Monday, March 27, 2006

What Being A Christian Can Mean

In today's political circus, all too often the label/description of "Christian" is co-opted to refer only to the branch of that is very narrowly confined within the strictures of the current "conservative" political structure.

"Christianity" is actually a faith that has a much broader base than that of the so-called "fundamentalist" and "conservative" flavors.

As an example, within the confines of one distinct sect, Roman Catholicism (which is the single largest self-professed denomination in the United States), there are views and congregations that are as conservative as any found in strictest chapel of the Southern Baptist Convention (which is the branch of Christianity that is most often identified with the American "conservative" political wing) and there are the views and beliefs held by those who are members of the Catholic Worker's Movement, where service, conscience and social justice and equality are the bedrock of their faith, and all those flavors in between. There is a certain titular commonality of definition, but, depending on the national character of the congregants, there is less, or more, emphasis on heterodoxy, with a "gentleman's agreement" not to whisper the "H"- word. As with many Christian sects, there seems to be an inverse relationship between the drive towards orthodoxy and the concept of service without regard to requirement of submission to doctrinal norms.

My upbringing was as a Roman Catholic, but my "flavor" was that which viewed the requirement of active service to be an attainable goal, even if perfection of service itself was not, and this is the background that informs my identity as a "liberal." Part of that early indoctrination was the recognition that there are many roads to "salvation," but that, whereas I earnestly believe that recognition of the glory of sacrifice of a Divine Redeemer, who has made Himself manifest to us, is the "right" road, it is not the *only* road.

Not being bound to a strict doctrine of inerrancy in any human endeavor (and any transcription, and retranslation of text, no matter if divinely inspired is going to be a human endeavor) means that I can regard a set of scriptural texts as being "inspired" and "truth," but that such text can also, by virtue of the human intervention, be inaccurate. I have the freedom to view it all as divinely inspired allegory.

Alas, part of that freedom also means that I feel a stronger pull of conscience if the Church I am a member of strays, in the name of orthodoxy, from the path of service towards all Christ's children. In the case of a member of the Roman Catholic Church, the current and prior "administrations" have moved towards such a state, partially in reaction towards the perceived challenge of the more doctrinaire and stricture-bound sects that comprise the "fundamentalist" Christian movement. Unfortunately, as a single member of a church that is so large, and that is organized under such a strict hierarchy, I could see myself not being able to both answer to my conscience and answer to the Church's demands for "orthodoxy."

So, like any wishy-washy protestant who is looking for the "easy way" I left the confines of the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church for the life of a non-observant, non-practicing Catholic.

I still considered myself a Catholic (and yes, Catholics consider themselves "Christian" as well) and part of the greater corpus of Jesus' followers, but without a formal locus for worship.

Until a chance request brought me to a small congregation of a parish of the Episcopal Church.

I went to a Sunday morning service in order to help out a visiting houseguest by giving her a ride so she could attend, and found the Church I thought had left me.

There's more in that vein I could ramble, but this is really serving as a roundabout way to introduce the subject of this post, which is a plea for aid.

Heifer International, an organization that is making the logical extension of the adage about "teaching someone to fish" rather than only giving food away , has been in operation for more than 60 years.

The idea of what has become Heifer International came to a Midwestern farmer, Dan West, when he was serving as a relief worker during the Spanish Civil War. Heifer International's strategy is to provide livestock to a community, and have all members of the community have a stake in the effort, work and responsibility, and all share the benefits. One of the strongest bonds in the heifer project is the commitment many communities make to "pass along the gift." Because Heifer International provides livestock with the aim of providing viable breeding stock, the recipients are in an ideal situation to provide help-in-kind to their neighbors, by donating some of the female offspring from their own animals. This can help start cycles of growth, sustainability, trust and service in communities ravaged by war and natural disaster.

Even though Heifer was started as a project of service within a Christian church, the organization makes no requirements of any church membership, of any faith. But the tradition, and ideal, of service draws many of Christian faith to work in and with the organization.

This brings me (after even more of the roundabout tattoo) to a woman who is currently training to be a deacon in our church. Her "second ministry" is working with Heifer International at Heifer's Overlook Farm Learning Center, in Rutland Massachusetts.

A staff member at Overlook Farm surveys the fire-damaged barn (Holden Landmark photo)It was through her association with my new church that I learned of a fire at the learning center, on March 6 of this year, where a barn, seed greenhouse and tool shed were destroyed. The fire was finally knocked down by companies from four communities. (news video showing some of the aftermath can be seen here)
Luckily only a small number of fowl and larger animals died in the fire, but the center also lost about 50 baby chicks that had just been delivered. However, the tool shed, with its complement of hand and power tools was completely destroyed.

To help in rebuilding, and replacing the tools lost, I'd like to encourage you to aid the effort at Overlook. I'm not affiliated with the farm at all. If you wish to visit and see if they can use the donation of your own hands, or tools you may be able to donate, please feel free to call them for directions and an appropriate time. If you wish to donate monetarily, checks in any amount can be mailed to:

Heifer International
Overlook Farm
216 Wachusett Street
Rutland, MA 01543

Please note "Overlook Capital Fund" in the memo portion of your check to direct the funds to the rebuilding.

Again, I'm not affiliated with either the farm or Heifer International myself (the closest I've come was when my wife and I donated to Heifer International one year in the name of a relative of ours), but this seems like a worthwhile project that needs support.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Exodus drops t/r/o/u/, uhh, suit

In an earlier article, I noted that the law firm of Liberty Counsel (partial to right-wing causes) had brought action on behalf of one of their clients, Exodus International (an organization that bills itself as an "ex-gay ministry"), and send a Cease & Desist order to blogger Justin Watt that parodied one of their billboards on his Justinsomnia site.

USA Today is carrying news that Exodus International is withdrawing their complaint, supposedly because he removed an "image watermark" from his parody.

The writer for the news outlet thinks it's more likely that Watt, who had enlisted the help of the ACLU, was able to stare down Exodus & Liberty because he knew what his rights were under copyright law's protection of parody under the "fair use" doctrine, and didn't meekly comply with the threat.

This is the legal talent that big money can buy.

After the sentencing for three men convicted of a brutal multiple rape of a girl who was then 16-years old, defense lawyer John Barnett announced to the press "Everybody lost today, there were no victors."

The OC Weekly had coverage Tuesday of the sentencing hearing for the trio convicted in the Haidl Gang Rape Case.

The first trial in the case ended with a mistrial. The second ended with the three defendants getting 6 years apiece in prison, and they will have to register as sex offenders after release.

The defense team, bankrolled by the multi-millionaire father of one of the rapists, made statements that should make any lawyer cringe with shame for being in the same profession.

It is one thing to pursue a vigorous defense for your client, but it is beyond the pale for lawyers to make claims, in court, as the defense's Al Stokke did, when he claimed that, since the girl had been drugged unconscious by the trio of rapists, her physical injuries, including penetration by lit cigarette, soda can and a pool cue, were not that severe, with his claim that "There's [no pain] that is felt," he said, "because she was unconscious."

And the lawyer who claimed there were no "victors?"

He tried to claim that it wasn't really "rape." From the OC weekly article:
If their [the defense team's] arguments had prevailed, it would no longer be necessary for a woman to give, say, oral consent before sex. Defense lawyer John Barnett, legendary in Southern California for representing cops accused of excessive force, argued that consent is implied if a man who penetrates a woman's rectum with a foreign object can do so without causing massive injuries. Only a willing sex partner could relax her sphincter muscle, claimed Barnett.

No. No victors at all, especially not the legal profession, that has these men in it.

Except maybe the women these three will not be attacking for the next 6 years.

But they're good-looking boys.

I'm sure they will find lots of bosom buddies over the next few years.

H/t to Bitch PHD and other bloggers for keeping this in our eyes.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

What am I bid for one slightly used congressman?

By now we have all heard the sordid saga of Randy ("Duke") Cunningham and the bribes he took to steer business to specific vendors.

Part of the "take-back" of Cunningham's fines and restitution to the federal government (in addition to cash fines and jail time) is sale of one of his homes, and the contents of that home.

The Boston Globe has a slide show that shows some of the house contents in a warehouse before the auction takes place.

It looks like nothing else but some discount-warehouse company's store, with rugs, furniture and bedding laid out for viewing.

The slide show is here

What a summation to cap off a career of public "service."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

On The Road Again....

I violate some (most?) of the strictures that are supposed to bring in the Big Hit Counts:

  • - I don’t routinely post several times a day (or even consistently every day)
  • - I don’t post just short sight-bites, usually tending to more text to illustrate any analysis (too verbose? Maybe.)
  • - I’m not outrageous (World of Crap, and any number of other sites that exist do that well, but WoC is actually trying to), even if I do admit to the more-than-occasional snarky bits
  • - I don’t give comments only on the issue de le moment, and sometimes discuss events from days (weeks) past
  • - I don’t have Big Name Hit Guests to liven up the scene

    I often don’t post every day in any case.

    Now, I’m not even posting as much as I had previously (as a few readers have noticed).

    I started a new job at the beginning of this month, and it eats up about 90 minutes each way in my commute ‘twixt work and home, I work too many hours anyway, and I haven’t yet struck the balance of work/travel/sleep/home-handiness-stuff/reading/writing that will work. Oh, and (as usual in these things), time for “family” get even more short-changed.

    I truly admire people like Dr. B (of BitchPhD ) and Joe Gandleman (of The Moderate Voice) who can seemingly get prose out and published in the time it takes to get the car door closed and the oven started for dinner. And it’s *good* writing too. (**grumble**)

    So, I’ll try to do better, but I don’t guarantee it’ll be anything more than a “try.”

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Look, on the street, it's a parade! No, it's a holiday! No, it's an Ethnic Event!

Most of the world knows of March 17 as being "St. Patrick's Day," celebrated as a day when people of all nations are Irish For A Day, and people of all faiths commemorate a Christian myth of driving the snakes from Ireland.

However, in the city of Boston, Massachusetts it's also known as Evacuation Day, and is an actual recognized (and take-the-day-off) holiday. (This is a separate holiday from the Evacuation Day formerly celebrated in New York City)

In March of 1776 George Washington's troops, participating in what is now termed "The Siege of Boston," were already in strategic places around the exterior of the City of Boston, and brought in cannon captured by troops under the command of General Benedict Arnold, from Fort Ticonderoga in New York, and transported overland to Boston by General Henry Knox.

Under cover of night, and a light fog, the cannon, and pre-fabricated defensive works, were emplaced on two hills known as Dorchester Heights, on the peninsula of Dorchester Neck. These hills had a commanding vantage over much of the city of Boston, and of Boston Harbor.

After dawn, the commander of the British forces, General Howe, seeing the overnight appearance of the fortifications, attempted an assault, but the March weather conspired to blunt the attempt. Howe, bowing to military reality, agreed to leave the city by sea. When the weather lifted on March 17 Howe, with his troops and loyalist citizens who wished to leave, sailed from Boston Harbor for Halifax.
Dorchester Heights Monument at eveningSince that time, one of the two hills on Dorchester heights has been leveled to provide building materials for the city's expansion in the 1800s. The remaining hill now has a monument tower commemorating the event. (Howe's departure, not the missing hill's)

A few years ago I took a visitor from New Zealand around some of the "sights" in Boston.

The night before her plane was to leave (scheduled for about 3 AM) we did a last round to some of the sights that we had missed, or that were too crowded to appreciate.

One of the locations we had missed was Dorchester Heights, which still retains a magnificent vantage east over Boston Harbor's Dorchester Bay (much of the old harbor that was overlooked from Dorchester Neck to the west has been filled in for the above mentioned expansion). In the evening, with few people about, and more light from a full moon than city lights, it was easy to imagine the vista that Washington and Knox surveyed.

And, yes, she did make her flight on time.

Carnival of the Liberals # 8 [The Haiku edition] is up

Paul V. at Brainshrub ("...with counterpoints to encourage critical thinking..") is hosting the 8th edition of the Carnival of the Liberals, The Haiku Edition.

For an introduction for each of the selected articles Paul has composed a haiku in the style most of us are familiar with for English-language haiku (three lines with 5-7-5 syllable pattern).

Friday, March 17, 2006

No, you all have not been put on the Do Not Call List

Blog*Spot Had A Problem, actually, several problems, and a variety of Blog*Spot blogs were giving "forbidden to access" return codes.

Hopefully things will be in better shape now.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Liberty Counsel and Exodus International may not quite understand copyright law

Exodus International (see Wikipedia article here) is an organization, affilited with Focus On The Family, that claims to be able to, bluntly, "help" individuals "change" from being gay to straight. Primarially through the "transforming power of Jesus Christ." I guess gay and lesbian Jews, Muslims, Wiccans, Zoroasterans, atheists and agnostics are on their own.

It may be recalled that there was a touch of trouble in the organization in 1979 when two of the "ex-gays" (both men) who helped found the organization, Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper (I am *not* making this up!), eloped. Together.

There was another little "incident" when, in 2003, another "ex-gay" member who was a spokeperson for the organization, John Paulk, was observed "flirting" (as he put it) and hustling drinks in a Washington D.C. gay bar. FotF head James Dobson reported put Paulk "on probation" and made sure he had a chaperone on any future speaking engagements after that.

Part of the Exodus media campaign is a billboard ad campaign to "spread their ministry." One of the ads is displayed at left. Image source from the Exodus website

Justin Watt, the writer of the Justinsomnia blog was inspired to put up a parody of the billboard ad. (see image to the right). Image source from Justinsomnia.

Exodus International is not happy. They have hired Liberty Counsel, a legal firm that specializes in promoting their own version of "religious freedom" that seems to lean toward "freedom" of the far-right pseudo-christian theology to dominate everybody else. Liberty Counsel has issued a Cease and Desist order against Justinsomnia demanding a removal of the image from the website. (see here for the C&D text). I'll be interested in seeing what comes of this. My first impression is that this is still covered by the "fair use" and "parody" portions of U.S. copyright law.

I really wonder at the Exodus and Liberty Counsel strategy here. And litigation is going to bring back into the public awareness the outright defection of co-founders and the "fall into temptation" of Paulk (Hmm, I wonder if any of the bar's patrons were costumed as a fig-leafed Eve or a snake-&-apple combination?). This attention would appear to bring doubt about the effectiveness of the "change" and even of how Dobson views the members of Exodus, if they need to be watched all tyhe time -- if this "change" is so effective, can't they find someone "reliable" who will stay bought? Of course, a cease & desist letter is cheap -- nothing more than a threat, essentially saying "we really don't care of the law is on your side or not: we have more money to burn than you do to get our way." However, that monetary equation may change if the ACLU gets involved or a counter-suit is filed on Justinsomnia's behalf by lawyers willing to work on contingency.

As a further incitement, Jason Griffey at Pattern Recognition has taken to Photoshop himself, and has produced another image for our delectation (see below). Image source is Pattern Recognition.

Of course, to make the point severly obvious about "parody," Griffey has added another image to hammer the point in. (those literature-context-challenged may wish to bypass the next billboard)

Has FEMA's Michael Brown been exonerated?

New video that has been obtained by AP shows Michael Brown telling GW Bush that there would be troubles with the levees around New Orleans. Whether he told Bush the levees would be breached or overtopped is irrelevant.

Bush kept on saying that nobody thought that there could be troubles with the levees.

However, I can recall analysts on The Weather Channel saying exactly that that was a possibility.

And an article in Scientific American, in 2001 said the same.

Is Brown "vindicated" that he told Bush something that Bush and Chertoff later denied ever hearing about?


Does it mean that he was either competent in execution of his duties, or that his hiring was aught but an exercise in cronyism?


All that can be said here is he didn't screw up as badly as those above him in the chain of command.

In the end, when he was hired he was someone who had been bounced from running a part of an organization that shows horses, and he did not grow into the job.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Suit over Massachusetts National Guard reimbursements continues

Back in January I noted a lawsuit was filed concerning the denial of per-diem payments to members of the Massachusetts National Guard for duties performed in relation to maintaining infrastructure security in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. (See “Massachusetts Guardsmen seek pay for post-9/11 duty”)

An amended suit has been filed in U.S. District Court that states that Massachusetts Guard officers deliberately refused to pay the travel-related expense (food, mileage and lodging) as a way to cut costs.

The amendment to the suit relies on testimony from a source, presumably within the Massachusetts National Guard itself that the decision was deliberately made to tell soldiers that they could not request reimbursement; because there was insufficient funding budgeted to the efforts, and not an oversight or (apparent) directive from the Pentagon. However, because the National Guard units of the states are part of the U.S. Armed forces, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeldt is also named as a defendant in the suit.

From an AP article:
A confidential informant alleges in legal papers being filed in court today that the man who now leads the Massachusetts National Guard chose not to pay basic expenses for soldiers called to duty after the Sept. 11 attacks because of budget constraints.

The allegation against Brig. Gen. Oliver Mason is part of an amended complaint to be filed today in U.S. District Court in Boston. Attorney John Shek [representing the Guardsmen who initially filed suit] said it was made by someone who came forward after Shek filed a class action suit in January against the state and federal governments.

The amended complaint does not name the informant. Shek described him yesterday as a person with knowledge of the "inner workings of the accounting offices of the Massachusetts National Guard."

Shek said the informant requested anonymity because of fears about a loss of employment, and that he would seek to keep the informant’s name from the court record.

According to a statement by the informant, the decision not to pay the "was not an accident or a mistake."

"It was a conscious decision on the part of Col. Oliver Mason with the assistance of his NCO, Sgt. Major Stroscio," the statement reads. "In the wake of the 9-11 attacks, Mason knew he had more security taskings than he had money to support them."
The amendments to the suit also seek to increase the number of Guardsmen estimated to be affected, and to increase the expected shortfall to soldiers from $73 million to an estimated $100 million. A more troubling amendment to the lawsuit is that some members of the Guard were told that the reimbursements had been discontinued (which is not true) and that if they continued to complain they would be discharged from the Guard. Some of those members were also told that they signed a document saying that they waived the reimbursement payments they would be able to remain in the Guard. Some signed, but never received copies of the signed form, and are still being denied reimbursement.

Also from the AP article:
A National Guard spokesman, Major Winfield Danielson, said because of the ongoing legal case he could not directly respond to the allegation about Mason, who became head of the Massachusetts National Guard last April. But Danielson said the Guard’s funding decisions are based on the needs of the mission, not saving money.

Danielson said it’s a priority for the Guard to make sure its members are fairly compensated. "If we don’t, they’re not going to stay”, he said.

Danielson said the Guard began an internal audit last May after receiving complaints about reimbursements from soldiers. The reimbursements vary depending on the security mission. Danielson declined to comment on the audit because it’s not complete.

Under federal law, military personnel are entitled to meals and travel allowance while away from home on active duty. But according to the lawsuit, Massachusetts guardsmen received orders that read: "Government quarters not available; ... government meals are not available; ... per diem: not authorized."
In the field, some of the Guardsmen were working alongside other members of the Guard whose units had been federalized, and who had been getting paid.

As a side note, this issue could be a sharp thorn for first-term Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who is expected to see the GOP nomination for U.S. President in the 2008 election cycle, and has already declared that he will not seek reelection as Governor. As Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Romney is the Commander of the Massachusetts National Guard. It is certain that this will be used, by both Democrats opposing Romney and those within the GOP who wish to promote their own candidates for the Presidential nomination.

I'm gratified to see that there was an audit begun in May of 2005 over the complaints of
denied reimbursements. Of course, the questions now are(and I *always* have questions):
-- why, after 9 months the audit is still not complete,
-- did the Guard notify any of the soldiers being denied reimbursement that an audit was happening
-- Why didn't the Guard inform all involved, when the lawsuit was filed in January, that the audit
was happening?

Links –
  • Reuters – “Legal fight over National Guard pay intensifies

  • Boston Herald – “Guard brass accused of stiffing soldiers

  • Boston Globe – “Guard refused to fund soldiers' travel, suit says

  • MetroWest Daily News – “State guardsman alleges decision to withhold expenses deliberate