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

Saturday, November 30, 2013

In Anticipation of St. Nicholas' Day



We cannot all be almoners, any more than we can all be saints.  But we need their example:

 "Being an almoner, it has to cost me something so that it can change me," he said. He contrasted such alms-giving with, say, the unnamed cardinal who once boasted about always giving two euros to a beggar on the street near the Vatican.

"I told him, 'Eminence, this isn't being an almoner. You might be able to sleep at night, but being an almoner has to cost you. Two euros is nothing for you. Take this poor person, bring him to your big apartment that has three bathrooms, let him take a shower -- and your bathroom will stink for three days -- and while he's showering make him a coffee and serve it to him, and maybe give him your sweater. This is being an almoner."



War on Christmas Update

Keeping the Prince of Peace in Xmas.

(speaking of which, the "war on Christmas" doesn't seem to be going that well.  As usual, Sarah Palin's timing is just a bit off.....)  

Zero Sum Game

Stand and deliver!


According to the news blaring in the other room yesterday morning, attendance was down at stores on Friday because stores were open on Thursday.

(The "reporter" was also reading off the price of items on sale at the store he was in.  Was it a commercial, or a news report?)

So, stores weren't as busy on Friday because they were open on Thursday?

Do I just not understand the genius of marketing?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013




This is not the original Broadway cast, which is the superior version.  Still, it's the thought that counts.

PRAISE AND HARVEST

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, from whom cometh every good and pefect gift, we call to remembrance thy loving-kindness and the tender mercies which have been ever of old, and with grateful hearts we would lift up to thee the voice of our thanksgiving,

For all the gifts which thou hast bestowed upon us; for the life thou hast given us, and the world in which we live,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the work we are enabled to do, and the truth we are permitted to learn; for whatever of good there has been in our past lives, and for all the hopes and aspirations which lead us on toward better things,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the order and constancy of nature; for the beauty and bounty of the world; for day and night, summer and winter, seed-time and harvest; for the varied gifts of loveliness and use which every season brings,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the comforts and gladness of life; for our homes and all our home-blessings; for our friends and all pure pleasure; for the love, sympathy, and good will of men,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the blessings of civilization, wise government and legislation; for education, and all the privileges we enjoy through literature, science, and art; for the help and counsel of those who are wiser and better than ourselves,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all true knowledge of thee and the world in which we live, and the life of truth and righteousness and divine communion to which thou hast called us; for prophets and apostles, and all earnest seekers after truth; for all lovers and helpers of mankind, and all godly and gifted men and women,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the gift of thy Son Jesus Christ, and all the helps and hopes which are ours as his disciples; for the presence and inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, for all the ministries of thy truth and grace,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For communion with thee, the Father of our spirits; for the light and peace that are gained through trust and obedience, and the darkness and disquietude which befall us when we disobey thy laws and follow our lower desires and selfish passions,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the desire and power to help others; for every opportunity of serving our generation according to thy will, and manifesting the grace of Christ to men,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the discipline of life; for the tasks and trials by which we are trained to patience, self-knowledge and self-conquest, and brought into closer sympathy with our suffering brethren; for troubles which have lifted us nearer to thee and drawn us into deeper fellowship with Jesus Christ,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the sacred and tender ties which bind us to the unseen world; for the faith which dispels the shadows of earth, and fills the saddest and the last moments of life with the light of an immortal hope.

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

God of all grace and love, we have praised thee with our lips; grant that we may praise thee also in consecrated and faithful lives. And may the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.

AMEN.

THANKSGIVING

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift, we call to remembrance they loving-kindness and they tender mercies which have ever been od old, and with grateful hearts we would lift up to the the voice of our thanksgiving.

For all the gifts which thou has bestowed upon us; for the life that thou hast given us, and the world in which we life,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the work we are enabled to do, and the truth we are permitted to learn; for whatever of good there has been in our past lives, and for all the hopes and aspirations which lead us on to better things,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the order and constancy of nature; for the beauty and bounty of the world; for day and night, summer and winter, seed-time and harvest; for the varied gifts of loveliness and use which every season brings,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the comforts and gladness of life; for our homes and all our home-blessings; for our friends and all pure pleasure; for the love, sympathy, and good will of men,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Eve 2013





A bit more of what-the-Pope-said to start your morning:


Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “disposable” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.
Remember tomorrow those who must work just to keep their jobs so Wal-Mart and Target and many other stores can earn another $.  "The excluded are not the 'exploited' but the outcast, the 'leftovers.'"

I would point out, not in disagreement with the Holy Father, that those who "defend trickle-down theories" do so from one of two motives:  to fool the gullible, or because they are themselves gullible.  Some naively trust in the goodness of "those wielding economic power and in the sacralizing workings of the prevailing economic system."  The others know better, know who it is who butters their bread.

Both are wrong.

And "as though all this were someone else's responsibility and not our own"?  Am I my brother's and my sister's keeper?  If am not, is it because the "culture of prosperity" has deadened me, too?  Are the lives of others mere spectacle?

May your Thanksgiving reflect the comforts of family and home and friends and good people.  Maybe it be a sacralizing work from the heart and from the source of all blessings.  May it serve you well, and you serve it well in return.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Speaking of what he said...

 No man is a portrait

As usual, it's a good day to quote people, starting with the Pope:


"How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?"

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee. Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbours. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another's danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.--John Donne

"As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world's problems or, for that matter, to any problems."--Pope Francis I

Because no person is merely spirit, either. And that bit about being your brother's keeper:

"A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders. I urge them to face this challenge with determination and an eye to the future, while not ignoring, of course, the specifics of each case. Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor."

We really need to spend more time thinking about that.

Handicapping the race....


It's not easy bein' green....


I made the mistake of first reading Charlie Pierce on this (well, not first first; I'd read a bit earlier about these appeals, so I wasn't surprised or dismayed the Supremes had taken them).  Better, as always, to go to Scotusblog and find out what's really going on.  Charlie tends to swing before the pitch is even thrown.


First:  there are three cases involved here:  Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius; Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.; and Autocam Corp. v. Sebelius.

Conestoga involved a RFRA claim and a 1st Amendment (free exercise) claim.  The appellate court rejected both claims:


General business corporations do not, separate and apart from the actions or belief systems of their individual owners or employees, exercise religion. They do not pray, worship, observe sacraments or take other religiously-motivated actions separate and apart from the intention and direction of their individual actors.
....
Our conclusion that a for-profit, secular corporation cannot assert a claim under the Free Exercise Clause necessitates the conclusion that a for-profit, secular corporation cannot engage in the exercise of religion. Since Conestoga cannot exercise religion, it cannot assert a RFRA claim. We thus need not decide whether such a corporation is a "person" under the RFRA. 
The Hobby Lobby case is appealed by the government.   It also presents a RFRA claim on behalf of the corporation and two of the corporate owners (as in the Conestoga case, where individuals and the corporation both asserted a RFRA claim.  In Conestoga the court specifically held that the individuals had no RFRA claim through their ownership of the corporation).  The holding of the appellate court is really on the preliminary injunction which the district court denied; as a holding it is, as you will see, something of a mess:

As to jurisdictional matters, the court unanimously holds that Hobby Lobby and Mardel have Article III standing to sue and that the Anti-Injunction Act does not apply to this case. Three judges (Kelly, Tymkovich, and Gorsuch, JJ.) would also find that the Anti-Injunction Act is not jurisdictional and the government has forfeited reliance on this statute. These three judges would also hold that the Greens have standing to bring RFRA and Free Exercise claims and that a preliminary injunction should be granted on their RFRA claim. A fourth judge (Matheson, J.) would hold that the Greens have standing and would remand for further consideration of their request for a preliminary injunction on their RFRA claim.

Concerning the merits, a majority of five judges (Kelly, Hartz, Tymkovich, Gorsuch, and Bacharach, JJ.) holds that the district court erred in concluding Hobby Lobby and Mardel had not demonstrated a likelihood of success on their RFRA claim. Three judges (Briscoe, C.J., and Lucero and Matheson, JJ.) disagree and would affirm the district court on this question.

A majority of five judges (Kelly, Hartz, Tymkovich, Gorsuch, and Bacharach, JJ.) further holds that Hobby Lobby and Mardel satisfy the irreparable harm prong of the preliminary injunction standard. A four-judge plurality (Kelly, Hartz, Tymkovich, Gorsuch, JJ.) would resolve the other two preliminary injunction factors (balance of equities and public interest) in Hobby Lobby and Mardel's favor and remand with instructions to enter a preliminary injunction, but the court lacks a majority to do so. Instead, the court remands to the district court for further evaluation of the two remaining preliminary injunction factors.[fn1]

One judge (Matheson, J.) reaches the merits of the plaintiffs' constitutional claim under the Free Exercise Clause, concluding that it does not entitle the plaintiffs to preliminary injunctive relief.[fn2]
Accordingly, for the reasons set forth below and exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1), we reverse the district court's denial of the plaintiffs' motion for a [*1122] preliminary injunction and remand with instructions [**4] that the district court address the remaining two preliminary injunction factors and then assess whether to grant or deny the plaintiffs' motion. 

What that all means is no majority of judges ruled on the substantive law of the case, although a plurality ruled that the injunction should be reviewed on different grounds than the trial court used.  It isn't, in other words, a holding that Hobby Lobby, or its owners, can use RFRA in this case, although the court wants to go that way.

Autocam also involves RFRA claims, for both the corporation and the individual owners.  The court remanded on the issue of individual RFRA claims through the corporation, directing the lower court to dismiss the individual claims.  The Court also rejects the claim that a corporation is a "person" under RFRA.

The connections between these cases is obvious, and most of them cite the others in their rulings.  The Hobby Lobby case stands as the outlier, where the Court indicates it is almost at a majority to give Hobby Lobby RFRA if not 1st Amendment protection.  Which explains why the government appealed the case.

How will the Supremes rule on this?  I dunno.  It could be the Court will, once again, in the name of judicial restraint, cast all restraint to the winds and rule however the hell a majority wants to.  They've pretty much been doing that since Bush v. Gore, and they've pegged the accelerator to the floor more recently, racing straight towards the cliff of stare decisis as if they were Thelma and Louise.  I recognize this.  I still think they had no business deciding Bush v. Gore, especially in a per curiam opinion (that was basically a summary "Because we can, that's why!" piece of reasoning) , and I've lost all confidence the Court will act as it should:  bound by precedent and the legal arguments set out in two of these three opinions (I don't even want to know how the plurality in Hobby Lobby thinks a corporation can have religious protections). 

But there is some conflict between the circuits revealed here:  two say RFRA (and the 1st Amendment, in Conestoga) have no application here; one  strongly implies that it certainly does.  The Court could have accepted these appeals so it could clearly settle the issues across three circuits where it is a live controversy (and thus direct the other circuits accordingly).

Or Pierce could be right, and they are (even the non-Catholics) ultramontane lunatics who want to purify our souls, corporate and individual, and protect our precious money from those dirty, dirty lady parts and how pregnant they can (or cannot) get with them.

But I kinda doubt it; at least until I hear what they say at oral argument.

Happy Holidays 2013! Buy now! Start your war on happiness early!

Pretty much how the season feels, right down to the cold....

Recovering from holiday preparations (nobody warned us about this when we were kids!), and it's time to clean out the closet to make room for newer stuff.  That's below.  This has been lingering for some time, and soon it will start festering.

Before that, noted in passing that this is actually pretty good for Amanda Marcotte.  This, on the other hand, is just plain stupid (and I think HuffPo buried their "exclusive" when they figured that out).  Why?  Seminaries don't ordain pastors; don't even declare 'em fit for ministry.  That's up to the churches.  Seminaries educate for ministry; but they don't pass on your qualifications.  Might as well blame law schools for turning out crooked lawyers (law schools don't license lawyers, either; the states do that).  And this is so good, I'd just like to quote the whole thing:

That GOP interest in “dependency” is code for some other interest becomes most clear when one considers what the term must actually mean. After all, dependency on the state for one’s allotment of wealth is hardly limited to poor people. Through the use of courts and police to see to the enforcement of contracts, trespassing laws and all other legal measures pertaining to property, the government determines that a person’s wealth will remain under their control. While it’s true that a person fully reliant upon, say, SNAP (the recently reduced Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program also known as food stamps) would be in dire straits if the government suddenly withdrew the legal structures that undergird and fund the program, so too would any wealthy person if the government suddenly refused to authorize police to involve themselves in the protection of private property. It’s legal structuring all the way down, in other words, when it comes to securing all our wealth; this is not limited to poor people using assistance programs.

I could do a book off of that paragraph alone.   And this one could set off a number of sermons, especially around "stewardship" Sundays:

For the GOP, the answer is simple: Volunteerism is superior to state assistance programs because it categorically prevents us from being held accountable as a culture for the suffering of our poor. Private giving is a wonderful thing to do, but by its very nature it can be neither guaranteed nor enforced. Republicans are comfortable with this situation, because it ensures that the wealthy will never be pressured in any serious sense to care for the needs of poor people. Supporting a volunteerist approach to poverty relief brings all the praise and warm fuzzy feelings of any crusade against poverty without any of the teeth: if, after the stump speech ends, a candidate decides to give nothing, nobody can do anything about it. The poor remain poor, needs remain unmet, and, perversely, the world is better in the GOP mind-set, because the poor are no longer “dependent” upon government.
Because church is always and forever, especially in America, a volunteer association.  You don't even have to pay, if you don't want to....

As I say, the lumber room needs clearing; and it's not just the stuff already written down.  Which brings me around to the post that's been lingering for weeks, looking for a picture and a title.  It starts with a discovery, the kind I may be exploiting more and more in the future:  digging through my own archives.

I found this interesting comment here; left who knows when, since the post is 9 years old but the comment is on Blogger, which I didn't start using for comments until a few years ago:

i find it rather strange how in the same words of admittance to a pagan day the desire for observance of that day - i personally think that people choose to incorporate or change things even within religion to suit their environment, to do what makes them feel most comfortable.

as the 25th of december is / was a day of remembrance for the birthday / rebirth of the sun god, in the same way as easter has nothing to do with Jesus, the name even being derived from a goddess, the adoption of the pagan festivities and therefore the sanctification of them to be called by another name i consider to be pure and unadulterated hypocrisy. even if you call a spade a fork, no matter who you fool into accepting it as a fork, a spade is what it remains.

the concept of family may well have developed from the books quoted, yet that still deviates from the reasons for it being named Christmas day and further continues to pull the wool over peoples eyes so to speak, although i think that in essence most people prefer it that way - to see only what they desire to see.

to even consider that paganism and christianity can reconcile in some way is in itself an anomaly. it is the need for a sense of belonging that drives people to religion and that also drives them to incorporate the things that make them feel comfortable into that as well. i can understand that and accept that, but i think it should be done with reality and facts in mind, instead of under a blanket of hypocrisy.
The basic assumption here is holiness, actually:  one thing is one thing, another another, and the two should not be intermixed.  If they are, impurity results and it is hypocrisy not to recognize it.  It's not far enough removed from the argument of the Puritans to say the argument is inherently atheistic, so I make no further assumptions about its origin.  Still, this is not the critical point the commenter thinks it is:

 even if you call a spade a fork, no matter who you fool into accepting it as a fork, a spade is what it remains.
It's a Platonic argument, not a modern one, and it underscores the fundamental assumption of the argument that things have an essence, and intermixing essences is moving away from the original Form into debasement.  "Fork," in modern philosophical circles (at least post-Hume), is a word; not a designation of essence.  I can call a "fork" a "spade," or any other term I choose, because terms change over time.  There are different words for items in English.  "Pizzle" was used in Shakespeare's day, but we don't use it today.  The object it identifies is the same, but the words are sharply different.  Does the thing identified remain the same despite the change in terminology?  Then why doesn't a fork, if I choose to call it a spade now?

to even consider that paganism and christianity can reconcile in some way is in itself an anomaly.
 Why?  Because paganism and Christianity are so divorced from each other?  On what grounds?  Again, the argument strikes me as more Puritan than atheistic.  Augustine folded in the Platonism (and neo-Platonism) of is day; Aquinas wed our understanding of Christian doctrine to the pagan teachings of Aristotle.  Even the Puritans can't expunge those roots.

 If one is going to incorporate into one's religion that which makes one comfortable, does that comfort come from God, or from the world?  Is God to be Creator only of the world, but otherwise as apart from the world as possible, and humanity to pursue the same degree of separation? Or are we allowed to mingle at least the things Jesus mingled, like food, drink, and people?  The real scandal of Paul's churches was not the command to eat and drink the body of Christ; it was generations and sexes and classes all joining at one table for a common meal.  The real scandal of Jesus was refusing to set God apart from the world, but insisting God was in the beggars and the prostitutes, the halt and the lame, the blind and the deaf, the dirty as well as the clean.  Who are you to call unclean what God has declared clean?, Peter is asked.  Although, to be fair, Peter was never really comfortable with including Gentiles or Gentile food.

But to end more or less where we began:

 although i think that in essence most people prefer it that way - to see only what they desire to see.
The sad truth is, the dirty little secret if you will, is that in the end, we can only see what we desire to see.

How we shape our desires, then, is the real issue.  Apropos of that, I came across this line (not directly a quote) from Noam Chomsky, one that betrays a great deal of (dare I say spiritual?) wisdom:

He views rock music, he says at one point, with the same polite puzzlement as he views religion. Both are clearly important to many people and form the basis for meaningful community. He doesn’t begrudge anyone their pleasures, but he simply doesn’t get it. (Chomsky has objected on epistemological grounds to being labeled an atheist: Until you can explain exactly what it is he’s not supposed to believe in, he says, the term doesn’t fit.)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tötenfest 2013


In the German E&R church calendar, this prayer would probably come today, the Last Sunday of Pentecost, the day of the observance of the Tötenfest.  The oldest members of my last church remembered something about the service, involving lighting candles and reciting the names of those who had died in the past year.  If there was a proper service in the Evanglical book of worship that church had, I couldn't decipher it from the German. So I lit candles, read names, and we prayed:
Almighty and everlasting God, before whom stand the spirits of the living and the dead; Light of lights, Fountain of wisdom and goodness, who livest in all pure and humble and gracious souls.

For all who witnessed a good confession for thy glory and the welfare of the world; for patriarchs, prophets, and apostles; for the wise of every land and nation, and all teachers of mankind,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For the martyrs of our holy faith, the faithful witnesses of Christ of whome the world was not worthy, and for all who have resisted falsehood and wrong unto suffering or death,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For all who have labored and suffered for freedom, good government, just laws, and they sanctity of the home; and for all who have given their lives for their country,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For all who have sought to bless men by their service and life, and to lighten the dark places of the earth,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For those who have been tender and true and brave in all times and places, and for all who have been one with thee in the communion of Christ's spirit and in the strength of his love,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For the dear friends and kindred, ministering in the spiritual world, whose faces we see no more, but whose love is with us for ever,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For the teachers and companions of our childhood and youth, and for the members of our household of faith who worship thee in heaven,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For the grace which was given to all these, and for the trust and hope in which they lived and died,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

And that we may hold them in continual remembrance, that the sanctity of their wisdom and goodness may rest upon our earthly days, and that we may prepare ourselves to follow them in their upward way,

WE BESEECH THEE TO HEAR US, O GOD.

That we may ever think of them as with thee, and be sure that where they are, there we may be also,

WE BESEECH THEE TO HEAR US, O GOD.

That we may have a hope beyond this world for all the children, even for wanderers who must be sought and brought home; that we may be comforted and sustained by the promise of a time when none shall be a stranger and an exile from thy kingdom and household;

WE BESEECH THEE TO HEAR US, O GOD.

In the communion of the Holy Spirit, with the faithful and the saints in heaven, with the redeemed in all ages, with our beloved who dwell in thy presence and peace, we, who still serve and suffer on earth, unite in ascribing:

THANKSGIVING, GLORY, HONOR, AND POWER UNTO THEE, O LORD OUR GOD.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,

AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING, IS NOW, AND EVER SHALL BE, WORLD WITHOUT END. AMEN.

I have reason to remember a friend this year; someone who truly died too young, because I was older than her when she was born.  For your friends and families, too,  that we may have a hope beyond this world for all the children, even for wanderers who must be sought and brought home; that we may be comforted and sustained by the promise of a time when none shall be a stranger and an exile from God's kingdom and household.

Amen.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

50 Years On



I'm pushing the season a bit, which should be against my rules; but it's my favorite picture of the famous blue box, and it will be my wallpaper again just after Thanksgiving (the wall paper on my phone is the time vortex, if that tells you anything.  One of my ringtones is the theme song, the other the sound of Tardis landing/taking off, if that tells you anything else).

My first doctor was Tom Baker.  I had a Tom Baker scarf a friend in seminary gave me; and then I lost it in seminary.  Something poetically right about that (if still a bit sad).  I have a TARDIS on my desk, plugged into my computer (further affiant sayeth not).  I've been relishing the "Takeover" of BBC America all week, luxuriating in watching as much Dr. Who as I want without having to buy DVD's (I still haven't got the hang of that, watching TV shows on DVD.  Not sure why.)

Anyway, it's the 50th anniversary today.  Not quite a continuous one; then again, the church I came here to serve celebrated its 150th year when I arrived, although it actually closed its doors for about a decade somewhere in there, and made it's own reboot.  Once, anyway.

It's still my favorite show because everything happens in Britain (instead of America!), and the Doctor always wins by being clever, not by having the most muscles or the best strategy or the newest tech.  And at the same time he's sad, blood-drenched, the last of his people, a father with no living children, a husband with no living wives, an eternal child because he is too old to be elderly.

All I'm saying is, I know where I'll be at 1:50 p.m. CST today, and it won't be around here.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Dallas: November 22, 1963

Two versions, because neither is complete.  The first recalls the emotional impact of the news.  I would have been about Sally Draper's age that year.  So this captures the first part of the story:



I would rather show the rest without the commentary, but this will have to do:




So this has to be only a reference point.  But this episode of "Mad Men" captured the emotional impact of this day 50 years ago better than anything else I know of. My own memory is simple: I walked in the door from school, ignorant of the world beyond my third-grade concerns. My mother was standing at the ironing board with the black and white TV on (I still remember it was a black and white image) and she was upset. Was she crying? I don't remember clearly, but somehow I think she was. I asked her what was wrong, figuring it had to be something family-related. "The President's been shot," she said. I think she said. I remember she said. I don't know, really.

I've always been amazed at people who could write memoirs and remember exactly what people said 50 years ago.  I can't do it.  But I remember that's how I learned.

I also remember watching live TV when Jack Ruby killed Lee Harvey Oswald in police custody.   Maybe I didn't see that live.  Maybe I just saw it so many times later, I thought I saw it live.  I must have, because it seems now all we did was watch TV, as if watching would explain things to us.  In the "Mad Men" episode I wish I could post for you is the scene where the kids (I was about their age at the time) are watching TV when the impossible happens, and a man is shot to death in police custody in front of TV cameras.

That's when I knew the world was not the place I thought it was.

Some of us have our memories of this; some of us don't.  It really is one of those events you had to experience to understand.  50 years later, I still want to weep like a child when I watch the newscasts, hear the reports again, some of which I never heard originally.

Brother, can you spare some ignorance?

Giving this man shoes would just enable his poverty.

"The economic machinery that entrenches poverty" does not run without fuel; and is not a feature of natural law or the physical nature of the universe.  It is maintained and operated by human beings:

Donning a fake beard, Stossel sat on a New York City sidewalk with a cardboard sign asking people for help. “I just begged for an hour but I did well,” he said. “If I did this for an eight-hour day I would’ve made 90 bucks. Twenty-three thou for a year. Tax-free.”
Elizabeth Hasselbeck, who recently purchased a $4 million home in Greenwich, gasped in horror at the prospect of poor people earning $23,000 a year. Some people asking for money “are actually scammers,” Hasselbeck warned, seemingly unaware of the irony that the only panhandling “scammer” Fox News identified was Stossel.

Because he was able to successfully convince good-hearted pedestrians that he was poor, Stossel went on to chastise people who gave the homeless money because, in his view, “most are not…for real.”

He implored viewers to stop giving money to poor people because if you do, “you’re an enabler.”
Funny thing:  even Mediaite knew Stossel was full of crap: 

Those slaps must have really hurt, though, because now, Stossel attacks people who don’t hit back, mainly because they don’t exist. According to Stossel’s report,  the only fake homeless person he turned up was John Stossel, and what’s he gonna do, hit himself?

I used to write long discourses on the perception of poverty and the "proper limits" of charity.  Now I prefer to quote C.S. Lewis, beloved of many conservative Christians for The Screwtape Letters, but not necessarily for this:

"Another things that annoys me is when people say, "Why did you give that man money? He'll probably go and drink it." My reply is, "But if I kept it, I should have probably drunk it."
Now I bring this up because to qualify for Medicaid in Texas, a single parent with three children cannot earn more than $3,737 annually.

Let that sink in for a moment.  If you are a single parent with three children and your annual income is over $311 per month, you don't qualify for Medicaid.  Period.  End of discussion.

Go to an emergency room and face the bill collectors.  And even then they'll just turn you out ASAP.

Ted Cruz was terribly upset that a CNN reporter asked him what could be done about healthcare in America.  Ted Cruz said lots of people in Texas are losing their (really really REALLY BAD!) health insurance policies because of the ACA, and that was a scandal.  He said 5 million people (nationwide) have lost their policies.  Funny thing:  1,046,430 Texans will remain uninsured because Gov. Perry refused the expanded Medicaid coverage.  But since none of those people are likely to have accounts with Goldman Sachs, or haven't lost their crappy health insurance, their problems don't really matter.

So, 1/5th of the number of people who will have to get new and better policies thanks to the ACA, instead live in Texas and will have no relief at all.

And yet Rick Perry thinks, rather like John Stossel, that helping those people makes things worse:


He bravely calls this "a philosophical position."  Funny, I never thought of evil, heartless, and uncaring as a philosophical position.

Disgusting?   It is beyond disgusting.  There are not words strong enough for me to express my rage against Rick Perry and Ted Cruz and the people who elect them; people who are in fact a tiny minority of the voting population of Texas; but then that means I have to be angry with the people who don't vote, and I couldn't be sure they wouldn't vote with the voting majority anyway.   And then John Stossel says that if you don't leave the poor to the tender mercies of the marketplace, you enable their poverty; as if the marketplace that made Stossel rich isn't the very market place that created the poverty which allows Stossel to be rich; which allows Rick Perry, despite a life time in Texas government, to leave the Governor's office a rich man; which keeps Ted Cruz rich and comfortable while he insists millions in Texas go without even basic medical care.

Poverty is not a natural force, like the weather; it is entirely human-made; and it is made to benefit a few at the expense of the many.

Am I my brother's keeper?  Yes.  And I am doubly-damned in that responsibility, if my efforts keep my brother in poverty.

On what condition does goodness exist beyond all calculation? On the condition that goodness forget itself, that the movement be a movement of the gift that renounces itself, hence a movement of infinite love. Only infinite love can renounce itself and, in order to become finite, become incarnated in order to love the other, to love the other as a finite other. This gift of infinite love comes from someone and is addressed to someone; responsibility demands irreplaceable singularity.
Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, tr. David Wills (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), pp. 50-51.

Who's Crazee! Now?

Well, that's what you get for meddling with primal forces!


NYTimes:

President Obama will get a short-term lift for his nominees, judicial and otherwise, but over the immediate horizon, the strong-arm move by Senate Democrats on Thursday to limit filibusters could usher in an era of rank partisan warfare beyond even what Americans have seen in the past five years.

Ultimately, a small group of centrists — Republicans and Democrats — could find the muscle to hold the Senate at bay until bipartisan solutions can be found. But for the foreseeable future, Republicans, wounded and eager to show they have not been stripped of all power, are far more likely to unify against the Democrats who humiliated them in such dramatic fashion.
Because it's all Obama's fault, somehow, that Republicans are crazee!  And it's the Democrats that pushed the Republicans into being crazee!  Because everybody knows the only way to deal with crazee! is to let it have its way, or it will turn truly CRAZEE!!!

And you don't want that.  Really.  It ain't worth even the catharsis you might feel (but that feeling is, of course, an illusion):

The decision to press the button on the so-called nuclear option was no doubt cathartic for a Democratic majority driven to distraction by Republican obstructionism. President Obama had predicted his re-election would break the partisan fever gripping Washington, especially since the Tea Party movement swept Republicans to control of the House. It did not.
...
But the fever is hardly gone. The rule change lowered to a simple 51-vote majority the threshold to clear procedural hurdles on the way to the confirmation of judges and executive nominees. But it did nothing to streamline the gantlet that presidential nominees run. Republicans may not be able to muster the votes to block Democrats on procedure, but they can force every nomination into days of debate between every procedural vote in the Senate book — of which there will be many.
Really would have been better to just let the CRAZEE! have their way because while they were the minority and our system rests on the rule of the majority and elections matter and all that, still, did I mention these people are CRAZEEE!!!!!

And that Obama did it to 'em?  I'm not saying it's because Obama is guilty of Presidenting While Black, because that would imply that the Crazee are also racists, and that inference is never permitted.  But let's face it, the GOP wouldn't be so full of Crazee if President Obama and the Democrats didn't insist on acting like they ran the Senate and held the White House.

 Republican senators who were willing to team with Democrats on legislation like an immigration overhaul, farm policy and a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act will probably think twice in the future.

See?  They'll be sorry now.  Especially since all of that legislation has passed the House, and is just waiting for the Senate to pass it on to Obama for his signature.  Oh, wait, they aren't.  They aren't even working a full two weeks between now and January 1.  The House isn't going to get anything done, if John Boehner can help it.

Well, that's Obama's fault, too.

And now the Senate just made it worse.  Because:

 Absent Senate filibusters, the anti-lynching bills of 1922, 1935, and 1938 would have become law, bringing federal force to bear against racist violence and possibly allowing the civil-rights movement to achieve its victories decades earlier; direct election of the President would have replaced the electoral college in time for the 1972 election; and nearly all Americans would now be covered by a program of national health insurance.

Who's CRAZEEE!!! now?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The low expectations of soft bigotry

Can't we all just get along?


I think we need a Loving decision on the issue of same-sex marriage.


I'm also quite sure we're not going to get one.

In 1967 some states recognized "mixed-race" marriages, and some did not.  Of those that did not some, like Virginia, actually criminalized such marriages (I haven't done the research; I don't know if that was true for every state that didn't recognize "miscegenation," but it was certainly the reason for the Lovings filing suit.)  The Supreme Court swept aside all such statues as an affront to civilization.  Well, the language wasn't that strong, but by now it might as well have been.  Who among us would return to the days when "miscegenation" was a common term, and "Mixed-race marriages" carried a powerful social stigma, as well as the risk of imprisonment if you crossed the wrong state lines?  Mixed-race marriages did not erupt across the country immediately after Loving was decided, but they became possible immediately after Loving was decided.  Miscegenation even stopped being a common term for such marriages.

Now, nobody even blinks at them.

That another Loving decision is not in the offing for same-sex marriage is partly due to the makeup of the current Supreme Court.  The recent rejection of the appeal of Planned Parenthood in the case of the Texas law effectively banning abortion clinics reveals the 5-4 decision that would likely be handed down if the Court ever had to come face to face with deciding whether same-sex marriage was as constitutionally protected as mixed-race marriage.  But there are other reasons, as well.

In Texas, for example, same-sex marriage is not possible simply because it is not recognized as legal under state law.  Mind you, it's very easy to be married under Texas law:  simply tell people that someone is your spouse and you've pretty much established a common law marriage (although it's by statute, not common law), and created a community property estate.  However, if you are both of the same gender, that marital estate is a nullity.  It simply never exists.  You won't be arrested for trying; you'll simply be ignored.

There was a reason states that didn't want blacks and whites to marry made such marriages criminal.  How else do you control heterosexual marriage, except by age?  Minors still need consent to marry under most state laws.  Without consent, they can't get a marriage license, and without removing their disabilities of minority, they can't move together into a dwelling not owned or leased by an adult and so establish even the semblance of a common law marriage.  Besides, if they claim to be married under that statue, the age limits in other statues simply nullify their claims.  Adults who marry more than one person at a time are bigamists, and subject in most states to criminal sanctions.  Again, we have to be able to declare some marriages legal, and some illegal, among heterosexual couples, in order to have even reasonable controls on marriage.  But among same-sex couples?  If you simply don't allow it, what harm have you done?  Without the outrage of imprisonment simply for being married, where is the impetus to make a grand Constitutional gesture on this issue?

A lot of harm is done, of course, by denying same-sex marriages; but not necessarily in the eyes of the law.  Or rather, it isn't quite the same harm as putting people in jail.  I'm not sure Antonin Scalia and the 5 member majority of the Supreme Court would be all that upset with Virginia's miscegenation statute today, if that case came before the Court for the first time (or even again, given their relationship to stare decisis), and if they were, the problem would probably be the jail time, not the ban on such weddings.  Criminalizing behavior is a different matter than simply refusing to make legal a relationship between two persons.  You can't be deprived of your liberty for getting married in Illinois and then moving to Texas.  If it is a same-sex marriage you bring,Texas won't arrest you; it just won't recognize your marriage.

Which is why we have the peculiar situation in Oklahoma, which has streaked ahead of Texas to "Most Neanderthal Position on Same-Sex Marriage, and Now Do You Remember The Tulsa Race Riots?"  I don't mention the race riots lightly. I'd really thought by now I'd seen the end of such blatant governmentally backed discrimination against persons just because of who they are.  The Oklahoma argument is that Oklahoma law and its state constitution don't recognize gay marriage.  Well, the same was true when the Loving decision was handed down.  Oklahoma's statute, declared unconstitutional by that decision, specifically barred "persons of African descent" from marrying persons of "non-African descent," which included marriages of blacks to Native Americans.  Granted, the directive of the Secretary of Defense is not a Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of a law, but the argument of Loving is instructive here:

Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not to marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.
Discrimination based on sexual orientation is no less invidious than racial discrimination, especially in the context of legal marriage.  Oklahoma really doesn't have a defensible legal ground to stand on, at least not one that would stand up to Constitutional analysis.  Oklahoma would have made the same argument, pre-Loving, for mixed-race marriages:  what is legal in one state, won't be legal in Oklahoma, so such a marriage in Oklahoma would arrest you for your marriage (it was a felony prior to the Loving decision).  What's the difference now?  Oklahoma won't arrest you; that's all.  Which is to say I don't see why the Loving  argument doesn't apply to same-sex marriages as well; but it doesn't because the current Supreme Court is not likely to make that due process argument again. 

There's a problem with Oklahoma or Texas or many other states not recognizing same-sex marriages.  But there's something obscene about throwing such a tantrum that you deny benefits to everybody because you'd have to give benefits to people you don't like because of who they are.

I'm really trying to see the difference between that attitude, and the attitude that said mixed-race marriages were criminal.  And the only distinction I can come up with is that same-sex marriages aren't criminal.

That's not nearly enough.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Nobody should look


This wouldn't happen if that website had just worked!

Looking back on it, I buried the lede:

In my second year of medical school, I took a small-group course with a famously terrifying surgeon. He told us his moral motto: “A physician never takes away hope.”

I never figured out how that motto could guide doctors through a system where our patients are dying from treatable diseases. Part of my job, it seems, is precisely that: to sit down with patients and, as gently as possible, take away hope.

Consider Vanessa and Jimmy. They met in New Orleans when she was 18. She was working cleaning motels, and he took her on a tour of the tugboat he was captain of. Vanessa says they came to St. Vincent’s because the shipyard Jimmy worked for opted out of providing insurance even for full-time employees like him. They looked for insurance on the open market, but couldn’t afford it.
...
When Jimmy’s labs showed a dangerously high white blood cell count, we sent him to the ER. It was pneumonia, and there was a huge tumor underneath. Current guidelines would recommend screening Jimmy for this kind of cancer every year, but we have neither the equipment nor the funds to offer screening. So it got caught late.

After Jimmy was diagnosed, I helped Vanessa fill out the paperwork to request financial assistance for cancer care....

Vanessa called from a hospital in Houston in early November, distraught, asking me to help her decide whether or not to let the doctors turn Jimmy’s breathing machine off. She was afraid she wouldn’t be able to live with herself, no matter which she chose. I gave her the advice I’d give a friend: that I trusted her love for her husband and her ability to decide from a place of love. Jimmy died late that night.

Vanessa’s request for UTMB funding wasn’t approved. She has received a $17,000 bill from UTMB for the visit when Jimmy went through the ER, and a $327,000 preliminary bill from the Houston hospital.

If the Affordable Care Act had been in effect last year, they would have been able to afford insurance, get treatment early and avoid bankruptcy. I use stories like theirs—cancer stories—when I am encouraging my patients to check out the insurance exchanges.

But the real catastrophe is all those people losing their policies, and the fact the website doesn't work as advertised.   And what about those people who get treated in ER's?  Ted Cruz said that was okay, didn't he?  Turns out we don't really take care of people who can't pay:

The myth is based on a 1986 federal law called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), which states that hospitals with emergency rooms have to accept and stabilize patients who are in labor or who have an acute medical condition that threatens life or limb. That word “stabilize” is key: Hospital ERs don’t have to treat you. They just have to patch you up to the point where you’re not actively dying. Also, hospitals charge for ER care, and usually send patients to collections when they cannot pay.
You can compare that to this document from the Texas Attorney General's office.   Nothing in that PDF document says you have to be cured before you stop meeting "hospital criteria" entitling you to charity healthcare.  UTMB, after all, is a "public hospital."  But:  "When UTMB refuses to treat them, it falls to us to tell them that they will die of diseases that are, in fact, treatable."

This is the state of medical care in America.  And yet the serious problem of medical care in America, is whether or not a website will be up and running before Christmas, and whether or not some insured people will get to keep the cheap and probably worthless insurance policies they now have.

Bah.  Humbug.

Monday, November 18, 2013

"Send them all my salary...."

It's all been said before/It's all been written in a book...

The vision of the Magnificat was not that the wealthy and powerful made society and civilization possible for everyone else.  It was that God made those things possible for all, and in God's justice the wealthy and powerful who had kept that for themselves would lose their privileges:

My soul extols the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has shown consideration for the lowly stature of his slave. As a consequence, from now on every generation will congratulate me; the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name, and his mercy will come to generation after generation of those who fear him. He has shown the strength of his arm, he has put the arrogant to rout, along with their private schemes; he has pulled the mighty down from their thrones, and exalted the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, as he spoke to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever. (Luke 1:46-56, SV)

The vision of scripture is not that wealth makes it possible to be generous, but God's blessing

After you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you to occupy as your holding and settle in it, you are to take some of the firstfruits of all the produce of the soil, which you harvest from the land the Lord your God is giving you, and, having put them in a basket, go to the place which the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. When you come to the priest, whoever he is at the time, say to him, "I acknowledge this day to the Lord your God that I have entered the land which the Lord swore to our forefathers to give us." The priest will receive the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God. Then you must solemnly recite before the Lord your God: "My father was a homeless Aramean who went down to Egypt and lived there with a small band of people, but there it became a great, powerful and large nation....Now I have brought here the firstfruits of the soil which you, Lord, have given me."  You are then to set the basket before the Lord your God and bow down in worship before him.  You are to rejoice, you and the Levites and the aliens living among you, in all the good things which the Lord your God has bestowed on you and your household. (Deuteronomy 26:1-5a, 10-11, REB)
A blessing that is known only when you act on faith, which is to say:  trust.
 After a while the stream dried up, for there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go now to Zarephath, a village of Sidon, and stay there; I have commanded a widow there to feed you.’ He went off to Zarephath, and when he reached the entrance to the village, he saw a widow gathering sticks. He called to her, ‘Please bring me a little water in a pitcher to drink.’ As she went to fetch it, he called after her, ‘Bring me, please, a piece of bread as well.’ But she answered, “As the Lord your God lives, I have no food baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a flask. I am just gathering two or three sticks to go and cook it for my son and myself before we die.’ ‘Have no fear,’ Elijah said, ‘go and do as you have said. But first make me a small cake from what you have and bring it out to me, and after that make something for your son and yourself. For this is the word of the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of flour will not give out, nor the flask of oil fail, until the Lord sends rain on the land.’ She went and did as Elijah had said, and there was food for him and for her family for a long time. The jar of flour did not give out, nor did the flask of oil, as the word of the Lord foretold through Elijah. 1 Kings 17:7-16 (REB)

How many stories of rich people do you want from the Gospels?  They never come out well there:

There was a rich man whose fields produced a bumper crop.  "What do I do now?" he asked himself, "since I don't have any place to store my crops. I know!  I'll tear down my barns and build larger ones, so I can store all my grain and my goods.  Then I'll say to myself, "You have plenty put away for years to come.  Take it easy, eat, drink, enjoy yourself."  But God said to him, "You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded back from you.  All this stuff you've collected--whose will it be now?"  That's the way it is for those who save up for themselves, but aren't rich where God is concerned.

He said to his disciples, "That's why I tell you:  don't fret about life-what you're going to eat--or bout your body--what you're going to wear.  Remember, there is more to living than food and clothing.  Think about the crows:  they don't plant or harvest, they don't have storerooms or barns.  Yet God feeds them.  You're worth a lot more than the birds!" (Luke 12: 16b-24, SV)
There was this rich man who wore clothing fit for a king and who dined lavishly every day.  This poor man, named Lazarus, languished at his gate, all covered with sores.  He longed to eat what fell from the rich man's table.  Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.  It so happened that the poor man died and was carried by the heavenly messengers to be with Abraham.  The rich man died too, and was buried.

From Hades, where he was being tortured, he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off and Lazarus with him.  He called out, "Father Abraham, have pity on me!  Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool my tongue, for I am in torment in these flames."

But Abraham said, "My child, remember that you had good fortune in your lifetime, while Lazraus had it bad.  Now he is being comforted here, and you are in torment.  And besides all this, a great chasm has been set between us and you, so that even those who want to cross over from here to you cannot, and no one can cross over from that side to ours."

But he said, "Father, I beg you then, send him to my father's house--after all, I have five brothers--so that he can warn them not to wind up in this place of torture."

But Abraham says, "They have Moses and the prophets; why don't they listen to them?"

"But they won't do that, father Abraham," he said.  "However, if someone appears to them from the dead, they'll have a change of heart."

Abraham said to him, "If they don't listen to Moses and the prophets, they won't be convinced even if someone were to rise from the dead." (Luke 16:19-31, SV)

Even the Beatitudes are not necessarily so beatific:

Damn you rich!
You already have your consolation!

Damn you who are well-fed now!
You will know hunger.

Damn you who laugh now!
You will learn to weep and grieve.

Damn you when everyone speaks well of you!  Recall that their ancestors treated the phony prophets the same way.  (Luke 6:24-26, SV)
And to put the point in stark monetary terms:

The Walton family heirs, whose fortune relies entirely on predation — of labor, of the environment, of government, of small business — controls more wealth than the poorest 40 million Americans. Imagine what we could do with that fortune if they left. For all the credit Bill Gates gets, it may be worth wondering, as Peter Singer did, if he has given enough:
Gates may have given away nearly $30 billion, but that still leaves him sitting at the top of the Forbes list of the richest Americans, with $53 billion. His 66,000-square-foot high-tech lakeside estate near Seattle is reportedly worth more than $100 million. Property taxes are about $1 million. Among his possessions is the Leicester Codex, the only handwritten book by Leonardo da Vinci still in private hands, for which he paid $30.8 million in 1994. Has Bill Gates done enough? More pointedly, you might ask: if he really believes that all lives have equal value, what is he doing living in such an expensive house and owning a Leonardo Codex? Are there no more lives that could be saved by living more modestly and adding the money thus saved to the amount he has already given?
If Gates donated all $53 billion to foreign humanitarian aid, it would be double what the U.S. government gives yearly ($23 billion in 2013). Imagine the good we could do with the fortunes of the rich, who have only amassed the wealth because of the infrastructure developed by society. Innovators regularly rely on government and academic funding for projects that corporations don’t think will be profitable (according to Singer, “less than 10 percent of the world’s health research budget is spent on combating conditions that account for 90 percent of the global burden of disease”). The arts are largely supported by public funding, not private donations. And many businesses are less self-sufficient than they imagine, requiring bailouts and competition between states to support them. Many corporations, like Walmart, dump poor employees on to government largess rather than pay them enough to feed themselves. And who builds the roads and takes out the garbage?
 Damn you rich, indeed!

How much to give is one question; but how much to accumulate is another.  I'm bemused by the rich man in the parable, who is going to pull down his barns and build new, larger ones, just for this bumper year.  The extravagance hidden in that story underlines the point:  too much is too much.  As Dylan said, "Too much of nothin'/makes a man feel ill at ease."

[Texas Gov. Rick] Perry’s refusal is catastrophic health policy. For patients, it means that seeking medical care will still require risking bankruptcy, and may lead nowhere. For doctors, the message was not only that our patients’ lives don’t matter, but also that medicine—our old profession, so full of people who genuinely want to help others—will continue to be part of the economic machine that entrenches poverty. When the poor seek our help, they often wind up with crippling debt.
"The economic machinery that entrenches poverty."  That machinery does not come from God, and is not blessed by God.  Sean McElwee puts it in terms of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, with its idea of "going Galt."  But he doesn't worry about industrialists leaving society:

 I would fear for the world if the empathetic, the intelligent, the compassionate, the fearless and the creative left us. We don’t celebrate these virtues unless they somehow lead to monetary gain, but often they don’t....When a reporter saw Mother Teresa helping a disfigured leper, he said to her, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.” Mother Theresa said, “Neither would I.”
We cannot express our greatest good in monetary terms.  We cannot define what we can do in terms of what we can earn.  We cannot measure out life with coins and paper bills.

I wrote a paper on that painting, above, for a Pastoral Care class in seminary.  It must have been in the St. Louis Museum of Art collection, or I'd never have seen it.  Is the value of that painting in what the artist earned for selling it?  Is it in what the museum paid to acquire it?  I paid nothing to see it; the St. Louis Museum is open to the public.    Did everyone get their money's worth out of that painting?  Is that even a reasonable question?

Yet we tacitly ask it of the poor, in places like Texas and Louisiana (many of the patients who came to UTMB came from Louisiana, not just from Texas).  Are they worth the money we have to spend on them?  Rachel Pearson notes that the motto of UTMB went from  “Here for the Health of Texas” to “Working together to work wonders.”  Wonders for those who can afford them.  Do I exaggerate?  "When UTMB refuses to treat them, it falls to us to tell them that they will die of diseases that are, in fact, treatable."

That we are not even aware of this, is the root of our shame.

Remain Calm! All is Well!

so much depends

upon



Obamacare

website



working quite

promptly



getting people

healthcare
 --Jason Linkins
A poem is worth a thousand pictures.

NTodd explains it like so:

As I said the other day, it took 16 months to hammer this thing out, and another 3.5 years to ratify.  In the meantime, Congress muddled through running the war, negotiating the peace, and unifying the new nation.  It was a bumpy road, with military failures and political fights through the whole process.

Now imagine what would've happened had everybody just thrown up their hands and said, "fuck it, I told you this shit would never work!"
 Jonathan Chait explains it this way:

The keep-your-plan waiver President Obama announced yesterday was, likewise, an exercise in optics. Numerous news reports have pointed out that his proposal is unworkable and substantively meaningless. This, paradoxically, is good news for Obamacare. Obama's waiver to keep unregulated, cherry-picked insurance plans going can't work because insurers have already adjusted their plans to accommodate the new Obamacare regulations. It is too late to go back to a pre-Obamacare world.
And Jason Linkins puts the cherry on the sundae:

 SUPER FUN FACT: Between January 2008 and December 2010, over 44,000 Americans were notified each week that they'd be losing their health insurance. Sunday Morning television programs, speaking as one, said, "We don't give a tinned s#!t." Why? Because this widespread economic devastation had not yet impacted the poll numbers of any wealthy political celebrities.
How did we ever accomplish anything before websites?  And how do we accomplish anything now without them?  I'm quite sure this, too, shall pass, and Obamacare will not only not be an issue in November 2014, it will be a shining example of how government works (kinda like Social Security and Medicare and the interstate highway system and national defense); and works despite the best efforts of a majority of states to exclude as many people as possible from any help whatsoever because...well, I don't know why.  And frankly, that situation is much worse than you think. But no wealthy political celebrities are involved in that story, so never mind.....

As Brian Beutler points out, in accord with Mr. Chait, we are not going back, and this is not the disaster the GOP is looking for. But more galling is that this situation can be discussed without any concern for concepts like helping the poor, or even providing a decent level of consumer protection.  Rather than listen to people whine that they can't keep their cheap insurance policy which probably would cover nothing and would be cancelled the moment they made a claim on it, we could focus on what the new law has done that the states wouldn't.  (State's rights?  To screw over their own citizens?  Didn't we fight that fight in the '60's?)  And to the next person who wants to complain they lost coverage they can't afford to replace, or that might be more expensive, I would ask:  if your coverage was worth less than the paper it was printed on (and most aren't printed anymore), which would your prefer for hospitalization:  bankruptcy, or putting that bill off on the public?  And the only difference between the two is that the former puts the bill on the rest of us who pay insurance premiums and medical bills, because we pick up your losses, your inability to pay because the policy you were paying for was a rathole, not insurance.

I can do that righteous indignation thing, too.  And frankly, everyone one of these sob stories (COBRA?  Really?  What civilized nation with so much money relies on something as onerous and expensive as COBRA?  What is wrong with us?) convinces me the solution is not a website that runs like Amazon, but Medicare for Everybody!

But until that is the only solution that drives up the poll numbers of wealth political celebrities.....

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Everything new is old again....

But it doesn't rub off as readily as you expect


A)  Not news:

The prosperity gospel teaches, to be blunt, that you can tell how much God favors you by how rich you are. While some on the Christian right reject this idea as a tad crude, it’s still wildly popular and its adherents, like Oral Roberts, are some of the major architects and organizers for the Christian right. It’s a perfect example of how conservative ideology leads to pious Christianity. People want to believe that the rich are better than everyone else and the poor don’t deserve squat, so they find a way to blame God for it rather than own their own greed and selfishness.

People are selfish, and some Christians feed that?  Not news at all.

B)  Oral Roberts?  Is he even still alive?  His entire ministry crashed and burned decades ago.  Why not Joel Osteen?  Afraid he'd notice?  Or Rick Warren?

C)  Seriously?

 Increasingly, the only thing religion has left to justify itself is that it provides cover for people who want to have bigoted, selfish beliefs but want to believe they are good people anyway. As these social trends continue, we can expect the alignment between public piety and grotesquely selfish political beliefs to get worse, not better.
So now fundamentalist and evangelical Christians of a certain rather narrow stripe (not even all Southern Baptists agree on what it means to be a Southern Baptist)="religion"?  Even just in America?

But the graver sin is the rhetorical one:  early in the piece, Marcotte seems quite reasonable; almost, one might say, fair and balanced:

There are plenty of progressive Christians who genuinely try to live out Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself, described in the Bible as the root of Jesus’ entire philosophy. 

Well, for one sentence, anyway.  The paragraph continues:

That said, statistics bear out the sense that people who are more invested in being perceived as pious also embrace the most selfish policies. Self-identified conservatives and Republicans claim go to church regularly at twice the rate of self-identified liberals. People who go to church more than once a week are far more conservative than the rest of the population. Indeed, the research suggests how often you report being in the pews is the most reliable indicator of how you’re going to vote. (Though it may not be a reliable indicator of how often you actually go to church. In the grand tradition of showy piety, people who claim to be avid church-goers often lie about it to pollsters.)
I'm not really sure what "going to church" has to do with anything, as a matter of fact.  Correlation is not causation, and the hypocrisy she identifies:  "The image of a man piously preening about what a good Christian he is in church only to turn around and refuse the basic act of decency that is paying someone what you owe them perfectly symbolizes a lurking suspicion in American culture that the harder someone thumps the Bible, the more selfish and downright sadistic a person he is," is as old as the Scriptures themselves.  Back beyond Jesus and the widow's mite are the prophets railing at Israel for behaving piously while being unfaithful in their hearts.

It's what led to the Exile, after all.  Kind of a big deal in world history, as it turns out.

So not only is Marcotte poorly informed and woefully ignorant, but she imagines she's discovered something that's as old and common as Scripture itself.  Indeed, what she identifies in her final paragraph is the reason so many people on both sides of the political divide prefer to keep religion out of American politics.  But as for "grotesquely selfish political beliefs," at this point I want to tell Ms. Marcotte the story of the splinter and the log.....

Friday, November 15, 2013

Houston, we have a problem....

If a happy cartoon doesn't inspire you, what will?


My neighborhood is going from recycling buckets picked up by human beings, to recycling containers picked up by trucks (auto v. manual, basically).  To say it is not going smoothly would be an understatement.

A few weeks ago the City sent out a letter explaining that new containers were coming, the weeks during which they would arrive, and when they would be used.  We all have buckets, hand-held containers for recycling that get put out twice a month; these would be replaced with green (v. black) garbage cans much like we all have now.  These will also be picked up twice a month (v. weekly for garbage), but the new trucks won't pick up the new containers until two weeks after the old containers are used.  The old containers will be picked up on the last day of use, the new containers will be used two weeks after that.

You can probably see the problem already.

The letter that went out didn't say which date our old containers would vanish, and which date the new ones would be employed.  It didn't say which date because the letter was written for the entire city, and different neighborhoods get their recycling and garbage picked up on different days.  Instead, the letter indicated which schedule you were on would affect the schedule of the transition, and that schedule was, for this area, one of two.  You figure it out, in other words, based on the information in the letter, and respond accordingly.

Therein lies the problem.

The streets of my neighborhood this morning are lined with old green buckets and new green containers.  Some of the containers seem to contain trash.  Some probably contain recyclable items.  Some stand alongside the old green buckets, also overflowing with recyclables.  Some stand alone.  Some aren't out at all.

Did I mention that when the new buckets arrived, a copy of the same letter received two weeks earlier was attached?  Communication was not the problem; although the letter read like it was written by a bureaucrat instead of a regular person.  It could, in other words, have been much clearer.

We've been through this before.  The City stopped picking up regular plastic lawn bags, and required all bags be decomposable, so the lawn trash could be mulched into compost.  Lots of black bags kept appearing at curbside and received lots of orange stickers explaining why they were left at curbside before everybody finally got the message.  It was easily six months, and probably a year, before that transition finally ended.

I suspect a lot of houses in the neighborhood are going to be left with the green buckets after today.  I also suspect a lot of people are going to wonder why the green containers weren't emptied; especially the people who used them as trash cans.

If this sounds vaguely similar to the minor freakout over the ACA that seems to be all D.C. can talk about, I don't think that's an accident.  Maybe a million people looked at insurance policies, but didn't commit.  A handful are complaining they can't keep pouring money down the rathole of the plans that are completely worthless, mostly because they haven't figured out yet that those plans are worthless (some more so than others).  I suspect if the City made recycling mandatory on the grounds it would save a great deal of landfill space, a lot of residents of the City would complain about the burden that put on them; never realizing the burden they put on everyone else by expecting whatever they don't want in their house to vanish with the least effort or attention on their part possible.

If we don't handle these changes well, it's not because the government is incompetent.  Indeed, as Charlie Pierce said this morning, almost all of this is on us.

Maybe that's why we complain so much about everybody else.