Friday, May 31, 2013


I started the day that first produced this post a little disappointed.

This review of the stories of Ray Bradbury, for example, is frankly so blinkered and generationally bound ("Bradbury also loved to write about the end of the world.  It was, perhaps, a natural outgrowth of the era during which he wrote, when human eradication had become very much possible."  Possible?  C'mere, punk, and lemme tell ya about somethin' called "The Cold War."  Fallout shelters.  Duck 'n' cover.  Possible?  How about "Probable"?.  Now get off mah lawn!) that I find it a bit hard to take.  Alyssa liked it, but I often find Alyssa a bit hard to take.

Opinions vary.  YMMV.  Your favorite anything sux.  And so on.

The other thing bothering me is this completely lame review of the latest episode of "Mad Men."  I'm sure there are much more lucid and enlightening comments out there than this one at Slate, but in the fine internet tradition of finding one voice you disagree with and then slamming that opinion as mercilessly as our metaphors treat dead horses, let me say this brief summary doesn't even to the plot justice.  Did no one notice that Betty did to Don what Don has been doing to women throughout the entire series?  That Don, who we now know grew up in a whorehouse and learned to treat women as vessels for sexual pleasure and bodily fluids, has finally been treated like a sex object by his ex-wife Betty, the Ice Princess?  That she tossed him aside like a Kleenex, and let him know she knew he knew she knew what she'd done, all with a look, the next morning as she brushed him off with the least polite greeting she needed?

And what of Peggy, the woman who wants to be (in late 60's America) a man?  No, not a transvestite, but a fully autonomous human being?  Who screwed Pete because she wanted to, had a baby she never told him about and abandoned to her mother's care, and lately has taken up with Abe, the would-be radical for whom she bought an apartment building in the wrong part of town.  Abe who abjures what Peggy does, but gladly takes her money so he can live out his dream of identifying with "the people," even when "the people" stab him at the subway in an attempted robbery (and we all begin to remember how New York City got it's latest reputation for being a crime-ridden warren of rats and snakes with these story lines, and the endless sirens going off on the streets below Don's "safe" apartment (don't get me started on the con artist who fooled Sally while all the adults were away doing "adult" things).  Will no one notice Peggy stabbed Abe with perhaps the most obvious phallic symbol in recent television?  Will no one notice Abe was acting like the stereotypical female ("Can't we all just get along?  Can't we just talk about it and understand?"; not not actual quotes; but actually the way Abe has been behaving) while Peggy learns to be more adult and rational than Don who competes with Ted by drinking him under the table, and Ted who flies his own plane and makes Don feel insignificant against that simple fact)?  Will no one notice Peggy has been pursuing Ted, who responds by coming unstuck and behaving like...well, a girl?  (Yes, I know that sounds uncommonly sexist, but in the culture of America in the '60's as portrayed in this show, Ted is clearly a wimp.)  Usually man enters woman (the whole point of a phallic symbol), but when Peggy wheels around at the noise inside her apartment, following the noise from outside her apartment, she enters Abe; and right in the belly.  She doesn't castrate him, but she doesn't have to; he's pretty much done that himself (again, in 1960's terms; Abe makes the obsequious Bob at Sterling Cooper, et al., look like a mensch).  She enters him, and the results are not pretty; but they are illuminating.

Well, they are to me.  Maybe I'm just a product of too much pseudo-Freudian analysis in literary criticism in my formative years.

Speaking of formative years, let me start with full disclosure about the work of Ray Bradbury:  I grew up on it.  I grew up buying every copy of his books I could find, especially the bizarrely lurid covers of the Bantam editions, every one proclaiming him "The World's Greatest Living Science Fiction Writer."  The covers all reflected the same style, from the huge naked man covered with tattoos sitting on a makeshift wooden platform in some desert locale for The Illustrated Man (against a strikingly red sky) to the red planet floating on a black background, covered with faces and figures for The Martian Chronicles, even to the large clock filled with snakes and scarecrows and other figures, again in that desert locale, for Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow which Bradbury merely edited.  I searched those books out when I was 11, 12, 13, finding them not in bookstores (did such places exist?  One did, in my town, and I eventually worked there) but in grocery stores and drug stores where  Bradbury's books always appeared on wire stands  much like comic books did.  I scoured those rotating stands for that cover art, looking for the next one to fill out my collection.

I still have them all, plus many hardbacks accumulated over the years.  So I am, above all and going back for decades, a Bradbury fanatic.  I've been reading him since before Todd VanDerWerff was a gleam in his father's eye, since before Mr. VanDerWerff first knew he was living in Aurora, South Dakota.

So wise up, punk.

Ray Bradbury wrote about more topics and ideas than any other writer I've encountered.  He didn't create a fictional world or resurrect a real one from memory and maps, although he certainly preferred certain leitmotifs:  he loved the horror stories of Poe, and wrote some of his own equally as good.  He wrote brilliant fantasies, from men creating cocoons around themselves to malevolent mushrooms in basements to the wonderful stories (and one novel!) about the Family.  He was often more poet than not (something Mr. VanDerWerff only gets close to mentioning by damning Bradbury's gift for description with faint praise), and his talents ranged from the fictional Green Town, Illinois (okay, he did create a fictional world; but he hardly limited himself to it) to the streets of Los Angeles, Dublin, Ireland, cities of Mars, and where ever all those stories in the Illustrated Man took place.

He was brilliant, stupid, ignorant, insightful, playful, powerful, weak, talented, simplistic, bombastic, eloquent, and marvelous.  He was also, on occasion, disappointing.  Go and please the world.

What he was not, was the writer reflected in Mr. VanDerWerff's assessment.  Mr. Bradbury was worthy of a much better critic than Mr. VanDerWerff will ever be.

As for that "Mad Men" episode, Peggy stabbing Abe is illuminating if only because it causes Abe to confess to Peggy (pain killers?  shock? delirium?) that he can't stand what she does.  Her work, he means?  The income that gave him the apartment building in the part of the city he wanted to live in?  Or, perhaps, her personal behavior?  Her strength, her assertiveness; her, dare we say it, feminism? That phallic symbol again....

And Don, finally treated by a woman the way he's been treating women for, what is it, six seasons now?, was just as emasculating as Peggy stabbing her boyfriend with a ten-foot pole (not quite that long, but the metaphor is apt).  When he returns to his wife, it's not as a broken man or a repentant man or even a sadder but wiser man.  Rumors are flying that he returns to a wife slated to die a la Sharon Tate (and the resemblance of the two is stronger than I realized; for some reason I remembered Sharon Tate as a blond.  And yes, I did work that into the discussion for the purposes of being gratuitous; why do you ask?  Besides, it reminds us that Esquire was much racier back in the day.  Ah, yes, I remember it well.....).  I give no credence to those rumors, but I find it interesting that Don admits he hasn't "been there" for her; or rather, he just admits he hasn't been there, which begs the question:  when has he ever been anywhere, except in the limbo he's tried to live in since leaving his non-wife, the widow of the real Don Draper, and marrying Betty?

But that's another matter....

The only point is, some works of art deserve better critics than they get, much as culture itself deserves a better understanding than it usually gets.  Katha Pollit's comments on religion are a case in point:  she wants to blame either individual psychology or some subset of society (religion, in this case) for some set of perceived evils in the world.  The usual reasoning is:  extirpate this source root and branch, and life as we know it will improve.  It's thinking not far removed from that of the principals of "Mad Men:"  attain the right relationship (Don's flight from his non-wife, the real Mrs. Draper, to Betty, to Megan, with various affairs in between and all around) acquire enough clients and accounts, get (in the case of Pete, most recently) the right house in the 'burbs, or the right apartment in town, achieve enlightenment via LSD (Roger), and all will be well and all manner of thing will be well.

Except, of course, it isn't.  Now shift that relentless pursuit to understanding:  plunge to the bottom, to the root cause, and finally you will have something!  Except you have to locate that root cause correctly:  the psychology of the individual was a very popular answer for a century or more; now we blame religion, or politics, or other people's politics (nothing really new in any of this).  What we never blame is culture; mostly because culture really is the water we are floating in.  Ultimately we can no more reject it than we can stop breathing air.  Much easier to blame a subset:  religion, politics, what have you; that we think we can then discard, and solve the problem.  So we'll fix the issue by slicing off all that makes religion seem important to us:  we can have ethics without it (yes; it's called "The Nichomachean Ethics."  But it doesn't go quite as far as John Rawl's theory of justice, and his argument was for social order and public policy, not interpersonal relationships).  Then we'll discern unappealing attitudes (sexism, patriarchy, etc.) in religion, and decide that is where such attitudes are rooted.  And when they aren't, we'll root them in individual psyches, or in undesirable sub-cultures ("rednecks," "hillbillies," "coon-asses" in southern Louisiana, "crackers," "white trash," "Tea Partiers."  We never run out of groups to blame and despise, and so keep ourselves "pure.")

I mean, after all, those people are obsessed with funny things that don't bother us now, so why should we try to learn about them, or even from them?  Let's just slap a label on them, and move on.  Sort of the way Don Draper labels women as convenient or inconvenient whores. Which is a matter of his psychological development; but is also a matter of the culture he swims like a shark in.

Although at least he doesn't take a lovely, simple screed and drive it right into the ground.

Better critics, please; and this blog could use an editor.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Acts of Paul and Thecla and other people....

I love this idea that, if God said it, believers have to believe it.

Would that religious belief, or more specifically Christian belief, were that simple.

God said care for the poor, the widow and the orphan.  God said don't make war, turn the other cheek, do good to those who hate you, love those who revile you, think first of others and last of yourself; be servant to all and least of all.

Does that describe any Christian you know?

God did not say keep the woman quiet, and subservient, and insignificant, and oppressed, and unimportant, and unnoticed.  But many a male Christian (and no small number of females, at one time or another) is quite convinced that is the word of God.

It can be difficult to argue with people who think God said it and that settles it, but one can get into similar arguments over politics with people who no more connect religion to politics than Thomas Jefferson would.

Is religion, or more accurately Christianity (since no one ever discusses, in any detail, Judaism or even Islam) inherently sexist?  Only insomuch as the culture that supports that religious practice is inherently sexist.  Religious belief doesn't create sexism; culture does.  And religious belief doesn't guide human behavior:  culture does.

Which is putting it to strongly in response to a too-strong generalization.  Religious belief does guide human behavior, but it doesn't control human behavior.  In the famous example of Paul and Thecla, you can see where the male figure and the female figure both have their hands raised in the same gesture of blessing.  Thecla's upraised fingers, however, have been burned away.  Did religion do that?  or culture?  If the former, why is she in the picture at all?

There is a rich vein of scholarship, already more than 20 years old when I was in seminary (and that was 20 years ago!), detailing the importance of women in the Biblical record, recovering their voices and noting where they had, like Thecla, been all but removed from the record.  Not quite removed, of course; and was the fault with religion, or with culture?  Did God decree women should be expurgated from the Biblical record, and people were just sloppy about it?  Or did people decide all those women were messing up their old boys network, and they were inefficient at removing all traces?

Can we know the dancer from the dance?  Perhaps.  Or perhaps we simply need to change the steps of the dance, and keep the music.

And all manner of thing shall be well

A handful of selections from Huffington Post's "Religion" page:

Atheists are Redeemable

Well, Maybe Not....

God uses Tornadoes in Mysterious Ways

God Uses Anne Heche in Mysterious Ways, Too

The Devil Speaks Spanish!

No criticism intended as to any of these articles, or the fact the HuffPost decided to republish them, or even that I found them yesterday morning.  We could consider Wolf Blitzer's faux pas or Glenn Beck's bizarre reaction to same (where would you be with me to aggregate the news that HuffPo already aggregates?)  But I slide over those and other issues, such as whether free speech means the majority gets to promote religion with the support of government entities in Texas or Kentucky (in neither case do those proclaiming the "rights" of the majority have my sympathies.  As a religious Christian myself I resented the Southern Baptist theology of my peers in high school, and could well have done without any expression of Christianity as listen to their public prayers.  Oddly, it never occurred to me to sympathize with the Jews and the atheists in the audience; but it would now.)

I slide over them because there is a connecting thread in all of these stories:  the ones I highlighted as well as the ones mentioned in passing.  And that connection is:  soteriology.

Redemption, for example, is a part of salvation.  That metaphysical part which says today is a down payment on eternity, if you invest it wisely.  (Pardon my simplicity of metaphor, but there's no reason to beat around this particular non-burning bush.)

What really got me thinking about this, though, was the "theological controversy" stirred up by the tornado in Oklahoma.  It seems someone I've never heard of (more fool me, I'm sure) decided the words from Job were appropriate to the occasion:

“Your sons and daughters were eating and a great wind struck the house, and it fell upon them, and they are dead.” Job 1:19
“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.” Job 1:20

Now, admittedly, I turned to the Psalms; because Psalm 29 always comes to mind on these occasions, even though I'm quite sure a natural disaster is not what the Psalmist had in mind, or what the community of believers has had in the centuries those verses have been used in whatever context.  And context is not an insignificant consideration, here. I hesitate using scriptures at all in this blog, because scriptures aren't meant to be used as instruments, blunt or otherwise, among just anybody.  Scholars approach the scriptures quite differently than preachers do, and I can tell you from experience that I use scriptures very carefully among congregations I don't know well  (I recently did a funeral sermon and relied almost exclusively on poetry, so the people I was talking to wouldn't bring their own preconceptions to the scriptures and stop listening entirely to what I had to say.  Scriptures can be a barrier as much as a doorway.)  But I was trying to stir up a small community of readers of this blog and I knew I'd get feedback from what I said.  I didn't, in other words, offer it up as a tweet.

And I didn't use the Book of Job.

Anyway, this stirred up a theological tempest in a theological teapot; and my first thought was:  Is this really a theological matter?  But it is, because it's a soteriological matter.  The furor went something like this:

Piper, who recently retired from the pulpit of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, is a leading theologian of the neo-Calvinist movement that’s sweeping many evangelical churches. In essence, Desiring God staffer Tony Reinke wrote, Piper was highlighting God’s sovereignty and that he is still worthy of worship in the midst of suffering and tragedy.

In response, popular evangelical writer Rachel Held Evans blasted Piper’s “abusive theology of ‘deserved’ tragedy,” and said Christians have to stop the idea of responding to tragedy by suggesting God is inflicting his judgment.

“The only thing we need to tell them is, ‘I don’t know why this happened but God is good and God loves us,’” she said in an interview.

 However, she apologized in a follow-up post. “Piper’s tweet was vague enough that I don’t know that he was necessarily saying this point this time. Maybe it wasn’t the best time to call him out.”
 And maybe that was right, since Piper later tweeted:

 “My hope and prayer for Oklahoma is that the raw realism of Job’s losses will point us all to his God ‘compassionate and merciful.’”
 But still, Rick Warren had the most pastoral response (at least in this article):

 Megachurch pastor Rick Warren tweeted a few days after the tornado, “In deep pain, people don’t need logic, advice, encouragement, or even Scripture. They just need you to show up and shut up.#Love.”
What does this have to do with soteriology?  Well, the reference to Neo-Calvinism is one hint.  The reaction of Rachel Held Evans is another.  And lest her reaction seem a little, well, reactionary, there is a context other than Piper's leadership on the Neo-Calvinist front:

Piper also came under fire after suggesting in a blog post that a small tornado during a conference of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America was a “gentle but firm warning” as it debated its position on homosexuality.
 This is a guy who has confused the God of Abraham with the gods of Greece (who liked to inflict plagues on cities for doing what they didn't like; as Apollo did to Thebes because of Oedipus), and who clearly puts soteriology at the center of his faith, because that's what Calvinism is really all about.  Then again, that's pretty much what most people think Christianity is all about.

Otherwise, why would the new Anne Heche TV series about a woman who talks to God be titled "Save Me"?

If I may say, already wandering abruptly off the point a bit, this is a bit of what I'm talking about:

 Late antiquity was an era of fear and melancholy, and contempt for the body was a leitmotif of many of its thinkers. Christianity provided a liberating message, in which the resurrection of Jesus offered hope of the transfiguration of the flesh and the glorification of all creation.
How many people today here in the message of Christianity any hope of the transfiguration of the flesh and the glorification of all creation, and hear instead fear and melancholy and contempt for the body as a leitmotif of Christian belief?  Is there anything in the reference to Job, above, out of context as it is in the original tweets, that doesn't speak of melancholy and fear, even as its defenders argue that

“The Christian church has to return to a robust understanding of who God is,” [Idaho pastor and blogger Doug] Wilson said in an interview. “If we do, we won’t have to hash through this with every tragedy.”

Well, maybe we do; and certainly a natural disaster with 24 people dead and hundreds homeless is not the best place to start that discussion.  But there's also the fact of what we mean by "robust understanding," because if you are going to try to return us to the fear and melancholy of pre-Christian Europe, then I for one have no need of it.  That such traditions have returned over the centuries to become "Christian" is indictment enough; that we perpetuate them in the name of "love" and "forgiveness" is downright perverse.  Which is not to say Christianity hasn't contributed its own contempt for the body and fear and melancholy to the historical mixture.  But it cannot be denied that it did so in the name of salvation.  It did so because of soteriology.  And there's the fundamental problem:

There's precious little in the gospels about salvation, and even less in Paul regarding soteriology.  It is not a Hebrew construct at all, but a Gentile one, created in an attempt to universalize the Christian message.  None of the sermons in the Book of Acts regard salvation from sin and redemption from eternal damnation.  The thrust of Peter's famous Pentecost speech is to bring recognition of Jesus as Messiah to the Hebrews.  He doesn't speak to Gentiles who know nothing of the God of Abraham; and Jewish traditions from Isaiah on are that the nations (meaning peoples; today we might well say "races") will come to the holy city of God because of the blessings poured out on Israel for their faithfulness to God's guidance.  They won't come because they will recognize they need to be saved from hell.  They will come because they recognize the benefits of the life given to God's people.

Not a strong enough message for Christianity, however, so hell and damnation had to come along, and come along double quick.  If "in Adam's fall we sinned all," then Christianity has the superior message, and you can see the fight for that upper hand in the early 2nd century, recorded in the Gospel of John.  Even then the famous phrase of John 3:16 only speaks of those who will perish, and those who will not.  It doesn't say those who don't believe in Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah will burn in endless fire and everlasting torment.  But take away that threat of eternal damnation, and what leverage does Christianity have?


Yeah; like that'll work!

If someone does not love you, to hunt them down and kill them is the worst kind of obsession and insanity.  But, says every variation on Christian salvation I know of, if you don't love God, God will remember and at the last day, will hunt you down and kill you.  Worse, actually; God will condemn you to everlasting torment.  Why?  Because God so loved the world.....

Sorry, but I've never been able to see anything reasonable in that.

This actually makes more sense to me:

"AFTER this the Lord brought to my mind the longing that I had to Him afore. And I saw that nothing letted me but sin. And so I looked, generally, upon us all, and methought: If sin had not been, we should all have been clean and like to our Lord, as He made us.

"And thus, in my folly, afore this time often I wondered why by the great foreseeing wisdom of God the beginning of sin was not letted: for then, methought, all should have been well. This stirring [of mind] was  much to be forsaken, but nevertheless mourning and sorrow I made therefor, without reason and discretion.
But Jesus, who in this Vision informed me of all that is needful to me, answered by this word and said: It behoved that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

"In this naked word sin, our Lord brought to my mind, generally, all that is not good, and the shameful despite and the utter noughting that He bare for us in this life, and His dying; and all the pains and passions of all His creatures, ghostly and bodily; (for we be all partly noughted, and we shall be noughted following our Master, Jesus, till we be full purged, that is to say, till we be fully noughted of our deadly flesh and of all our inward affections which are not very good;) and the beholding of this, with all pains that ever were or ever shall be,—and with all these I understand the Passion of Christ for most pain, and overpassing. All this was shewed in a touch and quickly passed over into comfort: for our good Lord would not that the soul were affeared of this terrible sight.

"But I saw not sin: for I believe it hath no manner of substance nor no part of being, nor could it be known but by the pain it is cause of.

"And thus pain, it is something, as to my sight, for a time; for it purgeth, and maketh us to know ourselves and to ask mercy. For the Passion of our Lord is comfort to us against all this, and so is His blessed will.

"And for the tender love that our good Lord hath to all that shall be saved, He comforteth readily and sweetly, signifying thus: It is sooth that sin is cause of all this pain; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner [of] thing shall be well.

"These words were said full tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any that shall be saved. Then were it a great unkindness to blame or wonder on God for my sin, since He blameth not me for sin.

 "And in these words I saw a marvellous high mystery hid in God, which mystery He shall openly make known to us in Heaven: in which knowing we shall verily see the cause why He suffered sin to come. In which sight we shall endlessly joy in our Lord God."

Julian is a subtler theologian than she is given credit for.  She carefully avoids treading on the Church doctrine of salvation, but she essentially says that all will be redeemed (as Pope Francis did, before he slightly corrected himself).  One could read the "all" there as only believing Christians who follow strictly church teachings; but that makes a mockery of the sentiment and the vision.  If all is not well, and all manner of thing is not ultimately well, then only some things will be well, and only part will be well, and the rest will not.  The sentiments attributed to Jesus in the vision are either universal and inclusive, or they are gibberish.  What's more, the sentiment expressed in the vision are in keeping with the promise of the future made by the major prophets.  And their promise is not premised on the entire world worshiping the God of Abraham.

What, then, is redemption?  Pie in the sky bye and bye?  The hope of things unseen and unknown?  Or the improvement of life here and now?  There have been arguments that Christianity has done a great deal of good in the world.  I find such arguments interesting, if not overly broad and difficult to defend; but the counterarguments that Christianity is the source of all evil in at least the Western world, is equally full of vague and glittering generalities, and as firm a defense against religion as the Maginot Line.  The good that can be credited to Christianity is not solely the result of believing in a better after-life.  The thrust of the gospels, over and over, and of all the letters, is about how to live here and now.  When that lesson is turned inward, is perverted into personal salvation that lets you off the hook for how you live now, we get Christians who boldly proclaim the poor will always be with us because their concerns are not our concerns, where we are "saved" and they have obviously sinned and fallen out of God's favor.

Not exactly the message of the gospels.

And here is the rub of the matter:  if salvation is truly a free offering from God, if we truly cannot earn salvation with works, then how can we earn it with faith?  One exchange is as good as another, but without an exchange at all, there is no salvation.  So is salvation a gift?  Or a purchase?

If the woman in Luke 7, who bathes the feet of Jesus with her tears and wipes them with her hair, has done nothing but make clear she is a prostitute who is trying to seduce a man so she can buy her bread that night, what faith has she shown?  What good work has she done?  Picked the right man?  Recognized the Messiah?  Or just become a valuable object lesson in the love of God available to all, even if they don't realize it until after the fact?

Connect that to the story of the sheep and the goats:  "Do you see this woman?," Jesus asks Simon the Pharisee.  "Lord, when did we see you?", ask the sheep, as they receive the blessing; ask the goats, as they are put out of favor.  They were not told to believe a doctrine, accept a creed, remember a prayer:  they were told that how they had lived was all that mattered.  Who they cared for, was what was most important.  When Elijah met the widow in the time of the famine, she shared with him the last food she had, just enough for her son and herself.  That simple act of hospitality guaranteed her survival, with food enough for all three, until the famine lifted.  When Jesus met someone he didn't say "believe these three things," he said:  "See as I see."  The halt, the lame, the blind, the beggar and the prostitute and the tax-collector:  all children of God, all just like you.  Love one another, he said; as I have loved you, so you are to love one another.  Because when you do, then you love God.

And if that doesn't buy you anything in the afterlife, it certainly makes this life a much, much better one.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"World's Highest Standard of Living"


According to the International Human Rights Clinic of NYU Law School, the four biggest food assistance programs fall short for as many as 50 million food insecure households. Eligibility requirements are already so strict that one in four households classified as food insecure were still considered too high-income to receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Even families considered poor enough for food aid only get a pittance that runs out quickly; for instance, the maximum benefit for a family of four is $668 a month, or a little under $2 per meal for each family member.

To demonstrate the impossibility of surviving on food stamps, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) recently spent a week eating on $4.80 a day, mainly consuming ramen noodles, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and a banana. “I’m hungry for five days…I lost six pounds in four days,” Murphy said upon concluding the experiment. He also realized that nutritious food and produce was far, far out of reach for people living on SNAP benefits. Indeed, obesity and related diseases are common among SNAP recipients who simply can’t afford nutritious food.

As a result, many families can no longer rely on these benefits. Instead, they increasingly have no choice but to turn to emergency food pantries run by charities. In the wake of the financial crisis, 37 million people relied on these emergency food providers — a 46 percent increase from 2005. These charities, many of which took devastating funding hits in the recession, are struggling to accommodate the influx of needy people who are supposed to be covered by government programs. As for the recipients themselves, the stigma against hungry people has made many people feel humiliated to turn to these programs.

Republicans looking to cut SNAP and other safety net programs have painted recipients as perpetually unemployed people who have become “dependent” on the government because it’s easier than getting a job. In fact, more than 80 percent of families receiving SNAP include a working adult. Despite the stigma, the reality is that the many low-income or part-time jobs available to these Americans simply do not pay enough to sustain a family’s survival. Most of the remainder of SNAP recipients are disabled or elderly and cannot work.
 Just a reminder:  the programs FDR put in place to help the unemployed during the '30's were not universally acknowledged as the salvation of America.  WPA was ridiculed as "We Piddle Around," because, you know, government doesn't create jobs.  The CCC wasn't honored as a valuable source of human pride and noble effort, although I enjoyed the use of a lot of buildings growing up in East Texas that bore the distinctive character of WPA and CCC projects; and that was almost 30 years after some of them were built.

80 years later, some of those buildings are still functional.

So the complaint that unemployed people have become dependent on government largesse is hardly a new one.  Look to the stories from the gospels; before governments took responsibility for their citizens well-being, people wondered why anything should be done for the poor.

Which is why we will always have the poor with us.

"These things that pass for knowledge I don't understand...."

Thomas Friedman, via CEPR:

"Underneath the huge drop in demand that drove unemployment up to 9 percent during the recession, there’s been an important shift in the education-to-work model in America. Anyone who’s been looking for a job knows what I mean. It is best summed up by the mantra from the Harvard education expert Tony Wagner that the world doesn’t care anymore what you know; all it cares 'is what you can do with what you know.'"*

Seeing as damned few of us have ever been paid by Princeton to just be retired geniuses, how in the world is this "insight" by a "Harvard education expert" any kind of insight at all?  Even scholars don't get paid for just knowing things; they keep their jobs by publishing books proving their knowledge has some kind of applicable value.

Between this and Jason Richwine's Harvard dissertation, I'm beginning to seriously question the reputation of Harvard University.  Not all that glitters is gold, even if it has the name "Harvard" appended to it.

*and because I don't entirely trust Friedman, I tracked it down.  Wagner used the line in his TED talk, and again in an e-mail to Friedman.  I'm not saying it sums up his entire educational philosophy, but wow: with wisdom like that, I don't need any more education.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"Find the cost of freedom/buried in the ground...."

I wasn't thinking of these words earlier, but it's as good a start place as any:

I've seen my country gradually adopting an official style of memorializing those who fought in wars called by our politicians that is more suited to a dictatorship.   A mix of dishonest sentimentality, hypocritical piety, falsified history and the most vulgar, cloying and putrid of Hollywood-Las Vegas styled patrieroticism for clearly bad motives.  It is a propaganda ploy for the military industrial complex, it is PR for the ruling oligarchy whose use for cannon fodder is one of its few remaining uses for the people of the United States.  It's gotten far worse in the past thirty five years, especially since Ronald Reagan was promoted to the presidency by the media which then genuflected to him and the unofficial illegal wars he engaged in.   It was another actual veteran of the Second World War who I heard lament that with Reagan in Central America, the United States had devolved into a terror state.
Freedom, I was thinking, is not free.  And we know it isn't free because we have to get someone else to purchase it for us.   That, at least, is the thinking now.  WWII, we are now told, was fought so we could be free.  It was the cost of freedom, to fight that war.

Except it wasn't.  At all.

We fought that war because Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.  We ignored Hitler's invasion of Poland, and then France, and even the attacks on Britain.  Not our fight, we declared.  We happily stayed out, and the best FDR could get was Lend/Lease.  Then came December 7, 1941; a date that will live in infamy.

And we were at war with Germany because we were at war with Japan.

I like watching war movies made during and after that war.  I saw a lot of them yesterday.  In "Battleground," the best of the "Battle of the Bulge" movies, a chaplain tries to explain to the soldiers in Belgium why they are there, trying to defeat Hitler.  He never once mentions "freedom,"  Mostly, he talks about how many people the Germans wanted to kill; and that was the reason the Germans had to be stopped.  In the other great war film, "The Best Years of Our Lives," there is only one discussion about the just ended war, and it comes from a man who sounds like a Tea Partier today.  He insists the war should have been fought against "the Limeys and the Commies," that Pearl Harbor was a false flag operation, and that we're still going to have to fight the "real enemy."

If anyone thought Alex Jones was sui generis, let all such thoughts end now. 

That guy ends up getting punched in the nose, but no counter-argument to his diatribe is offered; no flowery speeches about freedom not being free, or even being a reason for that war, are offered.  The fact is, the US never felt threatened in that war.  It felt cheated by the attack on Pearl Harbor; aggrieved by the unprovoked attack, but not threatened; not the way Hitler threatened Britain, anyway.

So freedom is not free.  But you gain it by getting somebody else to die for your freedom.  That's the only way it works.  You don't gain it by dying yourself; what good is freedom to you then?  You don't gain it by simply being free and leaving others alone (the stance of the US before Pearl Harbor).  You gain it by taking someone else's life.  Your freedom is your ability to be free to kill people you think inhibit your freedom; and preferably to do that by getting someone else to do that killing because, after all, in war people die, and dead people have no freedom.

So freedom is not free; someone else has to pay for it.

Doesn't make sense, does it?

In all of the Declaration of Independence, the word "freedom" does not appear.  Jefferson didn't write an appeal to the idea that freedom is not free, that someone would have to die so the rest of the colonists could have freedom.  He writes a comprehensive catalog of complaints about the oppression of the British crown, but he never justifies freedom as being won by military means.  He doesn't even mention freedom.  He only mentions liberty once.

Freedom, in other words, is not foundational to our government.  Even the Bill of Rights doesn't guarantee "freedom of speech."  It just says "Congress shall make no law...."  Until the passage of the 14th Amendment, that Bill of Rights was read as a limitation on the federal government only.  The states were perfectly free to repress the press or establish a state religion or silence dissent or deny the people the choice to peaceably assemble.  The 1st amendment didn't mean "freedom of speech," it meant the Congress couldn't restrict your speech; and that's all it meant.

Freedom is not free; but it wasn't bought with blood on the battlefields of the Civil War.  It came from a constitutional amendment.  It came from the political process.  It came after Lincoln was dead.

Freedom is, in fact, free.  Your liberty can be taken from you; but your freedom?  Did you fight to have it in the first place?  Does anyone have to fight to be free?  No; not if freedom is a state of mind, not a worldly possession.  Worldly possessions are not free; they all cost you something.  But sell them all to buy the pearl of great price, and what have you purchased?

Aye, that's the question.....

The Reinvention of the Reinvention of the Wheel

Sometimes I think "Morning Edition" should go back to being a one-hour program.  Like cable news, there isn't enough information to fill the format they've set up for themselves.

So today we learn that maybe, just maybe, people are influenced in their ethical decisions by the people around them.  And it's a scientific study, so it must be true!

In other news, water may be wet:  test results are pending.  And the Pope may be Catholic; but not all the data has been fully analyzed yet.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day 2013

My uncle fought in World War II; with the French Resistance, if memory serves.  Or maybe not. Maybe that was a grand embellishment by the family, or my own early imagination.  He never said anything about the war, or about war, to me; except once.

I went to visit him after I'd married and his kids, my age, my cousins I all but grew up with, had all married, too.  So it was just my wife and I and my aunt and uncle.  He picked us up at the airport.  I was reading Studs Terkel's then new book "The 'Good' War."  The quotes around good weren't too apparent in the cover design, and he asked me what I was reading this time (in those days I was always reading).  When I showed it to him, and told him it was about World War II, he said, "I didn't think there was such a thing as a 'good' war."  And he smiled; the kind of smile that always made me think he knew much more about much more than I did, or ever would.

My brother-in-law fought in Vietnam.  When everybody else was going to college so as not to get drafted, he volunteered.  He was Green Beret, and a Captain.  He never told me anything about Vietnam, either, except that when he first arrived there it was the most beautiful country he'd ever seen.  And within 10 minutes, he knew the U.S. had no business being there.  But he did his job; he followed orders.  He was a good soldier, and he's one of the finest men I know.  He's as kind, generous, and open-minded as anyone can be.

I have a recording of the "Airborne Symphony," by Marc Blitzstein.  Maybe it's the first performance, because the narrator is Orson Welles.  I always think of it this time of year, because the most poignant part of the libretto is the section about bombs, and the cities destroyed by planes.  It's "The Ballad of the Cities."  The narrator reads a partial list of cities destroyed by bombs, but the music moves into the "Morning Poem" with the chorus singing plaintively and repeatedly:  "Call the names.  Call the names.  Call the names."

It always seems to me the only appropriate observance of Memorial Day.  Call the names.


O Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy upon us.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy upon us.
Arise, O Christ, and help us,
And deliver us for thy Name's sake.


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 one toward another; but thy triumph is delayed and we are weary of war.


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


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.


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 pro-claim the gospel of forgiveness, and faithfully to maintain the ministry of reconciliation.


O Christ, come to us in our sore need and save us; 0 God, plead thine own cause and give us help, for vain is the help of man.


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.


Then all shall join in the Lord's Prayer.

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

--The E&R Hymnal

Friday, May 24, 2013

Nothing against the BSA, but....

...what I primarily remember from my brief tenure in the Boy Scouts of America, was learning to curse like a sailor.

All the swear words I know (with the exception of a few Shakespearean terms I picked up in college) I learned in the Boy Scouts.

And I never made it past "Tenderfoot."  Or whatever the starting level was; it was long ago, and I was hardly an enthusiastic adherent to the cause.

Not, in other words, exactly seeing a moral breakdown going on here.   What I remember of the BSA was that it was no better or worse an institution than any other I had been involved in up to that time, and other than using church buildings for meetings of the troop that weren't outdoors on campgrounds, I never thought of it was a particularly religious institution, either.  The churches had the space, after all; that seemed to be the long and short of it.

Not really seeing a problem of  bowing to the whims of the majority, either.

It's funny when the majority shifts, that suddenly the majority shouldn't rule. The entire "ethical" basis for not accepting the GLBT community as ordinary people was that the majority of the world had never done so.

Now that argument is lost, suddenly the majority is not the ethical yardstick. Of course, there is no ethical yardstick here. Just complaining because the majority is no longer...the majority.

Happy Scouting, y'all.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Makes all the people in the temple shout!

There is, unfortunately, no text version of this story, so I have to type rapidly as it plays on my computer.  The speaker is the City Manager of Moore, Oklahoma, a man who really shouldn't be allowed near a microphone again.

Mayor Lewis said the city should mandate storm shelters in new home construction.  The City Manager responded:  "Obviously the council will decide that.  We've had this discussion after every tornado that comes along, and haven't done it yet.  We're a pretty independent lot around here in terms of tell me what I have to do and what I don't have to do.  Home builders--we have lots and lots of homes built here--home builders are influential."

And as for shelters in schools:  " can't count the value or the cost of lives. But you can count the cost of construction.  It adds a significant amount of cost to construction; the taxpayers would have to determine whether they're going to pay that or not."

I've listened to it several times now, and it's slightly less shocking than the first time I heard it; but only slightly.  What he says here, in essence, is that money talks.

But there is this fact: Moore has had four major tornadoes in 15 years, two of them EF5 tornadoes. One wonders if the insurance companies are going to want to have a say in construction practices in Moore, and what structures they will insure, and what they won't insure.  And when you put the interests of home builders ahead of the interests of residents, well, one wonders just why the city of Moore exists in the first place.

I hope there is some change of heart in Moore after this.  I know there are smaller cities in Oklahoma with public shelters, some of them decades old and still in use; some built with FEMA funding.  If Moore insists on being so independent it can't provide shelters or require them in homes and schools, perhaps we as a nation have to be independent, too.

Except, of course, that is foolishness, and error compounding error.  And besides:  the children have no say in the cost of construction or the price of safety.  They trust us to keep them safe.  Is the City Manager of Moore, Oklahoma, really saying that the responsibility to keep the children in our care safe, in public buildings if not in private ones, is overridden by the cost of providing that safety?

I like to think the people of Oklahoma, and of Moore, are smarter and more compassionate than that.


This idea of "why should we make people safe?" is not limited to the city manager of Moore; Sen. Coburn has the same blinkered reaction:

 When asked if he thought the government should take steps to mandate tornado shelters in the aftermath of the storm, Coburn rejected the idea by using a classic statistical fallacy.

"If you're living in that area of Moore in Oklahoma, the likelihood of being hit by another tornado is about zero in terms of odds," he said.

Which explains why Moore has been hit by four tornadoes in 15 years, and two of them EF5's.  (The city of Moore engages in the same gambler's fallacy on their website, arguing there is only a 1% chance of another storm like the one in 1999.  Which doesn't mean what they think it meant.)  Maybe you don't do what Joplin, Missouri did, and put in standards for new construction like hurricane clips and tie downs (although, considering everything in Moore has to be built from scratch, why not?), or require each home to have a shelter (again, why not?).  But what's so unreasonable about building community shelters in easy to walk to locations? And requiring shelter rooms in the new schools that will have to be built?

Then again, this is who we're talking about:

 Woman: Senator Coburn we need help. My husband has traumatic head injury. His insurance will not cover him to eat and drink. And what I need to know is, are you going to help him, where he can eat and drink? We left the nursing home and they told us we're on our own. He left with a feeding tube. I've been working with him, but I'm not a speech pathologist, a professional, that takes six years for a Masters, and I've tried to get him to eat and drink again and it's been so much - (cries)

Coburn: Well I think think personally, yeah we'll help. The first thing we'll do is see what we can do individually to help you, through our office. But the other thing that's missing in this debate is us, as neighbors, helping people that need our help. You know, we've had a - (applause). The idea that the government is a solution to our problems, is an inaccurate, a very inaccurate statement. 
I watched the video of that shortly after it happened, and yes, he was explicitly telling her that her neighbors should be the first to provide medical care to a man in this condition.  And Tom Coburn is supposedly an M.D.

Sometimes you have to reflect that it's a good thing the country is more compassionate than any one group of citizens in any one state.  Otherwise Oklahoma might must be left to the fate Sen. Coburn seems to think is best for it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Who will rid us of these troublesome whingers?


At the risk of stating the obvious, one big reason the James Rosen and AP controversies have become front page news is that “the news” is a key stakeholder in the story itself. Replace ‘reporters from accredited outlets’ with ‘nihilistic hackers’ or ‘advocacy orgs’ and the tone of the coverage we’re reading, and questions we’re hearing, would be much, much different. Instead reporters are, quite naturally, behaving in both their normal journalistic capacities here and in their ancillary roles as trade association members — and so the whole thing has taken on much more valence with the press than we’ve come to expect when the DOJ is discovered taking liberties with its investigative powers.

That’s something everyone should consider the next time we learn a non-media figure has been subjected to secret, invasive federal subpoenas, etc. Until then, I’d note that in this case the coverage disparity is due in part to the fact that — to coin a recently misquoted White House official — the reporting does not reflect all relevant equities. 

Nope (because):

For myself, I’d say that what officials did to James Rosen falls on the wrong side of where I’d draw the line. Of the million shades of grey here, one of them covers the vast and murky terrain between cajoling sources and actively facilitating lawbreaking. I think the burden on federal law enforcement officials to demonstrate the latter should be very high before they start accusing reporters of criminal behavior in court. And in this case, if I were setting the standard, I’d say they didn’t meet it (though I don’t set the standard, and a federal judge apparently disagrees with me).  

Welcome to the real world:

If the burden isn’t high, then the difference between elegant and sloppy tradecraft, or well-heeled and struggling media outlet, might well become the difference between journalistic triumph and jail time.
 What, you think everybody who's in jail is a hardened criminal from which society must be kept safe?  That criminals are not journalists because journalists mean well and have the 1st Amendment on their side?

The law isn't really ambiguous about this, and it hasn't changed since 1979.  As for accusing journalists of criminal behavior, why should the burden be any greater on the federal government than it is on the government for any other person?  Equal protection means equal protection; it doesn't mean extra super special protection for a privileged class that thinks it has a magic shield in a constitutional amendment.  Otherwise anyone in possession of a gun can't be accused of the crime of possession of a firearm when they are a convicted felon, and anyone firing a gun has to be allowed to force the government to face a very high burden before accusing them of a crime involving use of a gun.

After all, it's in the Constitution, ain't it?

Ox.  Gored.  Whose.  It's not just for Oklahoma and politics, anymore.

This is getting tiresome.*

*and by the way:

That’s something everyone should consider the next time we learn a non-media figure has been subjected to secret, invasive federal subpoenas, etc. 

It's called a criminal investigation.  Lots of people undergo 'em all the time.  But as they aren't friends of yours, you obviously don't imagine it's a common practice of your government.  As I said before, welcome to the real world.

No whinging, please.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Speaking of shouting....

Courtesy of Southern Beale comes the full story behind this bit of nonsense:

Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., then quoted a verse from the 26th chapter of Matthew, saying the “poor will always be with us” in his defense of cuts to the food stamps program. 

Fincher said obligations to take care of the poor should be left to churches, not the government.
I actually heard that same argument from a man I admired (still did, afterwards; it's possible to admire people and know they are wrong about something), and even then (in college, lo these many feckless years ago), I knew the argument was as hollow as a clapper-less bell.

Let's turn to Matthew first:

While Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, a woman who had an alabaster jar of very expensive myrrh came up to him and poured it over his head while he was reclining (at table).  When they saw this the disciples were annoyed, and said, "What good purpose is served by this waste?  After all, she could have sold it for a good price and given (the money) to the poor."

But Jesus saw through (their complaint) and said to them, "Why are you bothering this woman?  After all, she has done me a courtesy.  Remember, there will always be poor around; but I won't always be around.  After all, by pouring this myrrh on my body she has made me ready for burial.  So help me, wherever this good news is announced in all the world, what she has done will be told in memory of her. (Matthew 26:6-13, SV)
So the admonition is not to leave the poor to another time, or another responsibility, or even to ignore them.  And to add a bit more context to this, Matthew 25:

When the son of Adam comes in his glory, accompanied by all his messengers, then he will occupy his glorious throne.  Then all peoples will be assembled before him, and he will separate them into groups, much  as a shepherd separates sheep from goats.  He'll place the sheep to his right and the goats to his left. Then the king will say to those at his right, 'Come, you who have the blessing of my Father, inherit the domain prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  You may remember, I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a foreigner and you showed me hospitality; I was naked and you clothed me; I was ill and you visited  me; I was in prison and you came to see me.'

Then the righteous will say to him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and gave feed you or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we notice that you were a foreigner and extend hospitality to you?  Or naked and clothed you? When did we find you ill or in prison and come to visit you?'

And the king will respond to them, 'I swear to you, whatever you did for the most inconspicuous members of my family, you did for me as well.'

Next he will say to those at his left, 'You, condemned to the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his messengers, get away from me!  You too may remember, I was hungry and you didn't give me anything to eat; I was thirsty and you refused me a drink; I was a foreigner and you failed to extend hospitality to me; naked and you didn't clothe me; ill and in prison and you didn't visit me.'

Then they will give him a similar reply: 'Lord, when did we notice that you were hungry or thirsty or a foreigner or naked or ill or in prison, and did not attempt to help you?'

He will then respond, 'I swear to you, whatever you didn't do for the most inconspicuous members of my family, you didn't do for me.'

The second group will then head for everlasting punishment, but the virtuous for everlasting life.  (Matthew 25: 31-46, SV)
Am I my brother's, and my sister's, keeper?  The answer is very clear.  I am.  Is the church my brother's and sister's keeper?  Perhaps.  That's a matter for ecclesiology.  Jesus doesn't put the burden on any institution (especially since the line between church and state didn't exist in his day).  But he doesn't let us off the hook, either; in either of these nearly back-to-back passages from the same gospel.  He also, however, doesn't exclude government from doing the job.  Jesus, after all, would not have challenged the words of Jeremiah:

Woe to him who says,
"I shall build myself a spacious palace
with airy roof chambers and
windows set in it.
It will be paneled with cedar
and painted with vermilion."
Though your cedar is so splendid,
does that prove you a king?
Think of your father: he ate and drank,
dealt justly and fairly; all went well with him.
He upheld the cause of the lowly and poor;
then all was well.
Did not this show he knew me? says the Lord.
But your eyes and your heart are set on naught but gain, set only on the innocent blood you can shed,
on the cruel acts of tyranny you perpetrate.  (Jeremiah 22: 14-17 (REB))

Those words are directed to the king; the one who is responsible for the people.  In our society, who is responsible for the people?  The church?  Which church?  Roman Catholic?  Baptist?  Lutheran?  Methodist?  UCC?  Church of God?  Church of God in Christ?  Jewish synagogues?  Muslim mosques?  Buddhist temples?

This could end up worse than leaving everything to the 50 states; there's even less coordination between houses of worship than there is between those "laboratories of democracy."

No, the whole idea is an absurdity, and Rep. Fincher is an ass.  He wants to deny responsibility for the most inconspicuous members of God's family, while claiming a privileged place for himself and his own in God's favor.

Southern Beale will enlighten you further on what kind of hypocrite he is.  I just wanted to point out he's not entitled to his own Bible, either.


Now I'm worried this is going to get ugly.

At Eschaton yesterday and today, there were too many comments blaming the people of Moore, Oklahoma for the loss of life in the storm.  At the time, the death toll was reportedly 51, and expected to rise (the New York Times was reporting it at 91); the toll now has been reduced to 24, 7 of them children who drowned in a basement while seeking shelter.  The complaints were about things like lack of basements (which is not a storm shelter; and there are good reasons people in Oklahoma don't build them) and community storm shelters. Given the devastation of Moore, and the fact the tornado was on the ground for 40 minutes and 20 miles (Sen. Inhofe is right, that is extraordinary), the loss of life is truly minimal; although no person's death is minimal.  Blame was laid on governments that don't require shelters and Senators that deny climate change.  I thought it was an odd response, but I fear now this will become a trend:

By the way, here is the City Of Moore's official FAQ page about storm shelters and the like. I may be wrong, but this fairly reeks of defensiveness. The explanation for the lack of storm shelters seems economically prissy and more than a tad lame—people won't use them because they won't leave their pets behind? So, therefore, we don't build one? Really?—and the cruel irony of this tornado is that people were warned specifically not to "shelter in place" but, rather, to get in their cars and drive like hell. There is considerable real-time audio from local radio and TV to that effect. And this is a masterpiece of You're On Your Own, Jack:

 "What if I live in a mobile home?"

This means that you have additional responsibility for your safety, and that begins much earlier! Mobile homes typically do not offer good shelter from thunderstorm winds, and that means you should find shelter elsewhere—perhaps the house of family or friends. You need to plan your actions long before thunderstorms arrive, and leave early...don't wait until warnings are issued or the sirens are blowing to leave."
Except that link doesn't go anywhere.  This is the City of Moore webpage on storm shelters, and this is what it says:

Non-Desirable Locations

If you don't live in a "reasonably-well constructed residence" - such as a mobile home - then we certainly would hope that you plan to leave your home and find shelter in a better location. This requires advance planning on your part! It also requires keeping a much sharper eye to deteriorating weather conditions! Have a family emergency plan, and don't hesitate in activating it. If your plan is to leave your home for better shelter, DO NOT WAIT UNTIL TORNADO WARNINGS ARE ISSUED to leave for shelter!
And what about community shelters?  Well, that's a longish bit, but again, it doesn't say what Mr. Pierce says it says:

"Community" Shelters
The City of Moore has no community (or "public") tornado shelters. This is due to two factors: Overall, people face less risk by taking shelter in a reasonably-well constructed residence! There is no public building in Moore which has a suitable location for a shelter. Yes, there is less overall risk by sheltering-in-place than by going to a community shelter. The average tornado warning time is generally only 10-15 minutes. That's just not enough time for a person to receive the warning, make a conscious decision to leave their home, gather the few things needed (family, keys, etc.), lock the house, get into the car, drive to a shelter (including possibly experiencing a traffic jam of others trying to get to the same shelter!), get out of the car, and make the way into the community shelter. In this scenario, there's a far greater likelihood of getting caught in your car when the tornado strikes! And experience proves that cars are NOT the place you want to be during severe weather events! On May 3, 1999, one of the most violent tornadoes ever recorded struck central Oklahoma, including the northwest part of Moore in its path. Warning for this event was outstanding - one research survey suggests that over 95% of the people in central Oklahoma knew of the tornado and its location. While many people evacuated, many others took shelter in their homes. The vast majority of these fact all but three in Moore...survived! Their homes were destroyed, but the people survived. Emergency management and weather warning professionals see this as a testiment to the tornado safety rules have been advocated for years: "In homes or small buildings, go to the basement (if available) or to an interior room on the lowest floor, such as a closet or bathroom. Wrap yourself in overcoats or blankets to protect yourself from flying debris." May 3rd was an extremely unique event weatherwise. There has never been such a strong and violent tornado ever in the recorded history of the City of Moore. Statistically, there is only about a 1-2% chance of a tornado - of any size - striking Moore on any particular day during the spring. But of all tornados that do strike us (again, not very many historically), there's only a less than 1% chance of it being as strong and violent as what we experienced on May 3rd. Put another way, there's a very small likelihood of Moore being struck by a tornado. There's an extremely smaller chance of Moore experiencing another "May 3rd" type event. If we are struck again, it will very likely be by a much less intense storm. Sheltering in your residence - assuming it is a reasonably-well constructed home - is the best option. The opinion of our emergency management severe weather professionals is that community sheltering is not only not possible in our situation, but not advisable.
The highlighted bit sort of gets to my point:  people in "tornado alley," especially in the Plains states, do know something about surviving tornadoes.  I should also point out that the residents of Moore did have about 15 minutes notice that the storm was coming.   And I would note that one of the schools that was hit was actually a "reinforced building" meant to be an above ground shelter; and all the students in that building survived, despite the fact the building was destroyed.

Let me add, after experiencing the "traffic jam" that ran from Houston to Dallas during the run up to Hurricane Rita, the idea of a panicked race for shelter is not an idle concern.  Had that hurricane hit Houston instead of Beaumont and Lake Charles, the effects would have been devastating for those people stuck in their cars.  Sometimes "shelter in place" really is the best advice.

I'm more than a wee bit disconcerted by this desire to "blame the victims," especially when the victims are politically NOK.  This storm didn't strike Oklahoma because James Inhofe is a "climate denier" any more than God sent the storm to punish Oklahoma (or America in general) for its "sins."  And the loss of life is terrible, but the survival rate is a tribute to the people who live in this particular harm's way, and who know how to survive these storms.  These people have lost their houses, their property, in some cases their children and families; and we are going to start picking on the local government for not requiring what we think would have been adequate shelter?

Are ideas and things really that much more important than people?


The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.
He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn.
The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness; the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh.'

What can be said about Oklahoma, except to pray for the victims and survivors, and donate to the Red Cross?

Considering how densely populated the area was, and how huge and powerful the storm was, the loss of life is remarkably low.  Still, there is loss of life, and absolute devastation of personal property.

Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

Friday, May 17, 2013

It ain't necessarily so....

So, I read this at ThinkProgress, and I found it perfectly appalling:

Carolyn Compton is in a three year-old relationship with a woman. According to Compton’s partner Page Price, Compton’s ex-husband rarely sees their two children and was also once charged with stalking Compton, a felony, although he eventually plead to a misdemeanor charge of criminal trespassing.

And yet, thanks to a Texas judge, Compton could lose custody of her children because she has the audacity to live with the woman she loves.

According to Price, Judge John Roach, a Republican who presides over a state trial court in McKinney, Texas, placed a so-called “morality clause” in Compton’s divorce papers. This clause forbids Compton having a person that she is not related to “by blood or marriage” at her home past 9pm when her children are present. Since Texas will not allow Compton to marry her partner, this means that she effectively cannot live with her partner so long as she retains custody over her children. Invoking the “morality clause,” Judge Roach gave Price 30 days to move out of Compton’s home.
Long, long ago I practiced family law in Texas, and I never encountered a "morality clause" like this.  So I went to the article ThinkProgress got their post from.  I thought maybe this was something new; but no, it's something very old:

 Ken Upton Jr., senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal’s Dallas office, said he is familiar with the case. He said morality clauses are rarely enforced and were historically used to prevent unmarried people from cohabitating with children present. Courts often include the clauses without people knowing, especially in conservative areas like Collin County, he said.
Well, that made more sense, because I practiced in a more "liberal" area of Texas, although I had some experience in the more conservative ones (buy me a beer sometime....).  Still, ThinkProgress went on to sound the alarm of doom and destruction:

 Compton can appeal Price’s decision, but her appeal will be heard by the notoriously conservative Texas court system. Ultimately, the question of whether Compton’s relationship with Price is entitled to the same dignity accorded to any other loving couple could rest with the United States Supreme Court.
That seemed a little excessive to me, because frankly in the larger metropolitan counties the judges aren't nearly as mossbound and this judge clearly is, and I don't recall the courts overturning those judges right and left and enforcing a 19th century doctrine on family "lifestyle."  And my memory wasn't wrong:

The couple can appeal the decision, which would likely be overturned. Upton said many appeals courts look at the relationship and if it causes any harm to the children in deciding whether to honor the morality clause. Being that the couple already lives together with a healthy environment for the kids, Upton said they stand a good chance to win on appeal.

If the couple decides to appeal, he said the case could set an example in Texas for how courts will interpret the clause for gay couples.

“This could be an important case in Texas,” he said. “I think it’s a case to watch.”
 So, yes, this case could wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court; but that's rather like predicting you'll bowl a perfect game because you got a strike in the first frame.  A bit premature, so say the least.

Texas has a reputation for being hidebound and moss-covered, but it ain't necessarily so.  Dallas County elected a lesbian sheriff a few years back (who may still be in office).  Houston has a lesbian mayor (funny nobody every mentions that in the national press).  Most of the major metropolitan areas are more liberal than not (all the metro counties went for Obama in 2008; it was the rural vote that went Republican, and even the rural South Texas counties went Democratic).  It's a more purple state than is commonly assumed, in other words; and in matters of Family Law Texas isn't really hidebound at all.

I suspect Mr. Upton is right, and this "morals clause" will be struck out on appeal, probably at the appellate court level.  Funny ThinkProgress didn't read that far into the article, but assumed because it "knows" Texas, it knows what the outcome of this case will be.

Please don't do that.  We're the 2nd largest state in the country, but we're not the most neanderthal state in the country (even though we sometimes act like it).

Thanks in advance for reading the rest of the article next time, not just the headline.

The outer boroughs of Little Whinging

I like watching MSNBC at night.  It's become a habit.

But I'm giving it up until this AP 'scandal' is over and done with. 

Because now comes word that ABC was played like a fiddle by a bunch of GOP Congressional staffers, and is ABC burning those sources?

Not on your Nellie.

As Pierce asks:  "Who do you really serve? The country, or the liars in your BlackBerries?"

The whole basis of the "sanctity" of the protection of the press under the 1st Amendment is that the press is the "fourth estate" which serves the public interest by keeping an eye on the other three estates of government.

And the argument now is the DOJ has damaged the AP's ability to conduct business (don't take my word for it, consult kindly Dr. Maddow) because who is going to call the AP with a hot tip if they think the phone records are gonna be searched?  How, in other words, can the Fourth Estate function if it is going to be so hobbled?

Pardon me if I don't weep for AP in this circumstance.  Let's say I'm a practicing lawyer and the DOJ decides I may be involved in a criminal investigation and they get my phone records.  Lawyers, like most modern professionals, live on their telephones.  If word gets out the DOJ is checking mine, how many clients might decide not to call me just because they don't want the DOJ seeing their number and wondering why they called me?  Do I have a 1st Amendment protection?

No.  Do I get people to go on cable TeeVee everynight, weeping and wailing about what this does to the 1st Amendment or my ability to do business?

Yeah, right.*

And where I might be sympathetic with such arguments, in light of ABC getting burned very badly, and apparently deciding access is STILL more important than the public need to know who's lying to us, I offer the whiners about the AP records search a nice cup of STFU.

'Cause nobody's above the law, and the 1st Amendment doesn't give the press any more privileges than the 2nd Amendment gives gun owners.

*Besides, as Lucy Dalglish at the journalism school at University of Maryland, College Park, told NPR this morning: 
"Technology is not your friend."

"If you have a source that you need to protect, stay off the Internet, stay off the phone, don't use your credit card," she explains.

Instead, she says, talk to your sources like spies do on TV — on a park bench, face to face.
There; was that so hard?