Friday, February 29, 2008

3 Chords & the Truth: It's all about love

Trust me, what's below ties into this week's edition of 3 Chords & the Truth. To find out how, you'll just have to listen, now, won't you?

Download it here
. You'll be glad you did.


Be there. Aloha.

1 Corinthians
Chapter 13
If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated,
it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
For we know partially and we prophesy partially,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hurting people to make a point

olfe McCollister,
as we've discussed previously, wants Baton Rouge voters not to renew the penny sales tax dedicated to public-school construction and teacher raises.

The Baton Rouge magazine publisher asks voters to write out a spite-based public policy prescription because he's frustrated with the public schools and the poor performance of many. This, when local teachers are chronically underpaid and local schools fall apart around those inside them.

Here's a passage from an article on my alma mater, Baton Rouge Magnet High, from one of McCollister's own magazines, 225:
The Government Street school, decades behind in maintenance, is crumbling around the National Merit semifinalists it produces.

Plaster flakes from classroom walls. Mold and mildew feed on intruding moisture behind the crumbling brickwork, which has separated from the building’s exterior. It’s so bad it routinely sickens students and faculty.

“The mold and mildew on the third floor are just out of control,” Principal Nanette Greer says. “You wouldn’t believe the number of people who are sick or have problems due to allergies. It’s unbelievable. We’re all sick. I’m on allergy medication as is most of the staff. We don’t complain because it is what it is.
OH, BUT IT GETS WORSE than that. Here's an excerpt from a story about Baton Rouge High and the plight of local public schools in McCollister's other publication, The Baton Rouge Business Report:
The findings were no surprise to Dot Dickinson, who watched a tile fall from the ceiling before a performance of the school’s orchestra, which included her son, in the mid-1990s. Luckily, the wayward tile landed on empty seats.

“Seems someone would have noticed the need for maintenance at that time,” she says.

Most likely someone did. But at the time, every public school in the parish needed work, and there was virtually no money to pay for it, school officials say. The system isn’t in the crisis mode it was in 10 years ago, but there are still a number of school buildings that are drafty, leaky, moldy or otherwise disheveled.

The School Board was scheduled to discuss—and most likely finalize and vote on—the system’s facility plan on Jan. 10. The futures of Baton Rouge Magnet High, which is in line for a $62 million renovation, and Lee High School, which the system had considered closing before Superintendent Charlotte Placide proposed building a new Lee High on the same site, have elicited the strongest emotions.

But the problem is much bigger than two schools.
YES, THE "PROBLEM" IS BIGGER than Baton Rouge High and Lee High. The "problem" is as big as an entire city -- an entire state -- where public education, and generations upon generations of students, just aren't that big a priority.

The problem is as big as a magazine publisher who sits on the board of a charter school and loathes the public school system with such a white-hot intensity that he's willing to cut off kids' noses to spite the school board's face. And he hopes to accomplish this by convincing voters to effect positive "change" via means of material and financial destruction.

Really, what's condemning somebody's children -- though certainly not those of Baton Rouge's Brahmins -- to attend classes in squalor when it's all to fire a shot across somebody's bow. The shot may well cross the East Baton Rouge school board's bow, but here's a sketch of whom it won't hit . . . and whom it will.

from McCollister's own Business Report:
Thirty percent of children in East Baton Rouge Parish do not attend public schools, nearly double the state average of 16%, which the Louisiana Department of Education says is the highest rate in the nation. The private schools can pick and choose whom they want to let in, while public schools take all comers. Public schools tend to have nearly all of the special education and special-needs students, while private schools grab many of the high-achievers.

For middle- and upper-class children, private schools are the rule, not the exception. Nearly 77% of the students left in East Baton Rouge public schools are poor, as measured by how many qualify for free or reduced lunch. Often, poor children come from unstable homes or dangerous neighborhoods, and they bring those problems with them to school. Parental involvement in a child’s education, a key factor in academic success, is often lacking in poorer homes.
IT TAKES A BIG MAN -- and a classy city -- to kick kids who already are down. And, in the case of Baton Rouge High, an added bonus is getting to kick the crap out of the really smart kids Louisiana desperately wants to stick around.

The school board is clueless. Kids, however, get the message loud and clear.

For the former, may we have a standing eight count and a prison cell, please? And for the latter . . . a scholarship to an out-of-state school, a U-Haul and some mail-order Community Coffee.

Because now it's possible to get the coffee without having to live in a world of suck.

SO, WHOM ELSE is Rolfe McCollister willing to shaft to make the point that he's mad as hell, dammit, and he's not going to take this anymore?

Here's part of a comment left by a Baton Rouge public-school teacher in response to McCollister's diatribe:
If you run a business, you get to choose the best and the brightest people with which to surround yourselves. You get to choose from which suppliers and vendors you will purchase your raw materials to make/create/perform your products/services. If an employee is failing to do his/her job at a high enough standard, you get the luxury of firing him/her. We don't get that luxury. We have students that come to us with varying negative backgrounds, poverty, no adult supervision, no structure, exposure to violence, etc. over which we have NO control. We have students that come to us from homes where they are taught that the teacher is always wrong and "out-to-get-you." Sometimes, when I discipline a student in class for negative behavior, that student tells me "I'm going to tell my mom. She's going to come here and get you."

Yet, despite this, we work as hard as we can. We go above and beyond the call of duty. Even when we have NO support from administrators, and sadly sometimes no support from parents, we make strides to take kids from nothing to something.

I like my job. I like what I do. I love to teach and talk to the kids and see them learn and grow. I like to hear them laugh. I live for that rare moment when a kid tells me "thank you."

So, if you have a problem with the way the school system runs, then get involved. Work to make changes. Go into the schools and observe. Volunteer. Maybe you could offer your advice on something (since you obviously know so much about education). But, PLEASE, PLEASE do NOT take it out on us. Do not take it out on the kids. Do not take it out on the hard-working, dedicated teachers.

And, finally, if this renewal does not pass, my annual salary will drop by exactly $5218.00. How would you like to suddenly lose $5218.00 of your salary just because people don't like the school system for which you work. If I lose that salary, I won't be able to afford the house that I worked so hard, took a part time job, and struggled to be able to buy five years ago. I guess I will have to move back in with mom and dad.
REALLY, if you're willing to make children suffer for pique's sake, what's ruining the life and finances of a schoolteacher? It's all in the name of reform, right? Even if you don't have a Plan B yet to deal with the wreckage you leave behind.

I would ask Rolfe McCollister what the hell gives him the right to tell people to hurt kids and punish teachers in the name of making the perfect the sworn enemy of the good. But, then again,
everybody knows that "You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs."

Rookie-league pols in a Triple-A city

If you're dumb enough, parochial enough and intractable enough, you, too, can ingnore the financials, the logistics and the potential of moving the College World Series to a brand-new downtown Omaha stadium -- just like some statesmen on the City Council.

The Omaha World-Herald
highlights these "profiles in courage":

But City Councilman Garry Gernandt, who represents south Omaha and is a member of the Save Rosenblatt committee, said he remains convinced that improving Rosenblatt is the best option. He said traffic would be congested around a downtown stadium, and a new facility would lack the ambiance and tradition of Rosenblatt.

He said Save Rosenblatt will continue to lobby for the existing stadium.

Gernandt's council colleagues, Jim Vokal and Jim Suttle, both said they will wait to see what the public makes of the stadium plan before deciding whether to vote for it. The council will have to sign off on the stadium financing plan. Both Vokal and Suttle said most of the input they have received from constituents thus far has favored Rosenblatt.
"Now that all the information is out, I want to go back and have those discussions again," Suttle said.
VOKAL AND SUTTLE are being typically spineless politicians. But it is Gernandt who exemplifies the bold proposition that extremism in defense of stupidity is no vice.

At least not in his South Omaha district.

Let's review the pertinent facts:

* The NCAA has all but said "We want a new downtown stadium with more fan amenities for the CWS . . . and we've had it with our Aunt Ida from Sheboygan getting ripped off to park in a mudhole in somebody's yard a half-mile from Rosenblatt Stadium."

* There are a lot of cities out there with brand-new, relatively new or on-the-drawing-board downtown stadiums, prepared to give the NCAA every single thing it wants. And they'll do it in a heartbeat to snag the CWS. Orlando wants to build a stadium much larger than Rosenblatt at Disney World.

* Building a brand-new, state-of-the-art ballpark in downtown Omaha will cost the city almost exactly the same as doing a much-inferior renovation of 60-year-old Rosenblatt Stadium -- a renovation which would not give the NCAA suits all the amenities they seek for a championship event.
A NEW STADIUM will cost the city no more than fixing up Rosenblatt because private donors are willing to shell out much more to further the economic and aesthetic development of downtown. As the World-Herald reported:

The financial analysis found that the cost to taxpayers would be the same for either a new downtown stadium or a Rosenblatt renovation. That's because a new stadium would generate more revenue and garner more donations, the analysis found.

Stinson said potential donors have indicated they will give more for a downtown ballpark.

"I think they clearly see that investing their dollars in a new stadium makes a lot more sense," Stinson said, citing the desire of some donors to improve the downtown area.

Private donors are not willing to shell out the big bucks for a renovation proposition in South O, because it won't keep the College World Series in town for another generation or two. And the only economic development it would spur is that which turns residents into virtual carnies and their yards into muddy parking stalls.

Which, apparently, is the only kind of economic development geniuses like Garry ("Will someone not offer me 20 bucks for that extra 'R'?") Gernandt can wrap his brain around.

Sometimes, even a no-brainer of a decision requires cognitive skills beyond the capabilities of some.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Four Songs: Dynamic range, as it were

Human communication is all about dynamic range -- kind of like music.

And, like a badly mastered, overcompressed and severely squished (technical term, there) recording, it just doesn't sound right when everything we have to say to one another is via screaming.

YOU NEED dynamic range. In addition to the screams, you need the whispers, too.

Me, I come from a family that was a lot better at screaming than whispering. Not a good thing. Just like it's not so good when folks just can't let 'er rip now and again.

So that's what the theme of today's Four Songs is all about . . . from a whisper to a scream.

It's Four Songs, the bite-sized program of musical wonder from Revolution 21.

Aw, that really sucks

The American Catholic Church is going after the Dutch Schismatics over the inerrancy of colloquialisms in the English language. Because, as St. Walker Percy warned us in "Love in the Ruins," the center would not hold.

Neither, apparently, would Catholics' sense of nuance in . . . everything.

As is evidenced by canon lawyer Edward Peters' contention that National Catholic Reporter writer Joe Feuerherd was damning the American bishops to Gehenna in a column he wrote for The Washington Post. Here's
what Peters contends:
On February 24, National Catholic Reporter correspondent Joe Feuerherd, writing in the Washington Post, expressed his desire to see the bishops (of the United States) literally damned before he would fail to vote Democratic this Fall.

Feuerherd's words of contempt were not shouted in a heated argument wherein, say, a lack of time for reflection or "anger hormones" might mitigate one's culpability for uttering invectives. No, Feuerherd's curse, "the bishops be damned", was expressed in cold, deliberate, prose intended for maximum effect in a prominent national publication.

Now, Canon 1369 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law states that "a person who . . . in published writing . . . expresses insults or excites hatred or contempt against religion or the Church is to be punished with a just penalty." Canon 1373 states that "a person who publicly incites among subjects animosities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry . . . is to be punished by an interdict or other just penalties."

I believe Feuerherd has gravely violated both of these canons.
HERE'S WHAT Feuerherd actually wrote:
The bishops seem to have forgotten that it is not simply aspirations that matter, though they seem more than willing to accept rhetoric ("I am pro-life") over results.

Why should non-Catholic Americans care about the bishops' right-wing lurch?

Because the bishops can influence a good number of the faithful, many of whom happen to be concentrated in large, electoral-vote-rich states. In the key swing state of Ohio in 2004, for example, bishops vigorously supported an anti-same-sex marriage amendment to the state constitution, which helped drive Republican voters to the polls. Bush won 55 percent of the Catholic vote in the Buckeye State, up from 50 percent in 2000 and enough to provide his margin of victory.

There's little hope, unfortunately, that the bishops will adopt a more pragmatic approach to achieving their aims anytime soon. Younger American priests, the pool from which future bishops will be chosen, overwhelmingly embrace the agenda enunciated by John Paul II.

So what's a pro-life, pro-family, antiwar, pro-immigrant, pro-economic-justice Catholic like me supposed to do in November? That's an easy one. True to my faith, I'll vote for the candidate who offers the best hope of ending an unjust war, who promotes human dignity through universal health care and immigration reform, and whose policies strengthen families and provide alternatives to those in desperate situations. Sounds like I'll be voting for the Democrat -- and the bishops be damned.
(Emphasis mine -- R21.)
IF YOU BELIEVE Feuerherd literally meant to damn the bishops to hell when he said "and the bishops be damned," I shudder to think what pictures are in your head when your teen-ager declares that something "sucks."

Take your shoes off. Pour yourself a double of something, put on some Sinatra and chill.

In the context of Feuerherd's op-ed piece, "be damned" no more means a literal wish for the fires of Hades to turn the bishops into Krispy Kritters than "sucks" -- some 30-plus years removed from my junior-high days -- connotes the full . . . er . . . glory of what it did in 1974.

AS A LINGUIST, Ed Peters is a hell of a canon lawyer. Who should have common sense enough to know that if some bishop -- using all the moral authority that Catholic bishops possess these days (Hint: little to none) -- moved against Feuerherd on such specious grounds, the resulting derision would just add to the litany of woe the American Church has brought upon itself in recent years.

I am pretty sure that I skew much more orthodox Catholic than does Joe Feuerherd. Likewise, I am much less inclined to blithely cast a vote for Barack Obama than he -- which is not to say I intend to even consider casting a vote for John McCain and the Party of Endless War, Torture and Greed. As a Catholic, I have to take the Church's teachings seriously and consider what the bishops say carefully.

But if those bishops, like Ed Peters, can't find anything better to do than crack on a liberal Catholic reporter who colorfully throws some important questions their way -- questions that deserve an answer from shepherds who need to, you know, shepherd -- then to hell with them, indeed.

In the colloquial sense. Not the literal.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Maybe it's time you tried, Baton Rouge

One has to wonder whether the animating political instinct of my hometown, Baton Rouge, is spite.

Confronted with pictures -- in his own magazine, no less -- of a public high school crumbling around the children and faculty within, the publisher of the Baton Rouge Business Report is foursquare against renewing a sales tax that could fix all that. And give raises to teachers, too.

IN SHORT, Rolfe McCollister is calling on his readers to put a bullet in the head of a school system that has come up lame:

I had a neighbor tell me last week, “I have never voted against a school tax, but I am going to have to vote no this time.” I think that’s the conclusion many folks have come to for the special March 8 election. I certainly have.

“Outrageous,” you say.

No, what is outrageous is what my neighbor said to me after he proclaimed his position. He said, “We have become the New Orleans school system.” Now that should make the hair on your neck stand up. Fact is, he is referring to the old New Orleans system characterized by poor performance, declining enrollment, resistance to change and a constant hunger for more money. New Orleans, as a whole, has been innovative about its school system since Katrina and drawn lots of attention. It still has issues and is struggling, but it has signs of new life and hope. Can you say the same for East Baton Rouge schools? This election is your opportunity to answer that question and speak out so the school board and the community can hear you loud and clear.

So why would folks oppose the school taxes?

It’s not because we think education isn’t important. It is very important. And many of us opposing the taxes have been involved in supporting education in many ways for many years.

It’s not because we aren’t concerned with the needs of children, particularly lower-income children. They are the ones who have been denied a choice and stuck in our failing system. More of the same provides them with no hope and no way out.

It’s not because we don’t appreciate teachers and the tough job they have. We have supported teachers and pay has increased—but are teachers and the classroom a priority for funds? Have the best teachers been rewarded and the worst removed?

It’s not because we aren’t patient enough. We have allowed time and supported previous taxes. We have watched for progress for years and passed millions in new taxes [property and sales taxes] and renewals. And what are the results we have to show for that commitment and investment?
GOT IT? The school system is failing. Ergo, let's take away the money to fix and rebuild crumbling schools, let's make sure teachers are paid less than surrounding school systems, let's give the school board a symbolic fickle finger of fate and see whether things get any better.

That's what we have to assume is McCollister's line of "thinking" since, unfortunately, he doesn't tell us what, exactly, he proposes to do about the quite live children crawling around inside the carcass of a school system euthanized by denying it nutrition and hydration.
The ballot will have three propositions funded by renewal of a sales tax. While the tax was previously authorized for a five-year period, this time they are asking for a 10-year tax which would generate $870 million total. Proposition 1 funds construction and technology, Proposition 2 is for discipline and truancy and Proposition 3 maintains salaries of teachers and school workers.

The school board points out they have done well in the last 10 years and built seven new schools, with three more under construction. They have repaired 40 schools, spent millions on technology and created six new alternative schools. So with all these millions spent, these accomplishments, facilities and new assets, we still have an F system, we’re losing students and now the state is even taking our schools away.

And the school board is asking us to sign up for 10 more years and spend $870 million more. For what? More of the same?

This is exactly why a tax is set up for a limited duration: So you can decide if it generated the desired results and if you want to re-invest. I would conclude we got little return on our investment, and we need to look for something new to invest in. This system is broken down like a car with no engine. Why would you paint the body and hire a driver when it is going nowhere?
WHAT DOES McCOLLISTER propose Baton Rouge invest in after it again cuts off its nose to spite its face? U-Haul? Ryder? Mayflower Van Lines?

Perhaps the citizenry might choose, instead, to invest in more prisons. Of course, McCollister might object to a new prison tax -- being that the recidivism rate never came down -- so Baton Rougeans might want to just invest in guns and ammo.

In 1981, white Baton Rougeans invested in private schools so their darlings wouldn't have to be bused across town to attend school with the Negroes. In time, Baton Rougeans also invested in new homes in neighboring parishes so their children wouldn't have to go to crappy public schools that really weren't any more mediocre than they were at 65 percent white -- just much poorer and much blacker, with all the baggage that connotes.

And, by and large, the East Baton Rouge Parish schools have been awful for decades, with some glaring exceptions . . . like Baton Rouge Magnet High, my alma mater and one of the schools most desperately depending on that tax getting renewed.

Part of the reason the parish's public schools have been so substandard for so long is that Baton Rougeans have been OK with that. After all, until voters approved the penny sales tax in 1998 -- the one up for renewal -- no school-construction tax had passed in three decades.

Indeed, most of the Baton Rouge schools I attended more than three decades ago were, shall we say, dumps. Except for Baton Rouge High. Now, it may be the biggest one of all.

IF INCOMPETENCE were a capital offense, the East Baton Rouge school system ought to have been executed years ago, when it was still mostly white and the public still was paying attention. Not properly funding it, mind you, but still paying attention.

But no. The Rolfe McCollisters of Baton Rouge only want to "pull the switch" after the public and "civic leaders" have really let it go to hell . . . and have let it become 83 percent minority, and largely poor.

Now it's time for the blindfold and last cigarette -- now that those who have better options largely have exercised them and those "left behind" have no better option at all. But only if we're sure there's no Plan B for doing this public-education thing.

But say there were a Plan B -- which there isn't. If there were a Plan B, a knight in shining armor to magically fix the school system and make every poor, ill-educated child suddenly above average . . . if there were such a savior on the horizon, where would these miracles be performed?

In the same old crumbling facilities, decrepit schools unfit for dogs but not for Baton Rouge's kids? Would that make the miraculous all the more . . . miraculous?

DOES ROLFE McCOLLISTER'S public-policy prescription include making children sit in squalor to atone for the sins of the school board? Or is it possible that the city might embrace an imperfect plan to fix up facilities in anticipation of a coming push to fix the problems with education administration and student achievement?

Baton Rouge never has been, is not now nor ever will be "America's Next Great City (TM)" so long as it is dominated by reactionary, spite-driven, race-tinged politics. It will never progress beyond "Southern backwater" in the eyes of the nation until folks down there figure out that they're all going to pull together or fly to pieces.

That starts with public education. Building a capable, literate and skilled workforce for a state that currently doesn't have one is a lot easier if you don't -- in a fit of pique -- throw your school system back to Square Zero in the name of "reform."

But then again, we are talking about my hometown, Baton Rouge.

They say that a dog won't crap in its own bed. That may be true for Phideaux, but not for the Baton Rouge that I know and love . . . and hate. (They get complicated, my feelings do.)

The Baton Rouge I know -- and the Baton Rouge evidenced by the deplorable conditions at my alma mater, and by that anti-tax McCollister column -- not only will crap in its own bed, it'll then plop its children in the stinking pile.

Change you can believe in (to steal a slogan) is a city overcoming a crappy legacy. A big part of that would be renewing the school sales tax to fix dilapidated school buildings and raise teachers' pay -- a first step on a challenging journey toward a better future for Baton Rouge's children.

In Baton Rouge, for a change.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The tragedy of Elden Francis Curtiss

The great tragedy of Elden Francis Curtiss, Catholic archbishop of Omaha, Neb., is that he could write
this column unironically:
There seems to be a growing number of people in our society who place a high value on spirituality, but a low value on religion, especially organized religion. It is like saying that they place a high value on democracy, but disparage democratic institutions. But how do we maintain democracy without any structures that make it possible? How do we keep a religious spirit alive in our country without any structures to support it?

Recently, I was reading some comments by Flannery O'Connor, the Catholic novelist who died in 1963 during the Second Vatican Council. In her collected letters, edited after her death under the title "The Habit of Being," Flannery writes about her experience as a Catholic with her church. She valued the church highly but was quite aware of the short-comings of some of her members. She observed that sometimes "you have to suffer as much from the church as for it. The only thing that makes the church endurable is that somehow it is the body of Christ, and on this we are fed."

Flannery O'Connor understood that the operation of the church is set-up for the sake of sinners, which creates all kinds of problems for those who are self-righteous. We do not easily accept the notion that God is as patient with the entire church as he is with each lost sheep. Some people expect the church, especially her leaders, to be perfect. The reality is that the church is holy only because Jesus stands at the center of her life. But all the members who make up the church are imperfect and sinful. This causes some people to be critical of the Catholic Church.


Flannery did not hesitate to point out the faults she found with the church: 45 years ago she complained about the smugness she found in some clergy and laity - "do not take credit for possessing the true religion if you do not live that truth; and do not be glib in answering honest questions - a sense of mystery should give Catholic apologists a sense of humility rather than pride."

She pointed out the lack of depth in some Catholics who want to keep things nice, shallow, cute and safe - "but we are challenged at all times by the cross." And there is that perennial self-righteous on the part of some that disdains human weakness and questions any in-depth discussions about the doctrines of our faith - "the church for some people is not the body of Christ" Flannery wrote, "but a poor man's insurance policy." People need to wrestle with the church in order to refine their faith and their commitment to the Gospel message.

In addressing the need to develop a mature faith based on study and prayer, Flannery wrote that "conviction without experience makes for harshness." But experience not grounded in solid faith tends to go off on tangents. She was convinced that Christians have to struggle with their own demons in order to show compassion to other people who are struggling with their demons. The only thing worse than Christians who will not, under any circumstances, challenge bad behavior in others, are Christians who see evil in everyone else but not in themselves.

Flannery O'Connor had a remarkable insight into modern, sanitized, "empty" religion that was beginning to make inroads into society in the 1960s. This is what she wrote: "One of the effects of modern liberal Christianity is to turn, gradually, religion into poetry and therapy, to make truth vaguer and vaguer and more and more relative, to banish intellectual distinctions, to depend on feeling instead of thought, and gradually to come to believe that God has no power, that he cannot communicate with us, cannot reveal himself to us, indeed has not done so, and that religion is our own sweet invention."

I think the insights of Flannery O'Connor, writing half a century ago, were remarkably accurate. She lived and died a committed Catholic who knew that, despite the failures of her members, the Catholic Church was able to preserve the Gospel and her sacred tradition through every century. She knew that the living Christ revealed himself in the Scriptures and in the sacraments. She knew that despite its sordid history at times, and the scandal caused by some of her leaders, the church was the gift of Jesus to us - and that we should always rejoice in her continuity throughout the ages, and in the Lord's promises that the church would last to the end of time.


It is all right to find fault with the human church, her leaders and members, when there is need for honesty and correction. Our criticism has legitimacy when we love the church and recognize that it is the presence of Jesus in our midst that is at the heart of the church's life. We need to defend the church against her detractors who want to undermine and weaken her with their own agenda.

Spirituality without religion is vague and tenuous. Religion without a church to guide it produces self-fulfilling prophecies and division. A church without continuity from Christ and the apostles lacks cohesiveness and authority. This is the reason that we are Catholics.

We should thank God everyday for the gift of the church that manages to keep Jesus at the very center of her life despite the foibles of her members. The church is weak only when we are weak. It is up to us to help keep her strong by focusing on the Lord who is always present in her midst. He is the reason for the holiness of the church despite the sinfulness of her members.
A GREAT COLUMN. I wonder whether His Excellency is aware he was making a fine argument -- with the help of Flannery O'Connor -- for sticking with a flawed institution when jackasses like himself are the ones making you want to run screaming into that dark night of the soul.

A few years ago, I was almost out the door myself because of people who were obsessed with the externals of the faith but less so with living that faith when doing so would make life a lot more untidy. Like what would happen if you called the cops on a kiddie-porn obsessed priest.

For more than a year -- daily -- I professionally inhabited a world where the most pious of Catholics covered for, sucked up to and rationalized a chancery that allowed such a priest to continue to work with kids. That is, until the cops finally arrested Father.

These people did not think something was wrong with Curtiss for valuing the "company" over Catholic children. But they did think something was quite wrong with the "secular, anti-Catholic media" for pointing out the problem.

Let me tell you, that does mess with your faith. When you are looked upon as a Bad Catholic for choosing right over wrong, and your bishop is The Embodiment of Wrong, you begin to furiously reevaluate a lot of stuff.

Ultimately, I chose to remain Catholic on quite O'Connoresque grounds. Basically, just because I worked with a bunch of hyperpious Catholics and my "shepherd" was a jackass playing chicken with an obstruction-of-justice indictment, it didn't mean the Catholic faith was a big lie.

It just meant I worked with a bunch of hyperpious Catholics and my archbishop was a jackass.

An amazingly non-introspective jackass who can write an objectively fine column that -- in the context of Curtiss' dysfunctional little see on the prairie -- is just another Holy S*** Moment in the collective life of his Bad Catholic flock.

Oh, and since the archbishop says it's OK to criticize the Church, now . . . he needs to sell that $389,000 retirement flop the archdiocese bought for him and use the proceeds to help the poor. It's a scandal and an outrage.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Imprudent . . . and un-Christian, too

Do you want to give
a man who wishes others dead the raw power to make it so?

From Agence France-Presse:
Presumptive Republican nominee John McCain Friday said he hoped Fidel Castro's resignation would be followed by his speedy demise, and rapped Democrat Barack Obama for offering talks with Cuba's next leader.

"Fidel Castro announced that he would not remain as president -- whatever that means," McCain said in Indianapolis.

"And I hope that he has the opportunity to meet Karl Marx very soon.

"But the point is, the point is that apparently he's trying to groom his brother Raul. My friends, Raul is worse in many respects than Fidel was."

In a formal written statement, McCain also took a shot at Obama, the Democratic front-runner who renewed his offer to speak to leaders of US foes without preconditions in a campaign debate with rival Hillary Clinton in Texas.

"So Raul Castro gets an audience with an American president, and all the prestige such a meeting confers, without having to release political prisoners, allow free media, political parties, and labor unions, or schedule internationally monitored free elections," McCain said.

"Senator Obama says he would meet Cuba's dictator without any such steps in the hope that talk will make things better for Cuba's oppressed people.

"Meet, talk, and hope may be a sound approach in a state legislature, but it is dangerously naive in international diplomacy where the oppressed look to America for hope and adversaries wish us ill."
I MEAN, my God! Isn't not wishing others dead something most people's mamas teach them by the time they're five?

I'm starting to think something is seriously wrong with John McCain. Seriously wrong.

This I do know: It would seem McCain is working overtime to be mean enough, deceitful enough, shady enough and just plain unhinged enough to make it possible for pro-life Catholics like myself to vote for Barack Obama with a clear conscience.

Lord have mercy on us all.

And on Fidel Castro, too.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Cough. Here's the (sniffle) show. Achoo!

Sometimes, you got to suck it up. And offer it up.

Your suffering, that is. Trust that your suffering will be joined to Christ's suffering to make crooked lines straight . . . somehow.

The past week, I've felt like crap. Lethargic, even. I've felt bad enough that I couldn't muster the energy to do Four Songs this week.

But there comes a time when you just have to suck it up. I decided that if 3 Chords & the Truth were worth doing at all, it was worth doing even when I'd really rather just slump in the big blue chair and become a sniffling, coughing, snorting vidhead.

So here you go . . . this week's edition of 3 Chords & the Truth, which certainly must be the audio version of a viral video.


I don't understand. . . .

I don't understand. This isn't New Orleans, and none of these people are poor and black.

It can't be! I'll bet this was just staged on a Hollywood set by some God-hatin' lib'ruls to perpetuate their politically correct lies.

JUST LIKE the "moon landings" in 1969. And 1970.

And 1971.

And 1972.

I just don't get it. This, they say, is not New Orleans. It's some place called "Serbia."

That must be some foreign-language word for "white n****rs." It's got to be.

Neal Boortz said.

Our kids. We must be so proud.

When a New Orleans-area mall dealt with a rash of teen-age unruliness and vandalism by requiring chaperones for the under-17 crowd after 4 on weekends, some teens responded in the manner common to our times.

They went on MySpace and threatened to shoot the place up. According to The Associated Press:
The Times-Picayune reported that at least two groups of teens formed MySpace sites this week, after Clearview Mall in Metairie announced a weekend curfew for anyone under age 17.

On one site, members suggested violent protests, with one posting saying "we should all take our guns and go in and kill everyone," the newspaper reported Friday on its Web site.
TODAY, The Times-Picayune reports sheriff's deputies have busted two teens in connection with the threats:
Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand on Friday afternoon announced the arrests of two teens for terrorizing, after the pair allegedly threatened to shoot up the Clearview Mall on the MySpace website.

The announcement of the arrests came about an hour before officials at Clearview were to begin a second weekend of a new curfew only allowing teens 16 and under into the mall with an adult.

Arrested were Joseph Madsen, 17, of Metairie and Cory Odenwald, 17, of River Ridge, officials said.

Normand, who announced the arrests during a press conference Friday at the East Bank Lockup in Metairie alongside members of the FBI, and also said that several guns, belonging to the Madsen's father, were confiscated by police.

"We will not tolerate intimidation or fear placed on any of the patrons at Clearview," Normand said.

He announced that all corners of the mall will be under video surveillance and that the deputy presence at Clearview will be significantly beefed up this weekend.
I AM A BOOMER. My generation was going to change the world.

Well, looks like we succeeded. Us and the little monsters we've failed to raise.

Cud'n Walker Percy nailed it way back in 1971 when he published "Love in the Ruins." He knew what ought to have been obvious to everybody but wasn't.

And now the center has not held, and the s*** has hit the fan.

"The work of a madman!"

Would you buy a used lobbyist from this man?

Would this be an example of Sen. John McCain being "imprudent," like what one of his friends mentioned to The New York Times in that story the GOP presidential candidate so hotly denies?

Newsweek reports:
A sworn deposition that Sen. John McCain gave in a lawsuit more than five years ago appears to contradict one part of a sweeping denial that his campaign issued this week to rebut a New York Times story about his ties to a Washington lobbyist.

On Wednesday night the Times published a story suggesting that McCain might have done legislative favors for the clients of the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, who worked for the firm of Alcalde & Fay. One example it cited were two letters McCain wrote in late 1999 demanding that the Federal Communications Commission act on a long-stalled bid by one of Iseman's clients, Florida-based Paxson Communications, to purchase a Pittsburgh television station.

Just hours after the Times's story was posted, the McCain campaign issued a point-by-point response that depicted the letters as routine correspondence handled by his staff—and insisted that McCain had never even spoken with anybody from Paxson or Alcalde & Fay about the matter. "No representative of Paxson or Alcalde & Fay personally asked Senator McCain to send a letter to the FCC," the campaign said in a statement e-mailed to reporters.

But that flat claim seems to be contradicted by an impeccable source: McCain himself. "I was contacted by Mr. Paxson on this issue," McCain said in the Sept. 25, 2002, deposition obtained by NEWSWEEK. "He wanted their approval very bad for purposes of his business. I believe that Mr. Paxson had a legitimate complaint."

While McCain said "I don't recall" if he ever directly spoke to the firm's lobbyist about the issue—an apparent reference to Iseman, though she is not named—"I'm sure I spoke to [Paxson]." McCain agreed that his letters on behalf of Paxson, a campaign contributor, could "possibly be an appearance of corruption"—even though McCain denied doing anything improper.

McCain's subsequent letters to the FCC—coming around the same time that Paxson's firm was flying the senator to campaign events aboard its corporate jet and contributing $20,000 to his campaign—first surfaced as an issue during his unsuccessful 2000 presidential bid. William Kennard, the FCC chair at the time, described the sharply worded letters from McCain, then chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, as "highly unusual."

The issue erupted again this week when the New York Times reported that McCain's top campaign strategist at the time, John Weaver, was so concerned about what Iseman (who was representing Paxson) was saying about her access to McCain that he personally confronted her at a Washington restaurant and told her to stay away from the senator.
GIVING THE strong impression that you're on the take is imprudent. Galavanting around the country with a hot lobbyist not your wife is imprudent.

Vowing to keep our overstretched armed forces in a Middle Eastern cesspool for 50, 100 or 10,000 years "if need be" is imprudent. Flat-out asserting "there will be other wars" is imprudent, if for no other reason than tipping your hand in a high-stakes international poker game.

Unless you're bluffing. Which -- given the stakes and your opponents' willingness to call your bluff in the name of Allah -- is damned imprudent right there.

What's really imprudent, though, is telling bald-face lies to a press corps that more than has the means, the skill and the motivation to conclusively prove you're a damned liar tout de suite. If McCain, on the verge of securing the Republican nomination, is that contemptuous of the truth then follows up by completely underestimating the press corps, he is a man who has no business in the Oval Office.

We've had a gullet full of just the same -- with catastrophic results -- from its present occupant.

My contribution to the world

I'm sick as a dog with the viral crud that's sweeping across Omaha like W. T. Sherman across Georgia.

And the viral crud, of course, is distinct from the flu that's sweeping across Omaha -- the difference being that you can more or less function (kind of) with the crud. . . . Sorry for running off. I had to get up and blow my nose.

It's a miserable thing. Last night, I slept in the big blue chair next to the heat vent in the dining room. All the better to keep from choking on my own snot.

Now that's a pretty picture, isn't it? My apologies if you're reading this while eating breakfast or lunch.

If I'm feeling somewhat acceptable, there will be a new
3 Chords & the Truth posted late tonight. If not . . . pray for me.

Anyway, being sick is the time when I partake of my contribution to the world -- medicinal cold hooch. Normal people call it a toddy, but mine is an exceptional toddy. And I now share it with a sneezing, plugged up, achy, suffering world.

One caveat: If you're under 21, stick to TheraFlu.

OK, here we go:
* One to 1 1/2 shots of Early Times in a 12-ounce coffee mug.
* One tablespoon honey.
* Two teaspoons sugar.
* One tablespoon lemon juice.
* A spritz of water.
* Fill mug to top with orange juice.
THEN STIR thoroughly and heat in microwave for a couple of minutes, or to just short of boiling. When hooch is good and hot, stir again to make sure ingredients are thoroughly blended.


Favog's Famous Cold Hooch may or may not cure what ails you but, then again, you might find you no longer care. (Sneeze) enjoy (cough).

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Get that man a top hat and a monocle

WWL television in New Orleans promos the above story . . . and Mayor Ray Nagin goes nuts:

Nagin: . . . Our local newspaper for example had me pointing a gun at the police chief, this got all over the internet, all over the nation, and is now sitting on the most racist web sites in America, hate groups now have that picture, so now I am personally more at risk, my family is more at risk.

And I’m a little upset with this station cause you advertising about the ratings, about what’s getting ready to happen with my schedule, you put my personal schedule out there, I am coming back to the station and me and your news director are going to be out in the parking lot having a good one on one.

You do not put my family at risk.

This was a schedule from last year.

I don’t care. That schedule has formal stuff on it. It has patterns on it and now you have these Aryan race people focused on me and you have some mental cases out in this community and you’re getting ready to put my schedule out there. Where are the other elected official’s schedule? Are you going to do a follow up on that? This has gone beyond the point of reasonableness.

You have to understand that you’ve been a lightning rod.

I am sick of this. I have busting my butt bringing this city back. We’re getting ready to get into 2008 and it’s going to be more than a tipping point. This city will go to the next level. This is ridiculous. It’s personal. It’s vindictive. The election is over. If you supported somebody else, get over it.

Would you do anything different, looking back?

I don’t know. Nobody has ever done this. Nobody has taken a city from being totally devastated to where we are now. I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve alienated some people who have significant influence in this community and they are relentlessly trying to destroy and undermine me and I don’t appreciate it.

People who are listening to you speak, people who care about you, may be worried about you because of your emotional state.

Because it’s crossed the line Sally, it’s gotten personal now. I don’t appreciate the fact that I’m being exposed and my family is being exposed now. That was not part of this deal.

You’ve gotten a lot of heat over the past couple of years. I’ve never seen you this emotional.

Well because, your newscast, the local newspapers, are feeding these awful, ugly talk shows that are feeding these blogs. If you go look at some of these blogs out there and some of the stories that come from the paper and you read the comments, it’s some of the most vile, angry, people that I’ve ever seen in this community.

Are you concerned about your safety.

Nagin: I’ve got coverage. If somebody approach me wrong, I’m going to cold cock them. That’s the bottom line. You can come with that foolishness if you want, but you’ll see a side of Ray Nagin that you haven’t seen.

A LARGER-SCREEN version of the video, sans transcript, is here.

Hizzoner says "This is just crazy." Nuts, to the mayor of New Orleans, is questioning how much time he actually spends doing the job he was foolishly elected to do.

Nuts, to the mayor, is examining his official work schedule from last year to see how much time he spent in New Orleans, actually doing the job the half-witted voters foolishly elected him to do. Now, Nagin allegedly is convinced the Nazis and the Kluxers will be able to set up an ambush for him.

All because of Lee Zurik's investigative piece on Channel 4.

The mayor thinks the press has gone nuts. But we all know exactly where the jar of Planters is, now, don't we?

You have to admire his taste in lobbyists

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee John McCain seems to be picking an interesting way to spark some Bill Clinton-style crossover appeal in the general election.

According to The New York Times, the old goat has been acting more than a little like Bubba Himself the past decade or so. Special-interest soft money to keep the "Straight Talk Express" rolling along, zipping from sea to shining sea on other people's dime, lobbyists . . . a hot chick on his arm who wasn't Mrs. McCain.

But who was a lobbyist. A special lobbyist.

Well, you do have to admire the senator's taste in lobbyists. He'll be ready to something on Day One:
Early in Senator John McCain’s first run for the White House eight years ago, waves of anxiety swept through his small circle of advisers.

A female lobbyist had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client’s corporate jet. Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself — instructing staff members to block the woman’s access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity.

When news organizations reported that Mr. McCain had written letters to government regulators on behalf of the lobbyist’s client, the former campaign associates said, some aides feared for a time that attention would fall on her involvement.

Mr. McCain, 71, and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, 40, both say they never had a romantic relationship. But to his advisers, even the appearance of a close bond with a lobbyist whose clients often had business before the Senate committee Mr. McCain led threatened the story of redemption and rectitude that defined his political identity.

It had been just a decade since an official favor for a friend with regulatory problems had nearly ended Mr. McCain’s political career by ensnaring him in the Keating Five scandal. In the years that followed, he reinvented himself as the scourge of special interests, a crusader for stricter ethics and campaign finance rules, a man of honor chastened by a brush with shame.

But the concerns about Mr. McCain’s relationship with Ms. Iseman underscored an enduring paradox of his post-Keating career. Even as he has vowed to hold himself to the highest ethical standards, his confidence in his own integrity has sometimes seemed to blind him to potentially embarrassing conflicts of interest.

Mr. McCain promised, for example, never to fly directly from Washington to Phoenix, his hometown, to avoid the impression of self-interest because he sponsored a law that opened the route nearly a decade ago. But like other lawmakers, he often flew on the corporate jets of business executives seeking his support, including the media moguls Rupert Murdoch, Michael R. Bloomberg and Lowell W. Paxson, Ms. Iseman’s client. (Last year he voted to end the practice.)

Mr. McCain helped found a nonprofit group to promote his personal battle for tighter campaign finance rules. But he later resigned as its chairman after news reports disclosed that the group was tapping the same kinds of unlimited corporate contributions he opposed, including those from companies seeking his favor. He has criticized the cozy ties between lawmakers and lobbyists, but is relying on corporate lobbyists to donate their time running his presidential race and recently hired a lobbyist to run his Senate office.

“He is essentially an honorable person,” said William P. Cheshire, a friend of Mr. McCain who as editorial page editor of The Arizona Republic defended him during the Keating Five scandal. “But he can be imprudent.”
IMPRUDENT. Just the quality I'm looking for in a president.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Didja ever notice that radio-station commercials really suck? And didja ever notice that the stations themselves aren't much better?

Why is it that in a medium that used to be called "the theater of the mind," commercials for radio stations are all pretty much the same . . . just playing lame music from a lame station in a most uncreative way? Is it a function of being cheap or, alternatively, of a lack of creativity that you see a lot of the same commercials in different markets, with just the station name changed to indict the guilty?

What's up with that?

ON THE OTHER HAND, you hear a lot of the same stations in different markets, with just the call letters changed to convict the corporate consolidators.

The first video is from my hometown, Baton Rouge, La.

The year: 1980.

I was in college.

Sandwiched between a couple of vintage station IDs for Channel 9, we find a commercial for WAFB television's then-sister station, Stereo 98, WAFB-FM. Snazzy animation for 28 years ago, but the format -- a music sweep of represenative artists -- was hoary then and is worse now.

Yes, now. Because you'll see the same old knockoff ads more than a quarter-century later -- note the second video, which is a commercial for Omaha's hip-hop station. The only thing that's different is the pervasiveness of music videos to rip off for video . . . thus saving you the expense of snazzy animation.

Well, that and that, in 1980, "hip-hop" was what you did when you hurt your foot . . . or were dancing the Hokey Pokey.

IS IT ANY WONDER that radio is in the toilet, running on creative fumes that were stinking up the joint 28 years ago?

Nevertheless, it was nice to see a snippet of vintage Channel 9. And, with that last "legal ID" on the video, it sure was nice to hear Sid Crocker do a station break one more time.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Mad education in life

Click on the comics for a larger view.

We Baby Boomers pretty much learned everything we needed to know about life from Mad magazine.

Sometimes, though, it was the wrong lesson. The panel above, by the late and great Dave Berg, was part of "The Lighter Side of . . . HAIR," from Mad Special Number Seven in 1972. These things really did happen back then.

In 1977, it happened to me.

One weekend, I was at our "camp" on the river with my folks -- "camp," in Louisiana-speak, being
your little place out in the woods or on a river somewhere. Ours was on the Petite Amite River out in Head of Island, La.

BACK THEN, my 16-year-old smartass self was sporting shoulder-length hair, and my old man was not amused. And one day, out at camp, I was informed that I was a g**damned, hippie, communist dope fiend and that I needed to cut my g**damned beatnik hair.

I was offended. I had not yet taken up smoking dope, and I only was communist in the sense that sometimes you pretended to be to get a rise out of your teachers.

Anyway, when the old man said what he said -- a few meticulously Vitalised stray hairs atop his shiny dome -- Mad 1972 bubbled up from the depths of my subconscious:

"You're just jealous because YOU DON'T HAVE ANY!" said the foolish young man. The one with burgeoning locks.

That . . . was a mistake.

My next memory is of being pinned -- forcefully -- against the wood-paneled wall, while learning new vocabulary words that I shall not repeat here. And by the time I was 17 and change, my hair was several inches shorter.

Thirty-one years later, the old man is long gone, but his gene pool is giving him the last laugh. I scarcely have more hair than he did in 1977. This brings me to another, more positive, lesson I
learned well from that same 1972 issue of Mad:

NEVER, EVER do a comb-over. Never.


You're not fooling anybody -- except yourself. Anyway, I find my No. 2 buzz cut -- No. 1 on the sides -- extremely low maintenance, and my wife likes to rub what's left of my hair. I guess it's some sort of middle-aged aphrodisiac, and at almost 47, I'll take what I can get.

Hubba hubba.