September 30, 2011

Connecticut Supreme Court Rules against Groton Church

The Associated Press reported today that the Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut and against the breakaway congregation of Bishop Seabury Church in Groton. The defendant congregation is currently part of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America and the Anglican Church in North America. AP explains, in part,
Justices rejected an appeal of a lower court ruling by the Bishop Seabury Church in Groton, which like dozens of parishes nationwide split from the national Episcopal Church after the 2003 appointment of Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Bishop Seabury Church's governing board voted in 2007 to join the more conservative Convocation of Anglicans in North America.
Bishop Seabury Church was one of the “Connecticut Six” that attempted to leave the Episcopal Church diocese in 2004. The 6-0 decision cited the Dennis Canon as creating an explicit trust in favor of The Episcopal Church.

Parishioners, on the other hand, complained that ownership of the property should allow them to do as they wish with it. Apparently, the congregation has not ruled out pursuing the case in the federal courts.

Actually, two related decisions were handed down by the Connecticut Supreme Court today, which, admittedly, I have not yet had time to read. They can be found here and here. (Warning: there are more than 50 pages of opinion to read.) A statement from the diocese is available here.

One has to wonder when dissidents trying to leave The Episcopal Church with parish property will learn that the law is not on their side. One would also like to know where all the funds to support this fruitless litigation is coming from. One also has to wonder if the point of the litigation is to win or simply to wound The Episcopal Church.

September 28, 2011

A Revised Proposal for General Convention 2012

I recently proposed, for consideration by the 77th General Convention next year, an omnibus resolution on the Anglican Communion, the primary purpose of which was to decline to adopt the Anglican Covenant. (See “A Proposed Resolution for General Convention 2012.) Based on the feedback I received both on the form and substance of the resolution, I offer below a revised proposal in, as I understand it, the proper form for consideration by the General Convention.

General Convention 2012 logoAs was the case with my original proposal, this resolution is stronger than anything the General Convention is likely to pass. I believe in the wisdom and pragmatism of every provision of my draft, however. Further, I must point out something that the President of the United States apparently does not know, namely, that successful negotiation is not facilitated by putting forth a proposal at the outset that incorporates all the compromises you are willing to make. As before, I encourage comments. I acknowledge that many will think my proposal too broad, and that the General Convention should simply and politely say that it chooses not to adopt the Covenant.

Title: Relation to the Anglican Communion

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 77th General Convention desire and intend that The Episcopal Church continue its membership in the Anglican Communion, understood as a fellowship of autonomous, autocephalous churches having historical ties to an independent Church of England; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention believe that The Episcopal Church, is properly described as “Anglican” by virtue of its history, theology, and polity, irrespective of its status with respect to the Anglican Communion, and that neither its existence nor the performance of its Gospel mission in the world is contingent on Communion membership; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention declare that no person, committee, commission, church, or ecclesiastical body associated with the Anglican Communion and not part of The Episcopal Church has any authority over The Episcopal Church, its dioceses, its clergy, its parishes, its missions, or its members, except insofar as such authority has been granted by the General Convention in accordance with its Constitution and Canons; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention, believing the so-called Anglican Communion Covenant to be contrary to Anglican theology and tradition, as well as not required for Anglican Communion membership, decline to adopt said Covenant and urge other churches of the Anglican Communion to do the same; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention consider the admission to the Anglican Communion of any church claiming jurisdiction over any area within the geographic boundaries of a diocese of The Episcopal Church to be incompatible with Episcopal Church membership in the Communion; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention provide no more than 4% of the administrative expenses required for the maintenance of the Anglican Communion, which limitation does not include funds required to support travel of Episcopal Church members for participation in Anglican Communion meetings; funds directly supporting evangelism, relief, and development; or other expenditures as may be authorized by the General Convention; and be it further

Resolved, That nothing in this resolution is intended to modify or to abrogate any bilateral agreements made by The Episcopal Church, its dioceses, or its parishes insofar as such agreements are consistent with the Constitution and Canons of the General Convention.


Although The Episcopal Church, over most of its history, has experienced the Anglican Communion as a useful vehicle for consultation and coöperation, it has, in recent years, been subjected to injustices and indignities at the hands of Anglican Communion churches and bishops. Among the abuses our church has suffered have been declarations of impaired or broken communion, jurisdictional incursions by foreign bishops, the attempted alienation of church property and criticism for opposing same, the making of improper demands affecting both the internal governance of our church and its relations with the Anglican Communion, and the encouragement and recognition of a church whose claimed jurisdiction overlaps that of The Episcopal Church. Communion churches have failed to support Episcopal Church against the perpetrators of these various insults, have failed to recognize properly adjudicated depositions of Episcopal clergy, and have advocated the removal of The Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion and its replacement by a church whose physical assets and membership have largely been obtained at the expense of The Episcopal Church. Additionally, the Presiding Bishop has not been properly acknowledged as a bishop and has been ostracized by certain Anglican primates. Not all of our bishops have been invited to participate in the Lambeth Conference, and members of our church have been removed, without consultation or recourse, from Anglican Communion bodies to which they had been duly appointed. Despite these many injuries, The Episcopal Church has continued to pay substantially more than its fair share of the administrative expenses of the Anglican Communion bureaucracy.

The effort to establish an Anglican Communion Covenant is largely intended to punish or ostracize The Episcopal Church for its “innovations.” Given that those “innovations” led to the injuries and indignities enumerated above, it is clear that adoption of the Covenant by The Episcopal Church will only sanction additional interference in the internal affairs of our church and severely curtail its traditional autonomy.

September 25, 2011

Victoria Matthews on the Covenant

Since September 1, 2011, when I announced the page on my Web site listing essays favoring the Anglican Covenant published by The Living Church, I have added  two additional essays to the list. The latest contributions published by the American magazine are “The Anglican Communion: A Brief History Lesson,” by the Rev. Dr. Robert Prichard, and “Greeting the Saints,” by the Rt. Rev. Victoria Matthews.

 Whereas I don’t intend to offer rebuttal to all the points made in the essays published by The Living Church, I reserve the right to comment now and then. (Alan Perry has offered an evaluation of the series as a whole and promises future commentary on particular essays. See his blog post here.)

Today, I want to exercise my right to discuss the Victoria Matthews piece.

 “Greeting the Saints” particularly caught my attention, as Bishop Matthews has a rather interesting history. She is now Bishop of Christchurch, in New Zealand, and was the first female bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada. More information about Victoria Matthews’ career can be found on Wikipedia.

Of course, I was intrigued that, being a woman, Bishop Matthews would be writing on behalf of the Covenant. That document, after all, is designed to inhibit theological and ecclesiastical change, of which she is an obvious beneficiary. Recognizing the potential for cognitive dissonance, she begins, rather defensively, with this paragraph:
People are sometimes surprised that I support the proposed Anglican Covenant because there is a widespread belief that the crafters of the Covenant intend to stop new developments in the Communion. Similarly, many Anglicans believe that if there had been a Covenant 25 years ago, we would not have both sexes elected and consecrated to the episcopate. (“We would not have women bishops,” they say, without speaking of “men bishops.” Bishop is not a gender-exclusive noun, and women is not an adjective.)
I’m not sure what the snarky parenthetical remark is all about. For about two thousand years, Bishop was indeed a gender-exclusive noun, and women can most definitely be an adjective. The bishop’s linguistic credentials are not really what I want to talk about, but her opening gambit is not reassuring.

The Bishop of Christchurch is concerned about “inter-Anglican communication,” which she views as dysfunctional. Communion churches, she suggests, must be committed “to being in relationship one with another, no matter what.” She asserts—or perhaps only hopes—that the Anglican Covenant will “ensure the kind of listening, communication, and relationship that is presently missing in the Anglican Communion.”

It is widely acknowledged that modern communication technologies, and especially the Internet, have complicated the life of the Anglican Communion. Almost immediately, an archbishop across the globe can know about—and object to—the goings-on in another Anglican church. And he—invariably he—can easily mount a worldwide campaign against it. Bloggers and parachurch organizations readily line up on one side or another. Church documents are quickly distributed and deconstructed.

Clearly, Bishop Matthews thinks this is terrible. I don’t. The problem she has with all this communication, I suspect, is that it makes life difficult for bishops. The church was not established for bishops, however, but for all of humanity. Democracy—the priesthood of all believers, actually—is not a bad thing, though it is admittedly a royal pain for those who consider themselves princes (or princesses) of the Church. That ordinary clergy and laypeople are showing themselves to be passionate about their churches is not a gift to be despised.

In fact, Bishop Matthews goes rather off the deep end in her discussion, arguing that some people suggest avoiding meetings because you will learn more by staying home, as if maximum enlightenment will occur if no one at all attends Anglican meetings! How this rather foolish idea is supposed to contribute to her argument I have no idea.

“What would happen if the provinces of the Communion were equally dedicated [as was the Apostle Paul] to being in relationship one with another, no matter what?” the bishop asks rhetorically. What, indeed, if primates did not declare their churches out of communion with one another, did not create alternative gatherings to which only like-thinking Anglicans are invited, and did not boycott Anglican meetings and complain that their concerns were not discussed at those meetings?

So, what does Bishop Matthews think is going to create a commitment to bring “listening, communication, and relationship” back to the Communion? Her answer, improbably, is Section 4 of the Covenant. She appears to be under the impression that the Covenant will enforce “listening and being in relationship.”

Bishop Matthews cites no provision of Section 4, or of any part of the Covenant, for that matter. Has she actually read it, or is she relying on magical thinking? In fact, the only “listening” Section 4 encourages is the monitoring of the behavior of sister churches for incompatibility of their actions with the Covenant. Further, rather than “being in relationship one with another, no matter what,” Section 4 of the Covenant specifies how the Communion can mete out “relational consequences” for alleged infractions of Covenant provisions without requiring any listening to the accused church at all!

In short, the Covenant is in no way the proper medicine for the Communion ailment that Bishop Matthews sees. She concludes her essay
It is my prayer that the Anglican Covenant will act as a midwife for the delivery of a new Anglican Communion, a Communion that has its gestation in relationship and deep listening.
I’m afraid that the bishop will have to find another prayer. This one is not going to come true

Update, 9/26/2011: When I wrote the above post, my main objective was to point out  that, however much Bishop Matthews would like it to be so, the Covenant simply creates no machinery to do what she believes needs to be done.

When I first read “Greeting the Saints,” my impression was that it was distressingly incoherent, but I did not want to make too big an issue of that. Upon rereading it today, however, I do feel compelled to write about the strangeness of its first paragraph.

As I pointed out yesterday, Bishop Matthews begins by acknowledging that, as a woman bishop, many would think it strange that she would be a Covenant supporter. Logically, what should follow this admission is an explanation of why such a supposition is, in her case, unfounded. Instead of explaining away the apparent anomaly, however, she goes on to complain about the use of the term “women bishops,” a complete non sequitur.

Why, I would like to know, does the bishop think that, had the Covenant been in place some number of years ago—the 25 years cited in her first paragraph is not enough—we would have women bishops today? Perhaps had the Covenant been adopted 40 years or so ago, there would be women bishops in The Episcopal Church, The Episcopal Church would be out of the Anglican Communion, and the Anglican Communion would have no women bishops.

September 23, 2011

Episcopal Church Style Guide

The Office of Communication of The Episcopal Church has published what is being called a style guide, “Brand Guidelines for the Episcopal Church.” It is intended to facilitate the creation of more uniform documents. The introduction to “Brand Guidelines” declares that
One of the goals of these guidelines is to enable the development of consistent but flexible communications for use by dioceses, parishes, networks, provinces and other entities of the Church. Guidelines allow us to model unity while allowing for a wide range of expressions.
The document is interesting and helpful, though perhaps not as helpful as it could be. It is about consistent branding, but it says little about document design or conventions to use in writing about things Episcopalian.

“Brand Guidelines” is  a mere 27 pages long, and its landscape orientation makes it look more like a slide presentation than a booklet. This is something of a virtue, as it is easily read on a typical computer screen. Like a slide show, however, “Brand Guidelines” is a bit light on content. It is, however, attractive.

I was particularly struck by the “Brand Strategy Statement” on page 6:
 For those looking for more meaning and deepened spirituality, The Episcopal Church offers honest and unconditional acceptance, which removes barriers to Jesus Christ and permits belonging to an authentic church community.
Whereas this may not be the definitive statement of what our church is about, it is a well-crafted and appropriate declaration. In a very small font at the bottom of page 6, however, we find this disclaimer:
This statement is a reminder of our strengths. It is meant to help guide communication work, rather than be used as an external piece of communication.

More than a third of “Brand Guidelines” is concerned with the proper ways of displaying the church logo. There is probably more here than most people want to know, though certain dimensions are left to the imagination.

Spacial relationships in church logo from page 9

The font of the church logotype is Chronicle, and sans serif font Knockout-HTF29-JuniorLiteweight is suggested as an accent font. Whereas these are attractive fonts, they are expensive ones. They both come from the New York type foundry Hoefler & Frere-Jones, which has some very high-profile clients, including The New York Times, Tiffany & Company, Nike, Inc., and Hewlett Packard. The complete set of Chronicle fonts, for example, licensed for a single computer, costs $499.00. A more modest package, again for a single computer, can be had for $199.00. I rather doubt that most “dioceses, parishes, networks, provinces and other entities of the Church” are likely to rush out to buy the suggested Hoefler & Frere-Jones fonts.

“Brand Guidelines” defines, at least in a general way, the format for PowerPoint slides. It fails to provide a source for the “stained glass background” it recommends using for title slides, however. Likewise, the guidelines do not indicate where one can find images of the Episcopal Church shield as used in “Brand Guidelines.” It is not available among the Official Graphics and Logos on the church’s Web site.

The document does sort of answer two significant questions faced by Episcopal Church communicators. First, what is one to call the general church, as opposed to the local parish or diocese? Everyone wants to call it the “national church,” but readers are warned against this on page 24:
Do not use the term “the national church.” The Episcopal Church is in 16 countries and 110 dioceses. The correct term is simply The Episcopal Church. In referencing the Church Center in New York City and its activities, the correct term is “denominational office of The Episcopal Church.”
Several things are interesting about these instructions. First, on page 3, the church is characterized as having 109 dioceses and three regional areas in 16 countries. Somehow, by page 24, the church gained a diocese and lost three regional areas. Go figure. Additionally, the cited instructions seem to admit that our church is a “denomination.” I have no problem with this—I consider the Roman Catholic Church to be a denomination—but I know that many seem to make a point that our being part of the “one holy catholic and apostolic Church” (BCP, p. 359) somehow means that The Episcopal Church is not a denomination.

The other issue resolved on page 24 is the name of our church. “Brand Guidelines” advises
In copy, use an upper case “t” for The Episcopal Church.
This advice is curious, given the title of the style guide, rendered as “BRAND GUIDELINES for the EPISCOPAL CHURCH” on the cover of the booklet. This recommendation derives, ultimately, from the Preamble to the Constitution of the General Convention, which begins
The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, otherwise known as The Episcopal Church (which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church) …
Episcopal News Service began insisting on the use of “The” in the name of the church just before the 2006 General Convention, but the practice was eventually abandoned. As recently as today, Episcopal News Service was still referring to “the Episcopal Church.” I suppose not everyone at the denominational office of The Episcopal Church has gotten the memo.

Postscript. The announcement of the availability of  “Brand Guidelines for the Episcopal Church” sparked a good deal of discussion on The Houses of Bishops and Deputies email list regarding the relative readability of serif versus sans serif fonts. The discussion uncovered a good, though inconclusive, discussion of the issue here.

September 22, 2011

On Being “Anglican”

In my last post, “A Proposed Resolution for General Convention 2012,” I suggested, among other things, that The Episcopal Church declare that “membership in the Anglican Communion is not essential to [The Episcopal Church’s] existence, its Anglicanism, or its Gospel mission in the world.”

Alan Perry, in a comment, suggested that it was a stretch to suggest that a church could withdraw from the Anglican Communion and remain “Anglican.” He suggested that my attitude was uncomfortably close to that of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which claims to be “Anglican” but only aspires to join the Anglican Communion.

I wrote a brief comment to Alan, which I will expand a bit here.

“Anglican,” I suggest, is commonly used in at least three ways. (A fourth, less common usage is “Anglican Church” as a synonym for “Church of England.”) “Anglican,” referring to a church, can mean, as Alan suggests, being in the Anglican Communion. The word can also refer to a church that is descended historically from an autonomous Church of England. ACNA certainly qualifies as Anglican by this definition, as does the United Methodist Church in the U.S., though hardly anyone would apply the word to Methodists. Finally, there is the way I usually use the term, which I consider to be the most important, if not the most common. “Anglican” in this sense, refers to an approach to theology, ecclesiology, and possibly (though less importantly) polity (i.e., having bishops in apostolic succession). It refers to the Via Media idea of a church that is neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant, a church where a certain uniformity of worship is more important than uniformity of belief. (See my paper, “Saving Anglicanism,” which is decidedly not about preserving the Anglican Communion.) Anglicanism’s most important theologian is, of course, Richard Hooker.

One can characterize churches in terms of how well they can be described by the three kinds of Anglicanism. To do so, I offer the diagram below. (Click on graphic for a larger view.)

The Episcopal Church, and many other churches of the Anglican Communion, sit at the intersection of the three classes of “Anglicanism.”  ACNA, on the other hand,is not in the Communion, and, I would argue, not philosophically Anglican. From all I can tell, the Church of Nigeria (Anglican) is not philosophically Anglican at all, though it is in the Anglican Communion. I know of no philosophically Anglican churches not derived from the Church of England. Correct me if I am wrong. Moreover, I think all churches in the Communion are derived from the Church of England, which explains the two “NULL” labels in my diagram.


September 21, 2011

A Proposed Resolution for General Convention 2012

The 2012 General Convention of The Episcopal Church will need to deal with the Anglican Covenant. It can accept it, reject it, or do something else. As most readers of this blog know, I believe that our church should decline categorically to adopt the Covenant.

General Convention logoWhat, exactly, the General Convention says will matter, however. Moreover, the need to deal with the Covenant provides an opportunity for the church to take a stand against the injuries and indignities it has suffered in recent years at the hands of the people and churches of the Anglican Communion.

No doubt, many resolutions will be proposed to deal with the Covenant, but I know of no resolution that has yet been offered publicly. Below, I suggest such a resolution. The likelihood that it will be adopted, or even make its way to the legislative floor, is essentially zero. It may, however, get people thinking more deliberately about what sort of resolution might be appropriate and why. I believe it is important for us (and for the Communion) to understand our current situation and what has happened to our church along the way..

I will not attempt an explanation of all the provisions of this rather long resolution, but I should explain the 4% figure that occurs in the fifth resolved clause. The number is a generous calculation of the percentage of Episcopalians among the world’s Anglicans (3 million / 80 million, rounded up). The Episcopal Church has been bankrolling the Anglican Communion at a much higher level than this and has mainly been repaid with grief and abuse. Stewardship of our very limited resources demands an adjustment, whether the one I have proposed or one more or less drastic..

I invite your comments and discussions here and elsewhere. Figuring out how The Episcopal Church responds to the challenge of the Anglican Covenant should not be left exclusively to a committee, perhaps not even to convention deputies.

Proposed Resolution for General Convention 2012
Relation to the Anglican Communion

Whereas this Church, over most of its history, has experienced the Anglican Communion as a useful vehicle for consultation and coöperation; and

Whereas churches, bishops, and bodies of the Anglican Communion have, in recent years, shown unjustified hostility to this Church by various actions, including, but not limited to
  • Declaring impaired or broken communion with this Church;
  • Declaring episcopal oversight of individual parishes of this Church by foreign bishops without consultation with the local ordinary;
  • Attempting the appropriation of financial, real property, and other assets of this Church while, at the same time, condemning this Church for availing itself of its only available recourse, namely, the civil courts;
  • Establishing competing ecclesiastical jurisdictions within the geographic boundaries of dioceses of this Church;
  • Encouraging the development of a church intended to compete with or replace this Church in the Anglican Communion;
  • Repeatedly making demands of this Church affecting its internal governance without warrant;
  • Failing to respect properly adjudicated depositions of clergy of this Church;
  • Removing, without consultation or recourse, members of this Church from Anglican Communion bodies to which they had been duly appointed;
  • Failing to accord the Presiding Bishop of this Church appropriate and unambiguous acknowledgment of her episcopal status;
  • Refusing to take communion with the Presiding Bishop of this Church;
  • Mistreating other ministers of this Church in discriminatory ways based on their gender or sexual orientation;
  • Requesting that representatives of this Church “voluntarily” absent themselves from meetings of Anglican Communion bodies;
  • Failing to acknowledge or demand redress for the aforementioned indignities, insults, and lapses of Christian charity against this Church and its members; and
  • Proposing a Covenant whose effect would be to limit the autonomy of this Church and to sanction interference in its internal affairs by the Anglican Communion;

be it

Resolved, that it is the understanding of this Church that membership in the Anglican Communion is not essential to its existence, its Anglicanism, or its Gospel mission in the world; and be it further

Resolved, that it is nonetheless the desire of this Church to continue its participation in the Anglican Communion, understood as a fellowship of autonomous, autocephalous churches whose history can be traced to the Church of England; and be it further

Resolved, that it is the understanding of this Church that its continued membership in the Anglican Communion is incompatible with the concurrent membership of other churches that claim jurisdiction over any area within the geographic boundaries of any diocese of this Church; and be it further

Resolved, that it is the understanding of this Church that no person, committee, commission, church, or ecclesiastical body not part of this Church has any authority over this Church, its dioceses, its clergy, its parishes, its missions, or its members, except insofar as such authority has been granted by this Church in accordance with its Constitution and Canons; and be it further

Resolved, that this Church provide no more than 4% of the administrative expenses required for the maintenance of the Anglican Communion, which limitation does not include funds required to support travel of members of this Church for participation in Anglican Communion meetings; funds directly supporting evangelism, relief, and development; or other expenditures as may be authorized by the General Convention of this Church; and be it further

Resolved, that because this Church believes the so-called Anglican Communion Covenant to be contrary to Anglican theology and tradition, it declines to adopt the Covenant and urges other churches of the Communion to do the same; and be it further

Resolved, that it is the understanding of this Church that its membership in the Anglican Communion is unaffected by its failure to adopt the Anglican Covenant; and be it further

Resolved, that nothing in this resolution is intended to modify or to abrogate any bilateral agreements made by this Church, its dioceses, or its parishes insofar as such agreements are consistent with the Constitution and Canons of this Church

Update, 9/28/2011: I have now posted a revised (and, I think, properly formatted) resolution here.

Looking Back to 9/11, Part 11

This is the eleventh and final installment looking back at commentary and poetry I wrote following the events of September 11, 2001. The tenth installment can be found here.

The events of 9/11 led to the development of the color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System, a device that was little understood and much maligned. I wrote about the Advisory System in 2005. The original post can be found here.

From Yellow to Orange

by Lionel E. Deimel
July 7, 2005

Threat levels
In response to the bombings in the city of London, today, Homeland Security informed the world on its Web site as follows: “The United States government is raising the threat level from Code Yellow--or Elevated-- to Code Orange--or High--for the mass transportation portion of the transportation sector.” The CNN link to the story about the change read “US raises alert level after blasts.”

Homeland Security has consistently refered to its color-coded advisory system as specifying a “threat level,” but I had not noticed until today that this terminology represents either fuzzy thinking or deliberate manipulation by the Department of Homeland Security. I hope that, in fact, Homeland Security is raising the perceived threat level; if it is raising the actual threat level, we have a serious need to re-evaluate what this organization thinks it is supposed to be doing! No doubt, the Department would like citizens to believe that the declared “threat level” corresponds to an actual statistically meaningful measure of the current threat from terrorism. Without more information than the government will ever have, however, the “threat level” is simply a best guess of that hypothetical statistic. Homeland Security should call its colored levels “perceived threat levels” or, more reassuringly, “estimated threat levels.”

The CNN use of “alert level” seems to be a headline-writer’s mistake, at least insofar as it does not capture directly the sense of what Homeland Security said it was doing. Because each “threat level” corresponds to a detailed specification of steps to be taken by public safety organizations, however, a change, like this one from yellow to orange, does indeed (and unambiguously) elevate what could reasonably be called the “alert level.” Perhaps Homeland Security should use this term, which emphasizes something the Department does know, rather than something it doesn’t.

September 20, 2011

Don’t Know, Don’t Care

Rainbow pinwheel
Today, the military’s (or should I say Congress’s?) policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has come to an end. It’s high time that happened, though news reports say that many in Congress are troubled by the policy’s demise. Could this become a campaign issue, at least in the search for a Republican presidential candidate? Who knows?

From the beginning, the only words appropriate to describing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell have been “morally bankrupt.” It’s appropriate to take a short time-out for celebration of its demise.

Next target: the misleadingly named Defense of Marriage Act.

Looking Back to 9/11, Part 10

This is the tenth installment looking back at commentary and poetry I wrote following the events of September 11, 2001. The ninth installment can be found here.

This 9/11 retrospective has nearly run its course. The post below, which originally appeared here, probably qualifies as comic relief, or, perhaps dark comic relief.

Lower Manhattan

by Lionel E. Deimel
September 15, 2004

Recently, I saw a news segment on television about a Dick Cheney campaign event at the Statue of Liberty. The correspondent said something about the changed view of Lower Manhattan from Liberty Island since the destruction of the Twin Towers. For the first time, it struck me that "Lower Manhattan" has taken on a somewhat different meaning since the events of September 11, 2001.

September 19, 2011

Trash Disposal

Despite being urged to boycott Chick-fil-A—see “But Is it Oatmeal?—I had breakfast at my local Chick-fil-A restaurant today. When it was time to return my tray and discard the paper and other trash left on it, I found myself dumping the trash into an oval opening in a horizontal surface over the trash container. This is probably a better disposal system than one sees at McDonald’s and elsewhere, where one is required to push one’s tray through a vertical door hinged at the top that seems designed to resist trash deposition and to sweep it off the tray and onto the floor.

Here’s a suggestion for Chick-fil-A, however: Make the opening, oval or otherwise, wider than the trays, so that one can tip a tray and be assured that everything will fall through the hole.

I suspect that Chick-fil-A’s oval opening is intended to keep patrons from depositing trays into the trash. That the design used at McDonald’s does not prevent this eventuality leads me to suspect that it does not represent a serious threat.

Looking Back to 9/11, Part 9

This is the ninth installment looking back at commentary and poetry I wrote following the events of September 11, 2001. The eighth installment can be found here.

Soon after the World Trade Center towers were destroyed, there was discussion of construction of an appropriate memorial at Ground Zero. On September 12, 2011, the National September 11 Memorial, essentially two square pools in a forest, opened to the public. An associated museum is to open next year.

What is being done to remember the events of September 11, 2001, seems to follow a trend in such memorials. The most public monument is abstract, emphasizing remembrance of the people involved, rather than the nature of the event itself. Ugly details are relegated to a museum. This is the way we memorialized the Oklahoma City bombing, for example.

Whereas I think it’s wonderful that lower Manhattan is getting a new park, we are, in a sense, romanticizing a tragic event that continues to to cast a malignant shadow on American life. Realism, rather than abstraction, is often a more powerful mechanism for communicating the essence of an event. One thinks of the evocative power of the Iwo Jima Memorial or even the USS Arizona Memorial, with its combined use of realism—in this case, the actual sunken battleship—and abstraction.

In December 2003, when design of the Ground Zero memorial was not yet determined, I suggested a very different sort of memorial in the essay below. It originally appeared here.

Disclaimer: No one I have talked to has liked my idea for a 9/11 memorial.

Ground Zero Memorial

by Lionel E. Deimel
December 15, 2003

In a recent essay, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd attacked the eight finalist designs for a Ground Zero memorial. The pretty designs, she suggested, fail to capture the horror of the event they mean to memorialize. “The designs,” she said, “are more concerned with the play of light on water than the play of darkness on life.” If a memorial is to capture our outrage over the 9/11 attacks and not merely our sadness over our loss, Dowd’s point cannot be dismissed.

Dowd’s column set me thinking about my own experience of September 11, 2001, and my sense of having witnessed acts of pure evil. The image seared into my mind that day was of the burning towers, particularly of the second airliner crashing into the South Tower. I imagined a memorial of an airplane crashing into a burning building, with another burning building next to it, a kind of perpetual flame with attitude. As a public memorial, this idea seemed a bit too literal, and one that would fail to comment or provide insight into the event. It would nonetheless communicate the horror and revulsion felt by Americans that day and would overcome Dowd’s objection to the sterility, if not the banality, of the designs currently being considered.

Realism is out of favor in public art, of course, and one has to admit that the world has seen too many bronze warriors on horseback. Who can be unmoved by a work such as the Iwo Jima Memorial, however? True, this statue is modeled directly on the photographic record, but the event itself was so suffused with broader significance that the sculpture is immediately recognized as signifying more than simply the raising of a flag. Perhaps a slight change in point-of-view could yield an equally powerful public statement at the World Trade Center site.

Thinking about the problem, I was reminded of the poem I wrote about the atrocity, “Falling from the Sky.” An image in the poem suggested another approach:
The second plane penetrated the wall like a heavy object dropped onto a cake.
Was anyone staring out the window as it became larger and larger?
Could he see into the cockpit?
Was the pilot smiling?
Was he serene?
Imagine the following scene in life-size bronze. In the foreground is an office with desks and other office furniture. Workers are at their desks, standing, and looking out the windows in panic. Others face the viewer, seemingly carrying on their normal office duties. Beyond the windows is an airliner, positioned as it was an instant before impact. In the cockpit are three Arabs—a pilot looking serene, a co-pilot smiling, and a standing figure in back cheering on his colleagues. That would capture our sadness about the event, as well as our revulsion and anger. Add a reflecting pool or pillars of light or whatever abstractions are demanded by architectural sensibilities, and you have an effective Ground Zero memorial for the ages.

September 18, 2011

Looking Back to 9/11, Part 8

This is the eighth installment looking back at commentary and poetry I wrote following the events of September 11, 2001. The seventh installment can be found here.

This post returns us more directly to the events of September 11, 2001. My church had scheduled the beginning of a new Tuesday night program on September 11. That program was cancelled, and a Holy Eucharist service was planned instead. I don’t remember how it came about, but I found myself at the church that afternoon discussing with our rector and organist what hymns would be sung . One of the hymns we chose was “All my hope on God is founded,” which includes this second verse:

Mortal pride and earthly glory,
Sword and crown betray our trust;
Through with care and toil we build them,
Tower and temple fall to dust.
But God’s power, hour by hour,
Is my temple and my tower.

What I remember most vividly from that service is the Gospel reading. I don’t recall the text that was read, but I remember the geometry of the reading. Directly between the reader at the center of the nave and my choir chair in the chancel was one of the tall altar candles. Two years later, that candle figured prominently in my retelling of what happened that night.

My poem “9/11 Memorial” and additional commentary can be found on my Web site here.

9/11 Memorial

by Lionel E. Deimel
July 10, 2003

The staff scrambled to assemble a service,
not knowing who was affected,
not knowing, really, what had happened.
I watched the congregation from my usual place in the choir,
saw a somber crowd performing the familiar ritual,
trying to understand the utterly unfamiliar.
I watched a priest prepare the elements,
flanked by the tall altar candles,
just as I had watched a priest read the Gospel from the center of the nave—
watched through a flame atop a taper reaching skyward,
giving off waves of heat through which the words shimmered.

September 17, 2011

Looking Back to 9/11, Part 7

This is the seventh installment looking back at commentary and poetry I wrote following the events of September 11, 2001. The sixth installment can be found here.

Going to war against Afghanistan after 9/11 was probably inevitable. One of the worst mistakes made by President Bush, however, was taking his attention away from Afghanistan and Al Qaeda in order to make war on Iraq. I thought so at the time and wrote the post below on this blog. The original post can be found here.

Thanks, But No Thanks

by Lionel E. Deimel
March 18, 2003

Not surprisingly, Iraq seems to have rejected out of hand our demand that it give us its country. Praying for peace seems about the only alternative left to anyone who would like us to avoid war.

In his prime-time speech last night, President Bush’s justification for military action in Iraq was, as usual, a little garbled. Most straightforward and compelling was the argument that Iraq, having lost the Gulf War, agreed to co-operate in its disarmament. It is still true, however, that its lack of co-operation in this enterprise is more evident than its lack of substantive disarmament. Other allegations, while true, are not conventional casus belli, that Iraq has mistreated its people, for example. More worrisome, though still a novel justification for war, is the suggestion that Iraq might, for whatever reasons, supply weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. The President has clearly failed to sell this rationale to the world, in part, I think, because the case is less compelling with respect to Iraq than it is with regard to North Korea.

Although the President tried to explain why we are about to attack a country that has not, by conventional reckoning, attacked or provoked us, he did not address the more interesting question of why we stand nearly alone in this enterprise, in stark contrast to our situation before the Gulf War, in which we had broad international support. True, we were thwarted by a self-absorbed and self-important French government, but the French, who have been a diplomatic thorn in our side for many years, were responding to perceived American weakness and ineptitude. The administration, although it was dragged kicking and screaming into engaging in a diplomatic initiative to convince the Security Council to sanction the use of force against Iraq, acted as though its heart was not really in the effort. High-ranking officials were not flying around the world making its case. Whatever arm-twisting there may have been was, at best, ineffectual. Even President Bush’s touted rapport with President Vicente Fox of Mexico was insufficient to rally Mexico to our side in the Security Council.

The administration’s diplomatic skills aside, why should we have expected the outcome to be otherwise? President Bush made it quite clear to the world that a Security Council vote would have no effect on our decision to attack Iraq—we were going to do what we were going to do, whatever the U.N. thought about it. Why should Security Counil members put themselves on the hook for supporting what they considered a bad idea. And, even if they supported U.S. action, what incentive was there for broad military and financial support, given that the U.S. was willing to do the job for the world for free? We only weakly hinted that a failure of the U.N. to back its own demands would be damaging to the diplomatic mechanisms constructed since World War II. One suspects, of course, that the administration has no fondness for the U.N. anyway, and may be just as happy to have an excuse to exercise our military power without international constraints. Is there any doubt why the nations of the world told us thanks, but no thanks?

September 16, 2011


The sale of public radio station WDUQ-FM by Duquesne University to Essential Public Radio was completed yesterday. It was also announced that the station on 90.5 MHz will henceforth be known as WESA-FM. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a story on that milestone today. The changes were mentioned by the station on the air, but I could find no mention of the transfer or change of call letters on the Web sites of the university, the station, or Essential Public Radio.

I was surprised when I heard the new call letters. If there was a reason to select “WESA,” it was not obvious to me. A friend pointed out to me last night, however, that there used to be a WESA-FM station at 98.3 MHz broadcasting from Charleroi, Pennsylvania. Whether the new call letters are meant to refer to that earlier station, are intended to stand for something else, or are more or less arbitrary, I do not know. More information about the other WESA-FM can be found on Wikipedia and on the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Web site.

Looking Back to 9/11, Part 6

This is the sixth installment looking back at commentary and poetry I wrote following the events of September 11, 2001. The fifth installment can be found here.

For this post, I go a bit farther afield than I have in my earlier posts in this series. In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2011, our language gained some new terms, such as “9/11” itself, “Abu Ghraib,” and “enhanced interrogation techniques” (i.e., torture).

The linguistic innovation I have found most upsetting is the ubiquitous use of “homeland” (as in “Homeland Security”), a term I cannot recall being used to refer to our country before 2001. I discussed this usage on the still new Lionel Deimel’s Web Log as the new Department of Homeland Security was being assembled. That post—you can see the original post here—is reproduced below.

Homeland Security

by Lionel E. Deimel
June 11, 2002

President Bush has finally decided to ask for a Department of Homeland Security. In his speech to Congress back in September, I thought he was proposing a cabinet-level office, but he merely established the tight-lipped but feeble White House office headed by Tom Ridge.

I have an open mind as to whether creating a new federal department is a good idea. It is, in principle, I think, but the devil is in the details. What I am certain about—as I was in September—is that “Homeland Security” is a horrible name, perhaps even an un-American one. Americans may talk about their “home,” but not about their “homeland.” The word “homeland” sounds very foreign, and suspect. The Nazis could appeal to citizens to protect the German homeland when an appeal to defend the Nazi government would have been ineffectual. However fond we are of “America the Beautiful,” it is our way of life that Americans want to defend; our homeland could be on the Arabian Peninsula and our feelings for the nation would be essentially the same. (We might vacation differently.) In fact, before September 11, 2001, asking a citizen where his homeland is, would likely have elicited a response such as “Italy,” or “Ireland,” or “Africa.” America is an idea, rather than a place.

So, what alternative names are available for a cabinet department? The most obvious choices are Department of Internal Security and Department of Domestic Security. Department of National Security would be a good choice were NSA being folded into the department, but it isn’t. “Homeland Security” is no doubt supposed to sound friendlier (and less fascist) than, say “Domestic Security,” but the word “security” itself has certain heavy-handed connotations in a political context. Perhaps Department of Domestic Defense or Department of Domestic Safety would be more acceptable to civil libertarians. Anything but Department of Homeland Security.

P.S. Does anyone on the planet believe President Bush’s assertion that his government reorganization will cost no more money because each agency will simply be doing what it is doing now? And, if every agency is simply going to be performing the same job, why should we take comfort in the fact?

P.P.S. (Admission) When I did a site search on “homeland,” I was reminded that I had used the word in my poem “11 September 2001.” As indicated in the annotation, I was under the influence of President Bush’s September 20 speech when I wrote the poem.

September 15, 2011

Labor Day Lament, 2011

As regular readers know, I have been working on a Labor Day poem. Today, I decided to make some final edits and call the poem done. (I sometimes edit poems years later, however.) I have changed the name of the poem from “A Labor Day Lament” to “Labor Day Lament, 2011,” reflecting its contemporary references. I would like to thank reader Peter for his helpful comments, and I am dedicating the poem to Chuck Little, a former organist and choirmaster at my church and late husband of my friend Jane Little, who helped me work through the details of the poem. The two versions of the poem I posted on this blog can be found here and here. The new version can be found on Lionel Deimel’s Farrago here, along with additional commentary.

1956 Labor Day stamp

Looking Back to 9/11, Part 5

This is the fifth installment looking back at commentary and poetry I wrote following the events of September 11, 2001. The fourth installment can be found here.

The poem below, “2001” was finished around January 7, 2002. It is not about the events of September 11, but those events are referred to. The poem reviews the year 2001, which it describes as “not a good year.”  Some readers may not remember all the events of 2001 mentioned below; others will have their memories jogged. In reviewing “2001,” I was struck by the many ways in which its eponymous year is like 2011.

The poem and commentary about it can be found on my Web site here.


by Lionel E. Deimel
January 7, 2002

Two thousand one was not a good year,
Except, of course, to forget;
It started in peace but ended in war,
In surplus but ended in debt.

With incoming President chosen at last,
We began with both hope and despair;
Would the fighting continue, or parties unite
In bipartisan work for what’s fair?

Though lacking a landslide or mandate for change,
The President pressed for his plan;
He won his big tax cut for all his rich friends,
But the Senate, he lost by one man.

The Dems were quite feckless at raising the cry
Against the conservative core;
We waited in vain for inspiring words
From Daschle, Bill Clinton, or Gore.

The economy slowed, though the Fed cut its rates,
And the ranks of the unemployed grew;
But, despite the bad news, we focused our thoughts
On what Condit the Congressman knew.

September eleventh will forever be known
As the day the World Trade towers fell;
The heavenly bliss of American dreams
Was invaded by terrorist hell.
We changed our concerns in an instant that day—
Every cop, every fireman a hero;
Healing and safety priorities now;
The ultimate cost of Ground Zero.
The country still reeled from the terrorist blows
When we faced anthrax deaths from our mail;
Yet, with all our resources and money and men,
We could find not one villain to jail.
The war was essential, but it seemed a great shame
To bomb such a woebegone place;
And, except for tapes broadcast on Arab TV,
Bin Laden did not show his face.
And, so, we anticipate two thousand two
With prayers for peace and success;
We face our worst fears with a stiff upper lip,
For, in fact, we can do nothing less.

September 14, 2011

Rockwood Avenue Repaved

In my post of June 17, 2011, I announced that I was making a Facebook album of pictures of the repaving of my street, Rockwood Avenue. Last Saturday, the project seemed to be finished. Some guy with a pickup truck removed the ROAD CLOSED signs, and normal traffic resumed on Rockwood Avenue. Four days later, however, a ROAD CLOSED sign remains on Rockwood Avenue a couple of yards from the intersection with Willow Avenue. Was this sign forgotten?

If you’re a Facebook member, you can view my completed Repaving of Rockwood Avenue album here.

Sign left on Rockwood Ave. and Willow Ave.

Update, 9/16/2011: When I passed by the intersection of Rockwood Ave. and Willow Ave. today, I noticed that the ROAD CLOSED sign had been removed. Now the repaving project is really finished.

Political Reasoning: Often Not Very Smart

The prospects for an Obama reëlection are not good. The Democrats’ one hope is that the Republicans, driven by Tea Party extremists, will nominate a candidate who will be unappealing to everyone not occupying the far right of the political spectrum. This could give Obama a win, perhaps even energizing dispirited voters to vote against the Republican, if not for the Democrat. Of course, this scenario could also yield the worst possible result, a Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann in the White House.

The U.S. electorate has its dyed-in-the-wool Democrats and Republicans who will pretty much vote their party irrespective of who is running. The large majority of voters, however, even if they identify with one or the other major parties, can, in the right circumstances, be induced to vote for a candidate not of their party. They are sometimes easy prey to the fallacious arguments of one party or another.

Americans are often eager to throw the “bums” out when things seem to be going badly, irrespective of the party to which the “bums” belong. Especially vulnerable is anyone running under the party banner of the party controlling the White House when the economy is in bad shape. This very ingrained habit clearly works against Obama and the Democrats.

Although the reasoning behind the “throw-the-bums-out” strategy is not completely irrational, it is not a strategy guaranteed to improve things, either. A candidate who fails to be reëlected after raising the ire of constituents may be a replaced by someone who is better, worse, simply different, or perhaps even indistinguishable from the former office holder.

Consider our current economic situation. It is grim and, if improving, it is hardly doing so at a rate likely to be noticed by the average citizen. The obvious logic in this situation is: If a Democrat is in the White House and the economy is in bad shape, then the next President should be a Republican. It is difficult for anyone but a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat to resist this logic. One hears from the Republicans over and over that whatever the President is doing is not working, so it is time for a change. Perhaps it is. But which change?

There are two obvious errors in the Republican logic. First is the assertion that Obama has done nothing to improve the economy. The Republican mantra is that government stimulus projects do not work. Many economists, however, believe that what stimulus the President has been able to get through Congress has worked, at least in the sense that it has kept the economy from getting even worse. Remember that Obama inherited a poor economy from George Bush.

The second logic problem is the assumption that the President can, by arm-twisting, sheer force of will, or by some other means, impose his will on the country. Republicans have become every President’s nightmare, however, and, lately, it seems that nothing can pass Congress unless it is approved by the Tea Party. Our Founding Fathers would be appalled by this development. It is clear that, if the Republicans were not opposing everything because they want to see Obama fail, the President would be proposing bolder plans than he has. In particular, the stimulus bill passed at the beginning of his presidency would have been bigger had Republicans not been so oppositional.

Alas, most voters are not particularly analytical thinkers, nor, in many cases, do they have ready access to the facts that would make deeper analysis possible. It is clearly true that the government stimulus that President Obama has been able to get written into law has not made our economy healthy. Whereas the Tea Party concludes from this that no stimulus is beneficial, it is just as easy to conclude that more, not less, stimulus was needed. Tea Party types do not even consider the latter possibility, as it does not support their preconceived notions of how government should operate. Republican opposition may well have prevented a more effective stimulus program from being passed.

In fact, the question of whether more or less of some government action is indicated if the action so far has not had the desired result, is not uncommon. Interestingly, tax cuts have occurred under the Obama administration, and the fact that the economy has not recovered after those tax cuts were enacted might suggest that they were ineffective. One could as easily argue for eschewing future tax cuts as useless fiscal policy. On this matter, however, the Tea Party faithful argue that we have simply not cut taxes enough. Do you see a pattern here? It is clearly not one involving objective analysis, but one of believing what you believe and ignoring the facts.

May God help us. We are clearly incapable of helping ourselves.

Looking Back to 9/11, Part 4

This is the fourth installment looking back at commentary and poetry I wrote following the events of September 11, 2001. The third installment can be found here.

In 2001, I often wrote at a picnic table on my second-story deck. Many airplanes going in and out of Pittsburgh could be seen from the deck on any given day. I planned to write a poem about the passing aircraft, but I never got around to it.

The parade of airplanes was interrupted after September 11, 2001, which saw civilian aviation grounded for a time. Working on my deck became oddly different. Eventually, of course, the planes returned to the sky, and a certain sense of normality was restored. I finally did write a poem about the airplanes and titled it “Airplanes II” in acknowledgement of the earlier poem that was never written. The poem I did write is very different from the poem I did not write.

“Airplanes II” does not use rhyme, but its two stanzas are written in strict iambic pentameter. More commentary on the poem can be found on my Web site here.

Airplanes II

by Lionel E. Deimel
November 5, 2001

The planes again o’er fly my backyard deck,
As to and from their ’port they come and go—
Though fewer now than passed this way before,
Yet, still a comfort by their presence there.

They trace a line across the cloudless sky;
Between the trees they follow on their track
That, to the earthbound, cannot be perceived,
But ’tis the yoke of civilizing might.

September 13, 2011

Looking Back to 9/11, Part 3

This is the third installment looking back at commentary and poetry I wrote following the events of September 11, 2001. The second installment can be found here.

By September 27, 2001, many of the details of what happened on September 11 had become clear, although the why of the attacks on the World Trade Center towers was not at all clear. What details were known and what details could be inferred were incorporated into my poem “Falling from the Sky.” The poem on my Web site, along with commentary about it, can be found here.

Falling from the Sky

by Lionel E. Deimel
September 27, 2001

My mind rejected the truth it knew when the first tower fell.
Expecting the second collapse, it rejected that reality also.
How many lives had I just seen truncated?
What was it like?
How had they died?

What became of those who telephoned at once to say they were all right but who were never heard from again?
What happened to those on lower floors who waited too long to become alarmed?
Did they know what was happening?
What did they hear?
What did they smell?

Was immolation by jet fuel worse than the fire felt by Joan of Arc?
Those who jumped must certainly have thought so.
The air was fresh,
And one could fly,
At least for a moment.
The second plane penetrated the wall like a heavy object dropped onto a cake.Burning World Trade Center towers
Was anyone staring out the window as it became larger and larger?
Could he see into the cockpit?
Was the pilot smiling?
Was he serene?
The lucky ones died instantly of trauma,
Hearing only a loud crash before being overtaken by a dark, eternal silence.
Were they spared fear?
Did they gasp?
Did they pray?
Stairwells were filled with smoke and water and people,
Their downward journey slowed by the firefighters and hoses on their way up.
How many almost made it out?
How many fell?
How many gave up?
As steel buckled and failed under assault from the terrible fire,
Was it worse to be above, as the floor slipped away, or below?
Did they understand the meaning of that monstrous roar?
Did time stop?
Did they go mad?

As the end came, space was no longer filled with air, but became a maelstrom of angry particles
Fired from millions of machine guns pointed in every direction.
Could any bodies even remain whole?
Was there pain?
Was God there?

September 12, 2011

Looking Back to 9/11, Part 2

This is the second installment looking back at commentary and poetry I wrote following the events of September 11, 2001. The first installment can be found here.

Like so many Americans, I was deeply affected by the September 11 attacks, and it was natural for me to respond in poetry. My first poem inspired by events set in motion that day was a direct response to President George Bush’s address of September 20. The poem below, “11 September 2001,” was completed three days later and was edited slightly in 2006.

President Bush announced in his speech that we were sending troops to Afghanistan. He wasn’t quite as clear as I might have liked that the attack on the United States was an attack on civilization itself, but the speech was nevertheless the best he ever made.

I changed the final couplet of this poem a couple of days ago, not to change the meaning—though I suppose it does that—but because the former ending always seems forced and not a little odd. You can find the original ending and more information about the poem on my Web site.

11 September 2001

by Lionel E. Deimel
September 23, 2001

Into the wilderness we must go
To find and vanquish the evil foe.

Our forces are fearsome, our fortitude strong
As we face our duty to right a great wrong.

Our passion aflame to our homeland defend,
We know the beginning, yet fear for the end.

Embarking on mission we did not invite,
Though loving the peace, we cannot but fight.

The whole world is watching and with us, we pray,
Though allied or not, we must carry the day.

Our interests, with others, may not seem aligned,
But mostly, we do what we do for mankind.

September 11, 2011

Looking Back to 9/11, Part 1

Twin Towers on 9/11/2001
Twin Towers on 9/11/2001
(photo by Michael Foran, used by permission)
As everyone knows, we are approaching the 10-year anniversary of the attacks on the United States by Islamic militants.The cables and airways are filled with remembrances and analyses of why we were attacked and how we have been changed by what happened on September 11, 2001. My memories of the events of that and the following days are probably not very different from those of millions of other Americans, and views of what that terrible day did to our country and our national psyche can be better articulated by those who are paid to think about such things.

That said, it is interesting to me—and, I hope, at least to some others—to look back at what I wrote for the Web in the days following the attacks. Most of what I wrote was on my Web site, Lionel Deimel’s Farrago, as I did not create this blog until February 2002.

Beginning today, I will revisit the various things I wrote. Some of them are somber, but not all, and it may be instructive to think about what I said in the immediate aftermath of the attacks 10 years later. I will make my posts in chronological order. I hope readers will enjoy looking back and will comment if they are so moved.

I begin our odyssey of remembrance with the essay I wrote on September 16, 2001, “What’s in a Name?” Among other things, I was wondering how we would name what had happened. At that point, “9/11” (or variants thereof) had not yet become established. I still wonder if it is the most appropriate name for events of that day. Below, I reproduce my essay. You can also find it on my Web site, along with some commentary written months later.

What’s in a Name?

by Lionel E. Deimel
September 16, 2001

This was a week during which we have been overwhelmed with words and devastated by images. Despite all the words—in speeches, commentaries, interviews, news stories, and narration—Americans struggle to understand what happened on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, why it happened, what we should do about it, and what it means for our future.

That our quest for meaning is only beginning was brought home to me in a telephone conversation with my son from his dorm room on Saturday. In response to a question about how students were reacting to the attacks, Geoffrey reported that they were the topic of much discussion. He observed, however, that people were usually referring to the events using pronouns, rather than by naming them directly. Apparently, we do not yet have a name for them. In time, they may become “The Trade Center” (by analogy to “Pearl Harbor”), “The Attacks,” or something else. For now, we use a variety of names if we name them at all.

In the end, the name we choose may be unimportant. Americans, after all, tend to be objective, descriptive, and terse in selecting such names—the Salem witch trials, Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Hiroshima, Vietnam, Watergate. It matters immensely, however, how we characterize the events. President Bush early on described the attacks as attacks on civilization. Never one to indulge in rhetorical restraint, however, he proceeded to speak of the enemies of democracy and freedom. Cabinet members have followed this lead. In informal remarks on Sunday, Bush emphasized that the war he says we are now in seeks to prevent future attacks on the United States.

What’s wrong with this picture? Plenty. Appeals to our patriotism that suggest that our national ideals are being assaulted are, in fact, unnecessary and manipulative. The motivation of the terrorists, which can only be inferred at this time, is largely beside the point. One cannot imagine any “reason” for Tuesday’s events that would make them any more palatable. Our senses of order and fair play would be offended no matter what the justification for the terrorists’ action. One suspects that stirring up patriotism is assumed to be required to steel us for the war ahead. It isn’t.

Besides insulting our sensibilities, President Bush risks alienating nations with which we are not on the best of terms, but whose good graces we are likely to need soon. Pakistan or Cuba or Russia might well feel inclined to strike against a global anarchist force that answers to no higher power, but why would one of them risk its own resources to protect American democracy? Even our friends might be unwilling to act merely to prevent the next attack against the U.S. The administration’s immediate diplomatic efforts clearly recognized the need for international co-operation. It is reasonable to assume that the U.S. is not trying to persuade Pakistan with arguments about protecting our precious freedoms. Americans can deal with that.

The stance of the United States of America should be that the attacks on Tuesday were crimes against humanity, an attack on the very notion of civilization. Such attacks cannot continue, even in cases where they may be the understandable products of repression and hopelessness. What is at stake is not anyone’s form of government, but the question of whether we are to live by mutually agreed upon rules or by the law of the jungle. Even a dictator should be able to see self-interest in supporting this interpretation of events.

The corollary, of course, is that fighting terrorism will force us to confront the circumstances that bring it into existence. Heretofore, the “low-level” terrorism in Israel has not much roused our indignation. Lamentably, we have grown used to it. It is time, however, to condemn it, on one hand, and to try to correct the perceived injustice that nourishes it, on the other. If this requires leaning on friend and foe alike, so be it.

It is likely that Tuesday’s attacks were not really attacks on our beliefs, so much as retribution for our foreign policy. It matters not. It is unspeakably evil and uncivilized to kill thousands of innocent civilians without warning. Americans understand that, and all civilized people understand it. Nothing more need be said. Now it is time to get down to the business at hand.

September 9, 2011

A Labor Day Lament, Version 2

I indicated that my poem “A Labor Day Lament” was only a first draft. I have been thinking about the poem since I posted it on Labor Day, and I am now ready to offer a second—and perhaps final—draft,  Although I tried to regularize the meter, certain constraints make that difficult. Being less regular, the poem is probably more interesting, but it is also more difficult to set to music.

Most of the changes I made were for aesthetic reasons, but my version 2 is also a bit angrier and employs more us-and-them imagery. The most conspicuous changes are in the antepenultimate stanza and in the refrain.

What do you think? Is this an improvement? Is it done yet?

A Labor Day Lament

With bosses making millions,
And millions unemployed,
Hapless workers, by the millions,
Have had their dreams destroyed.
America the beautiful,
America the strong,
New order of the ages,
Where the hell did you go wrong?
We look for Christian charity,
For pity toward the poor;
We find instead indifference
And the rich demanding more.
Pollution from their smokestacks
The breath of infants robs;
They say that regulations
Will only kill our jobs.
America the beautiful,
America the strong,
New order of the ages,
Where the hell did you go wrong?
Our politicians ponder
How to fool the average Joe
Into thinking every problem
Can be solved by saying “no.”
For wrecking our prosperity,
No bankers went to jail;
They’d rather crush the middle class
Than let a big bank fail.
America the beautiful,
America the strong,
New order of the ages,
Where the hell did you go wrong?
Corporations are just people
In somewhat different guise,
So judges gave them license
To feed us all their lies.

The unions are retreating;
Their time, it’s said, is gone;
Amidst our countless troubles,
Tell me, which side are you on?

America the beautiful,
America the strong,
New order of the ages,
Where the hell did you go wrong?

Update: A friend suggested some changes, so I took the liberty of making them above, rather than creating a Version 3 post.

Update, 9/16/2011: What I expect is the final version of my poem is now available on my Web site here.

September 7, 2011

An Opportunity for Michele Bachmann

Texas governor Rick Perry has his first test as a principal in a GOP presidential debate tonight. There is a widespread belief that the other candidates will, as Michael Crawley of Time Magazine has suggested, “pile-on” the new front-runner.
Republican elephant

Crawley suggested that Michele Bachman has a special reason to be gunning for Perry. “Bachmann, who has seen Perry almost entirely obscure her once fast-rising star,” he observed, ”might feel the need to strafe him with her slashing rhetoric.” I’m sure she will.

Assuming Bachmann is not ready to abandon the kind of “slashing rhetoric” she has used in the past, events have given her an excellent jab she can throw at Perry. She can claim that the fires blazing across Texas are surely God’s punishment for Perry’s bad job of running Texas and for his ill-considered decision to run for President.

I can’t wait to watch the debate.

I Don’t Know, and I Don’t Want to Know Department

NPR’s Morning Edition ran a segment this morning on the attitude of Republican presidential candidates toward science (hint: they’re against it).

What I found most interesting were the words of putative front-runner Rick Perry. NPR first ran a clip in which Perry said, “Scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that manmade global warming is what is causing the climate to change.”

Next was this clip from the candidate (Perry tripped up when getting the sentence out, which accounts for the words in brackets. You can listen to the statement for yourself.):
I don’t think, from my perspective, that I want America to be engaged in spending that much money on [a still] scientific theory that has not been proven and from my perspective is being put more and more into question.

September 5, 2011

A Labor Day Tale

I got off to something of a bad start to Labor Day. I had breakfast at my nearby McDonald’s (at 225 Mt. Lebanon Blvd., Castle Shannon, PA 15234) where I decided to try something I had not ordered before, a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel meal. On the menu above the counter, the price was listed at $4.79. The man who took my order entered it into the register and announced that I owed $5.34. The sales tax here is 7%, but that clearly did not explain $5.34. I handed him a $5 bill and two quarters and waited expectantly for my change and register receipt.

When I looked at my receipt, I saw that the meal was listed as $3.99, my coffee came to $1.00, and $0.35 was listed as tax. In other words, I was being charged $4.99, not $4.79 for my meal. I immediately announced the discrepancy, but rhetoric escalated quickly when the counter man said, essentially, that the computer said the meal was $4.99. “That isn’t what it says on the menu,” I replied, with rather too much emotion, and I found myself asking to speak to the manager. The manager was nearby, working about as hard as anyone else—it seemed like a busy morning—and, before I got her to open the cash drawer with her key, she mumbled something about having to change the overhead menu. In any case, I was given 20¢. I was actually owed 21¢, but I didn’t want to make a bigger case out of it.

I took my tray and found a table, where I planned to eat my breakfast and work on my poem. (See “A Labor Day Lament.”) I was feeling bad, however, about giving workers such a hard time on Labor Day. (The manager deserved it, but the counter man didn’t.) As it happened, my concentration on the dispute over my check caused me to leave the counter before getting my hash browns. This was rather fortunate, as it gave me an opportunity to apologize to the counter man who came to my table to deliver my potatoes.

Not long after I began eating, the manager had someone on a ladder changing the menu. The price was now really $4.99.

McDonald’s receipt

A Labor Day Lament

Last night, inspired by the celebration of Labor Day today, I was listening to the music of Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston, Leadbelly, and others. Why couldn’t I write the kinds of songs they did, I thought? So I set to work doing that, inspired by their examples and my own frustration with the current political scene. Today, I am continuing my efforts and offer the poem below. I have not yet put it on my Web site, since it probably deserves a bit more tinkering on my part, but I thought it important to post at least a draft of this effort on Labor Day proper. Your thoughts and suggestions are welcome. This could be a song, though I don’t have a tune in mind.

Two explanations are in order for those who might miss the references in the poem. “New order of the ages” is a motto from the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States, a translation of Novus ordo seclorum.” The final line of the penultimate stanza is taken from the famous union song, “Which Side Are You On.” (One can almost sing the poem to “Which Side Are You On.”)

A Labor Day Lament

With bosses making millions,
There are millions unemployed,
Millions more downtrodden workers
Whose dreams we have destroyed.
America the beautiful,
America the strong,
New order of the ages—
Where, oh where, did you go wrong?
We look for Christian charity,
For pity toward the poor;
We find instead indifference
And the rich demanding more.
Pollution from our smokestacks
The breath of infants robs,
But they tell us regulation
Will only kill our jobs.
America the beautiful,
America the strong,
New order of the ages—
Where, oh where, did you go wrong?
Our politicians ponder
How to fool the average Joe
Into thinking every problem
Can be solved by saying “no.”
For despoiling our prosperity,
No bankers go to jail;
We’d rather crush the middle class
Than let a big bank fail.
America the beautiful,
America the strong,
New order of the ages—
Where, oh where, did you go wrong?
Corporations are just people
In a somewhat different guise;
Judges let them rule the country,
For their judgment’s surely wise!

The unions are retreating;
Their time, it’s said, is gone;
Amidst our countless troubles,
Tell me, which side are you on?

America the beautiful,
America the strong,
New order of the ages—
Where, oh where, did you go wrong?

The Great Seal of the Unites States

Update, 9/9/2011: A second (I hope, improved) version of the poem can be found here.

Update, 9/16/2011: What I expect is the final version of my poem is now available on my Web site here.