mardi, décembre 30, 2008

Dating Henry Kissinger

Has it come to this? Are a glass of Lillet and conversation about classical culture with Henry my lot in life?

My kids and two friends gather around the computer, playing a fantasy online game somewhere between Club Penguin and World of Warcraft.

Bursts of hilarity rock the living room occasionally -- at dinner, they were so silly that I nearly choked on my food. When being tailed by some dame in an SUV, or trying to figure out what check 1567 was, I would love to have a tenth of their ability to see the ridiculous in the ridiculous.

Tonight I'm feeling the weight, not so much of years, as of my cautious nature.

A while ago I got an email from the dating service--a 55-year-old guy across the Delaware Valley wants to get to know me. He's cultured, he's well-educated, he probably earns a good living -- and I can't imagine kissing him.

Last night I observed three guys or so look at my profile again and again. I couldn't help but wonder -- what is it they saw? What was it they didn't find? Or what was it they wanted to find the courage to say?

A 35-year-old guy in California asks me whether I ever visit his state. "Anything is possible" he writes. How I wish I felt that way, I told him.

Last night someone wrote me that he couldn't imagine not finding "the one" -- or what was he doing on Match?

I don't need "the one" I wrote him back. I just want "a one."

He can't be self-righteous, but he hopefully could be a bit of a rebel. He should respect my financial independence, but it would be great if he had a generous streak (so I could unleash mine).

He should be incisive without being a huge egghead.

Adventurous and creative.

And it would be nice if "he" had learned from his mistakes -- maybe not everything he should have learned, but enough to get by.

I can see how "Henry" found me. I could even imagine what he could find appealing about me. He doesn't know that I've spend part of my life unlearning how to be Henry Kissinger's girlfriend -- and I'm ready to try something a little different.

dimanche, décembre 28, 2008

Stars and garbage

Often, I have to have a good talk with myself before I take the trash up to the street. You see, I have a long driveway. Longer than my neighbors on all sides -- maybe the longest one in the development. Could be it's the longest in Glenmoore, and possibly in the five county area. I know there's a word for this type of exaggeration (bull?).

Yet tonight I was happy to have the chance to carry the recycled paper up to the end of the driveway. It's been a very long time since I actually took a few minutes and looked, really looked up at the heavens. The stars are phenomenal--one in particular, in the west, glowed like a lamp in the night sky. I admit, I have no idea what star that is. I'm guessing it's not Venus, the morning star.

If anyone else knows, please let us know -- if everyone BUT me knows, I will eat crow and find a stars for kids book.

Around the world, there is such tremendous suffering, much of it meted out by self-righteous zealots, that seeing the glimmering stars on a winter evening is a privilege --and a call to listen harder.

vendredi, décembre 26, 2008


Maybe if I write this post quickly, in a matter of fact tone, it won't hurt so badly.

Maybe if I find Amy's Grant's "Breath of Heaven," with its tinkling piano accompanient, it won't be so hard.

I'm only posting because it is, in this case, a species of exorcism, of purification, of mourning. For there are moments when the past and present fuse, if for a moment, in a way that lets the pain flow into rooms that seemed swept empty for years.

Almost 20 years ago, I came home from Philadelphia to my parents house in New York City. The tree was up, the decorations swinging from the branches of an evergreen big enough to stand up against the piano and the ten foot ceilings.

As I came in, my mother came down the stairs and told me my brother Jonathan had not come home.

In the nightmare week that followed, the police found his body in a forest in California, where he had attended school, had fallen in love, had gotten the news the woman he loved had died, with one of her children in a car crash.

After dad died last year, I brought home a box full of ornaments. I forgot where I had put it -- until Christmas.

A newspaper covered the globes and metal decorations and wooden balls, the Orrefors crystal and all the baubles my mother had lovingly collected over the years....the date on the newspaper was December 25, 1989.

The decorations went into a closet --no joy, no laughter, only grief, and after that acceptance.

My brave mom died a little more than two years after that terrible December.

I believe, though I cannot know, that my parents and my brother have long ago found one another in a place where none of this matters. And tonight their sister, their daughter lets the tears fall, witnessing not only to the devastation of tragedy but the power of love, stronger than evil, stronger even than memory.

I will never stop loving you.

" Still I notice You when branches crack, and in my breath in frosted glass...Even now in death you open doors for life to enter..You are winter"...Nichole Nordeman

mercredi, décembre 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

It's quiet now...quiet enough to listen to Mr. C's chair in the living room, the heat venting through the ceiling ducts, the cat strolling up and down the hall.

Are Christmas Eve's supposed to feel so incongrous, pieced together from shards of errands and cooking and decorating and as little cleaning as one can do and not feel like a house slut instead of a domestic goddess?

It's nice to catch my breath, and think about the service ahead. The four of us will cram into a church jammed with families, and lit by red candles that dot the aisle. We will sing "Silent Night", Pastor Chad will preach, and there will be a wonderful predictability to the service. In a fall that has seen so much distress and volatility, predictability is to be savored.

But so are some changes. The DQ is doing a solo tonight. Mr. C is playing his trumpet. Although they come from separate homes, their mother, and their father will sit together in church, united in trepidation and in gratitude. He may roll his eyes if Mr. C flats on a carol. She may bite her nails or refuse to look if the DQ gets scared up there.

But that's when all the different pieces of the day will probably come together -- in a silent hymn of thanks and wonder.

And may your holiday's be joyful, dear readers!

dimanche, décembre 21, 2008

The Undead Zone

Unknowningly, I had stumbled into the zombie defense training camp. Or perhaps it was a camp for training zombies. I'm not entirely sure.

Blankets had been ripped off beds. Stuffed animals had moved in to chairs in the living room. One of our neighbor's sons walked by with Mr C's Halloween mask on (the Scream), making what I assume were supposed to be frightening zombie noises.

Three boys, a twelve year old and two eleven year olds, took over my house for a few hours and made a mess which had nothing to do with computer games or television or anything but their imaginations.

When they ran out the door on their way to another neighbor's home (she aparently kept them outside), I said to Mr C: "I thought you were going to put everything back!"

Later, Mom, he said, putting his coat on as he walked into the chilly afternoon air.

I looked at the chaos they had left behind and thought, darn, I am one lucky woman.

The chill inside

Cruising for religion news in the English papers, I came across a frightening article by a writer who uses the pseudonym Jemma Rayner.

She's an English journalist who had a dating profile online. Read about what happened to her when she ran into a "creative" type who wouldn't leave her alone when she decided it was over.

Rayner's tale of barrages of emails, stalking and fear seemed a bit out of the ordinary to me until I remembered one experience I had with a man who lived about 20 miles from here who found me online.

He had a high-powered job that he had left to pursue a passion for music. When not traveling with his band, he hung out with his kids, and talked theology with a local priest.

Creative? Spiritual? A decent parent? What wasn't to like?

The tone of his emails became intimate, caressing. He called me from the road where he was playing with his rock group.

He joked about getting married, told me how much we had in common, how much he thought we were made for each other.

At this point, I was getting very queasy. His level of interest seemed wildly out of step with how well we knew one another. My antenna were vibrating madly, but I couldn't put my finger on what was going on.

So I told him that I didn't think we should pursue a meeting. It was then that he told me he was a sex addict -- chasing me only for the thrill of conquest.

I wonder what he expected I would do at that point? Empathize? Absolve him? My cautious response annoyed him. The tone of his emails became hurt and accusing.

Fortunately, he DID respect my desire to cease contact. I wish him well. I hope he's happier. But I know that feeling of fear now, and it compels me to cut guys with a genius for sweettalk off at the pass.

Or should I say...before the pass.

samedi, décembre 20, 2008


Just as I was preparing to go out shopping today, Farmer Messner called to say they would drop off the tree.

I have tree anxiety. I am afraid that I will forget to get a tree until Christmas, when I awake from my stupor and notice that there are no pine needles on the floor near the living room couch.

My kids will be sad. My shabby but much loved ornaments, which I inherited from my parents, will lie boxed downstairs for a whole year. The cats won't have another water bowl from which to drink.

But I actually got Mr. C into the car a few days earlier than usual this year, and drove down the road to Bethany Farm.

"It's Elizabeth, isn't it?" said Dan Messner, the owner. "And I think you bought a white pine last year."

He consulted his book. I didn't remember, but he was spot on.

Farmer Messner and I have had a few conversations about local Messners (I have a good friend who shares that name, a common one around here), Christianity and the strangeness of being the last locally owned dairy farm in Wallace Township.

But even though he and I have talked, it still feels good to be called by name. There's nowhere else in my adult life where I have felt this passionate sense of belonging to a community.

When his son dropped off the white pine, which I will plant after Christmas, I put a few pans around it to catch the ice decorating its boughs.

Should we wait until Christmas Eve to decorate it?

I've got a few days to think about that -- four, to be exact.

vendredi, décembre 19, 2008

Two cheers for Rick Warren

Let me start by stating the obvious.

I have gay friends, but I'm not gay.

I have African-American friends, but I'm not African-American (d'oh).

And while I've spent a lot of time working among conservative Christians and would probably classify myself as moderate evangelical, I'm a mixed bag on various social issues.

But I'm thinking that lashing out in anger is probably not a great way of getting folks to embrace your cause.

Many gay women and men are angry about Obama's choice of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. Wanna bet their sense of betrayal will soon be matched by that of conservative Christians who feel that Warren is betraying them by praying for Obama?

Check out this interview by Beliefnet's Steven Waldman with Warren in which he discusses his position on civil unions.

Yes, he backpedals, but read his words carefully. I suspect that what happened is he got heat from the conservatives, and decided to obscure the issue with some rhetoric. Warren's no fool.

And he's helped move the evangelical community forward substantially on environmental issues like global warming, on helping the poor, and those who live with AIDS.

Update -- I did read a comment by Amy Sullivan of Time, that Warren is, well...boring. There are some pretty cool, probably more intelligent evangelical pastors and authors, like Brian McLaren (we love you, Brian), that Obama could have asked -- but he chose Warren.

At any rate, Warren's giving an invocation, not taking up the job as Senate chaplain.

In all of this it's easy to forget that our President-elect himself isn't a fan of gay marriage. He's never come out and supported it. He seems bent on governing from the center -- is that a surprise?

I know that where I see nuance, some see simple bigotry. But caricaturing someone's beliefs doesn't bring them, or their supporters to your side faster. In fact, it probably pushes them further away, and risks disturbing some who are tolerant, but on the fence.

mardi, décembre 16, 2008

At the foot of the cross once again

This evening I was trying to think of a theme for my Christmas column, which is due on Thursday. I think. I just sent my Lancaster, Pa, editor a note asking her when she wanted it. Hopefully it wasn't supposed to appear last week.

I often find big themes a bit intimidating. It's tempting to go all generic. This year, the dissonance between how we are supposed to feel and the tribulations facing many of us is great.

I thought of the folks who came into the prayer room at church on Sunday. Sometimes no one shows. At the service where I prayed with congregants, we went overtime.

Illness. Tragedy. Anger management problems. I stayed in the tiny room, once an entrance to the church, weighed down by the sadness I'd felt in this room.

I forgot that I wasn't charged with helping these folks feel better -- or get better. The most I could do was walk beside them for a few moments. And then lay their sadness at the foot of the cross. Where someone is waiting, has waited, and will wait to bear it up, as He always has. And will.

There's a sermon here, a column, a way forward. But apparently it's only through the cross.

From the Matt Redman song

I will love You for the Cross
And I will love You for the cost
Man of sufferings, Bringer of my peace.
You came into a world of shameAnd paid a price we could not pay
Death that brought me life,Blood that brought me home.
Death that brought me life,Blood that brought me home.
And I love You for the cross,I'm overwhelmed by the mystery,
I love You for the cross,That Jesus you would do this for me.
When You were broken, You were beaten,You were punished, I go free,
When You were wounded and rejected,In Your mercy, I am healed.

dimanche, décembre 14, 2008


Today with my son went a long way towards restoring my faith in men.

He made cheddar cheese sandwiches for us so that we'd have something for lunch.

He came home from playing with local friends because I'd promised him we'd play chess.

And he called from a friends house to say that he was invited to stay for dinner, but he didn't want me to be lonely. If I did feel sad, he thought Inky the cat would eat with me.

Well, as it turns out, Inky is nuts about corn bread. So I don't think I'll eat by myself. I better bring the spray bottle. It's bad enough the cats sleep on the chairs -- they've got a lot of gall to try to get on the table.

Ain't misbehaving...

Goodness knows, I've run into a lot of different types of men online. But the ones who continue to baffle me are those think I should be honored because they want to jump into bed with me.

Am I missing something? Is this a case of upper middle class, middle-aged entitlement gone amok?

Blue collar workers generally don't try this on with me. It's the lawyers and bankers who seem to think that I'd be game for a mental and physical romp engaging those parts below the waist and above the shoulders, but not involving the heart.

It happened again yesterday. When I told someone I respected that I wasn't a romantic, he said he wasn't, either. Then he asked me to ponder some episodes of between-the-sheets fencing.

I didn't have to ponder, I told him.

I may not be ready for the white picket fence, but I'm not casual about my relationships.

Clearly, the Internet emboldens some of these men to suggest hooking up. I can't imagine having these chats over a nice bottle of merlot at a Main Line brasserie.

It's not as though the would be rakes are slime molds, by any means. But it sure doesn't show them at their best.

Should I be insulted? Should I "ponder" the theory that these fellows think I'm so desperate that I would shed my principles and my clothing for a few moments of fun and perhaps a nice dinner out?

I don't think it's quite that simple. But I do wonder at the psychology of the middle-aged man who thinks that you can still play around with casual sex in your forties and fifties and not get hurt.

I wonder how many women say yes.

jeudi, décembre 11, 2008


When Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson went to Congress to ask for 700 billion to bail out the banks, he didn't have to do much explaining. In fact, there weren't a hell of lot of strings attached.

Well, guess what? Paulson gave 300 billion to the banks -- who are sitting on it, refusing to lend to desperate homeowners, or restructure mortgages or do a lot to get the economy rolling again.

When the automakers, and the union, say that they may go bankrupt, some Republicans in the Senate (and in the House) way can they get a loan -- unless we can break the union.

Personally, I think union folks need to share in the hard times and make major concessions.

But for some ideological neanderthals from the South to use a national crisis to score against a once mighty union is revolting.

Accountability? Of course. Restructuring? Probably. Negotiations about union benefits? You bet. There's lots of pain for everyone.

But what's happening now is that the wealthy are getting bailed -- and the less wealthy are performing the bailing.

Hopefully the brain trust on the Hill will create some kind of agreement that asks everyone to share the pain. To do anything else would be a travesty.

mercredi, décembre 10, 2008

Facebook friend

Something kind of neat happened last night. I got a friend request from a guy on Facebook. Sad to say, I didn't recall the name, although it looked vaguely familiar. But that could have been because he played baseball for the Phillies, or I had reviewed one of his books, or any number of peculiar reasons.

So I wrote him back and said: "You look interesting, and you have a beautiful daughter and girlfriend," but I don't know who the heck you are.

When he told me he'd been on a dating site, but left about six months ago it came back to me. We had some really interesting email exchanges. As different as we are, he seemed like a genuinely empathetic, nice guy with a strong commitment to being a parent - an atheist of course. Aren't they all? (grin)

I confess that I felt a touch of envy as I read his profile, and wondered how he'd stumbled across the gorgeous girlfriend professor online. I was baffled that he sought me out again, but Facebook is an odd place. It's good for introverts who want to make friends promiscously, and not have to see them in the morning if they don't want to.

Maybe my destiny is to be Platonic buddies with smart men.

Yikes, I sure as heck hope it gets a little more complex, and fun, then THAT.

lundi, décembre 08, 2008

Just a little RESPECT

One of my colleagues at the blog I write for penned a smoking post on Lisa Miller's piece on gay marriage in Newsweek. It wasn't a post you could be tepid about. Basically, what we had were two kinds of advocacy journalists squaring off against one another.

I'm not delusional enough to think that we are getting lots of attention from Miller's readers. But, as I said to my pal Doug, I wonder if they read us and comment under other names.

What bewilders me, as many times as I've encountered it, is how commenters feel amazingly free let their worst selves out of the closet. I have grown to feel affection for some of our commenters. I'd love to have a beer with some of them. But others, frankly, are not people I'd like to get to know better. There's a reason for all of them, however -- and sometimes the grumpiest are the folks who contribute in the most surprising ways.

dimanche, décembre 07, 2008

A few steps towards freedom

I admit, it's a little insane. But it's the kind of crazy I've been yearning for.

Which shows how staid my life is right now.

When I started going to physical therapy a couple of months ago, I was such an achy collection of joints that I thought I'd have to retire to the back porch crosswords? Needle point? (hehehe) Put on long underwear and freeze, because this is no time to sit on the back porch?

But I don't have to do any of that dumb stuff. At least not this past Saturday.

After I finally got myself into the car around 4:30, it was snowing. Not a lot of snow, but enough to coat the Wallace streets with white.

And when I started running, it was closer to five, and what daylight we had was almost gone. But it was still beautiful, in the way that grey winter days with a touch of snow are beautiful.

The megamanse that I thought was sold has an open house on Sunday -- the night before lights glimmered in the windows, awaiting the banker or lawyer who still has enough money to pay the mortgage.

On the other side of the road the park was getting darker. Now and then, I thought I heard a gunshot, but nothing close enough to the road to frighten me.

Overhead, a flock of geese honked at one other -- I want in! Get out of my way!

On a side street a dog parked piteously, waiting for his or her owner to realize he was done with the cold and wanted to come in.

Why are those people walking around in the farmers yard? I wondered, until I saw their big white tails.

Almost no one else was out --certainly not walking as dusk turned to evening.

It was close to glorious.

jeudi, décembre 04, 2008


I see Ed Rendell, the popular but big-mouthed governor of our state, has caused a bit of a stir with his comment about the SINGLE Governor of Arizona. Janet Napolitano, nominated to join Obama's Cabinet, apparently has "no life" according to Rendell.

Check out NYT opinion writer Gail Collins on unmarried folks with no lives. You have to ask yourself then, as she does -- why are they so busy?

I'm honored that the best selling author Dr. Bella DePaulo and well known singles advocate has linked to my brief comments on her blog at Psychology Today. I've added a couple (ha) of my own to follow up on her insightful remarks on that website.

mercredi, décembre 03, 2008

Another mom from hell

Who wouldn't like to see Lori Drew jailed for a few decades?

Drew was the mother who created a fictitious boy, "Josh Evans" to torment her fragile 13 year old neighbor, Megan Meier, on MySpace. A former friend of her daughter's, the girl hung herself after someone linked to Drew wrote her 'the world would be better off without you."

Sometimes I fantasize about whether I could, as a priest, visit people who had killed, or contributed to the death of a child.

I'd have a difficult time acting pastoral with Drew. I'd want to slap her around first -- guess I'd have to get past that, huh? From what I've seen and read, she strikes me as a reckless, petty, stupid woman. But should she have been tried for cyber-bullying?

In a recent piece in Slate Emily Bazelon argues that the conviction was a case of overreaching on the part of a Los Angeles D.A. --Missouri had already determined there was no crime. But is there a way of constructing a narrow statute for bullies when "the only weapon they wield is words?," asks Bazelon.

There might be a circle in hell for them, but I'm not sure whether there should be a prison cell. What do you think?

mardi, décembre 02, 2008

Foxhole populist

If I have a political vice, it ain't populism.

But I have to say these few paragraphs from today's NYT infuriated me.

OK, I know that markets are complex, and that there is no one cause for a phenomenon. But you have to admit that global markets have shown a certain lemming pattern over the past months. And yes, not every financial institution at the top was guilty of bundling bad mortgages, crafting shoddy derivatives, and all the other garbage that Merrill Lynch, Freddie Mac and others participated in.

But a hell of a lot of our biggest financial institutions apparently did. And for them to refuse to work out a way to individualize lending so that consumers with good credit and stable jobs (still the majority in this country) get loans is lazy, shiftless, and stupid. It was easy enough for them to play roulette with our money. Why is it so tough to work out a way to get the economy they helped trash rolling again?

"The yield on 30-year Treasuries declined 0.23 percentage points, to 3.21 percent, and briefly touched a record low of 3.18 percent. The yield on 10-year Treasuries fell 0.19 percentage points, to 2.73 percent.
In normal times, those kinds of yields would automatically mean lower interest rates on mortgages, automobile loans and other forms of consumer debt. But the credit markets have been stalled by continued fears among financial institutions about who can be trusted for even short-term transactions, so the effects on home loans and other purposes could remain modest."

lundi, décembre 01, 2008

The space between

I just wrote a friend something I really didn't want to say -- that not having a lot of time ruled out some deep friendships. While I accept that in theory, I have a tough time with it in the real world.

When it comes to dating, I am amazed when guys online contact me from West Virginia or even Baltimore. If they have children, what kind of custody arrangements allow them to consider a long distance relationship? Of course, if they are guys who only see their kids once every two weeks, they probably are not someone who would find me appealing or vice versa.

Pragmatic, calendar-tethered, down to earth --motherhood conforms even the most starry eyed wonderer. So I get the timestrain which consumes many of us.

That being said, I've come to realize what I knew as a single woman -- that my married female friends don't place the same priority on maintaining a friendship as I do. I can understand it, and even try to make peace with it, but it saddens me.

I have childless women friends, but they are career women. Instead of being occupied with children, they have a lively social calendar focused on business dinners with their husbands or arts patronage.

I'm brought back to wondering what's important -- and what does what we value say about us? I don't have an answer, just questions. I know I miss gossip, laughing, bitching affectionately about guys...stuff women "get" that you have to explain to men.

If I stumble into a relationship, will I make my girlfriends last on the list? Man, I hope not. I know I need them in my life. Hopefully they need me, too.

Channeling history

I'm not often up this late, but a cough that goes with...'flu/bronchitis/a cold is keeping me up here at the computer. Our red cat, Precious, sleeps on the sofa. Cats just seem to adapt to circumstances. When I'm feeling kind, the two of them, Inky and Presh, find a space near my feet -- sometimes they forget they aren't supposed to like one another and curl up together.

Last night I met the ex and some others at Cheeburger Cheeburger. Mr. C's Cub Scout troop had gone to a panto at People's Light Theatre. He was taking the DQ for the night, and I was picking up Mr. C.

The kids went to one table -- excepting Mr. C. He said he wanted to sit at our table so he could talk about the economy. But no one wants to talk about the economy, said his dad with a grin.

Given that I was starting to feel worse and worse, I played a small part in the conversation. And when Mr. C asked me tonight about Napoleon and Hitler (who may be the first and second Antichrist, say some Nostradamus experts) I wasn't a whole lot of help.

Was Napoleon French? Did he come from Corsica? Or was he exiled to Corsica?

Darned if I could recall. So I let Mr. C take over my computer and look up something that had been baffling him -- a timelines of the Iraq war. At which point I said, education's over for the night -- time to get to bed.

samedi, novembre 29, 2008

A sultan speaks

One hundred years ago, a story titled "Dying of Consumption" would most likely be about tuberculosis or other lung diseases.

We've done pretty well in making TB and a lot of those other contagious diseases very rare in the U.S.

But when it comes to our personal spending, it appeared as though the virus was slowly killing us.

So argues Steven S. Roach, chair of Morgan Stanley Asia.

As much as this recession hurts, it has finally compelled many Americans to cut back on spending -- which is a very good thing, he says.

Here are a few of the scary stats he cites:

As a share of disposable income, the personal saving rate fell from 5.7 percent in early 1995 to nearly zero from 2005 to 2007.

According to Federal Reserve calculations, net equity extractions from United States homes rose from about 3 percent of disposable personal income in 2000 to nearly 9 percent in 2006.

...As a result, household debt hit a record 133 percent of disposable personal income by the end of 2007 — an enormous leap from average debt loads of 90 percent just a decade earlier.

What does he recommend? No more tax cuts for now. Spending on infrastructure. Mandatory or incentive-driven savings. No tax increases associated with these mandatory savings.

I must confess that I was surprised to see Mr. Roach's byline -- I don't usually think of Morgan Stanley chairs as leading a rush to fiscal reform.

Given that today's progressive ideas can often become tomorrow's orthodoxy, it will be fascinating to see whether the new adminstration is listening.

lundi, novembre 24, 2008

Alex the gray parrot

There's a good reason the anti-abortion centers (crisis pregnancy centers is the term used by the movement) show women ultrasounds of the fetus. Once you can see that, at a fairly early stage of life, the fetus has a human form, it's much harder to get rid of it.

We don't eat cats and dogs, having developed relationships with them. I don't know if they still do so in China, but it is so beyond my ability to imagine that it seems almost impossible.

I'm thinking of giving Dr. Pepperberg's "Alex and Me" to some friends for Christmas this year.
Alex was the grey parrot that the doctor bought at a store and who became in some way her friend.

Here's a few paragraphs from the review in today's Times :

“Alex, the African gray parrot who was smarter than the average U.S. president, has died at the relatively tender age of 31,” read an obituary in The Guardian of London. “He could count to six, identify colors, understand concepts such as bigger and smaller and had a vocabulary of 150 words. To his supporters he was proof that the phrase ‘birdbrain’ should be expunged from the dictionary.”
As his owner and colleague, Dr. Pepperberg, writes in her charming new book, “Alex & Me,” the parrot she bought in a Chicago pet store in 1977 would help open a new window on the capacity of birds and other animals to think and communicate. "

See the review, linked above, to learn more about the bird who taught Dr. Pepperberg a lot about communication, and perhaps something about love.

Scary, isn't it? Communication can often usher in affection, and sometimes love. Then you take a look at some of the things you used to do without thinking-- and ask yourself whether you really want to do them anymore.

There's not one answer. But darn it, we need to at least do our some of animal companions the honor of trying to understand them...understanding us -- perhaps more than we know.

dimanche, novembre 23, 2008

In our own backyard

My gut tells me to trust what Tom Friedman says, but my mind is telling me not to go there...yet.

He's been right so many other times (a bit too hopeful on Iraq, but otherwise on target), and he's not generally an a demagogue - so it might be smart to take it seriously when he does ring the alarm.

Here's a paragraph from today's column, linked above...

Right now there is something deeply dysfunctional, bordering on scandalously irresponsible, in the fractious way our political elite are behaving — with business as usual in the most unusual economic moment of our lifetimes. They don’t seem to understand: Our financial system is imperiled.

Given that a lot of the market panic is based on a lack of trust, Friedman argues that the President should install Tim Geithner at week. And that Congress should stay in session. And that we should not underestimate the hugeness of the problem... WMD, in the form of subprime mortages, that were buried in our own backyard.

mercredi, novembre 19, 2008

What's out there?

It's scary how many primeval emotions "No Drama Obama" arouses among some people in America.

I became really aware of this while doing a post for "Get Religion" on a story by Lisa Miller of Newsweek. "Is Obama the Anti Christ?" blared the title. Not that there's any evidence that Miller believe this, of course.

But apparently there's a segment of the populace who believe that it's possible that Obama is the Beast who will bring in the Apocalypse.

When Al Quaeda leaders call Obama a "House Negro" we can shrug our shoulders--what else can we expect from an organization that hates us? But when Americans are writing into Rapture websites and wondering if this is the end times, we might want to be a little attentive.

According to stats Miller pulled from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, one -third of white evangelicals believe the world will end in their lifetime -- and that's just the white ones!

What does this have to do with Obama? One commenter wrote that he thought Obama could be, if not THE Anti Christ, an anti-Christ.

He was mocked by other posters. But I have a feeling that a lot of us are walking around so pleased and proud that we are able to elect a black President that we don't notice that some other people are not only unhappy, which is par for the course...but that a much smaller number also see Obama as (gulp) evil.

As I've said here, I'm not a Bill Ayers fan (oh, that was a horrible transition). Although I'm glad he's come out to discuss his behavior as a Weatherman, I still think there's a whole heck of a lot he's not telling about what really went on with that group. And people who remember his misdeeds and the bombings well, which I do not, are really pissed.

I think what bugs me about him is that while I heard general regret, I didn't hear anything truly penitential in his tone. Instead, I heard that snarky kind of self-righteousness found most often in certain academic and political elites, both on the right and the left. Wouldn't it be easier just to say you are sorry and get on with your life?

But one thing the former Weatherman and now professor told Terry Gross on "Fresh Air" got my attention. He said he got death threats during the campaign. When Gross asked him if they had subsided after the election, he said no. They have increased.

There some strange stuff going on out there, and hopefully our law enforcement officials are paying attention. A lot of us aren't.

Even Bill Ayers, former bomber, finds himself on the right side of the law , friendly with his local police, and asking for their protection. What a difference 40 years makes.

PS -- Read (see link) today's Freakonomics column on why some counties went from red to scarlet for McCain. Dunno if he's right, but he takes apart the argument that this is simply all about racism and suggests the truth is more complicated.

lundi, novembre 17, 2008

But he too has drifted...

I'm linking a wonderful column from today's NYT. Written by conservative columnist Bill Kristol, "George W. Hoover" is a warning to Republicans: don't make the same mistakes you did in the 1930s! Or the perception of mistakes (grin)...

Take a look at this excerpt:

"I don’t pretend to know just what has to be done. But I suspect that free-marketers need to be less doctrinaire and less simple-mindedly utility-maximizing, and that they should depend less on abstract econometric models. I think they’ll have to take much more seriously the task of thinking through what are the right rules of the road for both the private and public sectors. They’ll have to figure out what institutional barriers and what monetary, fiscal and legal guardrails are needed for the accountability, transparency and responsibility that allow free markets to work.

And I don’t see why conservatives ought to defend a system that permits securitizing mortgages (or car loans) in a way that seems to make the lenders almost unaccountable for the risk while spreading it, toxically, everywhere else. I don’t see why a commitment to free markets requires permitting banks or bank-like institutions to leverage their assets at 30 to 1. There’s nothing conservative about letting free markets degenerate into something close to Karl Marx’s vision of an atomizing, irresponsible and self-devouring capitalism."

Less doctrinaire!

No kidding.

I can't often say that Bill and I are singing in the same choir,but I gotta tell ya, these words were music to my skeptical ears.

I also agree with the sentiment in the next paragraph. There's got to be some kind of regulation or perhaps some kind of punishment, beyond the inevitable trouble that occurs when bubbles burst. Sure there were many perps (many pimps, too) but a lot of people are the innocent victims of these drive-by market drunks.

The problem is: what kind of regulation would give the markets maximum freedom? Regulation of any kind is going to be like poison to some conservatives. If you truly believe that markets function best when everyone exercises their own self interests, then why should you have to have someone else checking up on you?

In a sense, I admire the purists -- being a devotee of unregulated markets is like being a totally committed atheist. It's very hard to remain devoted to a hard, no intervention perspective when all around you, you see a society in disarray from people who gamed the system.

By the way, I'm skeptical about Obama's disclosure forms, too ---you can't always screen for potential conflicts of interests. But I also admire him for trying.

samedi, novembre 15, 2008

Hillary encore

Relax and take a quick look at this nicely satirical piece by Gail Collins (link) -- one of the more serious questions she raises is: does Hillary have enough pantsuits to make a good Secretary of State?

vendredi, novembre 14, 2008


Last night Mr. C and I were on our way to the gym when "All Things Considered's" Melissa Block did her interview with the naked cyclist from Portland -- not Maine, that would be a little chilly.

Yes, I know some of you will stop reading right here. I considered changing radio stations, but there didn't seem to be anything too objectionable in the story. Colin was quiet, looking out the window.

This young man was arrested for cycling nude in his neighborhood at night. The judge dismissed the case.

In her soft voice, Melissa asked him what the families in the neighborhood might have thought, and whether perhaps he might have considered them before stripping and putting his feet in the stirrups. He didn't seem very open to that notion.

As they talked, it emerged that Portland has a yearly bicycle race -- look ma, no pants!
No shirt.

No umbrellas?

So, at the end, I said wryly to Mr. C -- Oh, these folks on the West Coast.

That's it, he said. I'm not going to Disney Land. I'll go to Disney World instead.

But they only cycle nude in Oregon, I said.

He wasn't going to see his Aunt Marilyn and visit one of the world's big amusement parks next summer because some folks in Oregon can't keep their pants on?

I'm not taking any chances, said Mr. C.

mercredi, novembre 12, 2008

The Romantic John Stossel

I have this theory.

I'm fairly sure I've inflicted it on you before...I think that everyone has to have faith in something. God, biology, aliens, socialism...or free market-capitalism.

Carl Sagan apparently had thought about life on other planets.

John Stossel gets all dreamy-eyed about the lost Eden of free market-capitalism.

Check out this quote from a Stossel piece on what horrors may be perpetrated when the government intervenes in the markets. (Linked from the website

"In a free society, with constitutionally limited government, the president would be a mere executive who sees to it that predictable and understandable laws are enforced. But sadly, the prestige and power of the presidency have grown, and liberty has contracted."

From the beginning of our Republic --well before the beginning -- kings and bishops and Popes and governors were intervening in the marketplace. Some of the most heated correspondence among the men who first governed this nation was about the extent of the power of the Federal government. In other words, there never was a time when government stepped out of the way and let the markets do their magic.

Stossel argues:

"But we cannot raise wages or create jobs or eliminate poverty by executive order. We can do so by freeing people to save and invest and accumulate capital. We can't make medical care universal and inexpensive by legislative fiat. But we can approach that goal by permitting a free market in medicine to work.

Government is force, not eloquence. And force is an attempt to defy economic logic. The consequences are often opposite of those intended. "A subsidy for medical insurance increases the demand for services and raises prices. A price ceiling makes those services less available. A floor under wages makes jobs for unskilled workers more scarce, as employers find it a losing proposition to hire them. A subsidy to production means too much produced relative to something else consumers want. A trade restriction lowers living standards at home and abroad," writes Sheldon Richman on the Foundation for Economic Education website. "

Some economists believe, as Stossel asserts, that "government is force" -- some think government can be a force for the common good.

Beyond certain immutable economic laws, we economists who interpret the same data differently.

Just like we have historians who intepret the facts from the lens of their own bias.

I don't have a solution. But I do want to challenge the idea that some of us are hard-headed realists and some of us fuzzy idealists -- instead, when it comes to crafting a perfect government, most of us aren't so great at wrestling with the messy reality. So we default to our prejudices -- which gives us a greater opportunity to blame the folks who happen to be trying to fix the mess at the time.

Do you believe the Depression was extended by Roosevelt or that he helped get this country going again?

Maybe neither, possibly both....maybe the truth is more complex than we often like to think it is. I guess we're going to find out -- again.

lundi, novembre 10, 2008

Graceful aging

The last post was a segue-way I am not coping with aging as gracefully as I would like to be.

Admittedly, I'm not 91 -- or 84, thank you very much. In the flattering pinkish, soft light of the highly expensive restaurant I don't frequent, I could probably pass for five or so years younger than I am. 78?

But over the past few months bouts with neck pain, knee pain, shoulder pain due to some overuse injuries from weightlifting have convinced me that I am indeed fighting a losing battle against time, as are we all.

Yesterday, while preaching a kids sermon I felt a distinct creak in both knees when I got up from the steps to the choir section.

My physical therapist, a babe in the woods at 37, is advising me to run smart, not long.

Hopefully some of these symptoms will be alleviated with a more careful and reverent approach towards fitness. But I can't expect them all to disappear, as they did when I was younger.

So I'm hoping for acceptance of the inevitable -- and maybe someone to take me to one of those restaurants once in a while.

I'll even split the bill.

samedi, novembre 08, 2008

Wise Man of West Virginia

I was touched by Senator Robert Byrd's move to relinquish his job as head of the
Senate Appropriations Committe.

Nobody had to pressure the Senator from West Virginia -- although, as it says in the NYT, he must have been aware folks were chattering.

Still an eloquent speaker, he's becoming frailer, and apparently colleagues had feared that the enormous work that committee will have to do in the coming year would be too much for Byrd.

Byrd's decision to step aside leaves the post open for Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, a youthful 84.

jeudi, novembre 06, 2008

Column from this past Saturday


In dark times, look for saints among us

Published: Nov 01, 200809:37 EST

Focus on Faith
As I sit here at my desk, a chilly rain sweeps against my window. In the yard, the brown and orange leaves raked into piles have been impelled every which way by the October wind. Simultaneously I admire their beauty against the still-green lawn, and calculate how many hours I must add to my yard time because I wasn't swift enough to read the forecast
As I consider the minor irritation of a little cold rain and a few thousand soggy leaves, I am aware that around me families are coping with much worse. Whoever he is, our next president is going to have to reach out to cities and towns across this country devastated by an economic crisis that shows, as yet, little signs of tapering off.I wish I was more holy, I think, then all of this "little stuff" wouldn't bug me.By the time you read this, it will be Nov. 1, All Saints Day. On this day, we in the "liturgical" churches, which include Anglicans and Roman Catholics, honor the work of the Jesus-followers who have gone before us, men and women known and unknown.We honor them because they revealed God's love to a world in desperate need of love, and justice and forgiveness. In ways spectacular and covert, they brightened an oftentimes gloomy world with God's light.It would make life so much simpler if we knew the saints who walk among us — we'd be on our best behavior. But God doesn't make it so easy for us.The ones we see in medieval paintings with the gilded halos around their heads? Well, there's a formal or less formal agreement that they were a blessing to someone. (Unless they got a halo by virtue of having paid for the painting!)But then there are the ones we don't know about.I had a few relatives in my life I might call, stealing a phrase from the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, "anonymous Christians." While they were not believers, they demonstrated Christ-like love in tangible ways that left a lasting mark on me.Other saints I recall have reached out in times of doubt or sadness and spoken a word of grace or joy that helped me to see just far enough to take the next step.A professor at seminary, an elderly parishioner in my former congregation, children in the pre-school chapel service I used to lead — all of these members of the family of God have been windows letting His love gleam into shadowy places, when I wasn't willing or able to see light.This may be a dark time for you. Perhaps you are coping with chronic pain. Maybe you have a son or daughter struggling with an addiction or trapped in a bad relationship. As you face a new onslaught of credit card bills or that next auto payment, you may not be sure about how you are going to rob Peter to pay Paul.Without diminishing what you are facing in the least, let me suggest that you ponder the saints who have spoken to you in the past — and the ones who brighten your life today.Think you don't have any? Pray that God will bring someone to help you bear your burdens, or give you new eyes to see the person already there.Perhaps you are one of the fortunate folks sailing along without large challenges. Have you considered being a saint for someone who needs help?If you get to know a saint, or find a concrete way to be one in someone else's life, you may find that your perspective on it changes.Being a devout Christian is not all about observing "them," the holy ones as they set an example.It's about "you" — one child of God helping another one.Halos not required.

Elizabeth an Episcopal priest from Glenmoore, can be reached at The Focus on Faith column appears on the first Saturday of each month.

mercredi, novembre 05, 2008


Political compass aside -- and is it ever aside? I woke up still incredulous that our country had actually elected a black man as President.

First of all, my condolences to those who voted for John McCain for reasons of conscience -- and thanks for his gracious words of support for Obama last night.

Since I was a child, race has been a huge (if slightly less toxic) issue in the political arena.

And I'd be dumb to argue that it will stop being so -- there are too many older folks to whom it matters. But if on that ground alone, I'm so proud of our country today. The Europeans, who pride themselves on being so progressive, haven't done this yet.

I saw a video of conservative commentator Juan Williams tear up discussing the Obama victory - very touching.

What would the family who raised me have thought? My grandmother and great aunt, who raised us to believe people of all colors were created equal. So many marches for a dream.

My mother, who championed the right of all children to achieve. My dad, whose close and dear friend outlived him, the nation's foremost black historian.

Maybe my kids won't have to cope with a nation in which we continually evaluate others through the lens of their color. You can't call one President a trend. But we have a glimmer of hope today.

lundi, novembre 03, 2008

Have fun on Election Day

Can you buy such a whimsical notion?

I have no advice for tomorrow except "vote early, vote often." They've been doing it in Chicago for centuries.

Actually, Election Day is kind of exciting...isn't it?

I'm just ready for all of the vituperation and monkeyshines (as my late fabulous Aunt Jennie would say) to stop. Well, they won't stop. But at least people may pause to draw a breath before they start their doomsday rhetoric again.

Let's see what the victors come up with before we give up on democracy. It's a poor system, but the best we have (cribbing from Winston Churchill).

I think most of us would take it anyday.

dimanche, novembre 02, 2008

Past midnight

Last night a colleague sent around an article from Politico that touched me to the core. I'll attach it to this post tomorrow. Going into the voting booth Tuesday and choosing forces me, and thousands of others, to sacrifice my belief in the sacredness of life.

Either way, both candidates, horrible choices. I remain a conflicted Democrat, but that may change after this election. Joining the hordes of independents doesn't solve the bigger problem, but it may make me feel a little cleaner, Pharisee that I am.

Obama hasn't given an inch to the anti-abortion people in his own party. The Democratic party platform remains a hymn to abortion rights.

With his iron self-control, he.s the guy who scares me more -- because I don't think we know what's behind the mask...and because he very well may win. At least you know where McCain is coming from -- which will scare me if he wins.

samedi, novembre 01, 2008

All Saints Day (almost over)

Yesterday was for all of you pagans-- and a lovely night it was here in downtown Glenmoore. Under the spangled sky my children and around 80 of their close friends trick or treated, had a costume and donut eating contest and decorated cookies (notice a theme here?). Though our small town is brimming with political schemes, it's still a fabulous place for kids --and for moms and dads. Today was for those of us who believe that God sends people into our lives to remind us that his kingdom is Thank you.

jeudi, octobre 30, 2008

Any sane people in the blogosphere?

It really is the crazy season. And I'm not even talking about the financial crisis, though that's fueling some of our paranoia.

We are all a little nuts at the moment, me included.

One of my colleagues worries that public disillusionment with media "in the tank" for Obama will lead to them abandoning conventional media altogether (can someone explain what tank - where does this phrase come from?).

Yes, we media types tend to be more middle of the road and liberal on certain issues, like freedom of the press (duh). But I think we are more prone to get crushes on certain candidates -- and then to chew them up and spit them out. That's possibly one part of what happened to John McCain. Once they were kicked off the Straight Talk bus, and didn't have access, where could they get their information? From ticked off employees who loved to talk about Sarah's wardrobe.

Besides, those policy disputes are so booring...

Call me cranky. I got skewered today on the blog for which I write ( for referring to candidates in the Democratic party who aren't fans of Roe V. Wade as "anti-abortion" rather than "pro-life." My critics weren't happy when I said that I didn't consider the abortion rights folks "anti-life."

As I said, it's the silly season.

Five more days to go! I know that this is a particularly hard time for Republicans.

I hope for our country's sake, that if Obama wins, he'll govern from the center (whatever that is).

Conservatives in the Republican Party should take heart, though. If the Phillies can win a World Series, their time will come again. Of course, it took our team 28 years.

mardi, octobre 28, 2008

Will you miss the MSM?

Conservatives love to beat up on the "mainstream media" : the LA Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times, the Washington Post. Liberals often take a cudgel to them, too.

As David Carr points out in the article linked here, in an age when print is what he calls a "legacy technology" these media outlets are impelled by loss of advertising to cut staff, or even to shut up their print operations altogether ( the Christian Science Monitor).

It's not that they don't have readers. But these readers get their news jones online, as I do. I get my local paper on Sundays -- and it can sit there unread for days. It's so much easier to find what I need to know online.

Love or loathe em, or love to loathe 'em, these media outlets play a valuable function --giving you the news in a way that is unparalled as yet in any new media. I suspect we'll find a way to hang on to reporting, and reporters but this is a difficult transition for journalism.

Sheesh, do you want to trust information you get from a 'blog?

Wink wink nudge nudge....I wouldn't.

dimanche, octobre 26, 2008

Out of the fold

"You made up your mind a long time ago, you rat," one wrote to me. "Either you have no core beliefs, or you are just like all the other elitist Main Line snobs. My guess is both," wrote another. "Smerconish, you're one awful, greedy, shameless ratings hog. . . . You traded your soul for socialism," said a detractor."

That's a snippet of the nasty mail the talk-show host received when he decided to endorse Barack Obama. In all, Smerconish recounts in a column in today's Philadelphia Inquirer, he received around 2,000 critical emails.

Now, the fellow's no liberal patsy. Bill O'Reilly (remember him from a post or so ago?) wouldn't let anyone but a certified guy's guy substitute for him on The Radio Factor.

So his endorsement says something important about him, or Obama, or both.

As far as I can tell, from reading his articles, Smerconish is a moderate Republican with libertarian tendencies. Or maybe he's a libertarian who claimed the Republican Party as his home.

It doesn't really matter.

What is important is that there are thousands of men and women like him who don't recognize the party they love anymore.

See David Brooks slightly more erudite take on this in the NYT.

I doubt McCain's choice of Sarah Palin, with her conservative religious views, made them feel any more comfortable.

Until Republicans find a way to include suburban, pro-choice tolerant, anti-culture warriors, it runs the danger of having them defect -- at least for a season

Calling them rats and elitists might not be enough to lure them back.

vendredi, octobre 24, 2008

Peggy hasn't drunk the Kool-aid

I know, I'm altogether too head in the clouds this week...but hey, it's better than having me complain about being a vanilla girl in Swingland -- isn't it? Anyhow, read this fine, rueful, well-done column by Peggy Noonan from the Wall Street Journal on America as a "center-right" nation. It's linked above...

I'm not sure I agree -- I tend to think we are a country of pragmatists, but I think her advice for Obama is spot on. Check it out, and let me know what YOU think.

jeudi, octobre 23, 2008


Bill O' Reilley, hon, I got news for ya.

A guy who makes ten million a year on a station that leads in the category of cable news isn't an opposition rebel, persecuted by the mainstream media.

Your nightmare has come true: you ARE the mainstream media! But they pay you exceptionally well to act like a rebel.

That is what happens to rebels, particularly rich ones. All of a sudden they become the codgers, standing at the gates and hurling dead pigs at the barbarian hordes.

That means you, CNN's resident populist, Lou Dobbs. Time to stop taking yourself quite so seriously.

Revolutionaries get turned into bureaucrats. Look at what happened to the radicals of the sixties... now they teach at Chicago grad schools - and haunt Presidential candidates.

Now that you have proven yourselves as thorns in the flesh, isn't there something useful you can do with your lives?

mercredi, octobre 22, 2008

From the "Why don't they all shut up?" pail

I have NO idea what Murtha intended to say about his own constituents. Undoubtedly it was truthful -- there are racists in Western Pa., just like there are racists in Bucks County. So what?
Sometimes it's better not to pick a fight for no reason (duh).

As for McCain -- the simpler the verbal construction, the better. I find that double negatives usually don't help my cause. But thanks for helping us snicker near the end of a nasty campaign, when we really needed it. Aside from FOX News, which is making a huge deal out of this dumb Murtha comment and its viewers (including me at the gym), most of us are paying heed to more crucial matters, like how we will afford to pay the rent and buy Christmas presents.

For a really useful analysis of Western Pennsylvania politics, check out the Slate article linked above by a guy who grew up there.

"Mr. DuHaime rejected comments made last week by a Pennsylvania Democrat, Representative John P. Murtha, who told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, speaking of his home base, that “there is no question that Western Pennsylvania is a racist area.”
Mr. McCain referenced Mr. Murtha’s comments in his third stop of the day, at Robert Morris University here, when he said, “I think you may have noticed that Senator Obama’s supporters have been saying some pretty nasty things about Western Pennsylvania lately.” As the crowd booed, Mr. McCain became tangled up in the rest of his remarks. “And you know, I couldn’t agree with them more,” he said, to silence, and then wandered around in a verbal thicket before finally managing to say, 'I could not disagree with those critics more; this is a great part of America.' "

New York Times, October 22, 2008

mardi, octobre 21, 2008

What may be down the road

I'm linking to an opinion piece by Anne Applebaum of the WaPo. Applebaum makes a case that where there is financial instability, as in Iceland, political instability may follow.

That may not be awful in Iceland -- although one hopes there is not too much suffering. It is unlikely that the citizens of that country will turn on each other, or on their neighbors.

But what about destabilization in Russia? Or in Hungary?

What about the Ukraine and Poland, which border Russia?

Some of the best editorials are glorified common sense -- but they lead you down a path you might not have taken.

I'm not crazy about this one -- it's rather scary. But I am grateful to Ms. Applebaum for remind us that in this time of uncertainty we need to keep an eye on what's going on globally -- and have leaders who are ready to act should it become neccesary. Like it or not, this is, more than even an age of internationalism.

lundi, octobre 20, 2008

Loyal opposition

I LOVE this article so much that I'm linking to it and copying it. The point of the piece is that judges are criticizing the Heller v. District of Columbia ruling as bad law.

Why? Because it attempts to impose a government answer on states. It also finds a debatable "right" in the Constituion which might or might not exist.

Does that remind you of another ruling? Like Roe v. Wade?

I don't agree with all of their logic.

But I find it fascinating that some more liberal eagles read an individual right into the Amendment. I love it that the conservative federal appeals court judges had the guts to make the argument and criticize the sometimes impossible Antonin Scalia -- Drama Queen of the Supremes.

October 21, 2008
Justices’ Ruling on Guns Faces Attacks, From the Right
WASHINGTON — Four months after the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess guns, its decision is under assault — from the right.
Two prominent federal appeals court judges say that Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in the case, District of Columbia v. Heller, is illegitimate, activist, poorly reasoned and fueled by politics rather than principle. The 5-to-4 decision in Heller struck down parts of a District of Columbia gun control law.
The judges used what in conservative legal circles are the ultimate fighting words: They said the gun ruling was a right-wing version of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that identified a constitutional right to abortion. Justice Scalia has said that Roe had no basis in the Constitution and amounted to a judicial imposition of a value judgment that should have been left to state legislatures.
Comparisons of the two decisions, then, seemed calculated to sting.
“The Roe and Heller courts are guilty of the same sins,” one of the two appeals court judges, J. Harvie Wilkinson III, wrote in an article to be published in the spring in The Virginia Law Review.
Similarly, Judge Richard A. Posner, in an article in The New Republic in August, wrote that Heller’s failure to allow the political process to work out varying approaches to gun control that were suited to local conditions “was the mistake that the Supreme Court made when it nationalized abortion rights in Roe v. Wade.”
Sharp criticism of a recent Supreme Court decision by federal appeals court judges is quite unusual, though these two judges — both Reagan appointees — are more outspoken than most.
Judge Wilkinson, who sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., was recently considered for a spot on the Supreme Court. Judge Posner, of the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, is perhaps the most influential judge not on the Supreme Court.
Not all conservatives agree with the critics, of course. Robert A. Levy, a libertarian lawyer who was a principal architect of the victorious strategy in the Heller case, rejected the comparison to Roe.
The two sides in the Heller case claimed to rely on the original meaning of the Second Amendment, based on analysis of its text in light of historical materials. The amendment says, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
The more liberal justices said the amendment protected only a collective right tied to state militias, thus allowing most gun control laws. The more conservative justices found an individual right and struck down parts of a District of Columbia gun control law.
In Judge Wilkinson’s view, the upshot of the court’s extensive historical analysis was that “both sides fought into overtime to a draw.”
Others said the quality of the combat was low. “Neither of the two main opinions in Heller would pass muster as serious historical writing,” Jack Rakove, a historian at Stanford, wrote on the blog Balkinization soon after the decision was issued.
The strong reaction from the right after Heller was preceded, with a sort of symmetry, by liberal support for an individual-rights reading of the Second Amendment. For much of the 20th century, the conventional view of the amendment had been that it only protects a collective right. (Warren E. Burger, after retiring as chief justice in 1986, called the individual rights view “one of the greatest pieces of fraud — I repeat the word ‘fraud’ — on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen.”)
But some prominent liberal law professors, including Laurence H. Tribe of Harvard, Akhil Reed Amar of Yale and Sanford Levinson of the University of Texas, have concluded, sometimes reluctantly, that the amendment in fact protects an individual right. Professor Levinson’s seminal 1989 article in The Yale Law Journal captured the tone of the enterprise. It was called “The Embarrassing Second Amendment.”
In an interview, Professor Levinson said, “The result in Heller is eminently respectable.” But he added that he understood why some conservatives were upset. “People say the Roe court was too interventionist,” he said. “So is the Heller court from that perspective.”
Judge Wilkinson’s basic critique is that the majority, like that in Roe, used an ambiguous text to impose its policy preference on the nation, at great cost to the democratic process and to local values. He assumed, as most experts do, that the decision would apply to the states.
“In both Roe and Heller,” Judge Wilkinson wrote, “the court claimed to find in the Constitution the authority to overrule the wishes of the people’s representatives. In both cases, the constitutional text did not clearly mandate the result, and the court had discretion to decide the case either way.”
Judge Posner built on themes in his recent book “How Judges Think,” which argued that constitutional adjudication by the Supreme Court is largely and necessarily political. The Heller decision, he wrote in The New Republic, “is evidence that the Supreme Court, in deciding constitutional cases, exercises a freewheeling discretion strongly flavored with ideology.”
Indeed, Judge Wilkinson wrote, “Some observers may be tempted to view Heller as a revenge of sorts for Roe” or “a sort of judicial tit-for-tat.” As Judge Posner put it, “The idea behind the decision” in Heller “may simply be that turnabout is fair play.”
Mr. Levy, who helped win Heller, said some conservatives wanted almost all decisions to be made by the political branches rather than the courts.
“But these are constitutional rights,” Mr. Levy, now chairman of the Cato Institute, a libertarian research group, said of the rights protected by the Second Amendment. “They are not rights consigned to the legislature.”
The analogy to Roe, he went on, is misguided. There is no reference to abortion in the Constitution.
The Second Amendment, by contrast, indisputably protects a right to keep and bear arms, though there is sharp disagreement about the scope of the right. Mr. Levy said the natural reading of the amendment, one supported by historical materials, was that it protected an individual right.
In his article, Judge Wilkinson wrote that he “readily agreed” that Roe “involved the more brazen assertion of judicial authority.” But he added that the Roe and Heller cases shared a number of common flaws, including “a failure to respect legislative judgments,” “a rejection of the principles of federalism” and “a willingness to embark on a complex endeavor that will require fine-tuning over many years of litigation.”
Judge Wilkinson saved particular scorn for a brief passage in Justice Scalia’s opinion that seemed to endorse a variety of restrictions on gun ownership. “Nothing in our opinion,” Justice Scalia wrote, “should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
Whatever else may be said about the Second Amendment, Judge Wilkinson wrote, those presumptions have no basis in the Constitution. “The Constitution’s text,” he wrote, “has as little to say about restrictions on firearm ownership by felons as it does about the trimesters of pregnancy.”
Mr. Levy, too, said he was not a fan of the passage. “I would have preferred that that not have been there,” he said. “It created more confusion than light.”
It is too soon to say much about the legacy of Heller. But Judge Wilkinson said that Heller, at a minimum, represented “the worst of missed opportunities — the chance to ground conservative jurisprudence in enduring and consistent principles of restraint.” At worst, he warned, “There is now a real risk that the Second Amendment will damage conservative judicial philosophy” as much as Roe “damaged its liberal counterpart.”

dimanche, octobre 19, 2008

A contrarian perspective from Nick Kristof

On why the recession might not be bad for many of us...

Which doesn't mean ignoring those who are suffering. There are a lot more than there used to be.

Slaves and slave holders

What would your life be like if you found out that you were not wholly the race you had always thought you were?

That's what happened to a minister I ran into at a public event here in Philadelphia a few weeks ago. In the course of looking into his genealogy, he found that he had slave-holder ancestors.

In digging further, and after DNA analysis, he found that some of his blood is African and Native American.

Blacks have been dealing with the impact of having had while ancestors for quite a while. But unless you had some reason to delve into your past, you may not know whether or not you are come from a mixed race background.

Of course, I guess if you go back millenia, all of us do -- or have a common forefather and mother.

I wonder what it would be like if we all took DNA tests. Would that alleviate some of the biases we carry around with us -- against Jews, or blacks, or Catholics, or Muslims? I bet it would make some of them seem really idiotic.

Given where I came from, I kind of doubt I have mixed race blood. But I'm sort of excited about seeing how much it would cost to find out.

jeudi, octobre 16, 2008

Come the Revolution?

After an email chat with a friend last night about the possibility that socialism/Marxism might direct our new fiscal policy if Barack Obama and Warren Buffett take over, I started to wonder: how much are things really going to change?

That's what Joe the plumber wants to know, isn't it? Will the spirit of capitalism be destroyed? Will the wealthy be robbed of their rightful earnings? Will the "little man" have a chance to make it in America anymore?

I would say that its close to unarguable that in the past, oh, say, 15 years, our tax policies have become much kinder to the upper middle class and the wealthy (those who earn above 250,000) a year. Those who earn that kind of money could say that it's their money, they earned it, and why should the government take it away from them.

I do think that we are, with the exception of the very poor, going to have to pay higher taxes, whoever gets into office. The amount of debt we are in is staggering - if your kid owed 5,000 on his or her credit card, would you ask someone in Australia to loan him or her money? I don't think so.

I don't feel any pity for the very wealthy, because they are cunning about tax dodges. The more you have, the better you are at hiring folks who will help you keep it. But I have to admit that I admire those of my friends who are sincerely trying to determine who to vote for on the merits, even though it will affect their bottom line. I have one wealthy friend who I think will cast a vote for McCain. Another is undoubtedly going to vote for Obama.

I have these kinds of conversations with my friend Tad a lot. Tad is a Polish immigrant who has done very well over here by working 80 hour weeks. As soon as his normal job is over, Tad drives to someone elses house to fix their electrical system or paint a room or install a bathroom.

Tad is worried, too, that if Obama gets in, his hard earned money will disappear. I have to say, I doubt it. The guys running Washington aren't radicals. A few terms in the House or Senate seems usually to take the edge off of whatever kind of radicalism they have, whether of the right or the left.

It's time for the pendulum to swing back a little bit -- but I doubt its going to swing that far.

A scarier possibility, and a real one, is that we've lost control of the pendulum. Liberal or conservative, that's a possibility that ought to frighten us more than the return of Robert Rubin.

mardi, octobre 14, 2008

A bigger stage

OK, I'm a publicity hound.

I really like it when readers write to me, taking my columns seriously enough to respond, even when they disagree. But I have to say that I got a start when I realized my musings at GetReligion ( are being linked to other 'blogs on science, religious orthodoxy, and to that of a writer in Lancaster, where I have a monthly column.

The idea that others are reading carefully enough to want to comment on their sites makes me wonder if I'm really polished enough for that mass audience. Surely they can discern all of the cracks, glossed over with a few trendy terms and a critical eye?

Actually, folks seem remarkably charitable. Hopefully they will hold me accountable when I display my ignorance -- and I wont have too many dreams where I show up for work dressed only in my underwear!

lundi, octobre 13, 2008

Great article from Krugman in the NY Times

Congrats, Paul Krugman on winning the Nobel Prize for your work on global financial markets.

Check out this link for today's column on how the British government moved quickly and craftily to help reassure consumers - and take a beachhead in the almost unregulated private sector. In comparison, we seemed to be drifting. Ok, so Great Britain is a "junior partner" -- but junior partners have good ideas sometimes.

I sense the pendulum swinging, you de-regulators. Let's just see if establishing some standards brings a little stability - if it doesn't, feel free to call for deregulation again. But if it does...

dimanche, octobre 12, 2008


I'm done with Bill Ayers, for the moment - a guy who probably made some great contributions to education, but can't seem to get over himself.

Back to the dating world, with a bit of religion thrown in (well, a lot, but take only as much as you can stand).

So often, I have been thrown back into that strange phantasmagorical land in which I am never quite sure what is true and what is fiction -- mine, or someone elses.

Everyone is seeking, and many of the guys have ventured far afield, into places I would never dream of going.

I still don't dream of these places, and I've certainly heard more than enough to construct a decent fantasy. I think that tells me something.

My fantasies seem so daytime by contrast.

I would like a sometime companion, a fellow voyager, a guy with a wacky sense of humor and a love of fitness, someone humane and loving towards kids -- but I've been solicited for other kinds of relationships so often that I am often quilled, like a porcupine facing a predator.

At church today, I was taking communion when the praise band started playing one of my very favorite songs, "Hungry," by Jeremy Camp.

hungry I come to You for I know You satisfy
I am empty but I know Your love does not run dry
so I wait for You
so I wait for You
I'm falling on my knees offering all of me Jesus,
You're all this heart is living for
broken I run to You for Your arms are open wide
I am weary but I know Your touch restores my life
so I'll wait for You
so I'll wait for You

If I hadn't been in the room where we pray for folks, waiting for some victim of the financial crisis to come for spiritual solace, I would have sat in my pew with tears streaming down my face. The past month has been so tough (for reasons that have nothing to do with dating) that I am drained, running on fumes, and I'll wait for You when I crave truth.

And hope, in the meantime, that Mr. Relatively Normal (but not boring) comes into my life.

I wonder what these guys, with their law degrees and good salaries and many gifts and hunger ---I wonder what they are waiting for. Whatever it is, I hope they find something worth having.

samedi, octobre 11, 2008

Ayers, too

If you look at the sidebar, you will see that Slate has two articles on Ayers -- one is about McCain's efforts to try to tie Obama to Ayers and why that might not work, and the other is about Ayers himself. From the little I've read about him (and some of it is old) he sounds like a quintessential 60's radical. From 1970 to 1974, the Weather Underground carried out around 12 bombings. If I were a former bomber, now the father of twenty somethings, I can't imagine being proud of that. But Ayers seems remarkably unrepentant. Does that make Obama a potential bomber? Nonsense. Does it make him unwise for having associated with Ayers, even if that association was relatively distant? Possibly -- but if we are judged by our associates, many of us would be up to our neck in crocodiles.

Article from last week

Giving, even in tough times, is a sound spiritual investment
You know the pain is there, even if you can't see it.The "auction" sign tacked up at a house we drive by on our way to church.The newspaper reports of sharp drops in production in the auto industry and slowdowns in manufacturing.And let's not even talk about the stock market.Behind all of these industries are people — parents who wonder how they are going to feed their children and pay the rent; teenagers worrying they won't be able to go to college; senior citizens seeing their retirement money diminish.
How should people of faith respond?Tempting as it might be, we cannot afford to wall ourselves off from others in this time of crisis, whether we have enough or are struggling.Our major faith traditions call us to help brothers and sisters in need. As we do so, we recognize how connected we are to them — how their well-being really is ours, too.Volunteering at food kitchens, adding another $10 or $20 to the check when we donate to local charities, checking on a neighbor who might need something done around his or her house can deepen our own sense of faith — and of gratitude.
Pondering the message of St. Paul's letter to the congregation in Philippi, Pastor Chad, the head of my church, nailed it when he wrote in a recent newsletter:"If the popular 'prosperity gospel' is wrong in promising that greater giving automatically leads to wealth and good fortune, another problem may be a 'scarcity gospel' that ignores what blessings we do receive when we give, such as a fuller experience of God and one another, a chance to connect with something larger and more important than ourselves, and the discovery that Jesus is right. In giving, even when it's hard, we receive — more than we thought possible."I asked a friend, the pastor of a rural Methodist church, whether the economic crisis was affecting his congregation. While there hasn't been a lot of talk about it in congregational meetings, he said that his church would probably donate part of the proceeds of a recent fair to a couple. The man was ill and his wife had recently been laid off from work.When ties of neighborly love link a community, then giving and receiving can become profound blessings.Whether we are hurting financially or in decent shape, citizens of faith are facing another, more subtle challenge in this time of trial.Judging by what we hear from our elected representatives, many of us feel betrayed — by the bankers who bet our money on bad debt, by the mortgage broker who trusted we wouldn't read the fine print, by the boss who decided he or she couldn't make payroll anymore.Righteous anger is natural, and often justified. Jesus, for one, didn't ask us to maintain zombie-like calm in the face of injustice. Nor do the Hebrew prophets, for that matter. But Jesus does call on us to try to sit down with those who have wronged us, if possible. And if we cannot do that, he commands us to forgive them.That doesn't mean we have to like them. But it does mean that our actions in these difficult times should not be motivated by a desire for revenge.In an e-mail, Pastor Chad recalled some verses from Philippians that he has found particularly helpful as he, and we, walk in the valley of uncertainty."…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11b-13)."Let us pray for the spiritual strength that draws us closer to our neighbors and renews the bonds of trust that we need as individuals and as a nation.Let us also beseech God for the contentment that does not deny fear, or anxiety, but knows that He is at our side — and on it.

The Focus on Faith column appears on the first Saturday of each month.