Saturday, August 23, 2008

Lutheran Church Grows

No, not the ELCA, silly.  It's down by the usual percentage since last year.

But Redeemer Lutheran, of Salina, Kansas, has just completed a building program that will double its seating capacity.  It took seven years, and cost a million dollars, but they have done it. And why, you ask?  

For the visitors.

Apparently, the old building was plenty big for the congregation.  But visitors felt cramped.

For the record, Father A. once assisted at a parish which was in desperate need of increased capacity.  He watched, and tried to help, as the senior pastor presented idea after idea to a recalcitrant council, only to have each shot down, usually because of money.  Also for the record, this parish was about twenty times the size of Redeemer, Salina.

We will say no more on the subject, except to tell Pastor Kevin Kline that (a) he was excellent in A Fish Called Wanda, and (b) he is very lucky to have a congregation with such warm-hearted, visionary people in it.  As they are no doubt lucky to have him.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Most Tasteless Catholic One-Liner of the Week

"St. Bartholomew:  Flay, Pray and Obey."

From the website of Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, which looks like it will be fun  when we have time.

And a happy St. Bartholomew's Day to our friends who may celebrate it come Sunday.  

Those preparing sermons may be entertained to note that August 24 has been a day decorated by vast quantities of human blood.  It marks, naturally enough, the start of the eponymous 1572 massacre, in which Catholics all over France served their Lord -- temporal, if not spiritual -- by killing Calvinists.  But it was also the day upon which Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, burying the inhabitants of Pompeii and Herculanaeum alive in volcanic ash; upon which Alaric and his Visigoths began to sack Rome in 410; and upon which the good people of Mainz, in 1349, killed 6000 Jews whom they blamed for the Plague.  And in 1460, at least according to some records, Vlad "Dracula" Tepes killed 30,000 people, many of them "cut up like cabbage," the rest impaled.)

Compared to this, one guy skinned alive isn't really so bad.  Even if he is holding his own skin.  And even if he does look like Michelangelo.

If MCain Picks Romney ...

Sullivan asks:  How many mansions would that be altogether?

Animal Farm

The British, never fond of children, have lost all knowledge or intuition about how to raise them; as a consequence, they now fear them, perhaps the most terrible augury possible for a society.

UNICEF says that Britain is the worst place in the Western world in which to be a child. City Journal's Theodore Dalrymple gives some vivid examples. His essay is sobering. We would, however, find it more convincing if his imperative -- blame the liberals! -- were less of a cliche.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Return of "And With Thy Spirit"

Well, almost.

Th US Conference of Catholic Bishops has released its new official English translation of the Mass.  Although it won't become normative in parishes immediately, it has some interesting quirks.  

For example, the salutation before the Collect, "The Lord be with you," is no longer answered by the colloquial "and also with you," but by the more literal "and with your spirit."  (This, by the way, is sometimes held to have theological content, as it is a reference to the Holy Spirit called down upon the priest in ordination -- so that the greeting is traditionally not exchanged by laypeople, and the "s" is often capitalized).

One wonders what effect this will have upon US Christians who use a traditional liturgy, but are not in communion with Rome.  For thirty-some years, Lutherans, Anglicans and Roman Catholics have shared a great deal of liturgical scholarship and development.  Our scholars attend the same conferences, are handled by the same publishers (and may God bless those fine monks in Collegeville), and have very largely been heading the same way.  

But it isn't at all clear that this is still the case. The two major US Lutheran bodies have recently issued new service books, remarkable principally for musical variety rather than liturgical development.  But there are developments, and they do not track with those of the USCCB's new translation. 

For example, the ELCA's Evangelical Lutheran Worship takes a decidedly permissive approach to the language of Scripture, most noticeably in its wretched psalter, which turns many of the Psalmist's references to God from he to you.  The USCCB Mass is an intentional step toward textual literalism, not only in the salutation but more noticeably in the Prayer of Humble Access, which now more nearly (although still liberally) quotes Matthew 8:8.  ELW has included many new musical settings of the Eucharistic acclamation -- "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again" -- which is omitted from the USCCB Mass.

Roman Catholics, of course, have a comparatively brief experience of worship in English.  Most of the Anglophone world has, inevitably, taken its lead from Cranmer and his descendants -- although by no means slavishly so.  (The US Lutherans who sought to create an English-language service which reflected their Reformation traditions were scrupulous about translating latin and German texts de novo -- and yet their 1888 Common Service bears an undeniable resemblance to the 1549 BCP).  After Vatican II, Roman Catholics adopted the same sorta-Jacobean language that their compeers had always used, until we all began using colloquial English in the 1970s.  And, while they are not returning to thee and thou, they are clearly retreating from colloquialism.  

So -- after a generation or two of travel together, have we reached a fork in the road, where we pat one another on the back, talk about what a fine time we've had, and promise to keep in touch?  Possibly so.  Or perhaps, if we simply continue on the road, we will meet up again just over the next hill.

Has it Come to This?

Father Anonymous first saw the LL Bean catalogue many, many moons ago.  In those days, it featured black-and-white photographs of grizzled old guys wearing waders.  Most of the stuff was made in Maine, and prices included shipping.

Needless to say, it is a very different thing today:  the models are young and good-looking, the pictures are Photoshopped to perfection, and items with names like "Katahdin Iron Works Pants" are made in an Asian sweatshop.

Okay.  The world has changed.  Fewer Americans hunt, for example -- a problem when your signature product is the Maine Hunting Shoe.  So we at the Egg recognize that the good people at Bean's have had to make some changes, as they sell to an ever-more-suburban crowd.  But still, can it be this bad? 

The LL Bean Men's Clothing catalogue came in the mail this morning.  As a little bonus, the editors have included, on sidebars, some useful tips for guys who may not be as outdoorsy as they would like to be.  Want to tie a trucker's hitch?  Instructions on page 13. Predict the weather, based on clouds and dew?   page 39.  Stay alert on a long drive, presumably to your hunting camp?  29 (but you could probably already knew about this "coffee" stuff).  Skip a stone in the water?  58.

Yes, people, you read that correctly.  Instructions for how to skip a stone.

Somewhere in heaven, those grizzled old guys are sitting around a pot-bellied stove and laughing at all of us.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"Dappled Photos"

A treat for the true chancel-prancer:  An entire blog devoted to photographs of traditional Roman Catholic ceremonial vesture.

For those educated in more practical thing like math and science, we note that the site name is an offhand reference to Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose middle name has always struck us as a mistake.  Had his work been included in the Vassar English curriculum circa 1982, we would have been History majors.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

NOT Swift-Boating McCain

Below, we talked a bit about a crazy, mean and paranoid critique of John McCain, based in part upon his military career.  Bad stuff, you'll agree.

But click the link for reasonable, friendly and balanced version of the same thing.  It's an online essay by Philip Butler, who lived across the hall from McCain at Annapolis, and was a POW for considerably longer than McCain.

Butler says many things that are worth remembering, such as: John McCain served his time as a POW with great courage, loyalty and tenacity.  But he also reminds us that this is no special qualification for being President of the United States.  (We remind our readers that when General Clark said the same thing, he was nearly torn to shreds.  That doesn't make him wrong.)  And he reminds us of the sad truth that former POWs were malnourished and abused for years on end, which as they age has meant that they have begun dying earlier than the general population.

But finally, Butler makes one point about McCain which is well known, and critically important to an evaluation of his C-in-C potential, but which nonetheless is not mentioned much these days:   

I can verify that John has an infamous reputation for being a hot head. He has a quick and explosive temper that many have experienced first hand. Folks, quite honestly that is not the finger I want next to that red button.

None of this is the sort of slanderous half-truth that the crazies deal in.  It is a sober assessment by a peer, based in part upon personal experience.  And it is worth taking seriously.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Finns Aren't Europeans. Almost.


A reader notes that the Egg has displayed an unusual interest in Finns of late.  We call it casting off the yoke of oppression.  Let the reindeer soar!

Anyhoo, pictured at right is a genetic map of Europe. We stole it from the delightful Strangemaps, but apparently it was created by the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, and published in Current Biology.  

The map shows that, of the European genetic profiles studied, the Finns and the Italians are the most atypical.  But even a glance shows a remarkable difference in degree.  Italians may indeed be distinctive, but they overlap pretty heavily with Spaniards, Yugoslavians and Albanians.  Finns are practically on another page.

Swedes have a reputation for being aloof, but from the look of this map, Europeans have enjoyed a millennium-long orgy, while it has been the Finns who stood quietly and endogamously off to the side.   Our theory?  They really are the lost tribe of Israel.

Swift-Boating McCain

In a striking display of cowardice, the McCain campaign has declined to comment on a current book by Jerome Corsi, which regurgitates the familiar anti-Obama smears (drug addict, Muslim, etc.).  This would be unremarkable in politics, had not Senator McCain, in his earlier and more honorable phase, taken a firm position against such nonsense.  Does he even remember calling for a "politics of civility" and scolding some of the early bad-mouthers?

For that display of courtesy, the candidate received a public tongue-lashing from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, and so now, it appears, he has chickened out.  He will stand by, helplessly, while others do on his behalf work which he positively knows to be dirty.  So much for guts.

This saddens us, for many reasons.  We are sad to see McCain's good instincts, which are many, fall victim to cynicism and lust for power.  We are sad because, whether he wins or loses the presidency, McCain will have permanently surrendered the reputation for (comparative) honesty and integrity which made him an appealing and effective across-the-aisle legislator.

Beyond our sadness, though, we are a little surprised that McCain would put up with this, when it so clearly poses a risk to his own aspirations.  The bottom-feeders of American politics, those ultrapartisan hacks who seemingly have nothing better to do with their lives than spew slander, hoping that it will slowly be passed upward along the food-chain, pose an equal threat to candidates of both parties. 

For a demonstration, click the link up top to see the website of "Vietnam Veteran Against John McCain."  Its self-proclaimed mission is to "dispel the myth of  [the] straight talkin’, principled, maverick war hero," and to argue that McCain is unfit for the presidency.  It labels him "the Manchurian Candidate," and argues that his entire military career (and possibly the political career which followed) was the result of special favors from secret backers.  It accuses him of belittling the families of PWs and MIAs, of "collaborating with the Communists."   

As with the best lies, there is an element of truth to most of this.  As the son and grandson of admirals, McCain never lacked protective cover for his many youthful screw-ups.  Like some 9/11 families, some families of soldiers lost in Viet Nam went on to demand more from the government -- including especially sympathetic listeners like McCain -- than it was able to provide, and eventually earned a certain measure of firm treatment.  As for "collaboration," he has often admitted that he broke down under interrogation.

But even those who don't support McCain's candidacy will see at a glance that the website as a whole is the work of crazy people -- and not sweet cuddly, crazy people, either.  It is crazy, mean-spirited and more than a little paranoid.  No surprise, since the guy behind it all -- an former Green Beret named Ted Sampley -- has a track record of crazy, mean and paranoid.

If the name of the crew sounds familiar, it is because a similarly-named organization launched a bitter attack on John Kerry, which may well have cost him the presidency.  Sampley was behind that, too, although he was greatly assisted by donations from oil gazillionaire T. Boone Pickens. Together they spread what appear to be utter and complete lies about Kerry's military service, which to this day Pickens refuses to acknowledge as lies.

So here's our point:  These crazies can cost a candidate the election.  If McCain thinks that he is playing it safe by letting Jerome Corsi's slander go uncondemned, he had best watch his own six, because Ted Sampley is closing fast.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fighting the Dirty Finn

Stephen Colbert explains Olympic geopolitics, circa 1952.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Promised Land

"Diversity" in these here parts means that you're free to be Danish or Swedish or Norwegian, but at the end of the day, you all toddle on down to the [Lutheran church] on the corner.

A Connecticut reporter visits the upper Midwest.  And cruelly discriminates against Finns.

Pope Hangs with Lutherans

Apparently, Ratzinger has made a long custom of gathering his former students together for academic check-ins, and has not given the custom up since getting his new job.  So a couple of Lutherans, Martin Hengel and Peter Stuhlmacher, both retired from Tubingen, will be among those invited to lecture at Castel Gandolfo later this month.

We propose that, after a big supper and a few beers, when the Pontiff appears to be dozing a bit, they ask for his autograph.  And then slip him a copy of the Augsburg Confession.

Friday, August 15, 2008

They Got Bigfoot!

He's in a freezer.  In Atlanta.  Next to the Montauk Monster.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Christianists Bear False Witness

Surfing these wild Internets, we came across a passionate op-ed piece in the Kansas City Star, entitled "Don't Forget That Our nation Was Born to be Christian."  It argues the usual "America is a Christian nation" case, which we at the Egg have actually become tired of both mocking and rebutting.  

What jumped out at us in this case, though, was a quotation attributed to George Washington: "It is impossible to rightly govern …without God and the Bible.”   Honestly, this didn't sound like the Indispensable Man, whose belief has always seemed in our reading to be in a somewhat less distinctively delineated god than the Biblical one.  So we wondered about the ellipsis.  Had some sly qualifier originally taken the place of those three dots?  

Three minutes with our parish subintroducta, Madame Google, turned up something interesting.  The quotation is completely bogus.  It is one among many spurious remarks routinely attributed by Christianists to various Founders, often cited from specific documents -- in this case, Washington's 1795 Thanksgiving Day proclamation.  Click here for more information.

So, yes, there is a cottage industry in the fabrication and dissemination of fake quotations, designed to make the Founders appear to be more pious, or at least more conventionally so, than they actually were.  Which, for our money, is a violation of the Eighth Commandment.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Who's the New Hitler?

For years, we have listened to well-intentioned supporters of the Iraq adventure make the "if you could stop Hitler" case.  That is to say, they assert that Saddam Hussein was like der Fuehrer, except that we had the chance to stop him before the Anschluss (and, by extension, before the Final Solution).

Lately, we have heard a variation on this argument used by opponents of Senator Obama.  Not long ago, a certain officer in a certain branch of the armed services, shortly before destroying Father A. in badminton, asserted baldly that Obama's willingness to talk to Ahmadinejad without preconditions "is exactly what Neville Chamberlain did."

Let's just call time on this piffle, shall we?  It is every bit as silly as the left's knee-jerk assertion that every conservative is a fascist.  (Do you notice they don't do that so much anymore?)  Chamberlain's mistake had nothing to do with preconditions; it was in believing that the rise of Nazism was a response to the Treaty of Versailles (which it may have been) and that diplomatic efforts to soften those terms could solve the problem (which they couldn't).  But in any case, although Saddam was a monster and Ahmadinejad is, at the very least, a creep, neither one is Hitler.  And do you know why?  Hitler commanded the most powerful army in Europe.   England's decision to declare war on Germany -- a decision that Chamberlain ultimately made -- was very nearly suicidal, and certainly would have been without help from Russia and, eventually, America.

So the situations are not remotely comparable.  America now may bear some passing resemblance to the late British Empire, but the nasties in the Middle East are not Hitler -- they are simply the nasties in the Middle East, the same ones who kept the Brits busy back in the day.

But here's our point, and -- fair warning -- it's a scary one.  There is one world leader who controls a truly significant army, including numerous nukes attached to long-range missiles.  This leader is clearly determined to project his nation's power into neighboring countries, by force if necessary, and he does not appear to take diplomatic dissuasion seriously.

If we really want to play "you could stop Hitler," we need to attack Russia.

Click the link for a quickie comparison of Putin's underreported prewar machinations in East Ossetia to Hitler's in Czechoslovakia.  Think about it long and hard, and the odds are you will feel considerable sympathy for the much-vilified Mr. Chamberlain.

Chinese Own America, Now Buying France

For decades, Jean-Marie Le Pen and his Front Nationale have been the jokers in the deck of French politics.  "France for the French," they have shouted, fists raised and flags waving, at rallies and marches and (we suppose) dinner tables. 

This week, they sold their headquarters outside Paris to a Shanghai university.  Tous ensemble, mes amis:  France pour les Chinois!

Al Qaeda Declares War on Cucumbers

You want to laugh, but then you cry.

Our friends at Al Qaeda in Mesopotamian are losing support in the provinces because, among other things, they have forbidden women to buy cucumbers.  And yes, you can guess why.

It should be funny, because it so clearly reveals what idiots these guys are.  It would be funny, if only these idiots were not also bloodthirsty lunatics.  Such is their horror of female sexuality that, according to a Sunni elder quoted by Reuters, "They even killed female goats because their private parts were not covered and their tails were pointed upward, which they said was haram."  They also prohibit selling ice-cream, because it did not exist in the days of Muhammad. 

Yeah.  And then you cry.  Because the same elder reports, "I saw them slaughter a nine-year old boy like a sheep because his family didn't pledge allegiance to them."

Monday, August 11, 2008

More from Cenk Uygur

In the same post linked below, Uygur makes a side point:

I love the idea of someone saying Alexander the Great can't lead his empire because he's cheating on his wife (by the way, doesn't Alexander's bisexuality single-handedly destroy the idea that gays can't serve in the military).

That doesn't mean that we at the Egg will suddenly begin supporting adultery, in uniform or out, or expect our red-state readers to chill out on homosexuality.  We don't, they won't.  But let's be honest about why, shall we?  It's not about "unit cohesion."  It's about our moral convictions, which are fundamentally religious -- and must therefore be treated very carefully by a nation dedicated to secularism and pluralism.

Stick a Fork in Edwards

'Cuz he's done.

That seems to be the consensus among the media chatterati.  Probably correctly, too -- John Edwards looks to go the way of Gary Hart, slinking off into the sunset, only to reappear years later as an unelectable elder statesman, distinguished primarily by writing op-ed pieces.  Morally, this seems only fitting.  Both men committed high-profile adultery, which is (need we remind our readers?)  one of God's top ten no-nos.  

Hart's press-baiting was more egregious, but on Edwards' affair was more profoundly wretched, if only because he cheated on Elizabeth.  We love that woman.  And his snarky non-defense -- "first of all, she was in remission" -- makes our gorge rise.  So, yeah, we at the Egg are disappointed by Edwards, and don't think he has much of a future in politics.  (And for crying out loud, don't pity the man:  He's still young, rich and good-looking.)

HuffPo blogger Cenk Uygur fights the tide of received opinion, and complains that it shouldn't oughtta be this way.  He makes a few points worth considering:  

Does John Edwards care less about poor people today than he did yesterday? Would his affair lead him to change his position on NAFTA? How would it alter his policy on Iran? ... 

Some will claim, as they did with Bill Clinton, that it's not the affair but the lies that went along with it. Really? ... Every man that has ever cheated on his wife has lied (and so has every woman who has ever cheated). It is part and parcel of the affair.

True enough, but not convincing.  More interesting is Uygur's observation that John McCain's multiple adulteries don't seem to have ended his political career -- and yes, he's fairly open about them now, decades after the fact.  But was he then?  And Uygur doesn't mention a certain former mayor of New York, but we will, at the drop of a hat.  Why has time rehabilitated these men, but not Hart or, as we are given to predict, Edwards?

Frankly, we are inclined to suspect a difference in partisan groupthink.  To put it as bluntly as possible, Democrats are slow to forgive a man for cheating on his wife with another woman; Republicans are slow to forgive a man for cheating on his wife with another man.  

If true, this is the result of their respective party bases.  Democrats skew feminist and pro-gay, Republicans skew macho and anti-gay.  So, once a member of the party faithful gets over his or her initial reaction to a scandal, there comes a time when the various cliches are repeated into his or her ear.  Man cheats with a woman, Democrats mutter "How could that SOB do such a thing to his loving, smart, accomplished wife?" while Republicans grunt "Hey, men have urges, y'know?"  Man cheats with a man, it's "Poor guy, forced to deny the truth about his nature all those years" versus "Another damn pervert, like Roy Cohn, Edgar Hoover, Bob Allen, Mark Foley, Jeff Gannon and Larry Craig."

Oh, sure, this is too simple.  There are exceptions and qualifiers.  Most Dems continued to support Bill Clinton during the impeachment -- but he was an embattled president, and to abandon him was effectively to abandon your own party and all its causes.  (Note that in the Spitzer case, even the embattled-executive impulse couldn't trump the "his loving wife".)  We'd be surprised if the GOP ever runs David Vittner for anything again, although in his case the rage may come less from adultery or lies than from paying for it.

But, even with some exceptions, we think we're onto something.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Lambeth: Forgive Us Our Debts?

Apparently, the boycott by 200 conservative bishops left the Church of England with a deficit of something like 1.2 million sterling.  

This leads to two thoughts.  First:  So this thing is organized by the CofE, but actually funded by a fee paid by each bishop?  Or by the various national churches? No wonder the poorer countries found it expedient to stay home.

And second:  You think they'll have the chutzpah to ask the Episcopalians for a handout?  (Do you even think Anglicans know what chutzpah is?)

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Do Us a Favor

Click the link up top, and vote for Natalia Paruz, "the Saw Lady."  And do it NOW -- after 8pm EST Sunday and before 8pm Monday.  [NOTE:  the link has been fixed, thanks to a sharp-eyed reader.]

Natalia is a New York City subway performer, and we at the Egg are asking you to support her in a competition among subway performers.  She plays the musical saw, a rare and spookily beautiful instrument.  And she's damn good; they routinely give her the best spot in the system, right by the restrooms in Times Square -- and she always has a crowd.  But she is much more than that. 

For years, Natalia has organized an International Musical Saw Festival, which draws musicians and aficionados from all over the world (and this year, it drew them to the church where Father Anonymous is blessed to preside).  She is also an expert in bells and other percussive instruments, the more obscure the better.  Although Jewish herself, she plays with the handbell choir at Father A.'s parish, just for the fun of making things ring.

Oh, and she's a delightful human being, too.  If you'd like to learn more, check out her site here -- but above all, vote.

Baptists "Just Say No to the Big O"

They mean Oprah, not that other big O. Apparently.

The Salt Lake Tribune has an article about the rising tide of Christianist complaints about Oprah Winfrey's "nontraditional spirituality." This from people who won't baptize babies, and publicized by people who believe ... well, Mormon stuff.

It's not that they are mistaken about Oprah, necessarily. Just that they are mistaken about tradition.

U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

Okay, okay.  We know the Olympics are supposed to be about international cooperation, rather than competition.  And we also know that nobody takes that seriously -- people root for their own country, at least as much as for the best athlete and far more than for an idealized vision of pure sportsmanship, whatever that means.

Since the only Olympic sport we at the Egg care about even remotely is fencing (and, in winter, the biathlon), this poses a bit of a problem.  Rooting for US fencers is a lot like being a Cubs fan.  Through most of Olympic history, no US fencer won much of anything until Peter Westbrook walked off with a bronze in the 1980s.

Yeah, well, that was then, baby.  The Curse of the Billy Goat has been broken, at least as far as fencing goes.  Mariel Zagunis, Sada Jacobson and Rebecca Ward may not be household names, but as far as we're concerned they are national heroes.  They just swept the Women's Sabre competition, respectively taking gold, silver and bronze, and putting the US (temporarily) ahead in the overall medal count.  More to the point:  they are the only Americans ever to sweep an Olympic fencing event.  Ever.

Courtesy of an emergency call from the splendid Mrs. A, Father Anonymous was able interrupt his sermon-writing and catch the last magnificent touch on television.  When an interviewer asked the girls how it felt, at the awards ceremony, to see three American flags unfurled side-by-side, Jacobsen burst into tears and said "It was the most beautiful sight in the world."

At least today, darling.

The Fireworks Begin

No sooner has a military tribunal sentenced Salim Hamdam to time served plus five months, than the Pentagon begins hemming and hawing.  A spokesman says, equivocally, "He will serve his time for the conviction and then he will still be an enemy combatant, and as an enemy combatant the process for potential transfer or release will apply." And since they don't transfer or release prisoners to Hamdam's native Yemen .... hmm ... maybe they'll just keep him at Gitmo forever.

Our favorite bit of hyperbole is Olberman's aside, when reporting the original verdict and predicting the outcome:  "How much Constitution is there left for you to shred, Mr. President?  Our favorite bit of understatement in the WaPo article:

Defense Department officials said there are concerns about the public perception of holding Hamdan after his prison term runs out, because it could label the military commissions a "show process" with no meaning to its sentences.

Really? They think that, do they?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The System ... Works?

All through the trial of Salim Hamdam, one question has been nagging at us.  Assuming that he committed the war crimes for which he is on trial, we asked ourselves, how serious are those crimes, exactly?

He was Osama bin Laden's driver.  And bin Laden is a horrible man, one of the few human beings on earth whom, given five minutes in a locked room, we at the Egg would gladly beat to death with our own fists. 

But Hamdam was his driver.  His chauffeur.  Sure, it's a form of collaboration, but it has to be the least collaborative form there is.  Blaming him for 9/11 is like blaming Iraq on the pilot of Air Force One, or waterboarding on the cab driver who gives David Addington a lift across town.

Given our level of confidence in the military court hearing the case, we fully expected that a guilty verdict would be (a) inevitable and (b) immediately followed by the maximum sentence allowable.  And when the prosecutors asked for 30-to-life, we fully expected them to get it.  And that's where the anonymous tribunal caught us off guard.

They sentenced him to 5 1/2 years, including time served -- and he has already served five years.  The guy could be free in six months.  (Although the Navy also says it won't release anybody it considers a threat, so expect some legal and political fireworks in early 2009).

We can't help wondering whether the jury was sending a message up through the chain of command, and into the political leadership.  If so, it might have been something like this: 

You people, the incompetent politicians and the hamstrung brass, have spent years attacking the wrong target, and everybody knows it.  Seven years later, bin Laden is still alive, and the whole country knows it, and it reveals your impotence to the world.  So you figured we could use this guy -- the driver, for God's sake -- as a scapegoat, a straw man to knock down in Osama's place and appease the bloodthirsty crowd.  And you figured that we would be angry and vindictive and obedient enough to do it, didn't you?  But guess what:  We are still have something none of the rest of you, on our side or theirs, seems to have left:  Our honor.

We at the Egg find even our own icy-cold hearts are actually touched by the HuffPo description of the sentencing:

Hamdan thanked the jurors for the sentence and repeated his apology for having served bin Laden.

"I would like to apologize one more time to all the members and I would like to thank you for what you have done for me," Hamdan told the panel of six U.S. military officers, hand-picked by the Pentagon for the first U.S. war crimes trial in a half century. ...

"I hope the day comes that you return to your wife and daughters and your country, and you're able to be a provider, a father, and a husband in the best sense of all those terms," the judge told Hamdan.

Hamdan, dressed in a charcoal sports coat and white robe, responded: "God willing."

1936: The Transgender Olympics

Apparently, Dora Ratjen wasn't the only Olympian with some candy to hide.  Per Jennifer Finney Boylan in the Times:

In the 1936 Olympic Games, the sprinter Stella Walsh — running for Poland and known as the fastest woman in the world — was beaten by Helen Stephens of St. Louis, who set a world record by running 100 meters in 11.4 seconds. After the race, a Polish journalist protested that Stephens must be a man. After all, no woman in the world could run that fast.

Olympic officials performed a “sex test” on Stephens, who was found, in fact, to be female, proving once and for all that a person could be incredibly fast and female at the same time.

Forty-four years later, Walsh, who had become an American citizen, was shot to death in the parking lot of a discount store in Cleveland. Her autopsy revealed a surprise: It was Stella Walsh, and not Helen Stephens, who turned out to have been male all along, at least according to the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s office.

 As she goes on to explain, Walsh seems to have had male genitalia, but both xx and xy chromosomes.  The same year, Hermann/Dora Ratjen was also competing for Germany.    Apparently, Ratjen's genitalia were "ambiguous."  Now, it strikes us a weird coincidence that both of them were competing in the same year, but maybe not so much.  The more we study it, the more evidently the biological line between male and female is neither bright nor clear. Boylan argues that Walsh was a woman and Ratjen was a man, not because of their physical characteristics but because of how they lived their lives.  Walsh lived as  a woman; Ratjen, after the competitive years were over, went back to life as a man. 

Boylan's essay, which compares Ratjen and Walsh, is a thought-provoking meditation on the nature of gender and its relation to sport.  Well and good.  But we at the Egg are still stuck on the Berlin Olympics.  Nazis, crossdressers, androgynes, and Jesse Owen shoving it in Hitler's face.  Seriously -- weirdest Olympiad ever? 

You Sank My Battleship!

We at the Egg are no experts on military procurement.  But we are taxpayers, and we do have a passing interest in the way our money is spent.  (Our government spending priorities?  Education, mass transit, and sending diminutive ministers to into space). 

So we are troubled to learn of the Pentgon's latest massive -- what's that quaint word they use in the armed services? Oh, yes -- clusterfuck.  Seems the Navy brass have been lying to Congress for years about their very expensive new battleship, the Zumwalt class DDG-1000.  Specifically, they have been talking about its enhanced "survivability" in combat, even though it cannot defend itself against missiles.

Missiles, we might remind you, are what people often use when they want to blow up a boat and kill a lot of sailors. They've been doing this since World War II, and show no inclination to stop.  They also use torpedoes, which are basically missiles in the water.  And although pretty good in shallow water, this new craft has underpowered sonar, which means it isn't especially good at deep-water antisubmarine warfare.  In other words:  it can't defend itself competently against the two main weapons with which it could expect to be attacked.

For a sharp analysis written for military professional, click the link.  For a more civilian-friendly description, read the Wired takeout.

To its credit, the Navy has canceled this program after the delivery of one ship.  To its lasting shame, the Navy commissioned this floating coffin in the first place.  And to the chagrin of Americans concerned about wasteful military spending (see under:  comfort pods), the Navy paid for all this with our money.

I'd like my Mars trip now, please.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Department of No Surprise: Bioweapons Edition

From ABC News:  Feds:  Anthrax Suspect Had Mental Health Issues.

Really?  A guy who works for decades with the world's deadliest toxins, in a top-secret laboratory, then begins (allegedly) mailing the stuff out before finally killing himself?  We had no idea.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

"See you at the debate, bitches"

So says Paris Hilton, in her new campaign ad.

Yes, that's right: campaign ad. Since McCain used her image in his now-famous "Celebrity" ad, she reasons that he's made her a candidate. And as the voice-over says: "He's the oldest celebrity in the world. Like, super old. Old enough to remember when dancing was a sin, and beer was served in a bucket. But is he ready to lead?"

Click above for the ad, or here for some background. And may we add: We have never loved Paris Hilton more than we do at this moment.

Lambeth: Wrap-Up

Well.  That was a bit of a disappointment, at least for snarky bloggers seeking fireworks at the expense of somebody else's religious community.  Also for legit journalists seeking a story with a beginning, middle and -- especially -- an end.  It was probably disappointing for ideologically polarized Anglicans seeking victory over their enemies, even at the cost of their Communion, fiat iustitia et ruat caelum.

But for anybody who hopes to preserve the Anglican Communion, or even the memory of the Elizabethan Settlement, this year's Lambeth Conference was a modest, qualified and don't-say-it-out loud success.  Nobody walked out, nobody exchanged anathemas (except perhaps in the men's room after cocktails), nobody excommunicated anybody.  Since Archbishop Williams designed the event to (a) exclude the most polarizing figures, and (b) preclude resolutions, the grandstanding was presumably minimized and there were no resolutions to pass.

This doesn't mean that anybody left overflowing with good cheer.  They didn't.  Nor does it mean that a schism has been averted.  It hasn't.  But, still, it could all have been a lot worse.  

For a good summary, mixed with some critique of the press coverage, click the link to GetReligion.


Summer Camp

Andrew Sullivan has blogged a couple of pieces under the heading "Exhuming Newman."  They are worth reading in their entirety here and here , not only out of academic interest but because of light they may shine onto current events.

The gist is that John Henry Newman, the famous convert first from Evangelicalism to Anglo-Catholicism, and then from Canterbury to Rome, was "an effeminate, delicate intellectual who had almost no real interaction with women at all and bonded mainly with younger men."  In short, what in crude boyhood we would have called a pansy

Of immediate interest is Newman's lifelong intimate friendship with the linguist Ambrose St. John -- a friendship so intimate that the two men arranged to be buried in the same grave.  (A reader observes that Robert Bellarmine had done something similar).  Sullivan is irritated by current plans to exhume and rebury Newman without St. John, a violation of the wishes expressed by both men, which he attributes to "the now pathologically homophobic Vatican."

Is is nothing new to observe that early Anglo-Catholic circles seem to have included a great many intense male friendships.  Nor is is only then, or only among Anglicans.  Setting aside purely theological concerns, we suspect that a great deal of emotional resistance to liturgical renewal has historically come from a perception that its proponents are insufficiently masculine.  (Come on.  Men in dresses with silk gowns funny hats?  How does that not sound gay, prima freakin' facie?)  This perception almost always goes unspoken, and must be teased out by historians, as for example by a close-reading of Kinglsey's attack on Newman, searching for buried codewords.

Now, in rush the qualifiers.  (1) Newman may have been, ahem, a pansy, but that does not mean that he was "gay" in the modern sense, much less "queer."  The evidence is strong that he was serious in his commitment to celibacy, and we are inclined to suspect that the only consummation he and St. John contemplated was a spiritual union beyond the grave.  The same is surely true of a great many lesser figures with similar characteristics. (2) Victorian same-sex friendships, as scholars have demonstrated over and over, often included a degree of physical and verbal intimacy that misleads modern readers -- if they had all been as gay as they sound, there would never have been any Edwardians.  (3) Then as now, we are only describing a minority even of the ultra-high-church crowd.  (Why, the Egg pressroom itself is as masculine a retreat as one can imagine, from the buffalo head mounted over the pipe rack to the college football regalia covering up some vintage Playboys.) 

But with all that said, let us acknowledge the underlying reality:  many of the best minds and most creative ministries in catholic-revival circles have always belonged to men who were not romantically  inclined toward women.  Some of them were celibate, others probably were not.  Nearly everybody has always known this, but -- what with good manners and  charitable assumptions -- it has always been a difficult and uncomfortable thing to talk about.

Some readers, especially the young and naive, may therefore find it remarkable that so much of the hostility toward equal treatment of gay people in Christianity has come from the high church types.  (Which it has -- among Lutherans, for example, this has created the truly strange alliance between the Society of the Holy Trinity and the WordAlone Network , organizations that in a rightly-ordered world would be devoted to mutual assured destruction.) Thus, the charge against Gene Robinson is being led not only by crypto-tyrants like Peter Akinola, but also by deeply closeted gay bishops, apparently including  Lindsay Unwin.  Look at the so-called "theocons," and then count the career bachelors.  If younger readers don't get this, it is because they no longer recognize the stereotypical "self-hating homosexual," who like his brother the "self-hating Jew," is en route to being forgotten, an image requiring a footnote for graduate students when they stumble over it in American literature of the 1950s.

What's up with that?  There is a lot to say on the subject.  At the most superficial level, catholic revival movements, by definition, have a strong conservative element.  They are all about repristination and the retrieval of lost traditions.  But of course, they also have a radical, counter-cultural element -- click the sidebar for info on Anglo-Catholic Socialism.  At the emotional and psychological level, just as the slave may begin to love his chains because they are all he knows, so too the repressed love their repression, the closeted their closet.   For many gay men of a certain generation, the closet is a warm and comfortable place, and they wish nothing more than to have theirs well-furnished with the likes of Ambrose St. John.  Women were bad enough, but nothing compared to the post-Stonewall gays and queers, who insist both on being here and having others get used to it.  They are a terrifying sign of the end times.

Our point is that the battle over the Church's treatment of gays, and especially gay clergy, is to some degree a battle between the elderly closet queens and the youngish queer activists.  And there are days when one is tempted to set conviction aside and just let them fight it out.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Apparently, Some Muslims Don't Hate Puppies

We will stand by the substance of our own post below, but have to acknowledge an unrelated newspaper hoax in Britain.  The Daily Mail ran a story claiming that a picture of a cute widdle puppy sitting in a policeman's hat had sparked the usual uproar among English Muslims.

Turns out the Daily Mail was full of puppy-poop.  Click the link to see a cute dog.

Nazis Forced Man to Dress as Woman

 You think this is about the Max Mosley incident incident.  But it's actually a bit of Berlin Olympics trivia.

In 1936, afraid of getting their Fascist clocks cleaned by freedom-loving Americans, the Nazis decided to cheat.  They pressured a fellow named Hermann Ratjen to pass himself off as a female high-jumper named Dora.  S/he took fourth, and -- more remarkably -- continued competing for two more years.  Her teammates say they "never suspected a thing," despite the fact that Ratjen "was pretty weird" and had a deep voice.   

We learned all of this from our newest enthusiasm, an online newsletter called Lutheran (True) Confessions.  Click the link for a witty and well-written take on ELCA politics, especially the sex stuff.

The Horror, the Horror

When summer becomes insufferable, youngsters here in the Minor Outlying Islands often yearn for the sea breeze and a chance to chug overpriced drinks in an atmosphere of vulgar hedonism.  Thus, the exodus to the East End begins.  By train, by car or by bus (excusez nous, we meant to say jitney), they haul themselves out to the once-pleasant Hamptons or, for those without a trust fund, the bucolic fishing village called Montauk.

And there, the horror begins.

Summer's boozy pleasures have been disrupted this year by sightings of a hideous creature, said to resemble a hairless dog with a beak and foreclaw.  

Legal secretaries are afraid to stumble home to their rented cottage in the wee hours, and ex-jocks trying to make it as stockbrokers have been seen retching piteously into the shrubbery, no doubt after glimpsing the Montauk Monster.  

The Church has not been silent in the face of this abomination -- at least not entirely.
One Manhattan congregation bravely hosted a prayer vigil, to support those endangered by this creature.  And make no mistake:  this is an urban problem.  An astute zoological observer has observed that a creature so hideous must surely have its origin in the most polluted waterway in North America, Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal.

Now, we at the Egg have a confession.  These stories chill our blood at a personal level. (Or as they say these days, "a deeply personal level.") Years ago, we briefly shared a Montauk cottage.  And in those same years, we lived in a third-floor walkup beside the Gowanus Canal.  Our memories are hazy, but there was one morning when we woke up red with what must have been claw marks.  So, ever since the story broke, we have have hunkered down in the sacristy, surrounded by scapulars and Latin formularies, trying to exorcise ourselves of one haunting terror.  In our youth, we may -- just may -- have hooked up with the Montauk Monster.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Muslims Hate Puppies


You think we're joking, don't you?  But we're not.

The Saudi religious police, whose duty is to enforce Wahabism in all its extremity, have recently demanded that pet stores stop selling cats and dogs, and that owners desist from walking their pets.  And why?  Apparently, men sometimes use the animals to "make passes on [sic] women and disturb families."

These are the same Saudis, mind you, who are said to rank among America's closest allies in the war against Muslim extremism.  The same Saudis who recently banned the color red  because it might make people think of St. Valentine's Day.

So, one more time:  who exactly hates our freedoms?

Friday, August 01, 2008

A Month Without Plastic?

No cellophane wrapping, go-cups, not even plastic toothbrushes.  Can it be done?

BBC correspondent Christine Jeavans is trying.  Click the link for more.