Marriage is love.
(And thanks to The Mad Prophet for pointing me to this bit of code.)


Who knew?

U.S. District Judge Henry F. Floyd today ordered the federal government to free Jose Padilla within 45 days (PDF link). But if I hadn't happened to catch this dKos diary, Lord only knows when I might have heard about it. It seems the only court story that's getting any press today is, predictably, Michael Jackson's (and there's not a snowball's chance in hell I'm going to feed the lurid frenzy by linking to any of the bajillions of stories about it, even though it would probably drive my site traffic through the roof).

How pathetic is that? Kansas police have arrested a man who may have terrorized his neighbors as a serial killer for 30 years. No story. The Supreme Court heard a major case involving the applicability of the Americans with Disabilities Act today. No story (though I did hear Nina Totenberg talking about the case this morning on NPR). And, oh yeah, a federal judge admits what has been obvious all along, that the government's arrest and detention without due process of an alleged "terror suspect" was completely bogus. No story.

What is this fascination we have in the United States with the lives (and especially the sex lives, doubly so if they're not normative) of the rich and famous? Of all the dozens of things that have happened in the world today, why is the corporate media bound and determined to keep us on a steady diet of Jackson-related scandal and slime? Not that his trial shouldn't be reported, obviously: but must it be the focus of absolutely every news report from now until it winds to its undoubtedly sordid end a year from now?


By the pricking of my thumbs....

Something wicked this way comes:

(With profound apologies to the Immortal Bard.)



The natives are growing restless

Yesterday I posted Bloggers' quiz bowl and asked readers to identify the party referred to in the following quote:

With newfound authority and moral passion [this political party] reconstructed constitutional theory to allow the expansion of federal power at the expense of local sovereignty, and the adapting of state law to federal legal structures.

Mustang Bobby got it half right when he said the quote referred to the Republican Party. But it wasn't from their founding in Ripon, and it doesn't refer to Reconstruction.

The quote comes from Sarah Barringer Gordon's book The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in 19th-Century America. It refers to Republicans' (successful) attempts to re-frame the notion of federalism to expand national control over state laws in the 1870s, in response to Mormons' attempts to institutionalize polygamy in the Utah Territory.

The book is a fascinating read. What makes it even more interesting (to me, at least) is that the Republican Party is even now attempting to undo what it did a century ago, and wants to empower the states at the expense of the federal government--but with exactly the same motive. In the 1870s as now, the Republicans are worried that a fringe group (Mormons then; chiefly gays and lesbians now) will be able to get the laws on their side for what they see as an abomination (polygamy then; gay marriage now). Since society would inevitably collapse if the outsiders were allowed to prevail, the Republicans want to be able to re-jigger the nation's legal system to prevent that outcome. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...


Ex ore infantium

Via Mustang Bobby comes this disturbing bit of news:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 - The battle over Social Security has been joined by an unusual lobbyist, a 9-year-old from Texas who has agreed to travel supporting President Bush's proposal.

The boy, Noah McCullough, made a splash with his encyclopedic command of presidential history, earning five appearances on the "Tonight" show and some unusual experiences in the presidential campaign last year. He beat Howard Dean in a trivia contest at the Democratic National Convention and wrote for his local newspaper about his trip to see the inauguration.


In a sign of how far groups go to carry their message on Social Security, Progress for America has signed up Noah, a fourth grader, as a volunteer spokesman. He starts on spring break from James Williams Elementary School in Katy, Tex.

Progress for America, which spent almost $45 million backing Mr. Bush last year, plans to lay out $20 million on Social Security this year. It has spent $1 million on television commercials and is working to send experts around the country. Among them are Thomas Saving, a trustee of the Social Security Trust Fund; Rosario Marin, a former United States treasurer; and one really, really young Republican. Noah will not be eligible to collect Social Security for nearly 60 years.

Noah will travel to a handful of states ahead of visits by the president and will go on radio programs, answer trivia questions and say a few words about Social Security. Though he is obviously not an expert (and not really a lobbyist, either), officials say the effort is a lighthearted way to underline Mr. Bush's message.

"What I want to tell people about Social Security is to not be afraid of the new plan," Noah said. "It may be a change, but it's a good change." (My emphasis)

Were I not afraid of the answer I might get, I'd ask just how low the anarcho-conservacons are willing to go to wreak their intended havoc on Social Security. The sentences I've highlighted at the end of the quote above suggest that it's pretty low. I mean, really: trotting out a nine-year-old who doesn't even understand what the hell he's talking about, just to tug at the heartstrings of the preznit's loyal lapdogs (the only ones who can get into presidential appearances, don't'cha know)?

Making matters worse, Noah isn't even going to get paid for his misguided efforts on the preznit's behalf. Worst of all, if he's successful, he'll have screwed himself out of his own retirement security, 60 years hence.

And how did little Noah come to the attention of the anarcho-conservacons? As you might expect, one of the biggest of the Assholes of Evil had a hand in the mix:

The trip was a brainchild of Stuart Roy, a former aide to Representative Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas, who recently joined the DCI Group, a political consultancy here with ties to the Republican Party and Mr. Bush.

The firm is heavily involved in Progress for America's efforts. The president of the organization, Brian McCabe, is a partner at DCI, and the organization contracts with the firm. In the 2004 campaign, the Progress for America Voter Fund paid DCI about $800,000, records show. Mr. Roy knew Noah because the boy lives in suburban Houston, part of Mr. DeLay's district, and the House majority leader has met him. "We'll have Noah there as the face of Social Security reform," Mr. Roy said. "It's about the next generation."

It is indeed about the next generation. And the generation after that, and the one after that, and so on. But what mini-Republican Noah and the shameless anarcho-conservacons who are exploiting him aren't telling him (or anyone else) is that there is not a problem with Social Security--and even if there were a problem, the Shrubbery's proposed solution would not only not address it, but actually make it worse.

No wonder they decided to use a nine-year-old to get their message out.



Why I love academia, Part LXX

I just spent an hour in a committee meeting. They can often be banes of an academic's existence, sucking away precious time and energy from other tasks. This one was not.

For one, it was nice to get out of the office and get to walk across campus on what is likely to be one of the last nice days we have for a while. (It's supposed to snow again this weekend, and turn much colder over the next couple of weeks, according to our in-house forecaster.)

For another, this committee is the one that sets policy for the university libraries. I've been on it for four years now, and I thoroughly enjoy it. I love books, and I like being around people who love them as much as I do. And since one of my master's degrees is in library science, this is actually an area I know a little something about.

But that's not why this was such a good meeting. At the tail end of the agenda, our history and social sciences librarian/bibliographer came in to make a presentation. We're one of the first libraries in Illinois to get access to the Historical New York Times: 4.3 million digitized pages from the Paper of Record, from 1851-2001. It has everything--and I do mean everything. You can search advertisements, editorial cartoons, weather reports, reviews, articles, the whole schmear. You can look at an abstract of your results, or at a page map (the digitized image of the page or pages on which your results appeared), or the article itself in isolation. And the articles are threaded, so you don't have to skip through multiple pages to read the full story. (But I was assured that they've preserved the pagination information, so you can still cite accurately.)

I think I know what I'm going to be doing for at least part of the weekend...


Bloggers' quiz bowl

Take a gander at the following quote and try to guess which political party it refers to:

With newfound authority and moral passion [this political party] reconstructed constitutional theory to allow the expansion of federal power at the expense of local sovereignty, and the adapting of state law to federal legal structures.

I'll provide the answer and the source of the quote later.



A la recherche du temps perdu

It was 32 years ago today that we received word of the death of my great-grandmother, Myrtle Schaefer Hawkins (7 September, 1886-23 February, 1973). She was a remarkable woman, and an all-around class act.

She was always reluctant to talk about her family, so we never did find out if she was an orphan, or whether her parents were immigrants. We know that she was born in Hubbard County, PA, and that she married my great-grandfather Elmer in Ohio in 1909. They lived in several places (Elmer was in the building trade, but would turn his hand to whatever work was available) before settling in a small house that he built for her outside of Hayward, Wisconsin.

Everybody in my family talks about that house. Myrtle was a small woman, and Elmer built the house to her scale, which meant that doing dishes was a backbreaking chore for everybody taller than she was--which was most of us. In the last photograph we have of her with my family, taken several years before her death, I'm almost as tall as she was, and I couldn't have been much more than about six years old when it was taken.

The thing I remember most about great-grandma's house was the way it smelled. A hint of cedar from the paneling and the cedar chests, but mostly woodsmoke and the scent of freshly baked bread, cake, pie, or some other treat. Great-grandma had two stoves in her kitchen: one modern range (electric, as I recall) that she'd use for ordinary cooking, and one old wood-burning stove that was all she'd use for baking--and boy, did she ever bake! There were always cookies or cake or pie or brownies or something to share with anybody who stopped in for coffee, but if she knew there was family coming to visit, she laid on a spread that would do any professional baker proud.

She was brought up in an era when women were expected to obey their husbands and be submissive to them. Apparently she missed that day in school, because she ruled that house with an iron fist--even if it was usually encased in several velvet gloves. She'd let Elmer rant and rage all he wanted, then she'd do it her way anyway. My mom has told the story countless times of going to her grandma's house for dinner at some point during the Depression. The rule at home was "Eat what's on your plate and be quick about it!" The rule at grandma's house was that you had to taste whatever was on your plate, but if you didn't care for it, you didn't have to finish it. Mom was pushing something around on her plate that day that she didn't much care for, and her father was giving her the evil eye from down the dinner table, when his mother spoke up with just a hint of that iron in her voice. "Art," she said, "she's in my house now." End of discussion.

Great-grandma didn't much care for drinking and smoking, though she didn't mind if others did it. Except when great-grandpa had just brewed up a batch of bathtub gin. They say the scent wafted through the North Woods, and the neighbors all gathered 'round for a convivial evening whenever it did. And there was great-grandma, sitting at her dining room table with a glass of homemade hooch in front of her, a green eyeshade on her brow, rolling her own cigarettes and playing a wicked game of pinochle until the wee hours of the morning or the gin ran out, whichever came first.

God be good to you, Myrtle. We miss you still.


Kudos to one of our own!

The Los Angeles Times profiles the Liberal Coalition's very own N. Todd Pritsky and family. Read the article and check out the pictures, too. (Cairo is carrying her usual honkin' piece of timber in one of them.)

But I have to say, I think it was gauche for the Times to print Stef's age, but not NTodd's or Cairo's.


Minding other people's business

The Florida legislature has raised it to an art form. Yesterday, an appeals court allowed a stay preventing the removal of Terry Schiavo's feeding tube to expire. Within minutes, and before the tube could actually be removed, a second court, acting on a request by Schiavo's parents, granted an emergency stay preventing its removal until 5 p.m. local time today, to allow her parents to, I don't know, kidnap all the judges in the state who might rule against them, spirit her away to an undisclosed location, or file yet another poignant-but-hopeless legal brief.

A year and a half ago, lawmakers rushed through a bill and presented it to Jeb! for signature which gave the governor the authority to order the tube be replaced after Terry's husband had it removed. That law was later stricken from the books by the Florida Supreme Court as unconstitutional. And according to NPR this morning (sorry, no link yet), Florida legislators are considering shoving their fingers back into this pie again. This time, they're debating legislation that would terminate, retroactively, the custodial rights of anyone who marries or cohabits with another person while his or her spouse is incapacitated.

It may turn out to be moot, since the NPR story I heard intimated that it could take weeks to iron out all the kinks in the proposed legislation, and the emergency stay expires tonight, assuming, as seems likely, that Schiavo's parents are unsuccessful in getting it renewed. But I confess I find myself astonished and dismayed at the gross ignorance displayed by the Florida legislature in this matter.

Don't they teach the U.S. Constitution in Florida schools? I'm sure I remember something in there expressly forbidding the passage of ex post facto laws (Article I, Section 9). That the law the Florida lawmakers are trying to draft is such a law is, to me, self-evident. That it will be stricken down as unconstitutional on its face is a given. That it will only serve to prolong an already ghoulishly lengthy, gut-wrenching dispute is patently obvious.

The legislators should be ashamed of themselves. I'd even go so far as to suggest they consider passing a second law after they get done with their latest attempt to meddle in the Schiavos' personal lives: they should require themselves to appear in the state house for the rest of this legislative session in sackcloth and ashes or other penitential garments, fasting and praying to whatever gruesome god they worship (for it is surely not Yahweh) for forgiveness.

Shame, shame, shame.



Please tell me he was a Republican!

I caught this little gem as I was winding up my lunch-hour reading:

Miami (AFP) - Ein Staatsanwalt im US-Bundesstaat Florida hat als Flitzer auf einem Parkplatz für Angst und Schrecken gesorgt. Der 28-Jährige stieg betrunken und nackt in den Wagen einer fremden Frau, die panisch aufschrie, wie die Lokalzeitung "Florida Keys Citizen" am Dienstag berichtete. Bei der Polizei sagte der Mann später aus, er habe sich nach einem Saufgelage mit Freunden in Key West einen Scherz erlauben wollen. Seine Absicht sei es gewesen, nackt in den Wagen eines Freundes einzusteigen. Die wildfremde Frau, auf deren Rücksitz er stattdessen landete, rief eilig ihren Freund per Handy an. Dieser alarmierte die Polizei.

A Florida public prosecutor caused anxiety and fright as a streaker in a parking lot. The 28-year-old, drunk and naked, got into the car of an unknown woman who cried out in panic, according to the Tuesday report of the "Florida Keys Citizen." Later, in police custody, the man said that after a drinking bout with friends in Key West he'd wanted to play a joke. He intended to get into a friend's car naked. The alarmed unknown woman in whose back seat he wound up instead, quickly called a friend on her mobile. This latter called the police. (My translation from the German.)


Revenge of the Bushoviki

Earlier this month, I wrote about the plight of Ahmed Abu Ali, held, apparently at the behest of the U.S. government, without charge in a Saudi Arabian prison for nearly two years. His family recently filed a habeas corpus motion in federal court, demanding that the government either charge him or let him go, as required by the Sixth Amendment. The government refused, and, in a world-historical development, brought in secret evidence that the defendant and his lawyers were not allowed to see, and as a result of which the judge in the case dismissed the habeas claim.

Second verse, same as the first. CNN reported today that Abu Ali is reportedly coming home soon. According to the Beeb (and also Faux News and MSGOP, but I'm not linking to either one of those), Abu Ali is to be charged with plotting to assassinate the preznit.

Color me skeptical, for a lot of reasons. First off, at least in the brief story filed by the BBC, the alleged "co-conspirator" with whom Abu Ali allegedly discussed plans to shoot Bush or detonate a car bomb near him was not named. Secondly, if they had this co-conspirator and his testimony, why weren't they yelling their fool heads off two years ago to get Abu Ali back from the Saudis? Thirdly, why, if they had these charges all ready to go, couldn't they have brought them out in federal court in response to the family's habeas motion, instead of relying on secret evidence?

My suspicion is that they were hoping to be able to milk some more information out of Abu Ali before reluctantly accepting him back into U.S. custody. Torture is not only routine in Saudi Arabia, it's expected. And they don't have anything remotely like the procedural restrictions on U.S. courts and law enforcement officials. Sure, forget that he's a U.S. citizen: ship him off to a reasonably friendly country and let them torture him on our behalf, keeping us in the loop on any good information he gives up, and keep the matter out of the public eye. And then, when circumstances force their hand, swiftly yank him out of that brutal foreign custody, rush him back home (see: we care about American citizens' rights!) and charge him with a vague conspiracy.

Why do I suddenly feel like I'm in the middle of a Potemkin film?




From the same batch of lowlifes who brought us the Not-So-Swift Lying Scumbags Against Truth (or whatever it was they called themselves) comes this piece of drivel, probably just the first of many, attacking what it's pleased to call AARP's "real agenda."

Pardon my cynicism, but I just can't see AARP spending an awful lot of time advocating for gay marriage. Seems to me they have a lot more pressing issues on their plate, issues that are far more relevant to their membership. (Though that's not to say, of course, that gay and lesbian senior citizens aren't members of AARP, or that their concerns aren't either valid or of interest to the organization: merely that it's unlikely to be a major focus.)

This, from the people who wanted to "restore honor and dignity" to American politics, and who wanted to talk about their "compassion." Funny, but "honor," "dignity," and "compassion" are not the first words that sprang to mind on seeing that advertisement.


None dare call it hypocrisy...except us

I won't link directly to those flaming assholes at PowerLame, but some of my blogging brethren have done so, and I'll link to them: Michael at Here's What's Left and the inimitable TBogg. If the quotes they've posted are correct (and I have no reason to believe they are not), the conservacons have gotten their knickers in a twist because we on the left have dared to "post" nudie photos of the latest Wingnut Martyr Wannabe, "Jeff Gannon":

Of course, what we've criticized the left-wing blogs for is posting nude photographs of Gannon. How does the twisted "logic" manifested by these emailers justify that contemptible practice? Once again: beats me. The only conclusion I can come to is that a great many liberals are so consumed by hate that they have gone stark raving mad.

The Hindrocket doth protest too much, methinks. If anyone in American politics is "consumed by hate" sufficiently to have "gone stark raving mad," it is not the left. That's been the exclusive purview of the right for lo! these many years. (See, e.g., Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, anything at Little Green Snotballs or Free Republic, and even Dick "Go Fuck Yourself" Cheney: so much for restoring honor and dignity to American politics.)

But what the PowerLame crowd really needs to wake up to is the way the internets work. You see, when I link to something else (like the two posts in the first paragraph of this item), I don't create it. I just point to something that's already there in the first place. I'm helping people find something that I find interesting or relevant to a point I'm trying to make.

Or, to put it in terms that even a conservacon can't misunderstand, "Jeff Gannon" posted his own X-rated photos on the web. All we on the left have done is directed people to where they can find them. Nor is it the case that we've been digging up dirt on his "private life." What James Guckert does with another consenting adult (or adults) in the privacy of his home is, indeed, his own affair. Unless he's charging $200 an hour for the privilege, in which case it becomes his business (and an illegal one at that, though unlike our hypocritical brethren on the right, we on the left aren't entirely convinced that it should be).

Ultimately, however, what matters is neither that "Gannon" is gay nor that he worked for a time as a male prostitute. What matters is that he appears to have been able to trade on some kind of connection (blackmail?) to bypass the routine security measures in place at the White House, and that he was given access to the toughest room in the world desite lacking anything remotely resembling the professional standing that presumably goes with that access.

Personally, I don't waste my time with network "news" anymore. The conservative bias is bad enough, not to mention the fact that you just can't do justice to the modern world in half an hour, less time for commercials and fluff pieces. But I still don't think it's too much to ask that we not have to endure phony journalists lobbing phony questions at the spokesman for our phony president.


Things that make you go "Hmmm..."

I could see Unca Karl trying that spin...



Misty water-colored memories

Memory is a tricky thing. One of the criticisms I had of the movie Miracle when it came out was that when they had Al Michaels re-record his voice-over for the movie, they toned down the commentary as the third period came to a close. I remembered (or thought I did) him going absolutely bonkers as the clock ticked down below a minute.

ESPN dredged up the ABC footage from that game which was played 25 years ago Tuesday, and played it tonight. The line that Michaels delivered in the movie was exactly what he said on ABC during the 1980 Winter Olympics. I stand corrected. (For the record, I also thought I remembered ABC broadcasting the whole game--apparently not. So maybe my memory sucks more than I thought it did.)

The bitter with the sweet is that it looks like that re-run is the best hockey I'm going to get to see this year. Although it was widely reported Friday night that we were this/close to a done deal to resurrect the canceled season, it appears that we were misled. The parties were a lot farther apart than they let on, and after more than six hours of talks in New York yesterday, the parties parted without an agreement to save the season and without scheduling a subsequent meeting. I say we was robbed.



Things I liked about France

This is the companion--and longer--list to the previous post. Again, in no particular order, the things I liked best about my trip last month:

  • The bread. It's cheap. It's ubiquitous. It's fresh. A baguette (more than ample for one person for one meal) costs about 0.7 euro--or roughly a buck, at the time I was there. Even the cheap processed stuff you get in restaurants is good. Hell, even the Communion wafers actually tasted like bread--in contrast to what we get over here, about which my late spiritual director once observed that it took a greater act of faith to believe that those things were bread than it did to believe that they could become the Body of Christ. My new rule about bread: If you can eat it without making a mess, it's not worth eating in the first place.
  • The pastry. Tartelette aux framboises. Tarte au citron. Crêpes. And about 4,000 other varieties. Need I say more?
  • The sense of (and respect for) history. There are tons of plaques everywhere you look in France: "so-and-so lived/worked/died/was born here." Houses that were built six hundred years ago are still in use.
  • The trains. They aren't all trains à grande vitesse (TGVs), and they're not all the latest and greatest models off the production line. But they were clean and serviceable and almost invariably on time. They'll take you just about anywhere you want to go, reasonably cheaply. We should be so lucky to have a transportation system like that in the U.S.
  • The people. Polite and friendly, quite unlike the stereotype one hears on this side of the pond. It could be that I speak reasonably good French (though apparently with a slight English accent, to my surprise), and that I made an effort to be polite by their rules of politeness. But I don't think that accounts for all of it.
  • The restaurants. They're thick upon the ground. And they're required by law to post their menus outside or in the window--so no surprises when you go in and sit down.
  • Diversity. Africans, Asians, Europeans, all of them speaking French, working together, living next to (or with) each other, and not much apparent friction. The only exception I observed was one drunk guy on the Paris Métro.
  • The toilets. At least in the hotels where I stayed, they either had two buttons or a "stop" mechanism. That allows one to enjoy the best of both worlds: Save water when possible, but not at the expense of being able to really flush the thing when needed.
  • The commercials. Mostly much funnier (and occasionally more risqué) than in the United States. Also, they don't break up the shows as much--maybe once in an hour, twice at most: and there's always a cute screen or short announcement before they start that says "Pub" or "Publicité" to warn you that they're coming--and those announcements are often as edgy/funny/cute as the commercials themselves. Breaks last a good five minutes (or up to 10 in between programs), so there's time to use the loo or grab a snack without missing anything.
  • "No publicity" stickers. I noticed as I walked along the sidewalks that a lot of the mailboxes had stickers (or engraved plaques) affixed to them reading either Pub non merci or Pas de publicité--"No adverts, please." I could save a good 20 pounds of paper a month if I didn't have to haul all that junk mail out with the trash.
  • Humor. Even in official announcements, there was often a sense of humor or irony involved. For example, most handicapped parking spaces I saw had a slogan painted on them: Vous prenez ma place, prenez aussi mon handicap, "You're taking my spot, take my handicap along with it." Or the sign on the door of the church of St. Julien-le-Pauvre: "Prayer is the only way to communicate with God. Your cell phone will be useless here."
  • Lights in hotels. In the hotels where I stayed, the hall lights were either on motion sensors or else there were switches beside every door. The lights would come on when they were needed, and then shut off a couple of minutes later. Not only does it save the hotels money, it also cuts down on the amount of light leakage under the doors.
  • The money. It's pretty, and comes in lots of shapes and sizes and colors. Many (I'd even venture to say most) day-to-day transactions can be handled with coins.
  • ATMs. Not only do most either automatically display information in the language that corresponds to the country of origin of the card inserted in their slots (or at least give you several possible options to choose from), they mostly won't give you your money until you take the card out first. So no more forgotten cards.


Things I didn't like about France

I wrote up this list during the tail end of my last week in France, but it got buried in my briefcase and every time I thought about digging it out and posting it, something seemed to come up. So here it is.

(And yes, there is a corresponding list of things I liked about France--and it's longer than this one. I'll post that in a minute.)

In no particular order, the things I wasn't happy with in France:

  • Smoking. It's apparently not as bad as it used to be, and smoking is banned in many public areas (train stations, trains, post offices, stores, and the like). But it isn't banned in restaurants, and those that do have non-smoking sections don't do much to keep them separate except throw up some kind of half-wall.
  • Sidewalks. Oftentimes either non-existent or barely big enough for one person (especially a person with a heavy briefcase or backpack slung over one shoulder). They are also often blocked by garbage cans, parked cars, street stalls, and the like--and they are liberally covered with dog shit.
  • Street maps. I love it that there's almost always one around, at least in the bigger cities--and in the most heavily traveled parts of smaller ones. But they rarely give you a sense of orientation, so it's not hard to get lost even if you did stop and check the map. Or maybe that's just me.
  • Restaurant hours. Many places open for a couple of hours at lunch, and then close and don't reopen until around 7 p.m. Others are "lunch only" places. And some aren't open weekends at all; others close irregularly. A lot of stores and some museums also take a two-hour noon break. So you either try to find a place to eat with everyone else in the country, or you work through lunch at whatever you're doing, because chances are you aren't going to find anything else you can do from noon to 2 p.m.
  • Hotel bathrooms. I know that in a lot of places they're shoehorning them into old, old buildings that weren't built with plumbing in mind. But please--I don't think it's too much to ask that one be able to sit comfortably on the toilet and accomplish all the usual functions without having to contort oneself into a pretzel to cope with the claustrophobic space.



Please, please, please, please!

There may yet be hope in Hockeytown. Eklund is reporting there's a done deal on the table, that there will be a press conference to announce it tomorrow, and that NHL players have been telling their European teams that they'll be leaving within 24 hours to come back to North America.

Pretty please? With sugar on top? I need a hockey fix!

Update [21:38]: Quoth ESPN: "Get ready for Gary Bettman to un-cancel the season Saturday." There IS a God, and clearly she likes hockey!


Book meme

Via Mustang Bobby:

  1. Grab the nearest book.
  2. Open the book to page 123.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
  5. Don’t search around and look for the “coolest” book you can find. Do what’s actually next to you.

Ne peuvent en conséquence acquérir la nationalité française en vertu de cet article, les personnes qui ont perdu la nationalité française par déclaration, par décret, par voie de disposition générale ou par l'effet d'un traité international, ou celles à qui la nationalité française ne pouvait juridiquement être transmise par filiation.

From Code de la nationalité: Code civil et textes annexes (Montreuil: Editions du Papyrus, 2004)



Pharisee Nation

Via Nick Lewis: The Blog via Sid's Fishbowl, I happened upon this outstanding piece of writing from Common Dreams: Pharisee Nation. It's by Jesuit Fr. John Dear, and you should really go and read the whole thing. Here's what I consider to be the best bits:

Last September, I spoke to some 2,000 students during their annual lecture at a Baptist college in Pennsylvania. After a short prayer service for peace centered on the Beatitudes, I took the stage and got right to the point. "Now let me get this straight," I said. "Jesus says, 'Blessed are the peacemakers,' which means he does not say, 'Blessed are the warmakers,' which means, the warmakers are not blessed, which means warmakers are cursed, which means, if you want to follow the nonviolent Jesus you have to work for peace, which means, we all have to resist this horrific, evil war on the people of Iraq."

With that, the place exploded, and 500 students stormed out. The rest of them then started chanting, "Bush! Bush! Bush!"

So much for my speech. Not to mention the Beatitudes.


We have become a culture of Pharisees. Instead of practicing an authentic spirituality of compassion, nonviolence, love and peace, we as a collective people have become self-righteous, arrogant, powerful, murderous hypocrites who dominate and kill others in the name of God. The Pharisees supported the brutal Roman rulers and soldiers, and lived off the comforts of the empire by running an elaborate banking system which charged an exorbitant fee for ordinary people just to worship God in the Temple. Since they taught that God was present only in the Temple, they were able to control the entire population. If anyone opposed their power or violated their law, the Pharisees could kill them on the spot, even in the holy sanctuary.

Most North American Christians are now becoming more and more like these hypocritical Pharisees. We side with the rulers, the bankers, and the corporate millionaires and billionaires. We run the Pentagon, bless the bombing raids, support executions, make nuclear weapons and seek global domination for America as if that was what the nonviolent Jesus wants. And we dismiss anyone who disagrees with us.

We have become a mean, vicious people, what the Bible calls "stiff-necked people." And we do it all with the mistaken belief that we have the blessing of God.


In the old days, the early Christians had big words for such behavior, such lies. They were called "blasphemous, idolatrous, heretical, hypocritical and sinful." Such words and actions were denounced as the betrayal, denial and execution of Jesus all over again in the world’s poor. But the empire needs the church to bless and support its wars, or at least to remain passive and silent. As we Christians go along with the Bush administration and the American empire, we betray Jesus, renounce his teachings, and create a "Church of Christ without Christ," as Flannery O’Connor foresaw.

The first thing we Christians have to do in this time is not to become good Pharisees. Instead, we have to try all over again to follow the dangerous, nonviolent, troublemaking Jesus. I believe war, weapons, corporate greed and systemic injustice are an abomination in the sight of God. They are the definition of mortal sin. They mock God and threaten to destroy God’s gift of creation. If you want to seek the living God, you have to pit your entire life against war, weapons, greed and injustice--and their perpetrators. It is as simple as that.

Every religion, including Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism, is rooted in nonviolence, but I submit that the only thing we know for sure about Jesus is that he was nonviolent and so, nonviolence is the hallmark of Christianity and the measure of authentic Christian living. Jesus commands that we love one another, love our neighbors, seek justice, forgive those who hurt us, pray for our persecutors, and be as compassionate as God. But at the center of his teaching is the most radical declaration ever uttered: "love your enemies."

That's the kind of homily I used to get from Fr. Stephen, God be good to him. And as I was reading Fr. Dear's words, the first image that came to mind was that of an angry Jesus overturning the moneylenders' tables in the Temple and whipping them out of the way as he denounced them for having turned his Father's house into a den of thieves. Maybe we need to bring back scourging, at least for a few people in the halls of power....


Durbin gets it

As the Senate was considering the nomination of Abu Gonzalez to be attorney general, I wrote (and called) both of my senators to urge them to oppose the nomination. Just now I received an e-mail reply to my letter from Senator Dick Durbin. In it, I think he offers an excellent way for Democrats to frame this issue, so I'm going to share the relevant bits with you, my legions of readers. (Yeah, I know: but a blogger can dream, can't he?) Here's what Durbin wrote:

On February 3, 2005, the Senate voted to confirm Judge Gonzales by a vote of 60-36. After meeting with Mr. Gonzales, listening to his hearing testimony, reviewing his record, and carefully considering his nomination, I concluded that I could not support him for Attorney General.

Alberto Gonzales is a skilled lawyer. His life story is nothing short of inspiring. I have the greatest respect for his success, for what he has achieved, and for the obstacles he has overcome.

However, the debate surrounding the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to be the Attorney General of the United States is not about his life story. Instead, it is about whether America will continue to be a nation based on the rule of law, or whether we, out of fear, will abandon our time-tested values.

History is written after every war, including stories of courage, compassion, and glory. Sadly, when the history of the war on terrorism is written, it will also tell the story of how some felt we could no longer afford to live by some of the principles that are at the foundation of what America stands for.

The horrible acts that occurred at Abu Ghraib cannot be dismissed as the conduct of only a few. They must be viewed as a foreseeable result of a process initiated in Washington. As Counsel to President Bush, Alberto Gonzales was at the center of that process, at the center of the Administration's effort to redefine what is legal and acceptable in the treatment of prisoners and detainees. He and Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee found loopholes in the law to rationalize torture and inhumane treatment. At the very least, this helped create a permissive environment that made it more likely that abuses would occur.

Mr. Gonzales recommended to the President that the Geneva Conventions should not apply to the war on terrorism. The President accepted this view and issued a memo concluding that "new thinking in the law of war" was needed and that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the war on terrorism. Mr. Gonzales then requested, approved, and disseminated the Justice Department torture memo, which adopted a new, very restrictive definition of torture and concluded that the torture statute, which makes torture a crime, does not apply to interrogations conducted under the President's authority as Commander-in-Chief.

Relying on this "new thinking" and the Justice Department's definition of torture, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld approved numerous abusive interrogation tactics for use against prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Senior officials in Iraq heard of the tactics, and commanders and troops at Abu Ghraib were sent the signal that the "law of war" is an obstacle to overcome, not a bright line that cannot be crossed.

For decades, the United States led the world in ensuring the care of enemy prisoners. We knew that torture, in addition to being inhumane, produces unreliable information, makes it more difficult to win wars, and places our troops at risk. Now we are seeing the effects of redefining torture, as pictures from Abu Ghraib become recruiting posters for Al-Qaeda. The 9/11 Commission correctly concluded that the prisoner abuse scandal has damaged our ability to combat the terrorist threat. The message we send regarding our commitment to basic human rights affects the safety of our troops in the field and our citizens at home.

We can win the war on terrorism while respecting the values our nation represents. If we are to lead the world by example, we must not compromise the principles upon which our country was founded--the rule of law and a respect for human rights.

I'll sing an "Amen!" to that chorus. The Democrats' opposition to Alberto Gonzalez has nothing to do with the fact that he's Hispanic in origin. It has everything to do with the fact that he does not--and cannot, after writing that heinous memo--represent the values this nation stands for and which its attorney general must be dedicated to enforcing and strengthening. Alberto Gonzalez, by his actions as White House Counsel, weakened the foundation of values that have supported this nation and its ideals for more than two centuries. That is inexcusable, and he did not deserve to be nominated as attorney general, much less confirmed to that post. That he was so nominated, and was so confirmed, merely underlines precisely how far out of touch the Republican Party is with the values that have made this country great.


Is we ignorant, or what?

The Chicago Tribune (not known for being among the even remotely liberal ranks of the so-called liberal media) is running a story today that should send chills down the spines of any parent, and anybody who still thinks the Constitution is a document worth paying attention to: there's a judge in Tennessee who has been telling immigrant workers in his community that they need to learn English and use birth control if they don't want to lose their children.

Quoth the Trib:

[Wilson County Judge Barry] Tatum's orders have become the subject of debate in this Tennessee community, which has seen an influx of non-English speakers in the past decade. Civil rights advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have charged that his orders are discriminatory and unconstitutional. But many of Tatum's neighbors cheered the principle behind his act, saying new immigrants should be encouraged to assimilate more fully into American life.

Juvenile-court proceedings are often more informal than adult cases, and it's not unusual for judges to give lifestyle advice to parents who come before them in neglect or abuse cases. When written and signed by the judge, those instructions have the force of a court order.

But wait. It gets better:

"The general sentiment is if people are going to be in this country, we all have a moral obligation to learn to speak the language," said Bob Bright, 61, an insurance agent.

"I know if I was in Mexico I would make an effort to learn Hispanic."

I guess I must have missed the day in school (or in church) when we were told that we had a moral obligation to speak English. I happen to think it's probably a good idea for people who stay here any length of time to become at least reasonably familiar with the language, if only because it will make their time here a lot simpler--the United States not being terribly friendly to people who don't speak either English or Spanish, and not all that friendly to people who speak Spanish.

But this judge is way over the line. There is no law on the books that I'm aware of (in Tennessee or elsewhere) that requires anybody to speak English for any reason--and certainly not as a condition of keeping their kids. If there is such a law in force somewhere, it won't be for long, being as it's blatantly unconstitutional.

It also smacks a little too closely for my comfort of the despicable policies our government adopted in the past toward members of the native tribes who used to own this country. We effectively kidnapped their children, forbade them to use their native languages, forced them to learn English, and forced them to become Christian, all in the name of turning them into "civilized" human beings. It seems that legacy is also alive and well.

And that's a crime if ever there was one. We should make every possible effort to root out this ignorance, and to punish any actions that derive from it. Precisely who died and appointed us the lords of creation?

Oh, and wherever he might happen to be today, I'm sure Dan Quayle is smiling. Now maybe he can finally get off the hook for his infamous remark about wishing he'd studied Latin so he could talk to the people in Latin America: a remark, incidentally, that Quayle never made--it was a joke started by a Republican congresswoman from Rhode Island.



There is no joy in Hockeytown today

Despite early reports this morning that the difference between the owners and the players was a piddling $2.5 million, Gary Bettman stepped up to a podium in New York half an hour ago and killed NHL hockey for this year. In the statement he read, Bettman said that he and his fellow league officials "profoundly regret the suffering this has caused our fans, our business partners and the thousands of people who depend on our industry for their livelihoods."

Well, color me suspicious. If you had really cared about the suffering of hockey fans (and those whose livelihoods depend on a healthy hockey industry), you would have gotten this done. A long time ago. We wouldn't have lost two-thirds of a season to begin with, and we sure as hell wouldn't have had to cancel the whole shooting match.

Let me be perfectly clear: there is blame enough to go around on this. But I have to put a greater fraction of it on the shoulders of the owners and the league officials. They are the ones who locked out the players in the first place. The players were willing--eager, even--to come back to work in October. The owners and the league said no. And if, as Eklund alleged in the story I first linked to above, the final difference between the two sides was a paltry $2.5 million, well, then, you'll pardon me for thinking the participants should have been able to take that fence with no trouble at all: especially if the alternative was the cancellation of an entire season.

That's an historical event, by the way. No professional sport has ever lost an entire season to a labor dispute. Ever. Hell, the last time the Stanley Cup was not awarded in hockey was 1919--and they had at least played the season and started the playoffs that year when the Spanish flu epidemic forced them to cancel the post-season for health reasons. You have to admit, that was a good excuse: unlike the reason there won't be a 2004-2005 NHL season.

Of course I mourn the fact that I won't get to hear John Buccigross calling a "twisted wrister" in his inimitable fashion; that I won't have to check the NHL web page every morning, heart in throat, to see whether one of my favorite teams is still above the cutoff line to make the playoffs, or whether one of my favorite players is off the injured list. But even more depressing is the fact that a lot of stellar players don't have a lot left in the tank, and losing this year may mean they'll just pack it up and not bother coming out again next season.

I'm thinking primarily of folks like Steve Yzerman (who's been with the Red Wings for the better part of two decades, and captain of the team for almost as long, but who had to have reconstructive knee surgery after they won the Cup in 2002; he played fewer than 20 games the following year, and this year was widely expected to be his last in the league) and Brett Hull (currently third, if memory serves, on the list of all-time goal scorers: had he played this year and next, he could almost certainly have moved into second, behind the uncatchable Wayne Gretzky). And what about the less-than-marquee players, the grunts who go out and skate their shifts but don't get the flashy headlines (or the flashy paychecks), but who still have bills to pay, and who have to play a certain number of games in order to get pension benefits? Are they going to be able to squeeze another year of play out of their bodies to make up for the one they've just lost?

This is a sad day for fans of hockey everywhere. Thanks for nothing, Gary. Hope you still have a job next year. Not!



Send her back to school

While I like the fact that our new secretary of education seems willing to be a bit flexible when it comes to No Child Change Left Behind, I really have to wonder where the Bushoviki found this twit. Let's first take a look at the photo that accompanied this story:

Is it just me, or does she look like a frumpy and exhausted housewife who would rather be just about anywhere else?

But the bigger issue I have with this story comes at the bottom of the first page with this quote:

Ms. Spellings said that Senator Orrin G. Hatch had invited her to Utah and she expressed eagerness to visit there. "These are Republicans," she said. "These are our people."

Funny, but I always thought that the federal government was a government of all the people, not just the ones who vote and think like whoever happens to be in power. Apparently Ms. Spellings believes differently. More fool she.



Will they or won't they?

Some sources are reporting that the NHL will officially cancel the 2004-2005 season at a press conference in New York. Other sources, including (but not limited to) ESPN, say that the NHLPA and the owners are making progress in their absolute-last-minute talks in Buffalo and that there is apparently some movement on the major issues that have kept the two sides apart, and the rinks dark, for two-thirds of this season.

It's safe to say that the damage has already been done. If you were to ask a representative sample of adults in the United States, I'd venture to guess that probably half to two-thirds of them wouldn't even have noticed the fact that the NHL season has been a no-show this year. The NHL was worrying about television ratings and revenues, and a shrinking fan base (at least south of the 48th parallel) even before the owners locked out their players last fall--and nothing that's happened since then is going to do anything to resolve either of those problems. A lot of fans are seriously pissed off at management, at the players, at the league, or at all of the above. The die-hards will be back when hockey resumes (whenever that may be--though I hope it will be soon), but that won't be enough to keep the league running: especially if the owners don't get their pet salary cap linked to overall league revenues. And ESPN at least, during the second intermission of the AHL All Star Game tonight, reported that one of the proposals on the table in Buffalo is apparently a modified salary cap that's both higher than what the owners wanted, and which isn't tied to league revenues.

At least we've gotten one more day of hoping all hope is not yet lost. The NHL press conference was originally scheduled for tomorrow. I'm with Barry Melrose: I hope Buffalo gets buried under three or four feet of lake-effect snow tonight, and all the parties are forced to stay at the negotiating table until they find some way to get us some puck this year.


Everything's OK...

...if you're a Republican. Or so it seems.

How else are we to explain the egregiously inconsistent stances taken by the Repugnacons? Between 1998 and 2004, the military kicked out 20 Arabic speakers and six Farsi speakers, desperately needed for Georgie's Iraqi Adventure (and lied about the number of discharges, not like that's anything new for them), and has discharged nearly 10,000 servicemembers since 1994 (PDF link). The preznit has twice called for the passage of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, a stance applauded in the 2004 GOP platform (which congratulated the preznit for saying "We will not stand for judges who undermine democracy by legislating from the bench and try to remake America by court order.") Every time a fag dares to show his face in public, there's sure to be a Repugnacon somewhere deploring the open immorality of it all, and demanding that the government protect him from having to acknowledge anything so patently evil.

So how come it's just fine and dandy for "Jeff Gannon," apparently a former member of the United States Marine Corps who allegedly worked as a male prostitute for some time to be handed secret documents revealing the name of a covert CIA agent? And to serve as the designated go-to guy in the White House Press Corpse whenever the preznit or his spokes-hamster is feeling a little too much heat? And to do all that while operating under a pseudonym, whereas married women who write under their maiden names are apparently required to list their husbands' names on their credentials? Moreover, unless one wishes to postulate that the Secret Service, the FBI, and whoever else might be involved in the process of vetting the people who apply for such credentials are completely incompetent and can be shown up by a bunch of more-or-less amateur blogging sleuths, the powers that be had to know all of the above about Mr. "Gannon" when they let him into the White House briefing room each and every day.

Don't get me wrong. Just because a man enjoys having sex with other men doesn't mean he's not capable of doing or thinking about anything else. And neither do I think there's anything inherently wrong with selling sex to interested parties--regardless of the respective genders of the parties involved in such a transaction--as long as there is value given for value received, no one is being exploited, and all possible precautions are taken to protect the health and safety of all concerned. What bothers me about this part of "Gannongate" is that the gay angle seems likely to overshadow all of the rest of the far more important details of this story.

It's not the fact that "Gannon" is apparently gay that matters. Nor is the fact that there appears to be good evidence that he used to earn at least part of his income by selling his body and his time to other men. What is important is that this ringer was able to get into what is supposed to be one of the most secure buildings in the world on a regular basis, that although he had absolutely no journalism credentials he was nevertheless given access to secret intelligence information that professional journalists were not allowed to see, and that he was routinely called on in press conferences to lob softballs to the administration when seasoned professionals with serious questions were unable to get so much as the time of day. In other words, the daily press briefings are becoming more and more like the notoriously scripted Bush campaign events last year: you can't get in unless you can prove you're not going to embarrass the preznit by asking a hard question or suggesting that maybe somebody else might have been better for the job.

Somehow, I don't think that's exactly what the Framers had in mind when they enshrined freedom of the press in the First Amendment. And while Bush is ranting and raving about the evils of "activist judges" who are undermining our democracy by enforcing the Constitution even though the Shrubbery would just as soon they did not, why is he not also foaming at the mouth when someone who isn't even really a journalist hides behind the shield of the First Amendment to undermine our national security by helping to blow the cover of one of our covert operatives?

Why, because everything's OK if you're Republican, of course. The bastards.


Do as I say, not as I do, part deux

From the Tuesday edition of Le Monde comes this little gem:

That's going to leave a mark. In case y'all don't read French, the caption says: "Be careful to avoid a theocracy."

Hammer. Nail. Head. Score another one for the French press. Remember when we used to have a free press ourselves?


Do as I say, not as I do

Chris Bowers has posted a lovely rant at dKos (cross-posted from MyDD, so go there if the dKos link is slow). He starts off by observing "What we need are Democratic strongmen who will walk up to those conservatives in favor of the war and punch them in the face."

Mind you, I don't condone the idea of committing assault and battery on Repugnacons, no matter how tempting the thought might otherwise be. I don't think that was Chris' point, either. No, what he's done is link back to statements that various conservatives have made, apropos of liberals, Democrats, and other people the wingnuts don't like very much, and changed the referents.

Anybody care to place a bet on how long it will take some doofus from the 101st Fighting Keyboarders to start whining about us "obstructionist" libruls and how we just don't want to play nice with our friendly neighborhood Goopers? Funny how when their guys were saying those things about us, nobody minded, isn't it? Just remember, folks: IOKIYAR.

Or not.



Dust and ashes

About 15 years ago, Catholic composer David Haas wrote a hymn of that title. For obvious reasons, it's often a featured selection at this time of the liturgical year. The third verse perfectly describes my feelings this week:

Dust and ashes choke our tongue
In the wasteland of depression.
Holy Spirit, come, walk with us tomorrow,
Through all gloom and grieving
To the paths of resurrection.

(Text by Brian Wren; copyright © 1989, Hope Publishing Co.)

I am taking Hamlet's advice to Horatio (Hamlet V.ii.290-292):

Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story.

The story I need to tell began 20 years ago when I returned home after getting my bachelor's degree, and when I met a young associate pastor, Fr. Stephen K. Potter, who had recently been assigned to the parish in which I had been baptized just four years previously. I took a liking to him immediately, and his preaching particularly appealed to me. He interpreted Scripture and unpacked it: he never thundered it or talked down to his hearers. The purpose of his preaching was always to teach and to enlighten and to enrich the lives of his parishioners.

That was a trait I came to appreciate--even to love--more and more over the years of our acquaintance. Fr. Stephen had an uncanny knack for taking a piece of Scripture that I'd read a dozen times or more, and heard preached at least as often, and finding something new and meaningful in it. He was a joy to watch in action, and a rich source of inspiration and challenge to all who heard him. In fact, the most frequent comment I heard in reference to him over the years--and yesterday as well--was some variation on the theme of "His homilies are fantastic."

While I was off in Colorado getting my first master's degree, Fr. Stephen was appointed pastor of my home parish. I didn't get to interact much with him, however, until I returned home after finishing my second master's--though I eagerly looked forward to coming home on vacations and at holidays, knowing that I would be treated to some excellent preaching and have the opportunity to talk to this amazing man.

When I got back home in the summer of '91, I deepened my involvement in the parish, which threw me together with Fr. Stephen far more often. It was around that time, though I no longer remember the exact date, that I asked him if he would serve as my spiritual director. To my delight, he said yes, and I had the privilege of grabbing an hour or so of time with him every month or six weeks, to talk over whatever was happening in my life, how things were going in the interior life of the spirit especially, but also anything else that was on my mind or that he could tease out of me.

The thing about the journey that is spiritual direction is that there is no room in it for bullshit. You have to trust the person you ask to be your director enough to tell him or her the absolute, unvarnished truth; and they have to be able to be brutally honest with you--otherwise, there's no point in getting started in the first place. There were times in the course of that part of our relationship that I could cheerfully have slapped the enigmatic grin off of Stephen's face, were it not for the fact that I knew he had my best interests at heart.

I still remember the day when, after listening to me rant and whine and gripe for the better part of an hour about how things in my life seemed to be at sixes and sevens with everything and everyone else in the world, he told me that it was clearly my task in life to be an anomaly. "Oh, great," I snapped back at him. "And just what is an anomaly supposed to do?"

"It anomalizes," he gently replied, enigmatic grin at full power. I could easily have killed him in that moment, because instead of giving me a pat easy answer (which was what I was looking for), he told me the truth--a truth I'm not sure I was ready to hear at the time, but which clearly needed to be spoken.

I have since come to the conclusion that those two words may well have been the most important (and the truest) ever spoken to me. The ironic thing is that the main reason I wanted to find myself a spiritual director was that I was unhappy with the way my prayer life seemed to ebb and flow, and sometimes even to dry up. A decade and more later, that's still true--but I'm way less uptight about it than I used to be. I have the confidence of my conviction that there really is no one "right" or "true" way to pray, and that what works for me today may not work for me tomorrow, though it will be just fine six months afterward: unless it's not. I'm embracing the anomalous nature of life (or at least my life), and not trying to fight who I am and what life is anymore. Stephen, always with the patience of a saint, was able to pound at least that much wisdom into my thick head.

The thing about a Catholic parish (or any other organization, really) is that they almost always need warm bodies to attend to the many tasks that need doing. If you keep showing up, eventually someone is going to ask you to help out with something--and then, once they realize they have a live one on their hands, more and more people ask. There came a point, just a bit more than a decade ago, when my fellow parishioners would ask me, only partly in jest, whether they'd set me up with a cot in the basement of the church. I was in the music ministry, I was helping with the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program, working with the liturgist to plan services, filling in as a Eucharistic minister and even occasionally presiding at Communion services when other duties prevented Fr. Stephen from offering Mass on a given day.

In doing all that, I had the privilege of watching Stephen work with other people. He was a master at getting the best out of people and getting them to work together toward a common end. He certainly had his quirks, and some of them rubbed people the wrong way at times. But he still got the best out of people, often more than they themselves thought they had to give.

The world rocked on its foundations (for me, at least) in May 1995 when Stephen called me in to his office before Mass one Saturday afternoon and told me that he was being reassigned to a parish in Crystal Lake, about an hour away. No longer was I going to be able to count on being inspired and challenged and intrigued and delighted at something new in Scripture each time I went to Mass. It was going to be harder to get to see my spiritual director. And I was going to have to see less of a man I considered a dear friend and, in many ways, a mentor.

The up side of Stephen's transfer was that I got to watch, albeit from the sidelines, as he worked his magic on an entirely new parish, one that had only known a single pastor since it was created, some 15 years before Stephen took it over. His predecessor was, well, let's just say "eccentric" and leave it at that. The parish he left behind was in disarray, and because his predecessor had preferred to run everything himself, Stephen had only the barest skeleton of a staff to help him run a parish that was home to some 1,500 families at the time he took it over. (By the time he left there, the parish had grown to more than 2,500 families.) But he pulled it off. It was a hell of a ride, but he made it work.

The world rocked even harder on its foundations in the summer of 1998, when I learned, just after having gotten back from my first pilgrimage to Israel, that Stephen had been diagnosed with a malignant glioblastoma, a slow-growing tumor of the connective tissue that holds the neurons of the brain together. The surgeons had been able to remove most of it, but couldn't get it all without running the risk of doing more damage to Stephen's brain and his functions than the remnants of the cancer would. The thought was that what the surgeons couldn't remove would be handled through chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and monitored regularly for signs of growth. After all of that he was eventually able to resume his parish duties, but we had to give up our regular meetings for spiritual direction: there simply wasn't enough time in his schedule, given allt he other demands on him and his need to take care of his health. We still talked when we could, and I always made it a point of coming up to his parish whenever I felt a need for a bit of inspiration, and always at the major celebrations of the liturgical year.

That was the beginning of Stephen's end, it grieves me enormously to say. Although he fought back bravely from each new setback--including both a heart attack and a leukemia diagnosis on top of the continuing tumor battle--each new fight took just a little bit more out of him. In 2000, the bishop reassigned Stephen to a smaller parish in McHenry, not far from the one in Crystal Lake he'd had for just five years, and still close to his family and friends, but one which placed fewer demands on his health and his body. It was difficult for Stephen to give up on his priestly functions, because he loved them so, but eventually he had to: even with rigid scheduling and regular naps and other supports, he simply wasn't able to carry on as the administrator and sacramental center of even a small parish.

Nevertheless, in June 2003 I was privileged to sing in that small parish in McHenry when it celebrated the 25th anniversary of Stephen's ordination to the priesthood. He was barely out of the hospital at the time, having undergone surgery to remove some of the dead tissue in his brain left behind by the radiation and chemotherapy he had endured to slow down the growth of his cancer. He wasn't able to give the homily himself, which grieved him, but he did celebrate the Mass, and he was able to stay for both the parish celebration and an invitation-only dinner thereafter. As I wrote in my journal that night:

I was struck by a comment he made in his remarks tonight. (Quelle surprise!) He said that each of us was a punctuation mark in the story of his priesthood. Even more striking, though, was the image of a tapestry. I don't remember if Stephen used it or someone else. No matter whence it came, it resonated with me. If I am a thread in his tapestry, he's a whole section of mine, if not in a real sense the warp on which the rest of the picture is woven. I have learned so much from that man--and pray I get to learn even more still. He has been, truly, a fidus Achates, the boon companion who is always there with advice, whose life and ministry offer a shining example of our common faith that I am proud to reflect even in the still, small measure that I can.

It was my sad duty, and also my privilege, to sing at Stephen's funeral yesterday. When I pulled the black binder I use to hold my music out of a pile of miscellaneous clutter in my apartment, I found that the music from his Jubilee Mass was still inside it.

It was not a good day for me yesterday. It seemed as if everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The sound system at the cathedral where the service was held was rotten--despite having just been installed two days previously. The local bishop is not even half the priest (or the liturgist) that Stephen was, and the contrasts between the man celebrating the Mass and the man on whose behalf it was being offered were painful to me (as I am sure they were to many of the rest of the mourners in the audience). Stephen had such a tremendous love and respect for the sacred liturgy that I and many others wanted his funeral Mass to be perfect. We didn't get our wish. Still, I performed my part of the last sad duties for my dear friend, and offered what comfort I could to those who will mourn him at least as much as I do, if not more so.

As the first preface in the Roman Missal for Masses for the dead reminds us, "Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended." I can honestly rejoice that Stephen now celebrates that perfect Mass in the Blessed Presence, and that his sufferings are at an end. Yet I grieve that I will no longer hear his hearty laugh, or feel the warm weight of his arm around my shoulders or those powerful arms wrapped around me in a loving but far-from-gentle hug. Now I must make my own inspiration and find my own sources for wisdom and challenge--and I must also do what I can to pass on to others some of what I learned from Stephen. One of the memorial cards that was produced for him was in the form of a bookmark. On the front are pictures from his ordination and, I believe, from his Jubilee, and the dates of his birth, death, and ordination. On the reverse are a few of his favorite sayings--"Potterisms for the Heart," in the words of the legend placed above them. I reproduce them here:

...To unwrap this, you have to take off your shoes, put on your sandals and think like a Jew...

...The greatest gifts are not wrapped in pretty paper, but are held in your arms...

...Remember me in the sound of laughter... [Which will be one of his epitaphs]

...I'll put you in my prayer bowl...

...Problem or inconvenience... [Which he stole borrowed from Robert Fulghum]

...I swear, I sound like my father...

...Grace is a dialogue...

...Without integrity, you have nothing...

...Do not become what you hate...

...Just like we've always done: gather the people, tell the stories and share a meal...

...Asking God's blessing for you and those you love...


Fr. Stephen Potter

Yet again, I will appeal to the eloquence of a long-lost poet to find the words that I cannot yet speak from the depths of my own heart:

Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus
advenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias,
ut te postremo donarem munere mortis
et mutam nequiquam alloquerer cinerem,
quandoquidem fortuna mihi tete abstulit ipsum,
heu miser indigne frater adempte mihi.
nunc tamen interea haec, prisco quae more parentum
tradita sunt tristi munere ad inferias,
accipe fraterno multum manantia fletu
atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.

--C. Valerius Catullus, Carmina, 101

Carried through many nations and over many seas
I come, my brother, for these sad funeral rites,
That I might offer for you the final gift to the dead
And speak in vain to your mute ashes,
Since Fortune has wrenched you yourself from me,
Alas, O my poor brother, undeservedly snatched away!
Now, however, for the time being accept these gifts
Flowing with many a fraternal tear, which venerable ancestral
Custom has handed down as the sad duty for the dead
And hail and farewell forevermore, my brother!
(My translation from the Latin)

God be good to you, my brother, my pastor, my guide, and my very dear friend. I will miss you, though I promise to do my best to remember you in the sound of laughter and not in tears. You'll have to give me some time for that, though.




Every once in a while the corporate media remember why they exist in the first place and do something that will piss off their owners and others among the powers that be. I think today's edition of The New York Times may turn out to be one of those instances: 9/11 Report Cites Many Warnings About Hijackings. It won't be long before the Shrubbery's attack poodles and the 101st Fighting Keyboarders start piling on the Grey Lady and attempting to discredit the story, I'm sure. But I think this mud is going to stick.

A few of the highlowlights of the story:

In the months before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal aviation officials reviewed dozens of intelligence reports that warned about Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, some of which specifically discussed airline hijackings and suicide operations, according to a previously undisclosed report from the 9/11 commission.


The report discloses that the Federal Aviation Administration, despite being focused on risks of hijackings overseas, warned airports in the spring of 2001 that if "the intent of the hijacker is not to exchange hostages for prisoners, but to commit suicide in a spectacular explosion, a domestic hijacking would probably be preferable."

The report takes the F.A.A. to task for failing to pursue domestic security measures that could conceivably have altered the events of Sept. 11, 2001, like toughening airport screening procedures for weapons or expanding the use of on-flight air marshals. The report, completed last August, said officials appeared more concerned with reducing airline congestion, lessening delays, and easing airlines' financial woes than deterring a terrorist attack.

The Bush administration has blocked the public release of the full, classified version of the report for more than five months, officials said, much to the frustration of former commission members who say it provides a critical understanding of the failures of the civil aviation system. The administration provided both the classified report and a declassified, 120-page version to the National Archives two weeks ago and, even with heavy redactions in some areas, the declassified version provides the firmest evidence to date about the warnings that aviation officials received concerning the threat of an attack on airliners and the failure to take steps to deter it.

Among other things, the report says that leaders of the F.A.A. received 52 intelligence reports from their security branch that mentioned Mr. bin Laden or Al Qaeda from April to Sept. 10, 2001. That represented half of all the intelligence summaries in that time.

Five of the intelligence reports specifically mentioned Al Qaeda's training or capability to conduct hijackings, the report said. Two mentioned suicide operations, although not connected to aviation, the report said.

In other words, fuck the fact that Emperor Chimpy blew off the presidential daily briefing that mentioned al Qaeda's likely attempt at a terror strike. The FAA had fifty-two such warnings, constituting half of the intelligence summaries it received from April to September 10, 2001. I do believe that fact constitutes a smoking gun of epic proportions. Yet the Bushoviki were too busy osculating the anuses of their corporate masters to take even basic steps to protect the American people from what can only be described as an obviously looming threat. Small wonder they've tried to keep the report under wraps for so long.

I wholeheartedly endorse the judgements entered by NTodd on Dohiyi Mir: "Reagan had nothing on the true teflon presidency" and "We're pretty fucking sick of the worst, lyingest, stupidest president ever." Impeach the lying fuckers now: I think high treason qualifies as "high crimes and misdemeanours" within the meaning of the Constitution.


And the hits just keep on comin'

As if I weren't depressed enough already, I wake up this morning to reports that North Korea has publicly admitted having nuclear weapons for the first time ever, Prince Charles is going to marry his horse-faced lover, the U.S. Post Office is issuing a Ronald Reagan stamp, and, in a story I heard on NPR as I was getting ready to leave the house but can't find anywhere online including NPR's website, the U.S. government, apparently for the first time in history, has relied on secret evidence to quash a trial motion. It's enough to make me want to crawl back into bed, pull the comforter over my head, and not come out until spring has arrived.

(Update: Courtesy of a diarist at Daily Kos, I can offer a couple of links on the story of Ahmed Abu Ali. Amnesty International has a press release detailing the torture allegations, and the Manchester Union Leader did a story on the case last Sunday.)

And while I agree with all the reporters on the story that we have no real reason to believe the North Koreans when they claim to have nukes (since they already claimed to have them once and then retracted the statement), I can't say as I'm terribly reassured by Condosleeza's attempt at "playing down a dramatic announcement from Pyongyang" by noting that we've long assumed that Pyongyang had nuclear weapons. I'm not sure which prospect scares me the most: an isolated, impoverished nation in a strategically important region, led by a psychotic government, in possession of bona fide weapons of mass destruction, or the possibility that my government, despite its copious crocodile tears about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass distraction, has either known or suspected that North Korea had actual weapons since the mid-1990s and has done absolutely bugger all about it. Ordinary prudence would dictate paying more attention to the actual problem than to the fantasy one, but the Bushoviki have ever dwelt in Fantasyland.

One cannot help but notice the irony in the announcement from Clarence House that Charles and Camilla are to wed in April. It was just about 70 years ago that Charles' great-uncle Edward VIII was vilified for wanting to marry the woman he loved, an American divorcée named Wallis Simpson. And it was just about 50 years ago that Charles' aunt, the late Princess Margaret, was forced to break off what was widely regarded as an imminent engagement to a divorced RAF officer, Group Captain Peter Townsend. The official announcement of Charles' and Camilla's plans included a statement that when Charles accedes to the throne, Camilla will not receive the usual title of queen consort. She will instead be designated as the Princess Consort. As long as the two of them are going to be married, I see no reason to diddle around with her titles. But then again, I continue to hope that the next king of England will be William, not Charles. I think Charles is entirely too unsympathetic a figure, and he has far too much baggage attached to him to make a good job of it--and he needs to be perfect.

I saw some publicity for the Reagan stamp when I was standing in line for half an hour at the post office on Monday to pick up a package, and I just rolled my eyes and heaved a heavy sigh. The man hasn't even been dead for a year, and they've already rushed him onto postage. How long did it take to get FDR on a stamp? There's no question in my mind which of the two of them was the greater president (hint: it wasn't Reagan). But the hagiolaters of the Great Communicator will brook no dissent. They won't be happy until absolutely everything in the country bears his name, may they all rot.

I found the NPR story chillingly depressing. Two years ago, an American citizen named Abu Ali (I think that was the name they used, but I can't swear to it and as I already noted I've been able to find absolutely nothing about this story anywhere online) was arrested in Saudi Arabia just as he was about to take his final exams at an Islamic university there. He's been held in Saudi Arabia ever since, allegedly at the instigation of the United States, although no formal charges have been brought against him.

The NPR story repeated his family's claim that he is a de facto U.S. prisoner, noting that the FBI had had unlimited access to him from the moment of his arrest in Saudi Arabia. They also reported that there are indications he may have been tortured while in captivity. A couple of weeks ago, one of those damned "activist judges" (and a conservative one appointed by our very own Maximum Leader, no less!) ordered the government to produce its evidence against Abu Ali or to let him go. Just hours before the deadline, they came out with secret evidence that they would not provide to Abu Ali's lawyers, and the judge has apparently quashed the habeas corpus motion.

That this is in blatant violation of the provisions of the Sixth Amendment is, to my educated layman's mind, patently obvious:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

I hardly think a period of two years without charge constitutes a "speedy" trial within the meaning of the amendment, and the use of secret evidence against him is obviously in violation of the requirement that his trial be public, and that he be "informed of the nature and cause of the accusation" and "be confronted with the witnesses against him." The government, of course, is sticking to the same line it has tried--without success--to use in the Guantanamo Bay cases, that Abu Ali is the prisoner of a foreign government and that he therefore is not entitled to the protections of U.S. law and no U.S. court has proper jurisdiction to rule on his or his family's motions. My hope is that the Supreme Court will, once again, show them just how fucking wrong they are, the miserable bastards.



Levavi oculos meos in montes

I have to agree with Oliver at the Liquid List. If you're looking for some beautiful and tranquil and jaw-droppingly stunning nature photographs (conveniently sized for desktop wallpapering, I might add), it's hard to beat this place. I thought I had a few adequate shots of Bryce Canyon. Theirs are better than mine.



Atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale

This is going to be a very difficult post to write. I have just received word that my spiritual director, former pastor, mentor, and very dear friend died last night at 10 p.m. from complications of, well, a lot of things.

I learned that Stephen had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor within days of coming back to the U.S. from my first pilgrimage to Israel. The surgeons were able to remove most of the tumor, but not all of it, and were hoping to be able to get rid of the rest, or at least slow its growth, with radiation and chemotherapy. They were successful in that endeavor.

Then, as he was recovering from that major health crisis, he had a heart attack. Fortunately, he was already in the hospital at the time, undergoing some tests, so he got all the early care and attention that he needed. Things were quiet for a while, and then he was subsequently diagnosed with leukemia. They fought that into remission as well, and his doctor swore he was going to write him up as a case study: three major medical crises successfully averted, all in the space of about five years.

However, from the information I just received, Stephen had a grand mal seizure last Tuesday and was admitted to the hospital. They diagnosed blood clots that were interfering with blood flow to his brain and other parts of his body. His kidneys began to shut down, whether from the clots or the medication he was on to control them and the seizures. But the clots had resolved by the end of last week, and his kidneys were beginning to work properly again. But Sunday night, a series of grand mal seizures occurred that the doctors were unable to control. He died, surrounded by at least a few of his nearest and dearest, just after 10 p.m. yesterday.

Stephen was the man I would hold up as the counterexample to all the bad publicity about priests in the Catholic Church these days. And to all those who would argue that the Catholic Church is a misogynistic, homophobic, patronizing and paternalistic institution. That was never his style. He was one of the first people I came out to, and it never once made a difference to him or in the way he treated me. It certainly never kept me out of the active ministry in his parish.

He was gentle, loving, kind, witty, and an authentic shepherd to those who were entrusted to his care. I will miss him enormously. I draw comfort (albeit a sparse one) from the promise expressed in the Preface of one of the Masses for the Dead, that for God's faithful people "life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling-place in heaven."

My hope for Stephen is that the words of the Book of Wisdom which I have chosen for the first reading for my own funeral Mass, when that day comes, will be fulfilled for him:

The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them. In the eyes of those without understanding they seemed to die; their departure is considered an evil thing, and their journey from us, a complete destruction. Nevertheless, they are at peace.

For even if they be punished in the sight of humankind, their hope is yet filled with immortality. Having been instructed but a little, they shall be greatly rewarded, for God has made trial of them, and found them to be worthy. God put them to the test as gold is tried in the furnace, and accepted them as sacrificial offerings.

In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and dart about like sparks through stubble. They shall judge nations, and hold sway over peoples, and their Lord shall reign for all time. Those who put their trust in Him shall understand the truth, and those who are faithful in love shall remain with Him, for grace and mercy are with those whom God has chosen.

(Wisdom 3:1-9, my translation from the Greek of the Septuagint)

God be good to you, Stephen, my friend.


Il y avait un an...

It's my blogoversary today. It was a year ago today that Musing's musings made its début on the web. It's been a fun ride thus far, and I hope it will continue long into the future.

It would be ungracious of me to pat myself on the back for writing this stuff without mentioning all of y'all who read it. You folks are the greatest. And that goes double for my peeps in the Liberal Coalition. Without their support (and the occasional bit of blogwhoring), I doubt I'd have as many readers as I do now.

Oh, and à bas Bush!



Che la commedia finisce

The European edition of Stars and Stripes is reporting today that the defense department is expected to move for dismissal Monday in a lawsuit filed in Massachusetts by 12 former servicemembers discharged under the infamous "don't ask, don't tell" policy. This is hardly surprising, but it is galling.

LTC Joseph Richard, a Pentagon spokesman, stated that the DOD still thinks that "don't ask, don't tell" is working well and that it's good for military readiness and discipline. I wonder if the units in Iraq that are short on Arabic linguists because a round dozen of them were dismissed early last year for being gay would agree.

"We have made a determination that there are no circumstances that would require us to review, and there is no effort currently under way, to revisit 'don't ask don't tell,'" said Richard. I say that's a crock of shite.

"Don't ask, don't tell" was a rotten policy when it was implemented in 1993, and the Pentagon has known it all along. Their own PERSEREC reports (1988 and 1989) demonstrated empirically that gay and lesbian servicemembers were often among the best personnel in their units, and that their presence did not unduly affect the cohesion or stability of the unit. Yet DOD officials still cling to the canard that having gays and lesbians serving openly in the armed forces is disruptive: "It's in the best interest for the cohesion of the force," Army Lt. Col. Joseph Richard said. "We believed that then and we currently believe that now."

Bullshit. Just ask any of our allies (Canada, the United Kingdom, Israel, Germany, the Netherlands...) who allow openly gay people to serve in their armed forces. Moreover, the weasel words that the Pentagon brass are now applying to having gays and lesbians in uniform are exactly the same ones as they used in the 1940s and '50s when they were ordered to integrate the armed forces. They said that having black and white troops serving together in the same units would disrupt unit cohesion and efficiency. Yet when they were ordered to enforce the integration policy, they did so--and they did so effectively. Just look at how well-integrated the services are today. If there really are people in the military who are uncomfortable serving around gays and lesbians, they need to get over it--or get out, because they're the ones with the problem.

"Don't ask, don't tell" has cost us more than 10,000 servicemembers in the roughly 10 years it has been in place. That's 10,000 too many. As President Clinton observed more than once during his campaign to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, we can't afford to waste a single person if we're going to accomplish our goals. That was certainly true in 1992, and it is even more true today. We're having a hard enough time as it is keeping good people in uniform. Do we really want to drive away some of the best and the brightest among them because of something as irrelevant to their duties as whom they might be interested in sharing a bed with?

We can dispense with the fallacy that gay men or lesbians in uniform are going to be making improper advances toward their comrades in arms. Please. We may look (just like our heterosexual counterparts do) in the showers, and we might even like what we see. But anybody with half a brain in his or her head isn't going to cop a feel in a gang shower, especially when s/he isn't sure how it will be received. That's just asking for trouble.

The only criterion for serving in the military--or in any other capacity--should be whether or not the individual in question is capable of doing the job that is required. No more, no less. What that individual does on his or her own time is nobody else's business. That's just basic constitutional law.

Of course people can--and should--be fired (or drummed out of the service, in the case of the military) for inappropriate behavior on the job. And of course the military should be able to discourage fraternization within the chain of command, just as an employer should be able to discourage interoffice romances. Those are disruptive of job functions and they can interfere with the ability of workers to perform efficiently. But if we were to disqualify anyone from being hired for any job based on the possibility that s/he might engage in such a romance, well, we'd all be looking for work and drawing unemployment right now.

"Don't ask, don't tell" is bad policy. It is unconstitutional on its face as I read the matter. And I hope that the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts will agree with me on that point, and tell the lawyers for the Department of Defense exactly what they can do with their motion to dismiss: fold it until it's all sharp corners and stick it where the sun don't shine.



Abu Gonzalez: Not exactly clear on the concept

According to this report in today's Chicago Tribune, Albertorquemada took the occasion on Friday, his first day on the job as attorney general, to tell his subordinates that the first duty of the Justice Department is to fight terrorism. He then, according to the report, "pledged to do so 'in a way that is always consistent with our values.'"

As if any confirmation were needed that this man is not fit to hold the office to which he was reluctantly confirmed by the Senate earlier this week, those statements provide it. The first duty of the Justice Department is to attend to what its very name implies: the pursuit of justice. Since that goal is per se unattainable, the department's second goal is to enforce the laws of these United States, and to do so in as fair and just and even-handed a manner possible. Anything and everything else must be subordinated to those two primary goals.

Nor am I sure Albertorquemada understands the values of average Americans about which he so breezily bloviates. The average American is disgusted by torture and doesn't want our troops to engage in it. The average American wants to know that her government isn't spying on her and will not invade her home when she isn't there, poke through her belongings, tap her phones, and read her e-mails. The average American wants to know that if he is injured on the job, he will have access to the courts for redress of grievances, and that he will receive a fair and impartial hearing in those courts, that he will not be victimized in the courts a second time by the high-priced lawyers of the rich and powerful.

Average Americans, and especially average Americans from a minority background such as Abu Gonzalez himself, also want to know that their background will not be held against them. They want a level playing field, and they want to know that their government will do what it can to ensure they get it.

Where were those values in Abu Gonzalez' speech, I wonder?


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