What Wouldn’t Jesus Do?

What wouldn’t Jesus do?

Well, he probably wouldn’t steal other people’s copyrighted material and then market it like some kind of consumer trinket.

Janie Tinklenberg lead a youth group in Holland Michigan. many years ago. She used some source material by Charles Sheldon, a pastor from Topeka, Kansas. One of Sheldon’s ideas was to frequently ask yourself, what would Jesus do?

Tinklenberg came up with the idea of putting the initials, WWJD, on bracelets, so her students could be reminded constantly of the question. I personally think it’s kind of a dumb idea myself, but that’s not the point here. The point is that she came up with the idea of putting the initials “WWJD” on jewelry.

Tinklenberg’s idea has been stolen by every Christian publisher and trinket manufacturer in the U.S. Not a single one of these companies has offered Tinklenberg a single red cent for her idea. (You can’t copyright an actual idea, but you can copyright the expression of an idea, which is exactly what WWJD is.)

Now, you could argue that the idea of putting “WWJD” on a bracelet is neither original or elaborate enough to justify a copyright at all. You could make a good case for that. The trouble is that these publishers are themselves notorious for demanding draconian enforcement of copyright of their own mediocre ideas and expressions, including all those dumb posters and bookmarks that trivialize spirituality and reduce the precepts of Jesus to cute little mindless mantras and mottos.

Do any of these companies ask themselves the very question they are selling? Do the people wearing this bracelet realize that they have been sold a bill of goods? That they sport an emblem of all that is shallow and trivial and superficial and utterly meaningless about the kind of kitsch that passes for Christian “culture” these days?

Actually, “Christians” in the U.S. don’t seem to mind the merging of commerce and religion, and it’s not because their commerce has a spiritual aspect to it.

The Worst Attorney-General in U.S. History: Janet Reno

You have to consider the fact that John Mitchell, Attorney-General under Richard Nixon, was essentially a thug who was convicted of perjury, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice and probably allowed his own wife to be assaulted in order to protect the Nixon Presidency. Pretty impressive for the nation’s top law enforcement officer. His loyalty was rewarded. Mr. Nixon, who promised, in the 1968 election, to restore law and order to America, greeted Mr. Mitchell with a party after he was released from prison.

Even so, Janet Reno has assembled a personal history that certainly puts her into the hall of shame for attorney generals.

Janet Reno’s political star began to rise with the prosecution of several “Satanic Ritual Abuse” cases in Miami, Florida. The most celebrated of these was the Frank and Ileana Furster Case. This is a very strange story. Ileana Furster, a 17-year-old native of rural Honduras, and her 36-year-old husband Francisco (Frank) ran a day-care centre in the affluent suburb of Miami called Country Walk. Ileana was a native of rural Honduras, where mothers and other care-givers thought nothing of kissing male babies on the genitals.  To them, it was no more weird or unusual then men kissing each other on both cheeks, or even on the lips in some cultures.  It was a considered a gesture of affection, something we may find as strange to us as the way Eastern European men will kiss each other in greeting, or the way women in some areas of Africa do not cover their breasts, or the way some Americans celebrate state executions with “tailgate parties”.

When one little boy reported the genital kissing to his mother, she called the local child welfare authorities who called the police who called the prosecutors– including head prosecutor Janet Reno. Ileana was arrested, placed in solitary confinement, and subjected to a continuous barrage of interrogations and dubious psychoanalysis. Reno’s strategy should be familiar to us from subsequent history. Ileana was offered a plea bargain: implicate her husband and get off with a light sentence, or continue to deny that anything happened and spend the rest of your life in prison. Meanwhile so-called “experts” on child abuse tried to convince her to “recover” repressed memories of her own possible abuse at the hands of her husband. Even so, it took more than a year before she caved and testified against her husband. She was then deported to the Honduras, where she immediately recanted her confession.

One of the little boys who, under the usual manipulative interrogation techniques used at that time, implicated Frank Furster also recanted as soon as the police were unable to continue to intimidate him. He maintains to this very day that no abuse occurred at Country Walk.

The children at Country Walk told the prosecutors that they had been made to drink urine and eat feces, and that some of the children had been tossed into the ocean to be eaten by sharks, and that Mr. Furster had video-taped the acts of abuse. Ms. Reno conveniently chose only the credible accusations to bring to court, disregarding the possibility that all of the accusations were fantastical, and the result of leading questions.

Frank went to jail for 165 years. He’s still there. Ileana remains in the Honduras surrounded by women who kiss baby’s genitals, and she probably thinks the United States is the wackiest, most bizarre country in the world.

The sharks got off scot-free.

Janet Reno, well, went on to contribute her savvy management to the Waco disaster. If you recall, a group of Branch Davidians were holed up in a large club house outside of Waco, Texas. The Bureau of Firearms and Tobacco and the FBI wanted to take away their guns. Kind of odd in a nation that markets and distributes guns like lollipops, especially in the State of Texas. But the Branch Davidians were, well, not like you or me. They were weird. They had to be controlled. And that was the real dynamic at play. The government allowed the confrontation to intensify into a control issue, thereby virtually guaranteeing a violent conclusion.

The strategy here was, once again, idiotic. Police and officials from the Bureau surrounded the building– even though no one inside was in imminent danger from the Branch Davidians– and terrorized the Branch Davidians and their leader David Koresh until they were able to create a crisis, which then, of course, “justified” violent police action. On April 19, 1993–after a 51-day standoff!– they assaulted the compound with explosives, tear gas, and incendiary devices, a fire broke out, and 75 people were killed. It appears that Koresh’s followers may have set some of the fires.


If only they had had the good sense to walk out into a sea of automatic rifles, tanks, and tear gas!

The issue is not whether the Branch Davidians were responsible for the disaster or not. We know they had some very strange ideas and attitudes about the civil authorities. The issue is simply one of management. You have a bunch of allegedly crazy religious fanatics holed up in a compound with a large number of women and children. Is your goal to show them who’s who, or is it to ensure the safety of as many people as possible?

It was obvious from the actions of the government that they lost sight of the real issue and became absorbed in a power struggle with a group of highly unstable, unbalanced people. They had had the opportunity to arrest Koresh in the town of Waco, but they elected to wait until he returned to the compound and then demand that all of the persons inside surrender, unconditionally. In other words, they created the optimum conditions under which a disaster was likely to happen.

Afterwards, the courts got involved in the absurd argument of whether or not the FBI and ATF started the fires that killed most of the Branch Davidians. Why did no one ask if the FBI and ATF should have surrounded the building and applied as much pressure as possible to a group of unstable religious fanatics for 51 days?

You have to think that Reno is one of those naïve people who honestly, earnestly believes that innocent people have nothing to fear from the police.

Incidentally, a “motivational speaker” from Waco, Bill Powers, stood on a hill 3.5 miles from the compound and sold t-shirts to tourists as the place burned to the ground. I am not making this up. There are some very sick people in Texas, although most of them are shielded from us by holding comfortable positions in the government.

And he wasn’t alone. Another souvenir salesman, Hector Antuna, was also doing a booming business. He actually made jokes about it, intentionally and unintentionally: “I hate it. It’s awful. I feel for the people bad,” said Mr. Antuna. “But someone has to sell something. It’s just an honest living.” He addressed the 24 customers crowded around his tables: “Everyone, we are having a fire sale. Dishwasher, microwave safe,” he shouted, holding aloft a mug commemorating the standoff. “ATF, FBI approved.”

Reno’s adventures continued. She initiated the Whitewater investigation, which cost $50 million and yielded nothing of substance, and she appointed Kenneth Starr to slime Clinton.

Now, I know everyone feels that she was caught in a quandary. She was appointed Attorney General by Clinton. Had she suppressed the Whitewater investigation, the Republicans would have screamed like a pack of hysterical hyenas. To the Republicans, Whitewater was payback time for Watergate, which this generation of Republicans, apparently, really believes was just a Democratic putsch.

Reno didn’t have the guts to withstand that kind of pressure, so she caved. She wanted to look non-partisan, stately, and wise. Instead, by any objective measure, the Whitewater investigation was a colossal waste of resources and money. It came up bone dry. It found nothing.  It is one of the great congenital faults of the Democratic Party that they can be bullied into doing stupid, self-destructive things like this.

Now, when a man like Kenneth Starr, a passionate enemy of Bill Clinton, is unable to come up with the goods after three years and $50 million, you have to ask yourself if anyone but Janet Reno would have allowed the investigation to go that far in the first place.  You have to ask yourself if a man like that is going to admit that he spent $50 million of tax payer money on a wild goose chase.  You have to ask yourself if man like that can admit he is stupid.

Then there was the Cisneros Affair. Henry Cisneros had an adulterous affair with a woman, Linda Jones, while he was mayor of San Antonio. He admitted the affair. He broke it off and moved back in with his wife. For some reason, he didn’t tell the FBI exactly how much money he paid in support of his mistress after he left her to move back in with his wife. Reno ordered an investigation (after Cisneros was appointed head of the Housing and Urban Development Department) which cost $9 million to find out what everybody already knew.

If the issue was the money paid to Jones, why not just give her a check for $1 million and save the taxpayer $8 million? Because Reno has no sense of proportion. She has no common sense.

Then we have Elian. Reno had Elian Gonzalez kidnapped and returned to Cuba– doing the right thing, the wrong way. Here again, she chose a method that almost seemed calculated to bring confrontation. This is one macho attorney-general lady!

And now she is unrepentant about harassing Wen Ho Lee, the Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist who was charged with selling the “crown jewels” of nuclear weapons to the Chinese. The pattern is similar to the Country Walk case. The prosecution lays a large number of absurd charges. When it finds that it can’t actually prove any of the charges, it tries to bully the defendant into a guilty plea on one or two of the least significant charges, thus “proving” that there must have been something going on. Reno is kind of saying, hey, trust me— we know he’s guilty. She can’t believe we won’t just take her word for it. And those judges! Actually demanding evidence for everything! How inconvenient!

It would almost be worth seeing George Bush Jr. win the presidential election if that’s what it would take to get rid of this megalomaniac Attorney General. Fortunately, Al Gore isn’t likely to reappoint her either.

Yes, even John Mitchell pales by comparison. Janet Reno is the worst Attorney-General ever.

Nixon and the FBI

One of the great mysteries of recent political history– by “recent”, I mean the last 30 years– is the relationship between Richard Nixon and the intelligence community and the FBI. Bob Haldeman, Nixon’s right-hand man, is quoted on a Watergate tape as saying something like “we don’t control” the FBI, in response a question Nixon had asked about the investigation of the Watergate break in. Nixon famously suggested Haldeman get the CIA to tell the FBI to back off– because they would compromise a secret intelligence operation. Neither one mentioned that the CIA, at the time, was expressly prohibited from any intelligence activities within the borders of the U.S.A.

This was a serious compliment to the FBI… in a back-handed way. That is, if you could imagine that because the FBI was not controlled by Nixon, it was therefore accountable and lawful and diligent. In fact, the FBI had long been corrupted by J. Edgar Hoover’s weird personal control, and was famous for claiming that there was no organized crime in America, before Bobby Kennedy went after the mob.


The FBI also later helped discredit the Satanic Ritual Abuse hysteria– they assigned an agent to look into allegations that thousands of children were being abducted and ritually sacrificed by Satan’s pawns. The FBI agent concluded that the claims were nonsense. [Added November 2008]

Air Baggies

Do you feel safer knowing that your car has an air bag? Would it surprise you to know that, in reality, you would actually be safer without it? If you are a woman, according to a study done by Transport Canada, you are about 21% safer without an airbag. If you are child, you are even safer than that without the airbag.

In Canada, at least. You see most Canadians wear seat-belts. We’re a reasonable people. Once we were convinced, as most of us were, that being thrown from a car at 80 kph was quite dangerous, most of us decided to use our seatbelts. We don’t need airbags. In fact, when airbags go off during a minor accident, they frequently cause more injuries– and even death– than the accident itself.

Most Americans do not wear seatbelts. Insurance companies don’t like paying out for serious injuries, and American state and federal governments didn’t want to require seatbelts, so the insurance companies demanded the air bags, and the government complied, and the auto-makers, reluctantly, installed them.

Of course, just because the auto makers didn’t want to install air bags doesn’t mean they can’t take advantage of them. If your air bag goes off, you will pay a princely sum to have it “recharged”.

And if you are a Canadian, mechanics will charge you up to $800 to disable this stupid device which, it is now clear, is a danger to your life and your children’s lives. Auto makers, who insisted that they didn’t want to install air bags when they were first demanded, now insist that the won’t remove them even though they do not provide any additional protection for people who wear seatbelts.

Of course, the same government classifies mini-vans as “trucks” so they are not subject to the same stringent safety regulations as passenger cars. Did I say “stringent”? Safety regulations for passenger cars are also slipping, and the 15 km impact resistant bumper is a thing of the past.

Vote for Ralph Nader.

Movie Theatres are Pinball Machines

I just went to see a movie at “Silver City”, one of those new mega-theatre complexes that are supposed to make movie-going a thrilling experience.

It cost $11 to see a movie at Silver City. It cost about $8.50 to see a movie at most other theatres in town, except the Frederick which is, if I remember correctly, about $4. The trouble is both “The Cell”, which I didn’t want to see but decided I should see, and “Almost Famous”, which I did want to see, are only playing at Silver City.

So first you pay $11.00. You might pay a cashier or go to something called an “Express Ticket”, something that looks and operates like an ATM except that you can actually buy your tickets there, and which should be called the Cashier Unemployment and Increased Profits Machine.

There is a sign at the cashier: No Outside Food Permitted Beyond This Point. One look at the prices for food beyond this point and you will know the reason why. French Fries and a humungous Coke are $7.40. The same package is one half of that price at the Fairway Mall. Popcorn and coke, for two, will run you about $15.00. So if you take two kids to see a movie and you buy some popcorn and a soft drink, you are looking at about $50 or more.

The food, of course, is garbage. You would think that at those prices, you might get something exceptional. Not a chance. And the soft drink is only sold in three gallon tubs. I exaggerate only slightly. The coke that came with the large fries I ordered from New York French Fries must have been at least three liters.

Why are the soft drinks so big? Why can’t you buy a decent sized soft drink at a mega-plex? The reasons are simple: 1) the profit margin on soft drinks is very large, so volume is not an issue– the objective is to get you buy a drink, any drink, of any size. 2) you can’t buy a drink from anyone else or bring your own– they have you over a barrel. 3) they have to do something to convince that you are getting good value for the 3 or 4 dollars you are paying for basically carbonated water– so they make it huge.

You can barely hold the soft drink in one hand. And it doesn’t taste as good as pop from a bottle or can. I suspect it is diluted, but I don’t know for sure.  Yes I do: it’s not diluted.  It is supposed to taste like that.  So maybe it just naturally tastes like crap.

The atmosphere at Silver City is like the inside of a pinball machine. Indeed, they have loads of video games and lights and plastic props and signs. If you have any illusions about going out for an artistic experience when you go to a movie at Silver City, forget it. You feel like you have entered a gigantic, noisy arcade.

I waited to pick up my daughter from a movie in front of Silver City once. I saw lots and lots of parents picking up their kids. They drop them off and then pick them up. Do they know which film their kids are going to see? Do they know that Hollywood test-markets “R” rated films to twelve-year-olds because they know that theatre chains are very lackadaisical about enforcing age restrictions (and because video chains hardly enforce them at all).

Of course, in America, an “R” rating is there to prevent your child from seeing a mother breast-feed her baby. However, decapitation, disembowelment, and other scenes of gratuitous violence are readily available to adolescents. What kind of sick society allows it’s children to view every imaginable violent act under the sun, but not breasts?

The screens are pretty good and the Dolby Sound is quite impressive. All the better to whack you over the head with, my dear. When they make these previews, do they think you will obey and come see the movie if they blast you with 140 decibels of sound effects and 4,000 very, very short clips of helicopters, guns, and bikinis?

Alfred Hitchcock used to scare movie-goers by carefully constructing suspenseful situations and then building the suspense to greater and greater intensity with a series of well-timed cuts and close-ups. It’s much easier for the modern film-maker: just show the viewer a dark, shapeless form, let it get closer, and then whack the viewer over the head with about 145 decibels of sound. Make sure the sounds include all kinds of scary noises that, of course, don’t actually have any identifiable cause in the movie itself.

“The Blair Witch Project” used some old-fashioned techniques to really scare you: the creepy sound of rocks being piled onto each other. The sense of being lost and disoriented in an inhospitable bush.

Just in case you want to do anything about this… you need to get politically involved. You see, the movie production chains have a stranglehold over the theatres in Canada. They are allowed to control which theatres are allowed to show which movies. This encourages Hollywood to make shitty movies because they can always shove them down the throats of the movie-going public by forcing theatres to show them whether local movie-goers want to see them or not

The system stinks. The movie studios argue that, hey, if you don’t like Silver City, you can just go down to the Frederick if you want to. No, I can’t. Not if I want to see “Almost Famous” or “The Cell” or “The Exorcist”. All of these movies have an exclusive engagement at Silver City. Movies are not material commodities like toilet paper: you can get the same brand at Walmart or Zellers or Zehrs.

And as for those great independent and foreign films… forget it. They will never be shown at Silver City because Silver City only shows films make by the big Hollywood studios.

Worse than that– the movie distributors force movie theatres to show mediocre films as part of a package including the mega-hits. If they want to show “Titanic”, they’re going to have to give a few weeks to “Rocky XIV”.

There oughta be a law… very simple. Movie theatres should be independent of movie-makers. And films should be rented to theatres on an individual basis. That is called free enterprise. That’s called competition.

I would bet you a million dollars that places like Silver City would disappear quickly if it were actually forced to compete with other theatres that don’t cheat you with their food prices or treat you like a pinball.

[I’d probably be wrong. A lot of people prefer the loud, brassy, noisy, clutter of special effects extravaganzas, and kids probably really do like the cheesy décor. 2004-07]