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Author: Subject: John Lennon vs. Bono: The death of the celebrity activist

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  posted on 12/11/2010 at 10:24 AM
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John Lennon vs. Bono: The death of the celebrity activist
By William Easterly
Friday, December 10, 2010; 9:00 PM

The recent release of the Beatles' music on iTunes, coupled with the anniversary of John Lennon's tragic death in New York City 30 years ago this past Wednesday, has brought on a wave of Beatles nostalgia. For so many of my generation, growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, Lennon was a hero, not just for his music but for his fearless activism against the Vietnam War.

Is there a celebrity activist today who matches Lennon's impact and appeal? The closest counterpart to Lennon now is U2's Bono, another transcendent musical talent championing another cause: the battle against global poverty. But there is a fundamental difference between Lennon's activism and Bono's, and it underscores the sad evolution of celebrity activism in recent years.

Lennon was a rebel. Bono is not.

Lennon's protests against the war in Vietnam so threatened the U.S. government that he was hounded by the FBI, police and immigration authorities. He was a moral crusader who challenged leaders whom he thought were doing wrong. Bono, by contrast, has become a sort of celebrity policy expert, supporting specific technical solutions to global poverty. He does not challenge power but rather embraces it; he is more likely to appear in photo ops with international political leaders - or to travel through Africa with a Treasury secretary - than he is to call them out in a meaningful way.

There is something inherently noble about the celebrity dissident, but there is something slightly ridiculous about the celebrity wonk.

Lennon was no Johnny-come-lately to the antiwar movement. As early as 1966, during the Beatles' American tour, he answered a reporter's question about Vietnam, much to the consternation of the band's business manager. "We just don't like it. We don't like war," Lennon said simply. And when he married Yoko Ono in 1969, they used their honeymoon to stage two seriocomic "Bed-Ins" to publicize the antiwar cause.

Lennon also merged his activism and his music: In 1969, "Give Peace a Chance" became the anthem of the movement after half a million people sung along at a huge demonstration at the Washington Monument. That same year he sent back an award he had received a few years earlier from the queen of England, in protest of British support for the Vietnam War. After moving to New York in 1971, he continued his high-profile opposition to the war, and two more songs released that year - "Imagine" and "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" - expanded his antiwar repertoire.

Lennon paid a price for his activities. We now know from subsequent Freedom of Information Act releases that the FBI monitored and harassed him. In 1971, President Richard Nixon set in motion a four-year effort to deport him, which failed after the political tide in America turned against the war.

In this role, Lennon was continuing a venerable tradition: the celebrity as a crusader against the wrongs committed by those in power. In the 19th century, the celebrity activists were not musicians but writers. Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and other authors loudly supported the abolitionist crusade against slavery. Harriet Beecher Stowe went further and wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin" to boost the anti-slavery cause - a sort of 19th-century equivalent of "Imagine."

Mark Twain denounced American imperialism and atrocities in the 1898-1902 war against Spain and Filipino independence fighters, publishing his savage satirical essay "To the Person Sitting in Darkness" in 1901. In the imperialist claim to spread "civilization," he detected "two kinds of Civilization - one for home consumption and one for the heathen market." Twain also saw "two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive's new freedom away from him . . . then kills him to get his land." Other Twain essays on the same issue were so politically toxic that he could not get them published during his lifetime.

Alas, today's celebrities seldom challenge power in the manner of Twain or Lennon. Bono's signature effort involves the Millennium Development Goals campaign, a United Nations-sponsored initiative to achieve eight anti-poverty goals by 2015. The campaign stresses that 189 world leaders have endorsed the targets to reduce poverty and hunger and to improve health by the deadline.

In the course of his activism, Bono had regular photo-ops and lunches with President George W. Bush, giving Bush a much-needed publicity boost on U.S. foreign aid and on his campaigns against AIDS. For example, the singer appeared onstage with Bush at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington in 2002 as the president pledged a $5 billion increase in foreign aid. In May of that year, Bono even toured Africa with Bush's first Treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, fully aware that the administration was capitalizing on his celebrity.

"My job is to be used. I am here to be used," he told The Washington Post. "It's just, at what price? As I keep saying, I'm not a cheap date."

While Bono calls global poverty a moral wrong, he does not identify the wrongdoers. Instead, he buys into technocratic illusions about the issue without paying attention to who has power and who lacks it, who oppresses and who is oppressed. He runs with the crowd that believes ending poverty is a matter of technical expertise - doing things such as expanding food yields with nitrogen-fixing leguminous plants or solar-powered drip irrigation.

These are fine moves as far as they go, but why have Bono champion them? The technocratic approach puts him in the position of a wonk, not a dissident; an expert, not a crusader. (Little wonder that he hasn't cranked out a musical hit related to his activism. It's hard to imagine "Beautiful Day When We Meet the MDG Targets by 2015.") Can you imagine Lennon passing himself off as an authority on the intricacies of Vietnamese politics and history? His message was simpler: This war is wrong.

Bono is not the only well-intentioned celebrity wonk of our age - the impulse is ubiquitous. Angelina Jolie, for instance, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (seriously) in addition to serving as a U.N. goodwill ambassador. Ben Affleck has become an expert on the war in Congo. George Clooney has Sudan covered, while Leonardo DiCaprio hobnobs with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders at a summit to protect tigers; both actors have written opinion essays on those subjects in these pages, further solidifying their expert bona fides.

But why should we pay attention to Bono's or Jolie's expertise on Africa, any more than we would ask them for guidance on the proper monetary policy for the Federal Reserve?

True dissidents - celebrity or not - play a vital role in democracy. But the celebrity desire to gain political power and social approval breeds intellectual conformity, precisely the opposite of what we need to achieve real changes. Politicians, intellectuals and the public can fall prey to groupthink (We must invade Vietnam to keep the dominoes from falling!) and need dissidents to shake them out of it.

True dissidents claim no expertise; they offer no 10-point plans to fix a problem. They are most effective when they simply assert that the status quo is morally wrong. Of course, they need to be noticed to have an impact, hence the historical role of dissidents such as Lennon who can use their celebrity to be heard.

We're hardly starved of moral challenges for our leaders today, in an age that has witnessed Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and enduring wars with unclear objectives and the clearest of casualties. On Bono's signature issue of poverty, for instance, why not call out a few of the oppressive regimes that keep their people impoverished - as well as the leaders, in the United States and elsewhere, who have supported them with economic and military aid? (Bono has acknowledged that "tinpot dictators" were a problem for aid efforts in the past but has not confronted today's despots and their enablers in rich nations.)

We need more high-profile dissidents to challenge mainstream power. This makes it all the sadder that Bono and many other celebrities only reinforce this power in their capacity as faux experts. Where have all the celebrity dissidents gone? It's not a complicated task. All Lennon was saying was to give peace a chance.

William Easterly is a professor of economics at New York University and co-director of NYU's Development Research Institute. He is the author of "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good.


 
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  posted on 12/11/2010 at 10:28 AM
Excellent article sib, thanks for sharing it.
 

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  posted on 12/12/2010 at 10:20 AM
wow - what a complete piece of poo of an article.

great - lennon was a dissident. bono is not. if we're being honest with each other, who got more accomplished in terms of real, tangible change?

i really like lennon and his stance against gov't was applaudible and brave. but why knock bono? both were great at what they did! one brought necessary division and one brought necessary cohesion.

i wish professor earterly would simply do some wikipedia research and a) find out about bono the humanitarian before criticizing him for what he is not and b) compare it against his own personal humanitarian work. it's east to be a critic; it's hard to make a difference.


Humanitarian work

Bono has become one of the world's best-known philanthropic performers.[73][74] He has been dubbed, "the face of fusion philanthropy",[75] both for his success enlisting powerful allies from a diverse spectrum of leaders in government, religious institutions, philanthropic organisations, popular media, and the business world, as well as for spearheading new organizational networks that bind global humanitarian relief with geopolitical activism and corporate commercial enterprise.[76]

In a 1986 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Bono explained that he was motivated to become involved in social and political causes by seeing one of the Secret Policeman's Ball benefit shows, staged by John Cleese and producer Martin Lewis for the human-rights organisation Amnesty International in 1979.[77] "I saw 'The Secret Policeman’s Ball' and it became a part of me. It sowed a seed..." In 2001, Bono arranged for U2 to videotape a special live performance for that year's Amnesty benefit show.

Bono and U2 performed on Amnesty's Conspiracy Of Hope tour of the United States in 1986 alongside Sting.[12] U2 also performed in the Band Aid and Live Aid projects, organised by Bob Geldof.[78] In 1984, Bono sang on the Band Aid single "Do They Know it's Christmas?/Feed the World" (a role that was reprised on the 2004 Band Aid 20 single of the same name).[79] Geldof and Bono later collaborated to organise the 2005 Live 8 project, where U2 also performed.[13]
Bono and U.S. President George W. Bush in 2006

Since 1999, Bono has become increasingly involved in campaigning for third-world debt relief and raising awareness of the plight of Africa, including the AIDS pandemic. In the past decade Bono has met with several influential politicians, including former United States President George W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin.[80] During a March 2002 visit to the White House, after President Bush unveiled a $5 billion aid package, he accompanied the President for a speech on the White House lawn where he stated, "This is an important first step, and a serious and impressive new level of commitment. ... This must happen urgently, because this is a crisis."[80] In May of that year, Bono took US Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill on a four-country tour of Africa. In contrast, in 2005, Bono spoke on CBC Radio, alleging then Prime Minister Martin was being slow about increasing Canada's foreign aid.[81] He was a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, 2005, and 2006 for his philanthropy.[14][82][83]

In 2004, he was awarded the Pablo Neruda International Presidential Medal of Honour from the Government of Chile.[84] Time Magazine named Bono one of the "100 Most Influential People" in its May 2004 special issue,[85] and again in the 2006 Time 100 special issue.[86] In 2005, Time named Bono a Person of the Year along with Bill and Melinda Gates.[18] Also in 2005, he received the Portuguese Order of Liberty for his humanitarian work.[87] That year Bono was also among the first three recipients of the TED Prize, which grants each winner "A wish to change the world".[88] Bono made three wishes,[89] the first two related to the ONE campaign and the third that every hospital, health clinic and school in Ethiopia should be connected to the Internet. TED rejected the third wish as being a sub-optimal way for TED to help Africa[89] and instead organised a TED conference in Arusha, Tanzania. Bono attended the conference, which was held in June 2007, and attracted headlines[90] with his foul-mouthed heckling of a speech by Andrew Mwenda.
Bono at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, 2008.

In 2007, Bono was named in the UK's New Years Honours List as an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.[17][91] He was formally granted knighthood on 29 March 2007 in a ceremony at the residence of British Ambassador David Reddaway in Dublin, Ireland.[92]

Bono also received the NAACP Image Award's Chairman's Award in 2007.[93] On 24 May 2007, the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia announced that Bono would receive the Philadelphia Liberty Medal on 27 September 2007 for his work to end world poverty and hunger.[94] On 28 September 2007, in accepting the Liberty Medal, Bono said, "When you are trapped by poverty, you are not free. When trade laws prevent you from selling the food you grew, you are not free, ... When you are a monk in Burma this very week, barred from entering a temple because of your gospel of peace ... well, then none of us are truly free." Bono donated the $100,000 prize to the organisation. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala accepted the award for the Washington-based Debt AIDS Trade Africa.[95]

In 2005 he recorded a version of Don't Give Up with Alicia Keys, with proceeds going to Keep a Child Alive.[96]

On 15 December 2005, Paul Theroux published an op-ed in the New York Times called The Rock Star's Burden (cf. Kipling's The White Man's Burden) that criticised stars such as Bono, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie, labelling them as "mythomaniacs, people who wish to convince the world of their worth." Theroux, who lived in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer, added that "the impression that Africa is fatally troubled and can be saved only by outside help—not to mention celebrities and charity concerts—is a destructive and misleading conceit."[97] Elsewhere, Bono has been criticised, along with other celebrities, for "[ignoring] the legitimate voices of Africa and [turning] a global movement for justice into a grand orgy of narcissistic philanthropy.[98]

On 3 April 2005, Bono paid a personal tribute to John Paul II and called him "a street fighter and a wily campaigner on behalf of the world's poor. We would never have gotten the debts of 23 countries completely cancelled without him."[99] Bono spoke in advance of President Bush at the 54th Annual National Prayer Breakfast, held at the Hilton Washington Hotel on 2 February 2006. In a speech containing biblical references, Bono encouraged the care of the socially and economically depressed. His comments included a call for an extra one percent tithe of the United States' national budget. He brought his Christian views into harmony with other faiths by noting that Christian, Jewish, and Muslim writings all call for the care of the widow, orphan, and stranger. President Bush received praise from the singer-activist for the United States' increase in aid for the African continent. Bono continued by saying much work is left to be done to be a part of God's ongoing purposes.[11]

The organisation DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) was established in 2002 by Bono and Bobby Shriver, along with activists from the Jubilee 2000 Drop the Debt Campaign.[100] DATA aims to eradicate poverty and HIV/AIDS in Africa.[100] DATA encourages Americans to contact senators and other legislators and elected officials to voice their opinions.[100]

In early 2005, Bono, his wife Ali Hewson, and New York-based Irish fashion designer Rogan Gregory launched the socially conscious line EDUN in an attempt to shift the focus in Africa from aid to trade.[101] EDUN's goal is to use factories in Africa, South America, and India that provide fair wages to workers and practice good business ethics to create a business model that will encourage investment in developing nations.[102]
Bono after accepting the Philadelphia Liberty Medal on 27 September 2007.

Bono was a special guest editor of the July 2007 issue of Vanity Fair magazine. The issue was named "The Africa Issue: Politics & Power" and featured an assortment of 20 different covers, with photographs by Annie Leibovitz of a number of prominent celebrities, political leaders, and philanthropists. Each one showcased in the issue for their contributions to the humanitarian relief in Africa.[103]

In an article in Bloomberg Markets in March 2007, journalists Richard Tomlinson and Fergal O’Brien noted that Bono used his band's 2006 Vertigo world tour to promote his ONE Campaign while at the same time "U2 was racking up $389 million in gross ticket receipts, making Vertigo the second-most lucrative tour of all time, according to Billboard magazine. . . . Revenue from the Vertigo tour is funnelled through companies that are mostly registered in Ireland and structured to minimise taxes."[104]

Further criticism came in November 2007, when Bono's various charity campaigns were targeted by Jobs Selasie, head of African Aid Action. Selasie claimed that these charities had increased corruption and dependency in Africa because they failed to work with African entrepreneurs and grassroots organisations, and as a result, Africa has become more dependent on international handouts.[105] Bono responded to his critics in Times Online on 19 February 2006, calling them "cranks carping from the sidelines. A lot of them wouldn’t know what to do if they were on the field. They’re the party who will always be in opposition so they’ll never have to take responsibility for decisions because they know they’ll never be able to implement them."[106]

In November 2007, Bono was honoured by NBC Nightly News as someone "making a difference" in the world.[107] He and anchor Brian Williams had travelled to Africa in May 2007 to showcase the humanitarian crisis on the continent.[108] On 11 December 2008, Bono was given the annual Man of Peace prize, awarded by several Nobel Peace Prize laureates in Paris, France.[109]

Product Red is another initiative begun by Bono and Bobby Shriver to raise money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.[110] Bobby Shriver has been announced as the CEO of Product Red, whilst Bono is currently an active public spokesperson for the brand. Product Red is a brand that is licensed to partner companies, such as American Express, Apple, Converse, Motorola, Microsoft, Dell, The Gap, and Giorgio Armani.[111] Each company creates a product with the Product Red logo and a percentage of the profits from the sale of these labelled products will go to the Global Fund.[112]

 

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  posted on 12/13/2010 at 12:02 AM
Bono could not carry John Lennons Jock strap!

 

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  posted on 12/13/2010 at 09:24 AM
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Bono could not carry John Lennons Jock strap!


Did John wear one?

 

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  posted on 12/13/2010 at 12:36 PM
I have a hard time coming down on someone who's trying to do good.

 

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  posted on 12/13/2010 at 01:50 PM
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I have a hard time coming down on someone who's trying to do good.
Me too. Thanks for posting that information documenting some of the good works that have been done by Bono. I admire a man who will put his time and money towards helping the greater good.

 

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  posted on 12/13/2010 at 04:39 PM
my point exactly brendan. there is no need to compare the two men. one was a political activist to a degree and one is a humanitarian. both have used their music as a platform to challenge the way people think and act. we are all better off with both of them being who they were/are.

 

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  posted on 12/13/2010 at 09:22 PM
John's greatest achievement is as a musician and songwriter. Bono's greatest achievement (in my personal opinion) is as a humanitarian.

 

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  posted on 12/14/2010 at 11:11 AM
Why do we even pay attention to celebrity activists? Do they somehow have wisdom that the rest of us lack? Are we unable to read and explore (books, journals, etc.) so we can form our own opinions?

Lennon was a great singer/songwriter, but I always consdiered his political ideas naively idealistic. Giving peace a chance sounds noble, but is a childish approach against tyrants, etc. The worst see this as weakness. Applying this philosophy to our dealings with Kim Jong Il, Saddam Hussein, Vladimir Putin, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, et al, is the international equivalent to wearing a sign that says, "Kick me hard!".

I'd rather think for myself and keep Lennon's (and the others') contributions within the field of music.

Billastro

 

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  posted on 12/14/2010 at 11:48 AM
Sully, thanks so much for sharing the info on Bono. To be honest I never really cared for him, always seemed like an ass and a Prima sonna. You certainly changed my opinion of him so thank you.
It is always a blessing to see someone with his means use it for good. He is trying to change this world and how can anyone fault him for that?

 

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  posted on 12/14/2010 at 11:56 AM
quote:
It is always a blessing to see someone with his means use it for good. He is trying to change this world and how can anyone fault him for that?
It depends on how he's trying to change the world and what his goals are. Jesus changed it for the better, Hitler tried to change it for the worse. The road to hell is paved with good intention.

Billastro

 

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  posted on 12/14/2010 at 12:02 PM
quote:
quote:
It is always a blessing to see someone with his means use it for good. He is trying to change this world and how can anyone fault him for that?
It depends on how he's trying to change the world and what his goals are. Jesus changed it for the better, Hitler tried to change it for the worse. The road to hell is paved with good intention.

Billastro


Yeah right. Bono is a regular Hitler.

 

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  posted on 12/14/2010 at 12:18 PM
quote:
quote:
quote:
It is always a blessing to see someone with his means use it for good. He is trying to change this world and how can anyone fault him for that?
It depends on how he's trying to change the world and what his goals are. Jesus changed it for the better, Hitler tried to change it for the worse. The road to hell is paved with good intention.

Billastro
Yeah right. Bono is a regular Hitler.
This response is just plain stupid, and I think you know it. A smarta$$ response is easy to generate, but dodges the question completely.

Billastro

 

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  posted on 12/14/2010 at 12:28 PM
Bull. Your comment is complete nonsense.
 

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  posted on 12/14/2010 at 01:02 PM
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Bull. Your comment is complete nonsense.
No it isn't, as a little thought and understanding of history, even recent history, will show.

Jim Jones may have originally wanted to change the world for good, but by the end of his life he brought down around 1,000 people in Jonestown, Guyana. They followed him, a charismatic leader, when a even a little study of the Bible would have shown the lies in his statements.

L. Ron Hubbard said several times it was crazy to write for a quarter of a penny per word. You want a million bucks? Start a religion. He gave us scientology.

And so it goes.

You can call it nonsense or make flippant comparisons if you want. But shortsightedness is a shortcut to disaster, IMHO.

Billastro

 

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  posted on 12/14/2010 at 01:08 PM
I understand your point just don't think it belongs in a comparative discussion of Lennon and Bono.
 

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  posted on 12/14/2010 at 01:09 PM
quote:
quote:
Bono could not carry John Lennons Jock strap!


Did John wear one?


Didn't need one, he had Yoko for protection. If anyone would have started anything up, all she had to do was sing, they'd back off.

 

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  posted on 12/14/2010 at 02:09 PM
quote:
Why do we even pay attention to celebrity activists? Do they somehow have wisdom that the rest of us lack? Are we unable to read and explore (books, journals, etc.) so we can form our own opinions?

Lennon was a great singer/songwriter, but I always consdiered his political ideas naively idealistic. Giving peace a chance sounds noble, but is a childish approach against tyrants, etc. The worst see this as weakness. Applying this philosophy to our dealings with Kim Jong Il, Saddam Hussein, Vladimir Putin, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, et al, is the international equivalent to wearing a sign that says, "Kick me hard!".

I'd rather think for myself and keep Lennon's (and the others') contributions within the field of music.

Billastro


I believe Lennon himself came to see that which is what the point of that other article was. It is one thing to do charitable things as Bono does. I am all for that. Political is another issue. I prefer them to stay out of that. Just my preference. Bono has actually stayed above poltiics when pushing his personal issues. Many were surprised to hear him praise President Bush for his efforts regarding Africa. a few years ago.

 

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  posted on 12/14/2010 at 02:10 PM
quote:
quote:
It is always a blessing to see someone with his means use it for good. He is trying to change this world and how can anyone fault him for that?
It depends on how he's trying to change the world and what his goals are. Jesus changed it for the better, Hitler tried to change it for the worse. The road to hell is paved with good intention.

Billastro


Well you know we all want to change the world. But when you talk about destruction. Don't you know that you can count me out.

 

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  posted on 12/14/2010 at 02:54 PM
quote:
quote:
quote:
It is always a blessing to see someone with his means use it for good. He is trying to change this world and how can anyone fault him for that?
It depends on how he's trying to change the world and what his goals are. Jesus changed it for the better, Hitler tried to change it for the worse. The road to hell is paved with good intention.

Billastro
Well you know we all want to change the world. But when you talk about destruction. Don't you know that you can count me out.


Billastro

 

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  posted on 12/14/2010 at 04:59 PM
quote:
quote:
quote:
It is always a blessing to see someone with his means use it for good. He is trying to change this world and how can anyone fault him for that?
It depends on how he's trying to change the world and what his goals are. Jesus changed it for the better, Hitler tried to change it for the worse. The road to hell is paved with good intention.

Billastro


Well you know we all want to change the world. But when you talk about destruction. Don't you know that you can count me out.

I'd love to change the world, but I don't know what to do. So I'll leave it up to you.

 

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  posted on 12/14/2010 at 05:08 PM
Life is funny, Skies are sunny. Bees make honey,who needs money.
 

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  posted on 12/14/2010 at 05:12 PM
Everywhere is freaks and hairies, dykes and fairies. Tell me, where is sanity?
 

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Registered: 6/15/2005
Status: Offline

  posted on 12/14/2010 at 05:15 PM
quote:
Everywhere is freaks and hairies, dykes and fairies. Tell me, where is sanity?


Population keeps on breeding nations bleeding...

 

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