September 30, 2012

Thoughts on Choosing an Archbishop of Canterbury

It seems to be the consensus that the Crown Nominations Commission, which just completed what was supposed to be its final meeting to select two names to submit to the Prime Minister (and, ultimately, the Queen) to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury, has deadlocked. Each of the two candidates needs to have the votes of 11 of the 16 members of the Commission to be selected, so a deadlock is not a complete surprise, particularly since none of the likely candidates seemed to have a lock on election.

Two days ago, Anglican Communion News Service put out a press release titled “Update on the Crown Nominations Commission of the Church of England”:
This week’s meeting of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) has been accompanied by much speculation about possible candidates and the likely timing of an announcement of the name of who will succeed Dr Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury when he steps down to become Master of Magdalene College.

The CNC is an elected, prayerful body. Its meetings are necessarily confidential to enable members to fulfil their important responsibilities for discerning who should undertake this major national and international role. Previous official briefings have indicated that an announcement is expected during the autumn and that remains the case; the work of the Commission continues. There will be no comment on any speculation about candidates or about the CNC’s deliberations. Dr Williams remains in office until the end of December.
Commentators have focused on the clause “the work of the Commission continues,” since it is presumed that the work of the CNC world have been completed had it been able to select the requisite two names. If the CNC has not identified a candidate and an alternate candidate, it is not clear what happens next. According to the Guardian, however, “It is understood the panel will be holding a further session.”

Mark Harris, on his blog Preludium. notes that Rowan Williams has suggested that the job of Archbishop of Canterbury may be too much for a single person, carrying duties of diocesan bishop—Rowan seems to have farmed much of this out to others—metropolitan archbishop of the Province of Canterbury, Primate of All England, and spiritual head of the Anglican Communion. Rowan chairs the Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates’ Meeting, the Standing Committee, and plans, sends invitations to, and presides at the Lambeth Conference. He also has assumed various ecumenical duties.

Is all this too much for one person? You bet it is! I cannot say if this overburdened position is cause for the apparent indecisiveness of the CNC, but I don’t think it has to be. Mark Harris suggests that duties related to the Church of England represent the most important portfolio of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and I completely agree. In fact, I told the CNC as much.

If the burden of responsibilities have weighed heavily on the shoulders of Rowan Williams, perhaps it is because he took on an impossible task. He abandoned his own theological views and simply adopted the goal of trying to keep all parties happy through appeasement. He is trusted by no one because he seems to have no moral compass. He seems to have no moral compass because he put it aside in order to “serve” the Anglican Communion (and, I would argue, the Church of England, as well). His failure was assured when he convinced Jeffrey John to reject the appointment as Bishop of Reading. He thereby proved that he could be intimidated and has never recovered from that revelation.

Rowan Williams had the hubris to think that by placing his own integrity on the sacrificial altar he could somehow hold the Anglican Communion (and the Church of England) together. He was wrong, and both the Communion and the Church of England are worse off than when he was enthroned.

Rather than trying to wield power that no one had granted him for the elusive goal of unity, Rowan should have accepted his limited political power and relied on the moral force of honest convictions. That may or may not have made him more successful, but it would have been less stressful and made him a more sympathetic figure.

Let us hope that the next Archbishop of Canterbury will learn from the failure of his predecessor. He will be a happier and, ultimately, more successful archbishop if he relies on his own convictions, trusts in God, and lets the chips fall where they may.

Biblical Marriage

Evangelical Christians claim that Americans should countenance only marriage on the model of “biblical marriage”—“one man and one woman,” as they like to put it. I suppose that most of my readers know that this position is simply the product of prejudice and ignorance, but it is helpful actually to say so occasionally.

Here’s an example of “biblical marriage” taken from the Book of Genesis: Jacob married four women, two of whom, Leah and Rachel, were his first cousins. He also married their handmaids Bilhah and Zilpah. Jacob had children by all four women. So why don’t Evangelicals support one man-four women marriage? Alter all, that’s biblical!

September 28, 2012

Paying the Water Bill

I had trouble paying my water bill yesterday. As is the case with most bills, I don’t write a check to Pennsylvania American Water anymore. Instead, I use on-line bill paying from my PNC Bank checking account. It was almost 6:30 PM, and I was trying to pay the bill before ABC World News with Diane Sawyer came on the air.

PNC Bank logoI typed in the URL of the bank, waited a long time, and received the message that the browser request was taking too long. I tried several times again. I glanced at my cable modem, and I tried downloading e-mail. Everything seemed fine, but I still could not load the home page for the bank.

Finally, I managed to load a page that said that the bank was performing maintenance, but the page did allow me to log in to my account. Paying my bill was tedious, since every operation was taking longer than usual, but I eventually completed the transaction.

By this time, the news was just beginning on the television. The first story was about computer attacks targeting American banks. PNC was currently under attack, the reporter said. I became concerned. I was quickly reassured, however. The attack was a denial of service attack—irritating, but nothing endangering my money. I relaxed. The report from ABC News was certainly timely!

I had no clue that such attacks were occurring. I wasn’t exactly oblivious to current events, but I was deeply involved in perfecting a motion by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh’s Committee on Constitution and Canons to be presented at the upcoming diocesan convention. This morning, I noticed that reports of the attack were available long before I tried to log in.

Like many people, I rely on the Internet for so many everyday tasks. It is very disconcerting when it fails to deliver the services we’ve come to take for granted.

September 23, 2012

Why We Need a Businessman in the White House

Before now, I have had a hard time figuring out why a business background like that of Mitt Romney would be useful in the White House. It has recently become clear, however.

Business is all about efficiency. Romney, who loves to fire people who aren’t doing what he needs done, plans to fire the 47% of Americans who are not producing. Those drones can then self-deport, leaving us—well, them—a nation of producers.

Of course, some of those 47% are now working for the 53%, so some of the people whose tax  rate is only 15% may have to begin doing actual work. But I’m sure Romney has a vision of how this will work out in the end.

September 21, 2012

Two (or Maybe Three) Linguistic Observations

I notice interesting aspects of how people use language and often fail to comment on them, since doing so would make a very small essay. I made two unrelated observations today, and I thought they might together constitute a critical mass of data that could justify a post.

BP commercialThe first observation comes from a BP commercial titled—at least I think this is the actual title—“BP’s commitment to America.” This ad is not trying to induce us to buy BP products but to convince us what a good neighbor BP is being. In other words, it is trying to divert us from thinking about the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for which BP was responsible.

The voice-over  begins with this:
Two years ago, the people of BP made a commitment to the Gulf. And, every day since, we worked hard to keep it. BP has paid over 23 billion dollars to help people and businesses who were affected and to cover cleanup costs.
Cleanup costs for what? For the BP screwup that must not be named, apparently. Actually, I noticed this peculiarity in the script only after I decided to write about a sentence later in the one-minute spot:
BP supports nearly 250,000 jobs in communities across the country.
Supports? BP supports jobs? Doesn’t BP employ people to provide the goods and services that make money for BP? To say that BP supports jobs seems to suggest that it magnanimously provides employment for Americans. Trust me, if BP could accomplish the same work with 200,000 people, it would fire 50,000 Americans in a New York minute.

My second observation comes from a popular Anglican blog that I read regularly but which I will, charitably, not name. In reading a post there today, I came across the phrase “once and a while,” meaning, loosely, occasionally. I was stopped cold by this phrase because I thought the correct idiom was “once in a while.” Upon consulting several dictionaries, I determined that I was correct. Use of the phrase “once and a while” is simply a mistake.

That said, idioms are, by their nature, well, idiosyncratic. Neither “once and a while” nor “once in a while” makes much sense if you’ve never encountered it before. And, even if you have encountered the correct idiom in speech, you might not transcribe it correctly if you had not also seen it in print. When I read “once and a while,” I was about 85% certain that it was wrong, but I was not 100% certain. It is easy to get these things wrong. Have you ever heard someone refer to this as “a doggy dog world”?

Checking out the phrase on-line was amusing. defines “once in a while” as “at intervals; occasionally.” Merriam-Webster, on the other hand, defines the phrase as “now and then,” yet another  idiom! Merriam-Webster defines “now and then” as “from time to time: occasionally.” Of course, “from time to time” is yet another idiom, which is defined as “once in a while: occasionally”!

September 20, 2012

Where Have All the Comments Gone?

When I began writing this blog in 2002, I did not provide for comments. I didn’t know much about blogs back then, so I doubt I thought much about it. As the years went by and blogs became more popular, I began to see the utility of allowing comments, and I was impressed by the kind of communities that some blogs attracted.

I remember a conversation I had about comments with Terry Martin, the “Father Jake” of Father Jake Stops the World. Terry’s posts elicited lots of comments, sometimes a hundred or more. I was concerned that I might be overwhelmed with comments were I to allow them. Terry suggested that supporting comments was unnecessary, so I left well enough alone.

In September 2008, Tony Seel criticized me for not supporting comments on my blog in a post on his own blog titled “Why is Lionel Deimel afraid of conversation?” I was not afraid of conversation, of course, and explained my thinking in a comment on Tony’s post. (That did not lead to conversation, as it turned out.)

Finally, more than a year later, I took the plunge and allowed comments on my blog. This required a redesign of the blog, but the change was worth the trouble.

So why am I writing about comments now?

My fears of being overwhelmed by visitors expressing their opinions and arguing with one another were overblown. Most of my posts attract no comments at all, and seldom does one accumulate as many as 10. Rarely do I receive a comment that justifies a long reply or one that requires extensive research. A few of the comments that show up are really ads for something or other. I delete these as soon as I become aware of them.

What is particularly perplexing is the lack of any correlation between length of post and number of comments. In fact, there seems to be no correlation between the number of times a post has been viewed and the number of comments. My post “A Preëmptive Political Post” serves as a good example. It is relatively long; includes many individual, presumably controversial, assertions; and has been viewed more than 700 times over two and a half weeks. It has attracted not a single comment.

So, I have a question for my readers. (I know there are readers.) Why don’t you leave comments more often? Are my posts so brilliant that they leave you stunned and intimidated? Are my posts so dumb that they are beneath notice? Are you too busy to take time to leave a comment? I haven’t a clue, and I suspect that different groups of readers may have different disincentives for writing comments.

Please leave a comment offering your own explanation. Your failure to do so will only deepen the mystery.

September 19, 2012

Thoughts on the Struggle to Allow Women Bishops in England

The road to allowing women bishops in the Church of England has been long and painful. Approval of women bishops—not the last step before women priests can be made bishops, I hasten to add—will likely come when the General Synod meets in November.

Passage of the women bishops legislation became more likely September 12, 2012, when Church of England bishops announced substitute wording for clause 5(1)(c). Clause 5(1) is a list introduced by
The House of Bishops shall draw up, and promulgate, guidance in a Code of Practice as to—
Church of England logo
Clause 5(1)(c) which was added by the bishops last May, now reads
the selection of male bishops and male priests in a manner which respects the grounds on which parochial church councils issue Letters of Request under section 3
the selection of male bishops or male priests the exercise of ministry by whom is consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of women on grounds of which parochial church councils have issued Letters of Request under section 3
The issue, of course, is how far the church is willing to bend over backward to accommodate the minority, most especially (though not exclusively) Anglo-Catholics, who want nothing to do with ordained women. Supporters of ordaining women do not want women bishops to be a lesser species of bishop than are male bishops, although it is hard to see any legislation that provides for asymmetric treatment of male and female clergy as being other than discriminatory.

As an established church, the Church of England is very reluctant to make decisions that alienate groups of its members, irrespective of how reactionary members of such groups might be. We saw, in the case of flying bishops, an institution intended to placate those opposed to the ordination of women, that the church would rather institutionalize opposition to the majority position than risk the loss or disgruntlement of members holding opposing views. Whereas The Episcopal Church simply committed to the ordination of women and enjoys virtually no opposition to women clergy now, opposition to women clergy seems as strong as ever in the Church of England. The church seems about to institutionalize opposition to women clergy yet again.

Well, the legislation in England is what it is, and reactions to the bishops’ latest wording are beginning to trickle in. So far, those reactions seem rather cautious. What can we say about the latest version of clause 5(1)(c)?

The previous version of clause 5(1)(c) seemed to guarantee to parishes opposing women clergy the right to a male priest or bishop who agrees with their theological views. Moreover, since the legislation must eventually be approved by Parliament and the Queen, the original clause would have enshrined opposition to women clergy in law. And it would have limited the authority of women bishops in a way not applicable to male bishops.

In contrast, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams argues that the new wording of the controversial clause reassures the minority that its position is respected:
The important thing there is that notion of respect. ‘Respect’ means taking somebody else in their own terms; letting them define what they believe, what they think, who they are.  It means trying to find a settlement that allows them to recognise in whatever emerges that their views have been taken seriously.  And because of all that, this takes for granted a process of engagement—a building of relationship between bishop and parish in this potentially quite difficult and challenging area.
 I suspect, however, that different people will read different messages into the word “respects” in clause 5(1)(c).  In America, these two sentences carry rather different ideas:
  • She respected his beliefs.
  • She respected his last wishes.
The first sentence  is about acknowledging the legitimacy of beliefs, without any suggestion that those beliefs are correct or demand actions by others consistent with them. The second sentence suggests nothing of the reasonableness of the last wishes, only a willingness to perform whatever was requested.

It is clear, I think, that one side can read the new clause as requiring that the views of the requesting parish simply not be denigrated. The other side can read the clause as requiring that the wishes of the parish be fulfilled.

The Archbishop of Canterbury (and the dictionaries I consulted) seems to favor the interpretation of recognizing legitimate concerns without necessarily fully acceding to a parish’s requests, but I wonder if accepting the legislation as it now stands isn’t buying a pig in a poke. It is the Code of Practice, which will be in the hands of the bishops after the women bishops legislation is approved by General Synod, that will determine what clause 5(1)(c) really means in practice.

In light of the modification made by the bishops to the legislation last May, do supporters of women bishops have any reason to believe that the Code of Practice won’t give away the store to their theological opponents?

September 15, 2012

God and the Pennsylvania Constitution

The United States of America has a completely secular Constitution, but the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania cannot say the same. I only just became aware of this fact, even though I have been a resident of Pennsylvania for more than a quarter of a century. (All quotations in this post are taken from the Duquesne University School of Law Web pages on the Pennsylvania constitution, found here.)

In particular, I discovered that Article I, Section 4, “Religion,” states
[That the general, great and essential principles of liberty and free government may be recognized and unalterably established, WE DECLARE THAT] No person who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this Commonwealth.
Pennsylvania seal
Implicit in this provision is that one may be disqualified from holding an office or place of trust or profit in Pennsylvania if one does not acknowledge (1) God, (2) heaven, and (3) hell. I doubt this section of the constitution is strictly enforced, but were it to be so, even some Christians might be disqualified as unfit for public office. Nor do I know if the provision has ever been challenged in court. It is clearly unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

The Pennsylvania constitution has been completely revised a number of times, and the quotation above is taken from the latest version, that of 1968, which begins with this Preamble:
WE, the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of civil and religious liberty, and humbly invoking His guidance, do ordain and establish this Constitution.
God is mentioned only one other time in the constitution, namely, in Article I, Section 3, “Religious Freedom”:
[That the general, great and essential principles of liberty and free government may be recognized and unalterably established, WE DECLARE THAT] All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent; no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship.
I think that this sections conveys the right not to worship God, but I’m not completely sure. Thus, I deem Section 3 acceptable, but not Section 4. Notice, however, that Section 3 speaks of “All men,” whereas Section 4 refers to “No person,” an odd inconsistency.

Not surprisingly, Article I, Section 4 is a holdover from earlier versions of the constitution. Except for its title, the section is identical to the 1874 constitution. Article I, Section 4 in that version is titled “Religious opinions not to disqualify for holding office,” which is more generous than the provision itself.

The previous constitution, that of 1838, has a rather generic preamble, though one not tagged with that name and one that does not mention God:

WE, The People of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Ordain and Establish this Constitution for its Government.
Provisions of this constitution are ordered differently from the versions that followed. Article IX, Sections III and IV are essentially the same as the corresponding sections of the current Article I. (Punctuation differs slightly.) Article IX, Section IV is simply titled “Religion.”

Article IX, Sections III and IV are virtually the same in the 1838 constitution as in the 1790 constitution. In that document, however, Section IV is titled “Of a disqualification on account of religion,” which seem more seriously exclusionary.

In the first post-colonial constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, that of 1776, we see the precursors of the current Sections 3 and 4 of Article I. Chapter I is labeled “A DECLARATION of the RIGHTS of the Inhabitants of the State of Pennsylvania.” Its untitled Section II is the following:
That all men have a natural and unalienable right to worship almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences and understanding: And that no man ought or of right can be compelled to attend any religious worship, or erect or support any place of worship, or maintain any ministry, contrary to, or against, his own free will and consent: Nor can any man, who acknowledges the being of God, be justly deprived or abridged of any civil right as a citizen, on account of his religious sentiments or peculiar mode of religious worship: And that no authority can or ought to be vested in, or assumed by any power whatever, that shall in any case interfere with, or in any manner controul [sic], the right of conscience in the free exercise of religious worship.
It is interesting that this section uses the word “unalienable.” That word, of course, appears in the Declaration of Independence, which was published days before the writing of the Pennsylvania constitution began in Philadelphia. In subsequent versions of the constitution, the synonym—though now less familiar—“indefeasible” is used.

Chapter I, Section II provides protections for men acknowledging God, but does not require a belief in heaven or hell. Chapter II, Section 10 injects religion into governance more obtrusively, however:
A quorum of the house of representatives shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number members elected; and having met and chosen their speaker, shall each of them before they proceed to business take and subscribe, as well the oath or affirmation of fidelity and allegiance herein after directed, as the following oath or affirmation, viz.

I ___________ do swear (or affirm) that as a member of this assembly, I will not propose or assent to any bill, vote or resolution, which shall appear to me injurious to the people; nor do or consent to any act or thing whatever, that shall have a tendency to lessen or abridge their rights and privileges, as declared in the constitution of this state; but will in all things conduct myself as a faithful honest representative and guardian of the people, according to the best of my judgment and abilities.

And each member, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz.

I do believe in one God, the Creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration.

And no further or other religious test shall ever hereafter be required of any civil officer or magistrate in this state.
The oath required of representatives—the constitution established a unicameral legislature—is clearly intended to exclude non-Christian legislators. This oath disappears in the 1790 constitution, which introduced a bicameral legislature:
Members of the General Assembly, and all officers, executive and judicial, shall be bound, by oath or affirmation, to support the constitution of this commonwealth, and to perform the duties of their respective offices with fidelity. [Article VIII]
No doubt, the elimination of the overtly Christian oath of office was influenced by the same spirit that led to the First Amendment, which had been proposed, but not put into effect in 1790. Unfortunately, the prejudice against non-Christians found its way, as we have seen, into Article IX, Section IV, a provision essentially unchanged in the current Article I, Section 4.

It is unlikely that an amendment to Article I, Section 4 will ever be proposed, but, from time to time, the possibility of revising the entire Pennsylvania constitution has been raised. When next such a revision takes place, references to God and the preference afforded Christians should be expunged from the document.

If You Just Tuned In

I’ve been listening to Weekend Edition Saturday this afternoon. One announcement on this show, like many similar announcements one hears on radio, drove me crazy. It went something like this:
If you just tuned in, this is Weekend Edition Saturday on National Public Radio.
That may not have been the exact wording, but you get the idea. The general form is
If you just tuned in, this is [fill in program name here].
Is it not obvious that this is a dumb statement to make? Even if one did not just tune in, the program still is  Weekend Edition Saturday. There is no need at all for the if construction.

Better is simply
This is Weekend Edition Saturday on National Public Radio.
If one feels the need to identify the target audience, the announcement can something like on of the following:
If you just tuned in, know that this is Weekend Edition Saturday on National Public Radio

If you just tuned in, you should know that this is Weekend Edition Saturday on National Public Radio.

If you just turned in, we’d like you to know that this is Weekend Edition Saturday on National Public Radio.
Alas, I suspect that the unnecessary conditional construction is too much of a radio tradition to be susceptible to change. This locution differs little from the conventional statement, however, and makes good sense:
For those of you who just tuned in, this is Weekend Edition Saturday on National Public Radio.

Note: This post was updated slightly 9/19/2012.

September 10, 2012

Bird Feeder Claims First Victim

Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania. A backyard bird feeder claimed its first victim today. Owner of the feeder, Lionel Deimel, reported Monday that he found a dead bird at his feeder in the morning. He went out on his deck intending to fill the empty feeder, where he discovered the deceased songbird.

Deadly bird feeder
Deadly bird feeder
“I was so upset when I saw the bird,” Deimel explained, “that I didn’t even try to identify it.” The bird had seemingly expired while feeding at the house-type feeder sold by Wild Birds Unlimited.

Deimel indicated that he was unable to dislodge the bird with a stick. He had to use tongs to remove the avian corpse.

“As I removed the bird, it became clear that its death was not natural,” Deimel said.

Investigators concluded that the victim was trying to obtain seeds when the feeder was empty or nearly so. Apparently the deceased put its head into the seed bin, where it became trapped by the plastic bin wall. (See photo below.)

Feeder station
Feeder station where bird was killed

Speculation focused on the shape of the seed bin wall, which is made of clear plastic. The bottom edge of the wall, where seed is released into a shallow feeding station, is higher in the center than at the edges. Investigators suggested that the bird may have reached into the bin at the center, moved its head to the side, and been unable to extricate itself.

“I don’t think the feeder is really dangerous,” Deimel said. “There is no danger to birds unless the feeder is nearly empty. Unfortunately, birds can empty the feeder pretty fast.”

Wild Birds Unlimited, which sells the feeder made from recycled materials, was not available for comment.

September 9, 2012

St. David’s Community Cookout

St. David’s, Peters Township, which is working at rebuilding itself as a viable Episcopal church—see “Pentecost at St. David’s”—held a kind of grand opening today. A cookout, billed as the First Annual South Hills Community Cookout, followed the Sunday Eucharist. Advertising for the event included postcards sent to neighbors (see below).

Front and back of postcard announcing event I sang in the choir of St. Paul’s, my own church, but I headed out to Peters Township as soon as I could, primarily to take some photographs and to see how the event was going. I was happy to see lots of cars in the parking lot when I arrived and a cookout that was well underway.

Kris McInnis at the grill I had no trouble finding Kris McInnes, the celebrant at the 10 o’clock Eucharist, who was busy grilling vegetables. (Actually, when I located him, he was removing pieces of zucchini that were a bit overdone, a result of coals having recently been added to the grill.) Kris said that more than 50 people had attended the service. That number is significantly more than have been coming lately, even though some regulars were out of town today. The congregation included 14 children. Many more people had come for the cookout.

The food was plentiful and included chicken, burgers, and sausages from the grill, in addition to vegetables. Lots of accompaniments, including a variety of drinks, were available inside the building. There was also a popcorn machine. After taking a few pictures, I had sausage on a bun with grilled peppers and onions. I also had some potato salad, lemonade, and a cookie.

Buffet in church concourse


There was a lot to make children happy, including painting—I saw a great Spider-Man face—and one of those bouncy things for which my vocabulary lacks a name.

Bouncy thing

Face painting People could eat either outside or in.

Outdoor diners
Indoor diners It seems that a good time was had by all. I hope that some of the people who visited St. David’s today will become regular worshipers.

September 7, 2012

Words as Weapons

In the political sphere, finding the right words to characterize your cause or that of your opponents often provides the margin of victory. Somehow, conservatives seem to play the game of finding the right rhetorical ammunition better than do liberals. For example, “pro-life” is a great rhetorical weapon. Although “pro-choice” isn’t a bad locution, the implied opposing position, “anti-choice,” isn’t as repugnant as “anti-life.”

In many cases, the right has devised emotional phrases for which their opponents have found no effective counterpart. Two of the best of these are “death tax| and “death panels.” That there is a degree of dishonesty in each of these names detracts little from their effectiveness.

FORWARD.Although it isn’t a home run, the new Obama-Biden slogan (at right) is not bad, though it has attracted criticism on several counts. The administration, some have said, does not want people to think backward to what has occurred on Obama’s watch. Others have complained about the stop (period) at the end of the slogan. Well, the period is stupid, but “forward” is good, as it reminds us that the Republicans really want to go backward, either to the Gilded Age or to the Salem witch trials, as Mike Lofgren has put it.

Liberals aren’t doing so badly on the same-sex marriage front, either. “Marriage equality” is a positive phrase comprising two words to which most people respond favorably. The notion of “defending traditional marriage,” on the other hand, falls flat, not least because it isn’t clear what there is to defend.

That said, the anti-LGBT crowd may be searching for a phrase to put a positive spin on their bigotry. This thought occurred to me as I read a recent story by Frances Kelly posted on RenewAmerica1. The story “Catholic innkeepers fined $30,000 and lose wedding business for not hosting reception for gender-segregated couple,” which is only about 250 words long, is a virtual lexicon of phrases to describe homosexual or heterosexual pairings, beginning with the “gender-segregated couple” of the headline. Most of the phrases are unfamiliar and neither memorable nor pithy:
  1. gender-segregated couple
  2. gender-integrated marriage
  3. pro-gender marriage
  4. monogender couple
  5. gender-segregated marriage
  6. gender segregation in marriage
  7. same-sex marriage
Kelly really works on this. In another story, “Same-sex marriage is anti-gender marriage,”she introduces
  1. anti-gender marriage
  2. same-gender couples
  3. unigender couples
Kelly, who is described as “a conservative who lives and writes in the liberal land of Vermont,” may have written other phrases I’ve missed. Judging from her list of stories, she has a monomaniacal obsession with same-sex unions. Happily, she seems not to be making any useful rhetorical contribution to the marriage-inequality cause.
1 RenewAmerica describes itself, in part, this way (emphasis in the original):
RenewAmerica is a grassroots organization that supports the self-evident truths found in the Declaration of Independence, and their faithful application through upholding the U.S. Constitution, as written. Its purpose is to thoughtfully and courageously advance the cause of our nation’s Founders.

The organization is for ALL people who consider themselves loyal Americans. It has no philosophy, image, or agenda beyond this one unifying premise: America must return to its founding principles if it is to survive.

RenewAmerica is thus nonpartisan and nondenominational.
The content of the Web site of RenewAmerica, however, seems to be pro-Christian, pro-life, anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-Mormon, anti-Democratic Party, and not particularly pro-Republican Party. Are these the founding principles of the Republic?

September 3, 2012

A Still Relevant Labor Day Poem

Last year, I wrote a poem for Labor Day, a poem that I improved over the following ten days or so. The poem, which I eventually named “Labor Day Lament, 2011,” is still relevant. It is perhaps especially appropriate in this period between the reality-denying Republican convention and the soon-to-convene Democratic convention. You can read “Labor Day Lament, 2011” on my Web site, Lionel Deimel’s Farrago, here, a page that also describes the history of the poem.

By way of inducement to read the complete poem, here is the opening stanza:
With bosses making millions,
And millions unemployed,
Hapless workers, by the millions,
Have had their dreams destroyed.

1956 Labor Day stamp


September 2, 2012

A Preëmptive Political Post

It will surprise few readers that I am a supporter of the Obama-Biden ticket. Moreover, I believe that a major Republican victory in November has the potential to be a monumental disaster for America. Therefore, if I’m not careful, I will find myself spending a good deal of my time between now and the presidential election writing long political essays on this blog.

Obama-Biden logo

To save myself from all that future writing, I’ve decided to develop a kind of preëmptive post simply listing themes relevant (or maybe relevant) to the presidential campaign. Each of these themes could be expanded into a standalone essay, but I leave that, at least for now, to the imagination of the reader. Other bloggers are free to write their own essays on these themes. Who knows, I might even do that myself if I get really fired up. More likely, though, I will save my efforts for campaign issues we haven’t even heard about yet.

Actually, since my “themes” are generally assertions, I should perhaps call them truths. They will seem that more readily to Democrats than to Republicans, although I gore a donkey or two in addition to the elephants.

Here is my list:
  1. Endorsement of a candidate by a spouse, no matter how effusive, is meaningless.
  2. If President Obama has failed to accomplish everything he promised, it is because he assumed, mistakenly, that Republicans in Congress would behave like adults, putting the welfare of the country ahead of their own sense of ideological purity. Obama is wiser now, and, if the American people are wiser as well, they will vote every Republican out of office.
  3. We will continue to pass bad laws as long as much of our legislation is written by lobbyists and we do not insist that legislators certify that they have actually read the legislation they vote on.
  4. Much of the federal deficit is due to George W. Bush, who cut taxes and conducted two unfunded wars, one of which was pretty much unnecessary.
  5. People do not create jobs in the private sector as a public service. Even if the wealthy paid no taxes, they would create jobs only if there was demand for goods or services generated by those jobs.
  6. In fact, consumers are the real “job creators.” Unless there is demand, supply will dry up. Even when innovators create demand for a product or service consumers had not known they wanted, it is still consumers who ultimately make the innovator successful. (Think Apple.)
  7. The government need not encourage private investment. People with money will invest it as best they can, rather than hiding it under their mattresses.
  8. Tax breaks for particular activities distort economic decisions and are justified only to encourage investment in desirable activities that would not happen otherwise. Needless to say, the oil industry needs no subsidy from the federal government.
  9. If we were really serious about using tax policy to encourage the wealthy to create jobs, we would give tax breaks for creating new jobs and apply tax penalties for eliminating old ones. Probably neither measure is a good one, however.
  10. Federal “insurance” programs (crop, flood) should not lose money. To the extent that they do, they are badly run or subsidize bad economic behavior.
  11. The U.S. Postal Service, even if it loses money, is critical to binding the nation together. It should not be required to be a profit center.
  12. Insisting on reducing the federal deficit when the economy is performing poorly is, in theory, a bad idea. Historical evidence supports the theory. The government may indeed need to rein in spending, but not now, given our high level of unemployment. This is a good time to invest heavily in infrastructure.
  13. The inadequacy of government regulation (aided and abetted by greed and a paucity of ethics) was a major cause of the recent economic crisis. Future crises can only be avoided by increased regulation. Suggestions to the contrary are either moronic or self-serving.
  14. “Obamacare” represents an improvement to our system for delivering medical care. It could have been better had Obama not compromised to obtain Republican votes, a strategy that was unsuccessful.
  15. Junk science has no place in policy debates. Whatever some people say, climate change is a pressing concern, the earth is not 6,000 years old, vaccinations do not cause autism, a fertilized egg is not a human being, and rape victims get pregnant with dismaying frequency.
  16. Our failure to place reasonable restrictions on gun ownership is a national disgrace. (Don’t expect this to be an issue in the campaign.)
  17. One should trust no candidate who continues to run ads that multiple fact-checkers have declared to be false.
  18. The vice-presidential candidate matters. Vice presidents eventually become president with alarming frequency. Therefore, a vice-presidential candidate should be someone clearly qualified to be president at the time of election. (Sarah Palin, for example, was not a credible candidate for vice president—or much of anything else, for that matter.)
  19. Mitt Romney has acknowledged that Bain Capital had its successes and failures; business, he says, involves risk. Naturally, he emphasizes the successes. Republicans have ignored successful government investments and complained about Solyndra, whose failure seems to have been caused by circumstances beyond its control.
  20. Our greatest presidents have not been businessmen, and businessmen presidents have not distinguished themselves as managers of the economy.
  21. Managing a business and guiding economic policy for the nation have little to do with one another; the goals, tools, constraints, and necessary skills for the two tasks are markedly different.
  22. Romney’s term as governor of Massachusetts is a more relevant entry on the Republican candidate’s résumé than his tenure at Bain Capital. The campaign emphasizes the latter, rather than the former, because the health plan he implemented is fundamentally the same as the hated “Obamacare” and because Romney stepped down with an approval rating in the low 30s. Under Governor Romney, Massachusetts was 47th among the 50 states in job growth.
  23. Freedom of conscience does not imply freedom from the obligations of citizenship.
  24. It is inconsistent to allow Catholic bishops to make moral choices while denying that privilege to pregnant women.
  25. Presidential campaigns were once about how we treat the poor. Now they are ostensibly about the middle class, though the main beneficiaries of government policy are large corporations and the wealthy.
  26.  If our policy toward Cuba hasn’t worked in half a century, it is unlikely to work in the next half century.
  27. Israel is a diplomatic liability, though unwavering support for Israel is considered a prerequisite for gaining the Jewish vote. (Ironically, it may now be more critical to winning the Evangelical vote than to winning the Jewish vote.)
  28. If Israel attempts an air strike on Iran—some have suggested that Netanyahu might want to do this before the U.S. election—we should shoot down the Israeli planes.
  29. The U.S. needs to get out of Afghanistan. We can’t fix our own country, much less this basket case of a medieval kleptocracy. If the country begins to again harbor terrorists, we can send in air strikes. Pakistan is more worrisome than Afghanistan; it is governed only marginally better (maybe) and has nuclear weapons.
  30. Unless the U.S. can gain the coöperation of Russia and China, it has no good options regarding Syria. Under the circumstances, we are doing the best we can.
  31. It is not at all clear what the solution to the “immigration problem” should look like. Some bipartisan brainstorming is required. In any case, we cannot deport our way out of the situation we’re in.
Update, 9/4/2012. Here’s an item I inadvertently left off:
  1. If the filibuster is to be retained in the U.S. Senate, senators should actually have to talk on the floor to use the tactic, not merely declare that they want to filibuster. The intention of the filibuster rule was not to make a 60% majority of senators required to pass any bill.
Any comments from readers? Are some of my assertions either especially good or especially ill-conceived?

Update, 9/6/2012, AM. More themes prompted by recent events:
  1. Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel.
  2. Aid for Israel should be contingent on halting the building of settlements on the West Bank and dismantling existing settlements.
Update, 9/6/2012, PM. Some additional thoughts
  1. The way we finance political campaigns is broken. It needs to be fixed in a way that does not allow big corporations or the wealthy to buy elections.
  2. Equally broken and in need of revision are our intellectual property laws. Penalties for copyright infringement are unreasonable—just rent a movie to be scared to death—protection lasts too long—how can protection of written works after the death of the author encourage the author to be productive?—and one can hardly get out of bed these days without infringing someone’s patent.
Update, 10/24/2012, PM. One additional thought:
  1. Production, possession, and use of marijuana should be legalized, regulated, and taxed. Prohibition is not working and is filling our jails to the benefit only of the prison industry.