August 28, 2014

Would Less Representation Be More Representative?

There has been much commentary lately about how legislative districts have become less competitive. Districts have been gerrymandered to be more Democratic or, more frequently, more Republican. One party becomes unbeatable in these districts and, because of the primary system, the more passionate (and radical) party faithful tend to select people who go on to win the general election. The resulting legislators, secure in their seats and holding fringe views, resist compromise and paralyze the legislative process. If there are enough such legislators, they can pass crazy laws. This state of affairs is exacerbated by the tendency of people to sort themselves geographically, making it difficult to create diverse districts even through nonpartisan redistricting.

Less remarked upon but at least as distressing is the tendency of local school boards in homogeneous districts to make decisions based on philosophy or religion, rather than on science or the informed opinion of professional educators.

Is democracy failing America?

Perhaps part of the problem is that the House of Representatives and similar bodies at the state and local level have too many members, i.e., because there are too many districts. If the House were half the size, for examples, districts in the states would have to be twice as big. The obvious objection to this is that individuals would have less of a voice in government. On the positive side, however, larger districts would likely encompass a more diverse constituency, resulting in more competitive races and, one might hope, more centrist legislators interested in governing, rather than in flauting their ideological purity.

The benefits of having larger school districts could manifest themselves even more quickly than the benefits of larger legislative districts. Pennsylvania has 500 school districts, which is widely seen as too many. There are some very fine school districts, but many are small, insular, and are funded largely by the underclass. Larger districts could offer more diverse and better funded school boards.

So, would less representation be more representative of Americans generally? Could be.

August 27, 2014

Flags in Church

I read a piece by Mark Sandlin this morning, the title of which was “10 MORE Things Churches Can’t Do While Following Jesus.” Number 2 on the list was the following:
2) Place a U.S. Flag in the sanctuary.

For me, this one is unbelievably straightforward.

Sanctuary space is meant for signs, symbols and experiences which point us toward God.

A flag points us toward a government.

A government is not a god – at least, it’s not supposed to be.

Worse yet, a flag displayed in a space of worship seems to indicate a sense of “chosenness,” “specialness” – basically good old fashioned American exceptionalism.

But, God loves us all equally.

A flag in the sanctuary suggests that God loves some nations more than others.

And, that actually points us away from God.

Get the flag out of the sanctuary.

Put it on your truck, wear it on a shirt or hang it in your yard – but, unless you are going to display the flag of every nation on Earth in your sanctuary, you are creating a worship space that points away from God.

Make it go bye-bye.
U.S. flagThe idea of banning U.S. flags from our worship spaces is not a new idea. Some prominent Episcopalians have advocated this. Anyone who is a student of American history and who pays attention to current events recognizes that there are dangers in conflating Christianity and nationalism. That said, I think the case against having an American flag in church—in an Episcopal church certainly—is weaker than Sandlin suggests.

To begin with, I dispute the assertion that the flag “points us toward a government,” at least as “government” is understand in most of the world. Whatever the deficiencies of our Pledge of Allegiance—see my essay “The Pledge of Allegiance Revisited”—it is on the mark in stressing allegiance “to the Republic for which it [the flag] stands.” Oaths taken by public servants (e.g., the President and members of the military) are clearer on this point, stressing faithfulness to the Constitution, which is more of an abstraction that would be a pledge to, say, the Obama administration. Although our Constitution is decidedly not a “Christian” document, it is not difficult to see it embodying an aspiration for “justice and peace among all people and respect [for] the dignity of every human being.” Moreover, the First Amendment guarantees the freedom of religious bodies from government interference, a principle worth celebrating. These are ideals symbolized by the flag.

The stronger case for the flag in church, however, hinges on the nature of Anglicanism. At its best, Anglicanism does not identify church with state, but it acknowledges that church polity, ethics, and practice are not universals, but are best tailored to the society in which the church ministers. One hopes that the fundamental Good News preached in The Episcopal Church is the same as that preached in the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). The cause of Christ would not be served by translating The Episcopal Church to Nigeria or the Church of Nigeria to the United States, however. The protestations of our presiding bishop notwithstanding, The Episcopal Church is very much an American church.

The American flag in an Episcopal church, then, is not equating God and country. Instead, it is acknowledging the mission field outside the doors of the church.

Note. Minor edits were made to this post 9/18/2014.

August 22, 2014

Words We Need (Maybe)

On several occasions recently, I have heard news people using the term “videotaping.” The word is more specific than simply “recording,” which might imply audio recording. Very little video recording is done on tape these days, however. I think we need new words for audio recording and video recording that do not refer to particular technologies.

Permit me to make some suggestions. (Alternatives are welcome.) Why not use “videcording” to mean recording video and “audicording” for recording only audio. (Usually, audio is recorded with video, though this is not necessarily the case. I don’t know how useful a word for recording only video would be, but security cameras usually do this.) Naturally, we would also have the words “videcord,” “videcorder,” etc.

A quick Web search uncovered words related to my proposed neologisms. I found a audio tape recorder whose model name was Audicord 23 (see here):

References to “videcord” are more confusing. It appears to be the name of a defunct UK company. “Videcord” also appears on a Web page of Textronix, Inc. I have no idea what it is referring to.

Home at the DFMS

In my post “Missing Episcopal Words,” I noted that the URLs and take the visitor to the same place. The latter URL is easy to remember and short, so I used it frequently. That was seven years ago, however, and the two URLs are no longer interchangeable. The URL (or takes the visitor to a page named “Home,” which looks like this (click on image for a larger view):

DFMS home page

What, exactly, is the point of this page, particularly since “” is not actually a link? Wouldn’t it be more user-friendly simply to redirect to If the page is meant to discourage the use of the domain, it would at least be thoughtful to provide a real link the the Episcopal Church home page (not, as the text asserts, to the actual Episcopal Church). Moreover, the social media links at the left make no sense. And why is the page named “Home”?

Who is responsible for this idiotic page?

August 13, 2014

Does Facebook Drive You Crazy?

Facebook logo
Despite some initial reticence, I have become a regular user of Facebook. I wouldn’t say I love Facebook, but it is useful.

I post on my own page, of course, but also on institutional pages such as that of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP) and the No Anglican Covenant Coalition. I also post on group pages (e.g, that of Pittsburgh Episcopal Cursillo) and institutional pages for which I am not an editor (e.g, that of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh). I post from my computer, my tablet, and my mobile phone. I mostly post directly to a Facebook page, but I sometimes click on a Facebook icon found on a non-Facebook page (e.g., on my own blog) to write a post. Many of my posts are of pictures or links to other material on the Web. I also post comments, some of which may also be pictures or links.

What drives me crazy is that making a post or comment works differently depending on platform, page, and my status with regard to that page. Moreover, the behavior of Facebook in any context keeps changing.

I don’t have the time or patience to catalog all the differences encountered when posting to Facebook, but I’ll note a few:

  • When I enter a URL, a picture from the referenced page, a title, and text from the page usually show up. But sometimes not.
  • When the  information above shows up on a page such as that of PEP, I can change the picture. On my own page, I cannot change the picture.
  • When I use a URL in a comment, information from the referenced page does not display. When I publish the comment, however, it does. I cannot change it, only delete it.
  • When I enter a URL in my mobile Facebook app, only the URL is shown. The post contains no picture, title, or text.
  • (This one sent me over the edge today.) I wanted to post a link to an event on the PEP page on the page of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. When I entered the link, the date and event information, including link, was displayed. When I published the post, the date, information, and link disappeared. The post gave no direct way to reach the PEP event post. Moreover, I could neither edit the post nor delete it.
I realize that not everyone encounters these frustrations, simply because people mostly post on their own Facebook pages, but does the inconsistencies of Facebook drive you crazy?

August 7, 2014

Hard Shell Baptists

I’ve begun reading To Kill a Mockingbird, which I should have read a long time ago. In Chapter 5, I was surprised to encounter a reference to “foot-washing Baptist” and to this sentence: “‘My shell’s not that hard, child. I’m just a Baptist.’”

As a child, I remember my father’s referring to “hard shell Baptists.” I thought this simply referred to very conservative Baptists who disapproved of such activities as card-playing and dancing. Harper Lee caused me to check Wikipedia, however, where I discovered that Primitive Baptists (also Anti-Mission Baptists, and Old School Baptists), also known as Hard Shell Baptists are an identifiable group with specific doctrines and practices.

Who knew?

August 6, 2014

Ritz on the Fritz

Ritz crackers out of their sleeveI have had a problem with the last several boxes of Ritz crackers I’ve purchased.

The crackers are packaged in four cellophane sleeves in the 13.7 oz package. Even though the cardboard box holding the four inner packages appears undamaged, there is an unpleasant surprise when one of the sleeves is opened. In their sleeve, the crackers seem fine. In many cases, however, when the crackers are removed, the edges of the crackers crumble. This is illustrated in the photo shown, which depicts five crackers that were stacked one atop another in their sleeve. (Click on the photo for a larger image.)

I love Ritz crackers and have usually been dissatisfied with similar crackers on the market. I am, however, thinking of switching to Keebler Town House crackers.

Ritz crackers are made by Nabisco, once known as National Biscuit Company, whose history stretches back more than 200 years. Following many mergers, acquisitions, and splits, the crackers are now made in Mexico by Mondeléz International.

I called Mondeléz International today, and the customer representative I spoke to seemed surprised at my problem. Either the company has not had many complaints like mine or does not want to admit to a serious manufacturing defect. I have to wonder if the crackers are thinner than they used to be or have otherwise changed in recent years.

Has anyone else encountered crumbling Ritz crackers?

August 3, 2014

The Rest of the Story

Today’s Gospel reading was the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:13–21). As I listened to the reading in church this morning, I imagined a following incident that was not recorded by the evangelist. Below is the story from Matthew, including my imagined epilogue.
Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

After the crowd had eaten, the disciples came to Jesus and said, “The people have no way to relieve themselves. Send them away, so they can relieve themselves at home.” But Jesus said to them, “Have the people walk to the nearby grove, and they will be satisfied.” When the people did as they were told, behold, they found many small dwellings with doors, each with a seat and pot inside. And the people relieved themselves and returned to hear Jesus teach until it was nearly sunset. And Jesus dismissed the crowd with a blessing, and the people went home, amazed at what they had seen and heard.

August 1, 2014

Fish Friday

I was thinking broiled fish when I went to Walmart to shop today, but the store had frozen cod, so I decided to make cod au gratin. I discovered this dish years ago when visiting St. John’s, Newfoundland. It is the classic dish of Newfoundland and the dish that convinced me that cod can be terrific. (My previous experience with cod was limited to being given cod liver oil as a child. The memory is not a fond one.)

Offending packageCod au gratin is really pretty simple, just a bechamel sauce with onion over pieces of cod, baked in a dish covered in breadcrumbs and grated cheese. The dish was tasty—I could have made the sauce a bit thicker—and I took the opportunity to open the bottle of Riesling I bought on my recent trip to Ontario. (See  “Ontario Wine Country.”)

I did have a minor problem, however. The recipe called for one pound of fish, and the package of frozen cod I bought at Walmart clearly announced “NET WT 16 OZ (454 g).” After I defrosted the contents, however, I weighed the fish. The four pieces of cod weighed 13-3/8 ounces. Perhaps they weighed 16 ounces when frozen, though the package did not suggest that water contributed to the nominal 16 ounce weight. Moreover, the Nutrition Facts on the side of the package began
Serving Size 4 oz (113g) raw
Servings per Container about 4
(approx. 3–6 fillets)
My conclusion is that Walmart is cheating consumers and, I assume, violating the law.

Many products carry the URL of a Web site or a telephone number for consumer questions and complaints. Not this package. All it says is
DISTRIBUTED BY: Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Bentonville, AR 72716
I may return the package to the store. Or, perhaps, I will contact the Pennsylvania Attorney General.