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

Monday, November 30, 2015

Turning and turning....


The problem with apothegms is that they can be used for so many purposes.  Take Gramsci's famous observation, for example:

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.

It sounds clever and insightful, but that is precisely because it is vague and amorphous.  What is this "crisis"?  One in which a Second Coming is at hand?  Or simply the kairos of the moment, the apparent crisis at hand?  For example:  every story of a mass shooting is a crisis of murder which provokes a crisis of ignorance:  who did it?  why?  what was their motive?  why did they do it?  what drove them to mass murder?  why did they shoot up the school/post office/military base/clinic?

Of course, all of those questions are the same question:  what was the motive?  And we are determined to know that.  We are determined to have a narrative, to have an answer, to end the mystery and detail not only what happened, but all the reasons why it happened.  The crisis of blood always provokes a crisis of ignorance which always creates an interregnum between act and information, in which a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.

And so is Robert Dear a madman, a "gentle loner," an "itinerant loner," a man deranged by right-wing propaganda, by religion, by Christianity, by voices in his head?  As of this writing we still don't know, but that we will argue over which narrative is the "correct" narrative is a given.

According to a profile that ran this weekend in the New York Times, Robert Lewis Dear was “gentle loner who occasionally unleashed violent acts towards neighbors and women he knew.” This is the same Robert Lewis Dear who shot nine people at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado, killing three, including a police officer, and wounding six.

Predictably there was outrage on Twitter (what other response is there on Twitter?).  And the NYT rewrote the story three times:

Hastily, the New York Times removed “gentle” and briefly let the rest of the copy stand. However, there is now a third version online. In it, Dear has become an “itinerant loner who left behind a trail of disputes and occasionally violent acts toward neighbors and women he knew.” In a tweet to Salon columnist Jack Mirkinson, the New York Time’s “Express Team” Senior editor Patrick LaForge observed, by way of acknowledgement that mistakes were made: “It’s hard work covering these.”
"Gentle" is not an acceptable description of a man who killed people in cold blood, although he may have been gentle once, and is homicidal now.  Perhaps his neighbors remembered him that way; but their reminiscences are not allowed now.  So now he is "itinerant," with all the negative connotations of someone who doesn't stay put (unless you are rich enough, like Mitt Romney, to afford several houses and live in them throughout the year.  Only then are you not "itinerant."  Celebrities who split their time between countries aren't "itinerant," either.  No, we know what "itinerant" means, and it's never good.)  And now the stories of violence outweigh the stories of gentleness.  Which history, however, is true?

Well, obviously the one we approve of.

What does this do to explain what Mr. Dear did and why he did it?  Nothing at all.  Earlier today Salon breathlessly announced "Now We Have the Motive:  All Evidence Suggests Planned Parenthood Attack was an act of Domestic Terrorism."  First, I'll accept that this act should be regarded as terrorism (I don't know what makes it "domestic," as if it were more civil because the perpetrator was a citizen.).  But what motive did the article describe?  It didn't.  What evidence did it rest on?  Nothing more than we know as of this writing, which is largely:  nothing.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and society abhors an interregnum.  In it a great variety of morbid symptoms appear; and it says more about our rush to judgment and our need to fit events into a narrative, a mold, and ideology, than it does about the acts themselves.  We stand exposed again, and we rush to cover ourselves, to make our narrative cohere, to make the world make sense along the lines we have set for it.  We don't need to decide Dear is a man inspired by propaganda, or religious fervor, or even that this proves there is a "human impulse to live beyond the law."  Not until we first face the fact that this is the kind of act human beings are capable of.  That is a substantive truth that both religion and science can agree on.

Rene Girard would set this problem in an Augustinian way:  a sign of something we lack and long desperately for and try to plunder from others, hungry and blind in our need.  I'm never comfortable with the unfilled hole metaphor, but certainly the boundaries of our identity are set by others and not by us alone.  So perhaps the truth is somewhere between these two not so disparate views, and the hole blown open by violence is the one we need to fill lest our limitations and our vulnerabilities be implicated.

We have to, in other words, make sure Robert Dear is in no way one of us; and equally be sure we can label him as one of them.  Because the old is dying, and the new cannot be born.

Or maybe we are just impatient for this mystery story to conclude, so we can set it aside and move on to the next coming crisis.  I mean, after all, it's been 72 hours, time to wrap this one up!

We want to open [sic] to the possibility that authorities are simply being cautious and methodical. The shooting happened Friday. It's now Monday morning. But local authorities do seem quite agnostic on the motivations in the fact of what seems fairly probative evidence. And remember - pointing in either direction - they also certainly have much more information than we do.

Inquiring minds don't just wanna know; they gotta know!

The Last Day of November



That time of year thou mayst in me behold,
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang,
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

The War on Christmas started much earlier than we knew

Myrna Loy kicked it off in 1934.



Of brillig and slithy toves.....


Now we must be very afraid of religious extremism.  It promotes violence, as it did (maybe; maybe not) in Colorado Springs, at a Planned Parenthood center.

I'm more familiar with Planned Parenthood clinics than I would like to be, and I agree with Cecile Richards on NPR this morning:  violence against women and their healthcare is appalling.  I have nothing but sympathy and support for Planned Parenthood, and cannot condemn violence against them, or violence in general, in the world, strongly enough.

As the Pope said, we don't understand the way of peace.  And, by and large, we don't want to.

But religion is not the source of violence in the world, not the original sin which, if extirpated, would lead to a new millennium and a thousand years of peace.  In the '70's, already forgotten in the wave of nostalgia for disco, violence came directly from politics, and directly from left-wing groups.  Paddy Chayefsky captured it perfectly in "Network" and "Hospital," but we laugh off the group that guns down Howard Beale in the final scenes, and ignore the chanting crowds outside the hospital in favor of more growling from George C. Scott and more sex-kittening from Diana Rigg.   Someday our collective amnesia will fail and we'll remember fully the Bader-Meinhof Gang and the other sources of terrorism in America and Europe.  For now, however, we have washed over it, and the current crop of "new atheists" on-line and in the public eye who weren't even a gleam in their father's eye at the time, are convinced they know all they need to know because ignorance is bliss, and ignorance of history is especially happy.

Was Robert Dear motivated by religious belief to attack a Planned Parenthood clinic?  Or is he a paranoid schizophrenic who mentioned "body parts" because the words mean as much to him as the opening stanza of "Jabberwocky" mean to the rest of us?  At this point we simply don't know, and yet we want to have a motive, and we want to have one right now!  It may be that the media is hesitating to identify this crime as terrorism, or to ascribe a religious motive to it; but I don't think that's "malign hesitation."  I think in this case it may well be justified caution.*

After all, once we've established the narrative of "what happened" in that Colorado Springs clinic, it will be the story of what happened even if it isn't the story.  Most of what we know about Columbine and 9/11 isn't true (she didn't say "yes," the killers weren't methodical and robotic sociopaths, the hijackers weren't armed with box cutters), and not being true it serves one agenda or another, except the agenda of truth.  Was Robert Dear deranged by right-wing Christian extremists, or by FoxNews extremists; or was he just deranged?  The answer actually matters, especially in the context of a discussion about gun control and access to guns by the mentally ill.  If Robert Dear was suffering from a defined illness, it may be his story is grounds for restricting gun sales.  If he was simply unhinged by mass media, well:  what're ya gonna do about that?

And still we don't understand the way of peace; and still we don't really want to.

Advent has begun.  The way of peace would be an appropriate meditation for the season.

*After all:  "The official said the 'no more baby parts' comment was among a number of statements he made to authorities after his arrest, making it difficult to know his specific motivation."

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015


"We're all forgiven at Thanksgiving, and everybody's welcome at the feast."--Garrison Keillor

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.

Now stay outta the stores and stay near your family.  At least until Friday, when you may well want to escape them for the sanity of the shopping frenzy.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang


This is very stupid, but since Richard Dawkins thinks this is a defense to his original claim:

"How could you think I was likening a hoaxer to a killer? I just meant ‘Only a kid’ is not a knockdown defence. Remember poor James Bulger?”
The "kid" is not suing anyone.  Under Texas law, he can't, since he's a minor.  Suit may be filed in his name (full legal nerd:  the lawyers have only sent demand letters so far; no suit has been filed), but it will be filed by his parents on his behalf.  Is Ahmed any more than aware of this?  Probably, but he has no real choice in the matter.  So likening him to a child trained by ISIS to decapitate a prisoner is not only tasteless and brutal and shameful, it's not an apt comparison.

Unless the comparison is that neither child is culpable for their acts, absent a showing that the disabilities of minority should be removed.  Either way, Ahmed's family's attorneys sending demand letters is in no way comparable to the James Bulger murder.

Except in Dawkins' mind.  Can I ask again why anyone considers this guy smart?  Or Twitter worth the trouble it stirs up?

Link courtesy of Thought Criminal

Monday, November 23, 2015

"In our end is our beginning...."


I started this journey with Charlie Pierce, who noted that the Pope had declared War on Christmas with these words:

What shall remain? Ruins, thousands of children without education, so many innocent victims and lots of money in the pockets of arms dealers. Jesus once said: 'You can not serve two masters: Either God or riches.' War is the right choice for him, who would serve wealth: 'Let us build weapons, so that the economy will right itself somewhat, and let us go forward in pursuit of our interests.' There is an ugly word the Lord spoke: 'Cursed!' Because He said: 'Blessed are the peacemakers!'
His not-too-serious take was that this would upset Bill O'Reilly.  His version of the story came from TheWeek.com., which quoted the same portion of the speech but ended the article this way:

Francis concluded his sermon by highlighting the peace-making work of people like Mother Teresa, as well as calling for prayers that the Christmas season would see repentance and pursuit of peace.
Endings are instructive, because "in our end is our beginning," even if that's not quite what Eliot meant.  The Week got the story from three sources:  The Washington Times, the Journal, an Irish newspaper, and from Vatican Radio.  The Journal noted that "The sermon threw a shadow over the start of the festive season at the Vatican, where a giant Christmas tree was unveiled."  It went on to note:

The tree, which will be decorated in time for the start of the Vatican’s Holy Year on 8 December, will be festooned with ornaments made by children from cancer wards in hospitals across Italy.

This year’s nativity scene will be made up of 24 life-size figures, sculpted from wood and hand-painted.

In a nod to Pope Francis’s humble style, alongside the figures from the story of Jesus’s birth will be sculptures of ordinary people, including a man supporting an elderly person in need.
Which is a nice conclusion to a story about such a seemingly despairing speech.  The Washington Times took a different approach.  Using the same portion of the sermon preferred by Pierce and the Journal, it adds the Pope's words that:

A war can be justified — so to speak — with many, many reasons, but when all the world as it is today, at war — piecemeal though that war may be — a little here, a little there, and everywhere — there is no justification — and God weeps. Jesus weeps.

Which prompts this interesting conclusion to the article:

Just last week, Paris was attacked by jihadist gunmen and suicide bombers, leaving 129 dead and 352 wounded.

On Friday, 10 gunmen overwhelmed the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali’s capital — shouting “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great,” in Arabic — before firing on guards and taking 170 people hostage.  
Vatican Radio chose a slightly different emphasis.  Their account includes more of the sermon, including the now infamous paragraph, but puts the whole in a greater context:

Today Jesus weeps as well: because we have chosen the way of war, the way of hatred, the way of enmities. We are close to Christmas: there will be lights, there will be parties, bright trees, even Nativity scenes – all decked out – while the world continues to wage war. The world has not understood the way of peace.”

Pope Francis went on to recall the recent commemorations of the Second World War, the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, his visit to Redipuglia last year on the anniversary of the Great War: “Useless slaughters,” he called them, repeating the words of Pope Benedict XV. “Everywhere there is war today, there is hatred,” he said. Then he asked, “What shall remain in the wake of this war, in the midst of which we are living now?”

“What shall remain? Ruins, thousands of children without education, so many innocent victims: and lots of money in the pockets of arms dealers. Jesus once said: ‘You can not serve two masters: either God or riches.’ War is the right choice for him, who would serve wealth: 'Let us build weapons, so that the economy will right itself somewhat, and let us go forward in pursuit of our interests. There is an ugly word the Lord spoke: ‘Cursed!’ Because He said: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers!.’ The men who work war, who make war, are cursed, they are criminals. A war can be justified – so to speak – with many, many reasons, but when all the world as it is today, at war – piecemeal though that war may be – a little here, a little there, and everywhere – there is no justification – and God weeps. Jesus weeps.”

The Holy Father went on to say that, while the arms dealers go about their business, there are the poor peacemakers who, perforce to help another person, and another and another, spend themselves utterly, and even give their lives – as did Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, against whom the powerful, worldy cynic might say, “But what did she ever accomplish? She wasted her life helping others on their way to death?” He repeated, “We do not understand the way of peace.”

“It will do us well to ask the grace of tears for ourselves, for this world that does not recognize the path of peace, this world that lives for war, and cynically says not to make it. Let us pray for conversion of heart. Here before the door of this Jubilee of Mercy, let us ask that our joy, our jubilation, be this grace: that the world discover the ability to weep for its crimes, for what the world does with war.”

Since in our end is our beginning, the Pope's words reminded me of this prayer from the E&R Hymnal:

O Christ, son of the living God, have mercy upon us.
Thou that sites at the right hand of the Father, have mercy upon us;
And deliver us for thy Name's sake.

AMEN.

O Christ, when thou didst open thine eyes on this fair earth, the angels greeted thee as the Prince of Peace and besought us to be of good will toward one another; but thy triumph is delayed and we are weary of war.

SAVE US AND HELP US, O LORD AND MASTER.

O Christ, the very earth groans with pain as the feet of armed men march across thy mangled form.

SAVE US AND HELP US, O LORD AND MASTER.

O Christ, may the Church, whom thou didst love into life; not fail thee in her witness for the things for which thou didst live and die.

TEACH US TO DO THY HOLY WILL, O LORD AND MASTER.

O Christ, the people who are called by thy Name are separated from each other in thought and life; still our tumults, take away our vain imaginings, and grant to thy people at this time the courage to proclaim the gospel of forgiveness, and faithfully to maintain the ministry of reconciliation.

TEACH US TO DO THY HOLY WILL, O LORD AND MASTER

O Christ, come to us in our sore need and save us;
O God, plead thine own cause and give us help, for vain is the help of man.

SAVE US AND HELP US, O LORD AND MASTER.

O Christ of God, by thy birth in the stable, save us and help us;
By thy toil at the carpenter's bench, save us and help us;
By thy sinless life, save us and help us;
By thy cross and passion, save us and help us.

SAVE US AND HELP US, O LORD AND MASTER.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Candle Lighting Ceremonies


The sage Bill Maher speaks:

this idea that somehow we do share values, that all religions are alike, is bullshit. And we need to call it bullshit.”
Which, of course, is the very arrogance and bigotry (yes, Virginia, there can be religious bigotry) the international ecumenical movement was started to counter, in 1910.  But that can't be right, because the comments at Salon assure me that atheists know more about religion than the faithful do.  And yet nobody seems to know about the ecumenical movement and its efforts to roll back such bigotry and ignorance.

Maher, here, is siding with ISIS.  He's giving them all the reason they need to insist this is a religious war, a holy war, and that Christians think of Muslims as infidels.

And he's not too good on history, either:

Maher said that Cameron discussed forced marriages, female genital mutilation and Britain’s 11,000 cases of honor-based violence.
Only one of those three, FGM, has no history in Western Christian culture.  True, we have set aside "honor-based violence" (sometime after Burr got into a duel on American soil, or the Hatfields stopped trading bullets with the McCoys; then again, this is still not an unknown form of violence in our country), and we ended the practice of forced marriages (something still known in non-Muslim countries, too), but not because those practices were always at odds with Western, or Christian, or even liberal, values.

Ah, well; curse the darkness, or light a candle.  These things I do too much discuss, too much explain. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

"When you pray...."

When Ted Cruz says again, as he will, that Christian refugees from Syria are safe, while Muslim refugees are a clear and present danger, think about this:

The Islamic State has behaved very much as a sectarian movement, a jingoistic Sunni-Arab organization with little patience for those outside the rigid boundaries of their identity group. As a result, non-Sunnis, particularly the Shi‘i Arabs of Iraq, have borne the brunt of ISIS persecution. Not unlike the Hutu militias during the Rwandan genocide, ISIS set up checkpoints in Iraq when it re-entered the country in 2014. Drivers were asked to step out of their cars and pray; those who prostrated like the Shi‘a were summarily executed.
And the people who know that history, what do they hear when Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush spouts off about Christians being admitted to the U.S., and Muslims being refused?

"And when you pray, do not act like phonies.  They love to stand up and pray in houses of worship and on street corners so they can show off in public.  I swear to you, their prayers have been answered!  When you pray, go into a room by yourself and shut the door behind you.  Then pray to your Father, the hidden one.  And your Father with his eye for the hidden will applaud you." --Matthew 6: 5-6, SV

Adding:  or we could go with Stephen Colbert's test:

“If you want to know if somebody’s a Christian just ask them to complete this sentence,” Colbert said pulling out his Catechism card. “‘Jesus said I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you….’ And if they don’t say ‘welcomed me in’ then they are either a terrorist or they’re running for president.”

That'd work, too.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war"

Very dangerous people

Now 34 governors are pleading to keep their states safe from Syrians.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the 27-year-old Belgian born extremist who authorities say planned the horrific attack on Paris Friday night, died Wednesday in a pre-dawn raid by security forces, according to French prosecutors, who confirmed his death on Thursday. He was reportedly killed by a sniper.
I just wanted to highlight that bit.  Oh, and the "Syrian passport"?  Probably a fake; or maybe it belong to a soldier loyal to Assad.  You know, one of the groups of Muslims fighting ISIS.

So, for the record:  no Syrians involved in the attacks in Paris.  Indeed, all the attackers seem to have been Europeans.  Screeching about interment camps for refugees and how state borders will be closed because of "Islamization" and how non-Christian refugees mustn't even be allowed into this country?  All exactly what ISIS wants to hear.

Terrorism works.  But only with our complicity.   We are far from the site of the latest attacks, and yet we seem to be the most sacred about them.  On the BBC World Service the reports from Paris and Brussels are of people who want to get back to normal life; who don't fear the refugees and don't fear their neighbors (all of the attackers in Paris were citizens of France or Belgium; none were refugees).  And this is what the President of France said:

"Life should resume fully," Hollande told a gathering of the country's mayors, who gave him a standing ovation. "What would France be without its museums, without its terraces, its concerts, its sports competitions? France should remain as it is. Our duty is to carry on our lives." In the same spirit, he added, "30,000 refugees will be welcomed over the next two years. Our country has the duty to respect this commitment," explaining that they will undergo vigorous security checks. Hollande noted that "some people say the tragic events of the last few days have sown doubts in their minds," but called it a "humanitarian duty" to help those people … but one that will go hand in hand with "our duty to protect our people." "We have to reinforce our borders while remaining true to our values," he said.

In America, far away from the assault on the city of Paris, far from the scenes of violence and even the press of refugees on our continent (Obama wants to allow a mere 10,000 into the country, or something like 1/10 of 1% of the number who have fled to Europe), life must grind to a halt until we can pass a law making sure no refugees from Syria ever enter the U.S.   President Obama has had some choice words about this hysteria:

"And so if there are concrete, actual suggestions to enhance this extraordinary screening process that’s already in place, we’re welcome -- we’re open to hearing actual ideas," Obama said. "But that’s not really what’s been going on in this debate. When candidates say, we wouldn't admit three-year-old orphans -- that’s political posturing. When individuals say that we should have a religious test and that only Christians -- proven Christians -- should be admitted -- that’s offensive and contrary to American values."

"I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric that’s been coming out of here during the course of this debate. ISIL seeks to exploit the idea that there is a war between Islam and the West," he continued. "And when you start seeing individuals in positions of responsibility, suggesting that Christians are more worthy of protection than Muslims are in a war-torn land, that feeds the ISIL narrative. It’s counterproductive, and it needs to stop."

Obama then criticized politicians who describe themselves as "tough," noting that they are now afraid of women and children fleeing terrorism.

"These are the same folks oftentimes who suggest that they’re so tough that just talking to Putin or staring down ISIL, or using some additional rhetoric somehow is going to solve the problems out there. But apparently, they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of our tradition of compassion," he said. "First, they were worried about the press being too tough on them during debates. Now they’re worried about three-year-old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me."

Finally, Obama worked in a hit on Congress and lawmakers on Capitol Hill's sudden interest in barring Syrian refugees from the country.

"With respect to Congress, I know that there’s been discussion about legislation suddenly surfacing around refugees," the president said. "I’ve been waiting for a year and a half, or more, for legislation that would authorize the military activities that we’re carrying out in Syria as we speak, and have not been able to get anything out of Congress. And now, suddenly, they’re able to rush in, in a day or two, to solve the threat of widows and orphans and others who are fleeing a war-torn land, and that’s their most constructive contribution to the effort against IISL? That doesn’t sound right to me. And I suspect it won’t sound right to the American people."
But now the GOP leadership of the country has lost its collective mind, afraid of toddlers and 50 year old women and non-Christians and just anybody who used to live in Syria and wasn't in this country last week, because fear is the little death, fear is the mind killer.  And the screening process? It is long and complex and can involve involve a retinal scan.    There is a young girl here in Houston, an American citizen of Pakistani parents, dying of a disease that cannot be cured.  Her parents cannot come back to America to see her before she dies, largely because they are Pakistani.  She has been here for 13 years, seeking treatment for her condition.  Her parents have never been able to visit her, and even now can't get a visa just on humanitarian grounds.  Now she has turned to her local Congressman for help.  That is how hard it is go get into the U.S. from some countries.

The people screaming about terrorist and refugees have lost their minds a long, long time ago.  I remember fondly now learning about an America that felt itself far removed from the strife of the "old world."  Thanks to technology we now seem to be scared to death of the world.

At least many of our leaders and would-be leaders are.

This is progress?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Night thoughts on Paris


Something about violence unhinges people.

The crowd at Wembley stadium stood before the football match between England and France and sang the French national anthem.  The entire crowd.  Every spectator in the stadium, most of them Brits.  They sang for France, for Paris, and against ISIS.

And even as I admired it, I thought:  would they sing the Lebanese national anthem?  Show solidarity with the people of Iraq and Syria, the ones being slaughtered by ISIS on a scale that outstrips the massacre in Paris by geometric proportions?

No.  NOK, donchaknow.  Terribly impolite to point that out, but there we are.  The dead in Syria and Iraq and elsewhere in the "Middle East" are not Europeans, so we just really don't care.  Violence in Paris is far worse, because, after all, what have the French ever done to arouse the ire of ISIS?  Does it matter if they have?  No.  Violence is not justified because there is a reason, because "he started it!," because whether or not Han shot first.

So France retaliates against ISIS, and who is killed?  Does it matter?  No.  We don't hear names, we don't see faces, we only know violence is done, and this time it is good violence.  The violence in Paris was bad:  criminal, savage, suicidal, murderous.  Yes, yes it was.  The violence unleashed by France in response?  Good.  Just.  Cleansing.  Appropriate.

They even deserve more of it.
For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!
Only instead of snow, it should be sand.  Otherwise, yes; that is what we ask for.  Terrible retribution, visited upon them because they so richly deserve it for what they have done!

And we?  What do we deserve for what we have done?  Quiet, safe lives?  Comfort?  Security?  Yes, we deserve that; but they don't!

ISIS isn't asking for comfort and security and peace, of course; they are asking for violence.  I heard the author of a news story on ISIS, in an interview replayed after Paris.  He described ISIS as a group of apocalyptic fanatics who want to convert the entire world to their brand of Sunni Islam, or failing that, to enslave it, exterminating some, keeping others in subjection.  It was a cartoon vision of the world, a comic book goal, the kind of world-conquest that fueled the actions of villains in the super-hero stories of my youth.  Even the comic books don't tell such tales anymore, but here was a journalist telling me that men in the world, deadly serious men, saw that as their moral imperative, as their vision, as their raison d'être.  It is still impossible to take it seriously.

But then we have governors declaring no Syrian refugee, the very people fleeing the violence of Syria, will be allowed into America, because:  PARIS!  When all the perpetrators of the crimes in Paris were apparently French citizens, none of them refugees.  This is as impossible to take seriously as the idea ISIS really thinks it will conquer the world in the name of a brand of Islam.  We seem to be governed by clowns and buffoons, or threatened by them.  And it is the violence that joins them:  their violence is as justified as ours is, but how you see that depends on which side you are on.

Or which side you are supposed to be on.  And comfort and security and peace are for our kind only.  Refugees threaten our freedom because of where they come from ("national origin," but ignore the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it has no purchase here, its language not a promise we always have to keep).  They are a threat because of our freedom:

“While the Paris attackers used suicide vests and grenades,” [Rep. Tony] Dale wrote, “it is clear that firearms also killed a large number of innocent victims. Can you imagine a scenario were [sic] a refugees [sic] is admitted to the United States, is provided with federal cash payments and other assistance, obtains a drivers license and purchases a weapon and executes an attack?” He urged the lawmakers to “do whatever you can to stop the [Syrian refugee] program.”
We don't need ISIS to make us afraid; we have the NRA.  They understand how violence unhinges us, too; and like ISIS, they use that for their own ends.  The critical difference is they don't foment violence:  they just make money off of it, almost accidentally.

Xenophobia is the most American form of violence.  It started with Columbus enslaving the natives, a practice Europeans took to with such alacrity it appalled even Columbus.  We've been at it ever since, but again, it is good violence (until it isn't), because it is our violence.  Yes, perhaps we need to examine with "humility, resolve, commitment [to what?] and an enlarged vision" our historical role in the violence of the Middle East; but frankly, that won't solve the problem of ISIS.  The violence in Paris is not something to be swept aside in favor of a grand national bout of navel gazing.  It is true the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan lead directly to ISIS today, but so do the Sunnis backing the "Islamic State" in Saudi Arabia.  There is blame to go around, and none of it expunges the criminals of ISIS from responsibility for their crimes.  It is also true, however, that the past is past, and the present is Paris; and 27 GOP governors working to out bleat each other about how scared they are for the residents of their states, residents who probably wouldn't know a Syrian from a Siamese.  This is no time for thoughtful national moral reflection because there is never a time for thoughtful national moral reflection.  We are not good people who will save the world, purge it of its evil, provide a shining example of the good and true; and Barack Obama is not (thank history, at least!) Woodrow Wilson.

I stand with Reinhold Niebuhr on this:  nations cannot act morally, because they cannot ask their citizens to make the sacrifices a moral stance would incur.  We cannot be moral and protect ourselves from the crimes of ISIS.  We cannot defend ourselves from such madmen while at the same time examining our national moral culpability for the creation of chaos in the world.  Yes, we are responsible; but that is the way of nations.  This is a fallen state, the state of human existence; the nature of human governance and social order.  We have, after 2000 years, only got so far as Brits singing "La Marseillaise" with a handful of French people in a football stadium.  It's honestly the best we can do, and it's something.

But it's still because of violence.  Something about violence unhinges people.  Something about violence brings us together, even as it terrifies us, even as it enrages us, even as it motivates us.

That's something about which we need to think.  But whether it makes us change anything about the way we live, whether it brings out the "angels of our better nature" because after all, as Steven Pinker says, this is the best of all possible worlds (and if he didn't say it, he should have, if he were intellectually honest with himself), violence is as American as cherry pie, as human as being a social animal.

We've just got to keep working on the idea of who is in "our" society, and what we do about those who aren't.

It really is about hospitality

Really:
My favorite comment on a post about this issue of governors supposedly closing their states: "if only we had a seasonally appropriate story about middle eastern people seeking refuge being turned away by the heartless"
Courtesy of "rustypickup" in comments below. 



A little birdie told me


Evidence-free ideologies such as Stalinism, Nazism & Islam are dangerous because they teach that pie-in-the-sky Ends justify horrific Means.
A tweet by Richard Dawkins.  Which raises two questions:  1)  what good, really, is Twitter?  2) Why does anyone still consider Richard Dawkins a "smart" person?

The rest of that article at Religion Dispatches is worth reading, but I want to pivot to one other reaction to Paris:  27 governors have announced they will block Syrian refugees from resettling in their states.  Except, of course, they can't do that.

No state has the authority to refuse the presence of any person legally admitted to the United States.  They have neither the authority nor the ability to force Syrian refugees, or any refugees for that matter, to live in another state, to leave the state where a governor has "instructed state agencies to refuse to cooperate (the list has more than doubled since I heard about it yesterday).

What they can do is play into the desires of ISIS.  What they can do is to give ISIS a propaganda victory.  Because if we really want to help ISIS, we'll make sure this fight is a war on Islam, and on Muslims

Donald Trump needs all the support he can get.  I know ISIS is cheering him on.

It's not racism!


CNN co-host John Vause responded, “If your camp is the French camp, then why is it that no one with the Muslim community knew what these guys were up to?”

“Sir, the Muslim community has nothing to do with these guys. Nothing. We cannot justify ourselves for the actions of someone who claims to be Muslim,” Louati answered.

“Why not?” Vause cut in. “What is the responsibility within the Muslim community to identify what is happening within their own ranks when it comes to people who are obviously training and preparing to carry out mass murder.”

“No, no, no, sir, they were not from our ranks,” Louati responded. “We cannot accept the idea that these people are from us. They are not. They are just byproduct of our societies exporting their wars abroad and expecting no repercussions back home.”

Co-host Isha Sesay tried to draw the discussion back to discussing the “bigger issue,” pressing the guest to answer why French Muslims go abroad to join the Islamic State.'

Louati said that’s an issue which stems from French foreign policy in the Mideast and failing domestic policies. He also said radicalization “does not take place in mosques,” but instead happens online and in the streets, away from organized Muslim communities.

But Sesay wasn’t satisfied, and asked whether the Muslims should be stepping up “in looking at the young people and the roads they’re going down” while “the finger of blame is points at the Muslim community, rightly or wrong.”

“You have to accept that responsibility to prevent the bigger backlash that comes your way when these things happen,” Sesay said, with her voice raised.

Louati launched into an impassioned answer about historic discrimination against Muslims at work and in French schools, and ended by asking “what else can we do?”

Vause steered the interview back in to end the segment, conceding that it’s “a very complicated issue.” Right after the network had cut away from Louati and back to the hosts, Vause concluded:

“You know, I’ve yet to hear the condemnation from the Muslim community on this.”

Sesay said, “The point he’s making is, ‘it’s not our fault.’ But the fact of the matter is when these things happen, the finger of blame is pointed at the Muslim community and so you have to be preemptive. It’s coming from the community. You’ve got to take a stand.”

“The word responsibility comes to mind,” Vause concurred. '
Responsibility?  How does that work again?  To whom does it apply?  Certainly not journalists.

Up next:  why aren't African-Americans doing more about the violence of blacks in America?  And why aren't whites doing more about white cops shooting blacks in America?

Fair is fair, after all.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Nous somme Parisiens

Pardon my French.

The attacks in France were an attack on "the civilized world."  I understand why President Obama has to say such things, although it was the "civilized" world that rendered Iraq and Syria "uncivilized" such that ISIS is now the terrorist organization par excellence in those two countries.  Besides, the "civilized world" makes attacks on the rest of the world all the time.

Just ask George Orwell.  Or Reinhold Niebuhr.

Ach, I wasn't going to to in that direction when I started this.  I was going to comment on the "magical thinking" the GOP wants to invoke, because while the President marked us as standing on the moral high ground (we use drones, not suicide bombers), the GOP complains that the President won't say "radical Islam."  Because unless we are war with "radical Islam," we will never defeat terrorism.

No, seriously.

This would please ISIS no end.

So let's do it.  Let's play into their hands once again.  Let us prove to "barbarians" how "civilized nations" react.  Let us not just attack ISIS, let us make the crisis in Syria worse by calling it an act of insanity to allow even 250,000 refugees into the U.S.  At some point it doesn't matter what we think of Donald Trump; what matters is what people from the Middle East think of Donald Trump.

There's always room for another low, dishonest decade.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

"What all schoolchildren learn...."




  "The lights must never go out/The music must always play."

We are all Parisians now.  Does that decide what we should do?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Rave on, it's a crazy feeling.....

If I don't see Jesus in the foam on my latte, Christmas is ruined!

The sad part about the latest outbreak in the "War on Christmas"?  That this aspect of the story is getting so little attention:

Furthermore, even religious Christians are calling out this campaign as self-serving and nonproductive — the posts using Feuerstein’s #MerryChristmasStarbucks hashtag are overwhelmingly dismissive of the campaign, even from a religious perspective. Other commenters on the Liberal War on Christmas Facebook page raised genuine, valid concerns about the uselessness of attacking red cups, given the magnitude of suffering in the world. One wrote, “You did not share all the facts. You have a platform to share God’s goodness not to shame a company. Raise up your followers with a movement to open their own homeless shelters. To walk among the broken. To go and get coffee to go give to someone down on their luck this Holiday. Serve the coffee not point out their ‘mistakes’, actually, your lack of education is causing a really sad situation to a company, and possibly creating kahasis. Encourage your followers to buy a bag of coffe, brew, get some cups and write ‘God Loves You’ and pass that out. Just a thought.” As one Twitter user, Brian Green-Young, whose words were highlighted at Delish, wrote, “If you’re Christian & upset over Starbucks cups, your priorities are out of whack and you don’t have enough to do.”

You won't find that mentioned in any of the articles linked in this article at Slate.  Delish, as Salon notes, caught it.  But nobody mentions it as a counter to The Donald's assertion that he'll make us all say "Merry Christmas" if he's in the White House in December of 2017.  Nobody includes it as a response to this utter nonsense.*  It is the real story; that outrage doesn't beget outrage alone, but also gives rise to reasonable responses.

But the internet isn't about reasonable responses.  Reason doesn't generate clicks; rage does.

Then again, that's all the war on Christmas is, isn't it?

*I do the googling so you don't have to. You'll find no mention of it here, here, here, or here.  Even Snopes had to get in on it.  Of course, most of 'em use the excuse to complain about how commercial Christmas is.  Old news, fellas.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

And the beat goes on....


I wasn't going to post this, but then I stumbled across this via a different link from NTodd (thanks, NTodd!*).  And I decided "what the heck," because intergenerational sniping is "in play," and besides, Kevin Drum barely touched on the topic.  So here it is, in it's original form:

The more time I spend around Millenials, on-line at least, the more I hear history repeating itself.

First, the very idea that a cohort is created by arbitrary divisions of the calendar and birth years is a bit of foolishness invented for, but not by, Baby Boomers.  Later we had to extend the concept back to "Builders" or "The Greatest Generation," but inevitably it went forward, steam rolling over "Generation X" to land on "Millenials,"  Who are nothing more than the Baby Boomers of the Baby Boomers.  The whole idea of labelling "generations" is itself just a version of astrology (does your birth date really determine your personality and fate?), but as with so many things we take for granted now, Boomers are the ones who made it normative.

You're welcome.

Millenials think they are going to change the world, simply by sheer numbers and ideological enthusiasm (oh, and technology).  And they think this is new.

Boomers were told they would change the world, and would do it through sheer numbers and technology.  It's one reason college campuses erupted with protests in the late '60's into the early '70's, and then the country erupted with bombings and destruction which we've generally pushed down the memory hole, even though it was domestic terrorism before we had the label "terrorism."  Go back and watch "Network" again; the gang that ends up shooting Howard Beale to death on camera wasn't just a caricature of the Symbionese Liberation Army that captured Patty Hearst; the SLA itself was a real-life parody of many violent leftist groups in that decade.

We weren't all dancing like John Travolta through those years.

Millenials are already nostalgic for the TV shows and toys of their childhood.  Boomers did that first.  We invented nostalgia for childhood, on a level unimaginable by even Willie Wordsworth, the guy who taught us all to appreciate our "innocent youth."  We swamped Millenials with our nostalgia; they couldn't help but grow up with it, and yearn to be nostalgic for their lives.  But we at least waited to be nostalgic until we were in our forties; millennial start it as soon as they turn 18.

And computers were going to change the world, starting with education (remember "Computers in Schools", anybody?).

Boomers had film strips and movie projectors and all manner of paraphernalia for education.  It was always an excuse for a dark room and some form of entertainment that beat listening to the teacher or going up to the chalkboard.  And that's really all it was.  I suppose in some tangential way Disney's film about atomic energy (I just remember the word "FUSION!" uttered in dramatic tones, and some very Disney-esque animation) prompted me to read about atomic physics while in elementary school, but I'd hardly call that a pedagogical win-win, or even a sign of success.  I'm pretty sure I was reading about atoms before I saw that film, anyway; but maybe not.  We had a reading machine which would show us a text at 600 wpm, too; that one taught a roomful of kids to read fast; or maybe to have short attention spans, I never figured out which.  I can say the pedagogical advantage of speed reading is nil, since I don't read at 600 wpm anymore, and pretty much quit doing that soon after the machine was turned off.

Television, of course, was already a 'vast wasteland' by the time we were in school, and wasn't present on any school campus I ever attended.  Now they are ubiquitous.  Even my college classroom has a screen and a projector, this time connected to a computer.  Remembering what advantage we took of dark rooms in elementary school, I never turn the thing on.  Modern technology is not even laptops anymore, it's "smart phones," which are not used for education but distraction.  Remember the unfortunate student who was manhandled out of her classroom?  She was "disrupting" the class by paying attention to her cell phone rather than the teacher.  Believe me, kids in classrooms don't use the internet to educate themselves; well, not on academic subjects, anyway.  The "vast wasteland" is global, now.

And TV's wasteland is vaster, too.  Technology hasn't replaced television, it's made the enterprise of entertainment more firmly rooted in society than ever.  Boomers didn't invent TV; but we're the generation that made it normative.

Again:  you're welcome.

Boomers pretty much invented the popular music industry, too; simply by being such major consumers of it.  Come to think of it, that's what's pretty much killed my interest in music, period.

You're welcome; too, also, as well.

You can thank the Boomers for all of this, if you want.  What you can't do is give Millenials much credit for originality; because it's true that everything old IS new again.

I really hope they can do better with it than we did.

*and thanks Obama!

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Of M.D.'s and pyramid schemes

I really think the Egyptians were smarter than to think this was an efficient grain storage system.
Then again, I'm not an M.D.

Google "Ben Carson pyramids" and learn all you need to know.  Perhaps future generations will find this story in a footnote on a discarded jump drive and, if they can reconstruct the program needed to read it (and what kind of Rosetta stone will that take?), they may marvel that such people ever had any position of responsibility in our society.*

All I can say is, the M.D. is a professional degree, not an academic one.  That explains quite ably, I think, how a man can succeed through medical school and in a highly specialized field of surgery, and still be bughouse crazy.

*and if you don't find out, the idea of pyramids=Joseph's granaries goes back to at least the 6th century, and was popular in Medieval Europe, where they could see the pyramids, but hadn't yet excavated and opened them to find out what they were for.  So it's not like Dr. Carson made this up out of whole cloth.  Everything old really is new again.

For anybody still interested, Ana Marie Cox has about the best take on this I've found.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Everything old is new again....


This is an interesting comment from one of the more interesting theologians around just now:

At our first meeting we agreed with Paul Tillich: to the notion that subject matter of theology is taken to be the existence of a First or Supreme Being, an Almighty Agent who does or doesn’t do certain supernatural things, the proper theological response is atheism. But that atheism is entirely theological. It does not spell the end of theology, but the beginning—of a more radical theology.
You have to unpack that slowly, and maybe even put it in the context of the "God is Dead" movement of '60's theology (hey, it made the cover of Time!).  I'd quibble a bit with the "more radical theology" description, but I'm that way.  I think the meaning of the "proper theological response" phrase, however, is dead on.  Moreover, I don't think it's that radical a theology (okay, I will talk about it).  Simply because I think this idea resonates with the thinking of Aquinas, if not Augustine; as well as most of the Christian mystics.

I mean it's sort of like thinking you're being scandalous to refer to God as "she," and then reading Julian of Norwich where God is both father and mother; and she doesn't turn a hair to say so.

I really need to spend a bit more time with this.

The wages of fear is....

What can I say?  I like Duchamp.

The post-mortem no one is asking for.

Yes, the defeat of HERO yesterday shows that Houston is not as progressive as Houston likes to think it is.  Every other major city in Texas, including Dallas, former home of some of the sleaziest of the TV evangelists of the '70's and '80's (my, how times change), Austin (quelle surprise), San Antonio, even, IIRC, El Paso.  The major impetus for this ordinance (aside from the fact homosexuals and transgendered are not a protected class under the Civil Rights Act, but should be; nor under Texas law (again....)), was that Houston shouldn't be left hanging out on an issue like this.

Now, if it affects the NFL's decision to hold the Super Bowl here again (set for 2017), things could get interesting.  But that's no more than rank speculation at the moment.

So we turned it down, and I sincerely hoped the more progressive voters in Houston would turn out to support this thing.  Well, they did; the turn out was higher than usual for an off year election with a trove of mayoral candidates (a baker's dozen, or so) and a slew of county bonds to vote for (all passed), city ordinances to approve, and state constitutional amendments to pass (they did, including one which will lower everyone's property tax bill by about $8 a month.  You are now free to buy those two extra lattes at Starbucks every month, and you can thank your house for it.  How that affects schools, which raise taxes from property values to pay for teachers and buildings; well, don't worry about that right now.  Enjoy your latte.  I'm sure a teacher would; if they could afford Starbucks on their salary.).  Then again, only 12% of registered voters in Houston actually voted on this ordinance.  So is this who Houston is?  Or are we the silent and apathetic majority?

Still, the main reason the law failed, or the opposition won, is because the issue was turned into a matter of public toilets.

Yes, this is an old trope.  Yes, it is ironic, too; considering that today the victory cry is that bathrooms and locker rooms are now safe from invasion.  Ironic because the DOJ is pressing an Illinois school district to give full access to the girl's locker room to a transgendered student.  If something like that comes up in Houston, watch for exploding heads.

Houston bathrooms are no safer or more dangerous now than they were yesterday at this time.  If you attack someone in a restroom, you deserve to be arrested.  If a man wanders into the women's restroom, he deserves to be (at least) escorted back out again.  But now we are apparently safe from transgender predators, because that's what the "anti" campaign was all about.  And the "pro" campaign needs to carry much of the blame for that.

The "pro campaign" was an anodyne production featuring relying on an ad containing mostly white people and a few Hispanics (and probably one black, what we would have called a "token" back in the day), so as to offend as few white Houston voters as possible.  This is the most ethnically diverse city in the country (per the Census Bureau), but we don't yet self-identify that way, so don't put it in our face; that, at least, seemed to be the reasoning.  And rather than point and laugh at the bathroom campaign and say publicly and loudly "ARE YOU SERIOUS?  ARE YOU KIDDING ME? ARE YOU CRAZY?  HELL, NO, WE'RE NOT GONNA LET SOMETHING LIKE THAT HAPPEN!  THAT'S INSANE!", with a big ol' Molly Ivins-style grin on your face, we had an ad that appealed to equality for all, without ever explicitly saying "including homosexuals and the transgendered."

Because, you know, that might scare people.

Yes, I'd hoped this would go the other way.  But the old lesson is still the only lesson:  people will not vote for unless you give 'em a damned good reason to.  It's easier to vote against, or better, just don't vote at all.  The vote against is always motivated.  The vote for needs just as much reason, even stronger reasons, to be motivated.  I suspect the majority of Houstonians support equal treatment for everybody; but when you start talking about extending that, it first sounds like somebody's gonna get something you don't get, and how unfair is that?  So if you want to extend rights, you have to make that case, loud and long and as often as possible.  And when you are up against a fear-mongering campaign, the response is not to ignore it and hope it will go away.

Because fear works.


It is, for me, a golden oldie.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Just sayin'.....

I hope he's at least having fun.

It's the guy who isn't interested in material things you have to watch, especially when you put him in charge of a very large institution.

I mean, people like that tend not to understand the importance and value of things like money.  They put other things first, like people, and ideas, and beliefs; even ethics.

Really have to be watchful when you let people like that be in control.  They don't understand what "value" really applies to.

Election Day U.S.A.

Still my favorite modern artist

I wasn't going to write about this, even though it's getting national attention, but this is a pretty good introduction to the issue, and a good place to start.

To begin with, I didn't know what about Annise Parker.  I just knew she was a good mayor who would probably get re-elected if not for strict term limits (a dumb idea, but that's another day).  Montrose is still the "gay" neighborhood of Houston, but more as a tradition than a necessity, and if Houston weren't so gerrymandered on the state and federal level, we'd send a great deal more Democrats to Austin and D.C. than we do now.

As for HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance), it's had a checkered career.  This is the ordinance that the City Council passed that was challenged with petitions which were thrown out, and then there were more petitions and more court cases and even I lost track of how it wound up before the Texas Supreme Court who ruled HERO had to be but on the ballot (or rescinded, or something; who cares anymore?), but the fight at that time was by and large pure old-fashioned hate:  HERO would mean people couldn't discriminate against gays and transgendered, and that was not AMERICAN, where we have to be free to hate somebody!

Lest you think I exaggerate:

It is astounding to have to say that most Houston citizens – including most Christians and pastors – are still unaware of the radical nature of Mayor Annise Parker’s commitment to imposing the full “San Francisco Style” Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, etc. agenda. … We have a sin-sick city and we need the power of God through Jesus Christ changing lives and changing City Hall!
Yeah.  Well, that kind of language has faded away.  The new argument is all about toilets and who gets to use 'em, because if we pass this ordinance we'll have to take the doors off the bathrooms and remove the stall dividers and put in sound-proofed rooms for predators to take the children.  Well, maybe that last bit goes too far, but again maybe not, if you've seen the "toilet ad" that's running down here.  (UPDATE:  I found it here.  Don't say I never do anything for you.)

Interestingly, the pro-HERO ad I've seen never mentions the acronym "HERO" (apparently that has been banned from this discussion, to avoid or create confusion, I'm not sure).  It focusses on non-discrimination against veterans (?) coming home from service, and women and people because of race or gender or religious belief (the Civil Rights Act language, basically), oh, and of sexual orientation.  Frankly, in a city with a lesbian mayor for two terms, who could win again if she could run, that last is not all that controversial.

And the opponents of HERO know it, so they are running the "toilet" ad, which is worse than you think, complete with ominous narration about what will lurk in Houston restrooms if we let it, and ends with a very young, very doe-eyed white girl, in grainy black and white, staring up off camera as a shadow looms over her, backing her into a corner against tile-covered walls.

Get it?  Pass HERO, and predators will stalk your children in public bathrooms, business will HAVE TO ALLOW THIS!  Never mind sexual predation is a violation of state criminal law, and people entering bathrooms with the intent of preying on women and children (always the "weak", right?) are already subject to arrest, and most of us spend as little time in public bathrooms as possible (except those at Buc-ees, which are so clean and bright and welcoming they are a religious experience; but also so open you couldn't drag anybody into any stall without twelve people knowing about it, including at least two store employees.  I mean those restrooms are NEVER empty!  But I digress.....).  No longer is the argument about the religious freedom to condemn gays (Obergefell pretty much marked paid to that argument, and Kim Davis did it no favors on her way out of the public eye), now they've latched on to sexual predators and restrooms where you go because you have to and where it's not private anyway because it's PUBLIC!  O the shame!  O the humanities!  To expose your nether regions in a place that is not your own!

Here's hoping, and expecting, it passes.  The toilet ad is really pretty heavy-handed, I expect it to backfire.  Besides, the only "man" you'll find in a woman's bathroom would be Caitlyn Jenner or someone like her, and I don't expect Caitlyn to walk in looking for a urinal on the wall, do you?

This just really is stupid.

Tedious update the second:  there are over 1 million registered voters in the city of Houston.  Interviewing 24 of them and deciding from that you know the status of this issue in the minds of Houston voters, is a whole different kind of dumb.

Monday, November 02, 2015

The Howling

Yeah, I know it's a yawn.  He doesn't look like this (except he's gray), 
but he sounds like he should look like this.

I have a cat who must have some Siamese in him.  He screeches like a lost soul, wails like an abandoned baby, howls like a banshee; and all pretty much because he can.  He does it to let us know it's time to wake up; he does it to let us know his food bowl is empty; he does it to tell us we're in the wrong room, and he wants us in another room, or he won't stop howling.  Sometimes he does it, in Wallace Steven's felicitous phrase, just to test the reality of the rooms he lives in.

This morning he was doing it just as NPR was telling me that cattlemen of Texas are upset that the WHO has said red meat causes cancer.  Never mind the WHO is wrong (they are), or that eating a hamburger or a hot dog is worse than smoking a cigarette (it isn't), or that once again I'm reminded of that scene in Woody Allen's "Sleeper" where the doctor tells him red meat is the best thing for you (Woody's character wakes up in the future, having run a health food store when he was frozen).  Cattle futures are down, which means the price being paid for cattle is down (because people will stop eating at McDonald's now, duh!; except, of course, they won't) and the ranchers are in a bad mood and wanna sue somebody.

No, seriously:  one cattleman said somebody in the WHO needs to be sued because that'll "stop this nonsense" right quick!  Except, of course, the people playing with the price of meat on the hoof are speculators and financiers, not a bunch of doctors in the WHO.  And when the WHO report is forgotten and meat continues to be popular, cattle prices will rise once again, and long before a lawsuit could even be filed.  Don't let those facts stop a good and useless rant.

The cattlemen sounded exactly like the people I read on the intertoobs who tell me that Christians need to stifle right wing fundie Christians because that's our responsibility; or the "liberal media" is to blame for Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio throwing kerosene on that trash fire again, because they give Cruz and Rubio cause to be so inflammatory.  Somehow; I don't know how.  But all these problems have simple solutions, if we'll just implement 'em!

My old cat yowls because it's the only voice he has and, like a character from a GEICO ad, it's what he does.  Sometimes the solution is to feed him; sometimes it's to go where he is and pet him into somnambulance; sometimes its just to ignore him until he gives up.  I'm beginning to think the population which has time to be on the internet is, by and large, just like my cat.  (and yes, I'm well aware of those four fingers pointing back at me, thank you very much!).  They make a lot of noise, but it's hard to figure out what they mean by it.

Seems true for that portion of the population that manages to get itself in the news, too.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

All Saints Day 2015



A reprise from last year.

For Catholics All Saint's Day is a day to honor the saints; All Soul's Day remembers all who have died in Christ who are not considered saints.  For Protestants, the "saints" mean the clouds of witness who we believe surrounds in time and across time, as well as space.  According to most reports Samhain was one of the "thin places" in the calendar, when the dearly departed were yet close at hand, not as ghouls and ghost and goblins, but as family.

It's all about death and resurrection.  Although those terms might not mean what you think they mean.

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 yough, 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 mave haev a hope beyond this world for all they 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.