This BBC Four segment on the news about the news has been making the rounds of the Interwebs–and justifiably so. Brilliant, as they’d say across the Pond.
Archive for January, 2010
This BBC Four segment on the news about the news has been making the rounds of the Interwebs–and justifiably so. Brilliant, as they’d say across the Pond.
After 9/11 it became an article of faith in New York City that we must resume normal lives and not let terrorists win by drastically altering our ways. There was a down side to that – for example, the environmental hazards of the attack were not addressed properly. But overall, it worked, and New York got its strut back.
I have to say I am a little disappointed that the Obama administration, facing a sudden spurt of opposition in the city, has dropped its plan to pursue the 9/11 trial at the federal district court in lower Manhattan. It is a courthouse where many famously dangerous people have been brought to justice – spies, terrorists of many stripes, including al-Qaeda members, leaders in narcotics cartels, a former CIA agent who conspired to murder a string of prosecutors, Mafia bosses, serial hit men. In the five years I worked there as a reporter, the building always felt secure, protected by an excellent security staff made up of retired police Intelligence Division officers.
The decision to move the trial elsewhere brings a sense of relief – relief that city taxpayers won’t have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to make the trial happen; relief that Manhattan won’t be tied up for months and months; relief that we won’t have to be reminded quite so relentlessly about that sunny day in September. It’s true that the trial would have been an undue burden on people living downtown, especially in Chinatown.
But the city has lost something by not being able to bring these people to justice within the normal jurisdiction for a terrorist crime committed in Manhattan. Particularly objectionable is how it came to pass that Mayor Bloomberg withdrew his support for the trial – due to lobbying from the Real Estate Board of New York, as today’s New York Times story makes clear enough. It’s often said in New York that everything comes down to real estate values. There are other values to consider as well.
Slate’s media critic Jack Shafer is inconsistent, but I can’t recall seeing him get something this wrong before — at least not something this significant. Ten days after Harper’s posted Scott Horton’s troubling account of the many holes in the Guantanamo “suicides” story (which I posted about here), Shafer took notice and, for reasons I can’t comprehend, went on the attack against Horton.
Anyone who’s read the article — and certainly anyone who’s familiar with what we already know about how the U.S. has treated detainees in the “War on Terror” — should be able to recognize what a bizarre misreading Shafer is applying here:
But if you were going to torture prisoners to the point of death in interrogations, would you really draw three prisoners from the same cell block, inside the same hour, for that punishment? It would make more sense to torture one to death, cover up that murder, and after a decent interval proceed with the gained information to torture the second prisoner to death. Or, if your aim was to execute them and cover up the murders, why bring the bodies back to a medical clinic where scores of people would examine them and an investigation would be started. Killing three prisoners on one night and then attempting to cover it up is a mission that not even the combined powers of Jack Bauer, James Bond, and Jack Ryan could pull off.
How did Shafer come away with the impression that — in Horton’s version — the military set out to kill these three men and then call it suicide? That’s the sort of distortion I expect from someone who has political reasons for wanting to dismiss ugly realities. It’s not what I expect from a professional critic of journalism. And that assumption on his part, plus the rest of the details in this “critique,” suggests to me that Shafer just didn’t have the equipment to evaluate Horton’s article. I can’t figure out why he was so sure he did.
Harper’s editor Luke Mitchell was surprised, too, and he responded to Shafer online, patiently cataloguing the many shortcomings of his critique. He points out the absurdity of the paragraph I quoted above: Read the rest of this entry »
With the passing of J.D. Salinger this week, it would be easy to fail to note the death of Howard Zinn. His book, A People’s History of the United States, was and is enormously important. I was thrilled that my son was assigned the book in high school a few years ago.
After the attacks of September 11, 2001, Zinn published a little piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled “Compassion, Not Vengeance.” Here is the last paragraph of the piece:
“Our security can only come by using our national wealth, not for guns, planes, and bombs, but for the health and welfare of our people, and for people suffering in other countries. Our first thoughts should be not of vengeance, but of compassion, not of violence, but of healing.”
Such was the spirit of the man.
To honor the late J. D. Salinger, we’ve posted two essays from our archives:
The literary critic Donald Barr wrote “Saints, Pilgrims and Artists” for Commonweal more than fifty years ago, in 1957, but its analysis remains sharp and insightful. It helps, of course, that most of Salinger’s work was already behind him by that date — what Barr identified as the “third phase” of Salinger’s career proved rather sparse. Here’s a taste of Barr’s take:
Most of Salinger’s work, therefore, is about those who think they are in hell, a place where the soul suffers according to its qualities, and without escape.
Ordinarily, we all are interested in hell. Ten people have read and enjoyed the Inferno for every one who has read the Purgatorio or the Paradiso. It is fun; like looking at real estate, it gives us a sense of our own possibilities. But Salinger’s hell is different. It is hell for the good, who can feel pain, who really love or hope to love. On the gate of this hell we do not read the words, “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate.” Hope is not abandoned here—hope is the implement of torture, hope deferred. We identify ourselves both with the victims and the devils. And it is not strange real estate. It is home.
Read the whole thing.
Our second selection was published on the same date five years later: Donald P. Costello’s “Salinger & His Critics: Autopsy of a Faded Romance,” from 1963. Costello has sharp words for those who criticize Salinger for not being another Hemingway:
It is, of course, dangerous to give answers in modern fiction. After the questionings of The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger has given some answers; and that doesn’t set well with The Group, or with the Partisan Review–Harper’s crowd. It is particularly dangerous if the answers, as Buddy Glass puts it, make any professional use of the word “God,” except as a familiar, healthy American expletive. Salinger uses not only “God” but the love that dwells there. That’s the trouble with the Glasses, says Mary McCarthy: “They are all good guys: they love each other and their parents and their cat and their gold-fish.” John Updike complains that “Salinger seems to love his characters more than God loves them.” And, indeed, at the beginning of “Seymour—An Introduction,” the narrator admits—along with Kafka—that he writes of his characters “with steadfast love.” I don’t know how Updike knows how much God loves the Glasses; but he clearly doesn’t like Salinger’s loving them. Updike is certainly right: Salinger does love the Glasses, and asks us to love them. It is an accurate description, but a very bad complaint.
Read that one here.
P.S. If you subscribe to The New Yorker you can read all the stories Salinger published in that magazine on their Web site.
L.A. Theatre Works, a California company that presents, records, broadcasts and tours old-fashioned radio-theater productions of worthy plays, has just birthed a drama about Robert F. Kennedy and the evolution of his interest in civil rights. Titled “RFK: The Journey to Justice,” and written by Murray Horwitz (who co-created the Broadway hit “Ain’t Misbehavin’”) and Jonathan Estrin, the show made its debut about 10 days ago at the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. It’s now touring the country
I interviewed the playwrights, the producer and a couple of the actors for an article that ran on Sunday in the Washington Post. But for space reasons I didn’t have a chance to explain fully how timely the play’s creators think it is. (I was one-year-old when RFK died, so working on this article was very educational for me.) A number of the interviewees drew clear RFK/Obama parallels.
“The excitement generated, and the hope represented, by Robert Kennedy in his own political career, after his own brother’s death, felt to us very parallel to, and reminiscent of, the effect that Obama’s candidacy had on so many people, emotionally in this just recent past,” Estrin told me.
Susan Albert Loewenberg, L.A. Theatre Works’s Producing Director, said that the tale of RFK’s political career is “instructive when we think about leadership today, and think about the courage to change the status quo, and think how difficult it is. If you’re watching [Obama] struggling with his healthcare bill—it’s the same thing! When you’re trying to fundamentally change a policy, it’s really hard!”
Harvard-educated actor Henry Clarke, who portrays the drama’s title character, said that while he doesn’t see a 1-to-1 correlation between Obama and RFK, the political and national context is similar. “There are still tangible things that divide us as a country, and we still look to political figures, for better or worse, to help to heal some of those divisions.” And what is more, “We still react very, very strongly when people point out those divisions, or try to heal them.” (Yes, “very, very strongly” sounds right.)
Anyone interested in the play can consult this tour schedule, to see where the live production will be performing. The show will be broadcast and recorded when the production returns to L.A. in March. You can buy plays recorded by L.A. Theatre Works (they often cast very big-name actors). I’d guess that this play will hit their virtual bookstore at some point.
After giving three talks in three days in California, which were great fun and very stimulating, I thought I was entitled to a little down time. So I bought a novel for my four hour flight from San Francisco to Cincinnati: The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold.
But reading it wasn’t exactly “down time.” It’s got an original, and unsettling, plot: a young teenage girl is brutally murdered, and watches over her family–and her killer–from “her heaven.” It’s just been made into a movie.
I liked the book –but found the voice of the protagonist not really to be the voice of a fourteen year old girl, but of an adult woman. It was set in 1973, so clearly the young girl grew up–and grew up, it seems, in “her heaven.”–apart from a brief jaunt back on earth. What she needed to deal with, in part, was the way in which she was wrenched from earth–and her entirely just anger at it. She needed, somehow, to let go, to move into the “wide, wide heaven.”
The book has been criticized by some for not having God in it. I don’t know if there’s a God or not in the novel-the protagonist could be in some sort of antechamber, even in the wide, wide, heaven. Very few books, it seem to me, deal with the shape of the afterlife–I give the author credit for that. She raises, without fully grappling with, the interesting questions of embodiment after death and the possibility of growth and maturation even in the next life.
Anyone else read it?
Back in September, Commonweal carried an article [registration required] I wrote about the encounter in 1219 between Francis of Assisi and Egypt’s Sultan Malik al-Kamil during the Fifth Crusade. (It was adapted from my book The Saint and the Sultan.) Pope Benedict XVI addressed the same historical event during his audience on Wednesday in a nuanced talk about St. Francis, and had some interesting things to say. Zenit provided a translation from the Italian original:
In 1219 Francis obtained permission to go to speak with the Muslim Sultan Melek-el-Kamel in Egypt, and also to preach the Gospel of Jesus there. I want to underline this episode of the life of St. Francis, which is very timely. At a time in which there was under way a clash between Christianity and Islam, Francis, armed deliberately only with his faith and his personal meekness, pursued with efficacy the way of dialogue. The chronicles tell us of a benevolent and cordial reception by the Muslim Sultan. It is a model that also today should inspire relations between Christians and Muslims: to promote a dialogue in truth, in reciprocal respect and in mutual understanding (cf. “Nostra Aetate,” 3).
What struck me is that the pope’s view of this encounter is similar to that taken by the Franciscan order, which sees the meeting between Francis and the sultan as source and inspiration to its emphasis on inter-religious dialogue. Benedict even uses that sometimes controversial word “dialogue.” That isn’t what I would have expected from someone who was put off by John Paul II’s Franciscan-influenced “spirit of Assisi” approach.
To say that Francis was pursing a “way of dialogue” means Benedict would necessarily have to reject the historical accuracy of what had long been the defining account of Francis’s encounter with Sultan al-Kamil: St. Bonaventure’s life of Francis, completed in 1263 and source of much medieval art. It claims Francis challenged the sultan’s religious advisors to an ordeal by fire, hardly an attempt at dialogue. There are some conservative Catholics who have been trying to use Bonaventure’s account to justify a harder-edged, anti-dialogue approach to relations with Muslims today. Perhaps Benedict’s remarks will lead them to reconsider.
Benedict brings expertise to this subject from his days as a doctoral candidate, when he wrote a thesis on Bonaventure’s theology of history. He recognized back then that Bonaventure may well have been presenting a Francis of theology, not history.
Stephen Walt, a vigorous and knowledgeable critic of U.S. policy toward Israel, has called for special envoy George Mitchell to resign his post.
Walt begins his comments by arguing that Mitchell should get out while he retains his sterling reputation as a peacemaker — not necessarily a good or noble reason for Mitchell to take heed. But in the course of a column posted on his blog, Walt gets down to a serious criticism of the current (and perhaps eternal) impasse.
“As for Mitchell himself, he should resign because it should be clear to him that he was hired under false pretenses. He undoubtedly believed Obama when the president said he was genuinely committed to achieving Israel-Palestinian peace in his first term. Obama probably promised to back him up, and his actions up to the Cairo speech made it look like he meant it. But his [Obama's] performance ever since has exposed him as another U.S. president who is unwilling to do what everyone knows it will take to achieve a just peace. Mitchell has been reduced to the same hapless role that Condoleezza Rice played in the latter stages of the Bush administration — engaged in endless ‘talks’ and inconclusive haggling over trivialities — and he ought to be furious at having been hung out to dry in this fashion.”
Hard words. Any reason for a true peacemaker to give up?
We had a discussion a little while back of Catcher in the Rye, but we should take note of the death of J.D. Salinger at the age of 91.. Adam Bernstein’s blog at the Washington Post begins:
The news flashed across the wire in an appropriately enigmatic style: “Catcher in the Rye” author J.D. Salinger has died at age 91 in New Hampshire. No date of death, no cause of death, and it all came from a statement from the author’s literary representative, quoting a surviving son.
Here’s the Times lengthy obituary online; http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/29/books/29salinger.html?hp
Here’s a link to Archbishop Chaput’s reflections on Satan.
Sandro Magister’s newsletter today is devoted to the upcoming administrative elections in the region of Lazio, which includes the diocese of Rome. Emma Bonino, a woman well known for her opposition to Church teachings is the candidate of parties of the left. Magister contrasts the absence of general and strong opposition to her on the part of Italian Church leaders to Pope Pius XII’s effort in 1952 to get the Christian Democrats to enter into an alliance with rightist parties in order to prevent a communist victory, a coalition refused by the leader of the DC, de Gasperi. Both the Communist Party and Christian Democracy are defunct now, and Catholic voters are scattered across the whole political spectrum. A key paragraph:
So how is the Church reacting to this challenge represented by the Bonino candidacy? Certainly not as it did in 1952. In part because today it is unthinkable that the pope should personally dictate to Catholics a specific political “mechanism” for confronting the danger.
There are several other aspects of the Italian situation that also bear comparison, and contrast, with the U.S.
The London Times Online announces that the January 28th issue of the TLS will have an article on the Codex Sinaiticus, a mid-fourth-century manuscript of the entire Christian Bible. From the website:
Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important books in the world. Handwritten well over 1600 years ago, the manuscript contains the Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. Its heavily corrected text is of outstanding importance for the history of the Bible and the manuscript – the oldest substantial book to survive Antiquity – is of supreme importance for the history of the book.
A project is underway to unite the pages of the manuscript that in the last century and a half have been scattered in four different locations. Information on all of this is at: http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/
From Bishop William F. Murphy, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, and Bishop John Wester, to Congress:
On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), we strongly urge Members of Congress to come together and recommit themselves to enacting genuine health care reform that will protect the life, dignity, consciences, and health of all. The health care debate, with all its political and ideological conflict, seems to have lost its central moral focus and policy priority, which is to ensure that affordable, quality, life-giving care is available to all. Now is not the time to abandon this task, but rather to set aside partisan divisions and special interest pressures to find ways to enact genuine reform.
Too little? And/or: Too late?
The AP reports that a new book authored by the postulator for the cause of John Paul II’s sainthood invokes the late pope’s practice of self-flagellation as evidence of his pursuit of Christian perfection. In addition, he’d apparently sleep on the floor sometimes, getting up early to mess up his bed so he’d not be discovered. (He brought his self-whipping belt even on vacation, it seems.)
I’m something of a cautious fan of moderate ascetical practices, I confess. (Perhaps I should walk the other half of the camino de Santiago de Compostela for my penance…) I know that simple acts of self-denial can–but do not always–yield spiritual good. Fasting in moderation can sharpen the mind, can bring awareness of sustenance as gift, can invite one to a stance of active solidarity with the hungry that begins to fulfill the challenge of Mt. 25. As with any ascetical practice, the end is never the practice in itself, but the deeper resonances within it, like these. On the other hand, afflicting the body in any way immoderately is, in Thomas Aquinas’ words, “to offer a sacrifice of stolen goods.” (He cites St. Jerome on this point, but apparently incorrectly.) As with any spiritual practice, the difference between fruitful and harmful ascesis lies in self-awareness, good advice from others, and humility, which includes knowing when it’s time to stop. I am also always suspicious of ascetical practices required by others, whether that’s Church rules or the dictate of superiors. The alert, responsive and well-companioned soul knows when such are called for, and when they’re just pointless sacrifice.
However, it is difficult for me to imagine any spiritual benefit from beating oneself with a belt. To whip oneself would need more justification than I’ve ever run across where the traditional literature recommends this, which tends to see the body as needing chastisement for its unruly appetites. (This seems often to be code for sexual appetites. Odd, then that the “remedy” is such a standard act of sexual fetishism. See, e.g., the leather-clad minions of the Folsom St. Fair here in San Francisco. Along the same lines, I wonder how the postulator, or anyone else, found out he was whipping himself. Who was watching him do this??) If the aim is to make oneself more tolerant of pain, well, that’s a Stoic goal, not a Christian one. Solidarity with those in pain? Sorry, that doesn’t wash either. In fasting you abstain from food and experience hunger–in self-flagellation you are the active inflictor of pain. A virtue ethicist might wonder whether self-flagellation might make one less compassionate, not more so.
In sum, I’m not impressed by this, but weirded out, and more skeptical of the man’s sanctity. So I wanna see a REAL miracle for his cause. Let’s see a severed limb regrow, say, or a sudden burst of bipartisan fervor yield a national health plan that covers everybody.
In the wake of the all-but-certain collapse of health care reform legislation, there has been a lot of analysis about how this could have gone differently. Was there a different path that would have resulted in success? I thought I’d throw my two cents in for what it’s worth.
First of all, I think it’s important to note that if Congress had succeeded in getting a health care reform bill onto the president’s desk before January 19th, the press would probably have proclaimed Obama a legislative genius who had succeeded where many other presidents had failed. For the press—as for many of us—nothing succeeds like success.
At the beginning of Obama’s term, there were a few voices—Bill Galston outside the administration and Vice President Biden within it—who counseled the president to postpone consideration of health care reform until the economy had recovered. David Brooks offered similar counsel, suggesting that Obama would have to rebuild trust in government before he would be able to move such a large initiative forward.
It’s not clear, though, that postponing consideration of reform until later in the president’s first term would have increased the likelihood of success. Even without the blowback from the reform debate, the Democrats would almost certainly have lost seats in both the House and the Senate in the 2010 elections, decreasing the odds of reform passing in the next Congress. Members of Congress would have resisted making hard votes in the run-up to that election, making reform a harder sell in 2010 than it was in 2009.
Rebecca Solnit argues persuasively in the Nation that it is journalistic malfeasance to report on “looters” in Haiti as if they were opportunistic criminals:
Imagine, reader, that your city is shattered by a disaster. Your home no longer exists, and you spent what cash was in your pockets days ago. Your credit cards are meaningless because there is no longer any power to run credit-card charges. Actually, there are no longer any storekeepers, any banks, any commerce, or much of anything to buy. The economy has ceased to exist.
By day three, you’re pretty hungry and the water you grabbed on your way out of your house is gone. The thirst is far worse than the hunger. You can go for many days without food, but not water. [...]
So you go out to see if any relief organization has finally arrived to distribute anything, only to realize that there are a million others like you stranded with nothing, and there isn’t likely to be anywhere near enough aid anytime soon. The guy with the corner store has already given away all his goods to the neighbors. That supply’s long gone by now. No wonder, when you see the chain pharmacy with the shattered windows or the supermarket, you don’t think twice before grabbing a box of PowerBars and a few gallons of water that might keep you alive and help you save a few lives as well.
In this circumstance, taking the food and drink you need to survive isn’t an excusable offense; it’s a duty. Private property was made for man, not man for private property; and what the church calls “the common destination of all goods” becomes a much more immediate consideration when every system of distribution has broken down. Looting is a kind of theft, and the Haitians you see grabbing food and drink from collapsed grocery stores are not thieves; they are desperate human beings left without other resource.
So why does it matter so much if journalists call them looters? Because it suggests that the police we see beating and shooting at these people are just doing their jobs, as if enforcing property rights should be any kind of priority after a calamity of this kind. Because it suggests that Haitians are a lawless people making a bad situation worse rather than a resourceful people surrounded by death and determined to live.
Our “Contemporary Theology” issue is on our Web site now. Free for everyone to read:
* Russel Murray, OFM, wonders whether Anglicanorum coetibus signals a return to “Come home to Rome”-style outreach: “A New Ecumenism”
* Our editorial argues that abortion shouldn’t be the issue that holds up health-care legislation: Prolife, Yes, and Pro-reform”
* Film critic Richard Alleva’s review of Avatar: “Pokahokum”
Subscribers can log in to read David Gibson’s profile of theologian David Tracy, “God-obsessed.” The issue’s book reviews are also theology-focused: Donald Senior, CP, reviews volume 4 of John P. Meier’s study of Jesus, A Marginal Jew; Bernard G. Prusak reviews Hans Jonas’s Memoirs and Benjamin Lazier’s God Interrupted; Paul J. Griffiths reviews Gary A. Anderson’s Sin: A History; Terrence Tilley reviews Nicholas Lash’s Theology for Pilgrims; and Christiana Z. Peppard reviews Thomas Berry’s The Sacred Universe.
Finally, an advance look at our next issue: Melinda Henneberger’s timely column on why health-care reform is worth the political price.
(Speaking of things that are worth the price: you can’t go wrong with a subscription to Commonweal!)
Last week it was Paul Krugman, today it’s Bob Herbert:
Mr. Obama may be personally very appealing, but he has positioned himself all over the political map: the anti-Iraq war candidate who escalated the war in Afghanistan; the opponent of health insurance mandates who made a mandate to buy insurance the centerpiece of his plan; the president who stocked his administration with Wall Street insiders and went to the mat for the banks and big corporations, but who is now trying to present himself as a born-again populist.
And then! this morning it was Obama himself saying better a good one-term president, than a two-term mediocrity.
For their 14 November 1969 issue, the editors of Commonweal asked a number of well-known Catholics various questions about the contemporary Church. They asked Garry Wills the following two questions: ” Is there such a thing any more as Catholic culture? Would we be better off with it or without it?” Here in full is how he answered:
Bingo, large families, fish on Friday, novenas, crustily spangled copes, Tantum ergo before the monstrance, clouds of incense, altar boys dropping the priest’s biretta with a plop, pinging of xylophone chimes at Consecration, girls with kleenex hairpinned to their heads, kitchen matchboxes stuck in the sand under the red-cupped candles, the teen-ager in her formal teetering up a ladder in May with flowers for the plaster brow, churchings, car blessings, name-saint days, Dies irae on all Souls (and ducking in and out of church all day for the indulgence), plastic holy water dips at the bedroom door, the Sacred Heart in a heavy frame, scapulars like big postage stamps glued here and there on kids in the swimming pool, J.M.J. at the top of school work, the sign of the cross before a foul shot, Sunday movie in white shoes and pants left over from First Communion; baptism in the spittle of repeated Exorcizo’s, letters dated by the saint’s day, the clank of beads (each as big as a marble) when a nun approached, food-chiseling in Lent (ne potus noceat), the stored candy eaten in marathon gluttony after noon on Holy Saturday, priests mumbling their breviaries in the light of a Pullman men’s lounge, debates as midnight neared on Saturday night about the legitimacy of using Mountain Standard Time to being the pre-Communion fast.
Tribal rites, superstitions, marks of the Catholic ghetto–and, all of them, insignia of a community. These marks and rites were not so much altered, refined, elevated, reformed, transfigured, as–overnight–erased. This was a ghetto that had no one to say “Catholic is Beautiful” over it. Men rose up to change this world who did not love it–demented teachers, ready to improve a student’s mind by destroying his body.
Do we need a culture? Only if we need a community, however imperfect. Only if we need each other.
How would you answer the questions today?
I had occasion today to go back to Yves Congar’s little book on the Lefebvre Affair, Challenge to the Church (Huntingdon, IN: OSV, 1976), toward the end of which he tried to engage the Lefebvrites in dialogue. He wrote:
It so often happens in squabbles between family or friends that the squabble feeds on itself as it goes on. The original cause is still there, but it has become hardened by pig-headedness and has passed the point of no-return.
A remedy must therefore be found. Couldn’t a kind of moratorium be agreed upon? …It has often been said that an internal ecumenism is necessary in today’s Church. From an objective point of view, this should be less difficult than the other kind of ecumenism since we have many more points of reference in common. Indeed, we have (nearly) everything in common! But it would be necessary to unclench our muscles and, with the help of God, arm ourselves with a very long-suffering patience. Is this beyond the limits of what’s possible?
I note, first, how this page anticipates the Common Ground Initiative; second, the awareness that family feuds can be the most bitter of all; and, third, that the problem he describes has not improved in the subsequent thirty-odd years. Only we don’t see it only in relation to the Lefebvrites; it exists more broadly in many a conversation among Catholics of contrasting views. We seem to find it more difficult to be courteous, respectful, and willing to listen to fellow-Catholics than we do to Protestants, Jews, and Muslims. Some of the things we think it OK to say to or about fellow-Catholics we would criticize very harshly if we heard them said by a Catholic to or about people of other faiths.
Apropos of the discussion below (cf. for example, Unagidon @ 1/24, 11:59 am on the commodification of health care), this in Monday’s Times. “Insurer Steps Up Fight to Control Health Care Cost” by requiring hospitals to notify the company of a patient’s hospitalization within 24 hours or face a fifty percent cut in reimbursement.
The hospitals says the rate is confiscatory, and the requirement unnecessary. The Insurers say this is both an effort to control costs and to cut back on the readmission rates of patients. Whatever the case, it is an example of what we are likely to see on the cost-cutting front whether there is health-care reform or not.
Also: Irene Baldwin and Unagidon at 1/25; 7:46, same post: 6433.
Yesterday’s New York Times had a story about how Sts. Joachim and Anne Catholic School in Queens, New York, is helping its students understand and deal with the tragedy in Haiti. Approximately 80% of the students there are Haitian.
They pray. They scrounge up donations. The quake informs class discussions about politics, about helping the poor, about the afterlife. And when the children are not talking about it, their teachers suspect, they are thinking about it.
As 250,000 Haitian-Americans in the New York area mourn, children bear their own burdens. Many feel as much at home in Haiti as in New York. They struggle to picture the houses where they spent summers now in rubble, grandparents and cousins dead, missing, homeless. For others, Haiti exists in tales parents tell — a place they long to visit and now wonder if they will ever see.
And, as three days this week at the school make clear, a subtle but evident role reversal is under way, as child after child feels responsibility to take care of parents bewildered by grief.
The story (which ran on the front page) is more human-interest than news, but the details it offers may enrich your own prayers for the victims and their families today. Also worth reading is the previous article by reporter Anne Barnard about the parish of Sts. Joachim and Anne and its response to the disaster.
Abigail Frymann, in a recent article in The Tablet, has an interesting and hopeful article on the tremendous rise in the use of cellular telephones in Africa: from 54 million to 350 million between 2003 and 2008, to the point that more than a third of Africans now owns a mobile phone. A photo shows an African herdsman talking on his phone while surrounded by his cattle. The new technology is already transforming personal, social, economic and political realities on the continent.
Seventeen years ago, I was a health policy analyst for the Service Employees International Union and having the time of my life. President Clinton had been elected in November of 1992, and the union became deeply engaged in the fight to pass comprehensive health care reform legislation. In addition to writing countless reports, fact sheets and pieces of congressional testimony, I got to fly around the country speaking to union members about the bill and encouraging them to support it. We were working days, nights, and weekends. I felt like a warrior in a great and holy cause.
In the summer of 1994, however, it all came crashing down. The President’s bill was complex and difficult to explain. It was criticized by both liberals and conservatives within the President’s own party. Support for the bill withered in the face of an advertising campaign led by the health insurance and small business lobbies. Eventually, the Democratic Congressional leadership ran for the hills, not even bringing the bill to a vote on the floor.
I remember the last few days before it became clear that health care reform was dead. We were rushing around, trying to find something, anything that we could take to the floor that would pass. The idea that we could have worked this hard for two and a half years only to end up with nothing was just too painful to contemplate.
A few weeks ago someone asked me how I was feeling about the prospects for health care reform, given that the legislation had moved closer to passage than in any previous attempt. “I’m like those Boston Red Sox fans in 2004,” I responded. “I’m not going to believe it until the final out.”
Well, it turned out to be 1986 not 2004. Again.
I’m joking because if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry.
I work in health care. I know that health insurance makes a difference in people’s lives. It means that we catch cancer early, that people with hypertension avoid a heart attack, that diabetics hold on to their kidneys and toes, that people with depression get the treatment they need to face down soul-crushing sadness.
My mother had an Uncle Bobby who was a driver for a small New England trucking company. He had 10 kids. He died in his early 40s from a heart attack. His kids grew up without a father and his wife was a widow at a terribly young age.
If Bobby had been alive today, we’d have the tools to help keep him alive. We’ve got drugs to manage cholesterol and hypertension, health educators and nutritionists to help him develop new eating habits, and patient registries and alerts to track him if he’s overdue for tests. Our patients have a cardiac death rate 30 percent below the statewide average. Health insurance and access to high quality health care makes a difference.
Yes, yes, I know, the bills weren’t perfect. But they were better than a lot of people realize and probably the best that we were going to get in the year 2010. As Donald Rumsfeld might have said, you go to war with the Congress you have. With 30 million more people getting coverage, I’m sure we would have saved more than a few Uncle Bobbies.
It’s possible that we may still be able to move the ball downfield. In the wake of the collapse of comprehensive reform in 1994, Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Privacy Act (HIPAA) in 1996 and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) in 1997. The latter was the most significant expansion of public health insurance since Medicaid began in the 1960s.
Painful as it is to say it, though, I don’t expect that we will see much progress this year. The Obama Administration has clearly decided they need to focus more on job creation and financial reform in the run-up to the November elections. Without presidential leadership on health care—and perhaps, to be fair, even with it—many members of Congress will not be willing to take any more tough votes on this issue.
At times like this, I am inclined to recall words from the late Senator Edward Kennedy, who championed health care reform throughout his legislative career. They were words that he offered in the wake of another difficult defeat:
“For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”
EJ Dionne, WashPost columnist, has put together from various sources what sounds like a plan that might save health-care reform.
He also explains why the House Democrats are so reluctant to sign off on the Senate bill with revisions to come: House Dems don’t trust Senate Dems, apparently with good reason. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/postpartisan/2010/01/how_the_democrats_may_solve_th.html
If, like me, you’ve realized in the past week that you could stand to brush up on your Haitian history, you might profit from reading Mark Danner’s op-ed in today’s New York Times.
And yet there is nothing mystical in Haiti’s pain, no inescapable curse that haunts the land. From independence and before, Haiti’s harms have been caused by men, not demons. Act of nature that it was, the earthquake last week was able to kill so many because of the corruption and weakness of the Haitian state, a state built for predation and plunder. Recovery can come only with vital, even heroic, outside help; but such help, no matter how inspiring the generosity it embodies, will do little to restore Haiti unless it addresses, as countless prior interventions built on transports of sympathy have not, the man-made causes that lie beneath the Haitian malady.
Danner gives a quick account of Haiti’s history, from slave colony to independent nation to corrupt state. It’s the first such account I’ve read that isn’t blindly condescending or entirely vague — the information is appreciated, and the prescription for the future seems valid. Does it square with what you know? Have you seen anything better on “the reality of Haiti”?
UPDATE: This “comment” from The Nation by Amy Willentz doesn’t take in Danner’s essay, but it does pick apart some of the other, lesser entries in the “explain Haiti” sweepstakes.
Today I was listening on the car radio as a newscaster gave a piece of information in a sentence that ended with his voice rising the way it does when one asks a question. It reminded me of the time when at Mass a reader of a passage from the First Epistle of John did the same thing with a wonderful statement in that letter, with the result that what ought to have been of infinite comfort to us sinful creatures seemed to be called into question: “God is love?” When I pointed out that this is about the last thing one would want to sound questionable, she was mortified, said she had no idea she was doing it.
Does this oral habit have a name? Why has it become so common? In ordinary conversation it seems to serve as an invitation to one’s interlocutor to indicate attention, interest, and/or agreement. I’m not sure of this, but my impression is that it is more common among women.
Bart Stupak (Democrat of Michigan) has achieved a certain notoriety: his amendment to the House HC reform bill prohibited federal funds for abortion. Some weeks back the New York Times published a profile of him. I found his self-description as a Catholic and Democrat interesting and familiar.
“Mr. Stupak says his stand is a straightforward matter of Roman Catholic faith, but it also seems like the result of a long, slow burn. As dinner progressed, the congressman described years of feeling ignored, slighted or marginalized by his party for his anti-abortion views.
“We’re members without a party,” he said. ‘Democrats are mad at you, and Republicans don’t trust you.’” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/07/us/politics/07stupak.html?scp=1&sq=stupak&st=cse
How much are Catholic and Democratic voters affected by the same experience?