April 25, 2016

Might Work, Might Not

Ted Cruz and John Kasich have cooked up an interesting scheme to help keep Donald Trump from accumulating the delegates needed to win the Republican nomination for president on the first ballot. They announced yesterday that Kasich will not campaign in Indiana, which has its primary on May 3. Cruz, on the other hand, will not contest the primary in Oregon on May 17 or that in New Mexico on June 7. The two candidates have encouraged their supporters to follow their lead in reducing competition in the three states. The agreement comes too late to have an effect on the April 26 primaries, and there is no agreement regarding contests in Nebraska, West Virginia, Washington, California, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, or South Dakota.

The theory behind this desperate move is that, with only two active candidates in these races, the non-Trump votes will be concentrated for either Cruz or Kasich, resulting in fewer delegates for Trump. This theory depends on voters (and, I suppose, independent campaign spenders) being as anti-Trump as are Cruz, Kasich, and other Republican Party leaders. Don’t count on it.

Will, for example, a Kasich supporter in Indiana vote for Cruz because Kasich has stepped aside? Were Cruz and Kasich very similar candidates, this might be likely. I think—I am greatly simplifying here—that Kasich is viewed as a center-right candidate and Cruz is viewed as a far-right candidate. Trump, on the other hand, is sui generis. One can easily imagine a Kasich voter viewing Trump as a reasonably second choice. Likewise, a Cruz voter might also see Trump as a viable second choice. One should therefore not assume that all the votes for the candidate stepping aside will go to the other non-Trump candidate. The effect might be to assure that Trump receives a majority of the votes. On the other hand, the candidate agreement may have little effect, as some voters will want to vote for their favored candidate no matter what.

The agreement between Cruz and Kasich may have the desired effect, but I doubt it.

April 24, 2016

Under God, In God We Trust

U.S. quarter
Some time ago, I published here an essay about the motto of the United States, “In God we trust,” and what many have assumed to be the motto of the nation, “E pluribus unum.” Because I had earlier written on my Web site about the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance, I thought my essay on the national motto should also be on my Web site.

A revised (and somewhat updated) version of “A Matter of Mottos” can now be found on Lionel Deimel’s Farrago here. My essay “The Pledge of Allegiance Revisited,” which is something of a companion piece, can be found here.

As you may have guessed, I think that “God” belongs neither on our currency nor in public schoolrooms at the start of the day. I’m sure that some readers will immediately agree with me. No doubt, others are already fighting mad. For those in the latter category, read the essays and see if your mind isn’t changed.

Update, 4/28/2016. Religion News Service ran a story January 19, 2016, about Michael Newdow who has tried through the courts to remove “God” from the Pledge and from our currency. Having failed using a First Amendment establishment clause argument, he has switched to citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the misguided legislation that carried the day in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. No one seems to take Newdow seriously.

April 14, 2016

Taste Test

I don’t often buy sweetened soft drinks. I consume a fair amount of flavored and (more often) unflavored seltzer, however. I occasionally bring home tonic, which I drink straight and or with gin. In the rare instances when I do buy a sweetened drink, I usually buy the no-calory variety.

Schweppes tonics
For some reason, I brought home both Schweppes Tonic Water and Schweppes Diet Tonic Water the other day. Today, I compared the taste of the two tonics. Being neither ConsumerReports nor America’s Test Kitchen, my procedure was rather unscientific. I did not do any sort of blind testing; I merely tasted the two products in succession from two shot glasses. I did two rounds of tasting.

I was surprised at the result of my taste test. Bottom line: (1) The drinks taste different; (2) The naturally sweetened version tasted very much better.

Most of the ingredients of the two drinks are the same, but, whereas the standard tonic contains high fructose corn syrup, the diet variety contains sodium saccharin and sodium citrate. The differences are responsible for the fact that the plain tonic has more calories (130/12 oz vs. 0/12 oz.) but less sodium (55 mg./12 oz. vs. 105 mg./12 oz.).

Arbitrarily, I tasted the diet tonic first. It was bitter, of course, which one expects from quinine. The regular tonic was also bitter, but it lacked an unpleasant edge present in the diet version. Instead, it had a smoother, fuller taste. I don’t know that I can say much more than that, but I quickly resolved never to buy Schweppes Diet Tonic Water again.

Now, I need to look into Canada Dry offerings.

April 6, 2016

Thoughts about Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Investigation Update

As Episcopalians who follow church news closely are well aware—see ENS story here—Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, shortly after he was officially installed in his current position and while recovering from a head injury, put three members of the church top management team on administrative leave, pending investigation of undisclosed charges.

Two days ago, a press release detailed the actions taken as a result of that investigation. Mr. Sam McDonald, Deputy Chief Operating Officer and Director of Mission, and Mr. Alex Baumgarten, Director of Public Engagement and Mission Communications, “were found to have violated established workplace policies and to have failed to live up to the Church’s standards of personal conduct in their relationships with employees, which contributed to a workplace environment often inconsistent with the values and expectations of The Episcopal Church.” They have been fired.

Curry explained that Bishop Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer of the DFMS, “did not violate workplace policy, was unaware of the policy violations of the two staff members reporting to him, and operated within the scope of his office.” He is, however, being removed as Chief Operating Officer.

The aforementioned press release said nothing more about the nature of the policy violations, the period during which they were committed, or the circumstances that allowed them to occur. Although Bishop Curry has explained actions being taken in response to those violations, there is no suggestion that additional information or an explanation for the lack of information will be forthcoming.

I have been surprised that the reaction to the limited disclosure provided by the church has largely been taken at face value on social media. People have expressed relief that the problems, whatever they may have been, have been appropriately handled. In general, people have shown little inclination to demand additional information.

My reaction has been different. Dissatisfaction with the professional staff of the Episcopal Church Center is widespread, and conflicts between that staff and the church’s Executive Council are endemic. That financial improprieties have occurred in church administration in the not-so-distant past does not inspire great confidence. Nor do various past personnel decisions. Recent attempts to polish the reputation of the staff at 815 Second Avenue have seemed more superficial than substantial.

I believe that greater transparency is needed here. Episcopalians, who are paying for church administration, deserve more than a “don’t trouble your little heads about this; daddy is taking care of it.” I appreciate that, as a personnel matter, there may be substantial restrictions on what can be said publicly. On the other hand, people might feel differently about, say, stealing paper clips, than they would about staff members being pressured for sex. Since complaints were apparently made by multiple staff members, who are now being offered counseling, one is inclined to suspect that the offenses were closer to the latter than the former.

We don’t need to know all the gory details of what happened, but at least a hint of the nature of the problem would be helpful. Why did this happen? Is it likely to happen again? Are there structural changes that might need to be made and that might require action by the General Convention? What role did Executive Council play in this affair? Did Council members know anything? If not, why not?

This, of course, raises questions also about Bishop Jefferts Shori and Bishop Sauls. Given that Bishop Sauls is being removed from his position suggests that he should have known what was going on. Should the former Presiding Bishop have known? I don’t know. One suspects that Sauls was either not paying attention or was willfully ignorant of ongoing problems.

I do not want to initiate a witch hunt, but I cannot help feeling that there are systemic problems that may need to be addressed through dramatic changes. Bishop Sauls’ rebranding the church administrative mechanism as the “Missionary Society,” as though it was somehow distinct from and above The Episcopal Church, may have resulted in disconnects on both sides of the relationship. Did the denizens of 815 forget they were serving The Episcopal Church and our Lord Jesus Christ? In any case, what, exactly, does the church expect its professional staff to do? The answer isn’t clear.

Finally, there will be personnel changes coming to the Episcopal Church Center, and there may be organizational changes as well. Without knowing what problem we are solving, how can Episcopalians have confidence in the purported “solution”?

Update, 4/13/2016. Religion News Service has published a story quoting experts arguing for and against further disclosure.

April 2, 2016

National Poetry Month 2016

National Poetry Month is here again. This year is the 20th such celebration. Read some poetry today. You can read my own poetry on my Web site here. Read other poems here.

National Poetry Month poster
Click on image for a larger version.