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Friday, October 31, 2008

Evangelizing Wittenberg

Can it be done?

That's the question facing Lutherans in Germany.  Wittenberg, birthplace of the Reformation, was in the old East Germany -- meaning that two generations, more or less, were raised there in a culture of state-sponsored atheism. Today, per Auntie Beeb (above), only about 10% of the population is Lutheran (or, as they insist on saying, Protestant).

To its credit, the Evangelische Kirche Deutschland has a deep desire to change that state of affairs.  To its shame, however, we must consider the possibility that there is no religious community on earth less suited to the task than the EKD.

As the BBC story says, "500 years after Luther, Protestants seem to be longing for the things he himself called into question -- ceremony, ritual and all the religious trappings."  As most Egg readers will see immediately, "called into question" here reflects a profoundly German reading of Luther.  Specifically, it reflects an historically dubious picture of Luther shaped first by Calvinism and then by Rationalism, both of which were deeply suspicious of churchly tradition. 

But those suspicions are not necessarily part of Lutheranism.  In his own work, he called the theological rationales into question, but preserved most of the liturgical actions; this was the custom of most Lutheran churches during the first centuries of their existence.  Where the Reformed tendency was to toss out traditions unless they served some readily-apparent purpose, the Evangelical tendency was (at first, especially) to retain traditions unless they manifestly misstated the Gospel.  From its beginning, Lutheranism was (in Charles Porterfield Krauth's famous phrase) "the conservative Reformation."

If you want to see what this looks like in practice, consider the state churches of Sweden and Finland, with their bishops and archbishops in historic succession, their vestments and revived religious orders.  While by no means immune to the intellectual ferment of five centuries, they have done a great deal to preserve both the theological heritage of Luther and the liturgical inheritance of antiquity and the Middle Ages.

Germans, sadly, didn't do such a good job on this.  Nor do they yet.  Here's an example:  About this time last year, Fr. A. invited a German colleague to preside at the parish's annual German Christmas Service, which reaches out to many local expats.  The fellow (of whom we are very fond) helpfully retooled the bulletin so that it conformed to contemporary standards of liturgical language.  In the course of all this, he also suggested that perhaps it would be better if we did not celebrate Holy Communion.  At Christmas.

"But -- but -- but," Father A. spluttered.  "For many of these people, Germans far from home, this may be the only time they go to church all year.  And it's Christmas."

Our friend nodded vigorously.  "Exactly my point," he said.  "It may be the only time they go to church all year.  And it's Christmas!"

We were at a conceptual impasse, which illustrates the principal shortcoming of the German church.  Where to Fr. A., along with most of traditional Christianity, the sacrament is an essential part of church life, without which the experience is incomplete, to a certain kind of German, it is a bit of frippery added after the sermon, if one absolutely must, and then only for a carefully selected group. 

So if the EKD is serious about re-evangelizing a society starved for "ceremony, ritual and religious trappings" we warmly encourage them to import missionaries from up north.

Newsflash: Old Pottery at Archaeological Site

In this case, though, it kind of matters, because the potsherd in question appears to have the oldest know fragments of Hebrew writing.  The words, barely decipherable, appear to be "judge," "slave" and "king."  

The important point is that only about 4% of the site has been excavated, so there could be a lot more where this came from.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sigh. This Won't help At All.

Father Anonymous is a kindly little pot-bellied fellow, with weak nerves and a timid demeanor. You can prove this by looking at the extremely realistic portrait on the sidebar.

As the presidential election approaches, he finds that those weak nerves have entered a state of constant agitation.  After a day of television, radio, newspapers, internet and conversation, he slams the door behind himself, sags backward and trembles uncontrollably, like a little bunny harried across the field by a pack of any hounds.  Oh, it's very sad.

And yet, like those morons ahead of you when they pass a highway accident, he simply cannot look away.  Instead, he rubbernecks.

And this won't help:  Pollster.com, linked above, with its pages and pages of aggregated poll results, reduced to brutally simple charts.  You can count electoral votes like a CNN talking head, look at Texas and weep, or at Florida and feel the sweat on your brow.  (Oh, and we pause here to offer a fraternal blessing to the Rev. Mother You-Know-Who, fighting the good fight for Missouri's eleven hotly contested electoral votes).

It's fun.  It's fascinating.  And afterward, you need a scotch chased with Librium.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

For Our Clerical Readers

Over the years, Father Anonymous has purchased his clerical shirts from various haberdashers, including (in chronological order):  Harbro, CM Almy, Autom, and -- most recently -- Augsburg Fortress's lamentably misnamed "Friar Tuck" line. 

(He resisted these last for years, on the grounds that he didn't want to look like a friar.  That was before the baldness and beer-belly, which mooted his argument.)

Of these shirts -- nearly all of which the cheap SOB still owns -- those from Almy have been the most satisfactory.  The cut was trim, the cuffs allowed for buttons or links, and the dye held at least reasonably well, which is often a problem.  The Autom shirts were inexpensive, and cut from good cloth, but comically ill-fitting.

But we want to say a word about those Friar Tuck shirts because they are, after all, the house blend.  These are the newest in the closet, and, when the first few seemed okay, Fr. A. bought several more, both neckband and tab.  The cut is a bit baggy, and the cuffs don;t take links, but the cloth seemed sturdy and the dye stable.  He now owns six or so, and they are by a good measure the newest ones in his closet.

And every single one is missing a button.

No big deal, you say.  Sew on the damn button.  Yes, sure, but Father A. is impossibly lazy, and his eyes aren't quite up to needle-threading anyway.  Not to mention the principle of the thing.

Do his Almy shirts lose their buttons?  They do not.  His cheap-as-dirt Autom shirts?  No.  His Papist Toomeys?  Stitches as rigid as dogma.  His Harbro shirts purchased in 1992 and since laundered so often, and so violently, that they have faded to a newspaper-grey?  Every single button remains attached.  

Does this happen to anybody else?  Inquiring minds want to know.

AP: "The Sky is Falling"

For many years, Father A. has listened politely while people of a certain age state, as if it were a truth universally acknowledged, that the Great Depression was a good time for churches.  "People had nothing else," they say, "so they fell back on religion."  And then they add, wistfully, that the solution to "our mess today," meaning everything from teenage pregnancies to shrinking churches, "would be something like that ole Depression."

Looks like we'll get a chance to test their hypothesis pretty soon.

For the record, Father A. has spent much of the past year immersed in minutes of the United Lutheran Synod of New York covering 1929-1935.  And he can say, categorically, that these were not good years for churches.  They were terrible years.  A missions committee that had been planting two or more successful new congregations every year ground to a halt.  Pastors lost their parishes, parishes lost their buildings.  Nobody got paid, nothing got built.  Contrary to the myth, worship attendance wasn't especially good. 

The AP article linked above gives a foretaste of the feast to come.  It reads about the way a similar story would have read in 1930.  By 1931, the stories were worse, and in 1932, nobody had enough ink to waste on newspaper stories.

Joe the Plumber is Now an Alaskan Soldier

Apparently, he's become a fixture at Republican rallies.  Ana Marie Cox describes the sexual tension around his presence as "almost palpable," while GOP ladies rhapsodize about his Carhartt clothes and steel-toed boots.  (She says "I don't want to be weird or anything," but the image does make us cringe.)

The best part:

Gov. Sarah Palin apparently got so excited that she momentarily granted him the honored double status of veteran and Frontier State native: “He’s a fellow Alaska[n], and he’s a fellow military man who has served our country proudly. I’d like you to meet him.”

He is neither. But then again, his name isn’t Joe and he isn’t a plumber. So, really, who’s to blame her for getting a little carried away?

It wasn't so much a lie as an untruth, right? Of course, if Obama or Biden had introduced one of their donors as a veteran when he wasn't (much less "fellow" vet when they weren't), all Hell would break loose.  Literally, Hell, with the demons and everything; it's in the same part of Revelations (yes, with the final "s") that specifies the Antichrist will be a "Hawaiian from Kenya or a gaffe-prone lawyer from Scranton."  Those verses, by the way, have puzzled scholars since late antiquity.  You should see Origen's exegesis.

Anyway, the brilliant rising star of the Republican Party quickly made up for her most recent misstatement of fact, by claiming that Obama pals around with terrorists. Again. Seriously.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

For Geeks and Nerds Only

All others, please avert your eyes.

Christian Bale "tops the list" of choices to play Doctor Strange in a new movie.

For the cognoscenti, no more need be said.  For those who may have inadvertently peeped into this post despite our warning label, Stephen Strange is a Marvel Comics character, the Master of the Mystic Arts.  He lives in Greenwich Village with his Asian houseboy and a grey-haired interdimensional hottie.  

More to the point, if Bale plays him -- along with Batman and John Connor -- it will mean three franchise superheroes.  How many other actors have ever done that?  Schwarzenegger, obviously (Conan, Terminator, Mr. Freeze).  But it's pretty elite crowd, in the second traditional dictionary meaning of that term, as described a few posts down.

So does this mean Christian Bale gets to be governor of California? 

Rejected by the Nazis, He Became a Preacher

Doesn't that say it all?  As you can imagine, he built a cult compound in South America.  And it went downhill from there.  

The story of Chile's Colonia Dignidad -- well told by Bruce Falconer, in The American Scholar -- is gripping, but not for the faint of heart.  It includes all the classic cult stuff:  child molestation, mind control, forced labor, torture, weapons caches and, yes, mass murder.  The preacher/tyrant, one Paul Schaefer, is a sort of Ian Fleming villain, with a glass eye and a network of underground tunnels -- not to mention pencils that fire bullets and, as he ages, a walker that can electrocute you.  There's another Fleming trope, too -- the tough-as-nails local cop who finally brings down the bad guy, aided by an intrepid female reporter whom we assume is strikingly beautiful.

But because the members of this particular cult were Germans, who joined up after the war, there is an element of Teutonic surrealism to the whole story.  They build a spick-and-span Bavarian village in the wilderness, where they dress in wool pants and suspenders, headscarves for the women, and greet a visitor with organic apple cake.

The single most disturbing moment, for us, follows the abduction and torture of one Luis Peebles.  Pinochet's flunkies kidnap him and hold him in the bunker, as the SS-reject "minister" shows them how to inflict pain.  After days of this, the torture stops, and he is released.  And here's the chilling detail:  "his clothes were returned -- neatly cleaned and folded."

Striking Syria: "Chicago Way"

While Father Anonymous was purging a brutal stomach virus, it appears that the Bush Administration decided -- in the last few months of its existence -- to get serious in the Middle East. Depending upon your definition of "serious." 

American forces are now empowered to launch cross-border strikes (into Syria, so far, but also potentially into Iran, or someday Pakistan; oh, and we might add Kenya, Mali, Pakistan, the Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) without direct authorization from the President.  And, needless to say, without any diplomatic how-do-you-do.

In a TNR piece, Eli Lake quotes an unnmaed intelligence official as calling this new approach "the Chicago Way," in reference to Sean Connery's Untouchables lecture to Kevin Costner:  "You want to get Capone?  Here's how you get him.  He pulls a knife, you pull a gun.  He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.  That's the Chicago way."

In general, we support this idea.  We're all for getting Capone.  But let's also admit up front that this will send a lot of people to the morgue, and that it may cause at least as many problems as it solves.  The American experience, since 1946 or thereabouts, has been that military solutions always do.

Lake is clear about why the Administration has made a late-in-life change:  because it wants some military victories, and doesn't care about the political consequences.  

While it would be churlish to impute to the President any direct partisan motive here, there may be some partisan result:  military victories might make it easier for McCain to get elected, and a massive diplomatic mess makes it harder for Obama to govern.  (But of course, harder for McCain as well, which is further evidence either of how much the President and his advisors dislike McCain, or that they are too stupid even to be sneaky).

The McCain team has jumped on the strikes with glee, claiming that they never would have happened in an Obama presidency, because Obama has a stated preference for diplomacy, and implying that they are one more reason to support a macho Republican over an arugula-smoothie-slurping Harvard elitist.

But not so fast. Because what the Administration has just done is what Obama has specifically said that he would do, albeit in Pakistan, and McCain has denounced as naive.  That is, tick off other countries by ignoring their sovereignty, and announce that you'll do it, which was what McCain has really objected to.  So -- has the President taken some advice from Obama, or are they both just equally naive?

Lake's article ends with an extended series of questions, boiling down to "If Obama wins, will he keep this new policy in place?"  He never asks the same question about McCain, which is odd.  Nor does he ask the more important one:  Can a nation struggling to fight two regional wars seriously improve its tactical position by threatening to invade every country in the region?

Crystal Cathedral Politics

Dare we say it?  You'd think they'd be more transparent.

Robert H. Schuller, founder of the famous Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Cal. and its large television ministry, has apparently removed his own son, Robert A. Schuller, from the cat-bird's seat he has occupied in recent years:  sole preacher in one of the premier televangelism broadcasts.  Beyond that, details are murky.

The goal appears to be expanding the ministry of the "Hour of Power" beyond automatic association with the name Schuller.  This seems like a reasonable idea, and was apparently something the church's denomination -- Reformed Church in America -- had pushed for.  The only problem is that Schuller fils didn't like it.

We have a distant personal interest in this story.  Some years ago, Father Anonymous and his beautiful wife toured the Cathedral grounds, accompanied by a sweet old volunteer whom we'll call Bob. (Look, we were lost and thought it was Disneyland, okay?  We got there eventually).  With a great deal of pride, Bob showed us both the original church building and the much more impressive new one, as well as several other architectural set-pieces.  They were nice enough, if you like that sort of thing.  But he also showed us the columbarium garden, where his own wife was buried, and talked about the role that the ministry of the church had played in his own spiritual life.

When we asked, Bob also made it, ahem, crystal clear that this was a congregation of the Reformed Church in America, into which Schuller pere had been ordained.  That gave us at least a little hope for the church's theology, as the RCA is among the more traditional of America's Calvinist denominations.

All this leaves us wondering just how the current events have really played out.  Press coverage has been spotty, and the LA Times story linked above is the best, but tends to ask the wrong questions. The reporters, Mike Anton and Sam Quinones, seem to see the generational conflict in preaching emphases at work:

 Schuller built his worldwide ministry over a half century on the psychology of positive thinking and appealing to people turned off by the formality of traditional faiths. In contrast, his son's sermons have been full of direct references to the Bible....

"I was called to start a mission, not a church," Schuller told his audience Sunday. "There is a difference. . . . You don't try to preach . . . what is sin and what isn't sin. A mission is a place where you ask nonbelievers to come and find faith and hope and feel love. We're a mission first, a church second." ...

Asked whether his son wanted to turn the Crystal Cathedral into a church rather than a mission, Schuller declined to answer, then said, "But I think it is a wise question.

That's a reasonable hook, but oughtn't reporters be more interested in the nuts and bolts?  Here are some of our questions:  How much control does Schuller exercise over the broadcast, and -- separate question -- over the internal affairs of the congregation?  Was anybody besides the elder Schuller involved in the decision -- say, a board of directors?  

Auto Tycoon Steals Ideas From Hippie Folk Musician

Tip o' the biretta to Our Beloved Godfather for this tip:

Turns out Rick Wagoner, the CEO-slash-Bolshevik at GM, borrowed his big idea (cash in on government largesse) from folk icon Tom Paxton, whose 1979 classic "I'm Changing My Name to Chrysler" has recently been rewritten:

I am changing my name to Fannie Mae;
I am changing it to AIG.
On this bail-out I am betting;
Just a piece of what they’re getting,
Would be perfectly acceptable to me.

Click up top to listen, and while you're there don't miss a delightful number inspired by one of the vice-presidential candidates.  Can you guess which one?  Here's a hint:

Eastern liberals ask questions so obtuse;
They don’t have the sense to field-dress a moose.
But, if you’re buying Sarah Palin, let me tell ya,
That I have a Bridge To Nowhere I can sell ya.

Auto Industry Pushes for More Socialism

Gives a new meaning to the phrase "red states," doesn't it?

Basically, General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner is promoting the idea that his company is (in the new magic catchphrase) "too big to fail," and should get a little bit of the government's AIG-style lovin', possibly as an aid to merger with Chrysler.

For the record, we at the Egg have always been a tad confused by the last auto industry bailout, when the government "saved" Chrysler, much less by the weird idolatry offered afterward to Lee Iacocca.  It has never been clear to us that $1.2 billion in loan guarantees did more than delay the inevitable.  So far, the "inevitable" has meant a merger with Daimler-Benz, followed by a breakup when the Germans realized what anybody with half a brain has known since the 1970s:  the American auto industry is doomed.  Which is why, twenty years later, Detroit shows up in Washington, again with its begging bowl in hand.

Of course, the fact that an industry is doomed doesn't mean it should be abandoned hastily.  We're all for avoiding panic and massive disruption of the nation's economic life, which the Chrysler bailout probably did, and which the more recent bailouts may or may not do.  (And heck, that first one was only $1.2 billion, which right now looks like chump change.)  There's a lot to be said for easing the pain, and allowing the death to be gradual.  

But the government does eventually have to make a choice:  let the wounded animal die, or put it on permanent life support.  And, given the failure of previous efforts at state-run industry (anybody drive a Yugo lately?), there really isn't much choice at all.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Guns Are For Self-Defense

Right, Justice Scalia?

Please explain that to  the parents of 8-year old Christopher Bizilj, who just blew his brains out with a 9mm Micro-Uzi submachine gun.  At a perfectly legal gun show.

Actually, you don't have to explain it to Bizilj's father, who had taken him to the show, and stood by while an "instructor" -- we suspect that means salesman -- loaded the gun and handed it to the boy.  When Christopher pulled the trigger, the gun's recoil made it kick in his hand.  For the record, the Micro-Uzi can fire 25 rounds per second.  We can't imagine what happened next, or how any of the people involved feel.

But we can ask -- and we do -- whether there ought to be any circumstances under which a young boy is given a loaded machine gun.  Our answer, as always, is no.

Hooray! We're the Elite!

Brian Williams asked John McCain and Sarah Palin to define "elite," and here's what they came up with:  a mistake and two zip codes.

Palin's answer, which she repeated several times in the midst of some unrelated bluster, was "anybody who thinks they're better than everybody else."  McCain's answer was "I know where some of them live ... the nation's capital and New York City."

Among the customary definitions of the word, the first is this: "the best or most skilled members of a given social group."  That one, obviously, has to do with actual ability, not self-esteem.  This is an important distinction, and we are concerned that Palin cannot make it.  She is, after all, a woman who gives the distinct impression of limited ability, but who nonetheless believes she could stand in as President were she called to do so.  By her own definition, then, she is part of the elite; fortunately, the dictionary lets her off the hook.

So, once again, we ar eleft wondering the same old thing about Gov. Palin: does she genuinely not know the answer, or is she purposefully avoiding it?

A second definition, by the way, is "a  narrow and powerful clique."  Like, I don't know -- the Senate?  American governors?

As for McCain, well -- we are thrilled to know that the Egg, with its world headquarters in New York, is part of the media elite.  We'll be sure to tell our pals on the Trilateral Commission.

It does strike us as odd that a man with $500 Ferragamo loafers and more homes than he can count would have a problem with us elites, but what can we say?  It's a puzzle, which we'll consider more seriously as we stir this arugula smoothie with a Marc Jacobs swizzle stick, and chase it with a triple-caf-pure-cream-chai-caccino-latte.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pope Tells Christians to Get Out of Church

As well he should.

Benedict XVI has personally selected three new dismissals, to be used at the end of Mass.  Apparently, many in the pews were translating Ite, missa est as "Mass is over; take a nap."  

Lutherans have recently had the same idea; among the better things in ELW is a selection which includes Go in peace.  Remember the poor.  The Pope's new options, which supplement but do not replace the original, are:
  • Ite ad Evangelium Domini annuntiandum. (Go and tell the Good News; this is also in ELW).
  • Ite in pace, glorificando vita vestra Dominum (Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life).
  • Ite in pace (Go in peace).
We quite like these, and are sorry that our Romish friends will not be authorized to use them until 2012 or thereabouts.   

Luckiest B@$&rd in the Galaxy

Look, we know that space-tourism is a decadent hobby for the ultra-wealthy.  We know that although they get shot up into space, the Richie Riches are mocked behind their backs by real astronauts.

But you know what?  We'd do it in a heartbeat.

So now that computer-game gazillionaire Richard Garriott has slipped the surly bonds of earth and then returned to, um, bondage, we salute him.  That is, we salute him for being so freaking rich he can do this kind of stuff, as well as for being so captivated by the allure of space travel that he put up with months of training in the russian space camp, which included Russian military food.  And we also salute him for being the world's first second-gen spaceman, since his father Owen flew on Spacelabs I & II.

But most of all -- and this is what pathetic creatures of the mass media we really are -- we salute him for depositing Stephen Colbert's DNA in space, to be retrieved for cloning purposes if the species should someday be obliterated.  We even know which sample it was.

Understatement of the Week

From the Twin Cities' Star-Tribune:  Jodi Barry is not the first lesbian to be ordained into a Lutheran ministry.

You can say that again. It's getting to be as much of a cliche as Lutheran pastors with facial hair, beer-bellies or the irritating (and mistaken) conviction that Concordia St Louis is a cross between Harvard and Paradise.  For many years, we had to listen to a press release every time Lutherans ordained a woman; once that faded, it was still a press release on every anniversary of the first time they ordained a woman.  Thirty years later, a lot of us were ready to pull out our facial hair each time the subject came up.

Ah.  But this isn't quite the same, is it? As most of you know, lesbian Lutheran pastors (like gay male Lutheran pastors) fit broadly into one of three categories:
  1. Those who remain closeted, however transparently;
  2. Those who have been ordained extra ordinem, a polite expression for those blessed by a congregation or special-interest group, but whose faculties are not recognized by the church at large (Ms Barry's situation); or
  3. Those who are celibate.  They do exist.
There may possibly be a fourth category -- those who belong to tiny micro-denominations, consisting of a few dozen congregations, which turn a blind eye to the controversy.  In our experience, however, those groups tend to be sharply conservative, and turn a blind eye only to the adultery of the straight men who seek refuge there when defrocked elsewhere.  (You know who you are).

But sooner or later, in the ELCA as in various European churches (we're looking at you, Finland), the two principal categories are going to merge.  The closet doors are already crumbling, and eventually they will fall away, largely because nobody much cares anymore.  At some point after that, the extrae ordines will be grandfathered in, or accepted by some means.   And the celibates will do what their conscience tells them, whatever that may be. 

That time has not yet come.  And so for now, each time a gay or lesbian pastor is ordained, publicly and with no pretense of celibacy, it is a principled violation of the church's rules, undertaken both to further the mission of a congregation and to prick the conscience of the broader community.  And --for better or worse -- it is still news. 

So, for Jodi Barry, whom we do not know in the least:  Our best wishes, and our condolences.  You want to be a pastor, and we bless you; for now, that means you are also a news item, and our heart aches for you.

The "Agatha Christie Indult"

That's one of several neat pieces of Papist history stuck into an article by John Casey about Roman Catholic traditionalism.  The piece, linked above, is long and makes no secret of its pro-EF bias.  For those reasons, it may be useful to those who need an introduction to traditionalist special pleading.

And even for the rest of us, the article is studded with gems, such as the indult above mentioned, as well as this beauty:

Nearly twenty five years ago, a Pole was dining in my college in Cambridge. He told us that he had been an altar boy in Poland, and had often served the masses of the Archbishop of Cracow. A year or two after that prelate, Karol Woytila, had been installed in the See of Rome, he decided to visit him, for John Paul II never became too grand for his old Polish friends. 

The Pope (so he told the story) strode up to him, punched him lightly in the chest, and began: Introibo ad ad altare dei ... to which our guest responded: Ad deum qui laetificat iuventutum meum. (``I will go unto the altar of God'' ``To God who giveth joy to my youth.'') This was the opening exchange between priest and server of the old ``Tridentine'' Latin mass, abolished in the early 1970s, and the two continued it right down to the Confiteor. 

Then the Pope shrugged his shoulders and said: `Well, that''s no use to us anymore.' His old altar boy replied: `No, Holy Father, and that''s why I no longer go to church.' To which the Pope (he said) instantly rejoined: `Don''t blame me. Blame that maniac John XXIII!'

You either love this stuff or you hate it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Chosen Beer

Tomme Arthur, ex-altar boy, has a confession: "He's using God to sell some beer."

That's what the AP says about Arthur's Lost Abbey Brewery, which brews Judgment Day ale and "where the tap handle is a Celtic cross." The story rambles somewhat, but talks about the long tradition of monastic brewing, as well as modern tongue-in-cheek homages to same. Consider, for example, the Russian River Brewery, which makes beers called "Damnation," "Salvation" and "Consecration." (That's their logo on the right.)  Or the Schmaltz Brewing Company, makers of "He'Brew: the Chosen Beer." (We've tried some; it's worth a sip. We haven't yet sampled their "Messiah: the Beer You've Been Waiting For," and fear yet another lightning strike if we do. Still, maybe in Advent.)

We're not sure how we feel about all this, honestly. Religious humor is tricky on its best day, as is humor about alcohol. Mix them together and market them, and you have a real challenge to good taste. On the other hand, we are Lutheran, and we do like beer. And our teetotalling mother-in-law is visiting this week, which makes us like beer all the more.

So we remember our favorite piece of God-n-booze levity, from Curtius's Latin Literature and the European Middle Ages, from memory because we can't find our copy.  Buried deep in a monastery library, the scholar came across this note, in the margin of a long and hard-to-copy manuscript: "I'm done. Now for the love of God, give me a drink."

Politics Tearing Mormons Apart

Per a (very good) article in the Salt Lake Tribune, Mormon leaders have started getting involved in politics, especially the resistance to same-sex marriage, and most especially California's Proposition 8.

As you might expect, this has caused some unrest in the pews.  The article begins this way:

The thought of going to church in her southern California LDS ward makes Carol Oldham cry. She can't face one more sermon against same-sex marriage. She can't tolerate the glares at the rainbow pin on her lapel. ... She feels the church is bringing politics into her sanctuary.

"It has tainted everything for me," Oldham said, choking up during a telephone interview. "I am afraid to go there and hear people say mean things about gay people. I am in mourning. I don't know how long I can last."

We feel for Mrs. Oldham, and for other Mormons, especially the gay ones.  

But -- and if we're wrong, may God forgive us -- we can't help rubbing our greasy hands together in glee at the thought of Mormons tearing each other apart.  We'd actually pay to see it in the Colosseum, if we had any money left.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Return of Gay Jesus

We had sort of hoped this was all behind us.  And in a sense it is. 

The Rattlestick Playwright's Theatre is running a (brief) revival of Terence McNally's 1998 Corpus Christi, about a gay Texan and his twelve friends, the arc of whose lives bear a striking resemblance to a better-known story.  (And a tip o' the biretta to Fr. W.E.B. for pointing this out).

Per the Times review (click up top), there are some significant differences between this version and the original.  Most are differences not in the play but in the times.  Ten years ago, there were protests, bomb threats, and one theatre chickened out altogether.  The emotional ante was probably raised for everybody by the murder of Matthew Shepard, which took place just before opening night.  But this time:
There was no talk in the aisles of free speech or the First Amendment. I didn’t even walk through a metal detector.

So now it's just a play, and not a cause -- surely better for everybody, artists and church people alike.  (And, stripped of its causiness, the show sounds considerably better than it did at first, even if it also sounds a bit dull).  

But there is one change in this production which seems noteworthy.  The hero's twelve friends were originally all played by men; now some of the parts are taken by women

We quite like this.  Not because of anything to do with Scripture (yes, there are women identified as "apostles" in the Bible; no, they aren't numbered among the Twelve; and, honestly, those old arguments won't be resolved by any play, least of all this one), but for other reasons.  The first is dramatic:  Gay men, like most other men, do have female friends, and often very close ones.  Recognizing this adds a bit of verisimilitude.

But in a sorta-kind-religious-allegory, verisimilitude is at best a secondary concern.   The second reason we like the addition of women is that there are two (overlapping) communities in which women have frequently been treated very poorly:  In the church, and -- friends notwithstanding -- among gay men.  In both cases, the mistreatment has probably been a side effect of other things, rather than a goal unto itself.  But that doesn't make it any less hurtful or wrong.  And in both cases, a little maturity goes a long way, and we see this newest, umm, incarnation of Corpus Christi as a more mature event all the way around. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Surreal Americans

We at the Egg have been properly peeved by Gov. Palin's campaign-trail remark to the effect that small towns in the South and West are "real America," with the implication that those of us in cities or towns outside the GOP safe-zone are unpatriotic.  It was a mean-spirited and divisive remark, for which she has been roundly and appropriately chastised.  Lesson learned, right?


First we had Rep. Michelle Bachmann call for investigations of the un-American activities in Congress.  That was weird, in a retro sort of way.  "Tailgunner Shelly" they call her -- you know, like "Tailgunner Joe."

Then top McCain aide Nancy Pfotenhauer told MSNBC that even though her candidate is losing in northern Virginia, he was still strong in "the rest of the state, real Virginia, if you will."  We won't, and neither will most Virginians.
Next we had another congressman, Robin Hayes of North Carolina, who warmed up a rally by declaring that "liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God."  When quoted by the press, Hayes denied ever saying it, and threw out the usual Republican accusation of "irresponsible journalism."  But there's a a sound file -- keeping the retro theme, come to think of it, since in our youth another lying Republican was done in by tapes.

So here's the thing we have to be clear about:  Republican politicians -- at least some of them, and those apparently the most conservative -- genuinely believe that people who disagree with their policies are unpatriotic America-bashers.  They really think that, which is why they keep saying it.

They love to call themselves "the party of Lincoln" and to talk about Theodore Roosevelt, a politician so progressive that even progressive Republicans (remember them?) drove him out of their party.  But in fact, scratch even a little bit beneath the surface, and you can see that the modern-day GOP is still the party of Nixon and McCarthy -- that is, the party of paranoia and fearmongering.

Actually, it's a little bit worse.  The Grand Old Party of yore, to which Father A. still professes his fond if nostalgic allegiance, was distinguished by one especially honorable characteristic:  resistance to the ethnic manipulation of the Democrats, which in the South was outright racism.  But when Rep. Hayes mentioned to his crowd that there was a clear choice between Obama and McCain, somebody from the crowd shouted out "It's black and white."  That is a chilling reminder of what's really going on beneath the surface of these rallies, and of what the party has become. 

This "real American" business is a strange strategy, given that Gov. Palin's husband belonged for several years to a genuinely anti-American party, devoted to Alaskan separatism -- and that, as we have seen before, beneath the worst of Southern conservatism there is another genuine strain of ant-American separatism, as witnessed by Bill Murchison and the League of the South.  

For the record, Father A. quite likes the United States of America, as presently constituted.  His ancestors settled New Amsterdam, and his wife's settled Jamestown.  He can recite from memory the lyrics to perhaps 75 of the best-loved American folk songs, although he has been asked not to sing them before company.  Fresh out of college, he offered to defend his nation for no reason other than the sheer gratitude for its gifts (the offer was rejected for medical reasons).  His 19-month-old son salutes the flag every morning while Mommy says the pledge.  And - perhaps more to the point -- Father A. cries when burying veterans, which is often, and after 9/11 counseled survivors and buried the slain.  

We would be surprised to learn that Palin, Hayes et al. can say the same on many of these counts.  That doesn't mean they are bad Americans.  We would not say such a thing, at least not easily.  But  their recent behavior does suggest that that they are wretched human beings.  

Bush's War Continues to Ruin Lives of Christians

Six hundred more Christian families are reported fleeing Mosul.  That is on top of the 1,424 said to have left as of last week.  The surge is working for somebody, but apparently not for Assyrian and Chaldean Christians.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, NGO aid worker Gayle Williams was assassinated by the Taliban.  Her job was to work with disabled children.  Her "crime," in the eyes of the assassins, was to spread Christianity.  Colleagues insist that she did not do this.  We believe them, because aid workers generally know the limitations under which they work; but beyond that, we remind our readers that free discourse on matters of religion is a crime only in societies that do not value freedom.  (Which is why, much as we hate to admit it, Germany should lay off the Scientologists).

Meanwhile, the violence against Christians in Orissa and Karnataka worsens, while the  Indian government does as little as it possibly can.

Meanwhile back in the US of A, a Republican leader in Georgia has called upon his party faithful to take a moment each night to pray, among other things, "that the Bible will remain the bases [sic] for the laws governing our land; and that Christianity will prevail in the U.S."  This sort of talk is the Christianist version of what the Taliban believe, and if you want to see where it leads in a pluralaistic society, look at Orissa.  And weep.

Monday, October 20, 2008

"Voter Fraud" is a Fraud

For years now, the Republican Party has promoted the idea that their opponents commit voter fraud, apparently on a vast and systematic basis.  Sadly, for them as well as for talking heads the world over, the evidence does not support this.  (Or, to put that last sentence in plainer English:  The Republicans are lying).

Readers may remember that the Justice Department firings -- a scandal that would have been a signal disgrace to any administration with fewer disgraces to its name -- were all about this matter.  In state after state, Rove, Goodling and friends pushed US attorneys to investigate voter fraud.  When the attorneys, most of them solid Republicans themselves, declined to prosecute based on lack of evidence, they were canned.

Lately, we've heard a lot about ACORN, a community organizing group accused of registration fraud, which although it does not involve any fraudulent votes -- Mickey Mouse will not show up at the polls, and won't be let into a booth if he does -- is still an assault on the system.  (And we are not ACORN patsies.  Au contraire.  If you want to hear scorn, please, please ask Father Anonymous about community organizing groups and the pastors who frequent them).  But the fact is that, despite Sen. McCain's intemperate and deceitful debate rant, this is not voter fraud.  Key point.

But the GOP is still in there swinging.  Last week, the RNC accused this same group of voter fraud -- that is, actually attempting to abet the casting of 28 illegal votes -- in New Mexico.  They even organized a conference call for this afternoon, to present their "facts."

Problem being, there were no "facts."  According to ACORN, in its own conference call, NM election officials had certified that the 28 voters in question were all legal voters.  When the GOP conference call was held, and spokesman Danny Diaz was asked about the matter, he replied, "Well, truth is that I'm a lying turd-blossom in the Karl Rove/Lee Atwater tradition."  Actually, he changed the subject -- but close enough.

In other words, they are lying liars who lie, and as the days draw short, they are lying up a storm.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Martyn Minns is a Baby-Killer

Here's a new wrinkle in the Anglican schism.  A badly over-written article posted at Virtue Online complains that the GAFCON churches don't put enough energy into opposing abortion.

We are impatient with those who, like Fr. Brian Turley, devote 60% of an op-ed piece to the argument that anybody who disagrees with them is a Nazi.  There has been some public discussion of late regarding hatchets and scalpels, compared to which the old "my opponents are fascists" is a chainsaw.  After all, Hitler denied gay people any civil rights; Abp Peter Akinola has attempted to do likewise -- does that make him Goebbels?  Likely not, although time may tell.  

Still, Turley has put a finger on something worth noting:  the American churches which have made such a fuss over what they, with comparatively little documentary support, consider to be the "traditional Christian teaching" on homosexuality, have had relatively little to say about another matter on which -- whatever the theological pros and cons may be -- the witness of tradition is quite strong.  (Think Didache, people).

Of itself, this is a small thing.  After all, the schismatics have been awfully busy with their single-item agenda; perhaps they plan to address other items in due course.  That sort of narrow focus is a luxury which only fringe groups possess.  But perhaps their hesitation has a strategic component.  While we assume that the anti-gay and anti-abortion demographics overlap, we also suspect that they are not identical.  For GAFCON and its adherents to make a fuss about the latter now might cost it at least some member churches, and some money.  So it doesn't.

If so, there is a strategic opening for the PECUSA, and the Anglican Communion, here.  They could identify Anglican parishes (and perhaps provinces) with an historic anti-abortion stand but which have also got an historically-informed anti-schism stand, and invite them to share their thinking, as publicly as possible.  This would leave a bad taste in the mouth of  many, or even most, Episcopalians; but it would also be a reminder of the historic Anglican commitment to living together under one ecclesiastical structure even while disagreeing on matters of faith and practice.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Al Smith Dinner

If we can find a link to some video, we'll post it, because both candidates were as genial as they are able to be at this wretched point in their lives and ours.

McCain's speechwriter was very good, and he got off the best line:  "It's gonna be a long night at MSNBC if I pull this thing off.  I understand Olbermann's already had a banner made up that says 'Mission Accomplished.'"

Obama came close, though, with this one:  "Contrary to what you may have heard, I wasn't born in a manger.  I was born on Krypton."

"Joe" the "Plumber" is Kind of Stupid

As you probably know by now, the guy to whom both candidates gave repeated shouts-out in the final presidential debate has become an overnight sensation -- watch for Joe the Plumber t-shirts, TV appearances, and maybe dating Britney Spears.  At least until Hollywood's famous vortex sucks him down, into the terrible world of drugs, debt and debauchery, and at last he winds up working night security at a shopping mall, alongside the late Gary Coleman.

Actually, we just checked Wikipedia, and it turns out Gary Coleman is still alive.  Go figure. 

Anyway.  A couple of things to know about Joe the Plumber, who wants to buy his boss's business, and is afraid that Barack Obama's tax plan will make that dream impossible:
  • His name isn't Joe.  It's Samuel.  He calls himself Joe, which is his middle name, and there's no reason he shouldn't.  But we're not going to.
  • He isn't a plumber -- that is, Sam isn't a licensed plumber, the kind of guy you call over when there are burst mains or pipes that need to be re-routed.  (Although we suppose he could re-seat a valve.  Father Anonymous did that this summer, no license needed, and found it the most terrifying-but-exhilarating three minutes of his recent life.  It's been a slow year.)  According to the Toldeo Blade, Sam works for a real plumber, and likes to pretend that he's allow to do plumbing "under the license" of his employer, but that's simply not how the laws are written, so he's lying and probably committing fraud if he comes over to re-seat your valve.  At least if you pay him.  And by the way, he's worked for his present employer for six years, and hasn't had a apprenticeship recognized by the union, or taken his licensing test.  Which makes us wonder how likely he is to ever buy the business. 
  • He likes paying higher taxes.  This is the only possible deduction to be drawn from his apparent support for John McCain, whose plan calls for people in Sam's income bracket to continue shouldering a larger share of the national tax burden.  Obama's plan would cut his taxes, and continue cutting them unless he more than sextupled his $40k income.  When confronted with the fact, he remarked that "he would not want the cut."  This makes us wonder whether, having somehow purchased a business he is neither trained nor licensed to operate, he possesses the basic financial skills to keep it afloat.
  • But he's very forgetful.  That's why, even though he likes paying taxes, he hasn't paid the $1200 or so for which Lucas County, Ohio, has put a lien on his property.  Which, again, makes us wonder whether he will ever buy the company or keep it going.
We at the Egg understand that stupid people vote -- just see our post on the subject, down below.  Likewise with liars and frauds and tax-cheats.  But we do wonder what it means when presidential candidates begin pandering to them.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Vatican Coverup: Pope Stabbed By Spanish Priest.

Okay, it was a quarter-century ago.  But here at the Egg, we say "if it bleeds, it leads."  Tasteful, huh?

Anyway, it seems that two years after Pope John Paul II was shot by a crazed Turk, he was stabbed by a crazed Spaniard, Father Juan Fernandez Krohn.  The attack itself was not covered up -- police knocked the knife from Krohn's hand, and he was sent to prison.  But the public was allowed to believe that Krohn had been stopped before actually piercing the pope's tough old Polish hide.

In fact, as we now learn from Stanislaw Cardinal Dziwisz, the knife got through.  "there was blood," says the cardinal, an eyewitness, although the report doesn't say how much.  Still, it is a testament to John Paul's genuine gutsiness that he went on with his trip, not even talking about the wound.  Whatever our reservations about JPII, and they are many, we have never doubted his testicular amplitude.

The Surge is Working

Except for Christians.

Per the AP, 1350 Christian families have been forced to flee their homes in Mosul.  That's more than 8000 Christians displaced by George W. Bush's war, along with the tens of thousands already documented.  By removing a secular regime (albeit a wicked one) and replacing it with competing Islamic factions, our military effort has done more damage to Christians, because of their Christianity, than any conflict since the Treaty of Westphalia was signed.

We've said it before, we'll say it again:  based on his actions, Bush clearly hates Christians.

What Obama Should Have Said

McCain:  "I'm not George Bush.  if you wanted to run against him, you should have done it four years ago."

Obama:  "You did run against him, John -- which makes me wonder why you've voted with him 90% of the time."

Tail Should Stop Wagging Dog, Start Burning Dog Alive and Replacing With New, Prettier, More Overtly Fascist Dog

Bill Kristol -- the worst Op-Ed columnist on earth? -- thinks that McCain should fire his campaign team, since they are obviously not "in synch" with the candidate.

We have an alternative proposal.  The campaign should fire McCain.  He hasn't done much for them lately, has he?   Conservatives don't trust him, and you do need conservative votes to elect a Republican.  And what the hell -- they've got Palin.  

Deliver Us From Temptation

Father A. is sorely challenged, friends.  Perhaps you can offer some advice.

His inbox yesterday included a note, copied to every priest in the diocese, inviting us to hear a certain colleague speak on the ever-popular topic of sex.  Specifically, we have been invited to hear him hold forth on the subject of the ELCA's recent draft statement on homosexuality.  It was sent by a priest in the adjacent diocese whom we do not know.

The problem is that we already know what the brother in question thinks on the subject, since he circulated a lengthy essay on the subject.  His essay argues, in essence, that God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve; that Jesus quoted this very passage when asked about divorce; and that therefore we have ready access to the eternal will of God with relation to sex, marriage and family.   The rest of Scripture barely gets a passing glance, and the weird complexities of church history are ignored.  

In other words, the essay is theologically reductive.  In an effort to create a neat, orderly ethical system, it sets aside the fullness of the Scriptural witness, as well as the history of doctrine and decades of sober theological discussion.  It is -- and let us say this clearly -- a very bad piece of work.  It is full of what a teacher once called "ipse dixits" -- statements of opinion uttered as though self-evidently factual, on the order of "one must conclude, therefore."  But must one?  The logic is poor and the research appears to be nonexistent, so no case is proven, and this reader, at least, concluded nothing except that his time was wasted.

Oh, and the fellow's prose is unbearably pompous -- and that from the Egg, which routinely uses the "royal we."

So, obviously, we aren't going to leave town for the opportunity to hear this self-important buffoon insult our intelligence.  The question is whether we ought to respond to the invitation -- which, remember, was copied to 200 or so of our closest colleagues -- by sharing our thoughts on the subject much as they appear above, and then hitting "reply all."

Idiots Will Vote For Obama

Along with the usual smart people, that is.  And while the idiot vote will be welcome, from a purely political perspective, the degree of idiocy is disturbing.

Blogger Ben Smith has a funny and disturbing email from a Republican operative, describing a Midwestern focus-group session, showing conservative Democrats and Independents a ferocious anti-Obama attack ad.  To the op's chagrin, the ad both succeeded and failed:  the group came away believing that Obama wouldn't be a good president, but determined to vote for him anyway.

Here are two freakish examples:

54 year-old white male, voted Kerry '04, Bush '00, Dole '96, hunter, NASCAR fan...hard for Obama said: "I'm gonna hate him the minute I vote for him. He's gonna be a bad president. But I won't ever vote for another god-damn Republican. I want the government to take over all of Wall Street and bankers and the car companies and Wal-Mart run this county like we used to when Reagan was President."

The next was a woman, late 50s, Democrat but strongly pro-life. Loved B. and H. Clinton, loved Bush in 2000. "Well, I don't know much about this terrorist group Barack used to be in with that Weather guy but I'm sick of paying for health insurance at work and that's why I'm supporting Barack."

Um ... what?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

McCain Wants Soul Back; Devil Says "Too Late"

In today's papers, there are several reports that John McCain has taken to rebuking supporters when they shout from the bleachers that Barack Obama is a "traitor" or a "terrorist."  It is right for him to do so, of course.  

But let's be clear.  This isn't human decency, this is transparent hypocrisy.  The McCain team is speaking from both sides of its mouth.  After all, it is his own running mate who has made headlines lately with her (obviously scripted) attacks on Sen. Obama's character, and who shows no inclination to stop now.  So McCain tries to make himself look honorable by opposing the foulest prejudices and misinformation about his opponent, while his own campaign continues to spew the stuff like lawn fertilizer.  

It is a comment on just how effective his slime tactics have been that his own supporters booed McCain in Minneapolis for saying that Obama is "a decent person."

This supposed new direction is no testament to McCain's character.  It is a reminder of just how little character he has demonstrated over the past few weeks.

The Terrorist-in-Chief

Just a reminder:  Sarah Palin is closely associated with a political party sponsored by Iran and determined to dismantle the United States.  That's not a joke, it's not irony and it's not hyperbole.

From David talbot in Salon:

"My government is my worst enemy. I’m going to fight them with any means at hand.”

This was former revolutionary terrorist Bill Ayers back in his old Weather Underground days, right? Imagine what Sarah Palin is going to do with this incendiary quote as she tears into Barack Obama this week.

Only one problem. The quote is from Joe Vogler, the raging anti-American who founded the Alaska Independence Party. Inconveniently for Palin, that’s the very same secessionist party that her husband, Todd, belonged to for seven years and that she sent a shout-out to as Alaska governor earlier this year. (“Keep up the good work,” Palin told AIP members. “And God bless you.”)

And yes, Vogler got funding from the Iranians.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Just a Reminder

From yesterday's entry in one of the more interesting Papist blogs:

According to the wildest exponent of the traditionalist fringe -- and, well, that's saying something in itself -- today marks a half-century since the chair of Peter was last occupied by the Pope.

Click up top for more on Paul Vi, not nearly enough on the sedevacantist loonies, and some neat video of Sua Santita in action.

The Number That Matters

It's not the Dow or the S&P.  It's LIBOR.

Father A. remembers, through something of a haze, a time in his life when the London Interbank Offering Rate came up fairly often around the office.  It was years ago, when he worked as a nocturnal peon at an international law firm, dated the wrong woman, and studied theology by day -- sleeping, if at all, on the train from Manhattan to Princeton.  But that was in another country, and besides, the wench is ... well, living in Virginia somewhere.

For those who don't know, LIBOR is the interest rate at which banks lend each other money -- a fundamental building block of real capitalism.  Click up top for a summary in plain English.  We have always believed what James Fallows says in his blog today -- that the press pays too much attention to the daily fluctuations of the stock market.  Those daily (or even weekly) ups and downs aren't a measure of much at all, and they have meant less and less as the market has become increasingly volatile over the years.  But LIBOR matters, especially now.  It tells you, at a glance, whether there is credit available to lubricate the wheels on international commerce. 

Fallows, by the way, has a strong recommendation for the presidential candidate(s). We are at a moment of economic crisis, he says, in which reasoned discussion is urgent. He adds:

To have the discussion distracted by -- well, it would be nice to be even-handed about this, but the truth is that the distraction has been 99% from the McCain side, with the ongoing crap about the Weathermen in the 1960s -- is suicidal.

And suicide, we might add, is a sin.

Peace, Peace, Where There Is No Peace

We have always had our doubts about the Nobel prize, since it is administered by Swedes.  Oh, they seem nice enough, until your people have been colonized by them for a few hundred years.  Then you see them for the arrogant, excessively tall creatures that they are -- like the French, but better-looking.  And you understand the Nobel committee's comically snotty disdain for American literature.

But here's a Nobel we can get behind:  Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, just won the Peace Prize for his years of diplomatic work in some of the messiest regions of the world (Indonesia, Kosovo, Ireland and the UN).

Of course, the Peace Prize is administered by Norwegians.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

New Living Goddess!

Congratulations to our Hindu friends.  Their newest kumari is a darling little 3-year-old named Matani Shakya.  Click the link for a picture and some details.

We do need to point out that the practice of selecting little girls to serve temporarily as your god probably violates some laws.  Not to mention the whole idolatry thing.  But that's just us.

Monday, October 06, 2008

McCain's Pants On Fire

As in "liar, liar" and so forth.  

During these last weeks of the campaign, with his poll numbers slipping, McCain is getting desperate.  A brief Times blog (click up top) fact-checks some of his recent misrepresentations, both of his own positions and of Obama's.  

Meanwhile, Sarah Palin is rehashing the whole argument that Obama, because he knows an ex-Weatherman socially and professionally, is somehow soft on terrorism.  This is a truly bad idea.  Does anybody really want to be considered guilty of the worst thing ever done by somebody they have worked with?  Because John McCain was in Vietnam, which means he has probably worked with some war criminals (hell, he has claimed to be one himself. Literally) .  He has spent decades in the Senate, which certainly means he has worked with crooks -- think Randy Cunningham, or the rest of the Keating Five.  He hugged George Bush.  Oh, and his wife is a thieving drug addict.

Nope.  Both outright lies and desperate attempts at guilt by association are infra dig, or should be, for somebody seeking our highest office.  And anyway, he doesn't have to panic this way.  Or didn't anybody explain to him that the voting machines are all rigged?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

"Catholic Church Is Riven by Internal Debate"

That's a Dept. of No Surprise headline from the Times.  

After all, when has the Roman church not been riven by internal debate?  Certainly not in the 9th century, when Ratramnus and Radbertus fought over the nature of the Eucharist, or the 13th, when Thomas Aquinas threw down with Siger of Brabant over Aristotle's understanding of the intellect.  Certainly not in the 16th, when some monks in Germany -- ah, but we digress.

Anyhoo, the Times article is typical election year stuff, about bishops who insist that their priests take up pulpit time telling people how to vote -- and that they tell them to vote Republican.  There is some blowback, not necessarily by liberals but by Catholics like Doug Kmiec, once legal counsel in the Reagan administration, who argue that the Dems currently best reflect the big picture of Catholic social teaching.

Now, to the extent that this is true, it has been true for many years.  The relationship between Roman Catholics and the Democratic Party is long and at least partially honorable.  The newer relationship with Republicanism, forged in the crucible of the pro-life movement, is not as long but certainly familiar.  What may be new, or at least new-ish, is the vocal insistence by some Catholics (excluding nuns and labor leaders, who we must admit do figure prominently in the story) that Catholic voters have a moral obligation to consider not only abortion but other matters on which their church speaks. 

The Horror in Orissa Continues

We have had little to say about the recent violence between Christians and Hindus in India, principally because it is so painful.  The opening lines of this Times of India story may be all you need to hear:

Rajani Majhi, a 20-year-old girl, was gangraped before being burnt alive by a mob at the church-run orphanage in Orissa's Bargarh district where she worked, says a senior priest. They mistook her for a Christian.

The article goes in in considerable detail, and is not for readers weak of heart or stomach.  The priest is quoted, several times, as saying that he is ready to testify in court, and the terrible possibility is that he may be called to testify, because so many attacks of this sort go unpunished.  

We realize that, as in all communal violence, there is another side to the story, that the Hindus blame the August assassination of a political leader upon Christians, that the Christians deny it and that the real problems have to do with the conflict between modernity and tradition.

But still.  This has to stop.

Friday, October 03, 2008


Click above for some fact-checking on the debate.  Bottom line:  Many falsehoods were uttered.

Come On. Who Really Won?

What, no patience with nuance?  Fine, then.  It was Biden.  CNN says so:

Fifty-one percent of those polled thought Biden did the best job in Thursday night's debate, while 36 percent thought Palin did the best job. ...

Both candidates exceeded expectations — 84 percent of the people polled said Palin did a better job than they expected, while 64 percent said Biden also exceeded expectations.

But on the question of the candidates' qualifications to assume the presidency, 87 percent of the people polled said Biden is qualified while only 42 percent said Palin is qualified.

So Who Won?

Obviously, the pathetic theatrical displays we call "presidential debates" do not have clear winners.  (Or losers, except perhaps for those of us who waste our time watching them and then waste more by discussing them afterwards.)  There is no system of points, no jury or referee to declare a winer.  Just spin.

For our part, we at the Egg cannot imagine how anybody's vote would have been changed by the Vice-Presidential debate last night.  If you liked a candidate going in, you probably liked the same candidate coming out; if you were undecided, then (a) you are probably not very smart, given how clear the differences of policy and temperament are between the principals, but (b) there wasn't much here to help you make a rational decision.

To Biden's credit, he avoided most of the obvious traps.  His answers were comparatively brief, cogent, and without significant error.  He displayed a meaningful grasp of relevant facts, including -- somewhat comically -- the ability to describe Palin's work in Alaska more clearly than she herself.  He did not bully his opponent or seek to discredit her, and directed most of his attention to McCain's policies and voting record.  

Speaking both of McCain and of Palin, Biden was remarkably courteous.  To some observers, this may look like weakness, but it was not.  He avoided appearing cruel to Palin, and by reminding us that he and McCain have been friends and colleagues for many years, he underscored his own experience and gravitas.  Perhaps no less significantly, he maintained the tone of polite reserve which is a mark of Obama's candidacy, and which, even if moderated somewhat in these last weeks, does mark a distinct change in tone from the slash-and-burn political campaigns to which Americans have become accustomed.

Nor did Palin make a fool of herself.  Most of her answers were grammatically clear.  She certainly did evade some questions, and on a couple of occasions her answers made no sense to us at all, particularly when speaking of the things she probably knows best -- her work in Alaska, and relationships with the oil companies.  This is worrisome commentary on the nature of her communication skills.  While she was snippier with Biden than he could afford to be with her, she kept the tone appropriately light.  

But the fact that Palin gave comprehensible answers to most questions doesn't mean that the answers were any good.  Like McCain in his first debate, she tried to turn every question back to tax policy.  We understand that this is a beloved Republican trope, but in a year when the Democrats have a plan that is not only more realistic, but also more favorable to the middle class, we can't see how it could help them.  She fell back on other campaign talking points, often without explaining how they were true:  "McCain knows how to win a war" is our favorite, because it is so clearly false; but also "our opponents don't support the troops," "drilling for oil will support alternative sources of energy;" and the second-most loathsome of the current crop, overuse of the word "maverick."  First most loathsome?  That would be blather about the "media filter" versus "talking straight to the American people," especially when used as an excuse for dodging questions.

Still, Palin did make a remark which, if true, speak well of her.  When asked how to reduce the polarization of our political culture, she immediately responded "appoint people without regard to party."  This would be a remarkable step away from the Bush Administration, provided "people" includes somebody besides Joe Lieberman and Zell Miller.  Alaskan politics, by many accounts, is not deeply partisan, and we wonder what her track record of appointments looks like.  Anybody know?

Still, she also said a few things, not mistakes but apparently reasoned statements, which we found chilling.  On gay rights, she waffled in a way that was clearly designed to please the social conservatives while apparently betraying her own instincts and even track record, when she said that she did not favor extending Alaska's own legal protections to gay people in the rest of the country. (She immediately backtracked, leaving us unsure what she really meant, believes or would do)  

On global warming, she said (and not for the first time; we heard this from her in the Couric interview, almost verbatim) that she wants to look for solutions without talking about causes.  This is a stunningly unscientific approach.  It makes sense only from an ideological position that wants, above everything else, to avoid assigning blame for bad things to one's own party -- the same impulse that led her to chide Biden for pointing out, correctly, that Republican policies have done tremendous damage to America's economy, environment and international prestige.  The problem is that global warming is not a partisan problem, nor one for which ideological responses are remotely appropriate.  If there were any policy issue for which a purely technocratic solution is appropriate, this would be it.

When asked what campaign promises they would need to break in light of changed economic circumstances, and about mistakes they had made, Palin was ludicrous, especially when compared to Biden.  She adopted the sort of "admit nothing" technique that works in a 9th grade classroom debate, but sounds childish from an adult.  Biden, by naming a promise immediately and by (lightly) acknowledging his own weaknesses, sounded far more mature, not to mention credible.

But the one truly chilling moment, for us at least, came when they were asked about the role of the Vice-President. Neither retreated into pure constitutionalism -- "to break ties in the Senate, and check on the President's health."  Both took for granted some of the comparatively recent developments in the job. Biden sees the Veepship as a trusted advisor -- sort of the Gore model, we suppose.  Palin's immediate answer was that the Vice-President actually has more constitutional authority than the job usually gets, a remark that unnerved us.  

When Gwen Ifill followed up with a question about the Cheney office's peculiar contention that the Vice-President is a constitutional anomaly, subject to the rules governing neither the Executive nor the legislative branches, we got scared.  Palin began by saying "it's flexible," never a good approach to the differentiation of roles.  And then, without prompting, she said "So, um, yeah, I do agree with Cheney."  This is seriously bad news, given the deadly mischief that Cheney has worked these past few years, not merely with regard to torture and international law, but also with regard to subverting both Congress and the Presidency.

So who won?  Well, eye of the beholder and all that.  But if America actually winds up with another Dick Cheney in office, defying the laws and the lawmakers, we will all lose.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Veep Debate

Whew.  Thought there would be an ad break or two.  For those who missed it, here is a quick rundown, typed while it happened.

9:02 -- She really is pretty.  "Hey, can I call you Joe?"  Hell, she can call me Joe.

:03-- Worst or best of DC?

Biden:  Blames Bush for economic policies.  Fair enough by us.  OTOH, Congress hasn't exactly been "put in a tough spot."  Makes Obama sound like an MBA for minute.  Beats an ideologue.

Palin:  Soccer moms!  Apparently, they've figured out that we're in trouble.  Canaries in the coal mine.  Blames "Federal Government," claims McCain was out ahead on this with Freddie/Fannie "reform bill."  Praises him for "suspending".

:07 -- Can Veep reduce polarization?

Biden says he's been doing it whole career.  But ... it's gotten worse during his whole career.  So he goes back to beating up McCain on economy.

Her response is to defend mcCain on "fundamentals."  Team of mavericks, claims she's known for putting partisanship aside -- ummm, how?  Then a dig at Biden's "years in senate."  And !@#$% "maverick" again.

09 -- Ifill calls non-responsive, moves on to mortgage crisis.  Promises to come back to it.  Never does.

Palin: blames predatory lenders, corruption on Wall Street.  Is corruption per se really the issue?  As in lawbreaking?

Biden: blames deregulation, and talks about McCain's experience w/ same.  Great bit about desire to deregulate healthcare on banking model -- is it true?  Palin wants to turn it into  a meaningless discussion of taxes, but  does make one interesting point -- McCain has also been pretty involved in regulation, which is why so many conservatives hate him.  But she's just silly on that 2-yr-old procedural thing that McCain dragged out last time, and Biden swats her down.  Gently.

The baby cries, and I lose the ability to keep time.  Hey, it's live internet.

"I may not answer the questions the way the moderator or you want to hear" -- what the hell does that mean?  Ah, she cut taxes, and wants to brag, even though its off-point.  (Did she?)

So on to taxes:  Why isn't Obama's plan class warfare, McCain's dumping on poor?

Biden:  Bush tax cuts are going to the rich, Obama's to the middle class.  Worth repeating, and it is simple fairness, isn't it?  "This is not punitive" -- even though that's how most people seem to see all taxation.  Nice bit about doing just as well as they did under Reagan.

Palin:  Less job creation!  Taxes aren't patriotic -- see?  Government is the problem!  (Why won't people who think that stay out of government?  They stink at it).  But has to be reminded to talk about the health-care plan, which is a lame-o $5000 credit.  (Tell that to your oncologist or surgeon, who charge as much for one procedure).  Oh, and misrepresents Obama's plan.

Biden:  Reminds us that the really small businesses don't get tax increases.  Then great argument about McCain's tax deduction -- is a tax on the insured that is paid directly to insurance companies.  (Can that possibly be true?  What a lousy plan, if it is. A "Bridge to nowhere" -- nice dig.)

Next:  Promises you'll have to break?

Biden:  Foreign assistance won't double.  Then, weirdly, says he won't support McCain's policies.  Uh, yeah.  We thought that already.  Then, like Obama, talks about all the stuff he won't change on.  Um, yeah.  Non-responsive.  

Palin:  McCain has character!  (Tell his first wife).  Obama voted for tax breaks for oil companies, and she claims that she -- what?  Rescinded them?  Who knows.  She broke up a monopoly?  Which one -- only McCain is old enough to remember Standard Oil.  (What precisely is she saying she did?  What precisely does this have to do with the question?)

Ifill:  "So ... nothing?"  Palin says that's right, because I haven't promised anything yet.  Complete waste of airtime.

Biden:  Okay, back to taxes.  Alternative energy; and hey, about McCain's budget -- why is he cutting oil company taxes more?  But he knows what she actually did in Alaska -- windfall profits tax that she imposed and McCain opposes.  Nice maneuver -- using the facts.

Next:  Making bankruptcy harder.  McCain supported it -- do you?  Oh, and Biden did, Obama didn't.

Palin:  Yes, but, ahem, um, it was different 2 years ago, and McCain warned us.  (Which is meaningless.  He still wants to punish the bankrupt.)

Biden:  Obama and I disagreed.  And Obama knew about the crisis 2 years ago!  We've done this already.  But he wants bankruptcy courts to have the power to change your debt principal -- holy cow, that's intense.  Anyway, claims McCain and Palin oppose it.

Ifill:  Is that so?
Palin:  That is not so.  Now let's talk about something else -- energy!  We need energy independence!  My God, the terrorists are selling us oil!

Next:  Energy and climate change.

Palin:  Hey, we've got that.  Did you know I'm from Alaska? But Man may have done some of the damage, and then some damage is "cyclical," and I don't care about the causes. Let's just talk about what we can do to clean it up.  (Um, yeah.  Without understanding the cause?)  Hey -- if we were energy independent, that would somehow keep China from polluting with all the cheaper oil ... what was I saying again?

Biden:  It's manmade.  Clearly manmade.  "If you don't understand the cause, it's impossible to come up with a solution."  So he cites some facts.  We like facts.  More alternative energy, then export the tech to China to clean them up.  (Could that have been what Palin meant?  Or was she just blathering?)

Next:  Cap and trade, clean coal.

Palin:  Drill, baby drill.  (So ... not so big into alternative energy, just alternative wells?)  Says the Dems have said no to everything, called drilling "raping the continental shelf."  Oh, okay, she does want alternatives, like "nuke-you-lar."  And she supports cap and trade.

Biden:  Hard targets on clean coal for 20 years, something abut China.  So why does McCain keep voting against funding alternative energy?  (Repeat)

Same-sex benefits to couples -- like Alaska?

Biden:  Yup.  Gives examples, but answer is clear and unambiguous.

Palin:  No.  It might redefine marriage.  But she is tolerant.  Umm ... so?  She won't prohibit certain rights, but wants to make it about ....  (Wait.  she's the governor of Alaska.  Shouldn't she support her own state's policy?  My head hurts.)

Same-sex marriage?

Biden:  No.  let your own damn church decide.  But as to rights under law, Palin agrees with me.
Palin:  No.  (But again avoids some details of question.)

Iraq exit strategy?

Palin:  We've got one!  The surge!  Petraueus and McCain invented it -- Note to Self:  remember not to mention POTUS.  Oooh -- reminds Biden that he argued with Obama about this.  Anyway, we've got to win in Iraq in order to win in Afghanistan.  Hey, she knows who the Shi'ia are.

Biden:  Shift responsibility and draw down troops over 16 months, just like Bush is starting to say but McCain won't.  And, yet again, he knows more about the details of the vote she's talking about.  "We will end this war -- for John M., there is no end in sight."

Palin:  Calls him chicken.  We'll stand down when they stand up.  Never mind the ongoing negotiations and express will of the Iraqi government. Reminds him of some more times he and Obama disagreed.

Biden:  McCain also voted to cut off funding for the troops -- specifically a lot of $ for M-RAPS.  Brings up McCain and Cheney and the absurd idea that the war would be fast and cheap.

Nuclear Iran and unstable Pakistan:  Which is worse?

Biden:  Both bad.  Pakistan has nukes; Iran isn't close.  Both are "game-changers."  And hey -- McCain still thinks an attack will come from Iraq, but we all know it will really come from the Pakistani-Afghan border.  We need to get our tails in there and (a) build schools, (b) kill OBL.

Palin:  No, no, no -- Petraeus and the Iraqis say it's Iraq, so it must be Iraq.  She can pronounce "Ahmadinejad," and considers him "neither sane nor stable."  (Does McCain really want to launch a preemptive strike on those guys? And how badly?)  Anyway, on to negotiating without preconditions.  Again.

Secretaries of State who all want us to engage with enemies.

Palin:  I met Kissinger!  He likes diplomacy!  But not with dictators who hate our freedoms and our respect for women's rights.  

Biden:  You misrepresent Obama.  And you guys do know Ahmedinejad doesn't control the security apparatus, right?  And you know that our friends and allies, the ones you want to drag along into a  negotiation, have been begging us to negotiate?  Picks on McCain for not negotiating with Spain.  (What WAS that Spain thing about?)

Israel/Palestine:  What have we done, done wrong, and is 2-state the way to go?

Palin:  Yes.  2-state.  But no 2nd Holocaust.  (Well.  That's revolutionary).

Biden:  I love Israel!  So does Obama!  But you asked about this administration -- "an abject failure."  Gives examples.  We like facts.  Especially all the "we-told-you-sos."  And we don't like Iran either, and I know more about it than she does.

Ifill:  Abject failure?
Palin:  No!  Bush Administration has made huge blunders, but shouldn't be blamed.  All this talk about the past makes us wonder if you care about the future.  (Wtf?  Can she name anything Bush did right?  She certainly isn't trying.)

Biden:  Will McCain's policy be different than Bush's?  I haven't heard ... (Long list of things he hasn't heard McCain differentiate from Bush.  He memorized this stuff way in advance.  Still, it sounds good.)

Interventionism and Nukes:  When do we push the button?

Palin:  Our enemies should never have the chance.  We have a deterrent, and that's "safe and stable."  Sure.  Again, she doesn't answer the question.  And then moves on to Afghanistan -- where McCain promises to be different from Bush because he'll implement ... a surge.

Biden:  1.  Afghanistan:  the commander said today that the surge principles used in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan.  We need more troops, more $ on infrastructure.  (Not sure about difference.)  2.  Back to nukes -- we need a test-ban treaty, and McCain voted against it.  Obamam and Lugar worked on it,

Palin:  McClellan did not say that!  Did not!  (Yes, she calls him McClellan, which was actually a Civil War general.)

Biden:  Yes he did.  (So, let's check this later, shall we?)  Anyway, McCain considered Afghanistan over and done with 2 years ago, and wouldn't let us spend money on it.

Interventionism.  Can the public stomach it?

Biden:  If we succeed.  (Hey -- he saw the first ten minutes of "Patton.")  Bosnia was  limited success; I voted for Iraq b/c Bush told me it was about giving sanctions teeth.  And we need to intervene in Darfur.

Palin:  I'm an outsider, silly.  You flip-flopped on the war -- for it before you were against it.  And you've gone soft since you got into the Veep race.  We agree on Darfur.  Hey, I'm the governor of Alaska -- we divested from Sudan.  That's like a war, right?  Except it hasn't passed yet.

Ifill:  So what's the line?  For when we go in?
Biden:  Can we win?  And how bad are they -- like genocide?  Then more about Iraq, and how Cheney screwed it up and mcCain supported Cheney.
Palin:  You're a liar.  McCain knows how to win a war (And again we ask:  How?  And why won't he tell us before we elect him?)  She says it again.

Next:  How would you govern if you had to, given differences from principles?

Biden:  God forbid.  But I would carry out his policies -- break for middle class, health, tax, college, energy, Iraq.  And on and on.  "In essence I agree with every major initiative."

Palin:  Team of mavericks!  Push him on ANWR.  He wants debate to make good policy.  But, ahem, I would continue his good work, especially fighting greed and corruption on Wall St., make it more like Wasilla Main St.  "Government, get out of my way!"

Biden:  I go to Home Depot.  And everybody I know is poorer than they were 8 years ago.  So where does McCain differ from Bush?  Go to my old neighborhood.  Or Scranton.

Palin:  You're talking about the past again!  Let's tell people what we want to do.  Ramp up the schools -- with funding.  Love the 3rd graders.  So let's "increase the standards," but "emphasize the profession of teaching."

Next:  One of you didn't know what the Veep did, the other didn't want it.

Palin:  My "jke" didnt work.  Neither did yours, Joe.  Constitution would permit a bit MORE authority given to Veep "in working with the Senate."  What???  Special needs children, just like the Constitution says.

Biden:  Hey, about education --  John doesn't support it.  Back to the Veepship:  Point person for initiatives in Congress; no portfolio; but give advice on major decisions.

Ifill:  Palin, what branch is the Veep in?

Palin:  Well, it's flexible.  We'll do what's best for the people in ushering an agenda.  "So, um, yeah, I do agree with [Cheney]...."  Oh, and did I mention I'm an executive?  <--- SCARIEST PART OF THE WHOLE DEBATE.   She agrees about Cheney's insane theory.

Biden:  Cheney is the most dangerous Veep in history.  He doesn't read the Constitution.  "Bizarre notion ... invented by Cheney to aggrandize the power."

What are your weak spots?

Palin:  I have experience as an executive!  Energy independence!  Heartland of America.  Once, I didn't have health coverage.  "And that world-view I share with John McCain."  (Um, those are your weaknesses?)  We're a good team.

Biden:  I have plenty of Achilles' heels.  And I won't change.  Wrote some good laws.  I'm a single parent -- my wife and daughter died.  My Dad went bust.  I'm doing great (even though I'm the poorest Senator).  (Again, these aren't really weaknesses ....)

Palin:  McCain is a maverick!  Why, even other Republicans like him -- Giuliani, Romney, me.  And partisanship is bad.

Biden:  Maverick my pasty behind.  Voted for Bush's deficit budget.  Voted against expanding health care.  Education, tax cuts, war -- "virtually anything that generally affects the things people talk about around the kitchen table."

Finally:  Single issue  on which you changed your view to fit circumstances?

Biden:  Yes.  Issue of basis upon which to approve or reject federal judges.  More than just moral turpitude -- ideology counts.

Palin:  Budgets I did not veto -- "I caved."  Didn't cut taxes enough.  But on principle, No.  Oh, and did I mention that I'm from Alaska?

Ifill: How do you change the tone in DC?

Biden:  Work across the aisle, the way Mike Mansfield taught me -- remember that Jesse Helms adopted a child; don't question your colleagues' motives.  Earn their respect.  (Not sure how that qualifies as "change.")

Palin:  Appoint people without regard for party.  (Good answer. Easily her best of the night.  Question:  Does her track record reflect this?).  Hey -- did you know I support jobs and energy and stuff?

Closing Statements

Palin:  We will fight for America, including the middle class (that we intend to use to pay for the tax cuts on the rich).  Quotes Ronald Reagan!  From memory!

Biden:   Economy tanking, so is credibility abroad.  We don't measure progress by CEO pay or corporate success -- but by how families are doing.  Dignity and respect in my old neighborhood.  "When you get knocked down, then get up."  I'm a working class guy.