December 19, 2012

Café au Lait

I generally began taking my coffee black when I became concerned about cholesterol. Of course, this meant that I no longer was brewing the dark roast coffee and chicory with scalded milk that I grew up drinking in New Orleans. Tonight, I decided to make myself a cup of café au lait. I put what seemed like an outrageous amount of coffee and chicory in my coffeemaker, scalded some milk, and used real sugar, rather than Equal. Ah, yummy. Too bad I didn’t have any beignets!

Café Du Monde coffee and chicory

Whither Sandy Hook Elementary?

This morning, NPR reported that Sandy Hook Elementary will be closed for months and may never reopen. I already knew that surviving faculty and students were being shuffled off to a nearby mothballed school and wondered if that was absolutely necessary. On reflection, I realized that Sandy Hook is a crime scene and a building scarred by blood and bullets. Police (and Newtown residents) want to learn all the details they can about Friday’s massacre, and the building surely needs to be cleaned up before it can be re-occupied.

Sandy Hook Elementary School
Sandy Hook Elementary School

I am distressed, though, by the thought that the school might never re-open. In recent years, Americans have shown an inclination to abandon sites of tragedies and turn them into memorials. This is an easy path to take when there has been substantial destruction at a site, such as in the cases of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City or the World Trade Center in New York. After the shooting at the Aurora, Colorado, cinema, there were calls to close the Century Aurora 16 permanently . (The theater is being renovated, however, and is scheduled to reopen soon.) The Columbine High School library, where 13 students died, was demolished and turned into a memorial, though the school remains open. After a small child fell from an observation platform at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and was mauled by African painted dogs below, there were calls to close the exhibit and send the surviving dogs to another zoo. It was decided instead to remove the viewing area from which the boy fell “out of respect for the community and for the Derkosh family [that of the boy who fell].”

Will Sandy Hook Elementary School be demolished and turned into a memorial “out of respect for the community and the families of the victims”? I sincerely hope not. It is a substantial facility and community asset, and its loss would be unfortunate. (See photo above.) That is not to say that no memorial should be erected to acknowledge the Newtown tragedy, but we need to keep matters in perspective. Not every awful event deserves to have acres of real estate devoted to its memory or to have associated structures forever removed from public view.

Are we becoming a nation of extravagant monuments? Do we need—and can we afford—all these memorials? I don’t doubt that many family members of Newtown victims will never want to enter (or even see) Sandy Hook Elementary again. Some may choose to move to another town. But do the rest of us have such refined sensitivities that we never again want to see or use Sandy Hook Elementary?

Memorials have their place, but so many recent ones have been costly, both to construct and in lost opportunity costs represented by land and structures taken out of normal productive use. At least some of that money that might be poured into memorials could be used to relieve other instances of human suffering or to memoralize significant events that have not benefited from our current passion for monuments. (The Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire still awaits a memorial.)

Sometimes an appropriate memorial is just a brass plaque by the side of the road.

December 16, 2012

For Gwen

My friend Gwendollynn Santiago was ordained to the priesthood yesterday at Pittsburgh’s Trinity Cathedral. Charles Hamill, Terence Johnston, John Schaeffer, and Todd Schmidtetter were ordained at the same service, the first ordination presided over by our new bishop, Dorsey McConnell. (I took my camera to the service but decided to let Andy Muhl document the event with his much better equipment. You can see his photos here. The photo below is courtesy of Andy.)

As I have often done, I wrote a poem in honor of Gwen’s ordination. (My other ordination poems can be read here, here, here, and here.) These poems often reflect the troubled context of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Gwen’s poem, reproduced below, is no exception. I pray that my next such poem need make no allusions to what the recently retired Harold Lewis called “the recent unpleasantness.”

For Gwen
by Lionel Deimel

A priesting in our diocese
Is now a time of joy
Devoid of worries for those things
A bishop would destroy.

Each priest can now be healer,
Evangelist and friend,
A comforter and confidant
On whom one can depend.

The troubles of a broken world
That lately filled the news
We’ll contemplate another day
And file into our pews,

For Gwen today becomes a priest
Who’ll help mend what’s been rent,
She’ll do her work with grace and love,
Enlarging God’s big tent.

New priests with bishop: (L to R) the Rev. Charles Brent Wagner Hamill,
the Rev. Gwendollynn Gettemy Santiago, the Rt. Rev. Dorsey W.M. McConnell,
the Rev. Terence Lee Johnston, the Rev. Todd Thomas Schmidtetter,
and the Rev. John Robert Schaeffer

December 14, 2012

Right to Work

Michigan just passed a right-to-work law, and, by way of providing background, NPR ran a brief story this morning about the origin of the term “right to work.” It was pointed out that the term does not have an obvious and precise meaning and that liberals do not have a catchy, alternative for it. Like “right to life,” however, “right to work” is catchy and has a positive ring to it. President Obama’s “right to work for less money” doesn’t quite fly as a slogan or as a description (as in “right-to-work-for-less-money law).

The story got me thinking and inspired me to post the graphic below on Facebook. (Click on it for a bigger image.) “Right to exploit” may not be the perfect alternative to “right to work,” but I think it’s in the right neighborhood.

Right to Exploit

December 12, 2012

TSM and The Episcopal Church

Many would argue that Trinity School for Ministry (TSM) has played a critical role in undermining The Episcopal Church. (The official name of the seminary remains Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, but “Episcopal” has lately disappeared from all publications.) Ostensibly, the seminary was founded to advance the evangelical cause within an increasingly liberal Episcopal Church. Arguably, it was successful in doing that, at least up to a point. Many of the school’s graduates have now left The Episcopal Church for the Anglican Church in North America or other ultraconservative denominations. Thus, Trinity and its alumni (and alumnae) are engaged in decreasing the influence of evangelicals in The Episcopal Church.

Trinity logoI don’t intend to document the trajectory of TSM here or to justify my belief that it should no longer be considered a seminary appropriate for the education of Episcopal clergy. Instead, I am writing this modest essay in response to my having just browsed through the Fall 2012 issue of TSM’s magazine Seed & Harvest. (The issue has not yet been posted on-line, so I cannot link to it here.)

An article titled “The Year in Review” can be found on page 11. It begins by mentioning the addition of three new faculty members at TSM. Two of the three are ordained, but neither is an Episcopalian. (I can verify Episcopal clergy on-line but have no sure way of identifying Episcopalian laypeople.) The story later notes that, last summer, “we had the opportunity to participate in three major denominational conventions,” namely, the Provincial Assembly of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), The Episcopal Church’s General Convention, and the Convocation of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). I can attest that TSM was represented at the General Convention, but I think it more significant that TSM had a presence at the ACNA gathering—ACNA was formed largely by congregations “liberated” from The Episcopal Church, ably assisted by TSM faculty and graduates—and the NALC Convocation. (NALC split from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with which The Episcopal Church is in full communion.) In reality, although TSM serves many churches, it is most conspicuously the principal seminary for ACNA.

Page 14 for Seed & Harvest lists TSM’s Board of Trustees and Faculty. (This information is also available on the TSM Web site.) Sixteen faculty members are listed, 10 of whom are ordained. Only three are Episcopalian; Dean and President Justyn Terry is not among them. Of the 25 trustees, I could identify only two Episcopal clergy, one of whom, the Rt. Rev. Greg Brewer, is bishop of the very conservative Diocese of Central Florida. The Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence is also on the board, but, of course, he is no longer an Episcopalian. Most of the remaining names, both of clergy and laypeople, are known to me to be ACNA members, including chairman Wicks Stephens, Robert Duncan, and Alison Barfoot. Geoffrey Chapman (of infamous Chapman Letter fame) is among the retiring trustees.

It must be admitted that TSM is working hard to to achieve acceptance among Episcopalians. The seminary is physically within the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, and it has not only had a presence at diocesan conventions, but has also provided food for receptions. Moreover, I don’t mean to suggest that all the school’s graduates remaining in The Episcopal Church—many are in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh—are members of a fifth column. I believe it is time to admit, however, that TSM has lost any legitimacy it may have had to be considered an Episcopal seminary.

Postscript. I can offer an earlier post on my blog to suggest the nature of TSM’s influence and that of its supporters. As I suggested earlier, I do not intend to be offering the definitive case against the school here.

December 9, 2012

“Jingle Bells” Misunderstood

When I was a young child, I was under the mistaken impression that there were two distinct songs, “Jingle Bells” and “Dashing Through the Snow,” that were sometimes sung together. The two melodies seemed too different to be part of the same composition. Somehow, I overlooked the relatedness of the words associated with those melodies, which might have disabused me of my misunderstanding. I don’t remember when I realized that “Jingle Bells” and “Dashing Through the Snow” were really parts of the same song, a song that includes a chorus.

By the way, some interesting facts about “Jingle Bells” can be found on Wikipedia.

Do any readers share my childhood misunderstanding?

One-horse open sleigh

December 7, 2012

Blog Updates

Under the heading LINKS at the right, I have added two links. You can now go directly to my Facebook page or to my page on Twitter.

I have also updated my blog table of contents. I have been remiss in adding new blog posts to the table of contents, but I am now up-to-date.

I suspect that most readers are unaware of this blog’s table of contents, as such a listing is not a common feature of blogs. (A link to the table of contents can also be found under LINKS.) I also suspect that the feature is more useful to me than to my readers, but perhaps not. In any case, since I do not tag posts with keywords, one cannot use tags to find related posts. Both the table of contents and the search box on the Blogger toolbar at the top of blog pages can be used to find a particular post or related posts. If you have a good idea of when a post appeared, the blog archive, also shown in the right column, can be useful.

December 4, 2012

“Hawk!” the Herald Angels Sing

Ideas often spring from multiple  influences. The day after Thanksgiving, I was stalking eagles, hawks, and waterfowl in the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. Now my choir is preparing music for Advent and Christmas. Somehow, these activities inspired the verse below that is intended to be sung to the familiar Mendelssohn tune for “Hark! the herald angels sing.”

“Hark! the herald angels sing” was originally penned by the prolific hymnist Charles Wesley, though his version began “Hark, how all the welkin rings, / Glory to the King of Kings!” Wesley associate George Whitefield is responsible for changing that into the opening we have come to know.

I have often found that first couplet of the text strange or ambiguous. What is being said by the poet, and what is being said by the angels? The confusion is encouraged by the fact that the hymn has been variously printed. The current Episcopal hymnal renders the first couplet as “Hark! the herald angels sing / glory to the new-born King!” I have an older Presbyterian hymnal that shows this as “Hark, the herald angels sing, / “Glory to the new-born King; … !” (Two versions of words and music can be found here and here.) On reflection, by the way, “Hark,” meaning harken to, is not intended to be a word spoken by the angels.

My verse, a parody, really, is below. I have formatted it in my own usual style rather than trying to follow any particular rendering of the traditional hymn in a hymnal or elsewhere.

“Hawk!” the Herald Angels Sing

“Hawk!” the herald angels sing;
“Watch those raptors on the wing!”

“Peace on earth,” the angels cry,
Struggling hard to rule the sky.

Joy they bring to those below
While large birds dart to-and-fro.

Angels, guard your wings and face
As you sing of heav’ly grace.

“Hawk!” the herald angels sing;
“Watch those raptors on the wing!”

Angel and hawk

November 29, 2012

In (Rare) Praise of Rowan Williams

I have not been a big fan of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. As he comes to the end of his tenure, however, I’d like to say a few words on his behalf. In this, I am inspired by a story from Anglican Ink titled “Archbishop of Canterbury defends ACC-15 from claims it is irrelevant.” The article reports on what the archbishop told the General Synod regarding the work of the recently concluded meeting in New Zealand of the Anglican Consultative Council.

The essence of Williams’ defense of what was done in Auckland can be seen in this excerpt:
The archbishop said the model employed at ACC-15 was akin to that he introduced to the 2008 Lambeth Conference were [where?] issues were not discussed so that conclusions or actions could be reached, but to give disparate voices a platform for their views to be heard.
Personally, I was greatly relieved that the 2008 Lambeth Conference did not assume a legislative role, a role that has been greatly misunderstood and misused in the past. I was particularly gratified (and surprised) that ACC-15 passed no resolution regarding the Anglican Covenant. A general discussion of the Covenant would, no doubt, have been acrimonious, and, at any rate, approval or rejection of the Covenant is out of the hands of the ACC. (Action by the ACC may eventually be called for when, as seems likely, the failure of the Covenant to be widely adopted becomes painfully apparent.)

Williams suggested that what was most important at the ACC meeting was not corporate decision-making but small-group discussions aimed at understanding one another:
It was his belief the communion did not need further “bureaucratic, public, administrative decision making” but was better served by the different factions of the church “reading the Bible together.”
Perhaps the archbishop has indeed learned a thing or two during his decade-long tenure. Moreover, his view of the future was something of a surprise:
Dr. Williams also spoke of the rising importance of the networks of the Anglican Communion, which represented “some of the most creative, most universally supported work that we do.”

The archbishop added that networks may be the future of the communion’s ecclesial structure replacing the current crop of “instruments of communion.”

“Perhaps the larger question that we’re up against is how do we hold together the burgeoning life of networks, alliances—less formal associations across the Communion—with the unavoidable need for decision-making and managing bodies,” he asked.
Networks, which have been much encouraged by the departing archbishop, are largely concerned with common mission rather than divisive theological issues. An emphasis on networks, along with a corresponding reduced role for the Instruments of Communion (especially the Archbishop of Canterbury) might make for a more effective, less contentious Anglican Communion. Perhaps “the need for decision-making and managing bodies” will be less than Rowan Williams imagines.

November 26, 2012

Further Thoughts on the Church of England’s Failure to Authorize Women Bishops

Last Tuesday, the General Synod of the Church of England rejected a measure to allow women to become bishops. (See “Church of England Rejects Women Bishops Legislation.”) Since then, it has been hard to keep up with all the commentary on the General Synod’s  decision, a task complicated by my visiting my son and daughter-in-law for Thanksgiving.

Bishops and clergy approved the measure, but the lay vote fell short of the two-thirds majority required for passage. It is not yet clear why each of the negative lay votes was cast. One might imagine that some voted against the legislation because they
  •  Oppose making women bishops (or oppose the ordination of women generally);
  •  Believe that the legislation compromised the status of future women bishops by granting too much to those opposed to women bishops;
  • Believe that insufficient concessions were made to opponents of women bishops;
  • Were uncomfortable with the uncertainty about how the legislation would work in practice, given that the Code of Practice was not specified; or
  • Thought the legislation was otherwise defective.
How people voted is now available, though, as an Episcopalian, I have no idea what to make of this information.

The press has generally seen the General Synod vote as a debacle indicating that the Church of England is out of step with the people of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury has been blamed for inadequate leadership; the bishops of the church have been blamed for mucking with an apparently viable compromise measure; the structure of General Synod has been attacked for failing to produce the “right” result, and opponents of female ordination have been criticized for aggressively recruiting candidates for General Synod sympathetic to their position.

Linda Woodhead, writing on the Modern Church Web site, put her finger on not only the cause of most recent church disaster, but on the explanation for why Rowan Williams’ tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury has been that of one spectacular failure after another. Woodhead’s essay is “It’s believing in the common good that’s got the Church of England into this mess over women bishops.” The underlying problem, she asserts, is concern for the “common good,” the belief that unity must be achieved at any cost. The church has tried to keep everyone happy, and it has done so by making concessions to those who cry the loudest. She says
You can see the same principle at work it in the way Rowan has considered maintenance of the unity of the Anglican communion a greater good than support for the cause of women and gay people in the church. Even the slow death of the church in Europe is considered a price worth paying for the ever-receding goal of the common good.
Woodhead, a Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University, criticizes the church’s aversion to conflict that puts undue power into the hands of vocal minorities. She questions whether “oneness” is Christian at all. In contrast to John 17:21’s “that they all may be one,” she offers this:
There’s rather a deal more in Jesus’ teaching about hating father and mothers, and setting brother against brother. ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I came to bring not peace but a sword.’
She concludes with this:
Clinging to an impossible ideal of unity discounts justice, and paints honest disagreement as dishonourable troublemaking. You can see the fruits of this state of mind in where the Church of England has ended up in its treatment of women.
I find it hard to argue with anything Woodhead has to say. It is helpful, however, to look more deeply into what unity can, in practice, be achieved.

An essential feature of Anglicanism derives from the Elizabethan Settlement—members of the church agree to worship in a uniform fashion, but they are not required to hold the same underlying theological views or to have a common understanding of their common worship. Whether one believes in transubstantiation, say, has essentially no bearing on one’s position in or relationship to the church. Such Anglican diversity allows the church to pursue mission in the world without the constant distraction of theological battles that have plagued so many Christian traditions. (In practice, we have seen a weakening of common worship, but, so far, this has not led to a crisis.)

Within the Anglican tradition, as within other traditions, certain conflicts die out over time. Episcopalians once argued over slavery and over whether it was proper to have candles on the altar. One would be hard pressed to find a contemporary proponent of slavery or a rabid opponent of candles. People have left, the arguments have lost their energy, and people have died.

One can easily imagine an Anglican resolution—one allowing forward movement at any rate—to such difficult matters as same-sex blessings: Let those who want to perform them do so, but require no one to do so. This is almost what The Episcopal Church has done, though it let bishops decide for their dioceses, rather than a more democratic (and Anglican?) scheme in which individual parishes could make that decision. Under such a regime, if I attend a parish that does not bless same-sex unions, how am I harmed by the existence of other parishes that do?  I may think the rector and parishioners of the blessing-friendly church mistaken in their theological views, but I already tolerate all sorts of presumed theological error among friends and enemies alike. Besides, I could be wrong.

The ordination of women, however, is another matter. To begin with, it makes no sense to allow for women priests but not for women bishops. In fact, some people go so far as to argue that, if we are not going to ordain women, we should stop baptizing them. Not everyone subscribes to such Christian equality before the Lord, but women priests are a reality, even in the Church of England and despite the indignity of their status inflicted by the existence of flying bishops.

Some, of course, argue that sacraments performed by women are not valid, and allowing women to be bishops will, in time, contaminate the whole body of English clergy. It is difficult to take this argument seriously, as Article XXVI of the Thirty-nine Articles explicitly rejects such a Donatist argument. In the end, opposition to women bishops comes down either to the belief that it is improper for women to have authority over men or that men simply don’t want to give up authority.

For the sake of argument, assume that there is a defensible argument against women bishops. The vote in General Synod indicates that very few hold such a view. Should the view of those few be not only respected (i.e., tolerated), but should special accommodation also be made for it? I think not—not for any theological reason, but for an organization one. It is simply impractical to forever maintain a two-tier clergy distinguished by who has or has not been involved in the ordination of women. The two groups will necessarily intact in synods, in conferences, on committees, etc. How can one group not be “tainted” by the other? Will they wear either black or white armbands to distinguish the two groups? How can priests preach unity to parishioners while keeping many colleagues at arm’s length?

Additionally, distinguishing clergy, as the defeated measure would have done, would only perpetuate the disagreement and make it difficult ever to unify the clergy. (It is always easier to split than it is to come back together.) Opponents of women bishops actually want to assure that their views will always be represented in the church, but this would not actually be good for the church. Sometimes, the church simply has to make a decision and live with it.

Views of small minorities die out slowly. It took about thirty years after women were allowed to be ordained in The Episcopal Church for them to be ordained in every diocese. It will take time for women to be considered seriously for episcopal appointments in the Church of England. The church needs to get on with making that happen, and it should do so with no concessions to those opposed to having women bishops.

November 23, 2012


Here is another poem inspired by Facebook. I wrote his poem this morning.

by Lionel Deimel
When Facebook friends are many,
But real-life friends are few,
And there really aren’t any
Who will deign to dine with you,
It might be time to ponder
If there’s something that you do
That makes other people fonder
Of folks that aren’t you.

November 20, 2012

Church of England Rejects Women Bishops Legislation

The General Synod of the Church of England has just voted to reject the legislation that would have authorized women bishops. A two-thirds vote was needed from all three orders—bishops, clergy, and laity. In the end, the compromise legislation was scuttled by the laity.

Church of England logo
Bishops voted in favor 44 to 3, with 2 abstentions. Clergy voted in favor 148 to 45, with no abstentions. The laity voted for 132 to 74, with no abstentions, but that was not good enough. It was, however, close.

There is not a simple lesson in all this, as people voted as they did for different reasons. Is the Church of England dysfunctional? Probably.

This is a serious defeat for departing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. It is a defeat also for incoming Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. I predict this vote will cast a long shadow.

November 17, 2012

The Deimel Conjecture

I heard an interview with mathematician Thomas Hales on the radio yesterday. Hales is notable for having apparently proved the Kepler conjecture. The interview made me realize that I have devised at least two propositions that might be called the Deimel conjecture.

A conjecture, in this sense, is essentially a proposition one suspects is true (i.e., is a theorem) but which one has been unable to prove. A meaningful conjecture, as long as it remains a conjecture, is either very difficult to prove, false, or unprovable.

The first significant conjecture I posited involves my dissertation work in automata theory. It is not clearly interesting (i.e., important) and, in any case, is difficult to state concisely. What I will offer as the Deimel conjecture is not clearly interesting either, but it is reasonably easy to state. The conjecture is the following:
In every base b > 2, there is at least one nontrivial PPDI.
Base (or radix) is the value on which a traditional positional system of number representation is based. In everyday life, we use a decimal or base-10 system of representing integers. Thus, for example, 12310 (i.e, 123 in base-10) represents
1 x 102 + 2 x 101 + 3 x 100 = 100 + 20 + 3
Aside from base-10, the most commonly used systems for representing numbers are binary (base-2), octal (base-8), and hexadecimal (base-16). With a little arithmetic, one may easily verify that
12310 = 11110112 = 1738 = 7B16
(Since base-16 requires 6 more numerals—number symbols—than the 10 we conventionally use, we employ letters to represent values greater than 9. Thus A = 10, B = 11, etc.)

 A number n is a pluperfect digital invariant (or PPDI) in base-b if it is represented in base-b by the digits
dmdm-1dm-2 … d1
dmm + dm-1m + dm-2m + … + d1m =  n
We refer to m, the number of digits in the representation of n in base-b, as the order of the PPDI. By a nontrivial PPDI, we mean a PPDI of order greater than 1, since every 1-digit number representation in any base represents a PPDI. (Think about it.)

In case your eyes have glazed over, I will offer a couple of examples to clarify what PPDIs look like. For example, 407 is an order-3 PPDI in base-10 because
43 + 03 + 73 = 64 + 0 + 343 = 40710
Likewise, 1824 is an order-4 PPDI in base-9 because
24469 = 2 x 93 + 4 x 92  + 4 x 91 + 6 x 90 = 1458 + 324 + 36 + 6 = 182410
24 + 44  + 44 + 64 =16 + 256 + 256 + 1296 = 182410
PPDIs are not common, but neither are they rare. In base-10, for example, there are 89 PPDIs of orders 1 through 39. (There are no base-10 PPDIs of order greater than 39.)

So let me return to what I will now call the Deimel conjecture:
In every base b > 2, there is at least one nontrivial PPDI.
By exhaustive search, it has been shown that there is at least one PPDI for every base from 2 to 1000. This certainly suggests that the conjecture might be true, but it doesn’t guarantee that there are nontrivial PPDIs in bases 1001 or 56000 or 2894361. In fact, however, we know more. I have proved the following, seemingly odd, theorem:
THEOREM: There is at least one nontrivial PPDI in every base b > 2, except possibly where b = 18k and all the following are true: (1) k is neither a perfect square nor twice a perfect square and (2) neither k-1 nor k+1 is divisible by 5.
Numbers and operators
The strange restrictions seen in this theorem result from the fact that it is possible to show that certain patterns of PPDIs occur in related bases. The simplest such result asserts that any number written as a 1-digit number in a given base is a PPDI. Several 2- and 3-digit PPDIs are the bases of theorems asserting the existence of PPDIs in related, larger bases. Such theorems fail to tell us about, for example, base-90. Using a computer, it has been shown that the smallest PPDI in base-90 is a 8 digits long. It is difficult even to form hypotheses about what PPDIs in larger bases might be implicated by such a representation. Quite possibly, no other PPDI is related to it in a simple way.

Although it is not clear how to prove the Deimel conjecture (or even improve on the theorem offered above), there is an obvious way of going about disproving it. All one has to do is consider all PPDI candidates in base 1001, 1002, etc. (Fortunately, it is easily shown that there is an upper limit to the magnitude of any PPDI in a given base.) In other words, the conjecture can be disproved by exhibiting a counterexample. This procedure has the disadvantage or requiring a lot of computer time, and, if the conjecture is actually true, a counterexample, i.e., a base without nontrivial PPDIs, will never be found no matter how much computing power is thrown at the problem.

I am inclined to suspect that my conjecture is indeed true, but the only evidence I have for that is the lack of a counterexample in light of a good deal of searching for one. I have no idea how to go about proving the conjecture. I challenge the mathematically inclined with nothing better to do to try to prove or disprove the Deimel conjecture. I must offer the disclaimer, however, that I know of no past, present, or future practical use for the result, whatever it may be. Do let me know if you resolve the status of the conjecture.

I treat PPDIs more formally on my Web site. You should go there if you are thinking of tackling this problem. Good luck!

November 16, 2012


The Anglican cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, has been damaged by two major earthquakes, and what to do with the building has become a controversial matter. The Diocese of Christchurch decided to build an architecturally unorthodox temporary cathedral and eventually to replace the damaged building, which is considered dangerously unstable.

I was surprised that a  recent story on the cathedral speaks of the “deconstruction” of the building. Erecting a building can be called construction, so it is not unreasonable to call tearing down a building deconstruction. Conventionally, however, the systematic elimination of a structure is referred to as demolition. The only definitions I could find for deconstruction relate to philosophical or literary analysis. Is a new definition for deconstruction coming into vogue or are people inventing jargon to replace a perfectly serviceable word, namely demolition?

The question is this: Is demolishing a building different from deconstructing it? Before I read the entire article, I thought that deconstruction might mean disassembling, the careful dismantling of a structure, preserving at least some of the pieces for future use. What is clear from reading the article (and certainly from reading the court opinion that is the subject of the piece) is that what is being referred to is stripping the building down to the level of about 2 meters. Apparently, the walls are unstable, but the foundation is not (or is not a hazard, in any case).

I am inclined to think that the use of deconstruction in the story (and in the court proceedings) constitutes an unnecessary and unwise neologism. The diocese was given notice “in accordance with Section 38(4) of the [Canterbury Recovery Act of 2011] that your building is to be demolished to the extent necessary to remove the hazards.” If deconstruction, as used in the New Zealand discussion means nothing more than tearing down, the word is unnecessary and pretentious. Demolition, dismantling, or tearing down would each serve as well. If deconstruction is intended to mean dismantling down to the sill, I suspect that the need for the word is insufficient for it to achieve widespread comprehension (and therefore acceptance).

November 11, 2012

Hope for the New Archbishop of Canterbury

Like many Anglicans around the world, I have been trying to figure out just what we have gotten in the newly named Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. I surely won’t aspire to writing a profile of him, but I would like to share a few thought on what I’ve found.

First, although Welby seems firmly in the Evangelical camp—I was not happy to read of his association with Holy Trinity, Brompton—I count it as encouraging that he has spent much of his adult life in the “real world,” namely, as an oil industry executive. He may be more sensitive to the effects that statements and actions can have on actual people and groups of people than academic Rowan Williams, who seems curiously lacking in that sort of perception.

For the sake of the Church of England—really for the sake of Anglicanism generally—I am pleased that Welby is supportive of women bishops. In his post-appointment news conference, he said, “I’m deeply committed to the ordination of women to the episcopate and believe that is key in the future of the Church of England.” It is perhaps unfortunate that the vote on the women bishops legislation to take place just over a week from now is not taking place under Justin Welby. Perhaps the legislation might not have contained the potential poison pill whose inclusion the incumbent archbishop championed. If the legislation does pass, Welby may have a benign influence on what becomes the code of practice regarding requests for male bishops.

In his news conference, Welby was asked about his work in reconciliation. He spoke of bringing people together where they can listen carefully to one another and recognize one another’s humanity and integrity. Even if the people do not come to agreement—this usually doesn’t happen, he said—people can go away with a sense that they can deal with one another. This sounds a lot like the Indaba process and not very much like the Anglican Covenant approach to dealing with conflict in which the “offending party” is not even guaranteed a hearing. Welby said that this sort of reconciliation is “something that will very much be a part of what I do.” I take this as a hopeful sign.

According to Fox News, Welby has described his thinking on marriage equity as “evolving,” though he has so far been an opponent of the idea. It is unclear whether Welby realizes how Americans will understand such a position in light of the fact that President Obama’s “evolving” views led him to support gay marriage. In any case, this is another hopeful sign, though perhaps just less so.

At the aforementioned news conference, John Martin, representing The Living Church, asked a pointed and actually rather nasty question: “Have you firsthand experience of the Episcopal Church USA, and what are your thoughts about how to contain its differences from other parts of the Anglican Communion within the body of the 77 million Anglicans?” Happily, Welby expressed no interest in putting the American church in quarantine. He noted that he had met with Episcopal Church bishops at their March 2012 meeting. VirtueOnline published his address at that meeting, where Welby said, in part:
I have found some myths demythologised. For example the myth that TEC is only liberal, monochrome in its theological stand, and the myth that all minorities of view are oppressed. There is rather the sense of a complex body of wide views and many nationalities addressing issues with what I have personally found inspiring honesty and courage, doubtless also with faults and sins, but always looking to see where the sins are happening. The processes are deeply moving even where I disagreed, which I did on a number of obvious issues, but the honesty of approach was convincing, the buy into and practice of Indaba superb. In summary, there has been a sense of calm confidence and expectation, and of facing the vast challenge of the next 10-15 years. You have a better pension plan too.
He also said, “What is clear too is that in in the Communion we need to fit our structures to the reality of our changing and complex relationships, not try and shape reality to structures.” Perhaps this presages an emphasis of what the churches of the Communion need as members of the Communion, rather than what roles should be played by the so-called Instruments of Communion. This is another hopeful sign. (I recommending reading Welby’s entire, though rather brief, address to the American House of Bishops.)

In completing his response to Martin’s question, Welby said this: “It’s not for me to tell them [The Episcopal Church] how to do their business, and I don’t intend to do that.” This is yet another hopeful sign, although Welby did refer to statements he made about homosexuality at the time and chose not to elaborate upon. I don’t know to what, precisely, he was referring.

On the whole, I am encourage by what seem to be the views of the next Archbishop of Canterbury. Of course, I had been encouraged by statements made by Rowan Williams before he was made archbishop. I have learned my lesson, will contain my enthusiasm, and will adopt an attitude of wait-and-see.

November 9, 2012

Facing the Republicans

I was returning home with a friend tonight after attending the first day of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh’s annual convention. We were riding a light rail train from downtown Pittsburgh. Ed and I were discussing Tuesday’s election and other matters around how Americans select their president. I made the mistake of repeating what I wrote in a post earlier today, namely that the Republicans had a bad candidate, bad policies, and bad supporters. At that point, the male half of a young couple sitting in front of us turned around and challenged me, specifically about the “bad candidate” and “bad policies” remark. This began a spirited exchange for which I has glad to have a supportive friend at my side. At one point, however, the female half of the couple chimed in.

I had been asked who would have been a better Republican candidate than Mitt Romney. I wanted to answer “Jon Huntsman,” but I couldn’t remember Huntsman’s name, so I described him as something like “the other Mormon who was in the race for the Republican nomination.” At that point, the woman in the seat in front of me accused me (as best as I could figure out at the time) of religious prejudice. She then asserted, rather inconsistently, it seemed, that Obama was a Muslim. I disputed that, but, at that point, I threw in the towel, letting Ed take over the argument, as my stop was next. I felt, however, that at least the last third of my assertion about the Republicans had been proven.

Two Language Observations

1. Outreach

I was listening to a radio interview of a couple of Republican Party operatives who were addressing the question of whether and how the party might have to change to perform better in elections. (This is the season of speculation about what went wrong in the recent presidential election. The obvious answer, of course, is bad candidate, bad policies, and bad supporters. But I digress.) One of the speakers said that the party needs “to outreach to minority communities.” This is a decidedly odd use of outreach as a verb, and it illustrates the ongoing jargonization of American English. Why not simply say that the Republican party needs “to reach out to minority communities”?

2. Democrats

In the same segment, I heard something that drives me crazy. It has become almost universal for representatives of the Republican Party to refer not to the Democratic Party but to the Democrat Party. One of the interviewees did that on the radio today. This usage is simply wrong. The name of the party of Barack Obama is not the Democrat Party, but the Democratic Party headed by the Democratic National Committee. How would Republicans feel if Democrats consistently referred to the Republic Party?

Why do Republicans do this? I think it is because democratic evokes strong positive emotions in Americans in a way that republican does not. And Republicans have adopted a take-no-prisioners attitude toward the opposition party. Apparently, it has not occurred to Republican leaders that, rather than indulging in casual, mean-spirited name-calling, they might attract more adherents by becoming a party of reasonable people who are at least as interested in good governance as they are in winning elections. Don’t hold your breath on that one.

November 8, 2012

The Dog That Didn’t Bark

ACC-15, the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council concluded yesterday in Auckland, New Zealand. The most representative body of Anglicans worldwide met for 12 days, listened to reports , participated in much discussion, and passed 41 resolutions. Those resolutions are, however, mostly unremarkable.

The big news from ACC-15 is what didn’t happen. Participants spent little time considering the status of the Anglican Covenant, and ACC-15 neither passed nor proposed any resolution concerning the Covenant. This is the dog that didn’t bark.

The roots of the Covenant can be traced to the emergency meeting of the Anglican primates unwisely convened by the inexperienced Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in October 2003 in the wake of the General Convention’s having given its blessing to the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. At ACC-15, for the first time since that unfortunate meeting, differences over sexuality did not play a prominent role in a Communion-wide meeting.

Alan T Perry has written a very helpful post, “Fallout from New Zealand,” about the Anglican Covenant and ACC-15. Alan remarks
I conclude from the ACC’s silence on the Covenant that it is moving on from the project. If it’s not important enough for the ACC to comment on officially, then it’s lost its significance for the Communion. I think it can be shelved.
Do read “Fallout from New Zealand.” I don’t want to dispute anything Alan says there. Instead, I want to expand on what he wrote.

First, it is instructive to see just how little discussion there was at the Auckland meeting concerning the Covenant, based on news reports, anyway.

According to Episcopal News Service (ENS), participants were presented October 30 with a report on the consideration of the Covenant by Anglican churches. It is not clear whether the report was prepared by the Anglican Communion Office or by the Inter-Anglican Standing Committee on Unity, Faith and Order, both of which have seemed heavily invested in the adoption of the Covenant. In any case, as I noted in a recent post, the report distorted the facts.

The report, which has not been made public, asserted that the Church of Ireland was one of six churches that have accepted the Covenant as is. According to Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS), however, the General Synod of the Church of Ireland made a point of “subscribing” to the Covenant, rather than “adopting” it, reserving thereby to the Irish church certain matters of interpretation of the Covenant. It is a stretch to suggest that Ireland therefore accepted the Covenant as is.

According to ENS, “the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia has subscribed to the covenant’s first three sections but said it cannot adopt section 4, which outlines a process for resolving disputes.” This characterization also shades the truth. According to a May 10, 2010, report, the General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui of the New Zealand church, acting on the Ridley Cambridge Draft of the Covenant, approved “in principle” provisions of the first three sections of the draft. It also referred the Covenant “to the Epsicopal units of this church for consideration and reporting back to the 2012 session of the General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui, with a view to the Synod/Te Hinota then making a final decision regarding its adoption,” and it asked for a legal opinion on parts of Section 4. The 2012 vote, which came on July 9, was characterized by Anglican Taonga this way: “As expected, the General Synod said a final: ‘No’ to the proposed Anglican covenant today.” The resolution adopted said, in part, that the General Synod
Is unable to adopt the proposed Anglican Covenant due to concerns about aspects of Section 4, but subscribes to Sections 1, 2, and 3 as currently drafted to be a useful starting point for consideration of our Anglican understanding of the church.
Being “a useful starting point for consideration of our Anglican understanding of the church” is not an endorsement of the Covenant (or part thereof) per se.

I also dispute that the Episcopal Church’s General Convention made a “partial decision” on the Covenant. What it did was to  avoid making a decision, an action that was an alternative to rejecting it outright. Never did the legislative committee considering the Covenant consider seriously adopting the document.

Perhaps the biggest distortion in the report, however, is placing England in the category of having made a “partial decision” on the Covenant. The Church of England flat out rejected the covenant, assertions to the contrary notwithstanding. A majority of dioceses were needed to approve the Covenant in order for the General Synod to take a final vote on approval. A majority of dioceses rejected adoption, however. (See the tally by Modern Church.) Church of England leaders have been embarrassed to admit that the Covenant was soundly rejected by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s own church.

As for the Anglican Church of Korea, I cannot find documentation on its declaring the first three sections of the Covenant “excellent and useful” while postponing consideration of Section 4. The reaction of the Korean bishops to the St. Andrew’s Draft of the Covenant—this was all I could find on the Web about Korea’s dealing with the Covenant—was extraordinarily negative.

Bishop Victoria Matthews followed up the report with her take on where the Covenant stands. See my earlier post, “Living in Safety,” for my take on her tepid pitch for the Covenant. Matthews showed a video on “the history and detail of the Covenant”—the video is not available on the Web as far as I can determine—after which participants were invited to reflect on what they had seen in small groups. (See ENS story here.)

On November 5, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams touched on the matter of the Covenant, rather wistfully, I think, and, following Bishop Matthews’ lead, without a hard sell:
The hopes for an Anglican Covenant were in part hopes for a framework, a climate, in which some of those questions might be addressed by consent, not by coercion. We don’t as yet know how that project will finally work itself out. I still hope and pray, speaking personally, the Covenant has a future, because I believe we do have a message to give the Christian world about how we can be both catholic and orthodox and consensual, working in freedom, mutual respect and mutual restraint. Without jeopardising the important local autonomy of our Churches, I think we still need work on that convergence of our schemes and systems, and I say that because I believe we all need to wake up to the challenges here if we are not to become less than we aspire to be as a Communion. Let me repeat the phrase: we need to be aware of the danger of becoming less than we aspire to be as a Communion. I think that we do aspire to be a consensual catholic and orthodox family. I believe we do aspire to be a family that lives in mutual respect and recognition, and to step back from that simply into a federal model, as I’ve said many times before, doesn’t seem to me to be the best and the greatest that God is asking from us as an Anglican family.
News stories indicated that delegates were to return to the matter of the Anglican Covenant on November 6. I don’t know whether that happened, but there have been no news stories about any further discussion of the document.

ENS has run a story offering reflections of the Episcopalian participants in ACC-15. Those reflections are remarkably different from what we have become used to following Communion-wide meetings. Here is a sample. The speaker is Bishop Ian Douglas, who is also a member of the Standing Committee.
“I found that we have been able to go much deeper in conversations around how our churches are so different one from another and also what holds us together as the communion itself,” he said. “It seems like a lot of the old animosities and divisions—differences are absolutely still there; I don’t want to paper over them – but all of the old tensions, I’m just not experiencing at this meeting.”
Other quotations in the ENS story are in a similar vein

So what are those of us concerned about the Anglican Covenant to make of ACC-15?  At the very least, it seems fair to say that the steam has gone out of the drive for Covenant adoption. Perhaps delegates saw the handwriting on the wall. Perhaps no one thought it would be possible to agree on any resolution about the Covenant, no matter how bland. Perhaps no one really cared anymore.

Nevertheless, reports of the death of the Anglican Covenant are premature. Although there seems to be no enthusiasm for pursuing the covenant project, there is the remote possibility that the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby by all reports, might try to inject new life into the campaign to achieve widespread adoption. His corporate experience in the “real world” suggests that he will not want to die in that particular ditch, however. The Covenant will not be dead until those churches that have adopted the pact rescind their action or withdraw according to Section 4.3 of the Covenant itself. That is unlikely to happen until the ACC declares the Covenant a failed project and encourages churches to dump it. It may be a long time before that happens. In the meantime, we should all hope that no church that has adopted the Covenant actually takes it seriously.

Update, 11/9/2012. I added the link the the ENS story “Council considers status of Anglican Covenant in small groups.” 

November 6, 2012


How do you pronounce primer? I ask this because a promotional announcement on my local NPR station used the pronunciation pry-mer to refer to a brief tutorial of some sort. This pronunciation is apparently common in England, but the standard American pronunciation for a reader for young children or a short tutorial of some sort is prim-er. On the other hand, a primer (pronounced pry-mer) can be a paint applied before applying the top coat or a device intended to ignite an explosive charge.



November 4, 2012

Mendacious Mitt

Living in Pennsylvania, I have not seen a lot of Obama for President TV spots. My impression, however, is that the kind of spots I would like to see have not been made. I would like to see TV ads with clips of Mitt Romney expressing his many views on the same subject over the years. His views on abortion probably provide the most grist for the political mill, but his view of foreign policy would probably work almost as well.

The video below from Slate is clearly too long for a TV spot, but it suggests the kind of resources available to a willing political operative. It is easy to see why Mitt Romney’s position has been called “multiple choice.”

Politicians shade the truth all the time. That may not be right, but it is reality, particularly when there is a perceived need to communicate a message in 30 seconds. Never have I seen a campaign like the Romney campaign, however, in which not only does the candidate or his supporters flat out lie, but also, when the lies are pointed out, the American people get neither a retraction nor an apology. Instead, the campaign simply doubles down, continuing to run dishonest ads with impunity.

On the matter of its advertising, the Romney campaign has, in fact, been scrupulously truthful: “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers” [Romney pollster Neil Newhouse]. He certainly got that right!

If a presidential candidate will lie to get elected, do we have any reasonable expectation that he will level with Americans when he is president? Is the nation that venerates Honest Abe ready to elect Mendacious Mitt?

Campaign Rallies

To the surprise of many, Mitt Romney is visiting Pennsylvania today. Admittedly, I haven’t made a scientific study of campaign rallies, but I do question their value. Romney has visited Ohio about a zillion times, but has it won him more votes on Tuesday? I doubt it.

Mitt Romney
Photo by Gage Skidmore
To begin with, no one needs to attend a campaign rally to learn what the candidate has to say. These events are covered ad nauseam in the media. Whenever a candidate says something new or contradictory, we’re sure to hear about it.

Who goes to campaign rallies anyway? Not, I suggest, the undecided voters that we are told the candidates are trying so hard to influence. Not supporters of the opposing candidate who, at this point, are more likely to view the visiting candidate with a combination of hatred and revulsion, rather than curiosity. Not, I suspect, even causal supporters, unless doing so is very convenient. (A worker in a factory visited by a candidate is likely to show up, or else.) People who show up at a rally—coverage on television support this—are enthusiastic supporters who will vote for the candidate anyway, and campaign workers. Probably the biggest effect of a campaign rally in a particular place is on the folks who are already actively working to elect the candidate.

Does anyone really think that the Romney vote in Ohio will be proportional to the number of times Romney has visited the state? Does anyone think that Romney’s visit to Pennsylvania will really help deliver the state to the Republican candidate?

November 2, 2012

Living in Safety

Bishop Victoria Matthews
Bishop Victoria Matthews
I was dismayed by the report from Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) the other day about a talk given by Bishop of Christchurch Victoria Matthews. The good bishop is a member of the Inter-Anglican Standing Committee on Unity, Faith and Order, a relatively new Anglican body that appears to be the Anglican analogue of the Roman Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. She was speaking to the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, which is currently meeting in Auckland, New Zealand.

Bishop Matthews was addressing the Anglican Covenant, whose “reception”—one can only hope that there is more rejection than reception of the Covenant among Anglican churches—is not going well, even though its advocates are trying to put a smiley face on the matter.

The headline for the ACNS story came from this passage:
She [Bishop Matthews] stressed the point that it was not the work of IASCUFO to promote the Covenant, but rather to monitor its reception.

“As we have sought to do that,” she told delegates, “I have often thought that the document people discuss and the actual Anglican Covenant are two different documents

“One is the document that people have in their mind and the other is the Anglican Communion Covenant on paper. So I really want [people] to read the Covenant and be focused on that. Because often, when people start talking about the Covenant, what they describe in their mind as the Covenant is unrecognisable.”
It is curious that Bishop Matthews asserts that IASCUFO is charged only with monitoring reception of the Covenant. Doing that would only require an Internet connection and a spreadsheet. (The No Anglican Covenant is doing a fine job of monitoring reception of the Covenant and has avoided distorting the facts as the IASCUFO has done.) In any case, after declaring the limited role of the IASCUFO, the bishop proceeds to advocate for Covenant adoption, though this is unsurprising, as IASCUFO has already released material in this vein.

Those of us who have opposed acceptance of the Anglican Covenant are weary of  implications that we have failed to read the document, that we would love it if we only put aside our ignorant preconceptions and confronted the reality of the Covenant’s manifest virtues. In fact, opponents of the Covenant have often been quite specific about the faults of the document, whereas its advocates mostly praise the fantastic, not to say magical, covenant in their minds. (This is obvious from reading the material collected on the Web site of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition.)

To Bishop Matthews’ credit, it must be admitted that she does not put on the hard sell. She freely admits that the Covenant has detractors that see it as either too permissive or too punitive. She implies, however, that, in time, people will come around.

What I found most interesting in the bishop’s talk was this: “I believe that in the original idea of the Anglican Covenant, there was a desire to allow the Anglican Communion to be a safe place for conversation and the sharing of new ideas.” The notion of safety occurs two other times in the ACNS report of Bishop Matthews’ address.

“Safety” is a familiar term to Episcopalians who have followed closely the reactionary insurrection within their church. Congregations who want to leave The Episcopal Church and take their parishes’ real and personal property with them often speak of a longing for “safety.” “Safety” has become a codeword for freedom from exposure to ideas that you don’t agree with. It is unclear whether Bishop Matthews was intending to use “safety” in this sense, but she might as well have.

I have often said that Sections 1, 2, and 3 set out what, going forward, the Anglican Communion will fight about, and Section 4 specifies how those fights are “resolved,” or, more precisely, how the winners will punish the losers. The Covenant is not at all about safe discussion within the Communion; it is about limiting discussion and punishing those churches with the audacity to advance unpopular ideas. Criticism of the Covenant has focused on Section 4 because half the Communion thinks it too draconian and the other half considers it insufficiently so. (The bishop got that right.) Safe discussion—in the commonplace freedom-of-speech sense—does not need the agenda of Sections 1–3 of the Covenant, but “safe” discussion, in the codeword sense, requires both a set agenda and a way of punishing “deviant” viewpoints.

The mistake behind the Covenant is the identification of the problem to be solved. Supporters of the Covenant believe the problem is conflict, and the way to eliminate conflict is to specify right opinion and exile any church that doesn’t get with the program. The real problem, however,  is intolerance of new ideas and an unwillingness to discuss them in a meaningful forum. The need is for the Communion to be a safe place for Anglican churches, not a “safe” place for them.

October 25, 2012

Don’t Show Your ID When You Vote in Pennsylvania

Protest Act 18: Don’t Show ID
Pennsylvania’s voter ID law, Act 18, might seem like a solution in search of a problem. The problem the law was designed to solve, however, is that too many people in Pennsylvania vote for Democrats, so the Republicans thought they could suppress the votes of the poor, the elderly, and people likely to vote Democratic by making it harder to vote, even if they’re already registered.

Fortunately, not all of the law has been allowed by the courts to go into effect. Although Pennsylvania voters will be asked to show a government-issued photo ID with an expiration date when they go to the polls on November 6, they won’t actually have to show one to vote.

I, for one, have no intention of showing an ID when I vote. To protest this partisan and unfair law, I plan to decline to show my Pennsylvania driver’s license. I encourage other Pennsylvania voters to do the same. If enough people refuse to show an ID, it will make a statement that the residents of Pennsylvania are not pleased with Act 18 or the party that pushed it through the legislature.

If you agree with me, feel free to use the graphic displayed above elsewhere. You can see a larger version of it by clicking on the graphic.

October 23, 2012

Support for Democrats: A Clarification

In my post “An Election Proposal,” I made a statement that has attracted some criticism. I wrote in an aside that
I will vote for the Democrat, rather than the Republican, even if he or she is revealed at the last minute to be an ax murderer.
Billy Ockham took this statement as an indication that I am not open-minded or accepting. A commenter on Ockham’s blog remarked
I thought that we had progressed beyond that type of bigotry.
My statement was, of course, hyperbolic, but it is certainly true that, in 2012, I cannot imagine voting for a Republican unless the Democratic candidate is loathsome and the Republican candidate is a saint, and perhaps not even then.

Bad logo for a bad party
This attitude is not the product of unthinking support for the party of my parents and grandparents. It is instead the result of the realization that the Republican Party has run off the rails. It has become the party of the lunatic right, a party more interested in the final triumph of its know-nothing ideology than in the more prosaic business of participating in the governing of what they consider the greatest nation on earth. The Republican Party has truly become the Party of No (or, perhaps, the Party of Hell, No).

But surely there are good Republicans. No doubt. Crazy people do not get into office by running for president, however. Instead, they run for the school board or city council. They win in races for low-visibility offices and gradually rise in the electoral hierarchy, benefiting at each step from name recognition and voter apathy and indifference. Successful party members recruit new candidates holding views similar to their own.

By the time it becomes obvious that a political party has become captive of an alien and irrational philosophy, the feedback mechanisms that support its growth are firmly in place. The only defense against the triumph of such a party available to the average voter is to avoid voting for a member of that party, whether for dog catcher or for president.

And that is why I will vote a straight Democratic (not “Democrat”) ticket.

October 18, 2012

An Election Proposal

How many early and absentee voters who cast their vote after the first presidential debate have buyer’s remorse this morning?
The day after the second presidential debate, I posted the graphic at the right on Facebook. (Actually, my Facebook graphic included a misspelling, but the version shown here has been corrected. You can click on the image to see a larger version.)

It has always bothered me that people submitting an absentee ballot have to make their decisions about candidates before the campaigning is over. This concern has been heightened by the recent explosion of early voting.

Perhaps I have cherished a naïve and romantic notion of a democratic community meeting at the polling places on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November, but absentee and early voting do present significant problems. Whereas these procedures are not a problem for everyone—I will vote for the Democrat, rather than the Republican, even if he or she is revealed at the last minute to be an ax murderer—they are a problem for the so-called “undecided” voter. I have no doubt that some of these people decided to vote absentee or early for Mitt Romney after the first debate but experienced serious regret after seeing the vice-presidential debate and the second presidential debate.

How could we retain early and absentee voting without having some people voting without information to which people voting on the the standard election day have access?

Why not select a cutoff date, say, a week before the election, after which no political advertising or editorializing or release of government reports is allowed until after election day? Between that date and the official election day, early voting could take place and absentee ballots could be mailed. Absentee ballots mailed during this period would be accepted, even if received after “election day.” Government reports could be issued only with the permission of a judge certifying that national security required immediate release, so as not to favor incumbents unfairly.

Would this not be a better system than what we have now?

October 15, 2012

The Shepherd’s Heart Fellowship Agreement

Last week, a joint statement was announced by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and Shepherd's Heart Fellowship, a ministry to the homeless that claims membership in Bob Duncan’s Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. The statement describes an agreement between the parties that allows Shepherd’s Heart to continue its ministry under the aegis of the Anglican diocese. The fellowship, of course, was part of the Episcopal diocese before the 2008 schism.

Both the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Tribune-Review covered the story of the agreement. The Tribune-Review article gives a good sense of the nature of Shepherd’s Heart’s ministry.

Some of the real estate occupied by Shepherd’s Heart is owned by the Episcopal diocese, and some of it is owned by the fellowship. Apparently, all the property is mortgaged. The agreement, which will have to be approved by the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, contemplates the diocese’s transferring its property to the fellowship. Shepherd’s Heart will then refinance at a more favorable interest rate.

The agreement assumes that the ministry of Shepherd’s Heart will continue, supported not only by the Anglican diocese, but also by Episcopalians and members of other churches. (My own Episcopal church periodically serves meals to the homeless at Shepherd’s Heart, for example.) The statement declares
The agreement sets this issue [of whether the fellowship validly withdrew from the Episcopal diocese in 2008] aside in favor of mutually serving the homeless, the poor, and the addicted. Both parties recognize the new relationship between the Episcopal Diocese and Shepherd’s Heart Fellowship is not of an ecclesiastical nature, such as would normally exist between a diocese and a parish, but one of cooperation and collaboration in a specialized ministry. Because of this unique use of the Shepherd’s Heart property, the parties have agreed that this agreement should not be interpreted as a model for resolving other property disputes.

Obversations and Questions

It’s true that Shepherd’s Heart is not just another church that broke away from The Episcopal Church. It is a unique ministry supported by Episcopalians, “Anglicans,” and people from other denominations, though it is being run by “Anglicans.” (I am using quotation marks here because, of course, Episcopalians are Anglicans, and, if membership in a church of the Anglican Communion is required by your definition of Anglican, the people of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh are not Anglicans at all.) Had the Episcopal diocese claimed the fellowship’s property, it would have disrupted an important ministry and, most likely, received very bad press.

I actually believe that the agreement is reasonable, under the circumstances, and it is clearly not meant to set a precedent for settling other property disputes between the Episcopal diocese and congregations that have left the diocese but retained their property. An important ministry is allowed to continue without disruption and without threat of future litigation. The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is relieved of a financial obligation, though at the cost of its equity in the property. Nevertheless, this is the first time the Episcopal diocese has released assets to a breakaway group without financial compensation.

Certain facts about the agreement have not been disclosed, however, and it is unclear as to whether certain matters are covered by the agreement at all. Inquiries to the Episcopal diocese did not yield answers to my questions.

Here are some questions to which Pittsburgh Episcopalians might want answers:
  • How much is the Shepherd’s Heart property worth, and what assets does the fellowship have besides real estate?
  • How much equity does the Episcopal diocese have in the property, and what is the current mortgage payment?
  • Is the diocese renouncing its Dennis Canon claim to the property or only putting that claim on hold?
  • In particular, might the Episcopal diocese assert its trust interest in the property should that property ever be used for another purpose, say, if the fellowship folded or intended to sell the property and move elsewhere?
  • Might the Episcopal diocese assert its trust interest in the property should the ministry to the homeless ever become a minor use of the property, with its primary use being for some other purpose?
A full evaluation of the wisdom of the agreement would require answers to the above questions (and possibly to others as well).

Update, 10/15/2012, 3:30 PM: I will attempt to clarify the present financial arrangements, though I do not fully understand them. What I wrote above may not be totally correct. There is a mortgage on the main building of Shepherd’s Heart. The title to the property is held by the diocese (actually, the Board of Trustees), but the fellowship has been making the payments. There may be other outstanding loans, but I think there are no other mortgages. In refinancing the mortgage, it will be made clear to all parties what equity there is in the property, as it will have to be appraised. The Episcopal diocese views its role as investing in the Shepherd’s Heart ministry.

October 11, 2012

A Close Call

About a month ago, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek news report of how a bird died in my bird feeder. (See “Bird Feeder Claims First Victim.”) The post was intended to be humorous, but the bird in question was decidedly dead.

This morning, I went out on my deck to fill my feeders and discovered another bird whose neck had become trapped in the same feeder. The bird was well on its way to becoming the feeder’s second victim. The bird was still struggling, however, although it had not figured out that moving its neck to the center of the plastic panel under which it was trapped would provide sufficient room for it to extricate its head.

I tried pulling up on the seed bin wall, but the roof of the house-type feeder on the side where the bird was trapped is screwed to the walls of the feeder, and I could not get a good grip on the plastic panel to move it.

I returned to the kitchen to find a spatula with a thin wooden handle. With that implement, I was able to pry up the plastic seed bin wall and free the bird, which promptly (and mercifully) flew away. I guess animals freed by humans from threatening situations stay around to say thanks only in fairy tales.

I was happy that I was able to save the bird, but I now am seriously concerned about the design of what is generally a lovely bird feeder. The problem occurs only when the feeder is empty, but birds can empty the feeder quickly, and I cannot always be around to replenish the seed supply. If you own a similar Wild Birds Unlimited feeder, check it whenever you can for birds that may have become trapped.

Update, 10/13/2012. I wrote to Wild Birds Unlimited and received a prompt reply. The company had not previously received reports of the problem I identified, I was told, but it would look into possible manufacturing changes. The reply suggested that, if I could not keep the feeder filled, perhaps I should replace it with a platform feeder. Of course, platform feeders have their own problems, including their failure to protect seeds in the rain.

The obvious change that could be made to the bird feeder would be to change the curved shape at the bottom of the clear plastic feed bin walls. The curve, though, is probably intended to minimize the quantity of seed that falls out of the feeding station to the ground. An alternative might be to have a thick plate that sits on top of the seed and, when the seed is gone, covers the feed discharge opening. This would not be hard to design, though it would complicate filling the feeder, and a convenient mechanism for raising the plate once the feeder emptied would need to be devised.

GS 1878

In 2010, the General Synod of the Church of England referred the question of adopting the Anglican Covenant to the church’s dioceses. Adoption was reject by 26 dioceses and approved by only 18. These results are only now officially being transmitted to the General Synod. They are embedded in a report designated GS 1878 that will be put before the General Synod when it meets in London November 19–21, 2012.

Much of the 12-page report is unremarkable, since it presents information that is well known. (I doubt that any member of the General Synod will be surprised to learn that the motion to adopt the Anglican Covenant was rejected by a majority of dioceses.) GS 1878 does contain material that deserves comment, however.

Paragraph 6 summarizes the effect of the voting in the dioceses in this unsurprising sentence:
Thus the draft Act of Synod was not approved by a majority of the dioceses and it therefore cannot be presented to the General Synod for Final Approval. [emphasis in original]
The paragraph then concludes as follows, which certainly will be a surprise to many:
For the record, there is nothing in the Synod’s Constitution or Standing Orders that would preclude the process being started over again, whether in the lifetime of this Synod or subsequently, by another draft Instrument to the same effect being brought forward for consideration by the General Synod before being referred to the dioceses under Article 8. The Business Committee is not, however, aware of a proposal to re-start the process in this way.
Apparently, this statement is true, but it was widely thought that the Covenant could not be reconsidered until the next General Synod convenes in 2015. For example, Fulcrum’s Andrew Goddard, stated flatly last March, “The Church of England cannot reconsider the covenant until 2015.” Members of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition shared that understanding. Also last March, for example, Alan T Perry wrote on the  Coalition’s blog, “Four more dioceses will meet in April to have their say, but since last week the result has been clear: the Covenant cannot come back to the General Synod for adoption, at least until 2015.”

Covenant opponents have worried that supporters might have a plan to give the Church of England an opportunity to reconsider adoption of the Covenant before 2015. GS 1878 exacerbates that worry, though I suspect that nothing will happen before the next Archbishop of Canterbury is in place and then only if the new archbishop foolishly wants to risk dying in the Covenant ditch.

Somewhat gratuitously, GS 1878 comments on the distribution of votes in the dioceses and, in paragraph 10, offers this analysis:
The point can be illustrated in another way by noting that, if a total of just seventeen individuals spread across five particular dioceses had voted to support the Covenant rather than oppose it, a bare majority of dioceses would have approved the Covenant, whereas, if a total of just ten across five other dioceses had voted against instead of in favour, the diocesan voting against the Covenant would have been much greater at 31-13.
If you find this paragraph relevant to anything, let me explain how Americans could have elected President Gore in 2000. It might have been more insightful for the report to have noted the correlation between the suppression of anti-Covenant arguments and the votes cast in favor of Covenant adoption.

 Appendix B of the report summarizes “following motions” that were passed in a number of dioceses. These motions generally supported the Anglican Communion without reference to the Anglican Covenant. One rather different following motion was considered by the Diocese of Chester, a diocese that voted for adoption. The motion it considered proposed changes to Section 4 of the Covenant. The motion was defeated decisively.

Three bishops availed themselves of the privilege of putting a statement into the record on the Covenant, and these statements are reprinted in Appendix A.

The first of the episcopal statements is from the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu. The York diocese, of course, approved the motion to adopt the Covenant, but Sentamu felt a need to get his opinion on the record anyway.

Sentamu begins by asserting that his understanding of the Covenant differs from that of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition. “If the Anglican Communion is to say No to the current proposal, then what? The opponents to the Covenant need to come up with an answer,” he boldly proclaims. Of course, not everyone sees a problem where Sentamu does. He continues
If I may respectfully suggest, there is a widespread lack of understanding that exists in the Church of England about the nature and importance of the conciliar principle of Church governance. There seems to be almost no understanding that the traditional ecclesiology of Anglicanism, as reflected in the Anglican Covenant, is an expression of a tradition of  governing the Church by means of Councils that goes back to the New Testament itself—the Council at Jerusalem and the Council’s Letter to the Gentile Believers in Acts 15.
At issue, of course, is the extent one attaches to the word “Church.” Arguably, the Church of England is indeed governed by councils. Less ambiguously is The  Episcopal Church so governed. The Anglican Communion is certainly not governed by councils. If one believes it should be, why does the need for conciliar consensus stop at the border of the Communion? Why does it not extend to the Roman Catholic domain or the Orthodox or, for that matter, that of the Lutherans or the Presbyterians? There is, I think, no good answer to this question. Particularly, there is no good Anglican answer, as a seminal event—arguably the seminal event—of Anglican history is the assertion of the need for local autonomy by the English church. But the good archbishop laments the lack of “[s]omething akin to our Preface to the Declaration of Assent,“ which is “urgently needed throughout the Anglican Communion.” Why, one must ask. The Covenant, he says, “bridges this deficit,” but Sentamu has not really established that there is any deficit that needs to be bridged. The Communion is not now one big happy family, but it is hardly self-evident that putting it in the straightjacket that is the Covenant will produce peace, harmony, and mutual affection.

Sentamu goes on to say that the Covenant will help Anglicans recover their “true vocation.” He explains, “This includes growing more fully into the life of ‘mutual resourcing, responsibility and interdependence’ which the 1963 Toronto Congress identified and from which the Communion has since drifted.” This represents a distortion of the message of the Toronto Congress. In fact, the Communion has moved toward the goal identified in 1963, not away from it. (See “Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence.”)

I will, mercifully, skip over much of the rest of Sentamu’s over-long essay, but I cannot let this paragraph pass unnoticed:
The Covenant would ensure that the Anglican Communion would not rest content with the sort of autonomous ecclesial units that favour unilateralism but would nurture organic interdependence that would make it possible for us to live together as the Body of Christ. This would enable us to take the Communion beyond the contexts in which current difficulties have arisen and help us to heal the breach that has sadly soured and fractured our fellowship as members of one body.
I admire the archbishop’s optimism, but he has hardly made a case for putting any credence in it.

A statement by Peter Forster, Bishop of Chester—the Diocese of Chester also voted to adopt the Covenant—follows that of Archbishop Sentamu. Like the archbishop, he has clear ideas of what the Communion should be like, and it is not a “fellowship” or “federation.” He writes
Does the Anglican Communion wish to retain any sense of being a ‘Church’, alongside the legal reality that its constituent Provinces/Churches are self-governing? It seems clear to me that if it does wish to retain a substantial degree of theological and ecclesial coherence as a distinct communion of Churches, then something like the Anglican Covenant needs to be adopted by its constituent Provinces/Churches.
Many Anglicans neither see nor want to see the Anglican Communion as an Anglican Church, so something like the Anglican Covenant is, for them, an unwelcome innovation.

In any case, Forster clearly sees the Covenant as a step in the right direction, though not as thoroughgoing as it might be. As it is, he agrees with the GAFCON crowd that it should be the primates who evaluate disputes. He notes, however, that the fact that churches are of different sizes “may distort the dynamics of the Primates’ Meeting.” Of course, the churches do not have the same resources, the primates are not all equally well educated, and some primates, such as the  Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, cannot make decisions that bind her or his church.

The final statement in Appendix A comes from the Bishop of Sodor and Man, Robert Paterson. Covenant adoption was defeated in the Diocese of Sodor and Man. Paterson’s argument for a covenant seems to be this:
When a community, a family, a communion has members who do not understand that ‘there is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak’ (Ecclesiastes 3. 7), a framework for our common life has to be developed. I think the Anglican Covenant is a reasonable instrument to achieve this.
Although this may seem perplexing, it is perhaps elucidated by this:
 The frameworks we have developed to date have worked satisfactorily, but, unfortunately, we have reached a point when opinions can be shared so easily, with too little thought for others, and actions taken which have unforeseen consequences elsewhere. The decision to act unilaterally in one place can have deeply serious effects in another. So, as a necessary means of requiring us to respect on [sic] another across the Communion, I will vote for the Covenant.
In other words, the Covenant is the solution to problems caused by (1) the Internet and (2) primates failing to explain that they aren’t responsible for what other churches do. Perhaps self-control, honesty, and charity would work at least as well. For some churches, the Covenant will clearly make things worse—they will no longer have credible deniability when asserting that they are not responsibility for what other Anglican churches do.

In any case, while admitting that Section 4 has its flaws, the bishop explains, “I simply do not recognise some of the criticisms made of it.” Perhaps he should try harder.

I suspect that the significance of GS 1878 will be minimal. The Covenant is dead in the Church of England, and the next Archbishop of Canterbury would do well to let it rest in peace. Perhaps Archbishop Sentamu’s view of the Covenant is one reason he is not going to be succeed Rowan Williams.