"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Worrying about how evolution is being taught, of course. Why do you ask?

The Pope drew a lot of internet attention for saying evolution is not antithetical to Christianity.

He drew far less attention for saying the teachings of the gospels are not antithetical to Communism.  Or rather, that "love for the poor is at the centre of the Gospel".  I had to work to find that quote.  Maybe because it's old news by now for this pope.  The Economist jumped on him for this kind of sentiment back in June.   CathNewsUSA picked up that connection this time around. News Agency of Nigeria even picked up this story.

I haven't found anything in any US news outlet; not, at least, according to Google.*

Maybe because news really is all about tittle-tattle, gossip, what is interesting now, and what isn't interesting now because it was interesting a few months ago, but we've moved on?  Or maybe it's because we'd rather fight over abstractions like the theory of evolution, than do the gritty work of enacting social justice in our own backyards.  How many average Americans would you expect to express the sentiment of this man from Denmark:
“We don’t want there to be a big difference between the richest and poorest, because poor people would just get really poor,” Mr. Drescher added. “We don’t want people living on the streets. If that happens, we consider that we as a society have failed.”
In America, we as a society have failed if we don't agree on the place of evolution in the science curriculum in public schools.

*The Pope's comments on poverty drew 6 comments at Talking Points Memo, the only website I've found that covered the story.  By contrast, the "evolution" story at Salon has drawn nearly 250 comments.  Not a scientific finding, to be sure; but clearly, where your treasure lies, there will your heart be also.  It's where our hearts are, that's the problem.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Why we can't have nice things

We interrupt whatever else it was I was going to say, to bring you this:

"What we need to do is - anyone who wants to get on a plane and come to the United States of America should go into quarantine for 21 days, take a blood test and then come to the United States," McCain said. "We shouldn't wait until they get here after they may have contaminated innumerable people. ... This has been a terrible fumbling again by this administration." McCain also wants the administration to explain why troops were sent to the Ebola zone without congressional approval. "I want to have hearings as soon as we get back as to whether our military personnel should go there," McCain said. "He didn't ask permission of Congress."
I've said before, somewhere, that this whole idea of a travel ban would mean just closing the borders, shuttering every international airport, and stopping all commerce with the outside world.  And who would house these travelers who must be quarantined so rabies can't come to the British Isles?  Oops, sorry; so ebola can't run like fire through paper across the scary-movie map of the U.S. of A?  The Senior Senator from Arizona says we should do just that to "anyone who wants to get on a plane and come to the United States of America...."  Because the world out there is scary!  And it has diseases!  and now we have to quarantine our military!

Thanks, Obama!

In the meantime, as we commemorate today the birthday of Dr. Jonas Salk, we remember that polio is running rampant in Pakistan, is in fact unchecked there.  The Pakistan government blames the Taliban, who opposes all efforts at polio vaccination in the areas it controls.  Probably something to do with the CIA, I dunno.  But hey, we can just stop everyone from coming to the US by plane until they've been quarantined for 3 weeks, right?

What's the incubation period for polio?

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Home Health Care Revolution

I hope they burned those chairs after she left.  It's the only way to be sure....

So, here's the relevant quarantine question:

If we're going to put people in quarantine for ebola, and we aren't going to forcibly detain them in a valid containment facility (Kaci Hickox spent the weekend in an "isolation tent" outside the hospital building in Newark.  I suspect that, as much as the fact she had no fever and no symptoms and no positive test for the ebola virus in her blood, is why Christie relented when she lawyered up.  Imagine how public sentiment would turn when that little fact became prominent.), do we post armed guards outside their home?

I know there are questions about whether family members must be quarantined along with the suspected patient (what else do you call someone who is wholly asymptomatic and is being detained just because of her travel itinerary?).  But what about the suspected patient?  Are police officers in hazmat gear posted outside the house at each exit to be sure she doesn't leave?  Is that feasible?  Is it even within the power to quarantine of the state?

I honestly don't know.  But we imagine "quarantine" means the rest of us are safe from exposure.  Does it?  How?  How, exactly, does that work?  Seems to me we either put the suspected patients in tents on the hospital grounds, or we leave them alone.  Sending them home to "self-quarantine" is just more health security theater; it's just a better stage setting than a tent on the parking lot.*

UPDATE:  Turns out the whole thing was a bigger farce than I'd imagined.  And I thought Texas was bad at this governance thing.  Looks like New York and New Jersey conspired at the gubernatorial level to teach us all a lesson in government as clown car.

*and if New Jersey ever gets an ebola case, how many NJ healthcare workers will have to be quarantined as a result?  Will we call the attendant tent cities around the hospitals "Christie-villes"?  'Cause you know we should....

Time, time, time, see what's become of me....

To be honest, the whole post is just an excuse for this gif.

This apparently, is what Halloween is becoming:

"I have noticed that on Halloween, what seems like 75 percent of the trick-or-treaters are clearly not from this neighborhood. Kids arrive in overflowing cars from less fortunate areas. I feel this is inappropriate. Halloween isn’t a social service or a charity in which I have to buy candy for less fortunate children," the anonymous homeowner whined.

"99 Percent" felt a little bad about wanting to cancel Halloween, but worse about taxes.

"Obviously this makes me feel like a terrible person, because what’s the big deal about making less fortunate kids happy on a holiday? But it just bugs me, because we already pay more than enough taxes toward actual social services," "99 Percent" wrote.
Well, I'm being unfair; that's probably NOT what Halloween's becoming; but the international back fence that is now the internet has made available to us all the small-mindedness of some, and it's no surprise we assume it is the attitude of the many.

Or we fear it is, anyway.

But isn't fear what Halloween is all about?

I don't honestly know where Halloween came from.  Various on-line sources connect it to Samhain, the Irish harvest (except it probably had nothing to do with a harvest; see below) festival, and to celebrations that came to this country from Ireland and other European countries in the 19th century.  Seems reasonable enough, if Samhain is connected to All Saint's Day.  But New Advent is my preferred on-line source for these matters, and it doesn't connect the day to the festival.  Pope Boniface did indeed establish an anniversary on March 13 for the dedication of the Pantheon in Rome to the Virgin and all the martyrs.  Pope Gregory III consecrated a chapel in St. Peters to the saints on November 1, about a century later.  Then Pope Gregory IV extended anniversary on November 1 to all of the church sometime in the early 9th century.

Which is not quite the story you get at other internet sites, viz:

On May 13, 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in honor of all Christian martyrs, and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was established in the Western church. Pope Gregory III (731–741) later expanded the festival to include all saints as well as all martyrs, and moved the observance from May 13 to November 1. By the 9th century the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with and supplanted the older Celtic rites.
I throw that in because, first:  why not?, and second, because close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.  Sir James Frazer seems to have started the idea that All Saint's was connected to Samhain, but the only evidence he offers is that the former is a thin overlay on the latter.  (Frazer also sold us on the connection between Mithraism and Christianity, a connection no one sees anymore.  His scholarship didn't prove to last very long, in other words.)  History indicates it seems to have been more of a coincidence than not, and that in the 7th and 8th centuries the Irish church was celebrating All Saint's on April 20.  And when Gregory moved the festival, why was he concerned with practices in Ireland?  Especially since the Irish church was fine with a date in April?  And that's all long before the 9th century, so I'm left wondering whose dates are these anyway?

The history gets more interesting when you throw in All Souls:

In the early days of Christianity the names of the departed brethren were entered in the diptychs. Later, in the sixth century, it was customary in Benedictine monasteries to hold a commemoration of the deceased members at Whitsuntide. In Spain there was such a day on Saturday before Sexagesima or before Pentecost, at the time of St. Isidore (d. 636). In Germany there existed (according to the testimony of Widukind, Abbot of Corvey, c. 980) a time-honoured ceremony of praying to the dead on 1 October. This was accepted and sanctified by the Church. St. Odilo of Cluny (d. 1048) ordered the commemoration of all the faithful departed to be held annually in the monasteries of his congregation. Thence it spread among the other congregations of the Benedictines and among the Carthusians.

Of the dioceses, Liège was the first to adopt it under Bishop Notger (d. 1008). It is then found in the martyrology of St. Protadius of Besançon (1053-66). Bishop Otricus (1120-25) introduced it into Milan for the 15 October.
No apparent connection to Samhain there, especially since October seems to have been the preferred date.  I imagine it was moved to November 2 to line up against November 1, and not to "paper over" some connection to pagan practices, which can't have been all that widespread and in need of adoption by the church in the 10th and 11th centuries.  (I highlighted the line about the German observance because it seems an obvious root for the German E&R Totenfest.  It transferred from the German Catholics to the German Protestants, probably with a strong connection through the Lutherans.  These things to persist in cultures, but it isn't always a Christian overlay on a pagan ceremony.)

While we're on the subject, Samhain is usually referred to as a "Harvest" Festival.  However, as Frazer points out (on this I find him reliable),  by November 1 the harvest is already long in from the fields.  Urban dwellers miss this point, but I remember my two years in a southern Illinois country church, and the fields were bare long before October 31.  So it's no significant date for farmers, but Frazer points out it is significant for herdsman.  November 1 (or thereabouts) would mark the time to drive the flocks in from the field for the winter.  It would be a very significant date indeed for shepherds in Ireland (and it was).  Frazer goes on to note, with no real particularity, that the time of transition from autumn to winter (i.e., time to bring the flocks in from the fields) was celebrated across Europe as a time when the departed returned to earth (probably to seek warmth, too, Frazer conjectures, as winter winds began to blow) and when witches and demons wandered free, seeking to do mischief (again, because winter in northern Europe is hard).  Frazer tends to speak in these sweeping generalizations, which makes his work less than reliable over all; but it makes sense in a Northern European climate to connect winter with death, and the coming of winter with the return, briefly, of the dead (who are, in sense, never lost to the living, so long as memory remains).  So while the connection between Halloween and Ireland is a bit obscure, except for the jack o'lanterns, which I'll accept were Irish (though probably originally made from turnips, pumpkins being an American plant).

You can get all kinds of bad information on this topic.  Here's an excerpt from "American Catholic," calling Samhain "the Lord of the Dead" and attributing the date of November 1 to Gregory III about 100 years after his papacy ended.  I haven't found that designation anywhere else.  The link to Roman rituals involving Pomona and apples is another common thread, but knowing what little I do about the Romans, the idea a festival from an obscure backwater like Ireland would become a major festival of the empire is a bit ludicrous.  After all, the Romans never became Jews, and only because Christians in the 4th century because the Emperor became one.  The Romans were syncretistic to some degree, but mostly they left local cultures alone. They certainly didn't regularly re-write their own cultures to adopt all the practices of lands they had conquered (any more than the Roman Catholic church actually absorbed lots of pagan practices.  That's more likely a bit of anti-Papist slander from 19th century Anglicans like Frazer, akin to the 15th century designation of the "Dark Ages.")

The point is, it brings me back to the "Peace Sign," which in my callow youth was identified as a Satanic symbol.  I had a pair of leather sandals with leather peace signs attached to them, and still remember the conversation with a very scared mother of an acquaintance, that my sandals were going to invite demons into my life and, more importantly, into the soul of her daughter.

You can't make this stuff up.

Turns out, of course, it was invented as a peace sign by a British anti-nukes group in the '50's (you can look it up, I can't do everything for you).  As far as I'm concerned, Halloween was invented in America in the '50's, too (I've read that's when candy makers decided to tame the holiday.  The History Channel apparently said it started in the 30's, though.  I dunno; everybody's got their version, and even scholars can't agree on how Christmas came to be what it is.  So who can say about Halloween?)  The one Ray Bradbury eulogized was as real to me as a Dickensian Christmas would be:  a product of the author's experiences, nothing more.  Do we do it "right" now?  Compared to what?  It's an excuse to wear costumes and roam the streets freely (not so freely as in my youth) and gather treats from friendly strangers (but, alas, no more the homemade kind!) and generally have a nationwide block party when you aren't yet old enough to go to a party without your parents at all.

What could be wrong with that?

It's barely that anymore, I know.  We took my daughter to other neighborhoods when she was young, because we didn't live in a neighborhood at all (we lived in a parsonage on the church grounds on what was now a very busy urban street, lined with businesses and apartment complexes as friendly and inviting as prisons).  It doesn't matter where Halloween came from; what matters is what we do with it.

I think we need to keep it for the children.  And maybe find a way to make homemade treats acceptable again.  They were always the prize in the bag of candy at the end of the night.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

"We shall not cease from exploration...."

"and the end of all our exploring..."

The pastors I met in my active parish ministry were, for the most part, good people trying hard to do an almost impossible job.

Some, of course, were the man in the grey flannel suit:  simply trying to get to the end of the day and earn a paycheck the best way they knew how.  Older pastors, retiring as I came on, seemed especially comfortable in their role:  they had served congregations which had served them well in return, and as that generation (which as not really defined by a calendar, or by their numbers in society) was coming to and end, their ministries were, too.  By and large they knew that, they accepted that, they went gracefully and gratefully into retirement, often nursing some notion of what congregations should be based on what they had learned as young men.  But we all learn lessons in youth that form our outlook ever after.

The worst pastors I met were the ones too zealous in their protection of "their" church.  There was the Conference Minister who told me he voted against my ordination, because he didn't think I was fit for ministry.  A few months after I left that Conference to pastor a church in another, he was forced to resign after exposing himself to his neighbors.  He stood naked in his back door in front of a teenage girl next door.

That was preceded by the Conference Minister who was forced out of his position by the Conference I had left to go to seminary.  He came to my seminary to finish out his career so he could reach retirement age with as much in his pension as possible.  On his way out, as he finally retired, he told my teachers I was unfit for ministry.  It was because I had tried to represent my pastor as his lawyer in a church investigation that almost led to his being stricken from ministry (the details of the UCC ordination and standing would take too long to explain).  It was a kangaroo court.  The Conference, through its lawyer, presented me with a document purporting to show the UCC allowed Conferences to exclude lawyers from the actual hearing.  I later learned that language had been rejected by the National Conference in favor of language encouraging a pastor to have representation in such circumstances.

And then there was the Conference Minister who cost me my pulpit; who came, without telling me ahead of time, to a Church Council meeting and denounced me in no uncertain terms.  He left for a conference on the west coast almost immediately after that, and retired within a year.  We had had, I had thought, a good relationship prior to that night.  He wouldn't speak to me that night, and I never spoke to him again.

I won't go into the church officials I dealt with trying to transfer my standing to another denomination, all of which, on paper, are quite open to such movement.  Suffice to say I have reasons to despise the institutional Church; far better reasons than Chris Hedges sums up in his article on the occasion of his ordination.

Ordination is a tricky thing.  It is determined by each denomination, based on its own determination of what validates an ordination.  I understand that in some Baptist denominations, for example, the congregation can ordain those they deem fit, and the deed is done.  The UCC is supposed to require a seminary education, but that's not the rigid requirement you might expect it to be.  I don't know what standards other denominations impose, but the idea is to determine that you have a calling to ministry and a reason to be set aside as a pastor or priest.  It is not automatic, granted upon your graduation from the right school, or based on your winning personality.  Most churches require some call to ministry; not just the mysterious "inner" call, but an actual offer of employment in what the denomination recognizes as a ministry.  A call to pastor a church is the obvious choice (it was how I was ordained; I couldn't even ask for ordination until a church wanted me to be their pastor), but there can be other calls.  There is always a lot of discernment involved, and a lot of consideration as to whether the candidate can simply handle the job of being a priest or pastor.

It ain't no golden staircase.

It can be, for the right kind of pastor.  I've known them, envied them their ease in ministry.  I couldn't emulate it.  I've known pastors, too, just trying to shepherd their flock; but their flock was more wolves than sheep (and I'm not hiding my story in this example.  I'd use the metaphor of snakes if I was doing that.)  Pastoring is a hard task, and the idea that the church and congregation should be "called" to the "Cost of Discipleship" is an engaging one for some members of the laity, but it is an absolute nightmare for members of the clergy.

Hedges cites Orwell, an atheist, and James Baldwin, the son of a pastor, for support in his analysis of the community of believers as a community of hypocrites.  Orwell despises institutions that become corrupted into the mirror opposite of what they were meant to be; Baldwin condemns the church for not being, as we learned to say in seminary, "prophetic."  The church seldom speaks truth to power because, too often, the church is the power; or wants to stay close to the power, at least.  It puts me in mind of several stories, not the least of which is Kierkegaard's description of his famous "Knight of Faith".

The moment I set eyes on him I instantly push him from me, I myself leap backwards, I clasp my hands and say half aloud, "Good Lord, is this the man?  Is it really he?  Why, he looks like a tax collector!"  However, it is the man after all.  I draw closer to him, watching his least movements to see whether there might not be visible a little heterogeneous fractional telegraphic message from the infinite, a glance, a look, a gesture, a note of sadness, a smile, which betrayed the infinite in its heterogeneity with the finite.  No!  I examine his figure from tip to toe to see if there might not be a cranny through which the infinite was peeping.  No!  He is solid through and through.  His tread?  It is vigorous, belonging entirely to finiteness; no smartly dressed townsman who walks out to Freberg on a Sunday afternoon treads the ground more firmly, he belongs entirely to the world, no Philistine more so.  One can discover nothing of that aloof and superior nature whereby one recognizes the knight of the infinite.  He takes delight in everything, and whenever one sees him taking part in a particular pleasure, he does it with the persistence which is the mark of the earthly man whose soul is absorbed in such things. He tends to his work.  So when one looks at him one might suppose that he was a clerk who had lost his soul in an intricate system of book-keeping, so precise is he.  He takes a holiday on Sunday.  He goes to church.  No heavenly glance or any other token of the incommensurable betrays him; of one did not know him, it would be impossible distinguish him from the rest of the congregation, for his healthy and vigorous hymn-singing proves at the most that he has a good chest....And yet he is no genius, for in vain have I sought in him the incommensurability of genius.....And yet, and yet--actually I could become furious over it, for envy if for no other reason--this man has made and every instant is making the movements of infinity.

Johannes de Silentio, Fear and Trembling, tr. Walter Lowrie.  Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1973, pp. 50-51.

What truth would you speak to which power to effect the result of Kierkegaard's description?

de Silentio's insistence on the absolute normality of the character of the Knight of Faith is instructive, but it is little commented on.  Most people know this book at all for its title (which inspired Hunter Thompson's "Fear and Loathing" in both Las Vegas and on the 1968 presidential campaign trail) and the concept of the "leap of faith."  Almost everyone gets both ideas wrong.  It was Paul who advised his churches to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling," because they were dealing with the living God in their perfectly ordinary lives (when Paul wrote the priest was still going into the Holy of Holies one day a year with a rope tied to his ankle so his lifeless body could be dragged out if the Creator of the Universe cast a glance in the unfortunate mortal's direction).  And the "leap of faith" is not a leap across reason into fantasy; it is absolute trust in the Absolute (de Silentio's term), producing, as Eliot would later say, "a condition of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything."  But the price paid is one's life gained; else there is nothing to Christianity but endless sacrifice.

And what fresh hell is that?

I'm a bit non-plussed, having read Hedges' essay, why he wanted to be ordained.  So he could purify the church?  So he could prove himself holier than them?  So he could finally get what he had wanted so long ago, no matter how bitter he is now?

It's not that I directly disagree with this quote from Baldwin:

Life is tragic simply because the earth turns, and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.
I mean, you could make a fine sermon from Ecclesiastes on that.  But you can't preach the gospel, the "good news," from it.  You can't preach on a weekly basis against "the self-love in American society," at least not without first examining your own self-love that convinces you you have the voice and position of the prophet, with none of the disabilities appurtenant thereto.  The prophets who most vehemently denounce Israel also argue with God about the truth they are called to testify to, and the price they pay is high:  Jeremiah wails, Ezekiel suffers from hallucinations and has himself bound and rolled in ashes, Hosea marries a prostitute, Amos objects that he is just a dresser of sycamore trees.  Few of the prophets enjoy privilege and comfort and the pleasure of telling everyone they are wrong.  The prophets speak to the community and speak from the community, and like Jeremiah, whose head should be a fountain so it could produce all the tears he wants to shed for Israel, they suffer for the community.  They don't get to stand apart from it.  Baldwin and Orwell may have felt compelled to lead their lives; but it is the community that pronounces their proclamations valid or invalid.  No prophet gets to self-verify their truth.

We call those people mad; not prophets.

Hedges chooses a ministry that puts him on the edge of society, among people perhaps more willing to give up their "totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations" because those things have been taken from them already.  It is a valid ministry; I am glad he has found it.  But it isn't the only ministry; and the irony of denouncing the institution even as it ordains you, even as it publicly approves of your ministry and formally recognizes it as a ministry, as something set apart, as something valued by the community, is not to be ignored.

It is easy to snipe at the community of believers; to call it a community of hypocrites and lukewarm believers, to condemn it as the problem rather than the solution.  It is even easier to think your convictions alone are valid, and are validated the more they are not commonly accepted and widely enacted.  That is the Romantic illusion; the notion that every man and woman is her or his own Byronic hero.  de Silentio's Knight of Faith is neither Byronic nor a hero; he is presented, in fact, as the exact opposite of the Romantic ideal.  He is bourgeois to his toes, the better to humble himself and be servant of all, if not truly last of all.  But then again, playing the 19th century Danish version of the man in the grey flannel suit, perhaps the K of F is last of all, after all.  Certainly he has achieved what the prophets could not (well, what some of them could not; every person's path is different, isn't it?).  Kierkegaard himself would denounce "Christendom," but he still had planned to take a country parish in Denmark, and live a quiet, non-public life.

I've struggled myself with the legitimacy of the church.  I finally realized any legitimacy in this world must lie outside of me, otherwise it is mere solipsism.  I cannot claim myself validated against the opinion of the world, no matter how enticing that stance may be for those of a Romantic turn.  Even in my defiance I choose for humankind;  Sartre was right.  Defiance is not liberating; it is a burden.  If I see all church members as hypocrites, then hypocrites they are, and I lose the memories of the good people I've known in churches throughout my lifetime, some of them family members, some of them long-lost friends.  No, I will not condemn.  I will seek to avoid the reflex that makes me right and those who disagree with me, wrong.  I am not holy; you do not need to stand apart from me.  If I abandon the church it is not because the church is not good enough for me; it is because I am too vain to allow myself to enter into the life of the church.  Or it is because I am not ready, again; it is because my journey takes me on a path that crosses and recrosses the path of the church, but doesn't let me settle there.

It is because I am who I am, and I don't know how to change that fundamental.

But that fundamental doesn't make me right or wrong; it makes me difficult.  Perhaps Chris Hedges is not as angry as he seems to be.  Perhaps Chris Hedges has finally found his calling and is serving the Living God and the Risen Lord in the best way he can.  Perhaps.  In fact, I'm sure of it; who am I to sit in judgment?  Neither of us can sit in judgment on the church, either.  It is what it is, as we are who we are.

The marvel is that God works through us all, in spite of everything.  Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

That's right, you're not from Texas....

If you were from here, you'd understand....

So a guest on the Diane Rehm show tells me Wendy Davis has been a "disastrous" candidate because she's so "out of step" with the Texas electorate.  Her failure means not one Democrat will win statewide office this November, he says.


If there are any Democrats left in state wide offices in Texas, it's a fluke.  And that isn't because Democrats haven't fielded a better gubernatorial candidate than Wendy Davis.  In fact, Wendy Davis may be the best gubernatorial candidate the Democrats have fielded since Ann Richards, and Richards only won because she was fortunate in her opponent.  I remember the gubernatorial candidates before Texas became a "red" state; they were nondescript to the point of non-existent.

If Wendy Davis hasn't shown the ability to win the race, it's because, as the guest put it, she's ideologically out of step with the majority of voters; it isn't because she can't campaign.  And her loss will not lead to the loss of other Democrats.  No Democratic candidate in this state has any coattails, not even the POTUS.  Republican candidates don't even have coattails; they only have the right party designation.

Texas is still deeply conservative politically, a persistence with perplexes me if only because the population of Texas has exploded in my lifetime, and most of that growth comes from newcomers, non-natives, if you will.  And by "non-native" I mean non-native Texan.  I have a coffee mug from the 80's, when the first big influx of "immigrants" came to the state from elsewhere in the country.  It reads "Native Texan," and more than one person who saw me with it when it was new said "Yeah, not too many of those around."  But that huge shift in population didn't mark any kind of shift in politics; and it still hasn't.  Voter turnout is still low, and adherence to the "right" party is still so strong a Democrat in a state-wide race doesn't get a fair hearing and is called "out of step" with the voters simply because of party label.

Which is the way it was when I was a kid, and Texas was a solidly Democratic state.

Is Texas going to turn blue anytime soon?  Nah.  The proles are not going to rise up and shake Big Brother off their back, and poor whites and Hispanics, who should both vote and know better when they bother to vote, aren't going to re-light the fires of Texas populism (whose enduring legacy is the wreck of a state Constitution we are burdened with) anytime soon.

But we can't blame our failures on our candidates:  we can't simultaneously expect them to be Tweedledum to the GOP's Tweedledee, and at the same time be different enough to inspire younger votes and minority voters to actually vote for a government that responds to them.*

If Davis wins, it will be because she motivated people to vote on a personal level, through an effective GOTV effort.  If she doesn't, she's still mounted a more effective effort to reach voters personally than I've ever seen in Texas Democratic party politics.  If that effort doesn't force a sea change in Texas in one election, that's not reason enough to abandon it now and forever.  After all, Democrats aren't going to win races in Texas by being more conservative than the GOP.  Gotta give all those non-voters a better reason to vote than that.

*and if the current Texas voter ID law, which prevents hundreds of thousands of Texans from voting, but allows voting by mail, a GOP preference, to occur with no ID check at all, is "in-step" with the majority of Texas voters, I'd prefer a candidate who stays out of step, thank you.  It's not like the Governor can repeal that law, after all.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

This is where I came in.....

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans obliquely, but the levees that were supposed to protect the city, gave way and drowned the city.*  The result made people as near as Houston think the apocalypse was upon us, because when Hurricane Rita threatened Houston, everybody from Galveston to Houston fled to Dallas, creating a traffic jam some 250 miles long.

As I said at the time, this led to the deaths of several elderly people when the nursing home van they were in caught fire after idling for several hours. Local officials made matters worse by telling everyone in the path of the storm to evacuate.  Tout le Houston thought of themselves as "in the path of the storm," and evacuate they did.  I live well inland from even the Houston Ship Channel, but people well to my west (away from the coast) were jumping in their cars and heading for the exits.  They didn't get very far; even the roads to Austin, almost due west of here, were clogged beyond capacity.  Had the storm actually struck Houston, the damage would have been nearly incalculable, as some people rode out the night of the storm on the freeways in and around the city.

In the end, Rita struck Beaumont and Lake Charles, well to the east of Houston.  As I said at the time (again!), this is pretty much the damage Houston got directly from Rita.

So now comes ebola to the U.S. via Texas (actually via Belgium and one of the airports in D.C., but why split hairs), and I'm seeing the same panic again.  When Rita threatened Houston, not only did the fourth largest city in the country turn into a ghost town (city streets were empty around me; it was like the Rapture), but I saw a man in my neighborhood board up his house and paint the wood with the legend "Looters will be shot!"

When Ike took out power in the city for three weeks a few years later, nobody panicked or boarded up their house and waited for the rapacious looters.  In fact, no chaos befell the city at all, and nobody was afraid.

In this scenario, ebola is Rita; the crisis in west Africa is Katrina.  And Rick Perry is the hapless administrator in Houston (one of several) telling us panic is our best option just now; when he isn't blaming the Federal government for not keeping Texas safe.  Yes, the same Federal government which shouldn't tell Texas how to pollute its air, water, and soil, should have protected Texas from one terminal case of ebola, and two people who are symptomatic but being treated.

In other states, because we don't have the wherewithal, even with the Texas Medical Center and UTMB-Galveston, to handle it.  Apparently.

The panic, though, is familiar.  It is media induced.  Nobody who came to Houston from Katrina to find shelter in the Astrodome was blind with fear.  No fear swept through Houston at their presence.  Local people helped out, even if Tom DeLay made a fool of himself down there.  We were calm.

Until the threat of a storm came.  We didn't panic when Ike was coming, either; or after it tore up the city and wrecked our power system and scattered trees like they were Tinker-toys.

But now, the country has turned into Houston, and panic is the word of the day.  It's almost funny, talking about a "travel ban" from "west Africa," when no one is calling for a travel ban on Texas, which is where the virus is in this country.  Well, now we've taken it to two other states, so I suppose we should quarantine those states, too.

Just a long winded way of saying I've seen this movie, and shame on us all for not knowing how it ends, and for replacing native American xenophobia for native American common sense.  Houston embarrassed itself in the Rita debacle, and people died who should have been safely home.

How far are we going to follow the analogy this time?

*yes, you can even use that neglect by the Federal government as part of the analogy, if you want to.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Will someone please pour the tea?

The comments, for once, are better than the commentary over at Esquire's Politics Blog:

But what is at issue here are not criminal acts, but the discovery process in a civil suit, and a discovery process aimed at pure speech -- namely, what the pastors said to their congregations during a religious service -- and that process should end at the church's door as well. If that isn't protected speech under the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion, then it's protected speech under the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of political speech. And if you want to make the argument that the latter consideration should be enough to revoke the tax-exempt status of the churches in question, I'm right there with you. But that's not what the city of Houston is up to here, either. It is going on a fishing expedition into what the pastors thought and what the pastors said. If the city wants to prove that the pastors encouraged their flocks to finagle the signature process, it simply has to find another way to do it. If it wants other documents to that effect, it should draw its subpoenas more narrowly.

First, let's get the facts narrowly right:  the City of Houston didn't draft these subpoenas; their pro bono non-city-employee lawyers drafted them.  A narrow point, but not an insignificant one, that leads us to Point the Second:

This lawsuit was not brought by the City, and these subpoenas are not an attempt by the City to use legal process to quell speech, even religious speech.  The City is a defendant in a lawsuit, and as such entitled to wide-ranging discovery into any information that might aid its defense of that lawsuit, even if the information obtained is not ultimately admissible under the rules of evidence.

And point the Third:  sermons are public speeches.  Many pastors put them on the church's website, advertise them on church signs, maybe even distribute copies available to anyone who walks into the sanctuary (which is generally open to anyone who can get in).  No church I know of closes to doors to non-members when it comes time for worship, or shoos out non-members for the sermon (the eucharist may be closed, but the sermon?)  There's nothing private or special about them, and there is no reason for the city not to ask to see them.

Because the purpose of these subpoenas to parties not parties to the lawsuit, is to find out what was being said about the petition process that tried to get signatures from church members and others, in order to force the HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance) to be decided by referendum.  The City declared a number of signatures invalid, denied the petitions. and refused to hold the referenda election.  That's what the suit is about.

So, the City wants to know, did the plaintiffs know they had problems with their petitions and their signatures?  That kind of information may be found in the correspondence (which the City is still seeking) of the subpoenaed entities, and in their speeches (which the City is also still seeking) and public presentations, and even in sermons.

Which are not protected by the First Amendment because they are made in churches.  If a pastor, in time of war, gives aid and comfort to the enemy in a sermon, that's treason, despite the First Amendment.  If a pastor calls for the assassination of a President from the pulpit, that's still a crime.  You don't get a "King's X" because you claim what you said was a "sermon."  It simply doesn't work that way, and it shouldn't work that way.  Eugene Volokh's examples all come from criminal law (grand juries aren't part of civil lawsuits), so his conclusion that this subpoena even may be overly broad is inapplicable here.  Subpoenas in civil cases are always "overly broad" when compared with criminal cases.  If this one is truly too broad, the court which issued should retract it or modify it.

As I type the local NPR station is running its daily local news discussion program, and three people are discussing this very issue.  But they are interpreting it as an investigation of political speech from the pulpit.  The point of this discovery is not to catch the pastors out or turn them over to the IRS; it is to find out what was said about the petition process, and finding that out from sermons is as legitimate as finding it out from statements made in Fellowship Hall, or in e-mails, or in church newsletters.

What I really resent is how easily even people like Charlie Pierce are persuaded to agree with Sean Hannity.  The fact that you think Hannity could be right about anything should be enough to make you realize you need more information on the issue.  After all, if Mr. Pierce or Mr. Hannity were defendants in a civil suit, and they thought the sermons of local churches might provide them useful information for their trial, they'd make quite a different argument about this subject.

"...a sign of both His anger and of His grace...."

Continuing with the continuing story of just what the synod in Rome is doing and saying, AP reports (I won't quote them, it would be too extensive) that the language we read in English from the "working document" was true to the original Italian, and that's the problem.

So a translation in English (because apparently the conservative Bishops speak the language of Christ, which we all know is English) has been made, changing the "welcoming these people [you know who]" to "capable of providing for these people," which isn't hospitality at all.

JCF, in comments below, picked up on the other change, from providing "precious support" to providing "valuable support."  Maybe because in America we only like things that are valuable, because our standard of measure for all things is money.

The drafting committees will fight this out (conservatives demanded changes, the Pope appointed "progressives" to draft the final statement), but the final statement has to be approved by a 2/3rds vote.

And there is still some confusion on the point.  The Catholic News Agency provides the original Italian of a portion of the statement, but argues that "valutando" should be translated as "evaluate" in English, not "value."  But is that the same passage that has been translated as providing "valuable support"?  It's impossible to tell without the full statement in Italian, and an analysis of the English translation by an expert in both languages.

What this language, whatever it is, clearly doesn't do is radically shift the teachings of the Church on homosexuality, teachings which, from a pastoral point of view, are a bit of a nightmare.  First, there's a sort of "love the sinner, hate the sin," except that homosexuality isn't a sin; it's more an "objective disorder:"

Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.
Which pretty much means, be careful how you welcome them:

no authentic pastoral programme will include organizations in which homosexual persons associate with each other without clearly stating that homosexual activity is immoral. A truly pastoral approach will appreciate the need for homosexual persons to avoid the near occasions of sin.

If you combine that with the insistence "that departure from the Church's teaching, or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care is neither caring nor pastoral and that:

An authentic pastoral programme will assist homosexual persons at all levels of the spiritual life: through the sacraments, and in particular through the frequent and sincere use of the sacrament of Reconciliation, through prayer, witness, counsel and individual care. In such a way, the entire Christian community can come to recognize its own call to assist its brothers and sisters, without deluding them or isolating them.
What I hear is something very much like an act of the medieval church as described by Michel Foucault:

"My friend," says the ritual of the Church of Vienne, "it pleaseth Our Lord that thou shouldst be infected with this malady, and thou hast great grace at the hands of Our Lord that he desireth to punish thee for thy iniquities in this world."  And at the very moment when the priest and his assistants drag him out of the church with backward step, the leper is assured that he still bears witness for God:  "And howsoever thou mayest be apart from the Church and the company of the Sound, yet art thou not apart from the grace of God."  Brueghel's lepers attend at a distance, but forever, the climb to Calvary on which the entire people accompanies Christ.  Hieratic witnesses of evil, they accomplish their salvation in and by their very exclusion; in a strange reversibility that is the opposite of good works and prayer, they are saved by the hand that is not stretched out.  The sinner who abandons the leper at his door opens his way to heaven.  "For which have patience in thy malady; for Our Lord hateth thee not because of it, keepeth thee not from his company; but if thou hast patience thou wilt be saved, as was the leper who died before the gates of the rich man and was carried straight to paradise."  Abandonment is his salvation; his exclusion offers him another form of communion.

Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization, tr. Richard Howard (New York:  Vintage, 1965), pp. 6-7.

No, the Church does not now drag homosexuals from the sanctuary and deny them any communion with the company of saints and believers.  The exclusion has stopped being external and physical, but continues to be internal and social, if not spiritual.  They must avoid "near occasions of sin" by not being who they are, a condition for which they are as blameless as the lepers.  The blame is on them only when they try to socialize their condition by sharing it with even one other.

If that will ever change is anyone's guess.*

*adding:  this is going to get more confusing before it gets clearer.