Thursday, July 31, 2008

Monica is the tip of the iceberg

Monica Goodling, the person currently at the center of a Congressional investigation in which she used illegal discriminatory practices to stack the Justice Department with pro-Bushies, is as useless as she looks. And that seems to be the point.

A full accounting of her experience can be found here, including her obviously inflated resume. Missing is her law degree from Pat Robertson's Conservative mill, Regent University.

What is insane is that the obvious technique employed by the Bush Administration isn't merely an issue of politicos being placed or 'hired' for positions despite their lack of qualifications (or qualifications that would eliminiate them from consideration, such as defenders of Big Oil in charge of the EPA, for example), it is that they seem to be using every aspect of the administration to build experience for those that cannot earn it. Putting weaker candidates in place doesn't just serve the current administration in compliance, but serves the Republican Party by inflating the number of "experts" that have their ideology.

This concept is dangerous and will have long-term consequences. Look at the example of those political operatives that were deemed failures from the 1970s and weren't involved until their careers were resurrected by Bush I (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz). Or look at those that were discredited and/or sent to jail after Nixon's administration and the renaissance they are experiencing. At least these people "earned" their positions (AND happened to be crooked). President Bush, on the other hand, gives promotions to loyal followers regardless of credentials, giving his personal lawyer (Alberto Gonzales) the job of Attorney General and initially nominating another of his lawyers (Harriet Miers) to the Supreme Court. Giving his cronies jobs is bad enough, but he is now giving them experience that they can use after he is out of office. The Bush Administration is inflating the statistics to their long-term advantage.

The media already gives liberals and moderates a ridiculous burden of proof unreflective of reality--now put more 'former White House officials' on the street to spread lies and misinformation for the next generation. Chalk it up as yet another poisonous byproduct of Bush's corrupt legacy.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Toby Keith isn't just a racist, he's sick

It is all too easy to use 'racist' to describe someone. It seems to have lost its meaning. In fact, conservatives are likely to make you think that they no longer exist: that we are all color-blind now.

But here's the truth: racism isn't just alive, its well. Toby Keith has gone on a publicity tour supporting his new album, singing the song "Beer For My Horses on The Colbert Report and will play it on The Tonight Show. The song, among other things, glorifies lynching, the Jim Crow South, and vigilante 'justice' and terrorism.

If you want to read more about it, check out this article here, but I must warn you that its pictures are graphic.

If this is the symbol of patriotism, don't you wish there were another option?

File this under "absurd"

Yeah, weddings get so out of hand, that police have to taser the groom all the time.

Check out the lunacy and overreaction here.

A reflection on two worldviews

In light of Lambeth, GAFCON, and all of the media’s attempts to dismantle the positive conversation that is currently going on within the Anglican Communion, as well as the Archbishop’s address yesterday, a thought occurred to me recently.

The current talk of schism (encouraged by the self-called Global South, cranky American bishops, and the reporters that amount to teenagers in a schoolyard chanting “Fight! Fight!
Fight!”) leads to the embodiment of two incredibly questionable worldviews:

  1. There are two groups that are warring in any situation.
  2. Conservatives are in a culture war.

Neither of these worldviews is accurate, nor are they beneficial to the discussion. But we use
them as the subtext, pretext, or even primary text of our discussion.

The war worldview is obviously unhealthy. It begins by suggesting that there are only two views of a situation and that they are diametrically opposed to one-another. It then attempts to shoehorn divergent perspectives into these two opposing positions. Our current political use of liberal and conservative don’t seem to fit the modern definitions or the classical definitions, so why would they even accurately describe the current situation?

Like church conflicts of old, the groups of people that are responsible are not diametrically opposed, but tangentially. Imagine that you are sitting in front of a sandbox. The oppositional/conflict worldview suggests that the other child playing in the sandbox must be directly across from you and that they are in direct opposition to you. What if the other child is to your side, or worse, next to you? Does that mean you have to knock down their castle to make room for your own? Can’t you work on the same greater project?

The second worldview is perhaps more subtle, but strangely common. It is the idea of the culture war: a crusade to remake culture into a conservative ideal. It suggests that the world has strayed, not just from God’s plan, but because of liberalism. Related to the us vs. them mentality described above, this represents the opposing forces from the victim’s perspective. It recasts normal as liberal and conservative as normal. This not only shifts the goal posts, but the sidelines as well!

We have seen this worldview engaged in national politics, introduced in the 70’s, epitomized in the 80’s, and then implemented as normal in the 1990s. It represents a retro response to what they perceive as a creeping liberalism. A liberalism that is also authoritarian. It believes that they have been stripped of their position by those at the top, despite their interest in replacing the existing status with a new centralized conservative authority!

This worldview is further made difficult in that, as in war, both sides are seemingly “responsible” for the current arrangement. It seems to suggest that the culture itself represents hostility toward them and that a chosen action is not a breeching of covenant, but a response to aggressive action. The Schismatics seem to have learned from the Southern rebels that have inherited their region’s legacy after the Civil War.

Both of these worldviews distract us from the discussion that would enliven our relationship, replacing it with conflict, distrust, and in some cases, violence and oppression. Think about this: In confirming the election of V. Gene Robinson to Bishop of New Hampshire, the Episcopal Church didn’t “act”. It abided by its process. The incursion of international bishops into
the Episcopal Church, on the other hand, are acts of aggression.

Until we sit together in honesty and integrity, these things will continue to divide us.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Lambeth update

For those that are interested, the second week of the Lambeth Conference got off to a lively start. On Monday was the release of the final recommendations of the Windsor Continuation Group. Not surprisingly, these recommendations are clearly the wrong move for the Anglican Communion, and heavily weighted against the Episcopal Church. For a great summary, check out Susan Russell's reaction here.

The Archbishop made an "unscheduled" address to the conference today, which actually seems reasonable...Susan Russell also has the address in full here.


What makes a monster?

Who bears responsibility for hate? For years, culture warriors went after "devil" music and D&D because they thought it taught children to worship Satan. They went after goth and industrial music and The Matrix after Columbine. They even went after condoms because they thought it might lead to teens having sex. For the culture warriors, bad influencers must be silenced...forever.

The hate-mongers (pick a time and flick on Fox News) that pervade our media: Hannity, O'Reilly, Limbaugh, Savage, Coulter, Beck, etc.: have daily TV, radio, internet, and print opportunities to send the world into a tizzy over the latest thing that "the liberals" have done. Some have all but called for round up and lynching of anyone that professes a liberal position. The very notion that these people are "culture warriors" puts this at the forefront of their thinking.

So what happens when a mass murderer is found to have been influenced by these people? There is a fascinating commentary from The Huffington Post by RJ Eskow that you can find here.

Eskow is interested in the human part: the part that wonders how these people can spew such hate and not feel responsible. I think its time that we stop firing hate-mongers, only to have them reappear after the furor over their latest diatribe ends. How do these people have jobs? How do they get chances to speak in public?

And if we are to consider them entertainers, then why are they on Fox News, hosting news broadcasts, and having articles printed in newspapers? I would expect that more qualified, articulate, and compassionate people could be found...virtually anywhere. Perhaps a random person off the street could be just as entertaining on the nightly news.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Flushing Democracy

Woooooossssshhhhh!


gurgle


You know when you flush your toilet? You hear that sound of the bowl filling and then draining, then that short pause as the water escapes down the drain, leading to the usual last little gurgle of the water settling. For us, that is the sign that the toilet has officially flushed.

Our country has just heard that gurgle.

The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled 5-4 on July 15th that the federal government has the right to detain anyone (including citizens and legal residents) indefinitely, without a trial, AND with the government’s ability to label someone an ‘enemy combatant’ without determining proof that the individual has taken direct or even indirect violent or military action against the United States.


gurgle


We’ve been listening to the flushing sound ever since September 12th, 2001. When the Supreme Court ruled that habeas corpus extends to Guantanemo Bay, we heard that moment of silence. Then this gurgle. But I’ll give you a second to let the above sink in.

According to this ruling, described in an article for Alternet, which includes acknowledgments from the majority opinion, the U.S. government has the right to claim any person at any time anywhere an ‘enemy combatant’, and despite the oldest rule of modern law (habeas corpus), detain that person in isolation indefinitely. The separation between this and Pinochet’s Chile is now gone.

Since 2002 and the declared War on Terror, we have gone back and forth about terms and about concepts. We avoided using the term Prisoner of War because that would require our following the Geneva Convention. We were told that ‘enemy combatants’ are synonymous in the “good” ways, but afford us more “freedom” in handling prisoners. Yeah, right. We made up the term ‘enemy combatant’ as a means of treating American citizens and legal residents as if they had plotted and implemented 9/11.

We also argued that the concept of ‘enemy combatants’ was, like prisoners of war, determined by the length of the conflict. “We have to hold these people so that they don’t rejoin the fighting” they argued. Except that we are in the midst of one of the longest armed conflicts in U.S. history, and one that Attorney General Mukasey is looking to extend indefinitely and without direction (a new request for authorization for military action anywhere at any time is coming before Congress right now). We were promised that ‘enemy combatants’ wouldn’t be held but for a couple of years, only as long as a) useful intelligence could be gathered and b) the couple of years we would be fighting. Now we are looking at a permanent legal black hole in which the president might shove dissenters.

We used to be afraid of new McCarthyism. But McCarthy was an angry man demanding his way. What if we greased the wheels and cleared the tracks for the next one? What happens when we hand over the keys to the kingdom for miniscule hypothetical and potential benefit?

Here’s a reminder course:

The Suspension Clause:

The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.”

The Due Process Clause:

in Fifth Amendment:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

and Fourteenth Amendment:
(from Section 1)

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Not to mention these other areas, also affected:

The Fourth Amendment:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The Sixth Amendment:

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.”

And the Eighth Amendment:

“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

The person on trial, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, was entering grad school in 2001. He was arrested and in 2003, was labeled an enemy combatant and locked up in solitary confinement where he was tortured repeatedly and has yet to be relieved from “harsh interrogation” despite military urgings. He has a wife and five children that haven’t seen him in seven years.

The following is an excerpt from the dissenting opinion, authored by Judge Diana Gribbon Motz:

"To sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians, even if the President call them 'enemy combatants,' would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution -- and the country…For a court to uphold a claim to such extraordinary power would do more than render lifeless the Suspension Clause, the Due Process Clause, and the rights to criminal process in the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments; it would effectively undermine all of the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. It is that power -- were a court to recognize it -- that could lead all our laws 'to go unexecuted, and the government itself to go to pieces.' We refuse to recognize a claim to power that would so alter the constitutional foundations of our Republic."

God save us.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Sudanese statement

The Archbishop of Sudan, The Most Revd Dr Daniel Deng Bul, made some hay yesterday by denouncing the Episcopal Church and Bp. Robinson (New Hampshire) at a press conference. Earlier, in a press release posted on Anglican Mainstream, a conservative blog, the Archbishop articulated virtually the same position (excerpted without introduction):

In view of the present tensions and divisions within the Anglican Communion, and out of deep concern for the unity of the Church, we consider it important to express clearly the position of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan (ECS) concerning human sexuality.

This is coming out of the context of and from within the midst of Indaba, the listening process that is the central piece of this decade’s Lambeth Conference. As it has been suggested, instead of bringing suitcases of position papers on the subject of human sexuality, the bishops are to participate in a listening process where all are given the opportunity to speak and be heard. As we have seen from similar opportunities, such as Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa, this process can work—if we are willing to participate.

We believe that God created humankind in his own image; male and female he created them for the continuation of humankind on earth. Women and men were created as God’s agents and stewards on earth.

Fair enough, though I'm hearing a but...

We believe that human sexuality is God’s gift to human beings which is rightly ordered only when expressed within the life-long commitment of marriage between one man and one woman.

So what do we do with those that aggressively go beyond these boundaries? Isn’t rape worse than adultery? Where is the moral outrage over the use of rape in Darfur?

We require all those in the ministry of the Church to live according to this standard and cannot accept church leaders whose practice is contrary to this.

Clearly, homosexuality is worse. I’m sorry. It just took me some convincing. You are completely right.

We reject homosexual practice as contrary to biblical teaching and can accept no place for it within ECS.

Your prerogative. Short-sighted, but yours.

We strongly oppose developments within the Anglican Church in the USA and Canada in consecrating a practicing homosexual as bishop and in approving a rite for the blessing of same-sex relationships.

I’ll skip over the slight inaccuracy, but suggest that, like the above prerogative, he has every right to take this stance. I strongly oppose his position. There, we’re square!

This has not only caused deep divisions within the Anglican Communion but it has seriously harmed the Church’s witness in Africa and elsewhere, opening the church to ridicule and damaging its credibility in a multi-religious environment.

Ah! There we are! The ‘gay marriage hurts my marriage’ argument writ large! What I find funny is that this brouhaha was back in 2003. TWO THOUSAND THREE! You’ve made it the story for five years. You would not be on the receiving end of ridicule if "the Global South" didn’t spend every waking hour trying to tell us that we’re heretics and that we are responsible for their position. Last I checked, the damage to the Anglican Communion is by the people threatening to break the Communion, not the ones playing nice over here.

The unity of the Anglican Communion is of profound significance to us as an expression of our unity within the Body of Christ. It is not something we can treat lightly or allow to be fractured easily. Our unity expresses the essential truth of the Gospel that in Christ we are united across different tribes, cultures and nationalities. We have come to attend the Lambeth Conference, despite the decision of others to stay away, to appeal to the whole Anglican Communion to uphold our unity and to take the necessary steps to safeguard the precious unity of the Church.

He almost got there. We were on the same page up until the “uphold our unity and to take the necessary steps to safeguard”. Unity is not about ‘steps taken’ to keep jerks from breaking the communal toys, but in gathering together without regard for differences.

Out of love for our brothers and sisters in Christ, we appeal to the Anglican Church in the USA and Canada, to demonstrate real commitment to the requests arising from the Windsor process. In particular:
- To refrain from ordaining practicing homosexuals as bishops or
priests
- To refrain from approving rites of blessing for same-sex relationships
- To cease court actions with immediate effect;
- To comply with Resolution 1:10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference
- To respect the authority of the Bible

I normally don’t take kindly to demands, especially in light of hostage-taking scenarios such as this, but I will say that aside from #3, all of these have already been promised or are in place. Let me repeat that: four out of the five demands were already agreed upon by the House of Bishops. This extra demand has nothing to do with maintaining “unity” or in “safeguarding” our Communion, but is an attempt to strengthen splinter groups, eroding the influence of the Episcopal Church, and supporting of extracanonical excursions into the United States in the form of unconscionable breaches into the U.S. church. This is not a demand that can be supported by any party and is a clear slap in the face of anyone who actually believes in the word “unity”.

We believe that such steps are essential for bridging the divisions which have opened up within the Communion.

Clearly laying them out as demands.

We affirm our commitment to uphold the four instruments of communion of the Anglican Communion: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council; and call upon all Provinces of the Communion to respect these for the sake of the unity and well-being of the Church.

As do I, though Lambeth and the ACC are the only two actual pieces with any real weight, but I digress. I couldn’t agree more. So you will stop supporting the hijacking of U.S. and Canadian churches? That is part of the agreement and Windsor process, after all; plus the strong request of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

We appeal to this Lambeth Conference to rescue the Anglican Communion from being divided.

Funny, the onus isn’t on the ones acting in this situation, but on the assembled body of bishops. Now that’s classy!

We pray that God will heal us from the spirit of division. We pray for God’s strength and wisdom so that we might be built up in unity as the Body of Christ.

Amen.

The Most Revd Dr Daniel Deng Bul
Archbishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan and
Bishop of Juba

I included this because the Archbishop is the only signatory, but is speaking on behalf of all of his bishops. Perhaps the gentle reminder that this is Lambeth, a conference of all bishops, and that digging into party lines goes against the spirit of “unity” that is needed here…

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Brits agree with world: U.S. tortures

In the current climate, these things seem to go unnoticed, so I'll throw one at you. Check this out.

From the Center for American Progress's daily newsletter, they point to a new report out of the U.K.:

HUMAN RIGHTS -- BRITISH REPORT SAYS NOT TO TRUST U.S. ASSURANCES REGARDING TORTURE: A report released Sunday by the British parliament's foreign affairs committee says that the British government should not rely on assurances from the U.S. government that it does not torture terrorism suspects, after "Britain had previously taken those assurances at face value." The
main difference between the two countries that the report cites is the
definition of waterboarding as torture. UK Foreign Secretary Dana
Miliband has said that the controversial technique is torture, but
President Bush vetoed a bill that would ban CIA use of the method. The committee concluded that "Given the clear differences in definition,
the UK can no longer rely on US assurances that it does not use
torture." The committee also suggested that the British government
conduct "exhaustive analysis
of current US interrogation techniques." The report also challenges the
British government to investigate further whether British land has been
used for "rendition" flights by the United States , after allegations
that two American planes carrying terrorism suspects had landed and refueled on the British-held Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia .
Now think about that for a second. It suggests that "The British government should not rely on U.S. assurances that it does not use torture". Not only does this mean that they can no longer trust us and take our word for it, but that there is clear evidence that we do torture. We all know that we are responsible for torture: this is not new. What is new is that the U.S. is now deemed untrustworthy. This is further proof that the world now believes the worst in us--and much less than how we see ourselves!



Monday, July 21, 2008

caveat emptor

or buyer beware. It is defined as “The axiom or principle in commerce that the buyer alone is responsible for assessing the quality of a purchase before buying.”

I have to confess that I have never been comfortable with this relationship. Whether it was the buyer’s remorse one feels after buying something one feels is a “must” while later realizing “want” doesn’t even really cut it. Or perhaps it’s the time you bought something that didn’t function the way you expected it to. Or maybe it just doesn’t measure up to the picture. I’ve had all of these things happen, and I’m sure you have too. And we say to ourselves “I guess that’s what I get.” Some of us demand the store take back this product, but for the most part, we simply take it.

But this fundamental aspect of the system, held for decades, is based on the principle that a consumer can be reasonably knowledgeable about a product. That level of knowledge is transitory, of course, and fluctuates based on the court’s support of the economic interest of the people or of the manufacturer.

But why should any of us be considered to have a reasonable knowledge about a product, let alone reasonable knowledge about anything? If I listen to the advertisers, Coke tastes better than Pepsi while at the same time Pepsi tastes better than Coke. And each is cooler than the other. And each is more popular than the other. Taste tests have proven both superior. In a modern world, both would be charged with lying, since only one could be “best”. In a postmodern world, we have to deal with each being “best” from their respective points of view. But according to our government, these are acceptable ads, because caveat emptor!

But we can all drink a Coke and a Pepsi and compare their relative effectiveness. But what about the things we both expect and require assistance in: significant purchases (cars, homes, etc.), healthcare, drugs and medicines? What of the things in which we depend on the experts (realtors, doctors, scientists, etc.) and when they become sellers of products? Or worse, what of the inherent dangers of a product of which we know nothing and are expected to know nothing? Writing the name of a phthalate on a plastic bottle will not communicate the danger that plastic possesses. Where is the support for the buyer when the seller is not required to inform him/her about anything that would prevent him/her from purchasing that product? Caveat emptor?

I was inspired by this article by Ellen Goodman called “The Do-It-Yourself Economy” which explores all of the repercussions of our taking on the labor once done by others: first as a cost-savings measure, but then accepted as normal (and requiring a later addition-by-subtraction?). The truth in the article (of which there are many, actually—you should definitely read it) is that we aren’t cut out to be responsible for ourselves in this way to this extreme degree. We aren’t all simultaneously the lawyers, estate planners, and accountants necessary to process the legal documents required to function effectively in our economy, let alone setting ourselves up for retirement and maximizing the tax code. We aren’t doctors, so we shouldn’t be telling our physicians what medications we wish to take, let alone reading through medicinal and health plans. We aren’t educators, so we shouldn’t be expected to teach our children all of the ins and outs of what they are going to face in the world—especially with our own antiquated perspectives.

The implication of DIY and caveat emptor is that the experts should not be held responsible for your ignorance. But the real question is why? I’m not talking about suing McDonald’s because they should tell a person that coffee is hot by printing it on the cup. I’m talking about more than informing. I’m talking about doing their basic jobs. Drug companies are not in the business of selling as many drugs to as many people as they can (despite the last decade’s evidence to the contrary), but the business of researching, developing, and producing life-saving medications. In fact, any attempt to convince people to take a drug they don’t need should be seen as fraud, not prudent business practice.

It’s about time we focus on the real issue: caveat emptor no longer works. A buyer should trust that they are getting what the seller claims. We even have a phrase: truth in advertizing. We should start by demanding it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

No, they will never, ever go away



Yes, this is a scary picture!

Actually, looking at this picture reminded me of something. Dick Cheney ran as not-the-president. His entire shtick was to not be the president. And looking at his face, his presence behind the president, and his in-office behavior has encouraged this connection:

Do you remember the kid in school that acted up? Do you remember what was said about him/her? That s/he came from an abusive family, was often neglected or locked out of the house and that this young person was just seeking attention. And in the pursuit of attention, negative attention is better than no attention at all. Now think about this administration.

As the Bush/Cheney junta is coming to its end, soliciting funds for a presidential library, and focusing on legacy issues amid the worst approval ratings ever, there is one sick thought: Bush and Cheney will be immortalized.

Yes, when new monuments are erected neither name will grace them (except the sewage plant in San Francisco) and nobody will ever confuse Bush with Washington, Lincoln, or Roosevelt, but in desperate times, infamy might be mightier than fame.

The unitary executive, the most scandalous, unconstitutional things to come along in centuries was dubbed by Frontline as "Cheney's Law". These two idiots won't just be lame Trivial Pursuit questions, or #43 in a list of presidents which all run together. They get their own space in the presidential and vice presidential halls of fame. They get exhibits with such paraphernalia as a torn Bill of Rights, a young Supreme Court justice's glasses, and blood-soaked hands. Bush will be remembered. We forget that not everyone wants to be the hero of the story--often being the villain is an uncontested road to immortality.

Live from Lambeth

There are some interesting thoughts that are coming out of Lambeth Conference, even before it truly begins. One excellent source of getting to understand what's going on over there might be to read this blog by Bishop Alan here. He describes the way the conference is formatted and why it will be different than conferences past.

It is also interesting to note the ire felt by any beat reporters 'lucky' enough to draw this assignment; searching for blood and conflict and receiving instead a healthy dose of optimism and congeniality.

And then, of course, there is "The Fringe", which is quite the appropriate name. I wonder if the irony is lost on the Lambeth organizers? Here is a great comment from Bp. Gene Robinson.

[Note: for those that don't know, Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, whose vote of confirmation in 2003 was seen as the trigger for the current "crisis" was not invited to Lambeth. It is the first time (I believe) that any bishop of the Anglican Communion has ever been snubbed. He decided to join in the Fringe activities during the Conference, but not gate crash. At the same time, it should be noted, in an example of a strange reversal (though not truly ironic), Many bishops from four schismatic countries in Africa have chosen to boycott Lambeth, not because Bp. Robinson is nearby, but because all of the rest of the American bishops were invited. Crazy!]

And lastly is the mainstream representation. Here is an article that is as inflammatory as the press wants it to be. It is difficult to communicate that something may be simultaneously potentially factually accurate and emotionally erroneous. If you want proof, simply look at the reference to "a mix of traditionalists and liberals", trying to not only fan the flames of dissent, but completely mischaracterize the political character of those attending. In a strange move (a slip, perhaps?), the author, Rachel Zoll suggests that:
"Conservatives have condemned the Lambeth program as an attempt to paper over differences by failing to tackle them head-on. Some traditionalists attending Lambeth will likely try to change the conference agenda."
By introducing the label of 'conservative' into the article (heretofore the assumed synonym of 'traditionalist') Zoll appears to be suggesting that it is not merely a synonym, but a separate designation. She seems to be saying that no real conservatives are in attendance--only the more moderate 'traditionalists'. If this is the case, the suggestion above [that it is "a mix of traditionalists and liberals"] more accurately implies "a mix of [moderates] and liberals". Such a supposition is not only inaccurate, but journalistically immature and borderline scandalous!

Or, if you go for the 'orgy of information approach, check out epiScope and Episcopal Cafe for directions. Happy hunting!

Lambeth begins!

Yesterday marked the first day of the Lambeth Conference, the gathering of bishops from all across the Anglican Communion. Taking place every ten years, this certainly becomes what anyone would categorize as an 'event'.

Thankfully, this conference will actually set a good tone for all of us in the way it is structured, beginning with three retreat days (7/17-19) and then an opening Eucharist on the 20th. Working in small groups, putting a variety of voices in each one, not only making diversity an important undergirding construction goal, but makes community that much more engaging.

If you want to read about what is going on, check out this article.

Please keep all bishops, including primates and the Archbishop of Cantebury, in your prayers. Pray also for a constructive and Spirited gathering, in every sense of the word!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

“I don’t expect to be a great communicator”

So what is Senator John McCain’s proper frame? Is he the folksy senior senator that is a “straight-talker” or is he a disengaged buffoon? Does he speak truth or is it double-talk? Is he a maverick or does he abide by the party line? The truth is clearly not what he says it is.

But here is something that is pretty interesting. Sen. McCain is a luddite. He is technologically ignorant and willfully so. Recent stumbles on the campaign trail have involved his ignorance about basic concepts such as web-browsing (“it’s a Google”), his aides reassuringly tell us that “[the Senator] is aware of the internet”, but the latest is really cute. Sen. John McCain is learning how to use the internet! Well, by golly, that shows what a real maverick he is: he avoided the internet when it was just a fad but shows he is willing to learn something that he doesn’t have the slightest interest in. Now that’s presidential!

In a New York Times story from Sunday, McCain reveals this bombshell:

“They go on for me, I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself.”

McCain can find the internet on his personal computer now! Holy cow! But there’s more!

“I don’t expect to be a great communicator,”

You don’t really need that skill as a president…

Funny enough—doesn’t this prove his true distance from the beloved, perfect human specimen that is Ronald Reagan? Shouldn’t Republicans see this as a bad sign? Oh, but he was in the middle of telling us about his internet exploits. Everyone, with rapt attention.

“I don’t expect to set up my own blog,”

Oh! He meant directly communicating with the written word! He didn’t actually mean speaking in front of people reading other people’s words! Oh, well then! Kudos, John, for that good ol’ fashion straight-talkin’!

“but I am becoming computer literate to the point where I can get the information that I need.”

Oooh! I likey! He actually goes to reliable sources such as the New York Times then! He looks up what experts on issues have to say. That isn’t so bad, really…

The article continues by saying:

Asked which blogs he read, he said: “Brooke and Mark show me Drudge, obviously. Everybody watches, for better or for worse, Drudge. Sometimes I look at Politico. Sometimes RealPolitics.”

Wait. Drudge? The Drudge Report. That’s the first thing he mentions? The E! equivalent for conservative gossip? The political OK! Magazine specializing in rumor and innuendo? The other two are better—but he only visits them “sometimes”. And what’s with the “watching” of the Drudge Report? Is he misspeaking by saying the wrong word (ie. read) or is he misspeaking by actually implying that he isn’t going online himself, but watching as someone else does? McCain actually reads blogs over other people’s shoulders! The man can change! That’s teaching this old dog a new trick…if by teaching you mean shoving something in their face and having them do what they ordinarily do when it is in front of them: read it.

At that point, Mrs. McCain, who had been intensely engaged with her BlackBerry, looked up and chastised her husband. “Meghan’s blog!” she said, reminding him of their daughter’s blog on his campaign Web site. “Meghan’s blog,” he said sheepishly.

So Cindy McCain proves to the world that they have the most stereotypical relationship ever constructed by wearing the family’s pants. But worse, it shows two incredibily scary things about McCain.

  1. He doesn’t make his daughter a priority. Imagine if a Democratic candidate forgot to go to his/her daughter’s soccer game.
  2. He is ignorant of how his campaign is marketing him. He is unaware of his own website and his daughter’s blog on it. This speaks volumes about his willingness to let those around him “handle” him. This became incredibly dangerous under Bush II, as Vice President Dick Cheney has been given free reign to do and say what he wants and the president has been insulated not only from public opinion, but from the happenings within his own administration. They hand him a piece of paper and say “We need this to stop the terrorists” and he signs it saying, “Well, in that case!” McCain is exactly the same.

As he answered questions, sipping a cup of coffee with his tie tight around his neck, his aides stared down at their BlackBerries.

As they tapped, Mr. McCain said he did not use a BlackBerry, though he regularly reads messages on those of his aides. “I don’t e-mail, I’ve never felt the particular need to e-mail,” Mr. McCain said.

This if further proof of McCain’s detachment, not only from technological advances of the last 15-20 years, but that he shows neither curiosity, nor respect for them. His statement “I’ve never felt the particular need to e-mail” reveals so much about the man.

  1. He doesn’t do it.
  2. He is not inclined and doesn’t plan to do it.
  3. His communication needs are restricted to person-to-person contact (including the phone).
  4. He allows others to direct his communications.
  5. He is disinterested in communicating with people in their preferred mode.
  6. He is unwilling to develop a variety of strengths.
  7. He lacks the vision and ability to recognize the benefits of this mode of communication.

Does McCain still sound folksy? Do you still think he’s a straight-talker?

Here’s a point of interesting reference: In 2000, VP Al Gore touted his interest in technologies and trumpeted his ability to recognize a good thing when he saw it by reminding the world that his leadership in the Senate was instrumental in the creation of the internet; eight years later we have a candidate who is happily “aware” of the internet and watches “the Google”. Now that’s real progress.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Supreme Court decision sets back consumer safety by a generation.

In one quick stroke, a generation’s worth of work is gone. In the length of time it took to sign a name, the Supreme Court changed our entire justice system.

We have two areas, the criminal system and the civil system. The problem is that some acts are not illegal and cannot be prosecuted in the criminal system (sending people to jail) and therefore must be prosecuted in the civil system (costing them lots of money). There are problems in which the affects take decades to determine. Cases such as the lawsuit again big tobacco prove that. Vioxx is beginning to prove that again. We confuse the two parts of the system. We confuse legality with responsibility: just because something is not illegal, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be held responsible for the repercussions. This is the basis for class action lawsuits.

A class action is not the same as suing a company for your own mistake as certain high profile cases against prominent fast food restaurants have proven. These are cases where a bunch of people are hurt because of an individual’s or corporation’s negligence or deliberate action. In fact, it is the only way we have to get these wealthy non-persons to pay for immoral actions. Knowingly promoting a deadly and dangerous drug and bribing the FDA to pass it caused Merck to deal with Vioxx. The market does not regulate itself—not when it comes to negligence and deliberate deception. That’s where class action suits make those responsible have to pay for their actions.

The Supreme Court made a recent decision that changes the very nature of the system. As detailed in this article, it says that

“the Supreme Court ruled that punitive damages should not exceed actual damages.”

This, of course, is limited to the current understanding of “actual damages”, which will no doubt be purely financial: medical costs and potentially lost wages, but would not deal with many of the other costs.

This particular case dealt with a fishing town devastated by the Exxon oil spill from 20 years ago that had yet to be resolved in court. The spill devastated the primary industry of the town for years, preventing many from working any job.

“Imagine if the primary industry in your community was wiped out by the actions of another. If you owned a business that depended on that primary industry, wouldn't you feel entitled to a damage claim as well?”

I’ll take up the challenge! Imagine what would have happened in the 1980s or 90’s if the auto industry stopped suddenly because one company ruined steel—for several years—making it impossible for any manufacturer to make new cars in Michigan. Or imagine what would happen to any of our rural communities if a pesticide manufacturer dumped millions of gallons of pesticides on all of the fields of several counties. The level of pesticides would not only kill all of the plants, but would make the land unusable for years.

The environmental and economic impact of the oil spill are directly related—but only the economic one matters to this court.

And according to the court, only the economic interests of a company matter. Your future well being, health, and pursuit of happiness are not important. The level of negligence is stopped at “accident”—meaning there could be nothing worse because of this ruling. Imagine a line graph. At one end is accident and at the other sadism:

Accident--------Unintentional Mistake---------Direct Consequence---------Sadistic Intent

According to the Supreme Court, the intention is irrelevant, so all punishments (in the form of damages) stop at the beginning: accident.

In other words, I could do incredibly malevolent things to our environment, people, and to cute bunny rabbits, but if the only financial damages that can be proven are the breaking of a coffee mug, then all of the irreparable harm I do will cost me $5-10.

Or think about it from the side of Exxon, which in the current climate is taking home record profits, mind you, messed up the environment, had the federal government bail it out for cleanup, was negligent in the disaster (the captain was drunk, remember?) devastated communities, and destroyed countless lives, but the damages that can be leveled against it amount to clean up costs. They have gone into a Cracker Barrell, thrown knick knacks through windows and all they are held accountable for is the cost of the window and the crap broken.

What is to stop a drug company from knowingly harming people (hello, Merck; the next Vioxx is calling!), when the only damages that they will have to pay out are hospital bills? For them $200,000 is an investment!

Damages awarded are the primary means of holding corporations accountable in an era of reduced consumer safety. When our laws are lax and our enforcement underfunded, we are praying that the products we buy are safe. When they aren’t we have to sue the company for excessive damages because there is no other legal repercussion.

How does it feel to have a Supreme Court that not only cares for a company’s well being more than yours, but is actively protecting their interests at the cost of your own?

Monday, July 14, 2008

In a perfect world...

Think about this: scientists are in virtual agreement, the world opposes it, its replacement already exists—and is not more costly, its ban is supported by mothers and health professionals, its ban is not opposed by manufacturers and the like, and yet…

If there were such unanimous opinion about something from nearly all involved, one would think it would have been resolved long ago (aside from the Iraq Conflict). But there seems to be reluctance to eliminate Phthalates, a chemical compound that makes plastic flexible while maintaining its strength. It has also been proven to cause genetic defects and cancer in those ingesting it—even from irregular acts of sucking and licking (as children do, especially when teething). If you would like more information on this, check out a great article from May here.

What is preventing Congress from banning this deadly substance? ExxonMobil. Manufacturers aren’t crying foul because there are legitimate alternatives. Much of Europe has already banned the substance and is going about their business, while we are stuck in the dark ages brought about a regressive adherence to so-called “free” markets. But here is the real kicker: only ExxonMobil, makers of the most common phthalate are showing their opposition, and throwing the weight of their recently consistent record-level profits.

Take the time to contact your congressperson about supporting a bill to ban this deadly petroleum-based killer by clicking here.

Fundamentalism and the purity code

In light of my previous post about Biblical literalists, I have found something upon which we might reflect. My reading for the day was Leviticus 12-14. I am in the process of reading The Daily Message: Through the Bible in One Year, a daily reading from Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible.

Today’s reading was three chapters on skin disease and ritual cleansing. I know what you’re thinking—spirit-filled reading, right? “The priest will pour some of the oil into the palm of his left hand, and with his right finger sprinkle some of the oil from his palm seven times before God.”[1] Riveting! As I called it in a sermon recently, it is God’s divine micromanagement (Oh, P!).

When dealing with fundies, especially the trolls, we tend to go back to our usual pronouncements: it’s the well from which we draw. But here is something else. As our friend suggested in Encompass (my response in the previous post from last week),

“[Self-described] Orthodox Anglicans fervently believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and none come unto the Father except through him. Jesus gave us this doctrine himself, and it becomes a litmus test for the theological deviation that has occurred and is progressing at an alarming rate.”

Jesus also said in Matthew 5:17-20:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”[2]

From Jesus’s sermon on the mount, our humble teacher took a pretty defensive posture toward the law as laid out in Scripture. I think our friends would agree that to be a sensible thing. They would argue that we are breaking those laws on a regular basis and that we must be brought back into the fold of conservative churchmanship. They would be ignoring their own duties, of course.

One of the highlights of the Leviticus reading gives detailed accounts of how a priest should examine the skin of the people to make sure each does not have an infection. Despite the obvious metaphorical interpretation of this, not to mention embodying the same remedy: banishing the infected to the wilderness outside of the city: I have not heard of regular blood sacrifices being done throughout the 'orthodox' church (or the real Orthodox churches, for that matter).

But this is my favorite: from the second half of Leviticus 14, we discover what to do about “a serious fungus”:

“When you come into the land of Canaan, which I give you for a possession, and I put a leprous disease in a house in the land of your possession, the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, “There seems to me to be some sort of disease in my house.” The priest shall command that they empty the house before the priest goes to examine the disease, or all that is in the house will become unclean; and afterward the priest shall go in to inspect the house. He shall examine the disease; if the disease is in the walls of the house with greenish or reddish spots, and if it appears to be deeper than the surface, the priest shall go outside to the door of the house and shut up the house seven days. The priest shall come again on the seventh day and make an inspection; if the disease has spread in the walls of the house, the priest shall command that the stones in which the disease appears be taken out and thrown into an unclean place outside the city. He shall have the inside of the house scraped thoroughly, and the plaster that is scraped off shall be dumped in an unclean place outside the city. They shall take other stones and put them in the place of those stones, and take other plaster and plaster the house.

If the disease breaks out again in the house, after he has taken out the stones and scraped the house and plastered it, the priest shall go and make inspection; if the disease has spread in the house, it is a spreading leprous disease in the house; it is unclean. He shall have the house torn down, its stones and timber and all the plaster of the house, and taken outside the city to an unclean place. All who enter the house while it is shut up shall be unclean until the evening; and all who sleep in the house shall wash their clothes; and all who eat in the house shall wash their clothes.”

I suggest we make sure that our friends in San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, and Fort Worth are keeping up with their demo duties…



[1] Translation is The Message.

[2] Translation is NRSV.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Compromise and Fundamentalism

In conflict resolution, I used to be a big fan of compromise. It seems like a decent way of doing things. I want X and you want Y, so I get X-1 and you get Y-1. Fair all around.

Of course, better yet is finding ways where we both win. Roger Fisher’s Getting to Yes makes just such a suggestion.

And then there’s this: Democratic Congress vs. Republican President. It’s a showdown except there is no real showdown.

The more prominent story is the FISA bill, which is yet another example of Democrats blinking in the face of a Republican game of chicken, but here is one more insidious to me.

Remember last year when we successfully rid ourselves of the worst Attorney General (Alberto Gonzales) ever? Michael Mukasey was put forth as a compromise pick. Unlike AG as AG, Mukasey was smart. Unlike AG, he was willing to talk and compromise. That was the spin. Despite his refusal to answer any of the tough questions, Democrats gave him the nod.

From moment one he refused to be an upgrade for Gonzales, pushing the Bush agenda from a post that needs to be independent from the president as chief prosecutor. Then this was brought to my attention.

Maybe he’ll show up under the threat of arrest. Or not.

We’ve let others declare themselves immune for having had lunch a couple of times with the President. Mukasey ducked the hard questions and the Democrats gave him a free pass to further obstruct justice.

So it begs the question: why try to compromise?

Is there a point in which compromise only hurts you? Is there a time when it is preferred to
accept the game of chicken?

The problem is the Republican ideology has changed from

sensible agreement to obstinate confrontation: and for over a decade it has worked. This was a chief strategy of the Gingrich/Delay Republican Party and has shown to be of great use to the Bush administration. The reality of the situation is that is works for them, so they will keep doing it.

So what can the Democrats do to create a more compromising
Congress? Should they even try?

The ideology of win-at-all-costs loses as an ideology when it stops working. Not only handing them losses, but forcing gridlock on their most important issues (preventing them from winning), and forcing them to vote against their own legislation because of their unwillingness to compromise. These strategies, when combined together will certainly force their hand. Then there is always the option of using the law as it is intended.

Impeaching the President and Vice President or pursuing them for war crimes, murder, and felony eavesdropping once they leave office serveas both the legal repercussions of their actions and discourage future bad behaviors.

The FISA compromise serves as a perfect example of folding before the President, blinking when you should be standing firm. I get Sen. Obama’s position and the position of other Democrats that see putting FISA back in place as more important than immunity, but what is being ignored is that this president will ignore the law anyway. Making FISA the rule of the land again is not as important as making the president act a certain way. He broke the law before, he’ll break it now; but making him a repeat law-breaker is not as important as curtailing the action in the first place. Secondly, Sen. John McCain has taken Bush’s stance on nearly everything, but especially on matters of “intelligence”. Putting this law back in place in expectation of the next president abiding by it is not terribly important when a potential Pres. McCain would ignore it anyway (and Democrats refuse to raise impeachment proceedings). Even a wider Democratic majority is just as unlikelyto go after McCain for breaking the law as they have been with Still President Bush.

Compromise, as a concept is impossible in such an arrangement. In this case, as in every
important case of the last 7 years, the Democrats have folded. They blinked. They cried “uncle”. They showed the world that they are willing to let a school-yard bully beat them up and take their lunch money. And then do it again. And again. Then they let another bully beat them up, again and again. Then they hand over the money without a fight—worried that the bad press will hurt them more—or that it will make Bush look bad. Since when has public opinion prevented Pres. Bush from doing anything?

Compromise is still a pretty good concept. Especially when it is a tool to help us get to yes. Compromising your values in the face of tyranny isn’t.

So what do we do?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Crime: Being Accurate



Did you hear the one about the librarian that got kicked off of public property?

Ms. Carol Kreck was escorted from the line to get into the "town hall meeting" held by Sen. John McCain in Denver (sight of this year's Democratic National Convention. First she was harrassed by McCain's rent-a-cops, then by actual officers that wrote a ticket for tresspassing.

"Why?" you ask.

Look at the sign. Ms. Kreck then told a reporter that she wasn't sure why John McCain, who sought the support of the President and campaigned for his reelection would be offended by her sign. She wasn't sure why any Republican that voted for Bush would have a problem with her sign. Funny enough.

McCain's response to the whole thing proved the sign's accuracy, however, as this article points out:
This episode by McCain's Secret Service appears to be a rerun of
McCain's 2005 town hall in Denver with President Bush in which the
Secret Service had three Denver citizens removed from an "open" event
where McCain was campaigning with Pres. Bush for his plan to privatize
social security.
Do you think the irony is lost on wingnuts?

So that's why I'm evil! I had no idea!

When I was in high school, I learned of a great way to get my endorphins running. No, not what you’re thinking. I watched the McLachlan Group. Watching two slightly rational people arguing with two idiots and a blowhard was surprisingly amusing for me. I enjoyed getting angry enough that I would yell at the TV. “Tony! You’re an idiot!” I would say. “Just stop talking for once!”

I have chosen more useful outlets for my pseudo-news, but I had not found a place to reveal such ire until recently. The American Anglican Council, the schismatic support group that remains within the Episcopal Church, but loves fanning the flames, puts out a monthly newsletter called Encompass, which is quite amusing. Aside from the regular jargon and the liberal use of the term “orthodox” and “orthodox anglicanism”, it is very telling about where the conservative mind has wandered to. But my favorite part has to be the regular column “A Message from the President”, written by the Rt. Rev. David C. Anderson, whose titles are “AAC President & CEO”. Classy stuff.

Like listening to talk radio or Bill O’Reilly, you get the sense that Anderson is less interested in the issues up for discussion as he is in taking advantage of the opportunity to be crass. We aren’t merely talking about a little mudslinging, but overt misrepresentation of facts with the intention of defamation. Then he throws in some pretty saucy language.

Let’s take a look at the most recent issue (which is not yet on their website): May/June 2008.

Anderson begins his column by claiming “the spin regarding the crisis in Anglicanism is dizzying”, with pejorative references to the Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Lambath Conference as proof of this ‘spin’.

But then he makes a truly remarkable point. He argues that

“The situation is complex and can’t be explained in a soundbite. So when outsiders look at the crisis in the Anglican Communion they often default to the easiest understanding—sex.”

But isn’t that what you’ve been saying?

“I have explained to journalists at length that the sexuality issues in North America are derivative of the theological errors of the Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC).”

Oh, so it isn’t about sex, but how we think about sex. It isn’t the sex, per se, but what we say, think, respond to, and appreciate about sex. But it has nothing to do with the sex.

“Orthodox Anglicans fervently believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and none come unto the Father except through him. Jesus gave us this doctrine himself, and it becomes a litmus test for the theological deviation that has occurred and is progressing at an alarming rate.”

So what did the ordination of Bishop V. Gene Robinson have to do with this? And gay marriage in Canada has what to do with a theology that is more concerned with the means of salvation than the road to salvation?

“We believe that Holy Scripture has the authority to speak into both our spiritual and our “secular” lives, and to provide not only the words of eternal life, but also the proper ordering of our behavior and discipline.”

Oh, so God doesn’t influence us today, as/through/by the Holy Spirit, but by the Holy Scripture! I get it! God is dead!

You don’t think that’s what he means? Why else would we think that the only use for the Bible is as a how-to guide and behavior manual.

But now we get to the meat of it:

“The great divide we face is that the liberal revisionists who lead TEC and ACoC no longer believe this, and it is a very significant departure from classical Christianity.”

I’m not sure to what “this” he is referring. I’m assuming he is using the “easiest understanding” of the “soundbite” Biblical literalism or the Bible’s sole authority or some other shortcut to suggest that they are the keepers of the faith and that we have Bible burning ceremonies out in the woods. But then again, his earlier statement suggests how far he is removed from tradition…

“In their view, Jesus is the way to the Father, but you can pick the path that works best for you.”

I’m not sure why this is part of his argument, but sure, we think ecumenism is a positive thing…

“Likewise, scripture is written by the church and can be rewritten and reinterpreted by the church to mean different things than it has for the past two millennia.”

There we go. The signal. Yes, the Bible was written by the church between 1000 BCE and 200 CE. It is nearly universally held that humanity was inspired to write this love story about faith, but if you want to take the position that the Bible dropped out of the sky, go for it. Fundamentalism at its finest! The second half of the statement suggests that the Bible has only been interpreted one way from the beginning. This doesn’t just mean that our “reinterpretations” about slavery were wrong—but there has always been only one (orthodox?) interpretation about every pressing issue of all time. Has he read anything from the first 600 years of Christianity? Or perhaps that pesky Reformation?

“Sexuality issues are the presenting symptom that indicates a visit to the doctor’s office is needed, but they are not the disease. Departure from the historic Christain faith is the disease, and sexual perversions, dealings in witchcraft and the occult, and other manifestations are the consequent result. It is hard, if you are not here to witness it, to see how wacko the Episcopal Church is getting.”

Wait. Hold on. WTF? Did he really just say that a living, vibrant view of faith is not only a “departure from the historic Christian fiath”, but that it leads to witchcraft and the occult? Is he serious? This is like the guy driving a minivan that stopped by a Habitat for Humanity building site in Saginaw to pass out pamphlets telling us that Harry Potter is the work of the devil. This is the same stuff he’s shoving at us. And by throwing this in front of the reference to TEC, he is suggesting that the church is endorsing occultism and wicca. That’s it. He’s lost it.

He concludes that statement by suggesting:

“We couldn’t make this stuff up—“

Though he did.

“so we will just report it to you to underline our point: as bad as the homosexuality issues are in the church, the bizarre theology is even worse.”

His point seems to be that not only will gay people ruin your marriage if they engage in domestic partnerships and important leadership roles in the church, but our theology will do real damage.

Then Anderson gets really personal, attacking our neighbors to the north in the Diocese of Northern Michigan. It must be pointed out that this is one of the most rural and sparsely populated places in the country. It gets incredibly cold and its tourist season is almost entirely June-August. Through the leadership of a truly great bishop, Jim Kelsey, (who died last year in a car accident, driving between his distant churches) and diocesan leadership, they became a pioneering diocese in the use of mutual ministry, a tool to empower the laity and solve a financial issue. With that forward, let us continue.

In the diocesan response to the draft Anglican Covenant, Northern Michigan made a faith statement with which Anderson and David Kalvelage (The Living Church editor) took issue. It is this:

“Our faith is that we, like all creation are continually being born again from above (John 3:1-17). We are continually being re-born as created co-creators, created co-receivers, created co-reconcilers. We are continually being reborn as incarnations of the living Trinity.”

A powerful and incredible statement that is truly inspiring, I think! What else is our relationship with God, but for the opportunity to collaborate on bringing the Kingdom of God? Are we not called to this continued ministry?

“This is one of many non-scriptural New Age pronouncements in the statement that Kalvelage takes to task.”

Huh? Didn’t you catch the scriptural reference? You clearly missed it because you said it was non-scriptural. Perhaps we have a literacy problem… Anderson then quotes Kalvelage when he wrote in the May 11, 2008 issue of The Living Church:

“As I’ve written in the space before, trying to explain the Trinity is a task well beyond my limited insight. But I think even I could make more sense of it than this does.”

I don’t think that this was a response to a seminary Systematics exam that asked students to “Explain the classical definition of the Trinity”. Is he really that stupid, or is he using that strategy perfected by the Bush administration as pretending like they don’t get the point. “You claim to be making a genuine faith statement, but it just sounds like a bunch of gobbledygook to me!” But if that were really the end…

“It reads as though one of the authors of some of the fuzzy theology that came out of the ‘70s suddenly had been re-energized and was determined to escape from retirement.”

I bet that killed at the comedy club! Go for big laugh line!

“Or perhaps the severe winter experienced in the upper Midwest prevented diocesan leaders from thinking clearly.”

Hoozah! There it is! He brought it home. He nailed the bastards!

Or he is being incredibly insulting. Have they been to the Upper Peninsula? Has it ever occurred to them what church must look like in such an environment? Ah, but they’re biblical literalists. Anderson is too busy worshiping God in His holy land of Georgia in his blended fabric robes.

But the quote from Kalvelage continues:

“The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is a declaration of the Christian faith.”

Well…technically this may be seen as true, but he is making the doctrine of it more important than the theology used to create doctrine. Not to mention, our doctrine on the Trinity is pretty vague. Lost in this discussion is Northern Michigan's description of purpose; they weren't crafting an academic theology, but a living theology which affirms them.

“We may not understand how God can be one in three persons, but we can find in holy scripture passages that can strengthen our belief.”

Is he supporting proof-texting here?

“For the Diocese of Northern Michigan to put its own spin on 2,000 years of Christian teaching and tradition—“

Is great!

“—only adds to the confusion being experienced by many Episcopalians and other Anglicans.”

I actually don’t get his point on this one. Is he suggesting that:

a) the theology has an affect on people that causes confusion,
b) their developing a genuine theology that relates to their environment means they
are ‘putting another theology out there’, which conflicts with other theologies in
that same environment,
c) that too many choices cause confusion, or
d) that differing from the only teaching that has ever existed in the history of time
and space that has remained unchanged for 2,000 years [that means pre-Jesus] is
a truly confusing concept?

Or maybe he is suggesting that

a) he is confused by multiple choice questions,
b) his friends are confused by multiple choice questions,
c) Sally in Boston is confused by a theology with which she has never engaged [and
probably never will],
d) Jesus taught the doctrine to his disciples in actually not teaching it to them,
e) the Bible clearly has only one thing to say about the Trinity,
f) as has the Church,
g) that Kalvelage is actually confused that he is in such a minority of opinion in the
United States—and that he’s uncomfortable with his friends [in a whispered
tone]…from Africa,
h) or all of the above.

Anderson actually isn’t done yet, though!

“People’s eternal life is being put at risk because teaching such as this is disseminated by diocesan sources, and those who believe and act on it are at peril.”

So Anderson is really a hero! Encouraging massive breaks from canon, supporting the most ridiculous position on both the Bible and on his role as a priest in the one, holy catholic church are not nearly as dangerous as free thought. Does Anderson need to rent Footloose or is that occultish?

He ends with some pretty shameless backpatting and support for the work of the schismatics for attempting to break off from the church. I particularly like this statement:

“I see an unwavering commitment to follow Jesus who is The Way and to do so using Holy Scripture to teach, rebuke, correct and train in righteousness. I see a willingness to look the hard issues in the face and begin trying to work on them. Is the task formidable? Absolutely!”

That hard work of schism really takes a lot out of him, but he’s willing to do it for you, True Believer! He’s just that kind of guy! It’s the hard stuff that he’s good at, but the easy stuff—like loving one’s neighbor, showing mercy, and learning from the example of the apostles—he just can’t keep it all straight! It’s like spelling and grammar. Who needs it?

In describing GAFCON, he says that

“We will gather in Jerusalem to fellowship and proclaim the transforming love of Christ, to develop renewed understanding of our identity as Anglican Christians, and to prepare for an Anglican future in which the Gospel is uncompromised and Christ-centered mission is a top priority.”

He is such a good foot soldier for Jesus! And it is so precious! He is entirely focused on the plan to undo the workings of the Spirit of the last several decades (as perpetrated by witches and occultists) that creating something new in order to eliminate that new thing from before is just the risk he is willing to take. And clearly, Jesus would do this, right? He would certainly have a separate meeting, refuse to go to Lambeth, and refuse to commune with his neighbors—that’s total J-Dog. And because they are the elect, the super-orthodox, the chosen ones, with their precious gnosis, they can only talk to each other. Now that’s Jesus’s favorite teaching.

And the church certainly has nothing to teach us about that...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The 1990s as told by Major League Baseball

It is interesting how the present forms into themes that we don’t understand until it is past.

The book on the 1990s is still being written, of course. We need the benefit of distance to get it right. But some things are starting to emerge.

  • In the 1960s, we had to deal with major cultural shifts that were as necessary as the civil war and the New Deal.
  • In the 1970s, we learned to adapt to those new cultural norms.
  • In the 1980s, conservatives rejected many of the new norms and recast society as an individualistic and consumer society.
  • In the 1990s, we expanded this concept.

I was thinking about it this morning, and the best example of this is actually baseball. No kidding! Baseball personifies the mistakes, miscalculations, glory, and dysfunction of the 90’s.

With Bud Selig as commissioner, we saw the problem of putting a businessman in charge of bureaucracy (I know you are thinking Bush better personifies this than Clinton, but politics lags behind public opinion, remember).

  • Early on, we had a work stoppage that was so pro-owner that we saw the failed use of scabs and the further damaging of the sport’s reputation.
  • The post-lockout period was dominated by successive home run chases, first the McGwire/Sosa battle, then Barry Bonds.
  • Pitchers had the worst statistics in decades, making offensive numbers so, ahem, offensive. Many jokes about the scores looking more akin to football.
  • Player salaries balloon as free agency becomes a crack addiction for owners.
  • Bud Selig uses blackmail and economic pressure to force cities and states to pay for new stadiums for across the country.
  • Selig encourages half-brained schemes to boost interest with neither regard to tradition or logic, including interleague play and the all-star game determining home field for the World Series.
  • Attendance soars, owners turn wild profits, players make crazy money: ticket prices shoot through the roof.
  • And steroids.

As everything, the 90’s and 00’s bleed together, but most of the above issues take root and grow in the 1990s, in no small part due to the leadership of Commissioner Bud Selig. The leadership, like the 1990s was about two things: market manipulation and making money. The Selig Era has shown no interest in the sport, tradition, or in legacy. It has taken as irrelevant the wishes of the fans, communities, players, managers, or umpires, leaving only owners. Here are my thoughts on the issues (and how they relate).

The lockout showed the increasing position of the government to prefer the freedom of owners and companies to the rights of the workforce. This includes the ever-expanding difference between the extreme wealthy and the rest of us. But worse is the fundamental shift in extreme prejudice toward one wealthy person’s right to hold his/her labor force hostage over the worker’s basic right to a decent wage and working conditions. I know this seems far-fetched with pampered professional athletes, but unions are unions and businesses are businesses. The decreasing power of unions is not due to ability, but the preference of one person’s rights (the owners) over another’s (the workers). This is even more aggregious when the preferred person has inherent advantages (wealth and ownership [independence]) over the worker (much lower income and job dependent on others)

The home run chase, the steroids issue, and minor rules changes all lead to a fundamental intention of the Selig Era: increased scoring. Selig was often quoted as suggesting that what people watched baseball for was the homerun. It is an idea that is akin to suggesting that people like football for touchdown passes, hockey for slap shot goals and basketball for dunks. Though all of these things are exciting, and “innovations” in each of the sports, appearing in some cases in the latter half of the 20th Century, but none is, by itself, anybody’s real reason for watching a sport. If it were, homerun derbies and slam dunk contests would be the most watched events. The manipulation of the game to increase offense using the above reasons, but also expansion and dilution of the pitching throughout baseball plus the potential of a juiced baseball (treated by the media as a conspiracy theory, despite some compelling evidence) all lead to more offense; and ridiculously long, less compelling games. It led to the late 90’s Athletics truly exciting game plan of getting on base and letting the next guy hit a homerun. Yes. Baseball was never as riveting as this. People love true competition. They love underdog Davids toppling Goliaths—not two Goliaths slugging it out for 4 to 5 hours before getting too tired to stand up, let alone punch each other. In our financial system of the 90’s, we developed a similar principle: market manipulation is bad when it means parity and fairness and broad competition, but good when it means expanding the wealth potential of the ├╝ber-rich and minimizing competitive and market forces. Think about the narrow sense of the “free marketeers”: they are interested in competition as a rationale for their dealings only, but have sought favorable rules changes to allow them to eliminate competition. Put in another way, competition comes from a variety of factors, not the least of which deals with how one automates, purchases goods with which they will manufacture a product, markets their product, and sells that product, not merely whether another company makes a similar product. Free marketeers think there is competition when another person or company has the potential to produce a similar product and may at some point be competition to them. Any other aspect of the market can and should be manipulated in their favor. Meanwhile, the consumer receives an inferior and inefficient product.

Player salaries outpace the increase of salaries in other markets. This dovetails with the overpayment of services rendered by our celebrities of all types, regardless of industry. In the 1990s, the most important people in the country are not our politicians, innovators, diplomats, doctors or any other leader or visionary or care provider, but our celebrities. We developed an unhealthy demand for relationship with our baseball players that finds us disappointed when we find out Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens are/may be cheaters. We are happy that Barry Bonds is a cheater because it justifies our dislike for him anyway. We want to know who Derek Jeter is dating because we don’t want him to be a heroic golden boy, but the womanizer and partier of another Yankees great, Babe Ruth. The salaries themselves don’t represent sound business decisions. We are only beginning to see that teams can build through the draft and completely forgo free agency.

The half-brained schemes that are Selig’s trademark show how off-the-mark Selig’s strategies really are. Like his move for more offense at the expense of a watchable game (which seems like Microsoft’s corporate MO), the changes of virtually no practical significance that dramatically alter the culture of the game served as a short-term money-making ploy. The idea being to get teams that never play each other, but are territorial rivals (ie New York’s Yankees and Mets and Chicago’s White Sox and Cubs, for instance) would be matchups that people want to see. And they did: for a couple of years. Now they’re just games. Not to mention Detroit playing Arizona seems to have virtually no value. This move was intended to maximize short-term profits, which is the 1990s MO. Butchering profitable companies for short-term personal gain for the board, leaving the shareholders (the fans) left to pick up the pieces.

This leaves the worst mark of the Selig Era: the stadium gambit. As commissioner, Selig has certain powers. He encouraged the realignment, expansion and put some teams on notice for contraction a few years ago (including the Minnesota Twins and the former Montreal Expos). His most dictatorial and disgusting move has been using the threat of relocation as a bargaining tool (less like a “chip” and more like a metal rod jammed somewhere) so that the city in question will build a new stadium. Renovations are not enough. There must be new stadiums. This was sold to the people with the incentive of increased revenue. They looked at Baltimore’s Camden Yards and said, “if it can work for Baltimore…” and then Cleveland struck proverbial gold. By building a young core of players along with a new stadium, the Indians went to a World Series with record profits. This became the template for all teams that Selig believed needed that boost that come from a new stadium. Since Baltimore and Cleveland’s builds in 1992 and ’94 respectively, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Houston, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Texas, and Washington have all built new stadiums. Plus the Yankees are building a new one for next year. Unlike the previous comments about short-term profits, this serves as the ultimate money-making scheme. First, you get the people to pay for your facilities, putting the financial risk on not only the fans, but on the local community. Second, the owners, not the taxpayers or even players or personnel of the team, benefits directly from the short-term boost in attendance. Third, teams are often given a sweetheart deal in purchasing the stadium (as Texas did under the direction of George W. Bush), meaning the team gains the benefits of ownership (no rent, plus being able to rent it out to others generating additional income in the offseason or during road trips), while taking virtually none of the cost. They also used Enron-style accounting, which was made possible in the 1990s by a Republican Congress. Lastly, raising prices of tickets mean an increase in profit per ticket, as building costs are quickly offset. The true crime in this has not even been these questionable contracts that many of these cities have gone into for the building of stadiums, but the blatant and despicable requirement on the part of the commissioner to demand new stadiums be built: in the case of some, the old one was not only tremendously serviceable, but a true icon (such as Tiger Stadium) or is still “new” by building standards (The Metrodome in Minneapolis was built in 1982). Neither team in Los Angeles or the Boston Red Sox is being threatened with relocation, despite the age of their stadiums are all over forty years old (Fenway is 96). This demonstrates the use of “laws” and restrictions to manipulate the outcome in the way that is preferred by a political party or a collective of wealthy companies. It is like the continued “deregulation” of media ownership rules that allow mega-corporations to own more and more networks, news outlets, newspapers, and radio stations in the same city. The future potential of industry giants to manipulate the news and directly influence local situations to their direct benefit is unprecedented.

Selig’s manipulation of the stadium vs. relocation issue is intended to directly benefit the owners and Major League Baseball, but has the side effect of driving fans away and jeapordizing the long-term value of the sport. With rising ticket prices, fans are no longer able to go to 10-30 games a year, dropping by the ballpark because they have an afternoon free or taking the kids each Saturday. This is an essential component of a season that sits at 162 games. Making each game an event sure seems strange when you are sitting in a half-empty park in early May watching a meaningless interleague game or in September for a team that is far from playoff bound. The visit to the ballpark is now more spectacle and event than ritual and participation. Other examples, such as in Montreal should serve as a serious warning. When threatened with contraction or relocation, the fans in Montreal chose to let the team leave: they stopped going to the stadium, making their already low attendance drop through the floor.

I’m tired of waiting for Bud Selig to leave office and he certainly should have been impeached long before now. But like many of the things from the 1990s, it will take a long time to fix things for the new present and for the future.