Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Most Uninteresting Man In The World

I don't always watch TeeVee, but when I do, I prefer to watch "Countdown with Keith Olbermann."

So now what am I gonna do?

Friday, January 21, 2011

No, who is my neighbor, really?


As Zachary Roth reported, Bossier Parish is home to Sheriff Larry Deen, who last year launched "Operation Exodus" -- an effort to arm volunteers with "shotguns, riot shields, batons, and a .50-caliber machine gun mounted on a 'war wagon.'" Deen explained at the time that "recent terror threats" have shown that there are "homegrown terrorists are in our midst."

"Over the past several years, the violence has gotten worse and worse" said Jim Middleton, one current trainee. "I'd rather be proactive than working after the fact. We're all in God's army, and you don't see any army going to war unarmed."

Louisiana State Rep. Henry Burns (R), who wrote the original legislation, visited the class, and told the trainees that "each and every one of you here are patriots because you care to provide protection to the innocent. We should be able to worship our Lord without fear."

Burns told TPM last May, after the legislation passed the state House, that the law was for "those unique situations where maybe a church can't afford law enforcement," but churchgoers want to protect themselves.

A church is "really no safe haven," he said.
First, the whole notion that one more gun will make you safe is nuts:

I came out of that store, I clicked the safety off, and I was ready," he explained on Fox and Friends. "I had my hand on my gun. I had it in my jacket pocket here. And I came around the corner like this." Zamudio demonstrated how his shooting hand was wrapped around the weapon, poised to draw and fire. As he rounded the corner, he saw a man holding a gun. "And that's who I at first thought was the shooter," Zamudio recalled. "I told him to 'Drop it, drop it!' "

But the man with the gun wasn't the shooter. He had wrested the gun away from the shooter. "Had you shot that guy, it would have been a big, fat mess," the interviewer pointed out.

Zamudio agreed:

I was very lucky. Honestly, it was a matter of seconds. Two, maybe three seconds between when I came through the doorway and when I was laying on top of [the real shooter], holding him down. So, I mean, in that short amount of time I made a lot of really big decisions really fast. … I was really lucky.
Yes, and so were a lot of other people that day in Tucson. Now, how many shootings in churches have occurred recently? Google tells me there were shootings in 2008, 2009 and 2010 (about one a year). I don't think that makes churches less of a "safe haven" than anywhere else in American society. Allowing people to carry guns into church certainly makes them less safe. But the real question is: what are we so afraid of?

And there's a theological issue here, as well: aren't churches supposed to be places of hospitality? Isn't hospitality supposed to be the very heart of the Gospel? Maybe we need John Donne again:

Show me dear Christ, thy spouse so bright and clear.
What! is it she which on the other shore
Goes richly painted? or which, robb'd and tore,
Laments and mourns in Germany and here?
Sleeps she a thousand, then peeps up one year?
Is she self-truth, and errs? now new, now outwore?
Doth she, and did she, and shall she evermore
On one, on seven, or on no hill appear?
Dwells she with us, or like adventuring knights
First travel we to seek, and then make love?
Betray, kind husband, thy spouse to our sights,
And let mine amorous soul court thy mild Dove,
Who is most true and pleasing to thee then
When she'is embrac'd and open to most men.
--John Donne

Or maybe we need to wrestle again with how we sing the Lord's song in a strange (sorry, Louisiana; you know I love you) land? And does that song end with a bang? Or a prayer?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

In answer to the question:

Who is my neighbor? Gov. Bentley says: only my fellow Baptists:

"If anyone from other religions felt disenfranchised by the language, I want to say I am sorry. I am sorry if I offended anyone in any way," Bentley said Wednesday.

Bentley, who spoke at the church during a King holiday event after his official inaugural address, said no one should hate anyone else because of color or religion.

Speaking with reporters after meeting with several members of Alabama's Jewish community and other faith leaders at his Capitol office, Bentley said he will be a governor for everyone, not just Christians.
So, we're left with this: either Gov. Bentley meant what he said, but didn't mean by it that his words actually meant anything. "Brothers and sisters," in other words, is an empty phrase devoid of any real application. Or, Gov. Bentley meant what he said, and only those Christians who share his particular confession are worthy of his attention and compassion and even interest, as Governor or as a human being.

Or Gov. Bentley didn't mean any of it, and even his confessions of faith are hollow and meaningless. Or, finally, he meant it, but he's sorry the rest of us heard it. And, in fact, that last one may be the correct explanation, according to no less an authority than Gov. Bentley:

He said he was speaking as an evangelical Christian to fellow Baptists.
The rest of us really shouldn't have been listening.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

State of the State of Texas

Burnt Orange Report gives a bit of a reason to be optimistic:

More than half of Texas' voters want lawmakers to spare public education and health care programs for children and lower-income families from spending cuts during the legislative session that starts this week, according to a new poll commissioned by the Austin American-Statesman and other newspapers.


Some 70 percent of respondents said lawmakers should not cut school spending, and 61 percent said they want no spending cuts on health care programs for children and low- to moderate-income families.

But cuts are coming. Massive cuts. "Scary" cuts.

School districts have known this for over a year, but the proposed cuts are deeper than they ever imagined. This even gets discussed at school board meetings; but what newspaper, what TV news show, covers local school board meetings and puts the results on the front page or at the top of the 10 p.m. news? So it hasn't been reported, and what's going to happen is: teachers are going to be laid off in droves. The cuts are going to be absolutely savage, and no one will notice until their favorite teacher is fired, until class sizes balloon, until programs are eliminated and perhaps even schools closed (there is much talk of that in at least two cities in Texas. The school boards, as I say, know what's coming.)

Perry said today:

As Texans, we always take care of the least among us.

The frail, the young, the elderly on fixed incomes, those in situations of abuse and neglect, people whose needs are greater than the resources at their disposal – they can count on the people of Texas to be there for them.

We will protect them, support them and empower them, but cannot risk the future of millions of taxpayers in the process. We must cut spending to keep our economic engine on track.
You can't do both, of course. Texas can't cut spending it doesn't spend anyway, and still support education and the poor who need medical care. It's simply impossible. (Not that Texas hasn't tried.) So the poor and the children will suffer for Rick Perry's determination to keep his campaign promise. And Texans might even take notice.

But only after schools have closed, and teachers and others have been laid off. Only after the bloodletting is so massive it can't be ignored. And it's all so Rick Perry can run for higher office:

During this session, Texas will prove again that fiscal responsibility, sound policy making and a passion for individual liberty are essential to the success of employers, institutions and families.

If we cannot exercise fiscal discipline in governing Texas, I doubt it can be achieved anywhere least of all in Washington.

With our nation mired in more than $14 trillion of debt, accountability and fiscal responsibility will not come from Washington – it will come from places like Texas.

Texas is still the engine of America’s economy, and we’re proud to lead the nation in Fortune 1000 companies, international exports and job creation.
For how much longer, though?

Last night Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell released a statement saying: "The prospect of closing the successful central city schools clearly runs counter to our community's long term planning goals.” He added he does not believe parents will move into or stay in Austin neighborhoods if there are not good schools there.
None of that job creation is going to include a teacher. None of those Fortune 1000 companies is going to pay to keep a school open. The inaugural barbecue business can pay for. But business is not going to fill the gap in Texas' Medicaid funding. Private interests are not going to pay teacher's salaries, or make up for the money the state won't provide to schools. So maybe we'll have a few more jobs; but whether that gain will outweigh the loss of school employees, and the pain and suffering of the poor who will have an even harder time getting health care in Texas, is something Gov. Perry has not addressed.

Update: keep the above in mind, because here we go:

Texas lawmakers got their first glimpse of what the next state budget might look like late Tuesday, including a staggering $5 billion cut to public schools, as Gov. Rick Perry and his supporters were dancing at an inaugural celebration.


The budget draft, which is expected to be filed as legislation in the House later this week, would cut funding entirely to four community colleges and would generally eliminate financial aid for incoming freshmen and new students. The Texas Grants scholarship program would drop by more than 70,000 students over the next two years.

The proposal also would reduce reimbursement rates by 10 percent for physicians, hospitals and nursing homes that participate in Medicaid - a decrease that could eventually dry up participation in the program for poor and disabled Texans.

In total, 9,600 state jobs would be eliminated over the next two years.

"It's a catastrophe. No financial aid for kids to go to college. No pre-kindergarten for kids to learn their numbers and their letters. Health and human services slashed," said Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine. "No Texan can be proud of this."

Perry took the oath of office earlier Tuesday for his third term in office. After a day of parties, he spent the evening at a celebration in downtown Austin, just a mile from the Capitol. Donors are picking up the $2 million tab for the 2011 inaugural. The Legislative Budget Board was required by law to release the budget to leaders on Tuesday, the fifth business day after the session starts.

Some analysts say the true shortfall could be much higher than $15 billion - closer to $27 billion - to account for enrollment growth in public schools and on Medicaid rolls, cost increases and other variables. That figure amounts to almost a third of discretionary state spending in the current budget.

A $4 billion reduction to the Foundation School Program - the pot of money distributed to schools based on daily attendance - means the program would be short almost $10 billion below the amount required to fund the school finance formulas under state law. That would make school finance reform legislation almost inevitable.

The proposal also recommends cuts to arts education, teacher incentive pay, money for schools to administer steroid testing and pre-kindergarten programs.


Rep. Jim Pitts, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he would explain the proposal to the chamber on Wednesday.

"There are no sacred cows for this next biennium for our introduced bill," Pitts said last week. "So many people said, 'You cannot cut education'. You can't not cut education . We will be cutting every article within our budget. We will be cutting health and human, we will be cutting education and we'll be cutting our own budget in the Legislature."

"But who is my neighbor?"

Via TPM:

Speaking on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the very church where Dr. King once pastored, new Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley gave a speech in which he said that those who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior are not his "brothers."

Bentley spoke at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery just minutes after taking the oath of office on Monday. The new governor, who has been a deacon at First Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, first said that though he ran as a Republican, once he took office he "became the governor of all the people."

"I am color blind," Bentley said, according to The Birmingham News.

But Bentley then said that only those who are Christians and "saved" like he is are his brothers and sisters.
Not just "Christians," of course, but anyone who doesn't confess the theology Gov. Bentley confesses. So Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Copts, me...a lot of us are not his "brothers and sisters."

The really sad part is the effort to draw lines, to exclude people, to make clear who is acceptable and who isn't. Which, as I read the Gospels, is precisely what Jesus lived, and spoke, and acted, against doing.

"Which of these three, in your opinion, acted like a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?"

He said, "The one who showed him compassion."

Jesus said to him, "Then go and do the same yourself."
Luke 10:36-37, Scholars Version.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day-2011

Remembering Dr. King today, I redirect you to a post I've used for two years now.

My local news tells me some of the schools around teach the lessons of tolerance and non-violence that we associate with Dr. King. I would hope they teach this lesson, too; although I rather doubt it. I hope they teach many more lessons about Dr. King's legacy, in fact. It is a legacy that would really repay more attention by all of us. Because this is what Dr. King was about, beyond "tolerance" and "non-violence":

I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about "Where do we go from here," that we honestly face the fact that the Movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question, "Why are there forty million poor people in America?" And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I'm simply saying that more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's market place. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. You see, my friends, when you deal with this, you begin to ask the question, "Who owns the oil?" You begin to ask the question, "Who owns the iron ore?" You begin to ask the question, "Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two thirds water?" These are questions that must be asked.


What I'm saying to you this morning is that Communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the Kingdom of Brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of Communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both. Now, when I say question the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.

If you will let me be a preacher just a little bit - One night, a juror came to Jesus and he wanted to know what he could do to be saved. Jesus didn't get bogged down in the kind of isolated approach of what he shouldn't do. Jesus didn't say, "Now Nicodemus, you must stop lying." HE didn't say, "Nicodemus, you must stop cheating if you are doing that." He didn't say, "Nicodemus, you must not commit adultery." He didn't say, "Nicodemus, now you must stop drinking liquor if you are doing that excessively." He said something altogether different, because Jesus realized something basic - that if a man will lie, he will steal. And if a man will steal, he will kill. So instead of just getting bogged down in one thing, Jesus looked at him and said, "Nicodemus, you must be born again."

He said, in other words, "Your whole structure must be changed." A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will "thingify" them - make them things. Therefore they will exploit them, and poor people generally, economically. And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign investments and everything else, and will have to use its military might to protect them. All of these problems are tied together. What I am saying today is that we must go from this convention and say, "America, you must be born again!"

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Striving after Emptiness

What is success?

Is it playing a piano concert in Carnegie Hall? Amy Chua's daughter accomplished that, according to news reports. I studied piano for 8 years, mostly enjoyed it, am glad I did it, even considered (briefly) majoring in music in college. Yet I never played in Carnegie Hall, never even imagined I would. Did I not succeed at my piano lessons? (For the record, I never learned to play by ear, play jazz piano, or play whatever was on the radio when I was in high school. I really wasn't much of a performer (ironic; music is performance), but like every high school kid, I wanted the attention the right performance could bring. So I never felt like a "success" at music. Never occurred to me to play Carnegie Hall or consider my efforts pointless, though.)

I agree with this assessment of "success" and "achievement," at least in part. I am perplexed by the concept of "parenting" and the idea of success for children. What is the success everyone chases? A good first job? A secure future? A guaranteed income?

Who has those things?

When I was in college, the mantra was: "To get a good job, get a good education." Well, yeah, but how many college students can get jobs just now? If only the top 10% can "win," then the other 90% are just cannon fodder, people there to make that top 10% possible. Is this so difficult to understand? If I had played Carnegie Hall at age 18, what would I be doing today? Would I be guaranteed an income as a classical pianist? Or would I simply have been a "success" back then? And is "success" really so superficial, so shallow, so determined by circumstances? Is there no wisdom in Chinese or Eastern culture to teach me that success flows from a state of being, or mind, or "inner contentment," and not from external circumstances over which I have little control?

The irony here is I've taught one of Amy Chua's essays in English composition for a few years now, and I've always considered it a remarkably weak work full of tendentious and conventional (i.e., "received") reasoning and a refusal to take the positions she asserts to logical conclusions, to explore all the ramifications of the ideas she purports to stand by. She is clearly intelligent, but she is not very wise. I remember an interview with Jerry Seinfeld, where he remarked on his boyhood idol, Superman. But he said Batman was superior, because while Superman has "super-intelligence" (according to the comic books of his childhood, and mine), Batman was "the world's greatest detective," which meant, said Seinfeld, that Batman was "wise." Better to be wise than just to be smart, Mr. Seinfeld concluded.

Music enriched my life, and someday I may even return to the level of piano skills I once enjoyed. Am I not successful, though, because I was not a musical prodigy? I have decades of education, but am I wiser for it? I know, even as I don't quite live in the knowledge, that happiness and success flow from what I can control, not from what I can't control. Am I a failure? When I left the practice of law, most of my lawyer friends said they envied me having the courage to give it up. I never felt I was courageous, or that such a step moved me any closer to being "successful." Many of them have succeeded in their careers, and I'm glad of it. But did I fail? Maybe by Amy Chua's standards; but, and this is, to me, the heart of the controversy: who is Amy Chua, and why should I care what she thinks? Especially when it comes to my relationship with my child?

Is success only what other people say it is?

Nor am I above ending this with a bit of scripture I often passed on to high school graduates about to go to college:

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
The words of the Preacher. Amen!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Do ya feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?"

Huffington Post:

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said Wednesday that he wishes one additional person had possessed a firearm in Tucson on Saturday, presumably to use on Jared Lee Loughner.

"I wish there had been one more gun there that day in the hands of a responsible person, that's all I have to say," Franks said at a briefing, according to Politico.

Let's be plain about this: it's very doubtful Jared Lee Loughner drew a bead on 9 year old Christina Taylor Greene to make sure she died when he started emptying a 30+ round magazine through a semi-automatic weapon. He just wanted to empty the clip, and after putting one through Gabriel Gifford's head, he probably wasn't aiming carefully anymore. But bullets do that: they go where physics leads them, not where intent or will or any other human emotion might wish them to go. They follow the immutable laws of nature.

And anyone else with a gun that day would have sent bullets in the same direction: the wrong one. Houston had an incident recently where a man was pulled over on suspicion of being a criminal, and he was eventually shot on his parents' front lawn by an officer who drove up, pulled his weapon, and emptied a nine round clip. A trained police officer, and out of nine rounds, only one hit the suspect. One.

Imagine what would have happened in Tucson if there had been "one more gun" present. How many more people would be dead, or wounded? And who would be blamed?

And what difference would it make, to the dead and the wounded?

Sunday, January 02, 2011

On the Eighth day of Christmas....

The real issue here is not responsibility, but responsibility v. authority.

Authority says I will take all of your possessions, take your liberty, take your children, in order to punish you for being poor.

Responsibility answers the question "Who is my neighbor?" with the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Authority says there are people undeserving of even our attention. Responsibility says: "Do you see this woman?"

Authority says there is a scarcity of goods and a plenitude of wants, and the only prudent course is to hoard what you have and to turn away the stranger. Responsibility says, so long as you respond with hospitality to the stranger, your own needs will always be met.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Twelve Days of Xmas

Christmas is not quite over. Received one of these yesterday, as a Christmas gift. It's Soren Kierkegaard, if you can't tell.

I'm thinking about getting Hegel, to keep him company. But they'd probably just fight....