Saturday, December 22, 2007

Blair Crosses Tiber

After months of speculation in the press, Tony Blair has left the Church of England and entered the Church of Rome.

This isn't an especially important story; although certainly an important figure, Blair is no longer Prime Minister. His wife and children are Roman Catholic, and he has never made any secret of either his religious faith in general or his attraction to the Roman version in particular. (Nor, we might point out, has he worn either those things on his sleeve as tools for getting elected, unlike certain American politicians we could name).

The Archbishop of Canterbury was polite enough to wish him well, which simply shows that Anglicanism isn't one of those religious movements that threatens to kill you if you quit. (You know who you are.)

Nope, all told this is pretty small fish. The big news will come when (as has occasionally been suggested) Prince Charles goes Orthodox. That will cause all sorts of trouble, and raise the serious question of how the future head of the CofE can very well be a communicant in some other church entirely. At which point somebody will no doubt point out that the Hanoverians were, up through Victoria's time, a bunch of Lutherans.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Romney's Nose Gets Longer

Turns out he was not telling the truth when he said that stuff on TV about "I saw my father march with Martin Luther King Jr."

We have already hinted that his remarks on "Meet the Press" may have been intentionally misleading. Okay, we called them lies. Now this. Naughty, naughty, Willard.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Christian Nation

As we recently pointed out, America is not "a Christian nation" by any traditional standard. Britain is, even though a great many of its subjects do not practice Christianity.

Click the link to see why we're better than they are, nanny-nanny-foo-foo.

Personally, we at the Egg hope Britain never disestablishes, for several reasons: (1) We like being able to tell American Christianists that they already have an English-speaking Christian nation to live in, if they so choose, while we are handing them their emigration papers; (2) We are curious to know what it will be like when a nation's state church is no longer the chosen faith of ANY of its inhabitants; and (3) Most important, we like to think we make our old junior-high Social Studies teacher proud by declaring ourselves to be antidisestablishmentarians.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Worst. Endorsement. Ever.

David Brooks, the Times Op-Ed's resident "conservative," wants Democrats to vote for Obama in the primary. Here's his logic:

"Hillary Clinton has been a much better senator than Barack Obama. She has been a serious, substantive lawmaker who has worked effectively across party lines. Obama has some accomplishments under his belt, but many of his colleagues believe that he has not bothered to master the intricacies of legislation or the maze of Senate rules."

He goes on to explain that, despite Clinton's superior job performance, Dems should go the other way because, "Obama is an inner-directed man in a profession filled with insecure outer-directed ones."

Huh. Wowie. So instead of track-record, Americans should choose our candidates based on amateur pop-psychology? So when can Dr. Sigmund Brooks make time to deal with Romney's Daddy issues?

We at the Egg have suspected for some time that Brooks is a weenie, and this pretty much clinches it. Like all weenies, he man obviously wants to wear a bow-tie.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Anglicanism Still a Mess

No news there; it will take years for those guys to sort their stuff out.

Meanwhile, comes now an argument, reasonable if quixotic, that the churches out of communion with Canterbury ought not to style themselves "Anglican." None of the insurgents will listen, of course, but the argument is worth a read. Peter Toon, of the Prayer Book Society, handles his matter elegantly, and not until the last graf does he reveal the depth of his devotion to lost causes.

New Jersey Joins the Civilized World

That's somebody else's comment on an important story: When Gov. Corzine signs the bill recently approved by the legislature, New Jersey will become "the first state in the modern era of capital punishment to repeal the death penalty," according to the Times.

Maybe there's hope for this wicked little country of ours after all.

Paultards Rejoice!

Andrew Sullivan supports Ron Paul for the Republican nomination. Click the link to read why, but the core argument is this: "He's the real thing in a world of fakes and frauds."

That's well said, and we think it actually does reflect the central appeal of Paul's candidacy. He reflects a kind of conservatism that is worthy of the name: serious about small government, checks and balances, the Constitution and the rights it guarantees. In short, he reminds us that there was a time when "conservative" wasn't a codeword for a nativist, corporatist, militarist, government octopus committed to executive power, eager to spy on citizens, torture captives, and execute convicts -- and convinced that it should be allowed to do so without scrutiny. There was a time, in other words, when "conservative" did not mean "Stalinist."

We're not endorsing him, mind you. Not by a long shot. But can see why somebody might.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Pseudoscience on the March

The Institute for Creation Research, one of those nutty creationism outfits, wants a license to train science teachers in -- where else? -- Texas.

Okay, let's make this short. Creationism is bogus pseudoscience, and everybody with an IQ in the double digits knows it. If the evidence could support it, scientists -- who can get rich and famous by publishing ground-breaking hypotheses -- would be on it like brown on rice. Sadly for all the grad students who could make their bones on a radical revision of paleobiology, the evidence just isn't there.

But the proponents don't care about evidence, because they think this is really about personal opinion, just like elections for homecoming queen. An ICR spokesperson says "Our students are given both sides. They need to know both sides, and they can draw their own conclusion."

I wonder if they teach both sides of the famous "2+2=6" debate?

But the best part of this isn't that America -- and especially Texas -- is fertile ground for wackjobs who still don't get the whole 'reality-based community" thing. No news there! The best part is not even that the the ICR's application has already been approved by a state advisory group, further reducing the chance that any future Nobelist in the natural sciences will have been educated in the Lone Star State.

No, friends. The best part of this story is that the ICR has applied to train teachers in pseudoscience ... wait for it ... online. Because the only thing less respectable than a certificate in bullshit is a certificate in bullshit that you earned from correspondence classes.

Mitt Lies on "Meet the Press"

In 1978, the Mormons received a new revelation allowing them to withdraw their longstanding policy of official discrimination against black people. Talking to Tim Russert today, Mitt Romney recalled his own emotional reaction:

"I can remember when, when I heard about the change being made. I was driving home from, I think, it was law school, but I was driving home, going through the Fresh Pond rotary in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I heard it on the radio, and I pulled over and, and literally wept. Even at this day it's emotional ... "

Touching. There is one small inconsistency in the tale which may or may not mean something. In 1978, Romney was not a law student. He had finished his joint JD/MBA at Harvard three years earlier, and was now a successful management consultant, about to change companies. There is a world of difference between being a graduate student and a wealthy businessman. We find it odd that he can be so specific about where he was on the road when he got the news, and so vague -- as in wrong -- about where he was in life.

Does it matter? Maybe not. But Romney, who in the interview speaks movingly of his parents' commitment to civil rights during the 1960s, is not known to have taken any stand, publicly or privately, against the entrenched racism of his own faith community. A casual listener, hearing the story as Romney tells it, may well think, "What do you expect? He was just a kid, a grad student -- what difference could his stand have made?"

But consider who he really was: the 31-year-old son of a former Michigan governor, Presidential candidate and Nixon cabinet member; a graduate of the LDS's own flagship school, and of America's most prestigious university; and (we'll say this part again) rich. It is entirely possible that Romney's voice could have made a difference in the LDS's internal deliberations.

It bothers us less that Romney was silent then, however, than that he seems a little cagey -- even deceptive -- about it now. But then, consistency is not one of Mitt's virtues, is it?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Been There, Done That

Buddhist monks and nuns in Japan hit the catwalk for a fashion show recently, trying to win back the nation's youth.

"We wanted to show the young people that Buddhism is cool, and temples are not a place just for funerals," said Koji Matsubara, a chief monk at Tsukiji.

Oh, you poor slobs. When our Baby Boomers started to come of age, and showed a generational indifference to church, Christians in America did everything in our power to pull them back (folk mass, anybody?). They knew we were pandering, and stayed away in droves. (Ironically, a lot of them flirted with Buddhism, and still do).

So here's my friendly advice to the Japanese Buddhists: Don't pander. You make yourself look like Jim Backus in "Rebel Without a Cause," wearing his wife's apron and driving James Dean around the bend. Suck it up, do your thing, and wait for the next generation to realize they were missiing out.

Merry Christmas, Morons.

Actually, I don't believe the Administration's advocates for waterboarding (Dick "No-Brainer" Cheney, for example; or Michael "I Don't Know and I Won't Check" Mukasey) really are morons. I believe they are soulless, blood-sucking monsters from Hell. But that wouldn't fit on the top line; I tried.

And it does seem that the soulless blood-suckers have a few morons working for them. Take Senator Kit Bond, R-Mo, who appeared on PBS' NewsHour and said waterboarding was like swimming -- "there are different ways of doing it ... freestyle, backstroke." He actually said that.

Obviously, two things are true: (a) Bond is a mental (and probably moral) defective, and (b) he will have his ass handed to him the next time he runs for office.

More important, however, is this. Armed Forces Journal, which is exactly what sounds like, recently published this sharp rebuke to Giuliani, Mukasey, and everybody else who has waffled on the question of torture:

"In an interview, Giuliani was asked for his views on using ... waterboarding. He responded that in a hypothetical scenario that assumed an attack, 'I would tell the people who had to do the interrogation to use every method they can think of.' Prompted again on the specific use of waterboarding, he repeated 'every method they could think of.' Mukasey said he found waterboarding to be 'repugnant,' but he wouldn’t answer whether it amounted to torture.

"Let AFJ be crystal clear on a subject where these men are opaque: Waterboarding is a torture technique that has its history rooted in the Spanish Inquisition. In 1947, the U.S. prosecuted a Japanese military officer for carrying out a form of waterboarding on a U.S. civilian during World War II.

"Waterboarding inflicts on its victims the terror of imminent death. And as with all torture techniques, it is, therefore, an inherently flawed method for gaining reliable information. In short, it doesn’t work. That blunt truth means all U.S. leaders, present and future, should be clear on the issue."

Thank you, gentlemen. Pass that little Christmas gift up the chain of command, would you?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Nobody Gets It

Sigh. This is one of those stories where nobody knows what they're seeing. Except us, and we'll explain it for you.

"Opinionator", a Times blog, cites Amanda Carpenter at Town Hall to this effect:

“Democrats who supported a House resolution to honor Ramadan voted against a similar resolution to honor Christmas and Christianity last night. 18 Democrats voted ‘nay’ or ‘present’ on a resolution to ‘recognize the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith.’ An eagle-eyed Republican House staffer points out that those same members, with one exception, voted to ‘recognize the commencement of Ramadan,’ a Muslim religious observance in October.”

Opinionator then goes on to cite several participants in the debate, each playing their assigned role: (1) The Republican sponsor of the resolution says that America was "founded on Christian principles," , adding, "let’s worship Christ and let’s celebrate Christmas for the right reasons." (2) A Democratic opponent responds, "America is not a Christian nation. It is a nation of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and everyone in between. Our diversity is our strength and those who seek to use religion as a litmus test are doing a disservice to all of us." (3) And of course a conservative blogger is quoted as writing, "There IS a war on Christmas, Christians and WASPs in general."

Hoo-boy. Let's unpack this, shall we?

(A) America is, obviously, not a "Christian nation." There have been many nations which were legally "Christian" in the sense that some form of Christianity was the official, established religion. All of Europe prior to the 20th Century, and a few -- like Britain -- today. We aren't one of them

(B) "Founded on Christian principles" is a little murkier. Reasonable people can disagree about this. But we can certainly say that the principles upon which the US was founded are not exclusively Christian: No taxation without representation; freedom of speech, press and worship. Christians may well approve of these principles, and (as is sometimes argued) the Founders may have derived them from their own understanding of Christianity. But of course, there have also been Christians who have historically opposed these things without lurching into theological heresy -- Roman Catholicism prior to the 20th century was at least suspicious of several. "Christian principles," properly so-called, are things like belief in the Resurrection and lordship of Christ, turning the other cheek, and praying without cessation. You can look them up -- they're in the Bible.

(C) "The War on Christmas" is an advertising slogan created by Fox News. (And, may we say, a brilliant one: it combines two things most viewers love. Make it the "Sexy War on Clinton-Bashing Christmas," and you'd have a home run.)

But with all that, said, we have the real underlying issue:

(D) Democrats, and liberals in general, don't have the slightest idea how to talk about Christianity in public. (That's why the Times, while reporting the facts, missed the real story). Traditional 70s-80s era Dems will approve a resolution recognizing Ramadan, but not one recognizing Christmas. Why? Because they have been conditioned over the past generation to avoid Christianity and its images for fear of mixing church and state, while at the same time paying token respect to other religious traditions for the sake of honoring diversity. And they just can't see the contradiction.

Look, guys -- we pay you to make laws, not pass idiotic resolutions regarding private religious observances. But if you're going to do it anyway (and you know you are), then you have an obligation to be even-handed about it. "Diversity" includes the majority. Just as your Muslim constituents appreciate a little support in their annual fast, so too your Christian ones appreciate a smile during their winter feast. This isn't rocket-science. It is good citizenship and, as luck would have it, good politics. Give it a shot.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Vicious Attack on Lutherans by Right-Wing Hatemonger

According to radio host and apparent imbecile Michael Savage, Al Gore's Nobel was awarded by the "socialist perverts in Norway," ninety percent of whom "are into child pornography and molestation."

Since 83% of Norwegians are Lutherans, it is obvious that Savage is slandering Lutherans here. There is no way to know for sure that he's trying to launch a war on Christianity, but consider the facts. Savage has already run afoul of the Roman Catholic Church for his slanderous assertion that it was routinely violating Federal law by providing pastoral care to immigrants. Now he starts in on Lutherans. Watch out, Presbyterians -- you're next.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

We're Back! (And Ralph Reed's a Putrid Reeking Relic)

Ralph Reed, one of the co-creators of the Religious Right, has had enough. Watching the Republican Party tear itself apart over the theological leanings of its candidates, Reed recently declared:

"We have been conducting doctrinal frisks and theological GI-tract exams of our candidates and we have to remember that these candidates are not running for president of the seminary and they’re not running for pastor in chief."

Apparently, Reed is a little confused. While traditional conservatives have always argued that you can't legislate morality, the Religious Right exists precisely because Reed, along with Jerry Falwell and their other friends, spent decades creating a base of voters who believe otherwise. Whether he likes it or not, he is responsible for instilling in a significant number of American voters the notion that candidates ought to be elected because they share, and will enforce as policy, the religious convictions of religious voters. The ideas that a foetus has a soul, or that condoms (much less injections that can prevent cervical cancer) should not be made available to sexually-active teenagers, do not derive from objective scientific research. They are by nature matters of faith.

What Reed may miss is that it is a very, very small step from demanding leaders who share your faith on these issues to demanding leaders who share your faith on other matters -- such as the Incarnation, the Trinity, or the Pope's role as Antichrist. Moral theology does not exist apart from doctrinal theology.

And, curiously enough, evolution proves to be the -- ahem -- missing link between them, at least in American politics. Reed's foot-soldiers have done a remarkable job of creating a world in which a widely-accepted scientific theory, confirmed by a significant amount of observational data, must be taught alongside a rival theory, supported not by observation but by philosophical logic (and, ultimately, Scripture). In other words, they have begun with local schoolboards and worked their way up, so that even otherwise sober candidates for high office must now publicly declare their skepticism about Darwin, if they have any hope of winning the Republican nomination.

You did this, Ralph. You and yours, in a cynical bid to obtain power by playing upon the prejudices of decent but unreflective people, have created a mass movement in which theological opinions are considered pari passu with opinions on taxation, military readiness, health care and education.

Congratulations. You must be very proud.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Ora Pro Nobis

The Egg will take a little break during November, so that we can share the joy and heartbreak of NaNoWriMo.

For the uninititiated, that's short for National Novel Writing Month. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans commit to writing a 50,000-word novel in the thirty days that November hath. There is no prize, apart from self-satisfaction and bragging rights. Nor is there any editorial standard, since nobody edits, or even reads, these novels apart from their authors. You just write the damn thing. And if you like, you can talk about it online with other people who are doing likewise. At he very least, you can post your daily word-count for all the world to see, if all the world happens to care about such things.

In other words, it's a big, non-judgmental community art project. While we ate the Egg generally don't approve of things that are non-judgmental, we are fans of art and community. Not to mention a little vain about our ability to write fast under pressure.

Click the link to learn more.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Cheney Lynches Innocent Black Man

Okay, that's completely not what happened. He didn't even shoot a friend in the face. But admit it -- for just a second, you thought he might have, didn't you? And here's why.

As the Daily News reports, Darth Veep went hunting again. It was a classic rich-guy hunt: a 15-car motorcade snarled traffic on rural roads. A fat man with a heart condition got out of his car and fired a few shotgun blasts in the general direction of some farm-raised birds trucked in for his convenience. No lawyers were injured, and everybody agreed to call it "sport."

(We at the Egg don't hunt, but we were raised in hunting country, and have a great affection for guys who spend all day tramping through the autumn woods, following the game trails or huddling under a duck blind, waiting for the right moment to strike. And we are proud to support anybody who culls the deer herd to make our highways safer. But we are deeply disturbed canned hunts that seem to be all the rage among hunters too physically decrepit to tramp or huddle.)

But we digress. The news, with which the Internets are all aflutter, is that the Veep's host was th Clove Valley Gun & Rod Club, in Union Vale NY -- where a Confederate flag is proudly displayed. Needless to say, Al Sharpton has already jumped in to remind us that this is "the flag of lynching, hate and murder." and "the epitome of an insult." True enough -- and the fauz pas is made worse by the fact that New York is experiencing a small upsurge in symbolic racism, what with nooses being left on black professor's door and so forth.

But there's more. The Star ' Bars is more than just a symbol of racism. It is a symbol of secession --of an effort by rich white landowners to undermine the United States in order to preserve their own privileges. Sound like anybody we know?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Rudy Lies

Well, that's not news. But this time we mean he lies about something besides "forsaking all others."

Per ABC News, the Nasty Man is running a radio spot in New Hampshire in which he claims that his odds of surviving prostate cancer in the American health-care system were 84 percent, and while in England they would have been 44 percent.

Wow! That English commie-symp socialized medicine sucks! Too bad Lady Thatcher couldn't have stayed in office a thousand years longer so that she could have done away with it.

Or at least that's what he is hoping we'll think. In fact, the five-year survival rate for Englishmen with prostate cancer is 74.4% and rising. Not as good as the the US, where we have more aggressive screening protocols, but still vastly better than Giuliani claims.

So he's lying. Well, technically, he's not lying. That would involve creative thinking. Giuliani is in fact quoting numbers bandied about by David Gratzer, a physician and conservative think-tank employee. Giuliani found them in an article by Gratzer with the coldly scientific title "The Ugly Truth About Canadian Health Care." When pressed by reporters, Gratzer cited a 2000 report by the Commonwealth Fund. When Giuliani was asked why he cited the bogus numberts, a staffer answered that "the campaign did not attempt to independently verify the statistics."

Ahhh. We get it. You can't say somebody is lying when they spread false information, as long as somebody else spread it first.

In other words, Giuliani isn't to blame. He was just relying on faulty intelligence reports.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Huckabee's Math ... Err, Myth

The signers of the Declaration of Independence were "brave people, most of whom, by the way, were clergymen." So said the Rev. Mike Huckabee, campaigning (on a Sunday) on Orlando.

Now, we like Mike. We really, really, like him. Of all the candidates thus far, he is the only one we'd want to sit down for the proverbial beer with. And it would have to be a proverbial beer, because as a good Southern Baptist (and diet nut), he probably doesn't drink the other kind.

But he's wrong on this. Of the 56 signers, one was a clergyman, and three were former clergymen. Math wasn't our best subject, just as it wasn't Mike's, but we're pretty sure that "most" of 56 woud require 29 or more, and 1<29. Maybe one of you Einsteins can check this for us.

Here's the point. The Huckster is probably repeating, without research or reflection, one of those myths about American history circulated by the Christianist head-cases. You know, the ones who pull off the Internet every instance in which a Founding Father used the words "God," "providence" or Heaven," and put them together on a page to "prove that America is a Christian nation."

This is bogus history. We at the Egg could go through the works of Lincoln pulling out words like "equality" and "society" and "wealth," to prove that Honest Abe was a Socialist. But nobody with even a modest grasp on reality would believe us.

As every schoolboy knows (except in states that buy the Christianist textbooks), the Founders had a wide range of beliefs and disbeliefs, covering the ground from traditional Calvinism, to Deism, to flagrant atheism (if we include Paine as a Founder). Close examination will actually reveal yet more diversity. Franklin, for example, treated religion respectfuly as a public good, but made no real secret of his skepticism regarding its truth-claims. Washington, in his time the most prominent American, attended the Episcopal church faithfully, but made a show of rising to leave before communion, publicly demonstrating his contempt for the sacrament. Hamilton, regarded in his time as a teligious conservative, was denied communion on his deathbed because he had never been baptized and didn't go to church.

In this regard, the Founders were like Americans today: independent, ornery, hard to lump into categories. The decades-old effort to recast them as faithful Christians founding a nation that reflected their common faith is a fool's errand. They did share a common faith -- in liberty, in justice, in democracy.

Wouldn't it be nice if present-day politicians shared that faith as well?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

We Told Them So

In the early years of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, one of the big arguments concerned ecumenical relationships. A small but vocal high-church group objected to full-communion relations with the Reformed churches. A much larger and far more vocal group, which eventually coalesced into the WordAlone Network, objected to full communion with the Episcopal Church.

Ecumenism was what we fought bitterly about just before we began fighting bitterly about gay people. The agreement with the Episcopalians was savagely contested, failed once by a few votes, and passed two years later. Curiously enough, once the whole thing blew over, WordAlone had to justify its continued existence, and started picking on the gays. Although they are reluctant to say so, that's their current raison d'etre. But they started out by pissing on the Anglicans (and some of them don't see much difference).

Anyhoo, one of the elements of the ELCA's agreement with PECUSA was that our bishops, and not pastors delegated by bishops, would ordain new pastors. But after signing on the dotted line, we reneged, and as a sop to WordAlone have given bishops the freedom to delegate ministers of ordination in situations of "special need." The idea was that seminarians with a strong theological objection to the rule could seek an exemption.

At the time, we pointed out that there was some foolishness here. First off, it was a blatant abrogation of our commitment to the Episcopalians. (They felt betrayed, and who can blame them?) Secondly, the Lutheran Confessions express a strong preference for the traditional church structures of the Middle Ages, endorsing exceptions only when the old structures are corrupted and no longer permit the Gospel to be proclaimed purely (as was indeed the case in Reformation Germany). So, despite the variety of ordination practices that Lutherans have historically used, there is one to which we have an a priori commitment. And when a prospective pastor seeks an exception to that practice, the burden is upon that prospective pastor to demonstrate that the usual practice would somehow restrain the Gospel.

In other words, you have to write a letter to your bishop saying "You are a heretic." And your bishop has to be sufficiently swayed by your logic as to permit an exception to the rule for the sake of the Gospel. That's our interpretation, anyway.

Needless to say, few such letters have been written. And yet, mirabile dictu, "special need" exemptions have been granted quite freely in some parts of the ELCA. How so?

Outgoing ELCA Secretary Lowell Almen shed some light on the matter earlier this month, with his valedictory presentation to the Confernce of Bishops. As reported, well after the fact, in an official press release, "Almen expressed concern about how a bylaw that provided for 'ordination in unusual circumstances' has been practiced, arguing that neither the bylaw requirements nor the related policy 'are being observed conscientiously.' He was especially critical of last-minute requests for exceptions after ordinations had been scheduled, saying 'that the whistle needs to be sounded loudly on that game of last-minute requests and written statements that do not meet the criteria listed in the policy.' "

Hmm. So apparently, there has been a loose (we really can't call it liberal) interpretation of the bylaw, according to which prospective pastors feel free to ask for exceptions to the church's ordination practice, and bishops feel free to grant it, pretty much for whatever reason they want. Almen's objection is that ordination is a "rite" belonging to the whole church -- meaning, we have decided upon certain forms by which it is to be done -- and not a "right" belonging to the individual bishops. A bit tortured and susceptible to misapprehension, but still well enough said to be worth remembering.

And our point? We told them so. When the ELCA bishops caved under pressure from WordAlone and the other pietistic whiners, we said that the new policy was a betrayal of both our ecumenical commitments and of our church's confession of faith. We also said that it set the bar for "unusual circumstances" very high, and that we doubted the bishops would have the intestinal fortitude to keep it there. After all, they want to be re-elected, and that is much easier when you appease your special interests.

Apparently, we were right. And Lowell Almen, virtually the only ranking official to have held his office throughout the ELCA's history, just told the bishops that they had become spineless wretches. Like a faithful church diplomat, he did it carefully, judiciously, so gently that the dimmer ones may not quite have heard what he was saying. But he said it.

We salute you, sir.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


That's what John Dornhauer and Sheldon Culver call it. We wish they had chosen another word, but we are still awfully glad that they wrote their book by that name, about which you can learn more by clicking the link.

Bottom line: A cluster of "renewal groups" have sprung up in mainline Protestantism these past 25 years, accusing their various denominations of straying from the path of orthodoxy and calling them to return to a theological orthodoxy that looks and sounds remarkably like Republicanism. They want you to believe it is a coincidence, but it isn't.

They're all funded by Richard Mellon Scaife, through the Institute for Religion and Democracy. Scaife foundation money has planted the seeds of the Presbyterian Layman, the WordAlone Network, and God knows hoiw many other mean-spirited purveyors of minority discontent. In other words, one cranky right-wing bazillionaire has created the schisms and discontent that have eaten away at Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, and Episcopal communitiers for decades, and essentially destroyed the ability of those bodies to speak with any unanimity on moral matters.

This is not really a secret. Recent writing about the "theocons" has touched on it.

But it isn't well-known, either, for the good reason that Scaife is a secretive, paranoid freak, and the IRD is a slick operation with competent PR people. Like the one who responded to the book by pointing out, correctly, that a "steeplejack" is the guy who repairs your damaged church building. Sigh. Quite true, which is why we wish the book had a better title. Maybe "Those Rich Bastards Stole Your Church."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Oh, @#$%, the Klingons Are Coming

But that's okay. Rudy's got a plan to protect Planet Earth from extraterrestrial terrorists.

That's what he told a New Hampshire boy, who asked about it recently. Apparently, this was the first time Giuliani had been questioned about his ability to save the world from intergalactic assault. His chuckle suggests either that he wasn't taking the question seriously, or that he's actually thought about it already ... a lot. Good for him.

For our money, Al Gore still has the best earth-protection plan.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Even Bush Thinks Texas Shouldn't Kill This Guy

The President is apparently getting soft. He thinks Texas shouldn't execute a foreign citizen for crimes committed on US soil.

Hmm. Could this have anything to do with Blackwater?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Priest Goes to Jail; Nation Rejoices

And this time, he's not a child molester.

But close enough. Argentinean Father Christian von Wernich was convicted by a court in La Plata on Tuesday, of crimes committed during the "Dirty War" of the 1970s and 80s. The crimes in question are especially disturbing, as reported in The Independent:

"He was found guilty, not only of being present at sessions of torture, but something more shocking. He would extract confessions from those detained, sometimes in the presence of police officers, and pass on the information – often including the names of fellow leftists – to interrogators. What should have been private conversations with God became intelligence that was used for more arrests, more torture and more killings."

I don't know what seminary this guy went to, but most of the rest of us take that whole "seal of the confessional" thing pretty seriously. Von Wernich sounds like a real peach, though -- click the link for a description of his cold hard eyes and supercilious sneer. (Or maybe I was just reading between the lines).

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Because Daimler/Chrysler Worked So Well ...

MIller and Coors are going to combine their brewing operations. So now instead of two thin, bitter, rice-based beers that give American brewing a bad name, there will be one thin, bitter, rice-based beer with two labels.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Mormons vs. Christians, Again

According to the AP, Gordon B. Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "defended" the Mormon faith Sunday, saying the beliefs and practices differ from every other church. Specifically, he said, "It is fundamentally different from every other body of religious doctrine of which I know."

Well, no argument there, Gordo. The rest of us have been saying that pretty much since Joseph Smith had his revelation. Your faith is fundamentally different from Christianity.

And yet somehow, in the strange reversible world of Mormonism, Hinkley's argument is intended to support the persistent Mormon claim that they are not fundamentally different -- that they are, somehow, part of the Christian Church.

It's a sort of tired argument, and there is a nice, short piece on it in this week's Christian Century by my seminary classmate Janna Riess, herself a Mormon. Sadly, the Century didn't post the article online. Cutting to the chase, Janna says (more or less) that "If by 'Christian' you mean believing that Jesus is the way to salvation, then we're Christian. If you mean believing that God is the Holy Trinity, then we're not."

This is pretty good, as far as it goes. It is certainly the core of what we traditional Christians have always used as our argument that Mormonism is in fact a different religion: that it offers a dramatically different vision of who God is.

She might have gone a bit further. For example, although there are disagreements among Christians over precisely which ancient texts constitute the rule and norm of faith, we are in universal agreement that the Book of Mormon is a modern forgery, and cannot conceivably be counted among the authentic Scriptures. Likewise, although there are certainly arguments among Christians about eschatology, we are in universal agreement (so far as I know) that Zion will not be rebuilt on the American continent. Neither of these is decisive, however; you can disagree about the canon and the end times and still be a Christian. But you really can't disagree about the Incarnation and the Trinity.

It all boils down to this: the Mormons say -- over and over, especially with one of their own running for president -- that that Christianity can be defined as they define it. The rest of Christianity says that it can't. This isn't an argument that can ever be won, except in the believer's heart.

But look. I can wake up one morning believing that I am a member of the Augusta National Golf Club. Okay, granted, membership is by invitation, and I wasn't invited. And granted, membership fees are a quarter-to-half of a million dollars, more money than I will earn in a lifetime of parish priesting. Still, I believe in my bones that I am a member, because I think the real membership rules -- the secret ones declared by Bobby Jones in 1933, and never written down -- said that all short guys with big mouths were automatically members.

Now, as long as I stay home, the caddies and waiters and so forth may not be able to prove that I'm wrong. But if I show up at the club, they aren't going to let me play, either.

Sigh. It's late at night, and I should probably avoid sports metaphors. But do you see what I'm getting at?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Atheists Pollute

According to a Wisconsin paper, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is sponsoring some anti-religious billboards.

They're actually kind of snappy looking -- faux stained-glass, reading "Beware of Dogma." Frankly, the message has some appeal even for religious people. As the Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson pointed out years ago, a lot of doctrine gets passed off as dogma. That is to say, a lot of religious groups (and religious leaders) want you to belive that their specific teachings are statements of ultimate truth according to a broad religious tradition. For example, the "dogma" of the Immaculate Conception is a local Roman doctrine, pretty much laughed off by every other Christian community in the world. Lutherans may be especially sensitive on this topic, since their Reformation was largely a technical argument about whether certain doctrines -- especially regarding penance -- could legitimately claim dogmatic standing.

So we would approve heartily of these antidogmatic billboards, if only we weren't so committed to the wonders of nature. When we drive, we like to see fields, and trees. Barns, maybe. The occasional stop sign or mile marker.

But FFRF spokeswoman Annie Laurie Gaylor says that they want "to place freethought billboards around the country, wherever an irreverent billboard is needed -- which is practically everywhere!" And we have to object, not because we oppose freethought, but because we oppose littering the roadside and polluting the viewshed.

As a wise man once said, "I think that I shall never see / a billboard lovely as a tree. /Indeed, unless the [FFRF] billboards fall / I may never see a tree at all."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

This Just In

Cribbed from The Australian:

Bishops of Norway's Lutheran church voted by a close majority to allow gay pastors, a church official told a press conference.

The Bishops Conference, a seven-man and four-woman panel of 11 Norwegian bishops, voted six to five for the measure, said their official representative, Olav Skjevesland. The panel is a consultative body.

Theological doctrine currently followed in the Norwegian church officially excludes people living in the a homosexual union from officiating at services.

Another Norwegian theological consultative body, the 20-member Laerenemnd, met in January 2006, but could not agree a course of action.

At least two openly gay men currently serve as ministers after they were hired by liberal bishops.

The question must now be defined at the Lutheran church's next general Synod, the highest decision-making representative body, which will meet from November 12-17.

It Sounds Prettier in French

Or at least less ugly.

The headline in le Monde reads: "George W. Bush s'oppose à une extension de l'assurance-santé à des millions d'enfants."

The gliding vowels, the nasal twang, the resistance to consonants -- we love the sound of the French language. Too bad the paper is reporting President Bush's opposition to health insurance for millions of children. Here's the lede:

"Average age: 7 or 8 years old. One has rarely seen so young a protest in front of the White House. The children came, Monday October 1, with toy wagons full of petitions for President Bush: Please! Sign the law!"

It's a good idea, health insurance. Saves lives -- in this case, the lives of poor children. Signing it would be "compassionate conservatism" at its best -- a cheap way to support families without, say, guaranteeing that Mom or Dad earn a decent wage. It would reduce ER admissions, thus taking stress off the health-care system that he's desperate not to overhaul. And the tens of millions spent on helping poor American children just might take attention away from the hundreds of billions wasted killing Iraqis.

Of course, Radio Flyers notwithstanding, he won't sign. And why? Because the other team likes it. Because Unca Dick would slap him upside the head if he signed. And above all, because he's the Decider, and he decided against this.

We Couldn't Agree More

"Today, a mega-yacht is indispensable," says Dutch financier Olivier Milliex. "It's not like 15 years ago, when a yacht was a luxury item."

Monday, October 01, 2007

Blackwater Comes Out Okay

We always knew thaey would.

The Pentagon's favorite mercenary army -- I'm sorry, consulting group -- got some bad press lately, what with shooting noncombatant civilians and all. For just a brief monent, it looked like somebody in the Army (the official one, that is) was going to re-think the policy of outsourcing military service.

That would have been bad for Blackwater and its shareholders; worse yet, there might have been a spillover effect that could have affected Halliburton -- and ITS shareholders. That would be a bad thing. After all, if Cheney's pockets started to empty out, he might decide to stay in public service a little longer, just to fill them back up.

But never fear. The Pentagon just issued a $92 million contract to a Blackwater affiliate, the aptly-named Presidential Airlines, to "supply specialized airplanes, crews and equipment for flight operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan."

Whew. What a relief. Looks like we're gonna make a profit off this war after all. (And by "we," I mean "they.")

Friday, September 28, 2007

Giuliani An Offensive Hypocrite

Okay, it isn't exactly news. But click the link for the most recent evidence. Here's a recap:

Thrice-divorced (and at least thrice-adulterous) Giuliani gets a lot of scrutiny from religious types. So in an interview with the Christian Boradcasting Network, he goes (surprise!) on the offensive. He protests that "there are a lot of people who are very judgmental," and says "I'm guided, very often, by 'judge not lest you be judged.'"

Okay, now, this is just weird. As New Yorkers know, Giuliani is the most judgmental human being on the face of the planet earth, saving only -- maybe -- a couple of extremist mullahs. This is the guy who tried to evict one of America's most prestigious art museums because he didn't like one of their paintings. His governing style was to war on everybody from the squeegee-wielding homeless guys to welfare mothers. His former politcal ally, and predecessor as mayor, wrote a book called simply "Giuliani: Nasty Man."

So, umm, at least he knows what he's talking about when he says that there are judgmental people in the world.

Giuliani then goes on to talk about his theological study in college, and how "it's an area I know really, really well academically." Hmn. We at the Egg have a pretty fair book-reading knowledge of military strategy, but doubt it would do us much good in a firefight. For that mater, we've read all the Jack Reacher novels, but they haven't made us taller, stronger or more cunning.

See, Rudy, the deal with theology -- and specifically with moral theology -- is that you can't just read about it. You have to live it. "Justification by faith" isn't about cheap grace, old pal. Or didn't they teach Bonhoeffer at your college?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

GOP Candidates to Black Americans: "Drop Dead."

All four leading Republican candidates had somewhere else to be, rather than take part in a forum on African-American issues hosted by PBS's Tavis Smiley.

This is despicable, of course. It is bad for the Republicans. It would be worse, of course, if they had any realistic chance of winning over any any black voters except Alan Keyes. Maybe. It would be a lot worse if they hadn't already worked out a gentelemen's agreement with Diebold, to make sure that no black votes get counted in 2008. Also no Muslim votes, no Hispanic votes except in Florida, no Jewish votes over 60, and no northeastern votes except the Romney clan.

Episcopalians Cave; Nigerians Spit in Their Face

Well, friends, we blew it.

The Egg predicted, with great solemnity, that neither side in the Anglican standoff would budge in regard to the Global South ultimatum, and that as September ended, the Anglican Commnunion would cease to exist.

We were so sure of ourselves! After all, we reasoned, for the Americans it was a matter of survival. They have so many gay priests and lay members, as well as so many priests and members committed to the full participation of gay people in the church, that if they were suddenly to change course, there would be an open revolt. At the same time, we reasoned, the Africans won't back down -- their bishops are suddenly leaders on the world scene, exercising power (both persuasive and judicatory) in the mighty United States. The rush must be awesome.

But got it wrong. The Americans caved, and agreed, at least for now, to cease ordaining gay bishops. (Tough news for the Diocese of Chicago). They also agreed not to authorize same-sex union ceremoines, although it is widely anticipated that unauthorized services will continue.

This was a tough call by the Episcopalians. The Presiding Bishop called the actions "sacrificial," and it must certainly feel that way. In order to preserve the unity of the Communion, they sacrificed some of their deeply-held and strongly-defended convictions. Some will argue that they sacrificed the commitments they had made to a generation of churchgoers.

So how do their sisters and brothers worldwide react? Well, there's no doubt a sigh of relief in Canterbury. And you might expect a series a politely-worded communiques from Africa, saying things like "we honor our beloved brothers and sisters in America for having the courage to make a difficult decision, and for having chosen unity." Or something like that.

But you'd be as wrong as we were, friends. Because Archbishop-elect Kwashi of Jos province, in Nigeria, not even ordained himself as yet, could not wait to hold a p[ress conference and declare that "The statement by the US Episcopal bishops should be taken with extreme caution."

How gentlemanly. Not to say how ... Christian.

The slap in the face extends beyond media grandstanding. Archbishop Akinola still intends to consecrate missionary bishops for America, despite the strong objection of Americans that this is an incursion into their territory. Kwashi defends this, saying, "We do not need anybody's permission to preach the gospel . . . When the missionaries came to Africa, they did not get our permission before they arrived. Today, we (Africans) only need visas to get to US, to preach God's word."

Spare us, your grace. Yes, we know that the history of missions is closely linked to the history of colonialism, and that you can play on the heartstrings of affronted Africans and guilty Western liberals alike by allunding to it. But the situations are radically different. There were no Anglicans in Nigeria when the missionaries arrived. And whether you like it or not -- whether in your heart you believe it or not -- there are Anglicans in America right now. So the African missionary bishops are doing something that the English ones did not do: attempting to usurp the dioceses of fellow-Anglicans.

Not bloody sporting, is it?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Iran is Paradise

... for the Republicans. You know why? They don't have any homosexuals there.

We know this because President Ahmadinejad said so in a speech at Columbia, provoking gales of laughter from cynical college students. And what made the laughter cynical? The fact that he said this in response to a question about the recent execution of two gay Iranians.

For more on how the Islamic Republic treats its nonexistent gay people -- including pictures of a torture victim -- cut and paste this link into your browser window:

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Anglican Communion: RIP?

It may be over at the end of the month. Click the link for a modestly-worded MSM description, or paste this link into your browser for a triumphalist shout from the Anglican right:

In this case, we think the triumphalists have probably got it, err, right. A formal schism has been coming for years, courtesy of the global south primates, led by Peter Akinola, a friend of freedom everywhere -- if by friend you mean "enemy." Rightly or wrongly (and we think wrongly), the PECUSA was given a deadline to formally abjure a set of convictions and practices to which it is clearly committed. The deadline will expire shortly, and there is no realistic hope of a change on either side of the table. Frankly, both parties have too much at stake.

An Episcopal Church that suddenly drew a hard line on gay issues would shrivel and die within months. People would leave in droves, an exodus compared to which the mild present schism would look irrelevant.

Meanwhile, the bishops of the developing world have simply never exercised the sort of power that this debate gives them. They are prominent as never before, their names in the news and their words attended closely by arrogant northern-hemishere types who never took them seriously.

Nobody will budge, and so, late next week, the worldwide Anglican Communion wil probably be a thing of the past.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Bush Gives Evil a Bad Name

That is a delightful rhetorical jibe in Carlin Romano's piece on the language that political leaders have come to use when talking about terrorism (Chronicle of Higher Education).

Romano's complaint is that "official rhetoric after terrorist acts has become ethically neutral, merely strategic in tone and content." He offers some interesting speculation as to why this might be the case, but mainly he's expressing his irritation. He'd like to see more remarks on the order of Sarkozy's famous reference to French rioters as "scum." He believes -- probably correctly, to judge from Sarkozy's subsequent electoral victory -- that people would like to see more "stern moral judgment" from their elected leaders.

Er, um ... maybe. Gay people in the US already get an awful lot of stern moral judgment from politicos, especially during election cycles, for the precise reason that this is the rhetoric that wins elections. But does that make it wise?

In fact, as more and more anti-gay politicians are forced out of the closet (Craig, Foley ... can Santorum be far behind?), their use of this rhetoric to claim a supposed moral high ground looks both hypocritical and desperate. In the same way, for American leaders to call their opponents "monsters" even as they adopt certain monstrous practices of their own might set them up for an ugly rhetorical comeuppance.

Let's put it very simply. We all know that OBL, AQM, the Taliban and so forth are monsters, by any rational definition. But unless our government is willing (and able) to guarantee that there will be no more secret prisons, Abu Ghraibs, Gitmos, Hadithas, Mahmudiyas -- not to mention Plamegates -- then they really shouldn't be too aggressive about moralistic finger-wagging.

More simply still: glass houses.

Can Anything Good Come Out of Hoover?

Normally, we at the Egg don't spend much time on the Hoover Institution website. Right-wing think tanks don't interest us much, and Hoover's "scholars" are a pretty contemptible crowd of partisan hacks, with few real scholarly attainments.

But we made an exception for Tod Lindberg's essay on the Beatitudes, excerpted from a forthcoming book on the political philosophy of Jesus. Parts of the essay are pointless (Is Jesus "predicting" or "promising"? Ask me why I care). Much of it is humdrum, at least to people who read the work of real Biblical scholars (which Lindberg is not, and does not pretend to be). But the conclusion is worth quoting, and I would except that the Hoover Institute's crummy website won't let me cut-and-paste.

So click the link. And don't tell 'em who sent you.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sex and Money and Crime

This one's got it all.

Ted Haggard, who may or may not be the most poorly closeted gay man since Liberace, wants you to send him money. Since no church would hire him, he's enrolled in a counseling program (not getting it, mind you, but learning to give) and "won't have adequate earning power for at least two years." No real surprise -- he was always one step away from televangelism. But let's unpack the story a little.

First off, the man is not exactly an impoverished grad student. He and his wife earned $338,000 since 2006. Pocket change to a hedge-fund manager, perhaps, but by the standards of the clergy, this is an almost incredible fortune.

Second, he will be "studying" at the the Univeristy of Phoenix, an on-line degree mill catering primarily to people with jobs, who can't make time for conventional classroom study. So there's no reason he couldn't hold work while he gets a degree. (I shelved library books in college, and proofread legal documents in seminary. If he asks, I'll tell him where to send a resume.)

Third, he wants you to send your momney directly to his family or, failing that, to a charity called Families With a Mission. This group shut down operqtions in Colorado a couple of years ago, but still functions in Hawaii. It is run by a sex offender named Paul Huberty, who during his time as an Air Force lieutenant colonel was convicted of "consensual sodomy, fondling his genitals in a public area, indecent acts and adultery," and has since been convicted in Hawaii of "attempted sexual assault," both per the Denver Post.

Yeah, I'm going to send this guy money. Wouldn't you?

Perhpas best of all is this: Huberty disclaims all knowledge of Haggard, or of any effort to raise cash for his studies. So how bad does Haggard have to be that even repeat sex offenders don't want to be associated with him?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Making Friends in Faraway Places

We love Wonkette. We really do. Something about mean-spirited, sometimes bawdy, political satire just grabs us by our cassock-buttons. And we love this post best of all:

"Nearly five years into the greatest American war ever, Army brass are finally admitting what nearly everyone else on Earth (including Dick Cheney) has known for so many years: Bombing the fuck out of a distant country for no actual reason and killing half a million of its people and scattering its armed military forces and destroying its entire infrastructure and executing its government and raping its children and elderly in torture chambers and forcing its educated and professional classes to flee to other countries is not, in fact, a surefire way to spread democracy in the Middle East."

Click the link for more.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

How Serious Are We About Energy?

America's slide into industrial irrelevance continues.

Indian researchers have discovered a way to create biofuel from sunflower oil without heating it up first. (They use a fungus which secretes an enzyme, which ... well, click the link to Wired for details). The end result is a new and more efficient process, which equals cheaper fuel.

This is great news for the world, tyrannical petroleum oligarchs excepted. Cheaper, cleaner fuel is a very good thing. But it may also be disquieting news for those with a deep investment in American self-sufficiency (or, let's face it, hegemony). After all, Indians, not Americans, will hold the patent rights -- once again making our energy supply dependent upon the goodwill of foreign nations.

In the posts following the Wired story, somebody suggests that "we need a new Manhattan Project" searching for renewable energy, and that this won't happen "while Big Oil" runs the government. The author of the original story links to a post about some promising steps in that direction -- a $500 million gift from British Petroleum to some univerities for research, and US Dept. of Energy commitment of $125 million over five years, to create a Joint BioEnergy Institute. Both of these are wonderful ideas, at least in principle. (And if we can assume pure motives for an oil-besotted government and, um, and oil company).

But come now. $625 million is about one-third of the government's $1.9 billion investment in the actual Manhattan Project -- and that's without adjustment for inflation. In constant 1996 dollars, the Manhattan Project cost about $21 billion. To show the kind of seriousness about energy independence that it once showed about killing Japanese civilians, the government would have to triple public/private partnership spending -- or increase its own spending by a little more than one thousand percent.

Oh, and about the $21 billion: Yes, that's a lot of money, compared to my parish budget. But it's only about ten weeks' worth of the Iraq war.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Wiley Coyote Prays for Death

Oh, my mistake. Apparently, it's the Rev. Wiley Drake praying for death. And not his own.

Drake, the Second VP of the Southern Baptist Convention, recently endorsed Mike Huckabee's campaign for President. On his congregation's letterhead, no less. Predictably, this led to questions from Americans United for Separation of Church and State. (Their name, btw, is a nuisance to type, but a marvel of clarity. As opposed to, say, Thrivent.)

Seems Wiley doesn't like it when people question his judgment, either political or pastoral. Or when they question his tax-exempt status, which is presumably the real issue here.

John Donne On Torture

Nice little bit from Harper's, with a link to a brief quotation from Donne's 1626 Easter sermon. Donne is sometimes dismissed as an apologist for Stuart absolutism, but as some scholars (including, ahem, myself) have argued that, on the contrary, he often employed his prodigious intellect and poet's wit to the task of subtly undermining all manner of received opinions.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Who Has Integrity?

On his Doonesbury page at Salon, Gary Trudeau compiles these remarks three presidential wannabees. As Big Bird used to say, Which of these things is not like the other?

"I missspoke."
-- Mitt Romney, on his earlier suggestion that his sons' work on his presidential campaign was comparable to serving in the military in Iraq

"I misspoke."
-- Rudy Guiliani, on his earlier claim to have spent as much time at Ground Zero as most of the workers

"I made a mistake. I screwed up."
-- Bill Richardson, on his earlier comment that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice rather than a biological characteristic

Friday, August 10, 2007

Megachurch Cancels Gay Janitor's Funeral

. . . 24 hours before it was scheduled to begin.

Click to read the gory details. Bottom line: big old church eager to hold funeral for its sexton. Then gets the willies cause he, um, liked willies. Cancels funeral, insults family. Dead guy's sister claims the pastor is lying about details; he probably is.

What went on behind the scenes? We'll never know. But it barely matters, because we all get the point. Christianists don't like gay people; they dislike 'em so much, they won't even bury 'em.

Giuliani Wants to Be a Fireman

... if he ever grows up.

Fearlessly burning his bridges, the former NYC mayor has outraged firefighters and other first responders by claiming to have spent as much time as any of them -- "or more"! -- at the World Trade Center site. Therefore, he says, "I'm one of you."

No matter which borough they come from, the firefighters respond with a traditional Bronx cheer : "I personally find that very, very insulting," says one; "He's not one of us. He never has been and he never will be," says another.

"Self-absorbed, arrogant and deluded," says a third.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

If You're Thinking About Voting For Rudy ...

Click the link for yet another take on why that might be a mistake, this one by Josh Johnson of the Rocky Mountain News. It's a decent rundown of what most New Yorkers already know about their former jefe. But, like many other websites lately, it offers a chilling quotation, in which Giuliani says that "freedom is the willlingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority."

Like most of the other sites that quote it, Johnson doesn't give much context. It was a 1994 speech on crime -- early in Rudy's tenure as mayor, long before 9/11. (The Times offers a meatier excerpt at : But there is a whole section that merits a look for anybody who wants to see how Giuliani's mind works:

"We constantly present the false impression that government can solve problems that government in America was designed not to solve. Families are significantly less important in the development of children today than they were 30 or 40 years ago. Religion has less influence than it did 30 or 40 years ago. Communities don't mean what they meant 30 or 40 years ago.

"As Americans, we're not sure we share values. We're sometimes even afraid to use the word values. We talk about teaching ethics in schools -- people say, "What ethics? Whose ethics? Maybe we can't." And they confuse that with teaching of religion. And we are afraid to reaffirm the basics upon which a lawful and a decent society are based. We're almost embarrassed by it.

"We look upon authority too often and focus over and over again, for 30 or 40 or 50 years, as if there is something wrong with authority. We see only the oppressive side of authority. Maybe it comes out of our history and our background. What we don't see is that freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do.

"[ Interruption by someone in the audience. ]

"You have free speech so I can be heard."

He goes on to say that government isn't the solution to the decay of society, stronger families are. Taken as a whole, the speech is a weird melange of conservative ideas. Each idea by itself might appeal to some part of the Republican tent, but I'm not sure that they work together very well. The emphasis on personal responsibility and the limitations of government squares poorly with the emphasis upon lawful authority, for example. Still, the ideas aren't bad or even wrong, so far as they do. But did you catch the kicker?

Make no mistake: Giulliani is an authoritarian bastard. There is a lot of trash-talk about NYC lately, at least in Sullivan's blog, calling in a "nanny state" under the present mayor. This is nonsense. it was Giuliani who erected steel barriers along the avenues so that pedestrians were no longer free to choose which intersection they used -- a stupid idea which Bloomberg quickly jettisoned. Throw in the Diallou shooting, the Louima torture and a series of excessive force cases in the NYPD, and it was obvious to most of us living there that New York wasn't a nanny state during "Giuliani time." It was a police state.

And he's also a narcissistic freak of nature. What else could explain the serial humiliation of serial wives?

These two lovely character traits -- authoritarianism and narcissism -- come together in a single lapidary remark, improvised in response to a heckler: "You have free speech so I can be heard."

And this guy is his party's front-runner? Yeesh.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Bishop Lustiger -- R.I.P.

Jean-Marie, Cardinal Lustiger, is dead. Click the link for a good obit in Le Monde.

A Pole raised in France, a Jew converted to Catholicism, the only Cardinal fluent in Yiddish -- Lustiger was quite a man. As the obit says, "Karol Wojtyla embodied the spiritual resistance to a society of atheistic Communism. Lustiger did it in a laicized French society, secular in the extreme. A powerful friendship was born."

Despite our admiration, we at the Egg have our doubts about John Paul II, and about his chosen prelates. We are partial to Jacques Gaillot, the former bishop of Evreux, whom Lustiger helped his Pope "exile" to the nominal see of Partenia. (Google him for a good time.)

One Lord, One Faith ... Err, Never Mind

Anglicans in Jamaica are updating their hymnal to include songs by the prominent Rastafarians Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. Rastafarianism, we should remind our readers, is not a form of Christianity. It is a different religion, in which marijuana is a sacrament and the late Emeperor Haile Selassie is the Messiah. In fact, the songs are being added "despite [the songwriters'] sometimes vocal opposition to Christianity," according to the AP.

But that's okay, explains church spokesman Ernie Banks. Tosh and Marley " ... may have been anti-church, but they were not anti-God or anti-religion."

We understand the Dalai Lama isn't anti-God, and is rather decidedly pro-religion. Shall we add a few of his choice lyrics? How about Cat Stevens (um, we mean Yusuf Islam)?

"Jihad" -- the Musical

Oh, this is going to be great. I'm not going to go see it, mind you. First, because it's playing in Britain and sencond because I'm a big chicken when it comes to be targeted for car bombs. But still, it's going to be great.

"It's almost heartwarming," one reviewer concluded.

Giuliani's Daughter Backs Obama

Rudy has "asked for privacy to deal with strained relationships in his family." No joke.

We at the Egg aren't going to violate the ex-mayor's filial privacy. But we are going to point out, yet again, that his "strained relationships" aren't just the usual sturm-und-drang of family life. This is a man who married his own cousin, then cheated on her and lied about knowing how they were related -- lied to his church, no less -- in order to end the marriage. Then he married somebody else, cheated on her, and publicly humiliated her by announcing their divorce to the media before he announced it to her or the kids.

He lies, he cheats, and he has no problem with humiliating even those closest to him. So no, we're not surprised that his one of his kids might prefer Obama (or for that matter Lucifer) for president.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Why Being a Christian Is Often Embarrassing

Sigh. Some minister in California is going to line his people up outside a mosque, hoping to convert Muslims as they come to and from their house of worship.

Some of you may seen nothing wrong with this picture. After all, it's a free country. The guy has a right to express himself. And as he says in the story (linked above), immigrants from the Middle Eastern tyrannies may not know that they have a choice in the matter.

True enough. But now imagine the shoe on the other foot. It's Sunday morning in Lahore, where you are working for a relief agency or oil company or some other international employer. Going to church in Pakistan is a little dangerous, because you never know when some sectarian violence will explode in your general direction. It would be safer and easier to stay home and read the Times online. But your faith matters, so you get dressed and take your chances.

And when you get to church, who is there to greet you but a crowd of Islamists, eager to save your soul? They mean well, to be sure, but they are awfully loud and forceful as they approach you, shouting and shoving literature into your hands, assuring you that your faith is "hopeless" and even "leads to eternal death."

How do you react? Angry, sure. And scared -- is there some unspoken threat here? Will your church be attacked when you enter it? Stranger things have happened, you know, in that violent foreign nation. It is very likely that you cleave more closely still to the church, as it is the only thing that makes you feel safe in this strange place. And you get ready to defend it, by any means necessary.

Well, that's exactly the situation that immigrant Muslims are in as they go to their mosque. And singling them out on the doorstep of their house of prayer isn't going to help. You may convert a few, but the rest will be convinced more filrmly that holding onto their faith is all-important. A small number may even feel threatened enough to buy into the Islamist agenda, as the only way to defend themselves and their religion against Christianist fanatics.

Why I Am A Christian

The Times of London headline says it all: "Hindu Man Chops Off Hand As Offering to Goddess." (Kali, to be sure).

Oh, we Christians have our little foibles -- the Crusades, the witch trials, the Bush Administration -- but at least our ritual sacrifice is determinedly unbloody.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Has Gonzales Stopped Beating His Wife?

Obviously, the Attorney General of the United States isn't a wife-beater. But he may be something worse.

A New Yorker piece by Jeffrey Toobin details the murder of Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Wales in Seattle, and the subsequent investigation -- which some of Wales' colleagues considered strangely inadequate, and which to this day has resulted in no arrests.

It then describes the firing of U.S. Attorney John McKay, who is part of a family so prominent in Republican circles that they are sometimes compared to the Kennedys. Despite his obvious partisan commitment, and despite pressure from within his party, McKay declined to prosecute any Democrats for fraud after the 2004 election. Apparently he didn't see sufficient evidence.

You might naturally assume that when McKay was fired, it was for this insistence that criminal prosecution be accompanied by evidence of crime. Call it an unwilingness to prostitute himself for the sake of "loyalty," which in the Rove Administration is a firing offfense, if not a capital one. (This seems to be the rule that kept Colin Powell in line).

Apparently, you'de be wrong. According to AG Gonzales' testimony before Congress, McKay wasn't sacked for lack of zeal in lynching Dems. He was sacked because he was too zealous in his advocacy of an information-sharing system among federal prosecutors -- an idea so obviously good that it has since been adopted despite McKay's support.

This would be typical Bush-era craziness -- good prosecutor fired for supporting good idea. Except that, also in typical Bush-era fashion, Gonzales is lying.

More than a year before McKay came out in favor of information-sharing, Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, had put his name in the infamous email to Harriet Miers. And why? Well, in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Sampson suggested that "McKay might have been fired because he had been too aggressive in his investigation of Tom Wales' murder."

That's right. We are living through an era in which a "good prosecutor" is one who goes after his masters' political enemies, but doesn't support programs that help his colleagues work effectively -- or show any interest in learning who killed one of his own team. And, by the way, up is down, war is peace, and Bush is in in charge.

As McKay says himself, "The idea that I was pushing too hard to investigate the murder of a federal prosecutor -- it's mind-numbing. If it's true, it's just immoral, and if it's false, then the idea that they would use the death of Tom Wales to cover up what they did is just unconscionable."

So that's the question for Gonzales: On your watch, has the conduct of the Department of Justice been immoral or has it been unconscionable? And, as a follow-up: Have you stopped beating your wife?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The End of America, Part 1

Click to read the story of Mark and Deborah Kuhn, a couple in West Asheville, North Carolina. I'll give a recap, but the story is ful of perfect little details that combine to show what America becoming.

Upset about the condition of the country, the Kuhns hung a big flag on their porch -- upside down, in the "distress" position. Later, they added President Bush's face and the words "Out Now." For this, a local sheriff's deputy intimidated them, broke into their home and beat Mark up -- all after they had taken the flag down. They have been arrested and charged with, among other things, desecrating a flag.

No word yet on whether deputy Brian Sorrell will be charged with assault, battery, unlawful entry, abuse of his authority, or a violation of the Kuhn family's basic civil rights. Now ord yet on whether the sheriff's department will suspend or terminate him for this outrageous misbehavior. And no word yet on whether the sheriff's department lost the flag they deny having confiscated as evidence, or are secretly desecrating it themselves for its inevitable court appearance.

The scariest part is that the original complaint to which the deputy responded appears to have been filed by some mysterious man in military fatigues, who has been driving by the house and taking pictures, and who during the arrest cheered the deputy on by shouting, "Go to jail, baby." I know, you're thinking "Neo-Nazi skinhead thugs." So was I, until I realized it wasn't the 1980s anymore. The guy had a federal license plate on his vehicle.

The only good news here is the neighbors. They woke up, watched what was happening; they have backed up the Kuhns' version of events. And they are angry. Shawn Brady says, “This is an outrage. The 1st, 4th and 5th Amendments were clearly broken today.” When they asked what was going on, the deputies told them it was none of their business; to which Tony Plichta responds, simply, "They are our neighbors."

These are dark times, people. And the only way we are going to get through them is by watching out for each other, and guarding our neighbors' rights.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Way to Evangelize, Bonehead

St. Fortunata, in East New York (Brooklyn, for the uninitiated), is a Roman parish with a significant Nigerian membership -- mostly Igbo. But according to the Times, a number of the Nigerians will be leaving for another parish. Leaving in a huff. And why?

Apparently, their priest preached too long one Sunday. Not too long for them, mind you -- they like and expect sermons that are much longer than most American Catholics are accustomed to. No real surprise there; lots of people do. Baptists, for example, and especially (but not exclusively) the black ones. The great Renaissance homilists often went ninety minutes or more, as (apparently) did some of the Church Fathers. Anyway, this guy is reported by the Times (click link above for details) to have run a half hour.

Oooh. Half an hour! Call out the guard dogs.

Which is apparently what the pastor of the parish, Vincent Miceli, did when he stood up after the sermon and and said, "Thank you, Father. In the future, please limit your preaching to twenty to twenty-five minutes."

As we used to say at summer camp: Oh, snap! The crowd went wild. The African majority was offended, and registered its offense; while the non-African minority reghistered its support for Miceli by clapping. Instant schism, which will become official at the end of the month when the Nigerians begin to worship elsewhere.

We have to give Miceli credit. This was a display of virtuoso indelicacy. He wasn't just rude to a brother priest -- he was rude in public. In front of laypeople. Better yet, he was rude to a brother priest in front of laypeople who had liked the guy's sermon -- and probably been refreshed by the familiar African-ness of it. But that's not the best part. The best part is that he took it upon himself to be rude in public in the middle of Mass.

In the Times article, Miceli seems unrepentant -- he blames the Nigerians for not working harder to assimilate. There is no doubt some truth to that; but it has been our observation at the Egg that immigrants are much more willing to respect your customs when you don't publicly insult theirs.

Friday, July 20, 2007

"The Bombing Begins in Five Minutes"

When Reagan said that, he was making a joke. A callous, thoughtless joke about the incineration of millions of Soviet civilians with nuclear weapons.

But scary as that was, I am far more frightened today. Because today, ladies and gentlemen, Dick Cheney is the President of the United States.

(Okay, tomorrow. I'm writing late on Friday night, so let's just pretend it's Saturday).

The more-or-less elected President is going to be knocked unconscious and have a camera stuck up his butt. This is an image I would normally cherish, except for the fact that, under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, it makes Dick Cheney the acting president.

First, stop to think about the irony. Cheney has the official reins of power because of a late addition to a document which he has used his apparently vast unofficial power to undermine.

Now, think about the damage this crazy man could do in one day of ultimate power. "Callous" and "thoughtless" don't even begin to describe Cheney's evil. Hell, I'm not even sure "incineration of millions" hits a sufficiently frightening note. A man who considers himself above the law, above the Constitution, answerable neither to the President nor the Congress (nor, so far as there is any evidence, to God), now commands the armed forces. The man who lied and cheated to start an unneccessary war that would line his own pockets, and who may well have committed treason (in the Plame case) to make sure that war started on time; a man who has called the continued practice of torture by American troops "a no-brainer" -- this man now holds the nuclear codes.

I'm terrified.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Republicans Report Reid "Rude"

According to Drudge, Arlen Specter complains that Harry Reid is "rude," and other Senate Republicans complain that relations in the upper chamber have reached "a new low."

Are they lower, one wonders, than the time the Vice-President told one of his Legislative Branch ciolleagues to "f*ck off" on the Senate floor? Or during the Clinton impeachment?

"A Rumi of One's Own"

That's the title of a provocative essay by Rachel Aviv, at the Poetry Foundation website.

She takes issue with the popular Coleman Barks translation -- or, really, paraphrase -- of the medieval Sufi poet. Barks is a good poet, but he doesn't read Persian, which means he was working from older English versions (and in at least one instance, copying their mistakes). More seriously, he seems to remove "God" from some poems and replace it with "love."

This is, to put it mildly, a discourtesy toward the author. Nor does it do the reader any favors. God may very well BE love -- such is the contention of St. John -- but that does not mean that a sophisticated writer can be presumed to use the words interchageably. It's a bit like going through the Narnia books and putting in "love" each time Lewis wrote "Aslan" -- there is logic to it, but you make a hash of the story.

The responses on the page are thoughtful, and worth reading. Here's my own:

I'm a little sad, but not surprised.

Sad, because I am so fond of Barks' version of Rumi -- as I will continue to be, despite knowing that he didn't translate from the originals, and that he took significant liberties with the author's religious commitments.

But not surprised, because this sort of thing happens so often. Robert Bly's paraphrases of Kabir are useful for comparison -- like Barks, they are good English poetry. But they aren't especially good Kabir. (As opposed to the Linda Hess/Shukdev Singh renderings).

Among Christian writers, a little of this has gone on with Hildegard of Bingen, but less egregiously so. I suppose it is harder to bowdlerize the religiosity of one's own parent culture -- or at least to get away with it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bloomberg Doth Bestride the World Like a Colossus?

Sue Casey, at Huffington Post, states bluntly that if NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg enters the presidential race, he will win. No ifs, ands, or butts. (In-joke about his antismoking campaign. Get it?)

She doesn't have much of a case -- he's rich, he's independent, he's pragmatic. Um, okay. We're not sure these outweigh the mayor's own ironic self-assessment: "A short Jewish billionaire from New York? Come on!" Still, we at the Egg would be more than happy to believe Casey is right. Bloomberg is our mayor, and a damned good one. Apparently, "President Wesley Clark" is simply not going to happen, so we'll take Bloomie.

What's a bit odd to us is that Sue Casey (whose bio mentions that she "cut her teeth on New Hampshire primary politics") seems distressed by the possibility that an independent might run and win, because this means "the primary season could come and go and not matter one whit," and that Bloomie could be elected "without ever having to worry about such an old fashioned notions as party primaries."

Let's be frank, Sue. That's a good thing.

Why? Well, it's not as though party primaries are required by the Constitution. Far from it; "faction" -- by which they meant political partisanship -- was something the Founders earnestly, if naively, hoped to avoid in their nascent Republic. Nor are primaries proving to be an especially distinguished way of choosing candidates. Competition among states to feel important has led to a perversely early primary season, meaning in turn that we have to endure a long, pointless, and expensive campaign. The GOP's winner-take-all system means that the dissenting votes in larger states (Republicans in New York, Democrats in Texas) are effectively worthless, and the candidates are effectively chosen by swing states -- call this the "Electoral College fallacy."

Honestly, a candidate who can take some of the king-making power-madness out of New Hampshire, Iowa and their slew of wannabees will be doing the nation a favor. And if the same candidate is beholden to neither party machinery nor the wishes of big-time corporate donors, so much the better. If, unlike any of the announced candidates (including Giuliani!) the candidate has a solid track record of effective management in one of the most complex and challenging environments imaginable, all done without the usual political game of playing interest groups off against eah other -- well then, by gum, I think we might have a winner.

If I Were President Bush ...

... I'd be taller, wealthier and more aerobically fit than is in fact the case.

And if I learned that my trusted Vice President had been disobeying my direct orders, and pressuring me into unwise policy decisions by bureaucratic end-runs around my cabinet and staff, all leading to a series of bad judgments that imeriled both national security today and my legacy tomorrow -- well, I'd sit him down for a heart-to-heart.

And it would go like this:

"Dick, from now on you follow my orders. Dismissed."

Of course, I would also be smart enough to know he wasn't going to listen, and that -- feeling cut out of the loop -- he would be more dangerous than ever, both to America and to me personally. Because of that pesky Constitution, I can't fire the guy -- and yes, there's some irony in the fact that Cheney's job is protected by a document for which he has such evident disregard. So I'd take some steps to neutralize him. Which wouldn't really be that hard. First, I'd take away most of the funding for his office, staff, and cartoon-sized document safes. Second, I'd fire David Addington and any other Cheney hardliners. (What do you mean, "Can I do that?" I'm the freaking President.) Third, I'd make it clear that the Veep's job description now had two parts: (a) the Constitutinonal, which is to sit on his fat rump and wait for me to die; and (b) traditional, which is to attend funerals for foreign dignitaries. And that's all. (Okay, that's harsh. Maybe an occasional ribbon-cutting ceremony on a new stretch of interstate.)

I would take for granted, however, that even stripped of his staff, budget and official duties, Cheney would continue to undermine my authority and weaken America's long-term interests. And at the first sign that he was doing so, I would go to Plan B.

See, the President can't fire the Vice-President, but somebody else can. So I would quietly make it known on Capitol Hill, through low-level intermediaries at first, that the White House would offer no significant objection to impeachment proceedings. I'd start by talking to the moderate Republicans who were once supposed to be my core constituency, and have felt abandoned as my administration has swung rightward. They could parley with the Dems, while I sent some higher-level messengers to build enthusiasm on the right. It would take a while to build momentum, but not -- in a Democratic Congress -- all that long.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Our Sock-Puppet President

As the WaPo's Cheney blog continues, so does the shocked reaction in the blogosphere. Click the link for an especially good reflection on just how the Veep's machinations have undermined his colleagues in the Executive Branch (if that's really where he works) and how they have required Condi and Colin to accept indignities over which lesser public figures would have resigned in protest a thousand times over.

My favorite bit, though, is not in the blog post, but in a comment by somebody called "Ugh." I'm stealing it:

"I will just note that this series makes Bush look like a buffoon (not that that wasn't obvious before), is someone going to bring it up at the White House briefings (I would assume that happened today) or at his next press conference (assuming he ever holds another one).

" 'Mr. President, How does it feel to be the first figurehead President in United States history?'

" 'Mr. President, Should we just start adressing you as 'Mr. Sock-Puppet' from now on?' "

Monday, June 25, 2007

Coming Soon: "Cheney" by Gore Vidal?

Until Cheney followed in his footsteps, Aaron Burr was the last US Vice President to shoot a man. Perhaps not coincidentally, Burr was also the last Veep to be tried for treason against his country. It may be time for Cheney to follow in those footsteps, as well.

Mr. Cheney (click above for a series of Times articles) has shown a continuing contempt for the law, whether domestic or international, up to and now including the United States Constitution. Over the years, we have assumed that his agenda -- war, oil, profiteering in both; secrecy, torture, leaking the names of covert operatives -- simply reflected the priorities of the Bush Administration.

But now we're beginning to wonder.

New assessments and revelations depict a Vice President whose office pursues its own policy goals independtly of, and sometimes at cross-purposes with, the President. (See A WaPo think piece here: This has been thrown into sharp relief by the VP's claim that he is not a part of the Executive Branch, and therefore not subject to an Executive Order which would require him to turn certain documents over to the national archives. That's right: Cheney doesn't think Bush is sufficiently secretive or unaccountable. So he's disobeying a direct order from the President, and concocting a novel (and ludicrous) legal justification for doing so.

No doubt coached by his legal Rasputin, David Addington, Cheney claims that the Vice-President, as president pro tem of the Senate, is part of the Legislative Branch. He had previously argued, of course, that as part of the Executive he was not required to respond to Congressional inquiries regarding the lobbyists who helped him make energy policy. So to whom does Cheney think he is accountable -- and by whom does he imagine that his treasonous and illegal pursuit of personal power can be checked or balanced?

The answer, of course, is Nobody.

There was a time when we considered impeaching Bush to be a reasonable course of action. But no longer. Horrible as it is to contemplate, Bush is the only thing protecting America -- and the world -- from the madness of Dick Cheney.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

So ... Rushdie is Lady Macbeth?

He is now Sir Salman Rushdie, and the Muslim world is -- once more -- afire with indignation.

Along with th predictable calls for his death ("If someone exploded a bomb on his body he would be right to do so," according to a Pakistani official) and insults to Queen Elizabeth ("the old Engish crone," according to a newspaper), there is also a curious remark by Lord Ahmed, the first Muslim peer.

"I was appalled to hear Salman Rushdie had been given a knighthood," Lord Ahmed is quoted as having said. "...This man not only provoked violence around the world because of his writings, but there were many people who were killed around the world. Forgiving and forgetting is one thing, but honouring the man who has blood on his hands, sort of, because of what he did, I think is going a bit too far."

Oh spare me, milawd. The guy writes novels. And, because of the astonishing inability of the Muslim world to grasp concepts like freedom of expression, his novel-writing has inadvertently made him an international symbol of a core Western value.

Blood on his hands? No. Zarqawi and bin Laden and Arafat have blood on their hands. Bush and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz have blood on their hands. The people who blow up commuter trains and bus stations have blood on their hands, as do the people who look the other way while their subordinates commit war crimes. There is plenty of blood on plenty of hands these days. But not on Rushdie's.

The guy writes novels. Stories. He makes stuff up. He doesn't make policy. He doesn't command a militia. Nobody is forced to read Rushdie's little flirtations with blasphemy, any more than they are forced to consume the gory muck of mid-career Stephen King or the brand-name sadomasochism of Ian Fleming. At least for those of us who have finished high school English classes, the rule is simple: If you don't like a book, you don't have to read it. If it insults you, don't buy it. If you think it is really, really offensive, you might organize a boycott. Or better yet, write and sell a better book.

But let's face the facts, Lord Ahmed (and all the rest of you thin-skinned Sons of the Prophet). The poets and strorytellers aren't the ones with blood on their hands. The murderers are.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Spreading the . . . Love?

Isaiah Thomas is an actor. Generally, we at the Egg shy away from celebritainment stories, because they fall outside our "sex-religion-politics" catchment area. But we couldn't pass this up.

Mr. Thomas was fired from his job on a doctor show recently, after repeatedly using the word "faggot" to mean something other than a bundle of sticks. So we are amused, in a kind of sick-stomach way, when People magazine asks Mr. Thomas if there are any widespread misconceptions about him, and he says:

"I don't know. Maybe for 50 years and the history of media and television I represent something that's supposed to not exist. ... This happened to Malcolm X, this happened to Paul Robeson – this misconception can happen to any man of power that loves himself and wants to spread that love and that humanity throughout the world."

Yeah. You're just like Paul Robeson. If instead of a master entertainer and passionate advocate for civil rights and justice for the oppressed, Paul Robeson had been a second-string TV actor who dissed gay people.

Friday, June 15, 2007

What You Mean "We," White Man?

That's the punchline to one of my three favorite jokes. Thank you, Lenny Bruce.

I think of it because I just read an article in the Seattle "Spokesman-Review" that begins:

"Although it's not the regular vestment for Lutheran clergy, Bishop Martin Wells often wears a clerical collar. The collar – often worn by Catholic and Episcopal priests – makes the church more public wherever he goes, said the leader of the Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. These days, the clerical collar has become a way for Wells to show solidarity for Catholic priests, as well as other members of the Roman Catholic Church."

The rest of the story is about some Papist sex scandals. And while we at the Egg are touched by Bishop Wells' desire to show solidarity for the Seattle diocese, we're a bit stumped by that opening line. Clerical collars aren't a "regular" part of a Lutheran pastor's clothing? Says who?

In fact, distinctive clerical attire -- the collar and its various predecessor garments -- have always been customary among Lutherans, excepting only those regions affected by Pietist anticlericalism. Granted, that's a lot of regions, but still. Here in New York, our synod assemblies look like penguin conventions. And you can look through the old Confirmation Class photos in any parish archives, often dating back to the beginning of photography, to see the penguins of prior generations. (Oh, and our bishop wears the traditional purple, which is really a sort of red).

As I say, these things are regional. But i wonder if the Spokesman-Review did much homework for this story, because it certainly doesn't seem to know much about the subject. "Vestments," for example, are properly speaking liturgical garb, not street clothing such as a cassock or collar. And at least in Scandinanvia and Metro New York, the penguins rule.

Hilary Takes Texas

Well, not takes, exactly. A poll suggests that, if the vote were today, Senator Clinton would tie either Senator McCain or Imperator Giuliani . . . in Texas. (Obama doesn't do quite as well).

Andrew Sullivan muses, "I wonder if the Republicans know what is about to hit them." Fair question. After all, as red states go, Texas is pretty damn red. On the other hand, it is (or was) the home of Ann Richards, Molly Ivins, Kinky Friedman and LBJ. So there is a tradition of homegrown Democratic -- even progressive -- sympathy down there.

But there are a couple of considerations. First, let's remember that Clinton isn't really all that progressive, at least not by the standards of Democratic hardliners. She's a smidge to the left of her husband, who basically ended welfare. She lacks his personal magnetism, but like him, she is a committed pragmatist and policy wonk. These are good things, both for running and for governing; but they also put the kibosh on any idea of a sudden liberal upswell in the Lone Star State.

Second, let's be clear about what is driving the poll results. According to The USA Today, "In the poll, nearly two-thirds of Texans said the country was on the wrong track. Four in 10 called the Iraq war the nation's most important problem. One in 10 cited immigration."

In other words, Texans want a solution to the Iraq disaster. They want it four times as badly as they want a new immigration policy. And despite the fact that Obama was out front in his opposition to the invasion, Texans seem to believe that Clinton is the one best able to deliver the goods.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

American "Justice"

Henry King, Jr. prosecuted Nazis at Nuremberg. You remember Nazis -- genocidal fascists who tried to take over the world. So this is a man who knows from fighting against monsters.

And he says the Bush Amdinistration's military tribunals are a betrayal of American justice.

According to Reuters, King recently said, "The concept of a fair trial is part of our tradition, our heritage. That's what made Nuremberg so immortal -- fairness, a presumption of innocence, adequate defense counsel, opportunities to see the documents that they're being tried with." He was "incredulous that the Guantanamo rules left open the possibility of using evidence obtained through coercion."

"To torture people and then you can bring evidence you obtained into court? Hearsay evidence is allowed? Some evidence is available to the prosecution and not to the defendants? This is a type of 'justice' that [Robert jackson, the architect of Nuremberhg trials] didn't dream of," King said.

So, how do you think the Bush Administration will handle this guy? Will they call him "increasingly irrelevant," the way they did Carter? Or will they snicker that his vision of justice is "quaint," their preferred word for the Geneva Conventions? I guess the details don't matter; we know they aren't going to listen. They are going to continue trashing the ideals and virtues that made our country great, and by doing so fritter away what little is left of our moral authority in the international arena.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

While We're Doing Litmus Tests ...

... let's make a game out of it, shall we? Bishop Tobin says he can't suport a pro-choice candidate, whose position is a "defection" from Roman Catholic teaching.

So let's ask ourselves: For whom should a party-line Romanist vote in 2008? That is, if they want a candidate whose life and policies will both reflect the Church's values and teachings? (Click the link to compare their positions.)

Let's establish some basic criteria. Rome is loudly and publicly opposed to both abortion and capital punishment, so the winning candidate must also oppose both. That eliminates most Democrats on one count, and most Republicans on the other. (To his credit, Sam Brownback admits to being "conflicted" about the death penalty, but he nonethless supports its use in some cases. See Bishop Tobin's comments, below, regarding Pilate). At this point, Ron Paul may be the last man standing.

Rome supports the Ten Commandments, including the prohibition against adultery, which it interprets as also prohibiting remarriage. This knocks out McCain, Giuliani (repeatedly), Gingrich and Delay. Probably a bunch more, too.

But Rome also favors the just-war theory, which specifically prohibits pre-emptive warfare; and in fact, John Paul II publicly denounced the Iraq invasion as immoral. So the winning candidate must have, at a minimum, failed to support the 2003 attack. (Ideally, he or she will have publicly opposed it, as did the Pope and millions of protesters all over the world). This eliminates most Republicans, as well as Clinton and Edwards.

Now, those are the most readily-defined issues. And they already leave us without one clear candidate for our sisters and brothers of the Roman persuasion. But if we take into account the Roman Catholic social teachings on justice for the poor, and especially immigration, things get even murkier. We need a candidate who is either faithful in marriage or celibate in singleness; who opposed Iraq and votes against capital punishment; with a track record of support for programs that aid the poor and protect the rights of immigrants. (This is where Ron Paul hits the theological skids. Up to here, Nancy Pelosi would be ideal; sadly, of course, she is a defector on the question of abortion.)

Well, readers, good luck to you all, as you enter play the Candidate Game. And good luck to Bishop Tobin, as he searches for a candidate. Please write if you find the Magic Contestant. And if, by election day 2008, you still haven't found one, then let me propose something else: not using religious doctrine as a litmus test for electoral poitics.