Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Zine: Adventures at the Boarder

This is another article I wrote for a friend's Zine. Again I don't know what kind of circulation or response it ever got.
As the introduction states, this was written before the 2001 FTAA protest in Quebec, Canada. Many people were talking about potential problems crossing the boarder, and I was frequently telling my story about crossing the boarder the summer before. So, a friend from Media Mouse asked me to write the whole thing up as an article she could put in her Zine for anyone interested.


This April, thousands of protestors are expected to converge on Quebec to fight the FTAA, an expansion of NAFTA. Many of us in the United States are planning on being there, but no one should set off without giving careful thought as to how they will deal with the boarder guards. This summer, I went to Windsor, Canada, to also to protest against the FTAA. Since the protest in Quebec is supposed to be much bigger, one can only imagine how much more of a hassle it will be for American activists.

Adventures at the Boarder
6:00 AM

I arrived at the house of my traveling companion. It was the first time we had met. We shook hands and exchanged names, and then we were on our way.

“Nice car,” he commented, as he got inside.

“Thank you,” I replied. “It’s my parents’. They were worried that my normal car wouldn’t survive the trip, so they offered to trade cars with me.”

“Nice.”

“Yeah, this ought to work out pretty well for us. It’s a big gas guzzling SUV. No self-respecting protestor would be caught dead in this thing. It will be perfect for crossing the boarder.”

“What do you think the boarder will be like?”

“I heard they’re keeping an eye out for hippies and protestors, but I’ve got the perfect disguise. Check out my clothes man, all GAP apparel.” My companion examined his clothes. “Not to worry,” I chimed in. “I’ve got Khakis in the back seat for you. You can change before we get to the boarder.”

I thought I had prepared for every eventuality. Since my companion was only 20, we even had the perfect story. We were just two Americans looking to take advantage of Canada’s low drinking age for a night of bar hopping and non-political mischief. I had emptied the car of any political literature, emptied my wallet of all political memberships, and was ready to assume my new identity. I was a typical apolitical American, who loved the GAP, top forty radio (which I intended to have playing at the boarder), and N’Sync (a picture of whom was taped to the dashboard).
10:00 AM

We arrived at the Detroit convergence center. We went in, looked around, and talked to the protest leaders. “What do you think our chances of getting across the boarder are?” I asked.

One of the women shook her head. “Not good. They’ve got the boarder virtually locked down now. They’re not too eager to let anyone across, especially if they know why you’re going.”

I conversed with my companion. “Well, we came all this way,” I said. “It’s worth a try.”

My companion agreed, however as we walked back to the car, I noticed he had taken a bunch of the protest literature with him. After having cleared the car of all political material, I was not to eager to obtain literature on the protest right before we approached the boarder. “Get rid of that stuff,” I said.

“It will be alright,” my companion assured me. “I’ll hide it at the bottom of our food bag. Even if they do search the car, they’ll never find it there.”
10:30 AM

We crossed under the tunnel with no problem. I was beginning to think all my worrying had been for nothing. However, as we arrived on the Canadian side, we saw a long line of cars waiting the boarder checkpoint. Police walked in and out of the line in full body armor, giving the feeling of a military checkpoint and making me nervous. There were even police with binoculars stationed on the roof.

“You know,” my companion suggested, “perhaps our story isn’t perfect. If we mention we’re planing on staying in the city of Windsor, they’ll immediately become suspicious. We should tell them we’re heading to Stratford to see a play.”

Changes at the eleventh hour always made me uneasy, but given all the police around it did seem like a good idea to pretend we weren’t going to be anywhere near the protest. I agreed. We changed the radio from top 40 to classical, and we took down the picture of N’Sync.

When we arrived at the checkpoint, we told the officer we were heading to Stratford to see “Fiddler on the Roof.” He asked if we were in college, and we told him we were. Then he asked to see our college I.D.s. We showed them, and he asked us to pull over to have the car searched. One of the boarder guards would later admit to us that all our efforts to disguise ourselves were really for naught. We were young, and we were college students, and that was enough to red flag us as activists. It didn’t matter how we looked.

We were instructed to stand against a wall with our hands out of our pockets, while a team of police officers went through the car. When I saw how thoroughly they were examining everything, my heart dropped for I knew it was only a matter of time before they found the literature. That, added to the coldness of the morning, caused me to shake with nervousness against my will. I was certain they could see I was nervous. I tried to hide it, but I wasn’t even allowed to put my hands in my pocket, and so they hung awkwardly by my side.

An officer came up to us and began talking in a very friendly tone. When he realized we were both from Christian colleges, he began to debate theology with us, trying to get us to relax as much as possible. He subtly inserted other questions in the dialogue. “Are either of you guys vegetarians? Have you ever been to any protests before?”

Well all this was happening, the search continued. At one point, the police had trouble lifting the back seat forward. I walked over to help them, but as soon as I left the wall everyone started moving rapidly to intercept me. I walked slowly backwards to my post. They then gave me permission to come forward and tell them how to move the seat, but they made sure I didn’t touch anything.

At other points they would come forward with various objects they had found. “What is this hose doing here?” they asked.

I shrugged. “It’s my dad’s car. I don’t know.” They looked at each other and shook their heads in disbelief that I would tell such a crappy lie.

Another time an officer came forward with a Clearisel container. “Do you mind telling me,” he asked in an accusatory tone, “why you have a face wash container with no soap left in it?”

“There’s still a little bit left,” I replied. “If you squeeze it hard enough, it comes out.”

“Bullshit!” he replied. “We’ve all tried and none of us could get anything out.”

The officer who was debating theology gradually chipped away at our story. “You say you’re going to the play, do you have tickets? Where are you planning to stay in Stratford? We notice you don’t have any maps to Stratford.” Finally, he went for the kill. “We don’t think you’re planning to go to Stratford at all. We think you’re here for our little protest. It’s all right. You can tell us. We’re not going to beat you.”

My companion tried to laugh. “Wow, that’s kind of funny. I don’t know where you would get that idea from.” The Officer listened patiently as my companion went on about how shocked he was that anyone could think that we were protesters. It seemed to me a useless endeavor, since all the protest literature had been uncovered by this time. As soon as he was done, I came forward with the truth.

“We were told we wouldn’t make it across the boarder if we were honest,” I said.

The officer nodded. “Well, here’s what were going to do. Were going to search the rest of the vehicle, and see if there’s anything we need to confiscate. We might impound the vehicle itself, but I hope we won’t need to do that if you cooperate with us. We’ll ask you a few questions, and then I imagine we’ll just turn you back and you’ll be free to return to the United States.”

Almost immediately after he had finished, my companion and I were separated, and we were asked almost every question imaginable. Each of us had a team of police officers questioning us. One would ask the question, the others would stand in the back ground, shaking their heads in disbelief at each answer, in order to intimidate us if we were not being entirely truthful.

The manner of the Police officers was also designed to intimidate. “Alright,” one of them would say, “now, I don’t want any more of your bullshit, just tell me the truth.” Or they would say things like, “look at me sir. No, not at my hands, look here, in my eyes. Don’t look at them, look at me.”

After they had finished interrogating us, they had us empty our pockets and then led us to separate holding cells. I sat in the cell for about ten minutes, and then a couple officers came in and interrogated me again, asking all of the same questions.

They wanted me to describe to them what everything in the car was and what it was for. The hose? I told them I didn’t know, my dad must have left it in the car. They shook their heads in disbelief. The bungy cords? Same thing, it was my dad’s car. They shook their heads in disbelief. My brother’s poetry that they found in the glove compartment? No I didn’t have a clue what it meant.

But there was one piece of paper that in particular attracted their attention. It had just the following words written on it: “Butterball’s cell phone number [followed by the number itself], activities begin at 6 PM tonight.”

I tried to explain to them that Butterball was my roommate’s name, that our phone wasn’t installed yet and so it had become necessary for everyone in the house to learn his cell phone number, and that the activity was a housewarming party we had thrown the night before.”

“Bullshit,” they responded. “Who is Butterball?” The questions flowed, and by the time they were done, they had enough information about Butterball to write a small book. “How long have you known Butterball? When was the last time you saw Butterball? How many siblings does Butterball have? Where is Butterball’s hometown? What is Butterball studying? What organizations is Butterball a part of? Is Butterball a communist? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Periodically, they would say something like, “Okay, enough of this Bullshit. Butterball’s a code name, isn’t it? Butterball is already across the boarder, isn’t he? What are you planning for six O’clock tonight?” (Incidentally, I have since warned my friend Butterball that he might want to avoid going to Canada for a few years).

They also asked why I was going to the protest. “These are issues I’ve been concerned about for sometime,” I answered. “I was at the IMF protests in DC this April.”

This opened up a new area of interest for them, and they wanted to know everything. Was I a violent protester? Was I around any violent protests? Did I meet any violent protesters? Was I pepper sprayed? Was I tear gassed? What were the names of the people I had gone to DC with?

And they asked me all sorts of questions about my companion. Had he gone to the protests in DC? Was he ever arrested? Again, I tried to tell the police that I had only met my traveling companion that morning. We had hooked up through a mutual friend, but neither of us knew much about the other.

At the same time they were interviewing my companion, to make sure our stories matched up. They asked him repeated questions about Butterball, and he told them he had no idea what they were talking about.

Eventually, we were let out of the detention cells, and waited to be interviewed by customs. A dog sniffed our belongings for drugs. I was also informed of the items that the police had chosen to confiscate. The hose and bungy cords were confiscated, because they were thought to be weapons. My companion’s bandana was confiscated, because the police thought he might use it to protect himself against tear gas or pepper spray. My empty Clearisel container was confiscated, because the police were worried I might fill it up with water, and use it to wash my face off if I got Pepper sprayed.

Then, we were individually called in to talk to a custom’s officer. First my companion went in, then when he came out, I went in. The man said the same thing to both of us. “Look,” he told me, “I’m very sympathetic to your cause. In fact, I plan to be at the protest tomorrow myself. And, believe it or not, I was once young and radical just like you. But, this weekend we are under a tremendous amount of political pressure not to let you guys through. So, I’m going to make a few phone calls, and then we’ll probably just send you back to the United States.”

I answered that I understood. We waited outside for a while longer, and then we were once again called in. “We’ve decided to let you guys through,” the custom’s officer said. “You don’t look violent, neither of you has ever been arrested, so we really can’t think of any reason why you can’t come in. But be warned, if you’re arrested in Canada, you’ll have to undergo a lengthy deportation process. And please, stay away from any violent activity.”

We had to show proof of United States citizenship. The only things they accepted were a birth certificate, a passport, or voter’s registration card. Fortunately we both had our voter’s registration card on us. After the three-hour ordeal, we were finally allowed to pass into Canada.

We were laughing with relief as we drove away. “Boy, all that made me pretty hungry,” my companion said as he reached into the food bag. “Do you want a cracker?”

I nodded, but about this time my companion realized that all our crackers had been crushed to crumbs by the police, who wanted to make sure razor blades had not been hidden among the saltines.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Unpublished Chimes Articles: Election

Commentary: I can't say I blame Chimes for taking a pass on this one. It was pretty stale. But prosaic problems aside, I do still agree with my thesis. I think this country is a lot more liberal than people realize.


It is well known that elections in this country are usually decided more by image then by issues. Both the right and the left have a solid block that can be counted on to vote predictably, but the difference is made by those who reside in the middle. A good deal of these centrist voters, either consciously or unconsciously, will tend to vote for whatever candidate has the more appealing personality.

But I trust I’m not saying anything new here. We all know that Kennedy won against Nixon primarily because Kennedy looked better on the television screen. It is common knowledge that Reagan was as popular as he was in part because he played to cameras so well. And Clinton’s win in ’96 was largely due to Dole’s wooden personality.

Of course, this causes one to wonder why Al Gore did so well in the recent election. In terms of personal charisma, Al Gore had a losing hand from the start. He struggled all through the campaign to over come the perceptions people had of him as being flat, cardboard, whiny, and monotone. He was described as having a personality that grated on voters. He was expected to shine during the debates, but instead dropped in the polls after the first debate despite the fact that most people thought he won. Voters thought he was a bully, overly aggressive, and annoying. Al Gore reinvented himself for the second debate, but still couldn’t find a personality that appealed to voters. One political analyst, after looking at Gore’s polls before and after the debates, remarked, "Milosovic didn’t drop this fast."

It is also extremely unusual for a sitting vice-president to be elected President. George Bush did it in 1988, but that was the first time such an event had occurred since 1836. And Al Gore could hardly have picked a worse administration to be part of. The Clinton administration was bursting at the seams with scandals, whether real or imagined. President Clinton was even impeached, the first President given this honor in almost a 150 years, and only the second President impeached in American history. Gore tried to disassociate himself from Clinton, but after standing by Clinton’s side for 8 years, this proved to be an impossible task.

But Gore also had problems of his own. He flip-flopped on the issues just like Clinton did, changing his position on several items between January and November. He had numerous problems with telling the truth, causing people to wonder if he could ever be trusted. He even had a few fund raising scandals of his own before he even got to the oval office. And if you think all of this doesn’t matter to people, just listen to some of the conversations on Calvin’s campus, or turn on some talk radio.

In contrast, Bush had a warm smile, a handsome face, and a laid back personality. It was everything the GOP could have hoped for in a candidate.

When all this is added together, it would have been surprising if Gore had done half as well as Bush had in the election. Instead, Gore not only gave Bush a run for his money, but he actually won the popular vote. Did Gore attract all these swing voters based on his personal appeal or trustworthiness? Impossible. I can only conclude that Gore did as well as he did because voters agreed with him on the issues.

The issues in this election were few, but they were present. And the majority of voters clearly sided with Al Gore. These voters felt strongly enough on these issues to vote for Al Gore despite his questionable past, and the issues had broad enough support to attract the swing voters despite Bush’s warm smile. Voters felt that the environment should be protected even at the expense of industry, that abortion rights should be preserved, and that saving social programs was more important then a large tax cut to the rich. In addition 2.5 million, or roughly three percent of voters, didn’t think Al Gore was liberal enough, and voted for Ralph Nader. I hope George W. Bush and the Republicans will keep these facts in mind before claiming that their views have the support of the people.

Bonus: Two entries here for the price of one. Below is an unpublished and unfinished Chimes article written at the same time. I was going to write this article, but then changed themes to the article above.

Whether you like Bush or Gore, I think we can all agree on one thing: Nader was the coolest candidate. Easily. Did Bush get endorsed by Pearl Jam? Did Radio Head hold up pro-Gore signs? How many presidential Candidates have had the support of Rage Against the Machine? When it comes to being endorsed by the hip rock stars, Nader comes away the winner.

However, with all the fuss over Nader and Buchanan, we’ve forgotten about the other candidates. No, I’m not talking about Bush and Gore. They’ve gotten more attention this year than O.J. did when he was on trial. I’m talking about the other 3rd party candidates. And so, this is my salute to men and women (well, mostly men I guess) who wanted your vote but didn’t make the headlines. These are the candidates you didn’t hear about:

David McReynolds (Socialist Party):
You have to feel a little sorry for the Socialist Party. There was a time when they were THE major third party. Back when Eugene Debs got 920,000 votes for President well he was in prison, it seemed like the world was going their way. Now, they don’t even register on the political radar (pardon the cliché). David McReynolds, like Nadar, has a long history of activism that puts him above reproach. Even if you don’t like Socialism (and I suppose polls show that the majority of Americans don’t), you have to admire a man whose spent his whole life fighting for his ideals of pacifism and democratic Socialism.

Awards: Most under-rated Candidate, Most Respectable Candidate, and the Socialist Party as a whole gets points for still running candidates after so many, many failures.

Monica Moorehead (The Workers World Party)

You’ve probably heard of Monica Moorehead, you just don’t know it yet. Remember when Bush spoke at the NAACP this summer, and six protesters had to be removed before he could begin? That was her work. She’s also been actively involved in the demonstrations against the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund, as well as the protests at the Democratic and Republican conventions this summer.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Student political organizations debate opposing party stances

Original Article Here

From their podiums in the front of the room, representatives from opposite sides of the political spectrum debated their party’s views in front of a camera and a crowd of no more than 25 people.

On Wednesday, April 19, the Calvin College Republicans and the Calvin College Democrats and Liberals joined together for the first time in a debate aimed to inform Calvin students of the political views of each party. The mediated debate allowed the representatives from each organization to present the beliefs of their party and then respond to each other in short rebuttals.

The debate began with Republicans President Peter Giessel outlining six points of what Republicans believe. He emphasized that good government is based on the individual, that free enterprise has made our nation great and the difference between liberals and conservatives. “The emphasis of liberalism says, ‘I’m here to help you, you can’t do it without me,’” said Giessel. “Conservatism says, ‘I did it, this is how I did it, I know you can do it too.’”

Austin Stoub, leader of the Democrats and Liberals, introduced a democratic viewpoint. He highlighted that the “cornerstone of the Democratic party” is the belief in social progress in all areas. “We think the government should supply funds to meet the needs of the people as best they can,” he said. And describing the liberal aspect of the Democrats, he said, “You have the right to do what you want, but your actions must not diminish the rights of other people.”

In the rebuttals, the debate turned more toward the issues, bantering back and forth about school vouchers, abortion, Elían Gonzalez, privatization of Social Security and the Test Ban Treaty, but most of the discussion focused on defense and gun control.

Giessel launched statistics, facts and foreign examples regarding gun control at Stoub, who argued primarily that guns “impinge on a person’s life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.” They discussed the constitutionality of school vouchers, Stoub arguing that it violates the separation of church and state, with Giessel firing back asking Stoub to show him the words “separation of church and state” anywhere in the Constitution. Giessel also read the Establishment Clause and explained how a voucher plan would not violate it.

Elían Gonzalez was also a hot topic, one embraced especially by the audience. The arguments of the Republican and Democratic sides pivoted around whether Elían had political asylum or not – whether he was picked up in the water by a fishing boat or the Coast Guard. Directly following was a question from an audience member asking if each side would briefly touch on its views on immigration. Giessel responded that the Republican party welcomes legal immigration, saying, “Illegal immigrants should be stopped just like illegal activity.”

Another hotly debated topic was nuclear weapons and the recently shot down Test Ban Treaty. Giessel put forth that the Test Ban Treaty would not work because it was not enforceable and there was no way to monitor other countries to make sure they would obey the treaty. Stoub fought back saying, “By not signing, we’re only endangering future generations.” He also suggested the treaty outlines three levels of punishment that ultimately led to disarmament.

Throughout the debate, Giessel worked alone while Stoub had two other people backing him – senior Joel Swagman and junior Peter LaGrand. “Giessel did a good job arguing against, at times, three [people],” acknowledged Swagman.

Unfortunatly, the larger team did get cumbersome at times. Thought passed between the backups and Stoub during rebuttals often threw off his concentration and train of thought.

“I really felt like the Democratic side could’ve been represented better,” said freshman Mike DeWitt. “There was a lot of talking in the back and passing of notes, but not much was being said. It didn’t seem like he [Stoub] was well prepared for it. He didn’t seem to have as many examples, and he seemed to draw a blank on some of the issues.”

Another problem surrounding the debate was the moderator. After not being able to secure a non-student moderator, Giessel and Stoub decided that the debate would be co-moderated by two people – one chosen by each side – to eliminate bias. However, the Democrats and Liberals did not try to find someone to act as moderator. According to Stoub, he trusted that Giessel would find someone that would be fair. The task of moderator then rested solely on Justin Grill, next year’s Calvin College Republicans president. “I really didn’t think that the moderator was biased at all,” Stoub said. “He was pretty just on both sides.”

The original goal of the debate to inform Calvin students did not succeed across the board. Many that attended were already familiar with the standard arguments. Others viewed it as a learning experience about their own arguments. “I realized what are the powerful and weak arguments of my position,” said Stoub.

Student response seemed to indicate a need for improvement. “Some topics went on too long, while others weren’t covered,” said sophomore Jordan Adema. “It would be nice if there was a time limit for each person to speak about a particular issue, immediately followed by relevant questions from the audience. As it was, the debate part dragged on for some time, while audience questions were jumbled together at the end.”

There are no tentative plans for another debate, but both organizations’ representatives were positive about how the debate went and hope their successors work to continue to hold bi-partisan forums.

Open Church appeals to the dissatisfied

Original Article on Chimes Here

Open Church appeals to the dissatisfied
Group provides an informal atmosphere for sharing opinions


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For some people on campus, sitting in church every Sunday morning serves as more of a frustration than an opportunity for spiritual growth. Questions linger in their minds that they are afraid to voice. For others, the need is felt to participate in a free exchange of opinions on matters of faith, instead of sitting in a pew listening to only one. And still others, simply seek another way to grow and learn.

“Open Church” tries to meet the needs of such people, promoting open dialogue and an atmosphere free of structure and leadership. The group was started at the end of last year by senior Joel Swagman.

“I’m so sick of going to a church where all you do is sit and listen,” said Swagman. “You’re told what to read and what to say, but mostly you just sit there and listen. I don’t think that’s what a church should be like at all.”

In contrast to the perceived impersonal and rigid features of institutional churches, Open Church emphasizes participation and relationships, putting equal value on all opinions and life experiences presented by those who come.

“There’s no leader. No one to say what’s right or what’s wrong,” said Swagman. “Basically, everyone reads from the Bible together and decides for himself, and then everyone discusses it with each other and learns from each other.”

The gathering is composed of two sessions every Sunday, both held at Delta 1 (Knollcrest East apartments). The noon session is “unstructured time” to do what people want to do. At 6:30 p.m., a Bible study time is set up. The times are set up this semester to accommodate people who may also want to attend regular church services and/or LOFT.

Discussions in the past have covered issues from prayer, hell and the end times, to social issues like the treatment of women and economic equality. Generally, Biblical passages serve as the basis for discussion. However, on some occasions Biblical passages simply serve as a loose base for more philosophical discussions that arise from conversation, said Swagman.

“What appeals to me about Open Church is the opportunity to discuss Bible passages and the issues that are raised. I like to share my thoughts and hear what others have to say,” said sophomore Rachel Brown, who has been to Open Church several times. “Open Church is different from most other churches in that it involves much more active participation from all who attend.”

So far, participation has been low. Often, Swagman and one other person are the only ones who show up for the noon session. For the most part, one or more people show up for the later Bible study session.

Some are dubious about the concept of Open Church, especially with the fact that a theological leader is absent. Some students are concerned that with the lack of leadership Open Church boasts, certain beliefs may be affirmed that have no strong Biblical basis.

Swagman said that having a voice that is knowledgeable in theological areas would certainly enrich things. But to a large extent I think you can learn just as much from a ‘normal’ person just from their life experiences or their own insight. I think God works through all people.

“There is a rich tradition of theology, and I think you should be careful of discounting that,” he added.

Before Open Church first met, religion and theology Professor Paul Kemeny noted in an interview that “Open Church might be ‘open’ to all sorts of heretical innovations since there would be no spiritual accountability.”

College Chaplain Dale Cooper said there may not be a danger in Open Church, as long as participants are truly committed to learning what God wants for their lives.

“What I think is necessary to grow as Christians is to have more than one person gathered who have to be ferociously honest with each other,” said Cooper.

In addition to having a community that is committed to honesty and other “character qualities” of authenticity, understanding, love, trust and forgiveness, Cooper noted that an emphasis on God’s word is necessary to spiritual growth.

“God’s word ought to shape me, rather than my circumstances shaping my attitude towards him,” said Copper. “Let’s try humbly to listen to him. Do I think that has to be done from a pulpit three feet above? No, I’m not saying anything about that. Put God’s Word there in the presence of people ... and then ask them to help each other.”

Kemeny said last May that one advantage of Open Church is that “perhaps those who will get involved in it will find a church home that meets their felt needs.”

“Since there is no established church in the United States because of the First Amendment, we live in a religious free marketplace where anyone can establish his or her own church,” he said.

Debate desirable

Original Chimes Article Here

Most of the letters DeRoo received appeared to be thoughtful responses. However, there was a disturbing minority that seemed to be offended that Chimes would dare print something that controversial. To those who were “offended that they were offended” (so to speak), I recommend they immediately transfer to Bob Jones University, where a barbed wire fence will stand between them and the outside world, and they will never be exposed to any views that they might (gasp) disagree with. It is my understanding that Calvin is not one of these institutions. That people are debating DeRoo is healthy. That some are clutching at their hearts in righteous indignation at seeing such heresy, is not so healthy. Just because we ignore unorthodox views will not mean they will cease to exist. They should be allowed an open forum rather than being pushed under the rug, even if one did miss the sarcasm behind DeRoo’s article.

Editor's Note:
This was a letter to the editor I sent in regards to the controversy over DeRoo's article on "Were Jesus' Actions Really Without Sin?"
The week of that controversy, the Chimes started included some of the "Letters to the Editor" on their website, so I was able to see the growing controversy before I wrote my response.  (Even though in the printed version of Chimes, which came out at the end of the week, my letter appeared side-by-side with many of the letters I was responding to.)
For the complete controversy, follow the link to the Chimes Website.  But I'll just quote a bit of that here for context:

It is hardly an exaggeration to say that we were deluged with letters after running an article last week by DeRoo entitled “Were Jesus’ actions really without sin?” Initial responses were so vociferous that we published 4,000 words of explanation and elaboration on our website, along with many of the letters we received. In two days, our site got more than 1,000 hits and within a few days we had received upwards of 30 letters.

Also, I'll quote some of the letters I was responding to:


I briefly thought he was attempting some sort of satiric social critique of modern Christian values as being incongruous with Jesus’ lifestyle, since in none of the things he mentions (discounting his exaggerated description of them) does Jesus actually sin by biblical standards. But right up to the last paragraph his target is clearly Jesus himself, who has done things that by DeRoo’s account we all supposedly know are wrong.
If I’m wrong and this is indeed meant to be social critique in disguise, it is both unsuccessful in communicating its purpose and needlessly offensive in the process. I’m not at all convinced satire would justify the inappropriate language that he applies to the Lord.
The article has given me a timely illustration for the Catechism class I’m leading tomorrow on the third commandment (Questions 99-100, q. v.); however, I will not be renewing my subscription to Chimes.

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Somehow, I never expected Jesus to be compared to Dr. Dobson and Bill Clinton in the same breath.
Similarly, I never expected anybody here to so outwardly and brashly slander the name of Jesus, who is also Christ.
While I do not know Mr. DeRoo personally and can never presume to know his heart before God, the article to his name is un-Christian, and it is quite unclear what the intent of the article is supposed to be.
As it stands, Mr. DeRoo accurately plays the role of our modern press in his deconstruction of Jesus. However, he did not go as far as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day when they claimed that the power of Christ came from demons.
It seems to me that Mr. DeRoo’s reading of the Bible assumes Jesus as a man, and only a man. If Jesus was a man, just a man and just like us, then we cannot imagine him not sinning.
The crucial missing element is that Jesus is both God and man — fully human, yet fully divine. If you remove Jesus, God is unapproachable to us Gentiles. Furthermore, the entire New Testament is a lie. In addition to this, Paul et al are fools, as is every Christian both past and present.
Having an article like this in the Chimes, the newspaper of a purportedly Christian college, is highly damaging to the Christian faith. I am disappointed and dissatisfied with the quality of the newspaper thus far this year.

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We recently read an article in the perspectives section of the Chimes which greatly disturbed us. The article was not only extremely offensive but had no business being printed in a Christian college newspaper. The author obviously has minimal knowledge of the Bible or of the culture of the time in which Jesus lived. It was an outlandish display of ignorance, and it is a shame that such a person represents Calvin. We take this very seriously and will make sure correct action is taken.

Also, for context, I'm going to reprint the original article by DeRoo below:

Were Jesus' Actions Really Without Sin?
Original Chimes Article Here

As I read the Bible I get the distinct feeling that Jesus is not what the church has depicted him to be. By the measures that many conservative Christians use to judge devotion to faith, I do not think Jesus would have rated very highly. He associated with prostitutes and was a partier, supplying alcohol for a party that would put most modern fraternities to shame.

Not only that, He was also a radical, going against the most prominent religious leaders and challenging the traditional roles of women, social class and even the fundamentals of faith. Let’s face it: this man was no Dr. Dobson. If the modern press had gotten hold of what Jesus was doing they would have made Bill Clinton look like a saint in comparison.

I have heard some say that a sin is not just what you do, but what you fail to take a stand on. Once at the end of a seven-day drunken party Jesus provided more alcohol for everyone (John 2:1-11). I guess it was not until recently that I truly recognized the significance of this.

What I mean is that Jesus was clearly sinning by promoting such behavior as alcohol consumption, especially in such an irrespon-sible context as a seven-day party. This is not just a few drinks one night with a friend; this is regular consumption over the course of at least seven nights. That is seven evenings spent without volunteering, without Bible studies and although I am sure that Jesus took a few minutes away from this drunken chaos to leave the bride and groom’s party and find a place for personal devotions, I doubt he was engaging in meaningful discussion with drunken guests in a way that would have made his Father proud.

If Jesus was wasting time, he was not using the most valuable resource God had given him in a stewardly manner. As a matter of fact, one must question the whole timing of His ministry in light of stewardly use of his gifts. Jesus was divine, so he had an extremely valuable gift to offer to those around him.

Was it not selfish of him to wait until he was thirty years old to start his ministry? What was he doing in his twenties that was so important it could not have been done by someone who was not fully divine. We know that at a young age he was already able to discuss theology with the religious leaders at a very advanced level, so why did he wait so long to start discipling people? Would he not have used his time better if he had recruited his followers earlier and given them more time to learn from him? And who knows how many children died, blind people lived a life of poverty and lame people were forced to beg because Jesus refused to use his God-given ability to heal them.

When he did take the opportunity to develop his gifts as God would have us all do, he did not select a very appropriate manner. When visiting the temple, Jesus left his parents, probably disobeying their instructions to come home with them, and ran off to the temple. Does the Bible not say for children to honor their parents? Jesus must have known his parents were leaving, he must have known he was supposed to go with them but he refused to co-operate. He clearly disrespected his parents (Luke 2:48), so how can we call him sinless?

Jesus did more than simply disrespect his parents though: he disrespected the law. On at least one occasion he engaged in actions that could have gotten him arrested for vandalism or disturbing the peace. He overturned tables, kicked money around and whipped animals (John 2:15). Here was the man we call perfect in a violent rage destroying property and whipping animals. Jesus was not a poster boy for congeniality.

In fact, Jesus was so offensive to people, so radically liberal, that they drove him out of towns. People hated this man so much that they wanted to kill him (John 7:25-30).

They probably would have if he had not used his special powers to save himself; the same powers he had earlier refused to use to save the lives of so many of the blind, lame and helpless. To think of Jesus as the kindand perfect neighbor is ridiculous.

If Jesus had tried to move into your neighborhood, you probably would have tried to prevent it. Christians should stay away from the type of people who defile the human body and distort sexuality the way prostitutes do. If Jesus lived next door, prostitutes would be regularly stopping by. But face it: that never would have happened because Jesus never would have been able to afford a place in your neighborhood In fact he could not have afforded a place at all.

If you want to talk about the perfect example of a lazy welfare bum, it is right here in Jesus. He spent at least three years of his adult life not working at all, not even trying to work. I guess this just shows that even God would not work if his livelihood were just handed to him. Jesus just roamed the country living off of handouts. He even asked those who had serious social responsibilities to do work for him (John 4:7).

But that is not all: Jesus was no upholder of family values either. It is acceptable that he never got married by the age of thirty-three (though I am sure his mother was worried for him), but he actually encouraged his followers to leave their wives (Matthew 10:37, Luke 14:26). What kind of person would persuade a married man to ignore his familial responsibilities just to follow him? Yet that is exactly what Jesus did. He called Peter away from his work to leave his family and simply roam the country (Matthew 4:18-20, Mark 16:28, Luke 5:1-11).

So why do we worship as perfect a man who works against family values, does not even look for work, blatantly refuses to use his God given abilities for much of his life, and promotes drunken parties?

You do not need to be the Son of God to know all these are wrong, we all do. Either Jesus was a sinner, or we do not have a clue what sin is.

Abortion statistics explained

Original Chimes Article Here

(This is a letter in response to this letter, which in turn, is in response to this article)

Last week my statistics were under attack in a letter by Nick Filippini. I would like to take this opportunity to reply to the accusations.

The number of abortions conducted before 1973 is a debatable statistic, since there is no accurate way of measuring an activity that was not reported to the authorities. The estimates run from 200,000 to 1.2 million annually (source “Taking sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Bioethical Issues” by Carole Levine, 1999) I qualified my figure by saying, “some estimate that illegal abortions were as high as 1.2 million.” Filippini’s figure of 100,000 is most likely understating the case. It should be noted that his source, “America’s Crisis Pregnancy Hotline,” is extremely pro-life.

The second figure Filippini questions is mostly a misunderstanding. I claimed that “80 percent deal with more complicating factors.” I then listed examples, which were not meant to be interpreted as exclusive. In fact, the combined number of abortions resulting from rape, incest, deformities, or health issues of wither the woman or the fetus is somewhere between 3 to 15 percent. Filippini’s claim of “even less than 2 percent” is again understating the case. The other complicating facts I alluded to are mainly socio-economic (source: Hessel Bouma, biology professor).

I apologize to Nick Filippini for these misunderstandings.

Update (in order to make stand alone, without having to click through all the links to follow the conversation, I am posting below the letter this explanation was in response to, and the original article that started it all.)

Nick's letter

When I read Swagman’s article in the Chimes last week in CrossroadsI could not help but laugh at his ridiculous statistical claims. Where he gathered this information I’m not sure, he doesn’t say, but I gathered some information on my own so Calvin students can know the truth about these numbers. I called America’s Crisis Pregnancy Hotline and spoke with the Executive Director.

First Swagman claims that “80 percent (of abortions) deal with more complicating factors,” such as the woman’s health, incest or rape. In fact, the real number is even less than 2 percent, which is quite a difference. Swagman also claims that before abortion was legalized an estimated 1.2 million abortions were conducted annually. Actually there are about 1.2 million abortions performed annually now that it is legalized compared to an estimated 100,000 abortions prior to legalization.

But numbers and statistics are not the real issue here. The real issue is, do we value the sanctity of human life? Planned Parenthood gives the public arguments about government invasion of privacy and a woman’s right to choose to skirt the real question: Is the fetus a baby? Nobody in his or her right mind would kill a baby. I have heard many stories of women who were thoroughly convinced that they were simply getting rid of a “blob of tissue” only to be horrified at the sight of well formed body parts extracted from them.

In most cases, contrary to Swagman’s story, abortion is a form of birth control, a convenient way to end an unwanted pregnancy. I have personally been to Planned Parenthood, posing with a friend of mine as a pregnant couple, to do research.

The information we were given was clearly written to show that having a baby is very inconvenient to a woman’s social life and future plans, and suggested abortion as a “safe” alternative.

These brochures asked questions such as “Does having a child fit the lifestyle I want?” and “What’s in it for me?” If those aren’t questions of convenience, I don’t know what would be.

We need to open our eyes and see that abortion is a very selfish act, as well as a business for Planned Parenthood.

We need to be sympathetic to women who feel trapped into this decision and realize that it is not an easy position to be in. But we also need to see the abortion industry for what it is. One way to start is by getting our facts straight.

Original Article

Pro-choice is not pro-abortion

[ see also Human life begins at conception ]

It is with a tired attitude that most writers now approach the issue of abortion. After being a controversial topic for the past 30 years, what is left to say that has not been said already? You have heard all the arguments; if you are not already convinced of one position or another, who am I to think my rhetoric will win you over?

However, as protesters on both sides have recently been in the news once again, I would like to explain why I am pro-choice.

Perhaps the biggest fallacy of the pro-life movement is equating pro-choice with pro-abortion. I am not going to deny that abortion is sketchy moral territory. The fundamental principle behind pro-choice is not that abortion is okay, but that a woman should have legal authority over what happens to her own body.

The decision over whether or not a woman should carry a child to term is not a decision that should be made by society. It is a personal choice, and should be made by the woman in question. To ask a woman to go through nine months of pregnancy is no light request.

Planned Parenthood states strongly that, “There can be no more extreme invasion of privacy than requiring a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. If government is permitted to compel a woman to bear a child, where will government stop? The concept is morally repugnant. It violates traditional American ideas of individual rights and freedoms.”

We cannot fight abortion by making it illegal. In every case where a society has outlawed abortions, the practice has continued illegally. In the United States, for example, before abortion was legalized, some estimate that illegal abortions were as high as 1.2 million annually. If done legally and correctly, abortion is 11 times safer then giving birth.

However, illegal abortions are much more dangerous. It is roughly estimated that in the two decades before legalized abortion, thousands of women died and ten of thousands were mutilated by botched illegal abortions.

Making abortion illegal is also discriminatory towards the poor. The rich can travel wherever is necessary to obtain a safe legal abortion, while the poor are forced to resort to back alley abortions.

If abortion cannot be combated by making it illegal, what can be done?

The first answer is to try to create an atmosphere in which abortion is unnecessary. Contraceptives should be provided to those who are sexually active and there should be an increased education effort to inform young people on how to use these contraceptives. However, since contraceptives can and do fail, this is only part of the solution.

The second answer is to try to make abortion less desirable. This is done by helping a mother provide for a child once it is born. Planned Parenthood cynically notes the irony of many on the religious right, who on the one hand fight against legalized abortion, while at the same time fight against health and nutrition programs for these children once they are born: “The anti-abortion groups seem to believe life begins at conception, but it ends at birth.”

Finally, much of pro-life rhetoric portrays a woman having an abortion as someone who simply does not want to be inconvenienced by having a baby. In fact, only 20 percent of abortions occur as a form of birth control.

The other 80 percent deal with more complicating factors. For example, in many cases, the woman’s health is at risk. Sometimes the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. In other cases the fetus is severely deformed.

The abortion debate is not quite as simple as slogans on both sides have made it out to be. We need to keep abortion legal so that women in these situations will have help.

We can not legislate abortion away -- it is here to stay whether it occurs legally or illegally. Abortion should, therefore, be kept safe and legal.

Jackson's public record redeems moral profile

Original Chimes Article Here

After news of Jesse Jackson’s affair broke, the news channels and airwaves were full of speculation. Those who had been supporters and friends of Jackson still supported him. The ones who felt outraged and betrayed by Jackson’s infidelity were those who never liked Jackson all that much to begin with. This indicates that the Jesse Jackson affair is not so much about a pastor disappointing his flock, as it is about Jesse’s opponents using this personal incident as a club to silence Jackson’s political views.

If this sounds at all familiar, that is because this has been the practice of the Republican Party for the past eight years during their attacks on Clinton. Clinton, of course, is not the first President to have had an extra-marital affair. He is simply the first President to have a congressional investigation into his bedroom activities.

But after all the fuss, what happened to Clinton’s opponents? After Bob Dole ran a campaign based on family values in 1996, it was revealed that Dole once had infidelities of his own. Newt Gingrich, who can still be seen frequently on the Fox news channel complaining about how Clinton has disgraced the presidency, is no doubt hoping the public has forgotten about his own family life, and the less than graceful way in which he left his post as Speaker of the House. And after all the bellyaching the religious right did about Clinton’s past, they enthusiastically rallied behind a Presidential ticket which had three drunk driving convictions between the Presidential candidate and his VP.

Once all the moralist rhetoric had fallen away, the crusaders themselves were revealed to be nothing more then sinful human beings.

Two phrases come to mind. The first one is Jesus’ quote, “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.” I think this stands quite nicely without further elaboration.

The second phrase is a lament that was heard frequently after Jackson’s affair. “Where have all the heroes gone?” We don’t have any heroes left today, because heroes never existed in the first place. Scratch any “hero” and you’ll find an ordinary human being underneath, filled with all the faults, weaknesses and temptations that the rest of us struggle with. It’s just as true for civil rights workers and reverends as it is for House Speakers and Presidential Candidates. Evangelist Tony Campolo summed it up nicely, “If you knew everything about me, you wouldn’t want me to be your speaker today,” he once said to his audience. “But that’s okay, because if I knew everything about you, I wouldn’t have come.” Even Martin Luther King Jr, who is today beyond criticism, was not entirely faithful to his wife.

Jesse Jackson’s liberal views aren’t always popular on a campus like Calvin’s, and if someone wants to bash him on account of his views or his public record, I wouldn’t think this is any worse than someone like myself attacking John Ashcroft on the same grounds. But, let us not sink to use Jesse Jackson’s marital life as a political weapon.

Editor's Note
This article was written in response to an editorial that my friend Waddilove had written the previous week.  Sort of.  I knew Waddilove was writing an article attacking Jesse Jackson on his marital affair, so I wrote this rebuttal up before I had even read Waddilove's article.  As a result, my own article went in a slightly different direction, and if you read Waddilove's original article, you can see that I actually didn't respond to all of his points.

Nevertheless, to provide some sort of context for this, and balance, I'm reproducing Waddilove's article below as well:

Jesse Jackson's Credibility Faces Tough Questions

Original Chimes Article Here

I write this article to protest against and inform others of the actions of one Reverend Jesse Jackson. Reverend Jackson, as most of you probably know, is a very influential African-American leader who has pushed for equality for minorities in our country since the 1960’s. Much of what he has advocated over the decades has occurred and has been very positive, but to me he has now become a poster child for Lord Acton’s famous quote “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Reverend Jackson may not have absolute power, but I believe that when his recent actions are considered alongside recent disclosures of his past actions, the obvious conclusion one must draw is that his long-running influence has poisoned his perspective. It is time for him to step aside from his prominent public position.

During the recent presidential election debacle, Reverend Jackson spent much time in the contested state of Florida. He had every right to be there, but the reasons he chose to go and what he did while there leave me wondering what possible productive end he could have had in mind. It may or may not be true that he uncovered, as he claims, irregularities in the state of Florida on Election Day, perpetrated by local and/or state officials that prevented African-Americans from casting their votes. Goodness knows that if he is correct, these would not be the only irregularities to have taken place in the state that day! In any case, what good purpose was served by his organizing all those inflammatory marches in the state while the post-election process was sorting itself out? No other group or figure, to my knowledge, even came close to his level of agitation. What result could his actions, had they been taken seriously by most Americans, have brought about other than to further inflame divisive racial sentiments in our nation?

A few weeks ago, it became known that Reverend Jackson had fathered a child out of wedlock with an employee of his organization, the Rainbow/PUSH coalition.

As a self-proclaimed moral leader who routinely speaks on behalf of African-American families, does it not seem odd that there will apparently be absolutely no tangible consequence the Reverend will pay for this action? The majority of Rainbow/PUSH members seem to want Reverend Jackson to stay on as the head of the organization and remain every bit as visible on the public scene as he always has been. This is despite Jackson’s flip-flop about his own view of his current moral status.

The day the news of his 20 month-old child broke, he announced he would be dropping out of the public eye for an undetermined period of time. Too bad that period of time turned out to be exactly five days! A nice long weekend during which Reverend Jackson somehow wants us to believe he searched his soul and found his credibility again. I say this was a golden missed opportunity for the Reverend. Americans are very forgiving on these matters, and that is good, to an extent. The usual catch to this forgiveness is that the person who asks for forgiveness has to show something resembling a penitent attitude about his actions!

Finally, I heard recently on the radio that Jackson and Rainbow/PUSH are going to start an organized effort to lobby Congress for nationwide reparations payments to the descendants of former African-American slaves. I disagree with this idea in principle, but I do understand why some people desire that it take place. Still, if what I have heard is true, then Reverend Jackson’s power has corrupted more than just his personal moral condition. Whatever non-African-American who would even listen to such an idea coming from this man at this time is a type of person I have not yet met in my lifetime.

I have heard rumors that more influential people would openly criticize Reverend Jackson than do these days, but are afraid to do so because they may be labelled a racist by him or his organization. Since I am technically not influential, and am not a racist, I have no such fear. I say, with verve, “Jesse go home!!!” I hope to hear from you again in ten years, and not a day sooner.

Free Access to Music Will Help

Original Chimes Article Here

For over a year now the frenzied cries of record company executives have been echoed by columnists of the mainstream media. The Internet has potentially brought the next phase in the evolution of the music industry with the arrival of Napster and other similar sites which allow music fans to download songs for free. Ever since, record companies have been spinning doomsday predictions blaming Napster for the death of music.

Napster offers some exciting possibilities. We live in a culture that glorifies and romanticizes the value of music. Most people’s attitude towards music can be summed up by the bumper sticker: “without music, life would not be worth living.” It is therefore somewhat disturbing to think of music as a commodity that is bought and sold on the market.

But that is precisely how the system operates. New CDs are often given inflated prices and sold to those who can afford them. With the advent of Napster, people are beginning to question if music is something that should be bought and sold, or if it is something that should be available to everyone regardless of economic status. Some claim that music should be free to the people.

Admittedly, as long as the digital divide still exists, these are hollow arguments. Anyone who can afford to buy a computer to download new music could probably also afford to buy a few CDs. However, if some of the arguments by the more passionate Napsterites seem a little silly, the arguments by the record companies -- that music can only survive under big businesses -- is even more ridiculous.

The argument the record companies and many mainstream journalists make is simple. If music fans can get free music over the internet, they will not go out and buy the CD. This will financially hurt the musicians who make the music. Of course, many of us think these rock stars are rich enough already, so the record company has wisely chosen not to showcase Britney Spears or N’Sync as targets for our sympathy. It is the new, emerging artists we are supposed to feel sorry for. The ones who would not get signed at all if there wasn’t a compassionate record company who wanted to give them a chance. These new artists would suffer. After all, who would buy their songs if they were given away for free?

This is not the first time these arguments have been presented. The record companies were screaming these same gloom and doom predictions during the advent of radio. Who would buy music if you could just hear it for free on the radio? Now artists compete with each other for radio time since radio time is free advertising, hopefully leading to the musician performing concerts at sold out venues. Granted Napster is a different medium than radio, and brings with it different concerns, but we should be careful before being too quick to condemn it.

The artist actually gets surprisingly little from every CD that is sold. Most of that money goes to the record companies and other intermediaries along the way.

For many artists, the majority of their revenue comes from touring. Roger McGuinn, lead singer for the Byrds, recently testified to this effect before Congress. Even when the Byrds were topping the record charts in the mid-60s, they still had to tour just to make ends meet. It is clear the fight over CD copyrights means more to the recording industry then it does to the musicians.

Napster offers free advertising to bands, but more importantly it offers more diversity in music. Have you listened to the radio recently? It is dominated by a few bands who all sound remarkably similar to each other. Without getting into the politics of radio play, it is safe to say that the radio has helped a lot of no -talent bands perform in huge stadiums, while many more talented musicians are still playing coffee houses. With Napster, there is no DJ deciding what music gets played when, but the listener decides what music to listen to and how often to listen to it.

As Napster makes music more accessible, I can’t imagine this could do anything but help music as an art form. Never before has more accessibility to an art caused a decline in the quality of that art. Music should be no exception.

Nor will Napster mean the end of CDs. Blank tapes have been around just as long as CDs, and yet when I walk into a Calvin dorm room I seldom see rows and rows of blank tapes. Even those college students who have access to CD burners often prefer to go out and buy the official album. We like holding something new and shiny in our hands. We like looking at the album jacket, and impressing our friends with our official looking music collection.

Napster and other sites similar to it could potentially be the greatest thing that has ever happened to music. That is, if the record companies and their team of lawyers don’t dismantle it first.

Protest against SOA continues for tenth year

Original Chimes Article Here

“It’s time for the SOA to drown in its own blood”-Major Joseph Blair,
Former instructor at the School Of the Americas

On Nov. 18 and 19 for the tenth consecutive year, a non-violent protest will be conducted against the School of Americas (SOA) in Fort Benning, Georgia. And, for the third consecutive year, a group of Calvin students will be journeying down to add their voices to the growing movement. Last year over 12,000 protesters converged at Fort Benning, and 4,408 of them committed civil disobedience by illegally protesting on the grounds of the Fort. With even larger numbers expected this year, it is not unreasonable to assume that if someone hasn’t heard about the SOA yet, they will soon.

The SOA was founded in Panama in 1946 as part of the United States’ effort to combat Communism. The school would take soldiers from governments favorable to the United States, and train them in counter-insurgency techniques. The school is premised on teaching undemocratic governments more effective ways to kill political dissidents, a fact which was troubling from the outset.

However, the poor human rights record set by SOA graduates has given even more cause to question the school. For instance, of the El Salvador officers responsible for the worst atrocities during the civil war (according to the UN Truth commission), two-thirds were SOA graduates. Out of 246 cited for atrocities in Colombia, 100 are SOA grads. Labor Union leaders are frequently killed by SOA graduates, and the El Mozote massacre, in which a whole village was slaughtered, was done by SOA graduates.

Because the church can sometimes be regarded as a threat to those in power, outspoken Christians have also been targeted by SOA alumni. This includes Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated by SOA graduates. It also includes three American nuns who were raped and murdered by SOA graduates, and six 6 Jesuit priests who were killed by SOA graduates.

The SOA acquired such a bad reputation in Latin America that it was nicknamed “Escuela de Golpes” or “School of Coups”, so named after the habit SOA graduates had of establishing military governments. Consequently, when the Panama Canal Treaty was signed, Panama wasted no time in making sure the SOA would leave with the Americans. In 1984, the school was moved up to Fort Benning.

It has been argued that the crimes committed by some SOA graduates are not representative of the whole school. After all, not all graduates of the School go on to commit human rights abuses. Although it is hard to justify training better-equipped soldiers for repressive governments, some point out that these governments are very friendly to U.S. economic interests.

However, in 1996, under pressure from human rights groups, the Pentagon released seven training manuals that had been used at the SOA until 1991. The training manuals taught interrogation techniques such as torture, execution, blackmail, and arresting the relatives of those being questioned. It was an embarrassing revelation after the SOA had claimed for years that it never taught torture techniques.

That was 1991. Ancient history, right? And the SOA has made many changes since then. It has added human rights components to its curriculum, and even given itself a new name.

Sadly, these changes are not close to sufficient. Of the 42 classes offered, only one focuses on democracy and human rights, and this course is not required. In fact, in 1997 only 13 students ended up taking this course. Much more popular are courses like “Military Intelligence,” and “Psychological Operations.” The human rights component added to the other courses make up only a small number of the total hours.

The United States government should get its act together because the protestors aren’t going away. Few movements have as broad a support as the movement to close the school down. One of the most outspoken critics of the school, Major Joseph Blair, is actually a former instructor and has written several articles about the undemocratic values the school teaches.

The first people to go to federal prison for protesting the SOA were both decorated Vietnam War veterans. Roy Bourgeois, the founder of the SOA Watch, an anti-SOA movement, received a Purple Heart in Vietnam before becoming a Catholic priest. Although the SOA has tried to portray protestors as ignorant radicals, veterans and nuns make up its visible element.

After ten years of growing opposition, it is becoming harder for the school to hide. Soon, it will be shown for what it is.

Should "Governor Death" be President?

Original Chimes Article Here

In the third presidential debate, George W. Bush was confronted with his apparent pride upon announcing the execution of three men. In response, Bush said the death penalty was something he took very seriously. In a night filled with half-truths and exaggerations, this was the biggest lie of the event. It was almost as bad as the first debate, in which Bush, the man also known as “Governor Death,” claimed he wanted to create a culture of life.

Both Bush and Gore professed that the death penalty is a deter-rent for crime, and Bush used the same phrase he had used at Calvin College: “I believe the death penalty saves lives.” I do not know how Bush gets away with saying that, since the death pen-alty has never been shown to det-er crime more effectively than any other punishment. Nor is it cheaper; by the time all the appeals have been exhausted, it is three times more expensive than life imprisonment.

But more disturbing is the fact that the death penalty is one of America’s most racist institutions. Despite the fact that whites and blacks are murdered with equal frequency, 80 percent of the people sentenced to death were charged with killing a white person. Nine out of ten people prosecuted for the death penalty between 1988 and 1994 were either African American or Hispanic. And African Americans are four times more likely than whites to receive the death penalty for similar crimes.

How seriously does Bush take capital punishment? Consider the case of Karla Fay Tucker. She became a Christian and married the prison chaplain while on death row, then appealed to Bush to save her life. Religious right leader Pat Robertson also lobbied Bush to spare her. Bush refused to pardon her. Then while being interviewed by TALK magazine, he actually did an imitation of Karla Tucker pleading for her life. “Please,” he said in mock voice, “don’t kill me.” Gary Bauer, who ran against Bush in the Republican primary, said, “I think it is nothing short of unbelievable that the governor of a major state running for president thought it was acceptable to mock a woman he decided to put to death.”

Or consider the case of Gary Graham. He was executed on the testimony of one eyewitness who had seen him from a dark parking lot 30 to 40 feet away. Two other eyewitnesses said Graham was the wrong man, five said they were with him at the time of the murder, and several others stated that the gun man was shorter. Because of Graham’s criminal past, his defense lawyer simply assumed he was guilty, and the jury never even heard the other witnesses. Graham protested his innocence to the end, as Amnesty International, the United Nations, France, Italy and Germany all called upon Bush to stop the execution. Graham was also 17 when the supposed crime took place. It is worth noting that the United States and Iran are the only two countries that execute offenders under 18.

Bush not only refused to stop the execution, he canceled a press conference to avoid answering questions about it. To be fair though, his decision to execute Graham was not unpopular with everyone. Charles Lee, the Grand Dragon of the KKK, told USA Today, “People say the system is racist and that he got a raw deal... Gary Graham’s victims were all white, his murders, his rapes, his assaults were all racist, since he is black. It is time for him to die.”

Since Bush took office in 1995, Texas has executed 142 individuals. That’s more then any other state (and most countries) have executed in the past two decades. The list includes Betty Beets, a 62-year-old great-grand-mother with battered woman syn-drome, whose jury never knew of her history of abuse. It includes Oliver Cruz, a mentally impaired Latino whose white co-defendant received life in prison for the same murder. It includes some who were described as having the mental capacity of children.

Bush opposed a bill that would have barred any execution of the mentally ill. George W. Bush is a multi-millionaire and son of a multimillionaire who has been signing the death sentences of people too poor to afford their own lawyers. Don’t let him fool you when he says he takes seriously the lives on death row.

Calvin students debate the benefits of Mosaic floor

Original Chimes Article Here

Students feel issues of diversity on campus are overlooked under current system

I am a senior at Calvin College, and I am writing this letter as a concerned student. This is the fourth year I have lived on campus.

I appreciate the emphasis Calvin has put on multiculturalism and certainly agree that, since Calvin has a relatively homogenous population, encouraging multiculturalism and diversity is necessary.

However, I am concerned about the multicultural floor on second Kalsbeek-Huizenga. I fear that Calvin has used this floor as a quick fix to the problem, without having fully considered the possible ramifications. I also fear that Calvin has used this floor primarily to improve its image without genuine concern for the problem of diversity on campus.

Although I have never lived on this floor, I know several people who have and have talked to them at length. While I appreciate the intentions behind this multicultural floor, I believe it can easily be regarded as a kind of voluntary or even an institutionally encouraged form of segregation.

I have talked to one minority student who told me that the summer before entering Calvin she was sent several pieces of literature encouraging her to join the multicultural floor. She thought this literature strongly implied that, since she was in the minority, this floor was the place where she should live.

The fact that this floor is on the outskirts of campus residence further leads to the sense of segregation. I realize this is not intentional on Calvin’s part, but the location is, nevertheless, not ideal.

I spent two years living in Boer-Bennink and noticed a tremendous lack of diversity in the student population. I believe a multicultural floor has the effect of making the rest of the campus less diverse.

I believe this is no slight issue. Most of the socializing of Calvin students revolves around their floor. Most of the friends a Calvin student has are made on his or her floor. More often than not, after completing two years in the dorms, a Calvin student will live with people from his or her floor. The floor a student is put on determines the friends the student will have for the rest of his or her college career. Therefore, the problem of segregation is serious. In addition, I believe the situation has come to the point where many Calvin students, upon seeing a minority students on campus, will simply assume he or she lives or has lived on the multicultural floor.

Furthermore, I have talked to many others about this during my four years at Calvin and I believe the above opinions are widely shared among the student body.

Most students, like me, would rather see a multicultural campus than a multicultural floor.The following are several alternatives I have thought of to a multicultural floor. They are ranked in order of what I believe are most preferable to least preferable, but I believe all are better than the current situation:

1. Calvin should teach a class dealt with the same issues deal with on the multicultural floor. The same issues explored on the multicultural floor could be discussed here, but the advantage would be that the students enrolled in this class would return to different dorms. They could bring what they have learned with them to the floors they live on and spread the message.

2. Calvin could continue the multicultural floor, but blindly accept applicants for this floor without knowledge of the student’s race or ethnic background. In the same way, all students would be encouraged to enroll on this floor equally, without minority students being made to feel this floor is the place they are expected to reside.

3. At the very least, Calvin should move this floor to a place that is more centrally located among the dorms and the campus in general, such as Rooks-VanDellen.

- Joel Swagman
Letter signed by 63 students

Members of Mosaic student leadership defend function and purpose of community

The Mosaic Community has been in existence for four years and has already made an impact on the Calvin community.

However, as Joel Swagman’s letter indicates, there seems to be some confusion as to the function and purpose of this program.

We, the program assistants on the Mosaic floor (facilitators of floor events), feel that it is important that we address these concerns and help dispel the myths.

We believe the floor is one of the many ways in which Calvin is positively dealing with the issue of diversity on campus.

The Mosaic Community was formed to promote diversity at Calvin by creating an environment where people could come together and learn about each other. By experiencing what it is like to live with others different from ourselves, “we learn and practice Christian understandings of human diversity, to be change agents both within Calvin and in broader society” (Mosaic Vision Statement).

A separate housing application is needed to apply for this floor and every incoming freshman is sent information about this community. The floor runs best with a mix of different people from different ethnic backgrounds and thus the application asks for one’s cultural background.

Minority students, both American and international, as well as third culture Caucasian students, all provide different cultural perspectives from the traditional Calvin student.

This, combined with many of the traditional Dutch backgrounds, provides everyone with a wonderful opportunity to share experiences and learn about each other.

All applicants are given equal opportunity to become members of the floor, however there is limited number of spaces available and thus some students are not accepted.

Kalsbeek-Huizenga is structured differently from the other halls, which gives it certain advantages when trying to develop an intentional community. It contains two joining lobbies both on the second and third floor and the basement also connects.

This is the reason that this hall was chosen for the program. Unfortunately, some people have misunderstood this decision and perceived it as a form of segregation.

In reality, it is an architectural detail. The program could be moved to another building, but since Calvin is such a small campus it shouldn’t matter which residence hall the program is located in.

Throughout Mosaic’s four years, there has often been the concern that this program will draw AHANA (Asian, Hispanic, African and Native American) students away from other halls.

Perhaps looking at some current statistics will help us see this issue more clearly.

Presently, there are 178 AHANA students at Calvin, of which 114 live on campus. Of those 114, only 16 AHANA students live on the Mosaic floor. In fact, 19 AHANA students live in NVW, which has no intentional program like Mosaic.

With these numbers, we can conclude that Mosaic is not a threat to the diversity on campus. Rather, it actually enhances diversity by offering another program and experience for those who are interested.

Likewise, all the dorms include many culturally-diverse students, Boer-Bennink not being an exception. If the Mosaic Community did not exist, it would mean that only one to two male or female minority students would be added to each hall.

Swagman states in his letter that people, when seeing a minority student, assume this person lives on the Mosaic floor. Obviously the facts reveal a different picture.

Clearly there is a lack of diversity on this campus and work needs to be done to address this issue. There are many ways we feel that Calvin has made an effort to develop a multicultural campus.

Presently Calvin’s redevelopment of the core curriculum will include multicultural issues and cross-cultural engagement. Even so, there are many opportunities to take a class that deals with diversity or teaches about a different culture.

There is also a six-week program called Healing Racism that addresses issues of racism and helps to break down the dividing walls between different ethnicities.

In addition, there are many organizations on campus that try to promote cultural events such as the Multicultural Student Activities Board (MSAB), Banderas, China Club, Korean Christian Fellowship, Gospel Choir, Multicultural Drama Group and the International Student Committee. Many Calvin departments also try to hold events that have multicultural themes.

Professor Randal Jelks, director of the Multicultural Academic Affairs Office, in conjunction with other departments, brings speakers to campus who deal with multicultural issues.

The Mosaic Community is not trying to promote segregation. To say that the floor produces a less diverse campus is unfounded.

Many of the events that we participate in are campus-wide events to which everyone is invited.

Statistics show that there are 114 AHANA students living on campus. This does not include the many international students who also live on campus.

In order to better promote diversity, each individual must take the initiative to get out of his or her comfort zone and interact with those who are different from him or herself.

In addition, at the institutional level, Calvin needs to continue to make every effort to provide opportunities for all students to experience increased diversity and learn more about multiculturalism.

- David Dykhouse, Eric Flores,
Marla Love, and Sung-Ae Yang
(Mosaic floor program assistants)

Two Major Parties Not Representing Voters Interests

Original Chimes Article Here

As the Democratic National Convention took place this summer in Los Angeles, media analysists were quick to point out what a difficult job Al Gore had ahead of him.

Gore, the analysists claimed, must replicate the magical coalition that Clinton had put together to defeat Bush in 1992, a coalition of young people, workers, women, minorities, and environmentalists. A difficult task, say the analysists, since the interests of these groups are often contradictory and it is impossible to please all of them .

Not a chance! If these analysists had been paying attention to what has been happening on the streets this past year, they would have realized that groups have never been more united. From protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle, to demonstrations against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington, D.C., students and workers, nuns and anarchists have been marching side by side in their opposition to the policies of the Democratic Party. Even as the delegates of the Democratic National Convention reclined in air-conditioning inside, young protestors were sacrificing their bodies outside of the convention hall as tear gas and rubber bullets were used to silence their first amendment rights.

Yet despite the massive public outcry, the Democratic Party has not changed its tune. Gore still supports the policies of the IMF and the WTO, despite overwhelming documentation of the destruction and loss of life these institutions have caused.

Gore still supports the globalization of corporate interests, without a corresponding globalization of labor and environmental concerns.

The Democratic Party even officially supports the death penalty, even though all evidence points to the fact that the death penalty is applied in a racist manner.

Gore, while he admittedly doesn’t have the murder record of George W. Bush, also publicly supports this form of legalized lynching while at the same time trying to paint himself as a friend to the NAACP. In the words of Jerry Rubin, “the Democratic Party has blood on its hands man.”

The American voter, however, is left with no real alternative. One of the failings of the two party system is that the Democratic and Republican Parties have only each other to compete with. This allows both of them to ignore most of the population. If a dictatorship only has one party, truly the United States is only slightly better off with two.

It is a sad state of affairs, and it seems to only be getting worse.

Sixty percent of American voters say they do not identify with either the Republican or Democratic Party, meaning the majority of Americans are not being represented in government. Is it any wonder, then, that our voting turnout is one of the lowest in the world?

And as the Republican and Democratic Party begin to look more and more alike, the voter turnout should get lower and lower. With Bush and Gore both in favor of Star Wars, the Death Penalty, and NAFTA (to quote but a few examples) it is safe to say that on important issues, Bush and Gore agree far more then they disagree.

The understandable frustration people have felt has helped to fuel Ralph Nader’s campaign. However, as Nader’s opponents are fond of pointing out, in a two party system the best thing a third party candidate can hope for is to act as a spoiler. And the Democratic and Republican parties want to make sure all other parties stay out of the spotlight.When Nader reached the 5 percent voter support necessary to be included in the televised presidential debates, the bar was raised to 15 percent. Had this qualification been implemented in years past, neither Ross Perot, nor Jesse Ventura, nor John Anderson would have qualified.

The really tragic thing is that it doesn’t have to work this way. Most other democratic countries are far more advanced then us when it comes to their electoral process. Canada, Japan, Russia and practically all of Europe make our election system look simply primitive. We could learn a lot by looking around us.

For instance, we should abolish the Electoral College and institute a percentage vote instead. This would mean that all votes for minority parties would not merely drop off into oblivion, as they do now, but work towards congressional seats, and insure all citizens are represented.

For the position of president, we should have a run off, in which there are two elections. One would be for all of the candidates; the second election would feature only the top two candidates from the previous election. This would eliminate the spoiler factor, and ensure that the most powerful position in our country can be achieved only by a majority vote.

Of course these changes are a long way off, and, with the Democrats and Republicans firmly entrenched in power, it will be an uphill battle all the way. One small step is for conscientious voters to express their disgust with the two major parties by voting for neither of them.

Voters made campaign finance reform a major issue this election, although everyone knows Gore and Bush would have liked to have completely ignored it. Similarly, we can make election reform a big issue in coming elections. Vote for the Green Party, the Socialist Party, the Reform Party, whoever. Just remember that the only way you can truly waste your vote is by sending it to Al or Dubya.

Republicans Ignore Bush's Past

Original Chimes Article Here

In the early days of the George W. Bush campaign, questions about his shady past naturally arose. In particular, the media asked about his alleged cocaine use. Bush issued the now famous reply that he was not going to “engage in the politics of destruction,” so the question was inappropriate. It seems a legitimate response, until one considers that Bush is from a party that eight years earlier tried to crucify Bill Clinton for trying marijuana once.

Journalists were quick to point out the inconsistency of this, but no adequate response was ever issued. The only answer appears to be the cynical one: con-servatives were not so much outraged in 1992 as wanting to bring Clinton down any way they could. That is why I’m dragging this dead horse out for a few more beatings, in the hope that perhaps some young Republican could write in and explain this to me.

The GOP did all it could in 1992 to try and make Clinton’s marijuana use an issue. The phrase, “I didn’t inhale” perhaps became Clinton’s best known quote. GOP-funded commercials showed clips of Clinton talking about his marijuana experiment. Conservative columnists argued that marijuana use would increase if Clinton were to be elected, and when it did increase briefly during the Clinton-Gore years, many fingers pointed at the bad role model in the oval office.

Of course Bush never admitted to his cocaine habit, and though in a court of law, a man’s silence is not supposed to be held against him, public opinion does not work the same way. When Bush said, “maybe,” most Americans interpreted it as “yes.” Why wouldn’t he come clean unless he had something to hide? Fair or not, Americans believe Bush to be guilty.

Which brings the question: why did the same people who demonized Clinton for marijuana use jump so eagerly on the Bush bandwagon? Especially considering that marijuana is a non-addictive drug that is reportedly less dangerous than alcohol. Cocaine, on the other hand, is one of the most addictive and most dangerous drugs.

For all his faults, Clinton was at least brave enough to admit his activity, whereas Bush has yet to come forward. Clinton’s use was a one-time experiment, while Bush’s is rumored to be more frequent. For conservatives who like to complain about a biased liberal media, this kind of double standard smacks of hypocrisy.

Another issue that conservatives made a fuss about in 1992 was Clinton’s conscientious objection to the war in Vietnam. He was called a draft-dodger, unpatriotic, and un-American. After he won the election, many wondered if the army could respect a commander in chief who had avoided service. Cynical remarks were made every time Clinton addressed the army, and bumper stickers appeared saying, “Only in America does a homeless vet sleep in a cardboard box while a draft doger sleeps in the White House.” It was as if Clinton’s patriotic duty was to serve in a war he morally objected to. Such sentiment usually only exists in countries like Nazi Germany.

Meanwhile, George W. Bush, has never wavered in his public support of the Vietnam War. However, when the time came for him to serve, he used his family connections to get into the National Guard instead, jumping over many more qualified young men who were waiting in line for the opportunity. So, my question to conservatives is again: why is this a non-issue?

Chief Justice Rehnquist's questionable Past

Original Chimes Article Here

Building on Brian Bork’s article from last week’s Chimes, I would like to further highlight incidents from Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s career that I feel to be cause for alarm.

As noted in Bork’s article, William Rehnquist was involved in ballot security operations, attempting to use old Jim Crow laws to prevent minorities from voting. What was not mentioned in Bork’s article was that Rehnquist actually volunteered for this assignment. And according to Christopher Henry’s The Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, Rehnquist served with more vigor and enthusiasm than his co-workers. During Rehnquist’s confirmation hearings, several people even claimed to have seen him involved in shoving matches with minorities he had barred from voting.

In 1964, while working on the Goldwater campaign, Rehnquist lobbied to defeat an ordinance that would require restaurants and hotels to serve all persons regardless of race. He was the only person at the Phoenix city council to speak against the measure on June 15, and when it passed unanimously the next day, he did not give up his fight. As reported in Peter Irons’ Brennan v. Rehnquist, the Chief Justice wrote a letter to the Arizona Republic claiming that only a “small minority” benefit from the public accommodation law. It echoed an argument he would use three years later to protest school integration in Phoenix. Rehnquist then said that the majority of citizens were “well satisfied with the traditional neighborhood school system” and did not want to see it tinkered with by social theorists who asserted “a claim for special privileges” for the black community.

In 1969 Rehnquist delivered a speech entitled “The Law: Under Attack from the New Barbarians.” Rehnquist made known his disgust for Martin Luther King, the civil rights movement, and anyone else who sought to commit civil disobedience by breaking the law. Rehnquist (in what must have been a very convenient philosophy for a white man born into privilege) argued that no matter how peaceful the offense, or how noble the cause, breaking the law was unacceptable, and the offender did not redeem him or herself by going to prison. “The deliberate law breaker does not fully atone for his disobedience when he serves his sentence, for he has by example undermined respect for the legal system itself.” Two years later he reiterated this position, adding “that if force or the threat of force is required in order to enforce the law, we must not shrink from its employment” (Irons).

Paradoxically, Rehnquist did not hold the government to the same high standard, defending the detention of criminals without bail, wiretapping without judicial warrant, and police surveillance of dissenters (Irons). (It should be noted that in the 1960s, the word ‘dissenters’ was often defined broadly so as to include civil rights leaders).

When Rehnquist was nominated for the Supreme Court in 1971, it produced an outcry from civil rights leaders, who called the nomination an insult and pointed out that Rehnquist had made a career out of opposing integration. President Nixon, intentionally or not, used a successful strategy to push Rehnquist though. Nixon’s two previous nominees, Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell, were both rejected in part because of their racist views. Nixon complained bitterly that this was on the grounds that both were Southern constructionists. After this, the Senate was under a lot of pressure to accept Rehnquist (Irons).

Despite Nixon’s efforts, the confirmation hearing still turned out to be a bloody affair. What threatened Rehnquist most was a memo in which he wrote, “I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be reaffirmed.” Rehnquist demonstrated his great concern for the issue by refusing to testify about it when the Senate hearings were reopened, but he did write a letter saying that the views in the memo were not his, but Judge Jackson’s views, for whom he was working for at the time. Judge Jackson could not defend himself since he was dead, and although Jackson’s longtime secretary accused Rehnquist of lying, the truth of the matter will never be known. Another possible motivation for Rehnquist’s position on Brown v. Board of Education could be the shift towards centralization of power it signified. We do know, however, that 1.) Rehnquist has consistently opposed desegregation efforts throughout his life, 2.) Rehnquist urged Judge Jackson to uphold Plessy V. Ferguson on the grounds and the majority of the population was in favor of it. 3.) Judge Jackson voted to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson (Irons).

As a Supreme Court justice, Rehnquist often hides behind a strict constructionist viewpoint as a means to oppose desegregation efforts. However, his rulings have not been entirely consistent in this regard (Irons). For instance, according to Elder Witt’s A Different Justice, Renhquist alone dissented from the 1983 Supreme court decision to disallow Bob Jones University tax-exempt status because it discriminated against blacks. Rehnquist argued that the congress must first authorize the IRS to adopt this policy. However, as reported by Raymond Wolters’ Right Turn, Rehnquist wrote in another case that the “congressional inaction is of virtually no weight in determining legislative intent.”

In another example, Rehnquist used the Board of Education v. Dowell case in 1991 to kill off some six hundred federal desegregation orders. “We think it is a mistake,” Rehnquist wrote, “to treat words such as ‘dual’ and ‘unitary’ as if they were actually found in the constitution.” He further reasoned that as long as local officials attempted desegregation for a short period of time, and further desegregation efforts are beyond the power of the federal government (Irons).

In 1999 Rehnquist also attempted to use the strict constructionist view to deny the Chippewa Indians their ancestral land, arguing that, as reported by Philip Brasher for the Associated Press (03/24/99), “There is simply no principled reason to invalidate [President Taylor’s] 150-year-old executive order.” The point is that Rehnquist has time and time again sought to justify his positions with a rigid constructionist point of view. However, according to Peter Irons’ A People’s History of the Supreme Court, Rehnquist has demonstrated willingness to take a Judicial Activist position if pushed far enough – to stop the desecration of our sacred American Flag. Apparently Rehnquist was more appalled at the notion of burning of a piece of fabric than at the oppression of blacks under segregation.

But let me be perfectly clear: it is not my intention in all of this to call Rehnquist a racist. To view the issue in such absolute terms is entirely reductionist, and lacking of attention to nuance and subtlety. My position then, is merely that Rehnquist’s past racial record is ample reason to warrant concern. Calvin students and faculty should take the opportunity of Commencement to protest these views and the institutional endorsement Rehnquist’s presence at Calvin represents.

[Editor's note: This article was edited by Buma, who added in the last paragraph.  Anyone familiar with Buma's distinctive writing style should recognize the prose as his, and as much better than mine.  Also, I would have been content the implication of racism stand without the softening remarks at the end.]