Sunday, November 29, 2015

And so we enter a new season

No, this is not only the climax of the college football preliminaries (the run up to rivalries, bowls and playoffs.) But also, for Christians, we begin the season of Advent in which we anticipate in joyful hope the coming of a child, of New Life. (This probably works better in the northern hemisphere; every year I wonder how it feels to spend Advent in a place where the turning of the earth signals an onrushing midsummer.)

Change is coming and we are enjoined to hope that something better is ahead.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place ..."

How contemporary.

In The Ransom of the Soul, Princeton historian Peter Brown explores how early Western Christians' understanding of the collapse of the empire of the day (Rome), and of wealth, bled into each other in an Augustinian piety in which inescapable sin required perpetual almsgiving for the construction of clerical institutions.

To get there, he describes the relation of money and the afterlife in the understanding of the first Christians, the ones for whom Jesus' warming of "rumors of war" and "not to lay up treasure in heaven" were more immediate.

I found Brown's picture of that early Christian understanding compelling:

... the notion of treasure in heaven gripped the imagination because it seemed to join apparent incommensurables. To transfer money to heaven was not simply to store it there. It was to bring together two zones of the imagination that common sense held apart. In an almost magical imaginative implosion, the untarnished and eternal heavens were joined to earth through "unrighteous mammon" -- through wealth that was the most transient and, indeed, with all that was most sinister, on earth -- all too heavy with associations of violence and deceit and, even when honestly come by, still smelling of the grave. If the brutal antithesis between heaven and earth, pure spirit and dull matter, could be overcome in this way, then all other divisions might be healed.

Not the least of these divisions was the gulf between rich and poor. In the Christian imagination, the joining of heaven and earth was refracted (in miniature, as it were) through the joining of two persons (or groups of persons) in incommensurable social situations -- the rich and the poor -- through the gift of alms. Hence we should not imagine that the relation between rich and poor in Christian circles was governed only by compassion and by a sense of social justice. Christians could be compassionate. Their reading of the Hebrew scriptures (the Old Testament) kept them fully aware of the passionate concern for social justice of the prophets of ancient Israel. But both Jewish and Christian giving to the poor involved something more than that. Almsgiving was not only a matter of "horizontal" outreach to the poor within society. It evoked a symbolically charged "vertical" relationship. It tingled with a sense that almsgiving created a bridge over a chasm that was as vertiginous as that which separated earth from heaven, and human beings from God.

For, like God, the poor were very distant. Like God, the poor were silent. Like God, the poor could all too easily be forgotten by the proud and the wealthy. Sense there was an imaginative weight, for early Christian readers, in the seemingly matter-of-fact reminder of Saint Paul in his Letter to the Galatians "that we should remember the poor." But remembering the poor, pious believers (Jewish and Christian alike) took on something of the vast and loving memory of God. God never forgot the poor, while human beings -- whether because they were proud or simply because they were too busy -- found the poor to be, alas, eminently forgettable.

In this way, "to remember the poor" was seen as a joining of opposites that echoed, in society itself, the paradoxical joining of heaven and earth, of base money and eternity, and of God with humanity. Without such perilously anomalous bridges (each of which flouted common sense), the universe itself would fall apart. The rich would forget the poor. The living would forget the dead. And God would forget them all.

For Brown this was prologue. I find quite enough to contemplate here without, yet, going further.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Domestic insecurity

Word of the attack at Planned Parenthood in Colorado broke into the family's comfortable post-Thanksgiving stupor.
By way of Global Post
The holiday feast itself is such an excessive project that it's accomplishment on the holiday is a bit of an anti-climax. The day after, more active amid the bustle of household projects, is also more of a vacation interlude, less a driven ritual of semi-hysterical cooking.
The shooter turns out to have been 57 or perhaps 59, say the news accounts. Otherwise he qualifies.

According to the Times:

Security concerns at the clinic were high enough that the clinic had a “security room” with a supply of bulletproof vests, but, according to an officer on the scanner, some of the vests are still in the room, and one may have been worn by the gunman.

One of us who had accompanied women to a Planned Parenthood clinic over twenty years ago sighed: "I got out just as we started to have to do that."
Few witnesses to terrorism are this composed. It doesn't stop.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday cat blogging: peaceable kingdom edition

Jack and Jupiter (L to R) are fast friends.


Sure -- I do that as often as I can. Outside is my destination.

Thanks REI.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015: join us in gratitude ...

Atlantic contributing editor Peter Beinart points out two very different narratives favored by two different Presidents about this country:

For George W. Bush, the story was about America being roused from its complacency by external danger. In 1999, then candidate Bush quoted Winston Churchill as declaring, in the late 1930s, that “the era of procrastination, of half measures-of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close.” Then, in his second inaugural, Bush described his own era as “years of relative quiet, years of repose, years of sabbatical” followed by “a day of fire.” The implication was that to fulfill his role in history, Bush needed to rally Americans against the evil that lurked beyond their shores.

Obama tells the story of American history differently: as America overcoming the evil within itself. In his 2008 Democratic convention speech, he talked about “a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west, a promise that led workers to picket lines and women to reach for the ballot.” The first two references—to immigrants escaping foreign oppression and pioneers overcoming nature’s hardships—are standard political fare. But by twinning them with workers battling exploitation and women battling sexism, Obama suggested that external and physical forces aren’t the only barriers to American progress. Sometimes, the barriers are other Americans.

In the spirit of that latter narrative, I'm giving over this Thanksgiving Day post to an oped interpreting the holiday by Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Remember the Refugees at the First Thanksgiving

This Thursday, friends and family will gather to commemorate the resettlement of the first wave of refugees to what would become the United States. While we as a nation are now more cognizant of the terrible toll this resettlement took on the native inhabitants of the land, we also recognize that the resulting ethnic and religious diversity of America is unique in all the world.

In the midst of eating turkey and stuffing around the dinner table, we will be reminded that, at its core, America is a land of immigrants, a nation comprised of innumerable waves of men, women and children fleeing oppression and seeking a better life.

The history of our country is one defined by overlapping layers in which new groups of individuals have joined our national fabric and given it new shape through their cultural, artistic and intellectual contributions.

As we come together on this day to celebrate the tremendous blessings we enjoy as Americans, we must therefore also remember our shared work of fighting for freedom, equality and dignity for all people, regardless of their national, ethnic or religious background.

As the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), I believe strongly in the values and principles on which our country was founded, established by the descendants of those first refugees fleeing discrimination in their homeland.

They sought to create a country in which anyone could be welcome, their contributions valued and where freedom and justice would be the law of the land. For more than 20 years, and to this very day, CAIR has worked tirelessly in support of these founding principles. We are proud of what we have accomplished, but recognize that much still remains to be done to make them a reality for all Americans.

In the days and weeks leading up to this day of thanks, we have seen a darkening of the tone on the place of American Muslims. We have witnessed a Christian Ethiopian immigrant in North Carolina being threatened and beaten after being mistaken for a Muslim; we have seen airlines remove passengers because of their racial background or spoken language; we have watched as a pregnant Muslim woman was assaulted on the street in San Diego while pushing her child in a stroller; and we have seen too many mosques vandalized, shot at, threatened, and defaced by those who say that Islam has no place within America – the same rhetoric that has too often been leveled at Jewish, Catholic, Irish, and African-Americans.

Tragically, even those who hold or seek public office have turned this hatred against the newest wave of refugees seeking shelter in our land. Descendants of immigrants who came to our country seeking a better life have forgotten their past, and now turn their backs on Syrian refugees fleeing the horrors of ISIS on one side, and the brutality of the Assad regime on the other.

Groups such as the coalition of governors who demanded that President Obama suspend Syrian refugee resettlement coldly ignore the plight of innocent children who have the potential to become our next generation of doctors, lawyers, engineers, and elected officials. They place no confidence in our country's robust system for vetting newcomers and they forget that some of the greatest contributors to American society, such as Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Steve Jobs' father (himself Syrian) have also been refugees from hostile countries.

They would sacrifice our shared humanity on the false altar of security, unable to understand the core truth that these values can only exist when they exist together.

On this day, I encourage us all to not only be thankful for the blessings we enjoy as Americans, but to recall the circumstances surrounding the first Thanksgiving: a huddled group of newcomers, fleeing persecution, giving thanks for the generosity of their hosts in a challenging new world.

Today, I invite you to join us in gratitude for all that we enjoy in this land, and to share in our efforts to make this bounty available to all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Vermont's favorite son

Driving across central Vermont, it was striking how many of these Bernie for President signs were on display. I mean, I figured that he enjoyed a comfortable majority of support among Vermonters, but the level of enthusiasm surprised me.

I became less surprised when I learned that Bernie has the highest approval rating (83 percent) of any Senator among his home state voters.

My Vermont friend explained: "He's perfectly in tune with this state. Though parts of Vermont form an elite outdoor playground, this is mostly a very poor state. Bernie knows how to listen to the people here."

Once upon a time, Presidential elections usually attracted a goodly number of semi-contenders who were properly described as "favorite sons" (we didn't elect daughters in those days). These men could count on the loyalty of a state or region where they'd made a local reputation as good public servants. In those days, Presidential campaigns became national much more slowly. The favorite sons sought to extend their appeal to the rest of the country. Sometimes that required a steep learning curve; I think particularly of Massachusetts patrician John F. Kennedy's eye-opening experience of Appalachian poverty in a West Virginia primary. In those distant days, there were no national debates and pols could take time learning more about this enormous country.

Perhaps Bernie should be thought of as a figure in the favorite son tradition -- forced these days very early to encounter racial and cultural diversity which his state never thrust at him.


To succumb to fear is to commit societal suicide. This is the threat the mix of terrorism -- mostly two oceans away, but we scare easy -- and clamoring proto-fascists in the Republican primaries offer. As a country we have choices.

Thomas Edsall summarizes:

Terrorist attacks, especially if they are reinforced by new assaults, have the potential to undermine the legitimacy of a tolerant liberalism. Based on the present risk of terrorist violence here and abroad, this is a threat Democrats cannot avoid. The goal of terrorism is to destroy the liberal state. ...

The liberal state isn't perfect, but it is a darn sight better than the alternatives.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Why do fear and stupidity dominate the stage this month?

In a primary season, “there is very little political upside to being the sensible voice right now,” said Matt Duss, the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.


A better question might be, what will it take for us to get tired of a diet of panic, Islamophobia and security theater?

Monday, November 23, 2015

"We are NOT a nation of cowards!"

Catch the inimitable Katie Sherrod unmasking some politicians' shameful incitement of fear directed against refugees fleeing violence in Syria:
Now there's a theme for the Christmas season about to engulf us.
I'm on the road this week observing the Thanksgiving holiday, so blog posts may be somewhat erratic.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

"Hospitality is the right of all and the duty of all" -- a view from the South

This week U.S. politicians have bravely declared our country a nation of cowards, too frightened of people fleeing war and terror to recognize the shared humanity of the desperate.

Leonardo Boff is a Brazilian theologian and academician whose conflicts with the Roman Catholic hierarchy led him out of that church in 1992. He has referred to the Church, Western leaders, and Middle Eastern fanatics as all representing a "fundamentalism" that oppresses the poor.

Boff doesn't think much of the response of rich countries to the anguish of migrants. In the present circumstances, his hope in the humanity of ordinary people, not the generosity of rulers.

As always, the global refugee problem presents an ethical imperative of hospitality at both the national and international levels. We are witnessing a human migration much as occurred during the decay of the Roman Empire. Millions of people seek new homelands so as to survive, or simply to escape the wars and to find a modicum of peace. Hospitality is the right of all and the duty of all.

...If we want a lasting peace, and not just a truce or a momentary pacification, we must live universal hospitality and respect for universal rights.

... If we do not undertake good will in earnest, we will not find a way out of the desperate social crises that tear up the societies on the periphery, and causes the millions of refugees that are headed for Europe.

Good will is the last life boat that is left. The world situation is a disaster. We are living in a permanent state of siege or global civil war. No one, not even the two Holy Men, Pope Francis and the Dali Lama; not the intellectual or moral elites, nor techno-science, offers any clues for a global path. In fact, we depend solely on our good will. ...

America Latino en movimiento

As has often been the case, people whose countries have been torn apart by global elites have a clearer view of reality than those of us protected, but isolated in our bubble, within Top Nation. This week the focus was on Syrians, but imperial firepower, fundamentalisms, civil wars and the disasters of climate change will set populations on the move across the globe in our time. We better get ready to deal as humanly as we can; we all might need help one day.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Saturday scenes and scenery: grasses still stand tall

It's been a strange autumn in drought-stricken northern California. We've had a couple of moderate rain storms, but temperatures have remained comfortably in the 60s and most days have been bright and clear.

Anticipating that one of these days El Niño storms will drive me off the hills, I've been out on the trails every chance I can seize.

The pampas grass is thriving everywhere. It seems to be an invasive species from the Andes, considered noxious by horticultural purists. I'm rather fond of it. These hills were cleared of whatever was native here many decades ago.

Friday, November 20, 2015

New York Times has amnesia

On Wednesday, the French authorities said they had carried out more than 414 raids across the country, arrested 64 people and placed another 118 under house arrest.

Under the emergency, the authorities are permitted to conduct raids and make arrests without first obtaining a warrant. But as soon as someone is arrested or property is seized, the regular legal system kicks in. Suspects in terrorism cases are already allowed to be held without charge for up to six days.

In the United States, even in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, raids on that scale would have created a storm of criticism, but the French, only 10 months after Islamist radicals attacked the newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, have generally accepted the crackdown as necessary.

November 20, 2015

Actually, by November 2001, the Times was reporting that somewhere between 500 and 1000 miscellaneous Muslim males, of varying immigration statuses, had been picked and held, largely incommunicado, mostly without charges or lawyers.

Then as now, this wasn't law enforcement; it was a panic attack. Like the French, few in the U.S. objected to this blanket racial and religious profiling. None of those swept up in this dragnet were ever charged with terrorism. Perhaps the French can undercover some real perps? That doesn't seem to be what dragnets do.

California's roll of dishonor

The following Democratic Congresscritters voted Thursday to further impede some minuscule number of refugees from the Syrian civil war from reaching our shores.
  • Pete Aguilar (CA-31)
  • Ami Bera (CA-07)
  • Julia Brownley (CA-26)
  • Jim Costa (CA-16)
  • John Garamendi (CA-03)
  • Janice Hahn (CA-44)
  • Scott Peters (CA-52)
  • Raul Ruiz (CA-36)
The current panic is Republican hate theater. The "vetting" (bureaucratic hoops and endless delays) to which refugees are subjected is so cumbersome that we have allowed entry to less than 2000 people, mostly children and elders, in the last four years.

These cowardly Congresscritters are aiding Daesh (ISIS), demonstrating that we share the terrorists' disdain for victims of violence. Would they have voted to leave Anne Frank to her fate under the Nazis in 1939? Most likely. In the spring of that year, according to the Holocaust Museum, Congress allowed a bill to die in committee that would have admited 20,000 Jewish children.

Resilience and Remembrance

The Transgender Day of Remembrance #TDOR is observed annually on this day to remember those who lost their lives in acts of violence against gender non-conforming people.

The organization Strong Families has created a Trans Day of Resilience Art Project for the occasion. See the rest of the images at the link.
Meanwhile, there remains a generation of transpeople who transitioned before the current outburst of affirming awareness and remain extremely vulnerable to mistreatment for the offense of becoming themselves. According to a transman named "Marc," these older people often

"don’t have families of origin. They don’t have spouses, family or children,” he says. “If you don’t have those people advocating for you, you’re far more likely to be abused in a living facility or nursing home.”

For this highly marginalized group, the idea of going into an assisted living facility is a nightmare. Michelle Evans’s worst fears about care facilities came true just after she transitioned.

Evans, a 59-year-old trans woman from Orange County, Calif., knew from a young age that her body and mind were at odds, although it took her nearly a lifetime—over 50 years—to fully transition. About a year after she did, she broke both legs in an accident and was forced to stay in a nursing home after surgery. Except that no nursing home would take her, she says.

When she finally found one that would, it insisted on putting her in the men’s ward. Evans protested and eventually ended up with a room of her own, but she says the doctor in charge told her that identifying as a female was “wrong.”

The doctor eventually stopped Evans’ hormone treatments and took her off blood thinners—medication she needed after her surgery. Soon Evans developed dangerous blood clots in her legs. A friend finally intervened and took her back to the hospital, where she was told she had only 24 hours to live—the clots had made it to her lungs.

Evans survived and won a cash settlement -- but what can repay her for such trauma? Read her story and more here.

Friday cat blogging

By popular request, here's Morty, being himself.

Apparently he has been posing for some stencil artist -- so I had to conclude while finding this on a lamp post while walking for 596 Precincts.
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