Wednesday, February 28, 2007

I Admit It...

I watch American Idol. Please help me… I think I may need an intervention… I could try chalking it all up to the influence of my kids, they are crazy about it, and I remember when we all used to watch the Ed Sullivan Show as a family when I was a kid, but I have to admit that I wouldn’t watch this show at all if it wasn’t for Simon Cowell. Simon is actually the real star of the show. Even though he hasn’t got a scintilla of talent of his own, even though his history of success as a producer and professional judge of talent is spotty at best, I think Simon is the real reason why most people watch the show. In fact, I think there is evidence that there is a whole college-age subculture out there that votes to elevate weak contestants like Taylor Hicks week after week just to get under Simon’s skin and provoke him.

Why am I fascinated by his put-downs? Is this bad for my kids, or is it something not worth taking seriously? What do shows like American Idol and the whole suite of Reality TV shows say about the “culture of bullying” we increasingly see around us? I’m starting to wonder if in the waning years of my career I’ll be confronted at work by a coterie of managers young enough to be my kids who will “vote me off the island” with the kind of blunt-edged “honest feedback” we are growing to become accustomed to seeing from the likes of Simon Cowell and Donald Trump.

The article Watch your back, the Bully Culture is upon us is a couple of years old, but still carries some powerful points and questions…
Remember 10 years ago, when tech stocks were booming, the Web was a new plaything and Bill Gates looked like he was one step away from Emperor of the World?

It was the Age of the Nerd, the era when the pocket-protector brigade seem to hold the future of the rest of us in their un-manicured hands. The Nerd (or Geek, Dweeb, insert your own love/hate epitaph) was ascendant, demonstrating that the Bible was off, but only by a single letter — The geek shall inherit the earth. Even the Vice President was one.

That period is over now. But the notion that life resembles high school lives on. Nowadays, there’s a new schoolyard type astride the culture. The Nerd is out; the Bully is in, setting the tone of public discourse, providing the image of what success looks like and holding the future of the rest of us in his hands. Even the Vice President is one.

There’s no other way to explain, for instance, the sudden re-emergence of Donald Trump, the buffoonish egoist who, for a while there, looked like he was going to sail into 1980s-nostalgia oblivion alongside Lee Iacocca and Ed Meese. But here we are in 2005, watching the Donald scowl and growl "You’re fired!" — when we’re not watching Simon Cowell eviscerate his many lessers on "American Idol" — in what passes for an evening’s entertainment.

The falsely labeled phenomenon known as "Reality TV" puts people in situations where bullying behavior is rewarded with boffo ratings. On the news channels, every aspirant to the pundit class is working on his/her bully skills, with the conviction that sharp elbows and bluster is the way to join the ranks of Hannity, O’Reilly and Limbaugh (Let’s give ol’ Rush credit for being an SOB back before SOBs were cool).

Yes, the left is capable of playing the bully as well. Ask anyone surrounded by "tolerant" progressives who smokes or eats red meat or drives a Hummer. Ask anyone who’s been interviewed by Michael Moore. …

As for the president, he’s always struck me as a particular sub-species of the bully you might call a "towel snapper." You know the type, the guy who puts his arms around your shoulders for a good-natured, insincere apology after pulling a nuclear wedgie on you in front of the whole school at assembly.

Business. Sports. Entertainment. Government. With Bully Culture rising in all sectors of our society, the implicit signal to those of us living normal lives is that the ends always justifies the means whether it’s in the workplace, the neighborhood or the family.

Bullying, from the schoolyard to the boardroom, is often just a case of meanness exercising its temporary power. But it’s just as often something else entirely, a kind of righteous blindness, the belief that being right gives you license to treat people like a dog treats a fire hydrant.

The Bully Culture shows no signs of abating, but comeuppance is an inevitable part of the bully’s existence. There will come that day when the antibodies in the body politic will expunge this latest threat to our cultural health, and we call all scream at the last episode of "The Apprentice": "Hey, Trump. You’re fired."

Not to be a holier-than-thou, but here is an interesting column looking askance in particular at American Idol's rehearsal round, Is American Idol Insulting to Human Dignity?

Let me ask you this: When you were in middle school, did you mock the "retards"? As an adult, do you continue this behavior by laughing at some of the emotionally and/or physically disadvantaged contestants on "Idol"? Do you have children of your own? If so, then you ridicule the "different" folks together as a "family affair" pastime? How does doing this make you feel? I'm just tryin' to understand, friends.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Icons from Sinai and Advice for the Pilgrim

The Annunciation, St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai

"Sit down alone and in silence. Lower your head, shut your eyes, breathe out gently and imagine yourself looking into your own heart. Carry your mind, i.e., your thoughts, from your head to your heart. As you breathe out, say `Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.' Say it moving your lips gently, or simply say it in your mind. Try to put all other thoughts aside. Be calm, be patient, and repeat the process very frequently."
-- St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Philokalia

It's said that St. Catherine's Monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai in Egypt is the oldest continually working Christian monastery in the world, and the smallest diocese. It is also a repository of some of the world's finest Orthodox icons and mosaics.

Since November, and running until March 4th, forty-three icons, six manuscripts, and four liturgical objects from St. Catherine's are on display at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles in an exhibition called Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons from Sinai.

Press release describing the exhibit.

See here and here for more images of Sinai icons.

Starets, pl. startsi: A monk distinguished by his great piety, long experience of the spiritual life, and gift for guiding other souls. Lay folk frequently resort to startsi for spiritual counsel; and in a monastery a new member of the community is attached to a starets, who trains and teaches him.

Looking over some of those icons put me in mind of the great Russian Orthodox classic, The Way Of A Pilgrim, widely recognized as a masterpiece of a treatise on the Jesus Prayer.

The story is believed to have originated in Russia during the mid-Nineteenth Century, and to have been transcribed by monks at Mount Athos. It tells of a wandering pilgrim and spiritual-seeker who is taken up by the Apostle's exhortation to "pray without ceasing", but has no idea how to go about doing so. After getting unsatisfying answers from several monks and holy men, he makes acquaintance with a certain elderly starets...

At last towards evening I was overtaken by an old man who looked like a cleric of some sort. In answer to my question he told me that he was a monk belonging to a monastery some six miles off the main road. He asked me to go there with him. " We take in pilgrims," said he, " and give them rest and food with devout persons in the guest house." I did not feel like going. So in reply I said that my peace of mind in no way depended upon my finding a resting-place, but upon finding spiritual teaching. Neither was I running
after food, for I had plenty of dried bread in my knapsack.

"What sort of spiritual teaching are you wanting to get ? " he asked me. "What is it puzzling you? Come now! Do come to our house, dear brother. We have startsi of ripe experience well able to give guidance to your soul and to set it upon the true path, in the light of the word of God and the writings of the holy Fathers."

"Well, it's like this, Father"' said I. "About a year ago, while I was at the Liturgy, I heard a passage from the Epistles which bade men pray without ceasing. Failing to understand, I began to read my Bible, and there also in many places I found the divine command that we ought to pray at all times, in all places; not only while about our business, not only while awake, but even during sleep, `I sleep, but my heart waketh.' This surprised me very much, and I was at a loss to understand how it could be carried out and in what way it was to be done. A burning desire and thirst for knowledge awoke in me. Day and night the matter was never out of my mind. So I began to go to churches and to listen to sermons. But however many I heard, from not one of them did I get any teaching about how to pray without ceasing. They always talked about getting ready for prayer, or about its fruits and the like, without teaching one how to pray without ceasing, or what such prayer means. I have often read the Bible and there made sure of what I have heard. But meanwhile I have not reached the understanding that I long for, and so to this hour I am still uneasy and in doubt."

Then the old man crossed himself and spoke. "Thank God, my dear brother, for having revealed to you this unappeasable desire for unceasing interior prayer. Recognize in it the call of God, and calm yourself. Rest assured that what has hitherto been accomplished in you is the testing of the harmony of your own will with the voice of God. It has been granted to you to understand that the heavenly light of unceasing interior prayer is attained neither by the wisdom of this world, nor by the mere outward desire for knowledge, but that on the contrary it is found in poverty of spirit and in active experience in simplicity of heart. That is why it is not surprising that you have been unable to hear anything about the essential work of prayer, and to acquire the knowledge by which ceaseless activity in it is attained. Doubtless a great deal has been preached about prayer, and there is much about it in the teaching of various writers. But since for the most part all their reasonings are based upon speculation and the working of natural wisdom, and not upon active experience, they sermonize about the qualities of prayer, rather than about the nature of the thing itself. One argues beautifully about the necessity of prayer, another about its power and the blessings which attend it, a third again about the things which lead to perfection in prayer, i.e., about the absolute necessity of zeal, an attentive mind, warmth of heart, purity of thought, reconciliation with one's enemies, humility, contrition, and so on.

But what is prayer? And how does one learn to pray? Upon these questions, primary and essential as they are, one very rarely gets any precise enlightenment from present-day preachers. For these questions are more difficult to understand than all their arguments that I have just spoken of, and require mystical knowledge, not simply the learning of the schools. And the most deplorable thing of all is that the vain wisdom of the world compels them to apply the human standard to the divine. Many people reason quite the wrong way round about prayer, thinking that good actions and all sorts of preliminary measures render us capable of prayer. But quite the reverse is the case, it is prayer which bears fruit in good works and all the virtues. Those who reason so, take, incorrectly, the fruits and the results of prayer for the means of attaining it, and this is to depreciate the power of prayer. And it is quite contrary to Holy Scripture, for the Apostle Paul says, `I exhort therefore that first of all supplications be made'. The first thing laid down in the Apostle's words about prayer is that the work of prayer comes before everything else : ‘I exhort therefore that first of all . . .' The Christian is bound to perform many good works, but before all else what he ought to do is to pray, for without prayer no other good work whatever can be accomplished. Without prayer he cannot find the way to the Lord, he cannot understand the truth, he cannot crucify the flesh with its passions and lusts, his heart cannot be enlightened with the light of Christ, he cannot be savingly united to God.

None of those things can be effected unless they are preceded by constant prayer. I say `constant,' for the perfection of prayer does not lie within our power; as the Apostle Paul says, `For we know not what we should pray for as we ought'. Consequently it is just to pray often, to pray always, which falls within our power as the means of attaining purity of prayer, which is the mother of all spiritual blessings. `Capture the Mother, and she will bring you the children,' said St. Isaac the Syrian. Learn first to acquire the power of prayer and you will easily practice all the other virtues. But those who know little of this from practical experience and the profoundest teaching of the holy Fathers, have no clear knowledge of it and speak of it but little."

Here is what the Catholic Catechism says of the Jesus Prayer:

2667 This simple invocation of faith developed in the tradition of prayer under many forms in East and West. The most usual formulation, transmitted by the spiritual writers of the Sinai, Syria, and Mt. Athos, is the invocation, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners." It combines the Christological hymn of Philippians 2:6-11 with the cry of the publican [Lk 18:9-14] and the blind men begging for light.[Matt. 9:27] By it the heart is opened to human wretchedness and the Savior's mercy.

2668 The invocation of the holy name of Jesus is the simplest way of praying always. When the holy name is repeated often by a humbly attentive heart, the prayer is not lost by heaping up empty phrases, but holds fast to the word and "brings forth fruit with patience." This prayer is possible "at all times" because it is not one occupation among others but the only occupation: that of loving God, which animates and transfigures every action in Christ Jesus.

More images from Sinai...

The Ladder to Heaven

St. Theodosia

Christ Pantocrator

One eye, loving and forgiving teacher and redeemer. The other eye, stern judge.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Manos Blancas. Can They Break The Chain of Violence?

"White Hands for Peace" Demonstration - Madrid, 2004

Sunday morning at Mass I was still ruminating over the previous post and the lively discussion it provoked, when I was hit straight in the chops with the day's Gospel reading, like manna from heaven...

Lk 6:27-38

Jesus said to his disciples:
“To you who hear I say,
love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
To the person who strikes you on one cheek,
offer the other one as well,
and from the person who takes your cloak,
do not withhold even your tunic.
Give to everyone who asks of you,
and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
For if you love those who love you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners love those who love them.
And if you do good to those who do good to you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners do the same.
If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners lend to sinners,
and get back the same amount.
But rather, love your enemies and do good to them,
and lend expecting nothing back;
then your reward will be great
and you will be children of the Most High,
for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give, and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”

Christ didn't expect that everyone who heard Him was going to follow Him, but that those whom He called would be recognizable in how radically different their behavior was going to be. As Christians, if we wish to be taken serious by anyone else as such, the tit-for-tat cycle of offense, recrimination, retaliation, and retribution that we find in the world all around us is not supposed to be the way for us. As supposed Leaven, Salt of the Earth, Light on a Hill, etc..., we have to be the ones that break the chains that bind together the logic of escalation and violence, or presumably no one else will.

At any rate, the previous post was really over a minor matter in the grander scheme of things. This past week I was reminded that we are coming up on the third annivesary of the Madrid Train Bombings, and that the trial of the 29 surviving co-conspirators in the plot is now underway.

The bombing occurred on March 11, 2004, and when it happened I was as shocked and horrified as anyone else, and concerned about my friends in Madrid. I was also very interested in seeing how Spain was going to react to it, knowing how fiercely the Spanish had been opposed to the sending of troops to Iraq in support of the Coalition effort in 2003. The bombings occurred just a few days before the national elections, and Aznar's Conservative government bungled badly by initially pointing the accusing finger towards the Basque separatist group ETA. Huge crowds took to the street in Spain, over 11 million people, representing more than 1 out of every 4 people in the country, expressing sorrow and solidarity with the victims, and peaceful defiance in the face of terrorism. When news came out a day or two later that a Moroccan cell suspected of Al Qaeda ties was most likely behind the attack, a popular wave of anger swept aside Aznar and brought Zapatero's Socialist Party back into power.

Needless to say, with the Socialists back in charge, the Spanish troops were soon recalled from Iraq. I remember thinking at the time that in doing so, that the Spanish government might have just signed a death warrant for residents of Rome, London, and Warsaw, as terror attacks were likely to occur in those cities in order to force America's other partners out of the coalition too. Sure enough, in July of 2005, train bombings occurred in London as well. (Note: In all fairness, as author Tom Ricks has pointed out, Spain signed onto a peacekeeping mission, not a combat mission, which it clearly had turned out to be by 2004)

What struck me in particular, however, was the unequivocal, broadly supported, and unhesitant determination of the Spanish people to respond with a sense of defiant nonviolence. Rather than seeing the necessity of binding themseves closer to Americans and our approach in exacting justice through the use of force, as one might expect, they seemed as a nation to embrace the principles of nonviolence in perfect lockstep. In their huge street demonstrations and memorial services, they took to holding up their white-painted hands ("manos blancas"), and slogans like "Basta Ya" ("Enough Already"). The Spanish of course, with their long years of having to deal with ETA, were already well-familiarized with terrorism, and the Manos Blancas movement had actually come out of that experience...

The “white hands” (“manos blancas”) symbol did in fact originate in Spain, when students in Madrid used it in 1996 as a sign of innocence and of their revulsion at the murder, by the ETA terrorist group, of Francisco Tomás y Valiente, Professor of Law at the city’s Universidad Autónoma. Since then it has been used in numerous demonstrations, mainly against ETA. It was later associated with the “Spirit of Ermua” - the resounding “Enough is enough” response by Spanish society to the cold-blooded murder of Ermua Councillor Miguel Angel Blanco in July 1997. There is now also an association, the Asociación Manos Blancas, which gives awards to those who are outstanding in their defence of the principles of freedom.

Why was their reaction so different from ours? Is it because of their history, that still holds the bitter memories of a fairly recent Civil war? Is it because they were used to terrorism? Is it the fact that we felt that the oceans and our huge defense budgets made us invulnerable? Does our superpower status make us feel like we have something more vested in protecting? Is it lazy, effete, comfortable, decadent, Western European affluence that doesn't want to be disturbed... or is it something more principled?

The Church never tires of lamenting over Europe... for it's loss of faith, it's relativism, it's consumerism, it's loss of its sense of roots, it's failure to protect the family, it's aging population, etc... What I find interesting in this case was the way that the Spanish manifested their faith, the Christianity that lay latent within them, in a way that I suspect Christ would have approved of, and should have made the Church proud of them. As far as I could tell, it was not really a Church-directed movement. It wasn't papal exhortations, bishop's statements, or Church organizations that drove it. This is something that has come into the collective continental European soul, and I'm not sure of the origin. I don't know if it is a secular post-modern thing, or if it is a vaguely Christian, eastern Buddhist influenced ethos or what, but somehow in its manifestation, it is an entirely biblical, Christian response.

I remember how my friends and I snickered and laughed at Richard Gere when he stood before the memorial service for the fallen firefighters of 9/11 and was heckled when he said:

"The horrendous energy that we’re all feeling, and the possibility of turning it into more violence, and revenge, we can stop that. We can take that energy and turn it into something else. We can turn it into compassion, and to love, and to understanding."

"That’s apparently unpopular right now, but that’s alright."

Interesting. In this nation, in which we supposedly take our faith so much more seriously, in this Godly nation, we laughed at him. Over there, they would not have.

Not that there isn't plenty of criticism leveled at the Spanish for their stance. London was bombed, and ETA has apparently called off their cease-fire, so nonviolence continues to be challenged and questioned by pragmatists and hard-headed realists. The British didn't react quite like us, but certainly not like the Spanish either.
The Brussels Journal noted the words of French writer Pascal Bruckner in comparing the reactions between Spain and Britain to being bombed:

Together with his people [Blair] continues a tradition of liberty which I sometimes think continental Europe has lost interest in.”

Bruckner thinks this loss is the result of the continental West European tendency to “interiorise” guilt. “Certain intellectuals and opinion makers seem to think that every crime committed against us results from Western ‘domination’ of the world.” Referring to the leftist paper Le Parisien, which the day after the London bombings headed “Al-Qaeda punishes London,” Bruckner comments: “They make it seem as if Osama bin Laden is a schoolmaster caning misbehaved pupils who had the bad idea of joining the Americans. […] This attitude [of ‘interiorisation’] is extremely perverse: it actually boils down to shifting the guilt from the criminals to the victims.”
Some took those upraised white hands as a sign of surrender....

The challenge of pacifism and trying to live out the beatitudes in the cold, harsh reality of the real world... Who knows the answer? Will the debate go on and on right up until we destroy ourselves?

Clip of Come Back Jesus -- Alpha Blondy

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Paid Political Bloggers

Controversial blog entry by Amanda Marcotte, blogger for John Edwards

Well, I was considering taking a serious look at Edwards as a candidate. He moved too slow for me on this. In fact, he really didn’t move on it at all.

Every once in a while Anne will remind me that she wouldn’t mind me spending so much time writing a blog if I could get paid for it like the guy at the Daily Kos.

A lot of political bloggers are getting paid by various campaigns for their efforts, and I think it’s a bad idea, both for politics and for blogging in general. See the article Barbaric Blogging for the reasons why.

Case in point… dotCommonweal has run a couple of posts on the controversy stirred up by what has been perceived as vulgar anti-Catholic remarks made by a couple of bloggers working for the John Edwards campaign. See discussions here and here and here. The bloggers, Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan, have decided to resign from the campaign. Edwards did not fire them.

I don’t have a problem with people having an axe to grind with the Catholic Church. I’m used to that. There's a long line. Take a deli number and wait. I don’t expect people to love it. I take my own swipes at the hierarchy at times myself, but the Marcotte stuff is completely over the top.

Such are the pitfalls of paying people like bloggers to carry your water for you. Most people who visit blogs figure they are witnessing an individual’s exercise of the right of free speech. That’s fine, but do we realize how much the “grassroots” of the web has been co-opted by money and by political and corporate interests? Is either side being well-served by that? What have we come to anyway, when serious political candidates are willing to sign on with the crude and foul-mouthed antics of a writer like Marcotte? Have we sunk that low in our level of discourse?

And another thing… Are the Democrats going to throw another election down the drain by continuing to alienate people who are inclined to agree with them on the issues that happen to matter to most Americans? Do they like making people feel as if they have no possible place to go but the Republican Party?

There are serious, serious problems in the world right now, issues ranging from hugely dangerous challenges surrounding war and peace, the destruction of the environment, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the collapse of the health care system, declining standards of education, ballooning government and personal debt, unchecked corporate influence and power, the dismantling of industries and the McDonaldization of work in this country. Are they going to sacrifice the swing vote once more by concentrating primarily on taking extreme stands on gender and orientation special-interest politics again and again?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Of Quizzes and Polls, and Such...

Not that I'm asking any of you guys to take any quizzes. I'll lay some of my cards on the table, but I'm not asking anyone else to do so if they don't feel like it.

I took a few quizzes lately, and even managed to surprise myself a little bit...

Beliefnet: What Kind of Catholic Are You?

You scored 71, (moderately traditional) on a scale of 0 to 100. Here's how to interpret your score:

0 - 25 : You are a Centering Prayer (very progressive) Catholic.
More about you.

26 - 50 : You are an Ignatian Exercises (moderately progressive) Catholic.
More about you.

51 - 75: You are a Divine Office (moderately traditional) Catholic.
More about you.

76 - 100: You are a Daily Rosary (very traditional) Catholic.
More about you.

I guess that's about right, in very general terms. I was sort of wondering if I would come down as Ignatian, as I suspect a few of my friends here are. Actually, I don't think this quiz was crafted too well. It was too simplistic. That's why I took the next one at Quiz Farm instead of Belief-O-Matic.

What's your theological worldview?
created with

You scored as Roman Catholic. You are Roman Catholic. Church tradition and ecclesial authority are hugely important, and the most important part of worship for you is mass. As the Mother of God, Mary is important in your theology, and as the communion of saints includes the living and the dead, you can also ask the saints to intercede for you.

Roman Catholic


Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan




Neo orthodox




Classical Liberal


Modern Liberal




Reformed Evangelical


What's your theological worldview?
created with

Another Quiz Farm: Which theologian are you?

You scored as Friedrich Schleiermacher. You seek to make inner feeling and awareness of God the centre of your theology, which is the foundation of liberalism. Unfortunately, atheists are quick to accuse you of simply projecting humanity onto 'God' and liberalism never really recovers.

Friedrich Schleiermacher






Jürgen Moltmann


Karl Barth


John Calvin


Paul Tillich


Martin Luther


Jonathan Edwards


Charles Finney


Which theologian are you?
created with

Friedrich Schleiermacher, eh? I never heard of the guy.

Finally, a political one, on the 2008 presidential candidates.

SelectSmart.Com: Presidential Candidate Selector -- 2008 Front Runners

(100%)1: Sen. Barack Obama (D)
(90%) 2: Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D)
(85%) 3: Sen. John Kerry (D)
(82%) 4: Retired Gen. Wesley Clark (D)
(79%) 5: Gov. Bill Richardson (D)
(79%) 6: Gov. Tom Vilsack (D)
(78%) 7: Sen. Christopher Dodd (D)
(76%) 8: Ex-Sen. John Edwards (D)
(75%) 9: Ex-VP Al Gore (D)
(69%) 10: Rep. Ron Paul (R)
(66%) 11: Sen. Hillary Clinton (D)
(64%) 12: Sen. Joseph Biden (D)
(56%) 13: Gov. Mike Huckabee (R)
(41%) 14: Ex-Rep. Newt Gingrich (R)
(41%) 15: Gov. Mitt Romney (R)
(40%) 16: Ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R)
(40%) 17: Rep. Tom Tancredo (R)
(38%) 18: Gov. George Pataki (R)
(35%) 19: Rep. Duncan Hunter (R)
(35%) 20: Sec. Condoleezza Rice (R)
(34%) 21: Sen. Chuck Hagel (R)
(27%) 22: Sen. John McCain (R)
(26%) 23: Sen. Sam Brownback (R)
(21%) 24: Sen. George Allen (R)
(0%) 25: Sen. Russ Feingold (D) Withdrew from race.

100% for Barak Obama? That surprised me... especially since I specified that I was Pro-Life. Maybe SelectSmart has the fix in for Obama and puts in 100% for everybody?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Will Mitt Romney Fly With Evangelicals?

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will be running for the Republican nomination for President in 2008. Will his Mormon faith be a problem for him, particularly among Southern evangelicals, who wield a great amount of power in the G.O.P. today? Some commentators seem to think so. Many evangelicals consider Mormonism to be a cult. Romney appears to be taking steps to try to get out in front of this as early as he can.

Maybe he’s trying to take a page out of the playbook of John F. Kennedy, who made a speech before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association during his 1960 presidential run, and endured a grilling in a lengthy Q & A session from the assembled ministers afterwards, re-assuring them that they they didn’t need to worry about him taking marching orders from the Pope. He wasn’t exactly grovelling either though...
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish--where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source--where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials--and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew--or a Quaker--or a Unitarian--or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim--but tomorrow it may be you--until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.

He seemed to assuage their concerns for the most part. Even so, the electoral map of the 1960 results shows that Kennedy did not do quite as well in the South as Democrats traditionally did back in those days.

Romneys’ case is going to be different from Kennedy’s case with Catholicism, because the Catholic question was loaded with all kinds of questions regarding the separation of Church and State that don’t quite apply the same way here. Still, Romney might face a bigger challenge, because Kennedy could count on strong Catholic support in the Northeast and Midwest in 1960, whereas Romney’s religious base is going to be narrower than Kennedy’s was.

I’m from Massachusetts, so I’m familiar with Romney and the Republican governors before him… 16 years of Republican governors getting bored and losing interest in the job before they were done.... I’ll tell you straight out that I don’t care for him much, and it doesn’t have anything to do with Mormonism. Like many others, I consider him a carpetbagger, an opportunist, a flip-flopper, and a corporate downsizing schill. He didn’t look at this state as much more than a stepping stone in his larger ambitions, and is now making hay out of ridiculing it.

Years ago, shortly after Romney was defeated in his senatorial bid vs. Ted Kennedy, I was in my auto mechanic’s shop when I ran into an old schoolmate of mine, Bob Marsh. At the time, Bob was a young Republican political operative who had run Romney’s election campaign against Kennedy. We talked a bit about the race, and I expressed my surprise that as a Mormon, Romney had run for the Senate with a Pro-Choice position. He was trying to unseat Ted Kennedy using the Bill Weld, libertarian, socially-liberal-fiscally-conservative type of gambit. Bob told me bluntly, “No candidate with a Pro-Life stance could ever possibly win a Senate race in Massachusetts.” I remember thinking to myself, “That’s probably true, but on the other hand, if you run a Democrat against a Democrat, the Democrat is going to win every time.”

Mitt has since shed his Pro-Choice position, flipping now to say that he is Pro-Life, and he is weighing in on the whole gay-marriage thing too, in order to prove his socially conservative bona fides to Southerners. Will it work? I don’t know. I remember when Pat Buchanan came flying out of New Hampshire with a primary win in 1996 only to land with a thud in Bob Jones’ South Carolina. Buchanan, a Catholic, was everything the Christian Coalition could ever ask for in terms of a socially conservative candidate, but it didn’t matter. They broke for Bob Dole, of all people. Hey, who knows? As far as voters are concerned in presidential runs, maybe Mormons are one thing and Catholics are still something else altogether.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Molly Ivins 1944-2007

I honestly don't know if I ever read any of her columns, but I like this quote:

The trouble with blaming powerless people is that although it's not nearly as scary as blaming the powerful, it does miss the point.

Friday, February 02, 2007

"Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?"

-- King Henry II, referring to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas à Becket

Apparently, the aging acting legend Peter O’Toole is up for an Oscar nomination for his role in the 2006 movie Venus. In what looks like an effort to boost his prospects, it has been reported that the 1964 movie Becket is being re-released in US theaters. In that film Peter O’Toole plays King Henry II and Richard Burton plays his sometimes drinking buddy, sometimes principled antagonist, the Archbishop of Canterbury, St. Thomas Becket (also known as Thomas à Becket). It’s kind of a Henry VIII / St. Thomas More kind of deal. It doesn’t end well for old Thomas in either case...

I’ve never seen this film. I’ve considered it many times at the local video store, but I’ve always put it off. Now that it’s going to be in the theaters, it might be a good time to go, because it sounds like one of those movies you really want to see on the big screen. They say this movie shows O’Toole and Burton at the top of their respective games, which makes it worth it to go and see for that reason alone. There is an audio NPR segment on the re-release here.

Speaking of Peter O’Toole and the big wide screen…. My brother still likes to needle me in front of people for getting us both thrown out of a theater for making too much noise when we went to go see Lawrence of Arabia when it first came out. Not surprising really, considering it was over 3 and ½ hours long and I was 4 flippin’ years old. Come on, Jackie, cut me some slack….

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Four Marines and a Sailor

One thing about getting to be my age – You start seeing the children of friends, family, and acquaintances reaching the age of eligibility for military service.

Listed below are the names of four young men entering the Marine Corps and one entering the Navy. All of them are fine young men of high ideals, abilities, and prospects without a hint of sadistic motive within them, who have decided for one reason or another to enter military service at this difficult time in our history. A couple of them I’ve known since they were little children; one of them before he was even born. It feels like yesterday. I have three sons of my own, the oldest being 10, and this is very sobering for me…

I can tell you that they all come from wonderful, faith-filled families. You couldn’t even say that there was anything in particular in their upbringing that would point them in this direction. In a couple of cases, I would have even guessed the opposite.

Whether a reader here is opposed to the war or supportive of it, whether one is a pacifist or a pragmatist, I hope you will join me in praying for their safe return home, their ability to stay true to their ideals and consciences, and for their loving families as they endure their absence.

Pfc. Frederick K...., Jr.- Will be deployed to Anbar Province, Iraq on February 5, 2007

Pfc. Conor S... – Awaiting deployment to Iraq

2nd Lieutentant Michael G.... - Graduate, NROTC Virginia Tech – Awaiting deployment to Iraq.

Lawrence S...., Jr – Sophomore, NROTC University of Notre Dame

Ensign Thomas H.... – Graduate, NROTC M.I.T. – Deployed to Persian Gulf on January 21, 2007

Semper Fidelis and Godspeed...