Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Winter Solstice Everybody!

Best wishes and holiday cheer to all. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

City: put your cash in our box rather than in a homeless person's hand

The city of Dallas is actually launching a campaign requesting people to not give money to panhandlers downtown, and to put money in "lend a hand" drop boxes instead. I guess it's a supply-side approach to panhandling. This is in the effort to "make people feel safer downtown." I know the city is really trying to address the problem of chronic homelessness with the new downtown assistance center, but sometimes they do some wacky stuff like this. It reminds me of Laura Miller's suggestion of making it illegal to give money to panhandlers. I swear I think if the city council could outlaw the presence of homeless people they would.

Many City Council members further argue that giving money to homeless panhandlers doesn't usually help them solve the underlying problems causing their homelessness.

FYI city council - on occassions when I give money to homeless people, I have no illusions that it is helping them solve any underlying problem. I am hopefully helping them to get some food. Granted they could use this money for booze or drugs or some other means of easing their pain which only adds to their problem. That is a risk I take. That is the reason I support the efforts of Austin Street Shelter, the Stewpot, and the city's new Homeless Assistance Center which can help to address underlying problems of homelessness.

I doubt the city's new measure will have much impact. There will still be homeless downtown and they will still ask for money. And we'll have these "drop boxes" downtown that will remind us to blow off the invisible people around us. The best thing the city and downtown businesses can do to make people feel safer is to continue the increased Downtown Patrol efforts (at least it seems stepped up to me), increase DART police presence at train stations, and keep attracting more people downtown.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Christian nation indeed

Here are two very good opinion pieces about the hypocrisy of the religious right, just in time for Christmas.

Today Harold Meyerson writes in the Washington Post about "Hard Liners for Jesus." Things like Bush advocating torture and preemptive war yet touting Jesus as his favorite philosopher (although to be fair that was before 9/11 "changed everything" so maybe he swapped out Jesus for a more war-friendly philosopher). Meyerson also has good thoughts about the treatment of immigrants, which is of great concern to Judaism and Christianity: "the distinctive cry coming from the Republican base this year isn't simply to control the flow of immigrants across our borders but to punish the undocumented immigrants already here, children and parents alike." (Huckabee is actually on the "more Christian" side of that issue.)

Last week Judith Warner had a blog post titled Holier Than They in which she discusses what exactly is so Christian about the policies and platform of the GOP: opposition to progressive taxation and programs for the needy, attitudes toward gays, etc. But how about this from Barack Obama:

“We cannot abandon the field of religious discourse,” Barack Obama, the most eloquently convincing of them all, said back in June of 2006. “Because when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations toward one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome - others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.”

Another observation:
The Christian conservative vote is, apparently, splintering. Younger evangelicals are increasingly said to be interested in putting their faith to greater use than bashing gays, promoting guns and putting God on the presidential ticket. That would seem to indicate that we’re facing a moment of opportunity: a chance to expand and amplify the reach of the voice of religious moderation. The silence I’m hearing makes me think, though, that as a society we’ve come to accept the slippage of prejudicial and hateful attitudes into religious doctrine as somehow normal. Whether that’s due to cynicism or due to cowardice, it’s very troubling.

Warner rightly faults Huckabee for some of his less charitable moments, but Huckabee's surge is due to some of the splintering we're seeing. The other candidates are cynically pandering for the evangelical vote, whereas Huckabee is a true believer and presents a more hopeful message. I'm hopeful that maybe the cynicism and cowardice has had its day and that the country is ready to move beyond it. Now it's time for the Obamas and the Huckabees and those who look toward a better future to step in the gap. (Regardless of his tone, though, Huckabee is essentially a fundamentalist and I'd have trouble trusting him for that reason alone.)

God, guns and gays doesn't quite get it anymore, and that's a good thing for this country. Let's hope we can really listen to Bush's favorite philosopher and try to love our neighbors as ourselves, feed the hungry, visit the prisoner, welcome the stranger, and give a voice to the voiceless. In our personal lives and in our society. It's hard but it's worth working toward.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Maybe the crazies aren't taking over

Perhaps I underestimated my fellow citizens last week. It appears that several of us are ready for America to reclaim the moral high ground, as witnessed in these letters to the editor regarding Mark Davis' pro-torture column.

All good thoughts; I especially like this one:

Mark Davis deserves credit for doing something that no other conservatives have dared to do – admit that they are pro-torture. He throws in the anecdotal ticking time bomb scenario as a rationalization, but that does little more than complete his transition to moral relativism.

When did the GOP become the party of people so afraid of everything that they are willing to sell out our beloved American way of life?

Ben Berry, Silver Spring, Md.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The homeless downtown

I'll admit it doesn't take much, but Jim Schutze's column this week had me a little misty-eyed on the train Wednesday evening. He explores the complex problem of homelessness in downtown Dallas. I see some of these folks every day, and sometimes I say hello and sometimes I buy a Street Zine, but mostly they are the forgotten of our city. Just go read it.

Rev. Clifford at First Presbyterian, whose church stepped in the breach to provide sanctuary at night to the homeless population, is truly doing God's work.

Clifford is clear why he believes the church must take that step: "They have to have someplace to go," he said. "They have been our congregation for 32 years at the Stewpot," the church's soup kitchen mission.

"We are called to serve them. They are the least of these in our community, and Jesus has taken up residence with them, according to the gospel, and he is to be found in their midst. We exist to serve Christ, and according to Matthew 25, that's where Christ is, so we serve them."

Thanks for reminding us, Dr. Clifford.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

DMN takes advice of Filibuster Vigilantly

Someone's listening. The Morning News did an above-the-fold front page story - a well-reported one at that - on the evolution debate that is ensuing at the TEA. It does not give me good vibes though. The board is chaired by Perry appointee Don McLeroy who thinks that his version of religion has a place in the science classroom.

Specifically the new tactic of the flat earth folks is to "show both sides of the evolution debate." They want our science teachers to poke holes in the theory that underpins biology science. Pardon me, I am not a scientist, but isn't this a little like showing both sides of the debate that the Holocaust occurred? "Showing both sides" sounds so fair doesn't it? Don't let the fair sounding words fool you.

The board needs to listen to the scientists from Texas' leading institutions of higher education, who issued a statement earlier in the week stressing the importance of evolution education.

They should also listen to these folks: Christian clergy in support of teaching evolution. The rector of my old parish in New Jersey is a signator (and I see here that my current priest is as well - bravo). Science and religion need not be at odds here.

And they should listen to Chris Comer, the science curriculum director who was forced to resign due to her support for evolution education:
"Any science teacher worth their salt that has any background in biology will tell you there is no controversy," said Ms. Comer, a mother of two grown children. "It is time for America to grow up."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Oops, I peeked at a Mark Davis column

First of all, Mark Davis is a buffoon. In fact, he's a cartoon of a buffoon. It's his schtick I guess. North Texas' own Bill O'Reilly. This is not news. If you don’t know this, count yourself blessed that you’ve not read his preposterous bunk on the Viewpoints page of the DMN – once or twice a week folks. (They had to have something to take the place of Murchison’s gems I guess.)

Most of the time I just ignore Davis and go about my merry way because he’s really not worth bothering with. I broke my own rule this morning and I wish I hadn’t. In this morning’s column, Davis gives the classic neocon defense of torture: “it saves American lives.” This is in reaction to new revelations from former CIA agent John Kiriakou that the CIA used waterboarding on Abu Zubaydah of 9/11 fame. And apparently this waterboarding did lead to actionable intelligence. So Davis thinks it’s great. We should do more of it apparently. He dismisses the moral argument that “we’re better than that” as perverse. Isn’t Davis' blusterment just a simple case of the end justifying the means? We should be better than that, but I don’t think we are. Not anymore. I have the feeling that much of the populace would agree with Davis.

Just yesterday I had a conversation with a colleague who stated the old saw about the Iraq war that at least we’re fighting them over there rather than over here. OK, ignore for a minute the fact that our presence in Iraq has actually increased anti-US sentiment in the world as well as the number of terrorists. But this essentially says that it is OK to attack a country that has not attacked us and poses no imminent threat, killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians and sparking a civil war, so long as it makes us feel safe. End justifies means. I used to think we were better than that.

Kiriakou now says that this CIA sanctioned torture compromised American principles and saved American lives. Davis’ simplistic red white and blue worldview does not allow him to think that those two things can coexist. Well they can Mr. Davis. And they do. And as long as we as a nation are comfortable with compromising our principles in order to save lives, then we have made a choice that the end justifies the means.

God have mercy on us.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Huckabee phenomenon

Frank Rich at The New York Times has a different idea of why Mike Huckabee is surging in the polls. The general media refrain is that this is the reasserting of the evangelical vote. They've found their guy.

The problem with that story is that Huckabee has been out there for some time and Romney's Mormonism hasn't been a secret. Likewise Rudy's filanderings and liberal views on gay rights and gun control likewise haven't been a secret. Rich sees Huckabee as the Barack Obama of the GOP: a hopeful and even somewhat bipartisan politician who is looking toward the future rather than fighting the battles of the past. Of course Huckabee lacks foreign policy cred and his denial of evolution is also perplexing.

To understand why he can’t be completely dismissed, consider last month’s Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll. Peter Hart, the Democratic half of the bipartisan team that conducts the survey, told me in an interview last week that an overwhelming majority of voters of both parties not only want change but also regard “reducing the partisan fighting in government” as high on their agenda. To his surprise, Mr. Hart found that there’s even a majority (59 percent) seeking a president who would help America in “regaining respect around the world.”

Most interesting is the parallel drawn by Rich between the 2008 election and 1960, Kennedy vs. Nixon. People are looking for real leadership as opposed to the cynical ideologies of the past seven years. The candidate that delivers that forward-looking leadership should be our next president. This gets me more jazzed about Obama.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Can we get a lockbox for those carbon offsets?

Al Gore, who is doing yeoman's work on calling attention to global warming, overheard on NPR this morning: "The earth has a fever..." and I really wanted him to finish the sentence this way: "...and the only prescription is more cowbell."

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Mmmm... muffaletta

Looks like Jason's deli is coming downtown. They're getting all set up in the Gulf States building right next to CVS and Chase Bank. Sign on the door says grand opening is December 17. Judging by the crowd at the downtown Campisi's every day, I'd say another casual chain will do very well there.

Main and Akard is quite the happening place these days.

Where have all the hippies gone?

Answer: Uncle Calvin's Coffee House

I spent a very enjoyable evening taking in the big 25th anniversary show at the folk music venue at Northpark Presbyterian last Friday. One thing my group noticed early on: the crowd for folk music skews decidedly older. One older woman enjoyed herself so much she just had to blow bubbles. I guess she brings them along just in case the mood hits.

We suspended our objections to Calvinism, got all caffeinated up, and got ready for some mellow tunes and a few anti-war sing alongs. We were not disappointed. I really appreciated the traditional fiddle/mandolin/guitar style of opener Tracy Grammer and her accompanist Jim Henry. I could have listened to her all night. And that Jim Henry has some chops (guitar/mandolin). She sang a song about a soldier who died in Iraq that she has vowed to sing at every performance until the war ends. She also made the lyrics and chords available to anyone who wanted to join in that effort.

I guess Sara Hickman was the headliner, because she was last. Hickman did not disappoint. I had heard her before on the late great Glenn Mitchell's talk show. Her back-up singer was more in the front than the back. Hickman had some funny anecdotes to share between most of her songs, and you got the sense that she wanted to play for longer than her allotted 45 minutes. She was especially funny discussing the artwork on her current album which features a couple making love and a quote from Pope Benny on the back (she claims she's not a Catholic bad girl). It was fun to see her turn it up and "rock out" with just her guitar and accompanying vocalist near the end of the set.

But the shining star of the evening was sandwiched between these two. Ruthie Foster absolutely stole the show and had the audience eating out of her hands. Music lovers of any stripe would do well to go see her live. Apparently Foster has folk roots, but you wouldn't have known it. Her set was blues/R&B/gospel-tinged country and captivating. Her voice is strong but she does not oversing. Her command of the guitar was readily apparent; it was as if she were playing with her favorite toy. But the most memorable song was the a capella "People Grinnin' In Your Face" complete with audience-provided beat. We have downloaded her latest album The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster to our iPods and ordered two more copies for Christmas gifts.

All the artists came back together at the end for an audience sing-along. Good times, noodle salad.

I'm not sure this would accommodate the crowd for this particular show, but Uncle Calvins would benefit from some old couches and armchairs rather than the straight back chairs we were seated in. As befits our station in life as parents of the very young, we were dog tired by the time we got out of there at 11:30.

Thanks for a good time Uncle Calvin's, and Happy Anniversary!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

"A series of personality cults"

That's how Frank Schaeffer describes evangelicalism, as pointed out in a column today by William McKenzie. As an East Texas boy who was raised in the Southern Baptist tradition (now recovering) I can concur. Lots of folks become attached to a charismatic leader rather than a faith. Then when that leader lets them down they have to find another charismatic leader to follow.

It is frightening the kinds of things people will believe if their chosen leader tells them. I had a college Sunday School teacher who taught on nothing but the end times and how current events were biblically prophesied. He was an obsessed man, and was an intelligent attorney but badly misguided. And he misled many others. This is a dangerous obsession, if it is not obvious, because people will stop trying to bring about peace and justice, stop caring for their fellow humans, and stop caring for God's creation. Because after all, God's judgement is about to come down hard and this earth will pass away.

Another great quote from Schaeffer regarding the big name evangelical leaders: "Big-time American Christianity is incompatible with the Gospel. It is part of the entertainment business. No matter what you think you are doing, you are really just another celebrity in a celebrity-obsessed culture."

Every church has its problems, including my spiritual home, The Episcopal Church, but I really like our emphasis on welcoming inclusiveness, social justice, and embodying God's Kingdom. In our baptismal covenant we promise "to seek and serve Christ in all persons." And our worship is centered not on preaching and sermons (or preachers), but on Eucharist: Thanksgiving, the holy meal that binds us together with Christ and each other and strengthens us for service to the world.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Kudos to DART

The trains weren't running on time this morning. But this time it was different. In the past when there have been problems with the rail system in morning rush hour, there are typically dozens of confused passengers standing around wondering what's going on, wondering why the message board doesn't work and why they can't understand the guy on the loudspeaker.

At White Rock Station this morning there was virtually no one waiting at the station, and there was a DART employee in bright yellow reflective vest who approached me and let me know about the problem at Cityplace and that there was bus service between Mockingbird and downtown for affected passengers. I drove in, but I didn't have to wait around and wonder what was going on and see a packed train pass by before I headed for my car.

Good job DART. Between this and the increased security at the park and rides and the commitment to order more bike lockers, I'd say this transit agency is trying to be customer service oriented. Now if they can keep the power lines from going down in the first place...