News Analysis

News: Culture


>> = Important Articles

** = Major Articles



Part 1: India’s imbalance of sexes (Washington Times, 070226)

Part 2: Brides bound by traditions (Washington Times, 070227)

Part 3: Lots of stings, no pain (Washington Times, 070228)

Part 4: GE machines used to break law (Washington Times, 070301)

Halloween for Christians: Turn Off the Lights or Capitalize? (Christian Post, 071031)

Halloween: The Unpopular Christian Story (Christian Post, 071031)

Susan Jacoby: Bemoaning an America that values stupidity (Paris, International Herald, 080215)

Color, Form, Balance — and Worldview: How to Judge a Work of Art (BreakPoint, 080408)

Survey: Hollywood More Dangerous than Evolution (Christian Post, 080521)

Rare uncontacted tribe photographed near Brazil-Peru border (National Post, 080530)

Architect Looks to Construct First Moving Tower in Dubai (Foxnews, 080625)

Africans Most Genetically Varied People on Earth (Foxnews, 090501)

Marathon Wimbledon Match Suspended at 59-59 in 5th (Foxnews, 100623)

The “Glee” Agenda (, 100604)





**Score One for Judeo-Christian Culture (, 101213)

John Bennett


Multiculturalism creates a neurotic and dishonest society. This is seen very plainly during the Christmas season. Those of us who celebrate Christmas are told that we must rip the very core of this season out, and replace it with a phony, soulless thing called “Holiday” or “Winter.” This is dishonest because nobody celebrates winter. “Holiday” is a shallow term to describe Christmas; the term abuses language to impose a false meaning on a reality that most of us cherish.


“Holiday” and “Winter” are weasel words used by cultural appeasers who are too ashamed of their own culture to say what everybody knows to be true. That is, that most of us are celebrating Christmas. Maintaining Christmas is part of preserving the culture that gave us almost everything that we have worth keeping. The whole name-changing charade is neurotic because it forces people to pretend that our majority culture is not what it actually is.


Now, the madness of the Christmas season is upon us- not the madness of shopping centers, but the madness of toxic tolerance. It’s happening already in Philadelphia, where a shopping plaza was transformed from “Christmas Village” to “Holiday Village.”


Sensitive people will respond that concerns about church-state separation could come in to play. But there is not the remotest trace of such a concern to be found in the initial Philadelphia decision. The reported rationale offered by the city manager was that “This is not about taking Christmas out of the holiday. It’s about being more inclusive.” He also said that the decision was not based on political correctness, but on “common sense.”


Just follow the logic of his statement. We want to be inclusive, which means embrace diversity. Therefore we are going to express disapproval for the majority culture that made this nation great, which is what attracted those diverse people in the first instance. Yes, it was largely immigrants of Christian denominations who built this country, and if one does not like that fact then they are free to find another place whose history doesn’t offend them. Next, as the city manager’s logic goes, in place of the majority culture we will substitute a contrived, nebulous thing called “Holiday” or “Winter” which means nothing to anybody.


Ultimately, the Philadelphia Mayor urged “Christmas” to be placed back on the sign. But consider the conflict that played out there, as it does in many cities, every year: For fear of mildly offending a few unreasonable people who don’t like to see or hear the word Christmas, we have chosen instead to completely outrage many people who celebrate Christmas as part of our nation’s majority culture.


Some people call it the “war on Christmas” but this phenomenon is best described as part of something larger that harms us year round: toxic tolerance. Toxic tolerance has been described as “the imperative never to offend anyone, no matter how evil, duplicitous, or exploitative they might be.” Tolerance is supposed to be something that makes society better off by placing consideration of others before one’s own narrow views. Liberals treat tolerance as an absolute value. Along with “embracing diversity,” tolerance is one of the only values liberals will allow- or should I say tolerate.


Make no mistake about it, those who rip Christmas out of public life are duplicitous and exploitative, no matter what they claim their victim status to be, and no matter how noble their motives. It is duplicitous to attack the majority culture under the pretense of tolerance, when the outcome of the ostensible tolerance is to be intolerant of the majority culture. It is exploitative to use privileged victim status to enforce personal preferences at the expense of a profoundly important cultural and, yes, religious observance. There are few things more self-centered than using privileged victim status to erase part of the culture one finds themselves in. If Westerners went to non-western nations and tried this ungrateful, petty behavior, they would be rightly condemned or worse, depending on the locale.


We invite hypocrisy as well- not just garden variety hypocrisy, but the type of fundamental hypocrisy that makes a sham of our self-respect and attacks our national identity. In particular, we can’t have any mention of Christ at Christmastime in public, government places, but your tax money will be used to degrade and insult Christ.


Witness the Smithsonian’s display, this close to Christmas, of ant-covered Jesus art. The federally funded Smithsonian featured an art film showing a bloody plastic crucifix with ants crawling on the face and body. That’s what they think of our majority culture. Ant-covered Jesus went along with Ellen DeGeneres man-handling her own breasts, and naked brothers kissing- neither part of a Christmas display, as far as one can tell. The people who despise the majority culture are forcing taxpayers to fund their contempt for our society. This is sheer dishonesty and exploitation.


At root, this toxic tolerance and holiday madness is produced by blending multicultural appeasement with a thoughtless liberal notion of equality- not equality brought about by merit or based on majority norms, but equality brought about by government coercion, leveling, and betraying the majority culture. We are told, particularly in educational settings, that all cultures are equal- without any proof or justification. On top of the absurd premise of equality, liberals add legal or social coercion.


If a fraction of the public doesn’t celebrate Christmas, we’ll offend the majority by eliminating references to their cultural observance. Thus stores and communities take “Christ” and “Christmas” out of the season, as in Philadelphia.


Likewise, if certain groups can’t perform academically at a high standard, we’ll destroy the high standard. Thus a high school in affluent Evanston, Illinois is considering eliminating an honors course because the class had too many whites and not enough minorities.


And if certain groups are more likely to commit terrorism, we’ll avoid offending those groups, pretend that everyone is an equal risk, and obscenely offend all groups. Thus, TSA searches a wheelchair-bound nun.


Every place where multiculturalists make the rules, the people who work hard are having their interests undermined, and the majority culture has to let itself be muzzled. Make things worse for successful people in order to compensate for those who aren’t. That will make everyone strive to do better. Erode the majority culture to make minorities feel more welcome. That will increase social harmony.


We in America, and in the West as a whole, need to stop apologizing for our culture. We –or more accurately those who came before us- have created something great, and that is why people leave their non-Christian nations to come here and to other Western nations. How dare anyone say they have a right to the benefits of our society while at the same time attacking the root of our culture?


The norm needs to be reinforced: At Christmas time, we are celebrating the birth of the historical figure who gave rise to our culture, Jesus Christ. We who celebrate Christmas should be vocal in saying that we are offended when Christmas is ripped out of public life. Those who do not celebrate can bloody well not celebrate. It is selfish and insulting to demand that the majority alter something sacred, simply for the convenience or comfort of an unreasonable minority.


If the liberal mayor of Philadelphia can be pressured to change course, just about anyone can. The first battle in the War on Christmas has been won by Judeo-Christian culture. No one has an excuse for sitting out. We need to take our culture back and take our country back. That is one resolution that we can achieve before the New Year.




Part 1: India’s imbalance of sexes (Washington Times, 070226)


By Julia Duin


First of four parts.


“Raising a daughter is like watering your neighbor’s garden.” — Punjabi saying


PAONTA SAHIB, India — By early afternoon, wedding festivities were well under way for Gagandeep Singh, 29, and Taranjeet Kaur, 26, in this touristy town in the Himalayan foothills of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.


Mr. Singh, the groom, works at an American Express office near New Delhi. He is seated cross-legged in a large, gracious white Sikh temple overlooking the Nagar River. His ceremonial finery includes a dagger and ornate turban.


Beside him is his bride, her hands heavily hennaed with designs befitting a newly married woman. She is dressed in a magenta-colored gown and spends much of the ceremony gazing down at the floor. Nestled beside her like a flock of bright birds are female relatives dressed in brilliant jewel-colored tunics known as salwar kameez.


In front of the couple are Sikh priests. They alternately pray, sprinkle holy water on the crowd and instruct the couple to circle around a low-lying altar as a trio of musicians tap out rhythms on tabla drums and a harmonium.


Later, back at the wedding hall, the bride’s father, Amarjit Singh, reveals he has given a refrigerator, TV, washing machine, clothes and a DVD player to the family of the groom.


“This is not dowry,” he protests, “these are just gifts the father likes to give for his daughter.”


Miss Kaur is his only daughter and later that evening, she sits in her family’s living room as guest after guest shoves stacks of rupees into her purse. Eventually, a car pulls up containing the groom’s family. Wailing and clutching her parents for the last time, she slowly marches toward the waiting car that will bear her 30 miles southward to Yamunanagar, the city where her new husband’s family lives.


“Indian brides handle these partings with great theatrics, often wailing uncontrollably,” observed American journalist Elisabeth Bumiller in her 1990 book on the trials of Indian women, “May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons.”


“I decided this was the only rational response, given what was in store for many of them,” she said.


More boys than girls


India is facing a shortage of women like Miss Kaur.


In most places in the world, a mother can find out the sex of her unborn child, but in India, it’s illegal to do so. That is because if she’s a female, there is a good chance she will never be born.


Roughly 6.7 million abortions occur yearly in India, but aborted girls outnumber boys by 500,000 — or 10 million over the past two decades — creating a huge imbalance between males and females in the world’s largest democracy.


Ratios of men to women are being altered at an unprecedented rate in India and neighboring China, two countries which account for 40% of the world’s population.


According to UNICEF, India produces 25 million babies a year. China produces 17 million. Together, these are one-third of the world’s babies, so how their women choose to regulate births affects the globe.


Female infanticide — whereby tiny girls were either poisoned, buried alive or strangled — has existed for thousands of years in India. But its boy-to-girl ratio didn’t begin to widen precipitously until the advent of the ultrasound, or sonogram, machine in the 1970s, enabling a woman to tell the sex of her child by the fourth month of her pregnancy.


That coupled with the legalization of abortion in 1971 made it possible to dispose of an unwanted girl without the neighbors even knowing the mother was pregnant. In 2001, 927 girls were born for every 1,000 boys, significantly below the natural birth rate of about 952 girls for every 1,000 boys. [KH: no, it is 1003 to 1000.]


In many regions, however, this imbalance has reached alarming levels and it continues to grow. In 2004, the New Delhi-based magazine Outlook reported, sex ratios in the capital had plummeted to 818 girls for every 1,000 boys, and in 2005 they had slipped to 814.


The issue is highly sensitive for the Indian government, which had given the nation’s sex imbalance scant attention until this month.


“It is a matter of international and national shame for us that India, with [economic] growth of 9% still kills its daughters,” Renuka Chowdhury, the Cabinet-level minister of state for women and child development told the Press Trust of India news agency in an interview that was widely published in the national press.


Mrs. Chowdhury announced plans to set up a nationwide network of orphanages where women can drop off unwanted daughters with no questions asked.


“We will bring up the children. But don’t kill them because there really is a crisis situation,” she says.


Yet the practice of “female feticide” is so widespread and deeply ingrained in the nation’s psyche, scholars and activists fear that even the most vigorous attempts to combat it would require a lifetime or longer to restore nature’s balance.


“There has always been a deficit of women: Infanticide, neglect or they’re left to die if they are sick, but technology has accentuated it,” says Prem Chowdhry, a New Delhi-based scholar and specialist on male-female relations in India. “The volume has grown. Culturally, these things are not new, but now they’re taking a new shape.”


Early this year, the British medical journal Lancet estimated the male-female gap at 43 million. Worldwide, Lancet said, there are 100 million “missing girls” who should have been born but were not. Fifty million of them would have been Chinese and 43 million would have been Indian. The rest would have been born in Afghanistan, South Korea, Pakistan and Nepal.


China gave an even bleaker assessment last month, with the government saying that its men will outnumber women in the year 2020 by 300 million.


One Geneva-based research center, in a 2005 update on the phenomenon, termed it “the slaughter of Eve.”


“What we’re seeing now is genocide,” says Sabu George, a New Delhi-based activist. “We will soon exceed China in losing 1 million girls a year.”


The date may already be here. In a report released Dec. 12, UNICEF said India is “missing” 7,000 girls a day or 2.5 million a year.


Although India has passed laws forbidding sex-specific abortions, legions of compliant doctors and lax government officials involved in India’s $100 million sex-selection industry have made sure they are rarely enforced.


Several companies, notably General Electric Corp., have profited hugely from India’s love affair with the ultrasound machine.


As a result, a new class of wifeless men are scouring eastern India, Bangladesh and Nepal for available women. India, already a world leader in sex trafficking, is absorbing a new trade in girls kidnapped or sold from their homes and shipped across the country.


As sex-specific abortions increase, the destabilizing effects on Indian society are bound to greatly impact a country with expanding economic and strategic ties to the United States.


India’s estimated $23 billion defense budget relies on military hardware from U.S. corporations, and the U.S. Congress voted in November to permit the sale of nuclear technology to the country.


In September, The Washington Times sent a reporter and photographer to spend three weeks in different parts of India chronicling this problem. They asked: What are the cultural reasons for this genocide? Why is the government allowing it? Who is fighting against it and what steps can be taken to stop it?


Dowry deaths


Sister Mary Scaria was one of two girls in a family of nine children.


Dressed in an aqua-colored sari of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary, the nun is also a lawyer and coordinator of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese’s Justice & Peace Commission. In early 2006, she published “Woman: An Endangered Species?” which charged that “female feticide” is decimating half of the population.


She chiefly blames the dowry system, a Hindu marriage practice by which the groom’s family demands enormous sums of money and goods from the bride’s family as a condition for letting their son marry her.


“At a wedding, everyone looks to see how many bracelets the bride has and how much gold she has,” the nun says. Dowries typically consist of gold and appliances, as well as substantial amounts of cash. Defenders of the system say that girls are often denied an inheritance in India; thus, what she gets at her wedding is in effect a savings account she can retain for the rest of her life.


What actually happens is the groom’s family pockets the dowry, the nun explains, and the payments don’t stop there.


“When a wife has a baby in India, the wife’s family has to pay for the hospital stay,” Sister Mary says. “After the birth, they also have to bring gold and food for the new family, even new saris for all the relatives.”


Some Indian castes even require that the bride’s family pay her funeral expenses when she dies. Worse yet, the groom’s family will often kill the bride in what’s known as a “dowry death” if they think the dowry is too small.


Many families therefore elect to not have a girl at all. Medical clinics — which Sister Mary calls “womb raiders” — have advertised “better 500 rupees now [for an abortion] rather than 50,000 rupees later” [for a dowry]. The first amount is about $11; the second is $1,100.


Dowries are theoretically banned under the 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act, but enforcement is poor and other religious groups such as Muslims and Christians have been caught up in the custom.


Sister Mary says that if she were to get married, her Catholic family would have to pay up.


A Sept. 29 article in the Times of India front-paged its account of a Muslim family in New Delhi that dumped a new daughter-in-law within 24 hours after the wedding because the dowry was not big enough.


The groom said he wanted about $4,400 more “as well as a Pulsar [motor] bike,” the bride told the newspaper.


Caste causes


It’s a sultry evening and Ms. Chowdhry, dressed in an olive green salwar kameez, orange pants and gold bracelets, is reflecting on why the life of an Indian woman can be so miserable.


“First,” says the New Delhi-based scholar, “girls can get killed for a number of reasons, including anything that brings dishonor. A girl can be killed before she is born. If she survives, she is forcibly married. If there’s not enough dowry, she is killed.”


She cites the Indian state of Haryana, just north of New Delhi, which has the country’s second highest per capita income. It also has India’s second worst sex ratio, after Punjab state to the west. For every 1,000 boys born in Haryana, just 820 girls were born, according to the 2001 census. In 1991, it was 879 girls.


Punjab is similarly wealthy; thus, instead of the poor killing their children, it’s the rich, says Ms. Chowdhry, a former senior fellow at the Nehru Memorial Institute and Library.


“Punjab and Haryana are the two highest per capita income states, but they have such regressive trends,” she says. “How can they call themselves modern?”


India’s caste system “is very basic to violence against women,” she says. It is based on Hinduism, which teaches one’s behavior in this life determines which caste one will be born into for the next life. Individuals are expected to marry within their caste.


Thus, the shortage of girls is a “huge problem” to men in Haryana and Punjab who wish to observe caste practices.


“In Haryana, 36% of the men between 15-45 are unmarried,” she says. “In one district, it’s 40%. Men who do not get married get more vicious.”


Richer men will be able to get themselves wives; what’s troubling to Ms. Chowdhry are the poorer men who are importing brides from India’s poor eastern regions.


“These women are extensively sexually exploited,” she says. “They do all the housework, manual and field work. Some of these women, once they are used by a man, they are passed on to another.”


Pregnant women wishing to avoid having daughters who might suffer such a fate are desperate to find doctors who will tell them the sex of their children.


“Mobile vans have advertisements on them that a doctor is available,” Ms. Chowdhry says. “They are innocuous, but everyone knows what’s inside.”


Sikh radiologist


The city of Yamunanagar, population 300,000 located 130 miles north of New Delhi, is encircled by wheat and sugar cane fields, bisected by the Yamuna River and dotted with herds of black water buffalo.


The area north of New Delhi has the country’s most severe shortages of girls. In Yamunanagar alone, there are 30 doctors who will illegally abort a female child at the request of the parents, says Dr. Tajinder P. Singh, 45, a local radiologist.


He refuses to tell pregnant women the sex of their offspring after their ultrasound tests in his office in a Yamunanagar strip mall. And he reports the names of those doctors who do to the government.


In response, doctors refuse to refer their patients to him, his family has been physically threatened, and he was thrown out of the local branch of the Indian Medical Association.


Asked how he copes, he says: “My family is small, my house is small, my daughters don’t ask for much money.”


In New Delhi, one of the city’s top obstetricians, Dr. Puneet Bedi, has likewise been blackballed by his associates for his stance against “female feticide.”


“I can work only as a visiting consultant and only work at small hospitals,” he says sadly. “But that is the price you pay. Feticide is the tip of the iceberg on medical malpractice here.


“Feticide was invented, touted and sold by the medical profession, and it operates with the complete consent of all factors of society,” he says.


What keeps him going?


“Oh, nothing,” he responds. “A lot of us are quite frustrated. I didn’t choose to be an activist. But the amount of malpractice is so bad here — either you get involved in it or you get desensitized to it. I know a lot of good doctors who do not practice it, but they also do not speak against it.


“Of my 10 first cousins in Punjab, no one has had a daughter in 10 years,” he says. “You hope someone else would be stupid enough to produce a girl but not you.”




Part 2: Brides bound by traditions (Washington Times, 070227)


By Julia Duin


Second of four parts


“May you be the mother of a hundred sons” — a Sanskrit blessing


KANPUR, India — The best day of Varsha Hitkari’s life was her wedding day when, dressed in a red sari with a gold veil and hennaed hands, she was presented to her new husband, Rakesh Kumar.


The ceremony eight years ago, accompanied by much festivity, featured a bride with a beautifully sculpted face who possessed degrees in sociology and law. The groom was a government official.


The bride’s parents had to agree, as part of the dowry arrangement, to pay all the expenses of their grandchildren’s births. The husband also demanded 100,000 rupees — worth about $2,200 — so he could buy an acre of land. Her parents refused to pay up, but they did provide a motorcycle.


As for the bride’s in-laws, they wanted her to produce sons. In that, Mrs. Hitkari failed. Instead, she had two daughters: Himadri, now 5-1/2, and Pari, 18 months. Her husband began berating her, demanding more dowry. When Mrs. Hitkari put Himadri into a school, her mother-in-law criticized her for educating a girl.


On July 23, Mrs. Hitkari’s parents say, the mother-in-law and husband beat the woman senseless, then hanged her by a noose from a shower head. The bride’s brother, Navneet Chandra, happened to drop by the home and, glancing through an open door to the bathroom, was horrified to see his sister hanging there.


While the brother was trying to free his sister from the noose, Mr. Kumar was pulling on his wife’s legs to try to tighten its grip. Only when Mr. Chandra’s shouts roused the neighbors did the tug of war stop.


Mrs. Hitkari remained in a coma for six weeks, her story the stuff of local newspaper headlines. She came home to her family Sept. 18, able to sit up but not stand. Her movements were feeble; she could not speak and appeared to have suffered brain damage.


The 30-year-old woman now sits in a stark bedroom at her parents’ home, a blank expression in her brown eyes. Her daughters mill about, trying to attract her attention.


Her father, Ramesh Chandra, is retired and cannot afford $4,500 for the kind of physical therapy she will need to recover.


And despite widespread publicity, local police have not made any arrests.


Omnipresent violence


Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state with 166 million people, is one of the country’s poorest and most-illiterate regions. Its largest city, Kanpur, is a fetid industrial metropolis of 2.6 million on the Ganges River, known for its leather tanneries, cotton mills and a military base. It has no public transportation, no middle class, no city garbage collection, no sidewalks and dismal air quality.


Even worse is the violence perpetuated on its women and unborn girls.


Neelam Chaturvedi was 16 when she first noticed the way women in her neighborhood were beaten by their husbands. Then she read that a woman had been gang-raped by four men — and the blame was placed on the victim. Miss Chaturvedi’s father, a trade union organizer, encouraged her to organize a women’s group and, in 1981, she founded Mahila Manch, or Platform for Women.


Later, she co-founded Sakhi Kendra, or Circle of Friends, and turned it into a charity that occupies a three-story building not far from the town garbage dump. Sixty to 70 women contact them every day with horror stories.


First, there are the baby girls who, simply because they are female, are put on piles of dry grass and burned. Or they are placed in bags and fatally stabbed.


Then, there are the acid attacks. If a woman refuses a man’s advances, he may throw sulfuric acid in her face, disfiguring her and rendering the woman unfit for marriage. Women are defenseless against such attacks as criminal prosecution is rare.


“The father doesn’t kill the man who rapes his daughter; instead, they dispose of her,” said Dr. Veronica Jacob, a volunteer with Sakhi Kendra. “The thinking here is warped. Even if India has advanced far in technology, the mind-set has not changed.”


Sahki Kendra is sheltering one doe-eyed young woman, Aradhana Rawat, 17, whose father would tie her to a bed and sexually abuse her. At one point, he tried to slit her throat with a machete. Tears pour down her face as she clutches a blue scarf and tells her story through a translator.


“My father said, ‘If you tell others about this, I’ll make sure others do the same thing to you,’ “ she remembers. A brother finally brought her to Sakhi Kendra.


Other cases brought to Sakhi Kendra include a mother who was told she must not feed her fourth daughter. Then there is the woman whose husband poured hot coals on her abdomen after she bore a daughter. And a wife who was tortured with cigarette butts by her husband because she bore only girls. Summoned to the scene, local police only took a report.


The fact that it’s the man, not the woman, who contributes the Y chromosome that determines the child’s sex, has not caught on.


Sex selection


Dr. Mamta Vyas, a gynecologist and president of Sakhi Kendra, constantly gets asked by pregnant women to determine the sex of their children. She knows that if she lets on the child is a girl, the woman will likely abort if she can find the money.


“Here in Uttar Pradesh, they’re not satisfied with one boy,” she says. “They want more. There is no limit. A lady would produce eight or nine girls while trying for a male child.”


But no more. Ultrasound machines, by which one can discern the child’s genitals after 90 days, have vastly reduced the number of girls born in the state until there are just 916 girls born for 1,000 boys. According to Outlook, a New Delhi magazine, the ratio in the city of Kanpur is worse with just 869 girls.


But sometimes the sonogram images are wrong, Dr. Vyas adds, “and the technologists, if they are not sure, will say it’s a female child so they can make money on it.”


The girls who are born often end up in orphanages like that run by Mother Teresa’s Missionary Sisters of Charity on the outskirts of the city. Of the 40 children there, 37 are girls and many are agonizingly small, their tiny bodies disturbingly still in wicker cribs, listless and unloved.


Will they be adopted? Dr. Vyas doubts it.


“In India, families want to pass on property to their own flesh and blood,” she says.


Sakhi Kendra’s work got some publicity in January 2006 when Outlook sent pregnant women to local clinics asking for illegal sonograms. The reporter found lines of women waiting for the service and all the radiologists booked solid.


Despite the mandatory government sign saying, “No sex determinational tests taken,” only one refused to provide the service.


“I am the only person in Kanpur who is not involved in such murders,” Dr. Vikas Gupta said.


Network of activists


India’s skewed sex ratios have created a network of activists across India who transcend religion and caste. They are, however, split on the question of abortion in general, which is free in government hospitals.


“We do not mind abortions. We do not think all abortions are bad. I think some abortions help women,” said Roop Rekha Verma, founder of Saajhi Duniya, a women’s rights group in the Uttar Pradesh capital of Lucknow. “But we think sex-selective abortion is a crime.”


Prem Chowdhry, a New Delhi-based scholar who studies male-female relations in north India, said the same.


“Abortion is not considered immoral here,” she told an American reporter. “That’s your debate.”


Elizabeth Bumiller, a reporter who 17 years ago penned the book “May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons,” pointed out this commonly made distinction.


“Was it intellectually consistent to be in favor of a woman’s right to abortion yet opposed to sex-selective abortion?” she wrote. “Some Indian feminists referred to sex-selective abortion as ‘female feticide’ which made me wonder why they were not opposed to ‘male feticide’ as well.”


Swami Agnivesh, a well-known New Delhi-based social activist and president of the World Council of Arya Samaj, a Hindu reform movement, opposes all abortion and places the blame for female feticide at the feet of his own faith.


“We in the religious world are most responsible,” he says, seated in bright orange robes in his New Delhi office. “In all religions, women have been relegated to a second-class position.


“The Hindu religious establishment is completely rotted from within. It has moved away from the universal values of the Vedas and Upanishads [scriptures]. The caste system is a total distortion of the Vedas.”


“The goddess worship in his culture is powerless to stop the killing,” he said.


“How come in India where Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, is worshipped the most, yet we are one of the poorest countries in the world?” he asks. “God smiles on the United States and Europe but not on us.”


The worship of Saraswati, goddess of learning, has likewise been ineffective.


“We have the most illiterate people on the planet,” he says. “The real worship is to respect the girl child. The false goddesses are worshipped, and the real goddesses are slaughtered.”


The best-known activist against female feticide, Sabu George, 48, was raised as a Syrian Orthodox Catholic in the southern Indian state of Kerala. While studying for his master’s degree at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Public Health in Baltimore in the late 1980s, he investigated infanticide in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.


Starting in the early 1990s, he noticed that girls were not getting killed after birth so much as not being allowed to be born at all, thanks to the sonogram machine.


He tirelessly travels the country energizing activists, unencumbered by family. He dresses simply and carries an omnipresent black knapsack with his laptop. “I only work,” he says with a smile.


He counts doctors among his worst enemies.


“In the West, unethical doctors are targeted,” he says. “Here, it is the opposite. We have the trappings of the West with none of the ethics or the professionalism. In a feudal society like ours, there’s no concept of the dignity of the worker.”


One doctor he does admire is Puneet Bedi, a Sikh obstetrician who specializes in fetal medicine and high-risk pregnancy. Seated in a cafe outside Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in south New Delhi, Dr. Bedi says population-control groups in the West helped jump-start India’s female feticides.


“Post World War II, the world had this concept of hyperbreeding in India,” Dr. Bedi says. “Everyone felt there were too many people in Asia.


“If you saw the Malthusian projections from the 1950s, everyone thought India and China would take over the world. So it was birth control at any cost in India and China.”


Several American foundations — he specifies MacArthur, Ford and Packard — sank money into Third World birth-control programs and predictably, India began its first family-planning program in 1952.


“But what they ran into was son preference,” says Dr. Bedi. “Everyone had to have two sons in case one died. So the average family size remained at four or five children. The government was under pressure to do something.”


The only way to control population was to somehow guarantee sons. By the 1970s, women could determine their child’s sex through amniocentesis. Although India outlawed this at government hospitals in 1979, “the private clinics had discovered this gold mine,” he said. Ultrasound machines became popularized in the mid-1980s.


“Feticide was invented, touted and sold by the medical profession, and it operates with the complete consent of all factors of our society,” Dr. Bedi says. “Abortion has been sold as a patriotic duty. So, killing female babies was an extension of that.


“At least in Europe and North America, there’s some guilt connected with an abortion. Here, there’s not. We call them ‘coffee-bar abortions’; she comes in for an abortion and relaxes at a coffee bar afterwards,” he says, waving an arm toward young couples gathered at nearby tables.


“By the early 1990s, no one who didn’t want a daughter needed to have one.”




Part 3: Lots of stings, no pain (Washington Times, 070228)


By Julia Duin


Third of four parts


“In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent.” — Verse 5:148 in the Hindu laws of Manu


JAIPUR, India — Meena Sharma, a 26-year-old freelance reporter, knew there were massive violations of government law forbidding doctors from telling pregnant women the sex of their unborn children and using abortion to eliminate unwanted girls.


She approached Shripal Shaktawat, Jaipur bureau chief of the Sahara Samay TV network, with an idea he could not refuse. What if she lined up several pregnant women with TV cameras hidden in their purses who would say their fetus was a girl and they wanted an abortion? Miss Sharma would go along, playing the part of the woman’s aunt or mother-in-law.


“It was an emotional issue for me,” said the reporter, who remembers as a 14-year-old seeing one of her pregnant aunts being instructed by a physician to abort the female fetus.


In nine episodes from April 4 to June 13, the TV network aired a 12-hour series, “Murder in the Womb.” It was based on undercover visits to 140 health clinics in 36 cities in four Indian states: Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.


Doctors in 100 clinics either agreed to do a sex-determination test and abortion or gave referrals to other doctors who would. Both actions are illegal.


Mr. Shaktawat, who posed as a husband, and his “wife” would tell doctors they already had daughters and had no wish to birth any more.


“Now the baby has grown bigger and it will come out alive,” Dr. Nidhi Malhotra from the city of Chittorgarh in south Rajasthan is shown saying in Hindi on the hidden video. “Will you kill it?”


That same video shows the doctor laughing as she levels a fee of 2,000 rupees (about $44) to abort a child in the seventh month of pregnancy.


It had taken Miss Sharma a year to compile the devastating report, which showed doctor after doctor on camera illegally urging the women — all of whom were at least in their fifth month or more — to abort their female offspring. Abortion is illegal in India after the 20th week unless there are threats to the mother’s health.


The documentaries shamed the region’s most prominent doctors. A group of physicians offered the station $34 million to cancel the series.


On April 14, the government filed charges against 21 Rajasthan doctors in the series — but did not prosecute them. The Rajasthan Medical Council suspended the licenses of seven — but allowed them to continue practicing.


Then in the early morning hours of April 18, a group of six men threw stones and broke windows at Mr. Shaktawat’s home. He was away in New Delhi, but his family was told worse would happen to them if the series was not stopped.


Majestic Jaipur


Jaipur is known as India’s “Pink City” for the luminous rose-colored buildings scattered across the Rajasthani desert and its majestic palaces and gardens. Many of the physicians who were shown on TV urging illegal abortions several months ago live in some of the city’s most splendid suburbs.


The Washington Times visited the homes of four of the doctors, all of whom were said to either not be at home or not willing to talk with a reporter. As a reporter and photographer approached the Bhandari Hospital and Research Center, home base for Dr. Rekha Bhandari, a security guard at the entrance to the doctor’s two-story home across the street picked up a phone. He said the doctor was not available.


This reporter also approached the gated home of Dr. Sheelu Jain, another doctor implicated in the sting operation as offering to abort a female fetus. She briefly appeared at her gate, then fled.


Dr. P.C. Ranka, who along with his wife was accused of giving an illegal referral to an abortion clinic, was just starting his evening office hours when The Times paid a visit to his home office.


“I am a medicine person,” he protested. “I do not do gynecology.”


Kavita Srivastava, a local lawyer and general secretary for the human rights organization People’s Union for Civil Liberties, said it’s no surprise so many doctors in Jaipur are guilty.


“The status of women is already low here because of the feudal Rajput culture,” she said, referring to the former ruling caste.


“There are traditions in Rajasthan of women committing johar which is mass suicide or sati where a widow throws herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre. A woman’s entire identity was subsumed by her husband. If he died, so must she.”


Women who committed sati would have temples built in their honor, she added, and palaces in Rajasthan commonly have a wall displaying the last hand prints women left before they died.


“In a woman’s death there was value,” the activist said. “In her survival, there never was value.”


In Rajasthan’s violent desert culture, baby girls were drowned in boiling milk or abandoned in a sand dune. Whole villages went decades without female children.


A 1994 law that forbids sex-selective abortions only regulates the medical profession; it does not address the anti-female cast of an entire culture, Ms. Srivastava said.


Long-term disaster


Currently, women-starved parts of western India are importing women. The best trafficking season, reports Supriya Awasthi, South Asia director for Free the Slaves, a New Delhi-based advocacy group, is in the summer during the monsoons, when people are most hungry and desperate.


Girls from Nepal and Bangladesh constitute 70% of all trafficked girls. Top Nepalese hubs are the capital Katmandu; Sindhupalchowk, a district north of Katmandu; and Makwanpur, which is east of the capital.


They end up at a slave market known as Phoolbagh in the Purnia district of Bihar, India’s poorest state. Girls are then traded to circuses or loaded on trucks or trains bound for states like Punjab and Haryana, which have the country’s worst male-female sex ratios.


Miss Awasthi particularly remembers one 12-year-old she ran into in Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. She had been raped by five men and was three months pregnant. She had a baby boy, who died.


People go to huge lengths to unload their girl children, she said. “The government bans child marriage but nothing substantial has been done so far.


“The police can be moved to take action only if there is pressure from the local people who complain to local bureaucrats. Or a court can direct police to act. Or they will act out of pressure from the media.”


The shortage of women here has opened the market for “paros,” or trafficked women, purchased for 12,000 to 15,000 rupees, or $260 to $330. Those under 14 go for less: 5,000 to 10,000 rupees, or $110 to $220.


Virendra Vidrohi, Rajasthan state organizer for the Campaign Against Child Labor, said trucks ply India’s national highways working with agents who put in “orders.”


“If a man wants a woman from Bihar,” he said, “he’ll contact his local agent and put down an advance, usually 5,000 rupees. The agent will then contact the truck owners who will contact their agents in Bihar or Andhra Pradesh,” another eastern Indian state.


Normally, it takes three to six months to get a woman. He estimates there are 15,000 paros in Mewat, a district of Rajasthan about 100 miles south of New Delhi.


Mr. Vidrohi, 44, who wears wire rims and his hair tied in a greying ponytail, oversees a group of five organizations made up of Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Christian activists dedicated to helping poor women. For him, the Mewat region is the canary in the mine for the rest of India.


He is based in Alwar, a town of about 65,000, surrounded by villages where trafficked women live. The sex ratio here is a low 887 women to 1,000 men.


A half-hour’s drive away through fields of mustard, millet and lentils turns up a desperately poor village of 422 families that has been afflicted by the local drought. There are 15 paros there. Mohammed Hanif, the local imam in a white turban and a salt-and-pepper beard, admitted, “They are not treated the same as other women.”


Two sisters: Kuraisha Khan, 30, and Nuraisha Khan, 25, were kidnapped from the Chatra district of Jharkhand, next to Bihar.


Kuraisha, the mother of two girls, is pregnant with her third child. She gets two meals a day, she said and was brought to Mewat by train and bus. Nuraisha cradled a 1-year-old son in her arms.


“It was not her decision to come here,” her older sister said, “it was her parents’ decision.”


Other women tell much the same story; usually it is a brother-in-law who arranges to have them and their sisters shipped far away from their home towns in eastern India. One is Sarbari Bano, 22, mother of two girls, who was brought in by train from Jharkhand. Wearing a light green veil and faded blue dress, she is pregnant again.


“I want boys,” she said.


Israel Khan, 26, is one of the few men present who admitted to importing a wife for 4,000 rupees, about $90.


“I was poor and couldn’t get a wife here,” he said. His paro, Rakshana Begum, squatted in the corner. She has given him two boys and three girls. He is no longer poor now; he owns five water buffaloes and a cell phone; his home has whitewashed stone walls, a thatched roof, several beds, an electric fan and quilts hanging from the rafters.


Anguman Begum, 38, another paro, approached him for financial help. He ignored her. She was an orphan when her uncle brought her to Mewat at age 8. She was from the state of Assam, hundreds of miles to the northeast.


“I was crying,” she remembered of her unhappy journey 30 years ago, “because I couldn’t understand the language here. If I wanted to go back to Assam, there was no way to get there.”


Now she has seven children and like it or not, Mewat is her home.


“But if I had the money,” she said, “I’d go back.”




Part 4: GE machines used to break law (Washington Times, 070301)


By Julia Duin


Last of four parts


“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” — Josef Stalin


BANGALORE, India — The streets are cleaner here in the country’s tech capital of Bangalore than elsewhere in India; still, squalor surrounds the modern glass-walled offices of dozens of American and European corporations.


Security guards pursue anyone wishing to linger by the gates of General Electric’s walled-off compound in the exclusive Whitefields suburb east of town. In 1990, the giant American multinational teamed up with Wipro Ltd., a Bangalore software provider, to manufacture and distribute a low-cost ultrasound machine.


Why ultrasound machines? GE spokesmen have repeatedly refused to comment on the matter, but by 2000, according to, Wipro-GE had shipped out 6,500 of the machines in India. Wipro’s Web site,, claims it pioneered the manufacture of ultrasound equipment for India.


GE’s latest portable machine is the Logiq 100 model. Its American equivalent, the Logiq Book XP, sells for $16,900 new or $11,000 refurbished, according to the sales department at National Ultrasound, an American distributor based in Duluth, Ga.


Indian activists who oppose the widespread abortion of female fetuses say GE is among a handful of companies that manufacture the machines for the Indian market.


Under Indian law, doctors operating ultrasound machines must fill out forms showing the reason for each procedure, which is permitted only in the case of an abnormal pregnancy. But the government can only monitor the 25,770 machines that have been officially registered.


The actual number of machines is estimated at anywhere from 70,000 — by the London Daily Mail — to 100,000, according to the British Medical Journal. The portable ones end up in rural areas, where technology makes it possible for any woman to determine the sex of her child. The fetus can then be terminated at a government hospital, where abortions, like other procedures, are free for those who cannot pay.


Sabu George, a New Delhi activist who in 2000 filed a lawsuit against the government for failing to enforce its own laws against female feticide, said findings have revealed a disproportionate number of GE machines in northwest India, which has the lowest proportion of females to males.


“Those concerned with human rights [must] expose the transnational corporations involved in marketing ultrasound machines for these purposes,” he said, adding that Wipro-GE especially targets smaller towns with the help of cheap credit provided by GE Capital Services India.


The situation is only going to get worse, he added, as new technologies are now making it possible to select male embryos over female ones for implantation into a woman’s womb.


“In the United States, ultrasound is used to protect the fetus,” he said. “Here it is used to destroy it.”


Women in black


The airy two-story brick building set around a garden atrium in a Bangalore suburb offers no hint at the serious matters facing Vimochana, a women’s rights group based there.


Its leader, Donna Fernandes, blames doctors for India’s soaring male-female imbalance. “Doctors are a bunch of criminals,” she said, “but no one wants to see them as such. They are a powerful class, economically and politically.”


Although India has a well-established law forbidding doctors from telling women the sex of their unborn child, few physicians will turn in a guilty colleague. “It is,” Mrs. Fernandes said, “like setting a trap for a rat to catch another rat.”


“Female feticide,” the Indian term for the abortions of millions of baby girls over the past few decades, is a $100 million industry.


Although India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, termed female feticide an “unacceptable” crime in a press conference last summer, his own culture stands against him. One 1987 study by the Federation of Obstetricians’ and Gynecologists’ Societies of India showed that out of 8,000 abortions, 7,999 occurred after tests showed a female fetus.


A University of Bombay study done about the same time by professor R.P. Ravindra showed that out of 1,000 cases in Bombay, he could not find a single case of a male fetus being aborted. Ninety-seven percent of the aborted fetuses were female and the other 3% were of undetermined sex.


Bangalore, India’s third largest city at 7 million people, has 743 clinics with a registered ultrasound machine. The unofficial rate for a sex-determination test is 10,000 rupees or about $220.


Doctors are required to fill out a “Form F,” giving the reason for the ultrasound test, whether the woman has previously had children and including a signed statement by both the woman and her doctor saying they do not want to know — or divulge — the sex of the child.


These must be submitted to a district health officer, whose job it is to make sure illegal sex determination tests are not taking place. But doctors rarely turn in the forms and local government officials seldom ask for them.


In recent years, activist groups have conducted sting operations with pregnant women carrying hidden cameras, Mrs. Fernandes said, to showcase how brazenly the law is being broken.


“The doctors now use code language,” she said. “They will put a red dot — meaning ‘danger’ — on the form or green for a ‘go ahead.’ “ Red would signify a girl; green a boy.


Clinics found breaking the law have either had their machines briefly impounded or been let off by judges on technicalities. In one case, “the doctor bribed the judge,” Mrs. Fernandes said. “For the woman who wants a boy, the very survival of her marriage may depend on it.”


As bad as Bangalore is, the Mandya district to the west is even worse, she said. The mostly rural district of 1.7 million people has sex ratios as low as 600 girls to every 1,000 boys, suggesting that nearly two out of every five girls conceived are aborted.


On most Saturdays, Mrs. Fernandes’ group stages “women in black” demonstrations in front of ultrasound clinics in Mandya, a city on the main highway between Bangalore and the city Mysore, the seat of a former princely state.


“They all say only a few quacks are doing this,” she said, “but hundreds of doctors are involved. There’s a total denial of this happening.”


Official response


Dr. G. Shivaram, district health officer for Bangalore, oversees the city’s health care out of a rundown hospital off Old Madras Road. Behind him is a poster: “Female feticide is cruel and barbaric. It is illegal and punishable under the PNDT Act,” referring to the 1994 law barring the use of ultrasound for sex determination.


Although the penalty for breaking the law was increased in 2002 to three years in jail and a $230 fine for the first offense and five years jail and $1,160 for the second, it is almost never enforced.


Although it is Dr. Shivaram’s responsibility to check the two-page “Form F” to make sure women are telling the truth about their ultrasounds, he admits he doesn’t read them.


“We assume they are filled out correctly,” he said. “We just get the numbers of women.


“Each clinic has hundreds of patients. Doctors are busy,” he added. “They don’t have the time to fill them all out and the people who help the patients fill them out only have a secondary school education.”


However, a copy of the form obtained by The Washington Times showed it contained questions any pregnant woman should be able to answer.


“Not that many” doctors are illegally telling women the sex of their child, Dr. Shivaram maintained, admitting this is a guess as his office has conducted no sting operations. He said he personally visits 15 to 20 clinics each month, which would mean he gets to each clinic at most once every four years. Licenses must be renewed every five years.


Doctors attest to him that they are not revealing the sex of the fetus, “and I do believe them,” he said. “Doctors will say the truth because of professional ethics. Maybe some doctors are lying, but how can we assess that?”


On a national level, government efforts to combat prenatal sex selection are limited primarily to print and broadcasting advertisements, sponsoring workshops and seminars and providing financial aid to some advocacy groups.


Last month, however, Renuka Chowdhury, the Cabinet minister for women and child development, announced plans for a nationwide network of orphanages where women could drop off unwanted baby daughters.


“We want to put a cradle in every district. What we are saying to the people is: ‘Have your children, don’t kill them,’ “ Ms. Chowdhury told the Press Trust of India news service.


When asked if the scheme could backfire by giving women an easy way to get rid of unwanted girls, she replied: “It doesn’t matter. It’s better than killing them.”


Mr. George, who has battled female feticide for the past two decades, scoffed at the scheme.


“Most of the girls are killed before birth, not after birth. So where is the option of abandoning girls if they are not born at all?” he told Agence France-Presse after the announcement.


Activists warn that nothing will change until authorities begin enforcing the law.


Hyderabad success


Arvind Kumar was a government official in Hyderabad, a city of 6.1 million in south India, when he saw the 2001 census figures showing the country’s skewed birth ratios. In Hyderabad, the ratio was 933 girls to every 1,000 boys. The wards of the cities with the worst ratios were the ones that had the most ultrasound machines registered there.


He also noticed a religious divide; the Sikhs of northern India had the worst sex ratios, followed by the Jains and then the Hindus. Christians had the best ratios and in highly Christianized areas such as the southern state of Kerala, there were more women born than men. Kerala’s matrilineal family system among all religious groups also encourages education and empowerment of women.


This was not so in Hyderabad, a city with a mix of Hindu and Muslim communities. Mr. Kumar began cracking down on the city’s doctors, ordering the 389 clinics with registered ultrasound machines to show up for a workshop. Some 124 centers failed to show. He then ordered them to turn in “F Forms” for every ultrasound given, copies of referrals from doctors and documentation on whether the woman who got the ultrasound ever gave birth.


Fifty-three centers refused to give him any information at all.


Of the paperwork he did receive, he found that in 67% of the cases, the woman arrived at the clinic without the required referral from a doctor; a sign, he said, that she intended to abort the child. In 72% of the cases, there was no documentation of whether the woman already had children. Statistics show the percentage of abortions rise with each successive daughter.


Sixty-nine percent of the forms he got did not mention the address of the ultrasound center and 56% did not mention how far along the woman was in her pregnancy. Sex-selective tests tend to occur around the fourth month.


He went on local TV, threatening to send pregnant women into clinics for sting operations. He found no shortage of women willing to do so; “They’d tell me, ‘It’s for a good cause,’ “ he said.


By January 2005, he had sent out 374 notices to ultrasound clinics threatening to suspend. One hundred two clinics had their registrations suspended, 112 ultrasound machines had been seized by police and three suppliers, including Wipro-GE, had been prosecuted in court for supplying machines to clinics without registering them with the government.


After only one year, yearly birth statistics for girls in Hyderabad had shot up 4,000 from 58,422 in 2004 to 62,654 in 2005. The number of boys born hovered at 61,539 in 2004 and 61,770 in 2005.


Mr. Kumar is reluctant to credit himself with the births of 4,000 extra girls.


“The [1994] act was dormant,” he said, “and all I did was implement it. All I did was catch those who weren’t maintaining the records and prosecute them. Other cities say, ‘Oh, we can’t do this.’ But we did it.”




Halloween for Christians: Turn Off the Lights or Capitalize? (Christian Post, 071031)


Tonight will be another night of costumed children knocking on doors for treats and roaming the neighborhoods. For some Christians, it’s a dark holiday that they want to keep their kids from joining. For other believers, it’s a night turned holy with opportunity for outreach.


Halloween is estimated to represent a $6 billion annual market in consumer goods and services. So although many believers don’t want to endorse a holiday that’s rooted in pagan rituals and aimed at appeasing the spirit world, as Christian author Dianne E. Butts states in the North American Mission Board’s On Mission magazine, “what can we do when neighborhood ghouls come ringing our doorbells expecting a treat?”


“Turn off the lights and hide in the dark?”


Jane Dratz of youth ministry Dare 2 Share acknowledges the diverse views of Halloween held by Christians – from “fun-filled, sugar high for little kids in cute costumes to an evil holiday which focuses on the occult, devils, and all things dark and demonic.”


So what should Christians do when the little trick-or-treaters come to town?


Don’t let the opportunity for outreach slip by, Dratz suggests.


With children’s safety one of the biggest concerns of parents on Halloween night, some churches are setting up game booths and treat tables to provide a safe and fun area for their local communities.


It’s a good introduction tool for churches, says Richard Leach, director of servant and community evangelism at the North American Mission Board – the domestic mission agency of the Southern Baptist Convention.


But it’s important to remember that families aren’t coming to be evangelized, Leach cautions. Rather, events like these can build bridges for sharing the Gospel.


“The fall calendar offers a perfect opportunity for combining trick or treating and relationship-building with your community,” says Leach. “Events held on the church property offer a combination of safety, fun and an introduction to the local church.”


First Southern Baptist Church On Mill in Tempe, Ariz., sent out invitations by placing about 1,000 door hangers in two nearby neighborhoods in the last couple of weeks. And the church has trained volunteers to share Christ with children.


When talking to peers, Dratz suggests sharing some truths of the Bible about topics of death and dying.


“Open up the God-talk dialogue with your friends,” says Dratz, with such questions as “Does all the imagery of Halloween, like ghosts and ghouls and devils and witches, ever make you feel uncomfortable?


“Ask your friends if they think people have a soul? Do they believe in an afterlife? Use the opportunity to share about God’s free gift of eternal life through Jesus gift of salvation,” the youth ministry worker adds.


“Why do you think some people enjoy pretend-scary experiences like haunted houses?”


Some conservative churches prefer to use a scarier outreach approach.


Pastor Keenan Roberts of New Destiny Christian Center in Thornton, Colo., has created a Halloween outreach tool called Hell House. It’s not a celebration of Halloween nor is it a Halloween event, he explained.


“It is the church taking advantage of America’s cultural influence of the haunted house. ... It’s the church absolutely capitalizing on the time of year,” said Roberts, according to USA Today.


Hell House is a haunted house-style attraction that participants walk through. It features several “scenes” depicting the consequences or divine judgments of abortion, homosexuality and drunkenness among other things. The last scene is a portrayal of heaven. Many Christians disapprove of the method of scaring people into conversion and of the portrayal of sins.


At McLean Bible Church in McLean, Va., last week’s “Terror Maze” for junior high students drew over 2,000 people, over 100 first-time decisions and more than 700 students rededicating their lives to Christ.


For those just giving out candy this year, outreach is still possible. Butts recommends that churchgoers drop published tracts or an “Admit One Free” ticket into trick-or-treat bags, inviting both the child and the parents – who usually check candy bags for safety – to their church service,.


“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we used this holiday to reach out with the love of Christ to those neighbors we don’t usually see the rest of the year?” Butts said.




Halloween: The Unpopular Christian Story (Christian Post, 071031)


Spooky costumes, chocolate candies, and glowing pumpkins were not always what Halloween was all about. Unknown to most Americans, Halloween also has a Christian background despite its deepest roots being decidedly pagan.


Halloween is short for All Hallow’s Eve and marks the night before All Saints’ Day. Christians, in an effort to counter pagan rituals to death and evil spirits, created an alternative tradition – All Hallow’s Day on Nov. 1.


The tradition dates back to the time of the first Christian martyrs. According to third century historian Eusebius, second century Christian bishop Polycarp had kindly greeted and set a table of food for the soldiers who came to his house to arrest him in exchange for an hour to pray.


When Polycarp was taken to the coliseum he was pressed to denounce his faith, but instead said: “For eighty-six years, I have been [Christ’s] servant, and He has never done me wrong: How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”


Polycarp, who was a disciple of Apostle John, was said to have been offering up prayers of faith and praise while people prepared to burn him alive.


Following his death, Christians gathered annually at Polycarp’s grave to remember his brave witness and gain courage through his example.


Gradually the day shifted focus to remembering all martyrs and the Church created the holiday to honor all of God’s saints in the seventh century.


In the 16th century, church reformer Martin Luther began the Reformation on Halloween, Oct. 31, 1517, by declaring that the church must return to the authority of God’s Word and to biblical doctrine.


However, modern Halloween has become a day associated with darkness and secularism. The Oct. 31 holiday is said to be only second to Christmas in terms of economic activity.


Halloween is responsible for some 4-6 billion dollars each year, according to “horror historian” David J. Skal. Halloween is also said to be the second most important party night in North America, according to historian Nicholas Rogers.


“Sure, go ahead and let the kids dress up like Batman and hit up your neighbors for candy,” wrote Chuck Colson, chairman and founder of Prison Fellowship Ministry, in a column on Halloween. “But when the hoopla of modern Halloween is over, encourage your kids to imitate some real heroes – not in what they put on, but in how they live their lives.”


A Gallup Poll this week found that 84% of Americans will spend money on costumes, decoration, or candy for Halloween, while only 16% say they will not spend anything. The average household spending for Halloween is $52 and rises to $82 for households with children under 18 years old, according to Gallup.




Susan Jacoby: Bemoaning an America that values stupidity (Paris, International Herald, 080215)


By Patricia Cohen


NEW YORK: A popular video on YouTube shows Kellie Pickler, the platinum blonde from “American Idol,” appearing on the Fox game show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” during celebrity week. Selected from a third-grade geography curriculum, the $25,000 question asked: “Budapest is the capital of what European country?”


Pickler threw up both hands and looked at the large blackboard perplexed. “I thought Europe was a country,” she said. Playing it safe, she chose to copy the answer offered by one of the genuine fifth graders: Hungary. “Hungry?” she said, eyes widening in disbelief. “That’s a country? I’ve heard of Turkey. But Hungry? I’ve never heard of it.”


Such, uh, lack of global awareness is the kind of thing that drives Susan Jacoby, author of “The Age of American Unreason,” up a wall. Jacoby is one of a number of writers with new books that bemoan the state of American culture.


Joining the circle of curmudgeons this season is Eric Wilson, whose “Against Happiness” warns that the “American obsession with happiness” could “well lead to a sudden extinction of the creative impulse, that could result in an extermination as horrible as those foreshadowed by global warming and environmental crisis and nuclear proliferation.”


Then there is Lee Siegel’s “Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob,” which inveighs against the Internet for encouraging solipsism, debased discourse and arrant commercialization. Siegel, one might remember, was suspended by The New Republic for using a fake online persona in order to trash critics of his blog (“you couldn’t tie Siegel’s shoelaces”) and to praise himself (“brave, brilliant”).


Jacoby, whose book came out on Tuesday, doesn’t zero in on a particular technology or emotion, but rather on what she feels is a generalized hostility to knowledge. She is well aware that some may tag her a crank. “I expect to get bashed,” said Jacoby, 62, either as an older person who upbraids the young for plummeting standards and values, or as a secularist whose defense of scientific rationalism is a way to disparage religion.


Jacoby, however, is quick to point out that her indictment is not limited by age or ideology. Yes, she knows that eggheads, nerds, bookworms, longhairs, pointy heads, highbrows and know-it-alls have been mocked and dismissed throughout American history. And liberal and conservative writers, from Richard Hofstadter to Allan Bloom, have regularly analyzed the phenomenon and offered advice.


T. J. Jackson Lears, a cultural historian who edits the quarterly review Raritan, said, “The tendency to this sort of lamentation is perennial in American history,” adding that in periods “when political problems seem intractable or somehow frozen, there is a turn toward cultural issues.”


But now, Jacoby said, something different is happening: anti-intellectualism (the attitude that “too much learning can be a dangerous thing”) and anti-rationalism (“the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion”) have fused in a particularly insidious way.


Not only are citizens ignorant about essential scientific, civic and cultural knowledge, she said, but they also don’t think it matters.


She pointed to a 2006 National Geographic poll that found nearly half of 18- to 24-year-olds don’t think it is necessary or important to know where countries in the news are located. So more than three years into the Iraq war, only 23% of those with some college could locate Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel on a map.


Jacoby, dressed in a bright red turtleneck with lipstick to match, was sitting, appropriately, in that temple of knowledge, the New York Public Library’s majestic Beaux Arts building on Fifth Avenue. The author of seven other books, she was a fellow at the library when she first got the idea for this book back in 2001, on 9/11.


Walking home to her Upper East Side apartment, she said, overwhelmed and confused, she stopped at a bar. As she sipped her bloody mary, she quietly listened to two men, neatly dressed in suits. For a second she thought they were going to compare that day’s horrifying attack to the Japanese bombing in 1941 that blew America into World War II:


“This is just like Pearl Harbor,” one of the men said.


The other asked, “What is Pearl Harbor?”


“That was when the Vietnamese dropped bombs in a harbor, and it started the Vietnam War,” the first man replied.


At that moment, Jacoby said, “I decided to write this book.”


Jacoby doesn’t expect to revolutionize the nation’s educational system or cause millions of Americans to switch off “American Idol” and pick up Schopenhauer. But she would like to start a conversation about why the United States seems particularly vulnerable to such a virulent strain of anti-intellectualism. After all, “the empire of infotainment doesn’t stop at the American border,” she said, yet students in many other countries consistently outperform American students in science, math and reading on comparative tests.


In part, she lays the blame on a failing educational system. “Although people are going to school more and more years, there’s no evidence that they know more,” she said.


Jacoby also blames religious fundamentalism’s antipathy toward science, as she grieves over surveys that show that nearly two-thirds of Americans want creationism to be taught along with evolution.


Jacoby doesn’t leave liberals out of her analysis, mentioning the New Left’s attacks on universities in the 1960s, the decision to consign African-American and women’s studies to an “academic ghetto” instead of integrating them into the core curriculum, ponderous musings on rock music and pop culture courses on everything from sitcoms to fat that trivialize college-level learning.


Avoiding the liberal or conservative label in this particular argument, she prefers to call herself a “cultural conservationist.”


For all her scholarly interests, though, Jacoby said she recognized just how hard it is to tune out the 24/7 entertainment culture. A few years ago she participated in the annual campaign to turn off the television for a week. “I was stunned at how difficult it was for me,” she said.


The surprise at her own dependency on electronic and visual media made her realize just how pervasive the culture of distraction is and how susceptible everyone is — even curmudgeons.




Color, Form, Balance — and Worldview: How to Judge a Work of Art (BreakPoint, 080408)


By Chuck Colson


At Prison Fellowship’s national headquarters hangs one of my favorite photographs. It is huge—six feet by four feet—featuring a close-up of a female prison inmate wearing a blue scarf and burgundy jumpsuit. Her face is lighted with a joyful smile.


This picture is a cheerful reminder of the men and women who we are reaching with the Gospel. But a reminder as well that everyday we are engaged in various kinds of art—from photographs to novels to music to films. But how many of us know how to understand and appreciate an excellent work of art and the message that it conveys?


As Francis Schaeffer wrote in his book Art and the Bible, there are four basic standards of judgment we ought to apply to a work of art: technical excellence, validity, intellectual content—that is, the worldview that comes through—and the integration of content and vehicle.


For example, when it comes to paintings, Schaeffer wrote, “One considers the use of color, form, balance, the texture of the paint, the handling of lines, and the unity of the canvas. By recognizing technical excellence as an aspect of art work, “we are often able to say that while we do not agree with [a particular] artist’s world view, he is nonetheless a great artist.” If we consider his art work junk simply because we differ with his outlook on life, Schaeffer added, “We are not being true to the artist as a man.”


Second, we ought to be able to evaluate a work of art based on its validity. In creating his work, was the artist honest to himself and his worldview, or did he create his art merely for the sake of making money, or being accepted—either by a patron, as in days gone by, or by modern art critics today in New York?


Third, we must judge the intellectual content of a work of art, content that reflects the artist’s worldview. The body of work of an artist “must be seen ultimately in terms of the Scripture”—to “its relationship to the Christian world view,” Schaeffer noted. Thus, we can truthfully say an artist might display great technical virtuosity, and that his work has validity—but also that his worldview is quite wrong.


For example, Rousseau’s notion of unfettered Bohemian freedom—accepted as an ideal for the artist—is wrong from a Christian point of view, Schaeffer wrote. God’s Word “binds the great man and the small, the scientist and the simple, the king and the artist.”


And fourth, we must ask how well the artist has suited the vehicle to the message. In great artwork, Schaeffer wrote, there is a correlation between style and content. When T. S. Eliot published “The Waste Land” in 1922, the form of poetry “fit the nature of the world as he saw it, namely, broken, unrelated, ruptured,” Schaeffer wrote; Eliot deserves “high marks for suiting the vehicle to the message.”


If you want to learn more about how to judge an artistic work, I suggest you read Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible. You will learn not only how to judge the merits of a work of art, but how to recognize whether the worldview he espouses with color and canvas is true or false.




Survey: Hollywood More Dangerous than Evolution (Christian Post, 080521)


The impact of Hollywood on America’s spiritual health is more dangerous than that of Darwinism/evolution, said pro-family Christians in a recent survey.


Eight-nine percent of the more than 13,000 Christian respondents of Coral Ridge Ministries’ 2008 Annual Spiritual State of the Nation Survey view Hollywood as “very” dangerous to the nation’s spiritual well-being, compared to 85% who consider Darwinism/evolution the same degree of threat.


Respondents also complained that national media is biased and unfair in their coverage of Christian, moral and religious issues.


An overwhelming number of respondents (89%) support efforts to “take back” the culture from what they consider harmful secular society by using mass media that presents a Christian view – one that equips Christians and persuade non-Christians with the “Truth,” according to the survey.


Television (90%), the Internet (72%) and DVDs (61%) were voted the most effective mass media tools for Christians to positively impact culture.


Respondents also showed much concern about the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and similar groups (96%), pro-homosexual indoctrination (95%), abortion (93%), and Islamic terrorism (91%).


“It is no surprise that the ACLU has won the ire of evangelicals,” commented CRM spokesman John Aman. “This group has campaigned for over a generation to purge every expression of religious influence from public life. It has sought to eliminate prayer in public schools, remove ‘under God’ from the Pledge of Allegiance, and pushed for the removal of divine acknowledgements from federal buildings and public places.”


In response to the perceived attack on America’s spiritual health, respondents believe families (89%), followed by churches (86%), and then Christian media (85%) are the most influential institutions to lead the nation in a spiritual revival.


The 40-question survey also found:


•93% think tax-funded schools should not promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle

•92% think it is “very important” to prevent homosexual “marriage” from becoming legal

•89% are concerned that America is abandoning biblical values

•87% believe it is “critical” that the law prohibits girls younger than 18 from obtaining abortions without parental knowledge or consent


CRM’s 2008 Spiritual State of the Nation Survey, distributed in January, seeks to assess where pro-family Christians stand on a wide range of social, economic, and moral issues.




Rare uncontacted tribe photographed near Brazil-Peru border (National Post, 080530)


RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Amazon Indians from one of the world’s last uncontacted tribes have been photographed from the air, with striking images showing them painted bright red and brandishing bows and arrows.


The photographs of the tribe near the border between Brazil and Peru are rare evidence that such groups exist. A Brazilian official involved in the expedition said many of them are in increasing danger from illegal logging.


“What is happening in this region is a monumental crime against the natural world, the tribes, the fauna and is further testimony to the complete irrationality with which we, the ‘civilized’ ones, treat the world,” Jose Carlos Meirelles was quoted as saying in a statement by the Survival International group.


One of the pictures, which can be seen on Survival International’s Web site, shows two Indian men covered in bright red pigment poised to fire arrows at the aircraft while another Indian looks on. Traffic to the site has been so heavy that it has been limited to a single news item today.


Another photo shows about 15 Indians near thatched huts, some of them also preparing to fire arrows at the aircraft.


“The world needs to wake up to this, and ensure that their territory is protected in accordance with international law. Otherwise, they will soon be made extinct,” said Stephen Corry, the director of Survival International, which supports tribal people around the world.


Of more than 100 uncontacted tribes worldwide, more than half live in either Brazil or Peru, Survival International says. It says all are in grave danger of being forced off their land, killed and ravaged by new diseases.




Architect Looks to Construct First Moving Tower in Dubai (Foxnews, 080625)


NEW YORK  —  Is it real or science fiction?


An Italian architect said he is poised to start construction on a new skyscraper in Dubai that will be “the world’s first building in motion,” an 80-story tower with revolving floors that give it an ever-shifting shape.


The spinning floors, hung like rings around an immobile cement core, would offer residents a constantly changing view of the Persian Gulf and the city’s futuristic skyline.


A few penthouse villas would spin on command using a voice-activated computer. The motion of the rest of the building would be choreographed in patterns that could be altered over time.


Speaking at a news conference in New York on Tuesday, the building’s designer, David Fisher, declared that his tower will revolutionize the way skyscrapers are made — a claim that might strike some as excessively bold.


Fisher acknowledges that he is not well known, has never built a skyscraper before and hasn’t practiced architecture regularly in decades. But he insisted his lack of experience wouldn’t stop him from completing the project, which has attracted top design talent, including Leslie E. Robertson, the structural engineer for the World Trade Center and the Shanghai World Financial Center.


“I did not design skyscrapers, but I feel ready to do so,” Fisher said.


Twisting floors are just one of several futuristic features in the building, the first of several Fisher hopes to build with a similar design.


Giant wind turbines installed between every floor, he said, will generate enough electricity to power the entire building, and lifts will allow penthouse residents to park their cars right in their apartments.


A second version of the tower, to be built in Moscow, would have a retractable helicopter pad. Both structures, at over 1,300 feet, would be taller than the Empire State Building.

Even the method of construction would be unorthodox.


Fisher said each floor will be prefabricated in an Italian factory, then shipped to the site to be attached to the core. Assembling a building in this fashion, he said, will require only 80 technicians and take only 20 months, saving tens of millions of dollars, for a total cost of $700 million to build.


On its face, the project seems to pose a number of complicated engineering puzzles.


How would the plumbing hookups work in an apartment that is constantly moving? Fisher said the pipes will connect to the core via attachments similar to the ones used by military aircraft for in-flight refueling.


Wouldn’t people get dizzy? No, says Fisher. The rotations will be slow enough that no one will notice.


With so many moving parts, wouldn’t the building be a maintenance nightmare? Fisher said the building’s modular construction will allow easy access to parts that need to be replaced.


Robertson, who attended Tuesday’s news conference, said that the skyscraper might be unusual, but is “absolutely” buildable.


“You can build anything,” he said, smiling.


Fisher declined to say exactly where in Dubai the tower will be built or when site work might begin. He insisted, however, that factory production is set to start within weeks and that the tower, which will contain office space, a luxury hotel and apartments, will be complete by 2010.


Sales of individual apartments will begin in September, with asking prices of around $3,000 per square foot. The smallest, at 1,330 square feet, would cost about $4 million and the largest, a 12,900-square-foot villa, $38.7 million.


Skeptics might question Fisher’s credentials to pull off the job.


In a biography he had been distributing for months, he said he graduated from the University of Florence in 1976, came to New York in the mid-1980s and later developed hotels and ran a company that specialized in stone and prefabricated construction materials.


The biography also said he received an honorary doctorate from “The Prodeo Institute at Columbia University in New York.” No such institution exists, however, and Columbia said it had never awarded Fisher an honorary degree.


Asked to explain the discrepancy, Fisher said, through his New York publicists, that he had been awarded the degree by the Catholic University of Rome during a ceremony in 1994 held at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, which is near Columbia’s campus.


Asked again to clarify the name of the school that conferred the degree, Fisher’s publicists said in an e-mail that “Dr. Fisher did receive an honorary doctorate in Economics from Pre Deo University, but it has been removed from his bio because he wants to be entirely accurate and cannot be with this information.”




Africans Most Genetically Varied People on Earth (Foxnews, 090501)


Africans have more genetic variation than anyone else on Earth, according to a new study that helps narrow the location where humans first evolved, probably near the South Africa-Namibia border.


The largest study of African genetics ever undertaken also found that nearly three-fourths of African-Americans can trace their ancestry to West Africa.


The new analysis published Thursday in the online edition of the journal Science.


“Given the fact that modern humans arose in Africa, they have had time to accumulate dramatic changes” in their genes, explained lead researcher Sarah Tishkoff, a geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania.


People have been adapting to very diverse environmental niches in Africa, she explained in a briefing.


Over 10 years, Tishkoff and an international team of researchers trekked across Africa collecting samples to compare the genes of various peoples.


Often working in primitive conditions, the researchers sometimes had to resort to using a car battery to power their equipment, Tishkoff explained.


The reason for their work? Very little was known about the genetic variation in Africans, knowledge that is vital to understanding why diseases have a greater impact in some groups than others and in designing ways to counter those illnesses.


Scott M. Williams of Vanderbilt University noted that constructing patterns of disease variations can help determine which genes predispose a group to a particular illness.


This study “provides a critical piece in the puzzle,” he said.


For example, there are clear differences in prevalence of diseases such as hypertension and prostate cancer across populations, Williams said.


“The human genome describes the complexity of our species,” added Muntaser Ibrahim of the department of molecular biology at the University of Khartoum, Sudan. “Now we have spectacular insight into the history of the African population ... the oldest history of mankind.


“Everybody’s history is part of African history because everybody came out of Africa,” Ibrahim said.


Christopher Ehret of the department of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, compared genetic variation among people to variations in language.


There are an estimated 2,000 distinct language groups in Africa broken into a few broad categories, often but not always following gene flow.


Movement of a language usually involves arrival of new people, Ehret noted, bringing along their genes.


But sometimes language is brought by a small “but advantaged” group which can impose their language without significant gene flow.


Overall, the researchers were able to study and compare the genetics of 121 African groups, 60 non-African populations and four African-American groups.


The so-called “Cape colored” population of South Africa has the highest levels of mixed ancestry on the globe, a blend of African, European, East Asian and South Asian, Tishkoff said.


“This will be a great population for study of diseases” that are more common in one group than another, she said.


The study also found that about 71% of African-Americans can trace their ancestry to western African origins.


They also have between 13% and 15% European ancestry and a smaller amount of other African origins.


There was “very little” evidence for American Indian genes among African-Americans, Tishkoff said.


Ehret added that only about 20% of the Africans brought to North America made the trip directly, while most of the rest went first to the West Indies.


And, he added, some local African-American populations, such as the residents of the sea islands off Georgia and South Carolina, can trace their origins to specific regions such as Sierra Leone and Guinea.


The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health, the Advanced Computing Center for Research and Education at Vanderbilt University, the L.S.B. Leakey and Wenner Gren Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard and Burroughs Wellcome foundations.




Marathon Wimbledon Match Suspended at 59-59 in 5th (Foxnews, 100623)


WIMBLEDON, England — The longest match in tennis history was suspended because of darkness at 59-59 in the fifth set at Wimbledon on Wednesday night.


The first-round match between 23rd-seeded John Isner of Tampa, Fla., and qualifier Nicolas Mahut of France already had been suspended because of fading light Tuesday night after the fourth set.


They have been playing each other for a total of exactly 10 hours — 7 hours, 6 minutes in the fifth set alone, enough to break the full-match record of 6:33, set at the 2004 French Open.


Never before in the history of Wimbledon, which first was contested in 1877, had any match — singles or doubles, men or women — lasted more than 112 games, a mark set in 1969. Isner and Mahut played more games than that in their fifth set, and still did not determine a victor, although the American came close: He had four match points — four chances to end things with one more point — but Mahut saved each one.


Even a courtside electronic scoreboard couldn’t keep up, getting stuck at 47-47 when the score really had risen to 48-48, then eventually going dark entirely.


Yet the pair played on. All the numbers were truly astounding: They played 881 points, 612 in the fifth set. Isner hit 98 aces, Mahut 95 — both eclipsing the previous high for a match at any tournament, 78.


And this cannot be emphasized enough: They are not finished. No one won. The match will continue, stretching into a third day.


Shortly after 9 p.m., Mahut and Isner approached the net to discuss with a tournament official whether to keep going Wednesday.


“I want to play,” Mahut said, “but I can’t see.”


Fans began chanting, “We want more! We want more!” then rose to salute the players with a standing ovation.


In a courtside TV interview, Isner said: “Nothing like this will ever happen again. Ever.”




The “Glee” Agenda (, 100604)

by Brent Bozell


Bill O’Reilly recently hosted a “culture warriors” segment at Fox News where both “warriors” agreed that homosexuality is morally acceptable. That same no-debate mentality has been a regular drumbeat on the Fox television series “Glee,” a musical drama/comedy about a high school glee club in Lima, Ohio.


This show is wildly popular because of the music. Songs performed on the show sell feverishly on iTunes within hours. It’s not a hit because it’s a political or social debate forum. But just as it dazzles viewers with musical performances, it’s hammered hard against traditional values at every turn. How does “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy make it tilt into utter intolerance? It isn’t through smash-mouth indoctrination. The treatments are subtle but unmistakable.


There’s the mockery of famous social conservatives. In April, the show’s villain and most popular character, cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester, proclaimed, “You may be two of the stupidest teens I’ve ever encountered. And that’s saying something. I once taught a cheerleading seminar to a young Sarah Palin.” Interestingly, this Fox Entertainment show has even mocked Fox News. At one point, a pregnant cheerleader is thrown out of her house by her heartless Christian father when he learns of her condition, but only after he’s excited by the news that it’s time for Glenn Beck on TV.


The only characters on the show disapproving of homosexuality are vicious school bullies. In the May 25 episode, two brutish football players threatened to pummel the openly gay and riotously effeminate character Kurt for dressing up like a girl. Everyone else in this series approves, endorses or participates in the homosexual lifestyle.


There is the treatment of two primary characters, Kurt’s macho father and the quarterback Finn, who is also the object of Kurt’s homosexual attraction. Finn is not a social conservative. He is merely a teenage boy who’s unsure how to handle Kurt’s unwanted advances.


Those two characters arrive at an explosive scene on that May 25 show. Kurt has engineered a blooming romance between Kurt’s father and Finn’s mother, both widowed. Kurt is plotting to be roommates with Finn — and more.


So when the dating parents spring the news on Finn that his mother and he will be moving in, and that Kurt has decorated the room they will share, Finn protested by yelling about a lamp with the gay F-bomb. Kurt’s angry dad lectures him and throws him out of the house for using hate speech.


This plot was so one-sided that even the liberal Huffington Post published not one, but two articles suggesting that Fox and Murphy were wrong to vilify Finn in this scene. Scott Mendelson declared, “The scene in question has been heralded elsewhere as some kind of wonderful teaching moment about the hidden prejudice in all of us. Frankly, the scene is more about how a relatively reasonable person lashes out at the stunning manipulations of a sexually-aggressive (jerk).” Likewise, Michael Russnow found, “It sends a signal that gay people or any put-upon minority can behave any way they like, however reprehensible.”


This episode ends with Finn threatening the football bullies hovering over Kurt at school. The quarterback is costumed in a ridiculous red dress to show solidarity with his gay friend. This returns him to hero-of-tolerance status as the curtain falls, and in the end, homosexuality is granted normalcy, as just a vivid difference in personality and panache.


The whole plot is a simplistic political cartoon, with cartoonish villains making cartoonish statements against male heroes in cartoonish drag.


Is this show meant to be controversial? Murphy is best known for the sexually raw and ultraviolent plastic-surgeon drama on FX called “Nip/Tuck.” That show was much more aggressively vile; every episode seemingly caused a new scandal. “Glee,” on the other hand, is a smash among millions of teenagers that airs right after “American Idol.” So which series ends up having a greater cultural impact?


Is it impossible to portray that “abnormal” Christian who can love the sinner and hate the sin? Entertainment Weekly reported that the show will add a “fundamentalist Christian” girl in the show’s second season. Murphy swears she won’t be mocked.


Baloney. This show has presented gay as the “new normal” and has not suggested, but presented that the abnormal people are the ones who adhere to apparently outdated Christian morality. The forces of “tolerance” have again bizarrely insisted that tolerance means a complete intolerance and blacklisting of anyone upsetting the new apple cart.




Blondes Earn More Than Brunettes And Redheads, Says Study (Foxnews, 101230)


They often say that blondes have more fun, and now a new study says that they rake in the most amount of dough, too.


Conducted by the U.K.’s Superdrug chain, the study found that ladies with lighter locks earn about $870 more per year than their brunette or redhead counterparts, reports UK’s The Daily Mail.


The study analyzed the earnings of 3,000 working British women, and found that the average blonde takes home about $35,650 a year, compared to $34,780 for brunettes, and $34,380 for redheads.


Even though the blondes earned a higher salary, the most common complaint among the women was that they don’t feel they’re taken seriously at work. Yet, many of the surveyed blondes confessed that they didn’t mind the ditzier stereotype, and in some cases, even play it up to their advantage.


“Traditionally, the stereotype of a blonde is that she is maybe a little ditzy and a bimbo, but this shows they are the higher earners,” says Simon Comins, director of toiletries at Superdrug.


“Over a lifetime, earning $600 pounds [approx $924] more a year can really add up, so blonde women really are having the last laugh,” adds Comins.


In terms of self-worth, brunettes grabbed the prize in that category — with eight out of ten women saying that they felt respected and valued in the workplace. Raven-haired women are also more likely to stay at one job and work up the title and monetary ladder, as they rated compensation as more important to them than either blondes or redheads.


Meanwhile, redheads were shown to have the greatest working drive of all the categories, with most hours logged, both at work and at home in the evenings.


Most socially engaging of the three categories are the blondes, who told researchers they value friendly client relationships the most at work, and also think it’s important to make friends with coworkers.


Blondes also crave more acknowledgement from peers for a job well done, as compared to brunettes and redheads who say they don’t seek out the same level of flattery from others.


Ironically, it’s the blondes who have the highest percentage of college degrees and master diplomas — which may also serve as a factor in their higher pay scale.


“This research goes to show that you can’t judge a book by its cover, and you shouldn’t make assumptions about people just because of the way they look,” said Comins.


So what does a study like this mean for a drugstore chain like Superdrug? Higher hair color sales, of course.


But while blondes came out the glossy winners in this study, Comins actually predicts it’ll be dark hair that will soon return as the best-selling shade of choice.


“Next year, we are predicting the rise of the Brunette Bombshell as customers aim to emulate the classic refined style of Kate Middleton.”


We think the Queen Mother would approve.




Wittgenstein, the fun philosopher (National Post, 110720)


John Maynard Keynes, the widely admired and widely cursed economist, wrote to his wife one day in 1929: “Well, God has arrived. I met him on the 5:15 train.”


God in this case was Ludwig Wittgenstein. At the age of 40 he was returning to his real home, Cambridge University, where everyone knew he was either a genius or a madman but nothing in between. He had been away 16 years. As an Austrian soldier, he had earned medals for bravery on the other side of the First World War and spent many years worrying about his great problem:


What should he do with his life?


It was not enough that he had a reputation as a philosopher, the author of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, a book of historic importance. In truth, he wasn’t sure that philosophy was the right line of work, saying there was no such thing as a real philosophical question. Maybe, as a job, it was trivial.


He was a wildly articulate, severe and overbearing talker who suffered from insecurity and self-loathing. He was a homosexual who felt uneasy with the famous gay community in Cambridge (and made them uneasy). He was an intellectual who for a while worked as a gardener in a monastery and then, in the Second World War, as a hospital porter in London. He seemed to many people a solemn fellow but he left us with, among many unlikely remarks, his view that, “A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.”


Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was a gift to all those who believe that humanity, whatever its regrettable tendency toward deadening uniformity, manages to produce individuals of limitless originality. He was an odd duck, even among philosophers, but it is his very oddness that makes him permanently attractive to people like me, people who gobble up everything written about him, secure in the knowledge there is always more to learn.


He makes me suspect that most of the admirable people in the world are judged odd by someone, often by their contemporaries, as he certainly was.


This summer, Cambridge is marking the 60th anniversary of Wittgenstein’s death with an exhibition at the New Museums Site, Wittgenstein and Photography, containing experiments he made with the camera. One is a picture of a middle-aged woman staring back at the lens with a haunted look. She’s a woman who never existed. Wittgenstein created her by overlaying photos of himself and his three sisters. He was playing with the ideas that fuzziness in an image expresses the dynamic movement of life. Another photograph shows a friend Wittgenstein had persuaded to pose in the style of an American movie gangster. Wittgenstein loved that genre. Directing the photo, he spoke to his model in what he considered appropriate language: “Go and case the joint!”


Wittgenstein once said, “I don’t know why we are here, but I’m pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves.” In many ways his own life was far from enjoyable — three of his four brothers committed suicide and at times he contemplated doing the same. Even so, as he lost consciousness his dying words were, “Tell them I’ve had a wonderful life.”


Contemplating that life has been an engaging pursuit for many artists and ordinary readers. For instance, he’s a hit on YouTube, where 256,405 of us have so far watched an excerpt from Derek Jarman’s wildly florid 1993 film, Wittgenstein, in which we hear an actor reproducing some of Wittgenstein’s words to colleagues and students.


“This is a very pleasant pineapple,” he says at one point, then demands that students explain what goes on within that sentence, which none of them can do. He also says, “A dog cannot lie. Neither can he be sincere.” His listeners sit in deck chairs because (according to an often-printed anecdote) Wittgenstein, when short of funds, furnished his apartment with deck chairs. He chose poverty. Money was a burden he didn’t care to accept.


In 1913, when his steel-magnate father died, Wittgenstein gave most of his large inheritance to his siblings, after donating some of it to Austrian artists, including Rainer Maria Rilke. One of the many books about him, There Where You Are Not, edited by Michael Nedo of Cambridge, concerns his lifelong search for his vocation. In 1908, aged 19, he took a degree in mechanical engineering. He planned to design aircraft but lost interest. He spent some time as a schoolteacher in Austria but lost his job because he grew so angry at his students that he attacked them violently. He considered becoming a psychiatrist.


For a while he was absolutely firm in his plan to be an architect. In the 1920s, one of his sisters, Margaret, asked him to help plan a modernist townhouse she was building in Vienna. Wittgenstein took over the project. He spent a year designing the door handles and another on the radiators. Margaret didn’t much like the results and Wittgenstein admitted it was lifeless. Still, it gets praised by critics of architecture. It’s now part of the Bulgarian Embassy.


He was a modernist in architecture but not in music. “Music,” he said, “came to a full stop with Brahms; and even in Brahms I can begin to hear the noise of machinery.” He loved movies and liked company when seeing them. When a lecture at Cambridge ended he would sometimes say to a friend, “Could you go to a flick?” He sat right in the front and liked to wolf down cream doughnuts while (as one account has it) watching John Wayne. He didn’t like to think about eating. Once he said to someone he was staying with: “I don’t care what you serve me as long as it’s the same thing every night.” In all history, he’s the closest thing we’ve got to a fun philosopher.


Shortly after Keynes picked him up at the station in 1929, Cambridge faced the fact that he had no PhD, therefore could not be a real don. It was agreed that he could submit his already famous Tractatus as his doctoral thesis. Two giants, Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore, agreed to judge it. When they asked questions about it, Wittgenstein said “Don’t worry, I know you’ll never understand it.” He was accepted nevertheless.




Torchwood, Pedophilia, and a Dying Culture: Yesterday’s Taboos (Christian Post, 110829)

By Chuck Colson


Four years ago, the BBC decided to capitalize on the immense popularity of the long-running Doctor Who series by creating a spin-off called Torchwood.


Whereas Doctor Who is, apart from the intensity of its stories, safe for the whole family, producers said that Torchwood would be “dark, clever, wild, [and] sexy.” “Doctor Who for adults” is what they called it.


As a colleague wrote at the time, a better word to describe the show is “nihilistic” - it’s a judgment that’s reinforced by the show’s newest character.


While Torchwood is certainly dark, it’s rarely, if ever, been all that “clever,” especially when measured against the standard set by Doctor Who and other science fiction classics.


Instead, the show has substituted transgression for originality. Specifically, sexual transgression. The lead character, Captain Jack Harkness, can best be described as an “omni-sexual.” While the rest of his team, all but one of whom were killed, may not have successfully emulated his alien-fighting skills, they did manage to learn from his sexual example: extramarital affairs, same-sex experimentation were all in a day’s work for the Torchwood team.


For the fourth season, entitled “Miracle Day,” the writers ratcheted up the transgression: The newest character, Oswald Jones, is a pedophile. Yes, you heard me correctly.


Jones, played by actor Bill Pullman, is a convicted pedophile-murderer who is released on a technicality. While he’s far from the first pedophile to be depicted on television, he is undoubtedly the first depicted in a way that prompts the audience to root for him.


John Barrowman, the openly-gay actor who plays Harkness, said: “The interesting thing about [having a pedophile man character] that is that the audience is going to be torn, because they’re going to not like him for what he’s done - but they’re gonna like him.”


Let’s be clear, “liking him,” in the sense that Barrowman means is not the same as being able to see past Jones’ horrible crimes and understand that he is also created in the image of God. It’s not the same as believing that even the worst of sinners can repent and be transformed by the power of God.


It’s saying, “he may be a murderous pedophile but, you know what, he’s cool!” That’s not a matter of grace, that’s indifference. It’s a kind of kind of nihilism, where in the absence of moral truth, the kind that Christianity provided the West, we evaluate things by how this make us feel – in this case, whether they are entertaining.


For people who have come of age when what Freud once called “Totems and Taboo” are increasingly subject to revision, it’s hard to entertain people. As they say “been there, done that, got the t-shirt.” So we ratchet up the transgression.


Of course, there are limits: You couldn’t imagine Barrowman substituting “homophobe” for “pedophile” in what he said. After all, some things are beyond the politically correct pale at least.


And, lest we forget, there are people who insist that sex between adults and children can be consensual. Thankfully, public opinion is nowhere near that point. Yet. Because as we’ve seen, yesterday’s unthinkable taboos have a way of becoming today’s “alternative lifestyles.” It is a sad sign that our culture may be dying.