Friday, June 30, 2006

Wal-Mart Voters

When I think of Wal-Mart voters and politics, I think of George Bush supporters. Apparently, I need to change my thinking. Ryan Sager, author of Elephant in the Room, has an article in Real Clear Politics that analyzes the polling date of Pew and Zogby on Wal-Mart voters. That data suggests that while Wal-Mart voters tend to respond to the Republican moral issues, they are otherwise not natural allies:
Wal-Mart voters are simply not a viable, reliable conservative constituency. When Pew looked at the opinions of those pro-government conservatives in a 2005 study, it found that 94 percent favor a higher minimum wage, 63 percent favor the government guaranteeing health care to all citizens, and fewer than half favor drilling in ANWR. What's worst: more than half of pro-government conservatives held positive views of both Bill and Hillary Clinton.
The data also suggests that they are not happy with George Bush and think Democrats would do a better job. We can expect Karl Rove to do everything he can to keep the focus on social issues and not on the the economy or the war.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Iraq War Ends Silently For One Soldier

In tomorrow's New York Times:
A soldier was dead, and it was time for him to go home.

The doors to the little morgue swung open, and six soldiers stepped outside carrying a long black bag zippered at the top.

About 60 soldiers were waiting to say goodbye. They had gathered in the sand outside this morgue at Camp Ramadi, an Army base in Anbar Province, now the most lethal of Iraqi places.

Inside the bag was Sgt. Terry Michael Lisk, 26, of Zion, Ill., killed a few hours before.

In the darkness, the bag was barely visible. A line of blue chemical lights marked the way to the landing strip not far away.

Everyone saluted, even the wounded man on a stretcher. No one said a word.

Sergeant Lisk had been standing near an intersection in downtown Ramadi on Monday morning when a 120-millimeter mortar shell, fired by guerrillas, landed about 30 paces away. The exploding shell flung a chunk of steel into the right side of his chest just beneath his arm. He stopped breathing and died a few minutes later.

The pallbearers lifted Sergeant Lisk into the back of an ambulance, a truck marked by a large red cross, and fell in with the others walking silently behind it as it crept through the sand toward the landing zone. The blue lights showed the way.

From a distance came the sound of a helicopter.

Death comes often to the soldiers and marines who are fighting in Anbar Province, which is roughly the size of Louisiana and is the most intractable region in Iraq. Almost every day, an American soldier is killed somewhere in Anbar — in Ramadi, in Haditha, in Falluja, by a sniper, by a roadside bomb, or as with Sergeant Lisk, by a mortar shell. In the first 27 days of June, 27 soldiers and marines were killed here. In small ways, the military tries to ensure that individual soldiers like Sergeant Lisk are not forgotten in the plenitude of death.

One way is to say goodbye to the body of a fallen comrade as it leaves for the United States. Here in Anbar, American bodies are taken first by helicopter to Camp Anaconda, the big logistical base north of Baghdad, and then on to the United States. Most helicopter traffic in Anbar, for security reasons, takes place at night. Hence the darkness.

In the minutes after the mortar shell exploded, everyone hoped that Sergeant Lisk would live. Although he was not breathing, the medics got to him right away, and the hospital was not far.

"What's his name?" asked Col. Sean MacFarland, the commander of the 4,000-soldier First Brigade.

"Lisk, sir," someone replied.

"If he can be saved, they'll save him," said Colonel MacFarland, who had been only a few yards away in an armored personnel carrier when the mortar shell landed.

About 10 minutes later, the word came.

"He's dead," Colonel MacFarland said.

Whenever a soldier dies, in Iraq or anywhere else, a wave of uneasiness — fear, revulsion, guilt, sadness — ripples through the survivors. It could be felt on Monday, even when the fighting was still going on.

"He was my best friend," Specialist Allan Sammons said, his lower lip shaking. "That's all I can say. I'm kind of shaken up."

Another soldier asked, "You want to take a break?"

Specialist Sammons said, "I'll be fine," his lip still shaking.

Sergeant Lisk's friends and superiors recalled a man who had risen from a hard childhood to become someone whom they counted on for cheer in a grim and uncertain place.

"He was a special kid," Specialist Sammons said. "He came from a broken home. I think he was divorced. I'm worried that it might be hard to find someone."

He said he would write a letter to the family — to whom it was not clear just yet.

Hours later, at the landing zone at Camp Ramadi, the helicopter descended. Without lights, in the darkness, it was just a grayish glow. With its engines still whirring, it lowered its back door.

The six soldiers walked out to the chopper and lifted Sergeant Lisk's body into it. The door went back up. The helicopter flew away.

The soldiers saluted a final time.

In the darkness, as the sound of the helicopter faded, Colonel MacFarland addressed his soldiers.

"I don't know if this war is worth the life of Terry Lisk, or 10 soldiers, or 2,500 soldiers like him," Colonel MacFarland told his forces. "What I do know is that he did not die alone. He was surrounded by friends.

"A Greek philosopher said that only the dead have seen the end of war," the colonel said. "Only Terry Lisk has seen the end of this war."

The soldiers turned and walked back to their barracks in the darkness. No one said a word.

They didn't. But we must. Enough is enough.

Interstate Highway System 50 Years Old

It was President Dwight Eisenhower who proposed the Interstate highway system and pushed for its passage as President:

Dan Holt, director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kan., said the president's concern about highways began in 1919, when he was part of a U.S. Army convoy traveling by road from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. The trip took 62 days on roads so rotten the Army had to abandon nine trucks along the way.

A quarter-century later, as supreme allied commander in Europe, Eisenhower saw the impact of a modern highway system when his soldiers used the German autobahns -- four-lane divided highways with on- and off-ramps and no traffic signals -- to pursue Hitler's army toward Berlin.

"Germany had made me see the wisdom of broader ribbons across the land," Eisenhower wrote later. "After seeing the autobahns I made a personal and absolute decision to see that the [U.S.] would benefit by it."

In the days when most southern politicians were Democrats, and southern Democrats feared the expansion of the federal government, Eisenhower had difficulty getting his interstate proposal through the Democratic-controlled Congress. But the late Congressman Hale Boggs (D-LA) broke the impasse by proposing a federal gas tax that would reimburse the states at 90% for the cost of building the highways. The rest is history. And it is safe to say that most of our lives would be very different, for good or ill, if we didn't have the ability to move quickly across the country by automobile.

Amish Farmer Busted for Selling Illegal White Substance

Unpasteurized milk. Arlie Stutzman was arrested for selling raw milk to an undercover agent in a sting operation:
Last September, a man came to Stutzman's weathered, two-story farmhouse, located in a pastoral region in northeast Ohio that has the world's largest Amish settlement. The man asked for milk.

Stutzman was leery, but agreed to fill up the man's plastic container from a 250-gallon stainless steel tank in the milkhouse.

After the creamy white, unpasteurized milk flowed into the container, the man, an undercover agent from the Ohio Department of Agriculture, gave Stutzman two dollars and left.

The department revoked Stutzman's license in February. In April, he got a new license, which allows him to sell to cheese houses and dairies, but received a warning not to sell raw milk to consumers again.

A neighbor apparently tipped off the authorities on this extremely dangerous activity. It's certainly good to know that the Ohio Department of Agriculture was right on it. I wonder how they are in regulating factory farms?

Obama Chastizes Dems on Religion

Democratic Illinois Senator Barak Obama chastised fellow Democrats for not taking seriously the role of religion in the lives of Americans:

"Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation. Context matters,'' the Illinois Democrat said in remarks prepared for delivery to a conference of Call to Renewal, a faith-based movement to overcome poverty.

''It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase `under God,''' he said. ''Having voluntary student prayer groups using school property to meet should not be a threat, any more than its use by the High School Republicans should threaten Democrats.''

Obama talked about the role of faith in his own life:
''Kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt I heard God's spirit beckoning me,'' he said of his walk down the aisle of the Trinity United Church of Christ. ''I submitted myself to his will and dedicated myself to discovering his truth.''
I see nothing wrong with politicians talking about the role of faith in their lives if it authentic, and I have heard nothing about Obama to suggest inauthenticity. But the really important conversation we need to be having isn't whether politicians can talk about God and connect with voters who believe in God; it's what kind of legislative votes does that translate into; how does it affect the way the politician governs. Tom DeLay and Ralph Reed can talk easily about their personal relationship with Jesus all the while they are scamming Native Americans and working for political interests that are diametrically opposed to anything remotely resembling Christianity.

We need politicians like Obama and Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter who can talk easily and authentically about their faith and the way it influences their values. And we need politicians like John Kerry and Al Gore, who are regular church-goers but who cannot talk easily about their faith, to not worry about it and not try to do what doesn't come naturally. Most of all we need to educate religious people about the real tenets of their faith. In no scripture or religious tradition that I know of is espousing economic policies that favor the rich and wars of choice sanctioned.

Anglican Prelate Proposes 2nd Class Membership for Liberal Churches

The Archbishop of Canterbury, who is first among equals of Anglican Bishops around the world, has proposed a plan that would deny certain member privileges to churches and dioceses that don't abide by the wishes of the world-wide body:
In a defining moment in the Anglican Communion's civil war over homosexuality, the Archbishop of Canterbury proposed a plan yesterday that could force the Episcopal Church in the United States either to renounce gay bishops and same-sex unions or to give up full membership in the Communion.

The archbishop, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, said the "best way forward" was to devise a shared theological "covenant" and ask each province, as the geographical divisions of the church are called, to agree to abide by it.

Provinces that agree would retain full status as "constituent churches," and those that do not would become "churches in association" without decision-making status in the Communion, the world's third largest body of churches.

Conservatives in the American Episcopal church who are unhappy with the direction of the American church were pleased with the Archbishop's proposal, although many conservative churches may decide not to wait the several years it would take for this proposal to be adopted. Some have already announced plans to pull out of the American church and place themselves under the authority of dioceses in other parts of the world.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Early Christian Martyrs

My summer reading includes Bart Erhman's After the New Testament: An Early Christian Reader. Included are selections of letters written by Christians who were martyrs or who were witnesses to martyrdom. One of the most "enjoyable" is the letter from Ignatius, bishop of Antioch in Syria, to the church in Rome. Ignatius was arrested around 110 C.E. and was sent to Rome for trial and execution. We actually have no credible accounts of his execution; tradition holds that he was martyred at the Coliseum. But we do have seven of the letters he wrote to various local churches as he was making his way to Rome. In the letter to Rome, he pleads with the church there to not interfere with his martyrdom:
Things are off to a good start. May I have the good fortune to meet my fate without interference! What I fear is your generosity, which may prove detrimental to me. For you can easily do what you want to, whereas it is hard for me to get to God unless you let me alone...

I am corresponding with all the churches and bidding them all realize that I am voluntarily dying for God--if, that is, you do not interfere. I plead with you, do not do me an unseasonable kindness. Let me be fodder for wild beasts--that is how I can get to God. I am God's wheat and I am being ground by the teeth of wild beasts to make a pure loaf for Christ...

What a thrill I shall have from the wild beasts that are ready for me! I hope they will make short work of me. I shall coax them on to eat me up at once and not to hold off, as sometimes happens, through fear. And if they are reluctant, I shall force them to it.
Iraneus also warns the Romans to not pay attention to him if, when he arrives in Rome, he has second thoughts.

As this letter perhaps makes clear, there was no systematic persecution of Christians during the time of Iraneus. Otherwise, he would not have had the freedom to write and meet with Christians along the way. As Ehrman points out, most of the persecution was local and often mob inspired. Even Nero, who blamed Christians for the fires in Rome, only persecuted Christians in Rome and did not issue any empire-wide edict banning Christianity. There was no empire-wide proscription against the new religion until the reign of Decius in 250 C.E.

Christians were persecuted for being anti-social and refusing to participate in the normal cultic and social activities in their communities. Because they refused to worship the various deities in the empire's pantheon they were often blamed for anything that went wrong. Because they tied their ritual meal to the body and blood of Jesus they were accused of being flesh-eaters and were often accused of actually practicing secret rituals of sacrificing children.

We don't know how many Christians were actually martyred. Ehrman suggests it numbered in the hundreds and not the thousands. But we do know that the accounts of martrydom were passed around the churches and used to inspire the Christians to be faithful. And these accounts apparently helped the churches hold and attract new members.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Competing Apocalyptic Visions

As this Los Angeles Times article reports, many Christians believe that the end times are approaching, and some of them are working hard to hasten the day. But they are not alone. There are Jewish and Muslim groups who also believe that the end is near and that their messianic vision will soon unfold. It's an interesting article and just goes to prove that no amount of scientific progress or thousands of years' history of failed messianic predictions can keep a portion of ardent believers from believing that their ancient scriptures should be interpreted literally and that God has chosen them and their time for the consummation of history:
For thousands of years, prophets have predicted the end of the world. Today, various religious groups, using the latest technology, are trying to hasten it.

Their endgame is to speed the promised arrival of a messiah.

For some Christians this means laying the groundwork for Armageddon.

With that goal in mind, mega-church pastors recently met in Inglewood to polish strategies for using global communications and aircraft to transport missionaries to fulfill the Great Commission: to make every person on Earth aware of Jesus' message. Doing so, they believe, will bring about the end, perhaps within two decades.

In Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a far different vision. As mayor of Tehran in 2004, he spent millions on improvements to make the city more welcoming for the return of a Muslim messiah known as the Mahdi, according to a recent report by the American Foreign Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank.

To the majority of Shiites, the Mahdi was the last of the prophet Muhammad's true heirs, his 12 righteous descendants chosen by God to lead the faithful.

Ahmadinejad hopes to welcome the Mahdi to Tehran within two years.

Conversely, some Jewish groups in Jerusalem hope to clear the path for their own messiah by rebuilding a temple on a site now occupied by one of Islam's holiest shrines.

Artisans have re-created priestly robes of white linen, gem-studded breastplates, silver trumpets and solid-gold menorahs to be used in the Holy Temple — along with two 6½-ton marble cornerstones for the building's foundation.

Then there is Clyde Lott, a Mississippi revivalist preacher and cattle rancher. He is trying to raise a unique herd of red heifers to satisfy an obscure injunction in the Book of Numbers: the sacrifice of a blemish-free red heifer for purification rituals needed to pave the way for the messiah.

So far, only one of his cows has been verified by rabbis as worthy, meaning they failed to turn up even three white or black hairs on the animal's body.

Linking these efforts is a belief that modern technologies and global communications have made it possible to induce completion of God's plan within this generation.

Though there are myriad interpretations of how it will play out, the basic Christian apocalyptic countdown — as described by the Book of Revelation in the New Testament — is as follows:

Jews return to Israel after 2,000 years, the Holy Temple is rebuilt, billions of people perish during seven years of natural disasters and plagues, the antichrist arises and rules the world, the battle of Armageddon erupts in the vicinity of Israel, Jesus returns to defeat Satan's armies and preside over Judgment Day.

Generations of Christians have hoped for the Second Coming of Jesus, said UCLA historian Eugen Weber, author of the 1999 book "Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults and Millennial Beliefs Through the Ages."

"And it's always been an ultimately bloody hope, a slaughterhouse hope," he added with a sigh. "What we have now in this global age is a vaster and bloodier-than-ever Wagnerian version. But, then, we are a very imaginative race."

Apocalyptic movements are nothing new; even Christopher Columbus hoped to assist in the Great Commission by evangelizing New World inhabitants.

Some religious scholars saw apocalyptic fever rise as the year 2000 approached, and they expected it to subside after the millennium arrived without a hitch.

It didn't. According to various polls, an estimated 40% of Americans believe that a sequence of events presaging the end times is already underway. Among the believers are pastors of some of the largest evangelical churches in America, who converged at Faith Central Bible Church in Inglewood in February to finalize plans to start 5 million new churches worldwide in 10 years.

"Jesus Christ commissioned his disciples to go to the ends of the Earth and tell everyone how they could achieve eternal life," said James Davis, president of the Global Pastors Network's "Billion Souls Initiative," one of an estimated 2,000 initiatives worldwide designed to boost the Christian population.

"As we advance around the world," Davis said, "we'll be shortening the time needed to fulfill that Great Commission. Then, the Bible says, the end will come."

An opposing vision, invoked by Ahmadinejad in an address before the United Nations last year, suggests that the Imam Mahdi, a 9th century figure, will soon emerge from a well to conquer the world and convert everyone to Islam.

"O mighty Lord," he said, "I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository, the promised one, that perfect and pure human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace."

At the appropriate time, according to Shiite tradition, the Mahdi will reappear and, along with Jesus, lead Muslims in a struggle to rid the world of corruption and establish justice.

For Christians, the future of Israel is the key to any end-times scenario, and various groups are reaching out to Jews — or proselytizing among them — to advance the Second Coming.

A growing number of fundamentalist Christians in mostly Southern states are adopting Jewish religious practices to align themselves with prophecies saying that Gentiles will stand as one with Jews when the end is near.

Evangelist John C. Hagee of the 19,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio has helped 12,000 Russian Jews move to Israel, and donated several million dollars to Israeli hospitals and orphanages.

"We are the generation that will probably see the rapture of the church," Hagee said, referring to a moment in advance of Jesus' return when the world's true believers will be airlifted into heaven.

"In Christian theology, the first thing that happens when Christ returns to Earth is the judgment of nations," said Hagee, who wears a Jewish prayer shawl when he ministers. "It will have one criterion: How did you treat the Jewish people? Anyone who understands that will want to be on the right side of that question. Those who are anti-Semitic will go to eternal damnation."

On July 18, Hagee plans to lead a contingent of high-profile evangelists to Washington to make their concerns about Israel's security known to congressional leaders. More than 1,200 evangelists are expected for the gathering.

"Twenty-five years ago, I called a meeting of evangelists to discuss such an effort, and the conversation didn't last an hour," he said. "This time, I called and they all came and stayed. And when the meeting was over, they all agreed to speak up for Israel."

Underlining the sense of urgency is a belief that the end-times clock started ticking May 15, 1948, when the United Nations formally recognized Israel.

"I'll never forget that night," Hagee said. "I was 8 years old at the time and in the kitchen with my father listening to the news about Israel's rebirth on the radio. He said, 'Son, this is the most important day in the 20th century.' "

Hagee's message is carried on 160 television stations and 50 radio stations and can be seen in Africa, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and most Third World nations.

By contrast, Bill McCartney, a former University of Colorado football coach and co-founder of the evangelical Promise Keepers movement for men, which became huge in the 1990s, has had a devil of a time getting his own apocalyptic campaign off the ground.

It's called The Road to Jerusalem, and its mission is to convert Jews to Christianity — while there is still time.

"Our whole purpose is to hasten the end times," he said. "The Bible says Jews will be brought to jealousy when they see Christians and Jewish believers together as one — they'll want to be a part of that. That's going to signal Jesus' return."

Jews and others who don't accept Jesus, he added matter-of-factly, "are toast."

McCartney, who only a decade ago sermonized to stadium-size crowds of Promise Keepers, said finding people to back his sputtering cause has been "like plowing cement."

Given end-times scenarios saying that non-believers will die before Jesus returns — and that the antichrist will rule from Jerusalem's rebuilt Holy Temple — Jews have mixed feelings about the outpouring of support Israel has been getting from evangelical organizations.

"I truly believe John Hagee is at once a daring, beautiful person — and quite dangerous," said Orthodox Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, vice president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in New York.

"I sincerely recognize him as a hero for bringing planeloads of people to Israel at a time when people there were getting blown up by the busloads," Hirschfield said. "But he also believes that the only path to the father is through Jesus. That leaves me out."

Meanwhile, in what has become a spectacular annual routine, Jews — hoping to rebuild the Holy Temple destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 — attempt to haul the 6 1/2 -ton cornerstones by truck up to the Temple Mount, the site now occupied by the Dome of the Rock shrine. Each year, they are turned back by police.

Among those turned away is Gershon Solomon, spokesman for Jerusalem's Temple Institute. When the temple is built, he said, "Islam is over."

"I'm grateful for all the wonderful Christian angels wanting to help us," Solomon added, acknowledging the political support from "Christians who are now Israel's best lobbyists in the United States."

However, when asked to comment on the fate of non-Christians upon the Second Coming of Jesus, he said, "That's a very embarrassing question. What can I tell you? That's a very terrible Christian idea.

"What kind of religion is it that expects another religion will be destroyed?"

But are all of these efforts to hasten the end of the world a bit like, well, playing God?

Some Christians, such as Roman Catholics and some Protestant denominations, believe in the Second Coming but don't try to advance it. It's important to be ready for the Second Coming, they say, though its timetable cannot be manipulated.

Hirschfield said he prays every day for the coming of the Jewish messiah, but he too believes that God can't be hurried.

"For me," he said, "the messiah is like the mechanical bunny at a racetrack: It always stays a little ahead of the runners but keeps the pace toward a redeemed world.

"Trouble is, there are many people who want to bring a messiah who looks just like them. For me, that kind of messianism is spiritual narcissism."

But some Christian leaders say they aren't playing God; they're just carrying out his will.

Ted Haggard, president of the National Assn. of Evangelicals, says the commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission has naturally intensified along with the technological advances God provided to carry out his plans.

Over in Mississippi, Lott believes that he is doing God's work, and that is why he wants to raise a few head of red heifers for Jewish high priests. Citing Scripture, Lott and others say a pure red heifer must be sacrificed and burned and its ashes used in purification rituals to allow Jews to rebuild the temple.

But Lott's plans have been sidetracked.

Facing a maze of red tape and testing involved in shipping animals overseas — and rumors of threats from Arabs and Jews alike who say the cows would only bring more trouble to the Middle East — he has given up on plans to fly planeloads of cows to Israel. For now.

In the meantime, some local ranchers have expressed an interest in raising their own red heifers for Israel, and fears of hoof-and-mouth disease and blue tongue forced Lott to relocate his only verified red heifer — a female born in 1993 — to Nebraska.

Cloning is out of the question, he said, because the technique "is not approved by the rabbinical council of Israel." Artificial insemination has so far failed to produce another heifer certified by rabbis.

"Something deep in my heart says God wants me to be a blessing to Israel," Lott said in a telephone interview. "But it's complicated. We're just not ready to send any red heifers over there."

If not now, when?

"If there's a sovereign God with his hand in the affairs of men, it'll happen, and it'll be a pivotal event," he said. "That time is soon. Very soon."

More on Our Naked Emperor

That's our governor, Tim Pawlenty, again. A few days ago I commented on the governor's proposal to road construction companies that they lend the state money to get a much-needed construction project underway in the metro. The governor was forced into this novel approach because we have no money and the governor has pledged never to raise taxes. The road construction companies walked away from the table. They like the old way: they do the work; the state pays them for it.

Today the governor did it again, this time with technology companies:
Minnesota wants the best minds in the computer business to come work in state government -- for free.

The state is circulating a proposal to high-tech firms and large corporations, asking them to lend computer experts to the Office of Enterprise Technology for up to a year. The private companies would continue to pay their employees' salaries and benefits.

Once again, the governor is taking this approach because we have no money in the state, we have a legitimate need for a government service, and the governor won't ask the citizens of Minnesota to pay for it.

And once again there are no takers:

"That'll separate the men from the boys, certainly," said another vendor, Richard Winkelmann of CA International, a New York-based IT firm.

Winkelmann attended a meeting with state officials last week about the loan program and called it "an exciting opportunity to put someone at the table with the chief information officer to help set strategy for the state of Minnesota." But he said it's been a tough sell to his corporate bosses.

"I've spent a week lobbying CA to come forward with resources," Winkelmann said. "Uncorking someone is a challenge. We're not there yet."

It's that conservatives and government thing again.

It's Getting Hot in Here

That darned Al Gore. For more than twenty years he has been telling us that global warming is a real problem, and he even made that scary movie about it that I talked about the other day. And now, another group of goverment scientists has concluded that he is right. Global warming is real.

What is interesting about this report in the current political climate is that this government report was commissioned by a Republican Congressman after another Republican Congressman had launched an investigation of government scientists after he didn't like the "facts" they were reporting:

The report was requested in November by the chairman of the House Science Committee, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-New York, to address naysayers who question whether global warming is a major threat.

Last year, when the House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, launched an investigation of three climate scientists, Boehlert said Barton should try to learn from scientists, not intimidate them.

Boehlert said Thursday the report shows the value of having scientists advise Congress.

"There is nothing in this report that should raise any doubts about the broad scientific consensus on global climate change," he said.

Here is what the report said:
It has been 2,000 years and possibly much longer since Earth has run such a fever.

The National Academy of Sciences, reaching that conclusion in a broad review of scientific work requested by Congress, reported Thursday that the "recent warmth is unprecedented for at least the last 400 years and potentially the last several millennia."

The sad fact is that even if the current administration took science seriously, they have created so many other messes that need our immediate attention that there is no way global warming is going to get the attention it needs right now.

Why Conservatives Can't Govern

Alan Wolfe has a good article in the recent Washington Monthly that cogently explains why it is that George Bush has made such a mess of his time in Washington. For the first time in nearly 100 years conservatives control all branches of government. But two conflicting facts have led to a series of foreign and domestic policy disasters.

The first is that America is a liberal, not conservative, nation:

The United States, as the political scientist Louis Hartz argued in the 1950s, was born liberal. We fought for our independence against Great Britain and the conservatism that flourished there. In Europe, a conservative was someone who defended the traditions of the monarchy, justified the privileges of the nobility, and welcomed the intervention of a state-affiliated clergy in politics. But all those things would be tossed out by the revolutionaries who led the war for independence and then wrote the Constitution. We chose to have an elected president, not an anointed monarch. Our Constitution prohibited the granting of titles of nobility. We separated church and state.

While we have always had a libertarian wild west streak, we have in fact marched to the liberal drum of constantly expanding the frachise and civil rights for all and constantly expanding the size of the federal government to protect ourselves against the vagaries of life in the real world.

This has led to the second fact that conservatives, in order to get elected, have had to compromise their conservative principles:
And so conservatives faced a dilemma from the moment the first shots were heard around the world. They could be true to their ideals and stand on the sidelines of political power. Or they could adjust their principles in the interests of political realism and thus negate the essential conservative teaching that principles are meant to be timeless. All the conservatives that played any role in America's history since the age of Jackson chose political relevance over ideological purity.
So conservatives from Andrew Jackson to Ronald Reagan have run against the government to appeal to that libertarian streak but then bowed to the realities of liberalism in order to stay "relevant" and in power.

George Bush has been no different. He ran against big government but has expanded the size of the government at a faster rate than any President since Franklin Roosevelt did when he was rolling out the New Deal. What is different about George Bush is that he is the first conservative President since 1932 to have no liberal check on his power. Conservatives control government. And so they have no one but themselves to blaim for its unchecked growth. And they have done it bigtime in order to bring home the bacon and remain in power.

But what happens when people who really don't believe in government are the only people in charge of the government? Disaster after disaster:

If government is necessary, bad government, at least for conservatives, is inevitable, and conservatives have been exceptionally good at showing just how bad it can be. Hence the truth revealed by the Bush years: Bad government--indeed, bloated, inefficient, corrupt, and unfair government--is the only kind of conservative government there is. Conservatives cannot govern well for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon: If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are not likely to do it very well.

Three examples--FEMA, Medicare, and Iraq-- should be sufficient to make this point. Because liberals have historically welcomed government while conservatives have resisted it, it should come as no surprise that the Federal Emergency Management Agency worked so well under Bill Clinton and so poorly under Bush I and II. True to a long tradition of disinterested public management, Clinton, in the wake of Hurricane Andrew, appointed James Lee Witt to head FEMA. Witt refocused FEMA away from civil-defense efforts to increasingly predictable national disasters, fought for greater federal funding, achieved cabinet status for his agency, and worked closely with state and local officials. For all the efforts by Republicans to attack their enemies, no one has ever put a dent in Witt's reputation. Government under him was as good as government gets.

Upon assuming office, George W. Bush turned to former Texas campaign aide Joe Allbaugh to run FEMA and then shifted it into the new Department of Homeland Security (whose creation he had opposed). Allbaugh, and his hand-picked successor Michael Brown, like so many Bush appointees, were afflicted with what we might call "learned incompetence." They did not fail merely out of ignorance and inexperience. Their ineptness, rather, was active rather than passive, the end result of a deliberate determination to prove that the federal government simply should not be in the business of disaster management. "Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program and a disincentive to effective state and local risk management," Allbaugh had testified before a Senate appropriations subcommittee in May, 2001. "Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level." There was the conservative dilemma in a nutshell: a man put in charge of a mission in which he did not believe.

Long before Katrina destroyed New Orleans, Allbaugh and Brown were busy destroying FEMA: privatizing many of the agency's programs, shifting attention away from disaster management, and shedding no tears as scores of agency staff left in dismay. Human beings cannot prevent natural disasters, but they can prevent man-made ones. Not the Bush administration. Its ideological hostility toward government all but guaranteed that the physical damage inflicted by a hurricane would be exacerbated by the human damage caused by incompetence.

The question of whether Medicare reform will prove politically fruitful for Republicans is still open. But the question of whether it has proven to be an administrative nightmare is not. There were two paths open to Republicans if they had been interested in creating an administratively coherent system of paying for the prescription drugs of the elderly. One was to give the elderly nothing and insist that every person assume the full cost of his or her medication. The other was to have government assume responsibility for the costs of those drugs.

It is significant that in America's recent debates over prescription drugs, no one, not even the Cato Institute, argued that government should simply not be in the business at all. As a society, we accept--indeed, we celebrate--the fact that older people can live longer and better lives thanks to radically improved medical technology as well as awe-inspiring advances in pharmacology. A political party which consigned to death anyone who could not afford to participate in this medical revolution would die an early death itself.

But Republicans were just as unwilling to design a sensible program as they were unable to eliminate the existing one. To prove their faith in the market, they gave people choices, when what they wanted was predictability. To pay off the pharmaceutical industry, they refused to allow government to negotiate drug prices downward, thereby vastly inflating the program's costs. To make sure government agencies didn't administer the benefit, they lured in insurance companies with massive subsidies and imposed almost no rules on what benefits they could and could not offer. The lack of rules led to a frustrating chaos of choices. And the extra costs had to be made up by carving out a so-called "doughnut hole" in which the elderly, after having their drug purchases subsidized up to a certain point, would suddenly find themselves without federal assistance at all, only to have their drugs subsidized once again at a later point. Caught between the market and the state, Republicans picked the worst features of each. No single human being could have designed a program as unwieldy as this one. It took the combined efforts of every faction in today's conservative movement to produce a public policy so removed from common sense.

The failure of the Bush administration to plan for the aftermath of the Iraq invasion was just one more, albeit the most serious, consequence of the conservative ambivalence toward government. Neoconservatives were all for ambitious adventures abroad, and, in the aftermath of September 11, they won the president's support. But they never captured his pocketbook, which was tenaciously guarded by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Neocons wanted the Republican Party to live in the shadow of Henry "Scoop" Jackson. Rumsfeld insisted that military adventures be funded in the spirit of Robert A. Taft.

So long as conservatives denigrate government while relying on government to achieve their objectives, Rumsfeld's vision of how to fight wars is the only kind of conservative foreign policy one can have. His low-balling of troop estimates in Iraq was the foreign policy equivalent of libertarian economics: relying on government while refusing to pay for it. His hostility toward Iraqi reconstruction resonated with those skeptical of rebuilding New Orleans. His disdain for Colin Powell's State Department mirrored Joe McCarthy's for Dean Acheson's. Only a tried-and-true conservative could ever have come up with the idea of turning the management of Iraqi police forces over to private firms to the extent that Rumsfeld did, with catastrophic results for the Iraqis themselves. While it is difficult to label someone who plans a war an isolationist, Rumsfeld's hostility toward America's historic allies represented a contemporary version of unilateralism, which has always been isolationism's first cousin. The neoconservatives wanted to draft hugely expensive undertakings onto a party with an isolationist past. The Secretary of Defense wanted to draft on to the same political party a distant war, but with the promise of being cheap and avoiding the loss of American lives. It is not difficult to conclude which one would win in today's conservative environment.

Conservative commentators are now busy claiming that Bush isn't a real conservative; they say his big government policies are a betrayal of conservative principles. That may be true, but Bush's only hope of getting elected and staying in power was to bow to the realities of our liberal history and expand the size of the government. This has been Karl Rove's real job all along. Unfortunately he did it for a man and a movement that could care less whether any of it was done well. And they have made a collosal mess of everything.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Solstice Vows

As Shakespeare wrote, "The course of true love, never runs smooth." And so it has gone for the past 26 years for the couple united in holy marriage in a small hometown Presbyterian church on June 21, 1980--liberalchurchgirl and churchjanitorboy.

Despite the ups and downs of life and love, we still manage to celebrate in some way the memory of that long hot summer day each year. We sometimes ask ourselves why on earth we picked the longest day and shortest night of the entire year to get married. But the timing was good. For us and for many other couples like us--we were fresh off one educational experience and ready for another--the one that never ends...

"I, Susan, take you, Scott, to be my husband to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, as long as we both shall live."

I did a somewhat protracted study of ecumenical wedding vows to try to come up with something that was traditional, but that I could say without choking on it or have spoken to me with out saying "I object" due to the historical sexism/paternalism. I'd already expressed my desire to keep my birth name instead of acquiring my future husband's surname which was met by him with no resistance and full support. We memorized our vows, and then--for added pressure--printed them in the wedding service bulletin so that all our family and friends could read along and know whether we screwed up. We both got them right as I recall, but honestly I was too nervous and too cynical to remember. I also remember asking myself silently at some point during the service as we were standing there in front of those gathered on our behalf "Did we really need all this just to make us legal?"

I still recite my vows to myself from time to time--usually when I need to remind myself of them the most. I suppose it is akin to a Catholic saying "Our Father" in times of trouble, or a substance abuser praying the Serenity Prayer to stay clean and sober. For the ability to have been able to utter these words I am now honored and grateful, particularly when I am now painfully aware that some of my best friends are denied the right to hold a wedding ceremony and utter these words and have them take legal effect. These people awe me. Some of them have been together almost as long as Scott and I yet without the vows spoken in front of the witness of family and friends. But I'm digressing back into my usual social justice theme when I really want to say something nice about being married to my husband for the past 26 years...

26 years ago we spent the night of June 21, 1980 in a little Quality Inn off the PA Turnpike exit 11 in Bedford, PA enroute to a week of being beach bums at Cape Hattaras, NC. Tomorrow night we will be spending the night in a similar motel this time off the IN Turnpike enroute to visit our mothers who still live in Ohio. We will be chaperoned by our two children and we will likely spend the evening in the pool with them or poolside watching them. It will not be the same celebration--but it will be a celebration nonetheless. It will be a celebration enriched by experience and tested by time.

Happy Summer Solstice to you all!

Inch by Inch

This has been an important polity week for Protestant Christians. The eyes of all the faithful around the world have been on the U.S. meetings of the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians where important decisions on the direction of these bodies have been made this week.

Here is the latest press update from the floor of General Assembly which came out over the listserv More Light Presbyterians:
"By RICHARD N. OSTLING AP Religion WriterJune 20,2006 BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) nationalassembly voted Tuesday to create some leeway for gay clergy and layofficers to serve local congregations, despite a denominational ban on partnered gay ministers. A measure approved 298-221 by a Presbyterian national assembly keeps in place a church law that says clergy and lay elders and deacons must limit sexual relations to man-woman marriage. But the new legislation says local congregations and regional presbyteries can exercise some flexibility when choosing clergy and lay officers of local congregations if sexual orientation or other issues arise. The decision concluded a hard-fought struggle lasting years between liberals and conservatives in the 2.3-million member denomination. Ten conservative caucuses allied to fight any change, and conservatives lost two last-ditch efforts to kill or delay the measure.The Presbyterian establishment, including all seminary presidents and many officials, promoted the flexibility plan, which was devised by a special task force. The idea is to grant modest change to liberals but mollify conservatives by keeping the sexual law on the books."

By RICHARD N. OSTLING AP Religion WriterJune 20,2006 BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) nationalassembly voted Tuesday to create some leeway for gay clergy and layofficers to serve local congregations, despite a denominational ban onpartnered gay ministers.A measure approved 298-221 by a Presbyterian national assembly keeps inplace a church law that says clergy and lay elders and deacons must limitsexual relations to man-woman marriage. But the new legislation says localcongregations and regional presbyteries can exercise some flexibility whenchoosing clergy and lay officers of local congregations if sexualorientation or other issues arise.The decision concluded a hard-fought struggle lasting years betweenliberals and conservatives in the 2.3-million member denomination. Tenconservative caucuses allied to fight any change, and conservatives losttwo last-ditch efforts to kill or delay the measure.The Presbyterian establishment, including all seminary presidents and manyofficials, promoted the flexibility plan, which was devised by a specialtask force. The idea is to grant modest change to liberals but mollifyconservatives by keeping the sexual law on the books.
I disagree that this decision by this body concludes anything in the Presbyterian denomination on this important issue. It may seem like a snails pace to those individuals who have suffered, unable to fully serve the church or reveal their true identity to remain in service, (and to their loved ones and friends) but at least the movement is in the direction of inclusiveness in the Presbyterian and Episcopalian denominations--not the case in some of the other denominations around our country.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Why Johnny (or Chloe) Can't Read

In 1955 Roudolf Flesh wrote a book titled Why Johnny Can't Read: And What You Can Do About It. This book, approved by the U.S Dept. of Education and reissued several times over the past half-century, sparked a revolution in the phonics method of teaching language arts in the public schools to combat the growing problem of illiteracy in its day. Over a half century later, however, the problems remain the same and some children still aren't learning to read because schools aren't using clinically proven methods of instruction for those students who need the extra help.

Today in the New York Times, Editorial Observer Brett Staples writes that under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) parents in the Washington DC area that can prove the public schools have failed their children, are now suing the public schools to have their childrens' private education paid for by the public schools. In DC, 15% of the public school dollars are being spent to send 4% of the student population to costly private schools where they are being taught to read properly.

Staples article beings by asking you to "imagine yourself the parent of an otherwise bright and engaging child who has reached the fourth grade without learning to read. After battling the public school bureaucracy for what seems like a lifetime, you enroll your child in a specialized private school for struggling readers. Over the next few years, you watch in grateful amazement as a child once viewed as uneducable begins to read and experiences his first successes at school. Most parents are so relieved to find help for their children that they never look back at the public schools that failed them. But a growing number of families are no longer willing to let bygones be bygones. They have hired special education lawyers and asserted their rights under the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, which allows disabled children whom the public schools have failed to receive private educations at public expense."

My husband and I have lived this experience with our daughter--almost. Despite intervention by her public school kindergarten teacher which resulted in neuropsych testing with an ADHD diagnosis and an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and special education instruction beginning in first grade, we nervously watched our daughter languish in her public school setting.

All during her kindergarten, first grade and halfway though her second grade years we spent hours each afternoon and evening diligently working to teach her phonics and helping her practice reading according to the helpful hints the classroom and special ed teachers gave us and what reading we had done on emerging readers ourselves. This relentless "homework" tested the patience of all of us. When it wasn't working, we all just became more and more anxious, discouraged, and frustrated. Finally mid-way though my daughter's second grade year she had a substitute teacher who recognized her potential and ability and demanded just a bit more from her. We hired her as a tutor and that started us on the journey of self-education and advocacy on behalf of our daughter. We now pay a wonderful highly trained tutor in the Orton-Gilllingham methodology of phonics instruction $50 per hour twice a week and will do so for another couple years. You can do the math. We could have forced the public schools to pay for our daughter education. But that would have required us to let her languish for a few more years to prove that they were not adequately instructing her. We were not willing to let her suffer longer. Are we bitter? Perhaps a bit. Do we wish we didn't have to pay more money over and above our tax dollars to educate our child? Of course! Is it worth it? Absolutely!

As citizens we all need to give our law-makers and public school administrators the message that we want early assessment of all incoming students to find which ones are struggling with phonoligical awareness. Schools need to be given adequate funding to institute early intervention plans using proven methods of instruction to help struggling emergent readers with phonetic awareness. Under the current IEP system, schools must take a "wait until they fail" approach. And then, the public schools foot the bill while parents and private schools pick up the pieces of these students' lives. The current system is unjust to both children and taxpayers because it leads to situations as Staples writes about, and like the experience of our daughter.

Court Split Over Wetlands Protections

This just popped up on the Washington Post site:
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday that regulators may have misinterpreted the federal Clean Water Act when they refused to allow two Michigan property owners to build a shopping mall and condos on wetlands they own.

At the same time, justices could not reach a consensus on whether government can extend protections for wetlands miles away from waterways.

The decision is the first significant environmental ruling for the high court headed by new Chief Justice John Roberts, and justices were so fractured that the main opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia only had the votes of four justices.

Roberts, one of those four, said that the result was so confusing that "lower courts and regulated entities will now have to feel their way on a case-by-case basis."

The court voided rulings against June Carabell and John Rapanos, who wanted to fill wetlands they owned near Lake St. Clair in Macomb County, Michigan. Carabell wanted to build condos on wetlands she owns about a mile from the lake. Rapanos wanted to put a shopping mall on his property, which is about 20 miles from the lake.

Instead of ruling in the property owners' favor, as they requested, justices said lower courts must reconsider whether ditches and drains near wetlands are waterways.

The court's four most conservative members wanted a more sweeping ruling, clearing the way for development of land unless it was directly connected to waterways.

The court's four most liberal members said that such a ruling would reject three decades of practice by the Army Corps of Engineers and threaten the environment.

Pay special attention to that second to last sentence that says the four most "conservative" members wanted a stronger ruling that would clear the way for development of land. In what way can they honestly be called conservative? Does being conservative have any thing to do with conservation of natural resources? Apparently not. Does being conservative have anything to do with respecting three decades of precedent in the way the Clean Water Act was interpreted by the Army Corps of Engineers and prior court rulings? Apparently not. What does it really mean to be a conservative today? It's a meaningless term.

The Weaker Sex

I missed this op-ed by Marianne J. Legato, the director of the Partnership for Women's Health at Columbia, in the weekend New York Times. She suggests that in recent years too much emphasis has been placed on researching women's health issues. Because... men have more health problems and die earlier than women:

What emerges when one studies male biology in a truly evenhanded way is the realization that from the moment of conception on, men are less likely to survive than women. It's not just that men take on greater risks and pursue more hazardous vocations than women. There are poorly understood — and underappreciated — vulnerabilities inherent in men's genetic and hormonal makeup. This Father's Day, we need to rededicate ourselves to deepening our knowledge of male physiology.

Men's troubles begin during the earliest days in the womb. Even though there are more male than female embryos, there are more miscarriages of male fetuses. Industrial countries are also witnessing a decline in male to female birth ratios, and we don't know why.

Some scientists have argued that the probability of a male child declines as parents (especially fathers) age. Still others have cited the prevalence of pesticides, which produce more birth defects in male children.

Even when a boy manages to be born, he's still behind the survival eight ball: he is three to four times more likely than girls to have developmental disorders like autism and dyslexia; girls learn language earlier, develop richer vocabularies and even hear better than boys. Girls demonstrate insight and judgment earlier in adolescence than boys, who are more impulsive and take more risks than their sisters. Teenage boys are more likely to commit suicide than girls and are more likely to die violent deaths before adulthood.

As adults, too, men die earlier than women. Twice as many men as women die of coronary artery disease, which manifests itself a decade earlier in men than women; when it comes to cancer, the news for men is almost as bad. Women also have more vigorous immune systems than men: of the 10 most common infections, men are more likely to have serious encounters with seven of them.

While depression is said to be twice as frequent in women as in men, I'm convinced that the diagnosis is just made more frequently in women, who show a greater willingness to discuss their symptoms and to ask for help when in distress. Once, at a dinner party, I asked a group of men whether they believed men were depressed as often as women, but were simply conditioned to be silent in the face of discomfort, sadness or fear. "Of course!" replied one man. "Why do you think we die sooner?"

Considering the relative fragility of men, it's clearly counterintuitive for us to urge them, from boyhood on, to cope bravely with adversity, to ignore discomfort, to persevere in spite of pain and to accept without question the most dangerous jobs and tasks we have to offer. Perhaps the reason many societies offer boys nutritional, educational and vocational advantages over girls is not because of chauvinism — it's because we're trying to ensure their survival.

It's possible, too, that we've simply been sexist. We've complained bitterly that until recently women's health was restricted to keeping breasts and reproductive organs optimally functional, reflecting the view that what made women valuable was their ability to conceive and bear children. But aren't we doing the same thing with men? Read the questions posed on the cover of men's magazines: how robust is your sexuality? How well-developed are your abs? The only malignancy I hear discussed with men is prostate cancer.

It's time to focus on the unique problems of men just the way we have learned to do with women. In 2004, the National Institutes of Health spent twice as much on studies done only on women as only on men. We are not devoting nearly enough money to men's health; worse yet, we may be spending those insufficient funds to answer exactly the wrong questions.

The National Institutes of Health should therefore convene a consensus conference to identify the most important threats to men's well-being and longevity and issue a request for research proposals to address them. Would an estrogen-like molecule postpone the onset of coronary artery disease in susceptible males? Are there ways to strengthen the male immune system?

In my own pastoral experience I would guess that the men I know (past and present) suffer from depression at the same or maybe even a greater rate than women. The women are far more likely to know when they are hurting, have a good support system, and seek out help when they need it. Too many men still don't have the self-care skills and support systems they need. There is far too much suffering in silence.

The Real Story on Illegal Immigrants

I don't think there is any doubt that we have an illegal immigration problem. Much of the problem, however, is caused by American companies who knowingly break the law and hire undocumented illegal immigrants so they can pay cash and low wages. This isn't the whole story, however, as this New York Times article points out today:
It is 5:30 in the evening as Adriana makes her way to work against a flow of people streaming out of the lattice of downtown stores and office towers here. She punches a time card, dons a uniform and sets out to clean her first bathroom of the night.

A few miles away, Ana arrives at a suburban Target store at 10 p.m. to clean the in-house restaurant for the next day's shoppers. At 5:30 the next morning, Emilio starts his rounds at the changing rooms at a suburban department store. A half-hour later, Polo rushes to clean the showers and locker room at a university here before the early birds in the pool finish their morning swim.

Adriana, 27; Ana, 27; Emilio, 48; and Polo, 52, are all illegal immigrants, denizens of one of the most easily overlooked corners of the nation's labor force and almost universally ignored by the workers, shoppers and students they clean up after.

"It's like you are invisible," Adriana said.

Invisible, perhaps, but not hidden. In contrast to the typical image of an illegal immigrant — paid in cash, working under the table for small-scale labor contractors on a California farm or a suburban construction site — a majority now work for mainstream companies, not fly-by-night operators, and are hired and paid like any other American worker.

Polo — who, like all the workers named in this article, agreed to be interviewed only if his full identity was protected — is employed by a subsidiary of ABM Industries, a publicly traded company based in San Francisco with 73,000 workers across the country and annual revenues of $2.6 billion. Emilio works for the Kimco Corporation, a large private company with 5,000 employees in 30 states and sales of about $100 million.

More than half of the estimated seven million immigrants toiling illegally in the United States get a regular paycheck every week or two, experts say. At the end of the year they receive a W-2 form. Come April 15, many file income tax returns using special ID numbers issued by the Internal Revenue Service so foreigners can pay taxes. Some even get a refund check in the mail...

More than half are working openly in the system. I would have never guessed it from watching Lou Dobbs.

In the Garden Today

OK. It's not in the garden yet. But it will be later today. For Father's Day I got a Butterfly Bush, buddlleia davidii. It's a perennial, but we have planted one every year for at least six years and have never had one survive the winter, despite heavy mulching. It is worth the price of annual replacing, though, because they really do attract lots of butterflies.

Another Episcopalian Milestone

At their national meeting in Columbus, Ohio, Episcopalians elected their first woman as presiding bishop of the American church. Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected on the fifth ballot out of seven candidates. She was the only female in the field. She has only been a priest for twelve years. Prior to that she was an oceanogropher; she became a priest after federal funding for her job dried up and she was asked to fill in at her local church.

Her election will probably further rile the world-wide Anglican community already upset about the American church's election three years ago of Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop of the American church. Much of the world-wide Anglican community does not recognize the ordination of women as valid.

Good for the Episcopalians and congratulations to Bishop Jefferts Schori.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Left Finds its Voice

The Star Tribune notices there are religious people who are also liberal:
They call themselves "spiritual progressives," and they're getting louder and prouder.

Reacting to the successes of the Christian right and reviving the faith-fueled activism that drove 1960s crusades on civil rights and the Vietnam War, more liberals are embracing the language of faith.

For decades, left-leaning activists "were so afraid of imposing their beliefs on others that we hadn't claimed a stance," said Carolyn Pressler, a professor at United Theological Seminary in New Brighton. "Suddenly it was the Christian right versus the secular left. We had abdicated."

No more. Nationwide, new books and websites are raising the flag of the religious left. In Minnesota, the trend has been evident in such arenas as the legislative debate over a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Evangelicals and Catholics who back a ban faced church activists who argued that godliness was on their side. The chorus of liberal religious voices also has been heard on poverty, immigration and taxes.

My own take on this is that the liberal religous voice never went away; it was just temporarily drowned out by the more strident voice of religious conservatives who finally found their political voice and got involved. But having won political battles the conservatives then had to govern, and governing is messy and involves compromise and actually having to make decisions and live with their consequences. And suddenly having easy access to power and money and media, not surprisingly some of them have succombed to greed and corruption.

Meanwhile the left just kept doing what it was always doing, advocating for justice for all, peace, and care of the environment. And I will concede that in recent years we have become better organized and more media savy. But overall, we are growing in strength in large part because the middle is drifting back our way. We may not be as flashy as the evangelicals, and we may not be so damn certain that we have the Truth, but we are not near as likely to destroy the earth, start a war, or take away civil liberties, all in the name of God.

The Emperor Has no Clothes

That's Emperor Pawlenty, our Governor. A front page article in the Star Tribune this morning reports that no contractors have come forward to bid on what is probably the largest road construction project to come along in the state in years, the rebuilding of the Crosstown.

Why no bids? Because the state has no money to pay the contractors. Because the governor won't raise gasoline taxes or any other kind of taxes and like his godfather, President Bush, has instead mortgaged our children's future away by borrowing money instead of asking us to pay now for what we use.

But even the state borrowing can't cover the costs of all of the construction and other state needs. And the governor had already taken money from other projects to keep the Crosstown project alive. But the real kicker was that he asked the contractors to put their own money upfront on the project to keep it going with the promise that eventually the state would pay them back.

Surprise, surprise, the contractors have looked at this governor and his track record and said forget about it.

Three years of fiscally irresponsible choices and deceit about what it really costs to run the state are finally becoming exposed and there is no place to hide. We can't afford to pay to maintain let alone improve our crumbling infrastructure. But hey, we haven't had our taxes raised.

An Inconvenient Truth

I saw the movie last night. Everyone needs to see it. Everyone. It brings into clear focus the one, true threat to the future of the earth. And it makes it plain to see that the threat is immanent and not distant.

The problem with global warming news is that it competes with all the other news; and the other news, like Iraq, Darfur, New Orleans seems more immediate. What's the melting of another glacier or a report about rising global temperatures compared to war, genocide, and hurricanes.

But to see all the evidence put together... The pictures all over the world of the receding glaciers and ice shields, the temperature charts that show the clear trends and the recent rapid increase, the change in ocean currents, and on and on. It was overwhelming and quite frankly disheartening.

Why disheartening? Because of the disinformation campaign by energy companies and politicians to discredit the science, and the complicity of the media in reporting garbage over fact because it creates controversy and sells news.

Out of thousands of peer reviewed scientific studies and articles over the last decades on global warming, how many dissenting voices are there on the facts and perils of global warming? None. Not one. But over half of the American says they doubt the science.

Organized religion shares some of the blame for this, too. Historically, for not seeing care of the earth as a central component of spirituality. But recently, its the right-wing religious effort to cast doubt on the validity of science in the face of perceived threats to the biblical narrative. Many of the same people who doubt the science of global warming also doubt the science that tells us we are part of an ancient earth and an even more ancient universe, and that we are the product of an evolutionary process. They believe that science is suspect, fabricated, an assault on their faith.

Is it too late to save the earth? Gore said at one point in the movie that for many people there is a danger in moving from long-held doubt about global warming to outright despair as the reality finally forces itself onto the frontpages of our consciousness. But he said there is a place in between doubt and despair where we see the truth and believe we have time to act. That is where he is and why he made the movie. It is not too late if we each begin to take personal responsibility to curb our own carbon emmisions and then begin to put issue first among the many important issues that need our attention and action. I agree.

See the movie. Visit the website here. Change the way we think and live.

Friday, June 16, 2006

In the Garden Today

Astilbe, varieties unkown. Beautiful in bloom, interesting foliage all season long. Many varieties of sizes and colors. Nice shade plant, tolerates some sun, does not tolerate drying out. Supposedly attracts hummingbirds but I have never seen one visiting our numerous astible plants.

Shower of Stoles

There is a moving and interesting display at the church right now. I hope everyone gets an opportunity to see it this Sunday or at the PFLAG meeting on Monday night or some other time during the next week.

The Shower of Stoles is a collection of over a thousand liturgical stoles and other sacred items from gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons from twenty-six denominations in six countries. Each stole contains the story of a GLBT person who is active in the life and leadership of their faith community in some way: minister, elder, deacon, teacher, missionary, musician, administrator or active layperson. You can learn more about the Shower of Stoles here.

We have a selection of those stoles at the church on display in the sanctuary. They are a visible reminder that God's call to service in the ministry doesn't stop at any artificial boundary of sexual orientation. They also remind us that many who are called to ministry must make the painful choice of either hiding a central component of their identity or being open and forced to leave their church or denomination.

Thanks to ProgressiveChurchlady for arranging it all.

Wesley Clark on Science & Faith

There was a big blogging conference last week in Las Vegas. It was called YearlyKos and it was sponsored by one of the largest liberal bloggers: DailyKos. You can read more about the conference here.

But what caught my attention was an address given by retired General Wesley Clark on science and faith to the Science bloggers. After talking about his own experience growing up in the south and being turned on to science by his school teachers and the rapid advances made in science because of the space race, he turned his attention to the current political atmosphere about science:

And today, I'm sorry to tell you, all that is at risk today. And the distinguished members of this panel are going into it in a lot more detain than than I will. They'll tell you about the cutbacks in basic research and science. They'll talk to you about the politicization of scientific findings, whether it's in the federal Food and Drug Administration or the office of the White House Science Advisor, whether it has to do with the Morning After pill or stem cell research or global warming. It is shocking that the political party that professed to believe in freedom and liberty is trying to impose it's political will on the province of science. It's absolutely turned its own principles in its head in the purest demonstration of political hypocrisy you can see in the American stage today. And that is the Republican Party.

(applause)

But what particularly worries me is the conflict that's out there between faith and reason, between faith and science. There's nothing new about this conflict. It's as old as Christianity and even older. It's always been there as men sought to reason their way into an understanding of the world around us, and women sought to reason their way into an understanding of the world around us, and others sought to prevent it. Whether it was the Copernican theory of the solar system or Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas in trying to merge faith and reason, it's a long-standing conflict.

You know when I was growing up in Arkansas, everyone read about the Scopes trial in Tennessee in, in 19, 1924. And, and that was considered for the 1950s as the height of, of lunacy. And now, what do I find across my beloved South in the United States? I find teachers throughout the area who cannot use the dreaded 'E' word. I'm not talking about e-mail.

(laughter)

I'm talking bout E-volution. They can't use it. It's like they're (inaudible) a science teacher from my home state in, in a, in a newspaper, and he says, "Well, I got these rocks in the classroom, and I'm teaching science. And these rocks, they're, they're, they're pretty old, you know. They palea-" It's, it's, I don't know what, "Mesozoic rocks, you know 200, 300, 400 million years old," and so forth. He says, "But I can't say that in the classroom." They say, "Well, what do you say?" He says, "I say. "these rocks, they're very old."'

(laughter)

He says, "Because if I say it, one of these students may go home and say, 'Daddy, that, that teacher he's teaching us something. He's saying stuff's older than, older than the, the Book of Genesis. He's saying it started before 4004 BC, and he's teaching us stuff that it conflicts with our faith. And he's trying to keep us from having our faith."' And across America, well-meaning teachers are running scared. They're running scared because we haven't built for them the kind of support network that lets them fully engage the young minds in their charge, fully deal with natural human curiosity and provide them access to the facts that the, our own hard work and labors have created.

I mean, imagine Isaac Newton is relaxing under the apple tree, and you know the story, right? There's an apple and it falls off the tree, and (pop). And he says, 'Gee, I wonder why that apple fell.' And from that comes, you know, the formula for gravity. I think it was like, S=½AT2, when I was taking physics-

(drowned out by laughter)

You know, gravity works at like 16 feet per second, per second, and Newton figured all this out, you know, in, in the 17th century, but he didn't have to. What he could have said is, 'I was sitting under the apple tree, and God punished me (laughter) for relaxing. And so, he made an apple fall on my head.'

(laughter)

And Roy Chapman Andrews , who was one of the real early Paleontologists - I was one of those kids, I read "All About Dinosaurs". Did you ever read that book in the Landmark series for, for youngsters. I'm, I'm dating myself. I know.

(laughter)

So, Roy Chapman Andrews goes to China in the 1930s and is picking up rocks and he's looking, and he's seeing bones sticking out. And it was when we really began to discover the full extent of the, of the Jurassic Era. And Roy Chapman Andrews could have said, 'I see a bone sticking out, but it's not really a bone. It's actually, it was put there by God to test my faith in the Book of Genesis.' He could have said that, but he didn't.

Because you see, I think this is an artificial, it's an artificial, manufactured crisis. It's designed by some in authority to maintain authority over spheres in which they are not competent. I believe there are incredible mysteries in the universe, mysteries that the mind of man doesn't understand and may never understand. And I see in no way in which the advancement of science and the pursuit of knowledge by mankind is in any way threatening to the idea of a supreme being or a greater creator.

Read Leonard Suskind's new book, called "The Cosmic-" It's called "The Cosmic Landscape And Intelligent Design" if you want to see something that's overpowering. Suskind is the inventor of cosmic string theory, and what he does is he takes cosmic- he takes the idea of the universe. He says the universe is- see, what's happening in intelligent design is people are saying, 'Ah well, you see, the, the, the wavelength of, of, of the electron and Planck's Constant and all these numbers are so odd. They don't- they're not even numbers, you know. They, they, they don't balance each other. It's sort of 1.- It's like the figure of pi, 3.14159... Why would it be such an odd number? Why, why wouldn't God make the universe, you know, symmetrical?'

(laughter)

Then they said, 'well, because, you know, it's like there's only one on 10 to the 50th chance that the universe could have worked out in a way that mankind could survive. Therefore, you know, this must have been an intelligent designer who created this universe especially for us.' What Suskind does is he turns it on its head. He says, "You know, if you look at string theory and the 9+1 dimensions" or 10+1 dimensions, and I'm not sure how he knows that time only has one dimension, but he does. (inaudible) would say I'm very arrogant for questions questioning this.

(laughter)

But what Suskind does is he turns it upside down. He says, "Look there are- there is an infinite number of universes." He calls it a multiverse, and he says that however the motive forces, and nobody understands why quarks pop in and out of existence. Nobody understands it, but apparently they do. And apparently there are many, many universes, and we're here in this one. And maybe there are others in which Planck's Constant has a different number, in which the speed of light is not 186,200 miles per second. Who knows? We don't know.

There is incredible mystery out there, and what I believe is that God did create us and put us on this earth to use what he gave us, which is our imagination, our intelligence, our hands, our minds, our ears to study, to learn, to create, and we must do that. We must do it, because it's in our nature as human beings to push beyond the frontier, to ask the impossible questions. We can't be any other way. We're no different than our ancestors a thousand generations ago who gnawed on the bone of the woolly mammoth, threw it into the fire, stumbled out of the cave, laid on their back and looked up at the stars and said, 'What are those specks of light?' And I think that we're closer and closer to finding out, and I think that's our destiny, and I think God wants it that way.

Thank you

(applause)

If you believe like I do, you got to fight back on this. You've got to seek more improvements in the quality of education. You've got to write in to your newspapers. You've got to speak out on talk radio. You've got to have the nerve to call up and argue, and I know you do.

(laughter)

And you've got to help us put this together into a new national strategy of competitiveness, because there are big problems ahead for this country if we don't create a new national strategy of investing in our young people in science and technology. We simply have to do it, and we need your support and your leadership to make it happen. We can do it. We can take this country forward again. We can create a new Golden Age of innovation and science and technology in America.

There are whole worlds of knowledge waiting to be discovered in nano-science, in human science, in physics, in material science and in all of the applications that can make life better and safer and more convenient for all of us, but only if we open our eyes, only if we acknowledge the reality of the condition we're in, only if we beat back the challenges that come from well-meaning people of faith who argue against the very kind of exploration that God gave us the power to do. We have to take back our world and advance the frontiers of knowledge. That is our destiny. That's why you're here at this panel. And now that we're talking about it, we're going to get a lot more information out. We expect you all to get out and help us do it. This is about action, not just talk.

As a Christian, I don't think there is anything more disheartening than seeing the conservative Christian attack on science. In one way or another it is happening in every school district in the country. And it is crippling the minds of children, hurting the competitiveness of our country, and making a travesty of the faith tradition I belong to and care about. And a special pox on the shameless politicians who pander to it.

Update: Someone sent me an e-mail regarding my very last sentence about shameless politicians wondering if I was referring to Wesley Clark. He is most definitely not who I had in mind. I was referring to the kind of politician who is smart enough to be a physician or surgeon but desperate enough to be President that they will pander to right wing Christians even if it means they have to pretend that the science they use to save lives doesn't exist.

Global Warming Trouble Under Ice in Siberia

What is going to happen as global warming melts the permafrost in Siberia? Possible trouble for the earth:
Ancient woolly mammoth bones and grasslands locked in the Siberian permafrost are starting to thaw and could potentially unleash billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming, a team of Russian and American scientists has concluded.

The area involved is vast — 400,000 square miles. If the permafrost continues to thaw and releases heat-trapping carbon dioxide, it could dramatically increase the 730 billion metric tons already in the atmosphere, the scientists said in a study published in today's issue of the journal Science.

"It's like taking food out of your freezer … leave it on your counter for a few days, and it rots," University of Florida botany professor Ted Schuur said in a phone interview from Alaska, describing the process by which decaying animal and plant matter in the soil is converted by bacteria into carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases.

The research team concluded that previous studies on global warming had not taken into account the deep carbon reserve trapped in permafrost in the northern plains of Siberia and central Alaska.

The scientists said what was most surprising was the size and depth of the terrain that could be affected — a piece two-thirds the size of Alaska and an average of 80 feet deep containing about 500 billion metric tons of carbon.

"It's like finding a new continent under the Earth," lead author Sergey Zimov said in a telephone interview from northern Siberia. He said the vast, carbon-rich area had been buried over many millennia by a unique layer of wind-borne loess dust that covered bones of mammoth, bison, saber-toothed tigers and the abundant grasses they fed on, then froze about 10,000 years ago into permafrost.

Contrary to earlier assumptions that permafrost was as barren as the polar desert, samples taken by the research team found 10 to 30 times as much carbon as in deep soils elsewhere. Schuur said most previous studies looked at samples about 3 feet deep.

Scientists, including this team, are working to document how fast the permafrost is melting. A 2005 study by the U.S. Center for Atmospheric Research estimated that about 10 feet of permafrost would melt in the 21st century, meaning billions of tons of gases could be released if global warming was not slowed or halted.

The Russian-American research team, funded by the National Science Foundation in the U.S., found that carbon stored over tens of thousands of years could bubble up from thawed soil in as little as 100 years.

"Because this is a very sensitive sort of climate, if the permafrost begins to melt, billions of gallons of greenhouse gases will be released from these ancient soils," Zimov said.

The authors said they hoped the findings would spur quicker reductions of greenhouse gas emissions from cars and other sources.

"It's not hopeless," Schuur said. "We're just at the beginning of this cycle, so we can, through the controlling of emissions, have a hope of slowing down this rate of global warming that would slow the melt of the permafrost."

Holy Grail

Internet wonderings this morning took me to a web site I hadn't been to before on mythology. It is the Encyclopedia Mythica. Since I have had numerous conversations recently about the Holy Grail, in light of The Da Vinci Code, I looked it up. Here is the post on their website:
Grail (Graal) - Magic vessel with miraculous healing powers protected by an otherworldly keeper or "king." Pagan fertility myths and their related talismans along with the concept of a symbiotic union between the king and the land were all precursors to what was to eventually become the object of Arthur and his knights' Quest. There is a subsequent Christian reassessment that reassigns its powers to the spiritual rather than physical realm although the mysterious iconography related to it never quite disappears.

The word Graal in Old French denoted a large platter or serving dish. Chr├ętien de Troyes, in the Conte del Graal, recounts the visit of Perceval to the wounded Fisher King's stronghold where a maiden, after a procession of bizarre objects, bears a magnificently bejeweled graal. This graal has the supernatural power to sustain life and is of sacred origin. Perceval's failure to inquire about the strange procession prevents the healing of the Fisher King. Celtic myths of magic vessels and cauldrons are clearly the inspiration.

Many later authors have taken up the theme with a maze of intricate alterations and adaptations. Not only are the versions in wild variance, there is no uniform shape for the object or a consensus as to what it actually is. There are several themes that are recurrent like the wound motif. The wound itself may be sexual in origin and is directly related to the fact that the land is dying around the keep. If asked the proper question by a questor, "Who is served by the Grail?", the king and wasteland will revive. There are sometimes two kings, Fisher and Grail, but the Grail king is largely unseen. Female devotees often attend the Grail and it is often accompanied by the Bleeding Lance, and other hallowed objects.

The christianization of the Grail in plain terms begins with Robert de Boron and is adapted by his successors into a larger myth. The "Holy Grail" or Sangreal is the cup Jesus uses to create the Eucharist at the Last Supper making it inextricably tied to the presence of the Spirit in the sacraments of the altar, transubstantiation and communion. Following Chretien's thread but with a major shift in emphasis, the Grail now nourishes the soul and spiritual life above bodily world.

The history of the Grail never sinks to mere relic status and a complicated history evolves around it. After the Last Supper, it is said to have passed into the hands of Joseph of Arimathea who then collected drops of blood from the Crucifixion in it. Jesus taught Joseph, after the Resurrection, certain secret words that would unlock the secrets of the Grail. Joseph took the Grail, now a symbol of divine love and the source of visionary enlightenment, under his care and with his companions traveled to Britain. The Grail was brought first to Avalon and the future site of Glastonbury. Next it passed into the possession of successive secretive Grail-keepers in a mysterious castle like the one visited by Perceval.

The Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal develops this story the furthest and is Malory's basis. Arthur's quest has now become the second stage in a series of events begun earlier. It becomes known that contact with the Grail is to be reestablished in Arthur's time though how is not known. Galahad is first introduced as the successful questor. After the Grail's ethereal apparition appears in Arthur's hall, a great many knights are immediately inspired to ride out and seek its reality. Each knight is miraculously nourished by the food their choice so some of the Celtic elements have not disappeared entirely. The quest itself may be adapted from an alternate Celtic myth in which Arthur quests for a cauldron that endures, albeit slightly, in The Spoils of Annwfn. The Grail now is almost entirely connected with Christian miracles and visions though other pre-Christian elements appear from time to time. The ultimate desire of the Quest is to comprehend the mysteries of the Grail so consequently much more than locating or seeing it is involved in it's attainment. This attainment is the result of divine providence rather than valor or ability and Galahad, in fulfillment of various signs, is the destined Grail achiever. Though other knights in the quest sometimes get partial glimpses of the Grail, only Galahad is pure and worthy of its supreme revelation. After following the Grail to Sarras, Galahad dies in ecstatic rapture...

Name the Ten Commandments

Can you name them? Give it a try.

My guess is that most people can get most of them, but most of us will forget a couple. But if you are a United States Congressman and you are co-sponsoring a bill to require the display of the Ten Commandments in the House and Senate, and you agree to appear on the Colbert Report, don't you think you ought to know them?

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (Rep., GA) was on last night and it wasn't pretty. Crooks and Liars has the video here. He could only name three:
Colbert: You have not introduced a single piece of legislation since you entered Congress.

Westmoreland: That's correct.

Colbert: This has been called a do nothing Congress. Is it safe to say you're the do nothingest?

Westmoreland: I, I, ..Well there's one other do nothiner. I don't know who that is, but they're a Democrat.

Colbert: What can we get rid of to balance the budget?

Westmoreland: The Dept. of Education.

Colbert: What are the Ten Commandments?

Westmoreland: You mean all of them?--Um... Don't murder. Don't lie. Don't steal Um... I can't name them all.
From Exodus 20, here they are:
Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.