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

29.4.05

Friday random 10
 

The rules: Take out your iPod or other musical device. Put it in "random" mode. Hit "play." Write down the first ten tracks that come up--and no fair putting in ones you think will make you look cool, or omitting ones that make you look like a total dork.

Without further ado, here are mine for today:

  1. Clueless (Wolfstone, Piping Hot: Celtic Bagpipe Collection)
  2. Ludwig van Beethoven, Allegro, Piano Sonata No. 1 in F minor, (Alfred Brendel, Alfred Brendel Plays Beethoven Piano Sonatas, vol. III)
  3. Henry Purcell, "Thou Knowest, Lord" (The Cambridge Singers, Faire is the Heaven: Music of the English Church)
  4. Claudio Monteverdi, "Bevea Fillide mia" (Il secondo libro dei madrigali)
  5. A Little Respect (Erasure, The Innocents--maybe I'll get to hear this one live in concert tomorrow night!)
  6. Kevin Crawford, Dillon's Fancy/Maids in the Meadow/Toss the Feathers (Dance Music of Ireland: Jigs and Reels)
  7. William Byrd, Gloria, Mass for Five Voices (David Willcocks and the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, Byrd: Three Masses)
  8. Ludwig van Beethoven, Allegretto (second movement), Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, "Moonlight," (Rudolf Serkin, Rudolf Serkin Plays Beethoven)
  9. Sorry Now (Sugar Ray, Sugar Ray)
  10. Rebel (Bryan Adams, Into the Fire)

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The "nuclear option" by any other name stinks as badly
 

"A big wet kiss to the far right." That's how Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) properly described the pseudo-compromise offered yesterday by the majority leader in the ongoing controversy over the alleged crisis in judicial nominations. I would further characterize the position of Senator Frist (R-Clueless) as "much ado about nothing" or, better yet, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

OK, enough Shakespeare snippets for this morning. Frist's proposal would permit filibusters of legislation, executive appointments by the president, and federal district judges. No filibusters would be allowed for appellate court judges or nominees to the Supreme Court. In other words, Frist is proposing the "nuclear option lite." And Reid was right to throw the proposal back in Frist's face. (He should have kicked him in the groin at the same time, but that's a violation of Senate decorum.)

Of all the nominees that must be confirmed by the Senate, federal appeals court judges and justices of the U.S. Supreme Court are the ones that have the potential to do the most harm (or good) to the nation, over a very long period of time. Unlike Cabinet appointments which are only good for four years (or eight at the most), these positions carry lifetime tenure. Such nominees, as Senator Reid noted in his floor speech on the issue, need more attention focused on them, not less, precisely because they are for life.

The Repugnacons' ignorance or rejection of their own history in Congress continues apace, as evidenced by this bout of crocodile tears from the Cat-Killer:

I sincerely hope the Senate minority does not intend to escalate its judicial obstruction to potential Supreme Court nominees. That would be a terrible blow to constitutional principles and to political civility in America.

Tell that to Abe Fortas' ghost, you twit. To say nothing of the 60-odd judicial nominees that Senator Frist and his Repugnacon colleagues gleefully bottled up in committee, and through blue slips, and through home-senator holds, and all manner of underhanded parliamentary tricks in the Clinton years. Six times as many of Clinton's nominees were blocked by the Republican minority in the Senate as the Democrats have blocked of Bush's appointments. It was right and fair and just and noble when the Republicans were doing it. Now that it's the Democrats, of course, it's wrong and ignoble and unjust, unpatriotic, unconstitutional, and un-American.

The leader doth protest too much, methinks.


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28.4.05

So this is what "supporting our troops" looks like
 

Now we know. Carlos Lazo got on a wooden raft in 1992 to come to the United States from Cuba, leaving a family behind on the island whom he continued to visit and to support. After moving to Seattle, Lazo joined the Army National Guard after an earthquake hit Washington state.

In 2003, his unit was, predictably, called up for service in Iraq. Lazo, a medic, was in on the hellish street-fight in Fallujah. When his first opportunity for R&R came up, six months later, he flew to Miami and then boarded a charter flight to Cuba so he could see his teen-aged sons--just like any father home on leave from the war would want to.

But the Bushoviki didn't let Lazo go to Cuba. Although he arrived in Miami two days before new Bush-sponsored travel limitations went into effect, the charter company told Lazo "it was not allowed to take any more passengers to Cuba." Lazo continues in his op-ed:

The calculations behind the travel restriction were simple. While U.S. troops were trying to bring democracy to Iraq, President Bush was trying to ensure his reelection by catering to a small but politically powerful group of anti-Castro extremists who demand complete isolation of Cuba as the price of their support. Bush met their demands, but it is average Cubans, and families like mine, that have paid the price.

[edit]

I was proud to serve. My children would be proud, too, to hear what Americans will do for the cause of freedom. But the administration that trusted me in battle in Iraq does not trust me to visit my children in Cuba.

It gets better. As Lazo notes in his op-ed, he is now in Washington, D.C., exercising his right to petition his government for redress of grievances. But according to today's Progress Report, Florida Senator Mel Martinez (R-No Conscience), "passed him off to a staffer who then canceled the meeting."

That's cold--for anybody. Doubly so, at least, for one of our guys in uniform who's been on the ground patching up the victims of the Bush war machine. Further proof, as if any were needed, that the Shrubbery's "support" for our troops is merely an empty shell of rhetoric.


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27.4.05

Spring is here
 

Alas, that doesn't always mean that life is skittles and life is beer. From our in-house meteorologist's forecast today comes this little gem:

I probably am the only person thrilled to see a funnel cloud pass right OVER my house, but that's exactly what happened at 5:30 PM yesterday. I knew it had no chance of touching down, given the dry, cool airmass here at ground level...but it was interesting to have funnels come to me instead of driving a 1,000 miles to see one!

It helps to know that when he's not watching the weather and keeping the campus alerted to severe weather possibilities, he likes to go storm chasing. And I'm very glad we've got him, because he's (a) faster and (b) usually better than the National Weather Service office in Chicago. He's also single-handedly responsible for getting this university a Storm Ready certification (first ever in the nation), and to get people to buy weather radios and know how to use them during severe weather season. If you haven't got one already, and you live anywhere the weather is likely to get nasty, head down to your local electronics store and get one (preferably one that's SAME-ready, so you can customize the alerts you receive according to your county of residence). They really do make a difference.


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26.4.05

Blogging forecast: Light and variable
 

I'm sorry for the lack of recent posting hereabouts: I'm trying to watch how much typing and other repetitive activities I do with my left hand. While my physical therapist told me last Friday that we're making satisfactory progress, and while the pain is a lot less than it was when this mess started three-plus weeks ago, I'm still having some pain issues, and there's definitely still a loss of strength and agility in that hand. Typing for extended periods of time puts a lot of stress on the hand, so I'm trying to take it easy and let things heal.

Unfortunately, the nature of my job is such that I have to do at least some typing, and lately I've been doing a lot of database and tabulating work--and that makes that hand absolutely scream. I spent a large part of yesterday trying to get my student recruitment tracking database up to date, and I could only do it for about 15-20 minutes at a time before I had to stop and do something else and let the cramps and the aches subside. Needless to say, I wasn't terribly enthusiastic about the idea of banging out a long blog post when I got home. Today was better, but not perfect.

But rest assured, I've got plenty of fight left in me, and lots of ideas still to cover. I'm just not physically up to covering all of them (or even many of them) right now. Long comments are easier to do, and I'm trying not to do too many of them, either. But I'm far from dead yet, and I have not yet begun to blog. Or something like that.


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24.4.05

Just Us Sunday
 

Carl Nyberg posted a wonderful diary at Daily Kos this morning. In it, he asked the pointed question, "What did your ancestors do to build the United States of America into the country it is today?" You should go read the comments thereon (one of which was the genesis of this post): it offers a stinging rebuke to the Repukes' pet notion that all liberals hate America and everything it stands for.

Hence the title of this post. On the day when the (Ir)religious Reich will meet in quasi-conclave to subvert the Constitution and to plot what I consider tantamount to treason against the United States, a day which they have cruelly mis-named "Justice Sunday," I propose that we remind them of "Just Us." Not only that the only people they care about are themselves, but that it was "Just Us" and our ancestors that built this country from the ground up, shaped its ideals, and shed our blood to defend it when it was threatened. How dare they try to pretend that only Repuglicans ever served their country, or cared about its ideals? (Especially when most of the ones braying the loudest about patriotism and the Constitution never served a day in their lives and haven't ever read the document they've sworn to uphold and which their actions are doing more to destroy than any Hitler ever could.)

So here's my little tale. Feel free to add yours in the comments, or to post on your blogs and link back here.

One branch of my family arrived in Maryland barely a generation after the Mayflower. They came from rural England, but also some from London and its environs. They settled in and did what they'd done for generations--farmed the land.

Come 1776, at least three of them we know of enlisted in the Continental Army. One of them died at Valley Forge. After the war, back to farming. Some of the younger sons went westward, winding up in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, where they mostly stayed.

On my maternal grandmother's side of the family, they were mostly later arrivals--Norwegian and Swedish, mostly, but also French, Scotch, Irish, and German. One whole family emigrated from the Eidsvoll region near Oslo in Norway just after the end of the Civil War. They were also farmers, but some turned to logging or railroad work when they settled in northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. My maternal grandmother's mother was a first-generation American citizen--both of her parents were Norwegian immigrants.

My maternal great-grandfather was quite the character. Born in Ohio to a farming family, he was truly a jack-of-all-trades. He worked road construction, built houses, dug ditches, anything that would let him support his family. He built the house he and my great-grandmother lived in out in the North Woods of far northern Wisconsin himself (and built it to her scale: she was quite the petite woman). His pride and joy was the rock garden outside. During Prohibition, he used to brew bathtub gin; as the odor wafted through the woods, friends and neighbors would gather at the house. When it was ready, they'd play pinochle all night long until the booze was gone. It was the only time my great-grandmother smoked (she rolled her own) or drank. He always used to tell us he was descended from an "Indian princess." We were sure he was just pulling our legs. Except recently we uncovered a privately printed family history from around the 1920s that spoke of a young woman (although not a direct ancestor of my great-grandfather's) who had been taken in a raid (I think by the Cherokee, but I can't swear to that). She decided she liked her new life better and stayed with her "captors" even after the opportunity arose for her to go back to her former family. She married well (though I think "princess" is probably a stretch).

Most of my people until the last generation were simple farmers or workers. Many of them served their country honorably: I'm pretty sure that at least one of my relatives has been involved in every major war this country has fought since the Revolution. My father served as a radarman in Korea during the Vietnam war; my stepfather served in World War II, as did a distant cousin who was shot down and killed in a bombing raid over Germany in 1944.

That's how my people built this country. We fed it. Some of us built it--literally. And we fought for it when its cause was just.


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23.4.05

The governor doth protest too much, methinks
 

Pity poor Jeb! He just doesn't know what to do when the Vatican writes him letters.

"I get uneasy when the Vatican writes me letters when a death penalty case is about ready to take place in Florida. I'll be honest with you, that gives me pause. It makes me pray harder," Bush told reporters in Rome on Saturday.

"Even though it's the law of our land and I have a duty to uphold that law, when there is a conflict .. it does give me concern.

"But having said that, I think the president's decision (on Iraq) was the right one," he added, returning to an original question about Iraq.

As you might expect given that last paragraph, an epistolary shot across the bow from Rome doesn't seem to hold Jeb! back for very long:

Jeb Bush considered postponing an execution earlier this month until after John Paul's funeral on April 8.

He decided to proceed after speaking with the victims' family, and the 47-year-old was killed by lethal injection for the 1999 strangling of a store clerk. He was the 60th person to be put to death since Florida reinstated the death penalty in the 1970s.

The opinion of the leadership of his church can't even convince Jeb! to postpone an execution, much less cancel one outright. But a few well-chosen words from a few angry Florida voters (i.e., people with a real opportunity to affect Jeb!'s future), and he cowers in the corner like a whipped puppy.

Hypocritical Bastards 1, Culture of Life 0.


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22.4.05

I've got the responsorial Psalm
 

For the "Justice Sunday" gathering this weekend:

Bush is my shepherd; I dwell in want.

He maketh logs to be cut down in national forests. He leadeth trucks into the still wilderness; he restoreth my fears.

He leadeth me in the paths of international disgrace for his ego's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of pollution and war, I will find no exit; for thou art in office.

Thy tax cuts for the rich, and thy media control, they discomfort me.

Thou preparest an agenda of deception in the presence of thy religion. Thou anointest my head with foreign oil. My health insurance runneth out.

Surely megalomania and false patriotism shall follow me all the days of thy term, and my jobless child shall dwell in my basement forever.

Got that one from my mum, who got it from someone as an e-mail. No provenance was given, or I'd happily credit the author.


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Friday random 10
 

The rules: Take out your iPod or other musical device. Put it in "random" mode. Hit "play." Write down the first ten tracks that come up--and no fair putting in ones you think will make you look cool, or omitting ones that make you look like a total dork.

Without further ado, here are mine for today:

  1. W. A. Mozart, Domine Jesu Christe (Mozart: Requiem, Choeurs et Orchestre de Paris / Daniel Barenboim)
  2. W. A. Mozart, Dies' Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön (Die Zauberflöte, Act I; Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields / Sir Neville Marriner)
  3. Franz Josef Haydn, O glücklich Paar! (Die Schöpfung, Part III; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Antal Dorati)
  4. Fun, Fun, Fun 'Til Teddy Puts His T-Shirt Away (Capitol Steps, 76 Bad Loans)
  5. W. A. Mozart, Wie? Wie? Wie? (Die Zauberflöte, Act II; Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields / Sir Neville Marriner)
  6. William Byrd, Agnus Dei from the Mass for 5 Voices (Byrd: The Three Masses, David Willcocks and the Choir of King's College, Cambridge)
  7. Vigilante (Magnum, The Spirit)
  8. Environmental Terrorism or Global Warming? (Lewis Black, End of the Universe)
  9. George's Revenge (Capitol Steps, Shamlet: A Political Comedy of Errors)
  10. The One I Love (R.E.M., Eponymous)

Seems to have been my day for Mozart operas and sacred music!


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21.4.05

Oh, the places you'll go!
 

(Or rather, the places I've been.) Courtesy of the newly mastered Ian McGibboney at Not Right About Anything, I found a nice little site that lets you color in the places on the map you've been to. First, my globe-trotting version:

create your own visited country map

Now my wanderings about the continental (thus far) United States:

create your own personalized map of the USA


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20.4.05

Color me surprised. Again
 

Via Windy City Lefty, I came across a little thingy that looks at how people talk. I'm sure it's not 100% valid, but I figured it would be a nice way to spend a couple of minutes of a drab morning in this little hotbox of an office, so I took it. Herewith the results:

Your Linguistic Profile:

65% General American English
25% Yankee
5% Dixie
5% Midwestern
0% Upper Midwestern
What Kind of American English Do You Speak?

The funny thing is that 65% rating for general American English. Because most people who know me personally have told me that I tend to speak like someone from Down East. (Maybe that's more of an accent thing than a word-choice thing, though--and in fact it's because I enunciate carefully just like I was taught by years of coaches when I was on the forensics team in high school, like every choir director I've ever had, and by Mr. D. when I did theatre at The Alma MaterTM. In fact, when Mr. D. retired last year, I took him aside at the reception and told him it was his fault everybody thinks I'm from the East Coast. He just laughed.)

Also funny is that 5% Midwestern rating. I was born in Ohio and grew up in Illinois, where I've lived ever since, with the exception of the two years I spent in the People's Republic of Boulder, getting my first master's degree. But apparently the standard English I've learned along the way, and the formal English I necessarily use when I'm writing for publication, has overcome most of the Midwest regionalisms that my childhood should have inculcated.


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19.4.05

What might Benedict XVI's election mean?
 

I wasn't going to do this. I'm depressed and anxious and what I really want to do tonight is kill off many, many pints of Guinness. But so much has been said by so many that is so fundamentally warped and hateful and twisted (and flat-out wrong) that I felt I had to chime in. The result was the dKos diary that I'm adapting for this post here.

So, bearing in mind that I'm 0-2 on major election forecasts in the last six months, and bearing in mind that it was only yesterday afternoon that I was expressing a firm opinion that Ratzinger was the last guy the cardinals would ever choose to succeed John Paul II (with a host of what I thought were excellent reasons to come to that conclusion), I'm going to throw out a few thoughts on what his election might mean from my perspective as a gay liberal American Catholic.

First, the bad news. Ratzinger spent the last 20 years as the modern-day equivalent of the Grand Inquisitor. It was his job to play the heavy with any theologian, any priest or religious (in the formal sense of a monk or a nun, not just somebody warming a pew on Sunday mornings--though he could go after them, too, if he'd wanted to), who got too far out of line with the official teachings of the Church. (Properly called the Magisterium: one of the three legs that makes up the stool of Catholic doctrine. The other two are Scripture and Tradition, both capitalized advisedly.)

In that role, he either wrote personally, or else inspired and/or approved, the publication of a number of reactionary documents. Some notable numbers on the Ratzinger hit parade were the 1986 Halloween pastoral On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, in which he declared that homosexuality, while not per se sinful, was nevertheless a "strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder." Then there was the 2000 declaration Dominus Iesus, quite the little triumphalist rant, a portion of whose conclusion reads as follows (internal citations omitted):

Indeed, the Church, guided by charity and respect for freedom, must be primarily committed to proclaiming to all people the truth definitively revealed by the Lord, and to announcing the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ and of adherence to the Church through Baptism and the other sacraments, in order to participate fully in communion with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Ratzinger was also the main architect of the 1990 apostolic constitution Ex corde ecclesiae, which dealt with Catholic universities--and what, exactly, it meant to be called one. He's certainly been the chief sparring partner of the U.S. Catholic bishops as they've fought over the guidelines for implementing the provisions of that constitution in the U.S. over the last decade. The USCC sent up at least two (and maybe more, though my memory isn't clear on this point) proposed drafts, and Ratzinger rejected them both and held out until he got exactly what he wanted--a requirement that anyone who teaches theology at any Catholic university hold a mandatum from the local bishop saying s/he was authorized to teach. No mandatum, no teaching--at least as far as theology is concerned, and at least at a Catholic university. To hell with sissy-pansy considerations like tenure and academic freedom.

Ratzinger and John Paul II were like two peas in a pod when it came to most of the contentious issues in the Church these days. Neither one supported allowing priests to get married (unless they're already married when they convert from Anglicanism, or belong to one of the Eastern Rite churches in communion with Rome) or the ordination of women (despite the fact that the Church has already done so, when it needed undercover help in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia). The modern world is a swamp of evil and vice and sin and is to be resisted and preached at, not listened to. Gay rights are an abomination, and it's probably the gays that are responsible for that filthy pedophilia problem they're having over there in the United States.

[Pre-emptive troll warning: I'm not saying I agree with that last statement--at all. But that's what the man has, if not stated explicitly, at least strongly implied, in public remarks. And his remedy would be to prohibit the ordination of any openly homosexual man to the priesthood, which should have a really interesting effect on the already dire shortage of priests. And I'm gay, remember: I know that gay does not equal pedophile. So don't even go there.]

So. What inferences might we be able to draw from all of that, and from the very little we have to go on from Pope Benedict?

Let's look at his choice of name, for starters. Given the man they elected, I'm not at all surprised he didn't decide to be called John Paul III. Whatever I may think of the man personally (not a lot, in case that's not already apparent), he's not stupid. He knows his reputation--hell, he's probably proud of it. He's been in the thick of things in Rome the last three weeks. He's seen the crowds thronging St. Peter's to file past the late pope's body. He heard that huge crowd chanting Santo subito! ("A saint right away!") at his predecessor's funeral. And he knows damn well that he's never going to beat John Paul II--alive or dead--in a popularity contest. Taking the name John Paul III, for him, would have been tantamount to an insult, and it would probably have cost him some serious points.

So why pick Benedict XVI? He could have become Paul VII, or Pius XIII just as easily. (I doubt he'd have wanted to go for John XXIV, lest he cause a few heart attacks among the guys who had just elected him.)

It's possible that his choice of papal name indicates a desire to have a mediocre papacy. Lord knows the last guy to use that name had one. Elected just after World War I broke out, lasted eight years, and did not a heck of a lot of anything. I don't believe I've ever seen an encyclical of his quoted in anything, and if you go to his page on the Vatican web site, you'll find that most of the links down the left-hand side of the page don't even have any content. Benedict XV's big claim to fame is that he separated Pius X from Pius XI. (And not, as I claimed in a comment on my previous papal post, Leo XIII from Pius XI. My bad.)

The same could be said of the present Benedict's first public utterance after being elected:

Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope, John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble worker in the Lord's vineyard.

The fact that the Lord can work and act even with insufficient means consoles me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers.

Bear in mind, I'm a cynic where this man is concerned. Anything that comes out of his mouth is automatically going to get a higher level of scrutiny than the same words would if they'd come from anybody else's mouth, just because it was the guy formerly known as Ratzinger who was saying it. That said, I look at that first statement and I get the distinct impression he really meant what he said. That humble simplicity may wear off after the novelty of the office does--but it might not, too.

The provisions of canon law prohibit the bartering of votes in conclave, or the making of promises to secure them. So there's no possibility that he got the job on the understanding that he'd toe a certain line. But if you ask anybody who's been around the Vatican for longer than a couple of hours, you'll learn that the place is practically built and sustained on nuance and innuendo. You never just look at the words of a Vatican statement, you read, delicately, between the lines. They never use a word without meaning to, and there are shades and shades of meaning to be found in even the simplest gestures.

My guess is that Ratzinger got the nod because he's not a spring chicken, and because he represented a known quantity. The cardinals were not ready for an all-out change from John Paul II's policies and papacy, so they went with a man they could reasonably expect to continue it. It's entirely possible that they will get exactly what they bargained for--John Paul III in everything but name.

Of course, it's also possible that they've elected a maverick who will shake up their comfortable world in ways they never anticipated. That, after all, is what happened the last time they elected a caretaker pope.

So, yes. I am not thrilled with the election of Benedict XVI. I'm going to be very anxious until he's settled in and has made some more public statements that will give me a better read on just where he plans to steer the Barque of Peter--because there are several potential sailing points that are fairly close to our present position that, if he takes us there, would cause me to have to get my ass off the ship. But I'm not jumping ship yet. I'm biding my time, keeping my Rosary beads warm, and looking forward to some heavy drinking with some of my liberal Catholic friends at an unspecified future time.


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A little levity
 

Very little, alas.

As I was walking back to the office after my appointment at the ophthalmologist's, I encountered a very dirty white car. On its bumper, scrawled in the dust right above the "Bush/Cheney '04" sticker, was this phrase:

Save a horse, ride a cowboy!

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Nuntio vobis dolorem magnum
 

You may color me surprised. On their fourth ballot, the cardinals have elected a pope. The announcement of who he is will be made shortly.

Update, 1157: You may color me shocked. Appalled. Disgusted. Distraught.

Somehow, some way, the Grand Inquisitor got to two-thirds plus one. And he's taken the name Benedict XVI, which doesn't bode well. We can forget about Vatican II, but I'd be willing to bet we'll be hearing a hell of a lot more about Vatican I.

I'm not sure what this is going to mean for me, personally. But it's not looking good.

Update, 1214: I've changed the link on the election of Benedict XVI to a more substantive Reuters piece. And somewhere tonight, I'm going to be polishing off a lot of Guinness in the company of some of my liberal Catholic friends. Feel free to join us, if only in spirit.


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Which of these things is not like the other?
 

The Doofus-in-Chief is befouling the fair state of Illinois today, coming to help with the dedication of the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. Meanwhile, further to the west and south, both Big Dick and the Big Dog will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing (registration may be required to read that link).

Coincidence? I think not.

Bush doesn't have the cojones to go to Oklahoma City. I suspect he's also wary of the implication that his much-vaunted War on Terra might have to be extended to include, you know, white people. So he sends his crusty old second-in-command in his stead, and tries to bask in the reflected glow of one of the greatest presidents this nation has ever known. I'm sure he'll make at least one brazen attempt, in his remarks at the dedication, to link his presidency with Lincoln's heritage. One hopes that the tremors as the martyred president begins whirling in his grave at a dangerously high velocity won't cause too much damage in the state capital.


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18.4.05

Flappy Hunk Day!
 

I've just received word (alas, too late to act upon) that today is Flunk Day at The Alma MaterTM. By the rules of the day, that means y'all have to kiss me since I do still have my "Kiss me, it's Flunk Day" button. :-)

What, you may be asking, is Flunk Day? It's an old tradition where I went to school, dating back to an observance known as Roughneck Week in the 1920s. The upshot is that when the Old Main bell starts pealing at 4:30 a.m., you can arise (if you're not already awake and partying) knowing that classes are cancelled for the day, any assignments you might have had to turn in are deferred to the next class meeting, and the weather's forecast to be good enough to allow a day of mainly outdoor activities.

The purpose of Flunk Day is to allow Knox students to blow off a little of the pent-up steam created by 25-odd weeks of intensive academic effort, and to do so in less dangerous and hurtful ways than by going postal on their roommates. At least back in the Paleolithic Age when I was a student, the mornings tended to be a bit of a drunken debauch, and the afternoons were more mellow. By lunchtime, everybody was feeling pretty good, and the faculty brought their kids to campus to enjoy the picnic and the entertainment (usually a stand-up comic). The rest of the afternoon was for games, organized or otherwise, sleep if you could get it, and then a picnic supper, a last movie, and a closing dance wrapped up the occasion.

The world would be a better place, in my opinion, if everybody celebrated Flunk Day. So hoist an adult beverage of your choosing and celebrate it with me and my fellow Knoxites.

Slainte!

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Non habemus papam
 

The 115 cardinals locked away in conclave got in at least one vote today, but produced no new pope. My sense is, we're in for at least a couple of days of this, folks, so pull up a chair and get comfortable.

As with most reputable Vatican-watchers, I will make no predictions here about who will be the next pope. I feel confident, however, in stating that it will not be His Bavarian Eminence, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. He's too close to the late pope, both administratively and theologically (and more conservative on both fronts). I don't get the sense that anybody but Ratzinger thinks that "more of the same, and then some" is a good idea for the Church right now.

Also, to get to two-thirds plus one (77 votes, required since 115 is not evenly divisible by three), any candidate is going to have to have substantial support from Europe and the Americas. Asia wouldn't hurt, either. Ratzinger has huge negatives in all three. The Latin American cardinals are still smarting from the way he and his boss treated liberation theology in the '80s and early '90s. The Asians are upset at the way Ratzinger quashed their acculturation initiatives, and at the high-handed treatment of Sri Lankan theologian Tissa Balasuriya nearly 10 years ago. American cardinals resent his high-handed administrative style, and they've been tussling with him for the better part of a decade on the norms for implementation of Ex corde ecclesiae, the papal document on the role of Catholic universities.

I suppose it would be possible that Ratzinger could squeak out a majority-vote win if the conclave were to extend long enough to bring it into play. But he'd have to have enough support to vote to switch voting rules (unlikely), and then enough to get to 50%+1 (equally unlikely). He's not even a good caretaker candidate, given that he's 78 years old and doesn't have much of a natural constituency. My suspicion is that the Europeans are going to vote for an Italian, if at all possible, and possibly for a Latin American if that doesn't seem to be working out.

I'll be very much surprised if we have a new pope before Wednesday. At the earliest.


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17.4.05

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Sen. Frist!
 

My name is Michael, and I live in Illinois. I am an adult convert to Roman Catholicism and a practitioner of zazen meditation. I hold a lay minister's certificate in liturgy in the Diocese of Rockford, and have been very active in my local church community in the past. I have twice made pilgrimage to the Holy Land (in 1998 and 2000), and once to Rome, for the Great Jubilee of 2000. My religious beliefs were but one of the reasons I cast my vote in 2004 for Sen. John Kerry.

I say all of that not to brag, but to demonstrate exactly how ridiculous is the idea, put forward by people calling themselves Republicans and Christians, that anyone who opposes Mr. Bush's atrocious policies must ipso facto be hostile to the faith or to other people of faith. I call that allegation exactly what it is: hogwash.

My faith is not threatened by liberals: it's far more likely to be put into practice by them. Indeed, one of the reasons I am myself a liberal is that I can't see any other way of behaving if I want to remain faithful to the principles of my faith tradition. More than a century ago, Pope Leo XIII wrote Rerum novarum, the first so-called "social" encyclical. While it denounced the socialists and found that there was absolutely a right to private property, that encyclical also enjoined upon "the wealthy owner and the employer" the duties of treating their employees as persons "ennobled by Christian character," noting that it was "truly shameful and inhuman" to treat workers "as though they were things in the pursuit of gain, or to value them solely for their physical powers." Employers were enjoined to give their workers time off for their religious duties, and to see to it that they did not neglect "home and family" or squander their earnings. Their "great and principal duty is to give every one what is just."

Pope Leo wasn't just pulling those phrases out of thin air, either. Jesus told his disciples (Luke 10:7, my translation from the original Greek) "The worker is worthy of his pay" and also this (Matthew 25:31-40, my translation):

Whenever the Son of Man may come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then will he sit upon the throne of his glory. He shall gather together before him all the nations, and he shall separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He shall place the sheep at his right hand, and the goats at his left.

Then the Ruler will say to those on his right, "Come here, you who are blessed of my Father, inherit the realm that was prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, sick and you watched over me, I was in prison and you came to me."

Then the just will respond to him and say, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you to drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and come to you?"

And the Ruler will answer them, saying, "I solemnly assure you, as often as you did so for one of the least of my brothers or sisters, you did it for me."

That passage does sound an awful lot like a political platform. It just doesn't sound anything like the Republican one. It certainly doesn't sound like the policies this administration has enacted.

And that is why I am so upset at these people's attempt to hijack my faith for their political ends. Mr. Bush claims to be a Christian, but his actions belie his words. As Jesus himself said (Matthew 7:16), it's the actions that count: "By their fruits shall you know them" and again (7:21), "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, lord' will enter into the Realm of Heaven, but rather that one doing the will of my Father in heaven."

Rather than admit that he's not doing a good job of living up to the faith he claims to profess, Mr. Bush prefers to attack the faith of anyone who happens to disagree with him, the better to ramrod his hateful policies through a recalcitrant Congress and force them upon a population that seems increasingly not to trust him.

The First Amendment to our Constitution gives Mr. Bush the right to believe as he chooses. It gives me exactly the same right, and it also prohibits our government from either forcing one brand of religion on all of its citizens or from interfering in how we choose to live out our beliefs, as long as we don't break any laws in doing so.

I think our founders got that position exactly right. Nobody should be allowed to tell anyone else how they should believe, what manner of life they should live, or how they should put their own faith into action. Are there things I would like to see in the laws of our land? Absolutely. But unless I can find solid reasons to enact those provisions into law that are not bound up solely with the tenets of my faith, I'm going to be unsuccessful in that endeavor--and that's the way it should be.

I came to Catholicism as an adult of my own free will. I would not want anybody to be able to tell me that I either had to join that church, or that I could not. Consequently, if I want that freedom for myself, by what right do I deny it to anyone else? I recognize that reasonable people can come to different conclusions about ultimate things, and that in no way threatens my faith or my church--or my government. I believe, with the Catholic Church, that there is a spark of truth in all religions that are not oriented specifically toward evil, and for my part I believe in dialogue with those other traditions, so I can try to learn from them that facet of the Truth that they, and they alone, see most clearly.

So no, Senator Frist, I am not hostile to faith or to people of faith. But I'll tell you what I am hostile toward: wolves in sheep's clothing who parade around wearing their faith upon their sleeves and proclaiming it loudly on the street corners and in the marketplaces, but whose actions demonstrate that their allegiance is not to the Most High but to Mammon. I am unshakeably hostile to people who prate on about freedom and democracy, yet seek to destroy both of those things not only abroad but also here at home. I will rail against anyone who suggests that I should give up even the least and littlest of my civil rights in the name of some trumped-up war on a nebulous terrorist enemy that we can neither define nor catch. I will protest, vociferously but peacefully, anyone who attempts to prosecute aggressive war in my name. I will work to defeat anyone who attempts to dismantle the social safety net that keeps our youngest and our oldest citizens safely housed and fed and cared for, and offers a helping hand to anyone who needs it. I will not hesitate to cry out that the emperor has no clothes when he claims to act out of a concern for the ordinary citizen but in reality only enriches the already-wealthy corporate fatcats who would fleece him of his last dime and do it gleefully. I will oppose, with every fiber of my being, any politician, any so-called priest or minister, and any judge or judicial nominee who attempts to violate the constitutionally mandated separation of powers (or the separation of church and state), or to impose any kind of a religious test for public office. I will not brook any unwarranted governmental interference in my private affairs--of whatever kind.

You are calling your attempt to do all of those things "Justice Sunday." I will suggest to you, sir, that you do not understand either the meaning of the word "justice," or the respect that the Sabbath day is due. If you did, you would not now be pushing the false dilemma of a young man having to choose between public service and faith, nor would you be working for political gain (which surely counts as "work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God" within the meaning of No. 2185 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which you should know well, given your claim to be a practicing Catholic) on the Sabbath.

I reject out-of-hand the corporatist, elitist, and warmongering agenda of the Republican leadership. It is not worthy of consideration by serious people of any faith, based as it is on entirely selfish and self-centered principles, and given that it has manifestly resulted in tremendous suffering for people both here in the United States and abroad. But I do not do that out of any hostility to faith: far from it. I do it precisely because I am a person of faith, and I hold fast to the principles that Jesus taught in the Gospels: caring for the widow and the orphan and the poor among us, sharing my bread with the needy, sustaining the sick and those in prison, rendering to Caesar what is Caesar's but at the same time never forgetting to render to God what is God's, and God's alone.

I recommend the same course to you, Mr. Frist, and to you, Mr. Bush, and to all of your fellow Republican leaders. Let me paraphrase for you a few other words from the Scriptures (Matthew 23:13-15, 23, 25, 27; my translation from the Greek):

Woe to you, neoconservatives and Republicans, hypocrites, for you slam shut the Realm of Heaven in people's faces. You will not go in yourselves, but neither will you allow anyone else to go in.

Woe to you, neoconservatives and Republicans, hypocrites, for you go all over lands and seas to make a single convert, and when you get him, you make him a child of hell twice as bad as yourselves.

Woe to you, neoconservatives and Republicans, hypocrites, for you tithe on mint and dill and cumin but neglect the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith: you ought to have been doing those things, not leaving them behind!

Woe to you, neoconservatives and Republicans, hypocrites, for you are become like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but which are filled up inside with the bones of the dead and all kinds of filth.


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16.4.05

Dumber than a box of rocks
 

No, really.

I understand that people forget things--especially as they grow older, and even more so if they're recovering alcoholics and/or coke-heads. But isn't it supposed to be the preznit's job to, you know, read the bills that he signs? And isn't one of the reasons the preznit has this huge staff around him to remind him of the important things to remember?

So how comes it that I can read this on CNN today?

"When I first read that in the newspaper about the need to have passports, particularly today's crossings that take place, about a million for instance in the state of Texas, I said, 'What's going on here?"' Bush said when asked about the rules at a meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

"I thought there was a better way to expedite the legal flow of traffic and people," he said.

Bush, a former Texas governor, said he has ordered a review of the rules. "If people have to have a passport, it's going to disrupt the honest flow of traffic. I think there's some flexibility in the law, and that's what we're checking out right now," the president said.

"On the larger scale, we've got a lot to do to enforce the border," he said.

In December, Bush signed into law an intelligence overhaul that requires tighter border security against terrorists and was the basis for the passport proposal. The White House did not say why the president was unaware of the plans his administration announced just a week earlier.

No shit, Sherlock. Anybody who's ever tried to cross into Windsor from Detroit (or, I imagine, from Tijuana to San Diego, though I've never had that experience myself) could have told the Бушовики that it was going to create an enormous hassle.

Worst. Preznit. Ever.


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15.4.05

Friday Random 10
 

The rules: Take out your iPod or other musical device. Put it in "random" mode. Hit "play." Write down the first ten tracks that come up--and no fair putting in ones you think will make you look cool, or omitting ones that make you look like a total dork.

Without further ado, here are mine for today:

  1. 'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime (Cambridge Singers, Christmas with the Cambridge Singers)
  2. An Buinnean Bui/The Yellow Bittern/The County (Chieftains, Water from the Well)
  3. Love is Reason (a-ha, Hunting High and Low)
  4. Variatio 9, Canone alla Terza (J.S. Bach, Goldberg Variations, Ton Koopman)
  5. Love Comes Quickly (Pet Shop Boys, Please)
  6. I Will Sing of Life (Knox College Choir, 2002 Compilation)
  7. Don't Stop Believin' (Journey, Escape)
  8. Spinning (Benjamin Orr, The Lace)
  9. Stolen Moments (Dan Fogelberg, The Innocent Age)
  10. Robbie Hannan's Jigs (Jerry O'Sullivan, Dance Music of Ireland: Jigs & Reels)

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13.4.05

Introducing, in this corner....
 

Brother Main Gauche of Forgiveness

That's my Unitarian Jihad Name. Get yours here.

(Hat tip: Shakespeare's Sister, via Windy City Lefty (who needs to fix his link).)


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12.4.05

Tired and sore
 

My herniated disc has flared up again, and I started my six weeks of physical therapy today. I know it's going to make me feel better in the long run, but for right now, I just hurt. And that, plus my medications, plus the fact that I didn't sleep well last night, equals a very tired me. Past experience has taught me that a tired and sore Michael is not a happy Michael. And since I don't want to take out my frustrations on the next poor little target to cross my virtual radar screen, I think I'm going to take it easy the rest of the day. Blogging will be light to non-existent.


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11.4.05

Book meme redux
 

Although I already did this once without being tapped, I just can't say no when a lady asks me politely to help out: and andante of Collective Sigh counts as a lady in my book. She's passed me the virtual baton again in the latest meme craze sweeping the blogs, and I'm happy to oblige.

But in the spirit of liberalism and free choice and all that goody stuff, I'm exercising my right to change my answers from last time. (Not that that's likely to be a problem for my legions dozens several faithful readers, natch.)

On to the meme! Our first question is, You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

I had to have this one explained to me, since I've never read Fahrenheit 451. Apparently in the book, to save works from being destroyed, people memorize one book which they then "become."

Personally, I find the whole idea rather creepy, though maybe that's just because the whole idea of people burning books makes me very nervous (it's often people like me that get tossed onto the flames next, don'tcha know?). On the other hand, back in the day when books were still a future technology that the human race hadn't mastered, people did this all the time.

I'm torn on this choice. The first one that came to mind was the Riverside Shakespeare. It'd be awfully damn nice to be able to spout off the Bard at the drop of a hat, and to carry all of that beautiful prose (and poetry, too) inside my head. But that last paragraph got me thinking about the rhapsodes in classical Greece who used to memorize Homer, and that's probably going to win out. And since I'm being liberal-contrarian, I'm going to do both the Iliad and the Odyssey, in the original Greek. If I had to do it in translation, I'm not sure which one I'd pick, except that it wouldn't be Fitzgerald. Lattimore's is closer to the original Greek (he even tries to do it in hexameter, though he's not worrying about the feet), but reads rather dully. Fagles, on the other hand, is much better poetry, but also a freer translation.

Question two: Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Not that I can remember, so we'll put that one down as a "no." But then, I almost never get pictures of the characters in my head as I'm reading. Voices, sometimes, but rarely pictures.

Question three: The last book you bought is?

Depends on what you mean by "bought." I just ordered a couple from Barnes & Noble this noon (Lewis Black's memoir Nothing's Sacred and Rogers Brubaker's Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany, the latter, obviously, for my M.A. research project), but I don't actually have them in-hand at the moment. If by "bought" you mean books actually in my possession, they would be the four I'd just bought the first time I participated in this meme: Tamara Sonn, A Brief History of Islam; A. J. P. Taylor, The First World War: An Illustrated History; John Keegan, Face of Battle; and Michael Thad Allen, The Business of Genocide: The SS, Slave Labor, and the Concentration Camps.

Question four: What are you currently reading?

Oh, crikey. I've probably got a good dozen that I'm sorta-kinda-almost-occasionally meandering through. Ones I'm actively reading at the moment include:
  • Tamara Sonn, A Brief History of Islam
  • Rogers Brubaker, Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany
  • Code de la nationalité: Code civil et textes annexes
  • Asma Afsaruddin, Excellence and Precedence: Medieval Islamic Discourse on Legitimate Leadership
  • Robert Gildea, Marianne in Chains: Daily Life in the Heart of France During the German Occupation
  • Detlev Peukert, Inside Nazi Germany: Conformity, Opposition, and Racism in Everyday Life

For the ones that I've started and am technically reading, but probably haven't had a chance to pick up or look at in a while, check the reading list in the left sidebar.

Question five: Five books you would take to a deserted island:

This is the toughie. I'm a bibliophile's bibliophile; the "gentle madness" that Nicholas Basbanes talked about in his book of the same name (which is on my "one of these days I'm gonna read it" list) struck me early and hard. When I moved into my current apartment years and years ago, and was able to get all my books out of storage after three years, it was the books I unpacked first--primarily because I needed to get the boxes out of the way so I could get to other things like furniture and dishes and clothes. So cutting me down to five is going to be a huge sacrifice: and I'm going to assert librarian's privilege and treat a complete story as one book, no matter how many volumes it has.

If you forced me, this is probably what I'd take right now:

  1. My breviary (four volumes; gives me the liturgical office for each day and season of the year, so all of the psalms and most of the good bits of Scripture, plus commentary, prayers, hymns, and canticles: your one-stop resource for worship.)
  2. Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar novels (probably pushing 20 by now: all of them cracking great reads, and it's a wonderful world she's created, peopled by interesting characters many of whom I'd love to meet in real life--and I think the closest I've ever come to having a crush on a fictional character was with Bard Stefen, one of her gay protagonists early on in the series).
  3. Katherine Kurtz's Deryni novels (ditto, though I might consider leaving behind a few of the early ones; her writing has gotten so much better and richer as the years have passed).
  4. Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels (all 20 of 'em: this may well be the best oeuvre of historical fiction ever written. I just finished re-reading the entire cycle over Christmas break, and it was well worth the time it took away from my thesis project.).
  5. Will and Ariel Durant's Story of Civilization. I have a complete hardbound set, inherited from a late friend, but haven't had the time to delve into it. If I'm going to be stuck on an island all by myself, that shouldn't be a problem: and it's good to take some history along.

Question six: Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

My first victim is going to be em dash of Unbossed, my new group blog venture (where I'm probably going to cross-post this, once I'm done here), because a little blog-whoring can't hurt and I'm truly interested in finding out what she'll say. My second victim is going to be my namesake Michael at Here's What's Left (he can have Heather help if he wants, or even pass it off to her if he's too busy), because they're both cool people and I'd be interested in learning more about them. And my third and final victim is going to be Pastor Dan, of dKos and Faith Forward, because he's a great guy and could use the exposure.

Update: em dash has posted her response in the comments to my Unbossed post. Still waiting to hear from not-me Michael and Pastor Dan.

Update 2: Pastor Dan has posted his list at Faith Forward, and not-me Michael has promised to join in the fun--and he's getting Heather to post as well. I'll have links as soon as they're posted.


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8.4.05

Friday random 10
 

The rules: Take out your iPod or other musical device. Put it in "random" mode. Hit "play." Write down the first ten tracks that come up--and no fair putting in ones you think will make you look cool, or omitting ones that make you look like a total dork.

Without further ado, here are mine for today:

  1. Somerset Wassail (Christmas with the Cambridge Singers)
  2. Can You Forgive Her? (Pet Shop Boys, Very)
  3. Rondo: Grazioso, Sonata No. 2 in A major, fourth movement (Alfred Brendel, Alfred Brendel Plays Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Vol. IV)
  4. Variatio 8 (Ton Koopman, J. S. Bach: Goldberg Variations)
  5. Unto which of the angels (Georg Frideric Händel, Messiah, Trevor Pinnock/The English Concert)
  6. Heinrich Isaac, "Innsbruck, ich muß dich lassen" (Knox College Choir, European Tour 1999)
  7. Siren Song (Erasure, Chorus)
  8. Zu dir wall ich, mein Jesus Christ (Wagner, Tannhäuser, Act I, Scene 2: Franz Konwitschny/Berliner Staatsoper)
  9. Adagio con molto espressione, Sonata No. 11 in B-flat major, second movement (Alfred Brendel, Alfred Brendel Plays Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Vol. IV)
  10. Quell' ombr' esser vorrei (Claudio Monteverdi, Il secondo libro dei madrigali)

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5.4.05

Burn, baby, burn!
 

Or, to borrow one of my favorite lines from Dave, "Die, you pond scum!"

The New York Times will report tomorrow that Federal Election Commission reports and Texas financial-disclosure records indicate that Tom DeLay's "political action and campaign committees" have paid more than half a million dollars to DeLay's wife and daughter since 2001.

This, after today's Washington Post detailed yet another episode in the Tom DeLay Carnival of Errors:

A six-day trip to Moscow in 1997 by then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) was underwritten by business interests lobbying in support of the Russian government, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the trip arrangements.

DeLay reported that the trip was sponsored by a Washington-based nonprofit organization. But interviews with those involved in planning DeLay's trip say the expenses were covered by a mysterious company registered in the Bahamas that also paid for an intensive $440,000 lobbying campaign.

I wish I could say that it was the mainstream or regular media that was digging all this dirt up (they're not). But at least they're starting to report it--which is very good for us, and very bad for the Cockroach-Killer-in-Chief. Maybe very, very bad. My wish for Mr. DeLay is a reign shorter than his rhyming almost-namesake Lady Jane Grey (also known as the Nine Days' Queen).


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Hallelujah, let us rejoice!
 

All that nattering about allegations of liberal bias in academic circles? Fuhgeddaboudit. The Mighty Eagle is soaring to the rescue.

That's right. I read in this week's issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft will join Regent University ...as a part-time professor this spring. Mr. Ashcroft will teach a short-term course on leadership during times of crisis in April, and again in the summer, fall, and next spring.

To be featured prominently on the course syllabus, no doubt, will be topics such as emergency breast-disguising maneuvers (in case an R-rated statue hoves into view), the care and feeding of Duct Tape, and a mandatory seminar on exactly how to "run in circles, scream and shout" whenever in danger or in doubt. And I can't help but wonder whether that last sentence in the quote above was a subtle allusion to the way the War on Terra just keeps going...and going...and going...and going...

(I'm cross-posting this to Unbossed.)


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3.4.05

Twelve steps for wingnuts
 

Riffing off of this post from Mustang Bobby, who presented us with an unfunny e-mail he received from a wingnut relative I decided the best possible response was to turn it on its head and send it back whence it came. So without further ado, here we go:

The Twelve Steps for Wingnuts
  • Admitting You're A Wingnut. This is the first step for every anarcho-conservacon on the way to recovery. It is important to understand that you're not a "moderate," you're not a "conservative," and you're not a "libertarian." You're a wingnut, and you need to be honest with yourself about that fact.
  • Pledge To Support Your Beliefs With Facts. Realize that truth is more important than moral superiority and is the only way to come over to reality. You must research beyond propaganda from the Club for Growth, the Republican National Committee, Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News to understand things as they really exist in the world. You can no longer argue based on RNC talking points and blast faxes, or the latest screed from Coulter or Michelle Malkin or Jonah Goldberg. You will actually need to back up your arguments with real information. This is a difficult step, because it means you cannot be lazy any more.
  • Love America--Warts and All. This may be the most difficult step for those of you who are neo-cons and Iraq War hawks. Admitting that you hate the country you live in, and everything it stands for, can make some of you physically ill: just like admitting that we have not always stood foursquare for freedom and democracy. You might want to make a visit to a museum to better understand that men and women gave their lives to get us to the point where we are today. Read a little history, and be sure to cover things like slavery, Manifest Destiny, Jim Crow, and anti-Semitism. If your people had gotten their way in the First (or the Second) World War, there's a good chance we'd be blogging in German now, and Europe wouldn't have even the few Jews left in it today.
  • Take a College Level History Class. A wingnut is defined as someone who has never taken a history class. Most wingnuts have a hard time understanding the checkered history of their own country, much less that of the rest of the world--which is much longer and far more complicated than our own. It is time to flush your complete ignorance of basic history (and world politics) down the toilet and understand how the world actually functions. This step is very important, because the next steps involve fascism, facts about corporations, and the accomplishments of government.
  • Just Say "No" to Fascism. While this concept is obvious to most of the free world, it is an important step in your recovery process. If you have difficulty with this step, spend a week reading up on the Reichstag Fire, Kristallnacht, and visiting the Holocaust Memorial Museum--or better yet, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
  • Admit that Corporations are a Necessary Evil. They represent a perversion of the basic principles of capitalism, they foster tremendous inequities that lead to worker unrest and the kind of risky behaviors that wingnuts frequently engage in. Corporations are not the root of all evil, but the love of corporations often is.
  • Admit that the Government is Your Friend. If you are reading this article on-line or in an email, it is thanks to the government, which financed the development of the first computers, and also developed the internets. If you get some kind of paycheck, you can thank the government for forcing your employer to pay you a halfway decent wage--something that employers have historically been reluctant to do. If you value a 40-hour work week, paid vacation, health and safety regulations, clean air and water, a decent road system, national parks, and, oh yeah, Social Security, you should get down on your knees and thank the government.

    If you are one of those wingnuts who believes that the government should be shrunk down to the size where it can be drowned in a bathtub, you need to pay special attention to this step. You need to realize that corporations don't care about anything except their bottom lines. Entrepreneurs won't take care of you when you're old and decrepit. Small businesses won't pay you overtime unless the government forces them. Try to get a straight answer out of Kenny-Boy Lay or Bernie Ebbers about just what they were doing with their investors' money if you need a reminder about the evils of corporations or the security that comes from relying on Adam Smith's (in)famous "invisible hand."

  • The Earth Really Is Your "Mother" . . . and She's Dying. The time has come to start giving to Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and every other environmental organization you have maligned all your life. Face the reality that the earth, society and our environment are worse off today than ever in recorded history and that conditions are continuing to worsen. I realize that many of you anarcho-conservacons will have a very difficult time letting go of the corporatist solution to environmental problems. But I would suggest reading the report of the National Academy of Sciences on global warming, and taking a look at the shrinkage of the Himalayan glaciers to help pry yourselves loose.
  • Stop Smoking. Okay, some of you might need to enter another 12-Step program to complete this step. Tobacco is distorting your sense of reality, and you need to stop using it. Besides, you will save a fortune on cigarettes--and eventually on your doctor bills and insurance premiums. You might also, if you're emulating your buddy Rush, want to consider putting down the Oxy and getting some help. You'll find your political thinking is a lot less muddled when you aren't high.
  • Skip a Hamburger. God did not mind us eating animals, but She never intended for us to live off of them exclusively. For God's sake, have a salad once in a while. Or a nice bit of pasta. You will look and feel better than you ever imagined. You can always tape a photograph of Hermann Goering or Dennis Hastert to your refrigerator (or your grill) to help get you through this step.
  • Stop Re-writing Political History. It is now time to admit that Bill Clinton was guilty of nothing more than cheating on his wife--and that it was nobody's business but theirs. It's also time to acknowledge that Hillary Clinton is not the demon incarnate painted by Ann Coulter (who has a lot more going for her in the demonic department than Hillary ever could). You've also got to admit that every complete count of the votes demonstrated clearly that Al Gore really did win the 2000 election, and that it was the anarcho-conservacons, with their purchased demonstrations and by running to court to enlist the assistance of their activist judges, that stole the election from President Gore. Ronald Reagan did not end the Cold War and did nothing to solve the homeless problem, the AIDS problem, or the welfare problem--and he did commit an impeachable offense when he allowed his flunkies Oliver North and friends to sell drugs and buy weapons for the Contras. Jimmy Carter is a nice man who has done far more to spread freedom and democracy than George W. Bush ever could.

    Speaking of W, you know he's lying whenever his lips are moving. He is neither compassionate nor a conservative. There were no WMDs in Iraq, and his war was never about that. He has not made--or kept--us safe since September 11, 2001, and let's remember that while the terrorists were planning that atrocity upon the body politic W was off clearing "brush" on his Texas "ranch," while his advisers ignored the dozens upon dozens of warnings their predecessors in the Clinton administration had left for them.

  • Be a Missionary. Once you have completed the previous steps to help you confront your wingnuttery, it is time for you to share this awakening with others who are not as fortunate. Go out amongst your wingnut brethren and spread the good word of your freedom from the chains of ignorance that once bound you.

Congratulations . . . and welcome to reality.


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2.4.05

My thoughts on John Paul II's legacy
 

John Paul II was a man always in earnest and never in doubt. That last was something for which I would fault him, if it were my task to weigh his life and his ministry in the balance. When one attains the pinnacle of power where he spent the last quarter-century and more, a little humble doubt is a good thing. Not that we would have wanted a Hamlet-ian ditherer in the Chair of Peter, but I think a little holy simplicity à la Saint Francis would have helped him to cope with some of the bigger problems of his papacy.

In his defense, however, his certitude was probably adopted out of necessity. He was a teen-ager when the Nazis invaded Poland, and when they left the Soviets came in. You absolutely had to know which side you were on, whom you could trust, and what you stood for--or you were lost. There could be no dissent among the ranks of the Church, because it would allow the dictators to drive a wedge into that crack and split one faction off from the rest and destroy it. If the whole was to survive, it had to be united. Unfortunately, John Paul II never seemed to recognize that this world-view was a dated product of a particular time. Once the Cold War was dead and buried, it was more problematic than pragmatic, more of a hindrance than a help.

As an actor, John Paul II knew how to use the media. Unless one was either Catholic or somehow associated with Catholicism (as a scholar, a journalist, etc.), chances are no one would have recognized Paul VI if he had appeared on the news in street clothes. Everybody who had ever seen a television or a newspaper knew who John Paul II was. He took John XXIII's wandering nature and kicked it up ten or a dozen notches, visiting hundreds of countries around the world, and taking the show on the road. The pope was no longer this shadowy, mysterious figure thundering from a throne in Rome--he was a guy in a sombrero or a ski suit, ministering and preaching the Gospel wherever he happened to be.

He was a micro-manager, and that is likely to be one of the bigger factors in determining his successor. He wanted to run the Church like a CEO from his office in Rome, and that did not sit well with his brother bishops--who took seriously their roles as successors of the Apostles in their dioceses. They resented very much having some Roman flunky tell them what was best for the Catholics of Rockford, Illinois, or Sydney, Australia, or Lagos, Nigeria.

His teaching is conflicted. He was fierce on the "culture of life," but often acted without the kind of deep understanding of the life he wanted to preserve, at least as it is lived in the modern world. Obsessive about sexuality, he neglected other equally (or more) important issues in human life: things like economic justice, the right to health care, the right of workers to organize and to receive a just wage for their labors. He also neglected the liturgy something dreadful, despite canonizing more saints in his quarter-century in office than all of his predecessors combined. For all is reverence for liturgy as a minister, he never seemed to want to talk about it unless someone forced him to. I suspect we owe the resurrection of the Tridentine Rite more to the influence of Cardinal Ratzinger than to John Paul II (and I would love it if one of the first acts of John Paul II's successor was to accept Ratzinger's resignation as Grand Inquisitor Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and then to abolish Opus Dei and the Tridentine Rite).

Among the things which redound to his credit, I would have to number the following at a minimum:

  • Forgiving and meeting with Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish man who nearly killed him in 1981
  • Admitting, albeit grievously after the fact, that the Church's persecution of Galileo was unjust
  • Admitting the Church's complicity in the persecution of Jews during the Second World War, and apologizing for it--along with visiting synagogues in Rome and the Western Wall in Jerusalem
  • Reaching out to Muslim and Jewish people in an attempt to heal some of the wounds affecting the People of the Book
  • Apologizing to women for the centuries of treating them as second-class citizens--though in my estimation he should have gone farther and allowed them to participate fully in the ministry as ordained priests: and not just when the Church needed them to get around Communist dictators or other obstructionists

I disagreed with many of the man's policies: but never cavalierly or without proper and careful thought, reflection, and prayer. John Paul II was not perfect--as a man or as pope--far from it. But neither was he this demon incarnate that some are already painting before his body is even cold. I think I can legitimately say that he did the best he knew how with what he had to work with. And that's a praiseworthy accomplishment in my book, though I wouldn't go as far as the official Church will likely go and canonize him.


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Sede vacante
 

I woke up from a bit of a nap to find a "breaking news" trailer on CNN announcing that the See of Peter has fallen vacant. At 13:37 this afternoon (Central Time; 21:37 in Rome), John Paul II was gathered to his everlasting reward.

God be good to him, and to the Church who must now decide which fork in the road to take.


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No pharmaceutical Taliban in Illinois
 

Tuesday evening, I wrote Pharmacists to the Taliban, noting an increasing number of conservo-fascist pharmacists who are refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control pills or emergency contraception (the "morning-after pill"). I noted there that such refusals seemed to be at odds with most of the applicable pharmacists' codes of ethics.

It seems that Governor Blagorgeous has also noticed the phenomenon--and has done something about it. The governor filed an emergency rule yesterday requiring all pharmacies in the state that sell contraceptives to fill prescriptions for them without delay:

The governor and activist groups say there has been an increase across the country of pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for morning-after contraception. Some pharmacists who oppose filling the prescriptions have said they feel the pills stop the life of an early human embryo.

But Blagojevich said his new regulation makes it clear that if a woman goes to a pharmacy with a prescription, the pharmacy can not selectively choose which it dispenses or to whom they are sold.

"The pharmacy will be expected to accept that prescription and fill it," he said. "No delays. No hassles. No lectures."

The rule will remain in effect for the next 150 days, during which time the Tribune says that the governor is expected to try to make the change permanent. I also suspect that there will be a few pharmacies that will decide to stop selling contraceptives in Illinois during that time, though it remains to be seen whether they will be able to stay in business if they do stop offering full service.


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1.4.05

The pope is dying
 

This is cross-posted from my new group blog home, Unbossed.

Update: 12:59 p.m. CST. The Associated Press reports that the Vatican is denying Italian media reports stating that the pope was dead. His breathing is shallow and his kidneys are said to be failing. Multiple sources have reported that he has lost consciousness, but it appears that he has not yet died. La Repubblica is reporting that a Vatican spokesman has said "there is no more hope" for improvement; the pope's death will only be a matter of time.

Update 12:27 CST. CNN has just reported, quoting Reuters quoting Italian wire services, that Pope John Paul II has died. No official statement has yet been issued from the Vatican, and no online source is yet reporting the death. CNN itself is prominently featuring a caption over its coverage that it "has not independently confirmed Italian media reports of pope's death."

It appears that we will have a new pope this year, perhaps even this month. The latest bulletins are very grave, suggesting that Pope John Paul II has suffered a significant infection leading to septic shock and heart failure. His blood pressure is said to be highly unstable, although he remains conscious and lucid. He has decided not to return to the Gemelli Hospital, choosing to remain in his apartments in the Vatican.

This is a solemn and somber time for the Roman Catholic Church, even for those Catholics (like myself) who have disagreed with this pope on one or more of his policy positions. It is a time of potential promise as well, as we begin to consider likely or possible successors to the Great Bridge-Builder (Pontifex Maximus, one of the most ancient of the pope's ceremonial titles).

The next pope will be the fourth of my lifetime, though only the second since I became Catholic. I just missed the reign of John XXIII of blessed memory, being born under Paul VI. I was a teen-ager in 1978, the Year of Three Popes, when Paul VI died, and John Paul I was elected and then died a month later, culminating in October with the election of John Paul II.

For those of my readers who don't happen to be Catholic, let me offer a sketch of what will happen when the pope is gathered to his everlasting reward. The process of burying the old pope and electing his successor is a mix of centuries-old traditions and modern adaptations. The rules for the drama are spelled out in various Church documents, chiefly John Paul II's own apostolic constitution, Universi Dominici gregis.

When the pope dies, the Cardinal Camerlengo ("chamberlain") must certify the death. In past years, this was done by tapping on the forehead of the deceased pope with a silver hammer three times, calling him by his baptismal name and waiting for a response. I'm not sure if that tradition will be continued or not. The pope's study and bedroom will then be sealed, and his papal ring and seal will be destroyed so they cannot be used.

Arrangements will be made for the deceased pope to lie in state in the Basilica of St. Peter for a period of three days. A full nine days of mourning ceremonies will be offered for the pope, with a Mass for his intention offered each of those nine days. The pope's funeral will be celebrated between the fourth and the sixth days after his death, followed by burial in the crypt below the high altar of St. Peter's, near the bones of St. Peter himself.

Not less than 15 days, and not more than 20 days, after the pope's death, the conclave to elect his successor will open. All cardinals who have not attained their 80th birthday as of the pope's death are eligible to vote to elect his successor--and to become the next pope. Technically any practicing Catholic male is eligible to be elected, but it has been centuries since the last non-cardinal won election to the papacy.

Until a new pope is elected, all the Curial cardinals (the heads of the various congregations or "dicasteries" that actually run the Church) lose their powers, though their congregations continue to operate normally under the direction of their secretaries. Ordinary business of the Church is handled by a Particular Congregation composed of the Cardinal Camerlengo and three other cardinals, chosen by lot (one from each order--deacons, priests, and bishops) from among those cardinals resident or already present in Rome. More serious matters are referred to the General Congregation, composed of all the cardinal electors present in Rome at the time. But any decision that would require the assent or the advice of the pope must wait until a successor is chosen.

The cardinal electors are locked away from the outside world and prepare themselves by prayer and meditation for the task of electing the next pope. They must take an oath not to divulge what goes on within the conclave, and not to allow any outsider either to veto the selection made by the cardinals or to influence their votes. John Paul II had a special residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae (St. Martha's House), built in Vatican City to house the cardinal electors and their attendants during conclaves. Previously, the cardinals would take cells carved out of various Vatican offices and apartments, hastily thrown up and very inconvenient in terms of bathroom facilities and other creature comforts. They are not allowed to have telephones or radios (and probably, in this modern age, computers capable of connecting to the internet) or any other means of communicating with the outside world, or allowing it to communicate with them.

It is considered bad form to campaign for election to the papacy, or to vote for oneself in the scrutinies (voting sessions). There are four such scrutinies each day of the conclave--two in the morning and two in the afternoon. Voting is carried out in the Sistine Chapel. After a series of prayers and a time of meditation, each cardinal elector writes the name of his choice on a ballot form, folds and seals it, and waits until he is called by name to tip it into a receptacle on the main altar in the chapel, under Michelangelo's fresco of the Last Judgement. The ballots are then mixed and counted, to ensure that neither more nor less are present in the receptacle than there are electors voting. Three scrutineers chosen by lot from among the cardinals remove the ballots one by one, reading them and recording the results. The third scrutineer reads each vote aloud so the other cardinals can keep track.

To be elected pope, a candidate must receive either two-thirds of the votes (if the number of cardinal electors can be evenly divided by three) or two-thirds plus one (if that number is not evenly divisible by three). If no candidate receives that number of votes, another vote can be taken immediately or deferred, as seems best to the cardinal electors. The ballots are again checked and counted, and will then be burnt in a small stove provided for that purpose in the chapel. If no pope has been elected, a chemical pellet will be added to the ballots to produce black smoke (formerly wet straw was used). Otherwise, only the ballots will be burned, producing white smoke announcing the election of a new pope.

That new pope will receive the allegiance of all the cardinals present, after which he will proceed to the papal apartments to be vested with the white robes of his office. The Cardinal Camerlengo and several other cardinals then conduct the new pope to the balcony above St. Peter's Square. The Camerlengo will announce the election with the Latin formula Nuntio vobis gaudium magnum: Habemus papam! ("I announce to you all a great joy: We have a pope!"), and then names him and announces the name by which he has chosen to be known as pope. The new pope then comes out to offer his first blessing urbi et orbi, to the city and to the world.

Speculation is always rampant at times like these about who will be the next pope. But there are a few important things to remember. First, campaigning is prohibited (or at least frowned upon). Any quid pro quo arrangement, promising a favor in return for a vote, is invalid. And there's an old, old saying that he who goes into the conclave a pope comes out of it a cardinal.

I've heard all sorts of allegations, and I don't put m uch stock in any of them. I think we can reasonably infer that the next pope will not be more conservative or reactionary than the present one. Historically, after a long pontificate such as John Paul II's, the choice of a successor has fallen upon someone with diametrically opposite views. That was the case with the only pope to reign longer than this one, Pius IX, known in Italian as "Pio Nono" both because "nono" means "nine" in that language, but also because of his reputation of being an obstructionist whose favorite word was "No." His succesor was Gioacchino Pecci, who became Leo XIII and who penned the first of the great "social" encyclicals, Rerum novarum.

I also don't think it's very likely that the next pope will be from the third world. It's certain he won't be from America. I'm betting on an Italian, after 26 years of a Polish pope, though any European would probably do. It's possible that we could see the election of what is commonly known as a "caretaker pope"--someone who belongs to no faction and supposedly has no agenda, and who is tacitly not expected to live very long. That permits the rest of the cardinal electors to consider the direction in which they would like the Church to go and the one they feel is best able to take it there. Of course, the last time the cardinals elected what they thought would be a caretaker, they got John XXIII of blessed memory, who convened the Second Vatican Council. And that could happen again. Personally, I'd like that, because I think we're sorely in need of another ecumenical council.

In the meantime, though I have profound disagreements with this pope on a number of policy issues, I am keeping him in my thoughts and prayers. God grant him the grace of a happy and painless death, and be good to him in the next life.


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A new home on the web
 

This is not a "Goodbye, cruel world" posting. Just wanted to get that out of the way right at the start. This blog isn't going anywhere, at least not today.

But starting now, you can also find me at a brand-new group blog, Unbossed. We're still painting the trim and thinking about accessories over there, but we're up and running. It's a great bunch of folks, about half men and half women (so much for the theory that there are no women bloggers out there!), from all around the U.S. If you're looking for Faux News-style "fair and balanced" coverage, you probably won't like it. (On second thought, that's probably a good description of what Unbossed is going to look like--but actually fair and reasonably balanced, though with a decidedly liberal outlook.)

So c'mon over, kick the tires, and take Unbossed out for a spin. And tell a friend or three.


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Friday Random 10
 

The rules: Take out your iPod or other musical device. Put it in "random" mode. Hit "play." Write down the first ten tracks that come up--and no fair putting in ones you think will make you look cool, or omitting ones that make you look like a total dork.

Without further ado, here are mine for today:

  1. Molasses to Rum (1776, original Broadway cast)
  2. Franz Schubert, Moment Musicaux No. 1 in C, D. 780 (Alfred Brendel, Complete Impromptus and Moments Musicaux)
  3. In paradisum from Fauré's Requiem (Knox College Choir, 2002 Compilation)
  4. Georg Frideric Händel, The Lord gave the word (Messiah, Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert)
  5. I Know (Barenaked Ladies, Born on a Pirate Ship)
  6. Vivace from Sonata No. 5 in F Minor, BWV 1018 (Micaela Camberti, J.S. Bach: The Six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord, vol. 2)
  7. Jeremullah Was a Bullfrog (The Capitol Steps, 76 Bad Loans)
  8. Stereotomy Two (Alan Parsons Project, Stereotomy)
  9. Piña Colada in a Pint Glass (Gaelic Storm, How Are We Getting Home?)
  10. Lunge da lei (Giuseppe Verdi, La Traviata)

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