Thursday, January 30, 2014

Slip slidin' away.....

Like my father says, at least you don't have to shovel heat...

So, as I was saying, here's the thing....

I spent a winter in Chicago; a mild winter, I was told.  I dunno; I was a  human popsicle the whole time.  But I had a church member (why I was in Chicago) who told me how he used to build an ice rink every winter in his backyard:  plastic underlay, boards on the sides, fill it with water (a 2 inch swimming pool, essentially), and let it freeze for the winter:  a constant source of recreation for months.  But he hadn't been able to build one for years, and he didn't that year, because it did not stay consistently below freezing all winter.

And, anecdotally, mind, but I kept track of weather in Chicago, I don't know that he could have done that since I left there, close to 15 years ago, now.

Lots of "record" temperatures coming now, which makes everyone think it's bad and gonna get worse, and everything has changed.  Maybe.  I knew an elderly woman (another church member) here in Houston, who grew up here, lived her life here, and remembered snow (admittedly, 1-2") as an annual event.  I've been in Houston about 15 years now; I think I've seen snow accumulation once.  Maybe.  I remember snow as a regular event of my childhood in Texas, a bit north of where I am now.  Then it ended, too.

I remember being in Texas the year the polar vortex (or maybe it wasn't; I don't remember hearing that term), or at least polar air, reached to the Gulf coast.  Got down to 1 degree, IIRC; an event not equaled yet.  And yet, again IIRC, that was still, overall, a mild winter.

So records are being set in Lubbock (7 degrees); but for the day, or for the records?  If that's a record record, I've seen colder in Texas, and Lubbock usually gets pretty cold for Texas.  But I'm left wondering:  is it getting colder?  Or more back to normal?  Or is it just really cold for a brief spell, which is what winter is, especially in the South?

Normal winter in the South may have included a lot more snow than Atlanta is used to.  Certainly, in my childhood of 40 years ago, Atlanta wasn't a major metropolitan area of 8000+ square miles, most of it (I imagine, like Houston) covered in concrete and asphalt.  Is Atlanta a victim of a new paradigm; or of bad city management?  Is it facing an unpredictable future?  Or suffering from a lack of memory?  This weather, in other words, may not be unusual; it may be Atlanta that's unusual.

Where I sit was farmland, in living memory of people still in this town.  The vestiges of it, the grain elevators within sight of my house, are still here.  Time was a hurricane walked across this land, and the farmers cleared the trees and branches and went back to work.  Now we lose power for almost three weeks, the entire metro area (10,000 square miles, and the least densely populated SMSA in the country; cars take up a lotta room!) is paralyzed and hurt by it, and it takes years to fully recover.  Poor planning?  Or just the cost of living in a major urban area?  Snow and ice would have been even less of a problem for horse-drawn wagons.

Were Houston to suffer the weather of Atlanta this winter (which still hasn't been a harsh winter, despite two rounds of ice storms within a week of each other), the best thing for the city to do would be to shut down before the storm got here, and wait for it to melt away.  When San Antonio got 14 inches of snow (must have been in the 80's, I could look it up but....), they had no snow plows:  everyone took a snow day until it was over.  Atlanta should have done the same, with maybe salt and ice on the interstates so traffic could get through town.  Did Atlanta leadership screw up?  Yeah, it's a hot mess over there right now.  But is this evidence of a paradigm shift?

I dunno.  Like I say, it got down to single digits in Texas, at least in the eastern portion of Texas, one year.  And yet it didn't snow (far too dry, despite the proximity to the coast) and it didn't last long.  And that's kinda the point:  in Chicago, it may be my friend can at last build his ice rink again.

As I write, it's 9F in Atlanta.  Even so, I don't think they're gonna be building backyard ice rinks any time soon.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ice, ice, baby....

So, here's the thing....

Last Friday Houston got ice on the roads, and news reports were of over 100 accidents on Houston roadways in a very short space of time.  Schools were closed, so it wasn't crowds of Moms taking Junior to school, nor hordes of school buses sliding sideways on black ice.

So yesterday, threatened with even colder temperatures and more precipitation, the city and county and every school district down to Galveston (on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico) shut down:  and nothing happened.  There was no ice of any significant accumulation anywhere in the area, and today lots of Monday-morning quarterbacking about how we all should not have over-reacted.

And I still remember the year San Antonio got 14 inches of snow; snow that was supposed to fall in Austin, well north of San Antonio.  You never, in other words, really know.  Or the time there was an ice storm bearing down on Austin and all of downtown hit the streets at once, causing gridlock that turned a 10 minute commute into three hours.  But all the cars on the road heated up the roadways (it happens down here, because it never gets that cold that long) and I got home easily and safely at the regular time (I sat above the fray and watched the traffic jam from 13 floors up, and decided I wasn't in that big a hurry to leave; wisely, as it turned out.  I wasn't sure for awhile that I wouldn't regret my decision.)

It happens, in other words, with provocation so slight most Northeners (nee "Yankees") wouldn't even think autumn was over yet.

And so to Atlanta:

One to four inches of snow and one-fourth to one-half inch of ice is a lot for a city with only 40 snow plows and 30 sand trucks, but Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (D) are taking flak for the disastrous gridlock that left children stuck at school, commuters stranded on the interstate overnight and caused over a thousand accidents.
I don't know about the road geography of Atlanta, but I suspect it isn't too different from Houston.  Based on anecdotal experience, I'd say Houston has miles of elevated freeways.  Some of the highest points in the county are within visual range of where I sit:  freeway overpass exchanges that rise to the height of ten story buildings and are daunting in the rain, which we get plenty of.  Drop the temperature to below freezing and add a bit of moisture, and you have bobsled runs.  And it's not just the on and off-ramps, or the spaghetti bowls; some freeways cross others to the level of three sets of exchanges, and the elevated portions can run for a mile or two in any given stretch.  Lots of chances for freezing pavement, in other words, and lots of drivers who really can't be trusted on wet pavement, let alone icy conditions.

Like I say, a huge number of accidents last week, and almost everybody was already closed in anticipation of that ice.

30 sand trucks is clearly nothing; but in the south, how often does it snow enough to bother sanding?  By the time your through, the ice and snow are probably gonna be gone.  I saw parking lots being sanded by private crews yesterday; the landowners had learned from last Friday.  We don't anticipate this stuff, you see.  We have to wait to see if it's really gonna happen (it did Friday; it didn't yesterday) and decide how to respond:  close schools, close government, close ramps, close road, send out the trucks, inadequate in number in the best of times.  There was ice on ramps and lanes Tuesday morning at 3 a.m., the local government says; it was gone by rush hour time that day.

But what if it hadn't been?  It's not like the sun came out at 4 and dried everything away.

So I'll accept that the Governor and the Mayor are guilty of bad optics and poorer responses.   I'll even accept that governments can overreact (the parking lot from here to Dallas back in September of 2005, a distance of some 400 miles, was caused by blind panic after Katrina took out New Orleans and local officials wanted to avoid the same fate for Houston with Ritam freaked out and told everyone in the storm's path to run.  The whole metropolis took them at their word.  Which turned out to be worse than staying put, because Rita went to Beaumont and western Louisiana, leaving us alone.).  But to all you people who can't understand why Atlanta is still closed, or think that some one person is surely to blame, consider that last sentence in the quote above:  "over a thousand accidents."

And consider that any city that has only 30 sand trucks, doesn't really see the need to be prepared to spread much sand around, since ice is rarely a problem in any winter, and rarely a problem for more than 24 hours.

But next time you want to experience heat hot enough to soften asphalt and make your steering wheel untouchable, let me know.  That kind of weather we get real regular down here.

Putting Seeger (meagerly) in context

I pulled out my "The Best of the Weavers" double album yesterday, because for some reason (I am a "folk music" nut; I have almost every album Judy Collins ever recorded, especially her earliest albums; I have several by the Kingston Trio; I have Joan Baez's double album of love songs, including musical versions of Byron's lyrics, Irish "traditional" songs, even her 'Noel' album, both the original LP and the reissued CD with extra tracks.  I'm a nut for Xmas music, too, but I won't go into that) for some reason, as I was saying, I don't have any Pete Seeger albums.

I mean, I even have paperback collections of "folk music" chorded for guitar and banjo (yes, the banjo still rests not far from where I sit; no, I don't know how to play it any better than I did when I got it).  I seem to remember having some printed stuff with Seeger's name on it (probably long gone, now; that's yet another story), but no Pete Seeger recordings, except for this double set I got at a garage sale, if I recall correctly.

And that's what prompts me to put Pete Seeger in context just a bit better; well, that and what Josh Marshall had to say (which is more revisionist than I would be, but then he's almost 15 years younger than me; sometimes these things still make a difference after high school).  The "folk revival" of the '50's and '60's was no small thing, although it was hardly Yeats saving Irish traditional culture or the Chieftans reviving a respect long overdue for Irish "traditional" music (the "traditional" always being problematic in these cases, as the purity of the music ain't all that pure and ancient; but, again, I digress).  Yes there was the break when Dylan went electric (I have that event, recorded, on the soundtrack of that documentary Scorsese made; I have too many odd recordings...).  That never meant much to me, since I was too young to know it happened in '65 (alive, but unaware).  Still, it was the folk movement that fed an interest in music that wasn't Big Band or orchestral (don't get me started on my love for "classical" music), and it went way beyond Dylan and Puff, the Magic Dragon (which is, or isn't, about drugs, depending on who you ask).  And where would early Neal Young and James Taylor have been without it?  Or CSNY of Joni Mitchell, for that matter?  Are they even imaginable outside that context?

Turns out there are other influences here as well.  This Best of the Weavers album includes:

"Goodnight, Irene," by Leadbelly.  No surprise; it was their biggest hit.

"Wimoweh," which became a hit in a very different version (with lyrics about the lion and the jungle) a few years later (it was played every year in my hometown when the two big (and for the longest time, white) high schools played each other in football, because the other team was the "Lions"), and was reprised in more or less its original Weavers form by Nanci Griffith.  Although no version quite captures the weird, Robert Shaw Chorale vibe of the Weavers version.  It almost sounds like something that belongs on my "Christmas Cocktails" Ultra-Lounge CD (I warned you).  Horns, weird "lounge" rhythms, the whole nine yards.  Curiouser and curiouser.

But there's also:

"(The Wreck of the) John B," which I always thought was a Beach Boys tune.

"Midnight Special," which I only associated with blues and rhythm and blues artists, and by extension rock 'n' roll bands.

"Rock Island Line," another Leadbelly tune.  Although the Weavers released their recording of this in 1950, it became a hit for Lonnie Donegan in 1956 (the album I have was released in 1957); I can't say for sure, but I suspect he heard it from the Weaver's version.

And several which were covered (as the industry still likes to say it) by other "folk" bands, like the Kingston Trio ("Kisses Sweeter than Wine"); but you can see there how these songs first entered the musical bloodstream, the one based on recordings, not just on what people played in their front rooms (something you don't see anymore outside that great scene in "Winter's Bone").

I find that kinda fascinating.  Seeger was responsible for a bit more than we might realize, in other words; and we are all the richer for him, in so many, many ways.

It wouldn't hurt us at all to strive for that to be said of each of us, one day; however we could manage it.

Curiouser and curiouser....

I like Dahlia Lithwick but, seriously, you can't ever divine what's in the plaintiff's heart (or head).  Even God doesn't claim that power:

The heart is devious, beyond all reckoning,
who can fathom it?
I, God, test the heart...

This is honestly all anyone can ever do in a legal setting:
Until and unless we can understand precisely what the nuns object to, the case is almost impossible to analyze—and that means looking carefully at the self-certification form, and at the pleadings in the case.
We don't have the to "understand precisely what the nuns object to" because we can't presume there is a more precise objection than the one they have made in their legal pleadings.  Perhaps they have one they can cast in metaphysical terms; or theological terms; or even ecclesiastical terms.

But none of those terms have purchase in the courts unless they can be translated into legal terms.  And those objections can only be expressed in the pleadings in the case, and the arguments of counsel.  We don't ask the courts to read the hearts of the parties; only their legal briefs.

Lithwick reviews the arguments (via pleadings and legal briefs) of the plaintiffs (the Little Sisters) and sums it up this way:

Part of the problem with the case is that these are not purely legal, or even wholly logical, arguments.  The nuns, after all, say they are answering to a higher authority, or—as they put it in their reply brief in the case—the government’s “minimalist characterization of the form” should not be permitted to control the “Little Sisters’ religious determination about whether they can execute the form.” The Little Sisters reject the government contention that the form is an opt-out. Why? Religious doctrine. And somewhere in the interstices of religious doctrine, an ephemeral combination of signing this form, greenlighting its consequences, endorsing the idea of such coverage, and putting it all into writing, there lies, in their view, a violation of religious law. In other words, the two parties to this case are talking right past one another, and that puts the courts in a very precarious position. This isn’t just a fight over what signing the form means, it’s a fight about who gets to decide what fighting over the form means: Barack Obama or God? And who wants to be the judge of that?

But she's answered that point earlier:

 It’s kind of like pregnant angels on the head of a pin. The nuns argue they cannot cause contraception to be offered. The government says that it’s the government causing contraception to be offered and that the nuns are indeed being afforded the right not to participate. Extending the Little Sisters’ argument about agency means that so long as any employee obtains contraception in any fashion, the sin is done. This undermines the entire principle of religious accommodation, which is supposed to protect the conscience of the religious objector but not violate the rights of everyone else.
And the answer is right there in the last sentence:  "the entire principle of religious accommodation" is "to protect the conscience of the religious objector but not violate the rights of everyone else."  In time of war, after all, a conscientious objector doesn't get to go on his merry way while everyone else is drafted.  I find the death penalty morally abhorrent and indefensible as a matter of my religious beliefs; but I don't get to refuse to pay state sales and property taxes in Texas because that makes possible, at some end point, the funding of executions in Huntsville.   Besides, paying for health insurance at all means somebody, somewhere, is able to afford contraception, through the same carrier that provides healthcare to you.

Not to mention the through-the-looking-glass aspect of this case, which is that the Little Sister's plan is already exempt from providing contraceptive coverage through ERISA. In fact, let me just quote this from the link in Lithwick's article (she calls this a "wrinkle."  I don't understand why it isn't the whole case):

One of the biggest misconceptions in the Little Sisters case is that Little Sisters is harmed at all by the ACA.  The facts are otherwise.  The federal government has conceded [adding:  AGAIN, IN ITS PLEADINGS AND/OR LEGAL BRIEF] that, if Little Sisters certifies its objection to paying for contraceptive coverage, neither Little Sisters nor its insurance carrier will have any legal obligation to pay for or provide contraceptive coverage.  This is because Little Sisters provides health care insurance to its employees through Christian Brothers Employees Trust, a self-insured “church plan” that, the Solicitor General concedes, is exempt from federal regulation.  In fact, not only is Christian Brothers exempt from regulation, but it has vehemently refused to provide any contraceptive coverage.  Little Sisters, in short, is a case in search of a legal injury.  

I'm a little confused as to why this is even nominally a RFRA case at all.

Adding, once more, with feeling:  "Birth control pills" are also used by many women for medical purposes other than contraception.  Sandra Fluke testified about such uses, but her testimony was turned into a gross assault on her moral character and her sex life.  Perhaps the Little Sisters don't want to support contraception; but are they so determined to do so that they will refuse their employees the ability to treat other conditions with a relatively effective, relatively benign, and relatively inexpensive option?

I'm back to considering the importance of people over stuff....

Adding:  now that I reconsider that closing line from the last blockquote above, I see where Ms. Lithwick is confused.  All parties must come to court showing they have suffered, at least allegedly, a legal injury.  But the legal injury alleged by the Little Sisters is that they're being asked to sign a form that has no affect on them and doesn't change their insurance status, but signing it forces them in some inchoate way to participate in a system to which they object on religious grounds.

Except it doesn't, because the signing of it, although the government may require it of them, is a legal nullity.  It has no effect at all.  But the Little Sisters say signing it still offends their religious beliefs; somehow; and the court must take cognizance of that.

As TC says in the comments, why wouldn't that require honoring Sharia Law, too; or Jewish law, for that matter, over any secular statute one might complain of?

No wonder Ms. Lithwick thinks this court requires discerning the intent of the plaintiff's; they haven't yet stated a legal basis for their lawsuit.  But the courts haven't thrown it out, so there must be one.

This is the legal equivalent of being put in a round room and told repeatedly to stand in the corner, by an authority you otherwise respect and admire....

Dru and Amber Davis are right: their Mom does do a great job

We are all supposed to be outraged that Bristol Palin called Wendy Davis a bad mother.  This, of course, would never happen to a man (well, unless that man was Bill Clinton.  Or any other Democrat running for office.  I mean, have you heard what they've said about Obama? Or Michelle, for that matter.).  Anyway, it's cruel and unfair and unkind.

Yes, it really is.

But it gave Wendy Davis a chance to respond, and prove she is a better person (and probably a better mother, but who's judging?) than Bristol Palin.  And, frankly, Bristol Palin isn't getting any facetime to make her remarks, while Wendy Davis gets a video.

And honestly, any opportunity for Wendy Davis to get a chance to be herself in public, is just fine with me.  Despite her stand in the Texas Senate, she can still use the publicity.

And she uses it very well, thank you.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger

Also:  Pete Seeger before HUAC.  HUAC was still around 11 years later; it made its way into a Paul Simon song in 1966. In fact,  HUAC existed from 1938 to 1975.  Pete was 19 when HUAC stared, 56 when it came to an end.

Pete will be missed.

A/k/a "Bowling Alone"

We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Or simply from being a money-oriented society:

From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these "techno geeks" can pay. We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a "snob" despite the millions she has spent on our city's homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.

This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent "progressive" radicalism unthinkable now?The insecurity of wealth in America has become an inherent part of being wealthy in America:  the question is, why?
Well, because of the Occupy movement, glass was broken (at a luxury car dealership in San Francisco), and this is clear evidence that:  "In the Nazi area it was racial demonization, now it is class demonization."

NTodd has actually dealt with this so well that I shouldn't even bother.  But I will take some of what he says, and some of what Josh Marshall says, and see what I can do with it.  And for my text (all sermons should have a text), I want to start here, but by quoting Tocqueville (via NTodd):

I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.

We have to start with the plain observation that the statements by Mr. Perkins are plainly despotic.  The curious question, as Josh Marshall asks, is:  why?

Well, examine Mr. Perkins' statements:  not one of them expresses any sympathy for the plight of the powerless against the powerful (in a system where money certainly = power).  Rising real-estate prices force the poor out of housing they can't afford, because the rich can.  These are the people Mr. Perkins is talking about:

The core grievance is one keenly felt by almost everyone in San Francisco: the way the tech sector has pushed up housing prices in the city and made it all but unaffordable for anyone without a six-figure salary. Almost no San Francisco police officers live in the city any more, and neither do most restaurant workers or healthcare workers. The funky, family-owned shops that once defined the city are closing because owners cannot afford the business rent, never mind the rent on their housing.

 So what's wrong with the buses?  Symbolism:

The activists claim that the so-called “Google buses” are exacerbating the problem, because they are making it easier for tech workers who might otherwise live closer to their offices to live in San Francisco instead.
“You are not innocent victims,” one flyer directed at tech workers said. “You live your comfortable lives surrounded by poverty, homelessness and death, seemingly oblivious to everything around you, lost in the big bucks and success.”
I suppose the poor should be grateful to the rich for making their poverty worse?  I dunno; the 'big bucks' problem I can understand; the idea of success, not so much.

At least not if I'm going to be consistent with my argument; and I do have one.

Bear with me.

You can't really call the situation in San Francisco "trickle-down."  It's more like "vacuum up."  And I will grant you many of Mr. Perkins' associates are appalled by what he is saying; but he also said:  "We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a 'snob' despite the millions she has spent on our city's homeless and mentally ill over the past decades."  I'm sure if any of Mr. Perkins' associates have done the same, they would feel themselves equally vindicated in their great wealth; and even if they haven't, they still don't apologize for their prosperity, or admire the critics of Occupy or the Google buses.  So the difference between Mr. Perkins and those who disavow his statements is, well, let's say it isn't all that great, in the final analysis.

At worst, then, he's been indiscreet.  But not as indiscreet as this:

Congratulations, you poor!
God's domain belongs to you!
Congratulations, you hungry!
You will have a feast.
Congratulations, you who weep now!
You will laugh.
Damn you rich!
You already have your consolation!
Damn you who are well-fed now!
You will know hunger.
Damn you who laugh now!
You will learn to weep and grieve.  (Luke 6:20b-21, 24-25, SV)

And if Mr. Perkins understood those statements to be active in their speaking, he would be right.  Josh Marshall (again), says Mr. Perkins and persons similarly situated hold his underlying opinion (that they are persecuted) quite seriously.  Fine, sez I; and why do I care?, asks I.  It would be a more interesting world if more people took these Beatitudes seriously.  I'm sure it would upset Mr. Perkins & Co. no end; but wait 'til they get around to the Magnificat.  If he counters, again, with the example of the generosity of Danielle Steele, I'll counter with the example of John the Baptist, or the widow who fed Elijah, or just ask a pointed question about how much is enough:

The Walton family heirs, whose fortune relies entirely on predation — of labor, of the environment, of government, of small business — controls more wealth than the poorest 40 million Americans. Imagine what we could do with that fortune if they left. For all the credit Bill Gates gets, it may be worth wondering, as Peter Singer did, if he has given enough:

Gates may have given away nearly $30 billion, but that still leaves him sitting at the top of the Forbes list of the richest Americans, with $53 billion. His 66,000-square-foot high-tech lakeside estate near Seattle is reportedly worth more than $100 million. Property taxes are about $1 million. Among his possessions is the Leicester Codex, the only handwritten book by Leonardo da Vinci still in private hands, for which he paid $30.8 million in 1994. Has Bill Gates done enough? More pointedly, you might ask: if he really believes that all lives have equal value, what is he doing living in such an expensive house and owning a Leonardo Codex? Are there no more lives that could be saved by living more modestly and adding the money thus saved to the amount he has already given?

If Gates donated all $53 billion to foreign humanitarian aid, it would be double what the U.S. government gives yearly ($23 billion in 2013). Imagine the good we could do with the fortunes of the rich, who have only amassed the wealth because of the infrastructure developed by society. Innovators regularly rely on government and academic funding for projects that corporations don’t think will be profitable (according to Singer, “less than 10 percent of the world’s health research budget is spent on combating conditions that account for 90 percent of the global burden of disease”). The arts are largely supported by public funding, not private donations. And many businesses are less self-sufficient than they imagine, requiring bailouts and competition between states to support them. Many corporations, like Walmart, dump poor employees on to government largess rather than pay them enough to feed themselves. And who builds the roads and takes out the garbage?
John said if you have two coats, give one to the man who hasn't any.  John said share your food with the hungry.  Neither John nor Jesus espoused a charitable system of maximized efficiency that would yield the greatest good for the greatest number, nor especially the highest praise for the most public generosity of purse or spirit.  They simply pointed to the nearest person in need and said:  there.  You have two coats; give up one.  Danielle Steele and Bill Gates can do the math on that and see where they end up.

Mr. Perkins, I presume, is not even interested.

I read recently that Dr. King didn't leave his family with great wealth, because he was determined to use whatever he got, even the money for his Nobel Prize, to aid the movement, to help others, to practice what he preached.  Even though his family had to scramble after his untimely death, I admire him for that; if possible, I admire him even more than I did.  Where your treasure is, there will your heart be, also.  It is perfectly clear where Mr. Perkins' treasure is, and who is surprised by that?  Wealthy people aren't wealth because of something inherent in their nature, something that makes God be sure the wealth comes their way, accumulates in their bank accounts, becomes so great it can't be spent by one person in one lifetime.  They seek money; it becomes their raison d'etre.  Why should we be surprised that they fear the loss of it, that they think the world wants what they wanted, that too much is never enough?

People living near me, divided from my neighborhood only by a freeway, seem to imagine all we do on this side of the freeway is imagine ways to take what they have away from them.  We don't, of course; we may be interested in greater social equity, but we aren't interested in switching places wholesale, taking what they have and leaving them poorer than we are now.  We don't envy their success.  We don't even give their success much thought.  Most of that success is built on oil revenues; on being oil company executives or lawyers for big corporations like oil companies, or doctors who get paid by insurance companies, which are merely big corporations, again.  We may envy the ease with which they access so much money, but we don't envy them their success.  Not as a community; not as a mass; not as an entire state or nation or even bloc of voters.  But if we are honest we recognize they make their money from every person who pulls up to a gas pump, or gets the oil changed in their car, or switches on a light or turns on a furnace get the idea.  It might not be inappropriate to get the Tom Perkins of the world to recognize we are where their wealth comes from, ultimately.  It would be a starting point toward the widow who recognized that, even in the worst of times, she could not refuse the stranger.  And certainly Tom Perkins is no stranger than I am.

De Tocqueville observed that we had, or were going to, lose our country.  I would broaden it, and say we are losing our humanity.  The insecurity of wealth in America is founded on the democratic nature of America:  wealth is no inherent in a class of people, and rightly denied to another class of people, and wealth is not water which seeks it own level.  It is never a rising tide because it is never a level body; it always accrues to certain people and not to others, and it moves like geological features, not hydraulic ones.

I said I would begin here; I return to quote it and end there.  I would not recommend a liturgy in a context with no sense of the history the liturgy represents.  I would not even recommend words of healing.  But I do think we should think in terms of blessings and curses:

It has been noted before that Matthew generalizes, or "spiritualizes" the Beatitudes, while Luke makes them concrete. The "poor" in Luke are "poor in spirit" in Matthew. The ones who are hungry now in Luke are the ones who "hunger and thrist after righteousness" in Matthew. And Matthew leaves out any mention of curses, which Luke, like the original, links directly to to the blessings. But both versions serve their disparate purposes: to announce the presence of the kingdom of God, and to declare by declaring blessings on precisely those on the margins: not the stranger, fatherless, and widow this time, but the poor, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the hungry, the peacemakers. These words originally re-announced the covenant of Israel: "Deuteronomy" is the title from the Septuagint for this fifth book of Moses, and it means roughly "restatement of the law." It was drafted after the Exile, as a restatement of the continuing covenant between the generation which never knew Jerusalem, and the God of their ancestors. It is a liturgy pronounced in the aftermath of Exile, hearkening back to a time when that Exile was unimaginable and unimagined. It is, in short, an act of healing. Which gives us an even better context for the pronouncement of the blessings and curses of the Beatitudes.

The words of Moses are for the people of Israel; the words of Jesus imply no such limitation. The meek, the poor, the peacemaker and pure in heart, the hungry and those who hunger for justice, can be found in any nation, among any people. As we have seen in America today, the assumption of power is that justice and righteousness and blessings flow from power and authority, that blessings only come to those who first claim privilege by dint of arms. 30 years ago we took to ca;ling it the "thin blue line," the people who stood with authority and power between civilization and the "out=law," the one literally pushed to the margin of society because they threatened society so. That is the view of Caesar, to use a metaphor from Jesus' time. That is the perspective of a government which uses crucifixion to suppress opposition, and war to distract the people from the fact that there is no bread, and the circuses are just empty circles. The beatitudes and their originals in Deuteronomy teach a different lesson: the blessings of life flow from God, who offers them to those who practice justice and righteousness, who do not cheat the stranger and the fatherless and the widow, who live their daily lives in consideration of others, who know that the true power is powerlessness.
We need some concrete and performative language.  I began thinking, in seminary, that we need a new vocabulary for new times.  Salvation once meant the rescue of the Caesars from chaos and disorder; it meant the Pax Romana.  Today it means something equally alien to most of us; maybe we need a new concept of salvation for Christianity.  Maybe we need new words; maybe we need new meaning for old words.  But in the end is our beginning; and in the end, I agree with Gutierrez:

Every theology is a discourse about God; in the final analysis, God is really the only theme of a theology. But the God of Jesus Christ comes to us as a mystery! A sound theology is therefore conscious that it is attempting something extremely difficult, if not impossible: to think and speak about this mystery. This
accounts for the well-known warning of Thomas Aquinas: "We know more of what God is not than of what God is." It is important to be clear on this point at the very beginning of any discourse on the faith, for God is truly more an object of hope (which respects mystery) than of knowledge.

How, then, are we to find a way of speaking about God? From the viewpoint of liberation theology it must be said that we must first contemplate God and put God's plan for history into practice and only then think about God. What this statement means is simply that adoration of God and the doing of God's will are necessary conditions for thinking about God. Only within the framework provided by mysticism and practice is it possible to develop a discourse about God that is both authentic and respectful of its object. It is in practice and, concretely, in our actions toward our neighbor, especially the poor, that we enounter the Lord, although at the same time this enounter deepens our solidarity with the poor and makes it more authentic. Contemplation and historical commitment are indispensable and interrelated dimensions of Christian existence. The mystery that God is reveals itself in contemplation and solidarity with the poor. Contemplation and commitment make up what liberation theology calls practice, the "first act," which is Christian life itself; only then can this life inspire "second acts," a process of reasoning.

Gustavo Gutierrez, The Truth Shall Make You Free: Confrontations, tr. Matthew J. O'Connell, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1991), pp. 54-55.

I told you it was going to be a sermon.  And let the people (as they are willing) say:  "Amen."

Tail wags dog; film at 11

I'm thinking if I pile up enough of these, they'll reach a critical mass.

Anyway, I connect 'em when I read 'em, then I lose 'em again:

The granddaddy, or maybe the "mother" of them, is here:

Of course what Kelly said was dumb. But the reaction was even dumber. Every year, Fox News whips up some phantom “war on Christmas” plotted by what the network’s blowhard-in-chief Bill O’Reilly calls “secular progressives.” This seasonal stunt has long been old news, yet many in the liberal media still can’t resist the bait. You had to feel for the NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker, who was drafted into filing a Kelly-Santa story on the Today show for no ­discernible reason other than that she is not white.

When this supposed “national firestorm” (as Al Sharpton inflated it on his MSNBC show) finally died down, only two things had been accomplished beyond the waste of everyone’s time. Liberals had played right into Fox’s stereotype of them—as killjoy p.c. police. And Fox News could once again brag about its power to set an agenda for its adversaries even as it also played the woebegone ­victim. “Because they can’t defeat us on the media battlefield, the far left seeks to demonize Fox News as a right-wing propaganda machine and a racist enterprise,” said O’Reilly when sermonizing about the episode on his show. “That’s why Miss Megyn got headlines about a Santa Claus remark that was totally harmless.” Fox News is a right-wing propaganda machine and at times (if not this one) a racist enterprise (witness, among other examples, its fruitless effort to drum up a “New Black Panther Party” scandal over some 95 segments in the summer of 2010). But O’Reilly was half-right. Kelly’s inane remark was harmless and unworthy of headlines. Without the left’s overreaction, there wouldn’t have been any pseudo “national firestorm.”
And then two about Wendy Davis:  first, Todd Kincannon, whose claim to fame seems to be getting people to publish stories about his Twitter account (he hasn't been called out by Greta Van Susteren, but I doublt he's winning friends or influencing people to agree with him, either);  and then the comments of Greta Van Susteren in re:  Eric son of Erick:

"I don’t care how much you disagree or agree with Texas’ Wendy Davis, you have to agree that this guy, Erick Erickson, is a real jerk and is really lousy at being a spokesperson for his views," Van Susteren wrote on her blog "GretaWire."
 "Sometimes if you are smart in your debate, you persuade someone who otherwise had disagreed with you. And then there are the creeps who take cheap shots because they are too ignorant and small to engage in an important discussion," she said. "No one should pay any attention to them – they are not persuasive, they are noise, and in some instances boorish and obnoxious."
Of course then she and TPM have to share Mr. Erickson's tweets with us; we could all be spared that.  But I wonder if we are beginning to enter a new realm in our national discourse, where we don't give anyone with a Twitter account or a microphone a national megaphone, and discuss in stentorian terms what "it all means".

Maybe it just means the speaker is a jerk and "No one should pay any attention to them."  As Frank Rich points out, maybe 1 million people watch FoxNews, which may make it a powerhouse among cable news outlets, but compared to the low rated CBS Evening News which still draws an audience of 8 million, FoxNews is a joke.

Matt Yglesias has some excellent advice about the execrable opinions of Tom Perkins:  stop listening to him.  Which leads me back, via Ms. Van Susteren (irony!) to Frank Rich's opening observation in his article on FoxNews:  why, instead of being outraged by its stupid memes like the "War on Christmas," not just realize "they are not persuasive, they are noise, and and in some instances boorish and obnoxious."

Because, seriously, they really don't shape public opinion.  And besides, their demographic is aging faster than the one for the Lawrence Welk show.

UPDATE:  And, to underline my point, Charlie Pierce passes the ammunition:

Kincannon has enlarged upon early Republican attacks on Davis, insinuating that because she supports a woman's right to choose, she must be a promiscuous, man-eating tramp. Calling her a "coke whore" and insinuating that she cheated on her then-husband, Kincannon wrote, at one point, "I don't care if folks attack Wendy Davis unfairly. I just want her attacked."  

Leaving it to me to praise the Lord.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Prelude to a much longer posting....

Fr. Edilberto Sena: ...You cannot go to Communion on Sunday and on Monday you destroy the forest. It's against the law of God! I am trying to save Amazonia for twenty-three million people that live here.

McCarthy: Father, let me ask you about that. The people on the other side argue, we are trying to do that by virtue of developing this place. Is there an argument to be made that the Cargills of this world do have a place here?

Sena: Human development means education, food, house, and hope of the future. Where is the growth? Where is the development? And you want me to be quiet?
So much depends on what you think is important:  people, or stuff.

"Memories...light the corners of my mind....."

I could resist this, but I won't:

Ted Cruz loved the government shutdown:  until he hated it.

September 29, 2013:

House Republicans give one person the most credit for bringing Congress to its current standoff over funding for the federal government: Ted Cruz.

With the clock ticking toward the first government shutdown in 17 years, many lawmakers said they never would have been here had it not been for the junior senator from Texas.

"I think he's played a lot of role in where we are right now," Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said as he left a closed-door meeting of the House Republican conference on Saturday afternoon.
"I think Ted Cruz did a huge service to the nation and to the cause of Republicanism," Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) told The Huffington Post.

"[He played] an excellent role," said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). "I think what he's done is strengthened our hand. He's made the case that we need to act and act decisively, and so I think we have a lot to credit him for."

Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) called Cruz's role "huge."

"He's been the rallying flag that has pulled Republicans around conservatives," Fleming said. "Just the mere fact that he's out there talking, that he's had petitions going, that he did a 21-hour [speech] that was highlighted in the media … all of these things are building energy among Republicans and conservatives who are unified in the fact that we oppose Obamacare."
October 17, 2013:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the man who led the charge on the 16-day government shutdown by tying government funding provisions to defunding the Affordable Care Act, told ABC News he "would do anything" to stop Obamacare -- including another government shutdown.

In the same article, Mitch McConnell is quoted: “Certainly, it has not been good for the party to be associated with the government shutdown."  Cruz didn't get the memo:

 Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told conservative activists in a speech Thursday that his vigorous attempts to derail Obamacare — including leading the effort to shut down the government — were being vindicated in the wake of the health reform plan’s botched roll-out. He also offered encouragement to a group that faced fierce criticism following the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

“Boy, it’s amazing how things can change in a few weeks in Congress,” Cruz, a potential 2016 Republican presidential hopeful, said at a summit hosted by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council. “Just a few weeks ago, people in Washington were saying, ‘Why on earth are you fighting so hard against Obamacare?’ Now, nobody’s saying that. Over and over again you run into people who say, ‘Now I understand what this is all about.’”
That was December 5, 2013; but yesterday Cruz apparently finally checked his in-box

“Well, Bob, with all due respect, I don’t agree with the premise of your question,” Cruz replied. “Throughout the government shutdown, I opposed a government shutdown. I said we shouldn’t shut the government down. I think it was a mistake that President Obama and the Democrats shut the government down this fall.”

Good thing he doesn't care what people think, he just wants to do what's right.  As he told the conservative activists in December:  "If you look at my brief and very quiet tenure in the Senate, on issue after issue, the American people rising up made a difference."

Sure made a difference in Ted Cruz's interpretation of recent history.  (I think his eyes are brown, too.)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

When neither the facts nor the law are on your side, why did you go to court?

I don't mean to run this into the ground, but we finally have some indication as to how vigorously JPS Hospital defended its actions with regard to Marlise Munoz:

There was no testimony in the hearing, only arguments of counsel.

The hospital agreed that Marlise Munoz was dead.

The hearing lasted only one hour.

The lawyer for Mr. Munoz made the following arguments:

Lawyer Jessica Janicek, who also represented the family, said the hospital was using “her body as a science experiment,” and that the hospital was using the law to avoid legal liability.

Janicek said while being under life support, Marlise Muñoz had suffered from a variety of infections, and that the fetus, now in its 22nd week, was not progressing normally.

“That’s not surprising because all of this is occurring in a dead body,” Janicek said. “Marlise Muñoz is dead. She has been dead for two months, and for the first time in two months, we ask that she be treated as a dead person.”

King said that despite the life support, Marlise Muñoz’s condition was similar to that of a corpse in rigor mortis.

When Erick Muñoz, a paramedic like his wife, “bends over to kiss her forehead he smells death, and he knows what death smells like,” King said.

“No one in this room would want to put their child in an incubator that didn’t work very well,” King said, adding that the hospital was using “a dead person as a dysfunctional incubator.”
Which is some factual information we didn't have earlier, regarding the condition of Ms. Munoz' body; and an argument I find myself agreeing with:  using "a dead person as a dysfunctional incubator."

How firmly the hospital's counsel tried to counter that, I don't know.  He did make this argument:  "I don’t want to minimize that, [Erick Muñoz’s pain] but what he has to do now is wait.”   Which, if you're going to insist on a contested hearing, as the hospital obviously did, even after conceding the primary facts of the case, is the only argument you have.

As the judge said, he had nothing left to do but rule:

“This is a tragic and very difficult case,” Wallace told a packed courtroom in Fort Worth. “I’m as prepared to make a ruling as I will ever be.”

That indicates to me, from my experience, that there was no real controversy in the case, that there was no vexed question of law or fact to consider, no issue to resolve except whether or not to keep providing medical care to a corpse.  The ruling of the court was obvious from the moment the hearing started.  Having the matter brought to court, the hospital could have easily entered an agreed order for the court to sign without need of a hearing.  The mystery here is:  why did they bother with further delays?   The hospital may yet appeal the ruling before the 5:00 p.m. deadline of Monday afternoon; but I don't expect it.  Greg Abbott and Rick Perry mouthed empty words of concern; at least they sound that way to me; but they don't want to get involved in this situation, even to make more specific comments on it.

And I still can't see what legal liability the hospital faced, unless the Tarrant County District Attorney was going to bring a murder charge against JPS on behalf of a non-viable, malformed fetus gestating inside a dead body.  And I can't imagine trying to sell that to a jury as a criminal offense.

In the end, there is still a mystery: what was this fight about?  Why did the hospital do this?  And what pregnant woman wants to be treated there in the future, knowing there's a risk, however slight, that they could be the next Marlise Munoz?

*Adding:  if you read somewhere that brain dead patients can be kept on life support and deliver viable fetuses, keep this in mind:

In our search of the literature, we found 30 cases reported between 1982 and 2010. A nontraumatic brain injury was the cause of BD in 26 of 30 mothers. The maternal mean age at the time of BD was 26.5 years. The mean gestational age at the time of BD and the mean gestational age at delivery were 22 and 29.5 weeks, respectively. Twelve viable infants were born and survived the neonatal period.

Marlise Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant when she collapsed in her home.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Texican Horror Story

There is a hearing today in the case of Marlise Munoz.  It shouldn't even be a legal issue for the hospital; there is precedent in Texas law for not providing "life support" for a corpse under the applicable law, even when the corpse is a pregnant woman.  What needs to be explained is why JPS refuses to declare Marlise Munoz brain dead, when she so clearly is:

The 33-year-old paramedic and mother of one from Fort Worth, Texas, apparently suffered a fatal pulmonary embolism in her home Nov. 26. She was found by her husband, Erick, who is also a paramedic, unconscious on their kitchen floor. She had lain there, not breathing, for some minutes. She was taken to nearby John Peter Smith Hospital, where doctors put her on ICU technologies, including a ventilator, and restored a heartbeat. But doctors soon determined that Munoz had suffered brain death, "irreversible cessation of all spontaneous brain function." She was dead. Her husband, accordingly, asked that all the machines be stopped.

The hospital staff refused. At the time, Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant. The hospital's position is that it has no choice but to maintain her body artificially. Texas law, hospital officials say, does not permit removing ICU technologies from a woman who is pregnant.
Brain dead, as Caplan and Pope point out, is the standard for "death" in all 50 states.  It is, of course, the reason the hospital has not declared Ms. Munoz "brain dead," because then there is no need for life-sustaining efforts, not even in Texas.  There is still one fact missing, the one reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram but not, so far as I can find, followed up anywhere else:

The hospital’s outside counsel is Neal Adams, who led the drive to end abortions at JPS in 1988 and is on the advisory board of the Northeast Tarrant Right-to-Life Educational Association, based in Euless. His firm mainly handles contracts for the hospital, while medical litigation is primarily handled by the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office, Labbe said.

Yes, he's their contracts, not litigation, lawyer; but he led the drive to end abortions at this hospital.  He's also the campaign treasurer for a Tarrant County judge; so let us not doubt for a moment that Mr. Adams is a Very Influential Person in Tarrant County legal circles.  Or that there are some fanatics in JPS who think pregnancy survives even death.

The lawyers for Ms. Munoz have now revealed some information about the condition of the fetus:

The 22-week-old fetus’s lower extremities are deformed and it is impossible to determine its gender, the attorneys for the woman’s husband, Erick Muñoz, said in an emailed statement.

The fetus suffers from hydrocephalus [water on the brain]. It also appears that there are further abnormalities, including a possible heart problem, that cannot be specifically determined due to the immobile nature of Mrs. Muñoz’s deceased body,” the statement said.

The fetus, which was deprived of oxygen for “an indeterminate length of time, is gestating within a dead and deteriorating body as the horrified family looks on,” the attorneys said.
You can, if you wish, ignore the language about the horrified family; you cannot ignore the fact Ms. Munoz's body is "dead and deteriorating."  You can even ignore the condition of the fetus, if you choose.  What you cannot do is ignore the fact that Ms. Munoz is dead.

At what point do we play god with the dead?  The question has been around since Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, but the focus there was on the living, and the responsibility of Frankenstein (the creator) for his creature (it has no other name in the novel).  Now the question is:  what do the living owe the dead?  We can presume the fetus is gestating but, if I were the trial judge, I could not even do that.  It is possible to simulate life in Ms. Munoz' corpse with the aid of "life support" technology.  Is it any less likely that all that can be determined about the fetus is a similar mistake about life?  To keep a premature infant in a malfunctioning incubator would draw outrage from all the world; if we can morally justify treating Ms. Munoz' corpse as an incubator (and I think we cannot), can we do so with confidence that her body functions adequately for that purpose?

This case is a grotesque travesty of the law and of a human being.  If this is morally and legally justified, I see no reason to criminalize or otherwise object to any desecration of a corpse, because that is what is being done her.  Ms. Munoz is dead.  Her fetus has no greater claim on her corpse than society's interest in seeing that her corpse is not desecrated; and yet it is being forced to function even though we cannot say with certainty that is it functioning even for that purpose.  We would not allow a machine to be employed in this way if we couldn't be sure it was working; and yet we regard Ms. Munoz as less than that.

This is a horror story.


As I said, a horror story:

In an affidavit filed Thursday in court, Erick Munoz said little to him now is recognizable about Marlise. Her bones crack when her stiff limbs move. Her usual scent has been replaced by the "smell of death." And her once lively eyes have become "soulless."

"Over these past two months, nothing about my wife indicates she is alive," Erick Munoz said. "... What sits in front of me is a deteriorating body."

And even the hospital now admits the indisputable facts:

For the first time, John Peter Smith Hospital acknowledges that Marlise Munoz, who is being kept on a respirator under Texas law, has been brain dead since November 28 and that the "fetus gestating inside Mrs. Munoz is not viable," according to court documents released before a Friday hearing.

So, and I say this as a lawyer, what are they fighting about?  The hospital is represented by the Tarrant County District Attorney's office.  There is no higher criminal prosecution authority in the state of Texas (the Attorney General can only bring civil cases).  No one, not even the state of Texas, has a justiciable interest in this matter except the family of the deceased and Tarrant County, and Tarrant County isn't going to prosecute the hospital for turning off life support on a corpse, especially after admitting to the court that Ms. Munoz is dead and her fetus non-viable.  I understand the concept of a court order to protect the hospital; but protect it from who?

There is some very strange, very sad, and very savage politics going on behind this matter.  Erick Munoz has asked the court to declare this Texas statute unconstitutional.  It could be the hospital wants to avoid that outcome by ceding the factual ground and giving the court a reason not to go that far.  At this point, I hope the court declines that option and declares this travesty of a law the abomination it is.

No family needs to go through this again, in any of the 254 counties in Texas.

Apparently, even as I was writing the above, the judge ruled in favor of Erick Munoz, which seems to mean  the court decided the case on the facts before it, and didn't care to expand the scope of its ruling to any constitutional questions.  The lawyers of Munoz indicate they don't know that the hospital won't appeal, which would add a whole new level of reprehensible to this; but I don't think the hospital wants anything more to do with this matter.  The international attention they've gotten can't be appealing to them by now.

May Ms. Munoz, and her unborn child, finally rest in peace.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Don't Mess with Texas Women

Telling her "I'm here today to call you a liar," didn't help much, either.

A few more reasons not to worry about Wendy Davis:

A few decades back, now (maybe not that far, but I'm terrible with dates; don't even know how old I was when this happened) the then head of the Southern Baptist Convention opined that women should be submissive to their husbands, especially Southern Baptist women.

Texans are staunchly Southern Baptist (not necessarily all of 'em, but sometimes it seems like it), but the women of Texas quickly let the head of the SBC know his opinion on this matter was not welcome in Texas.  Texas women may not like "feminism," but they do not submit meekly to their husbands, even when the Church says they should.

When Ann Richards won the governor's race, she did it largely on the strength of a non-handshake:  Clayton Williams, her opponent, refused to shake her hand at a debate, live on TV cameras.  That was all he needed to do to prove himself unfit for public office:  to try to publicly shame a woman.

Greg Abbott is proceeding down the same path Clayton Williams blazed:

Abbott's campaign accused Davis of “systematically, intentionally and repeatedly deceiv[ing] Texans for years about her background."

Ms. Davis' response was very good:

"I came from a place of struggle, and we can parse dates all day long," Davis said. "Unless you've sat in your home with the lights turned off, it's hard to appreciate how demoralizing that can be. And the fact that Greg Abbott is trying to belittle my journey as somehow being insignificant and overblown demonstrates that that's not a challenge that he appreciates or understands."

But she didn't make a response alone:

"Greg Abbott has absolutely nothing to say to the millions of Texans who have struggled like Wendy did and identify with her powerful story, so he's resorting to these deeply offensive attacks -- guaranteed to alienate women (and men!) whose votes he was counting on," said Jess McIntosh, communications director for EMILY's List. "He's actually going to say that Wendy and her daughter didn't live in a mobile home for long enough to tell that story. Which is, honestly, the most out-of-touch thing I've heard Republicans say this year -- and that is a high bar. Abbott's coming across like the rest of his party -- a bully with nothing to offer but offensive political attacks."

And, as James Moore points out:

The Republican candidate for Texas governor, Greg Abbott, has decided to attack Wendy's story. Well, really, just the details of the story. "How long did you live in that mobile home, mam?" Which is utterly stupid. Utterly. Every woman he wants to vote for him has likely struggled with the questions of family and career. Yes, even down yonder in Texas. And every one of them will be offended by him suggesting there is no validity to Wendy's story. Because a lot of them have been to that rodeo. The question they will ask of themselves is along the lines of, "Well, if a Harvard Law grad who became a state senator after being a teenaged mom doesn't measure up, what the hell might Abbott's people think of me and my accomplishments?"

Greg Abbott really doesn't want to go there.  He won't lose every woman in Texas; but he'll inspire a lot more of them to vote against him, than he inspires to not vote for Wendy Davis; even if he shakes her hand in public.  Besides:

“They wouldn’t be talking about Wendy if she weren’t a threat," she added.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Don't worry so much about Texas....

I dunno....

The campaign of Wendy Davis to be governor of Texas stepped on a rake for the first time this weekend. The Dallas Morning News ran a lengthy -- if occasionally weird -- account of Davis's life in which some of the details of the compelling biography that helped make her an overnight star were called into question. 

All politics is local, and a misstep like this might cause some really big money donors to reconsider the bona fides of Wendy Davis, but this is Texas, and nobody is going to reconsider their vote based on the fact Wendy Davis got divorced at 21 instead of 19, or had help from her second husband getting through school.

That isn't exactly why she stood up in a very hostile Texas Senate and filibustered a very bad bill and got so much support and national attention and a legitimate shot at being the next Governor of Texas.

And yes, Eric son of Eric is outraged, and Dana Loesch is insulted and John Nolte predictably compares this to Bridgeghazi (because thanks to Wendy Davis' errors in her personal history ambulances couldn't run, or something).  Truth be told if I didn't do the math I'd probably misreport how old I was when I got married, or when my daughter was born, or when I got my law license, or got ordained, or....


Wendy Davis will win or lose based on how many people she inspires to vote, and how many people turn out simply to vote against her because this is Texas and Democrats are the spawn of Satan; or at least want to raise your taxes, take your guns away, and destroy your freedumb.

Please don't imagine I exaggerate.

If some big donors now wonder, "Is Wendy is ready for prime time?", they should remember we re-elected Rick "Ooops" Perry twice, and he only failed at the third because he embarrassed us all on the national stage.  Wendy has made us proud; and that may be enough to carry her into the Governor's Mansion.

Nobody really cares when she got divorced.

The Radical Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Start with the speech Thought Criminal has; then come back here.  Or listen as you read.

In an address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on 16 August 1967:

Now, don't think you have me in a bind today. I'm not talking about communism. What I'm talking about is far beyond communism. (Yeah) My inspiration didn't come from Karl Marx (Speak); my inspiration didn't come from Engels; my inspiration didn't come from Trotsky; my inspiration didn't come from Lenin. Yes, I read Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital a long time ago (Well), and I saw that maybe Marx didn't follow Hegel enough. (All right) He took his dialectics, but he left out his idealism and his spiritualism. And he went over to a German philosopher by the name of Feuerbach, and took his materialism and made it into a system that he called "dialectical materialism." (Speak) I have to reject that.

What I'm saying to you this morning is communism forgets that life is individual. (Yes) Capitalism forgets that life is social. (Yes, Go ahead) And the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism, but in a higher synthesis. (Speak) [applause] It is found in a higher synthesis (Come on) that combines the truths of both. (Yes) Now, when I say questioning 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. (All right) These are the triple evils that are interrelated.

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

In other words, "Your whole structure (Yes) must be changed." [applause] A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will "thingify" them and make them things. (Speak) And therefore, they will exploit them and poor people generally economically. (Yes) And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign investments and everything else, and it will have to use its military might to protect them. All of these problems are tied together. (Yes) [applause]

There is much in that speech; and this is hardly the heart of it.  But simply to admit you've read Marx, and to further critique Marx by reference to Hegel, to Feuerbach, to "dialectical materialism," as if your audience understands what you mean, is as radical an act as putting your body on the line for what you believe. Dr. King went to jail for what he believed;  he was killed because of what he believed.  But I honestly think he was no more radical on the streets of Birmingham or in the pulpit of Riverside Church than he was in discussing, like an educated man, the philosophy of Karl Marx and Hegel and Feuerbach.  I can't help compare it to the public utterances and writings of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.  They supposedly bravely stand up to the world and defy the opprobrium of society by declaring their atheism.  But where in the writings of Dawkins of the debates of Hitchens do you find any signs of education such as this?  Where do you find such evidence of learning and knowledge and discernment, as this, made almost in passing, by Dr. King?

Dr. King doesn't even use it defensively; he doesn't use his knowledge as a cudgel to bully his enemies.  He shows them that he stands ahead of them, looking back and smiling.  It is still true today; it is true again, to even acknowledge you have read Marx, is to be all but convicted as a Marxist.  Ignorance is bliss, knowledge corruption, and to know what Marx actually wrote, rather than what we all know he wrote, is to invite sympathy for the devil into your heart.  If you want to convince yourself King was a communist because he wasn't satisfied with the status quo in the 1950's (when he started), you would be confirmed in your opinion when he admitted he'd read Marx.  And his critique of Marx means even less to us now, we who have tossed away even Hegel's idealism and spiritualism.

And then he uses Marx and Hegel to critique war, and economic exploitation, and racism.

Of course, he also uses Scripture.  The story of Nicodemus, so often used to evangelize individuals, is used by Dr. King to challenge national society:

What I'm saying today is that we must go from this convention and say, "America, you must be born again!" [applause] (Oh yes)

And so, I conclude by saying today that we have a task, and let us go out with a divine dissatisfaction. (Yes)

Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. (All right)

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice. (Yes sir)

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history (Yes), and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home.

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality integrated education.

Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.

Let us be dissatisfied (All right) until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin. (Yeah) Let us be dissatisfied. [applause]

Let us be dissatisfied (Well) until every state capitol (Yes) will be housed by a governor who will do justly, who will love mercy, and who will walk humbly with his God.

Let us be dissatisfied [applause] until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Yes)

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes) until that day when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together (Yes), and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid.

Let us be dissatisfied (Yes), and men will recognize that out of one blood (Yes) God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth. (Speak sir)

Let us be dissatisfied until that day when nobody will shout, "White Power!" when nobody will shout, "Black Power!" but everybody will talk about God's power and human power. [applause]
I include that last bit because of Sarah Palin; and because of the argument of "colorblindness" which distorts and destroys Dr. King's true legacy.   But we really shouldn't ignore this, either:

And the other thing is, I'm concerned about a better world. I'm concerned about justice; I'm concerned about brotherhood; I'm concerned about truth. (That’s right) And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can't murder murder. (Yes) Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can't establish truth. (That's right) Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can't murder hate through violence. (All right, That’s right) Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that. [applause]

And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind's problems. (Yes) And I'm going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn't popular to talk about it in some circles today. (No) And I'm not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I'm talking about a strong, demanding love. (Yes) For I have seen too much hate. (Yes) I've seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. (Yeah) I've seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. (Yes, That’s right) I have decided to love. [applause] If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. And the beautiful thing is that we aren't moving wrong when we do it, because John was right, God is love. (Yes) He who hates does not know God, but he who loves has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.
I will only point out that Dr. King is directly referencing Paul Tillich in that last phrase.

How very much we lost when we lost Dr. King.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Private v. Public

A small matter from the excellent article I accessed via Thought Criminal:
Indeed, even today most people continue to regard the United States as the great spiritual exception among developed nations: a country where advances in science and technology coexist with stubborn, and stubbornly conservative, religiosity. 
I grew up in East Texas, where we got scanners in our grocery stores in the late '60's or early '70's.  East Texas is probably the most conservative portion of Texas:  even as we had scanners in our grocery stores, and cable TV long before cable was "cable," we didn't integrate the public schools until 1971, and it was an open fight between racists and the rest of us to make that happen.

But East Texas business was built on oil, on geology, on science.  The people I grew up around were engineers and embraced whatever new technology appeared because it was progress and progress was good.  They were also as hidebound in their religious thinking (it would be too charitable to call it "theological") as any Puritan in 17th century New England.  The very concept of theology itself would have been too radical for them.  Indeed, it would have smacked of heresy.  Most believers insisted their views were found in the Bible, not in an interpretation of scriptures based on writings of people like John Calvin and Martin Luther and R.L. Dabney.  I understood, almost instinctively, how this dichotomy was possible, and it was because they mastered, almost with learning to walk and talk and feed themselves, the concept of two magisteria.

Oil men and geologists had to be comfortable with geological theory and an earth 4.5 billion years old.  There was no reason to question it, and they didn't.  They also firmly believed that anyone who didn't subscribe to their particular religious doctrine was damned for all eternity.  They couldn't have described that as Calvinism or even as an historical doctrine with little basis in the New Testament or early church history.  It was true, and that settled it.  It didn't interfere with the age of the earth or why bar scanners worked or the engineering that made the modern world both possible, profitable, and comfortable.  Maybe they thought of things in terms of the dominance of earth by man as set forth in Genesis, but I really don't think that idea had much prominence until the 1970's when an environmentalist identified it as the root of all exploitation of resources.  Nobody really worried much about it:  it was there, like oil, and you used it.  Maybe God wanted you to, or maybe God was just happy with your ingenuity:  it didn't matter.  It was gonna get used.

So advances in science and technology could coexist with stubbornly conservative religious opinions because the two didn't interfere with each other.  Baptist churches, or Methodist or Presbyterian, didn't preach much about social justice.  We all gave something to the poor at Christmas or Thanksgiving, or maybe in the summer for no reason except we had time on our hands; but we equally identified the "deserving poor" and denigrated the mythical poor family who owned a color TV (back when color TV's were still expensive and unusual in middle-class homes).  I'm not sure I ever visited the home of such a family on a charity delivery, but we all knew someone who had, or who knew someone who had, and we counted ourselves faithful that we never took gifts or foods to such a home.  Our invisible methods of discerning who was deserving of our largesse didn't let us down.

And the Church never interfered with our daily lives.  So it was easy to be "religious" without making it a problem for existence.  The most common jokes in  Baptist East Texas where no one is supposed to drink involved drink:  Q:  Why do you take two Baptists with you when you go fishing?  A:  Because one  Baptist will drink all your beer.  Q:  When do two Baptists not say hello to each other?  A:  When they meet in the liquor store.

Religion was very private, but at the same time very public.  You went to church to be seen, and to see; but religion was not to interfere with your attitude toward the poor, or questions of race, or how you spent your money or even your personal time.  The preacher who stopped preaching about hellfire and damnation or about a simple Gospel lesson would soon be seen to have 'stopped preachin' and gone to meddlin'," and that was a sure route to a short tenure in the pulpit.

Indeed, that's the fundamental difference between religion in America and religion in Europe.  Religion in Europe was a public matter, a matter even for the state.  When Kierkegaard launched his Attack Upon 'Christendom,' he was attacking the State church of Denmark, not some private organization.  And that was in the mid-19th century.  The Queen of England is still the head of the Church of England.  We have nothing comparable in this country and, since the Puritan colonies lost control of their members, we never have.  If we can live in these two worlds simultaneously, even schizophrenically, we have only the Founding Fathers to praise; or blame.