Archive for July, 2013

There was a poll in the papers yesterday: 80% of African Americans were troubled by the Zimmerman verdict, while only 30% of white people were.

That is a vast gap, and expresses the vast gap in perception between the races. And it represents an alarming lack of comprehension among whites of the experience of black Americans.

And I have seen this incomprehension here, in the comboxes, and in friends’ blogs.

The common view is something like this: George Zimmerman, because of some break-ins in his neighborhood, apparently by young black men, was perfectly reasonable to be suspicious and call the police when he saw young Trayvon, wearing a hooded sweatshirt (on a rainy night) walking through his neighborhood. It was reasonable to follow Treyvon, somehow reasonable, even though he had called the police, to get out of his vehicle and approach him, and reasonable to shoot him in the heart when Trayvon (allegedly) responded to Zimmerman with violence.

And the whole thing is being exploited by “race baiters”.

I disagree with every line of this reasoning.

It would have been reasonable to keep an eye on Trayvon, following from a distance. It would have been reasonable to call the police if Trayvon was witnessed committing a crime; to do so merely because of his appearance was racial profiling. It was crazy for Zimmerman to get out of his vehicle and crazy to approach Martin, let alone to shoot him. Reasonable doubt dictates that George Zimmerman, at the moment of Trayvon’s killing, may have been in fear for his life. What is certain is that if this is so he brought the situation on himself: Trayvon Martin did not instigate this tragedy.

And why do those who take Zimmerman’s account at face value not realize that there is reasonable doubt about its veracity?

While I of course cannot view this case from the perspective of the parent of a black teenager, I do view it from the perspective of the father of teens.

Much is made by some of Trayvon Martin appearing to be “heading down the wrong path”, as a friend blogged. I suppose this is an allusion to the trace amounts of THC in Trayvon’s system at the time of his death, and to (unsubstantiated) allegations of other minor infractions.

Let me remind you that we live in a country where three successive presidents have confessed to marijuana use. Traces of THC are not signs of grave evil. And as the father of teens, I can only say that my two oldest sons have had run-ins with the law themselves, and more serious ones than Trayvon is alleged to have had (there are also unsubstantiated allegations that he was an honor student, and had a scholarship to a university; even getting to the basic facts is difficult in this case).

And as the father of a teen, one who wears hoodies and whose pants sometimes droop, I can say that if someone was following my 16 year old in the dark, and then got out of his car and approached him with hostility (Zimmerman referred to Trayvon as a “fucking punk” in the 911 call) that Patric, scared, would probably have reacted the same way that Trayvon is alleged to have reacted: he would have decked the guy.

What none of Zimmerman’s defenders seems to realize is that Trayvon Martin was standing his ground.

And it most emphatically doesn’t take “race-baters” for his killing to spark outrage among average African Americans.


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Just in Case…

Free Scenery Wallpaper - Includes a Field of Sunflowers, Looking Good on Any Digital Device!,click to download

…I disappear, understand that this baby looks like he will make an early debut. Also, because of summer hours at the library and the college student center, from whence I blog (my laptop having given up the ghost at a tragically young age) it is hard enough to keep up. So, at any time I may be taking a bit of a break, if you can call trying to keep up with a big household and serving a recovering mom a break.

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Iranian Shi’ite Tilework

My bride told me that when she heard the ad on the local Catholic radio station for the debate between Catholic polemicists and Muslims that it said “No one will walk away singing Kumbaya”, which seemed to confirm my suspicion that this was going to be a slugfest rather than a dialogue. I have been listening to the radio, trying to catch the ad and last night I finally heard it. Apparently the Kumbaya line was added by Al Kresta; it is not part of the ad. However, the ad does say that Robert Spencer, noted fearmonger, will “square off” against his opponents. One does not “square off” in a dialogue. One squares off in a fistfight. And to think that a Catholic bishop will celebrate Mass for these folks. Not only are they engaging in the sort of religious battle that the Church eschews, they contradict Church teaching that Muslims worship the One God of Abraham. To appear to give the Church’s blessing for such a spectacle is only the latest scandal of so-called “orthodox Catholicism”. I’m only surprised that Senator Santorum isn’t making a guest appearance…

To get an idea of Mr Spencer’s approach, look at this video, where he “squares off” against the eminently sensible and balanced Peter Kreeft:


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I am not quite sure how I got on the email list that sent me this notice. My bride had told me that she had heard of some sort of conference about Islam on the Al Kresta show on EWTN, but did not mention that it was to be a debate. And what a debate: some of the worst Islamophobes will be arguing with moderate Muslims.  Given the context, the question “Is Islam a Religion of Peace” should be seen a purely rhetorical one. One only needs to glance at  the list of the Catholic “side” of the “debate” to see this:

 *The Thomas More Law Center has defended Colonel Matthew Dooley, who taught, in a US military war college, that the West is at war with Islam and that such a war may require using nuclear weapons to annihilate Mecca and Medina. And it has defended American war criminals. Originally founded by pizza magnate Tom Monahan for the noble purpose of defending religious liberty and human life, it has devolved into a highly nationalistic and militaristic organization.

*Robert Spencer is the founder of Jihad Watch, which has for years spread fear and misunderstanding of Islam.

*Talk show host Al Kresta is famous for his Americanist and neocon leanings, and his choice of guests consistently reflects this.

What a far cry this is from the approach of the Church, which always seeks to emphasize what we have in common with Islam. Muslims, to be sure, are not our brothers and sisters in Christ, but they are surely our cousins in Abraham. And contrast this combative approach with Pope Francis’ exhortation to build “bridges, not walls.”

Does Islam have a violent past? To be sure. Indeed, it is startling to see how quickly the Umma -the Islamic community – fell into civil war after the death of Muhammad. And Muhammad himself led armies into battle.

But it is also true that anything one may say against Islam in this regard could be said against Judaism as well; indeed, the Old Testament is more problematic than the Qur’an, claiming divinely ordered genocide, while the Islamic scriptures forbid killing civilians. Many Muslims have commented that modern “jihadism” is an aberration, that such things as attacking civilians and other Muslims, and suicide, are forbidden by the Qur’an.

To those who note modern Islamist violence as proof of the inherent iniquity of that faith one can point to the modern violent minority among the Jews. Albeit numerically smaller, militant Orthodox Jews are at least as large a percentage of the whole as their Muslim counterparts. And unfortunately, are disproportionately represented in Israel and the West Bank, where they do much mischief.

Jews and Muslims alike can find support for violence in their traditions. So can Christians, whose own history, in spite of the witness of Christ, is hardly free from violence. And if you think that is something from the past, just wait until the reality of the changed mores of modern western society really sets in; I predict that violent “Christianity” will be making a comeback. Indeed, one may ask what credentials these anti-Islamic zealots have for asking this question; one and all they have been zealous supporters of violence against Muslims, including the American invasion of Iraq, condemned by two subsequent popes. The real question might be “Is Right Wing Catholicism a Religion of Peace?”

I only hope that these moderate Muslims know that they are walking into an ambush, not a debate. The venue assures that the audience will be stacked with Islamophobes: it is sponsored by an affiliate of EWTN, the right wing Catholic media conglomerate.

The real scandal is that the Catholic bishop of Lansing is celebrating Mass afterwards, giving it the aura of Church approval. Though he is the ordinary of the diocese I grew up in, I know nothing of the man.

But he really should be ashamed. This is a battle, not a dialogue; in a dialogue there is no “vs”. This show, like so much of American Catholic “orthodoxy”, is far from reflecting the mind of the Catholic Church.

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David P Steiner

The day I got married was a beautiful day: clear and cool, with a deep blue sky and puffy white clouds. Any doubts I had were dispelled when I walked out my door that morning.

Yesterday was a day just like that, a perfect day to carry mail. Days like that I almost feel guilty for taking money.

But then I think of last week: day after day of oppressive heat, smothering humidity, coming home feeling like a wrung-out dishrag.

And on top of that enduring a new supervisor, threatening disciplinary action against the carriers – mostly in their 50s – who took, in his estimation, too long to deliver their routes.

Not that there was any serious concern about this; the Union would make sure that any attempt at something so stupid -when there were heat advisories – would go precisely nowhere.

On days like the ones I endured last week it never fails; just when I begin feeling bad for myself I spot a trash collector. Not only is he working in the same heat and humidity, he is doing much harder labor, lifting heavy loads. And garbage stinks when it is hot, and is infested with maggots.

Yesterday a Waste Management trash collector was picking up bags of garbage just as I was delivering mail. I stopped and told him this, that his job was so much more difficult than mine, how it gave me perspective when I started feeling sorry for myself. And I told him that he was underpaid, that if there was any justice in the world he would make $100,000 a year. After all, he was doing something absolutely necessary for the common good, a strenous job that few coveted.

He told me that he had done this for 4 years and only made $16.80 an hour.

No union?

No; there was one at an outfit in Akron, but they laid off the entire crew and hired replacements, the sort of criminal act one can pull with impunity in the United States, where labor is largely unprotected.

We talked about the decline in organized labor and the decline in the wages of the working class, two highly entwined phenomena. And we talked about how, not so long ago, there were two workers assigned to a truck, how they would take turns driving and loading trash. No more; the companies discovered that they could cut costs by using only one man. Never mind that such relentless labor will wear a man out (ever seen a middle aged trash collector?) After all, workers are a dime a dozen.

Then we both had to get back to work.

Oh, David P Steiner, the CEO of Waste Management Inc, makes 5.19 million a year. I doubt he has ever broken a sweat. Or smelled rotten refuse. Or maggots.

Like all capitalists, he reaps the wealth that workers create, and gives them back a pittance.

He no doubt sleeps like a baby at night.

And stinks, morally, worse than maggoty garbage on a hot summer day.


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A New Icon


I remember, several children ago, before I had to stay on the overtime list permanently, I would complete up to two icons a month. These days it is more like two or three a year.

This one proceeded, however slowly, without a problem, right up to the halo lines. To the uninitiated, the halo lines are one of the last things to be done; when finished, there is only about  a half hour or forty five minutes of work left. And while everything can be fixed in icon painting, anything to do with gold leaf is harder to repair. Sure enough, I blew the halo lines and had to remove the leaf and start over. Then, holding my breath, I painted them without a problem. Only to blow it again doing the cross on the halo. This, with a deadline looming (it is a commissioned work). I removed the leaf once again and started over on the halo. Sunday, finally, it all came together…

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Sometimes one comes face to face with evidence that there are human beings wholly given over to evil.

For example, someone somewhere thought it a good idea to invent, then manufacture, cherry-scented colored markers.

With insoluble ink.

Two year olds find them irresistible.

Malevolence, sheer malevolence.

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Angels Unaware


Russian icon of the hospitality of Abraham.

Before yesterday I had only walked out of a Catholic Mass once.

That was in the 80s, in Virginia, during an Easter vigil. It gradually dawned on me that the young priest who was delivering the homily was saying that the Resurrection of Christ should not be understood as a bodily event, but as something that occurred in the hearts and imaginations of the Apostles.

To paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, then to hell with it. I left and drove to the nearest parish, where I came in just as the sermon was beginning. So I did not miss a beat in the liturgy.

Yesterday, with a looming deadline on an icon that started going wrong in the very final stages (the halo lines, for those of you who know what that can mean) I decided that I would attend an early Roman liturgy, because when we go to our Byzantine church it is usually an all day thing. The “coffee hour” is generally more like a feast, conversations long, and the kids play with their friends on the sprawling grounds.

So I attended St Joseph’s  in Canton.( https://caelumetterra.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/the-beauty-of-your-house-st-joseph-catholic-church-canton-ohio-2/  …for some reason I can only link whole addresses).

It is a beautiful church with an excellent choir (which unfortunately takes the summer off) and an older priest who reliably gives succinct and pithy homilies.

The first reading was about the hospitality of Abraham to his Three Visitors, and the gospel was the story of Mary and Martha.

The homilist could have approached this from any angle – the primacy of contemplation, say – but chose to preach on the virtue of hospitality. He stressed that “hospitality” in a desert culture was not just a nicety but a matter of life and death, and he mentioned the passage in the Book of Hebrews that advises us to not neglect hospitality to strangers, as many have thus “entertained angels unaware”.

The Mass proceeded with the grace and reverence I have come to expect at that parish.

After communion the priest asked the congregation to remain seated. He began by acknowledging the generosity of the parish in giving to Catholic Charities, local food banks, and the Salvation Army.

“But what is not legitimate”, he said, “Is what we saw here last Sunday, when a man and his supposed wife and children were begging outside the church. There have been similar incidents at St Barbara’s and St Mary’s, which makes me think this is some sort of scam…”

I had heard enough.

I stood up, genuflected, then walked out of the church.

This man was advising his flock to disobey Christ, who clearly said to give to everyone who asks. It apparently did not occur to him that people are begging outside churches not because they are scamming but because they are desperate. (And if they are scamming, let God judge that, not me).

Further, he, in telling people to only give to organized charities, to  intermediaries, was denying them the opportunity to love others directly and personally, to interact with the poor.

And he was provoking scandal:  if poor people beg at churches it is because they expect those who profess Christ to have mercy, to share what they have. This should not be an unreasonable expectation, and if they are denied alms are they not going to become cynical about Christ?

This is yet another way that the world, seeing the hypocrisy of Christians, becomes sick of Christ.

And apparently this priest was completely oblivious to the irony of preaching about hospitality right before exhorting the congregation to deny the poor their alms, which the Fathers teach are theirs by right.

And finally, he was denying, perhaps, the opportunity to interact with angels.

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17 &60


My bride on our wedding day…


Tomorrow I will celebrate my 17th wedding anniversary. The day after that I will, uh, observe my 60th birthday.

60 appeared like a small dark cloud on the horizon on my 59th birthday and has been looming larger and more threatening as the year has progressed.

I’m not sure why 60 is so rough; turning 50 was no big deal. Perhaps it just sounds so old.

I know I should simply be grateful to make it this far; it did not always seem so certain that I would.

I remember lying in a hospital bed in Canton when I was 49. I had suffered a stroke about a month before, and my bride, alarmed, insisted that I get my whole cardiovascular system examined. I had just endured a heart catheterization, when they claim to insert a tiny camera into your arteries and examine them from the inside. I am skeptical; such a thing sounds impossible. But however they did it the cardiologist, a Dr Gross, approached with his diagnosis.

It was memorable not only for the verdict but for the delivery. He had eaten a spicy lunch and his breath was awful as he bent down to speak quietly to me. Plus, he sounded like Elmer Fudd:

“I’m afwaid I have some vewy bad news. There is sevewe bwockage in thwee of your awtewies. Because of your stwoke we are going to send you to the Cwevewand Cwinic for evaluation.”

Thus, a couple of months later, when I was deemed stable, I had triple bypass surgery. I was pretty sure at that point, with two such devastating events in such a short time, that the rest of my brief life was going to be one catastrophe after another until the Big One took me out.

But I was wrong.

While I have had various ailments and minor surgeries (and needed stents a couple of winters ago) nothing has been life-threatening. I continue to walk about 10 miles a day and despite various aches and afflictions am in pretty good health, apart from these pesky cardiovascular issues.

And a few years ago…

And while I am too old for a midlife crisis, because I started so late all the elements are there: the decisions made so confidently that turned out foolish, the older kids resenting, among other things, being homeschooled when little, the million ways I turned out to have been wrong. And while I never made a decision that didn’t seem right at the time if I had to do it over I would do most things differently.

Except one thing.

I have never regretted marrying Michelle, even when it has been difficult. I fear to think what would have become of me without her. I offer this love song for my bride, and only regret that I did not write it:

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The first, from the AFL-CIO NOW website:

Many of us and our families have felt the pinch of stagnant wages during the past several years, and a new study shows that while real wages (adjusted for inflation) fell by 2.8% across the board between 2009 and 2012, low- and middle-wage workers—especially women—took the brunt of the hit.  

The study by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) finds that real wages (according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics) for five of the 10 largest low-wage job categories—restaurant cooks, food preparation workers, home health aides, personal care aides and housekeepers—experienced a drop of 5% or more.

Read more here: http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Economy/Low-Wage-Workers-See-Biggest-Drop-in-Real-Wages

The other, on a black woman sentenced, ironically in Florida, to twenty years in prison for discharging a gun in self-defense:

(CBS News) JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Florida woman who fired warning shots against her allegedly abusive husband has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville had said the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law should apply to her because she was defending herself against her allegedly abusive husband when she fired warning shots inside her home in August 2010. She told police it was to escape a brutal beating by her husband, against whom she had already taken out a protective order.

Read the rest here: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57433184/fla-mom-gets-20-years-for-firing-warning-shots/

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