Monday, December 27, 2010

The HIstory of Charlie on the MTA

Great piece in the Boston Globe giving the history of the song, Charlie on the MTA. Turns out, it was a Commie song commissioned by mayoral candidate Walter O'Brien (not George), who was later black-listed during the Red Scare.  The name was timidly changed by the Kingston Trio who made the song famous and didn't want to risk offense to the tea party of their day.

Here's how the song was inspired:
O’Brien couldn’t afford radio ads, but he had a boxy old truck outfitted with speakers and a platform. He had asked a quintet named the Boston Peoples Artists to compose and record some songs he could broadcast from the truck as it drove through the city, and sometimes to play live from the truck at rallies.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

Not So Grim

I'm at Heathrow Airport getting ready for the trip back to Washington.  Things got a little better after my last post.  Once I accepted the fact that this would be the most expensive vacation EVER, I found some peace.

We stayed an extra day in London.  Attended a beautiful high Mass at Westminster Cathedral.  It had a large choir (men and boys), a partial Latin liturgy, incense, the works.  It was very nice.

Then, since a day without shopping is like a day without sunshine, we went shopping at Harrods.  Massive store, packed with people, a woman singing opera to people on escalators and a huckster selling the Vegimax, who was the spitting image of Eric Idle.

Finally, we went to the British Museum.  saw the Rosetta Stone, again, and an exhibit on the Books of the Dead from Egypt.

Maybe I'll post on everything that happened since Kilmainham Gaol, but I can't promise.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Our flight from Dublin to London was canceled causing us to miss our flight from London to Washington.  I had used precious upgrade certificates for that flight, so we would have been traveling business class.  Because the Dublin flight was not booked with the London flight, United takes no responsibility for missing the flight, meaning I will likely have to pay a substantial amount of money to change the flight and we will be put back in coach.

I am deeply depressed and not in the mood for further blogging about this trip.  I hope the Muse comes back so I can describe our extraordinary visits to Belfast, Derry and, most especially, Rathlin Island.

For now, just can't.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Kilmainham Gaol

It is interesting that Ireland's modern political history is best told in a horrific prison.  Kilmainham Gaol is a powerful symbol of the struggles of the Irish people.  Architecturally, it resembles the prison in The Shawshank Redemption. Unforgiving stones and steel.  Our tour guide was a burly, passionate Irishman with a full beard who talked non-stop for almost an hour and a half in a presentation that was rich with fact, anecdote and drama.  For instance, here's a picture of the altar where Joseph Plunkett, one of the leaders of the 1916 uprising, married his beloved, 3 hours before he was executed by firing squad.  His bride lived to her 70's and never remarried.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dinner with the Saunders and Murphys

We had a delightful dinner with our friends, the Saunders and Murphys.  The Saunders are effectively our benefactors in the two times we've visited Ireland as a family, generously donating their car to us for our travels and, on our first trip, lodging.  The Murphys are friends of the Saunders' whose son, Liam, did a short exchange program in Washington.

It was a lively dinner, full of laughter and goodwill.  The restaurant was The Winding Stair, which is right off the Ha' Penny Bridge.  It was an unpretentious place with excellent food.  I would definitely go back.

Dublin - Reconnecting with Danny

Traveling to Dublin was uneventful. A nice benefit of the European Union, we breezed through Customs.  What we arrived to was unusual, though, a driving hail storm.  Standing in the taxi line, the hailstones were clattering on the overhang.  Within a short time, it turned to rain, more typical Irish weather.

We stayed at the Ashling Hotel, a recommendation of a friend in Dublin.  While it was a Best Western, apparently Best Western is a more upscale brand in Ireland that it is in the U.S.  It was a very nice, seemingly business hotel.  Clean with attentive staff.

Monday, November 22, 2010

London - A Short Visit

Boy, that was quick.

Preparing to leave a whirlwind visit to London.  So quick, there was no time to blog.

Here are the highlights:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Visiting London

Starting my second on a family vacation to London and Ireland. Cold and overcast, but excited about the day. Heading down to Sunday morning service at St. Martin in the Fields.

-- Post From My iPad

Saturday, November 13, 2010


The right wing never sleeps and is relentless in its non-stop battle against the poor. Even in the Catholic Church, an institution inspired by Jesus for whom the poor and marginalized were his paramount concern, has internal critics who attack programs for the poor. Contrary to Jesus' explicit teaching, they would sacrifice the needs of the poor in order to protect against supposedly violations of Church doctrine on homosexuality, on which subject Jesus said exactly nothing.

Here's a piece in the HuffPost about attacks on a program for the poor being conducted by the Catholic Bishops conference.

The hypocrisy is apparent in this quote by the leader of the mob trying to end the program.

Deal Hudson, who directs the conservative website Inside Catholic, said the CCHD's reforms might eliminate funding errors if they are doggedly implemented, but said a more systemic problem remains.

"The groups they are dealing with, community organizing groups, are 100 percent committed members of the political left. That's just a fact," said Hudson, a former adviser to the Republican National Committee and former President George W. Bush.

Hudson strongly denied that politics play any role in his concern about CCHD, but said leftist groups nearly always conflict with Catholic doctrine on issues like gay rights and abortion.
Check out the full story.

Hat tip to David Durkin.

-- Post From My iPhone

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Return to Rathlin

Rathlin Island lives in myth within my family, which is why the events of this morning were so magical.

Somewhere between his birth in 1811 and his death in South Boston on October 28th, 1880, Archibald Black left Rathlin for America.  He was my great great grandfather.   Thanks to a pilgrimage by my Granduncle, Brother Jason C.S.X., and my Uncle Eddie Black in the late sixties that traced my family history back to the island, we've learned quite a bit about the place. It's enshrined in their classic report called The Blacks of Ballygill.

You can see Rathin's boomerang shape in the map above, off the north coast of Ireland.  That's Scotland to the right.

In addition to being the point of origin for the Black family, Rathlin Island was the scene of some other significant historical events.  It has been populated since 2500 BC, when it had a thriving export trade in stone axes, presumably for use in ways other than chopping down trees.  In 200 BC, the King of Norway tried to kidnap Princess Taise of Rathlin.  It's first Viking raid occurred in 795 AD.  The famed Robert the Bruce took refuge in Rathlin in 1305.  A number of massacres occurred in the 1500's, perpetrated by the Scottish Campbell Clan.  In 1617, Sir Randal McDonnell won a lawsuit that established Rathlin as Irish and not Scottish, after which the massacres resumed.  Modernity visited Rathlin when Marconi himself established a radio link to Rathlin in 1898.  The year 1955 saw the first car on Rathlin and there are precious few to this day.

But all of that pales against the place it holds in my family.  Because it is so remote, hardly on the typical Irish tourist itinerary, nobody has been there since Brother Jason's visit.  It's like Atlantis.  We're not even sure it really exists.  Even Google Maps hardly takes note.  As you zoom in, it shows up much blurrier that the surrounding geography.

Which brings me to this morning.  My son, Danny, is in Ireland for a semester abroad.  Last I'd heard, he was in Belfast.  We were texting each other this morning on routine matters and he asked that I call him.  We talked about his travels and the places he's been.  Then the following exchange took place:
Me:  So, where are you right now?
Danny: I'm on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic or some big body of water.
Me:  That sounds nice.
Danny: It's really beautiful.  Went swimming this morning.  It was bitter cold.  Also, I can see Scotland from here.
Me:  Really?  What town are you in?
Danny:  Ballycastle.
Me: Hmm.  If you're looking over to Scotland, you must be near Rathlin Island, our ancestral home.  Is there an island in sight?
Danny:  Yes, there's a small island to the left.
Me:  Oh my God!  That must be Rathlin!
A quick check of Google Maps supported the fact that Danny was looking at Rathlin.  A text came a bit later in which he confirmed it, having asked a local.

I have to say I was almost moved to tears.  It was like the family coming full circle, from Archibald to Danny.  It was bittersweet, however, in that the people I most wanted to share this moment with, my father and mother, are both gone, my mother only a little more than a year ago.  So, instead, I get to share it with the whole world, or at least that infinitesimal part of the world that reads this blog.  I did call my sister and she understood the magnitude of the moment.

The southern tip of Rathlin looking towards Ireland
The rest of our immediate family is booked to visit Danny over Thanksgiving week.  Our key destination is now established.

On to Rathlin!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Robert Plant on NPR

The sounds of Led Zeppelin blasted from NPR for my ride home as a backdrop for an interview with lead singer, Robert Plant.  While I like Led Zeppelin a lot, it wasn't one of my favorite bands back in the day.  Still, this interview moved me to tears, not because it was sad, but because the music was so good.  Maybe the discordance of this kind of music coming from the usual calm mien of NPR, but they never sounded so good.  Of course, Plant's voice was featured, as what a voice it was/is.  But it was the instrumentals that impressed me, Jimmy Page's powerful guitar riffs and the drummer was breathtaking.  I don't even know his name.

Still, it was a pleasant blast from the past.

Check it out.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Gorging on Mother's Milk

It's been said that money is the mother's milk of politics.  Well, our political system has developed big breasts.
When the Citizens United case was decided, I was at a meeting in Florida with a group of corporate public affairs leaders.  There was much excitement that evening at the reception where most thought that a new wave of money would be coming into our profession from corporations who were now freed to spend as much as they wanted to influence elections.  At one of the sessions the next day, a Republican elections lawyer threw cold water on the crowd of excited hacks.  He said he did not believe the decision would have a significant impact on corporate political spending.  In his view, corporations were not looking for news ways to spend money in this area and would be reluctant to risk their brands be engaging in politics.
So, there were two schools of thought and time would tell.  Well, the verdict is in.  The New York Times reports on the avalanche of money entering Senate races on the Republican side through corporate groups.  Given the crop of tea party candidates that the Republicans have nominated, they were probably need every dollar to ram these people into the Senate.  Then, we'll all pay for the resultiong chaos.
Going to be an interesting election.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

This Land is Your Land

Last night we had our annual block party on my street in Northwest Washington DC. We've been on this street for about 16 years now and it has a unique international character. We're kind of a ghetto for international finance organizations like the World Bank and the IMF. So, the food is always great, drawing from a variety of culinary traditions. There are also a multiplicity of foreign accents. I'd guess that about half the people at the block party were born in a foreign country. I met people from Germany, Denmark, Italy, Great Britain and one or two African countries.

The party goes on pretty late, but I generally bail out about 7:30 or 8:00 pm. But, I experienced a quintessentially American moment when, later in the evening as I was walking my dog, I could hear the sing along at the party just up the street. This group of foreign visitors to the U.S. was belting out Woody Guthrie's iconic tune, "This Land is Your Land..."

Only in America.

-- Post From My iPad

Friday, August 20, 2010

Here, The People Rule

Disapproval of Obama's job as president has now reached a majority. As a Democrat, that disappoints me. But I also find myself frustrated with the American public. Through my admitted Koolaid-tinted lens, I see in Obama a president who has fulfilled his campaign promised to a degree unprecedented in my lifetime. The stimulus legislation, healthcare reform, financial services reform, etc., etc. were all policies he promised to enact in the campaign and he did it. In today's Washington post Eugene Robinson outlines some recent accomplished that have gone all but unnoticed.   During the campaign, he was considered a great communicator, the second coming of Ronald Reagan.   But he doesn't seem to be able to communicate effectively as president, as evidenced by the chart above.

Of course, the real reason he's suffering in the polls is the economy, pure and simple.  One enormous blunder his administration committed at the outset was to dramatically underestemate the depths of the recession.  He gave his opponents a powerful talking point when his people promised that the stimulus would bring unemployment under 8%, a goal that some suggest will not beached in his entire first term.  Even without that blunder, however, people's opinions are formed by the reality they confront.  It is clear, that no accomplishment by a president can overcome a persistent 9% unemployment rate.  So, it's not about communication and its not about legislative accomplishments, it's about results.  I guess that's the way it should be.

I took some comfort from a biography that I'm reading about Lyndon Johnson by Charles Peters.  It describes the election of 1946, the one right after a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress presided over victory in World War II.  In that election, Republicans took majorities in both Houses.  It was around that time that the British voters ousted Winston Churchill.

In the end, frustrated as I might be, if the people rule, the people rule, for better or for worse.  To cite an overused quote from the aforementioned Winston Churchill (probably uttered after his defeat), "Democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Classic Sports Commercial

This is an ad for the NBA that ran in 1987.  I've never forgotten it and think about it whenever I hear the Pointer Sisters sing I'm So Excited.  I've made a couple of stabs at looking for it online, mainly on the NBA website.  Just occurred to me today that it might be on YouTube.  D'uh! 

I still love it.  Check it out.  It even has some value in terms of nostalgia.  All those old Celtics and Lakers.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

A Schmuck Defined

In one of my most embarrassing professional experiences, I got into a public food fight with network newswoman Diane Sawyer, which was played out in the Washington Post and then picked up by other media outlets.  It was pretty ugly and, if I had been working for a less tolerant boss than Congressman Jim Olin at the time, I might very well have been fired.  It's a long story and I don't have time to go into all the gory details.

But aside from the large public embarrassment of having her accuse me of being an overpaid congressional hack who is insensitive to the poor and needy in our society, there was a mini-embarrassment over my use of the word "schmuck."  I was quoted in the Post saying something like, "where does she get off portraying me as some schmuck...."

In the middle of the firestorm that the larger argument caused, there was a letter from a Jewish woman.  I honestly don't remember whether she wrote it directly to the Congressman or  it was published in the Post.  I think the former.  But she enlightened me on the true definition of the word schmuck.  It means flaccid penis and she found my use of it deeply offensive and not fit for family reading in a newspaper.  Who knew?

So, it was with amusement that I read today's Huffington Post piece by Marty Kaplan entitled Springtime for Schmucks about this very issue and the extent to which the word schmuck has evolved in common usage.  He writes:
It is arguable that its original meaning - a Yiddish profanity for penis, often part of an insult beginning with "You are such a - " and ending with an exclamation point - has been so diluted by widespread usage that nowadays it's no more offensive than any other common synonym for "jerk." This would explain why, at High Holy Day services at my synagogue last year, the associate rabbi, a lovely mother of three young children, could innocently say the word from the pulpit without imagining for a moment that it would cause the shocked sharp intake of breath among half the congregants that followed.
What's interesting about Kaplan article is his belief that schmuck has only recently become acceptable in polite conversation.  When I used the word I had no idea it had any sexual connotation whatsoever.  I thought then, in 1987, what Kaplan bemoans as only recently having come to pass, that the word has become the moral equivalent of jerk.

But what's most interesting from reading his piece is learning that Mel Brooks has launched a campaign to save the word schmuck.  Again, who knew?  He has a Facebook page dedicated to this cause, Schmucks for Schmuck.  Of course, I quickly joined.

Growing up enjoying the vast numbers of Jewish comics who entertained me in my youth helped me appreciate Yiddish.  The language is tailor made for humor.  But it may also desensitized me to its scatological elements.  Are there a lot of scatological elements?  Are there other words like schmuck, which sound harmless, but offend true Yiddish speaker?

As a goy, I'll probably never know.  But, if Yiddish didn't exist, we'd certainly need to invent it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Have Your Cake...

The Lexington Herald Leader nails the profound hypocrisy of the Tea Party and all who benefit from their, at best, misguided or, at worst, cynical, anti-government campaign.

In fairness, many of us are guilty of wanting the benefits of something — whether it's board certification or full campaign coffers — without paying the price.

Like the Gulf Coast residents who want government off their backs, until a hurricane or oil spill comes along.

Or the Farm Bureau that wants government off the farm, except for the mailbox which is always open to subsidy checks.

Or politicians who rail against out-of-control spending but show up to take credit when a ribbon is cut or oversized check presented.

Or all the rest of us, who resent the chunk of change that government extracts from our pockets but want smooth roads, good schools, police and fire protection, national security, personal security in old age, free markets governed by laws, student loans, flood walls, lakes and parks and the list goes on.

The Tea Party movement, of which Paul is both a leader and beneficiary, feeds the comforting illusion that we can have all we've come to expect from government without paying for it. We buy into this illusion at our own peril.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Friedman and False Equivalency

Tom Friedman has a typically thoughtful and well-written piece in today's New York Times.  But he perpetuates what I hate most about "serious" pundits.  It is this false equivalency that asserts "both parties" are wrong or contribute equally to a problem.  In so doing, I believe the "serious" pundit positions him or herself above it all and superior in knowledge or motives to those engage in the grubby business of actually making policy.   This approach also diminishes the possibility of any constructive advancement of the debate or policy change by essentially absolving the true culprits of any unique responsibility for the positions they hold.  So, here's Friedman in his Olympian declarations:
We cannot fix what ails America unless we look honestly at our own roles
in creating our own problems. We — both parties — created an awful
set of incentives that encouraged our best students to go to Wall Street
to create crazy financial instruments instead of to Silicon Valley to
create new products that improve people’s lives. We — both parties —
created massive tax incentives and cheap money to make home mortgages
available to people who really didn’t have the means to sustain them.
And we — both parties — sent BP out in the gulf to get us as much
oil as possible at the cheapest price.
He's just wrong.  It's not "both parties."  For the most part, he describes the logical outcomes of the conservative policies that have held prominence since Ronald Reagan's Administration.  The fact is that one party is actively trying to address these problems and the other party either denies their existence or simply obstructs solutions for political reasons.    So, here's Friedman later in his piece:
We need to make our whole country more sustainable. So let’s pass an
energy-climate bill that really reduces our dependence on Middle East
oil. Let’s pass a financial regulatory reform bill that really reduces
the odds of another banking crisis. Let’s get our fiscal house in order,
as the economy recovers. And let’s pass an immigration bill that will
enable us to attract the world’s top talent and remain the world’s
leader in innovation.
Let's see, now.  Who is trying to enact the legislation he says we need and who's blocking it?

Only by calling out the obstructionists (read: Republicans) can we really move the policy.  But Friedman prefers his posture a an objective observer, above it all, damning both houses, and accomplishing nothing.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

U.S. Wins World Cup Game 1-1!

I'm not a passionate soccer fan, but I attended a party to watch a soccer game that I won't soon forget.  Like millions of other Americans, I watched the U.S. team beat the odds and tie the UK in the first round of the World Cup.  Unlike those millions of other Americans, however, I was fortunate enough to watch the game with the family of the undisputed hero of the previous time these two teams 1950.  In that game, the U.S. team beat the odds, as well.  But those odds were astronomical and the U.S. actually won.  It was and remains the biggest upset in World Cup history.  And the winning goal in that 1-0 game was scored by Joe Gaetjens, a Haitian immigrant who was working his way toward an accounting degree at Columbia University by washing dishes.  His achievement, which rocked the soccer world, was virtually ignored in the country on whose behalf he performed his heroic feat.....until recently.

The great tragedy of Joe Gaetjens was not that he was ignored by the country for which he played.  It was vastly greater than that.  Watch the video below to understand the full story.  In fact, Joe Gaetjens was idolized by the people of Haiti and was recognized for his achievement by the people of Haiti.  However, while he was very non-political, his brothers were active among those opposed to the ruthless, vicious and corrupt dictator, Papa Doc Duvalier.  As a result of the political activities of his family, he was killed.  Watch the video below for the full story:

OK, now wipe away the tears and let's move to a happier story.Today, the Gaetjens family gathered to watch the first game played by the U.S. and the U.K. in the World Cup since that game in 1950.  It was a festive occasion, hosted by my friend, Jean Gaetjens, who is Joe Gaetjens nephew.  Also attending was Leslie Gaetjens, Joe's son, who is featured in the video above.  Leslie is a teacher in the DC public schools and coaches multiple sports, ironically not including soccer.  He's a very mild-mannered, articulate man who, while bearing some scars from the loss of his father, is clearly gratified by the belated recognition his father is gaining 60 years later.  For me, it was deeply moving to be with the Gaetjens on this special day.

And while Joe died too young and in an egregiously unjust way, one can imagine him and the brother who joined him recently enjoying the show together.

To the right is a picture of me and Leslie wearing our commemorative t-shirts.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Best Before 9: Buying Happiness

When I hear conservatives raise the horrific specter of European-style socialism in Obama's agenda, I say, "Bring it on."  I work in a company that has offices all over the world, so I get get to see how European-style socialism works.  It's frightening.  8 weeks of vacation, complete healthcare coverage, childcare benefits, generous retirment.  Oh the horror!

But then they say, "But look at their GDP."  Or "Our productivity is so much higher."  And I say, "what does our higher GDP buy us?"  It seems to me that wealth is a means to an end, not the end itself.  Once you have a good quality of life, the marginal benefit of increased wealth diminishes.

Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times describes a very positive trend in western economic thought which says that money isn't everything.
Research suggests that, once a certain level of comfort has been attained, there is no connection between greater wealth and greater happiness. It is also hard to think of a moral philosopher – not even Adam Smith – who argued that the pursuit of wealth should be an end in itself. Slogans such as “Poverty sucks” and “The one who dies with the most toys wins” are bumper stickers favoured by junior investment bankers, rather than quotes from the great philosophers.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Favorite Before 9

Nicholas Kristoff relays an amazing story about a nun in Phoenix who was excommunicated for saving the life of a pregnant woman.  A story right out of the movie, The Cardinal, but with a different ending:
Sister Margaret made a difficult judgment in an emergency, saved a life and then was punished and humiliated by a lightning bolt from a bishop who spent 16 years living in Rome and who has devoted far less time to serving the downtrodden than Sister Margaret. Compare their two biographies, and Sister Margaret’s looks much more like Jesus’s than the bishop’s does.
In the movie, the mother is allowed to die.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Today's Favorite Before 9

I've been puzzled over the "scandal" in which Congressman Joe Sestak was supposedly offered a job to quit his primary challenge against Arlen Specter.  It's one of the oldest games in town when an administration is trying to manage its political affairs.  This is clearly one of those "scandals" in which Republicans ascribe some evil to something that vaguely sounds inappropriate, but is really a big nothing.

Jonathan Chait in the New Republic effectively clarifies things:
So the accusation is some kind of quid pro quo in which Sestak would receive a job in return for quitting the Pennsylvania Democratic primary. This is ridiculous. You can't offer a Senator, or prospective Senator, a job in exchange for them abandoning the Senate, because accepting the job inherently means leaving the Senate. You can't be both a Senator and an executive branch employee. Last year, the White House offered a cabinet job to Senator Judd Gregg. This was not "in exchange" for him leaving the Senate, because he had to leave the Senate to take the job. Moreover, Gregg briefly accepted the job in exchange for a promise that New Hampshire's Democratic governor would appoint his Republican chief of staff, not a Democrat, to replace him. But nobody suggested that this deal was illegal or unethical.
Thank you.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Today's Favorite Before 9

In order to keep the content flowing to this blog, I'm introducing a new feature, my Favorite Before 9.  It will be a post of my favorite online article, post, video, etc. that I discover in my first pass of the blogs each morning before the day begins.

Today's is a doozy.  Congressman Rob Simmons is about to drop out of the Senate race in Connecticut, leaving the nomination to nutcase, Linda McMahon, the CEO of the Worldwide Wrestling Federation (on the left in the picture), continuing a trend in which Republican primary voters seem to be out of their minds.  Maybe Obama just makes them crazy.  There's hope for November.

Daily Kos has a nice analysis.

Political pop quiz: You are the Connecticut Republican Party, the nation's richest state and a solid Democratic stronghold. Your Democratic opponent has been busted (fairly or not) for lying or exaggerating his military service during the Vietnam War. Do you:

  1. Nominate a decorated Vietnam War vet, retired Colonel, and winner of two Bronze Stars, with a proven track record of winning elections in tough political terrain
  1. Nominate the teabagger co-founder of the WWE

Monday, May 24, 2010

Somebody please explain....

This Nike ad is stunning.  I just don't know what it means.  I'd welcome an explanation.

Postscript:  I watched it again.  Now I get it.

Blame Bush

Paul Krugman makes the case that we're not even close to the point where we must stop blaming Bush for our troubles.  I agree with him wholeheartedly.

We’re in the aftermath of a financial crisis — and there’s overwhelming evidence (pdf) that recovery from financial crises is almost always protracted and difficult.

Friday, May 21, 2010

What Is It About Opthamologists?

Last month, there was a story about two female ophthalmologists who rudely harassed Barney Frank on a plane about his vote on healthcare reform.  Now we have the new Senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, who's clearly either a nutcase or a cynic on a number of levels.  Here's a story that describes his contradictory stances in favor of slashing government spending....except for doctors' fees, from which he personally benefits.  The anti-government zealot derives half his income from Medicare patients and sees no contradiction.

I really struggle to understand how somebody who can handle the intellectual rigors of medical school can be so dumb when it comes to public policy.  What's up with that?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Andrew Sullivan Contemplates Death

In a fascinating post, Andrew Sullivan invites his athiest readers to explain what they believe about death.  Then , he offers his own view, which admire tremendously.  Wish I had his depth and faith.
I live in this awareness. But I also live in the awareness that eternity is here already, that the majesty and miracle of God's creation resonates through every second of our lives and every particle of matter within and without us. That is how I interpret Oakeshott's deeply Christian (and somewhat Buddhist) understanding of salvation as having nothing whatsoever to do with the future. The unity and individuality and wonder we are told we will only know then is actually here now, shielded from our own eyes by our own mortal fear, by our own avoidance of death, by our own inability to grasp that this struggle we fear is actually already over, that God loves us now unconditionally, overwhelmingly, this knowledge prevented solely from penetrating us by our own sense of inadequacy, or our looking away, or are losing ourselves in the human and worldly things that I understand by sin.

So I do not believe our consciousness is utterly different after death than now. I believe, with Saint Paul, that this is the same divine experience, but through a glass darkly. I believe it is Love, because Jesus showed me so. And I await with with great fear because I am human and I await with great hope because of the incarnation and resurrection of God in human history.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

How Can He Leave??

I'm no fan of LeBron James, or any sports figure who reaches God-like stature. But I have to say, I will think well of him if he responds positively to the people of Cleveland.

EMBED-We Are Lebron Video - Watch more free videos

Saturday, May 08, 2010

40 Songs, 4 Cords

An Australian comedy rock band goes through 40 pop songs in 5 minutes using just 4 musical cords. Genius.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Let it Rain

Here's something I stumbled across that surprised me.  I'm a huge fan of Motown and loooove the Temptations.  I sang My Gal to help my daughter go to sleep hundreds of times when she was young.

I've always loved the song, Let It Rain, but just learned the story behind that song from the Crooks and Liars website:
Lyricist Roger Penzabene penned the words after finding out that his wife was cheating on him and he tragically committed suicide a week after the single was released.
Now, listen to the song in light of that news.  I'll never hear it the same again.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Vatican PR

The Washington Post has a piece today noting the "Lack of a PR Strategy" in how the Vatican is handling the priest abuse scandal.

Excuse me, while their "PR" may be pathetic, it has been an accurate reflection of their view of the situation.  According to most comments coming from the Church, the primary problem is the persecution of the Pope.  That's what they believe and that's what they are saying.  And, while the Post notes that the Vatican has not consulted with the American bishops who have been through this kind of scandal, it would seem that the Vatican's view is shared by the American bishops.   Contrasting the lack of PR strategy in Rome with the presumably better responses in the U.S., the piece points out:
There appears to be a more organized effort, particularly in the United States, to defend the pope. American bishops across the country, including Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, took to the pulpit and op-ed pages over the Easter weekend. "What happens when a pope is persecuted?" was the title of a news release by the Atlanta-based Catholic public relations firm Maximus. "Martyred Popes" was the name of a blog post by American Catholic writer Robert Moynihan.
"Martyred Popes"??  That's the superior American approach to handling the scandal?  God save us from the Church!

The lack of a full acknowledgment of the problems is what's hurting the Church, not its PR strategy.  The PR strategy comes after the operational response, which is currently sorely lacking.  Only then can the Church begin to rehabilitate its reputation by communicating to its audiences its true remorse.  And they would prove that true remorse by taking steps that go beyond institutional protection.  The Church is nowhere near that phase yet. 

All this said, I think there is a PR strategy at work.  Think about it.  Think about the current message about the persecution of the Pope.  Think about which audience would respond to that message.  They are arming the die hards with an explanation in order to hold onto them.  They are not, in any way, seeking to reach people, like me, observant Catholics who are disgusted and whose only explanation is to chalk it up to human frailty that afflicts the Church just like any other human institution.

Sadly, while I look for a divine response more in keeping with the teachings of Jesus, a true humility, a true remorse, an acceptance of responsibility for the sins that have been committed, I wait in vain.

In a telling paragraph in the story, a man named Barry McLoughlin is cited:

Barry McLoughlin, who holds crisis management seminars for U.S. bishops and helped them craft the tougher 2002 rules, said he's "in agony" watching the Church fail to get its footing. He said people around the pope may be too intimidated to deliver bad news to his face.(emphasis added)

It was the tougher rules that helped the American Church begin to move on, not its PR strategy.  As a person who works in PR, suggesting that the Vatican's problem is PR, gives PR a bad name.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Enough, enough, enough, enough....

New evidence that Cardinal Ratzinger was more concerned with protecting "the universal church" than the fate of children left in the care of pedophile priests.  Here's an excerpt from the AP story that reveals a newly discovered letter resisting defrocking a priest that had not only been convicted of lewd conduct, but had requested himself that he leave the priesthood:
But the future pope also noted that any decision to defrock Kiesle must take into account the "good of the universal church" and the "detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke within the community of Christ's faithful, particularly considering the young age." Kiesle was 38 at the time.
I have a Catholic friend, more conservative than me, but who recognizes how bad things are getting.  Still, since he believes all media outside of Fox News represent a liberal conspiracy against all he holds dear, including the Church, he admires the Church's seeming imperviousness to media criticism.  He exults at how ridiculous any idea that the Pope will step down.  He says, "It will NEVER happen, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, etc."  I have to say, I can't easily conceive of the Pope "resigning."  I'm not even sure what that means, it sounds so strange.

But things are truly getting out of hand.  We are clearly in Watergate territory now where it is impossible to contain the damage.  And every dismissive response from the Vatican simply fans the flames.

I would say to my friend, never say never.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Why I Remain a Catholic

This is a nice piece, written by a thinking Catholic named Mary Gordon.  It's worth reading in its entirety as it included a nice parable.  But, here's teh bottom line:
How do some of us stay in the Church? In grief, in sadness, with a resolve not to be shut out by those who say they are speaking in the name of the Father. We just don't believe them. The Church is not an institution; it is the people, people who are now wounded and scandalized, not only by the sexual crimes of priests, but more important, by the cover-up by those in power. In 1959 the election of Pope John XXIII was a surprise, a kind of miracle. It happened once. It could happen again. We wait, in stubborn hope, for the return of miracle. We want to make sure some of us are at home when it happens.
Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for flagging it.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Good Friday

The front page of the Washington Post today has a picture of the pastor of my local parish kneeling in prayer.  The story discusses his struggle over whether to reference the scandal rocking Europe of priestly sexual abuse.  Honestly, I barely glanced at the piece and didn't even know it was Father Enzler until my daughter called it to my attention.  Like all Catholics, I'm disgusted by the scandal and I don't need to know all the details.  I'm from Boston, so I've seen this movie before.  My standard response is that the Church, while divinely inspired, is a human institution with all of humanity's flaws.

At noon, I went up to St. Matthews Cathedral a few blocks from my office to attend Good Friday Services.  Since it is such an important day in the liturgical calendar, I feel like I should do something to get into the spirit of the day.  It's a long service and does provide some spiritual sustenance as you contemplate the events of that day.  Nothing says "melancholy" like a choir singing the Passion Chorale from St. Matthews Passion.

As I approached the Cathedral, I notice a crowd gathered across the street.  It was on behalf of abuse victims and was a very calm, peaceful and respectful vigil.  I learned later that Archbishop Weurl, who presided over the Good Friday services, stopped by the vigil and prayed with the group.  Good move.

During the service, the sex abuse scandal was brought up twice.  Once by a priest who was providing brief commentary on the famous "Last Words of Jesus."  They are phrases that Jesus uttered on the cross before he died.  One phrase was, "Father, why have you forsaken me?"  The priest discussed various ways people feel forsaken by God.  At the end, he mentioned people abused by priest.  Importantly, he acknowledged that they were forsaken both by the priests they trusted, but hat they were also forsaken be the Church as an institution.  Archbishop Wuerl also mentioned the scandal in his big homily, but he included ringing support of the Pope and was somewhat more vague on the responsibility of the Church as an institution. 

So, I had to admire, to some degree, the effort to confront the issue.  Then, as I drove home, I heard about homily delivered by the Pope's personal preacher in his Good Friday sermon.  He compared the criticism of the Pope to anti-Semitism that culminated in the Holocaust.  Big sigh!  Makes my speechless.  I guess I'm pleased that the Vatican had the good sense to reject the comparison.  And the comments of Rev. Thomas Reese  in the story about Fr. Enzler also gives some hope:
But not all Catholics have leapt to the church's defense. The Rev. Thomas Reese, a scholar at Georgetown University, said the suffering-Jesus metaphor might be more fittingly applied to the victims of abuse. Reese, who spent the week analyzing the church's crisis and preparing a Good Friday message for his chapel, said he asked himself, "Who among us has experienced the betrayal, suffering and torture Jesus felt more than the victims?
I doubt the Vatican will ever get it. The layers upon layers that provide an impenetrable bubble around the Pope deny him any sense of what's really happening. They are in total institution protection mode. But they are so misguided. Rather than protecting the institution, they are destroying it from within.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Explain this

The current Republican message is that the Democrats rammed through a healthcare reform program against the wishes of the American people and they are going to pay dearly in November for this atrocity.

Oh yeah?  Explain this.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Economic catastrophe

Republicans have predicted economic catastrophe as a result of the passage of the the Health Reform legislation.  It is reminiscent of the predictions of disaster after the Clinton budget of 1993.   That budget led to the best economy in a generation and, for the first time in decades, a federal budget surplus.

Their predictive powers are apparently undiminished as the stock market cast its judgment on health reform with a triple digit rally today.

If I were a Republican today, I would feel a cold chill.  Some, like David Frum, can see the future and it's not pretty for them.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Obama is Doomed!

Here are some quotes that Mark Mellman repeats in his column of last week that declare an end to a presidency:

The press purports to explain the problems. “Why The President’s Men Stumble,” a New York Times headline promised to explain.

Another lede concluded that the president’s “once-dazzling political momentum … has stalled.”

A noted columnist captured the pack’s mood: “the Washington press corps is suddenly in hot pursuit of ‘an administration in disarray,’ which is coming apart at the seams under … a ‘detached President.’ ”

The distinguished dean of Washington columnists opined, “it is becoming increasingly clear” that the president’s marvel “was a one-year phenomenon … what has been occurring since is an accelerating retreat … a process in which he is more spectator than leader.”

These quotes are from 1982 and are about the collapsing Reagan Administration.  We all know how that ended, right?

I just hope the Democrats in Congress realize that their only hope is to "PASS. THE. DAMN BILL." with apologies to Andrew Sullivan.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Coolest Video Ever

Someone took a movie on a trolley in San Francisco traveling down Market Street four days before the earthquake of 1906. The resolution is amazing and it's got a nice music track behind it. Dozens, if not hundreds, of people are shown walking nonchalantly along the street and skipping past the tracks..

Play it full screen with good sound to get the full effect.

Sad to think what became of these people four days later.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Mexico City

I'm finishing up a business trip to Mexico City, my first visit to a Latin American country.  Most of the visit was spent in my hotel, my company's local office and a meeting at the Mexican "White House," called Los Pinos, with the Mexican Foreign Minister.  One of my Mexican colleagues pointed out that Los Pinos is very near the site that inspired the line the Marine Corps hymn that says, "From the halls of Montezuma..."

Mexico City is not at all what I expected.  My image was of a hot, dirty city, teaming with people.  In fact, the weather was delightful, 75 degrees, dry and crystal clear skies.  The city is very clean.  It is, however, teaming with people.  Traffic seems heavy 24/7.  I knew that was going to be a problem as we flew in.  We arrived at 10 pm and, looking out the window of the plane, every highway seemed gridlocked.

Speaking of the flight, it was among the more interesting I've had.   We flew over thunderstorms, which normally would have made me pretty nervous.  However, the flight was perfectly smooth during this period and the flashing lights from the lightening in the clouds below was spectacular.  Oddly, as we approached Mexico City, it got very bumpy under clear skies.  Go figure.

Getting back to impressions of Mexico City, I was struck by how little English is displayed around the country.  When I'm in China or Europe, I'm always surprised with the amount of English signage.  In Mexico, there's none.  Similarly, the English TV options in the hotel room are very few, far fewer than in countries much further away.  I guess I admire the Mexicans' refusal to concede their culture to the Gringos from the North.

Of course, the most fascinating part of the trip was the meeting with the foreign minister.  It was an important meeting dealing with some very significant issues.  Unfortunately for me, most of the meeting was in Spanish. Of the approximately 20 people in the room, I was the only "mono-lingual" one there.  A sad example of the failure of the American education system.  Still the meeting was very successful and my team is hopeful of a continuing business relationship.

Hope I get to come back.  If I do, I will spend more time investigating the rich history of Mexico, of which I only observed snatches traveling from one meeting to another.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Economist Gets It Wrong

The Economist issues its diagnosis of what's wrong with America's governing system and declares it is because Obama hasn't given enough ground to the Republicans.
It is not so much that America is ungovernable, as that Mr Obama has done a lousy job of winning over Republicans and independents to the causes he favours. If, instead of handing over health care to his party’s left wing, he had lived up to his promise to be a bipartisan president and courted conservatives by offering, say, reform of the tort system, he might have got health care through; by giving ground on nuclear power, he may now stand a chance of getting a climate bill.
Wrong!  Obama did offer to negotiate over tort reform and was rebuffed by the Republicans.  And what of the three months was given over to Finance Chair Sen. Max Baucus to come up with a bipartisan healthcare reform bill?  The strategy of the Republicans, which Sen. Grassley, minority leader of the committee, explicitly gave away, was to slow the process down and hope that lighten would strike and kill the bill.  Sure enough, lighten struck in Massachusetts, but didn't quite kill it.

But for the Economist to totally absolve the Republicans for any responsibility for the gridlock in Washington is laughable.  They are tacitly portrayed as this poor, ignored collection of principled conservatives.  When, in fact, they are a wrecking crew, bent on the destruction of the Obama presidency.

As Obama has learned, it is very hard to find common ground with people whose fondest wish is your utter failure.

Bye, Bye Bayh

Robert Borosage nails Sen. Evan Bayh for his sanctimonious exit:

The harsh reality is that Bayh has been wrong about virtually everything. And the country suffers not because partisanship blocked action, but because the establishment consensus got too much of his agenda enacted.

Bayh supported the catastrophic invasion of Iraq. He joined the bipartisan celebration of banking deregulation. He favors more military spending. He favored tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans in an age of Gilded Age inequality. He was an advocate of corporate free trade policies that encouraged multinationals to ship jobs to a mercantilist China willing to subsidize them. He's a champion of bipartisanship -- bipartisan folly.

Even in his departing, he got it wrong. Bayh announced on CBS's Early Show that he was looking for a job in the private sector because "If I could create one job in the private sector by helping to grow a business, that would be one more than Congress has created in the last six months," This echoes the Republican assault on the recovery plan as summarized by newly elected Senate Scott Brown of Massachusetts, that the stimulus plan "didn't create one new job."

These moderates are so damned frustrating.  They build their identity around the fact that the best policy lies somewhere between what Democrats want and what Republicans want.  If all sides were operating good faith, this might work some of the time.  But when what one party wants is for the other party to fail, the concept breaks down.  Then, all the moderates do is facilitate a nihilistic approach to government by creating gridlock.

So, here we are the Republicans, who handed Obama two unfinished wars and an economy heading into another depression, have had some success painting Democrats as either incompetent failures who can't get anything done or successful socialists who are taking the country into the dictatorship of the proletariat.  And the result, if achieve their goal, will be to hand the government back to them to do it all again.


Thursday, February 18, 2010


I saw the movie Avatar and liked it a lot.  Of course, it is visually dazzling.  Despite the hype, it lives up to expectations in the 3D viewing.  You very quickly forget you're watch 3D and just become immersed in the movie or, more specifically, in the planet Pandora.

I haven't read a lot of reviews of Avatar, but, just through scanning, I have some familiarity with various issues and controversies surrounding the film.  So, I'll just touch upon my view on a couple of them.

The plot, while very satisfying, is also very familiar.  If you go to the effort, you can pretty much figure out everything that's going to happen in the movie after the first few minutes.  My advice is, don't go to the effort.  It's more fun.  Let your "willing suspension of disbelief" take over.

The religious overtones of the movie are interesting.  I've heard some Christians have criticized the movie as a paean to pantheism, which, in their minds, is barely one step up from atheism.  I disagree. Pantheism is the believe that everything is God and God is impersonal and inscrutable.  In this movie, the deity, while inscrutable, does actually seems to intervene in nature when asked to do so by the Na'Vi, much like Christians believe their God does.  If anything, contrary to the Hollywood stereotype, I thought the movie showed a great respect for religion.

One aspect of the movie, however, confirms the Hollywood stereotype of the "self-hating American."  The movie clearly depicts American-type characters as the bad guys.  It's no mystery why this movie is so popular in China. People wait for hours there to get in to see it. It can really be seen as an allegory on Western imperialism.  The top military bad guy is a caricature of the ugly American.  And the civilian businessman is even worse, since he clearly knows what they are doing is wrong and is too timid to stop it.  Of course, even Director James Cameron succumbs to American movie stereotypes, since the hero is also a white American male who saves the seemingly powerless natives.  And, while the religion does not contradict Christianity, in my view, it does seem more Eastern than Western, which would also appeal to Chinese sensibilities.

So, the plot, while predictable, is deep enough to generate controversy and discussion. That's good.  But it's not about the plot.  It's about the visuals, which are stunning.  You can truly understand why this movie took ten years to make.  While I didn't even know it was in the making until it came out, it was worth the wait.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sid Ceasar Does Beethoven

The Huffington Post has a great feature, the 29 funniest music videos of all time.  Many are familiar, like Steve Martin's King Tut, Andy Kaufman's Might Mouse and Monty Python's Bright Side of Life.  But my favorite combines my love of Beethoven with that of black and white TV (broadcast TV at its best).  It's probably from the 1950's and has Sid Ceasar conducting an marital argument to the First Movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.  It is hysterical.  You really have to watch the whole 5 minute clip to appreciate it.  It's done so well that it looks like Beethoven had this in mind when he wrote the piece.  Check it out.

Monday, February 08, 2010

A Star is Born

I hope this Rahm Emmanuel spoof becomes a regular feature on SNL.  This guy is good!

Ted Koppel at 70

Today is Ted Koppel's Birthday.  He turns 70 years old and I'm sure he's going strong. 

I met Ted Koppel briefly some years ago.  We were both on a small plane going into Marco Island, I think.  I was attending the meeting of my client, the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS).  Ted looked like he was heading for vacation.  As we walked across the tarmac to the terminal, I used the opportunity to test a proposition.  As PR consultant to STS, I had been telling them that a big problem they had was that nobody knew what they did.  In fact, nobody knew what the word "thoracic" meant.  As a result, despite their life-saving activities at the very top of the medical profession, they had little public support when they complained that payment for their services was actually declining, just when we would be needing them most.  For the record, "thoracic" means chest area.  They are heart and lung surgeons.

So, I thought, "I wonder if a very smart and influential guy like Ted Koppel knows what a thoracic surgeon does?"  So, this exchange took place:

"Mr. Koppel, hi, I'm Bill Black.  I'm a consultant for the thoracic surgeons.  Do you mind if I ask you a question?"

"No, go ahead."

"Can you tell me what a thoracic surgeon does?"

"Sure.  Operates on the throat."

"Sorry, no.  They are heart surgeons and you've given me a great anecdote."

"Fine," Koppel says with a disgusted wave of his hand, "There's your anecdote."  And he marched off, clearly pissed.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

My Kind of Weatherman

He LOVES this!


There are few things in life more transcendentally beautiful than the morning after a big snowstorm. And there is nothing in life that brings such beauty to your doorstep.

I experience this beauty this morning at about 7 am with vigorous trudge three blocks to Rock Creek Park. The sites and sounds were exquisite. While there was the muffling effect of snow and a low wind, there were also, surprisingly, bird calls. What hardy creatures to have made it through a night of blizzard conditions.

The snow was above my knees, which made trudging laborious. In some spots it reached my upper thigh. One neighbor was out shoveling to "get ahead of the storm." He explained that he had shoveled the night before and all his work was blown away. Of course, there's supposed to be another blast this afternoon, which will likely blown his morning's work away, as well.

I'm such a snow junky that my expectations are rarely satisfied by the actual storm. This one did it. And it ain't over yet.


Friday, February 05, 2010

A Beautiful Reminiscence

A very sweet column in the Washington Post by Rachel Machaud remembering snowstorms past.  It truly resonated with me.  I have deep, but vague, memories of confronting the snow with my father.  Unlike Rachel's Dad, my father didn't get paid for his work.  He was the one everyone called to get their stuck car moving, to put on the chains, etc., etc.  But it was friends and family.  And I was his sidekick.  Of course, I hated it at the time.  But I do have fond memories of being up before dawn with him on snowy mornings when school was canceled.   Here's Ms. Machaud's memory:

It is still dark when my father shakes me, cold seeming to radiate from his outside clothes. He touches my shoulder, not wanting to wake my sister in the twin bed.

"I'm awake. I'm awake," I say.

He leaves, and I go to the bathroom, where I put on layers of clothes, nothing good that will get dirty or torn. I walk downstairs and head out to his truck.

While my specifics are different, the mood is very familiar.  It honestly brings a tear to my eye as I think about, and miss, my father.  Another such memory is evoked by a poem by Robert Hayden called, Those Winter Sundays.  Here's an excerpt:
Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
Then with cracked hands that ached
From labor in the weekday weather made
Banked fires blaze.  No one ever thanked him.
My father died at age 52 when I was 17 years old.  He remains with me in spirit. Maybe it's these kinds of memories that make me love the snow.

Bring it on!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

This is why I love Andrew Sullivan

New Favorite Blog

I've only recently discovered The Capitol Weather Gang, a Washington Post weather blog.  Finally, weather reports that don't bemoan the terrible weather we're about to get.  Or that celebrate the fact that "we dodged the bullet." 

I want the bullet!  Bring it on!  I love big snowstorms and so, apparently, do the people behind the Capitol Weather Gang.  With a mega storm coming, I'm checking it almost as much as I check Talking Points Memo.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Reality Check

I truly love this post by Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo.  I get very frustrated with all the "experts" who know what the Democrats should or shouldn't do to improve their political situation.  They all seem to have this view that the Democrats on the Hill, both House and Senate, are a bunch of dummies.  Having worked there, I know that there are very smart, well-motivated people running the Congress.  And those of us on the outside can't possibly know the problems they confront, both in terms of policy and politics.  Yes, it is clear that Republicans are more ruthless and more cynical in how they conduct themselves.  I'm fine with us being less ruthless and less cynical.  Josh is truly an adult who keeps things in perspective when he writes:
But I don't think anybody with half a brain (and maybe that excludes more people than it should) doesn't realize that the Democrats problems are overwhelmingly tied to the fact that we're in the midst of the worst recession since the end of the Second World War. Whether it's 75% of the problem or 80% or 90% I sort of go back and forth on in my mind. But clearly this is overwhelmingly the issue.
That said, for the life of me, I can understand why they haven't passed the Senate bill with the reconciliation fix on healthcare.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Religion as a Means, not an End

I am a fan of C.S. Lewis, particularly his Christian apologetics. I find him to be the most intellectually satisfying defender of Christianity that I have read. He is brilliant, creative and honest. And he gives due deference to contrary arguments from skeptics. One of his most creative works is The Screwtape Letters, a book in which the "narrator" is a senior level demon, working for Satan, who is advising a "nephew," an up and coming demon, on how to lead a particular human away from God and toward the dark side. So, he cleverly describes various modes of thinking and behaving that tend to lead humans astray and explains how his nephew can encourage those behaviors.

I've been re-reading Screwtape and was struck by the following quote, which I think effectively describes the Christian Right in America in the last 30 years. They use their religion as a political weapon to achieve temporal ends. Bear in mind, Lewis is writing this during World War II and Screwtape is explaining how to push a mode of thought that leads to evil. If C.S. Lewis has it right, these "Christianists" are in for a surprise on judgment day. (emphasis added)
Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the "cause", in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more "religious" (on those terms) the more securely

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Frank Rich

In today's NY Times, Frank Rich addresses this new prohibition, discussed below, against "blaming Bush" for the problems the country faces currently.  During Obama's State of the Union, John McCain can be seen chuckling and mouthing the words, "blaming Bush."

Rich writes:
Perhaps McCain was sneering at Obama because of the Beltway’s newest unquestioned cliché: one year after a new president takes office he is required to stop blaming his predecessor for the calamities left behind. Who dreamed up that canard — Alito? F.D.R. never followed it. In an October 1936 speech, nearly four years after Hoover, Roosevelt was still railing against the “hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing government” he had inherited. He reminded unemployed and destitute radio listeners that there had been “nine crazy years at the ticker” and “nine mad years of mirage” followed by three long years of bread lines and despair. F.D.R. soon won re-election in the greatest landslide the country had seen.