Saturday, June 26, 2010

All That Remains

But the harvest of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the old nature and with its passions and desires. If the Spirit is the source of our life, let the Spirit also direct its course. Galatians 5:22-25 Revised English Bible

I have been searching for a way to address what I know has to be a conundrum for the vast majority of unChristian folks who have a question that needs to be addressed: How do we know who is and is not reflecting the true teachings of the Church? I make no claim to be a true and honest teacher on my own or of my own volition. I am always seeking to be correct, and recognize that I am quite often wrong. Yet, in my striving, I submit myself to the direction of the Spirit of God that is freedom, love, and grace.

When all the charges and counter-claims are made; when all the insults and hard words are cleared, all that remains to answer this question, really, are these words of St. Paul to the troubled churches in the old Roman province of Galatia. We Christians are those who bear the marks of the crucified one in their lives (as he says later in the letter, in chapter 6, verse 17). The fruits of the Spirit who guides our life are not a shrill dedication to damning all those who differ. Rather, in the Spirit of love and discipline, we do nothing more than live in the free love of the crucified and risen Christ. The Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of love. We uphold one another, bear one another's burdens (again, repeating St. Paul's injunction in chapter 6), and measure ourselves not against others, but only against our own lives and the inner testimony of the Spirit.

I cannot, in good conscience offer any other guide to discernment than this. Doctrine passes away. Prayers fall silent at some point. The testimony of the Spirit, lived in the life of the community as it witnesses to the world with love and freedom and grace as guides are all we have. We in the Church have much for which to make penance to the world. Our failure of clarity, the monstrous misdeeds done in the name of the One who died and rose so that all creation may experience the love and rebirth offered by God in Jesus Christ - we must confess these before we can speak the word of life for the world. We should offer a humble plea for forgiveness for our desire to be the Voice of Truth when there are far too many already in contention for this place of worldly honor. Finally, we should ask that our faults and failures not be held against us, as we do not hold them against the world so beloved of God the Father.

All that remains, it would seem, is to live in the Spirit so that our lives are the only testimony needed. I cannot think of another way of saying what needs to be said. Jesus Christ came so that we might have life, and that more abundantly. Everything else must testify to that reality. The Gospel defines who we are, who we are to be. That is all that remains, and lies at the heart of St. Paul's plea for the people of the churches in Galatia to bear the Spirit in their lives.

I hope and pray that same Gospel informs my own life. I can offer nothing else, certainly nothing that is mine.

Oh. Please. STOP!

The inside-the-beltway flap yesterday concerning the "resignation" of David Weigel from The Washington Post has gone from sad to painfully horrid with the narcissism of Jeffrey Goldberg. As I noted yesterday, Goldberg not only did not express sadness at a colleague losing his job, he danced with quite a bit of gleeat the thought that a fellow-journalist lost his job:
The sad truth is that the Washington Post, in its general desperation for page views, now hires people who came up in journalism without much adult supervision, and without the proper amount of toilet-training. This little episode today is proof of this. But it is also proof that some people at the Post (where I worked, briefly, 20 years ago) still know the difference between acceptable behavior and unacceptable behavior, and that maybe this episode will lead to the reimposition of some level of standards.

It is important to note a few things. This final paragraph of Goldberg's initial take on the Weigel incident follows several misstatements. First, he says that the comments Weigel made were on a "semi-public forum". No. They were on a private listserve for journalists that was off-the-record (called "Journolist", it was shut down yesterday by Ezra Klein, who decided that since it was no longer safe, it needed to go). In other words, these were private conversations, offered without permission and certainly with no intention for publication. Imagine, if you will, some of your thoughts made either in private conversations, in chat rooms, or on Facebook, suddenly becoming public and landing you in hot water at work.

Second, Goldberg is truly misinformed (giving him the benefit of the doubt) about Weigel's political point of view. He calls Weigel a "liberal". Since I didn't know myself, I discovered yesterday that in fact Weigel previously worked at Reason magazine, and is a self-proclaimed libertarian. It also seems that there are claims that he was supposedly hired as a conservative counter-weight to liberal blogger Ezra Klein, when in fact what he did was cover the conservative movement as a journalist. While not a reader, apparently he did so quite well.

Goldberg's sniffing at dirty bloggers who got righteously smashed by the forces of professionalism got quite a bit of play yesterday. From Atrios and Ballon Juice through Matt Yglesias to yours truly, we all paid attention to what happened because the entire episode is absurd and Goldberg's chest thumping triumphalism was so transparently nonsensical. Touting WAPO as a place where "toilet-trained" "adults" can school a young whipper-snapper with no professionalism is more than ludicrous, considering their current employment, among others, of Bill Kristol, George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Kathleen Parker just to name a few. If any of these folks had their private conversations aired, in a just world, they would not only lose their jobs, they would in all likelihood end up in monasteries doing penance (except for Kristol and Krauthammer who are Jewish).

It turns out that Goldberg's history as a "journalist" is in-tune with the folks just mentioned who continue their employment at the Post despite records that would land any other person unemployed for simple lack of integrity, let alone all sorts of dismal failures at their professions. As John Cole wrote yesterday:
. . . [T]he Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, who single-handedly wrote the absolutely most factless pieces of propaganda in the run-up to the war in Iraq this side of Judy Miller, and to my knowledge has never corrected the record in detail and atoned for his sins.

Well, he continued to make this entire story about Jeffrey Goldberg, further signaling that every assumption about fatuous, thin-skinned, superficial insider "journalists" is true:
On the other hand, I was repulsed -- really repulsed -- by his invitation to Matt Drudge to kill himself. I despise violent keyboard-cowboyism, and not only because I've received various invitations over the years to kill myself, or let myself be killed, because I'm a supporter of Israel, or because I support the Kurds in their struggle against Saddam, or because I supported the invasion of Iraq (mainly because I'm a supporter of Israel, actually).

In other words, the real victim here is Jeffrey Goldberg, who continues to be employed by The Atlantic and heroically stands up for Israel in the face of all sorts of anti-Semitic onslaughts. Brave, Brave Sir Jeffrey!

The reason I find this particular story interesting enough to write about and even important is simple. Weigel is, by all accounts, a tough but fair journalist. An off-the-record comment - inviting Matt Drudge to set himself on fire - ends up costing him his job at a formerly prestigious daily newspaper. A fellow journalist whose published record can hardly be described as well as Weigel struts and preens about "children" who aren't "toilet trained" when in fact Goldberg shouldn't even be mentioned in the same breath as Weigel as a journalist with integrity. It seems that, whether it is some nincompoop who blogs only occasionally or a "journalist" who works at a pretty high-profile publication, folks on the right are really and truly horrible human beings.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Aww, Somebody Hurt Their Feelings

Via Twitter . . . Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic does the same thing as David Weigel, except he probably won't get fired for it. More's the pity.

Every time I read about some reporter complaining about "bloggers", I feel like telling them to get a life. Or punching them. Or something. In this particular instance, my guess is Goldberg is so stupid he has no idea what a hypocrite he is being.

All's Fair And All That

I think if Congressional candidates are going to speak out on issues over which they have neither the power to to influence, nor the necessity to even speak, even lowly bloggers can do the same thing, right?

I am opposed to the opening of any more Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, Church of God, non-denominational self-named "Bible" Churches, or any other church that preaches the hatred of gays, lies about evolution and global warming, coddles child molesters, or even practices a liturgy and theology that is inimical to the Wesleyan tradition.

Until these congregations separate themselves from their hierarchies and fellow congregations that preach hatred, fear, and ignorance, I do not want them to be a part of any community of which I'm a part. Until they speak out forcefully, clearly, and directly against terrorizing abortion providers, same-sex couples, and other groups, I will continue to oppose their presence in any community. They are a direct threat to the peace of our communities and we need to wake up and see them for the very real danger they pose.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Rockford Police Shooting Update

I have no argument with those who insist that the police have a tough job. They get placed in the middle of all sorts of interpersonal nonsense, domestic disputes, stupid people thinking they can break the laws on everything from speed limits to theft, and occasionally face people with guns, knives, axes, broom handles, and even bombs. Yet, far too often police use this as a fall-back excuse to do really stupid stuff. Sometimes, not just stupid, but fatal.

Last year, two officers in Rockford, IL, responding to a domestic disturbance call, chased a gentleman who was fleeing the scene in to the furnace room of a church. Next to the furnace room was a day care operated by the church. After repeatedly requesting for the man to surrender, the officers, weapons drawn, fired and killed him. He was unarmed and African-American (a dangerous combination, at least for any African-American facing police who have their guns drawn, to be sure).

The event stirred a hornet's nest of trouble for the city, already endemically economically stagnant, with a rough geographical division that corresponds to the racial population of the city. The city requested an independent agency review the facts of the matter, and last week they issued their report(.pdf). While the report called the shooting "justified", the response of the Police Chief - continuing an investigation of the officers involved due to reported multiple violations of department policies that could have averted the use of deadly force - has made the officers of the force angry.

This is understandable, I suppose. After all, any and every action cops take - whether it's legal or not, justified or not, deadly or not - needs to be backed by their superiors, right?

The city of Rockford faces many challenges, from drugs and prostitution to a simmering racial hostility exacerbated by economic troubles that continue to be unaddressed by ongoing studies of how to revitalize the downtown. Worse, both the local paper and city leaders seem completely unaware that the city and its environs are actually a metropolitan area, with a diverse population in a variety of communities. The small group of white men (and a few rich white women) who are the elite are completely unaware of the diversity and potential of the city of Rockford itself, wanting to create a mockery of the reality of Rockford's diversity (in their image of course).

The report claimed the shooting, "justified". This may be a mere technicality. In fact, had the officers in question followed proper departmental procedures (they didn't even evacuate the children from the daycare; consider that for a moment, as the officers were shooting right next to the room where the children were housed; as a parent, I'd still be incensed), the suspect would in all likelihood still be alive, racial tensions in the city would be a bit lower, the city wouldn't be facing a lawsuit, and the cops and police administration wouldn't be at odds.

It seems that the victims and the Police Force Administration get this, but the officers, and the city press, don't.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Give Me A Fracking Break, The Tap Water Is On Fire

My home town and the surrounding area is ground zero for the biggest onshore natural gas exploration in the country right now, thanks to the Marsellus Shale formation. During my two trips back to my home town this past winter, I learned just how huge it is, and expressed my own sense that this is a good thing.

Then, I heard this story on NPR and I have started to have doubts. Of course, what has helped these doubts was the emergence of some facts between my January visit and March visit. In January, I heard about the prices some of these gas companies were willing to pay to lease farmland for drilling. As my father said, some of those Bradford County, PA farmers were happier than pigs in shit with the promised money.

Except, when I went back in March I learned that the pigs may have been happy, but the shit to roll in hadn't been forthcoming. Some of those farmers were offered tens of thousands of dollars to lease the land, plus royalties (yes, you read that correctly). Except that money hasn't been produced for many of those leases.

Now, it seems, it has become increasingly clear that the method used to get the gas out of the shale, hydraulic fracturing or "fracking", brings along with it a whole host of other problems. Since there has not been any serious study of the potential environmental or health impacts from fracking - even though there is enough anecdotal evidence to warrant such a study; tap water is burning! - a temporary halt (along with perhaps some of the money being paid to farmers and other land owners) might not be such a bad idea. I'm not saying that the drilling shouldn't take place. Perhaps until everyone involved learns what might be the results of current industry practices, and a careful consideration of alternatives is done, taking a breather might turn what could be a pretty standard boom-and-bust in to a long-term benefit for everyone.

Don't Let The Door Hit Your Ass On The Way Out

With McChrystal out and Petraeus in, much of the hand-wringing presented by Matt here is moot. The comment section, as usual, is full of concern-trolls, left and right, both blaming the Obama Administration for the entire affair. It seems that having an internal policy debate is wrong! This never happens during wars!

First of all, McChrystal (and by extension, the military establishment responsible for the tactical operations and strategic goals in Afghanistan) are not about "total victory" a la Doug MacArthur in Korea. The latter historical analogy is important to keep in mind, if only because the lesson from Korea was that MacArthur's insistence on "victory" not only cost him his job; it brought the Chinese in on the side of the North Koreans, clouded the judgment of Truman's inner circle (especially after Inchon and the collapse of the North Korean offensive), and was contradicted by the terms of the UN Resolution authorizing force on the Korean peninsula, which was always and only to push the North Koreans back across the 39th parallel.

In this case, McChrystal has always maintained the the military is an adjunct of a broader political settlement in Afghanistan, undermined by the increasingly obvious corruption and authoritarianism of the Karzai regime. The upcoming offensive, talked about for months, is supposed to end any Taliban hopes of a resurgence, and if the Pakistanis cooperate, might actually succeed (their own offensive against the Taliban in their northwest seems to have turned a real corner, particularly in the Swat Valley). With the plans in place, and logistic and deployment questions in all likelihood cemented months ago, McChrystal is not necessary if the United States military is as professional as it claims. Since Generals at this level are more administrators than fighters, any competent general should be able to get this ball rolling and keep it rolling.

Of course, the political question of the confidence of the troops might be important if it weren't for the fact that McChrystal doesn't seem to be able to muzzle his staff. He got the firing he deserved, as far as I'm concerned, and while Petraeus isn't exactly my pick - Lieberman likes him too much for my tastes - he does have the experience and basic competence to carry out the upcoming military operations without embarrassing himself.

Whether or not there is or should be a debate over our presence in Afghanistan seems to me to be on a par with having a debate about global warming because there is an on-going leak of oil on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. The two are related, to be sure, but dealing with the immediate issue and the long-term, overarching strategic issues are and should remain separate.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Why I Don't Care What Generals Think

While I realize the right will welcome Gen. McChrystal with open arms and big, wet, sloppy tongue baths (since no one will ask, they won't tell) because he dissed the President and Obama Administration in an interview with Rolling Stone, the fact of the matter is, he should not only be summarily dismissed, but lose his rank and retirement benefits.

For those on the right who have never actually served in the military - most of the senior members of the Republican establishment in other words - we have a principle in this country known as "civilian control". The military takes its orders from the President who is not a member of the military. It gets its laws and is regulated by Congress which is not a part of the military establishment.

This is why, whenever someone in Congress or the press carries on about some military matter not directly relevant to issues of tactics in battle (strategy, for those who don't know the difference, is the overall plan - defeat of the enemy - and is a political goal) insisting we need to "listen to the generals" I sigh and shake my head. No, we don't. Harry Truman integrated the armed forces without listening to anyone. Congress restructured the general staff structure in the National Security Act without consulting the generals. The Republicans in Congress denied cost-of-living raises to service personnel, even though their families were living on food stamps, even though the generals insisted on it.

Jackson Diehl's little piece, not so much a full-on tongue washing, but at least a smooch on the cheek with a promise of more to come, is completely wrong. If, as he claims, the divisions within the Obama Administration on Afghanistan policy are well-known, then McChrystal's comments are redundant. If they are evidence of bureaucratic in-fighting between the commander on the ground and members of the Administration, then he is taking the fight public, which is what ended Doug MacArthur's career (well, that and directly disobeying a Presidential order). In either case, he flubbed it.

It is long past time that the civilians who are supposed to be in charge actually got some spine. If Lt. McChrystal were to retire, it seems to me that might be a bit of a lesson, wouldn't it?

Monday, June 21, 2010

More Right-Wing Freakout FAIL

I love it when reality puts the kibosh on their spittle-flecked nonsense.

Neil Simpson - Serial Liar

Turnabout is fair play. Trying not to do the whole "I know you are but what am I?" stuff, but in this case, feel compelled.

In this post, he manages a double whammy. First, he lies about the Matthew Shepard murder, offering the now-thoroughly debunked claim that it was not a hate crime. From the Wikipedia article on the case:
During the trial, Chastity Pasley and Kristen Price, girlfriends of McKinney and Henderson, testified that Henderson and McKinney both plotted beforehand to rob a gay man. McKinney and Henderson then went to the Fireside Lounge and selected Shepard as their target. McKinney alleged that Shepard asked them for a ride home. After befriending him, they took him to a remote area outside of Laramie where they robbed him, assaulted him severely, and tied him to a fence with a rope from McKinney's truck while Shepard pleaded for his life. Media reports often contained the graphic account of the pistol whipping and his fractured skull. It was reported that Shepard was beaten so brutally that his face was completely covered in blood, except where it had been partially washed clean by his tears.[13][14] Both girlfriends also testified that neither McKinney nor Henderson were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time.[15][16]

Henderson pleaded guilty on April 5, 1999, and agreed to testify against McKinney to avoid the death penalty; he received two consecutive life sentences. The jury in McKinney's trial found him guilty of felony murder. As they began to deliberate on the death penalty, Shepard's parents brokered a deal, resulting in McKinney receiving two consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole.


When ABC 20/20 ran a story in 2004 suggesting that Matthew was HIV positive and quoting claims by McKinney, Henderson and Kristen Price and the prosecutor in the case that the murder had not been motivated by Shepard's sexuality, but rather was a robbery gone violent amongst drug users (the suggestion being that Sheppard was a heavy meth user), [3] it received considerable attention and criticism. Retired Laramie Police Chief Dave O'Malley stated that the murderers' claims were not credible, but the prosecutor in the case stated that there was ample evidence that drugs were at least a factor in the murder.[47] Other coverage focused on how these more recent statements contradicted those made at and near the trial.

In other words, the claim that this was a drug-deal-gone-bad simply contradicts the trial testimony. Period. Any other claims are false. Repeating them as if they were true, after they have been discredited, is lying.

He further lies when he insists that the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act punishes thought (and, by extension, speech, one supposes). It punishes acts of violence. To be honest, I'm not sure how this zombie lie continues to march along, its head having long before been destroyed. Suppose I decide to beat up and rob a black man in order to steal his money. That is not a hate crime. If, however, testimony is offered at trial that I had repeatedly made clear my intention to beat up a black man because he is black, and robbed him because it was convenient, that is a hate crime.

Suppose I am walking down the street with a male friend, a vehicle pulls in front of me, three people get out, and beat us up, shouting anti-gay slurs and epithets as they do so. That, too, is a hate crime, even though I and my friend are not gay.

To repeatedly insist that Hate Crimes Laws attack thought and speech, when they actually address violent acts, even when the clarity of the law is not in question, is, quite simply, to lie.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Preparing To Leave

This is our last Sunday worshiping at Poplar Grove United Methodist Church. Six years all come down to these last two Sunday services (the Church is giving itself a week's break between Lisa and the incoming pastor, Paul Nolden).

It really hasn't hit me yet that we are really leaving. I know I will be sitting in the congregation this morning, as usual, shaking hands and smiling and chatting before service (and, yes, grabbing a cookie or two from the kitchen . . .), looking out at the faces that have become so familiar to me. I know there will be laughter and smiles as we exchange stories.

Yet, I also know - even though the emotional impact hasn't quite happened yet - this is the last time we will be sitting there. The last time all those faces and voices will be part of my week-to-week life. On one level, I think it's good that we're moving on. The comfort and familiarity provided by years of presence can cloud judgment and even discernment. All the same, it is all too human to favor the familiar to the new. In particular, when it comes to interrupting or changing our relationships with others, the emotional toll can be rough, to say the least.

The past six years have been, in many ways, the happiest of my life. I feel more at peace with myself, with my life, than at any time since seminary. I feel like I have a bit of a vocation. My children have attained the age where their need for us as parents is less immediate (for the most part), which gives to Lisa and me more time to work on our marriage, which is a good thing.

I would be less than human, I think, if I didn't feel more than a little pain at the prospect of severing the day-to-day ties with the folk here. Friendships have been built, confidences shared, milestones marked. While I have little doubt that the people at Cornerstone UMC are faithful, and that our time there will yield friendships and laughter, those are not yet, and the friendships and ties to which we will be saying farewell are all too real.

So, today will not be an easy day. It is a Sunday, busy with all sorts of Sunday stuff - I'm playing bells at the 10 o'clock service, then it's home to sleep for work tonight - and that routine will provide comfort, as routine always does. All the same, it is the end of that routine. On Friday morning, when I leave work, I will be headed to 10 days off work so we can move; the last of the packing will be done in a rush. Our life will shift from this little suburban enclave to the country life of Plato Center (Lisa's fourth appointment and still not to a town with a grocery store, something her mother pointed out to us). A whole new set of people to meet and get to know.

And I know, for quite some time, there will be a little hole in my heart because the folk who have shared my worship of God over the past six years are no longer my community of support.

False Equivalence

From here
If you believe the conservatives, we have a president engaged in a war on the United States. We have a secular-socialist administration destroying the nation we love. And we have a call for rebellion in the red states.

If you believe the liberals, we have Republicans going insane after their White House defeat. We have the right wing deploying Taliban jihadist tactics to blast America back to the stone age when manly men ruled, women were submissive and religion silenced the voices of science.

The problem with these two paragraphs is quite simple. The first pretty accurately describes the attitude of rank and file conservatives. Steve Livingston, the author of this article, need only read various articles from the past year and a half concerning Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, the Tea Party Movement, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and others to understand that there are many folks who believe this passionately.

The second paragraph also accurately describes the loss of political sanity on the right. While I personally have little fear of some kind of quasi-fascist takeover in the unlikelihood that Republicans win back Congress in the fall, the cumulative effect of right-wing rhetoric and tactics, not including the rise in right-wing violence, shows just how ready some few on the right are to go as far as possible to make public their belief that our nation is under direct threat from the alleged foreign-born usurper in the White House.

In other words, Livingston does not believe that the words he uses in these two paragraphs have any connection with political reality. The fact is, they pretty accurately describe (a) the mindset of a certain class of conservative, secular and sectarian; and (b) the view of this opposition from supporters of the President and a more liberal agenda for the country.

This is a false equivalence because Livingston does not believe either paragraph accurately captures our current political culture, when in fact they do so pretty well.

They Don't Care

Regarding the rather deceptive discussion of the abortion position of Jim Wallis and Sojourners here, I have a question.

For now at least, we have a slightly liberal Congressional majority and a Democratic President. Obviously, due to political commitments, there is going to be little change in abortion policy at the federal level barring a surprising Supreme Court decision. Yet, from 2001 to 2007, we had a Republican majority in both Houses of Congress and a conservative Republican President. It would have been easy enough, given the way the Republicans ran Congress, to pass legislation tightening restrictions on abortion, even if a constitutional amendment banning the practice could not have passed. Why is it Republicans only really whine about abortion when they are out of power and cannot do anything about it? They held the political whip-hand for six years, more or less, and lined their pockets with lobbyist money (the so-called "K Street Project" of former Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Majority Leader Tom DeLay), gave away billions of dollars in tax breaks to the wealthy, steered billions in pork-barrel contracts to home-town businesses, and legislated the physical and financial and economic infrastructure to the brink of oblivion. They did nothing, however, to end the practice of elective abortion on demand.

So, by the criteria that seems to exists in Neil's head, is the Republican Party's commitment to ending the practice fake? Is it, to use his terminology, "faux-life"? I have been arguing for years that this is so, and there is every indication this is so. Just curious.

Virtual Tin Cup

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