Christian woman describes her plight, in her own words:

I’m the victim of a cruel, collective injustice.

I’ve been locked up, handcuffed and chained, banished from the world and waiting to die. I don’t know how long I’ve got left to live. Every time my cell door opens my heart beats faster. My life is in God’s hands and I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. It’s a brutal, cruel existence. But I am innocent. I’m guilty only of being presumed guilty. I’m starting to wonder whether being a Christian in Pakistan today is not just a failing, or a mark against you, but actually a crime.

But though I’m kept in a tiny, windowless cell, I want my voice and my anger to be heard. I want the whole world to know that I’m going to be hanged for helping my neighbor. I’m guilty of having shown someone sympathy. What did I do wrong? I drank water from a well belonging to Muslim women, using “their” cup, in the burning heat of the midday sun…

It’s as simple and devastating as that. For five years, she’s been imprisoned on death row over a cup of water. But what’s really at issue here is her Christian faith.

To her radical Islamic community and under Shariah law in Pakistan, her Christian faith is her “crime.” It’s her death sentence.

Her family is in hiding, fearing for their lives. In addition to the death sentence, Asia Bibi has a price on her head. A radical cleric has implored the Taliban to carry out her execution sentence before the Pakistani government does. Two Pakistani government officials who have spoken out on her behalf are now dead, murdered in cold blood for standing up for her human rights.

This atrocity cannot stand. No one – anywhere – should ever be put to death because of their religious beliefs.

All of us who have the freedom to speak out have the responsibility to speak out. It’s incumbent upon all of us to demand her freedom.

Though she has one final appeal at Pakistan’s Supreme Court, it is often public pressure and not a legal argument that wins freedom in these cases.

Asia Bibi has made a final plea to the ‘international community’ we speak of so often but specify and scrutinize so little. Who are ‘they’ and why aren’t ‘they’ doing more in these cases? This case provides another chance to engage the radical forces behind these crimes against humanity.

From her prison cell in Multan, Asia Bibi has become a symbol of the struggle for religious freedom in the world.

With social media, blogs and Facebook posts and Twitter hashtags, elite media notwithstanding, her rescue should be a viral story. For crying out loud, it’s well past time to use all these means of global communication to spread awareness and demand human rights be upheld. Not knowing is not an excuse anymore.

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Dec 13

How much of the world is aware this happened?

With so much else going on everywhere, in the US and globally, and so many news stories to get to and post here, all piling up, I came across this. And want to point it out.

A landslide destroyed a remote village in Indonesia, killing at least 17 people, an official said on Saturday, as rescuers used their bare hands and sticks to search through the mud for scores of missing in the absence of heavy-lifting equipment.

This is yet another story of people out of sight and mind, suffering terribly, with other people rushing forward to rescue and help as many and as much as they can, and I want to take a moment to direct attention to it and ask for prayers for all the people in dire need of them, and aid and support of any relief organizations you trust and regularly support. Or have been thinking of supporting. Because the need is great.

Hundreds have been evacuated from around Jemblung village in the Banjarnegara regency of central Java, about 280 miles from the capital, Jakarta, where media pictures showed a flood of orange mud and water cascading down a wooded mountainside after Friday’s disaster.

Mudslides are common in Indonesia during the monsoon season, which usually runs from October until April.

Think about that. The monsoon season lasts for half the year. That means living on the edge of danger or extinction half of your yearly life. And in a remote place to begin with, so largely cut off from swift access to emergency help.

Large swathes of forest land, power lines and houses were buried. Hampering the rescue effort was a lack of a telephone signal and earth-moving equipment in the isolated, rural area.

“There was a roaring sound like thunder,” Imam, who lives in a neighboring village, told television.

Television. The lack of any identifying network or station or anything professional news reporting usually requires shows the urgency and swiftness of this rudimentary report. Though it is published on a network news site, its source was a small local Indonesian outlet. Thankfully, they got this out. The people there are fending for themselves. They’re living in this remote place, completely off our radar, when suddenly their lives were thrown into panic with the “roaring sound like thunder”. Knowing now what came next, one shudders to think of experiencing this.

“Then I saw trees were flying and then the landslides. People here also panicked and fled.”

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, said 17 people had been killed, 15 rescued, 91 were missing and 423 people from the surrounding areas had been taken to temporary shelters. He said there was a history of similar disasters in the area.

Of all the disasters and crises in the world right now, this may not rise to the level of awareness even NBC gave it in this brief account. But it’s a community of  individuals and families and local merchants, businesses, services, people, so very far away from most of us, who were visited with disaster and need help.

I can’t sign on to Facebook these days without seeing accounts of crises, large scale and personal, people either in danger or in the aftermath of loss, and they’re reaching out for help.

For those of you who leap to such occasions to pray, please do for these Indonesians along with all others in need. For anyone who will give in this season of faith, hope and charity, please give to relief organizations.

And for everyone, let’s try to live by the Golden Rule, at the very least. My parents often reminded me of its fundamental role at the center of how they were raised. Do for others what you would hope they would do for you.

Especially when most of the world doesn’t even know you’re there, and in dire need.

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Dec 02

Will we ever get there?

As this is written, it’s still December 1st in the US, the exact date in 1955 ago that Rosa Parks made her quiet but firm stand for justice by refusing to give up her seat on a bus merely because of the color of her skin. And on this date in 2014, racial tensions in the US are inflamed still.

Yes, still, not ‘again.’ I wanted to learn which of the two references applied, so I asked Bishop Lance Davis on radio Monday, a friend and guest of the show who brings depth of experience and insight to conversations about social issues of the day, which it is in the reality of African American communities and individuals. Long story short, it’s ‘still.’ We didn’t get over racism in America, it never went away, it’s been a reality for far too many Americans for far too long, for many reasons. And as terrible as Ferguson has been for months, as exploited as it has been by people and factions for whatever their reasons, it provides an opportunity to face the realities and determine what we will do about them. Together. Because if it’s fractured into actions and reactions by identity groups, we won’t get anywhere to to advance an answer to the problem. We’ll only continue to be part of the problem.

Bishop Davis has been on my radio show to talk about the African American Clergy Coalition working together with Catholic bishops of Illinois to uphold marriage law and “getting our priorities straight”. His main points were outlined simply but clearly: “What really impacts the average black person? Do our priorities line up with that of our elected officials and community leaders?”

He and fellow clergy asked why state leaders were ignoring the most glaring issues their communities faced, most importantly inadequate education, high unemployment, injustices in the penal system, and the politics and political scandals that politicians were so caught up in. They held press conferences last year with the message that “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!”

They have never let up in their efforts to effect change for inner city schools, state funding to build more schools, allow students books instead of forcing them to leave the book under the desk in each class for the next student, and so on. But they never got the attention they sought from politicians who could make a difference.

Bishop Davis told me about driving his son to college in late summer, crying – not as or why most of us do when driving our child to college, but – because his son made it out of the neighborhood alive, and had that opportunity for a future, which so many young black men did not, for so many reasons.

I venture to say that while we know of gang violence and social breakdown in the inner cities, most whites don’t know this.

As one of the few black male reporters at The [Wall Street] Journal, I’ve had experiences over the years that are unknown among my white colleagues, though anything but unique among other black men. We’ve all had our encounters; we’ve all been in situations where being black becomes synonymous with being suspicious, where demanding rights and respectful treatment can be seen as resisting law enforcement.

How aware are you of the experiences some of your accomplished, talented, intellectual, impressive colleagues or friends in the professional world – who happen to be black – have had to face while growing up and coming of age? Read that whole WSJ article.

As a teenager, I could be a doofus, but I knew even then that my margin for error was nonexistent compared with that of my friends and co-workers. On a perfectly beautiful day, I could be suspicious enough to a police officer that I would end up on the wrong end of a gun barrel.

For many black men in America, that margin of error has not improved. I don’t condone the rioting in Ferguson, but it might help if the rest of the country had some small sense of the frustration and anger that this situation continues to cause.

My friend Tod Worner, who thinks like a brother I didn’t know I had, wrote this. In citing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the nature of his protests on behalf of the great Civil Rights Movement, for human dignity and “all God’s children”, a hero truly honest and honorable, who saw justice and injustice through the lens of history and Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, Tod’s post speaks profoundly well to and of the protests still festering in and about Ferguson.

I wrapped up Monday’s show saying there are three options and two are unacceptable. We can’t be complacent, complacency is not an option. We can’t be part of the problem in the many ways that provision is being offered to the American public. So we have to be part of the solution. I pray we each see the way to be that.

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