Sunday, July 26, 2009

Check Your Soul at the Barracks Door

When I served in the US Army, there was a feature of US military culture that made me uneasy – for reasons I could not really fully articulate at the time.

Every theater on every US Army post is named after a posthumous recipient of the medal of honor. I used to go to the movies pretty regularly when I was in garrison, and would read the citations of the actions that caused the particular soldier to receive the medal of honor, and it seemed to me that there was a subtle narrative being communicated, and that narrative was designed to evoke the virtues of Christianity (self-sacrifice, “no greater love hath any man…”) but which was, at its heart, pretty foreign to me as a Christian.

What I read in the narrative – the values being expressed – was "all for country." Those medal of honor recipients died doing heroic things (in the classical sense) but from a Christ-ian perspective, also in the commission of horrific violence against their brothers and sisters. When Christ said, "all who live by the sword shall die by the sword," I think he was talking about more than just the tendency of soldiers to die in wars. He was talking about more than the body dying in battle; he was talking about the soul of the sword-wielder.

Through my military experiences, I came to see nationalism as the idol it surely is, and like all idols, it demanded, finally, my immortal soul. And that, I would not surrender.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Tick Tock

In the last three weeks, while congress has been fighting about healthcare, 53,507 people filed for bankruptcy due to crushing medical debt.

The United States is the only rich country that routinely bankrupts the sick. That's just unconscionable. It's insane.

Don't you want to live in a society that can describe itself as "just"? Don't you want to comfort the afflicted and not stand by while they are bankrupted, even if the price is more "affliction of the comfortable"??

I hear the objections from the political right to universal health care, and what I hear is ideology trumping both facts and compassion. But then, the 8 years prior to January 20th, 2009 were characterized by ideology trumping reality.

Friday, July 24, 2009

For My Catholic Readers...

I've been wanting to do specifically Catholic blogging for awhile, and have accepted a contributor role at Vox Nova (literally, "New Voice") where I will have an opportunity to do just that. I'll continue to blog here as well.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"Gee, Where'd All the Money Go?"

I get tired of all the theatrical hand-wringing on the right about “How is Obama going to pay for all of this?”

If Bush had not destroyed the structural surpluses that were originally projected for the last 8 years, the government would not be paying almost a half trillion dollars a year in interest on the (vastly expanded) national debt. I’m enough of a cynic to believe that was actually deliberate: utterly destroy the country’s fiscal standing, so that the next time a Democrat is elected, there is a smooth transition to theatrical hand-wringing and bleats that “Gee, we’re too broke to be able to afford to help all those people…”

But the thing is, as a matter of math it is actually fairly simple to pay for everything Obama wants and more, AND pay down the debt, if you make the income tax resemble what if was in the Eisenhower administration: the top marginal rate hovered between 91 and 94 percent, and there were more brackets.

Another thing I’ve heard proposed is a 13% asset tax on all assets over 10 million dollars. This would apparently pay off the entire national debt, more or less instantly. That would then free up tons of money to make our fellow citizens’, and our own, lives better through investments in things like job training, better schools, social workers and so on, to finally tackle in a comprehensive way the economic and social decay in our inner cities; upgrading and modernizing our inter-city train system to standards that obtain in the rest of the developed world (a project whose need will become more apparent in the coming world of ever-costlier oil); government-subsidized day care to ease the path of single mothers out of poverty; new incentives and even direct investment in green energy sources and a smart grid.

I think if you ask most Americans if they want those things, they’ll say “yes.” If you propose a much more progressive tax system to pay for it, they’ll be fine with that, too.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Frank McCourt has died.

Yeesh. When it rains it pours:

Frank McCourt, the retired New York City schoolteacher who launched his late-in-life literary career by tapping memories of his grim, poverty-stricken childhood in Ireland to write the Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir "Angela's Ashes," has died.

Frank McCourt captured the mixture of sweetness and melancholy that is what I love about my Irish heritage. My father (also named Frank) and McCourt had very similar stories: both his and my Father's families came to America in the twenties, and both fled back to Ireland when the Great Depression brought immense suffering to America.

Reading "Angela's Ashes"was almost overwhelming for me: there is a certain habit of melancholy that is worn by the Irish, and McCourt could capture the character and cause of that melancholia like few authors I've read.

RIP Frank. Say hi to Dad.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite

I've just learned that Walter Cronkite has passed away at the age of 92.

Uncle Walter (and the word "avuncular" was practically created for the man) was a fixture every weeknight throughout my adolescence. He'd seen and reported on the major events of the middle third of the twentieth century (World War II, Korea and Vietnam; The JFK assassination and funeral, the moon landing and Watergate...) and thus had a sense of perspective - where current events fit in history - that younger or more polished reporters lacked, and which is wholly lacking in just about any television anchor I can think of today.

"Objective and impartial" seemed to be the watchwords at CBS News under his management: none of this "fair and balanced" nonsense of today where your job as a newsman is to convey both sides' talking points but take no position on which side the objective facts actually support. No: With Cronkite the mission was to determine the truth of the matter, and then explain it, no matter who it hurt or who called William S. Paley to complain. The powerful from both parties feared him; both Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon called him an enemy.

That was the thing with him: People tuned in to Cronkite not just to find out what happened that day, but also what it meant: where it fit into the ongoing story of America as of broadcast time on that day. Sometimes the story he told of America was troubling, sometimes uplifting and inspiring, but it was always "the way it is." The story he told was closer to the actual truth of the thing than any other broadcaster of his day. People intuitively sensed that, and thus trusted him implicitly.

An anchor with that kind of gravitas is almost unimaginable in the present day media environment. He did more than report the news; he conveyed the truth. We'll not see his like again.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Note About the Ads

The ads on my site are by Google ads: I have no control over the content, so if you see Ann Coulter up in the banner, there is no (and I mean NO) implied endorsement.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Summer Showers

So today, smack in the middle of California's summer dry season, the sky opened up and it poured rain, causing my Berkeley neighbors to make surprised noises and scramble to move their barbecue implements under the eaves, and another neighbor lady to dash outside and pull her clothes off the line.

I grabbed my umbrella and took a walk, and immersed myself in the sight of cars swishing by, their wipers making rhythmic clicking sounds, and couples drawing close under shared umbrellas, with the smell of freshly-wet dust filling the air. To top it all off, there was a double rainbow, brilliant against the dark-clouded sky.

What a treat.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Vatican: Obama not the Antichrist

[UPDATE: Edited for clarity - Matt]

I need to read Dionne more often.

In fact, whether he is the beneficiary of providence or merely good luck, Obama will have his audience with Benedict just three days after the release of a papal encyclical on social justice that places the pope well to Obama’s left on economics. What a delightful surprise it would be for a pope to tell our president that on some matters, he’s just too conservative.

That’s certainly my beef with Obama – he is too beholden to the power of economic elites to qualify as a true “liberal” (as compared to, say, Harry S. Truman) in my book.

The conservative minority among the bishops as well as political activists on the Catholic right have insisted on judging the president only on the basis of his support for legal abortion and stem cell research.

But the Vatican clearly views Obama through a broader prism. Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the papal nuncio in Washington, has privately warned American bishops that harsh attacks on the president threaten to make the church look partisan.

I’m glad someone in authority is saying that – the Church is not supposed to be either The Republican or Democratic Party On Its Knees.

The Vatican press has been largely sympathetic to Obama, and in a recent article, Cardinal Georges Cottier, who was the theologian of the papal household under Pope John Paul II, praised Obama’s “humble realism” and on abortion went so far as to compare the president’s approach to that of St. Thomas Aquinas. (Pray this won’t go to Obama’s head.)

Hoo boy…I fear that popping sound I just heard was conservative Catholics' heads exploding.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Wisdom of Madmen

They teach young men to drop fire on people, but won't let them write the word 'fuck' on their airplanes because it's 'obscene'.

Col. Kurtz, Apocalypse Now

Where I've been

I got a new job a couple weeks ago, and have been consumed with settling in to my new position, which is why blogging has been non-existent since then. I should be back to regular posting relatively soon; I'm starting to "get my feet under me" in the new position.


So, a swim club in Philly is turning away black children because they would "alter the complexion of the club." This is just appalling.

NBC reports that more than 60 African-American campers from Northeast Philadelphia were turned away from a private swim club because -- according to John Duesler, President of The Valley Swim Club -- "there was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion ... and the atmosphere of the club."

It may surprise some Americans to learn that not only do certain private clubs still refuse to admit African-Americans, women, and gay people, but that this kind of enrollment discrimination is considered perfectly legal.