Friday, December 30, 2011

My Predictions

The title is supposed to be ironic because I don't believe in predicting the future. I know that my family will enjoy another week in Disney Resorts in March. I know there's going to be national elections in November. I know that spring will follow this winter.

Beyond that, couldn't tell you.

Based on previous experience, I'm guessing that a bunch of people across the political spectrum are going to say and do stupid, occasionally criminal, stuff. I also am pretty sure some conservative will say something liberals think is outrageous and it will become the hot-topic for a few days. Then, a liberal will say something conservatives think is outrageous and the cycle will repeat itself. None of it will mean very much, but it should be fun.

On the religion front, people who don't know anything about it, or any specific religion, will write millions of words about how silly it is. Again, doesn't mean much, but it should be a lot of fun. Nothing feels better than that deep satisfaction that comes from telling the world someone is being mean to you.

I feel safe predicting that about 90% of the music that will be released to the public, both on major labels and independents, will be, at best, mediocre sound sludge. Quite a bit of it will be crap. This time next year all sorts of people will either be moaning about how awful the year in music was, how wonderful the year in music was, or how the hipsters/Baby Boomers/music industry/rock critics/stupid listening public have destroyed musical entertainment. Again. If you look carefully enough, these same general complaints go back to the rise of popular music in this country at the end of the 19th century. Someone is always pissing in someone else's tea, apparently.

I'm not trying to be cynical here. I'm just saying that most of the things people get in high dudgeon about don't really matter all that much. The things that really matter, though, usually pass unnoticed and unremarked upon. If I made New Year's Resolutions, mine would be simple enough: Pay attention to what really matters. Let other people get their panties in a wad over things that don't matter.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

I'm Not Insulting Anyone

Some people don't like to be called out for being bad people. Surprising, I know. Who wants to have the world know that, at heart, they have deep ugly recesses in their hearts filled with rage and disgust directed at their fellow human beings? If the past generation or so has taught us anything, it's no longer acceptable to be a bigot.

Except, of course, there are still bigots out there. They just don't like being called out for it, because being a bigot is socially unacceptable, so they deny-deny-deny.

I, for one, do not consider it a personal attack to call an ignorant person ignorant. When they demonstrate their ignorance for all the world to see, repeatedly, then it isn't an insult. It's just a description of . . . their ignorance. When an individual repeatedly expresses bigotry, calling them a bigot isn't an ad hominem attack. It is just calling things as they are.

If I said they were so ugly they were born prematurely because their mother's body couldn't stand them, that would be an ad hominem attack. If I said they were so stupid they couldn't breathe without cue cards reminding them, that would a personal attack. Calling someone who repeatedly demonstrates ignorance "ignorant" isn't an insult.

Just as people get all up in arms when someone notes that public figures, or bloggers, or writers, are lying - not prevaricating, being misleading, misstating the facts - I'm not sure why this is even a problem. The question of lying, for instance, is one I find fascinating. People will go to great lengths to excuse others from the charge of lying. For me, the test is really simple. If a person makes a statement that is contrary to fact, that's a lie. Do they know it is contrary to fact? With the multiple resources available to ensure factual accuracy, getting facts right is one of the easiest things in the world. So, when Michelle Bachmann claims that the HPV vaccine is dangerous, then tries to insist that she is merely relating what others have said, she is lying. In the first instance, the HPV vaccine is not dangerous; about ten seconds on Google would clear that up. In the second instance, repeating something someone else says about a topic that one does or can know is factually inaccurate is . . . lying. How is this hard to figure out?

I actually have a pretty simple standard for whether or not a person is lying. Person "A" says "X". Several people mention to "A" that "X" is false. Person "A" continues to say "X". That, folks, is lying. Even if Person "A" did not know in the first instance that "X" is false, once it is pointed out that "X" is false, Person "A" not only has a moral duty to make clear that he/she is wrong; Person "A" has a moral duty to make sure that, in the future, "X" is not presented as true.

Again, this isn't rocket science.

When a person doesn't know something, yet makes claims about understanding and insight and knowledge, repeatedly, and gets all manner of things wrong about said topic; when others, trying to be helpful point out a variety of errors in the first individual's claims, and that person continues to make claims rooted in ignorance, then that person is being both ignorant and untruthful. Not "misleading". Not "misstating the facts". They are both ignorant and, of course now, they are lying.

Again, this is first-grade moral clarity here, folks. The reason it's so simple is because it is.

It isn't "name calling". It's simple description. I'm not sure why any of this is a problem. Yet, it is.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rick Santorum Gets Something Right

Yesterday, Talking Points Memo's Livewire noted that former Senator and current candidate for the Republican nomination for President Rick Santorum said Pres. Obama "is against both free markets and the founders' idea of individual liberty." One tends to scoff when Santorum speaks, yet on the latter point, he does have something right.

In the recently passed Authorization Act for the Department of Defense, FY 2012, Section 1301, subsections (a) and (b) have received some attention, albeit too late for people to actually do anything about it.

(a) IN GENERAL.-Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107–40) includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war.

(b) COVERED PERSONS.-A covered person under this section is any person as follows:
(1) A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks.
(2) A person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.
In essence, Congress has given blanket authority to the President to arrest and detain anyone, anywhere, who may have, in some way or other that is never defined, supported not only the terrorist attacks ten years ago, but ongoing terrorist activities.

Sounds like Pres. Obama isn't too fond of freedom to me.

Back in September, Jonathan Turley, writing in The Los Angeles Times, made the point even more bluntly:
One man is primarily responsible for the disappearance of civil liberties from the national debate, and he is Barack Obama. While many are reluctant to admit it, Obama has proved a disaster not just for specific civil liberties but the civil liberties cause in the United States.
Turley revises and extends a tad:
President Obama not only retained the controversial Bush policies, he expanded on them. The earliest, and most startling, move came quickly. Soon after his election, various military and political figures reported that Obama reportedly promised Bush officials in private that no one would be investigated or prosecuted for torture. In his first year, Obama made good on that promise, announcing that no CIA employee would be prosecuted for torture. Later, his administration refused to prosecute any of the Bush officials responsible for ordering or justifying the program and embraced the "just following orders" defense for other officials, the very defense rejected by the United States at the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

Obama failed to close Guantanamo Bay as promised. He continued warrantless surveillance and military tribunals that denied defendants basic rights. He asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens he views as terrorists. His administration has fought to block dozens of public-interest lawsuits challenging privacy violations and presidential abuses.
While I'm pretty sure Rick Santorum doesn't give a fart in a tornado for civil liberties, he did manage to trip over the truth despite his ongoing efforts to be the most risible of an admittedly risible bunch.

Those who argue that, somehow, electing a Republican candidate will make things worse haven't been paying attention. Obama's signature on the Defense Authorization Bill, not even fighting to get this section removed, is just the latest in a series of blows against civil liberties. It is difficult to imagine a President actually expanding the policies of the Bush Administration, but Obama has achieved that with relish. Yet one more reason to refrain granting him my vote next November.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Christmas Story

I suppose there is no better time, except perhaps Holy Week, to confess a sense of inadequacy in regards matters of faith. I have been feeling . . . well, let's just say I've been battling a sense of my own ultimate unworthiness in the face of the Gospel story. One hears the Good News, and it seems impossible the simple message of salvation - a free gift, to those loved beyond measure - is really meant for one such as I know myself to be. Not that I'm a horrible person. Just . . . faced with the reality of the whole thing, I have just felt myself without a plea, without a single leg upon which to stand.

I confessed to Lisa, before worship this morning, an overwhelming sense of my own unworthiness, of being beyond redemption. She cried for me, as I cried for myself, and she promised to pray that I would understand, anew, the promise of redemption that has been, is, and will be mine.

Then, in worship, I was overwhelmed with the presence of the Son, through the Spirit, for the sake of the Glory of the Father. The whole story seemed to unfold in my head and heart and I believed, in a new way, that this story was for me, too. I felt called forward to see the baby, offered a chance to hold him by his parents who smiled and insisted. The tiny hands, the marvelous baby-weight in my arms. . . Such joy.

On the north wall of the worship space at Cornerstone hangs a cross. Like all Protestant Churches, it is empty, signifying both its centrality and that this instrument of death is not the end of the Jesus story. As we sang Christmas carols, after having taken communion, I could see first, the tiny baby, then the man, hanging there, smiling down through the blood and tears. Then, the cross was empty and I could hear, from an empty tomb, the laughter that is the true final word of the story. The baby who sleeps on a bed of straw, wrapped in rags to stay warm is the man tortured and murdered by an Empire who does not want to hear a word of freedom, of salvation. The New is the biggest threat to all Empires, and Jesus was nothing if not the first real new thing to come to the world. Our capitalist orgy is as much about removing the threat implicit in the Christmas story as it is a celebration of the birth.

The story, in its fullness, doesn't really begin with a remembrance, an anamnesis of that long-ago night in Bethlehem. It began on the first day of creation, because it is the story of God's prodigal, never-ending love, an obstinate refusal to take our no as the final answer. Even if that means substituting his yes for our no. We are caught up in the great adventure, the challenge God poses for us - do we recognize and celebrate that magnanimous grace that is ours in the babe of Bethlehem or do we refuse, perhaps even laugh it off as a fable, a myth, a story for gullible ignoramuses too purblind to accept the reality of its falseness?

Today, I received the best gift anyone could ever give me. In a new way, not for the first time, and I know not for the last, I received assurance that my name - yes, mine - is called by the babe in the stable to come forward and kneel. I received the blessing of seeing that babe look down on all of us with love born in pain, and forgive us. I received the blessing of the Divine laughter that is the first sound of Easter, the only real Christmas carol worth singing.

Merry Christmas to all of you, to each of you, and may the peace of Christ, the peace that passes all understanding, be with you.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sounds Of The Season

From the silly

To the traditional

To the Baroque

To the brand new

Whatever fills your heart with joy, whatever sound helps lift you up from the humdrum to the heavenly, may you allow music to accompany over the next few days as you enjoy family and good food and friends. May you also remember a tiny baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, that most unlikely sign of the arrival of the Blessed Son of God.

Merry Christmas to all and each of you, to those you love. May you find peace and happiness and most of all patience in the upcoming year.

Friday, December 23, 2011


I know it's two days before Christmas and I should be sucking down eggnog and going through my wife's sugar cookies faster than she and the girls can bake them, but I've decided to buck the holiday trend - how many times can I tell the same story before I want to kill myself? - and write about something that has troubles me for quite a while. Our political class, as many have noted, haven't seemed to outgrow high school. Of course, our pundits aren't much better, treating the campaign for the Presidency as a run for Student Council, only less interesting and certainly less important. The recent spate of politicians, in particular in the Republican Party, act as if they either never got over high school, or are exacting revenge on those who troubled them so in their years of acne and decadence.

While the rest of us were growing up, going to college, getting jobs, getting married, these folks never - quite - left the hallowed halls strewn with the books knocked from the hands of the nerdy kids. The echoes from the gymnasium keep them up at night. If they sleep, some awake in flop sweat from a nightmare that features the voice of their gym coach screeching, "Dodgeball!!"

Sarah Palin, for instance, we were told, was the star of her high school girl's basketball team. She was called "The Barracuda" which, I believe, had little to do with her skills on the roundball court. After all, when was the last time you saw a barracuda do the perfect fade-away 3-point jump shot? I'm guess the nickname had more to do with what was, in all likelihood, her being one of the small coven of girls who control the social life of most middle class high schools. Being referred to as "Barracuda" - a large, nasty, aggressive, predatory fish, a kind of salt-water relative of the Wall-Eye - would not be something most people would carry with them in later life, indicating, as it should, a streak of nastiness and even viciousness that is hardly belied by one's physical assets. Yet, wear the moniker proudly, ex-sorta-Gov. Palin certainly has. Which, it would seem, is all we really need to know, isn't it?

Remember that annoying kid all the older kids detested, and occasionally punched in the face, because he was always showing off how much he knew, usually quoting Isaac Asimov and Larry Niven? Well, that annoying kid is still quoting Isaac Asimoc and Larry Niven, and really, really needs to get punched in the face, but damn! He gets laid a whole lot more than folks who aren't nearly as annoying! Somehow, he managed to con enough people that he actually knows stuff to give him money, too. Thus, Newt Gingrich continues his life as high school nerd-in-chief. Which may well be the highest title he carries the longest, considering even disgraced former House Speaker is kind of going out of style.

Remember the President of the church youth group? She seemed to have this odd, not-quite fanatical acceptance of the strangest ideas the church was pushing, combined with an almost eerie drive to see her ascendance as head of the Youth Fellowship as Providential. Now, all these years later, running for President, Michelle Bachmann still believes all those really weird things her church was pushing, only that fanatical acceptance has deepened, reflecting in the odd blue light emanating from her eyes that ensures, if nothing else, she can find her way to the bathroom in the middle of the night without flipping any switches and waking up her husband in the next room. Fixated upon a few simple ideas, none of which actually have anything to do with reality in much the same way she wrote heated letters to sponsors of TV shows and ran paper drives convinced there was money in all those newspapers collected over the years, she shrinks in our national rear-view mirror unbowed by criticisms because, as she has been for so long, she is convinced beyond doubt of the rightness of all her beliefs. Facts, reality, the common life of real people all around her are as nothing to the conviction in her heart that she may well be the only one standing between the country and the disaster looming around the corner.

I suppose I'm being a bit unfair, because I haven't featured any prominent Democratic politicians here. At the moment, the only really prominent Democratic politician is Pres. Obama, and he has none of the qualities of a superannuated adolescent yearning either for revenge or the simple continuity of the glory days of yesteryear. The three folks featured here, however, not only leap to mind, but seem to revel in either continuing their former lives, or reaping revenge upon those in their past who wronged them for whatever reason. Since our punditry seems to believe we, as a people, enjoy wallowing in discussions like this, I thought it best just to signal how I see some folks on the national stage.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Tale Of Two Holidays

Ever since I was a child, I recognized there are two holidays on December 25. On the on hand there's the celebration of the Incarnation, the day we Christians gather to worship the Bethlehem babe. Historically not all that important, the Christ Mass was only made a date in the 9th century or so, mostly to keep things in and around Christendom regular. It also helped keep those who were straddling the fence from falling back in to paganism by taking over the winter solstice holiday.

On the other hand, there's this massive commercial celebration, a glorious orgy of buying, in which an entire country seems to believe a month is dedicated to snow, elves, pretty paper, lights, and some guy breaking and entering each and every house. Even down south, Christmas cards feature snow, snowmen, fireplaces, the usual northern folderol.

What the two of them have to do with one another is, by and large, becoming less and less clear with each passing year.

I have nothing against either celebration. Obviously. We are a parsonage family, after all, and the preparation for the arrival of the Christ during Advent, and the celebration of the birth on Christmas are spiritual and communal plot-points, ways we all get in to the whole Jesus story. Beyond that, since we Christians are always standing in the shadow of the cross, the manger/cradle should serve as a reminder of the rocky bed on which Jesus' corpse lay after his execution. No good home for him at any point in his life, it would seem.

I also enjoy all the things our secular national celebration has to offer. Gathering with friends and family. Decorating. The lights. The tree. We could tone down some of the commercial aspects of the day just a wee bit, not least decorating stores and such, say, after Thanksgiving instead of after Halloween. I love egg nog, and sugar cookies, and even holiday music, in moderation of course. Gift giving is such a treat, watching people's faces light up when they open a package and have received just the right gift is wonderful. Sitting together as a family, snacking and listening to quiet music together as presents are unwrapped, candy and treats and nibbled, and all laugh and celebrate together all help make memories; I know, because I have many fond memories of Christmas from my childhood.

I just wish the two days could be separated somehow.

Whether the confusing orgy of capitalist over-consumption combined with sentimental gatherings of family and friends remains "Christmas" or is renamed "Adam Smith Day", as I have suggested to some on occasion, remains to be seen. I think the Christian churches in the west should at least take a partial cue from Orthodox churches and celebrate the Incarnation on Epiphany, January 6. That is, after all, what the 12 days of Christmas are all about, the time from 12/25 to 1/6. My grandmother and her cousin used to exchange gifts on Epiphany. I see no reason why others shouldn't.

We can keep the lights and the tree and the gatherings and Santa and the reindeer and the stockings and, of course, the candy, on December 25. Then, on January 6, Christians would gather, quietly, in their respective houses of worship, and sing quiet hymns and read prayers and hear the Word about this marvelous discovery, this unveiling of the Son of God in the baby born in Nazareth, and reflect on the road this baby has in front of him. A road we, too, are to travel. It should be no more than seven or eight weeks until the beginning of Lent, when we turn our faces toward Jerusalem, after all.

So, this year, we will have three services between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. On Sunday, after church, we'll all come home, put our pajamas back on, gather around the tree, and exchange gifts. On Monday, my wife's family will come 'round and a second day of exchanging gifts and eating and being together will ensue.

Off to the side of the room, largely forgotten, is a small Arabesque, molded porcelain tchotchke. My wife hates it, but I adore it. Hidden inside are the figures of a man, a woman, and a baby in a small feeding trough. They are barely visible within the rather ornate (my wife thinks "grotesque" is a better word) stylized "stable". Which is as it should be. By and large the world ignored the events of the first Christmas. The unveiling of who this baby is, what he is to do come later.

We celebrate two holidays in our house. One, the raucous joy of family and capitalism, is certainly a source of joy. The other, quiet, almost forgotten, rests in the corner of our hearts, almost forgotten. This is, I think, as it should be.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Ghost Of A Tale

Apart from the Nativity story itself, no narrative captures the English-speaking world's romantic associations with Christmas quite as much as Charles Dickens' small work, A Christmas Carol. Having visited an orphanage in the late summer of 1843, Dickens originally planned to write a tract, hoping to enlighten the rising bourgeoisie to the plight of the poor. After a couple failed attempts and some urging from a wealthy benefactor, he tried his hand at a short novel. It was written and published quickly, in time for Christmas that same year.

It would be difficult to imagine the holidays without this marvelous story. It has been dramatized so many times, in so many ways, not least because, despite occasional literary transgressions, such as the comparative deathly similitude of door nails and coffin nails, it is nothing more or less than story. Scrooge is, perhaps, the greatest villain in English literature because there is little to complicate his villainy. Epitomizing the actor's truism that the devil has the best lines, Scrooge's part of dialogue evinces not only his demeanor, but, as one critic has noted, a kind of dark humor aimed squarely at the idiocy of a world that, for a few days in late December, seems to lose track of reality.

As a child, I wondered if there wasn't, possibly, something less spiritual and more psychological about the events of that long-ago Christmas Eve. Did Scrooge in fact encounter his dead partner, glimpse a world of suffering spirits, then follow three iconic Spirits through the wayward paths of his life, and the lives of those close to him? Or, perhaps, was Dickens - as with all great writers - using this as a metaphor for a simmering conscience, perhaps pricked by an earlier encounter hat reminded him of his seven-years-dead partner, which opened a flood-gate of memories in his mind, which he had to filter using spiritual imagery? At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter, for the result is the same. Transformed by his experience, Scrooge emerges that Christmas morning a new man.

The most moving, most powerful, lines in the entire work belong, in turn, to Marley's Ghost and the Ghost of Christmas Present. When told that he was always a good man of business, Marley responds with a speech that bears repeating:
"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"
There is something so fundamental about these words, simple, clear, lucid, and dare I say obvious it is amazing they even need to be said.

Yet, spoken often, and not only at Christmas, they do. In an age when we are told by some that concern for the common welfare is an alien idea at war with our best traditions, it bears repeating that, in fact, our concern for others is the heart of our common life. Selfishness is not a virtue to be inculcated for any reason.

From the Ghost of Christmas Present:
"Spirit," said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt before,"tell me if Tiny Tim will live."

"I see a vacant seat," replied the Ghost, "in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die."

"No, no," said Scrooge. "Oh, no, kind Spirit. Say he will be spared."

"If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race," returned the Ghost, "will find him here. What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.

"Man," said the Ghost, "if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child. Oh God! To hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust."
What more needs to be said?

The beauty of the story lies beyond the emotional appeal of a lost soul finding its way back to life with its fellows, or the seasonal romance of the story as a whole. I think this is a rare instance in which true beauty, as the ancients understood it, has been placed before an entire people. Not only in its parts, but in its whole, there is beauty here. The humor, the terror, the sorrow, the playfulness, the joy are all there and add up among themselves to something so marvelous, it continues to speak to us nearly one hundred seventy years after it was first published.

While not wishing anyone to forget that Dickens wrote this marvelous tale to remind his fellow Britons that there existed within their midst a dirty, starving, trampled mass, and that the word "DOOM" was scrawled across the forehead of Ignorance in particular, I would commend it just for the sheer joy of the story. While nearly impossible to separate the story from the many times it has been dramatized (my own personal favorite is the 1980's version with George C. Scott, looking more like William Gladstone than Ebeneezer Scrooge), the story is vivid enough to create a whole world, indeed a Universe filled with spirits and ghosts who can whisk us off across the wide world with a mere brush against our hearts, if we wish. It is also short enough to be read in just a sitting or two. If you haven't in a while, find your dusty copy on the shelves, or just click the link above; since it is in the public realm, it is available to read on-line without an e-reader. It will brighten your holiday, and perhaps open your eyes to our on-going battle with those who continue to worship at the idol "profit" that has displaced the far more human love for one another that Scrooge himself, in an earnest passion to provide for himself, experienced.

This Christmas, I hope to awaken much as Scrooge himself did, prancing and dancing around my bedroom, proclaiming my joy and giddiness as I attempt to dress myself and fail marvelously. And, of course, God bless us. Every. Single. One.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Rose By Any Other Name

Yesterday, I mused somewhat briefly on the passing of journalist Christopher Hitchens. In particular, I focused on what I saw as a telling sentence fragment regarding the necessity of safeguarding one's dignity.

In contrast, consider the following from Vaclav Havel, who also left us for good and all this past weekend:
I had arrived in the countryside outside Prague at a place called Okrouhlice to visit artist friends. After a feast by a bonfire, I led a friend who had had too much to drink down a dark path toward a house nearby. In this total darkness, though completely sober, I suddenly fell into a black hole surrounded by a cement wall. The fact is, I had fallen into a sewer, into what can only be called, you'll excuse me, shit.
My attempt to swim in this fundamental mud, this strange vegetation, was in vain, and I began to sink deeper into the ooze. Meanwhile, a tremendous panic broke out above me. Local citizens flashed lights, grasped one another's arms, legs, offering limbs, articles of clothing to grab; a chaos of impossible rescue techniques followed. This brave fight for my life went on for at least thirty minutes. I could barely keep my nose above the dreadful effluvium and thought this was the end, what a way to go, when someone had the fine idea of putting down a long ladder.
Who could have known I was to leave this unfortunate sewer only to end up in the president's office two months later? I was not, after all, to have the distinction of becoming the first playwright to drown in shit at Okrouhlice.
What of Havel's dignity remains after confessing, with an air of surprise at what seems to be its uniqueness, that he was sober? What of Havel's dignity remains after confessing that bare weeks before the events that would catapult him on to the world stage he nearly drowned in shit?

Nothing contrasts these two men and the very different trajectories their lives followed than these little snippets. One had the courage of a life spent quietly, thoughtfully, writing poems, plays, and other pieces that held his rulers up to the contempt of the world. He spent quite a bit of time in jail, yet continued to write, saying what so many of his fellow Czechs knew to be true. He could make them laugh, both at themselves and at their rulers, something more deadly than the most strident polemics.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 2001, Christopher Hitchens took up the sordid mantle of defiance against the terrorists. Which, one would think, was hardly a display of courage. Yet, he marked this "decision" by breaking with many on the Left whom, he seemed convinced, were insufficiently outraged by the wanton murder of thousands and the glee of far too many at the destruction wrought that sunny September afternoon. When the Bush Administration decided to attack Iraq, Hitchens, a long-time advocate for Kurdish rights against Iraqi and Turkish violence against them, hitched his wagon not only to that particular Administration's plans, but to an entire ideology that represented everything Hitchens had spent his professional life fighting. He did so without a glance backward, without a regret or thought he might be selling himself far too cheaply.

Havel never lost the ability to chuckle at the irony and absurdity of the world. He also never mistook the various ways we might appear undignified for the reality that it is only worldly powers who wish to strip far too many of our fellow human beings of the signal dignity that comes with being human. Whether being jailed repeatedly for refusing to remain silent, or being called "collateral damage", and having various officials shrug at their deaths, it is this indignity that should be the focus of our rage. I cannot imagine Hitchens writing with obvious good-humor at an event in which he comes up smelling like shit. Havel, on the other hand, understood that sometimes in life we all fall in deep pools of shit.

At the end of their lives, each of these men carried a definite odor about them. One, having fallen in to a sewer, has the aroma of sweet perfume about him. The other, sad to say, against his insistence to the contrary, merely stinks.

Rest in peace, Vaclav Havel. And thank you.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Nobody Wrestles With Somebody

Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the 'transcendent' and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don't be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.
Ever since I first saw the news that Christopher Hitchens had finally succumbed to the esophageal cancer that had been killing him slowly for a couple years, I have been trying to decide if I should say anything about him. That, of course, led to the next question: If so, then, what?

I remember the first time I saw Christopher Hitchens on television. It was about six months after I had read a column of his in The Nation, before I subscribed. The image has been burned on my brain, and the image I last saw - gaunt, unshaven, the dual horrors of cancer and its current "treatment" rendering him nearly unrecognizable - seem like book ends on a life that ended too soon. He seemed a journalist out of some old central casting director's idea of "Journalist". British, he would have looked better dressed if he didn't also have that central casting aura of dishevelment about him. His speech was ever so slightly slurred, indicating a familiarity with John Barleycorn that was once a requirement of the species. When I discovered he also chain-smoked, I thought to myself, "Of course he does."

He was also, dare I say it, not-quite-beautiful in a way few men ever achieve. Even the slight swelling he started to take on as years of dissipation caught up with him but before the cancer took its unholy share seemed to add a cherubic quality. It was easy to look at him and think, "Man, this guy is too good looking."

Reading Hitchens was a joy. Only one other writer has filled me with the kind of thrill I felt when I read Hitchens, and Larry McMurtry is a very different kind of person, and writer, from Christopher Hitchens. Which indicated, at best, a catholicity of taste on my part that each of the others might appreciate. In any event, reading Hitchens was a joy, for me at any rate, because he read as if writing was, for him, effortless. After seeing him on television a few times - once with his brother Peter, as different a person as could be imagined, I might add - I would read Hitchens' columns in The Nation, stories in Vanity Fair, and the occasional book (I only own one, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, a magnificent tome for any maturing international lawyer wanting to make a name for herself) and in my head I could see him at a desk. The desk sat in front of a window. On his right was an overflowing ashtray with one burning and several smoldering cigarettes. On his left was a glass running with condensation. On the other side of the glass was a bottle of gin, three-quarters empty (I think because Hitchens was British, I pictured gin; I have no idea what he quaffed). He would sit there, his fingers flying over the keys of an old electric typewriter, the stacks of copy piling up like the butts in the ashtray. Whisked off to an editor, they would need no work, no tinkering. Not even a spell-checker, and certainly not a fact-checker! His writing, for me, was so beautiful, I could actually hear his voice when I read, something no other author has done for me.

It has been enough, for now, to mourn the loss of a kind of craftsmanship that is too rare these days. Not that I really believe my romantic image of Hitchens effortlessly pouring copy out his typewriter; a style as signature as his only comes from years of work, and hours of writing, then erasing, then writing again, then pulling the paper out, swearing as you crinkle it in to a ball and throw it away. The consonance of his written work with his speaking voice meant, for me, that it was possible to say something, say it beautifully, and say it as yourself. If I took anything from Hitchens, it was this possibility. Not so much to write, but to speak, using words, as an individual whose voice was one's own.

In the days since, I have been reading quite a lot of encomiums, eulogies, and malogies for Hitchens. From Scott McLemee in The American Prospect, to George Scialabba in n+1, to Katha Pollitt and D. D. Guttenplan in The Nation, to Alex Pareene at Salon there has been, as Scott wrote, a bit of grave-pissing. At least from those who once counted Hitchens as a fellow-leftist, a companion in the struggle against mendacity and simple-mindedness, his betrayal of these same values over the last decade of his life left many angry and confused. It led, for at least the first 48 hours after his death, to a bit too much wistfulness.

Charlie Pierce, lately of Esquire, calls out one of Hitchens' late-life fellow travelers, the very kind of mediocrity he spent the better part of his previous life lampooning and impaling with elegance. It is fair to say that, while it would be nice to believe Hitchens privately held someone like Ross Douthat in contempt, I think we reward ourselves a bit too much with that thought. The fact is, I think, Hitchens came to believe he really was as marvelous as his admirers told him he was, and wished to spend his time with as many such persons as possible.

There is also the class angle. I should say that this was not an aspect of the complexity I even considered until I read one or another comment on Facebook over the weekend. Then, from his haughty disdain of the Clintons to his lip-curling at various religious enthusiasms to his frequency at high-powered Capital parties made a great deal more sense. Which is not to say his former Trostkyite sympathies were not genuine; the British upper middle class provided a plethora of communists of various stripes, including Kim Philby, who spent the last years of his life enjoying Stalin's hospitality.

The epigram that begins this post, borrowed from a Facebook friend, is classic Hitchens. I believe it is either a marvelous summary of, or perhaps even a quote from, Letters to a Young Contrarian. There is nothing in the quote itself I find horrible or awful. Some of it I find laudable. One sentence, however, sticks out like a sore thumb, at least to this more than casual admirer of Hitchens: "[P]refer dignity for yourself and others."

Dignity for others? Absolutely. Part of our duty to others who are not granted dignity is to work to ensure it is recognized by others. Yet, this often entails stripping ourselves of dignity in the process. At the very least, what passes for being dignified among those who attend Georgetown and Cleveland Park parties, can call intimates of Presidents by their first names, and ensures that even rumpled, their clothes have the right labels.

At the end of the day, I believe Hitchens faced a choice: carry himself with dignity, or struggle against the forces of brutality and ignorance that may well strip him of that dignity. It makes me sad to believe, even for a moment, that he believed such a choice existed. Yet, the evidence of the previous decade, the shifting sands of his excuses for an allegiance with the social, cultural, and political forces that worked against everything he held near and dear, have led me to the conclusion that his dignity was far more important to him than his friendships. He sold, not his soul, but something far larger and more important: his passion. He sold it to the real barbarians who threatened the west. He did so because he mistook bonhomie for dignity. For that, even more than his occasional well-written screeds against the religious faith that feeds me and millions of others around the world, I am still angry with Hitchens. More than angry, however, I grieve for the loss of so fine a mind, so sharp a pen, and so passionate a fighter to the forces of destruction he labored so long to defeat.

Garbage In Garbage Out

Titus 1:15-16:
To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure. Their very minds and consciences are corrupted. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.
I suppose I could insist that a diligent reader check out the entire introduction to Titus, or perhaps even the entire letter - it isn't that long, after all - yet these two verses, clear enough in and of themselves, reflect not only a wise commentary upon the specifics of Paul's instructions to Titus, but something we usually associate with the phrase that is the title of this post.

And doesn't this reflect so much of what troubles the Church these days? Wouldn't it be nice to read Christians who see the world and all that is in it as a gift, something good graciously offered by God? Obviously, the moral preachments to which St. Paul give voice regarding the conduct not only of bishops and elders, but of all Christians, should be seen as the backdrop against which this more general comment is made. All the same, the specific context - that a Christian reflect a view of the world that sees purity, beauty, gratuity in the world where others see nothing but corruption and evil - is a wise insight regardless of time and place. This difference in seeing, and proclaiming what one sees, reflects (for St. Paul) the inner state of the person.

So, those who obsess, say, over the sex lives of pretty much everyone else kind of tells us what goes through their minds, doesn't it? The fetus-huggers, too, seem to be able to spare all sorts of love and compassion for a non-human lump of flesh while gleefully celebrating the deaths of other human beings without a care in the world.

St. Paul's observation here should serve as a guide for discerning the moral and spiritual worth of the words we read on the Internet, even apart from the common-sense idea that such folks are pretty much putting their issues on parade for all the world to see.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Prophecy Of St. Mary

From Luke 1:
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
While the declaration of Elizabeth - "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus" - has become part of the devotional life of the Roman Catholic Church, the Magnificat of St. Mary enjoys far broader acclaim. It is a part of our Advent celebrations, a way of declaring our hope for the life of the baby Mary currently carries within her, and the promise of God's reign and what it portends for all the earth.

Except, read with even more than passing care, most people notice that Mary is speaking in the present tense. Her declaration is not that God will do all these things - feed the hungry, displace the powerful, raise up the lowly. God, she declares, is doing these things.

How should we react to a declaration such as this? Most anyone looking around will notice the proud aren't scattered, the rich aren't sent away empty, and the powerful are still seated on thrones pretty much everywhere.

The Church has dealt with this mystery, conundrum, or even fanciful nonsense (depending on one's point of view) in a variety of ways. It has been spiritualized, stripping the statement of its prophetic power, decontextualizing it. More often in recent decades it has been read eschatologically and incarnationally; in the birth of Jesus we have these new realities coming about. Which, one would think, begs as many questions as it answers.

I do think it necessary to keep the spiritual and eschatological dimensions in mind, as part of the whole. Insisting on only one level of meaning to any Biblical passage renders it inert, a lifeless thing that drains it of power. It is a bit of a blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, I would think, because it substitutes whatever fleeting concerns any particular interpreter (including the present one!) has for the deeper, life-giving, life-affirming power that is within the passage itself. Instead of listening to the text, we are telling it what we want it to say. Not a good thing at all.

Which is why I would suggest that there is a way we can take this ambiguity at the heart of the text - a declaration of present Divine acts that don't seem to be happening at all - and use it as a judgment upon the Church. We are the body of this Christ whom Mary carries in her womb. We are the hands, the feet, the very mouth that, in the power of the Holy Spirit, speaks the Word of Truth and Life to a world weaned on death and lies. If we read the Magnificat and declare it anything other than an expression of how we, the Church, are to live in this world, then we are not being the Church, we are not living out this prophetic call of St. Mary to the Church and world from the other side of the Incarnation.

The list of present realities Mary declares are, I am suggesting, the ways we Christians are to see and move and speak and live in the world. We are to live so that the hungry are fed. We are to live so that the proud are scattered. We are to live so that the mighty are cast from their thrones. These are Kingdom realities, the reality Christ has come to inaugurate in his person and passion and resurrection. Part of expressing our faith in Christ is ordering our lives so that these proclamations are our realities; these declarations are the world in which we live. Prophecies are not a statement about some future time. It is always a statement about what God is doing, here and now. Expressing our faith in the baby Mary will birth includes living these realities, together.

It takes new eyes, to be sure. It takes hearts no longer wedded to the hope and promise of power, or gold, or favor. It takes lives ordered by God's Law of Love and forgiveness, wrath expressed in grace, judgment expressed by the bleeding, dying Son of Man on the cross outside the city gates. The whole Gospel is proclaimed here, and Mary is to be thanked and honored as a prophet of God not only for bearing the Son of God within her frail, teenage body; she is to be remembered for declaring for all the world to hear who this God is whom her Son will call Father, and what a world, ordered by this God, looks like and in which we are to live.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mission Accomplished 3

So, the war in Iraq has ended.


In all honesty, the "news" that Pres. Obama has withdrawn all but a few thousand garrison troops from Iraq, being touted as the "end of the Iraq War" has been met with chirping crickets. Not because the war hasn't mattered. Not because Americans don't care about the troops. Not because we are an ignorant, lazy rabble. We've been down this road before. Who can forget this?

Then there was the announcement by Pres. Obama that a large number of troops were being brought home.

Two years ago.

I'm sorry, but this "ending" is not only redundant, it seems . . . anti-climactic. For one thing, there are many people in the United States who refuse to admit they were lied to. From Pres. George W. Bush through most folks in his Administration responsible. Remember Condi's warning about "mushroom clouds"? Who can forget Colin Powell disgracing himself and the United States before the entire world at the United Nations? Then, there was Donald Rumsfeld, insisting at a press conference that the US knew where those pesky WMDs were - north, south, east, and west of Baghdad! - which was a marvelous way of implying they were both everywhere and nowhere. That there were actually none, zero, zip, zilch, that this was known since 1998, and publicized pretty widely . . . well who would dare call the entire foreign policy establishment of an American Administration a bunch of liars?

Well, anyone paying attention, for one thing.

A whole lot of people, tens and perhaps even hundreds of thousands, are dead. More displaced; the exodus of Iraq's small but historically significant Christian community is almost completely unremarked upon. The destruction of the physical infrastructure has yet to be repaired.

The physical, mental, and moral toll upon the American military won't be paid until we admit, first of all, that such exist. Considering the way the previous Administration treated wounded vets, we have years of catching up to do. Considering it seems nearly impossible to talk about the corrosive effects dehumanizing our enemies has had on some folks in the military, how is it possible to address, for example, the more than occasional reports of our troops simply murdering civilians? I think a whole lot of thanks needs to go to military legal teams who investigate and prosecute these crimes when they occur; yet, like so much else surrounding this whole episode, we just don't talk about it all that much.

Since before the whole thing began, we haven't really talked about it. We didn't discuss whether or not we should invade Iraq. We were told we had to. Then, we were told we were going to. Then, we were told we had to stay. And stay. And stay. The reasons kept changing, the rationale always shifting. At the end of the day, erasing all the lies and 9/11 bloody shirt waving, there seemed no good reason. A whole lot of people are dead, a country lies in physical, social, and political ruin, and our troops are coming back home amid an uneasy silence because no one, either those in charge, those who fought, or we who have had to watch have wrestled with the reality that the whole thing has been a horrendous crime. Those in charge will never face legal sanction. Our troops, who have done their jobs to the best of their abilities, by and large, aren't coming home to ticker-tape parades and long speeches.

The whole thing has stunk, and the dearth of serious discussion leaves me feeling that nothing good has come of these past 8 years. It was all preventable. It is just . . . sad.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Voicing Frustration . . . Again

So, I'm reading Tbogg smacking Megan McArdle around, and I'm thinking how familiar it all is. Someone on the right says something morally foul; someone on the left points out how morally foul it is; the original person claims to ignore the criticism, yet actually doubles down on the truly morally vicious stuff until finally, in a display of utter abandon, someone like Tbogg comes along and says, with all the poetry at his command, "You are a horrible fucking human being who I hope dies slowly." Readers cheer with delight.

Over the years I've read stuff far worse than, but of a kind with, the kind of thing McArdle is pushing here. I honestly believed it was possible to listen to what they have to say, offer a counter-argument, have a back-and-forth, blah-blah-blah. I have come to recognize, however, that the Megan McArdles and Jonah Goldbergs and writer's at The American Thinker and Renew America and even such dull luminaries as the op-ed writers at our flagship national newspapers, by and large, are just horrible human beings. While I do not wish to see any of them die slowly, that needs to be repeated until it has sunk in.

These are horrible human beings.

It isn't just that, say, Jonah Goldberg, who has achieved all he has in life because his mother Lucianne Goldberg, was an integral part of trying to get Bill Clinton's penis impeached; it isn't that George Will played an unethical role in the candidacy of then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, helping him prepare for a debate using papers purloined from the campaign of Pres. Carter, then adding to this lack of ethics by lying about what happened; it isn't that Charles Krauthammer has weekly visions of American and Israeli armed forces pretty much wiping out any and every non-Jew in the Middle East because that's the only way to protect Israeli, I mean American, interests.

While morally obtuse and ridiculous in and for themselves, these positions - and the hundreds, even thousands, of others - folks like this have taken, and continue to take, as well as the assumption by all involved that they are good, upstanding people who deserve to be heard all add up to the irrefutable conclusion that they are, to a person, morally vicious proponents of a vision of America at home and abroad that is violent, racist, almost demonic in its viciousness.

Rather than pretend, it is far better to just call these people out and say, "Do you have any idea that the combination of ignorance, stupidity, and moral vice in pretty much everything you write makes kittens weep?"

I know I harp on this theme more than occasionally, but the truth is simple enough. We would actually function far better as a political society without people like this sucking the life blood from our public discourse. I suppose we could just hand mirrors up - I'm guessing that neither Ann Coulter nor Ross Douthat actually cast reflections - but that just isn't good enough. It's one thing to dismiss a low-info, obviously bigoted blogger as a ridiculous scribbler who actually lowers our national IQ each time he or she publishes something on the internet. Saying the same thing about Joe Klein, while also technically accurate, is far harder to get across to people. He used to write for The New Yorker, after all. He writes for Time.

Which doesn't mean he isn't as big a douchebag as some anonymous scribbler on the internet. We just know this douchebag's real name, is all.

We just need to do more of this kind of thing. As often as possible. We need to stop pretending that these folks are being rewarded for intelligence, or hard work, or insight, or anything else. They are rewarded because they toss the chum in the waters of our political life, and the sharks come a-swimming.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Serious Proposal For Reforming The Nomination Process

With the Iowa caucuses less than three weeks away, we are yet again facing the same set of questions political junkies have been hearing for decades: Why Iowa and New Hampshire? Why do we begin our contest for nominating candidates for the Presidency with two small, rural, unrepresentative-in-every-way states? The usual answers - because they're small, because they allow face-to-face connection with voters, yadda-yadda- just don't cut it anymore. While I know it pains so many in the national press to accept this, we live in the day and age of the internet. The basic falseness of the old-style face-to-face campaigning for the Presidency is meaningless. With the restructuring of the whole system of campaign finance with the Citizens United decision, as well as the advent of new technologies for connecting with large swaths of the potential voting public, I think it's high time, past time even, for the major parties to stop coddling the folks in Iowa and New Hampshire. There isn't anything wrong with them; they are both states in the United States, filled with good, hard-working folks who also happen to be mostly white and rural in a country that is multi-racial and urban. Their preferences and concerns are not those of the majority of Americans.

With the Democrats taking the cycle of primaries off, I believe there is an opening, if anyone in the Democratic Party had any sense, to completely revamp the entire primary/caucus system. Proposals like this are a dime a dozen; I believe even (gasp!) David Broder proposed something similar to what I am proposing way back in the 1990's. That doesn't make it wrong; it doesn't make it right. It does, I think, address certain inequities and disparities within the nominating process as well as make the system a bit less nonsensical.

The first Tuesday of each month of the primary season, beginning in January and ending in May, have primaries in 10 states. The first set of primaries would include California, the largest state. The second would include Texas. The third, New York. The fourth Illinois. The last, in May, would include Florida. Have the ten states spread across the country. No regional primaries like the old Democratic "Super Tuesday" nonsense.

By having each set of primaries include the five largest states, with California being up front, rather than last as has happened historically, the system would put a premium upon organization and fund-raising - a key barometer of support prior to voting; moreso than all the nonsensical, nearly daily "polling" that means absolutely nothing. It would also keep vanity candidacies such as those of Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum from this year, to a minimum. While anyone could declare their candidacy, once it became clear that some just couldn't create the infrastructure because of a lack of support and funds, they would fade away.

With a premium on organization and fund-raising, and with the understanding that competition will be in very large states with diverse populations, as well as small states, there will also be an emphasis, right off the bat, on national appeal. Candidates will be able to use the internet as well as traditional media; barnstorming tours rather than pretending to care about the farmers at some Hayseed County Fair in Iowa when everyone, including the farmers, knows they don't. With the rules established under the Citizens United decision clearly making corporate support - in a general sense; large organizations can advertise for candidates - easier, rather than stand around and whine about it, something the Democrats have been doing since the Court handed the decision down, they should use it to their advantage. Candidates could get both corporations and unions, large lobbying firms and other large organizations who have voiced a willingness to support a candidate to put their money where their mouths are.

I doubt very highly that either party, certainly not the Democrats, would ever think of doing something like this. For some odd reason, the whole process of choosing candidates is held hostage to nostalgia and simple-mindedness. The largest states in the union get shafted in the process. The mega-urban corridor on the east coast - running from Boston to Richmond, VA - gets little to no attention. The uniqueness of Texas with its very large urban areas, its vast physical spaces, its many and diverse needs and interests, becomes just "Texas" the southern state with border issues. Having Illinois be a key state would highlight the needs of the upper Midwest and Great Lakes states, a group of moderate-sized states that are diverse within and among themselves that nevertheless share key interests and changing populations and demographics.

The country has changed many times over the decades since the beginning of the primary/caucus era. The system, sad to say, has just not reflected those many changes. Personally, I would almost welcome some other system - a national primary day, say - to the one we have now. At the very least, the proposal on offer here has the distinct advantage of ensuring a modicum of seriousness and attention to central issues facing the nation as a whole. It also would reflect the reality that our nation is an urban, diverse nation. The one disadvantage it has, I think, is how sensible it is.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tom Tomorrow Sums Up Newt's Career

Thank God for Tom Tomorrow

A Hermeneutics Of Effrontery

Piling on the disgraced former Speaker - which, were the pile female members of his staff might be a reminder of past glories - along with George Will, Charles Krauthammer, and Peggy Noonan, we now see Michael Gerson. I should say that the first four words of the title given to Gerson's column, "The problem with Gingrich" are a Pandora's Box, a bottomless pit of possibilities, many of them beginning with the letter "M".

In any event, there are many ways we can read the growing chorus of insider attacks upon the disgraced former House Speaker. We can, I suppose, focus our attention upon the specifics of the attacks themselves. That, sad to say, leads us to applaud people as odious as George Will, as ridiculous as Peggy Noonan, as blood-thirsty as Charles Krauthammer, only because they have managed to spy something real through the lenses normally viewing only poorly understood baseball, or fringed with icons of St. Ronald of Dixon, or red with the blood of swarthy types.

In Gerson's case, while we may agree with many of the specifics of what he is saying - that Gingrich's understanding of Sharia and its role in Muslim societies, including the United States, may well be lacking a little something we call "understanding" - yet there is embedded in this otherwise noteworthy column two sentences that almost made me destroy my laptop due to the sudden urge to spit take:
n the United States, public officials respect the conscience of citizens while protecting them from violence. The proper role of government is to aggressively fight terrorism, not to engage in theological judgments.
Michael Gerson wrote that. Yes indeed. It is a monument to sanity. In the service of going after the disgraced former Speaker of the House, Gerson has managed to trip over the truth, and notice it sitting there. No doubt, he shall hop to his feet soon enough go on penning his usual fluff that is chock-a-block with advice for office-holders on making theological judgments.

Because of the incongruities involved when folks who are semi-regular readers of the horrible people suddenly feeling the urge to mutter, "Peggy! You go girl!", I think another way to read your typical Big Name Pundit, when said person has written about Newt, is through the interpretive lens of effrontery. Rather than, say, having to drink oneself to oblivion because one finds oneself agreeing with George Will, consider a totally different possibility. It isn't that Will has suddenly discovered the real world, or that Peggy Noonan no longer swoons over Ronald Reagan. These tidbits of reality, such as the Gerson's today, are accidents, really. No more than dollops of whip cream upon the usual Hot Crap Sundae that is their usual fare. They are done in service to a Greater Purpose. It is no secret these, and others, who have worked for years in the nation's capital, hold the disgraced former Speaker in contempt. With politics not being beanbag, as the saying goes, anything ready at hand that ensures the world understands a Gingrich Presidency would be far worse than anything currently under consideration is certainly available for tossing.

Even the truth.

Read this way, we can nod when Gerson writes what he has today, yet need not marvel at this moment of moderation. It is little different, in kind, from David Broder's famous quip that the Clinton's trashed a place not theirs. Will, Krauthammer, Noonan, and Gerson consider themselves the guardians of respectable conservative opinion, the gatekeepers to the House of Right. That they are usually, by turns, silly buffoons or blood-thirsty moral monsters or tin-eared pseudo-theologians is all in service of the Greater Good. In this case, that includes keeping Gingrich from moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW on January 20, 2013.

I'm not writing this because I feel sorry for Gingrich. I am defending neither his usual forays through the thickets of his own ignorance to the glorious meadows of his megalomania; nor am I defending the pretense of bad pundits assuming the tattered mantle of Lippmann and Broder. I am only suggesting that when the folks in question actually pen something that makes sense, it is an accident. It is obvious to most that Newt is a ridiculous figure to anyone not Newt. The folks who remind readers of this from the precincts of right-wing punditry aren't saying anything surprising. Rather, they are wiping the spittle and grime they rightly understand is the texture of a Gingrich speech from their clothes, telling any who might be interested that he is not "their kind."

Except, of course, he is. They would not exist today if not for Gingrich and his dogged pursuit of a former Speaker (Jim Wright) and the penis of a President (Bill Clinton). Their careers and his followed a similar rise in fortunes with American voters preference for a politics of nonsense, a flirtation with fabrication, and the no-holds-barred idiocy that is all that remains of the Republican Party in America. Now to turn on Gingrich in a last-ditch effort to ward off this fellow-creation of the past generation of American politics is amusing, but ultimately self-defeating. Their fortunes and his are linked in ways that would make Callista Gingrich blush; considering the memories I am quite sure she has of her own ways of linking to the previously married former Speaker, this is saying something.

In other words, when Gingrich fails to win the nomination, and fail he will, he shall not go quietly. He shall drag these, and many others, with him to the depths. That, after all, is how he rolls.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Life In Pottersville

So Lisa and I sat down and watched It's A Wonderful Life yesterday. The girls aren't that Jonesed with it, so it ended up being the two of us. While I was watching, the old familiar complaints I had with it surfaced. Except for Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore, it isn't really well acted. Some of the dialogue seems stilted. When George returns home having been told he's not only lost $8000 but may face arrest and the possible exposure and mischaracterization of his friendship with Violet Bick, does he take his wife aside, tell her what's happened, and figure out what to do? No. He throws a temper tantrum, then runs out and gets drunk, then wrecks his car. His self-pity is almost overwhelming. I don't so much feel sorry for him as want to smack him.

This doesn't even begin to capture my frustrations with the scenes when Clarence shows him Bedford Falls without him. George is supposed to be smart, yet he never really catches on that he has never been born! Seeing the downtown area doesn't convince him? He runs off to his "mother"! That doesn't convince him (a spell? What the hell!), so he heads over to "Bailey Park", even though his mother treats him like the drunken loon he is. And he is shocked, SHOCKED! I tell you to discover, despite Clarence's repeated description of events, to discover not only no Bailey Park, but the grave of his brother, whose death as a child doomed the lives of hundreds of soldiers whose transport was sunk.

After all that, even I'm wondering why I bothered watching it.

Anyway, I got to thinking about some other things while I was watching it. For instance, without the Bailey Building and Loan, the collapse of the local market in Bedford Falls allowed Henry Potter, who - as George correctly tells his frightened customers and neighbors and friends - wasn't panicking in the midst of a banking crisis, to take over the town He not only exploits the situation to his own advantage He converts a friendly, run-of-the-mill small town to the Las Vegas of the Finger Lakes. Potter is no dummy. Vice is the quickest, easiest, and most profitable business imaginable. Dance halls. Burlesque houses. Peep shows. On and on and on and on. We see Violet Bick, whose less than stellar virtue has already been demonstrated, not once but twice (she is, essentially, portrayed as a prostitute in an earlier scene; in the immediately previous set of scenes, she is heading out of town . . . because women had to leave if they were either pregnant, or involved in a scandal; personally, I think she probably got pregnant by some married dude and had an illegal abortion, but that's the romantic in me), being dragged to a paddy wagon, screeching like a harpy.

It occurred to me that the United States has become Pottersville. It's really that simple. Not only have the folk of Pottersville forgotten their history as the sleepy, pleasant community of Bedford Falls, their decade and a half as Pottersville (I usually put the community name-change at the point when the Building and Loan collapsed and Potter consolidated his hold on the town) has completely erased any vestige of personal or communal ethic from their lives. Even Mary, who is described as "an old maid" at, what, 35, doesn't react with any equanimity when George confronts her. That anyone like Mary could exist in a town like Pottersville - that it would even bother with a library - strains credulity. At the same time, the way the bad folk of Pottersville gather round to protect her as she faints over George's (largely unbelievable) entreaties is kind of a ridiculous display of false protectiveness. Which results in the kind of scene that, say, had George been African-American, would have ended up with him strung up from a tree.

Like the residents of Pottersville, the same Americans demand unfettered access to profit from individual and social weakness, promote a kind of collective ignorance and rapacious individualism that merely exists from one moment to the next without thought, and allies itself with a false virtue that protects largely symbolic innocents, all the while actively apathetic to the collective suffering that exists around them. Indeed, our major parties would much prefer we waste our energies protecting old maids who faint at the slightest provocation, while always reaching deep in to our pockets to shell out as much money as possible for the dance girls. That the same people can actually insist simultaneously that we need to be most concerned with some random matters of personal virtue all the while promoting a social, economic, and cultural milieu that seeks to profit from a variety of vices only shows how atrophied our collective moral imagination has become. Those who insist that things can be, or at least could be, otherwise are George Bailey - crazy, drunk, and refusing to believe that things are the way they really are.

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Womb Police's Ladies Auxiliary

There are some topics I try to avoid. Feelings, and therefore temperatures, run high, so it is difficult to be heard, especially when the screeching harpies show up. All the same, there are moments that silence just doesn't cut it.

Isn't it bad enough that the United States Senate refuses to support our troops when something horrible happens to them? A bunch of women who seem to think they should tell other women what to do with their bodies comes out and applauds. From the website RH Reality Check, that covers health care politics and related issues:
Concerned Women for America (CWA) revealed exactly how little concern they have for actual women, much less for America, this week when they sent out a letter attacking women who defend our country for having the nerve to believe they deserve full medical care after being raped. The mind-bogglingly vicious swipe at female soldiers had a couple of doozies, including the claim that allowing raped service members to access abortion “serves as a political distraction” from national security, as if it’s in the interest of national security to subject raped service members to forced childbirth. CWA also pretended to care about female troops with blather describing being raped and forced to bear a rapist’s child as merely “difficult circumstances” requiring “compassion and support,”
Like Rick Santorum obsessing over what people do in bed, the Church Ladies at CWA are so focused on what other people should and shouldn't do they have crossed the line from offensive to annoying. The folks in the Senate deserve all the outrage flung at them.

The CWA, which really should be known as the Overly Concerned With Other People's Lives Association, needs to take a chill pill, chased by a double shot of STFU. My mother, a real concerned woman in America, always taught us to mind our business. something these folks need to remember.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

A Reality Dope-Slap

One of my friends on FB, a gentleman who went to high school with my older brother, is not a fan of Pres. Obama. To say the least. No big deal, because I'm not exactly going out of my way to make sure he spends four more years in Washington. What's frustrating, as with so many denizens of the fever swamp that is the American right-wing, is that he doesn't like him for all the wrong reasons. He carries on about how Obama has raised our taxes. Obama has cut taxes on Americans pretty consistently, with the latest fight being over the expiration of a payroll tax holiday that Obama wanted and the Republicans want to see end. He carries on about Obama's ego, which, while substantial (you don't seek then win the highest office in the land without some sense of oneself, unless you're a paranoid lunatic like Nixon), is dwarfed by, say Newt Gingrich's outsized sense of himself. He repeats the nonsense that Obama is some kind of socialist bent on destroying America.

Like the constant barrage of stupidity that carries on about Obama's socialism which is non-existent, his deep, long-time relationship with former Weather Underground member Bill Ayres, which doesn't exist, his penchant for apologizing to other countries for American conduct, which has never happened, I honestly and sincerely wish folks would dislike Obama for real reasons. Substantive reasons. There are plenty, which is why I am not planning on supporting his re-election campaign or voting for him next year.

In the same vein of wishing people would just, you know, deal with things as they are, rather than as they are told they are or think they are or something, I honestly wish liberals (as opposed to those on the Left, who tend to display a bit more clarity of vision on these matters in my experience) would stop getting huffy over stuff Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich say. The only bottom-tier Republican candidate for President whose recent statements need disparaging are Jon Huntsman's recent remarks that indicate he is flipping on climate change in a last-minute, desperate attempt to drag in some cash. I have to agree with Pierce, by and large, that Huntsman was never "liberal". He was, however, at least sane enough to call out climate deniers for the flat-earthers they are.

Until someone told him the campaign cash cupboard was bare.

The other three, however . . . The reason I would rather poke a bit of fun at Santorum, Perry, and Gingrich is easy: None of them are going to get the nomination from the Republican Party. Certainly not Santorum, who is currently giving Huntsman a run for the bottom of the field. Over, the past few days, Santorum's mind keeps wandering back to what folks do in the privacy of their own homes a little more frequently than is normal; most of us would call his obsession with gay sex more than a little creepy.

It isn't that the things he has said aren't offensive, with a thin coating with ick. They are. It is far better, however, not to allow one's indignation to overcome common sense. Santorum was so loathed by folks in his home state he wasn't re-elected to the US Senate, so I never understood why he thought people in the rest of the country would find him an attractive candidate. When Think Progress or Fire Dog Lake or even Charlie Pierce at Esquire take a moment to highlight yet another instance of Santorum's outrage that people are having sex of which he doesn't approve and about which he, apparently, thinks constantly, take a deep breath, calm down, and have some fun at his expense. Seriously. That's about all he deserves.

Ditto Rick Perry. His new ad, in which he makes the silly, and false, statement that "there's something wrong" in American because gay folks can serve in the military but kids can't pray in school (lie lie lie lie lie lie lie lie), is an obvious attempt to strong-arm the douchebag vote away from Santorum who is on the way out. Seriously. Even if Rick Perry believes his own ad, he is as slick and phony as Mitt Romney, and I just don't have enough benefit of the doubt to grant him. It's pandering, pure and simple.

Yet, the comment threads on these posts are chock-a-block with serious parsing of these statements, tinged with the kind of outrage that one would think should accompany any serious policy proposal from a viable candidate. To which I can only say - calm down. Have some fun, be honest and just say, "Wow, these folks are just nuts." Then, go back to having a cup of coffee and helping Junior or Janie with homework.

As for Newt, I realize he is the latest anti-Romney "front-runner" (no, I neither care what polls say, nor believe them when they are shoved in my face; it's votes that count, not what random people tell a stranger before actually casting a ballot), but his underlying megalomania has been surfacing recently - he's the one responsible for Romney's wealth, apparently; he will be the nominee; he will appoint Dr. Whovee lookalike John Bolton Secretary of State - along with his life-long penchant for making stuff up, then defending the lie with further lies that usually play to his own view of his overwhelming intellect are all combining to remind most of America why he has spent the past 13 years unemployed by any public institution whatsoever. His flaws are florid at the current moment, and it is far better to sit back and watch him destroy his own candidacy than to allow oneself to be outraged that he thinks child-labor laws are stupid, or that poor kids just don't have any role models to follow when it comes to hard work.

Start an office pool on the date when he ends up destroying himself, grandly, in public. That would be a far better use of one's time and energy.

If you're wondering what my point is in all this, it's simple. Calm down. Obama isn't going to destroy America. Considering the job the financial sector did, and continues to do, I think that award should rest firmly on the shelves of those who've earned it. Santorum, Perry, Gingrich may be bigoted idiots, but they aren't going to be their party's nominee for President. I'm not saying politics isn't important. Obviously, I believe it is. It isn't something one should allow to overwhelm both common sense and reality. You don't like Obama? Good for you. All I ask is you dislike him for real reasons. You think Santorum's statements regarding gay marriage are insulting? Why, insult him right back! Shoot, all you have to do is Google "Santorum" and the very first choice is a marvelous example!

Part of our problem is we as politically active citizens just don't keep perspective. It takes just a few moments of time to check out whether or not real Socialists loathe Barack Obama or whether Mitt Romney's health care plan in Massachusetts is pretty much the same one Congress passed in 2009 and that he campaigns against. Just deal with things as they are. That's all I'm asking.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Election, Predestination, Freedom, And Grace

In last night's class, we concentrated a lot of effort on Romans 9. That's odd, because the eschatological promises of Romans 8 are probably the most moving passage in the New Testament. They are certainly the most beautiful thing St. Paul ever wrote.

Lot's of people, it seems, don't like the idea that God might arbitrarily decide who is the beneficent recipient of grace and who, through neither virtue nor fault, will suffer the eternal reprobation reserved for the Devil and his angels. For some reason, all the other stuff the Old Testament and New Testament says about God's desire being for all creation to return to God; that God never ever ever ever ever ever ever stops pursuing us, calling us, whispering in our ears, seducing us, even cheating to get us to follow the Divine Way just disappears when we pout, because we, rightly, understand ourselves undeserving of the grace and love we have in Jesus Christ. We all turn in to Pelagius, it seems, because, dammit, we WANT to be in control.

While I consider myself Wesleyan, I think on this and related matters (as the title suggests) I console myself with St. Augustine, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and the Reformed tradition in its affirmation that the judgment of God, revealed in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, reveals God's wrathful declaration that sin is contrary to the will of God, that the new life in Jesus Christ is a free gift from the overflowing love of a God who has demonstrated the prodigal nature of the Divine love and life in this act of sacrifice and reclamation.

If we take grace seriously, which is little more than taking God's judgment upon our sin seriously, then the idea that God's graceful decision for humanity, for creation, expressed on the cross and in the empty tomb either mean everything or they mean nothing. The idea that God's choosing of life, of love, of forgiveness as the final judgment upon our willful insistence to turn away from the constant Divine entreaty should fill our hearts with joy, rather than indignation. Rather than sulk because the decision has been taken out of our hands, we should celebrate the only real freedom that matters - the freedom from the fear of separation from God precisely because God doesn't will or want that separation. Either we take the cross and Easter seriously, or we should just write Jesus off as another failed revolutionary, a faux-messiah as deluded as all the rest.

The Christian life lived in the acknowledgement of God's eternal decision for us is an expression of Divine Favor, of Divine wrath given over to joy and dancing. We no longer need to worry about whether or not this or that act, this or that life-choice, this or that thought, is a barrier to God, because God has removed all the barriers between us and communion with God. Not for our sakes, to be sure. God does this, and we acknowledge it as being so, because God desires to be with us, to be in relationship with us. We are free from worrying about how we stand before God, because we cannot stand before God. Yet, God calls to us and offers us the help we need, a proffered hand pierced with nails we hammered.

Christian freedom is the freedom from the fear that we can either earn God's favor, or separate ourselves from God's love. We no longer need to tally up our daily round of rights and wrongs, and living in the fullness of the grace bestowed through the Spirit, in Christ, for the Father, just live. Thankfully. Joyfully. Always with a penitent heart, but a joyous penitent heart.

The teaching that God has chosen us, even before we were born, because God had chosen before the foundations of the world were laid that the Son would come to heal the rift between creation and Creator, is the fullest expression of Divine Love and favor I can imagine. It doesn't bind us, or hinder us. On the contrary, I am grateful beyond measure for God's overflowing love for all creation that is summed up by God's gracious choice to be for us.

Infamous Days

It's been seventy years since the United States was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the forces of the Empire of Japan. That's a very long time. On that day, my father was an underemployed wannabe actor on the streets of Manhattan. He happened to be near Times Square as a crowd gathered around the ticker that displayed headlines in moving lights. He gathered with hundred of others as the news of the attack flashed to passersby on the streets of New York. He insists he can find himself in photos of the crowds, but to me, he's just another hatted gentleman in the multitude. My mother was in the first semester of her senior year of high school; her two older brothers got up early the next morning and joined the military, her oldest brother, Eugene, joined the Navy, Rowland, the Army.

My parents are old, now, as are the rest of those who still remember that day when Dr. Win-the-War took over from Dr. New Deal.

This week marks another anniversary. It is more recent, happening 31 years ago on December 2nd. On this infamous day, innocent people were attacked and killed by a military power. The difference is that, unlike the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States was not the victim. We were, in fact, the willing conspirators and global apologist for the brutal rape and murder of four nuns by military forces in El Salvador. Charlie Pierce reminded us all yesterday of the gruesome details:
During what we used to call The Prayer of the Faithful, which comes immediately after the Homily, we prayed for the souls of Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Jean Donovan, and Dorothy Kazel, four Catholic missionaries who were beaten, raped, and murdered by a death squad in El Salvador in 1980. The death squad carried out this mission at the direct order of the Salvadoran government, a right-wing horror show of which President Ronald Reagan and his incoming administration were quite proud. When Republicans boast of Reagan's foreign policy triumphs, murder and rape is part of what they're talking about. The four women — American citizens and clergy, mind you — were brutalized on December 2. Last Sunday was the 31st anniversary of their deaths.
The case was a stench in the nostrils of the world. Once in office, the Reagan people lied their asses off — or, worse, blamed the nuns. Jeane Kirkpatrick said that the murdered women were "not just nuns. The nuns were political activists – on behalf of the [leftist opposition] Frente." Alexander Haig, Reagan's lunatic Secretary of State, opined that "the nuns may have run through a roadblock or may have accidentally been perceived to have been doing so, and there may have been an exchange of fire."
The history of America's dealings with Central America is written in blood. Whether we supported or opposed any particular government, it seems the result was death and destruction, a horrible wasting of lives to no good end or real purpose. Even the cries of "communism" rang hollow in the teeth of brutality we supported with an almost gleeful abandon. Our drug-running terrorist freedom-fighters in Nicaragua, getting help from Pineapple Face, also known as our drug-running lackey Manuel Noriega in Panama, were the flip side of the brutal sociopaths we supported in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Largely forgotten now when we recall the decade of Reagan, it is important to remember how much time and energy the American government expended to insure that the horror show in the long isthmus between Mexico and Colombia continued.

Both of these days need to be remembered. Both need to live on in our national consciousness, reminders of our failings as a country. The spirit of the four young nuns, whose bodies were buried in shallow graves by the roadside without the comfort of last rites to console their souls in their final, terrified minutes, should haunt us all, horrific reminders of the price we Americans make others pay for our delusions of Empire.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Newt York Times Style Manual

I really need to write something about Willard Mitt Romney at some point. I hate feeling like I'm beating up on the nerd in the classroom.

The first sentence made me want to take a pickaxe to my eyes.
Ideas erupt from the mind of Newt Gingrich — bold, unconventional and sometimes troubling and distracting.
The person who wrote this sentence is named Trip. Trip Gabriel, in fact. People aren't really named Trip, are they? Is it a nickname for something, perhaps? Or was he born while the family was on vacation?

This isn't a complaint about Gingrich. Really. The complaint here is about the way he and his statements are portrayed. Gingrich does not have ideas. They do not "erupt" from his mind. His "ideas" are neither "bold" nor "unconventional" let alone "troubling" and "distracting". Paul Krugman recently quipped that Newt is a stupid person's idea of what a smart person sounds like, a marvelous bit of snark that also happens to be an apt description of the disgraced former House Speaker. Lacking any discipline over his pants or his mouth, Gingrich simply lets fly whatever comes in to his head. It doesn't have to be related to reality. It doesn't have to be thought through with care. Spouting stuff more quickly than people can take in isn't a sign of intelligence. It's the mark of a bullshitter who understands that by the time something he or she says is taken apart and looked at thoroughly, he or she will be on to five other topics, equally swamped with the distinct odor of the cow pasture.

The same "mind" which insisted that child labor laws are stupid and the people are taking vacations on their Food Stamp allotments also opined that the Columbine High School shootings were a direct result of Democratic domestic policies, and that Susan Smith, the multiple child-murderer from South Carolina, was an example of Democratic policies in action. Forgive me for not thinking too highly of Gingrich's "mind".

Trip is writing from the typical playbook. Gingrich is the smartest guy in the room. He likes to show off how much he knows. He spouts ideas because his mind is fertile and imaginative, thinking outside the boundaries of usual discourse and accepted opinion. The entire piece is rife with these basic elements of Newt-speak.
Mr. Gingrich’s tendency to speak bluntly, provocatively and sometime impulsively may be part of his emerging appeal at a time when conservatives seem intent on sending a no-business-as-usual message to Washington. It helps with his attempts to foster an image as a candidate eager to bring about change.


Longtime aides to Mr. Gingrich said he fosters work environments where people feel free to think out loud. The ideas he offers in public are not ad hominem but grounded in such lengthy brainstorming. But because his ideas are often unconventional, they require detailed explanations; expressed as a sound bite, they backfire.
This entire enterprise is in the same vein as an article in Time magazine, written by "historian" Joe Meacham (he has written a history of the Jacksonian era, which instantly saved me all that money of buying a book by someone who could write what Meacham did). Such public obeisance to a figure as ridiculous as Gingrich makes one wonder about the stability of the entire political class. Considering the German's have a far more sober take on the Republican Presidential candidates than anything in the mainstream American press, it at least suggests that familiarity doesn't so much breed contempt as it does idiocy.

Is The Theory Of Military Keynesianism Wrong?

A long-time argument offered by many on the left for the relatively high employment numbers in the United States during periods when other industrialized countries were suffering economic slumps - the early- to mid-1960's; the late-1980's - was quite often put off on what commentator Noam Chomsky called "Military Keynesianism". Rooted in the macro-economic theories of John Maynard Keynes, the theory was that relatively high spending in defense and related sectors by the federal government created or maintained jobs in related industries while other countries that had relatively smaller military budgets (as well as militaries less beholden to high-tech industry for their existence) couldn't rely on this as an employment stop-gap.

There is a study (.pdf) out of the University of Massachusetts (incorrectly identified as MIT in the Think Progress report where I first read about it) that compares the employment effects of military spending to the employment effects of public spending in other areas. From the abstract:
This study focuses on the employment effects of military spending versus alternative domestic spending priorities, in particular investments in clean energy, health care and education. We first present some simple alternative spending scenarios, namely devoting $1 billion to the military versus the same amount of money spent on clean energy, health care, and
education, as well as for tax cuts which produce increased levels of personal consumption. Our conclusion in assessing such relative employment impacts is straightforward: $1 billion spent on each of the domestic spending priorities will create substantially more jobs within the U.S. economy than would the same $1 billion spent on the military.
This wasn't the only question under scrutiny:
We then examine the pay level of jobs created through these alternative spending priorities and assess the overall welfare impacts of the alternative employment outcomes. We show that investments in clean energy, health care and education create a much larger
number of jobs across all pay ranges, including midrange jobs (paying between $32,000 and $64,000) and high-paying jobs (paying over $64,000). Channeling funds into clean energy, health care and education in an effective way will therefore create significantly greater opportunities for decent employment throughout the U.S. economy than spending the same amount of funds with the military.
Using standard methodology first developed in the 1930's, they conclude that, in large part due to higher non-labor costs military and related industries incur - physical plant and other material capital, land - spending in the other areas under study actually create more, and better-paying, jobs than equivalent spending in the military budget.

A couple things. The military budget is not a jobs budget. While even the most skeptical anti-Keynesian in Congress often pushes strenuously to keep various military projects funded if they are contracted within his or her district out of a concern for jobs, the object of the military budget is to make sure the United States has adequate military defenses to face threats to its interests. Now, the previous sentence is over-loaded with political questions: What is "adequate"? What constitutes a "threat"? What are our "interests"? What is the meaning of "adequate" in the face of these "threats"? While having an analytical component, answering these questions is a matter of politics. Which is as it should be. There is no final arbiter of what is or is not an adequate level of military spending, what our interest are, etc. We have to come to understand these terms together, always with the proviso that they all may change, sometimes in the blink of an eye.

Second, while certainly an important consideration in long-term fiscal planning, especially as we draw down forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and consider various options in future force-structure that are adequate to existing and emerging threats as well as take advantage both of the training and abilities of American military personnel and technology, we should not look for immediate economies by thinking solely of the employment effects of relative federal spending levels. It may well be the case, as the study concludes - and the conclusions of this study are the same as its predecessors over the previous decade - that military spending is not as big a job-creating engine as spending in other areas; in tough economic times, some might see an opportunity here not only for fiscal economies but an opportunity to boost employment by more cost-effective public-sector investment. That, to me, would be a mistake. Only after careful examination of current and recent DoD budgets should anyone suggest ways in which future military spending might include some of the conclusions of these studies. That should always be done as a secondary or even tertiary consideration; the first, over-riding concern of Defense spending has to be insuring a defense of the United States.

As to the question of the Theory of Military Keynesianism, it seems that repeated studies over a decade are dealing a blow to the idea, beloved of Congress members with defense contractors in their districts, that, if all else fails, as long as they have a plant building parts for a tank or a plane of a ship, they're fine might want to consider getting money to build a school or maybe even a plant that produces green technology.

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