Adventus

"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, May 30, 2007

Anybody else seeing a pattern here?

This is not the first government quarantine for tuberculosis even in 2007. But it is, apparently, the first by the federal government. The similarities are striking:

The man told the Journal-Constitution he was in Rome during his honeymoon when the CDC notified him of the new tests and told him to turn himself in to Italian authorities to be isolated and be treated. The CDC told him he couldn't fly aboard commercial airliners.

"I thought to myself: You're nuts. I wasn't going to do that. They told me I had been put on the no-fly list and my passport was flagged," the man said.

He told the newspaper he and his wife decided to sneak back into the U.S. through Canada. He said he voluntarily went to a New York hospital, then was flown by the CDC to Atlanta.

He is not facing prosecution, health officials said.

"I'm a very well-educated, successful, intelligent person," he told the paper. "This is insane to me that I have an armed guard outside my door when I've cooperated with everything other than the whole solitary-confinement-in-Italy thing."
And this is still the issue: is TB as contagious as the common cold?

We do not want this disease in the United States, although it's clearly here. And we do want to take reasonable measures to make sure that it's not spread in the community. But it does not require locking anybody up in a jail. TB is not that easy to get. I mean, if you hang around in homeless shelters, in prisons or in places where a lot of people are immuno-compromised, like have HIV disease, then it's certainly going to be spread. But just someone walking around, at least if he doesn't go right up next to you and breathe in your mouth for a couple of hours, you're not going to get TB that way. So we have to learn something about tuberculosis, as well as something about the inappropriateness and, I think, unconstitutionality of locking people up with the disease.
This is the same strain of TB Robert Daniels has. And CDC officials are not (yet) saying this unnamed individual is highly contagious:

"Is the patient himself highly infectious? Fortunately, in this case, he's probably not," Gerberding said. "But the other piece is this bacteria is a very deadly bacteria. We just have to err on the side of caution."
But the fear of a form of TB that can't be treated with drugs is very high:

But Gerberding noted that U.S. health officials have had little experience with this type of TB. It's possible it may have different transmission patterns, she said.

"We're thankful the patient was not in a highly infectious state, but we know the risk of transmission isn't zero, even with the fact that he didn't have symptoms and didn't appear to be coughing," Gerberding said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

"We've got to really look at the people closest to him, get them skin tested."
So far, our reaction to this fear has been to lock up the person who is the source of our anxiety, and think ourselves well-served by that.

Are we?

"Is our children learning?"

“It far outclassed what we’ve done,” said Steven M. Kleinman, a former Air Force interrogator and trainer, who has studied the World War II program of interrogating Germans. The questioners at Fort Hunt, Va., “had graduate degrees in law and philosophy, spoke the language flawlessly,” and prepared for four to six hours for each hour of questioning, said Mr. Kleinman, who wrote two chapters for the December report.
This is from a report on an evaluation of interrogation techniques used since 9/11. The report found, among other things, that the techniques being used "are outmoded, amateurish and unreliable," and the "interrogation methods — possibly the most important source of information on groups like Al Qaeda — are a hodgepodge that date from the 1950s, or are modeled on old Soviet practices."

We already know the military is concerned about the impact of such shows as "24," which make torture seem like the only way to deal with terrorists (but then, when every new horror show that comes out presents torture as a form of entertainment, e.g., "Saw I-III, Hostel I-II, The Hills have Eyes I-II, what surprise is "24"?) But maybe it will make a few old Cold Warriors sit up and take notice if we say we've become the enemy we opposed for so long, and are becoming the enemy we oppose now. And if that doesn't work, there's always the good old argument from utility:

...in meetings with intelligence officials and in a 325-page initial report completed in December, the researchers have pressed a more practical critique: there is little evidence, they say, that harsh methods produce the best intelligence.
But consider the comment about the questioning of German prisoners by those who "'had graduate degrees in law and philosophy, spoke the language flawlessly,' and prepared for four to six hours for each hour of questioning", and the subtle racism of this justification for torture:

A. B. Krongard, who was the executive director of the C.I.A., the No. 3 post at the agency, from 2001 to 2004, agreed with that assessment but acknowledged that the agency had to create an interrogation program from scratch in 2002.

He said officers quickly consulted counterparts in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel and other countries to compile a “catalog” of techniques said to be effective against Arab and Muslim prisoners. They added other methods drawn from those that American troops were trained to withstand in case of capture.

(That last reference to "methods drawn from those that American troops were trained to withstand" is a reference to SERE. The article takes the very safe route of not acknowledging any public reporting on SERE until the release of a Pentagon report on May 18. But Jane Meyer was reporting on SERE two years ago. NIMBY for the NYT, I suppose.)

I don't think we had an interrogation system in place when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and the threat to the US was much more substantial then. But somehow we managed to create an interrogation system which worked without resort to "Behavioral Science Consultation Teams" or individual interrogation programs designed by medical doctors, or legalistic reinterprations of the word "torture".

I don't want to jump to a condemnation of violence used as entertainment, but when I see something like this I have to wonder: could Olivier and Hoffman perhaps have done better simply to play Shakespeare?

Mr. Krongard even recalls receiving a proposal for help with questioning Qaeda suspects from an American dentist who said he “could create pain no human being could withstand.”
There's an irony here: Shakespeare lived in a world where torture was commonplace, and those who threatened the public peace wound up with their heads affixed to London Bridge. Lodovico's last speech in "Othello" makes it clear what lies ahead for Iago:

[To IAGO] O Spartan dog,
More fell than anguish, hunger, or the sea!
Look on the tragic loading of this bed;
This is thy work: the object poisons sight;
Let it be hid. Gratiano, keep the house,
And seize upon the fortunes of the Moor,
For they succeed on you. To you, lord governor,
Remains the censure of this hellish villain;
The time, the place, the torture: O, enforce it!
Myself will straight aboard: and to the state
This heavy act with heavy heart relate.
But Shakespeare seldom shows torture on stage, or tortures his characters even in the course of a play. The most famous scene I can think of, gouging out the eyes of Gloucester in "Lear," is clearly presented as an act of barbarous evil, not as a justified treatment of an enemy. Now, however, having removed torture from our everyday existence, from the accepted practice of the state, we've made it part and parcel of our entertainment. It is still evil, but it is evil that is meant to sustain our attention for almost two hours. And is it really too much of a leap to say that, having done so, we now easily make it part and parcel of our security apparatus, our need to defend ourselves? The US military, as I noted, doesn't seem to think so.

I'm not so sure this descent into barbarism is so surprising, nor so abrupt.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day 2007

(I'm repeating myself, because I've cannibalized this post already today. So be it.)

If ever there was any doubt Santayana was right, this episode of This American Life would dispel it.

Not only were we warned about what would happen if we invaded Iraq, we had history as our teacher. Every schoolchild knows that World War I simply bled over into World War II. You may not know (I didn't!) that we occupied Germany after World War I. You won't be surprised, given Hitler's rise to power (often blamed on the way Germany was treated after that war) that the occupation was a disaster. Supposedly we learned that lesson, and did a better job rebuilding Germany the second time. But we've been resting on those laurels ever since.

So now our Vice President continues to demonize the very forces we were warned we would unleash, which is the very definition of denying responsibility for your actions. Perhaps he should spend more time in Iraq:

"I thought, 'What are we doing here? Why are we still here?' " said Safstrom, a member of Delta Company of the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division. "We're helping guys that are trying to kill us. We help them in the day. They turn around at night and try to kill us."

His views are echoed by most of his fellow soldiers in Delta Company, renowned for its aggressiveness.

A small minority of Delta Company soldiers - the younger, more recent enlistees in particular - seem to still wholeheartedly support the war. Others are ambivalent, torn between fear of losing more friends in battle, longing for their families and a desire to complete their mission.

With few reliable surveys of soldiers' attitudes, it is impossible to simply extrapolate from the small number of soldiers in Delta Company. But in interviews with more than a dozen soldiers over a one-week period, most said they were disillusioned by repeated deployments, by what they saw as the abysmal performance of Iraqi security forces and by a conflict that they considered a civil war, one they had no ability to stop.
Memorial Day, of course, didn't start as a day to honor veterans who "died for our freedom." Ironic, because the last war fought "for our freedom" before WWII, was the Civil War. We had a lot of wars in the 19th century, most of which we ignore: the Spanish American War, the Mexican War, the war in the Philippines, the war in Panama, all the imperialist efforts Mark Twain decried and Henry Thoreau protested. Memorial Day was not a day to remember we'd won our freedom at the expense of others; it was a day simply to remember dead family members, those who had died in the Civil War. Now we extrapolate the concrete reality into an abstraction: "they" died for "our freedom."

Bollocks. Our freedom wasn't threatened in Vietnam, or Korea, in the Persian Gulf, either time we fought there in the last 20 years. It wasn't threatened by the sinking of the Maine or in the Philippines, either. It was threatened in the Civil War, and Memorial Day came from that conflict. Memorial Day is simply a day to honor the dead. Perhaps we would better to limit it to the dead we know, and if we don't know any war dead, to be respectful of those who do. Perhaps we would do better to remember the uncut hair of graves, and to visit a graveyard and remember these dead were once as young and fair as you, or me. Perhaps we would do better to simply remember Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and let it go at that. We can certainly do better than to continue the slaughter:

To Sergeant O’Flarity, the Iraqi security forces are militias beholden to local leaders, not the Iraqi government. “Half of the Iraqi security forces are insurgents,” he said.

As for his views on the war, Sergeant O’Flarity said, “I don’t believe we should be here in the middle of a civil war.”

“We’ve all lost friends over here,” he said. “Most of us don’t know what we’re fighting for anymore. We’re serving our country and friends, but the only reason we go out every day is for each other.”

“I don’t want any more of my guys to get hurt or die,” he continued. “If it was something I felt righteous about, maybe. But for this country and this conflict, no, it’s not worth it.”
Call the names. Call the names. Call the names.

America as Othello

I don't know why I didn't see this earlier. It seems rather plain, now. America is Othello. Bush is our Iago. Iraq, is our tragedy.

Paul Krugman:

Future historians will shake their heads over how easily America was misled into war. The warning signs, the indications that we had a rogue administration determined to use 9/11 as an excuse for war, were there, for those willing to see them, right from the beginning — even before Mr. Bush began explicitly pushing for war with Iraq.

In fact, the very first time Mr. Bush declared a war on terror that “will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated,” people should have realized that he was going to use the terrorist attack to justify anything and everything.

When he used his first post-attack State of the Union to denounce an “axis of evil” consisting of three countries that had nothing to do either with 9/11 or with each other, alarm bells should have gone off.

But the nation, brought together in grief and anger over the attack, wanted to trust the man occupying the White House. And so it took a long time before Americans were willing to admit to themselves just how thoroughly their trust had been betrayed.
Tragedy, for Sophocles, did not involve an enemy; merely fate. Shakespeare's "Macbeth" and "Romeo and Juliet" come closer to this ideal than his other plays. Aristotle called "Oedipus" the perfect tragedy; in the Poetics, it is (ironically) his Platonic form for all such plays. There is no villain in "Oedipus," nor yet again in "Antigone." Fate, in the perfect tragedy, is the antagonist of the tragic hero, largely because the Greeks did not have the moral view of the universe Christianity has taught us to have. The Greek view of the universe was entirely ethical. Chaos was the normal condition of the universe, and into chaos the universe would one day return. Reason, the logos, imposed order; but it imposed order against a chaos that is implacable and unceasing, that is never eliminated, and so one day will return when the energy of the logos is exhausted. It is, as we say, as inevitable as sunrise.

So the Greek universe was not moral, sprung from good and tending toward good, but ethical: unleashed against chaos, the only telos of the logos is improvement, "happiness," which must inevitably be lost against the permanent state of disorder and disaster for those who seek order. Oedipus seeks order out of the horror of his predicted fate, as does Jocasta, and both are doomed to fail in their efforts. But, given the predictions, both are doomed to make their efforts, too.

Othello is doomed only by his naivete, his willingness to trust Iago even when he should trust Desdemona. But he hasn't learned to trust her, yet; he hasn't learned to rely on her as a husband can learn to rely wholly on a wife. And he hasn't learned yet to trust Cassio, his newly appointed lieutenant. He trusts Iago because Iago tells him just enough of the truth to make Othello think Iago is telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It is only when Othello begins to repeat Iago's lies to others, repeat them as explanation for his actions, that he begins to realize Iago's statements are lies. Just before he kills Desdemona, Othello all but explains himself to Emilia, Iago's wife and Desdemona's handmaid. Emilia assures Othello that her mistress is faithful to him, and Othello almost doubts the lies of Iago. But only after Desdemona is dead, and Emilia has revealed all about the handkerchief which became a symbol of Desdemona's supposed infidelity, does Othello realize what he has done, and how responsible he is.

That is where we are now: just now realizing what we have done, and how responsible we are. Frank Rich notes there are 4 million Iraqi refugees as a direct result of the US invasion. But he also notes this Administration sweeps that information under the rug, tacitly and explicitly:

How we feel about these Iraqis was made naked by one of the administration’s most fervent hawks, the former United Nations ambassador John Bolton, speaking to The Times Magazine this month. He claimed that the Iraqi refugee problem had “absolutely nothing to do” with Saddam’s overthrow: “Our obligation was to give them new institutions and provide security. We have fulfilled that obligation. I don’t think we have an obligation to compensate for the hardships of war.”
At some point one can only wonder: just who is this Administration representing?

We wanted to believe we are a force for good in the world, and so we went to war. I know a Navy chaplain who told me how much good the Navy does, how much humanitarian work is done by the aircraft carrier he was sailing on. But the military is not organized and structured and trained to do good: it is meant for one thing, and that is to destroy the enemy. We knew before this war what we would face. We were warned, in excruciating detail. We also know we were ill-equipped to rebuild the society we destroyed. We learned that lesson in our occupation of Germany after World War I. We didn't repeat it after World War II; but we quickly forgot the lesson again. We preferred to listen to the honeyed lies of Iago, rather than the gentle truths of Desdemona.

Now we are only waiting to accept responsibility for what we have done. But as a nation, will we? Can we? Paul Krugman is right: ridicule for the war-mongers would be a good place to start. But that won't happen this weekend; not on Memorial Day.

Memorial Day began as a day for families to remember their dead. Not everyone else's dead: their dead. Real people who had really died. We've turned that into a national celebration of American uniqueness, of those who "died for our freedom," as if freedom were bought only in blood on the battlefield. The tragedy is that we don't understand our errors, and we keep repeating them. Like Othello, we may be gifted at military command, but we seem wholly incapable at civil administration. It is not freedom our soldiers are dying for now: it is for our innocence, our naivete.

Let us pray for peace; and for forgiveness.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Oy! Oy! Oy! Oy! Oy!

I should post this at Fr. Jake's place, where it won't go unnoticed; but a comments block is no place for what I have to say in response to this:

Usually it is the progressives who are blamed for often being too quick in taking the consequentialist approach to most ethical questions; the greatest good for the greatest number is the right thing to do. The problem with this approach is that it can create victims. Sometimes, that cannot be avoided, when faced with difficult moral decisions. Apparently, the "centrists," or at least one of them, are now choosing to use this ethical approach to justify bigotry.
Sorry, but the simple, short, and direct response is: utilitarianism (the greatest good for the greatest number) is NEVER the correct response to an ethical question, especially when faced with "difficult moral decisions." Let me give you an example from a play I was just teaching: Shakespeare's "Othello."

In the course of teaching that play I realized something about the characters of Desdemona, Othello, and Iago. Desdemona and Othello have much in common, despite the seeming differences which Iago, from the beginning of the play, sets out to exploit. Iago assures Roderigo in the very first scene of the play that the newly-minted marriage between the Moor and the "supersubtle Venetian," as he calls her, will not last. Desdemona, he tells Roderigo, will soon tire of her exotic warrior and his tales of world travel and courageous fighting, and realize that, as a sophisticate of Venetian society she has little in common with the military commander who rose through the ranks to his position of power. And Othello will all too soon realize he has no understanding of the ways of Venetian society Desdemona takes for granted.

Iago, in other words, can't see Othello and Desdemona being other than he is: a worldly materialist grounded only in his self-interests and self-aggrandizement. Before he begins to discourse on Othello and Desdemona, Iago tells Roderigo how he despises those men who do their duty to others and end up worn out and discarded. The men who "have some soul," as Iago puts it, are those who show their duties outwardly, but privately take care of themselves and so, when they are cashiered, have lined their coats (again, Iago's metaphor) so they are taken care of when retirement is forced upon them. If you hear echoes of the parable of the unjust steward and the lesson "Make friends on earth so that when the end comes, they will welcome you into the eternal homes," I don't think that's an accident. Iago also tells Rodgerigo, in a clear reversal of the famous "I am that I am" from the burning bush: "I am not what I am." But that's another analysis for another time.

Iago is wrong about the love between Desdemona and Othello, because what Iago actually preys on is not Othello's easy boredom with Desdemona, but Othello's transcendent sense of right and wrong: his morality, in other words. Emilia, Iago's wife, might as well be speaking for her husband when, at the end of Act IV, just before Othello enters that same bed-chamber to murder his wife for what he thinks are her thousand infidelities, she and her mistress discuss the possibility of cuckoldry:

DESDEMONA
Wouldst thou do such a deed for all the world?

EMILIA
The world's a huge thing: it is a great price.
For a small vice.

DESDEMONA
In troth, I think thou wouldst not.

EMILIA
In troth, I think I should; and undo't when I had
done. Marry, I would not do such a thing for a
joint-ring, nor for measures of lawn, nor for
gowns, petticoats, nor caps, nor any petty
exhibition; but for the whole world,--why, who would
not make her husband a cuckold to make him a
monarch? I should venture purgatory for't.

DESDEMONA
Beshrew me, if I would do such a wrong
For the whole world.

EMILIA
Why the wrong is but a wrong i' the world: and
having the world for your labour, tis a wrong in your
own world, and you might quickly make it right.


DESDEMONA
I do not think there is any such woman.

EMILIA
Yes, a dozen; and as many to the vantage as would
store the world they played for.
But I do think it is their husbands' faults
If wives do fall: say that they slack their duties,
And pour our treasures into foreign laps,
Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
Throwing restraint upon us; or say they strike us,
Or scant our former having in despite;
Why, we have galls, and though we have some grace,
Yet have we some revenge. Let husbands know
Their wives have sense like them: they see and smell
And have their palates both for sweet and sour,
As husbands have. What is it that they do
When they change us for others? Is it sport?
I think it is: and doth affection breed it?
I think it doth: is't frailty that thus errs?
It is so too: and have not we affections,
Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?
Then let them use us well: else let them know,
The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.
There it is: the eye for an eye, the tooth for a tooth. If men wrong us, argues Emilia, we have every right to balance the scales by wronging them. Two wrongs don't make a right, but the first excuses the second, if only that rude justice be done. This is not morality, but ethics: the pursuit of that which assures happiness for the pursuer. And it is, as Iago is as well, resolutely horizontal: that is, it remains on one plane, flat; there is no transcendence in it at all, nothing that rises above the material level of a zero-sum game where if you make me lose something, I regain only by taking something from you.

And it is precisely in the issue of transcendence that morality departs from ethics, and the two are distinguished.

Othello to some degree, Desdemona to a far greater degree, understand the importance of morality over ethics. As Desdemona says to Iago:

Unkindness may do much;
And his unkindness may defeat my life,
But never taint my love.
She stays true to this resolve. Even as Othello smothers her, she accepts her fate; so much so that when she revives long enough to speak to Emilia, she tries to deny her death is either suicide or murder by her husband. In her morality she is linked to Othello: they both understand that it is the transcendence of morality which makes it true. That morality, of course, also blinds them to the evil of Iago, but it preserves their souls and makes Othello a tragic, and not just a pathetic, figure.

What torments Othello and causes Desdemona, even on her death bed, to refuse to blame Othellos for her death, is something that transcends the material universe Iago is bound to, and utilitarianism affirms. As Othello says to Iaqo, speaking of Cassio but actually speaking of himself:

They that mean virtuously, and yet do so,
The devil their virtue tempts, and they tempt heaven.
Iago, of course, never means virtuously, and so the devil never tempts his virtue, for he has none. As he says shortly after Othello's words, speaking of Desdemona but actually speaking of himself:

Her honour is an essence that's not seen;
They have it very oft that have it not:
Here is the crux of the play, in fact: honor is what we give others, just as we give them our trust. But both are earned from their actions, and may be, as Iago proves, entirely undeserved. Still, without them, how would we function? And yet honor and trust that remain rooted only in the horizontal plane of the material, are worthless, whether they are spent on Iago or given to Desdemona. Only when they are transcenden, are they truly valuable. As Emilia tells Desdemona, virtue is a thing of the world; gain the world, and you can redefine virtue. But Othello and Desdemona understand that in gaining the world, you will lose your own soul. And no redefinition of virtue will win that back for you.

So, is there a point where "unavoidable victims must be created for the greater good"? It depends, of course, on what you consider the "greater good." Iago unashamedly sets himself up as the only valid recipient of the "greater good," but he does so by assuring himself that everyone else thinks the same, and those who don't have no soul. Desdemona and Othello know better; and it is the violation of that transcendent morality (or his perception of it, relying too much on the lies of Iago) which drives Othello to his madness. He is not even concerned with the world's view of him. When Lodovico comes from Venice to relieve him of command and allow him to leave Cassio behind, Othello is not assuaged by the apparent assurance that whatever cuckoldry may have happened, the cause will soon be far from his spouse; instead, he takes it as one more sign of preferment, one more indication that in a fallen world the moral man must stand for the right despite the consequences. When Othello kills Desdemona he does not, like Iago, resort to further murders in order to hide his crime; instead, he confesses it, even in the face of Desdemona's death-bed denial of his crime.

The first sacrifice of morality must always be the moral agent herself. A morality which asks a sacrifice of the other greater than that asked of the moral agent is no morality at all; it is, at best, a cruel ethic. The problem with utilitarianism as an ethic, in a nutshell, is that it is a materialist ethic. The greatest good is always defined as a horizontal good, and that is always an unalterably a zero-sum game unless the greatest good is defined as something transcendent rather than merely imminent. So long as the greater good is confined to the horizon the latter, there must always be "unavoidable victims...created for the greater good." That may yet be ethical; but it is never moral.

None of which is to condemn Fr. Jake nor the point he has to make in his post about the ABC's failure to invite Bishop Gene Robinson to Lambeth (it is a serious slight, indeed, IMHO, and not one to be excused because the good Bishop is seen by some to be a divisive figure. No less so, frankly, and for no better reason, than our Presiding Bishop. Yet the reason for not inviting one, while inviting the other, is surely a distinction without a difference, since many in the Anglican Communion still object to women priests, as well.). What the Archbishop of Canterbury is faced with is the dilemma of the institution: like nations, can the institution itself afford to be moral? Can it ask sacrifices of its constituents that they would not ask of themselves? If it does not, it is not transcendent of the individuals which comprise it. But if it does, is it transcendent? Or tyrannical? If the church as an institution is not moral, what good is it? But if it is not cognizant of the material, what virtue does it have? Desdemona recognizes that virtue is a thing of the world, and in the world. Emilia sees it only as a thing of the world. Desdemona also sees, however, that it must be transcendent, as well as immanent: or it is no virtue at all, it is, as Iago says, merely "a fig!" And if that's all it is well, then, the church, and we, have a problem indeed.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

What Could Have Been

Dennis Kucinich:

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, you know, there’s a fundamental misperception about the path the Democrats should be taking. We shouldn’t be offering any legislation at all. We should just simply tell the President we’re not going to fund the war. And this idea about funding the war to help the troops is absurd. You want to help the troops, bring them home.

I offered a plan, HR 1234, that would provide for a plan that would bring the troops home, close the bases, end the occupation and reach out to the international community for an international peacekeeping and security force that would move in as our troops leave. But we can’t do that until we end the occupation. We can’t end the occupation until we stop funding the war. We simply do not have to have a bill, Amy. It’s just as simple as that.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What about those Democrats who argue that they could not get a majority vote or at least one that would survive a presidential veto to stop the funding, so that they’ve got to then have a concession of some sort?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I want to make sure I’m being clear about this. I’m saying that it’s not necessary to have a bill, that the process depends on legislation to keep the war going. But there’s money in the pipeline right now to bring the troops home. We simply should tell the President we’re not going to fund the war, period. We don’t need legislation to do that. And the idea that somehow we need to fund the war to help the troops, again, it’s an absurd thought, and we need to start to reorient ourselves to getting out of Iraq. This administration isn’t going to do that, and frankly, the Democratic Congress is failing the American people at this moment.
Nancy Pelosi:

This is not the end of the debate. … We will have legislation to repeal the President’s authority for the war in Iraq. We will have that vote. We will have votes on Mr. Murtha’s defense appropriations bill, one of them the regular order defense appropriations bill, another one the supplemental that has been requested by the Bush Administration.

We could have taken a giant step in a new direction, instead we’re taking a baby step. But as I said, this is not the end of the debate.

As we think about all of this, I’d like to recall the words of a philosopher, Hannah Arendt, who once observed that nations are driven to an endless flywheel of violence because they believe that one last, one final gesture of violence will bring peace. But each time they sow the seeds for more violence.
6/26/2006:

In the poll, 57% say Congress should pass a resolution that outlines a plan for withdrawing U.S. troops; 39% say that decision should be left to the president and his advisers.

Precisely half support withdrawing all U.S. forces immediately or within 12 months, while 41% say the United States should keep troops there for as many years as needed. Eight percent call for sending more troops.
The latest New York Times/CBS News Poll (link courtesy Holden):

A majority of Americans continue to support a timetable for withdrawal. Sixty-three percent say the United States should set a date for withdrawing troops from Iraq sometime in 2008.

While the troops remain in Iraq, the overwhelming majority of Americans support continuing to finance the war, though most want to do so with conditions. Thirteen percent want Congress to block all spending on the war. The majority, 69 percent, including 62 percent of Republicans, say Congress should appropriate money for the war, but on the condition that the United States sets benchmarks for progress and that the Iraqi government meets those goals. Fifteen percent of all respondents want Congress to approve war spending without conditions.


Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.


Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

--W.H. Auden

"It is moronic!"

If only because I want to keep it handy for repeated viewing.

Monday, May 21, 2007

When I was 12 years old

Thanks to Tena I find this NYT article, which includes this very interesting observation:

The evangelical movement, however, is clearly evolving. Members of the baby boomer generation are taking over the reins, said D. G. Hart, a historian of religion. The boomers, he said, are markedly different in style and temperament from their predecessors and much more animated by social justice and humanitarianism. Most of them are pastors, as opposed to the heads of advocacy groups, making them more reluctant to plunge into politics to avoid alienating diverse congregations.
We forget that Jerry Falwell was not a "Baby Boomer." He was already 22 years old when I was born, and I'm in the middle of the "Baby Boom" generation. Falwell was denouncing Brown v. Board of Education before most Boomers knew what that opinion was:

"If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God's word and had desired to do the Lord's will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made," Falwell boomed from above his congregation in Lynchburg. "The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line."
While some Boomers are nearing retirement age, and almost all are middle aged or older, such is the peculiar nature of churches (even more peculiar than government; Clinton was the first Boomer President) that only now are the prevailing voices in the churches beginning to be Baby Boomer voices (one need only look to the Roman Catholic church. Although "Baby Boom" was a U.S. phenomena, Pope Benedict is old enough to have been among the Hitlerjugend, a claim no "Boomer" could make.).

Churches are extremely odd this way; an oddness that really has to be stared at to be appreciated. True enough, young pastors and priests enter the ministry every year. But the median age of their congregations has changed little in several decades: all that has really changed is the people making up that "median." Older people have removed themselves due to attrition, younger people have grown older and moved into replace them. But by and large, the church is still your father's church. The Boomers are a huge demographic, but as they have aged their parents have lived on. I'm not so sure this isn't the first time in human history that so many generations have lived together at one time in such large numbers. And in the Church, that repository of all that is traditional, that place where it is proclaimed that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever," that phrase has more and more come to mean: "And that means the way he was when I was 12 years old!"

And that timespan between today and "when I was 12 years old!" has been getting longer and longer and longer.

Consider the shock of Falwell's words about the 1954 desegregation decision. Try to imagine uglier words being preached from a pulpit. I grew up among the generations that could formulate those words; but I couldn't do it today, not even to denounce such an attitude. The concepts wouldn't even occur to me. My daughter's generation doesn't see race as I did when I was their age. When will the church speak for them? My father's generation is still alive (which is not to say they are all racists; but their theology and experiences are not mine, nor my daughter's). Who in the church speaks for them?

There are pastoral and ecclesial problems here, but there is also an observation: which is that the mills of God grind slowly, indeed. They may also grind exceeding fine, but they seem to move slower and slower as the generations move faster and faster. Rick Warren, as the NYT article points out, does not speak to the generation Jerry Falwell gave voice to. No doubt Rick Warren will be around as long, if not longer, than Rev. Falwell; and he may be just as, if not more, influential. Who can say? But such is the peculiar nature of the Church today, that those who finally get to speak for their generation are always speaking from experiences already long past and largely unknown or forgotten by those who most need to listen. And they are not speaking to the situation that is so much as to the situation that was.

To Live In Communion

I'm taking this from something the MadPriest put up; but he won't mind, it was obviously meant for sharing (of course, I could be wrong):

My theology continues to tell me that it is in and through our widest councils that we will most fully discern both what we should do, and how we should go about it.
This is the summing up of an excellent capsule history of the Anglican Communion, which, it turns out, is not that old, and yet not that new, either:

The word Anglicanism first emerged in the 1830s, and the phrase 'Anglican Communion' was first used in 1851, and by 1860 was recognised as referring to our fellowship of legally independent Churches, worshipping in the tradition of the Anglican Prayer Book, with a ministry of bishops, priests and deacons, and in communion with the See of Canterbury. In this sense, the 'Anglican Communion' was never established, as was the case of, for example, the Lutheran World Federation.
What, by the way, does it mean to be an Anglican? Does it mean adherence to a doctrine, a set of teachings about Christianity, submission to an ecclesial authority? No, not really:

Until recently (with the conclusion of various regional agreements) it was the case that it was sufficient to be in communion with the See of Canterbury to be in communion with the whole of the Anglican Communion.
Coming out of a congregational polity (where I still hold my ministerial standing and will have my ordination until I die), this is the air of the Reformation I breath most deeply. My profoundest understanding of Christianity is that, through Christ, I am in communion with all persons, with all of Creation. Which, yes, is a little grand and universal, but there we are. I am certainly more comfortable with a polity that understands itself to be bound fundamentally by being in Communion with the See of Canterbury. As much as Archbishop Akinola disagrees with my stance on homosexuality (if he knew it he would!), and I disagree with his, we can still be together in communion with Canterbury. And may that communion draw us both closer to Christ as we are drawn to see each other as children of God.

But of the parts I love in this speech, this is the part I love the most:

When we look back on the history of the Church, it has always been assailed with divisions to be overcome. The unity of Christ's people is one of the prime targets of the devil, who does not want the world to look at us and say 'See how these Christians love one another!' The devil's purposes are far better served when people look at us and see us fighting and quarrelling, and doing so in ways that fail to reflect the spirit of charity, tolerance and gracious magnanimity that has always characterised the best of Anglicanism! So whether it was the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles, or the precise understanding of the Eucharist, or the various models of salvation, or slavery, or usury, or contraception, or women's ordination - or even questions over vestments, and whether, and how high, to raise up the bread and wine with the words of consecration - well, God is bigger! And the unity that he grants us is a gift of grace that can overcome all manner of human disagreement.

Of course, some may leave the Communion as a result of our current problems. But we must not take ourselves too seriously. As Joost de Blank once said 'God works his purposes out, despite the confusion of our minds.'
There is a question of institutionalized ambiguity here. But ambiguity is at the heart of Christianity. What, for instance, does it mean to live in communion? The more narrowly you define that, the more tightly you nail down the boundaries of the answer, the more you exclude someone out. And when do you know that someone is not the Christ? When are you certain you have not put Christ beyond the pale? The more certain you are, the more likely you are to be wrong. That institutionalized ambiguity is both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of the Anglican Communion. The Most Revd Njongonkulu Ndungane attributes the forces of division to the devil; I would attribute them to power, to something my own theology practically raises to the metaphysical level of having its own existence. I recognized the awkwardness of that even as I advance it, and perhaps with another twenty years study of Derrida and Heidegger I will have the vocabulary for that understanding. For now, however, I can only point out what seems to me the obvious: that power is very seductive, that power always seeks its own ends, and that we who think we wield power are never more than its servants. Thus the importance of the power of powerlessness.

I began with the opening quote because that is precisely how I read the Bible. Too many people, I find, read that collection of books (it is not one book but many; "Bible" itself is the root of our word "bibliography," or "biblioteque" in French, which we call "library.") rigidly and sternly, when they are in fact bursting with life and humor and contradiction, and yet all held together by the revelation of God, by the communion with the Godhead, just as Christians are (or should be): "united in accordance with the will of the Triune God whom we seek to serve." Ecclesiastes is placed, in no small part, to respond to and rebuke some of the smugger sureties of Proverbs (the latter a favorite text of many, the former largely overlooked except for the first lines of Chapter 3). Deuteronomy is one text, Leviticus quite another, as DAS has pointed out to us. Jonah teaches us, not about the whale, but about human vanity and God's great mercy. There is a fight going on between Peter, Paul, and the author of Hebrews in the New Testament; John ignores Matthew and Mark, but picks up the bits of Luke he likes or that suit his purpose; the Pastoral letters ignore the concerns of the ecclesial ones. It's not all fight and conflict, but it is more communion than commonality and congruence. It is, in other words, a great conversation in which the common topic of discussion is the presence of God. Small wonder if it is also contentious and shot through with discomforting ambiguities.

The questions and concerns the Bishop addresses to the Communion are ones I agree with, and I agree are the most important for all the instrumentalities of the Communion to consider. I cannot improve on what he says, and there are other outlets with people who understand the details of this situation far better than I. In the particulars I am certainly nothing more than a student. Still, I think the Bishop's conclusion absolutely accurate, and absolutely applicable to any number of occassions when Christians, particularly Christians of one denomination, differ with one another:

I suspect that future generations will see this as something of a storm in a teacup, and certainly not as central to the Christian life. For the centre of Christian life is Jesus Christ. As I said at the TEAM conference, God's eternal Word did not come as a philosophical concept, nor as a political programme. Nor was the Word made text. But the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.

It is not where we stand on this or that particular issue which is definitive for our salvation - nor even our understanding of this or that passage of Scripture. What matters is our relationship with Jesus Christ, who gave his life for us on the cross, and who was raised to new life, so that we too might find new life in him.
Or, as has been said much, much earlier: our lives really should be lived so that others say: "Look at how these Christians love everyone!"

After all, is communion enjoyed better when we can reflect on who is not invited to the table, and on who is not permitted to do the inviting?

Friday, May 18, 2007

All News is Gossip

I just find this information surprisingly hard to come by, and very interesting when it's available:

Despite having the most costly health system in the world, the United States consistently underperforms on most dimensions of performance, relative to other countries. This report—an update to two earlier editions—includes data from surveys of patients, as well as information from primary care physicians about their medical practices and views of their countries' health systems. Compared with five other nations—Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom—the U.S. health care system ranks last or next-to-last on five dimensions of a high performance health system: quality, access, efficiency, equity, and healthy lives. The U.S. is the only country in the study without universal health insurance coverage, partly accounting for its poor performance on access, equity, and health outcomes. The inclusion of physician survey data also shows the U.S. lagging in adoption of information technology and use of nurses to improve care coordination for the chronically ill.
The interesting bit is in the executive summary:

The U.S. health system is the most expensive in the world, but comparative analyses consistently show the United States underperforms relative to other countries on most dimensions of performance. This report, which includes information from primary care physicians about their medical practices and views of their countries' health systems, confirms the patient survey findings discussed in previous editions of Mirror, Mirror. It also includes information on health care outcomes that were featured in the U.S. health system scorecard issued by the Commonwealth Fund Commission on a High Performance Health System.

Among the six nations studied—Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States—the U.S. ranks last, as it did in the 2006 and 2004 editions of Mirror, Mirror. Most troubling, the U.S. fails to achieve better health outcomes than the other countries, and as shown in the earlier editions, the U.S. is last on dimensions of access, patient safety, efficiency, and equity. The 2007 edition includes data from the six countries and incorporates patients' and physicians' survey results on care experiences and ratings on various dimensions of care.

The most notable way the U.S. differs from other countries is the absence of universal health insurance coverage. Other nations ensure the accessibility of care through universal health insurance systems and through better ties between patients and the physician practices that serve as their long-term "medical home." It is not surprising, therefore, that the U.S. substantially underperforms other countries on measures of access to care and equity in health care between populations with above-average and below average incomes.

With the inclusion of physician survey data in the analysis, it is also apparent that the U.S. is lagging in adoption of information technology and national policies that promote quality improvement. The U.S. can learn from what physicians and patients have to say about practices that can lead to better management of chronic conditions and better coordination of care. Information systems in countries like Germany, New Zealand, and the U.K. enhance the ability of physicians to monitor chronic conditions and medication use. These countries also routinely employ non-physician clinicians such as nurses to assist with managing patients with chronic diseases.

The area where the U.S. health care system performs best is preventive care, an area that has been monitored closely for over a decade by managed care plans. Nonetheless, the U.S. scores particularly poorly on its ability to promote healthy lives, and on the provision of care that is safe and coordinated, as well as accessible, efficient, and equitable.
From my anecdotal knowledge (i.e., personal experience), managed care plans are on the way out. HMO's have not kept costs down, as promised, and are no longer the favored solution for health insurance companies.

Especially intriguing here is the fact that, purely as a question of economics, we are getting screwed:

For all countries, responses indicate room for improvement. Yet, the other five countries spend considerably less on health care per person and as a percent of gross domestic product than does the United States. These findings indicate that, from the perspectives of both physicians and patients, the U.S. health care system could do much better in achieving better value for the nation's substantial investment in health.
And yet, when I Google news articles on this, I only find two domestically: a press release by the Kaiser Family Foundation, and an article in the Detroit Free Press; both from two days ago.

Maybe the NYT will mention it in their Week in Review. Although the tribulations of Paul Wolfowitz, a man who has absolutely no effect on the lives of Americans, seems to be much more interesting.

It ain't necessarily so...

Grandmère Mimi called me out for the post below where I wrote:

We're all dazzled by big congretations and massive gatherings of people.
"Not quite all of us are dazzled," she tartly (and rightly) responded. My attempted point was that large churches and more members is a pressure every church feels, and every pastor or priest looks rather anxiously to see how many attend services, and what the membership rolls look like. And the reason we all do this, as Josh Marshall astutely points out, is because the mega-churches and the James Dobsons of the world, spend a lot of time telling us just how big they are:

Dobson's organization says his daily radio program is heard by as many as 220 million listeners over 3,500 stations in the United States. He's also seen on 80 television stations, and 10 Focus on the Family magazines have 2.3 million subscribers, the group says.
(emphasis added) As Josh says: 220 million listeners? Really? 2/3rds of America tunes in regularly?

But where else do these numbers come from, except the group that claims them? There is no independent body, no government agency, no third-party which regularly assesses the attendance in churches or the number of listeners to radio stations or TV stations (well, there is for the latter, but they don't publish those numbers in regular press releases). We know these churches and groups are big, because they constantly tell us they are. And since they are big, they must be doing something right. Right?

Like making sure they tell us how big they are. And relying on us not to pay too much attention to the numbers, just to be impressed with, well, with how big those numbers are.

It's kind of the sea we all go swimming in. I do know small churches which are perfectly happy to be small, because they know they always will be. And my point (this time!) is: this entire obsession with size comes about because the people with the biggest megaphones are always telling us how big they are.

And like most bragging about size, it's almost always done by men; and it's not to be relied on as....well, as gospel.

UPDATE: Josh has now noted that the Dobson website claims that listenership is world-wide, not nationwide. Which just raises the issue of innumeracy among journalists (could no editor catch that error?), and doesn't quite blunt the fact that it's numbers that matter. Especially anything that sounds like really BIG numbers.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Final Words

The "legacy" of Jerry Falwell continues to pester my consciousness, if only because I'm not sure there will actually be one. David Kuo , as I mentioned earlier, gave an excellent commentary on the price many Christians will pay for a long time because Jerry Falwell was the public face of Christianity in this country (although he never led the largest congregation in the country, nor was he the head of a denomination or the champion of a institution other than his own Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University. ) Falwell was media savvy the way, say, Joel Osteen is media savvy. We're all dazzled by big congretations and massive gatherings of people. But Ted Haggard's former church is suffering now that he's gone, in no small part because of the blazing hypocrisy of the scandal that caused him to step down. Still, his presence is clearly being missed. Falwell's "Moral Majority" is truly neither, now; it's a spent force in American politics, although the GOP debates indicate the last people to get the news are the GOP candidates (No surprise, of course. As Sen. Christopher Dodd said yesterday, the American people are far ahead of the Congress on the need to get out of Iraq. Political tectonic plates take a long time to shift.) But will there be 6000 people in Thomas Road Baptist Church this Sunday? Probably. However, how many will be there a year from now?

As Ed Kilgore has pointed out, Falwell was not actually the favorite son of Lynchburg. Which is neither here nor there, except it points out Falwell was like the rest of us, and put his pants on one leg at a time. And now, to put it crudely, that he won't be putting pants on ever again, whither Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University? Or, more crucially, where will the cable news networks and Sunday morning talk shows turn for a sound bite about "moral issues" in America? As NPR pointed out yesterday, Falwell's influence among like-minded Christians was waning before his death. What possible influence can he have now?

One of the peculiarities of mega-churches and non-denominational churches with charismatic leaders, especially those who earn fame and fortune from their preaching, writing, or personalities, is that such churches seldom outlast their pastor. Joel Osteen's church is the exception that proves the rule. He's done nothing more than do his father one better, carrying the church onward and upward in ways that Richard Roberts tried in vain to do for his father Oral, who was once a "big deal" in his own right, but whose "ministry" (what he called the institution he tried to set up) has faded from public notice (the last I heard he was trying to get the city of Tulsa to pay for the hospital he built against their wishes. But that was about 2 decades ago, and I've heard nothing about him since). Before Osteen there was Jimmy Swaggert, and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, and Pat Robertson, and Robert Tilton. Tilton is still carrying on in the backwaters of cable TV, and Robertson, per NPR, is steadily losing influence just as Falwell did. But there is more to this than is publicly visible.

A dynamic, charismatic, powerful, and influential pastor, is largely the product of Protestantism. True, there are Dorothy Days and Oscar Romeros and Thomas Mertons in Roman Catholicism, but they never have the institutional power at their fingertips that even a Joel Osteen does right now. And their legacy remains alive because of the institution, which may tend to honor them more in death than in life, but honors them just the same. It is, in other words, the institution which carries on. The influence of the personality flickers out with the life of the person.

Retired pastors learn this lesson the hard way, especially in congregationally based churches. The more you move away from a church with a hierarchy, an overarching institutional tradition or polity, the more the congregation comes to see itself as "the church," and it's favored pastor as the reason for its blessings (the distinction between episcopal and congregational polities is a very subtle one in this case, I understand). Inevitably, the pastor retires, though, and then the church much adjust, and at that point it becomes an institution apart from the pastor who shepherded it for what may have been decades. Sometimes that transition goes very smoothly, and the pastor is a healthy person who simply walks away. Just as ofthen, though, it is like a divorce after a very long marriage, or even a death, and the grief at finding out you aren't that important after all, that you can't continue to inspire and influence people after retirement, leads, in the very worst of cases, to an almost Lear-like situation. Pastors, in other words, soon realize that they have influence only so long as they have responsibility, only so long as they are still the pastor. Retirement is often the death of influence, especially if they, like Jerry Falwell, want to insist their views are the views everyone else should adhere to. When pastors retire and go graciously, they can be honored for their service and still be a guiding hand. But it is, as ever, a question of power: you can't keep the power forever, and you certainly can't wield it, once you are no longer there to do so. I've known pastors who understand this; I've known pastors who had to learn it the hard way. Jerry Falwell, of course, is past all such considerations now.

But his church isn't; his institution isn't. It may turn out, however, it was already long past such influence, and the death of its famous and media-savvy personality and public leader, simply reveals what we all should have known. It will certainly be interesting to see if anyone rises to become the next choice of the media for a religious soundbite or a guest seat speaking for Christians. It seems unlikely, and it seems very likely Falwell's lasting legacy for the nation will be a negative one: he will be the public face of Christianity that almost anyone can revile, the public face of Christianity as intolerant and duplicitous and just as power-seeking as any politician. Christianity, in other words, as just another human, all too human, institution. I can't think, at this point, of much that he did which was a net positive for Christianity; not as a public figure. There are legitimate questions as to whether his opinions were even worse than we remember. Still, the institutions of Christianity will carry on; and as long as people seek out the famous and respond to the infamous, we will have Jerry Falwells among us. They seem to arise about once every generation or so, and are sustained by the generation which gave birth to them; but seldom by much beyond that

When I consider how my light is spent...

It seems the occassional and necessary fit that comes over me and prompts a truly navel-gazing post along the lines of "What am I doin' hangin' round?" It's a zeitgeist thing; I've seen it in the air lately, as news events slow down and politics turns in favor (slowly, but surely) of left blogistan. Jerry Falwell's death has prompted a new round of interest, mostly of people trying to assess the famous (or infamous) pastor without quite speaking ill of the dead. Pastor Dan has taken two stabs at it (here, with a convenient roundup of still other opinions, and here), and even NPR ran both an excellent story on "Whither the conservative Christian voter now?" as well as an excellent assessment of Falwell as a Christian pastor. It's been interesting to see how the public person is regarded while assidously avoiding personal remarks. But that will wear out soon, and it will be back to business as usual: politics and the outrage du jour, or even of the hour.

Pastor Dan states the issue fairly clearly over at Street Prophets; but it isn't an issue limited to that blog, or to this one. Still, it's an issue that has been claiming more and more of my attention lately:

What are blogs for?

There is, as I said, something in the air. There have been more than a few "meta-blogging" posts and comments going around lately, such as this one, this one, this one, and this one, all revolving around this newspaper column (irony!). The best ones use "navel-gazing" ironically, so as to distance themselves from the very thing they are doing ("Look, Ma, no hands!"), but navel gazing is all it amounts to. This, in itself, is not surprising. It isn't only the consequence of slow news days, or the weariness of working up new outrage at new revelations. Time has simply passed. Like the monks who enter the life of the monastery driven by a vision, an experience, a feeling they want to both share and prolong, the time of acedie inevitably sets in. And the question becomes: how does one go on? What is interesting is that the zeitgeist seems to have brought them all out nearly simultaneously, with only a few prompted by the simple defensive reflex which seems to have gotten blogs started in the first place. But Pastor Dan's post is not defensive at all, and isn't really navel-gazing (though he tags it as such). He raises the question blogs need to be raising as the level of white noise (the sheer number of blogs) rises, and blogging as a "phenomenon" (I'm not sure that word shouldn't apply only to acts of nature) begins to settle into...well, non-phenomenal status.

What are blogs for?

I don't have an answer; but I have come to think blogs are not for this. They are not for ceaseless whining and endless re-assessment of news stories and opinion columns (even as I continue to do it, like a reflex or a bad habit; three in one day alone! But I can quit whenever I want to....) and when all else fails the constant defense of bloggers' rights to do it any way bloggers damn well please to do it. Well, they can be for that, but who really cares when they are? I've come to realize blogs are just like books, the only difference being they are free to everyone. They cost nothing to produce, nothing to sustain, and if you're really, really lucky, they'll even earn you some money. Not many of them, of course, do that; just like books. I've seen too many people in the bookstore spending their days hawking books no one really wants to read, or hawking vanity press publications they are sure will get great word of mouth and notice from Oprah, and they don't hang around the bookstores long enough (who does, besides the employees?) to notice how many books published by major houses end up remaindered (that's why Barnes & Noble always has shelves of "discount books" in their stores, and discount booksellers line tables with stacks of volumes). People publish stories and opinions and information every day, and other people expend a great deal of money to get those stories and opinions and information out to a waiting public who, it turns out, weren't waiting for that at all.

Blogs are no different, except for the money part.

So what are blogs for? And how much longer can they keep it up? And why bother, anyway?

Monks enter a community which has known acedie for millenia; literally, millenia. They know how to cope with it. The story is told of Mother Teresa going to Calcutta because of a mystical vision of Jesus directing her to serve the poor. Decades later a seeker came to her hoping for insight into achieving a mystical vision himself, and she told him she had not had another vision since the one that led her to Calcutta. Never again, in all her long life of devotion, would she have another vision. Acedie. It can last a lifetime.

And what do you do then?

"Eventually," I said once before, "it's not about what you feel, but what you do." But that's the question: what do blogs do? More importantly, what should blogs do? Lately, the conviction has been growing on me that Wittgenstein would have made a fine blogger. And what would he say about this?

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
And what would silence on a blog look like? And what might it produce?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan

"Kill them all; God will know his own."

Or not:

Scores of civilian deaths over the past months from heavy American and allied reliance on airstrikes to battle Taliban insurgents are threatening popular support for the Afghan government and creating severe strains within the NATO alliance.

Afghan, American and other foreign officials say they worry about the political toll the civilian deaths are exacting on President Hamid Karzai, who last week issued another harsh condemnation of the American and NATO tactics, and even of the entire international effort here.

What angers Afghans are not just the bombings, but also the raids of homes, the shootings of civilians in the streets and at checkpoints, and the failure to address those issues over the five years of war. Afghan patience is wearing dangerously thin, officials warn.

The civilian deaths are also exposing tensions between American commanders and commanders from other NATO countries, who have never fully agreed on the strategy to fight the war here, in a country where there are no clear battle lines between civilians and Taliban insurgents.
Hmmm...do you think treating civilians as "collateral damage" is not exactly a way to win hearts and minds? Note, also, the subtle way the third paragraph undermines the entire thesis of the opening paragraph.

Just what are we doing in Afghanistan? The excuses sound painfully familiar; and simply pathetic:

But American officials say that they have been forced to use air power more intensively as they have spread their reach throughout Afghanistan, raiding Taliban strongholds that had gone untouched for six years. One senior NATO official said that “without air, we’d need hundreds of thousands of troops” in the country. They also contend that the key to reducing casualties is training more Afghan Army soldiers and police officers.
But since we can't do that, the solution seems to be: dust off and nuke the whole place from space.

It's the only way to be sure.

Watch the Do-nut, not the hole...

It's interesting, first, that this even occurred in the second Republican candidates debate:

The most heated moment in the debate, which aired live on the conservative Fox News network, came when the former New York mayor and current GOP front-runner angrily refused to entertain a serious discussion about the role that actions taken by the United States prior to the September 11, 2OO1, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon may have played in inspiring or encouraging those attacks.

Giuliani led the crowd of contenders on attacking Texas Congressman Ron Paul (news, bio, voting record) after the anti-war Republican restated facts that are outlined in the report of the The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

Asked about his opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Paul repeated his oft-expressed concern that instead of making the U.S. safer, U.S. interventions in the Middle East over the years have stirred up anti-American sentiment. As he did in the previous Republican debate, the Texan suggested that former President Ronald Reagan's decisions to withdraw U.S. troops from the region in the 198Os were wiser than the moves by successive Republican and Democratic presidents to increase U.S. military involvement there.

Speaking of extremists who target the U.S, Paul said, "They attack us because we've been over there. We've been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We've been in the Middle East [for years]. I think (Ronald) Reagan was right. We don't understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics. Right now, we're building an embassy in Iraq that is bigger than the Vatican. We're building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting."

Paul argued that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda are "delighted that we're over there" in Iraq, pointing out that, "They have already... killed 3,400 of our men and I don't think it was necessary."
Interesting because of how it is handled in the mainstream press. In the NYT, we learn:

Mr. Giuliani, trying to move his campaign past a week in which he has tried to convince conservatives that his positions on social issues should not disqualify him from winning the Republican nomination, repeatedly described the election as a referendum on Republican policies against terrorism, as he reminded an audience of what he had done in New York after Sept. 11. At one point, one of Mr. Giuliani’s lesser-known opponents, Representative Ron Paul of Texas, gave what turned out to be a big platform to Mr. Giuliani when he appeared to suggest that the United States invited the attacks of Sept. 11 by having originally invaded Iraq.

“May I comment on that?” Mr. Giuliani said, looking grim. “That’s really an extraordinary statement. That’s an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of Sept. 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don’t think I’ve heard that before, and I’ve heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11.”
The New York Post, not surprisingly, calls Paul a "fringe candidate" and his comment "shocking." It doesn't bother to quote the whole statement, however, but everything Giuliani said, including his request for more time to respond, is reported. The Washington Post goes a bit further, nothing that:

Paul refused to give in, saying that terrorists react to the United States' actions in the world. "If we ignore that, we ignore that at our risk," Paul said.
NPR doesn't mention it at all.

Giuliani used that as an excuse to remind everyone he was the mayor of New York City on 9/11. Needless to say, Paul is not winning friends and influencing people in the GOP with that attitude; I doubt he'd win that many supporters in the nation as a whole with that position. Sadly, of course, it's the truth, as The Nation points out:

The 9-11 Commission report detailed how bin Laden had, in 1996, issued "his self-styled fatwa calling on Muslims to drive American soldiers out of Saudi Arabia" and identified that declaration and another in 1998 as part of "a long series" of statements objecting to U.S. military interventions in his native Saudi Arabia in particular and the Middle East in general. Statements from bin Laden and those associated with him prior to 9-11 consistently expressed anger with the U.S. military presence on the Arabian Peninsula, U.S. aggression against the Iraqi people and U.S. support of Israel.

The 9-11 Commission based its assessments on testimony from experts on terrorism and the Middle East. Asked about the motivations of the terrorists, FBI Special Agent James Fitzgerald told the commission: "I believe they feel a sense of outrage against the United States. They identify with the Palestinian problem, they identify with people who oppose repressive regimes, and I believe they tend to focus their anger on the United States."
And yes, it is all about the framing. To read the articles today, you'd think Giuliani trounced Paul's absurd "Blame America First" statement. But, again, as The Nation points out, that's not what Paul said:

It is true that reasonable people might disagree about the legitimacy of Muslim and Arab objections to U.S. military policies. And, certainly, the vast majority of Americans would object to any attempt to justify the attacks on this country, its citizen and its soldiers.

But that was not what Paul was doing. He was trying to make a case, based on what we know from past experience, for bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.

Giuliani's reaction to Paul's comments, especially the suggestion that they should be withdrawn, marked him as the candidate peddling "absurd explanations."
And viewers on FoxNews agreed:

You Decide GOP Primary Poll Results

— 29% Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney

— 25% Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas

— 19% Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani

Should We Stay or Should We Go?

Iraq is precisely the situation Reinhold Niebuhr could have had in mind when he argued that nations cannot afford to be moral agents.

Morally (and please note, not ethically; Aristotle gave us "ethics," and his understanding of the term was limited to the individual fulfilling their "telos" by achieving "Happiness"), we clearly have an obligation to fix what we broke in Iraq. However, "we" didn't break it; Bush & Co did, by their stupidity, their incompetence, their arrogance, their sheer inability to grasp what government is truly for. This is a consequence of democracy, of making "the people" sovereign, which in the end makes no one sovereign. And just as nature abhors a vacuum, so does governance; a vacuum of sovereignty is one that others will always rush to fill. The consequence can be, and has become, placing people into positions of power and authority in government who clearly have no understanding whatsoever as to what government actually does, and no consideration whatosever for the legitimacy of government. They understand government only as a means to power. As Molly Ivins said long ago, they don't want to govern, they want to rule.

And they've found out ruling is not all its cracked up to be, especially in a democracy, where the sovereign is not the government nor the elected officials, but the people. They may not always act the role of sovereign wisely or well, but they always have the last word. Our "leaders" have found out, once again, that rule over others is also just as complicated as it ever was, which is the primary reason our government was set up as representative, not as authoritarian. This is a secondary problem, one tied intimately to their inability to grasp the legitimacy of government, of any government: complete ignorance of history. The rule of kings and emperors just looks easy and inevitable to the ignorant who can only imagine history as we know it is history as it must be, and that it all leads inexorably to them, and their place on history's pinnacle.

Except history, of course, does not have a "pinnacle," any more than evolution is a process that leads to "success," any more than going to war means the only possible end is "victory" or "defeat." Sometimes it is simply disaster. The lesson of the "Good War" is the aberration; the lesson of Vietnam is the normative one.

So now we are in a quagmire in Iraq, a quagmire of our own making: should we stay, or should we go? As NPR reported this morning, the stark facts are the Iraqis have fewer jobs and less electricity, water, and food, than they did before the US invasion. Part of the problem is the ongoing violence, and so long as we stay, we prompt the violence caused by the objection to our presence. If we go, who is there to even pretend to prop up the powerless legislative body known as the Iraqi parliament? As Vali Nasr told Steve Inskeep yesterday, there is no mechanism in place for negotiations for peace between the factions currently dividing Iraq, and all talk of "benchmarks" is merely a fig-leaf for US domestic political consumption. Any expectation that an "oil law," or any law, coming from the Iraqis parliament will begin to quell the chaos in Iraq is, again, a complete ignorance as to what government is for, and how it actually functions to provide stability and prosperity. Nasr points out that our State Dept. should at least be trying to set up discussions between the Iraqis factions. Instead, we rely on more troops to brutalize the populace into submission. Even Hobbes was not as brutal in his argument for the power of the state. Even Rousseau was not as much of a Pollyanna as the fools running our government are. But, as Kevin Baker has pointed out, this was intentional, too:

...Bush has finally uncoupled the state from its heroic status. It is not a coincidence that modern nationalism dates from the advent of mass democracy—and mass citizen armies—that the American and French revolutions ushered in at the end of the eighteenth century. Bush's refusal to mobilize the nation for the war in Iraq has severed that immediate identification with our army's fortunes. Nor did it begin with the Bush Administration. The wartime tax cuts and the all-volunteer, wartime army are simply the latest manifestations of a trend that is now decades old and that has been promulgated through peace as well as war, by Democrats as well as Republicans. It cannot truly be a surprise that a society that has steadily dismantled or diminished the most basic access to health care, relief for the poor and the aged, and decent education; a society that has allowed the gap between its richest and poorest citizens to grow to unprecedented size; a society that has paid obeisance to the ideology of globalization to the point of giving away both its jobs and its debt to foreign nations, and which has just allowed one of its poorer cities to quietly drown, should choose to largely opt out of its own defense.
As Eliot asked at the beginning of the 20th century: "What live have you if you have not life together?" We have our answer, now.

Who could possibly believe in a plot to lose this war? No one cares that much about it. We have, instead, reached a crossroads where the overwhelming right-wing desire to dissolve much of the old social compact that held together the modern nation-state is irreconcilably at odds with any attempt to conduct such a grand, heroic experiment as implanting democracy in the Middle East. Without mass participation, Iraq cannot be passed off as an heroic endeavor, no matter how much Mr. Bush's rhetoric tries to make it one, and without a hero there can be no great betrayer, no skulking villain.
The dolchtsosslegende Baker writes about is precisely built on the idea of a public morality: of a noble hero, icon of all the society holds true and good, betrayed by evil, by the immoral, by the one who "weds himself to inhumanity." But if there is no public hearth to share, what care I for your humanity? So here we stand, unable to win, unable to lose. What do we do now? What choices are we left with?

The dolchstosslegende, ironically, leads directly to the dissolution of democracy, as even the moral principles of the individual must be sacrificed for the security of the State, and even Niebuhr didn't think the State's inability to be a moral agent in the world gave it carte blanche to do whatever was necessary to survive, to ask literally anything (which can also be to ask nothing) of its citizens. Now, nothing having been asked of us, what question do we face? The only one we have allowed ourselves: should we stay, or should we go? If we stay, more American soldiers will be slaughtered or kidnapped; they will certainly all remain in harm's way. If we leave, we wash our hands of the mess we have made, and go home to try to wash away the blood. Morally, to go or to stay are both indefensible. But governments are not moral agents, and cannot be. We cannot continue to ask our soldiers to go to Iraq and die for our error in invading in the first place. That is a deeply immoral position. We cannot simply remove our forces and wash the blood off our hands. That is a deeply immoral decision.

Damned if we do; damned if we don't. No wonder Rick Sanchez on CNN resorted to the dichotomy of "stop killing them, thereby they'll stop hating you and wanting to kill you, or B, kill them all." So long as we think our national actions are somehow also moral actions, what other options does our political discourse offer?

Jerry Falwell 1933-2007

I know nothing about Jerry Falwell the individual, and I certainly don't want to speak ill of the dead. Had he not relentlessly promoted himself as a public persona, I wouldn't know his name at all. But he was a very public figure as the pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church, and he made outrageous statements that, when he was called on them, he'd try to weasel out of:

On the broadcast of the Christian television program "The 700 Club," Falwell made the following statement:

"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"

Falwell, pastor of the 22,000-member Thomas Road Baptist Church, viewed the attacks as God's judgment on America for "throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked."

But in a phone call to CNN, Falwell said that only the hijackers and terrorists were responsible for the deadly attacks.

"I do believe, as a theologian, based upon many Scriptures and particularly Proverbs 14:23, which says 'living by God's principles promotes a nation to greatness, violating those principles brings a nation to shame,'" he said.
It all depended on what audience he thought he was speaking to. But that's what public figures do; and that's why I have more regard for the desert Fathers than for most publicly religious individuals, from Jerry Falwell to the Rev. Barry Lynn. It's very difficult to be a public persona and still be true to what I consider core Christian principles. Still, even while NPR this morning replayed Falwell's later version of his excuse for those comments about 9/11, they didn't point out his role in the "Clinton Chronicles:"

A conservative political organization with ties to the Rev. Jerry Falwell covertly paid more than $200,000 to individuals who made damaging allegations about President Clinton's personal conduct, Salon has learned.

The money was paid out over a three-year period, between l994 and l996, by Citizens for Honest Government, headquartered in Orange County, Calif. The payments are detailed in the organization's confidential accounting ledgers and other internal records, copies of which were obtained by Salon.

The payments and the allegations -- some of which were either fabricated or grossly exaggerated -- were part of a covert and sophisticated political propaganda effort to influence public opinion against President Clinton.

One of the allegations, that Clinton protected an Arkansas-based cocaine-smuggling operation when he was governor of that state, spread from local talk radio shows to propaganda videos to the mainstream media, and eventually prompted an exhaustive, multimillion-dollar investigation by the House Banking Committee in 1994. The investigation concluded Clinton had nothing to do with the drug operation.

In another instance, in March, 1995, the Arkansas represenative of Citizens for Honest Government signed a contract agreeing to pay two Arkansa state troopers who had made questionable allegations supporting the theory that the late White House Counsel Vincent Foster had been murdered. The troopers, Roger Perry and Larry Patteson, who had previously told news organizations about Clinton's alleged extramarital affairs, had provided information about Foster's death to Kenneth Starr, the Whitewater independent counsel.

The drug smuggling and Vincent Foster allegations were prominently featured in "The Clinton Chronicles," a video produced by Citizens for Honest Government and co-financed, publicized and distributed by Falwell. The notorious 1994 video also insinuated that Clinton's political adversaries often met untimely and suspicious deaths.
That's what I remember Jerry Falwell for: shamelessly promoting a package of evil lies for purely political purposes:

More than 150,000 copies of the video have been sold, according to Matrisciana. As many as double that number are reportedly in circulation.

The video's commercial success is due in large part to its promotion on Falwell's "Old Time Gospel Hour," as well as in an infomercial for the video, which viewers could order through Falwell's Liberty Alliance.

During the infomercial, Falwell interviews a silhouetted individual whom he identifies only as an "investigative reporter."

"Could you please tell me and the American people why you think that your life and the lives of the others on this video are in danger?" Falwell asks the man.

"Jerry, two weeks ago we had an interview with a man who was an insider," the mystery man replies. "His plane crashed and he was killed an hour before the interview. You may say this is just a coincidence, but there was another fellow that we were also going to interview, and he was killed in a plane crash. Jerry, are these coincidences? I don't think so."

Falwell reassured the man: "Be assured, we will be praying for your safety."
Falwell said in that NPR interview that they taught him in Baptist Bible College that religion and politics don't mix. They were right. And I will always remember Jerry Falwell as an object lesson in that truth.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

In anticipation of a return to a reasoned discourse

Re: Christopher Hitchens and God is Not Great:

For examples of this honest critical assessment of the meaning, as well as both the strengths and limitations, of religion in today's world, I would recommend my book with Gianni Vattimo and John Caputo entitled After the Death of God, except that one can find a similar sentiment marked in almost any other current work in philosophy of religion.
And:

Hitchens seems to have done none of the reading on religion that might have broadened his thinking--no Wittgenstein, no Rudolf Otto, none of the phenomenologists who help explain why thoughtful, even intellectual people may be religious. I expected better from Hitchens, and I expect better from the rest of us.
On the other hand, what fun is reason when blogs make it possible for anonymice to become experts in matters where their opinions are untainted by any actual knowledge? Surely that is democracy inaction.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Where are the Mother's Days of Yesteryear?

*Be kind to your web-footed friends.
For a duck may be somebody's mother!
Be kind to your friends in the swamp!
Where the weather is very, very damp!
Now, you may think that this is the end...

WELL IT IS!



*Tune: Stars and Stripes Forever, 3rd movement, if you're wondering.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Ex-CBS Commentators Wanted

What does it say about the state of TV news when you have to go to a comedy show to have someone say what would be obvious to a well informed 10 year old?



And if you think he's exaggerating about Iran:

"With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we're sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike," said Cheney on a visit to the John C. Stennis aircraft carrier off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, a close U.S. ally.

"We'll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region," he said, speaking from a cavernous hangar bay. Stennis officials said 3,500 to 4,000 of the 5,000 personnel aboard were on hand.

Iran denies any intention to develop nuclear weapons but the United States and Israel have refused to rule out military action if diplomatic efforts to halt its civilian nuclear drive come to nothing. Iran also denies U.S. and British accusations that it is fuelling violence in Iraq,

"I want you to know that the American people do not support a policy of retreat. We want to complete the mission, get it done right, and return with honor," Cheney said, drawing cheers.
Great; just great.

"Mimsy were the Borogoves"

is one of the great science fiction/horror stories of the 1940's. I call it a "horror" story because of the way it ends, with every parent's worst nightmare: losing their children to a world the parents can't begin to comprehend. Oddly, that 1943 story captured a sense of rapid change which perfectly characterized my Baby Boomer childhood, but doesn't reflect quite the world my daughter will grow in to. I was an adult before I began listening to Duke Ellington and some of the music my father grew up with; my daughter already listens to the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and, as she says, she's probably the only person in her high school with Judy Collins on her iPod.

The story, by Lewis Padgett (Henry Kuttner and his wife, C.L. Moore) is my favorite Kuttner story, and the occassion of a movie based on it brought out a collection of his/their stories, which gives me a chance, finally, to have their stories in more than scattered anthologies. Until I saw the book, I vaguely worried that the movie was based on the story; now that I've seen the website, my worst fears are confirmed.

Padgett wrote a story typical of 1940's science fiction (and why it was a "Golden Era,") in which an inventor in a far and almost inhuman future (the differences are only hinted at throughout the story, heightening the "horror" affect) sends a box of toys back through time. Not for any particular purpose, but rather because the time machine he has created needs an object he can test. The randomly selected toys never return, so he tries again with more toys, then finally gives the whole thing up as a failure and thinks no more about it. A random act, in other words, with no malice or beneficence intended: the worst kind of horror of all, complete indifference.

Or rather, a complete inablity to imagine consequences. The first box arrives near Scotty, the 10 year old boy and protagonist of the story. He and his sister Emma soon start playing with the toys, and learning. Which would send a chill down the spine of any Boomer family who has raised children within the past two decades, what with all the "educational" toys and "developmentally appropriate" crib mobiles and such that came on the market (are they still around, or has that fad faded, too?).

This was the first story to make me realize children really are "different," that they are not "little adults," and that their minds are (conceivably, at least) open to alternate views of the universe (as if ours is the only one). Padgett leans heavily on this, pointing out that, for example, the Euclidean geometry we take for granted (pace Socrates) as a description of space is not necessarily the only system of description possible. The "non-Euclidean geometry" of the story is used as the "difference" between the parents and their children, a way of perceiving and thinking in a way meant to be complete inexplicable to those of us who think in Euclidean terms. Indeed, these toys teach the children to think in ways humans don't or, in the world of the story, haven't learned to yet. You can see how that could become a powerful metaphor for the "generation gap" of the '60's, or for the necessary differences between generations brought about by rapid technological change. You can see, in other words, where where the horror enters in. Think of grandparents perplexed by computers their grandchildren handle with ease. As the toys do what they are supposed to do, "teach" the children how to see the universe as the toys' designers have learned to, the children learn slowly but surely to leave their parents behind. By the end of the story, "all mimsy were the borogoves/And the mome raths outgrabe" stops being a snatch of nonsense verse, and becomes directions only a child, a properly trained child, can understand. And the story ends, as it must, in nightmare.

This could be, in other words, an absolutely visionary movie, a metaphor for our age, a revelation, of sorts (let's not get carried away here).

So what does the movie do, besides update the story from mid-20th century to early 21st century? Well, now the arrival of the box is not random and indifferent but, apparently, directed and intentional. And the change in the children is not frightening and ultimately horrific (for the parents; there is definitely a "childhood's end" in the original tale), but salvific. From the trailer, it looks like the two adorable kids, rather than terrifying their parents, end up saving the future.

Think Mulder and Scully as brother and sister but living an upper-middle class childhood and instead of alien conspiracies, technology helps us save us from ourselves and fix the future we haven't yet lived through and get to fix thanks to a time machine, a talking rabbit, and two appealing child actors.

Blecch.

All I can do is be grateful the movie gives me the book which gives me some Kuttner stories I didn't have otherwise.

ADDING: There is simply something infantile about taking a story with a very mature perspective on children and how "other" they actually are, and turning it into a story about how children will, essentially, save us from ourselves. The latter is the decayed and dessicated caricture of the navel-gazing 'Baby Boomer' generation, the generation which never really grew up and took responsibilty for its own actions. In that sense, the Bush Administration is a perfect metaphor for our times, and a movie that turns this kind of insightful story inside out to make it "warm and fuzzy" is also a perversely apt description of our pursuits. To wrap it all together with as many pop culture references as my poor brain will contain, last night Anderson Cooper ran a special: "What is Christianity? Where do you fit?" One brief (mercifully!) segment focussed on the "gospel of wealth" preachers like Joel Osteen. All three members of Cooper's panel (two conservative theologians, a Southern Baptist and Jim Wallis, and one American Baptist, a professor at Chicago Theologicaly Seminary) decried this kind of preaching as un-Biblical and completely at odds with the Gospel (thank goodness!). But the "Gospel of Wealth" is another metaphor for America, an America blissfully uaware that it is Omelas, resting very comfortably on the misery of the Third World, which we keep locked in a basement of neglect that we don't even pretend exists. It was not (quite) always thus, and stories like "All Mimsy were the Borogoves" is an artifact of a time when we were mature enough to face our fears of the future.

Now we wait expectantly, like small frightened children, for the future to rescue us from our inability to act. We drown in our self-interests, and look to our own children to save us from our selfishness. We turn stories of challenge inside out, the better to keep us from recognizing what we have done, and what we have not done.