Thursday, February 09, 2006

Truth as a Defense. I've read a couple of things since the funeral. As Howard Kurtz notes, in the WaPo,
Whether you think it was appropriate or galling for Jimmy Carter and Rev. Joseph Lowery to use a funeral to take partisan shots at a president who was sitting behind them, this was news.
As I indicated, just below, I thought this was crass -- but others, including conservative commentators James Taranto and Mark Byron didn't find it so bad.

Lee Harris, on the other hand, aptly describes the situation,
This week, at the funeral for the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, two of the speakers, Jimmy Carter and Rev. Joseph Lowery, might have opened their remarks by saying that they came not to bury Coretta Scott King, but to bash Bush, which is exactly what they proceeded to do. They exploited a solemn occasion in order to take cheap pot shots at the President, keenly aware that their remarks would be broadcast around the world, and into many American classrooms.

Of course, both Carter and Lowery were also aware that the target of their attack, George W. Bush, was sitting right behind them. Had he not been present on the occasion, their Bush-bashing would have only been an affront to good taste. But because Bush had come there to honor the memory of Coretta Scott King, and not to engage in a debate with his political opponents, the attacks on him crossed the boundaries of mere bad taste, and became low blows. They were deliberately attacking a man who they knew could not, under the circumstances, defend himself against their assault. Their aim was quite obvious -- to embarrass and humiliate Bush in the full knowledge that there was not a thing Bush could decently do about it.
I've listened to the defenders of Rev. Joseph Lowery (and Carter although, as I indicated, by that point in the funeral, I was gone -- I had to get to work) to understand their point. As best I understand it, their defense is truth. Even Mark Byron set out this defense:
I wasn't appreciating the digs that folks were getting in at Dubya's expense, but it was within their character, speaking what they saw as the truth to the power in front of them.
In his initial response (and a comment to my posting below) UCC Seminarian Chuck Currie used this defense. Now his response is a modification of that -- it's the Jack Nicholson "You can't handle the truth" response. Anyone who disagrees is a "right winger" who "Just Hates Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mrs. Coretta Scott King." (I'm glad to see the spirit of moderateness and temperance still lives in the UCC.)

As an aside, before I proceed, not all the commenters agreed with Currie -- there was a moderate spirit there trying to persuade him to the contrary. I particularly liked this:
While I may agree with what was said, there is no one on this earth that could make me believe that Mrs. King would have wanted an invited guest to be embarrassed. There is a time and a place for everything and I think what Rev. Lowery and President Carter did today was terrible. A funeral is not the place for partisan politics. It was to lift up Mrs. King - not the time for digs at a President.

No, truth is not a defense to charges of gracelessness or crassness. It never has been.

Let's try an experiment. Imagine if President Bush had stood up and said something that included the following lines:
  • On October 10, 1963, the Attorney General of the United States, Robert F. Kennedy, authorized the wiretapping of Dr. King's telephones, and then hotel rooms. He did this even though Dr. King was not a terrorist, always preached and lived a life of non-violence. He did this even though Dr. King was a U.S. Citizen, living in the U.S.
  • The tapes were played for the President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Democrat, who enjoyed the salacious details.
  • The government of the United States even delivered a copy of the tapes to Coretta exposing her to the sordid details of his infidelity. An infidelity that whet beyond the '?lusts of the heart'? in the words of one former president and were more akin to the exploits of another president....
  • Yes, Dr. King was not always with his wife, but at least none of his lovers drowned while he was driving...
  • Why the President of the United States, Democrat Lyndon Johnson couldnÂ?t even find the time to attend the funeral of Martin Luther KingÂ?.
Yuck . . . I can'?t go on. All I'?ve written above it "?true"? yet, it'?s disgusting -? it'?s beyond crass. We'd all be condemning him. (Except, maybe the right-wingers, which sort of proves my point about people like Currie.)

In short, like what Lowery did, it doesn't belong at a funeral.
Let Her In. I'm alive today because of a private bill of Congress -- it's a long story -- another time.

Kim-Hoan Thi Nguyen, Mother of Binh N. Le, USMC, needs a private bill to get to the floor of the Congress in order to be permitted to stay in the U.S.

So she can leave flowers on the grave of her son, who gave his life for our country.

It's time Congress -- let her in.

On-Line. It's weird the things you can find on-line. When I was 15 and fresh off the plane in Hawai'i, I swam in the Waikiki Roughwater Swim. It's 2 and a half miles in the sea, outside the reef, from Diamond Head to the beach by the Hilton. I see now my results are on-line -- I did it in 1:05:43. I see now I placed 65th overall and 15th within my age-group. Not bad, but not spectacular. However, little Dickie Walter, age 10, swam it in 59:52 and placed 34th overall (and first in his age group).

It's the closest I'll ever get to a marathon.

And I'll never do it again. (But I would love to do the Maui Channel Relay...)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Earth Day (early) - According to the NYT, today is evangelical earth day -- specifically a number of evangelicals (86 according to the NYT, "more than 85" according to its website) held a press conference this morning in DC to announce a new initiative: the Evangelical Climate Initiative. The publicist for this group is Jim Jewell of Rooftop MediaWorks. The group is funded by the Hewlett Foundation ($475,000), among others -- it is not clear whether this is a grass-roots organization or an astroturf organization.

I hope it is an organiztion which is genuinely concerned about doing well and truth -- I am concerned, however, that the emphasis is on "global warming." According to their FAQ's:

What is Climate Change or Global Warming?

Climate change, also called global warming, is an urgent problem that can and must be solved. The problem is caused primarily by human activities that produce heat-trapping or greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, artificially warming the planet and thereby changing the climate. Serious consequences include dryer droughts, fiercer floods, and harsher hurricanes. Carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas or global warming pollutant, is released when fossil fuels such as oil, gas, or coal are burned in our vehicles, by power plants, and by industry. The good news is that there are plenty of cost-effective solutions that will create jobs, clean up our environment, and enhance national security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil, thereby creating a safe and healthy future for our children.

Why is global warming an urgent problem?

There are three basic reasons for urgency: (1) Global warming is happening now. Impacts are already starting to be felt, e.g., a 2003 heat wave in Europe that killed approximately 20,000 people. (2) The oceans warm slowly, creating a lag in experiencing the consequences. Many of the impacts from climate change to which we are already committed will not be realized for several decades. The consequences of the pollution we create today will be visited upon our children and grandchildren. (3) As individuals and as a society we are making long-term decisions each day that determine how much carbon dioxide we will emit in the future, such as whether to purchase energy efficient vehicles and appliances that will last for 10-20 years, or whether to build more coal-burning power plants that last for 50 years rather than investing more in energy efficiency and renewable energy. We need to start solving global warming now to make it easier and less expensive for our children to deal with in the future.
Recently, I was reading The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly and came across this passage:
Sometime between 750 and 800, Europe entered the Little Optimum [note omitted] a period of global warming. Across the continent, temperatures in-[45]creased by an average of more than 1 degree Celsius, but rather than producing catastrophe, as many current theorists of global warming predict, the warm weather produced abundance.* England and Poland became wine-growing countries, and even the inhabitants of Greenland began experimenting with vineyards. More important, the warm weather turned marginal farmland into decent farmland, and decent farmland into good farmland. In the final centuries of Roman rule, crop yields had fallen two and three to one – a yield represents the amount of seed harvested to the amount planted: a return so meager, the Roman agricultural writer Columella feared that the land had grown old. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, as winters became milder and summers warmer and drier, European farms began to produce yields of five and six to one, unprecedented by medieval standards.

*Says Dr. Phillip Stott, professor emeritus of bio-geography at the University of London, “What has been forgotten in all the discussion of global warming is a proper sense of history... During the medieval warm period, the world was warmer than even today and history shows that it was a wonderful period of plenty for everyone.” (Phillip Stott, interview, Daily Telegraph, 4/6/2003.)
From pages 44-45. (I include two links in Kelly's footnote so you can critique Stott yourself.)

This seems to make sense to me. First, I am not sure that "global warming" exists; second, I'm not sure, if it does, that it is human-created; third, I'm not sure it would be a bad thing if it did exist.

Actually, there are two notes in the FAQ I find more troubling:
Does addressing climate change mean we're becoming liberals?

No. We believe that creating a better future for our children and grandchildren by fulfilling out biblical call to stewardship and love of neighbor through reducing pollution is simply being a good biblical Christian. Climate change is not a liberal issue. It is a profound problem for people Jesus loves, people Jesus died to save.

Are we working with environmentalists?

No. While we are not working with environmentalists, and are critical of some of their views and approaches, we also feel that once we have established our own voice on this issue we should use this as an opportunity to share the gospel with those who care about "environmental" issues. We also appreciate all environmentalists have done to protect God's creation. Finally, we do not rule out working with environmentalists and anyone else of goodwill in the future.

Umm, excuse me -- who really cares if "we're becomming liberals?" Nothing's wrong with that, is there? Second, what's wrong with working with environmentalists?

I'm sorry, but there's a lot in this whole "initiative" which rubs me the wrong way...

See also these two excellent posts by Mark Byron: 1. Christians and the Environment-Part I-The Purpose-Driven EPA? and 2. Christians and the Environment-Part II-Who's in the ECI?. Then there's this in GetReligion and this on the CTwebsite.
Mary Magdalene. One of my wife's friend's called her last night looking for information on Mary Magdalene. I know the basics -- she was a follower of Jesus, she was not a hooker, nor was she ever married to Jesus. Beyond that, I don't have a lot of recall. I handed her this book by Ben Witherington, III (I didn't know until just now that he has a blog...) and she read aloud an extensive passage.

Anyway, today I see there's a long piece on MM in the New Yorker. It's not bad -- I don't agree with a lot of the spin (definitely not evangelical) and the ending's weak -- but there's a few things I hadn't seen before.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Class and Crass. I watched/listened to a good portion of the Corretta Scott King funeral today at lunch and found myself very moved by President Bush's speech. You might say, "well, you're a Bush supporter." Yeah, that's been true in the past, but I haven't been too happy with him lately -- and not blogging enough to set forth the reasons why. But that will wait for another day. His address, which is available here, was very moving -- it nearly brought me to tears. One of the attorneys I work with said she thought the President sounded more like a minister than a politician.

He touched on the details of her life -- including the ministry at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, addressed her family heritage ("the Scotts were strong, and righteous, and brave in the face of wrong"), noting it wasn't just "vicious words," but also having her house firebombed. And he addressed the spirit which made Coretta great, concluding:

But some had to leave before their time -- and Dr. King left behind a grieving widow and little children. Rarely has so much been asked of a pastor's wife, and rarely has so much been taken away. Years later, Mrs. King recalled, "I would wake up in the morning, have my cry, then go in to them. The children saw me going forward." Martin Luther King, Jr. had preached that unmerited suffering could have redemptive power.

Little did he know that this great truth would be proven in the life of the person he loved the most. Others could cause her sorrow, but no one could make her bitter. By going forward with a strong and forgiving heart, Coretta Scott King not only secured her husband's legacy, she built her own. Having loved a leader, she became a leader. And when she spoke, America listened closely, because her voice carried the wisdom and goodness of a life well lived.

In that life, Coretta Scott King knew danger. She knew injustice. She knew sudden and terrible grief. She also knew that her Redeemer lives. She trusted in the name above every name. And today we trust that our sister Coretta is on the other shore -- at peace, at rest, at home.
I listened up to, and through, the address of Rev. Joseph Lowery, which I found very disappointing. He seemed to forget why they were there and just wanted to make points at the expense of Bush. He seemed to think it was a time for "vicious words," not the loving, forgiving, healing words of Jesus. He seemed to want to be a politician, not a minister.


But I guess he got what he wanted.

Here's a sample of a funeral address by Dr. King, the Eulogy for the Young Victims of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing, delivered at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church:
And so my friends, they did not die in vain. (Yeah) God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. (Oh yes) And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force (Yeah) that will bring new light to this dark city. (Yeah) The holy Scripture says, "A little child shall lead them." (Oh yeah) The death of these little children may lead our whole Southland (Yeah) from the low road of man's inhumanity to man to the high road of peace and brotherhood. (Yeah, Yes) These tragic deaths may lead our nation to substitute an aristocracy of character for an aristocracy of color. The spilled blood of these innocent girls may cause the whole citizenry of Birmingham (Yeah) to transform the negative extremes of a dark past into the positive extremes of a bright future. Indeed this tragic event may cause the white South to come to terms with its conscience. (Yeah)

And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here, that in spite of the darkness of this hour (Yeah Well), we must not despair. (Yeah, Well) We must not become bitter (Yeah, That’s right), nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers. (Yeah, Yes) Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality.
Here is the heart of Rev. Lowery's address:
She secured his seed, nurtured his nobility she declared humanity's worth, invented their vision, his and hers, for peace in all the Earth. She opposed discrimination based on race, she frowned on homophobia and gender bias, she rejected on its face. She summoned the nations to study war no more. She embraced the wonders of a human family from shoulder to shoulder. Excuse me, Maya.

She extended Martin's message against poverty, racism and war. She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions. We know now that there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew, and we know there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance, poverty abound. For war, billions more, but no more for the poor.

The words of a politician, not a minister.
The Liberal Supreme Court. In an essay, still not on-line (except to subscribers), WaPo editorialist Benjamin Wittes observes,
In the past few years alone the Court has upheld affirmative action at the University of Michigan Law School, struck down state laws banning partial-birth abortion, upheld the sweeping new McCain-Feingold campaign-finance-reform law, affirmed federal power to prohibit the medical use of marijuana, and struck down the death penalty for the mentally retarded and for those who committed their crimes as juveniles. It has dealt two body blows to the so-called property-rights movement - last term holding that localities could seize private property for economic- development purposes if they paid appropriate compensation, and a few years ago rejecting an attack on the power of state governments to restrict development around Lake Tahoe. It has curtailed it earlier experiment with carving out broad immunity for state governments from lawsuits seeking money damages. It has asserted jurisdiction over military detentions at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, in Cuba. And it has entirely rewritten federal law relating to criminal sentencing, requiring that juries, not judges, make the key factual findings that determine how much prison time a convict may receive.
Benjamin Wittes, The Atlantic Monthly (January/February 2006) at 48.

It sounds like something I've mentioned before...