October 26, 2021

Congressman Glenn Thompson on Medicare

I was cleaning my cats’ litter box when I got a call from an unknown number in a nearby area code. I was expecting calls from HVAC contractors in my role as junior warden of my church. Thinking the call might be important, I answered it. The call was from my congressman, Republican Glenn Thompson, who was in the process of conducting a telephone town hall on Medicare/Medicaid. Because I am considering a change in my Medicare plan, I chose to finish cleaning the litter box later and listen to the call.

A few minutes into the call, participants were told that we could submit a question by entering *3. I pressed *3 almost immediately. I was asked my name and my question. I replied, “The Build Back Better legislation will likely expand Medicare benefits. Will you [the congressman] vote for it?” The question was certainly relevant, as became clearer with each constituent question. Not suprisingly, my question was never presented to the congressman.

Near the end of the call, Congressman Thompson admitted that he would like to eliminate the penalty for late selection of Medicare. He suggested that he would support other changes but wanted to see them in a separate bill and not in the big bill currently being considered in the House of Representatives. I had my answer without my question’s having been asked. Alas, I didn’t get the chance to embarrass Congressman Thompson in front of his constituents.

Of course, a Republican would not vote for expanded Medicare benefits, benefits for children, measures to protect the planet from environmental disaster, and new taxes to pay for it all.

I will never vote for another Republican and advise others to take the same pledge. This resolved was unaffected by today’s telephone call.

October 17, 2021

Pittsburgh Diocese Passes Resolutions

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh conducted its annual convention yesterday via Zoom. We have used Zoom for conventions before, and we’re almost getting good at it. There were a few problems, but I won’t get into that here. What I do want to highlight is what the diocese declared through resolutions that are of interest to the wider church and society.

Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh SealFour resolutions of wider interest were passed, all with no discussion and with only modest opposition. The resolutions can be read in full here.

Resolution 1 was titled “Resolution to Include the name Bishop Barbara Clementine Harris in the Lesser Feasts & Fasts Calendar.” Barbara C. Harris (1930–2020) was the first woman to be consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church and, in fact, in the entire Anglican Communion. She was elected bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts in 1988 and was consecrated the next year. She fought for civil rights and opposed racism and sexism both within the church and without. The resolution proposes legislation for consideration by the next General Convention. It also invites the Provincial Synod of District III to consider Pittsburgh’s resolution.

Resolution 2 exhibits a character opposite that of the first resolution. Its title is “Resolution to Direct the Removal of the name of the Rev. William Porcher Dubose from the Lesser Feasts and Fasts Calendar.” Thus, Pittsburgh wants to honor Bishop Harris and retract the honor afforded the Rev. Dubose (1836–1918). Like the above resolution, this one is to be sent both to the General Convention and to the District III Provincial Synod. It goes further than the Harris action, however, asking that the church examine the lives of all those honored on the Lesser Feasts & Fasts calendar, presumably to discover other notables with skeletons in their closets. Although the Rev. Dubose is celebrated as a noted theologian on August 18, his connections to slavery and to the Confederate States of America are problematic. He grew up on a southern plantation and served in the Confederate army, first as an adjutant and later as a chaplain. It is not recorded that he ever renounced slavery or his role in defending it.

Resolution 3 is titled “Resolution to Address the Issue of Voter Suppression.” Like the other resolutions, this one proposes action to be considered by the General Convention and by Province III. It also requests that the church’s Office of Governmental Relations do what it can to address the issues raised. This resolution is perhaps more pressing than the two preceding. The resolution “directs and encourages the adoption, on a state-by-state basis” of voting reforms, specifically:

  • Implementing automatic voter registration
  • Enabling same-day voter registration 
  • Preparing for natural disasters
  • Allowing online registration
  • Expanding the circle of people who are eligible to vote
  • Making it easier to vote by mail
  • Enabling no-excuse absentee voting
  • Creating long-term mailing lists for absentee voters
  • Making it easier for people to vote early in person
  • Enabling weekend voting and extended hours
  • Guaranteeing an adequate number of voting locations
The resolution also calls for the elimination of statewide Voter ID laws.

Surely, I need not describe the justification offered for this resolution.

Resolution 4 is titled “Climate Action Resolution.” Noting ongoing climate change and the church’s concern for Creation Care, parishes are encouraged to “achieve maximum energy efficiency,” a task for which the diocese may, in some cases, provide financial assistance.

October 12, 2021

Promoting Abortion Access

I’ve been thinking about the current fight to protect access to abortions in this country. I frankly cannot understand why one’s pregnancy is anyone else’s business prior to the fetus’s being able to survive and become an actual human being outside the womb. On the other hand, I fully appreciate that trying to convince a rabidly “pro-life” partisan of this position is a bit like trying to list all the digits of pi. It is not obvious that the fight over abortion half a century after Roe v. Wade is ever going to end.

There is, however, hope. Not so very long ago, it was unclear that homosexuality would ever gain mainstream acceptance. Certainly, the approval of same-sex marriage seemed a vain hope. And yet, same-sex marriage is the law of the land, and homosexual persons are out and accepted in all walks of life. How did this come about? The answer is that homosexuals came out of the closet in large numbers, and people realized that those they loved and cared about were gay.

The general acceptance of homosexuality offers a compelling lesson to proponents of unconstrained access to abortion services. The statistic that one in four women will have an abortion in her lifetime suggests that abortions are not uncommon, but it is a fact that changes no minds among abortion opponents. The statistic becomes more compelling when actual people, not simply numbers, are revealed as abortion patients.

We have seen a trickle of prominent women, including congresswomen, declaring that they have had abortions. This is a start. If more women came forward with their abortion stories, women known and loved by abortion opponents, I believe that opposition to freely available abortions would weaken, eventually becoming an obsession with a tiny, radical minority, like proponents of a return to the gold standard.

How can we get abortion clients out of the closet? Doing so will be hard for some women. They first have to overcome the shame that society has attributed to their reproductive choice. And, in many cases, their abortions have been kept secret to avoid disclosing embarrassing liaisons. Some, however, will be willing to overcome embarrassment to promote the right to and access to an abortion.

Not every woman can go on television to tell her abortion story. On the other hand, everyone with a concern about abortion access and a little courage (maybe a lot of courage in some cases) can wear a button like the prototype shown below. What if, in any large gathering of women, many were wearing such a button? If friends and loved ones sported such a button, wouldn’t opposing abortion be harder (and somewhat itself embarrassing) to do?

“Ask me about my abortion” button.

Could this button change minds?

October 10, 2021

A Small Step toward Building a Better Sandwich

 I love sandwiches. I have always loved sandwiches. I make sandwiches for myself often.

My constructing a typical sandwich goes something like this: On a bun or on two slices of bread, I first apply dressing. This could be mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, or something more exotic, such as Russian dressing. What is important is that both the top and bottom of the sandwich receive some dressing, not necessarily the same dressing. This helps prevent the sandwich from being too dry. Next, internal elements of the sandwich are piled atop the bottom bread or bun—meat, cheese, pickles, tomato, and lettuce. Everything is topped off with salt and pepper and the top slice of bread or bun.

Following this process, lots of salt and pepper ends up surrounding the sandwich because it slides off the lettuce. It could be applied in the construction earlier, but it is difficult to distribute the salt and petter uniformly. To achieve uniformity across the sandwich, it would be helpful to apply them to a flat, sticky substrate.

Beef and cheese sandwich showing pepper applied over
mayonnaise. Salt was applied over chili sauce on the
half of the bun not visible.
This observation gave me an idea. Rather than seasoning the sandwich filling, why not apply the salt and pepper to the bread or bun. Their surfaces are sticky and reasonably flat. Not only can the salt and pepper be applied uniformly, but that uniformity can be verified visually. Pepper shows up especially well on mayonnaise; salt can be seen on mayonnaise but shows up better on ketchup or mustard.

One might object that salt is best applied to the meat or tomato, where it can attract moisture and enhance flavor. Perhaps, but in the time between constructing a sandwich and eating it, I suspect that any such effect is minimal. In any case, if properly applied, my technique assures that every bite includes salt and pepper.

The picture at the right illustrates my seasoning technique. I was more concerned with photography than applying that technique perfectly, but you can easily get the idea.

October 9, 2021

Oatmeal with a Bite

 I have always thought of myself as a morning person, but I have either been deluding myself or my body’s preferences have changed with age. These days, I arise reluctantly and perform morning rituals in a light fog. These include feeding the cats, taking my medications and, of course, preparing breakfast.

Quaker Oats
More often than not, breakfast involves cereal of some sort, either hot or cold. Occasionally, I will fix eggs or, if available, I may have a bagel or pastry. (Breakfast consisted of an apple fritter and coffee the other day. I recommend this menu.) 

Today, I decided to have oatmeal. This choice has both advantages and disadvantages. Quick-cooking oatmeal is ready in no time, but adding ingredients to it to make it palatable is time-consuming, and it takes more time to eat my bowl of oatmeal than it does other breakfast selections.

On a good day, the first item into my oatmeal bowl is sliced banana. I had no bananas today (insert song here), so I skipped that step. The other standard items to include in my oatmeal are salt—this is added as the oatmeal cooks—light brown sugar, nuts (pecans today), raisins, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

After preparing my oatmeal, I brought it to the table along with my morning coffee and began the slow process of eating. (One can eat hot cereal only so fast.) I also brought my phone and phone stand to the table and began perusing The New York Times while I ate. Somehow, oatmeal seemed less satisfying today, although it was not clear why. Surely, the lack of banana could not account for its seeming more bitter than usual.

As I neared the bottom of the bowl, I had a sudden realization. My nutmeg is dispensed from a nutmeg mill that grinds whole nutmegs. The nutmeg mill resides in a cabinet next to my pepper mill. Apparently, I used the pepper mill this morning instead of the nutmeg mill.

Thinking about breakfast, I would not recommend using large amounts of pepper in oatmeal. Adding just a little, however, along with nutmeg and other ingredients, might add just a little bite to offset the sweetness of sugar, vanilla, and raisins. I may try that next time. Perhaps I should have a few slugs of coffee before I prepare breakfast.

October 6, 2021

A New Prayer for Our Time

The ongoing pandemic offers Christians a number of objectives to pray for. I’m sure we all want to pray for the pandemic to simply go away, but, of course, that cannot happen in one fell swoop. Vaccinations are working miracles, but those refusing to be vaccinated, encouraged by malicious or ignorant influencers, are preventing us from getting safely past our current struggles. Those influencers are actually few and operate from a variety of less-than-pure motives. But the vaccine-hesitant who have been subject to malign influence are legion. Praying for these people seems a proper thing to do.

These thoughts led me to create a prayer, in the form of a collect. (You can read a number of collects I have written here.) Frequently, though not invariably, I have invited others to help me improve my prayers. In preparing a prayer petitioning for a change of heart among the vaccine-hesitant, I enlisted the help of fellow Episcopalians with whom I regularly interact on Facebook. The collect below is the product of that interaction.

 I first wrote a rough draft of the prayer, then offered it to friends for improvement. My initial cut wasn’t bad—I had thought a good deal about the order of the ideas I wanted to present—but I could see it needed improvement. My collaborators identified some of the wording I was uncomfortable with, and they uncovered other problems of which I had been unaware. Someone described the text as convoluted, but the standard collect form makes a certain complexity inevitable. Having collectively developed a text that was acceptable to everyone, we struggled to put a caption on the prayer. I hope the one I selected seems reasonable.

Here is the final version of the prayer:

For the Misguided 

Merciful Creator, God of wisdom and truth, soften the hearts of those swayed by purveyors of falsehood to value their own desires above the needs of others, so that we may live more fully into the call to love our neighbors as ourselves commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of the Rev. David Green, the Rev. Christopher D. Hofer, the Rev. Lisa Keppeler, the Rev. Leilani McCurdy, Mary Prine, Sophia Twaddell, and Tamara West.

Comments are welcome. Feel free to use this prayer. I would appreciate your letting me know of your use, however.

October 4, 2021

Make a Deal with Joe Manchin

Facebook Needs an Antitrust Makeover

The New York Times reported this afternoon: “Facebook and some of its apps, including Instagram and WhatsApp, appeared to go down at the same time on Monday for many users, who turned to Twitter and other social media platforms to lament the outage.” As of this posting, Facebook (and probably the whole lot of apps) is still down.

Do I have to point out that Facebook is too big and has too much influence? We need new antitrust tools to break up such behemoths.

Note: Another New York Times story today reports the Facebook is trying to squash a Federal Trade Commission antitrust suit against the company.