The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Ghosts of the Past

Although Season 2 of Sherlock has yet to air in the U.S., those of us who do not fear spoilers have gleaned much about it. (This post is spoiler-free, the links, however, not so much...)

Remember my post on P.R.O.B.E., the straight to video spinoff of Doctor Who featuring Caroline John reprising the role of companion Dr. Liz Shaw? Well, I seemed to omit the fact that P.R.O.B.E. was written by Mark Gatiss, and the episode Unnatural Selection bears, shall we say, a family resemblance to the Gatiss-penned script for The Hounds of Baskerville.

Note the parallelism between the series title and acronym P.R.O.B.E. and the acronym H.O.U.N.D.

Gatiss may not boast about P.R.O.B.E. (he is cited as having "said in a 2004 interview that he would not authorise their re-release as regarded them as having been a learning exercise"), but clearly he hasn't forgotten the series altogether.

Friday, January 27, 2012

We are What We Pretend to be, So We Must Be Very Careful What We Pretend to Be

So says Kurt Vonnegut in Mother Night, and I think this is the key to understanding the whole Ron Paul and race business.

The Washington Post has found three people involved with the Ron Paul Newsletters who have gone on the record, by name, stating unequivocally that Paul was aware of the material being published in his name--that he approved it and proofed it. A fourth, anonymous source, confirms this account as well.

I was always skeptical of Paul's claims that he was unaware of the content of the newsletters; if you're trying to build a brand, you don't just blindly delegate the making of that brand without checking the results. At this point, this implausible tale hangs in tatters. Mind you, I think Paul's statements are pretty consistent with the overall tenor of the Newsletters, albeit more discreet:

And here he is again with the UN conspiring to take over the United States. Or with the "coming race war" fundraising letter. All of which reflect the obsessions and views in the Newsletters.

But here's an interesting slice of the article:
Paul “had to walk a very fine line,’’ said Eric Dondero Rittberg, a former longtime Paul aide who says Paul allowed the controversial material in his newsletter as a way to make money. Dondero Rittberg said he witnessed Paul proofing, editing and signing off on his newsletters in the mid-1990s.

“The real big money came from some of that racially tinged stuff, but he also had to keep his libertarian supporters, and they weren’t at all comfortable with that,’’ he said.
I've been involved in some discussion as to whether Paul is himself a racist; this article tends to suggest he isn't, but that he appeals to them in an exercise in coalition building. My earlier position was that I didn't know Paul's mind or heart, and I stand by that. But ultimately, does his specific intent matter? He has for decades supported the "Lost Cause"mythology, made statements supportive of racist tropes, and sought the cash and support of racists. Whether he sincerely shares their beliefs, or not, he has worn their mask.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

State of the Union-Pre-Game

As we look out at the President's State of the Union Address, here is the question I have:

How on earth does he do it?

Seriously, I don't agree with every policy decision made by the Administration, and I often find deeply frustrating the President's repeated efforts to find reasonable negotiating partners in a GOP that seems to me to have collectively gone crackerdog. But here's the thing: Barack Obama is extremely calm despite ongoing birther lawsuits, a Republican frontrunner (Gingrich) who claims that the President 's policies are inspired by radical Kenyan anti-colonialism, and another one (Romney) who accuses him of causing the 2008 crash and all the harm stemming therefrom.

We have Romney trying to condemn the President for taking a Romney plan nation-wide:

Gingrich using racist code language:

Ron Paul wrapping himself, almost literally, in the Confederate flag:

And Santorum being...Santorum (Sorry, Rick, the only thing that Obama and King George III have in common is that tea has been a thorough nuisance to them, albeit in different ways).

And yet, he remains calm, and cool.

As I write this, he's about to rise. Is it to the occasion?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Goodbye, Farewell & Amen

The New York Times today has a very fine piece about the departure of Bill Tully, Rector of St Bartholomew's Church. My favorite bit:
On Sundays, Mr. Tully not only welcomed congregants in the narthex before services, he also went out on the front steps, a visible presence in the neighborhood. Passers-by were invited in. One summer Friday he set up a table on the sidewalk with an umbrella, two chairs and free lemonade: the advice he dispensed included weather predictions, directions and his opinion on whether demons were alive in this world. (He opined that they probably were, and he summarized the whole unorthodox experiment in, what else, a sermon titled “Confessions of a Street Preacher.”)

In 1995, in the same community house that under the skyscraper plan would have been razed, he established a restaurant with an outdoor cafe in good weather. It is thriving. On the flip side of entrepreneurialism, the church’s soup kitchen serves 70,000 meals a year to the needy, and its food pantry provides the makings for 70,000 more. The 10-bed women’s shelter is a rare haven in an otherwise corporate neighborhood, as are the public gardens. If homeless people want to rest inside the splendor of St. Bart’s sanctuary during the day, they are left in peace.
Bill's strong pastoral skills are sometimes eclipsed by his other achievements--his sermons, which are intellectually meaty, but which are highly accessible, his humor, his passionate belief in "radical welcome" which as fellow parishioner Lucy Martin Gianino is quoted as saying, led to some controversy, but put St. Barts at the forefront of “being a major welcomer of the gay and lesbian community,” are the subjects one hears about the most often, usually noting, as indeed Lucy does, that Bill "was able to lead people down that path and have us all feel good about worshiping and serving the church together." And of course the unending debate over Bill's vision of replacing our superannuated pews with cathedral chairs, which has finally come to pass (and increased the sound quality within the Church, much to everyone's pleased surprise).

But to me, Bill is the man who could turn from a coffee hour pleasantry into an earnest recommendation of an obscure book that touched his heart, whether the book was ancient or modern without missing a beat, who saw joyful children running down the aisle in the middle of a service as a gift, not an intrusion on a liturgical ideal, and has an amazing gift for making infants relax at the baptismal font. He has educated me, made me think, been an inspiration and a guide to me, and I am grateful for his role in my life.

And, I must admit, the chairs are extremely comfortable.

(Photo/audio credit: Tim Martin)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ok, This is Fun

I'm an old school Holmesian, and have never approved of most adaptations (Except for the magnificently faithful versions starring Jeremy Brett.)

But this bit of genius, adapted by current Doctor Who show runner Stephen Moffat is just magnificent--utterly faithful, but utterly of our time. It helps me realize what it must have been like to read the Conan Doyle originals as they came out, fresh in the Strand magazine.

The game is on!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Avoiding a Question of Interpretation: The Dog that Did Not Bark--Yet.

The January 10, 2012 decision of the Circuit Court, Fairfax County found in favor of the Episcopal Church's and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia's claim to the long-held, historically significant churches which purported to align with the Church of Nigeria between December 2006 and November 2007. The decision is quite long, and detailed, and I don't intend to summarize it at length here. Rather, I'm writing to address the unresolved constitutional question lurking beneath Judge Bellows' carefully crafted ruling.

The judge in the Virginia case, Randy I. Bellows, had previously ruled in favor of the ACNA Diocese, on the basis of a pre-Civil War statute which effectively allowed for the congregation and not the denomination to retain the property in the event of a "division." As I wrote at the time, the presumption of congregational polity which Judge Bellows' opinion seemed to me to engraft into the law seems inconsistent with constitutional precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court. (My earlier analysis of that decision is here). However, the Supreme Court of Virginia reversed the opinion, on the ground that the "division statute" did not apply:
The Circuit Court erred as a matter of law by holding that the requirements of Va. Code § 57-9(A) were satisfied in these cases. That holding was error because the court adopted erroneous and entangling definitions of the statutory terms "division," "branch," and "attached," leading the court to err by holding that a "division" has occurred in the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church (the "Church" or "TEC"), and the Diocese of Virginia (the "Diocese"); that all relevant entities were "branches" of and "attached" to the Anglican Communion; and that the Convocation of Anglicans in North American [sic] ("CANA") and Anglican District of Virginia ("ADV") are "branches" of the Church and the Diocese.
Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. Truro Church, 280 Va. 6, at 18 (2010).

Neither Judge Bellows nor the Supreme Court opined as to s signal constitutional question raised by TEC--that, having complied with the steps specified by the Supreme Court of the United States in Jones v. Wolf as sufficing to create a denominational trust, did not the application of pre-Civil War statutes which do not recognize the interest created thereby violate the "neutral principles" approach to secular courts deciding property disputes arising from ecclesial breakups, and thus violate the First Amendment. (Still with me? Excellent. Onwards!)
Subsequent to the remand, Judge Bellows took extensive testimony and briefing, after which the Court made "three princip[al] rulings":
1. TEC and the Diocese have a contractual and proprietary interest in each of the seven Episcopal churches that are the subjects of this litigation. Specifically, the Court finds for TEC and the Diocese in their Declaratory Judgment actions and, among other relief, orders that all real property conveyed by the 41 deeds, as well as all personal property acquired by the churches up to the filing date of the Declaratory Judgment actions (on or about January 31, 2007 or February 1, 2007) are to be promptly conveyed to the Diocese. (Additional instructions are provided at the conclusion of this Letter Opinion.)
2. The CANA Congregations' Amended Counterclaims are denied in their entirety. Specifically, the Court finds that the CANA Congregations, in that they are not Episcopal Congregations, do not possess either contractual or proprietary interests in the property of the seven Episcopal Churches at issue. They are, therefore, enjoined from further use or control of these properties and must promptly relinquish them to the Diocese. Moreover, the Court finds no merit in the CANA Congregations' claims for unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, and constructive trust and grants TEC's and the Diocese's motions to strike these claims.
3. The vestry empowered to elect directors to the Falls Church Endowment Fund is the vestry recognized by the Diocese as the Episcopal vestry of The Falls Church, that is to say, the Continuing Congregation.
(January 10, 2012 Opinion at 13-14).

In Jones, the Court held that "[t]hrough appropriate reversionary clauses and trust provisions, religious societies can specify what is to happen to church property in the event of a particular contingency, or what religious body will determine the ownership in the event of a schism or doctrinal controversy." 443 U.S. at 602-603. The Court further emphasized that "neutral principles would not be onerous for religious bodies to comply with:
Under the neutral principles approach, the outcome of a church property dispute is not foreordained. At any time before the dispute erupts, the parties can ensure, if they so desire, that the faction loyal to the hierarchical church will retain the church property. They can modify the deeds or the corporate charter to include a right of reversion or trust in favor of the general church. Alternatively, the constitution of the general church can be made to recite an express trust in favor of the denominational church. The burden involved in taking such steps will be minimal. And the civil courts will be bound to give effect to the result indicated by the parties, provided it is embodied in some legally cognizable form.
443 U.S. at 606. Except, for now, in Virginia.

As Judge Bellows writes, "[a]fter the Supreme Court issued Jones, TEC decided to avail itself of the Supreme Court's suggestion that a denomination might amend its governing documents to recite an express trust in favor of the denomination. The General Convention adopted a canon (now Canon I.7(4)), called either the 'Dennis Canon' or the '1979 Trust Canon.'” (January 10, 2012 Opinion at 29). Judge Bellows, however, found that the Dennis Canon did not comport with another section of Virginia statues governing church trusts, and therefore found that "neither the Dennis Canon nor Diocesan Canon 15.1 had their intended effect in the Commonwealth, given the fact that the Commonwealth did not validate denominational trusts." (Id. at n. 14).In view of his finding that under Virginia precedents, the Diocese and TEC had a legal claim to the property based on the course of dealings between the parishes and the Diocese and the denomination, Judge Bellows did not address the constitutional question, which seems to me quite significant: If the First Amendment. But it seems to me that Virginia's statute is here of extremely dubious constitutionality--it does not allow the national church to take the simple steps suggested in Jones to effectuate its polity, because the trust created thereby is not recognized by state law.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

One Cheer for Mitt Romney

No, not for winning the New Hampshire primary; I took that as a given, didn't you? No, I refer to the fact that, disapprove of his policies (well, the ones he's espoused at the present time), his slickness, and his effortless, persistent lying though I do, give Romney this: He knows how to comport himself in public. Chris Christie--not so much:

The bullying manner, the (at best!) double entendre, the crass "sweetheart", all these encapsulate why Chris Christie is not ready for prime time. And if the American people think he is, then maybe we no longer are, either.


As a Democrat, I have to confess to a certain amount of schadenfreude watching Gingrich's SuperPAC savage Mittens in deliciously populist terms:

Aye, that'll make a fine template for the Fall, lads. Thanks ever so!

And here's Rick Perry, speaking truth to, er, automata:

Enjoy it while it lasts, folks; once the nomination is securely in Romney's plasticine hands, it will be un-American and socialistic to say these things--and remember, the greater the truth, the greater the libel..

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Missing the Myth

First, this is even funnier in context, but stands up on its own:

Now, then, to business. I've realized that with all the scholarly reading I've been doing, I've been neglecting reading for pleasure. And I recently found at a used bookshop (Argosy in Manhattan, and well worth a visit) a nice copy of the Poetic Works of Spenser. After the glowing review of his work C.S. Lewis gives in The Discarded Image, I thought I would try Spenser. Spenser is quite readable as far as I've gotten; so far, so good--but here's an interesting bit from the prefatory Letter to Sir Walter Raleigh Spenser wrote:
The generall end therefore of all the booke, is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline. Which for that I conceived shoulde be most plausible and pleasing, being coloured with an historicall fiction, the which the most part of men
delight to read, rather for varietie of matter than for profit of the ensample: I chose the historie of king Arthure, as most fit for the
excellencie of his person, beeing made famous by many mens former workes, and also furthest from the danger of envie, and suspicion of present time. In which I have followed all the antique poets historicall: first Homer, who in the persons of Agamemnon and Ulysses hath ensampled a good governor and a vertuous man, the one in his Illias, the other in his Odysseis...:
Now leave aside Spenser's use of the latinate names, but who on earth can read the Iliad and come away thinking of Agamemnon as either a "virtuous man" or as a "good governor"? Remember the whole context of the opening of the epic: Agamemnon has taken as a prize the daughter of the priest of Apollo, resulting in a curse on the Achaean army which will only be lifted by returning her. Agamemnon, prizing his captive more than his own wife (!) resists angrily, but yields upon the condition that Achilles yield his own captive to him. Achilles, angry, protests, and, in an era before patriotism, as Werner Jaeger points out,
Agamemnon can only make a despotic appeal to his own sovereign power and such an appeal is foreign to the aristocratic sentiment, which recognizes the leader only as primes inter pares. Achilles, when he is refused the honor which he has earned, feels that he is an aristocrat confronted by a despot.
So Achilles withdraws from the combat, leading to decimation of the Achaean forces, and many avoidable deaths.

So Spenser, by his romanticization of the myth--his framing it in the very different Tudor ethos--misses the entire point of the depiction of Agamemnon by Homer, just as Trenchard (in the video above) misses the point of the Master's enjoyment of "The Clangers" (a "real" alien enjoying a human depiction of aliens) by his overly literal response to it. And these two are ways we too can misapprehend the mythic truths handed down to us from the past--by cutting and shaping them to fit our own approach to truths, or, which may be even worse, reducing them to "only puppets. . . for children."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Or, You Could Just Send the Selden Society a Check...

New Hampshire Republicans are . . . interesting:
House Bill 1580 is the product of such a brainstorming session this summer between three freshman House Republicans: Bob Kingsbury of Laconia, Tim Twombly of Nashua and Lucien Vita of Middleton. The eyebrow-raiser, set to be introduced when the Legislature reconvenes next month, requires legislation to find its origin in an English document crafted in 1215.

"All members of the general court proposing bills and resolutions addressing individual rights or liberties shall include a direct quote from the Magna Carta which sets forth the article from which the individual right or liberty is derived," is the bill's one sentence.
Guys, as a medieval legal history junkie (and how sad is that), I appreciate your interest, but even fellow addict Oliver Wendell Holmes would--and, in almost as many words, did in fact say that
It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past.
Well, yes. Thankee.

Joining and supporting the Selden Societyis really a much better way to go. And, you'll learn what Magna Carta does, and does not, have to do with today's society.

And, in keeping with today's other post:

I didn't want to, but...

this makes it fair game:"The sinister, shocking truth about Barack Obama’s past lies not in east Africa, but in outer space. As a young man in the early 1980s, Obama was part of a secret CIA project to explore Mars. The future president teleported there, along with the future head of Darpa."

Actually, the truth is far, far more sinister. The President is. . . a Time Lord. He was elected because of some, yeah, mind control, and, and ....wait, they did this...:

Better paranoid delusions, please.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Sign of the Times

So the New York Times has an article about the American branch of the Roman Catholic Ordinariate for disaffected Episcopalians. As the Times summarizes, the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter is
the equivalent of a nationwide diocese in the United States that former Episcopal priests and congregations can enter together as intact groups, the Vatican announced Sunday. Converts who join the new entity will be full-fledged Catholics, expected to show allegiance to the pope and oppose contraception and abortion. But they will be allowed to preserve revered verses from the Book of Common Prayer. And, in what one Catholic leader called “an act of generosity,” priests who are married will be exempted from the Catholic requirement of celibacy, though they may not become bishop.
My initial reaction was one of dislike; I think that the Episcopal Church, with its welcoming Protestant and Catholic, liberal and conservative, represents a more viable, and theologically satisfying, model of mainline Christianity than what Susan Howatch called "the authoritarian monolith of Rome." (Not to bash Catholicism, which has given much to me personally; I'm speaking about ecclesiology here). Anything that detracts from model that is unwelcome to me, and ecumenicism based on submission is not, in my opinion, a healthy model.

I think it's profoundly regrettable that some conservatives are leaving the Episcopal Church, because there is a conservative wisdom which we would do well to retain to counterbalance liberalism. And yet, I do firmly believe that the recognition of women's ministry, and that of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters is necessary as well as just. Ironically, in so many other areas theologically fairly conservative--I really do believe in the creeds, I do believe the historicity of the overwhelming majority of the gospel accounts. I'm no John Shelby Spong, or even JAT Robinson--though I have learned from reading both. I find this schism, which is what it is, deplorable, but perhaps it is inevitable. One can only hope that we--those who stay and those who depart--can handle it with the maximum of charity and the minimum of rancor.

God bless the church catholic, and help us to heal our divisions.