17 February 2017

words matter

As the National Security Advisor debacle unwound, I became increasingly concerned with some of the language that my liberal friends have adopted. In particular, a single word, treason, troubles me.

When James (Jamie to his friends) Madison was writing the Constitution, he included a clause defining one word, the only definition in the Constitution.
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.
This one word was so repugnant to Madison and the other founders that it was defined, and the sentence specifically limited. Some of this matters today and I shall unpack it a bit.

Treason in England and much of Europe meant whatever the crown said it meant. Punishments were horrible: "traitors" took a long and painful time to die, leading to another item in the Constitution, the prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishment" in the 5th Amendment. What the French called, "les majesty" or in any way dismissing or (in the current language) disrespecting, the king, queen or government was treason in England. Conspiracy or rebellion was not required.

Madison defines treason, and while leaving the penalty to Congress, he limited its authority. Specifically, the English rule that a person executed for treason left to any descendants something called, "corruption of blood"is prohibited. The idea is disturbingly simple, it means that they could neither inherit or earn any real property or title. While Madison and his co-authors prohibited titles of nobility, they did not object to simple inheritance, or land ownership. They found the idea of carrying a penalty to descendants unjust and prohibited it.

It is then no small thing to suggest someone has committed treason, or to carry disapproval to succeeding generations. Which is why the way progressives including those on talk radio, are tossing around the word, and the treatment Tiffany Trump has been receiving are worrisome. General Flynn may have violated the Lawson Act which prohibits a private person from intruding on the president's foreign policy authority. His conversations with the Russian Ambassador appear well over the line.

But notice something. Two hundred years ago, Congress enacted the Lawson Act, defining unlawful conduct, not treason! Were the conversations the General held treason, no reference to the Lawson act would be relevant. In fact the law would not exist.

Calling a US Marine flag officer a traitor is pretty far out. People who choose to be Marine officers are almost by definition patriots. They may be authoritarians, they may simply be wrong, but they do not levy war against the USA, nor do they assist its enemies. Do I think the general erred, sure. Do I know if he committed indictable felonies, nope: that is what we have prosecutors and grand juries to determine.

Consider the prohibition of inherited penalties. Whatever I think of President Trump (I do not think much of him) neither of his daughters are responsible for the incredible incompetence he and his staff have exhibited. Boycotting Ivanka's fashion line, or refusing to sit near Tiffany at a fashion show is simply wrong.

As is so often the case, the founders were right. Yes Gen Flynn erred, and it appears lied about it, and yes he could not continue as National Security Advisor. Yes nothing he has done to date suggests Mr. Trump or his staff either know or respect truth, and yes nothing suggests even marginal competence. But General Flynn is not a traitor, and Trump's daughters are not responsible for him.

Finally there is a "what if" lurking on the horizon. What if the Trump campaign actually was in touch with and perhaps receiving aid from Russia during the campaign? Go back and read Section 3. It may be that US Campaign law was violated. It may be that Mr. Trump or his campaign may have legal troubles. And whoever may have been a liaison to the Russians may have more legal issues. But again, Russia is not an enemy of the US, and violating election law is a specific action, not treason.

Words matter. Actions matter. I would not accept Mr. Trump's invitation to dinner, White House or otherwise. But, neither Ivanka nor Tiffany deserve to be shunned. I am poor. We do not buy fashion jewelry or gowns. But if we were to do so, the father of the designer would not be a factor.

We progressives do not need to adopt the worst characteristics of the rightwing. The willingness to name, "traitors" and carry penalties for generations (Tennessee is debating "legitimacy" a dark ages idea) is what I think of as the worst of the worst. We can and should do better.



The Constitution of the United States of America

13 February 2017

Speaking Justice to Power

It has been less than three weeks. America, and your tardy scribe has been seized by the Trump reality show.

Today is the day the Episcopal Church commemorates two amazing men: Richard Allen and Absalom Jones. In 1786,in part because these two men were effective lay people who brought other free black people into their Methodist congregation: St. George's. In a stunningly stupid and unChristian moment, the white members voted to restrict the blacks to the balcony. They did not even have the courage to publish the vote. Blacks including Allen and Jones discovered the infamy when ushers told them to move during the opening Sunday prayer. They and a number of other black members did not walk up to the balcony, they walked out.

The two men went two different and significant ways. Allen wanted to remain Methodist, and eventually founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church. That body exists to this day, and continues to preach and celebrate the Gospel. Jones met with Bishop White (my personal hero among those founding the Episcopal Church.) White granted permission for the founding of a new parish, led by Jones who moved from lay leader to priest over time. That congregation exists.

After we read the story of Allen and Jones, the intervention of Bp. White, and the lessons for the commemoration at Morning Prayer, we were both amazed at the racism, and stupidity of the White congregation, and the courage and will of the affronted Black Christians. There is no memorial for the racists of St. George's. They are in well deserved anonymity while we recall and celebrate Allen, Jones, and White.

We were fortunate to have Mission St. Clare's resources for Morning Prayer with an appropriate prayer and readings. is the source page, which I have used as a source for much of the history above. Forward Movement has another excellent resource. I recommend both.

Posts, like sermons about readings and commemorations face the question, what does the lessons and / or history tell us about how we should live today? That requires us to put the story in context of the times. And that leads us to the Trump Administration. They came to power on a wave of relatively low education, white, male voters. Conflating them with the voters at St. George's is disturbingly easy. What to do about them is another matter.

On the one hand, the idea of amending the Constitution to require an exam in critical thinking skills or a BA/BS for registration is tempting. Applying the rule exclusively to white men based on performance is also attractive. But neither is going to happen, so we need to consider other avenues.

  1. We need to organize and win the 2018 election.
  2. We need to use the authority of a new Congress to limit the damage the Trump Administration can inflict.
  3. We need effective legal challenges to each and every executive order filed, whenever counsel can identify opportunities.
  4. Perhaps most importantly we need credible challenges to every Republican State legislator and governor.
We also need to shout the message of Christian diversity, that Jesus is not the captive icon of White right wing politicians but rather the loving messiah and son of the loving God. So is this view political? Of course. So was the anti-slavery movement, begun and nurtured in white and black churches, the civil rights movement begun and nurtured by black and then white churches and synagogues in the 1960's. Using the phrase "that is political" as an excuse to avoid being engaged is not Christian it is craven.

18 January 2017

Cathedrals, choirs, and inaugurations

You can be forgiven if the controversies the upcoming inauguration are causing in the Episcopal Church have not been on your radar. While we think we are important: we are less than 1% of the population. But we do have some impressive real estate. Our cathedral in Washington, is widely known as, "the National Cathedral."

One of the traditions that surrounds the inauguration is a non-denominational service of prayers, readings and music attended by the new president, vice-president and a fairly good sized chunk of official Washington, cabinet nominees / members, Congresspersons, Senators, and a lot of supporters, especially contributors. Mr. Trump and his team are planning to attend such an event. Therein the controversy.

Officially of course, the church has no opinion on elections. So neither Mr. Trump nor Ms. Clinton were endorsed in any way. But(!) the Republican platform was in opposition to most if not all of the social justice positions of the church. I cannot cite data, but my hunch is that less than 5% of Episcopalians voted for Mr. Trump. I would guess that something over 90% of Episcopalians support the Affordable Care Act.

Saying that Mr. Trump is not in tune with our values is to massively understate the case. And if that were not enough, we promise at every baptism that we will "respect the dignity of every human being." We interpret that mean gay marriage, women's right to choose, and accepting, welcoming and protecting the alien, legal or not. In short Mr. Trump offends us on about every level.

So do we host the inaugural service? We do. Does our choir sing at the event, it does. Are a large number of Episcopalians deeply offended, absolutely. The offended have made a vocal presence on social media, decrying the decision. Those actually making the decision, the bishop of Washington, Dean of the Cathedral, choir director have also made their case.

I have been on both sides of this. That is sort of a classic Episcopal position, we call it via media, the middle way. Sometimes however one must actually decide. So here I am, blogging what I am with some hope, calling my final word.

This us no ordinary inauguration. This is a minority president, who is flagrantly dishonest, stunningly demagogic, misogynistic, homophobic, a bigot, and by his own description, a sexual predator. Yes we must honor our law and undertake a peaceful transfer of power. Yes we can celebrate our institutions. But assisting in the event, or providing entertainment for the supporters of bigotry and hatred, as a church is wrong. The dean is wrong, and the bishop is wrong.

I think via media is simply not available when it comes to opposing frank evil. This inauguration brings evil into power. That is not something to sing about.

06 January 2017

Christmas Letters

I generally do not do a Christmas letter. But this year, while I am not sending one with cards, I have been thinking about 2016. So,here, a sort of year in review.

In January, I went to see my Primary Care Doc, again. I had begun complaining of extreme back pain a few weeks earlier. Doc said I walked into his office like a man with severe lower back pain, but I was pointing at the wrong place. Tests and films were indicated. We knew I did not have gallbladder pain as I had surgery to remove it some years ago, and I know what pancreatitis is like, this was not that. Tests, we did tests.

Late January found us doing a biopsy of a tumor on my adrenal gland. I had moved from mere tests to the care of Amita Hospital's Oncology practice. The diagnosis took a while, and the special pathology facilities of Mayo Brothers. But it was definitive: B cell diffuse non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The nice thing if there is one, about lymphoma is you do not have to worry about it spreading, it is everywhere. (Gallows humor sort of goes with cancer, especially the second time you have it.)

My first chemo came close to ending my year. I did a full scale anaphylactic shock episode. Who needs to breath? LaGrange Hospital's "crash cart team," and the care of a great oncology oncologist with his nurses pulled me through. Or so I hear. The anaphylaxis hit me with a flash of discomfort and a long period unconsciousness. When I woke the therapy was over. I was exhausted, sick, but not in any real pain.

That pattern took me to June. After nearly losing me, the oncologist started each treatment with a half-liter of Benadryl. Not only does that keep the anaphylaxis away, it knocks you out.So I slept through the actual treatments. Unfortunately, the Benadryl does not keep the next few days away. Everything you have heard about chemo, especially the nausea, hair loss, lethargy, and weakness is true. BUT(!) after 6 treatments, 18 weeks of infusion and recovery, in June I tested cancer free.

July and August were all about getting stronger and recovering things like my beard and what hair I have. Remember that this all began when I went to doctors seeking help with back pain? The good news is that the cancer is gone, the bad news is that the back pain is not. So, September and October were spent working with surgeons, doctors, and a raft of radiology technicians. At one point, I had a firm schedule for a potential 10 hour surgery.

Here is a rule. When your cardiologist calls on a Sunday night late, the news is never good. Mostly because of simple caution, I had postponed surgery for two weeks. When my cardiologist called he affirmed my surgical clearance but said he was a bit concerned about my ekg. He asked me to come the next day for a 24 hour ekg that can be worn. I went.

When I got the portable ekg, I was told that 8 days later, the Tuesday after the test, I would meet with the doctor to discuss the results. Remember my rule? I turned the portable unit in at about 10:00 and at noon, Doctor's assistant had called to move my appointment up to the next day. So a very little bit of medical information: I am 70, and any number between 0 and 200 is an acceptable number of irregular heartbeats. I had over 4,000. So Wednesday, an interventional cardiologist found a 95% blockage in the main coronary artery, and another smaller blockage. I have two new stents. I also still have the irregular heartbeat.

The idea had been that without the blockages, as often happens, the heart beat would drift back to normal. But then, this d oes not always happen, and 2016 was just my tough year. My heart was simply not "calming down."

The next idea surprised me. So here is the logic. Lots of old guys (moi) especially if they sometimes snore (also moi) have at least some sleep apnea. To my surprise, it turns out that if that condition is treated, a benefit is that the cardiac rhythm is also normalized. OK, sleep study and a CPAP machine - right? Wrong. Oh we did the study, I have, "severe" sleep apnea. But I choked on every possible mask for the machine. I am told this simply happens sometimes.

So, ends 2016 with the back problem, the sleep apnea, and the irregular heart beat. Two of those are "life threatening," the sleep apnea and the heart irregularity. We are exploring alternate treatments in 2017.

All of this of course was for us in the foreground as the catastrophic presidential and congressional elections were playing out. I wrote a few blogs about the mess, but I was so busy not dying, I did not become really involved. I am under no illusion, I am a small fish, and my absence from the pond did not significantly alter the results. But, I cannot expect you to be active if I am not. So, my plans include a lot more involvement as we begin to resist the new American fascism.

2016 taught me something about mortality. I had so many near misses. But I also learned I can continue in the face of it. I became a master Mason, saw my elder son become a Mason, both of us mentored by my younger son, and saw Drew become only the second Senior Verger in the over 145 year of our parish. My grandkids grew and continued to be grand hopes for the future.

Happy New Year!

03 January 2017

Thoughts of the Magi

My younger grand child, Gabriel greeted me on New Year's Day with a loving hug, smile, and question, "What are your New Year's revolutions Grandpa?" Jamie, three years older and much more sophisticated noted the "error," corrected him observing they are resolutions. I have been thinking about whether it was an error. I think Gabriel may have had a point.

A resolution is a typically insincere commitment. Most often, I think, many are things we acknowledge we should do. I know family members who have resolved to quit smoking over and over for decades. Besides a certain humor value, until recently, I almost never saw a resolution last past January. FitBit and its competitors have changed this a bit. Drop a couple hundred dollars, or get your love to do so, and suddenly a fitness or weight loss resolution has if not teeth, at least longevity.

But what of revolutions? Revolutions live near the Book of Common Prayer's scarry call for those who confess, "amendment of life." For most of the last seventy years, I am not sure I wanted that amendment of life thing, although as a civil rights demonstrator, folkie, anti-war, progressive, I have to admit wanting to amend other people's lives. That indeed may be my problem.

So what are your revolutions? I hope mine will be getting out of the house, into the ride business, (Uber) and back to the business of living. Enough of the cancer, back injury, and heart problems. Yes they are with me, and yes I cannot get rid of them. But I can be revolutionary, I can simply live while I ignore them. I can stop being obsessed by either my health or self.

That may be my personal revolution, but it is not enough. Revolutions are never enough. Yes, here, on social media of one sort or another, I think the revolution demands more. I need to find ways to have an impact. I dunno where I will end but for no. I think I need to be playing and singing revolutionary songs again. Hand me down my dulcimer.

As my favorite science fiction heroine says, "lets be about it."

30 September 2016


I recall reading a comment about the Chicago Tribune of his youth by Mike Royko. He said, if I recall, that reading McCormick's editorials he was never sure if the enemy was Hitler or Roosevelt. That came to mind as the incredible decision to endorse Gary Johnson, perhaps the least informed person ever to appear on a national party ticket emerged.

This election pits a qualified, competent, caring woman against a nut case. Mrs. Clinton is so bright and so much more able that Fox News (!) reported she won the recent debate by 23 percentage points in their poll. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump keeps saying he won the CBS poll, which simply does not exist.

During the Lewinsky scandal some wag said that Bill Clinton had a sometimes difficult relationship with the truth. Mr. Trump has no relationship.

We all at one time or another lie. Have I -- yes, have you -- yes. I have probably said a dress, tie, or haircut looked good when I didn't like it. Have you? Do either one of us do it every day about every issues, repeatedly, even when the truth would not hurt us? We know a candidate who lies an estimated once every 4 minutes. (Politico made it 3 and a fraction and I rounded it in his favor!)

But the Tribune, the paper that once published national security information in war time, and was not believed because the enemy, Japan, did not consider them credible, has managed not to make the obvious choice. No, they picked Gary Johnson who could not name Vicente Fox when he brought him up, and did not know that Aleppo is the major city being contested in bloody horrible fighting in Syria.

I am sure that I won't agree with every decision Mrs. Clinton makes as president. I am equally sure I won't agree with every vote Tammy Duckworth casts in the Senate. That is OK, we are a republic: they do not have to do exactly what I think best. I am not committed to voting for Mrs. Clinton when as I expect, she seeks re-election. But even the Tribune editorial noted that unlike Mr. Trump, Secretary clinton is qualified to be president.

Ever play a board game with a toddler who knocked the game over rather than loose? That is the Tribune editorial. They wanted a Republican they could endorse, they got Mr. Trump and they kicked the table over. Immature cowardice in action.

21 September 2016

Chaos Comes

It may be, although I still doubt it, that Mr. Trump will win. My expectation is that Sec. Clinton will, but I have been wrong before. Regardless, America has been deeply wounded and may be unable to recover.

Let me tell you what Donald Trump has done. He has unleashed and normalized racism, misogyny, nativism, homophobia, and oddly for this clearly agnostic man, theism. The demons are out from under the rocks, and it will take quite a lot to put them back.

Slime, nativism, and bigotry are hardly new. The Koch brothers whose money was unleashed by the worst decision since Dred Scott v Sanford in 1857, Citizens United v FEC, stand in a long line. That line includes Sen. McCarthy, blacklists, and the John Birch Society.

Eventually, the country partially recovered from the Scott decision. You may recall learning about some aspects of the recovery process, worked out in places like Gettysburg, Antietam, and Ford's Theatre. Whole States were ruined, cities burned, railroads and highways destroyed, and an estimated 270,000 military casualties, no one knows the civilian death count, were the price of the Dred Scot debacle.

Arguably, the toll ran higher. Jim Crow, the legalization of racism, was a direct result. In many ways, compensation differential, ongoing sexism, and police shootings among them, we are still paying.

What precipitated the War Between the States was a period of stark political instability. The two party system, at the beginning of the 1850s, meant the Democrats and the Whigs. At that balance point in history, Whigs included Abraham Lincoln, John C. Fremont, Daniel Webster, and Henry Clay. By 1852, when the party could not manage to support an incumbent President Fillmore, a single issue had destroyed it. That issue was argued as the legal status of slavery in the newly developed territories West of the Mississippi, but it was really about racism. Were slaves, or potential slaves people? The Dred Scott decision said no, and America bled.

We should note the current political self-destruction began over a single issue. The social role of the State it was called. It was not one drunk Senator's lone work. Serious thinkers, such as Senator Goldwater and William F. Buckley contributed to the discussion, but were drowned out by the remnants of the Jim Crow culture, the intellectually bankrupt ravings of the likes of Ayn Rand, and opportunistic "TV preachers" advancing their interest in theocracy. But the argument was centered on a mix of racism, "welfare" was perceived to go to Blacks, and misogyny, welfare MOTHERS were the source of all evil.

The dissolution of the Republican party became visible this year as so many candidates with so many mutually exclusive viewpoints made it difficult to discern any theme other than a general discomfort with strong women (Mrs. Clinton) and African-American leaders (Pres. Obama.) The party of Dewey and Eisenhower was now the home of Cruz and McCarthy.

Mr. Trump emerged from the chaos as the candidate after a fratricidal primary process. The process left the Republicans with primary candidates who refuse to endorse or campaign for Mr. Trump in the face of outright threats from RNC chair Priebus. We should note that Mr. Priebus is an employee of the fracturing party. Trump is the candidate of chaos, from chaos.

Rational folks keep waiting for Trump to finally do or say something that destroys his campaign. As the "debates," actually staged TV confrontations approach, Trump attacks the platform before ascending it, and the possibility of a blowup grows. If he does not blow up, or "lose" by some ethereal standard, and manages to keep close to truthful answers, he will have survived despite his attacks on the First Amendment, and other parts of the American "Bill of Rights," his unconscionable attacks on the Federal Judiciary, and his amazing attacks on journalists.

No matter who ultimately wins, chaos comes. Even if Mrs. Clinton wins, the rocks are overturned, the slime is released and the chaos is upon us. If as I think, we are seeing in the 17 candidates that arose in the primaries the impending death of the Republican Party, the rise of chaos and the incapacitating of the two party system, we can expect the rise of splinter parties. In fact some are already visible: the Libertarians, who have been a fringe group for years are suddenly poling near 9%, enough to materially impact the election. Suddenly it matters that David Duke, an open racist, endorsed Trump. The standards are eroding, the center is not holding. Chaos comes.

Citizens United may well be the Dred Scot of our day. The system is disrupted. Last time it was, we landed in a vicious war. We are more advanced in our killing technology now. In 1860, the first machine guns had recently been developed. They had little impact on the war. We have perhaps advanced too much.

Chaos Comes.
St Laika's

Click to view my Personality Profile page